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Permalink 11:59:38 pm, by fumanchu Email , 1646 words   English (US)
Categories: General

Policeful day

From the Day-Long Lead-In Dept:

I was supposed to do an 8:45 AM lead-in today. A "lead-in" is where a staff member or volunteer leads a group of our Trip participants from the border meeting spot to the campground in Mexico. But of course, if you plan to meet at 8:45, you won't actually get on the road until 9:30. But that's expected.

Today's lead-in involved two separate border crossings, because the tour bus had to cross at the main border and the vans had to cross at the Otay border, 10 miles east. I decided to take the bus, because I had just bought a new digital camera last week, and wanted some pictures from that route to camp. I certainly got them, as you'll see. Rayn Perkio took the other vehicles.

Can't go forward, can't go back

We arrived at the main border. As usual, I got off the bus and flagged down a Mexican customs agent. He came over and quickly efficiently checked the luggage stowed underneath, and sent us on our way. Nice guy.

So we started to pull out into traffic. That's when an official from SCT (the federal Secretariat of Communications and Transport) flagged us down and pulled us over. He stuck his head in and asked to see the driver's Mexican permit.

I looked at the driver. "Mexican permit?" I had never heard of one.

He looked back at me blankly. Not a good sign.

We showed the official the bus' insurance and registration. Not good enough. We needed a permit.

"Fine. How do we get one?"

"You can't—you should have done that before. You'll have to pay a penalty now."

"OK. How much is the penalty?"

"I can't tell you that—that's the responsibility of another department to arrange."

"OK. Who are they and how do we contact them and get the penalty paid?"

"You can't. Their office is closed today."


"You have to wait until tomorrow."

"Buuuuhhhh. OK, how can we turn around and go back to the States until we get this sorted out?"

"You can't. We're going to impound the ($400,000) bus, take it to Rosarito, and you can reclaim it tomorrow after you pay the penalty."

I called my people. They called their people. They called the mayor and the state of Baja. Three of that chain of people (including Andy J and Steve H, yay!) came to the border and tried to find a way of getting us through without getting the bus impounded. No dice. Bus-Driver Ron, I know you definitely didn't want the bus impounded and definitely didn't want it towed due to the risk of damage. I wish there was something else we could have done, but we pulled all of the strings we had.

Here's a shot of the group waiting on the first bus:

Waiting on bus number 1

During the two hours in which all of this negotiation went on, we were simultaneously trying to find alternate transportation. The group had already arranged for Mexican buses to meet them at the camp and take them to their worksite that day. Great! A couple of phone and radio calls later, we had arranged for those buses to come to the border. The group would transfer themselves and their luggage out of the first bus and into the two Mexican buses. By the time the decision had become final regarding the fate of the first bus, we were ready to move.

Another game of sardines

Everyone filed out of the first bus and into the second two buses, parked ¼ mile away. As we walked, we passed by a large group of taxis and their drivers. We shoved everyone and their gear rather tightly into the two buses:

The second set of buses, inside and out

Note Cliff in the back of the bus, giving me the double-thumbs-up signal for "we're on our way!"

Only we weren't. The two bus drivers were talking to each other about something. One of the group members walked back to the bus I was in and said something about a taxi blocking our exit. It didn't seem like much of a problem; it would move soon and we would head to camp.

However, the taxi was deliberately blocking our exit. All of the taxi drivers we had passed were upset that all of this potential revenue was passing them by and getting on a couple of buses, when they should be getting into small yellow taxis instead (like all of the other nice tourists). The real kicker was that, apparently, the buses we had just climbed onto didn't have the proper permits to pick up passengers downtown. The taxi-drivers union called the city police.

Victor and the taxi drivers

Victor, the policeman in the photo, was a really nice guy who spoke very good English (better than my Spanish). Actually, all of the policemen were very helpful, and were very patient with the language issues in both directions. The taxi drivers were not so patient; I was threatened by one before the cops arrived. They're in the yellow shirts in the picture; the spokesman is in the brown shirt with the sunglasses. Notice there are three other traffic cops in this picture alone.

