Slovak Hockey Great Marian Hossa Falls Victim To “The Gunk”

Hossa

June 26, 2017

Allan Stevo

I received a shocking news alert from the Chicago Sun Times: “Marian Hossa out for 2017-18 season; skin disorder could end career”

That was not the most shocking part. The article went on to talk about how Hossa – a slovak born hockey legend in the NHL – had contracted a progressive skin condition that was being fought with medicine that was becoming increasingly debilitating and increasingly ineffective.

After going on to talk about the mysterious skin condition, the last paragraph of the article reads:

Hossa wouldn’t be the first player to retire early because of such an allergy. “The Gunk,” as it was known in the 1970s and 1980s, affected many players, and drove former Hawks and North Stars defenseman Tom Reid out of the game in 1978.

That was a little freaky. What is the gunk? It took a little doing but I finally found a semi-authoritative mention of the gunk at Locker Room Doctor run by Dr. Mike Evans of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto in a piece entitled “The Gunk: a Virulent Oozing Rash”

They called it the plague and the creeping crud, but mostly it was known, and feared, as the gunk: a virulent oozing rash that afflicted players across hockey in the late 1970s and into the ’80s, forcing several of them out of the game altogether. “It’s a mystery,” was the diagnosis of Montreal Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman. Doctors called it contact dermatitis, but even they were largely baffled by what exactly they were dealing with. “We don’t know what’s going on completely,” investigating dermatologist Dr. William Schorr confessed in 1976. By then, an estimated 70 NHL players were suffering, along with uncounted others in junior and minor leagues.

The NHL decided it wasn’t concerned enough by the outbreak to mount its own investigation. “It’s the type of thing the individual clubs themselves would have to be involved in,” executive director Brian O’Neill said while Dr. Schorr puzzled over symptoms. By 1979, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta was getting ready to start a study.

No word on where that went. Back in the rinks, most cases of the rash resembled psoriasis, sometimes in its later stages oozing a yellow pus. Often it started on the hands before spreading wherever the player’s body came in contact with his equipment. Was dirty old gear to blame, dyes, detergents, tanning agents from leather? Theories abounded. A nervous condition related to the anxiety of scoring droughts and playoff pressures? A reaction to Zamboni fumes? Fibreglass from sticks? As dermatologists treating players agreed that the rash wasn’t communicable, team trainers struggled to curb it while doing their best to minister to its victims with cortisone-based ointments.

Canadiens centreman Jacques Lemaire ended up spending a week in hospital in the early ’70s. “They had me bathing in lotion,” he told the Times. “They had to put me on sleeping pills every night, the itching was so bad.”

A dermatologist was able to help cure Clark Gillies of the New York Islanders. “He said it was something to do with bleach and detergent and the nylon in the equipment,” he said. Meditation soothed another Islander, defenceman Jean Potvin, when nothing else would. “I know I was a lot more relaxed and I never had any of I again. I have to think it’s a nerve symptom.”

None had it worse than Tom Reid. A defenceman who started his career with the Chicago Black Hawks, he went on to ply the blueline for ten years as a Minnesota North Star before finding himself gunked out of the game in 1978.

“It was a gradual thing,” he says. “It started about the size of a dime on my arm. Then it got bigger. It went down my side and it just started to spread. As soon as I was off the ice, in two weeks it was gone. If I came back to the ice, play a few games, it would come right back again.”
“We changed equipment. They covered me in creams, they covered the equipment. I changed underwear, t-shirt, after the warm-up, at the end of every period — it just got worse.”

He was getting pills, injections of steroids. He spent 11 days in hospital to start off the 1975-76 season. At one point, he said at the time, he was getting 30 shots a day to help in the relief effort.

“It was pretty painful. It was at the point where my whole side was just pus. They couldn’t figure out what it was. I’d be wrapping towels around my body, which helped — the problem was when I had to take the towels off. I couldn’t sleep — for a while I was sleeping sitting upright in a wooden chair. It got to the point by the end where they couldn’t give me any more cortisone. I had to retire.”

It was ten years later before doctors came up with anything resembling an answer to the gunk mystery — too late for Reid’s career. In 1988, a member of the Edmonton Oilers’ medical staff helped identify one of the causes: the use of formaldehyde in the manufacture of equipment as a way of preventing mildew and maintaining colour.

“Once we figured out that was the problem, we had a good, quick solution to it,” Dr. Don Groot said in 2000. This (surprisingly specific) one: the addition of a cup of powdered milk to the second rinse cycle of a wash, he said, seemed to do away with both the formaldehyde and the gunk it bred.

