Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
This TidBITS issue reports on the new preliminary injunction against the Communication Decency Act, a new version of the LaserWriter driver, and a new product - Claris Home Page. We also have articles about the importance of a good index in technical books and utilities that generate the HTML for colored text or background on a Web page. Rounding out the issue, we have an article that looks as an Internet newcomer's reactions to large Web search engines.
Copyright 1996 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <email@example.com> Comments: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
Buster Busts PowerBook Disappointment -- In response to our article about the 7.5.3 Update Revision 2.0 (codenamed Buster), Zac Imboden <email@example.com> wrote in with this happy ending: "Upgrading my 520 with the 5300 100 MHz daughtercard was probably the biggest disappointment of my life. The ensuing dispute between myself and my favorite local Mac repair shop ended in a bitter separation. They wouldn't take the card back, despite its dismal performance. However, one of their technicians called recently to announce the impending release of System 7.5.3 Revision 2.0. Overall performance has very noticeably improved, especially the access speed of our 4D client/server configuration. Zowie!"
Apple Tester for PowerPC Performas - As part of its repair extension program for 5200, 5300, 6200, and 6300-series Macintosh Performa and LC models (see TidBITS-331), Apple has released a utility that identifies machines with known logic board issues. Previously, logic board problems in these machines were only characterized by frequent system freezes, which can be caused by any number of things not covered by Apple. This utility should let owners of affected machines accurately identify known problems and, if necessary, contact an Apple dealer for free repairs. Please note the information this utility provides is only relevant to specific Macs; check Apple's summary for details. [GD]
LaserWriter 8.3.4 Unleashed -- Last week, Apple released LaserWriter 8.3.4, a version that has been anxiously awaited by many PCI Power Mac users who have been plagued with crashing problems when trying to print, particularly when using print spoolers or third-party printers, such as GCC's XL 808. Although it remains to be seen whether this driver solves all such problems, early reports that I've seen have been encouraging. Although Apple recommends that anyone running a PCI Power Mac or running System 7.5.3 use the new version of the driver, it also says that people using older Macintoshes or system versions shouldn't upgrade.
If you download and expand LaserWriter 8.3.4 , you'll end up with a disk image, which you can use with the help of a utility such as DiskCopy or ShrinkWrap. The download consumes about 450K of disk space. [TJE]
Put RAM on Your Shopping List -- If you'd wanted to purchase a 32 MB DIMM four months ago, around Valentine's Day, you probably would have paid around $900. Last week that same DIMM would have cost you around $320, maybe lower if you shopped carefully. Memory prices have plummeted across the board. These prices should still be low when this issue of TidBITS goes out, but the word on the street suggests they won't go much lower or stay low for all that much longer. If you wish, check out DealBITS for RAM deals and links to several hardware vendors. [TJE]
by Tonya Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 brought major changes to United States telecommunications law and included the Communications Decency Act (CDA), a series of provisions that - among other things - specifically prohibited but broadly defined indecency on the Internet. (See TidBITS-315 for more details on the Telecommunications Act).
President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act into law on 08-Feb-96, and within five minutes of the signing the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and a collection of other organizations and businesses immediately filed a challenge to the CDA portion of the legislation, arguing it unconstitutionally violated freedom of speech and was too vague to be reasonably enforced.
By 15-Feb-96, a limited, temporary restraining order against the CDA had been granted. Just last week, on 12-Jun-96, a three-judge panel for the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia ruled on the case and granted a preliminary injunction against the indecency provisions in the CDA, meaning that such provisions cannot be enforced unless a higher court of law overturns the injunction.
TidBITS doesn't try to report on political news in an unbiased fashion (everyone has biases, no matter what they say), and I'm not trying to here; in fact, I'm delighted with the ruling, not just because the ACLU won, but also because of its content.
The District Court's ruling has an extensive section about the facts behind the Internet, including how the Internet works, who uses the Internet, services available on the Internet, and more. This section makes for interesting reading for anyone trying to learn about the Internet. Those legislating or pontificating about the Internet should include this ruling on their required reading lists.
The ruling states that the court has no problem with existing laws against pornography and obscenity, but that the CDA goes too far. The court denounced the CDA for vagueness, for the high cost of successfully barring minors from a site that might be considered indecent, and for not offering a sufficiently strong reason to restrict freedom of speech. The ruling also noted several other ways minors could be cut off from inappropriate material on the Internet, including the PICS proposal (where sites would be rated) and various software lockout products such as SurfWatch and CyberPatrol.
Portions of Judge Stewart Dalzell's opinion in the ruling have been widely quoted, and I include here an excerpt from his comments. Such language from our legal system gives me hope that the Internet will be treated as an open forum where many people may easily give and receive information, and not as a broadcast medium dominated by large businesses.
