Graduated from Seminary

Some of you may know that I was a graduate student at Calvin Theological Seminary. From 2000 to 2002, I was a student in residence for the Master of Theology degree, in the field of philosophical theology under the supervision of Professor John Cooper.

My time at the Seminary was a great time. John Suk, then director of The Banner, the official periodical of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (the denomination of Calvin Seminary), said: “When I was in seminary I had the time of my life”; and I wholeheartedly concur with that. My time at the Seminary is something filled with joy, and a cherished memory that I hope to never forget.

But it was also a challenge. I simply lacked the habits and proper discipline required of a full-time graduate student. The workload was an enormous undertaking, becoming a full-time student after being a part-time student (as it is the norm in Latin America). To complicate things further, Calvin Seminary had its academic activity organized not in semesters, but in quarters. Any subject had to be taught in a crash course format, and when you thought you were settled on it, it was time to submit the term paper. (Calvin Seminary moved to a semester system afterwards.) Nevertheless I had academic success, but at the price of a lot of emotional and physical effort.

Things got to the point that the only requirement remaining for my graduation was writing a small master’s thesis. Since my field of study was philosophical theology, I wanted to write on the philosophical theology of Spanish philosopher Xavier Zubiri (1898-1983). Concretely, I wanted to do a study of his work to prove that Zubiri was a panentheist on his theology. (Panentheism is a doctrine that maintains that while God and the world are different, they remain ontologically linked to the point that God is in the world and the world is in God. It is usually an offshoot of Neoplatonism. Well known panentheists are Philip Clayton and Jürgen Moltmann.)

But I never got around to write that thesis. I faced several constraints. I had to read all of Zubiri’s relevant work on the subject and there was no single book of Zubiri in the campus library, so I had to request them on inter-library loan. And then, funding from my country all but dried up; while I was in the States, Paraguay had to face one of its worst economic crises. And I was tired and homesick. So, I took the decision to leave and see if I could finish the degree from my country.

When I arrived here, things were very different from two years before. I remember the many “For Sale” signs in front of houses. People were migrating to Spain and Argentina. I was unemployed for seven months and then, the only job I got was as an English teacher in a day school; and teaching youngsters is something very difficult to me. The thing is, writing my thesis was something definitely put in the back burner.

By the grace of God, I slowly began to recover. I got married, some years later I got certified as a translator, and shortly afterwards I entered law school and graduated as a lawyer. One day, while I was finishing the procedures and paperwork for being a registered lawyer in my country (the equivalent to being admitted to the bar), my sister asked me out of the blue: “Why don’t you consider getting your seminary degree now”? And it really seemed a great idea.

I wrote to the seminary. It turned out that my graduation was certainly possible. I had so much credit accumulated that I could graduate with a major research paper instead of with a thesis. Thus I wrote the paper on Zubiri’s transcendental panentheism, the same subject of the original thesis; but this time I restricted the scope to only two representative Zubiri works: Nature, History, God and Man and God. The term paper was accepted (with an A, mind you) by Dr. Cooper, and I got my degree on Commencement Day, May 24, 2014. (I graduated in absentia.)

It was nice to be able to focus once again on philosophical theology, a discipline that I really love. For a number of months I was absorbed in the way only a graduate student knows. Every single available second of my time was devoted to research, reading and writing. That’s one of the reasons I blogged so little this year, despited having the desire to do so. Now you know the reason 😉

So, after 14 years of first setting foot on the Seminary, I was able to finish it. I am so grateful to God, to my family, to my beloved wife, to Calvin Seminary faculty, staff and former classmaates, to friends from the States and here for their support. It was quite a ride!

Disturbing trends among Paraguayan evangelicals

The last weeks brought a lot of new developments and I plan to share them soon. But now I’d like to report that the Paraguayan evangelical church has shown some change and not for the better. Sadly, Paraguayan Evangelicals of the traditional (perhaps, “mainstream” kind) are slowly turning to aberrant, deviant Charismatic practices.

One of the worst offenders here is the Prosperity Gospel, a heresy that affirms that one of the marks of being in God’s favor is financial wealth. The other is what has been called the New Apostolic Reformation, another heresy that maintains that the offices of apostle and prophet have been restored on this age.

