May 2004 Archives

I haven't written anything in the last few days. It's not that nothing has happened, I just haven't felt the inspiration to write it down. My life is begining to take on some kind of "regular-ness" that doesn't make for good storytelling.

So what have I been doing? Well, last week we made the annual trip with the incoming Freshmen to Dream World (aka, Copyright Infringement World, with a logo very similar to a Mickey Mouse head and stolen characters all over the place, like the Captain Hook that is perched on top of the Viking Boat Ride). It was a fun day, much like our trip to Dream World last year.

I've also been trying to finish grading last semester's papers and prepare for this semester. My 10-week prepratory math classes started this week. And again, just like last year, I look forward to it being over.

Today should be a fun day, though. I am heading to the Queen Sirikit Convention Center for an education conference sponsorsed by UNESCO. I think it will be an interesting show.

Coming up next week: The research project on Educational TV in Thailand starts.

Ratchaprasong Rainstorm

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"This is the best sidewalk in all of Bangkok," I thought to myself as I walked past the Gaysorn Plaza at Ratchaprasong. "Smooth and level. No missing bricks," I admired to myself. "Street vendors are here, as always, but the sidewalk is amazingly big enough to let pedestrians walk by. I don't understand why every sidewalk in Bangkok isn't like this. Sidewalks really aren't that hard to build!"

Then, all of a sudden, the vendors paniced and hurriedly started wrapping up their trinkets and paintings and postcards inside the blankets that they were laid upon. I have seen this scene before. The vendor at the end of the road sees a policeman coming and everyone wraps up and runs away until the coast is clear.

Then I felt the rain drops.

"Oh, no big deal. It's just a gentle rain."

A few seconds later: "Hmm. It does seem to be getting harder."

And finally, "Whoa! Run for cover!" was all I could think of as I joined all of the shoppers and vendors scurrying and scattering like roaches shocked by the sudden flick of the light switch.

I climbed the stairs to the covered overpass between Gaysorn and Central World Plaza and watched the rain fall on one of Bangkok's busiest streets. In the distance, I could see the huge LCD screen at Central playing commercials and music videos and bragging that it was the "Biggest LCD in Southeast Asia!"

On the other side of the street was the recently finished Big C with another movie theatre complex and a much smaller, but still very big and very bright LCD screen. By now everything had become wet and shiny and the two screens were reflected on the road and on every other surface. With all of the flashing colorful reflections, I could easily imagine this very block becoming Thailand's Times Square. Indeed, New Year's Eve celebrations are held here already. It's just a matter of time before the entire street is full of bright neon and LCD screens.

Several tourists joined me on the overpass. They were all busy setting up their cameras to try to record the night scene. For them, it was a once-in-a-lifetime shot: the traffic, the sheets of rain, the shiny reflective surfaces, the LCD screens. To the vendors huddled under the overpass stairs, it was a once-a-night occurance, as normal as the crowds of white sweaty faces that browse their wares every day.

The rain was steady, but then began to pick up. And then the gentle breeze became a strong wind. I was facing north, with the wind at my back. "At least I am dry underneath the cover of the overpass," I thought to myself. It was then that the cold wetness of the back of my jeans made me realize that the wind and rain had soaked my backside.

But then, in less than 15 minutes, the rain stopped, leaving behind several inches of water in the outside two lanes of the eight lane road. Just as quickly as the rain came and went, the sidewalks quickly filled with pedestrians, the flower ladies set up shop to sell offerings to the Hindu shrines on the corners, and the air became full of burning incense as the 15-minute backlog of worshippers came forward to the shrine to make their requests or to give their thanks.

As I made my way down the stairs in my dry-front wet-back jeans and towards the five-faced Hindu image, my mind was full of the latter: Thanks -- thankful to see an everyday-exotic scene like this one.

A Terabyte of Email

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From the bottom of my gmail inbox: "You are currently using 0 MB (0%) of your 1000000 MB."

What?! I now have 1 Million Megabytes (1 TERAbyte) of storage space instead of 1 GIGAbyte? All I can say is WOW....

Free Speech or Free Beer?

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As I mentioned yesterday, there is quite a big controversy in the blogging world surrounding Six Apart (6A), the makers of Movable Type (MT, which I use to run this website).

