More Junkmail from Bob!
Monday, September 24, 2001
Today I grabbed another mess of email addresses from my Inbox. If you're reading Junkmail for the first time, yours may well have been one of them. Congratulations!
Fall has fell
It's Fall! It's official. Last Friday the sun crossed the equator. Well, actually the earth moved a little north, but for whatever reason the sun is now south of the equator. I drove to Colorado last week to retrieve an errant airplane, and I encountered roughly 1.3 jillion monarch butterflies headed south across I70. Furthermore, there were flocks of birds flagrantly disregarding the FAA's flight restrictions. It's Fall!
I'm still trying to figure out how those butterflies can get to the same tree year after year, when the ones who are in the tree this year are the great-grandchildren or so of those who were there last year. And they were doing this before GPS!
GPS for Speeders
Technology is coming to the aid of fast drivers in the U.K. In Europe it's common to get a speeding ticket by driving underneath an unmanned radar-gun / camera. If you go to fast, it takes your picture and you get a speeding ticket in the mail. (I was driving in Germany a while back and wondered what those things were that kept flashing at me.)
Morpheus is fighting back. They combine a daily-updated map of the camera locations with a GPS receiver, and you get a warning when you're getting close to a speed trap.
Instant ID, Genetically
In a few years it will be possible put a hair, drop of blood, or something like that on a handheld DNA tester for immediate identification. That will make some privacy-worriers worry, and it will make it a lot easier to screen people crossing international borders.
Deep Space 1
Deep Space 1 flew through the tail of the comet last Saturday. At 36,900 mph, there was some question as to whether it would survive the encounter. Pictures will be available on Tuesday, after they are downloaded. The spacecraft is not equipped with wideband internet.
This was just a bonus mission for Deep Space 1. Its main mission was to try out an ion-propulsion engine. I think the way it works is that it uses solar radiation to ionize xenon, and it shoots the ionized particles out the back of the spacecraft. This gives a lot less thrust (about .02 lbs.) than a chemical rocket engine, but the total amount of work for a given amount of propellant is greater.
Here's a picture of the Deep Space 1 ion propulsion engine:
Here's where Deep Space 1 is now:
Deep Space 1 also uses a self-directed navigation system. It optically checks out the positions of the sun, stars, planets, etc., calculates its position, and makes course corrections automatically.
In a couple of months, NASA will probably turn off Deep Space 1. I think they should leave it running even if they stop monitoring it. Amateur astronomers would probably be happy to listen to Deep Space 1 and download its data.
What kind of name is SIRTF?
There are currently three NASA "Great Observatory" satellites -- the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. These are all named after recent scientists.
The fourth great observatory will be launched next year. It's currently called the Space Infrared Telescope Facility. It needs a better name. You can help. Got to
... and name that satellite!
SIRTF will be launched into a trailing earth orbit. It won't orbit the earth, but it will trail the earth around the sun. They're doing this to get away from the ambient heat and infrared noise of the earth. I was surprised how much difference the trailing earth orbit makes in the ambient temperature. It reduces the surrounding temperature to about 35C above absolute zero. SIRTF uses liquid helium to stay cold for better infrared measurements.
I thought about writing about the plane crashes in New York and Arlington, the news coverage, and the politicians, but there's not much that hasn't already been said several times by several different people. Then I thought about making fun of the stupid things that some people are saying on the news, but that would offend some people. So pretend I repeated a lot of what's already been said, and then pretend I offended you with a disrespectful and irreverent attitude. That way I won't have to write it and you won't have to read it.
Funny thing -- I've been taking criticism about my poor attitude ever since grade school. No problem, though. The world will eventually come around.
OK, Maybe a Little.
The federal government is doing lots of things quickly in the name of fighting terrorism. Some of those things are not being done well. After the plane crashes in NY and VA, they banned all VFR aviation. VFR stands for "visual flight rules." It generally applies to planes that are not operating under flight plans, such as small private planes. That ban was probably reasonable for a day or so, even though planes in the crashes were airliners that fly IFR.
