the roving_reporter

[Fairly regular updates resumed in mid-July; they'll probably be spotty during August while I'm traveling. Cheers, T]

Past issues: UDRP? JDRP (1999-11-16); Viral Regulation (1999-11-24)

The current issue is here.

> roving_reporter t byfield [email]

Thu Aug 17 14:52:25 EDT 2000

Magical thinking in Marina Del Rey

Among the requirements ICANN typically imposes on organizations seeking its accreditation include sufficient capital, a business plan, and widespread support. Reasonable, right? Well, as DNS maven Richard Sexton points out, ICANN has none of the above.

Thu Aug 17 14:54:16 EDT 2000

The Domain in Spain stays mainly with those who complain

A golden_roving_reporter to Mr. Bonisteel for that headline. The ruling is a complete (and completely predictable) travesty. As long as WIPO keeps on issuing pro-complainant rulings, its marketshare in UDRP proceedings will keep growing, because complainants choose the arbiter. (This biased dynamic was obvious before the UDRP was approved, so why did the ICANN board approve it? Cynicism or stupidity?)

WIPO is a special-interest lobby masquerading as a U.N. special agency.

Wed Aug 2 04:42:47 EDT 2000

UDRP logs reach old-growth status

If ICANN is a technical organization composed of people who "get the net," why is their page of UDRP decisions approaching 1 megabyte?

Thu Aug 17 14:56:15 EDT 2000

Membership At Small

ICANN's homepage claims that over 158,000 people registered for the MAL; the MAL statistics page lists only 40,204. ICANN has a strong incentive ("success") to claim huge numbers while accepting only small numbers. Watch the latter number to see whether it climbs up near the 158,000 ICANN is tooting its horn about or lurks closer to the 10,000-20,000 ICANN "budgeted for."

Addendum on Markle funding for the MAL: to my query about how ICANN's claims about a lack of funding don't jibe with the Markle Foundation's offer for more MAL support, Esther Dyson wrote to me: "Please ask them whether they [Markle] have committed to give us more.")

Tue Aug 8 12:28:05 PDT 2000

ICANN Prez to ACLU, CPSR, EPIC: I got your democracy hangin' right here, buddy

In mid-July the ACLU, CPSR, and EPIC started the Internet Democracy Project (IDP) as a forum "for the democratization of the Internet and Internet governance." ICANN Maximum Leader Mike Roberts's response lectures the groups about "self-assess[ing]" their views in a more "mainstream" way, criticizes them for "wide-eyed utopianism," accuses them of "throwing rocks," and calls them "bitter." I somehow doubt that Roberts has issued such a high-handed communiqué to any of the multinational corporations or trade lobbies that dominate in ICANN's "process" and "policy."

Less revealing of Robert's provocative personal quirkiness but more so of the ICANN junta's collective self-assessment, he waxes righteously:

Railing away at ICANN because it doesn't meet some ideal model of democracy is likely to be about as effective as complaining that the US Congress is too dominated by the money of those who finance political campaigns. Everyone knows that, the question is how do you work from within the system to balance competing interests, many of which possess economic power.

ICANN, of course, is less than two years old (as opposed to more than two centuries old), and its "initial" then "interim" board has yet to survive a popular election -- in fact, they have done everything they can to postpone and cripple such an election. Aside from these quibbles -- in other words, the part about being dominated by moneyed special interests -- what he says is entirely valid. Well, almost entirely.

Toward the end of his statement, Roberts claims that ICANN "continue[s] to be very poor" (relative, I suppose, to the regal budgets its personnel believe it deserves). Ignoring the IDP's clear presentation of its ideals, he tries to reduce their critique of ICANN to the wares one might expect a roving reporter to flog:

[t]rying to find dirt in the books is a waste of your scarce time and effort. That's what auditors are for. They're plowing through our records now and you and everyone else will see their report on the website in October as is required by the Bylaws.

One hopes the upcoming audit report will be better than the "Financial Statements for the Period From September 30, 1998 (Date Of Inception) To June 30, 1999, and Accountants' Compilation Report." The last note of that document circumlocutes thusly:

The Organization pays consulting fees and travel expenses to a company which is owned by a principal member of the Organization's management. These fees and expenses include reimbursements of several affiliated individuals performing services for the Organization. Consulting fees and travel expenses for the eight months ended June 30, 1999 were $223,696. Accounts payable at June 30, 1999 includes $101,943 in consulting and travel expenses.

