This is page 3 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here:
It is our sixth wedding anniversary today. We don't have any special plans, but I won't be going to work so we can spend it together. It may well be that Ploy spends it asleep. I got back from Portugal at 10p.m. after a 24 hour journey without sleep. Compared with Ploy I looked sprightly as she had spent the day cleaning the house from top to bottom and then trimming the hedge which I found later had left her with a very large, beautifully coloured, bruise. Mind you I could beat her in that respect as one of my arms has a beauty as a lift door in the hotel tried to squeeze the life blood out of me when I was made defenceless by carrying all my SingMai stuff.
As it is Sunday perhaps I will cook a Sunday roast, we haven't had one for a long time. Ploy had also finished painting the workshop and the basement stairs, all the little touch ups leading to the basement and all the trim in the basement kitchen. No wonder she is tired.
It looks like I have my second SingMai order, from a prestigious German company.
Yesterday we went to see the movie, The Forbidden Kingdom. We didn't initially choose to see that, but we had spent the morning going around the Farmer's Market, had lunch at the all you can eat Japanese buffet, tried to sleep in the afternoon but couldn't, so leapt in the car to see what was on. It stars Jet Li and Jackie Chan and was a thoroughly enjoyable, laugh out loud, action adventure and I thoroughly recommend it. It is about time Jackie stopped that Rush Hour nonsense and went back to his roots and hopefully this movie will be successful enough to keep hmn on that track.
And lastly have a look at these amazing images from Titan; breathtaking to think where they have come from.
Brits Behaving Badly
I had woken at 5a.m. on the Friday, but I wasn't bothered by that as I thought it would help me sleep on the overnight flight. It nearly did, but the flight, (on a pre-war plane that in all likelihood was involved in the bombing of Coventry), started well but ended up with me getting no sleep at all.
I looked through the hotel information to see what restaurants it had. I had noticed the other side of the hotel was a marina lined with restaurants but decided they were for another day. However the hotel restaurants didn't open until 7.3op.m., an hour away, so I thought I would have a bath. Just after getting out the bath I got a phone call. A group of the AdCom members were going out for something to eat and would I join them. As I was new and I hadn't met any of them yet I reluctantly agreed, something few of them had agreed to it turned out.
Sunday was uneventful, the meeting was quite interesting and I found myself volunteering for a couple of things - well I suggested them so the actions naturally fell to me. Lunch and the dinner were courtesy of the AdCom and very good they were too, and I found myself warming to all of the members of the AdCom that I talked to; not just technical excellent but very personable people. A show had been booked but as it didn't start until 10.30 I just went to bed.
The next day was the start of the conference proper. A table was found for my SingMai stand and I laid out my leaflets and my little demo. I wasn't going to stay at the stand, people were always coming and going from meetings and talks so I just left my leaflets and business card there. The talks weren't that interesting to me that day so I decided to wander around the marina.
The shops around the marina were the usual touristy things with every second restaurant offering 'full English breakfast,, 'English pies' or 'live football'. How disappointing as I had hoped to try some of the local food, especially the fish. It sounds very snobby, but hearing the loud and mostly very fat English wander around while their kids demolished something made me ashamed. The last time I had been to a touristy place like this was probably Pattaya in Thailand, but as I was with Ploy we easily avoid the worst aspects of that place and in any case we stayed at the nearby town in Jomtien. Other holidays we have had in Penang, or in San Francisco didn't seem so bad, and Las Vegas, well you sort of expect the excesses that go on there. Here the tourism seemed out of context somehow, so much more artificial. The caricatures of the Monty Python men with handkerchiefs on their heads were everywhere to be seen. The loud, already drunk English yobs walking around, f-ing and blinding and making very audible lewd comments at any girl I hadn't seen for quite a while. My accent associated me with these dregs of mankind and I didn't want to be there.
I walked to the far side of the marina and through a boatyard. As soon as the marina finished the number of people dropped appreciably and the two ladies walking in front of me were actually talking Portuguese. A little way further on I came upon a wonderful beach which stretched for as far as the eye could see but which had no more than half a dozen people on it. I sat on a stone and watched the waves for nearly an hour. I had read a couple of the less blatant menus on my way around the marina and one in particular, right at the end of the inlet offered sardines so I walked back and took a seat at the table. My lunch was tuna salad and grilled sardines with boiled potatoes. It was a wonderful meal, the fish was so fresh and it was just what I hoped to find. I walked back around the marina noticing a number of restaurants were packed, unlike mine, but they were offering chips with everything; what a waste. I got back my hotel and dozed for a couple of hours in my room; I felt really relaxed.
In the evening I remembered reading of a Thai restaurant in the town so I asked the concierge where it was and wandered out. The menu didn't offer anything special, it was the usual Thai fare, but I went in anyway and had Tod man Pla, Thai fishcakes and Moo pad bai krapow, Pork with Thai basil. The food wasn't special but enjoyable, the Thai basil had been replaced with European basil which completely changes the taste of the meal but I guess that is being picky. I tried my Thai on the waiter but for some reason he insisted on speaking back to me in English even though he obviously understood me. I heard him tell the kitchen, which was the usual chattering chaos that constitutes a Thai kitchen, that I could speak Thai but until I left when he asked me why I could speak Thai everything was said to me in English. I had a glass of wine in the small bar that I had frequented on the early hours of Sunday and then went back to room, availed myself of the small bottle of port in the mini bar and watched some BBC TV. This was turning into a really nice and unexpected holiday.
Tuesday and Wednesday were more of the same as the number of talks that interested me was low. However I did get to meet again a Japanese professor I had met at the conference in Las Vegas. He remembered me as we had spoken for a quite a while at my poster presentation. I found out that he has asked for me to be part of the Technical Selection committee for the next conference which is in May 2009 in Kyoto. That is really exciting and I am already planning for it. I must take Ploy to Japan; she would love it, she loves the food and can speak some of the language. As I am sure the visa will not be straightforward I must find out what is involved.
Tuesday night I found myself in the same bar as above, David's bar. I should have gone to bed but in Mediterranean tradition I had dozed again in the afternoon and felt wide awake. The Portuguese owners talked about the area; apparently there are five gentleman clubs in the area, a euphemism for a strip joint and one of which was of course the place we frequented on my first night here. It really says everything about the area and I will be glad to go home.
Wednesday night I walked along the beach to the next village. As soon as I had walked out of Villamoura it was a different world. Still within sight of the casino and Black Jack nightclub I happened upon a line of cottages that wouldn't have been out of place in a slum area of Thailand. The contrast between the multi-million dollar yachts in the marina and that was remarkable. I walked along the beach road which was little more than a dust track and entered Quarteira. I was hoping to find a recommended fish restaurant, and chose to walk toward what I assumed to be the beach road thinking that would be its likeliest location. Just in front of the beach was a large fish market and opposite a line of small shops. I found the restaurant quickly enough and indeed it did look good but it didn't open until 7p.m. and now was just 5.30p.m. I walked along the beach but stopping wasn't an option as there was a brisk wind and I only had a T-shirt on. The shops were decidedly faded, most selling the usual touristy beach stuff. Grafitti marred everything, from the sea front statues to the closed shop shutters.
The restaurant was tiny, no more than five tables, and the kitchen was part of it. The fish was displayed in a small cooler. I chose prawns in garlic to start and sole for my main course with a tomato salad. The fish was huge, but sole is light so I thought I could manage it. The food was good but not special and the owner, who at first seemed somewhat sullen, perked up when some other customers arrived.
A night in Lisbon and then an early start on Friday for the flight home. Next year is Kyoto which will be a huge improvement. But then the conference returns to Europe and there is talk of it being in the UK. That will be one to avoid.
I fly to Portugal this afternoon for the ISCE conference and exhibition. It will be my first long (ish) haul flight for over a year and the last chance to use my Singapore air Gold card which expires at the end this month. The end of an era. I can't say I am particularly looking forward to this trip, it is a bit of tortuous journey to get there, but I expect once there the warmer weather and hopefully some interest in what SingMai has to offer will perk me up. I have lost my day off as my AdCom meeting runs all of Sunday, so I will only have the evenings to wander around. If my company accept my field trials proposals I will have to do some more trips to Europe in the coming months, trawling equipment around testing an new IC. I hope that doesn't happen.
Although we have only had one order to date and one serious enquiry, well perhaps two, I have decided when I get back to try to up the ante with SingMai. I got an e-mail to say that all our permanent residency papers are ready for submission and we just have to check and sign them. With luck we should get PR in about 10 months time, maybe quicker. That will make our stay in Canada much easier once we are not tied to work permits. We should also have paid off the car by this time, Ploy should have a stable job, the debts in the UK should be paid off, (the Singapore ones already are), and our outgoings should be limited to the mortgage and living expenses. If we really get to that situation then I want to go full time with SingMai. Of course if get no further orders I might modify that, and if something comes of the Thai businessman that may want to invest in SingMai it may happen earlier, but it is a plan. Things might become clearer depending on the response this coming week. I think I need to do this and probably should have done it before. The failure of my previous company is unfinished business, stupid mistakes when we had done all the hard work, had the products and customers; I just forgot why I was doing it in the first place. But not his time because this time is the last chance. The market is not the same this time, I know Ploy is concerned, she wants me to do this, but she is also aware how nice the regular, good, salary is. But when we are sitting on our small boat in some quaint harbour of Lake Huron, sipping a nice Sauvignon Blanc, we will know why we did this and be glad we took the risk.
