Friday, December 7, 2007

There's something coercive about the way some people smile...Wide open as if to say, "Come on in and browse a while."

Lowest of the Low, The Horseshoe Tavern

This band holds a healthy dose of nostalgia for me. I've seen them a bunch of times over the years, with new friends, old friends, best friends and random acquaintance types. It was a little bit disjoint that I found myself checking them out alone last Tuesday. Although there have been a couple of false starts, this time was to be their last show in Toronto and I tend to believe them this go around.

Generally everyone looks to have been youthful in their aging, but the backup guitarist seems to be mostly shunned from the band and looks like he's been to the bottom of every bottle between Buffalo and Brandon Manitoba. Thats a lot of drinking in case you were keeping tabs.

Concert going has changed a lot in the last few years. Not that I have seen a lot of shows in this time frame, but I now expect to gaze past a sea of small LCD screens while watching any band these days. I was reminiscing over an encore where they played "Subversives" (which I think is a pretty striking love song by any right) and was disappointed that there were only two instances of the video recording from the night on Youtube and both were of pretty poor quality.
There's nothing conclusive in this whole world
'Cause flags can change and martyrs die and there're many towns left to burn
But somewhere between there and here, for one night, hold me near
And sing my shallow tears
And we'll drink but not to forget
But to remember instead
All our happy years
R.I.P. Lowest of the Low.

Whatever, it twas a good show and it brought back a lot of memories for me. Jay, Corina, Janette and Sey - would have been great if you were there :(

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

One yearning satisfied

I'm starting to eek out a life. Starting with the purchase of the best bed that my money could buy. Yes.. it is the bowling ball bed. I love this bed, as anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes with me of late has heard at least twice.

I just took a second look at this picture and find it both humorous and horrifying that my passport now serves as a coaster. I also find it distressing that it is supporting my sixth cup on the day.

Anywho. My bed rocks. That is all.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

How Inconveinent

There are few better places in the world to catch up on the backlog of TV and movies that is created by 8 months of abstinence than Garth's couch. Weeds, Heroes, Southpark, 24.. you name it, its there in all in all of its scintillating, mind numbing glory.

I watched An Inconvenient Truth. It made me angry. For my part, I find that my thoughts are shifting from nebulous nothingness back to science where they belong (don't even get me started on Dawkins). This isn't a blind subservience, I am just in a position where I want to reevaluate everything around me. I am surrounded by inconvenient truths and am trying to find the strength to face them. Logic is the one thing that can lend its power to me, but its so easy to slip. I like it but am scared. Its fresh and daunting after spending five years of my life with my head in the sand. Whether the science of this movie is good or bad, or it was a complete partisan piece of shit, or Al gore is an alien sent to colonize earth in the name of Lothar is completely inconsequential to me. The world is warming up. Carbon dioxide emissions, at the very least, are a contributing factor. Although there may be a natural, cyclical process at play here, the evidence that I can find makes a pretty strong case for the fact that humans are accelerating the process.

I am also using this downtime to catch up on my Harpers subscription. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a kick ass publication.] In the "Harper's Index" from April, 2007:
"Percentage of GOP House and Senate members in an April 2006 poll who believe humans are causing climate change: 23"

"Percentage who believed this in January 2007: 16"
What? Are they privy to some sort of scientific data that I've missed somewhere?

Those who want to protect the status quo should be summarily rounded up, given a lollipop and some building blocks and be tucked away in a room somewhere to play "big man" house with all of their friends. Starting with this guy.

I feel like everything I hear around me these days is being spoken directly to me. Its a bit unnerving sometimes, but it gives me a lot to think about. Winston Churchill was quoted in the movie:
"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequence."
Mr. Churchill, I hope that it will be fair to apply this to me in the coming months. However, I have trouble applying this statement on the large scale and for the today. I think that most people of consequence are choosing to put their head back in the sand. Please let me not be one of them.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Way back to 2004 in more ways than one.

I'm finding new and creative ways to not pour through every piece of paper that I've touched in the last five years.

Listening to some old tunes. Eminem's track "Mosh" once again doesn't disappoint. He's not really my favorite artist, but he is brilliant and this song strikes an important chord with me. Free speech is ill, but not dead.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Back To Reality, Oops There Goes Gravity"

So I missed my daily post ideal by a _long_ shot. I tripped on my way to a beach in southern Cambodia and woke up on Garth's couch. Some things in my life were causing me grief and not everything can be taken care of from 12 time zones away.. as much as I will it to be different.

So I'm back, reality is taking a bit (a lot) of getting used to. The blog lives on, just need a couple more days to deal with a nagging feeling in my head that I am in hell.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

One good reason to not live in Cambodia

You will have to look at these two pictures in tandem unfortunately. They are out of focus and poorly lit. So was I obviosly. WiMax is surprising, but Cambodia also had one of the fastest and highest cell phone adoption around in the early days. I guess when you have no existing sunk cost of infrastructure, you are free to adopt newer technologies as a cost savings (ones that don't involve burrying billions of dollars of medium).

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Lame post in my quest for daily thoughts.

I've been a busy boy; leaving scant moments to think about blogging. I am also cheating a bit with my daily posts, me being 11 hours ahead of the blogger clock and all. Its actually the 4th where this comes from.

I'm about to hop into a boat for the day to go fishing with my new best "friend" before slipping back into Thailand for the 50th time.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Time Traveler's Wife (Yet another book report)

I lost my copy of The Trial. I got rudely awoken from a coma on a long bus trip in Thailand. It was 4am and time to switch buses. How rude. I left; witless and bookless. I guess it could have been worse. It was a great story, or at least the first half. In perhaps the biggest swing in reading history, I picked up a love story called “The Time Traveler's Wife” at a used bookstore. Selection is generally limited in such places and I tend to find myself picking up anything that I’ve heard of and this title had recently received a glowing recommendation from a friend. I always try to read books that people recommend to me, so it was a better situation than I would normally find myself in.

Book’d but still witless, I powered through this delightful tomb in short order. I found myself hopelessly in love with Claire (the female main of the book - someone or other’s wife) and sympathetic for the time traveler and all of the issues that his affliction causes. The author nicely side stepped the whole time line pollution / what comes before what / space time continuum / collision / infinite number of timelines or 5 timelines… or whatever… that usually dogs time travel stories. She just didn’t talk about it which was actually refreshing. As soon as a story tries to address the proposed “science” or philosophical implications of time travel it either becomes impenetrable or so full of holes that you spend too much time trying to fill them. Anyone recently watched “Back to the Future”? They kind of explain part of the problems of time travel (Marty McFly meeting his mother etc.) which makes you start to be worried about polluting / changing events in the future, but then they do things like Marty (from the future who doesn’t even exist yet) being the impetus for the guitar sound of Chuck Berry. How did Marty know how to play Johnny B Good if Berry never found his “sound” without the help of Marty? There are a bunch of points that regress infinitely or circle back on each in these types of stories. In any event, Back to the Future isn’t a stunning example of theoretical time traveling wisdom. Neither is “The Time Traveler's Wife” I guess, but I didn’t even think about the chronicle ins and outs. I was more than happy to just agree that this was how it was and to wonder along with the characters about what was going on.

Not quite like Stienbeck’s uncanny ability to devote 3 pages to the colour of dirt, but the writing style of Audrey Niffenegger definitely indicates that her topics are very well researched (or well experienced). I didn’t know anything about making paper but there were quite detailed and enjoyable descriptions of the process. She didn’t say “they played a game of pool and a ball was sunk”; she described the play by play in detail. I’ll call it a pleasing compromise between sparse and ad nauseum.

I’ve rewritten the following 10 times. I didn’t know the name of the author until I was done the book, didn’t even look. By the end of it though, I was convinced that the author was a dude. I really don’t think that I am predisposed to assume that about something that I am reading, but maybe I am? I’ve never really thought about it. I hope that there is something in the style and content that made me start to feel that way and that I began this book with a completely neutral opinion about it. I have never read 500 pages without knowing the author, so I don’t have a lot of data on how my brain works. How do I identify with the author of fiction that I read (and what role does their gender play in this?)

Does it matter?

Looks like it is going to be a film. I look forward to it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Off the rails in Phnom Penh

Hmmm it has been a while. Updating ye old blog hasn’t been top on the list. I’m trying to write more, but haven’t been successful. I’m going to update something here every day of November to try and keep me a bit more regimented. Only time will tell whether the following tidbit of info is fortunate or not, but this month will also see me updating from my old stomping grounds of Canada. Yikes.