After a dozen traffic cops showed up, the taxi drivers kinda faded into the background. The police were very helpful, having good news and bad news. The bad news: the second set of buses which we had just boarded was now going to be impounded and taken away, since they had operated illegally in loading us there! One bus didn't even have a license plate. The good news: two city buses, which did have permission to load and unload there, were coming to pick us up and take us to camp, and they would do so free of charge. Thank you, city of Tijuana! We don't know what the first Mexican bus company would have charged the group for the border run, but as Victor put it, "God works in mysterious ways".

Musical cars

The third set of buses now showed up, and the group once again unloaded and reloaded their baggage. I got on the lead bus, driven by Octavio, a city bus driver. I should have got a picture of his bus bling, flashing blue lights, etc. The musc was fun.

Octavio and his bus

I was the only person among police, bus drivers, and our participants who actually knew the way to camp. We took off, a police car in front, the two new buses, and another police car in the rear. After about a mile, the first police car left us. We drove through Tijuana, took the free road toward Tecate, and then turned off toward El Niño, the last community before our camp. On the way, a SWAT team (which I mention purely to increase the PHC, or Policeman Head Count) passed us in a police pickup truck, M-16's at the ready. Then we passed an auto accident, with a police motorcycle and sedan attending.

Before we left, our police escort had asked me to stop the buses once we got to El Niño. Once there, as arranged, the police car which was in back took the lead, with me in the backseat. Not sure why they wanted that. But we made it to camp just fine. Here's a pic of the lead bus, which I took from the back seat of the cop car.

Pic of Mexican bus from back seat of Tijuana traffic cop car

I had a fun chat with the two policemen, Luis and Isais. Their English was about as good as my Spanish. They commented on my Mexican accent (which means it was better than my vocabulary, I suppose ;) ). I showed Luis my new camera. Cool dudes. Here's a pic of each of them—Isais is the one in the car, on the radio:

Luis and Isais

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho

It was 2:15 by the time we got to camp. Earlier, I had tried to arrange it so that a fourth set of buses would be waiting at camp, to take the group to their worksites. But somehow it got miscommunicated. Given the choice of waiting an hour (or more) for more buses, or just taking a skeleton crew to the worksites in the vans, they opted for the latter. Of course, it took an hour to coordinate. ;)

Haven't had enough police in the story yet? Here's some running alongside the road on our way to the worksites. They were probably cadets.

Mexican police running on the road

We arrived at the worksites, met our staff, and moved some tools around. When Ryan and I left, it was about 4:30. One last police incident: on the way to the border, we were driving down a divided highway, two lanes in each direction. We were in the left lane. In front of us, a dog ran out onto the road; Ryan slowed down to give him time to reconsider. He did, turned around, and ran back onto the median. His buddy, the collie, wasn't that smart. Ryan had to stop to avoid hitting him, but he just kept crossing. The motorcycle cop on our right didn't stop. Bonk! I thought for sure the dog would've lost a leg, but he yelped, rolled over a couple of times, and ran off the road. Amazing that the cop didn't spill the bike. He drove on, we caught up to him, and he laughed as we exchanged surprised looks and the international signal for "Whew! That was a close one!" I wish I had a good picture of him (heck, I wish I had been taking video) but here he is in the distance afterward. We passed him later when he stopped at a gas station to check his tires.

Motorcycle cop who clipped the dog

Ryan said, "this was supposed to be an easy day". Hope everyone concerned has a better one tomorrow. Personally, I'm going to try to stay in the San Diego office and not see a single policeman all day. That'll be enough.

Permalink 09:10:42 pm, by fumanchu Email , 0 words   English (US)
Categories: General, Photography

The new Ford Adobe

A mud-covered car


Permalink 07:04:25 pm, by fumanchu Email , 7 words   English (US)
Categories: General, Photography


This is the new Rancho (Tijuana) camp

Panoramic of the new Rancho (Tijuana) camp

Permalink 01:20:30 pm, by fumanchu Email , 42 words   English (US)
Categories: General, Photography


panoramic of a bunch of houses being built

Each arrow points to a house being built at the same time last week in Juarez. There are probably more that I can't make out from the original photos.

I stitched three photos together, by the way, to make the one image.

