Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Commend Science Square in Bangkok

Posted: December 1, 2016 in Thailand

The facilities and programs at Science Square in Bangkok are excellent. I recommend parents with kids in Bangkok take advantage of them.

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Science Square at Chamchuri Square in Bangkok

Background

Science Square is a branch of Thailand’s National Science Museum. The main science museum as well as a natural history museum and an information technology museum are located in Pathumthani. Visit their website at http://www.nsm.or.th/english/index.php. Be aware that the English version of their website is incomplete as some of their programs are described in Thai only. Also be aware that the programs at Science Square described below are all in Thai. So it is for Thai speaking kids. For an overview of the displays with some photos check out the review at http://www.iamwannee.com/a-review-of-science-square-chamchuri-square/. I’m going to talk the actitivies they offer.

Science Lab

There is a great program called Science Lab that is held every day of the week. There are three one-hour long lab projects on different subjects held each afternoon starting at 1:15. My six year old son and I have done three of the labs so far. They are real content-filled activities, not simply empty play.

We did a lab about copper. We dissolved copper sulfate in hot water, then used a mild acid (ascorbic acid) to precipitate out pure copper. We collected the pure copper and added gum arabic to make a sort of paint. A button battery holder and LED were attached to a card that was printed with the circuit diagram. Then we connected the battery to the LED by painting a circuit with the copper paint we had made.

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Circuit Wired Up Using Copper Paint Made in the Lab

Another lab was about ice cream. The concept was to demonstrate how adding salt to ice lowers it’s melting point which is needed to make the ingredients cold enough to form ice cream. After the salt was added to a bucket of ice the ice cream ingredients were added to a metal cup inset into the ice and whisked (for a long time) to make ice cream.

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Making Ice Cream the Hard Way

The third lab we did was about bacteria. We made our own hand gel using water, cabopol (thickening agent), alcohol, triethanolamine (surfactant), and triclosan which is the actual anti-bacterial agent. Kids got to choose a food color and fragrance to add to their gel. The lab leader talked about helpful and harmful types of bacteria.

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Learning About Helpful and Harmful Bacteria

Then the kids took at a look at several types of bacteria using microscopes set up in the Science Lab.

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Viewing Bacteria Under the Microscope

Maker Space

They also have a nice looking Maker Space at Science Square. There have not been any Maker activities on the days we have been there but we want to join them when we can.

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Maker Space at Science Square

It looks like they do some fun projects for kids, like these doodle bots.

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Doodle Bots Made at Maker Space at Science Square

Location

Science Square is located in Bangkok on the top floor of Chamchuri Square. That makes it easy to reach by public transportation for people in Bangkok – the Sam Yan subway station is located right at Chamchuri Square.

Starbucks sues Thai street vendor

Posted: October 21, 2013 in Thailand

In what might seem a case of a large multinational bullying a small local business, Starbucks is suing a Thai street vendor for infringing on its logo. The street vendor’s business is named Starbung and the owner claims his logo is his own original work that is based on how he makes his coffee and the color green for his religion. Here are the two logos side by side:
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Uh, yeah. That right there is what you call infringement. It’s so obviously a direct takeoff. That vendor probably thought Starbucks would never bother a little guy like him. He doesn’t realize that they have to, because if they don’t fight such obvious infringements, even small time ones, they eventually lose their copyright. Starbung should have just dropped it when the cease and desist letter arrived. Trading on the Starbucks logo may have been good while it lasted but he has been found out.

On the other hand, enforcement in Thailand is pretty lax so even if Starbucks pursues and wins the lawsuit it is unlikely that anyone will be interested in enforcing the judgement. Although, if local police were to learn of the judgement it would offer them a fresh extortion opportunity – a small regular payment to keep them from shutting down Starbung. That’s probably how it will go.

I have been living in Thailand for more than ten years now. It was an adjustment at first (major understatement). But after figuring out how to find the things I need and get things done I have settled into a very comfortable lifestyle. For me, it is far superior to living in the U.S. Your mileage may vary – many westerners never adjust and bail out after the honeymoon period.

There are a few things I miss about the U.S. Being from Southern California where we are spoiled for choice of Mexican food I do miss that. There are just a handful of Mexican restaurants in all of Thailand and they are all located in Bangkok. I don’t live there so the best I can do is buy some packaged seasonings and make my own. Recently the local Makro mega store started carrying tortillas so that is a plus, although they are not fresh for sure, and seem kind of weird as if they are specially processed for long shelf life, nothing like the fresh ones back in SoCal. Ok, so lack of Mexican food is a pretty trivial issue given how many other great food choices we have here. So what are the real disadvantages of being an expat in Thailand?

