Tales and thoughts from the founder of NormSoft (maker of Pocket Tunes), working and living in St. Croix, USVI

Monday, December 12, 2005

Phone's Dead

Well apparently we've been lucky.  Since we've gotten here, our phone has never been out.  All of our friends who are also newcomers to the island have been complaining about how often and how long their phones go out for.  Well today we finally got hit, and our phone is dead.

Luckily we've been preparing for this ocassion, and we have 3 backup plans (before we go to smoke signals, that is).  Gerald and I have two cell phones on different networks (which are working great).  Plus we have an Internet phone number through Skype.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

4,000 lbs of stuff

We recently decided to sell our house in Millis and move to St. Croix full-time.  (If you're interested in a beautiful 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath house on a private lot with a gurgling brook in Millis, MA, send me an email, and I'll hook you up with our realtor!)

Part of that meant moving all our stuff.  We decided not to move any furniture (except for one piece).  So we expected that there wouldn't be very much stuff.  Well, after piling up books, computers, games, CDs, treadmills, TVs, and kitchen appliances, the total rang in around 4,000 lbs!

We used Allied Van Lines to move.  They came to our house in Millis and carefully packed up every piece.  The movers were phenomenal; very careful, friendly, and professional.  They packed everything into large wooden boxes, which would then be placed into a cargo container and put on a ship.  Then the ship sails from Boston to St. Croix, and they unload it when it arrives and bring it to our house.

It's just arrived, so now we have cardboard boxes all over our house waiting to unpack.

Monday, December 05, 2005

How Not to Change a Tire

This one's from Gerald...

Every once in a while. Just every once in a while. Why can't a simple thing in my life be simple???

Tim and I have been planning to put new tires on the truck for about a month, then Brien and Susan came down. We all know what happened then! Woopie, new baby!

Last night we went out to dinner at Cheeseburgers in Paradise with some friends down from MA for the week. Gravel parking lot. Screw in the tire. Ok, made it home safely with no flat. Scotty (one of the friends from MA) was going to come by this morning, run to the auto store to pick up a patch plug kit. He came by but the tire was holding air so we decided it would probably be ok if I drove on it again to go buy new tires. So I did, but...(here's where it starts to get complicated!)

The guy who sells tires doesn't mount tires. This is St. Croix. You go to the tire guy, buy your tires, then go to a tire "shop" to get them mounted. Seems simple enough, right? Simple unless you have a screw in your tire.

I made it to the tire guy, bought 4 new tires. Headed off to the tire shop to get them mounted. Got less than a mile and had a flat. How on earth did that happen you might ask? Well, dumbass me was driving with a screw in the tire (I really thought you'd get that one.).

So I pull into a shopping plaza. Called Tim. Asked him to call Scotty to come help me. He couldn't reach Scotty by phone, so he rode his bike down to their house. No one home. He rode back to our house to call me. I told him to call our friend Julie. Surely she could help or know someone who could. Her assistant Jill picked Tim up and brought him to me so we could change the tire. Oh...but we couldn't find the tool you use to lower the spare from under the truck! Yeah, ok, still with me?

So Jill calls Honnie, our realtor here. Honnie has this woman who changes her flats for her, so she called the woman to come help us. Woman calls me on cell, I tell her where to find me. She comes but it took her over an hour to change the tire. I swear, it must have been the first truck tire she'd ever changed. She didn't have a clue. But imagine if you will, Tim and I standing there watching this woman crawl around on the ground changing our tire...there's a picture for you!

Anyway, she finally got the tire changed so we got on our way to the tire shop. He got us in relatively quickly, put the spare back under the truck, mounted and balanced the new tires in about 45 minutes and we were off! Finally! Headed home to clean up, relax, and figure out what we would do for supper.

About a mile from the tire shop we go around a curve and hear a sound like we had clipped an aluminum can and sent it scurrying off across the road. Hmmmm. Ok, next curve same sound, except much louder and this time accompanied by some very alarming clacking noises. Oh yeah, this is Gerald's life. So I whip into the parking lot of a closed Feed store before the tire could fall off. It nearly had. The lug nuts were barely hanging on. So Tim gets out the lug wrench and proceeds to tighten down all the lug nuts.

Yes, we actually DID make it home and are about to go have some supper. But an hour or two errand turned in to an all day affair for me with drama at every turn, literally. Such is my life. Please...trade me???

