Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The foreclosures in America and everywhere else

PBS logo (1971-1984)Image via Wikipedia

PBS is the Public Broadcasting Service in America. I'm not really sure if it's a public television as the public televisions in Europe, and in the two countries in Europe I have lived, but it's certainly different that other televisions over there. Being outside the USA, I can only see the kind of television channels like ABC, CBS or CNN and of course the kind of programs they do (Lost, Friends, sports and programs like American Idol and the like), but thanks to the magic of Internet, RSS feeds and Miro, I discovered this program Bill Moyer's Journal, and it certainly gave me a new view or window to what the real America is, and unsurpringsingly has very little to do the kind of America you can see in the shows they export and more like the kind of things you can see in other countries in Europe and other places in the world.

I'm not sure how aware people would be of how the economic crisis is affecting the average american, but seeing this program and video is a sure way to open your eyes to the real economic crisis over there: Steve Meacham: Fighting Foreclosure. In this video they talk about foreclosures, foreclosures that are taking places in American due to the inability of people to pay those mortgages that in the way of sub-prime mortgages have caused the market's crash and economic crisis that has spread everywhere in the world and it's now affecting everyone more or less in the world. Besides talking of how people are losing their houses because they took mortgages they were not going to be able to repay to banks, they also talk about the community movements and their quite silent actions and effects over the whole issue.

Bill Moyer's Journal, a view of foreclosures and the economic crisis in America

Those community organisations are trying to keep people's houses and they are quite successful in doing so, and they do so by renegotiating the mortgages, which in the end not only avoid people being evicted but benefits banks in the long term, as if they keep those people's payments coming the first effect would be to have lower benefits but in the long term the interest they received from those mortgages would mean higher benefits in the future.

And you can see that the problem is being caused by banks trying to get out of the mess through the easiest way: foreclosure and selling the house, hence making an immediate profit. But selling those houses right now (with houses prices falling), could mean not getting the amount of money they originally lent, hence in their books they are losing money. And all that is because they don't have or they don't want to establish the infrastructure needed (an immediate cost) to renegotiate those mortgages, or establish some kind of housing department that temporarily would allow those people to become tenants, hence providing the banks with a lower income coming, but still in the long term, in most of the cases, bigger benefits (in the way of having the opportunity of selling that house at a higher price in the future or that tenant having the resources to repay the original mortgage in the future and in a better economic environment) than if they sell the houses in actual market.

Basically, their inability to adapt to the new market and their inability or unwillingness to explain their shareholders (or need to renegotiate with the financial regulators their situation) their need for either losses right now or lower benefits that would guarantee higher benefits in the future is what is making worse, not only the economic crisis but the social crisis that comes with it. It shows how much the psychology of the masses affects what are supposed to be mathematical and scientific events and it definitely shows you a different America than the one you are used to when watching TV.

More about foreclosures in America from the "Bill Moyer's Journal", "Senator Richard (Dick) Durbin"

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gaza, the Palestinians and the war, Part II

Arab States and territoriesImage via Wikipedia

And I am sure that that alternative has already been discussed and explains in part the dealings both Jordan and Egypt are having with Israel, they would be left to deal the situation. Even though Jordan might accept its part of the deal somehow (they already have to deal with the biggest number of war refugees in the world as they are home to displaced Palestinians from the crisis during the 40s, 50s and so on), I don't think Egypt is so thrilled with Hamas (we have to remember how the second in command in Al-Qaeda is Egyptian and the Muslim Brotherhood and all the problems they are having with them in Egypt “Facebook Intifada in Egypt”, not going to defend or attack the Egyptian government over that issue in here). Egypt might not accept the situation until Hamas disappears or at least offers no problem for them in which case I'm sure they would not only open the border with Gaza but also create some kind of economic agreement that gets them close to the end result: absorbing Gaza into Egypt. Saudi Arabia, most likely, would be providing help in the form of money for the reconstruction of both areas, and maybe that's the reason for a recent issue with the Lybian president. This video and report about the not very good relations between Hezbollah and the Egyptian government by LinkTv. shows how the Egyptian government is not only not willing to deal with Hamas but seems to be very, very annoyed by the way things have turned out in Gaza and Israel.

