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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pocket Tunes Radio for the iPhone

Apple just approved Pocket Tunes Radio for the iPhone, our latest product!

Listen to your favorite radio stations using your iPhone or iPod touch with Pocket Tunes™ Radio.

Enjoy and happy holidays!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Great Skype addon for Mac iTunes users

This addon works great to show what you're listening to on iTunes through your Skype mood comment: http://www.mybdesign.com/itm/

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gus Gus Little Man Gus

Gus Gus Little Man Gus (aka Gus, aka Doodles, aka Max) passed away last night from complications from his second surgery.  Gerald and I are miserable.

His "scratching post" in St. Croix.

He loved crawling in anything about his size.  Boxes, cupboards, closets, cat carriers, and even sinks.  Every night before bed, he would meow for us to run some water in this sink so he could have himself a little nightcap from the faucet.

One of his favorite sleeping spots in St. Croix.  He made a game out of sleeping in every conceivable spot in the house, but he had a few favorites.

Bye Gus, you will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why is it so hard to watch movies anymore?

Okay this is just ridiculous.

I popped WALL-E into my PS3, ready to relax to a nice movie.

Up pops a message that I must perform an update to watch this movie. I just bought this PS3 a month ago. Fine, I say go ahead and do the update. It comes up with this huge progress bar that is moving slower than a turtle with 5 lbs of bricks on its back.

We switched over to the Tivo and watched an entire episode of House and switched back. It's only 50% complete and now it's saying that its network connection has failed. What? I am now downloading the ROM update to a USB flash card to I can upgrade my damned PS3. It's taken over 2 hours to get my PS3 ready just to play a friggin 1.5 hour movie.

Come on! Who decided to make movie watching so painful? I want my money back on my Blu Ray stuff. I'd gladly trade the lesser video quality of a DVD for this ridiculous hassle.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Criss Angel's Believe at the Luxor

Well, if I had paid $25 per seat for the show, I would have felt okay. But we paid $100 for seats on the side of the theater with not a good view. And the spotlights often shone right in our faces; through several acts I had to hold my hand up to block out the lights for a few minutes. What's with that?

The show was just not very good. There were a couple of funny parts, and some musings of "Huh, wonder how he did that". But no, "Holy shit! That was amazing!" type of thoughts that you get when watching any other Cirque du Soleil or magic show on the strip. There was some good dancing, great costumes, and decent choreography. But the plot was all over the place and just weird and didn't really flow at all. The magic was just typical magic tricks that you've seen everywhere (how many times do we have to see someone sawed in half?).

The best part of the show was that Criss Angel walked through the audience at the very beginning and only stopped to shake one person's hand: Gerald's. He was tickled, but he still didn't like the show.

This article sums it up perfectly:


I've seen all 6 Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas, and here is the order you should see them:

  • O

  • KA

  • Mystere

  • The Beatles LOVE

  • Zumanity

  • Believe

In my opinion, the first four are must sees. They will have you on the edge of your seat with awe, and you will talk about it for the rest of your life. If you are in Vegas and it's within your means, go to one (or more) of these first 4 shows! Zumanity is unique and fun in a perverted way and is a good show. Believe is totally skippable, and I wouldn't recommend it.

If you want to see a magic show for that price range, you have to see Penn and Teller. They are the real deal. (My brother-in-law was picked as the "bullet inspector" in the bullet trick, so I know they don't use a plant for that.)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Indian Food!

Woo hoo! I found an Indian grocery store not far from our house in Las Vegas! It's called India Bazar and it's at 4160 S. Ft. Apache. I went there last night to pick up some stuff for supper and was very impressed. They have a full selection of Indian spices, curry pastes (Patak's!), chutneys, etc. They also have nan bread in the refrigerator, several international beverages (including ginger beer which I miss from St. Croix), Indian desserts brought in from a place in California, and lots of frozen Indian TV dinners.

I made the nan bread, chicken samosas (from frozen - just bake for 10 minutes), and chicken Jalfrezi with the Patak's curry paste. It all came out really well except for the nan, which I heated in the oven and ended up making too crispy. It still tasted okay. Next time I may wrap it in tin foil first to keep the moisture in.

Red Rock Canyon Loop

I finally worked up to riding the Red Rock Canyon loop on my bike. It's a really great loop, very scenic. On a bike, it was WAY harder than I thought it would be. I saw my inclinometer get to 11% in some places. Nothing quite like The Beast in St. Croix (which gets to over 20% in places), but it's 5 miles of climbing instead of 3/4. I remember driving this loop with Gerald on our first trip to Vegas in 1999. We saw lots of cyclists, and I remember commenting that they were crazy trying to ride these hills. Well, here I am now, the crazy one. Here's the profile of the ride from my house:

If you're in shape, this is a great outdoor activity to do while in Vegas. You can rent a bike from Las Vegas Cyclery at 8221 W Charleston Blvd (where I bought my bike), and then make the ride straight out to the canyon on Charleston.

I'm doing the ride again today with the mortgage broker we worked with to get the loan for our house here. I think he's in better shape than me, so I'll be hurting I'm sure...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Gus is home!

Gus is finally home from the animal hospital. He seems to be very happy to be home. He made a pass of the house, sniffing everything to re-acquaint himself, and then he placed a claim to Gerald's coat laying on the floor near the bed. He's been there since last night, only making forays to eat, drink, and request ear scratching or a warm lap for a few minutes.

We've got about 6 different kinds of liquid medicine to give him 2-3 times a day. He doesn't like that, but he tolerates it.

Phoebe is very upset that he's home. She had been happy as a clam while he was gone, but now she is hissing and growling whenever she sees him.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Apologies in advance for this somewhat emo post...

It's easy to get distracted with all the problems you are facing. Our kitty Gus is in the hospital for surgery this morning, and his long-term prognosis is not good. He probably has kidney failure and will need fluid therapy for the rest of his life, which will likely be shortened (he's 7 years old).

As a mental health exercise, and to publicly thank everyone around us keeping us sane, I wanted to put together this quick list of what we're fortunate for.

  • We lucked out and were not in St. Croix for the hurricane.
  • Our home in St. Croix came through Hurricane Omar relatively unscathed.
  • Our good friends Larry and Blaine have gone to extraordinary lengths in managing repairs and cleanup of our house after the hurricane.
  • Our move to Las Vegas has gone pretty much without any major problems.
  • The veterinarians in Las Vegas have more modern equipment than in St. Croix and are more equipped and experienced at handling Gus's illness. (not to say anything bad about St. Croix vets; they are great! It is only due to the size of the population.)
  • My sister Heather is an emergency veterinary technician and has been enormously generous with her time and consultation about Gus's condition.
  • All of our friends, families, and coworkers have been understanding and supportive.

Anyway, thanks to everyone. I'll keep you posted on how Gus does today.

Friday, October 24, 2008

DISH Network vs. Cox Cable

In case anyone is wondering, DISH Network's DVR interface is far and away better than Cox Cable's. When we signed up for Cox, I tried to find some information on the web about which DVR was better, and I couldn't find any.

I've only been using the Cox DVR for a few days, but here are the deficiencies compared to Dish Networks's DVR:

1. Recorded episodes are displayed in a small confusing list, all jumbled together. Dish's DVR uses the full screen and sorts them nicely by show name.

2. Cox's remote doesn't have a skip forward/back button like Dish has. So to skip commercials, you have to use the fast forward button and hope to time it just right. It's a pain in the ass and takes longer.

3. I haven't found a good way to get episode information about a particular episode on Cox. With DISH, you can get the episode ID, brief description, and many movies have star ratings. Lots more info to figure out what you want to watch.

4. DISH has a special type of recording (I think it's called a season pass or something like that) where you just enter the name of the show/movie, and it records anything matching that name on any channel. I can't find anything like this on Cox.

