Senator Leahy Stops Patent Reform

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Leahy image chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, killed the patent reform bill last week. The EFF has criticized Leahy’s action. According to EFF,

Today is not the first time Leahy has disappointed us on the IP front. Remember PIPA, the Senate’s counterpart to the awful censorship bill SOPA? Leahy introduced that horrendous piece of legislation, throwing the public interest under the bus in favor of moneyed interests.

I wrote a brief article about the Innovation Act last December. It passed the House by a margin of over 200 votes, but Senator Leahy unilaterally killed it, reportedly at Harry Reid’s orders. That means that we hobble along with our broken patent system for at least one more year.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Change your eBay password now!

eBay has posted this notice on

Our company recently discovered a cyberattack that comprised [sic] a small number of employee log in credentials, allowing unauthorized access to eBay’s corporate network. As a result, a database containing encrypted password and other non-financial data was compromised. There is no evidence of the compromise affecting accounts for Paypal users, and no evidence of any unauthorized access to personal, financial or credit card information, which is stored separately in encrypted formats. The company is asking all eBay users to change their passwords.

The attack resulted in unauthorized access to a database of eBay users that included:
Your password is the key to your kingdom
Customer name

Encrypted password

Email address

Physical address

Phone number

Date of birth

I changed my eBay password today. When I read through my keepass database.kdb file, I was chagrined to find that I’d used the same password for my accounts on several other sites. I changed them all. You should do the same if you have an eBay account. Here’s why, according to eBay:

I use the same password for multiple accounts. Do I now need to change all of them?

If you used the same password for eBay and any other site, we encourage our customers to change their passwords for those sites too. As a matter of good practice, the same password should never be used across multiple sites or accounts.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Cloning Ubuntu drives

Last week I cloned a Xubuntu 12.04 system disk from an old IDE drive to a brand new drive. Acronis True Image reported that the process succeeded, but Xubuntu refused to boot from the new drive — the PC simply restarted without booting Xubuntu. I uttered a sound that you don’t want to hear from the guy who’s upgrading your system: “Uh-oh.”

Why it won’t boot
I learned in that Ubuntu relies upon disks’ uuid (Universally Unique Identity) numbers. Apparently Ubuntu first loads the Grub start menu. Grub reads /boot/grub/menu.lst, which uses the disk’s uuid number to define the disk on which the operating system to be booted is stored. Since the new disk’s uuid differs from the old disk’s uuid, we must edit /boot/grub/menu.lst.

A quick fix
Eventually I found a simple alternative to manual editing. The Lubuntu-based open-source Boot Repair CD repaired the problem with just one click. It takes a while to load but it’s a great little tool that claims to repair Windows boot problems as well. I’ve added it to my toolbox.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Watch part 2 of United States of Secrets

Tonight PBS airs part 2 of a detailed program that documents NSA’s snooping into US citizens’ electronic communications. Here it airs at 10:00 PM. Check your local listings.

Read PBS’ webpage about this Frontline program and the NSA.

Glenn Greenwald
Glenn Grrenwald
photo: Glenn Greenwald
22 May update Glenn Greenwald thinks that Ed Snowden decided to reveal the extent of NSA snooping after watching US Intelligence chief James Clapper lie to Congress. (Clapper claimed that the NSA does not collect communications of ordinary Americans. When will Clapper be charged with perjury and contempt of Congress?)

The program outlined PRISM and AT&T technician Mark Klein’s discovery of a fiberoptic splitter that allowed the NSA to capture all packets that flow on AT&T’s Internet backbone as well as other attempts by NSA to read Internet-borne data without court orders. It also explored the loss of privacy to Facebook, Google, Doubleclick, et al commercial enterprises.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

What skills are needed by graduates . . . and employers?

Tom Friedman, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist, predicts that “college education is headed for a huge disruption”.

Tom Friedman portrait image
Tom Friedman

According to Friedman, “High wage/middle skill jobs are disappearing”, leaving a different employment landscape. Graduates “won’t need to find a job. They’ll need to invent a job.” He claims that “Bosses look for people who are relentlessly entrepreneurial.” Employers don’t care what you know; “they will pay you only for what you can do with what you know.”

loudspeaker image22 minute audio interview published two weeks ago by Innovation Hub.

