More on The Road about Swineflu
Thanks to my Friend E for the picture
It is already bad enough that we're battling technology problems in a project at work, but it seems every bit of equipment that has a byte of data in it, decided to make my life more difficult today.
While my personal laptop is doing a scan for that virus I just can't seem to get rid of, now my work laptop is starting to have a life by itself.
I spend minutes just watching the small harddisk LED flicker, and I have no clue what it is actually doing. Because *I* am not doing anything. Just watching the darned harddisk activity.
I gathered it might be running out of diskspace (which in retrospect it is not), so start to clean up, but the laptop decided a 0.5 Gigabyte file can not be moved nor deleted. Cause? Unknown!
Meanwhile, I am waiting for a call from a friend on Skype, but find out he disappeared from my Skype account on my work laptop. So when he calls me, it is the second laptop that rings. Not the one I have the headset on.
After the Skype conversation, I see the second laptop decided it had done enough, and went into hibernate. For no reason I can see, as it was plugged into the wall socket..
Several restarts later, followed with just as many hibernates, I figure out that it is either on strike, or might be too hot - even though I am wearing a sweater.. Maybe try to put something underneath it? Need some air, baby?
That worked. Except that while starting up, all of the software that was running before the hibernate decided it has to re-build databases, restart indexing, and checking data consistency. And halfway through the process, it gets too hot again.
So, being obedient to technology, I persist in cleaning up files and making sure it has gigabytes and gigabytes of virtual memory space (why it needs that much, I don't know as I don't run that many programmes at the same time).
I decide to update some of the software I use, just in case. Big mistake. As it usually is.
The regular Apple update of Safari and Quicktime+iTunes. 100 Megabyte. 100! How on earth does anyone keep their software updated without access to cable or ADSL is a mystery to me...
Checking for Microsoft updates leaves me equally dazzled. I just upgraded all Microsoft software two days ago. And it keeps on finding new stuff. 15 new updates in two days...
Just not a good day for computers. But look at the bright side: at least I got this blog posted. And it was a glorious sunny day today! :-)
Picture courtesy Jineg
As I was travelling on the Italian high speed train this weekend, I thought of what I once read:
That train was the one piece of life in all the deadly land; it was the one actor, the one spectacle fit to be observed in this paralysis of man and nature. And when I think now how the railroad was pushed through this unwatered wilderness and haunt of savage tribes…R.L.Stevenson,
The Amateur Emigrant
Picture courtesy Railway-Technology
More than 100,000 civilians have fled the area held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in northern Sri Lanka. Government soldiers and the LTTE rebels continue to fight the apparent endgame of Asia's longest-running war despite calls to protect an estimated 50,000 civilians still trapped in an area controlled by the LTTE.
Meanwhile the UN humanitarian chief tries to negotiate access for the relief organisations. (Full)
More Pictures of the Day on The Road.
Picture courtesy REUTERS/David Gray
An unexpected shopper at the Cummins' SuperValu store in Ballinrobe, a small town in the west of Ireland caught on CCTV. (Full)
Discovered via @bubbila on identi.ca
I love Italy, but there are things I, as a foreigner, fail to understand. The system "Pagare prima alla cassa" - "Pay first at the cashier" is one of them.
It is common when taking gas, you first have to go to the cashier and "deposit" money before allowing to fill your tank. Like I would know exactly how much I need to fill up?!
So I park the car next to the pump, lock the car, walk over to the cashier, queue up, deposit 50 Euro, walk back to the car, put in as much as I can, walk back to the cashier, and claim the difference. And when I find out I deposited too little to fill the tank, I leave the gas station unfulfilled. As if I, and not my tank, were half empty.
I will spare you the description how it works if you pay with credit card. And how you can claim the difference back.
Nowhere else in Europe I encountered this system.
