Oct 17, 2017

Lesson from the Movie Franz

I've been picking up again with my old. beloved habit of going to the movies. I'm still not at my old pace (about twice a week or so), but I'm gaining track, which is all thanks to October being a fabulous month, full of releases I die to watch. So far I've seen Blade Runner 2049, Wind River, Wish Upon, and yesterday I saw Franz, a movie by François Ozon, and which was part of a two week French Film Festival, held by one of the local movie chains. I intended to see another movie entirely, but then I saw this was being showed. so we (I was with a friend) went for that one.

taken from google.com
My friend is a younger lady who has taken French lessons at the Alliance Française, but as far as I know, she last year deserted the lessons. I can't tell you much about my own level of French, since I followed up to level 7 from the 9 back then, and then - upon a disagreement with the management - I left the classes and decided that I can very well keep my French up with yearly visits to Paris and a daily dose of Le Figaro and Le Monde. Honestly, so far, I've been able to defend myself. But that's beside the point here. Given that she and me allegedly speak (some) French, we decided also to go for Franz as a way to give our French some practice. And there were subtitles, just to make it safe. To our surprise - and my absolute delight - the movie was also heavily spoken in German, which instantly doubled the appeal for me and my chances to practice two of the languages where my knowledge is the weakest.

Franz is a movie that deals with many important social and personal issues, such as prejudice, our tendency to hold into hurt and resentment, the need to project our pain and anger on others, even when they are undeserving of it, and also on the many subtleties of lies, deceptions and deceiving moves. At the core of the movie there is a central lie (I'm trying really hard not to spoil anything here), that once it gets revealed, two paths unfold: one living with the lie, and another living with the truth. What I like about this message is how it shows a case where the truth doesn't make you free, but enslaves you further, retrains you and ruins you, while the lie built upon it actually frees you and give you your life back.

Throughout my life I've found that lies are not as poisonous as we are often told, and that there are lies, mweciful lies intended to protect others or to protect oneself. One can always, of course, argue on one side or the other, but there are certain cases at which - I believe - the truth would add nothing.

However, not all lies are merciful or white lies, some are mean and others are senseless. It was interesting for me, how I watched this movie and the topic of lies came up in them, as I have gotten at a point with some friends whose compulsive need to lie about pretty much everything, is going out of hand. I really wonder how is it possible that I find myself with this type of people in my life over and over and over. People like this want to make me retire from the world and swear off friends forever. Then again, truth to be told, I see them more as frequent acquintances, and are not part of my close group of friends, which include exclusive and absolutely amazing people such as Shimmy Gin, Jules, Arjen, Tina. Sonja and Laura.

One thing that really pisses me off about the liers currently in my life is that they seem to think that I'm stupid enough to believe their tall tales. Do they REALLY think I will really believe what they say? Or that anyone would? People seemingly able to remember and repeat entire conversations held in the past. And they always forget their own passwords. People portraying themselves as sensible, artistic souls and can only be seen and heard behave vulgary. People who claim to always put others first and don't even care when they trample over others, nor have any qualms about being abusive and opportunistic. People who claim to have magical powers, or suddenly declare themselves to be witches, mediums and yet can't even get right  the use of chammomille.

It annoys me when people think me stupid enough to believe that they can actually hold an intelligent conversation with a pet (and I have pets, I know how pets behave), where they supposedly explain the pet what they expect from them in complex concepts ("Spot, I give you food and shelter, I expect you to respect this house and stay clear from Granny's china". Spot nods and picks a spot away from the china cabinet to sit, because he understood), or make plans bloom by just asking them. (Clearly, because a witch's voice is more powerful than the timing set by Gaia.)

I have had many compulsively lying acquintances in the past, and the result is always the same: I walk away because their tall tales get to my nerves. Their tales always keep piling and piling up to the point where I don't see why should I waste my time with people with whom I clearly have nothing in common, if they feel such a need to feed me constantly with falsehoods. Useless, irrelevant, stupid lies.

Two of my acquintances are quickly reaching this end.

Sep 28, 2017

Thoughts on Higher Education

For some time I've been preparing for this post, but many things came my way that required my attention (life happens as you know), but also, as I was pondering about the topic my ideas about it changed and morphed, and then... I decided I needed more.

The Process

Property of Stormberry
The idea to write about higher education came after I read an article in The Washington Post, titled "Equifax's security chief had some big problems. Being a music major wasn't one of them". For those of you who don't know the case, Equifax is one of the Credit Bureaus of the United States, which prepare the credit reports and credit scores of millions of Americans. These reports and scores are consulted by financial entities when people ask for loans, but also when these entities want to pick people to whom they want to sell different products, like credit cards, loans and so on. Anyway, this company got hacked this year, and the credit and personal data of 143 million Americans got loose. It happens that the Chief Security Officer, who is the top security person in the company, has no formal education in technology, cybersecurity, programming, computer engineering or any such formation. The lady has a music major.

My first reaction was - obviously - WHAT THE FUCKING HELL?  and I knew I wanted to write about that, and how I consider that this sort of thing entails something wrong in the current labour market. But then I've got thinking and other elements came to my mind and I decided to take this one step further and analyse some other elements of this question.

The Situation

After thinking some on the article, I decided to go to some statistic databases to check on what the situation is. For this I checked basically the OECD's database, and the World Bank's database. The data I use have several issues, among which I consider most important the following:

1. Many of the variables considered belong to different years (2013, 2015 and 2016).
2. We can't be sure they were collected usuing similar methodology.

These take from the comparability of the data, BUT it can still allow us to get an idea of the situation.

Source: OECD database
From what I've found, that the proportion of people with higher education is not so big. The countries with percentages include Korea (69%), Japan (59,6%) and Lithuania (54,8%). In average, for all the countries for which information was available, the 39,9% of the population has higher education. The United States is in 8th position with 46,5%.

