More Junkmail from Bob!

September 19, 2010
Important Stuff.

Artificial Retina

Last Junkmail I mentioned artificial retinas. Here's an article from Lawrence Livermore Labs about their research on the project. ...

Solar Dynamics Observatory

Last February NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a 3-ton satellite that looks at the sun with four telescopes and some other sensors.

SDO telescopes:

The SDO takes more photos at higher resolution on more wavelengths than the earlier solar observatories SOHO and STEREO. The photos show a lot of detail I miss with my eyes or even my digital camera. Incidentally, it's bad for a digital camera when you let the sun shine on the lens.

This photo from SDO shows the extreme ultraviolet wavelengths of the sun on March 30th, 2010.


To get these photos (and a bunch of other data), the SDO transmits data to earth at 150 mbps, the equivalent of about 100 internet DSL downloads at once, or enough to send half a million photos from my digital camera per day. This data rate is close to 50 times that of any other NASA spacecraft.

In order to send this much data, the satellite stays connected all the time to a single ground station outside Las Cruces, New Mexico. This allows the satellite to stream data at its max rate all the time, rather than storing it up and sending bursts. There are two dish antennas at the ground station, each almost 60 feet in diameter.


A geostationary orbit would allow a constant connection to the ground station, but the SDO is in an inclined geosynchronous orbit instead. That means that the satellite orbits once every 24 hours, but instead of remaining over a single point on the equator, it moves north and south from a point on the equator every day. It still stays in constant contact with the ground station, but this allows it to remain in sight of the sun all the time, except for two or three weeks twice a year when it makes a daily crossing of the earth's shadow. SDO also crosses the moon's shadow three times per year.

When I look at the sun, all I see is a bright spot. Even after I stop looking at it. But the sun is pretty complex, with atmosphere, storms, and strong magnetic fields. It spews stuff in fountains and jets, some of it all the way to Earth and beyond. Powering all this is a mass of nuclear fusion reactions, enough to heat Oklahoma to more than 100 degrees in the summer. It's impressive to do that from distance of 92,955,807 miles.

In addition to light, the sun gives off a bunch of other stuff. There are some exciting events that happen regularly on the sun, and I usually don't even notice. For example, Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) happen once every couple of days during the low season and a few times per day during the high season of the 11-year solar cycle.

In the average CME, the sun blasts out one or two billion tons of matter, mainly loose electrons and protons, at a speed of about a million miles per hour.

CMEs occur during strong solar flares. A solar flare is when a large explosion in the Sun's atmosphere gives off a whole bunch of energy spread across the entire electromagnetic spectrum -- from radio to gamma rays. It's caused by "magnetic reconnection," which I don't really understand. But I do understand the solar flares are really, really powerful. For example, during a solar flare, the sun may give off 1000 times its normal amount of x-rays.

Here is an SDO photo of a Solar flare last month when two CMEs were launched at earth:
On August 1st, almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. There was a C3-class solar flare (white area on upper left), a solar tsunami (wave-like structure, upper right), multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more. This multi-wavelength (211, 193 & 171 Angstrom) extreme ultraviolet snapshot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows the sun's northern hemisphere in mid-eruption. Different colors in the image represent different gas temperatures ranging from ~1 to 2 million degrees K.

One thing that I like about SDO is that the raw data is accessible online, free. I haven't needed it yet, but when I do I'll know where to get it.

Sometime in the next 8 years or so, NASA plans to launch a spacecraft directly into the sun. That should get some interesting data.

The Healy

My baby daughter Melinda is out wandering around the Arctic Ocean on the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy. She'll be at sea for 3 or 4 weeks.


She says she's doing research, but I think she's just taking a pleasure cruise and getting in some fishing.

Here she is getting ready for the helicopter ride out to the ship:

They upload a photo from the mast every hour with their location, temperature, and wind. You can click on the top link here to see the latest:

Melinda sunbathing:

More info from the Woods Hole blog site:

Interstellar Space Travel

I was thinking about taking a quick trip out to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. It's about 4.2 light years to the west. I considered Alpha Centauri, but I was afraid its binary star system might confuse the Garmin GPS I'd use for navigation.

