More Junkmail from Bob!

Friday, March 17, 2000

Important Stuff.


America Online is based in Virginia. Last Tuesday, Virginia Governor James Gilmore (no relation to Millard Fillmore) signed the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act into law. It's a law that favors software companies.

This law is important because (a) it's the first major law of its kind, (b) some other states and maybe the federal government are expected to follow suit to some extent, and (c) the courts are expected to throw out all or part of it. This means lots of lawyers will be making lots of money on it, and this will in turn raise the cost of software.

Some of the controversial things in this law are:

1. Software company liability is limited to the price paid for the software. I strongly support this, in software and in just about any other industry. I remember once I heard that Morton Thiokol standardized on DesignCAD. They make the solid rocket boosters for the space shuttle. A few months later, the space shuttle exploded. I would not like to be sued over something like that.

2. Software company "shrink wrap licenses" are strengthened. I don't like this, because nobody reads them. What if I downloaded some shareware software from the internet, clicked "I accept" without reading the contract, and unknowingly authorized some company to copy anything from my hard drive they wanted at any time?

3. Software companies can prohibit the sale or transfer of their software. This means that I may not be able to sell my computer with the software I've installed on it.

4. Software companies can disable their software on your computer remotely if they have "cause" for 15 days. If I have some software and they think I have violated the shrink-wrap license, the software company can permanently erase it from my hard drive next time I long onto the internet. This one is kind of scary.

Since I am in the software business I am supposed to blindly favor this law, but I don't usually blindly favor anything. I like #1, but am not too crazy about the others.

Here's a real article about it.

Important news!  In 1997, it was -91C, or -164F at Vostok Station in Antarctica. This is the coldest temperature ever recorded on earth.

Mattel vs. Matt & Eddy

Cyber Patrol is a popular program for homes, schools, and libraries. You can use it to lock out pornography on the internet so your kids and parents can't look at dirty pictures.

A couple of guys, Matthew and Eddy from Sweden figured out how to decode and modify Cyber Patrol's list of "banned" web sites. There are tens of thousands of them. They wrote a program called cphack that displays the password used to control access the dirty web sites.

Mattel, the Barbie people, owns Microsystems Software who wrote Cyber Patrol. Instead of fixing their software so it can't be broken, they chose the American way and "sued the heck out of 'em!"

I had a nice link I was going to include here to a page that went into a lot of detail on how these guys cracked Cyber Patrol. It was well written, detailed, and very interesting. But alas, Ed the judge issued a restraining order on Eddy the Swede and the web site was replaced today with a message in Swedish that says the address is no good any more. Next time I'll copy the page instead of the URL.

I really don't like this ruling because Mattel claimed these guys violated copyright laws. I don't believe they illegally copied anything. They did "reverse engineer" the software, which is not allowed in Mattel's shrink-wrap license. I do think that Cyber Patrol and programs like it are good for internet computers in families, schools, libraries, churches, etc.


The FBI Files

I ran across a web site the other day that had some old FBI files on people accused of being Communists in the McCarthy Inquisitions. I figured the web site was probably put up by someone with an axe to grind with the FBI. Then I noticed that it was an FBI site!  It's the FBI's Freedom of Information Act reading room. I guess they put their "best sellers" there for the world to enjoy.

Want to read about the FBI's investigation of Lucille Ball for being a Communist? The Weatherman Underground? Kent State? Did you know Albert Einstein was investigated by the FBI because of his Communist affiliations? Check it out:

Iridium Crashes

In Junkmail 13 I talked about the Iridium Flares. If you haven't seen one yet, I'd recommend it right away. The 66 Iridium Satellites are probably going away soon. Iridium phone service stops at midnight tonight, and over the next 8 months they'll be moving the satellites into lower orbit to be burned up in the atmosphere over the next year or two.

It sure seems like a waste. Why would they do this? Because they're broke. Iridium, owned mostly by Motorola, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy last August. They've been trying to find a buyer since then. Finally they had an 11 day chance to get someone to buy them and keep the service running, but it didn't pan out.

The Iridium phone system is a global wireless phone system. The problem is that it's expensive, quality's not great, and the phone is big compared to a cell phone. Those are the minor problems. The major problem is that there's inexpensive cell phone service where most people are, and where there's not there are not many people. That means there are not many people who are likely to pay for the expensive Iridium phone service -- not nearly enough to keep 66 satellites flying.

It seems like there should be another use for them, such as displaying Iridium flares, but apparently nothing to justify the cost. Not even NASA was interested in taking them over.,1367,35044,00.html

DoubleClick is still in trouble -- South Carolina, New York, and Michigan are investigating its shopper-tracking practices.,1283,35029,00.html

I am happy to see someone besides myself rant and rave about stupid patents! This is even from a semi-respectable newspaper:

Amazon DoS?

Author Stephen King mounted a successful Denial of Service attack against yesterday. He's got an e-book out called Riding the Bullet, available free. It would be available free, anyway, but Amazon and their associates couldn't handle the traffic and it killed their web site for about an hour.  Here's where you can't get the book, at least not until they fix their problems:

The Sun, in 1997 and 22 months later in 1998:


The second picture of the sun in extreme ultraviolet shows how much more active the sun it has become recently. The sun gets extra active every 11 years or so, and this year is the year of the "solar max."

This picture and some others of the sun I've had in Junkmail were taken by the Soho spacecraft. It was launched in 1995 and has been flying around in an orbit between the sun and the earth.


The Picture of Today was taken by Cathy not long ago -- she was out sowing some wild oats or something:


The DesignCAD company is now called Upperspace Corporation. You can see the outstanding web site at

Here are some office photos. The luxury restroom with THREE brands of toilet paper:


Mike helping Jerry do some volunteer carpentry:




...and inside we are finally getting organized:


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