Hard News by Russell Brown

Remembering the Internet

Well, they missed the 20th anniversary of TCP/IP in January, but somebody has remembered to hold a talkfest to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the original graphical browser, NCSA Mosaic.

Mosaic was my first hands-on experience of the Internet, at a one-day course in 1993 at Auckland University, where they also taught us a bunch of other stuff that nobody needs to know now.

Not long after, I got my shell account at Iconz, Auckland's first commercial ISP, under the work-it-out-for-yourself customer support system that prevailed at the time (how you were supposed to divine that you typed "pine" at the shell prompt to get your email, I'll never know). The Wood brothers, who went on to found Ihug, actually set up my account.

Later in 1994, I upgraded to a Slip account, and thus was able to Web browse. Really slowly. It looked like this. Just like the web browser that you're reading this with now, it had back, forward, reload and home buttons. Truly, that was a killer UI.

Before long, word got round that the key people behind Mosaic had gone commercial. Marc Andreessen himself sent out a message announcing the availability of beta 0.9 of Mosaic Netscape "a built-from-scratch Internet navigator featuring performance optimized for 14.4 modems, native JPEG support, and more." It was faster, it was cooler and you were pretty much an old-stick-in-the-mud if you didn't download and use it henceforth. I'll stop before we get to the browser wars …

Apple Computer has scored its customary big story placement for its new digital music service, the iTunes Music Store - this time it's an enthusiastic rave in Fortune. Like the iPod, the music service isn't so much a revolutionary change as a better (and way cooler) implementation of what some other people are doing. The big five record companies have signed up, and the store has tracks - US99 cent downloads - from Dylan, Eminem, Massive, QOTSA, etc, that haven't been available online before.

So now you can get 'Fly Like an Eagle' without having to buy the Steve Miller Band's turgid Greatest Hits album. This will cause some grief in the industry - will volume in single-track sales cover the lost income from obligatory album purchases? - but it was surely inevitable. Playlists are where it's at these days.

I always do everything Steve says, so I downloaded iTunes 4 and QuickTime 6.2 to enable the service, even though it's not available outside the US (they only accept US credit cards and seem to use geolocation on top of that) and probably won't be for months. Anyway, the store is swamped with traffic and spewing out error messages right now. But iTunes 4 now supports encoding in AAC (Advanced Audio Coding - the audio component of MPEG 4, as supported by QuickTime and perverted by Windows Media) and I'm seriously considering trashing most of my MP3s and going AAC all round.

I'll do some more war-blogging tomorrow, but before you leave Fortune, check out this little number about Donald Rumsfeld's role on the board of the Swiss company that in early 2000 won the contract to supply North Korea with a couple of light-water nuclear reactors. These reactors can be used to produce weapons-grade fissile material.

Even as he was railing that the diplomatic deal with North Korea which led to the reactor opportunity "does not end its nuclear menace; it merely postpones the reckoning, with no assurance that we will know how much bomb-capable material North Korea has," Rumsfeld never revealed that he was an active director of the company that, according to Fortune, "had an inside track" on the $US4 billion project.

Even when he chaired a 1998 Congressional panel to examine classified data on the potential nuclear threat from North Korea, Rumsfeld told no one about his commercial involvement with the reactor projects. And get this:

In his final days in office, Clinton had been preparing a bold deal in which North Korea would give up its missile and nuclear programs in return for aid and normalized relations. But President Bush was skeptical of Pyongyang's intentions and called for a policy review in March 2001. Two months later the DOE, after consulting with Rumsfeld's Pentagon, renewed the authorization to send nuclear technology to North Korea. Groundbreaking ceremonies attended by Westinghouse and North Korean officials were held Sept. 14, 2001--three days after the worst terror attack on U.S. soil.

Now, read Seymour Hersch's Richard Perle story in the New Yorker - after which Perle, who was plainly guilty of a failure to disclose interests nearly as startling as Rumsfeld's, called Hersch a "terrorist" then quietly resigned from the chairmanship of the Defense Policy Board - and then tell me you trust these people and you want them running the world. A democracy that cannot call this kind of thing to account really has some serious problems.