TBTF for 12/7/98: Six degrees
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/12-07-98.html >
C o n t e n t s
Judge blocks CDA-II
Microsoft ordered to purify Java
Java Lobby founder pleads for more openness
30 years after Engelbart
Claim of "pure email" virus rings hollow
Infosurfing and printer-friendly URLs
Toys for geeks
A successful experiment in six degrees
Three weeks without a TBTF can produce withdrawal symptoms, I can
testify from personal experience. The evidence for such symptoms
in the readership is less direct -- several of you wrote me asking
whether everything is quite all right in my world. Thanks for your
concern. Blame the hiatus on a trip to the other coast followed
closely by the Thanksgiving holiday and compounded by an unexpected
surge of activity in my consulting business. Now let's catch up on
some of the recent news.
Unless you've been living in an underground bunker on Nantucket ,
you know that America Online plans to acquire Netscape for around $4
billion, in a deal that also involves Sun Microsystems. I won't at-
tempt any grand pronouncements on What it All Means -- seemingly ev-
eryone with a modem has already done so . Here are 44 articles
and analyses published in the three days after the deal was confirmed
on 24 November, and the pace has barely slowed since.
..Judge blocks CDA-II
After an all-day hearing on 18 November, U.S. District Judge Lowell
A. Reed, Jr. enjoined the Justice Department from enforcing or pro-
secuting any conduct under the law dubbed CDA-II by its critics .
The injunction will last for at least ten days until the issues in
the lawsuit can be further litigated. Over the objections of the
government, Judge Reed extended the order to cover anyone posting
material on the Web, not just the named plaintiffs. The order also
precludes retroactive enforcement of the law: if CDA-II is event-
ually upheld, no-one can be prosecuted for material posted while the
restraining order is in effect. While he stressed that the ruling
is not a "final order on the merits," the judge's finding expressly
states that the plaintiffs appear likely to prevail in their consti-
..Microsoft ordered to purify Java
U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte granted Sun's request for a pre-
liminary injunction and gave Microsoft 90 days to alter its Java
technology in shipping software -- including Windows 98 and Inter-
net Explorer -- that does not pass Sun's compatibility tests, or
stop selling that software . The order also requires Microsoft
to adjust its Java development tools so that Sun-standard Java is
the default setting. Here is the text of the ruling  (84K). Sun
didn't get everything it wanted -- Microsoft does not have to stop
selling "polluted Java" products immediately, nor to retrofit Win-
dows-only Java software that has already been sold. Developers were
jubilant , .
Judge Whyte found that Sun is likely to prevail on the merits. The
trial itself has not been scheduled.
Microsoft mulled appealing the ruling for a few days and then an-
nounced that they will comply for Windows products and will strip
Java from all their Unix and Macintosh products.
..Java Lobby founder pleads for more openness
All is not sweetness and light in Java-land. Java's inventor Sun
Microsystems has been under increasing pressure from partner com-
panies to cede some of its control over the standard's development.
Rick Ross added to the pressure on 17 November at Comdex  when he
called for the formation of a three-part Java oversight committee
made up of Sun, other Java companies, and not-for-profit institu-
..30 years after Engelbart
Obligatory sub-head about the mouse that roared
If you're within 500 miles of Stanford on 9 December, make plans now
to go to the symposium Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution . The
man who invented the mouse, and much else that we now take for
granted in personal computing, will speak on the 30th anniversary
of his demonstration at the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference.
It was the killer demo of all time. (I saw it three years later on
grainy 16mm film and it reoriented my career.) Joining Engelbart on
stage in this one-day event will be a who's-who of computing vision-
aries including Marc Andreesen, Stewart Brand, Eric Drexler, Alan
Kay, Ted Nelson, Andy van Dam, and Terry Winograd, among many others.
..Claim of "pure email" virus rings hollow
Requires malicious intent and VBScript
Virus fighters for years have dismissed as an urban legend the
notion that a computer virus could spread by the simple act of
reading email. Now an anti-virus company claims to have isolated
precisely such a virus  and to have seen 17 variants of it in
the wild. In fact the virus in question relies on VBScript and
on the tendency of modern email readers to render HTML content. It
cannot spread by the actions of innocent users alone, but requires a
malicious Web site. Trend Micro claims to have seen 17 variants of
the virus, which relies on Microsoft's VBscript. At risk are users
of Windows 98 and recent versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook
98, which depend on Microsoft's Windows Scripting Host facility. Mi-
crosoft calls the claims alarmist, and correctly points out that to
become infected a user would not only have to lower the default sec-
urity settings, but also to acknowledge assent to a dialog that
warns about executing downloaded content.
..Infosurfing and printer-friendly URLs
The most direct route to the pure bits
Earlier this year I suggested that Whatis.com work up a definition
for "infosurfing," and that ever-useful resource defined the term
this way :
> Using the Internet and World Wide Web so that you get maxi-
> mum information in the shortest amount of time, which for
> many people means favoring textual content over images.
Drag 'n' drop is the infosurfer's friend. While researching an issue
open one of my favorite news collection sites, for example Newshub
; drag potentially interesting URLs to one of several other brow-
ser windows; and cycle among them. To save a story I do View Source,
adding the page's URL as a <base href="..."> tag; this ensures that
all the links work from the saved piece as long as I'm online. (When
you do View Source, the browser stores the source URL in the file's
Properties, on Windows, or Get Info, on Macintosh.)
The dedicated infosurfer also knows that many news sites offer a
"printer-friendly version" of each of their stories at an alternate
URL. The PFV is lighter in site graphics and advertising banners.
