Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Almost Shakespearean

Seen on the instructions for use of a rechargeable flashlight.

"Be not to use a product to damage but cause correctly, burn, do not belong to column of guaranteeing to keep in good repair."


Friday, October 09, 2009

My blog tag cloud

The above is an image of my tag cloud of words used in my blog, courtesy of a nice site Wordle.net.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In The Gardens

I realised what Dominica's Botanical Gardens is missing: water. Considering we so often have too much, our Gardens has no water feature, unlike St. Vincent's Botanical Gardens, which to me is one of the highlights.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 17, 2009

20 years ago today: Hurricane Hugo

My first experience of a major hurricane was 20 years ago this week: Hurricane Hugo, a massive Category 4 storm which passed over Dominica on the night of 16-17th September 1989. I'd been in Dominica just two and a half years, and lived at that time in a front-row seat to witness a  passing tropical storm: within spitting distance of the sea.

My light-hearted account of that weekend of rum, pool and water can be found here. But a far more descriptive account of the power of that storm from the unique perspective of the hurricane hunter is here,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pyroclastic flow in Tyres Ghaut, Monserrat

An awesome photo from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, taken in December 2008. Though there's a suggestion that the volcano may be quieting down, this photo is a stark reminder of how active it was recently. See more at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mvo/

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Step it up

I was watching, as I do once in a while,  'How It's Made'. This episode detailed the complex process involved in manufacturing an escalator. Which made me wonder about Dominica's only escalator - the one at Astaphans supermarket. I don't think I ever saw it operating, and if it did it was only for a very short while. As such, it needs to be added to the list of Innovations That Never Made a Mark On Dominica. Right next to traffic lights and water fountains.

Next week's featured white elephant: Dominica's lost elevators.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Surf's up!

Surf's up!
Originally uploaded by Steve_Mc
There's something slightly bizarre to be flying nonchalantly towards a major hurricane. Of course it's almost 350 miles over the horizon, but still, I'm no hurricane hunter, and the plane was heading home to Dominica - and in the direction of Hurricane Bill.

On the ground though there is hard evidence of the proximity of a Category Four storm. I'm not talking about the now standard panic-driven exodus of Ross University students at the airport (god help us if there's ever a real natural disaster here, they'll be the first to flee; M├ędecins Sans Testicles).

No, real evidence of the massive storm to the north-east was right there as soon as you touched down at Melville Hall - the pounding surf all along the east coast of Dominica. Lots of surf, and coast roads awash with debris. Welcome to the hurricane season!

Monday, July 27, 2009

On the lip of the volcano

On the lip of the volcano
Originally uploaded by Steve_Mc
I recently climbed the La Soufriere volcano in St. Vincent, as part of my informal 'Caribbean volcanoes' series of hikes (see my St Kitts hike).

I have to say: it's impressive. It took about 90 minutes to the top in a gradual climb, initially through rainforest typical of what I'm used to in Dominica. Closer to the top the vegetation clears to become more open, and underfoot it's loose volcanic 'scree'.

And then you're on the lip of the volcano, and a mighty breeze continually hints at the sheer drop on the other side. The view is stunning - the wide crater, the lava dome dead centre, the razor-thin ridge leading off to the south, the steam rising from the side of the dome. All you expect (and hope) of a near-dormant volcano.

Across the crater you can see the trail, and where it goes down, on a rope, into the crater, for the brave only.

We were blessed with generally clear skies and surprisingly, a good mobile signal.

All in all, a highly recommended hike.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Planet Index misplaces Caribbean islands (and is a less happy report because of it)

I'm not Happy. The recently released 'Happy Planet Index' report placed Costa Rica at the top. In previous years, Dominica also placed highly (In a previous report, 2006 I think, we were the 4th happiest place in the world).

So I eagerly downloaded and perused this year's report. Not one mention of Dominica. And in fact, not a mention of other small Caribbean islands. No Barbados, no Antigua, no Greneda. Not even a Caricom or regional grouping that I could find.

