Back to the Future of Phones

Sometimes the universe throws things your way that can be attributed only to remarkable serendipity. As I had just exchanged of comments with another Xangan about how technology has rapidly changed in the past few decades (in this case, in the context of how to meet people – you remember when people placed personal ads in a newspaper and would receive responses to their post office box?), I came across this funny smartphone accessory:

Broconi Retro iPhone Handset

The Broconi Retro iPhone Handset. Using a form that will be familiar to anyone over the age of about 30 (or who has watched Mad Men), the handset plugs into the audio jack or 30-pin connector on your smart phone. Sure, it is wildly impractical, but with all the concern over smart phone radiation frying your brain each time you make a call, maybe it’s a forward-thinking idea to keep your phone away from your ear. I can’t think of a more stylish way to accomplish that.


This is Your Brain on Computers

How many digital devices do you have?  How much time do you spend on the computer, either for work or for recreation?  I imagine I’m pretty much in the mainstream, relying heavily on the computer for most of my work and certainly spending a fair amount of time (although not as much as some people) checking emails, updating my blog, and reading articles on the internet. 

I already know that the sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for my body, but what effect is all this technology use having on my brain?


An interesting article in the New York Times titled Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price caught my eye.  It is a pretty lengthy article but the core piece that caught my attention is this:

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people … these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

Accompanying the article are two online interactive tests you can complete, one that measures your focus and the other that measures how quickly you juggle tasks.  Curious, I took both.  My results are below.  The two tests are very interesting and take only four or five minutes apiece.  Check them out and let me know how you did.


Edit: Senlin just pointed out that my real skill is in misinterpreting test results.  It seems that I’m actually a very poor multitasker.  Maybe I should try the test again.  Or maybe I should just learn to love myself the way I am.  =(

For multitasking, I performed better than both low multitaskers and, to a lesser extent, high multitaskers.  As much as I am skeptical whether “multitasking” really exists (sometimes I think it just means to do multiple things without much focus, rather than focusing on multiple things at the same time), it looks like I am a pretty effective multitasker.


With regards to my ability to focus, I scored better than both low and high multitaskers.  Generally, I have a low level of distractibility, as Tawn will attest anytime I’m in the midst of reading Xanga subscriptions and he wants my attention.

Seriously, though, as much as I’m a bit of a technology geek and know my way around computers reasonably well, I’m increasingly reaching the saturation point.  I haven’t jumped on the smart phone bandwagon, for example, and I’ve been consciously scaling back the time I spend on Facebook and other social media.  As for random browsing on the internet, following one link to the next, I’ve but the kibosh on that.

Instead, I’ve been reading more books lately, exercising more, and working on a project for my grandparents’ upcoming 90th birthdays. 

This is my brain, unplugged.

What about you?  How do you feel about your use of technology?  Too much?  Not enough?  Just about right?


Air Conditioning Fiasco Resolved

A week after it started, we finally resolved the air conditioning situation.  You will recall that we moved the unit from bedroom A to bedroom B because it was a bit too loud for Tawn.  But the replacement installed into bedroom A stopped working after exactly one night.  Since the owner of the air conditioning company was out of town on a New Zealand holiday, we had to wait for his return to do anything more than have the new unit and compressor removed.

Instead of replacing the Panasonic unit that lasted only one night with another Panasonic unit, the decision was made to return to the same Mitsubishi model that we originally had installed in bedroom A – the one that we removed because it makes too much noise. 

According to the sales person, the noise issue was because of how it was installed and isn’t related to the machine itself.  That may be true, since I work in bedroom B and haven’t heard any noises when running the Mitsubishi until throughout the week.

In any case, this should help lower our electricity bill next month, since for the past week we had the main living room air con running all night and used fans to blow the cool air into bedroom A.

Check that off the list!


The Air Conditioner Drama

It started innocently enough.  We called the air conditioning service company out to move a unit from one room to another and install a new unit.  A simple procedure that should have been unworthy of note.  And yet it managed to develop into an unfinished saga, a tale needing to be told in a blog entry.

Unlike homes in the United States, which have central heating and air conditioning, homes in Southeast Asia have a much more efficient and tidier solution: individual units in each room.  This way you are only cooling the space you occupy, instead of the entire house.

Our condo has three air con units: a large one in the living room, a medium-sized one in bedroom A (the master bedroom) and a smaller one in bedroom B (which is the area partitioned off from the living room by a pair of pocket doors).

About six months ago, the unit in bedroom A finally failed.  It was probably ten years old and despite many service calls, it was time to replace it.  The new Mitsubishi unit with the “smart eye” sensor was efficient at cooling, but Tawn felt like it made a little too much noise and was disturbing his sleep.

A few months later, the unit in bedroom B also stopped cooling.  Since that bedroom is at the corner of the building and gets a good cross breeze when the windows are open, I’ve been content to save money on electricity and just spend my days working with a fan and the breeze to cool me off.  As the weather has become hotter – a string of days in the mid 90’s with little breeze last week – I finally cried “uncle” and asked Tawn to call the air conditioning company.

We’ve used this company, based on a recommendation of a friend, for more than two years and other than the occasional lack of attention to detail – which seems typical of most manual workers here in Thailand – we’ve been pleased with their work.

Tawn arranged for them to come out and do three things: move the “new” unit from bedroom A into bedroom B (removing the broken unit in bedroom B and disposing of it), install a new, quieter Panasonic unit in bedroom A, and then clean the remaining unit.

The team of five workers and one supervisor showed up Wednesday afternoon with a new Panasonic air conditioner and compressor and set to work.  It was kind of a circus act, in all meanings of the word.


They were like contortionists, squeezing themselves into the space on top of my work armoire, which is quite heavy to move.  This is in bedroom B and contains my computer, printer, etc.  I have no idea if it is constructed solidly enough to have two people sitting on top of it.


They were like high wire artists, improvising a scaffolding between our balconies in order to get to, remove and reinstall the compressor.  What did they use?  An aluminum ladder.  Because of the position of the compressor, the ladder wouldn’t rest on both balconies, so they simply used a rope to tie one end to the balcony railing.


Yes, he sat out there, four stories above the car park, working on the unit.  When I exclaimed that it seemed rather dangerous, he assured me that he had done the same thing the other day on the tenth floor of a building.


Even more daring, this young man is sitting on the compressor support frame that is bolted to the concrete wall.  I would assume that it was installed when the building was completed ten years ago.  Now, he’s a pretty small guy – maybe 110-120 pounds – but even at that weight I still wouldn’t be sitting out there!


Continuing the circus motif, they were also a bit like the clowns that climb out of the impossibly small car.  They had more equipment spread around the condo, six of them stumbling over one another, dripping water everywhere and generally making a mess that didn’t get very effectively cleaned up until I did it.


All of this would be well and good if the story ended there with the new unit installed, the previous unit relocated, and the condo properly cooled.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it turned out.

Wednesday night we turned the air con unit in bedroom A on and it ran cool and quieter than the Mitsubishi unit that had been in there before, but by the middle of the night it seemed like even though we had it set to 22 C (about 70 F) it wasn’t that cool.

Thursday, Tawn called the service company and they said they would come out on Saturday and take a look.  But Thursday night when we turned the unit on again, it wouldn’t cool at all.  You could hear the unit drawing power as if to turn the compressor on, but it didn’t cycle on.

We had to sleep with the bedroom door open and the units in the rest of the condo running full, with two floor fans directing the cool air into the bedroom and circulating it.  Not the most efficient way to cool things and I can’t wait to see how high our electricity bill is next month.

Friday morning Tawn called them again.  He told them that they needed to come out that afternoon.  The owner, whom Tawn had tried to track down, had just left for a week’s vacation in New Zealand, so he couldn’t get hold of anyone who would accept responsibility and authorize replacing the unit.

One thing Tawn wanted to avoid was them trying to repair the unit they had installed.  In his mind – and I agree – if it is already having problems on day one, then it is going to continue to have problems even if various parts are replaced or repaired.  Better to pull it out and demand a new unit.

Friday afternoon the team showed up, inspected the compressor, and pronounced that there had a fatal flaw.  Tawn insisted they take the unit out entirely and bring it back to their office until the owner returned from holiday.

So here it is Monday night.  Tonight will be our fifth night sleeping with the multiple air conditioning units and fans running to keep us cool. I’m thinking of dragging the mattress out to the living room, but then if guests come over that might be a bit awkward.  And we do have guests in town so the likelihood of that is high.

I wish there was some neat ending to this story.  Some, “and it all turned out wonderfully in the end” that I could add.  Unfortunately, there isn’t, yet.

Stay tuned, though…


Virtual Friends

Last month I did some pruning of my Facebook “friends” list.  There were several people on there whom I don’t really know and definitely don’t have any regular contact with.  Given the amount of information that Facebook provides me, a mostly uncontrollable flood, I finally asked myself, “Why am I getting updates about people I don’t really know, haven’t seen in more than a year, and don’t stay in touch with?”

Now, I’m the first to recognize that a virtual “friend” isn’t going to be the same thing as a real-life friend.  But there are “friends” on Facebook who, even if we haven’t spent much time hanging out together, we are still regularly in contact with one another.  We comment on each other’s updates and photos, etc.

Same thing here on Xanga.  There are many people in Xangaland with whom I feel I’ve developed a close rapport.  We share stories about our lives, comment on each other’s stories, have little dialogues.  I interact with some of these people more than I do with my family.  So I don’t want to suggest that virtual “friends” can’t have a lot of value. 

But it does seem like a point was reached where I had to make some decisions, at least with regards to those Facebook “friends”. 

I knew that doing so might come back to haunt me.  Sure enough, this week I received an email from one of these pruned “friends”:

We used to be facebook friends… OK, we haven’t hung out in a while, but I’m a little surprised that you deleted me. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t done anything to sprite you.

Anyhow, not broken up over it. It’s just kinda funny.


To which I thought, “You may not be broken up about it, but it must have bothered you enough to send this message.”

After a few days of figuring out the most diplomatic way to say, “I don’t really know you so I don’t feel the need to call you a friend,” I settled on the following:

Hi R,

Rest assured my deleting you doesn’t have anything to do with you having spited me. After the most recent facebook format was put into place, I’ve found it difficult to manage the amount of information I’m receiving. The flood of status updates, quizzes, photo album adds, etc. is making it difficult for me to stay up to date with those people whom I know well and stay in touch with regularly.

Because of that, I decided to start pruning my list of virtual friends. I feel that I don’t really need to be receiving updates on people I’ve only met a couple of times and haven’t had any contact with in a year or more.

I hope you’ll understand my decision to try and define virtual “friendships” less like acquaintances and more like friendships I have in real life.



Do you think I handled it diplomatically enough?  It is tough to tell someone that, but I didn’t want to wuss out and make a lame excuse like, “Oh, that must have been an accident.”  If I value honesty and directness from others, I guess I should be willing to be honest and direct – and hopefully tactful – myself.

Where are you on the virtual friends issue?


A New Phone

P1170061 After my phone was munched a week ago by the Skytrain fare gate, I started searching for a replacement.  Fancy phone?  Basic phone?  iPhone?  PC-based interface?  What to do, what to do?

I though my problem was solved when I discovered Tawn’s old Motorola Razr sitting in his dresser drawer.  It looked like it was in okay shape and I thought that maybe it still worked. 

After charging it up and slipping my SIM card in, I discovered why he had abandoned the phone: it no longer reads SIM cards.  Pretty, but functionless.

