More Junkmail from Bob!

June 9, 2010
Important Stuff.

What About Global Warming?

There is so much hype and misinformation floating around about climate change and global warming that it is hard to figure out what's really going on. NASA's Earth Observatory has published its latest article on Global Warming. It is very informative, and has little or no hype or slant. I like it! They provide solid evidence to back up their numbers, including analysis, data, past corrections and their effects, and source code.

There will be so-called experts who call this report a bogus, politically motivated, pile of worm-eaten goat guts (maybe less creatively), but I am preemptively calling those "experts" weak, stupid, dumb, and, especially, ugly. This paper is good stuff.

The earth has warmed .6° to .9°C (1.1° to 1.6°F) in the past 100 years. This temperature change is not enough for people to notice directly, considering the wide fluctuation seasonal temperatures, but we can see glaciers receding and other effects. This does affect the weather now, but not in a huge way.


From an ice age to a warm climate, the earth has historically moved 4° to 7 °C in about 5,000 years.

What's the big deal about global warming today then? Today it is happening faster than ever. Instead of taking 5,000 years to warm 4° to 7°C, it looks like the earth's surface will warm 2° to 6°C in the next 100 years.


Sea level went up 8.7 inches between 1870 and 2000. From 1993 to 2009, sea level has risen about 3 millimeters per year for a total of 1.9 inches. It will probably rise another 7 to 23 inches in the next 100 years.


Levels of greenhouse gases CO2 and methane in the atmosphere have increased a lot in the past 150 years. I think these are probably the major cause of the current rate of global warming. So does NASA.


This bout of global warming will not cause the world to end, but it will cause the world to change.

XKCD Color Survey

If you ask girls and guys to name a bunch of colors, how different are the results? The guy that does tried it with an online survey. Here's the overall result. Gold is rare!


The write-up is really funny. (Warning -- there might be a couple of naughty words in this.)

Microsoft Bob

I cannot understand why Microsoft Bob was not a big hit.

iPad Insecurity

AT&T has a web site. This web site has, or had, a script on it that could be used to look up an email address that is associated with the ICC-ID for an iPad. The ICC-ID is something like a serial number.

Someone at AT&T made a slight design error on this site. Access to the email lookup script was left open so anybody on the internet could access the script using any ICC-ID and an iPad-style "user agent" header. So someone did access it. A lot.

Some enterprising hackers collected around 114,000 email addresses of iPad users. Normally this would not be such a big deal, but these email addresses are among the first iPad users, and this list includes some important people.

Actually, these people are no more important than you or me, but many of them hold important jobs. Such as White House Chief of Staff. Or CEO of the New York Times. Or CEO of Time, Inc. Or CEO of Dow Jones. Or founder of Bloomberg, LP.

Also on the stolen email list are staffers in the Senate, House of Representatives, Department of Justice, NASA, Department of Homeland Security, FAA, FCC, and National Institute of Health.

So, AT&T looks bad. Apple looks bad. And, since all iPad users are required to use AT&T, Apple could be a little irritated with AT&T for the dumb security lapse.

This story was out on the web site before any of the big news companies. The big news companies were notified by the security company that discovered the security breach, but they ignored the story until it became popular on the web.

I am guessing that the FBI will expend some serious resources to catch and prosecute the person who harvested these email addresses, and the sentence will probably be somewhat lengthy. I don't think I'll add these names to the Junklist.

Hot Cows

In 2006 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization came out with a report saying that livestock is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions on earth. I thought that seemed more than a little too high, but I never bothered to check into it.

Now the UN says they were just joking. In the 2006 report, they included greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock, but also for transportation, fertilizer production, land clearance (and assuming all pasture land would otherwise be and was previously covered with trees), and vehicles used on farms. I suspect that they did not consider that if you were not growing livestock that you would have to replace it with crops -- that or kill off some people.

But the authors did not use all the associated "costs" when comparing other sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as transportation. This should have been obvious to anybody who read the report. I guess most people, including me, never bothered to look past the headlines.

It seems like worldwide problems with global warming, pollution, oil consumption, water shortages, and the baggage retrieval system at Heathrow are more or less directly related to the global population. If the human population stops growing, these concerns will be much easier to handle.

Two ways to stop population growth are (a) kill off a bunch of people, or (b) stop making so many new ones. I think I prefer (b). Most religions seem to be against limiting progeny, however, and in most poor countries it is socially advantageous to have a mess of kids. Since people (myself included) get a bit defensive when their government starts getting personal, we probably won't see a significant reduction in population growth any time soon.

