Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

Bob’s Junkmail, #204

Running the Numbers

How big is a number? I like this:


Electoral College

It’s presidential election time!  That means it’s time for my quadrennial discourse on the electoral collage. As you are well aware from 4th grade Constitutional Law class, each state sends representatives to the electoral college, which actually votes for the President. A state gets one member of the electoral college for each representative in the House and for each Senator.

The U.S. uses this system for two reasons. First, in the late 1700’s, it wasn’t technically feasible to have a national popular election. Second, including Senators in the calculation mitigated the advantage the populous states, such as Virginia, had over the sparsely populated states, such as Georgia.

Today it is technically feasible to have a national election, or at least it was before the advent of electronic voting machines. However, it is important that votes cast in states such as Oklahoma and Alaska count more than those cast in California and New York, because people in Oklahoma and Alaska are much more important; hence the relevancy of the electoral college in 2008.


After his flu shot in 2007, a Canada man named Richard was paralyzed for five months with Guillain-Barré syndrome.


But one person in Canada who had serious side-effects does not make the flu vaccine dangerous, considering that Canada distributes 10,000,000 vaccinations across the country. It’s unfortunate that Richard got sick, but there were also thousands of lives saved from the Canadian flu vaccinations.

This year about 36,000 people in the U.S. will die from the flu, a higher death toll than AIDS.


Measles is a good example of a successful vaccination program. Measles has been almost eliminated in the Americas. However, there are still more then 30 million cases per year worldwide, resulting in more than 600,000 deaths annually. (This does not include Rubella, or the German Measles.)

There are, on average, 44 cases of measles in the U.S. per year resulting in no deaths. But in the first 7 months of this year, there were 131 cases of measles reported in the United States. 122 of these were children who had not been vaccinated (or whose vaccination status was unknown). There were 15 hospitalizations and no deaths.

The moral of the story? Take your shots!



Sometimes ignorance prevails over vaccine:


Tuberculosis on the border:


Truth in Politics?

Who’s telling the truth? Here’s a good web site I’ve mentioned before. It’s got lies by Obama, McCain, and most other politicians. The topics are pretty well researched.


Here’s one of my favorites. It’s just like The Appeal by John Grisham:


This article is a little dated, but discusses the persistent lying of several politicians. Mark Twain and Will Rogers might consider that redundant.



Auto Tracking

Guess what? You don’t have to worry about the government tracking your turnpike pass any more. (Actually, you probably weren’t worrying about that to begin with, but it could become very important should you decide to embark on a life of crime.)

The government will be able to track cars without the EZPass or Pike Pass or SunPass before long. Instead, they can use the traffic cameras at intersections, toll gates, tunnels, etc. "To gain public acceptance, the surveillance program is being initially sold as an aid for police looking to solve Amber Alert cases and locate stolen cars."

I think that would be a really interesting programming project. I expect it will be a few years before it actually works, but it will be coming soon to a country near you — Australia, Canada, U.K., U.S., and eventually continental Europe.


Border Security

Last Junkmail I mentioned that Homeland Security, according to their own rules, can browse and copy hard drives your laptop when you cross the border into the U.S., without a warrant, probable cause, or even an exhibition of defiance.

It should come as no surprise, then, that they’ve expanded their own authority to copying paper. They can now copy any of your personal documents and papers you carry when you enter the U.S. "Probably cause" and all that other legal stuff in the Constitution is not necessary.


According to the ACLU, Homeland Security has broadened the border zone to about 100 miles for purposes of searches and seizures without probably cause. This happens to include about two thirds of the U.S. population. I think the ACLU is exaggerating a bit, as they are prone to do, but I also think some people at Homeland Security are trying to acquire all the powers they can before Bush leaves office.


Ego Portraits

There is a portrait of Donald Rumsfeld going up in the Pentagon soon, at the low, low price of $46,790. There have been at least 30 portrait contracts recently for such governmental luminaries as the heads of the Commerce Department, EPA, Energy Department, and Transportation Department.

Instead of taking a digital photo and blowing it up, they choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire a painter, or rather, a portrait artist. Heck, they could even use PhotoShop to add brush strokes to the digital image. I’ll even give them a head start. Here is a high-res photo of Donald Rumsfeld:


Here’s Melvin Laird:


Are all these portraits traditional? It’s true that George Washington sat for a portrait, but there were no color cameras at the time, and the Transportation Secretary is hardly the President of the United States. But what’s a million dollars spent on bureaucrat portraits when the U.S. budget deficit might very well be less than a trillion dollars and the economic forecasts are so promising?


