xpda

Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

Bob’s Junkmail, Number 212

60 Years

Mom and Dad had their 60th wedding anniversary yesterday. As usual, I was not invited to the party. Here they are with their troublemakers at Christmas, just after the picture-taking.

P1180503.jpg


Bank Theft

In Plano Texas, a company called Hillary Machinery had some money in the bank. Some people in Romania and Italy hacked into the bank account and transferred out $801,495, using a lot of separate bank wires. Hillary noticed the missing money, reported it to the bank, and the bank recovered about $600,000 of the stolen money.

But instead of making good on the rest of the stolen money, the bank sued its customer!  Nowthat’s the kind of bank I want to put my money in.

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9149218/Bank_sue…

It went something like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS9ptA3Ya9E&


Copper River

Here’s a satellite photo of the Copper River, taken last October 30 on Halloweeneen.

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=40973

Here’s an Aircam photo of the Copper River, taken August 2002

Img_7668.jpg

There’s a lot of silt in that river!


Spirit is Stuck

The Mars Rover Spirit is stuck in the dirt. Its right wheels won’t rotate, and it’s in an area of soft dirt.

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA12398

http://xkcd.com/695/

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer/news/mer20091112.html

I got stuck like that not too long ago one night in western Colorado.


San Jose Police

Police may have to limit the use of tasers.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/01/court-dials-bac…

The San Jose police are getting a reputation for beating up people. They don’t need tasers.

http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_13686438


Bomb Detection

The Iraqi Government purchased, with U.S. Dollars, 1500 bomb detection devices, the ADE 651. It is a thin rod mounted on a swivel, held by pistol grip. That’s all. No electronic sensors of any kind. It is supposed to point to explosives. I understand these are also being used in Nigeria to check airline passenger underwear.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/world/middleeast/04se…

The TSA has announced a ban on underwear for passengers on U.S. flights. Whiners will not be allowed to use the restroom. They still allow individuals from Yemen, whose parents have warned the TSA of their dangerous tendencies, to fly to the U.S. on one-way tickets, so long as they purchase their ticket with cash and do not check any bags.

Meanwhile, the U.K. arrested the maker of the bomb detectors.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8476381.stm

However, the Iraqi Interior Ministry still backs the bomb detectors.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8477601.stm

They’re working out pretty well.

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/01/14/iraq.violence/


Never Pay Another Electric Bill!

I stole this from Bob Park’s What’s New. He’s a physicist.

The first time I heard that promise it was made by Joseph W. Newman on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather in 1987.  A Mississippi backwoods-mechanic with a grade-school education, Newman took a course in electricity.  When he heard that doubling the number of turns in a coil would double the magnetic field, he left to wind a mighty coil that would generate more energy than it took.  Newman never got to Lenz’s law, and CBS did not bother to check with a scientist.  About every five years since, that machine is reinvented. You can now build your own “energy machine” with a kit from Magnets4Energy, but it still won’t work.

There really is a Magnets4Energy site! (It has a popup dialog that might be dangerous to click on.)

http://www.magnets4energy.com/


State of Emergency

Last October, the President declared a state of emergency for the Swine Flu, so hospitals and other medical people could get more vaccine and treat more people faster. I don’t know whether this helped, but I wondered at the time about the side effects of declaring a national emergency.

It turns out that I didn’t need to worry. The U.S. has been in a state of emergency of one sort or another most of the time since 1950, when President Truman declared a state of national emergency for the Korean War.

The United States is now in an effectively permanent state of national emergency with regard to terrorism and other political games. I don’t know what the legal ramifications of this are, but I might prefer living in a non-emergency. This has been going on for at least three presidential administrations.

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

Maybe the state of emergency is what allows the government to get a list of all people who visit an independent news site. In 2008, A subpoena from U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis demanded “all IP traffic to and from indymedia,” including IP addresses, times, e-mail addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers.

Why didn’t we hear about this in 2008? The government issued a gag order making it a crime to talk about it.

http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/11/09/taking_libertie…


SSD

Here’s a good article about Solid State Disks. They aren’t really disks, but they behave like very fast hard drives.

http://arstechnica.com/hardware/news/2009/11/biography-…


How to Rob a Bank

  1. Hack into the Royal Bank of Scotland’s computer system.
  2. Copy data from a million and a half accounts, including prepaid ATM cards.
  3. Decode the encoded PIN numbers in the ATM Card accounts.
  4. Manufacture a few thousand duplicate prepaid ATM cards.
  5. Distribute a few thousand ATM cards to friends, neighbors, and relatives all over the world.
  6. Withdraw $9.4 million from ATM machines in 280 cities around the world in 12 hours.

That’s what a couple of guys named Viktor (from Russia) and Sergei (from Estonia) did in 2008. They had help from a guy named Oleg from Moldova.

Sergei was arrested in Estonia in November 2009, along with a few others. Viktor was indicted in Atlanta, Georgia (U.S.), but I have not been able to find out whether he was arrested or will be extradited.

One thing is odd. The name Viktor Pleshchuk appears nowhere on the net since the initial indictments were issued in November. None of the news articles I found mention him actually being arrested (like Sergei) and none of them say he is wanted (like Oleg).

