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July 2012 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

Dark Satanic Mills? Clapped-out old diesel generator units that have been installed in the middle of a residential area.

Dark Satanic Mills?

30/7/2012 - Industrial Revolution.

When we went to bed on Saturday night, there was a sound as if there were a couple of motor bikes parked on the village main street 200m away with their engines running. This in itself would have been no big surprise, but then the sound persisted all night.

Adia went out for a bike ride on Sunday morning, and came back with the opinion that the sound was coming from the generators that Tanesco have been installing up at their transmission substation on the hill at the other side of the Njiro road. The noise grew louder as the day progressed, and I rode up there on my way to the shops to check - sure enough.

Now the generator units were not a secret, but I think that everyone - like me - had assumed that these were new, quiet, sealed units. But no. They are old ones, some of them, judging by their smoke emission quite clapped out, that have simply had a coat of paint, and possibly new logos. This is typical - Africa gets the left-overs that developed nations would reject.

There are reputedly 50MW worth of them up there, so at 35% efficiency (and that's being generous since they are old), there will be about 192 thousand horsepower of old diesel engines running up there in the middle of one of Arusha's most expensive residential areas.

So what bright spark came up with that idea? Well, quite a clever one probably. Since Tanesco already had the benign transmission compound there with sufficient space, they could probably install 'temporary' generating capacity in their compound without any planning permission, just as we can have a generator in ours. If they had broken new ground for the generators they would probably have had to get planning permission.

The 'temporary' installations will probably remain there until they fall to pieces - where else are they going to go? In the meantime the noise and atmospheric pollution will probably lop 10 - 50% off the values of properties in the area depending on how close they are. Certainly one of the comments our guests used to make - "what a lovely quiet peaceful place" - will be a thing of the past. So far we have only heard maybe half of the total capacity.

The whole genesis of these generators is interesting. They are attributed in the press and by Tanesco and the government to 'Symbion' - presumably Symbion Power LLC, who just happen to have more offices in Tanzania than anywhere else. But they are a contracting firm, so some 'benefactor' must have placed a contract. That can't have been Tanesco, because it has been teetering close to bankruptcy for ages, and as far as I know, the government does not get directly involved in electrical infrastructure investment, so who our 'good fairy' or 'robber baron' is, only time will tell. I'd hazard a guess though that he/she does not live in Njiro.

Hilarious: The Queen looked rather stern on the occasion, but clearly has a very British sense of humour.


28/7/2012 - The Olympic Show.

I was initially very upset last night when BBC World - or at least the flavor of it that we get, having built up the occasion for a couple of hours, proceeded then not to show it.

Fortunately after going through a long sequence of remote clicking I found some obscure Arabic channel that was carrying it. The power then went out after the Cameroon team passed, and although I turned on the generator, we got no further signal from the cable provider. I caught the tail end of it in repeat on the same channel this morning.

I had been somewhat put off the whole thing by media reports about authorities removing Olympic rings from shop windows, but last night I was converted, and am now a believer. The Brits are not limited to royal weddings and funerals.

As pointed out by some of the US papers, I'm not sure how many of the viewers would have 'got it', but even if they didn't, the pure spectacle must have impressed. My favourite bit was as per the picture (thanks BBC). I was particularly impressed by the proactive performance of the corgis, who looked as if they had practised for the occasion. God save the Queen.

Bridge work: A new temporary bridge, and a permanent one under consruction.

Bridge work.

27/7/2012 - Birth of a Bottleneck?

Several weeks ago I noted that an alternative route into town had been severed by removal of a temporary bridge, so yesterday I went to check what was happening. As it turns out, there is now a new temporary bridge, offset from the original position, and a proper bridge is being constructed.

Connected road work: Here at the north-west of Themi Hill.

Connected road work.

Beyond this point, the road turns right through the rather posh Corridor Springs area of Arusha, to join the road that goes north of Themi Hill from the Njiro road to the brewery and beyond. You can turn right at the brewery, and then after a couple of vicious speed bumps you can - or you could - turn left on a partially constructed road that skirts around the western and southern flanks of Themi Hill before it joins the Njiro road again. Njiro Road runs just to the east of Themi Hill

The other end: Here the new road joins Njiro Road.

The other end.

Unfortunately, where this junction occurs, it creates an offset cross roads with the road just beyond that goes off to the east, and immediately after that there is a disused railway level crossing that is bad to drive over - both the tracks and speed bumps on either side. These features already constitute a significant bottleneck at rush-hour times. Combined with the new road, they might well result in gridlock.

