Private Bank

Pictured above is a private bank. It carries a Swiss named, but it is owned 50% by the Swiss parent and 50% by a large Middle East Central Bank -- Arab oil money. This private offshore bank was established in this island paradise in 1957. It is for sale. The owners would let it go for $20 million dollars. It makes about $4 million in profit.

The group of companies that I work for, wants to buy it. It would definitely be a jewel in our crown. We already own money transfer companies, and I have unleashed my stored value payments card on the the Caribbean. We are bidding for a telephone company. In a couple of months, we intend to launch texting money by cell phone using SMS. The system of texting cash is over 85% complete now. It only makes sense to buy a bank to tie all of these business endeavors together.

I am keen on owning a Swiss offshore bank. I would have equity in it, and I would be the Chief Technology Officer, as I serve in that role for the entire group of companies. We would have to fire close to half of the staff and instantly it would become more profitable. They have recently downsized the bank, but not the employees, so there is a lot of redundancy.

This bank is very close to our favourite restaurant on the island. Whenever we go there at night for dinner, I park in the executive parking spots of the bank. I tell the Lovely One that soon this parking spot will be mine. She just shakes her head and laughs.

Buoy Meets Gull

This tropical paradise has lakes. But they are not like the lakes back home. These lakes are brackish -- part salty. Some of these lakes catch rain water and are mostly fresh. However salt water seeps from the ocean through the porous limestone that constitutes these islands, or sometimes the lakes are filled by tidal surge. At any rate there are lakes here.

Coming from the north, it is bizarre to see these lakes unused. There are no boats, or swimmers or water sports. There are million dollar homes by the lake, but nothing else. That's not quite true. There are the gulls.

They are not the ring beak gulls that we see back home. They have black heads. They glide gracefully in the sea breeze. And they are in the thousands around the salt lakes. This salt lake is along the road from the airport.

Every Shoe Tells a Story

One of our favourite places on the ocean, is The Beach Club. The food is fabulous. The drinks are wonderful. The view is superb. It is a place in the sun. They have a wood-fired pizza oven as well.

During the day, the music plays, and young people gather on the beach. They swim and take in the rays, while us oldsters sit under the pale blue umbrellas with tables set with real linen tablecloths.

During the night, the Beach Club hops. And it hops with a crowd that is much younger than the Lovely One and I. For us oldsters, the music needs to have a tune, and the volume needs to be a few notches lower than the volume that they set -- the setting which can be heard all the way to Miami. So we vacate the premises while the sun is still up.

The last time that we were there, we walked down the Beach Club circular drive to where our Beamer was parked. As I am walking by the balustrade, I see the shoe. It is an expensive lady's shoe made of fine Italian leather. It looks like a left foot shoe.

Immediately all sorts of questions come to mind. Where is its mate? Was the woman walking on the beach and she dropped it, or was she too drunk to notice that she lost a shoe. How do you lose a shoe and not know it? This is a fine Italian shoe. How does a single shoe go missing? Every shoe has a story, but this shoe gave no clues to its story. This is particularly intriguing because the shoe is (was) expensive and valuable.

The Lucayan Artifact

Last Monday was a national holiday in this Caribbean country. It was called Whit Monday. The Lovely One and I took off to this secluded beach in a national park. We took a picnic lunch, refreshments and all of our beach equipment. We had a marvellous day.

The Lovely One and I decided to go snorkelling. As we were walking along the beach, I found a grey old piece of coral. It was a cylinder about 5 inches long, and the top of it was carved with a knob. It looked like a version those old clothes pegs -- the type without the hinge.

I picked up it, showed it to the Lovely One and pitched it aside. I didn't think much more of it. Then after snorkelling, the Lovely One and I went for a walk. This area is a heritage historic national park. We were reading the historic plaques along the walkway.

We came along to one explaining a ruined stone house, as that of a plantation owner from 1785 who owned slaves. Then we came across another plaque saying that this very beach was the home of the Lucayan Indians from 1000 AD to 1500 AD. The Lucayans are a Spanish name for the Arawak Indians, and the word is somehow deriviative of a word for Village People. I immediately started singing " Y ... M .... C ..... A". After all, the Village People have an Indian as well. The Lovely One has learned to ignore me.

