Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Holy Snack Packs, Batman!

Man oh man, I write one or two posts on the blog about my nutritional problems here in Thailand and you guys go all out! First I got Mary's gift with the hotpot, powerbars, candies, and magazines, and today I had to go down to the post office and pick up a box from my mom because it was too big to fit on the postman's motorcart!

Check out the volume of these vittles:

- Three 6-lb bags of Whey protein powder! (2 vanilla, 1 chocolate) That's 18 pounds of protein powder. Its hard to imagine how much protein powder that really is without experiencing it, and I'm sure no one has ever owned that much protein powder at one time. I could swim Scrooge McDuck-style in how much protein powder I have now (but that would attract ants). One of the bags is not shown as it had suffered a tear and had to be dispensed into 7 large ziploc freezer bags. I don't even think I'll be able to eat this much protein powder before I have to go home! Excellent!
- One 3-lb 8oz bag of dried fruit and nut medley.
- One box of 12 kirkland trail mix snack packs
- One full box (with convience store dispensor slot) of 100 slim jims. Holy christ, I have 100 slim jims.
- Thirty rice crispie treat bars (individually wrapped). I've already eaten 3 and I've had the box for about 20 minutes.
- Four boxes of hot tomales (the most perfect candy ever devised).
- One box of 30 count variety pack of full size snickers bars, 3-musketeers bars, starburts, M&Ms, Peanut M&Ms, and Skittles.
- 40 individual snack pack bags of chips, including fritos, doritoes (nacho cheese), doritoes (cool ranch), cheetos, ruffles, and lays potato chips.

I now possess more snack packs, candy, and slim jims than any two convenience shops here in Chiang Mai. I guess I'm going to have to switch gears from cutting to bulking, as there is no way I'll be able to keep my hands off those individually-wrapped rice crispie treats and slim jims. Also I can actually have 3 protein shakes a day again!

Thanks Mom!

I can't imagine what this 19.4 kg (42.7 lb) box cost to ship to Thailand. I now have more than enough candy, protein powder, and snacks to not only survive, but thrive (and by "thrive" I mean, "get nice and plump") during my stay in Chiang Mai.

Save the cutting phase for May! WA-HOOOOOOOO!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Oscar Nominated

Sometimes I get flak for liking artistic movies that aren't what you'd call "blockbusters." I just appreciate culture in film, is all, and my tastes in movies reflect that.

Here's a good example of a movie preview with all the right concepts for those who, like me, have a refined taste in their preferred drama...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Laser-Induced FluoresceANTS!

So today has been a steaming pile.

I had to move my equipment into another room in the chemistry building as there was no way to make a dark room in labs where people were working. Fortunately there is a huge room at the end of one hallway I could use. Now, its been freaking hot in Thailand lately. Oh, and humid. Its like Alabama summertime right now. Like a cross between Tatooine and Degobah. No A/C in the building, though it did have small windows I could open...

Except I had to cover all those up with aluminum foil to shut out all the light to focus the system. You see, sunlight will burn out a silicon photodiode (detector) faster than you can say "sunlight will burn out a silicon photodiode (detector)." So all windows had to be sealed and covered in the name of SCIENCE.

So I'm standing (sweating) in the dark, over my laser system, trying to focus the beam onto a tiny crystal cell, when I start getting little shocks on my hands and arms. At first I thought they were electrical shocks at any rate, even though the first thing I did last week was ground the table to the outlet (my only available ground). So I shut down the system and turned on the lights.

Do you see them? That's right. Red ants. Now, I'm not going to announce that they were fire ants, but they certainly liked to bite. However I don't have any raised bumps so I don't think they are fire ants. Nevertheless they enjoyed feasting on me in the dark.

They were all over the system.

Can you see the little guys in that second picture? There is about 8 of them near the mount.

First of all, I couldn't understand why the heck ants would be interested in laser optics. But more importantly I had to figure out how the heck they were getting up onto the table. Then it hit me.

The same reason I couldn't possibly be getting shocked is the mechanism by which the ants can assault my system (and me). They are coming out of the outlet and climbing up my makeshift grounding wire.

