Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

Bob’s Junkmail, #207

Model Rocket

If you happen to wandering around Price, Maryland next Saturday, stop in at Higgs Farm and you might be able to see a model rocket launch. This model is 1,600 lbs and 36 feet tall. It will go 3,000 to 4,000 feet, hopefully up.



JPG and Raw Photos

Most digital photo files are stored in .jpg format, also called .jpeg. It stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which is not important, but jpg is the most commonly used image file format on this end of the universe.

Jpg files are compressed, which makes them convenient to store and transmit. A jpg photo from a digital camera may be 8 or 10 times smaller than it would be if it were uncompressed.

Jpg compression is lossy compression. That means that some of the color and clarity of a photo is lost whenever it is saved. How much? It depends on the amount of compression used when the file is saved. The smaller the file, the lower the quality.

I ran a few tests with this 3648×2736 picture. The small rectangle is the area I zoomed in on in the following examples. These thumbnail images link to .png files, which have lossless compression, so you can see it exactly how it was in the camera.


Here’s the sample from the original file from the camera. It was 4,757 KB in size, taken with the highest quality option on the camera, a jpg compression value of 2.


One interesting thing in this photo is the lighter green line against the left edge of the red petals. This was added by the internal camera software as part of the “normal” level of sharpening.

Saving at a compression value of 15 (range: 2-255) shows no visible change, but the size on the hard drive went down to 2,567 KB.


These photos saved with a compression of 100, 200, and 255 show some picture quality degradation. The sizes on the hard drive is down to 450 KB, 345 KB, and 316 KB.


Why not use jpg compression 15 all the time for all photos? It’s usually not a problem, but each time you save and reload a photo, you lose just a little bit of quality. You can load a photo as much as you want, of course, but if you save, load, save, load, etc., the error compounds, like interest on investments once did.

Here is a photo I took in Panama with my baby daughter Melinda. This is not Melinda. Melinda doesn’t dress that well.


Using jpg compression of 15, I saved and reloaded this file 50 times…


and 100 times:


You can see some color loss and some square pixelation in the results.

What if you don’t want any loss of quality? A lot of cameras can save in Raw format in addition to jpg. Back in the stone age of digital imaging, raw images contained pixels and nothing else. Today, most camera manufacturers refer to their own proprietary formats with lossless or nearly lossless compression as the raw image format. Nikon’s raw format uses lossy compression, but it apparently loses very little.

In addition to the better photo quality, the raw images are generally not processed to add things like contrast, sharpness, or saturation.

Raw image files are about 7 to 10 times larger than the highest quality jpg files available on a digital camera. This makes it slower for the camera to save to your flash card, and slower to copy onto your computer.

How much better are they? Here are some examples from a Panasonic FZ-50. (They’re saved as .png files here, but they came from .jpg file and .raw files.) This is the photo. The samples are taken from near the bottom center.


First, a .jpg file using the “normal” settings for enhancing the contrast, sharpness, and saturation. I zoomed this in 2x before saving it, so each pixel from the photo will take up 4 pixels on your screen now (after you double click on the photo below). You can see some irregularities along the edges of the blue and the black. At the bottom is a ruler with 1/16″ marks. I took these indoors without a flash, and I took a picture of printed material. Both of those should make it easier to see jpg artifacts and other quality flaws.


I changed the camera settings to low sharpness, contrast, and saturation adjustments. The noise level was already on low, the minimum. You can see that this sample is a little clearer, especially if you look at the letter o’s.


The raw image is quite a bit brighter (or the .jpg images are darker?). This is caused by some weirdness in the camera and shouldn’t normally happen. The clarity is better in the raw photo, which does normally happen. The colors are also supposed to be more “true,” but I can’t really tell. You can see a little bit of random noise on white part — the small colored specs. I guess the noise reduction gets rid of this in jpg images at the cost of a little clarity. You would never see this noise at a normal size.


What’s the result? These variations are almost imperceptible when you look at the entire photo (except for the brightness difference in the raw image, which shouldn’t really be there.)