After all this time I finally encountered something that I consider a real issue for an expat in Thailand like me. It came up during the first week of a Coursera course I am taking called Human Computer Interaction. I am taking that course as part of a program to flesh out my web app development skills. Recently I completed 10gen’s MongDB for Nodejs Developers. MongoDB is a NoSQL database that is rapidly gaining usage. Prior to that I completed the Stanford Startup Engineering course where we put together a complete development flow and built a web app using Git, AWS, Nodejs and Bootstrap. When I built mine I added MongoDB, hence the 10gen course to boost my skills there.

So now I am developing skills to put a top quality user interface on my web app via the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) course. One of the first steps in creating an effective interface is what is called “needfinding”. It involves directly observing users performing the tasks that you are attempting to address with your system, noting how they do things and the issues they encounter. The tools and methods for doing this that we are learning in HCI are very effective. With great interest I am diving in.

And I have encountered an issue. Because of where I live and the nature of the surrounding population I am pretty well inhibited from doing any real needfinding. My interface is in English. That means the vast majority of the Thai population cannot be engaged for needfinding. In my local area there are no Thais I know of who can read English. So that leaves me with a few choices.

  1. I could translate the interface to Thai and do needfinding with locals. This is quite cumbersome because translation also involves localization to reflect local usage norms. That could be as big a project as the interface itself. That would make sense if my target was Thai people, but for my initial interface my target is a particular segment of the English literate population.
  2. I could try to do it all online via Skype or screencasts. This has potential but one of the main thrusts of the needfinding step is to observe users in the actual environment they would use the interface. Another strong theme is to avoid investing a lot of time in a high fidelity mockup in the early stages, certainly not before you have done neefinding. Creating a screencast is just wrong at this stage. Trying to observe via Skype is just such an incomplete observation.
  3. I could try to connect with westerners and “internationalized” Thais in Bangkok. There are a number of meetup groups and co-working locations where I could potentially find users for my needfinding efforts. This would require a lot of scheduling to coincide with meetup dates and travel (3 hours drive each way from my location to a meetup in the Sathorn area of Bangkok).

Given my constraints it looks like I will have to settle for the Apprentice track of the HCI course rather than the Studio track that I wanted to follow. I do plan to complete as much of each assignment as possible but will not have the types of observations and interviews that are required to be graded. However, the interface I am developing is for the itinerary rating app I previously created and the motivation for it came from observing the issues on travel forums. So I am going to do try to do the observation steps, albeit indirectly, by analyzing forums postings.

The motivation for this post came from reading a story by someone who wrote about bootstrapping a startup in Thailand that I saw mentioned on Linkedin. The writer talked about how great it was for 6 months in Thailand and kept mentioning how cheap the food was. Those are typical impressions of a short term resident, newbie impressions if you will. Food is cheap until you get tired of eating cheap food. If you want a decent steak you will pay at least triple what it would cost in the U.S. Electronics are more expensive. Cars are way more expensive. The list goes on. But the newbie comments weren’t what motivated me. It was the discussion of isolation. In some ways that is good. But when it comes to doing UI/UX development isolation is not good.

In my earlier post about UK rocker Pete Doherty going to a rehab center in Thailand I wondered if he had chosen the extreme rehab of Wat Tham Krabok. But I was only kidding. Celebs always go to plush rehabs where they pamper you instead of actually burning your demons out of you. Now we find out that Doherty went to the plush center called The Cabin in Chiang Mai. That’s a pic of it below.

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Looks pretty nice. They claim a 96% success rate. I’m sure that means 96% paid for a full course rather than being kicked out early like Doherty was. If you want to see some real results then get thee to Wat Tham Krabok Mr. Pete.

The center says they have successfully treated 300 patients in the past. A former successful patient had previously spoken about how wonderful the center is and boasted that as a result he had been drug free for six months…all that, eh? Seems a bit underwhelming. The rooms sure look interesting at The Cabin.

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Someone asked a question today about what the inflation rate in Thailand is, both the official rate and the gut feel rate. That got me thinking because I know that the official rate is mentioned now and then in the Thai media and from what I recall it has been around 3.5 to 4.0 % for the past few years. My gut feel is that seems about right but maybe a little on the low side, that maybe it has been running higher based on my own sampling of prices. I ended up finding this chart of the offical rate:

Chart of inflation rate in Thailand

It has fluctuated wildly over the last 10 years, over 9% in 2008 to a negative 4% in 2009. That’s the official rate. And yes it does look like it has been flat at a little under 4% for the last couple of years. I’m not sure what the big drop to negative inflation rate means because I sure did not see any price reduction at the time.

