Archive for August, 2010
Baldrick: Oh, no, I hate hostipals. My grandfather went into one, and when he come out, he was dead.
Blackadder: He was also dead when he went in, Baldrick. He’d been run over by a traction engine.
I share Baldrick’s concern, if not his approach to spelling and grammar. I hate the idea of having to go to a hospital. In my advancing years, I am aware that many of my age group suffer from ill-health, many to the point that they are no longer with us; and I try and remember how lucky I am to be currently free of serious ailments. Buddha apparently said: “Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” Amen to that.
However, my son has been in need of visiting a hospital to fix a hernia. I suffered from a similar problem in the same region of my body about eight years ago; but was keen to point out that his could not possibly be caused by my quite excellent genes. Today was the day of his operation, and although it is a simple enough procedure, I have naturally been in a state of fatherly worry.
It was not possible to be in the UK to offer moral support, so I decided to do the next best thing and visit a hospital here, so we could have a long distance shared experience.
Last night I watched a program about a face transplant and thought I might apply for one of those; although the issue of donors might prove to be too difficult. So instead I went for an affliction that requires attention from the pioneers working at the forefront of medicine, something so terrible that more research funds should be allocated by governments and charities to help find a cure. Yes, I rolled up to hospital sporting an ingrowing toenail.
You may mock, and you probably are, but the little fucker had burrowed into my toe and it was painful and infected. I had tried to ignore it for a couple of weeks but it wouldn’t go away, so something had to be done.
In most countries you will find practising podiatrists/chiropodists, doctors of the feet. Not in Thailand. Maybe it is the belief that the feet are the least respected part of the body; so nobody entering medicine would consider specialising in such a low class area. But she who must be obeyed launched herself into Thai Google and found a doctor who humbled himself by addressing problems of the feet.
That was the good news, the bad news was that he operated out of Bangkok Pattaya Hospital; undoubtedly the worst hospital in the area. It’s all shiny and modern, but it has a reputation for providing sub-standard medical care at an extortionate price. With such a complex complaint, I was wary of using their services, but she who must be obeyed had already made an appointment, so off we went to the
big concrete bucket where you pour in money hospital.
We arrive at the waiting area and a nurse is quickly on the scene to take me to a little room where they check your weight and blood pressure. They also charge you several hundred baht for this “service”, but that is never mentioned.
I need to check your weight and blood pressure.
No you don’t. It’s just a toenail.
She looked crestfallen, probably on commission.
Half an hour after the appointment time, I get to see the doctor who is about twelve years old. I agree with his diagnosis that he will need to numb my toe and then rummage around to see what is going on. I find out later that this two minute session cost 600 baht.
I am sent out to wait for the call to the
little room where they do minor procedures fully equipped operating theatre. A woman in a dark uniform approaches; “please come with me”. I follow her with some concern, have I breached the dress code, was I looking at a passing nurse too lasciviously? “You have to go to admissions” she tells me, in a voice that indicates I really should have known that I had to go to admissions without her having to come and boss me around.
I am ushered into a small room where a hard-faced assistant asks me how I intend paying for the procedure that has now been elevated to an “operation” and is now estimated to cost an eye-watering 4,500 baht. We jointly study my insurance card and agree that will not be applicable in this instance. Then we jointly study my credit card and agree that it will be delightfully applicable. Duly satisfied, the woman in the dark uniform, dismisses me and I am left to make my own way through the maze of corridors to the waiting area.
Finally. I am taken to a small room where a nurse prepares various items which I will have to pay for. The doctor arrives and sticks a syringe in my toe, accompanied by the painfully accurate prediction that “this will hurt”. Then he does the rummaging around bit and emerges triumphant from my toe with a large and bloody spike of nail. Kerrching! 1,500 baht, as I am later to discover.
