Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Are these news?

Sometimes it is amazing for me what people around the world deem as news:

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM (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.

People here in Venezuela have been doing these for years and years. It is something perfectly normal for us, not only for Africans. I do that several times a week. And that is shocking News for Reuters. I really cannot believe. It is like the fact that some people takes less showers in winter being news.

Really odd.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Some pics from SciFoo

Finally I downloaded the pics from my camera and posted them to Flickr. Here there are some.

A really funny picture, with a standing Tim O'Reilly at Google and an "Server not found" error on the web browser.

This is the way that a self organized schedule board looks. Personally, I love it, and the overall result was a wild display of creativity. It worked very well, not surprisingly.

Some of the attendants.

People at Google work really hard it seems. Even when you are pissing you can improve your coding! Keep going that way, guys, your work makes our lives easier. And I should learn to use time on that way.

James Randi, our secular saint!

Greg Bear and Kim Stanley Robinson. Soon(?) I will post about their presentations. KSR was already one of my favorite SF writers. Now I like his work even more. I better save my opinion about Bear for later...

The RepRap, the macro almost-self-replicant machine that soon will manufacture its own pieces. A really mind blowing device, even in this early stage of development. If it can deliver its promises it will change a lot of things for a lot of people.

Walking around that wonderful place, I stumbled upon the answer to the Ultimate Question!

A truly Agalmic environment, according to me. Maybe I will write something serious about it when I am done with my thesis. Someday, I guess.

To come: More reviews about SciFoo and some more pics about the Amazing and Depressing things I saw in the US.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's Official: India needs Biotech

Great news from the Land of Promises:

Genetically modified crops are order of the day: Govt
17 Sep, 2007, 1710 hrs IST, PTI

NEW DELHI: India should accept that genetically modified seeds is the solution to feed the growing population and reduce the pressure on land, a top government official said.

"If we like it or not, transgenics are the order of the day," Indian Council of Agricultural Research Director General Mangala Rai said at a conference on agricultural biotechnology organised by industry chamber FICCI.

He pointed that India will have a population of more than five billion by 2050 and the pressure on land would increase by 4-6 times.

Rai said due to adoption of GM crops "resistance has increased, pesticides consumption has reduced and productivity has increased".

He added when other seeds can produce one kilo rice by utilising 3,000 litres of water, why should there be opposition, if GM seed can have a better yield with less water.

Rai also said when oilseeds like castor have improved yield because of use of transgenic seeds, there should not be any resistance against it.

In Gujarat, castor seeds productivity is estimated at 17 quintal per hectare against all India average of four quintal, Rai said.

FICCI Biotech Committee Chairman Krishna M Ella said India would be the hub for world seed production in the next few years. Agri-biotech is growing at 15 per cent per annum, he added.

Another news item from Reuters on the same subject:

This is something that I have been waiting since long time ago. Almost seven years. Not exactly from India, but from any government. And now, it has happened. Despite the claims of environmentalists about risks for health, despite the lies and fake reports by some environmentalists, which I have personally witnessed here and that crippled our emerging bioengineered crops of papaya, despite all that, finally officers in the government have acknowledged the importance of GM crops for our future, with almost exactly the same arguments that a lot of us have been using during the last decade.

I won't engage here in rants about the contradictions of accepting hybrid crops (that mix a lot of unknown genes) like wheat, and refusing to accept crops in which only a couple of genes is different from the parental variety. I only will say that I am happy that finally reason has triumphed, at least in India, I hope more undeveloped countries follow India's example and not only give permission to plant GM crops created by the industry, as Argentina does, but also create their own varieties and crops according to their particular needs. And I hope this is done under an OS approach with a license analogue to Copyleft. Those would be great news not only for the poor people, but also for a lot of scientists around the world, who would benefit from the creativity of other and would be able to contribute themselves to this noble endeavor.

This is a very happy day for me and for a lot of people. And India again is showing us that it takes seriously further development in science and technology. This is a lesson and a warning for developed countries, they have achieved a high living standard thanks science and technology and now can ignore it and scorn it, praise primitivism and older times and give almost null importance to scientific literacy, but India could show that the future is going to be tough for those who chose that path.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

An excercise on Freedom of Speech

Wanna be worldwide famous in less than a week?
Draw a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace be with Him.

It seems that when you do it a fanatical mob of ignorant fundamentalist Muslims will ask for your head in several countries. Of course, such nuts are only a noisy minority that embarrass millions of moderate and peaceful Muslims.