Maybe he was murdered when the Russian mafia didn’t get a share. Maybe they locked him up and forgot about him. Maybe he’s been recruited by Homeland Security to detect explosive underwear.

http://lastwatchdog.com/rbs-worldpay-anatomy-9-million-…

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125786711092441245.html


Botnets and Spam

Project Honey Pot received its billionth spam email. They set up computers that receive spam, and the study the spam sources and botnets. It’s really interesting.

http://www.projecthoneypot.org/1_billionth_spam_message…

Here’s a good article about how two guys at FireEye brought down a botnet – a quarter-million PCs strong.

http://www.pcworld.com/article/185122/

If you’ve ever wondered about the internal workings of a botnet (and who hasn’t?), you can get the details here:

http://blog.fireeye.com/research/2009/06/killing-the-be…

http://blog.fireeye.com/research/2009/06/killing-the-be…

http://blog.fireeye.com/research/2009/09/killing-the-be…

http://blog.fireeye.com/research/2009/11/killing-the-be…

http://blog.threatexpert.com/2008/12/koobface-leaves-vi…

http://blog.threatexpert.com/2008/12/how-to-defeat-koob…


Facebook Scams

You, too, can be scammed on Facebook.

http://consumerist.com/5400720/mafia-wars-ceo-brags-abo…

A guy from Washington named Julius recently got suckered into a Facebook scam. All of Julius’s Facebook friends received a message saying “Adam got me started making money with this.” (I’m pretty sure he was talking about Adam Reasor.) It was followed by a link to a Web page.

Julius has a day job, too. He’s chairman of the FCC.

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/whoops-fcc-cha…


MPAA Justice

In Coshocton, Ohio, someone downloaded a movie. One person, one movie. So the MPAA forced the town to shut down their entire free wireless network. That’s a good way to encourage people to watch movies.

http://consumerist.com/5403592/mpaa-shuts-down-towns-fr…

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091114/1835486934.shtml


TSA Rules

According to new TSA rules, you can now carry money through airport checkpoints. An aide to a U.S. Representative was hassled by TSA agents when they caught him with $4,700, and he subsequently got the rules changed. I still have to take my shoes off, though. I’m not sure about my underwear.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/11/rules-c…


Congressional Ownership

During the healthcare debates, it was odd when so many people in Congress made the almost identical statements concerning biotech issues. It turns out that about 42 representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, used all or part of the draft memo provided by lobbyists for Swiss-owned Genentech. The bad thing is that none of them thought they did anything wrong. For them it was just business as usual in Washington.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/us/politics/15health.html


iPhone Security

If you jailbreak your iPhone, you should change the root password from “alpine” to something less obvious, like “password.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/08/iphone_worm_ric…


Chicago Cameras

Would you like to appear in a video? Go to Chicago. There are now over 15,000 video cameras scattered around town, connected to the city’s “Operation Virtual Shield” network. Privacy fans are not thrilled.

How can you monitor 15,000 video feeds? You can’t, at least, not in real time. But they can be viewed in emergency calls, and since they are all recorded, they can be used as crime evidence.

For example, when you rob a bank, you normally worry about the get-away. In Chicago, you also have to worry about the approach, because afterward they’ll look at the videos to see where you came from.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704538404…


Discount Clubs

The other day I looked at my phone bill. This does not happen very often. I noticed a $10 charge to something I didn’t recognize. I checked the previous month. There it was again. I looked on the web for as far back as I could go, and someone was tacking on $10 every month to my cell phone bill.

I called AT&T and did the appropriate ranting and raving, quite colorfully, I believe, and they eventually gave me a refund for a whole bunch of months. I suspect what happened was that I got a text message ad once, and being the texting aficionado I am, I hit a dozen or so keys trying to get the stupid thing off my phone. That was apparently enough for them to charge me $10 a month. I assume it was some kind of punishment for poor texting ability.

Why would AT&T ever allow a scam like this? Because they get a cut of each $10 payment.

This sort of thing is a big business. Three of these companies, currently being investigated by the federal government, have chalked up $1,400,000,000 in this type of “sales” over the past 10 years.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/11/interne…

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091117/1303456975.shtml

I decided to look at my AT&T bill this month, online. As usual, I had to guess a few passwords. I guess I wasn’t guessing good enough for AT&T. The web site locked out my account. AT&T sent me an email telling me my online account was locked, and that I should “click here” to fix it. I clicked there. I got a message saying that I could not login because the account was locked. Excellent policy!


Justin Bieber and Newsday

A Canadian guy named Justin got kind of popular after putting some of his music on YouTube. I don’t like his music that much, but apparently a lot of people do.

Justin had a performance scheduled for a shopping mall in Long Island. But the police wouldn’t let him go because they crowd was getting too wild. In fact, the police ordered a guy from his record company named James to twitter the crowd on Justin’s account and tell them to go away. James didn’t. So James went to jail, charged with “refusal to tweet” or something like that.

http://mediamemo.allthingsd.com/20091122/heres-a-first-…

http://blogs.siliconvalley.com/gmsv/2009/11/all-units-c…

Here is the original news article.

http://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/aggressive-ro…

You will probably notice that you cannot read this article beyond the first sentence and a half. That’s because Newsday started charging $5 week for access to their online news, for people who do not subscribe to the paper newspaper or cable service. Since they started charging last October, a total of 35 people have signed up. I don’t think that covered the $4 million they spent on the site redesign and launch.

