Electronic Newsletter

Volume 1, Number 6
December 10, 1996
Published irregularly by Scott C. Holstad

Copyright Notice
Copyright (C) 1996  Scott C. Holstad
All enclosed material may be used for non-commercial purposes.

DISCLAIMER The views and analysis expressed in Tek Thots are the author's
own, and do not in any way reflect the views of EarthLink Network, Inc.,
the author's employer.


-- News/Editorial
-- PC Thots
-- Mac Thots
-- Web Development Thots
-- This Issue's Plug-in
-- This Issue's ActiveX Control
-- Stock Thots
-- Game Thots
-- Newbie Thot
-- Privacy/Security Thots



*	Welcome to the sixth issue of Tek Thots.  I'm not sure why, but the
readership is growing exponentially.  I originally started this to give
some friends of mine some info, as well as to give me the chance to squawk
a bit about things.  Now, my friends c ertainly comprise a distinct
minority of the readership; indeed, last week, we got about 75 new readers
alone.  Well, feel free to write in with ideas, suggestions, criticisms,

*	Microsoft keeps whittling away at Netscape's browser lead. Now, not only
do they own the commercial onlines, but they continue to put other
companies in their back pocket as well. Now, Arthur Anderson, Sprint, and
Compaq have all agreed to use IE3 as th eir default intranet browser. 
Frankly, no matter how much spin you hear coming from Netscape, they're
already dead -- it's just a matter of time.  Kind of sad too. 

Do you keep up with the stats over at Browser Watch?  Most recent stats --
browsers visiting their site: roughly 55% are Netscape, while IE3 is
closing on 40%. 

*	Backbone news: Last month, Sprint unveiled the first 155MB transoceanic
Internet backbone link to Europe.  The connection will route TCP/IP
traffic between the New Jersey Sprint NAP and a node in Stockholm,
operated by Swedish ISP, Tele2.  Sprint also s aid it was enhancing its
SprintLink with the addition of OC3 (155MB) backbone links by the end of
the year.  Sheesh -- and all I want is ISDN in my home. 

*	AOL's new pricing plan went into effect last week.  So, what happened? 
Try 8 MILLION hits a day!  Still, people complain, and with good reason. 
The system is now crawling At least, AOL changed their much-criticized
plan to migrate all existing custom ers to the new pricing plan (more than
doubling their former fees) after a frustrated AOL user (Stephen DiLorenzo
) filed a suit, claiming the automatic price increase violates New York
state law. 

*	The Well's been trying to die a painful death recently.  They bought
Hooked back in the summer, a shoddy outfit if I've ever seen one.  I
predicted in a number of Well conferences that this would adversely affect
the Well's ability to sustain its high s tandards.  Was I right!  When the
Hooked move became final this past summer, they moved from Sausilito to
San Francisco, and their servers died repeatedly in the process.  Bruce
Katz emailed me an apology for their lack of mail service, but that did
nothi ng to improve things.  Used to be, you could call up and talk to
someone then and there if there were problems.  No more -- you get the
blessed menu. 

Well, over two months ago, their Web server logs went down.  I emailed a
status report request twice in those two months, only to receive four
increasingly nasty messages basically telling me to mind my own business,
as the Access Watch program was down, and they were repairing it.  Two
months, folks?  You evidently need to hire some more qualified people. 

Last week, I got an email from someone stating that this was commonplace
for dial-up customers, but business customers had full access.  This
person suggested a class action lawsuit.  I was willing to listen.  Two
days later -- surprise -- we once again h ad log access! 

To top it off, some geek suggested that it literally did take over two
months to fix Access Watch -- that it was only coincidental re the
proposed lawsuit.  Uh huh.  Later someone (the aptly named Earl Crab, at
http://www.river.org/~esoft/) suggested that , as my homepage lists
EarthLink as my employer, I must have a secret "agenda" for making these
complaints.  Uh huh.  Look, kiddo, if I were engaged in industrial
sabotage, or some such idiocy, do you think I would so brazenly admit the
identity of my emp loyer on my homepage???  Moron! 

Finally, I just heard some rumors that the Well is dumping their news
server.  Gee, that's certainly the way to compete!  It's frustrating,
because the Well has long been the coolest -- it's sad to see them slip
like this. 

