What's New Down Here?

Many years ago, Carlie said to me, "You will never retire--just, someday, you will die." 100% correct. As I am neither retired nor dead, expect to start hearing from me on this site.

First, let me give you an idea what I am involved in and how it ties into Linux. I guess I need to cover a bit of geography so that this makes sense. I'm in Nicaragua or, more explicitly, Estelí, Nicaragua. If you think Nicaragua is in Africa you need to get out a map. (Don't be ashamed--it amazes me how many people think it is.)

Nicaragua is in the middle of Central America. Two Central American countries to the north, two to the south and one sorta beside it. Actually, if you live near the west coast of the US and want to come visit, get on Interstate 5 heading south. Keep going until you come to Hotel Panorama in Estelí. Turn right and I am three blocks down the street on the right.

Now that you know where I am, why I am here is the next question to answer. The best answer is because I want to be. The climate is nice year-round, the people are nice, I can buy fresh fruit and vegetables at the public market a few blocks away and the stress level is very different from where I lived for probably all too many years.

As for what I am involved in, I could offer up a long list including web sites (the most popular is NicaLiving.com but there are lots more). Most of the sites use the Drupal CMS like this site and all run on Linux hosts. One Drupal exception is NicaPlaza.com which uses the Joomla CMS. The big project on my list, however, is not a web site. It's a site alright but it is not on the Internet.

Let's call that site the Geek Ranch. (When I say "let's" I mean us, not everyone. While its primary focus is to appeal to geeks, we will have to call it something else for general marketing.) As far as a site, it is about 265 acres of land in the mountains of the Tisey Preserve near Estelí, Nicaragua.

While there is a lot more to it than just being for geeks, here is the geek angle. The property will have "geek cabinas" scattered around a pine forest within the property. If you want to escape from the rat race for a while--a month, six months, whatever--you will be able to inexpensively rent a private cabina. It will come with Internet connectivity, maid service and all your meals. In other words, no routine responsibilities.

While you can walk over to the restaurant/meeting area to hang out with people, you will be able to hide in your cabina and work on your favorite software project, write a book or whatever private activity you want without interruptions. And if you need a break, you can walk (or ride a horse) around the 265 acres of property, see how the coffee plants are doing, eat an orange or guava right off the tree or just sit on top of a hill and contemplate the world.

You will hear more about the project as it evolves. Today it is just a piece of land, some ideas and two people dedicated to making it a reality. Implementation is where Linux comes in. While Linux isn't going to be used to build the restaurant or cabinas, Linux-based systems will be used to handle a lot of things in the project. Will Linux always be the right answer? We don't know yet but that is going to be part of the fun. That is, I am going to write about things we need to do, the approaches we look at and what we finally end up using.

Sometimes I will wander off the core project when I find something interesting to play with. But, the property doesn't even have electricity much less telephone and Internet connectivity today. There are going to be a lot of chances for Linux to help us solve a problem.

Besides me being a Linux addict, there is another reason why Linux will be easier to plug into the lives of people here. Most people here have little to no experience with non-Linux based systems. That means there is no "it is different than what I am used to" stigma when you plop down Linux as a solution.

In any case, consider this the start of an adventure. While the two players on this end right now are Gixia Arauz and myself, there are going to be a lot more. On your end, I hope that when we run into a challenge, I can count on your to push us in the right direction. Together, we will can get this Geek Ranch built for you.


Phil Hughes


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Wireless connectivity in Nicaragua

Paul Kassebaum's picture

Check out this wonderful project that aims to lower the cost of internet accessibility:


T&T's not too far, either.

KnowProSE's picture

I'm almost done with inheriting the 93 acres of land here locally, but instead of the Geek Ranch concept which we discussed (for reasons similar to why you decided against Costa Rica), I'll probably sell it off within the next year or two. I'd happily put my shoulder to this as long as you cook now and then... and if I do show up, I'll probably bring a spare coffee pot. :-)

Those organic beans rock.

NOW you're talking my language

Shawn Powers's picture

Mmmmm.... I might come just for the coffee if you keep talking up the beans like that. :)

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

Yeah, the beans I'm talking about...

Taran's picture

were wicked good. Nice body, fairly low acid but the kicker is how the caffeine builds - it's a creeper buzz.

Can I write that? :-)

Local vs. Ours

Phil Hughes's picture

The local (meaning Estelí) organic coffee is great. But, within a month we should have some of our own organic from the Geek Ranch itself. No idea how good it will be but we sure plan to find out.

We were out there doing some work today. Eating an orange off the tree and some guavas is just not what I was used to in Washington state in December. :-)

Phil Hughes

GeekRanch Beans?

Taran's picture

Now THAT is interesting...

geek ranch south

mike taht's picture

I'm living in nicaragua these days because of your book and sites, Phil, but my vision of an ideal place to program is a little different, although perhaps complementary.

