Archive for the ‘Island Life’ Category

Should Bonaire Worry About Chavez?

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

The timing is interesting. A few weeks ago I got a notice from the U.S. Consulate on the neighboring island of Curaçao requesting that I register on a U.S. State Department web site:

If you are an American citizen living or traveling in Aruba or the Netherlands Antilles, the U.S. State Department and the Consulate General in Curaçao strongly encourage you to register your trip on the State Department’s travel registration website at https://travelregistration.state.gov/.

Since then I have seen a number of blogs run by military strategists discuss the possible invasion of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao by Venezuelan dictator and madman President Hugo Chavez.

The various blogs are:

Strategy Page – The Dutch Defend Their World Empire

The Dignified Rant – Dutch Treat

Strategy Page – Might Venezuela Looks for Justice

Pito’s Blog – What Would Happen If Venezuela Invaded Curacao

In reviewing the above blogs, it appears the primary source for this topic of Venezuela invading the ABC islands stems from the Strategy Page web site. But I find this particular quote chilling:

But for the last two years, Venezuelan officials, including the country’s demagogic president, Hugo Chavez, have made numerous public statements about the “reunification” of the islands of the Dutch West Indies (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao) with Venezuela.

The reality is that Venezuela is only 50 miles from Bonaire, and they could invade and take over the island in mere hours. The other reality is that such hostilities would probably give the West a great excuse to remove Chavez from power. But Chavez, at least from where I sit, is a cowboy – a socialist cowboy with far too much oil money in his hands – and thus capable of most anything the rest of us would consider crazy.

Bonaire’s change of status from being part of the Netherlands Antilles to being a remote municipality of The Netherlands, scheduled for December 15, 2008, can’t come soon enough for my taste, assuming that at the very least it serves as a further deterrent to Chavez’s purported desire to reunify the islands with Venezuela. However, the blogs I list above stress Holland’s inability to respond militarily to any incursion, so as an American living abroad, I can only hope that my registering with the State Department as requested will make sure the U.S. military knows where to find me should Chavez decide he wants to claim the ABCs for his own.

Registering your trip allows Embassies and Consulates abroad to send you newsletters and time-sensitive travel warnings and public announcements specific to the areas in which you will be traveling or living.  The information you provide also makes it easier for them to contact you in case of emergency, or to contact your family or friends in the United States in the event of an emergency abroad.  Registration will also allow residents of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles to receive notification when the vice consul will be on your island.

But still, the timing of the registration request is curious. Maybe the U.S. Consulate over in Curaçao knows something we don’t?

Home With Kids For A While

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

As some of you know, my wife Linda suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis in her right knee. During her recent semi-annual visit back to New Hampshire to see her Rheumatologist, it was decided that it was time for her to get her knee completely replaced. That much needed surgery has now been scheduled for April 5th – just about 5 weeks from now, back in New Hampshire.

The net result is that Linda will be off-island for about 2 months for pre-surgery, surgery, recovery, and physical therapy.

And during that time, I will be both mom and dad to the kids, providing the chauffeur services that Linda normally provides (to/from school and activities).

During the week that Linda was gone in January, I learned quickly that I could manage about 3-4 hours of working time during the average day, and the rest of it was shot. And working late at night is not an option because I need to be up at 6:30am to get the kids ready and off to school.

So, in anticipation of not being able to get a lot of work done when Linda leaves towards the end of March, I had to cancel my planned press trips to attend the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) in San Francisco and the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) show in Las Vegas, both starting next week. As such, I will necessarily be reporting from afar. And I still have a huge backlog of blog items and other projects to work on too, so maybe it’s good that I’m not going.

