Hacking Bangkok Blog

Tech and Living in Thailand's City of Angels

The Hacking Bangkok blog covers I.T. and technology in general, and my experiences working and living in the Kingdom of Thailand. Bangkok has a very long Thai name, which starts with Krung thep - City of Angels.
Bangkok sunset from my bedroom balcony

Saturday, August 30, 2008

End of Bar Camp Bangkok, Day 1

I have been to my last presentation for today, and walked to the Starbucks in Siam Square where I'm sitting in blessed cool air-conditioning, drinking iced-tead and tapping this out on my Touch Diamond. This time, I'm using OneNote Mobile to compose.

The photo I snapped, in case it wasn't like, totally obvious, is a group of some younger Thai geeks. They had managed to hook a Wii game controller up to a laptop, via a bluetooth adapter, and were using it to play PC games. Most of the crowd was in the 20 - 35 age range, though. Day 2 is tomorrow, I'm not sure if I'm going yet or not. Today was a loonng day!

Some suggestions for anyone using the Bar Camp style of user-created presentations:
- Leave some "gap time" between presentations for people to shuffle & network a bit.
- Take advantage of all the brains you've got handy to leverage some tech in scheduling. Paper & markers are old school, which I can dig, but it was tough to keep track of what was wgere, what was cancelled, etc.

Still, it was a great info and idea exchange, and many kudos to the organizers!

Bar Camp Bangkok - Day 1 (Presentations by Geeks for Geeks)

Okay, so I'm a bit of a geek. I'm definitely outclassed by some of the incredibly smart people who are attending (and some of whom are presenting) here. Bar Camp Bangkok (www.barcampbangkok.org) is a user-generated content symposium, meaning that anyone or everyone that shows up can post a topic they've prepared a presentation on. Everyone votes with markers for the ones they want to see, and the presentations with the highest scores get a room for 30 minutes.

There was a very good presentation by someone from Mozilla Labs, as well as one (in Thai) on differentiation of web 2.0 websites (and apps) where the presenter showed off a number of Thai-language "clones" of popular sites, such as a clone of twitter called NokNok, and an interesting site that's a mash-up of twitter and other things, called twistori.

I will update this post later - while sitting here recharging my battery and writing this, I was privey to a really fascination discussion between two guys on ORM (object-relational mapping) tools for Postegre (a relational database). Although I've never worked with Postegre, much of what they were saying was conceptually identical to using the Subsonic ORM generator for SQL Server, or Microsoft's own "Linq to SQL" (aka "LINQ") which ships with the .Net framework 3.5. Actually, come to think of it, Microsoft bought Subsonic, which is an open-source ASP.Net application, so they're both now "Micrsoft's own".

Well - time to go find another presentation! I'm here with a coworker and friend, Franz Nitz, who gave a presentation (read: "pitch") for being an Agoda affilitate site. He's the affiliate manager for Agoda, so obviously this guy deserves a fat bonus for putting in the weekend effort!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Malaysia gets WiMAX (4G) network – will Thailand ever get even 3G?

“Hello, NTC?
 Can I get some 3G?”

According to multiple sources, including Network World and WiMAX Today, at least one company – Packet One Networks - is already offering WiMAX subscriptions to people in limited areas with plans to roll out coverage to most of the west cost of Malaysia. For Malaysians on the east coast, another company – REDOne – is apparently rolling out their own WiMAX network with some help from Motorola (yes, the same guys that make the RAZR!).

Meanwhile, back in Thailand… Nectec is planning (*sigh*) to test a small WiMAX network in Mae Hong Son. Sorta like AIS tested out a small 3G network in Chiang Mai, but Nectec will be serving even fewer people with hi-speed data than the meager hundreds of users AIS has on their test network.

