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TBTF for 1999-07-19: Rightly to apprehend

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 18 Jul 23:33:41 -0400


Domain naming developments

Commerce Department yanks ICANN's chain, backhands NSI

On 9 July the Commerce Department sent a 32-page letter [1] to the ICANN board and the House Commerce Committee, responding to committee chairman Tom Bliley's questions on ICANN's recent actions [2]. Here's the NY Times's coverage [3] of this letter (free registration and cookies required). Commerce Department officials said that ICANN should

Commerce did not let NSI entirely off the hook, either. While chastising ICANN for a threat, issued in its Berlin meeting, to cancel NSI's authority to issue domain names, the Commerce letter states baldly that unless NSI signs ICANN's operating agreement, Commerce will in fact terminate that authority. NSI must stop at once claiming the .com, .net. and .org domain-name databases as their intellectual property, Commerce insists.

Congress has now scheduled the investigative hearing promised by Bliley. The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will convene "Domain Name System Privatization: Is ICANN Out of Control?" on Thursday, July 22, 1999 at 11:00 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2322.

On 16 July Commerce again extended the deadline [4] for the end of the open domain registration test. The test had already been extended once [5] because of protracted wrangling among NSI, ICANN, and the test registrars. The new target date for wider participation in competitive registration is 6 August.

[1] http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/blileyrsp.htm
[2] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,38200,00.html?pfv
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/99/07/biztech/articles/10net.html
[4] http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/filters/bursts/0,3422,2295115,00.html
[5] http://tbtf.com/archive/1999-07-08.html#s01


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[ x x ]
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 (' ')

Cult of the Dead Cow strikes at Microsoft's heart

Back Orifice 2000 menaces NT, Win2000

As promised, the CdC has released Back Orifice 2000, the update to Back Orifice [6] that runs on Windows NT and the beta releases of Windows 2000. The CdC gave away CD-ROMs containing the tool at the 7th DefCon hackers' convention on 10 July, but it took a few days for the code to appear on its spiffy new Web site [7]. (Much to their embarassment, the CdC CD-ROMs were infected with the Chernobyl virus. At this writing this embarassment is graphically on display here [8].) This time the hacker group is releasing, under the GNU Public License, source code for their trojan-horse-in- security-tool's-clothing. GPLing BO2K cuts both ways -- it encourages development of variants and new features, but it provides anti-virus writers a better chance to block the trojan. BO2K will be harder to spot than its predecessor because it offers strong encryption (via 3DES) and configurable ports. Here is a bulletin from Internet Security Systems [9] that details the operation of BO2K and exhaustively lists its features and options. Most anti-virus companies have already posted countermeasures for BO2K. But not all believe [10] that this trojan, which is likely to evolve rapidly, will be seriously slowed by virus scanners, many of which rely on simple pattern matching to detect a malware signature.

When you've tired of menacing, scary cows, relax at this site [11] dedicated to the decorated cows of Chicago. That city got the idea from Zurich, which first obtained a herd of full-sized plastic cows, turned them over to its artist community, and displayed the results in public spaces.

[6] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-08-10.html#s01
[7] http://www.bo2k.com/
[8] http://www.cultdeadcow.com/
[9] http://xforce.iss.net/alerts/advise31.php3
[10] http://www.pcworld.com/shared/printable_articles/0,1440,11790,00.html
[11] http://metromix.com/anchor/1,1461,M-Metromix-Cows-...


Taxing the Internet

US Netizens' free ride may end after 2001

In 1998 the US Congress enacted the Internet Tax Freedom Act (summary [12]), guaranteeing no federal, state, or local taxation of Internet access or electronic commerce until October 2001. The same law set up a 19-member National Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce [13] to figure out what to do after that date. This commission held its first meeting in June, 8 months late and mired in controversy and politics [14]. The meeting was told that in 1998 taxing authorities lost $210M in untaxed Internet commerce. But a more recent Ernst & Young study estimated that in 1999 states will lose only $170M, less than one-tenth of 1% of state and local tax revenues. Further meetings are planned for September, December, and March before the commission submits its recommendations in April 2000. One possible outcome could be a national sales tax on Internet transactions. Here former presidential candiate Pete DuPont elaborates some of the reasons he thinks this is a bad idea [15].

Thanks to John Kristoff <jtk at aharp dot is-net dot depaul dot edu> for the prod on this story.

