Newley Purnell's home on the web since 2001

Month: July 2008

Creating Tag Clouds with Wordle tag cloud

Worldle is a new site that allows you to create aesthetically-pleasing “word clouds” (or tag clouds). Above is one for the home page.

2Bangkok tag cloud

And here’s one I created using the text from the main page of

Burgercraft: It’s all about Proportion

Speaking of Bangkok’s best burger, here’s an interesting essay from Eric Ripert in Gourmet: My Quest to Build the Perfect Burger:

Last fall, I opened a restaurant called Westend Bistro. It’s located in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C., at 22nd and M Streets—a part of D.C. that’s growing very quickly, with new apartment buildings going up left and right. This burgeoning neighborhood needed a great neighborhood restaurant, so I set out to create one; I wanted it to be a comfortable spot that people would come back to again and again. My sous-chef and I decided to make it an American bistro. And of course any great American bistro needs to have a great burger.

In developing that burger, my research took me to a couple of places that might seem unexpected: McDonald’s and Burger King. I didn’t grow up in the U.S. and had never really visited these chains before, so I wanted to see what they do with their burgers to make them so popular.

Just looking at the basic burgers at each of these chains—particularly the Big Mac—showed me a couple of very key things: First of all, the burgers are a perfect size. You can grab them in both hands, and they’re never too tall or too wide to hold on to. And the toppings are the perfect size, too—all to scale, including the thickness of the tomatoes, the amount of lettuce, etc. In terms of the actual flavors, they taste okay, but you can count on them to be consistent; you always know what you’re going to get.

(Emphasis mine.)

Via Kottke.

Gary Shteyngart on Travel Writing

Rolf Potts recently posted a Q&A on travel writing with author and essayist Gary Shteyngart. Here’re a few snippets I like:

How did you get started writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid in Russia. My grandma paid me in little pieces of cheese for every page I wrote. That’s how you create a writer. By paying him or her with something edible.

What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?

I usually don’t find this part very challenging, unless the language is very difficult (see: Thai) and the address system of the place I’m writing about is very strange (see: Seoul).

Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?

Well, I’m primarily a novelist. That’s my main bread and butter. But the travel writing is very important to me, because it gets me out of the house. I still believe that writers need to see the world to understand their own place in it.

What is the biggest reward of life as a traveler and writer?

Life is short and our planet is finite. What can be more important than seeing the totality of the human condition in this awful and wonderful world of ours?

Best Burger in Bangkok

If you ask me, dining on an authentic krapow moo kai dao — stir fried pork with chili, basil, and a fried egg — can be a near-religious experience. I firmly believe that a fiery som tam (papaya salad) is one of the world’s greatest dishes. A well-executed gaeng keow wan gai (green chicken curry) has moved me, in times past, to the brink of tears. In short, I can’t get enough of Thai food.

But as an American living in Asia, not only do I appreciate creatively-conceived Western junk food, but I also harbor intense cravings, from time to time, for hamburgers. My god, hamburgers.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve sampled burgers at some of Bangkok’s most popular pubs, in addition a few speciality restaurants that claim to serve “Bangkok’s best burgers.” But I’ve been, by and large, underwhelmed. I’m a minimalist, favoring simple burgers like those served at Five Guys, on the east coast of the US, and by Dick’s in Seattle.

Enter Triple O’s by White Spot, a franchise based in Vancouver, BC. (Yes, Canada.) The joint opened in Bangkok about a year ago — the ones in Hong Kong are popular among foreigners — but I’d yet to visit the establishment, as it’s hidden in the rafters of Central World Plaza.

Having heard of Triple O’s from A (via S, who heard of it through R and J), I was pleased to find a tasty and fresh — though not needlessly gargantuan — patty, a toasted bun, and fresh toppings that included lettuce, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. I also found the famed Triple O sauce to be a nice touch. The fries were pretty good, too. I’ve heard grumblings that Triple O patties can be thin and lifeless, but mine was substantial. Highly recommended — if you ever get sick of Thai food, that is.

Triple O’s by White Spot
Central Food Hall, Central World Plaza, 7th floor
Telephone: 02 613 1640

For further reading, I suggest “Searching for Bagnkok’s Best Burgers” (written, as best I can tell, before Triple O’s came to town, though the author is knowledgeable and thorough).

