Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

Bob’s Junkmail, #193

Gannett Peak

A group of us made the second annual valiant attempt at Gannett Peak, Wyoming. There were eleven people total, hailing from Washington, DC to Brisbane, Australia; eight boys and three girls, all old enough to know better (16 to 63) and dumb enough not to care.


It was a long hike, somewhere around 40 miles round-trip, with quite a lot of elevation change. Five people made it over Bonney Pass, four made it to within .3 miles the summit, and every last one of us chickened out.


This naturally provides for the 2008 Third Annual Valiant Attempt on Gannett Peak. Maybe we’ll try the route from the Green River next time, since that’s supposed to be harder.

It is a great place to hike. Here are a whole bunch of photos:


Unnamed 13460

The other day I found myself on top of a mountain named “unnamed 13460.” I was surprised to find a register there. Ten people (including me) have signed it since it was put there in 2004. I was the first this year.


I have climbed the highest 20+ peaks in Colorado, and considered myself experienced… until then. I thought I’d email a copy of the register to the first name on the list, so I googled Kathee Thomure. She was listed as having climbed the highest 200 mountains in Colorado, and also Denali. No email address.

Gary Swing, signed in 2005, listed his web site. From his site:

I have now summited 504 ranked Colorado summits over 13,000 feet and all of Colorado’s 100 highest peaks. I was also the 11th person to go to the highest point of all 64 Colorado counties and I have hiked the 21 ranked summits above 11,500 feet in the Kenosha Mountains, South Platte River Mountains, Tarryall Mountains, and the Puma Hills.

I got an email from Gary saying he is now 5 peaks away from climbing all 584 of Colorado’s 13,000-foot mountains. He’s hoping to finish next month.

I am now a beginner.


The Space Shuttle Endeavor has landed, safe and sound. There was some concern over some heat-shield tile damage. Here are some great photos of the tiles:


Space Racing

Need to launch your own satellite? Would you like to place your neighbor’s pet or maybe a small thermonuclear device into low earth orbit? For the low, low price of $7 million, you too can join the space race! SpaceX is a private company that will launch small spacecraft (up to 1500 lbs) into orbit. They’ll even help you with all that messy FAA and State Department paperwork.


About a year and a half ago, SpaceX’s Falcon I rocket made its maiden launch. The voyage lasted a few seconds, until a fuel leak caused the rocket’s fiery demise, i.e., blew it to smithereens.


You can see the fire leaking out around the top of the engine nozzles here:



The Falcon I is 70 feet high and 5.5 feet in diameter. The second demo flight last March performed a bit better, but there was an unexpected roll and the second stage engine shut down early.


Two more Falcon I flights are expected within the next year, at least one of them with a commercial payload.

SpaceX is also developing the Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 heavy. The Falcon 9 Heavy, 178 feet in length, will be able to carry 27 tons payloads into low earth orbit, or 11 tons into geosynchronous orbit. After three demo flights in 2008 and 2009, the first Falcon 9 commercial mission is scheduled for early 2010.



The other race is on, too. The campaign for U.S. President. It’s like a cross between a marketing campaign and a sporting event.

When a candidate speaks, the press does not report on whether what he says is a good idea. The press reports on how they think it makes him (or her) appear — good, bad, naive, snotty, etc. Nobody seems to care what the candidates say — only how it will affect the polls, which are, by the way, meaningless at this point.

Maybe they assume that the candidates will be beholden to their contributors, so no matter what they say now, the winner’s actions will ultimately be determined by his (probably not her) large contributors.

Presumably, those candidates have brains. But when they talk, most of them sure don’t say much except what they’ve been told to say by their advisors. If someone actually expresses an opinion, the press jumps on it like it’s the end of the world, or at least the end of the campaign. If you don’t play by the rules, they portray you as an amateur bozo.

http://factcheck.org is a good web site that points out false claims by politicians. It seems to be pretty fair — just about every candidate and both parties are guilty of fairly flagrant “errors.” Giuliani is particularly prolific at bending the truth.

