You've been an aidworker for too long (4)

child hiding

You've been an aidworker for too long...

when your kids hide behind your wife's skirt when you finally come home.

Picture courtesy TheGotoMom

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You've been an aidworker for too long (3)

french bulldog

You've been an aidworker for too long...

if your own dog growls at you when you finally come home.

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My daily struggles with technology

I shuttle between Italy and Belgium. I have an iPhone, which I use in Italy, and an old Nokia for Belgium. Yesterday, the Nokia's plastic casing just crumbled to pieces. Don't understand why. Bought it right after the Iraq emergency. That's only six years ago.

Anyway I thought it would just be better to put my Belgian SIM into my iPhone when I arrive in Belgium. Swap SIMs rather than phones. Then I don't have to drag two phones with me. Seems simple enough. From time to time, I use my mobile phone to send a picture. Or to check Twitter. So, I thought "Great, works fine with the iPhone"...

Then I discovered that I don't have access to the Belgian Internet data services, so I enabled Internet access for the SIM. I tested it, it worked fine. Went to sleep. At 6 AM I got an automated SMS from my GSM provider, stating I just used Internet for 6 hours, while I was sleeping. And while the iPhone was connected to my wireless anyway...

I called them, and they could not help me any further. But to suggest to upgrade my subscription to a 2 Gbyte/month package. Paying a monthly fee even when I am only for two months per year in Belgium did not seem reasonable to me.

Did not find a setting to switched off the data access on the iPhone. Only thing I could do, is to enter fake APN (network parameters), so it could not access the Internet.

It intrigued me. Which iPhone application was using the Internet? Maybe there is an application to control the use of Internet on the iPhone. I Googled it but only found parental control applications.

Ah, there was one Enterprise Control application by Apple. Downloaded. Tried to installed. Beh. I needed an update to "Netframe 3.5 SP1". Downloaded that. Took 45 minutes to install. Reboot. Re-ran the Enterprise Control. Installed well. Started it. Gave me cryptic errors indicating I needed something else, and a key to launch it.
Gave up. De-installed the Enterprise Control thingie.

Googled for more Internet access controls. Found some solution: iPhone IOS 4 lets me switch off the . For which I needed the new iTunes version, which came with the new Safari version. 130 Mbytes. Took 45 minutes to download/install (I have a BIG Internet pipe here, but that did not help).

Started iTunes. Which needs to backup my iPhone first. Another 30 minutes. Then it needs to resync my iPhone with my computer. Another 30 minutes.

The only thing I want, is to email an occasional picture from my iPhone while I am on the road.... Is that too much to ask? Our lives are dominated by technology. Our lives become buggy, just like the technology is.

I got up at 6:30 am. It is now 11 am. The sun is shining outside. I'm going out. Foert. Off to the shower.



Although... the mouse on Tine's laptop does not work anymore and Lana's laptop crashed. And Hannah needs a new computer too.

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You've been an aidworker for too long (2)

Red Cross Tshirt

You've been an aidworker for too long if...

Half of garderobe consist of Tshirts from past emergencies.

UN Tshirt

UN - Afghanistan 2002/Iraq 2003

UNHCR Tshirt

UNHCR - Goma 1995

Lifeline Sudan Tshirt

UN - Lokichoggio 1996

PS: Top Tshirt was IFRC Angola 1994

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You've been an aidworker for too long (1)

torn Tshirt

You've been an aidworker for too long, if...

... If you resist throwing away that torn up, washed off, ravelled UNHCR T-shirt. Nobody understands your justification "but I wore that during the Rwanda refugee operation".

Your kids say it makes you look like an overaged hippie.
Admittedly, the Rwanda crisis was 16 years ago. Which is a real long time in the life of a T-shirt. But the memories are still so vivid.

T-shirts are forever. And so are the flashbacks that go with it.

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Picture of the day: Twitter from Space

aurora australis taken from space

This picture from the Aurora Australis, or the "Southern Lights" above Antarctica was taken by an astronaut. While aboard the International Space Station, @Astro_Wheels posted it via Twitter on TwitPic.

I guess he was using wireless. :-)

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The story of Claudia Martinez

Do good in the Dominican Republic

For those of you who are not following Have Impact!, my blog about our social project:

This newspaper article published in a Dubai newspaper prompted to an interesting story about how doing good to others will bring good to you.

Full story here.