It has been a long time since I reported on our house renovations and that is largely because there haven't been any. The long and severe winter, lack of money and getting SingMai up and running have pushed the renovations to the side, and the urgency had gone because all the rooms we needed were at least functional. But now spring is here so I have started tinkering with a few things but nothing too expensive yet. Ploy has started painting one of the basement rooms which is designated to be my SingMai workshop. I have tiled the side entrance which leads to the basement. And we are planning what to do with the rest of the rooms in the house that are, at the moment, untouched. The basement kitchen has been reorganized and I finished off the floor that was started a long, long time ago. There are lots of small jobs to be done, fitting light fittings, hanging pictures that we bought, fitting base boards. These are good for now as I am away for week at the exhibition/conference in Portugal, and then I have to go on some field trials which will involve quite a bit of travel. And who knows how much business I might get from the exhibition and the press releases.
I must admit I took enormous enjoyment from the debacle that was the opening of Heathrow's new Terminal 5. Whilst you almost expect it of a country like Thailand, it shows where the UK is in the world rankings. Singapore can seamlessly open its new Terminal without a hitch, Thailand's new Suwarnabhumi airport was such a farce they had to re-open the old airport, and in the UK, well it bore much more resemblance to Thailand than Singapore. It is fitting that only British Airways can use the terminal, they deserve each other. BA is the worst airline I have flown with, although American Airlines runs it close, but that was just a short trip. Like most things British it is the staff that let it down. All airlines experience delays at some time, it is how they deal with it that matters. In the case of BA the answer is they deal with it appallingly. A long time ago flights from Heathrow were delayed because of snow. It was very clear a lot of people were not going to fly that night. I was flying with SAS to Bangkok and they quickly decided to get us out of there into a hotel in London. Everything was clearly announced, the bus came, the hotel welcomed us and we were given free food. The next morning the bus came to take us back to the airport and we flew out that morning. As we arrived back at the terminal we were met by the BA passengers, curled up on whatever seating they could find, clutching their free food vouchers that entitled them to a burger. I was forced to fly with them a few times after that experience and each time there was a problem and each time they dealt with it badly. BA and Terminal 5 deserve each other.
An Impromptu Break
I had finally found the problem and pleased with myself I went to get a coffee. When I got back to my desk Ploy called to say some more parts for my new SingMai product had arrived so, as it was nearly lunchtime anyway, I drove home to pick them up. I then dropped Ploy at a shopping mall and went back to work but found it difficult to settle on what to do next. But then I thought, let's go for a break somewhere, just a couple of days.
I keep saying how tired we are, we should have the money from our first SingMai order soon, lets get away for a couple of days. I knew Ploy would not like the beach type, spa type, sit by the pool type holiday, so I booked this hotel in Toronto. Ploy likes the big cities, has never been to the Chinatown there and this hotel is supposed to be good. I called Ploy, picked her up, we went home and quickly packed a bag, and and hour and half later we were checking in at the hotel.
The hotel did not disappoint, a grand old building but what set it apart was the service which from beginning to last was quite exceptional, possibly the best I have had ever had. For a few dollars more I got a room on the executive floor with king size bed and our own lounge where we had an honours bar and where our own continental breakfast was served. It did feel nice to be pampered. The first night, after a bath and a sample of the free hor'dourves and wine in our lounge, we wandered around to find somewhere to eat. I had remembered a very good Mexican restaurant near on one of my two previous visits to Toronto, before Ploy arrived here so over a year ago now, and after quite a long wander along King street west, we decided to try it. The starters were fantastic, sashimi style tuna in lemon and I think a little soy, and I had crab in crispy tortillas. But the main courses were messed up, and by then we were too tired to enjoy them anyway so we left to walk back to the hotel. The restaurant were very good in apologising and gave us a big discount on our meal, so I still heartily recommend them, and if we hadn't been so tired it wouldn't have been a problem anyway.
The next day, after a very good continental breakfast we decided to walk to Chinatown, but first we decided we had to do the obligatory trip up the CN Tower. Mind you it was $42 for the two of us to spend 58 seconds going up 114 floors, we declined the further $18 to go the next 33 floors as things were small enough by then; we walked around the observation deck, I took a couple of photos of misty Toronto and Lake Ontario, Ploy went to use the Ladies, I read about some idiot that spent 7.5 hours lugging a piano up the 1760 stairs, we walked down one floor to see the glass floor, and we took the elevator 114 floors back down. There done that.
We then got a little lost walking out the wrong entrance but fairly quickly orientated ourselves and started walking up Spadina avenue. We must have gone in nearly shop up the left hand side of the road, from the little group of furriers, (I do not support fur per se, but if you are going to eat the thing anyway you might as well wear its coat), to the rather superb suede jackets that were made on the premises. Ploy tried to get me to buy one, but they were quite expensive so I we managed to leave by me promising to buy one for next winter. After wandering around, (if that is the right term for manouvering youself down the packed corridors of these little havens of chaos), the umpteenth Chinese hardware shop I persuaded Ploy to have lunch, as much to sit down as anything. We went in the first shop we saw, they were making dumplings in the window, and this unpretentious little shop proved quite a find. The shredded pork and vegetables in spicy garlic sauce was fantastic and very quickly devoured. Ploy bought some dumpling for our neighbours and we travelled on up Spadina.
The shops slowly became more dodgy looking, more graffiti and litter, more vandalism and we guessed this area might not be so good. We seemed to be moving out of Chinatown anyway, so we crossed the road and walked back down the other side. At Dunbar street Chinatown takes a dog leg so we walked along there for a bit and found a wonderful little hardware store. We left having bought a nifty steamer and a large Chinese vase and stand which we would pick up tomorrow on the way home. I crossed the road to dived into a second hand CD and album shop, yes real vinyl, and bought a Monserrat Caballe CD. I wanted to keep walking east back to the hotel but Ploy wanted to walk back to Spadina to see the rest of Chinatown. I gave in as the hotel was quite a walk away and I didn't want Ploy to get lost in Toronto.
I am glad she persuaded me as we came across a contemporary glass art gallery. The work was quite astonishing and we each wanted to take home several pieces. My favourite was called Eclipse and came in at the reasonable price of $23,000, just beyond what I had that day unfortunately, so we left muttering, one day, one day. We stopped for a hot chocolate on the way home and got back to the hotel seven hours after we left. We bathed, sampled the hor'dourves and wine again and went down to this hotel restaurant as we didn't want to get dressed up to go out again. The food was remarkable; a small menu, carefully chosen I think, we shared a starter of crab cake and rare Ahi tuna with an avocado mousse and for main I had dover sole and Ploy had another starter of quail and fois gras. Unfortunately we were too tired to try the desserts, even though a magnificent cheese manu beckoned, something you don't see much in Canada for some reason. Back to the lounge for a nightcap and a chat with one of the hostesses who gave up an assistant professorship to work in this hotel. The next day we drove home, via our Chinese vase shop and once home I checked my e-mails to find what seems certain to be our second SingMai order.
In the afternoon we went to the Kitchener Home and Garden show - it is so nice to shop for things for a house when you own it - and found the duct cleaners and the spray foam insulation people we had been looking for. It was a lovely couple of days break that allowed time to put things in order, to remind ourselves why we are working so hard. We should do this more often we said to each other, and this time we will.
I Have an Excuse
It is hard to believe it is over two weeks since I last wrote anything here. I have been working on finishing my first SingMai order which was sent out yesterday, together with the invoice. Of course there were some last minute problems but I must admit I did enjoy working the Easter weekend getting it ready, although I felt exhausted by Monday.
Needless to say I hadn't been sleeping that well again and it was probably not helped by my increased alcohol consumption. I was using the bottle of wine as an excuse to 'help me sleep' when in fact it probably did the opposite as I was always having to get up in the night for a pee and then not be able to get back to sleep again. So I promised myself I would cut out alcohol this week and the difficulty I am having with that shows how serious it had become.
What helped last night is I worked at home in the evening finishing off our permanent residency application, something I had successfully ignored for months now. But I have an envelope by the side of me ready for posting to the immigration lawyers and although I know there will be requests for more information it must be 80% done and I can put a line through one more thing on the list. Working in the evening stops me sitting through yet another CSI on TV and, as I say, stopped me looking for something else to do. I have my new printed circuit boards for my next SingMai product and I can work on them here, and of course I can always read those pile of never read books.
I also galvanised Ploy into finding out what was in her Thai bank account that we pay the Thai house from. A little search on the Internet by me for a telephone number, and a little bit of phoning around by Ploy and we got what we were after, confirmation that our last transfer from Canada arrived and how much it was, very close to the expected exchange rate, and the balance of her account which showed we had been sending too much for the past year or so and had built up a reserve such that we don't have to send anything more for five months. Another thing done and for once I am grateful for the lack security of Thai banks that allow anyone to call and enquire about someone's account.
