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(506) 223-1327              Published Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 206        E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Bolt from the blue can really fry your computer
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What travels at 60,000 miles per second and wants to knock out your computer?

Why lightning, of course, and as the Costa Rican skies clear after a week of turbulent weather, some expats are finding that their computer is inexplicably dead.

In fact, a survey of the literature on lightning shows that electronic equipment can be knocked out by storms so far away that they cannot be heard. The primary culprits are the cables that bring in electricity and Internet signals. These are the pathways electrical energy uses to fry computer boards and disks.

One company that makes protective devices for computers estimates that the loss to lightning in the United States each year is about $188 billion, including direct damage and loss of productivity. Protection has become a high art for building complexes and industry.

The U.S. National Severe Storms Laboratory said that to quantify lightning losses is difficult, but it estimated that $4 to $5 billion in direct damage occurs each year. Likewise, the cost of lightning protection to safeguard critical equipment and facilities from lightning strikes during severe weather is enormous, it said.

For the expat with the single computer, the best step is to follow the 30-30 rule and unplug computers and other devices, including the various cables and Internet connections. Telephone cords that connect to the computer also should be disconnected.

The Severe Storms Lab's 30-30 rule is:

* 30 seconds flash-to-bang — time to take action
* 30 minutes after the last thunder is heard — 
         safe to resume activities.

The rule does not always work. There is an expression in English, "A bolt from the blue," meaning an unexpected event. Because a lightning bolt can easily strike more than 10 miles from the storm, an individual may not even be aware of the danger. Plus the electricity generated by the strike can invade utility wires, pipes and other metal objects to travel into the computer.

A reporter found that just one little USB cable going from a printer to the back of a computer tower may end up costing hundreds of dollars in electronic equipment repair.

And when the repairman returns the repaired computer, a user may also discover that the keyboard, monitor and mouse also must be replaced. 

When the computer again is working, a user also may find that the reloaded operating system no longer recognizes the  machine as legitimate or genuine because of the built-in anti-bootlegging protection.
lightning strikes
U.S. National Weather Service photo/John Ogren
Lightning hitting a distant structure, like these grain elevators in the United States, can cause local woes.

The computer may have been damaged in a fierce storm, in part, because some thief cut and removed the copper grounding cable from the household electrical system.

The uninterruptible power supply is not good defense against lightning. The bolt has jumped perhaps 15,000 feet in a zig-zag pattern. The average bolt carries 30,000 amps of charge, has 100 million volts of electric potential, and is about 50,000 degrees F., according to the Severe Storms Lab.

So a little black box is not going to do much. But the so-called UPS does have its uses in preventing damage due to routine line spikes. Some even have a telephone line connection to protect from spikes there.

Tripp Lite, a company making such devices, said that these spikes may be the product of storms far away or other problems with the electrical supply. They can be catastrophic for hard drives and can easily corrupt data.

The UPS devices, of course, guard the computer when there is a brownout or a blackout and give the users time to shut down the systems. Tripp Lite said their products also can protect against line noise, flucuations caused by other electrical devices. This, too, can damage computers.

May through November is the storm season in Costa Rica. The lightning is a danger to humans, too, and most sources of storm information warn that talking on the telephone line is not a good idea during a storm.

Recent deaths in Costa Rica have been attributed to being on a golf course during a storm or in trying to find protection under tall trees. The bolts leap from trees in a random pattern. One young man died because he was standing with livestock on an unprotected hill.

But for every human death, there must be hundreds of compouter casualties.

(Donna Norton contributed to this report.)

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 206

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Playing is adrenaline rush
to young violoncellist

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Violoncellist Gabriel Cabezas, who is appearing in San José Oct. 25,  has been described by music critics as intense, mature and inspirational. In fact, the 14-year-old says playing the cello invigorates him so much he truly loses himself in
the performance, at times forgetting what he played minutes before.

"It's a pure adrenaline rush to be honest," said Cabezas, "I feel more awake after I play than before."

Cabezas, a Costa Rican-American whose father is originally from San José, said he is excited to be performing in the country. Although his family tries to make an annual trip from Chicago, Illinois, to Costa Rica, this is his first opportunity to perform.
young violoncellist
Gabriel Cabezas

Cabezas began studying music when he was 4 years old. Originally he wanted to play guitar but since there were no guitar teachers, he decided the cello looked close enough.  Now Cabezas is a full-time high school sophomore. His schedule includes hours of practicing, lessons, rehearsals, and youth orchestra. 

Cabezas also composes, although it's "mostly for fun," he said in a telephone interview.  Many of his nearly 75 pieces are inspired by natural and cultural influences he says. Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, one of the first to study music in its cultural context, rates high on Cabezas' list of inspirations.

"When you understand the culture you can play the music," said Cabezas.

Cabezas will perform at 7:30 p.m. at Teatro Eugene O'Neill of the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses and will be accompanied by pianist Ana Isabel Cabezas.

