Tag: Technology

Downloading Culture

Although I have decided against purchasing an iPhone, fearing it would demand too much of my time and attention, I’ve nevertheless found a use for Apple’s technology: to enhance my leisure hours at home.

In many respects, my apartment is a bulwark against the occasions when this country becomes a bit much. The taxi driver who won’t pick up me and my date because the drive requires a ticklish right-hand turn at a busy intersection (the Thais drive on the left side of the road); the ladyboy who won’t let go of me even after I tell him (her?) no thanks; the crowds and the sapping humidity. There are days when all I want is to stay huddled inside and indulge in my favorite means of relaxation: books and movies.

Unfortunately, the films offered on cable here have been a major disappointment. HBO Asia, like it’s counterpart in the U.S., feeds the natives a largely insipid collection of simple-minded formula flicks, blow-em-up action movies, or goofy animation. The ultimate purpose seems to be to dumb down the Thais and other peoples of this region to the level of the Americans — no mean feat. (In fairness, there are a few quality movies shown, but like a solar eclipse they require a real effort to track down as they occur on rare occasions and at weird hours.)

To escape the frustration of this entertainment cesspool, I decided to purchase a DVD player. For over a year this alternative worked fine. But then I started running out of places to store all the DVDs I’d bought. They began spilling out of the drawers and cupboards, making a middle-of-the-night grope to the bathroom hazardous. In desperation, I turned to my MacBook Air laptop. I had been downloading music from the iTunes Store practically from the day I bought it. However, I’d always ignored the accompanying movie selections since the ones being advertised had no appeal. But then I got the idea of trying a search of iTunes to see what else might be out there. Brushing DVDs off the sofa, I cleared a narrow space to sit down in and went to work, using a list of my all-time best-loved films.

The results were mixed. At times iTunes would whine that it was offline and unable to process my search request. (Imagine Google having this problem.) Nor did there seem to be any foreign movies. However, plenty of my English language favorites were available, which I quickly purchased and downloaded into my machine: Brazil, Lone Star and Rocky Horror Picture Show for starters. To these I added two TV shows from my long-ago youth: Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. And for any items I did not actually care to own, there’s a rental option. Wow! Welcome to the twenty-first century.

Since those wondrous discoveries, I’ve become a more contented person (especially since I now have the sofa all to myself). In addition to the iTunes products, I’ve downloaded some thirty tomes from iBooks. After a stressful day of edging around street vendors and dodging motorbikes, I now have some pleasing means of unwinding. For those planning to be away for an extended period of time, the lesson should be clear: Don’t leave the laptop at home!

DVDs on Sofa
MacBook on Sofa
and after.

Related Posts You May Enjoy
Me & My Mac    iPhone Illuminations    Skirmish With a Ladyboy

iPhone Illuminations

One of the few good things I got from my last Thai girlfriend was a small Nokia cell phone. It wasn’t fancy, but it did the job. Thanks to it I learned how to text message, thus allowing me to finally join the 21st Century. After about a year, however, problems began cropping up. The device would turn off for no reason and the battery charge would last only a few hours. It became frustrating to deal with — just like my old Thai sweetheart. I decided to employ the same solution: say goodbye and move on, the only difference being that I needed a new cell phone far more than a new girlfriend.

Being the happy owner of a MacBook Air laptop and an iPod shuffle (and knowing that Steve Jobs was looking down from Apple Heaven), my initial impulse was to see if the world-famous iPhone would suit my needs. The Apple Online Store even has an option allowing phone morons like myself to compare the latest models. But browsing through some of the common features, I became confused. For starters, there’s an iSight Camera and a FaceTime Camera. I already have a Canon A2500, which works fine for me. Did I really need two more cameras? And why would I want to watch TV or learn how to use something called a “Sensor”? By the time I began browsing the hundreds of available iPhone applications, an uneasy realization had begun to dawn. This was not just another clever Apple product, this was an immersion. No wonder you see so many people wandering around totally absorbed in their smartphones, oblivious to anything short of a major earthquake. The devices’ allure is irresistible. Did I really want something like that in my life?

I decided I did not. I’d spent over a quarter century as a computer programmer, sitting in a small cube every day staring at an IBM terminal or PC. Interacting with a machine for hours on end is not a healthy activity. It can lead to rigid thinking, atrophying social skills and perhaps worst of all, a declining interest in the world at large as one becomes ensconced in their own little one. But whereas in the old days I could happily turn off my machine and go home at four, smartphones are a constant companion; technology as a relationship instead of a tool.