Next month I am off to Portugal to attend the will I, won't I ISCE conference. I compromised by deciding to take some SingMai stuff and some leaflets but not try and show anything working so I don't have to figure out how to send or hand carry the equipment. But I do need to get some leaflets designed, but there is time for that.
Ploy, whilst waiting for her new work permit and visa, has been working on the house. Lots of little unfinished jobs have started to get finished and she has also been painting the basement bedroom, although I may decide to take that for myself and make it my workshop freeing up the large room for that pool table we fancy.
It was Ploy's birthday last Saturday, her real one, not the official date shown in her passport which we reserve for the obligatory 21 gun salute, and coincidentally we were invited round for a meal by our neighbours. I was slightly reluctant to go, as I always am at these things and especially as I had been working on my SingMai order all day, but I am glad we went, we had a nice time, I played with the dogs and Ploy almost beat our neighbour at pool, which is why I bothered to mention this as he has a rotating circular pool table that you can hide in a corner as you rotate the table to get the shot you want, quite nifty.
Spring has arrived of course, and for a few days it looked like it really had, but we still have lots of snow around, had another dusting the night before and are promised some wet snow today, as much as another 5cm. But the days are brighter and the birds are nest building. It feels like spring.
We had just been out for a nice meal. Ploy was watching Cinderella Man on TV and I was watching odd bits and bobs on You Tube. I started listening to Ivan Rebroff, 'the bass who could span 4 octaves', and one of the comments mentioned he had died, aged 76 years old. This great, great singer, who was mostly neglected in the US and UK, but who should have been recognised as one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century has passed away largely unnoticed. What hope of there is there for us with little talent. Skip through the short beginning of this clip to here him as the drunken monk. I will miss you Ivan, (and so will my Mum).
Talking about the Weather
The English are famous for always talking about the weather. In Singapore it was never a topic of conversation, each day the same save for the amount of rain, although this would only be a talking a point because of the tendency of taxis to go into hiding at this time. But in Canada the weather is also regularly brought into the conversation, not least of which is every day brings something new. In the summer we had temperatures above 30degC and even a tornado. And this winter has been remarkable, at least for me, although I even hear hardened Canadians talking in supermarket queues about the severity of this winter. Yesterday it snowed. It actually started Friday, eased off a little, and then snowed again. All day, and heavily, and then the winds got up to blow it around a bit. We had 40cms of snow so the weather network is telling me, and the storm is being described as a monster, and even more is forecast for later in the week. And all this snow fell on the mountains of snow we already had; Toronto is only 8cms away from breaking its all time record of 207cms of snow, set in 1937. Sometime today we will have to go and clear it, but for now just opening the door is a problem. As so often after a storm today is beautiful and sunny, albeit -11degC and colder with the wind chill. Even Ploy is talking about the weather and spent quite a lot of yesterday watching it out of the windows. I think I even detected a hint of excitement, but I think that is because she wasn't anticipating having to go outside today. I had better go and find those wellies.
I had an e-mail yesterday from the chairman of the AdCom committee I am now a member of. He suggested, politely, that, it would be a good thing if I was to attend the ISCE conference in Portugal in April because if you miss two meetings then you are removed from the committee which I had worked so hard to get on to. I talked to Ploy about it and we agreed I should go, especially if it means I could exhibit SingMai at the conference. So I booked my flights and my hotel and reserved a small stand at the exhibition. However I was then told that if I exhibit it would be seen as a conflict of interest for the AdCom and they would not pay for my travel costs. That makes sense actually but it was all booked by then so I am going ahead with it.
In any case I think it is a good thing to start promoting SingMai a little more and my first order should pay all the costs anyway. You have to speculate to accumulate, or something like that. So this weekend I am working on that very order, but working from home as yet another winter storm is in progress and in any case I only need my computer at the moment and not all the test equipment. So in a month's time I will be off to sunnier times and the conference gives me a certain dealine by which I have to finish everything. The good news is I am sleeping better so the work at the moment is just exciting.
Another piece of news is I have been sent my first accepted patent application for approval. This is actually from my previous company so there is no money involved but there is the prestige. After some twenty or so applications that have all been turned down for one reason or other, I might finally make my mark, albeit a very small one, on history.
What a Difference a Day Makes
I was in work on Saturday having woken at 4a.m. for the third day on the trot. I wanted to get a problem fixed on my new SingMai IP core that had been bugging me for a couple of days. Late in the afternoon I went home, having managed to repair all the things I had broken during the day but was still further back than where I was when I started. I was just too tired and I wasn't thinking straight. And that deadline to review the conference papers was ever looming, as was the delivery date for my first order, my work on the day job and umpteen other things around the house.
I cooked salmon for the evening, went to bed early and amazingly didn't wake until 6.30a.m. on Sunday. Sunday in Canada, at least where we live, is like Sundays used to be the UK about twenty years ago. A few shops are open, but not for long and if you avoid the malls you would think you had travelled back fifty years. People are out, visiting family, having lunch, walking their dogs, but generally speaking it is a quiet day and all the better for it. I had asked Ploy if she heard me leave early to go to work she was to kick me into a pulp so I would stay at home, something she willingly agreed to. So when I did get up I just went downstairs and read my e-mails at home. Ploy also got up early as we had gone to bed so early the night before, and made me a coffee. By nine I had reviewed all those papers and I started to organise the office a bit better; we needed to make room for a fax, something I thought was not necessary in these days of everything being on-line, but my first order was faxed to me and Ploy has also received some faxes at my work for our permanent residency application which I missed.
Pleased with my efforts I suggested we move into the second bedroom, something I have been meaning to do for about four months. Ploy, initially happy to see me work while she watched TV, got the bug and insisted on cleaning the floor first. An hour later and everything was moved. Ploy then started cleaning the rest of the floors in the house whilst I went out to clear our last batch of snow. We then had baths and surveyed our pristine home. This was the first time I can remember just sitting in our house for a long time. We went out and bought a fax and then had lunch at the Mandarin buffet. When we got back I went to have a nap, Ploy joined me a little later, waking me so I went downstairs and fiddled on my computer, clearing out all the rubbish, downloading some updates to my programs and de-fragmenting the disc. I updated the software on my car's GPS unit, and burned some music CDs for the car, in the process finding the rather neat CD cover print tool in i-Tunes.
And once Ploy woke we watched some TV and went to bed. And this morning I woke at 7.30a.m., refreshed and ready to sort that problem out. It is so difficult to stop the relentless routine of work when there is so much to do, but unless you do you start on a downward spiral where it is no longer fun anymore. After all I don't need to do SingMai, or put pressure on myself to keep working on the house, or take on these paper reviews; I did it because I wanted to, I volunteered. So I need to organise myself better so I also do some of the the other things I want to do and try to relax a little more. Sunday was a very good day.
Money! Money! Money!
There was a mistake with my last salary payment which meant I was paid by cheque rather than bank transfer, and the bank wanted to clear the cheque before allowing me to draw on it, which left us with almost no money for a couple of weeks. We did have a little left in the bank, and a little on our credit cards, but we tightened our belts, ate at home, didn't buy that bottle of wine or go to the movies and we spent almost nothing and didn't really notice the difference. And now the cheque has cleared, I have already received my next salary cheque, (by bank transfer), and I have received a retention bonus from when the new company bought the old one. So we have some money in the bank at last, but still debts.
I have never really had money, and by that I mean enough that you can be extravagant when you want to be and not have to worry about it at the end of the month. There is a meeting of the IEEE in Portugal, in April, and it coincides with a meeting of the AdCom committee of which I am now a member, (did I mention that?). I should go as we only have three face to face meetings a year, and in any case the conference looks interesting. I could use it to advertise SingMai at the small exhibition they have. My company would pay, and indeed I found out yesterday that the AdCom would pay. But my experience of these things is I am always out of pocket at the end of the day. Food, Taxis, drinks, it adds up and my receipts never match my outgoings when I file that expense report. I know that is probably my fault, I eat at good restaurants, too good for the expense claims procedure of any company I have worked for, who always think you should eat at Burger King I think. But there it is, that is what I mean. I should go, I could get my work done, it helps SingMai, but most importantly it would set us back on clearing our debts this year, so I have decided not to go. We don't have that luxury money, to choose to fly business class instead of economy, which is all the AdCom and my company will afford, to eat at that restaurant and know the partial compensation is fine. This is the year to set that straight. To clear the debts and get some money in the bank.
It means nothing major to be spent on the house, no holidays, or big ones anyway, it means eating at home more, less CDs and DVDs and books. And it means evenings in together whenever this winter ends, (another 10cms of snow is forecast today, and two days ago it was -27degC with the wind chill), sitting in our garden, maybe painting the odd basement wall, and working, earning money, saving it, paying off our debts. Today I send the last lump off to Singapore to pay our final bills there. And I have been able to put all the bonus into our savings account and still put food on the table. If SingMai keeps growing by the end of this year we might just be in that comfortable position to just get on a plane and fly wherever we want to for that impromptu break.
