Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

More Junkmail from Bob, #196

Check Facts

Do politicians lie?


Is the mass media news accurate?


Cellular GPS

In 1996, the U.S. government required cell phone manufacturers to add GPS tracking capability to new cell phones. This saves lives. When you call 911 in Mayes County, Oklahoma, for example, they can see exactly where you are. A lot of areas don’t have the coverage yet, but they will.

Some privacy fans don’t like this, because the government can keep track of people’s movements. When the rule was enacted, the government promised they would never use this to catch lawbreakers. Now they changed their mind. (Does the government have a mind?)

They now use it to catch “drug traffickers, fugitives, and other criminal suspects.” They left out terrorists, child abusers, and file sharers. But it’s the “criminal suspects” part that worries some people. The government gets access to cell phone positions regularly without having to show probable cause, likelihood of a crime, etc.


Some people don’t like it, but I think it’s fine. However, I think if the government is tracking me, I should be able to call them up and say, “Where in the heck am I?!” or “How do I get to the nearest McDonalds?”When I rob a bank, I’ll just swap phones with one of my kids. It’s worth it to me to have the 911 capability.

The GPS in the phones only receives the time data from the GPS satellites. The software to convert that into location is not in most cell phones — yet.

Let me divert into a three sentence course on the Global Positioning System. The satellites keep time very accurately, to within a billionth of a second or so, and are even corrected for relativistic time distortions due to orbital speed and earth’s gravity. Each satellite’s position is known precisely. The GPS satellites broadcast their name and time. Even though the signals are going close to (or at?) the speed of light, it takes longer for the signal to go farther. By picking up the time from different known positions (the satellites), a GPS receiver can calculate your position by the difference in times received by the different GPS satellites. OK, five sentences.

The time data is forwarded to the cellular company’s computers where the position calculations are made. Nokia recently bought Navteq, a company that sells electronic mapping data. Maybe Nokia will have GPS maps in their phones soon.


Incidentally, if someone wants to track your phone, they can force your phone to transmit its location even after the power is turned off. You’ll have to pull the batteries or tie the phone to the tail of a bird if you want to sneak around.

You shouldn’t worry about the government losing the tracking information they gather on you. Governments are very good at keeping data secure.


A soon as better networking and software is available, cell phones won’t be necessary to track people driving. The multitude of traffic cameras will do just fine. A company in Texas recently caught a lot of flack for videoing people driving certain highways for market survey purposes. They captured the license tags with cameras, and then sent surveys to the drivers.


I don’t see a problem with this. They cameras are already there, and will presumably be used against me when I embark on my bank robbing career. If they were violating my privacy, personal space, and social harmony, I should have raised a ruckus some time ago.

Bad Science

It’s usually pretty obvious when a fake “scientific report” hits the news. Sometimes it is so bad you wonder how anybody let it into print.



In 1908, a meteoroid (or part of a comet) was flying through space, minding its own business, when the planet Earth got in its way. This meteoroid was larger than normal, somewhere between 50 and 200 meters in diameter. The atmosphere put enough stress on the meteor that it exploded 15,000 to 30,000 feet above the ground, in Tunguska, north central Russia.

The resulting blast flattened trees over more than 800 square miles. The power of the blast was equivalent to a 10 to 20 megaton hydrogen bomb, sans radiation. Here’s a 10 megaton blast:


The people who lived in the area were largely illiterate peasants. People outside knew about the blast, but nobody from the Russian government, industry, or academia went to take a look. If they did, the records didn’t survive the Russian Revolution, the First World War, and the Russian Civil War.

In 1927 a mineralogist named Leonid led an expedition to the site. He thought he might be able to get some metals from the meteorite for industry. He circled the area of downed trees, whose bases were pointed to the center of the blast, and went to the center. There was no crater and no metal from a meteorite, because of the high altitude blast.

Leonid interviewed a lot of the locals. Here are some eyewitness reports. They’re pretty interesting.


Here is an article about Leonid’s expedition:


Leonid died from Typhus in a German prisoner of war camp in 1942. He didn’t find a crater in Tunguska, but there is now a crater on the moon named after him.