But it is not only at gas stations you pay first. When going to a coffee bar, for my morning shot, I have to queue up at the cashier first, order what I want, pay and I get a ticket. Then I queue up at the bar, with my ticket in my hand - which I figured out to be the standard sign meaning "I am waiting to be served". When it is my turn, I put the ticket on the counter, the barman tears it half way and puts it back on the counter. When the coffee is served, only then the ticket is taken away.
I understand the rationale but can not understand the logic as more often than not, they forget to ask for the ticket. Or don't tear up the ticket. So I wonder how effective the system really is.
And obviously, I confuse the hell out of them, as my regular shot is a 'Doppio Latte', a "double Latte", which most cashiers register on the ticket as two Latte's, which the barman translates into.. two Latte's. So I have to make sure I snatch the barman's attention during the two seconds he grabs my ticket, deciphers the order, tears it up and turns around to prepare the coffee, to make sure he heard my "Doppio Latte, per favore"...
There are many things I don't understand about Italy. Probably that is why I love it here...
More on The Road about Living in Italy
Updated Dec 31, 2009
According to CDC (the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention):
Each flu season is unique, but it is estimated that, on average, approximately 5% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu, and more than 200,000 persons are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year. About 36,000 Americans die on average per year from the complications of flu. (Full)
According to the BBC:
It is worth remembering that seasonal flu often poses a serious threat to public health: each year it kills 250,000 - 500,000 around the world. (Full)
To put this in perspective with A(H1N1) swine flu, WHO (The World Health Organisation) states in their latest update:
As of 27 December 2009, worldwide more than 208 countries and overseas territories or communities have reported laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 2009, including at least 12,220 deaths. (Full)
And in a broader perspective:
An average of 195,000 people in the USA died due to potentially preventable, in-hospital medical errors in each of the years 2000, 2001 and 2002, according to a study of 37 million patient records released in 2004. (Full)
Check out the A(H1N1) swine flu casualty maps I collected.
If you are a bit sarcastic about it all, check The Dos and Donts to avoid swine flu infection.
Picture courtesy Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images
Someone thought it would be a good idea for a photo shoot today: fly AirForce One, escorted with military planes, low over Manhattan.
Why does this footage give me the creeps?
It seems someone at the White House was not happy about the whole event... (Thanks, Jonathan)
W00T! With the funds collected during a small group lunch, re-investment of repaid loans and more loans given by our Kiva lenders' team, we just flew past the $7,000 mark on our social project.
Our latest micro finance loans went to Afghanistan, Philippines, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Bolivia, Uganda and Ukraine.
One of them was Irina Tatarchook (picture) in the Ukraine. Irina wanted to expand her assortment of flower offerings in her market stall. We gave her a loan of $50.
Check out our project score card.
The background of this project, you find in the kick-off post.
The latest project news tid-bits, you can also find The Road's discussion forum.
You might think I am a moralizing doomsday prophet, but I can not help but thinking how greed linked most events impacting the world in the past years.
Was the food crisis last year not merely the hiking of food commodity prices by creating an artificial unbalance between supply and demand through a hijacking of the food futures market and diverting more and more crops to biofuel production? (remember this post)
Is the current global economic crisis not triggered by the inflation of a financial bubble, a consciously constructed artificial pyramid scheme, based on unhealthy mortgage loans. Loans based on zero collateral. And loans based on these loans, induced into the investment market like hormones in a pig. (remember this post)
Talking about pigs. And greed. Swine flu. An interesting reading by Jane on the Trackernews Blog:
Confined Animal Feeding Operations, a.k.a CAFOs, a.k.a factory farms have revolutionized agriculture over the past 20 years. This is agriculture on steroids. Sometimes literally. Poultry, cattle and pigs are raised in such ferocious, relentless quantity, the animals require a battery of drugs and chemicals simply to live long enough to be slaughtered. The waste streams and accompanying stench are a nightmare for anyone and anything down wind or down stream. Stats defy comprehension.