Email systems I’ve known and loved (or at least tolerated)

My first email experiences were using CP/M based communication programs (written in 8080 assembler) such as MODEM7 and Mex to reach dial-up BBSs with hosted email systems, around 1980. Many BBSs allowed their users to exchange messages with other users of that BBS. They stored all messages on the BBS host; users viewed and edited messages while their own computers functioned as terminals. These systems didn’t reach beyond the BBS — users could email only other members of the same BBS.

My modem remained off-hook during message reading and editing, so phone bills shot through the roof if the BBS wasn’t within my local calling area. Another drawback was that each BBS program’s email program presented its own unique user interface.

MCI Mail

mci-mailWhen I signed up with MCI Mail in 1983, my email scope grew.  It presented a text-based interface to its terminal-based users.  MCI Mail included a gateway to the U.S. Postal Service, and MCI added more gateways later. I liked MCI Mail, except for its pricing. (Was it really a dollar per message? I forget.)  Its addresses were ten-digits (I think). I’d dial into their modem pool at 300 bps or reach them via Tymnet while my Northstar Horizon and its Hazeltine 1500 terminal worked as a dumb terminal.


Fidonet system architecture
FidoNet system architecture

In 1984, Tom Jennings and John Madill lashed up a dial-up network for BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems), called FidoNet. Each BBS would gather up a day’s outgoing messages, compress them, and upload them via dial-up modem to its upstream BBS. That BBS would decompress the incoming messages, distribute those messages that were destined for its users, add its outgoing messages to those it just received, compress all outgoing messages, and dial its upstream BBS so that it could upload its bundle of outgoing messages. This was all via automated dial-up connections, which were mostly attempted overnight. It was funky, but it worked.

Thanks to FidoNet, users of any FidoNet-connected BBS could exchange email with users of all other FidoNet-connected BBSs.  Eventually someone created a gateway to the Internet.

One reason for FidoNet mail’s success is that it separated the message transport function from the user agent function.  Users of CBBS systems could easily exchange messages with users of Searchlight BBS systems, across the globe. All FidoNet user agents allowed reading and replying to email while offline.

I used a FidoNet-based email frontend and backend called D’Bridge, which was written in Borland’s Turbo Pascal by Chris Irwin.  It was very slick, but I never saw it progress beyond the “work in progress” stage. D’Bridge allowed my PC to become a FidoNet node or point, so I could correspond with FidoNet BBS email users around the world for the cost of a local phone call.  Email reading and replying was done off-line, so phone costs remained low. (I met Chris — a bungee jumper and skydiver — once in Miami.  He told me that he’d bicycled to the South Miami post office to mail disks of his program and on his way home, his bike was stolen out from under him — as he was riding it!  Miami was frantic in the 1980s.)

AT&T Mail

Eventually AT&T introduced its AT&T Mail service. It was a warmed-over Unix-based mail system that was rushed to market when AT&T’s long-delayed packet-switched network failed to appear. It offered a uucp gateway and services similar to MCI Mail, but I preferred MCI Mail’s much friendlier user interface.

Western Union EasyLink

Western Union introduced its EasyLink service as a competitor to MCI Mail. It had an unfriendly user interface and a directory that was difficult to search, but offered gateways to most other public email systems. Around 1991, AT&T relabeled EasyLink as AT&T EasyLink. It remained clunky and expensive.

A major problem with most public email services was that users were billed by the minute while their modem remained connected.


About 1986, I installed Action Technologies’ MHS (Message Handling Service), a Novell Netware server based mail handling system with an open application programming interface.  Action Technologies’ own Coordinator email client was intriguing, but too structured for most users.  In 1988 we settled on Davinci eMAIL, a client-based system which used MHS for message transport between mail hosts.  It stored a user’s messages in either a private local database or a shared database on a server.  DaVinci eMAIL served us well for many years, first in text versions and later in Windows versions.

itlgA number of commercial and shareware gateways for MHS appeared. We eventually had MHS gateways to MCI Mail, AT&T Mail, fax, uucp, and SMTP.  For some reason, Novell was slow to update MHS, which left an opening.  A small Maryland based company named Infinite Technologies produced an MHS compatible “post office” with a feature superset.  It was called Connect2.  We replaced all MHS hosts with Connect2.

  • Sidenote: Infinite Technologies’ founders were Brett Warthen (a prolific coder) and John Madill.  John was one of the founders of FidoNet. Small World.  At least then it was.

MHS (and Connect2) connected organizations by transporting messages between disparate systems primarily using dial-up connections, but as the 1990s drew to a close, that role was acquired by products that employed SMTP (Simple Message Transport Protocol) on the public Internet.

