Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Day 120

The basecoat didn't really smooth things out that much, but I went ahead and painted the walls anyway. Six hours later, the first pass is done, and I'm too tired to bother going out fencing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Day 119

More painting today. Starting from the top with the ceiling, then some basecoat for the walls. According to the tin, this basecoat is supposed to smooth out the walls too, so we'll see how it copes with my somewhat amateur attempts at plastering.

On the wasp front, it seems our helpful neighbours are way ahead of us. They'd already localized the wasp nest to the chimney, and the council are booked in for later in the week to take a look at it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Day 118

I think I've located the wasp's nest. My study has a vent connecting into the chimney; as this was my prime suspect for the location, I taped clingfilm over the vent. As of this morning, there are a couple of dead wasps stuck between the vent and the clingfilm, so that seems pretty conclusive.

Only a little BIY today; 24 hours duly having past, I could go back and grout the restored tiles. It took rather longer than I was expecting, but I wasn't sure that I had enough grout so I had to restrain my profilgate tendencies and do things a little more catiously. Finished that just in time to go out dancing for the first time in a while. I'm still feeling very rusty (only been out half a dozen times in the last couple of years), but at least I seem to be slightly fitter than the last time I did it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Day 117

Hmmm. Four live wasps by 11am. I'm not sure that my catch & release policy is actually a good idea: I suspect that there's a fair chance that I'm just recycling wasps.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Day 116

A bit more Photoshopping this morning, mostly playing with Levels and tweaking colour. The best (so far) of the crop of Thailand and Cambodia pictures are here, ready to try some medium sized prints.

It's amazing how much difference the right tool can make. Another trip to Homebase (this time in a car; no chance of fitting this one in a rucksack to get back by motorcycle) to buy a fairly cheap tile saw (medium CQ rating), then an hour and a half later the remainder of the tiling is done. I could have saved myself about four hours of Copious Free Time if I'd just done that in the first place.

Also, chatting with an old friend this evening, it looks like I might have a suitable test audience for the text about software engineering that I've been (slowly) putting together; he sounded almost keen (although that may just be good old-fashioned English politeness). Anyway, having an audience in mind should help with the motivation.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Day 115

[reading: Peter Hamilton, "Pandora's Star"]

In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

Back to fighting the kitchen redecoration. In theory, today was supposed to be dead efficient. In practise, not so much.

First I primed the new plaster, and put a first coat of paint on the ceiling, so that it could dry during the day and I could come back in the afternoon and do more painting.

Next, was retiling the areas that had to be ripped out for the rewiring last year. I've actually done a fair amount of tiling before, so I was expecting this bit to be quite straightforward. How foolish of me. When I've tiled before, it was a) glazed tiles and b) all straight lines (i.e. not around sockets and switches).

So the main problem of the day was how to cut odd shapes out of tiles. Of course, I was forearmed with a tile saw, but this turned out to be very useless: 20 minutes of sawing and I've not got all the way through a single tile yet. And then the blade broke. Again, forearmed, I'd bought a spare blade, but this one lasted even less time.

Off to Homebase, to try a tip from a friend: use a Jigsaw with a tile blade. My old Jigsaw died a while ago (while I was trying to chop down a tree with it; yes, I know that's an incredibly dumb thing to do), so I bought a new one and half a dozen tile cutting blades to go with it. I carefully checked with one of their expert staff members that these blades would fit the saw, so I was completely unsurprised to discover that they didn't actually fit.

Back to Homebase, returned the wrong blades, and found an expensive single blade that would fit the new jigsaw (it was more expensive than four of the blades that didn't fit), and nipped back home to give it a go. This time, the blade lasted about a quarter of a tile before it snapped.

So I suspect my next step is going to have to be to hire a wet tile saw.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Day 114

[reading: Barbara Brundage, "Photoshop Elements 3"]

Getting to grips with Photoshop Elements a bit more today, messing individually with the better pictures from the trip. Also getting ready for the next phase of DIY: sanding down the new plaster, ready for decorating.

It's absolutely fascinating to see what the pros can and do tweak with Photoshop. I think I must be peculiar: in many cases I preferred the Before version.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Day 113

More photo manipulation today, but hopefully the end is in sight.

Also, something tells me there might be a wasp's nest somewhere nearby. This afternoon I collected 5 live and 32 dead wasps from the corner of my study.