Anyway, the plaque also had depictions of some of the artifacts that archeologists had found. Since the Lucayanas didn't have access to hard stone for tools, they carved coral. They showed a coral tool. It was exactly the thing that I picked up on the beach and casually tossed away.

I went back to try and find my priceless historic artifact that could have been 1000 years old. No dice. I search high and low on the beach, and I couldn't find it again. There is no sense and going back and looking for it, because the tides will wash it away. This was the closest that I have ever been to owning a prehistoric tool.

Screaming in the Snorkel

The Lovely One and I went to Jaws Beach last weekend. In the pic above, you will see my fins, and in the lower left, you will see my spear standing up in the sand. We found our own little secluded beach. The water was crystal emerald, and we leisurely swam 100 yards to the reef.

The bottom was about 14 feet dropping to thirty feet of water with a white sand bottom. As we swam towards the reef, we would see rising columns of coral. The fish life around them was phenomenal. The fish were painted all of the madcap colours of the spectrum. As we snorkelled over a particularly deep hole, we saw the wreck of a small aircraft under water. It was eerie. The tail piece was missing. It was a twin engine plane and the propellers were bent. The pilot had died, and they ripped off the roof of the plane to retrieve the body. The whole plane was covered with algae, and the fish swam in and out of the fuselage.

Proceeding a bit further on, we were mobbed by schools and waves and waves of fish. It freaked the Lovely One out. She was holding on to me, trying to climb on my back, and screaming in her snorkel. As it turned out, a local dive company used this spot to bring divers. They feed the fish so that the divers will have something to see. The fish see us and immediately think FOOD! There were some awfully big fish, and I was wishing that I hadn't left my spear on the shore.

What I didn't tell the Lovely One at the time was that the steel barred box at the bottom was a shark cage. This same company feeds the sharks, and if a shark gets too rowdy, the diver seeks refuge in the shark cage on the bottom. There is a reason why the beach is called Jaws Beach.

I made the mistake of telling the Lovely One about the shark cage after we were safely back on shore. Now she doesn't want to go back.

Banana Rama

The Lovely One and I went daytripping to the western end of the island on the weekend. We stopped to eat lunch at this wonderful gourmet spot in the middle of nowhere. It is actually a farm, and they created a restaurant area outside the store which sells gourmet vegetables grown on the farm.

The eating area is a fabulous place. It is a tropical oasis with almost every kind of greenery all over the place. Lush plants are mixed with a fountain and walkways, and the tables are interspersed in the greenery.

As I was enjoying a pork tenderloin basalmic sandwich and a salad, I spotted this baby bunch of bananas. Before, I would tell all and sundry that I have never seen a bunch of bananas growing in this tropical paradise. I can no longer say that, and the proof is in the picture above.

Jellyfish

Some orange jellyfish that I snapped at The Reef


The ocean has been rough for days. In some spots on the beach in our backyard, the breakers have reached 6 to 8 feet high. You can hear the roar of the ocean a long way off. You can see the waves breaking over the cays a mile offshore.

When I get into the ocean in these conditions, I get sea sick. First of all, visibility is not that good. Then the waves toss you to and fro. The waves pull you back, and push you forward, ten to 12 feet at a time. And then you rise and fall with the waves. Your snorkel barrel is swamped and you swallow salt water. And soon, due to the gyrating visuals, you are sea sick.

But there is another unpleasantness in the rough surf. The roily waves break off the tentacles of jelly fish. They are long and transparent. And for even hours and days after they have broken off the jelly fish, they can sting you.

When I first started swimming in the waves, I would emerge on the beach with these huge welts that stung like crazy. They always got me on the underarms, on my back, on my forearms -- essentially the leading edges of where you body touches the waves as you swim in the rough surf.

Eventually, I was stung so many times that I have become accustomed to the venom. The sting of the tentacles do not raise huge welts anymore. I get out of the water, and I idly notice a sting. By the time that I am at the beach entrance, I no longer feel it and the red marks on my skin are gone.

