xpda

Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

Junkmail #198, March 10, 2008

Common Cents

A few days ago at Arby’s, I got a shiny new penny with my change. Then I noticed my shiny new penny was 46 years old. It’s worth almost 15 cents!
cent.jpg  hi-res

Abe Lincoln was born in 1809. One hundred years later, the Lincoln Cent was released into circulation, replacing the Indian Head Cents.
scan-090.jpgscan-092.jpg

I used to be a paperboy and always looked through the change for a 1909 S VDB penny (among other things), but I never found one.

In 1959 the wheat design on the back of the pennies was changed to the Lincoln Memorial.
scan-089.jpgscan-088.jpg

Next year the pennies will be redesigned again. There will be four different one-cent coins. I don’t think the designs have been released, but they will have Lincoln on the face. In 2010, the Lincoln cent will have a new "permanent" design that includes Abe Lincoln, assuming that pennies are still being used then.

In 1982, the U.S. Mint changed from 95% copper pennies to copper plated zinc pennies. Currently, the metal used to make a penny is worth a little more than one cent. Congress considers this above average fiscal responsibility.

In 1999 the mint started minting state quarters. These still have Washington on the front, but the back has a design for each of the 50 states, 5 states per year, in order of joining the United States. Oklahoma’s quarter came out this year, number 46:

quarter.jpg   hi-res

Next year there will be six more quarters minted. Actually, there will be hundreds of thousands of quarters minted in six designs, for the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

A new dollar coin came out this year, too. If you look at these photos, you might notice some things missing, notably, the date, "E Pluribus Unum," and "In God We Trust."

dollarfront.jpgdollarback.jpg
   hi-res

These are printed on the edge of the coin. It’s interesting that the edges are printed at different angles on different coins. For example, the date doesn’t always appear in the same place relative to Madison’s face.

dollarside.jpg

E Pluribus Unum is Latin either for "from many, one," or "help, I’m caught in this eagle’s beak." It was approved for use on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782, and became the de facto motto of the United States until 1956 when Congress legislated the official U.S. motto "In God We Trust."

I vote to get rid of pennies and one-dollar bills, round to the nearest nickel, and use dollar coins in vending machines.


The Universe is Flat

Diophantus lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century AD. He wrote a math text called Arithmetica, a collection of 130 algebra problems and some solutions. Unfortunately, only six of the thirteen books of Arithmetica are known to have survived. A French mathematician named Bachet translated these books into Latin in 1621.

Diophantus-cover.jpg

Another French mathematician named Fermat had a copy of Bachet’s Arithmetica. In 1637, he made a notation in the side of his book, about this conjecture:

For all n > 2, an + bn = cn has no solutions in non-zero integers a, b, and c.

Fermat said, "I have a truly marvelous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain." This was the mysterious "Fermat’s Last Theorem."  Andrew Wiles and Richard Taylor eventually proved this in 1994. The proof was way over my head and used a lot of mathematics that were not developed until the 20th century. Probably Fermat didn’t have a proof valid for all values of n > 2.

One of Diophantus’s conjectures stated, without proof, that every positive integer can be expressed as the sum of four squares of integers. For example:

3 = 12 + 12 + 12 + 02
13 = 22 + 22 + 22 + 12
14 = 32 + 22 + 12 + 02
100 = 02 + 42 + 42 + 82
134 = 02 + 92 + 22 + 72

Fermat is supposed to have developed a proof for this, but he didn’t publish it. Yet another French mathematician named Lagrange proved this in 1770. It is now called Lagrange’s four-square theorem, or Bachet’s conjecture.

Lagrange is technically an Italian mathematician, born in Sardinia, but he moved to Prussia and then France. In 1772, two years after proving the four-square problem, Lagrange did a little calculus and came up with the Lagrangian Points. These are points in the sky used by science fiction writers.

Actually, the Lagrangian points are a little more general than that. They apply to three gravitational bodies. If you consider the earth orbiting the sun, you can find five points in the neighborhood of the earth’s orbit where a third object will find stable gravity and can "follow" the earth’s orbit around the sun. Four of the points are outside the earth’s orbit, and one is inside.

