Archive for category Technology

New book about the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt

I have published my first book! The title is:

Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science

The book describes in greater detail the research about wind setdown that I published at PLoS ONE four years ago. The biblical context for Between Migdol and the Sea is Exodus 14: the narrative of Moses parting the waters of the yam suf at God’s command. The first two chapters tell what it might have been like to be present on that fateful night, with the east wind howling and the Egyptian chariot force in hot pursuit.

The Kedua Gap

Figure 7-3. Flying over the Kedua Gap with Google Earth.

The book presents the Tanis hypothesis, which is my designation for the crossing site at the Kedua Gap in the eastern Nile delta. The Exodus occurred in the time period 1251 – 1245 BC. There were not millions of Hebrews who crossed the Red Sea, but approximately 35,750 men, women, and children in the departing company. Between Migdol and the Sea provides evidence for the historicity of the Exodus; although mythical elements have been added to the original account in later retelling, the departure from Egypt and the Red Sea crossing really happened. I provide latitude-longitude coordinates and maps so that readers can examine these places for themselves.

These scientific details are woven through a story of scientific discovery; from making an embarrassing mistake during my first semester of graduate school, to finding an old map in the University of Colorado Library, to discovering Open Access publishing. The world reacted to the PLoS ONE paper with every emotion from enthusiasm to hostility. The book concludes with a chapter explaining how faith and science are compatible and should be in harmony.

I hired a free-lance editor to review the text. Other friends read portions of the book and give me their comments. Technical details about the ocean model were published at the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLoS ONE in two papers.

Miracles

I see no need for physical laws to be suspended in order to make the waters part and leave a dry passage across the yam suf. The COAWST ocean model calculates a physical scenario that is consistent with the narrative in Exodus 14. A coastal lagoon (ancestral Lake Manzala) shifts to the west under wind stress and splits around a peninsula, leaving a temporarily dry land bridge with water on both sides of the Israelites.

The miracle is in the timing; a fortuitous weather event arrives at the right moment to deliver Moses and his company from destruction. In similar fashion, the Apostle Peter knew that Jesus had directed the miraculous catch of fish (John 21:1-14), even though the law of gravity remained constant throughout the Galilee event. Of course the crossing of the Red Sea is a miracle!

LibreOffice for Book Writing

Printed books are complicated. Do you know what is a book’s “trim size”? Do you know what image “bleed” means? Do you know the difference between the gutter margin and the edge margins? I didn’t know these things a couple of months ago; now I do.

I created the book entirely with LibreOffice, including the print layout. I wrote each chapter as a separate document, then combined them with a Master document that supplied the title pages and publisher’s page. Since Between Migdol and the Sea is a technical scientific book, I included figures, tables, citations in each chapter, and an overall Index at the back of the book. At times I wished I were writing some Flames of Desire romance novel, so I wouldn’t have all these extra elements to deal with. But LibreOffice was suitable for the task. From time to time I did Google for hints about how to accomplish certain publishing tasks that puzzled me.

A couple of lessons for anyone who wants to Indie Publish a technical book:

  1. It’s okay to compose the text in 8.5×11 size paper, but you should create your figures in the 6×9-inch trim size from the beginning. Line drawings scale pretty well; labels do not. Same thing for tables.
  2. Try to do things the standard way that book publishers do them. Get a comparable book and examine it closely. I thought it would be easier on the reader to group my citations for each individual chapter into a compact list of References at the end of the chapter. That way each chapter reads like a complete published paper. Maybe LibreOffice can do this, but I could not figure it out. So I ended up with a single multi-page Bibliography containing all my references at the end of the book before the Index, just like everybody else does it.

CreateSpace at Amazon.com

Although I value what literary agents and book publishers can contribute to the publication process, for reasons of timing I chose the Independent Publishing route. I selected Amazon’s CreateSpace as my self-publishing platform for Between Migdol and the Sea. CreateSpace worked out well for me.

The basic approach is to create one PDF to represent the entire book interior in black-and white, and a second PDF to represent the book cover in color. CreateSpace must handle a lot of indie authors, because they have a well-polished web site and an extensive user community. I answered a few of my questions by poking around in the user forum.

The CreateSpace web tools reminded me of PLoS ONE; there always seemed to be a check box or option or help message to get you what you need. This is unlike the traditional scientific journals, who leave it up to the author to figure out how to generate a tiff image file. CreateSpace has templates for the book size and cover, and an automated reviewing tool to look over your interior PDF before printing the first proof. After some fiddling and multiple uploads, my manuscript started to look like a real book!

I am still working to prepare the Kindle version.

Print On Demand

A traditional publisher makes a “print run” of several thousand books and then offers them for sale through various outlets (mail order, bookstores). I’ll make up some numbers here for illustration: let’s say that each book in the print run costs the publisher $5. The initial setup costs for a print run are high, but the marginal cost of each book is low, so they have to print thousands of books to keep the cost per unit down. If the book costs $20 list price, then everyone in the chain can make some money, including the author.

The problem with a print run is inventory. The publisher may have thousands of printed books in storage until they (hopefully) sell. Bookstores have to keep books in stock. If the author and publisher want to release a new edition, they have to wait until all the unsold inventory is cleared out of the pipeline. Inventory can pose a problem.

Print On Demand (POD) is an online printing technology whereby each individual book is printed when an order is received. When the online reader (that’s you) clicks the Purchase button, some electronic printer in some light manufacturing facility downloads the cover PDF and interior PDF, prints them out, automatically folds the cover around the pages, glues them together, and cuts them off to the trim size – Ka-Chunk! Then the completed book slides down a chute along with the mailing label. Some human being wraps the book and ships it, or maybe the packaging is automated, too.

