TBTF for 12/15/98: Meme pool
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
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This issue: < http://tbtf.com/archive/12-15-98.html >
C o n t e n t s
India moving toward Net interception
Then there were nineteen
British crypto debate spawns Net activism
The Zurko patent
How much trouble can you get into by linking?
Jargon Scout: STFW
CDA II injunction extended
More consolidation of Net security firms
Making a market in bandwidth
A dip into the meme pool
TBTF Book Review: The Man Who Loved Only Numbers
TBTF readers' prognostications for 1999
..India moving toward Net interception
Proposed law would set up a Controller to monitor all Net traffic
and Web sites
This note  was sent to me from India yesterday by Abhay Kushwaha.
He forwards a newspaper story describing a draft bill that covers
many facets of Internet policy, including provisions to monitor all
Net traffic -- whether plain-text or encrypted -- passing through
any Indian ISP. The sender of an encrypted communication would be
required to decode it. This bill portends nothing good for the fu-
ture of the Internet in India.
Kushwaha adds that he wants to hear what other Indians on the TBTF
list have to say about this proposal. Please write to him directly
..Then there were nineteen
South Carolina drops out of the antitrust case
On 7 December the attorney general of South Carolina, Charles Con-
don, announced  that the state is withdrawing from the Microsoft
antitrust case. Condon said that AOL's proposed acquisition of Net-
scape proves there is plenty of competition in the Internet space.
Microsoft's legal team took advantage of the PR opportunity to hold
an hour-long press conference from Washington, which featured a
patched-in Bill Gates declaiming via satellite, "It's hard to be-
lieve the government is still pushing its case with a straight
face." According to ABC News, Microsoft officials acknowledged 
that the company had contributed $20,000 to the South Carolina Re-
publican Party before last month's election, a sum a state party
official described as one of the largest he had ever seen.
..British crypto debate spawns Net activism
Politically aware online advocacy the US could learn from
A new organization called STAND offers a Web site  where UK
voters can "adopt" and "feed" their local politicians. Prompted
by widely disparaged British government moves to limit the use of
strong cryptography in that country, members of the UK new-media
community -- including Danny O'Brien of Need To Know  -- have
cranked up what looks to be a fairly savvy attempt to educate
Members of Parliament to the damage they are about to do to na-
scent e-commerce. The STAND FAQ  gives a good backgrounder on
the organizers and its aims. (Example: What does STAND stand for?
A: It stands for itself). Readers outside of Britain can visit
the links page  to bone up on developments in the local crypto
debate. I'll thank Malcolm Hutty <firstname.lastname@example.org> for the
tip, even though he is one of the organization's founders.
..The Zurko patent
Closely watched case may provide broader basis for patent appeal
Mary Ellen Zurko <mary_ellen_zurko at iris dot com> is the lead
submitter on a software patent that will be reviewed by the Su-
preme Court in the 1999 session. At issue is not whether the
patent is valid or invalid on the basis of prior art or any
other such legal grounds. What the Supremes will decide is
if it's OK to tell the Patent Office that they're just plain
wrong. Large institutions that endure for a sufficiently long
time breed a belief in their own infallibility (a certain
church in Rome springs to mind). It seems that while you can
tell the Patent Office that they acted in an "arbitrary and
capricious manner," you can't base an appeal on a contention
that they simply blew it. Here is Zurko's description of the
When a patent application I co-authored with eight other col-
leagues was denied by the patent office (on the grounds of
obviousness), then appealed by (then) Digital Equipment Corp-
oration lawyers, I figured that was nothing remarkable (after
all, convicted felons always appeal). It turns out not, in
more ways than two. According to David Malakoff, who wrote an
article in Science Magazine on the Lehman v. Zurko case ac-
cepted by the Supreme Court (Volume 282, Number 5394 Issue of
27 Nov 1998, p 1622), while over 100,000 patents are rejected
in a year, fewer than 100 end up in appeals court.
The Supreme Court case has nothing to do with the technology
in the patent (a method for reducing the amount of trusted
code in a secure user interface). It's about whether the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the next step after
the PTO's internal Board of Appeals) can find that the factual
basis for a denial is "clearly in error." The Patent and Trade-
mark software Office wants the appeals court to tell them to
reconsider a patent rejection only if it finds the PTO acted
in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner. The case is notable
for its effect on patent law -- several law schools were teach-
ing it when it went to the Federal Court. The Science magazine
article has more detail on the case, and I expect NPR commen-
tary to be the best source of insight when the case is heard at
the Supreme Court.
..How much trouble can you get into by linking?
