Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

More Junkmail from Bob! #210

UV Andromeda

Here’s a good photo of the Andromeda galaxy taking in ultraviolet wavelengths. It’s pretty cool because you can put your most over the image to see it in visible light and compare the two.


This image was taken with the Swift satellite.



Headline: “Yahoo buying Maktoob.com to boost its Arabic numbers”

In all the years I’ve been using Yahoo, I don’t remember ever seeing them use Roman numerals.

Google Traffic

If you use Google Maps with your cell phone, you can click My Location and see your current location on the map. When you do this, Google’s computer knows your location and speed. It can then tally the results of cell phone Google Map users and figure out where traffic jams are even before they start.

If you happen to be staggering drunk, weaving down the middle of the expressway on foot with Google Map, please walk quickly down the highway so as not to skew the data.


I did some whining and complaining during the Bush administration about how Customs could search and seize your laptop when you come into the country, although not necessarily in that order. They didn’t need any suspicion of illegal activity. They can even require you to tell them your passwords. This would be a problem for me, because I frequently don’t know my passwords.

This has all changed under Obama. Now Customs can search and seize your laptop when you come into the country, and they don’t have to even suspect illegal activity. What’s the difference? Now, “steps will be taken to improve oversight and transparency and to make sure seized equipment is returned expeditiously.” I feel safe!


Viewing Molecular Structure

IBM has managed to see the internal structure of a molecule, using noncontact atomic force microscopy. I am not sure how it works, but it allows them to see through the electron cloud of a molecule into the underlying atoms in the interior. This is a step toward molecular computing, but mostly it’s pretty cool. I don’t think we’ll be able to buy processors on the molecular scale in this decade.


Computer Expertise

How to be a computer expert:


Chicago Trucks

I got a semi-threatening email the other day from a lawyer in Chicago, claiming I had a copyrighted article from a Chicago Newspaper on my web site. He was right, so I took down the article. Then I emailed him back and called him a whiner.

That made me wonder why a prestigious institution like the Chicago Sun Times would wait 5 years and then ask me to remove an article that is embarrassing to the local politicians. The article is about how the city pays trucks to come and sit and do nothing. I did a Google search for the article, looking for a non-copyrighted version. I found several. But they’re for different years!

In Chicago, people are paying for trucks to do nothing. The truck companies are friends and relatives of the powers that be. Then they get caught. Then they keep doing it! There are so may different scandals involving trucks in Chicago that I can’t even tell them apart.






If I didn’t know better, I might think there were some crooked politicians in Chicago.

Southern Politics

The guy who threw his shoes at President Bush was released from an Iraqi prison a couple of weeks ago. He spent 9 months in jail. When asked about his future, al-Zeidie said he had been invited to Columbia, SC to train the South Carolina Congressional delegation in the art of shoe tossing. As an employment perk, Governor Sanford has agreed to set up al-Zeidi with a young lady from Argentina.

Blackwater is Back

Blackwater Security was banned from doing business in Iraq. So they changed their name and got a lot of new government contracts. I’m not sure whether this is good, bad, or indifferent, but it is interesting.


Stupid Security Rules

Last month a Continental flight with 47 people on it ended up parked at the Rochester, Minnesota airport all night, 50 yards from the terminal. The plane was headed to Minneapolis, but had to divert to Rochester because of a thunderstorm. People were not allowed off the plane because there were no TSA agents at the airport.

The TSA later said the pilot could have let the passengers off. The TSA does not take blame in any situation — it’s a matter of national security.

I feel safe! This kind of thing wants me to go to an airport and take my shoes off.


Elsewhere in the TSA, some people who worked at the San Juan, Puerto Rico and Miami, Florida airports were arrested for smuggling cocaine. What’s odd about this? These people managed to transport tons of cocaine on U.S. airliners over the past 10 years without getting caught until now. That’s what I call security.


Turkish YouTube

Last month in Turkey I clicked on a link to watch a video someone emailed me. Turkey has internet censorship!

