TBTF for 10/19/98: Poles apart
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
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This issue: < http://www.tbtf.com/archive/10-19-98.html >
C o n t e n t s
The clouded future of domain naming
And now to trial
Is Microsoft violating crypto export rules with IE?
The coming battle over CDA II
How real is the threat of a European data embargo?
Followup: Microsoft patches Cuartango vulnerability
Amazon tries Germany, England
A Bertelsmann-Amazon deal nearly happened
Wal-Mart sues Amazon and others
..The clouded future of domain naming
Early hope for consensus through an open process fades amid
acrimony, accusations, and an untimely death
When last we looked in on the US government turning authority for
domain naming over to a not-yet-created private corporation, in late
August , the process seemed to be moving along smoothly. The
International Forum on the White Paper  had organized open meet-
ings around the globe whose participants had agreed on a number of
principals, but hadn't generated a concrete proposal for forming a
"New IANA." A separate and, some argue , equally open process
had been going on at IANA -- Jon Postel had been posting drafts of
articles of incorporation for the new organization, taking comments,
issuing revisions. Postel's third draft embodied many of the IFWP
principles but, critics claimed, didn't build enough accountabil-
ity and transparency into the New IANA.
Also conspicuous by its absence in IANA's process was Network Solu-
tions Inc., the party with the most to lose in the upcoming trans-
ition (e.g. $18.6M over the last 30 days ). In early September,
at the urging of Ira Magaziner, godfather of the White Paper, IANA
and NSI met. By 9/17 their meetings has produced what many took to
be a good final consensus draft .
Then things began seriously to fall apart.
Magaziner insisted on one more draft to sew up the consensus. Gordon
Cook, in his Cook Report on Internet, charges  that Magaziner was
determined to strip NSI of its monopoly cash cow. Time was running
out -- a September 30 deadline was looming, the end of NSI's con-
tract with the US government. NSI was unwilling to sign away 80% of
its business and planned simply to let the contract expire. NSI ac-
cepted a 1-week extension, according to Cook, under unprecedented
Then on October 2 Postel surprised everyone by issuing Draft 5 with-
out NSI participation. The clauses from Draft 4 that had offered
some protection for NSI's revenue stream -- and had also allowed the
future participation of small companies such as Iperdome and Image
Online Design -- had been excised from Draft 5. The new organiza-
tion, when created, was to be called the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Numbers and Names -- ICANN. IANA submitted the ICANN pro-
posal to the Commerce Department for official consideration. It in-
cluded a proposed 9-member interim board of directors  who were
to select the final board members.
Reactions to what many perceived as IANA's unilateral abandonment of
an open process were largely negative , , , though some
observers, such as Gordon Cook, said it was the government which had
long since abandoned openness . But Postel continued to enjoy the
support of a wide spectrum of the Internet community, especially
the technical insiders .
Ira Magaziner accepted IANA's proposal along with two others and
opened up a short comment period  ending on 10/13. One alter-
nate proposal  was submitted by IFWP participants who called
themselves The Boston Group and claimed to represent the true spirit
of the open IFWP process which IANA had abandoned. Here is an anal-
ysis  of the three proposals (but considering the IANA-NSI Draft
4, not the one finally submitted).
On 10/16 the head of a Congressional committee sent Magaziner a
letter  questioning the process by which IANA's proposal had
been birthed and the truncated period allowed for public comment.
And on Friday night, 10/16, Jon Postel died of complications fol-
lowing heart surgery . He was 55. I believe it's safe to say
that no-one knows what effect Postel's death will have on a process
already polarized and fractal. Here is Dave Crocker's remembrance
of Jon Postel ; it's the truest that has come across the wires.
..And now to trial
"I chose Netscape because I thought they were right." -- Bork
The landmark antitrust trial against Microsoft, brought by the fed-
eral government and attorneys general from 20 states, gets underway
Monday 10/19 after three delays and months of legal wrangling .
The case has come to trial in a flash in lawyer time but an age in
Internet time. Already the issue that sparked the case is passe; the
battle is less about browsers and more about which Internet portal
There's not a lot to say after all the buildup; we'll see how it
goes. Do peruse the following two links for some perspective on the
upcoming trial. Here is Judge Robert Bork's blunt candor on the le-
al theories at issue  -- you can even hear him growl  -- and
here is the ever-thoughtful NY Times on the importance to Microsoft
of passing the Slime Test .
..Is Microsoft violating crypto export rules with IE?
Too many bits for key exchange
Netscape has corrected a problem in its browser that the company
says technically had put it in violation of the US Commerce De-
partment's regulations governing the export of strong cryptography
. Netscape says that Internet Explorer is currently in violation
in the same fashion, but Microsoft denies this. Before Netscape's
fix in version 4.06, both browsers used 1024-bit encryption for key
exchange, while US rules limit this phase to 512 bits. Both com-
panies' browsers were compliant with the more important phase of an
SSL session, the actual exchange of encrypted data -- here the reg-
ulations limit encryption keys to 40 bits in international versions.
This story is being publicized by O'Reilly, whose server product was
recently revved  to work with Netscape's 4.06 and later browsers.
