Friday, November 23, 2007

Preliminary information about my GPS experience

While attending a conference in New York recently I took the opportunity to buy a GPS unit for my car. The unit I chose was the Garmin Streetpilot, c550, which has been on the market for some time and is therefore dropped in price. My impression is that Garmin is the heavy favorite in the GPS slugfest taking place now. I paid $324 at DigCity in New Jersey, which is a web store. Actually, Pricegrabber was showing a price of $284, but that may have been for a rturned unit that was no longer in stock. Over the years I have had good luck buying tech toys that have been returned. I think many people buy stuff that they simply cannot understand how to use. As long as the web store has a good rep and a good return policy you can save a bunch of money buying returned merchandise.

To go along with the Garmin unit, I purchased a downloadable "global map" of Mexico, surprisingly named "Global Map Mexico", which I think is a product of a Mexican company, but cannot pin that down. The other piece one needs is software to download and upload data to the GPS unit. That software is "MapSource" by Garmin and is free (not to be confused with the version intended for blue water navigation, which requires a payment).

I had the understanding that Global Map Mexico had detailed street information for Veracruz City, Villahermosa and Oaxaca, but if it is there, I cannot find it. The information for Xalapa is very sparse. State route 140 is shown with a few streets simply labeled "Calle de Xalapa", which confused me at first because I thought the map label meant Av. Xalapa. Silly me. Later on I looked at Veracruz City and could see many map lines labled Calle de Veracruz, obviously this is simply a conventional way of labeling streets when the detail is missing.

A thing that really surprised me was that my Garmin seems to have some basic map information for Mexico and indeed many more places. I hasten to add that there is no detail in this "basemap" until you hit the border of the US which has tons of detailed information. Just for the hell of it I asked my unit to route me to an address in San Diego, CA. Using a product feature that lets you simulate the trip, my Garmin promptly instructed me to drive to route (state road) 140. I was then led towards Perote and then into Puebla. I turned of the unit at that point because the simulation was running very slowly and my battery was getting low. I think the fool thing was going to take me through Mexico City, DF. No way, Garmin!

There does not appear to be a lot of map choices for Mexico that show "street level" detail. Nonetheless, I have discovered there is a way to use Google Earth information along with some public domain software to derive detailed maps of just about anyplace on earth. I will be reporting more on this in future posts as I climb the learning curve.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

BBC publishing first person accounts of Tabasco disaster

Here is a link to the BBC website, which features first person accounts.

The Xalapa cable provider, Megacable has not restored CNN to our cable system, so we are relying on BBC and CNN Internet sites for information. CNN has been off the cable for just over two weeks. Perhaps Megacable's search teams are still surveying the cane fields for the the dish that was receiving the satellite feed.

This most recent outage started the night we experienced "frente frio 4"' or as this cold front condition is called, a "norte". I think it is interesting that Mexicans track cold fronts and number them. Sort of says how important these things are to the rhythm of life in Veracruz. As I reported in an earlier blog, wind speeds were up around 60 miles an hour. Besides causing a lot of wind damage here, that weather system was the start of the tragedy down south of Veracruz in Tabasco state.

Living on this side of the border one begins to appreciate why Americans are thought of as shallow, self absorbed, self-centered and indifferent to what happens outside their borders. Since CNN is out of action I watch the American Network, which carries CBS news. During an early morning broadcast November 5, there was a brief, all of ten second report on the flooding in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco. Take note that the floods have destroyed or severely damaged the homes of 500,000 people. Tens of thousands are still stranded on roof tops or whatever high ground they can find. They lack dry clothing, food, and water. In terms of the area flooded and the lives affected, this flood makes New Orleans pale by comparison. The loss to Mexico is staggering.

But, on the bright side, CBS morning news November 5, gave the story a whole 10 seconds. I know this because I timed the segment. The 30 minute evening news program did not even mention the tragedy.

Ok, we all know that network news in the United States sucks. But if we didn't know this I think the way CBS news reacted to one of the biggest natural disasters to befall our Mexican friends and neighbors tells us something. Maybe, just maybe, we are shallow, self absorbed people.

Friday, November 02, 2007

More bad weather news

I am closely in touch with the recent severe weather events that have battered the eastern coastal states of Mexico this summer and now are extending into the fall. Tonight, it was heartbreaking to witness this evening's television reporting on the current crisis in Tabasco. Even more disheartening is the news that yet another storm is forecast for this weekend.

To the south, the flooding in Villahermosa, Tabasco is already the worst in 50 years. Over one million are homeless and like in Katrina, many are still stranded on roof tops without dry clothing, food, or water as the crisis deepens. Over 20 people have lost their lives, crops are destroyed, and roads and bridges have sustained major damage. For Mexico, the loss is staggering and officials describe this tragedy as the worst natural disaster to ever befall Mexico.

Our Mexican friends, families and neighbors desperately need our generous support. One of the best ways you can help is to contribute to the American Red Cross and specify that you want your donation to go to help Mexican flood victims. I cannot get over the Spanish way of expressing such unfortunates: "damnificados", which I assume translates literally as "the dammed".

As a resident of Mexico for over a year I can testify to the wonderful people I am meeting here and I am deeply saddened to witness their tragedy. Please help. Here is the American Red Cross web site:

If you read Spanish, you can follow local newspaper reports by reading the online editions of Diario Xalapa:

For other towns and cities go here:

I don't know how CNN is reporting this tragedy because my local Megacable service lost CNN two weeks ago during a fierce wind storm that racked Xalapa. I suspect the CNN satellite dish is long gone and they have not managed to install a replacement.