TBTF for 1999-04-21: Plantation and archive
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
This issue: < http://tbtf.com/archive/1999-04-21.html >
C o n t e n t s
At long last, domain-name competition
Two court rulings on domain names
A typo pirate is slapped
Domain names are property
An Open Source virtual private network
My favorite icon
British court rules ISPs must police content
Get a cable modem, go to jail
The first multi-planet extrasolar system
The most distant galaxy
The thinnest conductor
The largest bacterium
A versatile dialectizer
Making HTML misbehave
The ad graveyard
..At long last, domain-name competition
AOL, four others to participate in competitive testbed
On 21 April ICANN announced  the first five companies selected
to provide domain-name registration services in competition with
Network Solutions, Inc. The initial five registrars will be:
- America Online
- CORE (Internet Council of Registrars)
- France Telecom/Oleane
- Melbourne IT
These five new registrars will open up for business on 26 April,
and after a 2-month test registration will be opened up to any
organization that meets ICANN's criteria (so far 29 additional
organizations have qualified). Here's Dan Goodin's look  at
whether, when registration is opened to new players, some animals
will be more equal than others.
..Two court rulings on domain names
..A typo pirate is slapped
A domain-name bandit, challenged in court by Paine Webber, has been
stripped of the domain name "wwwpainewebber.com" ; he was using
it to funnel traffic to his porno site. The ruling marks the first
time a court has found that "typo pirates" dilute the trademarks
they rip off. Hundreds of other "wwwx" domain names will now be
challenged by trademark holders. Visit Domain Surfer  to explore
this mined-out corner of domain namespace. I picked up this story
from jjg's admirable Infosift site .
..Domain names are property
This one will go to the Supreme Court before it's finally settled.
Here's a summary  of the case; see here  for more legal de-
tail. In a dispute between Umbro International, which manufactures
soccer equipment, and a Canadian name squatter, a Virginia court
has ruled that domain-name holders have property rights in the
names. When Umbro won its initial challenge the court ordered the
Canadian company to pay $25,000 in legal fees. Umbro found that
the company, which owned 27 other domain names, had no assets in
the US; so it won a judgement requiring Network Solutions to con-
fer ownership of those domains to the court for auction.
NSI has appealed the ruling. If they lose they might find themselves
barraged with name-holder lawsuits. While name holders possess only
licenses to their names -- not a property right in them -- NSI en-
joys wide latitude in its dispute resolution policy. Under the new
ruling a name holder who loses a dispute could turn around and sue
NSI for property damage.
If this judgement stands, it might very well put domain-name specu-
lators out of business in this country, no matter where they are
..An Open Source virtual private network
John Gilmore's "opportunistic encryption" arrives
Three years ago John Gilmore pushed  to kick-start the adoption
of IPSEC, the security protocol being developed by the IETF, by im-
plementing it for Linux. His idea was to enlist network effects to
speed the spread of robust encryption on the Internet: more point-
to-point secure channels mean more value for each additional IPSEC
node. Gilmore may have been over-optimistic in his timetable, but
his "opportunistic encryption" effort has now borne fruit. A team of
Canadian programmers has released Linux FreeS/WAN , , an open-
source version of the Linux 2.0.36 kernel that implements major por-
tions of the IPSEC spec -- in particular it supports 1024-bit Diffie-
Hellman key exchange and triple-DES encryption for IP packets. A
Linux box running FreeS/WAN will automatically set up a secure vir-
tual prvate network with any other similarly configured box. Over
time, FreeS/WAN should interoperate with other free and commercial
implementations of IPSEC. FreeS/WAN was developed and is distributed
from outside the US, so local export restrictions do not apply.
..My favorite icon
Puzzled by the appearance of "favicon.ico" in your Web log?