When it comes to how much a student pays in average for higher education, the US is in first place with $27 578,29 in average, according to data from 2013 collected by the OECD. In Korea, where we have the highest rate of population with higher education, students in average pay $9 378,60, which is roughly a third of what American students pay for their education at home.

Finally, why is people supposed to pursue higher education? To get a higher chance at getting a job. In this sense, for the countries for which data was available, with the exception of Mexico, people with higher education reported a lower unemployment rate than the national average.

Source: Total unemployment by World Bank, Unemployment among population with HE by OECD
In some cases, such as Lithuania, Hungary and Latvia, the advantage of having a college degree is rather clear.

So What's My Point

In the case of the Chief Security Officer of Equifax, at one point several top officers started making noise about "not being qualified to work in Tech jobs". Twitter had some trends going on with the hashtag #unqualifiedfortech, where several of these people noted how they work in high tech positions while having degrees en entirely different areas. And this is where my issues start.

In several parts of the world getting a university degree means getting a higher chance not only to be employed, but also to have a better income. This would normally be so because when you get a Higher Education Degree you are supposed to have a Higher Education. In other words, you've acquire much more knowledge about a certain area, which qualifies you to work in it. For instance, someone who studied Medicine, is qualified to be a physician and heal people. Someone who studied Law is qualified to work as a lawyer or an attorney. To make this clear: you go to the university, and from all the options you've get, you enroll to study something that will qualify you to work in that area.

Accesing this higher education isn't either something easy of cheap in many places. Aside from the university fees, the cost of the courses, the cost of the textbooks, supplies, housing, transport and so on, often many careers make it particularly difficult for students to work next to their studies, not to mention that also often times, available jobs make it difficult not only to study next to them, but the wages they pay are hardly enough to pay for all the cost associated with education. And higher education often times implies years of living in these conditions. People with family, particularly single parents, find it very difficult to get a degree. In some countries and for some educational options, people get financial options. In some countries higher education has a subsidy, that make it much easier to pay.

In Costa Rica, for instance, at the UCR (Universidad de Costa Rica), which is a public university and the one with the highest reputation of all the higher education system, the maximum a student would pay per semester (for enrolled classes) is $287,67. Today. In most public universities here, courses are measured in "credits", which is a measure of the effort you must put in it, and also usually translate to the number of weekly hours of class you'll get. You can enroll as many courses as you want, but our government puts a cap to the number of credits you'll pay, and that maximum is 12 credits. That normally represents a full block of courses for a semester, but of you want to take on more classes to advance, you can do so for free, basically.

In for private universities here, such system does not exist, and you pay for your courses without cap. For these, as well as it happens in other countries, students can opt for education loans, which normally get to be paid after the career was concluded, or if it was abandoned by the student.

So, getting a higher education degree costs. Costs in money, costs in time, costs in effort because you actually have to study, costs in other job opportunities... So, what would be the point then, in studying, making all this effort, if - as so many opposers of #unqualifiedfortech seem to point it out - you don't seem to actually need a degree in tech to work in tech and score the highest incomes in the market within the tech industry? Because you don't need a music major or a literature major to "think outside the box" and find different ways to solve problems, which people who studied the given area aparently are not capable to do. So, how does that work exactly?

I am yet to see a job ad for filling a CEO position in a prestigious company in which "whatever college degree is accepted".

And besides, how do this people get to this positions? How do you end up in charge of the cybersecurity of a company with a degree in... philosophy? How did you qualified for that position?

Certainly, many people study something and then life force them to start working in something else. Yes, that happens and happens more often than not. I would love to see statistics about the amount of people with higher education degrees who are working in fields different than their studies. I can also agree - in the light of the previous cost and effort data and assumptions - that getting a degree for your new area might not be so easily accesible, BUT having a dab of integrity should really not cost you so much. If you know that you are going to spend the rest of your worklife in Human Resources instead of Maths as you have originally studied, the decent thing would be then to talk to your bosses, so that you can get the proper degree for it. After all, there are college choices for people who are also working, and since you are already working in the area, studies should prove to be easier.

That still don't fix the thing that still, there are people with a higher education degree unemployed, and there are jobs that should require a higher education degree filled by people who don't have it.

In my area (economics) I have met more than once people from different backgrounds trying to do my job, or even having the nerve of trying to lecture me and my colleagues about it. From their work, often times many mistakes are observed, many of which often are simple mathematical errors (a lot of people don't know how fractions work), and conceptual mistakes that could easily break the company.

Let me just put this whole diatribe in a very, very few points here, so that my message goes a bit clearer through. 

From the side of the people with higher education: getting into Higher Education demands a lot from people, not everybody gets accepted. Those who do, still have to go through it and survive and graduate. Many of these come out of the process with a debts - some more crushing than others.

From the corporative side: people without higher education degrees in the given area of the job are not only more prone to mistakes due to lack of proper knowledge, but are also more prone to let fraud pass by. Not being educated in protocols, they might allow due to lack of knowledge, a series of abuses and breaches of security that might imperil the company, the clients, the public and even larger groups and populations. People without the proper education can also be paid less, can also be convinced to take responsability over shady things made by others to profit. They can become escapegoats without even knowing so.

From the side of higher education institutions and financial entities: getting people into higher education is their business. Aparently getting them to work is not so much.

The point is that, for certain jobs background education IS needed, and there is people who have that knowledge, that studied for it. It's stupid to think that some years of experience, earned from scratch can match with all the knowledge that people can attain through education. Education is based on professors that have YEARS of knowledge, and loads of bibliography, which again comprise more years of knowledge. Theories proven and tested, experiences from all over the world... can all that be replaced with a couple of years going from messenger-to-CEO?

Now, am I here the only one to see how wrong this is?

Sep 14, 2017

What Makes You Happy

Property of Stormberry
How is it that happiness seems like such a difficult thing to get hold of? What is it about happiness that eludes many people? What is that secret that some hold that make them able to be happy? Is happiness even real? Does happiness actually exist? Or is it just a commercial fabrication instilled into us to keep up chasing a mirage and spend loads of money in the process?