Of course all that is quite likely, not exactly a good result for Syria and Iran. Hamas is extremely close to Hezbollah who are allies of both Iran and Syria and Syria might not find that pleasing considering how they had to abandon or at least put on hold that very same type of economic and political agreements with Lebanon. And considering Syria's political rivalry with Jordan and Israel ("Since Olmert is an unpopular, lame duck president, he can launch this campaign with relatively little political constraints," Bhalla says. "He is essentially willing to be cast as the "bad guy' so the Palestinian security issue can be dealt with and so the successor regime in Israel can deal more effectively with other issues, such as the peace talks with Syria." Israel and Hamas: A War Primer) is a not very pleasing result for them in my opinion. They would lose a significant amount of influence in the area and Jordan would win a significant amount influence and territory, plus the usual perks in that kind of situation with money from both EU and USA to develop the areas, and so on.

So it seems that the situation is again with no close result as no-one seems to have or be in the situation to make a winning move. Hamas is never going to be able to face the Israeli army if they declare independence from Israel and they know it, they can of course continue their attacks and keeping the situation as now, but on their own they can do very little. The support from Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, and the fact that the rest of Arab states would not be able to deal in their own countries with a full military intervention by Israel (public opinion in those countries would demand action to protect Palestinians, making things unstable in those countries), is the only thing that gives some air to Hamas and allows them continue.

Photo courtesy of PPCC Antifa via Flickr

It's suddenly become very even and very unstable and uncomfortable for many people involved and I'm surprise they are not realising or at least no-one seems to talk too much about it, that Hamas is taking example of what the IRA and Sinn Feinn made Northern Ireland, not only that even Gerry Adams, Sinn Feinn's number one was visiting Gaza recently (Segment: Israeli foreign minister questioned on bribe case by IBA TV, Israel). They have been using the same tactics and winning more a more popular support as Sinn Feinn did during the 80s and 90s. No one seems to realise how absolutely poisonous the IRA and Sinn Feinn and their actions and ways have been from the political point of view and from the international point of view. And they are wrong if they believe they could help in the issue as the only interests they serve are their own interests. This time it's only taken them a couple of months to appear in a place they surely are messing in.

Or maybe that's the reason why Obama has appointed George Mitchell as special envoy to the area, but the pieces in the chessboard are definitely not placed the same way as in Northern Ireland regardless of what the Democrats believe or think of it. And letting Sinn Feinn to meddle in the issue it's a big, big mistake, regardless of what they believe.

Which means that things are quite likely to go on this way for some time with rocket attacks and no real advances for the Palestinian that unfortunately are going to be used as cannon fodder by everyone, including Hamas. The Israelis would continue having casualties but the real losers would be the Palestinians and nobody cares what happens of them and nobody is really going to help them. And I am really sorry for them because it seems they are going to continue dying and I can do nothing, nothing at all.

Some articles from Internet about this issue:

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gaza, the Palestinians and the war, Part I

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestini...Image via Wikipedia

As always running late with the news, but never intended to be on time and time always gives you a better view of the forest. Distance, time distance is a great helper to understand things and analyse them.

The first thing is that I always had the impression the war on Gaza January had as one of its aims to strengthen Tzipi Livni in the February elections, to give the impression to the Israeli public that she was capable of military response to the almost daily rocket attacks from Gaza. And the reason it might have counted with the approval of so many people involved in the situation, from Americans to “moderate” Arab countries was basically because unlike the conservatives (Likud), mostly led by Netanyahu, she (Kadima and Labour politicians) were in favour of an exchange of land for peace. Basically the idea in my opinion was that it was a way of getting closer to the two states solution in the hands mostly of moderates in both camps, Kadima and Labour in the Israeli camp and Fatah from the West Bank.

