Bob's Junkmail

Purveyor of fine tripe since 1999

Important Stuff.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Long Winded Junk

This Junkmail is long, quite possibly too long. Feel free to skip any political rants.


Elon Musk

Elon Musk is not only a purveyor of electric cars, but also a dirty immigrant. This makes him, Tesla, and even SpaceX particularly unpalatable for a number of people with right-wing political views.

I won't waste my time to look up all the examples. Suffice it to say that there are real and definite publicity campaigns against Tesla, Elon Musk, electric cars in general, and SpaceX. These may not be overly organized, but they are somewhat effective.

Tesla cars are sometimes portrayed as a fire risk, but gasoline powered cars have fires at a significantly higher rate than Teslas.

Many of the same people who wanted to privatize space launches now criticize SpaceX for launching satellites so cheap it puts pressure on the established government Space contractors. There has been a ton of false news and social media misinformation against SpaceX. Most of this seems to be from right-wing propaganda mills, but some also appears to come from Russia propagandists and the established space and defense contractors. (The Russian space industry has been hit particularly hard by SpaceX and China.)

Now Elon Musk's security clearance is under review because he apparently smoked marijuana on a Youtube video. This might be understandable, because marijuana use is illegal in the entire United States, according to federal law, and NASA employees and contractors are prohibited from using illegal drugs.

      https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-elon-musk-securi...

In other news, President Trump ordered the White House chief of staff to grant his son-in-law Jared a top-secret security clearance, overruling United States intelligence officials who deemed Jared an ineligible security risk. Unsurprisingly, President Trump has lied about this multiple times.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/28/us/politics/jared-ku...

      https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/officials...

Marijuana will be eventually legalized, but it won't happen overnight. There's too much money and too much political hay to be made and lost for a quick change to occur on the federal level. Or maybe it will happen sooner than I think. I was pretty surprised at how fast various states have legalized medical and recreational marijuana.

Elon Musk was charged with fraud by the SEC last year, after saying he planned to take Tesla private and had the financing to do so, then saying "never mind" after the stock went up. He ended up stepping down as Chairman of Tesla and had some restrictions placed on his tweeting, which he promptly violated. So now Elon Musk could be in serious trouble for doing something as stupid as Donald Trump. Well, not quite that stupid, but still pretty dumb.

      https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/12/elon-musks-lawyers-shoo...

On Thursday, Tesla showed a prototype of their new Model Y electric car. It is an SUV (or SUV crossover), will have range of 300 miles compared to 230 miles in the Model 3, and will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds. It will go into production next Fall.

teslay.jpg
Tesla Model Y


Moon Landings

It's been more than 40 years since people were on the moon. From 1976 to 2013, there were no manned or unmanned landings on the moon. In 2013, China landed a rover on the moon. It operated until 2016.

In January, China landed a rover on the far side of the moon.

137818637_15501002305971n.jpg
China's Chang'e-4 Lander

Last month, SpaceX started an Israeli spacecraft on its way to the moon. The spacecraft shared a Falcon 9 payload with an Indonesian communications satellite and a small U.S. military satellite.

SpaceXBeresheet.jpg
Beresheet launch

The lunar spacecraft is small by today's standards, weighing 330 lbs and carrying 960 lbs of fuel, and made up only 12 percent of the launch's payload. It will circle the earth in elliptical orbits increasing in size until it reaches the moon and achieves orbit there on about April 4. The target date for a moon landing is April 11.

      https://spaceflightnow.com/2019/02/22/israeli-moon-land...

The Beresheet spacecraft was developed with more than $95 million in private donations to compete for Google's Lunar X Prize, which nobody won.

Japan is planning to send a rover built by Toyota to the moon in 2029.

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion crew capsule have been under development for eight years, costing about $14 billion so far. The SLS was scheduled to launch the Orion spacecraft on a 3-week test mission, sans crew, in 2020. It looks like there's no way the SLS will be ready then. NASA boss Jim mentioned that they may use a private launch vehicle instead of the SLS in order to meet the 2020 schedule.

      https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/03/what-is-going-o...

The Orion spacecraft is intended for lunar exploration and other crewed missions beyond earth orbit.

