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TBTF for 1997-12-24: Tormenting the Babel fish

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Wed, 24 Dec 1997 11:32:11 -0400


Threads Ganging up on Microsoft
See also TBTF for
1999-08-16, 07-19, 02-15, 02-01, 01-13, 01-04, 1998-12-23, 12-15, 12-07, 11-11, 10-19, more...

Microsoft agonistes

An eventful two weeks for the software giant and its government (and other) pursuers

Unless you you've been deprived of Net access for the past two weeks, you've been immersed in a storm of news, as pervasive as pre-holiday commercialism, about the DoJ / Microsoft antitrust battle. News.com collects URLs to all of its coverage here [1]. To recap:

12-11: Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issues a preliminary injunction [2] requiring Microsoft to offer a version of its operating system that does not include Internet Explorer. He also appoints a Special Master, Lawrence Lessig, to advise the court on the legal and technical intricacies of the case [3].

12-15: Microsoft complies [4] with the injunction in a way that the San Jose Mercury News calls "compliance with a raised middle finger" [5] (this link requires Mercury Center membership). Here is Wired's coverage [6], which sums up Microsoft's response in two words, the first of which is not printable and the second of which is "you." The company said it would proceed full steam ahead with Windows 98, in which IE is so completely integrated with the OS that it practically disappears.

12-17: The DoJ files a motion accusing Microsoft of contempt of court [7].

12-17: Other parties are lining up to take their whacks at Microsoft. Attornies General from nine US states meet for three days to discuss a coordinated antitrust action [8].

12-18: Users post their own solutions to removing IE from Windows 95, and Netscape promises to post detailed instructions for removing IE [9], complete with a button for replacing it with Netscape's browser.

12-19: Judge Jackson deinstalls Internet explorer from a new computer in 90 seconds [10] and asks both sides to file comments. A Microsoft spokesman acknowledges informally that the "deinstall" program shipped with Windows 95 will remove visible portions of the browsing software, but stressed that it deletes only about three percent of the IE code; some of the remaining 97% is needed by other applications.

12-23: Microsoft files its comment [11] in response to the above, says these shenanigans demonstrate that "poorly informed lawyers have no vocation for software design." (A bit arrogant, do you think?) In a separate filing [12] the company asks Judge Jackson to remove the Special Master [13], claiming that Lessig's writings betray an anti-Microsoft bias.

12-23: Former Senator and presidential candidate Robert Dole is quietly building an anti-Microsoft coalition [14].

12-23: Mother Jones weighs in with an investigative piece [15] claiming that Microsoft so dominates the Business Software Alliance that it can and does offer foreign countries relief from copyright and trademark actions if they agree to replace their current software with purchased Microsoft products.

12-24: Hiawatha Bray, writing in the Boston Globe [15a] (the article may not be online more than a few days), notes that some of the fellow BSA members cited in the Mother Jones article disclaim its accuracy.

12-24: Microsoft stock falls to a 6-month low [16]. (MSFT is still up 45% over year-end 1996.)

[1] http://www.news.com/SpecialFeatures/Textonly/0,161,17033,00.html
[2] http://www.news.com/SpecialFeatures/Textonly/0,161,17312,00.html
[3] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17345,00.html?pfv
[4] http://www.microsoft.com/corpinfo/doj/oemdoj.htm
[5] http://spyglass1.sjmercury.com/premium/business/docs/gillmor16.htm
[6] http://www.wired.com/news/news/business/story/9223.html
[7] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17468,00.html?pfv
[8] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17440,00.html?pfv
[9] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17502,00.html?pfv
[10] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17534,00.html?pfv
[11] http://www.microsoft.com/corpinfo/doj/12-23appeals.html
[12] http://www.microsoft.com/corpinfo/doj/12-23.lessig.htm
[13] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17634,00.html?pfv
[14] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17625,00.html?pfv
[15] http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/JF98/burstein.html
[16] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17635,00.html?pfv


No overtime for Washington State permatemps?

State government in Microsoft's backyard contemplates changing the rules on non-permanent software professionals

The state of Washington moved quietly to deny overtime pay to software professionals who work on a part-time or contract basis. The Department of Labor & Industry held hearings behind closed doors; the Seattle times carried no word of the planned rule change until after the period for public comment had closed. The first coverage [17] caused such a storm of calls and letters to government officials that the comment period was reopened [18].