I still get stung a lot by the coral. There are little stinger things all over, and when I dive for golf balls and accidentally brush against it, it still stings. And I am not acclimatized to that. The stings cause the skin to slough off and I have a scab for a few days that leaves a small scar. My arms and hands are peppered up and down with war wounds from the coral reef.

I used to get stung by the spiny sea urchins as well. One day the spine broke off in my skin, and it irritated me for three days. Finally I googled "sea urchin stings". I was dismayed to learn that sometimes surgery is required to remove the spine. The same page stated that ordinary vinegar dissolves the stinger, and hot water neutralizes the venom. I immediately dumped out a bowl of vinegar and within two minutes, three days of pain disappeared. I held the lesion under hot water, and sure enough the venom was neutralized. Three days of suffering for nothing. Google is your friend.

Biological Random Number Generator

The idea of random numbers has been on my mind lately. In my electronic payments card, I have to scramble the amount of money that is written into the memory of the card. I also have to make it unreadable if someone should buy an electronic reader for our money cards. So I scramble it all up, and part of that process involves generating random numbers.

Now computer experts will tell you that even though there is a random number generator in every computer, it isn't truly random. If you examine its output over a long period of time, you will see it's bias or what numbers it prefers to spit out. This is not true randomness.

I think that I may have come up with a biological random number generator. I don't know what kind of plant that is above, but it generates random numbers. I have examined a bush near our fence wall, and I have discovered that it generates anywhere from 1 to 10 leaf stalks randomly. I check to make sure that the randomness was not due to leaf damage, bugs, someone pulling leafs off. Sure enough, it appears to be random.

Now I am not sure that if in the long run there is some sort of bias or settling on an average number. I would like to test this, but it would involve pulling up a lot of these plants and bringing them to the patio. Then I would have to count the leaves. Somehow I don't think that the Lovely One would see the scientific value of me filling the patio with leaves and counting them. I suffer for the science that goes on in my head, in the name of a tidy patio. I am scientifically repressed by the Lovely One.

Although having scientific and intellectual freedom is a heady idea, the Lovely One with a single kiss -- trumps it all.

Feral Friends

Our feral cats have been with us for five months now. You know that you are in trouble when you start naming them. Some of them have pretty generic names. Big Guy is a big black and white guy. We trapped him and a local organisation had him fixed to prevent the propagation of little Big Guys.

Big Guy's daughter is around. We call her Toby because she reminds me of the black and white dog that I left behind in the north. We have Ginger who is a huge ginger coloured cat. And Gray Face is a punk who is always fighting, full of scratches across his face and he bullies the other cats. We have Sarah, the only one with a decent name. She is fixed.

And then there is Little Girl. She is a runt and scared of her own shadow. The Lovely One and I suspect that she is sickly. When she came to us, her coat was rough, and she coughed up furballs all over, as well as cat food. The Lovely One has been supplementing her food with meat, egg, fish and other treats. She was so afraid, that she spent her entire time in our patio. However, now I see her by the pool when I go for my late-night swim before bed. Her coat is now shiny and she is much more active and assertive. Little Girl's mother shows up occasionally, and when Little Girl tries to cosy up, she gets a swipe up the side of the head.

And that is the interesting thing about cats. They slap each other around with the forepaw. They even threaten other cats by raising their paw. This seems to be a very human trait. Humans slap each other, even in play, and even threaten to slap by raising their hands. We see this trait most often when one kitty attempts to horn in on the food while another one is eating.

As previously mentioned, we are not cat people and resent the fact that feeding the cat was thrust upon us. However Little Girl has gotten under our skin, to the point where the Lovely One talks baby talk to her. She wants to trap Little Girl to take her with us when we leave. I am not so sure about that.

Primitive Island Art

The 350-some days of sun affects how the islanders see themselves, see colour, light and how they portray life around them. The above was spotted in the window of an out islands house. It is a primitive dodecatych, or twelve panel painting entitled "Market Daze".

