More Junkmail from Bob!

September 22, 2012
Important Stuff.

Charles Allen Thomas

Here is a firsthand account of the first atomic bomb. Interesting!

Charles Thomas later became president and chairman of the board of Monsanto, and was one of the inventors of the gas additive tetraethyl lead.


Sure, we've all done it. You go out in the morning, tore-up drunk, put on your military ballistic vest, grab your training rifle (looks like an M-16 but shoots pellets), and go out for a run by the local school.

A guy named William from West Virginia did this, but the police threw him in jail. They charged him with terrorism. Whiners.

My dad's been doing this same thing lately, but without the drinking, the ballistic vest, or the gun. We all hope he'll be arrested soon.

If you're so inclined, you can compete against Dad in the Pryor 5K, Saturday the 29th.


I have spent dozens of years studying the movement of time, and I have come to the conclusion that time almost always moves in one direction -- from before to after. It's interesting to read books about going back in time, but they generally get it wrong.

For example, the hero goes back in time to disarm a bomb that will indirectly destroy the world at some point in the future. The hero barely makes it, with 3 seconds to spare. If it's that close, the hero could just go back in time another hour and, with his knowledge of events, easily disarm the bomb with time to spare.

Instead of going back in time to kill a supervillain in a massive battle, it would be much simpler for the hero to go back a little farther in time and make sure the supervillain's parents never met.

I think xkcd got it right:


I Flunked the Turing Test.

The Turing Test is a theoretical test that can be used to determine whether the test taker is human or computer. Captchas are essentially Turing Tests, making sure a bot is not submitting a form on the web.

Google owns a Captcha utility called reCaptcha that is free for anyone to use. In fact, I use it for Junkmail subscriptions.


Some people recently released a free system called Stiltwalker that could solve reCaptcha's audio 99% of the time. The computer is better at proving itself human than I am!

A few hours before Stiltwalker's new release, by coincidence, Google released a revised reCaptcha that Stiltwalker couldn't beat. Stiltwalker is pretty interesting in the way it works.

I think I need a Turing test for my email. Some social (and antisocial) web sites send me fake friends, followers, and connections just to generate traffic, which translates into advertising dollars for the web sites. is a good, free site for photo uploads. It's simpler than Flicker and not as weird as imgur. Sometimes I use to upload photos that I don't want to make a web page for.

For a while, I'd get an email every few days saying there was someone "following" me on I'm pretty sure these followers are bots, or possibly employees. They all follow several people, have a few favorites, and have uploaded no photos. I caught on after a few dozen times.

Linkedin seems to do the same thing. I get "contact" invitations on LinkedIn from people I never heard of. Some of them have about 25 contacts, all with beginning with the same three or four letters. I guess they didn't bother to scramble the contact list before they sent the emails.

This may be someone harvesting Linkedin data, or it may be Linkedin pushing for a boost in traffic, but there are not many humans who want to be a professional contact with a vagrant from Pryor, Oklahoma, despite my impeccable résumé. Who knows? One of these days I might even upgrade from "résumé" to "curriculum vitae".

Some other sites apparently have employees or false users whose job it is to "ping" other users, generating an email and getting the user to login. It's actually a pretty good idea from the site's point of view, because it gets users to visit the site who otherwise might forget about it.

The War on Botnets

Finally! Someone in authority is going to shut down botnets. Well, it is the U.S. government, and it is a technological issue, so there is a fair chance of complete failure and/or embarrassment. But they're at least going to make an effort!

On the other hand, the U.S. and Israeli governments were definitely behind the Stuxnet attack on Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to the New York Times. It's an interesting story. The Stuxnet program was started during the Bush administration and continued into the Obama administration, which sorely disappointed those politicians who wanted to assign its success or failure to one party or another and make a big deal out of it.

Like UAV's, it's only a matter of time before others start using this type of technology against the U.S., Israel, Europe, and possibly the Marshall Islands. Hopefully the U.S. won't overreact when this happens and close down all digital communications.

