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TBTF for 1999-01-04: Blue moons

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Mon, 4 Jan 19:32:44 -0400


An offshore view of free US browsers

Are Microsoft and Netscape colluding in restraint of trade?

Robin Miller's article [1], first published in the Baltimore Sun last month, suggests that the makers of the Opera browser ought to get together with the Norwegian government and mount an international "dumping" suit against the US govenrment and the two dominant US browser makers.

Opera Software has at least as much right to be angry at Microsoft and Netscape as American steel and auto producers have to be upset by predatory pricing by Asian steel and auto companies... I expect Opera Software and the Norwegian government to sue Netscape, Microsoft, and the U.S. Government for violating the same treaties and international trade principles held so dear by American smokestack industries.
I haven't seen this suggestion circulated widely — the Politech mailing list carried it and Rod Amis ran it in both Generation 21 [1] and Andover News [2] (for which Miller sometimes writes) — but if Opera's developers take the hint you'll see it everywhere.
Note added 1999-01-07: Mike Masnick <mike at techdirt dot com> writes to comment on the idea of suing software producers who give away their product:
I think they'd have a hard time proving a dumping argument. They can try, but if they do, it'll simply be based on blindly trying to support a company rather than any real economic arguments. This has bugged me recently about past claims of MS unfairly pricing IE to get at Netscape. While I am not an open source zealot, and don't pay much attention to them, I am interested in the basic economics of the situation (which they do occasionally touch on).

In order to be dumping, in the true sense, you need to be offering the product below cost. What's the cost for Opera? Well, an economist would claim, of course, that it's the marginal cost to produce a copy, and that, being software, would be zero.

So, the answer is that Opera is marking up the margin on their software too high, and MS and Netscape are simply taking fair, competitive, advantage of that. It's not an uncompetitive move. If anything, they've moved to make the market more efficient.

I don't know much about Opera, beyond having tried it once, but if they folks behind it are as smart as everyone claims they are, they should look into the basic economics, and some of the points that the Open Source crowd make concerning how to build a sustainable business based on giving away the code (whether or not you give out the source - though the business arguments could be stronger when the source is given away).

[1] http://www.g21.net/news7.html
[2] http://www.andovernews.com/cgi-bin/news_column.pl?219


Cookie privacy flaw affects most browsers

Accepting a cookie from a national TLD considered harmful

Two students and Web consultants in New Zealand, Oliver Lineham <oliver at lineham dot co dot nz> and Arun Stephens, have discovered the latest browser privacy hole, dubbed Cookiemonster [3]. The bug's source is both flawed implementation of the cookie spec by almost all browser vendors and a basic hole in the spec itself [4]. Cookiemonster is exploitable to do bad things, but even if not exploited it wastes bandwidth and could lead to a loss of private data.

The nut of it is that cookies set by most domains outside of the US will be returned to many other visited Web sites within that country, instead of just to the originating Web site (or its peers). The flaw arises from the cookie spec [4], which defines an inexact method of counting dots to determine whether a visited site is a peer of the site that set a cookie. The implementation of most browsers is further flawed, leading to the Cookiemonster.

Lineham's exploit site [3] could serve as a template for other bug discoverers to follow. It's lucid, thorough, speedy, and cleanly designed. The bug's demonstration is gentle on visitors and is entirely convincing.

[3] http://www.paradise.net.nz/~glineham/cookiemonster.html
[4] http://www.netscape.com/newsref/std/cookie_spec.html


Brazilian Internet strike virus spreading by email

Good Times-like message has little ground in fact

TBTF for 1998-11-03 [5] carried word of a strike in Germany by Internet users demanding more reasonable telephone rates. Brazilian reader Andre Uratsuka Manoel <andre at insite dot com dot br> sends word of an email meme that has been spreading in those parts since early December. A Good Times-like email message calls for an Internet boycott on January 13 and asks the recipient to forward it to everyone s/he knows. The message denounces the allegedly high prices of Internet access in Brazil (around US $25) in contrast to a supposedly standard price of US $10 for unlimited access. Manoel writes:

The claims of the message are mostly false. Brazilian prices are not extremely high compared to other countries. US does not count as it's a mass market and telecommunications are much cheaper in the US. Also there is no such US $10 unlimited-time plan as far as I know even there. The Brazilian market of ISPs is very competitive. There are hundreds of companies (the something-onlines and something-nets) fighting fiercely for about 3 million users.
What's more, Brazil's telecomms infrastructure is well on the way to robust competition, unlike that of Germany (where the November strike had little effect) or Spain (where an earlier strike was credited for some rate relief).

