Monthly Archives: May 2009

NYT podcast on Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi

In this week’s New York Times podcast ((Here’s a list of my favorite podcasts.)) about international news, correspondent Seth Mydans discusses Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar. If you’re looking for some general context and historical perspective, it’s worth a listen.

Click here and scroll down to World View Podcast. You can stream the 6 min., 30 sec. mp3 or subscribe for future episodes.

Nokia E71 review: notes after five months of use

Let’s talk smartphones — mobile phones that have advanced Web browsing and multimedia capabilities.

Nokia E71

First things first: I like Apple products, but I’m holding off on the iPhone ((I’m still deciding what to make of the issue of iPhones in Thailand. The devices are available here, but they’re usually more expensive than in the US, and the 3G versions typically come tethered to contracts. More on this, perhaps, in a later post.)), at least for now. ((Another note about the iPhone in general: I’ve played with examined a few models up close, and my feeling is that the touch screen interface is simply superior to an interface that uses buttons. For more on this, see this column from tech usability expert Jacob Nielsen. Key quote: “History is now repeating itself. Just as Apple popularized the GUI on the desktop through the Mac, it’s popularizing the GUI on mobile devices through the iPhone.”))

Back in December, I purchased a Nokia E71 (sample unit pictured above) here in Bangkok.

My one sentence review: The Nokia E71 is a great all-around smartphone, but think twice if you have fat fingers. (More on the issue of pudgy digits and small keys below…)

Pros

  • Call quality: I upgraded from my candybar form factor Nokia ((I’m a loyal Nokia consumer. Their phones are typically very tough, they have good battery life, and they have a logical user interface.)) to take advantage of the E71’s bigger screen for Web browsing, as well as enhanced video and camera, among other features. So it was a pleasant surprise, then, to find out that perhaps the most notable attribute of the device is its phenomenal voice call quality.
  • The video quality is decent. Here’s a 20-second video I shot at a bar here in Bangkok while watching President Obama’s inauguration. (Note that the quality of the mp4 video is slightly better than what you see in this Youtube version.)

    And so you can get a sense of what videos in bright light look like, here’s a short video I shot on a ferry coming back to Bangkok from Koh Samet:

  • Web access: Gmail for mobile devices works very well, and Web browsing with the Opera mini browser — which you’ll need to download separately — is fantastic. Seriously, do yourself a favor and download Opera mini. It works a lot better than the built-in Nokia browser.

Cons

  • The QWERTY keyboard is simply too small for me.
  • It pains me to say this, since Nokia typically creates highly user-friendly phones. But there’s very little space between the keys, and some of the keys in the middle of the pad are cluttered and hard to read at a glance. The keys have Thai letters, the Roman alphabet, and numbers all crammed together.

    A major downnfall: The keys that are most important — the ones with numbers, as it’s a phone, after all — can be difficult to spot quickly. The slim, sleek E71 replaced the older — and comparatively chunkier —E61, but I actually prefer the larger keys on the older model. You can see the difference between the two models in the image below:

    Nokia E71 vs. E61
    The older E61 (left) and the newer E71 (right)

    Yes, the E61 looks somewhat like a calculator. But the keys are much easier to use.

  • This may well be my own fault, but I haven’t taken to the QWERTY keyboard. The built-in predictive text feature is decent, and it does a good job of guessing and then remembering the words you type. But I have to say I miss T9. ((Confession: I recently used my old, trusty, Nokia 3110 classic — truly a no-frills phone — while traveling, and I loved using T9 again.)) The E71 takes two hands to use; you only need one for T9-equipped devices.

On the fence

  • GPS: I’m on the fence about the built-in GPS function. One annoyance is that the built-in functionality takes a long time to load and update, so it’s not ideal for navigating by car. However, the Google Maps mobile integration is excellent. It takes what would otherwise be a cumbersome feature and makes it speedy and useful. ((Thanks to SN for the Google Maps tip!))
  • Radio: apparently the phone has a built-in radio, but I’ve yet to use it.

The bottom line: the Nokia E71 is a solid smartphone. Web browsing works well, and the call quality is exceptional. But unless you have very small fingers, you might find the QWERTY keypad hard to use.

Other Nokia E71 reviews:

WSJ on yellow shirts as a political party

WSJ: “Thai Protest Group Votes to Form a Political Party

PATHUM THANI, Thailand — Members of Thailand’s yellow-shirt protest movement voted to form a political party, creating a potentially influential force as the country struggles to pull itself out of recession.

Tens of thousands of members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy — a movement instrumental in bringing down two governments — converged on a sports stadium in this town near Bangkok on Monday and voted to transform the grass-roots campaign against corruption into a formal political party.

