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July 2008

Khawaja D. Nile and Colleagues Visit Rufaa—Sudan's Sugarcane and Sheep Region


I took a road trip today to a part of Sudan that I had not seen before. The town of Rufaa is a two-hour drive southeast of Khartoun on mostly paved roads. Lying east of the now rain-swollen Blue Nile, the town is known for having produced some of Sudan's finest scholars. But what got my attention was the acres and acres of sugarcane plantations lining the roads for about 20 minutes as we pulled into Rufaa. In the afternoon, we stopped at the livestock market and got a demonstration of how to select a sheep to buy. We also strolled through the town's sprawling outdoor market, where we inspected snakeskin shoes, sniffed incense and assorted spices, chewed gum Arabic, and shook hands with scores of curious bystanders who called me "khawaja" (foreigner). It seemed that we stopped for refreshments and food a half-dozen times: huge platters of mixed meats, fish from the Blue Nile nearby, light and chewy pocket bread, and cool homemade custard. All in all, a pretty sweet experience in the heart of sugarcane country.

Khartoum, Sudan



The Society of International Railway Travelers: World's 25 Top Trains


North America
1) Canadian (Canada)
2) Royal Canadian Pacific (Canada)
3) Canadian Rockies Steam Express (Canada)
4) Rocky Mountaineer (Canada)
5) GrandLuxe Express (US)
6) Sierra Madre Express (Mexico)
South America
7) Andean Explorer (Peru)
8 ) Hiram Bingham (Peru)
9) Blue Train (South Africa)
10) Pride of Africa (Rovos Rail) (South
Asia/Indian Subcontinent
11) Palace on Wheels (India)
12) Eastern & Oriental Express (SE Asia)
13) ShangriLa Express (China/Tibet)
14) Toy Train (India)
15) Deccan Odyssey (India)
16) Danube Express (Central Europe, Turkey)
17) Al Andalus Express (Spain)
18) El Transcantabrico (Spain)
19) Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express (Russia)
20) Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Europe)
21) Glacier Express (Switzerland)
22) Royal Scotsman (Scotland)
“Down Under”
23) Ghan (Australia)
24) Indian Pacific (Australia)
25) Sunlander (Australia)

Selection Criteria
“The World’s Top 25 Trains are based on our own experience and that of our writers, editors, members and staff,” said Owen and Eleanor Hardy, the Society’s CEO and President, respectively. The selections were announced in a Special Edition of the The International Railway Traveler© magazine: The IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys – 2008. TM “The trains met stringent standards for service, accommodation, scenery, itinerary, offtrain experiences and passenger enjoyment. Trains cannot pay to be included in this book: we choose them,” the Hardys said. With a few exceptions, the top trains are privately owned and operated, offering “rail cruises” on which passengers can spend the night on board. The IRT Society’s Best-Loved Railway Journeys – 2008 includes complete descriptions of each of the “Top 25” trains: their compartments and public spaces, equipment used and preferred routes. The cover price is $35. The Society is a membership organization whose benefits include an annual subscription to The International Railway Traveler. Regular annual U.S. membership dues are $85 ($95 for Canada; $105 elsewhere). To join, contact The Society of International Railway Travelers®, 2010 Edgeland Ave. #100, Louisville, KY 40204; telephone (502) 454-0277 or, outside Kentucky, (800) 478-4881; fax (502) 458-2250, email or visit IRT SOCIETY.


Whole Energy Fuels: A Fly in the Ointment


"Important retail information for Food Pavilion customers. To our loyal customers: Due to our inability to meet Fire Marshal codes, Whole Energy Fuels will regrettably be ceasing our retail operations from the Bellingham Food Pavilion location. This notice and subsequent action is effective immediately. We sincerely appreciate all of your support and enthusiasm and will continue to work hard at making quality sustainable biofuels available to you."


Ten Facts About the Water We Waste

Ten Facts About the Water We Waste
Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

As the globe's temperature rises and the earth's weather patterns go haywire, water is quickly becoming a hot topic in the US and elsewhere. Floods are sweeping through new areas, while others are drying out faster than ever. We've long had the luxury of holding a cavalier attitude about the water we use, and more often than not that attitude has led us to unnecessary waste and pollution of our water. Read the full story here: WASTING WATER

Sirens in Park Pacifica: Three-Alarm Fire on Aspen Burns Two Acres, Seriously Damages Two Houses


A three-alarm residential fire on Aspen Street in Park Pacifica this afternoon has been contained. Two houses were damaged: $450,000 on one, $150,000 on the other. Fire officials were concerned about the eucalyptus trees on the hill and the houses above on Point Reyes Way. They called in 50 firefighters from half a dozen different stations, but weather conditions were favorable and only two acres of hillside were burned. (photos: Tom Sullivan, Pacifica Tribune)




Cell Hell: Beep Me, Flash Me, but Don't Call Me

(See Jonathan Donner's “The Rules of Beeping” in the October issue of the online Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.)