Let’s say that each Printed On Demand book costs the publisher $10 to manufacture. (I don’t think POD can be as cheap as a multi-thousand-book print run, but maybe someday.) The book has to have a list price near $20 to compete with the traditional publishing method. There appears to be less money for everyone in the POD publishing chain, but there are no expensive warehouses full of expensive inventory any more. That’s how Print On Demand can compete with traditional print runs.

Furthermore, CreateSpace can afford to take a chance on unknown first-time independent authors like me, because they don’t have to risk getting stuck with thousands of unsold books. And that is why Indie Publishing has gained some traction in the book publishing industry.

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Lake Erie Is My Laboratory

I recently published another scientific paper in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE. Since PLoS ONE is Open Access, anyone can read the paper without a journal subscription:

Using Wind Setdown and Storm Surge on Lake Erie to Calibrate the Air-Sea Drag Coefficient

The publication date was August 19, 2013. Here is the full citation:
Drews C (2013) Using Wind Setdown and Storm Surge on Lake Erie to Calibrate the Air-Sea Drag Coefficient. PLoS ONE 8(8): e72510. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072510

The purpose of the research was to validate the results of the COAWST ocean model (Coupled-Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave- Sediment Transport Modeling System) with actual observations of storm surge. The paper has a lot of figures that we call “spaghetti plots;” these are charts that show multiple time series on a single plot. We call them spaghetti plots because they look like a bunch of noodles stretched from left to right across the page:

Figure 11. December 2006: Wind setdown and storm surge, with experiments E4, E18, E21, and E23. From Drews (2013).

Figure 11. December 2006: Wind setdown and storm surge, with experiments E4, E18, E21, and E23. From Drews (2013).

In Figure 11, the black line represents the observations of water level taken at the Fermi power plant at the western end of the lake, and at Buffalo at the eastern end of the lake. The colored lines represent various model runs. The goal here is to get the colored lines to match the black line as closely as possible. This is done by adjusting the COAWST model parameters in a sensible manner. Adjustments include: the numerical formula for the air-sea drag coefficient, the bottom drag coefficient, the influence of waves, and the algorithm used to simulate wave action, and the presence of ice on the lake.

Why Lake ErieLake Erie happens to be a near-perfect natural laboratory for conducting this kind of experiment. The lake is long, shallow, and subject to strong winds from the west that cause the lake water to slosh back and forth like a big bathtub. Since the lake is surrounded by populated areas in the United States and Canada, there are many weather stations along the coastline that provide archived meteorological data. Lake Erie is also an important seaway for international commerce, and NOAA provides accurate measurements of tides and currents at major ports on the lake. I can run simulation experiments with confidence in the observations that I am trying to match.

The paper describes two windstorms on Lake Erie: December 1–2, 2006 and January 30–31, 2008. Lake Erie is 400 km long and 90 km wide. Since I don’t have a gigantic fan big enough to blow the lake water around and measure what happens, I have to wait for nature to do the blowing instead. Fortunately for me, these windstorms occur often enough to provide several usable data sets. Better yet, there were no human fatalities in either of these storms.

The potential result of the research is a more accurate model for storm surge. When building coastal defenses such as floodwalls, it is crucial to know how high the ocean will rise when the next hurricane comes ashore. The difference between building a seawall one foot higher than the maximum surge, and one foot lower than the maximum surge, can be disastrous.

Moses Crossing the Red Sea

In 2010 I published another paper on wind setdown and storm surge:
Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta

That earlier paper reported the emergence of a land bridge in the eastern Nile delta under certain conditions of wind speed and direction. For readers of funmurphys who are interested in Moses crossing the Red Sea, the ocean model indicated that Moses would have 4 hours to lead the Israelites across the yam suf.

At the time, I suspected that the estimate of 4.0 hours was somewhat conservative; that is, the dry passage probably would have stayed open for a longer period of time. There were several factors that we did not include in the 2010 research, such as waves and a drag coefficient more suited to coastal conditions. I had a hunch that these additional factors would increase the duration of the passage. However, the rigorous nature of scientific publishing requires that scientists cannot publish more than a few paragraphs of speculation; peer-reviewed journals require concrete results supported by evidence from observations and computer models.

The Lake Erie research provided a chance for me to test my earlier hunch. I was pleased to find that my hunch was correct; but better yet, that I could provide a revised number for the crossing time. Here it is: Moses had over 8 hours to evacuate all the Israelites from Pi-Hahiroth to safety at Tell Kedua on the other side of the yam suf. Or, for scholars who are more interested in the wind speed, an east wind blowing at 24 meters per second is sufficient to hold open the dry passage for 4 hours (the 2010 paper reported 28 m/s).

Figure 13. Corrections applied to the Lake of Tanis and the Kedua Gap. From Drews (2013).

Figure 13. Corrections applied to the Lake of Tanis and the Kedua Gap. From Drews (2013).

I like this result, because it shows that there is some engineering tolerance to the solution. Although God can of course do anything He wants to do, as an engineer I am happier with a answer in which the parameters can vary a bit and still work. The 2013 paper demonstrates that the Kedua Gap is a more robust reconstruction of Exodus 14 than originally thought.

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The Science Behind Biblical Events

That was the title of the article in Newsmax magazine, December 2012, pages 64-66. The subtitle was:

Researchers use new technology to search for the truth behind the stories in the Bible.

This article gave several examples of scientific research that supports certain biblical accounts. Newsmax reporter Jack Penman led off by describing my research about Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. I published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE describing the meteorological phenomenon of wind setdown occurring at a place called the Kedua Gap in the eastern Nile delta. A strong wind blowing overnight can indeed cause the waters of the yam suf to recede and divide.