Current case law on downloading or linking copyrighted material
This National Law Journal article  runs through existing case law
relating to fair use, linking, framing, and copying Net content, for
example for use on an intranet. Of particular interest is the dis-
cussion of "deep links": links directly to content buried within a
site, bypassing its top page (which presumably carries advertising).
TBTF is strongly biased to use such "rifle-shot" links. The author
cites the case of TicketMaster Corp. v. Microsoft Corp.-- and mad-
deningly does not report the actual outcome -- in concluding
> With respect to the company's use of hyperlinks on its
> intranet, legal scholarship on this issue... suggests that
> hyperlinks will not give rise to liability if the linked
> sites' home pages are the destinations. Liability appears
> likely to attach only if deep links are used.
Thanks to Monty Solomon for the NLJ cite.
..Jargon Scout: STFW
Advice to newbies in the post-dead-trees age
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.
Anton Sherwood <antons at jps dot net> forwards the ringing phrase
STFW, which he says he's seen several times on the newsgroup alt.-
fan.cecil-adams in response to trivial questions. The analogy with
RTFM  is exact: STFW means "Surf the flinking Website."
..CDA II injunction extended
The initial 10-day injunction  forbidding enforcement of the
Child Online Protection Act (called CDA II by its critics) has been
extended by several months. With the agreement of both parties, a
judge extended the temporary restraining order until mid-February
 to give the government time to prepare its case.
..More consolidation of Net security firms
Continuing an agglomeration trend noted recently in TBTF , ,
over the last two weeks six security firms announced merger plans
. CyberSafe announced it has acquired Canadian encryption firm
Sagus Security. Alladin Knowledge Systems purchased eSafe Technol-
ogies, an Israeli firm that makes software to block hostile Java
applets. British encryption firm Zergo Holdings Plc said it's in
merger talks with Baltimore Technologies, an Irish digital cert-
..Making a market in bandwidth
John Kristoff <email@example.com> forwards news of two or-
ganizations matching buyers and sellers of bandwidth. Band-X ,
based in London, calls itself an "independent virtual market for
trading international wholesale telecom capacity, minutes, or band-
width." The original market may have been mediated by humans, but
Band-X now offers buyers and sellers direct connection to its switch
. San Francisco-based RateXchange  says it's an "efficient
marketplace for sellers and buyers of wholesale telecommunications
capacity." Both sites require membership. RateXchange provides more
visibility into its market for non-registered guests, listing week-
ly indicators for minutes and bandwidth  and spot prices by
Web been getting too serious for you lately? These sites offer end-
less hours of fun for the easily amused.
..A dip into the meme pool
One of the regular sections of Need To Know  is titled "Meme-
pool." Perpetrator Danny O'Brien informs me that NTK invented the
word before this site  came onto the scene, but says he isn't
going to fight over it, because
> there's something a bit sick about trying to impede the
> propagation of a word like "memepool."
Memepool.com  offers one or two strange links per day, each with
a single phrase as description or teaser. Here I learned where you
can go if you simply must ship a friend a Goliath Bird Eater taran-
tula . Here I found crackpotologist Donna Kossy's entertaining
Kook Museum , outgrowth of her book Kooks  (unfortunately out
of print), outgrowth of Kooks magazine, outgrowth of the Kooks Pages
in the early 'zine False Positives. Thanks to Karl Hakkaranen for
The Net is the polar opposite of broadcasting: we can each burble on
about our favorite obsession and like-minded people will find us out,
collect around our watering hole, and start to gossip. Got a Nokia
phone? Bored with its built-in selection of ring tones? Here's one
of several pages devoted to downloadable ring-tone resources 
for the Nokia 8118i. This page is part of Simon Whitaker's Netcetera
site , which also features a small collection  of his favo-
rite .sig's, of which one happens to be mine . Netcetera funnels
me two or three visitors a day.
This page  claims to let you search for any given string of num-
bers in the first 50 million digits of Pi. Perhaps you need to be a
particular flavor of math wonk to find this service fascinating, but
if so then I'm that kind. Experimentation indicates that a randomly
selected 7-digit number is likely to occur several times in the
first 50M digits, while an 8-digit number has long odds against be-
ing found at all. (The script accepts up to 120 digits.) When a
string is found you're presented with 20 digits of Pi's context on
each side of it.
Subversive thought: of course the page could be a hoax and it would
be difficult to tell. Perhaps the script behind it simply waits a
variable amount of time depending on how far into the 50M digits it
claims to have found a match and then prints your input string em-
bedded in 40 digits of randomness. Since many people know a few
digits at the beginning of Pi, the script might correctly store the
first 120 digits so a simple test couldn't catch it out. It could
remember the last few dozen generated answers so you couldn't easily
spot it acting randomly. And so on.
