Sunday, September 25, 2005

Literary corner

I read some nice books lately of which i would like to talk a little bit. The first one of them, Baudolino by Umberto Eco is a historical novel taking place in (mostly) Europe at around 1100. I like historical novels, It is interesting to me to imagine how people and historical characters lived at the time. The novel's main character, Baudolino, has two amazingly useful gifts. The first gift allows to learn a language perfectly just by listening to two persons talking it; the other gift is that he is an incorrigible liar. Thanks to his talents, he manages to become Frederick Barbarossa's adoptive son and abandon a life in the countryside as a farmer. Not that he is a good farmer, he spends most of his time dangerously roaming in battle fields out of curiosity. Anything to avoid helping his family in the farm. Lazy as he is, his new life serves him well. The book describes many interesting facts from the time in a humorous way. The ever-changing alliances of cities in north Italy, the delicacies that that are part of the cuisine of Constantinople, looting by crusaders, trading of religious relics, etc. The last part of the book becomes too fantastic for my taste, Umberto Eco himself lies as much as Baudolino :).

Then i read the first book of The Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams. I found it very entertaining, the jokes of the narrator and the dialogues are clever. The story is not credible enough for a science fiction book, but I guess that it is not really what this book is about. I had a good laugh with this book but i don't consider it a great book. That is why i hadn't big expectations for the movie. Nevertheless the movie was just as funny as the book, I laughed a lot, at the end it becomes too romantic but still it is a fun and relaxing movie to see. If you have doubts about seeing this movie i will reveal a bit of the plot (not a spoiler, though). The book is about an earthling, named Arthur, who happens to have his house and his planet, incidentally the earth, destroyed the same day. Fortunately his friend, Ford, is an alien who is doing a research for The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy for the company that publishes it. You can think of this "book" as some kind of a lonely planet book for space travel. As he knows a few ropes about cheap space traveling, he saves Arthur and off they go hoping around the galaxy. I love the beginning of the movie with the dolphins singing the musical "So long and thanks for all the fish".

The third book is Terry Pratchet's Thief of Time. It was the funniest book i read in a while! The story is rich and demented. The world in which the story takes place is just as bizarre. The characters include Death (the one guy with the scythe), the Death of rats (some kind of pet), some eccentric tibetan-like monks that teach the old discipline of controlling time, a socially-challenged genius clock maker and some strange beings that are the accountants of the universe (don't ask, read it). I can promise a laugh every five pages and a constant smiling because of the cleverness of the book. It is an irreverent book just as The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, it pokes fun at everything. Readers of Harry Potter and The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy will love this one.

The last entry is about a movie, not a book. Yesterday I watched Kung Fu Hustle, I don't remember when was the last time i laughed so hard. Tears were coming out of my eyes and at a certain point i was afraid that my stomach was going to explode (after that copious dinner i had, who wouldn't!). The jokes are not clever as in the previous two cases, they are childish, like throwing a knife to the wrong place (yourself) or the charming joys of marital life (the wife beating the husband to a pulp). If you need a laugh, this movie will not disappoint you. I read that there are even funnier movies by the same director, i will try to find them and try to watch them with a relatively empty stomach.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A trip recharges you...

Dubrovnik sel - 051...even if the trip only lasts nine days (a few hours less actually). It is hard not to enjoy Dubrovnik, the old town has (apparently) untouched ramparts and old stone buildings. I say apparently because the old town was shelled during Croatia's struggle for independence. If you see the pictures of the time, most buildings were touched and some completely destroyed, and compare them with modern pictures, you would think that the first never happened.

The restauration of the buildings left Dubrovnik in good shape for visitors. Yet, many scars remain there, but not by accident or lack of time, they're there to remind the visitors of the siege.

Dubrovnik sel - 030

So there i was, walking all over the place and shooting pictures. I had great sea food including some wonderful oysters. I ashamedly have to admit that once i fell into a tourist trap restaurant, one of those where the waiter is talking to every tourist in the street into his menu. Besides that, it was great food and two times i also prepared (under expert supervision) food at home.

Dubrovnik sel - 008

The weather was still warm with plenty of time for swimming and catching some sun.
Almost every day i had to do hiking whether i felt like it or not. You see, the place where we were staying was slightly far from the center and to make things better, on top of a quite steep hill. Walking was much more pleasant in the charming old town and amidst nice nature. One of the islands we visited, Mljet, hosts a national park with a very beautiful nature. After biking for quite sometime in it, we were in a very beautiful rocky beach where we had the chance to see a live octopus!

Dubrovnik sel - 046

All in all, i loved it a great deal and now i feel with a better disposition to work :).

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Katrina links

I decided to include links to s0me stories about Hurricane Katrina which are mentioned very often in the blogosphere. These stories are based on witness acounts, so they give a more alarming impression than do the stories told by officials or mainstream media. You can see many of the stories under this link "Heroes despite our government".

The most impressive story is based on the accounts of two emergency medical service workers that were in New Orleans during and after Hurrican Katrina. Read it here.
Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreens store at the corner of Royal and Iberville Streets in the city’s historic French Quarter remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing, and the milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat.

The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers and prescriptions, and fled the city. Outside Walgreens’ windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry. The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized, and the windows at Walgreens gave way to the looters.

There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices and bottled water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead, they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

Continue reading.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The iPhoto rant of the week

I hate iPhoto! It is slow and heavy weight! The approach that windows XP takes to pictures is less intrusive. You have your pictures nicely organized in folders and you don't have to go through this import/export non-sense. Apple's iPhoto can crash so easily and when loading it asks you to point to the library. What? To the photo library? I have to tell you again for the 10th time?!?!?

