Thin Air

Everything about ecuador

Farewell Ecuador

That's it. My sabbatical is over. Reality being what it is, it couldn't last forever, and recently I decided it was time to wrap things up in Ecuador, head back to North America, and figure out what to do next.

So much for that plan. A week later I was on my way to Boston for a job interview. A week after that I was frantically packing. I'm now camped out on the floor of my new and very empty apartment in Lowell, Massachusetts. I've just started a new job at Quallaby, working on the back end to PROVISO.

Now that I've had a little time to get my bearings, all I can say is wow. The scale of this project is amazing, and the quality of the code and the development processes it entails is impressive. I can tell I'm going to learn a lot here and have a lot of fun in the process.

One of things that has been most interesting so far is using VisualWorks for actual work instead of just poking around. I'm constantly noticing little details of the interface and development tools - where they're the similar to Squeak, where they're different. I've reached two main conclusions so far: (1) The VW tools are very good, and (2) Squeak holds its own much better than I thought it would.

All in all, I've very happy to be where I am, and doing what I'm doing. It's a chance to learn from some very skilled Smalltalkers and very difficult problems.

I'm gonna miss Ecuador though.

Posted in ecuador


The other day I noticed a odd-looking cloud on the horizon. There was the usual horizontal band shrouding the mountain tops, but rising out of it was a vertical plume that was amazingly tall. It seemed like a mini mushroom cloud or maybe a volcanic eruption. But it was too small, and there was no ash... I shrugged and went inside.

Today I found out that it was, in fact a volcano eruption. Volcán Galeras in south-western Colombia erupted this week, with plumes as high as 6 km. No wonder I could see it all the way from Quito. Apparently the ash got as far as Ibarra, which is a town about an hour north of Quito.

Posted in ecuador

Ya Mismo

Ya mismo is an expression that Ecuadorians use a lot. If you ask a question like "when will lunch be ready," chances are good that the answer will be "ya mismo." In theory, it means "right now," or "immediately." However, a Canadian friend of mine who has lived in Ecuador for a while has a favorite rant about how the real meaning of ya mismo is somewhere between "in two minutes" and "in two weeks".

{{|Clock}} Complaining about it doesn't do any good, of course. Things happen on their own schedule here, called la hora Ecuatoriana - Ecuadorian time. Ecuadorians themselves seem to view la hora Ecuatoriana with a mixture of amused cynicism and rueful helplessness. It's terrible, they'll agree, but what can we do?

The government's answer to the problem was to launch a public campaign to promote punctuality. The clock on the right is probably the most significant aspect, there are quite a few of them scattered around Quito. The sign says, "It's time to be punctual." I don't know how effective the signs are, but the clocks, which also display the temperature, are pretty handy.

Of course, the campaign didn't get off to a very good start. The official launch was delayed 15 minutes because President Gutiérrez was late.

Posted in ecuador

Going Places

In the last couple of days I've had to do a lot of running around in the course of having my wisdom teeth removed. (Remember that chapter of Cryptonomicon that dealt with Randy's wisdom teeth? Yeah. I had the "easy" one out today. It took 2 hours instead of 10 minutes, and the dentist was amazed by the gnarly roots on the "monstrosidad" of a tooth he wrenched from my skull.) Anyway, I had to do a lot of running around. And along the way, I noticed once again what a livable city Quito is.

First, there usually isn't much need to go very far. I don't know what the zoning policies of Metropolitan Quito are, or even if they have any, but they work well. There's a good mix of residential and comerical usage just about everywhere, and so most things are within walking distance. Very little of it is fancy, but it works.

Then, if you do have to travel a significant distance, it's both cheap and easy. Taxis, for example, are everywhere, and you can go pretty well anywhere for less than $5. I rarely pay more than two. You have to be a little careful about shifty cabbies, but it doesn't take long to learn the ropes.

The buses, though, top everything. They're even more common than cabs, they go everywhere, they only cost a quarter. However, riding a bus is not for the faint of heart. It took me a couple of months of acclimatization before I had the guts to try it. The thing is, there's no actual "bus system" in Quito. It's just an entrepreneurial free-for-all of little bus companies trying to make a buck moving Quiteños to and fro.

That's not to say that the buses are random. There are established routes, and these are posted on a sign in the front window of the bus. So you have about two seconds - between the sign becoming legible and the bus passing you - to decide if it's going your way. There's not much room on the sign, so it's a list of street names and landmarks, often abbreviated. You've got to be fairly familiar with the city to fill in all the gaps and do all the vector additions you need to make a decision.

The other thing is that, if you do decide to flag one down, it usually won't come to a complete stop. Ok, for little old ladies and children, the driver will take special pains. But such an obviously young and healthy fellow as myself just doesn't inspire that level of service. So you want to judge your opening carefully. You may have to cross a lane or two of traffic to get to the bus, and getting hit by a taxi won't advance your cause. Once you're there, getting on is pretty easy. The driver slows down, the barker gets out of the way (more about him in a moment), you grab the conveniently placed handholds, and up you go.

So the barriers to entry are fairly high, but once you've got things figured out, it's a nearly ideal system. Yesterday, I wandered out to the corner, hopped on a bus that looked like it was going in roughly the direction I wanted. As luck would have it, it dropped me off right in front of the radiograferia. Today my luck didn't quite hold: I had to walk 4 blocks to the dentist's office.

I think the division of labour has something to do with it. The driver drives, and the barker handles everything else. Mostly that means hanging out of the open door of the bus haranguing pedestrians with the bus route, but he also collects money, answers questions, keeps an eye out for the cops if there are more passengers than seats, and helps little old ladies aboard.

Going places in Quito is so much fun.

Posted in ecuador

Street Vendors

You can buy nearly anything from street vendors in Quito. Phone cards, sunglasses, CDs and DVDs, bananas, corn, limes or chochos. Just about anything you can carry easily. One time I passed a man standing next to an old-fashioned drugstore scale - 5 cents to weigh your self.

Walking home from the grocery store this afternoon, I passed a man selling record players on the street. And not the kind of thing you would use to spin a party, either. No, these were genuine immitation Victrolas - wooden boxes with turn-tables on top and great big horns attached by complicated plumbing.

I declined to buy one.

Posted in ecuador

First Post

They call it the Middle of the World. I'm writing from Quito, Ecuador - a stone's throw from the Equator and 2850 meters above the sea. (For the metricly-challenged, that's a little shy of 10000 feet.) I'm several months into a year-long "sabbatical" - a chance to learn Spanish, expand my cultural horizons, and explore the beauty of the Andes.

Geography not withstanding, I'm off to Seattle for Smalltalk Solutions next week. I'm giving a talk on the new tools being developed by the Squeak community and the culture that shapes them. This is a subject that's fascinated me for some time; I'm looking forward to see what people have to say about it.

Naturally I'm going to pay particular attention to Monticello and OmniBrowser, the projects I've been working on for the last couple of years. This site is my attempt to put a little more support behind them, so they can be useful to a wider audience.

As I learn more about building agile development tools, navigating Latin society and trekking in the Andes, I'll post my findings here.

Posted in ecuador