According to a 2006 Rolling Stone’s Jeff Tietz’ tour de force expose on hog CAFO king, Smithfield Farms (of which Granjas Caroll, the CAFO in Vera Cruz, is a subsidiary):
"Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan.” (..)
“The immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs’ immune systems. They become susceptible to infection, and in such dense quarters microbes or parasites or fungi, once established in one pig, will rush spritelike through the whole population. Accordingly, factory pigs are infused with a huge range of antibiotics and vaccines, and are doused with insecticides. Without these compounds — oxytetracycline, draxxin, ceftiofur, tiamulin — diseases would likely kill them. Thus factory-farm pigs remain in a state of dying until they’re slaughtered. When a pig nearly ready to be slaughtered grows ill, workers sometimes shoot it up with as many drugs as necessary to get it to the slaughterhouse under its own power. As long as the pig remains ambulatory, it can be legally killed and sold as meat.”
“Industrial pig waste also contains a host of other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia. Each gram of hog shit can contain as much as 100 million fecal coliform bacteria.” (Full)
Surprised something bad came out of all of that, are we?
Interesting note of interest: in the past three days, my news clip about the Avian Flu virus which was incidentally shipped around the world, got more hits than ever before.
More on The Road about Swineflu
Picture courtesy Parris Whittingham
I was on the train yesterday, riding from Bologna to Rome.
Four American tourists were sitting in the seats behind me.
The lady pushing the trolley with beverages and snacks passed by.
I overheard the conversation.
- Anything to drink? Snacks?
- Do you have wine?
- (hesitation)... eh.. yes, I think I have Rosé..
- (no hesitation) Do you have any other colour?
Updated October 17 2009:
Since I started collecting these maps in April, several are discontinued. It seems the most up to date maps on A(H1N1) are source 3, 6 and 7...
View 2009 swine Flu (H1N1) Outbreak Map in a larger map
Black: Confirmed death
Black with "?": Unconfirmed Death
Red: Confirmed infection
Red with "?": Probable infection
Green: Influenza-like illness
Purple: Suspected case
It Ushahidi is now tracking swineflu.
Update: this map is discontinued
Healthmap is also tracking.
Update: seems to be one of the most up to date maps
The mainstream media are catching on: BBC..
Update: BBC's map is discontinued
WHO's A(H1N1) page mapped with the outbreak timeline also.
Update: This map is was discontinued end May.. :(
You can also try this flu tracker
Update: seems to be one of the most up to date maps
Here are the maps by AirDB
And of course, there are the Wikipedia pages on A(H1N1), though for the latest confirmed figures, I would still refer to the WHO epidemy pages I discused in this post.
Which reminds me... you need to put everything into perspective: how many people die of flu every year, and how many died of swine flu?
Discovered via LifeHacker, UNDispatch and Aid Worker Daily
Bad news all around in the aid world. It is difficult, as an aidworker, to remain positive these days, and to see a light at the end of the tunnel of poverty.
Oxfam, one of the leading UK aid organisations, released "The Right to Survive", in which they estimate almost 250 million people around the world to be affected by climate-related disasters in a typical year. They project that by 2015 this number could grow by 50% to an average of more than 375 million people.
To cope with this increase, the world needs to increase its humanitarian aid spending from 2006 levels of $14.2 billion to at least $25 billion a year. (Full)
According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) the world is already spending a whopping amount of money on development and aid:
US$136.2 billion (2003)
US$175.4 billion (2004)
US$319.8 billion (2005)
US$323.5 billion (2006)
US$470.4 billion (2007)
These figures (which include "humanitarian aid" to which Oxfam refers) combine government aid (so-called "ODA"), private donations and aid-motivated economic assistance (Source).
I have always compared the "aid world" to the "commercial world". In the latter you have a supply and demand mechanism that comes to a certain level of economical balance, in the "aid world" you have a similar balance between "a need for help" and "a supply of assistance". While this balance always ended up with a deficit, it seems the world's "need for aid" is rapidly overwhelming the world's "capacity to give" even more.