5. The quality of the high definition channels doesn't seem to be as good. I think Cox has the compression turned way up.

It looks like we have a couple of options. We can either switch to DISH Networks or we can give Tivo a try. It looks like the latest TiVo boxes support SD and HD recording on two channels at once if you use a CableCard decoder from your cable company. I'll have to check with Cox to see if they offer that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My new favorite airline

I've blogged about airlines before, so I'll let you know about my new favorite airline. Too bad they don't fly to St. Croix.

Virgin America is awesome. I flew them from Las Vegas to San Francisco (direct flight) on Sunday.

They announced an air traffic controller delay due to fog in San Fran. Rather than just let us sit and stew in our own grumpiness, they then immediately announced a bowling game! If you beat your bowling partner, you got a free drink coupon. So they set up a plastic bowling game on the carpet and invited everyone to join in the fun. It was noisy and fun and there was much merriment.

Once that was over, they then kept us entertained with other games, like finding things on Google or seeing who had the oldest penny in their pocket.

While this may seem silly, it's really ingenious from a psychological perspective. It instantly converts the grumpiness of a hundred passengers into bemusement. And if you're in line for the bowling game, you secretly hope that the delay will be extended just a few minutes so you can have a chance to bowl.

But they don't stop there. Once on board, rather than the usual boring announcement from the pilots about who they are and where we're headed, they pulled two kids (age 5-ish) from the passengers and gave them the mic. So you hear this 5-year-old over the PA "My name is Captain Mike... and we will be flying to San Francisco... where the weather is overcast. We will be flying at 30,000 feet." It was hilarious and everyone gave the kids a big round of applause.

Even the safety announcement is fun. They've got a really silly animated cartoon to go along with the safety speech, and they even poke fun at what they're required to say. "For the 0.001% of you who have never used a seatbelt before, here's what to do." And they continue on in an exasperated tone.

The inside of the airplane is lit with colorful red and purple lights, making you feel like you're in a nightclub. And the seats are a very comfortable leather material with modern white plastic backs.

But the best part of all is the in-flight entertainment system that they call Red. It's a Linux-based touchscreen device that has access to TV, movies, etc. Food and drink orders are hooked up to this system so that when I ordered my gin and tonic, a prompt popped up on my screen asking me to swipe my credit card. The system has several free X Windows games (xmahjongg, etc.), an inter-seat chat program, etc. You can watch about 10 channels of satellite TV from their onboard DISH Networks receiver for free. Or you can pay to watch a movie (I think it was $5 to $10). Even better, you can pay somewhere from $0.99 to $2.99 to watch the latest episodes of your favorite sitcoms. I watched two Simpsons episodes for $1.98.

I'm actually looking forward to my flight back to Las Vegas this afternoon. It takes a lot to make me feel like I want to be on a plane, so they've done a great job.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Say It in Crucian

I stopped by Savant last night for dinner to say good-bye to a good friend of mine who works there. (I'm leaving for 3 months.)

Along with the usual great food, drink, and energy, I met an extraordinary couple. Mitch is a bass player who works at the Good Hope school teaching music. We had a great discussion about digital music. And Robin works at UVI teaching English.

I was really impressed by Robin's latest project - a book called "Say it in Crucian". She asked her kids to contribute to help define the Crucian language and explain how it's used. She is working on an accompanying website Crucian Dictiontionary, which doesn't yet have any content.

I find her book fascinating because St. Croix is one of the only places I've seen in the US today where you can watch as a local culture gets assimilated into the culture of its parent country. And no one seems to be documenting it! I find it a bit sad that this local culture is changing so quickly, losing many of its customs and flavor. But it is being replaced by its own unique mixture of US and Caribbean culture.

St. Croix is unique in that its culture has remained distinct due to the distance from the US, difficulty getting here, and delayed access to TV and Internet. That has changed dramatically in the past 20 years with the building of a new airport, increased interest in Caribbean tourism by Americans, better Internet and TV infrastructure, etc. You would think that anthropologists would be all over St. Croix, but I have seen few of them. If you're an anthropologist working on St. Croix, I'd love to hear from you!

Look for "Say it in Crucian" on Amazon in the next few months. Even better, support our local St. Croix businesses and buy a copy here!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Speaking their language

I got laughed at on my bike ride this morning by some people walking on the road.

I came around a corner on the North Shore Rd. I saw the couple taking a morning walk. I prepared to wave and say Good Morning, but I then noticed a dog wandering in the bush to my left. If you're a biker, you know that stray animals get all of your attention.

80% of the dogs I encounter will simply look up at you and then go back to sniffing their ass. But the other 20% will do something unexpected, so you have to keep an eye on them.

This dog looked at me quizzically and then opened his mouth, barking, and took off after me. Prepared, I do what I always do in this situation: I moved to the middle of the road away from him, looked straight in his eyes, and barked as loud as I could.

I can't claim to know what goes through the dog's mind when he sees a human dressed in ridiculously-colored spandex atop a funny-looking contraption made of metal, carbon fiber, and rubber. But I do know that when that human barks at said dog, it will typically stop dead in its tracks, probably confused to no end.

And that's what happened.

When I looked back up, I was just coming upon the couple walking, and they were looking at me laughing. I guess you don't see that everyday. I smiled back.

PS And if you're one of those who have been following my training, yes, I finally made it up The Beast without stopping today!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Enjoy your meal

Maybe it's me, but my microwave disturbs me.

We bought a new one around Christmas time last year. It's got all the regular bells and whistles. But the feature that I found most intriguing was this: after it finishes running, it scrolls across the screen: "ENJOY YOUR MEAL".

There's something about that message that makes me do a double-take. Why is this inanimate object suddenly taking an interest in my meal? Up until this point, it was all just numbers and beeps, a no nonsense machine, just the way I like it. But suddenly, now it sounds like it wants a pat on the back for a job well-done. "Good job microwave; I will think of your hard work and wattage output as I enjoy my meal."

There's something about this hunk of metal trying to impersonate a human that bothers me. For one thing, once you see it display this cheerful message, you realize it must be kind of depressed all the other times when it's simply saying "POWER LVL?" or "REHEAT?". The only time it appears to have a bit of joy in its life is when its timer hits 0:00.

And anyway, how does it know I'm preparing a meal rather than heating up some coffee or zapping a CD, for instance? I almost feel bad putting a snack item or beverage in the microwave now. I'm bound to confuse it. What if it thinks it's a meal and cooks it improperly? Or what if it finally realizes it's not cooking a meal and does something drastic? Like rotate the glass tray the wrong way. Or turn off the light so I can't see what's cooking.

Maybe I'll start opening the door at 0:01. If I'm lucky, I'll start to get a different message after a while. Maybe I'll even get to see it get angry.

But I don't think I could do that. It would be like stamping on a talking bee or uninstalling Microsoft Bob. And that would just be unforgivable.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Nature of Setting Goals

From my ruminations while bike riding this morning... What is and what isn’t a goal? And how do you best motivate yourself to accomplish a goal?

Maybe this is all too obvious, but I figured it was worth writing up anyway. Hope some of you get some benefit from it.

What I realized when thinking about this is that most people set the wrong kinds of goals for themselves. For instance, a very common goal is, “I want to lose 20 lbs.” or “I want to make $X.” or even, “I want to save $X for retirement.”

These are all terrible goals. While the results are worthy of accomplishing, the goals themselves are without substance. They don’t say what you really want to accomplish, and they focus on the aspects that are painful or unenjoyable: actually losing the 20 lbs or working hard to make the money.

Even if you do accomplish them, there is no incentive for you to maintain that goal. I think this is why so many people on diets gain their weight back. For instance, without a plan for what you will do when you lose the weight, you might as well just put it back on because it’s not giving you any benefit or pleasure. And once you make that $X, without a plan for what to do with it, you’ll probably just spend it on something frivolous.