In my opinion, they need to redesign their site redesigners. The fonts are messed up and the site is generally ugly. But then, maybe that’s just the free section of the site.

http://www.observer.com/2010/media/after-three-months-o…

I understand we can also expect great things from the New York Times.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10437999-52.html

The editor of the London Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, spent some time explaining why news is worth paying for, how they London Times will charge their online viewers, the value of copyrighted news, etc. A few days later, the London Times copied and published some of Edgar Wright’s blog. Without permission. That is considered very bad manners.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091120/0223387019.shtml


Liberian Law

In Liberia, a guy named Philip got $400,000 from the U.S. government to number, index, and bind all the Liberian laws. They apparently had no official set of laws there before that, since about 1978. I’m not real clear about why 400,000 of my tax dollars went to this noble effort, but they did.

Now that Philip is done, he’s copyrighted the laws and won’t let people see them unless they pay. Or unless the government pays. It makes me wonder how they know they are copyrighted under the law if they can’t see the laws. Or maybe they could pass a new law making Philip’s copy public domain. At any rate, I think it’s pretty funny. Except the part about me paying for it.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/12/hes_go…


North Face, the people who sell fleece, backpacks, and all kinds of stuff, got a little upset with a freshman at the University of Missouri named Jimmy. Jimmy came out with some shirts and jackets called South Butt. North Face said that was confusingly similar with their name. So they sued Jimmy.

As a result, Jimmy has been selling a LOT of South Butt clothing. Without the lawsuit, he probably would have been in and out of business in a few months. Instead, business is booming.

North Face lawyers believe that the average person cannot distinguish between north and south, which may be true, or between a face and a butt, which is very unlikely. In fact, there is a South Butt Facebook app that will help you see the difference. I ordered my T-Shirt today.

http://www.thesouthbutt.net/

On Wednesday, a judge refused to order Jimmy to stop selling his clothes, and ordered North Face and Jimmy to reconcile their differences by April.

http://www.kmox.com/North-Face–South-Butt-ordered-to-t…

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091214/2350107352.shtml

Viacom recently sued Google for having about 250 videos on YouTube that infringe on Viacom’s copyright. The funny thing is that Viacom uploaded 100 of them.

http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.show…

One of Canada’s largest bookstores, Chapters / Indigo Books, has opened an eBook store. They have “Free eBook Downloads,” where you can download public domain books. Then they claim copyright to the public domain material and allow only one copy to be made.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091118/1219066995.shtml

I print my own digital photos, so I’ve never used Walmart for that. I didn’t realize that Walmart looks at all the photos they print to make sure none look like they are copyrighted. This is pretty dumb, because if you take a photo and take it to Walmart to have it printed, it is copyrighted. You own the copyright.

One guy was having some scanned photos printed for a funeral. Walmart refused to print most of them. The employee claimed they were copyright violations.

http://consumerist.com/2009/11/walmart-wont-let-family-…

Maybe this was just an isolated incident. If it’s company policy, then Walmart’s lawyers must have mounted a successful hostile takeover of the company and Sam is rolling in his grave.

The son of a poet named Louis wrote a rant and threatened anybody who copied any part of his father’s famous poetry without paying. The guy sounds a little psychotic to me, although that might be because I am and he’s not.

http://www.z-site.net/copyright-notice-by-pz/

Just for the record, here’s a bit of one of his father’s poems: “I lit a cigarette and walked free beyond the red light of the exit, then choked ’cause. I don’t actually smoke anyhow.”

Google has some kind of automated system to prevent people from uploading illegal copyrighted material from Google Docs. Apparently this unauthorized content includes works of Henry David Thoreau. I agree Thoreau is pretty boring, but should Google’s software decide whether I’m allowed to share his work?

http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Google%20Docs/thr…

That kind of thing make’s me stick with offline word processing.

Speaking of Google, over the past few months Rupert Murdoch has been demanding that Google remove any of his headlines or other snippets from the Google news site.

Rupert apparently doesn’t realize that it is a well-documented and simple matter for anybody to exclude any or all of their web site from Google’s search engine. He apparently also doesn’t realize that doing that would kill his web traffic.

Of course, it’s alright for Rupert’s newspapers to “borrow” outside content.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091111/0049546883.shtml

Lipdubbing is pretty popular online now. People pretend to sing a popular song, making their own rock video. It gives free publicity for the music, and undoubtedly increases sales. Naturally, the record companies are suing people for it.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100127/1524037949.shtml


American Airlines Site

A guy name Dustin went to the American Airlines website last May and was appalled at how bad the site was. As a web designer himself, he spent some time designing a new front page, and sent it to AA with a nice note and some recommendations. He essentially said that you need a good site because it’s a primary interface you have with your customers.

Dustin got a nice reply from the guy in charge of the site design at AA, and posted it anonymously on his blog. The AA reply said that they were working on it, and it’s hard to make big changes in the big company.

The bosses at AA didn’t like this. They took a copy of the posted reply, searched all the email of their employees for a copy of it, and found and fired the guy who wrote it.

http://dustincurtis.com/incompetence.html

I thought this was an over-reaction, to say the least. I decided to look at the AA site. I put in some dates for a flight and click the button for prices and schedules. I was greeted by this:

Invalid State Error

Unfortunately, we are unable to continue due to one of the following:

* Too much time has elapsed between submitting entries
* Multiple browser windows have been opened
* Incorrect use of the browser’s Back button
* Attempting to use expired bookmarked pages

Any changes that were attempted may be lost. Please start over.

None of these reasons is correct. Southwest Airlines is laughing all the way to the bank, doing things their customers like. What an odd concept.

http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2009-12-13-south…


Alexa 100

The Alexa 100 shows the top 100 web sites ranked by traffic every month. I was looking at the news site rankings the other day.