Newsmax covered the following research topics:

  • Parting of the Red Sea during the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt
  • The 10 Plagues
    Author Graham Phillips attributes the plagues visited upon Egypt during the Exodus to the eruption of the volcanic island Thera (Santorini) in Greece. I am more familiar with biblical scholar Kenneth Kitchen, who points out that the first nine plagues correspond to a physical sequence of catastrophic natural events following a high Nile. (See “On The Reliability of the Old Testament” (2003), Table 18 on page 251.)
  • Resurrection of Lazarus
    The article cites the resuscitation of a woman declared medically dead. To me, this example does not match the details of the story recorded in John 11. Nevertheless, we Christians are supposed to follow Jesus’ example, and if we can prevent premature death by medical means, that’s all to the good!
  • Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
    The article mentions a hypothesis that the two sinful cities were destroyed by an asteroid, and the event was recorded on a Sumerian clay tablet. You can read more at this article, or search for these keywords: Sodom Gomorrah asteroid Sumerian astronomer Alan Bond Mark Hempsell Köfels.
  • Burning Bush
    Colin Humphreys suggested in his book “The Miracles of Exodus” (2004) that the burning bush was above a volcanic fissure emitting hot gases.
  • Noah’s Flood
    The article cites William Ryan and Walter Pittman and the Black Sea Flood as being the probable source of the Flood story in Genesis and the Gilgamesh Epic.

Whether these ideas will withstand further research and scientific scrutiny remains to be seen, and this is true of all hypotheses. What is notable about the Newsmax article is that they have taken neither extreme position:

  1. Every biblical event occurred exactly as some fundamentalists interpret the King James Version of the Bible.
  2. The Old Testament contains no valid history prior to the Babylonian exile; it was fabricated by Hellenic Jews to create a fictional glorious history.

With regard to extreme position 1, Ryan and Pittman understand the Flood to be a local flood, not a global one. The Black Sea flood was a traumatic event for the people of the time, and they carried those memories forward in their oral history. There is no young-earth Flood Geology here.

Extreme position 2 is rejected by the findings of science. Not only are the biblical narratives scientifically plausible and difficult for ancient bards to fabricate, but research confirms important details of the stories. The plagues follow a natural chain of environmental events; the author of Exodus is not merely stepping through the Egyptian pantheon.

Reporter Jack Penman concludes: “maybe science and religion can better coexist.” Amen to that!

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“Proving God” on the History channel

Wind setdown and Exodus 14

On December 13, 2011, I appeared in a TV documentary titled “Proving God” shown on the History Channel. My section of the program described how scientists investigate the narrative of Moses parting the “Red Sea” in Exodus 14. Sir Colin Humphreys and I explained how the meteorological phenomenon of wind setdown matches the Biblical account. I am providing here a transcript of what I said on the program; since this blog represents Fair Use in a scholarly setting, I can only provide a limited section of the text.

Ancient Nile delta

Figure 1. Reconstruction of the Nile delta by James Rennell, based on the writings of Herodotus. The black rectangle shows the site of Drews and Han's proposed crossing site at the Kedua Gap (30.9812 North, 32.4553 East). This is Figure 2 of Drews Carl, Han Weiqing, 2010 Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta. PLoS ONE 5(8): e12481. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012481.

Narrator: Atmospheric scientist Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research believes Humphreys may be onto something.

Carl Drews: Wind setdown occurs when a strong wind blows over a period of time across a surface of water; and gradually the water moves in the direction of the wind, and pulls away from the shoreline, and so the surface of the ocean moves down. So what you have there is a section of dry land where there was formerly sea bed.

Narrator: Accessing the power of supercomputers, Drews has studied the effect of wind setdown in locations ranging from the Nile, and coastal England, to a pair of such episodes in the Great Lakes in 2006 and 2008.

Carl Drews: Wind setdown is observed about every 5-10 years on Lake Erie. You have these strong storms that come from the west, and they cause storm surge at Buffalo; but on the Toledo side, which is the upwind side, the large sections of the lake will be completely dry. The water will have disappeared over the horizon!

Colin Humphreys: It’s been observed that the difference in height between one end of Lake Erie and the other can be as high as 16 feet. Absolutely staggering, right? You’d expect Lake Erie to be level water, but in a strong wind, blowing for many hours – 16 feet difference!

Reconstructing the event

Narrator: Harnessing data gathered from NASA satellites, Carl Drews creates an ocean model and terrain map of the Gulf [of Tineh], to examine the possible effects of such a storm.

Parting the Sea at the Kedua Gap

Figure 2. Wind parting the waters at the Kedua Gap. The east wind creates a temporary land bridge at Tell Kedua in the eastern Nile delta. This is Figure 1 from Parting the waters: Computer modeling applies physics to Red Sea escape route, press release by University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, September 21, 2010. (©UCAR, Illustration by Nicolle Rager Fuller.)

Carl Drews: I used geological maps, geological surveys, and sediment cores to reconstruct the configuration of lagoons and rivers that were [present] during the Exodus period. Then I ran this on the ocean model with a supercomputer and applied a digital wind to this, a wind blowing at 63 miles per hour. It would be difficult to walk into that kind of wind, but it’s possible. You can make forward progress.

[break]

Narrator: Combining the Biblical account of the crossing with the scientific modeling, Drews constructs a timeline that matches the conditions described in Exodus: the perfect storm.

Carl Drews: The Bible says that this occurred over a night, so – wind blowing for 12 hours suddenly stops, and I find that the waters part, and stay parted for a period of 4 hours. Then they rush back together again.

Narrator: But even given 4 hours to cross the exposed land bridge, it would have been impossible for 2 million Israelites to traverse the Red Sea and escape. Does the scientific evidence disprove the Bible account?

Carl Drews: That would be a lot of people to get through a small space in just 4 hours.

