100 Junkmails from Bob!

Sunday, October 28, 2001
Important Stuff.

Congratulations! You are the proud and/or unsuspecting recipient of the 100th Junkmail!

What is Junkmail and why do I write it? Idunno. I'll let you know if I find out.


Windows XP was released this week, but nobody noticed. I have a copy but I probably won't install it any time soon. People are more concerned about Anthrax. I can't figure it out -- there hasn't been this much hysteria since the Y2K fiasco. I thought it might be a good deal when they announced the closing of congressional offices, but they seem to keep passing laws anyway.

I'm keep expecting to hear the question "Are you now or have you ever been a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer?" Well, I downloaded a song from Napster once. According to the Recording Industry I must be a terrorist. Once I sympathized with some high school kids caught defacing web sites. According to U.S. Representative Vern from Michigan, I must be a terrorist sympathizer. He said, "I think hackers should also be considered terrorists and sentences that hackers get should be in line with terrorist sentences."

Sounds like fear of the unknown. In the case of Anthrax, it's because we can't see it. In the case of Vern, it's got to be severe ignorance. But ignorance can be fixed. Stupidity is moderately permanent.

I have said before that the Anthrax "terrorism" is a flop. I was wrong. It would have been a flop because whoever sent out the Anthrax letters could kill a lot more people with a single loaded gun. However, our politicians and our press have made the Anthrax letters a huge success by fueling the mass hysteria. Those few letters are going to cost this country a lot of billions of dollars.

All kinds of politicians and "experts" are getting on TV with advice on how to stay safe from Anthrax. I would prefer advice on how to stay safe from drunk drivers, or drug users, or the common cold.

Postmaster Potter recommended that all Americans wash their hands after they handle their mail. I disagree. I say people should wash their hair after reading email. Hey, maybe I can get on TV! Would it help if I sent out some unidentified powdery substance? Does email count?


People are getting arrested for mailing packages of baking soda, parmesan cheese, powdered sugar, etc. Maybe that's in poor taste, but so are most of my clothes. And like my clothes, I don't believe it's illegal unless you attach a threat to it.

On the Mississippi River some crop dusters goofed and crop dusted a towboat with 17 barges, a pleasure boat, and a Coast Guard station. Officials said they were probably only sprayed with poison, but to be safe they're giving the people antibiotics. Why doesn't that sound quite right?

Being the open-minded individual that I am, I decided that it might be fun to get into the spirit of anthrax hysteria. I hopped into the car can headed down to the nearest source of anthrax I could think of -- the Used Cow Company. The Used Cow Company is a place that collects people's dead cows and takes them off somewhere for processing into dog food or glue or something. I figured I'd sniff around and see if I could smell some anthrax, possibly discovering an evil band of terrorists. But I couldn't find the Used Cow Company. Either they moved, I missed the sign, or the terrorists got to them first.

While I was hunting for the Used Cow Company I came up with a brilliant idea. Well, maybe it isn't brilliant, but it's as good as most of the anthrax ideas I've heard lately. We should take dead cows and drop them on Afghanistan instead of bombs. Cows are a lot cheaper than bombs, especially when they're dead. Besides, it would be really scary to have a dead cow come flying through your roof. It might even pass along some anthrax.

Backdoor to Microsoft

OK, Back to Microsoft and XP. I exaggerate. Some people noticed that XP was released. Some companies with browsers that compete with Internet Explorer noticed that Microsoft's web portal msn.com stopped working with their browsers about the same time they released XP. Microsoft said, "Oops. Just a coincidence," and then began the traditional finger-pointing ritual of the computer industry.


I have a copy of Windows XP, but I haven't installed it. I'll probably try it out to see how it works, but I don't think I'll keep using it. I don't like the copy protection scheme they use. If you install Windows XP, then change your system significantly, you have to call Microsoft and get a new secret code number or your computer will stop working.

How can they get away with that? They make you click on a user agreement when you install that says you think that's fine. If you don't agree, you don't install.

Will there ever be any competition to Windows? I usually guess wrong when predicting major computer trends, with the exception that computers will become cheaper and faster. I guess I have tunnel vision. So whatever I think, you should assume that the opposite will happen.

