More Junkmail from Bob!

May, 8, 2003
Important Stuff.

Name Your Price

There was a dotcom that let you name your own price for merchandise, and if they could find someone to sell it to you at that price, you could own the merchandise. I think they went under, or possibly "changed their business model." ( took this one step farther. On their web site, you could print your own bar code for whatever you wanted to buy, and at whatever price you wanted to buy it. Then you could take your bar code into Walmart or Green Country Pawn or wherever you prefer to shop, stick your barcode onto the item you wanted, and when you got to the checkout counter you'd get the price you asked for.

Unfortunately, the merchants weren't informed. Walmart got a little cranky when they found out that people were buying stuff below cost. Walmart whipped up on, and ceased and desisted. That's probably good, since this is just high-tech shoplifting. I think it's kind of funny, though.,1367,58501,00.html

This is pretty easy to do, and I would guess that big retailers might be a little worried about it. I think they'll have to start putting their own barcodes on the boxes instead of using the manufacturers' barcode tags.

Before long they'll be using RFID tags. Those are radio frequency ID tags that work a little like turnpike passes. The RFID chips are really small, about half as big as a grain of sand, and they only cost 10 or 25 cents each. They're being put into some merchandise now, which seems like a really good idea. That's a lot more convenient than those magnetic tags that, when not properly disarmed, motivate people to chase me across the parking lot.

Some people are getting a little riled up because these RFID chips continue to work after you leave the store, and they can be scanned without you knowing they're being scanned. For example, if I buy a shirt and wear it around, the RFID chip in my shirt can be scanned every time I go in or out of a store, and my shopping habits can be tracked. Although I don't think my buying habits are worth tracking, they'll need RFID scanners at drive-thrus and on web sites if they want to track most of my shopping.

RFID technology makes it a lot easier for people's movements to be monitored, and privacy fans are a concerned that the governments of the world can use this to keep tabs on everyone, and that corporations can uncover lots of personal information about us without our knowledge.

Serious Politics

A two or three weeks ago, the Russian Justice Ministry registered the Liberal Russia movement as a political party. A few hours later, the co-chairman of Liberal Russia, Sergei Yushenkov, was shot and killed. The shooter left behind a Makarov pistol with a silencer, which implies a contract killing.

Another Liberal Russia co-chairman, Vladimir Golovlyov, was shot and killed in Moscow last August. Yushenkov and Golovlyov were both members of the Duma, the lower house in the Russian legislature.

I don't think I want to get into Russian politics. Yushenkov was the eighth Russian legislator to be murdered since 1991.

In Colombia, you don't even have to make the legislature to become a target. In the past four and a half years, 58 mayors have been assassinated there. About 1/4 of the mayors in Colombia (about 250) have moved away from their small towns into provincial capitals or other larger cities. For example, 14 mayors have moved their offices to Florencia, the capital of the province of Caqueta.

Who's behind this? Revolutionaries or terrorists, depending on who you ask. The FARC is an antigovernment group in Colombia that has declared mayors to be military objectives and kills them whenever possible. They also do a lot of kidnapping and guerrilla raids.

Here's a good article in today's Wall Street Journal. (It requires a subscription.)

North Korea

Watching Washington and North Korea is like watching two 8-year-old kids arguing. Washington refused to talk to North Korea unless North Korea agreed to stop all nuclear weapons programs. North Korea refused to stop unless Washington agreed not to attack North Korea. Washington said they couldn't agree to something like that while North Korea had nuclear weapons. North Korea refused to talk about it if China, South Korea, and Japan were included in the talks. Washington refused to talk about it unless China, South Korea, and Japan were included in the talks. Finally, they compromised and both Washington and North Korea spoke to each other with China present. As near as I can tell, they didn't say much at the talks that everybody didn't already know.

I don't think I'd make it as a diplomat -- I'd probably get mad at the stupidity and start a war.

I Spy

Here's the story of the FBI spy and Chinese double agent. The FBI paid the Chinese lady $1.7 million, and now they say she was spying for China. There are a lot of missing pieces to this story, but if I was guessing, I would say that the lady was passing information to China and to the U.S., and that both countries knew it all along.

CNN and Rumsfeld

This article on CNN came out on April 25, about the Secretary of the Army being fired, or "asked to resign." CNN included this quote by Rumsfeld:

"I certainly have confidence in Secretary White." Asked whether he would seek White's resignation, Rumsfeld replied, "No, my goodness, no."

