Summer At Home

I was home for only a very very short period this summer. Most of the time I spent it in the hot tropics working. However the time up north was intense quality time. In the pic above, the Lovely One and I are having a picnic overlooking a marina and a bay in wine country.

We had gone to a fine food emporium and bought some wonderful cheese, olives, a bread and spreads. Since we were in wine country, we bought a bottle of wine that reminded the Lovely One of her time in France. The rose wine did taste like Provence in a bottle.

The thing that struck us, was that such a 'en plein air' feast is virtually impossible here in the tropics. The quality of food is the pits. Gourmet foods like we had would cost an arm and a leg -- up to 5 or ten times the cost of what we paid for it. Red wine in the tropics sits on a hot dock and is 'cooked' destroying it delicate bouquet and flavours.

The nice thing about the picnic, was that the Lovely One and I both realized how lucky we were to even be there. This would be totally impossible to replicate in the tropics.

Tropical Storm Fay

We are being blasted by Tropical Storm Fay. The sky is black, and the rain has been falling continously for 10 hours. Streets are flooded. On the way to work, one particular puddle was so deep that water was coming over the Beamer hood and the engine started to gurgle. Thank goodness it is a BMW otherwise the car would have stalled and the water level was above the door line.

The kitties were all wet and cold. The rain had been driven by the winds under the awning and their food bowl was saturated. When the Lovely One fed them this morning, they were extremely hungry and miserable-looking.

Right now, it is raining cats and dogs. The sky is black and there is water everywhere. The city is flooded. One major business meeting of mine has been cancelled. The amazing thing is that the power goes out at a moment's notice and has not gone out yet.

The news is reporting that 35 people have died across the Caribbean because of tropical storm Fay. Thank goodness that Fay is not a category one hurricane. However there is another tropical depression over the Atlantic that is looking very ominous.

Tourist Arrivals

The tourism figures have just been posted for the first five months of 2008, Over two million people came to these shores. The exact figure is 2,038,614. That is 407,723 people per month. That is 13,591 people per day. A population of a small town descends on us every day.

Extracting a dollar from just 10% of them a day would make you a fair chunk of change.

Shhhh, quiet, I am thinking of an angle.

Random Musings

Random Musings in a tropical paradise:

1) For a third world Caribbean country, I find more pennies on the streets than I do up north where folks are much more affluent.

2) People take their time about doing almost everything in the Caribbean. So why do they drive like maniacs? Are they rushing to procrasinate in a new spot?

3) People treat their cars like crap. I do not see a lot of nice cars on the island.

4) I have never really had a GREAT cheeseburger in paradise. The merely good ones cost $14.00.

5) Bread is $2.00 a loaf. A bullet is $1.50.

6) A hibiscus shrub (pictured above) is a weed, whereas up north, it is a valuable houseplant.

7) Lunch time on this island doesn't start until 1:00 PM and most often is around 3:00 PM.

8) There are no straight roads on the island.

9) Tropical fruit costs more here than it does in a North American supermarket.

10) Tourists use limes only with booze. Everyone else here uses limes to cook meats and fish.

I have a whole pile more musings, but I think that I have caught island fever. I will write them tomorrow (if at all). Time to go to the beach.

The Cannons Don't Thunder

I was working late last week and I had the tunes cranked in the office. In my playlist, there is a song by Jimmy Buffett called "A Pirate Looks at Forty". In that song he wrote:

Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

Buffett's genre is tropical rock. He laments arriving too late to sail the ocean, plunder treasure and live the high life.

As far as I am concerned, the pirates of the Caribbean shtik is a little over-done. We have Pirates of the Caribbean souvenir shops, Pirates of the Caribbean restaurants, Pirates of the Caribbean museums, and many many imitators and incarnations of a well worn theme.

However, the Caribbean tropics did get the reputation honestly. The first governor of these islands was a pirate. And there are forts scattered throughout the island to protect from the pirates. The above pic is one that the Lovely One took of Fort Fincastle. The fort and cannons are at least a couple of hundred years old, and the cannons are now aimed at cruise ships.

There are still pirates of the Caribbean as well. They occupy the shops downtown, and infest the government and every strata of society in this island nation. They now wear business suits.