*	This is potentially cool.  SGI has just launched Flook, the title
character for the world's first VRML Web cartoon. (He kind of looks like
Jimminy Cricket.) Every Tuesday and Thursday, a new episode of Flook will
be available to be viewed and interacte d with, as long as it is seen with
a VRML 2.0-compliant viewer (like Cosmo Player).  Some have said the
potential exists for this to be one day looked at as the "Steamboat
Willie" of the Internet and new media.  While I'm not necessarily
convinced, it's k ind of a cool idea, and I'm interested in seeing how it
works out.  Got check out http://vrml.sgi.com/ and lemme know what you


PC Thots

*	On Saturday, Compaq issued a recall on AC adapters for its Armada 4100
notebook PCs.  Compaq did this when it discovered the AC adapters could
pose an electrical shock hazard to users -- gee, that's comforting! Only
AC adapters with both part number 217984-001 on the bar code label and
three hollow connector pins in the rece ssed male connector on the power
adapter are affected. Staggeringly, this potentially affects some 75,000

*	It looks like everyone is trying to get in on the Windows CE craze. 
Casio, NEC, Philips, and others are all putting out CE-based PDAs. 
Casio's Cassiopeia is going for around $600, NEC MobilePro is $500-$700,
and Philips' Velo around $600-$750.  It's g oing to be very interesting to
see where CE goes.  I tend to think it's a keeper. 


Mac Thots

*	It took a long time coming, but Pointcast (http://www.pointcast.com/)
finally has a Mac version.  You can download a beta and try it out
yourself.  While I'm glad to finally see one out, I can't help but wonder
if it's too late.  Many corporate intranet s ban things like Pointcast
because of bandwidth strain.  Moreover, you can go online now and get the
same type of personalized info (like from Excite Live and My Yahoo!). 

*	The first Mac-only ISP opened shop last month.  MacConnect can be found
at http://www.macconnect.com/.  They're going out of their way to provide
Mac-specific links and software, and they're flouting it in the process. 
It'll be interesting to see if th is goes anywhere. 


Web Development Thots

*	Last month, two bugs were found in Sun's Java Developers Kit.  The bugs
made it impossible for a Java-based Web site (being developed by Presence
Information Design) to handle the load from thousands of customers
simultaneously accessing the site.  The bugs are in the current version
1.0.2 of the Java VM, and they include thread-scheduling flaws and memory
management problems during high load periods.  The bugs were discovered
during the construction of Pac Bell's AtHand site, which maintains the
compan y's online directory service, merchant listings, editorial
services, and a variety of other services.  Frankly, I'm a little
surprised this hasn't happened sooner.  I've been saying for some time
that Java -- at this stage in its incarnation -- remains li ttle more than
hype.  It's not yet stable, is overrated in its uses, and I remain
somewhat skeptical of the billions being invested in it.  However, I'm
willing to be proven wrong, for the time being.  I do believe that, in one
or two years, Java might st art actually coming close to the meeting the
hyped expectations.... 

*	 Marimba and Macromedia just announced that Shockwave will be integrated
with the Marimba Castanet Tuner, and that developers currently using
Director will now be able to deliver content to Castanet Internet and
Intranet subscribers. 

* 	Brazil's Tabuleiro da Baiana Multimedia announced a new product called
WebXtra. It enables developers to create customized Internet browsers,
allowing users to navigate the Web from Director movies.  WebXtra relies
upon IE to display Web pages, and it also has an ActiveX container to
handle ActiveX controls.  While this sounds potentially cool, it's a
Win95, IE-based dev tool, and there are reports out there that over half
the developers around are Mac-based.  Seems they'd want to cater to the
Mac developers as well.... 

*	Wow!  Mark Pesce, the VRML king, announced his resignation from the
Virtual Architecture Group (VAG) and the Consortium. Evidently, one reason
for his resignation is "the undue influence various corporate development
partners allegedly have within those organizations."

Pesce told PC World this week: "The future of the spec belongs to the
Consortium. But the Consortium must not become the plutocratic playground
of big business. This is an abortion, a gross miscarriage of my original
intent and I will fight it with every fiber of my own being - from outside
the system - until we have a new configuration which actually represents
the communities from which it was created." 

