TBTF for 1999-07-19: Rightly to apprehend

Keith Dawson (dawson@world.std.com)
Mon, 19 Jul 1999 00:02:38 -0400


TBTF for 1999-07-19: Rightly to apprehend

T a s t y B i t s f r o m t h e T e c h n o l o g y F r o n t

Timely news of the bellwethers in computer and communications
technology that will affect electronic commerce -- since 1994

Your Host: Keith Dawson

ISSN: 1524-9948

This issue: < http://tbtf.com/archive/1999-07-19.html >

C o n t e n t s

Domain naming developments
Cult of the Dead Cow strikes at Microsoft's heart
Taxing the Internet
Microsoft prevails in Bristol antitrust case
Spammers lose ground in Canada and Austria
Heads up for XHTML
IE4 chews bandwidth
One fiber-optic network, hold the fiber
New Mersenne prime is worth $50,000
A confusion of ideas

..Domain naming developments

Commerce Department yanks ICANN's chain, backhands NSI

On 9 July the Commerce Department sent a 32-page letter [1] to the
ICANN board and the House Commerce Committee, responding to commit-
tee chairman Tom Bliley's questions on ICANN's recent actions [2].
Here's the NY Times's coverage [3] of this letter (free registra-
tion and cookies required). Commerce Department officials said that
ICANN should

- hold all meetings in public,

- drop a proposed $1-per-domain-name fee until a permanent ICANN
board can vote on it, and

- draw up binding contracts with domain-name services that would
bar ICANN from going beyond their mission.

Commerce did not let NSI entirely off the hook, either. While chas-
tising ICANN for a threat, issued in its Berlin meeting, to cancel
NSI's authority to issue domain names, the Commerce letter states
baldly that unless NSI signs ICANN's operating agreement, Commerce
will in fact terminate that authority. NSI must stop at once claim-
ing the .com, .net. and .org domain-name databases as their intel-
lectual property, Commerce insists.

Congress has now scheduled the investigative hearing promised by
Bliley. The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will con-
vene "Domain Name System Privatization: Is ICANN Out of Control?"
on Thursday, July 22, 1999 at 11:00 a.m. in the Rayburn House Of-
fice Building, room 2322.

On 16 July Commerce again extended the deadline [4] for the end of
the open domain registration test. The test had already been ex-
tended once [5] because of protracted wrangling among NSI, ICANN,
and the test registrars. The new target date for wider participa-
tion in competitive registration is 6 August.

[1] http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/blileyrsp.htm
[2] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,38200,00.html?pfv
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/99/07/biztech/articles/10net.html
[4] http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/filters/bursts/0,3422,2295115,00.html
[5] http://tbtf.com/archive/1999-07-08.html#s01

..Cult of the Dead Cow strikes at Microsoft's heart

Back Orifice 2000 menaces NT, Win2000

As promised, the CdC has released Back Orifice 2000, the update to
Back Orifice [6] that runs on Windows NT and the beta releases of
Windows 2000. The CdC gave away CD-ROMs containing the tool at the
7th DefCon hackers' convention on 10 July, but it took a few days
for the code to appear on its spiffy new Web site [7]. (Much to
their embarassment, the CdC CD-ROMs were infected with the Cherno-
byl virus. At this writing this embarassment is graphically on
display here [8].) This time the hacker group is releasing, under
the GNU Public License, source code for their trojan-horse-in-
security-tool's-clothing. GPLing BO2K cuts both ways -- it en-
courages development of variants and new features, but it provides
anti-virus writers a better chance to block the trojan. BO2K will
be harder to spot than its predecessor because it offers strong
encryption (via 3DES) and configurable ports. Here is a bulletin
from Internet Security Systems [9] that details the operation of
BO2K and exhaustively lists its features and options. Most anti-
virus companies have already posted countermeasures for BO2K. But
not all believe [10] that this trojan, which is likely to evolve
rapidly, will be seriously slowed by virus scanners, many of which
rely on simple pattern matching to detect a malware signature.

When you've tired of menacing, scary cows, relax at this site [11]
dedicated to the decorated cows of Chicago. That city got the idea
from Zurich, which first obtained a herd of full-sized plastic cows,
turned them over to its artist community, and displayed the results
in public spaces.