Together, these two heresies have swept our churches with a putrid wave of chamanism and authoritarism, and the new generation of Evangelicals are growing like cult fanatics, totally ignorant of the Bible. It is a sad state of things. The worst part is that leaders are not doing anything to curb this; they rather jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of these heresies as much as they could. I cannot tell for sure, but the two chief driver for this approval by Evangelical leaders may be economic profit and spiritual influence.

Some Facebook posts of mine have been critical of these two cultic errors, and the backslash has been strong. I have been treated as a pariah, a leper, for daring to question these doctrines!

So, this is how the Church is in Paraguay now. Sad, sad state of affairs. But the good news is that there are some churches, a minority, that would have none of this cesspool of cult teachings. Please pray so they can make a strong stand for Christian orthodoxy.

The Gospel is not merely an affair of the tongue…

John Calvin on the unity of doctrine and life:

For [the Gospel] is a doctrine not of the tongue but of life. It is not apprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are, but it is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds a seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart…

We have given the first place to the doctrine in which our religion is contained, since our salvation begins with it. But it must enter our heart and pass into our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us. The philosophers rightly burn with anger against, and reproachfully drive from their flock, those who when they profess an art that ought to be the mistress of life, turn it into sophistical chatter. With how much better reason, then, shall we detest these trifling Sophists who are content to roll the gospel on the tips of their tongues when its efficacy ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, take its seat in the soul, and affect the whole man a hundred times more deeply than the cold exhortations of the philosophers!

— John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III:VI,4 (Battles translation).

Happy Easter!

The Lord is risen! I hope everyone has a great Easter.

As a token of celebration, let me share with you this magnificent piece of music: the Ouverture from the Orchestral Suite No. 3, by Johann Sebastian Bach, in one of its best renderings, by Karl Richter. Enjoy!

Holy Week

We are beginning the Holy Week holiday. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are full holidays, and many also worked the previous Wednesday only until noon.

Maundy Thursday is the day where we commemorate Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper. Thus, in our country is a day of karu guasu (Guarani: “eat a lot”). Families gather for a noon dinner filled with lots of food. Rural families usually kill one or more of their meat animals: chicken, turkeys, ducks, pigs, lambs, goats, cattle… you name it. They serve the food grilled or cooked in the oven. On the side, several typical Paraguayan delicacies are served. All in all, a typical family and their guests eat a meal that could feed a small army, and with a calorie count more appropriate for the Spitzbergen or Faroe islands ;-).

For my part, I plan to eat normally and spend the day writing and researching. It’s rare today to have a full day available without the hassles, noises and interruptions, so I plan to take advantage of it.

Let’s spend this day in reflection, being thankful for God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ. And today’s institution reminds us that Christ’s redemptive work applied not only to persons — it built a community that could gather at the table in rememberance of Him.

Lyndon Unger: A No Holds Barred Review of Noah : The Movie 2014

Today Noah, the movie, is premiered in Paraguayan cinemas. Very appropriately, Mennonite Brethren pastor Lyndon Unger posted a detailed review article (warning: here be spoilers). Well worth the read. And after what I read, I agree with his evaluation: the movie is not worth watching out. Enjoy.

A No Holds Barred Review of Noah : The Movie 2014 | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely….

Something to think about.



Governing with the aid of God the Creator our Empire which was delivered to Us by His Heavenly Majesty, we have ended the war successfully, glorified peace and sustained the Republic, and in such a way we lift our spirit to implore the protection of God the Almighty that we do not trust upon arms, nor upon our soldiers, nor upon those who conduct our wars, or upon our own genius, but we place all our hope solely upon the providence of the Most High Trinity, from which are derived the elements of the entire world and their disposition throughout the globe.

— The emperor Justinian, constitution Deo auctore, at the beginning of the Digest, part of the corpus of Roman civil law. This is the English translation of the text that appears on the header photo of this blog.

Leslie Lamport wins the Turing Award

Leslie Lamport, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, was awarded the 2013 Turing Award of the Association for Computing Machinery, for his contributions to distributed computing. The citation reads:

For fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of distributed and concurrent systems, notably the invention of concepts such as causality and logical clocks, safety and liveness, replicated state machines, and sequential consistency.

Lamport’s contributions are fundamental to today’s distributed infrastructure. Giants such as Google or Amazon, and indeed, anything related to cloud computing, rely heavily on his work.

