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Jose García Acedo
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We humans are in trouble.

Back when we used to follow our instincts, not our logic, which wasn't really that long ago (and for some people it's still true), we had a better shot at surviving the end of our species. Because our primary instinct is to first survive, and then do it long enough so that we can multiply, we would act in the best interest of our perpetual, perseverant, permanence.

Now, with all our technology, all our evolution and our advances, our politics and our arts, our sex liberation and skyscrapers, we’ve forgotten that our place in this world is not some thing we’re entitled to, but something we must earn, like we have for the last million years or so. We’ve earn our place here, and we need to earn our stay here.

The price for admission was high: opposing thumbs, an overdeveloped brain, our competitive and aggressive nature and our compassion and caring for one another. In essence, very well placed and focused instincts and the absolute means to carry them out at all costs.

But after a million years we’ve come to where we are today: a place where survival instincts are considered barbaric, where one thinks of what to do for the benefit of self above all, and where “group conscience” is probably the name of a garage rock band and nothing else.

It’s within this context that I look with great sadness and excitement at our mediocre, pathetic attempts at space exploration.

One should wonder: why did Colombus come to America? Why did Fernão de Magalhães (a.k.a. Ferdinand Magellan) travel around the world, went from Europe to Asia or sailed to Indonesia? Why did Vasco Núñez de Balboa dedicate his life to finding the south seas? Sure, they were after personal recognition and riches, but most importantly, they were following their gut. That acute sense of what needs to be done, beyond reason, beyond study or consideration. That intensity we call instinct was given to us by nature after many millennia of evolution for one purpose and one purpose alone: survival. And that, my friends, is where our sense of curiosity, exploration, adventure and courage come from.

So why then have we become such, for lack of a better word, cowards, when it comes to exploring space? Have we not realized that for man to survive the fragility and mortality of our own cradle, we must strengthen our legs and eventually walk away from it? Leaving our beloved earth and spreading our race throughout the cosmos is not just a fantasy, it’s a destiny. One among many other possible destinies all of which present humanity with two options: either we learn to live in the hostility of outer space, or we might as well just sit and wait for the next catastrophe to obliterate our existence: The next “bigger-than-a-mile-asteroid (every 250 milliion years or so), nuclear holocaust, a few polar ages, the cooling down and eventual death of our sun (less than 5 billion years), a perfect virus, etc.

It’s the same reason we once felt compelled to leave our birth place in Africa and move to newer lands, although incredibly inhospitable by that time’s standards and technology.

So here we are. The triumph of mother earth, the heirs of nature, the image and likeness of God. And yet we insist on treating our next big expedition like a government program. Not more important than Campaign Finance Reform or the construction of yet another aircraft carrier.

There are countless numbers of people that would argue that money spent on space is better spent on more earthly matter, and they are mostly right: Government money spent on space should probably be spent on Social Security or food for the hungry, but this, again , is taking the issue out of context. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from, the important thing is that enough resources at the disposal of humans are spent on ensuring our perpetual survival. And for some reason we’ve left that role to government, and what’s worse, government has established a monopoly on that same role they’re reluctant to assume.

Historically, it doesn’t really make a difference where the funding will come from for exploration. The important thing is that it always comes, invariably. The Spanish crown banked the discovery of America, while it was a private effort that gave us the Wright Brother’s version of flight and Charles Lindbergh’s version of practical, commercial flight.

I say government has had its chance and blew it: it failed to properly understand the reasons for moving forward with a space agenda. Actually, an argument can be made that space exploration can not have an agenda in the first place, or else it will be doomed to fail. What needs to happen is for access to space to be open to the next round of (private) explorers that are willing to risk and give their lives for a chance at fame and fortune that will have the convenient effect of saving our species.

Let governments lift bans on private space exploration, of which there are many (from arms treaties to altitude restriction for private flights, to bans on the private consumption of rocket building materials and fuel), and let private endeavors take over. Then we will see the next Spirit of St. Louis.

Once these limitations are lifted, Government programs can continue scientific agendas such as:

  • The exploration of Mars to determine if life exists there: if we find life in one place other than earth, then we must assume that it isn’t a fluke and that it must therefore exists abundantly throughout the universe.

  • The study of the effects of radiation in space and long term exposure to zero gravity environments

  • Ways to prevent space-related catastrophes such as asteroids and comments hitting our planet

Meanwhile, private enterprises will gladly take over the exploration and conquest of space resources and the capitalistic approach to space access (bang for the buck). If this happens we should expect:

  • The construction of a space elevator (read this before you frown)

  • Moon bases and mines for the extraction of helium 3 and other scarce and valuable resources

  • Mining of asteroids for all kinds of useful materials

  • Space tourism for the masses

  • Space based sources of energy for earth (harnessing our sun’s energy)

  • Orbiting and “floating” space colonies

The important thing here is that as long as government is in charge of space exploration and conquest, a question will always have to be asked before moving forward: why?. When private citizens take up exploration, the why is a very individual matter and not really important to the passive onlooker who just admires the results.