Well, for starters, happiness is a real thing, and yes, you can be a happy person and be pretty much always happy. Happy can be your default state. I know that, because I happen to be a happy person (even if many of my posts are sometimes bitchy and angry). So yes, it is possible.

As you might imagine, I'm writing about the topic, because a friend of mine is in a situation where they don't seem to be able to find their happiness. My friend's case is one that many people seem to suffer: what makes them happy isn't something that's acceptable in the circle they move in. For the sake of making this easy, I'll call my friend... Emma.

Emma is the kind of girl that has had the life anyone would consider proper and perfect. Sure, she had her "tribulations", but every single element of her life followed the designated path. Grew up a good girl, went to college, studied hard, met her future husband, married him, had kids, got a good job... Shouldn't she be happy? Her husband is supportive, understanding, loving, handsome, and her kids are wonderful children. She's appreciated in her job and her colleagues and clients speak highly of her. And yet she isn't happy. Through many conversations, it has transpired that Emma is unsatisfied with her life, but debates between hating the predictable monotony of her life and the fear of losing the stability that very predictable monotony gives her.

As I listen to her over a cup of coffee (Starbucks, naturally), and her slender fingers play with the edge of the plastic lid covering her beverage, I see a person afraid of herself. She truly desires to be happy, but she wishes so hard that her happiness could be achieved with socially approved means. She sometimes hints of her dark side, a part of her that she sees as "her demons", something she must be strong enough to supress, repress, conquer, while striving to stir her whole self to be content with something that's not designed to sate her needs. She's afraid to face the fact that she is - in her nature - different from what society, and specifically her environment, is willing to accept.

Emma has been suffering silently her demons, and this year she had a sort of crisis about it. In the light of this, Emma sought help by taking a sort of "spiritual retirement" or something like that. You know, the kind of... spiritual camps or something that cost you a small fortune, where you basically pay to live in poor conditions, deprived of civilized means, exposed to daily hardships and boring meditation, to find enlightment, or yourself? Yeah, totally not my thing, and I wouldn't have pegged Emma for the type, but there you go: she paid a handsome sum to go abroad to meditate wrapped in a sheet, do chores and sleep in a cot.

The retirement was hard, but full of lessons for her, and she dutifully did the entire program, and though she enjoyed it and made new, exciting friends, she came home disturbed. Of course she didn't say so to anyone, but only talks to all that ask her about the views, the people from all over the world and the exotic flowers and fruits. Her environment treats her retreat time like that needed by the high power executives who overwork themselves to meet deadlines and reach the expected quarterly results. And Emma is so lucky Eli is such an understanding, supporting husband! Yet Eli can't really support her because Eli doesn't know the truth about her demons. And Eli ignores that Emma met her demons in the retirement camp. Her encounter with her demons came so close, and was so brutal on her soul, that some weeks after she came back, she started taking pills to control her growing anxiety. Things got so bad for her, that she sought the advise of a trusted friend, someone who knows well her environment, and who has had problems of his own, though of a different nature.

Calmer, but lacking the sparkle in her eye and the bounce in her step - my sparkling little pony, as I used to think of her - flicking and turning the lid of her hot coffee, Emma told me this wiser friend urged her to never mention the matter again. He urged her to erase everything, every last bit of "evidence" of her deviation, and hide it forever. For a while, Emma was advised to be super-dotting to Eli and her kids, and be a charm at work, and forcefully jump into the picture perfect role of the fully accomplished Mother&Wife. If not, well, of course it would be a huge scandal, that would rip her away from her children for ever, will tarnish their memory of her, and would brand her so deeply, that she would even lose her job. Yes, it seems that their company gives a huge lot of emphasis on the personal image of their executives. Why, is beyond me, but Emma did assured me that if she ever thought about divorcing - and doing so for THAT reason - she would either be exiliated to some remote corner of the company where her chances of ever getting a promotion would go up in smoke, or she would be kindly asked to "be happy somewhere else".

Emma was really trying to smile, forcing the corners of her mouth upwards while she told me how this "fake-it-until-you-make-it" plan was going to be her salvation. I stared at her in disbelief, because she isn't living in a country where such limitations exist, and work should be about what you give to the job, what you do at your job, and not about how you live your personal life.

I was at loss of words. Emma wasn't happy, she was suffering, and was trying to erase who she is and what makes her happy with pills, because her environment hates people like her. She has been carrying a huge rock on her back, and it's crushing her, but she is afraid to drop it. She's convinced that her only option is to silence her demons and deny herself. I tried to hold her cold, thin hands and ask her what makes her happy. Her sad, clouded sky eyes looked at me and she shook her head. For her, her happiness is such a complicated thing, she's no longer sure she can find it. I tried to tell her that she should take this moment and dare to be a bit selfish. She's not helping anyone by denying who she is and sinking herself deeper into sadness.

After we said our good-byes, Emma stayed in my mind. She might have been going years and years being unhappy, maybe finding here and there a moment to express herself, to be herself, only to be punished by it, made feel guilty for her transgression. She has been told to feel grateful that the people who had punished her for being who she is, had the "grace" to forgive her and given her a chance to correct her "deviation". She is convinced deeply that she is flawed, deviant. That she must tirelessly fight her nature, and if she fails, she must be punished. When I told her, that maybe, just maybe, this was her nature, and that it was ok to be that way, she smiled at me and cocked her head to the side. Of course that's what her witch friend would say. That's why she loves me, she said, because her witch friend can always say something that makes her feel good.

But that's not a solution for her problem.

But Emma, maybe it is. You only have to try.

Sep 7, 2017

To Be Desired or To Be Respected

Property of Stormberry
There's an expression in Spanish that now I have a hard time translating, "darse a desear", which could be translated as "make yourself desired". This is an expression that pretty much every single Latin American girl and woman has heard many times through their lives from family, friends, mentors and others. It aims to teach women to basically play hard to get with men, as a requirement to be considered a decent, proper lady.

