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It's Still a Lot Less than the Traffic Accidents...or even flu in the U.S.

News is starting to come in that the health officials in Saudi Arabia were underreporting the numbers of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus infections and deaths by a substantial amount.  This also follows on news of the sacking of both the Minister of Health about 6 weeks ago and the Deputy Minister this week. Rumors are that both actively encouraged staff to not report or under-report numbers (as in, "that's not a confirmed case") due to fears that a MERS scare will discourage Haj visits.  That's a strange rumor, given that the Kingdom has actively been trying to reduce the amount of Haj visits as it continues to engage in large construction projects in Mekkah to be able to handle larger crowds in the future.

I've been following the MERS reports and made a simple chart that shows the numbers as mentioned in the local papers.  Today's revelation is the big spike there at the end.

Cases of MERS reported in English-language Saudi Arabia newspapers


Not That It Will Help Any

The driving scofflaws in Saudi Arabia are notorious.  So much so, there's been a number of fatwa issued against them. Maybe they should authorize the Haia to be traffic police?

Crossing Red-Signals Is ‘Haram,’ Says Saudi Grand Mufti

Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti Abdulaziz al-Shaikh has reiterated his fatwa (religious edict) against drivers who cross red signals, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Monday.  The Grand Mufti, who is the most senior religious authority in Saudi Arabia, said that such a violation of traffic-law is a “major sin,” and referred to a Quranic verse which says “if you kill one person unjustly it is as if you killed the whole humanity, and if you saved once person it is as if you saved the whole humanity.”

This is not the first time the Saudi cleric has issued such a fatwa. In 2010, he reportedly also announced a similar edict, saying the person who caused the death of another person because of such a violation is guilty of involuntary man-slaughter.  Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of car accidents in the world with an average of 17 fatalities a day, according to a recent report in Gulf News.

In 2010, a report by the Kingdom’s General Directorate of Traffic revealed almost a third of traffic accidents in the Saudi capital Riyadh were due to drivers violating traffic signals.

Note that the average fatalities per day are those at the scene of the accident--people who die from their injuries at the hospital aren't counted in that.


Art for Art's Sake

David Bryne (yes, that David Byrne) has a great review up regarding the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).  His description of it and its conception of both reverence and irreverence, as well as the incorporation of technology to provide meta information about the artwork, sounds delightful.  I've always wanted to go to Tasmania, and now I have yet another reason to do so!

(title h/t to Mr Brown)


You wonder why you drive me crazy

A common question from people when they learn we've relocated to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is if we are worried about terrorism.  "No," we reply, "we're much more worried about being in a traffic accident."  Saudi Arabia is the world's leader in traffic fatalities per capita, with roughly 19 per day.  Part of the reason for this is the lack of, as we've seen it termed in the local newspaper, "lane discipline."  There are also wonderful manuevers like the one illustrated below, for which there are now cameras in place to try and catch (click to enlarge).

Arab News PSA

I tell people about this little manuever all the time.  We see this at least once a week on our drive into work, typically at the intersection of King Fahd Road and Oroba Street.  However, I do believe I noticed a new camera installed there today, so perhaps we'll be spared in the future.

Now, if they could only do something about people turning left from the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th lane over....

(Title from the first line of "Reckless Driver" by Timbuk 3, one of my fav Austin bands.)


An Open Letter to Rosetta Stone

Dear Rosetta Stone Ltd.,

On 1 August 2012 I purchased your product, TOTALe Online Arabic - 12 Month Plan, from your website.  As the confirmation email you sent to me, this is what I expected to get with my purchase:

What do you get with the TOTALe Online Access Only product?

  • Rosetta Course™ teaches you Arabic by intuitively associating sounds and images with new language meaning, without translations, grammar drills or memorization.
  • Rosetta Studio™ allows you to interact in live sessions with a Coach who is a native speaker to reinforce your learning as you complete each unit.
  • Rosetta World™ provides a fun online community where you can practice your new skills in interactive games and activities with other learners.
  • Rosetta Stone TOTALe Mobile Companion™ for your iPhone® or iPod Touch® serves as an additional way to practice on the go.
    Download the app from iTunes today.
  • Rosetta COURSe® for your iPad® provides you with a new way to engage in language discovery.
    Download the app from iTunes today.