The company in question is a California Corporation whose majority stockholders are Mike Roberts and his wife. So what little of ICANN hasn't been captured by "big moneyed interests" is captured by ICANN's own staff -- and, though the lines do get rather blurry, a law firm by the name of Jones Day Reavis and Pogue.

Is this the kind of outfit you want setting policy for the net?

Wed Aug 2 04:42:47 EDT 2000

ICANN announces its MAL candidates

After proposing that the number of candidates per each of the five geographical regions be limited to seven, ICANN has announced its "official" MAL candidates -- the names put forth by its Board-appointed Nominating Committee. Among ICANN watchers, there was some concern that ICANN would crowd the field with its own candidates and thereby limit the potential threat posed by "member-nominated" candidates. True to form, ICANN has and hasn't done so, by proposing two candidates for the African region, four for the Asian, five for the European, three for the Latin American, and four for the North American. For ICANN's purposes, this heterogeneous approach is useful. The minimal number of candidates advanced for Africa and Latin America provides ICANN with grounds for denying that it is seeking to crowd out independent candidates -- even as it does just that in the other, more potent regions of Europe, North America, and Asia.

The spread isn't random, of course: the number of nominated candidates is a measure of the density of forces ICANN hopes to service. In the regions where those forces are particularly dense, the resumes of the official candidates enumerate which forces ICANN hopes to service. There's nothing "conspiratorial" in this: the balance is both reasonable and responsible -- from a certain very limited perspective. But that perspective seems to have placed far too much emphasis on Impressive Resumes and too little on messier issues -- for example, the possibility that those who oppose ICANN or have criticized its actions publicly have vital contributions to make.

By excluding those who opposed its agenda for two years, ICANN has forced its critics to rely on the MAL process for redress; by hobbling the MAL, it has exacerbated its critics' opposition; and by failing to include critics among the official MAL candidates, ICANN has reaffirmed that its talk about consensus is at best dissimulation.

Tue Aug 1 13:06:27 PDT 2000

An SUV in every pocket

The (excellent) new issue of RISKS includes this gem:

According to Karl Stahlkopf of the Power Research Institute, "You may think electronic gadgets can't use much electricity. In fact, when you look at the servers and the computers that back up the wireless Palm Pilot for example, you'll find it has the electrical load equivalent of a refrigerator."

Think Viridian.

Tue Aug 1 03:44:41 PDT 2000

ICANN to PFIR: "   "

Surprised at ICANN's silence in the face of PFIR's criticism (see below), I asked a few of the ICANN strongmen if they had a comment. ICANN CEO Mike Roberts responded:

ICANN doesn't have any comment about this essay, which is an interesting contribution to the worldwide dialog about the future of the Internet.

The italicized clause is a variant of the formula that ICANN officers routinely apply to things they regard as beneath notice. The witty implication -- that ICANN isn't interested in the worldwide dialog about the future of the Internet -- is surely unintentional.

Tue Aug 1 03:44:55 PDT 2000

MAL login errors a feature, not a bug

In the email quoted below, variously titled ICANN staffperson Andrew McLaughlin went out of his way to imply that the login troubles would-be MAL participants have encountered stem from inadequate technical resources and "irresponsible" media pushes. But in an email sent to various DNS mavens and lists, ICANN Director Vint Cerf suggests that the initial errors may have been -- and the later errors definitely were -- caused by intentional throttling rather than unavoidable shortcomings:

Every possible effort was made to increase the rate at which registrations could be processed and we've gone from about 1000 a day to an artificially limited 5,000 per day (200 per hour) simply because staff time to process is limited.

In the same email, McLaughlin also made the following claims regarding funding for the MAL:

Extension of the deadline would, by necessity, require a proportionally massive increase in funding for At Large membership -- and I have yet to see any such source of funding.


even if we could expand capacity by 100 times, there is no money to pay for that increased number of members.

However, according to one source at the Markle Foundation who responded to my "MAL metastasizes: ICANN in denial" item below:

Markle didn't underfund the effort, but rather, gave ICANN double what they initially proposed -- to provide that they include sufficient public outreach in their membership effort. When it was first called to our attention that there were system inadequacies due to unanticipated traffic to the registration site, we offered more in the way of matching funds -- to encourage additional funder participation and express our continuing support of an open and participatory MAL.

