Unrelated Thoughts

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pisco Sour

Just follow the instructions...

Pisco Sour - Page_1
Pisco Sour - Page_2

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Have any number in mind?

Ok guys, since I know that telling you how busy I am right now will not justify my loooooong absence from this cozy bloggy place (a poor but blameless blog!), I will not attempt to say a word.

Instead, let me ask you, who are still subscribed to this RSS (is there anybody out there?), a numerical favor for a small study I'm running. Don't use Excel, a calculator or a Fortran program, just think on a random number between 1 and 20, and share it with me in the comments section.

Don't worry, it's not a "tell me a number and I tell you what kind of person you are" kind-of-thing.

Think on a number before coming to the page, and then write it on the comments section.


(And see you soon again! I see a light at the end of the tunnel...)

Monday, March 13, 2006

When are you poor?

Two weeks ago I’ve had the opportunity to start reading this excellent blog, View from the Sidewalk, which provides the world with a unique perspective on the homeless problem: that of someone who is currently homeless. And this fired on my brain a question that I cannot answer yet: when are you poor?

I mean, in Spanish we translate poor as “pobre”, and also translate homeless as “pobre” (although a literal translation would be “sin hogar”, but since this is a two-word phrase, we still prefer “pobre” for daily speech). And that makes sense for us, since people who are poor usually don’t own masonry houses, i.e., they’re homeless.

Last time I checked the Peruvian economical info at the CIA World Factbook, I found that 54% of the population live bellow the poverty line, meaning that more than 14 million people is poor, at least according to the World Bank definition. 14 million people living with less than 2 USD a day! 60 USD (6000 yen) a month!

I think I’d feel poor even earning much higher figures than those…

Most of Peruvian poor people live in the Andes. They have a small space they call their land, where they farm potatoes, corn, etc., and they also have some few animals, cows, chickens, pigs, etc., which they milk or otherwise eat. They don’t sell much of their crops because they need them to eat and survive and because when they do they don’t get much money for them (remember: less than 60 USD a month!). They don’t have a TV, they don't know DVD, they don’t go to the doctor, and most of them don’t know how to read. But they’re somehow happy.

I’m not trying to say that since they’re happy we shouldn’t try to reduce poverty. We should keep fighting! But I want to focus on how they’re used to it, know how to live with it and don’t expect much more. And I ask myself if I would be that happy living with just 60 USD a month.

Of course not! I’d be crazy living on just 1000 USD a month!

And that’s why I cannot answer that question: “when are you poor?” Michael Brown, the homeless guy writing the aforementioned blog, is lucky because he has a job (a low wage job, but a job nevertheless), he’s educated, he’s a computer literate, he knows he has rights, and he’s fighting to overcome homelessness. For me, he’s not “pobre”.

I suppose each of us has his and her own poverty line. I mean, maybe I could overcome living even on just 500 USD a month, but I know many other people who couldn’t. They’d feel defenseless and worn out. Maybe being poor is just a state of mind, if you feel that you can survive and that you can overturn your condition, then you’re not poor. If you feel happy, then you’re not poor.

I think that’s the answer. You’re poor when you feel poor.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I-Pod Pro 2005 XP (Human Ear Professional Edition)

What do you think about the packaging design by Apple? Do you really care about it? I mean, do you keep the box for any reason? Apparently Apple consumers do, so they love the metrosexual packaging that comes with their products.

I actually don't care that much, but I must accept that Apple's visual is by far cleaner and with a greater attention to detail than Microsoft's. And apparently some people at Microsft think the same.

The following video was prepared by some guys at the Microsoft Marketing Department for an internal meeting with their designers. I think they hate their marketing guidelines!


Friday, February 10, 2006

Diamonds are not forever

I know you all girls die for receiving a 1-carat-diamond engagement ring from Prince Charming. And I know some of you may have actually received one. Probably even one or two received a nice 2-carat family-treasure ring that was once worn by the groom’s grandma but, I’m pretty sure, none of you have received a 100 year old diamond engagement ring. Have you? I know you haven’t. And you know why? Because the concept that offering a diamond ring was THE symbol of engagement was INVENTED some when during the 1940s…

By that year one South African company, De Beers, controlled 90% of the diamond production and almost 100% of its declining market. It was just natural that after the huge world depression few people could afford to buy luxurious goods. So, in 1938 Harry Oppenheimer, the 29-year-old son of the founder, traveled to New York and hired N. W. Ayer, a leading advertising company, to create a new image for diamonds among Americans. The target was to make them buy more expensive pieces than the 80-dollar-ones they were buying in average.

Ayer did a great job by identifying that it should focus on strengthening the association of diamonds with romance. It would be crucial to inculcate young men that diamonds were a gift of love: the larger and finer the diamond, the greater the expression of love. It would be also crucial to get young women view diamonds as an integral part of romantic courtship.