Transport ministry gets
first equipment in 10 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes has not invested in machinery for 10 years, Casa Presidencial disclosed Tuesday in Liberia.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez was there to present some $1.54 million in equipment to the regional transport office. The machinery will be used to maintain roads and highways in San Carlos, Upala, Los Chiles and Guatuso and 11 cantons of Guanacaste.

The budget calls for some $13.5 million in equipment purchases next year. The road machinery includes a compactor, a tractor, an excavator, a rotary excavator and a road grader.

The predecessor of Arias, Abel Pacheco, has been blamed for letting the roads of the country fall into disrepair.

Arias said that despite the good feelings in delivering the machinery, the day was one of sadness because of the extensive flooding that has hit the nation and Guanacaste in particular. LIberia is the main trading and shopping city for Guanacaste. He said he was injecting life into what was a moribund ministry.

Merino del Río is not swayed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

José Merino del Río, a strong opponent to the free trade treaty with the United States, will not discuss the issue with the president, said Casa Presidencial Tuesday. Merino, the only member of his Partido Frente Amplio in the 57-member Asamblea Legisaltiva, rejected the invitation offered by Óscar Arias Sánchez last week, said an aide.

In a separate Internet posting Merino called the Oct. 7 referendum that ratified the free trade treaty fraudulent and accused Arias of using state resources to buy votes. Lawmakers now have to adopt some 13 measures that will make the country's laws conform to requirements of the free trade treaty.
Toy store firebombed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone hurled a gasoline-filled bottle into a Barrio México toy store Tuesday afternoon, and the subsequent fire gutted the establishment and did damage to a home behind it. The location is the Tienda Calle 20 on the street of the same name in northwest San José.

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 Costa Rica wins two-year term on U.N. Security Council
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
with local reports

Costa Rica won a seat on the U.N. Security Council Tuesday after three rounds of voting. The competitor for the Latin American seat, the Dominican Republic, withdrew after coming in second in the first two rounds.

The election represented another Costa Rican diplomatic victory, said Bruno Stagno, the foreign minister who had campaigned heavily for the non-permanent seat.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez, said in Liberia where he was on a tour that the Security Council seat would allow the country to push for its project to limit the sale of arms worldwide and to further its Peace with Nature program that deals with carbon neutrality.

The General Assembly Tuesday also elected Burkina Faso, Croatia, Libya and Vietnam to serve as non-permanent two-year terms starting Jan. 1.

Burkina Faso, Libya and Vietnam were chosen after one round of balloting but Costa Rica and Croatia needed three rounds to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority of those present and voting for the seats, which are allocated along geographical lines.

The newly elected countries will replace Congo, Ghana, Perú, Qatar and Slovakia when their terms on the 15-member body expire at the end of this year.

The terms will mark the Council debut for both Vietnam and Croatia, while it will be the second occasion for Burkina Faso (previously served in 1984-85) and Libya (1976-77) and the third stint for Costa Rica (1974-75 and 1997-98).
Announcing the results of the first round in the African and Asian category, where three seats were available this year, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said Burkina Faso had received 185 votes out of a possible 190, while Vietnam picked up 183 and Libya received 178.

The three countries were the only declared candidates for the region.  Mauritania picked up two votes, Senegal received one and there were no abstentions.

In the Eastern European category, where 124 votes were needed for victory in the third round of balloting, Croatia received 184 and Czech Republic — which withdrew its declared candidacy after two rounds — picked up one. There were four abstentions.

In the Latin American and Caribbean grouping, where 120 votes were needed to win in the third round, Costa Rica obtained 179 out of a possible 189 and the Dominican Republic — which had also just withdrawn its formal candidacy — received one. There were nine abstentions.

The members were elected according to an agreed geographic allocation, which awards three seats to African and Asian countries, one to Eastern European States, and one to the Latin American and Caribbean region during this year’s round of elections.

Council elections are held by secret ballot in the General Assembly, and a winning candidate requires a two-thirds majority of ballots of members present and voting.

The Council’s five other non-permanent members, whose terms end on Dec. 31, 2008, are Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panamá and South Africa. The five permanent members are China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States. 

Still no letup in rains and flooding that are ravaging nation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is still no end in sight for the week-long flooding that has hit the central Pacific and now Guanacaste along the Pacific coast.

The national emergency center said Tuesday that 1,367 persons were being housed in official shelters and that 35 cantons of the nation had suffered some form of damage. At least 8,000 persons have been affected and 1,500 homes flooded.

Red alerts continued in the most heavily affected areas, and the emergency commission is bringing fresh supplies to locations where the stockpiled food and bedding has been exhausted.

Shelters are in operation in Santa Ana, Atenas, Acosta, Parrita, Tárcoles, and in communities of Guanacaste. In Parrita centro some 325 persons are remaining in shelters. In Tarcoles there are 91 persons forced out of their homes into shelters. In Santa Ana the toll is 131. Acosta has 54 persons in shelters, and Atenas also has 54.