The level crossing: Worse to drive over than it appears on the picture.

The level crossing.

To make these junctions work at all I think that they will also need to remove the sections of rail across the road, and the then redundant speed bumps, and probably install traffic lights with some interesting timing algorithm. However, there are putative plans to re-instate the railway at some point (in your dreams, I'd say), and the latter probably also belongs to some totally different government department, and breaking the tracks may be illegal. So it will be interesting to see what transpires.

Whatever it is I suspect it will still be a pain getting between the city and Njiro in the rush hours.

25/7/2012 - Power Supply Addendum.

According to the Guardian (Tanzanian that is), on July 23 a the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Energy and Minerals announced that Tanzania's available generation capacity is 873MW, and that the "average electricity requirement is 650 to 720 megawatts", and that in consequence "The accessibility of electricity in the country meets the requirements and the country will not experience power shedding.” (Incidentally, I think the latter should be load shedding - power companies don't usually shed power - where would they dump it?) However, it seems to me that the numbers the PS presented do not support this assertion.

My first problem is with 'an average of 650 to 720MW.' An average is a single number, so it is not clear what the PS was saying. Does he mean that the average minimum daily demand is 650, and the average maximum demand is 720? Let's assume so, in which case we are only concerned with the maximum demand figure - load shedding generally happens under conditions of maximum demand.

The PS then went on to enumerate the sources of the available capacity. Sadly this did not add up the number originally announced. If I'm generous, he said 150MW hydro, 348MW natural gas, and 240MW other thermal sources, that is 738MW - 135MW short.

So if the average maximum demand is 720MW, then let's say - quite reasonably - that this means 720 plus or minus 20%. So that the peak demand could be around 864MW, which means that as we observe, load shedding must already be happening.

We should now add to this mix last year's experience of the deterioration of the hydro capacity. If my memory serves me correctly, by the end of the dry season, that was down to something like 40MW. Another year's worth of silt into the dams won't have made the situation any better, and we did not have particularly heavy rainfall, so we can probably assume that this year's pattern will be similar. So some time before the next short rains the capacity available could be 738 minus 110 = 628MW, which won't even match the average minimum demand, and will imply constant load shedding.

Any unforeseen plant outages due to breakdowns will of course exacerbate the situation.

It is possible that the PS was misquoted, or that something was lost in the translation, but nonetheless, I do not feel tremendously reassured.

Is this big enough? Our 2kW petrol generator will run the lights, TV, computers, and a couple of fridges.

Is this big enough?

22/7/2012 - Recycled Misery?

Long standing readers of BEV may recall my bleating last year about the desperate power supply situation in Tanzania. This is working itself up to a head again, and it seems like some time fairly soon we shall be back to extensive black-outs. Back to square one, or possibly square zero in fact. What follows is largely guesswork on my part, since information is scarce, often conflicting, and usually presented in a very convoluted fashion to minimize criticism of any of the involved parties.

Last year, the government promised that things would be OK after December, and that load-shedding would then be a thing of the past. But it seems that in fact little or nothing has been done, and if anything, the situation has worsened.

Availability of supply varies periodically with seasonal rains and the consequent availability of hydro-power. The government statement about December may have been nothing more than a reasonable bet that there would be rains in November and December. The combination of hydro power, other Tanesco sources, and independent suppliers, would then be enough to keep the wolf from the door for a while. The government also promised loan guarantees that would allow Tanesco to borrow money to improve its own supply capabilities.

The snag with this approach is that the proportion of the nation's power being provided by the independent suppliers is quite large - of the order of one third perhaps. Tanesco have to buy this power at a price that is above what government regulation allows them to sell it for (It may in fact be the case that conventional generation plant amortization and oil/gas prices are greater than that.) In consequence, most of the company's revenue goes to paying for that power, and it is thus starved of funds for its own operating costs, and is getting further and further into debt. Because it can't afford to buy fuel and so on, supply depends increasingly on hydro power and the independent suppliers. It's not like they are unaware of this trap. At the beginning of this year they requested a 150% tariff increase to break this descending spiral, but the regulatory authority only allowed them 40%.

Of course the government's treasury department is aware of all this, and so is loath to give a guarantee that would allow Tanesco to borrow money that would immediately be swallowed up by its debt. At that point the government might have to back up its guarantee, and thus find funds that might not even exist. Anyhow, whatever the mechanism, loan guarantees have not been forthcoming, and consequently nothing has been spent on improving the situation for the future.