I use jpg, highest quality, and lowest possible settings for adjustments such as sharpening, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction. I can always make those changes on the computer if I want them, but I can’t undo them if the camera did it.

If you plan to sell your photos for publication, publishers might prefer raw images, or a tiff or png derivation. If you plan to print your own photos or put them on the web, jpg format should be fine.

What about 35mm vs. point and shoot? What’s the best camera to get? That changes almost daily. A very informative web site with unbiased, detailed reviews and lots of sample photos is http://dpreview.com. I always spend some time there before I buy a camera. And my FZ50 is almost three years old — maybe it’s time to go read some reviews.

Car Tracking

I have just about decided against going on a nationwide bank-robbing spree, primarily because I don’t like to wait in line. But if I did, the FBI might be tracking my car. How? There are several interesting ways.

A method commonly used in novels and movies is cell phone triangulation. Police and other law enforcement people can find out from a cell phone company which cell towers a phone is communicating with, and using that information they can get a rough idea of the phone’s location.

A variation on this theme is to use the GPS receiver that is embedded in the phone for 911. The police can get a phone’s precise location from the cell phone company. I believe they can also lock a phone into “emergency mode” so it continues transmitting its location even after it’s turned off. So after you rob a bank, you might want to toss your cell phone onto a passing freight train or remove the battery.

A third way to track a cell phone is a little more original, and the police don’t have to bother with cell phone companies, search warrants, or claim “threat to national security.” They use a “triggerfish.”

A triggerfish is a device that they place along side a road, temporarily or permanently. It sends a request for acknowledgement to passing cell phones. The cell phones reply with their identification, as they normally do when a cell tower makes the same request. The triggerfish then logs all active cell phones that pass it on the highway.


Another way to track a car is using the license tag. If you were to place traffic cameras that can recognize tag numbers at most major intersections in the country, then connect them in a large computer network (such as the internet), you could track almost any car whose tag number is not covered with mud.

Some privacy fans consider these techniques a violation of their rights to privacy on public roads, but I think they’re all pretty good ideas. I consider cameras that issue speeding tickets quite rude, however.

DNA Database

The FBI is expanding their DNA database to include people who have been arrested but not convicted. Some privacy fans don’t like this. It seems to me like a good way to make law enforcement more efficient and accurate. But, like the car tracking, I can see where it could be abused. Hopefully those privacy fans will keep everybody in line. If not, there might be a lawsuit concerning DNA records.

There are now 6.7 million DNA samples in the FBI’s database; 6,700,001 if you include O.J. Simpson. In two or three years they expect to be adding 1.2 million new samples per year, about 15 times more than they do now.


The Road to Nowhere

Some politicians had plans to build a bridge from Ketchikan, Alaska to the Ketchikan airport. It was not such a big deal, as it cost well under half a billion dollars. $398,000,000, to be exact. Sometime during the last presidential campaign, some of the same politicians decided that it would be a good idea not to build that bridge, and they cancelled the project.

I think it might have been cheaper to move the airport to Ketchikan’s island than to build a giant bridge. They might be able to fit it in southwest of Settler’s Cove, up toward Connell Lake, or north of Herring Bay. But strangely enough, nobody asked what I thought. That was all right with me because I really don’t care whether Ketchikanians (and I, when I visit) take the ferry between the airport and town.

So the infamous bridge to nowhere was cancelled, but the road from the airport to the bridge that isn’t wasn’t. The road only cost $26,000,000, mere pocket change by today’s standards. Since nobody needs to go to a bridge that isn’t, and very few, if any, live near that road, it doesn’t see a lot of traffic. That’s good, because the $26 million wasn’t enough for a paved road. They only managed to build 3.2 miles of gravel road with that much money. I think somebody made some profit on on that deal.


But I am happy to report that the $26 million was not wasted. Ketchikan Parks and Recreation is planning a bike race on August 22, tentatively on the road to nowhere. Be there!


