Tummy Ache

May 31, 2010

Spam is usually a nuisance, but sometimes it can be quite informative and even entertaining. Take this example received from one of my favourite spammers, Antoinette Pombo. She specializes in hawking dubious health products on behalf of an organization called Fleet Street Publications. It was Antoinette—by the way may I call you Toni? Antoinette is a fistful too far for my typing; in return you may call me Grumps—who provided me with first intelligence of the Q-link and the low-down on testicular cancer. Here is the start of her latest dithyramb, this time in praise of an individual called Jonathan V. Wright. I’ll try to preserve her HTML if possible to give you the taste and aroma of the sheer idiocy of her outpourings.

Shattering discovery



Your
body’s worst enemy is…




Your

STOMACH


Suffering from Asthma?


It’s your
stomach…




Are
you losing your memory?



It’s your
stomach…




Are your arteries
diseased?



It’s your
stomach…




Or maybe you have
macular degeneration? Osteoporosis? Chronic Hives? Gallbladder disease?
Angina? Arthritis? Cockrot? Ingrowing Toenails?


It’s
all your stomach…


Here’s one simple
trick to tame your stomach and live healthier than ever


It goes on in much the same vein for another 2,000 words, so I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, but will share with you some of the more amusing quotes. I must state at this point that I had hitherto not heard of the good (or perhaps not) Dr Wright. In the course of my researches I discovered that he is the hero and blue-eyed boy of the arch-crackpot Suzanne Somers, which is not the right foot on which to be starting off. I am not qualified to know whether or not Dr Wright is a quack; I’ll merely point out that he is listed on Quackwatch with a red asterisk, indicating that he may very well be.

Toni begins by offering a series of anecdotes in which the hero, who is at death’s door, goes to see Dr Wright and within a few short weeks is totally cured. Take Hernando, whose legs were so knackered his doctors wanted to amputate. After seeing Dr Wright he was leaping like a hart (whatever that may be). Or John who had angina, or Sam who had macular degeneration, or…

All these people were allegedly suffering from hypochlorydria—too little stomach acid, which Dr Wright apparently knows how to cure.

After the “case studies”, Toni gives a truly boot-licking, sycophantic resume of Dr Wright’s career and qualifications:

“No other doctor of our time has crusaded harder or sacrificed more to bring the healing power of nutrition to ordinary people like you and me than Dr Wright.”

This is one impressive guy: he was awarded “the highest medical honour ever” which I must assume is an honour higher even than the Nobel prize. Well, Toni says it is, so who am I to argue? She is referring to the Linus Pauling Lifetime Achievement Award (LPLAA), of which I have never heard. I have, however, heard of Linus Pauling who is one of only two scientists to win two Nobel prizes, one for physics and the other for chemistry. (There is some speculation that he was in line for the Peace prize as well, but he was passed over.) In the latter part of his life he descended into crackpothood, though, advocating the consumption of staggering quantities of vitamin C.

A search of the internet reveals that the LPLAA is perhaps not what it’s cracked up to be: a google search for “Linus Pauling Lifetime Achievement Award” yields only three results, all of which are about Dr Wright. It seems no one else has ever been the recipient of this mysterious award, or indeed knows anything about it.

Then we are treated to the usual rants against “mafia-style pharmaceutical companies” and “the capitalist institutions that have a death-grip on our health and quality of life”, which Toni always inserts into her pieces. I’m sure she even sticks this stuff into her christmas cards.

And, at last, we get to the punchline. We too can be cured of just about everything if we subscribe to Dr Wright’s publication Nutrition & Healing which will cost a mere R57 per month. As is customary for quack remedies, Dr Wright’s snake oil is marketed as a substitute for not supplemental to science-based treatments, which means people will inevitably be harmed by falling for Toni’s nonsense. It doesn’t really matter though; if you’re dumb enough to buy this tripe, then you deserve your fate.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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Cyber Jiggery-Pokery

May 25, 2010

Sometimes we get ripped off in subtle ways. An example of this is the thumb drive for my computer which I recently bought. It purports to have a capacity of 8GB, but it really doesn’t, for two reasons.

