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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.


By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!

MacRumors has information about a new operating system interface (both Mac and Windows) that uses an armband that senses muscle movement to determine actions to take on the computer.  As they say, it's not like the Microsoft Kinect, which is using a camera to track body movements, so it only works with one arm/hand and you have to wear it.  We slowly are moving to better human/machine interaction, from Siri for voice commands to break us free from the keyboard to this that will possibly break us free from the mouse.

But, best of all, I love this advertising picture.  You know that the ad manager had to be a fan of Dr. Strange to pick this particular hand gesture.

Ah, to think that I should ever live to the day where comic geekdom took over the world!


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.)


Holiday Greetings for the Year 2012

As is our custom each year, we finish it off with a letter that we send to family and friends about what happened during the last 12 months and what we're looking forward to in the near future. And because we can never do the same thing twice, each year that letter takes on a new theme or form. This year's letter is in the shape of a PowerPoint slide, because that's what most defined the year for us.  Here it is:

2012 Holiday Letter

Past letters are archived in the About page here on immediacy.


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


Missing the Picture(s)

Todd Klein reviews The Annotated Sandman, Vol. 2, and notes that the annotator misses at least half of the point of comics, as all the annotations are just about Neil Gaiman's script.  This is a perfect example of what I used to try to cover with my students in my "text + vision" writing class -- if your analysis of the comic simply focused on the plot of the comic, you've missed the picture, quite literally.  Comics work (or don't work) because of the interplay between the pictures and the text, the latter of which is, in the parlance of creative writing, often the "telling" part of the story, while the picture is the "showing."  Good comic writers, of which Gaiman is one, know how to show with their text as well, but also work collaboratively with the artist to make sure that the pictures carry the story forward.  I've been reading a lot of comics from the early 40s, where many writers and artists were still learning their craft.  If you compare Gardner Fox's Flash stories to Will Eisner's Spirit stories, you notice just how much text is on the Flash page--that's because Fox came from a literary tradition and focused on the words.  Eisner, as both writer and artist, was able to use words sparingly, because he knew that the pictures would also progress his story.


A True Olympian: Congratulations to Dr. Raymond Hoff!

Words do not convey how proud I am to have been associated with Ray Hoff, who today received the highest recognition possible from NASA for a non-goverrnmental employee, the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, for "for distinguished service and leadership in Earth observations and their application for societal benefit." Ray was Jill's PhD advisor, my boss at UMBC at GEST and JCET, and one of our best friends in the DC region. His award is around the 28:00 mark in this video.

As NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver alludes to, the people here are the true Olympians, those who have made sacrifices to benefit the rest of us rather than themselves, and they are the ones who kids should consider heroes rather than some swimmer or gymnast.


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.