"If the Government is going to intrude upon the sacred ground of the First Amendment and tell its citizens that their exercise of protected speech could land them in jail, the law imposing such a penalty must clearly define the prohibited speech not only for the potential offender but also for the potential enforcer. As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion.
"True it is that many find some of the speech on the Internet to be offensive, and amid the din of cyberspace many hear discordant voices that they regard as indecent. The absence of governmental regulation of Internet content has unquestionably produced a kind of chaos, but as one of plaintiffs' experts put it with such resonance at the hearing: 'What achieved success was the very chaos that the Internet is. The strength of the Internet is that chaos.' Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so the strength of our liberty depends upon the chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech the First Amendment protects."
Interestingly, a footnote in the ruling notes that the ACLU withdrew its challenge to language that restricts discussions of abortion on the Internet. Apparently, the ACLU withdrew because both President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno have made it clear that "no one will be prosecuted under the abortion-related provision.... In view of this 'longstanding policy,' the Government contends there is no realistic fear of prosecution and, so the argument goes, no need or equitable relief."
Whether the government will take its case to the Supreme Court remains to be seen. Should they do so, I hope the Supreme Court seriously considers the facts and opinions presented in the ruling for a preliminary injunction.
For additional information and commentary on this issue, check out the following URLs.
by David Holzgang <email@example.com>
The index is an essential ingredient in having a successful computer book, and the article in TidBITS-332, The Process of Publishing, completely omitted that topic. A book needs a good index for many reasons, not the least of which is that potential purchasers, while browsing in a book store, use the table of contents and the index as tools for deciding whether or not to purchase the book.
I have written 14 books, mostly on PostScript and other high-end graphics subjects. In my experience, publishers handle index preparation in three ways. Some publishers farm it out to professionals and charge the author's royalty account. Some allow or require the author to prepare the index (or have it prepared) themselves. And finally, some publishers permit the author to choose a professional to prepare the index and, in some cases, even share the cost. [Another possibility is that the publisher generates the index with no charge to the author and with little or no control given to the author, which is the case with Hayden Books. -Adam]
The index for a book is one of the most important features that the book has. As a reader, I find a good index makes using a book a pleasure and a poor index makes finding anything a real chore. As a result, I usually ask publishers to let me pick a professional indexer and pay for the index out of my royalty account. This gives me some control over the index quality and ensures that I end up with an index that contributes to the book. Also, by choosing my own indexer, I know what the cost will be before the indexer starts work. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work; some publishers won't let the author participate at all.
Generally, in my experience, the worst indices are those prepared by authors. Indexing is a specialized skill, and deserves respect. (And, if you think authors work under deadline pressures, consider the indexer who generally has no more than a few days to index the book completely.) There is a society of professional indexers and I have found that these folks do the best work. I'd point out two main issues to a fledgling author. First, someone has to prepare the index for your book, and there's a good chance that you'll be expected to pay for it - out of royalties, true, but it's still your money. Second, don't do it yourself - a professional will do a better job and make your book more successful.
[For more information about professional indexing, check out the Web site for the American Society of Indexers at the URL below. -Adam]
by Tonya Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Careful MacWEEK readers might have noticed an article a few weeks ago about Loma Prieta, an up-and-coming Web authoring tool positioned to give Adobe's PageMill some serious competition. Created by San Andreas Systems, Loma Prieta is not in public beta, and beta testers have been tight-lipped about the program.
Additional information became available for public consumption last week, in the form of a press release stating that Claris has acquired Loma Prieta, and plans to release the program as Claris Home Page. According to the press release, Claris Home Page will be a cross-platform product with versions coming out for the Mac OS, Windows 95, and Windows NT. The program will help users create a variety of high-end elements, including tables and frames, in either an HTML view or a visual view. Helpfully, Claris Home Page should also offer libraries, in which users can store commonly repeated chunks of HTML. The press release included numerous quotes lauding Claris for its emphasis on creating easy-to-use software and emphasizing that Claris Home Page would make it easy to create high-end Web pages. Not surprisingly, the press release said nothing about Claris's miserable attempts to include HTML conversion in ClarisWorks (see TidBITS-295). I'm pleased to see Claris stepping into the Web authoring arena as a serious player.
Claris hasn't yet decided what to charge for Claris Home Page, but they have decided to run a public beta, and beta versions of Home Page should be available for downloading from the Claris Web site by the end of this month. In an effort to avoid commenting extensively on new products before they enter final release, TidBITS probably won't review Claris Home Page until it actually ships, much as we won't review the pre-release PageMill 2.0, should Adobe decide to make it a public beta.
by Tonya Engst <email@example.com>
If you do any coding of HTML documents, you've probably encountered situations where you need to enter a six-digit hexadecimal number in order to tag for a particular color, perhaps for a page's background or for items of text.
