Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

Bob’s Junkmail, #200

Banyan Drive

What do Amelia Earhart, Richard Nixon, Louis Armstrong, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, and Earl Warren have in common? They all planted trees. Banyan trees. In Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii.

I was driving along Banyan Drive last month in Hilo, HI, and thought I saw a sign in front of a tree that said “Amelia Earhart.” It turns out I did.


I noticed a few other names I recognized. I thought that was pretty odd. Then I read about it. I was surprised that all those people had come to such an out-of-the-way place.


Camera License

You apparently need a camera license to take photos in the U.K. Otherwise you are a terrorist or a pedophile. In the U.S., you only need an errant click to be a terrorist or a pedophile.


Sea Ice

Did you ever wonder how much sea ice there is today compared to April 2007, or April 1992, or November 1996? Naturally! Here’s where to find out:


Here is a good satellite photo of some huge icebergs near South Orkney Islands, South Atlantic Ocean, taken 3/31/2008 by the Terra satellite.


NSA Kids Site

This is kind of cool.


Bots and Zombies

I might have mentioned this before, but it’s a bad idea to click on an email attachment unless you are sure what it is. That’s the most popular way to spread trojans around the internet.

A bot or a zombie is a computer that can be controlled by someone who installed a trojan on it. They are commonly used for sending spam, occasionally for phishing, and rarely for controlling other computers on the botnet. A botnet is a collection of bots or zombies controlled by a person or organization.

For example, a botnet known as the “Storm Team” sent out a trojan in an email that described an April Fool joke. I got one. So did millions of other people. But I don’t click on executable email attachments, so I didn’t install the trojan on my computer. Apparently someone did click on these and similar email attachments, because there are hundreds of thousands of computers in the Storm botnet. I think my baby sister Tricia is largely responsible for this.


The computers on the Storm botnet send about 20% of all spam on the internet. Most of that comes to my inbox.

Another botnet may be even bigger than Storm — the Kraken botnet. The Kraken botnet is sending out around 500,000 spams every day. Its command and control servers are in the U.S., France, and Russia.


A botnet may have many command and control servers. When one server becomes unreachable, a bot computer automatically transfers to another. The servers can update the trojan on the bots to respond to antivirus software updates.


People try to get access to the controlling systems so they can track it back to the people running the botnet and shut them down. Little do they realize that there are no people involved — computers are taking over the world.

One or two of the largest botnets will automatically detect attempts to access the controller computers, and trigger a denial of service attack by the botnet against the computer trying to access the botnet.

What can you do to stay off botnets? Run some antivirus software and keep it up-to-date. In the past I’ve had the best luck with Norton Antivirus, but I haven’t had any viruses or trojans (malware) for several years, so I haven’t really tested it lately. Norton Antivirus installs a lot of stuff on your system, and I don’t like that so much. Even so, it installs less extra stuff than McAfee.

I uninstalled Norton Antivirus today, and it left a bunch of its services running on my machine. I consider that quite rude. I replaced it with PC Tools Antivirus, because PC Tools updates are free, and my Norton Antivirus was several months out of date.


AVG and PCTools antivirus are free, and seems to work pretty well. I haven’t seen how well they detect viruses or trojans, but you should be careful about false positives with them. They both thought a couple of files on my system were viruses that weren’t. If you let them “fix” those files, some programs will stop working. I don’t use real-time virus protection (other than ZoneAlarm firewall) so I can’t say how that part works.

Overall, I think Norton Antivirus is best, but it’s not free. It puts some of extra stuff on your computer that you’ll probably never see, but that stuff bugs me.



Happy Birthday Thomas!

Thomas Jefferson was born April 13, 1743. In addition to some minor accomplishments such as writing the Declaration of Independence, becoming the 3rd President of the U.S., and launching the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Thomas was U.S. Ambassador (or Minister Plenipotentiary) to France from 1785 to 1789.

James C. Oberwetter was U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2004 to 2006. One of James’s daughters decided to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday the other day.

Brooke and some online friends (19 or 20 total) went to the Jefferson Memorial and did some dancing at midnight on Thomas’s birthday. They used iPods to keep things quiet and abide by the rules. It didn’t work.

They were all thrown out of the Jefferson Memorial, and Brooke was arrested for asking why they were being thrown out. When I read this, I figured they were being jerks and provoking the police. But they weren’t. After watching thevideo I can see they were a lot better behaved than I normally am.

