More Junk Mail from Bob!
Saturday, November 13, 1999

Congratulations!  You are now the proud and/or confused owner of Junk Mail number 14!  If you don't know why you've gotten this fine piece of email, find comfort in the fact that there are over 200 other people who don't know why they got it either. If you want to find other copies of my junk mail or sign someone up to get these, go to If you don't want any more of these, change your email address. Or send cash.

Al Gore was scheduled to go to Microsoft and talk to a large group of employees there. I guess he figured there are enough votes in that company to merit a visit. But Friday morning he cancelled out. When asked if this was a result of the judge coming down on Microsoft and causing a hostile audience, Gore replied, "Of course not!  I think my grandmother got sick or my dog died or something." Later on in the day Gore agreed to reschedule if Bill would get a lot of TV cameras there to help Gore's campaign and promise to make his employees be nice to Al. A spokesman for Gore said this would in no way influence the government's antitrust investigation. A spokesman for Bill said, "You will be assimilated."

I have made the following statements to lots of people lots of times:

1. A computer virus is a just program. You cannot get a computer virus if you don't run the program.

2. Since a computer virus is a program, you cannot get one just by reading your email. You have to open or run an attachment to get a virus.

Well, I was wrong. Since this is a computer topic you might expect that it would change, and it has. Number 1 is still true, but number 2 is no longer true. You CAN get a virus merely by reading an email. I should have suspected this would happen when viruses started being attached to Word and Excel documents.

There is a new virus called Bubbleboy. It's the first virus, as far as I know, that can be executed and "caught" when you merely READ an email. It works on machines with Windows 98 or Windows 2000, IE5, and Outlook or Outlook Express.

Outlook can accept HTML files for email. This lets you format the mail so it looks nice. HTML stands for hypertext markup language. It's the same thing web pages use. Notice that the L in HTML stands for language. That should be a tip off. Email can be written in a language that can be executed, although it's supposed to be a "safe" language.

Outlook uses components from Internet Explorer to display the HTML. Internet Explorer 5 has some advanced features that can be accessed only under certain conditions to make it impossible for web pages to use these features to erase your files or spread viruses. At least one of these conditions was overlooked when outlook uses IE5 components to display your HTML email. That makes it possible for the Bubbleboy virus to save a file on your system that executes next time you boot the computer. Then it emails itself to everyone in all your Outlook contact lists. It only does this once.

I think the Bubbleboy virus is has not spread much, if any. It's probably something someone wrote just for fun, just to prove how good the security in Bill Gates' software isn't. It also provides lots of business for Mcafee, aka Network Associates. (Good thing I bought some of their stock recently.) (Hey! Maybe I should write a bunch of viruses to get their stock to go up...)

If you have IE5 on your machine you can download a fix from Microsoft.

You can read about it at Mcafee.

Remember the guys I mentioned last week that broke the DVD CSS encryption? The Motion Picture Association of America lawyers and their British counterparts were harassing them to the point where they agreed to remove DeCSS from all their web sites and give up ownership of it. Derek Fawcus, Spider Software Ltd., made the official statement, "I will have nothing to do with work on CSS. If there is any work that I may be considered to have ownership of, I give up all rights to that work."  Most opinions I've seen agreed that he has no risk of losing a legal battle, but he doesn't have the time, money, or desire to fight it. Those mean lawyers and moviemakers are picking on these poor kids! Some people are mad about it and are keeping DeCSS posted on the internet everywhere they can, just to make a point.

I also mentioned that DVD encryption uses 40-bit keys, and I thought that wasn't very smart. It turns out that the reason they were using the 40-bit keys was because of the U.S. export regulations. It was illegal for U.S. companies to export encryption software with keys longer than 40-bits. I think they changed that rule or are in the process of changing it.

