More Junkmail from Bob!Friday, September 2, 2005
Iraq FraudIf you are short on scruples and don't mind being shot at, you can make a lot of money in Iraq. Billions of U.S. dollars (some of which used to be mine) are being squandered, embezzled, and otherwise stolen in Iraq.
The Wall Street Journal reported that:
- A third of the $10 billion in contracts signed in fiscal 2003 were awarded without competition.
- A contractor charged the U.S. $3.3 million for phantom employees assigned to an oil pipeline repair contract.
- Iraqi construction firms allegedly paid U.S. soldiers to help steal construction equipment from the interim government.
- At least one third of the government-owned vehicles and equipment that Halliburton was paid to manage were believed lost.
- The U.S. failed to keep track of nearly $9 billion it transferred to the new Iraqi government, much of which appears to have been embezzled.
There's more. "The office had paid a contractor twice for the same work. A U.S. official was allowed to handle millions of dollars in cash weeks after he was fired for incompetence. Of the $119.9 million allocated for regional projects, $89.4 million was disbursed without contracts or other documentation. An additional $7.2 million couldn't be found at all."
These minor accounting glitches were discovered by Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
Here are a couple of articles that don't require a subscription:
When asked about the wasted billions, the SecDef Donald replied "This is war. Those bean counters and penny pinchers just get in the way." Or maybe I made that up.
Nigerian Scammers310 people in southern Spain were arrested last month for operating email scams. They were sending out fake lottery emails and other scams, such as the traditional Nigerian 419 scam. Police seized 218,000 Euros, 2000 cell phones, 327 computers, 165 fax machines, and 310 Nigerian gang members. The amazing thing is that more than 20,000 people in 45 countries were stupid enough to fall for these scams.
Record Gasoline PricesThere is no energy shortage, and there won't be in my lifetime. The problem is getting the energy from where it is to where you want it at the price you're willing to pay. Gasoline and natural gas are nice and convenient for energy storage. You can send natural gas through pipelines for miles, and carry propane or butane around in "bottles" for use in cars, trucks, and barbecues. I can fill my car up with gas and drive it all over the country. At least until I need more gas. A few gallons of gasoline can be burned to release a lot of energy, compared to say, wood. (Wood is a true "renewable energy" resource -- just grow another tree after you burn one. That's not so good for the atmosphere, though.)
The problem with these energy sources is that we get them out of the ground, for the most part, and they will eventually run short. Electricity is another good form of energy. We can send it around all over the place through wires, with a minimal (or at least a reasonable) loss. We can generate lots of electricity using coal, uranium, plutonium, sun, water, and wind. These resources won't run short in our lifetimes.
Electricity works great for houses, commercial buildings, foundries, electric fences, and other stationary energy consumers. It is a problem, however, to store and use enough electricity in a car to achieve the power and range of a gasoline engine. Hybrids are getting closer, but they're not quite there.
Sometime in the next few or several or bunch of years, you'll be able to drive your 250 hp electric car up to the service station and charge up the batteries in the 3 minutes it takes to pump 15 gallons of gas today, then drive 400 miles at 75 mph. The electricity will probably come mostly from nuclear power plants. Fusion plants will be nice, but there are some technical hurdles between here and there.
A couple of years ago, AC Propulsion has built a test electric car. It travels on regular highways. It will go from 0 to 60 under 4 seconds. It will go 250 miles at over 70mph.
Last June, AC Propulsion flew a small unmanned plane for 48 hours. The impressive part is that the plane was solar powered.
The point? The price. The alternative energy forms are there, but the price of energy will have to go way up before we can justify using them. People go the cheapest way, just like water flows downhill. While gasoline is the cheapest way to get around, people will continue to burn it.
Aeroenvironment recently built a hydrogen powered unmanned plane that will fly around at 65,000. The "Global Observer" can carry 1000 lbs and stay up for a week.
Aeroenvironment has also built several other UAVs, including the now-smashed Helios.
Fusion ReactorA nuclear fusion reactor is coming to a site near you. As long as you live near Cadarache, Aix-en-Provence, France. France beat out Japan and Spain to get the site.
From their web site, it looks like they'll be negotiating for another year or so, and will finally get around to merging hydrogen into helium in about 2016. They sure do have a lot of meetings and negotiations.
New OrleansHere's a blog and a LOT of pictures from New Orleans:
Lots of his pictures:
Some news hurricane pictures:
The Sand Island Lighthouse is still standing, off Dauphin Island.
In the 1860s, Sand Island was about 400 acres. By the 1890s it had eroded to less than an acre, and was finally blown away in a 1906 hurricane. They brought in tons of rock, and built the lighthouse keepers' house on steel poles. Those may be the ones you see in the photos. More than once, the people manning the lighthouse have disappeared.
