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TBTF for 1998-11-11: Quizzical

Keith Dawson ( dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Wed, 11 Nov 22:14:55 -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...

Trial and tribulations

Minor slips in the market and major slaps in court

The Microsoft trial, running at a witness a week, may drag into next March. Imagine our joy. By then even diehard reporters may tire of the cut-and-thrust. Netsurfer Digest puts it nicely [1]:

The government everybody loves to abuse sues the company everybody loves to hate. Throw in a bunch of faceless lawyers cross-examining techies [with] all the charisma of a video driver and you've got a spectacle of thoroughly miniscule proportions.
So I'll just mention one highlight, or lowlight, from the trial to date and pass on to some intriguing movements in Microsoft's market share numbers.

                 Oct. 1998      July 1998
                  n=113          n=259
                    n    %         n    %
      Microsoft    --   --        --   --
            IE4    36   32        88   34
            IE3     9    8        30   12
                        ---            ---
                        40%           46%
           Com4    33   29        69   27
           Nav4    24   21        40   15
           Nav3    10    9        32   12
           Nav2     1    1         0    0
                        ---            ---
                        60%           54%
Note added 1998-11-17: Glenn Fleishman <glenn at glenns dot org> sent this note.
These numbers seem statistically meaningless. Am I missing something here? The October numbers contain a sample less than half the July sample. What's the percentage for error? How do they correct for error against population at large?

True thing: the statistics are less than ideal. But this survey is one of the few of its kind still in operation. Intersé used to make public the numbers from their visitors but stopped when Microsoft acquired them (see [6a] for a pickled graph). Even in their heyday those numbers were suspect, because Intersé's tool ran only on Wintel, so what do you suppose most of their visitors were running? Browserwatch.com once carried such stats but now runs only simple news items. Sure, the browser battle is long past its headline days, but reliable numbers could still tell us something about market trends.

[1] http://www.netsurf.com/nsd/nsd.04.33.html
[2] http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/cases/f2000/2010.htm
[3] http://tbtf.com/resource/tevanian.html
[4] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19981109S0018
[5] http://www.zonaresearch.com/browserstudy/1998/oct98/98browser.html
[6] http://www.zonaresearch.com/browserstudy/1998/july98/98browser.html
[6a] http://tbtf.com/archive/1996-10-20.html#s01

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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...

Halloween aftershocks

Reverberations from a leaked Microsoft memo

The leaked internal Microsoft document [7] profiled in last week's TBTF [8] continues to echo in the nerd media and far beyond.

[7] http://www.opensource.org/halloween1.html
[8] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-11-03.html#s02
[9] http://www.opensource.org/halloween2.html
[10] http://www.opensource.org/halloween3.html
[11] http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit19981105.html
[12] http://reports.guardian.co.uk/articles/1998/11/8/32026.html
[13] http://linuxtoday.com/stories/638.html
[14] http://www.lyra.org/greg/mod_dav/

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Jon Katz gets it

Moral media for a new age

Self-described "technologically challenged media critic" Jon Katz discovered Slashdot.org [15] and straightaway got religion. (He got such a case of it that yesterday he subscribed to TBTF. Welcome, Jon.) Katz believes that bottom-up sites such as Slashdot, untidy and boisterous, deliver on the promise of a revolutionary new medium in a way that crossover old media such as Slate and Salon can never aspire to. The white-hat character of the Open Source movement spawns media with built-in moral authority.

Moral media are the ones that shape events, while amoral media sag and fade away... This is what put Microsoft's now mythic Halloween Document and the Open Source Software movement in such stark relief -- here was a greedy, arrogant company struggling to figure out how to close down or control access to the freest culture in the world so they could make more billions, and here is one of many Web sites devoted to improving and giving away for free the systems that might run the Digital Age.
It's funny, though: Bill Gates insists he is developing a stable operating system, and Linus Torvalds claims to be bent on world domination.

[15] http://slashdot.org/features/98/11/09/1124251.shtml

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Barnes & Noble buys a large book distributor

Purchase of Ingram gives Amazon.com pause

On 5 November Barnes & Noble announced it will buy the closely held Ingram Book Group [16]. Ingram is the country's largest book distributor and Amazon.com's biggest supplier -- 57% of Amazon.com's book purchases came through Ingram last year. Amazon.com officials immediately voiced their concern over the combination, as did industry analysts [17]. Barnes & Noble's online unit, Barnesandnoble.com, is Amazon's principal Web competitor. Ingram insists it will honor existing contracts and distribution arrangements.

