Once again, Junk Mail!  I don't remember which one this is, but today is Friday, September 17, 1999. Check out that 4-digit year. Am I Y2K compliant or what? If you are new to this fine piece of pseudo-journalistic collection of zeros and ones, and for some strange reason you want to see previous junk mails, check out


A picture of today -- a bike trail near Lakeland, FL:


Oklahoma is one of three states in which cock fighting is legal. Some Oklahoma politicians are fighting to keep it legal. This is good, because while they're worrying about roosters they don't have time to raise taxes and pass laws. (Are you listening, Jim?)

Microsoft is buying Visio for about $1,260,000,000.00. That's more money that I got when ViaGrafix bought American Small Business Computers, another fine producer of graphics software. I asked Mike why he didn't pay that much. He said it's because he's a cheapskate. So I think I'll sue him, as long as I'm not required to spill hot coffee on myself.

Way back about a hundred years ago or so, when computers were slow and operating systems were fast, someone decided it would be a good idea to scramble computer data so it couldn't be read by other people. I suspect this was someone who lost his girlfriend's phone number and then his girlfriend to a coworker. So they came up with "encryption."

Encryption has actually been around for a lot of years, just not on computers. It was used a lot during World War II. The U.S. and England broke a lot of the codes so they could understand German and Japanese messages being transmitted by radio.

These codes generally consisted of substituting one letter for another, like an anagram. For example, the word "coworker" might be "dpxpslfs." In this example, you increment each letter by one. Except the anagram substitution was too simple, so they would substitute different letters depending on their position in the message or the day of the week, or phase of the moon. The schemes could be pretty complex, but they had to be simple enough to be decoded by someone who might be a little stressed out by the bullets whizzing around his head.

When computer encryption came around, it made it pretty simple to encrypt something that would be just about impossible to break without a computer. All you had to do is modify the message with a bunch of really complex computations. But if the message cracker had a computer, he could eventually catch up and crack the message. So the message encryptions got better and better.

But there was a problem with this encryption stuff. If I wanted to send you a coded message, you have to have two things in order to read it. You have to have the decoding software, and you have to have the password or "key". It's not feasible to write a new program for each person you send encrypted messages to, so you would have to get them the password for the message somehow. The problem is, if you have to encrypt the message so it won't get intercepted, how do you get the recipient the password? They had this problem in World War II. When someone captured the enemy's codebook, they could read a lot of enemy messages.

So someone came up with the idea of public key encryption. You make the algorithm known. The most popular is the DES method, which stand for Defense Encryption Standard. For some reason, the Air Force likes to keep some of their stuff secret. But how do you send the message without sending the key (password) to the recipient?

Suppose Leann wants to send Cathy a secret message. The Cathy thinks up a secret password. Then she runs it through a special program that encrypts the password. Then she sends her encrypted password to the Leann. Leann doesn't know the original password, but her message-encrypting program takes the encrypting password and uses it to encrypt the message itself. Leann sends the encrypted message back to Cathy. Then Cathy uses the original unencrypted password to decode the message and read it.

This all sounds pretty complex, but when you think about it it solves some security problems. First, Leann and Cathy never have to send the unencrypted password anywhere. The encrypted password cannot be used to decode the message. This is impossible. The only person who knows the password is Cathy, because she made it up.

The easiest way to break this method of encryption is for the encrypted password to be intercepted and decrypted. But this doesn't work very well because the password is long enough to make it really hard. A lot of trial and error is involved in breaking the password, so making the password "key" sufficiently long makes the code "unbreakable."

The 16-bit keys have 65,536 possible combinations. 32-bit keys have 4,294,967,296 possible values, and 56-bit keys have 72,057,594,037,927,900. That's about 12,000 times the distance from the earth to the sun, in INCHES!

So a few years ago, when they came out with the unbreakable 56-bit public key DES encryption, some people got together and decided to see if they could break it. They enlisted the help of hundreds of PCs on the internet. They split up the computations into components that could be worked on independently by lots different computers. They gave each participant a piece of the action, and eventually this unbreakable code was broken by a bunch of people with personal computers, just for fun!

The federal government, being quite astute, figured that this might not be such a good thing. If you could do this with a bunch of college kids and a few other hangers on, you could do it with the multi-million dollar parallel processing computer that they had just sold China for weather forecasting. So they started using 128-bit public key encryption. A 128-bit key has roughly 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations.

High-powered stuff, huh?  But you, too, can use it!  It's really not that difficult to write the encryption programs -- it's just tough to break them. You can download for FREE PGP (Pretty Good Protection) to encrypt your email using 128-bit DES encryption:


Notice the notices on this web site: "PGP is distributed by MIT only to U.S. citizens in the United States, or to Canadian citizens in Canada." This notice will be going away soon, because this week congress decided to relax the export controls on this encryption technology.

Why? For years, the government has been complaining that encryption methods should have a "back door" key that allows law enforcement agencies to decode the messages of terrorists and drug dealers. Some people considered that an infringement on their constitutional right of privacy (even though the word "privacy" doesn't appear in the U.S. Constitution.) Why the change? Why not allow exports of something that's freely downloadable over the internet? Why not allow exports of something that's readily available all over the world?

According to Janet Reno, "We must recognize that the policy the administration is announcing today will result in greater availability of encryption, which will mean that more terrorists and criminals will use encryption." President Clinton responded, "Well, I think you're ugly."

But it turns out that it's Al Gore's fault. It seems he's not doing too well in the polls. It also seems the George W. Bush is doing pretty darned good in Silicon Valley. The people in Silicon Valley will make millions of dollars off this announcement, and Mr. Gore, who claimed to invent the internet once, will happily take credit and contributions for this policy reversal. In an unrelated announcement on the same day, Bill Gates announced he was setting aside $1,300,000,000.00 dollars for minority scholarships. I wonder if there is a connection....

Tip of today:  Don't invest in Russian Apartments.

Y2K Update:  In his testimony before Congress this week, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan conceded that hurricane Floyd was, in fact, NOT caused by the Year 2000 problem. He said instead, the hurricane was caused by the impending inflationary spiral.

In the Puerto Rico Prison, the prisoners are getting pay-per-view piped in so they can see the big boxing match between Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad. I'm glad my tax dollars are going for a good cause!

More pictures of today are "grey days"

... in Antarctica:

... in St. Louis:

... on top of Mt. Marcy, NY. (I don't know this kid, but he made it seven miles to get there):

And finally, I won $ 0.25 from mike on Wednesday.

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