Out fencing for the first time in about seven weeks, and boy did it show. Quarte and sixte were more like quarante and soixante: back to the old windscreen wiper parries. Things were improving by the end of the session, though, so hopefully next week will be a bit more back on form

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Day 112

Ho hum. Lots of typing today: photo descriptions, and typing up blog notes.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Day 111

Trying to sort out a workflow for dealing with all of the digital pictures (around 700, 3.5Gb worth). Current best guess is:

  • Use NikonView (after reinstalling and upgrading) to convert to JPEG: Select All, Copy and resize, set to same size and medium quality, into a separate jpg folder (this is around 3 hours of processing time).
  • Use GraphicConverter to rotate the relevant pictures, and also to reset the file dates for the JPG files from the EXIF data (right click, JPEG, set file date from EXIF)
  • Use my jpegname script to add descriptive text to each of the JPEG files and rename them (as this involves typing in text for every single picture, this is another three or four hours worth)
  • Select key pictures for either uploading to Flickr or for some Photoshopping

Of course, this is just the batch processing. After that, there's a bunch of stuff on individual pictures.

  • Stitching panoramas together
  • Joining together dual exposure pictures
  • A possible experiment with animated GIFs
  • High quality Photoshop conversion for selected pictures
  • Black and white conversions

In the meanwhile (while the machine churns), an attempt to get caught up with email.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Day 110

[reading: Vikram Seth, "An Equal Music"]

Some serious repacking to get under the baggage allowance, eventually putting all of the books into a carry on bag and trying to pose casually at the check-in desk in a manner that implied that the bag hardly weighed a thing. In the end, the checked luggage was still slightly over (21kg against 20kg) but they didn't bat an eyelid.

Well, I'm back.

Of the 5304 pages of books I took with me, I managed to get through 896 + 607 + 616 + 400 + 483 + 926 + 926 = 4854 pages, so I guess I judged it about right.

I unpacked everything as soon as I got back in, but I'm leaving the messing with memory cards until tomorrow, for fear of pressing the wrong button in jetlagged befuddlement and wiping all the pictures.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Day 109

"One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free"

Back to Bangkok for one more afternoon and evening. I tried another massage, a foot massage this time, which was pleasant enough but I still seem to be missing whatever it is that makes everybody else rave about them. After that, we trundled over to Lumphini stadium to try to see some muay thai. Sadly, it turned out much more expensive than I'd expected from the guide book (we were quoted B1800 as the cheapest tickets) so we passed on it and wandered round the night market next door instead.

Finally, we couldn't really leave Bangkok without experiencing the attractions of Patpong (the night market, obviously), so a short tuk-tuk ride later, there we were. We declined all of the offers to see the Patpong Ping Pong show, but we did sit in a go-go bar for a while watching extremely bored-looking girls in bikinis gyrate on the bar, in front of a bunch of guys who roundly ignored them.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Day 108

Another thunderstorm while we were having dinner at the posh resort just along from ours. This one actually provided a welcome distraction; the staff at the restaurant were far too attentive, hovering incessantly, so having them scurry off to retrieve cushions and table settings from outside was good news.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Day 107

[reading: Neal Stephenson, "The Confusion"]

Another boat trip today, this time out to Ang Thong national park. This is a pretty collection of islands, one of which (Ko Mae Ko) has an inland lake
Lake3KoMaeKoAngThong Lake2KoMaeKoAngThong
and another (Ko Wua Talab) has a difficult climb to a spectacular viewpoint (passing some monkeys on the way).
Monkey_in_tree_4_@_Ko_Wua_Talab,_Ang_Thong Islands_from_viewpoint_@_Ko_Wua_Talab,_Ang_Thong AngThong2FromKoWuaTalab AngThongFromKoMaeKo

Trying to build up a collection of individual pictures for stitching together does make me muse about whether I should get a super-wide lens. The Sigma 10-20 looks useful, although I've not seen any optical reviews of it yet.

