The politics of cyberspace may seem a bit intangible to most people. But to Felipe Rodriguez, who runs a Dutch ISP called XS4all, they have become very real, for Rodriguez could be thrown in jail next time he goes to Germany. A wide range of foreign ISP executives and freedom of information activists may be in a similar position - including, perhaps, such well known names as Esther Dyson and John Perry Barlow. The German authorities are making an extreme and determined attempt to suppress a small ultra-left magazine, Radikal, and their attempts have escalated into a Europe-wide confrontation over fundamental Net freedoms.
Controversy over the Radikal Web page began when officials of the Generalbundesanwalt (the federal prosecutors' office) contacted the Internet Content Taskforce (the ICTF), an association of German ISPs. Their message was simple: Radikal advocates political violence, and thus "promotes a terrorist organisation", which is a crime under the German penal code. It had come to the prosecutors' attention that Radikal had a Web presence, based outside Germany, and that German citizens were accessing the site via connections operated by German ISPs affiliated to the ICTF. The prosecutors politely informed the ICTF that unless this stopped, its members would be prosecuted and their equipment confifiscated.
Panicking, the ICTF decided to block all data-packets coming from XS4all ("Access for All") and Datarealm, the two Dutch providers who were hosting Radikal pages. This meant not only that Web access was denied, but that ftp and email requests were unable to route through EUnet Germany. Datarealm caved in immediately, removing Radikal material from their site and leaving XS4all to face the Germans alone.
XS4all is one of the largest and best-loved Dutch ISPs. Felipe Rodriguez is no stranger to censorship, having recently emerged from a year-long battle with the Church of Scientology, which was hounding an XS4all user after material critical of scientology appeared on another XS4all Web site (for the full story, and much more scientology-related material, see www.xs4all.nl/~kspaink/). When he heard about what was happening in Germany (he was never contacted directly by the prosecutors), Rodriguez sent out a cry for help. Within days, over 30 mirrors of the Radikal pages were up on servers around the world.
Rodriguez also started to rotate XS4all IP numbers, rendering the ICTF's blocking of a single address useless. The German prosecutors decided that the ICTF were not trying hard enough and directed them to use more sophisticated blocking techniques. At the same time, the prosecutors instituted preliminary legal proceedings against all those involved in distributing Radikal over the Web. By deliberately naming "unknown" as the object of the action, the prosecutors left themselves the option of taking action against anyone and everyone who had a hand in keeping Radikal available online. Apart from confirming that executives of XS4all faced possible arrest on entry to Germany, a spokesman from the Federal Prosecutor's office refused to rule out action against people who were operating mirror sites, which raises the spectre of all sorts of people, including directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation like Esther Dyson and John Perry Barlow, being considered criminals by the German state.
Rodriguez has considerable support from netizens and Dutch members of the European Parliament, and at the time of going to press was refusing to knuckle under. "If XS4all bends to this kind of intimidation, it will create a precedent. The Germans might see it as a reward for their acts. They might even become an example for other countries. If they are tolerated, these acts of aggression against ISPs and Net users will profoundly change the Internet." The aggression against ISPs is carried out, in this case, by fellow ISPs in another country, cowed by judicial pressure and willing to do whatever is necessary to save their skins. "German officials are control freaks going berserk in situations they don't understand," says Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer, editor of Der Spiegel Online. This control fetish has already led to botched attempts at the local level to control foreign sites feared to contain child pornography or neo-Nazi propaganda.
The formation of the Internet Content Task Force was the German ISPs' attempt to forestall such prosecutions through "self-regulation" - that much-touted quack nostrum. The prosecutors have found it a handy tool, a one-stop shop for threatening the confiscation of equipment and criminal prosecution of ISP managers if demands for censorship weren't acted upon. Michael Schneider, the ICTF's lawyer, and the man who advised the association to institute the blockade, denies that his organisation has become a puppet for Federal censors. "We're doing what is necessary for us to avoid prosecution," he says. "We are not aiding them." He may be able to make that distinction, but from a distance it is pretty hard to see. So while it does not look as though XS4all will be shut down, it does look as though the ICTF should be. Its attempts at self-regulation have simply made it easier for other people to regulate. And those other people are possibly the most Net-hostile, heavy-handed element in the whole European polity.