In the US an ISP rate of $10 per month is far from standard. When AOL went flat-rate they established a $19.95 price point that many ISPs then matched. Since that time a number have raised prices or placed limitations on $20 accounts.

The rogue email message has circulated widely in Brazil and has been the subject of radio and press coverage. Here is a recent column [6] from Maria Ercilia, a respected Brazilian Net columnist. If one can trust the translation that results from feeding [6] to the Babelfish [7], she appears to puncture the tenets of the strike call as Manoel has done. Nonetheless, if you need to download anything from a Brazilian site, then January 13 might be a good day to do it.

Note added 1999-01-13: Chuck Bury <cbury at softhome dot net> sent a note about a followup strike French users are promoting for January 31 [7a]. L'Association des Internautes Mécontents (they translate it "Association of Dissatisfied Netsurfers" [7b]) claim a partial victory after a strike last month. They are still in talks with the local telephone monopoly, which charges Netizens US $1.50 to US $3.00 per hour online, in addition to ISP charges. The @dim protesters want France Telecom to institute a flat rate for local calls used for Internet access.

[5] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-11-03.html#s01
[6] http://www.uol.com.br/internet/netvox/nvox221298.htm
[7] http://babelfish.altavista.digital.com/cgi-bin/translate?
[7a] http://altern.org/adim/english/index.htm
[7b] http://www.thestandard.net/articles/article_print/0,1454,3129,00.html

space ______

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...

Blue Mountain gets early win in Microsoft suit

Redmond ordered to stop filtering greeting cards as spam

A California judge has issued a temporary restraining order against the software giant in a case brought by Blue Mountain Arts, a purveyor of online greeting cards [8] and one of the more heavily trafficked sites on the Web. Blue Mountain noticed that the email client bundled with the latest beta version of Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, blocked Blue Mountain's greeting notifications as spam. The company became suspicious because Microsoft had just announced its own competing greeting-card service as part of msn.com. Blue Mountain's cards were also blocked for at least a few days from customers of WebTV, another Microsoft property. Blue Mountain's direct appeals to Microsoft yielded no satisfaction and the company went to court.

The small company's suspicions are understandable in light of all that has come out about Microsoft's business practices. But Redmond argued that this time it wasn't behaving anti-competitively, and its point was bolstered by the fact that its own msn.com greeting cards were blocked in the same way. (The reported WebTV blockage was neither confirmed nor explained.) The judge ordered Microsoft to assist Blue Mountain in modifying its greeting cards so they pass through the Outlook Express spam filter. Microsoft must also warn consumers of the email client's blocking action.

Thanks to Rob Mayhew <wizworks at istar dot ca>, who was the first of several readers to suggest covering this story.

[8] http://www2.bluemountain.com/home/ImportantNotice.html?122198

space ______

Threads Cryptography export policy
See also TBTF for
2000-02-06, 1999-10-05, 08-30, 08-23, 08-16, 07-26, 05-22, 05-08, 04-21, 03-01, 01-26, more...

US loosens crypto export rules

But they're still stricter than Wassenaar limits

On the last day of 1998 the Commerce Department released new regulations [9] (79K) implementing the looser guidelines for crypto exports announced in September. Here is news.com's story on the announcement [10]. US vendors of data-scrambling software can now sell strong crypto to foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies in the fields of insurance, health and medicine, and online commerce, after a one-time review by the Commerce Department. See this list [11] of the 44 approved countries for such exports. Privacy advocates have criticized [12] the new regulations as favoring large corporations but doing nothing for ordinary citizens or non-commercial users such as human-rights groups.