Of course, VRML has grown beyond Pesce, but this is like Phil Zimmermann
turning his back on PGP -- perhaps even more astounding! 


This Issue's Plug-in

* 	Pixound (http://www.pixound.com/pixound/download.htm) is an interesting
new plug-in (for both Macs and PCs).  Check this out: when you run your
mouse over an image with a corresponding Pixound (.pxd) file, the colors
are translated into specific sounds .  You can go to the Pixound site
yourself to check out samples. 

The plug-in works with MIDI files, but it actually deals with a
Pixound-created MIME type with a .pxd suffix.  Using Pixound's composition
environment, developers save each "interactive musical experience" as a
.pxd file (for Web-based use) or as a Pixoun d applet (a standalone player
for offline usage).  The .pxd file is text-based and pretty small (1 kb!). 


This Issue's ActiveX Control

* 	Well, VB5CCE (Control Creation Edition ) is finally out!  I downloaded
a copy this week, but I haven't had time to play with it yet.  You can get
it at http://www.microsoft.com/vbasic/controls/.  In addition to VB5CCE
you'll find the VBVM (the Visual Basic Virtual Machine). It replaces the
MFC files that had to be packaged with VB-built apps to assure that they
could be run remotely.  The VBVM automatically gets downloaded when a user
tries to snag a control which isn't already installed.  More signif
icantly, it doesn't download if the user already has it! 

If the VBVM goes cross-platform (via the browser), writing controls in C++
won't make much sense, because you would then have to rewrite and
recompile them for each platform.  Writing controls to the Microsoft Java
VM or the VBVM makes more sense, simply because of IE. 


Stock Thots

*	Tandy announced it'll take a $20 million fourth quarter charge due to
the closing of 53 McDuff stores in Texas.  Tandy expects cash flow to
improve by $20 million as a result of the closures, which happened because
the stores were deemed to be no longer compatible with the company's plan.

*	The Cyrix CEO, Jerry Rogers, followed a bunch of his execs out the door
yesterday.  His resignation is the latest in a line of 'em, most due to
the company's virtual disappearance from the microprocessor market in
under a year.  Cyrix did a good job get ting decent chips out to
lower-tier computer manufacturers, but despite decent test results on
recent Cyrix chips, the company's been slow getting them out the door, and
sales have simply plummeted.  Now it looks like AMD may be ready to step
into the Cyr ix hole. 

*	Check this out: Cisco Connection Online (CCO), the company's
business-to-business Web site, has racked up $75 million in sales since it
was launched (which was only about five months ago).  In fact, things are
going so well for them, they're predicting online orders will exceed $1
billion by the end of its fiscal year!!! 


Game Thots

*	Eugene Ridenour, EarthLink's Gamemaster, gives us his scoop. 

PC Game of the Week: Master Of Orion II

Imagine a world where population growth is outstripping planetary
resources, where the need for galactic expansion is critical, and where as
the ruler, you must defend your empire while guiding a team of pioneers on
a search for life-sustaining resources.  Find the Moo2 demo at: 

Mac Game of the Week: GUNDAM 0079: THE WAR FOR EARTH

The Side 7 space colony is under siege by the relentless Zeon armada. 
Without a skilled mobile suit pilot, the Federation is doomed.  Find the
Gundam 0079 demo at: http://www.prestostudios.com/gundam.html. 


Newbie Thot

*	Imagine walking through a medieval castle, inspecting the armor lining
the musty halls and climbing the cobbled tower stairs so you can view the
moat through the tower windows; or flying through the solar system,
exploring planetary surfaces; or designi ng your dream home and all of its
components, developing each piece from the ground up, placing and
re-placing each item in every conceivable combination.  Imagine, if you
will, entering a virtual Alice-in-Wonderland world in which you are able
to interac t with every object, to pick up anything you want; to go to
virtual clubs and engage real people in scintillating chatter.  Soon --
very soon -- you'll be able to do these types of things, and more, and
VRML may well be the magic wand that makes it all possible. 