One of the first steps for my trip is to calculate the power required. For a variety of practical factors, I'll make it a 50-year trip. I could make it in 4.2 years, or close to it, but that would require a lot more power, because of the higher acceleration, and would likely smash my body against the back wall of the spacecraft, again because of the higher acceleration. Taking a leisurely 50-year trip to Proxima Centauri will take a lot less fuel, and so less weight, and I'll have time for some reading.

The spacecraft that went to the moon weighed in at about 66,000 pounds, ten times the weight of the Solar Dynamics Observatory. I'll be gone for 50 years, so I might need a little more than that for food, water, recreation, and elbow space. But I can use the latest technology to save weight, and I could probably live in a confined space for a mere 50 years.

To accomplish the acceleration (first half of the trip) and deceleration (second half) of 66,000 lbs going 4.2 light years in 50 years requires about 68 megawatts of energy, or about 15% of a Chouteau coal-fired power plant unit, or 50% of the output from Pensacola Dam. Over the 50 years, that adds up to around 30 million gigawatt-hours, or 30 terawatt-hours.

If I am efficient and generate 1 mwh with 500 lbs of coal, we'll need 467,000,000 lbs of coal and 643,000,000 lbs of oxygen, which will add little weight to my 66,000 lb spacecraft. Of course, it would take millions of times more coal and oxygen than this to accelerate the coal and oxygen itself.

So maybe oxidation is not the best way to power my spacecraft. Even if I use natural gas, hydrogen, or firewood, it will not be feasible.

So I'll go with nuclear power. But it will still take a whole lot of fuel to generate the 30 terawatt-hours of power I need to get to Proxima Centauri, even at near 100% efficiency. In addition, if I use thrusters that use jets of matter to propel the spacecraft, I will need a lot of tons of matter to spew out the nozzles. And it will require millions more tons to accelerate those tons...

This trip to Proxima Centauri is sure getting complicated. It just takes far too much power to get there in a reasonable time. Maybe there is a reason I have never met someone from another star system.

F-18 Crash

On July 23, a Canadian F-18 crashed when the pilot was practicing for an air show at Lethbridge, Alberta the following day. One of the engines lost power at a critical time. There was no way to recover, so the pilot ejected.

You can see the canopy in the left part of the photo above. The small parachute behind the pilot is used to pull out the main parachute. The pilot is still in the seat, and rockets in the seat are pushing the pilot away from the plane. The pilot's head is pushed down by the force of the rockets. He had compression fractures of three vertebrea. He ejected parallel to the ground, but the ejection seat must have figured that out because rockets are pushing the pilot upward.

The seat has separated from the pilot, and the main parachute is coming out.

The right engine is the one that lost power. You can see flames coming from the left engine.

The pilot seat is still falling to the ground.

Aftermath. The F-18 looks a lot bigger on the ground.

It's hard to believe how fast this all happened. Eight seconds into this video, the plane started to yaw to the right when the right engine lost power. 4 seconds later, the pilot had evaluated the situation (correctly) and ejected. 2 seconds after that, the plane hit the ground. 3 seconds after that, the pilot reached the ground, unconscious but safe.

Pilot Brian Bews is expected to make a full recovery. He said that Martin Baker, the ejection seat manufacturer, is his new best friend.

A Saudi Army Lieutenant Colonel died August 24 in Spain when his ejection seat separated from the parachute. The Eurofighter Typhoon probably experienced a bird strike. The Spanish instructor ejected successfully. Germany and the U.K. have grounded their fleets of Eurofighters after the incident.

Hard Landings

On August 26, a Jet Blue Airbus A320 landed at Sacramento with the parking brake on and blew out its four main tires. The tires caught on fire and the passengers didn't have to wait so long to get off the plane. They took the slides. 7 people received minor injuries.

The parking brake had "become engaged" during the approach to Sacramento at an altitude of 5,100 feet. Neither pilot recalled any abnormal indications or warnings associated with the braking system prior to landing.

In 1966, Scott Crossfield made a hard landing in the California desert in an X-15.


Terrorists are Everywhere!

Two or three months ago, a guy in Canada named Brian was headed to Mississauga, Ontario to play a game. It was a fantasy role-playing game. Surprisingly, there are some of these games in real life, not just online.

