Smartphone As Dashcam

Down The Road #Mojave #California #vanishingpoint #igersThis is not new. Plenty of people use their smartphones as dashcams, which I have now gotten into the habit of here in Trinidad and Tobago – mainly because there are a subset of drivers that take chances, and my vehicle has a pretty solid bull bar in front. For those that don’t, or think this is a new thing and want to save a few bucks rather than buy an imported dashcam… here you go.

In other words, I’m covering my posterior. Or what happens to the car in front of me’s posterior when they try to cut me off (most don’t when they see the bull bar), or when they suddenly hit their brakes, or when they swerve in front of me, or… you get the idea. Should anything happen, presto magico, I have actual video.

It also serves as a video blog (vlog) when I’m driving through my land; it gets uploaded to the cloud so I can note things that change in my absence, or document what is happening.

What You Need

A smartphone. I have a Huawei P10-Lite, something I’ll be doing a review on now that I have already beaten the snot out of, but any smartphone with video capability can do. This article mentions some dedicated dedicated apps for Android that I don’t use (I simply use the video), and it also mentions the smaller field of view – absolutely true – as well as wear on the smartphone.

Given smartphones are outdated pretty quickly anyway, I’m not worried about the latter, but you have been warned.

You’ll need a mount for the windshield. I have a pretty solid one since I’m offroad, and roads in Trinidad and Tobago are effectively routed around potholes.

You’ll want your air conditioning on to keep your phone from overheating.

That’s all you need, really – but it is a lot better to have external memory for your phone. My phone will take 256 Gig microSD, but I just picked up a 64 Gig microSD. You’ll want to change your default storage to the microSD, which you should find in your user’s manual that you threw away – but there are plenty of pages on the Internet that explain how to do it for your phone.

What to do

Plug your phone into the holder, and I suggest you charge it at the same time (common sense, really). Start recording video, drive around – and, regularly, back the videos up from your phone to a computer at home from which you can store it in the cloud or other storage options for as long as you want. Keep your phone memory as clear as you can – the less memory used on the phone, the better.

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The Flashing Blue Lights of Trinidad and Tobago

Squad Car @ The Bridge
Police car at night in Titusville, Florida, published under a Creative Commons License by Flickr user GunnerVV

One of the things that has bothered me over the years is the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) having their flashing blue lights on all the time. Be it simply being on patrol or running to Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch, the lights are strobing, day or night.

You can always tell when the police are coming. Always.

Meanwhile, in other countries, I’ve noted that there are different response codes that demonstrate different levels of visibility. Using the United States as an example:

    • Code 1: No lights, no siren.
    • Code 2: Lights, no siren.
    • Code 3: Lights and siren – running hot.

 

It varies from country to country, but there are different levels of visibility of police and EMS vehicles. The TTPS, though, is always at Code 2 for some reason – rarely at Code 3. As a former EMT in the U.S., I’ve noted the ambulances in Trinidad and Tobago have similar codes – most ambulances I see are constantly at Code 2, but that may be because they are supposed to in moving patients.

So, why are those lights on all the time? Given the advances in lighting technology with LEDs, the lights are less of a drain on batteries and they last longer so maybe they feel there’s less reason to turn them off. Of course, at night they can be blinding to drivers – and nevermind the LED billboards that flash blue and make people think that they are police.

I brought it up in a meeting. About how criminals are put on notice before the police actually get there, particularly at night, and how they react accordingly. The response from a member of the TTPS was that the blue lights made people feel comfortable.

There is some validity to that, but the patrolling blue light doesn’t actually stay in people’s homes – it’s a passing beacon of law enforcement that gives as much comfort as a shooting star, which lasts about as long.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a supermarket in the United States – K-Mart – that had flashing blue light specials. K-Mart was on the brink of being shut down in 2017

Times change. With crime in Trinidad and Tobago as much of an issue, it might make sense for police to stop warning criminals to get out of the way so that they might actually catch them.

I’m not a Law Enforcement professional and don’t pretend to be one.

I’m just someone who sees how a neighborhood changes when a blue light passes and how, once that blue light goes away, things return to the way they were.  I’m not sure that what TTPS want to do and what they are doing are compatible.

I simply question if it is an appropriate use of technology to catch criminals.

On Foreign Exchange, Credit Cards and Trinidad and Tobago (2018)

Use of Credit CardsYesterday, at least one person in the media (Judy Kanhai) started circulating the raw press release from the present Minister of Finance in Trinidad and Tobago. You can click it and it will open in a new tab so you can read it more clearly.

