More Junkmail from Bob!

Monday, November 8, 2004
Important Stuff.

Alligator vs. Deer

There have been some pictures of an alligator with a deer in its mouth flying around the internet for a few months. It looks real, but I've been a little skeptical. It turns out that it IS real. They were taken by Terri, who was getting ready to drop flaming ping-pong balls out of a helicopter. Really!

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Terri was starting a prescribed burn in the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge south of Savannah, GA.

Coal Fired

In northwestern China there is a valley that's been on fire for more than 100 years. The coal deposits in Liuhuanggou (Sulfur Valley) in Changji, Xinjiang have been burning since a general of the Qing Dynasty named Wan did some careless mining in the area beginning in about 1874. He'd mine a while, and when he set one mine on fire he'd abandon it and start a new mine.

Now the fire is out. There are a few more fires in the region, but none this big. The Liuhuanggou fire was burning about 1,800,000 tons per year.

Mr. Gates Goes to Washington

Here's a good article about Microsoft's recent lobbying of politicians. Among other items, one of Microsoft's big priorities is stopping open-source software, which they apparently see as a threat. "'Microsoft has lobbied particularly hard against open source, helping kill state bills that advocate for open source in Oregon and Texas. Microsoft argues that open source freezes innovation, and Krumholtz [Microsoft lobbyist] says that commercial software alone spurs economic growth and creates jobs."

From February 3, 2003 to August 8, 2004 Bill Gates sold $3,248,092,000 in Microsoft stock, 122,000,000 shares, which amounted to little over 10% of his holdings. He owned 1,097,499,336 Microsoft shares on August 9, 2004. Not a bad piece of change.

In Brazil, the government supports open-source software

Microsoft has a new program to battle software piracy. They give you some free software if you agree to check your computer to make sure all the Microsoft software you have is legitimate. Microsoft is not taking any action if your software has been pirated. Yet.

Elsewhere, Microsoft has claimed title to the Internet. Luckily, they allow us to license it from them for nothing.,1759,1714680,00.asp

Microsoft is offering licenses for TCP protocols, DNS serving, and other common software concepts used by millions of people daily.

Why do they bother, if it's free? Maybe it won't be free forever. Maybe this is asserting ownership today for a lawsuit 20 years in the future. Here is the agreement.



Cyber Extortion

Internet Extortion has been around for years, but it may be growing.

An ID fraud ring with, among other things, 1.7 million credit card numbers was broken up by U.S. other police.


Finally! Four spammers, Daniel, James, Mark, and Christopher have been charged under the anti-spam act that became law last January, the first ever.

Maybe it took so long because the government investigators couldn't find any spam. They announced a big push against spammers last Spring. I guess this is the result.


The Motion Picture Association of America sent a nasty legal notice to some Linux people in Australia. They weren't harassing them because they were Linux people, however. The MPAA said that Builder AU had the movies Grind and Twisted available for download.

Builder AU had some files called Grind and Twisted on their web site, but they're just Linux software. The MPAA didn't even bother to download them to see if the files were really movies before they issued threatening legal notices.

Maybe that's how the MPAA gets all those statistics about how many movies are pirated -- they count every file with a similar name, and then present the grand total to Congress as fact. Along with a campaign contribution, of course.

Language Barrier

On September 21, a Midwest Airlines flight was ready to take off from Milwaukee to San Francisco. A passenger opened a magazine and found some handwriting in Farsi. It was a prayer, or something similar. The crew panicked, headed back to the gate, and dumped everybody off the plane. The plane, baggage, and probably the people were searched. The flight was cancelled.

Homeland Security boss Tom said, "They did exactly the right thing. After all, Farsi looks kind of like Arabic, and we will not have aircraft flying in U.S. airspace with Arabic handwriting in the magazines, not while I'm in charge."

In other news, the Washington Post reported yesterday that Homeland Security boss Tom is expected to resign.


In 1976, Seymour Cray and some others sold a computer to Los Alamos National Labs. It was the Cray I, considered the first supercomputer. It could perform 133 million floating point operations per second, or 133 megaflops. A floating point operation is an addition, multiplication, division, or something similar that uses real numbers instead of integers. It actually uses floating point representations of real numbers, if you want to get technical, which is why it's called a floating point operation.

Here's the hardware reference manual for the Cray 1 if you want more details:

Sometime in the next week, the Top 500 list will be out, listing the fastest computers in the world. Here is the list from June 2004:

In September, IBM announced that it had outpaced NEC's Earth-Simulator with its Blue Gene/L computer that IBM is building for Lawrence Livermore National Labs. Blue Gene/L sustained 36,000,000,000,000 floating point operations per second, or 36 teraflops.