Lotus Notes

About 1997, my employer’s new owner mandated deployment of Lotus Notes.  It was essentially a shared database with a quirky email-like user interface.  Most users preferred the intuitive DaVinci eMAIL user interface.

Microsoft Exchange

In 1996 Microsoft introduced its first release of Exchange.  It offered X.400 compatibility but no compatibility with MHS.  I didn’t think that it had a future.  I was wrong.


I use a variety of email systems. On my Android phone, I use the friendly email program that’s bundled with Android 4.2.2.  On PCs, I use Mozilla’s Thunderbird or Microsoft’s old Outlook Express.  I avoid Microsoft Outlook;  I just don’t like its user interface.  Occasionally I use Microsoft Office 365’s Webmail, with its horrible user interface.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Frontline’s United States of Secrets

On Tuesday night, PBS broadcast a powerful Frontline two hour long piece about the NSA’s snooping into citizens’ electronic communications. They subtitled it “How the government came to spy on millions of Americans”. The second part will air next Tuesday. Watch it.

us of secrets screenshot
Click to stream or download 475MB MP4 video (1hr 56m long)

Read PBS’ webpage about this Frontline program and the NSA.

FCC commissioners meet today

Today the five FCC commissioners will meet. On their agenda is consideration of regulation to encourage “an open Internet”. A vocal pro-“net neutrality” group is camping on FCC’s doorstep; their website is

What can fix the corrupt FCC?

To borrow from Mr. Shakespeare, ”The first thing we do, let’s kill remove all the lawyers.” At least, let’s remove all the industry lobbyists and political fundraisers, starting with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Replace the lawyers and lobbyists with engineers. Second, let’s prohibit former FCC employees from immediate employment in the industry that they regulated. Former FCC chairman Michael Powell, son of General Colin Powell, now heads CTIA (Cellular Telecommunication & Internet Association).

Then again, maybe Shakespeare had the right idea.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

FCC’s Mr. Wheeler replies

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler replied to my emailed request that he act responsibly regarding net neutrality during the upcoming FCC meeting on May 15. His reply:

Thank you very much for contacting us about the ongoing Open Internet proceeding. We’re hoping to hear from as many people as possible about this critical issue, and so I’m very glad that we can include your thoughts and opinions.

I’m a strong supporter of the Open Internet, and I will fight to keep the internet open. Thanks again for sharing your views with me.

Tom Wheeler Chairman Federal Communications Commission    —-

—  Original Message  ——- 
Subject:   Define ISPs as common carriers

Do the right thing, not what Mr. Wheeler’s former employers desire. Do what US citizens desire: define ISPs as common carriers.

Ref /

Russ Bellew
website: blog:
954 873-4695

Mind you, Mr. Wheeler is a lawyer and industry lobbyist — just the latest one at the FCC. It’s a corrupt revolving door agency whose board members shuttle between the FCC and the industry it’s supposed to regulate.

Before its May 15 meeting, tell the FCC what you think about the importance of a level Internet playing field. Send email to

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Vacuum tubes’ magic, 1940

It’s hard to believe, but I remember when vacuum tubes were viable circuit elements. Yes, I’m that old. At about age 13, I began repairing and constructing vacuum tube circuits in 1959. Transistor prices fell rapidly and quickly replaced vacuum tubes in low power, low speed applications. Tubes remained viable in high frequency applications above 100 Watts through the 1970s. Transistors and integrated circuits pushed out vacuum tubes everywhere else.


High power transmitting tubes glowed magically. 250TH and 304TH plates lit up with dull orange to bright yellow colors as a function of plate current. 4-1000 plates glowed cherry red to pumpkin orange. Mercury vapor rectifier tubes such as 866s and 872s lit up their trapped vapors with a beautiful blue glow.

This Western Electric film from 1940 takes us through their vacuum tube manufacturing processes. They include a surprising number of skilled hand labor operations. Note how many women performed these delicate tasks.

Seven years after this film’s release, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley co-invented the transistor. Today even 50 kilowatt transmitters are entirely solid-state.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Pushing the limits of road bikes

These guys perform tricks that look impossible . . . on a road bike. Fantastic riding from England. The 6-minute video is beautifully photographed and edited.

Youtube videos: Road Bike Party 2. All tricks were performed on one bike: The Making Of Martyn Ashton’s Colnago C59 Disc. Postscript: Martyn broke his back last September when he fell ten feet during a demo. His legs remain paralyzed. His mates helped him finish the video.