More Junkmail from Bob!

Saturday, February 5, 2000

Important Stuff.

Happy New Year!  It's the year of the dragon. Just think, the Chinese have survived Y2K, Y3K, and Y4K with no ill effects. Y4.7K is coming up soon, though, and that one could be tough.

In 1990, Mike Webster, Ken Prather, Bruce Taylor and I started ViaGrafix Corporation. Ken and Bruce sold their parts, and Mike and I eventually ended up as the principle owners. Mike ran the company. In 1998 we had an IPO -- we went public. A year and a half after that, Learn2 bought ViaGrafix. The company has grown from nothing to over 200 employees in its ten-year history. ViaGrafix training products are now in stores all over the country. Last week, ViaGrafix stockholders saw their stock hit a record high (LTWO stock now. The record high takes the 1:1.846 split into account).

On Friday Mike quit his job, following in the footsteps of Bill Gates and David Glass. When I talk to anybody about this, it inevitably brings up three questions:  (1) What's Mike going to do now?  (2) Are you going to quit too?  and (3) Should I sell my LTWO stock? The answer to all these questions is, "Idunno. We'll see."  There are a lot of changes going on in the company now, and I can't tell if it's going to help or hurt in the long run. But that's been true since the beginning.

Today I learned that my middle toddler Steve emailed Learn2 president Steve yesterday and asked for his job. I think there are some child-labor laws that would prevent this, though.

Four other people (Ron, Roy, Qibing, and Jose) have come up with something neat in Menlo Park, CA: "High-Speed Electrically Actuated Elastomers with Strain Greater Than 100%"  That's the title of an article in this week's Science magazine. It's about some plastic membranes that stretch when electrical charges are applied on both sides.

This has been done in the past, but not this well. Using prestrained silicone and acrylic films, they got them to stretch faster, farther, and produce more pressure than natural muscle. Natural muscle contracts instead of expands, though.

This is a fundamental way of converting and electrical energy into mechanical energy. With this improvement in speed and efficiency, it might make it practical for lots of new applications. Some of the things considered and/or tried so far are audio speakers, small pumps, and small flying machines with insect-like wings. There's a lot of potential for new ideas.

MSNBC has an article about it.

The U.S. government is spending close to $500,000,000 on nanotechnology next year (subject to political winds and whims.) This is pretty neat stuff. They (Sandia Labs and others) are already producing low-current, "tunneling" transistors that are about 10 times faster than the before and a whole lot smaller. Computer memory, solar cells, lasers, and a lot of other stuff could be improved a lot by nanotechnology.

IBM announced a breakthrough in atomic scale circuits this week. The LA Times has an article about it.

The pictures of today are of some cold trees near Pryor this week:




Mike Gray gave me some VERY important news:  Matt Gissell is the official National Monopoly Champion. I was not invited to the competition. I'm crushed. Oh well, it was last October and I was probably busy that day. The impressive part is that Mr. Gissell was not quashed by famed monopolist Bill Gates. Matt will be the proud representative of the United States at the world Monopoly competition in Toronto this year. It is expected to rival such events as the Sidney Olympics and the WTO summit.

Here are some interesting questions and answers from Jon Johansen, the guy in Norway who was arrested and had his computers seized for writing DeCSS.

There were more giant avalanches in south central Alaska this week. They had a warm period in December that made a hard crust on the snow. Then there was a lot of normal cold dry snow. Now, they've had some big snowstorms that deposited wet, heavy snow, making some unique avalanche conditions.

About 2000 people in Girdwood, Alaska have been cut off from the rest of the world since Sunday, and have been without power since Wednesday:

Here's an article about some people on Seward highway, where a lot of the avalanche trouble is:

Want to see what it's like in Anchorage now?  Check the web cams:

You can find web cams all over the world:

Here are some mountain pictures, as Ken Prather requested. This is Mount Bierstadt, Colorado, last week:

        Mount Bierstadt

Here are a few more mountains. These are on Mars. This was taken by the Viking spacecraft that orbited Mars:

big:    marsglobe1a.jpg

huge:   marsglobe1.jpg

For comparison, here's one taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. There's no substitute for being there "in person":


And one airplane story...  A week ago Wednesday in Oklahoma City, the weather was "visibility 1/2 mile with snow and freezing fog, temperature 27 degrees." At Oklahoma City Downtown Airpark, two guys took an airplane (a Cessna 414 twin) out of a heated hangar, and took off 20 minutes later. During that 20 minutes, snow was melting and freezing onto the wings. They didn't deice the plane. When they took off, they finally got off the ground about 2400 feet down the 3240 foot runway (that's a short runway), but couldn't climb out of ground effect. They crashed into a fence, knocked off the left wing, but walked away with minor injuries. I'd say that was a valuable learning experience for them. I think most people would have known better to begin with.

Well, maybe one more airplane story. I was flying last Saturday night into Denver about 1000' or 1500' of the ground, and about 10 Canadian geese appeared in the landing lights. Then I felt a BIG thump. I landed with no problems other than being VERY nervous. I didn't know if it hit a wheel or a control surface or what. It turned out that a goose hit the tail of the plane, up on the vertical stabilizer. Or maybe it was the tail of the plane that hit the goose. Luckily, the only damage were some holes in the deicing boot. I still don't know why those stupid geese were flying at night, or why they didn't go south where they're supposed to be in the winter!

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