Instead, consider why you want to accomplish this goal. What is it that you can’t accomplish right now that you want to be able to do? It must be something that is enjoyable to you in some way or gets you excited or makes you feel good to think about it.

Let me give an example. (I feel funny holding myself up as a shining example to make my point. In reality, it was a little less clear-cut, but in retrospect it all fits together pretty well. Perhaps you have better examples you can share by posting a comment.) When I was over 280 lbs, I started to feel left-out from all the physical activities my friends were doing: mountain biking, skiing, etc. Even just walking to the cafeteria, I couldn’t keep up with anyone. But one of the activities that really excited me was skydiving. I had always enjoyed roller coasters and other high-altitude activities (partly because I’m deathly afraid of heights), and skydiving seemed like the ultimate thrill. The problem: The maximum weight they allowed was 250 lbs for a tandem skydive.

I set out to lose the weight. The goal in my mind was not to lose 30 lbs; it was to get to a weight level where I could go skydiving and feel more comfortable doing physical activities with friends. The goal of going skydiving is really what motivated me, not the pseudo-goal of losing 30 lbs. Whenever I thought about going skydiving, I got excited, and it gave purpose to my diet changes; I was doing these not-so-enjoyable diet things for a reason that would ultimately let me do something that would make me happy. I wasn’t doing it just to see the numbers on a scale change.

Although this was a good start, it’s still not exactly the kind of goal I’m talking about. Let’s call the skydiving goal a “milestone goal.” Unless I were to take up skydiving regularly, this is probably something I’m only going to do once, maybe twice. It’s enjoyable and gives you something to focus on, but once you accomplish it, you end up spinning your wheels. You’ve accomplished your goal; now what?

In my case, I suffered from exactly this problem. My partner Gerald surprised me with a skydiving ticket that fall, just after I’d past 250 lbs. I enjoyed the skydive immensely. But now what? I had failed to set a goal past this point, and although I lost another 30 lbs, I plateaued at 220 lbs for about a year and even started gaining some weight back, without a clear goal ahead of me.

The key is to set many “milestone goals” and one or more “ongoing goal.”

After getting frustrated not being able to lose any more weight, I started to consider what I was really after. I remembered from my childhood how much I loved to ride my bike; it gives a tremendous feeling of freedom, and the high from the exercise was beyond comparison. Plus a good friend from high school had recently lost a huge amount of weight by cycling, and she looked great. So I decided that was what I was going to do, too.

I realized I needed an ongoing goal, so I set one. I vowed to start riding my bike to work 2-3 times per week. In addition, I set lots of milestone goals, of which I’ll describe a few. The first goal was to be able to keep up with my family on a bike ride trip to Block Island (a small island off the coast of Rhode Island) we had planned next month. The second was to work up to being able to ride my bike to work once on a weekend, after which I could start riding to work regularly. The last was to get fit enough that I could keep up with other cyclists on the road; then I would reward myself with a road bike, an expensive proposition I really couldn’t afford at the time.

This strategy works! (Do I sound like an infomercial yet?) It gives you something enjoyable to focus on other than the painful changes you have to make to achieve your goal. And, it gives you a reason to maintain your goal once you reach it.

I was able to accomplish my goals and as a consequence, went down to 155 lbs and maintained that weight for several years, while continuing to bike to work. Notice that I said the weight loss was a consequence of my goals; it wasn’t really my primary goal. However, now that I no longer have a job to commute to (I work at home for NormSoft), I’m struggling to find a new ongoing goal to keep me fit. Hence the ruminations on my ride this morning.

For a good book that will get you thinking more in this vein, I recommend “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferriss.

I’d love to hear from you about goals you’ve accomplished by thinking in this way. Feel free to add comments to this post.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Did you know that the Virgin Islands (and St. Croix in particular) is THE place for up-and-coming Reggae?

I have met several people on the plane while returning to St. Croix who were on their way to our island to enjoy the world-class reggae musicians. While we were in Hawaii, several of the locals there were excited to hear we were from St. Croix because they enjoy so much of the reggae music that comes out of the Virgin Islands.

I don't know a lot about Reggae but I definitely enjoy it. Yesterday I visited our local music store, Riddims in Christiansted. I picked up two CDs: Mahogany Road by Abja and Back to Africa by Harry Mo. Both of them are quite good!

A lot of these artists are not available on Amazon MP3 or iTunes, but you can buy the CDs from http://www.viroots.com/. They also have a podcast there where you can listen to a selection of artists before deciding on a CD.

I hope you will browse the selection and enjoy some of our great local music!

Delta adding flights to St. Croix this winter

Just received this from the USVI Department of Tourism:

Service from Atlanta (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) will be offered four times per week, as of December 20.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Thursday service

Thursday, August 07, 2008

St. Croix Customs Officials Harassing Tourists

I am very upset about this. One of our guests from the mainland (a US citizen) visited us this week and just left on an American Eagle flight today.

When going through Customs to leave St. Croix, the customs officer told her that he could not admit her without a passport because he couldn't prove that she was a US Citizen.

The Virgin Islands Department of Tourism has been very clear about this, as has the US Federal Government. "U.S. Citizens traveling to and returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the U.S. territory and do not need to present a passport." There are signs up all over the place that state you do not need a passport to travel to the US Virgin Islands, and I've heard and seen it advertised widely.

After some back and forth, they finally allowed her through.

This is the second guest of ours that this has happened to, so this is not a one-time occurrence. Why are these Customs officers making tourists to our islands uncomfortable by harassing them? This is just unbelievable.

Mobile Me

It's not just me. Even Steve Jobs doesn't think MobileMe was ready for prime time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dumping glue into the pool

We ran out of water!

Gerald was filling the pool, and the pump lost prime. After trying to re-prime it a few times, we realized that the cistern was empty. Doh!

We switched to our 2nd small cistern, which will last us a month or so without rain for the 2 of us. Too bad we have some guests coming next week, doubling or tripling our water usage. We may have to order some water, which is delivered in a large truck that holds 3,000 gallons or more. Average price is $0.01 to $0.03 per gallon, depending on the quality, last I checked.

So with a 75,000 gallon cistern, how did we run out of water? The problem is the pool. It's got lots of small leaks. We were unable to locate the leaks by dropping food coloring in the pool, but we were losing close to 2" of water per day.

We talked to the former owners of the house, and it turns out our house is located directly over a fault line for the neighborhood. We get lots of minor tremors in the Caribbean all the time, and they eventually lead to cracks in the pool, walls, and anything concrete. (In fact, one day last year, I walked into the guesthouse to find that a dozen tiles had popped up, making a small tent shape! Our best guess is that there was a little tremor that put pressure on the tiles, and they popped.)

So the only real solution is to regularly use this stuff that I think is called Leak Stop or something like that. It's basically a bottle of viscous glue that you dump into the pool. You take out all the filters and run the pump to circulate it, and it gradually gets into the cracks and solidifies. Obviously you can't use the pool for a few days while this is going on!

So we did that 2 days ago, and so far so good. The pool is losing a lot less water than before, so hopefully our water woes will be solved. We still lose a little bit, and hopefully that's mostly due to evaporation. We're at the top of the hill so the wind will evaporate more water than you'd think, especially if the water is warm, which it usually is due to our solar pool heater.

Keep your fingers crossed; let's see if it holds!

Damn volcanoes

We woke up this morning to find everything outside covered in a thin layer of gritty dust. It turns out Montserrat had a partial collapse that caused dust to spew into the atmosphere and make its way to the Virgin Islands.