Conclusions are left as an exercise for the reader.

Tue Aug 1 03:45:05 PDT 2000

Broken MAL signup prelude to broken "member-nomination" endorsement

If you liked the intentionally crippled MAL signup process, you'll love the "member-nomination" endorsement process:

4. ICANN will provide a cgi interface that will allow any At Large Member to indicate support for a given candidate for member-nomination, by entering her/his membership number, password, and PIN number.

One waggish source suggests that a dark horse candidate known only as "Server Error" will win the election by a landslide.

Fri Jul 28 03:02:54 EDT 2000

MAL metastasizes, redux

The numbers for ICANN's MAL are going through the roof. As of this writing, it lists almost 142,000 applications: over 33,000 from Japan (over 50% more than the total number ICANN anticipated), almost 29,000 from China, almost 11,000 from Taiwan, and over 6000 from Korea. This is excellent. Now that MAL enrollment is being driven by national ambition and prestige, if the ICANN board tries to jigger the MAL board seats -- by reducing their numbers, limiting their terms, or appointing them from on high rather than holding election (all options that were mentioned at Yokohama) -- they'll run a serious risk of causing an international incident.

Fri Jul 28 03:03:50 EDT 2000

RIAA suit gives FreeNet a leg-up

A New York Times article about the repercussions of the Napster ruling, issued late Wednesday, quotes an administrator of as saying that downloads of Freenet "had quadrupled from a daily average of about 1,000 by noon" on Thursday.

Thu Jul 27 02:56:01 EDT 2000

MAL metastasizes: ICANN in denial

On Tuesday, the Brazilian ccTLD registrar spammed out an email (in Portuguese here, Babelfenglish here) urging people to sign up for ICANN's Membership At Large (MAL), in order to vote for a certain Dr Ivan de Moura Campos. The email identified him as former Secretary of Informatics (for the Ministry of Science and Technology, according to another email) and "current coordinator of the Managing Committee Internet of Brazil." The letter stated that it was in Brazil's national and regional interest for the country to be represented on ICANN's board.

The MAL was intended to be an avenue not for national representation but, rather, for individual representation. However, since individual representation outside of any larger structural limitation would likely have led to a too-obvious U.S. domination of the MAL seats, ICANN distributed the seats across geographic regions -- and thereby opened the door to "subregional" (that is, national) rivalries (for example, between China and Japan).

ICANN can't be blamed for this -- no formal solution can banish the myriad forms that ambition takes -- but they could be a bit more circumspect about how it's developing. The singular failure of the ICANN staff to grasp the nature (let alone the scale) of this kind of problem became clear this week in a different but related letter. This one was sent out by the living image of ICANN's mission creep, Andrew McLaughlin, whose billing has swollen over time from "Senior Adviser" to "Senior Policy Officer" to "Chief Policy Officer" (per the mail's footer; he's also ICANN's CFO). In this letter, McLaughlin tries to explain why ICANN's MAL signup process is so broken:

>Subject: Technical/Financial issues with At Large Membership
>Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2000 22:55:15 +0900
>X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
>X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V5.00.2919.6600
>Importance: Normal
>>Dear Ching-Yi:
>This is definitely a problem, and one that we are working hard to improve.
>A few facts to inform you and the other members of the MITF:
>(1)  The system was built to handle up to 20,000 members;  currently,
>however, the total number of verified applications is over 52,000,
>increasing at a rate of 1,000 to 2,000 per day.  See
> for updated statistics.  The system
>has been taking applications since February;  the server error problems have
>only arisen in the last 2 weeks, as some large media sources have decided to
>push hard for last-minute applications.

And so, it seems, have some ccTLD registrars.

However, what he says isn't true, strictly speaking. In late April and early May, N-TV, a German news channel began airing a ten-minute infomercial on ICANN, which specifically promoted the upcoming .eu TLD. Around the same time, Der Spiegel online began its "ICANN!" membership-drive campaign. The success of these campaigns has been quite clear for several weeks from the levels of German participation in the MAL (the national breakdown of MAL participation is here; and someone less certain of his prognostications might have taken those successes as indications that the initial projections were off.

>(2)  The vast increase in applications presents two sets of problems:  (a)
>technical, and (b) financial.        