The proposed rule would exempt from overtime "any employee who is a computer-system analyst, computer programmer, software engineer, software developer, or other similarly skilled worker" who has experience and theoretical knowledge of computers. Those employees would be paid "straight time" for extra hours, while those earning under $27.63 per hour would continue to receive an overtime premium. Most software temps earn well above this cutoff.

The exemption was proposed by the Washington Software and Digital Media Alliance, whose largest member is Microsoft. The company supports the rule change but has let the Alliance and contract-employment agencies lead in lobbying for its adoption. Microsoft is the state's largest employer of contract software professionals, with an estimated 3,500 to 5,000 temps in its Seattle-area work force of 16,000.

This item from Edupage (1997-12-02) sheds light on another reason why such a no-overtime rule might appear politically attractive.

Rising Tech Salaries Cause Resentment Among Non-Tech Workers

One side effect of the increasing shortage of qualified high-tech workers is a sharp rise in salaries for technical jobs, which is causing morale problems among non-technical staffers working side-by-side who are beginning to see the pay scales diverge. "Salaries are escalating really quickly," says one technical director. "Sometimes, it's difficult for human-resources people to comprehend how fast that is hap- pening." The increase in salaries is also making it harder to pitch technology projects to top management, says another information technology director: "Management always reads about technology costs going down. But now costs are going up, and it's hard for them to digest this." (Wall Street Journal 1 Dec 97)

Thanks to <cal at tpdinc dot com> for the alert on this story.
Note added 1997-12-25: Keith Bostic <bostic at bostic dot com> writes to point out a passage in one of the newspaper accounts I had missed:

The proposal would bring Washington labor regulations into conformity with federal law, which was changed in 1995 to exempt software professionals from overtime rules. Most other states already have adopted the change, said Greg Mowat, the Department of Labor and Industries' program manager for employment standards. The $27.63 cut-off was borrowed from the federal law.

[17] http://www.seattletimes.com/extra/browse/html97/temp_120597.html
[18] http://www.seattletimes.com/extra/browse/html97/temp_121097.html


Trademark dispute over the word "Internet"

A banking company trademarked the I-word in 1990, and it doesn't want to give it up

David Black <d.black at opengroup dot org> sent the following account from the recent IETF meeting in Washington.

A truly amazing story was told by Robert Kahn (CNRI) and Don Heath (Internet Society, a/k/a ISOC). In 1990, a company called "Internet Inc.," working on electronic networks for banking, registered the word "Internet" as a trademark to refer to interconnecting banking networks. At that time, Robert Kahn says the company CEO assured him that there was no problem with using "Internet" to refer to the Internet -- that was a completely separate domain of usage. Since that time, they have retracted that assurance, and claimed that use of the word Internet in "Internet Society" (and by implication in IETF also) infringes their trademark. CNRI and ISOC filed a petition to cancel the trademark in 1994, so that the term "Internet" would be freely usable when referring to the Internet, and that case has been winding its way through the works ever since. The owners of the trademark apparently regard the trademark as a valuable asset and are not inclined to part with it. The US Patent and Trademark office is not being helpful at the moment -- they're apparently inclined to uphold the trademark on the basis that nobody seems to care. Among the evidence that the term Internet has gone into widespread public usage is the fact that an Alta Vista search during this presentation turned up over 8 million documents online that use the word "Internet."

Since the US Patent and Trademark office does not want to be contacted via email (e.g., see [19]), it's necessary to contact the Secretary of Commerce (US Department of Commerce):

  Email: wdaley@doc.gov
  Phone: 202-482-2112
  Fax: 202-482-2741

The Honorable William M. Daley Office of the Secretary Rm. 5854 U.S. Department of Commerce 14th & Constitution Ave. NW Washington, DC 20230

The Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, Bruce Lehman, may also be reachable via email at Bruce.Lehman@uspto.gov .

[19] http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/comm.html


Overbroad censorware

A new report focuses on the questionable, and the simply inexplicable, exclusions of a leading vendor of censorware

A new organization of Net activists and writers, The Censorware Project, has produced an in-depth look at some of the sites blocked by a leading censorware product. The report [20] is called Blacklisted by Cyber Patrol: From Ada to Yoyo. It lists entire ISPs blocked, sites with names similar to offensive sites, and sites on gay issues. Cyber Patrol blocks all of the Tripod site -- 1.4 million members' home pages -- even though Tripod's terms of service explicitly forbid members to post the kind of material that censorware is meant to deflect.

