More Junkmail from Bob!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Important Stuff.

I've been slacking and haven't done a Junkmail for a while, so I made up for it and made this one pretty long. So feel free to skip the boring parts... you will not be tested over that material.

Norwegian Terrorism

Stavanger is a town of about 100,000 people in southwest Norway.

Sola is a smaller town near Stavanger, where the airport is located. Some high explosives were recently found recently at the airport in Sola. This is a frequent problem there. It seems that during World War II, some German officers ordered about 30 prisoners of war to bury tons of explosives around the airport. A few weeks ago, Avinor dug up seven ditch-fulls of explosives.

Einar, one of the people who buried them, said there are tons left undiscovered. Much of the remaining explosives are probably "safely" buried underneath the runway.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald, in an effort to distract the public from his "we don't need no stinking armor" blunders, reportedly, eloquently, and anonymously disclosed secret plans for the imminent invasion of Norway and Germany. Donald explained, "Both Germany and Norway were obviously in collusion in planting the Stavanger explosives for clear terrorism purposes. This behaviour cannot be tolerated, whether today, tomorrow, or 60 years ago. Besides, there's oil in the North Sea."


In 1981, IBM came out with the IBM Personal Computer. Before this, Apple and Radio Shack were the dominant PC companies. At the time, IBM was a giant, conservative corporation who sold giant computers to other giant, conservative corporations. When IBM released the PC, it made the PC a legitimate piece of office equipment, as opposed to the "hobbyist items" that the other PC makers sold. At least that was a common impression in the corporate world.

The IBM PC sold really well, even though other PC makers offered better price-performance. Then people started selling (and buying) IBM PC clones, compatible with the IBM PC but a lot cheaper. Sometimes they were about half the price of a "true IBM PC." The IBM compatibles eventually took over the majority of the personal computer market. Even today, I can run most application software written for a 1981 IBM PC on my Pentium 4 Windows XP system.

IBM has been making personal computers ever since. But all things come to an end. IBM is selling its Personal Computer division to China's Lenovo Group for the low, low price of $1,750,000,000.

It's notable that in 1981, the U.S. trade deficit with China was almost zero. Last year, China exported $124 billion more to the U.S. than it imported. This year China surpassed passed the U.S. as the world's largest exporter to Australia.

In 1981, IBM created today's personal computer. In 1994 (and maybe later, I don't remember), it was against U.S. law to export most personal computers to China. Ten years later, IBM, the creator of the "PC as we know it," is selling its entire PC business to China.

Things change.

Killing GPS

The President has ordered plans for disabling the GPS system. The White House said this will only be done in a national crisis to fight terrorists. That is just about the stupidest thing I've heard in a long time.

At any given moment, there are thousands of planes, ships, boats, and other improvised terrorist weapons using the GPS system. Some of these are even being used by non-terrorists. Many are in critical stages of operation relying on GPS.

For example, right now, this instance, there are probably dozens of aircraft using GPS guidance for an instrument approach to an airport. At this instance, there are ships are using GPS to navigate into and out of harbors, under bridges, and between rocks. Even though it may not be advisable, there are hikers and hunters out right now, relying on GPS to get back to their car.

Bush apparently wants everybody in the world to stop relying on GPS just so he can turn it off. There are few, if any, scenarios I can imagine where a GPS would be critical to a terrorist attack. In those cases, if authorities knew about it, they should certainly be able to stop the attack without shutting down the GPS system. It appears to me that Bush (or some of his advisors) wants to be able to shut down GPS occasionally, "just in case" something may happen. That will get them a lot of publicity and public support, because the more you scare people, the more they support their government.

One of my favorite media quotes in this was, "'Any shutdown of the network inside the United States would come under only the most remarkable circumstances,' said a Bush administration official who spoke to a small group of reporters at the White House on condition of anonymity."

First, any shutdown of the GPS system in the U.S. would CREATE the most remarkable circumstances. Second, how can a Bush Administration official speak to an entire group of reporters at the White House anonymously? What is going on around there, anyway? Why would he have to speak anonymously, and how could he get away with it?,1282,66056,00.html

In other news, the government announced that the GPS system would be made less susceptible to jamming. This is so people can rely on it, as long as someone at the White House doesn't get the urge to unplug it. Actually, this is not news. The plans have been in place and in public for a few years. It was just announced as news to counterbalance the unplugging announcement.

