Some notes on Microsoft viruses, economic history, and the rational
side of Luddism, plus another batch of URL's.

I received about 60 copies of the latest Microsoft e-mail virus and
its variants.  How many did you get?  Fortunately I manage my e-mail
with Berkeley mailx and Emacs keyboard macros, so I wasn't at risk.
But if we're talking about billions of dollars in damage, which
equates roughly to millions of lost work days, then I think that we
and Microsoft need to have a little talk.

Reading the press reports, Microsoft's stance toward this situation
has been disgraceful.  Most of their sound bites have been sophistry
designed to disassociate the company from any responsibility for
the problem.  One version goes like this quote from Scott Culp of
Microsoft Public Relations, excuse me, I mean Microsoft Security
Response Center:

  This is a general issue, not a Microsoft issue.  You can write a
  virus for any platform.  (New York Times 5/5/00)

Notice the public relations technology at work here: defocusing the
issue so as to move attention away from the specific vulnerabilities
of Microsoft's applications architecture and toward the fuzzy concept
of "a virus".  Technologists will understand the problem here, but
most normal people will not.  Mr. Culp also says this (CNET 5/5/00):

  This is by-design behavior, not a security vulnerability.

More odd language.  It's like saying, "This is a rock, not something
that can fall to the ground".  It's confusing to even think about it.
Even though Microsoft had been specifically informed of the security
vulnerability in its software, it had refused to fix it.  Microsoft
even tried to blame its problem on Netscape, which had fixed it:

The next step is to blame the users.  The same Mr. Culp read on the
radio the text of a warning that the users who spread the virus had
supposedly ignored.  That warning concludes with a statement to the
effect that you shouldn't execute attachments from sources that you
do not trust.  He read that part kind of fast, as you might expect,
given that the whole point of this virus is that people receive an
attachment from a person who has included them in their address book.
This particular blame-shifting tactic is particularly disingenuous
given that the virus spread rapidly through Microsoft itself, to the
point that the company had to block all incoming e-mail (Wall Street
Journal 5/5/00).

Similarly, CNET (5/4/00) quoted an unnamed "Microsoft representative"
as saying that companies must educate employees "not to run a program
from an origin you don't trust".  Notice the nicely ambiguous word
"origin".  The virus arrives in your mailbox clearly labeled as having
been sent by a particular individual with whom you probably have an
established relationship.  It bears no other signs of its "origin"
that an ordinary user will be able to parse, short of executing the

So what on earth is Microsoft doing allowing attachments to run code
in a full-blown scripting language that can, among many other things,
invisibly send e-mail?  Says the "Microsoft representative",

  We include scripting technologies because our customers ask us to
  put them there, and they allow the development of business-critical
  productivity applications that millions of our customers use.

There needs to be a moratorium on expressions such as "customers ask
us to".  Does that mean all of the customers?  Or just some of them?
Notice the some/all ambiguity that is another core technology of
public relations.  Do these "customers" really specifically asked for
fully general scripts that attachments can execute, or do they only
ask for certain features that can be implemented in many ways, some
of which involve attachments that execute scripts?  Do the customers
who supposedly ask for these crazy things understand the consequences
of them?  Do they ask for them to be turned on by default, so that
every customer in the world gets the downside of them so that a few
customers can more conveniently get the upside?  And notice how the
"Microsoft representative" defocuses the issue again, shifting from
the specific issue of scripts that can be executed by attachments
to the fuzzy concept of "scripting technologies", as if anybody were
suggesting that scripting technologies, as such, in general, were to

Microsoft shouldn't be broken up.  It should be shut down.

Can anyone tell me the origin of the following argument about economic
history?  Here's the argument.  What accounts for the United States'
longstanding economic supremacy in the world?  War and the other arts
of diplomas have certainly been a factor, but surely there is more to
it.  American legal institutions are given credit as well, but these
are shared with other English-speaking countries.  One answer is that
the United States has grown so economically powerful because it is the
world's largest homogeneous market, thereby giving us early experience
with economies of scale.  Although the United States is obviously not
homogeneous in every way, its rapid growth from east to west has meant
that its language, laws, media, national identity, ideas, collective
memory, and technical standards have been largely shared across the
whole continent since the mid-nineteenth century.  As a result of this
homogeneity, American manufacturers have had much earlier experience
than manufacturers of other countries with the technologies of scale.
These include mass production, distribution systems, and information
technology.  They also include the information-based activities that
become remunerative if you are manufacturing on a large enough scale:
research and development, product design, market studies, management
techniques, and organizational innovations.  Having mastered these
varied technologies of scale, American firms could produce their goods
at lower unit prices.  They could therefore compete in export markets,
and eventually they could transfer their experience with technologies
of scale to establish overseas subsidiaries.  In particular, American
firms pioneered most of the industries that produce the technologies
of scale, and through intellectual property protection and network
effects were able to establishing a long-lasting dominion in those
industries.  That's the argument.  I cannot possibly be the person
who originated it.  But I can't find it in print, and neither do the
people I know who work in the relevant fields.  Does anybody find this
argument familiar?  Any leads much appreciated.

