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Wednesday, March 10, 2004
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18 years ago a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl Power Plant had a meltdown or explosion or some sort of major failure. It released a lot of radiation, and ended up killing a lot of people, maybe 80,000-120,000, depending on who you ask. [ Note from 2006: According to the World Health Organization, 56 people died directly from the accident, and 9,000 might die from some form of cancer caused by the radiation. 20 years after the accident, the expected increases in leukemia and solid cancers have not materialized. ]

Chernobyl is north of Kiev, in Ukraine.

Here's a great photo-tour of Pripyat, a ghost town near Chernobyl. The 25-year-old daughter of a nuclear physicist who worked in Chernobyl rode her Kawasaki ZZR 1100 through the area and took some great photos. The commentary is good too. She was seven when Chernobyl blew.

Here's a mirror site in case that one is unavailable:

[ Note from 11/2006: Here's the updated web site: Her name is Elena Vladimirovna Filatova. Some parts of the story are probably not accurate. The pictures are still pretty good. ]


Phone centers are leaving the country. Between the national no-call list and cheap international communication rates, a lot of companies are moving their call centers and telephone tech support to places like India, the Philippines, Cost Rica, and China.,1626,ECP_4476_2660202,00.html

Last week I called SBC to ask them why I couldn't use their smtp (outgoing) email server. told me I was not authorized. It hasn't worked for months, but I thought I might want to use it some day when I'm traveling. So I talked to someone in India for 20 or 30 minutes, and then I had to leave. I called back later and talked to someone else in India. It's a large country.

I was elevated to the next level of tech support, which I believe is just under the Brahman level. The girl there told me I was a brainless insect, except she was very polite about it. I was going to point out that insects do, in fact, have brains, albeit small ones, but I was afraid she wouldn't understand the nuances of Okie Speak. She didn't quite grasp the full meaning of phrases like "this sucker's just busted" unless I spoke slowly and paraphrased.

Anyway, she explained that she could send mail using with my user ID and password, and that if I had a problem with it must be a reflection on my computing ability specifically and my manhood in general. Well, she didn't come right out and say that, but I think that's what she meant.

She finally agreed to have a technician in Oklahoma come repair my DSL, even though I explained that my DSL is not broken, I just needed an smtp server that worked with my user ID and password. She said the technician was coming and if he could send an email I would have to pay for a service call. I said OK, but if he can't send an email, then you have to pay me, right? This caused considerable confusion and a long discussion.

Anyway, Jan the technician showed up the next morning. She found out pretty quick that didn't work and told me to use instead. I lived happily ever after, and SBC wasted a bunch of money because the scripts their call center people in India were using didn't have a fork in the decision tree for Later on I figured out that SBC's Indian DNS and Oklahoman DNS must be pointing to different IP addresses for

I won the bet, but I haven't been paid yet.

Kodak Goes Litigal

Kodak announced a few months ago that they were getting out of the film business and into the digital camera business. How does a company like Kodak get into the digital camera business? Sue!  On Monday Kodak sued Sony for violating 10 patents.

Indian Wars

There is an Indian tribe in Louisiana called the Coushatta Tribe. They have about 800 members. They take in hundreds of millions of dollars every year from their casino. That sounds like a pretty good deal!

There are a lot of casinos now owned by Indian tribes that I never heard of. It seems that lots of people are wanting to start or join tribes in order to get into the gambling business.

The Miwok Indians in California had about 70 members 2001. Now they have 535. None of the new members is related to the original 70. The regional Bureau of Indian Affairs forced the original tribe to join up with a couple of other small tribes in the area, and now they plan to get into the gambling business.

The really odd coincidence is that several BIA employees and dozens of their relatives are now in the new Miwok tribe. The federal officials oversaw an election that replaced the original Miwok leaders with a pro-casino group. Now the tribe plans to open a casino with 2000 slot machines that will bring in $185,000,000 per year. Tired of government work? Take over tribe!

How can all these no-name tribes open giant casinos? It's easy. They pay millions of dollars to politicians, lawyers, and lobbyists.

