30 June 2012

Turning Right

Recent articles in U.S. media have featured the archaic yet (sometimes) amusing Costa Rican method of identifying locations.  No, they don’t use firstame, lastname, number, streetname, city, state, zip, country.  They use, for instance, “250 meters south of the Zapote Church”.  This is the actual address used by the main offices of the national postal service, Correos, and the offices of the postal customs tax collector. In rural areas, it gets even worse. An approximation of an example given in one of the U.S. publications was to “proceed 2 kilometers out of town and turn east at the yellow bus.”  Turns out the yellow bus was a derelict which had been broken down and left there for more than a decade.  Kind of hard to map out and kind of hard to find in the dark, in an emergency.

This mess is hard to deal with, even with a modern GPS in your car and is probably why there is little or no parcel service outside of the biggest cities and deliveries of any type are spotty.

When this topic comes up on forums, locals and long term ex-pats frequently jump in with comments about “it has worked for years – leave it alone,” or, “it was like this in the USA years ago,” or, “don’t try to come here and change things.” 

Well, it has worked here, sort of, and people are only satisfied with it because they have no experience with an industrial age addressing system or they wouldn’t put up with this kludge; and, yes it worked for years in the RURAL U.S. but it didn’t work once the country grew and modernized; and, I’ve never been afraid to stir the pot when I thought things needed fixing or tweaking, have I friends.

For several years, the country has had an initiative to name streets, put up street signs and create a numbering system – all with very limited success and acceptance. It is bogged down with no sign of life.

Therefore, at the urging of our good friend and fellow blogger Mark, at GoingLike60.com, we make the following proposal to solve the problem:

Virtually every map of Costa Rica is very “wanting” with no numbering system, no street names (and the ones which have been named often have conflicting names/numbers.) However, there is a map which is based on many different current GPS tracks plus comparisons to the best of the commercial Internet mapping companies.  It is available for plotting locations. (See www.openstreetmap.org)

This Plan is to have every building and residence identified on a subset of the Open Street Map, using GPS latitude/longitude numbers.  For instance, the Correos (post office building) of the little town we live in, instead of:

50 meters west of the south side of the church of Atenas, Atenas, Atenas, Alajuela, 20500, Costa Rica

it would be:

9.97772, -84.38090.

Shorter, exact, easy to write or type.  Anybody with a gps device can key this in and be directed, well, directly to the location.

There are many ways this could be set up.  People interested in being found and having an address can go to a post office, point out their location on the map and the post office could lock in the coordinates for their database while providing them to the customer.  Incentive?  Simple marketing can drive home the point that using such a system will result in far less delayed, misdirected or lost mail.  The biggie for the thinking portion of the public is stuff like emergency services being able to quickly find them, because of having a “real” address, instead of searching around a neighborhood for crucial minutes, hoping they’ve got the correct church or bus landmark.

Also, Correos personnel can “mark” a location every time they find one based on the old method and upload it into the database.  Notification could then be mailed to that location giving them a deadline to begin using the new address.

Readily available free services like the website www.goQR.me can take this lat/long number and turn it into one of the new QR barcodes (the square thingies) which can be read by smart phones and plotted directly onto the smartphone’s mapping/gps system.  No “keying in” so less chance of error.  Much more easily machine readable than written out lat/long numbers.

Apart from saving untold gobs of money by not having to run all over the country trying to find somebody, Correos could sell QR address labels, just like stamps.  Since there are probably far less than 10 million mapable locations in the entire country the Correo could also data base all of the QR barcodes into the Cloud, hyperlinked with a TinyURL, and this opens up an online revenue stream as consumers can access and download “their” address or pay to receive labels, rubber stamp, etc.

ICE, the national phone company, should be thrilled because this gives them the potential of placing a smartphone into the vehicle/hands of every Correo, taxi, first responder, delivery person, utility service person and repairman or contractor in the country.

Is the non-technical person (no smartphone, no computer and no desire) out of luck?  Heck no.  They can just keep using the old system.  It works – sort of.  However, their incentive to “come on board” would be intense because they would become more and more marginalized staying with the old.  It would be a benefit for them and the country as they were eventually coerced into participation.

