More Junkmail from Bob!

December 16, 2014
Important Stuff.

There's a Comet Comin' In!

Comet 67P, taken about 11 miles from the comet, December 10, 2014. The image measures about 1.8 x 1.6 miles.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (familiarly known as Чурюмова-Герасименко) flies around the sun every 6.45 years or so. It was discovered in 1969 by Klim Ivanovych Churyumov and Svetlana Ivanovna Gerasimenko.

67P is 2.7 miles long and rotates every 12.4 hours. It's currently outside the orbit of Mars, 2.7 AU from the sun, and will arrive at 1.25 AU next August. (AU is Astronomical Unit, the distance from the earth to the sun.)

More than 10 years ago, the ESA launched the Rosetta spacecraft to the comet. It has now arrived at the comet.

Rosetta carried a landing module that landed on the comet last month. The lander bounced a couple of times, then settled in. They were expecting a soft surface, but instead there was a layer of dust over ice. There were some harpoons that were supposed to anchor the lander, but they didn't work.

It's easy to bounce on a comet, because there's not much gravity to hold you down. The lander weighed around 200 lbs on earth, but its weight on the comet was about 1 gram. It bounced up over half a mile, but it was moving slightly less than the 1 mph escape velocity of the comet. The lander came back down and bounced again an hour and fifty one minutes later. On the way down it hit a prominence and began to tumble.

The second bounce lasted only 6 minutes. The lander landed at a 30 degree angle, but was not damaged. There wasn't enough light to keep the batteries charged, and the lander stopped communicating after two or three days. It might come on line again in August when it's closer to the sun.

Instruments on Rosetta show that the comet's water has a different ratio of Deuterium isotopes than water on earth. This provides a clue about the origin of water on earth, casting a little doubt on the theory that most of the earth's water came from comets.

The comet in color, combined images taken with a black and white camera using red, green, and blue filters.

Take Your Shots! ...

Fun with Sony

Ever since Sony's rootkit fiasco in 2005, the company has enjoyed a reputation for being moderately inept at computing. They have since reinforced this image, from time to time,

Last July, some of Sony's key gaming sites went down after Sony forgot to renew the domain names.

Sony regularly issues DMCA takedown notices for videos it doesn't own, such as this Creative Commons movie.

The Sony Playstation network was shut down for around a month in 2011 after it was hacked in 2011. And hacked again. A few days later, Sony Thailand was hacked.

When I read that Sony had been hacked again, it didn't seem too unusual. But it was. This time, the hackers infiltrated Sony Pictures in a big way. They managed to download over 100 terabytes of data. This included 5 unreleased movies, corporate email, salaries, and lots of personal and financial data. A few days later, the Sony Playstation network was taken down by hackers.

It takes quite some time to download 100 terabytes of data -- days or weeks. If Sony had proper security in place, they would have noticed. But they didn't. So the hackers downloaded everything they wanted, and then started erasing hard drives. Sony finally realized something was amiss when their e-mail server went down.

Sony is trying to blame North Korea for this, which is possible, but it wasn't so sophisticated as to require a Government to accomplish. The hackers used "standard" malware, customized for use on Sony. No major development project was necessary. If North Korea was responsible, they probably paid some Russian or Iranian hackers to do it.

Now the hackers are making the data they copied available to the public, on torrents and on some web sites. With what seems like the whole world trying to read the dirt on Sony Pictures, some other unsavory computerists have salted the Sony files with questionable ads and malware. If you're not used to dealing with that sort of thing, it might be a good idea to read the Sony dirt on a legitimate site, rather than download the original files. Recode has good coverage.

In addition to hackers hacking the hacked data, Sony is getting into the spirit of hacking. Sony has seeded thousands of torrents with bad data.

There are a lot of embarrassing emails made public, but I expect you could find this in just about any company if you went through all the corporate email. Sony stopped all movie production until they could figure out how to pay their contractors. I guess they must have locked down their bank accounts. Sony financial data and employee salaries are now public, which causes some internal as well as external problems.

The result of all this is that Sony Pictures has lost hundreds of millions of dollars because they were too lazy to secure their computers. It's a little like leaving the door to their offices unlocked and not having an alarm for intruders.

Sony can spin it and blame an unfriendly government, rightly or wrongly, and people will forget that this was almost certainly preventable. At a minimum, Sony could have (and should have) detected the unauthorized computer access in time to prevent any serious damage.

Now Sony has been demanding that publishers erase all their copies of the stolen and publicized documents. Never mind the Streisand effect, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects contents of illegally intercepted communications. Sony is once again appearing clueless.

After the hack of Sony Pictures, a lot of embarrassing emails were publicized. Among these are some emails detailing Sony and the MPAA carrying out an active campaign against Google, called the Goliath Project.

