More Junkmail from Bob!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Important Stuff.

Twenty Seconds and a Box Canyon

A box canyon is a canyon with steep sides and an end, so that it looks like a 3-sided box. In aviation, the term is used to describe valleys that may not necessarily have such steep sides, but they may as well be vertical because the sides and end of the valleys rise faster than a plane can climb.

Box canyons are fairly popular places to kill yourself in an airplane. Suppose you're flying along around some mountains, and see a nice, wide valley to fly up. Maybe it's a couple miles wide. Maybe you don't really notice that the terrain is rising as you go up the valley. It's hard to tell just by looking.

As you fly into the valley, you eventually notice that the trees are getting bigger. And the valley is getting narrower. And then you notice that it doesn't look like you can climb fast enough to clear the end of the valley. So you decide to turn around. But the valley is too narrow to make the turn. At this point, your options are extremely limited. If you can't climb out and you can't turn around, you are going to hit the ground. It has something to do with the laws of physics.

You might ask who would be stupid enough to do something like this. It turns out that quite a few people are. Unlike some lethal aviation traps, this one does not require large amounts of stupidity. It seems safe at first, but things get gradually worse. If you don't realize it before it's too late, then it's too late.

Here are some recent examples from the NTSB. The majority of "box canyon" accidents are fatal.

In this accident, a flight instructor and student stalled their plane into the ground, trying to turn around in a box canyon:

You can create an artificial box canyon if you use controlled airspace and skyscrapers instead of mountains. And you can kill yourself if you fly into one. But in an artificial box canyon it's easier to violate the laws of the FAA and escape, as opposed to the laws of physics controlling a natural box canyon. Even so, you have to think ahead.

Baseball pitcher Cory Lidle died in a famous accident about six weeks ago. It has been all over the news. He was flying with a flight instructor up the East River, just east of Manhattan.

They were flying about 600 feet high, lower than the buildings on the left. At 1200 feet and above was controlled airspace, and there were clouds at 1800 feet. On the left, on the right, and ahead of them was controlled airspace. They were flying up an artificial box canyon, 2100 feet wide.

But they were 400 feet left of the right edge when they began their 180° turn to the left. The wind was blowing from the right at 13 knots, effectively reducing their turning diameter by about another 400 feet. Even so, they could have made the turn. It would have required a 53° bank with 1.7 g's.

That is possible to do, but it's not normal. It's substantially steeper than the "steep turns" required to get a pilot license. They didn't turn that sharp, at least not at first. They ended up making too wide a turn, hit a building, and died.

They started the turn at 2:41:20 pm. Twenty seconds later, they were both dead.

What were the alternatives? Lots. Call for clearance and fly over Central Park. Bust Class B airspace. Fly unannounced into LaGuardia airport and land in the big middle of everything. It would have been better than dying. But it just didn't seem that dangerous when they started the turn.

Since the accident, the FAA has required airplanes flying up the East River to be under air traffic control. That will make it quicker and easier to get permission to fly out of that box canyon.

Secret Interrogation

The CIA used to have secret prisons where they held enemies of the state without charge. No longer. Sure, the prisons are still there, and the prisoners have not been charged. But it's not secret any more. Bush explained that the prisons are scattered around the world, and that "alternative interrogation methods" are used, rather than torture.

I think I would prefer the CIA's interrogation techniques to the electric drills commonly used in Baghdad. But I also think that people should not be arbitrarily imprisoned.

The White House said that the prisoners (or detainees) in these secret (but publicly acknowledged) prisons should not be allowed lawyers lest they reveal the details of these alternative interrogation techniques.

The government said in court filings that those interrogation methods are now among the nation's most sensitive national security secrets and that their release -- even to the detainees' own attorneys -- "could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage." ... AR2006110301793.html

I think the damage would be political more than anything else, particularly since the "alternative interrogation techniques" are fairly well documented.

I can imagine myself in a CIA prison, enjoying long hours chained against a wall standing up, when the CIA man slaps me in the belly and says, "Well, Bob, we've determined you're innocent. These long months of alternative interrogation have finally paid off."

"Great!" I reply. "When can I go home?"

"Well, there's a problem with that. We can never let you leave, because now you know our secret interrogation techniques."

Blue Screen of Death

The Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) is that screen of white text on a blue background that you occasionally see when Windows crashes. It is not too common on XP, but I have seen it (and caused it, for that matter.)

The natural response to the Blue Screen of Death, genetically bred into generations of humans over the past 20 years, is to hit the hard reset button hard. This is more difficult on a laptop, where you have to hold down the power button for five seconds. There are several varieties of the Blue Screen of Death, but all are instantly recognizable by the white DOS font on the blue background.

In honor of the Blue Screen of Death, Sysinternals has produced the Blue Screen of Death Screensaver. Here's the BSOD Screensaver:

Warning: Do NOT put this on someone's computer without their knowledge, else they're liable to hit reset every time the computer goes into screen save mode. Unless it's my brother Mike's computer.

Pay per View DVD?

Load 'n Go is a company that sells iPods pre-loaded with a selection of movies chosen by the purchasers. The company purchases the DVDs and includes them with the iPod. That should make everything legal, right? Not according to the Motion Picture Association of America. They're suing Load 'n Go for copyright infringement.

Let me go over this again. Load 'n Go buys a DVD or two, preloads them onto an iPod, then sells the iPod together with the original DVDs. How can that be illegal?

It's easy. The MPAA pays politicians and lobbyists millions of dollars to get stupid laws passed. They say that you can buy a movie on DVD, but you have to buy it again if you want to put it on your iPod. And that's the law as it stands today. Tomorrow it may be worse.

Fauxtographic Evidence

This photo appeared in the July 31 issue of Time Magazine...


...along with this caption: "The wreckage of a downed Israeli jet that was targeting Hizballah trucks billows smoke behind an armed Hizballah gunman in Kfar Chima, near Beirut. Jet fuel set the surrounding area ablaze."

There is one minor problem with this. It wasn't a downed Israeli jet that was burning. It fact, it wasn't a jet at all, and jet fuel did not set the surrounding area ablaze. Here's the original caption that the photographer, Bruno Stevens, sent to Time along with the photo:

"Kfar Chima, near Beirut, July 17, 2006 -- An Israeli Air Force F16 has alledgedly been shot down while bombing a group of Hezbollah owned trucks, at least one of these trucks contained a medium range ground to ground missile launcher."

After learning more, he changed the caption to this:

"Kfar Chima, near Beirut, July 17, 2006 -- The Israeli Air Force bombed a group of Hezbollah chartered trucks parked on the back of large Lebanese Army barracks, at least one of these trucks contained a medium range ground to ground missile launcher, at least one missile was hit, misfiring high into the sky before falling down and starting a huge fire in the barracks' parking lot."

He doesn't seem to be particularly pro-Israel, and in fact he took several photos that make Israel look bad. But this is not one of them. Israel destroyed a missile that would have otherwise been shot at them. I think Time was adding a little fictional sensationalism to the story.,9171,1218049,00.html ... ets_Caught_Lying.asp


In April 1986, there was a steam explosion, fire, and meltdown in one of the four reactors of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Around 50 or 60 people died as a direct result of the meltdown, and 9,000 more died or will die from the radiation, according to the World Health Organization. Some people claim that number of dead is more like 80,000, and some say it's a lot less than 9,000. 100,000 to 300,000 people were relocated from the area, depending on who you ask.

Here are some good recent photos of the Chernobyl.

I'm sure you remember the March 10, 2004 Junkmail where I included the "Kid of Speed" photos. It's about Elena Vladimirovna Filatova, who rode her motorcycle around the Chernobyl area. It turned out that she didn't really ride her cycle into the restricted zone, but the photos are still pretty popular. Her latest web site has some more photos, other projects, and she has corrected some of the "literary license" she took in her original site.

Tsar Bomba

The USSR "King of Bombs" should probably have been included in the last Junkmail. It was the most powerful bomb ever exploded on earth. Well, it was actually 13,000 feet above the earth when the 50-megaton blast blew.

Finnegan's Quarks

James Joyce wrote Finnegan's Wake sometime around 1939. I read a little bit of it, but lost interest due to odd language and lack of submarines and airplanes. This song is in Finnegan's Wake:"

----Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he hasn't got much of a bark
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
But O, Wreneagle Almighty, wouldn't un be a sky of a lark
To see that old buzzard whooping about for uns shirt in the dark
And he hunting round for uns speckled trousers around by Palmerstown Park?
Hohohoho, moulty Mark!
You're the rummest old rooster ever flopped out of a Noah's ark
And you think you're cock of the wark.
Fowls, up! Tristy's the spry young spark
That'll tread her and wed her and bed her and red her
Without ever winking the tail of a feather
And that's how that chap's going to make his money and mark!

George Zweig was a grad student at Cal Tech in 1964 when he proposed the existence of quarks, except he called them Aces. About the same time, Murray Gell-Mann, a really smart guy teaching at the same university, came up with a similar model. Murray named his subatomic particles "quarks," from the song in Finnegan's Wake. "Quark" stuck.

Protons, neutrons, and some other subatomic particles are made up of quarks. An electron is apparently made up of nothing but an electron. There are several other particles made up of quarks.

At Fermilab in Illinois, the Tevatron collider is used to smash protons and antiprotons into each other, going really fast. This annihilates the protons and antiprotons and spews out lots of other subatomic particles.

As you can imagine, it's pretty hard to figure out what's flying out of a collision between a proton and an antiproton. They use the CDF, Collision Detector at Fermilab. Hundreds of physicists from over 60 institutions in 13 countries are working on this.

Last month they announced the discovery of two new subatomic particles, the Σ-b and the Σ+b baryons. These each have about six times the mass of a proton, and decay in a tiny fraction of a second. The Σb's were predicted to exist in quark theory. The discovered particles exhibit the proper spins of J=1/2 and J=3/2.

I don't understand the details behind this stuff, but it's still pretty interesting. When I learned about atoms, they were made up only of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Atoms have gotten a lot more complex since then.

Another discovery at Fermilab this year was the oscillation of the Bs meson between matter and antimatter at 3 trillion times per second. This seems very strange, but it really happens and may have some big implications.


Directors of the housing authorities at Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett Washington drive their own cars. Kurt, the director of the Vancouver, Washington Housing Authority, spent 37,000 tax dollars on a new Hummer. He uses it for personal and official driving. That sounds a little fishy to me. I think Kurt needs some fiduciary supervision.

Mars Global Surveyor

The polar ice is retreating -- on Mars. The South Polar Ice Cap has shrunk over the past few years, about 3 meters per year. This was caused almost entirely by greenhouse gas. That's because the ice caps are mostly made of the notorious greenhouse gas CO2 instead of H2O.

Mars Global Surveyor took these photos of the same area from 1999 to 2005.

The spacecraft was launched on November 7, 1996.


Mars Global Surveyor seems to have died last November 2, just 5 days short of 10 years of service.

Here's a 1997 photo showing layered rock in the Valles Marineris.


Here are some more rock layers from Valles Marineris.


More on mars:

Today's Stupid Software Patent

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has excelled once again, this time with patent number 7028023. It was issued last April to LSI Logic. It patents the stunning new concept of using a linked list with multiple sets of pointers for multiple sequences.

This has commonly been used in programming since the days of Algol 68. I used this technique for the first time more than 25 yeas ago. Doubly linked lists are common in Computer Science textbooks, and linking graphical data in both X and Y directions has been done since Pythagoras. Well, at least since the IBM 1130.

Deer Hunting

A guy named Joseph was driving his Chevy Cavalier along a road one night in Vermont with his daughter and girlfriend. He spotted a deer out in a meadow. He took off toward the deer, shined a light on it, and rammed it with his car.

The deer was a decoy. A game warden and two deputies were hiding in the bushes, hoping to catch "spotlighters." Joseph is in trouble.


I bought a copy of a 1949 Colliers magazine. The article I wanted to read was OK, but I thought the magazine itself was more interesting.

In the last Junkmail I mentioned Ben Scott Custer, the captain of the USS Norfolk Sound in World War II. He went on to become a rear admiral and president of Columbia University. He also was on a plane that crash landed in the backwoods of Canada, and spent a few days getting out. Here's the article he wrote for Colliers:

This is from a Camel cigarette ad:

In a recent test, hundreds of men and women, from coast to coast, smoked Camels, and only Camels, for 30 days -- an average of 1 to 2 packs a day. Each week, their throats were examined by noted throat specialists. After a total of 2470 thorough examinations, these doctors reported NO THROAT IRRITATION DUE TO SMOKING CAMELS!

"More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette."


Bots and DoS and Spam

You may have noticed that you've been getting a lot more spam recently. Spam is on the increase worldwide. How do you handle the excess spam? Here's are a few ideas. Spam and jamcakes, spam and eggs, or spam cheeseburgers:


In January 2004, President Bush signed the Can-Spam act into law.

In 2004, Bill Gates said the spam problem would be solved by 2006.

The spam problem could be fixed right away. All that needs to be done is to prosecute the people (a) sending the spam, or (b) using the spam for advertising. (b) is a lot easier, since you only have to follow the money.

(a) is a little harder because spammers are sending a large percentage of spam from zombie computers. They send out a trojan such as SpamThru, then control a net of thousands of computers. When it's time to spam, each of these zombie computers sends out a few thousand emails. The computer users usually don't even know about it.

But it is still possible to track down the spam senders. The U.S. government certainly has the resources. They could stop 95% of the spam inundating my inbox if they would only enforce the law. Maybe they're too busy keeping bottles of hand lotion off airplanes.