Note McLaughlin's job description:

Responsible to the CEO and Board for planning and development of the
corporate policy agenda. Provides for policy staff support to the Board,
executive staff, committee Chairs and Supporting Organization Councils.
Identifies needs for policy studies and analysis, including requirements
for acquisition and maintenance of databases and other forms of
information, both internal and external, to support policy work.
Supervises and coordinates corporate policy staff and external policy
consultants and resources.


>(3)  Technically, the system is receiving more "join" requests than the
>system can handle.  As noted, the system has been able to process 1,000 to
>2,000 applications a day, but most people attempting to apply get some kind
>of error message.  Most of the massive increase in applications has come
>from China.

1,000-2,000 applications per day = 42-84 per hour = 0.7-1.4 per minute -- the computational equivalent of the life of Reilly. They must be running the MAL signup on a Gameboy.

>(4)  Financially, ICANN's funding for the At Large Membership is inadequate
>to pay for such a massive increase in applications.  The primary costs come
>in the form of postage for the PIN letters, and personnel time to scrub the
>database, process applications, print PIN letters, answer requests for help,
>etc.  Again, we planned on a maximum of 20,000 members, not over 100,000, as
>we are currently on track to reach.  Extension of the deadline would, by
>necessity, require a proportionally massive increase in funding for At Large
>membership -- and I have yet to see any such source of funding.             

McLaughlin takes as a given that MAL-related costs should be covered by purpose-specific funding (the Markle Foundation's $200,000 grant) rather than being drawn from ICANN's operating budget. In his view, if there's no funding, there's no MAL. Markle's effort backfired wickedly: by underfunding the MAL effort, they gave ICANN the excuse it wanted to whittle the MAL down. If there had never been any external funds specifically dedicated to the MAL, ICANN would have had to pay for its establishment just as it covered the cost of creating its other components groups.

One source has pointed out that splitting the PIN between a postcard and an email would have been equally if not more secure and much cheaper.

>(5)  Making the problem worse, some media organs in various countries have  
>been behaving quite irresponsibly, characterizing the At Large elections as
>a kind of test of national strength.  The result is that many people with no
>understanding of ICANN are being pushed to register for membership.  By way
>of example (I do not mean to single out Chinese media for a misconception
>that is far more widespread), take a look at the following story from China
>Online (particularly the last paragraph):

Here is where we finally confront ICANN's Ubu-sized arrogance and stupidity. Rather than admit that the MAL effort is mutating into something ICANN didn't anticipate or intend, McLaughlin denounces the media, which are "irresponsible" because they're encouraging people with no a priori "understanding of ICANN" to participate. ICANN is for those who know; those who don't need not apply.

>>China - China fears Net users blase about influencing worldwide Web       
>>China Online
>>July 17, 2000
>>The mainland is deeply concerned that Chinese Internet users' lack of     
>>interest in affecting international policies concerning the Internet could
>>severely weaken China's influence.
>>China's Internet users seem uninterested in affecting the future       
>>international administration of the Web, including the assignment of domain
>>names. This has caused the China National Network Information Center       
>>(CNNIC), China's domain-name registration authority, to appeal urgently to
>>Chinese Internet users to register as soon as possible to help elect the      
>>board of the international Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and    
>>Numbers ( ICANN ), reported on July 14.
>>ICANN is the world's Internet domain-name management database. Each     
>>continent will elect one nation to represent it on ICANN 's board, which  
>>means these elections will affect national interests.
>(6)  At the moment we are working to implement both software and hardware  
>improvements that will increase the capability of the membership systems by
>3 to 10 times.  This will hopefully reduce the number of server overload
>messages encountered by applicants.  But we all have to be realistic -- even
>if we could expand capacity by 100 times, there is no money to pay for that
>increased number of members.  Our goal ought to be this:  to give interested
>people in all parts of the world a fair (if not guaranteed) opportunity to 
>Best regards,
>     -------------------------------------------------------------------       
>andrew mclaughlin           |    chief policy officer & cfo                
>internet corporation for assigned names and numbers
>  |     

Note well: Our goal ought to be this: to give interested people in all parts of the world a fair (if not guaranteed) opportunity to join.

Two questions for McLaughlin: if that vaporous minima ought to be ICANN's goal, what is ICANN's goal? And, as always, who decides what's "fair"?