Hossa, a beloved veteran hockey player on a multimillion dollar contract is certainly getting the most expensive cutting edge medicine money can buy. Sometimes that’s a problem. Auto-immune diseases are a great example of that.

Managing auto immune diseases effectively is beyond the grasp of the mainstream medical community at this time. Sometimes it works, often it does not.

Mainstream doctors throw steroids at any skin oddity they are unsure of. It begins with steroid creams and moves into pills or injections. By chance these things might work. Or perhaps they have zero effect and the body and the disease are just cycling independent of the treatment – even a broken clock is right twice a day. And while there’s a chance that may work, there’s almost a guarantee that enough steroid use will produce significant side effects.

Eventually the doctor may determine there are further systemic issues at play and more drugs get thrown at the patient and their non-responsive illness – drugs that are experimental for all uses, drugs that are experimental for this use, and drugs that are certainly experimental for you. You might end up with challenging chemotherapy medicines like methotrexate, azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, mercaptopurine, or mitoxantrone being used for autoimmune conditions, or even biotherapy drugs like rituximab, infliximab, or natalizumab. But don’t worry, the doctor says – we’ll give you a much lower dose than a cancer patient would get. He might add, we don’t exactly know how it works but it sometimes show excellent results. That’s sort of the broken clock theory of medicine again; I’m surprised by how often I hear it from doctors. We also don’t know how placebos or homeopathics work but they sometimes work. That’s no reason to randomly use placebos or homeopathics but at least they don’t have toxic side effects.

Dealing with what appears to have been a troubling period with an autoimmune disease of my own about five years ago, nothing worked but dietary changes. I say “appears” because I was never able to find a doctor able to give a conclusive diagnosis, nor did I ultimately care enough to hear a diagnosis to push doctors to take a wild guess. Going through that process myself and with others, it appeared to me pretty quickly that autoimmune concerns and their accompanying skin conditions are a near mystery for the medical community.

So, while visiting doctors I turned to people like Dr Mercola and Mark Sisson for advice, people who plenty of main stream doctors might call quacks. I took their advice on a body gone haywire. I took the advice of others and did a lot of experimentation on myself to figure out what worked and what didn’t and to eventually solve this problem. Sisson, like Hossa was once an elite athlete with a great burden of health concerns. He now helps people who were in his situation to get beyond those health concerns. Both he and Mercola have astute minds and keep well read on the latest studies.

That being said, I don’t imagine Hossa has anything to learn from me on this matter. The champion player if he is diligent enough about his own health has certainly had his diet analyzed by the Mercolas of the world. My guess though, and it’s a reasonable guess, that surrounded by high priced doctors, he probably has been steered away from “experimental treatments” that don’t come from the Journal of the American Medical Association write ups or Big Pharma’s labs. Certainly he’s encouraged by high priced doctors to do all the experimenting he wants as long as Pfizer or Eli Lilly developed the product. It’s more likely that a doctor will prescribe an experimental and dangerous pharmaceutical than to ask you to speak to a nutritionist about methodically adjusting your diet and seeing what works.

The instructions of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, from 431 B.C. on diet “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” is either “too experimental” or quackery for many doctors. Meanwhile, with the air of authority that accompanies a white jacket and stethoscope, sometimes even the rich and famous can be led down a bad path by doctors.

A more comforting thought than the fact that Hossa is not getting the full breath of treatment options presented to him, is that the whole issue of his “skin condition” is being overhyped. That is my hope. There is much more advantage to the Chicago Blackhawks if Hossa is deemed physically unfit to play rather than opting to retire.

If Hossa retires, the Chicago Blackhawks are at a tremendous disadvantage under the NHL’s salary cap rules. If he continues on with the team on long term injured reserve, the Blackhawks under the salary cap rules, just scored a huge victory off the ice. In such a situation they have a greater likelihood of replacing the nearly irreplaceable Hossa, who is one of the premier two-way players in the game.

“Absolutely reeks of cap circumvention” writes one suspicious Blackhawks fan.

Marian Hossa, born in Stará Ľubovňa, Czechoslovakia (located in the Prešov region of present-day Slovakia, 20 miles east of the High Tatras, 10 miles south of the Polish border) is one of the most popular and successful Slovak ice hockey players. Hossa comes from an ice hockey-loving family, with his father, František Hossa, and a younger brother, Marcel Hossa, both being professional hockey players representing Slovakia in the World Championships and Winter Olympics. Although Marian Hossa has represented Slovakia in numerous World Championships and Winter Olympics, he remains medal-less – a distinction we are eager to see him part with. Marian Hossa was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 1997 as his first NHL team and spent 7 seasons with the team. Later on he played for Atlanta Trashers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroid Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. He won three Stanley Cup championships in Chicago (2009-10, 2012-13 and 2014-15), the highest team honor in hockey. Hossa has been a hero to young Slovaks, Chicagoans, Americans, and hockey aficionados for years.

All of us here at 52 Weeks in Slovakia wish the hero godspeed in his recovery!

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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The Fires Of St. John

Janske Ohne

June 24, 2017

Allan Stevo

From the darkest days of December, nature grows lighter.  These darkest days were the time that our ancestors long ago feared the evil they believed wandered the world during the the longest nights of the year.  When Christianity emerged in Europe, these darkest days surrounding the winter solstice were adopted for a celebration of the birth of God’s son.

Once the December solstice has come, we know that the days ahead of us are only getting longer, the hours of darkness shorter until we reach a counterpoint in the year. That counterpoint is today, just after the summer solstice, in the midst of a time when all nature rejoices at the long, long day.   St. John’s Day or simply “Jan” is how this day is referred to in Slovak.  From this counterpoint, all the way up until Christmas, that tide will change and the days will only get shorter and the nights longer.

We will not feel it from day to day because the changes are so small, but the march toward winter’s death has begun, nature’s trend in the direction of life has ceased.  Soon there will no longer be light in the sky from 4 a.m. or after 10 p.m. in Slovakia.  Nature will begin its march toward days where light at 8 a.m. will be a blessing and overcast skies the norm before turning into pitch black before 5 p.m.

Each year, the first Friday after Jan, older children, teenagers, 20-somethings, maybe even a few 30-somethings, anyone who is young and unmarried, will climb a hill near their village, the same hill they climb each year, carrying wood up the hill with them and they will build that wood into a great bonfire.  When darkness falls it will be lit. It will burn late into the night. And all across the horizon others in other villages might be seen doing the same. Through the darkness little flares will suddenly appear and those that live there will be able to see that their friends in other villages along the valley and in the next valleys over are engaging in the same tradition.  This will happen tonight since Jan, June 24, falls on a Friday this year.

Click here to keep reading The Fires Of St. John

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Mail Bag: We Want More Oblatky !!

Oblatky Iron

June 21, 2017

Allan Stevo

A new reader and newsletter subscriber writes in asking for information on finding year round oblatky / oplatky and on tips for making his own at home:

Great to find you. Just spent the last several days in Chicago visiting Czech relatives. Disappointed to see so many Czech restaurants closed now. Ended up at Warsaw Polish Buffet. Anywhere you know my wife can buy a Oplatky Griddle Iron at a reasonable price? Also where the original Oplatky can be bought year round? Seams that most places only make it at Christmas time. We got the original in Czechoslovakia freshly made daily warm in chocolate and Vanilla and it was wonderful.
Thank you for your time.

-Larry

Larry,
I totally agree with you. It’s almost like every time you turn around in Chicago another classic middle European Restaurant is closing down. How often I hear my elders long for the old days when they could get delicious meals that were practically as good as anyone in the family could make. It takes a lot of skill to run a kitchen like that and it seems like the tight margins of the restaurant marketplace aren’t supportive of such a large number of places like that. Thankfully a few good ones still exist.

As for your question on oblatky, finding those Czech made spa town style oblatky in the US is nearly impossible. Oblatky has a long and established history around the region. The kind you describe with a filling between the wafers is a tradition common to the Czech spa towns, a special treat that can traditionally be found in those places – perhaps akin to saltwater taffy as a specialty found on a trip to an eastern seaboard town with a boardwalk, fresh squeaky cheese curd on a trip through Wisconsin, scrapple as part of a visit into the lands of the “Pennsylvania Dutch,” or finding a fresh baked Kringle in places that Scandinavians settled.

Unfortunately we were unable to find an online store for the original Czech product that would ship the oblatky to the US. Here are some links for the Czech producers of oblatky. It may be possible to contact them directly and ask to special order them. Kolonáda is one of the most popular companies that produces traditional oblatky, widely sold across the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Karlovarské oplatky are produced in the city of Karlove Vary, well known for its famous spas. Luhačovice is also a popular spa town with its own oblatky producing company.

What we were able to find though is a company in Sacramento that uses the same traditional recipe to bake the oplatky. You can select different flavors and have them shipped right to your doorstep. Their website and online store can be found here.

As for the issue of the oplatky iron, some of the irons can be found in online stores such as eBay or Amazon under the name of “Pizzelle Irons.” Pizzelle is the Italian word for oplatky. There are irons with different designs available and the price range varies from $30 to over $100.