VRML is an acronym for Virtual Reality Modeling Language.  It's typically
pronounced as is (V-R-M-L), but some people use "vermel" instead.  It is a
type of programming language (such as HTML or Java) designed to allow 3-D
(three dimensional) objects and worlds to be displayed and experienced via
the World Wide Web. 

You can read my article, "Reality Check," (from which this text is
excerpted) at http://www.earthlink.net/daily/friday/vrml.html to learn
more about VRML. 


Privacy/Security Thots

*	Sick of spam?  Yeah, me too.  Well, one Ray Jones (ray@celestial.com)
has started filing small claims suits against spammers, his theory being
that if enough people do this, maybe the spammers will slow it down.  Even
if you don't walk away with tons of cash, if you win and the spammers don't pay up, they'll have various problems with credit and a variety of other things.  Jones has been holding his own in one of the 2600 newsgroups, catching some flak on the way for the idea that this effort won't work

Nonetheless, Jones is making an effort, of sorts.  He recently filed a
$2500 case against earthstar.com, which was kind enough to spam him five
times.  Info on the case can presumably be found by contacting the King
County District Court, State of Washing ton, Northeast Div., Small Claim
No. 9603591.  The court's phone number is 206-296-3667.  The trial is to
be Jan. 17, 1997. 

What do the Tek Thots readers think?

*	Sick of SYN flooding?  Berkeley, of course, has a patch out.  If you're
using something else, you might want to modify the way in which your
kernal deals with half-open connectivity, and you might want to reduce the
timeout interval. 

*	An interesting new book was recently published in New Zealand which
provides a fascinating insight into the international network by which
Western governments intercept electronic communications. 

Secret Power: New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network, by one
Nicky Hager, describes the communications monitoring system known as
ECHELON, jointly operated by the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and New
Zealand.  It's supposed to be compris ed of intercept stations located
around the world which automatically search thru millions of intercepted
messages for ones containing pre-specified keywords or email addresses. 

Hager writes, "The ECHELON system has created an awesome spying capacity
for the United States, allowing it to monitor continuously most of the
world's communications.... The capabilities of the ECHELON system are so
great, and the secrecy surrounding it makes it so impervious to democratic
oversight, that the temptation to use it for questionable projects seems

FAS has posted the first couple of chapters at
http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/ -- you might want to check it out. 

*	I'm posting something I snagged from Infowar.com
(http://www.infowar.com/CIVIL_DE/civil_1.html-ssi), because I think it's
fairly interesting.  (Don't sue me Winn -- I'm not making a dime off of

Executive Order #12923 

Date: Fri, 15 Nov 1996 17:23:24 -0800
From: Hal Finney 
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: National Emergency

Michael Froomkin posted to the cyberia list a pointer to the Clinton
administration's new export policy.  He has a copy on his web site at:
http://www.law.miami.edu/~froomkin/nov96-regs.htm. The thing I found
interesting is that it refers to the fact that we are currently living
under a state of national emergency!  I searched on the whitehous e web
site and couldn't find the executive order referred to (maybe it was
classified) but did find this one: 

                                             For Immediate Release         June 30, 1994

                                                             Executive Order

                                                                 - - - - - - -

               Continuation Of Export Control Regulations 

               By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including but not limited to section 203 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act ("Act") (50 U.S.C. 1702), I, William J.
 Clinton, President of the United States of America, find that the
unrestricted access of foreign parties to U.S. goods, technology, and
technical data and the existence of certain boycott practices of foreign
nations, in light of the expiration of the E xport Administration Act of
1979, as amended (50 U.S.C. App. 2401 et seq.), constitute an unusual and
extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy
of the United States and hereby declare a national emergency with respect
to t hat threat. 


Apparently this state of emergency is still in effect.  This is what gives
the President the power to unilaterally make changes in the export policy. 
It would be nice if our congresspeople would take some responsibility in
this matter. 


*	Mikko Hypponen, over at Data Fellows sent a note to CUD, stating that
any message sent out claiming to be from him, warning of a Microsoft Web
page virus is a hoax.  If you have questions, or if you've seen something
about this, write him at Mikko.Hyppo nen@datafellows.com. 