Then I had to hang around for twenty minutes while the nurse scanned something, before being marched under guard to the cashier who presented me with a bill that was just believable enough to accept, but also obscure enough to make challenge impossible. “Nursing and midwifery charge” (presumably just the former), “Packaged Medical Charge”, “Medical supplies” and “Drugs and parenteral nutrition”, which I assumed to be the antibiotics required to pacify the
slightly infected seething mass of pus that used to be my toe. But of course, as usual, they had thrown in a big packet of Paracetamol “for the pain”. The pain being to my wallet of course, as I have no pain in my toe any more; and if I did, I have a box full of Paracetamol tablets, being an unwanted harvest from previous visits to Bangkok Pattaya Hospital.
The total damage was 3,500 baht which is, of course, robbery. I always leave Bangkok Pattaya Hospital with a feeling that I have just been more mugged than cured.
I hate hostipals, particularly this one.
Mahadee was driving with his wife and two year old son when they were fired upon by automatic weapons, Mahadee was seriously injured and his young son was killed. In two other incidents in the same area, three other people were killed. Last Friday, a couple on the way to market were slaughtered.
More statistics to add to the death toll from the unrest in the south of Thailand, where more than 4,000 people have been killed in the last six years. 4,000 lives lost to violence; in any other country this would be considered a national issue worthy of serious attention. Not in Thailand. The killings rarely make it to the front page of the newspapers, if you are lucky you might find a couple of paragraphs on page three.
Government action is limited to complaining about how others see the crisis. The elevation of Thailand into the top ten countries most susceptible to terrorism did not go down well; it’s bad for tourism you see.
The prime minister clearly has the problem under deep consideration. His main message to the nation this weekend was that “the public should closely monitor weather conditions during this period”.
So that’s alright then. Just make sure you have an umbrella with you when those nasty men start firing their guns.
When I retired I owned a reasonably humble camera and accepted that my pension would not support profligate spending on new gear. Then I was lucky enough to start earning some cash with my camera and was able to establish my “camera fund”, whereby earnings would be deposited and retained for future camera upgrades. After all, there was no point in standing in a hot field all day taking photos, followed by days of eye straining processing; just to earn some cash for groceries. There had to be the promise of more gear to make it worthwhile.
And it worked pretty well, such that I could upgrade to a Canon 1D and acquire my monster 300mm lens without having to dip into what I call “my savings” but what other would regard as “loose change”. Once the camera gear was up to date, the name of the fund was changed to “Spike’s toys fund” by a unanimous vote by the fund management committee (me). A Mac Pro followed and I think the iPad was the last acquisition by the fund (bookkeeping is virtual, somewhat foggy and not subject to audit; so I can tell she who must be obeyed that I am buying something using fund resources, when in fact there is bugger all left in the kitty).
Photography jobs have been somewhat sparse of late, so the gear wish list has been growing, awaiting cash to pay for my desires. The sale of some of my Canon lenses recently has topped up the balance nicely. What to do with the cash? Decorate the condo? Buy some urgently needed new underpants? Take she who must be obeyed on a nice holiday? No way; more gear please.
So far there has been the wide angle Olympus lens and the Contax 45mm; but that was just the start. Next on the shopping list was a better flash for the GF1.
Like many cameras, the GF1 has a pop-up flash; but it is rather feeble and will not cast light very far. I needed something more substantial for those times when I needed something more substantial. My Canon had a monster clip-on flash, sufficient for lighting a large area in the dark:
But the Canon flash was too big to sit on top of the GF1, and anyway it had already been sold in the great Canon equipment purge of 2010. In addition, the hot shoe on top of the GF1 where you would normally stick an external flash was occupied by the electronic viewfinder which I did not really want to remove. A bit of searching and I found this alternative:
No sign of a supplier in Thailand; and none of the usual suspects from Hong Kong on eBay had one, so with some trepidation I placed an order with B&H Photo in New York, which I understand is a city somewhere in America. Goodness knows how long it would take to come.