And this is what I did receive initially, and I was quite happy with my purchase.  However, less than a week from my purchase, you updated the Rosetta COURSe for the iPad, and upon applying the update, I discovered that you had removed support for Arabic from this iPad product.  I immediately wrote to your customer service department asking for a date at which Arabic would be available again for the iPad, to which I received the following very non-committal reply that indicated it would be available sometime in the future:

Yes, Arabic and Farsi were previously available in TOTALe Course HD on iPad (v1.4.8).  With the release of Rosetta Course on iPad (v1.5.4), Arabic and Farsi are no longer available. We are striving to bring Arabic and Farsi to Rosetta Course on iPad in a future release.

We do not have any expected time for this yet. We actually waited to bring the application back quickly(We received many other learners contacting us as well on this.Hence we wanted to respond to all these email`s at a time once we have the update). However, it seems to take more time.

We would keep you posted once the application is back.

We apologize for the delay in replying to your email and apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.

Three months later, on November 17, Arabic was still not available on Rosetta COURSe on the iPad.  I wrote to you again, and not only did you not connect my follow-up to my original, your response indicated that you were not even working on re-adding this functionality.  The response:

The iPad app does not support Arabic. I will provide a language request on your behalf. 

This is unacceptable behavior, and has totally -- or, to use your own branding, TOTALe -- soured me on your product.  While it is true that I still have access to the other aspects of the product, the ability to use my iPad to access these language lessons while I am away from my home computer was one of the reasons I choose your product.  The advertisement of this feature, and then the removal of it, along with your customer service response, I consider unfair and deceptive.

As should be clear by now, I will not be recommending your product or service in the future.


Glen Engel-Cox


Visual BASIC: The Proposal

Option Explicit

Dim time As Long
Dim life As Short
Dim you As Single
Dim I As Single
Dim us As Double

While time > life
   If us = you And I Then
      Set life = New beginning
      Call Me
      For time = Now() To life < time
         While you Or I
            life = life + time
      Next time
      time = time + time
   End If
   If time > life Then
      Execute us
   End If


I wrote this poem back in 1999. It likely requires a nerd to understand it, but there's more and more of us out there every year.


Public Service: Identifying a Craigslist Scam

I received a message today from that tripped my scam alert. If you look at the message, and the fact that it's coming from what looks to be a authentic email address, it would be easy to be fooled by this one, because Craigslist does in fact use a robot to confirm listings.  However, that robot usually sends a message right after you post your listing, not a week afterwards.  And this looks similar to that message, but something seemed to be off.  What reallly got me to doubt it wasn't the multiple exclamation marks, but the use of the word "ADD" for advertisement.

So I looked at the email message header, and found the scam in the reply-to line:

Reply-To: "craigslist - automated message, reply for verification"

How does the scam work?  I did my due diligence and came up with the following scenario from someone who feel for this:

You respond to the message with your post information. This allows the scammer to replace your post with their for sale post, which now looks like it is coming from you instead of them, thus giving it a legitimacy they wouldn't have had, and possibly also making it look like the advert is local.

The original message is reposted below so others who do a search may find this based on the text in the scam and not fall for it.

DEAR email_address


Here are the steps you need to follow:

Find the message with the POST/EDIT/DELETE subject line

Copy the POST/EDIT/DELETE link.

Reply to this message by putting your POST/EDIT/DELETE link and your location: City/State in which you posted the ADD in the subject line.

Deliver us the message for human verification by pressing the SEND button in order to reactivate your posting.

You will find your POST/EDIT/DELETE link in an earlier message sent by us with this subject line: POST/EDIT/DELETE. You need to copy your entire link, paste it in the subject line of this message and reply to us.


This is an attempt to ensure that the response is generated by a person.This message was sent to prevent automated software from performing actions which degrade the quality of our services, also this action is required to minimize automated posting on craigslist (cars & trucks - by owner). Human Verification Posting is sometimes required for posting on craigslist. Your posting is currently held for verification. Follow the instructions, and your posting will be verified and approved to go online on craigslist.
Your posting will expire off the site 45 days after it was created.