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The blogroll directory

Fiumicino Fishermen's case

As the years went by, I collected a large amount of blogs and websites I like. The lists have grown that large, I had to split them off into different posts, which I will continue to update:

● The largest collection of blogs by fellow aidworkers you'll find anywhere Subscribe to the AidBlogs RSS Feed
Resources for aidworkers Subscribe to the RSS Feed of For Those Who Want to Know
News sites specialized in aid, humanitarian work and nonprofit causes Subscribe to the AidNews RSS Feed
● Expats, travellers, adventurers and people with their heart in the right place, you can find here

Other interesting blogs to add? Let me know!

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Snapped: Sunset near Rome

Sunset near Rome

Last year, I started a series of posts on The Road, which I called The Snapped Series, "Mobile phone shots from the hip". They evolved from pictures taken with my crappy Nokia mobile phone to shots taken with the iPhone I got for my birthday.

I was amazed of the iPhone picture quality and got hooked on taking shots as I went along "on the road of life".

One thing lead to another, and the phrase "Shot from the Hip" let to the birth of a separate website, where I posted these pictures, soundbytes, short videos. All taken randomly, and posted via Email from my phone. For the nerds amongst you, I explained in this post how to do that.

Anyways, to make a long story short, I will resume posting a selection of these shots here on The Road. I will start with this one, as there is a sweet story connected to it:

A little girl and her dad watched a sunset.

After the sun went down, the girl asked:

"Daddy, can you do that again?"

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Living in Italy - Part 16: Free WiFi access. Almost.

Free WiFi access in Rome

Since a while, there is free WiFi access in many public parks in and around Rome. All WiFi hotspots are neatly indicated with signs:

Free WiFi access in Rome

Encouraging effort to bridge the digital divide, if any left in Italy. Maybe there are also other divides to be addressed... When accessing the WiFi spot from a mobile phone, you are neatly prompted with a login screen:

Free WiFi access in Rome

Hmmm. Username and password, hey? Boh.. as it says (in Italian): registration is for free, so let's give it a try:

Free WiFi access in Rome

Holy Mo! That is a quite a chunk of data.. You need to give your name, address, mobile phone number, and of course endorse the terms and conditions which are neatly outlined (in Italian):

Free WiFi access in Rome

At that point, I gave up trying to register via my mobile phone.
Once back at home, I registered from my computer. Well, almost, as after filling in the form, you are prompted to confirm your registration by calling a toll-free number. You have to call it from the cellphone you registered. And you have five minutes.

So going outside, waiting for the mobile coverage to come up, I dialed the number. Which was engaged. Which was engaged again. Which was engaged once more. Which was engaged again. Which kept on being engaged.

Of course the five minutes deadline came sooner than expected, and I had to register again.

At that point I gave up. Maybe free WiFi access is not something for me.

Read more in the Living in Italy series

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Sarah Palin better roll up her sleeves

Send Sarah Palin to Clean up Gulf Oil

Sarah Palin reminds me of a Belgian artist many years ago. She competed for the pre-selections of the Eurosong festival, but did not qualify. Nevertheless, she made it as a real TV hit, made good money, and eventually ended up as a politician.

I guess Sarah Palin only made it thus far, as she appeals to hidden sexual fantasies of the middle aged US male electorate.

If women had as few braincells as men all Chippendales'd be senators by now.

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Picks of the week: 100 Books for Humanitarians

cable with rope

Here is something you might enjoy: a list of "100 books for humanitarians" worth browsing through. Fiction, fact and some reference material.

Happy reading!

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Picture of the day: People

the grandmother

I walked around in Fiumicino, near Rome today. And started to take random pictures of people. I always wanted to do that. "Just pictures" of "just people"....

Is it really "just", though...? If you look at the faces, their expression,.. if you really look well, you will see how each has a story to tell.

With just one picture, capturing one particular moment, you can imagine the story or at least the context behind each.

the dreamer in thoughts

In thoughts...

the tired

The tired...

the babe

The lady walks...

For those of you who have the bandwidth, here is the Flickr slide show with all of them. Best viewed in full screen (once you run the slideshow, click on the arrows icon in the bottom right corner):

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Welcome to "Erbil", the bar of ex-aidworkers

the public bar is closed

I read through the last (for now) post of Harry Rud, an aidworker who returned from several years in Afghanistan, now working at the organisation's UK HQ. Someone mentioned in the comments, we should start an ex-aidworkers' bar. A place to indulge in reminiscent memories of dusty pasts...

