Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Some Odds and Ends

This will probably be the last I'll write until I'm back in the states. We've taken a few rides on the CBR now that my time here is nearing an end. We drove the beautiful, twisty Samoeng loop again but threw in a visit to Khun Khan National Park, a small park about 10 miles west of Samoeng. These photos, taken by Nut, are from that trip. (N18.85287 E98.62118)

Spider - Khun Khan NP
Teak leaf roof - Khun Khan NP
Here is a short video clip from one of those rides. Nut shot it while riding pillion. The day was pleasant but you can plainly see smoke obscuring the view. The farmers around northern Thailand burn their fields every spring either to kill weeds and insects or just because it's an old habit. It's a major pain in the butt. Many complain about this, myself included, but as visitors we're obliged to make an effort to understand that the rural Thai people have been doing this for years and they have the right to burn if they wish even if it makes no sense to us. I have pleasant memories of the smell of burning leaves in the fall when I was a kid in Buffalo. I loved it and I miss it even knowing how bad it is for the air. Maybe the Thais love that smell too.

The outside temp's been peaking at about 100 degrees in the afternoon lately but our apartment stays fairly comfortable -- we've been staying in watching movies and TV series in the heat of the afternoons. We've watched two full seasons of Walking Dead, two of Dexter (Seasons 5 and 6), Game of Thrones, and quite a few movies. You can buy bootlegged DVDs everywhere (in point of fact, it's hard to find legal CDs or DVDs in Thailand or Cambodia) but I've been getting them off the Internet because the quality's good and almost anything you want can be easily obtained. (Dexter fans: What do you think about the ending of Season Six where Deb witnesses Dexter's Dark Passenger in full control? Season seven should be very interesting.)
Bamboo scaffolding

And I've been reading. A lot. I wrote about using my Netbook for an e-reader in a recent post. My "library" has grown since I got on board the e-book train and now contains 47 titles; the first one I bought was "Rafa" (Raphael Nadal's biography), the most recent "Growing up Amish". I'm reading everything electronically now and I sold the few print books I had back to the bookstore. I noticed somewhere online the other day that e-book people read 25% more books than those that read only paper books. I'm not surprised. My son Tuli is working on hacking a Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch reader so it will work with not only B&N ebooks but also Amazon's Kindle and PDF.  That will eliminate my last reason for resisting the ebook trend, that of being locked in to a proprietary book format. I'll be following his lead and when I return next fall I'll have a new ebook reader along.

Caution - Elephant Crossing
And I'll be retiring my Acer Netbook laptop. It's been a good travel companion that I bought because it's small and lightweight. But I've grown tired of its cramped keyboard and 1024x600 pixel screen. It uses a tiny Intel Atom CPU with a meager 1 MB of RAM, pretty puny. And I'm not doing as much "backpacking" as I anticipated when I bought it back in 2009 now that I've adopted Thailand as a second home. I did a few days research and bought a refurbished Dell XPS 15z laptop with a powerful Intel Core I7 64-bit processor, 8 MB of RAM, 2 MB of video RAM, USB 3.0, a backlit keyboard and a 1920x1080 (full HD) 15 inch display. This will be my main computer and now that I no longer have a desk in Alaska it will replace the old Dell desktop computer I've used for the past 4 or 5 years.


We have wi-fi here at our apartments but it can be used by only one of us at a time. Nut isn't a computer junkie but since the birth of her granddaughter she's been spending quite a bit of time on Skype and Facebook. Wi-fi access is common here. Almost all hotels and coffee shops offer it and it's free. Although ours isn't free it is quite good, is inexpensive and fairly fast. I was paying about $90/month back in Alaska for a DSL line that provided only 1 Mbps download speed. Highway robbery. Our apartment wi-fi provides speeds of 4 Mbps down (0.5 Mbps up) and costs $9/month. When I left Alaska last September one of my greatest pleasures was telling ACS Alaska to cancel my DSL account, permanently. The bastards were charging me $26/month simply to hold my DSL line while I was away.

Seeing as 3G Internet access via cell phone is also quite cheap here (isn't everything?) I looked into tethering as a way to use my Samsung Galaxy Android smartphone for those times when we both wanted to be on. Tethering is using your phone's Internet connection to access the Internet signal which you then provide to your computer via USB cable. It's pretty cool. That means no matter where I am, as long as there is a measurable telephone signal I can access the Internet on my laptop. The speeds are quite reasonable too; 2 Mbps down and 0.250 Mbps up. Here 3G Internet costs about $10/month for unlimited access, i.e., with no data cap. I was able to do Internet on my smartphone before tethering but typing anything other than short text messages on its virtual keyboard required more patience then I could muster.

The application I'm using for tethering my phone to my laptop is called PDANet. It's free to try and $15 to buy, which you'll want to do after a few weeks because it will eventually refuse to connect to secure sites unless you pay. It requires a lightweight client on your computer and one on your Android phone. The app is available in Android Market and doesn't require your phone to be rooted. (Rooting is the process of taking control of your phone's operating system and will void your warranty among other things.)

Back in the states and depending on your provider you may be prevented from tethering, or have to pay extra if you do. I just called AT&T to reactivate my U.S. phone and learned that if I want use tethering it will cost me an additional $50/month. Ain't that just peachy? Plus, I've been reading about how most if not all stateside providers recently invoked data caps that limit you to a certain number of bits per month depending on how much you want to pay. That shows you just what you can get if you pay lobbyists enough to make the FCC bend over backwards to protect cell phone providers instead of helping consumers get a fair shake. Hah!

A Fascination with Maps

And this last item is crazy and in the end pointless, but I felt compelled to do it regardless.

Facebook deserves part of the blame.

I tried to edit the silly Bing-hosted Facebook map provided within the new Timeline feature (ugh!) in order to update my current residence, and became so frustrated I decided to do my own thing and create a custom Google Map. Then I thought, why not make it a map of all the places I've lived? It was a nice project for a map junkie like me. Why Facebook's programmers continue to "update" its interface, chose Bing's maps over Google's, and otherwise continually screw everything up mystifies me. No doubt they're looking for perfection. In the meantime we're at their mercy and the Facebook UI remains a far cry from perfection.

The rest of this compulsion I can't explain other than to say that I'm a confessed nostalgia junkie and this is grist for my mill. I love maps and enjoy exploring with Google Earth. So here are 34 places I've called home during the past 68 years. Click on the link below the Google Map map for a larger version or download this KML file if you prefer to view them in Google Earth.

View Places I've Lived in a larger map

We're both trying to stay cheerful knowing that this time our separation will be shorter -- about 4-1/2 instead of 6 months -- but I can get down about it at times. I'll work on getting a "long stay" visa for next season so I can come and go from Thailand as many times as I please. Now that I have a nice bike and my teeth are fixed and we've moved from Bangkok, there will be more time for travel and I can return to my studies of the Thai language. At least that's the plan.

On the road to Chiang Mai - February 2012
I'll be in Amsterdam in a few days enjoying some Brigand IPA and quite possibly some legal aromatic herb from the Mellow Yellow or some other friendly "coffee shop". (see Biking Around Amsterdam 2009 for more). I'll hit the states on the 16th after an absence of just about 7 months. It'll be tough leaving my sweetie here but as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.