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TBTF for 1998-05-11: Lizard lips

Keith Dawson ( dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Mon, 11 May 01:22:12 -0400


Threads Open source software and the Linux OS
See also TBTF for
1999-08-16, 05-22, 03-26, 02-15, 02-01, 1998-11-17, 11-11, 11-03, 10-27, 10-12, 08-31, more...

Open source software gets hope for Merced

Intel offers help with non-disclosure concerns

TBTF for 1998-03-23 [1] picked up a thread of worry in the Linux and Open Source worlds: that their drive into the mainstream of computing could be stalled if the entrenched players, especially Intel, withhold critical programming information from these communities. In a recent talk [2] to a Chicago-area Linux users' group, Donnie Barnes, a principal developer at Red Hat, allayed some of these fears. Barnes let slip that Red Hat had been contacted by Intel to consult on issues with running Linux on the new Merced chips, when such chips become available. He also mentioned that Intel seems willing to provide information about I2O programming to the Red Hat folks -- this proprietary bus has been a source of concern in the Linux community.

Barnes didn't say, and wouldn't be expected to know, whether Intel was talking to other Linux venders. My bet is that they are.

Thanks to Michael Callahan <mjc at rodagroup dot com> for notes from this meeting.

[1] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-23.html#s03
[2] http://www.threepoint.com/more/980421-1.html


British crypto proposal released

Seeks voluntary licensing of encryptors

On 4/27 the British Department of Trade and Industry released its much-delayed encryption policy proposal. As reported in TBTF for 1998-03-03 [3], the government wants to leave a backdoor for law enforcement to subjects' communications, and will introduce legislation "to enable law-enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant for lawful access to information necessary to decrypt the content of communications or stored data" [4]. The government proposal also suggests making electronic signatures legally binding and introduces a voluntary scheme for licensing companies that provide encryption services, rather than a mandatory one. This proposal represents an about-face from Labor's pre-election manifesto, which read in part:

Attempts to control the use of encryption technology are wrong in principle, unworkable in practice, and damaging to the long- term economic value of the information networks.
The day after the DTI report's release, Phil Zimmermann happened to be speaking at the Infosecurity '98 show in London, and took the opportunity to slam the government proposal [5]. He pointed out that a system could be imposed where a certification authority would not sign for a signature key unless users handed over their encryption keys. The initial PGP implementation guarded against this. Zimmermann warned, "Don't go for this."

You can keep up-to-the-minute on developments in British crypto policy at this page [6] on the site of the Campaign Against Censorship of the Internet in Britain.

[3] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-09.html#s02
[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_84000/84332.stm
[5] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19980430S0007
[6] http://www.liberty.org.uk/cacib/crypto.html


Threads Software patents
See also TBTF for
2000-03-31, 1999-08-30, 06-14, 02-15, 01-26, 01-13, 1998-12-15, 08-31, 05-18, 05-11, 04-27, more...

Wang patent claims against Netscape thrown out

A browser is not a Videotex terminal

A Federal judge has dismissed Wang's patent claims against Netscape [7]. The ruling stated that Wang's patent on the early-1980s "Videotex" system was "generically and fundamentally different" from Internet Web browsers and related technologies. Netscape's Mozilla page [8] thanks the hundreds of developers who responded to the company's plea for help with the prior art:

You guys blew away our lawyers. Tons of stuff came in, and good stuff.
[7] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,21887,00.html?pfv
[8] http://www.mozilla.org/legal/wang-dismissed.html


Threads Domain name policy
See also TBTF for
2000-04-19, 03-31, 1999-12-16, 10-05, 08-30, 08-16, 07-26, 07-19, 07-08, 06-14, 05-22, more...

Congress belatedly authorizes fee for domain names

Does this mean the price will go back up?

You weren't waiting for a $30 refund from when you registered a domain name [9], were you? Now Congress has retroactively authorized the collection of the fee [10], [11] as part of Internet domain-name registration. The President has signed the measure. The lawyer who represented the companies filing suit against domain-name registrar Network Solutions, Inc., is not ready to let the matter rest. "We are going to very, very vigorously oppose any suggestion that that vague language surreptitiously entered into the bill ratified an unconstitutional tax," he said.