Personal Context and a Sincere Disclaimer

I found this particularly interesting in my own context since, even as I write this, I am trying to send money to my sister to help cover my mother’s funeral expenses. Because of the bank (whose name remains something I will not discuss … yet?…) bureaucracy as related to foreign exchange, will require me to send only half of the expenses I am paying per day under two separate wires – which, of course, works for the banks. They get to charge me for two wire transfers and two fees for purchasing foreign exchange. I had tried to charge up my own Visa Travel Money (VTM) card for handling it, but my sister decided to nip it in the bud – and meanwhile, I can only charge $100 US/day on the VTM.

So I’m quite literally being punished financially for assisting with funeral expenses for my mother. They aren’t even really that much given how much funerals cost, but the present systems allow me to be nickeled and dimed by banks for something that – let’s face it – isn’t me shopping on Amazon.com to get things I might simply want.

Clearly I have a reason to be unhappy. Clearly I have a reason to be angry. I am just one person, of course, but there are other stories at banks throughout Trinidad and Tobago about people dealing with their own issues with foreign exchange – illnesses, deaths, what have you. We have to be nice in the bank; we need them to deal with foreign exchange because to do it without them is deemed illegal.

Criminals of desperation, be warned. Right?

Writ Large

It comes down to the global economy, the Internet, and the inability of local banks to get their acts together to make accepting foreign exchange easier on websites for small businesses.

Pushing aside my own personal feelings I encountered today at the bank, let’s really look at the data that was given by the Honourable Minister. Credit card payments, which would include VTMs, come to $1.2 Billion of $5.2 Billion in U.S. dollars of foreign exchange, and that comes to 23% of the foreign exchange.

So, given this data that we acknowledge is rounded, we know that 77% of foreign exchange was not credit card related. For those slow with math, that’s $4 billion US.

And yet, none of that really tells us anything.

We know, at least anecdotally, that some foreign exchange is used for:

    • Business
    • Personal

 

So, what percentage of the 5.2 billion was business related? That might be hard to discern, since because of the bureaucracy at least some businesses are using credit cards to get their foreign inventory, and they are being throttled by new limits of charging their VTMs up. What percentage was personal?

Where’s that data? We actually have been given pretty useless data for anything deductive, and it makes me wonder if that data even exists. For a nation whose national ICT plan includes ‘open data’, where we hear talk about transparency, we are really not getting worthwhile data and we have to question if it exists. If it doesn’t exist, how are decisions actually being made?

This, in a country that doesn’t manufacture as much in the way of consumer goods as much as it imports – anecdotal, of course – it seems at least to me that most businesses in Trinidad and Tobago are simply resellers of imported goods. Food is a case that is arguable and remains arguable because of a lack of worthwhile data (there it is again), but other than that, just about everything is imported.

Cars. Tires. Sugar – revel in that a moment. We buy imported brand name oil for our vehicles when we export oil. We import… everything. We make… well, I don’t want to disrespect anyone who is actually making anything, but I’m pretty sure that they themselves are importing materials.

With an economy without jobs – and let’s forget the de facto welfare state government jobs that only exist to keep people from not having jobs – people become purveyors of goods and services to make ends meet, or they get into crime.

I’d wager that the largest employer in Trinidad and Tobago is the government if you roll up all the ancillary corporations and State owned enterprises.

And where is the investment in manufacturing locally? The Ministry of Agriculture subsidizes farmers, but I’ve seen people with farmer’s badges on land that they do not own or have receipts for. People are collecting money from the government for that and… are they giving anything back to the government in the way of taxes? We don’t talk about that. We should.

But instead, we have people doing what they must inside a nation that hasn’t figured out that it probably could have used a Ministry of Technology (where did that go and why?). We have banks showing profits yet increasing fees on their own customers. A proper Ministry of Technology might streamline all the disparate technology and protocol incompatibilities between Ministries while perhaps even refining processes in other Ministries to be more efficient and therefore less corruptible.

And if you want to get paid late, the best group to be owed by is the government. I know personally; NIDCO owes myself and others money over the Pt. Fortin highway project and yet somehow NIDCO has money to clear a forest reserve in Aripo, allegedly illegally.

Yet credit card usage is somehow the issue of the day, with incomplete data, with a lack of understanding of the global economy and the slippery slope of not adapting technology quickly and appropriately enough to bring in foreign exchange from companies rather than bleed it out for things we could probably do ourselves.

We know we have goods that would sell overseas – a small business could set up shop and sell our pepper sauce, as an example. Or dried fruits. But instead, the idea of centralized businesses persists, maybe because that’s where campaign finance comes from, when the global economy proves over and over again that the network has more power than the old centralized systems. And so, the old guard tries to cut that off – to assure that they retain their financial power and thus political power over a populace doomed to purchase ugly neon plastic things.