In Guanacaste, some 800 persons are being housed in shelters in La Cruz, Nicoya, Carrillo, Santa Cruz and Ortega. The hardest hit areas are Filadelfia de Carrillo and the beach town of Nosara in the canton of Nicoya.  Additional flooding is reported in Nandayure, Hojancha, Mansión, Ortega and Bolsón de Santa Cruz, Guinea and Corralillo de Filadelfia, Irogaría and Cañas Dulces in Liberia y Cuajiniquil, Puerto Soley and San Dimas in the canton of La Cruz.

The weather report is not optimistic. Although San José did not see the usual afternoon downpours, the Instituto Metoerológico Nacional said that rain was expected Tuesday evening and into this morning in parts of the Pacific. The problem is Parrita centro continues because rain continues to fall in the mountains and the river continues to flow out of its banks and into the residential section of the community.

In some places the flooding is waist deep.

It's Parrita centro, not canton

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A reader makes the correct observation that not all of Parrita is under water. In fact, Parrita is a canton as well as a community that bears the same name within the canton.

The area that is affected by the flooding is along the Río Parrita and includes the community known as Parrita centro. Other smaller communities along the river also are affected but not all of the canton, which also includes substantial amounts of high ground. In addition to Parrita centro, the other affected communities are Sitradique, Pueblo Nuevo and La Julieta.

The  Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias attributed the current state of the weather to yet another low pressure system that was bringing atmospheric distrubances.

Infrastructure has taken at hit. At least seven bridges are damaged, according to the commission. They are in Quebrada Ganado and Playa Azul de Tarcoles, Cuajiniquil de La Cruz, Puente Ganzo, Panica and San Luis de Cubano and Lepanto de Jicaral, Puntarenas.

More than 54 sections of road, including on some of the country's main highways, are damaged. Passage on the Interaermican Sur is reduced to a footpath in one location because the road has fallen away.

The national emergency commission said it was seeking humanitarian aid. It has set up two bank accounts in colons for flood aid. They are Banco de Costa Rica: 91100-3 and Banco Nacional de Costa Rica: 911-8. There also is a Banco de Costa Rica account, 118281-1 in dollars.

The commission also issued a warning about private individuals seeking aid for the flood victims.

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Costa Rican press freedom rated as improving by media advocacy organization
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica continues to improve, says a private organization that rates freedom of the press.

Costa Rica is in 21st place with a 6.5 rating and tied with Slovenia, according to Reporters Without Borders, which released its annual World Press Freedom index Tuesday. Costa Rica was 29th with a 6.67 on a 10-point scale in 2006.

The media advocacy group says Eritrea has replaced North Korea as the world's worst country for freedom of the press.

The Paris-based group says Eritrea earned its last-place ranking by banning privately-owned media and throwing journalists who criticize the government in prison, where at least four of them have died. Eritrea's information minister, Ali Abdu, called the report "rubbish" and said that journalists from all over the world work freely in the country.

Reporters Without Borders also says it is particularly disturbed by the situation in Burma. It says the military government's crackdown on protests there bodes poorly for the future of basic freedoms in the country.

The top five countries in the index are all from Europe, with Iceland ranked at the top, followed by Norway, Estonia, Slovakia and Belgium. The bottom five, in descending order, are Cuba, Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
Reporters Without Borders praised several countries for allowing the press greater freedom, including Mauritania, Uruguay, Nicaragua and Nepal.

The group criticized many countries for arresting journalists and stepping up censorship on the Internet.

The United States was ranked 48th on the index, just behind Nicaragua and one space ahead of Togo. There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States, and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison, said the organization. But the detention of Al-Jazeera’s Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since June 13, 2002, at the military base of Guantanamo, Cuba, and the murder of newspaperman Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group, it added.

Reporters Without Borders says Mexico continues to be the most dangerous country for journalists.

The Paris-based group's annual World Press Freedom index says at least eight journalists were killed in Mexico in the 12 months since September 2006. It said authorities have not identified all those responsible for the murders.

Cases of violence against journalists were also reported in Argentina and Brazil, which ranked 82nd and 84th on the index. Peru set a record with nearly 100 journalists being physically attacked. In Haiti, the report said the media only suffered a few physical attacks or abuse by authorities.

Egg producers don't expect
competition under trade pact

By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican egg producers say the free trade treaty won't hurt business. They celebrated World Egg Day Friday with an egg breakfast, games and nearly 200 children from Asociación Obras del Espíritu Santo.

Rogelio Castro Q., manager of egg production for Granja Avicola in Santa Marta, said the ratified trade treaty, if implemented, will not negatively affect the egg business. 

Shipping fragile eggs from the United States to Costa Rica, he said, would be simply too expensive and time-consuming.

The Camera Nacional de Avicultores hosted the event, which was filled with chants like, "The whole world loves eggs!" and "Who here likes eggs?!" This is the trade group for Costa Rican egg producers.

The festival included a contest for the biggest egg and the fastest egg packer. The winners, both employees of La Camera, donated their prize money to Espíritu Santo. Ana Siles, spokeswoman for the organization, said prizes totaled 160,000 colones or a bit more than $300.

An association spokesperson said plans are to use the money to help pay for the annual Christmas party for about 2,000 children.
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