We had an impressive thunderstorm while we were having dinner at the resort next door. We were eating outdoors, in a little mini-hut, and the lightning illuminated the sea in blue and purple. Thinking about it, we've actually had surprisingly little rain while we've been here, given that it's the rainy season. The odd afternoon downburst, but tonight's rain was the first that lasted more than an hour or so.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Day 106

After some days of inactivity, went off to Ko Tao on a dive trip today. The two dives were decent enough, but I think I've been spoilt by diving on the Great Barrier Reef; everything else doesn't quite match up. We did encounter a shoal of barracuda, though, which was quite cute. Being long thin fish, they looked like arrows; it was like swimming into an almost-continuous vector field.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Day 105

Things are on a slightly different scale here in Thailand. On the group trip, various folk were a little disconcerted at being bigger size for buying clothing than they were expecting—Large for some petite women, and XXL for some not-especially-huge men. This even extends to more prosaic things; the bottles of water at the resort are hard to open, because I can only fit the little finger of my left hand into the ring pull (and on occasion I've managed to pull the ring off the top, rather than the top off the bottle, cf. the bicycle incident)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Day 104

Wandered into the middle of Lamai for the evening, and I can only assume it's fairly low season at the moment. The hostess bars were pretty empty (of customers at least—I did spot one with 8 hostesses and no customers), but the town did get a little busier as the evening went on, so perhaps things just kick off after my bedtime.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Day 103

[reading: Neal Stephenson, "Quicksilver"]

Lamai is fairly small and a bit too obviously touristified for my liking; judging by the bars (and their adverts for football games on TV) and restaurants, it looks like English, German and Swedish are the main consumers in the town.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Day 102

[reading: Tristan Needham, "Visual Complex Analysis"]

The Exodus group part of the trip is done now, so we headed off independently to the airport for a plane to Koh Samui, ending up in a very nice bungalow just off the beach in Lamai.

Urk. I realize I've got 3 gigabytes of pictures to deal with when I get back. Not surprising, given that this is my first serious trip with the digital camera that I bought a year and a half ago but didn't have the Copious Free Time to use—but it's still more than my previous complete collection of digital pictures combined. Hmm. Time to investigate better backup solutions than just burning DVD-Rs.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Day 101

Back to Bangkok, which feels oddly like coming home. Wandering around the area (Nana) near the hotel, it feels much less hassled that Cambodia, even though it's full of market stalls and hostess bars. You still get offers from the stall vendors and the tuk-tuk drivers, but they can all take no for an answer and smile.

In the evening, we all trooped off to see a ladyboy show.
I was quite becroggled by the sheer awfulness of it; poor dancing and miming cabaret in spangly costumes. As for the performers themselves, they were varied: some convincing, some not so much.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Day 100

A distinctly non-chirpy morning, with a visit to camp S21 at Tuol Sleng
Photo_display_w_reflection_9_@_S-21,_Tuol_Sleng,_Phnom_Penh Photo_display_w_reflection_4_@_S-21,_Phnom_Penh
and the killing fields at Choeung Ek.

Driving back through Phnom Penh, it would appear that there are but two roundabouts and two traffic lights in the entire city.

After lunch, things cheer up a bit with a visit to the Royal Palace, although I think we're all getting a bit fed up with the relentless expectation that we'll cough up money: only one of the thirteen in the group buys the extra $2 camera pass for the palace (and which doesn't even allow photography in the buildings), and the palace guide gets a very minimal tip (as our third nested guide for the day: the Exodus guide, a Phnom Penh guide and a palace guide).

Anyway, the palace has a curiously eclectic feel to it; lots of the displays feel like we're wandering through someone's attic—a morass of random junk, only more gilden than you'd find in the average attic.

(Mobile moment #3: man driving scooter loaded with goods through busy intersection with mobile phone to ear).

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Day 99

[reading: Neal Stephenson, "Quicksilver"]

Thankfully, the road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh is in a decent condition and so this bus journey is quite pleasant. The hotel is also just along from the Foreign Correspondent's Club, where we all congregate for dinner.
Noticing the geckos here more than I did in Thailand; they seem to have found a loophole in the whole gravity thing, and their gait when they move is quite fascination—their bodies oscillate between bending to the left and to the right.

Being here does fill me with the urge to watch 'The Year of Living Dangerously' again; maybe I should have a rental session when I get back and also watch 'Bridge On The River Kwai' and 'The Killing Fields' too.

I've noticed far fewer misspellings of English words in Cambodia than Thailand; I wonder if this reflects a different kind of script for Cambodian (maybe alphabetic rather than syllabic?).

"Dollars for preference, in this uncertain world"

I have to admit I'm not all that keen on Cambodia. It feels like I'm just regarded as a walking dollar bill, and one that the locals don't want to let get away. I guess that's because there are still so few westerners visiting, and they're so rich in comparison. Still, everything's much more expensive than Thailand (heading towards non-city US prices) and it's tiring just walking down the street and fending off the vendors and beggars (the first I've seen on the trip).