D and I headed up to Bangkok and on to Cambodia. It came down to a choice of staying a week in Thailand waiting for the full moon or moving on to something a little bit more “active”. I was hesitant to come back here. It had been almost 10 years since my last visit and it is abundantly clear to me of late that you can never go back. I had also heard some distressing things. A friend who I have a strong attachment with (and also just happened to bear witness to my less than stellar start to traveling) had recently been to Cambodia, knew how I felt about my time there and told me in no uncertain terms that I should never return. That the place had turned into Disneyland and that whatever it was that I had found back in the day, it was not to be found here today. Five starred, air-conditioned bus ferried, sweaty, conical hat sporting tourists running amok in the most intense and favourite of the countries I had visited. This is the stuff that nightmares are made of. So I had to steel myself against coming back. In reality it was more an exercise in dissociation, around which I was mostly successful. So now I have two different visits to two radically different countries that just so happen to occupy the same geographical borders. There will inevitably be some posts around this, but my thoughts are still somewhat immature.

My self honouring kick took a little bit of a kicking. We somehow found a way to drink ourselves heavily across Cambodia. Hank became the villainous mastermind for everything from our debauchery to making a chair particularly uncomfortable. He did introduce us, and if that hadn’t of happened then we wouldn’t be nursing such ravenous hangovers. Simple logic really. Damn you Henry.

It was fun to travel with someone for a bit. Shared experience isn’t something that I have been having a lot of and we saw some strange shit together. When you assess the wreckage of countless beers, snakes on sticks, beef/goose/liver/??? lok lak (basically plates of quick, stir fried meat) and 5 drunk Khmers its nice to have someone sitting beside you who at least knows how to pronounce your name. Well, for most of the night anyways (sorry highschool). If I was out by myself that night then I would have brought my camera instead of relying on someone else. Henry – thanks for nothing. Why do you hate me so much? See? Its kind of fun :)

The caveat to having someone to talk to and share perspective is that some of my weaker moments were also born witness to. Like my lack of any sense of direction and poor haggling skills. Like leaving the door ajar to the room in our guest house one night and my resembling anything but a 'guide'. Or this fun late night diversion - hunkering down with some street side locals for a round of gambling in a card game that I didn't know the rules of. I always feel like there is a material cost for learning new games. It just so happened that there was so little English available to me that I spent $3 on learning almost nothing. Paying out mysterious odds and needing help to organize my hand against the house does not bode well for raking in mass amounts of cash. Derek says that I got robbed. I say that I was just the most unlucky tourist in the country. The truth is probably in between those two extremes, likely closer to Derek's estimate than I would like to admit. We ended up gambling more than I would have thought. Betting on baccarat, drinking bathtub gin at a casino in Cambodia is not something that you get to do with just any old friend. Do you know how to play baccarat? Neither do we. All said, I was able to keep my very surprising and perfect, 20 year in the running, every country I have ever been in, record of breaking even while gambling. Phew!

D doesn’t pull punches, shares the same humour as me and is one smart dude. I guess what I am saying here is that I didn’t really know him at all :) Good times, but remarkably unsustainable.

Monday, October 29, 2007

My name is Michael and I have an addiction to Google. I hope. I fear. I rant on a Wednesday afternoon in Bangkok (Book report)

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this awhile ago. I was trying to write something that I could send outside of this blog. I realize that I have a bit of a ways to go, that this really is more linearly derivative of the book than I thought and that nobody officially cares about a two year old book. It was a good exercise for me though. Sorry for the length - its long.]

I've finished the Google Story. Although not "sanctioned" by Google, the authors gave the company a last read of the manuscript in order to ensure "fairness and accuracy" in the project. This sounds a little bit too much like "Authorized" to me. For the time, and by whatever understanding, it allowed the authors unprecedented access to people and information and I am glad. I found it to be very readable and interesting; it is just best enjoyed through gray, salt grained glasses. It left me with healthy beliefs that there were turmoils, tribulations and ruthlessnesses that were only glossed over in the book while describing the company's meteoric rise. At two years old, the account is also somewhat dated. All said however, it is a great success story and it makes me happy. I like to think that a company went from the garage to $200B with nothing but a good idea and some integrity.

I would subtly shift the praise of the Google Guys away from their dedication to "anything is possible". They excelled in one trait to set them apart: their ability to think big. Crystal ball, divining rod in their hands, Shiva gearing up for some ass kicking big. It is the ability to anticipate growth and usage patterns - to define the future, to solve a problem on a scale that doesn't exist today (but will tomorrow) that led to their greatness.

The ideation for traditional search engines came out of a time when there were a manageable number of websites. If there were only 30 websites on a topic that I took seriously, then I wanted to look at them all and be grateful that they all appeared in a single list. Yes, it became unmanageable and websites began to game the system. I remember a lot of crap results on searches in AltaVista. I remember being shown the World Wide Web for the first time when there were no search engines, or none that I knew of. I also remember abysmal "Wheat to Chafe" ratios while using Usenet and in Google itself when sites temporarily found a way to manipulate it. (I also remember gopher. I am old). I am sure that there were ways that would have come out of the woodwork to rank pages on metrics other than their content; ideas that would have resulted in acceptable results in the short term. "Search" is an automation problem begging for some smart, ivory tower champions, but if Sergey and Larry didn't divine that search was THE problem leading to subsequent monetization of the Internet then it would have died on the lab floor like it did at *insert player at the time here*. For the masses, tight and efficient information gathering begets usefulness and lack of frustration. Happy web users beget paying customers. Yahoo had their own take on the problem of a low W:C ratio. It was a highly effective (for the user), personally touched, not comprehensive and expensive way to approach it. This was fine for the time, but faltered in the face of the mind bending growth of the World Wide Weeb. Google solved the problem for the then, but also solved it for the foreseeable future. I don't think it is accidental that they approached this problem in the "n state" which is a strong indication of their mathematical roots. Their "special sauce" was scalable in a time when scalability wasn't as crucial as it is today; a situation requiring minimal incremental cost with no degradation in, and vast improvement to, the user experience against a logarithmic growth of a subject. They were the first to strive for and apply this seemingly impossible set of criteria to the web experience. Everyone else said it wasn't worth it or couldn't be done.

So they were smart. They solved an increasingly annoying problem through automation. BUT they were successful because they suspected both the magnitude of the future problem and its subsequent, inherent, dampening effect on a random user's exuberance with a new medium. They improved and continue to deliver a high level of user experience. Although this appears to have been done in a purely "for the good of the world" manner, I don't think that they were blind to the money making potential of the Web that their work paved the way for. Simply put, Google enabled average users to access goods and services on the Internet in a time frame that their patience could endure. It just so happened that Google was also there to monetize on this trend on a scale that is unprecedented to date. Maybe this is accidental. Maybe I give them more praise then they deserve. It just seems so perfect to me.

