More Junk Mail from Bob!

Monday, December 27, 1999

Yes, believe it or not, this is the 20th Junk Mail from Bob that has traversed the optic fiber of the world only to end up in your email box as a garbled mess of zeros and ones. The message represented by this chaotic binary infiltration is only slightly less garbled. The reason these fine combinations of information, opinion, and pretty pictures are being sent is a mystery to the sender as well as the recipient... it just seems to happen. But look at the bright side -- there is a fair chance that you'll get no more of these, not only for the rest of the year, the rest of the century, and the rest of the millennium, but also for the rest of the week! On the other hand, I MIGHT get bored on New Year's Eve...


There's a lot of buzz lately about Linux. Learn2 announced training for Linux, and the stock went up 60-some percent in one day and was number two in volume on the Nasdaq. Corel's stock has gone up a few hundred percent because of their support for Linux. Some of the hottest IPOs lately have been for Linux companies.

What about Linux, anyway, and how does Charles Schultz's retirement affect it? Linux was originally written by Linus somebody, but I think he's not the one in the cartoon. Linux is essentially a new, public domain revision Unix. Well, it's not quit public domain, but it is available to the public at no charge. There are lots of accoutrements available for you to spend money on, so don't be discouraged.

Linux is competition for Windows. I don't know enough about it to offer the pros and cons, except a big con is that there's a lot more application software available for Windows than Linux, and a big pro is that most of the popular word processing and spreadsheet software for Windows is sold by Microsoft and it gets slower and more cumbersome to use every version. I just got a new computer at home and I ended up loading Office 97 instead of Office 2000 because there are so many things I don't like about Office 2000. (Details in a minute.)

Linux isn't likely to take over the Windows market, but if there's a one in a hundred chance it can get 5 percent of the PC operating system market, that's a LOT expected return. As a result, investors are willing to gamble on relatively small companies like Red Hat and other purveyors of fine Linux stuff. Compound this with day traders and other investors who don't look and company fundamentals, and a press release about Linux can make a small company's stock shoot up for a few days or maybe longer.

Anyway, I plan to load Linux on a computer and see what it's like. There is a definite need for a good, fast word processor and a good spreadsheet program compatible with Microsoft files, whether it's Linux or otherwise. There's also a definite need for a fast-booting, easy-to-install operating system that supports some good software and most hardware. Most Microsoft applications, in my opinion, have gotten too big and too slow. Also, with the later versions they tend to force things down the users' throats.

Here is my gripe list with Office 2000 -- I cut it down to only a few:

1. It's slow.

2. You can't paste text from a web page into Word or Excel without it trying to come in as a web page. It takes 20 minutes for me to load data from my Schwab account into Excel. It used to take 5 seconds. (So I moved it all to Quicken.) It also makes it look different once it gets inside Word or Excel, and you have to mess with the formatting to get it to conform to the rest of the document.

3. The open file dialog doesn't accept typing fast until all the file names are loaded into the list. This is irritating and unnecessary. It takes several seconds on my notebook computer, a PII 400.

4. If I copy more than one thing from to the clipboard from an Office 2000 application, an irritating window comes up on the screen and stays on top of all the Office 2000 applications. I cannot figure out how to close this window using the keyboard; I have to use the mouse. I cannot figure out how to disable this window, and I even emailed Microsoft support and asked.

5. When I copy and paste text from a Word document to another application, it includes a lot of extra garbage along with the text. This makes it unusable in many applications. For example, I can't copy text from Word to a web page editor because a LOT of unnecessary font and formatting information is included. I have to use notepad or Wordpad or something else.

6. When I click on an excel spreadsheet I want to download, it loads it into IE5 instead of downloading it. This is slow and the menus are changed around. Afterwards, when I used Excel the spreadsheet window is no longer maximized, just one more minor pain. I can't figure out how to disable this so it's downloaded instead of displayed inside IE5. I assume it can't be done.

There are about a dozen more things, but you get the picture. Or you got bored and skipped over that part. I am guessing that #1 and #6 were features specifications from the lawyers to closely integrate IE5 with other Microsoft applications, at the expense of the users. I get the impression that Microsoft is trying to force all my documents to be web pages. I don't want them all to be web pages for several reasons, not the least of which are that html is primitive and Microsoft html extensions work only with Microsoft products.

So I'm hoping someone soon will come up with a good alternative to Office. Corel has pretty bad software, so I'm afraid to even try them. IBM is probably as bad as Microsoft at roping people into their corporate pen. I think there's a big opening in the market for a good MS Office alternative -- something simple and fast that does what 90% of the Office users use.


Speaking of company fundamentals... have you ever thought about buying Yahoo stock? I looked at it this week. The price is a little over $400 a share. That's a big number, but that just means they haven't split where most companies have. What's important the price compared to the value of the company.

For example, how much money does the company earn compared to the price of the stock? For each dollar you would spend on Yahoo stock, Yahoo earns (in the past 12 months) in the neighborhood of one twentieth of a CENT. That's a return of 0.0547% interest, Maybe 75 or 100 times less than you can get at the bank.