The apparently overwhelming assent — almost the entire stadium stood up to vote for the change — points to an expanded political role for the group’s leaders after it gained global notoriety for shutting down Bangkok’s international airports for a week last year.

The new party, which the PAD hasn’t yet named, could further elevate publisher and broadcaster Sondhi Limthongkul, the 61-year-old driving force behind the movement.

The PAD’s vote comes as Thailand grapples with its worst economic slump in more than a decade. The state economic planning agency said GDP contracted 7.1% in the first three months of 2009 from a year earlier, the worst performance since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Also in today’s WSJ: “Thai Economy Enters Recession, but Recovery Is in Sight.”

Thailand’s economy plunged into recession in the first quarter as the global downturn hammered exports and tourism slumped due to political unrest. But the government and economists say the economy is probably at or near the bottom.

Seasonally adjusted gross domestic product shrank 1.9% in the three months ended March from the prior quarter, said the head of the National Economic & Social Development Board, Ampon Kittiampon. The state economic planning agency said GDP contracted 7.1% in the first three months from a year earlier, the worst performance since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Newcastle and Thai PM Abhisit

Newcastle United have been relegated from the English Premier League after 16 years in the top flight. The side lost 1-0 at Aston Villa last night, meaning Newcastle will play in England’s second tier next season.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was born in Newcastle and is a passionate fan of the club, ((Upon taking office, Abhisit received a Newcastle shirt from Britain’s ambassador to Thailand.)) is surely feeling down.

Nation: “Newcastle till I die: Abhisit.”

After watching his favourite football club, Newcastle United, lose their last Premier League game and get relegated in the process, Abhisit went to bed Sunday night with hope in his heart. And he wore a Newcastle necktie to work Monday morning to display his unwavering support for the club.

“Newcastle will be promoted back to the Premier League next year,” Abhisit told reporters Monday morning. “I’m still having strong faith in the club.”

Abhisit confirmed reports that he had intended to call Newcastle manager Alan Shearer. He hasn’t made such a call, though, probably because of Sunday’s heartbreaking result or because of uncertainties surrounding Shearer’s future.

And there’s this:

Meanwhile, Manchester City, which were owned briefly by his political rival, Thaksin Shinawatra, ended their League campaign right in the middle of the 20-team table, after beating Bolton Wanderers 1-0 on Sunday.

The AP also has a story: “Thai PM will still support Newcastle“:

Abhisit, sporting a tie bearing a Newcastle logo on Monday, says he watched the match and was not shocked by the result considering the team had so many injuries. He had planned to call the manager Shearer if the team won, but decided not to after the loss.

“I will continue to support the team and I believe they will make it back,” Abhisit said. “I still have faith in Newcastle.”

Ozomatli play Bangkok

Ozomatli in Bangkok
Ulises Bella (L) and Jiro Yamaguchi (R).

The Los Angeles-based Latin funk/hip hop outfit Ozomatli ((More info on Ozomatli can be found on Wikipedia and on Amazon.com)) is one of my favorite bands. But I’d never seen them live.

So I was surprised to learn, at the last minute, that Ozomatli were playing a free show here in Bangkok last night — a Sunday evening, no less.

Ozomatli, it turns out, are U.S. State Department cultural ambassadors, and the US embassy in Thailand put on the event to showcase American diversity and multiculturalism. (The band has also played in Myanmar and Vietnam on this trip.)

The show took place outside Bangkok’s glittering CentralWorld shopping mall — an incongruous setting — amid a light rain. Thai band Buddha Bless ((Warning: link to MySpace page.)) opened. There were just a few hundred people in attendance, so my pals and I were able to watch the show from the front row. Ozomatli were full of enthusiasm, humor, and positivity.

Embedded below is a 30-second mobile phone video I shot. (Click here to see it on YouTube, if you’re reading this via RSS.)

And here’re some cell phone pics:

Ozomatli in Bangkok
Justin “El Niño” Porée

Ozomatli in Bangkok
Asdru Sierra (L) and Wil-Dog Abers (R).

Ozomatli in Bangkok
US Ambassador Eric John joins in.

Well done, Ozomatli. Come back to Bangkok soon.

Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and John Yettaw

Some news stories about Aung San Suu Kyi and John Yettaw:

Reuters: “Critics hit Myanmar on “trumped-up” Suu Kyi charges

YANGON (Reuters) – Western critics slammed Myanmar’s military rulers for pressing “trumped-up” new charges against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the move drew only mild rebuke from Asian neighbors.

