More Junk Mail from Bob, Number 21!

Sunday, January 2, 2000


And now, the moment we've been waiting for...  the LAST Y2K UPDATE, finally!!!

The big news this week is that these are not an endangered species:


Last week:  "District of Columbia officials are urging residents to prepare for more than a week without private and public services after the New Year."

This week: "District of Columbia officials admit they were just joking."

Public responses to Y2K generally fit into one of a few categories:

A. Politician -- It's a good thing I was here to save you! Those dummies in the lousy Democratic/Republican/Socialist/Labor party would never have made it so easy for you. Send money so I can save you from something again next term.

B. Y2K Consultant -- It's a good thing I was here to save you! However, we're not over the hump yet. Most Y2K problems will not appear until Monday or later next week, and some of the more insidious Y2K bugs won't surface until March or April. It just so happens that I'll be available to help you some more, for a fee.

C. President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion -- It's a good thing we were here to save you! You can see we did a fine job. No matter that the countries whose governments didn't spend $8,000,000,000 had no problems either;  that's merely a coincidence. By the way, we did such a good job it would be a shame to dismantle our empire now. It's none too early to start preparations for the Y3K bug.

D. Lawyer -- You may have a valid claim for gross negligence. The company knew that there was gong to be a new century, yet they willfully neglected to recall their product with the oddly displayed date. We should let the courts decide.

E. TV News Boss -- That was one anemic crisis! If it weren't for the new century there'd have been NO news this weekend. I want you people to get out there and hype a REAL crisis. Find a war or a hurricane or an earthquake or something. This Y2K stuff was nothing but vaporware!

F. Conspiranoid -- It's just a big cover-up. There were all kinds of problems, and it's gonna be baaaaad.

G. Manager of the U.S. Naval Observatory Atomic Clock -- But I LIKE the way the year "19100" looks.


One nice thing about the new thousandyear is that there's a lot of history in the news. That's much better than the regular news hype, even if some of the history is a bit slanted. Here's a good article about science in 1999. You can also check out science news of the week AND the millennium.


In St. Petersburg, Russia, you can buy Windows 99 beer. The Professor Solonin Vodka Company trademarked the name Windows for food, beverage, and tobacco. This is apparently legal in Russia. Of course in Russia I think just about anything can be legal if you pay the right people. The head of the company is sending a couple of bottles to Bill Gates, just to be nice. Is Windows 00 beer next?


Here are a couple of pictures from Steamboat Springs this week -- the town:


...and snowshoe tracks:



Some people are getting excited about the NSA's "Project Echelon."  It's a project where "they" (the men in the black trench coats) eavesdrop on phone, fax, and email messages. In the U.S. this is only legal if one or both parties are international. Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand are partners in this project. I guess they don't want to contend with non-English languages.

It's really not that surprising, though. I thought it was the NSA's job to eavesdrop on the "enemy." The problem is that people say the NSA is collecting data on U.S. citizens, which is not legal. The other problem is that we don't have a figurehead enemy any more like the USSR used to be.

The House Intelligence Committee was grilling some NSA people on Echelon a while back, but the NSA people weren't too cooperative. They refused to answer some questions because of "attorney-client privilege." That's pretty strange considering they're working for the same government and theoretically have the same attorneys. This month there are supposed to be more hearings to get to the bottom of it all. One of the big questions is, by teaming up with other countries and sharing data, does the NSA read domestic U.S. email obtained by the other countries, and if so, is this legal?

There's not much unbiased information available on Project Echelon, but the technology's available to do some big-time eavesdropping. To intercept email, they could get access to some internet backbone switchers, scan all email for interesting keywords, and copy the ones with hits. With large ISPs providing IP address data and phone companies providing switching data, they could match it up by time to see who the interesting emails were actually sent to and from, even if anonymous email and dialup accounts are used. Then, if they record a few weeks' worth of everything, they could go back and see what they could find out from earlier innocent-looking emails from the same people.

Encryption and volume are the roadblocks (aside from the law) to "big brother" reading our email.