One of the main hurdles of the day was user retention. If you didn't lock a user in then what was stopping them from flocking en mass to the next "ivory basement" incubator that came up with a better way to search? Google is free. You can go into any crap ass Internet cafe in the world and it will be set as the homepage (if your luck is like mine, then it will be in one of the least comprehensible languages of the 100+ Google has on offer). In any event, I think this discussion is one area that shows the age of the book. Today - Google, through its superior product offering, is solving its onetime angst over the issue with an increasing number of people who are hopelessly "locked" in. They keep building it, and people keep coming. No longer will someone merely need to be a better search portal to win the right to quarterback my Internet experience. They will need to provide me with a high quality web mail service, blogging, financial reporting and tracking, customized news feeds, website tracking tied into advertising campaigns, tell me where to go because I get lost a lot, entertain me through sites like Youtube, telephony and instant messaging, fast and efficient desktop searching, image searching and a decent personal photographic repository, website hosting, free Microsoft Office-like tools, social conscience and innovation, millions of searchable books and on and on.... One stop shopping never looked better. If Google buys Facebook, they will own everything that I do with my computer these days, except surfing (which they already own the start of).
[EDITOR'S NOTE: M$ just threw $260 mil to buy 1.6% in facebook. Thats a $15 BILLION valuation. It doesn't make sense. They must simply be trying to keep it out of the hands of Google which doesn't bode well for the state of desperation in Redmond.]
I've had privacy concerns about Google in the back of my head for some time. My main criticism of this book is that it didn't go deeply enough into this topic which I believe will become an ever alarming one as Google continues to deepen their online dominance. To be fair, I need to divulge that I sometimes have a paranoia bent. I also need to say that I am predisposed to like Google and I continue to be a huge supporter of their efforts. They have greatly improved and accelerated my Internet experience for years. I'm conflicted.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: I want to work at Google. Their approach to innovation and employee retention is the best that I have ever heard.]
Google keeps EVERYTHING. Every piece of data it can. It's smart. Who knows what artificial intelligence efforts are going on in the bowels of the Googleplex to create the next best engine? Stuff like that needs data. Patterns existed since the beginning of time, long before the science of pattern recognition's ability to mathematically "find" them. History and behavior is important for future innovation. The more comprehensive the data, the better. Even if you don't know what to do with it now, it better be collected because you can't go back in time (I'd love to see an estimate of the value of the Google historical database - $Billions I would think). Assuming the Internet and its contents cannot be destroyed on a grand scale, we finally have in place a method to maintain the summation of human knowledge and keep it cataloged to boot. There will be no dark ages of 2100-2400. It comes with a price though, don't mistake this point. Google as a service has always come at the cost of handing over an increasing amount of personal data about thoughts and behaviors. It started with mostly anonymous search patterns and is bound only by what information the masses are willing to concede (or know that they are handing over). New and exotic products will entice me to give them even more personal data. Would I take an intensive personality test to better understand why it is that I do the things I do? Would I like Google to find my perfect mate out of 100 million possible candidates? Probably. All I would have to do is tell them more about myself. It would be free; the only noticeable affect would be that I would find the ads beside my email or during my searches that are strangely more compelling. Wow, today's the day that I need to shave and I'm out of condoms. Isn't it amazing that someone is willing to FedEx me a combo pack overnight for the low, low price of $5.99? How fortuitous. [Suckers. I haven't had sex in forever and I use an electric razor. But Google reads my blog... the gig is up. Probably a more likely marketing prize pack would be a "How to Pickup Women by Liking Yourself" book and 25% off coupon from a local makeover hut. You get the point I am making though.]

In the beginning, to tie a user to their searches, you would have had to merge two databases (I use this term loosely). An ISP would need to divulge to Google that I was at a specific IP for a timeframe, and Google would have to correlate that to a search record. When I signed up for Gmail, all of this changed for me. I tied a more traceable identity to substantially everything I do on the Internet. I no longer sit down to anonymously search. Before I do anything, I put my hand up to Google and tell them where I am through checking my mail and then spend the rest of the time doing whatever it is that I do. Google has access to every single communication that I have had for the last 16 months. It knows how much money I have in the stock market. They know what I did in Toronto on a given night in 2006 and what I did in Jakarta last Friday night. It knows every symptom of my health (good and bad) that I have ever had (imaginary or not). Google knows every prescription drug that I have ever put, or thought of putting, into my body. They know what I search for late at night...

Not some random collection of octets... ME. This isn't the science fiction work of an author with a premonition for us to look at 30 years later and muse "how did she know?" This is today and it is real. Maybe the idea that someone will mine through this data about me is far fetched, but the data is there for the taking. At the time of writing of the book, Google was anonymizing everything that is 18 months and older. I'm not sure where they are at right now. But this is a PR move. 18 becomes 24, 24 months becomes 24 years. It is whatever the populace will stand for at the time.

I have strong opinions and an inquisitive mind. I am also going grey. Maybe one day I decide I should bleach my hair to pretend I was still virile. In searching for peroxide, I remember that it was the main ingredient in the failed London subway bombings. I get side tracked. I start trying to figure out how they actually tried to do that. I'm searching from Bali, I'm going to Medan. I search on the Sari club (what type of bomb did they use there I wonder?). What other clubs are there in Bali? An hour later I am searching God knows what. Under the umbrella of "war on terror" the States subpoenas Google for all users who have done searches for these X words / ideas, who has demonstrated disapproval of the president, who has traveled through X countries, who has searched for X music and these eBooks, who signed an email petition against the prisoners in Guantanamo bay, who is disenfranchised and jobless. I'm taking it pretty far here and I don't believe that the jackboots are about to kick down the door, but it is a very accessible slippery slope. I don't think it would be too hard to raise "flags" if all of my historical web data was laid out for all to see. I actually don't know under what circumstances Google would have to divulge this information to a third party. Google is just a company though, so in the end they might fight the good fight but they will lose if someone cared enough.

Google is heavily involved in science and is blazing forward into understanding DNA and low level genetic makeup. This will revolutionize medicine and understanding on what makes us tick on a biological level. It isn't a stretch that my computer will know everything that there is to know about my DNA (if I really wanted it to, I could probably make that possible right now). I will search Google with my DNA as a search term. Personalized medicine is a result (shipped to me directly overnight) and alarm bells will ring if there are risks that I need to be made aware of.

Once the information on Facebook (or subsequent "social utility") is integrated, they will know that my wife and I will have a child with blue eyes and that my grandson will be bald. That we should have aborted 1 in 5.6 pregnancies due to a risk of Downs Syndrome. That I like the smell of gasoline and I lived in a time of lead additives. That I love sushi and that I have spent a lot of time in the sun. That my friends from Caledonia are 7.3% less likely to develop breast cancer than the national average and that I need 5% more iron in my diet. This isn't THAT far fetched.

I currently trust Google with my data, although I wish it didn't exist. I don't want to be accused of being overly Orwellian here, BUT this is the first time in history that thought policing is starting to become possible. Most of my thoughts exist in a single, distributed database which I have no control over. I no longer own my contributions to it, nor can I query its contents. A "Patriot Act" on steroids, a shift in company philosophy of one of the largest corporate entities in history and a shift in the legal definition of "premeditated" and I am in jail for the rest of my natural life. If someone said to you 10 years ago that the US was going to pull your library card, tap your phone without a warrant and hold hundreds of people in jail without charge for 6 years, wouldn't you have called them insane? "Oceania" I say in a masking cough. Hardy har har ... no, not really.

Google.. You have a MASSIVE responsibility to the world right now. Take it seriously from today until the day I die. Then you can let everyone know about my sexual proclivities, my penchant for bacon and the fact that I sometimes like to investigate the unsavory.

It was a good book.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Interesting breakdown on the thumbupyourassitis of partisan politcs

Bit too much formage, but that is not the point.

Thanks Michelle. See? I do love you :)

BANG (Veg Festival - Day 2, Phuket Thailand)

Just so you know that I'm not exagerating about the firecracker safety part, I posted a video. I was covered with shrapnel today.

Derek and Jim came down after their case of the climbing Krabis. Good to see a friend from home. More craziness at the festival, I'm glad it didn't disappoint cuz then I would have looked like a big fat liar :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Currency redux. Or is this just a bunch of lunatics? (Vegetarian Festival, Phuket, Thailand)

I believe this to be the best photo that has ever been taken, although tough to call. It left a very deep impact on me from the moment I saw it and continues to affect me in a profound way to this day. I even remember busting out the dictionary to look up the word "immolation" (oh dictionaries.. those where the days). The strength of conviction, the commitment to a greater cause, the passion, the command over ones body and the power of self during what was a terrible time in a history of another part of the world. This frame captured all of it and is the distillate of complex emotions during a very complex circumstance (and the cover of the first Rage Against the Machine album - whats not to be moved by here?)
[Read the story of Thich Quang Duc, or Malcolm Browne (photographer, not a lot of info on this link), or David Halberstam (writer) if you are interested.]
My entire life I have wanted to believe in something this strongly. The fact that I am striving to temper this and its derivative thoughts fills me with great angst and regret. I am sure to spend multiple sessions on a couch one day over this photo and what it represents to me.

I wish that I knew more about the meaning of today. Some of the below may be naive and incomplete. I'm going to do some research and talk to more folks so that I can hopefully shed some light on it i.e. this is what I saw and I will back fill with some info soon.

A group of us went down to a temple for the Vegetarian Festival. It is a turning over of sorts, where you "creatively" atone for your sins of last year and bank some luck for the one coming. Like me, you may think that a morning hanging out with a bunch of vegetarians would leave you wanting some excitement. I mean, how odd can things get? They don't even eat the pig! Snore fest here we come.