[20] http://www.spectacle.org/cwp/


Secret intelligence services invented public-key crypto

The English predated Diffie and Hellman by 3 years. Did the Yanks also invent PK, 7 years eariler still?

The British intelligence agency GCHQ last week released a paper [21] stating that officers of the British intelligence service discovered public-key cryptography years before Hellman, Diffie, Merkle, Rivest, Shamir, and Adelman. The New York Times coverage of the story is here [22]; those without an account at CyberTimes may prefer this TechWeb article [23].

John Ellis wrote the history of the British development in 1987, soon after his retirement from government service; the document was classified until last week. Ellis published an existence theorem in a secret memo in 1970 for what he called non-secret encryption. Colleagues at GCHQ then developed algorithms equivalent to RSA in 1973 and to Diffie-Hellman in 1974. The first public step toward public-key encryption was the publication of Diffie and Hellman's paper in April of 1976.

Evidence is beginning to emerge that may award first discovery to American spooks. The CD-ROM version of the 1997 Encyclopedia Britannica says, under "Cryptology: Cryptography: Two-key Cryptography":

Adm. Bobby Inman, while director of the U.S. National Security Agency, pointed out that two-key cryptography had been discovered at the agency a decade earlier [than the public discovery].
That is, in 1967. Recently Bell Labs cryptographers Matt Blaze and Steve Bellovin made available [24] a sanitzed copy of National Security Action Memorandum No. 160 (6/6/62), a memo from the desk of John F. Kennedy regarding the problem of securing the arming codes of fielded nuclear weapons. NSAM-160 was signed by science advisor Jerome Weisner. Bellovin recounts a retired NSA hand saying that NSAM-160 was the basis for the invention of public key cryptography by NSA [24]. Discussion on the Cryptography mailing list has centered on the aspects of PK crypto -- such as non-repudiation and simplified key handling -- that would have made it an ideal solution to the problem of arming codes.

To date the NSA has not followed the lead of GCHQ; they have said nothing on record about the early development of PK crypto. It's safe to assume that the last word has not been spoken on this historical question.

[21] http://www.cesg.gov.uk/ellisint.htm
[22] http://www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/week/122497encrypt.html
[23] http://www.techweb.com/news/story/TWB19971218S0008
[24] http://www.research.att.com/~smb/nsam-160/


1997 hacks

Hacks of public pages are growing with the Internet

A Web site of reference emerges for signed breakins

Hacked.net is developing into a complete historical reference for hacked Web sites, including copies of the pages with which hackers have replaced the front doors of Coca-Cola, NASA, Amnesty International, and a couple of hundred other sites. Here is a summary [25] of all known hacks of public pages since March 1977, and here are details [26] for the month of December. The totals:

  12/97   83    Fox Network, Yahoo, Trivial Pursuit
  11/97   27    Spice Girls
  10/97   44    Iomega Corp., ValuJet
  09/97   31    Coca-Cola Company, USGS
  08/97   15    First Michigan Bank
  07/97    8    Minnesota State Government
  06/97   11    Geocities, Face-Off film site, USDA
  05/97    7    Asahi TV Japan, Polish Cabinet
  04/97    8    Amnesty International
  03/97    3    NASA

[25] http://www.hacked.net/exploited.html
[26] http://www.hacked.net/december_1997.html


Second Certicom challenge falls

This is getting repetitive, repetitive

Robert Harley, who announced [27] the solution of the first increment of the Certicom challenge two weeks ago, succeeded with the aid of a larger group of collaborators in breaking the second challenge goal as well [28].

[27] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-12-08.html#s06
[28] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/certicom2.html


IBM to abandon Cryptolopes

Users say they want the secure container technology embedded in applications, not standalone

IBM is shutting down [29] the operation developing its much-hyped Cryptolopes [30] software, a secure container technology used for sending content over the Internet and for tracking intellectual property rights. Elements of the technology may be appear in Lotus Notes and/or in IBM's net.Commerce merchant server. An IBM spokeswoman said the company will not be bringing the Java-based Cryptolopes Live product to market as planned. Beta testing revealed that customers wanted to see that technology melded into other applications.

