Re: Legal stuff

From: John Conover <>
Subject: Re: Legal stuff
Date: Sat, 27 Aug 1994 02:09:34 -0700 (PDT)

Raymond Werner writes:
>      Interesting question.  As with most legal questions, one
>      could argue for (or against) any particular outcome.

That's because they are intransitive-he he he!

>      Nonetheless, I am pondering the liklihood of the various
>      possible outcomes.

It turns out that it was probably not an original idea of mine, but
something that triggered or jelled in my own mind. During the past
two months, I have been solicited to do:

        1) A unix dating service on the Internet. Something like an
        electronic "personals" in the "want adds" of a news paper. The
        idea is that the service would provide a "fire wall"
        protection between the serious users and the "kinks." It was
        essentially, nothing more than an electronic conference, or
        email digest-something like usenet. I turned it down because I
        had some epistemological issues with it, (specifically, with
        all the world's problems that could be addressed by a self
        documenting communications system, like the Internet's email,
        getting laid is the least of our issues,) but did see the
        business plan. It turns out that a conservative (very, in my
        opinion) biz projection would be a $50M per year in GR, with
        an initial investment of less than $50K, and an operating
        staff of less than 5 people (plus a director, and 2 executive

        2) Hong Kong has government sanctioned para mutual betting on
        horse racing. About 18 months ago, they established
        proprietary betting parlors in the major cities of Europe, and
        some in the US (I think, LA, and Nevada were involved,) that
        were linked to Hong Kong by terminal on a proprietary
        network. The network capacity was 3K terminals, and within 5
        weeks, the network was operating at capacity. They contacted
        me to see if it could be expanded, and so forth. I turned this
        down also (although the dough they were offering aroused my
        attention!) The reason I declined was similar to above.

There is one other little piece of information that was kind of in the
back of my mind. The Internet provider that I used for johncon and the
S-MOS machines (and several other companies, mostly Seiko Epson
"affiliates") was a new company called Netcom. What I needed for these
organizations was a service that would provide a "fire wall" security
system between our computers and the Internet backbone (where about a
million vandel collage students with nothing to do but to break into
S-MOS legal's boxes lived.) A guy named Bob Rigor had a PC (no less)
on the Internet (at that time, johncon was also connected to the
Internet backbone, and he approached me on the details,) and I
contracted him to staff the monitor 24Hrs. per day to watch the
traffic to/from all these machines.  (Netcom is now the largest
Internet access provider in the world.) In nothing flat, the PC was
choked, so I gave him a Sun that I acquired at a chapter 11
auction. He didn't know how to administer the system, so I did it, for
a while, until he got the hang of it. During this interval (circa,
1989,) I was astonished at the volume of traffic that was going into
the usenet conferences, and thought something was wrong (system
engineers are paranoid about someone coping resources-and justifiably
so on the Internet-the issue is that a vandal would break into one
machine on your network, then program that machine to break into all
of the other machines on your network until your were totally and
irreparably violated.)  After about a 10 minute search of where all of
the disk space was going, I discovered that it was the
conferences of usenet! To be specific, (and I just checked the netcom
usenet news router,) there are 7366 electronic conferences/digests in
usenet (via the wc .newsrc command,) and the conferences
consume 42.66% of the total bandwidth (via the /etc/dfspace
/usr/spool/news command)!!!!!

In 1989 I researched the issue (I was fascinated by my discovery,) and
discovered that a similar situation existed in the French "minitel"
system, (which made the ISDN standard, BTW.) What happened was that in
the early 70's, the French Government decided that what France needed
was some infrastructural technical reform, and this included an
information highway (they didn't call it that, but the German press
referred to it as the "informatik autobahn.") The government
commissioned the appropriate studies that formalized ISDN, etc. and
the entire country was "hooked together" by the mid 1980's-and nothing
happened. (This is all documented in the book " "Home Work," by
Phillip E. Mahfood, Probus Publishing Co., Chicago, Illinois, 1992.)
It turns out that, for the first decade of operation, the only folks
using the system was dirty old French men trying to find out where
Rosey Bom Bom was dancing, after her last arrest. What goes around,
comes around. An in depth (purely academic, of course) study of what
was going on in seemed to be the same issue that the French
had discovered 15 years earlier. This launched me back into some
relationships with my Anthropology Professors. (My postgrad tenure is
all in antro-I have no idea why.) As the minitel system grew to
maturity, and was integrated into the social infrastructure, more and
more "social organizational/administrative" issues were carried to all
french homes. First movie shows were announced, then general
advertisement, then airplane flight reservations were used,
etc. Finally, a student revolt (against a rise in university tuitions)
was organized, totally on the minitel (complete with press releases,
announcements telling reporters where a demonstration was going to be
held, etc.-the students won, BTW.)