With the LCD leak spreading, covering about half again as much of the screen as in the picture above, I realized it was time to act.

nokia1680-Black I was really torn about what to do, hesitant to spend the money on something really fancy (phones are super expensive here – an iPhone is about $800). 

Finally, after a browse in the local Nokia store, I settled on a Nokia 1680, a classic candybar model (pictured left) that is, in their range of about 40 models, about three from the bottom.

The only models more basic than mine were a strictly black and white model (what I had before) and a color model without a camera. 

My model has a color screen and a 3-megapixel camera, but not too much other than that.  Most importantly it looks super-durable.  the buttons are sort of “rubberized” and the case has a very solid feel to it.

Best of all, it was only $52, which for a phone here is quite a steal.  Hopefully it will last me several years.

Whew!  I feel so much better now that that decision has been made.


My Nokia was munched!

When it comes to technology, I’m very willing to be at the cutting edge, but I have a strong practical bent.  I don’t run out and buy the latest thing unless I can see a particular practial use for it.  A good example of this is my phone, a “classic” Nokia 3120.  The copyright date in the user manual is 2004, so it is very old by mobile phone standards.

When I bought it, I specifically bought a black and white screen even though most models at the time featured color screens.  I just didn’t see a need to have color as all I did with the phone is place calls and send/receive text messages.  It has no camera, no MP3 player, no GPS.  It does have a nifty silver chrome finish.  At least, it used to.  And it has Thai language capability.

In any case, I’ve been suspecting that the time would come when I would have to cave in and buy a new phone.  That time was hastened thanks to the ticket gates on the BTS Skytrain.  During rush hour yesterday, I passed through and as sometimes happens when there is a queue trying to move through the gates quickly, the closing mechanisms got confused and closed right on my hips.

Oww!  Those things hurt.  In fact, BTS safety regulations ask young children and pregnant women to walk through a side entry gate, precisely because of the danger these fare gates pose.  My first thought is that something that closes with so much force probably is too dangerous for general public use!


My phone, which was in my front left-hand pocket, caught the full force of the blow and the LCD screen (as you can see) has cracked.  So this weekend I guess I will have to cave in and go buy a new phone.

Yuck.  There are too many models out there for me to make sense of.  One trip to the Nokia website left my head spinning.  And that’s just considering one maker.  ‘iPhone! iPhone! iPhone!”  I can hear the chants growing.  It seems like half the people I know have one of these, which are expensive in Thailand.  I don’t know that I really need all the features they offer plus the thousands of apps.

Web browsing might be useful, but I was using Tawn’s HTC web phone the other day and had to give up as I think the little keyboard is too small for convenient use. 

The only features besides phone and texting that I really want: a decent camera and GPS so I can geo-tag the pictures.  That would be useful when riding my bike, so I can map my route more easily.  MP3 isn’t so important as I don’t like wearing earphones when walking about town.  I like to be connected with my surroundings.

Any thoughts or recommendations?


How would computers be different… UPDATE

A week or two ago I wrote the entry below, wondering how computers would be different if women had created them.  It was in response to a post Meg wrote about Dell’s new “women friendly” website.

You know how once you start thinking about something, you see examples of it everywhere?  That’s now the case with the issue of marketing computers to women.  On the Skytrain platform yesterday I saw a three-panel ad from HP announcing the new HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam Edition. 


Note that with every purchase you get a chance to win a package tour to Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo worth 130,000 baht (about $3800).

It’s like they have just decided to embrace the stereotypes in a bear-hug, as opposed to Dell’s attempt to go the “Sex and the City” or “The View” approach.

Original post:

Della 2 After reading and responding to a fun post by Meg about Dell Computers’ awkward attempt to appeal to women through their Della site, a question came to mind: How would computers be different if they had originally been designed by women instead of (mostly) men?

Della 1

I’m not looking for snappy answers, although you can feel free to share them.  I’m genuinely curious about how the shape, form, function, interface and feel of computers would have been different had they emerged from the garages (kitchens?  sewing rooms?) of women.