Tue Jul 25 00:54:25 EDT 2000

Three new gTLDs

The roving_reporter "predicts" that ICANN will promote the following three new gTLDs:

.eu -- This proposal for a regional TLD began surfacing in late 1999, and its fast-track status (avoiding the normal "bottom-up" procedural sideshow of ICANN's Domain Name Supporting Organization [DNSO] or Working Group C) suggests it's a winner. ICANN will approve it in an attempt to curry favor with Eurocrats and with the European contingent in the Governmental Advisory Committee. It will also help to undermine the country-code registrars' criticism of ICANN as a U.S. organization -- a necessity if ICANN is ever to extract 35 percent of its annual budget from them.

.banc -- When NSI proposed this gTLD, it met with widespread perplexity; since then, though, one piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. On July 19, the Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued an alert warning banks of instances in which customers had transmitted sensitive information to lookalike domains. A "chartered" TLD for retail financial institutions would please a major segment of the financial sector and make for good press: ICANN could present itself as taking measures to protect the little guy from con artists. It'll be interesting to see which agency ends up controlling the TLD, to say nothing of the rules it adopts for vetting institutions: banking is a competitive business, of course, and the power to delegate administration of the .banc gTLD is no joke.

.enum -- "Enum"? Yes, enum: for mapping telephone numbers onto DNS. The fact that, like "banc" with a "c", it's Franco-friendly, is just the icing: one layer of the cake is who benefits, namely, the ITU and its main constituents, telcos and PTTs. For an embattled organization like ICANN, these will be very useful friends indeed. The other layer is who loses, namely, the country-code registrars. At Yokohama, there were rumblings of indeterminate source that ICANN might "check" with national governments to see whether those pesky ccTLD registrars who aren't paying tribute have their delegation papers in order. .enum will assuage telcos worldwide, and provide them with a clear entree into the registration business. But the ITU had better be doing a masterful job of drawing up the .enum technical specs; if they foobar it, voice over IP could be dealt a stunning blow and could take a lot of "convergence" down with it.

I think these three TLDs are done deeds, and that ICANN's much-touted nonrefundable $50,000 TLD applications are, more than anything else, a fund-raising ploy. And with friends in high places like the Eurocracy, banks, the ITU, and telcos, why would ICANN want a bunch of lusers on the Board? The answer is clear: they don't. That's why, at Yokohama, they all but announced that the second phase of the Membership At Large elections won't take place, and that they might even cut short the terms of the first-phase MAL board members.

Mon Jul 24 09:42:09 EDT 2000


Those business-hating domain-name fanatics are attacking ICANN again. This time it's the famously hot-headed founders of PFIR, People For Internet Responsibility, Peter S. Neumann (see below) and Lauren Weinstein, moderator of the PRIVACY Forum -- a couple of loose cannons if ever there were some. Among the radical suggestions they make are the possibility of an alternative root (which, saints preserve us, would require "system administrators and users [to] edit a few files on their systems") and "a completely new, more formally structured, not-for-profit, internationally-based organization" to replace ICANN.s

Keep a sharp eye on Dave Farber's IP list, the official vehicle for unofficial responses from the ICANN potentates. [Note: Keith Dawson rightly pointed out that ICANN officers are much less inclined to publicly respond to criticisms now than they were, say, a year ago.]


PFIR's magisterial statement echoes criticisms made at ICANN's recent Yokohama meeting -- quite sternly by Chris Wilkinson, the EU's lead representative to ICANN and member of ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), and more amiably but no less ominously by Paul Twomey, GAC's head and until recently the CEO of Australia's National Office for the Information Economy.

Wilkinson singed a few eyebrows when he condemned what, after nine changes to the by-laws in less than two years, has clearly become ICANN's M.O. for wriggling out of accountability:

I think it is a great mistake to initiate the debate [about whether or how users should be represented on the board through Membership At Large Board seats] on the basis of by-law changes; the Board is increasingly giving the impression of being extremely cavalier in changes to the by-laws. (RealFnord, at 8:06:42)

In the same session, Twomey drove the point home:

There can be two paths that this organization could end up going down. One path is a path six months' time...the organization has essentially become an international industry association where the definition of the internet community is actually the supply-side....and ICANN becomes an international organization that provides services to those people [ccTLD administrators, TLD administrators, content providers, trademark holders, and network and registry controllers]. The alternative is that it becomes an organization firmly focused upon the needs of the users, and [unclear] definition of the internet community which is around the user base and [defining] stability [in terms of] the user base.... The organization runs the risk of potentially becoming a de facto industry association. If it were to do so, it would need to recognize, I think, that governments [and] competition and consumer protection organizations would may much more attention to the activities of ICANN and would begin to apply tests to ICANN around consumer protection issues and around monopoly problems.... (RealFnord, at 03:39:00)

We shall see if anything comes of the PFIR statement. Regardless, it's clear that ICANN's hijinks are convincing a growing number of people that it is an irredeemable organization.