We’d love to hear how that process goes for you. And if you decide it’s time for America to have another year round oblatky maker or importer – write us so that we can share the details of your new company in these pages. Thank you for reading and thank you for writing in Larry.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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How To Buy Bitcoin

This month’s 52 Weeks in Slovakia series on Bratislava, Bitcoin, and the tech sector is being done in connection with the launch of a new book by Allan Stevo – The Bitcoin Manifesto.

How To Buy Bitcoin

June 19, 2017

Allan Stevo

Immediately after it opened in 2013, I worked as the head market maker at the innovative New York Bitcoin Center at 40 Broad Street, next-door to the New York Stock Exchange. People could come there and trade the electronic currency face to face. This was a popular method of trading, since it allowed a gathering place for people to interact with other humans, which is not necessary for Bitcoin transactions, and generally uncommon, but which allows for the development of rapport, the establishment of social circles that otherwise might not exist in the Bitcoin space, a personalized information exchange, and relationship building, all of which for some people, are necessary ingredients in order to do business.

This month, we are releasing the book “The Bitcoin Manifesto,” a collection of writings on Bitcoin that explains some of the very important aspects of the technology without relying on much of the pointless fluff that some of its adherents talk about or the baseless attacks that some of its opponents commonly resort to.

Upon hearing about the release of the book, a reader of 52 Weeks in Slovakia wrote to ask a question I hear all the time. “How do I buy Bitcoin?”

“Allan, I’m interested in buying some Bitcoins, though I wish I had done this a few years or even a few months ago. How do I do this? I don’t think I can do it through my brokerage account.
-Jon”

Simple, common question, that I appreciate him asking. Here are a few options on how to buy Bitcoin:

1. Wall Street – Believe it or not, you can actually invest in a Bitcoin product through a brokerage account – GBTC, or the Bitcoin Investment Trust. You can find its price listed at a place like Yahoo Finance. It is similar to an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF), but is not fully in compliance with the rule required to be an ETF. By not trying to be an ETF, but by simply seeking to be a standardized, consumer friendly investment vehicle for Bitcoin, they beat their competitors to the marketplace by at least three and a half years as of the writing of this piece. When you buy GBTC, you are buying shares in a company’s Bitcoin Investment Trust. Based on the Bitcoin holdings of that trust, you are purchasing the equivalent of about 0.1 Bitcoin with each share you buy. This trades at a significant premium to the actual price of Bitcoin, and there are fees involved (2% annual “administration and safekeeping fee”). The tremendous upside to this is that it allows for someone with non technical Bitcoin knowledge to easily speculate on the price of Bitcoin. This is a huge upside. You can probably log into your brokerage account right now and be long GBTC in minutes. Additionally they can be held in some IRAs and 401ks. If you want the closest thing to a Bitcoin purchase that conforms with a Wall Street investment product, this is your option. Check out Grayscale’s FAQ page for more about them. They additionally have a similar investment product that deals with the much talked about Bitcoin competitor called Ethereum. If you want to get in right now, GBTC might be a smart, more familiar way to start while you are learning the finer points of some of the other investment options around Bitcoin.

2. Bitcoin ATMs & Bankomats – You can google “Bitcoin ATM near me” or “Bitcoin ATM” and your zip code or “Bitcoin ATM” and the name of the place where you are. You are likely to be pleasantly surprised to see how quickly you can take possession of actual Bitcoin. You are far more likely to find this in a big city, but Bitcoin ATMs are in a surprising number of places – including Bratislava Slovakia. Bratislava is home to several and was home to the first permanent installed Bitcoin ATM in Europe. With a Bitcoin ATM, you walk up with your local currency, you walk away with Bitcoin. Or you walk up with Bitcoin, you walk away with local currency. Sometimes the machine may ask identifying questions or take a picture, because of the “know your customer” banking laws in some localities, other times a Bitcoin ATM may require not a single piece of information – the fact that you showed up with valid local currency being all the only qualification to do business. This tends to be the quickest way to own actual Bitcoin.

