More Junkmail from Bob!

Friday, July 2, 2004
Important Stuff.

It's Steven's Birthday!

Win the Lottery

Got cancer? You'd better win the lottery. That's how 50,000 Medicare cancer patients will get their medicine this year. Since Medicare won't pay for everybody, there's a government lottery to see who gets the medicine and who doesn't. That's a pretty serious lottery -- you lose, you die.

The U.S. government only has half a billion dollars to spend on Medicare cancer drugs. Meanwhile, we've managed to come up with $120 billion for the Iraq War (so far).

That's 20 times the budget of the National Cancer Institute:

About half a million people in the U.S. will die from cancer this year.

But the money in Iraq is being spent frugally, right? Right. Among other things, Baghdad will be home to the largest U.S. embassy in the world.

Digital Cameras

What's the best digital camera? It depends on what you want to use it for. Here are some things (besides price) that might be important when you use a digital camera.

1. Size.
Can you carry it in your pocket? Do you want to? There are some pretty small cameras available now.

2. Zoom.
Optical zoom is the one that matters. Digital zoom is equivalent to cropping (trimming) a picture on your computer. I always disable digital zoom on my cameras. Smaller cameras usually have less zoom capability, maybe because of the lens size.

3. Stabilization.
If you get a camera with a large optical zoom, you might want to consider one with image stabilization. Otherwise, a lot of the zoomed-in pictures will probably be blurry if you don't use a tripod.

4. Resolution, a.k.a. megapixels.
This is the number of dots (pixels) in a photo. An image with 1600x1200 resolution has 1600 pixels across and 1200 pixels vertically. This makes 1,920,000 pixels. Cameras with a maximum resolution of 1600x1200 are called 2 megapixel cameras (or sometimes 1.9 megapixel, if the manufacturer has a pang of conscience). If you double the resolution to 3200x2400, you get an 8 megapixel camera. In my opinion, 2 megapixel is OK for most applications, 3-5 megapixel is plenty, and 8 megapixel is probably overkill.

Larger images take more disk storage and take longer to transfer from the camera memory to your computer. But they're prettier, right? Not always. In some cameras, the image resolution exceeds the accuracy of the lens. Sometimes the image resolution is so high you can't see it on the output device. In an 8x10 printed photo, it's usually hard to see the difference between a 2 megapixel and an 8 megapixel photo. It's really hard to see the difference between a 5 megapixel and an 8 megapixel image without a magnifying glass. The most visible difference would be caused by the color, lens, and software of a digital camera.

Why would you want 8 megapixels or more? You can take an 8 megapixel image and crop it, effectively increasing the zoom. You can print an 8 megapixel image out on poster-size paper and have a very sharp image. If you do image processing and modification, it's usually easier if you have more pixels to work with. But if you take pictures for the web or to print off on printer 13x19" or smaller, there may not be much purpose using a full 8 megapixels.

Here's a three part article on digital cameras that discusses resolution, among other things:

5. Color and features.
Newer cameras have more neat stuff, are faster, and in general take better pictures. You just about have to read reviews or try them out to find out what you like. Here are some sites with good digital camera reviews:

Today's Quote:

"The liberation of Iraq was good for the Iraqi people, good for America, and good for the world... And men and women across the Middle East, looking to Iraq, are getting a glimpse of what life in a free country can be like."
President Bush, March 20, 2004


First there was hardware and software. I was trying to figure out which came first, but they more or less evolved together, depending on the definition of computing. Personal computers came some years later, with computer viruses close on their heels. One of the first viruses was the Elk Cloner, written just for fun in 1981. I didn't go through all the code, but it copied itself a bunch of times (maybe 50) and displayed this message on the screen occasionally:




Here's a copy of the source code.

It ran on the Apple II. It's very simple, and people wrote lots of variants.

The Jerusalem virus was common MSDOS virus in the late 1980's. It was quite a bit more complex, and came with a payload. On Friday the 13th, or other certain days depending on the variant, it would erase most files on the hard drive. Once it was loaded into memory, it would attach itself to every .exe or .com file executed. It was originally supposed to be from Israel, but later on I think they decided it came from Italy. Here's a copy of the source code (disabled):

Now there are lots of viruses, trojans, and other malicious software. There are so many different types of malicious software that the names virus, trojan, spyware, adware, and malware are not very well defined. Different people use these terms and others to describe just about any kind of malicious software.

