Thursday, September 11, 2008

About The Free End

Welcome to The Free End. I hope you enjoy reading the posts here and I want to encourage you to freely comment, one way or the other. If you find the site helpful and informative let me know. If you want to see certain topics covered in more depth, tell me so. Check along the right-hand side bar for the following features:

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let's take a look around Xalapa

Click on the display for an enlarged view.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If the weather ever clears we are going here

View Larger Map

This is Sierra Negra, an extinct 14,500 foot volcano that lies off to the southwest a few miles from Pico de Orizaba the monster volcano that is the third highest mountain in North America (Mexico is part of North America according to geographers). My companion Eric is going to drive me to the top of Sierra Negra where a massive radio telescope has been erected by the Mexicans in partnership with an American university. It will go on line soon and when that happens, it will be the most advanced facility of it's kind in the world. Mexico will be in the forefront of astrophysics until an even grander facility fires up in 2012.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Painless way to help our Mexican neighbors

The southern state of Tabasco is going to take a very long time to recover from the Katrina-like tragedy that befell them last year. You can help.

When I take money from an HSBC auto teller one of the last options I am offered is the choice to make a donation. I am not going to miss thirty or forty pesos, but if enough people join me we can make a positive impact on the charities that are working to help people. Say yes to this offer. We can all afford to contribute.

I was confused. The option to donate is on the HSBC home banking site if you sign in as a member. As you log out of the site you are given the option to donate to cities across Mexico.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Banking lesson

I visited the bank yesterday and discovered I did not have the correct bank card with me to withdraw money from the automatic cajero. No problem. I went inside located a withdrawal slip, stood in line, presented the slip to the teller and expected to be handed 5,000 pesos. Nope. He stamped the slip, made a flourish of signing it and then motioned me towards the client assistants to one side of the office.

This step entails another line of course. Nevermind. Eventually I was seated in front of a bank officer, who promptly handed me another form to fill out. This one was longer and more complicated. I spent about 5 minutes or more doing my paper chores and handed the form over. Sorry, I signed it in the place where the bank official is supposed to sign. Do it again.

On the form there is a place to enter your passport number. I don't walk around with my passport because of the dire consequences of losing the thing. I do keep a high quality color copy of my passport and visa with me. When I was asked for my passport I handed over my color copy, wondering what would happen. I think because this particular bank official has dealt with me before she was amenable to accepting a color copy. After much computer entry time and examination of forms and documents I was finally cleared to go back to the teller line. At this point I had the presence of mind to ask the official if all this paperwork had something to do with the amount of the withdrawdral. Bingo -- it seems 5,000 is some kind of demarcation. I have to check this more thoroughly, but next time I will only ask for 4,999 and see what transpires.

At the teller window my simple withdrawal request meant another flurry of paperwork, computer entry, stamps, and form signing. Whew, all I wanted to do was pay my phone and electric bill and buy some groceries. The entire process I just described probably took at least 1/2 hour or more.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Finally, some clarity on the Mexican immigration issue

The following paragraphs are excerpts from a thoughtful Houston Post article that should be required reading for all Americans, Mexicans, and Canadians that are part of the NAFTA agreement:

Unlike their NAFTA counterparts, the architects of the European Union
understood that economic integration of unequal partners was
unsustainable, since workers would migrate from the poorer to the
richer countries. Thus, when Greece, Spain and Portugal joined their
more developed neighbors in an expanded European Economic Community,
the member countries created an ambitious Regional Development Program
to help improve the education and infrastructure of the newest (and
poorest) entrants.

NAFTA governments must do the same. Undocumented, treacherous and
divisive migration is not going to disappear, regardless of the height
of the walls that we build. Unless NAFTA governments cooperate and
begin to address the deficiencies of Mexico's public infrastructure —
everything from roads and schools to sanitation, water and power —
these elements will continue to hinder the development of not only the
country but also the 1.2 million Mexicans who enter the Mexican job
market each year.

The time has come to explore the creation of a North American Regional
Development Fund to help spur economic development. Such an entity,
funded by contributions from all three countries, would provide needed
infrastructure development (including education and worker training) in
the poorest regions of the North American continent.

Historically, the U.S. government has ignored issues of Mexican
poverty. Our annual foreign aid of $30 million to Mexico represents
only one-fifth of the total investment we make in Bolivia. The greatest
source of U.S. foreign aid to Mexico comes from Mexicans themselves:
the $24 billion in remittances returned home by Mexicans working in the
United States. Eliminating these funds (a possible outcome under some
of the draconian immigration policies being debated in our election
year) would collapse the Mexican economy.

The economic contraction in the USA is being felt down here in Mexico. Tourism is off and many parts of the Mexican economy are feeling the effects of smaller remittances.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008 is amazing

Many years ago when I worked as the supervisor at a satellite communications terminal in Mahe, Seychelles I spent many long hours in the terminal control center. I didn't mind because I could occupy those hours reading. Because I worked as a government contractor I had an FPO box that make it feasible to subscribe to magazines published in the US. At the time I was very interested in the possibility of divining the future and two magazines I subscribed to were "The Futurist", and "High Technology" (or perhaps Omni). I used to devour these magazines seeking visions of the future, trying to gain foreknowledge so I could capitalize on knowing where events would lead. Truth to tell this is still a large part of my psyche.

I am a little hazy on exact details, this all took place way back in the late 60s, but I vividly recall reading an article in one or the other of these magazines that explained how in the future we would all enjoy having our own personal Oracle. To pose questions to him, we would not need to go to some special grotto or anything like that. All we would have to do is fire up our personal computer and connect to our "knowledge utility". I was absolutely captivated by this futuristic notion. Naturally, the first question I was going to ask my Oracle was: what is the secret to life? And Douglas Adams notwithstanding, it is not 42. If you want to know, you'll have to ask your own Oracle, mine is dedicated to serving me alone.

Times change and we don't really talk in terms of Oracles these days. Instead you hear terms like "knowledge server". In fact, it turns out Internet resources like, Google, and Clusty are closing in on the vision of a knowledge server. These tools do more than simply point you to information. They categorize, and to some extent analyze, raw information or help you see connections you may not have thought of; and they just keep getting better and better.

If this blog ever mystifies you, please give a shot. Are you taking advantage of this service? If not, try it out. Put your cursor over a term in the text and click. See what serves up. Warning, using is addictive.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

INAPAM tarjeta can save you dinero

The Mexican government has a program managed by Instituto Nacional de las Personas Adultas Mayores (INAPAM) that issues a membership card to qualified seniors enabling them to obtain discounts for various products, services and bus travel. To qualify you must be at least 60 years old. All Mexican nationals are eligible, but so are rentistas with the proper requisitos. To apply you must go to the Quinta de las Rosas senior center on 20 Noviembre (cross street is Independencia) at 8:30 AM and take a number for an appointment with the INAPAM staff. The office (designated Credentiales) is at the back of the complex. When you number comes up, the friendly cliente asistente will complete your application based on the documents you supply. Should you need Zerox copies there is a shop across 20 Noviembre that can make them for you. If you are faced with a long wait there is a small cafeteria where you can order hot drinks and snacks.

I have placed a Quinta de las Rosas marker on our CommunityWalk map of Xalapa (at the bottom of this page), and assigned it the government category. Quinta means country house or country estate, so I am guessing that this walled complex was actually part of a private estate in historic times. The grounds and buildings are quite nice. If I had not been on a mission I would have read some of the brass plaques that probably explain all about the place.

Here is a list of required documents:

An FM-2 or FM-3 visa

A photocopy of 3 pages of your passport and 3 pages of your Visa. For the passport that would be the front inside cover page and facing page and the page with the Mexican visa. For the Mexican visa the pages are 4 and 5, and the Prorrogas page with the most recent renewal date.

Two copias of your photograph (infantil size).

A comprobante such as a paid telephone or electric statement (original and copy).

Lastly they want a copy of your birth certificate and an official translation of the same.

You need to supply them a telephone number of a person to "avisar en caso de accidente".

Their telephone number is 841-49-69

When you go for the appointment, the office staff may hand you a list of "reqisitos" that lists a Certified Registration Unique of Population (CURP). This document is applicable to Mexican citizens and once they supply their CURP, copies can be downloaded via the internet. For rentistas your visa and passport fulfill this document requirement. (Bob Cox the owner of passed me information saying rentistas can obtain the CURP ID). I think Bob has lived in Mexico for a very long time. We need to ask him if there are any advantages to having this ID. My sense is that it is for people working and paying taxes in Mexico.

When your cliente asistente has completed your INAPAM application you pass to the adjoining room where your card is created. If I remember correctly the charge for making the laminated card with your photograph was five pesos.

Now to the good part, saving pesos.

