Posted: October 19, 2013 in Economy
I saw the news that China and the EU have now signed a currency swap deal, the latest in the big move by China to cut the USD out of their global commerce affairs. I keep reading one story after another about these deals so started searching for a list of which countries have entered into currency swap arrangements with China. I read that as of October 15 there were 24 currency swap arrangements but I could not find a consolidated list so here is my attempt.
Countries with currency swap deals with China:
- South Korea
- Taiwan (still in talking stage)
What are the rest of the 24? Some stories I read sounded like the deals were not fully implemented but still in the trial stages. So I’m not sure of the rest. Most of them are in the range of a few tens of billions of US dollar equivalent. Small change taken individually but a few billion here and there adds up after a while. And of course if things go well the swaps will grow in size as time goes on.
Posted: October 19, 2013 in Thailand
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I shouldn’t be smug about this. Being smug tempts fate. But I can’t help it, because I don’t have to sign up for Obamacare! That’s right. Because I am an expat I can completely ignore all the nonsense and overreach of the U.S government as it forces everyone residing in the U.S. to purchase a product even if they don’t want it. As an expat who resides more than 330 days per year outside of the U.S. I am presumed to have “Minimal Essential Coverage” under the ACA so I am not required to purchase health insurance and am not subject to any penalty for not doing so.
So now that I have tempted fate by gloating about this I will worry that the USG overreach will extend further, and in the future they will force people like me who don’t even visit the U.S., and therefore cannot receive medical care in the U.S., to purchase U.S. health insurance anyway. They could very well do that since they already do many things that are completely unreasonable. Perhaps if they do force that on expats they will make some sense of it by requiring insurance benefits to be paid to where we actually use medical services, which is at our local medical facilities outside the U.S. That might be reasonable, although it is likely that the cost of insurance will far exceed any benefit we receive. That’s because I can meet my “Minimal Essential Coverage” by paying out of pocket since I get better health care at a fraction of the cost compared to the U.S. Here’s a good example, my foot surgery at Siriraj Hospital.
After I had that surgery I wondered how much would it cost in the U.S. Questions like that have long been tough to answer due to the sleazy evasiveness of the U.S. medical industry who won’t quote prices and just drop a bomb on you afterwards with outrageous fees. For this post I did some Googling and found something interesting called HealthCareBluebook.com. They list a “fair price” of US$16,398 for foot surgery consisting of $2,074 for physician services, $13,855 for hospital services, and $469 for anesthesia services. Here is the link. Interesting. That is 20 times the price I paid when I had my surgery at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok by one of the top foot specialists in the country. Let me just say that I am a bit surprised the multiple is that high. I was expecting a multiple of 5 to 10.
Now what would happen if I had to buy insurance under Obamacare? I’m guessing that a single year of premiums would be more than the US$709 I paid for the surgeon + two nights in a private hospital room + anesthesia that I paid for my foot surgery. And of course I would have some deductible, probably at least 10% of the bill which would be at least US$1,600 for that surgery in the U.S. So probably at least, I mean the very least, I would be US$2,500 out of pocket for that procedure if I had U.S. insurance and did it in the U.S. And of course I would not have enjoyed the warm care and hospitality of the Thai medical staff; they are so nice and make you feel so comfortable even in difficult circumstances.
So no thanks America. I will stay right where I am. I just need to keep working on how to protect my hard-earned assets from the next attempted grab by the USG. We all do, no matter who we are or where we are.
Posted: September 21, 2013 in World
About a year and a half ago I posted about long term storage of rice using dry ice for purging oxygen in the container. I recently decided to open one of the containers and see how well this approach to storage had worked.
If you look at the photo in that post from last year you can see how the plastic water container had been slightly collapsed by the partial vacuum formed inside due to the absorbtion by the rice of some of the carbon dioxide sublimated by the dry ice. That same partial vacuum was still present when I pulled the container from my food bunker and there was a distinct whoosh of air entering the container when I cracked the seal. Conclusion – these containers form an air tight seal and have minimal gas permeability at least for period of 16 months.
A close look at the rice showed it looked as good as new and there was no infestation of any kind visible. That’s good because around here when we try to save rice for a long period it becomes infested within a few months with some kind of small bug that eats it and turns it to powder. The same thing has happened with things like spaghetti noodles. This doesn’t happen every time or with every product we purchase but it is frequent enough that some action must be taken to prevent the loss of the product. Although I am not sure, I believe the bugs come with the packaged product and don’t enter while in storage. I have read that it is common for there to be eggs or larvae in products like this.