I am not sure how soon I will be able to travel after Linda (our very own Bionic Woman after surgery) returns to Bonaire in late May – a lot depends on how mobile she is, and whether she can drive, but I suspect I will be staying with the kids (and home with Linda) through the end of June, which is when school ends here on Bonaire. That’s a good thing though, as I am already starting to spend part of my afternoons getting our daughter ready for home schooling (she starts 7th grade as a home schooler in August), and doing projects with our son as well. This will also be the longest contiguous stretch I have spent with the kids since 2001 or so. That part’s a bit sad in retrospect – the last few years have been a whirlwind of travel, with me typically being away more often than not, although last year we did manage to spend almost three months traveling with the kids.

No Whales, But Flamingos Instead

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

This morning a friend called to say that humpback whales had been spotted in the water off Bonaire’s Pink Beach area, which is only about a 10 minute drive from my house. Humpbacks are exceedingly rare here, so I grabbed Linda, a tripod, and a camera with a big lens, and headed out.

We saw two whales breach right as we arrived, but did not get a chance to take pictures – they went back under too quickly.

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So while waiting for them to resurface (they didn’t do that where we could see them, and we had to leave after about 25 minutes), I spotted the above pictured special denizens of Bonaire, Caribbean Flamingos – more exactly a flight of them – coming back from feeding in nearby Venezuela to nest here on Bonaire.

The wide shot is what I shot with my Nikon D2x with a Nikon 80-400mm VR lens at 400mm. The close-up is a crop of that same image. Note the nice Bonaire scene in the cropped shot – blue and turquoise waters, sunny skies, a dive boat in the background, and of course, flamingos.

Sling That Media – Slingbox Pro

Friday, January 26th, 2007

I know over the years I have subjected many of my readers to the “woes” of living on Bonaire, a small Caribbean island with, among other things, lousy TV service, and obviously no U.S. ZIP code. You might ask why TV is even important when living in paradise, and would answer that mindless entertainment is needed even here.

The reason the ZIP code (or more specifically, not having one) is important is because it means we cannot get Electronic Program Guides – EPGs – see my post on “TV Time Shifting in Paradise” from over a year ago about this.

I have managed to cobble together a partial EPG on my new HP z565 Digital Home Entertainment Center (a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC that’s designed to sit in your living room) by using a Miami-area ZIP code, and then renumbering and deleting channels as best I can. It at least works for three major U.S. networks, Cartoon Channel, HBO, Showtime, and Disney, and has already been useful. As an added bonus, I can stream recorded shows to the Xbox 360 in my bedroom should I choose to.

However, an acquaintance recently reminded me that I am paying for an expensive business connection for DirecTV in my office in Marshall, Texas, where I only spent a few weeks last year, with the TV there being unwatched the rest of the time (and I only watch it for background noise in the evenings when I am there). The Samsung DirecTV decoder also has an 80GB driver and TiVo service. But, still it’s rather expensive per-hour viewing cost.

Around the same time as I was reminded of this, a couple of other friends mentioned that they had installed Slingbox devices so they could watch their home TV signals remotely while traveling. Ding ding ding – bells went off in my addled brain.

So, during my most recent visit to Marshall a few weeks ago, I installed a Slingbox Pro box (ordered from Amazon.com – about $218), and I couldn’t be much happier. The Slingbox Pro device takes video signal input in the form of either a cable TV signal, composite video or S-Video plus audio, or HDMI (with an optional cable) digital input for HD signals. I plugged in my DirecTV TiVo box, hooked up the infrared transmitters that come with the Slingbox Pro so they could control the DirecTV box, and I was off.

The Slingbox software, which maker Slingmedia calls “SlingPlayer”, was easy to set up – both to control the Slingbox itself, as well as provide the necessary controls on my notebook to view my TV signal. I also had Linda try it back on Bonaire after I set it up, and she was able to get it going there too. The really neat thing about SlingPlayer is that it knows all about the particular DirecTV decoder I have, and even has a virtual remote control (looks identical to the physical remote) that I can manipulate with my mouse. That in turns means I can access all the TiVo functionality of the box remotely too. And it all works over an Internet connection. The more upstream capability you have to send out a signal, the better. In my case the DSL connection at my office in Texas offers 768Kbps upstream, sufficient for a pretty reasonable 640×480 video stream from the Slingbox.