I thought.. What would be the ideal ex-aidworkers' bar? The bar is to be called "Erbil", for sure. To remember the UN bar up there as the only safe place to drink (and eat for that matter) after the Iraq war (the second one that is).

The bar is really the only place you can go, to meet those in the same "zone" as you. THE spot to chill out and exchange another story "I remember when I was in.." after yet another day trying to save the world and realizing you didn't make a shit of difference. Was mostly after catching your two drivers syphoning out the petrol from your car. That was this morning. This afternoon, you fired the guard as he fell asleep on his stool next to the gate and did not wake up even if you hooted right next to him.

There are old yellow-ish pictures on the wall showing people in happier times. All of them taking in the same bar, of course. Mixed with postcards sent from holiday places. All reachable within the R&R cycle.
There is a trace of stains from the time John thought it would be fun to shake that cheap champagne bottle on his birthday, years ago. A bottle he risked his life for, smuggling it through airport customs.

The tables and chairs are a mishmash of different makes. Mostly cheap plastic. Collected after the bombing of a local community center back in 2005.

The servings of drinks differ as the weeks go by, dependent on what container Patrice - the MSF logistician - was able to smuggle into this darned muslim country. Some months, whiskey is the only drink, as the beer container got stuck at the port, lack of sufficient baksheesh.
It is amazing in how many different ways you can drink whiskey. And in how many ways you can use it. Including lightening up a short shot, and then, flame and all, put it on your forehead where it sucks itself out of oxygen. The half burned round sucking mark stays on one's forehead for a week. And is the trademark of "Erbil", our bar.
Mal once tried the same trick by sticking two of those burning shots onto his balls. He can only grin at that memory now... As I said, there are many things you can do with whiskey.

Andrew is always sitting at the same stool at the corner, no matter when you come in. You wonder if he really has a job at Care International, or if he became a beneficiary himself. His brother, Jolly -nobody knows his real name- is famous for the fancy dive he took in the swimming pool in the back. Forgetting the fact they never filled it up again after the 1995 earthquake which cracked up the foundation of the pool. And the spilling water flooded the underground safety shelter. Something which really upset that ex-Foreign Legion security officer we once had. Remember him? I remember his face, but can't remember his name. Rodriguez, wasn't it? He did not last two days after we took those shots from him dancing naked on this very same bar, and emailed it to the director of UNDSS in New York.
Little did we know they wouldn't think that was not funny. Bureaucrats!

They serve a mean chicken, here. Full of spices to kill everything living in your stomach. Special recipe of Paul, who once owned the bar. Until he drove over a landmine up-country, shopping for two lambs to put on the barbie on Xmas.
It takes about one hour to get the grilled chicken serving, as all is fresh. The chickens roam in the backyard. After the order the cook disappears for 10 minutes with an axe in her hand.
If you want to understand what food poisoning means, you eat the salad too.

The music is always the same choice out of five CDs. The rest was nicked. Aidworkers can be thugs when it comes to personal entertainment. The CD of Tom Jones' "Sexbomb" is kept for special occasions. Diana Ross' "I'm coming out" always keeps hicking up at the same spot, until the bartender gives the CDplayer a kick.

But you don't hear the music, you concentrate on that drink, and the distant noise of your VHF handheld, as a desperate radio operator tries to go through the daily radio check list. And on the distant muffled sounds of yet another grenade attack (all pre-recorded of course).

There is a large, half torn poster of Bukavu, at Lake Kivu. Must be from the Fifties, as the cypresses are not chopped into firewood yet, and the Hotel Karibu is still there. Those were the times when the living was good, and aidworkers were well respected civil servants, representing the social welfare and education arm of the colonizing country.

The electricity is cut twice a day, after which Abdul, the current owner, manually kickstarts the old grumpy 5 KVA generator, which makes the lights shimmer slightly in a rhythmic pattern.

The guests are always the same. Julie, ex-Jalalabad (shagged on R&R in Islamabad) sitting with Patricia (shagged in Juba), and Olivia, the ex-UNHCR reproductive health specialist from Goma (shagged in Mombasa). Olivia actually picked you up with the catch phrase "I have a container full of condoms, expiring next month" (HT Michael). Or was that Shelly? Anyways, does not matter, all of them give you the evil eye anyways. As if it was your fault you wanted to remain celibataire and were only looking for a quick fix?

