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Ionic Column      in exile

by David Parry

Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. Currently based in Düsseldorf and working as a translator, he returns to Japan electronically via the BBS and the Internet. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column even won a prize and an honorable mention back in 1992.

No doubt all but the strictly technical articles this month will make at least a passing reference to the dramatic and tragic events in the USA on September 11th. At the expense of being regarded as a literary hyena, I enclose part of an article that was posted on the TPC list server the day after the attack. But first, some comments from my north Rhenish perspective.

The Internet time lag
I first heard of the news because somebody in a neighboring office has a TV set. The radio stations were also quick off the mark, but it was quite a while before the Internet caught up. Internet Explorer defaults to using MSN as your homepage when you start your browser, and I could never be bothered to change it. I checked MSN NBC news several times in the course of the day. The first mention came perhaps two hours after the attack, and updates were slow. So much for NBC; what about CNN, the news station? I tried their Website several times, but never got in. So much for Internet news coverage.

I quote part of the article from Frank Yu of Ion Global:

The Asia Internet Report
A monthly publication by Ion Global, Ltd.


- Regular Asia Internet Report postponed

Due to the recent tragic events we have postponed the Asia Internet Report scheduled for transmission today.

We Americans living abroad tend to be isolated from domestic events and news as it happens. This was especially acute as the news of the World Trade Center tragedy unfolded. Essentially, all the Americans in Asia started using their cell phones to call all the other Americans in Asia and tell them what had happened. That is how most of us first heard the news - by cell phone. Many of us do not have cable television and the stations in Hong Kong had not switched to English yet.

The international phone lines across the Pacific were snarled as almost everyone abroad tried to reach their family and friends at the same time. Even after repeatedly redialing, some were never able to make contact. For awhile, many of us had no idea what had really happened.

All the U.S. sites we tried to access failed. The backbone lines in both the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S. were too congested. Sites that we would usually access, like CNN or MSNBC, were loading too slowly or not at all. The first site that I was able to load, with some irony, was Matt Drudge's <>. As unprofessional as the content is, the site's ability to function was a welcome relief. Some sites such as and had staff in the area and were crippled by the evacuation and the congestion. Meanwhile, in Asia, many of our news sites had yet to even show the story. People watching CNN would relay news by mobile phone to friends without cable.

A collision of pixels
We now know that the passengers on the fourth plane heard the news on their mobile phones and decided to at least deflect their kamikaze pilots away from a likely target. One wonders if, with the new high-capacity UTMS phones only a few years away, and with digital cameras, camcorders and Webcams becoming ever more widespread, whether a future hijacking might actually have live coverage of the events, broadcast as it happens. Informative but macabre. There were enough people on the streets of NY using their camcorders to get footage of the first and totally unexpected crash. It all came across as yet another potboiler disaster movie with the obligatory computer graphics, but, horror of horrors, this was a collision that involved real people, real buildings and real airplanes. The actors did not get up afterwards and wipe the makeup off their faces. This was not a collision of pixels or elaborate FX with models in a film studio.

The wonders of FX
This is and is not a matter for us PC users. We use our computers in all sorts of ways, and while my usage is relatively restricted, I know enough of the background of things such as cinematic CGI to understand what they are doing; it is, after all, nothing more than AutoCAD-like design and PhotoShop-like tweaking on the grand scale, done frame by frame just like cartoons. It is truly remarkable what can be done these days. Just compare the first of the "gee whiz" films that relied in computer eye candy, such as Star Wars, and see the progress in just two decades. Or in just one decade; compare the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park I, II and III. If only the plots had made as much progress ... but I digress. I'll save this topic for next month, with a plug for, as this is not the best time for levity.

Online art
Another aspect of computer graphics concerns the pictures on the topic that circulated the Internet within a day or two, one showing Osama bin Laden in a not very flattering pose, and another with a slightly modified and defiant Statue of Liberty. In my student days I made a few collages, which involved some cut and paste work with B&W photographs and then rephotographing the result. The result was painfully obvious, but anything better required a fair bit of artistic skill and an airbrush. The same sort of thing can be done seamlessly with all the graphics programs out today, and the flood of images on the Internet provides plenty of material. While photographic collages in color are extremely difficult, color graphics on the computer are no problem. All those wonderful smudge and align and blend functions to hide the joins, and color correction to hide the inevitable variations in lighting.

Flight Simulator 2001
A disturbing aspect of the kamikaze crashes is that it apparently involved pilots who had enough flying hours under their belts to handle Cessnas and who then did some intensive practice with MS Flight Simulator. Helpfully, the add- ons include packs for the 747 and 767, and the general view seems to have been that this was sufficient for a pilot with a knowledge of the basics to point a real airliner at a target with a fair chance of hitting it. As somebody said online, flying an airplane is not too difficult once it is in the air under normal circumstances, but pilots need their experience to cope with unusual situations and when something goes wrong with the plane. Taking off is not that easy, either, and only in Hollywood films can a wide-eyed novice pilot land an airliner smoothly onto a runway, helped only by a quivering stewardess at his side and a cool, calm and collected pilot talking him down over the radio.

Flight Simulator to be banned?
Years ago I was amused to read on the software license for the now long-defunct MultiMate word processing program that it was subject to the Munitions Ordinance, or something of the sort, under US law. For a moment I had peyote- like visions of a word processor spitting out 600 rounds a minutes instead of 60 words a minute. But many US software and hardware products are not supposed to be exported, although they can generally be obtained anyway. One of the more sensitive areas is encryption, and particularly RSA encryption. But equivalent programs can be found elsewhere. In Russia, for example. A little while ago I was looking for a password cracker so that I could open up some MS Word 97 and Excel files for translation. A search through the Internet located a program of this type from Elcom, a company based in Russia. I got the program and cracked the Word passwords very quickly from the dictionary, but the Excel files required a brute force search. I left the program running overnight a couple of times, but even that was not enough to explore all the possibilities of a six-character password. Elcom is currently in the news because of a run-in with Adobe. A programmer at Elcom developed a means of cracking the encryption of Adobe Ebooks to allow users to make a backup of them or to allow them to be "read" by the blind through a text-to-voice device. Under Russian law, you are not only allowed to do this, the software maker is required to make it possible. The programmer in question fell foul of US law, which takes a somewhat different tack.

As always, this column is written under time pressure, and this one has to be in early to help the new publisher. Whoever he or she is, I send my best wishes - and I know just what is involved!

Comments or feedback or more information? A burning desire to be quoted in print? Contact me at, or

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

October, 2001

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

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