Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Quatchi, Miga and Sumi: The honor of Olympic mascots is restored

The mascots that will give a funny detail (and a marketing boost) to the Vancouver winter Olympics in 2010 were finally unveiled today. Meet Quatchi, Miga and Sumi.
The official website of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics describes them as follows (textual citation): "Each of the creatures is distinct and special – both in personality and in appearance. One is big, gentle and shy . . . one is small, mischievous and outgoing . . . and one is a natural-born leader with a passion for protecting the environment. All three are mythical creatures with roots in local legend. One is a sasquatch. One is a sea-bear. And one is an animal guardian spirit. They are all, to say the least, unique".

These cute winter characters, along with the five mascots that will represent the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing (named Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini -picture below-) come to recover the pride of nice, cool and beautiful mascots to represent Olympic games that was almost unseen since the unveiling of Cobi, a dog character created for the 1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona.Just for fun, let's take a look at the mascots that represented the Olympic games after Barcelona 1992, and until Torino 2006, to emphasize the real value of the mascots for both Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010:

These widely-unknown human characters, named Haakon and Kristin, served as mascots for the 1994 winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Creativity here was virtually nonexistent.

Izzy was a dizzy blue thunder, or something like that, which was chosen to be the mascot for the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, USA. It was the first-ever Olympic mascot to be computer-created. Heck, why did they use a computer for that? Maybe a hand made design would have been better.

These beautiful long-nosed, yellow-eyed owls were named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki, and were the official mascots for the 1998 winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. These creatures couldn't be uglier. If real owls understood that those characters were a representation of their species, they wouldn't have hesitated to sue the Olympic Committee.

Olly, Syd and Millie are a kookaburra, a platypus and an echidna, respectively. They were the official mascots of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Although they are not as ugly as most of their predecessors, the creative execution here was not outstanding. The final product was just that: A kookaburra, a platypus and an echidna with no "Olympics touch" whatsoever.

Powder, Coal and Copper were a hare, a coyote and a bear, respectively. They were the mascots for the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, USA. These characters were pretty decent to be Olympic mascots: their design was funny and friendly. No real complaint about them, they appeared as an oasis in the middle of the dessert in a period of time when the Olympics were throwing everything but nice mascots to the market.

These deformed (human?) creatures, named Athena and Phevos, were probably inspired in Bigfoot. These things were the mascots of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. I don't think they deserve any further description here, as their image speaks by itself.

Neve and Gliz were a bodied snow scoop and a bodied ice cube, respectively. I suspect that the organizing committee entrusted the creation of mascots to kindergarten children. If that was the case, then it was a nice try by the kids, else... they were just horrible characters that got somehow to be the official mascots for the 2006 winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

Thankfully, most of the creatures shown above were left somewhere in the memories of the Olympic games. It looks that the organizers of future Olympics are putting more effort in creating characters that attract more people to identify themselves with the Olympic games. The mascots will also help to increase the revenues obtained from the games, which will eventually benefit the host communities.

I welcome Sumi, Quatchi and Miga, along with Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini. We'll be hearing more and more from them in the upcoming months for sure.

With some information from the official websites of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Japanese whale hunting, reloaded

A news that has been appearing in newspapers and other mass media around the world is both disturbing and upsetting: Japan has decided to resume their whale hunting program, under the excuse that they'll use the sacrificed whales for scientific purposes. It didn't take too long for them to get some crew members ready on board of the whaling vessel Yushin Maru, which departed from the port of Shimonoseki towards the Antarctica. The ship is being chased by another vessel, the Esperanza, which is operated by Greenpeace activists willing to follow the Yushin Maru until the end of the world to try to avoid a whale massacre.

With this action, Japan cheers the lifting of the whale hunting moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in the mid-1980's, which lost effect after a resolution to restore commercial whale hunting was passed last year, in a very disputed voting session within the IWC. Although the Japanese whale hunters have been consistently killing whales even during the years in which the moratorium has been in effect, they've always justified their hunting activities under the excuse of doing them for supposed 'scientific purposes', which is one of the few exceptions under which the IWC allowed whale hunting.

But this expedition is different: The Japanese whale hunters are expecting to bring back 1035 whales, a number which more than doubles the amount of whales they hunted a decade ago. Moreover, some of the 1035 whales that the Japanese hunters are expecting to bring to Japan for 'scientific purposes' are actually humpback whales, which was about to become extinct about a decade ago and has not reached even a third of the population it had before the days of modern whale hunting.

The Japanese individuals who decided recently to relaunch their whale-hunting program probably thought: 'Screw the IWC, the endangered species and the public opinion'. Under that rationale, they found it convenient to set up an expedition of Japanese whale hunters to go and kill some endangered whales, to satisfy some gourmet desires. What an environmental disgrace this is.

With some information from CBC

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Why don't you shut up?"

Hugo Chavez probably never thought that a person would be brave enough to tell him to shut up in his face, because he's used to insult whomever he wants, whenever he wants, and in the ways that he finds more humiliating. No one is allowed to tell him to shut up, not in Venezuela or elsewhere. In fact, Chavez is known to be very intolerant when it comes to be about criticism against him or his rule. He actually managed to change the Venezuelan laws so the mass media couldn't publish any ideas that oppose him. But when Chavez has to criticize other people, he just doesn't know any type of boundaries. Let's analyze some of the most infamous cases of leaders around the world who have been openly insulted by Chavez and have never told him to "shut up".

George W. Bush: The President of the Empire (as the Venezuelan President calls the United States) is Chavez's favorite target. He doesn't waste any opportunity to insult the US President. Chavez has called Bush a donkey, a drunkard, a coward, an assassin, a genocist, a psychologically-ill man, and he has even referred to him as the evil, just to mention some examples. Chavez nicknamed Bush Mr. Danger and insults him live on his radio program Alo Presidente, at the United Nations, or anywhere he has a chance to appear in front of an audience. But Mr. Bush has never replied to any of his insults, he has never told him to "shut up".

Vicente Fox: the former Mexican President became a recipient of Chavez's offenses because he openly defended the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a project supported mainly by the United States. Chavez then decided to nickname Fox as the Empire's puppy. Fox's government demanded an apology from the Venezuelan regime, but it didn't take them too long to realize that Chavez would never apologize for publicly shaming the Mexican President. The conflict led the Mexican government to expel the Venezuelan ambassador from Mexico, which the Venezuelans countered by expelling the Mexican ambassador from their territory. However, Fox never told Chavez to "shut up".

Felipe Calderon: After Vicente Fox's rule in Mexico, Felipe Calderon, from Fox's party, rose as the President elect (and eventually the President of Mexico) in a tightly disputed election against the leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, allegedly aligned with Chavez. The Venezuelan president knew that Calderon would be willing to cooperate and strengthen ties with the United States, the main commercial partner for Mexico. His suspicions about the further collaboration between Calderon's government and the United States were a perfect excuse for him to launch another of his bad-taste nicknames, so Chavez started calling Calderon little gentleman and big ignorant. Calderon has paid little attention to the Venezuelan President's offenses, thus he has never told him to "shut up".

Alejandro Toledo, Lourdes Flores and Alan Garcia: Another recipient for his insults was former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo. Toledo's "sin" was to show support for a Free Trade Agreement between Peru and the United States. Chavez took advantage of that to say that Toledo resembles Bush a lot, and that his government supported the oligarchy. As Peru was also approaching a Presidential election at that time (which would eventually be lost by Chavez's friend, leftist candidate Ollanta Humala), Chavez also decided to insult the right wing candidates Lourdes Flores and Alan Garcia, calling them Candidates of the right wing and the Oligarchy. Moreover, he later called Garcia a 7-sole thief and an alligator from Toledo's same pond. Toledo replied that "Mr. Chavez was elected to govern Venezuela, not Latin America as a whole", demanding him to stop intruding Peru's internal affairs. But neither Toledo, Garcia or Flores have ever told Chavez to "shut up".

Jose Maria Aznar: A former Spanish President, he was a close ally of the United States during his rule, and a key supporter of the Iraq war. He has also been around the world promoting true democratic governments, calling people to not follow populist regimes (like Chavez's in Venezuela). Chavez has accused Aznar of promoting the FTAA and of aligning Spain to the Empire, and decided to call Aznar a fascist in a summit of Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese Heads of State. Aznar, who wasn't present at the summit, didn't tell Chavez to "shut up".

It was king Juan Carlos of Spain who said to Chavez during the mentioned summit: "Why don't you shut up?". He said so because he couldn't stand Chavez calling Jose Maria Aznar a fascist anymore, he was fed up and notoriously angry at the summit of Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese Heads of State gathered in Chile. King Juan Carlos was seconded by the current Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who told Chavez that "I think there's an essence, and a principle in a dialogue. To respect and be respected, we must avoid to fall in dismissive insults. It is valid to disagree radically with ideas, and to denounce ideas and behaviors without falling in dismissive insults".

Chavez mentioned later that no Head of State has the right of shutting up any other Head of State, but he was very specific in saying that the Venezuelan government "reserves the right to answer to any aggression anywhere, in any space and any manner" they consider convenient (not excluding insults). However, I believe that the incident was a big hit to Hugo Chavez's ego, but it is more than fair. Many others should follow this kind of example given by Mr. Zapatero and king Juan Carlos from time to time too. Two thumbs up for those Spanish leaders.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Open software, the software of the future

There couldn't have been a less appropriate time for me to reformat my computer than last week, yet I had to do it. All because of a virus that altered certain keys of my computer's registry. The result was not very pleasant: I lost tons of information (my bad, of course, I should have made backups long time ago) and I had to spend several hours reinstalling all the programs that were erased in the reformatting process, or at least those that I considered crucial to have installed immediately.

Microsoft Office was one of those crucial programs to install, because I was still working in a project that I had to deliver in the next couple of days. When I realized that, I looked for the installation CD right away. Where on Earth did I put it...?

Well, I had a hard time trying to remember where my Office installation CD was, but given the urgency that I had to have a word processor ready to go, I gave up searching for the CD and decided to act more creatively. Magically, while I was working on other installations in my computer, a balloon appeared in my screen. It invited me to download Office for free. Exactly the kind of solution I wished I had in that very instant!

The "free Office" happened to be a series of programs developed by Sun Microsystems, collectively named Openoffice.org. As soon as I started using its word processor, called Openoffice.org Writer, I realized that the interface was very friendly and similar to the original Microsoft Word (excepting the 2007 version) and that the program was able to create very nice documents in an easy way as well. It was, in fact, pretty much like using the normal Word. The other two major programs included in the Openoffice.org bundle (spreadsheet and presentation programs, named Openoffice.org Math and Openoffice.org Impress, respectively) seemed to be quite user friendly as well.

I normally don't trust this type of software, but after experiencing it myself I realized that open programs like that are not a bad idea. In fact, it is much more convenient to have open programs to install, than having to buy a CD and doing the traditional installation processes. I think that, even if open software was charged, it would still be more convenient (and less expensive) than having to buy installation CDs and store them in a shelf forever. Would you imagine how nice would it be to download Microsoft Excel directly to your computer by after paying a fee, without the need of buying the CD and installing other programs that you will never use (such as Microsoft Binder)? That's just beautiful. I am convinced that this approach will be the future of software... until better ideas come to the software creators' minds.