3. Bitcoin Exchanges – You can purchase from an exchange like CoinBase or Kraken, and many others. Like setting up any other brokerage account you will contact the exchange, provide some amount of personal information, go through some type of background check and approval process, and fund your account by transferring money to the exchange. Once that is done you can trade Bitcoin with a Bitcoin Exchange much like you would be able to trade stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. Unless you plan to move in and out of Bitcoin with great regularity as a day trader, it is best to move the Bitcoin to your personal wallet, far away from the responsibility of trusting an exchange with your Bitcoin. While the most well respected exchanges have extensive security in place, it is worth remembering that the more third parties you expose your Bitcoin to, the more you are exposing your Bitcoin to a security breach. If you have your Bitcoin sitting at an exchange, you are trusting that exchange to safeguard your Bitcoin. Also, you are trusting that exchange to be functioning well enough to provide you access to that Bitcoin when you most need it. Weeks ago, as Bitcoin rallied in price, one of the exchanges closed down for hours as customers were trying to take profit on their Bitcoin trades and sell them for their local currency. With startup quality software development budgets that are a far cry from the trillion dollar Wall Street trading environment, it makes sense that the software at Bitcoin exchanges may be a little buggy, especially when massive amount of traffic inundates the trading platform. Paradoxically, this is when you most need the platform to be functioning in top condition. While a personal wallet may not help you sell the Bitcoin any more quickly, it gives you additional options since the Bitcoin is under your control rather than behind the paywall of an exchange that can at any moment need to shut down because traffic is too great. If Bitcoin drops $1,000 tomorrow or rallies $1,000, you are going to have more options if the Bitcoin sits in your personal wallet. A personal wallet means that you store those Bitcoin on your phone, computer, or in various offline forms of “cold storage.” Keep in mind as well that exchanges, being more established than a regular joe selling a Bitcoin here or there, are going to need to comply with the regulatory environment in the place they are domiciled and their customers are domiciled. Some Bitcoin exchanges will not want to deal with you if you give them a New York State address, because of the high level of government imposed regulation there. There is no surer way to be denied service with many Bitcoin companies than to provide a New York State address. The government imposed BitLicense which has decimated Bitcoin ventures in New York State has proven too much for some startups to want to deal with. This has been very pleasing to the established banks and financial institutions who support the regulatory environment of New York State and helps keep away competition. If your cousin lives in New Jersey and you live in New York, you might be a little safer from the bureaucrats if you ask your cousin to list his address as your own for purposes of opening up a Bitcoin trading account. The Bay Area (around the Northern California city of San Francisco) remains a prominent Bitcoin hub. However, California too is now beginning to move in the direction of stiff regulation akin to New York. For the same reason, some exchanges will not want to deal with you if you claim to be in the US at all, which is unfortunate, because the business of this developing industry has been chased out of the US to some extent. Regulations surrounding an American banking customer are so extensive and their punishments so severe that many foreign financial institutions want nothing to do with anyone providing a home address or banking address in the United States. Coinbase, at this time has no problem fielding both of those requests.

4. Person to person – The best way to get into Bitcoin is to sit down in a face to face conversation with someone you trust or someone who comes highly recommended. They are likely to give you the necessary time and steer you through all possible problems. By buying Bitcoin from a mentor like that who will introduce you to Bitcoin, you’ll likely be an expert in the cryptocurrency space in under a month. In the absence of a personal recommendation, you can look someone up on “local Bitcoins.” Though it carries risks, this I find to be the best of the options listed here because of the face-to-face attention you are likely to get. Of course people will be offered varying degrees of quality in their customer service experience. The Bitcoin community lends itself to this level of assistance though – it being a maker culture, built on evangelizing to newbies in order to facilitate understanding. As long as you can always live by the millennia old cautionary phrase – caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) – I most recommend this fourth option of the four listed here, because of the tremendous learning that is likely to happen if you find the right person.

Thank you as always Jon, for reading, and thank you for your question.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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The Groundbreaking Technology That Will Link Bratislava And Vienna

67172704 - monorail futuristic train in a tunnel. 3d renderingThis month’s 52 Weeks in Slovakia series on Bratislava, Bitcoin, and the tech sector is being done in connection with the launch of a new book by Allan Stevo – The Bitcoin Manifesto.

Hyperloop

June 17, 2017

Allan Stevo

As I’ve written previously, in the piece “The First in Europe” about Bitcoin ATMs – sometimes cutting edge technologies find their way into less established markets before finding their way to world class cities. This is the nature of trendiness, establishment sensibilities, and orthodoxy. Fringe cities are more open to fringe trends. Establishment cities are slower to adopt fringe trends. When those trends are adopted in establishment places, by establishment people, it is a sign that the trend has “made it,” at which point it ceases to be so cutting edge.

The non-establishment places and people get to serve as guinea pigs for the others, feeling out the trends that may come their way, in time they will eventually be “promoted” to acceptance by establishment places and people if they work well enough.

An invention known as a Hyperloop is one example, a theoretical idea that is believed to be able to transport people in less than 1/10th the time of a normal train – it has come under fire by some because its “inventor” Elon Musk proposed it in an August 12, 2013 white paper rather than prototyping it for the world to see and have proven.