Cyber Attack!

The headlines read like Chinese hackers broke into computers in the Pentagon and stole complete plans for the F-35 Strike Fighter. I wondered what the military was doing putting stuff like that on a computer connected to the internet. In fact, they weren’t.

The facts are that some computers in Turkey and one other unnamed NATO member were accessed, and a bunch of classified material was copied. As far as I can tell, no military computers inside the U.S. were accessed. It seems to me that if all the NATO countries had the design specifications, it couldn’t be too long before Russia and China managed to get their hands on a copy.


Another popular worry about cyber attacks is that foreign countries will hack into the power grid and turn off the electricity. I suspect people who manage that sort of thing are smart enough isolate computers that switch electrical service from the internet. If not, they will probably learn a valuable lesson before very long.

Either way, worrying about the Chinese turning off my electricity does not take up a lot of my time. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is a lot more likely to have an adverse effect on my lifestyle than anyone in China. It looks like I could be thrown in jail before long for going to an airport to fly my airplane without a Homeland Security ID Badge and FBI background check. I wonder if I’ll have to take my shoes off in order to get a badge.





Homeland Security has been flying Predator UAVs along the Mexican border for a while. That program has been so successful in stopping illegal immigration that they’re using them along the Canadian border now. They’ve had some in North Dakota, where they helped out with the Red River flooding this year, and have begun using them out of Alpena Michigan.

Some people don’t like this. I’m undecided. I don’t like too much surveillance, but a UAV will get out of my way a lot better than one of the tethered blimps they use in Florida.


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are coming to a location near you! I talked to an A-10 pilot a few years ago, and he told me the A-10s and most fighters would be replaced by UAVs in the future. It made sense, but at the time it was hard to see that much change coming.

Now, the Department of Defense official policy is moving in that direction. They’ve decided to stop production on the F-22 after 187 have been built. UAVs will be used on some of the missions that F-18s, F16s, and F-15s have been used for in the past.


The Predator UAV has been around for a few years. The MQ-9 Reaper is a larger, more powerful version of the Predator, in operation since 2007. The Predator was designed for surveillance, and the Reaper was designed for shooting things. I guess that’s why Homeland Security is using Reapers instead of Predators over Detroit. Make sure you get the frequency right when they tell you to contact Cleveland Center. It would be embarrassing to be shot down by a machine.

The MQ-9 is a single-engine turboprop, just like the PC12. Beyond that, there’s not much similarity.


The MQ-9 Reapers are available for the low, low price of 4 for $53.5 million, plus a little for inflation, design changes, and cost overruns.

Reaper Specifications:

Wingspan 66 feet
Max Takeoff Weight 10,500 lbs
Range 3,200 nautical miles
Cruise Speed 200 knots
Ceiling 50,000 feet
Payload 3,750 lbs


Turing Test

Go for the extra points.


Google Machines

Where do your bits go when you do a Google search?


Low Power CPUs

Here’s an interesting article about a company that makes low power CPUs for handheld devices and small, cheap laptops. These people are abusing Moore’s law!


Google Tax

YouTube had some music videos on its U.K. site. The people who owned the videos said they wanted to be paid each time someone viewed one. That’s reasonable. YouTube said they couldn’t make money doing that, so the took down the videos. That’s reasonable too.

But now, the people are claiming that Google, who owns YouTube, is obligated to host their videos and to pay royalties on them. That makes no sense to me. Why should Google be forced to lose money?


But wait. Maybe I could video myself playing the piano and demand royalties. If I practice, I might be able to do something like this:


Blast Off

Some good Mount Redoubt eruption photos.


Save the Cows!

Did you know you can protect your cows from nuclear attack using hay bales?


Bogus Numbers and Copyrights

Howard Berman, MPAA, and the RIAA are pushing for new regulations on the internet and DVD players. They are using blatantly false statistics to support their cause.


One of the common “facts” publicized by the recording industry is that they have lost X billion dollars due to illegal downloads. They estimate the number of downloads, which is a wild guess in itself, and then they multiply that number by the retail price of a CD. There are several things very wrong with this.

