Bits and Pieces

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Buy iPad Now and Pay Later

I always seem to buy my gadgets at the worst possible time.  I buy a laptop, and the week later my house is robbed.  I buy an iPhone, and the following month I'm in a car accident in Mongolia - the only casualty the phone's screen.  It sucks, but I'm cursed.

When I bought my iPad it was so much bad luck as poor planning that caught me out.  I'd been living in the middle of Thailand with my girfriend for a few months, lagging behind on the tech news for a while, and on a trip down to Bangkok I decided to grab an iPad on a mad impulse.  I didn't need it at the time, and as it turned out I wouldn't use it for about 6 months.

Just two days after I bought my iPad, the iPad 2 was released.  Slimmer body.  Better screen.  Faster processor.  Same price.

This Christmas I decided to treat myself to an iPad 2, but I hit a bit of a problem.  I'm poor.  I didn't used to be - I was quite wealthy at the start of the year, but I lost my job and ended up travelling around Asia for 10 months with my girlfriend.  There's just no money left right now.

Anyway... I took a look at one of my favourite shopping blogs, Shopping Kim, and found a couple of buy iPad now, pay later deals.  Irresponsible?  Maybe.  I don't care.  My iPad two will be with me in three to five days.

Happy new year, everyone!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Pet Pharmacy in my Home

So for the last few weeks my girlfriend and I have been dogsitting for a nice Czech couple, in return for free accommodation in their apartment.  At first this seemed like a pretty sweet deal.  We're running a little low on funds, so a month rent-free sounded pretty good...

... That is, until we met the dog.

This little thing is insane.  She's a mongrel.  Part spaniel, mostly wolf.  She eats more than Ogi and I put together, and a couple of days ago she broke a table, she was jumping around so much.

Now, the couple want to move little hyperactive Zaya from Mongolia to the UK, and in order to do so she needs shots, blood tests and a whole host of checkups to make sure she's healthy.  This month we've visited the vet almost a dozen times, and we have so much medication in our bathroom (where the dog can't chew it to pieces) that we have a veritable pet pharmacy on our hands.

Anyway... it'll be sad to leave little Zaya next week when her family return from holiday.  This last month has reminded me of my love for these furry little creatures.  I expect after we leave her I'll have to get my fix from reading the occasional pet blog and chasing after puppies in the street :)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Using an Online Math Tutor

Throughout my school years my parents would never shut up about my English skills.  Spelling, punctuation, grammar... they'd go on and on and on about the fact that I never found any aspect of the English language a challenge.  It was just easy for me.  The rules seemed easy to understand; simple and intuitive. 

If only the same could be said for math.  No matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get my head around mathematics.  Basic stuff like addition, subtraction and simple multiplication was easy enough, but once we drifted out of the comfortable shallows I quickly got out of my depth.  I could never understand algebra, calculus, or even such a basic concept as 'carrying the one'.  In short, I sucked. 

I never really got better, either.  Even today I usually have my calculator app open on my laptop and iPhone for simple sums.  I rely on the calculator, and these days I just don't bother to do math at all.  

My New Year's resolution for 2012 is to change that.  This year I'm gonna use an online math tutor to wean me off my reliance on the calculator.  I'll never bother to learn algebra (even school kids can tell they'll probably never have any real world use for it), but I'm definitely gonna get a good grasp on basic math.  Wish me luck, people.  

Making Extra Money From Home

As you may know, my girlfriend and I have been bumming around Asia for the past couple of years.  After four months living in Thailand we returned to her home, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to spend the winter.  After a little over a month here we decided that -40 degrees was really too cold for human beings, so we're heading back to Thailand by way of Beijing and Hong Kong in a little under two weeks.

The problem is that all of this is dangerously expensive.  We need to find an apartment in Bangkok, where neither of us can legally work, so once again we'll be relying on my online income to pay the bills.  Pretty stressful, actually.

Right now my income is pretty fixed.  $20 here, $30 there, but not much extra on the horizon, so for the last few weeks I've been wondering how can I make extra money from home.  I figure I need to make a steady $70 each day to keep us on an even keel, and a little more (ideally) to build some savings rather than just stay level.  So far I've been writing extra articles at crazy low rates, and working on my sites to try and build my Adsense and Amazon earnings up a little higher.  I think we may be on the verge of something big, but it's under wraps at the moment.  I'll get back to you all when it's confirmed, but it may just solve all of our financial problems.

Building an AdSense Empire

In the last six months or so I've been building up a few new sites in advance of the Christmas rush, hoping to make a mint from the amazon Associates program and the AdSense program.  I've been tirelessly banging out content day and night, building sites of hundreds of pages each, hoping to reach the top of the search results and give myself a nice, comfortable passive income.