In the past year, the need for assistance increased to unprecedented levels because of the rocketing food prices which affected the poorest the most, the effects of global warming - as Oxfam stressed in its report, - and now the faulting world economy.
I do not believe, despite the best fundraising efforts, the world's "capacity to give" can increase to meet the demand. The only thing we can do, and must do, is to ensure the aid funds are spent with better targets, with a higher accountability and short term aid measures MUST be combined with longer term development.
If not, we will continue providing plasters on wooden legs. As clearly we have been doing in the past decennia.
Pictures courtesy Logan Abassi (MINUSTAH)
Faithful readers from The Road know of our blog's social project we started back in November. We fund microfinance projects via Kiva, an online non-for-profit "brokerage" service between those in need of a micro finance loan and those willing to fund them.
Over the past months, readers from The Road, friends, friends of friends, and colleagues jumped in, and joined our Kiva lenders' team. At this moment, we total over $6,400 of loans (Check here for the latest status)
The system seems to work well, and after the initial investment in loans, the repayments started to come in two months after the first loan. At this moment, about US$2,000 of loans have been repaid.
It seems Kiva's success caught on real fast. This week alone, they allocated US$1.8 million of microfinance loans. Quite impressive, if you consider that a typical loan is given in chunks of $25.
Kiva's success is that big that often, like tonight, you log onto their site, and... they have ran out of people to allocate loans to.
A bit frustrating, knowing that at this moment I am 'sitting' on $600 of repaid loans I would like to reinvest, but on the other hand, their success and apparent efforts to keep up with the success of microfinancing, and particularly success of the brokerage-system of Kiva, shows a difference can be made.
As I am, right now, looking at the screen of the lenders page, searching for people to allocate loans to, I only see grey'd-out fields of entrepreneurs with the remark 'Fully Funded', I am thinking of the song of John Lennon. And "imagine" that maybe that will be, one day, the status of poverty in the world. "We are sorry, but we no longer have people in need".
Call me a dreamer.
The good news is that the lady at the check-in was too busy on the phone to notice I had two carry-ons: a computer bag and a small roll-on. On Brussels Airlines they normally allow only one carry-on in Economy. That saved me at least one hour of waiting at the luggage belt in Rome.
The bad news: Caterpillar cabin luggage is "Built to last".. the slogan goes. They probably mean for two years max.
And there you stand, with a stupid look in your eyes, looking at the handle in your one hand, and at your carry-on cart bumping down the escalator stairs.
Am I glad Caterpillar is built to last. If it were not, I would have broken it in less than two years. Happy me.
Now who can give me hints to get those small white tips with springs which block the handle as you extend it back in their place?
Tip: I have as tools right now: a set of car keys, a wooden thingie used to stir my Starbucks Coffee, and a safety pin.
Travelling remains adventure.
The Scheldt (or "de Schelde" in Dutch), is the main river in our part of the country. It makes Antwerp a key sea port before spreading wide into a huge estuary. The southern part of this estuary runs close to the Belgian-Dutch border, and features rich nature reserves and astonishing sceneries.
Seeing the ocean vessels pass by, almost in a hand's reach reminds me of the Suez canal.
The strong tides and labyrinth of sand banks not only makes it treacherous to navigate, but offers beautiful landscape.
It was the last walk with the girls and "Mr.H", our pup, before I fly back to Rome this afternoon.
Behind the dikes, the vegetation is green lush, and stretches as far as the eye can reach.
Now, all that is left is to pack my bags, and get on a plane. The two weeks of holidays are over. The horizon is calling again....
The World Intelectual Property Organisation (WIPO) decided Mike Kolart, a Dutch entrepreneur, has to release his domains Facebook.nl and Facebook.be to the social network giant Facebook.