Elsewhere, European transport ministers announced they are launching their own satellite navigation system called Galileo, to be placed into operation in 2008. I guess they don't want to rely on the whims of the U.S. President for their navigation system. I don't either.

In case you couldn't tell, I think shutting down the GPS system is a bad idea. I believe would cause more casualties that it could ever prevent.


Firefox version 1.0 was released a few weeks ago, after several prerelease versions and about 2 years of development by open-source volunteers. I think I like it better than Mozilla and Internet Explorer. It works with most web sites, although U.S. Customs seems to require Internet Explorer at this site despite claims to the contrary:

That site doesn't work with Mozilla or Firefox. Firefox is now the number 2 browser in the world. The final release of version 1.0 has been downloaded ten million times. Not all those people are using it, of course, but it is still pretty popular.

But Microsoft pays lots of money to politicians -- why shouldn't the U.S. government require Microsoft's browser? Besides, Microsoft says that open source software is bad for the economy.

Actually, most government agencies support other browsers. U.S. Customs claims to. I emailed them about this last week and never got a response, and the site still won't work with Firefox or Mozilla. The site most likely works with those browsers, but there's a bug in the browser type checking and it won't give you access without IE.

Customs and Immigration are now under the dominion of the Department of Homeland Security. With an annual discretionary budget of $33,000,000,000, you'd think they could fix their web site. But there are politicians involved. A guy named Bernard was supposed to take over Homeland Security, which would put him in charge of the country's immigration services. Bernard had to resign from the job before he took it because he has hired at least one illegal alien.

There are a lot of extensions available for Firefox, like Mozilla. For example, you can block all ads from companies like Doubleclick. It has built-in popup blocking. It doesn't seem to crash on Yahoo chess like Mozilla occasionally does.

You can download Firefox here if you want to try it out. It's free.

Here are some extensions I like:

Flashblock -- lets you selectively show Flash animations

Adblock -- lets you block ad images.

I haven't even noticed the increase in online ads because don't see many of them.

Configuration Mania -- sets additional options, such as playing animated GIFs only once.

Resize Search Box -- You can use this to make the search box at the top of the screen resizable.

Image Zoom -- you can zoom an image inside the browser.

Some people say that Firefox is more secure than IE. I'm not sure whether this is because it really is more secure, or because most hackers target IE because it's the most popular. Here's an example of an IE flaw that didn't happen with Firefox.

Traffic Cams

You've probably seen the traffic cameras at stoplights, and, if you look carefully, along freeways and bridges. Now a lot of places are putting the traffic cams online, in real time. That's pretty cool! O.K., I admit it. Most people wouldn't consider that the least bit interesting. But I'm easy to please.

These are generally recorded, which causes some people to worry that the government can keep track of their movements. Some of webcams are not used for law enforcement. But I think even those videos can be subpoenaed. Of course if it's a terrorism investigation all those legal procedures like subpoenas are unnecessary.

Stamp Photos

Buy a stamp, and get your photo taken at no extra charge! Some people don't like the fact that security photos are taken at post offices.

But photos are taken of people almost anywhere, whether in video or still format. Most every time you use an ATM, or check out of a convenience store, or walk into a Walmart, or get onto an airliner, or are arrested, you pose for a free portrait.


It's summer in Antarctica. The sun hasn't set on the South Pole since September.

There's a European ice coring project in Antarctica called EPICA. They drilled one hole to about 10,000 feet, and are currently (I think) drilling a second. They bring up the ice cores and analyze their chemical compositions. That way they can see what the climate and atmosphere was over the past few hundred thousand years.

Here's some of the data, in case you want to go over it yourself:

The first hole was drilled at Dome Concordia, or Dome C (About 75°06' S, 123°24'E). There is also some telescope research going on at Dome C:

Even China is investing in Antarctic research:

Edith "Jackie" Ronne went to Antarctica in 1946, the first American woman to make that trip. Here is a "trip report" she wrote. It's pretty good.