I'm only six months into this new career but so far I've done pretty well, if I say so myself.  Last month I made a little over $600 from Amazon and $400 from Adsense.  Out here in Asia that's all I need for a comfortable life, but I'd like to at least double that by this time next year to allow my girlfriend and I the option to return home to the UK if we choose - right now that's just out of the question.

Since the next year will surely be a long, hard slog I've decided to work smart, rather than hard over the coming 12 months.  You can buy ready made content to flesh out your sites - articles that will only require a little rewriting to pass the duplicate content filters - and using them you can flesh out your sites with content that Google will love.

I've been using these pre-written articles for the last few weeks, and so far I've halved the amount of time I've needed to spend sitting at the computer, while my productivity rate has stayed the same.

So, if you're building websites and you're finding yourself tired of writing fresh articles every day I advise you to buy a few pre-written pieces.  It makes life so much easier.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pre Natas Fair Promotion in Singapore

As you may know, my girlfriend and I are heading back to Thailand in a few weeks to escape the harsh winter cold of Mongolia.  It's just too damned chilly up here, and we desperately need to see the sun again.  I want air conditioning.  I want to sleep naked.  I want to be able to wake up in the morning, throw on a t-shirt and shorts and head to the shop, rather than a pair of down trousers, a t-shirt, a shirt, a scarf, gloves, hat and a parka.

Our plan is to stay in Bangkok for about four months until the last of the snow has melted in Mongolia, but that means that we'll have to go on a visa run after our first month.  Earlier this year we went to Laos and Cambodia on visa runs, and Ogi really wants to try a new country the next time.

We've heard great things about Malaysia and Singapore.  We have a couple of friends in Krabi, and a couple more in Singapore, so our plan is to get the train down mainland Malaysia over the course of about a week before heading into Singapore in time for the Pre Natas fair promotion.

The Natas fair, if you haven't heard of it, is an industry event hosted by the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore.  Each year in February and August they offer amazing deals on air fares to entice locals to go on holiday.  The deals are often linked with banks, so you can often get some great goodies when you pay for a travel deal with your credit card.

With a little luck Ogi and I will be able to find a great deal on a flight back to Bangkok - or elsewhere, if the mood strikes and the price is right.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bankruptcy and the Preference Period

A friend of mine is going through a rough time right now.  A few years ago he had an idea, and after a looooot of legwork, grovelling, begging and cajoling he'd raised enough venture capital to start a business. 

Unfortunately my friend isn't all that savvy.  He's a great ideas man, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the day to day running of a business... well, he leaves something to be desired.  What he'd done is this: he'd promised the VC guys a return on their investment by x months after the payments were made.  What he hadn't accounted for, thanks for some more than optimistic number crunching on his part, was that the capital wouldn't be available when the payment date came.  The money was there, sure, but it was tied up in stock, rent and wages.

Anyway, things got a little ugly.  My friend hadn't covered his ass legally, so the VC guys were tough to deal with.  They eventually accepted a repayment on their investment in installments, but this only made the matter worse.  With the lifeblood of the business heading out to the investors my friend had no chance.  A couple of months ago he filed for bankruptcy.

Now, I always assumed that this was as simple as saying, in fancy legal terms, 'sorry guys, I'm out of money.  We're all screwed, but you ain't getting a penny'.  It now turns out that it's much, much more complicated than that.  There are all sorts of terms like preference period and preferential transfer being thrown around: terms that basically mean that my friend has to repay certain debts come hell or high water, despite filing for bankruptcy.

Well, it's all too complicated for me, but it makes me glad that I live in a country that lacks such a complex legal system as that of the US.  Out here on the Mongolian steppe we just break your legs if you don't pay a debt!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Weird Hotels and Crazy Thing to Do

Now, you all know I visit some pretty weird places in my travels.  In the last few years I've stood on the edge of an enormous flaming crater that's been burning for three decades in Turkmenistan.  I was in Beijing on National Day, 2009 as the Chinese military rolled through Tienanmen Square. I spent weeks earlier this year living through the worst flooding Thailand has seen in half a century (you haven't lived until you've watched a crocodile wade down your street), and right now I'm living through a Mongolian winter at a ridiculous -40 degrees Celsius.  In short, I'm pretty immune to weirdness.

Saying that, I was pretty amused to find this site on the subject of weird hotels around the world.  From hotels made of salt to the world's thinnest house to its highest swimming pool, this site is full of weird and wonderful buildings that'll make you realize that the world have taken a definite turn for the weird.

Another part of the site that really appeals to me is the 'crazy things to do' section.  I'm always looking for a new adventure, so I love to see ideas like snowboarding on salt, swimming with polar bears and climbing the world's highest climbing wall.