So I'll call it all malware for now. I'd prefer to call it something like gertrude, but most people would understand that even less than malware.

There are three logical questions you might ask when you acquire some malware:

1. How did I get it?
2. What does (or did) it do?
3. How do I keep from getting it?
4. How do I get rid of it?

Oops, that's four. But the third and fourth ones are easy: Use firewalls and antivirus programs, then call friends, neighbors, and relatives for help.

If you thing you might have some malware and don't have any antivirus software or firewall, you can scan your system online here:

The funny thing about this is that it asks to install a program on your computer in order to do the scan, one if the major red flags to be wary of in your web browsing.

You can download Adaware scanner here:

(Don't get suckered into downloading another advertised program like Lynn Reese did...)

The second question might be the most important -- what does malware do? Some malware just spreads and doesn't do anything. Here are some other common "tasks" performed by malware:

1. File Erasing
This was commonly done by earlier viruses and trojans. It doesn't seem to be popular lately.

2. Remote Control
A malware program can install a remote control program on your program. Then someone, either a person or a program on a remote computer, can install and run programs on your computer. These programs can be anything from spam senders to keystroke and password loggers.

3. Key Logging
Some malware records keystrokes and mouse activity, and then emails or uploads these to remote computers. The keystrokes and mouse movement can then be "played back" on the remote computer to get passwords and other personal information.

4. Password Loggers
There are a lot of programs designed to extract passwords from a computer, either automatically or manually. An interesting one I saw displayed the Windows 2000 login screen over and over, and I stupidly entered about 8 of my commonly used passwords in about 8 seconds. I finally figured it out when none of them "worked."

5. Spam Senders
Some malware installs a small, remotely operated smtp server that can be activated remotely. This is very handy for spammers. Suppose, for example, that I install these small smtp servers on 10,000 computers with wideband internet connections. I could transmit 5000 emails on each system in the middle of the night, and most people would never know about it. It would be really hard for me to send 50,000,000 emails on a single internet connection without the ISP throwing a hissey fit. Computers with these remote-control email servers are called zombies. Malware authors and distributors sell lists of known zombies to spammers.

6. Usage Tracking
Some malware is used for market research. It tracks where users go on the web, which applications then run on their computers, etc. This type of malware is marginally legal if the user allows its installation by clicking "I Accept" on the host application license agreement.

7. Personal Spying
You can use a remote control application to monitor someone's computer usage. This is occasionally done by parents, spouses, employers, employees, police, etc.

8. Financial Information
Some malware mimics common financial applications such as Quicken or Microsoft Money in order to get bank account numbers, credit card numbers, PINs and passwords. They can also mimic financial web sites, or transmit information whenever certain financial web sites are accessed.

9. Recreational
Some people like to hack into other computers just for the fun and challenge. They may leave a rude or funny message and let it go, or they may leave a more permanent mark of destruction, such as an empty "My Documents" directory. This is never a problem for the victim, because everybody always has a current backup.

10. Advertising
Some malware is used to display ads, either in web browsers or in independent pop-up windows. Like the usage tracking malware, this is marginally legal if you click "I Accept" on the host application's user agreement.

There are lots of other malware uses, but these are some of the more common. This brings us to question one, which is, "How did I get this thing?"

That's a simpler question. If you have malware, it most likely came in one of these ways:

1. A virus can be attached to an .exe or .com file, or attached to a boot sector on a floppy or hard drive. This is common for older viruses on MSDOS machines. One time I ordered 4 new computers with hard drives, and each of the brand new hard drives had a virus on the boot sectors.

2. Malware can be installed whenever you install a software application. Some free applications are "ad supported," meaning they display ads on your computer as long as (and sometimes longer than) the application is on your system. Some malware pushers attach their software to otherwise legitimate applications to sneak them onto your system.

3. Malware can be installed on your system whenever you approve an installation of something from a web site. If you ever install something from a web site, be sure you know what it is.