Please be wary of distant 'buyers' responding to your ad! Many sellers receive replies from scammers hoping to defraud them through schemes involving counterfeit cashier's checks and/or wire transfers. These checks will clear the bank, but the person cashing the check will be held responsible when the fraud is discovered.

More info on scams can be found at this web address:

Thanks for using craigslist!


Top 4 Reasons Google Has Screwed Up the Web, and 1 Reason for How They Might Be Fixing It

I was going to original do 10 reasons, but narrowed it down to 4:

4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has rendered blogging into a non-optimal experience.

Google is constantly tweaking its search algorithms. What had been a purely simple and elegant idea--let's return results ordered by the number of pages that link to the page that also matches your search terms--has become a nightmare as people who are trying to improve their "Google juice" go out on the web to seed links to their pages by virtually scrawling graffitti on any open page they can find. As a long-time blog owner, it has been a constant fight for the last ten years of deleting inappropriate comments from robots (and increasingly real people hired for the purpose). They are fairly easy to spot, even if it's a real person who posted, because there's always a link to a page that has nothing to do with what your blog post was about. Because discussion is not easy anymore in the wide web, conversation has moved to a different point: Facebook.  Proof?  Look at this graph that shows how much Facebook has outpaced general web readership.

3. Search Results Results Pages.

When you last used Google search and started clicking through the results, how many pages did you get that were just a list of links?  Those pages, created automatically through a similar search and repost search results content, are the bane of the web.  There is no value added from these pages, as the information you are seeing has only duplicated (and sometimes badly duplicated, at that, with inappropriate terms to your original search) the results page you had just seen a link before.  But these pages exist because of automatic software that creates them out of Google Search, and the reason they exist is to put GoogleAdSense advertisements in front of you.

2. It's all about the impressions.

The main reason GoogleAdSense sucks the life out of the Web is that the one metric that matters, i.e., what you get paid for, is how many times an ad is displayed in front of a person. While there are two versions of AdSense, a cost-per-click (CPC) and a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM), most of these no- or  limited-content web sites use the latter, because it's all about the economy of scale.  Their business is just to get you to get their server to display their page for you which contains as many Google ad impressions that they can serve up and increase their numbers.  All that it would take for a fundamental shift in the Web world for the better would be for Google to stop making CPM payments.  But, that's Google's prime business, as they are the prime CPM vendor in the world.

1. The Top 10 (or 4) List

The genesis behind this blogpost complaint was hitting a very informative series of articles today about skills needed for the future workplace. I found the series great, and wanted to print it out, but it was split into 5 pages containing 2 skills per post (as it was posted over a series of 5 days) and there was no page/pdf available that gathered it together.  Why?  Because more posts equals more readers equals more ad impressions ("Hey, that's 5 times the impressions for one article!")  Many sites run top # lists where each number is a separate page.  I'm bucking the trend by putting all of my points on the same page here--but then, I don't participate in GoogleAdSense anymore, and this list is one of the reasons why.

The Fix?

Today Google announced Google+. I haven't received an invite yet, but I'm interested.  Maybe it's just a Facebook clone, as some business analysts are already coming out saying.  Maybe those are the same ones that said the iPad was just another tablet computer.  I need to try it myself to find out. I'd like to see something that competes with Facebook on its own terms, just like Android is now competing with iOS.  Because competition does make things better.


The Refectory

Sometime in the 1997-98 time frame, I had a business trip that took me through Columbus solo.  Actually, I think it may have taken me into Cincinatti, but I rented a car and came to check out Columbus.  J had been working for Battelle in Richland, Washington for a couple of years, and we envisioned that one day we might have to relocate to Columbus as that was where the Battelle mothership was docked (how prescient we were!). I was working for Foster Wheeler at the time, but having to do a lot of travel between Richland, Los Alamos, Atlanta, and New Jersey, and for some reason had the extra layover and time to check out the city.