Thanks to Simon Clement <firstname.lastname@example.org>, who runs the O'Reilly
website host, for this pointer.
..The coming battle over CDA II
There you go again
The Son of the Communications Decency Act  was slipped into the
mammoth $0.5T budget compromise agreed between Congress and the
White House , despite President Clinton's avowed preference for
technical solutions (read: censorware) to address the too-easy
access by kids to unsavory matter on the Net. Clinton was purring
happily over the concessions he had wrung from Congress and prob-
ably barely noticed a little unconstitutional detail like CDA-II.
The ACLU, along with the Electronic Privacy Information Center and
the EFF, have been preparing a lawsuit and could file it as soon as
next week . So far CDA-II has barely appeared on the radar
screen of the larger Internet community, but that will change.
..How real is the threat of a European data embargo?
The problems arising from US-European privacy differences may not
all arrive at once
TBTF for 3/9/98  noted the looming threat to online commerce
posed by the US-European impedence mismatch on the question of per-
sonal privacy. The new EU Data Protection Directive comes into ef-
fect on October 25 and requires member countries to implement laws
forbidding the transfer of personally identifiable data to countries
with less stringent privacy rules -- such as the US.
Peter Swire, an Ohio State University professor of law and co-author
of "None of Your Business," a new book on the European directive,
said the new rules could spark a trade war: "The European hope was
that the US would pass a law to comply with the directive. That's
not going to happen anytime soon" .
But to date only Italy, Finland, and Greece have implemented laws
in keeping with the directive. Several more states are expected to
do so in time to meet the 10/25 deadline, but Austria, France, the
UK, Ireland, and Luxembourg will not introduce national rules for
at least another couple of months , reducing the risk of an im-
mediate data embargo.
..Followup: Microsoft patches Cuartango vulnerability
A quick fix for a nasty bug
The privacy bug, reported in last week's TBTF , allowed an end
run around Internet Explorer's file-system protections on Intel
machines. A bad guy could snatch any file from a victim's disk for
which he knew or could guess the name and location. Microsoft has
now issued a patch  for the bug, which it calls "Untrusted
Amazon.com is everyone's favorite Internet success story; but that
also makes it a great big target.
..Amazon tries Germany, England
The giant German publisher Bertlesmann was in the news after it
bought a 50% stake in Barnesnadnoble.com , vaulting it instant-
ly to the rank of Amazon's primary competitor. Almost immediately
Amazon counterattacked on Bertlesmann's home turf  by opening
amazon.de and amazon.co.uk. Few industry watchers doubt that Ama-
zon will have a tough slog in Europe, where the Bertlesmann brand
is gilt and Amazon "means nothing to nobody," according to a For-
..A Bertelsmann-Amazon deal nearly happened
The Bertlesmann deal almost got made with Amazon itself, the Wall
Street Journal claims  (subscription required). The CEOs for the
two companies met several times to discuss a deal, but the talks
broke down over price. The WSJ also reports that Bertlesmann is
waiting in the wings to snatch up a combined N2K-CDnow venture 
if that deal goes through.
..Wal-Mart sues Amazon and others
The giant meatspace retailer has its own cyberspace presence ,
and it has just served notice that it doesn't want to see Amazon.com
around these parts. The chain filed suit  in Arkansas claiming
that Amazon.com, Kleiner Perkins, and Drugstore.com hired away Wal-
Mart employees in order to steal Wal-Mart's trade secrets. Amazon.-
com and Drugstore.com have hired about 15 former Wal-Mart employees,
beginning with Amazon's CIO, a former manager in Wal-Mart's IS div-
ision, who joined the bookseller in September 1997.
Meet the Chandler Circle and other mysteries of geomancy
My local newspaper has a feature that invites readers to write
with questions and runs two or three answers a day. Typically
the questions involve the fate of some naval vessel on which
the questioner served, or the history of the building where the
writer's grandmother was born. Yesterday's column  answered
the question "How many North Poles are there?" I would have said
two, but am delighted to report to you on the five North Poles.
- The Geographic North Pole, where all the Earth's lines of
longitude meet, lies near the center of the Arctic Ocean.
- The Instantaneous North Pole lies at the point where the
Earth's axis meets the surface. The Earth wobbles slowly
as it turns on its axis, causing the instantaneous North
Pole to move. This pole takes about 14 months to move clock-
wise around an irregular path called the Chandler Circle.
- The North Pole of Balance lies at the center of the Chandler
Circle. Each year this pole moves about 6 inches toward North
- The North Magnetic Pole is the point toward which north-
seeking compass needles point. It moves and is currently near
Ellef Ringnes Island in northern Canada.
- The Geomagnetic North Pole lies near Etah, Greenland -- in
the upper atmosphere, the Earth's magnetic field points down
toward this point.
South Poles ditto, of course.
N o t e s
> Eighteen of you wrote with details and links on the subject of space
tethers. Yes, the idea of swinging through space on ropes is real
and its numerous potential applications are startling to contem-
plate. I've collected many of your forwarded links inline with the
original piece .
S o u r c e s
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Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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