It might not be too long before there are "adventure tour" trips to permanent shelters on the moon, or permanent space stations in orbit around the moon. I'd recommend against using a company that advertises visiting ancient ruins on the moon.

P0001328a.jpg
11/20/2018 - the moon and a bird

P0001346a.jpg
11/21/2018 - almost full

P0002303a.jpg
1/13/2019 - almost half

P0002794.jpg
1/21/2019 - zero eclipse of the moon

P0002798a.jpg
1/21/2019 - total eclipse of the moon


Recyclists

Recycling is something you do when you start the second lap on a bike. Or sometimes when you throw something away.

I assume you, like so many others, have been up late at night wondering what happens when you toss a caffeine-free Diet Coke bottle into a recycling container. Where does it go? Is there a fairy that takes it and leaves money in the container?

It's a little like that, in theory. A company can collect recyclable trash and process it into usable material. For example, things like Diet Coke bottles can be cleaned, separated from their lids, shredded, and processed in to plastic pellets. These plastic pellets can be used to make more food packaging, but are more often used to make fabric for clothing or material for carpet.

The G7 industrialized countries (the U.S., Japan, Germany, the U.K., France, Italy, and Canada) sell most of their recyclable trash to companies in other countries. China used to buy about 60% of this, but it became a problem because processing the recycled trash caused a lot of air and water pollution in China.

In 2017, China started requiring imported recyclables to be a lot "cleaner", with fewer impurities. This required exporting countries to spend more money cleaning and sorting any recyclable trash sold to Chinese companies. By the first part of 2018, China's imports of the G7 countries' recyclable trash had dropped from 60% to 10% -- in less than a year. From 2017 to 2019, China's import of scrap plastic has dropped 99%.

Scrap plastic exports from the United States dropped 35% in 2018. Instead of being paid for their recyclable trash, some cities now have to pay to get rid of it. Several U.S. recycling companies have begun sending the recycled trash they've accumulated to landfills because it costs too much to export, and generally costs too much to process in the U.S.

After greatly increasing their imports of recyclable trash last year, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Taiwan, and Vietnam have now banned or significantly limited the import of scrap plastic.

Ironically, some displaced Chinese recyclable trash processors have announced plans to open new plants in Orangeburg, South Carolina and Huntsville, Alabama.

What's the result of all this? Today it costs a lot more to recycle than it did two years ago, because China and other countries have cut trash imports to reduce pollution.

This will probably cause less recycling, more preprocessing of recyclable trash, more expensive diet cokes, and cleaner, less efficient recycling plants.

I think as long as there's a huge supply of recyclable material available at near zero cost, technology will progress and find a way to use it profitably. In 100 years maybe they'll be mining our landfills for raw materials that were trashed in 2019.

      https://www.ft.com/content/360e2524-d71a-11e8-a854-33d6...

      https://gbtimes.com/solid-waste-import-ban-tightened-by...

      https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news17_e/impl_03oct1...


FCC

I have to admit that I've never heard an entire robocall, but I did ditch my landline (and DSL) because of the robocalls I didn't listen to. Now they've started robocalling cell phones because so many people have no landline.

There's no technical reason that ATT, Verizon, and other carriers don't stop calls made from spoofed phone numbers. Then it would be simple to stop illegal robocalls. But there is a financial reason. Robocalls make a lot of money for wireless carriers.

Maybe we should join John Oliver and robocall the FCC.

The FCC has been changing the rules of television and internet ownership to help right-wing companies such as Sinclair Broadcasting, who now owns Channel 8 in Tulsa. The FCC was investigated by the FCC (no, that's not a mistake) and found that the FCC did no evil.

Some things concerning the FCC make you wonder if this is some kind of alternate reality. For example, Municipal broadband is a threat to the first amendment, according to an FCC Commissioner.

The FCC claims broadband growth based on completely unrealistic and incorrect data.

The FCC banned net neutrality against strong public opinion, based on faked online comments, 99.7 percent of which favored net neutrality. The FCC also claimed a Denial of Service attack that did not exist, and the chairman refused to acknowledge the truth. A bill to reverse this has been introduced in Congress, but the Senate will vote it down.