There are tons of email (how much does a kilobyte weigh?) sent every second, so the volume of email to be scanned would be, um....  kinda big. "Experts say" Echelon intercepts over 2,000,000 emails per hour. This came from I'm skeptical of sentences that begin with "Experts say" or "Studies show," particularly when the experts and the studies are not named, but is reasonably reputable. At any rate, there must be a bunch of emails intercepted.

It would be a really tough job to weed out the real "threatening" emails. Junior high kids and other non-threatening people send email with the words such as "nuclear bombs" and "nerve gas." In fact, I just sent YOU one! So searching for key words will not only find a bunch of false positives, it will also miss most of the desired emails.

If I wanted to send some legitimately illegitimate email, I'd use some encryption and/or word substitution. For example, I could use PGP encryption and use the word "pickle" instead of "bomb."  I'm not really sure how the NSA gets around this. I assume there are lots of other parameters they consider, like colloquialisms and from-to combinations.

In my opinion, the main problem with Project Echelon is the possibility of abuse. It looks like there's nobody from the outside overseeing the details of the NSA's operation. If Hillary Clinton decided she wanted dirt on a political enemy, there's a good chance she could abuse the system and get it from the NSA. There's also a reasonable chance she'd be caught, but probably not for a few years. I would guess that this sort of thing is not happening, but it seems like it could without some kind of oversight.

Want more information? Ask the NSA!

...or maybe the NSA will get your message sooner if you email an overseas friend instead.


A tree on Telescope Peak, Death Valley:


and a tree alone:



The US Air Force has some really neat radio controlled models, except they call them UAVs, for Unmanned Aeronautical Vehicles. They call them that because they cost so much. One crashed a few days ago from an altitude of 41,000 feet near Edwards AFB in California. A Global Hawk took off from Edwards and lots its signal from the ground about 20 minutes later. It picked up a "stop flight" signal from Nellis AFB in Nevada, the next strongest signal. Then it crashed, like it was ordered to. I guess this was supposed to be some kind of fail-safe in case the plane headed for Denver or Los Angeles or Chouteau.

The Air Force said nobody is at fault. This is kind of funny because a $45,000,000 plane crashed and now they're changing their signal system. Here's a picture of the Global Hawk. Its wingspan is 116 feet.


Here's a picture of another UAV, the Darkstar:



Last Tuesday the "evil DVD forces" sued 72 people with web sites containing the program DeCSS. The DVD Copyright Control Association is even suing people who merely have LINKS to the program instead of the program itself. I consider this very rude behavior.

For more information on DeCSS, or to get your own copy of the program, check out Junk Mail 13:



Microsoft runs, a website where about 50 million people get their email. Actually, I think that number may be fudged upwards a bit. There have probably been 52 million users register with hotmail, but I suspect most of them are not active users. But any way you look at it, there are a bunch of them.

On Christmas Eve about half the hotmail users couldn't get their email. It turned out that Microsoft didn't pay a bill to renew the domain registration for validates userids and passwords for hotmail. Microsoft owed $35 to Network Solutions and got cut off.

Michael Chaney lives in Antioch, Tennessee. He wanted to read his email on Christmas. So he figured out what was wrong, went to the Network Solutions web site, and paid Microsoft's bill with his credit card. Here's his receipt:

It's pretty funny -- a multibillion dollar corporation has to have a guy from Tennessee pay their $35 dollar internet bill. Microsoft sent him a thank you note and promised to reimburse him.


Speaking of Microsoft, for a few days their Microsoft Press web site had some release dates of January 1900. I guess those courses take a long time to finish. They seemed to have fixed those dates now.


The pictures of today are from Svalbard, aka Spitzbergen. That's an island group north of Norway. Serge and I flew there last summer.

Passenger comfort at 28000' in 1421z:


Above the town of Longyearbyen:


This was our charter boat. It came without driver, instructions, or radio. It was hard to start, too!


A mountain for Ken Prather:


The orange suit is a survival suit we wore in our charter boat. The water was COLD at 78 degrees N latitude. Here's the mountain with a reindeer:



Don't forget -- This year, unlike 1900, has February 29. Chao has a birthday this year!


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