The Onion Router

Some people prefer to communicate on the internet anonymously. This can be useful if you prefer that corporate marketeers, government organizations, and thugs such as the RIAA and MPAA not track your internet usage.

When you use the internet, the information you send and receive is in a packet containing your IP address. This is the location of your computer in cyberspace. When you download secret plans for shoulder-launched thermonuclear missiles from the pentagon's web site, you might not want them to know whose computer broke into theirs.

To hide your IP address, you can use The Onion Router, or Tor. This will send your packet to its destination through a few other, randomly selected computers, encrypted as it goes. The destination computer only has the IP address of the last computer your packet came from, so it doesn't know who you are. Here are some details:

There are a few limitations to this. I used the U.S. government as an example, but that may be one of the few organizations who can track the packet as it goes through all the Tor computers.

Using Tor, you will be able to hide your IP address from people. But your computer likely has a somewhat unique fingerprint when you visit a web site. If you consider your browser and browser version, operating system and version, fonts, screen resolution, scripting language capability, and some other items that are generally available to any web server, there are likely very few computers with your exact configuration.

Since my computer may be set up a bit differently than others (my kids refuse to consider what their web sites looks like on my system because it's too weird), my browser fingerprint might be even more unique than normal. Did I just say "more unique"?

So, when you download secret plans for a thermonuclear bomb from the Pentagon, you should use Tor, use a different browser, and consider doing it from your in-laws' house. Or you could just get it from Wikipedia.

By the way... using SSL on a web site may be secure, but not from the prying eyes of the U.S. Government.


The Andromeda galaxy is about 14,931,438,284,180,247,883 miles northeast of Chouteau, Oklahoma. Actually, Andromeda is pretty large -- about 828,868,294,629,582,765 miles in diameter. So those digits toward the right end of the distance to Andromeda are fairly meaningless, particularly since I made them up. I only used six significant digits and replaced the zeros with random typing. For that matter, the diameter only has six significant digits, too.

When you view Andromeda through a good telescope, it appears about six times wider than the moon. When you look at it without a telescope, you only see the bright center portion of Andromeda, so it doesn't look so big (or close).

The Andromeda galaxy is flying toward earth at around a quarter of a million miles per hour. There is a good chance the Milky Way galaxy (where we live) and Andromeda will collide in about 2,500,000,001 years. That should be exciting. Unfortunately, I'll miss it.

2.5 billion years is a long time. If we look back 2,500,000,000 years, the most complex life on earth consisted of single celled organisms. If today's politics are any indication, we'll be back to single celled life forms by the time Andromeda gets here.

Here is a good photo of Andromeda from the NASA WISE spacecraft, taken in infrared bandwidths.

NASA Global Hawk

NASA is using a Global Hawk UAV to fly around and collect data. It goes over 60,000 feet high and can fly for 30 hours, about half way around the earth.


XP Hard Drives

For the past 150 years or so, most hard drives have used 512-byte physical records, or sectors. This works fine for hard drives smaller than 2 terabytes. 2 terabytes is about 16,000,000,000,000 zeros and ones, enough to hold a couple of thousand copies of Encyclopedia Britannica. You can get a 2 terabyte hard drive now for under $150.

The partition table in a hard drive uses a 32-bit number to define the number of sectors on a hard drive. The largest 32-bit integer is 4 billion. With a 512-byte sector, this limits the hard drive to 2 terabytes in size.

So hard drive manufacturers are coming up with formatting methods to allow larger hard drives. This is nothing too complex, and people have known about this limitation since it was defined. However, to get the new formats to run under Windows XP, there will be a loss of efficiency.

For example, if you replace the 512 sector with a 4096 sector, Windows XP will still be reading and writing 512 bytes at a time. So to update 512 bytes on the hard drive, XP would have to read 4096 bytes, change 512 of the bytes, and re-write 4096 bytes. This causes a slowdown. There can be more slowdown or space inefficiency if the number of bytes between sectors changes. Windows 7 and Apple computers don't have this problem.

What does all this mean?  If you buy a new hard drive for your XP machine, it may run slower. I suppose I'll have to upgrade my desktop computer to Windows 7 next time I need a hard drive. Windows 7 is not too bad, though. I have it on my laptop and can almost use it.

My new 2 tb hard drive said I had to change some jumpers or run some special drivers for faster performance on XP. So I bit the bullet and changed to Windows 7, after 7 years on Windows XP. I have been assimilated.