For a good time, follow these links and read the press releases in order.

[16] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,28452,00.html?tbtf
[17] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,28474,00.html?tbtf
[18] http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/981106/wa_amazon__1.html
[19] http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/981106/barnesandn_1.html
[20] http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/981106/wa_amazon__2.html

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Microsoft buys LinkExchange

And privacy loses, again

As if to demonstrate that the Justice Department is not about to slow it down, Microsoft has purchased [21] the LinkExchange advertising network and its family of related sites servicing mostly small businesses. LinkExchange will be folded into Microsoft's MSN collection of Internet properties. The services the new acquisition brings to MSN include:

The acquisition has a privacy wrinkle that none of the traditional media outlets caught. Stephen Heise <stephen at streetprices dot com> describes the problem this way.

With that purchase they buy all the email addresses in ListBot as well as historical stats on 400,000 LinkExchange web sites, 10-100 million user cookies, and the clicktrail for every surfer on a LinkExchange site. Should they wish to combine the LinkExchange cookies with their other electronic profiles (by a trivial redirection of gifs from LinkExchange to MSN, passing along the LE cookie info), they could even find out who was surfing what pages when.

This dwarfs the Netscape URL sniffing software [22] because it's not optional and, what's more, it's retroactive.

[21] http://www.thestandard.net/articles/article_print/0,1454,2391,00.html
[22] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-10-27.html#s03


DigiCash goes down

Flawed concept or just flawed execution?

The pioneer in e-cash, the company considered by privacy experts to offer the gold-plated standard for anonymous transactions, announced [23] on 4 November that it will seek Chapter 11 protection in bankruptcy court. The demise of David Chaum's groundbreaking company has stimulated reams of commentary on mailing lists such as e$, micropay, and cryptography. Some posters paint DigiCash's demise as indicative of the fatal flaws they see in the very idea of anonymous digital money. Others chalk up the failure to Chaum's dogged insistence on unrealistically high royalties for using his patented blind-trust process. These two views are reflected in this posting [24] to the Red Rock Eater News Service, in which moderator Phil Agre introduces Robert Hettinga playing Gordon Gekko [25]. (Note: the Gekko reference comes from Hettinga's own posting, and is not implied by Agre's introduction.) I agree with Hettinga more than I do with Agre in this case, but Agre's prose is not to be resisted.

Interactive television, VRML, Active X, network computers, "push" technology, agents, "social" interfaces, resource visualization, cryptographic payment mechanisms... [this] sad line-up of underperforming technologies should be understood not as serious attempts at innovation but as a kind of ritual, an expensive and counterproductive substitute for the chants and dances that healthy societies perform when they are placed under stress.
[23] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,28360,00.html?tbtf
[24] http://www.egroups.com/list/rre/952.html
[25] http://us.imdb.com/Title?Wall+Street+(1987)


Under the radar

A new hacker tactic: low-frequency, coordinated scans

Beginning last July, security experts began to document a new type of probe directed against protected networks. Low-frequency scans originating from multiple IP addresses could slip in beneath the notice of most intrusion-detection software. In September the Shadow group, an anti-hacker coalition, issued a report on the tell-tale signs of such stealth attacks [26]. See [27] for a readable summary of this report. Developers of intrusion-detection systems such as Network Associates and ISS are hard at work on detectors for low-frequency attacks [28].

[26] http://www.nswc.navy.mil/ISSEC/CID/co-ordinated_analysis.txt
[27] http://www.andovernews.com/cgi-bin/news_story.pl?90350
[28] http://www.zdnet.com/pcweek/stories/printme/0,4235,360254,00.html

space ______

A standard for organizing Web sites

Finding things where you expect to

The ever-reasonable Greg Knauss has proposed a standard to help ease the complexity of navigating unfamiliar Web sites [29]. He writes:

Just as convention suggests a Web server start its host name with the now ubiquitous "www," the other end of the URL is ripe for standardization.
The suggestions are common-sensical and in fact resemble the conventions already adopted by many sites concerned to ease the journey of first-time or infrequent visitors.