Instead of using real swords, arrows, and such, Brian had made his own cushion-tipped arrows, taped-up shield, and other toy weapons. But the ever-vigilant Toronto Police took Brian's toys and displayed them on TV as "weapons seized from criminals."

The police said that the arrows could have been doused with gasoline, set on fire, and shot at important people. Brian was very lucky, because the police did not think of the possibility of him dousing his underwear with gasoline, setting it on fire, and flinging it at important people.

City Hall in Decatur, Alabama was evacuated and almost blown to smithereens by a small package of baby powder in the ladies room on Monday.

Steve Jobs attempted to hijack his own plane in Osaka, Japan using ninja throwing stars. Luckily, airport security people took the stars away from him before he could take over his plane. Jobs now plans to get some ninja throwing stars from Mark McDonald.

A SWAT team of about a dozen police officers was called last month at Georgia Tech after a guy walked into a dorm with his girlfriend. He had an umbrella with a handle that looked like a samurai sword handle. The offending umbrella has been banned from campus.

A guy named Walter from New Hampshire was arrested last March for "possessing a powerful pipe bomb." The state police bomb squad destroyed the bomb with a water cannon at the scene of the crime.

Last week they dropped the charges against Walter when they finally figured out that his bomb was really a "tire thumper" used to check truck tire pressure. The bomb in question was a piece of PVC pipe with end caps and weights inside. It only took them six months to figure this out -- not bad for government work.

Police arrested a guy named Justin in North Carolina for "providing information related to the making, use or manufacturing of an explosive, destructive device or weapon of mass destruction to a person Moose believed was planning to bomb a North Carolina clinic." Among other things, Justin put a bunch of bombing info on his Facebook page. He said he was the Christian counterpart of Usama bin Laden. I'm not sure I understand his logic, especially when it comes to the part about loving your enemies.

Last month eight Pakistani military officers led by a Rear Admiral were on their way to a meeting with U.S. Central Command in Florida. After experiencing lots of extra security checks, they boarded their United Airlines flight from Washington to Tampa. One of the Pakistanis said he hoped this was the last plane to their destination.

A lady overheard this, concluded the eight military officers from Pakistan must be terrorists, and reported them to a flight attendant. United Airlines had them removed from the plane. The Pakistanis finally got mad and went home, skipping the high-level meeting with U.S. Central Command. This should ensure Pakistan's cooperation with the U.S. against the Taliban.

Kiska Bombing

Original caption: This photo, released in Washington today (March 24, 1943), shows columns of smoke rising from Japanese installations on Kiska Island in the Aleutians, after a recent heavy raid by U.S. Army Air Forces Bombers. The raid badly damaged the Jap's secondary seaplane hangar. Note giant Jap four-engined seaplane, its tail section missing and washed up on the beach (near top, right corner of photo), and four float type Zero fighter on the water just off the beach, (between wrecked seaplane and center of photo).


Wandering About Alaska

A few hearty and intellectually deprived souls went to Alaska last July and August. We meandered from Ketchikan to Savoonga to Barter Island, and lots of places in between. Here are some pictures.

Homeland Security

It seems to me that Homeland Security has so much money and so many people that they have to look for things to do, else lose their excess funding. One good example is the program called "Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT)."

There are 3,000 officers at 161 airports around the country looking for suspicious-looking people, at the low, low price of $212,000,000 per year. Homeland Security is asking for an extra $20,000,000 per year for what they call the vital program.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported, "No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behaviour, including intent," and that the TSA had no business deploying SPOT "without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment."

Here's the government's description of the program. They're not quite as negative as I am.

The Department of Homeland Security is doing something that I like. They're scanning irises. I was wondering how they get those flowers to lay down flat in a flatbed scanner, but then I figured out this was something for identification of eyeballs, and whose head they are in.

They can take a digital photo of my eye from 3 or 4 feet away and get a unique ID on my iris. This makes a fast, positive ID. There are some privacy fans who don't like the idea, but I think it's pretty cool.


The US Copyright Group has sued over 14,000 IP addresses and/or people in a single lawsuit.