Bird Brains

A couple years ago, research reports showed that sooty shearwaters, a.k.a. mutton birds, wander around from New Zealand to Japan, Siberia, Alaska and western North America, occasionally western South America, and back to the New Zealand area. They’ve been tracked 39,000 miles in 200 days. I think this is because they are horrible navigators and get lost a lot.


The bar-tailed godwit (not to be confused with the barfly nitwit) heard about this research and went out to one-up the sooty shearwater.


They normally migrate in flocks to coastal western Europe, Africa, South Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Here are some satellite tracks of the godwits between New Zealand and China.


On August 29, 2007, a female godwit took off from Alaska and flew nonstop to New Zealand, covering 7,189 miles. To prove her record flight, she carried a satellite transmitter with her so she would not be accused of hitching a ride on an errant sailboat.


It’s a fact. New Zealand birds go farther.



These "financial experts" explained the coming credit market meltdown, but they were a year early so nobody listened.


Presidential Makeup

McCain and Palin have been criticized for spending a few thousand dollars on makeup artists.


I’m not sure whether Obama and Biden spend that much on makeup, but maybe Biden should. He’s a lot uglier than Palin.

In 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy had a televised debate. Nixon didn’t wear makeup, Kennedy did. Nixon’s advisor said that "Nixon’s pasty skin tone — the result of a two-week hospital stay following a serious knee injury — and his perpetual 5 o’clock shadow would have benefited from a little makeup, especially when he was pictured alongside a tanned, fit-looking JFK."

They had three more debates. Kennedy barely won the election. The debates probably made the difference. They were the last presidential debates on TV for 16 years.

What if Nixon had worn makeup and won the election? How would the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam turned out?

Open Government

Some people complain that the government uses "national security" as a reason to keep unflattering information secret. Of course, the government would never abuse its authority to polish its image. It would only block information for purposes of national security. Or possibly in an election year.

The Bank of New York Mellon was awarded a contract for accounting "and other infrastructure services" for the government’s acquisition of mortgage-backed securities. How much was the bank paid for its fine services? Good question! That information was blacked out in the public disclosure of the contract on the Treasury Department’s web site.



Why would a government agency hide the amount of money it pays to a public company in a public transaction? It’s so enemy governments won’t know how much to pay their banks when their economy is on the brink. It has nothing to do with hiding an unreasonably large payment from the public.



Enceladus one of Saturn’s 52 named moons. It’s about 15% the size of Earth’s moon. It orbits Saturn every 1.4 days. The fast orbit is because it’s closer to Saturn and because Saturn is a lot more massive than Earth. Take a look at their relative sizes:


The Cassini spacecraft is supposed to make a flyby of Enceladus on Halloween. It’s been orbiting Saturn for over for years now. Here are some of the Enceladus photos Cassini’s taken so far:


Flash Memory

You can now get a 16 gigabyte SD card for cameras, etc for around $40 from places like http://zipzoomfly.com and http://newegg.com. That’s equivalent to about 21 CDs or 3.4 DVDs. Flash memory is still 25-30 times more expensive per megabyte than DVD-ROM, but it’s a lot more convenient and can be reused.

Solid state drives using flash memory have been getting closer in price-performance to traditional hard drives, but they are not quite there yet.

MPAA Handbags

If the motion picture industry (MPAA) sold handbags, what would the market be like?


Icelandic Terrorists

Over the past few years, the Icelandic currency, the krona, has gone up in value. A lot of people and companies in Iceland capitalized on this by borrowing euros instead of krona. The higher the krona went, the less they owned on their loans (in krona).

But then, as is prone to happen, the bubble burst. The value of the Krona started down. It took more krona to make the loan payments, resulting in load defaults. The more defaults there were, the farther down in value the krona went.

Problems last April:


Finally, the country essentially went bankrupt.

The U.K. decided that Iceland government should pay off private debts to U.K. companies. When Iceland declined, the U.K. declared Iceland to be a terrorist state and froze all Icelandic assets in the U.K. It sounds like the U.K. has been learning from the U.S. how flexible those antiterrorism laws can be.


The value of the Krona decreased 70% before trading in the currency dried up. Iceland had to nationalize their banks. Iceland is now supposed to get a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Tuesday, trading in the krona resumed at 240 krona to the euro. A year ago the euro was worth 90 krona.


The IMF loans money to countries that need it for poverty or underlying financial problems. 185 countries are members of the IMF, contributing various amounts. The U.S. funds 17% of the IMF, Japan and Germany 6% each, France and the U.K 5% apiece.


Ukraine could be next in line, with a $15 billion loan in the works.