Presidents Bush and Obama both asked for the proverbial "Internet Kill Switch," but that might have fallen from grace after it was actually used by Egypt and Iran.

Why would sensible people want to shut off the all internet access for the entire U.S.? Yes, I know. They're politicians. But pretend they've got a little common sense, just for the sake of discussion.

I wonder if it might be desired as a last-ditch effort against a mass insurrection. It's far fetched, but if you're warped like me you might be able to imagine a scenario or two.

Suppose that some religious zealots in Pakistan (probably Methodists) decide to steal 6 nuclear warheads, smuggle them to the U.S., and blast New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington, and Locust Grove. This might kill half a million people; certainly not enough to destroy the U.S.

But the overreaction of the news media, the politicians, and the government bureaucrats could easily result in an internet flash mob of 20 million Americans, either against the government or against the mob that's against the government. That is too many for the police and maybe even the military to handle without killing a lot more than the original nukes did. And that many people could conceivably mount a successful, violent overthrow of the government.

This would be extremely unlikely, but the instant mass communications of the internet does make it possible. People in the U.S. are not prone to violent outbreaks, but that could conceivably change with some good, old fashioned mass hysteria.

I believe nothing like this will ever happen, but that might be some of the reasoning behind an internet kill switch in the U.S. It would also make an interesting novel.

Takedown Bots

Over the past several years, I have done more than a little whining and complaining about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1932 (DMCA). Or maybe it was 1998.

ViaCom is suing to have YouTube (as we know it) shut down. They also want a billion dollars from Google. I'll remember that next time I think about going to a movie.

The DMCA, among a lot of stupid provisions, protects web sites such as YouTube, Flickr, or Vimeo that host content uploaded by their users, from copyright liability.

If someone uploads a copyrighted video of mine to YouTube without my authorization, I cannot sue YouTube over it. I have to notify YouTube that they've got my copyrighted content on their web site without my permission, and I have to certify under penalty of perjury that I am the owner of the copyright.

That part about the perjury is so I won't issue takedown notices for content I don't like when I don't own it. However, it does not seem to prohibit the RIAA and MPAA from taking down videos they don't like, regardless of the copyright holders. That might be because they make very large campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans. However, they have not made major campaign contributions to the Mugwumps or the Pirate Party.

Some companies are in the business of issuing DMCA takedown notices. They search the internet for unauthorized content owned by their clients, then order the pages deleted. These companies are well-known for their lack of precision. One company, who works to protect pornography on the internet, decided to take down a guy's personal photos of the letters of the alphabet.

More than 10,000 legitimate videos were taken down on YouTube by a Dutch company using false DMCA takedown notices. The company said it was a software problem. did not get in trouble for this., like many others, uses takedown bots. These pick sites that may be infringing by checking the title and (theoretically) the content of the site. Then it is (theoretically) reviewed by a human before a takedown notice is issued and signed by a human.

Something in this system seems to have broken down when, for example, the stream Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic convention was blocked "due to copyright violation" that did not exist.

And when the stream of the Hugo Awards was blocked "due to copyright violation" that did not exist.

And when the stream of the Mars landing of NASA's new Curiosity spacecraft was blocked "due to copyright violation" that did not exist.

Naturally, the companies that issued these false takedown notices were not prosecuted. But if I issued a DMCA notice to block a speech by the First Lady, I would likely be prosecuted, persecuted, and removed from cyberspace.

There are lots of other examples.


The primary platform of the Pirate Party in Germany is against the DMCA, takedown notices, and most intellectual property controls. It was pretty funny when one of their leaders issued, through her book publisher, a DMCA takedown notice.

I find it a little odd that the RIAA will just issue a takedown notice for pirated music posted on YouTube, but sues peer-to-peer (bittorrent) file sharers for the same thing.