I spoke with a reporter recently about David Noble, whose skeptical
studies of computing in higher education I have distributed here.
Although the reporter was trying to remain objective, he was clearly
having trouble.  At one point he asked me a question that would be
hard to paraphrase closely.  On a rational level its point was: isn't
Noble really setting himself up for criticism by not using e-mail?,
but that version doesn't do justice to the bewilderment in his voice.
Think of it: he doesn't use e-mail!  He's clearly off the deep end.

But I was not impressed.  Dave's point is not that technology is a
bad thing, but rather that faculty should be able to make their own
judgements about what technologies to employ in doing their work.  It
is the faculty who know the classroom, and it is the faculty who know
their research, and if somebody else is making the decisions then we
are certain to get bone-headed schemes that sound nice at a distance
but are disconnected from reality.  It happens every day.  So I said,
look, David Noble has published five books.  He teaches classes.  He
gives lots of talks.  He is involved in university affairs.  Who's to
say that he's not doing his job?  If David Noble judges that having to
read and answer his e-mail every day would, notwithstanding the real
advantages of the medium, nonetheless have the net effect of slowing
him down, who am I to tell him he's wrong?  E-mail is a complete mess.
It doesn't work very well, it requires a lot of infrastructure and
maintenance and overhead, it is subject to security attacks, and it
encourages people to send you lots of junk just because they can send
whatever they've got to stuff to lots of extra people at no charge.
It would make my life easier if Dave used e-mail, but Dave's job is
to change the world, not not to make my life easier.  Leave him alone.

In recounting my interactions with the disciplines of Werner Erhard,
I said:

  while I regard cults as dangerous and destructive, I appropriated
  several aspects of Wernerism that seemed useful.  One of these is
  the idea that you can improve people's lives by providing them with
  a conceptual framework with which to reflect upon and become aware
  of their own experiences.  I think I already knew this, actually,
  but they reinforced it.

One person responded the idea I got from Wernerism already exists, and
is called philosophy.  Little does he know.  The idea that philosophy
is a way of reflecting on yourself, becoming aware of your experience,
and making yourself a better person is a popular idea, and not a bad
one, except that it has not described the reality of philosophy for
at least hundreds of years, if not thousands.  Martin Heidegger, whose
work the Erhard people drew on, actually did believe something similar
to this, although he thought of philosophy as bettering a collective
way of experiencing oneself and one's life.  But even he got this kind
of motivation not from philosophy but from religious mysticism.  The
problem with philosophy is exactly that it has gotten utterly detached
from human experience.  This first happened with the arid metaphysics
of the middle ages, and then it happened much more profoundly with the
professionalization of American philosophy a century ago (see Bruce
Kuklick, The Rise of American Philosophy, Cambridge, Massachusetts,
1860-1930, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).  The "analytic"
style of philosophy that long dominated the English-speaking world is
almost completely without value, much as Ludwig Wittgenstein tried to
breathe life into it, and while a great deal of valuable philosophical
scholarship is being done these days, very few philosophers are making
anyone's life better.

Pets.Com Sock Puppet in Defamation Suit Shocker!  For details, see

which includes, among other priceless passages:

  Thus some industry analysts think there is far more potential in the
  firm's sock puppet than in its pet supplies.

Let's not gloat.

Back when the AOL/Time Warner merger was announced, I wondered out
loud whether AOL would end up with any real control over the Time
Warner companies.  What does AOL know about running Time Warner?
But there was a fallacy in my argument: if AOL and Time Warner
are both old-media companies, as I say, then why shouldn't AOL run
the place?  And indeed, it's been announced that Bob Pittman, who
AOL hired from MTV, is the big winner in the post-merger turf war,
and that Ted Turner is the big loser (Wall Street Journal 5/5/00).

Some URL's.

How New Is the New Economy?

Notes on the Cyber Patrol Case

Host Name to Latitude/Longitude

AOL's "Youth Filters" Protect Kids from Democrats,176,421,00.html

American Geosynchronous SIGINT Satellites

Lost Art Internet Database

Clandestine Radio Intel

Report Shows Internet Approaching Oligopoly

The "mstream" Distributed Denial of Service Attack Tool

Britain Moves Forward With Plans for a Major E-University

Transmeta's Magic Show

International Association for the Study of Common Property

hours of fun with domain names