Microsoft is fairly entrenched with its operating system monopoly. It would be cost prohibitive for a company to develop an operating system and go into competition with Windows. At least that's the case without any external pressures in the economic model. I can see only one way there could be any real competition for Windows in the near future, near being 5 or 10 years. That is if a major government would sponsor, use, and subsidize a competing operating system.

Who would do that? Why would they do it? Maybe Germany would do it. Maybe they don't want to be totally dependent on a U.S. company for almost all the computers in the country. Maybe they're afraid of security problems associated with Windows.

Actually, the German parliament is considering going with Linux instead of Windows XP in the next few months. The German military also had some security concerns about Windows recently.


Microsoft is dropping support on Windows NT at the beginning of 2002 so the Bundestag will need to change to something. In addition to Linux being a lot cheaper, some people in Germany are afraid that Microsoft has back-doors built into Windows XP that allow eavesdropping by the U.S.

Senator Judd Gregg said that all encryption products should be required to have back-doors builtin so the U.S. government can always decode encrypted data. Later he said he was just joking, or something like that. Maybe he was just caught up in the national spirit of hysteria at the time. At any rate, it probably didn't make the German government feel very secure about Windows products.


Louise at Microsoft said "There are no back doors in any Microsoft products." She is incorrect. I know of at least one that's widespread. I'll get to that in a minute.

Windows has been the target of several viruses and worms that utilize bugs that create security holes. I don't think it's unreasonable to have these kinds of bugs in software as complex as Windows. Microsoft's response in the past has been to fix the bugs and post patches on the internet.

Typically, someone discovers a bug and posts the information about the bug on a web site. Then it's a race between Microsoft and the virus writers. Often Microsoft is given a head start and the information is published only after the discoverer feels that Microsoft has blown them off. Microsoft has decided that people should stop disclosing information about Windows bugs.


Microsoft's position now seems to be that people shouldn't let anybody know about it when they find a security hole in Windows. Great idea. If that were the case, Microsoft would have little or no incentive to fix the problems, and any virus writers who discover a flaw would have a world of wide-open computers to attack. Maybe Microsoft should stop releasing security holes in the first place.

Microsoft got a security embarrassment recently. They have been pushing their Microsoft's Digital Rights Management scheme. It's a security scheme that prevents Windows Media Player from playing secured files unless the user has paid someone for a license to play the file.

As people are prone to do, someone cracked the DRM and now there's a file available to circumvent the system, even before the system is in widespread use. It's called FreeMe.


Pressplay is a company that is getting started licensing music using DRM. Pressplay's boss, Mike, said, "We believe Microsoft has a unique ability to remedy the situation and ensure that their technology and our service remain secure."

That's an interesting statement. Then the author of FreeMe said, "I have just learned that the new Microsoft Media Player EULA includes a clause that says they can *automatically* modify the software on your system, without any confirmation from you required!  In other words, they can disable your software, or force an upgrade so that FreeMe won't work, just because they feel like it.  Be careful out there!"

The EULA is the End User License Agreement that you click on but don't read when you install programs. I was wondering about this, so I loaded up my Windows Media Player 7.1 and looked for the EULA. It was nowhere to be found. So I tried to find it on Microsoft's web site. I couldn't get to it. It only shows up when you install it, and it wouldn't let me try to install it because I already had it.

So I uninstalled Windows Media Player, or I tried to. It crashed before it uninstalled. Now it wouldn't work and it wouldn't install. I finally downloaded a copy of Windows Media Player directly from Conxion and started to install it. There it was:

"You agree that in order to protect the integrity of content and software protected by digital rights management ("Secure Content"), Microsoft may provide security related updates to the OS Components that will be automatically downloaded onto your computer.  These security related updates may disable your ability to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other software on your computer.  If we provide such a security update, we will use reasonable efforts to post notices on a web site explaining the update." It also limits Microsoft's liability regarding the software and its updates to $5.

That means Microsoft can update Windows Media Player whenever they want, giving them a way to prevent FreeMe and future cracks from working. No big deal, right?

But there are a couple of interesting things in this. A reasonable effort to post notices on a web site? This means they may or may not do it, and it could be really tough to find it in their thousands of pages of web site anyway.

The important part is that security related updates to operating system components may be automatically downloaded and installed. Operating system components can be a lot more than Windows Media Player.

