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A Reading Frenzy

On my recent vacation in Thailand at Phuket Island, I bought an e-reader. It’s not a dedicated reader, like a Kindle or a Nook, but, instead, it’s a phablet–a phone and tablet combo. The device is a Lenovo Tab3 7 Essential, and it also fills in as a good e-reader. Until I bought it, I had been using my old Palm PDA with its 2″ x 3″ screen, which made for some difficult reading (without showing any photos, charts, maps, etc.) The Lenovo has a 7 inch screen and shows all graphics nicely. I can use the Kindle reader app with it, or Adobe Reader or any number of other readers.

Lenovo Tab3 7 Essential

Lately, then I’ve been spending a lot of free time reading various books. I recently finished “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which can be found on the Internet for free (along with thousands of other books that have expired copyrights), and I’m now reading “The Lost City of the Monkey God” by Douglas Preston. It’s an at-times fascinating true story of the search for the fabled White City (Ciudad Blanca), lost in the jungles of Honduras for 500 years. I downloaded it from Amazon E-books for a relatively cheap price.

Lost City of the Monkey God

I’ve got a number of other books on my near-future reading list, including “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and various sci-fi and historical fiction novels. I’ll be far from bored when I lie down on my canvas lounge (beach) chair on my front porch on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Bliss, of a sort. More later.

Clear Skies, Finally

Usually at this time of year in Laos, the night sky is quite clear, making for some good star gazing. Lately, though, it’s been unusually cloudy, a ruinous situation for astronomy enthusiasts. Finally, the heavens cleared last Sunday night. I pulled out my trusty 10 x 50 Olympus binoculars and braved the outdoors, covering up to avoid the hordes of mosquitos which have been visiting lately.

The viewing was quite good, though there’s always some light pollution from Nong Khai, across the Mekong in Thailand. That wrecks the viewing of, about, the lower 15 degrees of the sky to the north and east. But, I was searching about 60-70 degrees up, looking for a small star cluster designated Stock 23, a.k.a. Pazmino’s Cluster, that I read about in Sky and Telescope magazine. To my delight, I found it right away. In the binocs, it appeared as a small gathering of four stars that I could only resolve with averted vision. (How I long for a medium-sized telescope. I could buy one in Bangkok, but it would be impractical to use up here because I’d have very few clear nights in which to use it.)

Stock 23 star cluster

This is a screen capture from my planetarium program, Stellarium, showing Stock 23 (Pasmino’s Cluster). It’s the 4 stars right above the crosshairs. This is enlarged a bit from how it’s seen in 10 x 50 binoculars.

I took in a few other views before turning in. The Sword Belt in Orion was, as always, spectacular and the Double Cluster in Perseus showed up nicely. I browsed around the Milky Way, just enjoying all the stars rather than doing a search for particular objects. It was a very rewarding session, especially since I haven’t star-gazed in awhile.

I was reminded of some good times from 60 years ago! My cousins, the Balma family, and I would sit outside their house in Owosso, Michigan at dusk, waiting for the first star to appear. Whoever spotted it would get to make a wish that would (of course!) come true. I don’t remember what we wished for, but I can imagine that some of them became reality.

Every time I spend a few hours or minutes looking into space, I realize how infinite it is and how infinitesimal we are. This is not a depressing thought at all.

Double Cluster in Perseus

Another screen capture from Stellarium showing the famous Double Cluster in Perseus. It’s about the same view I get in 10 x 50 binocs, except the sky is not this clear in Laos!

The Sword of Orion

The Sword of Orion, a great naked-eye object that almost everyone is familiar with. It looks even better in binoculars and it’s spectacular with a telescope. This is another Stellarium screen capture of almost what my binoculars show (except for the sky clarity.)

No Love

Yeah, I’ve been showing my blog no love at all lately. How long has it been since I last posted here? Much, much too long. I’ll try to rectify that soon.

I’ve had a bad cold for the last few weeks, and it’s been hard to shake. I think it’s finally going away, though the intense coughing, at times, is still driving me batty. Hope that goes away soon, too.

It’s been quite cold lately, cold for here, that is. Nighttime temperatures have been getting down to the mid- to low-50s (10-12 C), which is freezing, if you’re not used to it. All too soon, however, the heat will be with us again. In fact, it’s supposed to get into the mid-90s this coming weekend, with lows of around 60 or so.

Right now, I’m filling in at work for another teacher who had to go back to the ‘States unexpectedly, so I’ve been working every day this week. I have one more night of classes to cover next week, then I’m back to my three-days-a-week schedule. The extra money will be nice, but the grind of driving back and forth 25 kilometers every day isn’t a lot of fun.

That’s it for now, but I’ll be doing more posting, giving the blog some attention for a change. Stay tuned.

