Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The time for action in this concern is ...
long since past.

Estimates vary on the number of dead ... perhaps between 400,000 and a million, perhaps even greater than that. All of the rest have been uprooted, relocated, their homes and their lands and their lives destroyed.

So perhaps its time to say what I think really happened, since no one else has said so. A few of the western media stories mentioned the possibility that there may be oil underneath the ground, that the native Nubians living on it did not care to prospect for it, that the Arabs lusting after the land perhaps did, and that the western world thirsty for the commodity might have a bit of responsibility for it. I do not know. For the most part, the western media reports on the slaughter,
the burning of homes and villages and crops, the departure from the area to other places, tend to implicate the Sudan government either by design or by neglect. They tend to portray the situation as perhaps a racial issue, with the native blacks the hapless victims and the Semitic aggressors as the guilty perpetrators. They endlessly debate whether or not the situation may be labeled "genocide" as if that term will make one whit of difference to any of the people affected.

I do know that there is a tree which thrives in the area and grows nowhere else. This tree has been cultivated by the Arabs for many years and they annually tap the sap in order to harvest a product called "Gum Arabic". This substance, a sticky yellowish crystal, is known to be an excellent emulsifier. What an emulsifier does is to allow substances such as oils, such as aromatic hydrocarbons, to be dissolved in water and to remain in suspension throughout the fluid rather than floating to the top or settling to the bottom. Aromatic hydrocarbons include such things as oil of cinnamon, oil of wintergreen, and in fact a thousand other
fragrant oils, many of them considered pleasing to the taste or smell. Chemical laboratories have attempted to create man-made emulsifiers but no product that could be mass-produced has ever resulted. "Gum Arabic" is the best there is.

If this discussion doesn't have your heart racing with excitement yet, then consider one consumer product, that of the carbonated soft drink.
Consider by how many and how often this product is consumed.
Consider the jobs, the factories, warehouses, retail outlets,
vending machines, sales clerks, and everyone involved in
producing and disseminating this product.

The flavors of soft drinks are provided not by natural juices
but rather by the oils that natural fruits contain and which give
them their distinctive flavors. the oils can be successfully and
cheaply manufactured artificially. However, they will not mix
with water or soda-water. an emulsifier is required to
get them to mix and stay mixed. And that means: gum arabic.

The people who were living peacefully in Darfur, minding their own business, were growing subsistence crops and raising animals on the land. The people who have been taking the land from them have been cultivating gum arabic for generations and selling it for cash.

If anyone had really wanted for the violence to end, they needed for citizens of the "civilized" world to stop drinking any soft drinks. That would have done it. Nothing else would have.

But its always so much easier to point the finger of blame
on someone else than it is to change one's own behavior, isn't it?

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I have just completed my annual computer scan for viruses, trojans, worms, botnets, and other malware.

I deleted McAFffee from my system over a year ago. The yearly subscription fee was not that bad, though it did me no good. But I had come to recognize that the software, running constantly, was using over 60% of my machine's resources. It occurred to me that the "cure" had most probably reached and exceeded the damage of the threat. I was also aware that my operating system was programmed to harass everyone who does not have virus protection software running. Just as everyone is almost forced to lock their car doors nowadays when they leave their car, in the same way everyone is almost forced to buy and run virus protection software, which means that the real threats are finding their way in through some different corridor.

But my machine had been running a tad slowly lately. Sure enough, the up-to-date free scan turned up 5 instances of commercially-installed advertising spyware and over a hundred tracking cookies. Note that every single one of these uninvited intruders came into my machine from popular commercial sites, most owned and operated by large international corporations. After a whole year of constant surfing and use, my computer had not picked up one instance of robot use, of hackers' viruses or trojans, but it had picked up enough unwanted garbage from "legitimate" sites to cripple the machine. I was not surprised.

Is it just possible that our culture is overdoing this "security" bit, just a little? Do we have enough ambulances and fire engines and police and spy cameras and spy satellites and wiretapping and cell-phone geo-tracking and recorded financial transactions? Maybe enough to cripple the few people left who are actually trying to do creative, productive, useful work for other people?
Enough SWAT teams breaking down the doors of innocent families, shooting their dogs and forever altering their lives?