In my home - thankfully - the emphasis of our education wasn't to prepare a perfect lady (me) or a perfect gentleman (my brother), but to bring up good people who can provide for themselves, their families and be able to live happily. Perhaps because my dad comes from a very poor family, there was a strong emphasis in our upbringing about being prepared for life, so that we would want for nothing. In this sense, we both were educated exactly the same way. However, being that we didn't live in a bubble, I was naturally exposed to the rest of the society, and it was in that environment where I often heard this advise either given to me, or preached to me and a group of younger girls.

This advise came with lessons about how proper ladies always must reject men when they first approach them, and make them "work for their attention". We had been told that a man would never respect a woman that said yes to their first attempt, but would cherish a woman that had made them fight for them. Needless to say that I don't agree with this advise.

It might seem like a way to gain more attention, but in truth several things happen here. For once, this advise teaches women that they must manipulate men. Whatever they come offering, it's not good enough. They must come back offering more. Even if the first offer was perfectly good and desirable for you, you must keep pushing for more. Derivated from this, it also teaches women to distrust the feelings of men, dismiss them as simply a predatory impulse. In other words: men are uncapable by themselves of true, honest feelings unless women force them to have them

Curiously, not one of the Wise Ones imparting these advises ever thought about the effect of this tactic on the worth of women's word. Just think about it: "making yourself desired" works through devaluating the meaning of the word "no" when uttered by women, because "no" becomes the synonym of "try harder". It teaches women to purposefully send mixed signals because "that's what ladies do", and all women must strive to be a lady. As result, the word of women is devaluated, because "they speak in indirect terms", and men "need a dictionary" to start and decypher what they really mean to say. So, by following this advise, you might make yourself desired, but how could you be cherished when you can't be understood? 

Furthermore, when all your words are tergiversed, when your "no" means "try harder" (so, a sort of yes), and you are technically left with no word to express or say "no" (and if you find your way to say no, then you are a bitch, a hag, a sour person, a manhater...), then how can you be respected? When you strive so hard to be a lady, by manipulating men, by going against your own desires, by working to please the public opinion about who and what you are, you chip away your own respect. Yes, you might be "respected" in regards of what society expects of you, BUT if you dare to go against it, you lose that respect. Is that truly respect?

Is it respect within a relationship when your partner knows that no matter what you say and what you decide, your will can be bent into whichever shape they want with enough pressure? A third party can also keep pushing and pushing for you to give into an illicit liaison even when you keep saying no - even if you are married and all - because your "no" worths nothing, your "no" means "try harder".

Wise Ones will argue that "a woman knows how to send a signal". Really? Do we? Since women - true ladies, not tramps - are denied the luxury of direct speach, they must resource to telepathic signals to let men know what they mean? Or are women the precursors of neuromarketing, sending subliminal signs to men? And how can those subliminal signs not be confused with, maybe the wrongly fixed idea a man might have?

Society are also fed a lot of ideas about women. They all crave marriage, they all crave children, their only goal in life is to become mothers and wives. They all measure men by the size of their wallets, and diamonds are their best friends. All women secretly or not-so-secretly desire to be housewives. These are not true. Not one of them! Yes, there are women with these desires, but these are not universal wishes shared by all women.

This advise and this view also damages men. As mentioned earlier, it teaches them to be insecure. It invalidates their feelings. It teaches them to expect rejection from women, and predisposes them to misunderstand women. They are taught that women code their speach in an ENIGMA machine, and not all of them have access to the Turing machine (was it the MARK II?) to understand it. Rejection is painful, so they have to start finding ways to protect themselves, and their feelings - which they are thought to think of as undesirable and unvaluable - and so they build strategies and shields. Either they approach the matter with carelessness, and thus become the "feared" womanizers who simply hunt down women for sport, or they really find a hard time working up the nerv to approach a woman, going slowly, to either pass through a less painful rejection process, or to try and somehow succeed into avoiding it entirely. The effort they have to make!! How that doesn't make them feel inferior?

Just imagine the blow to your self image, at feeling unable to express your feelings openly for fear of being ridiculed or brutally rejected?

Oh yes, and women are prohibited from making a first step - they must always wait and be the RECEIVERS, never the GIVERS - so, how could a regular guy ever gauge their chances, or simply be relieved of the fearsome task of approaching a girl they like? No, women must wait and men must brave up and expose themselves time and again to the pain of rejection.

Also, by teaching men that worthy women are the ones that need to be chased, you also erode their sense of "enough". Are men told how much must they chase? Are they told when to stop? Then think about it: society is teaching men that they must compete constantly. Just getting a job is not enough, they must become bosses, and then CEOs, and then make their own company, and then make it successful, and then turn it into a corporation, and then a bigger one, and then become a Fortune 500 company, and then the richest man of the planet, and then... it's a never ending chase. Men are being denied of the chance of being satisfied. Momentarily, yes, but on the long run, no.

So what happens when the "prey" falls and the chase is over? Got the prize, and then what? A new chase must be started. So, ladies, how is that conductive to being cherished? Oh, yes, you must keep working, you must keep the attention of your man, keep making up chases... well, isn't that tiresome? The constant fear that your partner's attention is fleeting, that any new shiny thing can literally steal it away from you... Because men are taught never to be satisfied, and women are taught to make themselves desired. And none of them are taught to respect themselves and make themselves respected.

Let's break this cycle. Let's dare not to think in terms of men and women, but in terms of People, and our right to love ourselves, to value our feelings, to have them respected, and to have our words respected. We all have the right to express ourselves, to speak plainly. It doesn't make us less worthy. Let's stop that thinking. Let's teach our children that their thoughts count, that their feelings count, that the toughts and feelings of others must be respected, not necessarily shared or accepted, but respected. Let's remember that before being men or women, we are all PEOPLE.

Sep 4, 2017

Travelling with Backpacks

Property of Stormberry
Before any wrong ideas are formed, no, I have never done "backpacking", and I don't really think I'll ever do.  Not that there's anything wrong with backpacking, but in my personal case that's so not my thing. However, I have travelled some, and I have used backpacks in those travels, so that's what I'll talk to you about in this post.

This post was inspired for this article I read today on the Washington Post: "Backpacks are making a comeback with travelers". This article was mostly a review of somewhat "high end" backpacks, many of which are more gadget oriented than your regular school backpack or "whatever" backpack, which is what I use. Now, to give you an idea, I call them "high end" even if they might not be, because these range from around US$99 to US$259 (the ones mentioned in the article). That's a freaking lof it money for a backpack, even though these do a lot of things more than your trusty JanSport or your... what's the name of that Swedish backpack everybody loves in Europe? "Kånken Fjällräven". Ok, maybe the Fjällräven is in that priceline (though not all of them), but still... And if I tell you what I paid for my trustly JanSport (US$20), you wouldn't believe me.

Now, before I continue, let me rant for a short second here. This is something I don't understand, and something I blame on our current Dumb Capitalist System (contrary to a Smart or Rational Capitalist System): just like with pricing of rentals in Budapest, it baffles me that such a staple item can reach prices so high that it takes them out of reach for so many people, particularly people that do, really need it. I don't know if it is a practice in some other countries (though I have friends in Hungary and I have never heard of this sort of practice), but in Costa Rica when the school year is about to begin, many groups and people get organized to collect school supplies to be sent to children whose families can't affort to buy them, so that they can go to school. Donating school supplies can be the difference between a kid getting education or having to stay at home and either be put to work, or have them roaming the streets and getting early into a less-favorable life style. This year I decided to put up a well stocked pack, so I've got a list from the Education Ministery, and followed it to the letter, buying every single item, in the quantities and specifications required, and put it all in a backpack - pencils and pens in a pencase, of course - and that was the moment when I realized the range of prices and options families have for school backpacks. There were all shapes and sizes and colors. I went for the brand I know, which was only the second cheapest. So, the point is that, though school supplies are not cheap, and families can spend a good amount in buying them, I believe it is wrong to hike up the prices even more, up to the point where the decision of buying a simple, good backpack makes you decide which of the other school supplies you must let go of.

Property of Stormberry
Anyway, back on topic, the afore mentioned article made a quick review of some of these backpacks, basically under the idea of suggesting them for travelers, or people who use them normally for work. I checked every single one of them dutyfully, and in many I found that they are very padded, and are actually quite... "specific designed". What do I mean? They didn't really seem to be fit to accomodate any particular combination of items, but more like it assume you will have specific items with you that you need to carry. Many featured how good they could work carrying high end cameras, but didn't show the same space working for laptops and books, or in a regular traveler arangement, with a pullover, a laptop, maybe a book and a planner. Even with the removable divisions, I looked at them and I wasn't quite sold on them.

I have a couple of backpacks - most of them low end or "low end"-ish - and among them one that's padded with four sections. For a while that aimed to be my favorite, though it was quickly evident that it was heavier than a simple backpack, but also the sections weren't really functional, or at least not for me. In a regular case, my backpack holds my planner, a book, a pencase, a necessaire, wallet, phone, sometimes a notebook... and these tend to be bulky. If I have class or I'm working on an assignment, studying on writing letters, those supplies go also in there. Yes, normally my backpack weights around 8 Kg. Added weight from the backpack itself isn't really welcomed.

When I travel, the backpack usually has these things PLUS my laptop, the laptop's cable and a converter. So yes, my backpack through travelling gets really heavy. The problem I have found with sectioned backpacks is that the contents of one section can push the space in other sections, making stuff sometimes rather inaccesible. In this sectioned, padded backpack I tell you about, there was a whole full-lenght section I couldn't use because the larger section's contents always pushed out the space from it. So even if you'd manage to get things in them, if at some point you have to take them out, you might need to struggle a little, but to get them back in you'll have to struggle A LOT.

In my experience, the padded sections don't offer much of an improvement for easy access or space-keeping. Sure, maybe if you don't overstuff your backpack they might work, but if you don't overstuff it, would you actually need the bulk of the padded, sectioned backpack?

Property of Stormberry
What to carry in your backpack is really a personal choice, though multiple advises and experiences can be shared. Given your current lot of items you carry arround, what backpack should you use? My advise is: the one that's safest and weights the less. The simplest backpacks - such as the JanSport or the Kanken Fjällräven - can be further adapted quite easily, to have extra pockets, if you feel the need for it (say, flat pockets for your passport, inside the small pocket, or an elastic band sawn in to hold pens), or a simple strip of cloth with a hook to keep your keys at hand or your wallet from being stolen. Hook keychains are an easy way to secure these backpacks, just like I show it in the picture to the left.

Higher end backpacks tend to add on weight. Padding, design, unused spaces kept for gadget safety... some of them add 1.5 to 2 Kg of weight or more, and take this from me: no amount of padding or smart design wisk weight away. 6 Kg of stuff in a light backpack are 6.3 Kg of stuff, max. 6 Kg of stuff in a 2 Kg backpack, regardless of the tech solution, is 8 Kg on your shoulders.

A light backpack, with no extra padding, stands out less from your back, so you are not pushing and hitting people, nor bumping and breaking stuff in places you visit (you sure know those stores full of breakable things and narrow aisles where you need to move your backpack in front of you, if you don't want to back into debt for damage).

JanSport. Taken from
Here I mention JanSport and Fjällräven to give you an idea of the kind of backpack, but I'm sure you can find similar ones where you live. So, if you have to decide on a backpack, take them in consideration too, not only the hyped, high-tech, high end options.

But in the end, the decision is yours.

Aug 26, 2017

Love & Attention

The other day I was again thinking about the topic of love and how love is often viewed by people. For these social pseudo-researches, Facebook is a particularly interesting field of investigation. Naturally, the following are my observations and conclusions, and no form of rigorous Scientific Method was applied to them. This is an entirely mental exercise based on a few, non-representative empirical observations. Yet, as usual, it may give you something to let your thoughts play and run and chew on.

I was wondering - again- on the topic of jealousy (have some friends around me bringing the topic on), and aside from the usual element of "possession" I find at the base of this type of feeling, something else was catching my attention. As I listened to my friends, and then saw so often on social media, then started to deduce from what I was gathering from the relationships of other people, a particular pattern started to come forth: love is being equated to attention.

Property of Stormberry
So I started thinking about this, and what do this entail. We all have heard about attention whores, and people generally seeking others' attention and approval. Many children often take on a behavior meant to get attention from the adults around them, but also we know of adults who also seek ways to get attention, many of which are willing to do just about anything for that coveted attention. But why is attention so important?

The attention by itself isn't a good or a bad thing. A person could be dragging to themselves attention that may entail negative consequences. Think here of people who get attention for crimes, accusations, being the center of some negative situation, getting involved in shameful circumstances or having done something considered shameful. Just to give you an exmple, think about the attention people accused of witchcraft got, in the times of witch trials.

Then, attention can be a positive thing, when it is drawn due to admiration. Think of the attention of people earning prizes. And then attention can be neutral, when it's drawn by curiosity, such as the attention the premier of a movie draws.

The thing with attention, is that it can make people feel important. After all, if you are drawing attention, it's because you have something all others don't have. However, the nature of attention is fleeting. Your attention don't remain always on one thing, but it shifts for one thing to the next. It goes from the morning alarm to the stationary bike, to the shower, to the clothes, to each and every product you put on your face, to your shoes, to your means of transportation, to the road, to the door, to each element of your work and work environment, or your studies... and it keeps on shifting all day, every day.

I've noticed that people in a relationship, often tend to seek getting as much attention from their partners as possible. These people tend to consider this attention either a manifestation of love or love itself. But is it?

Love is a feeling that grows and exists within you. It lives in there, in you, and is usually a positive force. When you love someone or something, that feeling tends to remain. Yes, love is organic, and it shifts and changes and evolves, but usually it tends to remain with the object of it, unless something happens that changes that feeling. Usually a change in the object or the way the object is perceived, which nullifies the elements that sparked love. This means that love can be felt for many objects. Love, unlike attention, isn't a unit that you give to one person, and then, if you want to give it to another you must take it back from the first person. You can feel love for a lot of people. Just think about family and friends.

Attention behaves like one object, or one beam, and yes, when you pay attention to one person, you stop paying attention to another, BUT, have your feelings for that first person stopped?

I find it sad that people fight for attention in the name of love, and whine for attention as if that was what love is. You can get attention, but that doesn't mean that you are being loved.

Love can be silent, love can be secret, love can be discreet, intimate and very personal. Yes, it can be loud to and lavish... but love is love, it is felt and needs to be felt. How it is expressed, is up to the nature of those who feel it.

Seek love, not attention.

Aug 22, 2017

Your Dream Partner

Probably from google.com, but I don't remember
In my German classes we often get these topics that prompt you to talk about, express your opinion and exercise the reach of your vocabulary. Of course, all topics are selected thinking about arming you with words for several possible conversation scenarios you might encounter in real life. One of these topics was "Dream Partner".

This topic came up a couple of times and it got me thinking about the standing that goes behind it. For instance, just because I'm female, I'm supposed to have a male dream partner, while my male classmates are supposed to have female dream partners. If you go online and type "couple" or "dream partner" a vast majority of the pictures you get are of a man-woman couple. Further more, couples were all same-etnicity, similare aged, heterosexual couple depictions. And let's for a moment put aside the fact that most pictures are very Hallmark-like, it's the matter that the very concept of a couple is heterosexual. Our freely available imagery keeps pushing forwards the heterosexual standard, and seemingly ignoring the fact that there are many other possible couple possibilities. Right now, before we go any further, let's clearly estate that I have four rules for any sort of sexual or romantic relationship. These are: 

Human, Live, Legal, Consenting

For a while now I've been making a conscient effort to try and speak in a more inclusive way, which is complicated. Honestly, I'd like to live in a world where people's personal decisions on how they decide to live their lives, who they are and how they perceive themselves are respected by all.

The thing with Dream Partners, is that, on one hand my gender do not define the gender of my partner, but my affinity, my inclination, my orientation, or whatever within me that draws me to one person or the other. It might be also the case that I have an idea of my "dream man" and my "dream woman", because yes, bisexual people aren't confused, aren't going through a phase, they genuinely are capable of loving a person and finding people sexually atractive regardless of what they have between their thighs. Bisexual people don't need to "make a decision", and the people they love have to know that they are not competing with the whole world, but learn to trust the strenght of the love they share.

taken from google.com
A dream partner can actually be someone much older than you, much younger (but of legal age!), or someone from another country, someone with a different skin color, different eye shape, different nose shape, with different political, social or economical views.

Furthermore, you might also be inclined not to have a dream partner, but several dream partners. Yes, multiple relationships are also a thing and should be acceptable. I'm not talking here about cheating, I'm talking here about polyamory, which, yes, these are people with enough space and love in their hearts to love more than one people at the same time, and actually be happy that their loved ones also have such big, generous, giving hearts.

Then there are those of us that even if they identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual... you name it, prefer not to have a relationship. Those of us happy with no dream partners. I'm like this, and I'm certain that there's absolutely nothing wrong with me, simply that I prefer not to be in any sort of relationship. I'm 41 years old and I don't feel the need to have someone by my side. In classes, this exercise was particularly complicated for me, because how was I supposed to say that my dream partner is the one that's not there for breakfast? (Mein Traumpartner, oder meine Traumpartnerin ist bei Frühstück gegangen.) I like sex, I like having fun, I like to laught and I love to talk and share and get deep in people's mind, but I don't like anything that might look like a romantic relationship.