I pressed the order button on a Friday night, and on Saturday they advised they had shipped it. On Monday there was a knock on the door and a smiling man gave me a box with a Flash in it. Amazingly quick service.
Enthused, I ripped off the packaging and inspected the flash. Let’s give it a try. Slide open the battery compartment to insert some batteries and… nothing happened. The cover would not move. More fiddling and still no movement, so onto the web to seek instructions. Mr. Google offered a comment from another proud owner: “I have had this bloody flash for a week and I am still unable to get batteries into it.”
This was not looking good, so in desperation I turned to the rather chunky user manual. Metz is a German company, but are known all over the world for their flash guns; so I expected the manual would be in English.
But I was met with “Dieser Blitz wird gefickt, geschieht dir recht English Schwein”, which I decided must be German.
Oh well, turn to the next tab which would certainly be English. But:, “Je tiens à vous lécher l’anus, grand garçon”. Looks like the French are favoured by the Germans, possibly because they were so cooperative in the last war.
Never mind, must be English next. But: “Uw hoofd is gemaakt van aardbeien”. Bugger me, it’s the Dutch, presumably being favoured for involunarily donating all their bicycles to the German war machine.
Finally, in fourth place, there was a rather badly translated English version, which provided no additional help regarding gaining access to the battery compartment. This was followed by the Italian translation (didn’t try hard enough and ran away too often in WW2), and finally the Spanish who rarely buy flash guns anyway.
In the end I gained access to the battery compartment using the same technique that I use with all precision devices that refuse to be precise; I forced open the cover with a screwdriver. While doing so, I pondered why an international company would provide documentation where English was placed below German, French and Dutch.
Metz was formed in Germany by Paul Metz in 1938.
After a brief but satisfactory test of the 9-18 Olympus lens yesterday, I put it in my dry cabinet alongside the equivalent lens I use with the Canon 1D, a Sigma 12-24. It struck me, yet again, what a waste of weight and money a DSLR system can be. Here are the two lenses together:
The Sigma is bigger, heavier, 50% more expensive; but the Olympus takes better photographs. Possibly explains why I have been unable to sell the Sigma.
While I was at it, I made a better snap of the Contax on the GF1; lovely (the lens, not the snap).
After a week of consistently rubbish weather, today offered some sunny skies and I popped out to try our new wide angle lens, acquired a week ago but not yet used.
For a four thirds camera there is a choice of the Panasonic 7-14mm or the Olympus 9-18mm. The Panasonic is meant to be slightly better for image quality, but it is bigger, heavier and 50% more expensive. So we got the Olympus.
Off to a nearby temple and tried some wide angle shots. The results looked acceptable.
Walked round the corner and there was a conveniently placed cow and an inconveniently placed tree trunk.
I tried to persuade the cow to move to a more photogenic spot, but it was too stupid to understand me. So instead I changed to the Contax 45mm and just photographed the cow.
It dawned on me that Thai cows are a similar beige colour to Thai soi dogs. Presumably if a cow/dog has enough sex with enough passing cows/dogs of varying hues over several generations; the resulting colour will be beige. I rock at genetics.
There are very few people in the world who make a good living from photography. The upper echelons of the industry are fiercely competitive and you have to be very good and geographically well placed to take advantage of opportunities. I am not very good and I live in a small town in Thailand.
I have earned a little from the occasional job, but have also investigated other ways of making money from my photos. One of the options is stock photography. The principle is simple enough. You load your photos onto a stock photography website. Other people come along and buy them. The site keeps part of the sale price and you get the rest. Riches ensue. Except they don’t.
I started my stock photo career with istockphoto. I loaded a few photos before realising that they were selling them for about a dollar; which meant I would receive something less than a dollar for each sale. And they were uber-strict about logos, in as much as your photo could not contain any. Goodbye all my cool windsurfing and motor racing shots. Also goodbye a cool windsurfing shot which didn’t contain logos because I spent a day removing them with Photoshop, because I didn’t have signed model release from the passing sailor to say I could sell his image.