Permalink 01:06:58 pm, by fumanchu Email , 241 words   English (US)
Categories: By By Design

The Tools of Information Chunking

4-panel trailer warning label

I found this label on one of our tool trailers while working in Ciudad Juarez last week. The bar on which they placed the sticker is wider than it is tall, so one might think that the 4-panel layout is due to those size constraints. If the layout had been vertical, would it have been like this instead?

same label but in a vertical style

In the original, four horizontal panels each have their own header in a different color, but the meaning of each header isn't very different—"warning", "danger", "caution", and "notice" aren't very specific, and all carry the same semantic. One might think the space is wasted.

But there are good reasons IMO to have four separate sections. If they had not done so, would anyone read all of the information? I doubt it. They would instead gloss over the entire panel, reading only perhaps one-quarter to one-third of the text. Having four sections at least draws the eye to the initial text in each section, and increases the chance that the reader will get "the big points". In addition, I found myself more interested in reading the entire text when it was broken up into four manageable chunks. The first and last chunks are quickly dismissable as "common knowledge"—things you should know without having to read it. That quickly leaves two short lists to check off mentally, rather than one large one.

So the question is, is this by by design?

Permalink 10:39:33 am, by fumanchu Email , 208 words   English (US)
Categories: IT, Python

Master Fu answers no-Question

When Nubi first became a student of Master Fu, he would ask the master many things.

"Which is the finest Web framework?" "Why is an Object Database better than a Relational Database?" "What is the best sorting algorithm?"

To these, the master would make no reply, nor even acknowledge that Nubi had spoken. However, Nubi would ask other masters and their students these same questions, and received many replies.

One day, Nubi asked Fu, "Master, there are many questions I ask of you which you do not answer. Yet I ask these same questions of others, and they have many answers. I begin to doubt, and fear that I will not find Wisdom by following you. Why do you remain silent?"

Master Fu replied, "I do not answer because you have no question."

At this reply, Nubi was greatly distressed, and said, "if I have no question, then how can others answer me?"

Without speaking, Fu hit Nubi over the head with his walking-stick.

Nubi turned himself in a circle in great confusion, and asked, "why did you hit me with your stick just now?"

Fu forced the stick into Nubi's hand. Upon grasping the stick, Nubi was enlightened.


Permalink 02:23:57 pm, by fumanchu Email , 23 words   English (US)
Categories: IT

Wow, I beat out dojo on Google.

Well, my stats page did anyway. Guess I need to norobot that. Surely they deserve a better ranking than I on the subject.

ranked first on google for: xmlhttp firefox

Permalink 02:11:21 pm, by fumanchu Email , 80 words   English (US)
Categories: General


I just spent a week working in the field in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. As you can see from the photos, we had wind and dust for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Steve Horrex took some nicer pics which Ali posted—all I can say is that he must have spent more time in a camera-friendly environment (with windows and a steering wheel ;) ) than I did.

windy dusty worksite

windy dusty roads

windy dusty camp

Permalink 01:41:14 pm, by fumanchu Email , 32 words   English (US)
Categories: General

Rafter madness

Daily D'oh! Don't cut your rafters to 11 feet if the house plans say 11-foot-9. You'll have to nail a little outrigger onto each one, as in this photo (outriggers highlighted in red).

Rafter extensions


Permalink 09:58:13 am, by fumanchu Email , 187 words   English (US)
Categories: By By Design

Is this text justified?

Carl's Jr. TACO SAUCE packet

If you can't make out the text on the packet, it reads:


Two rather odd choices, here.

First, why "Ingredient Statement" instead of the more typical (and readable) "Ingredients"? My first thought was that the language lawyers had paid a visit to the copywriter, and left him or her in a fog of legalese. "The Ingredient Statement MUST list the official chemical names or common names..."

Second, why does "Red Pepper" have a freakin' footnote when a) the entire content is a single block of text, and b) the footnote is itself laid out as part of the single text block? Why not just write "Dehydrated Red Pepper" inline? Both Ryan and I had the same thought: maybe it lines up better in the fully-justified block. With ~43 columns max, it would bump to six lines instead of five. But if you change "Ingredient Statement" back to "Ingredients", there's no problem at all staying on 5 lines.

The question is, is this by by design?

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