Quite likely if Livni would have won the elections the most likely scenario would have been that regardless of Hamas opinion in Gaza, they would have started the process of the two states solution in the West Bank.

Of course, not having Livni got enough votes the two states solution, as many have said, was off the table. It's quite unlikely that the Palestinians would be getting close to an independent country with the new Israeli government. You just need to listen to the new Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman to know how difficult that might be.

On thing that I surprises me is the way people seems to either be avoiding talking of another issue, or maybe I am one of the few that has this opinion. I know it's a very sensitive issue to anyone that has any interest on it, but I don't think I'm so far away from the truth.

The rocket attacks from Gaza are caused by several things, the blockade of Gaza was almost a siege but with no troops that were going to take over the territory:

Why the Gaza War Between Israel and Hamas Broke Out Now

“And while Israel can kill lots of terrorists and destroy lots of weaponry, there's always more where they came from. The only way Israel can unilaterally impose a long-term cessation of the rocketing is by massively, indefinitely reoccupying Gaza, home to 1.5 million desperate, hostile Palestinians. Israel tried that route for 38 years before pulling its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza in 2005. Few Israelis are ready for a reprise.”

Smoke rises after an Israel air strike in Gaza Strip December 28, 2008. Israel launched air strikes on Gaza for a second successive day on Sunday, piling pressure on Hamas, Photo courtesy of Amir Farshad Ebrahimi via Flickr

It was really a slow death for the Palestinians first and Hamas second. It was also a way by Hamas of avoiding that exact goal I have talked about above: the two state solution but under Fatah control and obviously excluding Hamas. They had to force the situation somehow to avoid Fatah getting even close to that and hence getting a victory in the eyes of many people, including the Palestinian in Gaza, so any new attack was a way of turning Israeli public against that deal and making Kadima and Livni, look weak in their eyes.

Anyone observing the situation realises that the attacks are actually very unsuccessful in their targets, they rarely caused huge damage in the Israeli side, or at least the kind of damage you should expect from either an army or terrorist group. They are not even frequent enough to consider them anything close to war or a war attack. Coming from the Basque Country and having followed both the political situation in both Northern Ireland and the Basque Country and the development of terrorism in both places I would say that they are closer to the kind of attacks by the terrorist group ETA than the kind of attacks the IRA was involved. They are not massive even though the level of casualties maybe higher than in ETA's attacks, but definitely not the kind of success in the level of casualties the IRA caused during most of its activity. Surprisingly, in the issue of weapons they are closer to the IRA than to ETA, and that considering how poor they are Gaza. Weapons and of that kind are not cheap precisely.

In any case, what it looks clear to me is that they are not going to stop those attacks, so long as Fatah is the one most likely to be negotiating with Israel, as they will be the ones having the political victory in the eyes of everyone. So long as they are not in the negotiating table, chances of them changing course is none. I don't believe that if offered to be in the negotiating table with a certain level of control they wouldn't accept if there is an exchange of land and political independence by Israel. In that case they wouldn't have an excuse not to accept, the IRA and Sinn Feinn in that situation accepted an end of violence in exchange for political power (and money, lest we forget), and they seem to be very, very aware of that. And as the Sinn Feinn, and unlike the many political incarnations of ETA, they have the support of the people of Gaza.

Was it a mistake to allow them to participate in elections? No, because the level of corruption within Fatah and consequences that had for the people in Gaza was sooner or later to caused a rift somehow. It was impossible to keep the situation that way. Unfortunately the situation in those territories had developed for so long so badly that it was almost going back to feudalism in the area and people getting protection for war lords against whatever it happened. Of course those war lords want a bigger share of the pie which means corruption and hence where we are.

