A Curmudgeon's Look at Business and Technology
April 21, 2000
Number 27

by Kevin G. Barkes

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     We've been jiggling and adjusting some things at kgb.com in the past few weeks.

     We've redesigned the web site to reduce the size of the pages and the number of graphic images they contain. It appears visitors want speed over aesthetics, and we're happy to oblige. Most pages now take half as much time to load. We're also switching back to our former web hosting service, ConcentricHost, to reduce the cost and effort associated with maintaining our Internet presence. ISP changes generally cause some disruptions in email handling; if you send us a message and don't receive a response in a timely manner, just send your message again.

     The biggest change concerns KGB Report; it's now a "webzine", available for free on the kgb.com website. We hope to support the newsletter by increasing online readership and through advertising.

     To that end, we'd appreciate it if you'd consider forwarding the email new issue announcement to friends and associates. If you're reading this newsletter on the web site, please go to the top of the page and fill in the simple form for a free subscription of your own.

     We appreciate the interest and support our readers have shown us. The changes we've incorporated will significantly decrease our "overhead" activities, and provide more time for actually writing the newsletter.

Cable Modem Blues :

     Not to be, in Woody Allen's words, a "sadistic, hippophilic necrophile", but cable television based Internet services continue to attract bad press. For those of you keeping score, cable modems are Not Necessarily A Good Thing because: a) throughput slows as more subscribers are added, sometimes dipping to glacial 28k levels; b) their static IP addresses make systems without firewall protection sitting ducks for hackers; and c) you can't legally connect servers to them.

     Virtually all cable ISPs monitor their traffic closely. When the data police see more packets leaving your computer than entering it, they assume you're running a server, give you a cease and desist order and, in some cases, pull the plug. The latest Big Thing to wallop cable systems upside the head is the infamous Napster program. Yep, the MP3 music file exchange program that is bringing college and university networks to its knees is also clogging the cable pipes big time. Napster and its decentralized cousin, Gnutella, turn your computer into a wide area network file server, and some cable ISPs are rumbling about taking draconian measures.

Why America Is Great:

     Persons who feel our country has lost its intellectual and technological edge need look no further than United States Patent Number 5,443,036, "Method of Exercising a Cat". Yes indeed, The United States Patent and Trademark Office granted patent protection to an idea by two guys from Virginia for using a laser beam to amuse felines. The official abstract: "A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct." This is a totally new idea? And "any other animal with a chase instinct?" That pretty much covers male teenagers, lawyers and Darva Conger.

     And then there's United States Patent Number 5,501,650, granted to an Illinois man for an "automated masturbatory device" featuring a "variable speed motor powering a crankshaft driven sealed transducer producing pneumatically induced reciprocating motion of a receiver... [which] produces a stroke of approximately 3 inches at a frequency of up to 350 per minute."

     The inventor notes the device is "self-powered and functions 'hands-off' ", which is a relief. I don't want my hands near anything running at 350 cycles per minute, or, come to think of it, any other body parts, either. On the plus side, the device boasts a "hermetic system to prevent loss of synchronization", which sounds somewhat reassuring.

     As potentially dangerous as this doohickey sounds, it's a great improvement over the designs the inventor cited in three prior patents which "required the use of a check valve 56, a manually adjustable needle valve 58, and a spring loaded valve 62." Right on. Those manually adjustable needle valves can really kill the mood, you know?

     While this pair of patents appears to make amazon.com's claims to one-click order processing and web affiliate programs somewhat less outrageous, it's comforting to know the government is taking a hard look at the way it reviews and approves web-related "business method" patents.

     The patent office will be removed from the Commerce Department, redesignated a separate agency, and henceforth will be "performance-driven". Although the change won't affect patents already granted, the reorganization will supposedly make it more difficult to obtain protection for ideas that are absurdly general, patently (sorry) obvious or overly broad.

Don't Say No:

     One of the worst things you can do with unsolicited email ("spam") is to respond to the sender's seemingly generous request to remove you from future mailings. Here's the scam: many spammers buy lists of email addresses from sources boasting tens of millions of addresses. The problem is many of those millions of addresses are invalid or inactive. For example, our mail server here at kgb.com routinely rejects 50 to 100 emails every day directed to callers of our old BBS system, which hasn't been up for several years. So much for "current addresses". Anyway, when you ask to be removed from a mailing list, what you've actually done is confirm there's a human at the address who reads junk email. Bad move.