The repeal of net neutrality was supposed to increase internet provider investment into broadband service, but it didn't work.

The FCC did not pursue internet privacy violations during the recent government shutdown, allowing quite a lot of rampant data abuse.

The FCC has taken no action against ATT, T-Mobile, and Sprint after they sold enhanced 911 customer data, and doesn't seem interested in keeping new 911 data out of the hands of marketeers.

With all this weirdness, you might guess that the White House is involved. You would be correct.

President Trump recommended that the FCC take NBC off the air because they criticized him.

President Trump put pressure on the FCC to block the ATT-Time Warner merger because he doesn't like CNN (owned by Time Warner). He wanted them to force the sale of CNN before the merger would be approved.

T-Mobile spent $195,000 at President Trump's hotel while trying to get its merger with Sprint approved by the FCC.

After getting the FCC to change the TV station ownership regulations for Sinclair Broadcasting, President Trump was pressuring the FCC to change them again to allow a merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media.

President Trump demanded a quick rollout of 6G wireless service, which does not exist and has not yet even been defined.

When asked about the questionable behavior of the FCC, President Trump responded, "That's nothing! You should see what Betsy's doing over at Education!" Or maybe I just made that up.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/opinion/trump-worst-...


Get Your Shots

Tetanus is a real danger. Don't forget your booster.      

What's wrong with putting 44 unvaccinated kids in a school during a measles outbreak? Share and share alike!

      https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/03/12/m...

In Texas, they have "antibiotics and stuff" that will take care of you in case you get measles. Never mind that antibiotics don't work against viruses.

      https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/03/as-anti-vax-mov...

You probably don't need to worry about vaccinating your dog for rabies, either. Most dogs don't get rabies.


Hacks

It's a good idea to assume that anything online can be hacked. For example, a U.K. security company discovered how to hack three million car alarms.

The servers of software company Citrix, whose customers include 400,000 organizations around the world, most Fortune 500 companies, and several governments, were successfully accessed by overseas hackers. It's possible that some Iranians took 6 terabytes of data over a period of a couple of months.

University grades, university admissions, emergency sirens, almost any user account, political parties, retail chains, email services, cell phone apps are all susceptible to hacking.

And the U.S. Senate? Nobody knows.

      https://www.cyberscoop.com/senate-hacked-ron-wyden-tom-...


AK Drones and Cars

Got noisy neighbors? Get your new Kalashnikov combat drone and blow them to smithereens!  [note: "smithereens" is not intended to be racist or sexist, merely cruel. Although no one is entirely positive about its origins, the world probably came from the Irish word smidiríní, which means "little bits", the diminutive of smiodar, which means "fragment." Written records of "smithereen" date back to about 1829.]

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/02/23/kalashn...

I am still awaiting a court ruling to determine whether the new Oklahoma law allowing unlicensed concealed carrying of firearms applies to combat drones with explosive payloads. Oklahoma, 5th in the nation in firearm deaths per capita, is striving to be number one.

Kalashnikov has also announced an electric car it claims will keep up with Tesla, but that seems more like a joke. It unveiled an incredibly ugly prototype, but has no apparent plans to go into production. I think the Russians might be just needling the guy who put their space launch business out of business. The cheap combat drones, on the other hand, seem to be a clear and present danger. But the as the largest arms exporter in the world, the U.S. doesn't have much room to complain.

Iran has its own combat drones now, rough knock-offs of the U.S. Predator drone.

P0003296.jpg
No Drones


Huawei

Huawei is a Chinese company that makes telecommunications equipment used all over the world. Huawei has been accused to being a security risk, and the use of Huawei 5G network systems has been banned in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Canada is doing its own security review of Huawei, but they did arrest the Meng Wanzhou, vice chairman and CFO of Huawei, at the behest of the United States. She also happens to be the daughter of the company's founder.

U.S. federal prosecutors charged Meng Wanzhou and Huawei with thirteen counts of bank and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and misappropriating trade secrets. She is currently in Vancouver, British Columbia dealing with extradition hearings and lawsuits.