The decision no 2008/402 dated 05.05.2008, which is given about this web site (youtube.com) within the context of protection measure, of Ankara 1. Sulh Ceza Mahkemesi has been implemented by “Telekomünikasyon İletişim Başkanlığı”.)

Stupid Business Tricks

The other day I went to the site collarity.com, for some reason I don’t remember now. I do remember that it took one minute to load, which was kind of funny given the title of the page: “Optimized Audience Engagement.”

Comcast seems to excel in the field of stupid business tricks. Last time I sent out Junkmail, I noticed that all of them going to Comcast customers bounced, with a somewhat cryptic message. So I called them up and asked if I was blocked, my domain was blocked, my IP address, or the domain or IP address of my mail server. I was assured that there were no blocks.

I wandered around their web site for a bit, and found a place to check and see if you’ve been blocked from sending emails to their customers. I had been, because of “a pattern they detected.” They eventually unblocked me. There are two things wrong with this. First, their tech guy couldn’t even operate their web site. Second, they blocked an IP address for no good reason and did not have a meaningful bounce message.

You would think that the Wall Street Journal would know how to manage an emailing list, but they seem to have a bit of trouble. From time to time, wsj.com starts sending me their “Heard on the Street” emails, for no apparent reason. It’s not so bad, but the last time they did this (a couple of weeks ago) they sent out several emails every day. To unsubscribe, I had to have a password. But my password didn’t work, probably because I don’t have an online subscription any more. In fact, I don’t think I’m even supposed to be getting these emails without a subscription. After some searching, I finally found a link to get off the list. But I imagine I’ll once again be the privileged recipient of “Heard on the Street” in a few months.

I went to Reebok’s web site the other day and was greeted with a blank screen. I tried it on Firefox as well as IE. I tried it the next day with the same result. Nice! Today it works.

iTunes and Amazon have 30-second clips of their online music selections. These downloads typically cost about a dollar. I have listened to a 30-second clip and then bought the music. A lot of people have. I would not have bought it without the convenient preview. This is true for a lot of customers. These clips increase sales a LOT.

Now the recording industry wants to be paid for these 30-second clips, which amount to free advertisements for their music. The recording industry claims it is a public performance. How stupid can you get? If Amazon and iTunes have to pay for this, they’ll pull the 30-second clips, or at least charge the record companies for their heretofore free exposure. They’ll lose a lot more in lost sales than they ever make in 30-second clip royalties.

The recording industry expects Congress to pass a law for this. As Congress is typically in the dark about anything more technological than a hammer, I can see where this is liable to happen.



In December, the fastest jet in the world is scheduled to fly. The X51A will try for mach 6. But there won’t be anybody on board. This is good, because the X51A doesn’t have any wheels. It will just crashes into the Pacific when it’s finished. And the flight is only 5 minutes long. And it requires a B52 to get it up to altitude. And it takes a rocket engine to boost its speed to mach 4.5 before the scramjet takes over.

But this is still a pretty cool test of a scramjet engine. It means that we may have mach 6 airplanes in a few years, depending on the test results, and it means that the U.S. government does not have mach 6 airplanes today.



Another Rat?

I always assumed it was a little late in history to go into unexplored areas and discover dozens of new species of life. At least on earth. But a team lead by Steve, Gordon, and George has done just that. They took a trip to New Guinea, went into an extinct volcanic crater about 3 miles in diameter, and found about 40 new species. One of the new animals was a giant, furry rat. I suppose the rat didn’t think he was all that new, but he was new to Steve, Gordon, and George.



A Genuine Advantage?

Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) is Microsoft’s scheme for copy protecting Windows. It came out a few years ago, and has undergone several upgrades and minor transformations. Early on in its lifetime, it was possible to keep it off your computer and keep it from “phoning home” to Microsoft. I’m not sure if that’s possible any more, if you want to update Windows. I gave up on it some time ago.