Luckily, we seem to finally be moving in the right direction. From Bush’s announcement of the new mandate for NASA, to focus on exploration (which is probably something that will not receive widespread support from the public and congress in the long run), to the X-prize, which gives $10MM to the first private team to launch at least 2 people in sub-orbital space with the same ship in a period of 2 weeks. In addition to these, there are a number of other initiatives (Amazon’s Jeff Bezo’s secret space plans, the Russians space tourism, Celestia, Project Cosmos, the Planetary Society, the Mars Society, etc.) all of wich have seen the difficulty of their projects multiply because of government regulation or international politics.

In spite of all this, we still have a very long way to go. I still find incredibly amusing that in order to achieve our specie’s greatest triumph, we need to let go of our most unique gift of logical thinking and just follow our raw instincts. It will never be a matter of technology, but a matter of will.

And fate.

En Guatemala, cuando alguien dice "van a traerme" quiere decir que te van a venir a buscar para llevarte a algún lado.

En Panama, cuando alguien dice "van a traerme" quiere decir que yo voy a ir a algún lado, y alguien me va a pasar a buscar para traerme aquí.

Ahora imagínense la confusión que esto provoca...

Y sólo para hacerlo mas complicado: En Guatemala no se puede decir "venir a buscar", porque nadie está perdido!

Wikipedia is a free on-line encyclopedia with a twist: all the information in it has been contributed by the general public. Anyone is free to add to it or to report or change bad information. The original theory was that since most people will probably take this seriously and with an honest intention to improve it, the sum total of all contributions would be a "good" encyclopedia. Guess what, it worked marvelously.

Here's wikipedia's page on Panama.

Remember, if you find anything wrong, just change it!

There's an article over at Businesspanama.com with some details about the new phone service taxing regulations that have kicked into effect recently in Panama. The main issue here is that VOIP (voice over IP, or Internet telephony) will be taxed just like regular calls at a 12% rate.

The article fails to mention the obvious: how will the government of Panama track those calls made using a service that is a) not contracted and invoiced in Panama or b) is simply free?. Keep in mind that most VOIP calls are done in one of these two ways...

Take for example This service. It's called Vonage. Basically you subscribe online using your credit card, they send you a little device you hook it up to your ADSL or Cable Modem service here in Panama, you connect a regular telephone to it and voilá, you have a US phone number that rings here in Panama, you make all the calls you want to any number in the US for a low flat fee ($35 for the unlimited service) and you get GREAT international rates... all without paying the 12% tax and there's NOTHING the government can do about it.

Then there's the more common solution: two clicks on your MSN Messenger will have you talking to someone in Taipei or Barcelona. For free. Provided the other party also has a computer, Internet access and MSN (most people you'll probably wanna talk to already do anyways.)

So there you go. Yet another fiscal regulation with enough loopholes to make it irrelevant...

Then you wonder why Panama can't meet the IMF's budget deficit requirements.

What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!

-William Shakespeare

Es de esperar que estos posts no sean leídos nunca. Al menos no por nadie con más de uno o dos grados de consanguineidad de mí. Pero si por esas cosas de la vida algún día este sitio llega a ser popular, digamos, cuando me tire a presidente dentro de 15 años, aquí está la lista de consejos que yo le daría a cualquier persona.

Coincidentemente, pero no por coincidencia, pienso enseñarle estos mismos principios a mis hijos, si algún día los tengo.

  • Lee más. No importa si eres asiduo a la lectura (y en Panama somos como 6 personas), o sólo sueles leer las primeras tres letras del titular de los periódicos sensacionalistas y los nombres de las canciones de Reggae, siempre es bueno leer aún más. Nunca he visto evidencia de que alguien pierda algo por leer demasiado, e innumerables vece he visto los beneficios de haber leído un poquito más.

  • Di la verdad. Permítame arrojar estadísticas de candidato presidencial: el 70% de las veces que dices mentiras, la otra persona se da cuenta. La otra mitad (disculpen el Yoggiismo) lo sospecha. Decir la verdad cada vez que puedas SIEMPRE es un mejor remedio a mentir por compasión, ego, miedo, duda o deporte.

  • Se directo. Cuántas veces no me han preguntado familiares y amigos: Me está pasando XYZ con ABC, y me molesta por DEF y estaba pensando decirle "GHI" a ver si la capta. NO! dile a ABC que te está pasando XYZ de la mejor manera que encuentres! es más dificl encontrar palabras para manipular una situación, que encontrar palabras para explicar las cosas directamente de una forma no conflictiva.

  • Edúcate!. En Panamá no hay librerías decentes o universidades de primera. Las buenas escuelas generalmentge son un asco (en comparación) y lo más probable es que tus padres no han recibido la mejor educación. Nada de esto es escusa. Con determinación e ingenio puedes aprender a hacer cualquier cosa. Hay innumerables anécdotas de personas que han logrado metas muy ambiciosas en este tema, teniendo muchos menos recursos que tú. Estoy hablando de físicos en los lados pobres de India (donde se vive con mucho menos de un dólar al día), ingenieros electromecánicos en Ukrania (donde lo más importante es la hipotermina, no la hipotenusa), y expertos en computadora en Haití.

