Saturday, September 27, 2008

Winter Olimpics "with glowing hearts"

Almost one year ago, I posted a note in which I praised the official mascots of the Vancouver 2010 winter Olympics, even mentioning that the "honor of Olympic mascots are restored". Indeed, I still believe that the VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic winter games) did a good job by choosing Quatchi, Miga and Sumi as the mascots for such event.

I also would have liked to praise VANOC for coming up with a cool slogan for the Olympics, but unfortunately, that won't be the case. A press release published in VANOC's website unveils the official slogan for the upcoming winter games: "With glowing hearts".

Don't take me wrong, I do believe that "with glowing hearts" is a nice, warm, and catchy slogan that encompasses well the whole spirit of the Olympics. But here's the questionable part: Where did they come up with that line? Well, please find it in the lyrics of the Canadian National Anthem:

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!

I don't think that utilizing a part of a national anthem for commercial purposes is a good idea, no matter what. National anthems, essentially, are patriotic songs that have to be respected. Turning a portion of a national anthem into a commercial slogan is definitely not the best example of respect for a national symbol. It's just as if they were taking a part of a country's national identity and turning it into a pure marketing tool, just as if "with glowing hearts" could eventually be comparable to, for instance, McDonalds' "I'm lovin' it". That's not alright, but it's just my opinion.

However, regardless of what I think about the slogan, VANOC is going ahead with that. I believe that, for the sake of selling more memorabilia and making more profitable the 2010 Olympics, they could have done than just taking a part of a patriotic symbol. But we'll have to give it a chance. I hope it works well.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Get this right: Melamine and baby formula don't mix

In recent days, there have been big bad news about tainted milk powder in China flying around the media. During the last week at least, Chinese parents have been massively rushing their babies into hospitals, as some of them were suffering of serious kidney failures, and some others simply wanted to make sure that their children were healthy. The reason? Some dishonest milk producers who, in order to produce cheaper milk to boost their profits, 'enriched' their products with melamine. Then, the tainted milk was sold to milk powder manufacturers, who utilized it as raw material for consumption products like, for instance, baby formulas, which were later distributed to final consumers through their various distribution channels. Initially, it was thought that a single manufacturer, Sanlu, was responsible for stocking in shelved tainted formula, but after the quality other formula brands in the Chinese market were tested, it was discovered that at least 20 different brands had been selling formulas with melamine.

To have an idea about how bad this is, let's just mention that melamine is a chemical material utilized in the production of glues, floor tiles and flame resistant materials, among others. Of course, melamine is not a compound intended for human or animal consumption, but given its low cost, availability, and (relatively) low toxicity, it has been unethically utilized with the intention of increasing the apparent protein content in foodstuffs.

There is an interesting question to ask here: How could anyone dare to willingly poison food that will be later sold to innocent consumers, just for the sake of increasing their profits? Letting aside the financial side of their rationale, wouldn't that go against the very basic ethics of any rational human being? Moreover, as if those questions were not challenging enough, here comes another one that puzzles me even more: Given the fact that, back in 2007, there was in North America a massive recall of pet foods made with Chinese ingredients tainted with melamine, how come the Chinese authorities just turned a blind eye on the issue instead of increasing the quality inspections of all foodstuffs produced in their country? Fonterra, a New Zealand-based cooperative that owns 43% of Sanlu's shares, has an answer for that: They know "of no dairy company in the world that tests for a chemical such as melamine that would have to be deliberately mixed in milk". Too bad that not even that record of tainted pet food didn't prompt food producers or even the government to test for that. Who is responsible for the ultimate quality of the food products then?

If you thought that not ensuring the quality of baby food sold in Chinese supermarkets was a condemnable attitude from the authorities, here goes some even more shocking news: According to news reports, there is evidence that the Chinese authorities learned about the melamine case in early August, but kept it in the dark to avoid a public shame during the Olympic games. In the meantime, people kept buying baby formulas, and an increasing number of infants got sick on a daily basis. Was it really worth it to keep such information as a secret? Those poor sick children's parents probably have an answer for that.

This is just as disgusting as it can get. A few people who have confessed to deliberately taint milk with melamine have been already arrested in China, but that will hardly repair the damage made to those families that once trusted their products to feed their children. This whole story just proves again that, just as my own personal saying goes, "if you think you've seen the lowest of it all, you'll find out that there's always a new low". What can be lower that this terrible episode about deliberate poisoning of baby formula? Unfortunately, I'm sure we'll find out, sooner or later.

My sympathy goes to those parents who have sick or dead babies as a result of this pathetic chapter of the dairy industry in China.

With information from The Globe and Mail and New Zealand Herald.
Photos by AP

Monday, September 08, 2008

"Let's celebrate our birthdays with... cakes??"

I've been told in the past that my curiosity to research about weird topics reaches the freakiest levels at some points. I happened to find out how true that statement is, while preparing a birthday present. Just as I was working on that, I thought that including the image of a birthday cake in the whole thing would be a great idea, but then I backed up and thought: "the birthday cake is an overused way of expressing good wishes for someone's birthday, it lacks all originality... but why is it so popular? and how did people adopt the habit of celebrating birthdays with cakes anyway?". Some big, deep thoughts that I had to reflect upon.

Yes, there can be no doubt that birthday cakes are a very widespread tradition nowadays, and certainly not a lot of people would care about the origins of that custom or the meaning behind it. But to my surprise, I did some research on the web and I found out that there are people out there who have made some extensive research about (apparently unimportant, yet interesting) topics like this. Here are my results:

Historians have two hypotheses about the origins of birthday cakes. One of them is that it all began with ancient Greeks preparing the first cakes and eating them in birthdays, although they were also commonly used to worship the goddess of the Moon, Artemis. They were baked in a round shape to represent the full moon, and then the cakes were decorated with candles to represent the shine of the moon -hence the omipresence round-shaped birthday cakes with candles nowadays. Later, Romans acquired the custom of birthday cakes from Greeks. in the case of Romans, the cakes were prepared for the person celebrating their birthday by close friends and relatives, just as we do in our times. I would presume that the expansion of their empire helped to spread this tradition to many regions.

The other hypothesis suggests that the custom began in the Middle Ages in Germany, where people prepared sweet breads, known as Geburtstagorten, with religious shapes to commemorate the birth of a child. Later in the 18th century, the Germans also introduced the custom of placing candles on top of the cakes, but unlike the Greeks, they were not intended to be mere decoration: candles were believed to bring birthday wishes up to God. However, as the use of candles began to spread out to other regions of the world, it gradually lost all religious significance. Then the use of both cakes and candles spread all across Europe, and I would think that it reached other parts of the world (such as America or Africa) with the expansion of colonialism.

Well, knowing the history behind birthday cakes and candles is definitely interesting. I am not sure about how useful it is, but as I usually say, 'it never does any harm to know a little bit more'. But, while it is true that it is not harmful to know more about birthday cakes now, it is also true that it didn't help a lot to get fresh ideas for the birthday present that I'm currently preparing. So i guess it's time to get back to work for me and make good use of my creativity.

With information from Wikipedia, available at

With information from 'History of Birthday Cake' by Linda Stradley, available at

With information from 'The birthday cake: its evolution from a rite of the elite to the right of everyone' by Shirley Cherkasky, available at

With information from FTD, available at

Friday, September 05, 2008

Google Chrome rolls out

Google unveiled its latest product this week. Its name is Chrome, an open-source browser that, according to Sundar Pichai (VP of Product Management at Google) is intended to "make sure that browsers are really evolving along with the web, so the web can evolve to the next level".

There is an interesting video on Youtube in which the developers of Chrome explain some of the state-of-the-art features that they created for their browser, and the rationale behind them. I embedded it so you can check it out (click here if the movie below doesn't work).

Well, although I haven't used Chrome myself, I have been reading posts of users in different forums around the web (including, of course, Youtube's postings), where users appear to be quite satisfied with the new browser's overall performance. They especially praise Chrome's speed and customization capabilities. However, it appears that there are a few bugs that have to be corrected, although it is not a big deal.

It is very hard to have an opinion about a product that I haven't tested myself. In fact, although I've seen some tutorials about the way in which Chrome works, I can hardly find a reason to switch from Firefox, whose newest version 3.0 is quite similar to Chrome. However, I'll give it a try sometime in the near future, but I would like to hear a few further comments about Chrome and the users' experience to know if spending my time downloading and installing is really worthwhile.