House Majority Leader Tom used to have an aide named Jack. Now Jack is a lobbyist. Four small tribes (Michigan Saginaw Chippewas, Agua Caliente of California, Mississippi Choctaws, and Louisiana Coushattas) have paid politicians $2.9 million in the past three years. Jack's lobbying and law firm got $15 million, and a PR guy named Michael got $31 million. I think those Indians got rooked. But then, I'm not raking in hundreds of millions of dollars a year from casinos.

It's funny that in most states, only Indians can open casinos. I thought there was a law against racial discrimination.

The Washington Post requires some kind of short registration. When I signed up, I might have made a couple of errors in the form. Now the ads I see in the Washington Post site are targeted toward young women. All in all, I think the ads for women are less offensive.

Rosetta's Off!

Europe's Rosetta spacecraft took off March 2. In 10 years, after 3 flybys of Earth and one of Mars, Rosetta will orbit a comet and drop a lander onto the comet nucleus.



Here's a picture of a rock the Mars rover Opportunity ground into.


The NASA caption:
"This hole was made by the rover's rock abrasion tool, located on its instrument deployment device, or "arm." The hole is located on a target called 'McKittrick' at the 'El Capitan' region of the Meridiani Planum, Mars, rock outcrop. It was made on the 30th martian day, or sol, of Opportunity's journey.

"The grinding process at has generated a significant amount of reddish dust. Color and spectral properties of the dust show that it may contain some fine-grained crystalline red hematite."

The color image was made using Photo Mud to combine 5 grayscale images from various visible light wavelengths. As a dedicated, or at least tolerant, Junkmail reader you are entitled to your very own free copy of Photo Mud. Here's the final, unrestricted version 3.0 (if there ever is a final version):

Let me know if you have any suggestions for version 4.

Personal ID

Dudley is a 59-year-old rancher outside the scenic boomtown of Winnemucca, Nevada. One day he was parked on the side of the road in his pickup, enjoying some domestic disturbance with his daughter Mimi. Someone called the police. The sheriff's deputy showed up and asked Dudley for some ID. Dudley refused, and kept on refusing 10 more times when asked for ID by the deputy.

So the deputy arrested Dudley and charged him with impeding a police officer. Dudley had to pay a fine of $250 and pick up the pile of garbage that was on top of an envelope with his name on it. Or maybe that garbage part was another story. Mimi was arrested too.

Anyway, Dudley doesn't think he needs to show an ID to anybody as long as he's not driving his pickup. So he took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, who will hear the case in a couple of weeks and decide something in a few months.

A lot of privacy fans (Cato Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example) are behind Dudley, and a lot of law enforcement people (Solicitor General's Office, National Association of Police Organizations, and Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, for example) are against him.,1848,62438-2,00.html

Speaking of IDs, an Amish guy is stranded in Canada because he doesn't have a photo ID. It's against his religion. He went to Canada in December to visit his sick father, and now he can't get back to his wife and kids because of new U.S. terrorism rules. I understand that the Amish are notoriously violent people, but I don't think it would to major damage to the national security if we let this guy go home.

Mad Tea Party

Michael Eisner, Disney boss, has been in the news lately. A lot of Disney shareholders (43%) tried to oust him from the board of directors. Michael was demoted from chairman of the board to just a board member, but he's still CEO of Disney.

I'm pretty sure all this came about because they tightened the screws on the teacups on the Mad Tea Party ride in Disneyland so now they won't spin fast. The ride has been doing just find since 1955, but now the lawyers are afraid it's too dangerous.,1,1721406.story

Fast Web Sites

PDAs and cell phones can browse the web over wireless connections. But these connections are usually slow, and the display size is a little limited on a device you hold in one hand. Some web sites now have PDA or Palmtop versions that are targeted for a small display and slow connection. For example,

I may have to start using these sites whenever I use a dialup internet connection. Some web sites have gotten so bloated it's ridiculous. I just loaded It loaded 225K. -- 374K. -- 2.5 megabytes!

On the other hand, the beautifully artistic site only loaded 1K.

Facts is Facts

Can I own a fact and charge you money for knowing it? If this law passes, I can:

It's a law to drum up lawsuits for lawyers, as near as I can tell. The way it's written now, Google would have to shut down because they present too many facts.,1367,62500,00.html

It should all be fine, though, because the diligent U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would be in charge of the Facts.