The problem is that 6A is going to start charging for websites that have more than one author and more than three weblogs. For sgtowns.com, I have only one author (me) and two weblogs (the journal and the photos). So I can upgrade to v3.0 for "free".

I use the quotes around "free" because I am just now starting to learn what "free software" really means. In the case of "free software," does that mean free use or does it mean free price? Are we talking about "free speech" or "free beer"? In the case of MT, it is free price for me but not free use. I am severely restricted in what I can use it for and what I can do with it.

There is a part of me that wants to support "free use" software. I incorrectly also thought that "free software" meant "free price" software. Of course I love "free price," but I still want to support "free use" software. It just seems like a better way of developing software than a heavily-licenced proprietary model. And why do I even care about all of this? Because still, in the back of my mind, I would love to see "free use" intelligent educational software, but that's a whole 'nother topic.

By the way, that speech vs beer analogy was taken from gnu.org's article The free software definition. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about free software and open source.

As far as MT goes, my current version is working fine, so I don't see any need to change. Not to mention, I don't have any time to make any changes! I will continue to watch how this will play out, though.

New Research Project

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This week has flown by and I don't have much to show for it on this site. I've been busy proctoring exams, catching up on the news and with friends, and geeking out with cool new Internet technology like my new email account at Google's gmail, downloading new versions of Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger, adding an RSS reader to my Mozilla email client, and reading a lot about the latest in the blogging world (like the new controversy surrounding Movable Type (which I have used and loved for almost two years now, but am still somewhat troubled by yesterday's announcement.)

But enough Internet geekiness and on to a different kind of geekiness. I have a feeling that things might be a little sparse on my website for the forseeable future. Not that it's a bad thing, but I think I will be busier with work for the next six months than ever before. In addition to my regular teaching duties, I have signed on to work on a research project for the Thai Government. My job is to research the laws, regulations, and policies concerning educational TV in America, Canada, Singapore, and the Phillipines. It is not exactly my field, but it should be an interesting research project in any case.

I think I will use my old TypePad website to keep a record of my research. That way I will keep all the boring (?) stuff off of this one. Once I set it up, I will link to it so that anyone can follow along, if they so desire.

So... not so many weekend get-aways to the beach or to the countryside and not so many pictures of exotic locales as my life takes a turn towards concentrating on settling down to work for a while. Hey, that's not such a bad thing, is it?

Londoner Pub on Sukumvit 33

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Tonight, my friend Terry met me for dinner and beers at the Londoner Pub on Soi 33. (I had mentioned this soi a week or so ago when I wrote about Mojo's BBQ). Terry is in the middle of applying for a job at my school and so we figured we talk shop over ahan farang (western food).

But this time we were doing the pub food and homebrewed beer thing. The food, was... well, I don't think I will be going back any time soon. It was ok, but very expensive. Dinner and dessert for two with a few beers set us back 1500 baht (US$37) which is outrageous considering my lunch cost 25 baht.

The only good thing about it (besides good conversation, of course) was the apple pie. I can't believe that I am actually typing this, but I think it was the best apple pie I have ever eaten in my life. Maybe they put something extra in the beers to make me lose my mind, but wow, what a great pie!

Model World

I did nothing all day today. Well, except for read every page of Michael Chabon's Model World and Other Stories. I absoulely love the way Chabon writes. Every one of the 10 or so short stories in this collection had me cracking up. I love his style and his imagination and his subtle humor. The sentence that sticks in my head for some reason is this one:

"One day, not too long ago, in Laguna Beach, California, an architect named Bobby Lazar went downtown to have a cup of coffee at the Cafe Zinc with is friend Albert Wong and Albert's new wife Dawn (who had, very sensibly, retained her maiden name)."
Chabon makes me wish I was a real writer.

So that's all I did today: Read a book. Oh, and dig holes with my feet in the sand, drink freshly squeezed manao soda (lemon soda), wave off scores of offers of massages, manicures, rolex watches, hats, shirts, more massages, fruit, som tum (papaya salad), ice cream, fake tatoos, and massages.

A very fast, somewhat scary bus ride had me back to Bangkok tonight in right at two hours -- a big change from the 3+ hour trip there. It was a relaxing weekend to be sure. Now it's time to proctor and grade exams this week.