The world has changed. AirBnB sells timeshares that they don’t have, Uber rents taxis that they don’t have. In Trinidad and Tobago, it seems our model is the government spending what they don’t have while not paying what they owe to people, all the while enabling systems corrupted to disempower people.

So we talk about credit cards without any actual data of worth in the conversation in Parliament and hope for the best, apparently.

On Trinidad and Tobago, Policing and Crime

I’m no expert on Law Enforcement. I am, however, a lifelong student of systems with experience ranging from agriculture to medicine, business to the military, and of different cultures. I’m sure I’ll aggravate some people with this, maybe these are the right people to be aggravated.

It’s difficult to live in Trinidad and Tobago and not consider crime. To the simple, it is simple, to the political, it’s politics, and there’s little difference between those two. How crime is considered by the populace affects crime itself – it affects the approaches, it affects the way things are implemented, it affects what is actually considered crime outside of the police service and justice systems. There are so many perspectives on it that, on a slow grey morning, I find the time to explore some of them with you, gentle reader.

The Broad Strokes: The Context

In his January 4th, 2018 Bitdepth, Mark Lyndersay mentions the pronounced dichotomy and the grey in between when it comes to how people see crime in Trinidad and Tobago:

…There are at least two societies active in T&T, one committed to all the lovely sentiments that church-going, law abiding citizens are supposed to abide by and another that LOLs at that type of thinking before stuffing a pistol into their cargo pants and going off to demand what they want…

This is, of course, a brief explanation that is accurate in being vague. It’s exactly right. Speaking for myself, as someone who is not church-going, I fall more closely to the first group than the last. And, because of the nature of Trinidad and Tobago, I end up drinking beer now and then around some more close to the latter at local bars. The street knows who the criminals are, and a balance is there between self-preservation and being an extreme law-abiding member of the South Oropouche Police Council for me.

It’s also interesting to note that Mark Lyndersay and I look at things differently in that we’re generally in different circles garnering the perspectives of different people in different ways. This is one of the many reasons I value what he thinks.

And yet, we can talk about crime in Trinidad and Tobago and come to similar conclusions. In fact, most people have very similar thoughts. I’m just taking the time to go deeper into my perspective.

In Trinidad and Tobago, like other places, there is a veil of what remains unspoken in most company. You just don’t talk about certain things, mainly because you don’t know who you’re talking to will talk to with your name attached. I’ve seen it come back and bite others soundly not in their posterior but in their neck over the years – why would decades of experience relent to yet another attempt by

The same is true of at least some members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) that I encounter as well. With whispers of corruption echoing through the country beyond what occupies the traditional media, there’s a hard balance to be struck between the police service and the communities that they police. Trust is the core issue, but there is something more endemic: The criminals themselves are ‘law enforcement’ oftheir own areas, sometimes more so than the TTPS, but with their own local ‘laws’.

This leads to the ‘Community Leader’ label that has been applied by politicians for those that operate toward the darker side of grey. The only thing keeping some politicians from those labels are the Laws which don’t necessarily reflect Ethics in society; that so many politicians are lawyers is something that I consider now and then. Community Leaders know each other for what they are, some are just law abiding but have as fluid of ethics as their understanding of Law permits.

This didn’t all just happen one day. It didn’t happen because those without ethics woke up one morning and decided to go on sociopathic or psychopathic sprees; seeds do not grow in soil that is not suited for them.

Socioeconomics

Having came and left Trinidad and Tobago quite a few times over the decades, I have the luxury of snapshots that allow me to see some differences more easily. The poor, as they are, have always been poor. However, people living outside of their means seems to have escalated more. This is not just in Trinidad and Tobago; it’s global, but the degree here in a small island nation is a little more tangible and seems to have accelerated more quickly than other places I have seen.

Why? Well, the most obvious issue is that the economy is arguably not as diversified as it used to be. The sugar cane industry was lost due to government and private industry inefficiencies on a broad canvas of a decrease in demand in sugar due to different sources for sugar, such as corn. Generally, other businesses have been about importing things and reselling them locally; this does well when oil prices are high but it also developed an economical infrastructure that is crippled when oil prices are low. Factor in outright corruption and theft by people sitting comfortably abroad on their ill-gotten gains, and you have what we have now.

Because there was unemployment, the answer was having people cut grass and paint stones white. This was disguised under different acronyms attributed to different political parties by some. This work, sadly, became a means of income near enough to that of a recent University graduate to make it worthy of comparison. Factor in the national pastime of alcohol and politics, like everywhere else, and you find people doing less than more. The minimum wage, something I don’t really agree with in principle due to it’s easily being gamed, is hard pressed to keep abreast of the cost of living.