According to WIPO both domains were registered with the purpose to attract traffic from Facebook.com, and served the registrar to no legitimate purpose. Kolart claimed he had registered both domains in July 2005, while the domain Facebook.com was only purchased in Augustus 2005. Further investigations showed Kolart only registered his .be and .nl Facebook domains in 2007.
At this moment, both domains still point to Kolart's discussion forums, but within ten days, they will point to the official Facebook site.
Kolart does not agree with WIPO's verdict and claims financial losses. Originally Facebook had him offered 10,000 Euro for the Dutch and Belgian domains. The only thing Kolart is now left with, is a hefty bill from his lawyers.
Recently, also the Spanish facebook.es and Australian Facebook.com.au had to be turned over to the One and Only facebook.com. (Source - in Dutch)
[Ed: what do you think? A David and Goliath story, or just another opportunist trying to piggy back on a well known Internet domain?]
Cartoon courtesy Geek and Poke
Sometimes I wonder if computers are really productivity tools. How much of our professional and spare time do we spend figuring out why the damned thing just does not add one plus one to a total of two?
The thought often crosses my mind when we start a meeting, and five people, all IT wizards with an IQ way above average, fiddle with the laptop, the video plug, the remote control and the projector trying to make the resolutions between computer and projector to match. Up to the point that the presentation is dwarfed by the fact that whatever is shown on the screen is not readable.
If we spend 30% of our lives sleeping, then I must spend at least another 10% of my life debugging silly IT problems. When I am home in Belgium, pump that up to 20% of my time. I have two laptops at home in Italy. But at home in Belgium, add another two desktops and two laptops to make our family complete and happy. And have me pull out my hair...
In the past two weeks I have come across a couple of IT problems I know I will probably never solve. Or will take an unreasonable amount of time if I would want to solve them.
- One computer is running on Windows 98. An operating system doomed to the Stone Ages by Microsoft. I understand. But I will probably never be able to upgrade this computer to XP with all the correct drivers.
- Another computer is running Windows ME. Same despair to upgrade. We need it though, as it is the only one with a parallel port. Which our shared printer needs...
- Our cable Internet connection goes bazurk when you upload too much data. The girls have just started their own YouTube channel, and upload masses of data. I will never figure out why the Internet connection then dies. And I know if I'd call the ISP, they will charge me loads of Euros to end up with a silly answer. Like "please don't upload that much data!"
- One laptop has a vicious worm virus since a month. Despite the fact I have not used it for a month, leave alone downloaded any software or visited any dubious website. And it has two up-to-date and reputable anti-virus programmes on it. Several nights of disinfecting leaves me with my hands in my hair as I only seem to disinfect whatever malware the worm itself is generating. But can not delete the worm itself.
- Since two weeks I am trying to find a way to create a new domain for theroadtothehorizon.org which forwards to my new server. Helpdesk help in vain.
- On one computer, the email program keeps on prompting for a password. Can't get it to store passwords. All known solutions don't work.
- I tried to move a Microsoft Outlook Express mailbox to another computer, using Microsoft Outlook. Exporting mails doesn't work. I am left with forwarding dozens of emails from one account to the next.
- The wireless LAN repeater does not seem to work with data encryption. And when I leave the access open, the neighbour's son pirates it.
- One computer keeps on hanging.
You want more?
Either my days as a computer professional are over, or I am too old to cope, or IT systems are just meant to cause problems these days...
Picture courtesy Zoe the Smooth Fox Terrier
As we were driving through Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany, we were saying to eachother how it looked like spring was pushing to break through.
A week later, when we came back, we found everything in bloom. Spring has arrived.
A view from our home in Belgium:
Wild flowers in our garden:
After the Abruzzo earthquake Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi was quoted saying the victims living in tent cities should think of themselves as being on a camping holiday. He hit the news again a day ago by telling a female doctor "I wouldn't mind being resuscitated by you".