Some people are suing Microsoft over this, claiming that WGA is not a necessary security update, as Microsoft claims. It’s not the first lawsuit over WGA, it probably won’t be the last, and Microsoft will probably win.


Acoustic Lasers

It’s hard for an airplane to communicate with a submarine. You have to use radio, which can be intercepted, and the submarine has to put an antenna on the surface one way or another. You can also use really low frequency radio, but that has other drawbacks. Now the navy is working on a method where a laser can hit the water can be transformed to sound as it pulses at the proper frequencies.



Which browser is better, Firefox, Chrome, or Opera? Here are some speed and memory tests. The word “compatibility” doesn’t appear in this review, though.


Life Magazine

Google has digitized Life Magazine from 1936 to 1972, for your viewing pleasure. I like it!



Google Stats is kind of interesting, too:



A guy named Chi threw a fit at a car dealership in Massachusetts and refused to leave. He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and trespassing. This is pretty severe, but he was apparently giving the police a hard time.

But Chi was also charged with unlawful wiretapping and possessing a device for wiretapping. He had an ordinary voice recorder in his pocket. That is ridiculous.


Stupid Software Patent

Facebook was sued for “associating a piece of data with multiple categories.” This is in violation of what must be one of the most intuitively obvious patents ever issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Just to keep things interesting, Delaware District Court judge Leonard said Facebook had to let the suing company peruse the entire Facebook source code.

When asked about the strange ruling, Judge Leonard shouted, “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” and muttered something unintelligible about putting Zuckerberg in the stocks. Or maybe I just made that up.


Data Communications

About 100 years ago in the 1970s, I took a data communications class at Oklahoma State. I remember a case of a bank in Alaska that was having trouble receiving some necessary data on a daily basis. At that time, it was really expensive to get a leased line of any bandwidth at all, and even then the lines to Alaska were not too reliable. The cheapest option for this company was to put a magnetic tape on an airliner every day instead of transmitting the data.

We’ve come a long way since then. Or have we? Three weeks ago a South African company proved it could send data faster by carrier pigeon than on wideband internet using the country’s leading ISP.


Glenn Beck

Did Glenn Beck rape and murdered a young girl in 1990? Of course not. But he still doesn’t like people asking about it.


Warning: You might find a naughty word on this site:


Turing Tests

A Turing test is a test used to verify that someone is human and not a computer. The Turing test is more a concept than an actual test. Around 1950 Alan Turing questioned whether it was possible to determine whether a sufficiently sophisticated computer was human or machine. This has become today’s Turing Test.

Captcha stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” Carnegie Mellon University applied for a trademark on the term, but they abandoned their application last year.

Captcha is the name for the form with the weird text you have to type in when you’re trying to convince a computer that you’re human. I had to put one on the Junkmail signup page because some bots were sending me random email addresses. I never did figure how a self-respecting bot could profit from such an irresponsible act.

I used reCaptcha, because it’s a pretty complex problem and I didn’t want to take the time to come up with an inferior version of my own. Also, reCaptcha is free.


reCaptcha is now owned by Google.



Alan Turing is considered a war hero for his work in breaking German Enigma codes during World War II. Later on in life he was charged with “gross indecency” because he was a homosexual. He took hormone treatments to avoid jail. Two years later in 1954 he committed suicide, eating an apple dipped in potassium cyanide.


A lot of people consider this bad behaviour by the British government, but up until recently the British government said little on the subject.

On June 23, 2009, Alan Turing’s 97th birthday, John Graham-Cumming posted this note on his blog, titled “Alan Turing deserves an apology from the British Government.”


The next day he put an online petition on the British government petitions page.

Over the next few weeks the petition gained in popularity, and after BBS online news wrote this story the petition had over 30,000 “signatures.”


On September 10, Gordon Brown released an apology by the British government for its “appalling” treatment of Alan Turing.



Incidentally, John Graham-Cumming is not gay, and does not support a sexual agenda, gay or heterosexual. His blog is worth reading.