It seems that there are more single parents, it seems that there are more parents where both partners work to support the family. I write ‘seems’ because there’s really no publicly accessible statistics of worth that I know of; another issue that keeps coming back in my writings.

Because there seems to be more parents working to support their children, there’s less time effectively being spent with children. The moral majority, which is neither, will likely indicate that there are more children having children. Again, I have no statistics. Maybe that’s true, maybe that’s not, but it does seem like the nurture is increasingly required of primary and secondary school education systems whose ability to nurture has become more handicapped. Further, I’d say that the curriculum isn’t as challenging as when I went to school in Trinidad and Tobago – but I am biased and admit that openly.

Meanwhile, one of the other national pastimes of the country is leaving the country. This is what is termed as ‘brain drain’; as someone who could fall into that category, I can say that opportunity in this country is limited – it’s not so much about one’s ability to do things as much as knowing the right people and having enough letters behind your name to make you seem plausible to people who don’t know anything about what it is you do. Even in this downturned global economy, there does seem to be better opportunity for the young to go abroad than to stay… here. The system feeds itself by starving itself.

The centralization of the Trinidad and Tobago budget, too, is a little disturbing. On one hand, the government decides how to support those who supply something locally – for example, chicken – versus those who import. Where money influences politics and businesses that import with more influence, local suppliers are forced to compete at a global level within a limited economy. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I do know that I’m uncomfortable with a system so easily corrupted controlling such things.

The government now, with less in it’s coffers every year, wants to tax those who are earning less more to compensate for decades of poor planning and lack of diversification. It means less for the government to spend on things to correct the problems that the government created in the first place with bad policy and lack of diversification. Those who like talking about politics will now bring out their knives to stab at their opponents – but really, both sides of the political soap opera contributed and the political discussion simply keeps the easily distracted… easily distracted.

Public servants act like they’re doing you a favor sometimes; in some cases you can find tax-free businesses running to allow people to get through the rampant bureaucracy and poor customer service to get simple things done. Bribery is an open secret. Poor customer service is noted by at least one Minister publicly. This translates to time and money losses for citizens for things already paid for by the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago; in some cases these losses are necessary to avoid penalties and fines that are at least as antiquated as the processes involved.

On the ground, people are not happy with the government – and it’s not a matter of politics if you tune out the politicians. Right now, the national discussion is about how many murders there have been for the year already – more than New York City – and protests in various areas related to infrastructure. One more humorous protest even seems to have worked… so far.

This is, sadly, a result of systems that have worked exactly as designed – except with the perimeters well outside of what the systems were designed for.

Porous borders

I listened as a policeman formerly stationed in Cedros lamented to me that there were 25 points of entry and Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard support has to happen through calling Port of Spain. All manner of things make their way through the borders on an twin island Republic which boasts a Defence Force on land and a Coast Guard at sea – the former assisting the Police, the latter the Police cannot seem to work with. On islands. I’m no expert, but I would think having rapid response vessels in key areas might cut down on illegal trafficking – from guns to drugs, from people to animals.

Politics

I am amused every time someone laments that whoever is the Prime Minister is at fault for crime – and I write that because indirectly, they are in some ways, but the expectation seems to be that the sitting Prime Minister should don a spandex outfit and go fight crime themselves. There’s a reason, aside from not wanting to see anyone in politics wearing spandex, that this does not happen.

The second politicians directly control the police services, or other matters of national security, and they do so without appropriate checks and balances there is the potential for abuse. Don’t like your Opposition? To the Gulag! Don’t like journalists? To the Gulag! Don’t like someone for any reason? To the Gulag!

So, directly, politicians can’t be blamed for such things. And while we have had Ministers of National Security over the year and all sorts of toys bought by the government to support them, they are little more than figureheads. The problem is so well entrenched that it will not be removed overnight – and, as I pointed out above, the larger view of the nation requires that across the board, policies must be implemented that mitigate socioeconomic issues as well as access to government services.

Silver Bullet?

There is no silver bullet. There is no way to deal with this overnight; this goes well beyond simply ‘fighting crime’ but dealing with the issues that create the fertile ground in which it grows. We live in a connected world now, where the Internet allows people to see things faster than any leader can steer through – but steer they must. The delays of antiquated bureaucracies need to be streamlined with common sense and appropriate technology usage (what we’ve seen so far in technology leaves much to be desired).

It boils down to trust – not trust in politicians, we change those like diapers, but trust in systems of governance.