Lagrange_points.jpg

The L1 point is between the earth and the sun, and the L2 point is directly away from the sun, both a little over 900,000 miles from earth. (If you call 30,000 miles a little.) L3, L4, and L5 are a lot closer to earth’s orbital path.

If you fly a spacecraft to L1 or L2, you can keep it in orbit there. It doesn’t technically orbit L1 or L2, but it will make a funny-shaped closed path about the point that counts as an orbit if you’re not a purist. The SOHO spacecraft has been flying around L1 for about a dozen years. SOHO took this photo of the largest solar flare ever recorded:

eitbigflare.jpg   hi-res

Here is SOHO’s image of the sun on March 6:

20080306_1306_eit_284.jpg

L2 is on the dark side of the earth, 900,000 miles from the earth, away from the sun. On the last day of June, 2001, NASA launched the WMAP spacecraft on its journey to L2.

wmapLaunch.jpg

WMAP stands for Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. Dave Wilkinson was a physicist at Princeton University who was very involved in the project before his death. He gave freely of his time to teach local school kids about “hands on” physics. Anisotropy is the property of being directionally dependent, as opposed to isotropy. WMAP measures background microwave radiation coming from all different directions.

      http://wmap.gsfc.nasa.gov/news/facts.html

This is useful because the angular and frequency distribution of the background radiation can be used in mathematical models to improve our understanding of the big bang. And it doesn’t take a lot to improve my understanding.

Here’s where WMAP has been flying around for the past five years:

After five years of data collection from WMAP, NASA has released some really interesting information. The data shows that the big bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago from last Tuesday, plus or minus 120 million years. It also shows that the universe is flat, there is a lot of dark energy, and matter as we know it makes up less than five percent of the universe. A "flat universe" doesn’t mean we live in two-dimensional space. It means that light not bent by gravity goes in a straight line.

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, has an excellent explanation, in English, of the results published by NASA.

      http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2008/03/05/the-unive…

NASA’s news:

      http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/wmap_five.html

This confirms (and then some) the results of the Boomerang experiment in Antarctica in 2000.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/727073.stm

Here are the technical 5-year WMAP papers:

      http://lambda.gsfc.nasa.gov/product/map/dr3/map_bibliog…

The big bang was not an explosion from a single point in space. It was a rapid expansion OF space. If all space is infinite today, then it was infinite at the time of the big bang. But all the space we can see would have been as small as a single point at the time of the big bang. The big bang model does not say what gave rise to the big bang.

All this gets pretty complicated, and I haven’t taken time to learn the math. But we can see that space and time are not constant. Space is bent by gravity. Einstein’s Theories of Relativity predicted that, and it has been observed consistently. For example, light bends around the sun. We can see that Mercury’s orbit follows the warped space of Einstein’s relativity rather than Newton’s laws of gravity.

Time isn’t constant either, and we can see that in GPS satellites. The cesium clocks on the satellites run 38 nanoseconds slow per day because in orbit their speed is faster (+7 nanoseconds, predicted by Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity) and earth’s gravity is less (-45 nanoseconds, predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity).

If you take this warpage of space-time to the extreme, you can model the big bang. It’s not quite that simple, of course, but that’s the generally idea. The big bang model fits what we observe today, and the data from WMAP refines model parameters and confirms the model itself.

Here is some information on the big bang model:

      http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/bb_concepts.html

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang


Communists

February 26, the New York Philharmonic played a concert in Pyongyang, North Korea. They opened with the North Korea national anthem, followed by the Star Spangled Banner. The audience stood at attention for both national anthems, except for some Americans in the press core.