I am seriously thinking of using my cheap (100 euros) linux box to manage pictures.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Daily life, Bolivian politics, etc

Some updates about my daily life. Work is progressing fine and I am thinking about some further ideas for research. I hope they are fruitful enough to work on them seriously :).

After university I went to the nearby lake to skate for a few hours (two). Now I can skate faster, finally I have the "skating" feeling. When you feel you are gliding over the floor and you stop thinking about how to move your feet around. More speed brings harder falls, but Alexey is cautious and well equipped. No big wounds to regret!!

Next week I am going for short holidays to Dubrovnik, for about nine days. And just before it I will pick up my damaged camera. Expect many new pictures on my blog!

Today I was expecting that some of the Bolivian bloggers would post a thoughtful post about the political situation in Bolivia. I will have to wait a few days until they digest the events. The main event is that today (or yesterday?) was the deadline for the presentation of the political parties for the upcoming election in December. There is much room for analysis because within hours before the deadline, alliances were made and broken. You can interpret this sudden reorganization of political parties ideologically... Well not really, you change your ideology just hours before the deadline? No. The most likely situation is that bargaining got pretty tough between the presidential candidates/parties and the allies.

Currently most of the parties started with a presidential candidate and later they forged alliances with different sectors of society to fill the remaining posts (vicepresident, etc). In this way, they expected to capture the fragmented Bolivian vote. I would like to know the secret deals that they cut in order to capture attractive candidates with a lot of politic capital (read votes). Because of this competition some candidates freely exchanged political parties when they had better conditions.

As a result some organizations(FEJUVE) and parties(FRENTE AMPLIO) could not fulfill the requirements needed to run for presidency. I am worried that no representatives of FEJUVE are allied with a political party. It means that when people in El Alto are unhappy again they cannot act in the parliament and they will block again. I hope I am mistaken.

Some analysts think that such composed presidential formulas will bring about a very inefficient government that will not solve the fundamental problems. Maybe it is true. But on the other hand, these last years we see a need for consensus. A way to achieve it is an effective alliance in political parties. Let's hope we will see them battling in the parliament only.

Not only bad news in Bolivia. Some friends in Cochabamba organized a free software congress. They were successful in bringing together the different free software groups in Bolivia. I have posted some links to blog coverage in almadadenoche, since I am too lazy to copy you can read it there.

Tips for bolivian dishes

Two posts ago, my comments about bolivian soup inspired some inquiries. The question is whether peanuts need to be soaked overnight to cook them. Alexey, the great cook, always forgets to soak the peanuts overnight although our dear Nelly de Jordan suggests to do so in her book about Bolivian food. Once i did it for many hours and other times just as little as half an hour. To me it does not make such a difference as long as you blend it finely. Soups are not hard to do so you can try one of the recipes on internet yourself. Maybe the hardest part is to prevent the potatoes and the rice from sinking to the bottom of the pot and burning. When you put them (at the end) make sure there is enough water, stir and don't overcook!

Something that is relatively easy to make is papas a la huancaina. Doña Nelly (i have the book with me) suggests a tastier variation, that is to make the peanut sauce with grated cheese. I tried it with feta cheese and it was heavenly.

I am also lucky enough to find Yuca at the turkish market and try out some recipes. Other ingredients i bring back from Bolivia allow me to occasionally do some api and charque. Tongue and stomach are harder to find at the supermarket so i cannot make other Bolivian delicatessen that i love so much.

I just realized Eduardo has a section about Bolivian food. Go for a visit even if he does not like picante de lengua ;).

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bolivian news

From time to time i stick here some links to bolivian news. I found in Miguel's blog some interesting bits about the micro lending industry. He quotes the following article from South Africa:
Ideas we can borrow from Bolivia
Vuyo Njokweni
AMID the arguments on the most suitable regulatory framework for South African microlending, it is worth-

while taking a brief look at Bolivia, a country more associated with revolutionaries and drug peddlers.

In fact, Bolivia has a world-class microlending industry. Claudio Gonzalez Vega observed “one could not write the world history of microfinance without highlighting Bolivia”. Bolivia stands out as one of the pioneers of modern consumer finance. Its name is synonymous with successful consumer lending.
read the full story at MABB.

Lazy blogger

I have not being very good at blogging these weeks. I see that i only had a few posts these months. Probably that discouraged a few readers :), although there are very few regular ones.

I did not go for holidays this two months but it is possible i make a short trip in september or october. Despite that, i felt like i had a break during this period. I was still working but the absence of colleagues in the office or maybe the fact that i worked at home most of the time made it more relaxed. I have had a great time with friends around here. Yesterday I went to the graduation ceremony of a dear friend, after that we had an exotic dinner at an african restaurant. In the Netherlands you have many international people coming and going every year. As a result friendships last for that year and sometimes maintained through email. I stay longer than that period and i have seen many people come and go. Fortunately i have a network of friends who stay around longer, i am grateful for that. It can be sad to say goodbye to someone every year. While i am not good at keeping contact, being the lazy email writer that i am, i try to keep in touch with people that are closer. This graduation friend of mine is one of them so i give thanks to skype that long distance conversations are not expensive anymore :).

During this crazy period when people move to new places and shuffle their stuff around i ended up having many boxes at home. Now i feel the need to arrange everything before resuming writing. It makes me more calm. I can't work while i have the impression that there is something to be done. Later in the afternoon i will take skating break from work.

Two weeks ago i prepared bolivian peanut soup. It was quite tasty! The funny thing is that this soup tastes better when you keep it for one day (in the fridge) and then warm it again.