Net Neutrality and Trinidad and Tobago

Internet Innovation is The Goose That Laid the Golden EggThe global debate on Net Neutrality persists and the consequences are writ large for consumers everywhere.

Yet, there’s almost no interest in the Net Neutrality issues arising lately – I spent my time advocating for it to the uncaring masses who are more intent on other things that they believe are more important.

It is important though. Very important.

David Pogue of Scientific American has a great summarization of the net neutrality debate. I suppose the core of the problems happening over the heads of those in the world – not just the United States – is how the FCC classifies things in an antiquated system rather than create a new classification. The lines between being a provider of telecommunications and providing telecommunication services are said to be blurred, but the reality is that they no longer exist. The people who own the infrastructure are competing with those that don’t.

Businesses that do not own the infrastructure are at a disadvantage. They can be squeezed out by those who do own the infrastructure, effectively monopolizing user services. The end user – us, all of us – doesn’t get the variety that it would otherwise have when those that control the infrastructure can make sure that their services can run faster than their competitors. That’s the core of the issue for users.

The Local Context.

In Trinidad and Tobago and likely throughout the Caribbean, Digicel is cheering the repeal of what was called Network Neutrality (I could say it wasn’t for a variety of reasons). Their premise is actually quite real – they are rolling out infrastructure in the region at a cost, and shouldn’t they get their cost back? Of course they should, why would anyone invest in something that they don’t get paid back for? There is no digital philanthropy here, and Trinidad and Tobago’s National ICT Plans have always pushed broadband penetration, enough so that I’m surprised an over-exuberant feminist hasn’t accused the phrasing of misogyny.

Others in the local context of telecommunications have been relatively silent so far – perhaps wisely so – despite the fact that we’re connected to the U.S. pretty directly economically, through Internet connections, and through other things.

What it means, though, is that applications not owned by local providers – Digicel and bMobile mainly, since the most common data usage is through mobile phones, is that they could create competing applications to… for example… WhatsApp, and make WhatsApp undependable in the same twist. And of course, since these same providers have to report to the government by Law, will give away the encrypted anonymity that seems to only hide poor political commentary and bad pornography. Maybe there’s more to it than that, but I haven’t been added to the LOLCats group (please, don’t invite me).

It means local startup companies will have to get the blessings of those who own the infrastructure and maintain a relationship with them – practically at gunpoint.

Yet Digicel makes a valid point: Why invest in infrastructure if you don’t get paid for it?

The debate is much more nuanced than what is presented – arguably, by design. Show me a Member or Parliament, though, who has taken a stance on network neutrality. They don’t really care too much, and that National ICT plan doesn’t address it in any way. It makes us completely dependent on our own legislation, and our own legislation – despite some bold and debatable efforts by the present government – is not fast, is not as comprehensive as they might like to think, and is going to require more intellectual capital to debate and enforce than anyone seems interested in mustering.

We’re along for the ride in Trinidad and Tobago, hoping for a water taxi but instead getting a ferry to Tobago in a country that should be making strides toward progress… not stagnation. It should be making bold moves – debatable moves – that push the envelope for local talent to strike it’s colours boldly on an infrastructure being built rather than making a mockery of it by making it consumption only with no regard to using it for creating foreign exchange (we can talk about those banks another time, right?).

We could be using our infrastructure to leverage foreign exchange income, subsidizing it’s roll out while diversifying the economy. That’s not what we’re doing, and that’s why Network Neutrality is not even discussed outside of Digicel Press Releases.

The Flooding Saga Of Mosquito Creek

Will They Ever Finish The Goodineaux Bridge Repairs?Mosquito Creek, in Southwestern Trinidad, could be a comedy of errors committed by a confederacy of dunces over decades. To locals who have to trek through it daily, it is much the same without the comedy. It has moved from drama to the mundane, a tribute to how things do not get done in Trinidad and Tobago.

And recently, the flooding. In fact, I’m tired of writing about this over the years – the picture is from 2010, which is by no means when this all started – I just happened to have the picture. And the reason I write this? A video that I have been tagged in on Facebook so many times that I tire of responding to it.

The video proffers a solution to flooding on Mosquito Creek that is not expedient, that is flawed in that it doesn’t actually resolve anything other than adding a few man-made reefs to the equation. That it is so popular is a testament, I suppose, to the cultural inertia regarding projects done by any government: Plans cannot be changed.

But plans need to change. The roadway exists between marsh and sea, with the Godineaux river entering the Gulf of Paria. And flooding, dear reader, is about flow rates.

We’ve all experienced a clogged drain – where water enters by faucet faster than it can exit the drain. The sink floods. It’s this level of thinking that has people coming up with things that they think are solutions, but they don’t seem to understand the greater issues involved.