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Blowout party in St. Croix

Gerald is planning a huge party for my 30th birthday.  He's got space reserved at the Cormorant Beach Club in St. Croix for hors d'ouevres and drinks.  And, he's reserved B & the Buzz, a phenomenal high-energy jazz band!  The party is scheduled for 8pm-12am January 15, 2006.  Guests can arrive around 7pm.  If you'd like to come, send me an email, and I'll send more details!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Crucian Baby

Well I really ought to be writing in here more often.  You'd think that we're having a nice quiet life down here.  On the contrary, it's been an exciting rollercoaster ride!

We recently hired Brien Wheeler as the Vice President of Engineering at NormSoft.  We're very excited to have him on board, and we're sure he'll do a great job managing our engineering resources.

We decided to fly him down to St. Croix for his orientation two weeks ago.  His wife Susan was seven months pregnant at the time but decided to come along as well to get some good relaxation in before the baby was born.

Everything started out great, and we were having a great time coming up to speed on business and relaxing in our spare time.  Then on Tuesday night, we went shopping to make dinner.  When we returned home, Susan was not feeling well.  After a call to her doctor, they decided that they'd better go to the hospital to have her checked out.  So I drove them a few miles down the road, and they spent an hour in the ER.  They hooked up a baby monitor and everything looked fine with the baby, so they told her to go home.

A few hours later, Susan was not feeling any better.  They finally asked me once again to take them back to the hospital.  Nervous and concerned, I drove as safely and quickly as I could.  Upon arriving at the hospital, Brien put Susan in a wheelchair and whisked her away.  I parked the car and waited in the ER for 20 minutes, worrying about what was happening.  Finally, someone there told me that they didn't know Susan's status because they had taken her to Labor & Delivery.

At this point, I was still in disbelief that Susan was having her baby.  One of the security guards showed me over to the main hospital entrance.  I said to him, "I can't believe she's having her baby now!"  He responded simply in his Crucian accent, "Believe it."

When I saw Brien a few minutes later, his face was red with mixed concern and joy.  He said, "We're having our baby!  You'd better go home; we'll call you."  I was dumbstruck and walked out of the hospital like a zombie.  I don't remember the drive home, but I do remember that I didn't get much sleep.  Finally, Brien called me shortly after midnight to say they'd had a baby girl, and they'd named her Greer.  Everyone was doing well.  He would call me in the morning.  I finally caught a few winks.

As it turns out, the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital on St. Croix is top notch.  Greer had excellent care, and the nurses were warm, friendly, and knowledgeable.  Greer is fully expected to make a full recovery.  However, Susan was having a few complications, so they kept her in the hospital for a few days' observation.

Susan's parents quickly made plans to fly down to visit.  Dan and Dianne were excellent guests and were relieved to finally see Susan and the baby doing well.  Feeling a bit helpless, Gerald and I did the best we could to make everyone feel at home.  We knew that Brien and Susan were likely to be here 6-8 weeks until Greer was ready to fly, so we started making long-term arrangements.

Things progressed for several tense days, and then Susan was told she could go home.  Greer would be kept in an isolette in the hospital until she could breathe and eat on her own.  Everyone took turns joining Susan going to see the baby over the next several days.  Susan was still feeling ill, and eveeryone was concerned, including the insurance company.

Amazingly, a representative from Tufts Health Care called Susan and asked if she'd like to be medflighted back to Boston, fully covered by the insurance.  After some discussion, they agreed that would be the best option so that they could be with their family and regular doctors.  They started working on the arrangements, and Susan, Brien, and Greer were finally flown back to Boston on Thanksgiving day.

We're now without guests and without excitement.  We feel enormously relieved that Greer is back home with family and doctors that they know.  But we can't help but feel a bit saddened that our Crucian baby has left us.  Brien and Susan proclaimed us Uncle Tim & Gerald, not honorary, but real uncles.

Brien and Susan have since let us know that Greer and Susan are both doing wonderfully, and Susan was released from the hospital in Boston with a clean bill of health.  Greer will be going home in a few weeks as well.

We've had lots of other excitement as well, but I'll leave that for another post.


Friday, October 07, 2005

We woke up this morning to find this over-sized hermit crab drowned in our pool. Poor thing...

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Driving down the main street of Christiansted on St. Croix, we passed a boat being hauled on a trailor. It's name? Marine Juanna.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

My Bike Arrived!

