TBTF for 6/8/98: You can see it from there
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://www.tbtf.com/archive/06-08-98.html >
C o n t e n t s
Government abdicates domain naming
Sprint blows hot air
Are we having a monopoly yet?
MCI proposes divesting backbone
Indian atomic energy site cracked
The news from Linux Expo
Sixth Certicom challenge falls
Web's inventor gets a MacArthur
Excel 97's built-in flight simulator
Information dirt road
..Government abdicates domain naming
Long-awaited domain name white paper ducks the controversial
On Friday 6/5 the US government released its final policy paper on
Internet domain naming. Last January its predecessor, the so-called
green paper , had been prescriptive; the white paper  is
laissez-faire. As many who commented on the green paper requested,
the US government is not only getting out of the business of running
the domain-name system, it is declining to decide the main questions
as it hands over control to a private-sector organization yet to be
If that's all they were going to do, why did they stall the whole
process for a year doing it?
Almost everybody applauded the white paper -- even the people in-
volved in the competing IAHC/POC/CORE process, which now appears
dead -- probably because the paper takes no stands at all on the
hard issues. Here are the questions on which the government punts:
- What is the makeup of the new corporation?
- How will its board be selected?
- Is there one registry or are there competing ones?
- What are the minimum criteria for approving a registry or
- How will trademark disputes be resolved?
- Will there be new global top-level domains? How many? Which
- What role will NSI play in the future?
The process of forming the new corporation has already begun .
Drafts of a proposed constitution and suggestions for the board's
makeup have been circulating for several months in an effort led by
the IANA's Jon Postel.
Whither Network solutions? Whereas the green paper had proposed
leaving NSI with the authority to continue running the .com domain,
the white paper devolves the issue onto the new corporation. NSI's
stock price had been drifting down for six weeks in advance of the
white paper's release, losing about 35% of its value to last Thurs-
day . On Friday the stock gained back 20% and rose a further 12%
We're in for a further long period of uncertainty before the ques-
tions around domain naming settle down.
..Sprint blows hot air
When Microsoft does this they call it "vaporware"
> "Sprint's ION integrates voice, video, and data over one
> line," said a manager of technology services. "For small and
> medium businesses it leverages the playing field, giving them
> the capability to become a virtual corporation."
Perhaps it's unfair to pick on one snowflake of ignorant usage in
a blizzard of flackery, but this example crystallizes Sprint's an-
nouncement's innocence of meaningful technical content. Yes, he
really said "leverage." When you leverage the playing field, does
Sprint plans service rollout for its Integrated On-Demand Network
to 36 major U.S. cities this year and 24 more by the end of 1999
ION's backbone will be the ATM network into which Sprint has so far
sunk $2B. That the company expects to spend another $400M on this
project over the next few years accounts for the dip in their stock
price on announcement day. To reach small businesses outside the
charmed center cities, or even -- gasp -- home consumers, Sprint
will have to rely on ADSL to the curb. On this front they must
anticipate stonewalling by incumbent regional phone companies less
than anxious to sell them unconditioned copper. By the time they
work out this classic last-mile problem, what will be the price
disadvantage of ATM/SONET equipment vs. gigabit ethernet? Ten to
Sprint may roll out ION service to big businesses in major cities
-- that's no trick even today. But small business and home consum-
ers? My guess is never.
..Are we having a monopoly yet?
Gateway, NEC, IBM offer at least a modicum of choice
The Consumer Project on Technology sponsored a little experiment 
in which a grad student called 12 dealers attempting to buy a single
Pentium computer without Windows pre-installed. Score: zero for twelve.
Still, cracks are appearing in the Microsoft monopoly around the
antitrust crowbar being wielded by the Justice Department and
state attorneys general, as first noted in TBTF for 5/25/98 .
Gateway was the first PC maker to announce  that it will sell
computers with both Netscape and Internet Explorer preinstalled.
Gateway has its own ISP and will customize Microsoft's Internet
connection wizard to steer its customers in that direction as they
set up online.
NEC is offering Windows 95 without Internet Explorer on the desktop
; both IE and Netscape will be available on a separate CD-ROM.
The company claims to be making this move in response to demand
from their business customers, who would prefer to start with bare
IBM will supply both Netscape and Microsoft browsers on its Aptiva
desktops running Windows 98 , and like Gateway will customize the
connection wizard to direct users to its own ISP service. Netscape
will be the default browser for IBM's Internet service only until
September, when the company will switch to IE, apparently because
it's bundled with Windows 98 .
..MCI proposes divesting backbone
But critics say "not far enough"
The proposed MCI merger with WorldCom has come under regulatory
scrutiny because critics claim that the combined company would
control 40% - 60% of Internet traffic. In order to speed the merger
MCI has proposed selling its backbone Internet business to Cable &
Wireless. The sale is contingent on the completion of WorldCom-MCI.
Here is the original press release  and here is TechWeb's cover-
age . Details of what is included in the $625M selling price are
complicated (because MCI's Internet business, nay, the Internet it-
self at this level, is complicated). Here's my reading of what the
proposed sale entails.
