Monthly Archives: July 2010

Why I Have Not Blogged for a While

Chiang Mai is still amazing. This city continues to please me and suggest itself as a retirement destination like no other. But there are other places to see still.

Mary Ann will be here in three days. I can’t wait to show her Tiger Kingdom, the silk worms and everything in between.

Planning her time here has taken half my waking hours.

The other half have been spent helping her plan her next vacation. That will be in mid September. This is the priod of time known as EIDS in the ME. From what I understand, no one works, so she has five days off, plus a weekend on either side.

We contemplated a cruise down the Nile. But it is EIDS there too and we did not feel like having to captain the boat and cook our own food.

So, we have decided on Nepal! That was the easy part. The  itinerary for this trip has taken the other half of my waking hours and ALL of Mary Ann’s off work time. We are close. All I insist on is seeing Mt. Everest. I would no go to Rome without seeing the Vatican. I would not go to London without seeing Big Ben. So including a side trip that assures a view of the mountain that my camera can capture in all its glory took some organizing. But I think it is done.

Back to Chiang Mai. While Mary Ann is here, Chiang Mai is hosting the World Championship of Sepa Takraw. No, that is not cooking contest. Nor is it a flower show. Nor is it trained elephants. But to be truthful with you, when I saw a billboard advertising the evnt, I had to look it up. I had no idea. Here is the site for you to check out for yourself.

As you can see, you did look at it didn’t you.. it is basically Kick Volleyball. Teams of three meet up across a volleyball net set 5 feet high and kick a plastic ball slightly larger than a softball over the net. with a few exceptions the same rules apply as Volleyball, except you cannot use your hands. I went to a sporting goods store today and found a SepaTakraw ball. They are a very stiff and very light plastic ball.  As you can also see it is an international sport, even played in the USA. I imagine it has as many fans as soccer…

I have also spent too much time following the Wild Bill Story. If you know what I mean, I do not need to go there. If you don’t, you do not want to know. Except to say that an enterprising journalist worked quite hard to get a dangerous man in jail. The world, especially Bocas Del Toro is better off with him behind bars. I  hope his cell mates bugger him to an early end.

The other thing I have been doing instead of blogging follows. I had to feed my ego and write an entry for a contest that a very nice magazine is running. I have entered a couple of their contest before, maybe third time is the charm?

Tell me if you like this short story, tell me if you don’t, tell me. You will still be my friend.

Dodger Vision

All they knew about me when they hired me was that I was a big Dodger fan. An usher at a ballpark does not sound like a glamorous job, and it isn’t. But when you have loved baseball as much as had for my entire life, getting paid to see 81 home games instead of having to buy a season ticket was like taking money from the offering tray at church instead of putting money in it. Dodger stadium was my cathedral.

I was not the typical hire for my position. Your typical usher, with some stand-out exceptions, is an inner city kid who is lucky to work 81 days a year. Most of them know next to nothing about the game. I had just ended a long and lucrative career in the software industry. I wasn’t a mover and shaker by any means. I never made the cover of Wired magazine, but I had worked with people who did.

And I knew Baseball like an evangelist knows the bible.

It was almost the All-Star break. The Dodgers were contending, at least, for the Western Division title. Fans were excited. For the most part I was enjoying the job. The words of Colonel Saito the sadist commandant of the POW camp in the classic movie Bridge on the River Kwai kept coming back to me “Be hahhpy in youh wouk”. I was. Except for the petty crap the management kept insisting on in a valiant effort to make us unhappy, going to my favorite place on the planet and hanging out with other baseball fans couldn’t be beat with a Louisville Slugger. However, when things are going well in my life, I have a strange tendency to upset the apple cart.

I am also a hacker. I learned hacking from people much smarter than me when I was in the industry. I never hacked maliciously, just for sport. I never stole identities or bought a Lamborghini with someone else’s money. However, I did like sending emails with other people’s accounts to newspaper editors or law enforcement agencies. I came close to getting caught a few times, but my skills were well honed. A firewall meant nothing to me.  I knew how to erase my digital fingerprints. If I wanted to get someone’s goat, the personnel manager at their company would get an email from him saying “I do not need my vacation this year. Please donate it to the Make A Wish Foundation.”  Things like that kept me entertained. I, as you will find, am easily entertained.

