I write this column on Thursday, so there is no way of knowing for sure whether Pammy and I actually survived DEF CON I, the hackers convention held July 9-11 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. "Las Vegas in JULY?" asked Pammy. "Don't they shut down in the summer?" "These Unix hackers have rich internal lives," I explained.
"The lure of buffet lines and cheap hotels was too strong. The fact that Las Vegas in July is comparable to the sunny side of Mercury probably didn't occur to them. Just think of it as a virtually reality experience." "Then can't we just log in from here?" Good question. MS MOLE. Scanning the DEF CON I agenda, there is a heavy emphasis on cracking data security and the legal implications of inadvertently destroying, say, all the bank records in Nebraska.
The Secret Service, while invited, was too busy to attend. Big mistake.
And speaking of conspiracies, there is some interesting code smoldering inside your copy of Windows 3.1. Beta testers who ran Win31 under DR DOS frequently bumped into a non-fatel-error message that ominously suggested shutting down the program. You could continue, but only with a sense of impending doom. A story by Andrew Shulman in the September (not out yet - I peeked) issue of Dr. Dobb's Journal says this message was encrypted "...gratuitous gatekeeper seemingly with no purpose other than to smoke out non-Microsoft versions of DOS..." The gatekeeper is still stashed in five different parts of Win31, though the error message is turned off. If Novell is particularly successful with Novell DOS 7, will Microsoft switch the bit it takes to turn of this instrument of psychological warfare?
Sure. On the other hand, Microsoft isn't all that worried about IBM's DOS 6.1. Big Blue had some sexy extra features lined up for 6.1, then dropped them at the last moment because they came from third parties. Now IBM programmers are struggling to build what they decided not to buy, but the extra stuff (including a very nice task-switcher) won't be ready for months. FOOD FOR PROCESSING. On the theme of full-employment, DEC has revived its low-cost Alpha processor project and moved development from Massachusetts to Palo Alto Calif., presumably to attract better design talent. Long before the cheapo Alpha is ready, there will be a multiprocessor Pentium and PowerPC servers hitting the market, including a six-Pentium box coming from Compaq this fall, priced in the $30K range. Rumblings of such servers have already crunched the stock price of Sequent, and my guess is that NetFrame will be next. For a different low-end server experience, look for Tangent, the Burlingame, Calif., maker of high-end PC's to come out this fall with the first Silicon Graphics R-4400 clone. SCULLEY'S OUTA HERE.
One person I don't expect to see at DEF CON I is Apple chairman John Sculley, who won't be returning to Cupertino when his sabbatical is over at the end of the summer. My guess is that his fall from power was tied to whacko projects like the attempt to buy NBC I mentioned months ago. Looking for new sources of revenue, Apple will enter the CD-ROM distribution business this fall (THAT'S why they are making CD-ROMs standard). But they will hold no inventory; you call Apple, and they transfer the order to the appropriate publisher and take a cut. "Are you going to DEF CON?" asked one of my Unix friends. "Me too. Say, did you know that when you search America Online for single women in L.A., it only gives the first 256 names?" -----------------------
Definitely a DEF CON kinda guy. Lonely? Then call me with an industry secret at (415)310-0555; fax; (415)358-1269; email@example.com., or MCI:CRINGE