CNN and the New York Times are pretty high, ranked the 17th and 25th most popular web sites in the U.S. I was surprised to see Fox News up at 36, and even more surprised to see the Huffington Post at 38, while the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are 88 and 93. Huffington Post is left wing, Fox is right wing, and the other three are reasonably unbiased in their news articles.

http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/US

Wall Street Journal used to be known for accurate, unbiased news. That reputation may have been tarnished a bit when Rupert Murdoch took over. A recent WSJ headline: “At Least Three Car Bombs Detonated at Several Sites Across the Capital.”

People who complain about the New York Times and Washington Post being left-wing and the Wall Street Journal being right-wing are usually looking at op-ed pieces (like this really stupid one) instead of the news articles.

But for some entertainment, read the results of the State of the Union address on Fox News and Huffington Post. I think they’re talking about two different planets.

Here are some rankings:

http://cnn.com – ranked 17
http://nytimes.com – ranked 25
http://www.foxnews.com – ranked 36
http://www.huffingtonpost.com – ranked 38
http://wsj.com – ranked 88
http://washingtonpost.com – ranked 93

http://xpda.com is way up there as the 409,925th most popular web site in the country.


Money Well Spent

Passaic County, New Jersey, home of just under half a million New Jerseyites, got an armored vehicle for their SWAT team. They needed it for domestic disputes and nuclear attacks. It was a bargain at only $400,000. You can codify the all the laws of Liberia with that much money.

http://www.northjersey.com/news/82722267_Passaic_County…


Earth’s Core Temperature

In November Al Gore said “Two kilometers or so down in most places there are these incredibly hot rocks, because the interior of the earth is extremely hot – several million degrees.” He was off by several million degrees. The temperature there is around 6,600°F or 3,700°C. That’s still pretty warm, but at least it’s not hotter than the surface of the sun.


Selectable Output Streams

The MPAA is trying to make it illegal for manufacturers to make HDTVs and video recorders capable of analog input, so new MPAA copy protection schemes can be forced on consumers. They call this “Selectable Output Streams.” That’s a nice name that has little or nothing to do with their demands.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/11/mpaa-to…


European Banking Data

The EU agreed to give the U.S. “broad access” to EU banking data. For security reasons, of course. It has nothing to do with catching income tax cheaters.

http://www.euractiv.com/en/justice/council-overrules-pa…

Switzerland, hesitant to dismantle its international banking industry, said it had reservations about disclosing customer data and would conform to its own banking privacy laws.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126096466927693519.html


Pacific World War II Video

This is real. It’s pretty graphic, too.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=b4e_1257851394


Cell Phone GPS Surveillance

Sprint gave GPS locations of cell phones on its network to U.S. law enforcement agencies over 8,000,000 times from September 2008 through October 2009. Without warrants. This includes the data they sent Homeland Security, which might not deal in law enforcement. I think they are more into politics and public relations.

In fairness, they may have sent the location of a single cell phone several times, maybe once every three minutes. But that is still a lot of cell phone location tracking, and this does not include data from other wireless services. I believe it is still going on. If I didn’t keep forgetting my cell phone, maybe I could call the FBI and ask them where I am.

http://arstechnica.com/telecom/news/2009/12/sprint-fed-…

http://paranoia.dubfire.net/2009/12/8-million-reasons-f…


International Iranian Crackdown

Iran is now cracking down on critics of the Iranian government all over the world, particularly those who criticize Iran on Facebook. One 29-year-old Iranian engineering student in the U.S. learned that his father had been arrested because of the student’s Facebook account. Some Iranians living abroad receive serious email threats from Iran. Sometimes Iranians living abroad are required to login to their Facebook accounts at the airport when they return to Iran. If they don’t pass muster, they lose their passport and cannot leave Iran again.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125978649644673331.html


Frequent Flyer Dollars

The U.S. Mint makes one dollar coins. You can order them online with a credit card for $1 per $1 coin. Shipping is free.

Some people figured out that they could use a credit card to buy tons of these coins, collect frequent flyer miles on the credit card charges, and then deposit the coins in the bank as soon as they were delivered. It seems like an easy way to make lots of frequent flyer miles.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126014168569179245.html

The government loses out on this two ways. First, they have to pay the credit card processing charges. Since this is paid for by an agency other than the U.S. Mint, nobody at the mint really cares. Second, they have to pay shipping on the coins. They offer free shipping to get everybody to start using dollar coins instead of dollar bills. I like that idea.

Now you have to agree not to deposit the coins as soon as you receive them, and they have limits on the cumulative number of coins a household can buy. It’s still an easy way to get dollar coins, though.

http://catalog.usmint.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Cat…


Aviation Security

Disaster was barely avoided when some general aviation pilots south of Sarasota, Florida were caught taxiing their planes through a gate at the Punta Gorda airport using remote controls. The pilots had hangars on private property next to the airport, fenced in with its own security gate. They had an agreement with the airport to do use the remotes.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) got involved and decided they needed an airport FBO employee to open the gate instead of pilots, who are widely known to have weak morals and weaker minds.

http://www.avweb.com/eletter/archives/avflash/1526-full…

Homeland Security, on the other hand, has impeccable credentials.

http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/12/ethic…

When asked about the reasoning behind this action, the TSA responded, “Are you kidding? The entire southern half of Florida could have been blown to smithereens!” Or something like that that made about as much sense.


NBC/Comcast

NBC Universal wants to merge with Comcast.