Sick and Tired
Sick again, this time with all the symptoms of food poisoning, although I have no idea where I got it from as Ploy and I have been eating the same things for a while, and she has been fine. But Ploy did point out I have working seven days a week for a while now, 16 hours a day, and when I get home I have been doing more work, even if it is just shovelling yet more snow; (it snowed all day again yesterday and today the temperatures are dropping fast to -21degC with the wind chill - will the winter never end?). So much to do, e-mails from the AdCom committee, papers to review for the ISCE conference - deadline looming - my day job of course with a visit from the new CEO next week who wants to meet me personally, which doesn't suit my low profile lifestyle at all, and I have my first order for SingMai with one month to deliver.
Ploy wants to go out and look for a job today even though her new passport, and hence work permit, are not here yet. She wants to earn some money so we can pay people to finish to the house leaving me to work on my day job and SingMai. In return I have suggested we make a real effort to always have Sunday off, especially if both of us are working. Off to work today even though I still feel I have been an extra in one of Bruce Lee's films, but these things won't do themselves, and to be honest the order is exciting, nearly one months salary. Eleven more of these and I could go full time, 132 more and we will be millionaires. Time to brave the cold.
Paper Pushers and Ottawa
Ploy should have her new passport in 3-4 weeks after our two day trip to the Thai embassy in Ottawa. When I renewed my UK passport in Singapore it was a straightforward process; I turned up unannounced at the British embassy, handed over the form, some money, a couple of photos and my old passport and a couple of days later I got my nice new shiny 10 year passport. Being Thai the procedure is somewhat different.
We had already called three times, the first time Ploy called to ask what documents were needed and we were told she needed her Tambien Bahn which we had to get copied and faxed across from Thailand. This is a document that shows your house ownership. I asked Ploy what would happen if she didn't have a house there; she just shrugged. The second time we phoned Ploy had to hand the phone to me as a rather pedantic Canadian woman told me loudly the lady we had to speak to wasn't there and we had to make an appointment. We were planning to travel that weekend so we postponed our trip and waited to call the following week. This time Ploy spoke to another Thai lady, she made the appointment and we planned the trip. When we got to the embassy, beautifully situated on the outskirts of Ottawa - I always wonder about the value that is in the Thai embassies abroad, the one in Singapore takes up a huge area of prime estate on Orchard Road and must be worth millions of dollars - we were met by the pedantic woman who immediately told me to move my car from where it was parked. We then waited for our appointment at ten. It was 9.30 and we were the only ones there. Background chatter in Thai was of cooking chicken and getting haircuts but we still had to wait for our appointment time. Incidentally the pedantic receptionist didn't appear to be able to speak Thai which is not very helpful for any Thai people who might have an emergency.
Ploy was finally invited in by a very po-faced woman at a tardy 10.10. I didn't follow her, I didn't get that warm welcoming look, but then neither did Ploy. Of course why she needed to 'go inside' I have no idea, her application papers were filled in, in duplicate for some reason. In any case Ploy told me the woman then just asked her all the same questions that were on the form and typed them directly into a computer. She then copied everything that we had already copied, took Ploy's photographs, and then, in a coup de grace, asked Ploy for two contact telephone numbers in Thailand that she could call to verify who she was. Ploy panicked, she has a couple of friends she calls, but doesn't know their real names or address. Luckily she had a business card from the couple who look after our house, just luck as she doesn't normally have it with her. He was in the Thai army which seemed to impress and she didn't push for another contact. Why would you need that? If Ploy didn't have anyone would they refuse her passport! This really was nonsense when you can buy any document you want in Thailand, from passports to fake degrees to ID cards, for just a few thousand baht. But then that is the problem isn't it, but rather than sort the problem out at source they pick the easy targets abroad.
This all took forty or minutes or so and now we have to wait the 3-4 weeks, but at least it is done and we probably won't need to do this again for another ten years as the new e-passport is valid for twice as long as the old passports; at least I think it is. Ploy said she would like Daeng Mo to work at an embassy. For God's sake why, I cried, do you want to turn our free thinking, bright, happy daughter into a pen-pushing grey automaton. Maybe in Thailand there is this respect for petty bureaucrats, but in the West I am glad to say there is a healthy disrespect for these people, or at least the some of them who act like little Hitlers, something that is compulsory in Thailand. Anyway it is done now, and then we just have to reapply for Ploy's visa and work permit, which is another $1000.
The trip itself was good. It is about 550km to Ottawa from our house and luckily the, (yet another), winter storm had passed by the time we left; we actually had more snow on the return. Ottawa itself seemed a really nice city. We stayed at this hotel which was clean and, although we used my air miles to pay for room, it was, I think, a very reasonable $140 for a suite with separate seating area and a king size bed. It also had a jacuzzi in the bath which we played with for a while. The hotel also had a very small continental breakfast included in the price, the first time I can remember not paying extra for breakfast in a long time, but it had no restaurant. I had planned anyway to go to this fish restaurant for dinner which I had found on the Internet and seemed to have a very inviting menu.
Ploy wanted to go out after we arrived, so, on the advice of the receptionist, we walked down to Elgin Street which was lined with restaurants and bars. At the bottom of the street was a small park which had ice sculptures in it. It wasn't too cold, so we walked around and the city has some wonderful old buildings in it. We bought a print from a souvenir shop, and then slowly strolled back to the hotel. We were told it was a forty minute walk to the restaurant, as it turned out we walked quite close to it, but it was getting colder by then so we took the car. Unfortunately the meal was disappointing. I think it is a case of more is less. The list of fresh fish was very long and in hindsight, given the number of people eating, how could all this fish be that fresh without huge wastage. Ploy ordered mussels but the sauce tasted of nothing. I had crab cakes that were OK and probably the best thing that evening. Things hadn't started well anyway as the bread was cold and the butter came in those little plastic containers, not even pretending to be real. We both ordered tuna for the main course, but different styles, but as soon as it arrived Ploy thrust a piece at me muttering 'mai sot' or not fresh. And it was true that it smelt just at the point where you were not sure. Ploy ordered her tuna rare which is probably why she noticed it more. I had mine cooked a little more and done with a cajun style sauce which probably masked the smell more. Some uninspired vegetables and fries and rice finished it off. A disappointment not helped by the hefty bill.
The next day after we finished with the embassy we drove straight home. The weather took a turn for the worse with some white-out conditions east of Toronto, and with Ploy asleep anyway, I just drove straight home. We stopped at Red Lobster to save finding something to eat and what a difference in the quality of the food. I have said before I almost feel guilty that a chain restaurant consistently out performs any other fish restaurants, and most other restaurants of any style, but it does. The mussels tasted of something, Ploy had a delicious looking lobster pizza, I had simple grilled fish that smelt and tasted fresh. The wine was better, the service exemplary and the bill two thirds of of the night before. Never mind, if you don't try you don't know, as Ploy said.
When I got home I checked my e-mails, but all was quiet, Monday was a holiday anyway, but I did have an e-mail inviting me to the Administrative committee of the IEEE Consumer Electronics society. I had come sixth in the poll of ten apparently, (and only just), and there were five elected, but one had to drop out so I had my invitation. So now get to be a little po-faced pedantic Hitler. Which is nice.
This weekend coming is a long weekend; Monday is Family Day, God knows what that is but I'll gratefully take it. I had decided to take the three days off; I have been working on SingMai every weekend recently so I thought I would spend this time doing a few things around the house, and relaxing. However yesterday I received an e-mail inviting me to a technical reviewer for a forthcoming IEEE conference which I accepted straight away. The conference is in Portugal, but I can review everything on-line and I don't need to attend. Anyway I had a look at the conference website and saw they had an associated exhibition. What a perfect chance I thought, to show SingMai's new products. Ah, but wait. First it is only two months away. Then there is the cost of the exhibition, hotels, flights etc., just at a time when we had promised ourselves to get rid of our debts. I quickly calculated it would probably cost about $5000 to go, not a lot in the scheme of things, one order would compensate that, but it is just money in the wrong direction. That long weekend off would immediately be gone as I prepare everything. Paying off those Singapore debts would be postponed for a few months as I have to clear all my Canadian credit cards to pay for the trip. In other words everything would be turned on its head. But it is an opportunity. Last night Ploy said I should go for it. This morning I am unsure again. I have to decide soon otherwise I won't have time to get everything ready. Decisions, decisions!
The Lottery and Mathematics
I left school at sixteen, started work and was put on a day release scheme at college which would eventually lead to an Ordinary National Certificate in Science. I remember the first mathematics class now when the teacher asked, 'How many of you studied 'Modern Mathematics'. I think four or five of us put our hands up. 'Well', he went on, 'you are going to find this difficult as you have a lot of catching up to do'. I was probably thirteen when my form at secondary school was singled out for the experiment of Modern Maths. At the time I was good at maths, maybe even very good. I used to spend evenings with my Dad doing maths problems that he set me and I devoured books like Lancelot Hogben's, Mathematics for the Million, (Hogben was also born in Portsmouth, as I was). I enjoyed maths and could already integrate and differentiate simple stuff at that age.
We had a great maths teacher at school, who we called Eglob, which was his name, Bolge, backwards. He came to see my parents and I proudly showed him what I could already do, years ahead of the class. And then came the Modern Maths, which seemed to baffle Eglob as much as it did me. I remember some exams where the top mark in the class was less than 20%. As usual some so called academic disadvantages the brightest, (and I know it sounds arrogant, but I was bright), in a futile attempt to teach the great unwashed.
I never recovered, I found this whole matrix arithmetic, set theory thing pointless and irrelevant, and in those years anything I saw pointless and irrelevant, like languages or history or geography, I ignored. I got my 'O' level but I found the college maths very difficult to understand, with basic stuff like simultaneous equations a complete black art for me. My teacher was sympathetic and slowly I acquired the necessary skills. When I started my Higher National Certificate in Physics I met my second great maths teacher. I took to him straight away and my maths surged forward, Laplace and partial differentiation was a breeze, even fun. I considered changing to an HNC in Maths, but my employer wouldn't sponsor that. I did change to an HNC in Electronics and it was all set back again. Maths for electronics is more applied than for Physics and I enjoyed doing pure maths for the sake of it. Slowly I lost my skills and once I stopped college I hardly ever used anything more than the basics. Now my maths is poor and I envy those who use maths to solve arbitrary problems. I have a year off from the Open University this year, but next year I want to go back and re-learn the maths again; it will be fun.
So I was slightly lambasting Ploy the other night for her increased spending on the lottery. Whilst Ploy seems to understand that you cannot beat the casinos, the mathematics of our chances of winning the lottery elude her. She told me of a friend of a friend that 'nearly' won the lottery in Thailand, she was just one number away. I tried to explain that whilst it may look closer, it is as far away as if he had no numbers, he didn't win anything. Someone has to win, she said. Yes I said, but it won't be us. By all means spend a couple of dollars a week, but to spend fifteen dollars as she had just done to increase her chances of winning relatively small amounts is pointless. I said it is better to pay for a ticket to the movies, buy a DVD or have a meal out. How would you feel if you went to a restaurant but they refused to serve you anything, but you had to pay anyway. And this happened every time you went, for years, until one day we are allowed a starter. But luckily it doesn't happen like that, (although I wish it had at a couple of restaurants), generally we get what we pay for. I tried to explain to Ploy the chances of winning and compared it to Black Jack where you only have to do better than the dealer, not match exactly what he has. I showed her this article, but it didn't help, although she has agreed to curb her weekly spending. But unfortunately Thailand has a aura about the lottery with all sorts of hearsay about people who have won huge sums of money, but still, for some altruistic reason no doubt, ride clapped out motorcycles and live in minute apartments. Thailand is full of monks that live on handouts but accurately predict winning numbers for you, although they never seem the numbers that win the top prize. I have never met anyone who has won anything substantial on the lottery. The odds are so stacked against you; getting five numbers right wins you two weeks of my salary. If we are ever to make a million it will be through SingMai or embezzlement, but it will not be through the lottery. So I am left now hoping each week we don't win as I will never hear the end of it.
Proof of the pudding
I worked all weekend to finish it and sent the press releases off on Sunday. The excitement of getting it finished and seeing it work so well is now replaced with apprehension. With my first product I always had an excuse, in some ways it was redundant until the later products were designed; by itself it had limited appeal. But now I am exposed as this is a key product and if I don't get sales from this I don't have anywhere else to hide. So fingers crossed and everything else crossed. I do still have the interest from the French company so I may be worrying unnecessarily, but I always seem to need something to worry about.
I woke up at three this morning and was in work by six having failed dismally to get back to sleep. It was the usual problem, the brain not switching off; everything from fitting the bathroom door to the interpolation filter on my new product, everything came in for a thorough examination. And all the while Ploy slept soundly by the side of me. How does she do it? I left work early yesterday feeling guilty I had been neglecting Ploy whilst I was working on my design. So we went to the movies and despite a poor review, (I don't know why I bother to read those things, the movie was good), we went to see The Bucket List. After the movie I took Ploy to our favourite steak house. I asked her, what would you put on your final to-do list if you knew you were going to die and had enough money to do what ever you wanted. Ploy just shrugged her shoulders and with little thought said, "I'd take my husband and travel the world'. What about the skydiving or driving some amazing car. After much prompting she agreed that my idea to go to Las Vegas and spend some real money in the casinos would be fun, and then she added she would like to go and see all the shows she wanted to see as many times as possible. In the meantime I am thinking of going to view the Titanic or going into space. And that is why she is asleep when I am awake. It is not that Ploy is superficial, it just that these questions don't need answering because the situation is not real and now. Whereas I have to produce a 'proper' list, which is pointless because I am not a billionaire as Jack Nicholson's character was so I couldn't do those things anyway. So why think about it? Or more to the point, why stay awake thinking about these things? When I worry about whether my new product will sell Ploy just answers, of course it will, my husband is clever. And if it doesn't sell, well Ploy doesn't consider that, but should the worst happen, for Ploy we will just do something else. And she is right, we will, and worrying about it won't help anything, except make me knackered by lunchtime.
When we came out from the cinema we ran as fast as we could to the car such that we didn't fall on the ice, and sat waiting for our heated seats to warm our frozen behinds. It was then I noticed ice, on the inside of the windows. The temperature gauge showed it was -15degC and there was a strong wind. It is colder this morning and with the wind chill it feels like -30degC, apparently enough to give you frostbite in 6-10 minutes. Hardly a day goes by without there being more snow. This seems a long, long winter and there is no sign of it ending soon.
We caught the back end of this movie last night, notable not for its quality, although it was harmless fun, but the stars who chose to appear in it, such as Peter Falk, who is always worth watching. It also featured Mandy Patinkin who seems to have made a number of this style of movies when he was younger, thereby totally bypassing his greatest asset, as the clip on the left shows.
House and our Cable TV provider
I got a telephone call at 9p.m.; we had just got back from having a meal out. It was my cable TV provider who wanted to inform me that my 'special offer' period was about to expire. He started quoted numbers at me. I tried to stop him; 'I understand, my 'special offer' is about to end, so how much more will I be paying?'
'That is what I am trying to tell you', replied the pre-pubescent youth. 'Currently you pay $23.34 plus $2.48GST for the basic TV package plus $34.79 plus $4.67GST for the VIP package, and then...'
'No, No, I just want to know how much extra I will be paying, I don't want the breakdown'. He was starting to sound annoyed.
'Currently you are paying $23.34....'. 'I'm sorry, but it is very simple, what do I pay now, for everything, including GST'.
'Currently you pay $23....'
'No, everything, added up'.
'No! I just want to know how much extra I will be paying, no breakdown, I don't care what the breakdown is. I just want to know how much extra I will be paying, one number, that is all'.
That is it, TV, Internet, home phone, mobile phone?'
'Yes, you currently pay $23....'
'OK, that's fine, I'll pay it'. Silence.
'You have a mobile phone?' 'Yes, with you'.
'If you bundle the mobile phone with your other services you get a 15% discount; do you want to do that?'
'Why would I not want to do that?'
'Ok, I'll do that for you right away, I just need to ask you a couple of security questions. Is your address Basement apartment, 212...?'
'Yes, except we live in all the house, not just the basement apartment'.
'I have it that you live in the basement apartment'.
'We have a basement apartment but I assure you we have bought the whole house'.
'This is not what I have here'.
'Forget it, basement apartment it is'.
The formalities were done even though it meant we now had to move everything down to the basement.
'Is there anything else I can do for you?'
Against my better judgement I asked a question. 'Why doesn't my VIP cable TV package include the MYST channel'. We had been talking about it that very night because we both like House and that is the only channel with it on. Why doesn't the VIP package include all the basic channels.
'Channel 276 is part of the Classic package; I can offer you that for $4.99/month extra, with 2 months free'.
'But why isn't it part of the VIP package, VIP by definition implies something over and above does it not?'
'Channel 276 is part of the Classic package which also includes....' He recited loads of other channels it had never occurred to me to watch and bear no relation to the MYST channel, short for Mystery although there is nothing mysterious about most of its offerings. I gave in and accepted the offer, we have seen most, if not all of CSI now so we are running out of TV programs to watch. At least House gives us another option and maybe there is something else in our new package we didn't know we wanted. Then came the conditions, two year contract, penalties for early cessation of the deal. I was weary and I gave in.
The fact it was all by telephone late at night - for us anyway - didn't help. Given more time I should have reviewed the whole thing. I have a mobile phone service that doesn't offer call display, ($6/month extra), or free SMS messaging or any of the basic services I had in Singapore. Everything is more money. For the exorbitant amount I pay for cable TV I get no sport or movies, that is more, a lot more. I wish I had the nerve to tell them to stuff it, but these long winter evenings pass slowly without the odd old movie to watch- peppered incessantly as it is with adverts, most movies end up being twice their normal run length, and that is after the juicy bits are edited out. The only service that appears to work without hassle is the Internet, reasonably fast, works most of the time, but still not a patch on the Singapore service, and it is not cheap. So last night, after Ploy had cooked a nice meal, we sat down to watch TV, and MYST had no House, but it did offer a trashy program on Love Lives. I went to bed.