News emerged this week to clear up a mystery I had been wondering
about for some time. Beginning last year my Web log showed several
attempts per day to download a file named "favicon.ico". My site has
no such file nor any links to one. This Wired story  reveals that
the call for favicon.ico is yet another Internet Explorer "feature"
that opens up yet more privacy holes. IE5 offers site builders a
way to "brand" their site in users' browsers -- simply place a Win-
dows icon file with the proper name at the site's top level, and
Windows users who bookmark the site will see that icon in their Fav-
orites list. IE5 is requesting the file "favicon.ico" without the
knowledge of the user. Microsoft doesn't exactly trumpet this fea-
ture, which has been present in IE5 betas as far back as June 1998
; they bury documentation about favicon.ico deep within their
developers' site .
The feature raises two privacy concerns. First, Web site owners can
now see when an IE5 user bookmarks their site. This expression of
interest could be misused by avid marketers. Second, since almost
nobody knows about the feature, most attempts to download favicon.-
ico will fail. A simple HotBot or Alta Vista search leads to hun-
dreds of Web log files with "favicon.ico -- 404" errors. Web logs
should not be visible to the search spiders, but nonetheless many
are. The logs may contain expressive URLs that display usernames
and passwords for databases or other secure parts of the sites.
Wired  sums up the concerns in a quote from a privacy advocate:
> The browser's privacy implications are becoming so com-
> plicated that you almost need a separate privacy manual
> when you log on.
..British court rules ISPs must police content
Chilling move reflects a European trend
The decision could chill online speech in Europe by making ISPs
liable for the content carried on their servers . A 1996 law
explicitly allowed British ISPs to invoke an "innocent dissem-
ination" defense in cases of libel, but the recent ruling struck
down this provision.
The case at issue is bizarre; one commentator quoted by Wired calls
it "almost frivolous." One man in England, Laurence Godfrey, has
filed 10 lawsuits in a personal crusade to try to force the Internet
to submit to national libel laws. In this suit, he objected to a
forged posting on the newsgroup soc.culture.thai that he claimed was
libelous; the poster has no relationship whatsoever with Demon In-
ternet, the defendant.
The decision may point to a broader trend across Europe. A draft
European Commission directive on electronic commerce suggests that
ISPs should be liable for similar kinds of content if they are aware
of its presence.
Here is Demon Internet's spin on the story . Thanks to Jarrod
Poynton <jpoynton at email dot com> for pointing out this devel-
..Get a cable modem, go to jail
A tale of slow-motion legal disaster averted
This is the title given by Judith L. Sammel, of Baltimore, to the
saga  of her near-escape from legal jeopardy caused by the in-
ability of her cable provider and its cable Internet subsidiary to
communicate. Cable leads xDSL in the race to wire the US for broad-
band Internet access; but the common wisdom says that cable com-
panies are ill-suited in their culture and infrastructure to manage
the demands of a role as a nationwide ISP, especially in the area of
customer support. Ms. Sammel's tale is a sobering illustration of
what this means on the ground. I picked up the story from NetSurfer
Contenders for DRAM's successor
A number of contending technologies that use magnetism, not charge,
to store date on chips are nearing commercial trial . Pseudo-spin
valves, tunnel junctions, and Hall effect devices are bidding to re-
place semiconductor DRAM with memory that stores data for extended
periods with no applied power. Magnetic memory in theory might prove
both faster and cheaper than existing DRAM, and many of the technol-
ogies being developed can be manufactured in modern chip fabs with
minimal disruption to existing processes.
..The first multi-planet extrasolar system
Upsilon Andromedae, 44 light-years distant, is accompanied by at
least 3 planets with masses between 0.7 and 4 times that of Jupiter
. While astronomers are glad of the company -- all of the ex-
trasolar systems previously discovered  feature a lone planet --
current theory can't explain how such a system could form. The
closest planet to its sun, at 0.7 Jupiter masses, orbits not far
above the solar corona. How can a gas-giant world in this orbit
..The most distant galaxy
Researchers have found the most distant body to date, a galaxy 14.25
billion light years from earth. Kenneth Lanzetta of SUNY Stony Brook
and his colleagues describe the find in the April 15 Nature (not on
the Web). Its red shift is 6.68, which means that the light we see
today left this galaxy when the universe was 5% of its current age.
The galaxy seems to be producing stars at a prodigious rate, a find-
ing that runs counter to current theories of the behavior of early
galaxies. The same researchers have catalogued two other galaxies
that may prove to be more distant still.