Considering how things have developed it's going to be impossible to ignore Hamas, even though I have no doubt they are using the people of Gaza as human shields and for their own political purposes and they want to be in the table. As things stand not only they want to be in the negotiating table but they are going to ask for land and independence from Israel and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they actually put their eyes towards the West Bank and try to extend their influence there too.

Masked Palestinian militants from Islamic Jihad place homemade rockets before later firing them into Israel on the outskirts of Gaza City. Photo courtesy of Amir Farshad Ebrahimi via Flickr

As things stand Israel has only two alternatives: either keep dealing with the on and off rocket attacks from Gaza and having to deal with the casualties and the effect those casualties have on the public or negotiate with the Palestinians. And continuing dealing with the on and off rocket attacks is not going to guarantee them anything as there is no reason to believe that those attacks cannot get worse in some way or another.

They could of course take a long term approach and realise that neither Gaza nor the West Back are viable, economically talking, and the population growth in there is already too much for both areas. In the long term outside Israel, they are going to be absorbed by Jordan and Egypt, either from the economy point of view, the political or both. They could endure the attacks and casualties, deal with discrimination of Palestinians within Israel, offering them a real alternative within Israel with real rights and protections and deal with the government corruption in the West Bank and within Fatah. But considering the problems of corruption they have themselves and the fact they had not attempted something like that before it seems unlikely if not impossible

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ubuntu, Linux and my own experience with them, Part III

In Burgos (Spain), the statue of "the Cid...Image via Wikipedia

Have I mentioned that I'm a mule?

Before continuing with the story something about myself. I'm Spanish, all my family are from the North of Spain, the very North the mountains in the very North (Cordillera Cantabrica) and Galicia. 50% of my genes are from Galicia, the other 50% are from Castilla, to be more specific from Burgos (even though I was born and grow in The Basque Country). That tiny, tiny thing about Burgos might be the reason for being a mule, because as everyone that is aware of it, knows people from Burgos are really, really weird. I would say, and many people say, there are some kind of weird radiations over there. Two people from Burgos: El Cid (Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar) and before him a Count Fernan Gonzalez (he is the one that separated Castilla from Leon and gave strength to that part of my country so that they later became the strongest kingdom and the reason we speak Spanish and not Portuguese or Galizian in Spain and in reality the only successful separatist movement in my country, even though we later came back, and yes he seemed to be from Burgos). So with that kind of genetic background no wonder I'm a mule.

Why I'm talking about being a mule and explaining all this? Because I'm typing this in a beautiful dual boot system with Windows and Ubuntu 32 bit. In fact Ubuntu has become during the last month my main system. I'm typing this in Ubuntu and pretty much made most of the move from Windows, I need more stuff like knowing how to do real automatic back ups (which has been the only reason I haven't gone insane during this ordeal) I haven't dared to install some updates to the graphics card until my back ups are up to the last second. I need some polishing in that area. I have dare to play with the terminal and I'm trying to learn how to compile programs from source. So no I'm not groupie, and "a big, sad failure" Google, and I have proved it.

The technical issues as they might be of use to others and might save someone from insanity:

It's true the ATI drivers are open source but some cards are weird and for some reason (and sorry I don't have the technical knowledge for this) are not properly detected during the installation hence you don't get the screen to work and just see exactly what I said, a black screen. The answer to my problem seems not to be in Google and quite likely not in Internet as a question so specific (as far as I know no-one has had this very specific problem). So as I don't understand very well what I did, but I do understand that all the story can give some kind of hints to help with this problem and other problems, I will tell it as it was.

So reading more, I have read a lot about Ubuntu during the last two months, and checking what others have done with different ATI cards I read this in the OpenSuSe forums, It did not solved my problems but it gave me the idea to play with some of the settings before attempting installation. It also provided information about how to repair the Master Boot Record:

Boot with the XP installation CD.
when prompted, press R to repair a Windows XP installation.
If repairing a host with multiple operating systems, select the appropriate one (XP) from the menu. If you have only one operating system, enter 1 to select it.
Enter the administrator password if prompted.
to fix the MBR, use the following command: fixmbr
type y and ENTER to fix the MBR.
type exit to leave the recovery console and reboot
windows xp should now be working”

The idea about playing with the installation settings, I think I got it from this post, where they start talking about playing with VESA settings and so on. Reading even more I found this article in the Ubuntu Documentation. More playing around and after adjusting the settings I finally got into a text mode installation. I finally succeeded installing UbuntuStudio.

