TBTF for 9/8/97: Everybody knows
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://www.tbtf.com/archive/09-08-97.html >
C o n t e n t s
The crypto debate polarizes some more
FBI proposes mandatory domestic key escrow
California legislature is unanimous for easing crypto export
Is S/MIME dead as a standard?
Apple sends out the clones
Lycos patents the intelligent spider
Giving spammers pause
Internet in the sky
A new Mersenne prime
Stopping animated GIFs
..The crypto debate polarizes some more
Our two lead stories today exemplify the great divide in Internet
politics -- the yawning chasm that is cryptography policy. Let's
focus the debate using the unanswered question posed by Carl M.
Ellison (quoted in TBTF for 1/11/97 ):
> Do citizens of a country have a right to attempt to achieve
> privacy from their government, or should they be forced to
> submit to covert surveillance?
This month's Netizen, by Rebecca Vesely, characterizes the crypto
divide along generational lines (in issue 5.10, not on the Web
yet). The historical detail is accurate but the generational an-
gle is far too facile. But I suppose if you're pitching Wired
you've got to have an angle.
..FBI proposes mandatory domestic key escrow
On 9/3, in testimony before a Senate committee, FBI Director Louis
Freeh suggested that all cryptographic products sold in the U.S.
should have key escrow built in, "like an airbag in a car" .
While many have suspected all along that this was the FBI's goal,
the resulting firestorm of protest was intense. On 9/4 the admin-
istration's crypto point man distanced the White House from Freeh's
remarks. "What he proposed was not the administration's policy,"
Commerce's William Reinsch told reporters. On 9/5 it developed that
the FBI was circulating a draft bill incorporating Freeh's sugges-
tions . While the draft does not propose banning the possession
or use of crypto products, just their sale or distribution, history
suggests that tightening restrictions once they are on the books is
easier than passing them in the first place. Reinsch said of Freeh's
proposal, "If the committee were to report that [bill out], I think
that would be something we would look at very seriously," he said.
"But I don't expect that to happen. We have not asked them to report
that and we are not going to ask them to report that." This rapidly
developing story has been unfolding on Declan McCullagh's fight-
censorship mailing list.
..California legislature is unanimous for easing crypto export
On 9/5 the California Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 29
, expressing the sense of the Califoria Legislature that Cal-
ifornia's 54 congressional delegates should support Rep. Bob Good-
latte's Pro-CODE bill, HR 695 . The resolution sets forth the
Legislature's vigorous disagreement with the Administration's crypto
export policy in frank language and in detail. It passed unanimously
in committees of both Houses, on the Senate floor 38-0, and in the
The Clinton Administration had tried to derail the legislation at
its first hearing on 8/26 by sending to the Senate Committee on
Finance, Investment and International Trade a "secret" three-page
attack on HR 695 authored by William Reinsch. An Office of Manage-
ment and the Budget staffer faxed the "secret" document to the
committee less than an hour before the hearing, insisting that the
document be shown only to committee members, not copied, not men-
tioned in public, and definitely not shown to the proponents. This
wish was not honored -- proponents were allowed to study the fax
for 10 minutes -- and in any event did not impress the committee.
Note that one of California's Senators, Dianne Feinstein, expressed
strong agreement with the FBI's mandatory key-recovery proposals
(see above). The staff counsel for EPIC commented, "It appears that
Senator Feinstein wants a Constitution-free zone for the Internet."
..Is S/MIME dead as a standard?
At last month's IETF meeting in Munich, the backers of S/MIME were
ready to move the secure email protocol forward on a path to stand-
ardization. Netscape, Lotus, and Microsoft all have (or soon will
have) products on the market that incorporate the technology, which
is based on patented public-key algorithms developed by RSA. Accord-
ing to press reports , Jeffrey Schiller, director of the IETF's
security area, was overheard to comment "No protocol that depends on
proprietary technology will ever become a standard endorsed by the
IETF." The S/MIME proponents, discouraged, decided not to pursue the
standards track, leaving the backers of PGP/MIME with a clear field.
Follow-up reports over the next week ,  apparently remained
in ignorance of a public letter  that Schiller posted on 8/28
to clear up the confusion. The letter states unequivocally that
the IETF is not hostile to the idea of an S/MIME proposal.
..Apple sends out the clones
Apple Computer is in the process of shutting down the MacOS clone
market . The company will swap $100M in stock for Power Compu-
ting Corporation's "core assets," including its customer base and
some of its people. Power will continue to operate under that name
but will not clone MacOS computers any more. Instead, the company
will be producing Windows NT boxes . The company's press re-
lease spins this outcome as if it were goal all along. Yeh sure.
Among the many rumors swirling around Power Computing in the days
since Mac World Expo -- when its president criticized Apple's go-
slow negotiation over MacOS 8 and was forced out of PCC, report-
edly by a word from Steve Jobs -- was that PCC was busy spending
the money from its IPO, which it doesn't have in hand yet.
Power was the largest of the six licensed Mac clone makers, doing
$400M in 1996. Users are up in arms at Apple's move . Dave
Weiner, a long-time Apple developer, said that the interests of
Apple and those of its users had now diverged.