The thing is that when AOL merged with Time/Warner a few years ago, NBC said, “Given the size and scope of the proposed merged company, AOL/Time Warner will have both the ability and the incentive to discriminate against unaffiliated content providers such as NBC.” They also urged the agency “to establish firm principles of non-discrimination in the treatment of unaffiliated content providers in the broadband services marketplace” — a step that Comcast is now trying to prevent the FCC from taking.

But things are different now, right?

http://techdailydose.nationaljournal.com/2009/12/nbc-on…


Wind Speed Record

At 231 mph, Mount Washington, New Hampshire has held the world wind speed record since 1934.

In 1996, during a tropical cyclone, a wind gust was measured at 253 mph on Barrow Island, Australia. The 5 minute average wind at Barrow Island was 95 mph, and there were several gusts over 160 mph. Someone finally figured out that this knocks Mount Washington out of first place.
http://www.boston.com/news/weather/articles/2010/01/27/…

In 1999 in Moore, Oklahoma, they measured wind at 318 mph in a large tornado. It didn’t count, though, because the measurement was taken about 90 feet above the ground. It’s hard to measure wind speed in a tornado without smashing the anemometer.


$30 Million to Fight Piracy

Congress has earmarked $30,000,000 to fight piracy. That sounds like a good deal to me. Those Somali pirates are trouble. Unfortunately, they’re using this money to stop illegal music and movie copying.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091215/1817437375.shtml


McDonalds Wifi

You can get free wifi at McDonalds now. They have also gotten rid of their lousy Nestea-out-of-the-fountain. It’s almost like they listen to their customers.

http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/184939/mc…


Droid Bug

The Droid is a Verizon PDA that competes with the Blackberry and iPod. The Droid has a built-in camera. One day last fall, the Droid cameras started flaking out. They wouldn’t autofocus correctly. Then about three weeks later, the problem went away. People had recommended a variety of solutions such cleaning the lens, and there were rumors of a stealth bug fix.

About 3 weeks after that, the same thing happened again. The Droid cameras wouldn’t focus properly. Finally, the source of the problem was discovered. There was an obscure software bug that caused the autofocus to quit working every 24.5 days. After 24.5 more days, it would start working again. The autofocus routine uses the timestamp, and it had some kind of roundoff error.

http://www.itworld.com/offbeat/85183/bizarre-droid-auto…


87 Lame Moments of the Tech Decade

Usually, the n worst or n best lists that come around at the end of the year are pretty lame. But I happened across this one, and it’s really funny. At least I thought so, which, according to my kids, does not necessarily mean that anybody else will think so. At any rate, here are the 87 Lamest Moments in Tech, 2000-2009:

http://technologizer.com/2009/12/20/dumb-moments/


Fox News Poll

This is a very interesting poll. 81% of the people voted yes, which is no, or is no yes?

foxnewsscrewup.png


AIG Bailout

The U.S. government gave insurance company AIG $180 million so they wouldn’t fail. Now AIG is putting that money to good use. For example, one of their lawyers named Anastasia is resigning because her salary will be limited to half a million dollars per year. That is a sad story, of course, but rest easy. Anastasia is collecting several million dollars in severance pay on her way out the door.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704134104…


Fun with the TSA

Redact: “to obscure or remove (text) from a document prior to publication or release”

The TSA put a redacted copy of their screening procedures on their web site. Here’s a copy of it:

tsa.pdf

If you look at it, you’ll see that it does indeed have sensitive information blacked out (depending on what you consider sensitive). But if you select a blacked out area, you can copy and past the redacted text into Word, notepad, or any other word processor. Or you can select the whole document to get a complete, unredacted document. Are these people really in charge of security?

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/12/tsa-workers-su…

Later on, after the standard vehement denials, the TSA said that this is no problem because it’s an old copy of their procedures and no longer applies.

http://www.tsa.gov/blog/2009/12/tsa-response-to-leaked-…

After some guy from Yemen or Nigeria tried to blow up his underwear, the TSA decided that everybody needed a pat-down before they got on a plane.

http://www.elliott.org/blog/tsa-orders-pat-down-of-all-…

For some reason, the TSA assumed that people wouldn’t notice that they were being groped and thought this policy would remain a secret.

The TSA got all bent out of shape when a guy named Chris posted this information on his blog (the above link), and served him a subpoena to find out who spilled the beans. Chris managed to get them to withdraw the subpoena, but the TSA was a little heavy-handed with at least one other person who posted the same document. They visited a guy in Connecticut named Steven and seized his laptop computer so they could make a copy of his hard drive. They weren’t very nice to Steven.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/12/dhs-threatens-…

http://arstechnica.com/security/news/2009/12/tsa-subpoe…

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100104/0312157576.shtml

And I still have to take my shoes off before I get on a commercial flight. Except for international flights coming into the U.S.


The End of the Telephone

More and more people are using cell phones now. More and more people are using voice-over-IP (VoIP) systems such as Skype. The land-line phones are going away, like it or not. The landline business dropped over 25% from 2000 to 2007, and will continue to drop.

AT&T wrote to the FCC last month, “Due to technological advances, changes in consumer preference, and market forces, the question is when, not if, POTS service and the PSTN over which it is provided will become obsolete.” POTS stands for “plain old telephone system” and PSTN is “public switched telephone network.”

This will take a few years to come about. There will still be normal telephones, of course, but they will be connected to the internet instead of the public switched telephone network. Most individuals will use cell phones.

http://arstechnica.com/telecom/news/2009/12/att-landlin…


Yes Men

The Yes Men (http://theyesmen.org/) are famous, or infamous, depending on your viewpoint, for making trouble with large businesses by faking their way into meetings, conferences, etc. Last month they were messing around with the climate talks at Copenhagen, delving into government business.