Aerial Chat

In March, a guy on a United Airlines flight named John was barely stopped from blowing up the plane. He was using his computer to chat with his daughters at home. The plane was wifi enabled. However, the United folks didn't want him coordinating a terrorist attack with his daughters on the ground, obviously John's plan.

Pennsylvania Computer Security

The head of computer security for Pennsylvania gave a talk at the RSA Security Conference in March. Instead of giving him a raise for the honor, the state of Pennsylvania fired him. They apparently thought he made them look bad when he told about an "anomaly" on their web site that let a driving school get priority in scheduling driving tests.

FCC Scammers

If you can't hear, you can still use the phone. The federal government has a Video Relay Service that gets people to listen and translate to sign language on a web cam.

The people who operate this service get paid $6.50 per minute. Some people providing the service decided to up their commissions. They arranged for some associates fake phone calls, and collected somewhere between $2,500,000 and $7,000,000 extra dollars. 26 people were arrested in the scam last November, and 11 have pled guilty so far.

Internet Crime is Up

The FBI said losses from internet crime more than doubled in 2009. The real FBI said this. The fake FBI is the one that sends email asking you to click on report.exe, or sends you a request for personal information.

In case you'd like to get in on some of this, here are the most popular ways to get suckered on the internet:

17 percent: Fake FBI documents. In one, you get a classified FBI intelligence bulletin on terrorism, apparently by mistake. When you click on the attachment (report.exe) to read the bulletin, it installs free malware on your computer. In another popular FBI email, you are accused of a crime by the Monetary Crimes division of the FBI, in which they require you to turn over information such as bank account numbers, or face prosecution.

12 percent: You order something online at a price too good to be true, and it is! The product is never delivered.

10 percent: You won the lottery! Just send a little cash in order to claim your prize of millions.

7 percent: George asks you to ship some merchandise overseas, and receive payment for it from a creditor of George's company. Since the creditor owes George more than the merchandise is worth, you forward George the difference. Then the creditor's check bounces, and you lose the merchandise and the difference you sent George.

Ten Years in Dubai

Dubai has done some amazing development over the past ten years.

Dubai spent billions of dollars and dirhams on this development, and then they ran out of money and couldn't make debt payments.

Now they are trying to get $23.5 billion debt restructured, among other things. Of course, that's tiny compared to recent U.S. bailouts.

It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

If you visit Dubai with a friend of the opposite sex, don't kiss in public or you're liable to end up in jail. A couple from the U.K. named Ayman and Charlotte were sentenced to a year in jail for kissing in public last November. They recently lost their appeal and will probably spend a month in jail and then be deported. A few months ago a couple from India were sentenced to three months in jail after sending each other "sexually explicit" text messages.

LHC is Running

I don't understand it all, but things look pretty exciting at the Large Hadron Collider.


Need to understand a sorting algorithm? You can watch it work:

National ID Card

It's probably a matter of time before the U.S. has a national ID card. People used to get really upset about the idea of "papers, please," but it doesn't get people nearly as riled up now as it once did. The latest proposal probably won't pass.

Unless something happens to change the political landscape, both the conservative and liberal, I would guess we'll have national ID cards with biometric data such as fingerprints or retina scans in a few years. Sometime after that, there will probably be DNA records attached.

With a federal ID that includes RFID, it will be possible to monitor just about everybody's location in the entire country by connecting a whole bunch of RFID readers to the internet.

It is fairly easy now to design a car that would require a federal ID card in order to start. The same car could have a GPS and RFID chip, so the car and the driver's location, recent path, recent speeds, etc., are passed along to the government computers. This would make it easy to issue speeding tickets and catch bank robbers.

This isn't something from a science fiction novel -- this could be implemented today.
Of course, it won't happen right away. There will be a lot of arguments first about law enforcement and security vs. privacy, and personal freedom. But if someone decides to set off a small nuclear explosion or dirty bomb anywhere in the U.S., that may be all it takes to get people to trade some privacy and personal freedom for government control.

Garage Improvement

Get a jet fighter for your own garage!


Here's a good article about a modern big-time thief.

Income Taxes

I read quite a bit about people saying income tax rates are too high or too low. Most of them don't bother to look at all the historical rates. The people who want higher taxes quote rates from the 1950's and early 1960's when the maximum tax rate was over 90%. Those who want lower rates look at the late 1920's (25%) or 1988-1990 (28%).

Here are all the maximum personal income tax rates in the U.S., 1913 to 2009. The tax rates in this chart are the maximum tax rates, for people making a lot of money.


