More Junkmail from Bob!

Wednesday, June 6, 2001
Important Stuff.

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It's prettier.

60 years ago today the Allies invaded Normandy. Today in Normandy there is little to fear except floods, mad cows, and foot & mouth disease.

Image Voyager is just about ready for distribution. It's got batch printing, email, and some other new features. I even reduced the number of unusual design considerations. If you care to download a 4-meg file, try it out and let me know what you think:

Links or Right?

Once I built a radio controlled airplane. Actually I've built several, but this one was special. I hooked up the aileron controls backwards. I took it off, and about the time I realized the plane was responding backwards it was upside down and headed into the ground.

In some full-size airplane checklists, there is a check to make sure the ailerons move in the proper direction before you take off. I was thinking once that surely no airplane mechanic would hook them up backwards, but I realized it had probably happened.

But it could never happen on a modern airliner, could it? Something like an Airbus A320 with advanced fly-by-wire technology?

On March 20 in Frankfurt, a Lufthansa A320 took off runway 18 headed for Paris. Right after it took off it hit a little turbulence, possibly caused by a plane landing on runway 5R just before. This caused the left wing to move down a little, and the pilot corrected. This is not unusual.

But when the pilot made his correction using the joystick at his side, the left wing went down instead of up. The copilot realized what was going on, or maybe he just realized that something was wrong, and he hit his pilot-override switch and brought the airplane level. According to the plane's data recorders, the plane was banked 21 degrees at full throttle and the left wing tip came within 1.5 feet of the ground.

They put the plane on autopilot, climbed to 10,000 feet, and verified that the pilot's controls were in fact working backwards. Then they landed the plane back in Frankfurt.

It turns out that maintenance had been performed on the plane before the flight and 4 wires were hooked up wrong. At least two "filters" that are supposed to catch this kind of error were "breached," whatever that means. During the preflight, the pilot and/or copilot move the sticks and verify aileron and spoiler movement on the electronic indicators. They probably saw backwards movement on the pilot's control but didn't notice it.

This kind of thing is supposed to be impossible, but it happened. The crew and 115 passengers almost ended up dead.

Air Safety Week, June 4 issue, has an article in it but you have to subscribe to read it. Here's something free you can read:,7

Ed and the SDMI

Digital watermarking is a technique you can use to hide a message in an image, an audio file, or a video file. They message is essentially hidden among the noise of the file, and is difficult to alter or remove.

Last September SDMI, the Secure Digital Music Initiative, issued an official challenge. They offered to pay $10,000 to anybody who could remove their digital watermarking from some audio files without noticeably affecting the audio quality. They said, "So here's the invitation: Attack the proposed technologies. Crack them."

They gave people three weeks to do it, and they gave no information on how the watermark was placed in the image. This is an unusually short time for this type of challenge, and typically in a challenge such as this the challenger would provide some technical information on how the watermark was put into the file. I'm guessing that they did this for a publicity stunt, expecting that most people wouldn't try and those that did could never figure it with no technical information in the short time allotted. In fact, a lot of people at the time poo-pooed the challenge as being too short and without information, and refused to participate.

A Computer Science professor from Princeton named Ed led a group who did the unexpected. They successfully removed the watermark without hurting the audio quality, within the three-week period. SDMI confirmed this. Here is Ed's statement after they broke the watermarks:

The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) is developing a comprehensive system to prevent music piracy. Central to this system is watermarking, in which an inaudible message is hidden in music to provide copyright information to devices like MP3 players and recorders. Devices may then refuse to make copies of pieces of music, depending on the meaning of the watermark contained therein.

In September 2000, SDMI issued a public challenge to help them choose among four proposed watermarking technologies. During the three-week challenge, researchers could download samples of watermarked music, and were invited to attempt to remove the secret copyright watermarks.

During the challenge period, our team of researchers, from Princeton University and Rice University, successfully defeated all four of the watermarking challenges, by rendering the watermarks undetectable without significantly degrading the audio quality of the samples. Our success on these challenges was confirmed by SDMI's email server.

Our paper describing our findings regarding the four watermarking challenges has been accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the Fourth International Information Hiding Workshop. The Workshop will be held in Pittsburgh, April 25-27, 2001. This statement, a Frequently Asked Questions document, our full paper (when it is released), and other related information can be found on the Web at

For more information, please contact Edward Felten at (609) 258-5906 or

Instead of sending them $10,000, the SDMI threatened to sue them for telling people how they did it. They told them to "withdraw the paper submitted for the upcoming Information Hiding Workshop, assure that it is removed from the Workshop distribution materials and destroyed, and avoid a public discussion of confidential information."

Here's the full letter sent by the SDMI:

Ed and the others decided not to present the paper at the upcoming conference. On April 26 at the conference, Ed said:

Nevertheless, the Recording Industry Association of America, the SDMI Foundation, and the Verance Corporation threatened to bring a lawsuit if we proceeded with our presentation or the publication of our paper. Threats were made against the authors, against the conference organizers, and against their respective employers.