Now we're often overlooked because of our size, but we're still a nation state and a UN member (even if we don't always pay our fees on time). But to omit us (and our neighbours) somewhat misses the point. We satisfy all the criteria for a deliriously 'happy' nation (low ecological footprint, high life expectancy, cheap rum, etc.). It's precisely because we're a small nation that we're so Happy.

In fact, if the Dominican Republic is such a Happy country (#2nd place, no less), how come so many of their nationals migrate to Dominica (by whatever means necessary)?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lime: putting the customer first (but only before 3pm)

The local telecoms company, formerly known as 'Cable and Wireless', recently spent $400 million on a rebranding exercise that 'put the customer at the centre of everything they do'. Only they now close their customer service department an hour early...

Friday, June 19, 2009

"Cocaine fuelled my dasheen habit"

In a court report in today's newspaper, one Alice Esprit of Belles pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to sell. In her defence, the accused said she only sold the cocaine in order to get money to buy fertilizer to cultivate her 800 dasheen plants. She was fined $1,000 to be paid by September or spend two months in jail.

Back story: Dasheen is the "edible starchy tuberous root of taro plants". World dasheen prices are said to be at an all-time high. Belles dasheen, especially the coveted 'swamp dasheen', is highly prized and sought-after. Belles, a village in central Dominica, is ideal for growing the plant due to its high rainfall and cool temperatures.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

'The Finest LIME FRUIT Plantation in the World'

According to the The Graphic newspaper of London, June 5, 1897, the limes produced in Dominica were declared by no less than a Royal Commission to be 'The Best Limes in the World'. And if that accolade wasn't enough, the renowned British Medical Journal declared at the time that 'the North Pole cannot be reached without Lime Juice'. And huskies, presumably.

The article, part of the recently released online British Newspapers collection at the British Library collection, goes on to describe Dominica, and especially its limes, in glowing terms.... The Boiling Lake is 'one of the most wonderful sights in the world'... 'a Lime plantation in full bearing is one of the prettiest sights imaginable...During the Lime harvest the fine ripe fruit is gathered by the native girls and brought into the central factory, where it is quickly deprived of its juice'.

Brithish Newspapers 1800 - 1900

Saturday, June 13, 2009

6 months old

boy in a bath
Originally uploaded by Steve_Mc
Liam was six months old yesterday (Friday 12th June). Today he weighed in at 18.3lbs (8.3 Kilos)

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Easily create slideshows of your Flickr photos at Slideflickr.com

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Malfini

I was lucky enough to get this great shot of a Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus), known locally as the Malfini or Chicken Hawk.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bin spin!

In an effort to put a positive spin on the bin-gate scandal, the Labour Party are rumoured to be giving away the 2,700 bins that cost the people of Dominica US$100 each. And changing their election symbol...

Monday, May 25, 2009


In the tradition of naming any political scandal after Watergate, I'm hereby naming the great 2009 Bin Scandal 'Bin-gate'.

Trevor Johnson is clearly our Woodward and Bernstein.

But who is Tricky Dicky Nixon in our Bingate???

And are there any tapes?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

National Bank: where 'pick up' is a valid address

The last time I queued in the National Bank of Dominica to get a bank draft, I asked: can I do this online? Order a bank draft, I meant, not queue. The cashier said 'Of course!' so that's what I did earlier this week. Went online and ordered the draft, being sure of course to check the 'pick up' option for the delivery method.

So I go into the bank to pick up my draft. It can't be found. Did I specify to pick up the draft when I ordered it? 'Of course!', I replied, 'I don't even have the address of the recipient!' They'll call me, they said, when they found it. 'And what about the cash I also ordered online', I asked? More internal phone calls. Seemed it was available to pick up, but the person whom one picked it up from wasn't available. I left the bank empty-handed.

But I did get a phone call from the bank. The draft had been mailed. After telling them to cancel it, I checked my copy of the order for the draft. Not only was 'Pick Up' specified as the delivery method, but the mailing address was filled with 4 rows of 'Pick Up'...

So now I'm going to have to queue a second time for the draft (and cash). National Bank of Dominica, you get 5 out of 10 for your online banking system (changing the error messages from Spanish would help improve that score), and a big fat zero out of 10 for your human 'interface' with the online system.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Day In Court

I was in the High Court recently, testifying as an expert witness. This is what I learnt.