Even after the Department of Transportation boss said the nation's air system was fully restored, they wouldn't let Bill Kendrick fly his 2-seat fabric-wing plane that carries about 15 gallons of gas. I'm sure we all agree that that Bill, a well-known hoodlum, is a definite security risk. But is he more dangerous than a 767 flying with 23,900 gallons of jet fuel? Finally they started allowing most VFR flights last Thursday.
There are some new flight restrictions that are probably a good idea, considering that there will likely be some "copy-cat" crimes. For example, now it's not legal to fly lower than 3000' over a college or pro football game. It's also not legal to fly lower than 3000' over a major outdoor gathering of people. They're not real clear about what a major outdoor gathering of people is, but I'm pretty sure they're talking about the first day of deer gun season.
I'll bet crop dusters, or the more politically palatable "aerial applicators" are pretty mad. First they were banned. Then they were allowed. Then they were allowed, but only under IFR. Now they're banned again. I don't know whether crop dusting should be prohibited or not, but it should either be one way or the other.
Congress is getting into the action too. The Anti-Terrorism Act is being pushed through. I think it may be getting pushed through too hard. Under the act, the FBI has new authority to eavesdrop on the internet, cell phones, etc. I don't think that's much of a problem, but a lot of people are complaining, claiming it infringes on their constitutional right of internet.
One thing that I do consider a big problem is the list of "federal terrorism offenses." That makes the punishment for things like hacking or writing a computer virus "life in prison without the possibility of parole." I haven't ready the Anti-Terrorism Act yet so I may be wrong about this, but that's what this article says:
Phil, PGP, and the Post
About 10 years ago, a guy in California named Phil wrote a program called Pretty Good Protection, or PGP. It's a program that encrypts email so people eavesdropping on the internet or people snooping on your computer can't read your email.
Last week the Washington Post had an article about Phil. They said he was "overwhelmed with feelings of guilt" about writing PGP because terrorists used it to encrypt their messages.
The Washington Post lied. Here's Phil's response:
In Washington, some politicians are trying to make PGP and other strong encryption software illegal unless there is a "back door," or secret universal password, provided so the FBI, CIA, and Sportsman's Acres Police Department can decrypt the messages they consider necessary to read. This would be dumb, in my opinion, because it's easy to write an encryption program and they would be readily available on the internet without the back door. It would make virtually no difference in law enforcement and terrorism.
Encryption is something that's available to everybody who wants it, and it will continue to be available whether it's legal or not. Maybe the best approach is for the government to figure out how to break the popular encryption programs without using a back door. If there's a back door required for encryption software, it's only a matter of time before the back door is made public and the encryption is useless.
Encryption is not something just for terrorists and government agents. Many U.S. companies use it to keep technology secrets from escaping to Russia, China or other places with loosely enforced patent laws. More importantly, I think digital encryption algorithms are neat.
The Nimda computer worm came out last week. However, the press was preoccupied and nobody noticed. The Nimda worm is a pretty impressive worm, and it's spreading. Even so, I don't think life in prison is the appropriate punishment for the author.
If you use Outlook or Outlook Express, you should download the latest version from Microsoft. If you don't want to do that, look out for an attachment called readme.exe. I've seen a couple of these in my Inbox already.
Pictures of Today
The top of the Ten-Mile Range, from Peak 4, near Breckenridge, CO.
A neat rock.
A mountain balloon.
Some Leadville aspens. They're yellow!
Cirrus clouds on 9-13. No contrails.
Into the jungle on the Pryor Creek Nature Trail (http://pryorcreeknaturetrail.org
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. This is neat! Well, it's not really that exciting but at least it works. Whenever I add a bunch of unsuspecting victims to the Junklist, about 10 or 15 percent want to get off the list. That's fine -- all they really have to do is ask. The problem is, some people ask me to remove an email address that's different from the one I have on my list. Rather than explaining in explicit detail what I think of their evolutionary past, I generally hunt for a similar email address and delete it. With this auto-click-remover, even the digitally challenged can get it right on the first try and I don't have to manually mess with it.
I'm Bob Webster and I live at email@example.com
. Have a good day!