Digressions On Itinerant Geekery
October 10, 2014

I finally caved to the inevitable and installed WordPress. New blog address is itinerantgeekery.com, or www.jackemery.com/digressions. Either will work, or click the title above.

December 20, 2013
(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

How long would it take to learn Tagalog, if you concentrated on nothing else and worked at maximum efficiency? Herewith, a couple of data points . . . .

For those who haven’t heard of him, Tim Ferriss is the best-selling author of books like The Four-Hour Work Week, The Four-Hour Body, and The Four-Hour chef. The underlying theme of all his books and other projects is what he calls “deconstruction” - breaking a skill down into its essential elements and figuring out how to learn them quickly and effectively. . . . Continue reading . . .

February 6, 2013
(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

This week I got a dose of reality about driving in the Philippines.

Just to be clear, I’m not one of those foreigners who complains about the local driving customs. I actually like driving here, better than in the obsessive-compulsive rules-intensive systems prevailing in many ‘advanced’ countries.

Here traffic flow depends much less on rules and much more on individual drivers exercising common sense. Mostly, it works fine. In two years of driving here I’ve seen a total of perhaps three accidents, all minor fender-benders.

It can seem a bit chaotic - turning left from the right lane, turning right from the left lane . . . Continue reading . . .

January 16, 2013
(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

Moving to a new country and culture requires making some adjustments. You’re used to doing things a certain way, and you move to a place like the Philippines and you discover that people here have their own ways of doing things, and they’re different.

One of the differences has to do with shopping. On the surface, it doesn’t seem all that different from America. There are malls, they have stores, they sell stuff. But one thing they don’t usually do is let you return things. In the U.S., most large retailers will give refunds on just about anything, no questions asked. You buy a coffee maker at Walmart or an electric drill at Home Depot, you can bring it back for a refund, even if it works perfectly.

Not here. Different system. On most items purchased at the larger stores, the usual . . . Continue reading . . .

January 4, 2013
(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

People sometimes ask me what I miss the most from Arizona, now that I live in the Philippines. For me, the answer is easy: the public library. (A close second would be Mexican food.)

In 1993 my wife and I seriously considered moving here to Davao permanently. We even came over and lived here for six weeks as a kind of test drive. No internet then, no bookstores that carried foreign books - the best you could do was a few foreign magazines. No Skype or Magicjack, either, back then long distance to the U.S. was about 80 cents a minute.

Now, of course, life here on Mindanao is completely different. Internet is available nearly everywhere, and although the available choices . . . Continue reading . . .

December 11, 2011
(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

This month marks the end of our first year living full time in Davao. When we came here from Arizona we bought a round trip ticket, thinking that we would probably want to visit the U.S. every year or so anyway. The return ticket was set to expire after a year, so it was either use it or lose it. So we just returned from two weeks in the U.S. with a week in Hong Kong on the way back. A one way ticket this time.

The Hong Kong stopover involved an experiment that may be of interest to others, Hong Kong being not too far away and not too expensive to travel to, and also one of the obvious options for those needing to go out and come back in to renew a visa. It’s also a good place for shopping, especially for electronics; if you go to the right places, prices on computers and related items are ten or twenty percent less than U.S. prices.

Coming to the Philippines from the U.S., it’s often possible to get a few days stopover in Hong Kong for not too much more than the price of the ticket to Manila. The drawback is that Hong Kong hotels tend to be expensive at best, and it can sometimes be hard to find a room when you want one. This time, the hotels we stayed at on previous trips were full; the only hotel rooms I could find in Kowloon were going for prices that would have had my Scottish ancestors spinning in their graves. I was at the point of giving up on the Hong Kong stopover, but then it occurred to me to try airbnb.com. Continue reading . . .

October 2, 2012

As the “fiscal cliff” lurches back into the public consciousness, the political class engages in its usual disingenuous portrayal of what is actually an easily solved problem.

Democrats will say that the problem is Republicans’ refusal to go along with a reasonable tax increase on the “wealthy”, which the Democrats define as “anyone not living in a car”.

The Republicans will say that the problem is Democrats refusal to cut “entitlements”, which Republicans define as “any program whose primary beneficiaries are not defense contractors, agribusiness conglomerates, or Goldman Sachs executives”. . . Continue reading . . .

August 17, 2011

It's easy to list things not to like about Facebook.

The overbearing and often deceptive attitude toward privacy.

The superficiality of most of the content. Wow, other people's vacation pictures! Break out the popcorn!