..The thinnest conductor
A group of researchers at Harvard has created what may be the thin-
nest conductor that can be constructed. Chun Ning Lau and colleagues
deposited molybdenum and germanium onto carbon nanotubes to create
wires only 20 atoms thick. When cooled near enough to absolute zero
the nanowires become superconductors -- almost. Superconductors
normally require 2-dimensional wiggle room, and the nanowire is
near enough to 1-dimensional to pose problems in this regard.
The Economist ran this story in last week's issue; it's not openly
available, but subscribers can find it by searching for "nanoelec-
..The largest bacterium
It's the size of a fruit fly's head; you could see it with your un-
aided eye. If an ordinary bacterium were the size of a mouse, the
previous record-holder would be as big as a lion, and this fellow
would be a blue whale. It's the microbe Thiomargarita namibiensis
, and Heide Schulz discovered it in sulfur-rich sediments off the
coast of Namibia. T. namibiensis oxidizes sulfur for energy using a
large supply of nitrate that it carries around. Hey, whatever floats
your boat. Confirming that the new find is indeed a bacterium was no
easy feat: T. namibiensis is so large that numerous other bacteria
colonize its outer covering, complicating DNA analysis.
..A versatile dialectizer
Samuel Stoddard's Rinkworks  offers a script to render English
text or whole Web pages into one of seven dialects. Here's an ex-
cerpt from the "TBTF Plantation and Archive FAQ"  in Jive:
Whut duz yo' .sig mean?
Laya' of ash separates mo'nin' and evenin' milk. Ya' know?
Dis page  tells de sto'y. Slap mah fro!
The Dialectizer supports Redneck, Jive, Cockney, Elmer Fudd, Swedish
Chef, Moron, and Pig Latin. Thanks to TBTF Irregular Bob Treitman
for the pointer.
..Making HTML misbehave
Andrew C. Bulhak's HTML Terrorist's Handbook  shows its age --
looks like he stopped updating it in 1996 -- but many of its sub-
versive suggestions still work a treat. For example, Bulhak out-
lines how to create a Web page that can't be viewed with any frames-
supporting browser. There are suggestions for rendering parts of a
page invisible to one or another browser by misusing comments and
tables. And Bulhak promotes a variant of the trick I suggested in
TBTF for 1996-04-14 that causes Internet Explorer users to see only
Greek . I got the pointer to the HTML Terrorist's Handbook from
Ian Davis's excellent news site, Internet Alchemy .
..The ad graveyard
On this hilarious site  advertising veteran Jeffrey Zeldman
honors a number of creative and funny ad campaigns which, for one
reason or another, never saw the light of TV or billboard. This
site has been up since May 1995 and has been honored by near every-
body in any medium you can name, but I just heard about it last
week, from Jon Callas <jon at callas dot org>. Go figure. Zeldman's
About page  is a model of design, understated wit, and brevity.
N o t e s
> I don't know what Windows tool produces .ico files, but I'm told that
.bmp files work as well. If you're running IE5, please add TBTF to
your Favorites list and let me know if you see a familiar logo.
(This request expires at 5 pm Eastern time on Thursday 1999-04-22.)
> It's been a long time since the last issue of TBTF -- I'll try not
to make this a habit. Some of the items published as Tasty Bits of
the Day during April didn't make it into this issue, because they
were no longer timely or for other reasons. These orphaned bits
are archived here .
> TBTF was recommended in Tipworld's  E-Mail Mailing List Review for
1999-03-30. Haven't seen such a flood of subscriptions since the
Netsurfer Digest review in October 1996 . To the more than 500
of you who signed up as a result of that review, welcome.
> The TBTF Irregulars have been mustered. Here is a list  of 68 gen-
erous souls who send me story ideas, make me think, and keep me hon-
est. Many thanks and salutations to them all. The Irregulars will
have use of a private mailing list and a private area on the TBTF
site, once I get them set up.
S o u r c e s
> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see
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Keith Dawson firstname.lastname@example.org
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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Version: PGP for Personal Privacy 5.5
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Keith Dawson email@example.com http://dawson.nu/
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.