More junk mail from Bob, number 17!
Sunday, December 5, 1999

It was party time in Seattle this week!  Bill Gates and Bill Clinton were in the same town and people started rioting in the streets!  Actually, they said they were just demonstrating, but they got a little carried away. One of them happened to break a window at McDonalds. This sort of thing happens, though usually at Motel 6. The police got to use tear gas and pepper spray. Reporters said the police were shooting rubber bullets, but I have my doubts about that. Rubber bullets injure and occasionally kill people. I think they were just making that up, claiming that the rubber tear gas balls which are fired from a kind of gun were rubber bullets.

The press folks, reminiscing about Vietnam anti-war demonstrations from the "good ole days" were having a heyday. That took away airtime and sound bites from the politicians who were there for their own personal publicity purposes. Seattle-ites who couldn't care less about the World Trade Organization got all fired up when the National Guard blocked the roads to their local Starbucks. A caffeine-starved computer nerd is not something to toy with.

All in all, very little got done as far as world trade goes. Bill Clinton said of the affair, "Darn. I wanted to make a good showing for Al and Hillary, and this thing just blew up in my face."  Bill Gates said to the National Guard, "Be nice. You'll be working for me soon."

Y2K Update:  The year 2000 is almost here, so it's too late to worry. But my eldest toddler Brian had the foresight to bring a Y3K safety message to the world:

There was a "debate" in New England this week. I put debate in quotes because that's what "they" called it. It was really a controlled press conference for six people designed to increase TV viewership ratings.

Keyes said, "People are mean to me because I'm black."

McCain said, "I don't have a bad temper and we can step outside if you'd like to settle this once and for all."

Forbes said, "Flat tax. I want more money. (But not a real flat tax. That'd be cruel.)"

Bush said nothing. He was invisible.

It was a riveting display of democracy in action. Or was it politics? Or was it marketing?

A week ago last Friday a plane crashed in New Jersey.

The reports on CNN and NPR said a small commuter plane crashed shortly after departure from Linden, New Jersey. The cause of the crash was not known, but two airport employees said they warned the pilot not to take of due to the bad weather.

Here is what really happened. The NTSB report:

"On November 26, 1999, about 1053 eastern standard time, a Beechcraft S35, N8992M, was destroyed when it impacted a building in a residential area. The certificated airline transport pilot and the two passengers received fatal injuries. In addition, 22 individuals on the ground received varying degrees of injuries, from minor cuts to third degree burns. Instrument meteorological condition prevailed, and an IFR flight plan was filed for the personal flight, conducted under 14 CFR Part 91, that departed Linden, New Jersey, about 1049. A review of ATC communication tapes revealed that after departing Linden, the pilot contacted New York Departure Control and was instructed to turn left to a heading of 010 degrees, and climb to 5,000 feet msl. A few seconds later, the controller revised the clearance, and instructed the pilot to maintain 2,000 feet. Thirty-five seconds after that, the controller instructed the pilot to turn left to a heading of 270 degrees, to which the pilot did not reply. The controller then reissued the heading, and the pilot responded, "I have a problem." The controller inquired about the problem and the pilot responded, "I have a gyro problem, maybe some water got in it." During the next 1 minute and 22 seconds, two more transmissions were received from the pilot. In both cases, he stated, "I have a problem," but no further explanation was given to the nature of the problem. Approximately 2 minutes after the pilot initially reported difficulties, the airplane impacted a building. Examination of radar data showed a target using the assigned transponder code heading east at 1,100 feet when the pilot first reported a problem. Over the next 2 minutes, the target's ground track changed from east, to north, to northeast, to northwest, and then back to north. During the 20 seconds before impact, the target climbed from 2,100 feet to 2,700 feet, and then began about a 7,800 foot-per-minute descent. The airplane impacted an abandoned three-story brick building, approximately wings level, leaving a debris path over 600 feet long. Initial examination of both the engine and airframe revealed no pre-impact failure or malfunctions. Three gyros, two gyro cases, and a standby vacuum pump clutch assembly have been retained for further examination."

Dr. Itzhak Jacoby, 53, took off in IFR conditions but not particularly bad weather. He had a gyro failure and lost control of the plane. Nobody knows if that's the only problem, but that's the only one he reported. What's wrong with the news reports?

First, it was a Bonanza, a single-engine 4-seat plane and not a commuter airline.