I think someone must have paid off Congressman Howard to come up with this gem.

Don't Walk. Run.

Usually when I walk across the street, there doesn't happen to be a crosswalk where I walk. But sometimes in a big town with cars and traffic lights and people and stuff, I have to wait on a light to tell me when to walk. They have buttons on the traffic light poles I can press to tell the light I want to walk.

I treat these buttons with great respect, as I do my mouse button, and only hit them about 7 times, or maybe 12 times if I'm particularly energetic. The traffic light buttons seem to ignore me, just as my mouse button does. So, being a very fair person, I feel obligated to ignore the traffic lights.

I was very surprised to read that many traffic lights don't have it in for me personally. They ignore everybody. In New York City, for example, most of the traffic light buttons have been disconnected. The City of New York just forgot to mention it to pedestrians.

Macomb Sheriff's Department

In Macomb, Michigan, there was a popular web site for the sheriff's department, It's currently off the air. A guy named Patrick built the site and ran it for two or three years, free of charge.

Patrick got apparently got tired of the freebie web work and decided he needed some money from Macomb County. Macomb County didn't want to pay. Somewhere along the line, Patrick said he wanted $300,000 or he'd shut down his web site. He owned the site, so this seems reasonable even if the price isn't. Macomb County wouldn't pay, which seems prudent. $300,000 is a little steep for a web site.

But Patrick was messing around with the Sheriff's department. They arrested Patrick and charged him with extortion and three other felonies when he shut down the web site. That doesn't seem reasonable to me. If it is Patrick's site, Patrick should be able to shut it down and quit working on it any time he wants. They abolished slavery in the U.S. quite some time ago.

I looked up the domain name, and it's registered to a guy named Michael in Virginia. I'm not sure what Michael's connection is to Patrick.

Email Stamps

Bill Gates wants to require stamps for email, in order to stop spam. The federal anti-spam law went into effect January 1, but Bill apparently thinks, possibly correctly, that the government is incapable of enforcing a law that requires a little bit of technical knowledge.

Why would Microsoft want to charge people for sending email? That's easy. Microsoft went to Washington and got a bunch of patents that they can apply to email stamps. If Bill's plan goes through, Microsoft will get royalties on every email stamp -- not much per stamp, but there will be billions of stamps.

But there is a potential benefit. When and if Microsoft starts taxing email, I'll stop sending out Junkmail.

I called the Department of Justice (Heather Cutchens at 202 532-5403 in Public Relations) and asked if anybody had been prosecuted under the Can-Spam act. She said she'd have someone call me back. Nobody called me back. Those bums.

I don't think anybody has been prosecuted by the government, but Bob Vila got sued by an ISP because he used an illegal spammer to send out his advertisements.,1283,62559,00.html

Yesterday six big spammers were sued by Microsoft, America Online, EarthLink, and Yahoo. In one, Microsoft asked for $1000 per email for millions of emails. That might even make more money that eMail stamps!  Yahoo showed that Eric and Barry, the people they sued, used their unsubscribe site to collect names and send to other spammers.,1367,62606,00.html

Here are the suits:


FreeCell was first implemented as a computer game in 1978. Microsoft has been giving away FreeCell since 1992, with Entertainment Pack 2, and with Windows since Windows for Workgroups. Similar card games have been around for at least 50 years.

You can find FreeCell under Games under the Start menu of Windows.

Here some vitally important FreeCell Facts:

1. Games 11982, 146692, 186216, 455889, 495505, 512118, 517776, and 781948 are unwinnable.
2. You can win them anyway by pressing Ctrl-Shift-F10 and then Abort.
3. Games -1 and -2 are simple examples of unwinnable games.

SCO and Microsoft?

SCO is the company that's suing Linux users for patent infringement. According to some, a substantial portion of SCO's capital was recently funded by Microsoft. That makes sense -- sue the Linux users and scare people into using Windows.


You don't need to break into office complexes any more to steal political secrets. Just copy their files over the net. Orrin Hatch was smart enough just to say "shame on you" instead of trying to cover up document theft by his staffers.