Unfortunately for me I'm a newbie and things were harder for me with that installation, so I decided to go to the basics until I could learn more and go for “plain” Ubuntu. This time reading more I got better settings as the ones in this article, the best option to get the installation CD to recognize my graphics card was adding “vga=771” to the F6 options in the first screen, as explained in the article. Adding that option to the installation options menu gave me, not the text mode installation but the graphic mode installation. What that option does is "forcing" a set of drivers in the installation software. So, yes there are drivers in the Ubuntu software for the ATI graphics cards, but for some reason it has problems recognising those cards so no graphics work (black screen then). So it doesn't automatically detect the graphics card, but the software is there and works with that simple "fix".

So when I was about to declare defeat, in a last development and quite by chance and by reading even more and trying to guess and imagine alternatives, I found a way to successfully installing Ubuntu without a hitch.

Not to bad for a newbie. ;)

My beautiful Ubuntu computer with a beautiful wallpaper from gnome-look.org

Since them, at the end of February, I've been the proud owner of an Ubuntu system. I have found out that in fact the hardest part was the installation mode, and whenever I needed extra help, Saint Google was answering this time and fairly quickly. So that's the reason of two months of silence, almost three. I'm still trying to find my way around, but I'm starting to feel so confident that I will be trying my hand at compiling apps in the not so far away future. It's really pretty and I'm pretty impressed with Ubuntu overall. I must say that considering how young both Linux and Ubuntu are (Linux is half the age of Windows) it's very much at the same level of Windows. Of course the worst part has been the installation process and age and experience show in that area. Windows has had access to much more systems and hence could test them and know whether the software works in advance and how plus your system already has been tested to work with Windows. Linux and Ubuntu rarely comes pre-installed in computers and have had fewer systems to test, hence my problems and quite likely the problems of many people daring to try Linux and/or Ubuntu.

Things I have learnt from the experience:

  • Google might not solve your problems, and if Google can't you are on your own.

  • If Google doesn't have the answer, that doesn't mean the answer is not in Internet.

  • Microsoft has tons of experience with computers, and less troubles when installing software on them

  • Linux and Ubuntu are developing at the speed of light considering how little resources and experience they have.

  • I need to learn more about Windows, it would be really stupid not to do it. XP was a terrific operating system and really they might be more conservative and so on, but they have ironed so much the software that even kids can use computers

  • Again Linux is developing at the speed of light and catching up with Microsoft, no wonder Microsoft fears Linux and not Apple.

  • I have learnt a lot about Linux and the installation process, but I need to learn much, much more.

  • When something doesn't go as expected get away from the computer, seriously you would do some serious damage in that madness.

  • I am a freaking mule, a month and three re-installations prove it. Fear me LOL

So details about my system so that others could be saved from the madness and problems I had. I have a laptop Compaq V5100 with 2 GB of Ram and an ATI RADEON® XPRESS 200M IGP graphics card and if you have the same troubles as me installing Ubuntu or any other Linux distro I would change the options of the installation menu and in the first screen press F6 and add the following line to the options: "vga=771". It might save your sanity and help you to get an installation without problems at all. And yes your problem is with the graphics card. I hope this helps someone.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ubuntu, Linux and my own experience with them, Part II

Powered by Ubuntu Linux (Sticker)Image by jcraveiro via Flickr

Have I said that I have read a lot about this issue (yes I got a little obsessed with this) and being the mule I am I continue hitting the keyboard: “Google, Google lama sabachthani?” No answer to my problems and only explanations for my “big, sad failure”. I don't want to hear I have failed and why, I want answers to my problems.