In San Juan Del Sur, a little beach town south of you, there is:

A steady stream of college age tourists, male and female, with interesting backgrounds, mostly european, canadian, and australian. The female/male ratio is much more balanced than silicon valley, and shorts and sandals rule the day.

Temps are high, but a quick dip in the bay solves that.

Transport to anywhere is readily available, including 3 great surf beaches that you can reach by boat or truck.

There's a couple really nice restaurants, the freshly opened el pozo is great, and 3 pizza places provide geek soul food.

The local bookstore is no borders, but the selection is not bad, and the coffee is great. There's even some veggie food to be found, but the fish and fruit are to die for.

I like to imagine SJDS as being like Santa Cruz, Ca, 100 years ago, only with internet.

I'm presently living in a highly connected converted colonial near the center of town... run by a retired SUN engineer, sharing the space with an eclectic group of people, ranging from 8 to 16 in number.

Downsides are - I haven't got a whole lot of coding done, being preoccupied with getting some basics straightened out, and my laptop doesn't work well in direct sunlight, but I'll get there. I miss SF culture - plays and music - and wish for a sushi restaurant.

I can see the advantages of your concept, particularly the meeting rooms and isolation (and hopefully insulation from the day to day problems of food, cleanup, and power),
perhaps we could swap guests periodically.

Complementary, I agree

Phil Hughes's picture
Even before I moved to Costa Rica I had decided that Quepos, the town next to the Manuel Antonio tourist trap, was where I wanted to live. Fortunately, before I bought an ex-hotel I realized that the beach is a place I like to visit but I actually like living in the mountains. When I lived in Seattle, I found a 3-day backpacking trip in the Olympic National Forest an amazing break that gave me the ability to concentrate on a project. The beach, on the other hand, offered interesting diversion. This may be different for different people but as the mountains work for me and others I know, that's one of the reasons I moved to Estelí and the main reason I see the Tisey area idea for the geek ranch.

Maybe we can have a "coding contest" a year or two from now and see if "mountain geeks" can produce more code than "beach geeks". Is this starting to sound too much about the vi vs. Emacs wars. :-)

In any case, I am glad our book helped you out. For those that don't know what we are talking about, the book is an ebook called Living Like a Nica. You can find out more (or even buy it) from a Linux system at Lulu.com. The "we" here is myself and my Nicaraguan wife Ana (which may surprise some of you—it surprised me as well).

Phil Hughes

Geek Ranch North vs South

Mike Taht's picture


I tend to concur that mere beach time doesn't clear the mind like a hike does, but getting one's soul flushed by being pounded by some good waves works pretty darn good.

>Maybe we can have a "coding contest" a year or two from now and see if >"mountain geeks" can produce more code than "beach geeks". Is this starting >to sound too much about the vi vs. Emacs wars. :-)

Yer on! Just don't schedule it for a week when the surf is up!

That's what I like about Linux

Shawn Powers's picture

"fyl" -- I get it, but I admit it took me a minute. :)

Please keep us informed, and as we try to build linuxjournal.com into a community, make sure to stay a part of it. I might be late in the game, but the "Geek Ranch" sounds pretty cool. I'm not sure if I can offer much in the way of challenge solving, but if you're ever looking for a sarcastic quip, or poorly timed pun -- I'm your man.

Seriously though, I look forward to hearing more.

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


Phil Hughes's picture

I regularly have to explain this to people. The story starts in 1968 at my first programming job for Collins Radio. Being a normal (for 1968) company, our computer output was on 14-7/8" x 11" listing paper. Each job had a banner page with your "name" in big letters. I quickly found out that PHIL could mean Phil Hughes or Phil Ruemler making it harder to find my listings.

As he had seniority, I needed to find an answer. My secretary was from New Jersey and when she was exasperated with me she would say something closer to feel than Phil. That inspired the FYL and it has been around ever since.

Maybe you can come up with a pun ar at least a sarcastic quip related to how we have decided to "open source" the mountain on the property. It is named apaguají and while it appears in some tourist guides it is actually within the property. We just found out that the previous owners had been charging tourists five cordobas (about $.25) to climb it and it was the caretaker's job to collect the money.

We came up with a new plan. Access is free but as the caretaker's wife is making rosquillas, tourists might want to purchase a bag them from her. This approach seems to have worked for Linux (that is, you can get it for free but you might need to buy some hardware) so let's see what happens.

Phil Hughes

Hello from Dominican Republic !

Caraibes's picture

Happy to read some news about other "tropical Linux geeks" !

I am living in Las Terrenas, a beach-town on the north-coast of the Dominican Republic, and I am also a "GNU/Linux amateur"...

I am a "PC & network repair" guy.

I also work in shorts & flip-flops, and go swimming whenever possible ;o)