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TBTF for 1997-06-30: Step right up

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 29 Jun 1997 16:16:21 -0400


Threads 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...

Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional

American adults have the right to speak freely on the Internet. The Supreme Court handed down a ruling that upholds the findings of a lower court and invalidates the infamous CDA.

The court ruled unanimously that the law's "patently offensive display" provision violates the First Amendment. Seven justices found the CDA inherently overbroad: "The CDA lacks the precision that the First Amendment requires when a statute regulates the content of speech," states the majority opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens. Two justices dissented on this latter point: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote a separate opinion stating that the CDA could be constitutional under some circumstances.

The bottom line is that all nine justices agreed that restrictions on Internet communications among adults are unconstitutional, and remain unconstitutional as long as there is at least one adult in the audience.

The ruling leaves very little wiggle room for a Congress that has emitted subterranean rumblings about a Son of CDA.

The majority decision agreed that Congress has a legitimate interest in shielding children from indecent material on the Net and provided guidelines for legally pursuing that goal in future legislation. But the court flatly rejected the Justice Department's argument that the need to protect kids from online indecency supersedes an adult's right to have access to such material.

The court agreed with the argument that the Internet is, in its nature, not comparable to the broadcast industry. The majority opinion is unambiguous that radio and TV indecency precedents like the Pacifica "seven dirty words" case do not apply to the Internet.

Those nine guys in black get it in a way that Congress is barely beginning to.

Thanks to David Black <dlb at opengroup dot org> for a quick analysis. You can read the ruling itself (37 pp.) on the EPIC site [1]. The Legal Information Institute helpfully provides a syllabus [2]. The best online coverage I've found comes from the NY Times [3]. See [4] for the jubilant response of the ACLU. Earlier newsmedia coverage is at [5], [6], and [7].

Note to Mr. Leon Blocker [8]: please come and cart away your Spammie(tm).

[1] http://www2.epic.org/cda/cda_decision.html
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/week/062797decency.html
[4] http://aclu.org/issues/cyber/trial/appeal.html
[5] http://www.sjmercury.com/news/nation/decency/cda/court062...
[6] http://cgi.pathfinder.com/netly/opinion/0,1042,1110,00.html
[7] ttp://www.news.com/SpecialFeatures/0%2C5%2C11937%2C00.html
[8] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/knuckle.html


CDA-II wannabees

The forces of the Right are demonstrating that while the Supreme Court mought've kilt 'em, they hain't whupp'd 'em. Senator Patty Murray, newly elected "mom in tennis shoes" from the state of Washington, has registered the first counter-blow following the Court's unanimous endorsement of free speech on the Net. Murray has drafted the Childsafe Internet Act of 1997 [9], [10]. The seven-point plan intends to encourage and enforce "zoning" on the Net by placing most of the policing burden on ISPs and Web hosts, constituencies with which it is unlikely to be wildly popular.

Bruce Taylor, director of the National Law Center for Children and Families and co-author of the CDA, is said to be working on a new version of the legislation for Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana. [11]. The speculation is that the revised act would aim to restrict hard-core pornography on the Net, though such material is already clearly illegal in any medium.

President Clinton plans to do what he does best: meet with industry leaders, teachers, parents, and libraries to discuss a technological approach to curbing kids' access to "indecent" material [12]. The buzzphrase here is "a V-chip for computers."

[9] http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,11982,00.html
[10] http://www.ciec.org/SC_appeal/970626_Murray.html
[11] http://www4.zdnet.com/intweek/daily/970627b.html
[12] http://www5.zdnet.com/zdnn/content/zdnn/0627/zdnn0001.html


Essential Tools: Learning good design by studying bad

Today's addition to Essential Tools for Website Development [13] is a teaching site, both useful and cool [14]. A teacher of HTML, Vincent Flanders <vincent at vincentflanders dot com>, supplies nearly 50 negative examples -- Web Pages That Suck [15] -- to reinforce lessons in good design. The site requires frames; in fact it's an exemplar of what frames are good for. The lessons start here [16]. One of my favorites is "High on Kai" in the Graphics section. Kai is Kai Krause, whose venerable Photoshop plugin Kai's Power Tools has been misused or overused by every tyro designer who has ever laid hands on it. Referring to one particularly sweet KPT effect, Flanders promulgates the rule: "You're allowed one Kai Page Curl per career." It hits home for me because I used a Kai Page Curl in the splash on the top page of my first publicly accessible Web site. Was proud of it, too, in January 1995. (Alas the site is no longer visible.) Now I can never use Page Curl again.