I don't remember much about that review, except for having dinner at this one restaurant that had taken over an old church.  For years, I couldn't even remember the name of it, but a few months ago--when we learned that we would possibly be living here in Columbus temporarily--I had a discussion with a Columbite who clued me that the name of the place was The Refectory, a modern French restaurant in NW Ohio on Bethel Road.

As a thank you to the lady who watched over Klia while we were away, we hosted a dinner party there, and it fairly well lived up to my memory. The wine selection was great (we had an Oregon Pinot Noir and then a Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla, Washington), the food was elegantly presented and tasty, and the service was outstanding.  Here's some views of the food, from when I remembered to bring the camera out:

Baked Goat CheeseDuet of Sole and SalmonAntelope

To top it off, the rest of the party ordered from the dessert menu, but I went for the liquid refreshment: a flight of three different Glenmorangie scotches:

A Flight of Glenmorangie

The Refectory is definitely on the high end of the cost range for dining in Columbus, so I can't see us making it a habit.  The food was also quite rich.  I had the antelope, which I described to my table companions as tasting like a cross between deer and duck in that it had the consistency of the former and the richness of the latter. However, they do have a lot of special events, including wine tastings, and since we need a refresher course on California wines (I tend to order Pacific Northwest wines, as those are the ones I know), I suspect we'll be back.


Back in the USSA

After a interesting three years in Malaysia, we have returned to the US with a cat and a lot of great memories and friends on the other side of the globe. Before we left, people warned us that the reverse culture shock--that is, dealing with everyday necessities in your home country such as driving, feeding oneself, housing, climate, etc.--would actually be worse than what we experienced going to a foreign country. I guess the reasoning for this is that you expect things to be difficult in a foreign location, but think yourself an expert and "at home" in your country of origin.

So far I'm having a better time adjusting to it than J, but then again, I was more ready to return as my work had been substantially less rewarding personally in the last couple of months. Still, there are a few things that strike me as a semi-outsider to American culture, such as:

  • People in the US need to lose weight. I estimate that over half of the people I see here in Ohio are overweight, and many of them are obese. No wonder health care costs in the US have skyrocketed! I thought I was a bit overweight, as I gained about 15-20 pounds after my heart surgery two years ago. If anything, seeing the extremes around me has only solidified my resolution to get rid of a few of those extra pounds.
  • At least some of that weight is likely from the continued consumption of overly large sugar-filled drinks, from the 32+ ounce soda to the grande coffees. After having one frappucino from Fourbucks, I have decided to return to drinking seltzer water, or just plain H2O. Well, when I'm not having a glass of wine.
  • We used to joke about how much the Malaysians liked to shop, including how the malls were always packed. Compare this to my trip to the Mall of America in Minneapolis, which was almost like a ghost town. Of course, I think half of the reason why Malaysians visit shopping malls is to enjoy the air conditioning that someone else is paying for. A later trip to the Easton Shopping Center here in Columbus was busier, and there seemed to be lots more buying. When it comes to consumption, it's really hard to beat someone from the US.
  • Our visit to the Whole Foods grocery store underscored that last point. The sheer scale of the store and the number of different items that were on offer was overwhelming. We could probably eat every meal for the rest of the month from picking and choosing items at the Whole Foods deli alone.
  • It is good that the grocery store is so good, because the restaurants aren't. We need to hit the Short North area of Columbus, which may prove better, but so far the places we've stopped in to eat have offerings that are: (a) too large, (b) bland, (c) fat-filled or covered, typically with bland cheese, and (d) uninspired. I remember every restaurant in the US offering a chicken caesar salad; now it seems that every restaurant has agreed to offer the same chicken sandwich, minestrone soup, toasted bad appetizer, etc. It is kind of like radio in America: they seem designed to meet the interests and desires of one large demographic only.
  • Hey, it's cold here! It was less than 40 degrees F when we landed in Minneapolis, and Columbus was in the 50s for our first week back. We finally warmed up yesterday when the weather finally got up to 75F. I'm still feeling chilled, though, and expect that to last for awhile.

But it is good to be back, even though we are still unsure where our next couple of years will actually be spent. The first piece of that puzzle should fall at the end of this month, which I'm looking forward to as it has been months coming.