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Day 98

Momentary panic on today's first exit from the bus; moving between the warm wet outside and the cold AC completely misted up my camera. More worryingly, someone else in the group who has the same camera had his seize up completely.

Anyway, today's assortment of temples in Angkor started with Banteay Srei,
then moved on to Pre Rup
and then to Ta Promh, famous from Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider films.
Ta_Promh,_Angkor Mossy_stone_3@_Ta_Promh,_Angkor Tree_&_building_6_@_Ta_Promh,_Angkor Carving_2_@_Ta_Promh,_Angkor TaPromh

Lunch was at a restaurant back in Siem Riep, and was frustratingly shambolic. Despite having oodles of staff hanging around doing very little, they still managed to bring the wrong food, or not to bring various orders at all, and then attempted some extensive overcharging. Our guide was actually planning to take us back to the same place for the evening meal (and a dance show), and looked stunned and confused when not a single member of the group wanted to return to the place.

After a stop at Phnom Neak Pean,
the last temple (and my favourite) was Preah Khan, where sadly the battery on my camera died a little faster than I was prepared for.
Preah_Khan_5,_Angkor Tree,_building_2_@_Preah_Khan,_Angkor

Preah Khan. Enter two girls on bicycles, stage right, carrying mechandise
Girl on bicycle: You buy two flutes for a dollar; you buy ten bracelets for a dollar.
Me: No, I buy nothing
Girl (cycling into the distance): Nothing for a dollar!
Me: Two dollars! Nothing for two dollars!
Girl: <giggles>
Girls exit stage left

We also stopped for some frolicking monkeys on our way out of the South gate of Angkor Thom.

After we refused his suggested restaurant for the evening meal, the guide left us to fend for ourselves (unusually inflexibly for an Exodus guide) and so we ended up just eating at the hotel. This reinforced the impression that things at the hotel all almost work. There's almost hot water (unless you're too far along the corridor for the water pressure to reach); the restaurant almost serves food (unless, say, you're the third person to order fries); the bar almost serves drinks (unless, say, you're the second person to order a beer that evening). I guess that's understandable given the level of development in Cambodia, but I can't imagine that this hotel will survive long against the shinier, more professional looking behemoths being erected around the town.

Still, three nights in the same place is such a relief. It feels like I've spent all of my free time for the last week just shuffling stuff from one bag to another, preparing for whatever overnight arrangement is next.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Day 97

Into Angkor, starting with the south gate of Angkor Thom,
South_gate,_Angkor_Thom Elephant_taxi_in_South_gate_of_Angkor_Thom
then into Bayon temple.
Carving_3_@_Bayon,_Angkor_Thom Doorways,_Buddha_4_@_Bayon,_Angkor_Thom Carving_pair_A_@_Bayon,_Angkor_Thom Carved_faces_@_Bayon,_Angkor_Thom BayonAngkor
After Bayon, we trundled past Bapuon (closed for renovation) and into the Royal Palace to look at Phimeanakas,
then out of the palace past the royal pools to the elephant terrace.

After lunch the guide (P.K.) seemed insistent that we'd all want to go back to the hotel for a swim and a siesta. We eventually persuaded him that we could swim and sleep at home, but we'd couldn't see Angkor and could we please continue on to the next temple? So we got a decent amount of time at Angkor Wat
Angkor_Wat_1 Angkor_Wat_2 Angkor_Wat_6 Courtyard_in_rain_through_window,_Angkor_Wat Passageway,_columns,_Angkor_Wat AngkorWat
and even had time to climb up to Phnom Bakheng in an attempt to see sunset (too cloudy, though).

I'm a bit surprised by how expensive everything is here, even allowing for Siem Riep being a one-attraction tourist town. Everything is quoted in dollars, and everything gets rounded up to the nearest dollar, so things are working out much more expensive than Thailand (despite Cambodia being a much less developed country).

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Day 96

A bit of a nightmare day today. The first part of the journey was OK: a few hours in a bus to Aranyaprathet on the Cambodian border (despite a blade for the engine fan breaking on the way). However, the next step was to cross the border, and that took around three and a half hours. Most of the time was spent trying to get out of Thailand—a big queue of farang were crowded into a sweaty building, and then nothing moved for around two hours. I'm still not sure why the delay was so enormous, because after that the queues suddenly started moving and cleared out in about half an hour; in the meanwhile, the Thai locals were scuttling through a fast lane and the Cambodian locals were zooming through an even faster lane. Apparently, the Cambodians cross the border to go to markets, and the Thais cross to visit a couple of big casinos that are sited in the no-man's land between the two borders.