Maybe I’ll quit following this stuff until a week before the election. I think I’d be better off watching Mars Attacks.

Need a Machine Gun?

190,000 of the AK-47s the U.S. gave to Iraqi Security Forces are now missing.



“Things in Iraq are going according to plan.”

Wiretapping, Spying, and etc.

AT&T is in the news for helping he U.S. government do some wiretapping. National Intelligence Director Mike said so. He also said they only wiretapped less than 100 people in the U.S. under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants. He neglected to mention how many were done without warrants.

It’s funny how fast things change. A few years ago, people were outraged at the idea of government wiretaps. Today, Congress has passed laws making it legal.



Now, not only is warrantless wiretapping socially acceptable, but they even arrested (or at least raided the home of) the whistleblower who brought the practice to the public knowledge.


Some people are afraid the wiretapping gear placed on telecomm switching equipment can be accessed by people other than the intended wiretappers. This is probably a well-found fear. Maybe I should just stream a copy of my phone conversations to a web site and save everybody the trouble.


National Intelligence Director Mike made another announcement a few days ago. In the past, only a handful of federal civilian agencies, (NASA, USGS, etc.) had access to spy-satellite images over the U.S., and only for the purpose of scientific and environmental study. Now, Homeland Security, civilian agencies, and law enforcement groups will be able to spy on U.S. citizens by satellite. I suspect this was the case already, but now it’s officially legal (depending on who you ask) and it will become more widespread.

(subscription required)

AT&T is in the news for censoring webcasts of rock concerts. The scary part is that they didn’t censor the naughty words. They censored the parts of the music that could be considered un-American, such as “George Bush, leave this world alone.”


First it was the Pearl Jam concert, and then people started digging up other occurrences.


Regal Cinema

Last Junkmail I mentioned a girl named Jhannet being arrested and facing a year in jail for recording 20 seconds of a movie on her digital camera.

Apparently someone else thought it wasn’t quite fair. Free Culture @ NYU is organizing a boycott of Regal Cinemas.


Foreign Journalists Not Allowed

The Patriot Act is protecting us from evil British journalists. Here’s a heart-warming story about Elena, a girl from the U.K. who didn’t know about the Patriot Act provisions that require a special visa and State Department approval before a journalist from any other country can visit the U.S. She was cuffed, body-searched, detained for 26 hours, and finally sent back to the U.K.


In fairness, I should mention that the U.S. is not the only country in the world that has special visa requirements for visiting journalists. Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe also have such requirements.

This is not a laughing matter. Foreign journalists threaten our way of life, which goes something like this:

Do for a while {
A reporter asks a question to a politician.
The politician, with an apparent hearing condition, answers a completely different question.
The journalist catches the obviously contagious hearing problem and ignores the irrelevant answer.

BBC reporters, on the other hand, do a pretty good job of pinning down an interviewee and repeating the question until they get an answer that somewhat matches the question. This is nothing short of heresy. It is clear that the U.S. government is completely justified in detaining, jailing, groping, and otherwise harassing international journalists. Someone has to keep them in line!

War on Tourism Overblown?

It’s easy to win the war on terror. Just stop being afraid. The war on terrorism might be a little bit different, but a little more common sense an a little less hysteria would go a long way toward making things, um…. less stupid and less hysterical.


A few days ago man in the Charlotte, SC sneaked by security without taking his shoes off. They airport was shut down and the terminal was searched. They couldn’t find him. Then they searched about 15 planes on the ground. No luck. But 12 planes had already taken off.

So after they landed at various cities around the country, the 12 planes that had departed Charlotte were searched to make sure they had not been blown up in the air. None had. The invisible man is still missing.


An air disaster of epic proportions was narrowly averted when an Australian lady named Sophie used the term “fair dinkum” after she couldn’t get any pretzels. The Aussie was captured by three uniformed officers after the plane landed. She was later released because she was not a journalist.