[9] http://jya.com/bxa123198.txt
[10] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,30414,00.html?tbtf
[11] http://www.bxa.doc.gov/factsheets/EncCountryList.htm
[12] http://andovernews.com/cgi-bin/news_story.pl?108205


Threads Quantum computers and quantum physics
See also TBTF for
1999-10-05, 01-04, 1998-11-03, 10-27, 09-14, 03-09, 03-02, 02-23, 1997-11-24, 09-15, 05-22, more...

Open Source quantum computing

OpenQubit sets up shop to marry two hot buzzwords

qubit Robert Chin <qin at laya dot com> and compatriots have unveiled the OpenQubit site [13] to anchor a collaborative effort aimed at developing a simulation API for a quantum computer. So far 64 people have signed on [14] to help or at least to kibbitz. The site is holding a logo contest [15] — the interim logo owes perhaps too much to QuickTime. If you have any interest in the development of quantum computation, put OpenQubit on your bookmark list, along with the mothership [16]. (The graphic at left was adapted from one found on qubit.org.)

[13] http://www.openqubit.org/
[14] http://www.openqubit.org/about_people.shtml
[15] http://www.openqubit.org/spec_contest.shtml
[16] http://www.qubit.org/


Followup: on not linking

Two ways to pull Web content without linking it

The article on the legal aspects of linking in TBTF for 1998-12-15 [17] drew a few replies worth sharing. First, from John Robert LoVerso <john at loverso dot southborough dot ma dot us> [18]:

The "linking" issue interests me, partially because I think it is all legal nonsense. See, for instance, my "daily comics" page at [19]. This is generated automatically, by mining the comics pages provided elsewhere. I don't copy the images, I just find the location of the images and include that URL in an <img> tag. I justify this as legal by this statement:

Important Note On The Content Provided Here
There is no content provided here. There are no copies of images or comics here. These are all just pointers to other web resources. If you see images below, it is because you've instructed your Web browser to fetch those resources. That is not my doing.
And David Coppit <coppit at cs dot virginia dot edu> [20] writes to point out his Daily Update tool [21], which yanks Web content and integrates it into your own page.

[17] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-12-15.html#s05
[18] http://surf.to/loverso/
[19] http://www.schooner.com/~loverso/daily-comics.html
[20] http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~dwc3q/
[21] http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~dwc3q/code/DailyUpdate/index.html


Silicon creatures

They might explain why your server pages are a bit too active

Some chaps at Florida State University with too much time on their hands offer us the Silicon Zoo [22]: a collection of photomicrographs of the little drawings and doodles with which chip designers adorn their creations. Here's how they did it [23]. The Zoo offers 35 tributes lovingly engraved in silicon at the micron level including:

[22] http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/creatures/index.html
[23] http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/seminoles/index.html
[24] http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/creatures/pages/guitarrex.html
[25] http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/creatures/pages/buffalo.html
[26] http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/creatures/pages/wedding.html
[27] http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/creatures/pages/bird.html


Blue moons

More than you ever wanted to know about lunar chronology and terminology

In 1999 January and March will each enjoy two full moons, and February will have none at all. This happens far more rarely than once in a blue moon, as the second full moon in a month is called. According to the Blue Moon page [28], blue moons are governed (to a first order) by the 19-year Metonic cycle of lunar phases. Over one Metonic cycle there are 235 lunar months (236 full moons) and 228 calendar months. So once in a blue moon amounts to about 8 times in 228, or 3.5 per cent. (228 calendar months differs from 235 lunar months by about 2 hours. Then there are leap years to consider. Calculate blue moons for any year at [31].) February last lacked a full moon two Metonic cycles ago, in 1961, and will miss one again on the next cycle in 2018. The last time a moonless February was surrounded by blue moons in January and March was in 1915.

