More Junkmail from Bob!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Important Stuff.

Greetings from Mars

Here's a great panorama from Mars, by the  Mars Exploration Rover "Spirit." The color is not quite right because they used only three filters and one of those was infrared, but it still looks good. This is a combination of 243 images taken in late November and early December.


Here's a panorama from the rover Opportunity, showing its "touch" down site on the Martian surface. The color is the same as the above panorama.


This image shows collapse pits on the northern flank of the giant Tharsis shield volcano, Ascraeus Mons. Details in rock and dust are seen when this image is examined at its full, 1.5 meters (5 ft) per pixel resolution. Large, dark boulders occur on the floors of some of the pits, for example.


This image shows layered rock outcropping in a pit on the lower west flank of Arsia Mons, one of the large Tharsis shield volcanoes. Given their location, these layers are very likely dominated by volcanic rocks, including lava flows. This depression is located near 8.8°S, 123.7°W.


This image shows dark, windblown sand dunes in the north polar region of Mars. The scene, obtained in December 2004, is located near 85.2°N, 169.1°W. The image covers an area about 3 km (1.9 mi) wide and is illuminated by sunlight from the upper right.


Here's an asteroid (probably) that the rover Opportunity ran across:


And finally, some Martian earth:


V838 Mon

It sounds like the beginning of a science fiction story: "In January 2002, a dull star in an obscure constellation suddenly became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun, temporarily making it the brightest star in our Milky Way galaxy."

But it really happened. A star blew up and lit up the sky. It became 600,000 times brighter than the sun, the brightest object in the Milky Way galaxy. At that intensity, the light illuminated the dust surrounding the star. The light reflected off the dust that happened to be sitting around in the area.

The dust appeared weeks and months later than the explosion did, because it takes the light some extra time to go off in another direction and then bounce off some dust toward earth. Because of this time delay, we see successive layers of dust farther and farther from the star as time progresses.

The last time this happened was in 1936. Here are some Hubble photos of the event, over a few months. It's pretty amazing.

       2005-02-a-print      2005-02-g-print

      2005-02-c-full_jpg      2005-02-d-full_jpg

      2005-02-e-full_jpg      2005-02-f-full_jpg

Here are the details:


What's the second most abundant form of life in the ocean? Foraminifera, just behind bacteria.

A Japanese guy named Todo and some others announced finding new species of foraminifera at the bottom of the ocean -- literally. The remote submersible Kaiko went to Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in any ocean. It's about 35,813 feet deep, and even a little deeper at high tide.

They dug up these organisms about 10 years ago. I'm not sure why it took so long to publish their results. Science journal won't let me read the article without paying them money. The Kaiko sank in 2003 and is not likely to be recovered.

Ariane 5-ECA

The European Space Agency launched a new rocket on Saturday. The Ariane 5-ECA will replace the Ariane 5G. The new rocket can carry 10.5 (metric) tons into geostationary orbit, compared to 6.8 tons in the Ariane 5G.

      Transfert496      D9696750

Here's how it compares to some other rockets flying around the world:

Launch Vehicle
Capacity (tons)
Low Earth Orbit
Capacity (tons)
Geostationary Orbit
Soyuz ST 7.8

Proton 8K82M

Chang Zhen 2F 8.4
Chang Zhen 3B
Chang Zhen 4A

Ariane 5 G
Ariane 5 ECA

Mitsubishi H1
Mitsubishi H2
Mitsubishi H2a

Atlas V (401) 12.5 5
Atlas V (551)
Delta IV Medium
Delta IV Medium+ 11.7
Delta IV Heavy

As Many As

I would like to take this opportunity to harass a whole bunch of journalists who have been lying to me. The term "as many as" is a useful term. For example, I might say I have as many as he has. "As many as" is a popular phrase, producing more than 7,000,000 hits on Google.

A journalist might say "As many as 14,000 may have been killed." In this case, "As many as" is used to hype up the number and make it sound more sensational. This is OK, because it's technically correct. However, a lot of journalists are leaving out "may" and publishing false information.

"As many as 1000 insurgents have been killed" is a lot different than "as many as 1000 insurgents may have been killed." "As many as" does not mean "some number less than or equal to." It means "this is the number."

In other news, as many as 383,253 people could be killed tomorrow by a rabid skunk behind the wheel of a Dodge Caravan. Or as few as 0.