In my personal case, I owe Lamport (and many folks who built on his contributions) a more direct debt of gratitude. He is the originator of LaTeX, a document preparation system. Thanks to him and many others, I was able to write my lawyer thesis without worrying too much on matters of format. So, from a grateful user: Congratulations Mr. Lamport!

P.S.: This is another theme. Let me know your thoughts on it.

New blog theme

For several years I used Fluid Blue as the blog’s theme. In my (always subjective) opinion, it was a great looking theme. However, it became too old and unmaintained. It has a newer version, F2, but I don’t like it as much as I liked Fluid Blue. Thus, I began shopping for themes.

Finally, I came with several alternatives. I didn’t make my mind yet, but the one you’re seeing now it’s one of the options. Hope you like it.

Things are not what they once were…

… And that is especially true of my WordPress theme. I recognize that many people surf the Web from mobile devices, and thus I need to offer them something appropriate for their viewing format.

Therefore, I’m on the market for a new theme with a good mobile version. Suggestions are welcome.

P.D.: I enabled the WP Touch Plugin and so far it looks great. It may be a keeper. Thougts?

The Day I Was Laid Off

Off I went, an unemployed man, on Workers’ Day Eve. And I was thankful for it.

April 30th, 2011 seemed to be just another day at the office, compounded with the expectation that we would have the usual Worker’s Day holiday of May 1st, and then, perhaps, an outing at a local restaurant paid by the company in order to celebrate it.

However, it all changed near 5 pm, when I was wrapping around my workday. Three coworkers –two talented designers and my immediate boss– were called into the manager’s office, one by one. When they came out, each of them had serious faces. And then they called me in. I went, supposing what would was about to happen, but still hopeful that the reason would be something different.

It wasn’t. At the office, one of the managers –a very capable lady– with tears in her eyes told me that she was so sorry, but I was to be laid off. The numbers weren’t good, she said, and there was no way they could keep me. She assured me that every effort was done to see if I could be retained, to no avail. She asked me to wait for the HR officer of the corporate parent who would do the actual severance paperwork.

When the manager began to tell me the bad news, something happened. I felt relieved and thankful. But why? Well, there were several reasons.

I was thankful for the job I had. I was hired as a creative in an advertising agency. I had the opportunity to learn a whole new trade, to meet new people, to know much more about media, people, entertainment, and business, than I already had.

In addition, I succeeded in my job. I engineered, implemented, and worked as a chief copywriter of a campaign who won one of Paraguay’s most prestigious advertising awards. And this was a first for the agency. Overnight, the agency was the focus of the collective envy of all Paraguayan advertising agencies. And I had more than a hand on this achievement.

Moreover, I was thankful for how I was hired. I was hired on the spot at a time when I was desperately looking for a job, at a pay that was equal than of my former job. And I was a phenomenon: a copywriter at an ad agency, hired after I turned 40 years old. When I was laid off, I told that manager and also the HR officer that I was very thankful for that. And I told them: “tell M. (the owner) that I will never forget that he gave me a job despite my age.” To be honest, I was hired by one of the managers, a person who is a great friend, but the owner had to concur and I was being paid with money from his company, so I thanked him. A lot. I am certain that they did not expect me to be thankful for that fact, so they were pleasantly surprised.

And also I was thankful for the fair and understanding manner in which I was laid off. There was no distrust, no hostility, and I was paid a full severance package as prescribed by the Paraguayan law. As a lawyer, I knew that the company could try some loopholes in the law to pay me less, but they didn’t. The severance package bought me some time while I was looking for another job.

I must recognize, however, that I was thankful because this meant the end of that job. Certainly I was an award-winning copywriter, but life was hard at the agency and there were some aspects of the work that I positively hated. For starters, we worked in an open-office layout. I had to endure everything, and my coworkers had to endure me. The air conditioning didn’t work well, and the office could get hot. It was hard to get some focus and concentration with all the sensory noise.

All the noise and the tension of having to be there slowly began to get me. I began to dread having to go to work. I stayed after the appointed exit time on most days, because I could get at least one hour of silence and quietness. I slowyly became hypersensitive, overreacting (internally) to every tiny little bit of discomfort that the office gave me.

Soon after my layoff, I began working under very different conditions. The new job allowed me to work from home, at a better pay. It wasn’t perfect, of course; but it was doable and I felt much better.