New attempt in the now obsession to have any distro. If I couldn't install Ubuntu I would try other distros and have a dual boot windows-Linux system. So I downloaded CrunchBang Linux. I kinda manage to get the Live CD working this time, but the resolution was blown out so much,I was again unable to install as I couldn't see most of the things in the screen. New attempt try to play with old Live CDs and remembered that I had OpenSuSe 10.1 in dual boot with windows two years ago. So I tried that, and yes SuSe managed to recognize the graphics card somehow. OpenSuSe and Ubuntu work differently and everything I had read was Ubuntu so there it went more of my 10Gb monthly bandwidth (yes I know I want to cry every time I think about it), in downloading the OpenSuSe 11 ISO file.

Have I mentioned something about screwing your system and needing re-installation?. More of this in a minute. So there I went after by now two Windows re-installations (no data lost as I was fully backed-up). Burnt the ISO attempted installation and yes I had a graphic installation environment. Did the partitions, checked everything was right and started the process. Unfortunately during the process something happened (maybe the freaking graphics card, maybe the software spirits needed prayers, maybe Google was trying to secretly keeping me as a “big, sad failure”) God only knows the process stopped in the middle of creating the grub menu and having already started to make the changes to the Master Boot Record Table. So no OpenSuSe in my computer and an unbootable Windows system.

At this point I realised that I was screwing Windows and at least in two occasions I could have fixed the problems with the installation CD if I had known the right stuff. Of course I didn't know the right stuff, so there it went the third Windows re-installation in less that two weeks. And yes Google continued telling me that I was a “big, sad failure”.

By now I was ready to declare myself defeated, also I knew that I needed to learn more about Windows and more reading about Windows was now in the menu. Went for the third Windows re-installation, downloaded the security updates, got the anti-virus, got Windows firewall down, Comodo firewall up, installed again VirtualBox and I was about to declare to the world I had been defeated. I realised that I was only going to be able to have Ubuntu as a virtual guest in my system and started to play with the virtual system.

Also started to write my declaration of surrender. Yes I was defeated, yes I was mad, yes I could not understand what was going on, yes I had looked for help, and yes no answers were coming from either the community or Google. I was in the darkest night, in a corner with no option but to either buy a new system or stay with Windows. In my head I was crying and angry, no help or answers had been found, not even some answer of the kind “I'm sorry and understand your pain, but we don't know what is wrong” in forums. And yes Google had abandoned me, “Google, Google lama sabachthani?”.

All this was taking place in the netbook (Windows XP3) I had Windows Live Writer, and I was working in my “Declaration of Surrender”. Yes, I was angry but I tried in my pain to stay rational and not hit back at Linux, but I was pretty mad. The post was written and finished just to check a couple of things and sent it to the blog.

I felt ignorant, and a big, sad failure. Three re-installations of Windows in the course of two weeks have left me without any feelings of trying again. I would continue reading about Ubuntu and Linux, there was an immediate need to learn more about Windows. I felt like girl that was in love with this rocker, poet, wild guy and was trying to go for the wild guy (Ubuntu and Linux) instead of going for the conservative, normal, boring guy (Windows) that every time I made a mistake, was ready to take me back, no questions asked. I felt like a groupie, even though Windows and Microsoft were always so understanding and never asked anything just gave me the updates. They were always so nice and understanding, and they always took me back. But I am not a groupie, silly girl and I'm not a big, sad failure. I'm not, I'm not, I'm not.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ubuntu, linux and my own experience with them Part I

Ubuntu logoImage via Wikipedia

So I sent the computer for a check up and RAM upgrade. Being Ireland they said the magic words "two weeks", they always say that, and when you have been in Ireland long enough you know that two weeks might be or might be not. It's like "mañana" in Spain. In the North of Spain it usually means "mañana", but not so long ago "mañana" was a way of telling you "I don't know when".