One interesting tidbit of news is that Packet One Networks (aka “P1”) is a subsidiary of parent company Green Packet Bhd, whose CEO Puan Chan Cheong lists Thailand one of the countries that “[Green Packet Bhd] is very keen to explore for potential WiMAX licences.” Sure.. good luck getting approval from Thailand’s sclerotic (read: slow as a fossilized dinosaur) and bureaucratic cousins, the NTC and NBTC.

And as for getting third-generation “3G” networks based on HSDPA? Well, six months ago AIS said they’d be rolling out in Bangkok by June. Then it was July. As of last Friday's Reuter's news report we’ll all get our already-looking-obsolete 3G service in the city of angels sometime in the first half of 2009. Assuming the NTC and NBTC don’t get into another pissing contest first. Whoever had the bright idea of creating two agencies, both with the words “National” and “Telecommunications” in their name anyway? Until then, my amazing 3G Touch Diamond will continue slogging away on EDGE, except for when I travel to Malaysia maybe.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Even developers need to decompress... err, relax! Bangkok is THE party city!

Well, after an indeterminate number of drinks at The Jet Metropolitan Club, I'm feeling rather toasty! Note to single guys - this bar, even more than Bangkok as a whole, is absolutely packed with with stunningly beautiful women. Sitting outside enjoying my pasta and drinking Chivas Regal with mixers was like sitting at the catwalk of a fashion show. We've moved inside now (I'm tapping this out on my Touch Diamond, between furtive glances at the most beautiful women in Thailand - 'nuff said).

It's easier than i thought to compose using the touch keyboard, even 'mao leaw' (already a little drink).

Back to strictly tech stuff tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My first blog post from my phone

Last week I wrote about my experiences and impressions of the HTC Touch Diamond. Now, I'm going to post a quick entry from my Diamond - and I'll try adding a photo for good measure.

Outlook mobile's standard compose window doesn't support formatting, <i>but</i> if I (tediously) tap in some HTML code, it might come through. Maybe. Here's a photo, taken in dim light, of your favorite trash-collecting robot, sitting in Central World.

Later, I'll try pasting formatted text from OneNote Mobile, to see if that's possible.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Five Weeks with the HTC Touch Diamond

I've always loved gadgets, and PDAs and smartphones in particular. My first PDA was a Casio Z-7000 "Zoomer", followed by my first WinMo device, the Cassiopia E-11, then the Ipaq 3650.

I was always a fan of the idea of "convergence" - having a single gadget to do both phone, and PDA functions. As the years went by, my original Ipaq was replaced by a series of PDAs; my last dedicated non-phone PDA was the iPaq 1910. Then, I bought the ill-fated Axia A108, and finally an HTC Star Trek (aka Dopod S300 or Qtek 8500) smartphone.

When the iPhone came out, I was sorely tempted to get one, but wanted to test-drive it a bit first. So I did the next best thing - I bought one for my wife! It's a great phone, and a great PDA (with some real limitations), but it's just a little too big to carry around in my pants pocket. So after I went swimming with my "Star Trek" (by accident, I swear) in June, I bought the new HTC Touch Diamond.

The Diamond has been reviewed in a lot of places, ranging from CNet, to Engadget, to Gizmodo. But one thing most of the reviews don't mention is what version of the ROM they're using, and that has a huge impact on the Diamond's usability. Huge!

First things first - you can find the detailed specs on HTC's latest marvel on their site, but in brief, It sports:
  • An ARM-based CPU running @ 528 MHz
  • 192 MB of RAM (112 MB for running apps, and 82MB for program storage)
  • 4 GB of on-board flash storage mounted as a sort of "non-removable card"
  • A gorgeous 640x480 (VGA) touch-screen which is 2.8" diagonally. The screen is so sharp, it's like looking at a glossy color magazine page.
  • A-GPS (assisted GPS, meaning the phone can take advantge of downloaded data to improve precision and speed, supposedly)
  • Bluetooth 2.0, supporting A2D2, Personal Area Networks (PANs), etc.
  • WiFi (802.11b), useful for fast connections in places that don't have 3G yet. You know, countries where the bureaucracy is a morass of slow, corrupt and inept officials... *cough*
  • Tri-band 3G inclusing HSDPA and UMTS. The bands you can use depend on which version you get (USA vs. rest of the planet).
About the ROM....
When I got my new HTC in June, it shippped with ROM version 1.34. Being a fan of the xda-developers forum, I already knew this rom was allegedly a sluggish lemon, and it lived up to this fame pretty well. Luckily, somebody had posted the 1.37 version of the rom to rapidshare, so I rapidly upgraded my phone. Two weeks ago I upgraded to the 1.93 rom, which enables the 850 MHz band (useless to me in Bangkok) and some other tweaks which were nice.

