Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy 20th Anniversary to the World Wide Web

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee, of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, wrote a paper describing what quickly became the World Wide Web. Back in 1989, the Web was just an idea, but it was a world-changing idea and one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.

At that time, the first browser and the first web server had yet to be created but those things came quickly. Back then, we got our news from newspapers and on TV at 6 PM. We did our research and study in libraries. We met with our friends in church or at a bar. We received and paid bills through the mail. We used to go to the bank to deposit checks and take care of business. We shopped for clothing by driving to stores and touching the products. We learned about new products through print ads, billboards, and television. We learned about different cultures and met people in distant lands by getting on an airplane and going there. We got our music by buying CDs or cassettes. The idea of an individual being able to publish his writings or photos and have them instantly visible to millions of people was inconceivable.

By 1995, things were well underway. At that time the first major search engine was created, called Alta Vista. Does anyone besides me remember Alta Vista? There was no Yahoo, no Google, no Hotmail, no online music, no multiplayer games. Web-based email was yet to be invented (by Hotmail, later bought by Microsoft). There was no YouTube because there was no digital video yet. Compressed audio (MP3) had just been developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. The first MP3 player for computers (WinAmp) came in 1998. The first portable MP3 player came in 1999.

Look at what has happened in the last 10 to 14 years. The whole world has changed for anyone who has access to the Internet, and access is spreading throughout Guatemala very quickly.

What will the next 20 years bring?

TC II Strain of Chagas Disease Found in Guatemala

Using a method of identification more precise than those used until now, a group of scientists in Guatemala found a genetic variant of the causative agent of Chagas disease, which until now was believed to be found only in South America.

According to the article published in the February issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), the causative agent of this parasitic disease is divided into two genetically and biologically different lineages: T . cruzi I (TCI) and T. cruzi II (TCII). Until now it was known that the TCI was in both domestic and wild environments of South America and Central America, but it was believed that TCII only occurred in South America.

However, scientists at the Center for Health Studies at the Universidad del Valle in Guatemala felt that the lack of detection of TCII might be a limitation of the screening tests used so far. To confirm this hypothesis, the researchers collected samples of Triatoma dimidiata, the main vector of Chagas disease in Central America, commonly called chinches or chinch bugs, from houses in five departments where the disease is considered endemic.

These samples underwent a genetic analysis by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which amplifies a copy of a gene billions of times and identifies the gene by electrophoresis. The researchers found that 84 percent of the sample bugs tested carried both lineages of the parasite.

Pamela Pennington, leader of the study, said that finding the genetic markers for both TCI and TCII raises another research question since the two strains show different sensitivities to drugs. It will be interesting to see whether the strains in Guatemala have more or less drug resistance than those found elsewhere.

New School in El Cedro, Livingston

For many years, nearly 150 children from the village of El Cedro have been studying in classrooms built with walls of reeds and roofs of manaca. Now they have a proper building that was built with municipal funds, from Cocode and community.

This village was founded 60 years ago and is located one hour from the capital of the municipality. To reach the village one must travel paths through forests of the Canyon of the Rio Dulce.

José Ac Choc, mayor of the community said that the building had been requested for a long time but plans were rejected because of the difficult access to the community and difficulty getting building materials in. "The negativity was understandable. Each sack of cement takes two hours to be carried in by hand. For this reason the parents decided to employ unskilled laborers," said Choc.

The community lacks electricity and road access. So the materials had to be brought by barge on the Rio Dulce and then carried in by hand.

The mayor of Livingston, Miguel Rax, explained that the cost of the project was Q500,000 and that the construction was hampered by rains that prevented the entry of the building materials. "It was a great effort made by the business community to build the school now. Thank God the kids have a decent place to get lessons," he said.

Canadian mine accused of causing skin infections

The photographs are disturbing, Mayans young and old covered in blisters and welts. Anti-mining activists say the rashes result from water polluted by a giant open-pit gold mine located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.

Marlin Mine is owned and operated by a large Canadian corporation called Goldcorp. The company strongly denies any link between their operation - which in a hot gold market is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week - and the ill health of the Mayans.

Read the rest of the story on BBC.

Committee Created to Oversee Declassification of Military Archives

President Alvaro Colom announced a government agreement that created the Committee on Declassification of Military Archives, which aims to manage the documentation of military affairs in the period from 1954 to 1996.

Their work will be to organize the written material classified as secret or top-secret and deliver reports on their findings to the president, who will decide whether it is a national security risk to release the information.

The activities of this committee will be confidential and they will have 10 months to complete the work and report the results to the president.