[6] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-08-10.html#s01
[7] http://www.bo2k.com/
[8] http://www.cultdeadcow.com/
[9] http://xforce.iss.net/alerts/advise31.php3
[10] http://www.pcworld.com/shared/printable_articles/0,1440,11790,00.html
[11] http://metromix.com/anchor/1,1461,M-Metromix-Cows-insetbox!ArticleDetail-4061,00.html

..Taxing the Internet

US Netizens' free ride may end after 2001

In 1998 the US Congress enacted the Internet Tax Freedom Act (sum-
mary [12]), guaranteeing no federal, state, or local taxation of
Internet access or electronic commerce until October 2001. The same
law set up a 19-member National Advisory Commission on Electronic
Commerce [13] to figure out what to do after that date. This commis-
sion held its first meeting in June, 8 months late and mired in
controversy and politics [14]. The meeting was told that in 1998
taxing authorities lost $210M in untaxed Internet commerce. But a
more recent Ernst & Young study estimated that in 1999 states will
lose only $170M, less than one-tenth of 1% of state and local tax
revenues. Further meetings are planned for September, December, and
March before the commission submits its recommendations in April
2000. One possible outcome could be a national sales tax on Inter-
net transactions. Here former presidential candiate Pete DuPont elab-
orates some of the reasons why he thinks this is a bad idea [15].

Thanks to John Kristoff <jtk at aharp dot is-net dot depaul dot edu>
for the prod on this story.

[12] http://www.house.gov/chriscox/nettax/lawsums.html
[13] http://www.ecommercecommission.org/
[14] http://www.thestandard.net/articles/article_print/0,1454,5335,00.html
[15] http://www.intellectualcapital.com/issues/issue257/item5725.asp

..Microsoft prevails in Bristol antitrust case

Plaintiff awarded just $1

On 16 July a Connecticut jury sided with Microsoft in the Bristol
Technology antitrust case [16]. Bristol had claimed that Microsoft
broke the law by refusing to renew a key contract granting it access
to NT technology. The U.S. District Court jury found no violations
of antitrust laws in Microsoft's dealings with Bristol. However, the
jury did find that Microsoft had used deceptive practices in viola-
tion of the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act, but awarded Bristol
just $1 in that claim. Bristol had asked for $263M. The case is un-
likely to affect the federal antitrust prosecution, but its outcome
could discourage other small companies from going after Microsoft in

[16] http://www.computerworld.com/home/news.nsf/all/9907165bris2

..Spammers lose ground in Canada and Austria

Up north, Netiquette is acquiring the force of law

A judge from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled [17] that
sending unsolicited commercial email violates "Netiquette" -- gen-
erally accepted Internet practices -- and that service providers
requiring subscribers to follow such practices are justified in
shutting off spammers' accounts. The ruling came in a suit brought
by a spammer against an ISP who had done just that. Thanks go to
Sheehan Carter <sheehan dot carter at crtc dot gc dot ca> of the
CTRC for first word on this story.

An Austrian legislative body has passed a spam ban [18] far stricter
than required under EU rules. (Babelfish [19] will give you only a
rough sense of this German article.) The EU guidelines mandate only
that spam be appropriately labeled in its subject line and that
spammers honor user requests to remove their addresses (opt-out).
The Austrian parliament's law committee passed instead a tough law
based on the opt-in principle: commercial email would be outlawed
unless a commercial relationship with the recipient already exists.
The law spells out high fines for offences.

[17] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,38930,00.html?pfv
[18] http://www.pcwelt.de/ausgabe/99_07/n090799011.HTM
[19] http://babelfish.altavista.com/cgi-bin/translate?

..Heads up for XHTML

The latest X out of the W3C offers hope for HTML smudging

Web Review features an excellent summary [20] of XHTML, a cleaner and
stricter version of HTML that will eventually help put an end to
HTML smudging [21]. The language will be interpretable by applications
that are far smaller than the bloated browsers of today, which must
cope with the many idiosyncrasies of HTML and its many implementa-
tions. The W3C cites estimates that by 2002 as many as 75% of all
HTTP requests may be made by devices other than browsers: telephones,
PDAs, toasters, doorknobs, etc.

This summary, quoted from [20], explains how XHTML fits with the Web
acronyms you already know.

- HTML is a markup language described in SGML (Standard Generalized
Markup Language).

- XML is a restricted form of SGML, removing many of SGML's more
complex features, but preserving most of SGML's power and common-
ly used features.

- XHTML is the reformulation of HTML 4.0 as an application of XML.

Among the differences between XHTML and HTML 4.0:

- All tags must be lowercase.

- All elements, including empty ones, must be terminated -- for
example: <p></p>, <br />.

- All attribute values must be quoted, even numerical ones.

