More Junkmail from Bob!
Monday, June 03, 2002
Someone drove a barge into the I40 bridge across the Arkansas River. Or maybe he wasn't driving. At any rate, the barge hit the concrete piers and part of the interstate fell into the river. I flew over the bridge last week and took these pictures.
They're trying to figure out how to remove the small 800-ton pieces of highway that are hanging in the river.
More than one newscaster on TV was suspecting terrorism. I also heard "The number of possible dead is not known at this time." Possible dead? I expected them to follow with "The barge may have collided with the alleged bridge across the possible river."
Sometimes facts are hard to come by in the news. When this accident happened, I read that a 400-foot, a 500-foot, and a 600-foot section of the bridge fell into the river. The CNN web site even had one number in the subheading and a different number in the article text. How high above the water was the bridge? 62 to 75 feet, depending on who wrote the article. How deep was the water? I never could find that.
One report mentioned that the bridge has big round concrete structures to protect the supports next to the channel, and that the barge was so far off course that it hit unprotected supports off to the side. It's true that the barge hit unprotected supports, and the barge was that far off course. But the barge was going upstream. All the bridge supports are unprotected from that direction.
The I40 bridge hasn't been the same since 1998 when the red boat passed underneath.
Write the News
Interested in writing a news article? It seems easy. Just pick one or more of these standard sentences and add some stuff around it.
According to authorities, as many as [inflated number
] may have been [killed, injured, eaten
] in the [ accident, attack, catastrophe, soccer match
The [ director, chairman, spokesman, spokesperson, janitor
] of the [ government agency
] acknowledged the widespread [ mistakes, spying, corruption, incompetence, parties
] and said, "We are substantially understaffed and underfunded. We just don't have the money or the people to handle this problem."
[ politician about to be embarrassed
] said, "We have no evidence that [ something really embarrassing
] in fact occurred. We are conducting a full investigation into the matter." A full report is expected in 17 years.
The [ Senator or other politician
] from [ some state
] said that this is no time for partisan politics, and that the situation demands prompt federal action.
] said, "We have got to have federal help in this time of crisis."
When you write a news article, you should use the word "crisis" a lot. I just did a search in the LA Times web site. "Crisis" was there 467 times. It has become even more popular than "alleged," which appeared only 357 times. "As many as" is also a popular phrase, appearing 134 times in the past 30 days in the New York Times.
Overweight and Underfunded
The U.S. government has finally decided that being overweight is unhealthy. That seemed obvious to me, but we're talking about the government here. There are two levels: overweight and obese. I haven't figured out which is bigger.
Now that the government made the announcement, there are lots of people clamoring to get into the spotlight. Some fat people are saying they are naturally large and they're being unfairly criticized. Can I say "fat people", or is that a thought violation of the Patriot Act? I know some people who are large but not fat, so I need to distinguish.
There are lots of "experts" explaining how to lose weight, complete with diets and weight loss programs. This is nothing new, but now they're in the press. I heard one lady explaining that in order to lose a certain number of pounds in a year, you have to burn off a certain number of calories per day, which is the equivalent of 2-3 hours walking per day. Naturally she implied that she and other overweight people were too busy to spend that much time walking. As near as I can tell she never did figure out that you can exercise harder than walking in order to burn calories faster, and if you don't like exercising that much you can eat less.
There is a simple explanation for gaining and losing weight. If you eat more than you burn off, you gain weight. If you use more calories than you digest, you lose weight. It has something to do with the conservation of energy. There are some other variables involved (efficiency of digestion, rate of metabolism, etc.), but it still boils down to input vs. output. You get hungry when you lose weight, but that's natural.
The U.S. has a lot larger percentage of overweight people than any large country in the world, and the percentage has been growing a lot in the past 10 and 20 years. Even before the government's obvious revelation, I've had people from 3 or 4 different countries ask me why so many Americans are overweight. I think it's because food is so cheap and convenient in the U.S. I can go to a drive-thru or a convenience store and get all kinds of tasty food, cheap, 24 hours a day. And I live in a small town.
I consider myself an accomplished convenience store connoisseur, having done years of research into their culinary delights. I have noticed over that past few years that it's harder and harder to find small packages of chips, cookies, and crackers at convenience stores. They have been replaced by packages containing 3 or 4.5 servings. Many people eat these as a single serving. I'm pretty sure this is a plot by (a) the government, (b) Microsoft, or (c) aliens, to fatten up America.
