TBTF for 1999-06-14: Manifold
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/1999-06-14.html >
C o n t e n t s
Light shining on Echelon
Worm.Explore.Zip worm packs a devastating payload
PrettyPark worm/trojan hits Windows users
Supreme Court reverses on Zurko patent
A report from ICANN's Berlin meeting
The Blue Screen of Death evolves
Elements 118 and 116 produced at Berkeley
Two ancient floods
New units coming
Trinkets for topologists
..Light shining on Echelon
International anger over reports of industrial espionage
Australia: The widely reported Echelon network , child of the NSA
and the rumored UKUSA agreement, took a step out of the closet when
the director of Australia's Defence Signals Directorate openly ad-
mitted  that his country participates in UKUSA.
US: Members of the House of Representatives demanded that the NSA
reveal what guidelines protect citizens' privacy from Echelon; but
NSA refused  on grounds of attorney-client privilege. To the best
of my knowledge this is the first such claim in the 200-year history
of Congressional oversight of administrative agencies . Represen-
tative Bob Barr introduced an amendment to the Intelligence Author-
ization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (H.R. 1555) that requires the dir-
ector of central intelligence, the director of the NSA, and the at-
torney general jointly to prepare a report detailing the legal
standards used to initiate and gather domestic intelligence. The
House approved the amendment on 13 May before sending the bill to
Germany: The cabinet released a policy statement  encouraging its
citizens to use encryption without restriction. Without mentioning
Echelon by name, the statement nods in its direction. Here are an
English translation  and Wired's coverage of the story .
Sweden: The Foreign Department is investigating the claims of indus-
trial espionage in the European Parliament's IC2000 report . (The
text downloads 332K. Turn off graphics to avoid another 761K; the
graphics add little to the report.) This Datateknik story  tells
the tale. If any Swedish speaker is kind enough to provide a trans-
lation I will publish it on the TBTF site.
..Worm.Explore.Zip worm packs a devastating payload
This one is bad. Discovered last Monday in Israel, Worm.Explore.Zip
 has spread with Melissa-like speed and infected Motorola, GE,
Intel, Microsoft, and other companies, some of whom shut off email
service on Thursday. Like Melissa, and like PrettyPark (see below),
this worm relies on victims using Windows machines to execute an
email attachment. When they do it mails a friendly message to ev-
eryone in the victim's in-box and then destroys all files with
extensions .h, .c, .cpp, .asm, .doc, .ppt, or .xls on any mounted
drive, by setting their file length to zero. You might be able to
recover parts of a file using a disk editor but it would be dif-
ficult and time-consuming. (The worm can't execute on Macintosh or
Unix, but these systems could lose files if mounted in a Windows
network.) For the immediate future, don't execute any email attach-
ment you receive named zipped_files.exe; and update your anti-virus
profile. Thanks for the heads-up to TBTF Irregular [*] Karl Hakkar-
ainen <kh at ultranet dot com>, who notes of his employer: "We'll
be crawling over the rubble of this one for quite a while."
..PrettyPark worm/trojan hits Windows users
A new worm program, operating in the mode of Melissa, is spreading
fast among Windows users. Here is the best summary  I have found.
Some reports say home users are particularly hard-hit, because they
don't update their virus detectors as reliably as business users do.
PrettyPark was first reported late last week in France and spread
rapidly over the weekend. When a victim -- recipient of a tainted
email message -- executes an attachment named PrettyPark.exe, the
worm replicates itself by copying the email message to everyone in
the local machine's address book. It then silently checks every 30
minutes to see whether the user is connected to the Net, and if so
sends usernames, password files, address lists, and other files to
a number of Internet Relay Chat channels. Makers of anti-virus soft-
ware produced filters for PrettyPark in short order. If you run on
Windows 95, 98, or NT, check with your anti-virus vendor. The worm
does not affect Macintosh or Unix systems.
..Supreme Court reverses on Zurko patent
Rules that appellate court cannot say the PTO blew it
TBTF for 1998-12-15  outlined the issues in the so-called Zurko
patent appeal, which had the potential of opening up the patent
process to sturdier outside review. Yesterday the Supreme Court re-
versed the lower-court ruling . I asked Mary Ellen Zurko, the
lead inventor on the patent, to comment on the ruling's implica-
The Federal Circuit Court cannot override a patent office
decision if it finds that decision to be "clearly erron-
eous." It can only do so if it finds the PTO has been ar-
bitrary or capricious, committed an abuse of discretion, or
the finding was unsupported by substantial evidence. We
lost our Supreme Court case. But, as co-author and defendant
Morrie Gasser said, after reading the decision, "It took me
a while to figure out that this meant we lost, but for this
kind of entertainment I'd file another one any day." The
ever vigilant Keith Dawson was the first person to tell us.
