Archive for July, 2010

More best cities lists

Posted: July 30, 2010 in Economy

We recently had Bangkok voted as the World’s Best City by Travel and Leisure magazine. Geez, how can we top that. Well, there are always lists of “bests” popping up. We had the five cities in which you could retire on an average social security check (Chiang Mai was one of them). I happened to see a couple of lists at today of various best cities. Here are some samples.

10 best cities for your future

  1. Austin
  2. Seattle
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. Boulder
  5. Salt Lake City
  6. Rochester, Minn.
  7. Des Moines
  8. Burlington
  9. West Hartford
  10. Topeka

The first five in that list seem like pretty good choices. I’ve been to all of them and even spent a bit of time in a few. The last five, um, I don’t know, I think I would suffocate.

How about this list, 10 great cities for young adults:

  1. Austin
  2. Charlotte
  3. Chicago
  4. Houston
  5. Kansas City
  6. Lansing
  7. New York
  8. Portland
  9. Salt Lake City
  10. Washington, D.C.

Austin at the top of this list, too, mostly because of it’s “music and nightlife”, yeah a city for booze hounds.

But there is a major problem with all these lists. They are all in the U.S. Come on people, it’s a global world these days. You should go and live in it and you’ll have a very different perspective on what makes a great city or a great place to live.

Medical tourism wannabes

Posted: July 30, 2010 in Health

Clicking through my Google alerts today I see a couple of stories that just seem to be wannabe groups trying to label themselves as medical tourism destinations. First is the story from the online version of the Philippine Star with a story that starts like this:

As a major medical tourism destination, the Philippines is given the chance to show to the world how advanced its medical facilities and expertise are.

No, you aren’t, at least not yet, a major medical tourism destination. I know you want to be, and yes you have a lot of great nurses, although most of them have moved to other countries. But the Philippines is way down the list of medical tourism destinations, and now that everybody wants to be one the competition is only going to get tougher, so it will take much more that calling yourself one to be one.

Also in that story is this little gem:

The medical spa concept was created by Valdecañas herself.

The reference is to Dr. Mary Jane Torres Valdecañas who is the founder of the Zen Institute, a medical spa in the Philippines. Another doubtful claim. Medical spas have been around for quite a while. Is this doctor really the person who created the concept? I think they are trying too hard in the Philippines.

Next we check in with the International Medical Travel Journal, “The World Leading Journal for the Medical Travel Sector”. Hmm, more big claims. But that’s not really the point. It’s the story about inbound medical tourism to the USA and UK. Again. Again, just calling yourself a destination doesn’t make you one. The flight to better care at affordable prices without wait times is away from these two countries. Ah, this quote gives you their angle:

Travelling to the U.S. for healthcare can be costly and complicated for international travellers. Usually, the patients are wealthy people who can afford high quality care. In this fast growing market the U.S. has a chance to be very competitive.

I see, if you can afford to pay outrageous prices and navigate the travel complexities then the U.S. is for you. Great marketing concept.

I saw this in the newspaper today, that the world’s largest photovoltaic solar farm has been funded for construction in Lopburi, Thailand, which is about an hour from where I live. I thought, really? Will this really be the largest such installation? At 73 megawatts it is pretty big for sure.

Given the continued high price of solar cells this seems like a terrible waste of money. The developer is Natural Energy Development and according to the story they will enjoy an adder of eight baht per unit of electricity for 10 years. That is an adder of 8 baht per kilowatt-hour where a kilo-watt hour currently costs around 2.75 baht. So that illustrates what kind of ridiculous subsidies are still required for PV installations to be profitable.

I thought of the technology I was working on a couple years ago when I did a short stint at a company in Bangkok. They had purchased the license to manufacture the Stirling Energy Systems solar thermal electricity generator. It is a system based on a parabolic dish reflector and Stirling heat engine. The system was compelling because it utilized the same technologies used in automobiles – bent metal and glass, an engine much simpler than an internal combustion engine, and very simple electronics for tracking the sun and pointing the dish. Each unit produced 25 kilowatts and in volume production should cost about US$25,000, right there at the cost per watt of fossil fuel produced electricity without any of the externalities.

Sadly, that Bangkok company seems to have been unable to make any progress, although Stirling Energy Systems did land some massive contracts for solar farms in the U.S. So instead of something much more cost effective, Thailand is spending five billion baht on a PV farm. Of course there is one potential technical issue with any solar energy system in Thailand, which is that just about everywhere in the country there are many cloudy days, quite unlike the deserts of southwestern U.S. Concentrating solar power systems are particularly poor performers when the skies are overcast since they utilize only direct normal insolation and cannot make use of scattered light which PV can.

This would make a good post somewhere, but I’m not going to post it on my blog ‘cuz I don’t want to be accused of stereotyping. It would be the 7 (or some other number) expat types you meet in Thailand, inspired by a post on Scott Tyler’s blog.

I think Thailand has all of the seven – the gapper, missionary, escapee, soldier, retiree/divorcee (although not the female version because western women are largely ignored in Thailand), emigrant and true expat. They might have some different characteristics but they are all here. Are there others?

I read an interesting story on Boing Boing about a guy from St. Louis who couldn’t find work after graduating from college so moved to India to write for an English language newspaper. It was subsistence living for him but it was comfortable enough and he was thrilled with the new adventures he faced every day.

