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   TBTF Log, week of 2000-02-06

This is the TBTF Log, week of 2000-02-06, an experiment in reporting important breaking news in a very timely way. The TBTF newsletter continues unchanged. The most recent issue is TBTF for 2000-02-06: Privacy at the boil.

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Saturday, February 12, 2000

2/12/00 10:09:21 PM

  • AOL dropping the fight for open access. Now that America Online is about to become a cable company through its acquisition of Time-Warner, it is backing away from its earlier efforts to force government action mandating open access to cable lines for all ISPs. This Washington Post article (from today's front page) tells the all-too-predictable tale.

    This week, the Dulles-based company took no action as two bills mandating open access died in the Virginia General Assembly. It has told its lobbyists in other states, including Maryland, not to advocate similar legislation. And the company has quieted its demands that federal authorities condition approval of the merger of AT&T Corp. and cable giant MediaOne Group Inc. on promises of open access.

    AOL still contends that cable systems must offer their customers a choice of Internet providers -- and it still wants to make deals to get itself on other systems. But now the company asserts that the market should sort out the details.

Friday, February 11, 2000

2/11/00 4:05:05 PM

    F/A-18C Hornet breaking the sound barrier
  • Bang. This photo won first place in the World Press Photo 2000 contest's Science and Technology Singles category. The image was captured last summer by US Navy Ensign John Gay. It shows an F/A-18C Hornet breaking the sound barrier. More details at the BBC site.

Thursday, February 10, 2000

2/10/00 4:36:17 PM

  • How not to run a road show. An anonymous informant sent me this amusing account of how, down in the trenches and out on the road, Microsoft has changed remarkably little despite all of the antitrust attention focused on the company's practices.

    The Microsoft Direct Access briefing held at (Novell's) Silicon Valley Conference Center on Thursday, 2/3/00, was terrific... for Novell. Setting aside the fact that Microsoft managed to book their Direct Access roadshow into a Novell-owned facility, here's the result.

    I got there late (3:35 PM for a 3:00 PM briefing), and found a large room set up for 200 people, with... maybe 16 people total in attendance, including the speaker and a room monitor in the back of the hall. None of them appeared to be serious corporate buyers. Most of them looked like "front of the food line" people, frankly.

    Outside, in the reception area, at least 100 boxed lunches still sat, unopened. I saw nobody I knew or had met from the Microsoft local sales team in attendance. This was definitely a professional road show.

    A couple of things weren't terrific. [Name Omitted], a Microsoft Consulting analyst, had a heavy accent which made his presentation nearly impenetrable. Despite the communication problems, some of the things he was saying about NetWare 5 were blatantly untrue.

    I held my tongue until he said that NetWare 5 didn't have NAT (network address translation). I spoke up and said actually, NAT is part of both NetWare 4.11 and NetWare 5. He said uh, it's an add-on package. I said uh, no, it's built-in. An added-value program called BorderManager that has an enhanced version is available, but NetWare out of the box does basic routing and NAT.

    He apologized, saying his data came from Marketing. I said well then, Marketing has a great deal of misinformation. (That got a laugh from the other 13 people in the audience.)

    Other things he claimed (all of them untrue):

    • NetWare 5 doesn't support IPX clients from NetWare 4
    • NetWare 5 doesn't support Appletalk protocol
    • NetWare 5 doesn't support TCP/IP "aliasing" (which he eventually explained as multihoming)

    Someone else in the audience corrected him about the multihoming thing. I went up to him privately, and corrected him about the other issues. He was in complete denial on every count.

    Rather than losing my patience at someone who was obviously determined to be ignorant, I allowed myself only to suggest to him sweetly that since Microsoft Corporate had recently seen fit to remove untrue statements such as these from their website in response to Novell Legal, perhaps he should consider amending his presentation to remove such statements until Microsoft Legal had a chance to look at it first.

    After all, as a Microsoft Solution Provider, I wouldn't want to see them get into any trouble. :)

    That, at least, seemed to shake him up.

2/10/00 4:00:58 PM

  • Personal home computers searched in labor dispute. Last week Northwest Airlines began court-authorized searches of the home computers of 10 or more flight attendants, looking for private e-mail and other evidence that the employees helped to organize a sickout at the airline over the New Year's holiday. The airline sued the flight attendants' union over the work slowdown. (I've been sent two entirely different URLs for the story at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. For now they both work.)

