More Junkmail from Bob!Saturday, October 18, 2003
Monkeys and Robots
At Duke University, a guy named Miguel and some cohorts and/or colleagues wired a couple of monkeys' brains to some robotic arms, and made them work together. It was actually a little more complicated than that. They put 96 electrodes into one monkey's brain, and 320 into another. These were wired to robot arms, and the monkeys could move the arms using thought alone.
At the beginning, the monkeys would play a simple game with a joystick that moved a robotic arm. After they learned that, the joystick was turned off and the robotic arms moved only from the "thoughts" of the monkeys. The monkeys eventually figured this out and stopped moving the joystick. The monkeys would think, and the robot arm would move the proper direction. Their game performance improved over time.
The monkeys' brain signals were sent to MIT over the internet, and another robot arm moved there, hundreds of miles away, controlled by the thoughts of monkeys. I think that's really cool.
One of these would be really handy to help me play the piano, because my fingers don't always do what I think my brain tells them to. My ring fingers just don't cooperate on the fast notes.
More practical applications might allow people with spinal injuries to control their limbs. Somewhere I read about the possibility of using this technology to fly airplanes, but I think I'd be in deep trouble if I tried to fly by brain. My thoughts wander around too much for that, and I'd be upside down a good part of the time.
Here's the full research paper. Except it's really a collection of bits instead of paper.
Astronauts, New and Old
China is the third country in the world to successfully send a human into space, after Russia and the U.S. (4th, if you count the USSR) The Chinese space capsule landed Thursday in Inner Mongolia, 39 years to the day after China exploded its first nuclear bomb. Here's the party line:
Also on Thursday, Harrison Schmitt gave a talk about the geology of the moon in Tulsa. Schmitt was the lunar module pilot on the last manned mission to the moon. They brought back 249 pounds of rocks, but no diamonds. Here's the Apollo 17 module on top of the Saturn V rocket, waiting for launch in December, 1972:
Truth is an absolute, right? Right. Except inside the Washington Beltway, where truth is a somewhat nebulous concept.
It is comforting to know that politicians today are adhering to the time honored tradition of adjusting the truth to fit the public image. The President was being truthful when he said we had to attack Iraq because Iraq was behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
The truth changed when he said, truthfully, that we needed to go to war with Iraq because they had chemical and biological weapons stockpiles, and would sell them to terrorist. He added, truthfully, that Iraq was purchasing enriched uranium and could have a nuclear weapon in a couple of years. Well, he actually said they had nukular weapons, but you know what I mean.
Last week the President said, truthfully, that Hussein is ruthless, evil, and a lot of other bad things, and that's why we went to war. It seems that the truth changes from time to time.
It also seems to me that North Korea is not as nice a place to live as Iraq was before the U.S. took over, but I don't think it would be a good idea to invade North Korea.
The good news is that Bush will probably agree not to invade North Korea, finally.
Arguing to cut dividend taxes, politician Karl Rove said truthfully last January, "45 percent of all of the dividend income goes to people with $50,000-or-less incomes, family incomes. Nearly three-quarters of it goes to families with $100,000 or less family income." This was the political truth. The mathematical truth is that 14.7 and 32.7 percent of dividend income goes to people with $50,000 and $100,000 or less incomes. Rove based his political truth of 45% on the fact that 43.8 percent of tax returns with dividend income are from households with less than $50,000 income, which amount to 14.7 percent of all dividend income.
Karl was also behind the leak of the name of the CIA lady (Valerie) to the New York Times, according to the CIA lady's husband (Joseph). Joseph truthfully said the Karl told him that Valerie was "fair game" after Joseph wrote an Op Ed piece that Karl didn't like.
But Rove's truth is that he had no involvement in the matter. Lots of other people at the White House said truthfully that they would find everybody involved in leaking Valerie's name to the NY Times and they would be fired. They didn't say when this would happen.
Karl was just following tradition. In 1975, there was a similar fiasco when Richard Perle leaked (according to many) classified info to Novak.
According to the Washington Post, "As President Bush flew to St. Louis on Air Force One [last January], press secretary Ari Fleischer, giving his usual on-the-record briefing, was asked about popular support for Bush. 'If you're interested, I'll be happy to go on background and discuss more data with you,' he said."
Then the White House sent out two transcripts, one by Fleischer and another by an "unnamed senior administration official" that went into more political detail.
In Friday's Mercury news, "Bush told his senior aides on Tuesday that he didn't want to see any stories quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and if he did, there would be consequences." A senior administration official who asked that his name not be used told this to Knight Ridder.