I shipped my bicycle through the US Postal Service parcel post on Friday 8/5.  It just arrived yesterday, 19 days later!  I am eager to go for a ride.

I spoke with Jamie at the bike shop, who is the mechanic there and apparently does really well in the local races.  The biking on St. Croix is supposedly very good.  There are lots of local road races and triathalons.  The terrain is mountainous in areas and flat in others.  I went for a quick spin near my house and found that the hills are quite steep.  I should get back into shape pretty quick!  I'm hoping to start riding every morning before it gets warm and before the traffic gets bad.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Shipping warning

If you ship something to us down here, go way overboard on the packing protection, please.  USPS Priority mail is the fastest way to get stuff here, but they are exceptionally rough with the packages.

We just received a gift today that included very well-wrapped and packed margarita glasses.  Unfortunately, 6 out of the 8 had broken stems, and a heavy duty 3-4mm thick plastic serving tray was completely smashed.  Amazing!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cheap cigarettes

Without taxes, cigarettes are amazingly cheap in St. Croix.  At Cost-U-Less, the local warehouse store, a carton (10-pack) of Marlboro's is $16.  A carton of Pall Mall's is $7!  When we were in Massachusetts, a carton costs around $50 or $60 because of state taxes.  Unfortunately, this doesn't help people who want to quit...

And no, we're not taking orders!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Electricity is fun

So we're in the midst of our first power outage on the island.  Supposedly these are fairly frequent, but luckily our house came equipped with a 21kW generator powerful enough to run the whole house.  It's got a 500 gallon oil tank, good for a month or more.  It's a bit noisy, but it's nice to have the power on!

Visit us in St. Croix

We'd love to have our friends and family visit us in St. Croix.  I've set up a web-based calendar where you can book your time.  Email me for the web address and login info.

The Conclusion

Everyone's been emailing me, asking how the story ends.  Sorry for keeping you in suspense.

The next morning, I drove down to the service station, and they had a receipt hanging by the cash register.  "Oh yeah, here it is," he said.  And I gave him my credit card, and we were good.  Simple!

So how did we get money?  Well, the ATMs were still not working, so we went over to the Cormorant Beach Club hotel, where we've stayed on both trips to St. Croix.  We had been eating there almost every day this time because we hadn't gotten any food in our house yet.  So the lovely manager of the hotel told us she acts as "banker" for a lot of the local regular diners, and she'd be happy to cash a check.  So there you go!  We still haven't been to an ATM that works!

We had dinner with our realtor Honnie (www.honnie.com) a few nights ago.  She planned a dinner with some of her staff and 3 couples who had recently purchased homes on St. Croix.  We had a lovely dinner and made some good friends.  We took one couple to our favorite island restaurant, Savant, last night.  Its cuisine is a mixture of Thai (coconut-based curries), Mexican (fajitas, etc.), and Caribbean (fresh fish, Caribbean spices, etc.).  It's always fantastic, and their bartender Cheryl makes incredible rumritas.  The yellowfin tuna is fresh off the boat, same day, from local waters and is perfect ordered rare.

Speaking of rum, it's cheap here!  The Cruzan rum distillery is on the island, and there is no duty charged on any alcohol.  All the grocery stores have the Cruzan dark and light rum for about $4 a bottle (750ml), and I've heard you can often get it for as cheap as $2.  They also have a great selection of flavored rums that are really tasty, and a key component in the raspberry or pineapple rumrita.  Since Coca-Cola is sometimes over $2 per bottle and some imported juices are really expensive, you can imagine that the bartenders here tend to overpour the liquor in the mixed drinks!

I'm working on putting up a calendar web page so friends and family can reserve the guest house.  I'll send out an email when it's ready.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Island Living

Everyone is so laid back on the island that it's sometimes quite surprising!

A few days ago we spent our last cash, thinking that we'd just go to the ATM to get some more.  Well, 4 ATMs later, and 2 of them were out of service, and the other 2 said, "Could not process transaction.  Temporary error.  Try again later."  So okay we'll use our credit cards.

On the way home from dinner, we stopped to buy some gas.  "Do you take credit cards?"  "Nope."  Hmm, okay.  Next station.  No credit cards.  Next station, "No, but go down the road to Everybody's Service Station.  They take cards."  Woo hoo!