Licensing talks finally broke down over the issue of Apple's new
OS8. Apple insisted it would not license OS8 to the clonemakers
without significant concessions. In the days since the PCC news,
Korean cloner Umax has reached a settlement  and will be al-
lowed to ship OS8 -- but not on the newest hardware platform, known
Motorola, the manufacturer of the PowerPC chip, is to make an an-
nouncement on Monday 9/8 . Indications are that the chipmaker
will shift its PowerPC strategy to emphasize non-PC markets.
..Lycos patents the intelligent spider
When the issued patent  is in the company's hands and available
for examination, a couple of weeks from now, we'll be better able
to gauge its generality and applicability. Lycos's Michael Maulden,
who invented the Lycos spidering technology, seems to believe he
will be able to go after Excite, HotBot, WebCrawler, et al., for
..Giving spammers pause
For anyone tempted by the lure of unsolicited commercial email, two
cautionary tales came across a network operators' mailing list last
In Utica, Michigan, a 15-year-old boy was slapped with an injunction
and had his computer equipment confiscated because of a spam he per-
petrated from his bedroom . The youth reportedly sent out thou-
sands of offers for an illegal pyramid scheme and caused Rustnet,
the ISP whose return adress he forged, considerable trouble and not
a few lost customers.
Config.sys Productions Ltd., an Ohio provider of Web space, hired a
new worker to promote the accounts of some of its customers. This
person acquired a commercial software package that extracts email
addresses from Usenet newsgroups and sent out about 30,000 solici-
tations before company officials, horrified, shut down the mail
server and posted a public apology . There was no word of what
befell the miscreant.
..Internet in the sky
A number of proposals/projects have been floated/funded to launch
constellations of cooperating satellites to provide voice, mes-
saging, or broadband services worldwide. Most of the attention has
gone to the Iriduim and Teledesic projects. A site in England 
maintained by grad student Lloyd Wood <L.Wood@surrey.ac.uk> keeps
us current on the sum of all human knowledge about satellite con-
stellations. Wood's is one of the most information-dense sites you
will encounter on the Web.
Iridium  is a 10-year-old effort, initiated by Motorola and now
operated by a worldwide consortium, to provide telephone service
anywhere on earth. Total investment to date exceeds $4B and fea-
tured a $240M public offering (NASDAQ: IRIDF) intended as mezzanine
financing. (That's some mezzanine.) Iridium's terrestrial service
analogy is cellular. The original schedule  called for launching
77 satellites beginning in June 1996. The first birds actually flew
in May 1997; today 21 are orbiting and operational after 4 flights
(one Russian); the target number is a scaled-down 66; service is
still planned to begin at the end of 1998. Handsets will cost an
Teledesic  is a private venture to offer cheap, wireless, high-
bandwidth Internet access anywhere on the surface of the planet. Cel-
lular mogul Craig McCaw dreamed it up in the late 80s and Bill Gates
invested in the venture with him. Teledesic's terrestrial analogy is
fiber -- it will be like throwing a fiber-optic net around the world.
Here is a readable history  of the company as of January this
year. The original plan called for deploying 840 satellites in low
polar orbits; earlier this year Teledesic and its new partner Boeing
said they will start with 324 birds, in 12 planes of 24 satellites
each, with 36 orbiting spares. The company will sell bandwidth to
carriers, ISPs, and phone companies worldwide. Its downlinks will be
small fixed installations, easing the process of getting regulatory
approval from governments: nervous bureaucrats need only refuse to
site a downlink. (The necessary equipment, however, is lightweight,
the size of a portable computer. Hmm.)
..A new Mersenne prime
The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search has yielded up M-36 ,
the largest prime number now known:
2^2976221 - 1
When last we visited GIMPS (see TBTF for 12/2/96 ) the pre-
vious record-holder, M-35, had just been uncovered. This new Mer-
senne prime has more than twice as many digits, at 895,932. You
can download the number itself  from the mersenne.org site.
M-36 was discovered on 8/24 by Gordon Spence, using a Pentium box
running code written by George Woltman <email@example.com> (who
A Mersenne prime has the form 2^p-1. The study of these numbers
has been central to number theory since they were first discussed
by Euclid in 350 BC. The 17th-century French monk Marin Mersenne
conjectured famously on which values of p would yield a prime; his
conjecture was settled 300 years later.
Thanks to Robert Harley <Robert.Harley@inria.fr> for the pointer.
Twice in recent weeks I've been surprised by needing to explain,
to knowledgeable people, Netscape Navigator shortcuts that I had
assumed to be common knowledge. I'd be curious if either of these
small factoids is news to you.
..Stopping animated GIFs
In Netscape Navigator 3 you can stop the motion of animated GIFs,
even after they are completely downloaded and cache-resident, by
hitting the Stop button. (Internet Explorer does not offer this
feature.) The Stop button will be pickable -- not greyed -- as
long as any animated GIF is running. Navigator doesn't get the
user interface quite right, at least in the Macintosh version.
Once the GIF(s) stop(s) the button should change to grey (become
unpickable), but it doesn't always do so.
Try typing just a company's name into Navigator's Location box.
Navigator adds "http://www." before what you typed and ".com"
after and then goes off to look for the resulting URL.
N o t e s
> Today's TBTF title comes from a 1988 song by Leonard Cohen. You can
request a RealAudio sample from here , but I wouldn't recommend
it if you're all alone on a rainy weekend.
> This week we add another topic to TBTF Threads : the uses of the
Internet as a loosely coupled, massively parallel computer.
S o u r c e s
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Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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