Nuevo LaredoMore than 100 people have been killed in Nuevo Laredo this year. About a month ago, three people with AK-47's ambushed and gunned down Leopoldo Ramos, the head of Nuevo Laredo's Public Safety Commission. The U.S. consulate was shut down for a few days after the incident.
The local press doesn't have much to say about the killings. The journalists have stopped investigating organized crime, after their "colleagues have been killed, kidnapped, and threatened with death."
Want to see Nuevo Laredo? You can now take a tour bus from San Antonio, complete with tour guides and police motorcycle outriders.
MicrosoftMicrosoft urges people to update Windows regularly. I do too. But if you've updated Windows recently, you may have noticed that you had to load a new update installer. This software checks your registration to make sure you have a legitimate, authorized, registered, activated copy of Windows that's been personally approved by Bill Gates and the Pope. If you flunk the test, you can't update Windows.
I don't see anything wrong with this, since the updates are free. If I were Microsoft, I wouldn't want to update pirated Windows. A lot of people are surprised when they find out that Microsoft is checking their version of Windows to see if it's a ripped off copy, even though it says so in plain legalese the 43rd screen of the EULA that's accessed in the 13th screen of the update process.
You can usually update Windows here:
It can prevent trojans, viruses, worms, and possibly chicken pox. Actually, chicken pox is caused by a herpes virus that looks like this:
Transportation Bill?Three years ago, the President declared war on congressional pork (among other things). A few weeks ago, he surrendered and said that those federal "transportation" programs such as "$2.3 million for the beautification of the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California; $6 million for graffiti elimination in New York; nearly $4 million on the National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.; $2.4 million on a Red River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Louisiana; and $1.2 million to install lighting and steps and to equip an interpretative facility at the Blue Ridge Music Center" are excellent uses of taxpayer transportation dollars. Maybe they're good programs and maybe they're not, but I think it's crazy for politicians to attach stuff like this to a giant spending bill. But that's the way it's done.
AbramoffAbout a year and a half ago, I wrote about a guy named Jack who used to be an aide for a House Majority Leader named Tom. Jack became a lobbyist and collected (through his firm) about $15 million from some Indian tribes.
Last month Jack and a guy name Adam were indicted on fraud charges by a federal grand jury. They apparently used a fake wire transfer to defraud two lenders out of some $60 million to finance the deal for a bunch of gambling boats in 2000.
The deal fell apart, and there was some "bitter legal fighting" with Gus, the seller. But then in February 2001, some people ambushed, shot, and killed Gus on a road near his office.
Jack doesn't sound like a very nice guy to me.
The War on TerrorPravda generally has an anti-U.S. slant to it, and this article is no exception. I thought it was pretty funny anyway. "Are top U.S. officials this stupid?" I can answer that!
Oklahoma City is back in the war on terror! A guy name Charles put some black powder into a CO2 cartridge and started to get onto an airliner with it. He said he forgot he had it in his bags. Oops.
If you decide to blow up a CO2 cartridge, you should be really careful because they break apart into a lot of pieces and send out shrapnel. And there are probably 60 or 80 laws against it by now.
RecruitingI read this article in the Moscow News the other day about how many Russian troops have been killed in Chechnya over the past six years -- 3,459. (The U.S. has lost 1,882 in Iraq.) I just about died laughing when I saw the ad next to the article -- it was a recruiting ad for the U.S. Navy. Really!
MimasIn the late 1755, a guy named Friedrich Willhelm Herschel moved from Germany to England. He was about 18 years old. Hanover, Germany was part of (or owned by) England at the time. Friedrich was transferred from Hanover to England when he was in the Hanover Guard. He stayed in England and changed his name to Frederick William Herschel. He became a music teacher, bandleader, composer, and eventually Director of Public Concerts in Bath, England.
Herschel also liked astronomy. Over his lifetime he built around 400 telescopes. He discovered the planet Uranus. The Herschel Space Observatory, to be launched in 2007 by the ESA, will be a far-infrared telescope positioned between the earth and the sun. Launch is planned for July 2007 from French Guiana.
In 1789, some people in France had a revolution, some people in the U.S. elected George Washington President, and William Herschel discovered a moon around Saturn that is called Mimas. Herschel's son John suggested the name Mimas a few years later.
Here is Mimas with Saturn's rings in the background.
Mimas is responsible for a blank ring in the rings.
Mimas has a lot of big craters.