Some claim Meng Wanzhou's arrest and detention amounts to kidnapping and she is being used as a bargaining ship in President Trump's trade talks with China. President Trump confirmed this, which was just about as stupid as having her arrested in the first place.

      https://www.politico.com/story/2019/02/22/trump-huawei-...

In other news, Huawei announced their new P30 and P30 Pro smartphones in January. Their advertisements showed some sample photos. But it was soon determined that the sample photos were taken with DSLR cameras, not the smart phone. The same thing happened in two previous announcements of Huawei smartphones. This was considered very bad manners by the photo community.

      https://www.dpreview.com/news/1312116341/huawei-caught-...


Suppressed Intelligence

"Marcus Hutchins, the widely acclaimed security researcher charged with creating malware that sold for thousands of dollars on the Internet, has lost his bid to suppress self-incriminating statements he made following days of heavy partying at the 2017 Defcon hacker convention in Las Vegas."

      https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/02/malwaretech...


Russian Freedom of Religion

A guy in Russia was sentenced to six years in prison for being a Jehovah's Witness. A local court had banned his chapter of Jehovah's Witnesses previous year, and shortly before his arrest, the Russian Supreme Court banned the denomination as an extremist group, classifying it on par with the Islamic State.

      https://www.npr.org/2019/02/06/691935657/russian-court-...

In other news, President Trump is on a mission from God, according to the White House. (This is a somewhat biased editorial. This material will not be on the exam.)

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-on-a-m...


The Wall

In my opinion, a border wall at the Mexican border is a waste of money and a land grab by the federal government.

Most illegal drugs enter the United States at legal points of entry. Most Fentanyl enters the United States in the mail, and at legal ports of entry. Building a border wall would not significantly reduce the amount of drugs entering the United States.

President Trump said, "If we build a powerful and fully designed see-through steel barrier on our southern border, the crime rate and drug problem in our country would be quickly and greatly reduced. Some say it could be cut in half." This is plain stupid. Most undocumented immigrants do not illegally cross the southern border, undocumented immigrants do not commit crimes at a rate higher than U.S. citizens, and drugs flow through the border mostly through legal crossing points.

The White House Press Secretary said Friday that Customs and Border Protection picked up nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists in 2018 "that came across our southern border." She lied. The actual number is zero. No immigrant has been arrested at the southwest border on terrorism charges in recent years.

President Trump has stated dozens of times, if not hundreds, that Mexico will pay for a border wall. He lied. Mexico won't.

Trump: "Mexico is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal."

This is wrong. The Trump administration has renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the updated trade deal is not in effect yet. It hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Congress, and it also needs legislative approval from Mexico and Canada, the other two parties in the agreement.

The renegotiated deal does not add new tariffs on goods coming from Mexico to the United States, and it’s unclear how the deal will impact U.S. businesses revenues. If U.S. tax revenue increases in response to increased revenues of U.S. firms, then Congress would still have to allocate that money for the wall.

Trump: "When I say Mexico is going to pay for the wall, that's what I said. Mexico is going to pay. I didn't say they're going to write me a check for $20 billion or $10 billion."

That’s False. In an April 2016 memo, Trump’s campaign outlined the steps he could take to get Mexico to pay for the wall. The memo proposed restricting remittances sent by Mexicans in the United States and urging the Mexican government to pay a lump sum to the United States to pay for the wall. If Mexico paid, the regulation restricting remittances would not go into effect, according to the campaign plan. "It's an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year," the memo said.

President Trump said there's a 10-foot wall around Barrack Obama's DC home. There's not.

"The wall is under construction right now." -- President Trump, February 21

He lied. It's not.

A large majority of people who live along the U.S. side of the Mexican border are against a border wall. Every one of the nine U.S. Representatives whose district is on the border opposes a border wall.

bordersign.jpg
A sign at a McAllen, Texas business.

A border wall would result in a federal land grab of thousands of acres, using imminent domain laws. This is important because I like butterflies.


Immigration Facts and Fallacies

Idaho Representative Raul Labrador claimed immigrants can apply for asylum at U.S. embassies or consulates abroad. He lied. They must be in the United States when they apply.