Phone credit low? Africans go for “beeping”

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM, Sept 26 (Reuters) - If you are in Sudan it is a “missed call”. In Ethiopia it is a “miskin” or a “pitiful” call. In other parts of Africa it is a case of “flashing”, “beeping” or in French-speaking areas “bipage”.

Wherever you are, it is one of the fastest-growing phenomena in the continent’s booming mobile telephone markets — and it’s a headache for mobile operators who are trying to figure out how to make some money out of it.

You beep someone when you call them up on their mobile phone — setting its display screen briefly flashing — then hang up half a second later, before they have had a chance to answer. Your friend — you hope — sees your name and number on their list of “Missed Calls” and calls you back at his or her expense.

It is a tactic born out of ingenuity and necessity, say analysts who have tracked an explosion in miskin calls by cash-strapped cellphone users from Cape Town to Cairo.

“Its roots are as a strategy to save money,” said Jonathan Donner, an India-based researcher for Microsoft who is due to publish a paper on “The Rules of Beeping” in the high-brow online Journal of Computer Mediated Communication in October.

Donner first came across beeping in Rwanda, then tracked it across the continent and beyond, to south and southeast Asia. Studies quoted in his paper estimate between 20 to more than 30 percent of the calls made in Africa are just split-second flashes — empty appeals across the cellular network.

The beeping boom is being driven by a sharp rise in mobile phone use across the continent.

Africa had an estimated 192.5 million mobile phone users in 2006, up from just 25.3 million in 2001, according to figures from the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union. Customers may have enough money for the one-off purchase of a handset, but very little ready cash to spend on phone cards for the prepaid accounts that dominate the market.

Africa’s mobile phone companies say the practice has become so widespread they have had to step in to prevent their circuits being swamped by second-long calls.

“We have about 355 million calls across the whole network every day,” said Faisal Ijaz Khan, chief marketing officer for the Sudanese arm of Kuwaiti mobile phone operator Zain (formerly MTC). “And then there are another 130 million missed calls every day. There are a lot of missed calls in Africa.”


FACTBOX-Commandments of “beeping”

(Reuters) - “Beeping” — calling a contact on their cellphone then quickly hanging up to prompt them to call you back and spare you the charge — is one of the fastest-growing phenomena in Africa’s booming mobile telephone markets.

The following rules for the practice are extracted by Reuters from a forthcoming paper on the subject by researcher Jonathan Donner:

1. “The richer guy pays.” It is acceptable to beep someone if you are short of cash and they are flush with credit. Never beep someone poorer than you.

2. Do not beep too often. Two beeps in a row is just about acceptable if you want to request an urgent call back. Any more and you risk becoming a pest.

3. Maximise the efficiency of your beeping by prearranging shorthand codes with friends, family and contacts — for example, two beeps to be picked up by a taxi driver, one to say you are coming home.

4. Never beep someone if you are trying to get in touch to ask a favor. You don’t want to risk annoying the person you are trying to win over.

5. Never flash your girlfriend, unless you want to look cheap. One Rwandan interviewed for the paper said “No self-respecting man would dream of merely flashing his wife or girlfriend … Never mind the fact that it was Sugar Daddy himself who bought the phone and regularly buys her units.”

(Source: “The rules of beeping: Exchanging messages via intentional “missed calls” on mobile phones”)

© Reuters

A Little Oil Leak Goes a Long Way


Dear Bruce The Car Guy:
I recently had my '93 Honda Accord in for service. It has about 160,000 miles on it. The service guy told me there were several oil leaks that should be repaired. I've never noticed that the oil level goes down between changes. Before I go and spend over a thousand dollars, what is your opinion?



Hi, Rich:
It is normal for all cars to leak a little oil as they age. If you are checking the oil regularly and you do not notice any appreciable usage, I would not worry about any ill effects to your vehicle.  Many car companies do not consider the use of one quart of oil in 1,000 miles to be excessive, so if your car uses less than a quart between oil changes, it is still in good shape.

Another consideration, though, is the environment. All cars leak oil, and a drop here and there may not seem like much, but consider a state such as California with tens of millions of vehicles. That is a lot of oil dripping onto our roads, parking lots, and driveways. When it rains, that oil is flushed into storm drains, and from there into creeks, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

How much is it worth to stop your car from leaking oil? There is no set answer, of course, because in this country we leave that decision up to the individual. Other countries have periodic vehicle inspections, and a leaking vehicle must be repaired. Sooner or later, it will be like that here. For now, let your conscience by your guide.


Kudos to Van Ocampo & Steve Rhodes: City of Pacifica Says, "Git 'er Done," Make On-Ramp Safer

Dear Mr. Maybury,

City Manager Rhodes had asked me to respond to your email to him, as well as your article.

In your Article you raised two issues.