That day, as I walked out of the office, I realized that one could be thankful for a layoff, and I was for this one. God was in control in many ways; and He showed me that fateful day that He is faithful.

Merry Christmas!

This year is coming to an end. It has been hectic as usual, unusually challenging, but very enriching. Recollections and thoughts are set for another post. Now, I just want to wish all of you a merry Christmas and an excellent 2013.

I usually use a picture to go with a post, but today we are going to do something wholly different. I am pleased to share this video. There, Ms. Berta Rojas, a fellow Paraguayan who is a world-class, Grammy-nominated classical guitar player, plays “Christmas Carol” (Villancico de Navidad) composed by Paraguayan composer Agustín Barrios. A beautiful piece of music, its charm is heightened by the accompaniment of this very peculiar orchestra: the instruments are made from recycled trash. Even when they’re not perfect, the performance is beautiful and touching. Enjoy!

Venturing into the Dark Side ;)

(Click on the image for a much larger version)

It’s been a while. I’ve been busy as usual, with really hectic days. My Christmas was nice, but January was a difficult month. I had to face several challenges, including several (and expensive) repairs to the car. I’m still sitting tight, but meanwhile there are news.

The PC I was using at the office (running an unpatched copy of XP; I don’t manage the IT operation, so don’t look at me) kept crashing again and again. The situation got so bad that one day I experienced > 15 crashes, thus seriously hindering my ability to get any work done. Since the only computer available was a Mac, guess what I’ve got.

The picture says it all. I’ve got an iMac with a nice screen, 300 GB HDD and 2 GB RAM. It is ancient, running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), so you can get the idea. I think this is one of the first Macs running with Intel processors.

So far it’s been a nice experience. A Mac is a wholly different beast than a Windows or Linux PC. Things such as window or application management are done with a different workflow; and some of it could be downright annoying for someone used to a PC. But it gets the work done, and that’s important. All in all, an opportunity to learn something new. 🙂

Perdona: a public interest campaign on forgiveness

As part of my work in the advertising trade, I was tasked with developing a public-interest campaign. In fact, “developing” is too high a word, since I am a litle more than an apprentice. I did most of the foundational work of the campaign, including writing the core briefs, but I received lots of help from my bosses and coworkers.

The campaign is Perdona, a public interest campaign promoting the practice of forgiveness in Paraguay. So far the campaign is going quite well, although some metrics show it still needs to gain more traction. Please pray for this campaign; the one and only thing it seeks to do is to make Paraguayans forgive and ask forgiveness, giving them hope and freeing them from hate and bitterness. Working for this campaign as an ad person is for me a blessing, especially when one thinks that I could very well be developing ads for beverages, tobacco, or other highly frivolous stuff.

New Job

Phew! It’s been a while. As usual, life has been nothing short of hectic. A full half-year has passed now; and the changes it brought were significant. I’m beginning now a series of posts that hopefully will bring you up to speed about the recent changes and also serve as a kickstart for new updates and writings.

Life has been challenging, as you might expect; but it also was full of blessings. The Lord has been good to us and I’m grateful beyond words. This has been evident especially in the recent changes.

Well, here goes one of the most significant ones: I have a new job. That’s right; I’m no longer Rev. S.’s assistant. Since last March, I am working as a creative redactor (i.e., copywriter) in a local advertising/marketing agency.

The fact is that while Rev. S. alwas has been a kind and compassionate boss, there were several signs in the air telling me that I should look for a job elsewhere. My job was to assist Rev. S. in his office as elected officer of a Latin American-level Baptist organization, and his term is scheduled to run until April 2012. However, Baptist politicking began to show its ugly face. Rev. S. always worked with the sole purpose of giving glory to God by extending His Kingdom, and no other purpose. But Rev. S.’s position carries a sizeable degree of clout and influence, and is therefore coveted by power brokers. Rev. S’s work was done without any string attached to any ulterior motive; he is of very senior age, and he gave up the chance of enjoying a quiet retirement from ministry with his wife just to further serve God’s cause. That fact notwhitstanding, intrigues, slander and old-fashioned cloak-and-dagger politiciking began in earnest against him.