At the next table we have Joaquim from ECHO, still looking for that single killer project to fund. A project that would propel him into the higher echelons of the Brussels Ivory Tower. For the moment, he is doing his best looking important, going through the 50 pages assessment report, full of baseline data and stakeholder interviews.
Cathy, the Texan chick (shagged in Monrovia) from USAID sits next to him, reading Bush's new book "How I won the Iraq war". As usual, Antoine, the head of mission Lutheran World Relief, joins in (tried to shag you in the Kigali transit lounge, of all places). Bible at hand, as per habit. You remember the fight you had with him, as he kept on spilling profanity on the security repeater in the middle of the night. Usually after he crawled back from the bar to his compound. You've never seen anyone wasted like this.

And then there is the table of the three OCHA dudes. Normally the loudest of all tables, as each keeps on raising their voice on top of the other. They never shut up, do they, those OCHA dudes? Professional deformity, the talking. They are either the youngest or the oldest of the whole bunch. Either fresh graduates naive enough to think aidworkers want to be coordinated, or the pre-retirees fired from every single other agency for incompetency.
Just last month, they all had a fit when their office was closed. Security phase IV, meaning "essential staff only". It was the public acknowledgement OCHA was not essential, all found. Except the Humanitarian Coordinator, of course, who got NY to intervene and allow the "Holy Threesome" as you call them, back into the country.

But all of that is "what once was", of course. Memories mixed with the cheap whiskey. Memories as all of us have decent jobs now. Jobs none of us likes. With only one common thought: "I wish I was back there". In Tblisi, Luanda, Bor, Djamena, Peshawar, Dili, Mogadishu, Nazareth (in Ethiopia, not Israel) or Gulu.

And then at 21:45 someone rings the bell (an old ship's bell that George found on the shipwrecks' beach near Karachi) and shouts "Last call, curfew at twentytwohundred!". After which we order those last 10 shots-to-go. Hand back our make-believe handhelds and safari jackets at the reception, pick up our attache case, straighten our tie, and step into our BMW.

Driving back to our suburban villa we make a mental note not to forget to pick up the lawn fertilizer tomorrow morning. And the tickets for the mid-term holiday in Tenerife.

Picture courtesy Lost in Berlin

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Picture of the day: And this is how your animals will look like

Brown Pelican in heavy oil in Gulf of Mexico

A Brown Pelican sits in heavy oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast.

Picture courtesy Periodismo Humano, AP Photo/Charlie Riedel. Discovered via The Horizon

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BP's new ad campaign

BP new advertisement

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Picture of the day: And this is how your oceans will look like

gulf oil spill

"Delicate patterns in the sea breaking on Orange Beach, Alabama".
More than 90 miles from the BP oil spill. (Hires)

Check the latest articles on the Gulf Oil Spill (or read the latest via RSS)

Picture courtesy Guardian UK, Dave Martin/AP. Discovered via @mparent77772 and The Horizon.

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Picture of the day: Be advised that...

staying in bed

Discovered via MoreCoolPictures

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Picks of the week: new aid blogs, aid resources and other indispensable stuff.

Bike blur

I finally had the time to clean up the link lists on the sidebar. I checked if the sites were still active, and updated. I also added a whole queue of new sites.
When browsing through the blogs, I realize what talent people expose in writing, pictures, drawings. I feel fortunate to be in such good company!

Here are my latest finds:

  1. For the "aid resources"-section:
    • CIMA: To be honest with you, I have no clue why I added this to the "aidworker resources", but it looked like the right thing to do. Is a bit American, though.
    • Praecipio International: Some interesting stuff on early warnings around public health, especially in a humanitarian context. Is a bit American, though. 
    • Aid Transparency: No aidworker can resist a site with a title like that. 
    • AidWatch: Nothing to do with Bill Easterly, but call it the watchful eye on Aussie aid. Is a bit Aussie, though.
  2. New aidworkers with a blog: 
  3. Some cool expat blogs:

Want more? Check the "Links" section in the side bar!

Picture courtesy Peregrine by Nature

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Are you?

Are you happy?

Picture courtesy TypCut, discovered via The Horizon.

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Let's call this: "Sabbatical Day 0, Hour 0"

loaded my car

Today, I closed a chapter in my life, and opened another.

After two and a half years working in Rome, and five months in the Dominican, I thought it was time to try something different. Today, this evening, I start my sabbatical, until the end of the year. To begin with.

Sabbaticals are not new to me. I took the first one back in 1993, when I decided to work on an Antarctica project. I took another break in 1997, to go to the Antarctic again. And yet another one in 2006, for 13 months, to sail across the Atlantic, and start writing down some of my past adventures, both for work, and in my free time.