It's disappointing for us not only because we didn't get a
patent for technology we believed to be innovative, but
because early rumors back at then-Digital had been that our
patent was turned down as a test case for setting back the
bar for non-obviousness. In terms of checks and balances, if
the PTO is discreet and can make a case for its decision,
and if no new facts are found, its decisions stand. This
should streamline the process and save tax dollars, and, as
they argued, they are the organization in the government
best qualified to make their decisions.
There's some difference of opinion in the patent office
ranks, though. I met a kind and informative patent examiner
while standing in the lawyers-only line with my sister-in-
law before the case. We were about the only people around
who weren't there for the earlier case, which ended up
holding that it is a violation of the 4th amendment for
police to bring reporters unnamed in the warrant on a case
(I called it the "Cops TV show" case). The examiner said he
thought we would and should win, as everyone deserves to get
a second hearing. Our lawyer, Ernest Gelhorn, did a bril-
liant job at the oral arguments. The only question he
couldn't answer was when one justice asked why they should
care about this case :-). Reading the opinion and dissent,
you can see why. It turned on the interpretation of the
results of about 89 previous cases, and the intended inter-
action of two laws. I could sympathize with the difficulty
of the latter issue, as unintended interactions are some-
thing software engineers have to deal with regularly. If
you're ever in Washington, DC, I highly recommend sitting
in for a Supreme Court case. Anyone can. They last only 1
hour and, as Gelhorn said, "It's the best theater in town."
..A report from ICANN's Berlin meeting
Country-code representatives are only one of the unhappy
Newly minted TBTF Irregular [*] Ant Brooks <ant at hivemind dot net>
travelled to Berlin for the ICANN meeting in late May as the repre-
sentative for the .za country code, and sent TBTF this report .
Brooks asks that we read it as an attempt to express his personal
views of the proceedings, and nothing more.
In an unfortunate coincidence of timing, by leaving South Africa
for Berlin, Brooks forfeited his right to vote in his country's
second free election.
The wake of the Berlin meeting swirls with controversy over the way
ICANN is carrying out its mandate  (free registration and cookies
required). In this critical article  David G. Post invokes the
shade of US founding father James Madison, one of the authors of the
Federalist Papers. Post says we need to start a community dialogue --
call it the Netalist Papers if you must -- to define the governance
we want for cyberspace.
Consumer advocates Ralph Nader and James Love sent an open letter
 to ICANN chair Esther Dyson asking her to clarify the organi-
zation's stance on the issues raised by critics. No reply so far.
A natural-language front end to a company's internal databases
Meet Andrette , knowledge worker for the new century. Andrette
is a Klone from Big Science Company. She claims to be able to un-
derstand plain-English queries and to present data from back-office
servers. So far Big Science doesn't have any customers whose Klone
Servers are ac- cessible outside their firewalls, so Andrette is the
only one of her kind you can talk to. (This was the first question
I asked Andrette, and she gave me a marketing-speak non-answer, al-
though the correct answer is in the company's FAQ .) One useful
thing Andrette knows how to do is to tell you what movies are play-
ing near you, and even in this simple task the chatterbot became
confused because I gave my zip code too early in the process.
It seems to me that these early stumbles are most likely limitations
in Andrette's implementation, not in the underlying technology. And
after all I have little context for a deep discussion with the Big
Science Company. Keep an eye on them -- before long you may be chat-
ting with a Klone in your first contact with your supplier's help
Thanks to TBTF Irregular [*] Glenn Fleishman for the pointer.
Jargon Scout  is an irregular TBTF feature that aims to give you
advance warning -- preferably before Wired Magazine picks it up --
of jargon that is just about ready to hatch into the Net's language.
Over the last two weeks the world has discovered this modest TBTF
resource. Once Yahoo featured it as a Pick of the Week, a score of
newspapers, Web logs, and "best of" pages have picked it up.
The ever-inventive Marcia Blake <blakecomm at earthlink dot net>,
a TBTF Irregular [*], passes on a term she used to describe a Net
killer-app wannabe to the venture capitalist considering a seed
> This is not a Killer App, but a very decent little Filler
> App of the sort that would probably be acquired a day or so
> after launch.
Marcia Blake further proposes that the phrase "take it offline,"
commonly used on listservs and intranets, is patently inaccurate.