In the end, my massive library in istockphoto totalled 4 images which have earned me $44 over five years; and I have not seen the cash because it is too small an amount to send to me.
So I rather lost interest in the whole stock photography venture, until Mr. Enthusiasm Ray raised the idea with me again. He has been contributing to stock libraries for years and makes a reasonable amount every month, certainly enough to make me think it was worth investigating again.
He contributes to a number of sites including Getty Images which is one of the top stock sites in the world (respect); but more at my level is a company called Alamy. Unlike the dollar a photo deals in istockphoto, Alamy are selling to clients who are willing to pay in the hundreds of dollars; now that sounds more like it.
It’s a matter of moments to sign up to Alamy, but then you read what you have to do to be accepted as a photographer. You need to send them four images which are then subjected to quality control. The rules are quite simple. Every image has to be technically perfect. Sharp where it should be sharp, no noise, no blemishes, no chromatic aberration; just a perfect photo. Once those four have passed, then you can submit more; but every batch can be subject to random checks and if a photo is found not to be perfect then the whole batch is rejected. Fail QC too many times and you are thrown out. No pressure then.
I selected four images, not because they were particularly saleable, but because they were technically clean, and I sent them to my guru. He said they would be OK, so I submitted them to Alamy and then waited a couple of days for the QC. Success! I am now an Alamy photographer.
But that is not the end of it. Before you can put the photos up for sale you have to assign keywords. There are 19 million images on Alamy (now there are 19,000,004 thanks to me), and it is the keywords that will decide whether or not a customer will see your image. You have to guess what search terms they will use and the process is a mixture of art and science. Ray had told me he spent more time on keywording than preparing his photos, and last night I found out why.
He set me the task of putting keywords on my four images. I spent at least an hour on each trying to develop a suitable list. She who must be obeyed helped by going to a stock site, calling up similar images and checking the keywords they had used. Eventually I had an impressive list of words and sent them off to Ray. He was quickly back with a longer and better list; I have much to learn.
By 2200 I had finished preparing my four photos and they will soon be for sale in Alamy. All I have to do now is wait for the money to roll in. Probably I shall add some more, a hundred should be enough to ensure a reasonable income.
I asked Ray how many he had on Alamy. Probably more than a hundred by now?
Three thousand eight hundred
You can expect to sell one photo a month for every thousand you have loaded to the site.
I suggest you plan to load at least forty a week to start building up your stock.
This is going to be more of an enterprise than I anticipated; but I just have to think of all the eager punters out there, just aching to buy a photo of a polo pony, a motorbike, or a cat. Riches will ensue.
The more pedantic among you (g******j), will be quick to point out that there has been no post entitled “It’s all Ray’s fault – Part 1″. In fact, there has been, it was just not made obvious.
About a week ago I announced my intention to sell my Canon camera gear. I noted that “At some point in the last couple of days I finally decided that sitting on a pile of expensive Canon gear to support the occasional job or sporting shoot was just silly”. This was true, but I did not enlarge upon what pushed me into making the decision.
In truth I had been procrastinating for months about selling my DSLR equipment. I would wake up of a morning with a firm decision to dispose; but by lunchtime had decided I would keep it for ever. By late afternoon I was re-drafting eBay adverts and by bedtime they were deleted and I would go and give the nearest lens a little stroke of affection. I couldn’t decide, and so the default was to do nothing.
The tipping point came in the fresh fruit section of Central food hall on a Saturday afternoon. She who must be obeyed was whizzing about buying stuff to eat and I was feeling as bored as I always do in food halls. Then the phone rang and it was Ray.
I ran into Ray on a photography forum and we have struck up a friendship. We have never met, but we both have a Mac and we both have a GF1 camera and we both live in the same country; which in some cultures is sufficient basis for a marriage. Before retirement, Ray was a professional photographer and for many years he covered the Formula 1 championship; which gives him something of a hero status in my eyes. He is a very enthusiastic and helpful chap and I always enjoy our conversations; especially those which take place in food halls and relieve me from the tedium of having to try and direct my wife to the check-out without passing any of the expensive cosmetic counters.
