Monday, July 27, 2009

Essential Gadgets for the Geek seeking to live in Marinduque

Marinduque isn't exactly 'geek-friendly' .. internet access is generally considered an unnecessary luxury, good coffee can't be had for love nor money, and many services the average geek would take for given (eg. electrical power) are very much hit and miss .. After living here for a couple of months, here is my list of what is the bare minimum gadget-wise ..

Item 1. Generator Set

With lengthy powercuts on average 4 times a week, a generator set isn't really an option! The one I have is has a 2 stroke petrol engine, so it's noisy and rather inefficient, however it powers my computers, fans, fridge and a lightbulb when the powers that be fail to provide! I think patchy power-supply is one of the greatest killjoys of living in Marinduque! Funnily enough, it proved impossible to buy a generator in Marinduque .. I was expecting them to be wildly popular, but no, after touring the whole of Boac I found one shop that was meant to have them in stock 'next week', and 2 weeks later, I had to ask a friend to buy me one from Lucena .. such is life!

Item 2. ADSL or wireless internet

If you live in the central Boac area, you are within the ADSL coverage area - the service is expensivish (1000 pesos a month) and not very fast (512 kbits/s) - still it's the best you can have in Marinduque, so take time to relish it. Anywhere else, the only possibility for internet is via one of the 'over mobile network' connection - these are provided by Globe and Smart, however after testing the Globe service I found it totally unuseable. I borrowed a Smart setup (USB modem with built in SIM) and it's a lot more useable. It's still terminally slow! In Gasan, where I need mine, there is only 2G mobile service, so speed is limited to around 50kbits/s - it's like being on a timetravel trip to 1995 and dialup modems, with the only difference being that the internet is still firmly in 2009, and pages take ages to load! Streaming video/youtube etc. are of course totally off the menu!

Item 3. Bialetti Mukka Express + Supply of Coffee
(or at least a Bialetti Mocha espresso)

Good coffee is an essential part of the day - not to the average marinduqueno though! If you want good coffee here, you need to make it yourself. Otherwise, forget it! With amazing forethought, I bought myself a Mukka Express prior to moving to Marinduque. Even in 'modern' Manila, this was no mean feat - it seems that filipino culture doesn't generally include coffee!! A *lot* of digging through the internet (and in particular) revealed that there is actually a Bialetti agent in WakWak village, Manila - Bialetti are Italy's (and hence the world's) number one manufacturer of espresso percolators - same guys also supplied me with a kilo of top notch Saquella ground coffee - and combined with fresh milk in 250ml tetrapaks, i'm a happy camper! For some reason, fresh 'fresh' milk is not available here.

Item 4. Nokia N810

A nokia n810 is not a mobile phone - it's Nokia's not-so-popular 'Internet Tablet', basically a small computer, running a linux-based OS (Maemo) that can do most things a geek would normally want to do, and fit in a pocket at the same time. The n810 has a couple of features that make it really but REALLY useful here in Marinduque - it has a lovely high resolution screen (800x480), extreme battery life (over 7 hours on a charge!) and good built in PDF support. These days my N810 is mainly my ebook device. There are no bookshops of any interest in Marinduque, so if you need something to read, the internet is your friend! A surprising amount of material can be found in PDF format, and this is perfectly comfortable on the N810 since it's so small and compact, and pages can be flipped using the touchscreen. The long battery life comes in handy during the not-infrequent powercuts, and I always have a good supply of reading material at hand on my Nokia!

Item 5. a decent laptop!

I this this one is a bit obvious - something powerful enough to run photoshop and the normal browser stuff is needed - i'm running a Dell Vostro 1310 which I bought from UK which is quite cute, but has terrible battery life (which can be a problem considering the power cuts!)

A prospective geek should also remember to bring enough plug adapters to run the gear! The plug sockets here are in the american style, with no provision for earthing, but running at 240v/60Hz (!) (when there is power, of course!) .. a bit of a safety warning - ELCB's are not common (actually, they are positively rare, i haven't seen one yet!) - and electricity is treated with a very 'if I can't see it, it can't hurt me' attitude in this place. This is the type of plug you can expect here :


Moved to Gasan!

Living in Tabi was getting really tiresome - I had rented the flat initially as an office, and the combination of noise (from cars and tricycles passing by at all hours), very poor design and hygiene (from one place it's possible to look through a hole in the ceiling into a toilet on the level above!) was becoming a bit too much to live with. An 'incident' with a large cockroach was the final straw, and we decided to move .. with a bit of help from our friend Francis, we found this place in Gasan - called FYPS - that's really nice! and that we're renting for practically the same price as the place in Tabi ..

this is the facade, the bit we're living in is to the left, you can see our door and window - the place is very small - just a kitchen/living room, one bedroom, and a bathroom, but it's clean, nicely tiled, the bathroom has a proper flushing toilet and shower (unlike Tabi!) .. and the lawn is a great plus!

the view across the lawn in the evening is wonderful, there is even a hummock between the palmtrees, very very comfy!

wonderful sunsets are included at no extra cost!

there are some downsides - there is no ADSL service in Gasan (according to PLDT 'maybe in 1 year') and although I now have a SmartBRO USB modem, there is no 3G in Gasan, so browsing is restricted to about 50kbits at max, and by today's standards, that is *slow* .. still, compared to Globe service, which is unuseable, with Smart, if you wait at least you get what your websites, so I think it's worth it.