Harper County, Kansas

In 1873 a guy named Wiggins in Baxter Springs, Kansas met with two associates, Boyd and Homer, for a business discussion. They decided to organize a county.

At the time, a Kansas county needed 600 residents to be officially organized. Wiggins, Boyd, and Homer headed to Harper County, Kansas, and recruited trapper George Lutus on the way to be their guide. Harper County Kansas had no permanent residents at the time.

When they arrived, they built a town called Bluff City. It was not just any town, but a town with one building, 16×18 feet, and some buffalo bones representing the houses of the rest of the 641 “inhabitants” of the county. For names of the 637 fictitious people, they selected from the Cincinnati directory.

After their town was finished, they filed a petition with the governor of Kansas. He approved the census taker and other county officers, and organized the county as required by law. The new county received $40,000 in bonds, $25,000 for a courthouse and $15,000 for funding debt.

Eventually people realized that the Harper County was really empty, but by then Wiggins and his friends had cashed in the bonds in Missouri and disappeared.

In 1884, the Kansas State Legislature got around to an official investigation. They found out that the state had been, in fact, swindled. The state said, no, the county was swindled, and the county owed the $40,000. The Kansas Supreme Court agreed with the state.

Not surprisingly, some people in Harper County didn’t like that. When it came time to pay back the state, five hooded assailants kidnapped one of the county commissioners and locked him in a cave. They tried unsuccessfully to kidnap another commissioner, which would have kept the county from being able send off the debt payment. I wonder if most people in the county really knew who the hooded assailants were.


Positron Beams

The antimatter equivalent of an electron is a positron. Positrons really do exist, along with other forms of antimatter — this is more than just Star Trek science. There is no parallel universe made up of antimatter, but antimatter does exist.

Last month North Carolina State University announced it has produced a low-energy positron beam that is more powerful (more positrons per second) than anybody has done before. This potentially has a lot of applications, depending on the economics.

NC State, the University of Michigan, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory were participated in the project with money from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.


Obligatory Whining and Complaining

It wouldn’t be Junkmail without a little whining and complaining about copyright or patents, would it?


I’m in New Zealand today. The copyright controversy is here too! Current New Zealand law makes it illegal to copy music from your own CDs to your iPod. But the alternative is to download music for your iPod from web sites not based in New Zealand.

The New Zealand legislature is considering change. The U.S. government and the U.S. recording industry are weighing in for more restrictive laws and stronger penalties for violators. To add fuel to the fire, the largest retail music seller in New Zealand went out of business last week. Music downloads are partially to blame, but it makes little difference whether they are legally purchased or not, since most legal music downloads are sold by companies outside New Zealand.

Internet – Tool for Terrorists

The U.S. government is looking at the internet as a tool for terrorists, in addition to light planes and music downloaders.


U.S. Homeland Security boss Michael said, “Terrorists can use the internet for communication. We are at war. The internet should be shut down. We are also looking into banning all telephone communications, since that will naturally be what terrorists fall back on when we pull the plug on the internet. Terrorists are everywhere.”

(Maybe I paraphrased that just a tad.)

Pictures of Today — New Zealand!

I’ve been in New Zealand for the past couple of weeks. Here are some pictures. If you are a glutton for punishment, you can find these and more at http://xpda.com/nz.

Steam blowing out a mountain.
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Hobbit’s Hole
New Zealand Partly Black
New Zealand Yellowhead
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Flea Bay
Falls near Arthur Pass.
Pancake Rocks
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Ferns going to seed?
The old duck-on-the-roof photo
A shell and a leaf.
A nosy weka. This guy bit me on the ear!
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New Zealand Robin
Near Milford Sound
Near Milford Sound
Mitre Peak
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A glacier bite
There are penguins in New Zealand.
There are sheep in New Zealand.
P1190710.jpg IMG_0279.jpg P1190779.jpg
P1190789.jpg P1190795.jpg
Nugget Point
P1190796.jpg P1190800.jpg
P1190808.jpg P1190824.jpg P1190849.jpg



Friday, November 30, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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