This pesky volcano has troubled us before. When we first flew down to St. Croix 3 years ago in June, Montserrat had errupted, and American Eagle cancelled all flights to St. Croix from San Juan because the ash in the jet stream was dangerous to their planes. Of course they didn't compensate us for the night's stay in San Juan (which ended up costing $400 due to all the hotels being full for a large motorcycle conference) because it was an act of God. Fair enough, I suppose; bad luck on our part.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Other Ways to Get to St. Croix

Since I've sworn off American for now, I've been doing some research on how to get off the rock (aka St. Croix). I figured this info may be useful to people trying to get to St. Croix, too, so here it is... Note: All the prices are estimates based on August 2008; I'm sure they will change quite a bit through the year.

LIAT Airlines: This is a Caribbean-only airline. They fly to pretty much all of the islands. From St. Croix, you can get to St. Maarten directly (see my note about AirFrance below for getting to/from Europe!). Here is a great map of LIAT's destinations. I've heard that they are never on time, so book extra time if possible. 20% of their flights are late, and 9% of them are excessively late, according to www.flightstats.com. About $90-$110 each way from St. Croix to St. Maarten. Delay statistics from STX to SXM

Delta: Delta flies to St. Croix direct from Atlanta every Saturday. If you are coming and/or going from/to a major city on a Saturday, chances are you can connect through Atlanta and get to St. Croix with just one hop. Prices run about $521 round-trip from Atlanta to St. Croix.

Cape Air: You can get tickets from St. Croix to San Juan ($120-$170 one way) or St. Thomas ($85-$100 one way). It's a tiny Cessna plane, and I've heard people call it "Cape Fear", but they're professional and I've heard lots of good things about them as well. From San Juan or St. Thomas, you can catch flights on a whole bunch of other airlines. The obvious ones (United, US Airways, Continental, etc.) are available through Expedia and other travel websites. But there are a few good airlines that aren't covered by most of the travel websites, so I've listed them below.

Seaborne Airlines: This sea plane has lots of flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas or Puerto Rico. They are not at the airport, so you will need to take a taxi if you are connecting to another airline. In St. Croix, they leave from Christiansted. Between St. Croix and St. Thomas, fares run $70-$115 one-way. St. Croix to San Juan: $115 to $170 one-way.

Jet Blue: From San Juan, you can fly to lots of other cities on Jet Blue. Check around for specials; sometimes you will see fares as low as $100 each way from San Juan to Boston or other major cities.

Spirit Airlines: From San Juan or St. Thomas, Spirit flies to Ft. Lauderdale. From there, you can take Spirit to lots of other US, Central, and South American destinations. You can also hop on one of the many discount airlines that fly to Ft. Lauderdale. Flights are reasonable, but they tack on dozens of nickel and dime fees, $10 for aisle or window seats, checked baggage fees, etc. However, they often have a "Big Front Seat" available for a reasonable premium. It's a first-class size seat, but at much cheaper prices than you'd pay for first class on other airlines (there is no additional service; just extra room). San Juan to Ft. Lauderdale usually runs around $125 one-way for regular seats or $140 for the big seats.

AirTran: From San Juan, you can get direct flights to Orlando, Atlanta, and Baltimore, and from there you can get to many other places. With web specials, you can get to Orlando for as cheap as $90 one-way. Normal flights seem to be about $100-$260 depending on how much advance notice you give.

Getting to/from Europe: From some of the other Caribbean Islands, you can get flights directly to European cities for decent prices. For example, you can get from Paris to St. Maarten on AirFrance for around 1,000 Euro. Sometimes this is cheaper than going through Miami or Boston. Just be careful if connecting on LIAT because I've heard their flights are never on time. Also, to book the other direction (from St. Croix to France), you have to book on their French website: www.airfrance.fr. Hope you speak a little French. I haven't actually completed a ticket, so I'm not sure if you need a French address to buy a ticket there or not.

I haven't looked in much detail for other European flights, but I believe there are some other direct flights to Spain and/or England from the Caribbean.

Hope this info is helpful to someone!

Saturday, July 26, 2008


The best thing about bonking (or even just strenuous prolonged exercise) is the condition that I am going to call "bonkalicious". I did a Google search, and it seems I am the first to coin this term for this particular meaning...

If you don't know what bonking is, follow the link to Wikipedia. It's not what you may think, you people with dirty minds!

When you have bonked or have been cycling for at least several hours, your taste buds miraculously modify themselves. Suddenly, even the most mundane foods taste like gourmet meals. (And other foods that are normally tasty start to taste like something you would line a litter box with.)

Let me give an example. I did a 300k (185 mile) randonneuring ride 3 years ago with my friend Jeff. At the 100 mile mark, they had a nice little lunch stop. I made myself a ham and salami sandwich with mayonnaise. Just a piece of Wonder bread, generic salami, baked ham, american cheese, and Hellman's. I swear it was the best sandwich I've ever eaten.

At the last rest stop of the ride, they had some summer sausage - you know, that questionable meat stick that doesn't require refrigeration. I couldn't stop eating it. I swear there was some kind of drug in it. It was bonkalicious.

I'm sure all other cyclists are aware of this effect, but I thought I would put a name to it.

I experienced this phenomenon today to some extent. I had a flat tire half-way through my 35 mile ride. I have been eating a light breakfast before my rides to try to lose weight, and then timing my rides so that I don't run out of steam but burn into some of my reserves. (This is how I lost 60 lbs in 6 months several years ago.) Unfortunately, the flat tire threw me off, and the 15-20 minutes in the hot sun to fix it dried me out. I ended up bonking about 3 miles from home. I had to stop and walk up the last little hill to our house because I felt I might faint. Ooops, dumb mistake. I should have brought some food.

But, the benefit of this mistake was that any leftovers I had in the fridge were bonkalicious. I couldn't get enough 3-day old food for my lunch!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Won't ever be using American Airlines again

I'm sure many people won't think this is interesting news, what with the implosion of airline profits lately. But it just goes to prove that the airlines don't have a clue, and their negative profits are due to their own failures. Rather than creating reasons NOT to fly them (e.g. baggage surcharges, rude flight attendants, poor customer support), they should be creating reasons that I should fly with them, ESPECIALLY reasons that don't really cost them anything.

From St. Croix, it's pretty hard to get a flight on any airline other than American, but it is possible to fly on Delta, Cape Air, and sometimes Continental. So I have been booking all of my flights on AA for the past three years while I've lived here. I travel on average once a month, so understandably, I've accumulated quite a lot of frequent flyer miles and been giving Platinum status. We also often fly employees here for meetings, and they all use American for their travel to St. Croix and some trips elsewhere. So you think American would love me by now. Not so.

My last three legs of flights through American have all been canceled, each one requiring an overnight stay, wasting nearly 72 hours of my time. That, alone, is maybe forgivable as bad luck until you realize that all 3 flights that were canceled were canceled due to mechanical problems. Completely their fault. (On one of them, an airline mechanic for a different airline was seated next to me. When he heard what the problem was, he told me it was a non-issue and that it was well within tolerances and pilots just liked to complain about it all the time. They canceled the flight anyway.) American "compensated" me by giving me 3,000 miles for the first canceled flight, nothing for the 2nd, and 5,000 for the 3rd. That's a total value of $200 dollars, valuing my 72 lost hours at $2.78/hr. Gee, thanks.

Understandably, my next flight is booked through a different airline.

But here's where it gets worse. I called American to give them a chance to win back my business. I have to imagine that customers usually don't do this after being screwed 3 times in a row. After being transfered 3 times by sympathetic CSRs, I finally spoke with John Lindsy in the "Executive Office". I explained my situation (3 canceled flights in a row, travel 10-12 times per year, 10 employees that fly occasionally), and I made a simple request. I'm already well into Platinum status with American; give me a complimentary upgrade to Executive Platinum, just for the remainder of the plan year (8 months). It has a few extra benefits that don't really cost AA anything; priority boarding and upgrades (space available - so those seats would be empty anyway), etc. and I would give American another shot.

His response was quite simple: "No," he said. "If I give you Executive Platinum status, I'd have to give it to everyone." "No", I responded, "only to Platinum members who have gotten canceled three times in a row and use your airline exclusively." "Well, there are many people in that situation, so I can't grant you that request." "Wow, I'm very disappointed. What are you willing to offer me to convince me to try American again?" "We've already given you 8,000 miles. That's all that we can compensate you." "You can take back those 8,000 miles if you want to offer me something else; frankly they don't even come close to making me want to try American again." "You can donate those miles to charity if you don't want them."

Wow, just wow... I thought American's frequent flyer program was good, but it's all just a game. They are not interested in retaining their regular customers, even with simple and cheap requests.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Apple's MobileMe not ready for prime time

I signed up for MobileMe today, and it just plain doesn't work.

After futzing with it for nearly an hour, it finally synced my data from my Mac to me.com. Before that, me.com just showed a blank calendar and contacts.

But then, trying to open the calendar or contacts was excruciating. It sat there for minutes and still hadn't drawn all the appointments. And while it's doing this, there's no indication that it's busy, and you can't click on anything. Totally useless. And this is with Safari, Apple's own browser.

Immediately canceled my account. Maybe I'll try MobileMe 2.0, but I'll stick with Plaxo for now for calendar and contact sync... Apple's trying to do too much.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Answering Customer Support

There was a discussion on a mailing list I'm subscribed to where developers were complaining that they couldn't tell if a customer contacting them about their iPhone app is a paying customer or not. This was seen as such a bad thing that developers were discussing ways of creating unique IDs for each customer that would be required to submit a support request. Here is my response.

Shameless plug: Check out our new iPhone/iPod Touch app: Mecrets password manager with the really cool Touch Lock interface!

Maybe I'm being slow, but under what condition would it ever make sense NOT to reply to a support email about your product? From what I can tell, there are a few different reasons someone could email you:

1. They haven't bought your product but are interested, so they ask a question. If you give them an answer, they are more likely to buy your product, so you are increasing your revenue. In addition, you learn about what people are confused about, so you can improve your description and other marketing materials to minimize pre-sales questions and maximize buyers.

2. They have already bought it and have a problem/question. If you answer them, they are more likely to be happy with the product, tell their friends about it, buy upgrades, etc. Not to mention less likely to request a refund.

3. They are not serious but have some time to kill and want to annoy you. In my experience, this is an extremely rare case, and you can easily pick out these customers because they are rude or make ridiculous feature requests.

So why would you want to force your customers to go through the pain of typing in some multi-digit code just to ask a question?

If you want to reduce support, make your product better. It's pretty obvious, but I'll give an example: we had several releases of Pocket Tunes where we focused on all the support issues that kept coming up. After those releases went out, support volume went down dramatically.

Or you can just commit yourself to being a bargain basement developer with no support, which is a fine strategy because you can sell to people who want cheap software that kind of works.

But then again, I'm happy if everyone else gives terrible support to customers because that's another differentiator for us. :)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Gnarly, dude

Apparently I'm "gnarly". That's what the guy in the convertible said.

I rented a bike in Maui a few days ago. I asked the bike shop employee whether I should attempt to ride up Haleakala. He said that if I could do the West Maui loop, I could do Haleakala no problem.

So today I attempted the west Maui loop. (Here is the hard part of the loop.) I failed to complete it on a technicality...

After a few modest climbs approaching the north shore of west Maui, I ran into some cyclists taking some photos, so I stopped to take my own photos and chat. They warned me about "The Wall", which is a hill coming up that's around a 15% gradient. But they assured me that it was the hardest hill; once you get past that, it's not bad.

I willed myself to prepare for the climb, and when I saw it coming around the bend, I pulled out every stop. I felt strong, but I could only make it up halfway and I walked the rest. At the top of the hill, an older gentleman at the side of the road held up his thumb for a ride. I told him to hop on.

The north shore of Maui is desolate and beautiful. Picture a narrow one-lane road winding through the mountainous coast, going from sea level to 1,000+ ft and back. In many places, the edge of the road drops off at an extreme angle with no guard rails. There are dozens of signs reading "falling rock", and they aren't kidding. In a few places, the road was completely blocked with dirt and rock. The views of Molokai and Haleakala were beyond description; it's something you can only experience by being there. Though I took many pictures, they come nowhere near the experience.

It was right about when I was sipping my last drop of energy drink (and realizing that I had 15 miles to go to the next big town) that I passed a sign for the "smoothie bus 1 mile". Unfortunately the smoothie bus was closed, as was the next little shop with a sign for shave ice. Luckily Lorraine Shave Ice in Kahakuloa had a "We're Open" sign. I pulled in and enjoyed a wonderful mango shave ice, sampled some toasted coconut, and chatted with some other cyclists stopped here. The shop owner (Lorraine?) was nice enough to have a gallon of ice-cold water sitting out for cyclists!

Amazingly, the man who had been hitch hiking showed up a few minutes later! He calls himself "King of the Road" and spends his days hitch hiking around the island and meeting new people. What a life!

It was after I'd started up the hill past town that the convertible passed me. The road was barely wide enough for a car, and the right side was covered in gravel that had fallen from the hill above me. To the right was a cliff going straight up, and to the left was another cliff going straight down, giving a lovely view of the little village I'd just stopped in. There were hardly any cars on the north shore, probably because the rental agency prohibits you from taking their cars here! But the one that passed me had a young guy and woman in it. I rode in the gravel to let him by and as he did, he shook his head and said, "You're gnarly, man!" I just laughed and continued cycling.

Little did I know that this hill went unrelenting up from 0 to 1,000 ft. I was nearly toast by the time I hit the top. I called Gerald and told him I'd be a few hours late and mentioned that it looked like a nice downhill coming up. That was an understatement. It was a screaming downhill section curving down the mountain that reminded me of the descents I enjoyed in France. With few cars on the road and not too much sand or gravel, I had a blast screaming around corners and enjoying the wind and views.

The rest of the trip was nondescript. I stopped in town for a donut. Back on the highway, I enjoyed a strong tailwind and slight downhill for 5 miles! I hardly had to pedal, which made it all the harder when the road finally flattened out.

For the technicality... I was 5 miles from the hotel, and the breakdown lane was closed for construction. Not wanting to risk joining the 45mph traffic in the one and only lane, I called Gerald and had him pick me up.

As far as I'm concerned, I made it. Haleakala or bust later this week!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Innovative DSL

Well we finally got Innovative's DSL hooked up. The verdict: it's sub-par. As a backup connection, it's fine, so we will probably keep it around, but it has a lot of problems. We will definitely be sticking with Broadband VI for our primary service, as they still seem to be the best Internet connection on St. Croix, despite the random disconnects that I experience several times per day.

First off, we signed up for 1Mbps, but I'm only getting about 500kbps, according to www.speedtest.net. The sales person said this was possible and they would have to recondition the line to make it better. I'll investigate that possibility when I'm back from vacation.

The biggest problem, though, is that the latency increases dramatically as you use more bandwidth. So if I am downloading a file at full speed (500kbps), then my latency jumps to as high as 2500ms. That makes loading web pages and checking email painful. And it pretty much rules out any online gaming.

Also, the upload speed is pathetically slow, maybe around 256kbps. I routinely get 1Mbps uploads on Broadband VI. This is important to me because I use an online backup service (Mozy), which runs every few hours and backs up my computer.

The one positive thing I can say is that, even when the latency is huge, the packet loss is virtually 0%. Contrast this to an average packet loss of 0.5-1.0% with Broadband VI. So Innovative DSL may actually perform better for VoIP and gaming, as long as you aren't trying to download anything at the time.

