Internet: 03December1999

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Internet Story: 03 December 1999

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E-Shopping for Toys

BT killing the Net

Email nasties


Shopping for Toys  Earlier this week we thought we'd try out a little online shopping (after all, Bill Clinton told us just what a marvel on-line commerce is in his Thanksgiving speech last week).  At the moment my kids are, like the rest of the nation, into Pokemon toys - the latest fad, like Furbies were last year.  We decided that the obvious choices for toys in the UK high street would be Woolworths, Toys R Us and Argos.  Now Woolies ruled themselves out by not having a site up yet (though it's apparently now due to go live this week!).  We thought we'd try Toys R Us last, if we really couldn't buy elsewhere - I was put off by their online incompetence last year.  So off to Argos first.  What a disappointment, after trawling through their site and finding nothing we decided to try the search engine - 3 results returned (sadly I can't give you a URL as the site is too badly engineered).  The 3 results returned were of no use; 2 Gameboys and a watch.  So, off to and Internet only company that has enjoyed much hype in the US - EToysEtoys is a much easier site to navigate and use.  Type in "Pokemon" in their search field and you get back a parent's guide to Pokemon!  Nice touch, as there are links to the toys there too: lots of toys.  So off to order some... oh dear, lots of toys in the catalogue but none on the shelves.  Every item was out of stock (though I notice one or two are back in stock today)!  Oh well, let's try Toys R Us.  A waste of time as I was expecting - although some of the site appeared to be working fine, when it came to selecting toys or trying to purchase items then we were met with a barrage of "500" errors and DNS lookup failures (as reported by IE5).  Where to next?  How about the US sites?  No luck there either - none of the US sites we looked at would ship outside of the US (even Amazon!) - presumably some protected distribution deals would be broken if they did.  End result: a trip to Argos in Burnley to stand in the long line of people to order toys that were out of stock but would (and did) arrive on Wednesday.  So much for e-commerce.

BT still killing the Net  On Tuesday Oftel (the toothless, wimp of a telecoms watchdogs) announced that BT (the corporate personification of evil) will finally have to give up it's grip on the "local loop" (that part of the telecoms network in the BT local exchanges) in July 2001.  It is widely believed that the intellectually challenged Oftel was duped by BT into thinking that the task of upgrading local exchange equipment to cope with the task is a complex and time intensive task.  Most outside commentators disagree with this and point out just how far behind the rest of the world and large parts of Europe we will fall if the timetable is not brought forwards.  I find it amazing that BT is still trialling ADSL after 5 years of trials!  In the USA it is being rolled out wholesale - the expected uptake will reach 1.3 Million by the end of this year.  Ask Iain Vallance, Chairman of BT for his opinion and he defends the slow roll-out with, "We decided to defer mass deployment of an immature technology and we made the correct decision," and, "there was not a demand for ADSL on a widescale."  Immature?  It's so old now that it's almost obsolete!  No demand?  Get a life!  It's interesting that none of the following have so far managed to affect the behavior of BT: government, industry, consumer groups, watchdogs, public opinion, acts-of-god.  If BT carry on like this then the London local government will be calling for curfews around the Post Office Tower!  (BTW, notice how their web site has become almost unusable since their redesign using Broadvision!  Try finding a simple thing like their registered corporate address.)

BT have now announced pricing for ADSL, which of course no one wants.  It's going to be 35/month to ISPs (+150 set up fee) which may turn out to be 50/month to end users.  Still not as cheap as Europe, but I suppose it could have been worse.  The scheme doesn't come into effect until March next year, and don't expect it around Pendle for a long time yet.


Watch those Emails!  Yet another security scare.  This time it's not a vicious attachment payload (like Melissa and the more recent Explorer.Zip) but something far more insidious.  Richard Smith (veteran of many security exposures) has pointed out that an HTML enhanced email can be made to set cookies on your machine which can then be tracked back to your email address by other web sites.  This means that other web site may be able to tie your identity directly with your surfing habits.  Richard has passed on details to the major email and web browsing manufacturers and has also notified the FTC (Federal Trading Commission) in the USA.

Tip: If in doubt, turn off Javascript (& Java) in your mail client (should disable setting cookies), and don't open any attachments when you don't know where they came from or they are unexpected from a known sender.  This still won't prevent loading graphics from other sites (so that they know you've read the email) - you will either need to turn off HTML rendering all together (if possible) or we need modifications in browser technology.


Andrew Stringer, Pendle.Net Ltd, 1999

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