Mon Jul 24 00:10:45 EDT 2000

Virtual protests

In another occasional column in Telepolis I wrote a snippet last April about a couple of French artists who staged a peaceful sit-in in an Unreal death match. A Stanford student has documented a less peaceful protest in Ultima Online.

Mon Jul 24 00:22:25 EDT 2000


The National Writers Union sent a letter to Steven Brill complaining that his latest pet project, Contentville, has been publishing writings it doesn't have the rights to. In his response, Brill claims that Contentville's suppliers provided contractual assurance of rights clearances. If what he says is true, then the initial breaches occurred earlier in the various distribution chains. Since it probably is true, there's a good chance that establishing who did what and when will end up consuming whatever royalties would have been paid out (and then some). If this situation is generalizable (and I think it is), then rights-based royalties don't scale well; and there's little reason to think their ability to scale will improve as time goes by.

Sat Jul 22 01:03:31 EDT 2000

Buy^W Encode American

The 15 July 2000 issue of Cryptogram includes a brief and amazing item: Bruce Schneier argues that Unicode, the souped-up heir to ASCII capable of encoding just about every character currently in use by mankind, "is just too complex to ever be secure." He explains:

With the ASCII character set, we could carefully study a small selection of characters, categorize them clearly, and make relatively straightforward decisions about the nature of each character. And even here, there have been mistakes.... Still, a careful designer can figure out a safe way to deal with any possible character that can come off an untrusted wire by elimination if necessary.

If this statement were about anything other than character encodings, it would sound like the ravings of a nativist steeped in nineteenth-century typological racism and criminology. Of course, his remarks are about character encodings, and they're are almost certainly technically correct. But let's not forget that computer security is, among other things, a provincial subdiscipline -- a backwater town that, due to changing social circumstances, has suddenly been elevated to the status of a capital city. Small wonder that its response to unknown influxes would be shaded by the technical equivalent of xenophobia. The fact that its responses may be technically correct doesn't mean that we should turn a blind eye to the cultural assumptions it promotes. Security shouldn't be the only or even the primary consideration in any aspect of communication -- especially when it inadvertently promotes a baroque form of nationalism. And the A in ASCII does stand for American. (I should add: This is not ad hominem directed at Schneier. I'm sure he's a fine person, and his dedication to his field is impressive.)

Sat Jul 22 12:08:59 EDT 2000

Two approaches to DNS

The Internet Architecture Board's (IAB) RFC2826 reads a bit like a medieval confession of faith:

To remain a global network, the Internet requires the existence of a globally unique public name space. The DNS name space is a hierarchical name space derived from a single, globally unique root. This is a technical constraint inherent in the design of the DNS. Therefore it is not technically feasible for there to be more than one root in the public DNS. That one root must be supported by a set of coordinated root servers administered by a unique naming authority.

In hunting down this RFC, I made a happy discovery: uses RFC + number as a hostname for serving up an RFC -- for example, RFC2826 is available at Hostnames are, of course, a component of DNS, but x42 is using them to obviate the file structure component of a URL. This is more than just excellent design: it's an excellent example of why we should allow the DNS system to develop fluidly rather than freezing it to serve parochial interests.

Mon Jul 17 14:13:45 EDT 2000

RISKS and NewsScan

Over the last several months, Peter G. Neumann has been relying more and more heavily on NewsScan for news summaries in the venerable email digest RISKS he moderates. This is really bad news, IMO. NewsScan is fine for what it is, i.e., a newsblurb service. But RISKS isn't a syndicator of newsblurbs, or at least it wasn't during the many years over which its built up its formidable reputation. NewsScan gets stuff seriously wrong sometimes. Today's example:

ICANN, the global Internet name regulator, has approved a plan to expand beyond the seven top level Internet domain names, with the new addresses possibly appearing as early as next year. The new names could include .shop, bank, .travel, .museum and .sex, but no decisions on exactly which names would be added have been reached. Meanwhile, critics of the decision include groups that had lobbied for non-western-alphabet names and current owners of com names who now must worry about protecting their trademarks by registering new names. (Financial Times 17 Jul 2000)

The need for brevity is no excuse for flogging the kind of rubbish to be found in this last sentence. Hopefully, PGN's reliance on NewsScan is a temporary condition; if not, RISKS may slowly devolve from an excellent source of informed analysis of new problems into a useful archive from a past period.