While there is some question about whether 14,000 people can be required to show up in court in Washington DC for the lawsuit, and where they'll find a courtroom big enough for all those people, the lawsuit is going ahead.

ISPs of the people being sued have been served subpoenas requiring them to give a name and address associated with every IP address the US Copyright Group has come up with.

I guess nobody has figured out that there is not a 1-to-1 correspondence between IP addresses and computers or between IP addresses and people. You can have several computers on a single IP address, several users on a single computer, a computer with no users, a computer on several IP addresses, and even a person without a computer.

Maybe the U.S. Supreme court will decide that IP addresses are people just like corporations are. Then the corporations can sue the IP addresses, and the real people won't have to get involved.

Laptop Border Searches

There has been some controversy over the past several months over border searches of laptops, cell phones, and other electronic devices.

Customs searched the electronic devices of 6,500 people between October 2008 and June 2010. About half of these were U.S. citizens. Customs does not have to have any reason to suspect wrongdoing before they search your laptop.

Recently, a guy from New York was crossing the Canadian border when U.S. Customs took his laptop to search it. They kept the laptop for 11 days.

If Customs would use just a little bit of common sense, they'd copy the hard drive and send people on their way, instead of keeping the whole laptop. Some people need to use their laptops daily for work and playing chess.

I've never had an electronic device searched, that I know of. But I think it would be funny to cross the border with a blank hard drive and then say, "What did you do to all my zeros and ones?!" when they search it.

iPad Insecurity

Last Junkmail I mentioned that someone copied the email addresses of 114,000 early iPad users, which included quite a few important people. I expected the FBI to expend some serious resources to catch and prosecute the person who harvested these email addresses.

Not long after that, the Arkansas hacker who copied those email addresses was arrested on multiple drug charges after the FBI searched his home

Pop Bottles

If you take a 2-liter Diet Coke bottle, or any other similar bottle, you can make it pop by putting something in it that expands, like dry ice and water, and screwing the lid on. You can also use vinegar and baking soda, calcium carbide and water, or about 2,527 other combinations of commonly available materials.

In the case of dry ice and water, the water causes the dry ice to sublime to a gas (dry ice is frozen CO2), and eventually it builds up enough pressure to pop the bottle. When that happens, some things might get a little wet from the water, but not much else.

The bottle pop is about 3% as powerful as an M80 firecracker, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.


For you youngsters, an M80 is a powerful firecracker that was legal in the U.S. until 1966. You could put one under a 5-gallon bucket and it would lift it several feet in the air.

But even an M80 is nowhere near as powerful as a real bomb. Popping a 2-liter bottle seems to me less powerful than an ordinary black-cat firecracker, and it has no fire associated with it.

Kids have been popping plastic bottles like that ever since there have been plastic bottles. However, now they are called bottle bombs or dry ice bombs, but they're still not very powerful. You can find hundreds of "dry ice bombs" on YouTube.

Last June, a 14-year-old boy in Omaha popped a pop bottle using dry ice and water. His mother, Dawn Martens, was arrested and charged with two felonies, possession of a destructive device and child abuse. Meanwhile, the people on Mythbusters who popped a bottle got away.

I don't think I'll move to Omaha.

Seizing Domains

Last July the U.S. Justice department seized the domains and bank account of seven web sites that were streaming movies, and the sites were replaced with a message saying:

This domain name has been seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Special Agent in Charge New York City Office in accordance with a seizure warrant obtained by the New York Attorney General's Office for the Southern District of New York and issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. ยงยง981 and 2323 by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

It's important to note that 30 of about 63 words in that sentence are capitalized. Very impressive!

These were all fairly popular sites, ranked in the top 10,000 sites on the web. is slightly lower at 302,192 in the U.S.

The largest of these sites,, promptly registered a new domain name in China and got hosting somewhere outside the U.S. It's still in operation.

I assume the other sites are still in business under other names, too. The government notices are still up on the original sites.

Not satisfied with government action, some Hollywood movie companies have hired Indian software firm Aiplex Software to carry out Denial of Service attacks against movie pirate sites. This is illegal, by the way.

A group on, a wide-open message board full of internet rowdies, decided to retaliate and took down the MPAA and Aiplex web sites with their own DoS attacks.