Litigation is costly, time-consuming, and uncertain, regardless of the merits of the other side's case. Ultimately we, the authors, reached a collective decision not to expose ourselves, our employers, and the conference organizers t litigation at this time.

Here's his full statement:

On May 6, despite the threatening letter, SDMI and the Recording Industry Association of America said they were just joking and never intended to sue. Here's what they said: "The Secure Digital Music Initiative Foundation (SDMI) does not - nor did it ever - intend to bring any legal action against Professor Felten or his co-authors. We sent the letter because we felt an obligation to the watermark licensees who had voluntarily submitted their valuable inventions to SDMI for testing." The third party of the threatening letter, Verance, did not rescind their threat to sue Ed.

Today is D-Day. Also today, Ed and the others sued for the right to publish their research. I think the most important part of their lawsuit is asking the judge for this:

A declaration that the application of the DMCA to the publication of scientific, academic or technical speech, including the publication of computer programs, violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

I doubt if the judge goes that far, but I think he should.

In my opinion the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a bad law and should be changed. The Recording Industry and some others lobbied enough and paid enough politicians to get it pushed through. The people who passed the law didn't understand its ramifications. Now we have a law on the books that inhibits the free exchange of computer science research. It reminds me of Academia in the People's Republic of China. If it's not politically correct, it gets squashed and swept under the carpet.

I May Be Assimilated.

I loaded a new Windows Media Player onto my new computer, thinking that I might like to play some kangaroo songs I run across on Napster. One day a message popped up asking if I wanted to download a new version of Windows Media Player. That kind of irritated me because I didn't ask it to access the internet and tell anybody what I was doing.

I started looking at the options, and found the option to Check for Upgrade once a day, once a week, or once a month. There is no option NOT to check for an upgrade. I don't want a bunch of programs using my "valuable" internet bandwidth trying to find upgrades for themselves. If I want an upgrade, I'll go find it. I guess Bill Gates has other ideas.

Another option was to "Allow Internet Sites to Uniquely Identify Your Player." Although I don't have much to hide or even much to be interested in on my computer, I don't particularly want other web sites accessing my computer to uniquely identify me and my Windows Media Player. I probably wouldn't mind, but I wasn't even asked if this was OK. The option was automatically checked when I installed Windows Media Player.

While on the subject of Microsoft, you can upgrade Internet Explorer to version 6.0. It's a beta version, although the term "beta version" has fallen from grace much like the term "welfare" and now they call it the "preview edition." All you need is 75 megabytes of hard drive space for the full program. That's not even borderline ridiculous -- it's COMPLETELY out of line. It would be just about impossible for the average person to download that large a file. The "typical" IE6 download is a mere 25 megabytes. For a web browser?! Get yours now!

Office XP

Last week Bill Gates went to New York and announced the release of Office XP. It's the replacement for Office 2000. That's the replacement for Office 97. That's what I use. Microsoft estimates that 55 or 60 percent of their Office users are using Office 97 or earlier.

To encourage people to upgrade, Microsoft is now charging for customer assistance for anyone who uses Office 97 products, both on the phone and on the internet. Since I gave up on ever getting help from Microsoft years ago, it shouldn't affect me.

I upgraded to Office 2000 for a little while, but went back to Office 97 because there were too many things I didn't like about it. I haven't decided yet whether to try Office XP.

One thing that I don't like about XP is the copy protection. After you install Office XP, you have to call or transmit your secret code number to Microsoft. You can do this only twice. I can install it on my desktop and my laptop, but after that if I replace either computer, or if I have a " significant hardware upgrade," I have to go begging to Microsoft for permission before I use Office XP.,1367,41622,00.html

Word 2002 lets you go back to the multiple document interface found in Office 97. Maybe someone else didn't like that "enhancement" either. According to the reviews I've read, the biggest enhancements to Word 2000 involve sharing the documents with others. According to CNET's review: "With so much attention to collaboration, Word 2002's a smart update if you work with others. Solo writers, though, don't get as much out of this version and should think twice before upgrading."

Word 2002 does have voice recognition and automatic translation to and from Spanish and French. I think that's kind of neat, but I would hate to install a 210 megabyte mess just to get that. ViaVoice is supposed to be better at voice recognition anyway.

Here's what Walter Mossberg says: "Office XP has several nice new usability improvements aimed at average users. These usability aids mainly take features already in prior versions and present them in a new, clearer, cleaner fashion. And Office XP drops or tones down some of the automated features in earlier versions that irritated many users.