Suppose you wake up one morning and discover that you're fat. What can you do? Sue! Some people actually have, believe it or not. I guess they think stores and restaurants should refuse to sell you food if you're overweight. I say we go to the source of the problem and sue the farmers!
Speed is Faster
Computers are really fast and have lots of memory. It still amazes me. About a hundred and forty years ago I was taking my oral exams at Oklahoma State. At the time I was programming on a large mainframe system with (I think) about 16 megabytes of memory. The hard drives were physically large and expensive.
I was asked how faster secondary memories such as bubble memory would affect the use of data structures like B+ trees. (Hard drives ended up outperforming bubble memory, so bubble memory never did come into widespread use. A B+ tree is a programming structure used for storage, retrieval, and update of data. SQL Server, Oracle, and Access use similar structures.) I said that it wouldn't matter much because the primary memory (RAM) would get faster and faster along with the secondary storage. I was wrong.
I didn't consider that computers would get so fast, and that primary memory would get so cheap. Now, when I write a program to handle 5 or 20 thousand or so records, I can usually load all the data into memory and sort it internally. This was not generally practical in 1980.
For example, I just timed a program I recently wrote. It reads two files, sorts each file, and removes the records in the first file from the second file based on a key field. I tried it with 4000 records in the first file and 18000 in the second. It took between two and three seconds to finish. For updates, I could read the file into memory, sort it, and do binary searches.
Indexed data structures are still better for larger data sets and for some applications, but the breakeven point keeps getting bigger as computers go faster and memory gets cheaper.
Some people are implanting chips under their skin for positive ID and for medical information. It works a little like a turnpike pass. The chips don't have any data on them to speak of, just a unique number used to look your information up on a database. It's a little like web browsing cookies.
I think it's a little too soon to be doing this (assuming you'd want to) because it requires a compatible system. If you get one of these now and hardly anybody can read it, it's not much good.
It seems like in several years they'll be able to bypass the ID chips and use peoples' DNA instead. I'm not sure what they'll do about identical twins. I'm guessing this will get a lot of privacy advocates up in arms, unless the "war on terror" does away with any opposition.
One-Stop Shopping at e-Bay
You can find almost anything on e-Bay. The Air Force is trying to figure out how some "sensitive" avionics ended up on e-Bay instead of being destroyed, as its "D" classification required. There's probably nothing secret about the electronics or sinister about them being on e-Bay, but they Air Force was supposed to destroy them when they were through with them (the electronics, not e-Bay). This is to prevent "evil empires from using them in their U.S. built planes. It makes you wonder where they got those planes to begin with... e-Bay?
A Marine Terrorist
Helen is a marine biologist from Virginia. She rented a 2-seat Cessna 152 a few days ago at the St. Mary's airport in Maryland. She and her boyfriend took off. They ended up coming back instead of camping as they had planned because of the weather. They got back to the airport about 1:30 in the morning.
After Helen landed, 4 or 5 people carrying pistols and M16's ran out of the FBO building (which was closed at the time) toward them. They were not wearing uniforms and didn't show any identification. It turns out that they were Sheriff's deputies, asked for identification from Helen and he boyfriend, and then left. This seems like a pretty dangerous situation. I can imagine someone mistaking the deputies for terrorists and shooting at them or running from them.
George is the county director of public works who oversees the airport. He said maybe it's time small airports got more serious about security, and "These are procedures that should be enacted as a general rule." I sure hope I'm not the only one who thinks George is stupid. A Cessna 152 weighs less than a car. If it's landing at a small deserted airport at night, how can it be a threat to anybody?
At the Claremore airport I land at night when nobody's around pretty often. I make a fast pass down the runway first to scare away the deer. I wonder if George and his deputies would be shooting at someone who did this.
Flowgo is one of a jillion web sites that have jokes, greetings, email traps, pop-ups, and stuff. A few weeks ago, people who went to that site were redirected to another site called KoolKatalog where they were asked to feed their email address into a digital slot machine for money and prizes. This isn't too far from the Flowgo model, except for a couple of things.
First, the Flowgo had nothing to do with the KoolKatalog site. People were being "hijacked" there by a banner ad that exploited a flaw in Internet Explorer. Second, and more important, while people were sitting there deciding whether to enter their email address into a junk mail list, KoolKatalog was taking advantage of a security hole in Internet Explorer and downloading a program onto their computer.