The press took it badly, but Dr Carrieri from Milan took up the Prime Minister's defence, saying he had paid her a "gallant" compliment to "take the drama out of the situation". (Full)
Which makes me think of men, women and Italy... After living in Italy for two years, I still find it remarkable how women are given remarks by Italian men. Women who lived in Italy for a while might easily see them as compliments, but foreigners would surely be surprised if not insulted:
Not only is staring almost an art, but it is also usual to be greeted in a shop with a "Ciao Bella!" ("Hi beautiful") and to get a "Arrivederci, cara" ("Bye, sweet").
It is usual to be talked to when sitting (as a woman) alone at a table in a restaurant or bar. Getting whistled at is a daily occurrence, remarks about the way a woman looks or dresses are common. Most women don't react, or (pretend to) see it as a compliment. Only they can tell if deep down inside they do. But if you, as a female tourist, visit Italy, don't be surprised...
More on The Road about Living in Italy
Just received an friendly email from Blogger (my blogprovider)
Your blog at: http://www.theroadtothehorizon.org/ has been identified as a potential spam blog. To correct this, please request a review by filling out the form at [blabla]
Your blog will be deleted in 20 days if it isn't reviewed, and your readers will see a warning page during this time. After we receive your request, we'll review your blog and unlock it within two business days. Once we have reviewed and determined your blog is not spam, the blog will be unlocked and the message in your Blogger dashboard will no longer be displayed. (...)
We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog like yours is flagged incorrectly. We sincerely apologize for this error. By using this kind of system, however, we can dedicate more storage, bandwidth, and engineering resources to bloggers like you instead of to spammers.
Now let me get this straight, dear Blogger. Just because you "suspect" my blog to be spam (which is not difficult to check), if I would not be online for 20 days (which happens when I am travelling), you would just d-e-l-e-t-e this blog? Two years of work, gone? Just like that? On suspicion of being spam?
Well, now I know what your logo reminds me of:
I swear: During the one week in Austria, I suffered from BDS: "Bandwidth Deficiency Syndrome". No Internet in the hotel and I did not want to pay for a local UMTS subscription, so had to resort to a Bluetooth connection via my mobile.
Even at 3G speeds (which I got only close to the window) the max I got was a "knitting speed" (an old joke us -software developers- used when typifying slow software as "a program where you'd better take up knitting while waiting for the routine to execute").
Man! We are spoiled with cable or ADSL connections, and wireless all over the house. I am double spoiled as I have lightning speed connections in my two homes, both in Belgium and Italy. I can sit in the garden under the fruit tree (and in Belgian terms, we live "in the middle of nowhere") and surf faster than in that Austrian hotel, amidst thousands of tourists..
Anyway, we're back in connectivity land, and catching up with Emails and things that happened in the world while I was virtually disconnected.
Let's end our Austrian adventure with a picture from a castle a mile from our hotel. If you look well, you can see the fairy princess leaning out of one of the top windows!! Brave knights: she's all yours! -- Just thinking: maybe she is calling for help on bandwidth problems too, ha!)
To me, travelling is "being totally open to new things". Even a walk in town this evening revealed so many curious and "different" detail. It shows you don't have to travel around half of the world to find beauty and joy. As long as you remain open enough to appreciate details. See new things every time you look at something.
A quick and dirty shot I took while skiing this morning... Trying to maneuver with sticks in one hand, and the mobile phone in the other ;-)
This turns into a photoblog ;-)
Anyways, The Road reflects things in my life, and currently, my life focuses on my girls, sun, snow and skiing.
Today, we went up 2,550m to a place called Sport Gastein in Austria. Cloudless blue sky just as the previous days.
The tracks were frozen up to 10 am, when the top layer turned into two inches of fine powderdust. After 2 pm, all became 'pap', slush.. So we try to be on the slopes at 8:30 am, and cut the afternoon short.
Here are my three girls:
Lana and yours truly on an anchor lift: