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Archive for December, 2007

Prehistoric Dragon Goby, Ghost Glass Cat, and Large Female Guppies

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

I bought a Prehistoric Dragon Goby (see a picture of this freakish species here) from a store where I also found the first large female guppies for sale in Costa Rica.

The Dragon Goby is very interesting insofar as appearance but he spends all his time hiding in the dense plants I setup for small fish so I almost never see him. I may end up getting another so that the sightings are more common.

I also bought a Ghost Glass Cat from the same store, whose transparent body is very unique. I’ll probably get him some tank mates soon.

I setup a smaller tank with the new female guppies and 2 new male guppies and have started to breed them. I moved some of the larger fry from a fry tank into my community tank but my angelfish ate them because they refused to hide in any of the planted areas and just sat there waiting for him. I tried to get them to go toward any of the aquarium corners, where there are rocks and dense plants but these fry just didn’t seem to be afraid of big fish and were eaten one by one.

Nicaragua and Visa Problems

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

As I previously wrote, I was planning a trip to Panama in December, as I have to leave Costa Rica every 90 days for 48 hours as per the requirements of my tourist visa. My fiancé was waiting for her passport to arrive, and it arrived late which ruined our plans for Panama so in my haste to get out of Costa Rica before I’m illegal I booked a trip to Costa Rica’s other neighboring country, Nicaragua.

I bought two plane tickets to Managua and then looked into the visa requirements to enter Nicaragua. I had heard visas were necessary but all the information I saw online indicated that Nicaragua had done away with the requirement to foster tourism. There were a couple of countries (e.g. “Palestine”) that Nicaraguan government websites listed as needing visas but neither the US nor Costa Rica were on those lists so I figured we’d be ok. For good measure I called the Nicaraguan consulate in San Jose, Costa Rica but despite trying 5 different phone numbers over several days was never able to get anyone to answer.

So on Christmas morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and took a taxi to the airport (a friend, who didn’t sleep all through Christmas Eve to take us), paid the airport taxes and were ready to go.

At the TACA desk we were told that US citizens don’t need visas but Costa Ricans need a visa to enter Nicaragua and we were not allowed to board. Furthermore I was told that my tickets were non-refundable. I was so upset that upon leaving the airport I tried to kill myself by eating Denny’s food (just kidding, their breakfast isn’t that bad even if it has enough grease to make someone not on an American diet queasy).

I’m not sure why Costa Rica nationals are required to have a visa to enter Nicaragua, but I suspect it’s some sort of reciprocal action based on the immigration tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Costa Rica has many Nicaraguan immigrants, with some estimates putting it as high as 25% of their population and there are some resulting tensions. I think all this kind of crap is just slightly-modernized tribalism. Countries are just lines in the sand and one should be able to go anywhere they want on this planet if you ask me.

Anyway, I’m now trying to figure out what to do next, and I’ll probably pay $100 to reschedule our flights in order to lose the least amount of money. My buddy Tri had agreed to house sit for our pets and came over on Christmas Eve and I’m a bit pissed that he made that sacrifice for naught.

Happy happy joy joy…. I may even hasten my marriage to get residency so that I’m not forced to make inconvenient trips outside of the country every 90 days.

Right-brained or left-brained test

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Someone sent me this interesting Left Brain versus Right Brain test. Look at the image below, if you mainly see the dancer turning clockwise you use more of the right side of your brain, and if you mainly see the dancer turning counter-clockwise you mainly use the left side of your brain.

Right or Left Brain?

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies

uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
risk taking

I have always tested nearly equally for right-left brain use and this test is no exception. I’m no closer to deciding which side the pea is on. In this case, I initially saw the dancer spinning clockwise while her shadow spun counter-clockwise, but can make either spin in either direction.

There are others discussing the Right Brain vs Left Brain Test on Able2Know with various tricks for making her spin in different directions.

GPS maps for Costa Rica!

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Yes! I’ve always been a fan of satellite navigation and the use of the GPS (Global Positioning System) with cartography to provide routing.

When I moved to Costa Rica, where there are is not an address system, I felt the need even more as I knew nothing about the country’s roads and without names it’s pretty hard to learn. Given that the traffic is also pretty bad in many areas it can often take an hour to go 10 miles and if you don’t know different routes it can be quite daunting.

Upon arriving in Costa Rica I’d intended to build a car computer with the usual GPS and the like but was dismayed to not find any Costa Rican GPS maps. Hell there wasn’t even a decent web-based map to use and it was hella frustrating.

Anyway, the other day I was stranded with car problems and the only good thing to come of it was that I noticed a Costa Rican car rental agency that had GPS units available to rent with their fleet of cars.

Today I drove out to their offices (having to pay a taxi for the last leg of the trip in order to find them) and bought their Garmin-based solution. I’m using it with Garmin Mobile on a Windows Mobile 5 device (Samsung Blackjack) through a bluetooth GPS receiver (Garmin GPS 10) and am pleased to report that it works as well as can be expected without addresses to input as destinations.

Coming back from picking up my fiancé in Heredia it came in handy as I was able to use a much better route that I hadn’t known that skips downtown San Jose and is much shorter. It used to take me up to two hours each way to go the 15 or so miles and this should only take me about 25 minutes in the future.

The routing works great and the cartography is solid, it had small streets and though it didn’t always know things like bridges being out I haven’t found any streets it doesn’t know. The points of interest are fairly solid, and they have pretty much any franchise in the database. Mom-and-pop joints aren’t always there, and there are more of those businesses than franchises (thank goodness!) so it’s not too great but the franchises are important for use to get where you need in lieu of addresses the country uses “directions”. These directions can be as cryptic as “200 meters north of where the old oak tree used to be” but more often they reference businesses like McDonalds, Pizza Hut and other franchises as franchises tend to have stronger display marketing than mom-and-pop joints.

So while it’s not perfect it’s flaws rest in Costa Rica’s lack of an address system and it works as well as can be expected. I’m more than happy with this solution and it’s going to save me lots of money (from paying taxis to follow when I’m lost) and time.

For the locations it doesn’t already have, I will input the coordinates and save them for future use and I hope that Costa Rica adopts an address system based off of longitude and latitude one day to make it all easy. Right now, there’s not much hope that all houses can be assigned numbers and that all roads will be named so for the tech-savvy it’d be good enough just to have people start learning their geographical coordinates.

Anywho, it’s enough of a godsend that I will try to convince my tech-savvy friends here to jump on board. If they get the same setup as me, they can text-message their coordinates to me when they want to meet and don’t have to bother with the million phone calls it takes to get me anywhere.

I have a bad sense of direction (don’t pay enough attention) and this is one of those things that will make a big difference in my day to day.

My kitten beats up my dog… more funny pet videos.

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Ok, so I became the doting pet owner/parent who can’t help but rant and rave about their kids/pets. So sue me, it’s my damn blog and here are more funny pet videos courtesy of the two lil’ furry bastards we feed: Harry and Fiona.

They are fighting again, and as per usual Fiona wins. This time Harry fell off the bed.

Michael Clayton and March of the Penguins

Monday, December 17th, 2007

My girlfriend has been renting videos recently, I’ve watched a few but none were too interesting. The one I liked the most was the documentary March of the Penguins. The penguins themselves are interesting as hell, so just not getting in the way of the footage is all that it took to make a great documentary.

I suppose it isn’t as easy as I make it out to be, especially given the harsh conditions they would have had to film in but the point I’m trying to make is that the penguins themselves are the stars. Very interesting, dem penguins and now I want a pet penguin even more.

Yesterday, we went to the movies as it’d been a while. We watched Michael Clayton, which was interesting enough that I didn’t feel a screaming need to leave the theater and do something else, which is how I feel about most movies. So I guess that’s a passing grade for both of these films, with the usual caveat that my suspension of disbelief has been broken for years and I’m not a great movie critic given how little I tend to like most movies.

Harry is a selfish little bastard!

Friday, December 14th, 2007

We bought our puppy Harry first, and lavished him with more toys and gifts than we bought for ourselves and as can be expected, all that did is spoil him and convince him that the world revolves around him.

So when we bought a kitten, Fiona, he decided what was hers was now his and what was his she had frankly better not touch. So he began eating her food (you should have seen the poor cat eating the dog food after he polished off her dish) till we bought a cat house to put it out of his reach and he began to take anything she played with away from her and hide it in his house.

In this video you can see that he’ll take anything she plays with away from her and try to hide it in one of his play spots.

Today was not a good day…

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

I’d only meant to quickly drop my girlfriend off at a friend’s house in Heredia but the trip took a decidedly nasty turn for the worse when my brakes (all of the bastards!) decided to desert me on Costa Rica’s busiest street during rush hour. That wasn’t too bad as I managed to avoid a slow motion collision by zig-zagging through the cars stopped at the intersection and using hand signals (looked a lot like the signal in Team America for the undercover operative being in danger) to persuade a bus that was making a turn in front of me to hang out for a bit in the intersection. The bus served as a nice shield to run the light and pull over and I called information to get a tow truck.