  • Aprende Inglés. No perdamos el tiempo discutiendo sobre que idioma es mejor. La pelea ya se acabó hace tiempo y el Inglés ganó por abrumadora mayoría. A pesar de que no es el idioma más hablado del mundo (el Hindú lo es), es el más usado para hacer negocios, viajes, comunicación entre otros idiomas, representación universal y las cómicas de Disney. Culturalmente, económicamente, políticamente y socialmente el Inglés es el idioma más importante. El español es el idioma que los gringos aprenden para competir con los latinos en trabajos de atención al público. Punto.

  • Aprende algo de finanzas. Todo el mundo debe poder leer un balance general y un estado de resultado, entender el concepto de retorno de inversión y apalancamiento con deuda. Estos cuatro aspectos están presentes cada vez que vamos al supermercado, buscamos un empleo, pedimos un préstamo o echamos gasolina en el auto.

  • Habla correctamente. En los próximos 15 años, en Panamá van a haber tantos Colombianos, Ticos, y Venezolanos como Chinos o Españoles. Súmalos a todos y quizá los "panameños" pronto no seremos la mayoría. Poder comunicarte claramente con extranjeros se está volviendo tan importante como hablar Inglés. No sólo por la parte cultural sino práctica.

  • Mira hacia afuera. La única forma de que nuestro país avance es si traemos las mejores ideas de afuera y las adaptamos a nuestra realidad: infraestructura, tráfico, banca, educación, política, alimentación, tecnología. Tenemos mucho que hacer en todo esto y la mayoría de las respuestas están allá afuera, esperando por un panameño capaz para que las busque, las adapte y las implante aquí.

En fin, esta es mi primera lista de evangelización. Y en el remoto caso de que alguien la lea, y piense que soy un arrogant prick y que me creo que puedo decirle a los demás lo que deben hacer: te reto a que contradigas la necesidad de cualquiera de los puntos de arriba.

I can't possibly have a blog and not show you some of the 3D art I've done. Most people that know me have seen them because a) they've been to my house and have endured my pointing out that I did those pictures hanging on the wall, or b) they've talked to me long enough (2-3 minutes in average) for me to tell them that I've done this and that in 3D art.

The important thing is that I'm really proud of them and refuse to pass up the chance to show them, so here they are (at least some of them).

These are the ones that have earned a honorable mention in the Caligari website:

Delicate Balance


Forgotten Spirits

Here's some more info about the Caligari Contest

Caligari makes Truespace, the software I used to create these images. If you wanna know more about this, please email me or post here. You'll surely get hours and hours of me rambling about it.

You have been warned.

If you're into technology and don't know what Slashdot is, then you're missing out on probably the best place to know what's going on out there.

If you want to know more about my opinion on things related to technology, physics, astronomy, or like they say on /. "stuff that matters," check out my most recent posts here.

Here's a post I wrote on this excellent blog regarding the chances of Panama winning over Miami to become the FTA's Governing Body country of residence:

My first post on this blog. Found it by chance, but I'm glad I did.

First a small correction: Noriega was ousted in 1989-1990, not in the late nineties.

Also, Panama is not Tax-Free: a tax free state wouldn't be much of a state would it? It does have some very lax tax laws, a number of tax exemptions to promote foreign investment, and low taxes when they eventually do apply. Unlike countries like Mexico and Costa Rica, where "progress" happens mainly due to a very well funded public sector and protectionist policies, Panama has grown mainly due to its very strong _private_ sector and has suffered from somewhat weak governments with very little money to do much. As you can see, this is a US Republican's dream country.

Now, if you ask me, therein lies Panama's strength: Corruption doesn't affect Panama as much (contrary to popular belief by the way), we're VERY ready for free trade (although we're late entrants into the FT game), Panama's distirbution of wealth is MUCH better than our neighbor's and fellow LatAm countries (don't agree? two words: Mexico and Brazil), and since tax rates are low, Panamanian companies can be as competitive as larger corporations form Central American and even Mexico that enjoy much better economies of scale.

Now, I've just touched on what I think is Panama's greatest weakness: the market's just too small. With 2.7MM souls, of which only about 1.5MM are economically relevant (due mostly to age), Panama needs a kick in her pants to start taking over Central American markets and expand its frontiers. Also, Panama needs to do what the US does every 50 years or so: open its borders. Panama needs Colombians with rich culture and keen business sense, Mexicans with big ideas and capital, Spanish with conservative, low-risk approaches to business, venezuelans looking for a new home, even Costa Ricans with much better education techniques. Unfortunately, this has barely started and the public sentiment seems to move in the opposite direction.

All in all, Panama seems to be as good a place as any in the world to setup the FTA HQ. One thing's for certain though: of all the cities proposed for this, Panama would benefit the most.

Just thought I'd answer the question countless millions are asking: Why's this blog called Opine?

Easy: in a stroke of pure genius I realized that the the word "Opine" has the same meaning and is spelled the same way in both Spanish and English. So there you go.

Oh, and for you bilingually-impaired:

In spanish it's pronounced "Oh-pee-neh"

En inglés se pronuncia "Opain".

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