Computers can now beat humans in Chess most of the time. Three years ago, the program Deep Fritz beat the undisputed world champion Vladimir Kramnik. I don’t think there’s been a major computer vs. champion chess match since.

But can computers act human? Sometimes. There are some pretty surprising programs that imitate people in chat rooms, collecting information for spammers and other evildoers.



Errant IL-78

In July, a former Ukrainian IL-78 Tanker took off from Denison, Texas and stopped in Oshkosh to refuel on its way out of the country. They took off from Oshkosh for Keflavik, Iceland, but were diverted to Marquette, Michigan after being denied entry into Canadian airspace. All five of the crew didn’t have proper papers (expired visas, I think) and were detained for a few days and then deported to Ukraine.

The plane was seized in Marquette. There was court order in Texas that was supposed to prevent the plane from being moved until $62,000 is paid to Air 1 Flight Support in Denison for hangar rent, more than 1,500 gallons of jet fuel, preparations to start and move the aircraft, maintenance for reinstalling instruments, recharging batteries, and fixing a fence blown down by the jet’s exhaust.

Now the plane may be auctioned off. It is the only the only U.S.-registered Ilyushin IL-78.



The plane was owned by Tactical Air Defense Services, a penny stock company with plans, real or not, to perform private aerial refueling of military aircraft. The company’s financials look really strange to me. They have a negative $1 million net worth, after $35 million paid-in capital, and they have 1.2 billion shares of stock outstanding. Total revenue for 2008 is zero. Total expenses for three months ending June 30, 2009 is $10,000. Total cash on June 30, 2009 is $17. Net property and equipment: $88,000.

There have been several press releases sent out by the company about the aircraft and their plans for it, but none of the plans have come to fruition. It makes me wonder who owns these companies, what their relationship is to one another, and what goings-on have there been on the penny stock market. It might all be innocent, but it is at a minimum unusual.




U.S. Tankers:

Huge Bank Failure

This one is virtual, in an online game. But it’s big news to a lot of people.


About Israel

I took a trip to Israel not long ago, and that got me thinking about its history. I was pretty ignorant on the subject. So here’s a quick run-down. You can find a lot of details on Wikipedia if you want to learn more. I skipped up to the 1500’s to start.

I have intentionally omitted most of the things that people are arguing over. It’s not that these arguments are unimportant. It’s just that the people who shout the loudest are the ones who ignore the facts. They are not likely to be persuaded by my fine typewritten oratory or reasonable logic, let alone common sense.

25 years after Columbus discovered America, a guy from Turkey named Selim won a battle in Egypt. After lopping off the head of the last Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Selim and the Ottomans ended up with Palestine, Canaan, the Holy Land, and Israel, all of which happened to be the same place.

The Ottomans ruled Palestine for a few hundred years, except for invasions by Napoleon and the occasional Egyptian army. Finally, after World War I, the British took over Palestine. The Ottoman Empire became the Republic of Turkey under the leadership of Ataturk.


So who are the Palestinians? Normally, it would be anybody living in Palestine. But for whatever reason, Palestinians are now considered Arabs who live in Palestine or who used to live in Palestine or whose ancestors once lived in Palestine. I’m not sure who made up this definition, but it seems to be universally accepted. If the British had called the place Canaan, I suppose the people we call Palestinians would be referred to as Canaanites.

Who were the people living in Palestine? Before 1918 (and since Columbus) they were all Turks or Ottomans or something else. It’s hard to generalize about their ancestry, since there was a lot of mixing of people from Rome, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and Persia, but the majority were probably Arabic.

In the 1800s, Jews lived in Palestine but were outnumbered by a large Arab majority. Since the 1890s, more Palestinian immigrants have been Jewish than Arab. By 1940, in present-day Israel there were close to as many (within 10 or 20%) Jews as there were Arabs. There was some fussing between the Jews and Arabs back then, especially in Jerusalem where there was a Jewish majority.

After World War II, the British didn’t want to manage Palestine any longer. The British and the UN decided to split Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas.