I milled around waiting for something to happen from about 4:30 to 5:30 and then things started to get pretty strange. Really strange. Loony Tunes having a bastard child with Lewis Carrol strange. Dudes where coming out of the temple shaking like a leaf. They would present themselves to an altar and snap a whip that was wrapped around their neck with 30 or 40 incense sticks in their hands. I'm guessing they were possessed, which you would have to be to subject yourself to what comes next: piercings. Extreme facial piercings. You could drive a Mac truck through some of the holes that got cut in these cheeks. A big conical spike of stainless steel is used to make a hole which is sufficiently large for the individuals preferred adornment. Normal stuff mind you, like metal rods, glass rods with cute little figurines on the ends, radio antennas still attached to alarm clocks, swords, axes, guns, chrome bicycle chains, parasols, tree branches.... Like I said: Boooring. They do all the piercings in front of the crowd and pictures are not only tolerated but seem encouraged. Less blood than you might think, but I somehow felt like I could taste iron all day long.

I went inside the temple (the smokiest place on earth) to see what was going on. People sitting around amicably with lots of music. Boring. Then the great Croupier of Nothingness calls out someones number and they are off like a shot. They dance and twitch and talk like a bird or moan or scream. They get fit with some ceremonial garb and get led out to mutilate for the masses.

Once everyone was sorted there was an exodus into the streets. It was a 5+ mile walk to the end of the parade route. There were porters who carried mini alters to I am not sure what (one of the things I need to figure out) and everyone on the streets threw firecrackers at them (and me). Startling lack of firecracker safety going on during this thing and some of the blasts were large and in charge. After all was said and done and we were waiting for a ride back, we actually got in a firecracker fight with four 10 year olds from across the street. Everyone throws firecrackers AT you and they rain down from long poles overhanging the street.

We were here to support this fine young man, sporting an axe and knife / gun combo. All the rage for spring. I am embarrassed to say that I don't even know his name. By the time I caught up with the group after the initial mayhem, introductions were impossible for obvious reasons. The participants were often stopped for photos by Thai and foreigners alike. He needed handlers to keep the crowd from nudging something painfully and to apply antiseptic and what appeared to be an oil to keep the cuts clean and moist in the burning sun. It was HOT, I had trouble walking the length. I can't imagine doing it with 15lbs of steel through my cheeks. He wasn't even spared the firecracker rain. It was exciting and perplexing. D-rock is coming in tonight and we are going to go again tomorrow. Frankly, it will be tough to stomach a second time.

While the sun rose, I found myself locked in a stare with a guy for a second or two. This was before we got rudely interrupted by a spear going through his cheek and his eyes rolling back in their sockets. Fear - animalistic, raw terror is what I saw. I don't know how to process it. Fear is so imminently understandable given a circumstance such as this, but I was surprised to find it somehow. I wonder if a moment not unlike this one was shared in Vietnam circa 1963? Different stakes, odds and payoffs, but there has to be a moment when the brain is able to elucidate the worldly consequence of ones devotion to an ideal.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a currency that I am not equipped to trade. However, I am not ashamed to say that I admire those who are brave enough to save it up and spend it on something that is important to them.
I took a stupid number of pictures:
One of the porters. They blew him up reeeeeal good. Check out the firecracker remnants in his hair.
I was very disturbed by this guy. Yes, those are real guns.
This was the head dude. Notice the firecrackers going off around him.
Nothing like a little self hatcheting to start the day off right.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Meaty badness

I've taken another take on my vegetarian aspirations. Yesterday I had no meat at all. I thought about it and really I am only one meal off from being in line and only that by an hour and a half. That fact has given me new vigour and I owe it to the guy I am supporting. I CAN do it. Its only today and half of tomorrow. The fact that my meal consisted of half of the chicken skewers that a cart had to offer doesn't make it a "miserable" failure... right?

I think its funny that in presenting myself clear of no "meat, sex, drugs or alcohol", meat is the only thing I am craving.

Matter cannot be created or destroyed, but may change form

I did a little bit of a science experiment yesterday. At 3:15pm I weighed 82.00 kilos. At 7:30pm I weighed 83.25 kilos. I went pee once, but not a lot. The only thing I put into my body was 7 litres of water, which weighs 7kg.

Although sometimes I feel like Shiva and that I can destroy worlds at whim, this has yet to be proven in practice. Further, the law of conservation of mass states that my ability to make nothing out of something is extremely unlikely (outside of the stock market of course). I can only sweat, breathe and urinate; which it appears that I did, to the tune of 5.75 kilos of water.

I am pretty shocked and I'll do it again just to make sure that I am not confused. That is a LOT of sweat, but then I am in the tropics and terribly out of shape. Yikes.

Culture as currency

Kris asked me when we were in Peru why I like to travel. We were taking a lovely walk down from the Pisac ruins and having a conversation about what we want to do with our lives. If I were to sum up the trip so far in colours, it would be the blues of the Pacific Ocean and the greens and browns of the terraces that day. My answer was quick. I said that I travel to experience new cultures and be humbled by rugged beauty. In retrospect, that wasn’t really a complete answer as I would have to say that realignment and healing is certainly why I am on this particular trip. Her (paraphrased) point was that “Why do you feel that these passions can only exist during your sparse vacations? Why can’t you have that in your everyday reality?” I didn’t have an answer to that obvious contradiction at the time and I still don’t.

I think that the most striking thing that I have seen in the rugged beauty category is the face of Annapurna II (I can’t remember which side) and the time I climbed down from a high part of the west coast trail, sat by the ocean while watching a pod of whales pass by. The stark white snow and the deep blue of the high altitude, Nepalese sky; the brownest browns of those rocks on Vancouver Island that day. I’ve realized that I am deeply affected by colour. I suspect more so than most, but that’s not something that you can really gage. The Pacific Ocean at night, seeing all the shades of blue-y black and grey in the moonlight. Gazing at Macchu Piccu while sitting by the Inca bridge and looking down at the Andean mountains. I pour myself into these landscapes. I merge. I become beautiful and raw. That’s what I’m talking about. This is one reason why Toronto is so dangerous for me and one reason why the cottage is my favorite place to be. This whole thing is a tangent mind you; I want to talk about culture.

I went out with a bunch of the guys from the camp on Saturday night. We went out to a restaurant opening and then across the ridgeline to a few bars on the other side. It’s pretty fun to walk around with a pack of fighters. I started to think about the word “currency”, in that this group trades in a currency that is so foreign to me. Stitches, bruises, broken ribs, their fight records and the quality of the pain they have inflicted on their opponents all carries clout. A yellow-black eye here, a bandaged head there. I couldn’t figure out why one of the guys had words tattooed upside down on his forearm. Then I put myself in the place of a guy on the ground with elbows raining down from on high and it made more sense. All of these aspects are traded and they all carry prestige in these parts. I had a thought that night “Isn’t the essence of culture simply a different predominant currency?” Politics, religion, passions and ethics – it is all just what people value and are willing to trade and for what.

In Toronto there are a tonne of different cultural divides. Everything from hot dog vendors, tattoo artists, cabbies, all kinds of churches and religions, club culture, the service industry, teachers, the gym, the cube farm, the College St. clique, the Kensington market crowd, etc. It is just so close and seemingly accessible that it feels banal and yet these types of cultures exist overseas and somehow feel exotic if you are exposed to them more than in passing. Take from each what you will, but they are culture in their own right. Just like prostitution, haggling, bribes and street markets. Faith and politics, sailing or Muay Thai camps.

While riding back there was an awesome electrical storm in the valleys. Just the sound of the bike and the empty roads to fly through, the rain and the pitchest of blacks hiding who knows what. It was a pretty incredible space to occupy. The night met both my yearnings of travel, but I guess it could have been anywhere. Even Toronto, but I never would have had the inkling to be exposed to it. Why?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Michael Cleaver - domestic like Molson Canadian

My neighbour is a farang, but a local. We went for a run up the island to a place that he was a member of. It was kind of like a Cosco. My big domestic moment! I hated to do it, but I needed to get some clothes. I had bought another pair of shorts, but my 2 tshirt rule was becoming a little bit of a problem. For $15 I got 4 white tshirts, 3 litres of pineapple juice, a jug of milk (I'm actually going to have cereal once I can find it! Joy), 6 tubes of toothpaste (you know how Cosco type places are), some big tins of fruit and 4 mini coconuts that we enjoyed on my front deck the other night. I've had tonnes of coconuts this trip, but these were surprisingly the best, the milk was so freaking good.

Yes I have a fridge and I have stuff in it. It feels so luxurious.

