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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

About stars and Religion

Today I was attending my Astronomy lessons (almost falling asleep, by the way) and I noticed again that the biggest paradox of the human being is the fact that we are intelligent enough to wonder about the existence of God, but not intelligent enough to find a satisfactory answer. It doesn't mater how hard we try, our intelligence is limited. Explaining the World using 'sacred' books written by humans like you and me centuries ago is pathetic... but there's something that we must admit: we have no idea of what the hell are we doing here... why do we exist?

We have discovered and classified millions of stars, we have discovered galaxies that are so far away that we see them as they were before the dinosaurs existed... but we still don't know anything about 90% of the matter of the Universe (the so called 'dark matter'), well, we don't even know if it's matter! We have sent men to the moon, but we haven't ever seen what is below our feet (we have just managed to scratch the surface of our planet). The sky is not the limit. Our brain is.

Hm... seems that I'm getting way too philosophic. Maybe it is because my exams are starting soon (that's why I am not posting here so often). Or maybe it is because my Catalan adventure is about to finish... who knows.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

The Estonian Tiger Leap

Wow, almost 2 weeks without any new posts! shame on me. To be honest, I didn't feel like writing aything interesting these last days. Besides that, I have been busy with some school stuff.
One of the things that kept me busy was a presentation I had to made for the 'Technology and Culture' course. After many thoughts, considering that the presentation should fit into 'how computers have changed our lives' I decided to write about one of the most IT developed countries in Europe, Estonia, and its Tiger Leap project.
I framed it in the context of the global evolution towards the Information Society (giving an outline of the economical revolutions, the post-industrial society and the network society), then analysing some facts and figures about the Tiger Leap project and its impact on the present Estonia: advanced mobile services, e-Government, universal wifi coverage, challenging IT sector and so on.
I have to say that I'm pretty satisfied with the result of the oral presentation (last Thursday). My skills seem to be still good, 9 months after the Trainers' Camp I took in Estonia (where else :D).
So, here is the abstract:
Tiger Leap

In the History of mankind, the biggest advances in the social and economic structures have been closely connected to improvements in the flow of information. The dramatic development of new ways of communication in the last century has shaped a new society in which knowledge is the main productive force. In the last decades, the spreading of electronic-processed information networks --boosted by cheaper, smaller and more powerful devices-- has changed the social habits and relations. In this new society, information technologies (IT) have become the key of the new economy.
The little country of Estonia is presented as a good example of these changes. After the independence from the USSR, the economic structures of the young Republic were to be built. The Tiger Leap project was launched in 1996, being its goal to improve the national Education system by using IT. Soon after, this project took also on the task of modernizing private business and public administration. The result is a society which is in the cutting edge of new technologies, with a high e-skilled population, able to use electronic (and even mobile) ID card for various purposes, vote on the Internet or reach free wireless Internet connection all across the country. Estonia has become the playground for new technologies: the IT services of the future in most western countries are part of everyday Estonian life.
The outcomes of this daring bid are rather positive since the Estonian economy and living standards have developed more than those of its closest neighbours, which proves again that information is the driving force of our society.

I developed a small website about the Tiger Leap project, you can find there the slideshow (powerpoint) and some interesting links about the topic.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Supply and demand

(Traducido al castellano en el primer comentario)
When you want to become an engineer, you have to study some Economics as well. Not getting very deep into the topic, but getting to know the basic aspects at least. Thus, I know the law of supply and demand: when considering a product, the supply and the demand both fit into curves that relate prices and quantities.
It's easy to understand that consumers will demand higher quantities if the prices are lower, and on the other hand, producers will supply higher quantities if the prices are higher. The behavior of consumers and producers is opposite, but both of them meet in a single point of equilibrium. This equilibrium point sets the final quantity that will be released and the final price that the product will have in a stable market.
This is the very first lesson in Economics, but if you don't know what I am talking about, just watch this video.

Of course, it's impossible to fully characterise a market with such a simple rule, there are zillions of unpredictable issues that make Economy to be anything but an exact science. However, the law of supply and demand is useful to understand the general trends of specific markets. As a matter of fact, it's impossible to push against this law forever: if the demand reduces, the prices will fall. Sooner or later, but they will.
But it seems that in Spain, the real estate and building companies don't know anything about Economics. Let's talk a bit about this story. In the middle of the 90s, Spain was recovering of a big crisis. After several years of problems, the situation started to improve and the consumption increased. The demand of housing rose, and The Law acted: the prices also increased (if you have any problems understanding why, watch again the video and see what happens when the demand curve arises).
There was an important circumstance these years: Spain was preparing to change its old currency (pesetas) into the brand new Euro. And in Spain there was a lot of 'black economy', a lot of money that nobody knew that was there... how to transform all this money in Euros? Well, the prices of housing were rocketing by that time, so... it seemed a great investment indeed! A lot of 'black money' was used to buy apartments and houses all around Spain. Therefore, the demand went even higher, and the rise of prices seemed not to have an end. In around 10 years, prices of housing in Spain increased more than 100%. I already worte about the consequences of all this for 'normal people' in my old blog (in Spanish, check here).
I don't want to analyse what happened, because I am not an expert and it's not the point of this post, so I will get directly to the end. Everybody knew that prices were going too high. Everybody knew that normal people with normal salaries couldn't afford a house anymore. Everybody knew that the demand will suddenly decrease, sooner or later. Everybody knew that then, the price of housing would go down (it's The Law!). Everybody knew that a decrease in the price of housing would mean a huge economical crisis, especially in Spain, since building industry was the main driving force of the Economy. But nobody did anything about that.
And what happened? Indeed, the demand has stopped. There are thousands of houses and apartments being built (or already built) who nobody wants to buy. To be precise, around 650.000 in the whole Spain, according to this article from the newspaper El País. The housing and real state companies were favoured by The Law during past years. A lot of people became rich selling houses at high prices. The levels of corruption were similar to those in a 3rd world country: local councils (which have the responsibility to allow or deny new buildings) negotiated undercover with building companies, which made lot of politicans to become (illicitly) rich too.
Now The Law is against them. All these people is supposed to lose money, the same way they won it. Everything that goes up, falls down... they should already know it! But instead, they are pledging for help. They say that the government should help them. More public roads, more public housing... more money of our taxes, so they can keep getting richer. 'It's a key sector in our Economy', they say. 'Unemployment will arise, otherwise'. Maybe. But 'I prefer my taxes to be spent on paying unemployment benefits rather than keep making those bastards richer and richer'. I didn't say this sentence, my father did — he pays more taxes than I do so he might be more concerned.
In the article of El País I mentioned before, the building companies admit that 'there are houses that will be sold only if we decrease prices'. Of course! It's about the Economy, stupid!. This last sentence is not mine, is Bill Clinton's. Maybe the Spanish building companies would need some lessons from him.

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