- MCI sells C&W its entire Internet operation (backbone, peering
agreements, 15,000 interconnections) for $625M.
- MCI continues for now to provide raw transport for the traffic
associated with its Internet wholesale ("backbone") services.
- C&W takes over the routers, the connection agreements, and the
service agreements for providing wholesale services to MCI's
ISP customers worldwide. C&W becomes a customer of MCI for raw
- MCI continues to own the service agreements and be the service
provider to end users -- dial-up internetMCI consumers and cor-
porate customers for access and/or Web hosting. For 2 years MCI
will be a customer of C&W for backbone services.
Vint Cerf and the Internet Architecture group stay with MCI.
The New York Times quotes spokesmen from both GTE and Sprint 
(registration required) that they do not believe the proposed di-
vestiture goes far enough to relieve concerns over backbone con-
The Justice Department said the government will review the pro-
posed MCI divestiture .
The European Union has indicated that the proposed merger will not
be approved in Europe unless MCI comes up with another solution for
divesting its Internet backbone .
..Indian atomic energy site cracked
Teenagers protest nuclear tests, destructively
Three teenage hackers, working together virtually from sites around
the world, have claimed credit for breaking into and damaging an
Indian atomic energy site, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre .
The gang claimed to have controlled six of eight computers on the
*.barc.ernet.in domain for two days last week. They say they erased
all information from two of the machines and captured 5 MB of email
conversations and research data. The three said they wanted to reg-
ister a protest against Indian testing of nuclear weapons, and
warned Pakistani authorities to be on their guard. The crackers
claimed they obtained root access to the Indian servers (using a
recently discovered Sendmail vulnerability) in under 14 minutes.
Here's a copy of the prank page  the crackers put up. The Indian
site  at this writing is still presenting its underware to the
..The news from Linux Expo
1500 geeks converge on Duke
The fourth annual Linux Expo transpired at Duke University the week
before last . Serious corporate users attended the affair, but
its tone tended more towards science fair than corporate conference.
Here are a pair of dispatches  from the Expo courtesy of David
Sklar <firstname.lastname@example.org> -- I've edited them only lightly.
Felix S. Gallo <email@example.com> wrote this account of a paintball
match at which was decided the eternal question of which Unix text
editor is objectively superior.
> vi trounced emacs, 3-1, in a four-game paintball match. Ap-
> parently the emacs users were confused by the simple nature
> of their paintball equipment, or were stricken by carpal
> tunnel syndrome... Rumors that emacs really lost because
> their guns took 5 minutes to load, weighed 500 lbs, included
> an undecipherable and outmoded built-in scripting language,
> and had 19 different modifier keys next to the trigger, were
> deemed baseless. Commented one grinning vi user,
> ":1,$s/emacs/lunchmeat/g, baby!"
Red Hat Software organized and sponsored the conference and, ac-
cording to Rick Treitman <firstname.lastname@example.org>, did a top-notch job of
keeping all the Linux luminaries accessible. Red Hat released ver-
sion 5.1 of its Linux package at the show and some open-source old
hands grumbled because it was rushed and hadn't benefited from the
customary degree of community pre-release scrutiny. Red Hat 5.1 in-
cludes, among its international language support, a redneck dia-
lect -- dialog buttons don't say "OK," they say "I reckon so," and
so forth. Community review would not have prevented this.
Treitman nutshells the conference as "geeky." He gives two examples
of memorable attendees:
- A guy from London who came just to ask Linus an implementation
question. On the last day he got a minute aside with the godhead
of Linux and asked his question, which he had been unable to get
answered anywhere else in the physical or virtual worlds. Linus
answered it. The guy was going around babbling about how it had
all been worth it.
- A pretty blonde southern woman who favored chiffon dresses and
high heels, who attended in the company of three young teenagers.
She was, it turned out, the owner of the only ISP on Simon's Is-
land, off the Georgia coast; the kids were her techies.
..Sixth Certicom challenge falls
Getting good at cracking elliptical-curve crypto
On 5/21 Robert Harley <Robert.Harley@inria.fr> announced  the
defeat of the sixth in Certicom's series of crypto challenges.
Harley's group has been first to overcome each of the Certicom
challenges broken to date. (His note to me began: "'Nother one.
Yawn.") This computation required the efforts of 200 Alpha ma-
chines, from desktops to servers, over a period of 25 days. As
was Certicom's intent in setting these challenges, Harley's
cracks are shedding light on computational efficiencies in at-
tacking elliptical-curve problems, and on some areas that de-
signers of EC cryptosystems had best avoid.
The very symbol
For that special time when only the exactly correct graphical symbol
will do, visit symbols.com , which claims to index
> more than 2,500 Western signs, arranged into 54 groups accord-
> ing to their graphic characteristics. In 1,600 articles their
> histories, uses, and meanings are thoroughly discussed. The
> signs range from ideograms carved in mammoth teeth by Cro-
> Magnon men, to hobo signs and subway graffiti.
Its graphical lookup search  uses this odd indexing scheme:
- Is the sign that you want information about single-axis
symmetric, multi-axis symmetric, or asymmetric?