From the outside, Page's Bar doesn't look like much: a typical Kensington pub, lost among checkerboard buildings and shouting kids. Step through the doors, though, and you've changed centuries. Suddenly it's Stardate 9609.21.
Starfleet officers sit on deco-tech stools, laughing over goblets of Cardassian Bloodwine. Captain Jean-Luc Picard booms commands from a video screen. A huge, illuminated model of the Enterprise 1701-D hangs suspended from the ceiling. A mini-mall of Trek and assorted sci-fi products does a booming business to the left of the door. On any given Saturday, the joint is lively as the Promenade on Deep Space Nine. Better still, it's real.
Page's Bar is owned and run by Bob Benton, formerly a manager with Bass Breweries. Benton "came out" as a Star Trek fan in 1994, when he mustered a Saturday night crowd by showing vintage Star Trek episodes - taken from his massive private collection - on the video sports screen. "I put an advert in the local newspaper," says Benton. "The first night, 200 people showed up."
Then as now, many of the customers appear in regulation Starfleet uniforms. They look quite authentic - if you ignore the beers and cigarettes in their hands. The drinking, in particular, has prevented Page's getting cosy with Paramount, which - for predictable "family values" reasons - will not lend its blessing to the bar. So Benton has been forced to tone down some of his more obvious marketing ploys; the illuminated communicator logos outside the doors had to go.
One of Page's biggest attractions is that Benton previews episodes of Star Trek's latest avatars - Voyager and Deep Space Nine - before they appear on the air. This bit of magic is achieved through CIC, Paramount's UK production company, which provides Benton with "promotional" tapes of upcoming shows. Another draw is that legendary Trek stars including George Takei, James Doohan and Majel Barrett Roddenberry have been known to drop by the pub.
The chief reason for the bar's popularity, though, is that if you are one of Britain's million-plus Trek fans, it's a terrific place to meet like-minded believers like Sally Oberstein-Smith, a riveting blonde in a black bustier who also happens to be Captain of Surrey's USS Juno - the second-largest fan club in the UK fleet. "Star Trek represents a vision of a society without boundaries - whether racial or sexual," explains Oberstein-Smith. "It doesn't matter about the colour of your skin, or where you're from. You may walk in here alone, but you'll leave with a dozen new friends. Star Trek is a universal phenomenon - and in Page's Bar, you're part of that family."
- Jeff Greenwald
Our Token Luddite
"The idea that computers allow you to interact with images is actually a load of old poo. All they let you do is press a button here and there and let you get a different image. It can engage you for two or three minutes, but then you get bored stiff."
"I don't think digital art fits into the fine art tradition at all. I don't think it's got anything to do with art. Call it graphics, fine; call it education or information. Once you call it art you raise all kinds of expectations."
A few gobbets of wisdom from Sarah Kent, Time Out's art critic, expert on the possibilities of interactivity and a rampant technophobe. Why do we get the impression that for Sarah and her tired coterie of gallery snobs, liggers and art trash, art is something that should be kept for those who understand? The possibility that the great unwashed might want to join in is simply horrific, isn't it? The thought that they might not give a tuppeny toss for her, her elitist aesthetic, or the coke-addled habitués of Cork Street private views is just too terrible to contemplate. Isn't it. Darling.
Computer Underground Digest - Daily Reports of Cyber Rights Abuses
Declan B. BcCullagh's Global Anti-Censorship Resource
Campain Against Censorship of the Internet in Britain
Anonymous Remailer Resources
Searchable Database of Public News Servers
Anonymous Surfing ("Because on today's Internet, people do know you're a dog")
Cryptography in Europe
Internet Privacy Coalition
Yaman Akdeniz's UK Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties site
Dierk Lucyga's German Censorship Archive (in German and English)
- James Flint and Tom Loosemore
In view of the old joke about the Russian radio half the size of a thumbnail that needs two transport trucks to hold its batteries, Russian silicon chips might seem unlikely. But they're here, and they're getting smaller.