They played Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s Lohengrin, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and An American in Paris, followed by three encores:  Bizet’s Farandole, Overture to Bernstein’s Candide, and the Korean folk song Arirang. You can listen to (and watch) the concert online.

      http://nyphil.org/about/virtualTours/0708/korea/slidesh…

This concert won’t make any changes in government relations between the U.S. and North Korea, but in a few years it may be considered the historical event that signified the improvement in relations between North Korea, South Korea, and the U.S. When the people of countries have good relations, the governments generally follow suit.

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120401750068993375.html
      (subscription may be necessary)

North Korea leader, Kim Jong-il, did not attend the concert. Some people tried to make a big deal out of this. But I can’t imagine George Bush attending a concert by the North Korean symphony, although I think he should. George bush did direct a 400 piece orchestra at Jamestown, Virginia last year.

      http://hamptonroads.com/node/265681

It seems to me that most people in North Korea, South Korea, China, and the United States would like to see friendly relations between North Korea and other countries. The U.S. and Korean governments refuse to allow this because of minor disputes over things like blowing each other to nuclear smithereens. If the people were allowed to interact, maybe they would pressure the governments to get in line. I’m not a complete idealist, and I realize there’s not much internal pressuring that can be done with a government like North Korea, but public opinion does have an effect.

The same thing applies to Cuba. If we would inundate Havana with U.S. tourist dollars, the Cuban government would be a lot more friendly to the U.S. The Cuban people would pressure them into it. But the U.S. government won’t allow me to go to Cuba to spend my tourist dollars, even on my own boat or my own plane. The U.S. government even went so far as to cancel the domain of a British web site offering travel services for British people to go to Cuba. This site didn’t even concern the U.S., but the domain registrar happened to be eNom, a U.S. company. Maybe someone should break the news to Washington that Cuba is no longer a threat to the U.S.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/us/04bar.html?ei=5088…

      http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080307-us-interf…

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/05/us_kills_europe…

Coincidentally, ICANN, the internet naming authority, has suggested it become independent of U.S. Commerce Department next year when the current agreement expires.

      http://www.thestandard.com/news/2008/03/07/icann-looks-…

It looks like the European Union may end diplomatic and economic sanctions against Cuba soon. Maybe the U.S. will follow suit.

      http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN09392640

In 1989 there was a famous concert in Berlin. I was going to write about this, but I remembered my kids (and maybe a few other people) might not even know whether Berlin was in East or West Germany, or why that mattered. So I’ll offer a quick history lesson.

After World War II, Germany was occupied by the U.K., the U.S., France, and the Soviet Union. Each country had a piece of Germany.

The U.K., the U.S., French portions of Germany were combined into West Germany, and the Soviet part became East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic. The capital of Germany, Berlin, was located inside East Germany, but the city was divided and people were allowed to drive from West Germany to West Berlin. In this map, West Berlin is the yellow spot inside the red East Germany:

From Wikipedia:

On June 12, 1948 the Soviet Union declared that the Autobahn leading into Berlin from West Germany was "closed for repairs." Three days later road traffic between the sectors was halted, and on June 21 all barge traffic into the city was stopped. Finally, on June 24 the Soviets announced that due to "technical difficulties" there would be no more rail traffic to and from Berlin. The following day they announced that the Soviet sector would not supply food to the sectors of the city that were under Western administration.

The West responded with the Berlin Airlift and supplied West Berlin with food, coal, etc. by air for close to a year. This was an amazing accomplishment at the time. It really surprised the Soviets.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Airlift#Berlin_airlift

The Soviets ended the blockade in 1949, and Berlin remained divided until November 9th, 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. It didn’t really come down on that day, but people were allowed to travel freely between East and West Berlin for the first time in more than 40 years.

The Brandenburg Gate is a historical gate that used to provide entry into Berlin. It was built in the late 1700’s, and ended up just inside East Berlin, next to the Berlin Wall. On December 22, 1989, the Brandenburg Gate re-opened when Helmut Kohl, the West German Chancellor, walked through to be greeted by Hans Modrow, the East German Prime Minister.

About six weeks after the Berlin Wall came down, on December 25, 1989, Leonard Bernstein led orchestras and choruses from Berlin, Dresden, New York, London, Paris, and Leningrad in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The concert was performed in the Schauspielhaus of East Berlin.