They did this using the Low Orbit Ion Cannon. No, that's not a satellite. It's open source software that can be configured to repeatedly ping a web site. When 50,000 irate internet users do this at once, it can effectively shut down a site. In truth, not all 50,000 of them have to be irate. A couple of them can be doing it for kicks, and it will still work.


Here is an outstanding music video:

Republican Health

Are Republicans fat?  9 out of the 10 of the states with the highest percentage of overweight people are "red states," while all 10 of the least overweight states are "blue states."


There's probably a reason for that, but I have no clue what it is. At any rate, the report on obesity is worth reading.


Are the people at National Public Radio (and/or American Public Media) getting old and lazy?

The other morning I woke up to NPR news. The lead news story was about runaway horses injuring some people. They went on with a story that claimed being overweight is healthier than being normal weight, as long as you exercise. They also mentioned that you cannot lose weight unless you exercise at least an hour every day.

Some days later, I heard a commentator on public radio's Marketplace who said, "Obama's proposed corporate tax cuts won't generate more jobs, because they won't put any more money in worker's pockets." That's a dumb statement, no matter where you stand on tax cuts. If corporations have more money, some will hire more people. If workers have more money, they won't be hiring anybody.

Actually, I should not use the term National Public Radio any more. They're changing their name to NPR.

Cable News Network and CNN Headline News are now CNN and HLN. I guess they wanted to take "News" out of the name since their shows now are more variety shows than news.

International Polar Year

The first International Polar Year was 1881 to 1884. That looks like 3 or 4 years to me, but maybe they counted differently back then. This site is really interesting, complete with photos and drawings.


There have been a lot of people getting killed in Mexico. Since 2006, tens of thousands of people have been killed in violence related to the illegal drug business.

On the U.S. side of the border, the Mexican drug cartels are paying off hundreds of U.S. Customs agents. 770 corruption investigations were opened this year alone.

Stupid Software Patents

A few months ago I read about this a in The Netherlands named Roy who wrote a program to search for music digitally, using the contents of the sound file instead of the name or file information. He called it a "weekend hack" and posted his code in a blog.

Landmark Digital Services started writing him, claiming patent infringement. They told him, among other things, that he couldn't even describe the algorithm online, even though the algorithm is described online in their patent application.

The algorithm is also described elsewhere on the internet:

I think Roy in The Netherlands has figured out that since the software patent has not been registered in The Netherlands, he's free to post his code in The Netherlands. It must be nice not to have to deal with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Who is Landmark Digital Services? Before I looked it up, I had guessed they were just another patent troll. However, they are a subsidiary of BMI, the recording company. I read that they use the audio recognition software to recognize songs being played so they can sue the people who play them. It's a nice way to treat your customers.

Landmark Digital Services LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), a company long known for visionary technical innovation driven by a genuine passion for music. In 2005, BMI acquired the complete patent portfolio from Shazam Entertainment Ltd. This included patents covering award-winning BlueArrow digital audio recognition technology. BMI established Landmark Digital Services, LLC to exploit the value of this patented technology.

This is one more instance in which someone bought a patent and is using it to stifle creativity and innovation. It's a little like Microsoft's patent on how to turn a page in a digital book, except Microsoft did come up with this patent on its own:

Oracle Corporation has said that software patents are stupid, and they oppose the patentability of software. But they're going to keep getting software patents because everybody else is.

Maybe he needs some defensive patents. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen just filed patent lawsuits against Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, and Yahoo. The patents involved are intuitively obvious to anybody with half a brain, which might not say much about the USPTO patent examiner who let them slip through.

Subsistence Whale Hunting

This is how they hunt whales in the Faroe Islands (July 23, 2010). It's traditional.

National Security Letters

U.S. National Security Letters don't make me feel very secure.


Need a cheap vacation? Be a lighthouse tender for a few days. Or months.


There is a big deal in the news over a girl in Iran scheduled to be stoned for infidelity or adultery or something like that. But nobody seems to care that they've been stoning people in Afghanistan lately. I wonder why that is.

Radio Telephones

The latest plan by the RIAA is to require radio stations to pay recording artists for the music they play, each time they play it.

