Tuesday, November 18, 2008


It is unbelievable how little time I have had lately to post new entries to my blog. But there are good reasons for that: work has kept me busy, contributing to other blogs has also absorbed a little bit of my spare time, and ultimately fixing some issues with financial institutions lately has had its effect on my schedule as well.

And it is precisely about these issues with the financial institutions I want to talk about. Not about the issues themselves -- but rather about some interesting findings I made in order to get them solved. I will start by saying that right now I am on an extended stay in another city for work purposes, and currently I don't have a printer to print out stuff from my computer. Moreover, I don't speak the local language in order to go out to the streets and asking pedestrians about a place where they can print out stuff for me. In the meantime, I still have to pay bills back home, so instead of printing out the receipts of my payments, I thought that it would be easier just to keep copies of my online receipts, and storing them in my computer.

Well, of course I am not a computer geek, and there are a lot of things that I don't know about computers. And my surprise was big when I learned that the only way to keep my online receipts stored in my computer was to save them as XPS files, which by the way, I never heard of before. But, since I discovered that it was possible to view those files later using Internet Explorer, I thought that it would do no harm to keep them in such format, and just printing them out whenever I needed them. Later, I found out that XPS is a file format developed by Microsoft, which is designed to keep files in the same way that PDFs work, overall (as I said, I am not very techie, so I won't discuss here any technical specifications or processes of each type of file).

The time to utilize those receipts came to me much earlier than I expected, when I had to show them to financial institutions in order to avoid getting charged with unfair interests. So I thought that sending them the online receipts along with instructions to open them with Internet Explorer would be enough for them to get my issue solved as soon as possible. But my surprise would be big when I found out that the bank could not open the files, and they were requesting me to convert to another file format!

The natural option to send this kind of information is PDF files. But I wondered whether there was a way to convert XPS files into PDF's? I found in the internet a couple of programs that pretty much converted any type of MS Office document (.doc, .xls, .ppt, etc) to PDF format. However, they were not freeware, and I had no guarantee that they would work on XPS files as well. What to do?

After about an hour of doing extensive research through the web, I came across a site that spoke about an utility named CutePDF writer, which essentially is a freeware program that "installs itself as a printer subsystem", according to its creators. In other words, it is possible to "print" any document that can be printed out from any computer into a PDF file. The interface is not rocket science, in fact everything works exactly in the same way as printing out anything through a regular printer, with the difference that instead of getting a hard copy of the file, you will get a window that will ask you for a folder where to save your new PDF. Amazing!

I believe that XPS files work quite well, but their main drawback is that they are virtually unknown among regular, not-so-techie users, such as myself. In the meantime, I believe that PDF's will still be the standard for non-modifiable documents, and CutePDF is about the best way to create such widely used documents... I would dare to say, even better than using Adobe's products themselves.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President Obama... the wind of change?

This is today's news that is not news anymore: Barack Obama is voted president of the United States.

Yes, it is true that Barack Obama becomes the first African American to become President of the United States. I am not sure whether that is necessarily a relevant fact; it might be if we consider it as a proof that minorities in the United States are progressing in terms of holding more relevance in national decisions. However, I don't necessarily see the election of Barack Obama as a reflection of such progress; let's not forget that other African Americans have already held important national positions in the past. For instance, the current Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, and her predecessor Colin Powell.

The election of Barack Obama is in fact relevant for many reasons other than his race. He brings tons of hope to some Americans, who believe that the power of change towards a better future for the nation is in Mr. Obama's hands and ideals. He's also becoming president in times of turmoil, when the U.S. is submerged in the worst economic recession that the country has seen since the Great Depression of 1929. Also, his coming to office will come by the time when U.S. troops are still present in Iraq, in what has proven to be one of the most unpopular wars of all times amongst the U.S. citizens. People trust that Mr. Obama will be that person who will finally direct the country to the path of sustained progress for all.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Obama can achieve that. It would be extremely sad if, at the end of the road, he proves to be another populist that comes to power by means of selling people hope without necessarily making that become true. The winds of change appear to finally have hit the US, and let's hope that change works for the best interests of the free world.