Almost every religion has this kind of assholes among their believers. And not only religions, but also ideologies. I consider myself to be a kind of Anarchist, but i would be very uncomfortable next to certain Anarco-Primitivists. Anyway, the dangerous thing here is not only those violent herds, but also the reaction of the West to them. We are allowing them to silence us. We are allowing them to make us lose what is more precious to us: Our Free Inquiry. Our ability to discuss any subject, to make fun and criticize almost everything. We are silencing ourselves, because we are afraid of them, because we say "we respect you", but that is bullshit, we are afraid. Freedom of Inquiry and Speech are the bases on which our culture is based, they nurture
our scientific and philosophic enterprise and allow us to look at the world with curious rather than fear-frozen minds. They allow us to understand each other better despite our differences.

And I say NO MORE. From now I will post any cartoon, picture or anything that makes Fundamentalists (from any ideology or religion, it's the same if they are Objectivists or Stalinists) claim the life of somebody. If that makes me a target for terrorists, so be it. I am sick of screwing what we, collectively, are in order to save our ass. I refuse to belong to this diluted West where Freedom of Inquiry has been replaced by fear and PCness. I will fight for the West that I know and cherish, even if it is only an abstract entity. I will fight for my right to enrich my own culture with pieces of other, I will fight for my right to criticize and dissent. I will fight for my right to exist whether you like me or not. I will fight for the mental background that allows me to be here, in a third world country with serious problems and be able to express myself, free of gags so far.

Here is the cartoon that sparked such a huge affair:

It was created by Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who already has received death threats from such prestigious folks as Al Qaida. My dear Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said: "Zionists, who do not believe in religion, are behind such a dirty job [...] The Zionists only pretend to believe in religion. They are telling lies. They are perpetrating oppression against the Europeans and putting at risk the prestige of Europe." Very much in his average level of intelligence, subtlety and paranoia. Of course, to be free to express one's opinion is Oppression. Well done, Mahmoud! Daddy Orwell would be proud of you! An excellent example of blackwhite. I do not want to think what would happen if your aides ever meet George W. Bush's aides and set up a propaganda effort. I guess the worst thing since Soviet propaganda and even more annoying than the Cuban.

Let say this clearly: I am not anti-Muslim. In any case. I am a proud Atheist, but I respect other people and I do not care what other people believe as long they don't threat others with their beliefs or try to make everybody submit to them. But when you believe that you have reasons to wipe other people only because they disagree with you, I have no longer any respect for you and you can go and get screwed by a whale.

My respects to all moderate Muslims who would disagree with the statement that if I ever convert to Islam and then I repent of it, I deserve death because I am an apostate. My support to all Muslims who are embarrassed by this awful fanaticism and for all of them who think that is far more insulting to their religion make women worse than animals, forbid music and hang homosexual teenagers in the name of Ala the Merciful, rather than a cartoon. I understand how terrible is to have such people tarnishing everything we believe that is sacred, worthy and important precisely in the name of that.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Child Mortality at historical low!

From the BBC:

Child mortality 'at record low'

Children being immunised
Millions of lives have been saved by immunisation, Unicef says
Fewer children under five worldwide are dying than ever before, according to the United Nations Children's Fund, due to increased immunisation.

Greater steps have also been taken to prevent the spread of malaria, a Unicef report says.

But nearly 10 million children under five died in 2006, the report adds.

The Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 could be met by Latin America and the Caribbean, Unicef says.

This slowing in the rate of child deaths, from 13 million in 1990, to 9.7 million in 2006, is due to a combination of factors, including better immunisation, more mothers breastfeeding and mosquito nets being used to prevent the spread of malaria.

The decline in the numbers of children dying was particularly marked in Morocco, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, where the number dying dropped by a third.

China has seen a drop from 45 deaths for every 1,000 lives in 1990 to 24 in 2006, while in India the drop was from 115 to 76.

In sub-Saharan Africa deaths from measles have been reduced by 75% due to increased vaccination coverage.

Doubts cast

"This is an historic moment," said Unicef executive director Ann Veneman.

"More children are surviving today than ever before. Now we must build on this public health success to push for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals."

But some experts questioned Unicef's interpretation of the data.

"Considering all the tools we have for child survival, we are not doing better at reducing child mortality now than we were three decades ago," Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington told Associated press agency.

Nearly five million under fives from sub-Saharan Africa died in 2006 as well as three million from South Asia.