A PC-12 made a landing Tuesday afternoon in Indiana. This isn't too unusual. We land our PC-12 regularly. However, this PC-12 landed on a major street in South Bend. That is unusual. They took off from the South Bend airport, then the engine died at 6000 feet. They looked for a field to land in, but apparently couldn't find one. They landed on a street and shortened the 52' wingspan when they clipped a pole. Nobody was hurt, either in the plane or on the ground. I haven't heard why the engine died. That's pretty rare for those engines.

Here's another small airplane on a road:


Caption: "The Navy's first decommissioned F-14A Tomcat clears an overpass by a few inches during transportation from San Angelo Regional Airport to Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, on Aug. 13, 2004. The plane was escorted by San Angelo Police to help control traffic. Goodfellow bought the Tomcat to be used for training by the 312th Training Squadron's Fire Training Academy. The plane's engines, weapons, and related systems were removed before transport to Goodfellow. A few safety alterations will have to be made before the plane can be used for training. DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Michele G. Misiano, U.S. Air Force."

Here is a plane that didn't make a soft landing:


The picture was taken in 1999, one of two Yugoslav Mig-29s shot down by NATO forces.

Mike (my brother) and I sold our Bonanza and ordered a Cirrus SR-22. The new plane has fancier avionics, a 10-year newer engine, goes a little faster, and has fixed landing gear. Fixed gear is important when you have Alzheimer's like Mike. It also has a parachute, although we don't have any plans at the moment to use it.

Optical Dillusions

      illusion-1       illusion-2       illusion-3

      illusion-4.gif       illusion-19       illusion-23


Fishing Tournament

In Oklahoma, bass tournaments are popular. In the ocean, why not shark tournaments? Last August, the annual Yarmouth Nova Scotia Shark Scramble was won by a guy named Jamie with a 1,082 pound mako shark. That's big! He caught it on a rod and reel, a new record for Nova Scotia and for Canada.

Brilliance in Action

A lady named Patricia was walking along some railroad tracks in Pennsylvania last January. She got hit by a train and broke her finger. Last month Patricia sued the railroad. It seems they didn't warn her that trains use railroad tracks.


Unmanned Aeronautical Vehicles (UAVs) are getting more and more popular.

The Raven is a small 4lb aircraft that can fly for 80 minutes in a 9-mile range.


The ScanEagle has a 10-foot wingspan and can fly for up to 15 hours:

      R49eh      dvd-171-1

The Shadow is a bit bigger, weighing about 350 lbs with a 13-foot wingspan. It has an endurance of over 4 hours and a range of over 50 km.


Here are some details on the Shadow 200. The ground control looks pretty complex.

The Global Hawk is a reconnaissance aircraft that can cruise above 65,000 feet. The Global Hawk weighs 9,200 lbs empty, but can carry over 14,000 lbs of fuel in addition to a payload of almost a ton. It is 44 feet long with a wingspan of 116 feet.

Here's a Global Hawk in Iraq last month:


The 7th Global Hawk, landing at Edwards AFB in February 2003:


A Global Hawk at Beale AFB last October:


A Global Hawk used for training at Edwards AFB:


Predator A UAV's have logged over 100,000 hours in the air as of last September. The Predator A is powered by a Rotax 4-cylinder engine, similar to the ones in the AirCam ( It weighs 2100-2300 lbs and has a 49-foot wingspan. The Predator flies at speeds from 70 to 120 knots, up to 25,000 feet, and stay aloft for 16 to 24 hours.

      030630-F-0000W-002      021202-F-9998G-008      030721-F-0034G-008

      030813-F-8888W-006     030313-F-1644L-024      030327-F-4479S-003

      040915-F-3983J-026      951205-N-3149J-003      020214-M-7370C-034


The Predator A are used primarily for reconnaissance...


...but they can also shoot Hellfire missiles:


Here's how to drive a Predator:


The Predator B is a larger version of the Predator A, with a 700-horsepower turbine engine instead of the 4-cylinder Rotax. The Predator B has a gross weight of 10,000 lbs, about 4 times that the Predator A, it goes more than twice as fast, it flies twice as high, and it has a wingspan of 66 feet vs. 49 feet in the Predator A. The Predator B weighs about as much as the Pilatus PC-12, but has longer wings.


