postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: Game of Thrones

No, this article is not about the wildly popular HBO TV serial “Game of Thrones,” although if I thought I wouldn’t bore you to tears, I would write that review, as I really am digging the show. This week is about another kinda throne altogether, and for those who are a bit squeamish about potty-talk, best to switch to the sports section right away.

I only bring up the Nepali toilet because as long as I can remember, it has been a fascination and obsession with tourists and locals alike. But we are not talking the traditional charpi, but the modern-day incantation - that in one case has a heated seat that raises it’s lid when you enter the bathroom.

While this iToilet may not be available down on Teku road, other modern toilets of all descriptions are, and these are showcased in the front windows of hundreds of shops selling “sanitary fixtures” all about town.

I’m sure you have noticed. As a tourist first arriving here over a decade ago, I was amazed by how easy one could purchase a shiny new porcelain bowl and sink set, but one could not find a decent laptop for sale. Perhaps that’s just indicative of traditional Nepali sensibility, or maybe just good old Indian marketing.

Regardless, as an expat from the kingdom of fancy shower rooms that come standard with every rental, fixing up the bathroom has always been a priority for me here in Nepal. First you have to have hot water, as how can I, a westerner by birth, take freezing cold showers all year round like a Jomsomite? And which way to put my feet was a conundrum the first time I was confronted with the charpi. Never really figuring that out, I just had it replaced, which was a relatively painless affair...

According to Ranzit from RR Hardware in Dhobighat, I am not alone. Most all new fixtures installed in KTM have been of the “throne” variety in the past several years. It appears the only folks still squatting on the pans, are servants. But business is slowing Ranzit says, as most of the area’s new construction is now complete (there is no more room to build), and the plumbers are now hunkered down in “maintenance mode.”

I feel for plumbers in Nepal, even if outwardly most look a bit shady. I have a pal in America who made millions in the business, but here the average plumber makes Nrs. 700 per day, and has to find that work each and every day. The last time I hired a plumber in America, his rate was Nrs. 7000 per hour, and he never had to look for work, as the masses were lined up outside his door, begging for a repair.

But perhaps things have changed, as the economy there is certainly in the toilet. Even here in Nepal, the typical plumber is underwater with the crazy rise in food and petro prices of late, even though the standard wage has not risen one little pisa.

That’s gotta be tough for small businesses like RR Hardware, which seems to do a small trade in selling straw brushes and nails, while the plumbers play cards behind the counter waiting for the call. But excellent work they do, as I was having an “Asian” toilet replaced by them whilst writing this very edition of potty-talk. The work was done fast and efficiently, and at a price I could not imagine if living abroad. Now I have a modern throne on every floor, and I am sitting much more comfortably than my counterparts ever did back in House Baratheon, King’s Landing.

Now, only if there were enough water to flush my shiny new toilet...
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postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: Why I love Dashain

Now that normalcy has returned to my village, and the whistle of the trash man can be heard once again, I thought it appropriate to reflect back on my newest favorite holiday – Dashain.

I just love how things shutdown, and for a few days or more, absolutely nothing normal is happening.

Now I have to admit, I don’t really understand what this holiday is all about - although from what I’ve read it’s a celebration of the slaying of demons - and I can really appreciate the thought of that.

The demons being piped into my home were temporarily slain when our Broadlink scratch-card expired, and there was no office open to restore the Internet or the steady flow of the demonic newsfeeds coming from abroad.

I could not even find the ghoulish tripe that passes for news these days in print form, as the newspapers of the capital seem to cease delivery during the festive season. For this, I am grateful.

The quiet in my neighborhood was such one could hear the clapping of two butterfly wings. Water pumps ceased that incessant whine, as no water was delivered. There were no loud twangs from that roving man that apparently fluffs one’s comforters with an instrument resembling a broken cello.

The televisions in my area even stopped pounding out Hindi numbers for a few moments, as apparently the signal from Star World was lost and there was no one left at the station to recover.

