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I recently found a funny website called Life Kills that has some awesome stuff on it.

Basically, it seems like some misanthropist’s view on the world, with some focus on health statistics in particular. You’ll find some funny infographs there as well as some disgusting images…

Go check it out to enlighten yourself with some alternative views on the world as it is!

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It seems like something I have long been waiting for now is happening, at least in a small country in Switzerland. It seems that a site called “Vanilla” is going to start mobile payment solutions for customers and retailers. The idea is to replace or complement cash payment as well as classical credit cards.

Credit cards have begun giving out Bonus Point for purchases and what-have-you in order to make customers buy more with the same card. This is exactly the approach Vanilla is trying to take. They focus on interesting bonus programs. Also interesting is the possibility to integrate mobile payments with augmented reality and similar things you can use on your cellphone like google maps. The idea is simple: Just type in what you want – your location will automatically be recognised – and you get suggestions what stores are in your area. And, of course, stores will be pointed out where you get special offers or bonus point.

All in all, this looks like an interesting idea and it is just a matter of time until technology is advanced enough to enable safe payments with mobile phones. The project is to launch in July or August 2010 and I am looking forward to it, just to find out about its possibility of success.

Presidente Oscar and the Flu

While President Oscar Arias seems to be recovering from the swine flu, us other mortals that did not yet get the originally deadly disease wonder: when will it come at us? And possibly kill us? Because if I re-read those original warnings by the World Health Organization and so, hmmm, I should be dead by now.

Well, despite of his asthma, it seems that Mr. President will survive the influencia he caught. Somewhere. This shows us that even neoliberals can catch the same diseases as any average mortal. Then again, Oscar Arias is not just your average neoliberal guy. He’s a neoliberal guy with a nobel price in his pocket. One might say that Arias being nobel prize laureate in 1987 is controversial, but still, he definitely did contribute to Central American peace efforts in the 80’s. And he also promoted Costa Rica as a haven of peace… in a way… having no army and all. But then it turns out he’s just another neoliberal striving to secure the domain of multinational companies who are filling each other’s pocket with silver and gold. Oh, and didn’t that sort of overturn the Costa Rican constitution, that a former president can be reelected? That wasn’t in the book.

To make a long story short. Oscar will live! And he’s not just another neocon. He’s a neocon with a nobel prize. In peace. Goddamn!

As I realize now I was a bit too optimistic in the last post about swine flu in Costa Rica. It is apparently not just a cold that you get and might, or might as well not, eventually die. But according to reliable sources swine flu actually turns you into a pig. Now, I like being swinish and acting like a pig and all. But this is clearly too much. I don’t want to turn into a pig! So let’s all be nice to each other, wear face masks, not kiss or even talk to each other. Death I could cope with but I do not want to be a swine.

Good night.

Okay, I don’t want to add to the general panic in any way. Still, it might be of interest to some that Costa Rica has confirmed its first case of swine flu. This is special because apparently it is the first case of swine flu outside Mexico but in Latin America. Central America might be particularly affected because there is a lot of interchange and travel (work- and recreation-related) between all Central American countries.  There are still the odd 50 open cases where it is not yet clear what condition the patients are in (i.e. if they have the swine flu or not).

a/H1N1 testing kits have been sent to Costa Rica now in order to facilitate testing. Time will tell how the disease will spread in Central America. It is yet too early to say whether the geographical proximity to Mexico means that more cases of swine flu will appear in CR. It is most important for the medical sector to be ready and have emergency plans at hand. Costa Rica’s medical infrastructure is in a fairly good condition and the odds are good that tico doctors will come prepared.

I am getting a little bit tired by people visiting me who ask always the same question: “What do I need to bring?” The problem is that it’s not easy to answer because it depends on how long you plan to stay here and where you plan to stay. Costa Rica’s climate is extremely varied and it reaches from freezing (well, that’s what it feels like anyways, but it can be around 10 degrees Celsius in the highland at night) to way too hot to even move (talking Guanacaste in dry season). So don’t ask me no stupid questions but think for yourself.

