What Starbucks addicts should know before entering an Italian bar

(this is important, please read carefully and share around this TRUE story I just heard from a friend of mine)

Yesterday morning a (probably) north-american traveler made a complete, utterly ridiculous ass of himself in the Fiumicino airport, interrupting service and thus harassing everybody else around who (who would have imagined it) couldn’t risk to lose their plane for a kid’s tantrum.

Why? Simply because he went to one of the bars in the airport, asked “a LATTE” and got just what he had asked for: one glass full of MILK straight out of the fridge and nothing else.

The bartender tried to explain very patiently and politely, several times and in good English, that:

  • the world is not Starbucks
  • that this is Italy
  • that Italian bars have been around for centuries but NEVER had the same menus as Starbucks and are not going to change (side note: what’s the point of traveling if all the world is the same?)
  • that if in that place “LATTE” always meant one glass of milk etc.. he could not possibly be angry with the staff, and
  • that the bar had NO equipment/ingredients/whatever to make an exact reply of what Starbucks only calls “LATTE”.

No matter. He kept making a fool of himself, stopping the line for ten minutes before bringing himself to accept that the closest thing he could get in that (or any other!) Italian bar was some coffee poured in that damn glass of milk. Oh, and then he started complaining because he had gotten it in a REAL glass, not a styrofoam one. In all Italian bars, they serve beverages in real glasses, 100% reusable. Not polluting plastic surrogates. That only happens, excepted of course when customers specifically ask for take-away, when the washing machine is broken. And then you see a big sign behind the counter, saying “Please accept our apologies for not giving you real glasses”.

The Silmarillion, or the absurdity of eternal copyright

illuminated-silmarillion John Tolkien started to write the Silmarillion one hundred (one HUNDRED!) years ago and continued to work on it until he died, 41 years ago.
Forty years later, an Illustration and Graphic Design student worked all by himself, for about one year, to produce a wonderful deluxe, hand-illuminated edition of the Silmarillion.

But he can’t publish it. Because other people, who are NOT those who wrote those texts, haven’t given permission (synthesis from the interview):

Q: Are you planning to put this book into publication, did you contact a publisher yet?

A: No. The rights are with the Tolkien Estate, and I would gladly work for them, but they didn´t answer my requests until now. I will keep on writing to them, until I can afford a travel to Great Britain and just put the book on their table.

Q: Did you have permission from the Tolkien Estate to make this book?

A: I made requests via the Tolkien Estate homepage, but didn´t receive any answer… But it is just a personal artistic work and I do not make any money with it.

The last answer, if I understand copyright law correctly, could be rephrased as:

Q: Do you know that what you have made, e.g. an unauthorized copy, may be illegal? I mean, theoretically, at least in some jurisdictions, you may get a Court order to destroy it and/or be fined.

A: Yes. I just hope they won’t sue my ass.

I DO know that we only have the Silmarillion in its current form because Tolkien’s son worked a lot to reorder and edit his father’s writings. But that, too, was almost forty ago.

I find really absurd, and harmful for both culture and the economy, that to reuse work by somebody who died decades ago one must ask for permission to somebody else. It’s ridiculous, really. This goes in the same league as:

Real world shatters myths about renewable energy

Common myths about renewable energy include that it’s expensive, unreliable and that there just isn’t enough of it. But as technological advances and plummeting costs drive explosive growth, real-world experience is shattering long-held assumptions every day, mainly because:

  1. Since the fuel cost of renewable resources like wind and solar is zero, adding renewable resources always pulls down the market price of all the electricity sold in the market whenever it is available
  2. New transmission to connect more zero-fuel-cost renewable energy would save customers more than double the cost of building it
  3. There are challenges to integrating any kind of power into the grid, but the challenges for wind are minimal and well worth the effort. Because wind blows at different times in different places across large areas, smoothing out variations

Please read the whole story here (and here’s why I think you should)

best possible food for tought on peak car, transportation, smartphones, society…

You can think how much you want about effective ways of getting a discussion started, but sometimes reality just does all the work for you. I officially challenge EVERYBODY to find something better than this specific couple of stories, that came back to back in my RSS feed, as brain food for a wide-ranging discussion on the impact of mobile tech on society in general, not just transportation (links to the full stories below):


here are the links to the full stories, please read them and come back to let me know what you think:

We pay taxes, parks don t. That s why…

At Boston.com there is a series of wonderful photographs about pollution, environment and society in the USA of the seventies. The image here on the side is just the central part of the (much larger) best photograph of the whole series, the twelfth one. Today, it says (indirectly, of course) so many things about how we got into the current environmental and economic mess that maybe it should become a poster. “We pay taxes, parks don’t” is impressive enough, but what really freaks me out are the “drive, don’t walk” signs in the background (and all the others aren’t light either…). What do you think?