Some questions people ask me:

1. A sabbatical, why?
Life is too short not to enjoy it. I have always done things because I enjoyed them, and enjoyed things I did. I let destiny lead me. I have been fortunate in that respect. It always turned out OK. I always ended up in a place, doing things I wanted to do. Sure I took risks, often giving up "my secure life", for something more risky. But I always landed back on my feet. I am fortunate to have an employer who allows me to do this (even though for my first sabbatical, I had to quit my job), a supportive family and friends who understood my choices.
For all the previous sabbaticals, when the time was right, I made the call. I never thought twice, and never regretted it. Armed with the past experiences, this one was no different: the time was right, it felt right, so I took the decision. Because life is too short not to do what one likes doing.

2. For how long?
Well, this sabbatical will run at least until the end of the year, but is extendable up to two years.

3. What will you be doing?
First of all, I want to spend more time with my family. We lived together in Uganda, but as I started to travel a lot, Tine and the kids moved back to Belgium. Since 1999, we have been a "shuttling family". Up until 2006, I was fortunately to work "two months on, one month off", so I could spend a total of about four months per year at home. After my third sabbatical, I moved to Rome, where I could no longer work "part-time", so I saw the family less frequent. Now is the time to spend more time at home.
On the other hand, since about three years, I engaged quite a bit with social media. It became a hobby. And more than a hobby. I would like to see how far I can stretch the use of social media in the nonprofit sector. Almost like making a job out of my hobby.
Which is not new to me neither. Back in the 80-ies, I graduated as a printing engineer, but engaged in computing as a hobby. While I did my civil service, as a conscientious objector, I worked in an ecology laboratory making computer programs, and started to write for computer magazines. Two years later, I started a job as a systems engineer.
Around that time, I picked up ham radio as a hobby. Later on, in 1993, I quit my IT job, and stepped into the humanitarian aid sector, as a telecoms engineer. Again taking up my hobby as my job.
Now is the time to see if "my social media" hobby can be more than a hobby.

4. Yes, but practically, what will you be doing?
There are a number of projects I have lined up where I will be reporting on certain events, as "a social reporter", registering events or situations, and using that "input" to "broadcast" it on different media: blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and if things work well, pieces for TV or radio. Things are starting to shape up, so stay tuned.
On the other hand, I want to expand my network of blogs, their content and functionality. I definitively want to expand BlogTips to explore the horizon as to what can be done in the nonprofit sector with social media. How to use this new medium to bring the nonprofit sector's message. Be it for advocacy, fundraising, knowledge management or as a way to engage people.
There is also something brewing in the area of technology solutions for nonprofit causes. There are a number of ideas I have been playing around with since a while, as IT projects, where there seems to be a number of people (I call them "the good and the willing") would like to engage on.
For the rest, I have the agreement with my employer to call me in, when there is an emergency. Setting up things, heading a relief effort, that is what I am good at, and where I can contribute the best.

5. Where will you be?
I will be shuttling between Rome and Belgium.

6. How do you have ends meet, financially?
Since I started working, my family and I always made choices to live the moment. We have not invested a lot in fixed costs, like a house - we don't own a house, or any property -. When we earned money, we set it aside. When the time was right to spend it, we spent it. Money was never an issue. Maybe we were fortunate, although, there were many times where we could barely 'make it'.
During my 20 months of civil service, I earned US$150/month. Tine was still studying. There were times we did not have enough to eat. I think there have been four or five times, where we spent pretty much whatever we had. Each time, we 'started from scratch' again, but we never felt that as a burden. We always enjoyed what we did.

Picture courtesy Shot From the Hip

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Computers will always be... computers - Brussels Airport version

computer crash at Brussels airport

One of the attractions of Brussels airport is a long series of computer screens showing a real time temperature scan of the people passing by on the rolling carpet. Publicity for one of the electricity companies of our united state.

Unfortunately, computers will always remain... computers:

computer crash at Brussels airport

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Ikea starts a new publicity campaign

Ikea publicity campaign

They call it a "Captcha", a short for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart" (I bet even the nerds amongst you did not know that one, did ya?).

Captcha's are used in places where users can leave "fast input", like in blog comments. To avoid automated SPAM-comments, you have to type in the letters/numbers before the blog accepts your comment.