The headline says it all: President Trump Tweets Nonsensical Figures on Illegal Immigration

President Trump claimed there are thousands of immigration judges. He lied. There are fewer than 400.

President Trump claimed a "horrible law" required that children be separated from their parents "once they cross the Border into the U.S." He lied. There is no such law.

Matt Schlapp claimed Obama had same policy as Trump causing family separations. He lied. Family separations under Obama were relatively rare.

President Trump claimed MS-13 gang members are being deported "by the thousands." He lied. The ICE doesn’t track MS-13 deportations. Overall, thousands of gang members of all affiliations have been deported.

President Trump claimed that "they give us their worst people, they put them in a bin," and "the worst of the worst" are selected in the diversity visa program. He lied. He mischaracterized the program and its requirements, which include background checks by the U.S. government.

The overall number of people caught at the southwest border is not at historic high levels. During Trump’s time in office, overall apprehensions have been below 400,000; there were more than 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal year 2000.

Illicit drugs enter the United States mostly through legal ports of entry, not in between border crossing points.

President Trump regularly contends that immigrants coming into the United States illegally will increase crime. Several studies show that immigrants (regardless of immigration status) are not more prone to crime than native-born Americans.

President Trump said, "The building of the Wall on the Southern Border will bring down the crime rate throughout the entire country." Research shows that immigration is associated with decreased crime rates at both the city and neighborhood levels. Every congressional district along the southern border of the United States opposes construction of a border wall.

President Trump said, "Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border." He lied. That many people may be killed, but the majority of heroin is smuggled past immigration officers at legal points of entry. It mainly comes in through private vehicles followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods.

In any country that abides by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee enters and makes a petition, and the government makes a ruling after analyzing the facts. 85% of deportations in the United States are ordered quickly, without a hearing before a judge. This is a bit contrary to President Trump's claim that "The whole concept of having lengthy trials for anyone who sets one foot in our country unlawfully must be changed by Congress. It is unsustainable. It is ridiculous. Few places in the world would even consider such an impossible nightmare."

Most children entering the U.S. illegally have nothing to do with the cartels and gangs. Women immigrating to the U.S. are not bound in duct tape, as President Trump has claimed quite often.

Apprehensions of illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are at their lowest level since the early 1970s. There is no national emergency by any stretch of the imagination.

apprehension.png

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/12/27/trum...


The Wisdom of Donald Trump

It is well known that President Trump is a "mentally stable genius", because he has explained that to the American people on several occasions.

President Trump had also explained, on several occasions, that he knows more about the world of intelligence than the thousands of career intelligence professionals employed by the U.S. government. They are naive and should go back to school, according to the president.

President Trump also says he knows more about aviation than the FAA and Boeing, because he once had an airline that flew to a total of three cities and went bankrupt after three years of operation. He said that Boeing 737s are inferior to his 28-year-old 757 because modern planes are too complex to fly.

Air travel has been getting a lot safer over time.

2018_safety_fatalities_per_RPK.png
Fatality rate per revenue-mile, 5-year average

      https://theblogbyjavier.com/2019/01/02/aviation-safety-...

President Trump believes you have to have a voter ID to buy a box of cereal. He said on November 14, word for word, "If you buy, you know, a box of cereal, you have a voter ID." I did not make this up.

There's more!

      https://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/s...

      https://www.thoughtco.com/donald-trump-quotes-2733859

By the way, the "Trump tax cut" was not the biggest in history. It was not even close. In fact, there were two tax cuts during the Obama administration that were larger.
      Economic Recovery Act of 1981 (Reagan): 2.89 percent of GDP
      Revenue Act of 1945 (Truman): 2.67 percent
      Revenue Act of 1948 (Truman): 1.87 percent
      American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (Obama): 1.78 percent
      Revenue Act of 1964 (Johnson): 1.6 percent
      Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2010 (Obama): 1.31 percent
      Trump: 0.9 percent
Furthermore, the economy, even with optimistic projections, has not even come close to paying for the "Trump tax cut".

And the economy? Growing, but nothing unusual. Certainly not the "best ever".

      https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/03/trumps-campaign-claims-...

      https://slate.com/business/2019/02/fact-check-trumps-st...