In the performance, they changed the word joy (Freude) to freedom (Freiheit):
Freiheit! Freiheit! Freiheit, schöner Götterfunken
(Freedom! Freedom! Freedom, beautiful spark of the gods)

Here are some fairly low-quality videos of the last movement:

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imv2M64t_og
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6K4635W4roY
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-GbesR5AEM
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIsXmOHo7EA

Less than a year later, Bernstein died from cancer.
 


Stupid Software Patents

In basic computer programming, there are sorts and there are linked lists. These are two of the fundamental data structures taught in first or second year computer science coursework. It is a trivial matter to combine the two. It has been done for more than 30 years.

But now, in 2008, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued a patent on a "system for sorting records having sorted strings each having a plurality of linked elements each element storing next record address." It’s a patent on a quicksort and linked list combined, each of which is covered thoroughly in hundreds of textbooks.

      http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080228-patent-re…

Techdirt has a good series of articles on the patent system. It’s not working out quite like the writers of the constitution intended.

      http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080220/020252302.shtml

      http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080228/003450379.shtml

      http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080306/003240458.shtml

Some people think we should rid the world of software patents altogether. I agree.

      http://legalpad.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2008/02/28/ending…

      http://endsoftpatents.org/

In other riveting patent news, a federal judge named Richard recently overturned a jury’s $51 million verdict in a patent case, then ordered the lawyers who were originally awarded the $51 million to pay their opponents’ legal bills (a few million dollars.) Judge Richard’s ruling was upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals.

      http://www.denverpost.com/popular/ci_8354619

This is the same Judge Richard Matsch who heard the Oklahoma City bombing case of McVeigh and Nichols.

Within two weeks, judge named Edward fined some other patent lawyers from the same company $10 million and some additional legal fees for similar offensive behavior. This was a completely different trial in a completely different jurisdiction.

      http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/02/29/attorney-sanctions-…
      (may need a subscription)


Cable Cuts

Last month, in the span of a week, 3 or 4 or 5 undersea communications cables were cut in the Middle East. These were cut by anchored ships, a lost ship anchor, Al Qaeda, the NSA, a storm, or sharks.

That’s the best I could glean from the news. But the internet was really slow for a while in several countries. Maybe someone cut the cable intentionally so they could tap into the splices and eavesdrop. I don’t think the NSA was responsible, because they’ve got good equipment that doesn’t cut the cable when they eavesdrop. It doesn’t benefit the U.S. to have the cables cut. In fact, it doesn’t seem to benefit anybody. Why would anybody in the Middle East destroy something for no reason?

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120177630094631777.html

      http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080207-repairs-u…

      http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/02/un-official-fe…

Pakistan, though not technically part of the Middle East, decided to get into the act. Pakistan issued an order to block YouTube after a trailer for a film by a Dutch lawmaker named Geert was deemed blasphemous, or at least not in the public interest.

The Pakistan Telecomm Authority did as they were told and blocked YouTube. They did this by routing traffic directed at YouTube’s IP addresses to a site more appropriate for Pakistanis. I’m not sure what that site is — probably http://sailinganarchy.com.

Somehow, the IP misdirection escaped Pakistan and started occurring all over Hong Kong-based provider PCCW’s territory, and eventually all over the world. This effectively cut off the internet in Pakistan, because people all over the world who tried to get to YouTube were sent to Pakistan. Pakistan had accidentally initiated a denial of service attack on the entire country.

After a couple of hours of this, YouTube was reinstated and Pakistan is now living happily ever after. I’m not sure what ever happened to the offending video.

      http://techdirt.com/articles/20080226/091748357.shtml

      http://blogs.zdnet.com/threatchaos/?p=548

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7262071.stm


How to Win the Presidential Race

It’s easy. All you have to do is promise to enforce anti-spam laws.