Normally, the letters/numbers are random, but I just came across a blog where the input was "Ikea"... I wonder if it was a coincidence, or if Ikea would have been innovative enough to think of this as a new publicity outlet.
Maybe the next generation Captcha's will help us discover the real values in life. How about these future Captcha's?

  • Coca-Cola is healthy
  • Eating McDonald's is patriotic
  • The War in Iraq was Well Worth It
  • The economy is fine
  • Pollution is a Media Invention
  • So is Climate Change
  • Oil Spills are Natural
  • So is Arctic Drilling
  • ....
BTW, the Ikea thing reminds me of a picture I've had for years, but never found the opportunity to publish. Think it is hilarious. Can't remember where I got it from.

Ikea suicide joke

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Humanitarian News and BlogTips update new layout

BlogTips, my blog for tips on social media and blogging for nonprofit causes, got a new look. Much more plain vanilla than the previous look, so it puts more emphasize on the content.
I am still putting in some extra "schpank" in it (a proper logo and a favicon), but am already happy as it is now

Meanwhile, Humanitarian News continues to grow, so the site became slower and slower. That should be solved now (for the nerds: more aggressive caching was enabled on the site, and I avoided multiple DNS-lookups).
This evening, I also solved a nasty bug in the "search" function: since about a month, the search no longer showed the most recent articles first. Consequently, all the RSS feeds on the searches no longer worked properly (you remember that one of the main features of Humanitarian News was the ability to make customized RSS feeds based on your searches, right?)

Last month, we retrieved a record of 31,050 articles from 890 different sources on Humanitarian News...

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Picture of the day: Ash anyone?

American Airlines plane covered with ash
American Airlines plane covered with ash

Another link sent in by Juan, one or our readers in Guatemala, testifying of the past two weeks and how rough it has been: first they had to deal with a volcanic eruption and the subsequent ash fall. Then Tropical Storm Agatha, the first of the season, washed away bridges and filled some villages with mud. (More foto's)

Picture courtesy Reuters/Daniel LeClair

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Blogging: source crowded knowledge management


You know what I like about blogging? You can leave a trace for others. It is really like "crowdsourced knowledge management". You can write something, and others can find what you write about, simply by googling the topic.

Meaning: once you blog about something, it remains there, in the public domain, for years to come. For others to find... Crowdsourcing: information fed by the masses. Or call it "Power to the People" if you like.

I will take two examples. Two things that made my life miserable in the past months.

  1. I have a X60 Lenovo computer which kept on shutting down due to overheating.
    A problem because for the past months, I worked in an environment where the ambient temperature would easily get over 25 dgrs C. My laptop would barely startup, then detect it got too hot, and subsequently shut down. Annoying to say the least. I searched the web, but did not find a solution.
  2. Since I installed Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, I had a weird problem: every 30 minutes or so, my harddisk would get full, even though I had 3 Gbyte of free space when I started up my computer. I googled like nuts, the ICT helpdesk too, but it was only when I googled in different languages, that I found a trace of someone with the same problem, who posted it in an Italian discussion forum. And it gave me the solution. If it was not for that obscure post in an obscure discussion forum, I would never have found the solution. And my life would still have been miserable
So I will contribute to humanity here. I will blog about the solutions to the two earth shattering problems. And Google will do the rest. Maybe, I will solve someone's problem too. (and I trick Google by putting the subjects as <h2> headers, so it increases the probability of people finding it through search results)

Your laptop shuts down because of heating problems? Two solutions!

  1. Use SpeedFan:
    Speedfan is a free utility that monitors the temperature of core elements in your computer and forces your computer fan to remain on, all the time.
  2. Open your laptop (disassemble it) and spray all inner parts with pressurized air:
    Speedfan by itself, did not do the trick for me. Every year or so, especially when working in dusty environments, dirt particles would settle on my motherboard and on my fan fins. The only thing that helps is disassembling the laptop (taking the cover off the harddisk, keyboard and motherboard) and spraying off the dirt with a can of pressurized air.
    PS: disassembling a laptop is not for the faint of heart. Ask your computer shop to do it for you. But the trouble is worth it: spraying off the dirt is the only thing that solves my laptop's heating problem.

