More Junkmail from Bob!

Sunday, May 14, 2000
Important Stuff.

Hi, welcome to Junkmail number 40, and Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Background Checks

The FBI found a new method of gun control -- turn off the computer! The database system they use for background checks crashed on Thursday and they haven't been able to get it running again until today.

They said it was an "internal problem," but it's pretty unusual for an internal database problem to shut down a system for 3 days. Either they're not very good at computers, it's computer vandalism, or someone was instructed to shut it down this weekend. When is the last time you heard of a 3-day outage of airline reservation computers or stock market computers?

Since I usually question coincidences, I was wondering why this occurred on the weekend of the pro and anti gun control demonstrations in Washington. I can't figure out whether this would help or hurt gun control, though. When asked about this, a lady from the FBI said, "It has absolutely nothing to do with it. It's just a big coincidence.'' (I did NOT make that up!)


It's nice to have the internet unregulated! At least it was. Unfortunately, laws are now appearing on the books, apparently written by people who don't know much about computers or the internet. They have lots of unintended side-effects.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act was supposed to protect children from evil internet pornographers and corporations. Instead, it has locked them out of the internet in many cases. Kids who used to have hotmail accounts had them turned off until parents provide a credit card number, something people don't like providing for a supposedly free service. and turned off email accounts of kids period, credit cards or no credit card. That's what most web-based email companies are doing. There's too much liability and too little benefit for them to offer email to kids.

Kids under 13 have been locked out of most web-based chat rooms, including Microsoft's. This is good for some chat rooms, but there are legitimate, monitored chat rooms for kids that are being shut down because of this law.

Another law that has caused a lot of unintended consequences is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It broadens the rights of copyright holders when computers are involved. For example, last week there was a message thread on about Microsoft's implementation of the kerberos security system in Windows 2000. Microsoft did not like people posting this information, so they demanded that Slashdot remove it from their message board. Slashdot politely told them to take a hike, mentioned freedom, censorship, etc. Here's the exchange:

I think it's pretty dumb for Microsoft to be throwing their weight around like this when they're under threat of being broken up. When she heard the news, Janet Reno challenged Bill Gates to a wrestling match. Las Vegas is giving Reno 12 to 1 odds on the impending duel.

Here's a Washington Post article on the Microsoft/Slashdot business:

Incidentally, about the same time this happened there was a DoS attack against Slashdot, and Slashdot got a "Webby" award as one of the world's best web sites. I do think this was a coincidence.

Here are the Webby winners. Some of these are pretty good. (Some aren't.),1284,36301,00.html

eBay Art

Ken Walton put a painting up for sale on eBay. Here's his description:

"I got this big abstract art painting at a garage sale in Berkeley, California a LOOONG time ago, back in my bachelor days, and then I got married, and my wife has never let me keep it in the house. She says it looks like it was done by a nutcase, but I always kind of liked it. I used to live in a really dark apartment and this thing used to wake me up in the morning. YIKES! One thing I can say about this painting is that it is BIG! It is an original painting on canvass and it is 2 feet, 11 inches along one side and 3 feet, 11 inches along the other side. The canvas is stretched onto a wooden brace and it has thin wooden frame.  This painting is so big I took a closeup picture so you could see it better:  Unfortunately, this thing got a small hole punched into it by my kid (BigWheel accident in the garage). You can see it in this middle of this next photo. The hole is only about and inch and a quarter long, and I think it would be easy to fix with duct tape, but I'll leave that up to you."

However, its photo showed the signature of Richard Diebenkorn, a famous artist I never heard of. But some of Diebenkorn's paintings have sold for $4 million. Word got around, and people bid it up, and finally Rob from the Netherlands won at $135,805.00.

Ken refused to let anybody look at it in person. People were starting to wonder why he didn't cancel the auction and sell it as authentic, since it could bring five or ten times more money. Finally, the winner of the auction wouldn't pay until he could see the painting.

It turns out that Ken had sold other art on eBay with famous signatures. He never claimed them to be authentic, and nobody ever proved that he did the signatures or had them put there. But here's one of those coincidences again. eBay figured out that Ken bid on his own painting under a different user ID, which is against the rules, so they suspended him from eBay for 30 days and cancelled the auction. I guess that gets Rob off the hook.

Here's the eBay item:

Love Bug

News on the Love Bug Virus (although it's a worm):  It wasn't Irene from Manila OR her boyfriend. It was her brother and some friends, most likely. Her brother wrote a thesis on how to collect passwords from computers on the internet. He wrote a program to do it. His thesis was disallowed for being unethical. He got mad and quit school. Now it looks like he and some other people were messing around with it and it "got away," just like a controlled burn in New Mexico. There was an absence of malice, just like the movie.

Here's Irene's web site:

My eldest toddler, Brian, played in the high school state tennis tournament Friday and Saturday. He got 7th. Tuesday he graduates. He got lucky and is a valedictorian. Here's Brian at the governor's airplane Saturday. He didn't get a ride.


We have five young felines at our house:


First come, first serve!

The picture of today is of two schoolgirls in Japan:


I took this about 10 years ago.

And finally, I would like to point out, for the record, that there have been nowhere near a million people in the "million man march" OR in the "million mom march."

(*) 2000, underwrites reserved. Any unauthorized copying and distribution of Junkmail may be offensive to the reader. And authorized copying and distribution may be offensive as well. If you would like your very own subscription, prescription, or inscription to Junkmail, sign up here. After all, it's free!

Past Junkmails are also here awaiting your perusal.

If you would like to stop receiving Junkmail, please forward your request to the department of fire protection of Los Alamos National Laboratories.

You can email me at