Bill's Rints
and Lanks

Below are my assorted rants on various topics, and links to interesting current news items or anything else that catches my wandering attention. Newest items are at the top.

Content copyright © 2002 William S. Statler, except (obviously) for excerpts quoted from other copyrighted material.

Email: blog (at) statler (dot) ws

Thursday 10-Oct-02

Frying an egg on your microprocessor

It's true: the AMD XP1500+ microprocessor chip is hot enough to fry an egg. In the spirit of pure research and the need for lunch, someone built a custom heatsink with an aluminum foil tray, mounted it on his microprocessor, and dropped in an egg. "I knew this was not going to be a quick task as the heat transfer was not upto the quantities of a normal frying pan. It was a tedious task waiting for the Egg to cook but 11 minutes later it was loverly."

Sunday 15-Sep-02

September 19th: The 20-year anniversary of the smiley :-)

A team of computer archaeologists has uncovered the first use of the ASCII smiley-face:

19-Sep-82 11:44    Scott E  Fahlman             :-)
From: Scott E  Fahlman 

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways.  Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends.  For this, use


Here's a link to more info on the search.

Thursday 8-Aug-02

Contrails and climate

For a few days after the 9-11 attacks, there were no commercial air flights, and hence no contrails, over the United States. This provided a unique opportunity to measure the effects of contrails on weather. Here's a good UPI article on the study.

...they calculated the 30-year climate norm for the three days in question. They then determined the so-called diurnal temperature range - the difference between the daytime high and the nighttime low.

They found the Sept. 11-14 diurnal temperature ranges were abnormally large.

"Sept. 11-14, 2001, had the biggest diurnal temperature range of any three-day period in the past 30 years," Carleton said.

They also found sharp regional differences in temperature change that corresponded with the sites of contrail formation. The biggest changes - as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit - occurred in the regions where contrails are most common: the nation's midsection, the Northeast and the Northwest.

Monday 22-Jul-02

Gold, financial privacy, and al-Qaida

I like financial privacy. I'm getting discouraged, though, trying to come up with a socially acceptable justification for it.

Consider this report about al-Qaida's use of gold from the The Seattle Times (actually it's from the Washington Post, but their archive is pay-only).

...[during autumn 2001] in small shops and businesses along the border, the money and gold, taken from Afghanistan's banks and national coffers, were collected and moved by trusted Taliban and al-Qaida operatives to the port city of Karachi, Pakistan, according to sources familiar with the events.

Then, using couriers and the virtually untraceable hawala money-transfer system, they moved millions of dollars to [Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates], where the assets were converted to gold bullion. The riches of the Taliban and al-Qaida were subsequently scattered around the world -- including some that went to the United States -- through a financial structure that has been little affected by the international efforts to seize suspected terrorist assets....

"Gold is a huge factor in the moving of terrorist money because you can melt it, smelt it or deposit it on account with no questions asked," said a senior U.S. law-enforcement official investigating gold transactions. "Why move it through Dubai? Because there is a willful blindness there."

Well, okay, this is a Bad Thing®. So we should do what, exactly? Require worldwide "know your customer" rules for every financial institution, and have them report every "suspicious" transaction (say, anything over $3000 in cash or gold)? Report to who? (How much good would it do to require Dubai banks to report to the Dubai government?)

Let's throw another monkey wrench into the discussion: e-gold. I've been watching this company for some time. They offer, in effect, checking accounts denominated in gold, from which you can make instant payments to any other e-gold account holder via a Web interface. (I have no connection with the company; I don't even have an account there.) I've been hoping that e-gold would become a widespread online payment system, because it operates entirely independently of the banking system and without any governmental regulation.

The e-gold website offers a fascinating statistics page that provides a window into how e-gold is being used. For example, as of today there are just under half a million e-gold accounts in existence, of which one-third actually have a non-zero balance. And of these, over 90% have balances below 10 grams of gold (roughly US$100). At the other end of the scale, there are 12 accounts with balances over 10 kilograms (about $100,000). Golly!

In the last 24 hours, 9334 account-holders have conducted 13509 e-gold spending transactions. Nearly half were for less than 10 milligrams (10 cents). But there were also 122 transactions of 100 to 1000 grams ($1k to $10k), and 6 transactions of 1 to 10 kilograms ($10k to $100k).

Freedom is wonderful. I am indeed full of wonder, wondering what all that e-gold is being used for.

Just to make me feel even more queasy, along comes this article on e-gold from Wired:

...Dubai, sometimes called the Switzerland of the Middle East, offers the financial sophistication of a major commercial hub, the low overhead of a mostly immigrant labor pool, and the high security of a politely authoritarian mini-monarchy.