Now IBM has passed 70 teraflops with the same system. That is roughly a half million floating point operations in the time it took the Cray 1 to do a single one.

It's hard for me to comprehend a trillion mathematical operations, especially in a single second. It must be pretty interesting to write a program for a computer like that.

Wind Power

Assembly of the world's largest wind turbine, 126 meters (413 feet) in diameter, was competed last month outside of Brunsbüttel, Germany. That's northwest of Hamburg and east of Locust Grove. The generator can produce a maximum of 5 megawatts of electricity, but the average will probably be closer to 1.5 or 2. That's still a lot.


Its head, rotor blades, and nacelle weigh about 360 tons, and the whole turbine weighs about 1,100 tons. It's mounted on 40 concrete piles, each 24 meters long. Here are some details:

Here are some pictures:

Arctic Sea Ice

Summer Arctic sea ice coverage has been down 10 to 15 percent from its average for the past three years. Some people think this is due to global warming, and others say it's part if the natural cycles. I would guess that it's a combination of the two.

Serving Indymedia

Indymedia, is short for Independent Media. Who are they? "Indymedia is a global media network consisting of 144 autonomous Independent Media Centers that provide openly accessible newswires with the capacity for anyone to publish texts, images, audio, and video, particularly concerning political and social justice issues." In other words, they're a fairly left-wing independent news organization.

Indymedia is based in the U.K., but they use Rackspace in Texas to serve about 20 web sites, some internet radio station, and some other stuff.

Last month, the FBI seized the Indymedia servers. Why? The FBI said they did it at the request of Swiss and Italian authorities. A week later, the FBI gave the servers back. As near as I can tell, there were some photos of some Swiss undercover policemen on the site dealing with protesters at the G8 Summit.

Homeland Security Boss Tom said of the action, "What's the big deal? We have to do stuff like this. Terrorists are everywhere!" Or something like that.


GM used to mean General Motors. Now, for some people, it means Genetically Modified. A lot of people, particularly in Europe and Australia, would rather not eat or use anything that has been genetically modified. But that's getting harder to do. More and more companies are using genetic modification to produce better and cheaper food, clothing, and other plant and animal products.


Amazon received a "stupid software patent" on the one-click ordering feature of their web site. It's obvious and not very novel, in my opinion, but someone at the USPTO apparently disagrees with me. In a bit of irony, a company called IPXL sued Amazon over the patent and claimed Amazon's patent infringes on IPXL's. That's funny! (To me. Some say I'm a little weird...) But IPXL lost. Releases&H4AssetID=1125469420

I was watching a university channel on TV the other day, and a guy from Amazon was speaking to a group of computer science types about their new searching system.

They have scanned thousands of books, and you can now use the internal text in a search. That is pretty cool. I searched for some sailboat books the other day, sorted by "bestselling," and Stephenson's "System of the World" was at the top of the list. You can disable that feature if you don't like it.

I just now did a search on Amazon for "ask not for whom the bell tolls" and got 35 hits. I picked one on the second page, and I did a search on that book. Then I could read the page of the book that that phrase appears on. That will be really fun to play with!


Need to shut down a public TV? Get a  TV-B-Gone! It turns off most modern televisions with a single click.,1284,65392,00.html


The unmanned spacecraft Cassini has been flying around Saturn for a while. Cassini made a pass by Saturn's moon Titan on October 26 and took this photo:


It looks a little funny because it was taken using radar instead of light, because Titan's atmosphere is too thick with haze to see through. Here's the NASA description:

This radar image of the surface of Saturn's moon Titan was acquired on October 26, 2004, when the Cassini spacecraft flew approximately 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) above the surface and acquired radar data for the first time. It reveals a complex geologic surface thought to be composed of icy materials and hydrocarbons.

A wide variety of geologic terrain types can be seen on the image; brighter areas may correspond to rougher terrains and darker areas are thought to be smoother. A large dark circular feature is seen at the western (left) end of the image, but very few features resembling fresh impact craters are seen. This suggests that the surface is relatively young. Enigmatic sinuous bright linear features are visible, mainly cutting across dark areas.

The image is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) wide and 250 kilometers (155 miles) long, and is centered at 50 N, 82 W in the northern hemisphere of Titan, over a region that has not yet been imaged optically. The smallest details seen on the image are about 300 meters (984 feet) across.