When you compare U.S. taxes to those of other countries, you should consider things like sales tax, value added tax, property tax, payroll taxes, and state income taxes. The U.S. has lower taxes than most of Europe, both maximum income tax rate and overall taxes.

I would be in favor of a federal tax on gasoline and diesel of $5 per gallon. This would cut the federal budget deficit, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and cut down on pollution. I'm not sure how it would affect the overall economy. But don't worry. The $5 gas tax won't happen in the U.S. any time soon -- probably not in my lifetime.

While on the subject of federal economics, here are the U.S. federal budget deficits since 1930, as a percentage of GDP:


Online Propaganda

280,000 Chinese computerists are working the web to make China look good. They are hired by the Chinese government to work as "online commentators."

The CIA, on the other hand, is not afraid to use old-school propaganda.

China isn't the only one doing paying people for favorable internet "press". U.S. companies and political groups have pioneered the practice, called astroturfing because of the fake grass-roots activity. Where can you find an astroturfer? Social sites such as Facebook or MySpace, sites with commentary such as Digg or Reddit, blog sites, and news sites.

Sites with user product reviews of products such as Amazon or Newegg are susceptible to fake reviews by people paid by manufacturers. Paying people for false reviews is considered bad manners by most and illegal by some. and Belkin got some bad publicity for this recently.

Article 42

Article 42 of the Magna Charta, A.D. 1215:

In the future it shall be lawful for anyone to leave and return to Our kingdom safely and securely by land and water, except those who have been imprisoned or outlawed according to the law of the land, people of a country at war with Us, and merchants who shall be dealt with as aforesaid.

I thought Homeland Security might be violating my rights under the common law of the Magna Charta when I try to leave the U.S., but in their defense, the Magna Charta does not mention the removal of shoes, and it does not mention airplanes.

It might be good for Homeland Security to consider the part about the right to "return to Our kingdom." They won't let former Air Force officer Steven Washburn come home because he's on the legendary "no fly list."

Considering that England is the source of the Magna Charta, it does seem that the authorities there are being overly strict when they won't even allow a homemade flamethrower on a motorcycle.

Hamas and BP

I normally try to avoid the big headlines in Junkmail, but I can't help myself this time.

In 1979 there was an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico much larger than today's. The world did not end.

In 1991, there was much more oil than that spilled into the Persian Gulf.

Some people claim that BP is not doing all it can to stop the oil leaking from the blown out well. If the people at BP have half a brain, they'll be doing everything they possibly can to stop the oil leak, for financial reasons if not environmental or social reasons. It would be dumb not to, and I believe they are.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization buy the U.S., Canada, and the European Union, among others. In the U.S., if you donate any money to Hamas, you go to jail. The 1988 Hamas Charter calls for replacing Israel with an Islamic state. The 2006 Hamas Electoral Manifesto calls for an "armed struggle" against Israel. Hamas won the Gaza Strip elections in 2006, and is now in charge of the Gaza Strip.

Considering all this, is it any wonder that Israel won't allow free shipping to the Gaza Strip? If they let ships into Gaza with no control, there would be a free-flow of major weapons to the Palestinians. Then there would be a big battle between the Palestinians and Israel. Israel would win. Tens of thousands of Palestinians (at a minimum) would be killed, and fewer Israelis. Gaza would be in worse shape than ever. This would be good for no country, with the possibility exception of Iran.

Several days ago, Israel stopped some ships from going to Gaza. Some people were killed and injured. Public opinion seems to be siding against Israel, which was the purpose of the flotilla. Both sides of the conflict are presented fairly well in Xinhuanet, a Chinese newspaper. It's nice to read something about this without all the hype and spin. It was surprising to me to find it in Chinese news.

Hamas journalists in Tel Aviv:

The Double Slit Experiment

For your quantum homework, read this article:

For extra credit, a good article on colliders:

Invasion of the Teddy Bears

This is a very moving video with lots of deep emotion. Best at 720 full screen.

Patent Pending

A Letter to the Patent Office from Professor Donald Knuth:

I agree.

A good (but long) video on the status of software patents today.

Google agrees that the patent system as we know it needs help. I hope they can do some good. They might carry more weight in Washington than I do.

More than 200,000 patents on software have been approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It is very unlikely that you could write a full-featured program today without infringing on someone's patent. This does not promote innovation, as patents are intended. It stifles innovation.