I'm dialed in a bit more. I found a better road stall to eat at whose fried rice is less oily than at the camp and half the price. I have a new ride. I've called him Billy. He's all flash, green and boring. I have a TV and I watched FoxNews one night. Horrific, but its good to know how the enemy thinks I guess. I fell asleep with it on though and the next day I was telling everyone that Clinton was a flip flopper and Bush was just a guy who was trying to do right by God and country. I also have a strange fear that someone is going to snatch my baby. It could happen to me! I'm no longer kidding myself.

I've started drinking soda water instead of pop. I am trying very hard to not eat meat, out of respect for my participation (kind of) in a vegetarian festival this Thursday. Its tough going though and I am failing miserably. My body is craving meat right now more so than ever in my life. I'll have to fake it I think. I hope there isn't an exam.

I worked it out once, sailing on passages was about a 65 hour a week job. I have a new job these days which isn't nearly as long but 100 times as physically demanding. It has been really good to have my options limited for the last week. Which sounds odd, but just having planned events to focus around is somehow comforting to me right now. If I go for it, working out is my new unsustainable, 40 hour a week job. I am still calling in sick for the mornings though and it will likely stay that way.

I decided to go for a massage on Sunday to try and ease my aching bones. I don't know what the hell I was thinking, but she asked if I wanted a Thai massage and I said yes. I've had a half dozen of them before and I like them. Soothing they are not. She and my dentist should open up shop together. She was particularly adept at inflicting pain and suffering. Working those feet into an already sore back and bruised rib and pounding on my temples must have been a wonderful way to start her day.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I found a box of SHREDDED WHEAT! This after hunting through every store under the sun and passing by 100's of Lucky Charms and Count Coco Sugar Bombs of Destruction. Comfort food with a capital K. Cereal had become my new Bacon obsession, I don't know why. It is odd what I crave sometimes.]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This ones going out to you...

You know who you are.

"My life is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, That's how this refrain goes...."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Step Six: Post Coitus

I am pulling out of sparring indefinitely. A broken rib or a snapped jaw would be quite a sour end to something that is supposed to be a positive and spiritual pursuit. Maybe if I had more skill then I would feel more comfortable in the ring? Maybe some people need to take less testosterone injections?

It will be another blow to the ego and there really is no better way to learn than by doing, but right now I am just an accident waiting to happen.

So I am no longer going to stay up at night daydreaming of smashing this guys teeth out the back of his neck. Oh maturity... I resist your lessons so intensely.

Thanks to Matt once again for his amazing command of the obvious. He is like a general, with an army of little obviousites to do his bidding, riding around the world to vanquish delusions wherever they be found.

Maybe this is more than I can chew?

I got kneed in the ribs hard yesterday. They are really sore. I can't sleep on my left side and its a painful joy to smell the roses deeply. I never really liked roses much though, so I guess its ok. I couldn't do any ab workouts. I am lame. I also got clocked in the jaw without a mouth guard on after I FUCKING TOLD the loser that I didn't have it both before we started and AFTER the FIRST time he clocked me in the jaw without the aforementioned safety equipment. He told me that his ribs are tender. "Hey buddy", I stupidly say, "no problem!". "I'll not drive my shin through that gaping hole in your defense", I think. I was livid. I'm trying to be a peaceful man these days though so instead of it turning into a slug fest I just stopped and said that I wasn't prepared for this. Yay Mike! Went and bought a mouth guard. This guy worries me a bit. He has something to prove. I am a spaz with the gloves on and hey - I don't want to hurt anyone. But if he keeps doing this then its going to go from brawl to street fight and that's not really productive. I hate sparing with people who don't know what they are doing (I am one of them). The trainers will give as hard as they get. The rule is 50%'ish power and speed. Nice.. controlled.. technique.. learning... if you want to take a knee to the face then all you have to do is give them one (if you can). Sparring with my fellow plebes isn't very controlled because we simply don't have any yet. Fighting will become more and more a part of my daily life which I can get over, but this is the same guy who was 2 inches from front kicking me hard in the balls when we were working on a technique for blocking a DIFFERENT KIND of kick. Argghhhhh he makes me mad. Its the sudden and unexpected intensity that is tough to deal with. Its like going out for a nice relaxing meal with your girlfriend that turns into a wicked fight out of the blue. I'm just not prepared for it.

So now I am a suck because I didn't want to hurt someone and I don't want to get my teeth snapped in half. Maybe fighting actually isn't my thing? Never really thought about that. hmmmm. I am going to take today (Saturday) off from training and rest up a bit. I am suffering from an 'itis of 5 years of sloth to working out pretty hard.

You know that day when you wake up and you suddenly realize that you won't be an astronaut or a firefighter? Or that the likelihood of climbing Everest somehow drove to zero while you weren't looking? Its not like I always wanted to be a kickboxer. I've never been much of a fighter (or a lover for that matter, but I digress). I'm not tough per se, but I always thought that I could be all these things. Today my body and mind revolted, picket signs and work to rule and everything. I know - gotta be realistic of expectations blah blah blah - but still, it pisses me off and its somewhat depressing for me. Actually, let me change this statement up a bit. I could climb Everest (when I say climb, I mean climb - not being short-roped up by some poor Sherpa), but the sacrifice to do so is no longer worth it. I guess the lesson for Mike today is to use it or loose it. If he doesn't, the available options narrow to a point that isn't that far on his immediate horizon. Its that idea and realization which is the most maddening for me today. "Random nice things for my body" is a little bit late in coming.

Thanks for being forced to read as I rant.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thats gotta hurt.

I remember me and Vinh talking one night about the viability and usefulness of kickboxing in the real world. His point was that its kind of useless because a shin to anyone who isn't trained to take it would pretty much kill them. I agreed then and I believe it now. However, I have to say that I fear the shin less than the elbow. The advanced folks practice a move where they essentially run up the side of an opponent, leap up and power their elbow through the top of their head. They can split coconuts with it as a party trick. Elbows in general are more close range, but I think far more gruesome. Debatable, as I am sure it will be.

Step Five: "Pass the purse to the pugilist" (Phuket, Thailand)

Man I miss Rage Against the Machine.

On Monday I checked into the camp. "Weighing in at 82.5 kilos, the punching bag from the north, he puts the chuck in Canuck, he once fought a man for.. wait no he didn't...Michael... ".

I am in the "cruiserweight" division. Never even heard of it. At least I am not super heavy weight, cuz that would suck. I guess it doesn't really matter in the end as even though I outweigh some of my trainers by 20 kilos or more, they are so fierce in the ring that I have nightmares about them. Whats another 45lbs of muscle on top of that? Might as well be a hundred.

The trainers are a mixed breed. There are people who want to train fighters and people who want to keep tourists happy and gasping for breath. They tend to ask how long you are staying to gage your goals. If are here to just work up a sweat then they aren't so picky on technique. If you are here because you want to learn everything you can then they tend to berate you for, and correct, your poor form. They are also looking for fighters. I think I am somewhere in between. I know where my goals are, just not sure what they think. One of them gave me some smelling salts - "just so you know what its like". Some don't speak English, but they are very adept at copying the bad things you are doing and then doing it right a few times so you see the error of your ways.

There are a hand full of Thai fighters, but I don't want to give the impression that I am in a dark and dingy Thai fighter factory. There are three rings. Beginner (me) which might have 5-12 people in it, Intermediate (advanced fitness and technique folks), and Advanced (people who are active fighters and UFC types). The instructors are all hard core and are fairly accomplished fighters in their disciplines, but I train with mostly western expats and long stay tourists. Sometimes there are kids, but they get whisked away after warm up. There are a surprising number of folks who are here to FIGHT though. It keeps the vibe mostly intense and no nonsense, but like a lot of things, it is what you make of it.

The organized daily work schedule is (Monday - Saturday):
7:00 - 8:00am Yoga or running, or skills workshop at 7:30
8:00 - 11:00am'ish stretching, skills and fitness
3:30 - 4:00pm skills or running
4:00 - 7:00pm'ish stretching, skills and fitness
Its fairly consistent if you want it. You could work out from 7-7 and have no trouble finding someone to partner with.

Which brings my battered body into focus. I've been trying to keep it not too crazy to make sure that I don't blow myself up in the first week. My forearms go from fine to not in a seemingly random pattern. On Tuesday I did the full meal deal, but had to cut it 45 minutes short in the afternoon as I just couldn't do it anymore. I realized that I was going to hurt myself... on purpose... to make it stop. So I have worked out 5 times in the first four days (20 hours or so). I eat rice and noodles with chicken or pork. I've had one drink-drink (a tall can of Heineken, almost frozen) and some Cokes, but I generally drink only water and that by the truckload.