This program monitored web browsing and allowed the KoolKatalog people to update programs on the user machines. This only happened to users without firewalls and without the latest security updates for Internet Explorer. Even so, more than 10,000 unsuspecting people were lucky enough to get their own free copy of the spyware.
IntelliTech Web Solutions owns KoolKatalog, but they say they don't know anything about it.
MU and Me
According to some people, the University of Missouri has a patent on human reproductive cloning and the resulting clones. MU Chancellor Richard said, "We have no intention of using our clones as slaves. We don't need them. We have grad students." Or maybe he didn't.
Jupiter now has 39 moons, more than Saturn's 30. Late last year some people in Hawaii found eleven more moons flying backwards around Jupiter. They're pretty small, just 2 to 4 km in diameter, and they've got eccentric orbits, a little like a comet around the sun only not that extreme.
The International Whaling Commission voted to ban Eskimo whale hunts for the first time. The U.S. was requesting a quota for the Eskimos of 11 bowhead whales per year for 5 years. The funny thing is, the opposition was led by Japan. Japan kills hundreds of whales every year conducting "research."
Here's an article about some ramifications of the Predator and unmanned air vehicles:
The new X-45a made its first test flight a few days ago at Edwards Air Force Base. It's a huge advancement over the Predator. The unmanned planes are cheaper and more expendable than regular airplanes. There are some disadvantages too, such as not being able to think.
I decided in this Junkmail I wouldn't carry on about the war on terrorism, but I couldn't resist.
It looks like the FBI and CIA had some clues to some recent terrorist attacks, but they were overlooked. That's understandable because they must have a lot more information, both good and bad, than they can investigate. After something happens it's a lot easier to trace backwards and see what was missed. Congress and other political geniuses have been chastising the FBI and CIA for not preventing the suicide hijackers from taking over the planes and crashing them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
In Tom Clancy's "Debt of Honor" the story is about an airliner fully loaded with fuel that crashes into the Capitol during a joint session of Congress. Another of Clancy's books is "Sum of All Fears," about a terrorist nuclear attack. The FBI or CIA (I forgot which) decided to cover themselves this time saying that a terrorist nuclear attack is "inevitable". They say it's not a question of whether, but when. I guess this book is important because the movie is out now.
They also said to expect attacks on apartments, shopping centers, banks, subways, national monuments, nuclear plants, and to watch out for small planes and scuba divers. I guess if there ever is another terrorist attack, they've warned us about it already.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sent a special advisory to 103 plants to be cautious, based on information from the intelligence community. And I thought the nuclear plants were already cautious. The FBI has requested the names of all people who have been certified for rebreathers. They're obviously sociopaths.
I think if I was a terrorist I'd find it easiest to take a minivan or SUV, pack it full of explosives, and drive it to whatever I wanted to blow up. There are lots of unprotected targets, and (hopefully) the army and National Guard won't be guarding every public place in the country. That would be a lot easier than swimming or flying to a target.
The FBI says they are undergoing a transition from a crime solving organization to an intelligence organization. People were appalled a few years ago with they found out the FBI was keeping files on U.S. citizens. Now the FBI is going do less crime fighting in order to do more spying on people inside the U.S. For some reason, that doesn't seem right to me.
Now I'm done. I'm declaring the War on Terrorism officially over.
Now we can get back to the war on Y2K.
Some things don't change much. When I was reading about Y2K I found this article on Pakistan and India fighting over Kashmir. I thought it was current, but it's from 1999.
XP and DSL
A lot of Windows XP users have been having trouble connecting to the internet over DSL. Microsoft says it's the ISP's fault. The ISP's say it's Microsoft's fault. I think they've gotten a work-around now, but it's pretty funny for something this widespread to have happened in the first place.
Senator Joe Lieberman has a plan for high speed internet service across the country. He's very technically astute. So much so that that he sent 10 to 30 copies his press release
to the news organizations on his email list. Like any good technologist, he blamed the software.
Klez is King
A few weeks ago I mentioned the email virus Klez. Klez is the "biggest" virus ever, according to MessageLabs. I believe it. I still get copies of Klez regularly.
Pictures of Today
The pictures of today are from Colorado, last week and the week before.
Mount Baldy, near Breckenridge, looking down...
... and looking up.
My baby daughter Melinda and I went hiking.
Rain Behind the Snow.
A Spring Flower...
....and a Cold Pine Cone.
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