Some tweaks to the idea include things like a distributed network of smart pay phones or, probably more appropriately, pay-to-play kiosks in convenience marts where the public can drop a coin, key in a lat/lon or scan a QR to see a map. For an additional coin, the machine could spit out a paper map.

All businesses with websites can be legislated into mandatorily having a QR of their address prominently on their website.

That's about it y'all. Comments? Improvements?

Best Regards and Good Luck, Costa Rica,

9.98797, -84.37881

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27 June 2012

Health Warning! What happens to household goods in storage for a year!

A week ago I felt what I thought was the onset of a cold. I started taking the usual OTC meds, but this nasty bug immediately settled in my lungs. I had to sleep upright in a recliner just to breathe. By Saturday, John insisted I go to a doctor to get this checked out, and the search for cause and cure began.

When we first moved to Atenas, we were not yet covered under Costa Rica's national health care system, Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (CCSS or CAJA). So we affiliated with a a local health care provider called "Linea Vital." They offers private English-speaking medical care for the Atenas community. Clinic staff provide home visits, emergency care and general medical services.

Saturday, I saw Doctora Candy and when she listened to my lungs she said, "Muchos Gatos" (or many cats)! She put me on 4 nebulizer treatments, gave me an injection for inflammation and sent me home with antibiotics, inhalers, and a bunch of other meds to try to assault whatever was attacking my lungs. She told me to come back on Monday and meet with Doctora Hernández, who would be filling in for here for a few days. By Monday, I was still the same, or maybe a little worse. Doctora Hernández gave me 3 more nebulizer treatments, another injection and changed the antibiotic to something stronger. She suspected pneumonia of some type had set in. Since we are now members of the national health care system all of our medical is covered, so she sent me off to the local CAJA clinic for blood work and x-rays. I was handed the results for the blood work in 30 minutes, but it would take two days to get results for x-rays. Yesterday, We opted to go to a private facility in Alajuela (about 30 minutes from us) and get the x-ray done and receive the results the same day. It took us about 3 hours and we were back to see Doctora Hernández with all the results. She diagnosed bacterial pneumonia due to the raised white blood cell count and some cloudiness she saw on the x-rays. So, she sent me back to the local CAJA clinic with an emergency referral for treatment.

At the clinic they took me right to the head of the line where I met with the intake nurse and doctor to assess the treatment so far. This doctor started thinking Asthma and put me on a course of 4 rounds of nebulizer treatments, i.v. drip and more injections. He called in another doctor to consult and they decided I still needed 3 more nebulizer treatments and another i.v. injection. Now, let me tell you during all of the this treatment, they have my blood pressure all over the map, the highest I have ever seen it in my life and I've got the shakes due to the drug induced tachycardia. My pulse rate was over 115. By 4 p.m., the local clinic was getting ready to close for the day, so the attending doctor check my status a determined there was still no improvement so they needed to transport me to the big hospital in Alajuela for treatment and off I go...

John went back to the house to take care of the dogs, pick up some stuff for me that I might need and arrange for someone to guard the house. During the trip to the hospital, I called my dear friend Maritza, an R.N. that recently retired from this same hospital. She wasn't home, so I explained what was going on to her husband, Vinicio. He said he would update her as soon as he could.

We arrived at the hospital emergency room around 5 p.m. and they immediately took me to the head of the line to see the intake nurse and attending physician. The doctor, reviewed all the the previous results, checked me out and decided I needed more nebulizer treatments, blood pressure meds, more blood work and antibiotics.

So, off I go to the "Sala de Asma" for nebulizer treatments, etc. I sent John a text message telling him where he could find me when he arrived at the hospital. As soon as he got to the hospital, they sent him right in to see me.

I met with another doctor in the Sala de Asma and it turns out he lives in my neighborhood of Atenas and knew me as the neighbor that had provided all the electricity and water for a recent fiesta in the plaza across from our house where they held bull racing, horse racing, dances, etc. He was bragging to all the rest of the patients about what a good neighbor I am. Small world.

About this time, Maritza called and said she was coming directly to the hospital. Maritza is one of those "take charge" kind of people, that instills the belief that everything will be fine. She holds several advanced degrees in nursing and retired at the pinnacle of career in health care. She has seen it all. I have known and loved this woman for longer than I have known and loved my children. She was born 3 days before I was and I consider her the twin sister I never had.