So today I had to disconnect the ground and all the power cables, move the system to another table, take apart all the optics and clean out all the ants. I can't imagine what kind of signal I'd get if one of those buggers walked across a lense while I was firing the laser. Though I may have to see how they resond to 5mW of 635nm electromagnetic death now that I think about it. In any case, the building is infested with ants, and its likely they climbed up to hang out on the cool metal optical table I set up. Being made of aluminum it has a fairly low thermal conductivity.

So now I've got to figure out how to keep the ants off my system, but still ground the table to the outlet (no, draping the ground through a bucket of water isn't safe), and then set the whole goddamn thing back up.

Science in the jungle.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Karate Chop Sunday

Hey everybody, its karate chop Sunday!

On Sunday I'll fill you guys in on all the pointless and extraneous stuff I'm doing.

Firstly, I'm watching the second season of Battlestar Galactica, thanks to SuperChad, who gave me the first two seasons. I'm spreading them out to just one episode a night, but even so they're going fast. Its a great show. Favorite character: Dr. Geius Baltar. So say we all.

Second, I've just installed the game "Vampire: The Masquerade; Bloodlines" on the laptop. It uses the HL2 engine so it pretty graphics-intensive, but I can run it in safe mode, though I still worry about the heat level of the video card, so I can only play for about an hour or two at a time. Still, the character creation seems pretty good.

Third, a grad student in the lab, Arm, took me to the Farangi supermarket in Chiang Mai, where I couldn't find any Romulan Blue, but I did find some breakfast cereal.

Finally, I start playing DnD with the Ravenloft group in Sweden I joined on the online virtual pnp program Fantasy Grounds. Game starts at 7pm for me, 1pm for them, so I should be pretty good and tired by Monday mornin' at work. I'm playing a Bard.

Peace out!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Package from America

Not 24 hours after I make a post whining about my lack of protein options here than I get a package filled with delicious vittles!

From left to right here's what we got:

- Olive canvas utility belt for secreting away passports, anti-sneeze powder, etc.
- One Hot pot for boiling water (hot cocoa, noodles and boiled eggs here I come!)
- One 1600 Watt 220/110V converter to run the hot pot (because my lady has skills in science)
- One canister each of high protein soybean butter and unblanched Peanut butter
- One Dragon magazine (the super-spectacular edition!)
- One large ziplock bag containing approximately 500 pieces of Hot Tomales candy
- Twenty-five Promax high protein bars (various flavors including cookies and cream and honey peanut)
- One large bag each turkey jerky and beef jerky (original style)
- Five pakcages of Hot Cocoa mix
- Two heavy-duty plastic bowls
- One bottle Febreeze (can stretch out my need to do laundry in the sink now)
- Three greeting cards to be opened at regular intervals

Oh yeah. Now I'm livin' the life. When I opened the package at work I gave Dom and Arm (two labmates) two Hot Tomales each to try. They were astounded at the strange texture and deliciousness of the candy (here in asia all their candy is wierd flavors of gelatin). I am now going to go eat a protein bar and savor the flavor of chemically-crafted high-protein deliciousness. Thank you Mary!

UPDATE: Holy super awesome! I opened up the hot pot and inside were a bag of cinnamon bears and five specially-baked valentine cookies! Rock!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Glazed and Confused

So what in the hell have I been up to over here on the other side of the planet?

Well, for one, its been a pain trying to locate and obtain food. I go out to lunch with the grad students every day, and they will order for me when everything at the various restaurants is in Thai, but other than that I'm on my own (Breakfast and Dinner). The first week in Chiang Mai was really hard on the ol' stomach, as I didn't yet have the confidence to walk up to the street kiosks and point at shit for them to give me to eat. The first thing I've learned here is how to count in Thai, its probably the most important lesson to learn if you're going to be in a cash-based economy like theirs. The second thing I've learned is that when you are going to travel to a foreign country, and people tell you that "everyone" in that country speaks english, those people are lying. Yeah, they all take english in primary school, but that doesn't mean they paid any attention at all. I mean, how's your spanish coming along?

