September 29th, 2007

The choice for a donor organ revisited

 From NewScientist: UK considers organ donation by default.

Should doctors assume that people are happy to donate their organs unless they make the effort to opt out? That’s the scenario being considered in the UK, as a means of reducing the widening gap between supply and demand for donated organs.

(…) Last year, a study of 22 countries found that donation rates were 25 to 30 per cent higher in countries with presumed consent, such as Spain, Austria and Belgium.

That makes more sense to me than our crappy system. Earlier on the nest: link link

September 27th, 2007

The electronic voting re-revisited

After a devastating report, the administration decided next elections will not be run electronically (red pencil, and a slow and exciting election night again!). The only right decision, although they do want to “do it right”, read, re-develop. Oh well, only tax money. But it’s a good day for transparent voting in my country. Earlier on the nest: link link.

September 27th, 2007

The fun burial

“Buried alive for $100″. A family here will gladly put you in a coffin (air provided through a pipe), bury you 6 feet, and hoist a 8000 pound concrete block on top of you. There is an emergency button and you have an intercom. Max time: one hour. Here is a link to the Dutch newspaper article.

Buried alive

Small excerpt:

With a bang the coffin closes. Then the moaning of the crane. Another bang. The 8000 pound concrete block is in place now too. Here I am. 6 feet underground. 45 minutes to go.

(…)

The experience of previous customers – about 4 a month in high season – is that I should be prepared for a little panic attack. “Everybody flips out for a moment, especially at the beginning”, Francien told me while having coffee. Whatever happens next, is different for each individual. One started to talk with the dead, others have taken radical decisions about their lives. “You’re completely thrown back on yourself. No phone, only your brains. Makes you think eh?” Francien said.

Whoa!

 

September 24th, 2007

The Belgians, updated

Belgium (my neighbors) is a strange country. It is divided by an invisible line roughly going from the south-west to the north-east. The north-west part is Flanders. They speak sorta Dutch, 2/3rd of the population lives there and generally speaking, the economic situation is not bad. the south-eastern part is Wallonia. The language is French. Economically, things are not as good there. Think former mine country. Brussels, the capital and also the main seat of the European burocracy is smack in the middle and, not surprisingly, it has a separate status. As anyone can image in a setting like this, politics is a form of art there. But maybe not for much longer. For months now after the last elections, they have been trying in vain to form a stable administration (remember kids, multi party system and always a coalition needed). The Flemish are tired of subsidizing the south, the Wallonians are sick of being told what to do. So, the unthinkable is appearing in the newspapers: maybe we should call it quits, fire the King and go out own way, same as what happened with Czechoslovakia. I can’t see it happening, but if so, why not simply split between The Netherlands and France, and make Brussels a sort of “D.C.”?

Update: by now, after 3.5 months of trying, the latest “scout” has returned his assignment to the king. 40% if the Flemish are now in favor of a split, 10% of the Wallonians are. And they are now seeing that this is starting to hurt economy. Investors are backing out of an unstable situation.

September 22nd, 2007

The boys in Afghanistan – part 3

This week our 11th soldier died in Afghanistan. He was the first killed in direct enemy contact (either mortar or gunfire). The numbers (and the story) are steady. Two days earlier he had called with girlfriend and had stated he wouldn’t mind to “see some more action”.

September 21st, 2007

The cholera outbreak

In Northern Iraq there is an outbreak of cholera, caused by lack of sanitation.

September 20th, 2007

The Red Light district in Amsterdam

After having written here and there on drugs-prejudice, it might be interesting do so on the other taboo, prostitution.

Amsterdam has a reputation of having a famous red light district, called “de Wallen”. It’s not alone btw, i.e. Hamburg (Germany) has it’s famous Reeperbahn. The district has it’s clubs of course and about 150 rooms that are rented to prostitutes by the hour, full service. Most of the prostitution there is what is called “window prostitution”; the women are sitting behind red or purple lit windows, erm, showing the merchandise (please forgive me for the choice of words). “de Wallen” for whatever it’s worth is a huge tourist magnet but also a tad law-less. Of course the entrepeneurs there have a good reason to keep things peaceful and quiet there, but let’s say they do it their own way, to the great dismay of the city.

Prostitution has been legalized in this country, bound to licenses and normal business laws like proper wages, tax paying etc, and that has given the law a bit more grip on things (just a bit, as a lot went underground of course, where before legalization it was tolerated).

The by far biggest property owner of “rooms” on “de Wallen”, Charles Geerts, who owned about 30% of the rooms, was driven into a corner by the city and finally agreed today to sell his property to the city of Amsterdam, who have indicated they will “turn the property into housing again” and played down the magnet function by saying it only attracted “Drunk vandalizing Brits on cheap flights” who were not very welcome anyway. Geerts is a very careful (and loaded) man. He was very careful never to interfere in the “trade”, he just provided the property and cleaning, although he has been accused of money laundering and contacts with serious criminals.

What was the most interesting response was what of the chairwoman of the prostitution-union (yes, that union does exist, good for them!). She basically said it would worsen the situation for the prostitutes, driving more of them into illegality again. On “de Wallen”, at least they could be reached and taken care of a bit. She also said that she was very anxious to hear what the city would do to stop pimps (she called them extortioners) as opposed to property owners.

I have no sympathy for Geerts, who btw got about $35 million out of the deal. He was servicing the system big time and got rich doing so, but at least the women had a decent indoor place and were, literally and figuratively, visible. I do think she has a good point.

September 17th, 2007

Undoing the past

A friend sent me a link to a story by John Fisk that details the destruction and looting of archaeological sites in Iraq. Because of the looting there is so much history that we will never know. Bush and the U.S. Congress have once again, through the consequences of their actions “out Orwelled Orwell.” For an example of what Fisk is talking about check out this website where for a mere $200 you can buy your very own cylinder seal from Ur.

How depressing.

September 10th, 2007

The office suite

I wrote earlier about OpenOffice.org, the open source alternative to MS Office. Things are in serious turmoil in office-land.

First, after allegations of manipulation by MS, the fast track route to ISO-standardize the document format they submitted was still turned down. This doesn’t mean OpenXML as MS calls it is turned down, just that it won’t be fast tracked. OpenOffice.org’s competing format, called ODF, already is a standard. This is an issue as more governments are expected to use standardized document formats exclusively.

Next, China (Redflag) announced they would throw in 50 programmers, with a focus on Calc.

And now IBM will contribute (believe me, when they say that, whey will not dedicate 2 programmers), with a focus on accesibility.

Together with the hundreds of people working on it, this will not only increase the development power, but heightens credibility a lot. Oh and btw, next to it producting those standardized documents and saving to PDF straight out, it also runs on Mac, Linux, etc.

Me, I tossed out Office long ago and am a happy OpenOffice.org user. So much more intuitive. IBM’s move will get me more Lotus Notes integration too, yeah!!

Mildly related: One of the larger global IT companies, CapGemini is starting to sell Google Docs Premier Edition. While I too have my doubs about the evilness of Google, I love docs, especially when collaborating with a team on data or documents.

September 5th, 2007

The war on moisture

EU parliament has pressed the committee to change the rules on liquids on airplanes.

Several experts have stated the rules are completely senseless. Truckloads of gels, toothpaste, lipstick and water have been tossed out. It has brought us nothing than annoyance and expensive fake security.

Mind you we’re talking a relatively right wing member of parliament here. About damn time, not that it will happen. I bet some international “diplomacy” will end this quickly.

Disclaimer: my translation.