For those of you who have a fuzzy idea of what I'm talking about but don't know the exact HTML, here's how it works. To color your entire document's background and text in a multi-hued, rainbow sort of way, you might use this HTML for your opening <body> tag:
<BODY BGCOLOR="#FFFF05" TEXT="#00FF00" LINK="#0000FF" ALINK="#FF00FF" VLINK="#FF0000">
This body tag sets the background color to yellow, regular text to light green, unvisited link text to blue, visited link text to red, and link text as you click it to purple. In a browser that doesn't understand this HTML (or that is set for the user's colors to override those in a visited page), the background and text will remain at the default color.
To learn additional details about coloring text, check out the Internet draft of the HTML 3.2 specification, though be aware that many browsers don't yet support the additional coloring options proposed in that draft. (I leave such trial and error to the discretion of enterprising readers.)
Human brains don't come wired to realize that colors like violet are represented in hex with numbers like 9717FF, and I've yet to read anything sensible that provides an easy way to convert colors into such numbers. Instead, I've discovered the world of color-to-hex converters, and I thought I'd share some summaries of how a few of the different converters operate. Some Web authoring programs also offer such features, but if your program does not (or offers only limited features), you may want to use one of these programs.
Before I talk about the utilities, I should mention that some of them also help you create a <body> tag that includes the background attribute, which you use to specify a graphic that will function as a tiling background. (Web pages with tiling backgrounds often look as though their text is on top of a lightly-colored image, such as a chunk of marble. You can also use tiling backgrounds in a variety of clever ways to spruce up Web pages, though modem users will thank you enormously if you keep graphic file sizes as small as possible.)
If you are looking for something in the freeware department, check out HTML ColorMeister 1.3.5. Written by John Cope of ParticleFlux Software, this utility makes it easy to set up color and tiling attributes that go in the opening <body> tag. After you pick your attributes, click the Generate button to see the complete tag. You can then copy and paste the tag (or portions of it) into an HTML document, or you can click the Output Page button and HTML ColorMeister creates a skeleton HTML document that includes the custom <body> tag.
The shareware category offers a few additional choices. Web Color 2.0, a $5 program by Patrick Bores, works much like HTML ColorMeister, but has a more polished appearance.
HTML ColorPicker 2.0.3 costs $5 and was written by David Christiansen at Vector Development. HTML ColorPicker lets you type in numerical values and see the colors to which they relate (if your brain works that way or if you have some specialized reason). It also can display numerical values that match colors you choose visually. Although you can copy any one hexadecimal value from HTML ColorPicker, the utility doesn't help you generate an actual <body> tag.
Janice Arakaki's $5 HTML ColorSelect 1.3 takes a slightly different tactic to the feature set it offers. Although it enables you to choose a color and then see the hexadecimal equivalent, it unfortunately doesn't permit you to copy the number; instead you must retype it into your HTML document. You can, however, open a PICT image and then click a pixel in that image to get its hexadecimal equivalent.
HTML ColourTool costs $10 and offers a preview feature that enables you to see how the colors you choose interact. The program shows the current <body> tag, complete with attributes as you choose your colors. It does not offer a way to include a background attribute for a tiled background image - a feature that would be especially nifty if it also worked in the preview, showing how text colors interact with the image. If you like the program and pay the $10 shareware fee, you'll be able to copy the <body> tag and then paste it into your HTML document. If you don't pay, you must retype the tag. HTML ColourTool was developed by Brock Gunter-Smith of Finger In The Eye Productions.
I hope this article has given you an idea of what features you might find in these sort of utilities and an idea of which utility would be most useful to you. Even if you use a Web authoring program that helps with coloring text and backgrounds, it may not offer the color picker aspect of HTML ColorSelect, or the color visualization features in HTML ColourTool.
Kirk McElhearn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I was recently attracted by yet another spider crawling around the Web, called AltaVista. Since a big problem on the Internet is finding what one is looking for, it is always a plus to find a big, fast search engine. AltaVista is such a search engine, another of the many like InfoSeek, Lycos, Excite and all the rest. The difference with AltaVista is its power, and the claim that it covers more than thirty million Web pages. I tried it out.
At the time, I had only been prowling around on the net for about two months. I had my own home page, and some other work present at different sites. I wanted to see how much of a trace I had left, and was curious if there were other people with my name out there. What I found surprised me. My family is small, and my last name, McElhearn, is uncommon. So I started by entering my name into AltaVista's search form, and prepared myself for about 30 seconds of waiting.
First surprise: It did not take 30 seconds, more like 5.
Second surprise: There were 32 occurrences of my name. If you have been leaving tracks on the Web for years, you may think 32 occurrences isn't that many. After I posted a message about this to the Future Culture mailing list, some other people on the list tried it, and came up with numbers far higher than mine: hundreds, even thousands. But, as a net novice, I was surprised by my 32 occurrences.
