More Junkmail from Bob!
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
The space shuttle Columbia landed in Florida early this morning on this airstrip:
I took this picture last Spring in the Aircam. They wouldn't let me land there, though. I had to stay 500 feet above the ground. I could have landed crossways. It's 300 feet wide.
Their mission was to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. I think everything happened that was supposed to. They replaced the solar arrays with smaller, more powerful ones. Those are the big things on the sides that generate electricity from the sun. Here are the old ones.
One looks pretty warped. I'm not sure when that happened.
Here's the newly refurbished Hubble.
In addition to the solar arrays, it's got a new power controller, at least one new camera, a new cooling unit for a near infrared camera that broke a couple years ago, and some other upgrades.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a lot bigger that you would guess. Here's a picture of John Grunsfeld and Richard Linnehan during a 6 hour, 48 minute space walk. It gives a little perspective.
These pictures were all taken by the astronauts with digital cameras, "emailed" back to earth, and put on the internet before the astronauts landed. That's pretty neat.
Searching for Web Sites
I use search engines a lot on the internet. Usually I use Google for general web searches. It looks through a couple billion web sites and displays what I'm looking for. Sometimes. It does a pretty good job overall, and with a little thinking I can usually adjust my search to make it find what I'm looking for pretty quick.
How do the search engines work? They have programs called spiders or bots that spend their waking hours scanning web pages. They figure out what each web site is about, based on word frequency, placement, title, keywords, and some other stuff. They save a "score" for each important word in each web site, and they also check for links to other web sites. Sometimes they follow the links and scan new pages, and sometimes they use the number of links to a web site as weighting factors in searches.
For example, if there are a bunch of links to a web site all over the internet, then it must be popular site and a search engine may display it higher on the list. They also use the number of times a link is clicked on for placement weight.
Most search engines, with the notable exception of Google, use another weighting factor for search placement -- cash.
Here's an experiment. Got to google.com and search for "George Bush". It results may change from day to day, but the links I got just now were the Republican National Committee, George Bush Presidential Library, and Whitehouse.gov.
Now try it under Lycos, AOL, or Altavista. You see similar links, but above them all are some preferred links that go to Amazon and eBay. They look like regular links, but if you read the fine print you can see they're called something different.
Now, the final experiment. Go to Overture.com and search for George Bush. (Overture was goto.com until last October when they changed their name.) You'll see eBay and Amazon at the top, along with the price they pay for that preferred placement. Ebay pays 11 cents each time someone clicks through to eBay from an Overture search engine as a result of a George Bush search. Amazon pays ten cents.
Who uses an Overture search engine? AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and Lycos, to name a few. That's why their search results are usually similar. That's why Amazon and eBay appear on their searches for George Bush. (Except I didn't see them on MSN's.) Google is an independent search engine, and is the most popular (depending on who you ask). I like it because it's fast and uncluttered.
How do you get a web site listed on search engines? Most search sites have a "Submit a URL" link you can use to add your site. For example, on google you go to
It's free, but there's no guarantee you'll be listed. Other search engines will gladly take your money in exchange for guaranteed listing and placement. Lycos, for example, has a huge box of information on how you can get guaranteed placement in 48 hours, improve your love life, and lose 10 lbs., all for the low price of $18 + $12 per URL per year.
On the same page there's a small box for their free listing that might or might not happen in 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the current phase of the moon.
I hope I can continue to search for sites that don't have the cash to pay search companies. Things are going in the other direction. I think Google is about the only holdout at the moment.
Senator Fritz and Copy Protection
Senator Fritz Hollings says the CD and DVD drives on all my computers should be able to read only specially copy-protected CDs and DVDs. He is trying to get Congress to pass a law enforcing this. The way I read the law, this means I couldn't backup my work on CD without using the special copy-protection hardware, and I would not be able to duplicate my backups. The way the law is written, every single electronic device sold in the U.S. will be required to have copy protection.
Why would anybody come up with a dumb idea like this? Cash. Although South Carolina is not exactly a hotbed of movie making, Fritz's top 20 contributors include Walt Disney, AOL Time Warner, CBS, National Association of Broadcasters, and the News Corporation. The entertainment industry donated $37,500,000 to politicians in the 2000 election cycle, and more than a quarter million dollars went to Fritz himself.
Who needs campaign finance reform? The U.S. has the finest politicians money can buy!
The law probably won't be passed this year because some Republicans are mad at Fritz about some other stuff, but the Recording Industry will be pushing (and paying) for it next year.
A few days ago some people from Intel and Microsoft told Congress it's a stupid idea. Except they used some big words and sounded very important.
"Any attempt to inject a regulatory process into the design of our products will irreparably damage the high-tech industry. It will substantially retard innovation, investment in new technologies, and will reduce the usefulness of our products to consumers."
In a separate issue, Mickey Mouse was destined for the public domain in 2003, according to U.S. copyright laws. But in 1997-1998 Disney paid about $6,300,000 to politicians and, by coincidence, the law changed. Disney now owns Mickey Mouse at least until 2023.
The Gutenburg Bible is coming to a web site near you!
About 50 years before Columbus came to American, a guy in Mainz, Germany named Johann Gutenberg built the first printing press, complete with movable type. He printed 160 or 180 Bibles. One is at the U.S. Library of Congress. Octavo has gotten permission to digitize the bible, and it's going to be put online at high resolution. I assume entertainment industry is going to demand royalties.
The Underground Government
Bush has about "100 high-level" government workers working in underground bunkers in "undisclosed locations" somewhere outside of Washington DC. This is to make sure the bureaucracy lives on if Washington DC is blown up. I think it's a good idea. Under ground is a good place for them. High-level government workers can really do some damage when they're on the job in Washington.