So later this year, as the water level in the hydro dams drops to an unusable level, and Tanesco is refused deliveries because it has not paid for those it has already taken, then the entire availability of power will be that supplied by the independents. They can't provide enough for the country's needs, and will only provide at all if they are paid.

Four of the most senior managers of Tanesco, including its boss, were recently sacked over accusations of embezzlement or misspending of company funds, or possibly just to obfuscate the dire facts of the situation.

So now it seems that Tanesco is in an impossible situation - it should in all honesty simply file for bankruptcy. At the same time the government is caught between a rock and a hard place. They can allow the supply situation to deteriorate further, which would probably have very damaging effects on the economy - not to mention politics; or they could pay the independents directly, which would mean they would have to have the money or to borrow it; or they could nationalize the independents, which would probably be roughly equivalent to shutting them down.

The situation reminds me of one of the more witty definitions of the laws of thermodynamics - "you can't win, you can't break even, and you can't get out of the game".

So maybe I am answering my own question about the size of our generator. No, it is not big enough or strong enough. We need one that will run the whole compound on a 24/7 basis, and we need solar hot water generation and sufficient insulated storage.

19/7/2012 - Tragedy Close To Home.

A Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar Ferry carrying about 290 passengers capsized yesterday in rough seas. There are fatalities, and 100 or so people are as yet unaccounted for. I don't hold out much hope for them.

According to the local radio news here, the boat was apparently bought on Ebay after it was deemed to have reached the end of its useful life in Louisiana. It was overloaded at the time of the incident, and considering its origin it may well have been a vessel designed for river use rather than for the open sea. Presumably when it made the trip it was empty except for a courageous crew - or maybe a tug towed it here.

How it got registered in Zanzibar as a vessel for public use remains to be seen, but I can hazard a guess! The owner should be in serious trouble along with whatever official authorized the registration.

Later news suggests that the vessel, and a sister ship, may have previously been in use in the Seattle area, in which case they would likely be seagoing craft. However, the wind speeds as described for the Zanzibar channel by the Tanzanian meteorological service that day were only in the 40-50 km/h speed range, described on the UK Beaufort scale as a 'strong breeze'. This would be unlikely to cause the sinking of any competently operated seaworthy vessel.

At the same time, the passenger capacity of the ship is being quoted as 300, which implies that according to the published number of passengers, the ship was not overloaded, so it is difficult to understand how the ship would capsize and sink in the prevailing conditions.

The topic appears to be dropping off the media radar already, so it is quite likely that the whole incident will be swept under the carpet.

A contraption: The metal working shop at the end of our street specializes in interesting machines, this one, I was told, to extract the pulp from tomatoes.

A contraption.

17/7/2012 - Making a Buck in Africa.

One of the most common types of business here in Tanzania is the small-scale metal-working shop. Usually these just do relatively simple steel work of the kind that is sometimes incorrectly described as 'wrought iron'. They make gates and steel doors and grilles and window frames and related architectural components.

The man who lives at the end of our road has started a metalworking business recently. This is possible because there are essentially no planning permission regulations here, or at least, none that are widely observed. As it has turned out, it is not intrusive as far as we are concerned. You can sometimes hear the sound of an angle-grinder at work, but that is such a widespread sound around here that you barely notice. There aren't any noxious fumes or toxic waste to speak of. His shop is different in that is seems to specialize in what I can only call contraptions. Clearly he's had some engineering training or experience that is above that of the average shop.

I also have an urge to do some little business, but that is difficult because of the terms of my residence permit. I feel I could contribute here by undertaking the technical aspects of web-page creation, and am working on the assumption that where there's a will, there's a way. Today some technicians from one of Arusha's Internet Provider companies came to survey our location, and one of them was a graphical designer. He seemed mildly interested in having a techie partner, so maybe something can be worked out.

Adia too has been looking at business opportunities today. Some friends of hers were aware of plots of land for sale to our south-east at quite reasonable prices. She went to look at them, and came back quite enthusiastic about the prospect, thinking that they might appreciate in value quite quickly. I went back with her this afternoon, but could not summon up the same enthusiasm - the geography and topography just did not work for me. I hate to be a kill-joy, but when it comes to investing hard-earned cash, I feel that I should express my gut feeling.

Our last look at the sand and sea: From a platform in a huge old Boabab tree growing just above the hight tide line.

Our last look at the sand and sea.

16/7/2012 - Nostalgia.