TV Report:


I thought it was pretty ironic for an ambassador’s daughter to be arrested for celebrating the birthday of another ambassador, and the author of the Declaration of Independence.

I ran across another video of Brooke Oberwetter. She said in 2006 that Barrack Obama would have a hard time making sound bites because of his tendency to explain issues. That’s pretty funny — I just heard someone say that on the radio yesterday! She was in an interview in which the news experts were saying that Obama would never be able to compete financially with Clinton. Brooke might be pretty sharp.


Here’s an article she wrote in 2004. It’s pretty funny.


I noticed that Brooke Oberwetter’s personal blog and public Facebook page have been recently snuffed. I’m not sure whether this is because of the arrest or because of her new job at a telecom trade association.

Details on the “Jefferson 1”:


I did donate $1.41 to the cause.


Network Solutions

Network Solutions is an internet domain registrar. You can get domain names from them. They have been known as one of the more reliable and safe registrars, at least until recently. I couple of Junkmails ago I mentioned that some ISPs are intercepting mistyped domains and serving up link pages to so they can get paid for clicks.


Network Solutions has taken this one step farther. For some web sites, if someone tries to go to a specific subdomain that doesn’t exist, such as http://xpda.com/junkfreemail/, Network Solutions serves up a link page. This is considered very bad manners in the internet world since it looks like the Network Solutions page is part of the main web site.


In addition, Network Solutions was found to be registering expiring domains before they offered them to their customers, so they can sell them for a profit. They do this for domains that people have been querying for availability. This is technically legal, but also very bad manners.

To top it off, Network Solutions has shut down the domain of a European company providing travel arrangements to Europeans, where it is all perfectly legal. That kind of worries me. I suppose if I do something they don’t approve of, they’re liable to shut me down, too.

Network Solutions doesn’t seem quite so safe and reliable to me anymore. Maybe I’ll move to 1and1.com. I already use 1and1 for web hosting.

Domestic Spying

The U.S. government has announced that they will start using spy satellites to spy on people within the United States. (Start?) Homeland Security Boss Michael said not to worry, your privacy and civil liberties will not be compromised.


Illegal Clicking

The FBI is now using a novel technique to catch criminals. They make a web page and put links on it with illegally sounding labels — child pornography, for example. When someone comes along and clicks on one of these links, the FBI raids the person’s home, takes all the computer equipment out of the house, and goes over it looking for evidence of criminal activities. Clinking on the link provides enough probable cause to get the search warrant.

If they don’t find anything, I guess they just apologize for leaving the clicker computerless for a few weeks. In addition to pedophiles, I assume they’re also using this technique to nab sociopathic criminals such as terrorists, drug dealers, and music downloaders.

Some people don’t like this. They say that clicking on a link can happen accidentally. They say that your browser might pre-fetch a web page and make it look like you clicked a link that you didn’t. They say the FBI will be seizing computers of innocent people.

Some people like it. The FBI says this is a valuable investigative tool they need to fight terrorists and child pornographers, and that it will not be abused.



Stupid Patents

Last month, SES had a communications satellite launched into orbit that it intended to use for Dish TV. They used a Russian Proton Rocket and launched it in Kazakhstan. As the satellite headed for geostationary orbit, the upper stage of the rocket, called Breeze M, shut down 2 minutes and 13 seconds early. This left the satellite a few thousand miles short of geostationary orbit.


The Breeze M stage has failed in 4 of the 45 launches operated by the company that launched this satellite.


This failure was caused by a rupture of the gas duct between the gas generator and the propellant pump turbine in the Breeze M main engine.


The satellite has enough fuel to propel itself toward the moon and use the slingshot effect to land in geosynchronous orbit. But the U.S. Patent and Trademark office issued a patent to Boeing for this (basic physics are now patentable, apparently), and Boeing wouldn’t let SES do it.

Rather than pay lawyers a lot of money to have a stupid patent invalidated, SES decided just to collect the insurance money for the satellite and call it a total loss. No problem, it’s only $150,000,000.


That would almost make a person want to buy Airbus tankers. Boeing did have a reason not to let SES save their satellite, though. There was a pending lawsuit between SES and Boeing, and Boeing wanted SES to drop the lawsuit before they could save their satellite.

The thing that irritates me is that this patent should never have been awarded in the first place. People have been writing and implementing this “novel invention” for decades.

Other Stupid Patent News:

Forbes is clueless about an exceptionally stupid jpeg patent.


