Sawasdee bee mai (happy new year) from Apple and me here in Thailand. We’ve finally rid ourselves of 2008, in which approximately 70% of the world fell apart, or at least that’s how it seems from the cornucopia of apocalyptic headlines that flew past our eyes during the last twelve months. Not that simply switching from December 31st to January 1st is a cure-all, but symbolically, it’s a nice way to clear away the past and start anew.
The last couple of weeks have been pretty standard, despite the Christmas and New Years’ holidays that usually turn American life into a whirlwind around this time. Christmas is celebrated in Thailand, but not universally, and it’s not a government or bank holiday. The Gregorian New Year is celebrated, though, so last night there were the traditional fireworks, countdowns and variety shows on TV. For the last week straight, we’ve been hearing fireworks and firecrackers going off around our house, and it all culminated last night in a warzone-like barrage of constant rumbles and bangs. (The constantly-barking dog across the street is probably pretty hoarse this morning.)
In addition to school vacations, some lucky Thai businessfolk (including the husband of my sister-in-law) have the whole week off. In my case, I haven’t taken any days off since I’ve been here, finding that a free weekend is rare enough to be enjoyed like a holiday when I can get one. And admittedly, today (New Year’s Day) I did basically work very little. After we got up this morning, we got together with Apple’s immediate family and had a celebratory lunch at a wonderful seafood restaurant, and then, after working for a few hours, we basically gave up and started playing computer games together. Which is also how we spent last night, incidentally.
Speaking of our lunch junket today, I have to record (if for no other reason that posterity) the fact that the Ruanmai Punnagann restaurant over by Prince of Songkhla University is absolutely fantastic. We had an array of somewhat cosmopolitan dishes that included one of the best renditions of “chicken and cashew nuts” that I’ve ever tasted, excellent fried sea bass in fish sauce, a huge platter of sweet-and-sour grouper with vegetables and pineapple, a big omelet filled with miniature shrimp, and a variety of other traditional Thai dishes (like Apple’s favorite clear noodle salad, yum woon sen). It was one of the best meals I’ve had at a restaurant in Thailand, so I’m happily adding it to my short list for future reference.
New Year’s Eve was spent in our traditional family style: Staying at home, playing computer games, listening to the fireworks outside and watching the countdown on TV. Apple and I discovered this game called Fitness Dash (her nephew likes to play it, otherwise we’d never have known about it), which I guess is designed for kids, and despite the fact that we’re not kids (although I have been known to act like one) we promptly became addicted to it. It’s a hand/eye coordination type of game where you play the owner of a gym, and you have to tend to all of your customers, equipment and operations to keep everything running smoothly. If you don’t take care of customers’ needs, broken equipment or other things that compete for your attention, the customers will get mad and leave, meaning you lose money. You have to do everything super-fast, so it’s basically a game of coordination with a bit of strategy mixed in.
Despite my usually preferring more “adult” fare like Fallout 3 or Silent Hill: Homecoming — both of which I am also playing and vastly enjoying on the side — I am not a bit sorry to admit that Fitness Dash is great fun as well. In fact, Apple is back there playing it right now. When she has trouble getting past a certain level, she occasionally offers for me to step in and help. Usually I can get it done. I suppose 22 years of using computers has made me a bit of a natural speedster when it comes to this sort of thing.
I am still playing my Xbox games, though, as I mentioned. My latest discovery is Silent Hill: Homecoming, the fifth game in the series (if you don’t count Origins for the PSP) and the first to be developed by a U.S.-based studio instead of Japan’s own Team Silent. This “changing of the guard” had me really anxious about the quality of the game, but I’m pleased to report that, in my opinion, Homecoming is a rousing success. It’s the first Silent Hill game designed for the current crop of consoles, so the graphics are breathtaking like never before. There’s more focus on combat this time, and the control system seems reasonably well-implemented (with the exception of the dodge function, which sometimes fails me in the heat of the moment). The voice acting quality is at an all-time series high, and Akira Yamaoka has delivered another of his hauntingly original musical scores.
Perhaps best of all, the atmosphere is every bit as deep and disturbing as ever, if not even more so than the previous games in the franchise. The tie-ins to Silent Hill 2, my favorite game in the series, are abundant, and the game oozes with a psychological/medical horror theme similar to the one that pervaded SH:2. For three or four nights in a row, I socked away several straight hours playing Homecoming and loving every minute of it. The “Descent into Hell” that leads you to the very disturbed Doctor Fitch is truly one of the weirdest, most nightmarish gaming moments I’ve ever had, with the possible exception of the alternate Brookhaven Hospital in Silent Hill 3.
So, I’d like to congratulate Homecoming developer Double Helix for putting together a hell of a good game. SH purists may bitch about the inclusion of some of the elements from the feature film, namely the visible transformation to the “alternate world,” but I think I’ve gotten too old to care about that kind of nitpicky shit. I haven’t finished the game yet, so hopefully nothing will happen to change my positive opinion of it. But the way it’s going so far, let’s just say that I think it would be out of character for the game to suddenly start sucking.