Do we have enough Medivac helicopters in the sky, running our health insurance premiums to the sky, crashing into each other and killing people?

Do we have enough people getting sick from flu shots? (I know the medical community vehemently denies that this is even possible. Is there any unbiased research done to determine incidence of influenza with and without the shots? I'd like to see it.)

I am not rabid about this. After all, I am the man who wrote the very first computer virus and then sent the concept to Rumania (maybe I will tell you all that story another time). I usually lock my house doors and I check my accounts frequently for transactions I did not initiate. I don't advocate abolishing police. The things I do to protect myself against the very rich, the large orporations, lawyers, doctors, politicians, religious zealots, and so forth, I won't detail for you but they take up a miserable amount of time and energy. But is it just possible that we have overdone it a little bit? Is it also possible that we habitually look in the wrong direction?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Negative Numbers

Who out there can provide evidence to the contrary? I'd really like to see it.

My darling wife had reason to drop out of school after the third grade.
But since immigrating to the USA she's been demonstrating outstanding
determination and motivation to learn spoken English, writing, and arithmetic.
She is enrolled in our county adult education program receiving GED instruction. She is mastering fractions, decimals, word problems, our crazy system of weights
and measures, and simple geometry.

In helping her with her homework, I have reluctantly and gradually come to
the appalling conclusion that the public schools in this country no longer
teach numbers below zero, what they are and how to manipulate them. None
of the textbooks she has worked from have any mention of them.

I have perhaps jumped to the conclusion that the omission is not
accidental or isolated, but rather part of a systematic trend in my culture.
Mention has been made that the past president strongly preferred to be
surrounded with "yes" men while anyone in his administration who offered
alternative viewpoints came to depart prematurely. Mention has been made
of the strong bias of investment advisors towards the "buy" grade for
stocks while too-sparsely using "sell". When the music single "Don't
Worry. Be Happy" topped the charts I took that as satire but I have since
heard numbers of individuals enthusiastically recommend such a philosophy
and approach to life.

So now, here I am, an investor in the stock market, preparing my annual
tax forms and grumbling about the capital gains taxes that I am going to
have to pay, but realizing that not one investor out of a thousand is in
this boat with me. Apparently, investors were not taught negative numbers
in school. Apparently they were not aware that stock prices sometimes go down.
And they were not aware of the implications for the macro economy that the
housing bubble was setting up.

Three years ago I had the honor to speak with Michael Jones, founder and
CEO of KeyHole, then Google VP in charge of Google Earth when the search engine
giant bought it. One of my hobbies is automated nautical cartography. I
spoke to him admiring the wonderful tool his company has created. I respect
the man immensely, I have never heard any contemporary executive with
equivalent power and authority to speak so passionately and compassionately,
most especially for the highly-persecuted original settlers of the land of
Canaan, which usurpers continue to slaughter in the name of God.

I digress. I hope you all have had the opportunities to enjoy, and or
put to use, the Google Earth tools. Especially, I hope you have been able to
virtually "fly around" in their 3-D space. If you have, then perhaps you
have noticed how between 2/3 and 3/4 of the surface they represent has
an elevation of "0". Since I work with bathymetry data this is a concern.
The sea floor cannot be shown with their tools. A year later I raised the
issue again with Bent Hagemark, GE CTO. But yesterday, with great fanfare,
Google released a new version of the tool which includes "Google Oceans".
they have added nice relief shading showing major ocean bottom features.
But the elevation still reads "0" everywhere. The 3-D software still
doesn't work, as it does so well on most land features (excluding places
like Death Valley, which is also portrayed as "0").

But maybe their programmers were never taught negative numbers.
Maybe they really don't know how to instruct a computer how to deal
with them.

Please tell me that I am wrong.

Or, raise your voice in protest. Is it so difficult for people
to understand that denying negative information does not make it go away,
but it sure does make it more difficult to talk about and work with others
on solutions?