In comparison, getting in at the Cambodia side of things was efficient and straightforward, but once across the border, we got a bigger nasty shock. The Thailand guide and the trip notes had both said that the journey from Poi Pet to Siem Reap would be around four hours; the Cambodian guide was clearly embarrassed to have to tell us that the next stage of the journey would actually take more like ten or eleven hours. And so it turned out: we arrived at around 3 in the morning.

The lower level of development was immediately apparent on crossing the border, from the roads, the clothes, the vehicles and the shops. At first, I couldn't even tell which side of the road vehicles drive on in Cambodia; the traffic was intermingled randomly, depending on where the potholes were, and little vehicles just had to get out of the way of bigger ones (but it looks like they theoretically drive on the right, judging from the position of the steering wheel on the bus). Everyone still seems to have mobile phones though (mobile moment #2: a man pushing a rickety wooden hand cart across the border stopping to take a call).

Hmm. It occurs to me that my usual attire might not go down too well in Cambodia. Not a lot I can do about it now, though (other than make sure I don't wear a blue cap).

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Day 95

After a much more restful overnight train, we're back in Bangkok. Off (via skytrain and riverboat) to Wat Pho
Large_reclining_Buddha_@_Wat_Pho,_Bangkok Courtyard,_towers_2_@_Wat_Pho,_Bangkok
and the Royal Palace.

After lunch, a few of us took a taxi to Jim Thompson's house, and encountered the full horror of Bangkok traffic—it took an hour to travel a mere few miles. I'm sure we were waiting at one particular red light for around 15 minutes without it ever changing colour; I don't know if this is normal for Bangkok or whether the lights were broken.

Returning to Bangkok, I notice that there are many more private cars on the road. In Chiang Mai, almost every four-wheeled (or three-wheeled) vehicle on the road was for hire in some way or another—taxis, songthaews, trucks, buses, tuk-tuks, vans, minibuses (but there were plenty of people driving their own scooters, though).

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Day 93

First up after breakfast: an elephant ride. This isn't a completely tame ride, either—there are some steep climbs and descents, on a fairly narrow trail. Sitting on the head of the elephant feels very precarious; there's nothing to hold on to (although when the elephant puts its ears back, that helps to clamp my legs in place).

Thailand certainly seems to have embraced mobile phones in a big way; even up here in the hill villages, there seems to be plenty of signal and plenty of phones (mobile moment #1: mahout riding his elephant away with mobile phone glued to ear).

Next is a raft trip down the river for an hour, which isn't that exciting because we're floating below the levee and can't see much. After a return to Chiang Mai, a bunch of us head out to an elephant park. The show is actually quite impressive,
Elephants_carrying_keeper_on_trunks_1_@_Mae_Sa_Elephant_camp,_Chiang_Mai Elephant_painting@_Mae_Sa_Elephant_camp,_Chiang_Mai Elephant_with_football_@_Mae_Sa_Elephant_camp,_Chiang_Mai
well choreographed and amusing, and then we have a chance to wander around and encounter some of the elephants in quieter surroundings as the park begins to close.
Elephant_leaning_on_post_3_@_Mae_Sa_Elephant_camp,_Chiang_Mai Elephant_eye_@_Mae_Sa_Elephant_camp,_Chiang_Mai

In the evening, dinner at quite a fun restaurant (with live music), and I get dragged back to the night market again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Day 92

First stop was the Chiang Dao caves (complete with bats),
Bats_3_@_Chiang_Dao_caves Ledge,_small_buddha_@_Chiang_Dao_caves
then on to some hill tribe villages. The trip notes had given the impression that this was a 2 day trek; as it turned out, we were only really walking for about two hours.

The presence of tourists does seem to have skewed things a bit; at various stages along the way, any number of folk trying to sell things flocked around us.
Haggling is the order of the day, although I'm not particularly assiduous about it. I figure it's my tourist duty to get scalped, so as long as I get some kind of price reduction I'm happy (basically, so that I don't look like a totally naïve chump).

After dark in the Palong village
where we're staying, it turns out that the local kids put on a show for us.
Children_singing_&_dancing_1_@_hill_tribe_village,_Chiang_Mai Child_asleep_@_hill_tribe_village,_Chiang_Mai