In the process, they created some fake Canadian government web sites. Canada is pretty serious about its government web sites, and they ordered Serverloft, the ISP in Germany that hosted the sites these sites, to take them down immediately. So the Serverloft took down the Yes Men sites, along with 4,500 or so other web sites. Oops.

http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/archives/1894…

http://ole.tange.dk/canadian-takedown/timeline


Burj Tower

In 1889, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was completed. At 1,063 feet, it was the tallest building in the world.

Eiffel1878.jpgEiffel.jpg (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Benh)

In 1973, the Sears Tower in Chicago was completed. At 1,450 feet, it was the tallest building in the world.

SearsTower.jpg

This month, 2010, the Burj Tower in Dubai was opened. It is not quite finished. At 2,717 feet, it is not far from twice the height of the Sears Tower, which is now called Willis Tower, and which is now the 5th tallest building in the world.

Burj_Khalifa.jpg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burj_Khalifa

Dubai is having a few financial difficulties.

http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20100119-703001.html


Auto Reply Spam

Earlier this month about 200,000 hotmail users, who had managed to get their accounts compromised, had their auto reply messages set to send out a spam for the company wedosale-dot-com. Whenever someone emailed any of these 200,000 people, they got a spam message as a reply.

I think that’s kind of funny. As with most spam, it should be easy to track down the company that benefits. The government apparently isn’t interested in enforcing spam laws. I’m surprised Microsoft didn’t get it stopped sooner.

http://tech.slashdot.org/story/10/01/07/2049224/Hotmail…

In a smaller, the ACM did some unintentional spamming yesterday. I neglected to renew my membership (so far) to the Association for Computing Machinery, the preeminent professional organization for software types. They sent out a notice asking why, would I like to renew now, etc.

Some people on this email list replied to the notice, explaining why in the email rather than filling out the online survey. Rather than the replies going to someone at the ACM, each reply went to each recipient on the email list, even though the recipients were not listed in the email. The ACM used a listserve for this.

After several replies by several people were sent to the entire list, followed by answers, explanations, and complaints, there were a bunch of emails in my inbox this morning. It was hilarious to read through them. But I’m easy to amuse.


Embezzling Mayor

Baltimore Mayor Sheila was convicted of embezzlement last month. She has agreed to resign, but not until next month. It makes me wonder what she’s planning to do as mayor for two months after she was convicted. Probably nothing unethical.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/us/07baltimore.html


Life in Yemen

Life has changed in Yemen since the 1970’s. There used to be government and a certain amount of freedom.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/from-bikinis-…


Border Laptop Searches

I have mentioned before in Junkmail about U.S. Customs searching laptops at the border. It was interesting to learn that they also search cell phones, digital cameras, thumb drives, and other electronic media. They have been doing around 2,000 searches per year, keeping a copy of the data about 10 or 15 percent of the time. Some privacy fans are strongly against this. I think it’s OK as long as they don’t mess with my computer.

http://www.aclu.org/national-security/customs-and-borde…


DNS Security

DNS stands for Domain Name Server. When I go to a web site, my computer goes to a Domain Name Server to get the IP address of that web site. If my DNS server has been hacked into, I could direct me to a fake web site and collect my username and password information from a login screen imitating another site.

In August 2008, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget required all government web sites to implement DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) that will prevent this from happening. This was required to be implemented on all U.S. government web sites by the end of 2009.

http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/092208-government…

Now, after the deadline, 80% of U.S. government web sites, including the Department of Homeland Security, have not implemented DNSSEC.

http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/012010-dns-securi…

Excellent work!


Wind Farm Wakes

Windmills produce electrical energy. At least, some of them do. In this picture, the one on the right generates electricity. The one on the left pumps water, at least when it’s hooked to the pump.

P1000428.jpg

Energy is never created or destroyed. It’s the law. Windmills get their energy from the wind. When the blades turn, the wind slows down and gets turbulent.

horns_rev.jpg

This causes the downwind windmills in wind farms to catch less wind and produce less electricity. Here is an interesting article about the wakes produced in wind generation.

http://www.dongenergy.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/NEW%2…


Online Books

Online books for the Kindle or Nook readers come with DRM, or copy protection. You can’t copy them to your laptop and read them, and it’s hard or impossible to make backup copies.

I don’t buy online books with DRM, just as I don’t buy online music with DRM. I don’t mind spending a dollar or two for a song, or a few dollars for an album, as long as it comes in a standard format so I can copy the music wherever I want it.

For example, I bought a couple of songs today on Amazon, for 99 cents each. They are plain old .mp3 files. I can use them on my desktop, iPod, or, laptop, television, or put them onto a CD for my car. If it was not available as an mp3, I would not have bought it. People are a less likely to pirate music if they can buy unrestricted copies without DRM.

But the big companies that sell the eBooks and online music are constantly pushing for DRM. Customers don’t like it, but the companies seem to be convinced that piracy will kill their sales without it.

O’Reilly, a computer book publisher, decided to get rid of the DRM on its on eBooks a year and a half ago. In that short time, their eBook business has more than doubled.

Maybe some business types will learn something about giving the customers what they want, as opposed to trying to get the customers to behave the way the businesses want.

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/01/22/oreilly-drops-eboo…

I think I’ll have a look at the O’Reilly eBooks. I may have to buy a couple.

http://xkcd.com/488/


Wiretap Laws Broken!