  1. Even if this number were correct, which it is not, it would represent lost sales, not lost money. Since record companies do not make 100% profit, their loss is the profit they would have made on the CD sales, NOT the entire retail price of the CDs. Those pesky expenses such as packaging, distribution, store expenses, and taxes make up the majority of the price of a CD.
  2. The recording industry did not lose this money, since they never had it in the first place. They lost potential profits instead.
  3. People who download movies or music illegally would not have bought a copy of everything they downloaded if they couldn’t have downloaded it. The recording industry assumes this to be the case when they do their estimates of loss due to piracy. Most people I know who download a lot of movies don’t even watch them all. They certainly would never buy a copy of all of them. They just download the files because they are available and they’re free.
  4. Some people who download files illegally buy a legitimate copy of a movie or CD if they like what they see. Many people who download files illegally will pass recommendations by word of mouth about music or movies they like, and their friends and acquaintances may buy legitimage copies. Illegal downloads provide some value in free advertising.

Movie theater revenue has been going up over the past two years. CD sales have gone down. Online music purchases have gone way up. The music, TV, and movie markets are changing, largely due to digital content. The music and movie companies are positioning themselves to get the most out of the change, even if it means suing their customers and blocking new technology.


It irritates me enough that I won’t even buy a CD anymore. That is, unless I like the music.

Associated Press

I read in an AP article that the Associated Press going to a crack down on “misappropriated” content. That means you aren’t supposed to summarize a news article without their permission. Oops. That legal argument is a little weak anyway.


AP puts videos on YouTube. They include embed codes so people can embed the videos in their web sites. A small AP affiliated radio station embedded some of the videos in their web site. But AP told the radio station to remove the links from their web site. AP wouldn’t say why everybody in the world except the small radio station (who is a paying AP customer) is allowed to link to the AP videos.


I usually avoid linking to AP stuff in Junkmail because they tend to take it down after a couple of weeks.

Retail Scales

New York Times Headline: “Retail Chains Report Further Drop in Sales in March.”

Let’s see… Wal-Mart’s sales were up. Costco’s sales were up. BJ’s Wholesale Club sales were up. TJX sales were up. Ross Stores sales were up. Buckle sales were up. Hot Topic sales were up. Aeropostale sales were up.

Several other stores had drops in sales, but the headlines didn’t quite tell the whole story.

Threat to National Security

Don’t send any teabags politicians, in case your tea is deadly.


You should send powdered donuts instead.

Spring Break

It’s those derned Reeses and Bachmans again! (My cousins’ kids.)


Conficker II

Here is a good, detailed article on the Conficker worm.



I entered the New York Marathon several years ago, but I haven’t finished yet. Maybe I should try the North Pole marathon.


Creative Commons

Some people don’t like to worry about copyrights so much, like me, for example. Creative Commons makes it easy for you to share your photos, writings, and etc., with certain strings attached. You can pick and choose any of these four conditions in a Creative Commons License:

  1. Attribution — The copier agrees to tell where he got the stuff.e got the stuff.
  2. Share Alike — The copier agrees to share the stuff under identical terms.
  3. Noncommercial — The copier agrees not to sell the stuff.
  4. No Derivative Works — The copier agrees not to modify the stuff.

If you don’t want any of these restrictions, you can just say your photo or writing or whatever is in the public domain. Then anybody can copy it for any purpose. If, for example, you want to let people copy a photo as long as they put your name with it and share it under the same terms, you can use the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license here:


How do you use this license? Basically, just post it with your photo to tell people that’s the way it is.

Wikimedia Commons is a collection of shareable photos, books, and other copyrightable work. Most of them are shared under a Creative Commons License or are in the public domain. Flickr has a section of photos you can search for under Creative Commons sharing.

The BBS has released a program under Creative Commons licensing called R&D TV. You can download it here:



Oxford University recently released the book Lessons from the Identity Trail, a collection of essays about computer privacy and anonymity.