This, of course, grieved Rev. S. greatly, and he thought about resigning. He was dissuaded by Rev. A., his immediate superior in ranking. Thus, Rev. S. chose to remain; but his ministry activities were greatly reduced. Thus, many days I just sat down at the office with nothing to do but idly surf the Web. I saw the writing in the wall, and began preparing my résumé. One day, I saw on Facebook a post stating that a local ad agency was looking for a copywriter. I didn’t know what a copywriter was then, but I saw the requirements, and they seemed a good fit for my skill set. I submitted my résumé, and it turned out that the agency is managed by E., a good friend of mine of  years. We talked, agreed on the terms, and I began working there.

Rev. S. is still at his office, but his workload is greatly reduced. In my case, the new work is demanding, but so far I feel very good about it. Please pray that I could excel on it and make some real progress.

(Edit: minor corrections added. Markup sanitized… still need that for using Blogilo.)

Merry Christmas

Paraguayan manger scene

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14 ESV)

I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

For this writer, this time of the year was very challenging but also filled with hope and joy.

We had a nice Christmas Eve dinner at my mom’s place. There, we shared with my two sisters, my brother-in-law, and our nieces. When midnight arrived, we exchanged gifts and embraces; and it was a good time. On Christmas Day, we had a Christmas noon dinner at my mother-in-law’s home. There, and given the fact that the in-laws are a huge bunch of people, the dinner was noisy, but joyful and rather pleasant.

This time of the year was special for the inlaws since one of my sisters-in-law came from Spain. She is a direct descendant from a line of Spanish nobility, and she has an advanced degree on statistics and mathematics; but current economic conditions in Paraguay forced her to go to Spain, where she works now as a housemaid. (And, she told us, she’s doing fine.) To take advantage of her presence, we took her and her mother to the small town of Piribebuy, where we spent some days resting. We returned to Asunción the day before New Year’s Eve.

For the New Year’s Eve dinner, we went to my in-laws’ place. We had a great dinner; and my mother in law is a fantastic cook! We exchanged hugs and greetings at midnight among the noise and blasts of fireworks; at a time they were too loud, and almost deafening. Usually, at that time, a lot of people choose to go to several New Year’s parties, where they dance till dawn and even later. We chose to go to bed; we were simply too tired for even thinking of going to a party.

Mom told us that she would be gone to the country for the day, so we had the day to ourselves. I woke up at a time that is so embarrasingly late that I won’t mention it; however, it was way earlier than the rise-up time of most people, and I was able to enjoy a rare blessing: silence. Yes, it was quiet, really quiet; so much that I was able to put a chair under the shadow of a tree in my front lawn, and sit down and get some reading done while sipping a delicious tereré.

I hope you also had a great holiday time. May the Lord bless you all, and grant you an excellent year 2011, full of faith, hope, and love; peace and enduring joy.

(photo credit: Paraguayan manger scene, taken from Facebook page «Yo te muestro Paraguay», i.e., “Let me show you Paraguay”.)

Wikileaks and the “Dissent Tax”

First things first: Merry Christmas! A Christmas post is imminent. Stay tuned 😉

And second: It’s been a looong time! I know, I know… but work and law school conspired to make regular posting impossible. However, I have several writings maturing, so hopefully there’s going to be something for you in these days.

With that being said, I would like to share with you an excellent opinion piece by former programmer and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci on The Atlantic: Wikileaks Exposes Internet’s Dissent Tax, not Nerd Supremacy. There, and among other interesting points of view, she contends that the whole Wikileaks affair exposes the “dissent tax”, the fact that corporate entities, understood in its widest sense (i.e., agencies, governments, corporations) exert the power to swiftly restricting a pseudo-free speech of anyone who threaten their vested interests.

Some quotations are in order:

Horrifying as this vision is, it simply distracts from the main lessons of the Wikileaks affair: the increasing control of (relatively) unaccountable corporations and states over the key components of the Internet, and their increased willingness to use this control in politicized ways to impose a “dissent tax” on content they find objectionable. Ability to disseminate one’s ideas on the Internet is now a sine qua non of inclusion in the global public sphere. However, the Internet is not a true public sphere; it is a public sphere erected on private property, what I have dubbed a “quasi-public sphere,” where the property owners can sideline and constrain dissent…

Further, while one may disagree with the particular methods chosen by Wikileaks–and I certainly have my criticisms– […] It seems to me that states (and corporations) have become increasingly secretive and opaque, while people are increasingly exposed. This divergence was lampooned quite effectively by Saturday Night Live. “I give you private information about corporations for free,” SNL’s Assange quipped, “And I’m a villain. Mark Zuckerberg gives your private information to corporations for money and he’s the Man of the Year.”…