NSI stopped collecting the Intellectual Infrastructure fee on 1 April 1998.

[9] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-04-13.html#s02
[10] http://cgi.pathfinder.com/netly/afternoon/0,1012,1961,00.html
[11] http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/98/05/...html


"Lawful access" in practice

Fourth Amendment shades of grey

Phil Agre's Red Rock Eater News Service carried an extended discussion [12] of the legalities of "lawful access" searches vs. court-issued warrants, covered in TBTF for 1998-04-27 [13]. It details the shades of grey that executive practice has patinated over the Fourth Amendment down the years. Here is the CDT's Jim Dempsey clarifying the role of Executive Order 12333 in the present day:

...section 2.5 of E.O. 12333 was superseded by legislation, adopted, I think, in 1994. 50 USC 1821 - 1829. Now the Attorney General can authorize physical searches on her own only of premises, property or material "used exclusively by, or under the open and exclusive control of, a foreign power." Searches directed at agents of foreign powers must be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. My boss at the time, Cong. Don Edwards was one of the few who objected, arguing, that these "black bag jobs" should be abolished altogether, not given to the FISA court.
[12] http://www.findmail.com/listsaver/noframes/rre/807.html
[13] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-04-27.html#s04


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 news

bul Hotmail still running on Solaris and Apache

A leaked report [14] claims that after purchasing the Hotmail free email service, which has 10 million subscribers, Microsoft tried and failed to move it off of Solaris hosts and onto Windows NT. A source is quoted as saying, "NT couldn't handle it. The issue is being escalated." The Web server in use on Solaris is Apache 1.2.1, which does not run on NT due to technical and other difficulties encountered by the Apache team. This report first appeared in Network News (1998-04-22), but I could find no online source for it.

Note added 1998-04-12: William Wisner <wisner at gratuitous dot com> sent this clarification:
Version 1.2.1 does not run on Windows NT but the most recent development release (1.3b6) does. Your text as written could easily be read to mean that Apache won't run under Windows NT, period.

[14] http://www.news.com/Rumors/0,29,,00.html

bul Gaming site opens to Netscape's browser

Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone [15] opened its gates to Netscape users yesterday, rolling out a new version of its software that will support the Netscape Navigator Web browser. This is the site that originally inspired the TBTF Exclusionary Sites Hall of Shame [16].

[15] http://www.techweb.com/news/story/TWB19980427S0019
[16] http://www.tbtf.com/exclusionary.html

bul Is Microsoft buying academia?

A professor who mentions Microsoft programming tools in a scholarly presentation, or even just uses the tools, can get a check for $200 from Microsoft. The company extends this offer on the Web page of the Academic Cooperative [17], a Microsoft "speakers' bureau" for computer-science professors. Ethics watchdogs call the program a baldfaced attempt to turn professors into advertisers. Microsoft says it's a well-intentioned effort to help faculty members cover their conference costs, and notes that $200 is not that big a deal, anyway. But it's a bigger deal for a professor in a public institution than for a stock-optioned Microsoft employee. "We're so strapped, we don't look a gift horse in the mouth," says a CS professor at U.Mass-Lowell.

Thanks to Jon Callas <jon at worldbenders dot com> for the forward.

[17] http://academicoop.isu.edu/Colleges/FacultySpeakersProgram.html


Threads Year 2000 straws in the wind
See also TBTF for
2000-02-06, 1999-12-16, 08-23, 01-26, 01-13, 1998-11-11, 10-12, 07-27, 05-25, 05-11, 04-20

Year 2000 corner

bul Legislative attempt to limit Y2K damages is dead, for now

The California bill, covered in TBTF for 1997-04-20 [18], died last week in the Assembly's Judiciary Committee. Supporters plan to reintroduce the legislation [19]. The idea is spreading: other states and the Congress are considering similar laws [20].

[18] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-04-20.html#s07
[19] http://cgi.pathfinder.com/netly/afternoon/0,1012,1972,00.html
[20] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/y2k/TWB19980507S0027

bul Al Gore's Y2K problem

We expect the millenium bug to have financial and legal impacts. Now the Netly News [21] has uncovered the first evidence of its likely political fallout. Republican strategists are maneuvering to pin the Y2K problem on the Vice President, who has cast himself as both the champion of high tech and the prime mover in the Reinventing Government initiative. So why hasn't he been leading the effort to stomp this bug in government and industry?

