Hotel con Corazón

Hotel con Corazón in Nicaragua is not just a hotel; it is a hotel with a heart. This means that the hotel, in its unique way, is contributing to the sustainable development of Nicaragua, by investing in education and employment. With the hotel as the inspiring heart. Marcel Zuidhof and Onno Oostveen, two Dutch guys with ‘big hearts,’ established Hotel con Corazon in 2006. With extended experience gained in the international business world, they left the Netherlands to make their dreams come true in Nicaragua. One and a half years later, Hotel con Corazon is now greeting its first guests.

Onno and Marcel did not achieve this all by themselves. They have an enormous network of energetic helpers and faithful supporters, both in the Netherlands as well as Nicaragua. The initial capital was raised through fundraising efforts of numerous ‘amigos’ in the Netherlands in combination with big public and private sponsors such as Wilde Ganzen (Wild Geese), the Dutch National Commission for Sustainable Development (NCDO) and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. And during the construction phase of the hotel no less than 36 friends came to roll up their sleeves and pitched in.

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Bike share schemes shift into high gear

Sharing bikes
Around the world, cycle-hire operators are rolling out bicycles that were tucked away for the cold and rainy months. Hundreds of new bikes and docking stations will join existing fleets, while many more cities, from Kailua to Tel Aviv to the Big Apple are joining the bike-sharing wave for the first time.The idea is simple: Charge a nominal fee to give people all the benefits of cycling without the hassle of bike ownership. It’s an old idea, but the concept of a bicycle fleet for shared use has undergone a very modern makeover in recent years. Today’s bikes are often equipped with GPS devices for tracking. Free and coin-deposit systems have given way to solar-powered, computerized docking stations designed to deter theft and afford easy installation. Users often can reserve a bicycle with a few taps on a smart phone, unlock a bike with the swipe of a smart card that links up with the local metro, and even track calories burned while pedaling. The number of bike-sharing services in 10 European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, has leapt to about 400, up from “only a few” a decade ago.
Source: www.nationalgeographic.com, June 7, 2011


Google adding search by voice, pictures

Technology on smartphone
The plain Google search box will soon be able to handle more than taps on a keyboard. Google is bringing features pioneered on smartphones, like voice and image search, to its flagship product, the company said at a news conference here on Tuesday. The speech-recognition tool began showing up as a microphone button on the right-hand side of the Google.com search box for some visitors on Tuesday.

It will only be available on Google’s Chrome Web browser for now, but Google executives say they hope other software makers implement the technology to support the feature. Like on Android or the Google application for the iPhone, people can click the mic icon on Google.com, and say a phrase or question into their computer microphone. The speech technology attempts to account for accents and context in order to transcribe the recording into text. This produced mixed results in my testing, speaking in plain English or with a faux Cockney accent.
Source: www.cnn.com, June 14, 2011


Bolivia’s stunning salt flats

Environmental pyramids
The Salar de Uyuni salt flats of Bolivia, covering more than 10,000 square kilometers, are the most extensive in the world, and so level that the surface is used to calibrate the altimeters on board satellites. On a still day, the thin layer of water covering the salt forms a great mirror reflecting the sky. Piled up in pyramids is the salt from which the people of the village of Colchani eke out a living. Yet beneath the shiny expanse is a brine rich in lithium salts that have huge commercial potential. According to the latest report by the US Geological Survey, Salar de Uyuni contains 9 million tones of lithium, more than a quarter of the world’s known resources. This could rise to about 50 per cent if the lithium in more than 30 other salars and lagoons in southwestern Bolivia is included. Lithium is increasingly required for the batteries that power phones, laptops, cordless tools and a range of hybrid and electric vehicles – so much so that there are fears that demand will soon outstrip supply. Talk that impoverished Bolivia could become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium” has encouraged its socialist president, Evo Morales, to keep this valuable resource under tight state control. The country has spent three years and more than $10 million on a pilot plant to extract the lithium. But according to Juan Carlos Zuleta, a lithium economics analyst based in the capital, La Paz, this has so far produced “only meagre results”.
Source: www.newscientist.com, June 9, 2011


Social payment site

Share expenses
Shared expenses are always a tricky challenge, largely because of the logistics involved in making sure everyone pays their own fair share. Enter PayDivvy, a California-based startup that aims to make the whole process easier. With support for electronic billing from more than 5,000 different service providers, allows users to pay, send or share individual and group bills through a simple online and mobile interface. To split any bill, users can create a group on the free site — such as a set of roommates, for example — and then create a “divvy” for each shared expense, such as rent. It’s automatically assumed that all divvies are split up equally, but that can be adjusted by the user creating them. Either way, when a divvy comes due, each participating member makes his or her payment via Visa, MasterCard, American Express or bank account, and the site keeps track of who has paid and who hasn’t.

