More Junkmail from Bob!June, 19, 2003
White Knight and SpaceShipOne
In a Junkmail about a year ago I mentioned that Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles, flew a Lancair non-stop from New York to Paris. He was promoting the X-Prize. I said it was a $5 million prize, but now it's $10 million. I don't know whether I made a mistake or they changed it. At any rate, the X-Prize project is still going. Here's how to make a quick $10,000,000:
1. Build a spacecraft that will carry at least three people.
2. Fly it into space twice in two weeks.
3. Land safely both times.
Don't procrastinate! There are already 23 teams in the competition.
Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan's company, have really a neat project. A specially designed jet carries the spacecraft up to 50,000 feet. Then the spacecraft drops off and fires its rocket motor, a little like the X-15 used to work. Then the rocket motor takes the 3-person spacecraft up to 2500 mph and 100 km altitude, the official limit of "outer space." For its re-entry, twin tails rotate up 90 degrees into a high-drag configuration. If they are successful, Scaled Composites will have the world's first non-government astronauts.
Scaled Composites is spending $20 million to get the $10 million prize. That makes $10 million profit, using dotcom math. They test flew the planes a few days ago.
The launch plane is called the White Knight.
The spacecraft is called SpaceShipOne.
Here are some details:
Pryor Academic Excellence Foundation
In the unlikely event that you don't live in Pryor, Oklahoma, you may not know that the town has 8 or 10 thousand people, and the public schools have 1200 kids, give or take a couple hundred.
About 10 years ago, a few people got together with a large amount of ideas and a small amount of money and started the Pryor Academic Excellence Foundation. This organization was originally organized to give small grants (i.e., money) directly to individual teachers to be used for classroom projects that benefit the kids. 10 years later, that's still the idea, and it's working out really well.
In the past year they gave out a little over $70,000 in 110 grants to teachers. Here's a list of the projects:
That's a pretty good amount for a small town like Pryor. It helps the teachers and the kids. If you're a teacher with a new and exciting project in your class, you get enthused about it and some of that gets passed along to your kids. In addition, the kids get to learn something new, or reinforce some knowledge in a new way.
The foundation has an annual banquet and auction, and does a lot of other fund-raising and extortion activities. There have been more than a hundred volunteers working with the foundation over the past ten years. I think close to 100% of the money goes to the grants. This is particularly good because the state of Oklahoma happens to be a bit short on educational money at the moment.
Pryor is not unique in this. People in Chouteau are organizing an educational foundation, and a Google search for "academic excellence foundation" brings up a list of similar organizations across the country.
If your town doesn't have an educational foundation, get one!
Some people at MSN in the U.K. announced the iLoo, a public toilet complete with an internet terminal.
This story was on CNN and in the Wall Street Journal, among other places, so it had to be real. Or did it? A few days later Microsoft said they were just joking, but some people at MSN in the U.K said they were really considering the iLoo.
Funny, but the original iLoo articles seem to have been erased from the CNN web site.
Speaking of changing web sites, I originally had on here that the Wall Street Journal pulled their iLoo article too. I was wrong -- it's still there, as Mr. Bialik was kind enough to point out. I'm claiming a warp in space/time fabric caused me to miss it. Here is the story:
and the follow-up:
A subcription is required. It's in the May 8 and May 14 issue. They restored my confidence in WSJ!
Microsoft MSN version 8 has some spam filtering, even if it can't be used in the Loo. Unfortunately, it blocks you from seeing a lot of legitimate email addresses. For example, it refused "firstname.lastname@example.org," I think because the first three letters mean donkey. Microsoft, being infallible, refused to make any changes, assuming the customer was some kind of weirdo for wanting such a perverse email address.
But Microsoft didn't ignore the problem. They decided to pass a new anti-spam law so they could avoid fixing their software. Yes, I know, Microsoft is not the government. But they're getting closer every day!
All I know is what I read on the internet.
You can believe anything you read in the paper or on the internet, especially from a prestigious news organization like the New York Times. I guy named Jayson wrote a bunch of articles for the NY Times. Unfortunately, he made up a lot of stuff in at least 36 articles. For example, he'd claim to be somewhere talking to people when he wasn't even in the same town.
There was a long article in the New York times a couple of weeks ago with all the details. Funny thing, they've fixed it so you have to pay to read the article now...
Fortunately, the Washington Post is nice enough to make their article available at no charge:
The Washington Post, as well as most other news organizations, tends to leave it a little vague when it comes to questionable information. When I see something that "a senior administration official" said, it makes wonder why they didn't give the name. Was the "official" lying, unable to back up what he said? Was he just guessing? Did the reporter exaggerate on the quote a bit and as a result have to pull the name of the official? It seems to me that if it was true, in most cases there would be a name with the quote.
Here's a good example. The "high" terrorist alert said, "Although the FBI possesses no information indicating a specific threat in the United States, recipients should remain alert to potential terrorist operations in this country." It seems to me that "no information indicating a specific threat in the United States" would make the orange terrorist alert less interesting than a severe thunderstorm warning.