Memories of the disagreeable portions of our journey to Zanzibar are fading quickly, and I already find myself feeling quite nostalgic about the trip. Mind you, listening to the 3 CD set of Queen's greatest as I've been doing while writing can have that effect on you as well. Freddie was good at conjuring up images from your past life!

OK, so I've written it up, and you can find my account of our Zanzibar Break in the Adia's Place set of pages. If you haven't visited those before, now would be a good time ;=) If you're tempted, and have a few thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, get in touch. We have the contacts to organize both Zanzibar and Serengeti - a truly memorable combination.

I suppose now I should consider returning to what passes for reality in the life of an expat retiree. That will probably consist of going to the wholesale outlet to get fresh supplies of beer and a new carton of red wine. I should also get my act together and do some more baking. I'm not that good at it, and only practise will improve this situation.

Seafood at Mercury's: Me attempting to break into a lobster claw.

Seafood at Mercury's.

15/7/2012 - Slightly Disappointed.

Adia and I have been on a mini-break to Zanzibar. Since the Internet connection there was a bit iffy, I have been posting snippets and pictures from my mobile phone to the BEV News Feed. Now in the cold gray light of Arusha on a Sunday morning, I find that not a soul appears to have looked at them. Ah well, such is life!

I shall write up the visit on the Adia's Place page later today. Suffice it to say here that the trip truly explored the range from the sublime to the ridiculous. For example, the beach views at Fumba in Zanzibar were sublime, and the trip back from Dar yesterday on the bus was truly ridiculous.

Harry, bless him, picked us up from the bus stop in his spiffy Mercedes, that at least yesterday was good for the ego. Also he had bought us a C‌hinese take-away, and some Chicken Tandoori, and I had some wine left in the chiller. Then it was straight to bed.

Oh, and "Mercury's"? Well Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar - a fact regretted by the Islamists there, but celebrated by a rather pleasant restaurant on the harbour front that is very popular with the decadent western tourists who provide a good proportion of the island's income.

Adia's dressing table: The most popular thing I've made.

Adia's dressing table.

6/7/2012 - July Already.

One more month of dodgy weather to go, then nine months of being too hot. My cold has abated somewhat, but it's still hanging around.

I can't remember if I mentioned, but when I was walking through the village a few days ago, I noticed that we had acquired cables that looked suspiciously like TV or data cables. So anyway, on Monday I followed them to the house of someone we know, and sure enough they are cable TV. They belong to the same outfit as we got our TV from back in 2007/2008 when we were living in the rented house at Sun Park.

On Tuesday we went to see them, and on Wednesday we had a connection, and pretty decent one at that. It costs about $9.50/month, and an installation/decoder cost of say $125. StarTimes, the terrestrial digital system we were using was more - $11.25 a month. But the cable system has a vastly better selection of programmes, better I think than the more expensive DSTV that we were using before StarTimes, and occasionally since, which weighs in at about $70/month for a comparable program set. The cable system also carries local TV stations that neither of the others had, which Adia values for local news. We've been getting those with a small amplified analogue antenna, but that will be useless soon, as the analogue channels are due to be shut down.

In Njiro B block, half a kilometre away, the same cables also have Internet. The guys who did the installation did not seem to think it was a big deal to expand that to our village. It needs a new repeater, and they've gone to ask the boss if it can be done. When I had Internet from them before, it was slow, but back then they were using satellite. Now they have a connection to the fibre optic system, so they should have a good deal more bandwidth. I await news on this with bated breath!

I took the picture of Adia's dressing table because it dawned on me that I had never shown you. I guess it is an example of the old 'function dictates form' adage, but whatever my design aims were, Adia is delighted with it - I got many points.

My black hole: Still large at this point, but what later?

My black hole.

4/7/2012 - 42?

There are plenty of discussions about the formation of black holes on the web, but I have not seen much about how big they can get and what is the ultimate fate of really big ones. OK, I understand that given sufficient time, small ones can just evaporate away.

But what if it is a monster, say a tenth of the mass of the universe, continuously sucking in matter from its surroundings. The gravitational force within it getting stronger and stronger as mass is added. Here's my imaginary scenario.

At some point the interior of the black hole must eventually contract and reach a pressure that can overcome any kind of degeneracy - electron degeneracy, 'quantum degeneracy' (made-up term, but you can probably get what I mean), and at some point, any distinction between matter and anti-matter. It tends toward 'pure energy', but since that's equivalent to mass, gravity continues its inexorable force.