The spread of HIV and Aids continues to claim children's lives in Africa countering the effects of better medicine for other childhood illnesses.

The authors of this report say most child deaths are preventable. What is needed is better local health care, they say.

Sweet and sour news, I think. We are doing well, but we could be doing better if we used the tools we already have. But, as usual, that costs money and no one is willing to pay. The only hope we have is to use the technology currently at our reach to improve ourselves and our societies and lower even more these rates, with or without help from developed countries. In any case, these news are encouraging.

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Ironic cardboardsteaks

While I was at the US I traveled a little bit more than I expected. I visited San Diego and Philadelphia, among other places.

Being in San Diego I went to eat a famous "Philadelphia Cheesesteak" at a a fast food in a mall. It turned that the "All American" cheesesteak was prepared by Mexican guys who did not speak in English even to Caucasian customers. It was tasty, and I thought that the original ones, in Philadelphia, must taste much better than these imitations.

Later I went to Philadelphia, I stayed in South Philly, just a couple of blocks from the famous Geno's restaurant, where you are not allowed to speak in other language than English when ordering.

I found it quite offensive, not the message itself (I find terrible going to another country and refusing to learn the language, like those Mexicans in San Diego) but other signs praising Marines and violence and the statement "This is America, Speak in English", which is false, America is made from immigrants and a lot of them have other languages that they use in their own environment. Aren't the people from Chinatown in San Francisco Americans?

Anyway, the funny thing is that the reputed Geno's Cheesesteaks, a proud tradition of Philly, autopraised as the best of those, the original, from the Land of Cheesesteaks, Philadelphia... tastes like cardboard!. In fact, the cheesesteak I got at San Diego was much better, even if those Mexicans did not speak English.

Those cheesesteaks are really awful, well, at least the ones made with provolone cheese (which I love, btw). But It seems unlikely I will return to try the other flavors of cardboard. I just wish I remember the name of that fast food restaurant in San Diego.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sicko in America

I never thought I was going to miss Venezuela so fast. Well, at least its healthcare system.
I got sick three weeks ago, food poisoning, terrible diarrhea and retching. I felt I was going to die, losing liquids by both ends of my gastrointestinal tube, even at the same time, I could not even retain water. Nothing pleasant. Nothing too serious, neither. In Venezuela, maybe I would not even bothered in going to the hospital, just waited until it is gone, a couple of days. Or if it got too serious, go to the hospital and get some attention and medicines before one hour if I am lucky and close to three if I am not. Cost of the trip to the hospital: zero. Or my taxes and our collective oil. TANSTAAFL, you know.

Here in the land of the free and home of the brave, being sick was hell. A small food poisoning cost me almost $ 150. A doctor looked at me for 5 minutes, told me things that I already knew in a very distant way, asked some questions, became worried about the restaurant where I had eaten, told me to get stool tests and prescribed me an antibiotic that would have been my exact choice if I had reasons to believe that a bacteria was responsible for my disease. I did not went through the tests, it would have been a pointless waste of money for a self remitting disease, as it turned to be. The drug, Ciprofloxacin, was three to four times more expensive than in Venezuela (And is not because government's control on drug's prices, as non regulated drugs are also cheaper there!) even if it was generic, something amazing, given the fact that a free market is supposed to lower the prices and yet is not the case for drugs. Yes, a lot of things are more expensive here, but compared to food, for instance, the difference is outstanding. Another difference with Venezuela is the rigidity of prescriptions. The pills came in a personalized container with the exact amount of pills that I would need for all the treatment in order to prevent self medication issues, useful, but problematic if something happen to the pills.

The quality of the attention I received was lousy, I can get better attention in a public hospital in Venezuela in more or less the same amount of time I had to wait here in the US. It's amazing that health care in this country is so screwed up. I just read in the newspaper that the federal government denied funds for an initiative of a state to cover insurance for children of families that earn less than $ 60.000 a year. In order to be covered, children must be sick during one whole year. Can you imagine this? We are not talking about a clueless tourist or a person who chose to not to have insurance. We are talking about a child, chronically ill, without insurance because his or her family is poor, or even worse, because coverage is denied because he or she is already sick, waiting a whole year to get treated, causing financial damage to the family and even dying in the waiting. It is an outrage. I just cannot understand how these brave Americans that stand for their rights and fight wars all around the world in order to keep order and liberty, these same Americans who claim the government will take their weapons from their “dead cold hands”, can swallow these huge buckets of shit while nodding.
I guess American Idol is more interesting.

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