1) When testifying, always end an answer with "..., my lord". Avoid affecting an accent... 'me lud'.

2) If you're a defendent in a case, don't think leaving Dominica for England will get you off the hook. High Court judgments for damages in Dominica (and presumably other Caribbean islands) can be applied through the UK court system.

3) There are 3 types of damages that can be awarded: punitive, nominal, and compensatory. Together they can be substantial. You might want to come to a settlement (4 figures) rather than lose the case and get slapped with 6-figure damages.

4) As a witness, never leave the court house when you think you've finished testifying, unless you want to have to sprint across Roseau back to the Court... Leave when told. Don't go shopping.

5) If you're going to send a defamatory e-mail, don't send it from your own computer and/or e-mail account.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Backing up your DVD collection

I finally sat down today and tackled an issue that's been bugging me for the longest while: how to make a copy of my DVDs. Of course, here I must emphasise that the process I'm about to describe is purely theoretical, and if I ever employed it, it would be for 'fair use', personal backup copies of my own DVD collection.

So, what is the process?

1. Rip the DVD to your hard disk. This not just saves the files, but removes the copy-protection.
Tool: DVD Decrypter http://www.dvddecrypter.org.uk/

2. Burn the ripped DVD to a blank DVD
This is just copying the files (usually in a folder VIDEO_TS) to a blank DVD.
You can burn it direct using something like ImgBurn http://www.imgburn.com/

However, Dual Layers DVDs (as most movies are) will need to be shrunk first.
Dual Layer DVDs can hold up to 8.5gb; standard blank DVDs are Single Layer, storing just (!) 4.7gb.

DVD Shrink http://www.afterdawn.com/software/video_software/dvd_rippers/dvd_shrink.cfm will shrink your DVD by compressing it, and also allow you to remove items from the original DVD (such as foreign subtitles, and special features) that you might not want.

It can in fact burn the resulting shrunk DVD files straight to the new blank DVD.

And all the mentioned programs are freeware.

For other methods, see http://cybernetnews.com/2007/08/02/cybernotes-how-to-copy-a-dvd-movie/ or http://howto.wired.com/wiki/Copy_a_DVD

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

There's really no need to panic, but...

...according to a report just out, Dominica is set to trigger a tsunami which may kills 30,000 in Guadeloupe (but no estimate was given of deaths in Dominica itself).

The alarming alarmist study, conducted from the comfort of an armchair somewhere in the UK using Google Earth, reckons 'Devil's Peak' (where?) is set to collapse at any time, triggering a devastating tidal wave "...that would endanger residents and tourists on the island, a French territory." Possibly as soon as 'next week'.

In particular, the sequence of events necessary to threaten poor Guadeloupe would be a magnitude 7 or 8 quake, occurring at the end of a hurricane season. Or Next Week.

Having experienced our last 5.2 quake, I think the last thing we'll be worrying about after a 7 or 8 quake is any inconvenience we may cause poor Guadeloupe.

I don't know which is worse: the armchair scientist painting a Hollywood-style scenario, or the reporter dramatically renaming our mountain 'Devil's Peak' to fit in with the scary scenario. The mountain is actually named after a bird, not a demon.


Friday, April 10, 2009

LIAT-related films

"3.10 to Yuma" was delayed out of Antigua
"Man In A Suitcase" might arrive the next day
"Flight of the Condor"  couldn't take of because of a cow on the runway
"Snakes on a plane" were pissed because they didn't get any in-flight snacks

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mrs Malaprop is alive and well and living in Dominica

Maybe it because we're an agricultural nation, but 'crying fowl' is a popular expression. But my new favourite Malapropism is: 'falling on death ears'...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Service No Longer Required

I cancelled my land-line today. The customer service rep asked me why. I said I thought their multi-million dollar rebranding from C&W to Lime was an utter waste of my money. She said I wasn't the only person to say so. But she still just put 'Service no longer required' in the 'reason for cancelling' part of the form...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

If you don't like the new Facebook, fix it!

