More Junkmail from Bob!
Tuesday, November 06, 2001
Headline: "NASA Releases Classic Software To Public Domain"
This caught my interest because I've been wanting to mess around with some airfoil programs that NASA developed in the 70's, but they've always wanted a few hundred dollars for them. I thought that was a little steep for outdated programs written in for Fortran compiler that won't run on a PC. I headed to the web site to download the program that should have been free a long time ago.
This site says they want $500 for it. That's cheaper, and it now it's downloadable instead of being available only on 9-track 6250 BPI tape, but it's still crazy. I emailed them and asked what's up.
I got a nice email back explaining that "public domain" means both "not copyrighted" and "not necessarily free-of-charge," along with a lot of other stuff. The bottom line is that I cannot use this software that was developed with public money without paying a few hundred dollars for it. That doesn't seem right to me. But a lot of things the government does don't seem right to me.
For example, I can't fly into Denver's Jeffco airport today because it's too close to a nuclear power plant. But I can fly into Jeffco airport tomorrow. I checked into it, and the nuclear power plant didn't move. Then I checked on the airport. It didn't move either.
I realize that it is clearly in the interest of national security to prevent me from flying near a nuclear power plant, because with my well-known suicidal and anti-social tendencies I am liable to crash into the plant and scratch some of the concrete shield. What I am unclear about is if it's unsafe today, why is it safe tomorrow? Do they expect me to rehabilitate myself tonight?
Actually, they prohibited all general aviation pilots from flying within 10 miles below 18,000' of nuclear power plants in the U.S., but only for a few days. Well, some power plants, such as Russellville, Arkansas, were left out of the list, but they were added a few days later. Luckily no suicidal terrorist took advantage of this loophole and crashed into Russellville before the rules changed. Here's a picture of it I took on Sunday:
Last April I got just a hair closer:
Tomorrow we can breathe easier. The nuclear plants will no longer be targets of kamikaze pilots and we'll be free to fly around them again. I'm not sure how they figured out the start and stop dates for the danger period.
The funny thing about all this is that the rules do not apply to airliners.
I was wondering why they would make rules like this. The only official reason is "for reasons of national security." So for reasons of national security, they closed this airspace and in the process closed 84 or so airports to general aviation, beginning one day and ending 8 or 10 days later.
It sure looks like someone is making arbitrary rules just for grins, but surely there must be some reasoning behind it, even if it's weak reasoning. Believe it or not, there are some intelligent people working in the government and many of them take their job seriously.
I would guess that someone high up in government said they needed to do this in response to the FBI's vague warning about impending terrorist attacks, without thinking it through. They didn't consider that a plane could easily fly from 10 miles to a nuclear plant before anything could be done to stop it. They didn't consider that a terrorist would only have to wait a few days if the rule was an impediment. Maybe the restriction was only until they could bring in some stinger missiles to protect the plants. That sure sounds like a safe combination...
Here's a copy of the rules:
Maybe Senator Herb
from Wisconsin had a hand in these rules. He's the one that wants to implement "security measures" for small planes, such as wheel boots to prevent them from being stolen. Never mind that stolen airplanes are about as big a problem as stolen hats.
Should we require all drivers to put wheel boots on their cars whenever they're parked? After all, a lot more people are killed by stolen cars than by stolen airplanes. Unless the planes are already in the air when they're stolen, in which case the wheel boots wouldn't help much.
I think the "We gotta do something!" mentality is probably OK until it gets into the "We gotta do something no matter how stupid it is!" stage. Such as outlawing powdered donuts. Believe it or not, powdered donuts have been banned!
In Livingston County, Michigan, they banned powdered donuts from all government buildings. I assume they did this because the powdered sugar looks like cocaine or heroin. There's been no anthrax anywhere around there, except in the dirt and on the occasional dead animal. Being very thorough, they also banned coffee creamers and sweeteners.
The article has a long link
As a further precaution, the Livingston County Commissioners are considering a ban on breathing in county buildings during flu season. Chairman David of the Livingston County Board explained, "Flu is an insidious bug that invades our bodies without our knowledge. That is nothing short of terrorism, and far more people die from flu every year than from anthrax. If everyone in the country would do their part and stop breathing for just one day, there would be no more flu in the U.S."
OK, OK, maybe I helped him out with that quote just a little bit.
Winders Xtra Pretty
I finally loaded Windows XP. The installation process has improved -- it only crashed once. I had to download and install an updated file of some sort and then reinstall, and then it worked. Microsoft says XP is faster, but it seemed slower to me. It seems to spend a lot of time after startup messing around in the background. Maybe it's checking for the automatic updates over the internet that I was forced to agree to. It definitely takes longer to shutdown.
The user interface is a little different from Win98, WinMe, and Win2000. It seems cumbersome, but that's probably because I'm not used to it. I didn't use it long enough to see any big advantages or disadvantages. I had to load some NT-based system because I wanted to try out Visual Studio.net, so I picked XP to see what it was like. Visual Studio.net is a lot slower than the previous version.
XP has quite a few new utilities. Some things like file sharing security are different and not immediately obvious. As a result I've kept my computer off the internet since I shared its files.
Last Junkmail I mentioned that msn.com wouldn't work with browsers other than Microsoft's on the opening day of Windows XP. Microsoft fixed it.
Microsoft also managed to break their "Passport" security system, messing up a lot of Hotmail users for a couple of days.