Last week I was complaining about how Macromedia Flash content slows down my important web browsing. It looks like it's going to get worse before it gets better. The new Flash MX will be used to design entire web sites. If I don't knuckle under and give in, I may not be browsing those sites.
Wireless networks are pretty neat. If you want to connect some computers together, all you need are some wireless network adapters and an access point, and all the computers in your house (usually) can access each other or a DSL. The cards are less than $100 and the access points are less than $200. If you get the cheap ones.
The wireless networks operate at 11 mbps, compared to 100 mbps for most wired local area networks today. That's a lot faster than most internet connections.
What's to keep someone in the front yard from accessing your wireless network and copying your email, or better yet, erasing some of your files? Encryption. It comes with the wireless networks. It's not unbreakable, but it's better than your garage door opener.
The problem is, a lot of people don't turn on their encryption, so anybody with a laptop and a wireless network card can drive around and get onto their network. This article talks about the Pringles can antenna that lets you do this.
While Pringles chips are pretty good, their cans only make mediocre antennas. Here's some information on that:
Here's a link to some wireless network cards. I'm not sure whether these are better or worse than any others, but they're pretty popular.
Up the Down Way
Last November a guy named Mike was late for a plane flight to a football game. I think he left his camera on the outside of the secure area, so he went back to get it. The line at the strip search was too long, so he ran down an up escalator, or maybe it was up a down escalator. I guess he figured it was OK since he'd already been declared secure.
They closed down the airport for a few hours, he missed his plane, and he got in trouble. I guess everybody figured he was a terrorist. Finally, a few days ago he was sentenced to 5 weekends in jail, 500 hours of community service, and no Georgia Tech football this fall.
Chinese Cable Pirates
Some "religious terrorists" in China tapped into a cable TV system and showed some of their own anti-government programming a few days ago. The Chinese government is very sensitive about its image, and is planning to really punish the criminals behind the dastardly deed. It took the cable TV people 50 minutes to figure out how to shut down the unauthorized program. They could be in some trouble too.
Plane Incidents and Accidents
Last week a couple of small airplanes were flying along near Springfield, Missouri, about a mile above the ground (6,500'). One was a Beech Baron and the other was a Piper Archer. I imagine the pilots were wondering if their passengers were terrorists, or who would win Miss Pryor, or what time the McDonalds Drive-thru closes. For whatever reason, they got too close. The Baron pilot saw the Archer and dived underneath it. Almost. He clipped the wheel of the Archer with the top of his tail. Luckily, it only did minor damage to both planes, and everybody lived happily ever after.
In Texas, weekend before last, a guy took off in a Beech Duke, a twin engine plane. It was windy, 17 to 22 knots. He took off almost directly downwind. That's a big no-no in an airplane, even on a 4000 foot runway, and especially in a 1969 airplane. He crashed and burned.
I have been known to ride a bicycle on an airport runway on occasion. I always figured I could get off the runway if I heard a plane coming. I guy in Peoria, Arizona was riding his bike on the runway, and apparently thought the same thing. One thing he and I didn't take into consideration was the fact that not all airplanes have engines. A glider came in to land, was blinded by the sun, and hit the guy on the bicycle. The guy on the bike was hurt.
Two people flew from Oklahoma City to Austin on the first of this month in an A36 bonanza. The weather was bad -- low clouds and visibility. They flew the approach but couldn't see the runway when they got to their minimum altitude. The did a missed approach, but for some reason crashed a half mile from the runway. The ceiling was 100, visibility 1/4 mile. The minimums were probably 200 and a half mile. It's not unusual to fly a missed approach like that, but there's not much room for error and any mechanical or electrical problems at that time can be a big deal.
3 weeks ago a guy was flying over San Jose, California, when he ran out of gas. He landed on a street and hit a car. He wasn't hurt. He had filled up the plane earlier in the day and flew from San Jose to Santa Barbara. He didn't buy any gas there before he headed back. I think he should have. It's dangerous in an airplane to pull over on the side of a road.
The same day in Utah, a Piper's engine died. The pilot landed on a road and did fine until the wing hit a parked truck. Then the wing came off and the plane turned over. None of the 4 people in the plane were hurt very bad.
Keep in mind, I don't know any of the people, and the information I got was from these NTSB reports. So I may have the wrong idea about any of these.
Here's the Proteus, made by Scaled Composites for NASA.
It's been used for lots of NASA research. This week they're flying the plane over New Mexico to test how the plane flies without a pilot. They're going to see if it can avoid crashing into other planes. There will be some people on board, but the systems they test will eventually be used on unmanned planes that they hope to fly among other air traffic. They plan to use these for aerial surveying, surveillance, and other stuff. Unmanned planes will be cheaper than satellites, and since they are closer to the ground they can take more accurate pictures.
Kmart -- Deserting a location near you!
Kmart is closing 280 or so stores, about 10 or 15 percent of its lower performing stores. Walmart is happy. Here's the list:
Web Hosting is Only on the Web
Here's a good letter from Web Hosting magazine, which is "on hiatus as a print publication." They "refuse to whine about a slow economy." What a pleasant change! I may just start reading their online magazine.
In Antarctica there is a lot of unexplored ocean under the ice. It's hard for divers to go very far under the icecaps because of the cold and the distance. So some people from the U.K. using unmanned submarines. They found lots of krill, the small funny-looking shrimp that seals and penguins eat. Lots more than they expected. That would be a fun project to work on.
Pictures of Today
It snowed a few days ago!
The Pryor Creek Nature Trail was white, and a little hard to bicycle on.
... and the birds were hungry.
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