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 :