It tends to run wider than the news story at the official (adver-
tised) URL, which is sometimes squeezed into a narrow column sur-
rounded by graphics-heavy advertising, site branding, and naviga-
tional apparatus. Some news sites, for example Wired News, often
split a story across several URLs in order to push even more ads at
the viewer, while the PFV displays the entire story at a single URL.
For each news site that offers such a friendly service, you can
determine the URL of the PFV algorithmically from its advertised
URL. Here are the rules, with examples, for five popular news des-
Replace: /0,4 with: /Textonly/0,25
- Industry Standard
Replace: display/0,1449 with: article_print/0,1454
- Wired News
Replace: news/news with: news/print_version
And append: ?wnpg=all
Replace: wire/story/ with: printableArticle?doc_id=
Replace: news/0,4586 with: printer_friendly/0,5444
I've added these rules to the TBTF Sources page  and will update
them as I learn more PFV tricks. TBTF has used PFV links for some
time now for news.com and Industry Standard stories (what, you didn't
notice?), and starting with this issue will do so for stories from
all five news sources listed above.
..Toys for geeks
Dan O'Neill <dano at cadence dot com> sent me this holiday shopping
guide  for the geek on your list. He promises to pass along more
cool electronic toys as he encounters them, and when he does you can
read about them here . O'Neill adds that he looked up the domain
names toysforgeeks.com and toys4geeks.com, hoping for sites full of
reviews and purchasing pointers for tech gadgets. The names are
owned by a venture capital firm  but there are no sites behind
Mick Fox <mickf at aldiscon dot ie> pointed out the Gifts for Geeks
site . It carries a single item: an international country-iden-
tifier sticker for your car (like the GB or IRL stickers you sometime
see) that reads "URL."
Chuck Bury <cbury at softhome dot net> likes the small selection of
compelling folding objects offered by Hoberman , who has been
called the Buckminster Fuller of the 90s.
John Pittman <john dot pittman at indsys dot ge dot com> writes that
he has a Logo Mindstorms box  in a closet supposedly intended for
his son. (Uh-huh.) And he has been putting together, Lego-style, an
ultimate toy set for using the Global Positioning System:
- Garmin 12XL GPS receiver  (better than the 12 -- has a jack
for an external antenna)
- Mighty Mouse external antenna
- Combination cigarette lighter / data cable (antenna and cable
from  -- Pittman calls Ron Wolfe's approach to e-commerce
"refreshing," the entire transaction on a single form)
- Toshiba Libretto 70CT with a copy of Waypoint+  loaded
Pittman is begging Santa for Delorme's TopoUSA  -- it talks to
a 12XL directly.
The December issue of Wired features an expanded Technolust section
listing 101 cool gadgets, instead of the 8 to 10 they ordinarily
profile. Unfortunately for the truly wired among us the magazine
does not post the current edition until the next one hits the news-
stands. Perhaps it will appear online in time for next-day holiday
..A successful experiment in six degrees
It's a small Web after all
You've heard the theory that everyone is connected through a web of
acquaintances to everyone else on earth by at most six hops. This
Web site  aims to put the theory to the test. It's preposterously
addictive, surfing from your own circle of friends outward in succes-
sive waves. (And the site misses no opportunity to push advertising
under your nose as you click addictively.) A few of you know I've
joined Six Degrees because I tagged you as business acquaintances.
With 11 declared first-degree contacts, my sixth degree reaches to
nearly 255,000. I invite you to explore the site; if you have ever
sent me email directly, feel free to claim me as an acquaintance and
we'll see how wide the ripples spread.
On 2 December I began a real-life experiment in Net-aided human con-
nections on the TBTF site's Tasty Bit of the Day feature. A month
ago while on vacation I had found a roll of exposed film on a rustic
bench in the open air. No one was around. This was at the landward
end of Uncle Tim's Bridge, Wellfleet harbor, Cape Cod, Massachu-
setts, USA . I decided to have the film developed and see if I
could locate its rightful owners. I posted a picture of them on what
looks like a family vacation in Washington, D.C. and asked visitors
to identify the people if they could. By 5 December 146 people had
looked at the picture; then Jay Lepreau <lepreau at cs dot utah dot
This is amazing; those are friends of ours: [names omitted].
They live in Idaho... they were back east visiting family.
[Omitted]'s sister and her husband are our good friends and
neighbors here in Salt Lake City. I grew up near Cape Cod on
What is particularly ironic is that I didn't even click on the
picture when I saw your story; instead I went to my wife and
said, "This is a great idea someone thought of, and a good one
for us to try" -- because last summer we had found a similar
roll of film at 8200 feet in the Sawtooth mountains in Idaho.
[We were] hoping to see ID, which just missed -- a shot of the
front of a car instead of the rear -- but hadn't thought to
put it on the Net. Then I came back to the machine and clicked
on  and was shocked. Perhaps you might reciprocate with a
pointer to the pictures when I put them up? Your site gets ex-
posure mine doesn't.
Finally, thanks for TBTF. Your page is one place I check peri-
odically although not religiously.
I'll post a link, Jay, and will even host the pictures if you want.
In fact I'm thinking of developing a Found Film site as an adjunct
to the No, We Don't Have a Web Site  project. Here's a bit of
market research toward Found Film: please write to me (dawson@world.-
std.com) if you've ever found a roll of film of unknown provenance
and debated whether to take it or leave it. Have you ever developed
such a find in order to locate its owners? Did you ever find them?
N o t e s
> Coming next week -- a prognostication quiz for the Net in 1999.
S o u r c e s
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Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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