In 1995, a volcano blew on the island of Montserrat. Montserrat is a small island in the Caribbean:


About 8,000 of the island's 9,200 people fled the island after the eruption because it was unsafe. Even today, the majority of Montserrat is in an "exclusion zone" where it is illegal to even travel, let alone live, because of the volcanic danger.

      mont mapa       mont-mapa.jpg

Here are some photos from that area taken last summer:

After the 1995 eruption, 292 of the 8,000 refugees from Montserrat came to the U.S. Now, after they've been living here for ten years, the Department of Homeland Security has ordered the 292 refugees to be forcibly returned to Montserrat. They didn't give a reason, only that it is not "appropriate" for them to be here. Never mind that most of the island is uninhabitable.

It makes you proud to be a U.S. citizen, doesn't it?

Pirate Ship

Here's a REAL ice sculpture:

Freedom of Flight?

Anti-terrorism rules have finally been relaxed for people flying to three small airports outside of Washington, DC. The airports are College Park Airport, Potomac Airfield, and Washington Executive Airport/Hyde Field Airport. Now, all I need to do to fly there is receive prior authorization to use the airports, get fingerprinted at Reagan National Airport, pass a criminal background check, get approved by the TSA (they won't disclose their criteria), check in with the FAA in Washington or Baltimore, and present my documents to airport management. It's a good thing the government is protecting me.

Meanwhile, hundreds of illegal people and tons of illegal drugs are entering the U.S. every month. Maybe it's every two months, but there's a lot illegal drug and people traffic. Apparently people in Washington are more concerned about the appearance of security than the real thing. Last time I flew commercial I stood in line for over an hour for the privilege of a body search and shoe removal. (I now rate "special security" status. That means I get extra special treatment in the slow line.)

If I was a terrorist, I'd just add my weapons, explosives, and maybe even subversive literature to a drug shipment, and I'd add myself to an illegal immigrant group to avoid the inconvenience of a public airport. The Mexican border is a long way from Washington and is not as publicly visible as airport lobbies, so there's no need to waste money stopping the flow of illegal people and drugs.

I don't mind Mexicans or other people coming to the U.S. to work. But if there are laws against it, the laws should be either changed or enforced.

Self Promotion

I am sure you will be happy to learn that hundreds of photos of the U.S. Secretary of Defense are on the Department of Defense web site. Secretary Donald does appear fully clothed in these photos. Here are some of the recent ones. I'm sure you'll want to spend hours perusing these.

I thought this was surely more than President George has on his site, but I was wrong. You can search for Bush's pictures by date. However, they don't allow 2005 in the search. I guess they're too busy protecting me to update their web site.

I can understand a lot of Presidential photos available online, but I think cabinet secretaries are getting carried away when they do that.

Incidentally, the Department of Defense press photo site won't let you click on anything past November 2004. The newer photos are there, you just have to type in the site name.

That's a little like when I forget to update the Junkmail page.

Carnivore is History

This FBI has given up its Carnivore project, a controversial application used to eavesdrop on internet users.

They spent somewhere around $6 or $15 million developing the software, but have now given it up in favor of "off-the-shelf applications." There's a commercial market for internet eavesdropping software? How many government agencies are tapping my internet connection, anyway?,1759,1753381,00.asp

Moving the Earth

After the dust and hype has settled, the Sumatra earthquake has turned out to be the 4th largest in the past 100 years. People have calculated but not observed that the quake has moved the North Pole about an inch and shortened the day by 2.68 milliseconds. No wonder I have a hard time waking up in the morning.

Key Logging

Keystroke logging has been around for a lot of years, but it's getting more sophisticated and widespread. It's a reasonably safe bet that if someone really wants to, they can find out exactly what you're doing on a computer. It's also a reasonably safe bet that nobody cares that much what you or I do on a computer.

A Google search just found 289,000 instances of "key logger." That's a lot less than "as many as," but it's still pretty popular. If you want to really find out what's happening on someone else's computer, you could just hide a video camera behind them.


I'm still using Firefox. I don't think it will ever replace IE, but I'll probably keep using it.

Here are some worthwhile extensions:

       Ad Block

       Flash Block

       Configuration Mania (so I can limit animated GIFs to 1 sequence)

       Cookie Button

Stupid Patent News

Here is today's collection of Stupid Patent articles.

First, some good news. IBM is making 500 of its software patents available free to anybody working on open-source applications.