"But Office XP isn't a must upgrade for two reasons. First, if you're already comfortable with Office, there's no reason to break with your routine and spend more money. Second, this version of Office sports a hidden agenda that is less commendable than its interface improvements. It has a number of features designed to make it a launching pad for various paid Internet services Microsoft wants to sell, or help its business partners sell, over the next year."

Surely Microsoft wouldn't do anything underhanded, would they?

Some people in the U.K. think so. In the U.K. there's a government web site called Gateway:

People will be able to use this site for just about any government service from paying taxes to searching real-estate documents. Hundreds of government offices will provide services over the gateway site.

Microsoft magnanimously agreed to develop the U.K. government web site. They took over the project when some other developers were behind schedule. Now, for some strange reason, you can get full access to the site only if you're using Microsoft's web browser, Internet Explorer. I guess that must be an oversight. Or maybe an oversite. I guess that means is that I'll have to use Internet Explorer when I apply to be a Lord or an Earl.,1367,44186,00.html


It seems to me that superconductors shouldn't exist, with the possible exception of Arturo Toscanini, but they do. They're almost getting practical, too. Detroit Edison is trying out some high-temperature superconducting electric lines.

They're still in the test phase in Detroit, but the week before last some people in Denmark put a superconducting power cable to use. It's a demonstration project, but it is providing electricity to customers. They have 3 superconducting power cables in use, each 30 meters long. They handle 30,000 volts, and must be kept below the critical temperature of -160C.

There are more details in this article, but you'll have to figure them out yourself because I don't read Danish very well.


Antimatter is something that's even harder for me to imagine, but it really exists too. Anti-electrons, or positrons, are used in PET brain scans. Positrons are given off sometimes with radiation.

Antiprotons are harder to come by. If you want an antiproton, you pretty much have to create it using a lot of energy. I qualified that statement with the scientific term "pretty much" because there is a "fountain" of antimatter spewing near the center of our galaxy. This is probably coming from a black hole, something ELSE that's hard for my poor brain to comprehend. It's conceivable that someday in the distant future than people may be able to "mine" antimatter from sources such as this. But for now, we have to make it.

CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland and Fermilab in Illinois are the leaders in Antimatter research. From what I can tell, CERN seems to be ahead.

Using an Antimatter Decelerator (as opposed to an atomic accelerator), they are producing a steady beam of low-energy anti-protons -- about 50 million per minute. The anti-protons are made by smashing protons at high speeds into iridium rods. When a proton hits an iridium nucleus, it releases enough energy to create matter from the energy. Among the newly created particles are some anti-protons which are siphoned off using magnets.

The magnets used to direct the anti-protons aren't exactly like refrigerator magnets. They're amazingly fast and accurate electromagnets. I was going to say they're borderline magic, but then all magnets are magic.

At CERN they plan to make some low energy anti-hydrogen. Anti-hydrogen has been made in the past, but it has always been to excited to handle. The decelerator reduces the particle speeds to about 1/10 the speed of light. As a result, the hydrogen atoms made from the decelerated anti-protons are a lot less excited and easier to observe.

So will we be able to use antimatter to power spaceships at warp speed like they do on Star Trek? Not necessarily. Warp Speed is faster than light, and that's another problem in itself. But how about using antimatter to power a spacecraft for interstellar travel?

It's possible. In fact, it's very likely to happen sometime. Today, the 50 million antiprotons per minute require a lot of energy to create. It will take far too many minutes and too many Swiss Francs to make enough anti-hydrogen to power a spacecraft.

Probably the first step in using antimatter for space propulsion is using it as a catalyst for a fission reaction. This makes the fission a lot more efficient. Here are the details. In fact, James Huckaby sent me this link which is what got me reading about antimatter, so if you're bored, blame him. This article IS pretty interesting, though.

Socrates or Someone

I read a quote by Socrates once, sometime around 400 BC. Well, I read it about 30 years ago but the quote was from about 400 BC. "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers."

I was in school when I read this, and I thought it was pretty funny because I had been accused of certain amount of disrespect, frequent teacher-tyrannizing, and even some occasional leg-crossing.

I thought I'd look it up to show my kids that they're not the first teacher-tyrannizers in the world, but I had a hard time finding it. The reason I had a hard time finding it is because I was looking for it in the writings of Socrates and Plato, and it wasn't there. Socrates never said it.

Patty and Hohnson published this in 1953, in "Personality and Adjustment."  In 1966, Mr. van Hall, the mayor of Amsterdam, used the quote after a street demonstration. After that it was picked up by the New York Times and reprinted from there a lot. The people at Forbes magazine went through the trouble of trying to confirm the wording of the quote and figured out it was a fake.

I was suckered!

Pictures of Today

A Minnesota bumblebee

        Img_9098.jpg      Img_9102.jpg

A Missouri thistle


A dragonfly, thinking.


A question mark on poison ivy.


Locust thorns!


A flower.


A butterfly upside down.


...and finally, a really high-flyer.


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