We had a similar problem with Verizon DSL when we were living in Smyrna, TN for a few months, earlier this year. Perhaps this is a limitation of traditional DSL?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rosetta Stone customer support is horrible

Wow, this is unbelievable. I ordered a Rosetta Stone subscription 2 months ago, and immediately had a problem using it on my Mac. Every time I tried to say something, it messed with my volume and ended up not recognizing what I was trying to say. It worked okay on my PC but that means I can't practice while I'm traveling and only have my Mac with me.

So I emailed support on April 26, 2008. I just today got a response: June 24, 2008! It took them two months to respond.

What's worse is that their response contains only a list of information that they need to troubleshoot a problem, all of which I've already included. They didn't even attempt to answer the question.

So even though they have a monkey at the keyboard pasting the same unhelpful response to everyone, it still takes them 2 months to get through their support.

Rosetta Stone obviously doesn't care about their customers; they just want to collect the dollar bills and then tell you to go screw. Don't support this kind of BS. I'm going to demand a refund.

If you ever have a bad experience with NormSoft support, I want to hear about it right away. Our support engineers are highly-qualified and trained to avoid wasting our customers' time whenever possible.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Allergic to mangoes

For the second time in the past month, I just started getting this itchiness all over my body, concentrated on my lips, but also on my face, hands, legs, and other places. I've got little tiny red bumps on my lips that are itchy and sensitive.

I've had this in the past, since moving to St. Croix. The other times it seemed to happen after putting bleach in our cistern, so I chalked it up to too much bleach exposure.

But these past two times, we haven't added bleach recently. The one thing that is common, though, is that 1-2 days before each breakout, I bought some local mangoes.

It turns out that mango allergies are quite common. This article claims the allergy is to the sap on the leaves and fruit, not the actual fruit itself. Since I have been cutting the mangoes myself without wearing gloves, I probably got the sap all over me, causing the itchiness.

I knew the sap caused problems, which is why you shouldn't eat the skin on the mango and why you need to wash your hands after cutting one, which I definitely am careful about. But it seems I am much more sensitive than some people, and I should probably avoid all contact with the mango skin. This is unfortunate, since I love mango and recently planted a mango tree in our yard. Oh well, I'll train Gerald how to cut them!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tomatoes, hybrids, and viruses

On return from my trip to San Francisco, I was excited to see my tomato plants are now producing 4 tomatoes. However, I was dismayed to see that the plants are covered in tiny white flies.

Searching around, I found that these are simply called whiteflies, and they are a serious threat to crops grown in the tropics and subtropics.

In addition to the physical damage they do to the plants, they also carry dozens of diseases. One of the most serious is called Tomato yellow leaf-curl begomovirus or TYLCV, and looking at my plants, I would say they are infected. Most of the new leaves are small and curling in on themselves, and most of the older leaves are yellowing and dying.

I have been trying to grow my tomatoes as organically as possible; I am quite hesitant to add pesticides or artificial fertilizer. When I started, I did some research on how to control pests, and they suggested planting marigolds and nasturtiums along with the tomatoes. So I have a row of both of those flowers bordering the garden. Unfortunately, the whiteflies seem unperturbed by these flowers.

So why is this happening? I think that the increased reliance on hybrid crops is the culprit. These tomatoes are hybrids; I bought the seeds at our local hardware store. Selling hybrid seeds make economical sense because the seeds they produce are usually sterile or produce subpar offspring. So I have to go back to the seed company if I want to grow more. However, that also means that the hybrid seeds have very little (if any) bio-diversity. Most seeds are genetically identical.

What this means is that, instead of relying on natural selection and evolution to produce hardier plants that are resistant to diseases and pests, we have to rely on the companies manufacturing the seeds. And I don't think humans will ever be as efficient as evolution at solving problems. Even as the seed companies struggle to produce new seeds that are resistant to certain pests and diseases through genetic engineering and traditional breeding, the pests and diseases are allowed to evolve naturally. Natural evolution is very efficient, cunning, and effective, and quickly produces new pests and diseases. These pathogens are specially evolved to prey on the lack of bio-diversity present in these hybrid plants, so they can target very specific traits and wipe out entire fields.

So, after I pick a few tomatoes, I will destroy these plants and try to get rid of the whitefly infestation. Then I need to do some research and try to find some plants that are resistant to these flies, which seem to be ubiquitous here. (Since I grew them from seed, the flies must have migrated into our courtyard.) Wish me luck, and if you have any suggestions, leave me some comments!

Monday, June 16, 2008

So St. Croix seems to be covered by helicopters today, all flying low over the island.

Someone told me they are looking for people growing marijuana. I haven't confirmed this, but I know that they do occasionally search for marijuana on St. Croix, and they have shut down several fields that they've found in the past. They've made several passes over our private courtyard, no doubt looking intently at my tomato plants.

What a waste of time and tax dollars; there are much better ways to reduce drug dependence in our communities. Even if they find and eliminate all marijuana production on St. Croix, it doesn't provide a net gain to our society. What will happen is that the fixed demand for marijuana will continue (at least in the short term), raising the street price of the drug. Drug users will either switch to more affordable (and more dangerous) drugs or will have to find more money somewhere to buy it. One of the places this money comes from is crime, so robberies and burglaries are likely to increase.

So let's consider how this affects everyone in our society. For normal law-abiding citizens, this increases the crime they may be subjected to. The only thing it teaches drug users is that they need to find some more money somewhere to continue their habit. And the drug dealers will find more shady non-local sources for their drugs, bringing more crime and questionable people to our society. Drug dealers in South America and elsewhere make out pretty well by increasing the demand for drugs produced outside the US.

The only US entity to benefit from this policy is the government, who can say they are "doing something" about the problem, even though they are actually making it worse.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On St. Croix, Senators Hold Emergency Meeting to Address Fuel Costs.

Asking Hovensa (the oil refinery on St. Croix) for cheaper fuel costs is the wrong answer. That will just increase our reliance on a non-sustainable fuel source and postpone our search for alternatives.

I applaud their move to lower government energy costs by 20% by installing solar and wind power. However, if this is a good idea for government, why isn't it a good idea for the power plant to do in a larger form (e.g. a wind farm)?

If the government installs wind and solar power in excess of what they use, they will effectively be creating a distributed power plant that would reduce fuel consumption by the power plant. The panacea here would have the grid-tied power producers creating the bulk of our energy used from renewable sources and the power company providing power through traditional means to cover the excess load.

Monday, June 09, 2008

One of the things I love about St. Croix is that it's really easy to get access to owners of local companies. For retail stores, the owners often work in the store, and they get to know you when you shop there often. It's great to be able to build up relationships like that.

Indeed, I recently got an email from Mike Meluskey, co-owner of Broadband VI. He was concerned about the intermittent problems I was seeing with his service that I posted about on my blog. He and I have been emailing back and forth to try to solve the issue; it seems to be something that's only affecting me and not the rest of his customers.

I'm very pleased with their customer service and their service in general (aside from the present issues), so I really hope we can figure out the problem. Thanks, Mike.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Congratulations to Senator Obama on winning the Democratic Nomination!

Residents of the Virgin Islands can't vote for president, so I've been supporting his campaign financially instead. I hope the few readers of my blog will join me to make a difference.

Let's bring to the presidency someone who pledges to bring our boys and girls home from the ill-conceived Iraq war, encourage research into alternative fuels and improve auto fuel economy, ignore corporate lobbyists that don't represent the needs of most Americans, and to make us safer by bringing some sanity to our foreign relations.

Though I don't share all his views, he's the only candidate who seems honestly committed to thinking through and talking about what really matters to Americans rather than attacking the other candidates or lofting colorful balloons (like suspending the federal gas tax).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Interesting article regarding net metering lawsuit on St. Croix. Net metering allows you to sell electricity back to the grid when you produce an excess through solar panels or other means. (Solar panels produce more power during the day when usage at your house is typically lower, so this allows you to "bank" the power produced, lowering your total bill.) WAPA allows this, but apparently you have to sign a waiver that you are responsible for any damage caused to the grid. This seems a bit circumspect, though I'm not sure what other states require for this privilege.