Then, they plan to require every cell phone to come with an FM radio receiver.

That sounds like an excellent idea. Maybe I can get Congress to require every computer to come with my software installed, and require everybody with a computer to pay me a royalty. But I guess that would never work because I don't make campaign contributions.


Who gets stimulus money? Texas gets $928 per person, Oklahoma $1,144, Alaska $3,145, and the District of Columbia gets $6,587 per person.

Why does Alaska get so much, when they're supposed to be so independent? Idunno.

Eternal Copyrights

At least they seem eternal, thanks to Disney and other companies' campaign contributions.

Bailout Information

A couple of years ago, the U.S. Federal Reserve loaned some money to some banks. In fact, they loaned the money to a lot of banks, and they loaned a lot of money to them.

Now Bloomberg and some other news companies would like some details on these transactions, such as the bank, the amount loaned, and the collateral used to back the loan. I would like to see those details, too, but not many people care about that.

Bloomberg filed some Freedom of Information forms, and the Federal Reserve refused to fork over the information at all, let alone freely.

So Bloomberg sued. And won. And won on appeal. Now the Federal Reserve has 60 days to decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They say they can't give out that information because it will damage the banks' competitiveness.

That's a pretty lame argument, considering that these loans happened two years ago. Even if those banks were close to collapse then, they shouldn't be now. I doubt if anything too shady was going on, but all this makes me wonder why the Fed is so adamant about not releasing information. They are spending all kinds of money on legal fees to avoid releasing the information that should be public to begin with.

The reason may be that many of the banks are essentially insolvent, if you consider the assets such as mortgage-backed securities that have not been written down to their current market value. It is legal not to write down the assets -- Congress changed the law.

Hacker Arrest

Here's an interesting story about a Russian hacker who was arrested in France for internet crimes with U.S. victims.

Arms for All

A guy from Miami Beach named Efraim got a $300 million contract with the Pentagon to provide weapons for Afghanistan. He sold hand grenades, and rocket-propelled grenades, mortar and artillery rounds, and tens of millions AK-47 rounds.

The contract was canceled when it the New York Times learned he was selling decades-old repackaged ammunition from China, through Albania.

Efraim pled guilty to a single conspiracy count in 2009. Then last month, Efraim was arrested again on some more firearms charges.

Pentagon Virus

An infected flash drive planted a computer virus on some U.S. military networks. It looks like it was not too sophisticated, and the government should have had a few safeguards in place to prevent this sort of thing -- like turning off the autorun option on removable media.

Leaking Oil

On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico had a big explosion and fire, and it sprang a leak. It was pretty hard to stop the leak. BP capped the well on July 15 and plugged the well casing with cement in August. They plan to seal any gaps between the casing and the hole within a few days.

The oil spill didn't do as much damage as was expected by most people and hoped for by lawyers.

The Mississippi River and ocean currents helped keep the oil off shore.

10 or 30 times more birds got oily from the 1989 oil spill in Prince William Sound than this year in the Gulf of Mexico, even though about 10 times more oil was spilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sea turtles took the Gulf oil spill pretty well, too. About 600 were stranded, but only 56 dead ones were found, and most of those didn't die from the oil spill.

The consensus is, outside Louisiana politicians and others who hope to gain from catastrophe, that the area will recover soon from the oil spill, and much of it already has. 74% of the oil from the well has been captured, burned, skimmed, evaporated, dissolution, or dispersed. The rest of the oil "is on or just below the surface as light sheen or weathered tar balls, has washed ashore or been collected from the shore, or is buried in sand and sediments," according to NOAA and USGS.

Some people claim this report is too conservative. It seems to me that most of the people complaining have something to gain (i.e., money) by making the spill look bad.

Samantha Joye is a professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia. She and a team of people are out on the research vessel Oceanus researching the Gulf oil spill on a trip sponsored by NOAA. Here is one of her blog entries. Her questions and answers are really good. They are informative, factual, and not sensationalized like so much of the news on the oil spill.

Samantha got quite a bit of publicity when she discovered the fabled "oil plume" last May. She is in the news again, after they discovered a layer of oil 3 cm thick on the ocean bottom near the Deepwater Horizon well.