In news that certainly comes as a surprise, the Justice Department has determined that the FBI and telecom companies routinely broke wiretap laws over the past four years.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/01/fbi-att-verizo…

Oh, by the way, “in a surprise buried at the end of the 289-page report, the inspector general also reveals that the Obama administration issued a secret rule almost two weeks ago saying it was legal for the FBI to have skirted federal privacy protections.”

What? No change?


MPAA and ACTA

The Motion Picture Industry is as nice to its customers as the RIAA. A 22-year-old girl named Smantha took a video of her sister’s birthday party last month at a movie theater. The video included 3 minutes of the movie “Twilight: New Moon.” Samantha was speaking over the video, and it was clear she was not copying the movie. Undeterred by the facts, they threw Samantha in jail and charged her with a felony.

http://www.facebook.com/people/Samantha-Tumpach/1000000…

http://www.thewrap.com/article/case-against-accused-new…

They have since dropped the charges, after Samantha spent two days in jail, but they kept her memory card and the video of her sister’s birthday party.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-talk-new-moon-ta…

I think Samantha should throw the movie people in jail for stealing her intellectual property. It really is theft if the owner loses the property.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091211/1223357309.shtml

A few days after Samantha’s sister’s birthday party, a bunch of politicians and recording and movie people got together for a meeting at the White House. The attendance of Vice President Biden was not a surprise, as he has complied fully with MPAA and RIAA lobbying for years. But I was surprised to learn that these people attended a meeting about copyrights and file sharing:

* The U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
* The Director of the FBI
* The Director of the U.S. Secret Service
* The boss at Immigration & Customs Enforcement
* The U.S. Attorney General

Who did they meet with?

* Chairman & CEO, Motion Picture Association of America
* Chairman & CEO, Recording Industry Association of America
* Chairman & CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment
* Chairman & CEO, Warner Bros. Entertainment
* Executive Vice President, Time Warner Inc.
* Chairman & CEO, Viacom
* CEO, NBC Universal
* General Counsel, NBC Universal
* CEO, Warner Music Group
* Vice President, Warner Music Group
* President & COO, Universal Music Group
* Executive Vice President, Universal Music Group
* Senior Vice President, The Walt Disney Company

http://www.mainjustice.com/2009/12/15/holder-at-white-h…

I can think of a lot of things that could happen when this group of people is together in the same room, but none of them are good. It’s almost like they were going to make some rules I wouldn’t like.

But with the transparent government of President Obama, the press will cover everything and make sure nothing untoward happens without our knowledge. Well, not exactly. They kicked out the press just as the meeting got started. Maybe Obama really meant “translucent government.”

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091215/1307497368.sh…

In other transparent governance, the talks on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) are moving along, in secret. Why secret? I’m just sure I remember Obama promising me a transparent government.

It makes no difference. The talks are secret because of National Security. “National Security” are the magic words that allow people in the federal government to do anything they want. It’s for our own good, after all.

But for some reason, I feel less secure when the government, the recording industry, and the movie industry are making rules in secret. That’s right — bosses from the recording industry and the movie industry are participating in treaty negotiations for the U.S., but ordinary consumers like myself are left out in the cold. And it is quite cold outside at the moment.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091120/1605477032.shtml

In the U.K, members of parliament have asked to see the details on ACTA, but they were refused. But the recording and moving execs are fully informed.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/21/acta_lammy/

Here is some news on the new treaty. I can’t wait for it to become law. One of the clauses will kick people off the internet for life if they get caught sharing files three times. When a whole bunch of people get kicked off the internet, my connection will be a lot faster.

http://blogs.siliconvalley.com/gmsv/2009/11/draft-of-se…

http://www.v3.co.uk/v3/news/2252510/acta-leak-reveals-s…

http://news.zdnet.co.uk/communications/0,1000000085,399…

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/11/03/secret-copyright-t…

http://www.keionline.org/node/698

When Ambassador Ron Kirk, the U.S. Trade Representative, was asked why ACTA was secret while other treaty drafts have been publicly available, he explained it very clearly. He said that ACTA “was different” and the topics being negotiated in ACTA were “more complex.” We just wouldn’t understand.

ronkirk.jpg

http://keionline.org/node/706


Prefilled Tax Returns

The U.S. government has most of the data on most people’s tax returns before the tax returns are even submitted. Why doesn’t the government fill in the blanks on a tax return with the data it has before it sends it to the taxpayer? Then the taxpayer can make and additions or changes. It would be a lot easier for most people, and shouldn’t be too difficult for the government since they already check over the same data on everyone’s tax returns afterwards.

This makes sense. Obama proposed this during his campaign for President. Some countries are already doing this. For some odd reason, however, Intuit is lobbying against it. Intuit makes Turbo Tax.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/business/24digi.html


Music for Nothing

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been quite unpopular recently. They send out letters demanding payment from people they think are copying music over the internet, and they occasionally file lawsuits. Once in a while, they get a big judgement against a clueless internet user, such as $1.92 million (for $24 worth of music) from a mother of four in Minnesota.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/01/riaa-verdict-i…

The RIAA hires a company to get the IP address of a computer that is sharing all of or even a little piece of a song that the RIAA claims title to. Then the RIAA files a lawsuit against this IP address. They are sometimes successful in getting the internet service provider (ISP) to give them information on where the IP address was located at the particular time of the alleged file sharing.