I can’t remember the purpose of this particular phone call; but we moved onto the topic of using “legacy” lenses on the GF1 and it was downhill from there.
If you buy a micro four thirds format such as the Panasonic GF1 (and you really should), then you have the choice of a reasonable range of lenses from either Panasonic or Olympus; and one from Leica. But that is just the tip of the lens iceberg. The size of the camera means that it is just crying out to accommodate the huge range of lenses from rangefinder cameras such as Contax, Leica and Nikon. The market was quick to respond and soon you could buy adapters which enabled you to attach almost any lens to a micro four thirds camera.
As a photographer of many years, Ray already had some classic lenses which he had used with his rangefinder cameras, and had since invested in more to use with his GF1. And they are investments. A few years ago you could only use these lens with a beat-up old film camera; but once you could stick them on the front of a modern digital camera, prices rose steeply.
So Ray was on the phone telling me how great these lenses were, and I was thinking “I want one”, as well as “she who must be obeyed is getting dangerously close the face cream section”.
And that (the lens desire, not the face cream) is what prompted the sale of the Canon gear. Sell the Canon lenses and use some of the money to get my hands on a classic. And they don’t come any more classic than the Contax 45mm F2 Planar, for years evaluated as the highest quality lens in the world for a 35mm camera, and even now only bettered by a $5,000 Canon monster.
So I found one on eBay and I bought it, for the grand sum of $350, which was a whole lot less than I had received for just one of my Canon lenses. And I got an adapter thingie; and they both arrived yesterday. Here they are attached to my GF1, rather hastily snapped with my phone, for which apologies:
The lens is unmarked and works perfectly. The big black ring at the back of the lens is part of the adapter. You turn the black ring and it connects to the focusing ring on the lens. Yes, no automatic focusing here. But the zoomed-in view support for manual focusing in the GF1 makes focusing easy; and the lens is a joy to use; makes you feel like a proper photographer.
In a break between rain storms, I popped out today and took some shots of flowers. Very happy with the results. I sent some to Ray. “Very nice, now you need to go and buy the Contax 90mm”. Just as well I have some cash left over from all the Canon gear I just sold, talking to this man is expensive.
Detail from above photo (click on image to see full size):
It’s the time of year when there is not a lot on the TV. Not Thai TV of course, there is nothing on any of the fifty or so channels that is worth even a passing glance; ever. But American TV offers many series that we enjoy watching. But it is the summer in America and people go out to enjoy the sunshine and protest about cultural centres being built on the site of a carpet warehouse, rather than staying indoors and watching TV, so the current offerings are rather slim. Only next month will we be able to enjoy the likes of Dexter, House and my personal guilty pleasure, Desperate Housewives.
The off-season disappoints she who must be obeyed. She enjoys it when we can sit together and watch the latest episode of a series, as do I; so when she told me about a series her friend had enjoyed, I decided to check it out.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand was the recommendation. It’s a thirteen part series that has already aired, so it was a matter of a couple of days to download the seven gigabyte torrent containing all the episodes and we settled down to watch episode one.
I don’t know where this series was shown, but it must have been on a fairly liberal channel and after nine o’clock at night. It’s a mixture of 300 (the blood-drenched comic book adaption movie), Rome (the TV series) and Debbie Does Dallas (a naughty movie, apparently); with a script written by a fourteen year old male with raging hormones. First, the blood. There is a lot of it. I mean gallons, gallons per minute. People are punched, punctured, impaled, dismembered; and every act of violence is accompanied by lashings of the red stuff. It is so over the top that it amuses rather than offends. Rome? Well, there is a smattering of history in the story. We learn of Spartacus, a slave who becomes a gladiator and achieves fame. No sign of him leading a slave uprising yet; but then he has been rather busy slicing people up and dreaming of when he used to shag his wife. Which segues nicely into the Debbie section. There is a lot of shagging. And nudity, both female (hurrah!) and male (yes dear, I know he looks bigger than me). It’s pretty explicit stuff too.