Because the internal architecture of computers depends on switches which can be in one of two states, computer storage comes in exponents of 2. A bit is one such switch and a byte is an array of eight, or 2 cubed. Unfortunately, when computer science was in its infancy, it was decided to hijack terminology from the decimal world to describe binary quantities. Kilo in decimal-speak means 1000 (10 to the power of 3), but in the binary world it is taken to mean 2 to the power of 10, which is 1024.

Similarly, Giga in decimal is the prefix which means 10 to the power of 9 (1,000,000,000), but in binary it means 2 to the power of 30, or 1,073,741,824. In my view it is reasonable when purchasing a computer storage device to assume that the quantity quoted is a binary quantity, not a decimal one, but this is not what actually happens. My so-called 8 Gigabyte drive, which should store 2 to the power of 33 bytes (8,589,934,592) actually only stores the decimal quantity (8,000,000,000 bytes), so I have been short-changed by nearly 600MB, enough to store a full length feature film.

To be completely fair, this is partly the fault of the computer scientists who should have come up with their own terminology from the beginning; the other (larger) part of the fault comes from the hardware marketers who cynically exploit the ambiguity to gain a competitive edge in a cut-throat market.

We also get ripped off in blatant, unsubtle ways. This same drive contains files which are allegedly essential for the correct operation of the device, and are not removable. These files are not stored in an area in addition to the 8 GB which I am supposed to have; they are part of the 8GB, so they eat further into the amount of storage I thought I was buying and would have available for my use.

These files are Windows executable files which are of no use to me whatsoever because I don’t run Windows on my computer—the files don’t do anything at all, but take up a few hundred MB of space which I thought I was buying for my own use. Because it isn’t worth the manufacturer’s while to produce different versions of their product for different operating platforms, we all have to suffer because of poor Windows design, even if we don’t use Windows.

What can we do about it? Not a lot, unfortunately. I suppose we could approach the advertising standards authority and tell them that this thing we have bought isn’t what it says on the tin, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope from that quarter, or from other related agencies or consumer protection organizations. We just have to put up with it if we want to buy these things, and be aware that we aren’t going to get what we should be getting.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.


Fuel Follies

May 13, 2010

A few times a year I receive in my email inbox idiotic chain letters sent to me by people who, I think, hit the “forward” button without bothering to read what they are sending out. Here’s one that I received yesterday:

 

RAND MERCHANT BANK:
This is about petrol prices and an invitation to join the resistance. By the end of this month petrol prices are set to soar even higher.

If we want the petrol price to come down, we all need to take some intelligent, united action.

Last year there was a “don’t buy petrol day”-but the oil companies just laughed at that because they knew that we would “hurt” ourselves by refusing to buy petrol.

It was more of an inconvenience to us than a problem to them.
But, whoever thought of the ideas, has come up with a plan that can really work.
 
READ ON AND JOIN THE ACTION!!

By now you probably thinking petrol priced at about R7.00 is cheap. It is currently at +- R8.00 for regular and unleaded.

Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations (the bullies like US and Britain) have conditioned us to think that the cost of a liter is cheap at
R 7.00 ,
we need to take aggressive action to teach them that buyers control the marketplace……… not the sellers.

With the price of petrol going up each day, we consumers need to take action.

The only way we are going to see the price of petrol come down is if we hit someone in the pocket by not purchasing their petrol.

And we can do that without hurting ourselves.

How?

Since we rely on our cars, we just cannot stop buying petrol.

But we can have an impact on petrol prices if we all act together to force a price war.
Here’s the idea:
For the rest of the year, don’t purchase any petrol from the two biggest overseas oil companies (which are now one), SHELL and BP…
(Local is Lekka – So buy Sasol / Engen / Excel)
If the overseas companies are not selling any petrol, they will be inclined to reduce their prices.

If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit.

But to have an impact we need to reach literally millions of petrol buyers.

It is really simple to do!

Now, don’t wimp out at this point…keep reading, and all will be revealed as to how simple it is to reach millions of people.

I am sending this message to 30 people. If each in turn sends it to another 10 people (30 x 10 = 300)…and those 300 send it to at least 10 people 300 x 10 = 3000)
And so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people; we will have reached over 3 million consumers!

If those 3 million people get exited and pass this on to 10 friends each then 30 million consumers will have been reached. If it goes one level further, you guessed it three hundred million people!