It turns out that the cultural anthropologists (the folks that study
man's development of technology and industry-which is where my tenure
lies) had some answers. The typical "acceptance" or integration of a
technology into a culture tends to follow some general outlines, for
example, the automobile. (See "In the Age of the Smart Machine", by
Shoshana Zuboff, Basic Books, New York, New York, 1984, for details.)
First is a novelty phase, where only a few have actual working
knowledge of the technology (eg., the Stanly Steamer, and these people
were called "boffins," in that day, which is roughly equivilent to our
"nerd" of today.)  Next comes a technological standardization phase,
(for example, prior to about 1920, bolts were not standardized on
cars, requiring a different set of tools for each "brand" of
vehicle-after the 1920's the American Society of Automotive Engineers,
ASA, standardised bolt sizes, for example the ASA grade 8 is still
used today for cylinder head bolts.)  Finally, comes a kind of user
interface standardization, for example, to turn left, you turn the
steering wheel counter clock wise. (This was not always the case, for
example, some cars had aircraft like stick mechanisims, and yet
others, you turned clock wise-the issue was settled when Ackerman was
incorporated into the steering mechanism such that the inside front
wheel turns a shorter radius than the outside front wheel to prevent
tire scrubbing-it was technically a simpler solution to manufacture
the steering mechanism with a counter clockwise left turn-there is
really no logic in the "standard" way that we do it.) As intuitive as
it seems that you turn the steering wheel counter clock wise to turn
left, there is no logical reason for it to be that way, other than
that is the way that it is now "institutionalized" into the culture,
eg., it has been integrated that way.

Although the time interval of these phases has been decreasing (flint
technology took millions of years) we can look at the automobile,
radio, television, and semiconductors to get a "general" idea of how
long the phases are. Roughly, it is about 20 years for each phase. (DB
developed first car in 1890's, 1920's fasteners, metal thickness,
tires standardized, by the 1940's it was integrated into
society. Radio developed in first decade of 1900's by Marconi,
DeForest, et al, tubes, circuit techniques standardized by Sarnoff and
Armstrong by 1930's, all homes had radio's by 1940's with social
integration in Europe via Hitler somewhat sooner-he invented
"electro-politics." Television invented by BBC contract in 1930's,
interlace scans standardized by 1940's, in every home by 1950's.) Of
course there are exceptions, like the fax machine which was patented
in the American Civil war, and did not achieve wide spread integration
into the culture until mid this century.

If we try to extrapolate where computing is, computer invented (but a
classified project) in late 1940's, first "nerd" versions by mid
1960's (eg, IBM 360,) with command line standardized as textural
regular expression (eg., wild card) substitution formalized in early
1970's, probably acceptance by 1990's. Which is kind of what we are

The point is that the "sleeze" applications mentioned above (and the
indian casino application) are indicative that computing is a normal,
maturing technology, as it is integrated into the "social norm." Next
comes the more beneficial uses of the technology to society, (eg.,
using it as a management tool as opposed to a mechanical
accountant-database, or replacement for a type writer.) But only if we
make it that way.

I would suppose that, from a social administration standpoint, some
consideration should be given to the issue of the contemporary use of
television/radio. The IEEE, actually the IRE in the 1920's, was split
as to whether radio was to be a social communications service,
administered but not controlled by the government as per Armstrong, or
a commercial service-as per the vision of David Sarnoff. The
professional engineering organizations were fractionalized and
destroyed when the US Supreme Court ruled that it was to be
commercial. (See "John von Neumann and the Origins of Modern
Computing", William Aspray, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press,
1990.) The BBC went one way, the US the other. (In the US, it is not
clear who the customer really is-is it me, the person watching TV, or
is it the company paying the broadcaster for advertisement time?) It
is interesting to note that the 60MHz to 850MHz television bandwidth
is, roughly, the equivalent bandwidth of the proposed information


BTW, a lot of this was cut from the text transcript of a guest lecture
I did for IBM executives in 1989 ... I don't really write all this
stuff off of the cuff-aren't full text information retrieval systems
wonderful-this one was retrieved by the program "qt" which was written
by yours truly, and is available via anonymous ftp from in
/usenet/comp.sources.unix/volume27/qt. Qt fetched it and imported it
into emacs, whence I used the "cut and stick" commands to compose this
email. Just in case you are curious.


John Conover,,

Copyright © 1994 John Conover, All Rights Reserved.
Last modified: Fri Mar 26 18:58:20 PST 1999 $Id: 940827091709.3933.html,v 1.0 2001/11/17 23:05:50 conover Exp $
Valid HTML 4.0!