More Junkmail from Bob!

Sunday, September 24, 2000
Important Stuff.

Sun Spots

This week the sun displayed a giant sunspot group, more than a dozen times larger than the surface of the earth! Unusual magnetic fields from the sun's interior have made the surface of the sun unstable, which may cause the earth to be bombarded with millions of tons of dangerous solar matter from huge coronal mass ejections, disrupting communications and potentially causing power outages. This is the sensationalized version you can expect to see in the news this week.

The plain version? The sun is entering the high point of its 11-year cycle of activity, and a large sunspot group has appeared. It's only 1/3 the size of the record sunspot in 1947, and not as large the group in the last cycle 11 years ago. CME's will probably happen, and we probably won't see any effect. (Remember CME's from Junkmail last February?)

But it is pretty neat looking. These pictures are from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. They are taken using different wavelengths. I think the last one is visible light, but I'm not sure.

       seit_304_923.jpg   seit_284_923.jpg   seit_195_923.jpg



Manx Banx

Manx cats come from the Isle of Man, and island (surprisingly enough) which is about 60 miles southeast of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and about 70 miles northeast of Dublin, Ireland. I had to put them both in here to keep everybody happy, although I can never remember who's on what side in Ireland, let alone who are the good guys and the bad guys. Maybe all the violent ones are the bad guys.

A computer guy named Ralph also comes from the Isle of Man. At least he lives there now -- he originally came from Germany. He was checking his bank account online the other day and wondered how secure the setup was. So he tried a couple of things, and in a few minutes he had access thousands of bank accounts.

Ralph said, "'I was just checking details of my US bank account and was playing around looking to see how secure the system was. I was amazed there didn't seem to be any protection at all and within five minutes I had obtained full access to account details of hundreds of thousands of people. Anybody who has basic internet skills could have done it. I guess if I wanted to I could have transferred $50 million into my account."

Rather than transferring millions into his own account, he contacted the FBI and the Manx Police. To show them the problem, he printed out account details from the Bank of Oklahoma, a bank in Chicago, and one in Connecticut. I think this is all true, but I'm not sure.

Here's the article.

I think if someone illegally transferred money from your account the bank would cover it, but it would be a rude awakening to see your account dwindle to nothing. Unless it's already empty.

I did have an account at Datek go from a reasonably small positive number to negative $16 million one day. I bought some stock online, and somehow Datek got the price off by two or three of decimal points. That made it awfully expensive. They corrected it after a few hours, but they couldn't or wouldn't ever tell me exactly what happened. I don't use Datek any more.

Napster at College

Metallica lawyer Howard sent letters a couple of weeks ago to about 20 universities not-so-politely asking them to ban Napster from their students' computers. Stanford, MIT, Georgia Tech, and Duke told Howard to politely take a hike.

Stanford said, "Stanford University is committed to academic freedom and open access to information."  They also said they didn't condone copyright violations and would act if notified of a problem. I suspect this would not include confiscating a student's computer.

Here are details.

Sell the Oil!

(WARNING!  This section contains political opinion. Since it's my opinion, you may correctly assume that it is poorly thought out with little or no research to back it up, and therefore you may want to skip to the next section.)

I try to keep political opinions to a minimum in Junkmail, but sometimes stupidity overrides politics. That's what has happened with Clinton selling U.S. oil reserves. His public reason for this is to lower the price for gas. His real reason, I suspect, is to help get Gore elected and make Bush look like a friend of the evil oil companies.

I think it's really stupid because (1) Clinton's not selling enough oil to have much of an effect on gasoline prices, (2) even if it did have an effect it would only be a temporary dip, and (3) "Strategic Oil Reserves" should be kept in reserve and not used to manipulate prices, let alone for election year politics. I would guess that they're selling it at below-market prices too, but I don't know that.

If I complain I should come up with a solution. My solution is to watch the Olympics and go for a bike ride. Yeah, I realize this isn't an effective solution, but neither is Clinton's!

Politically Clueless

A political pollster called the other day. It went something like this. Or maybe it didn't.

First there was a preamble of how my views are important (because afterward they can hit me up for ACLU or NRA or John Birch Society contributions more efficiently.) Then the standard, "May I ask you a few questions?"

Me:  Sure!

Her:  Are you pro-life?

Me:  Yes

Her: OK...

Me:  Except for ticks and poison ivy. They should die.

Her:  No, I mean are you pro-choice?

Me:  Of course. If I couldn't make any choices things would sure be pretty boring.

Her:  Mr. Webster, I'm referring to pregnancy.

Me:  Oh. Well, I believe there are generally choices involved in that.

Her:  OK, OK, let's move on. Would you support mandated diversity for our public schools?

Me:  Yes I would. I believe that in addition to the real subjects, math and science, we should also teach things like history, English, music, speech, and possibly even the humanities.

Her:  I see. How about racial diversity for the schools?

Me:  I think a school should be racially neutral. Wasn't there a Constitutional Amendment about that?

Her:  Are you trying to be difficult?

Me:  No, but I am going to have to go to the bathroom soon.

Her:  OK, OK, I'll try to speed things up. Would you support a graduated flat tax for income tax?

Me:  No, because a graduated tax is not a flat tax. A flat tax by definition has no change in tax percentage according to income, and cannot be graduated.

Her:  Well then, would you favor a plain flat tax?

Me:  Anybody with half a brain would need more information before they could answer that question. How much is the tax rate? What kinds of deductions are there? Are businesses included in the flat tax? How do they handle costs of goods if there are no deductions? Do poor people also have to pay? Is welfare included in taxable income? I could go on and on, but I really have to go to the bathroom.

Her:  OK, let's move on quickly to the environment. How much has the global warming trend had a direct effect on your life?

Me:  None.

Her:  None?

Me:  None. The average global temperature has changed less than a degree in my lifetime. I just can't tell the difference in one degree.

Her:  What about the unusual weather patterns we've been experiencing?

Me:  I think they've been no more unusual than they have been in the past. Have you ever heard of the dust bowl? The unusual weather patterns you're referring to might be a result of TV stations sensationalizing the weather in order to get better ratings.

Her:  Yes, yes...OK.  What do you believe we can do to preserve the planet's biodiversity?

Me:  Hmm... I think we should kill the ticks and poison ivy, then use mutation caused by intense nuclear radiation together with some creative gene-splicing to create brand new species. Not only can we preserve biodiversity, we can expand it! Speaking of biology, I REALLY have to go. Bye!

Pictures of Today!

Some young aspens in an avalanche chute, near Montezuma, CO,


some mountains east of Breckenridge,


...and some curious locals.


Here's a real home on the range:


Tanker 67 delivered some firefighting chemicals for the Boulder fire last weekend.


Here's tanker 67 starting his takeoff roll, smoke from the Boulder fire in the background. He's headed to Wyoming for more fun with fires.


This is an unusual plane in Rochester, MN last week. I'm not sure what kind it is.


And here's an even more unusual helicopter in Meridian, Mississippi.


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I'm Bob Webster. Aircam progress is at Feel free to send questions, suggestions, and Olympic commentary to, and g'day!