TBTF for 6/30/97: Step right up

Keith Dawson (dawson@world.std.com)
Sun, 29 Jun 1997 01:08:14 -0400


TBTF for 6/30/97: Step right up

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: <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/archive/06-30-97.html>

C o n t e n t s

Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional
CDA-II wannabees
Essential Tools: Learning good design by studying bad
Notes from the Web INNovation conference
Lagrangian companion
Pay-per TBTF survey results

..Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional

American adults have the right to speak freely on the Internet.
The Supreme Court handed down a ruling that upholds the findings
of a lower court and invalidates the infamous CDA.

The court ruled unanimously that the law's "patently offensive
display" provision violates the First Amendment. Seven justices
found the CDA inherently over broad: "The CDA lacks the precision
that the First Amendment requires when a statute regulates the
content of speech," states the majority opinion, written by Jus-
tice John Paul Stevens. Two justices dissented on this latter
point: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Chief Justice William
Rehnquist wrote a separate opinion stating that the CDA could
be constitutional under some circumstances.

The bottom line is that all nine justices agreed that restric-
tions on Internet communications among adults are unconstitu-
tional, and remain unconstitutional as long as there is at least
one adult in the audience.

The ruling leaves very little wiggle room for a Congress that has
emitted subterranean rumblings about a Son of CDA.

The majority decision agreed that Congress has a legitimate in-
terest in shielding children from indecent material on the Net
and provided guidelines for legally pursuing that goal in future
legislation. But the court flatly rejected the Justice Depart-
ment's argument that the need to protect kids from online in-
decency supersedes an adult's right to have access to such

The court agreed with the argument that the Internet is, in its
nature, not comparable to the broadcast industry. The majority
opinion is unambiguous that radio and TV indecency precedents
like the Pacifica "seven dirty words" case do not apply to the

Those nine guys in black get it in a way that Congress is barely
beginning to.

Thanks to David Black <dlb@opengroup.org> for a quick analysis.
You can read the ruling itself (37 pp.) on the EPIC site [1]. The
Legal Information Institute helpfully provides a syllabus [2].
The best online coverage I've found comes from the NY Times [3].
See [4] for the jubilant response of the ACLU. Earlier newsmedia
coverage is at [5], [6], and [7].

Note to Mr. Leon Blocker [8]: please come and cart away your

[1] <URL:http://www2.epic.org/cda/cda_decision.html>
[2] <URL:http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-511.ZS.html>
[3] <URL:http://www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/week/062797decency.html>
[4] <URL:http://aclu.org/issues/cyber/trial/appeal.html>
[5] <URL:http://www.sjmercury.com/news/nation/decency/cda/court062697.htm>
[6] <URL:http://cgi.pathfinder.com/netly/opinion/0,1042,1110,00.html>
[7] <URL:http://www.news.com/SpecialFeatures/0%2C5%2C11937%2C00.html>
[8] <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/resource/knuckle.html>

..CDA-II wannabees

The forces of the Right are demonstrating that while the Supreme
Court mought've kilt 'em, they hain't whupp'd 'em. Senator Patty
Murray, newly elected "mom in tennis shoes" from the state of
Washington, has registered the first counter-blow following the
Court's unanimous endorsement of free speech on the Net. Murray
has drafted the Childsafe Internet Act of 1997 [9], [10]. The
seven-point plan intends to encourage and enforce "zoning" on
the Net by placing most of the policing burden on ISPs and Web
hosts, constituencies with which it is unlikely to be wildly

Bruce Taylor, director of the National Law Center for Children
and Families and co-author of the CDA, is said to be working on
a new version of the legislation for Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana.
[11]. The speculation is that the revised act would aim to re-
strict hard-core pornography on the Net, though such material
is already clearly illegal in any medium.

President Clinton plans to do what he does best: meet with in-
dustry leaders, teachers, parents, and libraries to discuss a
technological approach to curbing kids' access to "indecent"
material [12]. The buzzphrase here is "a V-chip for computers."

[9] <URL:http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,11982,00.html>
[10] <URL:http://www.ciec.org/SC_appeal/970626_Murray.html>
[11] <URL:http://www4.zdnet.com/intweek/daily/970627b.html>
[12] <URL:http://www5.zdnet.com/zdnn/content/zdnn/0627/zdnn0001.html>

..Essential Tools: Learning good design by studying bad

Today's addition to Essential Tools for Website Development [13]
is a teaching site, both useful and cool [14]. A teacher of HTML,
Vincent Flanders <vincent@vincentflanders.com>, supplies nearly
50 negative examples -- Web Pages That Suck [15] -- to reinforce
lessons in good design. The site requires frames; in fact it's
an exemplar of what frames are good for. The lessons start here
[16]. One of my favorites is "High on Kai" in the Graphics sec-
tion. Kai is Kai Krause, whose venerable Photoshop plugin Kai's
Power Tools has been misused or overused by every tyro designer
who has ever laid hands on it. Referring to one particularly
sweet KPT effect, Flanders promulgates the rule: "You're allowed
one Kai Page Curl per career." It hits home for me because I
used a Kai Page Curl in the splash on the top page of my first
publicly accessible Web site. Was proud of it, too, in January
1995. (Alas the site is no longer visible.) Now I can never use
Page Curl again.