Monday, June 02, 2008

After many months of hard work, we're pleased to announce that Pocket Tunes is now available for Windows Mobile phones and PDAs. Visit our website for more information or read the press release.

A big public thanks to all the employees at NormSoft who made this release possible!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (our power company) is seeking a 40% increase in power costs come July. We are already paying $0.33/kWh for residential areas, much higher than most areas of the US (3-4 times higher than many areas).

From what I've heard, the high rates are caused in part by people stealing electricity. Many residents will routinely unhook their meters, only to re-connect them the day before someone comes out to read the meters. WAPA has been cracking down on this lately, and most of the boxes now have tamper-evident clasps and are read automatically from the office. In addition, they burn oil at the power plant, so they are highly affected by increasing oil prices. And they seem resistant to alternative energy ideas for some reason. It seems like a wind farm would be an obvious natural source of energy on an island where we have fairly constant 10mph+ trade winds all year round.

This rate hike will make alternative energy much more viable, of course, so we may have to reconsider solar power in a much shorter timeframe.

In preparation for this, I decided to spend part of my weekend figuring out where we use all of our electricity. Our bill runs around $800/month, so surely there must be something we can cut back on. I measured the energy usage of everything in our house that consume electricity. I use a few different methods to do this.

First, I purchased a Kill-A-Watt power meter and plugged various items into it. It displays instantaneous usage in Watts and total usage in kWh over any period of time.

  1. For devices that are plugged in and operate all day long at the same power levels (e.g. routers, telephones, etc.), I simply took a Wattage reading and added it to the spreadhseet.
  2. For devices that are off or idle most of the time but come to life for periods of activity (e.g. washing machine, microwave,
    computer, etc. - most things that are plugged in), I took a Wattage reading when the device is off (many devices consume a small amount of power even when they are off!) and then when it was operating. I then estimate approximately how many hours per day those devices were operating.
  3. For devices that fit the previous criteria but are difficult to estimate usage (e.g. water cooler, wine cooler, washing machine, etc.), I measured one cycle if possible (e.g. wash one batch of clothes). For continuous things like the water cooler, I plugged them into the Kill-A-Watt meter for a day and measured how many kWh they used.
  4. Lights are easy. Just read the Wattage numbers on them and multiply by the number of lights. With compact flourescent (CF) bulbs, be sure to read the actual Wattage and not the effective Wattage. For example, our driveway lights are 7W bulbs, but they replace incandescent bulbs of 35W and produce the same amount of visible light (incandescents waste a lot of power by producing light that's not visible to human eyes and by producing light over a broad spectrum).
  5. Ceiling fans are also easy. I found a chart online that gives 52" fans as using 90W and 36" fans as 55W.
  6. For some appliances that weren't easy to get to the plug, I looked up their rating at EnergyStar's website.
  7. For hard-wired appliances that had power ratings on them, I used those. Some were listed in Watts, but others were listed in as horse-power or Amps. A horse power is 746 Watts, so that's easy. (Our water pump is 1/2 HP, for example.) To convert Amps to Watts, you simply multiply by the Voltage. So you have to know if the appliance is on a 120V or 240V circuit. For example, our 17.7amp air conditioner on a 240V circuit uses 4.2kW at peak power. (This is a very powerful and efficient Mitsubishi mini-split air conditioner.)
  8. To further confirm the energy usage a few key appliances like our pool pumps and air conditioners, I took a meter reading. To do this, I turned off as much electricity as I could in the house, especially anything that might come on intermittently and ruin my measurement. This required that I turn off the circuit to the refrigerator and turn off all A/C. I then measured how long it took for the power meter (installed by the power company at the edge of our property) to make one full rotation. One rotation is 0.01kWh or 10Wh. The baseline measurement with everything off was 54.39s/10Wh. Since one hour equals 3600 seconds, we can cancel out seconds and get: 54.39/36000W. Take the reciprocal to get: 662W. That's our instantaneous power usage with all the large power-consumers turned off. I then repeated this calculation with the appliance in question turned on to come up with a total instantaneous Wattage. Subtract the baseline Wattage to get the power that the appliance is using.


First, I found that we are doing a lot of things efficiently, already. For example, we use a solar hot water heater with a solar-powered pump. So our hot water is effectively free. The sun heats the hot water to excess of 160 degrees, seriously minimizing the amount of supplemental heating the clothes washer or dish washer need to supply. Second, we use propane for cooking and clothes drying. It is much cheaper to produce heat from propane than electricity, even at mainland US rates.

In addition, we've recently upgraded some appliances to very energy efficient models. We upgraded our washer and dryer to Whirpool Duet high efficiency ones. I did a batch of laundry in both and calculated 0.08kWh to wash and 0.22kWh to dry. Even if we do 4 loads per week, it only costs $0.56/mo to wash and $1.24/mo to dry a medium-sized load (including the constant 1W that each appliance uses while inactive). It helps a lot that water and heated water are free due to our rain-collecting cistern and solar hot water. We also upgraded our old Sub-Zero refrigerator to a more efficient Kenmore side-by-side.

There were also some surprises. While I knew that compact flourescent lights saved power, I didn't realize how much power incandescent lights used! For example, in our bathroom, we have a set of 12 40W lights over the mirror. When on, that's 480W, twice as much as my computer! Even if we just use them 2 hours per day when getting ready in the morning, that's $7/month just for those lights. If we forget to turn them off, they cost $4/day or $120/month just for one set of lights!

In addition, our pool pump uses much more power than I suspected. Here's the full breakdown:

  • Air conditioning and fans: $306
  • Computer Equipment: $154
  • Television Equipment: $35
  • Lights: $91 (including 9 low-power Sodium security lights that run 12hr/day on a light-sensitive switch)
  • Appliances: $29
  • Pool pumps: $182
  • Other: $3

I was also interested in how much power we were wasting on devices that stay on all the time or use power when "off". It was not as bad as I thought. So here is the breakdown looking at that:

  • Devices that are off: $9
  • Devices that are idle or always-on: $36
  • Devices that are on or being used: $755

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Now the post office is returning mail to me that I sent BEFORE the rates went up. This is ridiculous.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

For my weekend project, I moved three palm trees from one corner of our courtyard to another. Check out my Flickr photostream for pictures. Damn those trees were heavy.

Once I got an 18" trench dug around the tree, I used 3/4" and 3/8" drill bits to drill a bunch of holes into the dirt between the tree and the concrete walkway (there wasn't enough room to dig anything). This loosened up the dirt enough to free the tree, and it fell over quite easily. Then I had to lift the tree out of the hole and onto a hand truck and move it to the other side of the courtyard. I would guess the trees with the root ball weighed easily 200-300 lbs. The thorns on the palm fronds didn't help.

Digging the new hole was relatively easy. Propping up the trees while I backfilled it was not. I probably should have gotten a friend to help, but I managed on my own. I'll have to support the trees with concrete blocks and mounds of dirt for a few weeks probably, until the new roots take hold. They are in the ground pretty solid, but the trees are tending to lean slightly. In addition, I'll need to water them every day to promote root growth and keep them from drying out with their reduced root structure.
Broadband VI's Internet service has gotten increasingly unreliable lately. I'm getting disconnected several times a day, and I sometimes have to reset the router because I can't connect to our company's VPN. Right now the whole island of St. Croix is offline. (I'm online through my Sprint broadband connection, which works really well but is too high latency for VOIP or gaming, so I don't use it regularly.)