But they follow up with vague, scary quotes from the proverbial senior government official, "There are a lot of bad signals out there," and "It's hard to know where this might happen. Something is up somewhere." An unnamed FBI official says, "There is very serious concern about soft targets around the world associated with the United States." I'm a little cynical about this stuff when they won't put a name with the quote.
Since I've read most of the books by Tom Clancy and Robert Jordan it makes me an expert on terrorism and war, and I naturally know a lot more than these unnamed senior government officials. In fact, I expect CNN to call me any day now to appear on TV as a military expert. Maybe someone will call me and quote me as a low-level unofficial.
More Unnamed Officials
France has been getting a little irate and the unnamed officials who were telling fibs. There were about half a dozen reports over the past several weeks that were moderately to blatantly false about France. It seems like some people in the pentagon really doesn't like France because the French government was against war with Iraq. 11 of 15 countries on the U.N. Security Council were also against war with Iraq. I guess they couldn't remember the names other 10 countries. France and Turkey were against the war. They both let the U.S. overfly with military planes. I think Turkey didn't allow combat planes to overfly, but I'm not sure. But the U.S. gave Turkey a billion dollars after the war, anyway.
Incidentally, the 15 countries were Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, China, France, Germany, Guinea, Mexico, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Spain, Syrian Arab Republic, United Kingdom, United States.
I usually don't like Rumsfeld, but I have to give him credit. He'll put his name on any kind of quote, true or false. He is not one to not let the facts get in the way of administration policy. It is clear that France didn't issue passports or visas to Iraqi officials during the Iraq war, contrary to an allegation by that unnamed senior government official. One named government official (Richard) said, "We don't have any information that would indicate the French issued passports or visas to Iraqi officials." That's pretty clear. France was even more specific about it.
But that didn't slow down Rumsfeld! He didn't tell a clear lie this time, but left the door open for more "unnamed official" quotes. He said, "France has historically had a very close relationship with Iraq. My understanding is that it continued right up until the outbreak of the war. What took place thereafter, we'll find out."
In Search of Gas
There were a lot of reports of chemical weapons being found in Iraq. A lot of them were supposed to be in barrels. Most of the reports mentioned that the weapons had to be sent off for analysis before a final determination could be made. Then you didn't hear about it anymore, except there would be another find a couple of days later.
Here's an interesting article about the people who do the searching. They had a hard time in the beginning because people were shooting bullets and missiles and things at each other, and later on they had battle looters.
Lots of Officials
Here's an article explaining how the Iraqis did not defect, surrender, or overthrow their government as expected.
Here's an article explaining how the Iranians will.
The word "official" or "officials" appears 22 times in this article, so it has to be accurate.
When Iran was mentioned, Rumsfeld went ballistic, saying "Iraq?! I thought the war was with Iran! We're in the wrong country!! No wonder we can't find any nerve gas!!!"
Here's an article about the CIA's pre-war game:
Internet Explorer, the Plain Version
Internet Explorer has a bunch of options that lets you turn on and off features. For example, under Tools, Internet Options, Advanced, there's a section on Multimedia. Here you can turn off animations, sounds, and videos on web sites. I usually do this because I prefer to read the web site and download something if I want to listen to music or see a video.
But if you've tried this, you've probably noticed that it doesn't stop the sounds and video for a lot of advertisements. That's because a lot of ads are using Macromedia Flash, and Internet Explorer options don't affect it. You can turn it off by renaming or deleting the file probably at
Then a few of the more uncivilized sites will ask you if you want to load Macromedia Flash every time one of their advertisers wants you to use it, but I think that's better than the distraction of the "rich media" ads. Doonesbury asks for it every time you look at a cartoon, but I figure that's because they're computer illiterate. Dilbert, on the other hand, has a very well behaved web site.
The media rich ads are getting more popular. Since they are a lot larger, in terms of bytes, than other ads, they slow down web viewing. This means we need faster communications and faster computers so we can see more ads.
There are some ad blocking programs available now that let you block "rich media" ads just like you can block popup ads. Search http://download.com for "ad blocker" and you'll find some. I haven't tried any yet.
If you fly a private plane, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that political campaign time is coming, and politicians don't want small planes anywhere near them, in spite of the fact that there has never been a "successful" terrorist attack using a small plane.
Yes, a Cessna did land on Red Square once in Moscow. And on the White House Lawn, if I remember right. And someone flew a small plane into a building in Florida and Italy, but they didn't do much damage. Actually, it wasn't the same plane that hit the building in Florida and Italy. It wasn't the same pilot, either.
You can't carry nearly as much explosive in a small plane as you can in an SUV, and planes are much less convenient to use for explosive delivery. There are several reasons for this:
- More people can drive a car than can fly a light plane. I would guess this applies to suicidal maniacs too.
- It's easier to buy, borrow, rent, or steal a car than it is a light plane.
- You can park a car and blow it up on a timer. With an airplane loaded with explosives, timing is a major problem. Modern high explosives won't explode just from a plane crash. You would have to set them off a split second before the plane crashed, or have some kind of detonator that senses a crash and then sets off the explosive.
