More Junkmail from Bob!

Thursday, December 27, 2001
Important Stuff.

The web version is prettier:

I was thinking the other day, which for me can be a risky undertaking. After literally thousands of milliseconds of deep thought and intellectual straining, I came to a conclusion. If I rename Junkmail to something more prestigious like "The Journal of Lost Underwear" or "The Muddy Boggy Depot Jeffersonian" I might be able to pass myself off as someone semi-legitimate when the occasion arises. If I wear shoes.

For example, if I encounter a nice military policeman on the border of a restricted area I could say "I'm with the Eggplant Daily Constitution and I would like to do a story on the effect Army bivouacs on the mating habits of the prairie mole cricket in northern Nevada." This should work better than my current line, "Can I go in there and take some pictures?" OK, OK, maybe not, but it WILL be more fun.

Anyway, after 105 issues, or at least during the 105th issue, I think I'll change the name to And as a strong supporter of journalistic integrity and the lack thereof, I continue to refuse to proofreed Junkmail or whatever it's called now.

Wiring Money

Computers have gotten a lot smaller and use a lot less power than they did a few years ago. Radios have too. A radio receiver picks up electromagnetic radio signals from the air. Radio waves will work just find in a vacuum, too. Radio transmitters can transmit information using radio waves. Radio is kind of an old fashioned word. "Wireless" is a lot more cool. Cellular phones and wireless networks work on radio signals too. Digital signals are more efficient when you're packing a lot of information into limited-strength wireless transmitters, and that's what most cell phones and wireless networks use now.

Imagine a wireless transmitter that's small. Really small. About a square millimeter and 50 or 60 microns thick. It's so small it doesn't require much power. In fact, it gets all the power it needs to operate through the radio signal that comes in through its antenna. It operates kind of like a key card or a pike pass. Something transmits a signal to it and it responds with its unique identification number. They're called Radio Frequency ID chips, or RFIDs.

Suppose you had a bunch of these tiny radios and decided to put one inside money, such as the 200-euro bill. Then the 200 euro bill would be just about impossible to counterfeit. It could also be tracked.

One idea is to put a memory in each bill so that every time it encounters a bank or a store, it's logged on the chip's memory on the bill. I think it would be simpler to do it on the server side rather than the client side. Commercial outlets could log each bill's ID and transmit the information to the central office for money migration.

This idea is not so far-fetched. Devices like this are available today. At 30 cents to a $1.00, they cost too much to add to bills. But the European Union is printing more than a billion new bills, and quantities like that could really drive down the price of RFIDs. RFIDs may find themselves in the 200 and 500 euro bills in three or four years.

This idea will undoubtedly meet stiff resistance from groups like the Society for the Rights of International Currency. The SRIC feels that euros, dollars, and other currencies have an inalienable right to privacy, and that it's inhumane to spy on money. Monetary rights advocates are already alarmed at the impending wholesale extermination of a dozen currencies in Europe.

Next Tuesday the euro will be start circulating in most of Europe. There are coins for 2 and 1 euros, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 euro cents. There are bills for 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 euros. By the end of February, the currencies of Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Finland will be completely replaced by the euro bills and coins. Britain, Denmark, and Sweden voted to keep their own currencies for now.

In sympathy for the lost European currencies, Argentina's new president plans to make a new currency -- the Argentino. The Argentina peso is pegged to the value of a U.S. dollar, so the two currencies are pretty much interchangable. To help the bad economy there, Argentina's new president decided to print a bunch of Argentinos, in addition to pesos, so the people there can have more money. Argentino will have a floating value. Some people think it will sink instead of float because of lack of public confidence. I bet economists will be studying this one for a while.

Sparks Fly

NASA launched a satellite in 1995 called the Optical Transient Detector. It was essentially an orbiting lightning detector. It collected lightning data for about 5 years.

In 1997 they launched the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite, which had a Lightning Imaging Sensor.