They correctly dated the quote as May 7, but they didn't mention it was May 7 of last year. Just reading through the article, I didn't think about the date and I was getting all excited about Rumsfeld lying again. Then I noticed that nobody but CNN had the quote. They tricked me! I don't know whether the guy should have been fired or not, but I think it's OK to change your mind on something like that after 11.5 months.

Here's a more informative story behind the firing. It's pretty boring.

GeoHydro Power

Finally! There's a place to fill up your hydrogen-powered car. Just drive to Iceland.

Kazaa Kriminals

A U.S. District Court ordered Verizon to turn over the names of a couple of file-swappers to the Recording Industry Association of America. Reports that the RIAA is researching techniques from the Spanish Inquisition for dealing with the two music pirates could not be confirmed.,1412,58633,00.html

Free CD?

Sometimes when you go to Best Buy or CompUSA you get a free CD to MSN or AOL. And sometimes you get charged for the service whether you want it or not. I would guess that they've stopped this practice by now, but for a while they were using your credit card from the purchase, and later MSN would charge you for a subscription.

Similar things happen sometimes with a new computer. You might buy a computer, and unless you contact MSN, AOL,, or whoever the ISP happens to be, you get charged a monthly subscription fee you that agreed to when you bought the computer, when the guy was telling you all that stuff and you were looking at the cool blue lights, not paying attention.

Send Your Spam to the FTC

People are complaining more and more about spam, possibly because there's more and more spam flying around the phone lines of the world. There are even a few politicians who are technologically advanced enough to read email, and they are complaining too.

AOL is suing spammers, and legitimate spammers are suing to keep their name clean and off the blacklists.

In Virginia, home of AOL, you can now be convicted of a spamming felony:

Even the Federal Trade Commission has an email address set up for spam reporting. They're getting a lot more now than they used to. I think if everybody or maybe even 10% of the people in the U.S. will forward all their spam to the FTC, they'll get a clue and fix it without throwing people in jail. Forward your spam to:$.startup

You're a Winner!

Kellogs and American Airlines got together and had a contest. The winners, all 60 of them, would win the grand prize of 25,000 frequent flier miles, enough to go anywhere in the lower 48 United States free.

Kellogs sent out "Congratulations, You've Won" emails to a few thousand people instead of just 60.

I think the same company who sent those emails must have programmed the Soyuz TMA re-entry software. They were only 285 miles off, and the crew got to experience 8 g's at no extra charge. If I had the choice between the Soyuz and the shuttle, I would probably opt for the space shuttle even with its known problems.

Watch Out for Haiti!

John Ashcroft has discovered yet another hotbed of terrorism, using the familiar logic "No, we haven't found any terrorists there. That's how we know they're still there." Haiti.

Nature Conservancy

I think it's a good idea if an organization wants to preserve land, that they should buy it. The Sierra Club pays a lot of money to lawyers and politicians. That generally seems like a bad idea to me. I thought the Nature Conservancy tended to buy land and hold it, and I figured that was a good idea.

The Washington Post has come out with several not-so-flattering articles about the Nature Conservancy in the past few days. The new conservancy boss got $420,000 his first year on the job, plus a $1.5 million loan to buy a house.

Instead of buying and holding property, they buy, add easements, and resell the property. The buyers buy below the Conservancy's cost, but donate the difference so they can take a tax deduction on the deal. The Nature Conservancy did some drilling for gas on some of their land, to the detriment of some birds. That causes a minor uproar among the birdwatchers. I think that it's a good organization overall, but it looks like they need a bit of supervision.

Here are a bunch of articles about the recent goings on. They're slanted a bit against the Nature Conservancy.

Cripple Creek

I was hiking last summer in Colorado, a little bit off the beaten track, and I came across an old cabin in the mountains north of Frisco. Here's the interior view.


Just outside the cabin, I found these wheels:


I was trying to figure out what it was, and I finally came to the conclusion that it must be a baby carriage. I was wondering who in the world would take a baby up into those mountains way back then.

A little later, I ran across this picture. It's my grandmother and her parents, Cripple Creek, Colorado, almost 100 years ago.


He was not very successful at gold mining.

Pictures of Today!

Hoover Dam, outside Las Vegas.


A big soccer ball, also known as Nexrad.


A piece of ice, Antarctica, 1994.


A piece of ice, Leadville, CO, 2003.

(This was melting alongside a road, with the sky in the background.)

Cloudy Mountains.


A frozen lake a few days ago, north of Leadville.


Snowy mountains, near Leadville, a few days ago.

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