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.