So Microsoft has the ability to modify Windows on my computer without my authorization and without my knowledge? The EULA says that this may prevent me from using other software on my computer. Technically, if not legally in the U.S., it implies that Microsoft can install an eavesdropping or even a destructive component on most computers hooked to the internet. This is the back door I mentioned earlier.

Suppose someone at the NSA approaches Microsoft and asked for the source code to their media player component, purely for reasons of national security during the open season on terrorists. Microsoft can comply, and the NSA can modify the Windows Media Player update to do all kinds of eavesdropping and other damage. The NSA can then "infect" the majority of computers on the internet. I expect they'd only do certain "interesting" systems. Otherwise, people would catch on. I think this is all legal after Bush signed that law on Friday. And this is only one way into Windows -- there are bound to be others.

If a lot of software companies start this uninvited update policy it could cause problems. If I install a program from Bulgaria or somewhere where the hacking laws might not be strictly enforced, someone from that company could "update" my computer and get full access to my system. I don't think I'd like that. This may make a pretty good market for some firewall software that prevents this kind of uninvited system modification.

I'm running WinAmp now.

Udder Space

Earlier this month Mikhail and Vladimir hung up a Kodak advertising sign. It was a little bit unusual because they hung it on the outside of the Space Station in place of the Russian flag. I guess NASA couldn't be bought, or at least not as cheaply as the Russian space agency.


Meanwhile in the universe, Jupiter's moon Io, named after the Greek god of computer input/output, had a volcanic eruption. It was notable because it blasted 310 miles up into the air. Well, I guess there's not much air on Io, but it did go 310 miles high. That's high enough to hit some satellites on earth.


Speaking of earth satellites, I suspect that GPS receivers may not be working very well in Afghanistan lately. I didn't realize it before, but I read somewhere that GPS signals can be selectively denied to any area. Sure enough, Mr. Clinton himself said "Additionally, we have demonstrated the capability to selectively deny GPS signals on a regional basis when our national security is threatened" when they unfuzzed the civilian GPS signal about a year and a half ago.


Ultralight Cranes

Ten whooping crane chicks hatched at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland last May. Some people flew them (in an airplane) to the Necedah National Wildlife in Wisconsin in July. Now a couple of Ultralights are escorting 6 or 8 of the whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida. They left on October 17 and got to DeKalb, IL today.


Last year they had a successful test run with some Sandhill cranes. After some training to get the birds used to the ultralights, they fly one ahead of the birds to lead them, and the other one follows behind to gather up stragglers. It's a pretty neat project.


Fear of Flying

Some new flying rules are in effect.

"FDC 1/0329 FDC U.S. national airspace system intercept procedures. Until further notice all aircraft operating in the U.S. national airspace, if capable, will maintain a listening watch on VHF guard 121.5 or uhf 243.0. It is incumbent on all aviators to know and understand their responsibilities if intercepted. Review 'Aeronautical Information Manual' section 6, 5-6-2 for intercept procedures."

"FDC 1/0617 FDC Part 1 of 8 special notice VFR operations in the U.S.;  Part II.;  1. In the interest of national security, and to the extent practicable, pilots are advised to avoid the airspace above, or in proximity to, sites such as nuclear power plants, power plants, dams, refineries, industrial complexes, and other similar facilities. Pilot should not circle as to loiter in the vicinity of such facilities."

This is pretty poorly written. What does "to the extent practicable" mean? How about "in proximity to?" How many miles is a proximity? How many circles does it take to make a loiter? Does "advised" mean it's a requirement or a request? What facilities are similar to industrial complexes?

But they are pretty serious about it all.

"FDC 1/0609 FDC ... Special notice ... Restricted/prohibited area enforcement effective immediately, commercial and private aircraft flying inside, or in close proximity to, newly established or currently existing restricted or prohibited areas of the United States will be subject to being forced down by armed military aircraft. If necessary, the military has indicated that deadly force will be used to protect these areas from unauthorized incursions."

The best part is this. They have all those threatening flying rules, telling you to read the manual and learn the intercept procedures. Then they decided the manual's wrong.

"FDC 1/1016 FDC Aeronautical Information Manual, table 5-6-2, aircraft intercepting signals, series 4, 5, and 6, the column headings are incorrect. The left column currently labeled intercepting aircraft signals should read intercepted aircraft signals and the right column currently labeled intercepted aircraft responds should read intercepting aircraft responds. This notam remains in effect until 02/21/02."