Trip to Chiang Mai

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Thailand

Took the family on a trip to Chiang Mai last week. We rented a mini-van (รถตู้) and drove. It was me, my wife, son and nanny. The adults didn’t have much in the way of luggage but the kid stuff amounted to a lot. The drive up there is pretty boring. I think you would call it fly-over country like we refer to the midwest in the U.S. where you would rather just take a plane from source to destination as there is little to see in between. We had searched for intersting stops to make but couldn’t find anything that wasn’t far off the route we were taking north.

We did stop for the night in Lampang which is just a couple hours from our destination in the Chiang Mai area. My wife and I thought that Lampang was a bit of a tourist destination with at least a few interesting things to see and do. But after we got there and looked around we found little of interest. We took a ride in a horse buggy that departed from right in from of our hotel, thinking they would take us to the old town of Lampang. But all we got was a ride through the streets full of cars and the standard ugly shop houses that are the same all over Thailand. Our buggy driver stopped two places – at the old railroad station and a temple – both kind of boring. We asked him if there was an old town area we could visit and he said there was some stuff down by the river but nothing like a preserved old style part of town. So Lampang was a disappointment and I wouldn’t recommend it as a destination or even a stop-over point. Our hotel, Lampang Wienthong, was ok, a large older building in the center of town. 1,200 baht for two people included breakfast that was ok.

The next morning we departed for Chiang Mai. We visited the Chiang Mai Zoo which was just ok, not nearly as good as I expected given all the hype about it I had heard. They have some pandas but so what, they just sleep all the time in a boring looking enclosure. Feeding the giraffes was a highlight. Lunch was good at a little local place near Chiang Mai University. In the afternoon we headed to our boutique resort in Chiang Mai, a nine room resort on the side of a hill in Mae Rim called Baan Mon Muan. It’s a very nice little place, small and quite, built of old hardwoods and decorated with many Lanna style items. No TVs and slow internet connection there so it’s a place to relax and leave the rest of the world behind, although you do have a good cell phone signal but I could only get Edge rates and not 3G. The resort is at an elevation of 1,160 meters so it is dry and at night quite chilly.

We really liked the resort. Staff were very nice, most of them Hmong girls from the nearby village. Food was really good. It’s strawberry season so we had smoothies every day. They do some homemade jams and salad dressings that were really good. For dinners we had typical Thai food like แกงสัม (that orange sour and spicy stew with cha-om and shrimp), stir fried bean thread with pork and veges, fried rice, that kind of thing. Just typical dishes but all were very tasty. They had some tasty deserts, too, like blueberry cheesecake and a warm fudge brownie with whipped cream.

On our second day we went to an elephant camp in Mae Sa. It was pretty fun, especially with our son who had never seen elephants before and who now does an impression of the way they grab and eat food with their trunks. After the elephants camp we went to an area called Baan Tawai which has a big market area where vendors sell their northern style crafts and furniture. There was a lot of intersting stuff there. We ended up buying a piece of furniture that just barely fit in the van with a lot of pushing and manuevering.

One of the negatives of the trip was that we were there during the annual big burn where all the villagers and farmers all over the north and in neighboring countries burn off their fields. The air pollution is horrible, visibility so bad that some years they are forced to close the airport. For us it meant a lot of views that were limited. We could make out nearby mountains but beyond that it was a smoky grey haze. I can only imagine that it must be quite pretty in the mountains at other times of the year. After that back to Khao Yai and clean air.

During the Thailand flooding last year there were many events organized for volunteers to make EM balls for treatment of stagnant flood waters. At the time I was following a lot of action about the flooding on Twitter and kept seeing tweets about people joining the EM ball making parties. I have previously experimented with EM and had read about the use of EM balls for stagnant water treatment so I already knew it was bogus. But few Thais knew anything other than what organizers told them and besides they like to feel like they are doing something to help regardless of whether it actually helps. So thousands of EM balls were produced and tossed into areas where flood waters were trapped and beginning to turn black, rotten and smelly.

The searches I did at that time turned up several independent studies in which EM had been used to treat several types of stagnant water. In all cases the EM actually made the water worse because it depelted dissovled oxygen, resulting in more anerobic decay and worse water quality. One of those studies had been done in Thailand and had been publised but that didn’t stop the Thai government from going ahead with the EM ball parties.

The day before yesterday Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok held a press conference and presented the results of a new study they did. The researchers took water samples from Rangsit and Pathumthani where there were large volumes of trapped flood waters that were terribly stagnant and disgusting. They treated the samples with EM balls. The results were decreased levels of dissolved oxygen and worse water clarity than untreated samples. Basically they confirmed what earlier studies had shown.

The only studies I have found that support the claims that EM can be used to improve the quality of flood waters were done by they manufacturer of EM or people selling the product. All independent studies I know of show it actually makes the water quality worse.