More Junk Mail!

Sunday, October 24, 1999

Congratulations on a your receipt of Junk Mail Number Eleven! If you are new at reading this fine piece of electronic mail, and if you want to see some of the old junk mails, check out junkmail. You can also sign up your friends, neighbors, relatives, in-laws, and enemies at  this site. Why am I sending this out? I haven't figured that out yet. I suspect it's hereditary, environmental, or a mutation.

A 16,456 foot mountain in Ecuador may get shorter soon. For the past month or so Tungurahua has been spewing stuff into the air, and it's getting worse. They evacuated 20,000-25,000 people and closed off roads and trails within 15 miles or so. It is widely accepted that this volcanic activity is a direct result of Ecuador's lack of Y2K preparedness. It sounds like a pretty neat place to visit, once things settle down. Here are the details on the recent activity:


Here's Mt. St. Helens when it blasted off:

        St. Helens Eruption

...and here it is last May:

        St. Helens Last May

Mt. Rainier is scheduled to go on 12-31-99 at midnight.

Donald Trump, Pat Buchanan, and Jesse Ventura. The Reform party must be about diversity.

LOTS of pictures today. This week I went to the national model plane races in Jean, Nevada with the Bob and Clark Ayres' A3 Racing Team. In addition to the models, there were some interesting "real" planes, a couple which had been a little too close to each other:


Here is part of the team in action, and some other planes:


The models are scale models of the Reno racers. They run a pylon course and go really fast -- 200-250 mph. That's actual speed, not scale speed. I got antsy after a little while and had to go running around.

I went from Jean over Death Valley, over the Sierras, over Yosemite, and landed at Mammoth Lakes. I ran around the Mammoth area and took some pictures:


I intended to climb a mountain I saw from the airport, but I took the wrong route and chickened out. I ended up on top of Aggie Mountain. It's really interesting:


Then I flew over Lake Tahoe to Battle Mountain, Nevada. I had to make sure it was really there. From there I headed to Wendover, UT where the Bonneville Salt Flats are. There was a big army air base there during World War II. There are still several hangars, barracks, and other buildings. One was the hangar for the Enola Gay. It's flight to the Hiroshima originated at Wendover.


The Ayres got second place in the fastest race -- not bad!

"Our constructional right of privacy has been violated!"  I have heard and read these words several times. But I've checked more than once, and the word "privacy" doesn't appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution or its amendments. See for yourself:

(Actually, this is a really good site about the Constitution.)

Where do these people get this? Mostly, the people saying this just assume that it's in there somewhere. After all, it sure SEEMS like we ought to have a right to privacy, doesn't it? I think I should be able to read what I want and do things I want to do without the government or anybody else knowing about it. But there IS a constitutional right of privacy, although it's a bit nebulous.

Lawyers and judges have pretty much decided that the 14th amendment extends the Bill of Rights to include the right of privacy. That's a prime example of how the judicial branch legislates, which I won't rant and rave about today. (You're lucky!) Right or wrong, that's the law today.

Telephones used to have very little privacy. Party lines were predominant, and local operators overheard lots of conversations. Today, our telephone privacy is considered almost as sacrosanct as Social Security. Our phone conversations are generally private (outside of Los Angeles.) The law guarantees it. Let's forget for the moment that cordless phones and analog cell phones can be picked up by easily-modified scanners. The government cannot legally eavesdrop on our phone conversations without good reason of suspecting a crime. We're safe. We have privacy.

And technology progresses. Now we have email. People have been very careful from the beginning of email to proclaim that it is not private. It's NOT private. When I send something out over the internet, it passes through various computer systems between here and there. On the way, it can be read by the computers that process it before it gets where it's going. (4 "it"s in that sentence without a clear reference -- not bad!)

For example, if I were a nefarious Internet Service Provider, I could write a program to scan all the traffic coming to or going from into my customers for valuable tidbits of information such as email addresses or credit card numbers. Actually the credit card numbers aren't worth much, but the email addresses might be. If I operated a bigger communication node, there would be a LOT more traffic I could scan. Legal? Sort of. I think it's legal for the government to do it. They can scan email looking for evidence of illegal activities. Are they violating my rights?

I can use a number from a plastic card to pay for something I order over the phone. I can pay for gas at the pump with this card. I can one-click a purchase over the internet from Barnes and Noble, much to Amazon's dismay. But how private are these transactions?

The fact is, the company you use your credit card with, one of those "evil corporations," trades and sells information on you to other companies. You've been violated! Someone told someone else that you spent $174 last year on books. In return, they learned that you bought a set of tires that were advertised on the last Super Bowl. And all of them can find out that you were late on your credit card payment two years ago. They don't realize that the reason you were late is because you never got your bill. But you probably don't realize that you really got the bill but accidentally threw it away because it was tucked behind Ed McMahan's letter when it hit the trash.

Lots of companies have lots of personal information about me. They get it in ways you'd never suspect. Lots of 800 numbers use caller ID. From that, they can match up my address and see who it was that called the Free Psychic Hotline but hung up because they wanted my credit card number. Rental car companies keep my address, work phone, and other info to make it more convenient for me to rent a car next time. But they also barter and sell this information, without even asking!