    The move would seem to break new ground in threatening the privacy of citizens participating in discussion and debate about their employer, at home and on their own time. However, the article quotes a Minneapolis cyberlaw specialist who says, "Business speech is not subject to the same protections as political speech. You can't say whatever you want about a company."

    Now the requisite quote from the privacy watchdog (Jerry Berman, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology).

    This kind of precedent could have a very chilling effect on the exercise of speech rights, and could set a very bad precedent for privacy.
    Thanks to TBTF Irregular Ernesto Gluecksmann for the first forward.

2/10/00 3:07:35 PM

  • Sniffing whois requests and registering before you do. Speculation is circulating on several mailing lists about a practice that, if it is indeed happening, sets a new lower boundary for the term "underhanded." Has this ever happened to you (or your ISP, or your company)? You decide to register a domain name. You use Network Solutions's whois service to see if it is available, and it is. When you go to register it, either immediately or after an hour or a day, you find that someone else has beaten you to it.

    Once is a coincidence. Twice makes you wonder. How many until you get really suspicious? Today I've read accounts of exactly this scenario playing out on six separate occasions. Mix such accounts with the knowledge that tens of thousands of names are registered daily, add a dash of cynicism, stir and bake.

    Is someone sniffing whois-bound packets to find out what domain names people are interested in? It's definitely a technique that would boost the hit rate for cybersquatters. And with frequent news of domain names selling for 7 figures, who wouldn't engage in a little creative sniffing?

    You wouldn't even need to get as creative as sniffing the line. All you need to do is put up your own whois service and offer it to your customers.

    As TBTF Irregular Gary Stock remarked in this context,

    We are reminded again of the distinction between "creative" as used by those who create, and "creative" as used by those who exploit them.

    Thanks to TBTF Irregular Bill Innanen for the first peep on this story.

Tuesday, February 08, 2000

2/8/00 4:53:36 PM

  • Please no Valentines Day jokes. NASA's Space Science News today notes that on 14 February the space probe NEAR will achieve assignation... er, I mean, will rendezvous... er, that is, will arrive at the asteroid 433 Eros. (They titled their email "Eros or Bust" and I'm not even going near that one.) A few days ago, 3000 miles from 433 Eros, the spacecraft braked to a relative 18 mph. NEAR will orbit the peanut-shaped, 21-mile-long space rock for a year, sending back data that will probably turn upside down most of what we thought we knew about planetesimals.

Monday, February 07, 2000

2/7/00 4:21:45 PM

  • Unsealed files from the Microsoft - Caldera trial are suggestive. I've only seen this story in the Salt Lake Tribune, the local paper of Caldera and Novell. The unfair trade practices lawsuit against Microsoft that Caldera filed in 1996 was settled out of court last month after Microsoft agreed to pay Caldera an unreported sum. But many of the case documents had remained under seal. The SL Tribune and two other newspapers sued to have the records opened. Last week the court released dozens of documents and excerpts but kept 30 sealed because Microsoft said their release would hurt its business.

    The original SL Tribune story has expired from its site's open area but is still accessible via an archive search. Their server has been showing up overloaded all day; I'll post a URL when I can get through. Meanwhile, here are some highlights from the story.

    [According to a deposition in the Caldera case,] Former Microsoft [Germany] employee Stefanie Reichel says she "lived on e-mail"... But at the urging of supervisor Juergen Huels, Reichel later deleted "questionable" e-mail files, which she defined as "things that could be problematic in an investigation."

    "I remember making sure that I didn't have any e-mails that met his description," she testified in an August 1998 deposition, adding she also may have destroyed paper copies of documents...

    Reichel also said Huels upgraded the office computers, discarding the previously used hard drives. Caldera attorneys noted [Huels] had also referred to "graveyards in East Germany that no one knows about," and argued Reichel's testimony intimated he had destroyed the hard drives to prevent forensic experts from recovering data from them.

    Caldera attorneys argued Reichel's testimony showed Huels, Reichel, and possibly other Microsoft employees in Germany destroyed documents and e-mail containing damaging information about the company's sales practices while those tactics were under investigation by the U.S. government for antitrust violations.

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