[29] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17474,00.html?pfv
[30] http://vinegar-bend.infomkt.ibm.com/ht3/crypto.htm


The Internet Clock

The Net is getting big enough that the most accurate way to track its growth may be statistically

This site [31], developed at BellCore for internal use, recons the size of the Internet by purely statistical means. (It uses a Java applet for display, so enable Java before you visit.) The authors figure that the Net is now large enough that statistical methods for estimating its size will give better accuracy than sampling or enumerating [32]:

Nearly 100,000 randomly generated IP addresses (from the universe of 2 to the power 32 possible addresses) are sampled on a daily basis and the DNS system is used to find out whether or not a host with each sampled address exists in the name service. The number of hits and failures obtained from this sampling methodology is then used to obtain the Raw Estimates (nonparametric estimates) along with confidence intervals using statistical techniques appropriate for large samples, as is the case in this application.
This page is quite new (to those outside of BellCore); when I first hit it I was visitor number 60.

So how big is the Net right now? 29,920,069 hosts and counting.

[31] http://www.netsizer.com/
[32] http://www.netsizer.com/info.html


Exclusionary sites, continued

More entries in the TBTF Exclusionary Sites Hall of Shame

Lots of responses to the Hall of Shame feature [33], [34]. "Shame" is a strong word; it grabs attention, perhaps more attention than putting up a less than universally available site deserves. Here are two more such sites pointed out by readers, in both cases excluding visitors using MSIE; and one response from a Hall of Shamer.

one Joel Rosner <joelhr at columbia dot edu> writes that his school, Columbia, discriminates against the Internet Explorer browser. To enable access to the Internet, members of the Columbia community need to register their Ethernet card for the network. The page on the site that lets you do that says:

Browser Note: This page will not work properly if you are using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. If you plan to register, pre-register, or lookup your RHNO connection information then please use any browser other than In- ternet Explorer. Netscape and Mosaic are two examples of browsers which work properly.
two Joe Barrera <joebar at microsoft dot com> notes an "MSIE need not apply" site maintained by CitiBank. Its online banking page [35] says:
If you're already a Citibank Checking account customer with a valid Citicard and a Netscape 128-bit encryption browser, you're all set. Just click here to go to the sign-in page and get started with Direct Access!
Barrera is running IE 4.0 with 128-bit encryption, as verified by Wells Fargo's browser test page [36], but CitiBank tells him "Internet Explorer and AOL browsers are not yet compatible with Direct Access." Can't say plainer than that.

three Finally, Tesco [37] got wind of their inclusion in the Hall of Shame and sent this note:

The site is currently on trial and only available to users in certain areas. The site was writen in ActiveX and VBScript for quick development. A new version is in the pipeline (available in February) which will use server side Active [sic], thereby allowing the vast majority of browsers to access the site. Also we have a CD Rom (offline version) which is available to anyone with Windows or Virtual Windows. (The new online version in February will be available to Mac users.)
(I presume by "server side Active" they mean active server pages.)

[33] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-11-24.html#s11
[34] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-12-08.html#s08
[35] http://home.da-us.citibank.com/docs2/directaccess/
[36] http://wellsfargo.com/per/services/browser/
[37] http://www.tesco.co.uk/superstore/tis.asp


The end of spam in the UK

Oh heck, you weren't talking about email?

Peter Langston <psl at langston dot com> forwards the following perfect little item from David A. Bayly <dbayly at udena dot ch>.

The last spam factory in the UK closed today, according to BBC Radio today (12/23). They had quite a long report on it, I think mainly as an excuse to play excerpts from a very famous Monty Python episode. Curiously, the factory was still profitable, but the US parent closed it anyway. Production has shifted to Denmark. Perhaps they have less BSE [mad cow disease] in Denmark?

Sorry to disappoint those who thought email when they read the title.


Tormenting the Babel fish

The collaboration of Alta vista with SYSTRAN is good news for non- English speaking users of the Web. It's good fun, too

SYSTRAN language-translation software was first reviewed here in TBTF for 1997-01-29 [38] when it was in an early stage of development. At the time, it took me four days to get the Jargon Scout page [39] translated into Spanish [40] -- the server was that overloaded. Now Digital's Alta Vista search service has teamed up [41] with a more mature SYSTRAN to offer on-the-fly translation of non-English Web pages returned from Net searches.