More Stupid Patent Articles

This section is optional. These patents will not be covered on the exam, but you might be the recipient of a surprise lawsuit over the patent of an idea that is neither novel nor nontrivial. IBM has a patent on taking reservations for the restroom. Smuckers has a patent on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without the crust. Amazon has a patent for taking an online order with only one click of the mouse.

This is not exactly what they had in mind when they passed the patent act in 1836.

A Real Turing Machine

A Turing Machine is a conceptual computing machine designed by Alan Turing in 1937. A guy from Wisconsin built one.

Here is today's computer science lecture:

Tow Away Zone

A couple of months ago, some people went to see the conservative star Glenn Beck at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. There was a parking lot with "event parking" signs, and people parked where they were supposed to. They thought.

During the talk, the "event parking" signs were taken down, and 53 cars were towed away. I think that's pretty funny. Nobody is saying who did it. Maybe they didn't like Glenn Beck, maybe they wanted to make some money for the tow truck driver, or maybe they just wanted to fill up a random parking lot for fun.

Solar Flares and Global Warming

What do Solar Flares have to do with climate change?  Nothing.


Here's an interesting article on rivalry between to crime kits for sale, used to distribute malware. For a few thousand dollars, you, too, can be in the malware business.

A new type of phishing can occur when you visit a bad site with some tabs open. The site will add some javascript code to modify one of the other tabs in a few minutes or hours, displaying a common login page. When you login, it copies the username and password, then transfers to that site. It's tricky because you don't see the faulty page when you visit the bad site -- it comes up later, and you assume it was already there on one of your other tabs.

Search Hijacking

Last fall I was staying in a Marriott brand motel (I forgot the actual name). I made sure it had high speed internet because I was going to be there for a few days. But the internet behaved oddly. When I did a Google search, it sent me to some odd search engine. Even when I used an outside DNS, it intercepted my search to Google and sent me to a different search with lots of ads. I consider this very bad manners.

Being the patient computer user I am, I spent quite some time on the phone with the motel and Marriott, meeting lots of new friends over the phone. They never did fix the "feature," but they ended up giving me a couple of nights worth of rewards points, and I moved out of the motel before my reservation was up.

I did take the trouble to adjust Adblock and my browser to bring a minor error causing constant reloads of the search page, and left that going all night for a couple of nights. I thought someone should pay for my trouble.

I was really surprised that anybody would have the gall to intercept my internet search, and I was even more surprised to learn that a big ISP in Little Rock, Windstream Communications, did the same thing! This caused a minor uproar among their customer base, and they "successfully implemented configuration changes today to restore original functionality to these search queries after hearing from affected customers." That sounds like a seriously mismanaged company to me.

Escondida Copper Mine

In 1981, some people in Chile discovered a copper deposit. It was a particularly big copper deposit. In 1988, they started moving 180,000,000 tons of overburden to get at the copper. In 1990, they shipped the first copper from the Escondida copper mine.

Today, the Escondida mine is the biggest copper producer in the world, with 9.5% of the world's copper output. In 2007, they produced 1,483,000 tons of copper worth over $10 billion. Currently, the mine processes about 230,000 tons of ore every day. The mine is at about 10,000 feet in altitude, and the open pit is about 1,000 feet deep.

      mine.jpg 21791695.jpg


Wikileaks is place in cyberspace where people can leak confidential and classified documents, documents removed from the internet by DMCA takedown notices, and other information, without being tracked down and prosecuted. It's interesting to browse the documents.

One of the documents in Wikileaks is from the U.S. Army, saying Wikileaks is a threat to the U.S. Army (more or less):

Who would leak classified government documents to a web site? A U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Iraq named Bradley. Among them was a video that cause quite a stir, of several people being shot in Baghdad by a U.S. helicopter.

Bradley bragged about his classified disclosures to the wrong person (named Adrian), who turned him into the FBI. In addition to the video, which I guess was classified as for being embarrassing as much as secret, Bradley leaked a quarter-million classified embassy cables. This was a little more serious, in my opinion, because it could get a lot of people killed.

Bradley is now in an army jail in Kuwait.


You too can be a psychic!

Air Marshalls

I don't know if John Duncan is a Democrat or Republican, and, although some consider it heresy to say so, I don't particularly care. He is correct about the U.S. Air Marshal Service. We spend $860,000,000 a year for a slew of Air Marshals who have made 4.2 arrests per year since 2001, at a low, low price of $200,000,000 per arrest.