Being politicians, the presidential candidates will most likely, if anything, promise to enact new laws to "crack down on spam." There are three problems with this. First, Presidents don’t enact new laws. Second, they rarely fulfill campaign promises. Third, if they ever get new anti-spam laws passed, they won’t be enforced any better than our current anti-spam laws are. However, they will probably restrict the way the rest of us are allowed to use the internet.

If any of the three candidates convinced me that he, she, or it would rid my inbox of spam, that person would likely get my vote.

There are currently laws against phishing, but like the spam laws, they are rarely enforced. So the Senate has passed a new law against phishing. As with many new laws to fix unenforced old laws, this one has unintended side effects used to harass (formerly) law-abiding people.

      http://techdirt.com/articles/20080226/195527365.shtml


Nice Headline

From the U.K Telegraph:  "News: 24-hour Drinking Fuels Rise in Crime"

Technically, this is a subhead rather than a headline, but it does seem very profound.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opin…


Terrorists are Virtual!

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, IARPA, has written and released a report explaining that massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMORPG) with virtual worlds can be used by terrorists.

Now, understand that it is the object in many of these virtual worlds to blow up stuff, kill other characters, and otherwise wreak havoc, while accumulating money, experience, magic, and karma in general. It eludes me how a terrorist is going to make this any worse.

But the IARPA is worried. They say, "The virtual world is the next great frontier and in some respects is still very much a Wild West environment." Just think. A virtual world without government control.

IARPA says the virtual worlds provide opportunity "for religious/political extremists to recruit, rehearse, transfer money, and ultimately engage in information warfare or worse with impunity."

I have news for IARPA. Extremists and information warfare are standard fare in the virtual worlds. Gamers have been known to break any and every rule of civilized society, without fear of repercussions from the government, the police, or any other form of authority. It’s a VIRTUAL world, after all. The very worst that can happen is you get kicked off a server or lose your account.

IARPA says "Virtual environments provide many opportunities to exchange messages in the clear without drawing unnecessary attention. Additionally, there are many private channels that can be employed to exchange secret messages."

What? A private conversation is still possible on earth? We’d better put a stop to that NOW!

IARPA says "The challenge that we face is to be able to distinguish the fanatics from the average person looking for some simple enjoyment." I have been called a fanatic and worse. Will IARPA waterboard me for thought crimes? I thought it was perfectly legal to be a fanatic in the U.S. Haven’t those IARPA folks ever been to a football game? Where do they think the word "fan" comes from?

Who is IARPA, anyway, and why are spending my tax dollars on such a stupid report? The Director of National Intelligence came up with IARPA to be an Intelligence version of the DARPA Defense research agency. IARPA is suspect just from its name — they call the organization an "Activity" instead of an Agency or Organization or something meaningful.

Who runs such an organization?  Lisa, a former NASA Administrator. What does the agency activity do? Their goal is to "conduct research that cuts across multiple IC [integrated circuit?] agencies, targets new opportunities that lie in the white spaces between agencies, provides innovations that agencies avoid because of current business models, and generates revolutionary capabilities that will surprise our adversaries and help us avoid being surprised."

Now the IARPA will have to hire gamers to spy on other gamers and turn in the fanatics to the government for waterboarding, the rack, and other aggressive interrogation techniques. There are a lot of MMORPGs to be patrolled.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_MMORPGs

More details:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/20…

      http://www.fas.org/irp/dni/datamining.pdf

Join IARPA today and become a gamer informant! Sign up for Project Reynard and protect the Virtual Worlds of the World from fanatics. "It’s not a job. It’s a game!"

Join IARPA today and become a gamer informant! Sign up for Project Reynard and protect the Virtual Worlds of the World from fanatics."It’s not a job. It’s a game!"

J. Drinkard
Phone: 703-482-9892
Email: darwinkr@ucia.gov
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
ODNI/HR, GA07 OHB
Washington, DC 20511


Broadband Speed

There are several web sites that test internet connection speed. One good site is

      http://www.speedtest.net

You might notice that your connection speeds don’t seem to live up to the speed tests. There are a several things that can cause this:

1. When you connect, the other end of the connection might be the limiting factor.

2. Some ISPs (such as Comcast) give you a fast connection initially and then throttle it back after a second or so. You can see this sometimes when you upload or download a file.