Note added 1999-07-21: Lots of new news has emerged on the subject of governments taxing (or regulating) the Net:

[12] http://www.house.gov/chriscox/nettax/lawsums.html
[13] http://www.ecommercecommission.org/
[14] http://www.thestandard.net/articles/article_print/0,1454,5335,00.html
[15] http://www.intellectualcapital.com/issues/issue257/item5725.asp
[15a] http://www.wired.com/news/print_version/politics/story/20705.html?wnpg=all
[15b] http://www.undp.org/hdro/99.htm
[15c] http://www.wired.com/news/print_version/politics/story/20739.html?wnpg=all
[15d] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,39271,00.html
[15e] http://www.variety.com/article.asp?articleID=1117743142
[15f] http://www.wired.com/news/print_version/politics/story/20819.html?wnpg=all

space ______

Microsoft prevails in Bristol antitrust case

Plaintiff awarded just $1

On 16 July a Connecticut jury sided with Microsoft in the Bristol Technology antitrust case [16]. Bristol had claimed that Microsoft broke the law by refusing to renew a key contract granting it access to NT technology. The U.S. District Court jury found no violations of antitrust laws in Microsoft's dealings with Bristol. However, the jury did find that Microsoft had used deceptive practices in violation of the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act, but awarded Bristol just $1 in that claim. Bristol had asked for $263M. The case is unlikely to affect the federal antitrust prosecution, but its outcome could discourage other small companies from going after Microsoft in court.

[16] http://www.computerworld.com/home/news.nsf/all/9907165bris2

space ______

Spammers lose ground in Canada and Austria

Up north, Netiquette is acquiring the force of law

A judge from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled [17] that sending unsolicited commercial email violates "Netiquette" -- generally accepted Internet practices -- and that service providers requiring subscribers to follow such practices are justified in shutting off spammers' accounts. The ruling came in a suit brought by a spammer against an ISP who had done just that. Thanks go to Sheehan Carter <sheehan dot carter at crtc dot gc dot ca> of the CTRC for first word on this story.

An Austrian legislative body has passed a spam ban [18] far stricter than required under EU rules. (Babelfish [19] will give you only a rough sense of this German article.) The EU guidelines mandate only that spam be appropriately labeled in its subject line and that spammers honor user requests to remove their addresses (opt-out). The Austrian parliament's law committee passed instead a tough law based on the opt-in principle: commercial email would be outlawed unless a commercial relationship with the recipient already exists. The law spells out high fines for offences.

Note added 1999-07-20: <ed_friesen at post dot club-internet dot fr>, a German-English translator by trade, kindly supplied the following translation of [18]:
Spam ban in Austria -- Vienna (PC-Welt): Unsolicited commercial advertising by mass e-mail will be banned in Austria

Following weeks of wrangling between consumer advocates, government and industry, a parliamentary justice committee has passed an amendment to the telecommunications law. Commercial e-mail will only be allowed if the recipient has previously agreed to it (opt-in principle). Stiff fines are spelled out for offenses.

The new law goes well beyond the existing EU directive, which bans spam that is not appropriately labelled and protects consumers who have clearly stated they do not wish to receive commercial e-mail, for example by putting their names on a "Robinson list" (opt-out principle).

[17] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,38930,00.html?pfv
[18] http://www.pcwelt.de/ausgabe/99_07/n090799011.HTM
[19] http://babelfish.altavista.com/cgi-bin/translate?


Heads up for XHTML

The latest X out of the W3C offers hope for HTML smudging

Web Review features an excellent summary [20] of XHTML, a cleaner and stricter version of HTML that will eventually help put an end to HTML smudging [21]. The language will be interpretable by applications that are far smaller than the bloated browsers of today, which must cope with the many idiosyncrasies of HTML and its many implementations. The W3C cites estimates that by 2002 as many as 75% of all HTTP requests may be made by devices other than browsers: telephones, PDAs, toasters, doorknobs, etc.

This summary, quoted from [20], explains how XHTML fits with the Web acronyms you already know.

Among the differences between XHTML and HTML 4.0:

[20] http://webreview.com/wr/pub/1999/07/16/feature/index.html
[21] http://tbtf.com/archive/1999-03-01.html#s04


IE4 chews bandwidth

It may be too late to fix this wasteful bug

A simple bug in Internet Explorer 4 wastes gigabytes of bandwidth per day, according to this BrowserWatch story [22]. Servers that dynamically generate pages -- for example search sites -- can flag them with a do-not-cache directive, <meta http-equiv="pragma" content="nocache">. Most browsers know that it's OK to cache any (presumably static) graphics on such a page; but not IE4. The proprietor of AbsoluteChat.com, writing for BrowserWatch, claims that this bug has caused his site to serve 18 gigabytes of unnecessary data over the past month. He implores Microsoft to patch this wasteful bug. Personally I believe it's blood under the bridge. How many users who have gotten IE4 working stably would take the trouble to download and reinstall this huge and troublesome piece of software, when IE5 is already out? We're stuck with the bug and its attendant waste for many months to come, until IE4 fades into memory.

