The Communications Decency Act
See also TBTF for 1999-02-01, 1998-12-15, 12-07, 10-27, 10-19, 10-12, 09-14, 07-27, 1997-11-17, 06-30, 03-21, more...
The report may have damaged the Presidency, Congress, and families -- but not the Net
When the report of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr hit the Net, to the immense relief of Web workers everywhere it was in text form. Its 7 files total 854K; the largest is 466K. Many newspapers and news sites obtained the report from the Associated Press, which set up an FTP server with a zipped text file, a Mac Stuffit file, and a Unix tar archive, each under 300K. I had dreaded the vision of clueless government functionaries distributing the 445 pages as PDF files or even as scanned GIFs. They seem to have obtained a clue somewhere along the way. (Do you think the 46 TBTF subscribers in the .gov domain helped? Nah...)
The report appeared on House of Representatives sites and mirrors ,  as advertised; almost immediately it was hosted and linked from the top pages of most news sites and some ISPs, such as AOL and @Home. The result was that, while overall Net traffic jumped to record levels around 2:00 PM eastern time on Friday 9/11, no site or handful of sites caused a bottleneck. CNN reported record traffic levels of 5600 hits per second , but was handling the load. [Note added 1998-09-14: ] In the case of CNN, the 5600 hits per second were spread over 15 servers. Some of the government sites, such as that for the Library of Congress, were handling 10,000 hits per second on peaks, according to an engineer at the LoC's ISP. Traffic through the MAE-East exchange point jumped by 100 MBit/sec at 2:00. Here is a picture derived from a posting to a network operators' mailing list .
One other aspect of the Starr report is germane to TBTF concerns, and that is the confluence of prurience with politics and public policy. Had the Supreme Court not struck down the Communications Decency Act, passed as part of the omnibus Telecommunications Reform Act in 1996, anyone posting the Starr report to the Web might have been liable for a fine of $250,000 and a jail sentence of 5 years.
How many of the Members of Congress who voted for the CDA do you suppose also voted to release the report that reads like a borderline pornographic dime-store romance written by a Texas preacher's son?
We can find the answer easily with the help of Thomas , . 365 individuals were Members of Congress during both of the votes, 196 Republicans and 169 Democrats. Of that total, 284, or 77.6%, voted Aye both times. 185 of the Republicans, or 94.4%, voted Aye both times. 96 of the Democrats, or 56.8%, voted Aye both times.
Here are the names of the two-hundred eighty-four most hypocritical members of the US House of Representatives on the subject of the Internet .
Thanks to Dan Kohn and Alexander Blakely, who first suggested this exercise in democracy and public accountability; Dan Thompson wasn't far behind.
|Note for repeat visitors: I discovered a systematic error in the original analysis of voting records. Among other things it caused me not to list those Representatives who had last names shared with other Members. The upshot: the hypocracy demonstrated in these two votes is even more severe than initialy reported, and the delta between the two political parties is greater as well. I take this fact not as evidence of the mendacity of Republicans, but of the bitter and highly partisan way this scandal is being dealt with by the Congress. I've indicated the correct figures in blue type above. See the latest at . -- KDawson|
All the news that's fit to hack
The Times had a time of it Sunday morning, as its front page  was replaced by this screed  from the hacker group H4CKING F0R G1RL13Z, or HFG. Technicians tried several times to restore bona fide Times content, but the hacked page kept reappearing; finally the site was taken offline to fix the problem. The hackers may have set up a surreptitious cron job to reinfect the site repeatedly. The hack was announced by email to 27 usual suspects (yours truly not included -- I don't know whether to be offended or relieved) from the root account of one of the Times's content servers. Do yourself a favor and View Source on the mirror . The comments are far funnier, and more informative, than the visible page. Carolyn Meinel, who writes about hackers, and the Times's John Markoff come in for singular abuse (including publishing Meinel's home addresses, phone numbers, and Social Security number). Don't believe HFG's email address, @hfg.org -- that's the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, which "sponsors scholarly research on problems of violence, aggression, and dominance." Come to think of it, these guys might qualify as subjects.
Ganging up on Microsoft
See also TBTF for 1999-08-16, 07-19, 02-15, 02-01, 01-13, 01-04, 1998-12-23, 12-15, 12-07, 11-11, 10-19, more...
Are you a friend of Bill?