Once I’d gotten my cell phone philosophy hammered out, the actual purchase was an anticlimax: I went to a modest phone store in a mall near Nana Plaza and bought another Nokia. Same size and color as before, but with easier-to-use features and a hopefully more robust battery. New and improved. This being Thailand, I half expected some kind of problem to rear its ugly head within a couple hours of the purchase, but that didn’t happen — for a change. The phone has met all my expectations. Oh sure, it doesn’t give me the Nairobi weather forecast, or allow me to book a flight on Turkish Airlines, but I’ve so far managed to use it without the need of any of those “killer” applications.

This doesn’t mean I’ve decided against ever owning an iPhone. If I ever suffer a major stroke, or am involved in a tuk tuk accident that leaves me a paraplegic, this will be a welcome little partner. Until then, I’m going to try to maintain my tenuous links with the human race, in particular the female members.

Forgive me, Steve…


Related Posts You May Enjoy
My Final Thai Girlfriend    A New Camera    Me & My Mac

A New Camera

I’ve never been much of a photographer. While some people have a talent for producing breathtaking shots, I invariably screw up the lighting or have the scene off-center. The arrival of the digital age, however, has given me hope that there might now be cameras with the smarts to overcome my blunderings. I therefore set out last week to find and purchase one. Given Bangkok’s sterling reputation for consumer electronics, I figured it would take but a single afternoon of casual browsing at a few stores. I’d select a model that looked easy to use, mumble a few halfway intelligent questions (“So, how do I turn this on?”), then make the purchase and go home a happy man. Or something like that. 

My first stop was the Terminal 21 Mall located near Asoke and Sukhumvit Roads. Though the protesters have shut the intersection down, it does not seem to have hurt business. The camera store on the basement level had been featuring an inexpensive Olympus that I’d had my eye on. (I did not want to shell out extra money on something with all kinds of fancy features I’d only become exasperated with trying to figure out.) Alas, now that I was finally serious, the Olympus was gone. Equally frustrating, a couple other models which looked like they might do the job did not carry price tags. This was puzzling since most of the other displays had one. Not really comfortable with asking the fellow in charge what the prices were — and having him set the amounts — I moved on.

Siam Paragon is perhaps the king of the Bangkok malls. Certainly it is the ritziest I have been in (the ground floor food court, for example, bills itself as a “Gourmet Paradise”). As I journeyed through the main hall, lined with glittering jewelry stores and showcasing the latest Toyota Lexus models  — which by the way did have stickers — I felt very much out of place and feared anything I might find would be far beyond my price range. This turned out to be true when I stepped into the Sony store and saw no camera marked for less than 15,000 baht ($500). I quickly retreated, taking deep breaths to calm myself.

My luck soon changed for the better. Up on the second floor of the mall I finally found, much like Goldilocks, a small, cozy shop that was “just right”. In the display window was a lightweight Canon Powershot A2500 (the name is almost longer than the camera) that was priced well within my budget. Equally important, one of the employees was willing to sit down and walk me through many of its features, showing admirable patience with my ignorance, which I made no attempt to conceal. When I did not understand what was being demonstrated, I had him go through it a second time, though there was really no question I was going to buy the camera.

Once I got home, I wasted little time getting the A2500 unwrapped and the battery charged. I then sat down and began pushing buttons, clumsily navigating through the many functions and settings. But one thing puzzled me: how to download the photos into my MacBook Air laptop? The Canon did not seem to have come with anything that would do this. To try and better understand how the process worked, I opened up the iPhoto application on my laptop (where I would be processing the photos) and read in the help window that the camera should have some kind of cable to download the pictures. So where was it? Perhaps it had dropped out of the box while the Canon was being demoed to me.

Returning to the store at Siam Paragon the following day, I anticipated an easy resolution to my problem. But the original fellow was not there and when I told another sales person that I required a cable for my Canon, he replied there wasn’t one. This left me standing there dumbfounded — how was I supposed to get the photos into my Mac? I also was angry. I’d specifically mentioned what kind of laptop I had when I made the purchase and was assured there would be no problem. Now here was this guy apparently telling me the Canon could not connect to it. I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and say look here, I have a Macbook Air and it (meaning Steve Jobs) says your camera should have a f*cking cable for downloading.

