Saturday, October 8, 2011

Getting Organized (Updated)

Today when I was doing some writing, I had the sneaking suspicion I had already written it. Maybe not fully, but at least in some part I had put this little portion down into words once already. Today's writing project detailed a little adventure I had while slipping into and out of the country of Laos back in 2009. I knew for a fact that I had written something on this, but where was it? Over the past couple years, I have always taken extra steps to make duplicate digital copies of most everything I had written on some sort of storage device somewhere. I checked the folders here on my PC and scanned both my little flash drives to no avail. I even searched through my old blog entries and drafts online, but came up empty handed. It was then that I remember that sometimes I stored stuff in my Yahoo mail account. I browsed through the files there in my Yahoo notepad, and then remembered "ZUMODRIVE!!!!" It's an online file storage system that Yahoo offers as an add-on to it's mail service. Sometimes it can be a little buggy with service outages, but it had never let me down completely. So, I logged in and BINGO!! There was a whole batch of files that I had stashed away over two years ago! A real treasure trove and a bit of time capsule. I found my Lao article and a few other little goodies that I had forgotten about. So, before I go too much further I will probably spend the rest of the day downloading copies of all that stuff and compiling a proper synchronized backup of all my files and distribute them back out accordingly before I end up with a true disaster one of these days. This little project of mine here has about 200,000 written words of text alone in finished manuscript, notes, articles and outlines. I also have about 2,000 individual photographs as well that probably ought to be backed up synchronized and organized. Keep in mind these are currently spread out over 5 different storage devices, and all contain different things. Should be a fun little project for the afternoon. Wish me luck.

UPDATE: I finally got all the information off of my old ZumoDrive account through Yahoo, and I will say that I no longer recommend the ZumoDrive service. Yes, it is a freebie, but the service is certainly lacking when many other others have much more to offer. A full report will be coming soon complete with some up to date recommendations regarding similar services that actually work and work well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs on Dogma

I have always been a bit of a computer geek myself, so it was sad to see one of the founding and most influential contributors to the industry pass away. I must say that I am not a huge fan of Apple or its products, but I admire the history and innovation that they have represented. Steve Jobs was a unique fellow, and had some very interesting things to say on occasion. Below is my favorite quote of his. May he rest in peace.

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs 1955-2011


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Competing With the Third World

There is really something disconcerting about knowing that no matter how hard you work or how long the hours are, there will always be a few million people in the third world who will work even harder and longer for less than one 10th of what you are making. Now, thanks to increasing global internet connectivity, those people can now telecommute to the first world, and they do in droves. How do I know this you might ask? I'll tell you. I used be be one of those guys beating the pants off of the western workforce by sitting in internet cafes located in some of the poorest countries in the world. With a cost of living that is much lower than most western countries, the jobs come quick and easy to a well qualified programmer. Especially when that programmer speaks and writes English as their first language.

By the time I left Thailand I was well on my way with a solid clientele list, and a steady stream of projects. This was almost ideal because I didn't actually do any business in the country I lived in. My employers were mostly European and American, and funds were always transferred from online accounts outside the country. So, what made it such a lucrative and busy business for a person in my position? lists the average salary for a web designer in the US to be about $48,000 a year. Not bad eh? That's about $23 an hour. In a staggering comparison, an entry level designer in Thailand with a decent education and skills makes about $6,000 a year. In all actuality, that is a very good income in Thailand even at a whopping $3 an hour! Minimum wage there is actually only about $7 A DAY!! and most can live on that with the comparatively inexpensive cost of living there. I managed to squeak by, and I'll let you know how I did it.

I didn't even have a computer or an internet connection for most of the time. I would simply rent a machine, internet connection, desk, and workspace in an internet cafe for about 30 cents an hour. A full day would cost me about $2 in expenses. During that day, I could rustle up about $10-$20 worth of revenue doing odd jobs such as processing image files for online catalogs, and fixing coding errors in websites. The same jobs that employers back in their own countries would have to pay 8 times the price for and get the exact same results. So, at the end of the day, I might clear at least $7 a day in profit, and sometimes much more. That was already at least the same as minimum wage, and I wasn't breaking my back on a construction crew for 12 hours anymore and risking getting busted by the labor department and immigration. Big Plus!!!

Well, those days are over now that I'm back here in the US for the time being. I'm finding myself back on the other side of the fence, and it can be really dis-heartening at times. It still get plenty of job offers, but most of them I can't even consider due to the cost of living here. For example, I had an offer last week to convert, crop and re-size a batch of several hundred image files of auto parts from PDF to JPG format. No, not the most exciting job, but it was work. I calculated my time and costs and put in a bid that was still far less than most would do it for in this country. I was flat broke broke and needed the money. The guy who got the job and beat me out was actually in India and took on the week long project for the equivalent of $50. It's a little hard to compete with that. I wouldn't even consider it for that amount of money here, but for him that was a good week's wages and food on the table. Heck, back in Thailand that would have paid my rent for two weeks!!! Now I find myself not even bothering to bid on those jobs just because it's not even worth my time here.

So, what's the solution? Not really sure yet. I have picked up a couple small jobs from firms that are staunch "non-outsourcers" but even they only want to pay half of what they should for my time. In this economy, money is tight, and what little there is to go around for us bottom feeders tends to go overseas. I didn't mind it so much when I was on the receiving end of those funds and living an inexpensive lifestyle in a foreign country. Now that I'm back in the "real world" it really starts to pinch a little bit. I was getting very used to making the equivalent of about $200 to $300 a month and living quite comfortably. It seems that here in this country these days it takes at least that amount to make a car payment just so you can get to work.

Well, there you have it. The challenge I have been facing this past few weeks as I try to find some sort of stability here. I just keep pushing along. It's been a long strange ride, and something tells me it's not over yet.