Note added 1999-01-08: Michael Cooney <mbc42 at groucho dot ctel dot net> covered the unusual 1999 moons last September in his (paper only) newsletter The Friendship Letter, which he calls "an old-fashioned, deliberately un-slick, 8-page printed, hold-in-your-hand newsletter... a neighborhood newsletter for people who don't live near each other." One of his readers, retired physicist John MacArthur <jmac at sover dot net>, sent the following explanation of what once in a blue moon really means. It is posted here by permission.
Your comment about the "blue moons" in 1999 caught my attention, for two reasons. First, let me describe one such occurrence a few years back (I don't have next year's almanac, yet). The second full moon that time was listed as August 31 in the local news, but when I looked it up in the almanac it turned out to be on September 1! It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened: the almanac was using Universal time (4 or 5 hours ahead of Eastern time, depending on whether we are on daylight or standard time), and in this case, the second full moon actually occurred in the next month. My worry was this: how could the moon be "blue" for one person, but not so for someone a time zone or two further east? What if they lived close together, but on opposite sides of the time-zone line? (Make up your own scenario of conversations!) The second problem relates to the familiar expression "once in a blue moon" which we all know refers to something really rare. But you have just demonstrated that they really aren't very rare if they occur about once a year or so. So what is the scoop?

The explanation is that the definition of "blue moon" that you are using is apocryphal. I don't know who made it up, but it appeared on the scene only a few years ago, whereas the old phrase has been around for at least many hundreds of years, if not more. It refers to a moon that appears actually, really, blue, caused by a peculiar rare kind of dust in the air. When you look at the moon through ordinary dust, as at moon rise or set when the dust is the common variety, it looks orange or red — just as the sun looks red at sunset. But on rare occasions, usually when there are very distant forest fires raging or there has just been a major explosive-type volcanic eruption not too far upwind, the dust is of that special size (just barely bigger than the wavelength of visible light) and the extinctions of light colors are reversed (so-called Mie scattering), giving rise to a moon that really, truly looks blue!

Most people never have that experience, since the combination of events necessary is quite rare — just the right size of dust particles (and no others) and, of course, you have to be there at the right time. I am one of the lucky ones. I happened to be in Florida about two days after the Mexican volcano El Chichon blew its top (April, 1983), the sky was otherwise clear (clouds would hide it, of course) and the moon happened to be near full — and a beautiful, clear, pale blue! I recommend it, but it only occurs once in a blue moon.

We conclude with an enumeration of the common names for the year's full moons, synthesized from a variety of sources [32], [33], [34].

         Algonquin/  English/  neo-Pagan     Other
         colonial    medieval

  Jan    Old         Wolf      Ice           Moon After Yule
  Feb    Hunger      Storm     Snow
  Mar    Crust       Chaste    Death         Sap; Crow; Lenten
  Apr    Pink        Seed      Awakening     Grass; Egg
  May    Flower      Hare      Grass         Planting; Milk
  Jun    Rose        Dyan      Planting      Strawberry; Flower
  Jul    Buck        Mead      Rose          Hay; Thunder
  Aug    Sturgeon    Corn      Lightning     Grain; Dog Days
  Sep    Harvest     Barley    Harvest       Fruit
  Oct    Hunter's    Blood     Blood
  Nov    Beaver      Snow      Tree          Frosty
  Dec    Cold        Oak       Long Night    Moon Before Yule

[28] http://www.obliquity.com/astro/bluemoon.html
[31] http://www.obliquity.com/cgi-bin/bluemoon.cgi
[32] http://www.cnn.com/TECH/space/9901/02/rare.moons.ap/
[33] http://milkyway.iol.it/psc/fullmoons.html
[34] http://soiroom.hyperchat.com/moons/moonpage.html


bul TBTF has finally adopted an unambiguous and sort-friendly date terminology based on ISO 8601 [35]. ("And about time!" the readers cry. Thanks to Dan Kohn <dan at teledesic dot com> for the final push.) I have reworked all the internal links on tbtf.com — please write me if you find problems in this area. But feel less compelled to tell me about broken external links: the older the issue the less the compulsion. The links work on the date of publication and I make an effort to keep them alive for weeks more, but inevitably linkrot [36] sets in over time.

[35] http://www.saqqara.demon.co.uk/datefmt.htm
[36] http://whatis.com/linkrot.htm


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

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Updated 2001-02-20