Regardless of the vector and the product, it does appear that the dry ice method is effective for long term storage of rice in an air tight container with low gas permeability. I have another container of rice that was packaged at the same time as the first that I will keep in storage for another year at least and report on results then. I also plan to store additional rice as well as dried beans in the same manner.
I have not yet found a good container for storing products that aren’t the convenient shape of grains. The five liter water bottles I am using for rice are inexpensive (as in free), good quality, and just the right size since we buy five kilogram bags of rice that fit entirely in the bottles with just a small air space at the top. One of those packages gets used in a couple of weeks under normal conditions in our household so the amount is just right. Noodle products like macaroni would also store nicely in the water bottles. But sphagetti and similarly shaped noodles don’t work. A container with a wide mouth would work but getting a reliable seal becomes more of an issue as the size of the seal becomes larger. That translates into expense. So it would seem I need a large number of modest sized containers with a mouth and body of the same size that have a high quality seal. That is not going to be cheap, and I haven’t found them yet anyway.
My final project for Stanford’s online course Statup Engineering is an itinerary planning web app. I call it Itinerated, a little play on words based on the concept of how the app let’s you enter itineraries and then other users rate it. You get “Your Itinerary Rated by the Crowd.”
The idea came from seeing how many times the same itinerary questions were asked on the travel forums I visit. Annoying as the repeat questions are, it’s easy to see why the same questions keep getting asked. It’s because there is rarely any useful feedback and often a lot of trolling and spamming. Since I frequent a couple of different forums I see the same exact question asked, presumably by the same person, across the different forums, which similar results. It seems to me that an app specifically for getting itinerary feedback would be useful. Hence, Itinerated.
The Stanford Startup Engineering course provided an excellent framework for developing and deploying a startup. We covered both technical and business aspects of the startup process that is being successfully used in Silicon Valley. On the technical side, I am using Nodejs+Express+MongoDB+Bootstrap for implementation. I am also using Jade for templating but I am thinking I might move to Angular for further development.
The Itinerated web app is still in rough prototype form. We put together something they call a “bitstarter” which is a Kickstarter-like funding page but asks for bitcoin. That’s what you see when you go to www.itinerated.com. You can try out the prototype of the app by clicking the “Try It!” link at the top. A fair amount of effort and some costs for servers is going to be needed to bring it to full production status.
In near term the class is holding a competition to see which startup can garner the most bitcoin and tweets. You can watch the leader board and check out some of the interesting startups here http://startupmooc.org/.
Posted: July 3, 2013 in Technology
Tags: coding, Coursera, MOOC, startup
I started taking some MOOC‘s (massively open online courses) and have really enjoyed the offerings from Coursera.org. I recently completed the Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python course from Rice which concluded with a project that involved coding a version of the old arcade game Asteroids, but with fancier graphics than the original. Although a lot of the content was provided, like all the graphics and sound effects, the coding portion was still fun and interesting.
Currently I am taking Coursera’s Startup Engineering course from Standford. The syllabus is awesome – we pull together a bunch of software tools needed to code and deploy a web startup, including Linux command line, Git, AWS, Heroku and more. There is a final project that involves coding our app in node.js and trying to get it crowd funded. The course also includes a philisophocial portion with inputs from a number of sucessful Silicon Valley startup founders plus some great background reading. Many of the tools are new to me so it is going to be a challenge but I am really enjoying it so far and hope to get my idea working and deployed.
Posted: December 11, 2012 in Calling 'em out
I was reminded again today why you shouldn’t create content for third parties (for free that is). Today’s reminder came from Squidoo who sent me an email saying a lens I had created long ago had been flagged and was going to be unpublished. The truth is, that lens I created was pretty good and had some nuggets of information you won’t find anywhere else. Apparently their automated systems did not like something about it. But of course they don’t give any specifics, just general ideas under the heading of “low quality”.
So I moved that content to a blog post about Thailand medical care and deleted the Squidoo lens. I was the original idiot for putting effort into content on a third party’s site. But I am redeemed now that the content is on my domain, and Squidoo is the idiot now for chasing my content away.
Footnote: You should note the irony in the fact that this post is on a third party domain. But then, it’s only a 10 sentence post written in a few minutes.