Coming back to my story they told me "two weeks", so I waited, and I will include here that the check up was supposed to be arranged by appointment and take no longer than 1 or 2 days if no problems where found, that is supposed to be the story in the UK. But in Ireland, there are no appointments and no it does not take 1 or 2 days, it's two weeks if no problems are found and I won't go into other details of the kind of service you can get in Ireland and other issues so as to no scare people having to do this stuff here. Just trust me when I say that if you have a computer is easier if you learn how to fix everything in it than to pay for someone to do it.

All the above meant that I was without the computer for most of January and only had the little netbook, a Samsung NC10 (awesome battery life, I love it) that was supposed to be used for ebooks and other multimedia. Things that I learnt in January with the netbook are that I hate web surfing in netbooks and that you should not expect them to do heavy work in them. Even a 10 inches screen is too small for me and I decided not to install anything unnecessary in the netbook. I went for some Portable Applications and no Adobe Air or any Adobe Air applications and the like. Portable Applications are not only terrific in a USB thumb-drive but terrific for netbooks. The only apps I decided to install in the netbook are Firefox (of course), Foxit, Miro and FeedDemon plus some reasonable apps for security purposes No Script, Lavasoft, Spywareblaster, and the anti-virus and firewall. Also went for a couple of apps that might help you with the netbook like Alcohol 52% for CD (there is no CD-drive so if you want to import some stuff from other computers and don't want to do much playing around Alcohol will play those CDs with out any problem). Definitely in love with the netbook, it's really light I can handle it with just one hand, perfect for reading ebooks at nights with no battery problems or for real portability because of the battery life (8 hours and you might manage more if you play with the screen brightness).

Of course I was not really doing anything in Internet. So as soon as I got the laptop back (and it wasn't 2 weeks, it ended up being 3 and no there were no problems in the computer, they do whatever they like in the computer and then you get the computer, check things and found out, that your RAM upgrade was not done as requested and you need to go back to the shop again. Result one more week without laptop) I started prepare the system so I could install Ubuntu. The idea was to install UbuntuStudio 8.10 and I already had the ISO in the external. I decided to go for a USB installation instead of installing from a CD, with UnetBootin. That was the first problem, my laptop bios does not seem to support booting from a USB, I had to change plans and burn the ISO to a DVD.

And know the "fun" part begins, I tried booting from the CD got the first two screens, I choose the language, etc. click to start the process and I got a black screen, and I never thought black could be such a terrible colour, and even though I could hear some beeps, I couldn't see anything at all in my screen. Several attempts rendered nothing but black screens after the first booting screen. And for the first and only time in my life Google failed me. I couldn't find a proper answer or anything. The usual instructions didn't work, trying a different ISO, trying the 32bit ISO, trying the alternative text-mode "plain" Ubuntu desktop ISO, burning the ISO and checking it's been burned at the slowest speed, and trying CrunchBangLinux. Nothing worked and no help at hand, there was no answer for why I couldn't install and got a black screen and nothing else.

Much reading and going through Google and I reached the conclusion that the problem was quite likely related to my graphics card, an integrated one into the motherboard ATI Radeon Mobility X200. It appears that ATI cards are not really Linux friendly. Reading even more I found out that ATI had made the drivers code open source, so it was really surprising the fact that they were not included in the Ubuntu software or you had so much trouble with them that you couldn't install Ubuntu in those computers. I was pretty pissed off and pretty discouraged, as I had been reading as much as I could in advance so that I wasn't a huge dummy newbie when I had Ubuntu on my laptop. And no Google was not providing answers this time. It was only providing explanations for my failure (and I hated that part).