Here's where lightning strikes:


I was pretty surprised about two things. (1) Central Africa gets a lot more lightning than anywhere else on earth. (2) The Rockies don't get more than their share of lightning.

I thought that was kind of strange, since in the summer there are almost daily thunderstorms in the mountains of Colorado.  So I emailed NASA and asked them why. I got a nice reply from Dr. Boccippio of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

He said that the data's right. The TOPS of the mountains get more strikes, but that's apparently not enough to raise the average of the surrounding area. The map is based on about a 250 km moving average, so a few heavily stricken mountaintops won't change the average of an area that large by much.

Something else he mentioned is that on mountaintops, there is about a 1:1 ratio of cloud-cloud to cloud-ground lightning, compared to a U.S. average of 3-4:1.

The lightning data collected is all available for download. I can think of some interesting programming projects using that data.

More Info:

Aeronca, et. al.

The Aeronca Champion is a small plane that flies pretty good, with or without help.


This picture is from the National Aeronca Association web site:

In 1987 someone was starting one in New York. The plane managed to escape its owner and took off without a pilot. 65 miles later it hit a tree.

In 1990, in Florida, an Aeronca tried to get away and ended up taxiing in circles with its owner hanging onto the door. He finally gave up and jumped off. The Aeronca crashed into a pop machine.

In 1997 an Ohio Aeronca departed before its pilot and landed an hour and a half later, out of gas, in a soybean field.

And this morning, the California Highway Patrol discovered a wayward Aeronca smashed on a dam about 20 miles from its home. The owner was working on the engine yesterday afternoon and it "got away from him." Here are the details.

Speaking of airplanes, here's a nice plane that landed in the ocean. Nobody was hurt.

Here are the details.

Here's the report about a rudder problem in a 737. It was nearly a crash.

At War

Ever since people have organized into groups, it seems like they've been fighting each other. War has been around since people have been writing. In general, I think war is a bad idea. Sometimes it's probably necessary, but that always raises a bunch of questions I don't have a good answer for.

Early on, people had to throw rocks and club each other. That kept the mortality rate down to a nominal level. Then people got better at killing each other. Technology always seems to get used against other people first. Horses, wheels, bronze, iron, were all used for war. This cause people to get killed more efficiently. Mortality rates went up. Then guns, explosives, better guns brought even higher tolls.

On September 7-10, 1914, about 500,000 people were killed in a single battle. World War I averaged over 5,000 people killed per day. In the Second World War killing was even more efficient, and with greater weapons range, less personal. The ultimate was the atomic bomb, with which the attacker didn't even see the victims. Nuclear weapons can now be launched by any of about a dozen countries, but they haven't been used to kill people since World War II.

Since then, war seems to have evolved to more push-button type killing, at least for the countries that have the technology. Airplanes drop bombs and missiles, and missiles are shot from the ground to the planes. Cruise missiles can be launched with accuracy to targets hundreds of miles away. Ships are sunk by airplanes and missiles. Strangely, mortality rates in wars have gone.

Some of the new "push-button" weapons are pilotless attack planes. Several countries are developing remote controlled / programmable attack planes. They're cheaper than regular fighters, smaller, and you can send them into areas too dangerous for people. (That's a concept they didn't have in World War I.)

The X-45a I mentioned in last week's Junkmail is an example of one of these:

Maybe someday they'll fight wars with remote control vehicles over the ocean so nobody gets killed.

People of the world are getting closer together. Kids talk to other kids on the internet halfway across the world, and it seems like nothing special to them. People from all over the world see the news from China, Italy, and Antarctica. There's no country on earth that is unknown to the others. That wasn't the case 100 or even 50 years ago. Next week, the countries that killed half a million of each other in 4 days of 1914 will be sharing the same money.

I don't have a punch line or a conclusion to all this. Just some rambling observations.

Airline Safety

A Secret Service agent wasn't allowed on an American Airlines flight last Tuesday because the pilot didn't like his paperwork. He was supposed to go protect the President but couldn't make it.