The United States and Britain — the loudest critics of the generals who have ruled the former Burma since 1962 — condemned the Nobel Peace laureate’s forthcoming trial on charges she broke the terms of her house arrest after an American intruder stayed in her home.

Human rights groups called on Myanmar’s neighbors China and India — which have strong economic ties to the resource-rich country — and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to demand Suu Kyi’s immediate release.

“Burma’s military authorities have taken advantage of an intruder’s bizarre stunt to throw Aung San Suu Kyi into one of Burma’s most notorious and squalid jails on trumped-up charges,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

BBC (with images that are said to be of Yettaw and what appear to be improvised flippers): “Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi ‘intruder’

The US man who allegedly broke into the home of detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been named by Burma as John Yettaw, 53.

Burmese state media said he was a psychology student living in the US state of Missouri.

They say Mr Yettaw, whose surname has also been spelled Yeattaw, entered the country on a tourist visa on 2 May.

His detention led to the arrest of Ms Suu Kyi, who is now awaiting trial in Burma’s Insein prison.

CNN: “Neighbors describe man at center of Myanmar political scandal

Tucked away in the woods of central Missouri, obscured by tall trees and broken-down cars, is the mobile home of the U.S. citizen being detained in Myanmar.

Journalists have been flocking to John Yettaw’s modest residence in the unincorporated community of Falcon for insight into the man who allegedly swam across a lake and sneaked into the home of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest.

Yettaw was charged Thursday in Myanmar on two criminal counts: entering the country illegally and staying at a resident’s home without government permission, according to a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s political party.

AP: “Clinton: Myanmar should release opposition leader

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging Myanmar to immediately release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (ahng sahn soo chee).

Clinton told reporters at the State Department on Thursday that she was deeply troubled by Myanmar’s “baseless charge” against the Nobel Peace laureate. She says the government is looking for a “pretext” to place further unjust restrictions on Suu Kyi (soo chee).

H1N1 in Thailand: two confirmed cases

Some news today about H1N1 (swine flu) in Thailand:

Reuters: “Thailand says two flu patients visited Mexico

Two Thais who returned from Mexico have been confirmed with H1N1 flu but have recovered from the virus, Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai said on Tuesday.

Eight other Thais who were in contact with the two infected people were released after being quarantined for a week and show no signs of the virus, he said.

“We have found two confirmed cases of the flu, which was contracted abroad. They have recovered,” Witthaya told a news conference.

He gave no details of the two patients and did not say when or where they had travelled in Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak also known as swine flu.

Nation: “Thailand confirms first two swine flu cases” ((Add “Influenza 2009” to the Thailand swine flu nomenclature list.))

Thailand on Tuesday confirmed its first two cases of Influenza 2009 in patients who had returned from Mexico.

The country becomes the 31st country that was hit by the virus so far.

Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai said tests carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States had confirmed the A(H1N1) virus in samples from the two Thai nationals.

“There are two confirmed cases of A(H1N1), both of them contracted from Mexico,” he said.

Bangkok Post: “PM confirms first swine flu case

A laboratory test had confirmed that a Thai who returned from a trip overseas had swine flu, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Tuesday.

Mr Abhisit said the A(H1N1) virus was found in a sample taken from the patient.

“The patient has fully recovered and has returned home,” he said.

He did not name the country the patient visited, and refused to confirm if the patient had been treated at Chulalongkorn hospital.

(Previous post: “A conversation about H1N1 with a Bangkok taxi driver.”)

A conversation about H1N1 with a Bangkok taxi driver

I got into a taxi here in Bangkok on Sunday. When I looked at the driver’s face in the rear view mirror, I noticed he was wearing a protective facial mask. I didn’t think much of it.

I told him where I was going, and then he turned around and looked at me.

“Where are you from?” he said.

“I’m from America,” I said.

“Not Mexico?” he said.

“No,” I said. “I’m from America. But I live here in Bangkok.”

“Okay,” he said. ((We spoke in Thai, in case you’re wondering, though this was a very simple conversation.))

Then he took off his mask and explained that he was afraid of catching swine flu. And that he was glad I wasn’t a Mexican. He said he’d been asking all of the foreigners who got into his taxi if they were from Mexico.

I assured him that I was not Mexican, that I had not been infected with H1N1, and — despite the fact that it has nothing to do with swine flu — that I don’t eat pork. ((I do, in fact, eat pork, but he was quite nervous, and I wanted to put him at ease.))

He smiled and seemed relieved. ((The latest news on H1N1 and Thailand, for the record: There have still been no confirmed cases. A suspected case recently turned out to be the common flu.))

(Related post: “Thailand swine flu nomenclature update.”)