During these past weeks, […] I saw the crumbling of the facade of a flat, equal, open Internet and the revelation of an Internet which has corporate power occupying its key crossroads, ever-so-sensitive to any whiff of displeasure by the state. I saw an Internet in danger of becoming merely an interactive version of the television in terms of effective freedom of speech…

The Wikileaks furor shows us that these institutions of power are slowly and surely taking control of the key junctures of the Internet. As a mere “quasi-public sphere,” the Internet is somewhat akin to shopping malls, which seem like public spaces but in which the rights of citizens are restricted, as they are in fact private.  If you think the freedom of the Internet could never be taken back, I implore you to read the history of radio. Technologies that start out as peer-to-peer and citizen-driven can be and have been taken over by corporate and state power….

The real cause for concern is the emergence of an Internet in which arbitrary Terms-of-Service can be selectively employed by large corporations to boot content they dislike. What is worrisome is an Internet in which it is very easy to marginalize and choke information. The fact that information is “there” in a torrent, or openly on a website that is not easily accessible or has been vilified, is about as relevant as your right to shout at your TV…

What the Wikileaks furor shows us is that a dissent tax is emerging on the Internet. As a dissident content provider, you might have to fight your DNS provider. You might need to fund large-scale hosting resources while others can use similar capacity on commercial servers for a few hundred dollars a year. Fund-raising infrastructure that is open to pretty much everyone else, including the KKK, may not be available. This does not mean that Wikileaks cannot get hosted, as it is already well-known and big, but what about smaller, less-famous, less established, less well-off efforts? Will they even get off the ground?

Well, that is enough. Go check the article. It’s worth it. Thoroughly recommended as major food for thought.

Four Decades

By the grace of God, I am turning 40 on this day. It’s not another birthday; it is a momentous one.

Such an occasion is always an invitation to reflect over one’s past life and try to devise some lessons to be learned and applied. I have a lot to reflect upon, indeed, but the first and foremost conclusion is that of gratitude. I’m thankful to God and His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, for His unending love and mercy, and the gift of a new life.

And I am even more thankful for a lot of blessings, much more than I can possibly count or remember. My days have been hectic and busy; but the Lord was with me at all times. I also give thanks for my wonderful family, and for the opportunities to work and learn meaningful things, things that are fulfilling in themselves but also have the potential to help others.

Thank you all of you, my friends, for your support and advice helped me through the rough patches we all have in our lives.

Now, my pray is that God may give me wisdom in heaps, because I seriously need that. And that I may live the rest of my life being of service to others, while also growing in learning, and being able to provide and support for my loved ones. Please pray with me for all this.

"Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, ESV)

Some updates

Hey, I’m still alive! Honest! 😉

My apologies for the lack of updates. Real Life (TM), especially in the form of law school, got forcefully in the way of regular blogging. I didn’t anticipate how busy this semester would be. Thankfully, all is going real fine.

I’m not forgetting about my "Least Common of the Senses" promisted posts. The first one is actually nearing completion and I have a firm outline of the second, so things are well organized, and I hope to post them Real Soon Now. Besides this, let me share with you some developments…

  • In the operating systems front, I’ve stayed with Slackware-current during the whole 13.0 – 13.1 transition. Except for some irksome bumps, this was a smooth transition and as usual, Slackware provides a solid, stable, fast and updated Unix computing platform. I’m now using it with KDE 4.4.4 as my desktop environment, and I like it a lot.
  • I just upgraded the WordPress setup of this blog to WP 3.0. So far, it looks really good.
  • I was asked by a local university to lecture a group of accounting majors on technical English. Therefore, anything you might have on accounting vocabularies would be highly appreciated. Even more so because I consider the teaching of English as something as demanding as it is rewarding.

On other side of things, today is Father’s Day. This is the second Father’s Day without the physical presence of Dad among us. I miss you, Dad… And, to all you dads who are reading this, happy Father’s Day! May God grant you happiness and blessings beyond counting!

Well, this should do for now. Stay tuned for more; you will not be disappointed.

The Least Common of the Senses in Computing

If you forgive me the obviousness, you may have already heard that somewhere else that “common sense is the least common of all senses”. As far as popular wisdom goes, this saying is usually right; but there are two special corollaries:

  1. Proposition is specially true in all commercial/business environments; and
  2. Proposition is uniquely true in regards to computing.