In fact, there have been far more Air Marshals arrested for crimes than there have been people arrested by Air Marshals. In case you couldn't tell, I think the U.S. Air Marshal program is a waste of money.

Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania wrote about the money feeding frenzy of the war on terror last year: "Nearly 7 years after September 11, 2001, what accounts for the vast discrepancy between the terrorist threat facing America and the scale of our response? Why, absent any evidence of a serious terror threat, is a war on terror so enormous, so all encompassing, and still expanding? The fundamental answer is that al Qaeda's most important accomplishment was not to hijack our planes but to hijack our political system.

"For a multitude of politicians, interest groups and professional associations, corporations, media organizations, universities, local and state governments and federal agency officials, the war on terror is now a major profit center, a funding bonanza, and a set of slogans and sound bites to be inserted into budget, grant, and contract proposals. For the country as a whole, however, it has become maelstrom of waste."

Tracing VoIP

VoIP is Voice over IP. You can use VoIP to talk over the internet with services such as such as Skype or Magic Jack. A guy named Greg used Magic Jack to call U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi's office and threaten her. He added, "and the number I'm calling from is untraceable so if you're trying to trace it have fun."

But VoIP is traceable and Greg went to jail. Greg might not be what you would call a mental giant.

American Restroom Association

Yes, there is an American Restroom Association looking after your wants and needs.

Iceland Volcano

Here are some nice volcanic photos from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull. That's pronounced something like "spot."

As everybody on earth has heard, the volcano shut down a good part of European air travel, off and on, for weeks.

It is clear to me that Iceland intentionally started spewing ash at the U.K. in retaliation for the U.K. for calling them terrorists.

This month's British Prime Minister, David, said of Iceland's flagrant ash attack, "We'd send them a $1.7 billion bill for the damage, but Iceland doesn't have any money."

White House Source Code

The White House has release some of their web site's source code. I think that's pretty nice.


If you understand a^2 + b^2 = c^2 and the animation on this web site, you can figure out the rest.

San Francisco Passwords

In 2008, a guy named Terry quit his job as the head of the City of San Francisco's computer network. Terry was apparently the only one with administrator privileges, and Terry refused to tell anybody what his password was for 12 days. San Francisco's kept running just fine.

Terry apparently made the wrong people mad. He's been in jail ever since, on a $5,000,000 bond, until he was finally convicted of the state felony "denying computer services," and faces a sentence of up to 5 years. That seems a little severe to me, but maybe I don't know all the facts.


Legal wiretaps -- that kind with a warrant -- went up 26% from 2008 to 2009. 96% of these were mobile phones in drug cases. I'm not sure whether the increase is because of more wiretapping, or because they are using warrants now. I'm surprised there are not more wiretaps for terrorism cases. Maybe Homeland Security is above the law and doesn't use warrants.

Some illegal wiretappers are being prosecuted. For example, a motorcycle rider named Anthony was stopped for speeding. He had a helmet camera, as many riders do. Ten days later, Anthony posted the video of the policeman, named JD, who stopped him. JD was in plainclothes and an unmarked car. He jumped out of the car, waving his gun and screaming. Only after that did JD identify himself as a policeman.

When the video made it to YouTube, JD was embarrassed. Anthony had his equipment seized and was charged with criminal wiretapping.

This is not an isolated incident. In at least three states (Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland), it is now illegal to video any on-duty police officer. I don't like that. But they didn't ask me.

Floating Point Arithmetic

Floating point numbers are real numbers (as opposed to integers) on a computer. They work a lot like base 10 scientific notation, except in binary. If you are not familiar with this, now is your chance! This article is for programmers, but it's pretty well written. My baby sister Tricia might even understand it.

Curing the Blind

Gene therapy may be successful in curing at least one type of blindness.

I am happy to see the National Academy of Sciences putting the entire research papers online without fees.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy have been fairly successful developing artificial retinas.

I think that's very impressive.

Curing Ebola

The Ebola virus sports a 90% mortality rate in humans. Since it was discovered in 1976, researchers have been trying to come up with a cure or vaccination against the virus.

A team from Boston University has come up with a cure for Ebola in monkeys. This is a major breakthrough in Ebola treatment, and probably has applications with other viral hemorrhagic fevers.

Fuzzy DOQ

The USGS offers lots of mapping data, including satellite photos. As I'm sure you will recall, in Junkmail from January 2004, I noted that the USGS satellite photos of Washington DC had the Capitol building fuzzed up. I thought this was stupid.