4. Email attachments are probably the most popular way to distribute malware. When you open an executable email attachment, you might be installing some malware.

5. Windows 2000 and later automatically has server capabilities. It also has some bugs. This means that malware can mysteriously fly into your computer from the internet even when you're not doing anything on your computer. Actually, it comes in over TCP/IP or UDP ports, exploiting security flaws in Windows such as buffer overflow bugs. You can usually prevent this by using a firewall and keeping your Windows up to date.

6. Email applications, web browsers, and other applications sometimes have bugs that allow web scripts to load malware. These are commonly exploited in Outlook, Outlook Express, Microsoft Office, and Internet Explorer (like this one). Mozilla has been getting a boost lately because it's a little less vulnerable to malware than Internet Explorer.,1377,64065-2,00.html?tw=wn_story_page_next1

Some malware uses more than one method of spreading. Agobot (or Gaobot) uses about a half dozen methods, including backdoors in the Beagle and MyDoom viruses!

Congress is passing some laws against malware, spyware, and et cetera, but if they enforce them like they do the anti-spam law we can expect to see malware increase by about 300% in the next couple of years.

The FBI is supposed to be working on an anti-spam investigation, but no results so far:

However, the government strictly enforcing forest fire laws, suing the Boy Scouts of America for $14 million:

Here are some homework reading assignments:,1282,63345,00.html,1377,63391,00.html,1377,63280,00.html

...and some spam articles:,1367,63537,00.html,1367,63513,00.html,39023913,39150051,00.htm

Pilotless Planes

Pilotless airplanes are coming to some airspace near you. This is the new politically palatable nomenclature for Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV). They're unwomanned, too. NASA has a project underway to put pilotless planes in piloted airspace by 2008.

UAV's are already used by the military for reconnaissance and occasionally for attacks.


An unmanned and unwomanned submarine was filming an undersea volcano this spring when the volcano erupted in front of it! This article is dated April Fools Day. Coincidence? Maybe.

Road Sensors

Two or three years ago I drove up to the restricted area around Groom Lake, Nevada, also called Area 51.


I was surprised because I drove all the way up to the restricted area and I didn't see anybody around ready to throw me out. When I got there, I saw a military vehicle up on a hill. I had driven for several miles down a dirt road to get there. I expected some kind of surveillance, but I didn't see anything.

The reason was, the surveillance is in the road. There are sensors in the road that detect traffic headed toward the restricted area. I think that's pretty neat. Here's an article about a guy who dug up a bunch of the sensors, logged their locations, and reburied them. He got into trouble when one of the sensors turned up missing.

Severance Pay

Bank of America merged with NationsBank. Bank mergers are not too unusual. After the merger, they're planning get rid of 12,500, 13,000, or 15,000 jobs, depending on who you ask. I think most of those jobs are being done by humans, although the bank didn't say. A cutback of this size is a little unusual, but not unheard of.

The really unusual thing about this merger concerns Bank of America's president, Eugene. He worked there for about a year, and then decided to resign on June 30 to "pursue other challenges." After one year's employment, he's taking a $25,000,000 severance package with him. I don't know whether he applied for a job as head of the NYSE, but it might be a good fit.

Prison Population

One out of 75 men in the U.S. is now in prison. Maybe we should get rid of radios, cable TV, and cell phones in prison. Actually, cell phones are not allowed in most prisons, but they are being used by some prisoners in most prisons. For some people prison life is more luxurious than life on the outside.

Prime Number

In case you were wondering, 2^24,036,583 - 1 is the 41st Mersenne prime.

Cassini and Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997 from Cape Canaveral.


It has flown by Venus twice (1998 and 1999), then Earth (1999), then Jupiter (2000). Now, Cassini has entered orbit around Saturn.

Cassini flew by Saturn's moon Phoebe just a few days ago:,1282,63967,00.html

Campaign Time

It's presidential campaign time. With record budget deficits, President Bush still flies around the country, spending millions of federal dollars on campaign appearances. Is that legal? Yes. Common? Yes, although Bush is setting new records in the amount of money he's spending.