First and foremost, the road is not a natural addition. Use over the decades has compacted soil underneath, which means that water cannot naturally flow between the marsh and the sea. When it does, we call it flooding only because we built an easy road for expediency that has increasingly become more painful to use and maintain.

The right answer is to do an overpass there and allow the water to do what it does: enter and leave the mangrove. Why is this important? Because the Godineaux River cannot always push water out – it’s a clogged drain – and for those of you with a fairly modern sink, you might find under your faucet the overflow. The mangrove to sea path is the natural overflow. This is just basic science applied with common sense, something that the Environmental Management Agency and Ministry of Works and Transport should have on tap through at least one person that is listened to. Lo, this is not the case.

So what happens when we get heavy rains in poorly developed areas (they are) that tries to get out to sea in that path? Blocked by the road, the water has no choice but to go onto the road. Thus, flooding.

Plus, too often do we forget that drainage in Wet Season has to be balanced by water retention during dry season. Streamlining waterways will make for drier soil during dry season, and this turns to dust and dust blows away. Soil erosion by wind, and farmers have less water for their crops.

As Trinidad and Tobago has developed haphazardly, where Town and Country operate at a pace that snails laugh at, people do their own development without thought to the bigger picture. Even with approvals, some suspected to be assisted by a bit of grease to the wheel, you’d think that the EMA and Town and Country would require retention ponds to balanced reclaimed land. One would think.

So while we complain about a major artery of traffic for South West Trinidad, the real problem is much more complex. The solutions are simple.

Sufficient retention ponds along waterways to accommodate flooding. The road on Mosquito Creek Creek should either be rerouted or made into an overpass to let things flow more naturally below the road – not that we’re particularly good at building and maintaining roads in Trinidad and Tobago. And what does this require?

It requires people with common sense and a working knowledge of science to be in the right places, focused on the greater good instead of the personal good or expedient. Ultimately, that seems to be the real failure.

Techno-Rant 2017; Trinidad and Tobago

FreedomHow Trinidad and Tobago adapts technology successfully to its betterment is interconnected throughout the private sector and public sector in ways that most people don’t seem to realize.

Standing in a bookstore, searching for original minds on the latest ideas and thoughts, I noted the books on ‘Right Brain/Left Brain’ that have been made antiques by the neuroplasticity. The brain isn’t as left or right as people thought decades ago, and even now, and common knowledge still hasn’t picked up on it. The books I see that catch my eye are old; published in 2008 and earlier.

Readers are subjected to old ideas this way, and in a globally interconnected age, these are antiquated ideas.

The Internet propelled a global revolution in communications and business which is accelerating. Truth be told, our technology has trumped our ability to communicate. In Trinidad and Tobago, rather than embracing it’s changes, we adapt as slowly as allowing for bank card payments in Licensing Offices – 30 years late, maybe more.

Social media echoed journalists and opinions about Miss Universe and Trinidad and Tobago’s place on it- and then not long after, to mock Miss Trinidad and Tobago’s dress. Meanwhile, flooding from poor land management and poor planning has been forgotten after raking the ODPM over the coals – and now leptospirosis information makes it’s way around with 13 cases in less than a month. Articles sometimes tell only one side of a story, a testament to what readers want as opposed to what readers need to make informed decisions – the role of the fourth estate.

A video that was shared with myself and countless others on WhatsApp mentioned that we don’t have sufficient data related to agriculture. I’m not sure that we have sufficient data about anything, really, and it’s something that I’ve griped about for decades – about how we should have good data to make more informed decisions. And this takes us back to the bookstore, and back to the Internet.

We have not adapted to the world of technology as much as we have bent it to our whims in Trinidad and Tobago. This is not a complaint. It’s a statement. Change is coming, for good and bad. In the U.S., the brick and mortar retail businesses are in a last ditch effort to stay relevant to their market: Why wander a bookstore looking for the latest actual releases (as opposed to the last shipment) in the hope you will find one when you can pre-order on a website like Amazon.com? The same applies to almost anything someone wants or needs to buy.

Government Ministries have incompatible systems, and while the National ICT plan mentions open data, Data.tt doesn’t house much in the way of open data, and as far as useful data, we might be better off inspecting the bottom of tall boots after a flood. Retail prices for certain products are being watched – something I do welcome- but released in PDF, they’re hardly useful (CSV would be nice).

Did I mention that while payments at Licensing Offices will be more convenient – we can forget the last 30 years or so when we could have been doing it – but a visit still requires people to take hours, if not a day, away from their work? Computers purchased a decade and more ago might sit in back offices still, collecting dust as the customers do as well. Where they are is actually immaterial; it’s where those computers are not is the most telling. People stand in line waiting, victims of a bureaucracy that grinds the humanity out of us – nothing new in government offices.