The intended meaning is to suggest that a topic be discussed out-
side the community in which the discussion arose; but such removed
dialog still takes place online. She puts forward as alternatives
"take it offlist," or "take it e2e" (email-to-email). This latter
invention, back-formed from the common f2f -- face-to-face -- sug-
gests extensions in different directions for other new media: v2v
(voice-to-voice) for a phone exchange, and perhaps c2c for online
chat. A reader notes that "e2e" is used in SDLC testing to mean
..FBC: fully buzzword compliant
Larry Carl <larrycarl at home dot com> believes that FBC was
coined by his partner John Steely at daVinci TWG in Richmond, VA.
Steely holds two M.S. degrees and Microsoft certifications as CP /
CSD / CSE / CST. Let Carl tell it:
> Several years ago we were talking about all the stuff Mi-
> crosoft was throwing into NT, to over-match OS/2. John
> said something like, "Yeah, they are trying to make it
> fully buzzword compliant." To which I replied, "With all
> those initials after your name you don't have much room
> to talk." John then said, "So maybe I could just shorten
> it to FBC!" We have been using it ever since, in and out
> of our NT-related training courses, seminars, and consult-
> ing gigs.
"Fully buzzword compliant" is in wide use on Usenet. A recent Deja.-
com search turned up over 200 separate citations (discounting post-
ings by people who have incorporated the phrase into their signa-
tures). But I couldn't find any similar hits for FBC.
..The Blue Screen of Death evolves
Fun with Microsoft's most recongizable display
This phony press release  (no charge for the Portugeuse trans-
lation) has been making the rounds. Seems that Microsoft has de-
cided to use the BSOD as a competitive weapon and open it up for
> Major computer resellers such as Compaq, Gateway, and Dell
> are already lining up for premier placement on the new and
> improved BSOD. [Microsoft president] Balmer concluded by
> getting a dig in against the Open Source community. "This
> just goes to show that Microsoft continues to innovate at a
> much faster pace than open source. I have yet to see any
> evidence that Linux even has a BSOD, let alone a customi-
> zable one."
If art imitates life, then software imitates parody. Release 6.0
of Red Hat Linux features a BSoD simulator , a "boss screen":
> bsodsim doesn't stop at just showing a simulated error
> message. If the boss doesn't walk away, the worker can
> continue the illusion by hitting CTRL-ALT-DEL, which causes
> a simulated reboot. After showing the usual boot messages,
> bsodsim will run a simulated SCANDISK program indefinitely.
> The boss won't be able to tell the difference.
Finally, here is a utility  you can download to make aesthetic
adjustments in your very own Blue Screen of Death.
Been waiting for this since reading Popular Mechanics in 1953
A California company, Moller International, has been working since
1962 to develop a personal flying machine. Now they are publicizing
the Skycar , which the company calls a "volantor." It's a verti-
cal-takeoff-and-landing craft that like the British Harrier jumpjet
uses swivelling "nacelles" to contain and direct the force of its
rotors. Here's a photo  of the 4-passenger M400. You can't buy
one today because no government has certified the device as air-
worthy. In 1991 the US Federal Aviation Administration created a
new aircraft category for the Skycar -- the powered-lift vehicle
joins the existing categories of fixed-wing and rotary-wing craft.
In 1992 Moller received the only generic patent ever issued in the
US on an entirely new category of aircraft. (Patents have since
been issued worldwide.) Moller estimates that the first production
M400s could go on sale at around $1M. The company is counting on
mass-market economies of scale to bring the price eventually into
the $60K - $80K range.
When TBTF Irregular [*] Chuck Bury <cbury at softhome dot net>
first forwarded this story I remembered seeing a similar vehicle
profiled in the 1970s in the magazine Harpers Weekly -- except
the photo I recalled looked more like a personal flying saucer
than like the Batmobile. Lo, here is that very photo on the Moller
Web site .
Paul S. Moller gave this presentation  at the World Aviation
Congress in 1998 -- it has some technical detail on the design and
a quick overview of Moller's development history. A more detailed
history is here .
..Elements 118 and 116 produced at Berkeley
The island of stability is reached at last
Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, smashing
relativistic krypton into a target of lead, have produced three
atoms of the heaviest element seen on the earth to date . "We
jumped over a sea of instability onto an island of stability that
theories have been predicting since the 1970s," said physicist
Victor Ninov, principal author of a paper on the discovery submit-
ted to Physical Review Letters. Stability is a relative thing. In
less than a millisecond each atom of element 118 decayed, by emit-
ting an alpha particle, into element 116 -- the only atoms of this
element ever seen on earth. Element 116 is also unstable, as are all
the elements down to 106. The rapid cascade of six alpha particles
was the sign the scientists were looking for to confirm the creation
of element 118.