It is an interesting study because the Naive Style is the way that most of the self-taught islanders paint. There are no gradations of color. There are no shadows and the perspective is primitive. One of the most famous island artists is widely collected and his canvases go over $25,000. He depicts island life from a simpler time, and it is all in the style above. Many of his canvases are Biblical scenes that hang in the local churches, and these churches will have a major cash windfall should they choose to divest their artwork.

The Lovely One and I are determined that we will collect some island artwork before the prices go through the roof. We want pieces that remind us of the sea, sand, trees, and village life with the goats, chickens and donkeys. When we examined the piece above, we found it to be painted on cut up bushel basket. How apt, considering the title is "Market Daze".

Doorways and Fonts

I realize how lucky that I am to be living in the tropics and doing the fulfilling work that I do. And it was brought home to me yesterday in about 15 feet of water just off Snorkeler's Reef. I met a guy that I hadn't seen for over 30 years. We shook hands while treading water. He was in my sister's class in highschool. He is a successful lawyer, and he asked me what I was doing in the tropics, other than enjoying the sun, sand, sea, etc. I enjoy this all, but I enjoy the colours of the tropics made brilliant by the continuous sunshine.

Being a visual person, one of the things that strikes me the most is the rich colour of the landscape. You have seen it in the palettes that I have posted, and the islanders use it everywhere -- on doors, signs, buildings and even colour the concrete.

I was photographing a series of doors, and I came upon the door to the woman's washroom. It reminded me of an idea that I had long ago that I have never had time to try and code up and test the concept. It is the idea of click-and-pull variable fonts. Take a look at the sign. The "W" and the "N" are larger than the "OME" in between. One can do that now by typing the word out and selecting the individual letter an changing the font characteristic. But one has to go to the menu, and you are restricting the by size in true type fonts. For example, you can get a size 12 font and a size 15 font, but you cannot get a size 12 and 1/2.

Similarly, the font has to be straight up and down. If you wanted to rotate the W slightly backwards you couldn't. With my idea, you would have a full range of transform functions on the font letters. You could skew them, rotate them, change their perspective, and do just about anything to them. When those fonts are available, remember that you read the idea here first.

Another whimsical idea that I had, was the animated desktop icons. Not only could they display stationary motion, but they would move across your desktop as well. They would be like a wallpaper or screen saver. When the screensaver kicks in, the icons could attack and eat each other like Pac Man or chase each other around the screen. I believe that you will see this one day soon in the computer world as well.

Maybe I should stop giving these ideas away, and do them for myself. However inventing stuff for the payments field keeps me busy enough. There is a certain cachet to writing software that handles large volumes of money.

Potcakes


There was a guy on the beach. He looked like an indigent. He was skinny as a rake. His clothes were all wet. He had been swimming in his clothes and he dragged the puppies in with him as well. The puppies were covered in sand and shivering. The golden one (to the left) had a collar way too big for it, and it dragged him down.

The man was almost incoherent. He was rubbing his feet in the sand at the shore. He said that he was getting rid of callouses. The man said that he was a musician. He played the steel drum. I asked him when his last gig was, and he said two weeks ago. I asked him how old the puppies were. He said one was seven months old and one was 9 months old. He was either confused or wrong or lying. They were much younger than that. He dragged them around by their collars which were a heavy burden for the wet shivering puppies.

On this island, wild dogs are called potcakes. They are called that because they are fed cornbread scrapings from the pot, after Johnny Cake is cooked. They are treated poorly. Every wild animal will run from you because they have been kicked, beaten or had things thrown at them. It is easy to tame a potcake however, because dogs are smart and loyal. This guy did not deserve the two dogs. It is useless to call the humane society. They do not have the same empathy for animals that we do. I suspect that it is a cultural thing.

The man in this picture asked me to buy him a soda, because the day was hot, and walk back was long. Instead I gave him $10, hoping that he would at least buy some dog food, or he would buy food and the dogs would get the scraps. I somehow doubt it.