Wow, it's such a nice feeling to get out of the City for a while, even though you never really know what you are going to get once you leave. This time, for some reason, I was on the local slow bus again. It took us over three hours to make the 120 kilometer trip. At least the airconditioning was working. And even though the side of the bus said "Jomtien Beach" (my final destination) they actually let me off on the side of the highway that was kind of near Jomtien Beach. Oh well. I definitely had the mai bpen rai frame of mind the whole way. I was just happy not to do school work for a day or two.

So after an 80 baht (US$2) three-hour bus ride and a 50 baht (US$1.25) 10 minute motorcycle ride, I finally arrived at the Jomtien and checked into one of the many guesthouses along the beach. The sun was going down and a nice breeze was blowing, so I walked down the length of the beach and then walked around the "downtown" area a bit.

Every time I have ever been to this beach, I have stayed in the same area. To get over to Pattaya, you have to take a songthaw truck. There are a lot of them around, so it is easy to flag one down. But I thought that this time it would be nice to have my own transportation. So, 150 baht (US$3.75) later I had my own motorbike for 24 hours.

I travelled down the road along the beach, past all of the many hotels and condominiums, until I was out in the fields. It was amazing how quiet the air and how slow the lifestyle around me quickly became. At the end of the road I turned my bike back towards Jomtien and stopped. In the distance, the setting sun cast a yellow hue across the highrises of Jomtien standing tall and solitary, and from here, quiet. Directly ahead of me, an outdoor restaurant was set up, with many small tables full of dining Thai families and strings of lights strung above their heads. It was perhaps the most beautiful scene in all of Pattaya/Jomtien.

When you drive into Pattaya, you are greeted with a huge sign over the road that labels Pattaya as "The Extreme City". This is true, in many ways. I for one, certainly don't care for most of these infamous "extremities". I'd much rather sit here on my rented motorcycle and watch the tide come in and the sun go down and the locals eating the fresh catch of the day.

Spur of the Moment Trip to Pattaya

On the spur of the moment decision today, I will be boarding a bus to the beach at Pattaya soon. I have pretty much worked non-stop for the past three weeks and finally I have a little breathing room. Time to get out of town!

I was browsing a website on Thai folk music yesterday when I had a revelation. The site would casually mention, "In the Lao region of Northeast Thailand... but in the Cambodian region..." This in itself is not that surprising. I have many Thai friends from Isaan (Northeast Thailand) whose families back in the village speak Lao and a few Thai friends whose families speak Khmer (Cambodian language).

But then I thought about it with respect to the recent conversation on my site about the ongoing violence in Southern Thailand. As Lynn commented:

"I have always admired the Thais (I'm not talking about Thais who live in Bangkok, but the ones who live in the far-flung provinces of Thailand) and their general patient and peace-loving nature. So many of them are dirt poor, and yet they never complain. Ever."

Based on what I have seen and experienced, she is absolutely correct. The people of Isaan almost never complain. Even when they are "dirt poor". Even when their language (Lao or Khmer) and culture is being overrun by the homogenizing Thais.

So we have these two opposite cultures who react very differently to the same situation: The Buddhist Lao/Khmers in Isaan and the Muslim Malays in the south. The former takes the mai bpen rai (no problem/never mind) attitude while elements of the latter attack police stations and burn down schools and temples.

So, as it often happens, we have two extremes. Isn't there a better middle-ground somewhere? Protesting and standing up for what yourself and what you believe in, yet not taking it to the killing and burning extreme?

By the way, the Thai folk music site was very entertaining and educational. If you want to hear some... "interesting"... folk music from Southeast Asia, check out Monsoon Country.

Bad Scrabble Hands

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Sometimes I think I am a strange kid. For example, I have absolutely no idea why this web site cracks me up. All it does is show (supposedly) real photos of the worst Scrabble hands ever.

Clicking through this site makes me laugh over and over again. Each new page contains the same thing -- a simple picture of an unbelievalby bad Scrabble hand -- but for some crazy reason I can't control myself.

Am I the only one who has this reaction?