Sometimes we forget the whole point about using Firefox is that, with extensions, we can customise the surfing experience. The new Facebook 'design' is a good example; you can be sure that if others don't like it there will be an add-on to fix it.

Facebook Purity and Facebook Fixer can both be used to fix design issues with the new Facebook. Both are Greasemonkey scripts, so you'll need to install this first. But you'll be able to:

  • hide annoying friends and their pathetic quiz obsessions
  • hide the annoying 'Highlights' column

and much more.

Liam @ 3 months

Liam @ 3 months
Originally uploaded by Steve_Mc
Liam weighed in at 16lbs on his 3-month birthday.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When you imitate rather than innovate

It was purely coincidental, I'm sure, but at a time when Twitter is beginning to make serious inroads into the social networking sphere that Facebook had almost bumped MySpace out of, Facebook comes up with a 'redesign' that places more emphasis on the Twitter-like 140-character stream-of-consciousness, down to the twitteresque-image to the left of "what's on your mind?"

I can take it or leave it personally, even think 160 characters is better than Twitter's 140-characters. And one's Friends Feeds is an important part of Facebook, however you present it. But it might take more than copying Twitter to beat Twitter.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Still time for Dominica to beat them to it?

The Maldives have just announced they plan to be the world's first carbon-neutral nation... within a decade. When I first heard this some time ago, I thought Dominica, 'Nature island', Green-globe nation etc etc, should be aiming for this. Well it should be easier for a population of 70,000 versus one of 400,000 to do so? Especially with our own geo-thermal power on the cards within the next few years. One can live in hope.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Overheard in the bank...

It wasn't really overheard, since the patrons were quite vocal about it. And it wasn't exactly the slow service that people were complaining about, it was that the bank wasn't showing the cricket on their TVs!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Port Elizabeth, Bequia

Port Elizabeth, Bequia
Originally uploaded by Steve_Mc
I spent a few hours in Bequia recently. To get there, one takes the Bequia Express from Kingstown (EC$35 return, trip time 1 hour).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Respect the Morne Prosper carrot!

Overheard near a street vendor in Roseau:

"You think I don't know a Morne Prosper carrot when I see one?".

I would have loved to have heard the entire conversation!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

Customer Service anecdote #23

I'm after a good wall map of the Caribbean, so I head to the island's leading stationery shop. I look for maps but fear I'm out of luck, until the big Caribbean map on the wall screams at me "This is just what you want!"

I find an assistant, three in fact, because multiple assistants flock together.

"I'd like the map, how much is it?"
A debate ensues amongst them. It's more like an reverse-auction, because the price comes down from $60 to $30 but stabilises at $35.
"Great, I'll take one please".
"We don't have any".

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tell Me Why, #7

Why is it that (at least here) people like to write the number, then put the numeral in brackets after. For instance, I might write in this post that "It took just two (2) hours to get my car fixed today". But I wouldn't, because what would be the point?

I understand the rule that small numbers are spelled out, while large numbers should be expressed in figures. But why on earth do both? Hedging one's grammatical bets? I heard once it was about catering for those unfortunate not to be able to read - at least they'd be able to see the numbers. Great, that's really helpful for the illiterate. To know how exactly many, but not of what.

So if you see posters around town, defaced, with the numeral scratched out but the number word left intact, you might know who's responsible...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Random thoughts 301 & 302

I was watching Dr Who recently; the episode was set 2,000 years in the future. So imagine my surprise to see the aliens hiding out in bog-standard 20th century shipping containers. Perhaps it was a statement on the near perfect design of a container, but I don't think so.

Another pet peeve: how every film that involves a sword fight or indeed any kind of blade uses the same sound effect - that long metallic 'shhhhhck' of deadly steel being drawn out of a sheath. A special mention must be given to the otherwise good film 'Jumpers', in which Samuel L Jackson gently unfolds a cloth to reveal a knife - accompanied of course by the inevitable long metallic 'shhhhhck' of deadly steel...

Update: Great video on the topic here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzbfuI0PMdA