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This is the TBTF Log, the place where I report important breaking news in the most timely way possible.

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2000-08-17

5:54:55 PM
    3,419 flags
  • 177,489 flags. A Dutch art student by the name of Arjan Groot (if I'm inferring correctly from this Dutch news article) has systematized the business of generating national flags. Groot has abstracted out common designs, devices, and colors, and developed a system and nomenclature for specifying millions of potential patriotic banners.

    It's unclear how serious this work is. But an organization called the Universal Authority for National Flag Registration (which may be, simply, Groot) has published a catalog illustrating 177,489 flags in Groot's system. Here are the first 3,419 flag designs: 135K. And UNFR has participated in an exhibition of flags titled United Notions.

    UNFR's Web site implies that an expected crowd of newly hatched nations is welcome to register flag designs from Groot's system. Any day Real Soon Now it will be possible to do so on the site.

    Many thanks to TBTF Irregular Ian Grigg for word on this odd and peculiar story.

3:27:06 PM
  • 1/137. At the beginning of the 20th century, the German mathematician David Hilbert addressed the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, laying out 23 of the great unsolved problems Reimann zeta function of the day. They set the agenda for the 20th century's mathematical research. Of the fifteen problems not of strictly an investigative nature, to date twelve have been completely resolved. Only one problem, the so-called Riemann Hypothesis, remains as mysterious and challenging as ever.

    Perhaps we feel less godlike -- but more affluent -- as the 21st century dawns. Last May the Clay Mathematics Institute set down eight unsolved problems in mathematics-- and put a prize of $1 million against each of them.

    In a less serious vein, a group of physics researchers has pulled together a list of the 10 of the most perplexing problems in the field of superstring theory. Their methodology was to make the selection "in the middle and after this party in which we were sufficiently drunk."

    Tht title of this piece refers to the dimensionless quantity known as alpha, which arises in the context of the first question below. The Times piece explains alpha this way:

    If you square the charge of the electron and then divide it by the speed of light times Planck's constant, all the dimensions (mass, time and distance) cancel out, yielding a so-called "pure number" -- alpha, which is just slightly over 1/137. But why is it not precisely 1/137 or some other value entirely? Physicists and even mystics have tried in vain to explain why.

    Here then are the ten questions a superstring theorist would ask if she found herself awakened from a coma in the 22nd century.

    1. Are all the (measurable) dimensionless parameters that characterize the physical universe calculable in principle or are some merely determined by historical or quantum mechanical accident and uncalculable?
    2. How can quantum gravity help explain the origin of the universe?
    3. What is the lifetime of the proton and how do we understand it?
    4. Is nature supersymmetric, and if so, how is supersymmetry broken?
    5. Why does the universe appear to have one time and three space dimensions?
    6. Why does the cosmological constant have the value that it has? Is it zero and is it really constant?
    7. What are the fundamental degrees of freedom of M-theory (the theory whose low-energy limit is eleven-dimensional supergravity and that subsumes the five consistent superstring theories) and does the theory describe nature?
    8. What is the resolution of the black hole information paradox?
    9. What physics explains the enormous disparity between the gravitational scale and the typical mass scale of the elementary particles?
    10. Can we quantitatively understand quark and gluon confinement in quantum chromodynamics and the existence of a mass gap?
10:47:47 AM
  • updated Partial victory for CALEA foes could tame Carnivore. On Tuesday a federal appeals court unanimously overturned major parts of a highly contested FCC ruling on wiretap standards. [ ruling ] [ Wash. Post ] [ NY Times] Here's Phil Agre's excellent summary:

    EPIC, EFF, and the ACLU had filed suit in the DC Appeals Court to challenge the FBI's implementation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The FBI had wanted broad authority to impose surveillance standards on the design of communications equipment, and the FCC had largely gone along. But the plaintiffs argued the Act did not give the FBI the broad authority it had sought. The court agreed. Although it left in place some of the "features" that the plaintiffs opposed (such as cell phone tracking and packet interception), the court made clear that new forms of electronic surveillance will be subject to a high Fourth Amendment standard. This decision is particularly important with the Carnivore matter now pending on Congress.

    In essence the court said that Federal regulators have given the FBI too much authority to wiretap cellular phones and should rewrite the rules to give greater consideration to consumer privacy and industry expense.

7:33:55 AM
  • updated Microsoft porting applications to Linux? WinInformant sounds pretty confident this work has been going on for the last year at Mainsoft in Israel, but I haven't seen any other sources for the story. The reporter's source said that Microsoft's plans aren't an "emergency escape plan" in case Linux overtakes Windows on the desktop. Rather, Microsoft hopes to leverage Linux as an entry point to Windows, "in the same way it does with the Macintosh version of Office."