Given Alta Vista's track record in maintaining sub-second search times over tens of millions of requests per day, capacity limitations in translation should be a thing of the past.

You can go directly to Alta Vista's translate page [42] and enter text to be translated, or a URL. Five languages are supported: German, French, Spanish, Portugese, and Italian. In its alpha test SYSTRAN also offered Russian but this has been dropped. The service requires English on one end of each translation, so you can translate from, e.g., German into Italian only indirectly.

The translations are serviceable for simple text and should prove a boon for their intended audience of Web searchers. Some Net wags couldn't resist torture-testing the translation engine, however, and I must number myself among them [43]. It was from Anthony Baxter <arb at connect dot com dot au> that I got first word of the Alta Vista - SYSTRAN collaboration. Baxter tried a simple experiment using the common phrase "Go stick your head in a pig." (Douglas Adams would have us believe [44] that this phrase is a registered trademark of the Sirius Cybernetics Corp. Complaints Division.) Art Medlar <art at ua dot com> provides a tool [45] to automate this sort of transmogrification.

   English: Go stick your head in a pig.
    French: Disparaissent le baton votre tete chez un porc.
   English: Disappear the stick your head in a pig.

English: Go stick your head in a pig. German: Verschwinden der Stock Ihr Kopf in einem Schwein. English: Disappear the stick your heading in a pig.

English: Go stick your head in a pig. Italian: Va il bastone la vostra testa in un maiale. English: Your head in a pig goes the stick.

English: Go stick your head in a pig. Spanish: Va el palillo su cabeza en un cerdo. English: Its head in a pig goes the small stick.

English: Go stick your head in a pig. Portugeuse: Vai a vara sua cabega em um porco. English: Vai the pole its head in a pig.

What we're seeing here is the linguistic equivalent of successive multiplication by a number less than one. If each translation is 70% faithful to its source, for example, two trips through the translation engine result in a 51% degradation in meaning, four trips a 76% degradation, and so on.

SYSTRAN makes so bold as to claim to handle idiom in its various languages. Baxter's example, and these experiments of mine [43], demonstrate the hollowness of the claim. Here is a prose sample from SYSTRAN's Web site [46] -- obviously rendered, by the very software in question, into a language curiously like English, and not since examined by any eyes attaching to an English-speaking person.

SYSTRAN, famous for its past as supplier for the government and industry, has a flexible organization which allows to develop at the rhythm of technologic evolution and emerging ideas in the field of computer linguistic. Without losing benefit from hundred of people / years invested since 1968 in the development of linguistic dictionaries and rules for its impressive choice of language pairs, SYSTRAN has learned to evolve successfully towards a sophisticated system of transfer type automatic translation.
SYSTRAN sells its translation services both in the form of Windows software, priced per bidirectional language pair [47], and online for a penny per word [48]. Another language translation company, Comprende [49], which has announced a partnership with Best Internet, intends to offer translation services by subscription. Both companies will have to find a way to position their online offerings as premium services, since SYSTRAN's deal with Alta Vista means that neither can compete on the bases of price or capacity / availability.

[38] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-01-29.html#s06
[39] http://www.tbtf.com/jargon-scout.html
[40] http://www.tbtf.com/explorador-jerga.html
[41] http://altavista.digital.com/av/content/pr120997.htm
[42] http://babelfish.altavista.digital.com/cgi-bin/translate?
[43] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/trans.html
[44] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0345391802/tbtfA/
[45] http://www.archive.org/~art/babelphone.html
[46] http://www.systransoft.com/howworks.html
[47] http://www.systransoft.com/PriceList.html
[48] http://www.systranet.com/english/trans.html
[49] http://comprende.globalink.com/


bul Today's TBTF title is due to Guy Harris <guy at netapp dot com>, who posted various Alta Vista / SYSTRAN experiments to a private mailing list. The Babel fish is the fanciful invention of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [44]: place this small symbiotic fish in your ear and thereafter it telepathically translates any language for you. Digital has honored this invention in the URL of its translation service [42].


bul For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see http://www.tbtf.com/sources.html.

bul Edupage -- mail listproc@educom.unc.edu without subject and with message: subscribe edupage Your Name . Web home at http://www.educom.edu/ .

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