- There's not enough fuel in a light plane to work like the airliners did at the World Trade Towers or the Pentagon.
- Airplanes are visible on radar. Cars aren't.
I could keep going. The fact is, a car or truck bomb is a lot easier and more effective for a terrorist than a light plane. Maybe that's why terrorists use car and truck bombs and rarely, if ever, have used a light plane successfully. All the rules about keeping light planes away from politicians seem to be more for publicity's sake than safety.
The good news in airplane security is that the government has finally gotten rid of one of their temporary restricted areas. You can now fly over Whiteman Airforce Base at under 18,000 feet.
In New Jersey they passed a law requiring all airplanes to have two locks whenever they're parked 24 hours. This is getting some airplane people riled up, because the federal government is supposed to regulate aircraft. If every state has its own aircraft regulations, it will be just about impossible to fly from state to state.
Most countries even allow planes from other countries without requiring special modifications. For example, if you have a certified airworthy plane in the Czech Republic, you can fly it to every other country in Europe, South America, and North America without modifying the plane. Except for New Jersey, that is. There you're liable to need another lock.
Naturally, this law does not apply to airliners, which do not typically have two locks, and which have been used for terrorism in the past. It does apply to business jets and turboprops, and they usually have only one lock.
I guess it's going to be kind of hard to lock all the terrorists out of the Aircam.
The pentagon announced a new surveillance system last week. It's called the Terrorist Information Awareness system. Sound familiar? In a Junkmail from January I mentioned that Congress stopped funding for the Total Information Awareness system.
So the pentagon changed the name. They even have the same URL for the new web site. But they say it's an entirely new concept that doesn't apply to the Congressional funding ban.
Here's the logo from the old TIA site:
Some people are getting excited because they're afraid the military will be spying on them. The TIA is actually a big centralized database that collects financial, medical, travel, and other information on people into a single system. They promise the data will never be abused. You can tell this is true because "terror" appears 8 times on the home page, and there is no longer a big eye in the TIA logo. I haven't decided yet whether I'm for it or against it.
Meanwhile, Germany is calling the U.S. a police state.
Maybe they said that because they didn't get a billion dollars.
The U.S. government has been blocking the release of the congressional report on how the terrorist attack of September 2001 happened. Republican Goss said, "It is because of sensitive information. The fact that it makes us look bad has nothing to do with it." Democrat Roemer said, "Liar, liar, pants on fire!"
After Iran, Canada
Monsanto is suing a farmer from Saskatchewan named Percy. Monsanto says Percy grew their brand of genetically engineered canola without permission on his 1400 acre farm. Percy said he's never bought any seed from them, and that their grain must have arrived in his field by birds or wind or bees. The lower court said it doesn't matter how it got there, he owes Monsanto all his profits from his 1998 crops. I guess that means if the prices or yield were low, Monsanto would have to pay him.
Percy is still fighting Monsanto. He's also made three tries at climbing Mount Everest.
Need some money? Take a magnetic card reader to an ATM and position it so it reads and records the magnetic strip as it goes into the machine. The card reader should be painted so it looks like it belongs with the ATM.
Then take a wireless video camera and point it at the keypad. The camera will look normal and give the customer a secure feeling as it records the pin number.
Then make a new magnetic strip, put it on a blank card, and go shopping!
The problem is when you get caught, you can go to jail under anti-terrorism hacking laws. That is liable to result in much more severe punishment than just mugging and beating up someone. After all, this technically involves unauthorized access to a computer.
Some people are really doing this:
Today's stupid patent award goes to Mailblocks. Their patent is on something way to simple to be patented, in my opinion. Several email systems will bounce an email once to a sender and ask for a response to a question. Once the response is received, the original email is delivered. Most spammers won't mess with this. Mailblocks is suing Earthlink over it now.
I think the patent office needs an overhaul.
RFID in Cash
Last Junkmail I mentioned RFIDs, radio frequency identifier tags. They're like turnpike passes, only about the size of a grain of sand. They transmit a unique ID when they're hit with a certain radio signal.
The European Central Bank is talking about putting RFIDs in bank notes to stop counterfeiting. I guess they could use it to stop income tax evasion too. I suppose it's just a matter of time for the U.S., too.
I wonder if people will ever carry RFIDs for identification.
Travel the World with the FCC
In the past 8 years, people at the FCC took $2,800,000 in free trips paid for mostly by TV and Radio companies. The really strange thing is that it was legal.
If you're related to me, you can check out the newly updated family tree at xpda.com/family, complete with a bunch of new pictures. You can check it out if you're not related to me too, but it will be really boring. It looks best if you download Genopro and look at it that way.
Pictures of Today!
Here are some Korean mountains, week before last.
Here's the view from my rear window on a South Korean highway. They must be serious about speeding violations.
I got to go to the Indy Speedway last week, before the race.
Here's a car in one of the garages.
This is the video camera that all the cars have now.
And finally, a bird flying on a gray Antarctic day.
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