In any case, my only source of protein for two weeks was this stuff:

In this picture you'll find an egg, which I was unsuccessful in cooking by saturating it in vinegar (I have no microwave or cookery items), a bag of "Taro fish snack," which is kind of like Thailand Beef Jerky, only instead of beef jerky it tastes like thick strips of paper. Its still my primary source of protein, as its made from fish. In Thailand they don't write the nutritional content on most stuff, instead they write the ingredients in percentages. And since these things are "85% ผลการค้นหาคำศัพท์" (fish protein) I figure they're my best bet for protein consumption. The next bag over is "Taotong Roller Seasoned Cuttlefish." And it about tastes just like that, like a dried fish/squid creature. Not so good. The last one is that can. That's "Tuna steak in brine" and is probably the worst tasting tuna I've ever eaten. While 'brine' is water, it is very salty water. In any case I won't eat more than one tuna steak a week for fear that the Thai maximum allowable mercury level is probably higher than ours.

Then last weekend while I was walking around this part of the city I stumbled upon a cafe. A cafe for tourists. Specifically, english-speaking tourists. I immediately ordered a cheeseburger and fries with an iced coffee!

I haven't touched those fries in that picture yet, by the way. The serving sizes are much smaller than I'm used to, but that's okay. Fries! Burger! Coffee! It was divinity made flesh. It cost a boatload (150 baht! = $4.50), but was totally worth it. Everyone tells me the food in Thailand is great, but I wasn't convinced it until I ate that cheeseburger. You can see the mayonasse dripping from it. I don't even like mayonasse, and that burger was delicious! I went back the next morning (sunday) for breakfast.

Oh yeah. Scrambled eggs, little hunks of bacon, toast, and fresh-squeezed orange juice! All for 110 baht (~$3.30). Again, that's very expensive but I was happy to pay it. I'd never had fresh-squeezed orange juice before either. I highly recommend it.

Besides that place though my options are pretty limited. There is one other restaurant I've found that I have no trouble communicating what I want to order.

Unfortunately I'm not really a donut guy, I mean, I had a couple, but its not a food you can really live well on. I'd like to point out a couple of things in the picture that make it invariably a Dunkin Donuts in Thailand. First, notice how the building is on the same level and street as the street. No sidewalks here, folks. Just road that runs right up to the buildings. Second, a boatload of motorcycles. Everyone rides motorcyles here, and rides them crazily. And third, the ubiquitous Thai stray dog sitting in the lower left-hand corner. The calling-card of any modern Thai city.

During my attempts to find food at various convienience shops (that all carry the exact same items -- there must be a small buisiness starter package or something for these stores), I found one of Tony's favorite snack foods, or so I assume, I just know he likes to talk about them all the time.

As for work. I'm putting together a laser-induced fluorescence detector for the lab here in Chiang Mai. Here's a picture of me and my labmate at a dinner last night at the PI's house.

You can tell which one's me by the guy that's trying to catch mosquitos in his mouth. That other guy is working with me on the detector and his name is Dom. Or as I like to call him, "Thailand Ted." Only this Ted doesn't argue with me all the time.

And for completeness, here's a picture of part of the system I'm working on. Science!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An Unpopular Opinion

Welp, this president's day my wife helped me celebrate properly, by watching the single greatest political commentary show in existence, the McLaughlin Group!

You may be aware that webcams are my link to America's popular culture, as my lovely wife and the good folks at chez Woods' are willing to set their webcam's up so I can watch things like the Superbowl with them. Well, Mary records our favorite PBS show and on Monday nights (her monday morning) we watch it!

I've come to appreciate one of the members of the McLaughlin group more and more over the years, and its a guy that, from what I've heard, I should dislike. However he's pretty funny for an old politician and his opinions on the show are spot-on usually. If there is some evil belief system to him they haven't broached the subject on the show.

Pat Buchanan! I know! How could I like him?! Well, I do. I wonder if he was demonized into the super-conservative jerk icon back when he was running for president, and that general opinion of him never wore off. If you think you hate Buchanan, you should go watch the McLaughlin group and after that tell me if you still hate him. You won't anymore. And you'll get mad at Elenor Cliff for interupting him all the time.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Outside my Monkeysphere

So I continue my quest to broaden my monkeysphere. Whats a monkeysphere, you ask? Its an unscientific term for the study of the primate neocortex that determines the total number of interpersonal relationships a primate can have. The scientific paper about it is here. A much easier to understand and hilarious summary of it is here.

Anyway, I've moved up north. I left Bangkok behind and now I'm in Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand which is nestled between mountains I can't pronounce, just southwest of beautiful Laos, and about 60% less smoggy, which is a bonus.

I'm working on another laser for Chiang Mai University up here, and I gotta say, the scenery is a lot more serene than the crowded Bangkok, though finding food has been a much more difficult chore as the english language is not nearly as prevalent here in stores and restaurants than it is in Bangkok. There are one type of service that provides a lot of english translation...

Internet gaming! (That girl totally caught me taking pictures of them playing WoW, luckly her shadow elven acrobat was in a pitched battle with a Trollkin orc barber so she couldn't call me out in front of everyone) They like the internet gaming here.

But like I said, finding food has been difficult. Whereas nearly everything in Bangkok has its english equivalent written under it in menus, here I haven't yet seen any place that caters to us farang. Well, that's not true, there is one area of town I walked by...

I think tonight I'll waltz in there and just say "Whiskey!" to the bartender, like I'm some sorta Wild Bill Hickock and see if I actually get whiskey, or if they just stare at me like every other place around here does when I say that.

I've been forced to live on convienience store food, which wouldn't be so bad except I don't have a microwave or anything, and the flavors of normally regular items around here are simply insane.

That's right. Grilled Lobster flavor potato chips. I tried them and sure enough, they taste like grilled lobster! Well, they taste like a molecule that fits in the same binding pockets in your tongue that grilled lobster occupies. That is to say, it tastes like grilled lobster, except they also taste like chips, and there's no doubt in your mind that you're eating fake lobster chips. I mean, after eating the whole bag, I just wanted to throw up.

The university is pretty cool though. Its built right into the Jungle around it.

That's the science building I work in ("Science Complex Building #2"). I did a little walking around campus and all the old paths are very nice (nobody uses them as EVERYONE owns a motorcycle or skooter and drives them with reckless abandon around the university. So the walking paths are nice and uncrowded.

They have a lot of the same civil engineering designs of Bangkok.

Shops immediately next to highway? Check.

Too many motorcycles and completely no regard for helmet safety? Triple Check.

Thats three ~86-lb girls speeding by me on a single motorcycle. I see that shit all the time.

And finally, random wild dogs just laying around everywhere? Check!

I gotta say though, I love these dogs. You can walk right between a group of them and they won't so much as look at you (no begging, no growling, no nuthin), and they survive just fine without our help. Contrast that with what we make our dogs do over in the states.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lost in Translation

Evidently the talking points weren't laid out carefully enough this morning.

Update: 10 hours later...

I'm so confused.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Meet the Berglund Lab -- Part 2

On Friday, the first Ph.D. was granted in the Berglund Lab. Dr. Steven Michael Garrey was honored at a reception afterward. His parents were good enough to fly in from Florida.

Refreshments, including this cupcake cornicopia, were served following the final defense. Steve and his girlfriend Julianne will be heading to British Columbia for post-docs. Congratulations!

Rainbows in the air

One of the advantages to living in a place where it rains a lot: rainbows.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tales from the Undermall

Off to the Bangkok mall!

I decided to go by myself, as I wanted to wander around and take pictures that nobody from Thailand who went with me would be interested in, so I asked Por to write the name of the mall (roughly pronounced "Central Lampao") and the name of my hotel on a piece of paper in Thai so I could just take a cab each way. In the cab I took to the mall the driver didn't speak any english at all so the cab ride was quick and quiet (showed him paper, he nods, go to mall). When I got to the mall, I saw that they were on the tail end of the week long "Thailand Impressive Car Festival #2."