Let me run off on a tangent for a moment. The RIAA only has an IP address. They don’t know whose computer is using that IP address, only that it was from a certain account from the ISP. For example, if they found an IP address in use at my house, it could have been used by any member of my family, or visitors, or someone on the street borrowing my wifi. In fact, just about the only person it couldn’t be is my brother Jerry, because he is inherently incapable of using a computer for anything more complex than PacMan.

Back to the RIAA. They send out a letter to the internet account holder, demanding payment of thirty seven hundred dollars or so, promising to sue the account holder if they don’t pay up. I think this sounds like extortion, but with the appropriate campaign contributions, the RIAA can get by with it. They’ve been doing it for years. At one point they claimed they would stop, but they haven’t.

http://consumerist.com/2006/04/riaa-tells-mit-student-t…

But, if you can’t beat’em, join’em. A company called Digiprotect has managed to get a contract to distribute a few movies to stores, including, among other things, transmission over the internet. Now Digiprotect makes the movies available for download, and then sends an RIAA-type extortion letter to whoever downloads the movies. That is what I call creativity. I call it extortion, too.

Digiprotect “apparently doesn’t pay anyone on a fixed salary, but everyone shares in a cut of whatever is ‘collected.’ In other words, the program is not at all about stopping unauthorized file sharing, but figuring out the best way to profit from sending threat letters to people. The company even admits that the numbers it demands from people, and the numbers used in lawsuits have nothing to do with actual damages, but are entirely about what they think is mostly likely to get them paid.”

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090831/0250256053.shtml

http://torrentfreak.com/when-pirates-become-copyright-c…

Sending out fake “pre-settlement” letters is getting pretty popular all over the world.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8481790.stm

Not to be outdone, a lady named Linda has been sending out invoices for $750 whenever she finds a copy of her essay or poem that was published in the Ozark Senior Living magazine in 2003. There are 586,000 hits on Google for “If My Body Were a Car.” Linda must have made $439 million by now.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091106/1121426832.shtml

I think I should get into the act. If you would be so kind as to send me $750, I will agree not to sue you for downloading Photo Mud:

http://xpda.com/photomud.msi

(I might not sue you anyway, since I’m not charging for it in the first place.)


Stupid Software Patents

Amazon successfully patented online gift giving. I guess I have to start charging people for their Christmas and birthday presents so they won’t be gifts.

http://yro.slashdot.org/story/09/11/23/149216/Amazon-Sc…

This isn’t technically a software patent, but its stupidity makes up for it. As is typically done with stupid patent lawsuits, it was filed in East Texas where the judges have a booming business out of stupid lawsuits. mberlake, The Pussycat Dolls, and the Los Angeles Lakers for appearing on large TV screens.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091114/1841446942.shtml

Apple has received a patent on making sure people pay attention to its ads. In addition to being a trivial idea and ignoring prior art (and prior patent applications), this one gets extra points for annoying the customer base.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/business/15digi.html

One enterprising reporter for the ABA Journal name Terry had no luck speaking to any knowledgeable human at the US Patent and Trademark office, after repeated attempts. So finally, he filed an application to patent a method on how to get an interview with USPTO Director David Kappos. He heard back within four hours of posting this article online:
http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/patent_pending_h…

He was scheduled to speak to the mighty Director of the USPTO in a few days. However, I don’t see anything on the internet about that interview. Maybe Terry just got chewed out for making fun of the USPTO.

An unknown company is suing almost every software company who uses remote activation. Maybe they’ll stop.

http://www.channelregister.co.uk/2009/12/16/mongo_paten…

IBM patent ROFL, OMG, and some other commonly used online expressions. Actually, they received a patent on translating these expressions to English. How can the USPTO people believe that’s not intuitively obvious?

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091230/0957277551.shtml

The USPTO has given a patent to Flightprep for online flight planning. They applied for this patent in 2001, although people were doing online flight planning long before then. I won’t fault them too much for getting the patent, since they are in the business legitimately, but if they start suing people I will never use their service.

http://www.flightprep.com/press.php?release=17


Pictures of Today!

A Fort Lauderdale Native.

IMG_0170.jpg

Iguanas are so common now in south Florida that they are considered pests. The Bahama island of Great Inagua was named that because Inagua is an anagram of Iguana, and there used to be tons of Iguanas there. But the Iguanas have since deserted Inagua, with a little help from the people.

The Minnow floats again, back in the water last month.
IMG_0192.jpgIMG_0201.jpg

From the valley of South Fork Lake Creek, Colorado.
P1000128.jpg

Great Sand Dunes National Park, early January. My baby daughter Melinda is in these first two.
P1000319.jpgP1000341.jpgP1000303.jpgP1000343.jpgP1000368.jpgP1000382.jpg

A Texas Farm:
P1000412.jpg

Windmills:
P1000428.jpgP1000438.jpgP1000450.jpg

Sundown:
P1180491.jpg

Kansas Barbed Wire:
P1180518.jpg

Texas Barbed Wire:
P1000468.jpg

Kansas mountain climbing on Christmas Eve:
P1180531.jpg
A note from my baby sister Tricia: “‘Kansas mountain climbing on Christmas Eve’ needs more of anexplanation; Ding-Dong Cccold, a north wind a’blowin’, blizzard white-outs on the way to and from the 12 miles to church, the road home covered in snow drifts so we didn’t know exactly WHERE the road was, but to follow the electrical lines…”

I thought it was always like that in Kansas.


Happy Groundhogs Day.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010 - Posted by | Junkmail | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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