The RIAA sued single mother Jammie Thomas  and won $222,000 because she downloaded and shared 24 songs. The RIAA sued student Joel Tenenbaum and won $675,000 because he downloaded and shared 31 songs. Those amounts certainly fit the misdeeds of these evil criminals. I don't think they've got that much money, though, so I guess they'll both end up in debtor's prison.

The RIAA is against all peer-to-peer file sharing, and would have it banned. This is despite of the fact that there are thousands of companies who use peer-to-peer file sharing to distribute software and other media legitimately.

In fact, a lot of independent musicians and filmmakers use peer-to-peer file sharing to distribute their products. According to μTorrent, it's a huge number.

The RIAA is pushing for legislation to require payment by anyone who remembers the tune to a copyrighted song. Additional charges will be levied against anyone heard humming or singing.

RIAA boss Mitch said of the impending law, "You can listen to a song, no problem. But if you remember it, that is nothing less than making an illicit copy of the music in your brain, and you will pay for that copy. We have to protect our artists. The fact that I make over $2,000,000 per year off their royalties is irrelevant."

False Positive

A false positive from an email spam checker can cause you to lose email. A false positive from an antivirus application can cause some programs to stop working. But a false positive from an antivirus application on its own update sets new goals in software excellence. This happened to Sophos.

This is pretty funny (to my warped mind), because they couldn't issue updates to fix the problem. The updates were blocked by the application they were trying to update. They apparently had to change their update application enough that it didn't set off their own virus alarms.

Fun with Patents and Copyrights

Optional reading. This will not be covered on the exam.

Terrorists are Everywhere

Armed terrorists were supposed to be hidden in the wheel wells of a couple of airliners at New York's JFK Airport. The airliners were directed to a remote area, followed by a lot of police and emergency vehicles. The security people in charge decided the pilots did not need to know why they were there or what was going on.

Finally, the American Airlines pilot explained on the radio that if he didn't have an explanation in 60 seconds, he was going to evacuate the plane. He got his explanation.

All this took place because of a crank phone call. The typical overreaction was nothing but security theater, and is not unusual.

Some security people tend to keep information in a situation like this secret from everybody else involved. This makes those people important, indispensible, and powerful.

The pilots, of all people, should be informed about what is happening on their plane. The pilots are responsible for the plane and are authorized and required to take appropriate action in an emergency.

But someone on the ground figured the pilots didn't need to know what was happening. That is, until they realized that the evacuation of a plane would be bad publicity, and the old guy who sprained an ankle going down the slide would likely sue.

To prevent terrorists from hiding in wheel wells of airplanes, the TSA is going to junk their body scanners and spend $245 million on new ones that might work. They are doing this to help out with the federal budget deficit.

Quote of the Day

"Unlimited is just a word. It doesn't really mean anything."
Verizon Boss

Fusion is Coming

I believe this, from Sandia Labs, is a bit more promising than Pons and Fleischmann. Even so, we're quite a few years from having fusion power plants.

DA's Can Be Bought

District Attorneys across the country have started a new business. They are selling their letterhead to collection agencies, so the collection agencies can appear legitimate, official, and threatening when they try to collect past-due bills.


I was cusious and checked out the web site listed on this form letter, There is no phone number, address, or email address on the home page. It doesn't look overly legitimate to me. I'd never send a check to a site like that.


A year and a half ago, the internet was supposed to come to a screeching halt when the world ran out of IP Addresses, unless everybody made an immediate change to IPv6. I would like to officially say, "I told you so."

The internet is still running, and there are still IPv4 addresses available. However, there are not so many of the 16-million address blocks floating around any more.

Most users with modern operating systems (Windows 7, for example, if you call that modern) won't need to make any changes as IPv6 supersedes IPv4.

Developers using IP addresses (winsock applications, for example) have a few changes to make.

Mass Marketing

I went to Walmart the other night for a bicycle tube and some motor oil. There were lots of tubes, but none of the regular 26" x 2" tubes used by 90% of the bikes sold by Walmart. Walmart apparently bought the same number of tubes in each size, even though the sales of that one size is much higher than that of the others.