Aptitude Test

The Lovely One snapped this pic yesterday. This says it all about how the sleepy tropics used to be. The main drag is busy and dirty, but there are some quiet spots on the island. Contrast this to next week, where I may be in New York with a team to valuate some telecom assets in the Caribbean. It's been a while since I have been to New York, and I look forward to see how I will react going from the tropics to the Big Apple.

Speaking of the tropics, I am in a hiring mode. I want to hire some programmers. Since the schools here do not teach J2EE, and object oriented programming, I figure that I will hire bright people and give them on the job training. The first interview did not go well. The young man didn't seem to have any aptitude at all.

To see if they have critical thinking skills, I devised a simple test. Some of the test is whimsical. Some of it is trivial. I will give them 15 minutes to do it. Could you pass my test? Here are the questions:

1.A ball and bat costs $1.10. If the ball costs $1 more than the bat, what is the cost of each.

2.What is the next number in the series 1,1,2,3,5,8,...

3.A fisherman was asked how long was the fish he had caught. He said "it is 30 inches plus half its length" How long was the fish?

4.If 5 machines build 5 widgets in 5 minutes, how long will 100 machines take to build 100 widgets?

5.There are 8 Apples on the table, you take 3. How many do you have?

6."I will bet you $1" said Fred, "that if you give me $2, I will give you $3 in return." "Done," replied Tom. Who is the winner in this scenario and why?

7.There are 10 Birds in a field. 2 were shot, how many were left?

8.At a round robin tennis tournament, players are matched against each other for a game. The winner of each game continues on. The losers must drop out of the tournament. How many matches are required to be played to determine a winner if 47 players are in the tournament.

9.You are participating in a race. You overtake the second person. What position are you in?

10.Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Add another 1000. Now add 20. Now add another 1000. Now add 10. What is the total?

11.What do you do if your computer screen shuts off every time consistently after 20 minutes?

12.How do you copy your computer screen and paste it?

13.What is the keyboard command to paste?

14.What is a firewall?

15.What does RAID stand for?

Shell Game

The title of this pic "Shell Game" speaks for itself.

The little boy is sitting in a huge concrete chair which is covered in seashells. This chair is at the entrance of a huge limestone grotto or cave network. The whole area is called "The Caves".

I took a visiting colleague to The Caves. Inside a cave was a wild goat that was injured in the hind leg. He couldn't move very well and was trapped in there. The next time that I went, the goat was gone. I am willing to be that the goat ended up in a curry pot.

Electronic Farebox

So this is it. This is the console of the bus fare system that I have been working on for the past 151 calendar days. It is a system comprising of RFID (radio frequency id) tag with antenna and a computer chip buried in a plastic card the size of a credit card. It is a stored-value card that carries actual money in electronic form. We limit the cash to $25 in case you lose your card. If someone finds your card, it is exactly like finding money.

To start the day, the bus driver logs in by tapping his ID card on the farebox. The driver information, bus information, and route information is written into the system registry from the driver's card. Then the passengers come into the bus, and tap their card on an electronic farebox near the door. The farebox electrifies the chip, queries the data on the chip, sends it to the driver's console pictured above where the fare is subtracted. If there is enough money on the card, the big green check mark becomes visible for one second, and the number of fares left on the card is displayed. If not, the stop sign is shown.

The little lights are for normal communication over Bluetooth with the farebox, and the red signals that the console is sending all of the fare information back to our big computer system at the office. The "X" comes on if the transmission is interupted.
When a passenger taps his or her card, much information is recorded -- the time of day, the bus, the driver, the card number etc etc. And our company does not sell this system, we rent it out and get a very small percentage of the fare, however spread over a year, it amounts to a lot of money.

It is very gratifying for me, because I designed this system from start to finish. Last October, I sketched this out on the back of a Starbucks napkin to our president who was visiting up north for a conference. I was not part of the company yet. The company hired me to build out the system. They gave me shares in the system. It has been a remarkable experience for me. My shares were recently valued. They have grown significantly in value since this project began.

This has been a very worthwhile project for me, and it is immensely satisfying to see your scribblings on the back of a napkin actually working on the streets of a tropical paradise.