The Altair is the NASA version of the Predator B for high-altitude research, and for traffic avoidance tests to allow UAVs to fly safely commercially used airspace. It is similar to the Predator B, but has an 86-foot wingspan -- 20 feet longer than that of the Predator B.

      EC03-0154-3      ED03-0078-1      ED03-0078-4

The Mariner is the version of the Predator B used by the Navy and by Homeland Security for surveillance. Like the Altair, it has an 86-foot wingspan.

Australia is also using the Mariner UAV:

The RQ-5 Hunter now patrolling the U.S./Mexican border in Arizona.

The Israeli-designed Hunter has flown more than 3000 hours in Iraq.

UAVs are cheaper to fly, and when one crashes it rarely makes the headlines:

The Darkstar was cancelled in 1999, but it looks cool:

      980629-O-0000T-001      980629-O-0000T-002

With all the new Unmanned (and unwomanned, too) Aerial Vehicles around, the Navy was feeling a bit left out, so they built their own. The Battle-Space Preparation Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (BPUAV) is an unmanned submarine used to detect underwater mines, submarines, and mermaids.

      040709-N-6932B-023      040708-N-6932B-136

They use High Speed Vessels (HSVs) to launch them. I think they stop the HSVs first.

The HSV is 313 feet long with a crew of 31. It goes 45 knots.

      020403-N-0780F-001      020802-N-8894M-001      020802-N-8894M-003

Not to be outdone by the Navy, the Army got its own HSV, called TSV.


Here are some pictures of HSV-2. I think it was made in Australia, possibly in Tasmania. It looks like it would be great for water skiing.

      031010-N-3236B-001      040210-N-4374S-001      040210-N-4374S-004
      040707-N-3228G-004      040707-N-3228G-009      040710-N-6551H-136
      N-6551H-144.jpg 2 SWIFT.htm


Another UAV, the X-43a, used a scramjet engine to fly mach 9.6 or 9.8 last month. It's 12 feet long and 5 feet wide.

This B-52 carried a Pegasus launch vehicle (rocket) with the Scramjet on its nose to 40,000 feet. In this picture, you can see the white Pegasus rocket under the wing of the B-52. The X-43a is the small black object on the front of the Pegasus launch vehicle.

      84857main_EC04-0325-23_lg      83312main_EC04-0320-16_lg

The Pegasus carried the X-43a to 110,000 feet where the X-43a took off, using the thin air to burn gaseous hydrogen in the scramjet engine. The engine has no moving parts.

I can't find it written anywhere, but I think the X-43a was accelerated to its final speed, or close to it, by Pegasus. I also can't find how long the X-43a scramjet engine ran. I guess it must not be very long, because it only weighs 2800 lbs and it seems like would burn its hydrogen fuel pretty quick at that speed.

It was the last mission for this NASA B-52, which was first flown in June 1955. This B-52 is the oldest B-52 still flying, and the oldest plane in NASA's inventory. It's even older than me! The plans at the moment are to put it on display at Edwards AFB.


In 1991, IBM decided to get rid of their printer division, and they spun off Lexmark. Actually, they decided to do it earlier, but it took a few years of preparation. The name Lexmark probably comes from Lexington, Kentucky, where IBM made printers for a lot of years. In 1996, Lexmark moved its headquarters from Greenwich, CT to Lexington, KY where most of its employees were.

In 2004, some people accused printer maker Lexmark of installing spyware.,39020375,39173517,00.htm

Lexmark defended its software, saying "It's not spyware because it's disclosed in the 'I agree' page that nobody reads.",7070,204816596_416447809_416409796_en,00.html

Unless instructed otherwise, Lexmark printer driver installation will include software to send your printing stats to Lexmark, such as pages printed, ink used, etc. Privacy fans don't like this because Lexmark can associate the data individual users via the serial number in the product registration.

I don't like it because it slows down my computer. But I don't have a Lexmark printer, so it's OK. I also use Zone Alarm, which alerts me whenever a new program tries to access the internet. If I tell it "heck no!" then the program in question will always think that I'm not connected to the internet.