So out of the car to fill up the tank and get some cigarettes for Gerald.  "Do you take credit cards?"  "Sure!  Visa and Mastercard."  Great!  So we started filling up.  After about 11 gallons, suddenly all the lights went out and the pumps went dead.  We'd been hit by one of WAPA's infamous power outages.  WAPA is the Water and Power Authority on the Island, and everyone complains about their inefficiencies and frequent outages.

So now we're thinking, "Okay, we don't have any cash.  Our checks are back at home, and the power's out, so we can't pay with a credit card.  Uh oh!"  "Do you have a generator?"  "Yeah, but it's busted."  Okay, we'll just wait for the power to come back on.

5 minutes later, and no power.  The service station owner finally said, "Well it's probably not going to come back on, so I'm just going to close up.  Come back tomorrow and pay me.  Here's a pack of cigarettes; I'll add it to your bill."  "We can go get you a check."  "No, don't bother.  Just come back tomorrow."  Stunned, we said, "Okay...", then introduced ourselves, shook hands, and off we went.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to find out how we eventually got some cash!

The view from our new home.

We're mostly moved in now. We've had some interesting adventures, which I'll share soon.

[Posted with hblogger 2.0 http://www.normsoft.com/hblogger/]

Monday, August 08, 2005

One of my carryon bags had 20 PDAs, MP3 players, and cell phones. They didn't say a peep when it went through the X-ray machine. I have to wonder what the X-ray tech was thinking. 'Oh another bag o' Palms...'

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As some of you know, Gerald and I are moving to St. Croix (US Virgin Islands) this winter to work from paradise. I'm going to try to write regular updates in my blog about our trials and tribulations.

Today was our flight from Boston to St. Croix. We're in the San Juan airport now waiting on our layover.

When we unloaded our 10 bags at the curb, we needed a porter. I asked someone rolling a cart and he quickly emptied it and said, 'See that long line over there? That's for this luggage service. But stick with me and I'll take care of you.'

He loads our 6 bags and says, 'You know you only get 2 bags per person.' Gerald said, 'No, AA told us that we get 2 bags per seat, and we purchased 3 seats.' 'Okay I'll go check.'

Turns out he was right. So he says, 'Play along... You're very upset because you were told incorrect information. I can get you to the front of the line, but you'll have to pay for the bags anyway.'

With some guilt, we skipped ahead of the dozens of people in line while he demanded a manager on our behalf and got our tickets in just a few minutes. We gave him a good tip!

Two of our carryons are our cats. Going through security, they said, 'Take the cats out and walk through.' Ack! It was hard getting them in those carriers. Luckily the drugs had kicked in and 2 groggy kitties put up no fight getting back in their carriers.

Temperature: 88F in San Juan, PR. Sunny and humid. Calm.

More later...

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wow! I've been digging through the mess in my office getting ready for our move. I came across my first 'real' handheld computer: a Tandy Pocket Scientific Computer PC-6. It ran BASIC or assembly programs, stored memos, and did all the scientific calculator stuff... Amazingly, it still works and still has all my programs that I wrote over 10 years ago. Looks like they sell for around $75 on eBay! I think I'll hold on to mine, though.

[Posted with hblogger 2.0 http://www.normsoft.com/hblogger/]

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Time to try Firefox?

I've resisted trying Firefox so far, but a few irksome problems with IE have recently pushed me over the edge.

1) We installed a wiki for internal collaborative use, and IE ocassionally hangs when trying to load the wiki's page.

2) I recently sent this rant to everyone at NormSoft: Download a large file using IE. Meanwhile, go back to typing email. As you know, email includes lots of spaces, so I hit the space bar all the time.

Suddenly, the download finishes, and the freaking download window pops to the foreground, intercepting all my keystrokes. When this happens, the active button on the download window is "Cancel". So as soon as I type the space bar key (which is very common - see above), it cancels the fucking download.

Now I have to go back to the web site and download the freaking 250MB file again. And then I forget it's downloading and start typing spaces again and I end up cancelling it a second time. Argh!


3) There's some kind of limit on how many downloads you can do at one time with IE.  It fluctuates.  Right now it's 2, but I remember a few days ago I could do 6.  Seems like a ridiculous limitation since I have a 4MBit cable modem connection.