I don't know how many punches and kicks I throw in a day, but me and my whole family would need to take off all of their shoes and socks - to work all the abacuses that the problem would require to tally.

Clinch training isn't my favourite. Its the really close quarters stuff in Muay Thai. The idea is to keep your opponent close and set him up for some good old fashion knee sandwiches or a take him down while preventing him from doing the same to you. Its very much like stand up wrestling. There is almost a certainty that your opponent will not be wearing a shirt and will be sweating as much as you. You lock up and squirm around trying to get the advantage while trying to ensure that you don't get wrenched around the ring by your neck (It really hurts, but its kind of fun when you wrench someone else around). This might be too much information, but if you get out of the bath or after a good sweat and rub your arm hard back and forth - do you get little rolls of dead skin? Well I do and so do my fellow combatants. I end up with bits of someone else's skin sticking all over me. After the day is done and I'm taking a stretch and trying not to throw up from over exertion I think, "what is that smell? Where did I smell that before? Oh.. of course.. its that dudes sweat sticking to my shirt. Awesome!"

Random thoughts:
a) I hurt everywhere. Its exciting when you feel the muscle areas that are getting worked. I wish that I wasn't feeling each little fibre so acutely, but exciting all the same.

b) In my limited experience, gloves and wraps either smell new or like rot. I know no in between.

c) Tough tough chicks are are training here. One of them is a tall blond who is the toughest woman I have ever seen. She's a local champion and fights with a serious intensity, but is nice.

d) I want the body of a Muay Thai kick boxer, not the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) guys.

e) I thought that maybe I'd dabble in some MMA while here. Little bit of jujitsu, little bit of a wrestle here and a touch of submission hold there. Hahahahahahaha. Sometimes I am so unrealistic it hurts.

f) Rings are much smaller than I had pictured in my minds eye (even though I have been to Lumpini stadium to see a card in a previous life - actually in looking at that photo, I think maybe we just have smaller training rings). There is not a lot of room to hide, the corners are kind of soft comfy places and the ropes really do bounce a la WWE.

g) I've felt the "runners high" and I understand how someone could get addicted to it. I wrote on Wednesday - "Today, I rule! Well I didn't rule this morning when I couldn't get out of bed due to incapacitation, but I had the best workout of my life... ever. I've been high for 3 hours so far."

h) If you have someone locked and throw them to the ground and you think that it isn't going to hurt if you follow them down you are wrong. Got DDT'd into the mat with my teeth clacking together with a resounding snap.

i) Humidity is not kind.
All said, they do take care of you here. I mean its not a chess camp and shit happens, but I've heard some pretty scary stories about some hardcore camps in other parts of Thailand. They take cocky tourists and pump them up like they are the next champions, get them on a card and throw them into a ring with a real monster. Serious broken bones (bones I didn't know get broken like eye sockets). It pumps up the fighters record with a KO, everyone from the camp bets heavily on the obvious winner and it hits the highlight reel for Thai TV that fighter X demolished Farang (Thai word for foreigner) Y. I am far away from that stuff here. That being said, if I wanted to fight they would be happy to oblige and push me as hard as I could stand before entering into a ring on some future night. I'll be staying away from that thank you very much. Even if they pair me with another beginner, I don't need my jaw wired shut with a rusty coat hanger. Although, betting on fights is legal here. I could place a huge bet on myself in some smokey Thai stadium and pay for my entire trip and.. and... ...... How much fun would that be?

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This all started with an effort to do "Random Kind Things for My Body", which is here]

Monday, October 8, 2007

Little vacation within a vacation.

I had a little breakdown in Bangkok. "What the fuck are you doing" and all that. One moment I was fine and the other I was physically nauseous from brain race. Couldn't get out of it. If there was a bus waiting at the door to take me on a 400 hour journey home with no washroom I would have hopped onto it in a second. Decided to take a break from the Internet world for a while to strip off some complexities.

I feel better. I think that it was a wake up call of sorts that there is still some old thought processes and skeletons that are lurking to do a dance all over my happiness if I am not careful. Some of the things I was thinking about made me question whether I have healed from anything. Reality is also not going anywhere, it waits patiently in the wings to wrap its harsh arms around me when I am done with this jaunt. Gotta start thinking about... stuff. and cash and a job and a life and a home and a city and cold and wearing real shoes and and and.

A setback. Stay diligent Mike, eye on the prize and all that.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Moving on.

Fixed up the passport issues (I think). I will know in 21-28 days how successful I was. I could calculate the amount of time and money that I wasted by not solving this problem before I left, but I am trying to be happy these days. I used my time in Bangkok to get put together. I replaced my shoes that were stolen (yes someone stole my shoes), I mailed some stuff home, did some laundry, and had a shower and put on deodorant. Threw out lots of stuff. I have become obsessive compulsive about throwing stuff out lately. I take great pleasure in purging even a little of piece of paper that I don't need anymore. I did a bunch of reading. I've started washing my face everyday and doing stretches, crunches and push ups. My arms still hurt though. Daily massage is the next step. We shall see. Ever since I started reading the Bible, I started drinking beer again. I am sure that I will find a causal relationship as I continue reading through the scriptures. 28 days wasn't the plan, but we will see what the future holds for this little bit of my "good for my body" endeavors.

I am waiting for a bus to take me to hell for 18'ish hours. Good times. My last stop will be the chemist to get some little helpers OTC. I will not be updating the blog (or on Facebook) for a week. I've got some thinking to do. Stay well.

He takes a mean landscape

I met Stephen Tapply in Indonesia. Fairly interesting guy. Check out his galleries.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

This is kind of fun

Info about it to be found here. It is a real'ish time stream of all of the photos being uploaded to peoples blogs. If only I had an office to waste time in.

Gotta love that Kafka

I've read a couple of things from Kafka. I like turning to him when I want to have an argument with myself.

A telling quote from a letter to his then fiancee:
"It was certainly not my intention to make you suffer, yet I have done so; obviously it never will be my intention to make you suffer, yet I shall always do so."
He later continues:
"Felice, beware of thinking of life as commonplace, if by commonplace you mean monotonous, simple, petty. Life is merely terrible; I feel it as few other do. Often - and in my inmost self perhaps all the time - I doubt whether I am a human being."
See people.. things aren't so bad after all.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Top 5: Funniest google searches that have led to this blog (to date)

#5: im 14 and my back hurts
#4: hookers at new bangkok airport
#3: "full toilet" ny
#2: sex little india singapore

AND... drum roll please... The number one, funniest google search that has led to Mike's blog:

#1: my back hurts when i go number 2

Ba dump bump.

David the king begot Soloman by her who had been the wife of Uriah.

Those crazy Gideons. Leaving their Bibles all willy nilly in predominantly Muslim countries. This book has been on my to read list for quite some time and I decided to finally see what all the fighting is about. Instead of cramming this space with all my millions of questions and findings, I am dumping them all here:

If you are reading this, then I find it unlikely that you will want to wade through the drivel of a religious neophyte. If you DO want to read any of it or, better yet, if you have any knowledge of such things then you know where it is. Anonymous posting is allowed and encouraged :)

There will also be a mikeandthekoran blog, but let me get this out of my system first.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Scrabble (The agony of defeat)

Facebook has its ups and downs as anyone who is on it will tell, but I like the Scrabble app. I just lost the best game that I have ever played. It was a complex board, interesting and we got to use cool words like "anal". It would have been totally impossible to have played in person though. I don't think that Matt would have enjoyed watching me stare at the board for hours on end (literally).

Good game Matthew.

"good game. especially the last part where I won."

Too bad you are a jerk.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thoughts I am mulling over today:

"Change is inevitable, growth is optional"
This is a great quote. I tend to be enthralled with other people's thoughts that make me say "Of course. I believe that. Tell me something I don't know." It is only when I think on it do I realize that although I may have been on the same track and I immediately agree with the component parts, I have been beating around the bush my whole life. I realize that I have unwittingly made a whole bunch of caveats to a simple rule. A more honest criticism of me is that I tend to take a seemingly complex rulebase, some anecdotal and empirical evidence, come up with a loosely organized and complex way of thinking about it and totally miss the point. The resultant doesn't distill and its no axiom, I can assure you. Life is complex. I need to strive to break it down before I build it up. Once again someone wiser than I in life beat me to the punch line and I am the better for it. Simple and succinct. Universally applicable. Today I trimmed a whole branch from my tree and that squirrel with the fluffy tail and mental energy siphoning fangs was still on it. This isn't a new thought, but I will pretend that it is. Thanks old surfing lady.