One area in which President Trump is the unquestionable leader: Lying. President Trump has lied (made false or misleading statements) more than 8,700 times since he took office. Impressive! It's amazing that there are people in this country so gullible that they still believe this trash.


National Russian Association?

The NRA, the National Rifle Association, was an organization for gun education and safety for about the first 100 years of its life. I even won a couple of NRA marksmanship medals in my wayward youth.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the NRA transformed itself into a political lobbying organization for arms manufacturers and gun rights advocates. By 2000, the NRA had become one of the top political lobbying organizations in the country. In 2008 and 2016, the NRA spent tens of millions of dollars to support the Republican presidential candidates. In 2016, the NRA spent more than $30 million in support of Donald Trump, more than any other independent group in the nation.

Over the past few years, it appears that the NRA, either knowingly or unknowingly, has accepted Russian infiltrators and Russian money for political purposes. It's really odd to see so many "cold war conservatives" now allied with Vladimir Putin and Russia.

      https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/11/nra-russia-mo...

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/28/us/nra-russia-maria-...

      https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/06/the-nra-spent-d...

"The notion that all of these important oligarchs who had involvement with the NRA and were close to Putin were spending money on a few magazine subscriptions doesn’t strike me as very plausible."

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Rifle_Association


Keeping Up with the Witch Hunt

President Trump has called the Mueller Investigation a "witch hunt" more than 1,100 times. With that much repetition, some people are bound to believe that there has been nobody charged or convicted in the investigation. That's not the case.

A total of 35 people have been charged with crimes, including 12 members of Russian Intelligence. Eight people have been convicted or pled guilty to crimes. And the investigation is not yet complete.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/national/r...

      http://time.com/5541532/robert-mueller-trump-russia-inv...


Russia and Trump

What does the Russian press say about President Trump?

"Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving. Trump implements Russia’s negative agenda by default, undermining the U.S.-led world order, U.S. alliances, U.S. credibility as a partner and an ally. All of this on his own. Russia can just relax and watch and root for Trump, which Putin does at every TV appearance."
---- Vladimir Frolov, Russian columnist and foreign affairs analyst

      https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/21/world/europe/russia-...

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/here-are-18-rea...

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/opinion/editorials/t...


Government Slowdown

The government of the United States shut down!

I am exaggerating. About 18 percent of federal employees were furloughed for 35 days in December and January, and 20 percent were allowed to keep working without pay. These are the "nonessential" employees of the government. The percentages are of the civilian employees in the executive branch of the federal government, about 2.1 million total (in 2016).

I question the term "nonessential", because the vast majority of science researchers in the government were among the furloughed. I consider science research much more essential than whatever it is that the humans and politicians in the Capitol and White House do. It's almost like the United States shut down government research for a month to help the Chinese catch up (or extend their lead, as the case may be).

Here's the percent of employees furloughed in some organizations:

95% NASA
87% Commerce Department
83% Treasure Department
78% Department of the Interior (includes 95% of EPA employees)
42% State Department
40% Department of Agriculture
34% Department of Transportation (includes FAA)
17% Department of Justice (includes FBI)
13% Homeland Security (includes Coast Guard)

This was mainly symbolic political squabbling, and being political it made no practical sense. All the people who were furloughed will be paid for their time off. All the people who worked without pay will also be paid for their work.

      https://www.thebalance.com/government-shutdown-3305683

Some federal computerists may have noticed their web sites ran amok while they were out. It seems some DNS hijacking had occurred on government web sites during the shutdown.

      https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/01/...


Emoluments

William Barr was appointed to be the new Attorney General. This is odd, because he's never researched the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. He said in Senate hearings, "I couldn’t even tell you what it says."

I didn't know either, but I'm not planning to be United States Attorney General.

Here are a couple of examples. T-Mobile announced a big merger that requires approval by the Trump administration. The next day, nine T-Mobile executives had reservations at President Trump's hotel. This would not be covered in the emolument clause of the Constitution, because T-Mobile is a domestic company.

Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 at President Trump's hotel in Washington in 2017. Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago reported significant upticks in bookings from Saudi visitors in 2018. This would likely be covered under the emoluments clause, because this could be considered a gift from a foreign power.