The Jews declared the independence of their new state of Israel. The state of Israel was recognized immediately by the U.S., the Soviet Union, and, ironically, Iran (along with several other countries).

Within a few days, armies from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon invaded Israel. The Arabs declared a United State of Palestine, claiming sovereignty over all of Palestine. Israel and the Arabs fought for a few months, and Israel won. The Arabs signed an armistice, but did not surrender and did not recognize the state of Israel. Israel kept a lot of the land it gained in the war.

In 1948, about 711,000 Arabs left Israel. I think most voluntarily fled the fighting and a small percentage were expelled, but people argue about this a lot.

Some people say that this is when the Jews stole Palestine. But in recent history there has never been a country Palestine any more than there has been a country Asia Minor or Mesopotamia. And there are now almost twice as many Arab Palestinians living in Israel as there were in 1947, even if you exclude the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Some people have the impression that the Jews went into Palestine in 1948 and kicked out all the people who lived there. That is clearly not the case. The Jews had been migrating to Israel for more than half a century, and there had already been some Jews in the area longer than there has been a Moslem or Christian religion.

Today there are 10,000,000 people who refer to themselves as Palestinians. 3.7 million live in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (which I am not including in “Israel” here). 1.3 million Palestinians, about 20% of Israel’s population, now live in Israel. The vast majority are Israeli citizens.


Eventually, there will be a peace agreement of some sort with the Palestinians and Israel. Unfortunately, the Palestinians currently in charge of the Gaza Strip are a bit on the violent side, and don’t seem too interested in peace with Israel unless they own it.

The Palestinians on the West Bank are little more moderate, but it’s still a pretty dangerous place for Israelis to wander around. A few years ago Israel evacuated its settlements in the Gaza Strip. Today Israel has about 187,000 people living in settlements in the West Bank, about 5-10% of the population there.

Israel foresaw the possibility of giving the West Bank to the Palestinians, and started building a border fence between the areas. This caused some problems for some Palestinians, for two reasons. One, the fence is inside the border by about a mile, on the Palestinian side. This doesn’t seem like much unless, maybe, you are farming a quarter section in that mile, in which case you have to do some traveling and border crossing to get to your land. The other problem is that the fence occasionally dips into the West Bank to include an Israeli settlement. This causes a problem for Palestinians who want or need to travel across the “dip.”

Israel’s position is that they wouldn’t need the fence if the Palestinians would stop shooting at them and blowing stuff up. The fence building has stopped for the moment, and it looks like the Israeli settlements have stopped settling for a while, at least after the 400-some houses that were recently authorized in advance of the peace talks.

None of these Israel-Palestinian problems is insurmountable, but there are a few rather intolerant religious types on both sides who are reluctant to give in to the other side, even a little bit. This makes for very slow negotiations. I could come up with a good, equitable solution to the situation, but the hard-liners on both sides would regard it as unacceptable.

Jerusalem is a place where Arabs and Jews live cheek by jowl, and many of them tend to be religious fundamentalists of limited tolerance. I won’t discuss it here because I don’t understand it.

Obligatory RIAA Rants

The RIAA agreed to file no more lawsuits against IP addresses, and then promptly filed more lawsuits.

The RIAA and MPAA have distributed some Communist-quality propaganda to schools to be used in the indoctrination of young consumers. I disagree with a lot of their material.


Pictures of Today!

Stormy Weather, west of Pryor this week.

This Week’sBugs

A few weeks ago we got to Turkey and take a ride on the Nautilus, the ship that the Institute for Exploration used for undersea archeology and exploration.


It was really interesting and informative. Click here for photos:

We took the long way home.

Photos from Turkey:

Photos fromIsrael:

Photos from Cyprus:

Photos from France:

Photos from Ireland:

And finally, a whole bunch of steam locomotives at Camlik, Turkey, in case you’re interested:


Friday, September 25, 2009 - Posted by | Junkmail | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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