Everything considered, I should have been entertained watching a rather good season progress at Dodger Stadium, also known as Chavez Ravine. But I was restless. Sitting at home while the boys in blue were on an East Coast road trip, I messed around in the Dodger’s corporate computers. Getting into this Major League site was little league. I had access to everything I wanted, but nothing to do with it that would be harmless and fun.  Then I found the system that controlled Dodger Vision.

Dodger Vision is the huge electronic message board in left field.  I studied the code, the prompts, the commands, the database. I realized I could make Dodger Vision announce that George Steinbrenner had sold the Yankees to Hugo Chavez if I wanted. Not that this would surprise a Dodger fan.

I started to plot. Plotting entertained me. I sat around with a cold one and got downright nefarious.  Dodger Vision was going to get very interesting.

I called a friend on the usher crew. His name was TwoKays. I don’t know why, but that is what everyone called him. “Hey buddy, come on over to my house, I need to discuss a plan with you.”

He arrived an hour later and I had some pretty good ideas already. He did not know about my capabilities in the nether world of computing, so I spent some time explaining stuff to him.

“So, can you access my bank account and make me a millionaire?”

“Piece of cake, but then you would quit your job and I would lose the only co-worker I can actually converse with.”

After I convinced him that I did not do things that illegal, I told him about my idea to hack Dodger Vision.

“Just for fun mind you. Just to mess with the management because they keep messing with us”

He was intrigued. He saw the potential for minimum mayhem, and the entertainment value. Bless him.

The plotting turned into a game of one up-man ship.  What if you did this? Could you do this? We should do this.

The only effort was to keep the ideas simple. I passed on the idea putting a photo of a needle up on Dodger Vision  instead of Barry Bonds photo when he came to bat. I liked the idea, but it would probably cause a riot that would resonate all the way to Bud Selig’s office.  No need to get the MLB police involved now was there.

We settled on a few little things that would test the theories. Could we get the attention of the fans without getting the attention of the authorities? Difficult, but doable.

One thing that was restrictive is I that I would have no access during the game. I had a job to do, and it did not include pounding away on my laptop. Everything had to be entered into the system from home. Also, I knew I could hide my code so they could not find it, but if their IT guys were any good, they would be monitoring the site for a hacker as soon as the first spoof was aired.

So I went to work. Well, not work, I went to fun.

I hacked the visiting team’s stats first.

St. Louis was coming to town. The Cardinal’s franchise player is Albert  Pujols, arguably the best player in baseball today. Perennially his batting average is in the .350 neighborhood, a barrio with few inhabitants.  This was my test to see if a hack would even get noticed.  Whenever a batter comes up to the plate, Dodger Vision shows a nice photo of him. It provides vital stats, maybe recent trends, maybe a cute story. They always include his batting average.  I found my way to his data with no problem and changed the way it calculated his average so it would start at .150, and drop instead of go up if he was successful at the plate that night. My code was clean, minimal and almost invisible. TwoKays was doubtful it could possibly work.

The boys in blue rolled back into town after going 6 for 9 on the road. They were in first place ahead of the hated Giants by a full game.  Due to that and some great marketing the Dodgers had done, I knew there would be at least 40,000 people in the stands on a Friday night. Someone had to notice my work, surely.

Pujols came up in the first inning, batting clean-up. The Dodger pitcher had walked the first batter, then settled down and struck out 2.  The fans were excited, but then, this was the great Pujols. There was anxiety in the air. OK, it was still the first inning, and this was not October, but the Giants had already beaten the Mets tonight and first place was now in jeopardy.

I looked up at Dodger Vision. Sure enough, “Current B.A. 150”.

No one crowed or got excited. People who even saw it probably figured it for a typo. EVERYONE knew he was batting closer to .350. That was everyone except a 10 year old sitting with his dad near me. I heard him say “hey dad, Look at the scoreboard”

“Not now son, watch Pujols. Watch the way he swings the bat. If you want to grow up and make 15 million dollars a year so you can support me in my old age, learn to swing a bat like that.”

“But dad, the scoreboard says he is hitting only .150. I checked his stats this morning. He is batting .345.”

His father took a quick glance at Dodger vision and merely said “The Dodgers really need to pay their people more than minimum wage.”

That night, Twokays came over and was hysterical with delight.

“How did you make his average go DOWN when he went 3 for 4?”

“Technology, our friend. Now watch what I do!”

I had decided that this time I would truly mess with Dodger management.

“I am going to surprise you. Tomorrow night, be sure you are looking at Dodger Vision at exactly 8:00. When the Dodger Vision clock clicks to 8:00, be ready for madness”

His attempts at getting my plan out of my mind went unrewarded.