Out of the 32 occurrences, 30 were about me, and two were about other people with the same last name (maybe cousins?), one of whom won a high school shot put championship. The rest pointed to me, all right, from a letter of mine published in the second issue of Wired, to posts to the Info-Mac digest, to my home page, to my essay for the 24 Hours of Democracy project, and more.
Well, at first I though that was pretty cool. After all, don't our genes want to makes sure we leave our marks on the planet? But the more I think about it, the more I think that a Pandora's box is being opened. The best way to describe AltaVista is by using the words of the company behind it:
"AltaVista is the result of a research project started in the summer of 1995 at Digital's Research Laboratories in Palo Alto, California. By combining a fast Web crawler with scalable indexing software, the team was able to build a large index of the Web in the Fall of 1995.
"After two months of internal testing, we produced an even larger index consisting of the full text of over 16,000,000 pages. We made the site public on the 15th of December 1995. Within three weeks of launch, we were handling over two million HTTP requests per day."
The Web Indexer, the most powerful part of the setup, is an AlphaServer 8400 5/300, with 6 GB of memory, and 10 processors. Digital claims that the server handles most requests in less than a second.
This is only a part of the picture. Another server handles the hits and requests, and a news server maintains a current news spool for the News Indexer, which dynamically updates the database of newsgroup articles. So, AltaVista is trying to be a repository of, more or less, everything that goes through the Web and Usenet, which means a lot of email is there because their robots index archived mailing lists.
The whole thing has awesome power. Given the growth of the Internet and available processing power, AltaVista should be able to keep up with the traffic and provide this service for a long time.
I say, "mind your own business."
I mentioned my experiment to fellow members of a Mac users' group. One of them, a techie with pocket protectors, expressed awe at the power. Another was amazed at the nosiness of the machine, the fact that it didn't respect privacy. What about privacy?
When I subscribe to a mailing list, no one asks if I have given up the rights to use my posts for any reason. Although my words are public (but only in a limited sense; that is, to those who are also subscribed) I might not want them to be at the disposition of any robot around. After all, Digital never asked if they could use my material to show off their computers (because the goal of the operation strikes me as just that: advertising for the powerful computers Digital makes). And what about my rights? Here in France, everyone has a legal right to verify and modify any information concerning them that is kept in any database. I wonder how Digital would react if I asked them to remove some of my posts from its database? Or if I wanted to exercise my right to the copyrights on those words?
Many people contrast electronic information and communication with books, saying that books are permanent, but electronic information is not. I think AltaVista exemplifies just how permanent such information can be. Not only does it float around in the Internet's ether, but it is also indexed in a database where someone can easily fish for it.
The danger of this is obvious. Let us say that I have been posting to the alt.sex.minerals newsgroup, talking about how I like to do it with pumice. In ten years, if my wife wants a divorce, she can hire a bot to snoop around and find that post, along with others, and get child support, keep me away from the kids - the whole nine yards.
Or what about a young hacker, who later grows up and runs for political office? Another party may find it useful to learn he was spouting anarchist ideas in his youth. He will not be able to say he did not inhale.
Many of us have ideas that we later renounce, but when the words are there in black and bits, it is hard to place the necessary distance between the us-then and the us-now.
What to do about it?
It seems difficult to control this kind of snooping. Companies will make money from our words just as they always have. And the search engine is useful to those seeking information. But the danger is real, and it is right around the corner. I am not a Luddite clamoring for a return to the dark ages; I think the Internet will change the way our future happens. But we must be aware of the dangers, and react accordingly.
The first thing is to demand that we be able to strike from the record anything that we no longer want available. We should have the right to filter what is made available in this manner. No one has the right to exploit our words without our permission. While AltaVista is not financially exploiting them, it is using them to advertise, which I see as being much the same thing.
[Over a month ago, I sent email to AltaVista inquiring about their policy for removing people from its database, but I have not received a response. Kirk has also sent a draft of this article to Digital, and he has received no response. AltaVista has an extensive disclaimer which states in part: "In general, Digital believes that persons who make information available on the World Wide Web or in newsgroups do so with the expectation that such information will be publicly and widely available. Digital further believes that its making newsgroup postings and links to publicly accessible Web pages available at this site is legally permissible and consistent with the common, customary expectations of those who make use of the Web and Usenet communications media." -Tonya]
The second thing is to be aware that someone is listening, and that whatever we say publicly on the Net will be stored. Even in private email, encryption is perhaps the only way to keep our communications safe from wandering eyes. Of course, this is not possible in every part of the world. Countries such as Iran and France can put you in jail for using encryption.
Don't forget, the walls have ears.
P.S.: When I wrote this text, in March, I found 32 occurrences of my name. The last time I checked, there were 78.
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue