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   TBTF Log, week of 2000-03-12

This is the TBTF Log, week of 2000-03-12, 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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Thursday, March 16, 2000

3/16/00 11:53:53 AM

  • Common sense on Amazon and patents. For the best summary yet written of the software patent brouhaha and Amazon.com's misstep, run do not walk to Rebecca Lynn Eisenberg's NoveauGeek column on CBS MarketWatch.

    While Bezos might win this battle, he should and will lose the war. His decision to patent, then enforce, innovations for which patents should never have been issued might have been legal, but it was bad for business -- both his own and business online in general.

3/16/00 11:21:12 AM

  • updated Distributing DeCSS via DNS. Unwrap the following and utter it on one line to a Unix shell on a machine that is live to the Net:
      dig @ goret.org. axfr | 
        grep '^c..\..*A' |
        sort |
        cut -b5-36 |
        perl -e 'while(<>){print pack("H32",$_)}' |
        gzip -d
    What you'll get, streaming to STDOUT, is the source code for the DVD CSS decryptor that the motion-picture industry is so keen to suppress. Thanks to the Domain Name System, that code is now available on hundreds of thousands of routers around the world.

    Lenny Foner <foner at media dot mit dot edu> suggests a modest extension to protect the valuable intellectual property locked up in this code.

    The right thing to do here is to have the person who owns the domain claim that the code above is a "decryption algorithm" (after all, it must be -- the info isn't human-readable at first glance, so it must be encrypted, right?), and that the algorithm is a trade secret. Only those who are authorized to know the trade secret may run the algorithm. Only entities which agree to hold harmless and never sue the domain owner for any reason are authorized to know the trade secret. Even better, make this entire agreement part of a shrinkwrap license available via perusal of the DNS records -- or perhaps, as UCITA is trying to do, available only after you've decrypted everything!

    Therefore, if the RIAA, the DVDCCA, or the MPAA attempt to sue the owner, he countersues for exactly the same reason, saying that they weren't even authorized to know what he was posting. If their suit is valid, then so it his, and contrariwise.

    [Note added 2000-03-23, 8:36 pm:] Seth Finkelstein <sethf at mit dot edu> got it down to four executables and a single perl loop:

      dig @ goret.org. axfr |
             perl -e 'for(sort(<>)){print pack("H32",$1) if(/^c..\.(\w+)/)}' | 
             gzip -d

3/16/00 10:42:17 AM

  • Iridium is toast?. The betting is that the $5 billion investment in Iridium's 66 orbiting satellites will go down in flames beginning at midnight on Friday. A Wednesday court-ordered deadline -- to find a buyer or pull the plug -- got a last-minute extension till Friday. Analysts believe it's extremely unlikely a buyer will come forward now. Craig McCaw, the most likely purchaser, backed away weeks ago; yesterday the Defense Department issued a curt "no interest." J.P. Morgan satellite communications analyst Marc Crossman said bluntly, "It's toast."

    If no buyer is found the satellites will be nudged from orbit to burn up in the atmosphere over the world's oceans. The decommissioning process would take 6 or 7 months; no one is saying who would pay to keep the system operating during that time.

Tuesday, March 14, 2000

3/14/00 5:27:58 PM

  • Advertising on the 404 page. InternetNews reports that Dutch portal Planet Internet has just booked an ad campaign for Murphy's Irish Beer (a Heineken brand) on its HTTP 404 error pages. You can get a taste (so to speak) here, or at any other bogus Planet Internet address of your choosing.

    Murphy's Law: 404

    The page you requested is not available. But you found something even better: a complementary pint of Murphy's Irish Beer to enjoy with your friends. And if you enter our Murphy's Law Competition, you may even win a free trip to Ireland! So click here to read all about it.

    Thanks to Mark Kuharich for the pointer.

Monday, March 13, 2000

3/13/00 10:48:28 PM

Motorola saellite-phone backdoor
  • updated Patent tells spooks how to snoop. This article in the UK's New Scientist notes the filing, in the US and Europe, of a Motorola patent relating to satellite telephones. The patent details an engineered-in backdoor that national intelligence services could use to intercept telephone calls that would otherwise travel caller to satellite(s) to receiver and be difficult or impossible to intercept.

    Perhaps the NSA applied pressure to Motorola. Or perhaps they didn't need to, and the company in deference to national security interests provided the necessary backdoor knowledge by the highly deniable means of a patent filing.

    [Note added 2000-03-18, 1:21 pm:] Satellite maven Lloyd Wood writes:

    Every government in the world put pressure on Motorola. Every Iridium gateway is a tap -- not just the ones in the US.

3/13/00 5:25:36 PM

Sunday, March 12, 2000

3/12/00 8:49:29 PM

  • Navajo Code Talker GI Joe. The Navajo Code Talkers were Marines who in WW-II provided an unbreakable code by speaking pre-arranged phrases from their native language over open radio links. Information about the contributions of this group of Native Americans to the war effort was declassified in 1968.

    Their fame should spread more widely with Hasbro's introduction of the latest GI Joe. Raise the arm of the toy soldier and he spits out a communication in the Navajo language followed by an English translation. Seven phrases comprise the soldier's vocabulary. They are spoken by Code Talker Sam Billison. Here is a dictionary of all the phrases employed by the Code Talkers during the war.

    Since 1969 the surviving Code Talkers (who number about 150 today) have gathered from time to time to remember and to celebrate. In 1982 Ronald Reagan named a day in their honor and presented each survivor with a certificate of appreciation. This page, maintained by the son of a WW-II Code Talker, is a good launching pad for exploring Code Talker history. Try this Google search for a wider reach.

    Thanks to TBTF Irregular Dave Mankins for this item.

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Most recently updated 2000-03-23