3. Some ISPs limit the connection speed based on the type of internet communications you are doing. They cut down the speed for P2P filesharing or other activities that can consume a lot of bandwidth. Comcast actually breaks filesharing connections by sending false data packets to the connected computers.

4. Someone may have cut an undersea cable.

I really don’t have anything against Comcast. I don’t even know whether they’re my cable company. But they do manage to get into embarrassing situations on a regular basis.

Comcast recently hired people off the street to come in early to an FCC public hearing, taking up seats so Comcast critics wouldn’t be admitted. I think that’s really funny. Comcast explained that they only hired people off the street to save seats for Comcast employees. Comcast didn’t explain why they wanted a whole bunch of their employees at an FCC hearing, or why all those employees forgot to show up.

      http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/top-5/2008/02/26/…

      http://www.savetheinternet.com/blog/2008/02/25/comcast-…


Shark Diving

A lot of companies offer shark diving trips, such as this one:

      http://www.scuba-adventures.com/bahamas_itineraries.sht…

They go out where sharks are common, feed them with chum to attract them, and then go scuba diving among the sharks. I didn’t think I’d ever want to do this, until I read this article. Now I am completely sure I don’t want to do it.

      http://www.miamiherald.com/459/story/432881.html

A guy named Markus went on a 6-day shark diving trip. A shark attacked him, and he died in the hospital.

From Scuba Adventures: "We are in our 5th season and the shark action has never been better!"
From the Miami Herald: "Man dead in shark attack is Austrian"

There is a device called a Shark Shield that is supposed to repel sharks and make it safe to swim or surf in shark territory. It was tested off the coast of South Africa. Instead being repelled by the electronic emissions, a great white shark bit into the device. I probably won’t be buying on of those, either.

      http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,2330…


Boating Photos

What do you do with old ships in Kamchatka, Russia?  
Freeze-dry.

     http://englishrussia.com/?p=1788


Captcha

A "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart," or Captcha, is a term for those funny forms on web sites that display some warped text like this…

Captcha.jpeg

…and ask you to type it in. If you get it wrong, it means you’re a computer.

Google’s and Microsoft’s Captcha systems have been cracked recently. That means bots can get onto gmail, for example, and make a few thousand accounts to be used for spam, phishing, political campaigning, and other nefarious activities. Your computer is a bot if it is running a trojan that allows another computer to take control and assign it various and sundry tasks like spamming and acquiring gmail accounts. This usually happens when you’re asleep.

      http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080226-gotcha-ca…

I think it is interesting that as computers get faster and better, it’s harder for a program to distinguish computers from people.


Where Am I?

If I type an invalid address into my browser, I usually get an error message like this:

"Firefox can’t find the server at http://www.aassdsdsdfsdffasdfasdf.com."

However, sometimes I type in a common mistake or test, such as http://gmial.com or http://asdfasdfasdf.com. Then I get a web site with some links and sometimes popups — by someone who is trying to make internet money off my typing errors. I don’t like those web sites so I don’t click on their links.

TimeWarner’s RoadRunner ISP is getting into the act now. They are intercepting server-not-found errors (failed DNS requests) and displaying their own ads and links whenever that happens. I think that is downright discourteous.

      http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/02/26/1741253

This happens if you misspell the domain name. If you ask for something on an existing site that isn’t there, you generally get a nice 404 message from the web server, like this:

      http://xpda.com/404

Some U.K. ISPs are handing over web browsing records of their internet customers to a company that will use the data to target ads toward the customers. But don’t worry. The data will be anonymized so nobody can ever see what sites you browse. Never mind that several articles point out that the company receiving the data already has a shady past.

      http://techdirt.com/articles/20080227/114140370.shtml


The Attack of the Suspicious Packages

They’re everywhere!

      http://www.krnv.com/Global/story.asp?S=7926974&nav=8faO

      http://www.kval.com/news/15818817.html

      http://www.newsnet5.com/news/15371311/detail.html

      http://www.whptv.com/news/local/story.aspx?content_id=9…

      http://www.wtoctv.com/Global/story.asp?S=7917455&na…


Orion

The Space Shuttle fleet is supposed to be retired in 2010. This might be a good idea. The three Space Shuttles are older than most cars on the highway today. It has been 16, 23, and 24 years since their first launches.