Happy Holidays

I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday season, whatever and wherever you may be celebrating this time of year. To all my family and friends, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I’m going into Vientiane in just a little while, to see what kind of festivities might be going on in the next few days. However, the double whammy of Laos being a Buddhist country controlled by Communists probably means that there will be few celebrations of Christmas. More likely, the bigger parties will be found on New Year’s Eve and Day.

I’ll spend the New Year holiday at The Farm, since Nai’s family usually has a big get-together at that time, with plenty of food, Beer Lao and other beverages, and music.

So, again, Happy Holidays to everyone and I hope you’re doing well.

Another Year Goes By

Yes, Happy Birthday to me again, as another year passes by all too swiftly. It’s my ??th birthday, but I couldn’t really celebrate it today, since I had to go to the school for a bit this afternoon, and I have to get up around 5 a.m. tomorrow to get ready to go to classes, so it’s early to bed tonight. I’ll probably do a later party tomorrow.

We did do up a birthday cake. Here it is.

My ??th birthday cake.

My ??th birthday cake.

Now, if you really want to know how old I am, try to count the candles. I tell ya, it was horrid. Before I finished lighting all the candles, my fingers got stiff and I went through several books of matches. To top it off, wax was everywhere, which made the cake almost inedible. Though it’s been decently mild here lately, the build up of heat from the candles forced us to turn on a couple of fans to cool us down. As a matter of fact, we needed three fans set very close to the cake and turned up high to get the candles blown out. Well, at least it didn’t start a fire. (See previous birthday posts here and here.)

All in all though, I’m happy I made it through another year. It’s certainly better than the alternative! Thanks everyone for your well wishes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just want to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all my family, friends and readers in the United States. I hope you all enjoy the day with friends and loved ones, wherever you might be.

It’s just a normal work day here in Laos. I’ve seen one advertisement from a restaurant/bar that is serving a special Thanksgiving meal, but it’s during my classroom hours, so I won’t be going. I probably wouldn’t go anyway, since I don’t like riding my motorbike at night unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Again, hope you all have a great day and I hope the weather hasn’t messed up your travel plans. More later.

LoTRO Ecstasy

I’ve written before that I’m, more or less, an addict of the Lord of the Rings Online (LoTRO) role-playing game (See the Blogroll on the right). When I worked in Korea, I played, if work didn’t interfere, up to 3 or 4 hours a day (longer in the cold winter months), and I at least logged in just about every day. I really immersed myself in the 6 characters that I created. I was living life in Middle Earth as, variously, a couple of elves, a couple of men, a hobbit and a dwarf. The graphics in the game are incredible, the best I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t in a hurry to try to get to the highest possible level because the immersion factor and the attention to the details of Tolkien’s books are superb, in my opinion. In other words, it wasn’t the destination, but the journey that was important.

Hobbiton

Looking at part of Hobbiton, The Shire.

Michel Delving

Another part of The Shire. Michel Delving, I believe.

I knew, however, that when I moved to Laos, a country with poor Internet conditions, I would probably have to give up the game. The download speeds would be slow and connection would be spotty. For the most part I was right. Recently, however, I’ve discovered that there are places where the download speeds might be fast enough to play the game. I thought that I’d give it a try.

My first big concern was downloading the game files to my laptop. My old computer, with the game already on it, had been stolen about a month after I got here, so I had to get the files to my new laptop. The game is huge, and a complete download is 13.5 gigabytes. With a slow connection that was going to take a LOT of time. Perhaps, I thought, I could go into Thailand, where speeds are faster, and download it there. Then I discovered that the school’s wi-fi connection allowed speeds of up to 1 Mb/s (megabyte per second) when there weren’t too many other teachers around that were using the connection. That would be early on Saturday mornings and during the weekdays. I tried it, and after a few weeks I got the complete download this past Tuesday!

The other concern was being able to actually play it. It’s very graphics intensive, so I still needed those quick download speeds. Now, I’m not about to sit at my desk, in full view of all the other teachers, and play LoTRO in my spare time, so I needed to find another place to play. I wondered if the various cafes and restaurants that offer free wi-fi would have good connections.

I went to a coffee shop near the school and, after getting the wi-fi password, I logged into the game. I was quite nervous–is the connection fast enough, will other stumbling blocks show up? After a few minutes, voila, I was in. All my characters were still there with all their upgrades I had earned along with the house I had purchased with in-game (not real) money. Yes, you can buy a house in the game to store all the trophies and loot you’ve found, and you can decorate the inside and outside with a variety of Middle-Earth furniture and lawn decorations.

My house in Middle Earth

My house in Middle Earth

View from house

Looking out at the view from my house.

I am in Seventh Heaven! I won’t be able to play every day, and I’ll only be able to play for a couple of hours on those days that I can play. For starters, that’s good enough for me.