Virus Protection

Need a place to store a trojan? With Windows XP or 2000 you can put it in this folder:

      c:\System Volume Information\catalog.wci\

Virus scanners and anti-spyware programs don't scan there because they don't have access to the parent folder:

      c:\System Volume Information\

North Pole-32

Severny Polus-32 was a Russian research station on the Arctic ice cap. A dozen Russian researchers had been floating around the North Pole since last April. They'd gone about 3000 km, and were about 400 miles from the North Pole. They were also about 400 miles from the nearest land.

They were planning to close down the station on March 20, but they had to hurry it up a bit when the ice fell apart. Last Wednesday, a "giant wall of ice" slowly smashed their station, and 4 of their 6 buildings were carried away or sunk or vaporized or something.

On Saturday the 12 researchers were rescued by helicopter and returned home.

Here they are on the ice:

      83_4      83_6

      83_7      83_8

Conservation of calories

The CDC and AMA announced that poor diet and physical inactivity will soon surpass tobacco as the leading actual cause of death in the U.S.


They say this is because too many people are obese, and they consider obesity a self-inflicted ailment kind of like tobacco problems. Actually, they said it in nicer words than that.

Yesterday I happened to look the bestsellers at the Amazon, and 4 out of the top 25 are diet books.

Since I'm always into the latest fad, I decided to lose some of my winter fat a few weeks ago. I figured out a long time ago that the only way to lose weight is to output more than you input.

I considered using the Roman way of overeating and induced regurgitation, but the last half of that didn't sound like much fun. So I've been eating less and exercising more. And I don't like the part about eating less.

Anyway, that's just about the only way to lose weight according to Richard at MIT. There are lots of other factors, but when you come down to it, if you eat more food than you use or otherwise dispose of, you will grow fat. If you eat less, then you'll lose weight. It's the law.

I eat health food from just about any drive-thru you can imagine. It's a little hard to find out how many calories in some dru-thru menu times. The fast food web sites usually have the information, but they're usually pretty cumbersome.

McDonalds is one of the worst. After going through 3 pages, I searched for "nutrition" and got a list of links that didn't work. So I tried a Google search for McDonalds and nutrition, and found it. That page is pretty bad, too.

Eventually I found this site that has calories, fat, and et ceteras for just about any food you can imagine, including the world famous Taco Bell Bean Burrito (370 calories, 108 from fat).

Fly National

Last week a Boeing 727 flew from South Africa to Zimbabwe. The flight was a little unusual. They supposedly departed from a domestic airport in South Africa, which is not legal. You're supposed to depart from an international airport.

When they got to Zimbabwe, the said that there were 3 people on board. There were really 64. Zimbabwe police got a little riled up over this, and claimed they were mercenaries.,2933,113826,00.html

All this may not be too unusual for Africa, however.

The 727 is a U.S. registered plane, and was sold only last week. Dodson Aviation, the dealer who sold the plane to a quasi-phantom company called Logo Logistics (or something like that), bought the 727 from the U.S. Air Force in 2002.

The 727 was built in 1980 and operated by National Airlines. National was later purchased by Pan Am. The U.S. Air Force bought the 727 from Pan Am in about 1985.

Here's a picture of the plane that was seized, in its earlier life as an airliner:

Here's a similar but newer 727 for sale by Dodson Aviation:

Here's a DC3 with turbine engines for sale by Dodson Aviation, configured for paratroopers. I think Dodson Aviation bought it from the South African Air Force, either directly or indirectly.

Dodson Aviation sells a lot of interesting planes. They also do aircraft salvage and parts sales.

Space Elevators

Space elevators have appeared in science fiction for a lot of years. If you'd like to read something with one, try the Rama series. It's good. (Rendezvous with Rama, Rama II, Garden of Rama and Rama Revealed, by Arthur C. Clark)

Suppose I was sitting in geosynchronous orbit about 22,241 miles directly over Locust Grove or Ecuador or somewhere. I have two big balls of really strong string. One spool, I unroll up away from earth. The other spool, I unroll down toward earth at the same rate.