By the end of episode one we had experienced a massive body count in terms of slaughter, and a massive body count in terms of sexual relations. She who must be obeyed was rather overwhelmed by the whole experience. “They shouldn’t call this Blood and Sand”, she decided, “it should be called Blood and Tits”.
And it was so. And although episode one could be summarised as being “rather stupid, with extra breasts”, we persevered and found that subsequent episodes, whilst still deserving of my wife’s description, actually expanded the story and characters a little. Most of the actors have been chosen for the size of their breasts or their pecs (and in one annoying case, the size of the penis); but John Hannah stands out as the scheming gladiator trainer, and there is a woman I do not recognise who does an excellent impersonation of a Roman Paris Hilton (she has nice breasts too of course).
The series has resulted in some interesting discussions:
She who must be obeyed: Where is Capua?
SWMBO: So why are they all speaking English?
At this point she giggled, either because it was a joke or she suddenly realised it should have been. Nothing daunted, she continued:
And why aren’t they eating pizza and pasta?
At this point I felt duty bound to launch into a brief history of the Roman Empire and the Latin language. I felt qualified to spout on the latter because I had suffered years of Latin at school, tutored by an old tramp called Eggburger who detested the idea that Latin was considered a dead language. We would subtly chide him on the matter with questions like: “Sir, why is Latin a dead language?”
It was certainly a strange language in translation, A typical sentence would read: “Agricola, have conquered, set sail for Rome”; the sort of stuff that would have genuinej up in arms.
Spartacus: Blood and Tits mimics this jumbled word talk in a manner that is consistently giggle-worthy, and occasionally confusing for a lady whose first language is not English. For a start, they never say “thank you”, instead they do a reasonable take on gratis by mumbling “gratitudes” every time they don’t get their head cut off or achieve an orgasm. For the rest, they just re-arrange the words in the sentences. To the bath house for a blow-job, shall we go then? Much spurting of the blood today have we seen. Etc. They also say “fuck” and “cunt” a lot. I have no way of knowing the historical accuracy of this as Mr. Egggburger neglected to include this in the syllabus.
I enthusiastically conveyed this information to she who must be obeyed, but she was not really interested.
Can we watch another episode of Blood and Tits now please?
Spartacus: Blood and Tits; even better than Desperate Housewives.
Yesterday’s mention of the media generated shit storm that erupts with every new offering of Grand Theft Auto turned out to be prescient. Not long after the shock and horror of the “kill all the people at the airport, especially those getting in your way with a luggage trolley” scandal; now we have a new episode of Modern Warfare 2 which is upsetting some people who really should have better things to do with their time.
One of these people is blubber-faced Liam Fox, the UK Secretary of State for
On a recent trip to Afghanistan to visit the British troops that are being killed for no discernible objective in a war that they can never win, he made sure of some column inches by whining about the upcoming Modern Warfare 2 release which is set in Afghanistan. His complaint was that players can not only play as the plucky coalition forces, they can also switch sides and play as the evil Taliban.
Liam was appalled. “It’s shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban,” said Fox. “At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands.” Mr. Fox was no doubt thinking of the 1,912 coalition soldiers who have lost their lives in the conflict.
Meanwhile, in a field nearby, Mr. Fahmi Hamzah, a farmer, was equally appalled. “It’s shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the coalition forces,” said Fahmi. “At the hands of the coalition forces, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands.” Mr. Fahmi was no doubt thinking of the 6,000+ civilians who have lost their lives as the direct result of coalition operations.
One can only hope that the game will include a Taliban mission where you have to raid an army base and take out a visiting politician/media whore before he opens his mouth and talks bollocks.