Last Junkmail I also mentioned an article on Microsoft's web site that was critical of people posting information on Windows security holes. When Mike Schott went to check it out, he got this message:
"The page you're looking for has been moved or removed from the site."
Sure enough, it's gone. As he said, that's one way to solve a PR problem!
Joint Strike Fighter
Regarding the new F-35, Bud Osborne offered this explanation on the government's selection of Lockheed's joint strike fighter over Boeing's.
"Also after reviewing the pictures of the two planes, the reason for going with Lockheed are obvious, the Boeing plane looks like a pregnant grasshopper. The Lockheed plane looks cool. That is it in a nutshell. And yes this bit of information did come directly for classified sources at the Octagon."
In Australia they tested an unmanned scramjet-powered plane. A scramjet is a type of jet engine that will power planes at really high altitudes and really fast speeds. The Australian plane crashed, but not because of the engine. It used a rocket to get up to altitude, and the rocket went a little crazy before it got there.
In Junkmail 98
I had an illegal prime number. A California Appeals court disagrees. They say it's a legal number. They said that source code used to descramble DVD's is "pure speech" and can stay on someone's web site. However, there's an opposite ruling on the subject on appeal in a federal court, so it could end up going either way.
Just in case it's legal, here's a copy of the software that's been causing all the problems:
The Powderpuff Girls is a popular cartoon. It's so popular it came out on DVD. The DVD was particularly interesting because it had some supplemental software on it you can load on your computer. This software was particularly interesting because it came with the Funlove virus, at no extra charge. Warner Brothers is now doing damage control.
So next time you inadvertently open a viral email attachment, remember you're not doing anything nearly as bad as Warner Brothers did.
Sonicblue is a company that made a new digital VCR called the ReplayTV 4000. It can store hours of TV, automatically skip ads when it records, and can even hook up to the internet.
Unfortunately, the ReplayTV 4000 has not made it to the stores yet. NBC, ABC, and CBS have all files lawsuits against Sonicblue. They don't claim the Sonicblue did anything illegal. They said that the ReplayTV 4000 can be used to distribute programs over the internet and can to strip out commercials.
Wow! I hope they never figure out I can do that with my hard drive.
The European parliament will vote next week on whether to ban cookies. Unlike Livingston County, they're not worried about anthrax. They're worried about personal computer privacy and browser cookies. A cookie is a small text file saved on your computer by a web site through your web browser. When you revisit the web site, the web site can then read that cookie, recognizing you from your previous visit.
I think the vote won't pass because the people behind it don't understand the problem. But if they start looking into computer privacy and security, they may have a big problem with Microsoft requiring all Windows XP users to allow Microsoft to automatically "update" anyone's Windows XP system any time Microsoft feels like it.
Mathworld is Back!
Several years ago a guy named Eric started building a web site of math information. He kept adding to it, and people kept contributing to it, until it was a really impressive resource. The web site got so popular that CRC Press approached him about publishing part of it in a book. They reached an agreement and published the book.
Unfortunately for Eric and contrary to what he believed, CRC got exclusive rights to some of the web site in the publishing agreement. A year or two after the book was published, Eric was served some legal papers by the Sheriff's department. CRC sued him in federal court, and he ended up having to take the web site down. The people he had worked with at CRC had left the company. After spending years of long hours working on the site, Eric had to shut it down.
Shortly before the lawsuit, Eric went to work for Wolfram Research. That's a pretty neat company. They make Mathematica, some good, high-powered math software. Anyway, rather than let the Mathworld project die, Wolfram paid off CRC and their lawyers. Here's the full story.
As of today, Mathworld is back, after being shut down for more than a year. Check it out -- it's impressive. If there's any math information you need, it's likely to be there.
I try not to advertise in Junkmail, but if you get a chance, try out Mathematica. It's really neat. It's kind of expensive, but the educational version is reasonable. Mathematica does symbolic and numeric math, integration, differentiation, and a bunch of other stuff. It amazes me how much math it can do. I even bought a full version of the program once.
Comdex is next week in Las Vegas. It will be my 17th year to exhibit there. There aren't too many things I've done that many years in a row. This year Comdex officially expects a 25% decline in attendance. I suspect more. Comdex blames fear of flying, but I also blame the internet.
Today, if you want to find something regarding computers, you can do a quick web search. If you want to know what's new with a company, go to their web site and you've instantly got the latest and greatest. There's not as much need to go to a trade show as there was 10 or 15 years ago.
I haven't heard whether powdered donuts are allowed at Comdex, but according to show management, "NO BAGS OF ANY KIND WILL BE ALLOWED ON THE SHOW FLOOR." In caps, no less. This will make it tough to collect literature. Laptops are also banned. I'm pretty sure they'll allow sousaphones.
Bill Gates will be speaking on Sunday night. I'll bet there's a lot of security for that.
Pictures of Today!
Here's a picture of a snake from Orlando last week. I think it's either a corn snake, a banded water snake, or a monty python. If you happen to be professional or amateur snakeologist, let me know what it is.
Some Florida trees:
And finally, a picture of me at my first computer, about 1974. Well, the computer wasn't really mine. In fact, it wasn't really a computer -- it was just a terminal. The computer was in Kansas City. We connected over the phone on GE Timesharing at 30 characters per second.
(-) 2001, no rights reserved. Any unauthorized duplication, distribution, or combustion of this fine collection of zeros and ones is uninhibited to the fullest extent of the laws of mathematics.
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