Not to be outdone, Sun has offered 1,600 patents to open source developers:

In order to make up for this loss of software patents, the U.S. Patent and Trademark group has issued a number of stupid patents.

McAfee now has a patent for logging events with a firewall. That's about as un-original as you can get.

Yahoo is suing a startup company for having an online game with a buddy list. That's patented, believe it or not.

Ichitaro, the number one word processor in Japan for years, was ordered by Tokyo District Court to suspend production. Matsushita claims they have been infringing on their patent since 1998. Ichitaro, first released in 1985, is the primary competitor to Microsoft Word in Japan.

I know you'd feel cheated if I left out Microsoft. Luckily, Microsoft is cooperating. They have applied for a patent on Latitude and Longitude! Actually, their patent application is for compressing the latitude and longitude coordinates in a computer, using a base-30 integer or text or something like that instead of a floating point number. I wonder if the patent encompasses base-32 integers... that would give them the right to just about every integer representation of latitude and longitude on almost every computer.

      Patent Application

Microsoft had a minor public relations blunder recently. Euroscience is a fairly prominent scientific organization in Europe, established in 1997.

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft came out with a "Euroscience Initiative." Some of the Euroscientists did not appreciate Microsoft stealing their name.

Last week, this Microsoft web site...

...looked like this:

I guess Microsoft gave in.

Here's an interesting interview with Bill Gates from Spiegel:,1518,340395,00.html

Doug Adams Asteroid

Douglas Adams wrote "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in 1979, the first of a 5-part trilogy. It's a really funny book. In this book, to resolve the language difference between species, the people use the babelfish. The babelfish is a small fish you stick in your ear. It lets you understand all languages.

Last fall, my brother Mike and I bought a sailboat, a 46' catamaran named Babelfish. It didn't help. We still don't understand English .

      pict0611      pict0619

In 2001, the MIT Linear found an asteroid. This is not too unusual, as they have detected around 3 million asteroids flying around the sun, had have made more than 211,000 "new designations." I guess this means they've discovered 211,000 new asteroids. Actually, the asteroids are not new. They've most likely been flying around the sun for epochs and eons. The discoveries are new.

One of the unremarkable asteroids found by Linear in 2001 was designated 2001 DA42. This was interesting, because Doug Adams died (heart attack) in 2001, and 42 is an important number in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

About three weeks ago, the people in charge of naming asteroids, planets, and errant comets named the asteroid 2001 DA42 "douglasadams."

The movie is coming soon...

An asteroid will swing by the earth on April 13, 2029. "2004 MN4" is about 1000 feet in diameter, and will pass just inside the orbital range of geosynchronous satellites.

"A Study Has Shown..."

Here's an interesting article on an "independent" research report explaining why municipal networks are a bad idea. It seems that the people funding the "New Millennium Research Council" are actually telecom companies who lose profit when municipals set up their own networks. It seems that the results of the study were decided before the study was studied. I think this type of research arrangement is not too uncommon.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Another mission to Mars is coming. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be launched in August, and will arrive in orbit about 7 months later, and will begin examining Mars about November 2006.

A secondary goal of the mission is to teach millions how to spell "reconnaissance." However, skeptics find this goal unlikely to be attained because of the F7 key and because of copy-and-paste.

Here's the spacecraft:

      20040809a-01      MRO-RAL-017_br


A guy in Florida named Joe had a trojan on his computer. This might have been how some thieves managed to transfer $90,000,000 from his back account to Latvia. Joe is trying to get his money back. However, he's not trying to get it back from the thieves. He's trying to get it back from Bank of America.


Wireless Security

Here's a good article about how easy you can access unprotected wireless networks.

Flour Bombs

People have been dropping bags of flour from airplanes just about as long as there have been airplanes. The FAA regulations permit dropping things from planes as long as you're careful about what you hit.

A couple of guys in Arizona, Joshua and James, decided to flour bomb a paintball game their friends were in. They planned it careful so they wouldn't hit anybody with a sack of flour, but some people on the ground decided they were being bombed by anthrax and panicked. (They should have read the cover of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.) Now Joshua and James may end up in jail.

I may end up in an Arizona jail too!

I rented a car in Scottsdale last November, and my brother or someone drove it through an automatic camera speed trap. I got a summons from this guy:

The photo in the summons is definitely not of me, but they appear to be more interested in cash than justice. Maybe Bush will swap Arizona for Cuba or New Zealand sometime soon and I won't have to worry about it.