Mon Jul 17 13:11:20 EDT 2000

New paradigms, not

IT rags feature lots of ads for posh-looking rack-mount servers that are only a few inches high; the driving force behind this type of industrial design is the fact that co-location facilities assess fees in part on the basis of the vertical height of a server. This is hardly unprecedented. When the city center of Amsterdam was being built up in the early seventeenth century, property taxes were assessed in part on the basis of a building's width -- which is why buildings there tend to be skinny. And the Netherlands is legendary for using dikes to manufacture new territory: the nation has an extensible architecture. La plus ça change.

Mon Jul 17 13:11:53 EDT 2000

Weblog chronology

Most websites that incorporate new material on a regular basis (especially weblogs) "prepend" it to the existing material, on the theory that this makes the site more "usable": readers can quickly see whether the page has changed since they last checked it. True enough, I suppose; but the assumption that "usability" trumps any and every other concern is a bit naive. (Discussions about "usability" are, in large part, the same old kid -- literary theory -- in brand-new drag.) Usability is important, sure; but so are other concerns -- for example, the interplay between entries. In thinking about the roving_reporter, I've found that working on one entry tends to lead to another entry; but hewing to the normal "inverted" order would directly conflict with that pattern. Roving_reporter entries will be roughly chronological. If I move to the suburbs, where for some reason there's more time in the day than there is in Manhattan (where I now live), maybe I'll work on a last-entry link at the top of the page.

Mon Jul 17 13:12:06 EDT 2000

PR for Carnivores

The FBI has put up a page explaining the circumstances surrounding this new "Carnivore" system that's got everyone's knickers in a twist. The statement appears to be more fact-filled than most of what's been said on the subject, but it's spinning faster too. ("Signal-to-noise ratio" is a handy formulation; I think a fact-to-spin ratio would be useful too.) It's also an excellent example of why a sudden efflorescence of warm-fuzzy words merits a hairy eyeball: "The FBI is sharing information regarding Carnivore with industry at this time to assist them in their efforts to develop open standards for complying with wiretap requirements." Sharing, assist, efforts, open... Just warms the cockles of your heart, doesn't it?

Tue Jul 11 00:37:28 EDT 2000

After eighteen months, ICANN's application for 501(c)(3) -- that is, a federal classification as tax-exempt not-for-profit -- status still hasn't been approved by the IRS. Considering the fact that ICANN is a "just-in-time" corporation created to the specifications of the US Department of Commerce, and considering as well that the strongmen on its board and its legal representatives are extremely well-connected, this seems awfully curious. If the IRS denies ICANN's application, that would definitely spark a "legitimation crisis": ICANN would be reduced to the status of a dotcom. But given ICANN's propensity for shaking down everyone in sight for money, if the IRS approved the application it would run the risk of kissing off some serious revenues. Hence, I suspect, the IRS's wait-and-see stance.

Tue Jul 11 00:41:33 EDT 2000


Slashdot reported "a new suite of internet protocols that perform the function of DNS, TCP, and UDP in a manner that's both untraceable and untappable," called Fling. It's good to see some serious energy going into the implementation of venerable Cypherpunk ideas like onion routing, but the "philosophy behind Fling" is a tour de force of atavistic bile and bombast:

The impossible morality of anti-life "altruism" (that sacrifice is to be exalted and self interest damned) leaves anyone who believes it either a self-torturer by sacrifices, or a self-torturer by guilt at being "too selfish" to commit slow suicide.... In the end though, the final argument against censorship must be the absolute principle that reality is reality.

Smells like teen vapor.

The above material is Copyright © 2000 by t. byfield.

The r_r began as a semi-collaborative nym on the <nettime> list, where it worked well; but the pseudonym precluded comments, and there was more to report than was good for the list, so now it -- or a mutation of it -- has resurfaced on TBTF. [ top]


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