Rigidity (again)
I had another "of course" moment when I was talking to a friend about arguing. We were talking about those people who love to argue. To debate and more importantly to win those debates. They feel that the more confused their fellow combatant is - the better. My comment was that this is a total bullshit way to approach conflict. This person isn't seeking mutual understanding or striving for forward movement. The only possible outcome is a momentary self pat on the back and of only frustration and resentment on the other side. It is born out of a fear of the vacuum; the unknown of not being rigid, of letting go. I had a sudden flash of self hatred. I sometimes used circular argument as a coping mechanism for my not knowing how to deal with change. Internally and externally.

The Brick
Even with no job, negative cash flow and unsteady brain, important things in life can still be put on lay-away. I'm glad.

Email is Bullshit
A concise form of communication it is not. Said, unsaid, simple or complex, each word carries the heavy burden of history... and imaginary, criminally insane half brothers.

Knocked Up
It’s a funny movie. After the earthquake when Katherine is giving Seth hell for not protecting her and the cop drives by. Seth (an illegal Canadian alien) is trying to act all nonchalant after throwing his bong away and says "California.... eh?". Its so Canadian.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Bali washroom (a decomposition).

The place I am staying at is really nice and mostly clean. There a bunch of ants in my room, but they seem more interested in eating all the furniture than making my life miserable. I'm not sleeping very well though, so maybe they are and I just don't know it. There are a few cockroaches and I killed one last night in the bathroom that was about 2 inches long. I was tired and was thinking that I should take a picture of it in the morning to gross everyone out before I stuffed it down the drain. I couldn't sleep and an hour later (almost exactly an hour), I went to the bathroom. It appears as though the ants in this place also eat the flesh of the fallen. My award winning pinup model, "Miss Roach, September" was only half the size.

Then I started a 100 minute time lapse of what was going on and went to sleep.

I am still learning on my 4-5? year old Cannon S50. When you take a time lapse, it refocuses every time it takes a shot. It makes sense, I just never thought about it. Next time I will set it to manual focus and make sure to get all the action (and set a more appropriate aperature). Even if I knew, I probably wouldn't have cared because I didn't relish lying on the floor of the washroom at 2am, a foot from Antstock 2007. I should also have brought a mini tripod instead of propping it up on two 500 rupe coins. The camera shifted at one point in the night. Maybe the ants tried to carry it down the drain? The last frame is a picture from 9am this morning. I'll see if I can get some more food for the drain dwellers / construction crews and get a better set of shots. You get the point that I was trying to get across though I am sure :)

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out the matchstick that is inexplicably on my washroom floor and strangely moving.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blogger template edits (footer font size, post widths)

Did some maintenance on ye old blog. I found the footer to be a bit oppressive, which led me to this link which was very helpful.

Another thing that drove me around the bend was the default behavior of wrapping words around photos. I like to wrap text around photos sometimes. Small photos are too small. Medium photos allow you to still get the point even if you don't click them to enlarge. Large photos are too large (and don't wrap text). With the font size and layout, I always get these orphaned words and blank spaces beside photos.

I made the following changes to my default template - "Minima".
Made the whole thing 60 pixels wider:

#outer-wrapper {
width: 720px;

(from 660px)

#footer {

(from 660px)

#header-wrapper {

(from 660px)

And soaked it up in the posting container:

#main-wrapper {
width: 470px;

(from 410px)
We will see if it sticks. Maybe I will be lucky and the new width will be the same as the "new post" preview... don't get me started on that.

Indonesian five.. oh crap.

I've learned a little bit more about the workings of the cops here. They have a strange rule that is kind of like double jeopardy in the US (wow.. I didn't know that was also a valid defense in Canada): You can't be charged for something if you have been charged for it in the last two weeks (IF you have a receipt).

Lets do some learning through a hypothetical situation with my imaginary friend, Billy. Oh Billy.. sometimes! Oh mon dieu! Lets suppose the following set of circumstances were true:
1. That Billy doesn't have an international license and is driving illegally while on vacation.
2. That he thinks that this fact is of no consequence where he is, because nobody ever checks for such things.
3. That on Billy's morning commute for breakfast there is a sometimes manned, sometimes not manned Polisi hut.
4. That once in a while they try to wave Billy down and he pretends not to see them and heads on down the road.
5. That he thinks that they must just be waving hello as he knows that the police are very friendly on the island where Billy is on vacation.
6. That one day (for the sake of argument and for the purposes of this exercise, we might as well say today) they seemed SO eager to shake his hand that they stood directly in front of him while Billy was doing 50.
So he needs that receipt so he can be all like "diplomatic immunity" and shit. He has been told that one can be had for 10-20k for locals.

I have to warn the class that in my imagination, Billy is a stupid head causing all kind of angst and self doubt and that there may be more optimal and predictable attacks. That said, if this were to happen in real life, he would recommend an approach that is similar to:
1. Say you have a valid license at (imaginary, medium distance away hotel) and you would be happy to go and get it and bring it back. Yes? Find new breakfast place.
2. No? Negotiate hard on the bribe option and then say that you might as well get a receipt so that they don't "check" you again on the way back.
3. Smile.
4. He doesn't have any real knowledge of it, but in this particular, hypothetical case, 2 x bribe equals receipt. Results may vary in real life.
5. Shake hand of man in charge and say the people of your vacation island are really quite nice.
6. Ask if any more "random" checks will be necessary for this particular tourist sucker (you).
7. Start wearing too small, leather, do-nothing helmet.
I hope that there is no more learning to be had for any of us in this particular oddity of life in Bali.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Now this is WAY too funny. I've learned even MORE about what goes on here. Locals pay a 10-20k bribe, or get a ticket to wait 2 weeks to pay. The gist of what I did, was not get a receipt that I thought I was getting, but paid to be ticketed. The old bait and switch. Hahahaha They must love me in this place. NOW I know how this things works and at least I still can't get another ticket for no license. I think.. hopefully no more updates.]

Monday, September 24, 2007

I'm not surfing, but loving the surf movies

These guys take it a little bit far, but the cinematography is superlative. IMDB entry that doesn't say much here. These are BIG waves. If you ever want to feel little in the face of the oceans immense power - watch this and feel the fear.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I had originally linked the image from another site. They swapped it for an ad. I'm not sure who owns that material. Although limited, that site would have got SOME traffic at least. Subsequently, I have downloaded and posted the movie cover from here.]

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Random updates on life in Bali.

Surfing, beer, waxed thread and flying.

I stopped surfing when I left Kuta. I pretend that it is geography, but I am hurting. Actually I am hurt. I was involved actively in two sports that are pretty arm centric and I strained a tendon in my left arm from getting my bulk up on the board. This arm is also the one that I use to pull up the front of the glider at launch which incurs a reasonable amount of strain. As I get better at it, it becomes less and I am not doing 5 hours of ground handling a day which took its toll back when I was a rank amateur instead of just an amateur. I decided to take a little break from the water which was sage, but my little on camera antics reminded me to be more careful (pain). I am at a point that I can generally pick waves that don't suck, generally get up on them, generally follow them along and steer and do all that good stuff. I've hit the pause button on my surfing career. This makes getting sponsored pretty difficult which was my plan to keep me out of a job until quite recently ;)

I haven't had a beer since labour day. The hard part is still the heat and camaraderie. A man can only drink so much pop, water and fruit juices during the day while folks are laughing and bonding with each other over a Bintang (tasty and cheap local brew).

I am hesitant to update on flossing cuz thats kind of trivial, but in the spirit of Garth, I need to come clean (haha). I have some work to do to insert it into my daily routine and have only about a 50% adoption rate at the moment.

Flying. I love flying, but I am coming off a 2 day hiatus for physical and mental reasons. I really didn't understand what happened during the diabolically bad session which kind of scared me. Being dragged around is one thing, flying fast 1 foot off the ground is quite another. Its surprisingly speedy and there are a lot of hard things like people and bamboo huts to be found that low to the ground. "Mentor" is the only adequate word for Basil (which is not his real name - Garrit bwahahahahahaha). He is a retired guy who is staying at my hotel and I think one of the best pilots here. He is very giving of knowledge and he has a wealth of experience to draw upon. We talked a lot about it and I understood better why things broke down the way that they did. Mostly he helped to fill in some missing information about cause and effect, aerodynamics and smrts.