Colin Humphreys: This number is unbelievably large! A lot of people think the Exodus story is made up.

[Humphreys goes on to explain that the word 'eleph in ancient Hebrew (Strong's Concordance H505) can mean "thousand", or it can mean a "company" of soldiers - about 10 fighting men. This re-calculation leads to a total number of 20,000 Israelites of all ages, a much more manageable group of people.]

Narrator: If Humphreys’ new calculation is accurate, it bolsters the case that the Red Sea miracle really did happen.

The return surge

Narrator: From cosmology, and archaeology, to oceanography, researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines have launched a global search to discover quantifiable proof of God. Sir Colin Humphreys and Carl Drews are looking for evidence that will prove that the events described in the Bible actually occurred. Using precise calculations, along with complex computer modeling, each man has detailed a perfect storm scenario which they claim could have caused the parting of the Red Sea, just as described in the book of Exodus.

Tidal bore on the Qiantang river, China.

Figure 3. Tidal bore on the Qiantang river, Hangzhou, China. This image is from Wikimedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tidal_bore_at_the_Qiantang_river,_Hangzhou.jpg.

According to their theory, a phenomenon known as wind setdown caused winds of rare duration and force to peel back the waters long enough for the Israelites to make their way to freedom across an exposed land bridge. But the book of Exodus also describes the sudden destruction of the Pharaoh’s army as they chased the Israelites across the sea bed. To explain this, Drews and Humphreys point to the opposing natural force that can follow extreme cases of wind setdown.

A bore wave. The term defines the phenomenon where a tide returns displaced water with such force that it forms a giant wave of enormous power.

Carl Drews: When the wind stops, suddenly that water comes back again, and you would get these walls of churning water, thundering in! and crushing anybody who is left in the passage there.

Narrator: Drews’ calculations reveal that a wind setdown powerful enough to part the Red Sea would have unleashed a bore wave of staggering magnitude.

[break]

Narrator: Whether invoked by the hand of Moses, or the natural reaction to wind setdown, a bore wave of this force would have obliterated the Pharaoh’s army in an instant.

Carl Drews: Suddenly they hear this roaring in the distance! Then they look up, and what looks like a mountain of water is bearing down on them from both sides, and from the back.

Colin Humphreys: It sweeps these people back into the sea, which is precisely what the book of Exodus says. So even this little detail in the Exodus fits what we know from modern science.

Theology – faith and science

Narrator: But while these natural phenomena offer a scientific explanation for the events described in Exodus, that alone does not prove God.

Anglican cross

Figure 4. Anglican cross. From Letterkenny Cathedral, by Scolye17 at Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Celtic_Cross_Letterkenny.jpg

Carl Drews: It could be that Moses got very, very, very lucky. It could be that he was a very, very good weather forecaster.

Colin Humphreys: So you may say, Why do we call this a miracle? The reason is because of the timing. They would have been slaughtered!

Carl Drews: It’s a very unlikely event, to happen on a certain night just when you need it. If Moses is that lucky, we should all bet on Moses! (he chuckles)

Colin Humphreys: So I think it’s the timing that shows the hand of God at work.

Narrator: Both Drews and Humphreys agree that the evidence of God is not in the natural events themselves, but rather in their miraculous timing. Ultimately, it is beyond the powers of science to explain how a once-in-a-lifetime storm occurred at the exact place and time to rescue the Israelites.

[break]

Narrator: While their work has narrowed the divide between science and the Divine, these scientists admit that, for the moment, faith is needed to span the last gaps.

Carl Drews: The scientist should be humble and realize when their science cannot go into the supernatural. We only study the natural. So I study the movement of the wind and the water. According to the Bible, God sent the wind at the right time and told Moses to be there.

Further reading

Purchase “Proving God” on DVD from the History channel:
Proving God DVD

Our original scientific paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE:
Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta, by Carl Drews and Weiqing Han, August 30, 2010.

A story by reporter Anna Maria-Basquez in the Denver Catholic Register that explores the theology behind the research:
Boulder scientist’s research affirms parting of the Red Sea, December 15, 2010.

An article that I wrote for Weatherwise magazine to explain the research to a general audience:
Could Wind Have Parted the Red Sea? January/February 2011.

Other news coverage:
Parting the Sea.

Proving God” was produced by Karga Seven Pictures for History.

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Bo Hellström and copyright protection

I have at my desk an interesting and rare book: “The Israelites’ Crossing of the Red Sea”, by Professor B. Hellström, published in Stockholm in 1950. Bo Hellstrom was a professor of hydraulics in Stockholm, Sweden from 1914-1955. From Ian Larsen’s paper:

In 1923 he [B. Hellstrom] receives a grant to study wind driven seiches in lakes, a subject that he will follow on and off for a long time to come. In 1924 he suggest that it was a well timed wind-generated seiche that was to allow Moses and his tribe to cross the Red Sea and subsequently to drown Faraoh and his army. The reader of the Bible will see that Bo Hellstrom’s theory is well covered in the actual text. Hollywood on the other hand got it completely wrong as usual. (Larsen 2003)

A remarkable thing about this particular book is that it contains a hand-written dedication on the inner page by Hellstrom himself. “Professor A.E. Bretting, with best wishes for Christmas and the coming year, from Bo Hellstrom”. He touched the same page that I am touching! I like that.

The study of physical laws underlying the parting of the Red Sea has a long history. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in 94 AD urged people not to wonder if the strange narration in Exodus 14 “happened of its own accord”. But as any parent knows, as soon as you tell kids not to do something, they go ahead and do it! Generations of scientists have ignored Josephus’ advice, preferring to follow Psalm 111:2 instead. Samuel Bartlett in 1879 suggested that Moses might have taken advantage of wind-lowered water levels, crossing on a shallow ford southeast of modern Suez. Sir Alexander Tulloch actually observed a wind setdown event on Lake Manzala, which led him to conclude in 1896 that the famous passage took place between the Great Bitter Lake and Lake Timsah.