President Trump is consistent with his dishonesty and corruption, if nothing else.


Bitcoin, Blockchains, and Cryptocurrency

First there was bitcoin, 10 or 12 years ago, an imaginary form of money that used a blockchain distributed structure for accounting, and complex computation to limit the number of bitcoins in circulation. Bitcoins were worth nothing, but was an interesting concept. Then, gradually, bitcoins became accepted and gained some value.

To explain how the bitcoin currency works, I'll start with an example. Imagine that I want to create a currency. For convenience, I'll call it squid. Each squid has a unique number, somewhere between 1001 and 9000, so there are 8000 squid in circulation.

I'll be the banker, so if you want to buy a squid in the primary market (i.e., me), you pay me the price of a squid and I'll give you squid number nnnn, such as 1127. You own it, and I register that squid to you. Someone else can buy your squid, but you and they will need to contact me so I can change the owner registration of squid number 1127.

If enough people, for whatever reason, believe that a squid is worth something in dollars or yuan or euros, then the squid will be worth something. After all, a squid is worth whatever people will pay for it. When the central bank (me) is out of squid numbers, I can open up more numbers and sell more squid, which puts downward pressure on the squid price because of dilution.

Now, look at the weak point of this scheme. As the central "bank" for squid, I can set the price for squid (on the primary market) and determine how many squid are placed in circulation, which effectively controls the squid price. There is also the risk that a shady individual (such as myself) might cheat squid buyers, either on my own or through coercion. This would be pretty easy to do as the squid market is completely unregulated.

These weaknesses make a central-bank-based imaginary currency impractical. For a squid to be worth money, people have to have some confidence that they won't be cheated.

One solution to this is to use a distributed ledger such as a blockchain. In this example, every trade is logged in an electronic ledger, and every user keeps a copy of that entire ledger. The history of each squid transaction from the beginning of squid is in the ledger. Everybody's ledger is compared against everybody else's to make sure nobody is cheating.

The problem now is how to keep people on the same, legitimate ledger. It works like this: for a transaction to be added to the ledger, someone has to solve a difficult math problem on their computer, which in turn verifies that the person transferring the squid actually owns the squid before the transaction, and the recipient owns it afterward.

The math problem is takes so much time that a verified transaction can be distributed throughout the squid network before the same squid can be transferred again. There is some hocus pocus with the number of zeros in the math solution that prevents someone from transferring the same squid twice. That would be a little like counterfeiting and is considered bad manners.

After a transaction is verified, everybody on the squid network has a copy of the sender, recipient, and amount transferred, so they know the sender owns n squid less and the recipient owns n squid more than before.

When someone solves a math problem to verify the transaction, they are paid in squid for their trouble, creating new squid in the market. They may also charge a transaction fee, also in squid, from the sender and/or recipient.

For efficiency's sake, many transactions can be bundled into one package to be handled by a single math problem.

The distributed ledger that I incompletely and possibly inaccurately described is called a blockchain. That's what is used for bitcoins and other cryptocurrency such as ethereum.

The math problem solvers are called bitcoin miners, or cryptocurrency miners. There are huge data centers, "cryptocurrency mining farms", that use megawatts of electricity to solve the hash problems, verify bitcoin transactions, and collect bitcoins. There is constant a technology race to have the fastest bitcoin miners, in order to cover the costs of the custom computer hardware and massive electric bills.

6 or 8 years ago, you could use a PC to mine bitcoins. Then people started using game-quality graphics card, because the parallel processing was better suited for the bitcoin calculations. Bitcoin mining became popular enough that some chip manufactures developed bitcoin mining hardware that was much faster than graphics cards. These were cheap enough that kid and nephew Brian and Ken got some and made some money mining bitcoins.

The bitcoin mining hardware got faster and more expensive, and it has grown to the point that there are now large data centers dedicated to bitcoin mining. If you want to build your own bitcoin data center, there are companies who will provide all the consulting you need, for a price.