Eventually, though, I know I’ll want to increase my playing time. The Internet that I’m able to get at The Farm sucks, in a word. I’m barely able to read email and check the weather. But, Nai’s brother, Pui, works for one of the providers that install the Internet into homes. I talked to him several months ago about the feasibility of installing it at The Farm. He said it could be done, but it would cost around $450. That was too expensive, in my opinion, but now that expense seems smaller in light of the fact that I can play LoTRO again. I’m going to talk to him again the next time I see him and ask about monthly fees, download speeds and download limits. If everything is even just minimally optimal, I’m going to have it installed.

At any rate, for now, I’m ecstatic! Are there any LoTRO players among my loyal readers? Let me know with a comment, please.

By the way, the game is free to play (F2P). There are options to pay real money (not that much) for some nice enhancements, but if you’re not inclined to do that, you can still get an amazing game experience without paying a dime. I’m sure that if you’re a fan of the books, you’ll be quite impressed, and even if you’re not a fan, you may still be bowled over.

Rivendell

A view of part of Rivendell

Still Bloggin’

Yes, I’m still around, but I’ve been way too lax about blogging. I suspect that many bloggers come to a point where they lose interest in blogging, at least for a short while. Some, however, just give it up altogether. I’m of the former group. It’s been quite a while since my previous post, but I’m not giving up on blogging. This blog, for better or worse, has been active (more or less) for more than ten years, and I hope to keep it going for at least another ten. So, loyal readers, both of you, stay with me. I’ve got a post or two coming up about boat racing on the Mekong, including the big one, the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival. I’ll try to get something more substantial up in the next few days. Thanks again for reading, and, as usual, more later.

Rainy Season Arrives

Despite the sun and heat today, the rainy season in Laos has begun. During the previous three weeks or so, swift-moving thunderstorms brought some rain showers, frequently quite heavy, but they didn’t linger. They also had some hellacious thunder and lightning. I was alone at The Farm one night when a simultaneous sizzle, blinding flash and deafening crack shattered the night. The lightning must have been extremely close, needless to say. Lucky, the family dog, was already in the house and he came whimpering over to me. I think he was whimpering. It might have been me. The past three days, however, rainy weather has settled in, bringing a steady drizzle for a large parts of the day and night.

I’d like to say that I’ve been an innocent bystander, or watcher, of these showers, but I had some direct involvement with them this past Saturday. Since I have a 9 a.m. class that day, I left for the college on my motorbike at 6:30 to make the 25 kilometer ride. I don’t usually leave that early, but it was raining, so I wanted to leave myself plenty of time to ride cautiously. At The Farm, there was only a slight sprinkle, so it didn’t seem like it would be a terrible ride, though I knew I was going to get wet. Unfortunately, just outside of Vientiane it began to pour. By the time I got to the school, I was drenched. My clothes were literally dripping wet. I keep a good set of “teacher clothes” at my desk, so the first thing I did was change out of the wet clothes. I hung them on my motorbike handlebars, down in the covered parking lot. It was a bit of fun, ridin’ in the rain (Gene Kelley comes to mind), but I don’t want to do it too often.

I’ll have to invest in some rain wear, since the worst part of rainy season is ahead of us. According to one website, June and July get about 10-11 inches of rain each month, and August and September get 12-13 inches. So, I’ve definitely got some rainy bike riding in my future.

In the near future, though, I won’t be riding the bike too much. The present Vientiane College term finishes this Saturday, and I don’t start teaching again until July 10th. (Shades of the Korean university vacation time!) In the meantime, I might take a trip up to Vang Vieng for a few days, or, preferably, down to Pakse to see the Chutes de Khone, the Khone Waterfall on the Mekong River, the widest waterfall in the world.

Another Drenching

I got nailed again today by a torrential downpour on my way to work around noon. The first shower drenched me just as I was passing by the new U.S. Embassy building construction site, about 5 kilometers outside of Vientiane. It was coming down so heavy that I had to pull over and duck under an awning until it passed. After the rain finished, I resumed my journey, only to catch up with the rain a few kilometers down the road. Again I sought shelter. This happened to me a third time when I got into the city. I just kept catching up with the slow moving storm. I finally made it to the school and changed out of my wet clothes into my teacher clothes. It’s supposed to rain again tonight around the time that I ride back to The Farm. If it’s coming down too heavily, I’ll find a cheap guesthouse to spend the night.

10 Years of MontanaRon

Wow, I just realized that January 3rd was the 10th Anniversary of my first post on this website. 755 posts later, I’m still hanging in there. Thanks to everyone who reads my blog, loyal, intermittent and new readers alike.

I should probably do a retrospective of my favorite posts, but I don’t have the time right now. Classes begin this Monday, and I’m still sending out applications for a new job. No luck, so far. It’s the age thing, of course. Prospective employers here in Korea first look at, before they look at anything else, the age of the person applying, then they look at your photo, and, then, and only then, do they look at credentials. If they think you’re too old or not good-looking enough (or, in some cases, not white enough), you’re application documents go in the trash can. Ridiculous.

Anyway, here’s to another 10!