[13] <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/essential-tools.html>
[14] <URL:http://www.usefulcool.com/>
[15] <URL:http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/>
[16] <URL:http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/begin.htm>

..Notes from the Web INNovation conference

Valerie Lambert <valerie@savina.com> attended Web INNovation earlier
this month. Her trip report is a kind of Ralph Steadman [17] por-
trait of the corporate Web-building landscape today, sharply drawn
and slyly satirical. Lambert's report [18] appears on the TBTF ar-
chive by permission. (I first saw the report forwarded by Jon Callas

Here are some highlights from the main vendor messages as captured
by Lambert:

Netscape: We own the intranet. Intranets-R-Us. And we know how
to push channel. Did we mention we are 100% intranet
buzzword compliant?

Sun: Java, Java, Java, heya {a little tribal dance}.

Microsoft: Hey, we've discovered standards! Just look at the
pledges posted on our site!

Apple: Ummm, authoring tools! Rhapsody! Focusing on our
strengths! Errm, servers -- yah, that's it, servers!

She outlines lessons learned and concludes with a handy table of
what's in and what's out this year among the corporate site imple-
mentors. See the full report at [18].

[17] <URL:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0151002452/6672-9608509-852460>
[18] <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/resource/webinn-vl.html>

..Lagrangian companion

The earth has another companion in space besides the moon: As-
teroid 3753, 5 km in diameter. It doesn't orbit the earth, but
it's too simple to say that it orbits the sun. It orbits the sun
and travels with the earth, gravitationally entangled with two
of earth's Lagrangian points in what is known as a "horseshoe"
orbit. The asteroid was discovered in 1986 but its peculiar or-
bit was only understood recently thanks to the numerical model-
ing research of astronomers in Canada and Finland.

In the eighteenth century the mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange
calculated that points of gravitational stability should exist
around planets in their orbits [19]. Two of these points, now
called L4 and L5, respectively lead and trail the earth in its
orbit by 60 degrees. Small objects such as asteroids can actually
orbit around these moving points of equilibrium. The first La-
grangian object discovered, in 1906, was an asteroid associated
with Jupiter. It was named 588 Achilles, so by convention aster-
oids named for Greeks lead Jupiter in its orbit and ones named
for Trojans trail it.

Some of you may remember Gerard K. O'Neill [20], whose 1976 book
The High Frontier [21] proposed establishing space colonies or-
biting the L4 and L5 points of the earth-moon system. (This was
years before the Star Wars initiative co-opted and sullied the
term "High Frontier.") The Space Studies Institute [22], which
O'Neill founded, still operates 5 years after his death.

Back to earth's newly discovered companion asteroid. It's diffi-
cult in the extreme to describe its orbit without a picture, and
I haven't been able to find one on the Web. So we'll have to make
do with words. Here are desriptions from the original article's
abstract and from two popular accounts of the discovery.

>>From Nature (6/12/97):

[P.A.Wiegert, K.A.Innanen, & S.Mikkola , "An asteroidal compan-
ion to the Earth" (Letter to Nature), Nature 387, 685 (1997)]

> ...the authors show that the orbit of asteroid 3753, when
> viewed in the reference frame centred on the Sun but orbit-
> ing with the Earth, has a distinctive shape characteristic
> of "horseshoe" orbits. Although horseshoe orbits are a
> well-known feature of the gravitational three-body problem,
> the only other examples of objects moving on such orbits
> are the Saturnian satellites Janus and Epimetheus -- and
> their behaviour is much less intricate than that of 3753.

>>From Physics News [23] (6/18/97):

> ...asteroid 3753 is in orbit not around the Earth but in
> concert with it in a horseshoe-shaped trajectory that co-
> rotates with the Earth in its orbit around the sun; with
> respect to the sun, the trajectory is an eccentric ellipse
> somewhat inclined to the ecliptic plane.

>>From SCIENCE-WEEK (6/19/97):

> ...the orbit of 3753 encompasses both equilibrium points
> and is a "horseshoe" orbit, and it is only because the
> asteroid's orbit is highly inclined with respect to the
> plane of the Earth's orbit that a collision is unlikely.