Professor Hellstrom brought the science of hydraulics to bear on the Exodus problem in 1924. In his lab he constructed a wind tunnel over a trough containing water, roughly modeling the topography of the northern reaches of the Gulf of Suez. He used an underwater sill to provide a dry crossing with water on both sides at Serapeum, the same site suggested by Tulloch. His book shows maps and detailed diagrams and photos of the water-level gauges that he built on the side of his wave tank to measure the water surface accurately. Bo Hellstrom was quite the experimentalist! His diagrams look a lot like mine.

Thus, by means of this laboratory experiment, which admittedly is only approximate, proof was obtained of the fact that it may very well be conceived that the wind uncovered the bottom of the Red Sea at Serapeum. It was possible by means of these experiments and exhaustive theoretical investigations to establish the natural laws which prevail. (Hellström 1950, p. 21)

So I have this fascinating book in my hands, and I would like to share Hellström’s scholarship with the rest of the world. As Dr. Frank J. Little, Jr. has stated, “Our purpose is to return Hellstrom’s Exodus hypothesis to the scientific community, plus quantify and update it in light of newly synthesized evidence.” How can I do that? Bartlett’s book is available through Google Books, and anyone can read it on-line. I had to get Hellstrom’s book through an Interlibrary Loan with California State University at Fresno. That’s a big difference in terms of ease of access! People will find and read Samuel Bartlett quicker and more often than Bo Hellstrom.

Samuel Bartlett died in 1898. His work is now in the public domain, and this is why Google can legally digitize his book and make it available on-line. Bo Manne Hellstrom died in 1967. Sweden has a copyright term of 70 years after the author’s death, so his copyright will not expire until the fair year 2037. And until then, “The Israelites’ Crossing of the Red Sea” will languish in Interlibrary Loan Land. Ick.

If Hellstrom’s book suddenly became an overnight sensation, and if scads of people were clamoring for it and paying thousands of dollars to obtain one of the rare copies, then the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm would take notice and starting printing a new edition of the book. They would make lots of money and send royalties to Hellstrom’s heirs, wherever they are now. That’s why copyrights endure long after an author’s death, and the system works well for people like Mark Twain and Walt Disney.

Unfortunately, the copyright system is not serving B. Hellström very well. His book contains scholarly and historical interest, but with all due respect, “The Israelites’ Crossing of the Red Sea” will never be a best-seller like “Huckleberry Finn”. Nor does anyone expect that – scholars are valued for their intellectual contributions, not necessarily for their popularity with the general public. Bo Hellstrom’s work will remain locked up for another 26 years where only a few determined scholars will read it; unlike his predecessor Bartlett, who can be read by any high school student who enters the right search string into Google.

Professor Hellstrom would have benefited from Open Access. It would have increased his scholarly impact. We would still be reading his work and he would get all the credit. Too bad the Open Access movement came too late for him.


Special thanks to Professor Ian Larsen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm for supplying additional information on Bo Hellström. Larsen adds, “A E Bretting was professor in Hydraulic Engineering in Copenhagen and retired around 1958.” I would love to know how Hellstrom’s book made its way from Copenhagen to Cal State Fresno, but I have enough historical mysteries for one lifetime already!

References:

Bartlett, Samuel Colcord, 1879. From Egypt to Palestine: through Sinai, the wilderness and the south country. Harper, New York, New York, USA.

Drews, Carl, and Weiqing Han, 2010. Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta. PLoS ONE, 5(8): e12481. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012481

Drews, Carl, 2011. Could Wind Have Parted the Red Sea? Weatherwise, January-February 2011, 64, 30-35. doi:10.1080/00431672.2011.536122

Hellström, Bo, 1950. The Israelites’ Crossing of the Red Sea. The Institution of Hydraulics, The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. First published in the Swedish language in 1924.

Larsen, Ian, 2003. A La Recherce du Temps Perdu: The times of J Gust Richert and thereafter. Zentech Belgium, Brussels, Belgium.

Tulloch, Alexander Bruce, 1896. Passage of the Red Sea by the Israelites. Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute (now Faith and Thought) 28, 267-280. The Victoria Institute, London, United Kingdom.

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Mississippi Flooding and the Atchafalaya spillway

News sources are quoting a figure of 1.5 million cubic feet per second for the current flow of the Mississippi River at the Morganza spillway. That is a lot of water!

 

http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/morganza-spillway-consequences_2011-05-11

http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/spillways-lower-mississippi-louisiana_2011-05-10?page=3

 

To get a visceral idea of how much water that is, my brother Mike from Sandy, Utah sent me some calculations describing how the flow at Morganza (above Baton Rouge) compares to the flow of the Colorado River. 1.5 million cfs is equal to 34.43526 acre feet / second. By comparison, the total capacity of Lake Powell is 24,322,000 acre feet; currently 53.99% full, available capacity 11,205,145 acre feet. The Upper Colorado Basin is supposed to provide an average of 7.5 million acre feet each year past Lees Ferry, Arizona. On Wednesday (May 11, 2011) the flow into Lake Powell was 31,862 cfs, and outflow was 14,791 cfs. Little Cottonwood Creek flood stage is around 500 cfs (coming down into Sandy from Alta and Snowbird).

 

Lake Powell capacity and percent full numbers are taken from http://lakepowell.water-data.com/. Lake Mead capacity and percent full numbers are taken from from http://lakemead.water-data.com/.