Look at it from a company's point of view. I voluntarily gave them my name, address, and etc. I did NOT tell them not to disclose that information to others. As a company, I might say "I got the information legally and without restriction, so I can do whatever I want with it."

Computers make it easier for the companies to keep, use, and transfer this information. That's the only way possible since there is so much information out there on so many people. In the past few years cheap giant hard drives have made it affordable for any company to process these huge amounts of data efficiently.

Nobody to speak of looks at this information on an individual basis, saying Mike Webster bought white donuts the last 4 times he bought gas. They will compile this information, and possibly send Mike an ad that will hopefully get him to by the competitor's brown donuts instead. If the donuts are sufficiently expensive, they might even get a pretty sounding sales girl to call him and hustle him for the chocolate covered donuts.

But with all this information floating around, there's room for abuse. Frexample, someone can threaten to disclose my secrets if I don't do an insignificant favor such as passing along a database password or buying a certain brand of computer.

One of the new controversial areas of privacy is medical information. Yeah, this topic has been around for a while, but there are new twists. Urine and blood testing for drugs have been privacy topics for a while, but now there is DNA.

No, DNA is not just for rapists and killers, even though someone in Milwaukee filed rape and kidnapping charges against John-Doe-with-this-DNA a few days ago. Before long they will be using our DNA to determine what drugs will be effective for us in fighting certain diseases. The can also figure out what diseases we are more likely to get. This is a really good thing. It is a big improvement in medicine and medical research.

But suppose my DNA shows that I am likely to die from Parkinson's disease or Chicken Pox or Psittacosis by the time I'm 45. This information could be worth a lot of money to my life insurance company. (Oops. I don't have a life insurance company.) Now it's legal for insurance companies to do HIV testing before writing a policy. Will it get to the point where a twelve year old girl with bad DNA markers can never get health insurance, even though she's healthy? On the other hand, why shouldn't insurance companies be able to insure based on the known risk? The privacy part of this is when I give a blood sample and the DNA is analyzed, what can be done with that information? Who can get it? This is getting really long and boring and it looks like I won't be getting to the point any time soon, so I'm going to talk about something else.

Yesterday French President Jacques Chirac had lunch with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Jacques Chirac did not vomit, so China ordered $2,500,000,000 worth of Airbus airliners. In response, Boeing offered full company benefits to homosexual couples.

MP3 is a file type for digital audio files -- music on the internet. I can put an MP3 file on my computer and get near CD quality when I play it back. I can make this file by recording it or by copying it from a CD. It's pretty neat. The biggest practical problem with MP3 files is that they are big and slow to download. But with DSL and cable modems that will be less of a problem.

There are a couple of important considerations here, both of which the "Music Industry" doesn't like. First, this makes it possible for someone who's not a member of the music cartel to get music into wide distribution over the internet. Even worse, the new musician might actually gain popularity. It's possible for a new superstar to be born without the blessing of the recording industry (Recording Industry Association of America, If this starts happening, these people are going to lose control over what music I listen to. The world would end soon afterward, assuming it happens before 12-31-99 when the world is supposed to end anyway.

Second, MP3 makes it easy to pirate music. I can take a CD, copy a song onto an MP3 file, and put it on my web site or email it to someone. This has been the more vocal gripe of the recording industry. But people have been pirating Microsoft's software for a lot of years and they still manage to eke out a small profit.

The Recording Industry got really upset about digital audio cassettes a few years ago. In fact, they conned Congress into passing a law making them illegal in the US unless they had some expensive copy-protection features. Because of this, the digital audio cassettes never caught on. Mike Synar was a sponsor of this bill. He was a U.S. Representative in my district in Oklahoma, which is not exactly a Mecca for recording artists. (Of course, this was before the debut of Peggy Rains.) As a result, none of us could make our own CD-quality cassette tapes.

With MP3 the problem is a bit different. The recording industry can't exactly outlaw computers. But they have been trying unsuccessfully to outlaw, or at least restrict, the use of MP3. A year or so ago, Diamond Multimedia (the people who make the video cards) announced the Rio. It's a portable MP3 player that's kind of like a Sony Walkman, but it plays downloaded MP3 music instead of CDs.

Even before they shipped the first one, they got sued by the RIAA. They had not broken any laws. They did not encourage anybody else to break any laws. They had not cost the "recording industry" any money. But they couldn't ship their Rio for months while they battled the RIAA in court. It's fine for people to sell guns, whiskey, and drug paraphernalia, but portable MP3 players would make it too easy for people to abuse the law. Eventually Diamond won and started selling its player.

Last month Diamond announced the Rio 500, with 64 meg of memory and USB compatibility for $269. Sony is now offering MP3 downloading capability in its latest Walkman models in Japan. They will start selling them in the U.S. "real soon now." Sounds like the business is getting legitimate.

And today, MP3 is more popular than sex!  "Sex" is no longer the most common search term on the internet. It was has been officially ousted by "MP3."

What ever you do, DO NOT go to this link to try out an MP3 file. That would be illegal because this is a copyrighted piece of music. It's also 3 megabytes. I would highly recommend that you see the movie "Paint Your Wagon," though. (But don't make a copy of it -- that would be illegal too.)


If you have trouble playing an MP3 file, feel free to call tech support at 800 842-4723, extension 202 or 222 for help.


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