Five current and former executives at Digital Equipment Corp. (now owned by Compaq) charged that Bill Gates forced Digital to abandon an Internet product under development using Oracle's Network Computer technology. A NY Times story  (free registration and cookies required) today quotes one researcher who worked on the Shark project: "It was a bad week. Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and the Shark all died during the same week." Oracle head Larry Ellison is quoted as saying that then-Digital CEO Robert Palmer had called him in July 1997 to tell him that he (Palmer) was cancelling Shark. Ellison said that Palmer wouldn't reveal the reason for his decision, but told the Oracle executive, "If I'm subpoenaed, I'll tell the truth." Through two levels of hearsay the Times quotes Gates as telling Palmer: "You have to decide if you're Larry's friend or my friend."
NetBus does most of what Back Orifice does, and on Windows NT
NetBus is a remote-control application implanted via a Trojan horse program, like the better-known Back Orifice . But NetBus is no BO clone; it's been around since the spring. At first its interface was in Swedish, which limited its spread. It lets a perpetrator do annoying things to a remote computer such as swap the functions of left and right mouse buttons, bring up any URL in the default browser, and send keystrokes to the active application. NetBus runs on Windows 95/98 and also on NT, which Back Orifice does not.
The security firm ISS has updated their advisory, originally covering BO, to include information on identifying and removing NetBus as well. I've posted the advisory on the TBTF archive . NetBus communicates between client and server using TCP/IP on ports 12345 and 12346. Unlike BO, these port numbers are not modifiable. Its communications are not encrypted.
A further step toward portalhood
Gary Stock, who runs the Javelink site , writes: "As of 19:00 EST yesterday [9/9], we're suddenly getting hits from , which refers to itself as "web search -- BETA." The adventurous might want to try the advanced search page . It offers options such as "all the words," "exact phrase," "words in title," "Boolean phrase," and "links to URL," and lets you specify media types which the result set must contain (such as Java applets or images). The search engine does not seem to make any attempt to rank results into relevancy order.
The search site uses the Inktomai engine, which has been licensed widely. The sites using this technology will have an increasingly difficult time distinguishing themselves. According to a Wired report  on the Microsoft site, submitting the same search on GoTo.com, HotBot, and Snap yields results identical to those from .
Incremental manufacturing improvements yield a display "indistinguishable from paper"
IBM has developed new technology  that packs 4 times the pixel density of conventional CRT or LCD displays. At 5.2 million pixels on a 16.3-inch (diagonal) viewing area, the display is said to be virtually indistinguishable from the printed page. One of the researchers says, "We are right at the point at which human vision ceases to notice any distortion." The news.com article  implies that such displays might be commercially available soon from IBM at an initial price above $5000. IBM already offers a 150-dpi display on its high-end ThinkPad 770.
Doubly-doped lithium niobate proves more stable
The idea of using holograms to store information in blocks of crystal dates from the 1970s, but its development has been stymied by volatility: for most storage materials, reading them using laser light quickly degrades their content. Approaches to making holograms more durable to date have had serious limitations -- for example one requires that the storage medium be heated, and another needs highpowered lasers. Researchers at Caltech  are developing holographic storage based on lithium niobate doped with trace amounts of iron and manganese atoms. They have evolved an approach using ultraviolet (not laser) light during recording to encode the hologram in both kinds of impurity atoms, and then to read data back from only one of them. The researchers, who have applied for a patent on the technique, are upbeat about its commercial potential. They believe that 100-fold performance improvements over their laboratory demonstrations are possible, bringing the devices into the storage realm of terabytes per square inch. Thanks to Caleb David for the story suggestion.
Quantum computers and quantum physics
See also TBTF for 1999-10-05, 01-04, 1998-11-03, 10-27, 09-14, 03-09, 03-02, 02-23, 1997-11-24, 09-15, 05-22, more...
Keeping a superposition of states honest
Physics News Update reports that quantum error correction has been experimentally demonstrated for the first time . Researchers at Los Alamos and MIT have used radio-frequency pulses to spread a single bit of quantum information onto three nuclear spins in each molecule in a liquid solution. Using quantum entanglement, the researchers were able to determine whether all three spins carried the same information without "reading" that information. With this technique, they were able to detect and correct errors in the phase relationship between the quantum waves corresponding to the 0 and 1 states. The research was published in Physical Review Letters.
Following this issue TBTF will skip two weeks, returning October 5. I'll be aboard the SS Ryndam  off the coast of Alaska. Hold my calls. If you've ever successfully connected to the Internet from a cruise ship, please drop me a note.
TBTF home and archive at http://www.tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is Copyright 1994-1998 by Keith Dawson, <dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com>. Com- mercial use prohibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post, and link as you see fit. _______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.