The next night, as the clock struck 8:00 a message popped up on Dodger Vision for a mere 5 seconds. It had the familiar Farmer John Logo, makers of the best hot dog in Baseball, and a message that said;


I had been in Candlestick Park for game 3 of the Earthquake World Series. The pandemonium that ran thru Dodger Stadium at 8:00 that night was far greater than what had occurred in Candlestick when the earthquake hit.

People bolted from their seats, grabbed their wives and kids and ran up the aisles to get to the hot dog stands. They were screaming “FREE DODGER DOGS! FREE DODGER DOGS!”

Now a Dodger Dog, good as they are, costs something like $7. You can put all the relish and mustard you want on it and it still costs more than it is worth, so many people pass up the chance at this culinary treat. But FREE!

Within a minute the stands were half empty. People were running out like the theatre was on fire. I heard later that even the great Hall of Fame Dodger radio and television announcer Vin Scully, who has seen EVERYTHING in baseball in 50 years of brilliantly calling the game, remarked with wonderment. Me putting words into Vin Scully’s mouth was almost, but nowhere near as good, as hearing him announce my turn at bat.

Fans were running past me like they were being chased by the bulls in Pamplona.  The pure bedlam that ensued made me worry that my prank may actually cause an injury.

My post was at the top of an aisle about thirty feet from a Dodger Dog stand.  All of a sudden it was mobbed. People were NOT standing in line. They were pushing and shoving and screaming “I want my free Dodger Dog”.

The people who work behind the counter have worked there, on the average, a decade or two. They are kindly spinsters and slow moving older gents. They have perfected the art of “taking their time” getting you a dog and a soft drink. Even if you give them exact change, they can keep you on line for a half inning collecting the prince’s ransom for the food.  Dodger fans know this and have adjusted. They normally buy the goodies before the game so they do not miss a single pitch. But the 8:00 announcement was in the bottom half of the third. The Dodgers were at bat, and normally this would be a slow period at the refreshment stand. Many were on break. They were most definitely not ready for the results of my hack.

One was screaming “Damnit lady I want my dog before the five minutes are up. Hop to it.”

Another was indignantly asking “Hey didn’t you know about the give-away? How come you’re not ready.”

Another held up his 4 year old son above the crowd and yelled “Now look, you made my son cry. I want two free Dodger dogs right now”.

The vendors had no idea what to do. The stall closest to me played it safe. They rolled down the aluminum window, and effectively shut down. People started screaming and running down the concourse to the next stand. I could see one to the right and one to the left. The one on the right started throwing wrapped dogs out into the crowd. It looked like the relief workers in Somalia throwing food into the crowds of starving people.

The stand to my left did absolutely the wrong thing. The dumbest thing they could have done. They argued with the throng.

“We don’t know anything about Free Dodger Dogs! They cost $7. All the free mustard you want, but $7 dollars”

“Bull Crap lady, Dodger vision announced they were free for five minutes! That as 4 minutes ago, so I want my free dog. NOW.”

Someone called security. Calls like that are monitored by two different levels of security, the blue shirts, which were rent-a-cops, and the white shirts that were off duty LAPD.  Calls are also monitored by the Usher “Captains”. A misnomer if one ever existed. My captain weighed as much as a water buffalo and usually moved like one. But this time he was motivated, and quickly moved into the center of the mob. What could have possessed him I’ll never know.  Soon he was assailed by normally pacific fans who were truly upset at not getting a free dog. No one could push him around, unless they were in control of a CAT D9, but the verbal abuse he was taking was intense. To me, it was priceless. Just then, some white shirts waded into the crowd. They were never intimidated. I think the intimidation gene is removed at the LAPD Academy. Obviously they had no clue about why these people had gone plum crazy all of a sudden.

One younger, tattooed tough guy made a big mistake when he said “We want our free dogs, pig”.

That was all it took. The security people broke up the crowd and they mumbled away cursing Dodger management. I had a hard time to keep from laughing when my captain came up to me and asked if I had any idea what caused this fiasco.

“Hell, I don’t know. Last time I saw Dodger fans that upset was when an umpire called a balk on Sandy Koufax. Hell that was in 1964.”

After the game I caught up with TwoKays in the parking lot.

“You could have gotten people killed man.”

“Yeah, I had no idea the prank would be that effective. Geesh, a free hot dog and people go ape.”