Two days ago I had my best day of flying yet. The glider lifted off like it was carefully placed above my head by a kind and caring lover (the kind that actually loves you). It was smooth and gentle and as close to ideal as I have had so far. My second launch has been regarded as 95%, but I have a careful optimism that I am back on track. I flew for a total of 2 fantastic hours.

[EDITORS NOTE: Today I also had a meaningful day and made a few mistakes, but I'm generally happy with the process. After my first couple of hours of flying, the sky was crimson with inconsiderateness and the landing zone was covered in peoples crap. I was frustrated, the radio wasn't working and in my haste to get on the ground and apply sunscreen to my nose I kind of pushed it. A terrible landing, but a good learning experience. Sometimes Basil over does it on the "mentoring", although he had some good advice today. "If you are so frustrated with the BS that went on here today and so eager to get on the ground, you might get onto the ground a LOT faster than you intend. Take a ride down the coast and breath. Don't come back until you remember why you are here". I landed pissed off about getting cutoff (a million times in every which way possible), went and sat by myself for a while and then was back at it. I did a few rounds of approaches and took four and a half out of five good landings with no input from my instructor. A good finish. Learning learning learning. 16 or 17'ish hours to date. I should make my 20 goal before I wrench myself away from the hill and onto the traveling thang again.]


Once I left Kuta, the economics of this country got great. By my earlier definition of "living" I could easily pull it off for $10 /day. My room is $6, 2 beer at a cafe costs $1.25, Internet is either free or $0.30 / half hour, an awesome rice and meat cornucopia of flavour from any random stall is $1.00 and more incidentals than you could shake a stick at rounds it up to $10. The problem is that my requirements have changed slightly. I need a motorbike ($3) and I need to feed that bike to the bank breaking tune of $0.50 in petrol daily. I am no longer a heathen and beer is the work of the devil, but if I drink wine then they are "fermented in a stained bathtub, doubling as a toilet for a family of 13" tasting and $3 per. Another mango lassi please. Yum! a breakfast omelet. You get the picture. Renting gear at the hill is obscenely priced in comparison which makes my quest for living on the cheap a farce anyways, but I pretend that that isn't happening and therefore don't need to account for it. If I am honest, I am probably spending 20 bucks and living like a king. Well, my crown got knocked a bit askew last night during a fight with the most enormous cockroach that I have ever seen, but thats neither here nor there. Why is it then that I have spent so much money while here? Right... the thing thats not happening. I have adopted an expensive sport to learn and dream of every night. I do... every night I am flying for at least part of it. If I am awake, I instant replay every good and bad flight. One night I woke up flaring. Too funny.]


I haven't talked much about the food on this trip overall, but it has been (almost) universally good. Food needs to meet one of two criterion for it to be eaten: it has to either smell good; or be spicy as hell. There are only two meals that I've been burned on. One was a gut wrenching chicken surprise in Thailand (the surprise being food poisoning) and the other was a nasi goring in Malaysia when all of those tasty looking little bits of meat ended up having eyes and tails (deep fried anchovies - who knew?). I couldn't get over the fishy taste or all of those beady little eyes staring me down. I hate anchovies.

There is a stall across the road from my hotel, unfortunately named "Mercury Seafood". Kind of like the shoe stores called "Athletes Foot". Well intentioned; poor connotation. I try to eat there often and have either the chicken with chili sauce, rice and vegetables or the whole fried fish with the same ($1.00 or $1.25 - yes this meal cost me $1.25). I have a running joke with the guys there that they can't make it hot enough for me to not eat. So far I am winning, but a few days ago it was neck and neck, a laugh fest as beads of sweat ran down my face while I continued to deride their chili infusing abilities.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I am sinning a bit. There is a place a few kms down the road which makes an amazing pizza and has free wireless Internet. You can sit there and watch awesome surf videos and catch up on whats going on. Arghhh 3 days running.]


Aptly named, there is a beach 10 or 15 minutes down the road that is kick ass. It costs 50 cents to get into it and that is money well spent. The first day I went down I was pretty excited as I thought it mightn't not be a bad surfing destination for me. The next few times that I went it was pretty fierce (no camera). The entire coast is being raked with some heavy surf so I hear. One time I decided to go swimming for a bit and boy did I get demolished. You wade out to waste deep water and then a set comes in and the rip almost knocks you forward off your ass. Suddenly you are standing on the beach again and you can look left and catch a crazy view of surfers doing their kamikaze thing on 10-12 foot faces at what seems to be eye level. Then you realize that 6 feet of churning white water is coming in fast. If you jump too soon, you end up dragged across the beach (the best case. Worst case is the incoming surf nails your legs and you do a subsequent handstand). If you jump too late then you end up.. well, dragged across the beach. Lets just say that I had to buy Q tips to get all of the sand out of my EAR! which still hasn't cleared. I'm still picking bits of sand out of weird places. Definitely the biggest surf that I have been swimming in. Good times.


Crap. My 25 day, cross Indonesia tour is kind of screwed. I dropped Java off the Itinerary a while back and now if I want to keep my connector flights to Bangkok I have to leave... tomorrow. Thats not gonna work. SO. I am leaving October 1st before my Visa runs out and I still plan to spend some time in Sumatra. You can get stamped in and out for $150 (before negotiation) to get another 30 days here, but I've drawn a line in the recently poured concrete. There is too much that I want to see and do, no matter how cohesive I feel while flying and surfing. Fluidity knows bounds. Also complicating is the fact that if I don't leave now and sort my passport issues out then I might be stuck in whatever country I find myself in on Oct 21st (6 months before my passport expires). If I were a betting man, I would say I would be in Bali for another 3 days. My instructor is taking a day off and wants to go flying with me in Chandi Desa and there is some surfing that I want to do to leave on a good note. I'm happy, but every day that I spend here I am blowing more cash on paragliding when I could be seeing more of an inspiring country. It is tough to balance. Sumatra is also my most likely target for a $5 day... AND I don't want Sumatra to become my new Burma (an area that I haven't been to yet, despite repeated attempts to do so). Will keep you updated.... If its December 1st and I am still talking trash about people cutting me off at the hill don't think any less of me. It is, after all, "recently" poured concrete.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Morning of the earth.

Watch it.

Some of these beaches I've been on. I CAN'T believe how much they have changed. Its a beautiful "period piece" through its age about surfing.


I'd grown accustom to her eccentricities a bit, but she was getting unnerving. Even incense couldn't make her get into the spirit with 75ccs? of raw power and 33,000 kilometers to her name. She had taken to stalling unexpectedly and at all the wrong times. I went for a ride up the west coast of the island one day and a local at one of the beaches I stopped at actually was feeling the front tire and laughing. The nail in the coffin (thank got it wasn't mine) was when a bike cut in front of me, to the inside of a dump truck and tossed a pop bottle poorly into the back, missing miserably. A real hazard at 60km/h, no real breaks, bald tires and a machine that is operating at its diminished limits. Not really a relaxing way to spend my afternoon. I missed it barely. One day it took me 2,5 hours to get home. She also got a thorn in her back paw (thankfully only a few hundred metres from a handy tire fixit stall - only $2 for a new tube, installed in 20 minutes flat). I was happy to say goodbye to her limp, physically and mentally challenged body. My distrust had made me timid and THAT is what was going to surely end up in my premature ticket home.

There is a new bike in town. I've affectionately called her Blu; less of a donkey and more like an ox. You can rent anything up to a huge Harley here if you have the money and the skill, but I had shied away from manual bikes because I figured that I had enough to concentrate on and I am a far cry from an "expert". I didn't realize that most of the "manual" bikes here are actually "semi automatics" where you need to select the gears, but there is no proper clutch. Her brakes and gear selector are in the proper places, her brakes brake and all!, she has compact car sized tires, two mirrors that actually work (I am not simply checking to make sure that my left love handle is still where I think it is). American hard iron power of 125ccs (the extra power is much appreciated and it is heavier. It doesn't get buffeted in the wind to the same extent). I still find myself reaching for for a phantom clutch at shift time, but being able to down shift if needed is probably safer in the long run. A huge improvement to what the death trap had on offer. My commute is a reasonably pleasant drive with about 30% of the traffic. There are no Polisi huts and I am SO safe that I am "remounting" my role as Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, with my greasy locks swaying in the breeze (sorry mom).