Again, all you have to do is to send this to 10 people. That’s all.

How long will all that take? If each of us sends this e-mail out to 10 people within one day of receipt, all 300 million people could conceivably
be contacted within the next 8 days! Acting together we can make a difference.
If you’re fed up paying too much for petrol, please pass this message on.
COMMENCING  NOW  DON’T BUY BP /SHELL, go and support SA Brand SASOL,
our currency and economy will be strengthen by 65% in 18 months the capital will stay in SA.
Africa must stop feeding the world giants it must feed itself.

I cannot do justice here to the garish, primary colours and huge, teletubbies font sported by the original document, but we can try to deconstruct the meaning of the text.

The first line (and the title of the attachment) is Rand Merchant Bank. Did the author of this crap really think any reader would be stupid enough to think that this is an official communication from that organization? Why else put it in?

Then comes an invitation to join “the resistance”. Doesn’t that bring to mind an image of courageous heroes squatting in the night with sten guns at the ready, waiting to do battle with the dark forces of evil? And who are the forces of evil? Shell and BP, apparently. Why those two? Your guess is as good as mine.

We are told that oil prices are set to soar “even higher” at the end of this month. How does the author know? The oil price depends on the international spot oil price and on the relative value of the rand to the dollar. If the author of this drivel knows either of those two things with certainty, he or she could make a fortune and be able to afford as much petrol as he or she wants. The petrol price that we pay at the pump is not set by the oil companies, but is a regulated price set by the government (that presumably this moron voted for) and is a combination of the basic crude oil price, the cost of refining petrol from the crude oil, the total cost of transportation, the cost of the distribution infrastructure, profit for each company in the chain and various government taxes. And we can consider ourselves fortunate that it isn’t higher than it is—in the UK the price for unleaded petrol is £1.21 per litre, or about R17 per litre, more that double the price we pay.

The next paragraph exhorts us to take “intelligent action”. With absolutely no respect whatsoever, I must state that the author would not recognise intelligence if it bit him.

Any communication that contains multiple punctuation marks, as in “JOIN THE ACTION!!” should be treated with the contempt it deserves; it will certainly not contain anything worth knowing.

“Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations (the bullies like US and Britain)…”. The US and Britain are not members of OPEC. This cretin’s ignorance is really starting to get to me now.

“…we need to take aggressive action to teach them that buyers control the marketplace…….not the sellers.” How is it possible to walk on your hind legs and breathe unassisted and yet be so ignorant of basic economic facts? Markets are controlled by BOTH buyers and sellers, who come to an agreement on price. That’s what a “market” is. If a buyer feels the price of a particular commodity is too high he is at liberty not to buy it; if a seller thinks the price is too low, he is at liberty not to sell it. Some oil producing nations, mindful of the fact that oil is their only source of wealth, and that once the oil runs out they will (thanks to a disfunctional education system dictated by their idiotic religion) have to revert to their previous existence as camel-herders, try to make their oil reserves last as long as possible while realising the highest possible price for their product. To this end they agree amongst themselves to cut down production thereby causing an artificial supply deficit which means they can get higher prices. This practice is of limited effect because there are oil producing countries who are not part of the cartels and who are happy to increase their output to make up for the shortfall.

We are then exhorted to hit the oil companies in the pocket by not buying their product. Here is a factoid that may shed some light on the idiocy of this point of view: South Africa accounts for less than 1% of global oil consumption. If everyone stopped buying petrol in South Africa today and went back to walking and transporting goods by donkey-cart, the oil companies would hardly notice; prices would not be affected at all.

The author of this nonsense suggests that we are to boycott Shell and BP products in favour of those from Sasol and Engen, because they are local. Well, actually, they aren’t: they are merely distributers of fuel obtained from overseas suppliers including, you guessed it, Shell and BP. Some of Sasol’s petrol comes from their oil-from-coal plants, but this is a small percentage of sales.

Then comes the usual crap about how many people can be reached if everyone is stupid enough to forward chain letters to everyone in their contact list. The truth of the matter is that the author of this bullshit is too dumb to write a computer virus, but this is the next best thing. If you receive bullshit like this in your inbox, please resist the urge to forward it—the internet is already so clogged up with crap there’s hardly any room left for honest porn.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.