The enforced conformity to a bland and boring layout. 100 million web pages that all look exactly identical!

The delays waiting for every other page in the web universe to load, while Facebook ties up your browser hoovering up data about what sites you're visiting.

The insistence on overflowing your email box with spam every time someone whom you barely know posts a picture of someone else whom you've never even heard of. Yes, I know, it's theoretically possible to turn that off. But that would require navigating their marvellously obfuscated preferences settings, which would take time away from more interesting pursuits, such as watching the cat lick itself. Continue reading . . .

May 16, 2011
(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

Back when we lived in southeastern Arizona, a well driller showed up one day in a vacant lot near a trail where I used to go for walks. Always fascinated by things mechanical, I watched the operation for a while, and chatted with the driller. The equipment consisted of a large truck with a rotary drill rig mounted on the back. As I recall, the driller was only there for a couple of days - that’s all it takes for one of these rigs to knock out a two or three hundred foot hole.

We’re now in the process of building a house on Samal Island - a long, very slow process, it seems - in a location where city water isn’t available. Catching rainwater is one option, but the rain doesn’t always cooperate, so we figured that a well would be a good investment. I mean, how hard can it be to drill for water in a place where it rains all the time? Continue reading . . .

February 16, 2011
(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

Shipping containers. Tax exemptions. One of the questions that comes up when you start thinking about moving to the Philippines permanently is: what do you do with all your stuff? Over the years, most of us accumulate large quantities of furniture, appliances, electronics, books, tools, etc. Do we store it? Give it to the Salvation Army? Hold a giant yard sale? Cram it all into balikbayan boxes?

It’s common knowledge that you’re entitled to bring in one shipping container of personal and household goods, exempt from VAT tax and import duties, if you get a permanent resident visa such as a 13A (spousal visa) or an SRRV (retiree visa). It says so right here: http://www.philippineembassy-usa.org/uploads/pdfs/DutyFreeImportation.pdf. (This also applies to returning overseas Filipino workers.)

In an unbelievably laborious and expensive experiment which I hope to never ever repeat, we have proved that this can actually be done. Continue reading . . .

December 7, 2010
(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

There’s a new “Mindanao Bob” in town!

We finally pulled the trigger.

Last week we relocated from Arizona to Davao, lock, stock, barrel, and cat.

This isn’t about moving. That would be boring.

This is about the cat. (The cat’s name is Bob, and this is Mindanao, so I guess that makes him “Mindanao Bob II”. )

Some have asked “why are you taking a cat to the Philippines?????”, or “don’t they have cats in the Philippines?????” (“?????” translates roughly to “are you insane?”). I could reply that we’ve had Bob for ten years now, and he’s a member of the family. But a non-cat person will find that answer unconvincing. A cat person would never ask such a question in the first place. Continue reading . . .

July 3, 2010
(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

Mindanao Bob has a plan for ending corruption in the Philippines.

He’s right about it being one of the hottest topics on the blogs, the message boards, and, no doubt, in comments on his site.

I respect Bob’s opinions, but on this one I would like to offer a dissenting view.

First, let me be clear: I am not talking about high level corruption, such as paying off members of Congress or bribing judges. That kind of corruption is bad news, but it happens everywhere. We Americans are hardly in a position to throw stones. After all, we just presided over a trillion dollar rape of the taxpayer, engineered by government officials with intimate ties to the Wall Street bankers who got the money. Nothing in the Philippines amounts to even a blip on the radar screen by comparison. Continue reading . . .

May 1, 2006

One of the biggest mistakes that one can make in life, in my opinion, is the one that economists refer to as "preparing for the wrong world". Investing heavily in tape cassette manufacturing just as CD's were entering the scene, for example. Assuming that the future will be like the present (or, worse, the past) is an almost guaranteed way of preparing for the wrong world. Parents often make this mistake in advising their children. Smart kids perfectly understand that career strategies that may have worked for their parents in 1972 are probably not going to be optimal in 2006. Continue reading . . .

In its simplest form, a cellular automaton ('CA') consists of a grid of squares. Each square can be black or white. At intervals, the grid is recomputed and some of the squares change color, causing the geometric pattern made by the squares to change. At each iteration, when the grid is recomputed, the color of each square changes or stays the same depending on the color of the squares in some small 'neighborhood' surrounding it. A CA uses 'transition rules' to determine the color of a cell at the next iteration from the current colors of the neighboring cells. Continue reading . . .

Today's Quote

"Taking travel advice from the State Department is like taking financial advice from the Treasury Department."
-- Simon Black