There is one particularly large crater. It's called Herschel, named after either William Herschel discoverer of the moon, or Herchel Avra, the choir director at Pryor High School. It's hard to remember which musician is which.
The Herschel crater is about 88 miles in diameter, about 1/3 the diameter of the moon itself. The peak in the center, a rebound from the impact, is almost 20,000 feet high. It's surprising the impact didn't break apart the moon.
Voyager 1 flew by Saturn in 1980 and found the crater. Here's one of its photos.
It was a big surprise -- it's the largest impact crater known in the solar system, relative to the size of the moon or planet.
Here are lots of Cassini pictures:
Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterThe MRO is on its way to reconnoiter Mars.
The MRO will cost about $720 million -- $540 million for spacecraft and launch, and $270 million for operations, science processing, and relay support for 5.5 years. That's between 2 and 2.5 times the price of Ketchikan's new bridge, and about 5 percent of the cost of Boston's "Big Dig."
Fedex FurnitureA guy named Charles moved to Arizona. He was a little short on cash for new furniture, so he built his own. Out of Fedex boxes. That's pretty neat. He took some pictures and put it on the web. The Fedex lawyers decided to hassle him. I thought that was really, really stupid. Dumb, too. Here he was, giving Fedex free publicity, and the Fedex lawyers turned it around and made Fedex look like a gang of idiots.
I hate to be judgmental, but I judge Lead Fedex Counsel Les to be a worm-brain. OK, OK, I really didn't hate that after all.
Microsoft has nice sensible lawyers. They want to patent boxes drawn around numbers. I didn't make it up! Check out this great new invention!
Here are the details. I bet they have a tough time disproving prior art with this puppy.
Google, now a public company, is working on public relations. They didn't like something written by news.com, so they refuse to speak to anybody from news.com for a year.
Google is planning to sell more stock - $4 billion worth in a secondary offering.
In the Netherlands, they claim Google is aiding terrorism with http://maps.google.com.
Airline TravelIt's going to be easier to fly. They're easing up on some of the stupid security rules, like shoe removal and fingernail clippers. However, they're going to let some of the most dangerous people in the country bypass airport security completely -- the U.S. Congress.
Infants, however, are still considered a security threat.
Suspicious packages and bicycles pulling bags full of natural gas are still taken seriously, even if hurricane looters are not.
In Western Europe and the U.S., two bombs going off within 30 minutes are considered "highly sophisticated" and "skilled, coordinated attacks." In Bangladesh, they blow up 300 bombs in 50 cities at once.
Private ForwardsI regularly get jokes and get-rich-from-Bill-Gates and heartworming stories (no, it's not misspelled) with privacy notations at the bottom like this:
The information contained in this electronic mail transmittal is protected by law and is intended only for the use of the designated recipient(s) named above. If the reader of this transmission is not the intended recipient(s), you are notified that any disclosure, dissemination, distribution or duplication of its contents is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmittal in error, please notify the sender by return e-mail and delete the transmittal immediately. Thank you.
CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This e-mail message, including any attachments,
is for the sole use of intended recipients, and may contain privileged
and confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient
destroy all copies and reply by e-mail to the sender. Unauthorized review,
use, distribution, or disclosure of this information is prohibited.
The problem is, these emails are sent to about 80 people apiece, and addressed to someone completely different. I find that rather funny. Yeah, I know. I'm easy to entertain.
Space SimWant to try out space travel? Here's a good simulator... you can learn something here.
Politics as UsualA guy in Illinois named Fitzroy was branded a sex offender because he griped out a girl who ran out in front of his car. The part that made him a sex offender was that he grabbed her arm when he was chewing her out. I had no idea! I must have been sexually abused by dozens if not hundreds of people growing up. It seems like I got griped at just about every day. The sad part is that they intend to leave the scarlet A (abuser) on Fitzroy's forehead.
In Tennessee, help out the police captain in a DUI, get a promotion.
In Jourdanton, TX, a city manager grabbed a reporter's microphone and threw it under the table, at a city council meeting! The controversial topic pertained to drowning five dogs in the sewer plant.
Some police officers were hunting for a gunman at a mall, and stopped in for some cool drinks at a cookie shop. However, the shop was closed. They drank up anyway. On the security camera for all to see.
The number 2 officer at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was arrested for shoplifting a couple of weeks ago.
U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders used campaign donations to pay his wife and stepdaughter more than $150,000 since 2000. Next year he's planning to run for the U.S. Senate.
In New London Connecticut, the people who lost the Supreme Court Case and had to give up their houses to land developers have two other problems. First, they only get paid the value of their property in 2000 when the lawsuit started, and second, they have to pay back rent on their own houses!