The first five pages of the 57 page white paper entitled “Hyperloop Alpha,” are intended for a non technical audience and make for excellent reading.

Regardless of criticism, Musk’s white paper has launched an industry that is much larger than the author of the paper, and it was done without Musk having to spend his time prototyping the idea.

In theory, one hour of travel with an express train becomes as little as 5 minutes of travel with a Hyperloop.

Some think that the transportation technology promises to be so effective that a Hyperloop will one day circle the equator and transportation networks – Hyperloops and otherwise – will branch out from hubs along the equator.

As Digital Trends points out “There are of course drawbacks. Most notably, moving through a tube at such high speeds precludes large turns or changes in elevation. As a result, the system is optimal for straightforward trips across relatively level terrain.”

While many are interested, two companies have led the way in developing the technology – Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

What is an entrepreneur to do? Is he going to pay Tokyo real estate prices to house a prototype or make Londoners into guinea pigs or use New Yorkers to test the prototype in the hometown of the most prominent international media for all the world to see every hiccup?

No. Those people don’t want to have what’s truly cutting edge. They only want to feel like they have what’s cutting edge. Being guinea pigs has its advantages, but it mostly has its disadvantages, especially when it comes to technology. Being the first city with a Hyperloop is probably far worse than being the third city. The only likely advantage – a subsidized cost of travel. When all is said and done your city ends up littered with an aging piece of machinery that may or may not work, and which will definitely not work as well as the third or the eighth city to have that technology built. For a moment in time though, your corner of the world becomes cutting edge, a center of the world in the area of that one technology. It also becomes a part of history – a place that was willing to entertain the upstart and give the cutting edge a chance to prove their merits to the established interests of the world.

Bratislava and Vienna – two very close capital cities, with daily commuters back and forth, a common border, relatively flat terrain, and some level of international attention, have exhibited a willingness to be guinea pigs, to try something that feels like it could be significant. They will be home to the first Hyperloop connecting two cities. It will be built by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. Budapest will be included as well and Brno and Prague look like they will follow. The company is laying the groundwork for this technology to connect Central European cities with Bratislava as the hub.

HTT is a California based company, whose CEO has commented “We would love to see LA to San Francisco, but our primary goal is to build the Hyperloop.” The entrenched political and cultural establishment of California isn’t likely to be the site of a revolutionary transportation technology like the Hyperloop. It’s more likely to be home to something far more established and far less effective that feels cutting edge.

While the state of California is spending a projected phase one cost of $68 billion on one of the world’s slowest and most expensive high speed rail lines, which will travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in contrast Bratislava will have a new technology which mile-per-mile costs 1/10 as much to build (even by California prices) and is being privately funded.

Yes, that’s right.

Where will the hub of the first intercity operation of the amazing cutting edge technology called Hyperloop be housed ?

Bratislava, Slovakia.

Sometimes it pays to be an upstart.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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The First In Europe – Hunting Down Europe’s First Bitcoin ATM In Bratislava, Slovakia

This month’s 52 Weeks in Slovakia series on Bratislava, Bitcoin, and the tech sector is being done in connection with the launch of a new book by Allan Stevo – The Bitcoin Manifesto.

The Bratislava Bitcoin Bankomat

June 16, 2017

Allan Stevo

There’s something to be said about being established and respected and mainstream. There is also something to be said for being none of those things. Sometimes innovation simply misses the established entities and established places.

Those who are established don’t want or need the truly cutting edge and untested. It’s famously been said that “Necessity is the mother of invention” and places that are established tend to not have the same need to prove themselves as places that are not established. They want what has stood the test of time and the tests of popular culture and received some level of establishment credit.

This has positives and negatives to it. For example, this insistence brings a high level of quality to the established places – they don’t put up with the truly experimental. At the same time, it is also what puts world class places at risk of losing their first in the world status – they don’t put up with the truly experimental.

Rome, Vienna, and London all enjoyed center of the world status, a status they no longer enjoy. They were all once upstarts that came to be the center of the world, and they became comfortable in their role as an established place, eventually losing touch with what made them so worthy of being the center of the world. Every empire crumbles under the weight of being an empire, every first rate city, every first rate civilization crumbles under the weight of being number one.

When New York City and Washington DC were places barely worthy of mention, other cities dominated the global landscape. In all likelihood the weight of dominating will ensure that some upstart barely known today will come along and dominate, eventually placing New York and DC into the category of “once great” alongside the likes of Rome or Vienna.

While New York City heavily regulates new technologies such as Bitcoin, with laws like the Bit License, making it near impossible to run many types of Bitcoin business in that city, contrastingly, places that have little establishment credibility are becoming launching pads for new technologies.