[13] http://www.tbtf.com/essential-tools.html
[14] http://www.usefulcool.com/
[15] http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/
[16] http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/begin.htm


Notes from the Web INNovation conference

Valerie Lambert <valerie at savina dot com> attended Web INNovation earlier this month. Her trip report has been making the rounds of Net mailing lists -- I first saw it forwarded by Jon Callas <jon at worldbenders dot com>. It's a kind of Ralph Steadman [17] portrait of the corporate Web-building landscape today, sharply drawn and slyly satirical. Lambert's report [18] appears on the TBTF archive by permission.

Here are some highlights from the main vendor messages as captured by Lambert:

Netscape: We own the intranet. Intranets-R-Us. And we know how to push channel. Did we mention we are 100% intranet buzzword compliant?
Sun: Java, Java, Java, heya {a little tribal dance}.
Microsoft: Hey, we've discovered standards! Just look at the pledges posted on our site!
Apple: Ummm, authoring tools! Rhapsody! Focusing on our strengths! Errm, servers -- yah, that's it, servers!

She outlines lessons learned and concludes with a handy table of what's in and what's out this year among the corporate site mplementors. See the full report at [18].

[17] http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/partner?partner_id=23196&cgi=search/search&searchtype=isbn&searchfor=0151002452
[18] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/webinn-vl.html


Lagrangian companion

The earth has another companion in space besides the moon: Asteroid 3753, 5 km in diameter. It doesn't orbit the earth, but it's too simple to say that it orbits the sun. It orbits the sun and travels with the earth, gravitationally entangled with two of earth's Lagrangian points in what is known as a "horseshoe" orbit. The asteroid was discovered in 1986 but its peculiar orbit was only understood recently thanks to the numerical modeling research of astronomers in Canada and Finland.

In the eighteenth century the mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange calculated that points of gravitational stability should exist around planets in their orbits [19]. Two of these points, now called L4 and L5, respectively lead and trail the earth in its orbit by 60 degrees. Small objects such as asteroids can actually orbit around these moving points of equilibrium. The first Lagrangian object discovered, in 1906, was an asteroid associated with Jupiter. It was named 588 Achilles, so by convention asteroids named for Greeks lead Jupiter in its orbit and ones named for Trojans trail it.

Some of you may remember Gerard K. O'Neill [20], whose 1976 book The High Frontier [21] proposed establishing space colonies orbiting the L4 and L5 points of the earth-moon system. (This was years before the Star Wars initiative co-opted and sullied the term "High Frontier.") The Space Studies Institute [22], which O'Neill founded, still operates 5 years after his death.

Back to earth's newly discovered companion asteroid. It's difficult in the extreme to describe its orbit without a picture, and I haven't been able to find one on the Web. So we'll have to make do with words. Here are desriptions from the original article's abstract and from two popular accounts of the discovery.

From Nature (1997-06-12):

[P.A.Wiegert, K.A.Innanen, & S.Mikkola, "An asteroidal companion to the Earth" (Letter to Nature), Nature 387, 685 (1997)]

...the authors show that the orbit of asteroid 3753, when
viewed in the reference frame centred on the Sun but orbit-
ing with the Earth, has a distinctive shape characteristic
of "horseshoe" orbits. Although horseshoe orbits are a
well-known feature of the gravitational three-body problem,
the only other examples of objects moving on such orbits
are the Saturnian satellites Janus and Epimetheus -- and
their behaviour is much less intricate than that of 3753.

From Physics News [23] (1997-06-18):

...asteroid 3753 is in orbit not around the Earth but in
concert with it in a horseshoe-shaped trajectory that co-
rotates with the Earth in its orbit around the sun; with
respect to the sun, the trajectory is an eccentric ellipse
somewhat inclined to the ecliptic plane.

From SCIENCE-WEEK (1997-06-19):

...the orbit of 3753 encompasses both equilibrium points
and is a "horseshoe" orbit, and it is only because the
asteroid's orbit is highly inclined with respect to the
plane of the Earth's orbit that a collision is unlikely.