I don’t have anything to add now to corollary 1. Why is that common sense is so rare in business? Why is that all kinds of weird nonsense gets respect as “business plans” in the corporate world? I don’t know. Maybe because, as some have pointed out, the skills required by the corporate world border on sociopathy. But I do not want to discuss this, at least not now.

The other corollary, however, deserves some attention. Computing is supposedly an area where the best and brightest would reign, and, therefore, the choices made by IT people would be the best ones given the circumstances, right? Yeah, right. The prevalence of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer alone belies that.

Therefore, I am planning some posts (at least two) where I would like to examine how current choices in computing defy common sense and, therefore, are paving the way for failure, or for more difficulties. And no, I won’t talk necessarily about Windows or IE; that would be just too obvious. I plan to talk about two issues that are the current fad or are being part of it:

  • Cloud computing
  • System resources

Stay tuned!

Software: KDE and assorted stuff

Time goes on, and with it, new software releases come and go. So, I think it is appropriate to comment on some software I use. Let’s see:

My GNU/Linux distribution: Slackware. After all these years, I am still a Slackware user. If anything has taught me on Linux distributions during this time, is that Slackware’s stability, speed and ease of use are unmatched. The plus is that is the closest thing to having real Unix running on your box.

In fact, many would be surprised to see Slackware considered “easy-to-use”. Believe me: it is. It is very simple, and while making mistakes might be easy, recovering from the is usually very easy, too. All the defaults are sensible, and almost every software package is untouched and unpatched from the pristine sources upstream. I began using Slackware in version 9.0. The last version I used, version 13.0, was a great one; and right now I am using Slackware-current, the “development” series. Despite being in the cutting edge, -current is surprisingly stable and simple. Slackware is nowhere near perfect, but it is clearly among the best GNU/Linux distributions.

My desktop environment: KDE. I begain to use KDE with the 1.1.x release that came with Red Hat 6.2, back in 2000. I liked it a lot, but it wasn’t adequate to my desktop needs, yet. I took a new look at it when the project relesed version 2.1, and I was instantly hooked. I began to use it as my only desktop environment, and it has been so ever since. When the KDE community released version 4.0, that was a difficult point; I reverted to 3.5 until 4.1 was ready; but then, I used 4.1 and 4.2, and was generally pleased. Now I am using 4.3, and I think it is an excellent environment. Additionally, I began to help the project as a Spanish translator since version 2.2, because I wanted to give back to it.

Screenshot of KDE 4.3
Screenshot of KDE 4.3 on my computer

My blog software: WordPress. I began to use WordPress back at version 1.2; the latest version I’m using is 2.9, and it’s still a great platform.

I don’t plan to change this stack sometime soon. Right now, KDE SC 4.4 is right around the corner, and I am awaiting it with eager anticipation.

The Web Ads Question

Tim, in a recent blog post, has tackled a subject that touches a sensitive area of Web surfing: ads, and the ethical validity of blocking them. The issue is that an increasing number of Web surfers are taking advantage of ad blocking techniques. For Firefox and Seamonkey there is the well-known Ad Block Plus extension. Internet Explorer can do it with the inPrivate mode. And Konqueror can block ads, too. (And way before, we had Junkbusters). Suffice it to say, the issue of blocking Web ads is not recent.

This is an important question, because advertising is, in many cases, the sole source of revenue for webmasters of many informative and useful Web sites; and even if it is not, it is an important source of income that alleviates the cost of bandwith, equipment, and many other expenses involved in making available online content.

On the other hand, Web ads are clearly annoying to many; that’s why ad blockers are so popular today, and that’s also the reason why many less-than-reputable advertising networks are in a perennial arms race with ad blocking softare, with each one trying to outdo the other.

  1. And this points out the main reason why most people try to block ads: they are annoying, yes, written in bold letters. While the initial Web banner ad was generally nice, it began to be annoying because of the cheesy animations… and it has been downhill ever since. The size has changed —they are bigger— and ads became generally more and more and more annoying. We began to see ads in Flash, ads that incorporated sound, ads that broke HTML standards compliance, interstitials, and so on. We have now those stupid moving ads, blinking, appearing in pop-ups, flashing, and making noises. Don’t ever get me started on inappropriate ads, those of the NSFW kind, that too many times have appeared on supposedly safe sites.