Umbrella Hat: Spotted in Bangkok

Thai Umbrella Hat

Spotted recently in central Bangkok: a worker, toiling away on a rooftop in the midday heat, making use of the venerable umbrella hat for protection from the tropical sun.

(Thanks to my brother C for the reconnaissance assistance.)

Salmonella on Jalapenos

News from the jalapeno world: The source of a salmonella outbreak in the US appears to have been traced to a jalapeno pepper imported from Mexico.

Related (and notorious) post: “Jalapeno Hands: A Cautionary Culinary Tale,” which has attracted an amazing 130 comments to date.

Images: Volcanic Activity, Stock Photos, and Fireworks

Richard Wanderman has pointed to a couple of good photo-related items of late: Recent Volcanic Activity (the third from the bottom is my favorite — simply wonderful) and a Slate story called “The Weird Science of Stock Photography.” (And don’t miss Richard’s own images from the 4th of July: “A Different View of Fireworks.”)

Happy iCal Day

Caution: Mac Geekery Ahead

Today* is iCal Day: the one day of the year** when the iCal icon’s default date, July 17, is accurate. iCal is Apple’s calendar application; some call it quirky, but I love it for its simplicity.

*It’s also my pal Lee Lefever‘s birthday. Happy birthday, Lee.

**Insert joke about Macs being “glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults” here.

Related posts:
10 Tips for New Mac Users
iPhoto Tweaks: Getting the Most Out of Apple’s Image Editing Application
Scrivener in the New York Times Magazine

Calling from Thailand to the US

Calling from Thailand to the US

I make a lot of phone calls to the US to keep in touch with colleagues, friends, and family. You’ll remember, as I mentioned in last year’s Skype tutorial, that I suggest taking advantage of the service. (Despite the occasionally comedic aspects involved in international call forwarding, that is.)

But sometimes it’s best to use a fixed line or a mobile phone — whether you’re away from your computer or simply can’t be bothered to don a dorky headset. After experimenting with dialing directly via land lines and cell phones, and after checking the rates on calling cards, here’s what I’ve come up with. None of this is revolutionary, but I figured it might be helpful to others to have all of these details in one place.

From a land line or a mobile phone, if you dial…

001, and then the country code (i.e. 001-1-123-123-1234): you’re connected via CAT, a Thai state-owned telecom. The call quality is good — it’s a standard fixed-line call — and the cost is 9 baht/min. to the US. (US $.27 cents/min.).

009, and then the country code: you’re connected via CAT’s VoIP service (that’s voice over internet, just like Skype). Call quality can vary, but it’s just 5 baht/min. (US $.15/min.)

008, and then the country code: you’re connected via TOT‘s VoIP service. (TOT is another state-owned Thai telecom.) Call quality also varies, and it’s 5 baht/min. (US $.15/min.)

007, and then the country code: you’ll connect via TOT’s standard fixed-line service and pay 9 baht/min. (US $.27 cents/min.)

There are other three-digit prefixes to use, but these are most common.

I’ve also experimented with CAT’s PhoneNet card — these are international calling cards and can be purchased at one of the Kingdom’s many 7-Elevens. These cards cost 300 baht (US $9), 500 baht (US $15), or 1000 baht (US $30), and rates to the US are 4 baht/min. (US $.12/min.)

This is the most economical option, but it involves dialing an 800 number and entering a code each time you want to make a call.

By comparison, if you don’t want to dial 001 and use a standard land line, simply dialing 009 or 008 before the country code offers substantial savings and costs just one more cent per minute than using a calling card.

Ko Chang and Ko Kood: My New T+L Southeast Asia Story

I have a story in the July issue of Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia about luxury developments on Thailand’s Ko Chang and Ko Kood. The article isn’t online, but it’s called “Sea Change,” and it starts on page 79. Cedric Arnold did a great job with the photography.

If you’re here in Bangkok, you can pick up T+L Southeast Asia at BTS stations and in bookstores. Here’s more info on the magazine.

(Incidentally, I was happy to see that the Letter of the Month was submitted by a reader in The Philippines who enjoyed my story about motorbiking in the north of Vietnam, which appeared in the April issue.)

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