*	Will the madness never end?!?  Virus hoaxes are becoming more dangerous
than viruses themselves.  Check today's latest: 

>---------- Forwarded message ---------- >Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 09:38:48
-0500 >From: XXXXX  >To: sch@well.com >Subject:
(Fwd) Virus Alert > >Hello. Wanted you to be aware of the following. >
>Importance:  High > >If anyone receives mail entitled: PENPAL GREETINGS!
please delete it WITHOUT >reading it.  Below is a little explanation of
the message, and what it would >do to your PC if you were to read the
message.  If you have any questions or >concerns please contact SAF-IA
Info Office on 697-5059. > >This is a warning for all internet users -
there is a dangerous virus >propogating across the internet through an
ENTITLED "PENPAL GREETINGS!" > >This message appears to be a friendly
letter asking you if you are >interested in a penpal, but by the time you
read this letter, it is too >late.  The "trojan horse" virus will have
already infected the boot sector >of your hard drive, destroying all of
the data present.  It is a >self-replicating virus, and once the message
is read, it will AUTOMATICALLY >forward itself to anyone who's e-mail
address is present in YOUR mailbox! > >This virus will DESTROY your hard
drive, and holds the potential to DESTROY >the hard drive of anyone whose
mail is in your inbox, and who's mail is in >their inbox, and so on.  If
this virus remains unchecked, it has the >potential to do a great deal of
DAMAGE to computer networks worldwide!!!! > >Please, delete the message
entitled "PENPAL GREETINGS!" as soon as you see >it!  And pass this
message along to all of your friends and relatives, and >the other readers
of the newsgroups and mailing lists which you are on, so >that they are
not hurt by this dangerous virus!!!!

 > > >Carrick T. Troutman, Jr.
>Director, Military Systems Division >Subsystem Technologies, Inc. >102
Brookstone Court >Yorktown, VA 23693-5515

My response:

Thanks for the info.  Ironically enough, I received it on the same day
that a virus hoax piece I wrote appeared (at

This virus is a hoax.  The message contains similarities to the Good Times
and Deeyenda virus hoax messages.  More importantly, you can find info
validating the fact that it's a hoax (such as at

I looked up this Carrick Troutman fellow and gave him a call.  Turns out
that he'd just found out it's a hoax, but too late -- he's passed on this
info to tons of people.  I gave him the URLs of some places he can check
with for virus info before passing said info on. 

FYI, it's practically impossible for a virus to destroy your computer by
reading an email message.  Viruses are programs, which means they must be
executed.  Typically, then, they'll be in email attachments, not the
actual email messages. 

You might want to pass this info on. 

I know, believe me, I know about Macro viruses -- no need to write in
correcting me on the email thing.  Notice I qualify my statements
("practically," "typically,").... 

*	Well, I'm continuing the AV testing process.  I'm continuing to procure
AV evals, as well as viruses.  Here are the results. 

PRODUCT		        	Number Caught (out of 200)		%

Anywhere                                        199			99.5%
Dr. Solomon's FindVi ru         		198 			99%
F-PROT 			                        197	                97.5%
IBM Antivirus 		                       	195 			97.5%
Sophos Sweep 			                195 			97.5%
Invircible                                      195			97.5%
McAfee VirusScan 	               		195 			97.5%
Leprechaun			              	193			96.5%
Norton AntiVirus                  		192			96%

	* I planned on testing EliaShim's ViruSafe95, but it crashed every
PC we put it on.
	* Leprechaun crashed my system twice.

*	Have you heard about the new PGPcookie.cutter?  It's a $20 plug-in that
is supposed to provide some anonymity while browsing the Web (what a
concept!) by selectively blocking cookies.  PGPcookie.cutter includes a
feature which indicates the number of co okies that Web sites have
attempted to set and provides access to user preferences, which allow
users to conveniently indicate which cookies -- identified by domain name
-- they wish to allow or block. Additional features are supposed to
include a cookie warning that alerts users when a Web server is setting a
cookie on the browser, and a cookie ID, which displays all sites that have
placed cookies on one's browser.  It won't be available until next month,
but I'm anxious to try it out. 

