More Junkmail from Bob!

August 20, 2009
Important Stuff.

Unmanned Air Vehicles

Boeing has an unmanned helicopter called the A160T.  The autonomous unmanned helicopter has a 2,500 payload capacity, flies 140 knots up to 20,000 feet. It has completed an 18.7 hour flight without refueling. it is 35 feet long with a 36-foot diameter rotor. It has a turbine engine, and the rotor rpm is adjustable in flight using some kind of transmission.


Boeing is also marketing the Austrian Schiebel Camcopter S-100, a smaller unmanned helicopter. It is a little over 10 feet long, has an 11-foot rotor, and can carry 50 kg of payload. It has an endurance of 6 hours. It is primarily used for surveillance

The UAE has ordered 40 Camcopters. The French and Pakistani navies have tested the Camcopter. The German navy has ordered 6 Camcopters.


The Israeli Heron TP has a 54-foot wingspan and a 1200 hp turbine engine. This one is being used for counter drug operations in El Salvador.


Turkey is supposed to be having some problems with their Herons.

"You're either with us or you're against us."

I recently read a book where a couple had had a big fight, but neither could remember what it was about. It made me wonder why we're fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq and Afghanistan didn't attack the U.S., did they? There were only a couple of dozen suicidal idiots who flew planes into buildings 8 years ago, and most of them were from countries other than Iraq or Afghanistan. The planners were guests of the Afghanistan government, but I think that government and most of the planners are long gone.

Speaking of international diplomacy, why can't I vacation in Cuba? Cuba is happy to have me visit. The U.S. government won't let me go. Cuba has not been an imminent threat to U.S. since 1962 when they had Soviet missiles. That's when the embargo started. I admit that the Cuban government may not be very nice when it comes to human rights and freedom of speech, but it's much better than, say, Myanmar, where I'm free to visit. Cuba may be Communist, but so is China, a major trading partner of the U.S.A.

Maybe it's time to reconsider the cold-war trade embargo. We might want to even remember why we're fighting a couple of wars and decide whether it's worth it. The fact that there are people in Iraq and Afghanistan willing to fight back does not justify a war. Heck, there are probably some people in Canada or even North Dakota willing to fight back if the U.S. invaded them. Of course, those are both too cold for an invasion.


The fifth Solvay Conference in Brussels, 1927, had some pretty interesting attendees, including Einstein, Bohr, Curie, and Heisenberg.

Border Patrol Corruption

Some people say U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has a corruption problem. It seems pretty small at the moment, but with billions of dollars in drug and illegal immigration at stake, I can see where there is potential for bigger problems.

It's not nearly as bad as in Mexico or Colombia, but U.S. judges and prosecutors are beginning to be threatened by drug traffickers.

Homeland Security might be better off concentrating on something besides terrorism. I think am much more likely to be killed by a lightning strike or an errant Homeland Security Officer than a bona fide terrorist.

Get Sequenced!

For the low, low price of $68,000 (or so), you, too, can get your genome sequenced. I'm not sure what good this will do, other than making some interesting wallpaper in the living room, but it's pretty cool. I'll consider it when the price drops to $6.80.

Peer Reviews

Need favorable results published it a peer-review journal for your new pharmaceutical? Forget all that science stuff. Just start your own journal like Merck did!

Even More Circular, Dude

A few Junkmails ago (December 2002, to be exact) I mentioned that a guy named Kanada at the University of Tokyo led a team to calculate Pi to 1,240,000,000,000 digits.

At the University of Tsukuba in Japan, a team lead by Takahashi has calculated a little over twice that many digits of Pi. They used a 648-computer cluster with a processing speed of 95.4 trillion floating-point operations per second (TFlops) to calculate 2,576,980,377,524 digits of Pi in 73 hours and 36 minutes. By comparison, Kanada's computer took 600 hours.

Each of the 648 computer nodes uses four AMD Opteron 8350 Barcelona CPUs. There is a similar supercomputer system at the University of Tokyo with 952 nodes and one at Kyoto University with 416 nodes.

Here is some info on the U. of Tokyo system (You might need to read Hongul for some of the links):

I have a text file from 1999 that lists 23 million prime numbers. That was pretty impressive to me at the time, and that was 20 years after college. Now it's easy to write a program to calculate 50 million primes in less than a minute. The execution time is less than a minute, that is, not the programming time. The programming time wasn't very many minutes, though. Computers are getting fast!

One thing that is surprised me is that the 23 million prime numbers in the 1999 list match the first 23 million generated by my program, 10 years later. Funny how that worked out.


It is dumb to require ethanol in gasoline. It might, however, cut down on alcoholism if we add gasoline to ethanol.

Secret Wires

The CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, and other stellar organizations do a lot of communicating. Sometimes they do it secretly. Sometimes their secret communicating is done over secret fiber optic cables. There is nothing wrong with secret fiber optic cables, except that backhoe operators don't know where not to dig.

Small Nuclear Power

I am sure you remember that about six years ago I mentioned in Junkmail that Toshiba was planning a small nuclear power plant in Galena, Alaska, home of the flies.