Just steps from a main pedestrian thoroughfare in Bratislava, if you turn into a funky little passageway between two streets, a well maintained passage packed with neat little sculptures, you will find the first Bitcoin ATM in Europe.

A Bitcoin ATM allows a user to buy or sell Bitcoin in the local currency. Users may come to the machine with Bitcoin and receive the local currency or users may come to the machine with the local currency and receive Bitcoin. It’s a miniature mechanized Bitcoin exchange.

For those seeking to find the first Bitcoin ATM in Europe, that pedestrian passageway – the Bitcoin Passage – connects the buildings Gorkeho 3 and Laurinska 4. In the beautifully designed passageway are several businesses, between the restaurant Flamender and Lekaren pri Divadle (literally “the Pharmacy next to the Theater”) is where that Bitcoin ATM can be found.

Where was the first ATM for this cutting edge technology placed ?

Bratislava, Slovakia.

Sometimes there are benefits to not being established.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Why Britain Needs A Second Amendment

Self-Defense in the U.K.

June 15, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at The Libertarian Republic on May 26, 2017.”

Britain’s at war and the British people just don’t know it yet. Put as much military as you want on the street. It won’t change a thing. In uniform, the military merely show attackers what places to avoid. The military can’t be everywhere.

What’s the alternative? Mass deportation of Muslims? Even Muslims born at home? Closing of mosques with extremist imams? Government suppression does not work well in these moments. And to deport all Muslims would be an example of tyranny even if just one Muslim in all of the U.K. were not plotting an attack on his countrymen.

A problem caused by too much government imposition on a population cannot be solved with more government imposition on a population. It can only be solved by effectively releasing the governmental restrictions on society.

The amazingly resilient British people, who so bravely saw their society shaped by air raids and evacuations, can surely put up with a great deal of responsibility and rise to the occasion.

It is the responsibility of every British person to watch for trouble and to intervene in trouble, to train to identify trouble and to act on that training. It is not their responsibility to their government, it is not their responsibility because they are British, it is instead their responsibility to themselves and their loved ones because they are adults.

Britain’s terrible state subsidized immigration policy has led to this situation. And in a moment like this, British people have been prevented from defending themselves. Innocent people have been disarmed. Innocent people have been cajoled into believing that the bobbies will take care of everything for them.

Let a man be armed and he becomes that much more attuned to his surroundings. He becomes a more responsible man. His every step becomes more vigilant, because his every step becomes a step of consequence. The people of the U.K. deserve the right to keep and bear arms. Any other policy is a regressive step away from the Western focus on the importance of the individual. That focus is at the center of the beautiful grouping of culture we call Western culture.

As of now, many law-abiding people are walking around looking down at their iPhones. Just like any Western country. It’s a distracted situation that benefits the authorities. The unknown citizen need not ever learn to be a hero as far as the authorities are concerned. British poet W.H. Auden taught us that lesson. The authorities would prefer not to have to deal with the discomfort that their freedom would bring. More significantly than benefitting the authorities, it benefits those who would do innocent people harm.

The authorities are simply unable to be everywhere, no matter how much of a police state the UK becomes. The least they could do is allow the British population the right to self-defense.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: The Libertarian Republic

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What Is Erasmus? A Look At A European Union Student Exchange Program

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What is Erasmus? A Look At A European Union Student Exchange Program

June 13, 2017

Allan Stevo

Erasmus is a popular European Union exchange program among university students in Slovakia and throughout the EU. Prior to 1989, when their parents were college students, traveling abroad from Slovakia was very difficult, since the communist government of Czechoslovakia limited the movement of its people. Today another extreme has been reached – studying abroad has become very easy and is fully financed by the government often along with a generous food and housing allowance and travel stipends.

The Erasmus Programme was established by the European Union in 1987 and is targeted at undergraduate university students from across the European Union, though it appears that there are situations where those not yet in school or those pursuing postgraduate work can also participate in the program. The organization that oversees the program and other similar programs is called Erasmus+. The programs are named for the philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536), who was in turn named for St. Erasmus of Formia (or St. Elmo), the patron saint of sailors, and abdominal disorders.

Erasmus is intended to enrich students’ academic and personal lives, support intercultural experiences and promote solidarity, understanding and tolerance between citizens of the countries involved.

The higher education program is aimed at students who want to spend one or two semesters studying abroad. Erasmus is overseen by the European Commission, with a current annual budget of €489 million, or about $590 million.

Residents of all EU member countries and schools within those countries can fully participate in the Erasmus activities. They are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Students and schools in some non-EU member countries can also fully participate. They are: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Macedonia, and Turkey.