Mikron, a chip factory near Moscow that once made silicon for the Soviet war machine, has formed a joint venture with Hua Ko Electronic Co. Ltd., a tiny Hong Kong chip maker. The venture will mass produce Russia's first chips with details in the sub-micron range - that is, chips of roughly the standard the West and Japan have been making since the early '90s. The Corona fabrication plant will largely export chips to Asia for use in low-end games.
Once communism collapsed, 90% of Russian semiconductor factories closed down. But a few companies, like Mikron, managed to survive. One production line uses old Soviet equipment to turn out chips for watches, calculators and hand-held games that Mikron sells to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. General Director Gennady Krasnikov estimates that Mikron earned about US$30 million on such low-end chips in 1995, a profit of nearly $2 million. Mikron's revenues have risen 160% in the first half of 1996, and once the Corona venture gets moving, Krasnikov expects this triple-digit growth to continue.
Krasnikov doesn't dream of leap-frogging generations of technology to com-pete against the leaders in the $150-billion chip business. But he does dream of the ISO 9000 certification that betokens international respect for a manufacturer's standards - and, in time, a New York stock-market listing. Small dreams - but Russian engineers have learned that small can be beautiful.
- Drew Wilson
You're underwater in scuba gear, peacefully contemplating the coral reef, when all of a sudden - dunt-dunt dunt-dunt! - a hungry shark decides to make you his next meal. But remain calm - if you have attached a Shark POD (Protective Ocean Device) to your aqualung, you're probably safe.
The Shark POD is a five-pound device that emits a force field of low-level electrical pulses strong enough to ward off sharks swimming within 20 feet of the wearer. "Sharks sense the very weak bioelectric fields that all animals produce," says Geremy Cliff, research director of the Natal Shark Board in South Africa, whose scientists developed the anti-shark device. "The POD creates an electrical field that makes sharks increasingly uncomfortable the closer they come to the source."
According to University of Florida researchers, there were 62 unprovoked shark attacks across the world last year. Eleven of those were fatal. "In tests, the POD has a 90% success rate," says Cliff. But, he says, "we won't guarantee that this will completely eliminate your chances of being attacked by a shark." Bear that in mind if you plan to try posing for souvenir photos with your very own Jaws.
- Dave Cravotta
Here's the good news: spending on Web advertising nearly doubled from the first quarter of 1996 to the second, to a total of US$46 million (about £30 million) worldwide. According to New York-based Jupiter Research, overall spending on Web advertising should reach well over $300 million for the whole year.
Here's the weird news: this boom is worryingly circular. The top ten publishers soak up two-thirds of these revenues. And six of the top ten publishers - familiar names like Netscape and Yahoo! - also rank in the top ten spenders on Web advertising. It's not quite a closed loop - but it's hardly a healthy openness either. Diversify or die.
- John Browning
The Top Ten Web Publishers
Rank Site Name 2nd Quarter
1 Netscape $7,755,990 $9,664,490 2 Infoseek 3,793,464 5,785,432 3 Yahoo! 3,702,500 5,689,105 4 Lycos 2,551,860 4,123,229 5 Excite 2,397,500 3,641,044 6 CNET 2,080,015 3,176,312 7 ZDNet 2,072,088 3,183,088 8 Newspage 1,407,663 2,145,137 9 ESPNet SportsZone 1,343,322 2,443,311 10 WebCrawler 1,235,000 2,160,000
The Top Ten Web Advertisers
Rank Site Name 2nd Quarter
1 Microsoft $2,009,301 $2,905,74 2 Infoseek 1,448,080 1,772,652 3 Excite 1,436,979 1,850,173 4 McKinley Group 1,384,065 1,468,040 5 Netscape 1,313,436 2,172,901 6 Yahoo! 1,279,998 1,339,998 7 Lycos 1,279,848 1,294,848 8 AT&T 1,178,546 1,735,668 9 CNET 1,036,158 1,554,708 10 NYNEX 1,001,903 1,548,985
Source: Jupiter Research
Computer technology has always been a boon to film-makers who want to create exciting new imagery, but it is now being used to fix old images too. The three films of the original Star Wars trilogy will be first to undergo a digital makeover, courtesy of creator George Lucas and his Industrial Light & Magic. "It was a way of going back and doing a second take," says Lucas. "Now I'm able to fix all the things that have bugged me for years."