 

So at 1.5 million cfs, the Mississippi would deliver the annual flow past Lees Ferry in 2.52 days, would fill the currently available storage in Lake Powell in 3.77 days, and would then fill the available capacity in Lake Mead in another 4.96 days. That’s a lot of water! If I could somehow capture and store 1 second of the current Mississippi flow, I could easily water my yard for the rest of my life. And they would never miss it!

 

You can read more about this at “The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya”: (February 23, 1987):

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1987/02/23/1987_02_23_039_TNY_CARDS_000347146

That link is an old article by John McPhee about attempts to control nature, which is probably getting a lot of web traffic these days. If the Old River Control Structure were to fail, most of the flow of the Mississippi would flow down the Atchafalaya River, taking a much shorter route to the sea and leaving New Orleans and Baton Rouge along a backwater channel.

 

The interesting thing to Mike is that in the long term, the Mississippi Delta is eroding and subsiding while most of the sediment is funneled into deeper waters in the Gulf of Mexico. He further observes that to prevent the loss of the Delta and associated flooding from the ocean (especially during hurricanes), they should allow flooding from the Mississippi River to deposit sediment (mud) on the land, and probably need to let the Mississippi River take new channels to the Gulf every few hundred years.

 

And he’s right. That long lobe of the Mississippi delta past New Orleans is called a “bird’s-foot delta” because it looks like one. It’s unnatural for a delta to form like that, and it’s a consequence of 100 years of levees upriver and in the delta itself. He’s right – all the sediment is going to exactly the wrong place.

 

There is a way to fix this.

 

The Morganza diversion needs to be a sediment trap:

http://www.funmurphys.com/blog/?p=882

We need clean water to flow down the Mississippi to New Orleans (thereby eroding and deepening the built-up channel), and muddy water to pass down the Atchafalaya (thereby building up that lower-elevation lobe). How can we separate the muddy water from the clean water? Build a sediment trap!

 

The Army Corps of Engineers needs to create a small lake at the point of the diversion. When muddy water flows into a lake, the mud settles to the bottom as sediment. Clear water flows beyond that inflow delta, and eventually flows out of the lake. This is why Lake Powell is getting filled up with sediment in its upper reaches, and why the Grand Canyon is sediment-starved. The lake should have two major outflow pipes: one positioned at the lake bottom close to the inflow, and the second positioned near the lake surface at the downstream end of the lake. The “bottom near the inflow” pipe feeds sediment-laden water down the Atchafalaya river. The “surface downstream” pipe feeds clear water down the Mississippi. After decades, and some big floods like the current one, the Atchafalaya lobe will build up and the New Orleans bird’s-foot will erode away.

 

The Morganza spillway already has a stilling basin, but that’s designed to dissipate energy, not separate out the sediment.

 

Yes, it will cost a lot of money to build the sediment trap, but the alternatives are a lot more expensive. What is the cost of relocating New Orleans and Baton Rouge? We are hoping to accomplish here a controlled stream capture and relocation of the sediment load. By the way, the natural event when a river distributary carves a new channel is called a “crevasse event.” The river catastrophically breaks through the natural levee and forms a crevasse where the new channel pours out. A lot of people in the John McPhee article were terrified of a crevasse event happening on its own.

 

We need a sediment trap and decades of patience to let it work.

 

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Code Review and the King James Bible

I am a big fan of code review! Whether the software is written in Java, C++, Python, or (shudder!) Fortran, code review serves a number of important purposes in an organization that develops software. When I worked at Smarttalk.com we used a system of code review designed to produce high-quality code quickly. Here were the steps:

  1. When a developer thinks he/she is done with a single code module (one source code file), that developer calls for a code review. The broadcast e-mail and meeting invitation must go out no less than 48 hours before the scheduled review, so the other developers have at least 48 hours to look over the code before the meeting. You can schedule a code review for 3:00 pm on Thursday as long as you click on the Send button by 2:59 pm on Tuesday (and there were a few of those).
  2. The software developer can invite anyone they want to the review, but at least one participant must be at the Senior level. Go ahead and invite your friends! There was some worry about people only inviting people who would be favorable to them, but we quickly learned this principle: Friends don’t let friends write bad software. You are more likely to accept constructive criticism from your friends than from people you don’t get along with.
  3. A quorum is three people: the developer and two other software engineers, one of whom must be at the Senior level. The code review works better with about 4-5 people.
  4. The code file to review must be less than 1,000 lines long. Generally the other developers retrieve the code from the repository.
  5. The meeting will not last longer than 1 hour. If the code review runs overtime, the participants adjourn and re-schedule.
  6. The goal of the code review is to improve the code. All our jobs depend on producing and marketing high-quality software, and it is in everyone’s best interest for the code in the repository to work well and be easily maintained.
  7. Everyone is nervous at first about their work being reviewed, and for this reason there is a Moderator. The moderator makes sure everyone stays on track, watches out for criticism that is not helpful, and ensures that the experience is professionally positive for the developer. The moderator has the power to kick someone out of the meeting if they are being arrogant or derogatory. I never saw that happen, though – usually it is enough to remind someone that the goal of the code review is to improve the code.
  8. Everyone at the review sits around a table with a listing in front of them. The listing is printed with line numbers for easy reference. The developer begins with a brief explanation of the purpose of the code.
  9. The developer leads everyone else through the code, page by page, or subroutine by subroutine. Everything is fair game for improvement. The reviewers speak up in they have comments on a certain section. If not, the review moves on.
  10. It is great for less experienced programmers to attend! They can learn a lot from someone else’s code. Often they make very worthwhile contributions by requesting more extensive comments for some algorithm that is not clear. Sometimes you get people who just watch out for uniform spacing or lines longer than 80 characters. Those people contribute something positive to the process.
  11. Everyone looks for adherence to the coding standards.
  12. Sometimes design flaws are caught in a code review. The script has to sanitize input for web security. The code has to handle Unicode characters. Sometime a subroutine is just too long!
  13. Reviewers can suggest tests that might produce a failure, if they suspect a bug. The developer makes a note of those and will verify later that the software operates correctly, or fixes the bug if it does not.
  14. If extensive changes are requested, then another code review will be scheduled when the first round of changes are complete. This is rare. Even if there are lots of comments, usually the revisions take only a few days to complete.
  15. After the review: When the developer completes the requested changes to the software, he/she adds a note to the header comments of the file saying that the code was reviewed on that particular date by the following people (full names). Then the developer may check in the code, and move on to another file.