I do Love it When a Plan Comes Together
I have just put my latest product onto the SingMai website. I have great hopes for this one and already have one interested potential customer in France. A little more tweaking and I should be able to press release it next week. Planning wise things are starting to come together. SingMai and my day job are taking up all of my time and Ploy and I have agreed that it is best that we concentrate on these for this year. And getting rid of debts, especially as we have already made a start on that. So we have decided that, if possible, we will complete the main part of the house this year and leave the basement until next year. So the plans are becoming more concrete: for this year first priorities are to clear the debts, pay off the car, finish what we can on the main part of the house and kick start SingMai. Then next year it is to pay off the house in Thailand, return to Thailand to do whatever repairs the house there needs, build on SingMai and finish the basement of the house off and rent it out. I do love it when a plan comes together, or more precisely, when I have plans that are achievable and make sense. Having something to aim for with no loose ends helps me sleep better at night, even if it means long hours to get the work done.
Where does it all Go?
I am feeling pleased with myself as I was able to pay off one one of the Singapore credit cards today. Hopefully the other one will get paid off next month. But it begs the question, where does all my salary go? If I count all my fixed outgoings, mortgage, car loan, electric, that sort of thing, I should have over half my salary left at the end of the month, but I don't seem to have, that salary check is always gratefully received. Yet this month, with the same level of outgoings as normal, I was able to send $2,500 to Singapore. Where would that money have normally gone? Every three months I send money to pay our house in Thailand, and every two months I send money to pay a loan in the UK, for those lovely lifetime guarantee double glazed windows that we enjoyed for about three months before moving to Singapore; how I would like them here in Canada. But that loan will be paid off in November this year and if I get the credit card paid off then the house in Thailand will be the only outgoing left. There is probably not a lot left to be paid but Internet banking doesn't seem to exist in Thailand and it seems impossible to find out what is left without being there in person, so we keep sending money into a black hole, the one certain thing being it leaves my Canada account, and we hope that it arrives safely in Ploy's Thai bank account and that the people take the money out her account properly. But I guess that it these monthly transfers that eat up the salary: if we can get them paid off then every month I should have some money left in my account instead of living from hand to mouth all the time. Oh, and there is the car as well which needs to have the balance of the lease paid off in November as well. That is over half the value of the car so it is quite a lump sum but if we can find that money then the car will be all ours and it means we will reduce our monthly outgoings substantially, leaving even more in the bank. Then that will be the time to start paying off the mortgage. Or to buy that lakeside house or the boat!
Marcus pointed out this article which appears to suggest a worldwide peaking in the incidence of depression during your mid forties. My first wife suffered from depression, to the extent that she was prescribed Prozac. I certainly was the worst person to have around at that time and it probably is what exacerbated our separation; I just don't understand the condition, especially when I see little to be depressed about. Even after we separated and I found myself renting a room in a small house owned by a couple young enough to my children and with nearly all my possessions lost to my wife, I still viewed it a new beginning. And so it proved to be as my company soon offered me the chance to travel to the Far East, I met Ploy, and the rest, as they say, is history. They key, I believe, is to set targets, attainable ones. The big one this year is to get our debts in order and reduce them to just the mortgage. It look like that target was already slipping but by pulling our belt in a little I have been able to send a reasonable lump of money to Singapore to pay off some old credit card bills. One more lump sent and they will be gone and it feels good to have done it; they have been there since we left Singapore and I have just been paying off barely enough to cover the charges.
The other target is longer term, but I must get out of my salaried position. The best times I have had at work was when I had my own company. The thrill of getting orders for products that you have designed and made, that your peers recognise, there is nothing like it. And it is small things, or not such small things. Those first trips to the Far East were business class and we stayed at good hotels; it felt that the company appreciated your work, and work it was, very long hours, the pressure of representing your company in front of high profile customers. But later the business travel was stopped, the hotels were down-graded and then we were limited to budget carriers. There is nothing like the feeling of queuing with the tourist class and watching the businessmen swan past you for their fresh orange juices, their wide seats and their laptop power points, especially when you were once one of them. It is not that these companies were start-ups, they made billions of dollars profit every year; it was indicative of the worth they put in their employees. Of course business travel costs several times economy and as a growing company you may choose to spend the money on new equipment instead of expensive hotels and flights. But that is the point, the choice is yours, you can reward yourself as you see fit, give yourself the resources that you need without having to justify them to some cretinous bunch of managers whose only objective often seems to make your job as difficult as possible. Not being answerable to others is the best thing about having your own business. Whilst you cannot just do what you want, you do have to sell after all so customers do have a say, in my experience, if your ideas are good and original, then what you want to do and what your customers want, will be one and the same. And the satisfaction of working on what you believe in, what interests you, is immense. So that is what the long term goal must be, to get SingMai going and stop thinking of it as an opportunity that might just happen; it must be more real than that, targets must be set and I have to look to get out of the comfort zone of that twice monthly salary.
How Time Flies
A month has already gone and hardly a single one of our plans have been executed. The week in Las Vegas and then this persistent cold has wiped out January. Today is my first full day back at work. I had planned to drive to the Thai embassy in Ottawa today to renew Ploy's passport, but Thai bureaucracy has put paid to that as it appears we need, in addition to the application forms, her old passport and her Thai ID card, the house document, called a tabien barn, which is in Thailand. A copy will do, but it still means Ploy has to get someone to fax it to us which is not so straightforward as it might appear. So we have had to postpone the trip for now, probably no bad thing as another winter storm warning has just been put out. Until we get Ploy's passport renewed we can't renew her work permit so we have also had to put on hold getting her a job. It also doesn't feel as if I have done anything for SingMai either. I had been looking at the possibility of selling some valve amplifiers that I saw at the CES show but it would mean borrowing money just when we had promised ourselves to try and put our finances back on track, and indeed, we have managed to put a little money into our savings account this month. So that idea will have to be put on hold for a little while. Better would be to get the basement finished and rented out so we can get some income from that.
Who Wants to Live Forever?
The cold finally got us. On Tuesday I had to stay home and by Thursday both of us made a sorry sight, huddled under blankets in front of the fire hugging our cups of hot lemon, the only sound our laboured breathing punctured by painful coughing attacks. Today is the first day I am beginning to feel the worst is over but I am not sure if I'll be able to get to work tomorrow. We keep teasing each other over thoughts of spending a couple of weeks by the side of the Singapore Marriott hotel's swimming pool languishing in the 30degC temperatures, but we don't have the money to do that. In any case I am well behind with both work and my SingMai stuff and have not hit a nail in anger for over a month now. But first I have to shovel the snow off our paths, and it is snowing again now, albeit only lightly and is a relatively mild -6degC; it is still not a tempting prospect. Just going down the stairs to make a drink requires an Olympian effort at the moment. A Canadian winter is not the time to get sick, you have to be at your best to get through it. On the plus side I have so far lost over 3kg. We dragged ourselves out last night to our local pub, we didn't feel like doing anything and thought we might fancy eating something more if we didn't have to prepare it. A sign of my current state is I couldn't even finish my Guinness, or my Cobb salad for that matter.
So this article from the Independent highlighting a doctor's experiments to lengthen the life of a yeast organism came at the wrong time. Ask me any other time and my answer to whether I would want to live to 125 years, or 800 years, as is suggested may be possible, and my answer would be an unequivocal, YES! The chance to see the future, even to a cynic like me who believes mankind is going down the drain, has to be taken. But if you ask me this week I would have to think about it; for someone who has never had anything really wrong with them, never had to go to hospital except to visit friends or family, hasn't been to a doctor for over two years, this week is a timely reminder that living forever requires one very important codicile, that it should be pain free. Living forever should mean just that, living, which requires some mobility, some use of your senses and an ability to enjoy your life. But don't ask me this week anyway, not at least until I have shovelled that snow.
The City of Yakutsk
The weather here has turned chilly for the last few days. Temperatures have been dropping to -15degC regularly, which is down to -25degC if you take the wind chill into account. Today it is a balmy -10degC. Ploy has caught a bad cold and is recovering in bed, suitably dosed up with hot lemon and paracetemol. I have taken the effort to put the car in the garage every night to avoid scraping the ice off in the morning. The house is warm however and the fireplace is a godsend and most of the time there is no need to brave the cold.
It was interesting therefore to read of this town in Siberia where temperatures regularly reach -50degC. This is no small outpost, 200,000 people live there. The town life reminds me of when I was working, (briefly), in the north of Sweden, temperatures there were -40degC but the lack of wind meant it didn't seem so cold. I had been prepared for these low temperatures by my first job when I did environmental testing of marine radar. It was required that we enter the chamber and check the operation of the radar, in temperatures of -40degC and +55degC, (dry heat). It took about an hour to run through all the tests. So Sweden didn't seem so cold, you could adapt to it. What I found more difficult to cope with was the food and especially the lack of fresh food. I did get a taste for reindeer meat, our local supermarket doesn't offer it here, but that aside I found the food boring, very salty and monotonous although not as extreme as it appears to be in Yakutsk.