Sony and the MPAA have been encouraging and funding state attorneys general to investigate and take legal action against Google, apparently with or without justification. In one particularly entertaining email, the MPAA planned to pay between $585,000 and $1.175 million to the Mississippi State Attorney General (and maybe a few others) for "legal support" and the investigation of Google.

Mississippi Attorney General

They apparently don't care what kind of investigation; they just want to generate bad press about Google. I consider this not only to be blatant corruption, but also very bad manners. ...

I bet Sony Pictures wishes they had spent that money on computer security. At least then they'd know not to leave thousands of their important password in plaintext in a file named "passwords".


Sheldon Adelson, Hackee

Comdex was a big computer show in the 1980s and 1990s, with more than a quarter million attendees at one point. Sheldon Adelson and some others started the show in 1979.


Even the USPTO exhibited!

Adelson's group sold Comdex in 1995, sometime around its peak. Adelson's share was more than $500 million. About 8 years later, Comdex folded.

In 1988, Adelson and some others bought the Sands Casino in Las Vegas. They ended up building the Venetian and The Palazzo casinos, and now have several casinos scattered throughout the world.

Last February, some hackers using some malware written with Visual Basic wiped about three quarters of the Sands' servers in Las Vegas. They didn't bother to steal any money.

This was a few months after Sheldon Adelson gave a speech in New York recommending a nuclear attack on Iran.

Oddly, Iranian hackers are suspected of the hack.

Russian Tech

It's a small world, particularly in the tech industry. The internet has leveled the playing field, making it possible for a tech company to operate in just about any modern country. By the same token, it is possible for a company to leave just about any country for greener pastures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin joined the KGB in 1975. He was a colonel by the time the KGB was disbanded (along with the rest of the Soviet Union) in 1991. As you might guess, he's not a particularly tolerant or open-minded individual. In fact, I don't think Vladimir Putin is a nice person.

Before and after Putin was elected president in 2012, there was a lot of criticism of the election process by Russians. Lots of Russians and a few foreigners were thrown in jail. There were a lot of online protests and criticism against Putin. Some people were thrown in jail as a result.

Putin said social media was responsible for thousands of people in the streets chanting "Russia without Putin." Putin called the internet "a CIA Project." Is he still living in the cold war era KGB?

As a result, the Russian Parliament has passed several laws that tech companies find a bit onerous or even dangerous. Bloggers are now regulated and can be jailed for subversive ideas.

Web sites can be easily censored and blacklisted in Russia. The Russian law applies to sites containing child pornography, drug-related material, extremist material, and other content illegal in Russia. It's the "extremist material" and "other illegal content" parts that make it possible to shut down any site in Russia. They added "child pornography" and "drug dealers" to get public support, just like the FBI and U.S. Homeland Security.

Last July, Putin signed a law requiring all online companies conducting business in Russia to store six months of data at facilities located inside Russia, beginning September, 2015 (moved back after being moved up to January 1, 2015 from the original September 2016). Online companies must be prepared to turn over any and all data to Russian security services upon request, without any court ruling or justification.

Some companies don't like all this. Google has now closed its engineering office in Russia. Adobe moved out of Russia in September. Microsoft closed its Moscow development office for Skype. I expect some other companies will follow suit over the next few months.

These closings won't affect Russia in a big way. They're not huge, and Russian companies will be happy to fill the vacancy. But it is interesting the way Russia is acquiring tight control over the Russian Internet. Excluding spammers and botnets, of course.

A good book on the business of spamming, online pharmacy, and other illegitimate internet fun and games ("cybercrime") is Spam Nation, by Brian Krebs. I recommend it. He does a little self-promotion in the book, but it has a lot of interesting information.

On Disability

About one in seventeen workers in the U.S. is collecting disability benefits. The number has more than tripled since 1990 to almost 9 million people.

The average monthly payment has more than doubled since 1990, to $1,235.

Inhuman Copyrights

Not everything can be copyrighted. Specifically, a work not created by a human is not eligible for copyright. Or is it?

Senate Intelligence

It's a wonder that anything can be done in the U.S. Congress with Senators as ignorant as Sheldon Whitehouse. In a Senate hearing on December 10, Sheldon said, "I picked up my iPad, and I went to Google, and I Googled 'pirate movie.' And Google gave me 'The Pirate Bay' [holds up his iPad, showing Pirate Bay (in theory)] which is an illegal enterprise, operating out of Sweden."


There are a few things wrong with this. First, if you Google "pirate movie" or even "pirated movies", you do not get the Pirate Bay in any of first the 100 search results. (I didn't check beyond that. Normally you only see the top ten search results with Google.) Google returns mostly links to pages about "The Pirate Movie", as you'd expect.