At work, things are going quite well. It’s funny how I seem able to so easily learn new things and improve my skills in others while I am in Thailand. I suppose it’s because I have little else to do besides work, particularly this time, when money is tight for everyone and nobody’s doing a lot of touring, dining out or otherwise gallivanting around.
For starters, I’ve gotten incredibly proficient with Flash CS3, at least to the degree that I can create simple and lightweight corporate animations to demonstrate products, features and soforth. I’m still not gonna be creating any interactive Flash games anytime soon, but I’ve finally moved past my Flash 4.0-style reliance on the timeline and am working with third-party classes in Actionscript 3 to handle all sorts of advanced tweens. Finally, I don’t have to bitch and moan every time somebody gives me a Flash assignment. And my boss has uncharacteristically (in the sense that he doesn’t usually get so worked up about such things) loved the Flash stuff I’ve put together so far.
This week I also worked directly with the source code of one of our major products, a product that was designed almost exclusively by a programmer who no longer works for us. From a user interface and HTML assembly standpoint, I’m probably the only employee left with any significant insight into the inner workings of this thing. We recently tasked one of our developers with reworking the centerpiece screen of the app, which he did, but he also messed up the UI something fierce. After we ironed out a means by which I could actually work with the Visual Studio project, I got in there and started squashing bugs.
I normally dislike this kind of stuff at the onset, because this application is very complicated and much of its inner workings look like spaghetti code. You have to invest a few hours in just poking and prodding it until you get your bearings, during which I complained mightily, until I finally got into the swing of things. Today, I think I finished up the last of the bugfixes — and I even identified some other areas that needed improvement and fixed them too. In fact, some of those areas have been needing improvement since day one. It’s just that the lead developer never implemented the HTML exactly as my prototype specified, wasn’t interested in fixing it when I brought it up (because it was mostly aesthetic stuff), and I never had access to the source code to fix it myself. When I finally got that access this week, I sorta went to town on it. Even if nobody else noticed those bugs, at least I feel better about it.
So the beat marches on here in Thailand: I get up, eat breakfast, work, do my exercise routine, have lunch, work some more, have dinner, goof around until bedtime, and read myself to sleep. It’s not a bad routine, and in fact is the kind of life that recharges my batteries for the most part, which start depleting as soon as I leave the house — but like a battery that goes bad when left on the charger too long, sometimes you have to get out and get some air, see something different, even if it’s just going to the grocery store or something. So we do that too, once in a while.
Last weekend we went back to the spa I posted about, and I got a foot massage. It was quite lovely. Next time we go, Apple wants me to get the full, two-hour Thai massage with her, because it’s only a few dollars more. The total cost? About $20. No kidding. (We just giggle when her mom says she can’t understand how we can spend so much money on massages every other week. What she’s missing is that, to an American, that’s like being able to buy a new car for a hundred bucks. Who cares if you don’t need another one?)
I’m also getting geeked because it’s about time to buy some more computer equipment, one of my favorite pasttimes. The Linksys wireless router we’re using here at the house is actually on loan from my sister-in-law’s husband, but it turns out he’s getting DSL at his house in a couple of weeks, so he’s going to need it back. As it happens, just a few days ago I saw a Linksys WRT54GL — the same one I just bought for myself at home in Florida — on sale at a kiosk at Carrefour plaza. A WRT54GL! In a retail store! (This is classified as an “enthusiast product” and would be something you’d have to order online back at home, ironically enough.) So now I know exactly where to go to get a router to replace the borrowed one. As a bonus, it’ll be my router, so I’m going to load Tomato firmware on the thing and go absolutely to town on it.
When I’m back at the home office, I intersperse my working lifestyle with personal pursuits that I’ve been following for years, just to keep the familiar close at hand. This time it’s all things Star Trek — including the complete set of The Original Series DVDs, all three seasons fully remastered with all of those cool new CGI effects. I’ve also collected almost the complete library of Star Trek eBooks, which sets me up essentially for a life of reading entertainment. I’m down to the last two books of the Deep Space Nine Relaunch series, which is even more incredible since I went back to the beginning and started reading them in order from book one. I don’t think I’ve been this gleefully immersed in the Trek world since the late ’80s or early ’90s. But to be fair to my nine-year-old self, I’m still not nitpicking over the exact hue and color saturation values of Spock’s shirt or begging to go to conventions. That’s just gluoy (Thai for bananas).
That’s it for me right now. After while, I plan to post my response to a “New Year’s meme” that Apple sent me yesterday. Got a whole bunch of pictures I need to upload too. I just can’t do it right now…Apple’s playing Fitness Dash on my computer! (You need a mouse to have any hope of winning, and I only brought one. Next time we go out shopping, we’ve got to buy another one for her to use with the laptop.)
Catcha later, all.