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Previous weeks' logs table of contents.

Friday, 1999-11-12

Thursday, 1999-11-11

Wednesday, 1999-11-10

Monday, 1999-11-08

Friday, November 12, 1999

11/12/99 10:26:07 AM

  • Grey hairs atop dot-coms. The Financial Times is running a piece that ought to prove reassuring to thousands of middle-aged folks in traditional industries who wake up each day kicking themselves for missing out on the Internet frenzy. In the super-market of business-to-business marketplaces -- connecting buyers and suppliers in particular vertical industries -- $100 billion turnovers represent the low-hanging fruit. A company that succeeds in moving procurement in such an industry to the Net stands to reap a revenue stream north of $1 billion.

    The FT's hook for this story is the need for deeply experienced industry veterans to sell Net procurement into niche industries. It focuses on Kelly Blanton, the 62-year-old head of Net startup Epylon, which wants to move $859 billion of government procurement to its Net marketplace. Blanton left behind a safe civil service position to run Epylon. FT also touches on startups aiming at the fruit-and-vegetable trade, farm supplies, print procurement, and technical supplies for the life sciences. All but the latter (Chemdex is the company profiled) have brought on veterans with decades of experience in their target industries. (I met the Chemdex founders earlier this year, and they're not out of their 30s. Doesn't look like they've added much grey to the executive ranks since then.)

    The tricky part of moving such traditional marketplaces to the Net is finessing the inevitable job loss in the ranks of middlemen until such time as the Web-based interloper gains critical mass. As one VC puts it,

    Whatever you do, you must not get out of the Trojan horse until you are inside the walls.

Thursday, November 11, 1999

11/11/99 2:02:12 PM

  • New trend: fleeing the dot-com. Today's Wall Street Journal has an insightful article on wired companies doing their darndest to look like bricks-and-mortar. (Read it here at MSNBC if you don't subscribe to the WSJ.) The driving force behind the waning attractiveness of the dot-com moniker is the absolute blizzard of dot-com advertising on radio and TV. The ads are, often as not, directed more at Wall Street than at home consumers. Focus groups are beginning to show that average folks don't remember the companies, don't like the ads, and resent the everpresent image of the greedy twenty-something zillionaire.

    The WSJ profiles Lucy.com, which sells women's exercise clothing online, spending its ad budget on catalogs delivered by snail mail. BigStar entertainment, an online DVD seller, is going even farther in its quest for faux bricks. BigStar paid a New York company to plaster its trucks with BigStar signs; the other company's drivers were trained to answer questions about BigStar and to hand out coupons. They may actually be delivering pizzas or office supplies; in fact BigStar does its own deliveries via UPS. The ploy has proven so successful that BigStar is expanding its faux fleet to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Dallas.

11/11/99 12:52:34 PM

  • IETF says "hell no" to wiretapping. The Internet Engineering Task Force yesterday debated whether or not to specify wiretappability in future network protocols. The vote against doing so was overwhelming but not unanimous. The widely held view that allowing for taps in the architecture reduces overall security was perhaps best illustrated by networking security expert Phill Hallam-Baker, who said:

    It would be like having the Christian Coalition debating a protocol for third-trimester abortions.

Wednesday, November 10, 1999

11/10/99 10:43:12 AM

  • The government's role in intrusion detection. Tuesday evening I attended a forum at Stanford sponsored by the Law Department and the ACM: The government's role in computer surveillance and the Federal Intrusion Detection Network, FIDNet. Panelists were Whit Diffie (Sum Microsystems, co-inventor of public-key crypto), Marc Rotenberg (director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center), and Scott Charney (until recently chief prosecutor in the DoJ computer crimes unit). Moderating was John Markoff, the NY Times's man in Silicon Valley. The tone was consistently polite and cordial; no one engaged in games of bait-the-Fed (well, ex-Fed).

    Diffie engaged the audience with humor. When asked a question about the liklihood of UKUSA member states swapping Echelon data to evade domestic proscriptions on eavesdropping on their own citizens, Diffie became George Smiley from Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He folded his hands over his belly, leaned back, and roundly proclaimed,

    Well that's the thing about secrets, Roddy. You don't know.

    Markoff took questions in writing from the audience. I watched him open mine and smile slightly. He asked the panelists on my behalf:

    Do citizens have the right to communicate privately?
    - or -
    Does the government have the right to know the content of any communication?
    Each panelist, please craft a reply of 50 words or fewer.

    Each panelist ignored the bit about the 50 words. Here is the essence of their answers.

    • Scott Charney: yes, and yes.
    • Whit Diffie: citizens have the right to make any effort they wish to keep their conversations private.
    • Marc Rotenberg: answered from the Libertarian camp, where he "visits but doesn't live." Doesn't think governments have rights. The government has authority to conduct a search, but doesn't have the right to get what they seek. We recognize the government's interests, but the rights go to the people.

11/10/99 10:00:46 AM

  • Bubbleboy virus breaks a new move. On Monday someone mailed a new virus to Network Associates. Its creator is apparently a heavy-duty Seinfeld fan, because the mostly harmless virus renames the registered owner of infected computers as Bubbleboy and makes other references from this Seinfeld episode. In the usual post-Melissa way the virus mails itself to your entire Microsoft Outlook address book.

    What's new is that you don't have to open an atachment to become infected. You don't even have to read the message. Simply highlighting its title in Outlook will infect your machine if you are using its Preview Pane feature. Bubbleboy uses VBScript in an HTML page; in one variant of the virus the code is encrypted.

    You'll know you've become part of the virus's vector when you see a black screen with the words The Bubbleboy incident, pictures and sounds in white letters. Bubbleboy infects computers with Win98, Win2000, and some versions of Win95 that also use Internet Explorer 5.0 and Outlook Express. Win NT is apparently immune. Enabling Microsoft's highest-security e-mail filter will keep the virus at bay. A Microsoft spokesman said that anyone who has downloaded the August upgrade to IE 5 already is protected from Bubbleboy.

    Here's a soundbyte from a Network Associates spokesman.

    This could be the catalyst. While the Melissa virus was hell coming to dinner, we have reassessed that and know that something bigger, meaner, and nastier is on its way.

Monday, November 08, 1999

11/8/99 8:40:51 PM
  • Been to the well. I'm in the Bay Area on business and spent part of today with the folks at Pyra. They make Blogger, the software behind this Web log. Watch for big things from this little startup.

    Also visited Ecast and got the skinny on their MP3-based, Net-enabled jukeboxes from Rebecca Eisenberg, the company's new-products marketing skink. At the moment they're making Siren jukeboxes for placement in bars and restaurants, but the platform will clearly support interactive games, movies, etc. Ever wanted to goose a jukebox with your credit card or beam change to it with your Palm? Soon you'll be able to. And in true capitalist fashion the Siren system will let you bid large amounts of money to jump your selection to the front of the queue. Hey, won't you play another "Somebody done somebody wrong" song -- right now.

About this Web log

This venue represents an experiment in more timely and less "cooked" TBTF news coverage. You'll read here things that came through my desktop machine mere minutes before. The TBTF Log replaces the Tasty Bit of the Day feature.

The week's TBTF Log entries will be mailed to TBTF subscribers on Sunday evenings.

The email and Web editions of Tasty Bits from the Technology Front represent my best effort to present engaging, cogent news and analysis on what matters to the life of the Net. TBTF will continue as before, but on a schedule closer to twice-monthly than to weekly.


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