Here's an interesting article about getting the well capped.

This week the Department of the Interior announced they will require oil companies to plug about 3,000 nonproducing wells and dismantle 650 production platforms that are not being used. Previously, the oil companies could wait until their leases expired before doing this. I think this is a good idea.

Ahead Stop

Today's comics.

$10 Million Bank Robbery

Last March, the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil suit to recover $10,000,000 from some people who stole the money from credit card companies. They set up phony credit card merchant accounts, got ahold of a bunch of credit card numbers, and then spent four years charging credit cards anywhere from 20 cent to 9 dollars apiece. They only hit each card once, so not many cardholders noticed or complained.

They got away with about $10 million, transferring all but $100,000 or so to Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Kyrgyzstan. The scammers have not been caught.

Zip Code Info

This is a cool site where you can get census info on any zip code. It's pretty interesting to browse. (I did mention this in Junkmail 5 years ago, but I was afraid someone might have forgotten.)


Paul Bertorelli wrote something about September 11, 2001 that I wholeheartedly agree with. I rarely find someone who agrees with me.

"There's a permeable membrane between respectful remembrance and wallowing self-pity and nine years on, we tend more toward the latter than the former. We do maudlin in this country like no other. We've raised paranoia to religious status. 911 is politicized beyond anything decent. We've done to ourselves more harm than anything these bums could have inflicted upon us."

In case you are interested in aviation, the AVWeb newsletter is really good.

Washington UAV

I have done some occasional whining and complaining about the Aircraft Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) around Washington, DC, and how it was installed backwards, keeping citizens out of Washington instead of keeping the dangerous politicians in.

The ADIZ is now known as a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). This actually makes more sense than calling it an ADIZ, which is normally used for people entering U.S airspace from overseas. But when you are flying around and meander into the Washington SFRA, you still get to enjoy a close-up view of F-16s, complete with missiles. They normally entice you to land somewhere close by, and then you get an interview by some Secret Service Agents, apparently in case you want a job with the Secret Service.

On August 2, a helicopter strayed 23 miles into the Washington SFRA and flew around at about 1700 feet above the ground. It was 24-feet long and weighed 3,150 lbs, not counting the pilot. That's because it had no pilot. The Secret Service had nobody to interview!

The MQ-8 UAV helicopter was flying out of Pawtuxet River Naval Air Station in Maryland, when it decided to go off on its own for a while. The computer in the UAV claimed to have lost communications, but I believe it just decided to go off on a sightseeing tour. I did that once in the Aircam.

Eventually, the Navy used another ground control station to reestablish communications, and the MQ-8 came back and landed, no doubt receiving a severe dressing down by the commanding officer.

I would have guessed they'd program a UAV do something predictable like return to base or circle when it loses contact with its controller. Maybe they do now.

October Mid-Air

Last October, a Coast Guard C-130 and Marine Cobra AH-1 helicopter had a mid-air collision in a military training area off the coast of California. The C-130 was on a search and rescue mission, and the AH-1 was on a practice mission in formation flight with three others. It was night, and the helicopters were not using anti-collision lights or transponders. The C-130 was in contact with the navy controller, but was not given a traffic warning.

Tall Clouds

The U-2 and Global Hawk UAV fly up to 65,000 feet high, "above the weather." But not all weather is below 65,000 feet. The other day, I noticed a fairly isolated thunderstorm that was 70,000 feet high:


There is a new UAV used for reconnaissance, the RQ-170. It's a flying wing. The details are not public yet, but its wingspan is around 65 feet and it looks like it has a single jet engine. They are flying out of South Korea, Afghanistan, and Tonopah, Nevada.

Another reconnaissance UAV under testing is the hydrogen-powered Global Observer, which will be able to stay in the air for a week. As long as it doesn't stray over Washington airspace.

Translucent Government

I rant and rave about ACTA fairly often, because it's a push by the recording industry to muck up my computer and the internet in general. I also don't like it because it is a treaty and/or law that has no Congressional knowledge or oversight, let alone approval. ACTA has been negotiated in secret by a few people from the Commerce Department and several executives from the recording industry.