To change their mindset this way, Ayer focused on the rather new medium of movies, and movie stars were given diamonds to use as symbols of indestructible love. They also set up a weekly service called “Hollywood Personalities” that offered magazines and other media information (and pictures) of celebrities and their diamonds. Four color ads on exclusive magazines, showing diamonds before paintings by Picasso, Dali and others, showed that this stones were unique works of art.

The plan worked and by 1941 the sale of diamonds increased by 55%. Diamonds were being sold that well that by 1950 a new threat raised: that of a secondary market of used diamonds. So Ayer (yes, it was Ayer, not Ian Fleming nor James Bond) came with its most famous line: Diamonds are forever”. Even though diamonds can in fact be shattered, chipped or incinerated to ash, the concept of eternity was the one that De Beers needed to attribute diamonds its magical quality. And of course, to discourage women of selling their diamonds.

By 1979 De Beers was selling in the USA more than US$2.1 billion, nearly a hundredfold since its 1939 figures: just US$23 million.

De Beers has created such a perfect monopoly that, even though commodity prices tend to fluctuate a lot (see precious metals as gold or silver), diamond prices are extremely stable. But don’t fool yourself. If you try to make business by buying and selling diamonds, you won’t be able to, unless you buy to De Beers (or one of its wholesalers) and sell directly to the public. In 1970 a British magazine did an experiment: it bought a £400 diamond and tried to sell it nine years later, after a 300% inflation. Instead of selling it on £1200, they couldn’t get more than £500. In 1971 they bought another one at £2600. One week later the maximum buy offer they could get was a £1000 one. Their conclusion? “Diamond investments have proved to be very poor”. Big jewelry companies such as Tiffany & Co. and similar have a no-buy policy on diamonds. They actually don’t want to offend their costumers by buying back from them diamonds at half their original price.

In July 2004, De Beers pleaded guilty to the charge of “conspiracy to fix prices for industrial diamonds” and now, after 10 years and a payment of a US$10 million fine, they are trading again in the American market. Its size today? US$500 million in industrial stones and US$60 billion in diamond jewelry. Annually. Great deal, isn’t it?

What was not such a great deal was your buying of a diamond for your bride.

Ladies, enjoy your diamonds while they last for diamonds are not forever.

The information presented here was obtained from the following sources, and you’re invited to visit their pages:
- Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?
- Wikipedia: De Beers
- De Beers Group
- Diamonds, Gold, and South Africa
- The History Behind the De Beers Diamond Cartel

Friday, January 06, 2006

Good bye rooster, welcome dog!

Last was a good year for me but a bad one for the world. I was accepted as a master’s student here in Japan, my family earnings surpassed again (thanks God!) my family expenses, we all enjoyed good health (if you don’t count mosquito bites and a few colds), and I can finally say I’m living a rather comfortable (though austere) life. The world, on the other side, was affected by strong earthquakes, by the worst hurricane season in North America, by many plane accidents (including one in Peru), by increasing petroleum prices (which I think will never go back to the 1990’s levels), by the American decision to build a new sort of Berlin Wall separating the US from Mexico (now I understand why they vetoed the UN resolution declaring the Israel Wall illegal!) and by many other natural and human-made disasters. It was actually not a good year for us as an Earth Community.

With that on sight, I may only say to the world, ganbatte kudasai!

(And of course: good bye, Year of the Rooster; welcome, Year of the Dog!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mr. Bush, tear down this wall!

In 1987 Ronald Reagan, referring to the Berlin Wall, challenged Mikhail Gorbachev with his famous line (he was an actor after all) “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Two years later, in 1989, the infamous wall was finally torn down…

The Berlin Wall (155 km long) was probably the most visible sign of the cold war, and a symbol of the inability of the communist state to keep its citizens from leaving when they could. It was an icon of totalitarianism.

What would you call then now the American attempt to build a 1000 km wall along the US-Mexican border?

They say they want to keep immigrants (and terrorists) from entering illegally to the US, therefore keeping the peace in that country. Congressman Duncan Hunter complained that “illegal aliens continue to funnel directly into many of our local communities and adversely impact our way of life by overwhelming our schools, inundating our healthcare system and, most concerning, threatening our safety”. Let me ask you if those words don’t sound similar to you to those arguments used by the Eastern German Propaganda Machinery to justify the erection of the Berlin Wall: “It all worked without a hitch! The measures to ensure peace caught our enemies entirely by surprise. The measures were solidly prepared. They were carried out with studied calm and exemplary order… A power has developed in Germany that can stand against barbaric militarism… Walter Ulbricht established peace in 1961 when he closed the doors to the provocations of warmongers and front city hyenas by bringing order to Potsdamer Platz”

Once bitten, twice shy?

No, we have a better one in Spanish: “el hombre es el único animal que tropieza dos veces con la misma piedra”, man is the only animal that trips twice over the same stone…

When will we learn from our past?