The problem with AdAxxx.tmp files filling up your harddisk

I diagnosed the problem of my harddisk filling up, with the free cleanup utility called CCleaner. CCleaner not only cleans up all temporary files, but also cleans up your system registry of orphaned traces of de-installed programs.
CCleaner showed I had thousands of files in my /Temp directory, all labeled AdAxxxx.tmp (where xxxx was a sequential number).
The problem was simple: a conflict between Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 and AdAware, a free utility to protect against malware hidden in websites.
Installing AdAware automatically also enabled an add-in in Outlook to scan for malware.
My earth shattering problem for AdA.tmp files filling up my harddisk was solved by disabling the AdAware add-in:
Go to : Tools > Trust Center > Add-ins and disable the AdAware plug in.

Voila, those were the two contributions to humanity I had today. Google: go and do your thing now!

If you come across this post, through Google, and it solves one of those two problems you had, leave a comment. It will be nice to see I was right about crowdsourcing and blogging. ;-)

You might think I am kidding, but I assure you, I am not. Here is the proof: One hour after I published this blogpost, guess what appeared on the top of the Google search list for "adaxxx.tmp problem":

adaxxx.tmp problem

Picture courtesy Starts with a Bang

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Living in Italy #17: Letter to the owner of the Italian Trash Company

Italian trash on the streets

When I landed in Rome, finally home after five months, there were three things I noticed on the way back from the airport:
  1. A beautiful sunset, the kind you only see in Italy;
  2. I had no mobile phone signal most of the way;
  3. Trash piled up everywhere next to the waste bins.
Sunsets, we always cover extensively here on The Road. The paleolithic Italian mobile phone coverage, is a subject I will bitch about later. But the garbage problem, I have to revisit now. After all, it was the UN World Environment Day yesterday.

First, let me get this clear: I love living in Italy. But I never got my head around the fact why garbage is such a problem here. I mean, I don't live in a slum area, but in a village close to the capital, known as a weekend resort for the rich and famous - how much I fall out of that category. Still, trash piles up as if we lived in a slum...
And it is not as if people don't mind: People stopped I was walking around to take pictures of the three trash bins around my house. They looked at me, and at the rubble, only to sigh "A disgrace, isn't it?". One elder woman says: "Yes, young man, take pictures, document it, and do something about this scandal!".

So I will. Problem is, where to start? Luckily, one of the trash skips had a man's picture on it:

Italian trash

With my limited Italian, I understand this Mister Armeni must be the proud owner of the trash company called "Forza Italia". I guess the mother company is called "Il Popolo della Liberta - Berlusconi". Probably "Berlusconi" must be the overall umbrella of all Italian trash companies, then. At least that was the old lady's claim: "Berlusconi: Rifiuti! Rigiuti!"

As this Mister Armeni kindly displayed his picture on his company's trash cans, I gather he was asking for feedback. So I wrote him a letter:

Mister Armeni
Regional Trash company "Forze Ragione Regione"
Member of National Trash company "Forza Italia"

Dear Mister Armeni,

Thank you for soliciting feedback on the services of your trash company. I would like to tell you how much I appreciate you must be owning a lot of wastage, and as part of the national trash conglomerate "Forza Italia", I am sure it must be a real challenge to daily hide garbage from the public eye.

Still, I would like to tell you that despite your best efforts, garbage seems to pile up more and more since you took over the company.

I hope you will soon deal with the situation, or speed up selling out your company to the well-known South Italian alliance specializing in the disposal of (radio active) trash (in the Mediterranean). I heard that company is already part of the National Trash company "Forza Italia" anyways...

Looking forward to see progress in your national programme "Trash Italy Fast"!


Post Scriptum: I googled the chairman of the Italian Trash company, and found this video, in which he explained his views on emancipation:

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A hole in my bucket, eh city...

Guatemala sinkhole

The Guatemala City "sinkhole", about 60 feet (18 meters) wide and 300 feet (100 meters) deep, swallowed a three story building in an almost perfect cylindrical hole. A burst sewer pipe or storm drain probably hollowed out the underground cavity that allowed an underground cavity to form.

The hole appears to have been caused by the deluge from tropical storm Agatha blocking sewerage pipes. Spill water gushed away the underground. Guatemala city is built in a region where the first few hundred meters of ground are mostly made up of a material called pumice fill, deposited during past volcanic eruptions. And just like loose gravel can be washed away by water, so was the underground in this spot. (Full)

With thanks to Juan for the tip.
Picture courtesy Paulo Raquec, National Geographic.