Even after Congressional requests, they refused to show draft copies of the agreement to Congress. The United States even tried to get Europe to keep the details of ACTA secret. Europe didn't. Maybe that's because Europe has limits on campaign contributions from organizations like the RIAA and MPAA.

Identified Flying Objects

There are a lot of satellites flying around the earth. You can see them here:

If you zoom out, you can see the concentrated ring of geostationary satellites around the equator.

More than 80% of all known asteroids have been discovered in the past ten years.


This is an impressive optical illusion. I usually can tell one shade from another, but...

King Flight Schools

John and Martha own King Schools, a leading company that provides aviation ground school training and materials. They recently landed at Santa Barbara, California, and were ordered from their plane at gunpoint, handcuffed, and hauled off by police in separate cars.

But it was all a mistake. The King's airplane had the same tail number as a plane (of a different type) that had been stolen eight years earlier.

The Department of Homeland Security is asking people to report any suspicious activity at airports by private pilots, such as being vague about their travel itinerary or having an excessive amount of luggage. That would include me, most of the time.

Political Delinquency

About 638 people who work for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives owe past-due income taxes, totaling $9.3 million. That's 4% of the total working for the House and Senate, about $14,500 each.

I think if I owed back taxes like that, the IRS would start auctioning off my property. It also makes me wonder... if 638 people are only 4% of the staff at the House and Senate, why in the world are 18,000 people working there? That's 33 people per politician.

Automotive X-Prize

Three cars shared the $10 million purse for the Automotive X-Prize.

Ponzi Scammers

What do you do when you lose your money in a Ponzi scheme? One approach is to pretend to be FBI agents and steal it back.

North Port, Florida

A lady named Diane lives in North Port, Florida. Diane had a 1986 Oldsmobile, but it was unreliable. So her Church gave her a 1998 Mercury Sable. She left her old Olds in the driveway for four months until the church picked it up as a donation. During that time, the tag expired and she got a citation for having a car in her driveway without a current tag.

The city charged her $50 per day and made it retroactive to the previous December when her tag had expired. Since Diane did not notify the city when the church took her old car, they say she still owes $50 per day. Diane found out about this in June 2008 when the city sued her for more than $27,000. The city paid the suing lawyers more than $9,000 to sue her.

This all sounds pretty severe, but there is another homeowner in North Port who owes $183,000 for code violations. I hope all this doesn't give the thriving metropolis of Pryor any ideas.

Politics as Usual

Senator Dodd is the head of the Senate Banking Committee. He authored a law giving the Treasury Department authority to make an interim appoint for the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For whatever reason, a lot of people don't like Elizabeth Warren, who was expected to be the appointee, and it's creating a minor hoopla in Washington.

Mr. Dodd, when asked about the interim appointment powers, said, "I don't know what it is. I never heard of it before. It's kind of unique isn't it?"

I guess he uses a ghostwriter.

Poverty Level

There are more people living below the poverty level in the U.S. than ever before. There are also more people living above the poverty level in the U.S. than ever before, but that's not news.

News organizations try to make it sound like there are 40 million starving people in the United States. That's not true.

The definition of poverty has been expanded. "Government benefits" have also expanded, but are not considered in poverty calculations. So quite a few people living below the poverty level live a decent life and don't even consider themselves poor. Even the very poor can get food and shelter in the U.S.

The percentage of people below the poverty level in the U.S. was about the same or a little higher in 1994, 1983, and 1966.

Sailplane Accident

A guy named Mike crashed a sailplane at an air show in England on August 23. He cracked three vertebrae, but should make a full recovery.

Pictures of Today!

Two ferries crossing the Dover Strait. France is on the other side. England and Germany used to shoot at each other here.

A gas pump in Colorado. It seems that the programmer didn't quite get finished.

The other day a small thunderstorm came through with a lot of lightning. I took some pictures:


More lightning:

I was wandering around Sleeping Bear Dunes with some other delinquents, and found this sailboat on the beach. The owner was sailing it up Lake Michigan and decided it was too wavy, so he beached the boat and walked away.


Michigan Monarchs:




More Michigan pictures:

I got a new lens for my camera this week. It won't take those cool pictures of the sun like SDO, but it does pretty good with close-ups.


The End