If you intend to make money selling photos, books, TV programs, etc., then you might want to consider something other than a Creative Commons license. If you think all this is license stuff is not worth the trouble, then you could use the Junkmail approach:  “Copy the heck out of it!”

Tail Strike

If you fly certain airliners and pull up too hard on takeoff, you can hit the tail of the plane on the ground. If you do a good enough job, you can destroy an Airbus A340.



Not Lightning

This hole in a plane has been flying around the internet with a caption saying it was caused by lightning thousands of feet in the sky. In fact, it was caused by an electrical fire on the ground.



According to Symantec, the amount of spam sent grew from 119.6 billion messages in 2007 to 349.6 billion in 2008. I got most of it.


Improv Everywhere

Improv Everywhere is a group in New York City that collects people and “causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.”

Last year they got 207 people together, went to Grand Central Station, and they all froze at the same time for five minutes.


Sixteen of them did a short musical at a mall food court.


Since 2001, Improv Everywhere has done over 80 “missions.” On April 1, 2009, which happened to come on April Fools Day this year, Improv Everywhere released a fake video on YouTube of a couple dozen people or so crashing a funeral. Lots of people on YouTube were appropriately offended — those who forgot what day it was.

The TV station got ahold of the funeral video and broadcast a somewhat derogatory news story on it. The people at the TV station fell for the April Fool joke!

Improv Everywhere couldn’t resist, and they added the news footage to their YouTube site. When the TV station learned they were stupid, they contacted YouTube and demand that they remove the news clip, claiming violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1803 (or something like that). YouTube pulled it, without further investigation.

After the news clip was banned from YouTube, it became an overnight hit on the internet. This is called the Streisand effect, and seems to be adhered to more closely thanMoore’s Law.

In the news clip, the TV station used Improv Everywhere’s video, without permission. Improv Everywhere now has the TV news clip on their web site. I think that’s really funny. But I’m easy to amuse.



Search and Seizure

One more reason to keep a current backup: FBI Raids!

Core IP Networks provides web and email servers to about 50 companies. Earlier this month, the FBI shut them down and took their computers. As near as I can tell, Core IP Networks had their computers seized by the FBI when one of their customers was operating a scam to steal bandwidth from ATT and Verizon.

Their 50 customers lost their web sites and email for a few days, even though they were not involved with the scam. I think Core IP Networks was not involved either, but they FBI hasn’t said that in so many words.


Sometime around April Fools Day, the Boston police came to visit a computer science student named Riccardo at Boston College. They took his computer, cell phone, and iPod. They kept them for at least two weeks. Riccardo’s roommate had told the police that Riccardo was involved in some computer hacking incidents.

Riccardo supposedly hacked into Boston University’s records and changed grades, which is very unlikely, and sent out mass emails which linked to a fake profile of Riccardo’s roommate on a gay web site, which is more likely and kind of funny.


What do you do when seizing computers gets boring? Seize the whole internet! Anew law, if passed, will allow the President to declare a Cyber Emergency and seize control of any “critical infrastructure information system or network.” Of course, that would only happen in the event of an “imminent threat.”


Science and Technology

In their continuing effort to get me to stop watching their channel and keep me off their website, CNN has fired their entire science, technology, and environment news staff. They will now rely on The Onion for their science and technology news.



CNN, to the relief of millions around the world, will be able to continue their in-depth coverage of Susan Boyle’s attire.



Touring Cuba

In 1962, the Soviet Union built some nuclear missile sites in Cuba. There was some serious fussing between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and that was just about as close as the earth has ever been to a major nuclear war.

Part of the repercussions of the Cuban Missile Crisis was a trade embargo with Cuba, implemented shortly after Pierre Salinger bought 1,200 Cuban cigars for President Kennedy. Cuba, as a Communist ally of the Soviet Union, was considered a threat to the United States. That was pretty accurate, considering that Cuba had been pointing nuclear missiles north.