After I got back from Texas and CES I went and set up Slingplayer software on the HP z565 in my living room, and can now watch live TV from Texas in my living room. Full screen on my 61” TV is too grainy and jumpy, but I can get a decent image at about 24” diagonal, which is just fine to catch up on missed shows and programming I would otherwise not get. It also means I can stop paying $1.99 for missed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and Lost. And, I can also watch it from any PC with the SlingPlayer software. And for certain handheld devices, there’s even Slingplayer Mobile version for mobile phones and PDAs running the Windows Mobile operating system.

I’m also considering installing another Slingbox at my in-laws in New Hampshire so I can watch their TV signal here on Bonaire, kind of as a back-up of sorts (no TiVo there yet, though, but I can fix that too).

My biggest regret with the Slingbox is that I didn’t think of getting one sooner.

My next issue to solve is how to get a video signal from the output of my big screen TV in my living room to the small TV in my kitchen without running cables (my wife hates cables across the floor or ceiling). We have concrete walls, so there’s no good way to run them inside the walls. The concrete walls also effectively destroy my use of a wireless AV transmitter – those really need to be line of sight, or at least through a wood/drywall panel, not eight inches of concrete in order to have an interference free image.

However, if I wait long enough, Sling Media will be selling the SlingCatcher – a box which will let me use my network connection (wired or wireless) to receive TV input from a Slingbox either in the same building or anywhere else there’s a Slingbox I have access to.

I give the Sling Media Slingbox Pro a 9.5 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

Meeting Astronaut Charles Bolden

Monday, November 27th, 2006

My family and I had a rare experience yesterday – we were invited to a friend’s home on Bonaire to meet former NASA Astronaut Charles Bolden. Charlie, as he asked us to call him, is on Bonaire with his wife and daughter as part of a week long visit to share his experiences – both on terra firma and in space – with children, teens, and anyone else interested, in the hopes that they will see that the sky truly is the limit in what one can accomplish if one works hard enough towards achieving one’s goals. 

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Pictured above, in a photo by Bob Lassiter, are my family (Linda, Bas, Krystyana, and myself) with Astronaut Charles Bolden.

As part of his visit to Bonaire, Bolden will be announce the winners of several space related contests set up to coincide with his visit.

Never having knowingly met an astronaut before, we were pleasantly surprised to find Charlie to be a very warm, engaging, and just plain nice person. His friendly demeanor was even able to crack the usually shy facade our son Bas puts up when strangers try to engage him in conversation, and to my mind, that’s saying a lot. Charlie is sure to be a big hit with the schools he is visiting next week with his obvious charm and delight in sharing his world with children and adults alike.

The other thing which was unexpected, but in hindsight should not have been, was that Charlie was shorter than I had expected – and this was a common comment heard at the small reception we attended. One just assumes that someone who has exited the Earth’s atmosphere would be tall and imposing, but the hindsight comes in that U.S. Air Force pilots, and by extension, astronauts, have maximum height requirements due to the limited cockpit space and the extreme cost of space suits, which I understand to be produced to fit a limited range of body types.

My wife and I are pleased to have been able to help sponsor Charles Bolden’s trip to Bonaire, and hope that he will inspire at least a few of the youths on the island to reach for the stars.

Review of Bonaire’s Newest Restaurant – Papaya Moon Cantina

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

I just finished posting the Bonaire Insider’s first ever review entry, about a fabulous dinner at the new Tex-Mex restaurant on Bonaire – Papaya Moon Cantina. You can see the full review here.

I went with my wife Linda, and our two kids, and we had a most excellent meal. I truly had never expected to have excellent Tex-Mex on Bonaire, so this was a very welcome surprise. My only dilemma is how to balance my newfound lusting after the Raspberry Lemon Tiramisu with my low-carb diet.

I give Papaya Moon Cantina a 9.0 out 10.0 on The Richter Scale.