I see from the newspaper article that some 'academics' argue the inefficiency of such cities. One might ask why anyone would wish to live in such extreme conditions aside from the 'need' to mine the mineral rich area, which in any case does not require a city of this size to support. But given the choice between Yakutsk and Birmingham in the UK or Buffalo in the US, I think the choice is easy. After all, just a year ago we living in temperatures of over +30degC but now we wander around on days when the temperature is around zero thinking what a balmy day it is; you do get used to it. I think I would want to build a hothouse to grow some vegetables, but it seems living in Yakutsk would bring a sense a freedom and adventure that is absent from the homogenised cities of most of the rest of the world. It is so difficult to know where you are anymore, the same shops selling the same produce, a Tesco supermarket in the UK is the same as a Tesco Lotus supermarket in Thailand. Globalisation has suppressed the individual nature of cities, detrimentally in my opinion.
A Week in Las Vegas
We have just returned from Las Vegas and it is good to be home. Las Vegas is hardly a place to have a relaxed holiday, but we both feel totally knackered without having done anything extreme, that I can remember. The hotel was fine, much better than our previous one which has now been demolished, but Vegas seemed so much busier at this end of the Strip. We did get to see Phantom of the Opera, (and it was a fantastic performance), and we also got to see David Copperfield, and that was also quite something. We had some nice meals, particularly here and here. But otherwise it was work for me, a bit of shopping for Ploy and that was about it. On at least one occasion we retired to our hotel room to watch TV before ten, on at least one of those occasions I instantly fell asleep.
We also noticed that the service wasn't quite what we remembered and we also witnessed our first near fight in our hotel bar, (security intervened and arrested the girl who looked like she was about to draw a knife; she has been going around the tables picking up the tips people had left and finishing their drinks whilst they were up dancing). Another of things we did notice this time was the cigarette smoke. The ban on smoking in public places means all the smokers concentrate in the casinos which strangely are not deemed public spaces. The smoking ban also doesn't seem to apply to any of the bars that border the casinos or any of the walkways in the hotels that host the casinos. It seemed at times that almost everyone was smoking and it made being there, for us at least, a really unpleasant experience, bad enough to cause coughing and making our eyes water. Ploy's plans to bankrupt Vegas in three card poker were thus thwarted.
The CES show was also too busy by far, although the last day when I showed Ploy around was better. When I went I gave up after a couple of hours thereby saving myself the dishonour of being thrown out of the show for severing someone's scrotum as yet another person unapologetically barges into me or pushes me out of the way. The conference however was good although tiring and my own presentation seemed to go well. I also made a couple of useful contacts for SingMai as well as finding an interesting Taiwan company who are looking for OEM dealers. Watch this space. So now it is back to work whilst we start to execute our plans for 2008. And to pay off those large credit card bills, (we also noticed Vegas seemed expensive this year). But I am sure we will be back next year.
The Year of the Grouch
We may have our first order for SingMai. I got a telephone call from a potential customer on Friday afternoon and after a lengthy discussion the order just seemed a formality. Even if nothing comes from it the satisfying thing is the customer found us via Google because of our press releases and said he could find nothing similar. So even if this order comes to nothing it seems just a matter of time before we get another enquiry.
I have been a bit tetchy this New Year. I think it is trying to do too many things again. But I have finished my presentation for the Las Vegas conference which was one of those jobs I kept putting off, you can find a copy of it here should you be interested, but be warned, it is 12MB in size, (Powerpoint). Talking of the conference, the CES show that precedes it kicks off tonight, (I only attend the last couple of days, it is too much for me otherwise). The hype has started with articles on the BBC website and newspapers around the world. What I find interesting are the predictions that are made for the future technology; an example is this article. Disappointingly there is nothing new here. Why the foremost figure in the industry, Bill Gates, with an R&D budget greater than the GDP of most countries can't predict some awe-inspring future technology is beyond me; after all he is the one in a position to make it happen. But then Microsoft was always the follower. They probably have enough money to put someone on Mars but instead choose to make a talking car, something I think the Austin Maestro did twenty five years ago.
Why anyone would want a 102inch LCD TV in their home is beyond me. It is technology for the sake of it in my opinion. One word that isn't mentioned is quality. Why would anyone spend thousands on dollars to receive a heavily compressed, so called, high definition program, when a well set up analogue, standard definition broadcast, can out perform it. I remember the early days on HDTV when flat panels were in the future. The definition was astonishing, you really could see every face in the crowd of thousands at a sports event. What happened to that? Of course I know the answer to that, the consumer is duped into thinking that this is all that can be expected from HD, they don't have the comparison anyway, and then the lazy broadcaster crams hundreds of channels down the line in the expectation it will increase his advertsing revenue. I guess it must or they wouldn't do it, or perhaps they are too stupid to realise that a few channels of real HD might actually bring in more people, but then that would assume intelligence on behalf of the consumer, not necessarily a given.
Flat screen TVs are to CRTs what CDs are to LPs. There is no quality improvement, indeed there may be a degradation, but the convenience wins through. Later attempts to improve quality or to better the original format fail, look at SACD. So all the time we see a gradual deterioration in quality in the name of convenience. Next will be 3D TV, it already exists but the problems being addressed are how to compress it, not how to do it. Already the assumption is the consumer will not pay much more for it, the broadcaster won't give up his precious bandwidth or a single food channel to transmit it, so inevitably the quality is what will suffer. Is it really only a few 'golden eared' or 'golden eyed' people that can tell the difference between an i-Pod or MP3 and even a CD, or between a CRT display of uncompressed video as opposed to a badly up-converted flat panel display? I am afraid I know the answer to that. How long before the original uncompressed material can only, if at all, be found for exorbitant prices in a few select shops hiding underneath railway viaducts, sold in brown paper envelopes to people in brown overcoats. I have an i-Pod myself, for when I am travelling, but I wouldn't dream of using it when I want to seriously listen to music. And I watch an 'old' CRT standard definition TV which renders the MPEG artifacts my cable provider generously provides better than any flat panel. Can I hear anyway calling 'dinasour'?
I spent some time working on the basement yesterday; Ploy was taking a nap upstairs, I think she is going down with something. When she came down to see what I was doing I told her my next plans. She got annoyed that I appeared to be starting something that didn't need to be done, (painting some panelling just because I think it makes the room too dark). She is right, I think some of the tetchiness is frustration in not getting the jobs finished. SingMai is obviously on-going, as is my day job. But the house renovations have to have an end and they won't have if I keep taking on more jobs. After all we are 'only' renting the basement, it needs to be clean and functional, but as Ploy put it, no-one is going to refuse to rent the basement because we haven't painted the basement panelling. I have a lot of holiday left so I think what I will do is take a week off, after we return from Las Vegas and when our finances have recovered. One week should be enough to take a big bite out the work that remains. The main house can wait for a while, apart from the kitchen all that is needed is just finishing touches now Ploy has finished the second bedroom.
More good news is my company are going to sponsor our permanent residency application so I need to get those forms filled in, another of those jobs that can take a whole day by the time all the documents are copied, most of which is time spent finding them again. After all the visas we have applied for you would think I would have this off pat by now.
Sawadee Pee Mai
So a New Year has begun. We had booked to go to a restaurant to see the New Year in, but cancelled late on. Next week we fly to Las Vegas and we wanted to save our money for then, but also our ability to stay up late is somewhat limited these days. And so it proved. After another day working on the house, (Ploy cleaned the old varnish off the second bedroom floor whilst I fitted the basement stair's carpet and tiled the side entrance), Ploy made 'larb moo' for our dinner, I sat in front of the TV and watched a live concert by the New York Philharmonic with Lorin Maazel and Joshua Bell, whilst Ploy spent two hours on the telephone wishing 'Sawadee Pee Mai, (Happy New Year) to her friends in Thailand and Singapore. And at ten we went to bed. Ploy had spent Sunday with a friend visiting a Thai temple in Toronto, (Yanviriya Buddhist Temple), where she made some food for the monks, (tamboon or making merit). She actually stayed overnight at the friend's house so she could get up early, (5.30a.m.), to make the food fresh so I had a night to myself, but not knowing any wild women to invite round, I finished a bottle of wine and went to bed early!
This morning we have more snow. I have woken early again, but I slept well, just not long. I have had good news at work where my project manager had resigned leaving me the only one working on the project. I was feeling vulnerable but I got an e-mail, (prompted by one from me), from the VP of engineering saying my work was valuable to the company and can I continue it alone. To be honest that is perfect for me, I never have been a team player and so it looks like my job is reasonably secure for 2008. It just shows how predictions are not worth the paper they are written on. Since I wrote, what I euphemistically called aims, below two things changed. An e-mail from my project manager saying he was leaving, and in typical US style that meant he was leaving immediately, not in two or three months time, and then Ploy had a question about her work permit which made me realise that it expires in May 2008 because her passport also expires in June 2008. So we have to get a new passport for her, which will now be an e-passport, which means we have to apply in person 550km away in Ottawa, the nearest Thai embassy. So we had better get that done as soon as we return from Las Vegas. It also means getting a job for Ploy may not be so easy until we get a new work permit because of the short time left on the existing one.