Monday, September 26, 2011

A Special Thanks to all my Readers

I've had a few people snooping around the blog here wondering if I was still alive, so I though I would make a quick post. I'm still trying to settle in and figure out where I belong, but I just wanted to take a moment and say a special thank you to all those readers who have come along for the ride in both the digital world, and a few in person. I would certainly not be alive today if it had not been for many of you who have encouraged and followed me along the way. So, without further ado, a heartfelt thanks goes out to all my friends, family and readers in the following countries. The order is simply by number of visitors and readers. Nothing personal. I appreciate each and every one of you.

United States
United Kingdom
Hong Kong
Russian Federation

It would not have been possible without you. It's been quite a ride, and it's not over yet.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Red Shirts Revisited (Video)

I talked to an old friend today who reminded me of some events from over a year ago. It was in regards to the red shirt riots in Chiang Mai, Thailand following the attempted overthrow of the government by the UDD. I wrote about this back in May 2010 when it first happened (original article). I remember being there in the thick of it after most of the smoke had cleared. I contacted another friend of mine as I remembered that he was even closer to the action and got some great photos. He sent me a link to a video he made with his photos. I used to live literally right around the corner from where all this took place. It was a spooky few days with fires, explosions, riots, military in the streets, and city wide curfews. Thanks to my buddy Mick who was brave enough to get into the middle of it all and get some amazing photos. Below is the video and photo compilation with an appropriate soundtrack from the Rolling Stones.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thinking About the Future

I look at the road I've traveled in the past two years, and also the road ahead. Both seem equally as fraught with danger and hardship. Coming back to America has proved to be as difficult if not more so than my adjustment to living life on the run as an illegal immigrant and migrant worker in Thailand. As strange as it may sound, I had accepted that role, and had done what I could to make the best of it. As I begin to get my senses back here and overcome the culture shock and travel fatigue, my mind often turns to the memories of the last two years and how seemingly incredible and far away they are now.

I have done a great deal of writing over the past two years. Some of it has ended up here in the blog. Some of it is saved in digital files online. And, even more still is on paper as I often was only able to scribble down notes as I lived and worked in some of the most remote and dangerous conditions. I've now had a few days to look at some of these and realized that it is quite a story. I compiled most of these together and have begun piecing and tying them together in a timeline format.

For every post I made here on the blog there are at least three more stories and experiences that I never had time to relay. I had even given up on blogging for a long period of time until my arrest and court case started back in March. There are portions of the the story and my experiences that I believe do need to be told. There are others yet that I probably will never speak or write about again as long as I live. Having personally and first hand witnessed the world that very few ever see, I feel that some of these do need to be told. In the time I spent there, I saw the absolute beauty and kindness that the culture has to offer. In contrast, I also witnessed first hand and up close the darker side of the third and developing world. Organized crime, government corruption, human trafficking, prostitution, migrant worker exploitation, prisons, the aftermath of civil war, and how people just keep moving along despite the greatest of odds.

Now that I have finally made it back to the states, I literally don't have a penny to my name. However, I do have something much more valuable. I have this story to tell. I have put a great deal of work in recent days into compiling my notes, fragments and fully written pieces. To my surprise, it currently totals over 60,000 words already. I am seriously considering formatting and finishing it into a full manuscript. I expect that if completed it will easily top 100,000 words. I paid dearly for these experiences with blood, sweat, bone, and tears. Some of which will be forever etched on my body and mind. My only hope is that I might be able to put them to paper and pass them on. As I fought my way through the last two years, there was one thing that kept me going. That one thing was that I had not yet told the incredible story of where I had been and what I had done and seen. This thought kept me from doing the unspeakable on many an occasion when things seemed the darkest.

It seems that the time may have come to finally tell the story. It's all I have, so I might as well make good use of it. Let me know your thought and ideas as I further explore this possibility. I have plenty of time to write at the moment, and have been averaging 2,000 to 4,000 words a day as I do my best to document the strange journey that I have been on.

As always, take care of yourselves and each other.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Another Week on the Road

It's been a long week and I've managed to go about another 600 miles. I had the intention of closing the blog for a few days while I did some organizing, archiving, and cleaning. That never happened and I ended up back on the road before I had the chance to put it back online again.

Nevada was clearly not agreeing with me, and it was definitely time to go. After two years bouncing around in third world countries, the great state of Nevada seemed like a post apocalyptic disaster zone. I certainly hoped that the rest of the country wasn't this way. As with every country there are going to be poor and desperate people somewhere. Being one of those people myself, I had become accustomed to a certain code of honor when it came to the treatment of those around you. That code was virtually non existent in what I saw once I got back to the states. People seemed just as likely to beat or rob each other as they were to offer each other a helping hand. Now I remembered why everyone here feels the need own a gun. An unpleasant feeling.

So, it was time to hit the road once again. I made my way out of Nevada and east into Utah. From there I travelled north until I started meeting people who seemed to be a little less "freakish" and showed a little compassion for each other. There have still been plenty of interesting characters along the way, but much less dangerous ones. I am now visiting an old friend near the Utah/Idaho border and trying to recover once again. I am getting ready to put in a little work to help repay him for his kindness and try to pay forward some of the good karma I received on this last leg of the journey.

Once again, I keep creeping a little closer to where I came from, and I'll have to decide soon whether or not I can dive back in, keep moving, or just lay low. Tough choices, and I'm sure some of you may be hearing from me soon as contact becomes a little easier to make. For the time being, I am safe, can think through my options, and hopefully come to a workable solution. I had to do the same thing two years ago under similar circumstances, but on the other side of the planet. Now, it's back to square one on this side again.

All the best to everyone out there on both sides of the planet. Be good to yourselves and most of all each other. I'll report more as soon as I am able.