‘Pinging’ a member of a particular divvy sends a notification reminding that person to pay up, while wall notifications and peer pressure can play a role as well, the company says. Meanwhile, much like PayPal, PayDivvy gives each user his or her own FDIC-insured account with bank-level security, and any money paid into those accounts can be withdrawn by the account holder as well. So, divvies can be used to reimburse a user who pays a bill up front — such as for a nice dinner out, for example — or they can be used to collect funds to be paid directly and jointly through PayDivvy to a utility or landlord, for instance. Online bill payment is all very good and well, but it’s the social aspect that promises to set PayDivvy apart. One to partner with or emulate in your neck of the woods?
Soucre: www.springwise.com, June 6, 2011


Nutrition plate unveiled

Michelle Obama unveils
“We realized that we needed something that made sense not just in classrooms or laboratories, but at dinner tables and school cafeterias. We needed something useful, something simple,” the first lady said. “And that’s why I like the MyPlate approach so much, because when it comes to eating, what’s more useful than a plate? What’s more simple than a plate? This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating. ”The response to ChooseMyPlate.gov and its attendant messaging campaign was generally positive. Marion Nestle, professor, nutrition expert and critic of the baffling MyPyramid from 2005, had kind words for the simplified dinner plate: “It’s an enormous improvement, an enormous improvement, because it reflects where we are on dietary guidance and what we know about nutrition and health. So the things I like best about it are: half fruits and vegetables [on the plate, and] the idea that the messages that go with it start with, ‘Enjoy your food.’ What a concept, although they didn’t talk about that this morning. I don’t know what that’s about. I like the idea that you can put on the plate whatever you like, so it’s not saying what you have to eat and what you can’t eat and what you mustn’t eat. You just have to follow the proportions, and you don’t have to worry about portion sizes, because all you have to do is have an eight-inch plate and you got it made.”
Source: www.washingtonpost.com, June 2, 2011


Animals could be living on Mars

Gold mine worm
“It’s like finding Moby Dick in Lake Ontario,” says Tullis Onstott.University team discovered living far beneath the Earth’s surface in South Africa. The tiny worms – just 500 micrometres long – were found at depths ranging from 900 metres to 3.6 kilometres, in three gold mines in the Witwatersrand basin near Johannesburg. That’s an astonishing find given that multicellular organisms are typically only found near the surface of the Earth’s crust. The creatures seem to live in water squeezed between the mines’ rocks, can tolerate temperatures reaching 43 °C and feed off bacteria. Carbon dating of compounds dissolved in the water suggests that the worms have been living at these depths for between 3000 and 12,000 years.”To have complex life sustain itself for such a long period completely sealed away from everything else – from sunlight, from surface chemistry – is pretty amazing,” says Caleb Scharf of the Columbia Astrobiology Center in New York City. “We’ve had this preconception that there can only be certain types of organisms in certain environments,” says Scharf. “But it’s not true at all. There are more complex organisms in these bizarre environments.”If complex life forms are able to survive inside cracks deep inside Earth, it raises the possibility that they might have survived undetected in similar environments on Mars. Carl Pilcher, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute in Moffett Field, California, points out that Onstott has previously discovered a bacterium living 2.8 kilometres underground, completely isolated from all other ecosystems on Earth. The bug gets its energy from the radioactive decay of elements in the surrounding rocks. “The significance was that you could imagine an ecosystem existing in the subsurface of a planet that didn’t have a photosynthetic biosphere, like Mars,” he says.Until now, it was thought such an ecosystem could be made of bacteria only. But Onstott’s new findings have completely changed that. “It has extended the [earlier] work to an animal,” says Pilcher. “These nematodes are grazing on microbes. So now you could imagine that if animal life had ever developed on a planet, and the surface of that planet became lifeless,” Pilcher explains, “you could imagine that animals [small enough to fit in tiny cracks] could coexist with microbial ecosystems all powered by radioactivity.”
Source: www.newscientist.com, June 2, 2011