Additionally, there are students and schools in many other countries around the world that can participate in Erasmus programs to a limited extent.

In order to participate, the student’s home school must have bilateral agreements with partner universities abroad. The student can then select from the list of the partner schools and begin the process of where they will be assigned to study.

Switzerland has been suspended as a participant in Erasmus as of 2015, following the popular vote to limit the immigration of EU citizens into Switzerland. As a punishment, Swiss students will no longer be able to apply for Erasmus and students from outside of Switzerland will not be able to spend time at a Swiss university under that program. Swiss students and institutions may still participate under other Erasmus+ exchange programs.

Erasmus guarantees that all academic achievements and grades will be recognized while abroad, as long as students follow the terms of the bilateral agreements between the institutions. Usually the agreements state that students need to do the basics expected of a student: attend classes, hand in assignments, and pass exams. Their grades are then recognized by their home university although in some cases the home university might ask the student to pass additional exams after coming back, especially in cases when a class meets for more than just one semester and therefore requires a certain continuity. When a class at their home university is scheduled for two semesters and the student spends their first semester abroad, the student may be able to simply take an additional exam based on the coursework of the first semester in order to continue with his classmates in the second semester.

The program is free to the student and students may receive a grant that helps them cover any additional expense while studying abroad. Every country and every school has a different budget for Erasmus. The grant support also differs according to the chosen country. A grant for each month spent in the Czech Republic might be €300 and in Finland €500/month. The grants are intended to cover all expenses including housing, food, and transportation. Any additional expenses have to be covered by the student.
The grant amount may vary based on differences in living costs between the home country and the destination country, the number of students applying for a grant, the distance between countries, and the availability of other grants.

Irrespective of whether the students receive an “Erasmus+ Grant” or are “Erasmus+-zero-grant students,” they will sign a grant agreement specifying the duration of their mobility, the amount of the grant and other rights and obligations.

In some situations, the sending institutions will make the grant payments, in other situations, the sending or receiving institutions work out how grant payments will be made.

Erasmus+ students are exempted from fees for tuition, registration, examinations, and charges for access to laboratories or libraries at the receiving institution. Small fees for insurance or student union membership may still apply. Students may be eligible for additional grants from their institution, government or other sources.

Each school has only a limited number of free spots for Erasmus students each year. Students are selected for the program according to their study results and language tests. Students must finish at least two semesters at their home university before they can apply for Erasmus.

The number of students accepted differs from each country and university. The bigger a university, the more spots there are for Erasmus students. Erasmus numbers might range from 20 – 100 students/semester.

Each university has a deadline for applying, which is usually once a year.

Students are usually asked to pick at least two or three schools abroad for Erasmus, but the official program literature recommends choosing 10 to start. After their home university selects them for the program, they send out their applications to the chosen schools abroad. The schools abroad might reject the student if they don’t have enough slots available, but the student usually gets to go to at least one of the chosen universities on their list. After their home university selects the student for the program, the student is assured placement somewhere in the program, even if it may not be in a location that is the student’s first, second, or third choice.

Students can apply for Erasmus after finishing at least two semesters at their home university and after they are selected for the program based on their academic results and the results of a language test. Applying students can choose whether they want to study abroad during the winter semester or summer semester (or both). They can only spend a maximum of two semesters abroad over the course of their studies. Some universities offer programs for one semester only, some for the whole academic year.

Most areas of study are eligible for the program. In some cases, students might attend similar classes to what they study back at home, but not exactly the same. For example, when a student of film editing applies for a university that does not have a specific department for film editing they are asked to attend the program closest to their field of study like media or film studies.

Once again, students are asked to attend classes, do homework, and pass exams. In case they don’t abide by the terms of their Erasmus exchange, they might be expelled from the program or their home university might not accept their grades after they return from the exchange.

Most of the classes involved in Erasmus are taught in English. In some situations this option is not available. In that case, the exchange students might be asked to study in a different language such as French, Spanish, or Slovenian.

Students who don’t finish their exams and obligations at their home university before leaving for a semester abroad can’t participate in the exchange.

Some universities provide housing for exchange students in dormitories or may help students find housing. In other situations, students are asked to look for their own housing.

Every country usually has a student network of organizations dedicated to Erasmus exchange students. These organizations help the students with anything they might need after arriving for the program. Each student usually receives a tutor from the exchange school, who helps them with paperwork, finding housing, and getting around. Some of the organizations in exchange countries organize events for the students such as trips, parties, or conferences. Participating in these events is not obligatory for the exchange student.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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