The traffic was bad so I was told it would take a while to get there and that they’d call me. Costa Rica doesn’t employ the luxury of a system of addresses and “directions” are used in their stead. So I was telling the driver that I was about 200 meters away from Pizza Hut on the other side of the street but he must have needed to do a verification fly-by since he passed me right up. I called the tow-truck company and they gave me the driver’s cellphone. I called him and he told me how he didn’t see “anybody” (mind you, this is rush hour) at the indicated location. I told him that I was quite there and I did, in fact, need a tow and he told me he’d give it another fly-by, though it’d take time due to the “tremendous” traffic he was engaged in across the city (just minutes after driving by). He said to make sure to stand out by the road at the indicated location so I stood there for an eternity and he pulled up right in front of me in traffic, then kept on going without looking on the side of the road at the store I told him I was in front of.

I called him as he slowly crawled away in traffic and told him I was right behind him and waved. He looked back and promptly told me he saw “nobody” and kept going, promising to give it another try. Not entirely convinced I wanted a ride with such a comprehensively-challenged individual, I began to look for options and called information again for a tow truck and they immediately sent me to the automated voice reading me the same phone number of the tow truck company I’d been wrestling with several times before I managed to get the operator to halt and give me a couple of options.

I called a few of the companies I was recommended over the next hours who all failed to show up, never daring to leave the side of the road to go to the bathroom. Waiting on foot by the side of the road was boring despite the number of odd folk who passed by (like the Japanese back-packer asking for directions in hillarious Spanish for a ridiculously far place to be headed to on foot). And waiting in the cold in a T-shirt got old fast with the whole having to go to the bathroom quite urgently thing so I just kept calling information and canvassing the Costa Rica’s tow trucks (maybe they are all just smarter than the rest of the country and avoid rush hour altogether) before one promptly showed up in 15 minutes as promised and we loaded up the car and drove off while I imagined a veritable swarm of tow trucks descending upon the vacated location I’d been waiting at.

I finally got home over 6 hours after I left more than a bit frustrated with my car. I even lost my temper momentarily and called it a harsh word that hurt its feelings. I don’t care and I don’t know what the hell is wrong with the car but I’ve decided to only find out long enough to fix and sell it. See, I have this rule about not trusting cars that try to kill me, especially when they try to do it at very low rush-hour speeds. That shows spite since they clearly want the death to be as painful as possible (the automobile’s equivalent of death by spoon).


Sunday, December 9th, 2007

We signed up to a video store membership (first time for me in years, but there’s no Netflix here) and I finally saw Borat. I’m a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen and was familiar with his Borat character from his Ali G show and expected the film to be a series of similar gags. As I’d expected, I’d seen all the funny parts in the various promotions for the film I saw as Borat did the rounds on TV but was pleasantly surprised to see that this film had a stronger plot than his previous Ali G film and that it worked a lot better.

I didn’t find myself laughing too much, since I’d seen it all before but it was fun and I hope the film’s popularity doesn’t ruin the Borat character for future work.

The pet store

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

Pet stores to me are like a candy store to a kid. And like a lot of kids a lot of my money goes toward the friendly pet store owners, who must love me like their own children given how much I spend with them.

Anywho, today I went to the pet store and bought (among all the other junk):

- A new collar and engraved name tag for our dog Harry. No other collar had fit him well since he’s so small but this simple black nylon collar fit him perfectly and he’s not getting his paw stuck in it when he scratches his neck. The collar also has our phone numbers on it, which is important since he runs out the wrought iron garage gate whenever we open the door to see if he can befriend any strangers. He’s so friendly with strangers that we worry about him being stolen or lost and the engraved dog tag with our phone numbers is a small comfort.

- A cat house for our kitten Fiona. It’s an adorable house with two levels, the inside is carpeted and there is a nice cushioned balcony on the second level where her food bowl will now reside, thusly solving the problem of Harry eating her food, leaving her to eat his dog food. Harry has already made it abundantly clear that he’s moving into the first floor, which is fine since she likes being with him (she sleeps wherever he does) but the second story is nice, since there’s a built-in cat toy that is the first toy she has played with without Harry taking it from her and destroying. Our cat’s almost as excited as I am about her cat house!

- Last but not least, I bought a special fish hatchery with a built in fish nursery. I’ve now used every fish hatchery design I’ve seen. They are usually simple products that come in a few varieties, one is a net that basically just serves as a nursery, as if you put an adult fish in it will eat the fry. There are also plastic hatchery/nursery products that float in your tank separating the fry from your adult fish, they come with an internal separator(s) to separate the fry from the mother and the best designs comprise a V-shaped separator with a slot in the middle and the fry fall down through the V into the lower portion of the chamber. There are others with a grid-like separator but in my experience the fry swim up through those and get eaten more often.

The one I bought today has two separate chambers, and uses a standard air pump to draw water from one into the other, so the new fry are sucked into a separate compartment that can be easily separated to remove the fry.  I’ve only tested it briefly but it looks pretty good.