Algorithmic alchemy has allowed the cinemagicians at ILM to completely erase traces of Jabba the Hutt's clumsy rubber suit, replacing it with a sauntering digital model. In the new additions to the Star Wars story, which will be filmed in the UK and should hit the big screen in 1999, cinema-goers can also expect to see the previously immobile Yoda getting around a bit more, as well as souped-up, computer-generated versions of droids C-3PO and R2-D2. "It's so liberating to be free of the constraints of plastic suits," Lucas sighs.
- Paula Parisi
One of the Net's basic charms - its unpredictability - is also one of the fundamental dangers in regulating it. For example, the scheme that Net entrepreneur Peter Dawe, Britain's ISPs and the DTI hatched in late September could become Britain's great contribution to Net democracy. Or it could become the Net equivalent of China's Cultural Revolution - a vast oppression fuelled by mutual denunciation. Some good might come of it, but only because its backers dislike and distrust each other.
Dawe created a not-for-profit company called Safety-Net due to the outrage he and his wife felt over child pornography on the Net. Dawe is used to making things happen on the Net. He founded Pipex, Britain's first big ISP. Having sold it, he can now devote his entrepreneurial zeal to making the world a better place. He first stood for chairman of the ISPA. But the pace of consensus-building was too slow for Dawe, who left his last meeting with the parting shot, "It's hard not to look like an idiot when you're representing idiots."
Hence the strained looks on the faces of the other idi..., er, ISPs that shared a rostrum with Dawe, supporting Safety-Net's official launch at the DTI on September 23rd - a bare three weeks after Dawe and his wife first thought of the idea at their kitchen table. (Two weeks after its launch, another firm pointed out that it owned the name Safety-Net. When Wired went to press, Dawe hadn't yet renamed it.) Fuelled by a £500,000 loan from a family trust, the former Safety-Net will offer ISPs several sorts of information about stuff on the Web and in newsgroups. It will gather tips on potentially offensive or illegal Web sites and newsgroup postings through a sort of email hotline, and will rate these for violence, sex, racial hatred and other possibly offensive qualities.
The ratings come in the PICS format, which Net surfers - or their parents - can use automatically to block reception of material they probably wouldn't want to see. Worryingly, Safety-Net recommends that British ISPs all use the RSAC rating system, instead of any of the other PICS-compatible rating systems that each reflect a different set of concerns and values. But Safety-Net's real danger is that it will concentrate on the one criteria that no other rating system examines: legality.
Detective Superintendent Mike Hoskins of the Met's Clubs and Vice Unit caused outrage within Britain's Net community in August when he named 130 of some 16,000 Usenet newsgroups that contained material that might be illegal under either the Protection of Children Act or the Obscene Publications Act. This raised the spectre of a police blacklist - material that could get disks confiscated and owners prosecuted - and Safety-Net could make that spectre real.
Safety-Net proponents keep coming back to the phrase "clearly illegal": only clearly illegal stuff gets rated thus. But as Hoskins admits, Britain's obscenity laws are anything but clear. Cliff Stanford, founder of Demon, Britain's largest ISP, thinks this will limit Safety-Net's scope, making it focus on things the relatively clear Protection of Children Act clearly outlaws, while shying away from trying to enforce the hopelessly muddled Obscene Publications Act. And everything Safety-Net rates will still be accessible to people willing to go to a bit of effort and take risks to locate the material outside British jurisdiction.
Removing proveably illegal child pornography from British ISPs' servers is no bad thing. But should Dawe and Hoskins try to expand beyond that role, the Net will have to start policing policemen instead of paedophiles. No doubt the ISPs that Dawe has criticised will be keeping a hawk-eyed watch on the former Safety-Net. If they don't, others will.
But Safety-Net might become a force for good rather than ill, as its ratings are open to public scrutiny and debate. Dawe and Hoskins promise that people who don't like Safety-Net can set up alternatives. Hopefully, Safety-Net will spawn a host of competitors, and become the seed of a vast, swirling debate about what societies do and don't find acceptable. It could even spark a debate that could change obscenity laws, bringing them up to the Net's exacting standards.