Then I went to the automotive section. They had lots of motor oil, but I had to pick and choose to get enough 5w30 for an oil change. Despite the fact that most new cars use 5w30, Walmart was buying what looked like the same amount of oil in every weight. So the were running out of 5w30.

Then I went to (online) to order a camera battery charger. I put in the manufacturer's model number explicitly, and a bunch of chargers were displayed. I wanted to spend the big bucks (over $20) to get a "real" charger that wouldn't destroy my expensive "real" battery. So I picked the Panasonic charger sold by Amazon itself and added it to my basket.

Later I noticed that the charger in my basket wasn't the right one. I tried the search again, and saw that Amazon displayed a bunch of chargers that had nothing to do with the model number I entered. They just throw up anything close, even if it does not fit the search.

Amazon had some chargers claiming to be Panasonic's, but when you read the description very closely, you could see that they weren't. Some had a picture of the Panasonic charger, but I was disgusted by then and bought one directly from Panasonic.

While on Amazon, I looked at some audio books. I like to listen to audio books when I drive because it helps drown out all those people who honk at me. I picked out one that sounded good, noticed that it was published in 2012, so put it in my basket.

It was a trick. The book was written more than 10 years ago, and I had already read it.

I recently bought another audio book on Amazon, Don Quixote. It had a publication date of 2006, but did not mention the date it was written or translated. I'm pretty sure I remember that book being out before 2006. (It was written in the early 1600's.)

When I started listening to it, I wondered about the language usage and translation from Spanish. So I tried to find out when it was translated to English, who did the translation, and when the original story was written. This was nowhere on Amazon's site. It was not even on the audio book's packaging or preliminary audio info. I guess they want me to believe it was written in English in 2006. They also want me to believe it was written by  Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and David Case. (David Case is the narrator. He did a good job, but he didn't help write Don Quixote.)

It seems that Amazon has been getting really lax with their descriptions and searches. The product descriptions lack information, and what information is there is usually obscured among stuff like "Special Offers and Promotions", "Frequently Bought Together", "What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?", "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought", and "Available Warranties for This Item".

I just now tried this:  I looked up 2-tb hard drives on Amazon. I picked the first selection. In the entire 8 pages displayed, nowhere did it have the access or transfer speed of the drive, information I consider critical. That's why I bought my last few hard drives from Newegg.

Faulty product searches on and were instrumental in allowing Amazon to expand into non-book areas. Now Amazon has fallen into the trap of showing lots of items in a search, even when they don't match. ("I don't care what it takes, I want our search pages full!")

When I search for "Epson R3000 Ink", some of the ink cartridges don't work with the Epson R3000. In fact, 9 of 24 items on the first search page are not Epson R3000 ink cartridges.

Amazon also seems to have a take a "who cares?" attitude with their product descriptions. Maybe if they clutter up the page with enough trash, people won't bother to look at the specifications of what they're buying.

I guess the conclusion of this rant is that Walmart and Amazon are not perfect. If you want a bike tube, you can go to your local bike shop. If you want a hard drive, you can get more information and reliable reviews at Newegg. If you want camera gear, try B & H Photo. And if you need an oil change, get someone else to do it. It's messy!

Incidentally, I thought someone at Amazon might be interested in the lack of information on some of their products, so I posted a couple of reviews. The reviews were deleted. Amazon does not appreciate my exceptionally fine wit.

I didn't write these, but I do consider them excellent reviews:





Fishing for Email

In 2009, some people hacked an email server at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. These people must have had some time on their hands, because they sifted through thousands of old emails and other documents looking for stuff to embarrass the climate scientists who wrote or received the email. The purpose of this exercise was to prove that (a) the earth is not warming, and (b) even though the earth is warming, it has nothing to do with people.

As you might guess, out of that many emails you can take some stuff out of context and made a few people look bad. The press was happy to latch onto this story and blow it out of proportion. The ensuing investigations showed that nobody falsified climate data or cheated on World of Warcraft.