Now this is the holiday atmosphere that I remember growing up in rural America...where once upon a time during the holiday seasons of Thanksgiving or Christmas, all commerce stood still - unless it was related to food or gift-giving.

All that could be heard were family parties or church bells singing, and the play of small children in the street. The low roar of traffic was momentarily silenced, leaving only the bleating of lambs or turkeys awaiting slaughter.

Every business would close early or shut completely, leaving us, for just a short few days, to fend for ourselves. As a kid, I found this time when nothing happened absolutely magical.

But the holidays changed in America, and by the time I was a young man, the machine that sweeps all youth into it’s grown and growing cogs had ceased to slow down, even for a day. Now, a festival season in America means you move faster, as there are even more things to do then normal.

This is why I love Dashain. Perhaps the demons slain are the one’s in our own heads, driving us like mad forward and faster each year, furiously driving at what I have no clue. But watching a pot with some seedlings growing is something I recommend that all my western brethren do...if not once a year, perhaps twice.

It’s our mad dash to nowhere that becomes more noticeable when everyone stops in unison.

I feel for folks back in the old country, obsessed with the death of Michael Jackson, plagued by Blackberry outages, and with some now plotting wars with China and Iran. Who will be the next President, who will be the next laid off, who will occupy Wall Street and who will not...all obsessions that run and ruin so many lives.

Whereas back here in the village, after such a nice Dashain break, we have another short break coming up: Tihar! Again, I don’t expect fresh bread in the market, or anything services-related to work, but that’s just will be one more opportunity to listen to butterfly wings clapping before that hellish roar resumes again.

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postheadericon Tech Talk: Review, Check the Burgers

I like to eat - even more than I like ordering stuff online. So when I found, I was really excited and really hungry for it. Always the thought of going outside my hut and into the streets of Jhamel to forage amongst dozens of new restaurants seems insurmountable. After all, I just want to eat, and not be part of a social show.

So finding an online ordering system right at my fingertips, with me dressed in a bathrobe, seemed like pure heaven – especially over the holidays when didi is off, and food in the house is in meager supply. (How long can one survive on peanut butter & crackers I wonder?).

So over the course of several months, I’ve used many times, with varied results.

The website itself is exceptional. Easy to use and to find meals that look yummy. There are lots of instructions in the sidebars, not that I ever read them, and you won’t need to either. It’s really straightforward – you search for a restaurant, view the menu, and if you like something offered, click “Add.” Your shopping cart totals up the damage, and when you are ready to order, it’s just a matter of telling Foodmandu where you live and what your phone number is.

Moments after completing the order and after receiving an instant email confirmation, someone from Foodmandu rings you up to confirm your order again. It’s a simple and effective system that has worked for us a dozen times now.

However, it’s what happens next that has left me scratching my head and hungry on several occasions. Like the time we ordered two burgers from Mike’s Breakfast, one with cheese, lettuce and tomato and the other with bacon lettuce and tomato. There was even a comment box on the site where I specified: well done please, with extra ketchup.

But what arrived had my wife bursting with laughter as I peeled back my bun to find a slice of cheese and tomato, with a bit of lettuce but no meat. She was rolling in yuks until she discovered that her burger was filled with bacon bits, tomato, and a bit of lettuce – and no meat either.

A call to Foodmandu and Mike’s resulted in proper burgers being delivered free of charge, albeit the next day. This user experience is not one that Mike, God rest his soul, could have imagined. But never the less, the food from Mike’s is super, no matter how you go about getting it, online or otherwise. However, that can’t be said for many of the other restaurants listed on Foodmandu. Now to be honest, I don’t know if food ordered online is worse than the food in situ for some of the restaurants we tried (perhaps being packed in tin foil and cheap cardboard taints the flavor) but with Mike’s being the exception, even our dog would refuse to eat what was sometimes delivered. And he usually eats anything.

I won’t name names (to be frank, I can’t remember most) but meals costing over Nrs. 1000 were often worse than what could have been had at the corner momo shop. Not to belittle my corner momo shop, as it’s great at what it does, but Samir’s Quality MoMo is not one of the 69 foo-foo restaurants currently listed on Foodmandu.