I would guess that most pilots in the U.S. have not memorized the intercept procedures, and most of those who did have forgotten at least part of them. Do you think you could remember all of this if an F16 suddenly appeared on your wingtip?

I guess that's better than getting this notice:

"Attention Taliban! You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death. The Armed Forces of the United States are here to seek justice for our dead. Highly trained soldiers are coming to shut down once and for all Osama bin Laden's ring of terrorism, and the Taliban that supports them and their actions.

"Our forces are armed with state of the art military equipment. What are you using, obsolete and ineffective weaponry? Our helicopters will rain fire down upon your camps before you detect them on your radar. Our bombs are so accurate we can drop them right through your windows. Our infantry is trained for any climate and terrain on earth. United States soldiers fire with superior marksmanship and are armed with superior weapons.

"You have only one choice ... Surrender now and we will give you a second chance. We will let you live. If you surrender no harm will come to you. When you decide to surrender, approach United States forces with your hands in the air. Sling your weapon across your back muzzle towards the ground. Remove your magazine and expel any rounds. Doing this is your only chance of survival."

This is what the U.S. planes dropped to the Afghanistan military. I think it didn't have much effect.

Joint Strike Fighter

Speaking of the military, A guy in the Air Force named James just awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to build 22 F-35's, the joint strike fighter. The contract is worth $18,900,000,000. They expect to deliver the first of 3000 planes in 2008. Remember this date -- we'll see if they're on time. Here are some prototype pictures:

        f35.jpg      f35a.jpg      f35b.jpg

In case you're interested in making an RC model of the plane, here are the front, top, and side views.

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Here is Boeing's unsuccessful competitor, the X-32:

        x32a.jpg      x32b.jpg

Boeing and Lockheed were the two finalists in the 5-year competition for the development of the joint strike fighter. After McDonnell Douglas was eliminated from the contract in 1996, Boeing bought them.

According to the Air Force, the contract decision was made solely on the basis of merit. Just to be on the safe side, Boeing and Lockheed both spent millions on marketing and campaign contributions. In fact, the members of the Missouri congressional delegation warned Bush that he'd lose votes if Lockheed got the contract. Politics don't matter in this kind of thing, do they? Does it matter that Lockheed's manufacturing is based in Texas?

The same plane will be used by Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Each branch will have some customization done on their planes. For example, the Navy planes will have longer wings and stronger landing gear for carrier landings. The Marine planes will have short take-off and vertical landing capability. The F22 and F35 are supposed to replace most of the U.S. fighter and attack force.

Assuming they go ahead and build the planes, it will cost $200,000,000,000 over the next 20 years. They said each plane will cost $40-50 million. I guess that extra $16-26 million per plane must go to development and campaign contributions. Britain is kicking in $1.4 billion for the development and plans to buy 150 of the planes. Several other countries are interested in buying some of the new planes. For comparison, an F16 costs about $34 million and an F15E is around $50 million.

The F35 has several advantages over the planes it is replacing. It has better range and payload, is radar evading, and has newer avionics. It will require "significantly less maintenance and support" than the fighters currently in service, according to Lockheed. And it goes fast. I hope it goes faster than Lockheed's web site.


Aurora Terras

On September 16, 1770, there were some northern lights recorded by the Chinese Qing Dynasty. On that same day, a guy on Captain Cook's ship "Endeavor" reported "a phenomenon appeared in the heavens in many things resembling the Aurora Borealis." They were exploring Australia and the South Pacific at the time.

Since then people have noticed that the aurora borealis and aurora australis happen at the same time. Now there are some good satellite images that support the theory that the auroras on the north and south poles are roughly mirror images of each other. The Polar spacecraft (polar.png) took the pictures.


Pictures of Today!

Here's a preying mantis chowing down on a honeybee Tuesday in the front yard.


Here is a bee the preying mantis wouldn't tangle with.


A spider hanging from the ceiling.


Some shorebirds from Corpus Christi last weekend.

        img_1545.jpg      img_1550.jpg      IMG_1562.jpg

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I'm Bob Webster and I reside at bob@xpda.com

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