I can't quite grasp the truth in this one.
Finally, an exceptional quote from Bush:
"I'm honored to join you in observing Columbus Day and to celebrate Columbus Day in the District named after Christopher Columbus. The journey of the explorer from Genoa is one of the great stories of daring and discovery. And the journey of millions of immigrants from Italy is also a story of discovery and bravery, and that journey has enriched our country, that's really what we're celebrating today."
All along I thought Columbus Day was in celebration of Columbus landing in America on October 12, 1492. I had no idea that Columbus Day was for celebrating Italian immigrants. Columbus was born in Italy, but he was sailing on Spanish ships, and claimed the new world for Spain. Italy, Portugal, and England had refused to support his expedition.
Maybe they changed it from Columbus to Italian immigrants in 1971 when they changed the date from October 12 to the second Monday in October. (The first Monday in October is reserved for the U.S. Supreme Court.)
Iraq -- Land of Opportunity
The occupation of Iraq isn't going so well. U.S. people keep getting killed. This week we passed the 100-death mark since the end of the war with Iraq, or the end of major hostilities with terrorists, or whatever the truthful term of today is.
Bush ordered the National Security Advisor Condoleezza to take over the occupation of Iraq. Bush explained in brilliant non-Newtonian logic that by adding a layer of bureaucracy, it would eliminate the bureaucracy and red tape that has been such a problem with those in charge now. Something about fire hoses, I think.
Secretary of Defense Donald got a little snitty when he found out about this, because Bush didn't ask his permission, and now he has to answer to a lady when it comes to the occupation of Iraq. When pressed about details, Donald told a Financial Times reporter, "I said I don't know. Isn't that clear? You don't understand English?"
To help out with the bad press in Iraq, some soldiers wrote letters home to local newspapers explaining how much good the U.S. is doing. Sort of. There were a bunch of identical letters sent home to newspapers, signed but not written by the soldiers they were supposed to be from. That is strange way to mount a publicity campaign.
Interested in making $100,000 in six months? Hire on as a prison-building consultant. Bush's $87 billion dollar package for Iraq includes $10,000,000 for 100 6-month prison-building consultants. This is in addition to the two prisons planned at $200 million each.
Don't like prisons? Sell oil to Iraq. $900,000,000 is budgeted for importing kerosene, diesel, and other petroleum products.
$5 billion or so will be spent on building a new Iraqi military, from uniforms to weapons. It seems to me like whenever we've done that in the past, those weapons end up getting pointed at us.
There are business classes planned for Iraqis, at the low, low price of $10,000 per student for a 4-week course. Paid for by U.S. taxpayers. That's pretty steep tuition!
$54,000,000 is targeted for the Iraqi Post Office. That might not sound too bad, since it's probably not in very good shape right after a war. But the $54 million is only being paid for a computer study -- not for any rebuilding. That's the job I want! I can study like crazy for $54 million.
If I was a skeptic or even a cynic, I might suspect that some political buddies of the people in charge are going to be making a bundle of money in Iraq. But surely the politicians are telling the trvth about this when they say it's all necessary.
Yesterday the Senate voted to go ahead and spend the $20,000,000,000 that Bush requested (or demanded) to rebuild Iraq, and to ask Iraq to pay back half of the money. That makes me feel much better.
Los Alamos National Labs seems to be another area of opportunity for the well connected. Stanley, the Chief of Security of Los Alamos was forced to resign last March after he fired two whistle-blowers, or got them fired, or something like that. When Stanley resigned he was paid $190,000 plus health benefits.
What's Stanley doing now? Consulting for Los Alamos National Labs, in the same security department from which he resigned. Who guards the guards?
In Colombia the politicians have more to worry about than being caught in a lie. In the recent political campaigns of Colombia, 7 people running for may, 8 running for city council, and 1 running for governor have been murdered. As the killings were done by revolutionaries instead of terrorists, the U.S. will not attack Colombia. Colombia will collect billions in foreign aid from the U.S.
Speaking of foreign aid, Turkey was paid a billion dollars to keep their troops out of Iraq during the war. Now, their $8.5 billion aid package (loans and grants) from the U.S. is implicitly contingent on Turkey sending 10,000 or so troops into Iraq for peace keeping operations. But both countries deny that the money is connected to the Turkish troops. That truth thing sure is confusing.