Mobile phones will not save the world without radio

It is time to admit that when it comes to global development, mobile phones will not be able to achive it on their own, says Hibah Hussain of the New America Foundation.

Promotion of social change and economic growth cannot dismiss established communications networks like radio, “the mass media that reaches the widest audience in the world”. Above all, says Hussain, it is radio, more than mobile phones, that reaches best the people you should think about when talking about development: poor people who, especially if they live in flood prone areas, always carry cheap radio sets along. Mobile phones are the next step, changing radio “passive” listeners into active citizens who provide data and engage in conversations, but not the first one.

The practical consequences are that more hybrid radio/mobile projects are needed, together with simpler, affordable licensing and regulation for community radio stations.

What changes school, technology or teachers?

Lynette Barr, a grade 6 teacher at Pentland Primary School in Bacchus Marsh, embeds games into every part of the curriculum, devoting 20% of class time to games-based learning. Since her students’ writing was not very descriptive, she turned to Super Scribblenauts on Nintendo DS. Some students work with online maths-based puzzles, others chart bowling scores in Wii Sports for a maths activity.

Lately, the class has started exploring maths by running, jumping and throwing in Olympic sports on Xbox Connect. The teacher wrote a program “using Connect sports linking with Olympic sports, that works with the maths and the numbers from the children’s results … They have become really good at picking out the learning that’s occurring when they play games like this and link it to what we are focusing on”.

The reporter writes that what happens in that classroom is “symbolic of the way technology is changing the school experience”. I would say that this is symbolic of how the “school experience” (*)can be changed by a bit of money (DS, XBox etc… are far from being surely available to all children) and, above all, by the presence of a competent and motivated teacher. There are thousands of classes worldwide where all students have those gadgets, but nothing changes simply because the teacher is still stuck to paper, chalk and blackboard. What do you think?

(*) “school experience” sounds to me a bit too much like “user experience”, as in “giving fancy names to how you’d use our product, so you’ll feel good buying it”. But hey, that’s what the source calls it.

Please read the whole story here (and here’s why I think you should)

Acknowledging the limits of Khan Academy

Robert Talbert writes that, even if he remains convinced that “online video is an idea whose time has really come in education”, and thinks that the current videos of Khan Academy are a great resource for the niche in which they were designed to work, they have some inherent limits that should not be forgotten, namely:

  • the Khan Academy videos are (normally good) demos on how to finish mathematics exercises, with little modeling of the higher-level thinking skills
  • this kinds of learning objectives (learning mechanical skills) that Khan Academy videos focus on are important

Permaculture, the different agriculture we need right now?

Are old methods of agriculture nearing the peak of their productive potential? They almost certainly are. Will this leave people without enough food?

Yes, if we only look at the current agricultural methods, but not necessarily. Those methods are not conceived and practiced to maximize yield per acre, only yield per unit of labor. Their rule is not “do more”, or at least “do enough”, but “do with as little people as possible”.

Starting from there, C. Eisenstein states that If we had 10% of the population engaged in agriculture rather than the current 1%, we could easily feed the country without petrochemicals or pesticides.

How? With the technique known as permaculture , that he says “can easily feed the peak world population of perhaps 10 or 11 billion we’ll see by mid-century.” Full article here.

Closing the digital divide in Ghana with solar energy?

Installing solar panels in all village schools in Ghana would help to close the digital divide and the internet disconnect between urban dwellers and the ruralites in the country.

So says a local teacher/activist after participating in Zambia to a project that empowered the pupils of Katuba Basic School in Lusaka rural to access the internet. Several local and international sponsors provided funds for solar panels and a number of laptops to the school. The teachers and pupils in the school are now going to be able to tap into the limitless ocean of information contained in the world wide web (www) or virtual global library online.

The author considers empowering schools with solar panels and laptops as the main current challenge in bridging the digital divide in Ghana: “We call upon all and sundry to help provide alternative energy sources in our rural communities so that our youngsters can access the internet. This approach will reduce significantly our annual expenditure on supply of hardcopy textbooks which are not eco-friendly.”
Please read the whole story here (and here’s why I think you should)