My Solar Playground

This is the piece of rock where I can build my solar experiment on. When I get the time, I hope to build a solar furnace -- a very large array of mirrors that will purify sea water by distilling it, using the sun's rays as the energy source.

I hope to make it a self-operating, self-sustaining operation that creates fresh drinking water out of sea water. I think that it is exciting that I have been given the use of this rock in the sea to test my ideas.

Now, I just have to find the time to do the actual experimentation.

Illiteracy at Election Time

The equivalency of civic elections occurred in the islands. A whole section of the newspaper was devoted to the list of candidates on each island. However, there is a large segment of the population that is either illiterate, or does not speak English. They speak Haitian Creole. As a matter of fact, some gas stations are now advertizing in Haitian Creole.

Since many people cannot read, at the polling station they have a board with the pictures of the candidates. Opposite their pictures is a clip art symbol. This allows the illiterate voter to match his or her vote to the person they want to vote for and the ballot itself.

I personally have never seen voting conducted this way before. I have seen the joke floating on the internet. It is a picture of a billboard, and on the billboard it says "Are you illiterate? Write for help now!"

Shark Trotline

While on a small outer cay (cays are small coral islands-- pronounced keys -- as in Florida Keys), I came upon a shark trotline. Someone was fishing for shark. A trotline is a passive way to fish. The very large hook is attached to a three foot piece of cable which is attached to a chain and securely fastened to shore.

The hook is baited with an inedible fish or a piece of meat. The bait is wired to the hook with picture frame wire to keep it in place. The whole thing is chucked into the ocean and the area is chummed. Chumming involves getting fish guts, blood and heads all steeped in oil and left to marinate. Then it is dumped in the ocean around the baited hook. The smell attracts sharks.

The shark can be a nocturnal creature, and this is set out in the evening. The line is checked in the morning and the shark is hauled in. Shark steaks are popular, and the fins are sold to Asian buyers who pay a premium for the main ingredient of shark fin soup which is a delicacy.

Judging by the shape of this trotline rig, it hadn't been used in at least a year.

Haitian Marriage Certificate

Note: If you came to this page looking for Haitian Marriage laws, kindly follow this link:,M1

Our core company is a money transfer company. One of our major revenues is remittances. This is the transfer of money from residents of a country who have left and send money back home. Remittances are particularly large in this part of the world because Haiti is a failed state. It it were not for remittances by Haitians who have escaped the country, Haiti would have a negative Gross Domestic Product. Approximately 8 billion dollars flows to Haiti from legal and illegal Haitian immigrants.

As part of our money transfer business, we must adhere to anti-money laundering rules imposed by the Central Bank and by international bodies such as the IMF, the OECD and the FATF or the Financial Action Task Force. Part of those rules encompass a principle called "KYC" or know your customer. As a result, anyone wanting to transfer money must appear in person with photo id. We also require id for the recipient. We get some strange IDs.

I am the only person in the office who reads, writes and speaks French. French is the official language of Haiti, although they mostly speak Krayole, or Creole, a French native patois. Consequently, when the above document came in yesterday, I was asked to translate it. It is a fascinating sociological glimpse into the bureaucracy of the Caribbean French. It is a marriage certificate. It reads as follows:

Liberty Egalitarianism Fraternity

Republic of Haiti
Extracts for the Marriage Registry Acts of La Tortue,
deposited in the Office of the National Archives of the Republic Community:
La TortueOffice: North Office
File Number 65
Year 2001
Register ELZZ
Page 33-1
In 2001, the 198th year of Independence and Monday the thirtieth of December at ten oclock in the morning.

I, Gabriel Santiague, Civil Officer of State for the village of La Tortue, have seen the instruments sent by the Reverend ... Wesner, which conforms to the 6th article of the 16th of December, 1929, modified by the law of January 26, 1945

Let us note, and register and certify that before the marriage banns were duly done, no opposition was signified (indicated) by the aforesaid religious minister.

Mr. Franciler Utile, age 54 years, born in Servilie April 2, 1950, living in Nassau Bahamas, son of Mercius Uitle, died in Exalucia Saint Vil, who lives in Servilie la Tortue, stipulates in his own name in the first part ...