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Travelling by plane

kids on the plane

There is not much to say about most aeroplane journeys. Anything remarkable must be disastrous, so you define a good flight by negatives: you didn't get hijacked, you didn't crash, you didn't throw up, you weren't late, you weren't nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.
The gratitude brings such relief your mind goes blank, which is appropriate, for the aeroplane passenger is a time-traveller. He crawls into a carpeted tube that is reeking of disinfectant; he strapped in to go home, or away. Time is truncated, or in any case warped. (..) And from the moment he departs, his mind is focused on arrival.

Paul Theroux
in "The old Patagonian Express"

I thought of that quote yesterday. After spending five hours in transit at Madrid's airport before boarding. A group of 150 seven-graders from Portugal boarded just in front of me, all excited about their one week trip to Rome. I loved their excitement and aggitation. Kids should have fun, so I put on my headset, and fell asleep the moment I got in my seat.
Only to wake up half an hour later, in the midst of a school play ground. The boys and girls were running up and down, even though the "fasten seat belts" sign was on, calling the flight attendants for yet another coke or Mars bar.

I thought we were already in the air, half way to Rome, but we had not moved an inch. And we did not move an inch for three hours, unable to take off due to traffic congestion, it seemed later. Not that the captain was eager to announce anything. We just sat there. Except for the kids. They were not sleepy as I was. True, I had just flown through the night, and had been awake for 36 hours, but then again, I thought they'd been settling down after a few hours. But they did not.

It was strange to see how the other passengers reacted. The noise was that of a kids' birthday party, and so was the agitation and the running around. Kids love kids parties. Adults not. So, most other people switched off. At best, some would get up to stretch their legs, still with a blank stare focused on the horizon. One guy started to play cards with them. Only two passengers got excited. "Che casino, questi ragazzi! Calma, per favore, calma!" shouted an Italian passenger. And it was "piu calma" for five minutes straight.

I was glad to arrive in Rome, where we got stuck for another hour waiting for the transit buses to arrive. And for the luggage to arrive. When I finally opened the door of my apartment, I sighed with relief. I can't wait until time and space travel finally becomes reality. We just step into a tube, and "zwoop", we arrive where we need to be. From the hotel lobby in Santo Domingo to my apartment in Rome. "Zwoop". Hopefully by the time we can warp into time and space, it will be immune to volcanic dust.

But probably the kids would not enjoy warping that much. They enjoy the travel. I envied them.

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Our education is like fast food

Sir Ken Robinson criticizes our education systems as being "fast food", where conformity cuts down on creativity, individualism, and thus became a limiting rather than an enabling factor in our lives.

I hated school. I did not like university, when I studied psychology. Professors explaining the way people function as if it were an exact science. When I studied to become a graphical engineer, I skipped school whenever I could. I'd rather work on my thesis because I could create something rather than falling asleep in class. If I picked up anything during 18 years at school, it would be that originality is rarily awarded or stimulated. Conformity is the law.

I have been lucky to find my way professionally, ending up in a work environment where I could be original. Not many people are that fortunate. Not many take their chances neither in being original. Not only tall trees catch a lot of wind. Also those standing outside of the rows of trees.

Enjoy the video.

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Blogroll: Blogs from expats, travellers and good hearted people

Updated June 21, 2010

Blogs by expats and travellers, adventurers and people with their heart in the right place...

Addicted to the Horizon (World-in Dutch)
Afghan Lord
Baba's Projects (World)
Bleeding Espresso (Italy)
Carpetblogger (Turkey)
Desert Girl in Kuwait
Everything, Everywhere (World)
Holli's Ramblings (Ghana)
The House in Marrakesh (Morocco)
Indian Backpakker
Life in Dubai
Lulu's Bay (Germany)
Meskel Square (Sudan)
Nick Wadhams (Kenya) Recently added to this list!
Nomad 4 Ever (Asia)
Paddy in Buenos Aires
Peregrine By Nature (Senegal)
Primitive Culture (World)
Retired Armchair Traveler (DRC)
South of West (Africa)
Roving Bandit (Sudan) Recently added to this list!
Scarlett Lion Recently added to this list!
Sketches of Africa (Kenya/Uganda) Recently added to this list!
Solo Kinshasa (DRC) Recently added to this list!
Stood in the Masaai Mara (Kenya) Recently added to this list!
The Sudanese Thinker
Susannah Conway (World)
Transitionland (World)
The Traveller Within (World)
Ugandan Insomniac
Uncornered Market (World) Recently added to this list!
The Unforgiving Minute (World)
The Video Journalist (Africa)
The View from Fez (Morocco)

Other interesting blogs to add? Let me know!

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