More Junk Mail from Bob!

Sunday, December 19, 1999

'Tis the season for shopping! is an online auction where you can sell and buy things on the internet. Try it out -- put your bid in on this stylish Learn2 cap put up for sale by Jamie Don Dotson. All proceeds will likely be misspent.

      Learn2 Cap

At the moment, the bid is $3.21. Hurry! Only 5 bidding days left!!!

 Last week the U.S. Surgeon General said we're all crazy and should be taking drugs. (Maybe I'm sensationalizing.) (Or maybe I'm crazy.) The Surgeon General DID say that there are lots of mentally ill people in the US, and they should have access to treatment just like physically ill people do. It sounds reasonable on the surface.

So this week lots of psychiatrists and therapists and head doctors got on TV and radio and in the newspaper explaining how bad it is. It's really baaaaaad, according to them. Of course, they stand to make lots of money if they can drum up some business. And with luck, the government will pay for it all.

I heard a guy call into NPR. He was told by the NPR guest that he needed medication and therapy because he was a chronic worrier. I'm surprised he could be diagnosed like that with a 2-minute phone call. With this attitude it seems like there will be lots of people claiming to be depressed or hyper or something just to get some federally sponsored recreational drugs. And then there'll be the "my job depresses me" syndrome with people filing for disability. My problem is the people I work with already claim I'm mentally disabled.

The scary part will be when they lower the threshold for being crazy. It won't be called crazy, naturally; it will be called something more socially palatable. If I don't fit the "norm" as far as thinking goes, will they force mood-altering drugs and psychotherapy on me? What if I like the way I am? Just because someone has a psychology degree does it mean they know better than I do how I should think and feel? Maybe I prefer not to think the way they do. In fact, I get accused of not thinking at all pretty regularly, and I like it that way!

Speaking of not thinking, a popular way to have a midair collision is for a low-wing plane and descend for landing onto a high-wing plane who is also coming in to land. Usually this kind if accident is fatal for everyone involved. You can't see each other, so it's not too difficult to do at a busy airport without a control tower.

This happened in Plant City, Florida a week ago Saturday. Two planes were practicing landings. A low-wing Piper Cadet descended onto a high-wing Cessna 152 about 200' off the ground. The nose wheel of the Piper broke out the windshield of the Cessna and the two planes ended up locked together. The instructor of the Cessna took over from his student, managed to land the combined mess, and everybody walked away unhurt!

Here's what it looked like after the fact:

There are recommended radio procedures and traffic patterns that are supposed to prevent this sort of thing. In this case, apparently someone didn't talk, look, or listen.

The pictures of today were actually taken last Tuesday, not today, at Point Reyes, CA. It's northwest of San Francisco. I like 'em!


I am using a Canon S10 digital camera. The pictures are originally 1600x1200 resolution, but I resize them to 1024x768 for the web. Let me know if you want any hi-res copies. I printed one of these on my HP 895 on photo paper, about 8x10 size. It looked as sharp as I'd get from Walmart.

In Canada there's a law that says someone can retransmit a TV signal without violating copyright laws, as long as the signal is not modified. It's so Cable TV companies can distribute broadcast programming. A company called icraveTV decided to start transmitting TV over the internet. No big deal, really, since they have to leave all the advertisements and everything intact.

But network lawyers don't like it -- ABC, NBC, CBS, and some others. They've been sending icraveTV cease and desist orders and threatening big lawsuits. IcraveTV is replying with a form letter that pretty much says, "Forget it. We're not violating your copyright." I think that's pretty funny.

You can check out their site at You have to have a Canadian area code to see their TV, which you can get from your phone book or from their advertising info page.

There's another case this week where the big company was successful in bullying the little guy. There's a group of "corporation-mocking Internet artists" in Zurich, Switzerland called etoy. They had the web site two years before (with an s) had theirs. EToys (with an s) applied for a trademark in 1990, and that's what they used to get an injunction to shut down the etoy (no s) web site AND email. They conned the judge. Their trademark had already been rejected. Incidentally, this info came from etoy (no s), so it could be that they're conning me.

Last Thursday was Beethoven's birthday. When Felix Mendelssohn was grade-school age he could play all of Beethoven's piano sonatas by memory. That's a big accomplishment. Next Saturday is Christmas. Mendelssohn also wrote the music to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," which is kind of neat because he was Jewish (and Lutheran.)

Next Wednesday is the first day of winter and a full moon. Felix Mendelssohn had nothing to do with that. It will be the brightest moon for the rest of the millennium. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac and some email that's been going around, it's the brightest moon in since 1866!

But that's wrong. It's only the brightest full moon since 1930.