They are still planning, although it looks like it will be about 2013 instead of 2010 when it happens. To hedge their bets, Toshiba is also planning to install some small 50-megawatt nuclear plants in Canada. They are about 20 times smaller in generating capacity than the GRDA Chouteau power plant.

WiFi Allergy

Are you allergic to wireless networks? If so, I'd recommend a placebo twice a day. There's just not enough power for WiFi to affect people physically.

747 Supertanker

I mentioned 5 years ago in Junkmail that Evergreen Aviation had developed a 747 tanker for use in fire fighting. It was supposed to be available the following year.

Apparently the FAA certification went a little slower than expected -- the Evergreen Supertanker was certified this year. They hope to use it next week in Alaska on a 450+ square mile file, a free demo.


Evergreen said the state of California has contracted to use the plane next year. Evergreen may not realize how much money California doesn't have.


You can track airplanes on IFR flight plans here:

You can track ships and large boats with AIS here:


Earlier this month, the web sites Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal went down for a few hours, due to a denial of service (DoS) attack. It turned out that this attack was targeted toward one account on each system, but that didn't matter. It brought down the whole systems.

Georgy Jakhaia is a 34-year-old economics professor living in Tbilisi, Georgia, the capital of the former Soviet republic. He was the target of the DoS attack. He is a refugee from Sukhumi, the capital of "breakaway region" of Georgia (Abkhazia) near the Black Sea. I'm not sure whether he's teaching now, but he blogs quite a bit. He uses the online name Cyxymu, which is kind of like Sukhumi in Cyrillic or Georgian or Sanskrit.

I understand he's a little critical of Russia, particularly after their invasion of Georgia last year. Some people in Russia are not overly accepting of Cyxymu's constructive criticism, so they've been hacking and DoS-ing his web sites.

The latest DoS attack seems to have backfired on the Russian hackers. Cyxymu has gotten a LOT more traffic and publicity than he ever would have otherwise.

Cyxymu's blog:

CIA Prisons

Here is a good article on the secret CIA prisons. But if they're secret, how does the whole world know about them?

Obama ordered the secret prisons closed in January.

But the guards were working until April? Now replaced by CIA officers? It turns out that the prisons have "no new prisoners," and the CIA "retains the authority to hold and interrogate prisoners for short periods."

"The CIA has used secret 'black site' prisons around the world to question terror suspects, usually plucking them from one country and moving them to another where U.S. agents operated a prison. A senior White House source said the CIA will be allowed to continue these 'renditions' but not to countries that torture and not to its own prisons."

"The Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the 'alternative interrogation methods' that their captors used to get them to talk." (in 2006.)


If Burning Man is all about no rules, anarchy, and the like, why does the fine print on the tickets say if any third party displays or disseminates your photos or videos in a manner that the Burning Man Organization doesn't like, those photos or videos become the property of the BMO. In other words, they intend to use RIAA tactics to keep unfavorable photos off the internet. Seems like Corporate America to me.

Speaking of non-conformists, why do so many "non-conformists" dress alike? Is it an anarchist uniform?

It seems to me that people who are most concerned about overpopulation and feeding the masses tend to be against genetically modified crops, pesticides, fertilizer, and other things that increase crop and livestock yields. Weird, huh?

Why do people in favor of abortion tend to be against capital punishment, and vice versa? That seems like a flip-flop to me. One group wants me dead before I'm born, and the others want to hang me afterwards.

In Malaysia they use corporal punishment. A 32-year-old lady was sentenced to caning (a whipping with a cane, six "lashes") for drinking a beer in a hotel. Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol in Malaysia.

Her father agreed with the sentence, but was concerned that they wanted her to spend a week in prison and be caned there. He prefers a public caning. In this case the criminal is to keep her clothes on, and, being a lady, she is allowed to sit down during the punishment.

Elsewhere in Malaysia, a very small jet prototype crashed and killed the pilot, who was the managing director of the aircraft company Jetpod.

Transparent Government

The government is fulfilling their promise for transparency in stimulus spending. They just awarded an $18 million contract to Smartronix for a web site that allows people to track billions in stimulus spending. $18,000,000 seems a little steep for a web site. I would probably have done it for a couple million, maybe even less.

So, why not check out the details of this contract? I believe we would run into a condition known as "heavily redacted." A fair part of the contract has been blacked out so we can't see what the $18 million is being spent on! Those redactions are clearly opaque.


KPMG is involved in this, so I figure this is all Amy's fault (Mike's eldest toddler.)

Stack Overflow

The term "Stack Overflow" seems oddly familiar to me, for some reason.

The is a site where you can ask all kinds of programming questions. People who answer the questions get points, and people who ask decent questions get points. You can also search a quarter million or so questions already asked and answered. It's a pretty useful resource. They've been up and running for more than a year.

In Search of Stupidity

It never ceases to amaze me that supposedly well-run businesses do so many stupid things. I have been meaning to keep a log of this, but I am usually irate or away from a computer when I run across a stupid business trick (a pencil and paper are out of the question, naturally). But here a few gems I can recall.