We wonder what’s wrong. Where are the opportunities for the youth of today? Dr. Eric Williams once said that the future of Trinidad and Tobago was in the book bags of students; I wonder what he would say about mobile phones (or laptops, for that matter).

We have opportunities to leapfrog ahead, learning from the mistakes of others who have adapted or failed to adapt technology to better their societies – removing corruption by using technology to erode bureaucracy, enabling better journalism if only we would buy it rather than the social media echo chambers we live in. The odds are good that if we bought good journalism, we’d encourage it.

We look for solutions to purchase abroad when our most damaging export is our brain drain – where the youth of today, passionate and wanting to change things meet every reason why they cannot.


 

A Flood of Failures: Beyond ODPM.

Trinidad flood
Image Courtesy Flickr User ‘Trinidad News’ using a Creative Commons License .

This isn’t a technology post; however, it’s a post about failed systems and tangible problems here in Trinidad and Tobago.

There’s much that has been said about the ODPM, and having seen the press conference they suffered Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the world with, I’ve decided not to throw them under the bus only because they are already under the bus. It’s not even a challenge, but I offer they are under the wrong bus and those that should be with them are not under it.

Instead, I will write perhaps what they should have said as well as what should be corrected.

We have a tendency to believe that the ODPM, like any government agency, is on it’s own. When I look to criticize constructively, as someone with a technical background it is expected of me to point out the incompatible systems, the bottlenecks, and the problems with the apps and websites. Those are painfully obvious, and I have written about them before in the context of Brett.

Instead, let’s look at the systems.

We have a few agencies that are really involved with the flooding who are not garnering the attention they should be after these incidents – the ODPM, in this way, is a red herring offered for the masses to feed on.

The real problem is deeper, and the ODPM’s failures – as real as they are – only skim the surface of the actual problem: Flooding during wet season, water retention during dry season.

Environmental Management Authority

Let’s talk about the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) a moment. Their corporate vision, from their website, is to be “Stewards of Trinidad and Tobago’s natural resources and environment meeting current and future human, ecological and economic needs.”

I’d say that avoiding flooding is a part of current and future human, ecological and economic needs.

Their mission, as they communicate it on their website, is: “We are committed to sustainably manage the natural resources and environment by providing a transparent framework to facilitate policy and decision making in development. This will be undertaken within an approved regulatory system, utilising intensive public education and a collaborative cross-sectoral approach.”

So, how is it that a large amount of rainfall has created a problem that the ODPM cannot handle on more than one occasion? How is the EMA involved in that? Is it involved in that? Should it be involved in that?

It sounds like it is a big part of their job to this layperson.

Ministry of Planning And Development, Town And Country Division
This department is one I mainly know for authorizing land development and even changing land zoning. Clearly they should be working with the EMA; what they actually do is hard to find since they have an almost random note on the Ministry of Planning and Development’s website. They clearly should be more transparent. Website, anyone?

That they are almost always ignored in land development is something that may have something to do with that, as well as what seems to be an arduous process to get anything done – so much so that illegal land development has been an underlying problem with some of the flooding.

This is such a case that the Minister of Works has said he’ll be going after illegal land developers.

And yet, legal land development is hardly something that information can be found for, and what can be found is typically through people who know how the system works and how it doesn’t. In some regards, this could be  considered corruption, in others, it could be an inefficient bureaucracy that frustrates people to the point that they just go do their own thing.

Why is the Ministry of Planning and Development, Town and Country Division, more effective in reducing the potential for flooding? You’d think that they and the EMA would be joined at the hip.

Water and Sewage Authority (WASA)

We’re told that WASA is responsible for all the water in Trinidad and Tobago. Though I have never see it in writing, all water on the ground in the country allegedly is WASA’s water – unless, of course, there is flooding, where not even WASA wants it.

I bring them up because what we see as flooding in wet season is potential water to retain during dry season. In a country where many people still wait for pipe-borne water to fill their tanks on a daily basis, where water is almost always a problem during dry season, one has to wonder how WASA’s water retention isn’t being looked at as well.

Ministry of Works and Transport Drainage Division

As I regularly pass across Mosquito Creek, as many others do, we all see the problems with drainage. Flooding along any roads?

Sure.

The Flood of Failure.

So yes, the ODPM didn’t handle the cascade of failures that creates flooding again. Sure, the Regional Corporations are also culpable at least to an extent – but with all this bureaucracy to save us from flooding, do we really want to blame the ODPM, forced to drink all this water, for wetting the bed? Clearly, the ODPM needs some work, but how much should we expect from them when much of this could be prevented?