..TBTF Book Review: The Man Who Loved Only Numbers
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos
and the Search for Mathematical Truth
by Paul Hoffman
Hyperion, 302 pages ($22.95 list; $16.07 at )
Reviewed by Alice D. Phalen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is an unusually graceful book that will engage even a minimally
numerate reader. Paul Erdos was a mathematical prodigy who did pro-
ductive work into his 84th year, writing or co-authoring 1,475 aca-
demic papers. He tailored his life to support his passion for mathe-
matics: he travelled widely and maintained an even wider correspond-
ence. A typical letter begins, "I am in Australia, tomorrow I leave
for Hungary. Let k be the largest integer..." When I finished read-
ing Paul Hoffman's graceful tapestry of anecdote, biographical data,
and mathematical discourse, I immediately started to read it again
for the sheer delight of Erdos. He was, at once, immensely serious
about his work and utterly without self importance. It is true that
he serenely depended on colleagues to attend to the logistics of
food, shelter, and travel but he gave good value for this depend-
ence. He collaborated with 485 mathematicians. He was generous with
time and encouragement. Never wealthy, he was nevertheless as lib-
eral with his money as he was with his time. He made loans to stu-
dents, often turning aside repayment with the instruction to do as
he had done. He donated to charities and causes and sent money to
bereaved families of his colleagues. A lifelong celibate -- a wife
and children would have taken valuable time away from mathematics --
he was fond of "epsilons," his word for small children. He was a
loyal, compassionate friend; his heart was as great and open as his
..TBTF readers' prognostications for 1999
You connect the dots; you pick up the pieces
In this season when many news outlets are advancing projections
for the Net in 1999, TBTF offers you the chance to show off your
own predictive acumen. This quantitative test, scored like the
Economist's recent science quiz , is included inline below to
encourage maximum participation. I'll accept emailed answers until
midnight EST on 31 December 1998. Early next year I'll publish a
"survey says" consensus of your predictions: the Sense of TBTF for
1999. And in December 1999 I'll publish the names and (if they
wish) email addresses of the top ten scorers as rated by history.
Please copy the questions below into an email message and send
them, with your answers, to email@example.com. For my sanity
please begin your email's subject line with [QUIZ].
Thanks to Bob Treitman for suggesting such a contest and to Jon
Waldron for significant help with its form and content.
1. Predict the closing stock price in $US of Amazon.com on
1 December 1999.
2. Predict the profit (loss) for Apple Computer in $US in
the July - September quarter of 1999.
3. How many Linux systems will be in use worldwide on 1
December 1999? (Hint: the consensus range for early
1998 was 5-7 million.)
4. Name five independent software companies that will be
bought out by competitors other than Microsoft between
1 January and 1 December 1999.
5. Name five independent software companies that will be
bought out by Microsoft between 1 January and 1 December
6. Name the top five Web sites, as ranked by number of hits
per day, for the month of November 1999.
7. Predict the percentage of US households having Internet
access on 1 December 1999.
8. Of the US households having Net access, what percentage
of them will cover the last mile via:
- analog modem?
9. What is the strongest cryptography (key length in bits)
that will be exportable without a license from the U.S.
on 1 December 1999? From Britain? Israel? Australia?
10. What will be the status of the Microsoft antitrust trial
on 1 December 1999? Who will win? If the DoJ wins, what
remedy will be ordered? Will the case be appealed? Will
it have reached the Supreme Court? Will they have ruled?
How, and by what split? Which Justices will vote each
Extra credit / tie breaker:
11. Predict the title of Bill Gates's new book.
For questions that turn on market statistics, I will develop a con-
census best estimate or range from available sources (and cite the
sources). Opinions of the judge -- that's me -- will be final.
1. 10 points if within 2.5%; 5% => 8 points; 10% => 6; 15% => 4;
20% => 2.
2. 10 points if within $0.5M; $1M => 5 points; $2M => 2.
3. 10 points if within 5% of the best estimate, 5 points if within
the consensus range.
4. 2 points each.
5. 2 points each.
6. 2 points each.
7. 10 points if within 2%, 5 points if within 4%.
8. 2 points for each one within 5%.
9. 2 points each.
10. Up to 10 points.
11. Up to 10 points based on humor, self-reference, and/or the ob-
scurity of literary allusions. Examples (please blame these on
Jon Waldron, and don't submit them):
The Road Farther Ahead
Where Lawyers Stay Up Late
N o t e s
> If you would like to review a book for TBTF, please send me a proposal
or a review (200-400 words). Reviews should not have been published
elsewhere; you retain all rights; remuneration is limited to net.fame.
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 subscribe send the
message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is Copy-
right 1994-1998 by Keith Dawson, <email@example.com>. Commercial
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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