Real Hi-res Photos

Eight megapixels is nothing. This guy is taking 1000 megapixel photos:

Panasonic has a 5-megapixel camera that I like, the DMC-FZ20. I guess the marketing folks didn't come up with that name. The camera has a 12x zoom, image stabilization, and a lot of other nice features.

Hubble's Demise

It looks like the politicians have decided to kill the Hubble Space Telescope. I think that's a bad idea.,2697,66529,00.html

Huygens and Cassini

Huygens has landed on Titan. Here are some details.

Here's a sample of the raw images from Huygens. I haven't been able to find out which color filters were used with which images, so I haven't combined them into color.

      triplet.538a      triplet.535a      triplet.533a      triplet.529a

Here's a picture of Saturn taken by Cassini on its approach to the planet, taken almost 10 million miles from Saturn. The color is approximate true color made by combining red, green, and blue filters on the narrow angle camera.


Here's a great photo of Saturn's rings, Saturn, and the moon Mimas. It is approximated true color:


This approximate true-color image of Saturn's north pole looks blue because of Saturn's atmosphere.


This photo of Saturn and Mimas was taken using infrared, green, and ultraviolet filters for the color:


Saturn and Mimas:

      PIA06572      PIA06574

Saturn's moon Rhea, first in color, and second with enhanced contrast:

      PIA06578      PIA06575

You can check the image comments and get more information on most of the pictures in Junkmail. If you need a program to see the comments with, you can use Photo Mud. There's a new version at

Funding Al Qaeda

The Pakistan government has paid Pakistani militants $842,000 so the militants could pay back Al Qaeda. It seems that Al Qaeda paid the militants 50,000,000 rupees to get them to fight the government. Now the government has decided to give Al Qaeda a refund so the militants will stop fighting. And we have an embargo against Cuba. Did I mention that Pakistan is a nuclear power?,,SB110797508599350255,00.html


Ahmed Abu Ali grew up in Falls Church, Virginia. He went to college in Saudi Arabia. On June 11, 2003, the Saudis threw Ahmed in jail. A year later he was still in jail and U.S. and Saudi authorities had given no reason for his detention. Saudi officials supposedly said privately that Ahmed would be released the moment some formal request comes from the U.S. government. There were some protests and demonstrations over this last summer.

It looks like this guy was arrested along with three others who were supposed to be involved with terrorists. The others were sent to the U.S. and charged with "conspiracy to wage armed combat against allies of the United States." Apparently there was not enough evidence for Ahmed, so they left him in a Saudi Arabian prison. The FBI has had access to Ahmed in Saudi Arabia ever since his detention.

According to the Washington Post, "Two U.S. officials from different national security agencies said the government did not really want Abu Ali returned. One said the government had hoped the Saudis would find a way to hold him, but was now seeking 'to make the civil suit go away' because it risked forcing the government to disclose sensitive or embarrassing information about his case."

I don't know whether this guy is guilty of anything, but it's not right when the U.S. Justice Department causes a U.S. citizen to be jailed, and then refuses to file charges or even disclosed the reason of the imprisonment to the citizen or his attorneys. If he's guilty, he should be charged and jailed. If not, he should be released.

There is a lot of stuff in the U.S. Constitution designed to prevent people from being imprisoned at the whim of government employees. I hope we don't throw that all away just  because a couple dozen suicidal idiots crashed some airliners into some buildings.

Google has Maps!

I haven't played with it much, but it seems better than and Mapquest.

Here's how it works:

Pictures of Today!

The Great Lakes sure looked cold last month. This was taken by  Terra MODIS on January 27, 2005.

      GreatLakes.A2005027.1635.250m      Hi-resolution 5-meg version

The Sahara Desert didn't look so cold, but it does look like Mars. This was taken January 16, 2005, of the Issaouane Erg in Eastern Algeria. An astronaut on the Space Station took it using a Kodak 760C digital camera.


An Antarctic Valley, from Beth Bartel's iceblog (


A ship outside Miami closing in on me:

      pict0521      pict0527

      pict0533      pict0539

A C-17 and a PC-12 wing, Fort Smith, AR:


Some people leaving (or going) home -- the Queen Mary II leaving Fort Lauderdale:


A Florida native:

      pict0688      pict0687

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