[19] <URL:http://www-spof.gsfc.nasa.gov/Education/wlagran.html>
[20] <URL:http://www.ralentz.com/old/space/ssi/obit.html>
[21] <URL:http://www.ralentz.com/old/space/ssi/high-frontier.html>
[22] <URL:http://www.astro.nwu.edu/lentz/space/ssi/>
[23] <URL:http://newton.ex.ac.uk/aip/no_tables/physnews.326.html>

..Pay-per TBTF survey results

In TBTF for 6/23/97 [24] I asked readers to react to the idea of
paying for access, in some fashion, to TBTF material on the Web.
Twenty-six readers responded. A number of readers passed on gra-
tuituitous compliments to the newsletter's quality -- thanks for
those. A number of others alluded to TBTF's uniqueness to buttress
their points: "Most Web content I wouldn't be willing to pay for,
but for TBTF, maybe," or "I love TBTF but so strongly dislike hav-
ing a meter running that I would unsubscribe."

Here is a topical summation of the responses. For the gist of each
of the 26 replies see [25], and for the full text of each see [26]

- (10) Would be willing / happy to pay something for TBTF.

(1) "worth more than my $20/week in magazine subscriptions"
(1) $1 / topic
(1) $10 / year
(1) "much more than" $2.50 / year
(4) $2.50 / year
(1) $1 / year
(1) $0.50 / year
(1) $0.05 / year

- (4) Generally favorable to the idea of micropayment schemes.

- (3) Might be willing to pay, given some (fairly stringent)

- (6) No. Never. Nada. Would unsubscribe.

Other general comments:

- (5) Prefer "retro-push" email to the Web. Rarely/never visit
the Web site.

- (2) Appreciate TBTF particularly because it is non-commercial.

- (2) Don't like to have a meter running.

- (1) The real cost of TBTF is its "attention time"; micropay-
ments would not add significantly to this cost.

There is no grand conclusion to be reached from this unscientific,
self-selected data. I still want to go ahead with a Millicent trial,
Digital willing, but I have less faith than before that a TBTF pay-
ment scheme could be structured that both you (collectively) and I
would be happy with. My commitment remains unshaken to maintain the
free email edition as long as TBTF is published.

For a little outside perspective on the question of paying for con-
tent, let's read from the 7th GVU WWW Survey [27].

> In past surveys, we have asked whether people would be wil-
> ling to pay fees to access sites. Typically, over 2/3 of the
> respondents claimed that they would not pay fees. In order
> to help figure out why, we repositioned this question to get
> at the reasons people would not pay... Almost half of the
> respondents cited being able to access the content on other
> sites as the main reason (44.06%). Next in line, people feel
> that they are already paying to access the Web via connectiv-
> ity charges, so why should they pay to access specific sites
> (29.48%). Other popular reasons include costs too much to
> access (7.67%) and the content is of poor quality (7.32%).
> Only 1.07% state that they would pay regardless. European
> users are more concerned than their US counterparts about the
> poor quality and that there is no easy mechanism to pay for
> content.

Bottom line: the "business model" for TBTF is the model that first
sprang from the Net's cultural values, as the population began to
explode in 1993/1994: do what you do best and give it away, and
find another way to leverage the resulting goodwill into some kind
of a living.

[24] <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/archive/06-23-97.html>
[25] <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/resource/pay-per.html>
[26] <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/resource/pp-details.html>
[27] <URL:http://www.gvu.gatech.edu/user_surveys/survey-1997-04/#highsum>

N o t e s

> Today's TBTF title a piece on Tom Waits's 1973 album "Small Change."
It's an ironic rant (to call it a "song" seems grandiose) about
consumerism in American culture, and getting what you pay for.
You can hear a clip from "Step Right Up" at [28] (requires Real-

[28] <URL:http://www3.cdnow.com/cgi-bin/mserver/SID=784272721/pagename=/share/ensotrack2.html/UPC=7559606122/disc=01/ra.ram>

> The new Tasty Bit of the Day feature seems to be popular; visitor
numbers are way up and the subscription rate has taken a sharp
turn northward. A mention in "That's Useful, This is Cool" didn't
hurt either. See the latest statistics at [29].

[29] <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/growth.html>

S o u r c e s

> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see

> AIP Physics Update -- mail listserv@aip.org without subject and with
message "add physnews" . Searchable archive at

TBTF home and archive at <URL:http://www.tbtf.com/>. To subscribe
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post, and link as you see fit.
Keith Dawson dawson@world.std.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.

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