Not long ago, JetBlue was caught turning over its personal passenger data to the federal government. Lots of people were up in arms over it. JetBlue gave the data to the government to aid in the development of the CAPPS passenger screening system.

Northwest boss Richard was widely quoted saying "Northwest Airlines will not share customer information, as JetBlue Airways has." This brought Richard a certain amount of fame because at that time, Northwest was also turning over its personal passenger data to the government. There was a lot of poo-pooing and a few lawsuits over that.

Then some other airlines got caught in the act, and they all stopped and said they had been bad and would never misbehave again.

Now the Transportation Security Administration has decided to order ALL the airlines to turn over their personal passenger data. TSA boss David defended the practice, saying, "Its OK now. This data is no longer being used for CAPPS or CAPPS II. We've renamed the program 'Secure Flight.'",1848,65699,00.html

I think it's OK to give them my personal information as long as they let me know they're doing it, and as long as they don't make me take my shoes off.


Ukraine is no longer just a country in the game Risk. Now they have the fourth largest population of programmers in the world, after the U.S., India, and Russia.

The U.S., most likely for some unrelated and possibly incomprehensible reason, has been spending millions of dollars to replace Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych with Viktor Yushchenko. Yanukovych won the election, but he probably cheated. Hmm... haven't I heard that somewhere before?

Airborne Laser

If you take a super-powerful chemical laser, put it in a Boeing 747, you might be able to use it to shoot down incoming (or outgoing) missiles. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency fired their Airborne Laser system for the first time last month. I hope they keep that thing pointed up above the horizon!

      D6f2h      D6l2h


Some programs plant other programs onto your computer without permission. For example, if you load Real Networks, it loads a program to automatically communicate over the internet to check for updates. This program runs in the background, and is loaded whenever your computer boots.

Update checkers a common, and are usually tolerable. However, some programs load other programs onto your computer that are not so nice. Sometimes these "bad" programs are installed when you open an email attachment, sometimes they come in over Internet Explorer, and sometimes they come in silently over an unprotected TCP port.

Occasionally hackers will even modify popular web sites, such as, so that it installs "bad" programs on visitor computers.

One "bad" program uses Google to search for vulnerable versions of the PHP Bulletin Board it infects.

These "bad" programs are called lots of things. Some of the more polite names are trojans, viruses, worms, zombies, and malware. There are indefinite definitions for each of these that apply to various "bad" programs with varying degrees of accuracy. I'll call them "bad" programs for the moment just to keep things confusing.

One of the common functions of "bad" programs is to send out spam. For example, suppose a "bad" program is sent out to 12 million email addresses. One hundredth of one percent of the recipients may open the attachment that installs the "bad" program onto their computers. That's 1200 computers.

This "bad" program is activated remotely and gets a list of email addresses and an email message from a remote site. Then it sends the message to each of the email addresses. Each computer may send email to 1000 addresses a night, in the middle of the night, so you may never even realize that you are a spammer. But that's 1.2 millions spam messages per day.

Now, instead of a spam sender, suppose the 1200 computers have a "bad" program that recognizes when a password is being entered onto a web site. The web site name and password are sent automatically to a site on the web located in Slobovia, and can be retrieved anonymously by whoever knows that site address and password. This way they can get access to your bank or brokerage account, and empty the account at their leisure.

Sounds a little far-fetched, doesn't it? Maybe, but it happens.

What about prevention?

Avoid accessing your financial accounts on public access computers and unsecure wireless networks. If you have to do that, hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and kill all the tasks that don't belong. How do you know which tasks are good and which aren't? Compare them to the tasks on your own, clean computer. You can also use the mouse to click into the middle of the password and enter the characters in the wrong order. You can also change your password and review transactions as soon as you get home. After you use a public access computer for personal transactions, you should delete the cache, history, cookies, and temporary internet files on the computer before you leave.

At home or office, make sure you have a firewall that alerts you (or blocks) whenever a new, unknown program tries to access the internet. Scan your computer regularly for trojans, viruses, etc. with an updated scanner, and be sure to brush your teeth after every meal.