- John Browning
Macho hackers Consensual probing Cable modems Satellite modems Hackney Web sites Clapham ISPs Quake Sega Sea Bass Fishing Alcopops Caffreys Teenage guitar bands Hawkwind Acquisitions Co-branding Goatees Gillette Sensor Ambient Illbient Web sites Fast-moving consumer goods Dada Yoda Supermodels Ugly models Piercing Plugging
Mix a soundtrack of caged mice and crocodile fights, a jar of pickled puppies and elegant digital post-production, and you've got Simon Pummell's award-winning short film, Butcher's Hook. The film's story is simple, macabre and transfixing: a museum taxidermist is attacked by the menagerie of dead animals he has expertly preserved. Through astonishingly eerie effects, the dead, disfigured creatures reanimate and take revenge. After a chase and hideous denouement, the taxidermist himself ends up as a museum specimen.
Post-produced at The Mill, a top London effects house, a combination of low-tech, moody, stop-frame animation and subtle digital effects dictate the seven-and-a-half minute film's look. The result lives aesthetically somewhere between the weird, creaky, antique-looking world of the Quay Brothers' Institute Benjamenta and John Lasseter's slickly digital Toy Story.
Pummell's work consistently spans the division between old methods and new, spurred by his fascination with what he sees as the similarities between the late 19th century and today's millennial countdown. "Both are times where there's been an explosion of technological potential," he says. "Both show an anxiety about the human body, and how it fits in with technology."
Despite Pummell's admitting to being a perfectionist and control freak, his work often explores what happens when machines, and organisms, go awry. His next project is a feature-length film based on "Dog Fight", cyberpunk legend William Gibson's short story about gaming. Still in development, it seems a perfect match: like Pummell, Gibson's worlds are distopic and surreal.
" 'Dog Fight' is set in a games hall of the future," Pummell says. In the film, the games fulfil people's dreams. "They're what people aspire to, but they actually live in a rather dingy environment," he says. "I don't think Gibson is interested in glossy technology; he's interested in what technology does to human feelings - and that's entirely what my films are about."
- Julia Thrift
Channel 4 will show "Four-mations: Electric Passions" featuring Simon Pummell on November 14th.
Panic struck Panix, New York's coolest ISP, in September, when an anonymous, untraceable assailant used an obscure weakness in TCP/IP - noted in hacker journal Phrack back in July - to swamp its servers with spoof packets, severing it from the Net for several days.
New software patches and the next generation protocols (IP6) will, in time, make such tricks impossible. But it will take a while for these to permeate throughout the whole Net. In the meantime, ISPs are going to have to remain very alert. Wired asked UK ISPs how they would cope with a similar attack.
- Tom Loosemore
"Well, if it [an attack] happened tomorrow we'd be in trouble, but our techies are on the case."
Ben Knox, Managing Director
"We're quietly confident that we could deal with an attack. ISPs could stop this type of attack if they all cooperated."
Steve Kennedy, Business Development Manager
"Listen, Tom, you journalists have a duty to the whole Internet to be responsible in the way you report things like this."
Dave Barrett, Head of Corporate Communications
"Hmmm. I think you'd better ring our office in the US. They deal with this sort of thing."
Frank Keeling, Business Development Manager
"This is not a matter we'd discuss in public."
Roland Perry, Managing Director
"This has been blown out of all proportion by the media. I'm not saying we're 100% certain that we could cope [with an attack], but it's not a huge problem."
Jim Cottrell, Systems Administrator
Marimba Inc., Kim Polese's new company, might yet rake in millions. But first she's got a riddle to solve: can a small group of Java Shakespeares working round the clock create a more compelling platform for delivering Net-based entertainment than an army of Microsoft monkeys cranking out code at countless Microsoft keyboards?
The Internet is about to undergo a new stage of evolution, one that could threaten the browser market and is liable to make the Net look a lot more like TV - TV possessed with interactivity and intelligence. Recognising the opportunity, Polese - along with Arthur van Hoff, Sami Shaio and Jonathan Payne, all core members of Sun Microsystems' original Java team - left the corporate nest in January to form Marimba. As the software industry scrambles to take advantage of the shifting paradigm, Polese, the marketing wizard behind Java, intends to lead Marimba to the head of the pack.