Here's another note from one of the authors' web site:

"I was contacted by an attorney from the firm Simonsen & Musaus today. A lot of bla bla bla and that if the link to DeCSS was removed, no further action from their side would be taken? I know very well that they would not win in court, but they could make a big mess out of it. I simply do not have the time, nor money, to go up against these people. While they believe that they've just made progress, the rest of you nice people, who don't want to use DeCSS for illegal purposes, can head over to the nice search engine Altavista where you might find a nice gift from MoRE :)

"If you would like to show your disrespect towards threats like these, which seem to be a bit common ( ....), mail them today with your thoughts.  Please DO NOT spam or bomb them, as that would be lowering yourself to their level."

Is DVD a big deal? It's the replacement for VHS videos. In a few year's you'll be using DVD instead of VHS, believe it or not.

Y2K Update:  You can bet on Y2K problems!  There's a Costa Rica company called NASA Sports International. They have a web site for online betting, mainly for sports. But there you can bet on Y2K...

Bank Failures: 1,000-1 that a Y2K glitch will shut down the Federal Reserve for 24 hours or more; and 700-1 that Citibank, Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corp, USB, or the Dresdner Bank will close for 24 hours or more due to a Y2K glitch.

Utility Meltdowns: 20-1 that a major US utility (serving more than 200,000 customers) or a European telephone company will shut down for 48 hours or more.

Downed airliner: 300-1 that a Y2K failure will down a commercial airliner.

Stock Market crash: 30-1 that a Y2K event will cause the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop more than 200 points on the first day of trading after the millennium.

Firearm stockpiling: 200-1 that more firearms are sold in the US in December 1999 than December 1998.

I'd bet against the first three. I bet $0.25 occasionally, and a can of Pepsi is just about my limit. I think they probably have a higher minimum than that. I think the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion must have a pool betting on Alien landing: 100,000-1 that aliens will land in Washington on 1 January 2000.

On October 3, 1967 Peter Knight flew an X-15 6.7 times the speed of sound, over 4500 mph, a speed record for airplanes that still stands. The X-15 is rocket powered and launched from a B-52, so some people say they cheated. They built 3 X-15s. One crashed, one is at Washington in the Air and Space Museum, and one is at the USAF Museum in Dayton.

This week I went to Rhode Island by way of Florida and New York (a shortcut). I stopped at the Air and Space Museum in Washington. Here's a picture of the X-15. (It's a rear view.)

The X-15's stopped flying over 30 years ago. But one of the two B-52's they used to launch X-15s is still flying today -- the oldest B-52 still flying.  NASA is using it at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. What for? It's going to carry an X-43 and launch it from the air like it did the X-15s.

This week Micro Craft delivered the first X-43, a hypersonic jet-powered plane to NASA. (Boeing helped. I think Matthew Jorski did most of the work.) It's unmanned, and only 12 feet long. By comparison, the X-15 is 52 feet long. The big deal about this is that it is not rocket powered -- it does not have to carry it's own oxygen to burn fuel. And this model plane is even faster than the Ayres.



It uses a scramjet engine. What's that? Well, most jet engines we all know and love use turbines to compress the air to burn more fuel. The big fire and hot gas turns more turbines that turn the turbines in front to compress the air. I know this seems like a perpetual motion machine, but since they add some energy with the fire it's allowed to work.

A ramjet engine uses the speed of the plane to compress the air as it enters the engine. It has no rotating parts. The disadvantage of this is that you have to get going pretty fast in order to get a ramjet started, like maybe a few hundred miles per hour.

The X-43 uses a scramjet. It's kind of like a ramjet, but the air passes all the way through the engine faster than the speed of sound, including where the fuel is burned. This doesn't sound like such a big deal, but it really is because air doesn't behave nicely at those speeds. It doesn't compress very well at all, and that can cause problems with the aerodynamics inside the engine and in the way the fuel burns.

How fast is it? The X-43 is supposed to go between 7 and 10 times the speed of sound, the fastest jet in the world. To date, the SR-71 holds that record at between 3 and 4 times the speed of sound.