A guy named Keith got a letter from Comcast, his internet provider, a few weeks ago. They said he's been using the internet too much, and he was going to have his service cut off if he didn't cut back on his use. Comcast didn't bother to mention how much bandwidth or megabytes he was allowed to use. They were pretty vague about it. Keith was just told that he might avoid getting cut off if he cut his internet use back by 50%.
That seemed strange to me, but sure enough, the Comcast contract says that the user agrees not to "represent (in the sole judgment of Comcast) an unusually large burden on the network." Comcast sent cut-off letters out to about 1 percent of their customers. The funny thing is that the recipients of these letters were selected based on an increase over the customer's average monthly usage, rather than going over a certain bandwidth limit. That seems like a dumb way to do business.
Several cable internet providers have usage caps, but most of them have a logical, fixed rule. Cox, for example, allows 2 gigabytes per day. AOL/Road Runner allows 40 gigabytes per month.
In addition to browsing too much, you should probably avoid terrorist web sites lest you be prosecuted under the Patriot Act of 1776. For the first time, the U.S. government has added some web sites to its list of "foreign terrorist organizations."
Actually, you would have to provide material support to the web sites in order to break the law. I think that it's still legal in the U.S. to read anti-U.S. material. Just don't buy any 1914 flu virus from these sites.
Today AOL Time Warner changed its name to Time Warner, Inc. They also changed their stock symbol from AOL to TWX. AOL lost 846,000 subscribers from April to June of this year -- more than 3% in three months. They announce the 3rd quarter results next week.
All this bad news for AOL must be due to the fact that I removed the AOL subscribers from the Junklist, because AOL was blocking me email.
AOL's new antispam software (implemented last summer) blocks email from people who run email servers on outside internet services such as Verizon, SBC, or Comcast. For example, I have an email server on an SBC DSL, so AOL figures I'm a spammer and automatically blocks all email from me. I called and asked them to stop that nonsense, but they said they didn't have to because they're bigger than me. So if you're an AOL user, you didn't get this Junkmail.
Spam can be a big problem, but there are some good programs available to deal with it. I've been using Mailwasher for 2-3 years, but you have to run it in addition to your email software, and it always bounces instead of just deleting or marking the spam.
There are several spam filtering programs available, but most of them don't work with Outlook 98. So far I've been able to avoid using the newer versions of Outlook. The newer versions are slower and they really irritate me when they do things without asking in order to "enhance my experience." There are a lot of things I can think of that would "enhance my experience," but using Outlook 2003 is not among them.
I also don't like Microsoft's product key copy protection on their XP products, because things stop working when I get a new hard drive or computer, and I have to go begging to Microsoft for secret code numbers. Sometimes Microsoft doesn't give them to me and have to visit the Warez community just to get my legitimate software running.
It's funny when you read how much money a popular virus costs in lost productivity. I bet it can't compare to the time people have spent with Microsoft's Product Key stuff, and I expect it will get worse in the future. Microsoft may start disabling software in the future that use product keys that have been registered more than once. How could they do this? It's easy. You have already given them permission when you checked "I Accept" during the installation of Windows XP or Office XP. They can access your computer over the internet to check the validity of their software, and they can disable it if they don't like what they find.
Anyway, back to spamchatching.
Spamcatcher is one spam filter I found that works automatically with Outlook 98. There's an Outlook version that requires a newer version of Outlook, and a POP version that works with any POP email client -- that means older versions of Outlook and other non-web-based email applications.
Spamcatcher Pop version:
Spamcatcher Outlook version
When you set up Spamcatcher Pop version, you set your email account to "localhost" and incorporate your server into the userid, like bob#mail.upperspace.com. Spamcatcher checks the email and adds [spamcatcher] to the subject line of each spam email detected. Then you add a rule to your email client (Outlook, etc.) to delete anything with [spamcatcher] in the subject, and 98% of the spam is automatically tossed.
The Spamcatcher Outlook version is more automatic.
I checked all the deleted spam for a few days and didn't find a single false positive. I have it set on "lenient," so it shouldn't flag any legitimate messages except the ones from James Sandusky.
Upperspace, infamous ISP of Pryor, OK, is starting spam filtering next week. If you're an Upperspace.net customer, you'll see your valuable spam messages come in with [spam] on the subject line. You can automatically delete these emails by adding a rule in your email software. In Outlook Express, for example, go to Message Rules under the Tools menu. You'll be able to find details at http://upperspace.net when we get around to putting them up there. This accomplishes just about the same thing as Spamcatcher.
While I'm in shameless advertising mode, I should mention that Upperspace will offer wireless broadband internet in a week or two, and you can get the book Mike and I wrote at http://lewisandclarkbyair.com or at Barnes and Noble. Does that make this Junkmail spam?
