By Graham K. Rogers
Over the weekend I left Bangkok. I was with the students and some of the teachers in the province of Uttaradit, staying at the Sirikit Dam. Use of computers and software is limited and the phones are not always in touch with my usual world: no wifi, no 3G, no EDGE; even no telephone signal at times. This was the first full day of the trip before heading back slowly on Sunday.
It was clear almost from the moment of our arrival that, despite the technology and systems around us, things were not as ordered as I am used to, in a city sort of way. We did not have the same accommodation as on my last visit and I shared a room with a colleague; while we all shared with the family of another of the members of the department. Fortunately we all knew each other.
Rightaway I found that there was no 3G signal here. Although wifi existed, it was in only one location and had to be used with a password, but there was a limit of 20 devices connected at any one time. With no internet at the house - itself spartan - I was able to type up the report I had written for the day (from 7 pages of notes) with fewer interruptions.
When the text was done, I downloaded the photographs from the Nikon D7000. As the SD card from that camera just slots into the side of the Mac, that was easy. The larger compact flash card from the Nikon D70 means I have to use a connector - that had to wait.
I tried to sleep but it was cold, and students were celebrating not far away. The colleague with whom I was sharing the room, snores. As I do as well, I can hardly criticise, but it has made me more aware of what I do. Just before 06:00 the two drivers started chatting outside. I tried to doze, but it was all over and I went for a shower at 06:30.
I left for an early breakfast and to try the internet on the Mac. On my way down, I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. I passed a group of students all dressed in coats with hoods up, looking very miserable in the cold. I stopped to chat and noticed that the level of water in the river was low. Overnight, I guess, with demand for power reduced, the amount of water being used had been decreased.
On Friday night I had just used the iPhone to connect to the wi-fi network, but now I needed some serious uploading, beginning with photographs to my Facebook page. I had selected a dozen or so and used 6 of these for Facebook: I used all for the webpage for Day 1. The Mac was cold to the touch - as cold as when I use it in my office - which meant that the trackpad was never as good as it should be. Aperture was its usual soggy self: it is well overdue for an update to bring it back to its former effectiveness. I know that part of the reason is that the images I use from the D7000 are larger, but it used to run on 2 GB of RAM: now 4 GB is not enough; and I have still not been able to track down modules for expansion.
It took me a couple of attempts, but eventually I was allowed to connect to the network. I started with Facebook, by reloading the page and then uploading the images. That was quite easy, so I said a small prayer and started the FTP application I use, Fetch. The connection was made and the first page uploaded. I then uploaded the file and images. These were a little slower, but eventually the page was opened in a browser.
While I was uploading breakfast was on the table: a bowl of rice soup. I have this out of Bangkok as the chances of cornflakes, decent toast and good coffee are not so good: when in Rome. . . . Students and colleagues drifted in. I sent an SMS message to my colleague. Being used to just one camera, I left the room forgetting I had the other one and spare lenses with me. He brought it down when he came for breakfast. Some students were buying boxes of food. Their friends were late rising and would want something to eat.
After breakfast we boarded the buses and were taken about a kilometer or two to the foot of the dam where the control area office is located. Here the students were split into two groups. With 61 of them, plus teachers, staff and a couple of kids, this was better management.
In factual terms, the Sirikit Dam measures 113.6 metres from the bottom of the lake to the crest of the dam. On the crest, it is 12 metres wide, while at the bottom, 630 metres: there is a lot of water there. The dam has 4 turbines and while we were there it was producing 238 Kv of power at 50 Hz.
As I had been reading about the Stuxnet worm and was aware of its potential, with attacks in Iran, Indonesia and (perhaps justice) the USA, I had a colleague ask about security. I was drawn into the conversation. The system computers (a Mitsubishi installation, not Siemens) are isolated from the Administration machines. It was clear that the admin machines were running a version of Windows, while the system machines had another OS, perhaps Unix-based. We were also told that no personal computers were allowed, but we reiterated the risk from USB drives.
After the control room, the dam crest.
The bus taking our part of the group up to the top labored up the last stretch, almost stopping to select a low gear before a sharp bend. At the top, preparations were under way for a visit later in the day for the Minister of Energy: in charge of electrical power. With his visit, our previously request for space in the restaurant was in doubt, as the party (Minister, officials and hangers-on) might need all of the establishment.
The Saturday meal for these trips is usually a nice dinner, but plans were in hand for deliveries of supplies in polystyrene boxes. As another important part of the evening entails letting the hair down, suitably oiled with liquid refreshment, the food ended up a low priority on this trip.
At the dam crest, the students walked around, photographs were taken and lunch was ordered at a restaurant there: delicious fish from the lake, chicken, pork dishes and spicy salad (som tam). More photographs followed, then the bus took us over the hills to a small park area which claimed to have the largest teak tree in the world.
Not one of our students
As we went over the hills, the bus slowly negotiating the rises and bends, the telephone signal was lost several times: first 3G, the Wi-Fi, then EDGE, and finally the phone. I transferred images from the cameras to the Mac and just as I finished, the battery died. The iPhone also gave up not long after as it was not fully charged when we left. I am just not used to this.
The bottom of the tree is some 10 metres in circumference, I was told; but the top has suffered wind damage. The area was quite dry, so sprinklers were keeping the tree watered. It looks a little sad: a reminder of the devastating deforestation that has been taking place for years in the region. As that tree may have taken 1,000 years to grow, it is a resource not easily replaced.
When we returned to the dam for a couple of hours before the entertainments, the first think I did was to put the iPhone and the Mac on charge. The phone came to life fairly quickly, but I left the Mac for a while as the sleep light was not on: it had so little power that it had gone into hibernation mode. After the Mac had come back to life, I checked through to make sure it was OK before starting to type. I was cut short by time, however, as we were to eat at 18:00. I went down early after a shower so that I could upload some more photographs to Facebook.
- A Tech-free Weekend (1): Bangkok to Uttaradit - in which we see a former political strongman riding his motorbike; and a colleague talks about the iPhone2 he still uses
- A Tech-free Weekend (3): Sirikit Dam to Bangkok via Pitsanulok - It's so nice to go travelling, but it's so much nicer to come home
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.