I went to the FTC web site to see how to stop spam. Among other things such as forwarding my spam to my internet service provider, they recommend opting out. Right. That just confirms you have read the spam, possibly promoting you a more active email list.

Then I called the FTC help line. Yeah, yeah, I was bored. After three minutes of recordings, I got a message saying the same thing the web site said. I never did get the option to speak to a real person.

Then I called someone with public relations at the FTC. A human answered the phone! I asked how many Can-Spam cases the FTC has prosecuted. She said she'd call back and let me know. I'll update the web site ( if I find out.

[ I found out! She called back and explained that the FTC has brought 89 spam-related cases against 241 corporate and personal defendants. 26 of these were prosecuted under the Can-Spam act. So the FTC is not ignoring the problem -- they just haven't gotten to my spammers yet.  11/30/06 ]

A lot of people have must have noticed the recent surge in spam. Here are a bunch of articles about it.,1895,2051950,00.asp,1895,2060235,00.asp

Flying Rocks

A couple of Junkmails ago I mentioned a meteorite that was discovered in Kansas using ground penetrating radar. I thought that was pretty cool. I also mentioned a meteorite smashing into a house in Germany and starting a fire. (The Reuters links have gone away.)

Phil Plait mentioned that while this is possible, it is highly unlikely.

He's right. Most likely the cottage burned down due to natural causes, such as electricity or man-made fire. Maybe that's why the Reuters links all went away?

The Bad Astronomy blog is pretty good. It even contains facts.

In 1992 it was highly unlikely for a meteorite to smash into a car in New York, but that time it really happened.

It happened on a Friday night in October when lots of people were at high school football games with video and still cameras. Here's a nice photo of the meteorite on the way down, after it started breaking up.


Here are some videos:


Border Guards and Bribery

In Texas, border guards are now taking bribes to allow illegal aliens and contraband into the U.S. ... n.kens.3074cf61.html

The Texas Ethics Commission took action. Now Texas officials are no longer required to report the amount of cash they receive as a gift, only that they received some cash. ... ecision.2eede27.html

The War on Tourism

Headlines: "Acid bomb detonated in Walmart." The fact is that a couple of kids put some stomach antacid into a plastic bottle of Coke, and left it in Walmart to make a mess. It makes a pretty decent pop when the bottle bursts, but it's just not as scary as an "acid bomb" being "detonated." Unfortunately, thanks to the current climate of fear, those kids face felony charges.

Real Climate

It's hard to separate the science from the politics in climatology. There are a lot of people pushing one way or another, partly because there is a lot of money affected by the politics involved. Here is a good site by some top people in the field. The site comes complete with facts and references, without the frequently associated political slant one direction or another.

This blurb says a lot about the climate science you read in the news:

"However, there is a bit of a cottage industry of people who micro-parse every new paper to see how it projects onto a narrow view of the climate change debate regardless of their actual relevance. This is a travesty of the way science is supposed to work and all too often ends up getting the story completely wrong."

So where does the world stand with climate change, global warming, and other catch phrases? The earth is getting a little warmer. Some of this is caused by greenhouse gases produced by people burning coal, oil, and gas. The rise in sea level is barely measurable. Most climate models predict a more rapid temperature increase in the future, along with associated problems, especially if the current levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue.

I was pretty skeptical about global warming a few years ago, but there has been a lot of hard data collected over the past few years that convinced me there must be something to it. I'm pretty sure that people will continue to burn coal, oil, and gas as long as they are cheapest energy sources available, although there should be a trend toward solar, wind, and nuclear energy.

And the politics of it? One of my elected representatives to the U.S. Senate calls global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." I think he must have forgotten about Y2K.

Pictures of Today!

Winter's coming! These were near Twin Lakes, Colorado last week:

      P1120600.jpg      P1120601.jpg      IMG_0153.jpg

Winter's coming! These red-winged blackbirds have left Oklahoma:

      P1120580.jpg      P1120579.jpg      P1120587.jpg

A scanner makes a pretty good 20x to 30x microscope. These are scans from my Epson 4180 scanner.

A penny:


Here is about 5/8" of a Canadian twenty dollar bill. There is a lot of detail!


Part of an oak leaf:


About 1/4" of a rock:


The shirt off my back:


(~) 1949, no rights deserved. Unauthorized duplication or replication of this fine tripe, whether electronic or otherwise, public or private, DVD or iPod, is OK with me. Copy the heck out of it! Except I'm not sure about Ben Scott Custer's article. If you own the copyright to that and want me to take it down, I'll be happy to replace it with an ad for a '49 Hudson.

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I'm Bob Webster from Pryor, Oklahoma. My residence on earth is

Have a good day!