There are also people who don't even like anything related to sex. And no, they are not immature, they won't "get there eventually". They just don't like it. Really, why is it ok not to like drinking or smoking, but it's not "normal" not to like sex? They can be very happy people without ever needing to have sex or have a romantic partner.

For a language class, it's alright to have to topic, and yes, I believe we should also acquire the words to express the wide scope of love. For every other scenario in our lives, change won't happen if we don't start raising awareness about it. If we are willing to accept the wide scope and range through which hate moves, grows and flourishes, why do we condemn those paths from love?

Let love reach everywhere.

Aug 21, 2017

To Read or Not to Read

Taken from Google,com
Like many others around the globe, I'm excitedly following the series Game of Thrones in HBO. I have heard a lot about the books, have seen them in the different bookstores I visit, but never really felt like reading them. Though I enjoy the series, the truth is that this kind of literature is not really my kind of literature. It just doesn't reach out to me. For instance, back when there was this huge hoot about The Lord of the Rings, I did go to the movies, I did saw them, but I never got the books nor ever felt inclined to read them.

Then, today I was talking to a coworker of mine who is also crazy about Game of Thrones, and we were talking about the next episode (episode 7) will be the last of this season (season 7), and how rumor has it that the series has deviated from the books, and curiosity got the best of me: maybe I should read the books to get the other side of the story. The idea seemed appealing in the spur of the moment, and I even went online to Amazon.com and the site of my favorite local bookstore to compare prices, and started debating. You see, I'm normally not into book series. I trilogy I can still manage, but longer series are not my thing (except, clearly, in the case of LGBTQ romance stories, like Alessandra Hazard's Straight Guys series). So, as I was checking the series of "Songs of Fire and Ice", it turns out not only that there are 5 or 6 books out, but that there might be 7 or more. This put a halt to my intent on getting them and reading them. So, basically the story is unfinished and nobody knows when will it be finished? Are readers supposed to spend years in suspense? And how well could a story be held up in such a condition? Will it have the backbone required to hold up so much story?

I'm back at considering, pondering, clicking the pages of the online libraries off and considering getting from friends one of those free pdf copies that pululate around, just to see if it is actually worth my time. To try, to rest, to attempt to minimize the risk of getting involved in something that might cut the path of other readings and yet leave me perpetually on a cliffhanger.

To read or not to read, that's the reader's dilemma.

Aug 16, 2017

Bloggers Fading

Screenshot by Stormberry
I think I need to go exploring again, finding new blogs to follow and read, but where should I start? Back in the day (oh yes, do you remember those golden days in 2012 when I used to blog every day?), one of my main sources of daily information was the "to read" segment of my blogger, where the many posts of the different blogs I followed were lined up to be read. It was fun, I must say ^_^. It was like having a little window into the lives of many, many people around the world, where I've got to peer into the tiny windows of their lives, and see what they set on their windowsills.

But then came the draught, and I went away for extended periods of time, hardly even made it back here for the Sabbaths - which are quite important for me, mind you, from an inspirational point of view - and then... then I forgot about my peering window. I must indeed tell you, that breaking time for blogging isn't necessarily easy when you are studying, and working. Of course, it can be done, as so many #studyblr blogs and sites show it, but it got a tad complicated for me. And then I didn't feel like it either, so why force it? There are so many things you have to do - like work and such - that imposing more chore on yourself is completely moronic. Blogging must be a joy, something that flows out of you because you feel like it, because you really want to... not because you have a schedule you feel you have to stick to.

Screenshot by Stormberry
My rutine - like many other things in my life - morphed, and I picked up on another thing I had abandoned a while ago: now my days start with me checking the news on an e-mail address I keep only for newspapers. My days thus fill with news, though curiously I do not read any news from my own countries (have yet to find a newspaper I would trust, which would send me an e-mail with the headlines), and then go on with my day. Blogs and blogging pretty much fell off my schedule, and even when I came around here, I just wrote some and then was off on my way. It wasn't until recently, these days that somehow I was bit again by the blogging-bug, that I noticed again the "to read" list only to notice that all my to-reads come from one source: philofaxy's blog.

Picture owned entirely by Stormberry
My list of followed blogs is extensive, but as I scrolled down on them I noticed that most of them were already quite inactive. Perfectly nice blogs had not been updated in 8 months, a year, five years... what's happening? Is the era of the blogs dying? Are we going to retreat into archaic blogs, maybe kept alive by their thematic nature, and those of us, writing blogs in the shape of personal journals, will retrieve into the safety of paper? As one glances through remaining blogs, they are looking less and less like logs of text, stories and thoughts, and more like websites with lots of pages and segments dedicated to different media, almost building up like online stores where you can purchase whatever things you probably don't need. Even the old journalers are prefering pictures, slowly moving their outpour of ideas into other social networks where words are less commanding, and pictures and videos make the bulk of it.

Are we hating words now? Are we picking a fight or parting ways with words, text, and rather move to what we can quickly consume? And those of us who like to write, string up words and make a longer text, are becoming the old timers? I want to read blogs, personal blogs, blogs from people telling the big, unknown darkness of the internet about their day, about their friends, about their joys and sorrows, their discoveries and rediscoveries. I want to read about the rants of others, stretch my hands through my small cyber window and peer into those other, unknown windows and marvel at the things displayed in those windowsills. I want to feel, to know that across the large sea of dark connections and wavelenghts and optic fibre, through the many submarine cables that mesh the oceans and connect us all, that there's people out there living ordinary lives like mine, but so different from mine.

I want to peer through those many tiny windows again.