4) IE does not download files directly to the destination - it makes a copy.  Why?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Hotels.com Cracked

I just got an email from hotels.com about a recent hotel I booked to North Carolina.  I'm not going to North Carolina!  I called them up, and they confirmed that someone actually placed a reservation on my hotels.com account!  They flagged my account as fraudulent and disabled it.  They weren't super helpful, but they did confirm that the person did not use my credit card to reserve the account.  Very strange...

As many of you know, I'm super vigilant about security (see CryptInfo).  So I can't imagine anything that was my fault that would have leaked my account information.  I recommend avoiding hotels.com; they either have poor security or flaws in their system that allow other people to place reservations with your account.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Another Case Against Blacklists

This was just too good to pass up.  Our customer support person just received this bounce and sent it to me for diagnostics:

From: MAILER-DAEMON@mail01h.rapidsite.net
Date: 4 Mar 2005 03:57:51 -0000
To: yyy@zzz.com
Subject: failure notice

Hi. This is the qmail-send program at mail01h.rapidsite.net.
I'm afraid I wasn't able to deliver your message to the following addresses.
This is a permanent error; I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out. does not like recipient.
Remote host said: 550 5.2.1 Mailbox unavailable. Your IP address is blacklisted using SPAMCOP. Details: Blocked - see http://www.spamcop.net/bl.shtml?
Giving up on

So, if you'll follow me here: is blacklisted.  That IP address is mail01h.rapidsite.net.  But that's the mail server that's receiving the email (and relaying it to someone else - presumably one of the ISP's customers).  So it's refusing to deliver mail because it is blacklisted, itself!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Real Semaphores on PalmOS 5

It turns out it's fairly easy to implement real binary semaphores on PalmOS 5. This is really handy for folks that want to perform synchronization between their audio callback thread and their UI thread, for instance. Unfortunately, you have to access the semaphore from ARM-native code.

The trick is the SWP ARM instruction. This instruction swaps the contents of a register and a memory location, and it guarantees that this will be an atomic operation.

Here's some sample code in ARM assembly:

@ initialize a 4-byte word value to 1. That initializes your semaphore.

@ wait

@ r4 should contain an address that points to the semaphore.
mov r5, #0
swp r5, r5, [r4] @ try to set the semaphore to 0
cmp r5, #1 @ if the previous value was 1, then we got it
beq .Lgotsemaphore @ this is a busy wait, but you could insert
@ an OS call - perhaps SysTaskDelay - to make it better
b .Lacquiresemaphore

@ do stuff

@ signal

mov r5, #1
str r5, [r4] @ reset the semaphore

Of course you can extend this example to implement more complicated semaphores as well.

The advantage of this versus a spin lock is that you don't need to know which thread you are executing in. With a 2-slot spin lock, you need to know if you are user #1 or #2.


Saturday, February 12, 2005


Pretty cool piece of software.  Gerald's been using it to do some customer support, and it really speeds up entering canned responses, etc.  You basically can assign any set of keys to do certain tasks (using an optional action key to trigger the task).  Tasks are very flexible and can include things like running programs, web pages, pasting contents of text files, etc.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

SPF has problems

I thought I was doing a good thing by adding SPF to my email server.  Unfortunately, I am now finding that there are some serious problems with this scheme.  The biggest one has no solution (that I know of) other than to disable SPF: If your ISP forces you to send email only through their SMTP server (lots of ISPs do this now), then your emails will all fail the SPF test because they originate from your ISP's SMTP server instead of your own.  This also occurs when you are travelling and hook up to a random WiFi hotspot.  Many of them funnel email through their SMTP servers.

Someone's written an article about these types of problems.  He's a bit extreme but has some good points.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The volcano display at the Mirage

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Cirque du Soleil show 'O' at Bellagio - before the start

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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Very cool Palm-controlled flexible displays from nyxit.com!

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Ryan Sutton from Handmark

[Posted with hblogger 2.0 http://www.normsoft.com/hblogger/]
John Chafee from SplashData

[Posted with hblogger 2.0 http://www.normsoft.com/hblogger/]
Here I am at the NormSoft kiosk in PalmOne's booth at CES 2005. Come see us at booth #30,374!!

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Monday, January 03, 2005

There's little that pisses me off more than poor customer service.  Twice I have reported a pricing error to www.pricegrabber.com and twice they have responded with a completely irrelevant answer and have taken no action.  Seeing as their core business revolves around having accurate price listings, this is inexcusable, and I will switch to using other price comparison web sites.