If he makes an official stop somewhere on a campaign trip, then the campaign has to reimburse the government only for the price of airline tickets for some of the campaign people. Most of the expense comes from the U.S. Government. Clinton set records spending money this way too, but Bush has outdone him. It's not only at home, either. The U.S. government spent about $100,000 for a platform in Normandy so Bush would look better at his appearance there.

New York Daily News: "White House aides advancing President Bush's Normandy visit ordered the Pentagon to erect a $100,000 platform for his entry into a U.S. military cemetery, well-placed sources told the Daily News. American taxpayers picked up the six-figure tab for the red carpet, walkway and artificial island hurriedly built over a memorial pool so that Bush and French President Jacques Chirac could walk in style to the dais for last week's ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings."

I'm proud to be a taxpayer!

Afghanistan Opium

Afghanistan, theoretically under U.S. control, has become the number one opium producer in the world. I guess the U.S. wants to keep the local opium growers happy so they don't let Al Kider back in. So much for the war on drugs.

Stem Cell Research

58 U.S. Senators wrote a letter to Bush asking him to relax restrictions on stem cell research. Bush doesn't like stem cell research because stem cells come from fetuses, so stem cell research comes from abortions or leads to abortions or something like that. Bush told the senators, "Take a hike. The day I'll allow stem cell research is the day I learn to pronounce nukular."

So the best medical research that utilizes stem cells is now going on in Europe.

Ice Core

Dome C is a pile of ice in eastern Antarctica. It's tall. It's been collecting snow for about 800,000 years or so. Some researchers from 10 countries have core sampling the ice for the past several years. They've gone down 3000 meters. They check out the air trapped inside the ice to see what the atmosphere was like hundreds of thousands of years ago. It's pretty interesting.

Grad Student on the Loose

A University of Idaho Computer Science grad student named Sami was found not guilty of terrorism and etc. and was released. He's been in jail since February 2003. The government spent millions of dollars trying to convict him. His crime was that he maintained some web sites, among which were some Moslem anti-U.S. sites. He didn't provide the content for those sites, and was found not guilty.

Here's an article from when he was arrested:

I like this bit from the FBI:
"An FBI agent testified Tuesday that he found thousands of photographs, including shots of planes hitting buildings, plane crashes and the World Trade Center towers, in the hard drive of a computer al-Hussayen used at the University of Idaho, where he studied computer science."

Thousands of people had "thousands of photographs, including shots of planes hitting buildings, plane crashes and the World Trade Center towers" on their hard drives in February 2003. Your browser automatically saves them in the cache, which is hundreds of megabytes on most systems. That testimony was blatantly misleading, making me wonder whether the FBI ever had any legitimate evidence.

Stealth Ships

Stealth aircraft have been around for a while, but now there are stealth ships coming. They have a reduced radar signature that doesn't make them invisible, but reduces the range at which they can be seen on radar.

Riemann Hypothesis

A guy from Purdue named Louis thinks he's proven the Riemann Hypothesis, an unproven mathematical hypothesis first published in 1859.

Louis has made some unsuccessful attempts before, and his latest proof is unverified so far.

You can check it out for yourself here:

If it's correct, Louis will probably get the $1,000,000 prize for solving one of the Millennium Problems of the Clay Mathematics Institute.

War on Terror Scoreboard

The U.S. State Department published its annual report on terrorism, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," showing that the U.S. war on terrorism has been highly successful in reducing the number of terrorist attacks around the world. "Indeed, you will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight" against global terrorism, Deputy Secretary of State Richard said during a celebratory rollout of the report.

A few days later, some people figured out that the report was wrong, and the number of worldwide terrorist attacks was about double that in the original report.

When asked about the blunder, Deputy Secretary Richard eloquently stated, "It wasn't my fault. It was those computer guys!"

Here's the corrected version of the report:

The Flight of the Saudis

After the airliners crashed into buildings on September 11, 2001, the U.S. airspace was closed to private aircraft. Unless you were important Saudis. I was stranded in Colorado, which was OK with me. But it's kind of irritating that the Saudis were allowed to fly and I wasn't.

Tractor on the Runway

The owner of Riley Creek Airport, west of Knoxville, TN, drove a tractor out onto the runway to keep an airplane from landing. The article mentions a land dispute. There's got to be more to this story, and I bet it's funny.