A few of the comments were interesting, like the Canadian who says he “outsourced himself” to India in the 1990’s when tech was slow and ended up starting a very successful company there. There are more anecdotal accounts of people going overseas to find employment and low cost of living after extended duration of unemployment back home. The problem is, in many places it is rather difficult for foreigners to work legally with many restrictions on the type of jobs they can occupy. That is very true in Thailand. But it doesn’t stop many foreigners from working, although it does open them up for exploitation by employers. Does that sound familiar? So are we going to see a wave of American illegal immigrants seeking work in other countries?

Different cultures honor different personal characteristics. If in a particular culture a person were honored because he had  “inflicted more fear, more loss of freedom and more loss of life” than anyone else what would you think of that culture? Rather barbaric, wouldn’t you say?

Those were the exact words used by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates when honoring General Stanley McChrystal during the general’s retirement ceremony. How honorable.

Out of context you say? Oh, that’s right, we’re good, they’re bad…the fundamental delusion of “I” working overtime.

I don’t watch movies very often because I am almost always disappointed with them. The Hollywood blockbusters are nearly always trash. I guess I am just too far removed from the mass mentality. Avatar? Jeez, a big production cartoon with a tired old story line. Give me back the one hour plus I wasted on that one (I didn’t make it to the end).

I’ve seen a bunch of rave reviews of the movie “Inception”. Is this one going to be worth the 100 baht ($3) I pay for a DVD to see it? More importantly will it be worth two hours of time I could be doing something more useful and interesting. I see that the subject of lucid dreaming is part of the story. That might be interesting. I have read a little about that and compared some of my own dream experiences with what other people describe as lucid dreams. I have had those but I never much thought about it. Apparently you can induce lucid dreams with a little training and practice.

So I might give “Inception” a shot just for the look at the lucid dreaming aspect.

I’m not so interested in all the fanboy versus fandroid back and forth. But Michael Arrington at TechCrunch made a valid point today when he said that you shouldn’t buy something that needs duct tape to work. That is in reference to the Consumer Reports test of the iPhone4 in which they found that if you cover the phone’s antenna with duct tape the signal strength problem seems to go away.

On the other hand, as a commenter pointed out, real men can fix anything with duct tape. So the iPhone4 is for real men. That’s a compelling argument, but slightly misguided. You see, real men can fix anything that’s broken using duct tape, but they wouldn’t buy a product with an inherent design flaw just to have to fix it with duct tape. Only fanboys do that and fanboys are not real men.

Another reason for Chiang Mai

Posted: July 15, 2010 in Retirement

The earlier post in which I discussed 5 good and cheap places to retire had Chiang Mai listed at number two. Reading this post on Chiang Mai for long stay medical tourism raises another interesting plus about the city. It could be a very good choice for someone who needs a long stay medical treatment destination. I am aware of those two hospitals that are mentioned, Chiangmai Ram and Lanna, and they seem to be very good. The story had something else besides the usual private hospital as health care destination. It was a specialty treatment center in Chiang Mai for Alzheimer patients.

Now that sounds quite interesting if have a loved one in need of the special care Alzheimer patients need. Chiang Mai is very popular with foreigners, both tourists and expats. Lots of amenities there. It seems to me that specialty care centers could be big business in Thailand and Chiang Mai may have a leg up on it because of the infrastructure and environment in that region, although the Thais are seriously trying to ruin it with the rampant burning each year that causes pollution so bad the airport gets shut down. Unless they clean it up the area may become another trash dump like so many other places in Thailand that started out so nice.

I was thinking that the Khao Yai area would be another hot spot for such specialty centers to develop. It has much of the same mountain weather and environment that makes Chiang Mai attractive but has the advantage of being only a two hour drive from Bangkok, making for easier access to many major services that only Bangkok has. The problem in Khao Yai is the lack of top shelf private hospitals. Chiang Mai has two of them and Khao Yai/Pak Chong has none. Even if Bangkok Hospital Group does build a new facility next year in Pak Chong there are real doubts about the quality of care to be had there (re my earlier post about overpriced fluff versus true quality care). A world class hospital would be the anchor and then specialty care centers could develop in the surrounding area. Maybe it is possible without the hospital anchor.

Bangkok voted world’s best city

Posted: July 15, 2010 in Thailand

Reading the newspaper today I saw the front page news that Bangkok has been voted the world’s best city as part of Travel and Leisure magazine’s 2010 World’s Best awards. These surveys are always sort of interesting if for nothing more than how contentious they are. How in the world (heh) would Bangkok rank as the best city in the world? Sure, it has a lot of very interesting stuff, but it is so filthy, polluted, crowded and in a state of chaos is disrepair throughout much of the city. Even as a tourist it is sometimes unbearable what a mess it is, and as a resident it doesn’t get better.

It’s always good to look at the criteria used for these kind of surveys. Unfortunately I don’t have the magazine and the story in the Bangkok Post did not go into detail. So how Bangkok was voted tops is a mystery to me. They did say, however, that the survey was completed before the riots in May. If it was done today I’m sure there would be a significant change in rankings.

Meanwhile, on the next page of the newspaper was the story that Thailand has the world’s worst methamphetamine abuse problem. It is so bad that researchers around the world are being drawn here to study this oddity. It is called yaa baa in Thai and researchers from places like Yale University are working with Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University to study the problem in teens and young adults.

So on the one hand we have the world’s best city, and on the other the world’s highest meth addiction problem. The Tourism Authority of Thailand should think about rebranding from Land of Smiles to Land of Contradictions.