In walks Maritza, and of course all the staff members are delighted to see her, hugs and kisses for everyone. She talks to me, takes my blood pressure and then talks with my doctor. Suddenly she turns around to me and says she knows exactly what has caused this pulmonary episode. She said she was sure it was a combination of dust, mold, mildew and bacteria.

Maritza reminded me that we had just started to unpack all of our household goods that have been in storage for a year. In spite of all the care we took with everything, our stuff arrived in a sea container last August, in the middle of the rainy season and immediately went into a garage and attic for long term storage. We had to store everything while the new Casa was under construction. We finally moved in a couple of weeks ago and we have gradually been moving the stored furniture and boxes into the new casa before opening them. Bad move! All we did was release all the mold spores and bacteria into the new house.

Well the doctor pretty much concurred with Maritza's medial assessment and decided the nebulizer treatments weren't going to cure this, but he wanted to see the blood work first to see if the antibiotics where improving anything. The results came back and the white blood cell count was down somewhat. They finally cut me loose from the hospital with more meds and instruction to see my local CAJA doctor in a week, or sooner if I get worse.

Last night, instead of trying to sleep in what is probably a mold infested recliner, I opted for our bed with a large stack of super clean pillows, and I finally got some rest after a sleep deprived week.

So, the bottom line... I think I may be on the road to recovery. As a word of warning... don't ever think you can put all of your belongings in an storage facility where the environment is exposed to the elements of nature. Especially here in Costa Rica's tropical climate. The jungle will always try to take over and claim your stuff as it's own.

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04 June 2012

We have a new address!

Front door - Inside
We have a new address! It's about 40 meters (131 feet) South of where we had been living for almost a year. Yes, it's official, we moved out of the casita, and into the new Casa last week. There are still lots of things that are not done, but we just couldn't live in our 300 square foot (28 square meters) casita any longer. We had the single car garage packed from floor to ceiling. Last August we stuffed as many boxes into the small attic as we could and when we ran out of space there, we crammed everything else into every nook and cranny we could find in the casita. The only space left was a pathway from the front door to the bed, the bathroom and a tiny workspace in the kitchenette. I'm amazed we were able to live like this for the past year.

Our new Dutch door
Even though we are lacking a number of amenities in the Casa, we decided it is workable "as is" and we will live without until the finishing touches are completed. Here is a short list of the things we still need:
  • Kitchen Cabinets
  • Kitchen Counter tops
  • Kitchen Sink
  • Master Bathroom Cabinets
  • Master Bathroom Counter tops
  • Master Bathroom Sink
  • Master Bathroom Towel Bars
  • Guest Bathroom Cabinets
  • Guest Bathroom Counter tops 
  • Guest Bathroom Sink
  • Guest Bathroom Towel Bars
  • Interior Doors (9 of them)
  • Replacement of defective water heater
  • Pantry shelves (almost done)
  • Laundry room shelves
  • Internet service

The Terraza
In the interim, we are using the laundry room sink for everything from preparing meals and washing dishes to brushing teeth. It's a little awkward to use a bathroom toilet and then go to the laundry room to wash hands, but it's workable.

My gas range is installed in the kitchen, along with our new side-by-side refrigerator. Wow, is it nice to have lots of freezer and refrigerator space. When we sold our home in Houston, the new buyer talked us into selling him our "almost new" side-by-side refrigerator. We waited until now to buy a replacement. I've have really missed not having the ice maker and water dispenser in the door for the past year. Our new Samsung refrigerator has all that and I think it even works better than the one we left behind. At least it doesn't shoot ice out all over the place like our old LG. The LG had a hard time dispensing ice into a glass... we considered ourselves lucky if only half of the ice cubes landed on the floor. We've setup a couple of folding tables for workspace and stainless steel wire shelving (on wheels) for temporary cabinet space, so I guess you could say I've got a workable kitchen.

Decorative Wrought Iron Windows
Our king size bed is where it belongs, along with our armoires (wardrobe cabinets). John finished the build out our closet with shelves and clothes rods, so we have plenty of space for hanging clothes and storing shoes.

