March 2001

Real World
Web-wide World
Wired World
Wireless World
Hard World
Soft World

Real World

  • How should we protect children from the darker side of the Internet? This question has recently been considered in both the UK and Australia. In the UK, the focus has been on chat rooms, and the phenomenon of paedophiles 'grooming' vulnerable kids online. The Internet Crime Forum (ICF)'s paper 'Chat Wise, Street Wise' (available at http://www.internetcrimeforum.org.uk/) discusses the problem and presents a number of suggestions. The ICF places most of its emphasis on education and self-regulation, and as part of the Internet Watch Foundation its views are influential to the UK government.

    Australia, however, has taken a more regulatory approach to the question of children's Internet access. The theme of its recent legislation (available at http://www.richardalston.dcita.gov.au/regulation.html) is that any material freely available over the Internet must be child-friendly, where the same criteria that cover child-friendliness in films and other publications is applied to the online material. Access to any material considered to be 'adult' must be adequately restricted to adults, and material that would not otherwise be publishable is banned.

    Of course, this law is only going to be enforcable by Australia on Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who will be required to remove any material deemed in breach of the legislation. So what about dubious material from abroad? According to the Australian Government, its approach is not as hard-line as some reports suggest. Apparently it is not going to censor content coming into Australia, nor require ISPs to filter content. Rather, it is going to require ISPs to provide content filters to its users, who may then choose to use them.

    Addendum: the Australians are clearly on a roll, as they have just announced their intention to ban online gambling.
  • The question of who is in charge of content posted on Internet forums becomes increasingly complex. In the US the courts have ruled that websites cannot protect the identity of forum posters (in the way that newspapers can protect their sources) since these sites don't exercise editorial control over what is posted. But once a message is posted, then the site is still liable for what a posting says if it leaves it up in the face of complaints.

    We imagine that things are going to become more interesting when moderated forums come under legal scrutiny - will this moderation count as editorial control?
  • An anti-spam bill is making its way through the US legislative process after being passed by the House Commerce Committee. If passed, this will put in place welcome measures to stop people sending unsolicited multiple mailings jamming up your mailbox (although as America heads into recession, can it really afford to limit the opportunities to make 'unlimited $$$ guaranteed'?)
  • With debts running at £30 billion, telecomms giant BT is now reportedly considering a £5 billion share issue, as well as selling off its wireless operation, checking its pockets and looking behind the sofa.

Web-Wide World

  • The babelfish utility from Altavista (http://babelfish.altavista.com) provides translations between different languages. We're not sure how good the translation is, but look what happens when we translate these words from English to Italian and then back again! [The program of usefullness of the babelfish from Altavista (http://babelfish.altavista.com) supplies the translations between the different languages. Not sure We're how much bond the translation is, but look that what happens then when we translate these words from English to Italian and behind still!]
  • The second of this month's shameless plugs for our website. If you're interested in improving your search-engine ratings, then you might want to look at the new tutorial we have written, available at http://www.softsteel.co.uk/tutorials/searchindex/index.php. Last week the Guardian Online (coincidentally) contained an article on the same subject, but ours is better in that it contains useful information.

Wired World

  • If you read last month's newsletter you'll recall that, in talking once more about Napster, we raised the possibility of having a peer-to-peer file-swapping arrangement working without the central server. We have since been informed, to our chagrin, that Gnutella works in just this way. Apparently it is currently too small and buggy for the recording industry to come after seriously, but we wait to see what happens when things improve.
  • There seems to be a rather worrying trend developing in virus writing. Not content with just causing worry and annoyance themselves, virus writers have started to make the experience open to everyone. For example, the 'subSeven' Trojan is a program which allows a remote user to control a computer connected to the Internet. But it also comes with a 'software development kit' (SDK) allowing users to make changes to its behaviour. This in effect allows the virus to 'mutate', making it that much harder to detect.

Wireless World

  • Wireless operators seem to have taken against the all-in-one, pay-as-you-go mobile phone business. The lead was taken by One2One, who have increased the price of their pre-paid phones from £40 to £70, and reports are that it will soon be followed by Orange and Vodafone. It would seem that the real money is to be made by locking people into contracts.
  • The lastest hacking fad centres on wireless networks. Called 'war driving', it involves taking a laptop with a wireless LAN (local area network) card into a car, and driving near to likely firms so as to access, and then compromise, their systems.

    Apparently security models for wireless networks tend to be much less robust than those of their wired counterparts. According to online IT newspaper The Register (http://www.theregister.co.uk): "we understand that if you put in wireless card into your PC in hotel or airport environments fitted with wireless access, you can often get a network connection without any kind of authentication."
  • The first of two shameless plugs for the Softsteel website. We have written a series of introductory tutorials on WML, the page markup language for WAP phones. These are available at http://www.softsteel.co.uk/tutorials/wml/index.php. So if you'd like to get into WAP (now that folk have worked out that it's neither the best thing ever nor the worst thing ever) you know where to come.

Hard World

  • 'Market researchers' Gartner Group have predicted that a PC price war is in the offing. Fairly untendentiously they cite the current slowdown in the computer market as the trigger for the coming sales. So this year may be a good one to upgrade that PC.
  • Yamaha has just released the world's fastest CD Rewriter. Its stats seem impressive - '20 times writing, 10 times rewriting and 40 times reading and ripping' - although to be honest we're not entirely sure what the multiplicand is. Still, the following factoid gives a good idea of its speed - ripping (copying) a 74-minute CD takes it about three minutes.
  • The encryption on DVD disks is looking increasingly shaky - a couple of MIT students have recently written a seven-line Perl script that is efficient enough to allow real-time decryption and playback of disks. The recording industry is reportedly expressing keen interest in the code.

Soft World

  • The new Apple Mac operating system - MacOS X, but the X stands for 10 - has just become available, so all over the country loyal Mac fans (there's nothing loyaler) are flocking to buy it. Since we use Windows, we know the MacOS X only by repute. The few facts we've picked up are these. It is at heart Unix, so gives solid, stable performance. The 'aqua' user interface is very pretty. It needs a high-spec computer to run. It will allow users to burn CDs when the drivers are made available in April, but they're not ready yet (and this bears no resemblence to Microsoft releasing software before it's finished).

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