The data were acquired in the synthetic aperture radar mode of Cassini's radar instrument. In this mode, radio signals are bounced off the surface of Titan.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The instrument team is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

On December 25, Cassini will launch the Huygens probe toward Titan. If everything goes well, Huygens will land on Titan on January 14.

Rubik's Cube

Be sure your Rubik's Cube is legit. Homeland Security Agents visited an Oregon toy store and told Stephanie, the owner, to remove Rubik's cubes from her shelves. They said it violated U.S. patents. So she did.

They Homeland Security Agents were actually U.S. Customs agents, who now belong to the Department of Homeland Security. I think they should be stopping illegal drugs or terrorists or spammers rather than harassing toy stores.

It turned out that the patent to the Rubik's cube in question has expired, so they toys were legitimate in the first place. So Stephanie put the toys back on the shelf.

Scam a Scammer

Here's a funny article about a guy named Mike from Manchester, U.K. who scammed a Nigerian scammer for $129.,2106,3081613a4560,00.html

Satellite Jammer

The U.S. has deployed a ground-based satellite jammer. That would probably be a good thing in a war against another country. But now other countries will decide the same thing, and I'm liable to be out over the middle of an ocean when my GPS quits. I could be forced to use a compass!

Digital Beauty Pageant

Now, a digital beauty pageant. Contestants must be zeros and ones. It's impressive!


In beautiful Broward County, Florida, some votes got lost again. This time, according to the newspaper, they found out that their voting machines would count up to 32,000 votes and then start counting backwards. This seems like a good idea to me, because anybody who gets that many votes in one precinct needs a little competition. But the politicians didn't like that, and I supposed most of the voters didn't either.

The funny thing is that the voting machine company told the election officials about this, and told them to split up a precinct into more than one precinct if they got close to 32,000. And, naturally, someone didn't. I suppose fixing the software was out of the question.

If I were guessing, I'd say that the limiting number is 32,767 instead of 32,000, and than it wraps around to -32,768 when it passes 32,767. That's the way 16-bit arithmetic works on an Intel CPU.

I tried to get a personalized license tag once that was "32767", but they wouldn't sell it to me. I guess it was too racy.

Today's Stupid Software Patents

Is it novel, innovative, and un-obvious to display a web page when someone logs onto a network? The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office thinks it is, although I disagree.

DE Technologies owns the patent for 80% of all computerized international trade, according to them and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They won the first round in a lawsuit against Dell.

From DE Technology's web site: "With patent coverage securing 80% of the world 's trading markets, DE Technologies is securing licensing arrangements with international trading participants."

Need an Airplane?

We've got a couple for sale -- a Piper Archer...

...and a Piper Cub:

Pictures of Today!

Newfoundland island, May 2, 2004:

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The southern coast of Greenland, August 7, 2004:

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Grand Canyon, Lake Mead, Lake Powell, in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

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NASA caption: Ship-wave-shaped wave clouds and cloud vortices ripple and swirl through this image of the Crozet Islands in the Indian Ocean. The ship-wave-shaped clouds are to the left in this image, and look similar to the pattern of waves along a seashore. On the right, the cloud vortices appear in an interlocking pattern of circles. This true-color Aqua MODIS image was acquired on November 2, 2004.

Both cloud patterns are the result of the lowest airmass moving over an obstacle - in this case, a set of islands. This movement can form a wave (as seen on the left), and the wave movement can continue for long distances. As the air crested a wave, it cooled, and clouds formed. Then, as the air sank into the trough, the air warmed, and clouds did not form. This pattern repeated itself, with clouds appearing at the peak of every wave. If the air spins instead of rises and sinks, it pulls existing clouds into a spiral form (such as seen on the right).

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On a short sailboat trip in San Diego a few days ago, we passed the USS John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer.

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Then we passed this submarine. I'm not sure, but I'd guess those guys on the conning tower and looking at the last sunshine they'll see for a while.

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Flying out from San Diego we saw this aircraft carrier headed out to sea:


Here's a picture of the sailboat we were on -- the Babelfish. It's the one parked at the dock:


South Africa, on October 31, 2004:


Trees on a railroad track.


Walking sticks. There were dozens of these climbing up the trees one evening.

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You can see them one this tree if you look closely.




My baby daugher (Melinda) on Mount Baldy, 2 weeks ago:

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Melinda took these today and yesterday:

A bubble in the pond:



Dining out:

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Just messing around:


(-) 1986, no rights reserved. Any unauthorized duplication, distribution, replication, or constipation of this fine collection of zeros and ones is fine with me. Copy the heck out of it!

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I'm Bob Webster from earth, and I can usually be found at
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