Things I like:
  • The screen is beautiful, and makes reading RSS feeds and everything else really easy on the eyes.
  • 4 GB of storage is plenty for me. Some people fill up their 16 GB iPhones with video, and music, etc. I doubt I own more than 1.5 GB of music in total, and I can't really see myself watching a lot of video on a 2.8" screen.
  • With the latest rom, HTC's custom interface (called TouchFLO 3D) that sits atop the aging and honestly fugly Windows Mobile 6.1 UI, is smooth and fast. No more occasional lags, and the home-screen shows instantly without any delay.
  • The camera is really nice. It's 3.2 MP, auto-focus, takes the best photos of any phone I've owned (including my wife's iPhone), as well as video.
  • TouchFLO 3D - I already mentioned it, but once you finish training your brain to use it instinctively, it's nice. Not iPhone amazing nice, but nice.
Things that kinda suck:
  • TouchFLO 3D doesn't go far enough in hiding Windows Mobile. I like WinMo, from a developer's point of view. When you're using the Touch Diamond, and go to edit a contact - which drops you into the standard face-only-Microsoft-could-love mode, you realize how nice TouchFLO 3D is. Please, please HTC, come out with an update hides ever more of the beast beneath the covers.
  • The GPS on my Diamond is slow to lock onto satellites, even outside. Some people's units are apparently faster, but mine isn't. It's okay, since for a quick view of where I am, Google Map's "My Location" is fast and accurate enough, but it's sort of annoying when I do want to use it.
  • The capacitive-touch scroll/spin-while works for some apps, and not for others. Why? I don't know.
  • Some of the default settings are annoying and need to be tweaked. The height of the "compose" window when tapping out an SMS is too short, for instance. Also, the phone doesn't turn on receiving an SMS, it just slowly pulses a circular light, like some sort of white-light cylon. You can address these tweaks by looking thru the xda forums for the Diamond.
I have both an IMAP email account and a Zimbra server set up on my phone. The Zimbra server support ActiveSync (which thinks the Zimbra is Exchange), and using the on-screen keyboard isn't bad once you're used to it. You can also use the graffiti-esque block-recognizer, or transcriber, if you're into that.

Now, when I bought the phone, the Thai government and newspapers were all still claiming that AIS, one of the biggest carriers here, would have 3G coverage in Bangkok by July. Having lived in Thailand a few years, I figured that meant "end of the year, maybe" and so far, still no 3G in the city. Supposedly there's a small 3G experimental network up in Chiang Mai, but I'm not flying up there just to see what I can't get in Bangkok yet. To be honest, with EDGE speeds around 200 Kbps, and with TRUE blanketing downtown with Wi-fi hotspots, not having any 3G for my 3G phone stings less (but still - c'mon you guys, frack'en get on with it and settle the stupid licensing issue!!)

Summing it up
So if you're looking to buy a small, well-built - i've dropped it TWICE, once on the BTS platform, and no damage! - touch-screen phone, and you want something smaller, lighter and (dare I say it, less conformist) than the iPhone, the HTC Touch Diamond is a nice device. Not perfect - but nice.

I finally have real convergence - the Diamond even has a stylus, which you almost never need since TouchFLO is finger-usable. Just make sure you upgrade to the newest rom - anything below 1.37 is a stinker.