On Wednesday the moon will be at its closest point to the earth in its orbit (5 am CST), it will be full (12 noon CST) and the Winter solstice will occur (2 am CST). It's pretty unusual for these three to happen so close together. In 1991 they happened within 23 hours of each other.

If you calculate the distance of the moon from the earth and the earth from the Sun, the full moon was brighter on December 23, 1893, January 4, 1912, and January 15, 1930 than it will be Wednesday. Remember these dates -- there will be a test later.

Why the difference? The moon's orbit is a little irregular, so its perigee (closest point to the earth) isn't always the same distance from the earth. Also, the Earth's closest point to the Sun is in winter, but it isn't on the Winter solstice.

On January 4, 1912 the moon was closer to the earth than any "solstice full moon" from 1866 to 2052 inclusive. On Wednesday the moon will be 221,614 miles from earth. On January 4, 1912, the moon was a mere 221,441 miles from earth. In addition, in 1912, January 4 was the day the Earth was closest to the Sun. This makes January 4, 1912 the brightest full moon of this century, assuming it wasn't cloudy that day. There's not a lot of difference, but I had to set the record straight.

I'm wondering, though, if the moon will be brighter on Wednesday evening or before dawn on Wednesday morning. If someone would get up Wednesday morning and check, I'd be interested to know. Besides, it may be the last full moon ever if the earth stops rotating because of Y2K computer problems.

There's the difference in apparent full moon size at its farthest and closest points to the earth - 14%. These pictures were taken with the same camera and magnification when the moon was at perigee and apogee, the low and high points of its orbit:


Here's an interesting moon site:

While you're looking up at the Moon on Wednesday, check out the new star!  Well, it's not a new star, but it's newly visible to the naked eye. Nova V1494 Aquilae got about 70,000 times brighter two or three weeks ago -- it went nova. For more info:

It looks like someone may finally go to jail over the Clinton / Monica Lewinsky scandal. Who? Not Bill Clinton, but the person who tattled on him. It looks like Bill is getting revenge against his former employee Linda Tripp. She's being prosecuted through a state law against recording phone conversations. Never mind that the FBI told her she had immunity from prosecution. But Bill Clinton's not in trouble any more, so a judge said the FBI was just joking about her immunity. (OK, I'll admit I paraphrased that.) It sure makes it scary for anybody who wants to turn in a politician and rely on the FBI for protection.

Available this week:  Columbine High, the Video! The press just can't give up on this story. It might even be worse than OJ Simpson.

Y2K hoopla is getting even bigger!  After all, Y2K problem is only a date in a computer, and most computer applications don't even care what year it is. Even so, NASA refuses to launch a space shuttle over the New Year (it finally launched tonight, squeaked by on their last chance this millennium). The Israeli government has cancelled flights on 31 December and 1 January to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (I wonder if this may be for anti-terrorism as much as for computer problems). Over 100,000 police officers, more than double the normal New Year's force, will be put on alert across Japan over the New Year to deal with possible Y2K computer problems. MIT is asking students and faculty to turn off the university's 20,000 computers on December 30 and leave them off through the New Year to prevent Y2K problems. Now there's a novel approach -- pull the plug! MIT is even hiring elevator technicians for duty on December 31. I thought MIT would at least know something about computers!

Then there's the ZDnet headline: "Satellite Phones Seen as Y2K Insurance." First of all, don't they realize satellites and their ground-stations are susceptible to any of the supposed Y2K impending catastrophes? Second, if all the other phones were out, who could you call on your satellite phone? Nobody, because the phone switching equipment would be out too!

The US government has spent over $8,000,000,000 on Y2K computer problems. Not all of this was wasted, since some computer systems got needed upgrades out of the deal, but most was unnecessary. (Since this is my opinion and not a data-supported fact, I'll offer equal time to the opposing viewpoint, even if it is in parentheses. The President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion says that it's "money well spent.")

Look at the FAA, for example. People have been talking a lot about air traffic control dying on New Years Day. So the FAA spent the paltry sum of $368,000,000 become "Y2K Ready." The result?  "Now we have a very up-to-date, accurate inventory of all our systems," said Mary Powers-King, the FAA's Y2K boss. In hindsight, she said, the air traffic control system would probably have run about the same if nothing had been done because it did not use the year in handling minute-to-minute tasks.

Ask someone who knows at your local power company how much they've spent proving that they're "Y2K Ready." Then ask if the power would have gone off had they done nothing. I think the power would have stayed on, and I think you'll be amazed at how much money was spent.

I'm not good enough at economics to know whether this artificial crisis has been beneficial or harmful to the economy. It sure seems pretty stupid, though.

And next week, in spite of impending Y2K doom, I hereby resolve not to mention Y2K in here. But I reserve the right to incorporate by reference stupid Y2K tricks.

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Happy Holidays!