A few weeks ago, some people were working on a weather satellite, the NOAA-N Prime. The satellite had not yet been launched into orbit, which is a good thing because the people working on it were in Sunnyvale, CA. Some other people at the Lockheed Martin satellite shop had been working on another satellite. The second group needed some bolts to rotate their satellite on its stand, so they "borrowed" 24 of them from the first group's satellite stand.
I guess the person who stole the bolts forgot to mention it to the first group, because when the first group decided to rotate NOAA-N Prime from vertical to horizontal orientation, it fell off the stand.
This doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was. The satellite cost $239 million and weighs close to 5,000 lbs. It fell three feet, and suffered "severe damage." Luckily, it's not scheduled for launch until 2008.
I haven't heard the music, but a guy named Anthony Hamilton released a CD called "Comin' From Where I'm From." This CD has copy protection developed by SunnComm Technologies so it can't be duplicated or ripped (copied to MP3 files) on a computer.
The problem with SunnComm's copy protection is that it requires a file on the CD to be "autorun" before it takes effect. That's a pretty obvious flaw. If your computer has autorun turned off, like all of mine, then the copy protection scheme is bypassed. Or, if your computer has autorun turned on, which is the default for Windows, you could press the Shift key and bypass SunnComm's copy protection.
I guy named John from Princeton published this, and the SunnComm boss Peter said John violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act when he disclosed that pressing the shift key would bypass the copy protection, and Peter was going to sue the heck out of John. Well, it went something like that anyway.
The press got hold of this story, and Peter said, "Never mind." He decided not to sue John. The Wired article calls John Alex, but the Princeton article calls Alex John. I'm not sure who's right.
Peter's stock lost almost 3/4 of its value since the first of September. Apparently Wall Street was not impressed with a highly touted copy protection scheme that you can bypass with the shift key.
I tried to look up some data on SunnComm, but my search on the web and the SEC site didn't find any financial disclosures by SunnComm since 2001. That seems odd.
I've seen people in the Mid-East and Afghanistan firing AK-47s into the air on TV, and wondered why some of the bullets don't fall down and bean people. In Serbia, where there is also an abundance of AK-47s, people shoot them into the air at weddings, after sporting events, and at other celebrations.
Last week, at a wedding in Serbia, some people were shooting over the heads of the bride and groom. A two-seat single engine plane that happened to be flying along at the time was shot down. The two people inside the plane were seriously injured. Oops.
Did you even notice that when you bend a credit card back and forth it smells funny?
Iceballs and Fireballs
The week before last, a guy named Jon in Wales took a picture of bright cloud that looked like a fireball. The Astronomy Picture of the Day said it was caused by a sofa-sized meteorite, but then they decided it was sunlight reflecting off an unusual jet contrail. Jon took another picture about 4 minutes later, and another person took a picture of it from about 10 miles away, supporting the contrail theory.
I'd guess Chemtrail people will latch on to this as proof of an international conspiracy of airliners spreading lethal chemicals into the atmosphere for (a) weather control, (b) human genocide, or (c) rodent control, depending on which brilliant web site you run across.
Time to update Windows, again. Microsoft has apparently given up its bulletproof image of Windows. They are now planning monthly security updates for Windows, on the second Tuesday of the month, or Wednesday they're too busy on Tuesday. The latest security holes are kind of funny -- they involve online software authentication and online help. I never did like those help systems that run off the web anyway. They're too slow.
The funny thing is that Windows 98 and ME cannot be affected by many of the new worms and viruses, just the "more secure" Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows 2003 Server.
What's the difference between a worm and a virus? Less and less every day. I use the terms interchangeably, and I've heard completely wrong definitions on radio and TV. A virus is a program that puts a copy of itself inside another program, much like a biological virus puts a copy of itself inside a cell. When the host program runs, so does the virus.
A worm, on the other hand, is an independent program that is copied onto the hard drive, much like a parasitic worm is an independent animal that lives inside its host. The worm has to have a separate means of being executed, such as in the system startup script or in a script of an application.
Pictures of Today!
In the past I cut the image resolution down to 1024 for most of the pictures, but today I've upped the limit to 1280. Let me know if you have any druthers one way or the other.
A Peruvian Copper Mine, 4 miles wide and almost 2 miles deep.
A bunch of old volcanic ash from Katmai National Park blowing over Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Rain at Twin Lakes, Colorado
A red and white mountain.
Fall fog and foliage.
A mountain blocking a cloud.
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