I think the X-43 people might be cheating a little on this, though. They're using a Pegasus rocket booster to get the X-43 up to altitude and up to speed before the scramjet takes over. The B-52 takes it to 20,000' and the rocket booster takes it to 100,000 feet where it separates and the scramjet engine takes over. I think it just crashes into the ocean when it's done. Maybe it's more of a cruise missile than an airplane, but the research should allow them to build big hypersonic planes.

Here's some NASA info.

Here's some info on Micro Craft.

A week ago Wednesday the big air traffic control center at Memphis died for a while. They were installing some new equipment that didn't work, and then they couldn't restart their old equipment. Oops!  But nobody died. An ATC shutdown happens fairly regularly. The FAA always says, "Aircraft safety was not compromised." This always makes me wonder, if it's true, why the ATC centers are there in the first place. I'd be willing to place odds that this was worse than any Y2K problem they'll encounter at the first of January. You can also bet that they won't be installing any new equipment soon after the New Year because everyone would accuse them of unforgivable Y2K sins if something didn't work.

Coming next week:  The Leonid Meteor Shower and Comdex. They both won't be as big as they were last year. Comdex is the biggest computer show in the U.S. In fact, it's supposed to be the biggest trade show of any kind in the U.S. But it has been shrinking in the past 3 years. There is less exhibit space this year than in any of the past 4 or 5 Comdex's. Comdex claims attendance is still going up, but I don't believe them. Last year there was noticeably less traffic in Las Vegas, less traffic at the airport, and the show floors were less crowded.

Why? The Computer business is certainly growing. I think it's partly due to the internet. People don't need to go to Comdex to see what's new any more. Now you can browse the web and get just about any information you can get at Comdex. It's still a really interesting show.

If you happen to be at Comdex, don't forget the ViaGrafix 5K Run, Wednesday morning at 6:30 at the Convention Center. See you there!

The Leonid Meteor Shower is scheduled at about 2:00 am on 11-18. That's when the earth passes through the orbit of the comet Tempel-Tuttle. There's a lot of dust and small rocks left behind by the comet, and when the earth passes through the comet's orbit every November 17 or so, it makes a meteor shower. The comet crosses the earth's orbit about every 33 years. The first year or two after that the shower can be really big. I think the really big part was sometime between last year and this year, and the earth missed it. This was because of a miscalculation and misplacement of the earth's orbit due to a Y2K problem. Last year's shower was big, but not too big compared to past 33-year multiples. This year it should be a little smaller than last. For details, see NASA.

Today I am in Aspen, on my way to Comdex. I took the "pictures of today" this evening. Here are the Maroon Bells at dusk.  Here's some snow, ice, water, and moss.

Around the world in 9 and 19 days!

In 1986, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew the first airplane around the world nonstop without refueling. It's on display at the Air and Space Museum. When the Voyager took off at Edwards Air force Base, the right wing tip dragged the ground and took a beating, but they kept going. They made it back to Edwards 9 days later. Here are a couple of pictures I took this week:

The plane and the right wing tip. It still hasn't been repaired.

Last March, Bertrand Piccard (no relation to the captain of the Enterprise) and Brian Jones flew around the earth in a balloon! They spent 19 days in a pressurized capsule. Here's a picture of the Breitling Orbiter, the first balloon to make it around the earth nonstop (actually it's just the pressurized capsule).

While on the subject of nonstop flights, here is the first plane to fly across the Atlantic with a single pilot, Charles Lindberg's Spirit of St. Louis.

And two more pictures... Chuck Yeager and this plane were the first to go faster than the speed of sound. This plane was the first to go twice the speed of sound.

The Air and Space Museum is really interesting. Check it out online.

This masterpiece is protected under laws of the United States of America. If you have any questions about these laws, contact President Clinton for clarification. As usual, any unauthorized copying of this junk mail will be considered with a great deal of apathy. If this junkmail infringes on your software patent, I will be proud.

I usually cut down the size and quality of my pictures I put in here so it won't take so long for people to download. If you want higher quality copies of any of them, let me know.