But the truth is, the gold is here because Allah commanded it. Or at any rate, because the passionate believers behind e-dinar -- the [e-gold] network's Muslim-friendly frontend -- believe He did. When Douglas Jackson and the e-dinar principals began the negotiations that culminated in e-dinar's September 2000 launch, Jackson was told up front that a proper Islamic currency requires a proper Islamic country as its base. Obligingly, he moved some of the company's existing assets from ScotiaBank in Canada to Dubai's Transguard repository (the rest remains with J. P. Morgan Chase in London) and even rewrote his governance contract to give e-dinar a limited veto over bullion transfers out of the vault. In return, e-dinar agreed, in effect, to help market the e-gold system to the world's 1.1 billion Muslims.

Uh-huh. Well, Muslims deserve freedom and financial privacy too. But what about catching the bad guys?

...In the weeks since September 11, investigators have painted a pretty clear picture of the kind of networks they think al Qaeda & Co. are moving their money around in, and it doesn't include anything as Net-savvy as online payment systems.


And even if it did turn out that al Qaeda funds have passed through e-dinar, one thing's for sure: The Murabitun [the group of Western "post-hippie" Muslims who are behind the e-dinar] wouldn't be thrilled to hear it. For years they have publicly proclaimed their contempt for terrorists of every stripe, and in the wake of the September attacks, their stance has only hardened. Shortly after 9-11, Sheikh Abdalqadir issued a declaration excoriating Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

Okay, but so what? The US government and the US banking system also oppose al-Qaida, and that hasn't stopped al-Qaida from using US dollars.

...Hundreds of online pyramid scams have made e-gold (because of its convenience and because it offers bilked users no way to cancel charges) their payment system of choice.

It gives some sense of how much these operations have contributed to e-gold's bottom line to know that, to this day, the single largest holding in the e-gold system -- $1.1 million in gold, 8 percent of total reserves -- sits unclaimed in an account belonging to an alleged Ponzi that shut down a year ago.

Well, good. It's not being used for terrorism, it's being used for schemes based on fraudulent accounting.

Sorta like the way Enron and WorldCom have been using the US dollar? Okay, let's ban 'em both!

Here is the problem: Western governments (the "good guys") are having a hard time catching the "bad guys", be they terrorists, accounting fraudsters, drug dealers, or whatever. So they would like to analyze, if possible, every single financial transaction in the world, and investigate any that look "suspicious".

This is just a continuation of the trend of governments, without court order or even grounds for suspicion, to search anything and everything except, perhaps, the inside of one's own house (unless the curtains are open). "If you're not breaking the law, what have you got to hide?"

Let's ignore, for a moment, the fact that most of us break several laws a day without even realizing we're doing it. Assuming I am at least trying to be a law-abiding citizen, why should I care if my government wants to know every detail of my financial life?

But these utilitarian objections aren't really the point. What is the point?


I want to live as I choose. I don't want to clear every damn decision with a higher authority. That's not the way things are supposed to be, at least not in the United States. And we should not be rushing to toss away the liberty of financial privacy, just because that might possibly make it easier for our government to track down bad guys.

That may not be a very persuasive argument, but actually I don't care. I don't like using fiery rhetoric to confuse people into changing their minds. Give the topic some thought, and then change your own mind if you choose to.

As for e-gold -- well, maybe I'll risk opening a tiny account some day. If only I could convince myself that the deposits are safe from internal fraud and embezzlement, I'd be much happier.

Friday 19-Jul-02

Global warming (man-made or not) is melting the glaciers

Link to news article from The Seattle Times.


Alaska's glaciers are melting at more than twice the rate previously assumed because of warming temperatures...

...150 glaciers covered 61 square miles in Glacier National Park in 1850, when the last "little ice age" ended. That period of cold weather had lasted about 500 years. Today, fewer than 30 glaciers extend over only 16.5 square miles.

Scientists can't say whether the extraordinary melting is the result of man-induced global warming, the slow natural advance and rapid retreat of the glaciers or dramatic but natural variations in weather patterns....

Over the past 30 years alone, the annual mean temperature in Alaska has increased 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit -- four times the average global increase....

Studies have suggested that the global sea level has risen about 7.8 inches over the past 100 years, and some experts say the rate is increasing....

Some have attributed global warming to human action.... A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would trap more of the sun's heat, possibly causing the Earth to warm.

However, Sallie Baliunas, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., contends the Alaska melting is due to a dramatic but temporary shift in Pacific Ocean warm water and wind patterns that began in 1976. "It doesn't have the fingerprints of enhanced greenhouse-gas concentrations," she said....

Experts have attributed sea-level rise to two primary causes: runoff from the melting of ancient ice fields, such as the Alaskan glaciers, and an ocean expansion due to warming.

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