Saturday, November 6, 1999
Another junkmail from Bob, number 13!
As usual, if you don't want to get this, get a new email address. (If you absolutely refuse to do that, you could send me a complaint. But cash will work better.) If you are so disgustingly warped that you want to see some of the other junkmails or even sign up someone else, go to
I've been getting a couple of nice emails from Maine so I felt obligated to reply with junkmail. And I even put a picture from the highest point in Maine in "today's pictures."
Britannica tries again, this weekend... "We're not going to send out a press release," said Kent Devereaux, vice president of product development and editorial at Britannica.com. I tried it and it works most of the time. Check it out:
Encyclopedia Britannica announced going online two weeks ago and it just didn't work. They claimed they couldn't handle the traffic, but I suspect there was a lot more wrong since it didn't even work in the middle of the night.
The highest point in Maine:
Sunset from the air, one year ago:
Colorado aspens last week:
Important news: 130 years ago today, Rutgers beat Princeton 6 to 4. It was the first intercollegiate football game ever played.
DVD is the new CD format for movies. A DVD Rom drive can read DVDs and regular CDs. DVD is used for other things too, but it's mainly used for movies now. A DVD looks just like a CD but it holds more data and is encrypted.
Remember the encryption stuff in junkmail 6
about encryption? Remember that the 57-bit encryption could be broken so most people have gone to 128-bit encryption? DVD uses 40-bit encryption keys, and the encryption algorithm isn't very good on top of that.
The movie industry (Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA) demanded that encryption be a part of DVD so people couldn't copy movies. To do this, they used a public key encryption method called CSS with 40-bit keys, instead of 128-bit keys. Each DVD has 400 keys on it. Each DVD player manufacturer is given one of these keys so they can decode a movie and play it. Every DVD player manufacturer is required to encrypt their key so nobody can access it.
XingDVD, a subsidiary of RealNetworks (http://www.xingtech.com/video/mpeg/dvd/
), didn't encrypt their key in their software like they were supposed to. [note: I just checked this link that was working yesterday, and now they've removed the DVD stuff from their site. Something wrong?] This, together with the short 40-bit keys, allowed three guys in Norway to "crack" the system. They found 170 of the 400 keys on a DVD just to prove they could. They made the program called DeCSS that can be used to play a DVD from a hard drive instead of requiring the DVD player. Here's a copy of the program. It's not very big. (Be sure and don't do anything illegal with it, like steal a movie.)
There are two fundamental problems with the DVD encryption. First, it was only a matter of time until someone's key was made public. Second, it's really tough to change all the DVDs on the market every time the encryption scheme is broken. Third, CSS encryption method is not very good.
There are three kinds of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't.
Why did they go through all the trouble to break the DVD encryption? First, it's a fun challenge. But I've read that it's also because you can't play DVDs under the Linux operating system. I guess Linux people are kind of sensitive about being left out of anything technological.
Now the movie people are all upset and are threatening to sue people like me who put DeCSS on their web site. I think that's not very nice.
Linux is a free operating system you can use instead of Windows. It's similar to Unix. It's generally considered harder to use than Windows and there is less compatible software available for Linux. Linux is public software and they have a special license that I like called the "copyleft." It says that someone can use the software as long as they keep it free and copyable. Here's the gnu copyleft license:
Corel Corporation is going to be selling a version of the Linux operating system. The beta version is available now. Corel, being the competitive software company they are, has in their license, "User may not reproduce and distribute copies of the products to any other person." This is in direct violation of the gnu license, which they are required to adhere to because they used copylefted code.
When confronted with this, Corel said, "It's just a misunderstanding."
In an unrelated matter, Corel lost a lawsuit last year for infringing on Unisys's stupid GIF patent.
A few weeks ago I installed RealNetworks player so I could hear some NPR stuff on my computer. I was really irritated when I found that it took over as the default player of MP3 and AVI files without even asking. I uninstalled it, and then Windows Media Player stopped working. I had to reinstall Windows Media Player. It griped me because RealNetworks has been complaining for years (and suing) that Microsoft prevents RealPlayer from working right and is "stealing" its "right" as a default player. Seems to be the other way around.