Ohio Mall Bomber

The guy who was planning to blow up shopping malls in Ohio has been in jail since last November. I'm not sure why they didn't charge him until now. Maybe Bush needed some campaign publicity. The plot was only in the planning stages. They had not picked a target or acquired any explosives. The guy should be probably jailed and/or deported, but the news headlines make it sound like we narrowly escaped. If the guy was never arrested, I doubt he would have gotten around to blowing up anything. I'd just as soon have him deported, though.

Attorney General John said these charges should remind us that Al Kider is determined "to hit the United States and hit us hard." I think we might be pretty safe if this is all they've got.


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act may finally get revised! I'd prefer to see it revoked, but this is better than nothing.,1412,63876,00.html


Bush plans to screen the entire U.S. population for mental illness. I'm pretty sure this will result in everybody but me being diagnosed as "nuts."

Elsewhere in Washington, the powers that be in the FDA pressured an FDA employee to change a report and downplay dangers of antidepressants in young people. (This was in the June 17 Wall Street Journal. This link requires a subscription.),,SB108742043027239188,00.html

Ya reckon the antidepressant people could be donating money to the Bush people?

The Kimigayo

Stolen from "Terrie's Take" (

"From One thing we will no doubt be hearing more frequently will be the Japanese national anthem during the award ceremonies -- the  -- which means the "reign of his majesty" referring a long-dead Emperor. While the poem the song comes from is over a thousand years old, not many people know that the anthem was actually first created in the late 1880's, after being suggested by a British military band leader called Fenton, and being arranged by German music educator Franz Eckert. The melody was by composer Hayashi Hiromori.

"It is ironic then, that a tune with such a cosmopolitan background became synonymous with Japanese Imperialism in the twentieth century and subsequently fell into disrepute for over 50 years after the last war. However, in 1999 the LDP rammed through a majority vote to re-adopt Kimigayo as the nation's official song. The vote involved quite a political tussle, but has since been seen by many as a coming of age for the country."

Terrorists are Everywhere!

U.S. Customs agents have successfully arrested a marshmallow terrorist in Miami, Florida. 32-year-old Hope Clark is a teacher's aide. She went on a cruise. When her cruise ship came into Miami, she was rousted at 6:30 a.m., handcuffed, and hauled off by federal agents.

Her crime? She had left some marshmallows and chocolate at a campsite in Yellowstone.

They hauled her off the cruise ship, held her for 9 hours, and questioned the heck out of her. She was allowed to wear clothes during her interrogation. She eventually appeared before a judge in leg shackles, as teacher's aides are notoriously dangerous. Judge John decided that since Hope had already paid her $50 fine before she left Yellowstone a year earlier, he should turn her loose on the world. So he did.

When questioned about the fiasco, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter said, "Things are different now. Terrorists are everywhere!" Or something like that.

Open Source

Open source software is software developed by people who leave the source code available for others to read and modify. The software is usually free. The Mozilla web browser is a good example of open source software. I started using it recently, and I like it better than Internet Explorer. There are lots of open source applications that are free to download and use.

You might think that open source applications compete with Microsoft products. Microsoft might agree with you.

Several technology think tanks have recently come out with reports critical of open source applications, citing security, reliability, and other problems. One thing that is really funny about these reports is that they were all funded by Microsoft. Here are the details:

Peer-2-Peer Law

The U.S. Congress is planning to pass an anti file sharing law. So far it outlaws a lot of legitimate computer uses.

TSA and Airline Data

Now, 5 major airlines have admitted to turning over personal passenger data to the U.S. Government. This wouldn't be so bad, but the airlines and the TSA have previously said this never happened. If the TSA lies about this, what else do they lie about?,1283,63958,00.html

Comdex is History

Comdex 2004 has been called off due to lack of interest and possibly a little mismanagement.,1367,63971,00.html

Habeas Corpus

Who's got the body? In the year 1215, some English barons pressured King John Plantagenet ("Too late to be known as John the first, he's sure to be known as John the worst.") into signing the Magna Carta.