[21] http://cgi.pathfinder.com/netly/editorial/0,1012,1956,00.html

bul Tester, heal thyself

Risks 19.71 (1998-05-01) [22] introduces a subject we will be hearing more about as testing for Year 2000 fixes accelerates: problems caused by systems that can't handle date records jumping around. The scenario: testers set the system date ahead to late 1999. After testing they set it back but forget to purge the log and transaction data that is stamped with out-of-sequence dates. The anonymous Risks correspondent notes that such problems are easy to fix but that there may be a lot of them.

[22] http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/19.71.html#subj10

bul K2Y

Risks 19.67 (1998-04-14) [23] carried this "inverse Y2K" note culled from the UK Daily Telegraph by <streaky_bacon at msn dot com>.

Wine broker Bordeaux Index has spent a fortune making sure its computers can handle the Millennium bug. Yesterday it had no trouble shifting a magnum of Chateau Margaux 1900 for 9,000 pounds -- but trying to log the sale proved more difficult. No matter how hard they tried, the computer kept changing the description to Ch. Margaux 2000. "We are stumped," says a spokesman. "We can't get it to register the proper name."
[23] http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/19.67.html#subj10

bul Your daily dose

Visit [24] for a quotidian load of press clippings on Y2K. For a wider view -- a robot that watches (currently) fifteen Y2K summary pages and reports differences day by day -- see Ingenious Technologies' Daily Diffs [25].

[24] http://www.year2000.com/articles/NFarticles.html
[25] http://www.dailydiffs.com/dop000kp.htm


Google: high-relevancy Web searching

Ranking Web pages for better search results

This site [26], one of the few rigorous academic research projects on Web searching, presents a demonstration database -- only 25M documents -- that already blows past most of the existing search engines in returning relevant nuggets. Google employs a concept of Page Rank derived from academic citation literature. Page Rank equates roughly to a page's importance on the Web: the more inbound links a page has, and the higher the importance of the pages linking to it, the higher its Page Rank. The project used to be called BackRub and its spiders are still so called; those of you hosting Web pages will have seen its tracks of late in your log files. I tried a search for "Schmanthrax" -- the title of TBTF for 1998-02-23 [27] -- and of the 16 items returned, the top one was that very issue and 10 were linking pages on the TBTF archive. Alta Vista and HotBot returned a far larger number of hits, predominantly the mailing list archives of TBTF republishers.

The site has this to say about the name:

We chose our system name, Google, because it is a common spelling of googol, or 10^100 and fits well with our goal of building very large-scale search engines.
Funny, I thought the common spelling of googol was "googol."

[26] http://google.stanford.edu/
[27] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-02-23.html


Silicon cockroaches

They'd survive a nuclear war

This TechWeb story [28], covering a NetWorld+Interop talk by a Uunet executive, slips in an appealing piece of jargon, which the Jargon Scout [29] is more than happy to pick up. We are to believe that this is how ISPs refer to the data bursts on which business-to-business Internet commerce is built.

The biggest challenge to ISPs such as Uunet is presented by silicon cockroaches, or computer-to-computer communications that cause short bursts of huge amounts of data traffic in highly unpredictable patterns.
[28] http://www.tbtf.com/jargon-scout.html
[29] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/ni9805/TWB19980507S0004



A surprise bestseller

Mr. Bunny and Farmer Jake take on technical book publishing

The bestselling book on ActiveX in the Boston software community -- in fact the bestselling software book in any category -- is Mr. Bunny's Guide to ActiveX [30]. The book is a joke from cover to cover, perpetrated by Gary Swanberg writing as Carleton Egremont III. Last February object expert Charlie Kindel mentioned the book favorably on a DCOM developers' mailing list and launched an underground publishing phenomenon. As far as I know, Softpro Books is the exclusive distributor of Mr. Bunny's Guide. Amazon professes total ignorance of its ISBN. You can buy the book here [31], and since Softpro has no "associates" program I won't even get a kickback, but hey, don't let that stop you. It's only $13.95 and cheap at half the price.