“Well, I think you better not do anything else. Your warped mind could cause real problems”

“Oh but my friend, a warped mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

“No man. Nothing else, OK?”

“Sorry, too late. I already uploaded one for tomorrow’s game. Be watching at 1:30”

“I do not know you” was all he said as he walked away from me.

The next game was a Sunday game. A day game. A sit in the sun and get a dry throat game, or spend $10 for a beer game.

That’s right. At 1:30 Dodger Vision showed the Bud Light logo and said “FOR THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES BEER IS FREE!”

Another Chiang Mai Medical Experience

The story starts actually when I was teenager and swam every day, all day, one hot summer in Los Angeles. It turned out that one of my ear canals was narrower than the other and I ended up with ear problems. Since, I have had two major ear surgeries. My ears tend to get more waxy buildup than a dining room table, so every once in a while I need to have them vacuumed. I really do not think about it often enough until something alarming happens.

The alarm went off a  week ago. I was about to cross a street downtown. Now the Thais drive on the “wrong” side of the road. Lifelong memory has me look the other direction first. I did. I stepped out into the street and came within a cat’s whisker of getting run down by a car. I had to regroup mentally and remind myself these people drive like Brits and that I had better get used to it, fast. But then it dawned on me that I had not  HEARD the  car either. I knew it was time to Hoover out my ears. I hate this procedure for two reasons. First, if you have never had a vacuum cleaner run inside your ear, good for you. Don’t unless you must.

The second reason is that afterwards I hear much more than I heard before. As far as I am concerned, to a certain amount, having impaired hearing is a type of blessing. Who needs to hear fans? The streets were quieter before. Now I hear what y’all hear and I wonder how you go about life with all those distractions. But now I can hear a car coming and I probably wont step in front of one.

To get the procedure done I went with my Cousin Jon. He has to go once a month for a checkup following some gruesome problem he had with his leg. He had told me how good this hospital is in Chiang Mai. It really is. Maybe it in’t Boston General but it is modern and clean and big and has the highest international ratings given to hospitals. It is the main place for the thousands of Expat oldsters living here. I kept thinking about the Clinica in Bocas del Toro. Or even the gringo hospital in David. I started to appreciate why Chiang Mai is rated on of the top places in the world to retire. You can grow old here inexpensively and have good medical care 10 minutes away instead of some guy with a bone in his nose in Bocas or have to take an hour flight to another city.

My doctor  (A Thai) listened as I explained to him exactly what my problem was. I showed him on his wall size picture of the inner ear exactly what was habitually wrong with me.  All he said was, “let’s fix you.” He sat me down in front of the same level of equipment I have had stuck in my ear in Boston and Los Angeles, and proceeded to clean out my ears. He said I should have it done more often.

Now for the good part. I walked in without an appointment. They asked if I minded waiting ten minutes. They were almost apologetic about the wait.  30 minutes later I was done. They handed me the bill. 1100 baht! That is US$34. It would have cost me that much to park at Boston General.

Chiang Mai, gotta love it. Now if everything would just QUIET DOWN!

Chiang Mai Thai Cooking School!

I just finished a full Monday thru Friday cooking class.

We shopped for raw ingredients. Here are couple shots of the market.

Lots of different noodles in Thai dishes

Some soups use fish balls

peppers were not in every dish, at least not the deserts

I never heard of these before. They add an interesting flavor to soups and curries.

Then we went out into the country to a really first rate big cooking school. It has capacity for maybe 30. With tourism as it is the classes ranged from 5 to 9. I was the only one who took all five days. Everyone else showed up for a 1 day experience. We cooked and were expected to eat six courses each day, and then a desert. I have not eaten anywhere else all week.  Here are a few dishes I cooked.

This was harder than it looks to assemble

It tasted GREAT

"lunch" was always the big meal. two dishes and rice

My curry is first rate!

Today, the last day, seems how I had already been to the market a few times they took me directly to the school and while others shopped, theey tried to teach me how to make garnishes. This is hard, hard mind you. The Thais have this gentle touch with little fingers. Me, with my big clumsy fingers took over an hour to make the following. I made the girl who was showing me how to do it stop laughing.

I'm not cut out to cut out these things!

I just hope Mary Ann does not expect these with dinner. The rose and lotus (from tomatoes each took 20 minutes. The damn leaf took even more. I threw out my first couple attempts, they looked like road kill.

In short, I had a great week. I probably put on 5 pounds. Now I know why Buhda is so fat. And I wonder why the so few Thai people are.

Next week, massage school!

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