Intercity bus fares are granted at half price, but I'm told you cannot book on the executivos. That's not a big problem, because even the "standard" buses I've been on were quite clean and comfortable. Mexico has a superb bus system with modern coaches, many connections, and clean attractive bus terminals in major destinations. On city buses throughout Mexico, flash your INAPAM card at the driver and pay half price.

Some bus lines have no limit on the number of INAPAM riders on a given bus trip, but others only allow two discount cards per coach. If this happens, you can wait and get on the next bus. Remember this is the land of Mañana. Chill out and have a cerveza.

Usually museums and archaeological zones are free, some cinemas give 25 % discount. VIPS restaurants gives a 10% discount, Dr. SIMI Farmacias allow 5% off on prescriptions as does Chedraui and Superama. Since VIPS also has a pharmacy in some restaurants, they may give a better discount than the pharmacies. It may be worth checking out.

In your wonderings around the internet, you may come across references to an "INSEN" seniors card. That is the initials of a previous Mexican Government agency that administered the program for seniors. The program particulars may have changed also, so I would discount any information you have or might run across on INSEN.

If you know of anything that is inaccurate or misleading in this post please add a comment. I am deliberately sprinkling some Spanish words in my text to see if this makes any change in the text ads Google selects for this blog.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Free End joins Amazon's Associates Program

Over the past week or so while people were off involved in Christmas shopping and celebrations I have been adding Amazon content to The Free End. As you read down through my posts you will observe Amazon content running down the right hand column. The Amazon text is pretty self explanatory so I won't elaborate here except to say that if you click on a product because you want more information, or want to purchase the product, you will be routed to the site for more information or for order processing.

Some products Amazon displays are automatically chosen by their software based on the text that I have written, the purpose of The Free End and other factors. There are also products that I personally have chosen because I use them, or in the case of books because I have read them or others have recommended them. At the bottom of the page you will find The Free End Store sandwiched in front of the CommunityWalk map of Xalapa. This store section functions as a complete order processing facility. You add desired products to your shopping basket and then checkout and never have to leave The Free End.

Based on feedback I get I will be "tweaking" the content of the store to insure the products you see are appropriate for the site and will be of benefit. I invite you to let me know how you feel about the Amazon upgrade. I continue to look for topics of interest to site visitors.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Internet banking with HSBC

After more than a year in Mexico coping with the inevitable lines at my bank branch (which is no different than other Mexican banks so far as I can tell) I finally committed to working through the signup procedure to gain access to my visa and checking account via the internet. I was resigned to facing a frustrating procedure, but in the event, the process went pretty smoothly. Perhaps this result is a testament to the fact my Spanish is really improving. I was actually able to figure out all the forms displayed and confidently make choices I was offered, or submit information the forms demanded.

Well, wouldn't you know, there was a crucial question on the last step in the process where I was asked to say yea or nay. I worried over that one because had I answered nay, about 45 minutes of suspenseful decision making would have been wasted. Finally, I was confident I understood what the program was asking and haltingly elected yea. Since the question was security related, I´m afraid you will just have to forgive me for not describing the details. If you yourself decide to go for online banking you can sweat that one like I did. Later I was able to confirm with a Mexican friend that I did in fact understand what I was about.

Perhaps one reason I did not have too much trouble with HSBC´s process relates to my long years of experience with home banking, which began almost from the time it was offered by my bank. As an early adopter I recognized there would be benefits but along with that would came some pain. However, because the bank was eager to entice customers into using online banking, when I did encounter problems, bank representatives adopted a very conciliatory attitude. Here in Mexico, I was not sure HSBC would do likewise. I hasten to say I have no complaints with HSBC in over a year doing business with them. The other sticking point, was over account security. Would HSBC provide a secure platform to bank on the web?

My fears are allayed. During the registration process I was subjected to inordinate scrutiny and had to provide three questions that no stranger could successfully devine answers to or devise a program to break on the basis of brute computer power. On top of the multiple security question precautions (which many financial sites are now implementing) HSBC offers a one time password (OTP) device that generates codes to use when accessing their servers. So it seems like everything is up to date in Mexico as far as keeping online financial transactions secure.

If you are still struggling with the cash only way of doing business and are tired of waiting in long lines at the bank, perhaps you should investigate electronic banking here in Xalapa. I can now pay my visa, electric, water, and telephone bills online. Who wants to waste time when they are retired?

Disclaimer: I did not read all ten pages of the contract, but then, I stopped reading financial contracts and web agreements years ago. Why change just because I live in a foreign country and the contract is written in Spanish? Even when agreements are written in English, who can understand the gobbledegook ? Can Spanish gobbledegook be any better?