It's this final idea that really appeals to me.  The wall is in the Netherlands, and it stands at an immense 127 feet, with a 36 foot overhang.  I've always loved to climb, and when my girlfriend and I pass through Holland on the way back to the UK next spring it'll take a hell of an argument to prevent me from giving the wall a try.

A Great Boulder Tennis Instructor

Back before I destroyed my knee in a car accident in the middle of Kazakhstan (if you can call falling asleep and driving into a field an accident rather than 'dumbass, holy mother of Christ are you stupid?') I was a pretty acceptable tennis player.  I wouldn't claim to have been particularly good (my serve needed work), but I had a reasonable amount of game.

A friend of mine recently moved out to Colorado with his family, a move that his young son hated.  The old house in Austin, Texas was directly next door to a local tennis club - not a private, snobby and expensive club, but just a set of municipal courts that could be hired for a few dollars per hour.  Adam used to play for hours with his dad, Oli and, when Oli's job pulled them to Colorado, leaving the courts was an even bigger wrench for Adam than leaving his friends (friends?  Screw 'em.  My backhand is sloppy).

Oli know that he needed to restore some normality to Adam's life when they arrived in Boulder.  Making new friends in a new town will always be a terrifying experience, so Oli wanted to give Adam some sort of sanctuary; a continuation of his life in Austin, some place that felt safe and familiar while everything else around him was changing.

Almost immediately they struck gold.  Just a couple of minutes from the new house is a Boulder tennis instructor.  Not just any instructor, either, but the only Boulder tennis academy endorsed by the city.  The instructors are USTA certified, the kids all love the place (Adam has already made a few new friends there) and the management have big ideas about holding USTA tournaments of their own.

I'll be heading to Boulder for a short stay in February and, assuming the knee holds up, I can't wait to play a few games with Adam and Oli.

Dennis Yu's BlitzLocal

Back in the good old days, when the Internet was wild and lawless, it seemed fairly simple to get your content to the top of Google.  Just get your keywords in, beg, borrow or steal as many backlinks as you could and, before you know it, you're riding high in the search results.

Well, Google got smart.  First they began accounting for keyword stuffing, penalizing those who jammed their target words onto the page more than was necessary.  Then they tweaked their algorithm over and over again, developing new rules each time an exploit was discovered.  Overnight the face of the internet changed as the old rules went out the window.  Black hat SEO suddenly wasn't such a cake walk anymore, and the playing field, as far as is possible on the Internet, was a little more level.

Even so, the world of SEO will never truly be a level playing field.  As long as there are sneaky tricks to promote trash over true information the game will always be skewed in favor of the professional cheats.  This is why I'm so fond of Facebook as a way to reach potential customers.

Facebook is a truly level playing field.  Promotion relies on the human factor - creating content that appeals to real people and not just ineffable, opaque and confusing algorithms.  When I recently set up my Facebook fan page to promote my winter clothing review site I used the teachings of Dennis Yu to understand what my readers (and potential readers) are really looking for.  Dennis runs a company called BlitzLocal, a search engine marketing agency that, among other things, helps you optimize your Facebook business page to maximize reader engagement.

In the weeks since I started my page I've used the lessons I've gleaned from BlitzLocal to present my page in such a way that my readers, however small that base may be right now, are all actively engaging with my material.  They don't just click 'like' and never return... they come back time and again.

Anyway, the sermon for today is this: if you want to succeed on Facebook, don't go it alone.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bioethics Law is Glenn McGee Law

Some interesting news came out of my neck of the woods in recent weeks.  A team of Japanese and Russian scientists have uncovered a mammoth bone in eastern Russia (just up the road from me, actually) that seems to contain viable nuclei with undamaged genes.  It's early days yet, but the hope is that sometime in the near future they will be able to clone a mammoth, thousands of years after they last roamed the planet.

This all sounds a little Jurassic Park-esque to me, but I'm assured the claims are based on solid science.  The team hope to implant the genetic material into egg cells from an elephant - a tricky process, but it just might work.

This story raises more than a few ethical questions, though, the most obvious of which is this: is it our place to bring back a failed species?  I understand that it was largely the fault of humans (or proto-humans, at least - I'm not big on anthropology) that the mammoth was wiped out in the first place, but you have to wonder how an extinct species would respond to 'reincarnation' in a greatly changed world.  Is there a place for the mammoth in the modern world? Can they become a viable species once more, or will they be reduced to a side show oddity?  Perhaps most importantly, is a genetic sample from a single specimen enough?  It will surely be a dangerously shallow gene pool.

I always find my mind fizzing away whenever the subject of bioethics arises.  Maybe it's my grounding in biology and law, but for whatever reason I'm energized by the subject.  That's why I love following the Twitter feed of Glenn McGee, the Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Bioethics.