The first one is regarding enforcement and Chief Saunders had responded to this issue via email.

The second issue is for an additional sign, to be placed under the existing Stop Sign, warning northbound motorist that cross traffic does not stop.

In responding to any traffic related issues, Engineering performs certain tasks (site visits, review of aerial maps, traffic data, accident history, etc.) to properly address the traffic issue at hand. While this particular location is on a City Street we also extend our courtesy to Caltrans by giving them a call to inform them of our intention.

Last week we called the Highway Operation Division of Caltrans and it was not until noon today that we finally got a return call. During my conversation I informed Caltrans that the City will be installing a sign/s, underneath the existing Stop Sign for northbound Highway 1 similar to the ones at the Palmetto On-Ramp. In addition, I also requested that Caltrans review the size of the existing YIELD sign and recommended that it be replaced with a larger YIELD sign. Caltrans gave me the assurance that they will be look into my suggestion.

Hope this responds to your concerns. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.


Van Dominic Ocampo, P. E.
Director of Public Works/City Engineer

On-Ramp: Is It Better to Be Lucky Than Good?


With all due respect to the police chief (see his letter below), I have seen comments (posted on Riptide) from a number of readers who (like me) have had close calls at the scary intersection and on-ramp at Francisco/Sharp Park/Highway 1. I don’t think it is fair to dismiss further consideration of this problem just because we have been lucky not to have a fatality there yet. Lack of adequate signage at that complex intersection is an accident waiting to happen, and I would hope that the city would take this a little more seriously before someone gets killed and you are forced to do something about it. Let’s put up warning signs like the ones we have on Francisco by the RV Park. Let’s not wait until there are teddy bears, crosses, and flowers on Francisco at Sharp Park. Aren’t we supposed to be all about prevention, safety, and proactive planning? Let’s not leave it to luck. Do you want that risk on your conscience?


On 7/28/08 11:11 AM, "Saunders, James" <> wrote:

Hi All,
We conducted some research on this “Deadly Intersection” and discovered we have had a whopping 2 non-injury accidents at that location in the last 9 years.  So, it does not quite rise to the level of “Deadly” at this point.
Best regards,
Jim Saunders
Chief of Police
Pacifica Police Department
(650) 738-7314

Giants Fan Scores on Error: Good Catch, Meat!

Baseball fans know that "E" is for error, but in this case, "E" is also for effort. To wit: I have a grammar gene that predisposes me to correct other people's bad English. It's practically a reflex action. So the other night I was sitting at AT&T Park watching the San Francisco Giants play a game with much heart but little luck. I looked up at the Giants' giant center-field scoreboard screen and saw the ballpark described as "premiere." Error! The adjective is spelled "premier," with no "e" on the end. (Premiere is a verb meaning to open or debut, and a noun meaning an opening or a debut.)

So the next day I called Lindsay at AT&T Park and told her about the huge, glaring typo on the Jumbotron. She said she would check with her boss and get back to me. I waited a week, then called her back. She said they had looked up the word on and had discovered both spellings but wrongly assumed that either spelling was correct.

I explained that premier and premiere are two entirely different words, and that premier is the correct word for the ballpark banner. Lindsay again said she would have to call me back after consulting with her boss. This time she called back within minutes. "We decided you were right," she said, adding that they would notify the team about the blooper and have it changed on the electronic display.

Rack up another putout on my scorecard. Give me an "E"!




Fear & Loathing at Francisco On-Ramp to Hwy. 1

The Francisco/Sharp Park on-ramp to southbound Highway 1 is a very scary intersection.

First, northbound motorists merging right onto the ramp are supposed to yield to southbound traffic, which does not stop. But too many jerks just blow right through the yield sign, causing left-turning drivers to have to slam on their brakes even though they have the right of way. Stronger enforcement and bolder signage are needed.

Second, northbound motorists going straight have a stop sign, while southbound motorists turning left onto the ramp don't stop because they don't have a stop sign. Too many northbound motorists take off from the stop without waiting for southbound drivers to complete their left turns onto the on-ramp. What is needed here is a sign like the one on Francisco in Manor warning drivers that oncoming traffic does not stop. That sign was put up after someone died in a traffic accident.

So are we waiting for a death in Sharp Park before we put up warning signs and enforce existing signs? City traffic engineers and police must address these problems ASAP before someone dies at this scary intersection.

UPDATE: On July 28, the city answered our call for help, saying that it and Caltrans will post new warning signs and increase the size of the existing signs.


Editor and Publisher

American Embassy in Khartoum Hosts Sudanese Writers and Editors


These pictures were taken at a reception I hosted for Sudanese journalists this evening. Most of the people you see are reporters and editors, but there are a few Sudanese colleagues from the embassy in there as well. What I particularly liked about the gathering was that we had reporters from newspapers across the political spectrum, and that is not a small accomplishment in these parts.

American Embassy
Khartoum, Sudan