Article 39 of the Magna Carta says, "No free man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by lawful judgment of his equals and by the law of the land."

In 1679, the English parliament passed the Habeas Corpus act making it more official. Besides, over 450 years or so people tend to forget things.

Ever since, it's been illegal in theory, if not practice, to jail people without due process of law in Britain and in the U.S.

At least until some Lawyers told Bush that things are different now, and the rights of habeas corpus don't apply to the President of the U.S.

This week the Supreme Court decided that Bush's lawyers are wrong. Scalia said, "The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive."

Now even suspected terrorists being held without charge will be able to talk to lawyers -- at least those we know about. It still bothers me that suspicion is enough to land someone in jail for years.


According to this article, filming, salvage, and tourism submarines are damaging the Titanic. And all along I thought it was an iceberg and years of saltwater corrosion that did the damage.

Legal Interrogation

I've read a lot about the documents allowing "coercive interrogation techniques" in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but I had never actually seen them until I ran across them here:

The Black List

Highway Patrol, Airport Security people, and other security personnel can now look up your name on a list of 120,000 names to find out whether you're a terrorist, marshmallow or otherwise. Nobody is telling where these names came from, and nobody is telling how you get off the list if you're on it.

FBI Director Robert said, "Of course we can't disclose how you can be removed from our terrorist watch list. We haven't written that code into our database yet. If your name is similar to one on our list, you should change your name."

Terrorists apparently have not come up with the idea of using false names and identification, otherwise the list wouldn't be very useful.,1848,63478,00.html

Today's Stupid Patents

EFF's top 10 stupid patents:

Microsoft patents double click and timed mouse clicks. This doesn't seem very novel to me.,1367,63707,00.html

Microsoft patents "to-do" comments inside source code.,39020651,39157145,00.htm

Dutch parliament reverses vote for European software patent law:

Microsoft patented grouped taskbar buttons, another patent of an obvious idea.

Email Tapping is Legal

An appeals court in Massachusetts decided that it's legal for an email provider to read customers' emails. Why not? The government and everybody else has unfettered access.

The judge said the federal wiretapping law doesn't apply because the emails were stored on a hard drive and were not accessed during their transmission. I suspect this ruling won't last very long.,1848,64043,00.html,,SB108864702446252526,00.html (subscription required)

Space Ship One

On June 21, Scaled Composites flew their Space Ship One into space. It was the first time a private company flew a person into space.


Here are some good Space Ship One photos:

Two Mountains

Two or three weeks ago Ken Webster and I made a valiant attempt to climb Mt. Rainier, Washington. The weather and snow weren't ideal, and we wimped out. I'm pretty sure that makes us idealists. Here are a bunch of Rainier pictures on the ground and from the air.

Last week I climbed Little Bear Peak in Colorado. I made it to the top of that one.

Pictures of Today!

It's been a little while since the last Junkmail so there are quite a few pictures today, all at no extra charge!

Melinda in a big tree:


Real photographers:


A loaded bumblebee:


Beach flowers (south of Morro Bay, CA):

      pict4935      pict4960

Beach Quail:


Beach Dove:


Beach Combers:

      pict5003      pict5005

Beach Rocks:

      pict5019      pict5024



Formation Flight:

      pict5006      pict5009

Storm Clouds, Pryor:

      pict5140      pict5153

Storm Clouds, Colorado:

      pict5213      pict5249

      pict5255      pict5259

Maroon Bells, Colorado:

      pict5783      pict5839

Colorado Wildflower:


A Cloud over Tulsa:


(~) 1981, no rights deserved. Any unauthorized duplication or distribution of any or all of this fine piece of junk, electronic or otherwise, is fine with me. Copy the heck out of it! I have hi-res copies of most of the pictures in here, just let me know if you'd like one.

If you'd like to sign up for Junkmail or read and search previous Junkmails, go to

If you'd like to stop getting this exquisite collection of tripe, please select any or all of the following easy-to-use options:

1. Stop computing altogether.
2. Give up using the internet.
3. Get a new email address and don't tell me what it is.
4. Send me an email with "Kangerlussuaq" as the subject.

I'm Bob Webster from Earth. I can usually be reached at
Have a nice day!