The other night I was making a car reservation with Hertz, when their web site went down. This is a major no-no for a company like Hertz, but that alone does not qualify as a stupid business trick. I got an error message displaying a couple hundred lines of error stack (hertz.htm). That's a minor security no-no, but still doesn't qualify as a stupid business trick. The really stupid part was the next error message that said their web site was broken (in nicer words) and that I should call them to make my reservation. I should "click here" for the phone number, which, of course, didn't work because the web site was down.

I used to be a loyal customer of McDonalds because I could get good iced tea there consistently all over the country, except for New England in the winter. McDonalds decided it was too much trouble to brew iced tea, so they started selling Nestea "out-of-the-fountain" tea that was compatible with their Coke machine. To me, the fountain Nestea tastes something like a cross between old car tires and nitrogen dioxide. It got me off of McDonalds real quick. I even heard their employees talking about how bad the tea is. McDonalds successfully turned a competitive advantage into a reason for at least some customers to go elsewhere, in the name of employee efficiency. In their defense, McDonalds now offers good tea again.

There are a lot of web site design problems on the internet. It seems that the larger the company, the more likely the site has functionality problems. I'll try to start logging the more ridiculous.

A lot of times, you see decisions make by large companies (and small) that are obviously knee-jerk reactions to management ego threats. For example, NBC refused to re-up iTune's contract, cutting off a substantial part of their business. About a year afterward, they decided that it was not so smart, and that customers would not, in fact, search high and low for NBC content. Now NBC is back on iTunes. My GE stock is still down, though.

Electronic Arts, the game company, excels at ignoring the customer's point of view. They regularly come out with some copy protection (called Digital Rights Management in social circles) that is so cumbersome that it kills an otherwise successful product. A good example is the game Spore, from last year, now with over 2000 1-star ratings on Amazon mainly because of the DRM.

A few years ago, Sony messed up their CD copy protection so badly that it spurred lawsuits by the state of Texas and various class action lawsuits. This blunder even has its own Wikipedia entry.

But then, Texas and East Texas in particular are famous for their creative judicial system. Who else would stop Microsoft from selling Word just for the heck of it?

Diet Coke is currently my soft drink of choice. Diet Coke got very popular, so Coke capitalized on this by coming out with various flavors of Diet Coke, such as Vanilla, Cherry, etc. Some retailers will buy the same amount of each flavor, filling the shelf space previously used by regular Diet Coke. The problem is, there's only 1/5 the amount of regular Diet Coke at some stores. When the regular flavor runs out, those alert enough (a category that does not generally include me) will opt for Diet Pepsi, while the rest of us get suckered into buying Goose Liver flavored Diet Coke or some other swill.

This is a little It's like 26" bicycle tubes. At Walmart, they are a rare find. Whoever buys bike tubes at Walmart seems to buy the same number of 8 or 10 different sized tubes. Most non-road bikes sold at Walmart (and elsewhere) have tires 26" x ~2" with schrader valves. Unfortunately, only about 10 percent of Walmart's bike tubes fit the bill, and they sell out rather quickly. So Walmart is likely to have bicycle tubes for every bicycle tire except those on your mountain bike.

AT&T is a big company that is prone to doing stupid things. Last Spring they came out with some laptops that had wireless internet connections builtin, for the ATT Cell network. The terms of service prohibited their customers from viewing videos on YouTube and sharing P2P files. Who cares about customers?

A few days later, after an internet storm of complaints, they reversed the policy.

United Airlines has a weak online reservation, for a number of reasons. They also require me to know my password in order to remove myself from their email list. This is considered very bad manners.

Pictures of Today

Mount Saint Helens and the
world's newest glacier.
5/8/2009 6:17:38 PM
Altitude 10,373 ft (3,162 m)
Coast Guard Helicopter
5/20/2009 11:27:03 AM
Seals on a the bulb of the freighter "Overseas New York"
5/20/2009 6:36:51 PM
Grand Cayman, about 80 feet down.
7/13/2009 3:44:33 PM
Sundown, Caribbean.
7/14/2009 7:18:54 PM
Two big groupers, Dry Tortugas
7/16/2009 9:38:37 AM
7/16/2009 11:38:07 AM
A turtle in the Everglades
7/21/2009 1:30:16 PM
Altitude 64 ft (20 m)
A bird in the Everglades
7/21/2009 2:00:54 PM
Altitude 59 ft (18 m)
A Wyoming Butterfly
8/5/2009 4:09:49 PM
Altitude 8,246 ft (2,513 m)
Green River Valley, Wyoming
8/6/2009 11:50:57 AM
Altitude 8,386 ft (2,556 m)
Wells Creek. It was a little rocky.
8/6/2009 3:59:11 PM
Altitude 9,646 ft (2,940 m)
The Gold Mine, Colorado
8/16/2009 11:22:48 AM
Altitude 12,965 ft (3,952 m)
The way up the mountain.
8/16/2009 12:17:17 PM
Altitude 13,717 ft (4,181 m)
Me, near Red Mountain, Colorado
Family Reunion, Triathlon Start
8/01/2009 1:59 PM

For a bunch of recent pictures, go to: -- Sailing from Washington State to Florida -- Gannett Peak, WY, III -- Some Colorado Photos