- Is the sign open or closed?
- Are the lines of the sign straight, soft, or both straight
- Does the symbol contain lines that are crossing?
(The use of "soft" to mean "curved" may be a British usage; the pro-
prietors of symbols.com are in Sweden.)
This classification scheme puts me in mind of the rules the pro-
tagonist lived by in John Barth's early novel The End of the Road
. Jake Horner suffered from a rare mental affliction of extreme
indecision and was under the care of a quack, who inculcated in
him the three rules for deciding anything. Just pick the one that
applies for each situation.
- Sinistrality -- pick the one on the left.
- Antecedence -- pick the one that is earliest in time.
- Alphabetical Priority -- pick the one that comes first
in the alphabet.
A twisty maze of little items, all different
..Web's inventor gets a MacArthur
Tim Berners-Lee received one of 29 "genius grants" recently
awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
. He joins a very select peer group: only six MacArthurs
have been awarded to computer scientists. The others are James
H. Blinn, John H. Holland, Karl Sims, Richard Stallman, and
Stephen Wolfram. Here is the complete list of honorees since
1981 ; I've put up the list in the TBTF Resources directory
in handy tab-delimited Ascii form .
 http://www.macfdn.org/programs/fel/complete-list-6.htm#Part 6
Win Treese has served forth a new number of the Internet Index
. If you have not made the acquaintance of this very occas-
ional publication, welcome out from under your rock, and does
the light hurt your eyes? The latest Internet Index concludes
with this item:
Number of dogs I know with a URL on her name tag: 1
Perhaps by coincidence, the very first number , from July
1993, concludes with:
Number of people on the Internet who know you're a dog: 0
The reference is to this celebrated Steiner drawing  from the
New Yorker earlier that year.
..Excel 97's built-in flight simulator
Here's how to reach one of the more elaborate Easter eggs yet dis-
covered in a commercial software package. It's present in Excel 97
as originally shipped with Office 97, but seems to have been re-
moved before R1.
Open a new workbook in Excel 97
Hold down Ctrl and Shift; click the Chart Wizard in the tool bar
Now fly. Steer with the mouse, accelerate and decelerate with the
left and right mouse buttons respectively. Look for the monolith
with the programming team's credits. You can exit the screen by
holding down Ctrl and Shift and pressing Esc.
Thanks to Raven Brewster who had meant to send me this snippet but
Two of the remaining Big Six accounting firms are merging -- Price
Waterhouse, meet Coopers & Lybrand -- to create the world's biggest
consultancy. Out of a fair range of choices for naming the new en-
tity, what do you suppose they settled on? PricewaterhouseCoopers.
I'm not making this up. It's perhaps an improvement over the last
time two such big firms merged. From their universe of possible
names they picked the ones that guaranteed they would be called
Toilet & Douche.
..Information dirt road
It's getting hard to find an unclaimed meta-name to use in domain
name examples. Try using whatever.com -- but of course that's taken.
So is yourname.com. And yournamehere.com. Is nothing sacred? Forget
it, nothingsacred.com isn't available either. TBTF for 3/9/98 
noted the exhaustion of the space of 2- and 3-character names. Four-
character ones are going fast; all the .com names that are actual
words were snapped up ages ago, in Net time.
When I built my site in the far wild frontier of domain namespace,
in 1995, there was nary another settler in sight. Face it, the land
wasn't worth much back then. But the world encroaches. Look up and
the frontier is fenced and scuffles are breaking out over water
access and grazing rights.
Neighbors are moving in.
Mutual readers alerted me to a fellow in Connecticut who writes a
column called Tales from the Bitstream for a local newspaper. Last
December Jeff Schult <email@example.com> plunked down good money
for the adjoining lot at tftb.com , and now he's moved into the
mobile home. Howdy, neighbor. Don't suppose you have any Grey Pou-
pon? Didn't think so.
The local realtor delivers circulars, bad color on the cheapest
newsprint, featuring grainy photos of adjoining lots for sale:
tbft.com -- steep 5-acre spread, power line right-of-way
ttbf.com -- go to where the dirt road peters out and turn left
tfbt.com -- sometimes a river runs through it
ttfb.com -- not quite the back of beyond but you can see it
N o t e s
> This issue was delayed as I made so bold as to behave for two weekends
in a row like someone who has a life. More such weekends are in pro-
spect: anticipate sporadic TBTF production into August.
> Now a plug for my second unpaid job. My wife and I run Impatiens Press
, publisher of fine paperback editions on dead trees. Our third
title, Monhegan Memories, went to the printer today. This remini-
scence of life on Monhegan Island, Maine, earlier in the century
should, if there is justice in the world, take its place on the
classic shelf of books about Maine. Visit this page  for a quick
look at Monhegan if you are possessed of saintly patience or fat
pipes; the link loads 223K.
S o u r c e s
> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see
TBTF home and archive at http://www.tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send
the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is
Copyright 1994-1998 by Keith Dawson, <email@example.com>. Com-
mercial use prohibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward,
post, and link as you see fit.
Keith Dawson firstname.lastname@example.org
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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