The funniest thing about this is that had been closed down by Swedish authorities the day before. It was not currently an illegal enterprise operating out of Sweden, as Sheldon said. Sheldon lied in a Senate hearing, but he probably won't be prosecuted for perjury.

After the false claim about the Google Search, Sheldon went on to say, "And if you go to the page where you would get access to the pirate content, it says 'get access now' and underneath it you have the flags of Visa, of Mastercard, of American Express, of Cirrus and of Paypal. And below that it tells you all the devices it works on and shows you the logos of Apple, Android, and so forth."

This is yet another false claim. First, Sheldon could not access the Pirate Bay site because it's gone. Even when it was online, it did not sell anything and had no credit card logos, except in ads. There was no charge for access, as Sheldon claimed. And it did not tell you that it worked on Apple, Android, and so forth, as Sheldon claimed. ...

The Pirate Bay was a site that you could use to search for torrents, or files shared on peer-to-peer networks. They did not sell anything and they did not host any content. They only linked to search results. The problem people had with this is that many of search torrents that Pirate Bay linked to were pirated music and videos.

As an interesting side note, a replacement "Pirate Bay" is online now. It's operated by Isohunt, one of Pirate Bay's competitors. You can see that there is no content and no credit card logos on the site. At least I don't see any, but I have most advertising blocked on my browser. Be careful if you download any of the search results. There is lots of malware available at no extra charge.

Maybe the Pirate Bay should have been taken down, and maybe the new one should be taken down. But that does not excuse a U.S. Senator from blatantly lying about it in a Senate Hearing, to the point of making a fool of himself.

The founder of the Pirate Bay site says it should remain closed.

DMCA Takedowns

A DMCA takedown notice is a notice provided for under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that copyright owners can use to get web sites to remove uploaded content that infringes on their copyright. That is one convoluted sentence, but you can decipher it if you work at it.

For example, if I upload an episode of a TV show to YouTube, the owner of the show can notify YouTube (i.e. Google) that my upload infringes on their copyright, and ask them to please remove it from YouTube. Google will then remove it from YouTube and tell me what happened.

Google alone gets over a million DMCA takedown notices every day. Most of them are legitimate, some are mistakes (such as this one by Sony Pictures), a few are pretty dumb, and some DMCA takedown notices are even used to for threats and intimidation.

The recording and movie industry uses automated software to calculate a fingerprint from a file and determine whether it is a song or video that they own the copyright to. It works kind of like Shazam. You can see how there could be errors. Sometimes these cause a lot of grief for individuals who are unable to find a human who can restore their rightfully owned masterpiece to YouTube.

If you consider how much content is uploaded to YouTube and other sites without permission of the owner, it would be impractical for people to view each one to decide whether it violates a copyright. So all in all, the system works pretty well as long as people don't abuse it.


The U.S. incurs debt by selling bonds. In spite of the giant national debt a budget deficit, U.S. government bonds are considered quite safe. The interest rate on U.S. 10-year bonds is a little over 2%, higher than most of Europe but in the neighborhood of the rest of the world's major industrialized countries.

A lower interest rate means investors consider it less risky, and investors consider the nation's currency to be stronger. Russian 10-year bonds are about 13%.

The public debt of the United States is about 72.5 percent of its GDP, less than that of most European countries and Canada, including the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Canada.

Countries with low debt percentages include those with a lot of cash (such as Middle East oil producers) and countries whose economics are considered too risky for safe investment, such as Algeria or Russia.

I occasionally read and hear on the radio that China owns most of the U.S. debt, or China owns more U.S. debt than anybody else. This is not even close to the truth.

The Chinese government and companies own about 8% of U.S. debt, more than any other foreign country. 60% of the U.S. national debt (or about $10 trillion) is owned by people, companies, and governments in the U.S., including me.

When some idiot on a talk radio show suggests that the U.S. should default on its national debt, it's time to change stations. This would be the equivalent of an immediate $10 trillion tax on U.S. citizens and companies. It would cause an immediate depression (not just a recession) worldwide, and would be much worse in the U.S. than elsewhere. It's just plain stupid.

Even so, the national debt and federal budget deficit are too high, in my opinion. I believe higher taxes and lower spending increases (or maybe lower spending) will be required to fix it. Both of these put adverse pressure on the economy, so it should be done gently to avoid a recession (or worse), which would reduce tax collections and contribute to the deficit.

I also think Congress is a bunch of weenies that can't see beyond the next election, and they won't take action until the problem gets a lot worse.

YouTube Education

You can actually learn something on YouTube.

Physics Girl:

Smarter Every Day:

Pictures of Today!

A Laser cannon on the USS Ponce, in the Arabian Gulf last month.

Crude oil by rail, the alternative to the Keystone Pipeline

Minuteman Missile Silo, decommissioned. Probably.


It's Beethoven's Birthday!

Score to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement (.pdf)