And Lamanie Agathe Lordeus, age 54 years old, born in Servie, living in the village of La Tortue, daughter of Fatera Lordeus, died living in .... and Fercilia Fertil, living in Montry, stipulates on behalf of herself for the second part..

presented themselves on the 22nd of April at 9:00 o'clock in the morning at the Montry church to enter into the contract of marriage.

At the question of consent taken by both spouses, they responded separately and affirmatively in the presence of the aforesaid Minister of Religion and of 1) Elifane Louis, age 48 and living in Servilie2) Louissette Cius, age 35, living in Port-de-Paix(the witnesses)
They are thus united in marriage.

The act (document) drawn up by the aforesaid Minister of Religion and signed by him alone.In witness, we have drawn up and signed the present document, conforming to the law.Recieved by the Head Tax OfficeOfficerGSArchives of Haiti stamps

Consider (this stamp) only for the legalization (authenticity) of Mr JN Wilfrid Bertrand, Director General of the Archives of Haiti
Reciept Number
Docketed the 29th of March 2007
Madame Carolle Perrin Aimable
Deputy Commissar of Government Registration
Considered only for the authentication of
>.....Minister of Foreign Affairs,Port au Prince, 4 April 2007

Private Island

I had an incredibly unique experience yesterday (Sunday). A business associate owns a private island resort. It hasn't operated for over a year, and he is anxious to get it up and running again. We took a boat trip to the island. The spray splashed over the bow of the boat on the trip over, the sun was shining, and it was an superbly beautiful day.

I was consulted as to some technology matters. We walked the entire island. At one end, there was this lighthouse lookout that will also be an art gallery:

The live-in security guard/caretaker has an inflatable mattress and he spreads it on the third floor of the lighthouse, opens the windows and the fresh sea breeze keeps him cool all night. The salt breeze is wonderful and fresh atop the lighthouse.

At one point, the island had a stingray pen, but the owner thought that the idea of a stingray pen was repulsive so it was taken down.

As I walked the island, I was aware of the incredible infrastructure required for this -- reverse osmosis desalination, generators, refrigeration, lighting, piping etc, and how difficult it was to build or renovate on an island.

One of my pet ideas is a solar distillation plant, and the owner said that he would give me a quarter acre piece of rock sticking out of the sea off the point to build and test my solar ideas. Now that excites me more than compute technology. The only proviso is that my pipes have to be underwater so as not to ruin the view from the luxury cottages.

After a day on the island, as we pulled into the harbour, I could not believe how materially my life had changed in the short half year that I have been in the tropics. In the previous incarnation of my life, I would have to be a paying guest to a private island, instead of a technology consultant. It is things like this that have made my life in the tropics like a kid in a candy store.

Attack of the PDA's

This is what my desk looked at last night. Our technician brought in a pile of HP IPAQ Classic 110 PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). We use them to process the money cards for paying bus fare in the buses of this island nation. They were all non-functional in the fact that they couldn't connect to our WiFi service that we put in. The WiFi is used to transmit the fare data to our offices.

The reason that the PDAs could not connect was that the bus drivers screwed them up. For many of the bus drivers, this was the first piece of computer equipment they have ever had. It didn't take them long for them and their friends to figure out how to connect to the internet, get email and such. One driver even used up the entire memory space by recording a three hour sermon at some evangelical revival.

We set up the PDAs such that when they recognized one of our WiFi hotspots, they would connect. Unfortunately the drivers reconfigured them to connect to other service providers. These settings are written somewhere in the registry of the PDA. Even though I went searching through the registry with an editor, I couldn't find all of the wrong configurations. Hence, I needed to find a quick way to wipe an IPAQ clean and restore it to factory condition.

The documentation was poor in this respect, but I found a way. It is illustrated below:

You have to depress the "Windows", "OK" and "Record" button together with one hand. Then with the other hand, you need to take the stylus (or a pen) and depress the recessed "Soft Reset" button, and hold all of the buttons down for 3 to 5 seconds. Then you let go of the "Soft Reset" button first. You watch for the green letters "CLEAN BOOT" come up and you can let go of the rest of the buttons. This wipes out everything. If you have installed other programs, or created other directories, they are gone. All of the settings are gone.

However, the registry is wiped clean as well, and the IPAQ works like a charm again. (Notice the time on my watch. This is after midnight. I left about 15 minutes after that, and went swimming in the pool for half an hour to wipe away the day).