Google Earth was released the following year. Today I noticed that you can see the Capitol building in both Google Earth and the USGS satellite data. Progress!


Maybe someday I won't have to take my shoes off in order to get on an airliner.


It looks like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) will become law before long. This is a little unusual, because Congress will not pass or approve it. It's also unusual because its primary impact has nothing to do with counterfeiting and little to do with trade. Instead, ACTA will regulate the internet.

Even worse than putting the government in charge, ACTA in its current form will give organizations such as the recording industry (RIAA) and movie industry (MPAA) the indirect authority to shut down web sites and ban individuals from the internet.

Coincidentally, the RIAA and MPAA were involved in the development, drafting, and negotiations of ACTA. The U.S. Congress was not informed of the details of the negotiations, even when they asked for the information. Last year the White House said it would "damage the national security" if they released information on ACTA.

In addition, coincidentally, the RIAA and MPAA pay millions of dollars to U.S. politicians in campaign contributions. Also, coincidentally, these five attorneys have all represented the RIAA in the past decade:
These five also come from the same law firm, Jenner and Block. In fairness, most seem to be exceptional lawyers, and, more importantly, Ginger Anders is an excellent violin player.

Finally, a draft of the agreement has been made public, not by the U.S. Government, but by the European Union. The European Parliament voted 633 to 13 to demand the release of ACTA's text, while the U.S. Congress collected campaign contributions from the RIAA and MPAA and refused to make it public.

It seems odd to me for industry groups to be involved in passing what amounts to a major law affecting the majority of the people in the U.S., without even informing Congress of the content. As a "trade agreement," ACTA can and probably will become law by executive order, without Congressional approval.

It makes me want to download some music. Legally, of course.

Gas Crater

About 350 people live in Darvasa (or Derweze) Turkmenistan, near the center of the country. In 1971, they were drilling for gas about 5 miles northeast of town (40°15.16'N 58°26.36'E). Somehow, the ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed into a hole about 250 feet in diameter.

There was gas coming out of the hole, so they lit it to keep it from causing problems. They figured it would burn out in a few days. It's been burning ever since, close to 40 years. Last April the President of Turkmenistan visited the area and mentioned putting out the fire.

Here are some photos from the Darvasa gas crater:



We'd never see a fire burning that long in the U.S.  Or would we? There is a coal seam underneath Centralia, Pennsylvania that's been burning since 1962.


The entire town was condemned in 1992, and only a few stragglers are left behind.,_Pennsylvania

U.S. Tourism

Congress passed a bill to promote the U.S. as a "premier tourist destination for international travelers." President Obama signed the bill in March. To help pay for this program, we will charge most international visitors an additional $10 to enter the U.S. That's a nice way to encourage tourism.

The travel industry is concerned because last year there were 2,400,000 fewer overseas visitors to the U.S. than in 2000. It's no surprise to me. Many international tourists are treated very badly by Homeland Security, TSA, and Customs and Border Protection, and the bad cases are widely publicized on the internet. This, and the impression of arriving at a police state at a U.S. airport, makes international travel to the U.S. quite unpleasant for many people.

I think if Homeland Security would stop treating international visitors like criminals, it would do much more good than an expensive advertising campaign.

In fact, if Homeland Security is looking for criminals, maybe they should take a look at their own employees in the TSA.


Lifelock is a company that is supposed to protect you from identity theft. I don't really like the term "identity theft," because even after your identity has been stolen you are still yourself. It's more like "identity sharing."

The boss at Lifelock uses their services confidently. He published his social security number in national advertisements, proving how safe you are with Lifelock's services. As it turns out, that's not very safe.

Some people shared Todd's identity 13 times to buy things and borrow money. And the Federal Trade Commission fined Lifelock $12,000,000 in March for deceptive advertising.

The company seems pretty shady to me. I'm surprised they've been in business as long as they have.


The Air Force launched the new, unmanned space shuttle X-37B from Cape Canaveral April 22. The X-37B is supposed to be able to stay in orbit up to 270 days. This time it will land at Vandenberg or Edwards Air Force Base. When it lands, it does everything from exit orbit to touch down autonomously. In other words, a human doesn't have to control it remotely.


As with most Air Force space flights, this one is classified. Since the X-37B is new, and big enough to be seen from the ground (29 feet long, 14-foot wingspan), it has generated some speculation as to its purpose.


Sniffing Wifi

About six years ago, a guy was arrested in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma for parking his car in a neighborhood and using an insecure wireless signal. Now he can just go to any McDonalds.