At some point though, it is tending rapidly toward infinite pressure, which if I understand anything, is impossible. So to allow the process of compression to continue, time must slow in a way that makes it impossible for it to ever get there. But at that point, I'm guessing that time contradicts gravity. As time slows to a halt, gravity becomes an encapsulating loop around the infinitesimal object. Gravity, time and entropy come into an uneasy balance, oscillating around each other. What remains at that point is an ultimate 'God Particle' - a boson of some sort that has inconceivably high energy.

Of course given the path of it's genesis, and the inherent uncertainty in everything, it will have a half-life. When it decays I can only imagine that there will be a version - at least in miniature - of the 'Big Bang'. Some oscillation will reverse the pattern, gravity turning inside out and time racing, and all rushing outward.

In the simplest of circumstances, a space-time continuum that had never seem a big bang before (how that would happen is of course a different matter), this might result result in the cycle that once seemed 'natural' to many thinkers. The bang would grow into a 'universe' that would expand until it was eventually reigned in by gravity again, and would then collapse and perpetuate a cycle.

But in the case I'm discussing, there is already lots of 'universe' left out there, and the expansion of my bang, which would presumably re-instate the differentiation between matter and anti-matter, would collide with that matter. In the case of our universe, this would be largely matter in some form. Then perhaps, the bombardment by an expanding wave containing much anti-matter would cause the inflation and formation of dark energy and dark matter that our present understanding of the universe requires.

I'm sure that this is just fanciful, but is there anyone out there on Higgs Boson day who can explain what would actually happen?

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Check out the BEV retrospective
currently covering 1942 - 1975.

1976 is yet to be started.

What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is the personal blog of a 70 year old Englishman - Steve Teale, started in January 2003. It's currently about life in Arusha (Tanzania), and previously in Bangalore, Manhattan, and the Bronx. It deals with life in general, building a house, food and drink, computer programming, opinion on current affairs, 20th century history, and so on. It may give you some insight into what life is like in 'the third world', or encourage you to visit Tanzania.

I started playing with it in January 2003, when I was living in Manhattan. At the time I felt I was going nowhere, and exposing the details of my life could be no worse than not. Almost immediately I changed partners, and quickly recognized that while I might be prepared to live in a goldfish bowl, other's weren't.

The same year I lost my job - recession, exhausted my NY State unemployment benefits, and got a job in India. Consequently a large proportion of BEV was written in Bangalore. India was OK, but I could not see what I was going to do there when I retired.

This uncertainty was resolved when I met my current partner Adia in 2006. She was a Tanzanian, studying law in India, so I came Tanzania in 2007. Here we have built a house, and made new friends. The rest, you can read on BEV.

At about the same time I had the ridiculous idea of extending BEV backwards to cover the years 1942 to 2002. So far I have got to 1975. For the years 2003 - 2011, choose a year/month from the tool bar. For 1942 - 1975, choose a year.

Visiting Tanzania?

Adia's Place now has On-Line Booking. Please feel free to check it out. It may not be 100% yet, but if you get a confirmation email then it's a safe bet that we got your booking.

In the short term we will re-confirm.

If you have done all the usual tourist destinations, then make a leap and discover Africa! Come and visit Arusha, Tanzania.

You might be able to stay at - a great centre for safaris to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, and of course our own pet volcano, Mount Meru.

Please feel free to contact us. We can tell you about hotels, facilities, prices of basics, etc.

We now have very pleasant bed and breakfast rooms available at $20 per night. The Old Cottage and the South House are also available for longer term visitors.

Studying in Arusha?

Some of the major study centres in Arusha are at Njiro. There, you'll find the Arusha Institute of Accountancy, ESAMI, and TRAPCA.

If you are not happy with the accommodation there, you are only a 5 minute drive from - a secure haven of tranquillity with African food like your mother cooked for you. Price is competitive with the on-campus accommodation.

Just call Adia - 0762 442888 - and she'll come and get you and show you her place. You won't regret it!

This Month's Posts

If there's something particular you'd like to go back to, just click it here

Top 20 BEV Pages.

Exchange Rates.

BEV Software Blog.

There are a several new articles on the Software page:

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru

Lofty and remote.

Random BEV Poem.


If you are a Linux user, you might want to try this piece of graphical design software I worked on last year. You can use it to design business cards, labels, logos for your web site, and things of that sort.

You can download it from the BEV COMPO page, where you'll also find the documentation.

About You.

A bit of nonsense. If you've ever wondered what a web site can discover about you when you visit one of their pages with little or no effort, then now you know.

BEV Partners.

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Contact BEV.

If you want to get in touch outside the built-in comment system, email Steve Teale.