TechWeb's WebTools site has a fine tutorial on Web caching [23].

Thanks to TBTF Irregular Chuck Bury <cbury at softhome dot net> for pointing out this story.

Note added 1999-07-20: A reader noted this resource [23a], which goes into considerable depth on the subject of caching -- both at the browser and at intermediate points between browser and server.

[22] http://browserwatch.internet.com/news/story/news-990706-9.html
[23] http://www.webtools.com/story/servers/TLS19981021S0004
[23a] http://mnot.cbd.net.au/cache_docs/


WaveStar OpticAir installation

One fiber-optic network, hold the fiber

Lucent announces gigabit networking through open air

This Lucent press release [24] describes a 2.5 Gb/s networking technology, called WaveStar OpticAir, carried on a laser beam in the open air. The maximum range is 5 km. The product will be available in the first quarter of next year, with a 10 Gb/s multiplexed version following in the summer. Lucent claims the technology requires no spectrum license to operate and meets environmental safety regulations:

Unlike the tiny, high-density streams of light emitted by laser pointers, Lucent's WaveStar OpticAir system will use "expanded-beam" lasers.
Here's a diagram [25] of a representative network. The product spec page [26] has a bit more detail, but I was unable to discover the operating frequency of WaveStar OpticAir.
Note added 1999-07-19: An anonymous reader sent additional details of the Lucent system, including the photograph above depicting one end of a WaveStar OpticAir link. Other factoids include:

[24] http://www.lucent.com/press/0799/990714.nsa.html
[25] http://www.lucent.com/opticairimg.html
[26] http://www.lucent-optical.com/solutions/products/opticair/


New Mersenne prime is worth $50,000

The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search finds M-38

On July 1, GIMPS announced [27] discovery of the 38th Mersenne prime: 26,972,593 - 1. This number has over two million decimal digits and won for its discoverer, Nayan Hajratwala, the first of the EFF's Cooperative Computing Awards [28]: $50,000 for the first prime with more than a million digits. (Hajratwala can claim the award when the results are published in a refereed academic journal.)

The next Mersenne prime discovered may qualify for the follow-on EFF prize of $100,000 for a 10-million-digit prime.

GIMPS is another [29] collective Internet computing initiative (covered in earlier issues of TBTF [30], [31]), currently enrolling over 21,500 computers.

Thanks to TBTF Benefactor [32] Joe Sotham <joe dot sotham at icbc dot com> for prodding me to give this discovery some exposure.

[27] http://www.mersenne.org/prime.htm
[28] http://www.eff.org/coop-awards/
[29] http://tbtf.com/threads.html#Tipc
[30] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-02.html#s08
[31] http://tbtf.com/archive/1997-09-08.html#s07
[32] http://tbtf.com/the-benefactors.html


A confusion of ideas

Ignorant can be fixed, but stupid is forever

Lest we imagine that our own century invented clueless politicians mucking about with technology they don't understand, consider these two data points from the last century.

Bill Thornton <x at he dot net> sent this link [33] to a debate in the 28th Congress of 1845. It was proposed to spend $100,000 on a telegraph line between Baltimore and New York. The question arose as an amendment to a bill to appropriate a smaller sum to maintain an existing line between Washington and Baltimore. Senator George McDuffie raised the following objection:

What was this telegraph to do? Would it transmit letters and newspapers? Under what power in the constitution did Senators propose to erect this telegraph? He was not aware of any authority except under the clause for the establishment of post roads. And besides the telegraph might be made very mischievous, and secret information after communicated to the prejudice of merchants.
It's doubtful whether Senator McDuffie was concerned with encrypted information -- doubtless merely sending it over the new and arcane medium of the telegraph was sufficient to render it secret.

Let us close with the widely quoted plaint of Charles Babbage as he struggled with Parliamentary funding for the Analytical Engine.

On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
[33] http://www.foresight.org/News/negativeComments.html#loc050


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Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
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Most recently updated 1999-07-21