Instead of trying to bring the PC into the TV, Marimba wants to deliver a rich multimedia experience to the desktop, including news, entertainment, and advertising. Unlike PointCast - which delivers televisual information to PCs in a closed, proprietary architecture - Marimba plans to deploy large chunks of content in an architecture that's completely open.
Marimba's first product, schedul-ed to be announced in early October, is the punnily named Castanet, which aims to push Java toward its full potential.
Castanet was written in Java, but it can zip along the Internet naked, homepage-less, Web-less. Got a Net connection? Then you can receive Castanet applications - movies, software, interactive environments, whatever. A browser isn't necessary, although Castanet will work with the popular ones. It may eventually compete with Web browsers - or even supersede them as the central interface to the Net. Either way, Castanet is poised to make Java applications a lot more exciting.
Polese describes Castanet using television metaphors. End users will load a piece of Castanet called a "tuner", somewhat analogous to a TV channel selector, which will be distributed free, à la Netscape's browser. On the server side, content providers will buy a Castanet "transmitter" to ship their programs. The programming dispatched along an Internet connection between the transmitter and the tuner is called a "channel", to which users will subscribe - like subscribing to premium cable, but choosing from an almost unlimited number of offerings. And it won't be just entertainment programs, but anything that could be sent over the Net - games, software toolkits, parts catalogues, sales presentations, word-processing programs, interactive newspapers.
In time, Castanet may be able to provide constant, interactive streams of video, animation and CD-quality audio from dozens of channels simultaneously. Right now, however, Polese will have to settle for a few channels that at least may provide enough momentum to get Marimba clicking.
One such channel comes from the Knowledge Media Institute (see "Java to the People!", Wired 2.05). The institute is busy building the Roman Colosseum of the Net, a virtual stadium capable of housing 100,000 participants tuned into everything from rock concerts to university lectures complete with video, sound, animation and chat.
But it will take more than a coliseum to make Castanet a mass-market product. "All we need now is the killer channel," says Polese. "And the killer channel is going to show that Castanet ships serious code down the pipe. A game that automatically adjusts to your skill level, a dynamic poll for the upcoming election - whatever it is, it's going to be something revolutionary."
Microsoft will compete with Castanet through its ostensibly cross-platform language, ActiveX. Like Java, ActiveX is supposed to run on almost any operating system. But ActiveX is based on technologies that predate the pure Internet environment that is Java's natural home. Then again, we're talking about Microsoft here - and that's a lot of programs. Does cross-platform matter if Microsoft owns 85% of the PC market?
To the argument that Castanet is based on Java - unconstrained by HTML and custom-made for cross-platform interactivity - while ActiveX is tied to the past, Microsoft replies with its usual that's-not-a-bug-it's-a-feature retort. "New innovations can't be anti-Web or anti-HTML," says Thomas Reardon, program manager for Microsoft's Internet and Platform Tools Division. "The real challenge is to take HTML to the next level, not to throw out HTML for Java."
Can Marimba - or Java - withstand the ubiquity of Microsoft? Is that rattling in the distance the sound of a Castanet picking up speed - or is it Kim Polese knock-ing on wood?
- Jesse Freund
Quaint Adolescent NadstatUbiquitous and self-referential slang used in fashionable magazines by those who should know better.
Paradise SyndromeA complaint caused by a life so perfect that you have to invent new problems. Example: Dave Stewart having his spleen and appendix removed because they're both totally useless.
PEBCAKTech support shorthand for "Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard". A way of indicating that there's nothing wrong with the computer - it's the user who is clueless.
Ass MosisThe process through which some people achieve career success by sucking up to the boss.
Balloon HelpThe assistance given by those who insist on explaining every obvious detail and function of an electronic device. Refers to the rarely used Balloon Help feature on Macs. "Um ... I don't really need balloon help, just give me the domain address."
WebstiesReally, really messy Web sites.
Thanks to Gareth Branwyn, Andrew Brown, Mondo Martin, Carlton B. Morgan and the US and UK Jargon Watch teams.