The living room sofa and our Lazy Boy recliners have been unwrapped and moved into the new living room. John hung the big LCD TV last week and Saturday, CableTica showed up in the rain to hook up cable TV. They said they would be back this week to hook up the modem for internet service. Eliécer, one of our builders, stored our living room coffee and end tables in his workshop last year. He said he would bring them back to us one day this week.

Alexander, the security guy, came and installed a state-of-the-art alarm system for us. This system arms 19 windows, 4 doors and 3 motion sensors. It has a voice dialer feature that is really slick because we can program up to 5 phone numbers that are called in sequence when there is a security breach. We can also call the home phone and arm the system from the road if we forget to set the alarm. The system lets you arm the doors and windows when you are home so the motion sensors don't set it off, and when we go to bed, we set it to "night time" so the motion sensor in our bedroom won't trigger the alarm we get up to go to the bathroom, but it will set off a siren if John raids the refrigerator.

We've programmed our voice dialer to call our cell phones for now, because calling the "policia" here is a joke. We are usually in the neighborhood and could get here pretty quick if there is a security breach. We have friends that live close by and we will use them as a backup whenever we can't get here quick enough.

Gustavo, the gate guy, came and installed an electric motor on our beautiful wrought iron gate. It comes with two remote controls and there is a switch in the Casa that we can also use to open and close the gate. It work really great, as our dog, Gus (pronounced "goose" in Spanish) can attest to.

Today, I was trying to label all the switch plates in the Casa, so I would know what switch powers what light fixture, fan, etc. Xiomara, the woman that helps me with the house work, was helping me and she pressed the switch for the gate. Immediately, it started to open and Gus made a run for freedom on the streets. John yelled, "Close the gate" and she pressed it again, causing it to close and catch Gus on his way out. Gus yelped in pain with his shoulder pinned between the gate and the support post. I pressed the switch again and it opened releasing the poor little guy. Needless to say, we were all worried Gus had sustained significant injuries, so John and I rushed off with him to see the vet. Our vet wasn't open yet, so we found another vet that was. John stayed in the car with Gus, while I went in to see if the doctor could check him out. As soon as John opened the car door, Gus bolted and ran down the streets of Atenas, with the two of us chasing after him. Obviously, the injury wasn't much if Gus could run like that. Finally, instead of running after Gus (he thought we were playing a game) John just sat down in the street near the central market. Immediately, Gus ran to John to see why he wasn't playing anymore. John scooped him up in his arms and we walked back to the vet's office. The doctor said Gus has some swelling on his right front shoulder, but it was mild. He checked Gus out and said to keep an eye on him for the next couple of days, but he thinks our little rescued street dog will be just fine.

Rodolfo, one of our builders, is here today with a helper, re-installing the sprinkler system they had to remove when they started construction on the Casa. Once the sprinkler system is up and running again, we'll have Mario, our gardener, bring in a truck load of top soil and new grass sod. I can't wait until we have grass growing again. You just wouldn't believe how much mud two little dogs can track into the Casa in a day. I'm also looking forward to planting shrubs and flowers in the garden and along the walkway.

We haven't started unpacking yet, because we really don't have anywhere to store the stuff until all the cabinets and shelves are in place. In the meantime, we have stack of boxes in the dining room and spare bedroom. The great thing about being retired is there is NO deadline to meet... there is no reason we can't take our time unpacking. We can unpack at our leisure, if that means we live with stacks of boxes everywhere, so be it. The first priority will be the boxes in the dining room so we can have friends over for dinner. The rest of the stuff can live in the spare bedroom until we are ready to deal with it. Finally, we have all the room we need.

In other great news, John's "Residencia Permanente" was approved last week by the Ministerio de Migración. One of the requirements for residency is participation in CAJA, or Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. This is the national medical care system. We applied for John's CAJA carnet last week and we just picked it up this afternoon. Now all we need to do is schedule the appointment with "Migración" for later this week and they will give him is Cedúla, the national identity card. With his cédula, he will have all the rights of a Costa Rica citizen with with exception of voting. This is the equivalent of a foreigner in the United States that has a Green Card, granting them legal status.

Well folks, that's all the news for now.

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