Today, the most of the Soviet Union is now Russia. Russia is more friendly and open with the U.S. than the Soviet Union was in 1962, despite a few Bear flyovers.


(I guess CNN hasn’t run me completely off yet.)

Cuba’s military threat to the U.S. is now somewhere near zero, and has been for years. But for tradition’s sake (it must be tradition, there is no other reason) the U.S. keeps the trade embargo with Cuba alive and well. In fact, in 2005-2006 they tightened the rules.

I tried to sail The Minnow to Cuba in 2006. Since I preferred not to have the boat seized by the Coast Guard, I applied officially with the Commerce Department (after going through the State Department, Customs, and some other agencies) for authorization to go to Cuba. Among other things, I had to write (not call or email) to get an application. I was required to type the application on a typewriter. It was a long application, and it used carbon paper duplicates that are hard to correct.

Eventually I completed the application and jumped through some other hoops, only to be rejected. I was spurned by the Commerce Department! They said that they were not allowing any private boats to go to Cuba, even if the people on the boat spent no money. This new rule had been implemented a few months earlier.

Quite a few people go to Cuba now. Cuba is happy to receive visitors. The U.S. prohibits its citizens from visiting Cuba, however, except under special circumstances.

You can go to Cuba for an educational institution, for government business, or on a religious mission. You can fly from the U.S. to Mexico or the Bahamas, then fly to Cuba and vacation, but that is a little illegal. Under no circumstances, however, will the U.S. government allow me to fly my plane or sail my boat to Cuba. The U.S. Coast Guard seizes U.S. boats it finds headed for Cuba. I have flown OVER Cuba before, but the U.S. would not allow me to land.

I think the U.S. government is exhibiting very bad manners in prohibiting my trip to Cuba. I can go to China and spend all the money I want. I can sail my own boat or fly my own plane there. China is a Communist country with a totalitarian government. Why not Cuba? I believe I should have the freedom to visit any place I can get to, on or off earth.

With all this in mind, I was very happy to hear the President say he would improve relations with Cuba. I think they should change the cold-war relationship and abolish the 1962 trade embargo. Cuba is certainly no longer a threat to the United States, except possibly in baseball.


Weren’t they going to stop this sort of thing?



Office 2007 Documents

Microsoft Office 2007 uses some new file formats (xlsx, docx and pptx) that are incompatible with earlier versions. These file formats are xml based.

If you’re using an earlier version of Office and someone emails you an Office document that won’t open, it’s probably because of the new file formats. I use Office 97. It’s a lot faster than the newer versions. It opens everything up to but not including Office 2007 documents.

Office 2007 users can save files in older formats, but that’s not the default option so it rarely happens.

What to do? Google Docs can read the new Office formats and save them in something more reasonable for the rest of us.


Google Docs is kind of like a web-based version of Microsoft Office. It saves your documents to Google’s hard drive instead of your own, unless you ask for a download. You can access your Google Docs docs from just about any computer on the internet.

Not Torture

There is a lot of talk lately about torture, aggressive interrogation, and other party games. About a half-dozen years ago I mentioned that this would become a big deal.


There are a lot of politicians who say there is nothing wrong with “aggressive interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding. But none of them has offered to demonstrate this on themselves. That seems odd.


Online Magazines

There are a lot of online magazines, but this one looks like a paper magazine. I really like this format, even though most of their fish don’t live in Oklahoma.


Pictures of Today!

Last summer Josh, Melinda, and I hiked up Kasatochi Volcano in the Aleutians.


Here are some photos from the volcano:


Three weeks later, the volcano erupted in a big way. Here is an “after” photo, taken by Jerry Morris on October 23, 2008. The change is unbelievable.

1224876131_ak146.jpg hi-res Kasatochi

A combine ran over a truck…

The tracks:

The birds, west of Pryor on 9th Street:

An Oil Well:

A giant anchor, outside Helena, Oklahoma:

The End


Thursday, April 23, 2009 - Posted by | Junkmail | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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