This week I read that RealNetworks was in the news for another serious choke, in addition to giving out their DVD key. Their software called RealJukebox was collecting data on the users and transmitting it to RealNetworks WITHOUT letting the users know about it. When you use their player, if you have a version more than a week old, it sends RealNetworks your play list, the songs on your computer, their format, AND the secret code number on your computer (the GUID - globally unique identifier) so you can be identified. This is a BIG no-no to privacy buffs and other paranoids. RealNetworks assured the public that it was OK because nobody was looking at all that illicit data. They also issued a new version of their software. Winamp is a better MP3 player anyway.
Just when they got RealJukebox fixed, people figured out that RealPlayer, a MUCH more popular utility, is transmitting user GUIDs to RealNetworks whenever someone plays an audio stream over the internet. How rude! They're supposed to have a "clean" version of RealPlayer out Monday. I think RealNetworks might not be a fun place to work this week.
While on the subject of delinquent software companies, yesterday a judge told Microsoft they were very bad. Good ol' Tom Jackson said, "Through its conduct toward Netscape, IBM, Compaq, Intel, and others, Microsoft has demonstrated that it will use its prodigious market power and immense profits to harm any firm that insists on pursuing initiatives that could intensify competition against one of Microsoft's core products." He also said that Microsoft has a monopoly with Windows. He must be very astute.
This opinion is important because it means that they might break up Microsoft into an operating system company and an application software company. If Internet Explorer goes into the application side, it would actually result in some changes to the software business.
A year ago last may, the Justice Department and 20 state attorney generals (I don't like the term attorneys general) filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft. Yesterday Tom Jackson issued his 208-page "initial finding of facts" for the antitrust trial. I don't think many people will read all of it because it's boring.
There were lots of strange and funny things going on at the trial. Wall Street Journal online has a good timeline:
Lots of other newspapers do too, in case you don't subscribe to this.
Six people died in the past couple of years after undergoing experimental gene therapy for heart problems. The companies doing the studies decided the deaths weren't important enough to report the National Institute of Health. Gene therapy seems pretty scary because a lot of people, myself included, don't understand it very well. With these companies (Vascular Genetics and GenVec) hiding gene-therapy deaths, it has the makings of a scary movie. I doubt if there's anything insidious going on, but it would sure be easy to write an article about this that makes it look like an X-files episode.
When Congress passed the ADA, they intentionally left the details for the "courts to decide" because they are politically dangerous areas and politicians are generally chicken. AOL was sued this week because blind people can't see AOL's web pages.
Iridium communication satellites have antennas that are about 6' by 3'. They are angled so they occasionally reflect the sun, making them really bright in the sky. When this happens, it's called an Iridium flare. They can be brighter than anything in the sky except the moon. It looks really neat! Here's a picture of one taken near Bishop, CA:
There are quite a few of these satellites in orbit, some operational and some tumbling. This picture was of the Iridium 52 satellite.
Since the satellites are in a predictable orbit around the earth (about 14 times a day) and the earth is in a predictable orbit around the sun, the Iridium flares are predictable. Check out this web site to find an Iridium flare near you!
Here are the ones around Pryor for the next seven days:
11-6, 5:44 pm, 9.9 km E, elev 38, azimuth 194, Iridium 34
11-10, 5:42 am, 9.4 km W, elev 48, azimuth 350, Iridium 7
11-10, 5:29 pm, 22.9 km W, elev 33, azimuth 203, Iridium 36
11-10, 7:05 pm, 5.1 km W, elev 35, azimuth 157, Iridium 54
11-11, 5:36 am, 14.2 km E, elev 46, azimuth 351, Iridium 35
11-11, 18:59 pm, 36.5 km E, elev 34, azimuth 157, Iridium 52
Anybody who reads this soon enough is invited to the model airplane flying field east of town this evening to see the Iridium flare.
Y2K note: I'm not sure what will happen to the satellites on New Years Day when the Earth stops rotating. There is still some debate on whether the Earth will continue to revolve around the sun. If so, the Iridium flares will continue to appear near the dusk line of the Earth. If not, the times of the Iridium flares will be somewhat erratic until the satellites burn up shortly before the earth crashes into the sun.
(c) 1923, all rites served. The content of this junkmail is not protected under the gnu copyleft license. If you are guilty of making illicit copies of this fine piece of work, there's just not anobody around who really cares. If you are blind and cannot read this, please call 800 842-4723, x202 or x222 and ask to have it read to you. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.