Of course as any photographer, and probably most techno-savvy elementary students know, I had to get a special gadget that would both read the camera’s memory card and attach to one of my laptop’s USB ports. The sales fellow, noticing that I was not going to leave without some kind of explanation, showed me the one they use in the store, but unfortunately do not sell. This did not improve my mood one bit. As I saw it, all this should have been covered before I bought the damn camera. Biting my tongue, I spat out a grudging thank you and walked out as the sales people burst into laughter, probably a release from the tension I’d created.

It took over a half hour to cool down. Getting what’s called a Memory Card Reader was just one more gadget I’d have to fiddle with and a part of me wanted to go back to the store, toss the Canon onto the counter and storm out. But once the frustration dissipated, I decided to go shopping for the mysterious device. Since I was returning home on the Skytrain, I stayed on for one station to pay another visit to that camera shop in Terminal 21 and see if maybe they could help me. Unfortunately, the fellow at the counter — Mr. No-Price-Tag Pete — answered my inquiry with a gruff “No have” and went back to whatever he was doing. (Now there’s a guy whom I’ll certainly be taking my camera needs to.) His assistant took pity on me however and provided directions to a tech store in the mall where I easily found what I needed.

Everything turned out fine in the end, though my opinion of Thai customer service has reached a new low. The initial pictures I took downloaded through the Card Reader and into iPhoto with no trouble whatsoever. All that remains now is to determine if the Canon has some function that removes obstructing fingers…

Me & My Mac


Having been a gay bachelor for so many decades (and is that the proper phrase?), I had long since abandoned any notion of falling in love. Sure, there had been a few opportunities along the way, starting with my junior high girlfriend. Slow dancing to The Carpenter’s Close To You, it seemed we’d always be together and in fact we were, right up to the first week of high school at which point the upperclassmen (meaning guys with cars) muscled their way in. It was an early, painful lesson about my lack of sex appeal, a trait endemic to the people in the IT profession whose ranks I would one day join.

With women out of the picture, it became necessary to find new venues of entertainment. During the solitude of the early years of my career, it was the TV and local movie theaters. Then, with the advent of personal computers, my focus shifted when I got my shiny, new Gateway 2000. Many an hour was spent parked in front of it, playing games or surfing the ‘net. These activities became such a source of comfort that upon relocating to Thailand two years ago, I made sure I brought a laptop along. It was a wise choice; were it not for my Compaq PC (and the two dozen or so bar and go-go girls I’ve gotten to know), I’m unsure if I could have survived life in tropical Asia.

It was therefore a sad day two months ago when my Compaq, after a long period of steady decline, passed on. I had done all I could to nurse it back to health, but with no luck. Towards the end it had become so enfeebled, it could no longer write to any of my antique diskettes and when I shut it down for the final time, there were tears in my eyes.

Losing a PC is something we all go through at some stage of our lives and like most, I despaired of ever finding a new one that I could feel the same affection for. But then a friend recommended a special Apple-sponsored support group for people suffering from technical bereavement. It was there I found it was indeed possible to start anew with another PC. In fact, Apple just happened to have a few machines I might be interested in. Talk about coincidences.

Apple’s Online Store operates in a similar fashion to a dating website such as Match. Both feature intriguing offerings with the difference being that with Apple, you know exactly how much you are going to be shelling out up front. Having no interest in a one-night boot-up, I spent hours looking for a stable laptop that would understand me and not treat my outdated technical skills with disdain (like a particular Redmond, Washington-based operating system we all know).

I will never forget the afternoon of November 14 of this year. As I was lounging by the apartment pool with my Thai girlfriend, working through my grief, a red-and-gold jacketed DHL man delivered the MacBook Air I had ordered the prior week. Tossing aside both my towel and lady friend, I eagerly took the package and rushed up to my room. Carefully, I opened the maze of boxes the shipment came in until finally, I beheld my new companion! It was so slender and lightweight, I at first mistook it for a user’s manual.

Since that magical day, it is like a void in my life has been filled. My Mac is gentle and understanding with a pleasant learning curve. When I make mistakes, I don’t feel like I’m being scolded. And if I have esoteric questions, there’s an online support community. I have to confess, it is hard to put the thing down once I turn it on and begin playing around.

But maybe the allure is too great. It’s admittedly been a few days since I’ve showered or shaved and my girlfriend, whats-her-name, hasn’t been by in maybe a week. But that is alright. Her concern over my disheveled appearance and the Mt. Dew and Snicker’s Bars meals are entirely misplaced. Clearly the woman has never been in love.