Fair criticism for this website is that they need to do a bit of quality control regarding the selection of restaurants. There is a rating system on the site (most all blank) and a user review section that does not seem to work. If there were more ratings and some reviews, we could decide for ourselves which restaurant would be a good bet – as all the pictures provided on the site, albeit small, make all the dishes look edible and ever so appealing.

So just like for ordering goods from abroad, has it’s quirks when it comes to delivering. I give Foodmandu high marks for service and delivery (heck, it’s almost free and always fast) and lower marks for final execution, i.e. the meals that actually get delivered. But at least they have Mike’s Breakfast online, and if they got Lazy Gringo from Jawalakhel on board, I would be in ordering heaven for most any occasion.

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postheadericon Tech Talk: This is NOT about the iPhone 4S

As a sit-at-home-behind-the-internet technologist, I am constantly amazed by how much free publicity Apple gets from the mainstream media these days; from the death of a CEO to an announcement of a minor smartphone upgrade, major news outlets like CNN and the NYT seem obsessed with write-ups on little “i” products.

The iPhone 4S is no exception to Apple’s rule over the media, and now weeks after the introduction, papers are still running articles on the device titled as such: “The 5 biggest gripes so far about the iPhone 4S” and “The Amazing Things the iPhone 4S Can’t Do.”

But this tech report is NOT about the iPhone 4S, even though I’ve just added a few more keywords to the overflowing SEO pool on Apple. This week I wanted to say something about good old-fashioned tech, the kind you can roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty with. The type of technology that is no longer spoken of, that has moving parts and springs and levers and makes lots of noise when it’s not working right...the Flex 3 Long Dog Lead!

This device has neither batteries nor OLED touchscreen display. It is, however, a handheld device that even has a handle along with two buttons. There is 16 feet of cord rolled up inside on a reel system that allows your dog to walk that far ahead of you, and like a fish on a line, the cord will roll back into the device as the dog comes back by your side.

I love this dog-walking gadget, and not millions - but tens of thousands - of western dog owners and trainers swear by the Flexi. In the EU (where the Flexi 3 is made) you won’t see a dog on the street not attached to one of these. They are the next best thing to sliced bread.

Mine is as old as my 50kg Alsatian, about 5 years now, and was working flawlessly until yesterday when at the heavy-use end, the cord frayed and got all jammed up inside the reel case. I was devastated and stuck on the road with 16-feet of cord wrapped around the legs of my pet monster, who wanted to chase some keti kukur down the lane but couldn’t.

So I actually had to fix something yesterday, which surprisingly, being the self-proclaimed geek that I am, I don’t get a chance to do very often. (When was the last time something in your home broke, and you tried to fix instead of just going to the mall and buying another?)

So I dug around for an old-fashioned screwdriver, instead of the newfangled torque driver I usually have to use on computers, and puzzled over how to open up the Flexi 3. But here is where high-tech meets low-tech, as the answer was posted many times on the Goog. I’ve forgotten how I used to fix things before there was an Internet, haven’t you?

But inside the Flexi there was grease and grime and lots of dog hair, and my geeky clean hands were initially repulsed. Barbaric! But once I got into figuring out how 16 feet of heavy cord is wrapped around a disk the size of a CD, and then controlled by a push-button spring and lock assembly, I really got excited about the repair. Even if I totally destroyed the Flexi, I would have still learned a lot about mechanical engineering, which in these days of the i-device, seems like it may become a lost art.

Obviously the Flexi is not meant to ever be taken apart by the user, as is most gadgets sold on the market today, but doing so reminded me of the man on my Dhobighat street corner, who sits there repairing umbrellas during the wet season, and shoes during the dry season. Like this relic from the day when things were actually fixed and not tossed, I felt accomplished when I actually completed my Flexi repair by cutting out the frayed bit and reassembling the reel.

My wife peeked into my man-cave and commented, “You really are becoming Nepali.”