Across the Atlantic, the American Tradition Institute vowed to show the Brits how to do some proper mudslinging. They sued the University of Virginia and demanded the all the emails written or received by a climate scientist for six years. Unfortunately for the suers, the Virginia Supreme Court tossed the case out, in spite of efforts by the conservative Virginia Attorney General. The Prince William County Circuit Court has since ruled against in favor of the U. of Virginia.

This is actually more than a typical "stupid lawsuit".  This could have set a precedent to make every email to and from every public employee open to the public. Those people might have had to start using the telephone again!

In other news, Conservatives Against Science (CAS) have denied that Arctic Sea Ice is melting, and if it was, it would be due to insufficient global population.

Big Business

I've noticed that has undergone some change in the past few years. First, a lot more people use it. Second, the quality of the comments and submissions seems inversely proportional to the number of users. Third, there are now corporate and political spin doctors at work there.

Reddit is an open forum, where anybody can submit and comment on links, text, stories, questions, etc. The technology forum alone has between 1.5 and 2.0 million subscribers. In addition, there are more who read and comment on stories.

So it makes sense for companies to get involved and sanitize their image. Sometimes. Other times, there's just too much current to swim against.

For example, the brilliant CEO of Verizon was quoted saying, "Unlimited is just a word, it doesn't really mean anything," in response to questions about unlimited data plans. This produced a strong reaction on Reddit -- more than 2000 comments and 21,000 votes. That's a bit much for a company like to handle.

Other times, though, a company can clean up its image without a lot of trouble. Once I posted a very insightful remark regarding the relative intelligence of the CEO of HBO and an orangutan, or something like that. It seems the HBO boss said that internet delivery of movies would never be important, and I thought that might be a tiny bit stupid.

A few days went by, which in Reddit terms is about 1000 dog years, and then there were a bunch of replies to my remarks. Almost all the replies explained how the HBO boss was a fine, brilliant, hard working executive who was not involved in child abuse in July of 1995. Or something like that.

It's clear to me that someone, either employees, contractors, or friends, decided to clean up the guy's Reddit image. Since a Reddit post is rarely read after it's 3 days old, the effort was probably lost on everybody except me, and in my case it didn't change my opinion on the internet delivery of movies.

There are a lot of companies that do things like this for people such as major executives, minor politicians, and wealthy job applicants. The companies will create (if necessary) and maintain a fine Wikipedia entry, Linkedin account, and Facebook account. They will scan the internet daily, including Facebook and Linkedin in addition to ordinary news and forums, for any negative comments or information that might appear about their clients.


If the net sanitizers find any critical information, they will respond with a barrage of comments, submissions, and other information (or misinformation, as the case may be), designed to prove to the world that their clients are fine individuals or companies or third world dictators.

I suppose this should not be surprising. When millions of opinions are available to be swayed on Reddit alone, it makes sense that the conservatives, liberals, and business execs should get online and spout their party lines.

There's nothing particularly good or bad about this. It's just an interesting change.

In possibly unrelated news, Slashdot and SourceForge were sold to Dice Holdings. I suppose there's at least some chance these will be commercialized and/or mismanaged to the point of Digg or MySpace.

Even Google, which has done an outstanding job of holding off stupid commercialization, has added some large color ads (to get me to use Google Maps on tablets and phones I don't own) and tricked some Android users into copying all their phone photos to Picasa online.

Google has also disabled their search exclusion list for the past several months, something I used to appreciate. I assume this is so they can get money from sites that people used to exclude.

Hopefully these are just blips. Google has been instrumental in improving the internet in recent years.

Hardware Prices

Computer hardware, especially tablets, is going to be really, really cheap soon. Software might be another matter.

xkcd What If

This is really good. Check them all out.

Rachel at Cardholder Services

I am usually quick to recognize scams on the internet, on email, Facebook, web sites, etc. But unfortunately, I am officially a clueless geezer when it comes to my landline telephone.