Just south of Iceland on the island of Surtsey there is absolutely no financial instability. This is because there are no people. In fact, before 1963 there was no Surtsey Island. The island was formed during an undersea volcanic eruption in 1963. It continued to erupt off and on through 1967.


In its first 35 years, about half the original square mile area of Surtsey was eroded by wind and waves. I suppose it will be washed back into the ocean if there are no more eruptions.


Surtsey makes a nice laboratory for studying the natural migration of plants and animals. There are about 30 established species of plants on Surtsey today, and 14 bird species. There are 490 plant species found on Iceland.




Economic news lately is generally bad, but McDonalds posted higher profits in the third quarter. I helped.



I think this is really funny.


Happy Birthday

Microsoft Word is 25 years old. My copy is 12 years old. I refuse to upgrade.


Dangerous Twitter

There was a U.S. Army report out this week (or maybe just a draft report) detailing how terrorists can use cell phones, Skype and other VoIP, and Twitter. The news articles about this imply that the government will be shutting down these dangerous tools of terrorism if we don’t do something quick.

But that’s not really the case. You can read the report and see that it’s just meant to inform the military readers what mobile communications are available and how they can be used by terrorists. It is not a campaign against Twitter.

I suspect there are a lot of tactic-developing officers in the Army who have never used Skype or Twitter. It seems like a good idea to educate them on communications tools available to the general public.


Here’s a copy of the report. Don’t read it unless you are officially interested, because it’s labeled "for official use only."



Joe the Star

Joe the Plumber is supposed to be the "normal American guy." Someone thought he might be too normal and accessed Joe’s driver’s license or vehicle records in state government databases, shortly after he came into the spotlight in the Republican presidential campaign. I suppose other records were checked on, too, but that didn’t make the news.

Democrats were almost certainly the ones checking up on Joe’s past. The Republicans didn’t even bother to check up on their own vice presidential candidate. This raises a question or two about Democrat personal privacy policies.


It may seem that the Republicans and the Democrats are about the same. That’s not true. There are some big differences in the platforms of the two parties. It’s just that nobody can figure out what they are.

Here is my guide to the presidential platforms, covering the important issues.


Recommendation Democrat
End the RIAA’s Extortion Campaign The Recording Industry donates a lot of money.  The Recording Industry donates a lot of money. 
Repeal the DMCA What’s DMCA? What’s DMCA?
Reduce the Department of Homeland Security by about 87.2% Terrorists are almost everywhere. We’ll keep you safe. Terrorists are everywhere. We’ll keep you safe.
Increase Science Research Only science that makes us feel good. Only science that makes us look good.
Fiscal Responsibility Tax and spend. Budget deficits can be ignored. Spend and don’t tax. Budget deficits can be ignored.
Stop Spam What’s Spam? What’s Email?
Stop Torture It’s not torture. What base at Guantanamo?
Get Rid of the Patriot Act You need us to keep you safe. You need us to keep you safe.
Surveillance and Wiretapping We’re against it. According to our transcript of their meeting, the Democrats are really for it.

Secure Flight

Homeland Security’s "Secure Flight" program is coming to an airport near you! This program lets the government check up on you even before you get to the airport, although you still won’t know if you’re banned from the flight until it’s too late.

Now, in order to board a flight, you’ll have to provide your birth date along with your name so Homeland Security can figure out whether you’re one of 18,000 or so people on their "no-fly" and "selectee" lists. This is good policy because terrorists never use a false birth date or name when they plan to blow up a plane.

No word on whether I’ll be able to keep my shoes on.



Turkish Internet

When the Turkish government finds offensive material on the internet, they block it from the entire country. In the past Turkey has blocked YouTube, Slide, WordPress.com, and Google Groups.

Some bloggers were posting links to unauthorized streams of Turkish soccer matches. So Turkey blocked all the blogs on blogspot.com. They weren’t showing the soccer matches — they were only posting links to the matches.



If you’re in Turkey, the blocks are pretty easy to get around. You can just go through one of these sites:




MTV Brilliance

MTV has 16,000 or so music videos online now, free to watch. There are some ads you might have to ignore at the beginning of a video, but it’s still pretty good.

One song on MTV’s site is pretty funny — Weird Al Yankovic’s "Don’t Download This Song," which came out in 2006. The song lyrics include "Like Morpheus or Grokster or Limewire or KaZaA." MTV, in their brilliance, bleeped out the names of these four programs, with loud, irritating, beeps.

Three things are wrong with this.