And for this I think we can all take pride in, as Nepal is a country where even newer technology is more-often-then-not fixed, instead of being thrown away broken. Long live the art of repair!
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postheadericon Tech Talk: Fire and Ice, Amazon follows Apple

This week there were two events that diehard geeks such as myself found fascinating: the first being the announcement of Amazon’s new book reader (the Kindle Fire) and Apple’s latest cool product announcement for the new iPhone 4S and iOS5.

But as Tim Cook, Apple’s replacement CEO for legendary Steve Jobs, started the event with stats on Apple as a company, it became clear that the announcement was not about new Apple hardware or software, but more about how Apple now sees itself as the leader of consumer gadgetry and media consumables – and Tim had the numbers to prove it.

In the first 5 minutes Tom Cook showed charts and graphs on Apple media sales in the multiple billions, and hardware sales in the hundreds of millions. One chart caught my eye: the number of iPods sold since inception in 2001 – over 300 million! Compare that with the “revolutionary” device of my youth, the Sony Walkman, which only sold 220,000 players in 30 years.

But CEO Cook was quick to point out that this achievement was not about numbers or devices, but about making music more enjoyable for the masses, and in fact, to bring about a renaissance in our time. And with everyone from joggers to grandmas sporting those signature white earbuds, it’s clear that the iPod is a visionary device that rekindled society’s love for recorded music and voice.

Another renaissance in the making, on par with mp3 listening, is e- reading. Tim Cook had plenty to say about that, as he demoed Newsstand, which is a new app and subscription service for magazines and newspapers – where the latest rags and mags are to be pumped down to your iDevice automatically on publication, over Wi-Fi or 3G, and to all of your devices simultaneously.

Now I found this latest innovation quite intuitive, as I already use Apple’s equivalent for books – iBook – everyday, and the last time I went to Pilgrim’s fine Pulchowk shop was to see if they sold wrapping paper for an iDevice that I was gifting to my wife.

It was a sad day for me, as I realized while walking into one of KTM’s finest “taberna librarii,” that this type of shop (established during the Roman Empire), is now about as dead as Latin itself. As I walked along Pilgrim’s wonderfully book-smelling aisles masked over by sweet incense and adorned overhead with tankas and fine artwork, I was no longer enticed as I once was to pick up and hold a coffee-table sized tome filled with fine photographs of Mt. Everest as I was as a younger man. No, all I was thinking was “Do they sell Kindles here?”

Bookstores seem like graveyards to me. The idea of owning bound paper and ink is no longer an urge, yet my shoulder still aches from the years of backpacking them around. I even still own a bookshelf, but it’s now filled with nick knacks that have over the years replaced first editions and signed copies by Steven King. While at Pilgrims, I really wanted to know if they sold Kindles, but out of part politeness and part embarrassment, I was afraid to ask.

For Amazon, the Kindle e-book reader is what the iPod is to iDevice that has boosted their sales and simultaneously rekindled the masses’ love for books in a way unrivaled by anything outside of the paperback. The chart that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos threw up during the recent Kindle Fire announcement showed a steady sale of paper books over the past decade (in the billions per year), but the skyrocketing line representing e-book sales destined for Kindle devices was much more impressive. This line shoots straight up and off the chart in just half the time. Clearly, the writing is on the boardroom walls: e-books are the immediate future of book retailing.

Amazon plans to capitalize on this trend by offering their new reader named “Fire” for under the cost to manufacture, just $199 USD for a dual-core, full-color 7” 1024 x 600 screen that weighs just over 400 grams. They are following in Apple’s cool and slick footsteps, providing a hot iDevice that will grab readers by the pocketbooks in order to consume everything from Shakespeare to the New York Times, and they’ve thrown in web browsing to boot.

Aristotle would turn in his grave if he could only see that his meager-in-comparison library of hundreds of books can now be easily displayed in full color and with motion, all on a chip the size of a quill tip.
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Kathmandu, Nepal
I'm retired, and I walk my dog... a lot.

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