The last thing Bangkok needs is more cars. But I wasn't there to see cars anyway, I was there to get a taste of Bangkok's unique commerce.

Well, I should've guessed they'd have beaten me here. You'll be happy to know that the outrageous prices of coffee at Starbucks in America is carried across the seas ("85 baht for a coffee? Are you shitting me?"). I did not buy a coffee at Starbucks because there were other places that were much cheaper.

I was getting hungry, and I didn't know what to get. Then I saw him...

Ronald! He was even doing the little bow that all Thai people do to thier respectful superiors. While I avoid McDonalds like the plague in the 'states, I had to know whether the experience was the same in Thailand. Also because McDonalds was the original food chain to develop the ingenious international "number ordering system," which means I could order my meal by just stupidly holding up my fingers corresponding to the relevant "meal deal." I looked over the menu and noticed that they offered much smaller meals than those in the U.S. I got the single cheeseburger meal. I probably should've gotten the samurai pork burger, but I wasn't in the mood for any surprises.

I tried the hot sauce. It was like a mixture of Taco Bell's fire sauce and oyster sauce. Not that great. And the fries and burger tasted the same as everywhere else. But still, at least it wasn't rice.

I also went into the various computer gaming stores (there were about 6) and grabbed a couple of titles (UFO:Aftermath and Vampire:Bloodlines) for 450 baht total ($13.50). I figure I'm going to northern Thailand next week and I probably won't have internet access as often so will need some extra games to last out the trip. Everywhere I went there were advertisments for World of Warcraft and Guild Wars.

Eventually I stumbled into one of the department stores and came across this while looking for shampoo...

'New shower cream with WHITENING lotion!' When I got back I asked Por what the hell that was all about and she explained to me that in Thailand people use whitening cream to lighten their skin. Its considered attractive to have lighter skin in thailand. I told her it was the exact opposite in the 'states (tanning lotion), and she couldn't believe it.

Now Bangkok is a really crowded city, and the building the mall was in was a pretty small building, so after I explored all four floors I thought "How can the main Bangkok mall be so tiny?" but then when I went down to the first floor I noticed another escalator going down, so I took it. Here is where I found the true mall that went on forever. A maze of twisting corridors that expanded in every direction, with a low ceiling with industrial-style pipes all along it. I present to you, the UNDERMALL!

The undermall went on forever (probably about four or five square city blocks). I got lost about five times. They had a million billion tiny shops, as well as multiple computer gaming areas where people played Counterstrike and any number of MMORPGs all day long.

They also had tons and tons of action figures for your avid gamer collector. Here's an unsettlingly large selection of WWF figures.

They didn't have any Firefly stuff, but they did have the big collectible gaming daddy of them all...

And yes the cards are in english. They also sold some unusual stuff in the undermall, including but not limited to, full US police SWAT outfits for all your B&E needs.

The vest on the mannaquin did not have the kevlar plates in it, though it had the pockets. I don't know whether you can buy the plates or not, but in any case, its pretty creepy. I'd prefer only SWAT people have those outfits as I wouldn't want to have to question whether or not its for real if I see someone roll through my yard in one of those.

Also the names of the english names of the stores were pretty straightforward. Here's one that probably sells cheap clothing that looks like brand name (or maybe its a french word).

Finally, I saw T-bag from Prison Break. Well, he looked a lot like him (but with no hair), stood and walked exactly like him, was alone just wandering through the mall the whole time I was there, and had a t-shirt on that said "Instructor." Now, you aren't going to find two white males walking around a Bangkok mall on a Saturday (it was full of high school kids) without one of them being a sexual predator, and since I know I'm not a sexual predator, that meant that this guy must've been one. I follwed him until I could take his picture without him knowing (I didn't want him going "T-bag" on me).

Its not a good picture, but I decided against pressing my luck and got nervous (after convincing myself it was T-bag), so I took off after I got it. I don't think I was followed.