By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
INTEL PIII PROBLEM:
HISTORY OF MICROPROCESSORS:
MS OFFICE PRIVACY ISSUES:
HACKERS IN THE NEWS:
It's a Wired Wired Wired Wired World
Some 101 million Americans have used the Internet, accessing more than 59 million Web hosts on 3 million active Web servers worldwide. The global estimate is 179 million people -- and the number is growing exponentially.
Microchips are getting smaller, cheaper and faster (see sidebar 9); someday they'll run the world, many predict. The first signs of what forecasters are calling "ubiquitous computing" are wireless PDAs (personal digital assistants) and wristwatch pagers. On the horizon are smart appliances, self-navigating cars and MIT Media Lab's prototype PennyPCs -- computer chips small enough to be embedded into paper and cloth, and cheap enough to throw away.
I'm Not a Number
Since 1935, when Social Security numbers were first assigned, we've grown accustomed to -- if not cozy with -- numerical identities. It shouldn't have come as a shock, then, when Intel Corp., ostensibly to enhance e-commerce security, engineered a unique serial number in each of its new Pentium III chips (as well as some Pentium IIs the company didn't tell us about). The chips, found in many home computers, can identify a navigator to a Web site without his knowledge. Intel responded to the furor over invasion of privacy by proposing to shield the numbers. But Zero Knowledge Systems has written software that can penetrate all Intel's fixes. See also Aliases sidebar [No. 11].
U.S. Space Command counts 2,609 satellites in orbit today. A ring of them encircles the Earth, bringing us digital phones and satellite TV, but also Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that can pinpoint your location anywhere on the planet, and Microsoft's Terraserver (www.terraserver.microsoft.com), which displays exquisitely detailed satellite photographs of the U.S. If you look, you might see your house.
Internet service providers like MSN, AOL and FlashNet, and computer manufacturers like Micron, are offering free computers with long-term Internet-access contracts. It could be a sales gimmick -- but remember how expensive cell phones and satellite dishes were when they first appeared? Service over hardware is the wave of the future, analysts predict.
An estimated 11 million people in the U.S. have medical implants. Clinicians predict that in the near future, many could be placed under round-the-clock surveillance via internal monitoring devices and Star Treklike medical scanners.
Cookies are information packets dropped onto your computer's hard drive when you visit a Web site. They record consumer preferences and other information, including a list of the pages you have viewed. On a return visit, the site will read its own cookie and personalize its presentation for you. But cookies also can be read by other corporations and hackers, who could use the information in ways you won't like. More audacious than cookie snatchers are Internet service providers including GeoCities who have been accused of selling lists of their own users' private data without permission.
Faster, Microchip, Kill, Kill
In 1971, Intel engineers squeezed 2,300 transistors onto a silicon wafer and changed the course of history. Microprocessor power is measured in millions of instructions per second (MIPS). An old 386 PC was capable of five MIPS. Today's desktops can handle 300 MIPS. Intel predicts that in 15 years a single microprocessing chip will handle 100,000 MIPS, or 100 billion instructions per second. The fastest computer in the world, the Intel TFLOPS Supercomputer in Albuquerque, uses 9,200 Pentium chips. See community-based computing sidebar [No. 14] for remedy to PC-inferiority complex.
Glitch in the Machine
Microsoft Word 98 and other MS Office documents have a nasty habit of picking up bits of erased information from your hard drive. Computer users have reported finding everything from personal e-mail to confidential patient information embedded in their Office files. Not a big problem, until you realize how many of these files circulate. Imagine sending your boss a letter attachment via e-mail with a list of porn URLs you weren't supposed to be visiting dangling off the end. Other programs with the same problem are Quark Xpress and Pagemaker.
Broad-band airwave technologies like XSspeed are on the market today as an alternative to cable/phone-line Internet access. XSspeed sets up a microwave dish at your home to receive transmissions from your Internet gateway. The access is faster than most modems but not nearly as fast as a T1 or cable-modem connection -- which is funny, because it's more expensive.
Is That You Behind Those Digital Pseudonyms?
Multiple aliases are the crux of Zero-Knowledge System's Freedom, a service for making anonymous connection to the Internet. ZKS uses public-key encryption (two pairs of codes, one for the sender and one for the receiver) to scramble all your Internet packets. The service also encrypts the connection between your aliases and your identity, which in theory prevents even ZKS from knowing who you are.