Second, I suspect the airport employees who warned him not to go had a lot less experience than he did. Even so, it's not unusual for someone at a small airport to say, "Did you check the weather?" or "Those clouds are looking kind of low" or "Run for it! It's a tornado!!!" or something like that just to be helpful. Airport employees aren't official weather briefers and generally don't pretend to be. And official weather briefers don't tell you whether or not to takeoff even if you ask. They're not allowed to.

Third, the reporters tried to make it sound like some dummy took off into bad weather and crashed as a result. This happens so often it's not surprising they thought this, but they shouldn't have reported it that way without finding out.

Jacoby was no slouch. He had an Airline Transport Pilot rating. He was a core flight instructor for the American Bonanza Society "Bonanza Pilot Proficiency Program."  He was considered a conservative, very knowledgeable pilot. He placed emphasis on partial-panel practice (simulated instrument failure) when he gave IFR check rides.

On November 26, Jacoby, his wife, and 13-year old daughter died in the crash. Less than a week later, the city of Newark, NJ filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against his estate for "damage to vehicles and structures, cleanup costs, and [of course] attorney fees."  I'm sure his surviving daughter appreciates their kind consideration and their timing.

Yet another company was found to be surreptitiously collecting information from its customers' computers. Comet Cursors ( is collecting web page access information and GUIDs from its users. When confronted with this, they said, "Yeah, so what? We're not getting names and email addresses so it's OK." Well, I did paraphrase that a bit, but they're still not going to stop. They were doing this secretly. Now they've fessed up and are doing it publicly. And each GUID (globally unique identifier) they're collecting is unique to each user, so they CAN get that information if they want to.

I wonder how long it will be before a company puts a clause in one of those software licenses that nobody ever reads that says it's OK for the company to copy anything they want from the customer's computer. Will that make it legal?  Hmmm, maybe I should try that...

A virus is a program that attaches itself to another program (or document) and is run whenever its host program is run. A worm is a program that stands alone and does mean things to your computer. A good example of a worm is the minizip, or its most recent variant.

First, you might ask yourself, how in the world does a virus or a worm program get a variant? It's just a program, right? A collection of zeros and ones. How can it mutate? The answer is, it's programmers that make the variants, not a mutation. It's easier to modify a virus or worm so it gets by the virus checkers than it is to write a new one, so the majority of viruses are modifications of others. But some viruses are self-mutating. Since virus checkers check for certain strings of data to detect a virus, some viruses modify themselves so they're a little bit different each time they run.

You can run a virus accidentally by running another program with the virus attached. But in order to run a worm program, you have to actually run that program. "Why would anybody be dumb enough to do that?" you might ask. It's because I might get conned into it. Frexample, the minizip (or W32/ExploreZip.worm.pak) comes as an email attachment.

Suppose you get an email from your friend or coworker that says, "I received your email and I shall send you a reply ASAP. Till then, take a look at the attached zipped docs." It has an attachment called "zipped_files.exe." This email even has the same subject that yours did.

You might not think too much about it before clicking on the attachment. When you do, you get the message "Cannot open file: it does not appear to be a valid archive. If this file is part of a ZIP format backup set, insert the last disk of the backup set and try again. Please press F1 for help."  You then say something derogatory about computers and forget about it.

The error message was a fake. While you were reading the message, the program erased all the files with the extensions .c, .cpp, .h, .asm, .doc, .xls, or .ppt on all your hard drives and all the network drives you have write access to. It also sent itself as replies to all your unread email, and will continue to do this whenever you get a new email. Every thirty minutes or so it will erase these files again. And it reloads itself whenever you reboot. It's a good thing you have a current backup!

At ViaGrafix we make sure everybody knows not to execute email attachments without making CERTAIN they're safe. Some people here were nice enough to show us how these worms work, merely as an "academic exercise" you understand. It's a good thing WE have current backups!

For more info:

It's just a matter of time before someone writes a really popular free program (like ICQ) that has a time bomb in it.

The pictures of today are some high points.

This was taken from the top of Gran Paradiso, the highest mountain in Italy:


This is the top of Mt Fuji, highest mountain in Japan. I was ahead of the climbing season (you can see by the snow), and had the mountaintop to myself:


Wisconsin's high point, looking up:


Me, on that mountain north of Flagstaff:


Mike on his way up Boundary Peak, NV:


And finally, the moment we've been waiting for....  Mike, Jamie, and I after the excruciating climb to the top of Illinois:

For more of my highpoint pictures and some good highpoint links, go here:

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If you would like to stop getting this fine pack of misinformation and drivel, contact the WTO and tell them that Nardin, Oklahoma would be a safer place to hold a meeting, or email me $10,000 Canadian and change your email address.