More Junkmail from Bob!

Sunday, July 2, 2000
Important Stuff.

Steven's 16 Today!

The Supreme Court is finished for the year. They're on summer vacation until next October. It's pretty interesting to read through the rulings. I think the most important Supreme Court decision this year is the one allowing me (or anyone else) to visit the wreck of the Titanic.

The company that discovered the wreck was trying to keep everyone else away from it. A British company started offering diving tours of the Titanic for the low, low price of $32,500 a head. The Supreme Court got to decide the controversy after a guy in Phoenix named Chris got mad and sued when he found out he couldn't go on the dive trip.

Here's where you can sign up to see the Titanic for $35,500. (It's not the company in the lawsuit. I couldn't find their web site.)

Another important ruling left intact Bobby Unser's $75 fine for accidentally driving a snowmobile through a Colorado wilderness area when he got lost in a snowstorm.

They decided that people who lease federal land for cattle don't have so much preference in renewing grazing permits, and that the government will now own all new fences and improvements. It seems reasonable to charge cattle ranchers the going rate for government land. On the other hand, this will probably destroy a lot of family ranches.

One thing the Supreme Court said that makes sense is that Congress should define good and bad HMO practices, not the courts. I think Congress should pass laws instead of the court system, kind of like they mentioned in the Constitution.

And finally, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a border dispute between Maine and New Hampshire. There is no truth to the rumor that the New Hampshire National Guard is hiring Jesse Ventura to lead a band of mercenaries on a hostile takeover of Maine. I'm still trying to find out where that border between Maine and Canada is.

Here's a good review of this year's Supreme Court cases:

Speaking of laws, Michael Hering pointed out an error in last week's Junkmail:  "The NY Times article is talking about COPA (The Children's Online Protection Act), not COPPA (The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act).  The former deals with sending porn to kids, the second deals with collecting personal info and marketing data from kids without their parent's permission.  COPA is the one that was enjoined, just as the CDC (Cyberspace Decency Act) was before.  COPPA has not been tested by the courts, but I did attend an enforcement training that was given by the FTC!"

It seems to me like Congress must be running out of acronyms!

Here's an interesting article: "The Motives and Psychology of the Black Hat Community" is about a group of people who set up an internet server that is intentionally vulnerable. They find out who's messing with it, and eavesdrop on their IRC conversations. They pretty much decided that the attackers were just messing around, hitting systems without any kind of overall plan, not taking any of it very seriously. It makes you wonder how effective someone with a plan and some motivation could be.

Have you ever heard of a web bug? It's a tiny (1x1 pixel) invisible image in a web page that automatically accesses another site when you go to that page. For example, when you go to the site, it contains these two web bugs:

<img src="" width=1 height=1 border=0>


<IMG WIDTH= 1HEIGHT=1border=0SRC="">

The first one directs your computer to to log a web site hit. The second one goes to MatchLogic ( with this information:


This doesn't seem to have any user-unique information, but it is possible for a company to include individual information from cookies using web bugs.

This is not such a big deal, but its possible to put web bugs in email. Just by opening an email (html, not text), you could unknowingly access another web site via a web bug. That way, a marketing company could conceivably match up a cookie identifier with an email address. I haven't tested this yet, but it sounds reasonable.

It seems like Microsoft should put some limits on what HTML email can do. It's one thing to use it for formatting, but scripts and automatic internet accesses should be no-no's, in my opinion.

More information:

Friday in Chicago, some doctors put artificial retinas in three people's eyes. The artificial retina is a chip that's about the size of the head of a pin only thinner. It has about 3500 solar cells on it, that convert light into electricity. This could cure or improve people with macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, the two most common causes of blindness in the U.S.

They don't know whether the silicon retinas work yet, but if they do it could help a lot of people. It seems like it could open up the possibility of artificial eyes. Instead of attaching solar cells, you could attach a chip that receives electrical impulses from a video camera and produces the same types of signals that the artificial retinas. I don't know if this is feasible, but it seems like it would be. And if you took it one step farther, you could have superhuman vision -- see in the dark, telescopic or microscopic vision, additional bandwidth, etc. I guess this will be quite a few years in the future, though.

I always thought the hard part on something like this is getting the interface down between the outside world and the brain, whether it's eyes, ears, or touch. It looks like they've solved this part of the problem, at least for eyes. Assuming it works.


Speaking of doctors, the day before Friday (that would be Thursday) Cathy (my wife) had foot surgery. She's healthy now, but will be recovering for a few weeks.





I was out roller blading today on a bike trail and ran across this building:


It's got lots of barbed wire, and I even took this through a third fence. I looked on a map of Rochester, MN, and it said it was a Federal Medical Facility. I was thinking that the federal hospital must have a hard time keeping patients.

Being curious, I went back and walked across a couple of soccer fields and through some trees to get back to the building barbed wire fences. A guard wearing a Bureau of Prisons uniform drove up to meet me before I made it to the fence. He was pretty nice but it did explain that I was where I shouldn't be so I should go somewhere else.

I was pretty surprised that they'd be watching so close that a guard would drive up to me before I even got there. Once Mike and I walked all the way up to a White Sands missile base without seeing a guard.

I checked up on the Federal Medical Facility. It's a hospital for federal prisoners, and it seems to emphasize psychiatric care. There are around 850 inmates, and over 400 employees there. Hopefully those groups are mutually exclusive. They're hiring nurses.

The Other Pictures of Today are from southeastern Minnesota.

Img_4703.jpg  A Trail

Img_4722.jpg  Some Corn

Img_4754.jpg  The Minnesota jungle

This was out in the middle of Quarry Hill Park. I'm pretty sure it's evidence left by aliens.

Img_4755.jpg     Img_4756.jpg

Img_4759.jpg  A Pond

Img_4762.jpg  ...and some real wildlife.

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