My Google Gmail Review

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I've been very curious about the new Google Mail service after since it was announced a month ago. It is not publically available yet, but a few lucky people have been given access to the Beta version. A friend of mine was one of those lucky few, and out of the goodness of his heart, he let me use the account as well! Woohoo!

So, since some people might be as curious as I was, here is my take on Gmail. First of all, it is very different from any web-based email I have ever used before. It is taking me a little bit of time to get used to it. It's not just a few new features, or a different interface, it is a completely different way of thinking about email.

Here are some things that I like:


  • Your inbox is organized by conversations. For example, if I write my friend, and my friend writes back and we repeat that cycle 3 times, instead of having 8 separate entries in my inbox, I will have only one. That one entry holds all of the 8 emails that we sent each other. Not only that, but when a new email in the conversation is sent or received, the conversation goes to the top of the inbox.

  • The other cool new feature is that instead of folders to store your mail, you have labels. It took me a while to get used to this idea, because I rely on folders a lot to stay organized. But by just "labelling" an email with a topic instead of putting it in a folder means that I can add several different labels to one email. For example, if I get an email from my Mother with her recipie for Creamed Tacos (my favorite!) I can label it as "Family" and "Recipies". In other words, I put the email into two "folders", not just one.

  • The interface is Google, not Orkut, in case you were wondering (Whew!)

  • One gigabyte of storage will hold a lotof email.

Here is a list of things that I really don't like. In general, it looks like Google needs to hire a few information designers instead of letting their (brilliant) engineers design the interface. But who knows, perhaps some of these will be changed before the product is released to the rest of the world. We'll see.


  • There is too much reliance on pull-down menus. I hate it when I select an action from a pull-down menu and the action happens immediately because sometimes I chose the wrong thing. I want buttons instead. Especially for actions like "delete" (even though Google doesn't want you to delete email. More comments on that later).

  • There is no ability to edit filters. You can only add and delete.

  • The logic for filters is too simple. I want ANDs ORs & NOTs.

  • To reply, I have to scroll down to the bottom of the email

  • Whenever I am reading an email, and I do an action to it (delete, add label, etc) I am taken back to the message index. I want to save a click by automatically going to the next email.

  • Filters don't always work correctly (maybe 90-95%?)

The one new "feature" that I am trying to get used to is the luxury of not having to delete any emails. Instead of deleteing, you click the "Archive" button where the email goes away to some unknown location that can only be retrieved if 1) you added a label to it and you click on the label name in the menu or 2) it is part of a search result.

Also, there has been a lot of controversy about the ads that will be placed in your email. I don't think I have seen a single ad yet. At least if I have seen them, they are so unobtrusive that I haven't even noticed them. I almost never notice Google ads anyway.

So, that's my take. It has a lot of promise but right now there are a lot of minor annoyances that I hope will eventually go away. If it were public right now would I use it for my main email? Not yet. But I will definitely keep an eye on it and see what happens over the next few months.

Mojo's Blues and Barbeque

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Last night, Piyawat and paid a visit to Mojo's -- Bangkok's home of barbeque ribs and live blues music. I found it hard to believe that someplace in Thailand could serve good southern-style food and have live music, so I figured a visit to Mojo's was in order.

With low expectations, we arrived at the Sukumvit 33 location after passing a number of hostess bars with names like Van Gogh, Monet, and Dali. (Walking through Bangkok is so surreal sometimes.) Once inside, we found a table near the front with a good view of the small corner stage. On the stage an all-white blues band was playing.

Food for the evening consisted of a conbination platter of ribs, pulled "North Carolina style" barbeque (not what I would call NC-style), and barbeque chicken, as well as a plate of blackened chicken, which we ordered after being told they were out of our first choice of blackened duck.

The food was... well... "not bad for Bangkok." If we were eating near Beale Street in Memphis, I'd give it an "average" rating. But considering where we were, it was ok.

It was nice to hear some blues music, though. We heard two bands over the course of the evening. They were both decent. At least the individuals were good musicians, but neither band had much of a raport between band members. It looked and sounded like 6 individuals who just happened to be sharing a stage and playing the same song at the (more or less) same time.

Oh well, in any case it was a nice change from the regular Bangkok scene, but it certainly doesn't compare to hot spots in New Orleans, Memphis, Austin...

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2004 is the previous archive.

June 2004 is the next archive.

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