(Please note: for the first three days of this week I was laid low with a virulent and explosive form of what my mother would call a tummy upset' but what I habitually refer to using monosyllables that rhyme with fits' or fights'. Thus I didn't actually do anything computer-related until Thursday but for you, distant reader, I'll make something up to cover the missing days. Never say I don't care. RG)
In an hallucinatory haze brought about by some delicious, yet tainted crabmeat, I dream the FBI and a group of encryption experts were meeting to talk about the never-ending conflict between the U.S. Government and everyone else. Which makes no sense, as everyone knows that the legal side of monitoring our mail is as nothing compared to what the NSA and pals get up to. The fever rises, and in my crustacean-powered craziness I fantasise that an official report to the European parliament, the MEPs were informed that: "Within Europe, all e-mail, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the NSA, transferring all target information to Fort Meade in Maryland [the headquarters of the NSA] via the crucial hub of Menwith Hill in the North Yorkshire moors of the United Kingdom.".And that's to say nothing of Echelon (shhh! I said say nothing!).
Clearly, this cannot be so. It must be the work of conspiracy theorists, as must the enormous list of related documents collected at http://jya.com/crypto.htm. Or, if you fancy the real thing, http://www.null.org/psychoceramics/ is very enlightening...
The seafood-splattered brain is obviously still on Cloud Nine: this time, I'm tripping away with the insane notion that a telephone company has done something sensible. Madness! Sprint, the American telco, is saying that it's going to roll out a fab new network where everyone has as much bandwidth as they want whenever they want it and it'll all be much simpler and cheaper for the company to run so it'll all cost everyone much less.
Arrant nonsense. For that, the company would need to have a huge, high bandwidth backbone... oh, it has. Well, it would have to have a whole load of new switching and billing infrastructure, based on ATM... ah, ok, ok. But that's no good without a mixture of fibre and ADSL technology for actually delivering the stuff. Oooookay... but that means Sprint will be delivering raw ATM to the home and you'll be able to use it as one telephone line, or ten telephone lines, or a hundred... or any number, changed whenever you like, and mixed with data, VPNs, video... Sprint will just charge for bandwidth used.
But that would be so sensible, so exciting and create such a flexible infrastructure... nope, still mad with microbes. It can't be true.
The fever abates a little, but I'm still seeing men in black behind every pillar and atop every post. Giggle weakly at Duncan Campbell's piece in the Guardian that points out that the Indians knew exactly when to detonate their nukes: they'd downloaded the top-secret orbital predictions for the American spy satellites off the Internet. They waited for a spot when the various spooksats were all hovering over Penzance and then pressed the button - result, the NSA completely missed Armageddon vindaloo and carried on trying to crack PGP-encrypted love letters sent by moist Cornish denizens of AOL chatrooms.
One would have more respect for the requirements of government security agencies if they'd actually managed to forestall this bad case of nuclear Viagra instead of scaring the populace with tales of naughty dope peddlers setting up shipments via uncrackable email. As if they'd be sending each other postcards saying "Ten tons of best quality Red Leb coming in on flight HA412, Len!" instead...
Back at school. Reality is in the house again - Microsoft is being accused (with enormous amounts of facts to boot) of producing kindergarten grade cryptography' with its implementation of the PPTP virtual private network protocol. Microsoft responds by saying it's not important, and even if it was important it's been fixed, and even if it hasn't been fixed it will be, and even if it won't be fixed we're all to keep quiet and not worry our pretty little heads about it.
Quick quiz: when was the last time that Microsoft announced that it had found a security flaw in NT itself?
Why does this always happen? Byte - the magazine that's been there from the start - has recently been bought by CMP - the American publishers who haven't - who promptly proceeded to sack everyone and shut the whole enterprise down. I should've guessed: I'd been going around telling anyone who'd listen that Byte had improved enormously over the past couple of years and had just become totally indispensable again. And it's true - having given up on the "let's be like PC Magazine" approach, Byte had once again taken up the torch of unimpeachably intense technology reportage. Nobody else tackled the range of basic issues it covered, at least not in that depth. I always found at least five major items of interest in every issue: invaluable.
It's a rule of thumb that whenever I find a magazine particularly interesting, it goes away or changes completely. In this case, though, the loss of Byte is keenly felt. I know it's not normally done to badmouth competitive publishing companies, but in this case I have no hesitation - CMP, you have been thoughtless and clumsy, and the whole industry is the poorer as a result.