Thanks to TBTF Irregular [*] Chuck Bury for the speedy notification
on this discovery.
..Two ancient floods
Two hundred million years ago, before North and South America, Af-
rica and Europe headed for the compass points, the land of Pangaea
experienced the largest volcanic outpouring in earth's history. Sci-
entists have now put together the puzzle pieces to link the New Jer-
sey Palisades with sites in Brazil, Europe, and Africa . The
volcanic event that paved an area the size of present-day Australia
in the supercontinent's interior might have played a part in the
late Triassic mass extinction(s) , which began the ascent of the
dinosaurs. (Here's a fine drawing  for cyclical extinction the-
orists.) The Central Atlantic Magmatic Province was later torn a-
sunder by tectonic forces, which carried fragments to places all
around the Atlantic rim. Try this simple visualization  of the
last 180 million years of the breakup of Pangaea; requires Shock-
The NY Times featured this image  above the fold: Mars color-
coded for altitude. (Here's another view  with a color key.)
Besides highlighting the largest known crater in the solar sys-
tem -- 1,300 miles wide and 6 miles deep -- the image shows that
the planet bulges below its equator: the southern hemisphere of
Mars is, on average, three miles higher than the northern. Here's
the Times article . For those who can't be bothered with regis-
tration and cookies, try the BBC's coverage . The bulge could
explain the origin of Mars's ancient floods, evidence of which is
etched into the Red Planet's stone.
..New units coming
I'll see your kibi and raise you a mebi
The International Electrotechnical Commission has decided that we
have had enough of the confusion caused by the fact that 2 to the
10th power is nearly, but not exactly, equal to 10 to the 3rd.
Computer scientists early began using the prefix "kilo" to mean
1024, and by extension mega, giga, and tera to mean 1024 to the
second, third, and fourth powers. The proposed new units are:
Factor Name Symbol Origin Derivation
2^10 kibi Ki kilobinary: (2^10) kilo: (10^3)
2^20 mebi Mi megabinary: (2^10)^2 mega: (10^3)^2
2^30 gibi Gi gigabinary: (2^10)^3 giga: (10^3)^3
2^40 tebi Ti terabinary: (2^10)^4 tera: (10^3)^4
Here's an IEEE article  on the new units and here is the IEC's
proposal  (PDF format -- see page 4). Next year you may buy a
computer with 128 mebs of memory and a 20-gib drive. Thanks to Chris
Duncombe Rae <duncombe at sfri dot wcape dot gov dot za> for prod-
ding me on this story.
..Trinkets for topologists
The finest zero-volume containers money can buy
TBTF Irregular [*] Anton Sherwood <antons at jps dot net> sends word
on the latest project of cracker-hunter  turned neo-luddite 
Clifford Stoll. He is manufacturing Klein bottles  in glass, "the
finest closed, non-orientable, boundary-free manifolds sold anywhere
in our three spatial dimensions". See the specs here ; they owe
something to the laws-of-physics warning labels  first published
in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.
The German topologist Klein 
Thought the Mobius Loop was divine.
Said he, "If you glue
The edges of two
You get a weird bottle like mine."
N o t e s
> [*] The TBTF Irregulars are 74 individuals who send me story ideas,
make me think, keep me honest, and keep TBTF ticking over, such
as it does. See http://tbtf.com/the-irregulars.html . We keep in
touch on a private email discussion list, archived on the TBTF
> TBTF's 10,000th email subscriber is Chris Chiappetta <cchiappetta at
jenner dot com>. He will, I hope, tell us what his gift certificate
from Amazon.com purchases, and perhaps even review it for us here.
Chris just got his MBA from George Mason University with a concen-
tration in MIS. Sounds like a winning combination to me. Can any
TBTF reader give Chris a lead toward his ideal career path? He's
looking for an IT job related to sports (Olympics, track, baseball),
law enforcement, politics, the nonprofit sector (e.g. Boy Scouts),
or a dynamic telecom or Internet startup. He's flexible on location.
Chris currently works as a paralegal in Washington DC, mostly on
telecom litigation. If you send him a tip, please drop me a copy.
S o u r c e s
> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see
TBTF home and archive at http://tbtf.com/ . To (un)subscribe send
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Keith Dawson firstname.lastname@example.org
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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