As I was in real need of reinstalling Windows, I reinstalled Windows and continued reading explanations about my "big, sad failure". Things didn't help as I was trying to understand what was going wrong and knowing that I had already tried to create a virtual Ubuntu system before successfully, I tried again to install Ubuntu 32 bit with VirtualBox and succeeded. So I was confused as to why I could get the graphics working with VirtualBox and couldn't get Ubuntu to install directly in my system. Being the freaking mule I have always been, and not accepting a "big, sad, huge failure" as an answer every time I tried to get an answer in Google (shame on you on that one) I continue reading.

Photo courtesy of rianvanu via flickr

One of the reasons for the first Windows re-installation, was because reading about the graphics card issue I got the impression that some times reverting the driver to a previous version might help Ubuntu to recognise the graphics card and hence get to see something so that you can proceed with the install. As any case I was in need of reinstalling Windows and before sending the computer for check-up I had backed up everything and prepared for the worst either there or when installing Ubuntu, I tried reinstalling Windows getting the old driver and with a pretty clean system attempted again. No result was the answer. And the answer from Saint Google was an explanation for my big, sad failure.

Working with the virtual machine I tried to understand what was going on, why I could get Ubuntu to work in a virtual machine, what it was that VirtualBox makes that helps Ubuntu to recognise some drivers and get a text-mode installation. Doing all that I managed to get my system so confused that I lost network connection and not knowing how to recover it, I proceed with the second Windows re-installation I will summarize the lessons learnt from this experience at the end of this article.

This time I didn't update my system, no security updates, nothing just plain windows, anti-virus, firewall, and VirtualBox. Read more, looked for an answer, felt stupid and a big, sad failure. Got mad with the system tried everything possible, got even madder and in doing all that stuff I managed to corrupt Windows. This time it wasn't something "small" like loosing your network capabilities and Internet connection, it was a big, corrupted system, with in my opinion, no absolute way of repairing it. One thing I learnt is if you are mad, get away from the computer. Stop typing things, back off for your own sanity and for the health of your system. Truly trust me, get some coffee, watch some TV, anything, whatever but stay away from the computer or else you will end up as myself with a fully corrupted system.

Fortunately the issues were just software, and I was fully backed up and had all the disks for easy reinstalling. So that was my second re-installation in less than two weeks.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The myth of "El Dorado"

I was seeing this slide show with photographs taken by the NASA Earth Observatory in CNN, and just suddenly understood the myth of "El Dorado". The Amazon river looks different rivers of gold flowing, I am pretty sure this effect could be seen if you are on a high place like one of the many trees that surround the river and quite likely it was this the beginning of the legend and the myth.

Other people seem to believe that the origin of the myth might be related to this peculiar type of soil in the Amazon's basin.

FT.com / Weekend / Reportage - Black is the new green

In Brazil’s Amazon basin, farmers have long sought out a special form of fertiliser – a locally sourced compost-like substance prized for its amazing qualities of reviving poor or exhausted soils. They buy it in sacks or dig it out of the earth from patches that are sometimes as much as 6ft deep. Spread on fields, it retains its fertile qualities for long periods. They call it the terra preta do indio – literally, “the dark earth of the Indians”. Dense, rich and loamy, this earth forms a stark contrast with the thin, poor soils of the region. (It seems a paradox, but rainforest soils have low fertility. This is why farmers who cut down the forest for agriculture have to keep on felling – after a few years of cropping, yields collapse and they have to move on.) Patches of terra preta extend for many hectares in some places but until recently, no one really knew what the mysterious dark earth was. Some guessed it was volcanic, or the sediment of old lakes, or the residue of some...
As well known as they were the properties of the "terra preta" in the area and there were documentaries in Spanish talking about the issue, the article above was the first time I read about this issue in English. And I was surprised considering the problems chemical fertilizers have caused in some farming areas. In Japan they depleted some soils so much they could not grow anything else in them. And this soil mixed with those barren soils seems to turn them productive again, almost like magic.

Whatever it was the origen of the myth, sunlight over the Amazon river or the very productive and weird "terra preta", it doesn't stop having some kind of magic in it, even nowadays. And the photograph is simply amazing.
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