U.S. Patent boss John says there are too many weak patent applications. That guy is on top of things!


Microsoft has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether a patent should be assumed not to be obvious, as is now the case, based on the expertise of patent examiners. Microsoft (and more than a few others) seem to have noticed some obvious patents coming out of the USPTO.


An internet marketer is trying to trademark SEO, an abbreviation (Search Engine Optimization) that has been in common use almost since the advent of the search engine.


USPTO’s Educational Curriculum


Web Politics

In Paraguay, a few days before the elections, the state run internet company killed the web site of a group that denounced the government corruption. Here’s an image of the hijacked DNS — complete with a very creative cursor:


I was very surprised that, after 61 years in power, the ruling party lost the election. A former Catholic bishop named Fernando Lugo was elected. Fernando will take office in August.


This is much better than in Zimbabwe, where they refuse to count the votes until the count magically changes to support the current president. I’m not sure how President Mugabe’s math will work out since the African countries in the area refused to unload a Chinese ship full of guns, RPGs, mortars, and other fireworks, all addressed to the Zimbabwe government.


In Connecticut, Joseph Lieberman ran for Senate in 2006 and won. The day before the primary, his web site went down. Lieberman accused his opponent of hacking it and demanded a federal criminal investigation. A few days ago FBI determined the cause of the crash was stupidity, with a contributing factor of technological incompetence on the part of the Lieberman campaign.

The FBI used slightly more palatable words, saying “The server that hosted the joe2006.com Web site failed because it was overutilized and misconfigured. There was no evidence of attack.” The case is closed.


Promo CDs

Suppose someone gives you a promotional CD with some new music on it. Who owns the CD? According to Universal Music, they do. They claim if they put some fine print on the CD, they can own it forever. They say it is illegal to sell, give away, or even throw away such a CD.

So, according to them, they can send me a CD in the mail, unrequested, and then I am required to abide by the terms of their fine print on the CD. I think I should send them a CD with some fine print saying they agree to send me $3,000 by the end of the week. I wonder if they’ll agree to be bound by my agreement.

This all started when someone gathered up a bunch of old promo CDs and sold them on eBay. The problem with their policy is, besides being contrary to established law, the music companies would put fine print on every music CD made making it a mortal sin, or worse, to resell it, give it away, or copy it to your computer.



Buying Votes

It’s election campaign season! Time to buy votes. Let’s pay everybody $600 cash, just to make them feel better about politicians.

While we’re at it, maybe we can get rid of the federal gasoline tax. At least for a while, but certainly not after the elections. Maybe that won’t promote conservation. Maybe it will increase dependence on foreign oil. Maybe it will add to budget deficit. Who cares? It’s election year! In fact, why not use oil in the strategic petroleum reserve? We’re not going to be in any wars.

We can pay off everybody’s mortgage who is behind on payments. I wonder how many people have stopped making house payments in hopes of getting the government to pay off their mortgage.

Who will pay for all this? No worries. We’ll just borrow a little more. We already have a $500,000,000,000 federal budget deficit this year — what’s a bit more? We sure don’t want to raise taxes until the elections are over.

(subscription may be required)

The End of the Olympic Torch

The Wall Street Journal Online heading: “The End of the Olympic Torch”

Then in small print it continued with “relay through Paris was canceled because of…” Rupert Murdoch must have hired some tabloid writers.

The End of Olympic Torch relay through Paris was canceled because of…

CNN reported a denial of service attach to its web sites in Asia last week. Some people in China are a little unhappy with what they (and I) see as biased reporting on the Olympic Torch protests.


Private Laws

When the government passes a law, the law should be made public so people can get a hint when they’re breaking the law. The state of Oregon seems to disagree. The state says Oregon statutes are copyrighted material, and you have to buy them from the state if you want a copy. You can read the laws online, but if you copy them you’re breaking the law.


That sure seems stupid to me. The government should want the widest possible distribution of their laws. But they didn’t ask me. Weird, huh?


Apophus Asteroid

Apophus is an asteroid, about 900 feet in diameter, flying around the sun. Some people, including NASA, think there is about a 1 in 45,000 chance it will hit the earth. Granted, these odds are much better than hitting the lottery, but still not very likely.

A thirteen-year-old boy named Nico did some calculations for his science fair project that proved NASA wrong. He figured out that the chances are 1 in 450 that Apophus would hit the earth.