Construction update

I've been sick these last 2 weeks - had a cold, but a bad one, so there are less photos than usual, and they were taken over a number of days..

here the walls and most of the upper beams are ready..

this photo was taken on the 24th, Friday of the fourth week of construction - it's the first time i'm stepping into the house! This is the view from the living area into the central landing - the small room ahead will be a WC, left and right are the main and 2nd bedroom respectively.

this is the view from the main bedroom - the 'window' to the left connects the bedroom and the living room, and will be built of glass blocks. The tall window ahead is between the bedroom and the narrow (5ft wide) part of the terrace that wraps round, and affords the bedroom seaviews and light.

this is the view looking from the kitchen over the living room and terrace - the beam above is where the living room ends and the terrace starts, and there will be the main door (left) and a large sliding door under it.

the view from within the kitchen - most of the seaview is obscured by the lean-to which the workers built to store cement under ..

a view of the sea-side facade that's starting to make sense - on the left at the back is the main bedroom, the terrace starts near the main bedroom and wraps round to the kitchen on the right, and the living room is in the middle.

and this is the cesspit being built, the inner tank is for sedimentation, the other one for water ..

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Electrical Power Supply in Marinduque

When I first visited Marinduque on a scouting mission, in early May, one of the things I noticed, photographed, and didn't pay any further attention to was a barge anchored at Mogpog (where ferries arrive and depart) that was largish, boxish, and labelled 'Power Barge'. This is the photo.

At the time I hadn't experienced the pleasures of Marinduque mains power supply. Basically, power goes out on average every other day. Powercuts last from a few hours, up to days at times. Longest I've experienced was about 2 days, I think there's a post in this blog complaining about that .. Also powercuts seem to occur for a number of reasons, the most common being rain, lack of rain, lightning strikes, and random. When there actually *is* power, voltage fluctuates between 190-230v, at the low points even the energy saving bulbs start to flicker.

Well, mains power doesn't come from the air, so when we paid our electricity bill this month (surprisingly high!) I enquired, and found out there is a 'schedule' for powercuts, and many times you can know a few hours beforehand. Apparently there isn't enough power to go round, and so powercuts are scheduled as a means of load shedding, possibly to ensure that everybody gets at least a little bit of electrical goodness. I do know that I never spotted a powerstation, or the telltale smoke, when driving around the island, so my naive assumption was that there is an undersea cable to some point on the mainland - not the case!

Apparently Marinduque is what the Philippines calls an 'off grid' region, and that power-barge I spotted is actually the main powerstation for the whole island! Also, it seems the power-barge is owned by the national power company, while the distribution is in the hands of a local (Marinduque ie) cooperative, and the two don't quite see eye to eye. A bit of digging around reveals that the powerbarge houses 4 Diahatsu diesel generators, generating 1.8MW each. As of January 2009, 3 were working. There are a couple of other very small on-land sites (at Boac and Torrijos, apparently) the Boac plant producing 2MW and the Torrijos plant being mostly decommissioned, but having 0.5MW capacity.

That is actually VERY little capacity for an island of this size and population, and I think goes a long way towards explaining why the whole system feels so fragile. In Marinduque's ongoing touristic development, I'd say that power generation is one of the greatest hurdles to overcome. High class resorts are dependent on power for comfort, and it's not easy to explain to your average tourist that power depends on a string and a prayer. I think power must already be high on the agenda of the local government - and any investment into this sector will be rewarded richly with tourism income.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Construction in Marinduque - Day 11 update

walls are up, the next stage is the roof beams ..

embankment of the foundations is not ready yet though, that will be followed by the beams supporting the internal walls, and then the internal walls to solidify everything ..

the horizontal steel bars are actually supporting the bricks above the window

view from the rear - that's a bedroom and WC window ..

Fishing - Hauling in the nets

the boat is used to pull the net outwards ..

this is the view over the net when it's almost in ..

pulling teams!

this is the endgame part, the people pulling the lower parts of the net converge to close the net at the bottom ..

this sock-like thing is at the very apex of the net, and it's where most of the fish end up

most of the catch is mackerel, but there are some other fish I can't recognise ..

this one I was told is an 'angelfish' ..

and this one .. I draw a blank ..

lots of mackerel ..

and a few other different species - I could recognise a garfish and a pipefish (sort of straight seahorse ..)

here's the pipefish ..


Friday, July 10, 2009

Mito's photos - taken by a four year old!

I'd say the kid has a surprising eye for composition :)

and here is Mito himself, putting on a pose, and yours truly (with the 'Hungriest Cookie t-shirt) together with the engineer taking care of the construction work.

Only in the Philippines ..

I think the plans for this 'bucket seat' could be used by Formula 1 teams in their attempts to conform to the new budget restrictions! I think the jeep is actually from the 40s, or does it only look that old?

and this must be a very safe way of carrying a gas cylinder - in the scorching sun too!

Gasan Marinduque - Construction update ..

these are photos taken on day 8 of construcion - amazingly the foundations are ready, and quite a good bit of the walls are already up! The next step would be to backfill the foundations (the delivery of backfill material was late) and to have beams put over the windows.