     I used to spend hours tracking addresses in email headers and sending outraged email to the clueless ISPs who, for the most part, were unaware they had given a spammer a home. Now I just hit the delete key. If you're so inclined to take a more proactive role, you can follow a few simple steps. First, get yourself a free email account at Hotmail or a similar venue. Use that address when visiting websites, reading newsgroups or participating in insecure mailing lists and other potential spam collection sources. Only give your real email address to those who absolutely need to know it, and threaten those individuals with death or mandatory attendance at a Paulie Shore film festival if they distribute it to anyone else. There are a number of people on my poopy list for giving my private email address to websites like freelotto.com and other spam magnets.

Kiddie Porn Update:

     The good news: lo-li-ta.org no longer shows up on a whois search of the Network Solutions domain name database. That's because I didn't pay the company's invoices for the registration fee, I guess. Network Solutions never responded to any of my faxes, emails or letters. The bad news: the handle the miscreant used to create the offending site is still in their database, which means he can still register domains with my company's information.

     After thirty minutes on hold (on my nickel), a Network Solutions customer service rep told me what I have to do to get the offending handle removed. Surprise: it's exactly the same procedure I was told to follow to have the domain name itself removed which, if you recall, didn't work. When I complained about the prior lack of response, I was informed that Network Solutions "receives over three million requests a month" and that I should, in effect, just shut up and wait until they get around to me in their own good time. Sigh.

     While it's little comfort, I'm not alone in my problems with Network Solutions. Wired has a report on the latest major domain hijacking incident and lots of links to other stories dealing with similar debacles.

     For the entire sordid story of how Network Solutions made me a kiddie porn purveyor, see http://www.kgbreport.com/kgbreport/20000113.html.

Hackers or in-house morons?

     While Internet security is definitely a problem, it appears some hacker attacks can be attributed to... well, stupidity.

     Last month, a professor at MIT reported a malicious intruder had altered the grades of one of his classes. He later reported the "alterations" were due to someone incorrectly sorting an Excel spreadsheet. Instead of highlighting all the columns in the report, an aide erroneously performed a sort only on the "names" column, thereby scrambling the results.

     National Discount Brokers Group, Inc. likewise initially reported that the online brokerage had been disrupted by a "hacker-like attack". The firm later recanted, stating service interruptions were due to "software incompatibilities" with a third-party services provider. Unlike MIT, the brokerage firm was considering "judicial relief", namely suing the pants off the unnamed vendor. Then again, graduate students generally don't have very deep pockets.

The Official KGB Windows 2000 Migration Advisor:

     Not yet.

KGB in the News:

     KGB Report was mentioned in the Pipeline column in the March issue of Contract Professional magazine. Writer Lynn Geiger quoted some of our final observations about Y2K mania. See "Out with the Old Stuff, In with the New".

Y2K Redux...

     Favorite Y2K item, from "The Lower Case", a collection of newspaper gaffes published in the Columbia Journalism Review:

Did you experience any Y2K technical problems?
Due to technical difficulties, the results of
Saturday's question were not available.
--The Denver Post, 1/2/00

Worrisome things over which you have no control:

     With the relatively uneventful passing of Y2K, compulsive worriers have had little grist on which to chew. Open wide for these nuggets:

  • In Australia, 11 giant snails "the size of small dogs" (according to Declan Curry of the BBC, reporting on ABC's World News Now ) escaped into the wild, threatening to destroy the country's ecosystem. Each snail can lay 1,200 eggs a year, and the mollusks supposedly eat just about anything.
  • Deleting files and email messages you don't want your boss to see is no guarantee you won't get nailed anyway. According to the Wall Street Journal, some companies are installing keystroke capture software on their workers' machines. Every tap and mouseclick is stored and can be searched for suspect keywords, so the Office Nazis can gather incriminating evidence even if you kill that nasty memo instead of sending it.
  • Mosquitoes infected with exotic deadly illnesses can be carried undetected from the tropics to North America in the landing gear compartments of jetliners.
  • Thanks to warm winters, less snowfall and higher evaporation rates, the Great Lakes are drying up. Lakes Michigan and Huron have dropped nearly three feet in the past three years, the greatest decline since recordkeeping began 140 years ago.
  • Nielsen NetRatings reported the top porn site on the web, porncity.net, had more unique visitors in January than ESPN.com, CDNOW or barnesandnoble.com.
  • Very few west coast-based dot com businesses have hardened their operations to deal with the region's earthquake threat. Wired says a big temblor could cause massive international disruptions in e-commerce. God doesn't even need to get into the act to wreak havoc. Construction workers sliced through 11,000 copper phone lines in San Jose recently, and it took Pacific Bell a week and 100,000 splices to get all the circuits up and running again.
  • The term "car crash" could have an entirely new meaning in the near future. Currently, the computers and microprocessors in automobiles are isolated devices, each controlling specific operations and functions. New designs on the drawing boards will connect on-board vehicle systems with the outside world, permitting them to talk with other networks via wireless Internet links... which increases the possibility of hackers accessing an automobile's onboard systems.