Risks like this will soon be reduced with the advent of behavior detection officers. Undercover people will search the crowds at airports and, I suppose, detain those of us who won’t smile when we are forced to take our shoes off.


I’ve written a couple of times about Maher Arar, the Canadian who was grabbed in New York during a plane change and sent to Syria for a few months of fun and torture. It seems like Canada, the FBI, the CIA, and just about everybody except Maher knew what was going on.


Disaster was narrowly avoided a few days ago in Florida when police recovered a surface-to-air missile. The surface-to-air missile was actually an empty case for an old anti-tank missile, commonly available on eBay, but that didn’t stop the Department of Homeland Security from raising the terrorist threat level to chartreuse.


A seven-year-old boy name Javaid from Blackburn, England recently went on a Florida vacation with his mother. The TSA mistook him for a terrorist and detained him several times during his trip, and even cancelled his ticket home. TSA boss Kip Hawley said of the affair, “The boy has nothing to complain about. We didn’t even send him to Syria for interrogation.”



The Bush Administration has mounted a not-so-covert public relations campaign to promote an attack on Iran. I haven’t seen anything like this since 2002-2003.




The big question is not whether they can gain enough hysteria in the press to sway public opinion to support such an attack, but whether they can do it before November 2008.

In case you’re not clear on current U.S. foreign policy, you can get the details here:


Ugly Photos

Here are some of my baby daughter Melinda’s photos:


Bridge Bust

If you see a fallen bridge, run away! You could be arrested!


A few years ago an I-40 bridge collapsed in Oklahoma. More people died in the Oklahoma collapse (14) than in the Minneapolis bridge collapse (13). But there was a lot more publicity in Minneapolis, where the bridge disintegrated (according the USA Today) instead of merely falling down.

I think the Oklahoma accident was more exciting, because a barge driver passed out and the barge ran into the bridge. Here’s a picture I took May 31, 2002:



DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. That’s a term made up to sound palatable while restricting your ability to listen to music or watch video.

For example, I might download a song from a website. It may have a .wma extension. It may allow me to play it on only one computer and only for a 24 hour period. The DRM allows the song provider to place these limits on the .wma file.

But since I don’t like the idea of paying for music or video that I can only enjoy for a few hours, I don’t knowingly buy music or video with DRM restrictions. I read that Walmart feels the same way, and is selling online music without DRM.


So I got onto http://walmart.com to buy some music. I was greeted with this message:

We notice you’re not using Internet Explorer. Other browsers may be able to access our original Music Downloads store which has fewer user features than our latest version but offers the same music. We will be making enhancements to our updated version in the future to support the Firefox browser. If you want to take advantage of all the features in our updated design now, please get the latest version of Internet Explorer

But I persevered, in spite of not having the latest version of Internet Explorer. I downloaded High_School_Musical_Cast-7-Gotta_Go_My_Own_Way.wma . (They didn’t have much Beethoven.)

I was tricked! I lost 88 of my hard-earned cents. It won’t play because it thinks I don’t have a license. Those Arkansas hicks ripped me off!

So I sent Walmart a very courteous email, explaining my dilemma:

Your web site stole my 88 cents! I downloaded a song and now it won’t play. It says I need a license. I have a license, and have had since I was 16 years old. (15 and a half, if you count my learners permit). My song still won’t play.

Are you people selling bootleg music? I just as well get it off bittorrent!

I got three canned replies from Walmart, the last one explaining, among other things, that I may have to reconfigure my firewall in order to play their music.

I sent a nice reply: “I just wanted to buy a song. I’m not going to reconfigure my computer and firewall just so some kind of flaky license scheme will work. It would cost me a whole lot more than 88 cents to do that.”

Next time I’ll make sure I select an MP3 for download. MP3’s come without DRM.

