More Junkmail from Bob!
Tuesday, October 31, 2000
Mad about AOL
Is there any significance to the fact that the elections are between Halloween, when we're supposed to be scared, and Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Turkey Day?
I was going say something about voting for Alfred E. Neuman here, but I didn't know whether it's Newman, Newmann, Neumann, or Neuman. So I went to madmagazine.com to find out. I was transferred to warnerbros.com! Sometime since I was in high school, Mad sold out! These were the hardcore non-commercialistic people who wouldn't even talk to advertisers, and now AOL is going to own them? Do they drive minivans now?
AOL and Time Warner spent $3,800,000 lobbying congress and other government employees during the first six months of this year. I wonder if those politicians will pay as much attention to me if I write them a letter. At least now we know where SOME of the money for all those campaign ads comes from. In an unrelated issue, the government is expected to approve the merger between AOL and Time Warner.
In my opinion, AOL should take some of that lobbying money and spend it on programmers to debug their lousy software. I could make a list of about 20 major bugs they need to fix. Sometimes I wonder if these bugs are so major, why are so many people using AOL? Then the answer comes to me... TV sitcoms have fried their brains. It surely couldn't be me, could it?
What is hacking? I thought it was bad golf. There's a big meeting in Europe where they're trying to get the "civilized" countries of the world to agree on common anti-hacker laws. They consider hacking unauthorized computer access. 41 countries are drafting the Council of Europe's Cybercrime Treaty in Amsterdam, even as I write. The U.S. Department of Justice is involved. It should be finished around the first of the year.
The problem is that the drafters apparently don't know as much about computers and hacking as they ought to. Maybe they're career politicians who don't use their computer for much other than email and web browsing.
Some computer security people are upset because it makes some of their software tools illegal. "The witch hunt of the 21st century" is a phrase that's being passed around in the computer security community. I think there's some truth to it. People (including me) tend to be afraid of what they don't understand. Solution should be to learn about it rather than make paranoid decisions. Or at a minimum, learn about it and THEN make the paranoid decisions.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has a pretty good handle on the hacker concept. Some people broke into one of their development networks and had high-level access for a week or two. Microsoft said the hackers did not see anything important. That makes me wonder if the high level developers at Microsoft are doing anything important. Bill Gates said of the security breach, "The perpetrators will be found and they will be assimilated."
The hackers got in using Qaz, a trojan normally distributed through email. Maybe Microsoft deserved what they got since it's so easy for Outlook and Outlook Express to execute trojans.
Rambus and Intel
Speaking of bad decisions, a few months ago the upper management of Intel allied themselves with Rambus and the RDRAM standard, and in the process alienated Intel from other RAM companies. Several of their engineers told the decision-makers that they were doing something stupid, but the bosses behaved a little like the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert. They said to do it anyway.
Now, after the 820 chipset has been discontinued and the 850 chipset is almost discontinued, those engineers who resigned over this are saying "I told you so" from the soup lines, or more likely from higher paying positions at the competition. It looks like the Rambus standard will be gone in three years.
This apparently was a big deal for Intel. I bought a couple of their motherboards with the 820 chipset. One died a fiery death after a month or so of use. I procrastinated sending it back for a while. Then one day when I was particularly bored I called Intel and told them their motherboard died. After being referred 7 times to other phone numbers at Intel (I am not exaggerating) I finally found a nice guy who said he'd overnight a motherboard to me even before I sent the busted one back.
It came in, and I when I got around to looking at it I realized that it required RDRAM, which I did not have and which is a lot more expensive that SDRAM. So I sent it back. Or rather, Yvonna sent it back, asking for one that accepted the good ole PC133 SDRAM.
Then I got a call from Intel. They said something about me being a stupid idiot, that they didn't make any motherboards that supported SDRAM any more, and didn't I see that 128 meg of RDRAM they included with the motherboard? I said no, but since I was an idiot could they please send it again? They did, and it works.
They apparently had to do this for thousands of stupid idiots like me across the country. The culprit was the RDRAM standard. It was too tight. You can read the details here.
NEAR is Near
The NEAR spacecraft buzzed by Eros at an altitude of 3 miles and an astonishing speed of 14 mph las week. It seems pretty neat to be able to orbit something that close and that slow. Here's a picture from the lowest pass. There are some other pictures on this site too.
There continues to be a high mortality rate for Dotcoms. Gone or going: Beautyjungle.com, yourownworld.com, homepoint.com, homepage.com, ifuse.com, headlight.com, weddingchannel.com, modo.net, mylacky.com, boxman.com, petopia.com, lawbooks.com, theglobe.com, myhome.com, law.com, inetnow.com, ibelieve.com, stamps.com, bigwords.com, eve.com. Most of these companies have folded or have had major layoffs (half the people or more) in the past few days.
This is not an unusually bad week for dotcoms. When a company runs out of cash and is not making any money, there are few options. Here's a story about verde.com. They blamed a good part of their problems on their developer Scient.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited North Korea last week and had a great time. Not to be outdone, one day later a couple of U.S. Air Force pilots went to North Korea in their fighters. The problem was, they weren't invited. They turned around even before they landed. North Korea is very upset about this, but not nearly as much as their commanding officer. I believe that this might be considered a CLM -- a career limiting move.
Only 200,000,000 Millimeters
There are only eight launching days left for the "Cheap Access to Space" $250,000 prize. All you have to do is "Send a payload of 2 kilograms to an altitude of 200 kilometers on or before 08 Nov 2000, using a privately-developed launcher."
There have been a few government obstacles and other problems for the participants. Some are going on with the project despite missing the November 8 deadline for the prize.
Fun with Planes
On October 1st, an American Airlines 727 was at Miami headed to Jamaica. During its taxi to the runway the crew found a problem with the yaw damper, an automatic rudder control. They taxied back and had the yaw damper controller replaced. Unfortunately, it was replaced with one that had been removed from another plane for repair.
They took off, and at 6300 feet there was an "uncommanded left yaw." In other words, the broken yaw damper damped the wrong way. It was not a major problem. The pilot asked to return to Miami, and the controllers said OK.
But then the plane started going up and down really hard. The pilot slowed down and the problem eased. The Elevator Boost Pack was broken too. They dumped fuel, did some emergency stuff, and landed safely.
From the NTSB report: "After the maintenance was performed on N875AA, the airplane was test flown, founded to be okay, and placed back into service."
Nine days later in Miami, some people were working in another American Airlines 727. The problem was that the tail skid was not retracting. A mechanic pulled the landing gear switch before the nose gear was pinned and the nosegear collapsed on the ground. Oops. It's been a bad month for AA maintenance personnel in Miami.
A couple of weeks ago in Van Nuys, California, a Gulfstream business jet had a fender-bender with a King Air. They were 2000-3000 feet in the air at the time, but neither plane crashed.
Optional reading material: Companies are getting serious about checking out employees' computer usage. (This will not be covered on the exam.)
The Pictures of Today
This is Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado. The clutter in the foreground is the Raytheon Premier I at the Leadville airport. This is one of the four premiers being used for FAA certification, which should happen by the end of the year. After that they'll start delivering to customers.
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Happy Halloween and don't forget to vote, whenever that is.