Note added 1998-04-12: Bob Treitman of Softpro Books sent this elucidation:
No, we're not the exclusive sellers. You can get it at Computer Literacy, we wholesale to them. I think that Quantum carried it, though whether or not they still are stocking it I don't know. B&N and Borders have bought from us for resale. And I think that Wordworth is carrying it. Whether or not we're the only ones with it on our web site is a question.

[30] http://www.mrbunny.com/
[31] http://www.softpro.com/softpro/0-9661296-0-1.html


Flash crowd

When the Net hands you mockery, make mock turtle soup

This year when People magazine began hyping its annual Most Beautiful People poll, some People person had the bright idea to open up voting on the Web. Bad idea. Usenet fans of radio schlock-jock Howard Stern began encouraging Netizens to write in votes for a regular character on the show: Hank the Angry, Drunken Dwarf. The campaign spread across the Net and surely lots of people who had never heard, perhaps never heard of, Howard Stern voted for the Dwarf. (Yours truly did.) The magazine suspended Web voting after Hank pulled ahead of Leonardo DiCaprio. The Net, its fun spoilt, howled in protest; the magazine relented and reinstated the voting page, even adding Hank's name to a preconfigured button to save visitors the trouble of a write-in. Voting closed on 5/8 and the last time I looked before that, Hank was outgunning Lenny the Cap by twenty to one. The final tally [32] should be announced on Monday 5/11. Here is the page that, so it claims, started the write-in campaign [33]. The vote for Hank took off seriously after Stern allowed a caller to cite this URL on his broadcast. This story was picked up by some media outlets more traditional than the one you are reading [34].

[32] http://www.pathfinder.com/people/50most/1998/vote/index.html
[33] http://www.koam.com/people-poll.html
[34] http://www.mrshowbiz.com/news/todays_stories/980429/dwarf42998.html


Lizard lips

How to pronounce http://www

I've long been a fan of pronouncing "www" as triple-dub, a neologism proposed in one of Wired's first Jargon Watch columns. Several other suggestions for verbalizing URLs appeared recently on the newsgroup alt.religion.kibology, whose chaos is presided over by James "Kibo" Parry <kibo at world dot std dot com>. The newsgroup sprang up in the days before the Web out of the conviction that Kibo must be God. Parry had set up filters on a full Usenet newsfeed and was known for sending email, posthaste, to anyone who used the word "Kibo" in any Usenet posting. Kibo's posting is an object lesson in quoting a discussion thread and running it off a cliff. See why they think he's God?

  >>:>I want to invent a time machine just so I can kill the guy
  >>:>who named the letter W and have its named changed to "wee."

  >>:You know, I've always been meaning to introduce "wee wee wee"
  >>:as a pronunciation of "www", but I've had such little occa-
  >>:sion to pronounce an URL aloud.

  >>I've gotten a couple of other DJs at the radio station to an-
  >>nounce our URL as "hut-up wow", but I haven't heard anyone
  >>else say it that way yet.

  >My preferred pronounciation is "Hat Tip, Woo Woo" but I can't
  >get anyone to use it. Maybe if I actually paid them to do it.

  But this skirts the real issue:  what's the name of "://"?
  I like to call it "lizard lips" because we all know that
  sideways lizard faces have diagonal lips. Nowadays most
  smileys are too kissable.

Notice, in the second quoted passage, that the writer appears to believe that "URL" is pronounced "earl." Must be a newbie. Coming to you live from hat-top, lizard-lips, triple-dub, tee-bee-tee-eff dot com, I remain, yrs. sincerely, &tc.


bul Flash Crowd is a short story by Larry Niven, collected in The Flight of the Horse [35], now out of print. The story imagines a near-future time when a system of cheap teleportation in use around the world enables instant mobs to gather at newsworthy events. How like the Web.

[35] http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/partner?partner_id=23196&cgi=search/search&searchtype=isbn&searchfor=0345298101

bul A small celebration will be in order with the publication of the next issue of TBTF, which will be number 150.


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

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