Why is the stock so high then? It's because the internet is a rapidly growing area and people expect Yahoo to be a big player one day making lots more money. Yahoo's investing their profits in the future. They're buying market share.

OK, then, let's look at their sales instead of their profit. For every dollar you spend on Yahoo stock, they have sales of less than half a cent. Even if they had no expenses, no salaries, no overhead, no marketing costs, and if they made 100% profit, the return would be less than half a percent. But that's today.

Internet market will definitely grow a lot in the next few years, but will it be 50 times bigger? I have serious doubts whether Yahoo will grow to 50 times its current size. That would be BIG. And if it DID, the stock would go a LOT higher making even more growth necessary before the company fundamentals reach its stock price.

Why do people keep buying the stock at this price then? Some of them have no clue how or whether Yahoo makes money. They just look at the past price history, and that looks really good. Others realize the stock is overpriced, but are banking on there being a "bigger fool out there" they can sell to at a profit on down the road. It's been a great strategy so far. I don't understand how it's gone this far or how it can continue, but it does. It's amazing.


Ken Prather, prominent flat tax reformist and Y2K computer guru, has requested more mountain pictures. Here they are -

Quandary Peak, Colorado:


I went camping on skis there a few winters ago. (I ended up with a couple of stitches in my head if I remember right.) This picture was taken miles from the nearest person. Except for me.


Last week a guy was climbing Quandary Peak and died in an avalanche. It doesn't look that steep, but maybe he was on one of the steep sides.

Here's another mountain picture -- Mike on top of Mount Antero, Colorado:



Gary Dean sent a copy of this article about an Asiana 747 that had a slight taxiing mishap in Anchorage a little over a year ago. A 747 skidded on the ice when taxiing. So they added power. And they crashed into and totaled a Russian airliner, blew away some baggage carts with their thrust, and some other really funny stuff.

I figured it was mostly fiction or at least blown way out of proportion, until I read the NTSB report:

It's true!  The NTSB report isn't quite as colorful as Alex Patterson's, but the facts seem to check out. He lives in Tasmania, a place I'd like to visit someday. I don't think he likes the Korean airlines.


More on the planes that crashed on top of each other in Florida:  Jay, the guy on top, didn't know he had hit another plane. Felt a bump, gave it full power to go around, but the yolk didn't respond. So he landed. When was on the ground he realized that he was too high and figured it out.

The guy on bottom, Alan, knew what happened and tried successfully to land in the grass. They probably would have landed short if Jay hadn't added power to try to go around.

According to the NTSB report ( the planes "sustained minor damage." The Piper (the Jay's plane) flew out the next day. The Cessna (Alan's plane) had to have a little work to a flap and leading edge, but will be flying in a week or two. The student who was flying Alan's plane before he took over plans has her check ride scheduled for January 12. Alan was flying again two days after the accident.


Speaking of planes, sometimes it's a little hard to spot an airport from the air. Before everybody flew with at least a handheld GPS, there were lots of cases of planes running out of fuel because they couldn't find the airport. Here's a picture of the Cal Black Memorial Airport in Utah. Believe it or not, there are more boats at this airport than planes!


Here's it is zoomed in a bit...


This place is not a major airline hub.

Kodiak Island has an airport that does have some commercial flights. It also has some occasional bad weather. If you fly into an airport when the clouds are low, it's important to know where the airport is. This is what it might look like when you come out of the clouds at Kodiak:

...and here it is just a little more in the clear:


If you are familiar with runway markings, there are three things kind of odd about this picture. First, there's a displaced threshold. That means you can't land on the very end of the runway, you have to go down to the first line with arrows before you touch down. Second, it looks like from this picture that the plane is coming in way too high for a normal landing. The third unusual thing about this picture is the two bright white marks at the far end of the runway. That's the touchdown zone for instrument approaches. But there aren't any on this end.

Here's the same picture, complete with a foreground:


I took it standing on the ground on Barometer Mountain, NOT from an airplane. Lane Jacobs and I climbed it last summer. It looms off the approach end of runway 7 at Kodiak Airport:


Coincidentally, there are no instrument approaches for runway 7. That brings up the other thing you need to know when you fly into (or out of) an airport when the weather's bad -- where the mountains are. Some air force people flying a C-130 for the Whitehouse hit a mountain outside Jackson Hole not too long ago. They forgot where the mountain was.

Yesterday I flew into Steamboat Springs. They've got a displaced threshold for the instrument approach, and the instrument approaches are not even allowed at night. It didn't seem to bad in the clear daylight, though.


The question for today is... Name This Fish:


(Yeah, I realize that's not a question.)  Email your answer to me. If you get the answer right, you can find comfort in the fact that you won't owe the IRS for taxes on a prize.


The pictures of today:

A cat on a cold frozen pond:


Monument Valley, Utah:


Here's a forest fire in Newfoundland last summer. I asked someone about it and they said that there's nothing they would do about it because it's just "No Man's Land." It sure made some smoke!


... and in closing, the Butt Cans of Kansas!



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