[20] http://webreview.com/wr/pub/1999/07/16/feature/index.html
[21] http://tbtf.com/archive/1999-03-01.html#s04

..IE4 chews bandwidth

It may be too late to fix this wasteful bug

A simple bug in Internet Explorer 4 wastes gigabytes of bandwidth
per day, according to this BrowserWatch story [22]. Servers that dy-
namically generate pages -- for example search sites -- can flag
them with a do-not-cache directive, <meta http-equiv="pragma"
content="nocache">. Most browsers know that it's OK to cache any
(presumably static) graphics on such a page; but not IE4. The pro-
prietor of AbsoluteChat.com, writing for BrowserWatch, claims that
this bug has caused his site to serve 18 gigabytes of unnecessary
data over the past month. He implores Microsoft to patch this waste-
ful bug. Personally I believe it's blood under the bridge. How many
users who have gotten IE4 working stably would take the trouble to
download and reinstall this huge and troublesome piece of software,
when IE5 is already out? We're stuck with the bug and its attendant
waste for many months to come, until IE4 fades into memory.

TechWeb's WebTools site has a fine tutorial on Web caching [23].

Thanks to TBTF Irregular Chuck Bury <cbury at softhome dot net> for
pointing out this story.

[22] http://browserwatch.internet.com/news/story/news-990706-9.html
[23] http://www.webtools.com/story/servers/TLS19981021S0004

..One fiber-optic network, hold the fiber

Lucent announces gigabit networking through open air

This Lucent press release [24] describes a 2.5 Gb/s networking tech-
nology, called WaveStar OpticAir, carried on a laser beam in the
open air. The maximum range is 5 km. The product will be available
in the first quarter of next year, with a 10 Gb/s multiplexed ver-
sion following in the summer. Lucent claims the technology requires
no spectrum license to operate and meets environmental safety regu-

> Unlike the tiny, high-density streams of light emitted by laser
> pointers, Lucent's WaveStar OpticAir system will use "expanded-
> beam" lasers.

Here's a diagram [25] of a representative network. The product spec
page [26] has a bit more detail, but I was unable to discover the
operating frequency of WaveStar OpticAir.

[24] http://www.lucent.com/press/0799/990714.nsa.html
[25] http://www.lucent.com/opticairimg.html
[26] http://www.lucent-optical.com/solutions/products/opticair/

..New Mersenne prime is worth $50,000

The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search finds M-38

On July 1, GIMPS announced [27] discovery of the 38th Mersenne prime:
(2 ^ 6,972,593) - 1. This number has over two million decimal digits
and won for its discoverer, Nayan Hajratwala, the first of the EFF's
Cooperative Computing Awards [28]: $50,000 for the first prime with
more than a million digits. (Hajratwala can claim the award when the
results are published in a referred academic journal.)

The next Mersenne prime discovered may qualify for the follow-on EFF
prize of $100,000 for a 10-million-digit prime.

GIMPS is another [29] collective Internet computing initiative (cov-
ered in earlier issues of TBTF [30], [31]), currently enrolling over
21,500 computers.

Thanks to TBTF Benefactor [32] Joe Sotham <joe dot sotham at icbc
dot com> for prodding me to give this discovery some exposure.

[27] http://www.mersenne.org/prime.htm
[28] http://www.eff.org/coop-awards/
[29] http://tbtf.com/threads.html#Tipc
[30] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-02.html#s08
[31] http://tbtf.com/archive/1997-09-08.html#s07
[32] http://tbtf.com/the-benefactors.html

..A confusion of ideas

Ignorant can be fixed, but stupid is forever

Lest we imagine that our own century invented clueless politicians
mucking about with technology they don't understand, consider these
two data points from the last century.

Bill Thornton <x at he dot net> sent this link [33] to a debate in
the 28th Congress of 1845. It was proposed to spend $100,000 on a
telegraph line between Baltimore and New York. The question arose
as an amendment to a bill to appropriate a smaller sum to maintain
an existing line between Washington and Baltimore. Senator George
McDuffie raised the following objection:

> What was this telegraph to do? Would it transmit letters and
> newspapers? Under what power in the constitution did Senators
> propose to erect this telegraph? He was not aware of any au-
> thority except under the clause for the establishment of post
> roads. And besides the telegraph might be made very mischiev-
> ous, and secret information after communicated to the preju-
> dice of merchants.

It's doubtful whether Senator McDuffie was concerned with encrypted
information -- doubtless merely sending it over the new and arcane
medium of the telegraph was sufficient to render it secret.

Let us close with the widely quoted plaint of Charles Babbage as
he struggled with Parliamentary funding for the Analytical Engine.

> On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament],
> "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures,
> will the right answers come out?" I am not able rightly to
> apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke
> such a question.

[33] http://www.foresight.org/News/negativeComments.html#loc050

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