As you might guess, Nico was mistaken. But that did not stop newspapers all over the world from writing articles about the 13-year-old German student who proved NASA wrong, with the additional hint of impending world destruction. Even if the asteroid did hit the lottery and land on earth, it wouldn’t come close to destroying it.

I am surprised the media didn’t do even a little checking before writing up the young hero.




Here’s a good photo of the night sky at Flagstaff, with San Francisco Peaks covered by a cloud. The caption says it’s a lenticular cloud, but it looks to me like it could be fog.


Oklahoma Foster Care

Oklahoma’s child foster care made the New York Times.


Comcast and the FCC

A couple of Junkmails ago… I mentioned that Comcast hired a bunch of people off the street to fill the chairs at an FCC hearing, keeping out the critics.

At last week’s FCC hearing, Comcast’s street people were not in attendance. But Comcast did manage once more to avoid its critics. Comcast decided not to attend the hearing.



Dead IDs

The Social Security Death Index gives the names, addresses, and social security numbers of people who have died. I think you have to be dead for 50 years or so before they’ll put you on the list, so if you’re reading this you’ve got a wait ahead of you.

A lady in California named Tracy decided the death index would be a good source of names and social security numbers for acquiring credit cards. She was apparently too dumb to realize the credit card companies would just check the death index to make sure their applicants are not dead yet.

However, it seems the credit card companies were even dumber than Tracy. They issued Tracy about 100 credit cards in the names of dead people. It only took the credit card companies about three years to catch on.


FBI Internet Surveillance

It looks like it won’t be long before the FBI has complete, unfettered access to the entire internet. FBI Boss Robert said, “The surveillance should include all Internet traffic, whether it be .mil, .gov, .com–whatever you’re talking about.”

This is one of those “the FBI has called for…” things, so it may be a little while before it’s actually a law.

Look at the bright side.Maybe they’ll do something constructive with it and stop spam.


The FBI also wants to require ISPs to save everybody’s browsing history, connection history, etc., so they can go back and access this information and catch terrorists, file sharers, and other evildoers. Still no word on spammers.


When and if they get these laws passed, the FBI won’t need to worry about warrants or even National Security Letters. In 2005 they manufactured evidence to get the power to issue National Security Letters under the Patriot Act. They lied. It didn’t do much for public support.


The New Jersey Supreme Court seems to be at odds with the FBI’s new and future policies. They just ruled that people have an expectation of privacy when they are online, and that police need a warrant to access the private information of internet users.


Missouri Grammar

In a blatant attempt to imitate Oklahoma, Missouri has released new license plates with incorrect grammar, leaving out the dash in “the show-me state.” They don’t intend to correct the mistake.



Sometimes I look at icasualties.org to see the progress (or regress) of the Iraq War.


The other day I noticed this note:
“Due to a malicious attack on our web server we have removed most of the content from this site. I will be adding content back to the site on a daily basis. Thanks, Michael White”

Maybe he needs a backup?

It is nice to see the information without all the hype and spin attached. It’s surprising to me that the U.S. has been in the Iraq War longer than it was in World War II.

Message in a Bottle

The other day I looked up in the sky and saw a bunch of balloons flying by. It looked like they had notes attached. It was probably a children’s program, kind of a message-in-a-bottle for the plains states.

A United Space Alliance worker named Jill found a message washed up on the beach at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Jill now has a new pen pal from Holy Name Catholic School in Bimini, Bahamas.


Uranium for Sale

The United States has decided to allow other countries make enriched uranium for nuclear power plants. In 2004, Bush decided that countries that didn’t already have uranium enrichment capability should not be allowed to get it. The U.S. persuaded Group of Eight top industrialized countries to agree to the annual ban, up until now.

This will give Canada the ability to enrich uranium and sell it to countries with nuclear power plants. Canada produces about a quarter of the world’s uranium. With oil prices at record highs, nuclear power has become more economical.

(subscription may be required)


A military operations area (MOA) is an area where the military does aviation training. There are dozens of them around the country. Usually they route planes on an IFR flight plan around active MOAs. Planes flying not under air traffic control are free to fly through MOAs, and the military aircraft avoid them just like they would anywhere else.

In Arizona, some F16s flyers apparently didn’t appreciate a Pilatus PC12 and a small business jet flying through their MOA, because one of the F16s came in and intercepted them at close range on two separate occasions. The PC12 pilot said the F16 was within 20 feet of his plane, and he filed a near miss report with the FAA. The Air Force said the F16s never got closer than 600 feet to the PC12. The legal limit is 500 feet.