The developer under review gets completed feedback in 49 hours. I’m sure our loyal Funmurphys readers can add to this process and improve it. Tweak it for your organization. Remember that the primary purpose of code review is to improve the code. A secondary purpose is to provide on-the-job training for the more junior programmers. From time to time people will see a clever way of doing something, or suggest one, and notice code overlap that can be eliminated.

Those should be reasons enough for any professional software developer to conduct code reviews. But suppose you are out there thinking, “I’m a good engineer! I’ve written code for years, it’s well tested, and there are only a few minor bugs in my work. I’m good! I don’t need code review. It’s just a waste of my time.” Yeah, you’re kind of arrogant, but you have a right to be.

Here’s why you should request and schedule code reviews on your own code. Because someday, when you least expect it, someone else will come along and have to maintain or extend your code. And yeah, they won’t be as smart as you. They won’t understand your brilliance. They won’t take the time to read through your code and figure out how it’s carefully designed to work. What they will do is go to your boss and say the following: “This code that YourName wrote is dog poop! (but they won’t say ‘poop’)! I can’t follow it at all. This code has to be completely re-written!”

Then your boss will be faced with a dilemma. She knows you are a good software engineer and you write good code. She has not heard any problems with your code until now. But the new person is so insistent that your code is dog poop, that it has to be thrown out and re-written from scratch, and the new person uses lots of CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks and derogatory language in his e-mail complaint. I have seen this happen. What should your boss do?

Your boss has to evaluate the complaint. Your boss has to examine the code you wrote with a fine-toothed comb, checking if you are correct or if the new guy has some validity to what he says. Your boss has to call a technical review at which your detractor will be the star witness. You can’t defend yourself very well since you have moved on to another part of the project. You’re under suspicion. Unless . . .

Unless there is a short section in the header saying the following: This code was reviewed on March 28, 2010 by the following people: Ashley Adams, Bob Biltmore, Charlie Chang, and Debbie Dumas. When your boss finds that comment in the code, her course of action is simple: “Sorry, Mr. New Guy, but this code was reviewed by the software development team and found to be acceptable. You can suggest some improvements, but we are not throwing it out and re-writing the whole thing from scratch. If you cannot understand some else’s code, we will send you back into circulation and hire someone who can.”

Yes, code reviews can be held to Cover Your Anatomy. It’s not a great reason to do them. If the good reasons above are not sufficient to urge you to do code reviews, perhaps this bad one will. Enough said.

Now let’s turn back the clock 400 years to post-Elizabethan England, during the reign of King James I. He decided to produce a new translation of the Bible, the Authorized Version that would bear his name. Alister McGrath has written a great book about this period, which you should stop reading this blog to go out and buy, then come back here. The book is “In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture” (2001). The translators worked in teams. On page 187 we read this account of the actual translation process:

The translation in King James’ time took an excellent way. That part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a tongue (as the Apocrypha to Andrew Downes), and then they met together, and one read the translation, the rest holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Spanish, Italian, etc. If they found any fault, they spoke up; if not, he read on.

When I read this excerpt I laughed out loud. These guys are doing a code review! They used the same process 400 years ago to produce a good translation of the Bible that we use in modern times to produce good software! They all sat around a table and checked up on each other’s work. When the King James translators found a discrepancy, they worked together to resolve the problem That’s just what we do, too! I am sure that nobody at Smarttalk or any other software company set out to emulate the King James Bible scholars. But we have hit on the same process to produce a high-quality product.

This does not mean that the King James Bible is a perfect translation; the McGrath book documents a few errors that were corrected later. Another example is Hebrews 11:3 in the King James Version, which reads as follows: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” But the Greek word used for ‘worlds’ there is Aion (Strong’s Concordance G165), and should be translated into English as ‘eons’ or ‘ages’. God’s word of command caused huge spans of time to come to pass, as well as physical worlds. The KJV is not perfect. Nevertheless, if people are still using my code 400 years from now, my descendants should be very proud!

Maybe someday I will compare and contrast the process of code review with the peer review conducted by scientific journals.

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Remembering Y2K

Happy New Year’s Eve!
Happy Last Day of December!
Happy Last Day of 2009!
Happy Last Day of the 2000s decade!

Ten years ago today I was working from home, since I was an independent software developer back then. This was The Day that the dreaded Y2K bug was supposed to hit. The End Of Civilization As We Know It, or just TEOCAWKI for short. Remember?

A number of social commentators were predicting that the Y2K computer bug would cause large-scale failures in our computer-based infrastructure, including some Christian conservatives like Michael Hyatt and Chuck Missler. Ed Yourdon predicted that computer systems administrators would head to the hills en masse because they realized that the problem was huge and couldn’t be fixed. My local hardware store carried large electrical generators with signs saying: “Don’t even think of returning this on January 5 if Y2K turns out to be a bust! We’re onto you.” There were tales of survivalists cashing out their retirement accounts, buying a ranch in the mountains, stockpiling guns and ammo, taking their wives and children up to the compound after Christmas, and keeping a loaded gunsight out for looters when the millennium sun peeked over the horizon. Even modern cars weren’t supposed to work. Remember all that?