Google got in trouble for the same thing recently in Germany. They sniff wireless connections so they can map them on Google Maps. They claimed they did not "listen" to any data on the connections, but it seems that they actually did. Google said, "Oops, we did it by accident and didn't keep any of the data."

Now Google's "Oops" excuse isn't holding up very well. It seems that Google applied for a patent to use information it sniffs from inside wireless data packets to determine the location of the wireless networks. This might violate a few laws.

Big Subs

The largest submarines in the U.S. Navy are the Ohio class subs, 560 feet long and 42 feet wide. There are 18 active Ohio class submarines, built from 1976 to 1997. They can go 20-25 knots down to 800 feet (or more).

The largest submarines in the world are the Soviet (now Russian) Typhoon submarines, 574 feet long and 75 feet wide. Of the six Typhoon subs built, only one is active today.

Here are some good photos of a decommissioned Typhoon class submarine:

RIAA and $1.5 Trillion

The Recording Industry association RIAA claimed in U.S. Court that software company Limewire owes it $1,500,000,000,000 for writing software that lets people copy music. Never mind that this is over 3,000 times the total amount of money collected from every record, CD, recording, etc. ever sold by every record company that ever existed. Nice!

Dawn Spacecraft

On September 27, 2007, the Dawn spacecraft was launched toward the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.



In February last year, Dawn passed by Mars for a bit of gravity assist. Here's a photo Dawn took at Mars:


Now dawn is headed for the asteroid belt to study two asteroids.


Dawn is powered by xenon Ion Propulsion engines. There is a tank of xenon gas as a propellant, in the same family as neon but heavier. There are solar panels for electricity. The electricity charges the xenon and ionizes it. Then the engine lets some of the ionized xenon out through the nozzle, which provides just about enough thrust or force to lift a sheet of paper.

Here is the xenon feed system on the Dawn spacecraft. It might be a little more complex than I just described.


The ions leaving the thrusters provide thrust in the same manner as chemical rocket engines (equal and opposite reaction...). The ions are leaving the nozzles at 77,000 mph, about 10 times the speed of conventional rocket engine exhaust, making it 10 times more fuel efficient. This, in turn, allows a smaller and lighter spacecraft to perform a mission, which, in turn, allows a smaller booster rocket or larger boost at launch.

There are three ion propulsion engines on the Dawn spacecraft, used one at a time. They expect to wear out at least one thruster on the trip.

The ion propulsion engine doesn't push very hard, but over time this small amount of thrust adds up. In four days it can accelerate the Dawn Spacecraft from 0 to 60 mph, and in a year it can increase (or decrease) Dawn's speed by 5500 mph using only 230 lbs of xenon. The Dawn spacecraft carries close to 950 pounds of xenon propellant.

Over the eight-year mission (three years longer than the mission of the Starship Enterprise), the ion propulsion engines will provide around the same amount of thrust to the Dawn spacecraft as the Delta II Heavy rocket did at launch -- the Delta's nine solid-rocket boosters and the three main stages. However, most of the thrust of the Delta rocket was spent getting the Delta rocket itself moving. The ion propulsion engines could never lift the Dawn spacecraft off the ground, let alone achieve escape velocity.


Falcon 9 Launch

Elon Musk started Paypal, and then he started SpaceX. SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral June 4.


SpaceX is planning to use this rocket to fly the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, in addition to launching satellites and doing the other mundane things that rockets do. They won a contract in 2008 to make 12 trips to the Space Station. Here's a 3-D model (I think) of the Dragon:


Pictures of Today!

Hawaii road (Big Island)

Colorado road

Colorado snow: cornice, avalanche, and pillow snow.

Great white egret, showing off.
Pinkney Island, South Carolina

Great white egret.
Pinkney Island, South Carolina

Pinkney Island, South Carolina

Pinkney Island, South Carolina



Killdeer pretending to be injured, to lure me away from its nest.

Killdeer pretending to be injured, to lure me away from its nest.

Washington Flower

Washington Flower

Flower connoisseur

Leaf bee?

Scissortail on the Ground

Mockingbird mocking

Washington Flower (almost)


Monarchs breeding

Monarchs breeding

Bloomin' Prickly Pear

Bloomin' Prickly Pear

Moon over Maroon Bells
Moon over Maroon

Crestone, Colorado
Crestone, Colorado

Aircam over Arkansas
Aircam over Arkansas
Aircam over Arkansas
Aircam over Arkansas
Snapping turtle in the back yard
Snapping turtle in the back yard