Aug 14, 2017

Movie Sunday with Friends

Today I went to see the movie "Kimi no Nawa" (Your Name) with my friend Shimmy Gin and his wife. I must admit that at first I wasn't very much taken by the idea of going to watch an animé movie, but Shimmy insisted and showed me a quite convincing review of the movie, so I decided to give it a try. I loved it. ^_^

The movie is about two highschool kids, Mitsuha and Taki, that live in different parts of Japan. Taki is a boy living in Tokyo, and Mitsuha a girl living in the country, in a small village. They have a curious situation where they change bodies ever so often, but they don't remember when it happens. Both of them believe they are dreaming, having strange dreams, but in truth they are waking up in each other's lives. Slowly the realize what happens and develop a sort of system, and a way to communicate with each other. However, their time in switched bodies quickly vanishes from their memories as they come back to their original bodies.

The plot of the story unfolds in quite an inexpected manner, and this constant rush to keep a memory, to stay ahead of forgetting, and then the desperation as memories fade away, give you something to think about the message of the movie. The importance of trusting your senses, the inevitability of forgetting even what's important for us. It's an interesting story about holding into what matters to us, keep on searching and treasuring moments.

The quality of the art is frankly magnificent, even though here and there I found parts where the quality of the drawing wasn't up to the rest of it. Curiously, more attention was delved to the making of the scenary than the actual animating of the characters.

I liked going out with Shimmy and his wife. Shimmy and I are like brothers, and his wife totally sees that. After their marriage, Are and I met for coffee, and we quickly became friends, which is such a relief! I really don't like having to hold back myself with my friends because their families won't understand. Are totally gets it. After the movie we went shopping a bit and then went to lunch. We talked loads and loads, and when we realized, it was already really late!

Time flies when you are having fun. :-)

Aug 13, 2017

The Road so Far

Starbucks at MOM Park
Picture by stormberry
A few days ago I was thinking about blogging (FINALLY!!) on a the subject of relationship - again - and how in some cases people seems perfectly happy blaming others for what's basically their own fault or their own dysfunction. Of course, by now you are all very smart little peas and you are aware that every time I talk about something is because something has happened around me, or something made me aware of that particular subject. Then again, I don't mind you, Lovely Nameless Unheard Of Readers, knowing about those things because you and I will never, ever meet in real life, right? Except that... I almost told someone who knows me in Real Life about this blog, and THEN I had to stop myself and think about it. And this person and their entourage tend to read into everything, and so, that gave me pause. Shall I express myself here, or shall I wait? You see, this is the good thing about a journal: you don't have to wait because it's private and every single thought can go in there, untreated, unfiltered, pure and raw.

We are already past the middle of the year now, and as I hurried to read what could be read in my blog - previous to consider sharing it with that person I mentioned earlier - I found a post where I expressed my goals and wishes for this year. Oh, how we dream in January, only to look back in August and say "Well, that's a wish you can recycle because ain't no gonna happen this year". Thus, though I really wanted to go back to archery, that shall be postponed because my time is otherwise occupied. The idea of goig to yoga was nice... it's just that I'm not really feeling it. You know what I mean? I'm not really there. Also have planned on oing back to the 90 Minutos PowerAde free fitness program, and that didn't happen either. So what had happened?

2017 has been the year of the Study. I advanced in German all the way to B1C, which I'm coursing now, at the end of which I'm supposed to do the B1 Zertifikat test, and pass it if I want to continue to take B2 classes. B1 is supposed to be the "intermediate level". You know, where you are still not a pro but you already can understand well and express yourself well. Yeah, not my case. I've been studying German for a year and a half now, and I feel like I don't know anything! I was surer expressing myself when I was in the beginners levels. It's so not fun.

I also finally managed to enroll into Service Marketing, which is one of the last 3 subjects I must complete to finish the Marketing Career. IF the program doesn't change before I can properly enter the career and do my thesis. The class has had some minor complications, as I had to submit some homework and papers and was supposed to do so persomally, but then I had this three week trip to Hungary in summer that cut into it. Thanks the gods, the teacher knows me from other courses I've taken and we are in good terms, so he let me submit my papers by e-mail. It was quite an adventure, because I spent part of my vacations working on that paper. In the end, it came out just perfect.

At the same time, I've got into the Directed Investigation course for Finance, which is basically one of two semester classes I must take during which I write my Finance Thesis. Dear gods of old, this is happening too! I pray all goes well with this. It feels so big to be here again, writing a thesis and getting ready to finish yet another cycle of studies in my life. I'm overwhelmed.

In this light, I believe it's easy to understand why I haven't kept up either with my Letter Writing Mondays. I want to, I'd like to, but I'm not sure I can afford it with all the things currently looming over me. I've been thinking about giving it a forgiving twist, make it at home, a couple of hours, so that I can still study a little and not feel so pressed, but it's not easy, I must say. Letters slowly accumulate again, and I don't want to be in that same spot again. Time management sometimes is complicated.

The trip to Hungary... well, maybe I'll talk about that some other time. I mean, it was good, and I didn't spend much tme in Hungary per se. I went to Vienna, because I always do, and then went to Essen to visit my friend and then went to Amsterdam with them and it was beautiful. Of course, things can't be perfect, so I developped an allergy the likes of which I have not had in ten years, coughing my voice raw, getting a dripping nose, coughing until nearly suffocating myself... and then an unsightly case of dropping blood pressure. I felt so bad for my friend! Hope they don't think it's on them, or that I'm some ailing old lady.

Hungary and Austria were awful. The temperature was between 30°C and 40°C around the clock. Heat and I don't get along very well. I even got a rush from the allergy on my face! It was hell on earth. Not fun.

Back in Costa Rica, I met with my friend Li for a coffee, and I noticed her very changed. My goodness, she looked so thin and young! I was so surprised I couldn't stop admiring her. Yes, she is doing better, claiming her life back, checking what she eats (she has sworn off carbs), and she has started putting on make up. Wow, I though, I shall try my hand at that! And so I have been, playing around with some BB cream and CC cream (because I still don't feel very comfortable with foundation), and trying to give myself the winged eyeline of Rowena, from Supernatural. What can I say? I'm not girly, I'm a witch and proud of being so.