[19] http://www-spof.gsfc.nasa.gov/Education/wlagran.html
[20] http://www.ralentz.com/old/space/ssi/obit.html
[21] http://www.ralentz.com/old/space/ssi/high-frontier.html
[22] http://www.astro.nwu.edu/lentz/space/ssi/
[23] http://newton.ex.ac.uk/aip/no_tables/physnews.326.html


Pay-per TBTF survey results

In TBTF for 1997-06-23 [24] I asked readers to react to the idea of paying for access, in some fashion, to TBTF material on the Web. Twenty-six readers responded. A number of readers passed on gratuituitous compliments to the newsletter's quality -- thanks for those. A number of others alluded to TBTF's uniqueness to buttress their points: "Most Web content I wouldn't be willing to pay for, but for TBTF, maybe," or "I love TBTF but so strongly dislike having a meter running that I would unsubscribe."

Here is an analysis of the responses. For the gist of each of the 26 replies see [25], and for the full text of each see [26] (26K).

General summary:
(10) Would be willing / happy to pay something for TBTF.
  (1)   "worth more than my $20/week in magazine subscriptions"
(1)  $1 / topic
(1)  $10 / year
(1)  "much more than" $2.50 / year
(4)  $2.50 / year
(1)  $1 / year
(1)  $0.50 / year
(1)  $0.05 / year
(4) Generally favorable to the idea of micropayment schemes.
(3) Might be willing to pay, given some (fairly stringent) conditions.
(6) No. Never. Nada. Would unsubscribe.
Other comments:
(5) Prefer "retro-push" email to the Web. Rarely/never visit the Web site.
(2) Appreciate TBTF particularly because it is non-commercial.
(2) Don't like to have a meter running.
(1) The real cost of TBTF is its "attention time"; micropayments would not add significantly to this cost.

There is no grand conclusion to be reached from this unscientific, self-selected data. I still want to go ahead with a Millicent trial, Digital willing, but I have less faith than before that a TBTF payment scheme could be structured that both you (collectively) and I would be happy with. My commitment remains unshaken to maintain the free email edition as long as TBTF is published.

For a little outside perspective on the question of paying for content, let's read from the 7th GVU WWW Survey [27].

In past surveys, we have asked whether people would be wil-
ling to pay fees to access sites. Typically, over 2/3 of the
respondents claimed that they would not pay fees. In order
to help figure out why, we repositioned this question to get
at the reasons people would not pay... Almost half of the
respondents cited being able to access the content on other
sites as the main reason (44.06%). Next in line, people feel
that they are already paying to access the Web via connectiv-
ity charges, so why should they pay to access specific sites
(29.48%). Other popular reasons include costs too much to
access (7.67%) and the content is of poor quality (7.32%).
Only 1.07% state that they would pay regardless. European
users are more concerned than their US counterparts about the
poor quality and that there is no easy mechanism to pay for
Bottom line: the "business model" for TBTF is the model that first sprang from the Net's cultural values, as the population began to explode in 1993/1994: do what you do best and give it away, and find another way to leverage the resulting goodwill into some kind of a living.

[24] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-06-23.html
[25] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/pay-per.html
[26] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/pp-details.html
[27] http://www.gvu.gatech.edu/user_surveys/survey-1997-04/#highsum


bul Today's TBTF title is a piece on Tom Waits's 1973 album "Small Change." It's an ironic rant (to call it a "song" seems grandiose) about consumerism in American culture, and getting what you pay for. You can hear a clip from "Step Right Up" at [28] (requires RealAudio).

[28] http://www3.cdnow.com/cgi-bin/mserver/SID=784272721/pagename=...

bul The new Tasty Bit of the Day feature seems to be popular; visitor numbers are way up and the subscription rate has taken a sharp turn northward. A mention in "That's Useful, This is Cool" [14] didn't hurt either. See the latest TBTF statistics at [29].

[29] http://www.tbtf.com/growth.html


bul For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see <http://www.tbtf.com/sources.html>.

bul AIP Physics Update -- mail listserv@aip.org without subject and with message "add physnews" . Searchable archive at http://newton.ex.ac.uk/aip/.

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Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.



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