*	Emmett Paige Jr., the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command,
Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3I), has been spilling a few
interesting tidbits recently.  While speaking at the Armed Forces Staff
College, he talked about the need to maint ain the leading edge in
technology, citing the joint efforts of the DISA, ARPA, DARO, NRO, NSA,
and CIO in Bosnia, where they are "bringing real-time fused intelligence
imagery to the deployed warfighters, including wide-band direct broadcast
support."  O ne of the results of this effort is the dissemination of live
Predator unmanned aerial vehicle imagery to key Bosnia-based nodes. 

In fact, Paige has said a lot of interesting things recently.  At the same
time as the above statements, he discussed DOD IS trends, including the
acquisition of "dominant battlespace knowledge," the need for precision
force (selective target destruction with minimal collateral damage), and
enhanced combat identification.  Paige also suggested that info warfare is
"the Achilles heel" of the 21st Century battlefield.  He later advocated
the use of COTS software for development, and asserted that the DOD wi ll
rely upon said software unless a need arises in which "no COTS solution
exists," in which case DOD will write ADA-based programs.  Interesting. 

In another speech to the 311th Theater Signal Command at Ft. Meade, he
discussed the Year 2000 dilemma, admitting that weapon systems will be
affected.  In fact, he estimated that about 5% of DOD code will be
affected.  I'm personally curious about that f igure; I'd love to know
who's feeding him this info. 

*	I came across an interesting program recently called PC-Track.  It
tracks satellites (including satellite orbits and ground station info),
and it comes pre-loaded with orbit data.  Think about it.  You can migrate
TLE (two line element) sets of orbit da ta into the PC-Track database. 
Classified satellite info.  Detection avoidance.  In certain types of
hands, this could prove ... worrisome. 

*	Taken from the Infopro-list (and edited by yours truly, primarily for

Puzzle Palace coauthor Wayne Madsen, in an article written for the June
1995 issue of Computer Fraud & Security Bulletin, wrote that "according to
well-placed sources within the Federal Government and the Internet service
provider industry, the National S ecurity Agency (NSA) is actively
sniffing several key Internet router and gateway hosts." 

Madsen says the NSA concentrates its surveillance on destination and
origination hosts, as well as "sniffing" for specific key words and
phrases.  He claims his sources have confirmed that the NSA has contracted
with an unnamed private company to develop the software needed to capture
Internet data of interest to the agency. 

According to Madsen, the NSA monitors traffic primarily at two Internet
routers controlled by NASA, one in College Park, MD (dubbed "Fix East")
and another at NASA Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale, CA ("Fix West"). 

Other NSA Internet sniffers, he said, operate at busy routers known as Mae
East and Mae West, CIX (based in San Jose), and SWAB (a northern Virginia
router operated by Bell Atlantic). 

Madsen says the NSA may also be monitoring traffic at various NAPs, the
large Internet gateways operated by regional and long-distance service
providers.  The NAPs allegedly under surveillance are in Pennsauken, NJ
(operated by Sprint), Chicago (run by Am eriTech and Bell Communications
Research), and San Francisco (Pac Bell). 

Madsen claims the NSA has deals with Microsoft, Lotus, and Netscape to
prevent anonymous email.  One senior Federal Government source has
reported that NSA has been particularly successful in convincing key
members of the US software industry to cooperate
 with it in producing software that makes Internet messages easier for NSA to intercept, and if they are encrypted, to decode," Madsen wrote.  "A knowledgeable government source claims that the NSA has concluded agreements with Microsoft, Lotus and Netsca
pe to permit the introduction of the means to prevent the anonymity of Internet electronic mail, the use of cryptographic key-escrow, as well as software industry acceptance of the NSA-developed Digital Signature Standard (DSS)." 

Is the NSA really snooping on the Net?  And if they are, would that
violate the agency's charter, which specifically prohibits it from spying
within the US?  "Well, Net traffic is routed from God knows where to God
knows where around the world," says Geor ge Washington University
Professor Lance Hoffman, a professor of Communications and
Telecommunications Systems Policy at George Washington University.  "So if
the NSA is doing this, they could say they are not violating their charter
not to spy in the US.   That's the thing.  Intelligent routers send stuff any which way."



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