The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle is planned to replace the Shuttles for manned space exploration. It will look a lot like the Apollo Command Module and splash down in the ocean. It will carry a crew of four to six people. The first manned flight of the Orion is currently scheduled for 2014.

Here’s the Orion heat shield, being built by Boeing:

heatshield.jpg

      http://boeingmedia.com/imageDetail.cfm?id=15034

      http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/orion/i…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_%28spacecraft%29

Japan is getting into the space plane business. They plan to launch a bunch of paper airplanes from the Space Station. There won’t be any guidance, of course, but there will probably be messages written on them for anybody who happens to find one. It’s like a high-tech (and high altitude) message in a bottle.

      http://www.pinktentacle.com/2008/01/origami-spaceplane-…


Pennsylvania Turnpike

The governor of Pennsylvania wants to privatize the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In response, the Pennsylvania Turnpike commission is spending $300,000 to advertise against privatization. In other words, they are spending $300,000 of turnpike money to try and keep their jobs. In addition, they spent close to $400,000 last year on lobbyists.

Why privatize? Things are a little strange in the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The wife of Chairman Mitchell is under indictment with state senator Vince for theft and fraud. Mitchell is identified in the indictment as accepting $150,000 in contract work from Vince for little or no work, and the commission is accused of giving one of Vince’s cronies $250,000 under a bogus consultant contract.

Mitchell ran up $77,000 in expenses over a five-year period for trips to Europe and dining at four-star restaurants. Executive Director Joe, the highest paid employee of the state of Pennsylvania, recently went on a nine day trip to Vienna, Austria, at turnpike expense.

It sounds to me like they have a nice little empire there.

      http://kdka.com/local/Turnpike.Commission.ads.2.662684.html


Free Light

Fluorescent light bulbs will glow under power lines from the ambient magnetic fields.

      http://gizmodo.com/361390/1301-florescent-bulbs-lit-sol…

I thought this was really cool, so I grabbed a couple of fluorescent light bulbs and drove out to some high power lines. Nothing happened. I guess I need stronger power lines. Or maybe the universe is too flat in Oklahoma.


Speeding

People can calculate spacecraft velocity very accurately. When you know the location, speed, and direction of a spacecraft, you can determine where it’s going to end up, after being pulled this way and that by the various gravitational bodies in the solar system.

But there is a problem.

Spacecraft are routed by planets in order to accelerate cheaply, using the planet’s gravity instead of fuel. Since the days of Pioneer 10 in the early 1970’s, JPL has noticed that spacecraft end up about one millionth too fast after a planetary flyby. This anomaly has been consistent enough to earn the name "flyby effect," but there is no accepted explanation. Yet.

      http://www.aip.org/pnu/2008/split/857-2.html


Virtual Fence

The Virtual Fence is broken. The U.S. government announced with great fanfare a high-tech virtual fence to be built along the U.S. border with Mexico.  OK, maybe the fanfare wasn’t all that great. In fact, some people were poo-pooing the idea. But they awarded a big contract to Boeing to build a pilot section of the fence, complete with nine mobile towers, radar, cameras, and vehicles retrofitted with laptops and satellite phones or handheld devices.

Now the project is being scaled back, with almost no fanfare whatsoever. There are a lot of things that just didn’t work. They are going to take the things that did work, such as UAVs and "mobile ground surveillance units" (automobiles, I think) and use them elsewhere along the border.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/20…


The Ice Prince Rescue

      http://www.bymnews.com/news/newsDetails.php?id=23244%20


Mars Avalanche

A huge landslide slid down a 2300 foot 60° slope in the northern polar region of Mars. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught the action in living (if false) color.