Separation of Powers

Attorney General John said that federal judges are jeopardizing the national security by ruling against the Bush administration. I wonder of John read that part of the Constitution where it discusses the separation of powers? Maybe they declared martial law and didn't tell us.,,SB110028854741272803,00.html
      (This site requires a subscription.)

Politics as Usual

The election is over. Now it's time to pay back all those fine folks who made political contributions.

Alaska Drilling:

The MPAA and RIAA, the movie and recording industry associations, will probably get some big restrictions on and favorable suing conditions for file sharing. This bill didn't make it, but there are more coming.,1283,65704,00.html

In fact, there have been eight bills that do things like make P2P file sharing systems illegal (even legitimate ones), restrict fair-use of copyrighted material, and even make skipping commercials on digital TVs illegal.

In response, a 6-line Perl P2P program is circulating around the internet.

If you notice, there are a lot more laws being thrown around since the election that benefit only a narrow group of people, and certainly not the country or the majority of people living in it. It happens with Democrats as much as Republicans, although the Democrats have a harder time paying back their supporters since they don't own the House, Senate, or White House.

It's not necessarily a payback, but a fine Congressman from Oklahoma named Ernest added language to a bill that would allow two committee chairmen and their staffs to access the full IRS records and tax returns of anybody in the U.S.

Actually, Ernest claimed he had no knowledge of the amendment that was submitted in his name. Which is worse: submitting a stupid amendment to a law, or not reading it before you submit it?

They decided to stop research on some new small nuclear weapons, at least as far as the public budget is concerned.

Free Music

Instead of suing people for downloading music like the RIAA tends to (, the band Wilco released an album online, free of charge. Their record label dropped them because of "creative differences" so they put their album (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) online. When another record label (Nonesuch) picked up the album, it did better than ever. I guess it pays to give out free samples.,1284,65688,00.html

Smart-1 and Ions

The European Space Agency launched a spacecraft to the moon a year ago last September. It was one of three payloads on this Ariane-5 launch in French Guyana.


Smart-1 is a relatively small spacecraft:

      Integration2      Integration4

      CU3_SMART1      smart28261

Smart-1 arrived in orbit around the moon last month. It used ion propulsion, or solar-electric propulsion, to get there. 59kg of the 82kg of xenon on board the spacecraft was used to propel it to the moon. Solar panels generate electricity, which is used to ionize the xenon fuel. The ionized fuel shoots out the rocket nozzle, accelerating the spacecraft. The ion propulsion engine doesn't provide much thrust, but it doesn't use much fuel either, compared to chemical rocket engines.

In 1998, NASA's Deep Space One...


...used ion propulsion with chemical boost to fly by an asteroid...


and a comet.


Deep Space One was retired in 2001, and is now flying around somewhere far, far away.

In other space news, China plans to launch 100 surveillance satellites over the next 16 years.

Patent Markets

On December 6, about 40 patents owned by bankrupt Commerce One were auctioned off. JGR Acquisition paid $15,500,000 for them. Let the lawsuits begin!,1759,1737418,00.asp

Who do you sue if you find yourself owning an SSP (Stupid Software Patent)? Microsoft, of course.,1759,1661094,00.asp

Linus (creator of Linux), Michael, and Rasmus appealed to the EU Council to stop issuing software patents. I agree with them, especially since they made the appeal on my birthday.

But software does not have an exclusive in the stupid patent business. Smuckers claims to have a patent on crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Really!

CIA Renditions

It looks like the U.S. is still flying people around the world to offer them the best interrogation money can buy.,,2089-1357699,00.html

Maybe with a 50% increase in agents, the CIA will be able to ask their own questions.

DHL at Baghdad

A little over a year ago I remember reading about a DHL plane that was hit by a missile shortly after takeoff at Baghdad. They returned to land. It didn't seem like too big a deal to me at the time. The other day I ran across the details of that flight, and I was very impressed. Those guys are good AND lucky.

Marvel Comics

Following the lead of the RIAA, Marvel has sued makers of pens and pencils, claiming they can be used to duplicate their copyrighted comic books.

(Don't panic, it's a joke.)

