Tag Archives: spain

Recommended book: 1491 The Americas Before Columbus

1491: The Americas Before Columbus1491: The Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the book was not chock-full of shocking revelations as its publicity implies, it was a very amenable read on the state of the Americas before Columbus. The only really interesting thing for me was its explanation of the population collapse due to disease, something we’ve known but at least I didn’t quite fathom its scale.

View all my reviews

Recommended Book: Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World

Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the WorldBarca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World by Graham Hunter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you are looking for an objective view, you won’t find it here. If you are interested in how FC Barcelona works and the main issues in the past 10 years (rise and fall of Rijkaard, the emergence and utter dominance of Messi, the Guardiola era) this is the book for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it did sometimes feel too fanboyish.

View all my reviews

Cronicles of a European crisis

It’s been a tough 2011 for Europe and it’s going to get tougher. The role of Finland in this whole mess is deeply contested, and is a result of the changes in Parliament after the elections last spring.  I personally think Finnish politicians are too smug (see Halla-Aho’s Greece comments).  They treat other countries in the EU like a poor relation, but they seem to forget that Finland might be on the receiving end of EU aid sooner than we would like.  While the current budget deficit is quite manageable, Finland has the fastest-aging population in Europe.This will have a huge impact in social services and pensions, so I would hope for a return to traditional Finnish caution from the current brashness.

If I put my Mexican hat on, it is very ironic to see developed countries not following their own rules and recommendations for economic recovery (see cartoon in Spanish).  I guess the IMF’s medicine is too bitter when you try it yourself.

Below you can see some pictures I’ve taken that show the discontent from the general public in different parts of the continent.

Protests in Corinth.
Austerity protests in Athens
Traffic rerouted due to the austerity protests in Athens.
Strong opinion
Strong opinions in the London tube.
Somebody tell me how much they make with my money
Madrid. "Somebody tell me how much they make with my money" / "You should understand what they say".


It’s always a pleasure to visit Spain, even if for work. I’ve always found it funny that for the Finns Spain equals sangría & beaches, whereas for Mexicans Spain is all about our shared culture & history. This time I did have a slot to walk through the city after my meetings, so I used it. I’ve always been treated well in Madrid (even if they immediately know where I’m from due to my accent) and people more than once remarked how Mexico is the closest of the Latin American countries to Spain.  It was however funny to feel that, as close to my roots as it is, it is not home this side of the pond.

More pictures, as usual, in the set.

Crossing the Pyrenees
Crossing the Pyrenees
Dusk over Barajas
Dusk over Barajas
Walking through Paseo de la Castellana
Walking through Paseo de la Castellana
Monument to Christopher Columbus
Gran Vía
Gran Vía
Centro Histórico
One of the things that always strikes me about Madrid is that since it was founded at more or less the same time as the colonial cities of Mexico it tends to have very similar buildings (unlike, say, Toledo).
Palacio Real
Royal Palace.

23andme and the power of information

For a few months now I have been using a genetic testing service called 23andme (Wikipedia).  Their promise is quite simple:

Gain insight into your traits, from baldness to muscle performance. Discover risk factors for 97 diseases. Know your predicted response to drugs, from blood thinners to coffee.  And uncover your ancestral origins.

The process is very straightforward.  After sign up and paying a fee (+ shipping and handling) you get a small plastic tube.  Spit on it, send it via DHL back to their labs in the US and wait to get your results.

You do have to agree to a pretty hefty disclaimer, and there’s a reason for it.  23andme only provide genetic testing and related services and are not a medical services provider.  Furthermore, the information you can gather from this procedure can have profound consequences for you and your family: maybe there’s an inheritable disease doing the rounds in your folks (Alzheimer or Parkison have been thoroughly researched, e.g.), or you discover relatives you didn’t know you have (or indeed, find out you’re not related to who you thought you were).

Once you register you are granted access to their website to familiarize yourself with their interface and the possible results you could get.  Their service is divided into four parts: My Health (genetic disease carriers and drug response), My Ancestry (analysis of X-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA for genetic genealogy), Sharing and Community (“social genetics” features), and 23 and We (voluntary participation in genetic research through surveys).

The most interesting sections for me were the first two.  Regarding health I was able to confirm what I already knew from my family history plus a couple of things that I suspected but I had no certainty about such as the fact that I metabolize caffeine relatively slowly, which explains why I don’t need many cups of coffee to get my “latte high”.

The ancestry bit was also very interesting.  I know a fair amount regarding my ancestry up to my great-grandparents and there are a couple of things I can gather given the areas of Mexico where they come from, but unfortunately doing a full genealogical research European style is out of the question since records in Mexico have been destroyed or lost in the Independence War, the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War.  What I found was that my mitochondrial DNA (basically my mom’s mom’s almost ad infinitum line) is Mexican Indian from the Pacific Ocean from the Ice Age migrations through the Bering Strait when the Americas was being first populated (phenotype doesn’t equal genotype, my mom looks more Caucasian than I do), while my X chromosome shows Middle Eastern (possibly Jewish or Lebanese) ancestry, which is also consistent with the recently documented migration of Spanish Jews to Northern Mexico to avoid the Spanish Inquisition.  Furthermore, while the majority of my genetic markers are European, I do have a third of Asian/Native American (back to the Bering Strait bit) ancestry plus a smattering of African inheritance.  It all makes relative sense based of what I know of my family’s history.

Basically what I learned in my lessons of Mexican History through high school is not only correct, it shows in me.

Unfortunately 23andme’s reference database is not perfect, but thankfully the Mexican Genomics Institute is doing a very good job in analyzing what people from the Bravo to the Usumacinta Rivers carry in their genes.  All hail Saint Google :).

Through their community features the service calculates other possible genealogical matches (basically people who could be related to you who have also used the service). I’ve found mostly Mexican-Americans (obvious as their service is based in the US and they do not ship to Mexico due to our awesome customs officials) plus a smattering of people with Spanish ancestry and a lone Colombian with (I suppose) Amerindian ancestry.

Then there’s the research bit.  It’s basically a bunch of surveys they use to help in correlating the presence of certain genetic markers with physical or medical traits.  It’s interesting but I haven’t used the service long enough to have my answers help in any medical discoveries.

The only blemish to the whole thing is that we could get test results for my son.  He’s so young that his drool is too diluted (after all the little man is teething), which means they cannot extract enough genetic material for analysis. With the way things are developing, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re able to do it in a year or two.

All in all, a very interesting experience even if I’m just really getting started.  If you want to know more about factors that could affect your health plus your ancestry and are not afraid of the power of information I truly recommend it. Other services only do one or the other.