  2. Another problem with the use of the ads is the ad networks. If ads were just a linked element from the same Web site offering the advertisement, that would not be a problem. However, they usually come from ad networks; and believe me, the enormous lag they add to navigation is, in some cases, unbearable. The pun that says that the World Wide Web became the World Wide Wait is the responsibility, in great part, of ad networks. Just think of it yourself. How many times have you stared to a blank page of a site, supposedly loading? You wait, and wait, and wait… that is, until you decide to enable ad blocking and them all of the site loads like a charm. The ad networks would like to serve ads in your site, right, but the performance of their servers is downright abysmal.

  3. Finally, another reason why so many people choose to block Web ads is privacy. By using cookies —third party cookies— Big Ad Network Brother is able to track your surfing habits; they can learn that you have browsed as many times as you have browsed They can learn about your sex, your age, your preferences, and other information that can be potentially all linked back to you. This bulk of data is used to serve ads that are “relevant” to you (yeah, right), and also is sold to any interested party.

I really don’t know why is that the state of Web advertising became so terrible. People is fond of comparing online media to printed media; but you open a magazine and the ads down there don’t blink at you, or require extraneous plugins (Flash), or make annoying noises, nor make a scan of what you read and then phone home… you get my idea? And ad rates in printed mags are usually way higher than Web ads! that’s right: the advertisements pay much less in the Web for the latitude of being more invasive than ever.

Because of all these reasons, I have ad blockers available on all my graphical browsers. Note that I said “available”, not “enabled”. When a Webpage becomes too annoying, I enable ad blocking, and I can continue browsing with no problem at all. However, I recongnize that this is not a definitive solution.

Whan should we do when confronting this reality? Should we move to a “walled-garden” model (i.e., subscription model with no ads?). In my opinion, the walled-garden approach is never a good one. Under this approach, I think a Webmaster would stand a far lesser chance of making decent money from a Web site. In addition, the epic freedom of information and the global exchange of ideas would end, taking with it the chief reason why people surf the Web today. In extremis, the Web would implode and die.

We must recognize, then, that the only way that stands any chance of long-term feasibility is so far the persistence of Web advertising. However, if this alternative is to be fully realized without the widespread blocking of today, Web ads must evolve. They must load fast, should not impose an unreasonable load in system resources (such as is the case with Javascript-laden ads, heavy images, Flash or other plugins, etc.), should not be annoying, should be appropriate, and should be far more respectful of end-user privacy; and all of this, while representing solidly the message the advertiser wants to be delivered. But it looks like we are just too far behind on realizing this dream…

So, what should one do to cope with annoying help ads? Here is some advice taken from my personal experience.

  1. Block all plugins by default. Enable them on-demand only. Especially, do not forget to install the Flashblock extension in Firefox, and enable on-demand only loading in Konqueror. Really; Adobe Flash is the scourge of the Web and, besides YouTube, I did not see too many useful examples of it. However, there are valid exceptions and that’s why I am not advising its uninstallation. Keep it around, but restrained. In this way, you will block all annoying Flash-based ads, while still retaining the ability to use the technology when it is really appropriate. Do this with a clear conscience. I feel no pity for advertisers who feel that it is their right to abuse your system resources, annoy you with sound, or put you at risk from Flash malware just for the privilege of showing you an ad. If they want to show us an advertisement, let that be in plain HTML.

  2. Block third-party cookies. In this way, you prevent Big Brother advertisers from stealing your personal data while you still allow the parent site to set cookies that might be useful for site navigation.

  3. If the animations are becoming just too annoying, disable them. Firefox, if I remember correctly, has a setting where animations are allowed to cycle once and then stop. But Konqueror in this case is the best: animations are allowed; but there is always a right-click setting of “Stop animations”. In that way, animations are allowed until they become too annoying, and then they can be stopped on demand by a right-click.

  4. Finally, if all else fails, you may resort to ad-blocking; but remember, the Webmaster depends on the income of the ads to maintain the site. Consider leaving the site if you find the ads unbearable.

The issue of Web ads is really complex, as I have tried to show here. Let’s pray that the advertising industry —an industry known for its lack of values, their ruthlessness and their extreme greed— begin to use some common sense, and choose to behave.

Bible verses brought to you by bVerse Convert and