In 2017 there was a lot of hype about bitcoins, driving the price of a bitcoin from about $1,000 to almost $20,000. Some Wall Street firms even got into the action. You can now buy and sell bitcoin futures, just like pork bellies. In 2018 the bitcoin price came back down and is currently around $3,500. Coincidentally, Nvidia, maker of chips for graphics cards and bitcoin miners, has warned that its latest financial results will be extraordinary, unusually turbulent, and disappointing.

bitcoin.png

It looks like Wall Street may not get into the bitcoin market in a big way, though. There are the problems of a declining price, lack of government approval, and the lack of regulations that would prevent price manipulation.

There's a lot of publicity about bitcoins, but very few articles mention what it's good for. Bitcoins can be used to make somewhat private financial transactions on the internet. It's a little like sending cash over the internet to anonymous people. I qualified this with "somewhat", because with some considerable time and effort, any bitcoin transaction can be tracked with quite a bit of confidence.

There are two areas that bitcoins are used for, besides gambling on the price investing in the currency. First, people use bitcoins to buy and sell things illegally on the internet. For example, most of the fentanyl trafficked into the United States comes from China via the postal service and is paid for in bitcoin.

The other popular use for bitcoins is to pay off hackers who have managed to place ransomware on your computer. They require bitcoin because it can be sent to Russia or anywhere else in the world, and it's difficult to trace the transaction. However, it's a bad idea to pay for ransomware decryption, especially if the ransomware is really a disk wiper.

In a bit of irony, some ransomware has recently been targeting bitcoin miners.

I mentioned that my imaginary squid currency is unregulated, and is worth only what people are willing to pay for them. The same is true for bitcoins. There is quite a bit of fraud and market manipulation in the bitcoin market, and even more for the smaller cryptocurrencies such as Etherium. I just did a Google search for "bitcoin fraud". I got 27,500,000 hits.

Since the bitcoin market is decentralized and completely unregulated, there's nothing to stop people from practicing price manipulation in any and all of its forms. I'd go into detail here, but it's a little boring and the techniques are pretty much the same as those for any commodity.

Following closely behind the bitcoin boom was a plethora of questionable blockchain related ventures, either misguided or fraudulent or both. There are dozens or hundreds of startups using the blockchain idea to attract investors to unrelated, impractical ventures and other snake oil. These are dying off now, along with the price of bitcoins, but you can still get in on the ground floor...

      https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/27/technology/bitcoin-c...

      https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/12/civil-unres...

      https://blockpublisher.com/ceo-dlt-labs-on-whether-the-...

      https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/11/tezos-a-cry...

Sometimes the criminality is a little more blatant.      

If you'd like to add blockchain technology to your business, which almost certainly won't make any practical or financial sense, you can join the blockchain wave. Just buy this blockchain software suite, or this one, and then you'll be cool.

Even the former Interior Secretary Zinke is getting in on the action!

If you were the happy recipient of some bitcoin, you would normally save it in a digital wallet, accessible anywhere as long as you have the address and the password. However, there is no "forgot password" link in a bitcoin wallet. If you lose or forget the password, you lose your bitcoin stash. Some companies will handle this for you, but then they'll have access to all your bitcoins, more or less defeating the purpose of digital currency in the first place. You just as well put your money in an FDIC-insured bank.

      https://www.wired.co.uk/article/bitcoin-lost-newport-la...

      https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/02/...

      https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/02/...

In fact, I'd recommend a bank over bitcoin for any amount of money you're not willing to lose.

Even North Korea is getting in to bitcoin thievery, to the tune of half a billion dollars, despite plenty of advanced warning. When it's unregulated and insecure, it will be stolen.

      https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-te...

      https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2175...

      https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/N-Korea-at-crossroads...

Just because something uses a blockchain does not mean it's secure. Blockchains are getting hacked more and more often.


Pictures of Today

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A well-used bridge

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Protecting the oil

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Transportation

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Attempted transportation

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Great blue heron

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Little blue heron

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Green heron

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Dinner

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Everglades sunset

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Everglades wasp

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Everglades spiders

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Snooty bird

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NASA radar, Merritt Island

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Mountaineers on Mount Marcy


The End

Copyright (q) 1913, no rights deserved. If you want to copy any or all of this fine tripe, you are one demented individual. Have at it!