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.