I'm headed to the phone company, Innovative, tomorrow to sign up for their $39.95/month DSL package (1Mbps) so I have a backup connection.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Solar PV generation costs coming down in the next few years, and new solar technology almost as cheap as wind power: http://blogs.spectrum.ieee.org/tech_talk/2008/05/photovoltaic_moores_law_on_tra.html

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The US Post Office is a pain in the ass. All my mail that I dropped off in the mailbox Sunday just got returned to me because the new rate went into effect Monday, and I owed 1c. How much money did they lose returning that mail to me and re-delivering it?

It boggles my mind that they don't just raise the rate 5c instead of raising it 1c every damned year. The Forever stamps are nice, if our post office would ever have them in stock.

Monday, May 12, 2008

We've been considering installing solar PV panels on our roof. One of my main concerns about PV has been whether or not the cells actually generated more energy than they cost to make. Based on the prices to the consumer, it seemed to me that installing PV panels was akin to importing energy from somewhere it is cheaper.

In other words, we are paying nearly $0.33/kWh for power here. It will take around 10 years for a PV installation to pay for itself, including installation fees, shipping, the inverters, and other stuff necessary for install. The lifetime of a PV panel is about 20 years. So it seems like that would be akin to taking energy from somewhere where it costs $0.165/kWh and importing it to St. Croix. (20 years x $0.165/kWh = 10 years x $0.33/kWh)

However, according to http://www.ecotopia.com/apollo2/pvlever.htm , PV panels should produce much more energy (on the order of 9-17 times) than they take to create. That's good news, but it doesn't explain why the cost is not 1/17 to 1/9 of what I'm paying for electricity.

My assumption is that this difference is accounted for in overhead, profits, distribution, shipping, middlemen, installation, and other costs not included in the raw cost for creating the panels.

Though we may consider a PV installation, I think our next step is to try to reduce our energy usage. Air conditioning is ridiculously expensive here, and a lot of that is due to our poorly-insulated house (it was designed before a/c with an open-air design, so it's not well-suited to air-conditioning).

I may also wait a few years to see what happens with PV panels and concentrated solar generators. Wind power would be great here, but our home owners' association would probably frown on it. The local laws prevent homeowners' associations from restricting the installation of solar and wind power (except to suggest alternative installation locations that would not dramatically affect energy produced), but our C&R prevent installing anything to obstruct another lot's view, and I don't want to test the boundaries of those rules...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Broadband VI gave us a fixed IP address, and since then we haven't lost our connection (been about 2 days).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Well it seems the speed comes at a price... Couldn't connect to our VPN. I called customer service, and to make a long story short, I had to set our wireless router into bridge mode and use the DHCP built into their device instead of using our router.

All is fairly good now, but they don't seem to like TCP connections that last more than 30-60 minutes and routinely disconnect them. This affects ssh sessions, game playing, and other stuff, making it very frustrating to use.

Broadband's customer service seems really good though, so I will let them know about these problems tomorrow and see what they say...
Our new ISP, Broadband VI, still hadn't updated our network speed as of yesterday. In addition, the network was getting flakier and flakier. We would regularly have outages of an hour or more every day or two, and the uplink bandwidth was degrading to as low as 20kbps.

I called last night to let them know, and this morning a tech came out and switched us over to their other network, replacing the radio receiver. Now I am getting burst speeds of 3Mbps down and 1Mbps up! Glad to finally have state-side Internet speeds again. So far, I'm very happy with the service.

The only downside is we are behind two private networks via NAT. I used to have a security camera that I could look at while away from home as well as a remote login on my Linux box that I could access while traveling. In order to make those work now, I will need to set up a reflector on a public server somewhere. That seems like an acceptable price to pay for the better speed, but it's a bit of an inconvenience.

Of course the real test of the ISP is to see how often they have outages. That's something I'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Clinton's and McCain's recent accusations of "elitism" against Obama seem like a bit of psychological projection of their own personality. They so fear being called elitist themselves that they jump eagerly on any chance to apply the name to their competitor.

Of the three candidates, Obama is most in touch with reality. Anyone who listens to the original recording in question will see how hard he works to empathize with Americans and understand what issues and concerns they are facing. Perhaps his description was politically incorrect, but no one can truly relate to all Americans; we are a hugely disparate gang. We need someone as President who can show the ability to empathize with anyone and work to understand their situation. That's what makes a President who's loved by his constituents and is great at foreign relations.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I added three new St. Croix restaurant reviews on Yelp:

Lalita Juice Bar and Raw Food

Salud Bistro

Smokin' Butts Bar-b-que


Friday, March 14, 2008

Woo hoo! Just got an email from my ISP on St. Croix (Ackley Communications) saying that they are merging with Broadband VI and increasing our wireless DSL speed from 384kbps to 1Mbps (synchronous). They are also combining their two 155MBps links to the mainland for redundancy purposes.

One of my friends also works for Choice Communications. They provide a great Internet service here as well, especially if you need near line-of-sight. Last I checked, their pricing is higher than Ackley / Broadband VI for the same speed, so I will stick with Ackley / Broadband VI for now.

Looks like St. Croix is finally moving into the 21st century for Internet connectivity. It can only get better.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Motricity May Slash As Many As 200 Employees

The good stuff is in the comments about Ryan Wuerch, Motricity's CEO.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Some random product reviews

Mozy backup software for Mac or PC

A couple of months ago, I installed Mozy (www.mozy.com) on my Mac to do online backups. The key features that attracted me:

  • Encrypted storage, and they don't have access to the encryption key! If I forget my password, I'm toast, but there is no way for them to dig into my private data.
  • They keep 30 days of incremental backups, and you can restore to any point within the past 30 days. So if you accidentally delete a file, you can still retrieve it within 30 days.
  • Really good incremental backups. Not only does it only upload the files that have changed, it also only uploads the portions of the files that have changed. So if you download a single email to your 100MB Inbox file, it only backs up that new email, not the entire 100MB file.

So far I've been very impressed. The Mac beta occasionally crashes, but it automatically restarts itself and resumes from where it left off. It also takes forever to initially backup your computer, but it's worth the wait.

Garmin Mobile XT on Palm Centro

I tried TomTom's mobile GPS, and it was absolutely terrible. I couldn't get it working on my 700p or 700w, despite the fact that those devices are listed on the box as compatible. (I'm a Palm developer, so if I can't get it working, there's no chance most people could.) So I returned that device and purchased the Garmin model instead, after playing with one at this year's CES. In the meantime, I upgraded to the Palm Centro (which I also love, by the way).

I love the Garmin Mobile XT! Setup was very easy, and it works great. The device itself is small (about the size of the Centro), so it will be easy to travel with. It has a clip on it that fits perfectly on any sun visor, and it comes with a car charger so you don't have to worry about running out of juice (though it also has a good battery).

The positives are: easy-to-use user interface. It supports downloading of traffic information, which is included for free (no monthly fee). The voice prompts make it easy to use without looking at the screen. The screen automatically turns off on your Palm to save power, and the voice prompts continue. You can switch to other applications while navigating, and the voice prompts continue.

The only downsides are that the maps are slightly out-of-date. It was missing an exit here in Tennessee that was built within the past year, and it didn't have one of the new restaurants at that exit. Also, the application occasionally resets spontaneously. This has happened a few times at key points during the navigation, so I have almost missed exits due to it. Luckily this is uncommon; I have been using it regularly for 6 weeks and only seen his happen 3 times. Still, I hope they fix it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I really like the song that Apple is playing in their new Macbook Air commercials. (Plus I think the laptop itself is pretty sexy.) I'm currently using Rhapsody To Go as my music service because it works with Pocket Tunes. So I searched for the song (it's "New Soul" by Yael Naim) on Rhapsody.

Sure enough, it's not there. You have to wonder if Apple purposefully chose a song that was only available through iTunes.

Luckily, though it's available as an iTunes Plus track, meaning it's unprotected. So it plays in Pocket Tunes.