Technology vs. Bureaucracy: a T&TEC Connection

ElectricityOne of the less fun things I get to do in dealing with land ownership is assisting people in getting electrical connections from the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC).  The legitimate way of doing this is the land owner giving permission for the connection to the person getting the connection.

The why of people getting connections on land they do not (yet) own is fodder for another post on Land Laws in Trinidad and Tobago – but take it on faith that it’s done.

In 2008 I did this for someone. 9 years later, I’m doing it for someone else.

First, I’ll tell you how it happens. Then I’ll tell you everything that is wrong with it.

How it ‘Works’

The person getting the connection has to present evidence of land ownership or permission from the land owner. To do this, T&TEC wants to see a deed, and they want a letter from the landowner if the person does not own the land – as well as identification, which they diligently photocopy and probably place in a file somewhere marked, “Kill Trees”. Simple enough, you might think.

To make things easier, a landowner can send a photocopy of their ID and deed along with the person getting the connection.

That gets them ready to get an inspection done. The actual connection requires… all of the above again.

Since I’m not one to send someone running around with photocopies of my ID and deed, all of this means I get the joy of going to T&TEC in San Fernando, where they refer you to an orange desk which is now closer to a pink salmon (I asked a woman with matching nail polish what color her nails were). We sat there for an hour or so, watching frustrated T&TEC employees chained to keyboards of a system that was ‘giving trouble’, got to the desk and – fortunately – I had prepared everything for them so that in 15 minutes of photocopying and signatures, I could move on with my life. I don’t know how long the person getting connected stayed after.

How it Should Work.

A lot of people don’t know that T&TEC, circa 2010, mapped T&TEC poles all over Trinidad and Tobago and has them on a map. They can, with accuracy, tell you where they have their poles. And these are on a map of Trinidad and Tobago that had, or should still have, an up to date list of all the surveys registered in Trinidad and Tobago.

I say this because anyone with a deed can walk in and get someone else connected on someone else’s land. That’s clearly fraud, but it can happen by mistake when a land owner doesn’t know where their boundaries are. Therefore, the requirement of the deed is actually worthless without a survey that shows where the connection will be.

As I recall from years ago, I had to do this for a Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) connection around 2010. In my opinion, this is more in line with Land Law in Trinidad and Tobago, but I am no attorney and do not play one on the Internet.

The registered survey than be searched for if it were linked with the Ministry of Planning And Development, Town and Country Division systems. Then that would, if connected, be able to search the registry of Deeds at the Red House (which does not yet seem computerized).

If this were done, it would be apparent who legally owns the land, whose permission would be needed, etc. It would, of course, require the various databases to be kept up to date and interconnected.

And identification? Does no one see a flaw in accepting photocopies of identification not done on site? I could easily scan something in and alter it, printing it out. No, instead why not just have the T&TEC employee verify the identification is legitimate and enter the relevant information? Why are we killing trees in 2017 over this nonsense?

So, why hasn’t all of this been done? Why should this be hard to do? Why not remove the potential for error and corruption by appropriate use of technology?

There’s a question that should haunt every government administration since Independence. It’s a symptom of the larger problems, the elephants in the room that have ground the fine china into powder. Ministries not working together, a lack of a holistic vision, and a flood of ‘we like it so’.

I now return you to your regularly programmed bureaucracy.

If Only.

170616-N-XK398-090I’m reading the latest stuff on NOAA’s Tropical Cyclone 2 Updates (06182017), and I’m remembering some things.

If only there was someone who had dealt with emergency communications and worked toward developing a system where alerts could be sent to people’s mobile phones.

If only he had a military medical background with an idea of how things really work – and don’t – on the ground.

If only CARICOM had put such a system in place; if only when this alleged person was approached by Roosevelt King they hadn’t said they needed to spend a few hundred thousand US dollars to get it done.

If only he hadn’t told them that they could have developed the system from scratch starting at about $10K U.S., with development costs, circa 2006. That was too cheap and would employ local developers. That would be no good.

If only there was someone who had found himself working with such systems at ECN, and worked to troubleshoot existing systems, design new ones and see what goes wrong – plus document it all. If only those systems included NOAA! If only when he returned to Trinidad and Tobago, he tried connecting with people in Digicel and TSTT and met silence.

If only such a person existed. If he did, he’d probably be a farmer by now after having tried to chase a vision no one else wanted. Hypothetically, 12 years is a long time by human standards. 1/6th or 1/7th of a decent lifespan, really.

Ahh, well. If only we had that experience. Too bad.