If you would like to watch Netflix movies on your own hard drive without all the DRM, here’s how:


Universal is testing DRM-free sales:


Did you ever wonder how the RIAA gets favorable treatment by Congress? It’s easy. They spent $658,000 lobbying Washington politicians in the first half of 2007. It seems like bribery, but it must be legal.

The Russians are Coming!

Russia is building up its military.





20,000 of Peugot Citroen’s 72,000 PCs are changing from Windows to Linux.


Buffer Overflow

For years, the buffer overflow has been a popular way to crash and hack into systems. Now you can use the same method to crash an RFID reader — one for passports!


Wikipedia Edits

I like Wikipedia. It’s an online encyclopedia that anybody can edit. That makes it up-to-date, and also gives it current entries for things likeDRM andGannett Peak. For example, I edited this entry and added the bridge photo:


It seems that some people in a few organizations are whitewashing Wikipedia articles. When you edit an article, your IP address is saved along with the edit. A guy named Virgil wrote a tool so you can see what edits have been made from what companies.

It turns out that several companies are editing Wikipedia articles in order to make themselves look better. It also turns out that some disgruntled employees edit Wikipedia articles to make their company look bad. For example, someone from Dell Computer replaced the entire article for Dell with “Get an Apple.”


But responsible-type people (myself excluded, naturally) monitor article changes, and bogus entries usually don’t last long.


Genome Transplant

Carole, John, and some other researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland have transplanted a complete set of DNA from one bacteria into another. This may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but the technique will allow people to assemble DNA sequences artificially and add them to other cells, essentially creating new, or at least modified, life forms. It’s a little scary to think about.


I suppose a lot of people will declare this immoral, unethical, cancer-causing, and fattening. It’s like flying, when they said “If man were meant to fly, he’d have wings.”

Even if the U.S. bans this kind of research like they have stem cell research, the work will go on in the rest of the world. It seems pretty likely that there will be a lot of genetic life forms and modifications developed over the next 10 or 30 years, some good and some scary. It could affect society as much or more than cell phones and the internet.


Need to speed up Vista? Stop playing all that infernal music!


Jim Louderback is leaving as editor-in-chief of PC Magazine, replaced by Lance Ulanoff. In his farewell column, Louderback discusses junking Vista after battling its bugs for months.


The Olympic Committee has opted to use XP for its “important” systems, because of potential reliability problems with Vista.


I’ll stay with XP as long as I can, but someday I suppose it will be easier to switch than fight.

Forensic Telecommunication Services

Forensic Telecommunication Services is a British company that works with law enforcement to extract data from smashed and burned cell phones, computer hard drives, phone records, and the like. They’ve been in business since 2000 and have been capitalizing on the terrorism boom (pun intended).


Someone recently broke into their office in Kent and stole a server with lots of records from terrorism and organized crime investigations.


This is considered bad form for a security company. The data was quickly restored from a backup, but they don’t know who has the original data or whether it will be sold to terrorists, politicians, or other criminals.

The Fall of SCO

It looks like SCO will soon be retiring from the world of business. SCO used to be a leader in Unix operating systems. With the onset of Linux and lower-cost computers, SCO couldn’t support their overhead.

So SCO got into the suing business. With little legal basis and even less evidence, SCO claimed half the world was infringing on its Unix technology and spent several years suing other companies. Finally, a judge named Dale has decided that SCO doesn’t even own the Unix software they’re suing over — Novell does. Novell said it’s no big deal, and that they don’t intend to sue the world like SCO has.


Actually, I’m exaggerating a bit on SCO’s business model. They must have some legitimate business because they brought in 6 million in sales last quarter. They’re losing a lot of money, but someone will probably buy the company if the legal liabilities aren’t too high.


Pictures of Today!

A bug on the mountain:

Blue flowers closed one day…

… and open the next:



Red rocks:


They make red water.

A crack in the hill:


An odd bowl:

The End.


Friday, August 24, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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