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   TBTF Log, week of 2000-03-05



This is the TBTF Log, week of 2000-03-05, an experiment in reporting important breaking news in a very timely way. The TBTF newsletter continues unchanged. The most recent issue is TBTF for 2000-02-06: Privacy at the boil.

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Thursday, March 09, 2000

3/9/00 12:41:48 PM

  • "...shatters the last-mile bottleneck into shards of light." TeraBeam Networks put out this press release today in advance of their coming-out party next Monday at the PC Forum in Scotsdale. The title of this item comes from the George Gilder blurb therein:

    Truly revolutionary, shatters the last-mile bottleneck into shards of light.
    The press release announces the appointment of AT&T veteran Dan Hesse, the father of the Digital One Rate plan, as president and CEO.

    No details about TeraBeam's technology are available on their site -- it's still stealth-mode minimal. But the press release alludes to "a Fiberless Optics network with imminent potential to eliminate the last-mile bottleneck of today's bandwidth-intensive networks," and says that the company will wire(less) the PC Forum conference, providing gigabits per second connectivity. This international patent (note: PDF format), published on 27 January, gives a few details:

    Communication can be point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, multipoint-to-point, or multipoint-to-multipoint, and the point-to-multipoint communication can be broadcast, simulcast, or multicast.

    Many thanks to Brian Atkins <brian at posthuman dot com> for the rare opportunity to scoop Slashdot.


3/9/00 11:43:10 AM

  • updated Domain-name arbitor with a conflict of interest? eResolution.ca is one of three online arbitrators certified by ICANN to resolve cybersquatting cases and other disputes over domain names. The company is currently handling a complaint filed against one Ravi Lohti, purported cybersquatter. At the same time, eResolution.ca has filed a complaint with another certified arbitrator, WIPO, against Mr. Lohti over possession of the domain name eResolution.com. (Separately, eResolution.ca has begun another arbitration process through a New York firm alleging breach of contract by Mr. Lohti. eResolution.ca asserts that Mr. Lohti agreed to sell it the domain-name for $7,500.)

    This story in Canada's National Post gives the details, quoting Mr. Lohti's lawyer thus: "The first thing that jumps into your mind is conflict of interest."

    Thanks to TBTF Irregular Ted Byfield for the heads-up.

    [Note added 2000-03-10, 9:35 am:] Brian McWilliams wrote to note his InternetNews story on complaints -- by eResolution.ca and others -- of a basic flaw in the dispute-resolution process.

3/9/00 10:57:58 AM

  • updated Amazon patent developments. Amazon.com has come under fire from many quarters for its portfolio of technology patents and the use to which the company puts them. (See this recent TBTF Log item for my own reaction to Amazon's patent policies.)

    After Tim O'Reilly's open letter to Jim Bezos was published and 10,000 people added their opinions to it, Bezos called O'Reilly and a productive discussion ensued. O'Reilly is hopeful that he can move Amazon.com's patent policy in a direction more in keeping with the company's own longstanding cultural values of innovation and openness.

    To help us keep in view just how specious Amazon.com's business-model patents actually are, Monty Solomon sent this pointer to a patent issued last fall to Amazon.com. It's for a Method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network.

    The order is placed by a purchaser at a client system and received by a server system. The server system receives purchaser information including identification of the purchaser, payment information, and shipment information from the client system. The server system then assigns a client identifier to the client system and associates the assigned client identifier with the received purchaser information. The server system sends to the client system the assigned client identifier and an HTML document identifying the item and including an order button. The client system receives and stores the assigned client identifier and receives and displays the HTML document. In response to the selection of the order button, the client system sends to the server system a request to purchase the identified item...
    A patent on placing an order over the Net, assisted by a cookie. I'm reduced to spluttering.

    [Note added 2000-03-10, 9:19 am:] Amazon's Jeff Bezos has published a letter to the Net reflecting where his thinking on patents is going after three long conversations with Tim O'Reilly. Bottom line: Amazon will keep its patents and will enforce them selectively. Bezos will work for patent reform: a recognition that software and method-of-business patents are different and should operate under different rules. He proposes a 3-5 year lifetime for such a patent, not 17 years, with a 1-month public comment period before such patents issue. He wants to make the 3-5-year lifetime retroactive to all issued software and MoB patents. Amazon will fund and host a prior-art database.

    Good words, good ideas. I'll wait for Amazon's actions before I'll consider moving back into their fold.



Tuesday, March 07, 2000

3/7/00 9:25:52 PM

  • Sprint PCS leaks your cell number when you surf. Not many people browse the Web yet on their cell phones, but we're assured that the coming explosion of m-commerce is a foregone conclusion. Kevin Manley, a software developer in Seattle, is one of the pioneers. He discovered by accident that each site he visited using his Sprint PCS phone got a copy of his phone number in their server log.

    Todd Wallack wrote up Manley's discovery for the San Francisco Chronicle. Wallack reports that other wireless Web providers may have a similar privacy leak. AT&T in particular wouldn't answer his questions, but only said that no customers had complained (how would they know to?). Bell Atlantic and AirTouch are clean.

    The privacy leakage is caused, indirectly, by the micro-browser software, developed by Phone.com, that most of the wireless carriers use. Phone.com requires a unique ID for each customer it serves pages to; and guess what the most convenient unique ID is? For its part, Phone.com recommends that in the name of privacy its customers obscure or randomize the customers' phone numbers. Not all carriers do so.

3/7/00 10:47:45 AM

  • updated Crash Windows now. This is very bad. Windows 95, 98, and SE reportedly will crash hard upon trying to parse specially constructed path strings that refer to device drivers such as CON or NUL. See this security advisory hosted by the bug's discoverers. Here's their short-form description of the problem:

    It seems that the Windows98 kernel is going berserk upon processing paths that are made up of "old" (read: MS DOS) device drivers.
    Microsoft has been notified. No official fix is yet available, but the bug's investigators propose a hack to IO.SYS that could be used in desperate cases.

    To get an idea of the danger this bug represents, consider that simply reading an email or viewing a Web page or a Usenet posting could instantly reduce your Windows machine to dumb silicon. The author of such a hypothetical email, page, or posting would merely need to include an <IMG> tag and specify one of the offending strings following "src=". I will do all of you Windows users a favor and not include such an image here.

    Credit for finding and investigating this bug is assigned as follows on the advisory page:

    Initial "con" bug found in Internet Explorer by Suigien. Remote Crashing using FTPd, HTTPd, EMail, Usenet by Zoa_Chien Path0s, Necrite, Elias and ToSH.

    Thanks to TBTF Irregular Eric Scheid for quick notification on this story.

    [Note added 2000-03-17, 10:53 am:] Microsoft has issued a patch fixing this problem:



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