Keystroke Logger

A guy named Larry was charged with wiretapping after he installed a keystroke logger on his boss's computer, in order to catch his boss doing bad things. Last month the charges were dismissed. A federal judge named Gary said that the federal wiretapping laws don't apply to keystroke loggers. I would agree.

737 Bomber

The Boeing 737 is going to replace the Navy's fleet of P3 Orions ( The new 737 MMA (Multimission Maritime Aircraft) will be used as "long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft capable of broad-area, maritime and littoral operations.",1282,65817,00.html

Frigid Mountain

Need a used fridge? Go to Manchester, England.

New Passports

Passports are going high-tech. Beginning next year, your U.S. passport will come with your very own RFID chip, installed at no extra charge (unless you consider income taxes). Some privacy fans don't appreciate this new feature.

Weather Data

You can now access U.S. government weather forecast data in XML format!

Freedom of the Press

Suppose someone in Cuba writes a book on politics or life in Cuba or the effect of quasars on mosquito larvae. If you want to publish that book in the U.S., you can, but only with government approval. If you don't get prior permission, you can be fined $1 million as a publishing company. Individual violators face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The same applies to Sudan, Iran, and North Korea.

"In an apparent reversal of decades of U.S. practice, recent federal Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations bar American companies from publishing works by dissident writers in countries under sanction unless they first obtain U.S. government approval."

There are quite a few people fighting this decision, but who knows? After all, "things are different now."

Google Scanning

Google is planning to scan thousands of out-of-copyright books from several major libraries, including Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, the New York Public Library, and the University of Michigan. They'll make the books available online. They'll also make some copyrighted material searchable online. I think I'll like this project.

McMurdo Iced In

A giant iceberg is blocking the exit of sea ice from McMurdo Sound this summer. I'm not sure what that means for the people living there, aside from some additional interesting research.

The insubordinate iceberg is headed toward a huge peninsula of ice in what should be a pretty spectacular collision on about Christmas Eve.

Lego Logic

Make some Lego Logic Gates for Christmas -- everything but XOR...

Boeing Delta IV

The new Boeing Delta IV Heavy rocket was launched for the first time today. It carried a large dummy satellite and two small satellites developed jointly by Arizona State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and New Mexico State University.


The first stage of the rocket didn't fire as long as they intended, so a lot of people were probably happy that the large satellite was a dummy satellite. All the stages and guidance systems worked, and the satellites were deployed, although about 10,000 miles lower than planned. The small satellites were not picked up on radio after deployment, but that might have been because of lack of sunlight for electric power. Or they might be broken.

The two small 50lb satellites were developed as part of the University Nanosat Program. A third nanosat didn't make the launch.

The Boeing Delta IV is expected to be used to replace some of the Shuttle missions. In fact, the nanosats were originally scheduled to go up on a Shuttle launch.


The Mitsubishi MU-2 is a fast, twin-engine turboprop with a questionable safety record. Mitsubishi built the plane up through the mid-80's. Today there are 420 of them flying. There have been 181 accidents since 1968. There have been seven accidents this year, four with fatalities.

That's not a very good record. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is recommending simulator training for MU-2 pilots. That sounds like a good idea.,1413,36~53~2606701,00.html

School Strafing

Last month there was a report of an F-16 shooting its gun into a school in New Jersey. Nobody said what happened, until now. In the F-16, if you pull the gun trigger partly down, it shines a laser on the target. The pilots were instructed not to do that until they were over their target area, but the guy who shot the school was trying to light up the laser and pulled a little too hard on the trigger. 27 rounds were shot into the school accidentally. Nobody was hurt.

F-22 Crash

An F-22 crashed on takeoff from Nellis Airforce Base Monday. The pilot ejected safely.

F-22 photo:


Pictures of Today!

My brother Mike and I bought a sailboat:


Now all we have to do is figure out where all those ropes go.

Dolphins off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Would somebody tell me what kind these are?

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A Mexican patrol boat. I think they were impressed with our seamanship


A tenant at the Claremore Regional Airport:


Imperial Sand Dunes (I think), Southern California:


Clear evidence of an ancient alien landing strip in southeast Utah:

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