[29] http://theobvious.com/archives/110298.html

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Carbon nanotubes promise superior flat-panel displays

Grown like grass on glass

Nanotubes are thin, elongated versions of buckminsterfullerenes -- soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules named for the late Buckminster Fuller, architect and inventor of the geodesic dome. Buckyballs have intrigued scientists since they were first made in 1985. Now a team at SUNY Buffalo has found a way to grow nanotubes onto thin sheets of glass [30], in rows resembling a buzz-cut head of hair, for use in display panels. The nanotubes are much stronger than steel and are highly efficient electron emitters. "Our nanotubes are beautifully aligned, they grow at relatively low temperatures, and they grow on glass," one of the researchers said.

[30] http://www.infobeat.com/stories/cgi/story.cgi?id=2556956475-31f

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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

Declan McCullagh's Politech email list [31] has become a rich source for edgy year-2000 news bits. See Sources below for subscription information.

[31] http://www.well.com/~declan/politech/

bul An obscure and controversial Y2K bug

A mysterious anomaly called the Crouch-Echlin Effect may strike computers with a nonbuffered real-time clock even after they have been checked for Y2K problems and fixed. This NY Times article [32] (free registration and cookies required) describes the reported glitch and gives equal time to its critics, who suspect the motives of Msrs. Crouch and Echlin and claim that the problem cannot be reproduced. Compaq Computer, nee Digital, exacerbated the controversy recently by announcing for sale software to check for Crouch-Echlin, and paying a royalty to the discoverers.

[32] http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/98/11/biztech/articles/09bug.html

bul Better news on embedded processors

Electric and gas utility Washington Water Power tested 540,000 embedded components and found only 1,800 (3.3%) that contained year-2000 date dependencies [33]. Of that number, only 234 needed to be fixed or replaced -- only 4/100 of 1% of the total. Earlier guesstimates of likely failure rates ranged up to a few percent overall for embedded processors in the power and transportation industries.

[33] http://www.computerworld.com/home/print.nsf/all/9810126DF6

bul Bank of Canada prepares for a run on cash

The bank is ready to print more money should people become anxious about the millennium bug and want to withdraw extra money as a safeguard [34]. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association said banks expect consumers' worries to increase as Jan. 1, 2000 draws closer.

[34] http://www2.thestar.com/thestar/editorial/money/981102BUS01d_FI-CASH2.html

bul Spectre of military intervention raised in Scotland

A leaked letter [35] reveals a warning that the millennium bug could spark a Scottish civil emergency requiring military intervention. The letter is part of a feud between a Scottish parliamentarian and the British defense secretary over cuts to the Territorial Army north of the border. It reads in part:

Labour have previously assured us that they were in control of the millennium bug problem. Fears are now growing that this is no longer the case.
Note added 1998-11-17: Dave Fitch wrote with this clarification:
The Scottish parliamentarian is actually the Secretary of State for Scotland [Donald Dewer], i.e. he is the highest ranking politician in Scotland, who runs the Scottish Office [the body which oversees all central government activity in Scotland][which includes oversight of all local and regional governments as well]. He is effectively the Scottish Prime Minister, and will be should Labour actually win the elections for next year's Scottish Parliament.

I believe he is quoted as admitting signing said letter but disputing whether or not he actually *read* it....

Ian Usher sent this link [35a] to a story in today's Guardian detailing government contingency planning about the use of troops in case of Y2K troubles.

[35] http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_208000/208029.stm
[35a] http://reports.guardian.co.uk/articles/1998/11/17/33620.html

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Blinding 'em with science

On the 20th anniversary of its coverage of science and technology, The Economist is running its second science quiz [36]. The first was 10 years ago. I've subscribed to the magazine for 8 years and have read the science news religiously -- their coverage often surpasses that of Scientific American in clarity and comprehensibility to the layman -- but I found this tightly designed little quiz humbling. The Web quiz [36] rides an easier medium than the dead-trees edition and it scores you automatically.

Note added 1998-11-17:
Several folks wrote to ask that I post my own score on this quiz. Oh, all right. I got 35 straight up, using no external references except for the CRC Handbook (30th edition) to pin down the element name for what Iridium should be called.

[36] http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/current/st4654.html


bul Your correspondent will be in attendance at the Cato Institute's annual conference on technology and society Nov. 19-21 in San Jose [37]. This year's conference, Washington D.C. vs. Silicon Valley, is co-sponsored by Forbes ASAP. Drop me a note if you're planning to attend -- perhaps we can pull together a TBTF dinner.

[37] http://www.cato.org/events/technol.html


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

bul Politech: email majordomo@vorlon.mit.edu with any subject and with message: subscribe politech .

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Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.



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