The F16s were flying out of Luke Air Force Base. Miki from Luke said the F-16 was “fully within Air Force rules” to conduct the intercept.


I was intercepted by a couple of A10s once when I was flying a PC12 in a MOA, but they were definitely over 500 feet from me. I thought it was pretty neat.

RIAA v. The Homeless

In what some refer to as their mass extortion campaign, the RIAA has filed a lawsuit against a homeless man for illegal file sharing. It seems he didn’t respond to their threatening letter and send them a few thousand dollars. He might have confused it with one of those letters from Nigeria.

Facing legal sanctions by the judge involved, the RIAA did drop the case. However, they reserved the right to refile the lawsuit. You can never be too careful when it comes to file sharers and other terrorists.


Here are some other RIAA articles. I already do enough ranting and raving about them, so I will make this material optional. It will not be on the exam.

EMI says that it’s illegal to backup your musing using an online backup site such as MP3tunes.com. And MP3tunes.com is really a backup service, not a file sharing site.


RIAA Mob Tactics?


The MPAA wants to require all universities to filter their network to stop the illegal exchange of any copyrighted material.


Some recent court cases decided that making music available for download does not constitute file copying. The RIAA has ignored these so far and is still sending out demands for “settlements” so you can avoid being sued.


The RIAA spent $2,000,000 lobbying for stricter copyright laws. They asked for penalties of up to $1.5 million for illegally copying 10-song compilation CDs, but that won’t happen. Now they want the Justice Department to take over their lawsuits against IP addresses.


Sony got nailed for pirating software. Sony said, “But we’re part of the RIAA. We can do that.” Or not.


In the UK, BPI is working to get ISPs to become internet cops.


One movie director said he was flattered that someone camcorded his movie. Too bad that’s now a criminal offense involving jail time.


The RIAA is trying to attach additions to university funding legislation that would require universities to “develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity.”


Joseph Biden wants the U.S. to spend $1 billion to monitor P2P internet connections for illegal activity. Heck, why not just give the money to the record companies and leave people alone? I am very happy Joseph Biden will not be President.


The international whisper campaign against fair use.



Here is a good article on high temperature superconductors. It’s worth reading.


80/20 split

When people call me asking for money, I usually talk to them if I have time. I ask them where they’re calling from, about the weather, what they do in their spare time, do they swim a lot, where do they swim, what kind of fishing do they do, and other important stuff.

When they get down to asking me for a donation, I ask them if I donate a dollar to this charity, how much of it goes to the charity? Most of the people lately have been answering that it’s an 80/20 split.

That doesn’t sound too bad, until you ask who gets the 80 and who gets the 20. The companies making the phone calls are getting 80% of the money donated toward the charities! It’s legal, too, as long as they tell you when you ask. Sometimes they say they don’t know, or they don’t know who gets the 80 and who gets the 20.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: If you intend to donate your money to a charity, it very well may be 5 times more effective if you give it directly to the charity and don’t go through one of these telemarketers.

Laptop Searches

It’s getting pretty popular for Customs agents at the U.S. and other countries to search laptops as you enter the country. I’m not sure what they look for — maybe pornography or drug delivery schedules or plans for nuclear bombs.

A U.S. Appeals Court decided that these searches are fine with them.


Declan McCullagh wrote “The Security Guide to Customs-Proofing Your Laptop.” It’s pretty interesting.


I don’t think there is anything illegal on my laptop, at least in the U.S. If I go to Berzerkistan, though, I may have to encrypt my email. Possession of some of the spam I get might be considered a thought crime there.

Pictures of Today!

The International Space Station, taken by the crew of the Discovery last August:

Mike caught a 22 lb dolphin off the island of Molokai, Hawaii.

A Molokai dirt road:

Molokai, to the north:

Kamakou, the high point of Molokai. Mike and I tried to climb it twice. We were unsuccessful. So far.

It was a little hard to walk.

So that’s why they’re called humpbacks!

Mike and I took the Minnow around to Kilauea Volcano’s lava flow into the Pacific.

Windmills at dusk, South Point, Hawaii. It’s the southernmost place in the United States.

How to unload an oil tanker:

The orange line up to the front of the boat is a chain or rope. The oil line is floating in the water.

A tug boat is on the opposite end holding the tanker in place.

More Hawaii photos are here:

That is all.


Saturday, April 26, 2008 - Posted by | Junkmail | , , , , , , , ,

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