    Thanks to the anonymous reader who passed along this link.


    Note added 2000-08-18: You were expecting perhaps Office?

    WinInformant now says that Mainsoft has announced (some of) its porting work with Microsoft: "Internet Explorer, which will be ported to various flavors of UNIX, and Windows Media Player 6.3, which the company has already ported to Sun Solaris." The brief article does not give a URL at which the announcement can be viewed.


2000-08-15

7:16:33 PM
  • Catching gravity waves by quantum encryption. This article in New Scientist sketches research at Portsmouth University (UK) that suggests a new way to detect gravity waves. Seems that a passing gravity wave might act on a pair of entangled photons the same way an eavesdropper would. Such an apparatus couldn't help but be cheaper to build than a kilometers-long interferometer, several of which are now under construction in the US and Europe.
6:17:42 PM
  • A new rush on domain names. This one will keep the cybersquatters going for a while more. With the coming popularity of Net access by cell phone, the desirable domain names will be those that can be keyed with one or two fingers. For example, Phonefish.com is offering a handy email service at the URL jgjg.com. An Englishman has registered ghi4.com, jkl5.com, mno6.com, and tuv8.com. I just checked and 2121.com, 3232.com, and mjmj.com are all reserved.

    Thanks to TBTF Irregular Eric Scheid, who found this item on Dack's blog.

3:32:04 PM
  • ICANNt. ICANN's membership drive is over; the organization closed it early after 158,000 Netizens registered. (10,000 had been expected.) ICANN's registration servers were nowhere near up to the job. There are scattered reports of people who tried to register and gave up after innumerable failures to connect.

    Two separate groups are now collecting names of the disenfranchisees with the aim of protesting to ICANN and getting the membership rolls re-opened. One list, called ICANNT, is sponsored by the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility and hosted here at eGroups. It has 19 names at present

    The other list, run out of Germany, has signed up 115 members, according to ZDNet Australia. Germany is where, beginning last May, the local media began encouraging citizens to register. The German stampede onto the ICANN rolls prompted similar drives in China, Korea, Japan, and Brazil, though never in this country. The result is the highly skewed, nationalistically flavored membership list portrayed recently by the roving_reporter.

    Thanks to Eric Scheid and Hugh Hyatt for background on this story.


2000-08-14

7:01:58 PM
  • In yer face 24/7. If you thought old-fashioned Web ads were intrusive, just wait. adReady is introducing ads that pop up where your cursor is, as soon as it stops moving. Be sure to turn on JavaScript before visiting for the full effect. Those with tendencies toward vertigo or epilepsy should turn off the Flash plugin before following the link.

    Thanks to Monty Solomon for the nod.


2000-08-13

5:16:53 PM
  • updated A geek's guide to the presidential candidates. Political junkies watch a candidate's vice-presidential choice as a guide to his decision-making. In the same spirit, the geeks among us might examine the candidates' technology choices for guidance on their thinking on matters of substance.

    Netcraft's What's that site running? service shows that George W. Bush Web site is powered by Microsoft IIS 5.0. The platform behind Dubya's site is a bit of a poser. Netcraft is able to detect Windows 2000 (e.g., Nasdaq) and NT4 / Windows 98 (e.g., the NFL), but for the Shrub the platform comes up blank. My guess is that the site is fronted by a TCP connection-level proxy firewall.

    Al Gore uses Apache 1.3.9 on Linux.

    Ralph Nader (Green Party) runs Apache 1.3.12 on BSD. Patrick Buchanan (Reform Party) uses Apache 1.3.4 on Linux, but with FrontPage extensions. Harry Browne (Libertarian Party) is running Apache 1.3.12 on FreeBSD.

    Make of it what you will.

    Thanks to TBTF Irregulars Glen McCready and David Mankins for inspiring this exercise.

3:58:31 PM
  • bubble bomb Military censorware blocks science experiment. The US Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado has a cybercensor in its firewall to keep objectionable material out of the hands of servicemen. Yahoo! Internet Life reports that the Air Force filter blocks access to Y-Life because, in a months-old article, the magazine linked to the Exploratorium. This highly respected educational museum in San Francisco offers directions for constructing a bubble bomb out of baking soda and vinegar in a Ziploc bag. (Oops, now they'll block TBTF too.) The family science experiment was apparently too much for the Space Command.

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