214808main_PSP_007338_2640_hires.jpg hi-res…

      http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/multimedia/mro200…

      http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/03mar_avalanche.htm


Pentagon Security

The Pentagon must have amazing computer security. It would be impossible for someone to install email trojans there. Or would it?

Last June, an "amazing amount" of data was copied from the Pentagon’s computer network. Someone sent the Pentagon spoof emails that appeared to be from Pentagon staffers. The emails, when opened, installed trojans that exploited some known Microsoft vulnerabilities and obtained usernames and passwords.

When the Pentagon found out, they took the email system offline, but not the entire network. That was a mistake, because the trojans were still able to encrypt and transmit lots of classified data to the internet, maybe to China. China apparently doesn’t realize that most of our government data is worthless.

      http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=39456

      http://www.fcw.com/online/news/151854-1.html


Binocular Telescope

There is a new binocular telescope at on Mount Graham, Arizona. It is large. Because of this, they call it the Large Binocular Telescope, or LBT. It is the most powerful telescope in the world. It has twin 27.6 foot mirrors.

      http://uanews.org/node/18632

January photos from the LBT camera team, false-color images of the spiral galaxy NGC 2770:

This image combines ultraviolet and green light, which enhances the clumpy regions of newly formed hot stars in the spiral arms:
NGC2770_0VU.jpg

This image combines deep red colors to highlight the smoother distribution of older, cooler stars:
NGC2770_YI0.jpg

This image is a composite of ultraviolet, green and deep red light and enhances the detailed structure of hot, moderate and cool stars in the galaxy:
NGC2770_YVU.jpg


Political Censorship

The U.S. Air Force recently used a DMCA takedown notice to get YouTube to remove a 30-second Air Force advertisement recruiting for its Cyber Command. There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, it’s an advertisement. The more people who see it, the better, right? Second, since the ad is owned by the U.S. Government, it is not copyrightable and does not fall under the DMCA’s wide reign. Third, if they’d get some good people into Cyber Command, maybe they could keep China out of the Pentagon computers.

      http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/03/air-force-cybe…


Waterboarding

There is a lot of controversy over the CIA’s use of aggressive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding.

A few days ago, Congress passed a bill to ban waterboarding, and President Bush promptly vetoed the bill.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/washington/09policy.html

It would go a long way to make waterboarding acceptable if we could get the Attorney General and maybe a couple of Supreme Court Justices to volunteer to be the victims of a waterboarding session. They can prove to the world that it’s a harmless and humane method of interrogation.

      http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/sub…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterboarding


Vista Feedback

It seems that some Microsoft executives have not been too excited about using Vista either.

     http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/business/09digi.htm…


Nautical Charts

I got irritated the other day because I couldn’t find any common, printable formats of the NOAA Nautical Charts. So I made some. Help yourself:

      http://xpda.com/nauticalcharts


Pictures of Today!

Seven of us climbed Skylight Mountain in the Adirondacks the weekend before last.

IMG_1321.jpgIMG_1326.jpgIMG_1334.jpg

It looks pretty peaceful, until you see the video (Michael Weil took it). I would guess it was 10-15 degrees with 50-70 mph wind on top.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpnZvW0xvLY

I saw this ship between Oahu and Kauai a few weeks ago. It looks pretty strange — white, lots of antennas, no navy numbers. I think it’s a Navy "Navigation Research/Missile Range Instrumentation Ship," the USNS Waters.
P1210367.JPG

Ships go pretty fast.
P1210191.JPG

Green Marker 3:
P1210401.jpg

Typical tree damage around NE Oklahoma, from last December’s ice storm.
P1210493.jpg

My baby daughter took this picture in the Pacific last year. I think she was on some kind of motor boat.
P1220561.jpg


The End

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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