The centrifugal pulls the outgoing string out, and the earth's gravity pulls the downgoing string down. This happens because the earth's gravity is proportional to the distance squared, and centrifugal force is proportional to the distance to the earth. These forced are equal in a stabilized circular orbit, which is where I'm sitting. Or flying. The geosynchronous orbit is a circular orbit where the satellite (me) stays over the same place on the equator because the period of revolution is the same as the period of rotation of the earth, 24 hours.

After I roll out enough string, the bottom end hits earth (it's a really calm day) and the upper end extends out another 22,241 miles, after they stop wiggling from the coriolas effect. After my string runs out, I'll use it to pull out a long rope, then a cable, and eventually I can build a 44,482-mile-high space elevator that goes from Ecuador up into space.

This has all been out of the question because nothing is strong enough to withstand the forces of gravity and centrifugal force. Now carbon nanotubes are getting into the ballpark. When they are 2-3 times stronger, 1000 times less expensive, and it's possible to manufacture and weave super long strands, the raw material part of the problem should be solved. In theory. There are still things like storms, radiation decay, oscillation, and gremlins to contend with, not to mention money and politics.

It's an interesting idea, but I doubt if I ever get to see one.

In celebration of the space elevator, NEC got a bunch of patents on carbon nanotubes and has started threatening lawsuits.

NASA Pictures

I included the long captions from NASA with these pictures.

A long line of Saharan dust swept across Mali, Mauritania, and Western Sahara and out over the Canary Islands on March 3 and 4, 2004. The dust appears to have originated in Algeria. Winter and spring dust storms are common in Western Africa when the sirocco winds - hot, dry, dust-laden winds - blow north and northwest out of the Sahara Desert. These images were taken by the Terra MODIS instrument.

      image03052004_250m      Canary_tmo_2004064_lrg

The striking land use pattern, seen through a high magnification lens and highlighted by winter snow and low Sun angles, produces a unique view of the village of Argudan near the north slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The image was taken with a handheld camera from the International Space Station in the early afternoon of December 20, 2003. This rural, agricultural community sits astride the main highway about 15 km east-southeast of the city of Nalchik. Shadows from a line of trees planted as a windbreak near the highway give the road a ragged appearance. A small stream flowing northeastward exits heavily forested foothills through the village and fields of intensely cultivated croplands on the plains. Snow falls through the vegetation, making the woodlands appear extremely dark compared to the snow-covered fields. Earth Sciences and Image Analysis, NASA-Johnson Space Center. 3 Mar. 2004.


Vast stretches of sea ice link Alaska's Aleutian Islands in this true-color Terra MODIS image from January 3, 2004. This chain of volcanic islands stretches in an arc over 1200 miles long from the Alaskan Peninsula almost to Russia's Komanorski Islands. They separate the Bering Sea from the northern Pacific Ocean, and are almost all part of the Aleutian National Wildlife Reserve. Phytoplankton clouds line the northern edges of the sea ice, creating a bluish-green halo.


Cloud streets streak across the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska in this MODIS image. Over the ocean, clouds will often become aligned with the direction of a low-level wind, producing parallel rows, or streets, of clouds. The Aleutian Islands interrupt the airflow, leaving a sort of wake as can be seen on the right edge of the image. The Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on March 14, 2003.


The Terra MODIS instrument captured this true-color image of Tropical Cyclone Monty on February 28, 2004. It is located 165 kilometers north-west of Karratha. At the time of this image, Monty was travelling down the western Australian coast at 12 kilometers an hour. A category 4 storm, communities from Onslow to Barrow Island were on "blue alert" as they were in the path of predicted destructive winds with gusts of up to 240 kilometers an hour.

In this image, Monty swirls in a clockwise spiral that draws clouds toward its eye in streaks. Were Monty in the Northern Hemisphere, it would be spinning in a counter-clockwise direction.


A beautifully-formed low-pressure system swirls off the southeastern coast of Greenland, illustrating the maxim that "nature abhors a vacuum." The vacuum in this case would be a region of low atmospheric pressure. In order to fill this void, air from a nearby high-pressure system moves in, in this case bringing clouds along for the ride. And because this low-pressure system occurred in the Northern Hemisphere, the winds spun in toward the center of the low-pressure system in a counter-clockwise direction; a phenomenon known as the Coriolis force (in the Southern Hemisphere, the Coriolis force would be manifested in a clockwise direction of movement).