So if I can't predict just a few days what will happen when I have some influence over events, what hope is there for all the soothsayers that abound in the press at this time of the year, and I am not talking astrologers here, but the ones who get paid exorbitant sums of money to predict economic or political events. But given this backdrop I will make one prediction for 2008. In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics I predict that we will not hear one whisper from the Olympic Committee, or from any Western Politician about the human rights situation in China, about the abuse of their own people, about its pollution record, or about their continued support of the military dictatorship in Burma. Not a murmur. As the new emerging superpower, what sort of example does it set the rest of the world to follow.
Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
A new year is just around the corner. I have made a list of targets - call them resolutions if you must - for 2008. So far every year since I married Ploy has brought some surprise, but the coming year, as I wrote below, appears to be more stable. We are living in a country we like, in our own house, and our life is good. This will be our home, so whatever happens on the job front I think this is where we will stay.
Plans are great things of course, at least for me they give me something to aim at, rather like those lists of my mother. But I have been wondering about the backdrop to these personal targets. Apart from the climatic catastrophe that may be unfolding, I can't help but notice the increasing unrest in the world. I found this list from here, of the the current active war zones in the world. What is so disheartening about it is the the length of time some of these armed conflicts have been going on. And this list does not include ongoing 'less significant' events, such as the atrocities in Burma or the continued killings in the south of Thailand. And looking down that list you can only see it being added to with the constant threat of the US invading Iran for example.
It prompted me to look for another list, of countries that are abusing human rights. The only ranking list I could find comes from here. It ranks countries into five groups based on their human rights records. There are six countries at level 5, described as where murder disappearances and torture are a common part of life for the whole population. There are twice as many countries at level 1, including Canada, but not the UK or the US which are at level 2 and level 3 respectively, (Singapore is level 2). There are 25 countries at level 4, including China and Russia which have huge populations, but also Thailand, and that is unlikely to improve with uncertain political situation there. It all adds up to complete mess and I can't see how it will get any better. Whilst it reinforces our decision to stay in Canada it adds to my general unease about the world situation. 2008 may be a good year for us, but for millions of people around the world it will not be.
So this is Christmas
A Happy Christmas to all my readers and I hope you all have a peaceful New Year.
The best thing about Christmas is the quiet. Unlike in Singapore everywhere is closed today, so far not a single vehicle has passed our house and the only sound in the house in the tick-tock of the clock on the wall, occasionally the hum of the fan from the heating and the odd bark from Buddy, next door's labrador dog. We have no decorations up this year, but we have snow all around and this evening we have three friends coming round for a Christmas meal. Although, including Ploy, there will be three Thai people amongst them, two of which I am told do not eat Western food, I am cooking. The menu is a starter of stir fried prawns with peppers, onion, tomato, fennel seeds, basil and chilli. The main course is roast goose served with an apricot, hazelnut and sausage meat stuffing, roast paprika dusted potatoes, carrots with orange and cumin, steamed broccoli and cabbage stir fried with bacon and chilli. The desert if tiramisu, which I should start on soon or it won't set properly.
Tomorrow, also a holiday, I will probably spend some time on the house but then it is back to work with a vengeance. I took a couple of days off prior to Christmas and spent them in bed; I think I must have picked up some stomach bug from somewhere. What it did was force me to relax which was no bad thing. The second bedroom is nearly done now and it looks so good we are thinking of moving to it from the front bedroom where we are now; it is at the back of the house and is quieter.
So it is nearly 2008; we have now been in Canada just over a year and for the first time for a long while, I am expecting the year to be quiet with no surprises. My day job is looking more stable, at least for next year, and I have decided not to pursue the art history anymore, at least for now, a decision made. So I can spend my spare time finishing the house, getting SingMai going, and writing my art history book. Although that sounds a lot none of those things are urgent. If SingMai starts taking off there will be that big decision to take it full time, but for now I can just see how it goes. Ploy hopes to have a job by then which will help us put some money back in the bank. All our reserves are exhausted, mostly with the house renovations, but also with materials and equipment for SingMai, but the worst is over I think and we can pay for any extra stuff from my wages. In May we will go back to the UK to receive my Masters degree and we will probably pop in and see some friends whilst we are there. But we have no plans to return to Singapore or Thailand, although we still have to work out how we can sell the land we have. A quiet year. Now lets start that tiramisu.
Let it Snow
Those of you who thought Ploy would clear the snow from the paths and driveway were wrong. This is the storm that we got the brunt of.
It is easy to just put it down to longing for your childhood again, to nostalgia, to a feeling of futility, to just getting old. But things were better back then weren't they. I remember Ron Hill, he never did win an Olympic medal, or really come close, but me and my mother were always rooting for him. The clear effort that he put in to training and preparation deserved that. When I watched the cricket or football I was rooting for England, I knew all the players' names, and I felt it when they lost. To a man they epitomised the Alf Tupper spirit and made you proud. Today I root for the other side; if it is Al-Qaeda versus England in the World Cup final, I'll be shouted for the bearded ones. Because the England teams of today don't deserve my support. They are more about selling their advertising logos than they are about trying, worrying that the next tackle might mean they miss their next, more lucrative, club game, rather than doing everything they can to win for England. Cricket is not so bad, but I do wonder about the continuous stream of injuries to the players. Yes they play more now, but it doesn't seem as prevalent in other countries; I don't remember John Edrich ever being injured, or Gordon Banks, crickey he continued playing on with only one eye. Could it be that laziness is training means that players get injured more easily? Surely not. Could it be that the ease high quality players play with deludes also-ran players into thinking they do not need to practice? Surely not.
Then I read some of the other events in 1964, the Beatles and Petula Clark in the charts for example. I don't even know what the number one is now, in these days of downloads it is less relevant I guess, but I guarantee whatever it is it will be forgotten in a couple of weeks. Forty years on and the music is still being played, a sure sign of its quality. M.P.s were voting on the abolition of the death penalty, but today we see increasingly draconian terms being asked for certain crimes and even calls for the death penalty to be brought back. That is surely not a sign that civilisation has improved. Television had programs that showed a degree of invention. As Christmas is approaching I remember that the family sitting down to watch the Two Ronnies or the Morecambe and Wise show was as much an event as opening the presents or the Christmas lunch. But today television is transitory, full of reality shows because people do not have the invention to create, they can only copy. The composers and the writers and the performers have become lazy because laziness is rewarded. I can steal a few bars of a classical music work, repeat it for four minutes, add some banal lyrics and get it sung by some inept tuneless singer and I am guaranteed a hit. Why bother to have talent. Why put on those running shoes and run everyday of your life when no-one is watching you, no-one is applauding or cheering. Because the person inside is empty, there is no pride, no ambition, everything today is transitory, banal and pointless. Everything is get rich quick, selfish and non-altruistic. First and foremost it has to come from within, to get out of bed on that cold morning when you are below par because other people are relying on you. We need more Ron Hills, today more than ever.
It looks like we are going to have a real Canadian winter this year. We are in the middle of major winter storm at the moment and it is expected to snow most of the day, although less than originally forecast. Someone has to go out and clear the paths tonight, I wonder who that will be!
My Master's degree result has come out early and I have PASSED! I stared at the screen with a mixture of surprise and relief. With all the moves to Canada, the disruption with the job, buying and renovating the house, I had a thousand excuses ready as to why I wouldn't pass and I was resigned to being a nearly student as I didn't think I had the energy to do the final year again. But I don't have to. I have been studying at the Open University in the Uk since 1999 with only one year off and there have certainly been plenty of times when I nearly gave up, but I am so glad I didn't. I had enquired about PhDs but I think that is step too far, at least for next year. But I would like to write that book based on my dissertation. After all 17,000 words are already down on paper so the kick start I need is already there. 'The Four Dimensions of Art' is the title, my dissertation dealt with two of them.
Last night we went out to this restaurant to celebrate and we had a lovely evening, it is a beautiful restaurant, a converted church where a lot of the original features have been kept. Ploy devastated the local wildfowl population by having the fois gras followed by the 'duck, duck, goose' entree while I had the tuna followed by the seafood pistou. We finished off the meal by sharing the Lebanese honey cake.
I hope I can now relax a little a get a good night's sleep. I have been waking up in the early hours of the morning for over two weeks now, but I hope the result will stop one niggly thing from irritating my sleep pattern. I am getting exhausted just when I need to put in longer days. probably there are two many unfinished things, my day job of course, the unfinished renovations on the house, getting the presentation ready for the conference, some little money worries because of the refurbishment costs, getting SingMai up and running and those books I never write. And we have invited some friends round for Christmas dinner and I stupidly decided to cook a goose which I haven't done for years, but it is ordered now so too late to change my mind. We aren't putting up any decorations this year as we are off to Las Vegas in the New Year and we want to save our money for that. In any case there is no way we could compete with our near neighbours.
Next year we need to get our finances in order, Ploy wants to find a job and we need to refurbish the basement so we can rent it out. We need that independent income to pay our bills while we get SingMai up and running. We will have another press release in February and the second product is close to being finished.
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