KGB Trivia:

     Answer to our previous question: Invented by the Emerson Drug company, Fizzies were marketed from 1957 until 1968, when they were voluntarily withdrawn due to their cyclamate content. Reformulated with NutraSweet, they were reintroduced nationally in 1995. The Fizzies web site notes it's impossible to make the treat without artificial sweeteners: using sugar would require a tablet "the size of a hockey puck." Congrats to Tom Heald of Rapid City, SD, who was the first person with the correct answer.
     This issue's question: Minuet in G (which many experts now say was written not by J.S. Bach, but by Christian Petzold) was briefly featured in the 1995 film Mr. Holland's Opus. The easy part: name the 1965 hit pop song adapted from the work. The hard part: name the 1984 film in which the melody played an even more important role. Hint: the computer-related movie is probably best known for its musical connections to the 1983 hit Flashdance. Email your answer to trivia@kgbreport.com.

Useless Web Sites of the Week:

     http: //www.deadsquirrel.com/ is the official home page of the Squirrel Defamation League , a group dedicated to the obliteration of the rodents the site's owners call "tree rats". Did you know squirrels were primarily responsible for the Black Plague in Europe? That they are "insane little creatures" that will attack any animals or humans who approach them? That squirrels castrate the male young of other squirrels? (They probably smack their lips when they eat, too.) The site also features links to video clips showing the nasty little beasts engaging in anti-social behavior.

      http://www.miketheheadlesschicken.org is a site that defies description. It's about a rooster that thrived for 18 months after having its head chopped off and the ensuing annual festivities inspired by the fortuitous decapitation. Just go there. Trust me.

     If real-life animal adventures are too disturbing to you, check out http://www.pcola.gulf.net/~irving/bunnies/index.html, where some folks with way too much time on their hands engage in various sadistic tests with bunnies, peeps and other forms of Easter candy.

Quotations of the Week:

  • If you've got Nasdaq stock, it's like having Confederate currency.-Robin Williams
  • In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.-George Dyson
  • You can go and find a mailbox right now, open the door to a tin box, tin door, no lock, with unencrypted information in English, sealed in a paper-thin envelope with spit, yet people are worried about online privacy.-Scott McNeally
  • Imagine how weird your phone would look if your mouth was nowhere near your ears.-Steven Wright
  • Ever notice that people never say "It's only a game" when they're winning?-Ivern Ball
  • The importance of information is directly proportional to its probability.-Claude Shannon
  • Everybody knows where the Reset button on a Windows machine is. VAXes don't need a Reset button.-Allison Parent
  • As long as people will accept crap, it will be financially profitable to dispense it.-Dick Cavett
  • Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.-Thomas Edison

     The KGB Random Quotations Generator has over 4,000 entries and is frequently updated. Visit it online at http://www.kgbreport.com/kgbquote.shtml, and be sure to try the search feature.

KGB Report, Number 27, April 21, 2000 (electronic ISSN:1525-898X; print ISSN: 1525-9366)
Written by Kevin G. Barkes
Published by KGB Consulting, Inc., 1512 Annette Avenue, Library, Pennsylvania (USA) 15129-9735-125. Phone: 412.854.2550; fax: 412.854.4707; email: kgbreport@kgbreport.com.Copyright © 2000-2009 by KGB Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the consent of the publisher, except for brief excerpts with full source attribution. So there. Internet web site syndication provided by iSyndicate.com. This issue's Flesch-Kincaid reading level: grade 11.3. Subscriptions to electronically distributed versions of KGB Report are available at no cost. Printed subscriptions delivered via first class mail are also available. For additional information, send requests to the street address listed above or email mailsub@kgbreport.com.
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