  1. If they just muted out the words instead of replacing them with loud beeps, people wouldn’t notice.
  2. Morpheus, Grokster, and KaZaA can no longer be used to download pirated music.
  3. The act of bleeping them out brought more publicity to these applications they ever would have achieved on their own.


Here’s an unmolested copy of the song:


The Bank of San Seriffe

Donald Knuth has launched the Bank of San Seriffe, single-handedly solving the international credit crisis.



Here’s an interesting article about a trojan that’s been around for two or three years collecting credentials on half a million bank and credit card accounts. It’s a pretty well-written trojan that gets around the majority of virus scanners.


Microsoft details (click the Analysis tab):


The people behind this trojan have apparently figured out that it could be profitable for a trojan to lie in wait than use a botnet member as a spam sender.

One of my computers locked up the other day, so I checked it out to see if there were any odd programs running. I did see one service that I didn’t recognize, but it was running on svchost.exe, part of Windows. Several Windows services use that exe file.

Then I noticed that the unfamiliar service was running on svchost.exe in the system32\inetsrv folder. That’s the wrong place. I did some virus scans, but nothing was found. I updated Windows, ran an MRT scan, and nothing was found. When I looked around, found seven files that seemed out of place.

I renamed them and let it go for a while. The firewall had blocked them from the internet, but at least one (inetsrv\svchost) had tried to access the internet. I wasn’t too worried because I don’t have anything important on that computer.

I went to the web site http://www.virustotal.com/ to scan these files using different virus scanners. Virustotal is a pretty good web site if you need to check on a particular file. They also make the submitted files available to the antivirus companies.

I was surprised because only a few virus scanners recognize these files as malware. Sophos and Trend Micro recognized all but a couple. Symantec, AVG, and F-Prot only flagged one of the files, and McAfee missed them all. One of the files was not recognized by any of the scanners, but it was created at the same time and date as the other files (4:20 am). These were all in the system32 folder. The link is the result of the VirusTotal scan.

ndisget.scr  (8 of  36) (sophos, trend micro)

ndisnc.scr (26 of 36) (all but mcafee and microsoft)

reg.exe (5 of 36) (trend micro)

srv.exe (2 of 33) (trend micro)

wmiprvse.exe (3 of 33)

inetsrv\iisdump.dll (0 of 36)

inetsrv\svchost.exe (8 of 36)  (sophos, trend micro)

These were probably installed sometime over an open port on my computer. I’ll blame Microsoft. I’m not sure what the intended use was — probably a botnet for spamming, or maybe phishing. But the firewall prevented that, and the logs showed it was blocked.

Drug Testing

In Aberdeen, Scotland they test you for drugs before they let you into a pub. They swab your hands to see if there are traces of illegal drugs, using a machine called the Itemiser. If you test positive, you don’t get into the pub and you’re liable to be searched for drugs.


They’re also using the Itemiser in other parts of the U.K.


This is similar to the machines they use to check for traces of explosives at airports.

Digg Physics

Digg.com is a news link site. People submit links to news and other items, then everybody votes them up (digg) or down (bury). The most popular articles are viewed a lot. It’s a pretty popular site, ranked 271 in U.S. web site popularity, followed closely by xpda.com at 1,321,294.

Here are the 100 most popular sites in the U.S.:


At the bottom of the http://digg.com main page is a comment that’s not normally displayed in a browser. You can see this using View, Page Source (Firefox); or View, Source (Internet Explorer):

<– digg is done serving you. 2.01355321270u 137.03599911 6.6742×10-11m3kg-1s-2 6.6742×10-11m3kg-1s-2 –>

Who knows what those numbers and letters mean? Tommy does!


2.01355321270u is the atomic mass of Deuterium. We’ll call that D. 137.03599911 is the inverse of the Sommerfeld fine-structure constant, the measure of the strength of the electromagnetic force that governs how electrically charged elementary particles (e.g., electron, muon) and light (photons) interact. We’ll call this inverse I. 6.6742×10-11m3kg-1s-2 is Newton’s gravitational constant. We’ll call it G. It appears in the comment twice.

So we end up with D I G G. Pretty cool!


Mike and I (along with 13 others) took a hike in the Himalayas last month.


Here are some photos and a slightly rambling commentary:


Pictures of Today!

A pet in the garage:

I have ladybugs on my ceiling!

The ladybugs are outside, too. Maybe they’re eating aphids or fleas.

Baffin Island, October 2, 2008:

The Himalayas, from the International Space Station:

Here’s an 80-mile mosaic of the Himalayan front:

The End!


Sunday, November 2, 2008 - Posted by | Junkmail | , ,

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