My favorite political story(s) this time is from Kentucky. The governor's staff got in trouble, so the governor pardoned just about everybody for everything. That's one way to finish off a pesky investigation!
Offshore DataWith people operating offshore (i.e. India) call centers, data processing, and billing centers, there is a lot of data flying around the world. Some of it can be bought.
But it may be no worse than the Transportation Safety Administration and their data acquisition strategy.
POWs404 Moroccan men are free, after being held as prisoners of war for almost 20 years in Algeria. Morocco and Western Sahara have been fighting off since 1976.
PiratesPirates seized a ship chartered by the UN to deliver aid to tsunami victims in Somalia. Now they're stealing the stuff that was going to be given away. They also asked half a million dollars in ransom, but didn't get it.
Air AssaultFederal agents launched an all-out assault on a fortified home in Miami. The agents dropped in from helicopters to take the estate. It went pretty easy. Nobody was home.
Yoel Tirado is in prison serving a 15-year term for drugs. They tried to seize his house for months, but they couldn't because "it was too well fortified." That seems pretty strange to me. The people living there claimed no connection to Yoel. There must be more to this story somewhere.
Faster than Light?That's what they claim.
Harder than diamonds, too:
ZimbabweZimbabwe's white population is currently about 30,000, down from 293,000 in 1974. That's a big change.
Hot Military AreasYou can finally see which military airspace is active, online. This should be handy for a lot of pilots.
Temporary restricted areas are also available:
Price CapsArtificial price caps are stupid. Hawaii placed a limit on the price of gas. That means when the market price goes past the limit, people won't be able to get gas, because most businesses now enough not to buy what they're selling at a price higher than they can sell it for. It has to do with running out of money.
Spammer NailedA big spammer was indicted last week. He was charged with conspiracy to dispense controlled substances, wire fraud, money laundering, distributing controlled substances and introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. Not spamming. They passed a law against spamming. Why do they never use it?
Programmers NailedThere are key programs available to log keystrokes and mouse movements, emails, and web sites visited. These are popular in divorce, separation and other warfare situations. Sometimes, but not always, they are considered illegal. In this case, the even charged the programmer!
And spammers are still spamming.
The guy who wrote the Zotob worm (Farid) is no longer programming, and the guy who hired him (Atilla) is no longer hiring. They were caught in Morocco and Turkey. Microsoft and the FBI tracked them down.
Occupational FatalitiesWhat are the most dangerous jobs? Loggers and pilots tied in 2004, at 92.4 deaths per 100,000 people. Fishing came in a close third at 86.4.
Near MissOne plane almost hit another on the ground at New York Kennedy airport last July. An airliner was sitting on the runway when a cargo plane took off and almost hit it.
Pictures of TodayI only took one of these -- the mountain goats.
South Georgia Island, on August 26, 2005. Surrounded by clouds, the snow-covered South Georgia Island stands in stark relief. The island was named after King George III of England by Captain James Cook. From the 1800's to 1965, the island served as a base for seal and hunters. It was invaded by Argentina in 1982 during the Falklands War and recaptured by Great Britain several weeks later. The island was visited by Ernie Shackleton in 1914. It is uninhabited by humans except for a small scientific research station staffed by the British Antarctic Survey. It is, however, home to abundant wildlife, including about 30 million seabirds: albatrosses, petrels, gulls, and penguins. Whales, fur seals, and elephant seals are also commonly found here.
Real mountain goats, August 9.
Typhoon Talim (13W) approaching Taiwan, August 30, 2005.
A rigid hull inflatable boat does donuts to mark a place for parachuters.
An E2-C Hawkeye landing on the carrier Truman, June 22.
Two F-15s over the Atlantic. These were flying out of Langley, VA on June 24.
A B-2 over the Pacific, June 29.
Two F15s and a B2 over the Pacific. I think the B-2s were posturing for the North Korea negotiations. This was before Bush agreed not to attack North Korea.
The guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez pulling into Mombasa, Kenya overnight on July 6.
A Pave Hawk helicopter refuels from a C-130 over Nevada, July 14.
The USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat, in Boston on July 16.
Rwandan soldiers line up to board a U.S. C-17 in Rwanda, for transportation to the Darfur region of Sudan.
A KC-135 from Altus, OK refuels the Thunderbirds, July 21.
A propeller is reattached to the Number 3 shaft of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington at Newport News, Va., on July 23, 2005. The ship has four brass propellers that are 22 feet in diameter and weigh 66,200 pounds.
Water vapor builds up around an F/A-18F as it breaks the sound barrier during a fly-by near the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk on July 27, 2005.
The Space Shuttle Discovery, back on land.
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