The longer you stay the more variety of clothes you might have to bring. Anyways, don’t rely on your classical packing list for the tropics. Here I found a good packing list for such travels. It takes the variety of the country into consideration and it’s a good basic starting point (so you won’t end up without underwear at least). You will be covered from beach stay to small national park explorations onto visit on high-up mountain peaks. Very well, if you have some further special interests you will have to figure out your additional items. I can’t be everyone’s nanny and it gets a little tiresome to repeat the same propositions over and over again. So take advantage of the list above and start packing up…

Good luck and see you down here soon!

After quite a few years of absence, I finally managed to visit Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast again. I resorted to Bocas del Toro the past years, but finally decided it was time to visit good old Puerto Viejo again. And man, was I surprised. Whapin?

Well, what did happen is what I like to call “Tamarindofication” – the town has become immersed in tourism – or rather, eaten up. And now it looks just like Tamarindo on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Tamarindo was probably the fastest growing town between 2000 and 2008: from a remote fisher village it became Costa Rica’s main beach resort, including Subway’s, banks, real estate agencies (almost more than land available) and spring break tourists from the US. It completely lost its identity and most of its charme.

Now, almost the same has happened to Puerto Viejo. It has lost a big deal of its charme – giving way to souvenir stands and restaurants serving American and European food. And what’s more: Puerto Viejo seems to have lost its Rastas. Maybe you just don’t notice them as much because they vanish in the mass of white skinned tourists. But I say: they have disappeared. Puerto Viejo has lost a great deal of its Caribbean and “Rastafarian” identity – maybe the local chilled out blacks have been driven out by rising real estate prices, maybe they just found a more laid-back place. I haven’t found out yet. If any of you has an idea of what could have happened, I’d be glad to hear about is…

Due to an (apparent) rising problem in crime, there is no more money available from ATMs in San Jose, Costa Rica after 10pm. Due to police information there was an increasing number of robberies that followed the same pattern. People were mugged on the street, but not only the money was taken away that they had on them. They were forced to do an involuntary city tour, passing as many ATM as possible. They would then be forced at gun- or, (more often) knife-point to withdraw all the money they could from their bank account and with their credit card. Particularly now during Christmas time, when Costa Ricans receive their 13th month’s salary, this would provide for an easy prey.

Therefore it was decided to close down all ATM cashiers after 10 o clock at night. I do not know if it was a municipal decision or one made by the banks, but it is definitely good to know that measures are being taken (in Venezuela this has been an ongoing problem for years).

However, it is also good to know that you can no longer withdraw money at night. Take care of such financial matters during daytime if you happen to be in San José!

There seems to be a new tendency in traveling: volunteering vacation. I am not quite sure if I like this: an increasing number of travel agencies sell (yes, sell) trips for young people to go to Africa, South America or Asia to take part in “development aid”. This means that the travelers go to a place like Bolivia to build wells. What they need is no experience or skills, not even language proficiency is required. These travelers can actually buy themselves into this.

The question is: who do they help, the people they build these wells for, or just themselves? This new kind of “developmental aid traveling” seems to me more like a way for rich westerners to buy themselves a clearer conscience for the luxury they are living in. But the problem is: third world countries don’t actually need rich westerners with no connection to the country they travel to, to build wells and stuff. There is plenty of workforce in countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua or Ghana. What they lack are certain skilled workers (engineers) and most of all: funds. So to all you people out there who “want to do good”: Remember that you are most likely stealing jobs off people who can find no occupation. If you do not bring any special skills, if you have no connection to the place you will go for this kind of developmental aid and if you don’t plan to stay for an extended period, you won’t do no good at all. You are just trying to buy yourself a clear conscience.

If you really want to visit these developing countries, they will actually be better off if you do so as an ordinary tourist. And if you want to support local development, please do it in other ways. Buy fair trade goods and support proper aids like microcredits, self-enforcing and cooperative development aids. Avoid any organization with ties to governments (especially the US), as these are known to grant help only under restrictions such as economical requirements that harm a majority of the population (mostly the poorest part). You can help much more in that way, than buying a free conscience with something that only hurts the already unprivileged even more. If you were really serious you would donate 10% of your income to charitable organizations! Think about it.