As a software engineer, I issued my own prediction in March 1999: Y2K will be no worse than a hurricane. Power and basic utilities will be restored within 48 hours. You’ll be able to go back to work in a week. My prediction seemed pretty mild at the time.

I had a plan, too. I stockpiled about one week’s worth of food, water, and firewood for the “hurricane”, taking care to be sure that anything I bought could be used later for camping trips if Y2K fizzled out. Partly it made good sense to be prepared, partly I was fascinated by the social aspects of worried people getting ready for TEOCAWKI, and partly I wanted to reassure those around me. I still have some extra jugs of drinking water and a few packs of candles and lighters left over. All the Ramen noodles and beef jerky are long gone.

During the summer and early fall I received lots of letters from my bank, my insurance company, my utilities, my retirement company, my post office, all declaring that they had been certified as “Y2K Compliant”. Then in November I got a letter from the supplier of my diskette mailers, saying that they were certified as Y2K Compliant and that the supply of diskette mailers would be uninterrupted by the dawn of the new millennium. I just stared at the letter. Diskette mailers. It’s come to this, probably the most trivial and non-essential item that I purchase. That’s when it hit me that Y2K was gonna be a big bust. The alarmists were wrong. Everything’s going to be all right.

New Year’s Eve fell on a Friday that year, leaving an entire weekend for the computer people to fix whatever problems they found. Ed Yourdon was wrong – the computer system administrators (my friends and colleagues) behaved like the responsible professionals they are, working all that weekend to run tests, re-boot machines, and examine diagnostics for signs of any technical Y2K problems. The weather in Colorado was unusually warm.

I filled up all the bathtubs in my house with drinking water. I remember thinking, “Why should I do this? It’s just a waste of water. Nothing bad is going to happen.” But filling up the bathtubs was Part Of The Plan, so I did it anyway. That evening I discovered that the drains in my tubs didn’t seal very well, and I had lost about half my supply already. The best-laid plans . . .

Since I was working from home, I could keep an eye on the TV. Midnight and the Millennium Dawn were sweeping around the globe. The celebrations were wonderful to watch! In Australia they had trapeze dancers swinging from ropes affixed to the top of the Sydney Opera House. Japan had marvelous dancers and costumed performers. China had spectacular fireworks! Then came Thailand, India, and celebrations in Africa. A few minor problems were reported, like weather maps that displayed the year 19100 and some video rental fees not calculated correctly. But everything was coming out fine, even in Italy who had not done much to prepare. I just relaxed, let all the technical concerns slip away, and watched in wonder as the happy festivals spread around the globe with the coming sunshine. Wow!

Praise God! Happy New Year!

Academic and Choral Achievement

Here is an update since Kevin updated the blogging software. In May 2009 I graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a Master’s degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Wow, five years is a long time! There were quite a few speeches during the graduation ceremony, but I didn’t mind a bit! It took a lot of work to get to that ceremony, and I just sat there in the sunshine with my Master’s robe and mortarboard cap and drank it all in. John Roberts (a CNN correspondent) gave an inspiring address about making your dreams come true. When you come up against a wall, this is your opportunity to show the world how much you want something. If you want your goal bad enough, you will go over, under, around, or through the wall to reach your goal! I feel that I have so much potential, and opportunity, and rich possibilities ahead of me. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling. My sister and family came to see the graduation. Maybe someday when my kids get frustrated with school and homework and term papers and exams they will remember the bagpipes and the funny academic gowns and their Daddy graduating and they will understand that it’s all worthwhile.

Kevin, I don’t know if you wrote a thesis when you got your Master’s degree from Stanford University, or if the co-terminal program had some other option. I wrote a 110-page thesis describing my research and model results:

Title: Application of Storm Surge Modeling to Moses’ Crossing of the Red Sea; and to Manila Bay, the Philippines

Abstract:
Storm surge occurs in low-lying coastal areas when strong winds blow the sea surface up onto the land. The resulting inundation can pose a great danger to lives and property. This study uses an Ocean General Circulation Model and the results from a mesoscale atmospheric model to simulate storm surge and wind setdown. Two case studies are presented. A reconstruction of the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Israelites, as described in Exodus 14, shows that the eastern Nile delta of Egypt matches the Biblical narrative and provides a hydrodynamic mechanism for water to remain on both sides of the dry passage. The vulnerability of Manila Bay and the surrounding areas to a Category 3 typhoon is evaluated and shows that the simulated surge heights depend heavily on the wind direction and the coastal topography.

The thesis document is published electronically by ProQuest, and anyone can download the PDF for a fee and read it. I classified the thesis under Biblical studies in addition to Physical oceanography and Atmospheric sciences. It would be cool to hear a little bell every time someone reads my thesis, but scientific publishing has not reached that stage yet.

I also made the national news for having sung in the Boulder Messiah Sing-Along for 17 consecutive years now. On November 3, 2009 the Associated Press published a news story on Messiah Sing-Along events, featuring the Boulder Messiah Chorale and Orchestra. Hallelujah for Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is by reporter Ann Levin. I am the Enthusiastic Choir Member in the story. If that link ever ceases to work, you can Google for: “Carl Drews” Messiah. Nobody has recognized me on the street yet (“Hey, you’re that Messiah choir dude!”), but it is nice to see that our sound is gone out into all lands, at least electronically.

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Endlessly Re-Booting Laptop

Endlessly Rebootiing
Laptop Can’t Find Starting Point
Life and Work on Hold

That was Friday’s high tech haiku. New disk installed Saturday and I have been recovering data from backups and re-installing applications from CD-ROM (here’s a tip, always get the CD backup for an application, that saves you from having to buy it again).

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