The clouds in the image resembled pulled cotton and lace as they spun in a lazy hurricane-like pattern. This huge system swirled over the Denmark Strait in between Greenland and Iceland. The image was taken by the Aqua MODIS instrument on September 4, 2003.


Snow paints the land of the northern central United States and southern central Canada in shades of gray and white and brings the texture of the landscape into view, while bright white ice clogs the shores and large portions of the surfaces of the Great Lakes. The deep blue-black water of the Lakes stands out in stark contrast against the ice, which floats in large chunks along the shorelines of Superior (top), Michigan (center left), and Huron (center right). Lake Ontario, on the right side of the image, also features clear deep waters, though almost no ice floats on its surface. By far, Erie is the most ice-covered of the five, and its waters swirl with clouds of blue-green.

Erie is the shallowest of the lakes (64m deep), and the only one whose floor is above sea level. Because it is usually icebound during the winter, it's usually closed to navigation from mid-December to the end of March, despite it being part of the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway System. This true-color Terra MODIS image was acquired on February 26, 2004.


From a vantage point about 360 km (225 miles) over the Earth, Space Station crewmembers photographed the crescent moon through the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere. At the bottom of the image, a closed deck of clouds is probably at about 6 km (3 miles). The shades of blue grading to black are caused by the scatter of light as it strikes gas molecules of the very low density upper atmosphere.

Models predict that emissions of carbon dioxide are causing the upper atmosphere to cool and contract, and therefore reduce the density of gases in the layer spanning from 90 to 649 km (60 to 400 miles) above the surface-known as the thermosphere. According to a study by the Naval Research Laboratory, the density of the thermosphere has decreased about 10 percent over the last 35 years. These findings are important both for space science and for Earth science. Spacecraft in orbit, such as the International Space Station, experience less drag and need fewer boosts to maintain their orbit. At the same time, space debris also remains in orbit longer, which increases hazards to spacecraft. Most importantly, the study validates models of the "greenhouse effect" of increased carbon dioxide release on the dynamics of the atmosphere. Earth Sciences and Image Analysis, NASA-Johnson Space Center. 3 Mar. 2004.


This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this galaxy-studded view represents a "deep" core sample of the universe, cutting across billions of light-years.

The snapshot includes galaxies of various ages, sizes, shapes, and colors. The smallest, reddest galaxies, about 100, may be among the most distant known, existing when the universe was just 800 million years old. The nearest galaxies - the larger, brighter, well-defined spirals and ellipticals - thrived about 1 billion years ago, when the cosmos was 13 billion years old.

In vibrant contrast to the rich harvest of classic spiral and elliptical galaxies, there is a zoo of oddball galaxies littering the field. Some look like toothpicks; others like links on a bracelet. A few appear to be interacting. These oddball galaxies chronicle a period when the universe was younger and more chaotic. Order and structure were just beginning to emerge.

The Ultra Deep Field observations, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos. Peering into the Ultra Deep Field is like looking through an eight-foot-long soda straw.

In ground-based photographs, the patch of sky in which the galaxies reside (just one-tenth the diameter of the full Moon) is largely empty. Located in the constellation Fornax, the region is so empty that only a handful of stars within the Milky Way galaxy can be seen in the image.

In this image, blue and green correspond to colors that can be seen by the human eye, such as hot, young, blue stars and the glow of Sun-like stars in the disks of galaxies. Red represents near-infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, such as the red glow of dust-enshrouded galaxies.

The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004. Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team.


Other Pictures of Today...

Mercury Nevada. They won't let me drive to that town. I don't think they'll let me land an airplane there either, although I haven't asked.


I believe this is Bishop, CA on the left, and Boundary Peak, the highest point in Nevada, on the right. At any rate, it's a nice looking valley.


Some desert mountains in western Nevada. And a PC12 wing. The probe sticking out of the wing is the angle of attack probe.


Snowy Mountains, northwest of Twin Lakes, Colorado.

      PICT1677      PICT1679

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