I have been getting phone calls a few times a month from "Rachel at Cardholder Services." It's a recording. It's been going on for years. So I went online and lodged complaints at the federal and state do-not-call web sites.

The state site emailed a standard reply, explaining in simple terms that even a dummy like me can understand. There is no "Rachel" (which I knew) and there is no "Cardholder Services" (duh... I should have known!). It's a phishing scam of the simplest sort.

If you actually wait online for a real person, something I've never tried, they'll ask you for your credit card number and info, and then sell it to the Elbonians or someone.

This brings up something else I had never considered before reading the article below. Why do the Nigerian 401 scammers claim to be from Nigeria? They could claim to be from anywhere, even Locust Grove. The answer is, they want to weed out the vast majority of people with the small amount of intelligence required not to get suckered in by the scam. That way they don't have to work so hard.

Political Conventions

I seem to have missed the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. And I understand it's some of the best comedy on TV.

Before the Republican convention in Tampa, the police (or whoever is in charge of the county jail) emptied the jail to make room for the hundreds of troublemakers they expected to arrest. (That's what happens when you let people read Wikipedia on the job.)

The Tampa Sheriff wrote a threatening letter to the public, and attached a scary picture of some of their officers.


This is a particularly nice picture. Check out the feet!  Hovering feet and furrowed eyebrows. The three officers (or actors? It's hard to tell...) were photoshopped into the background, but someone didn't bother to fix their feet when they merged the photos. Nice!  Also suitable for Halloween

I never did hear how many people were thrown into the empty jail. Probably just some people who shared music files.

Car Tracking

A couple of years ago in Junkmail I mentioned that it would be possible to track cars using traffic cameras that read license tags.

Like it or not, it's here.

This will spread, mostly because it's relatively easy and cheap, and the cost will keep decreasing for a few years. It's a little like internet eavesdropping. It's cheap and easy, so the government will keep doing it, even if they have to make it legal.

Some people don't like the privacy aspect of traffic cameras tracking cars, particularly when the government shares the tracking data with large corporations such as insurance companies.

While on the subject of traffic, I think we should attach a low power RFID transmitter to every speed limit sign. This will transmit the current speed limit to passing cars.

Then you can get a speed limit receiver, and can always see the current speed limit, and set it to beep whenever the speed limit changes. Deluxe models will beep at you when you're going x mph over the speed limit. This will prevent a lot of inadvertent speeding.

It's cheap and easy, and the only disadvantage is that some speed traps (such as the ones East of Claremore and near Big Cabin) won't generate as much money.

We can also reduce speeding violations using traffic cameras. First, cut the price and point penalty of speeding tickets (and other computer-issued tickets) to something comparable to a parking ticket, as long as you're not excessively dangerous. Then use traffic cameras to time cars and issue speeding tickets to the car owners.

This will allow police to focus on the police work they're trained for, rather than on tax collection through speeding tickets. This in turn will improve police public relations.

It will require a lot of traffic cameras, fixed and portable. Normally I wouldn't like that, but since they're coming no matter what, we might as well use them for something constructive.

Olivia Kate Webster

My eldest toddler Brian and his wife Katie have a kid! Olivia Webster was born August 28, 2012.

Pictures of Today!

Sean, Michael, Elizabeth, Melinda, Josh, and I took a hike to Granite Peak, Montana last month. Here are a bunch of pictures.

I took a trip to Colorado a couple of weeks ago. I also took picture or two.

Bees of Pueblo

An Oklahoma Well


Swallows on the Turnpike

Old Mining Trail on Red Mountain

A Colorado Flower

Another Colorado Flower

Two Ants on Quandary Peak

Two Pryor Ants (and a bunch of aphids) on at Thistle

One Pryor Ant (and a bunch of aphids) on a Leaf

A Honeybee Accosting a Bumblebee

A Crab Spider Enjoying Lunch

Texas Hawk

The Buzzards of Perryton