I get a lot of emails trying to sell me domain names. Most of them are pretty shaky deals. They sell domain names for top-level-domains that don't and may never exist. Some of these domains actually exist, but they're just not available to 99.9% of the internet users. What's the deal?

The top-level domain name is something like .com, .edu, or .org that goes on the end of a web address such as A web address is also called a URL. It's also called a domain name. Actually, the web address and URL can contain more than the domain name. In "", only is the domain name.

You can also add a 2-letter country domain onto the end of a web address. Some countries like Tonga (.to) sell their domain names to people anywhere in the world. These domain names work just fine.

It would be pretty cool to have a web address called There's a company selling .earth domain names, but the problem is that hardly anybody can get to them.

I better digress here a little farther. A DNS stands for Domain Name Server. It translates the web address into an IP address. The IP address is then used to communicate on the internet. For example, when you enter on the address line of your browser, your computer goes to your local (probably) Domain Name Server and says, "Hey, where is" The Domain Name Server answers, "It's at". Then your computer sends a message to, and the computer at that address sends you a web page.

If someone has asked your Domain Name Server recently where is, it probably has it saved. If not, then it has to go ask someone else. It goes to another Domain Name Server, and possibly to the root Domain Name Server run by someone out in never-never land. This mother of all Domain Name Servers knows where to go to find the answer to the question "Hey, where is" It goes to the IP address of the Domain Name Server that has authority over the name

The problem with the .earth domain names is that the mother of all Domain Name Servers doesn't have a clue where to find any .earth domains. In order to go there, you have to use another "non-standard" domain name server. This is pretty easy to do, but the fact that hardly anybody else does it makes the .earth address pretty useless. The company selling them says this will change. Some other people disagree.

There's an international organization that moves at the speed of molasses that manages the top level domains. It's called Icann. It stands for something. There are only 7 new top-level domains that are "legitimate". They are .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro. The .biz, .info, and .name domains are available now to anybody (for a price), or will be soon. .aero, .coop, and .museum are more restricted. .pro is tied up but should be available soon.

I would not consider getting a domain name with a new top-level domain except for these right now. If it's not sanctioned by Icann and InterNIC, then there's a good chance the domain won't be reachable by most internet users.

Here's the current status on the new top-level domains, and where to get your new domain name:

Winders Xtra Patient

Windows XP was advertised as faster, more secure, and 100 times more reliable. Some people thing Microsoft was being as honest as they are with the Justice Department. I, on the other hand, think they were just joking.

I installed it on my laptop computer and now I can't figure out how to get it off without reformatting. I even installed Windows 98 onto it, but it left Windows XP on there and now I can boot either one. That's actually not so bad as long as I don't run out of hard drive space. It also causes problems when I try to install the same application for both versions of Windows into the same Program Files folder.

I installed ZoneAlarm so I could see what XP was doing on the internet. It tries to do a lot of talking to other computers, even when I don't ask it to. Apparently someone figured this out and figured out a way to use it to access any XP computer on the internet, and those on its network. This seems like an odd feature for a "more secure" version of Windows.

Microsoft has a patch for the problem.

Today I fired up XP to test the installation of Photo Mud. It wouldn't run. It wanted to be certified or verified or authorized or something. I tried to do it over the internet. It wouldn't let me because the internet was not configured yet and it wouldn't let me boot up to configure the internet because I wasn't authorized. So I called them on the phone and begged for a secret code number. It didn't cost anything, but I think I heard Bill laughing in the background.

I made the error of trying to follow Microsoft guidelines for the Photo Mud installation, and it didn't work for some people. So I changed it today. If you tried it before and it didn't install, try it again. If you didn't try it before and if you'd like to check out Photo Mud, a picture program I wrote, go to

It doesn't have the help file yet. Email me if you have a question.

Pictures of Today!

A lava field in Japan, sometime around 1989.


Moonrise, Antarctica, 1994.


Breckenridge, yesterday.


Some Colorado mountains, yesterday.


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I'm Bob Webster and I reside at