I think of bioethics law as Glenn McGee law, for the simple reason that, in his capacity as the president of the Bioethics Education Network, Prof. McGee advises everyone from incoming members of Congress to chief justices of the US Circuit Courts of Appeals.  McGee's voice on the matter or bioethics is so strong that all legislation, large or small, is influenced by McGee's counsel.  

Anyway... if you're at all interested in the exciting questions raised by people like Professor McGee you should check out his Twitter feed.

Wayne Elsey of Soles4Souls Changes the World

A couple of years ago I took part in the Mongol Rally, a charity event that sees hundreds of people each year attempt to drive from the UK to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in aid of Mongolian good causes.  This journey was the catalyst for my moving to Ulaanbaatar the following year to work with the charity arm of the Mongol Rally organisation, Adventures for Development.

Both during and after the rally I had the good fortune to get to know some truly incredible people, many of who have devoted their lives to lending a hand to the least among us.  I keep in touch with each of them now through Facebook, Skype and email, envying them their lives as they visit exotic locales while I sit here in Mongolia at -30 degrees.

A couple of months ago I got a truly tempting offer.  One old friend, Joe, an American from Richmond, Virginia, had put together a team with the idea to tackle the African continent in a couple of clapped out old cars that were due for the scrap heap.  While the journey would be mainly for fun, Joe reasoned that he might as well raise a huge pile of money for charity in the process.

Joe's idea was to paint the cars as a pair of sneakers, with laces hanging down from the roof.  for many years now Joe has admired the work of Wayne Elsey, founder of the innovative charity Soles4Souls, and he wanted to raise awareness (and funds) to help the charity.  Soles4Souls collects old, unused shoes from the people of the western world and takes them where they're needed the most.  The charity's business model is simple, transferring our surplus to the developing world and using it not just to put shoes on feet but to foster local enterprise, kickstart economies and offer hope to the hopeless.

I really wish I could join Joe on his epic journey from Egypt to South Africa, but unfortunately I'm needed here.   There are lots of people right here in Ulaanbaatar wanting for a pair of shoes, and I couldn't bring myself to leave them now.

Developing a Roulette System

Those of you who know me well will know that, back in my university days, I had a pretty serious gambling problem.  I began gambling at the age of 16, placing a couple of bets each weekend on football matches (soccer, to my American readers).  When I started university I was given a student loan, the first large chunk of money I'd ever had, and it turned out I wasn't nearly responsible enough to hold on to the money.

Within a couple of weeks of getting my student loan I'd signed up for a couple of online gambling accounts, placing bets on whatever sports were taking place throughout the day and night.  I bet on football (both regular and American), golf, basketball, cricket, rugby... even curling, for God's sake.  Whatever was being played around the world I'd convince myself I could predict the winner.  I was rarely correct.

Things took a turn for the worse when I discovered online casinos.  Now I didn't have to wait for a game to begin - I couldn't simply spin the roulette wheel 24 hours a day.  Soon after I began I made £6,000 in a single day, betting £500 on the spin of a wheel dozens of times.  I was convinced I had a roulette system that could predict the result of the spin.

I was wrong.

The following day, riding high from my big win, I lost over £8,000.  Roulette, it seemed, just wasn't my game.  I didn't have the discipline to walk away from the table after a big win.  I refused to believe that I could lose, and that was my downfall.

Anyway... It's been almost ten years since I last placed a bet.  Would I ever do it again?  Hmmm, maybe, but right now I'm happy to earn my money with hard work.  The rewards may be smaller, but it's definitely better for my blood pressure.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friends or Keyword Research?

So it's December, the biggest month for online sales in the year, and it's time to clean up with the Amazon Associates program.  For the last few months I've been preparing Christmas gift related articles on my sites with Amazon links attached, and in the last couple of weeks they've begun to pay off.  In the last four days I've had over 30 sales through my sites, and though my internet marketing days are just beginning I'm already beginning to become addicted.  

One of the ways in which this new job has put a stake through the heart of my personal life jumped out at me last night.  My girlfriend and I had been for a nice farewell meal with an American friend of ours who's being deported from Mongolia next Tuesday (top tip: don't let your visa lapse in this country).  We'd been at the restaurant for a few hours having a great time, and Lou, the American, suggested we move of for more drinks and a bit of karaoke.

A few months ago this suggestion would have required no thought. Absolutely, I would have replied.  Let's go right now!  Last night, though, I ummed and ahhed for five minutes, trying in vain to think up a reasonable excuse as to why I couldn't go drinking with this friend who, it's more than likely, I'll never see again.

You see, what I really wanted to do was come home and play around with the Google keyword tool, attempting to find lucrative keywords for my new winterwear review site.  I wanted to leave a warm bar filled with friends to head home to a cold office and play on the computer.  How sad is that?

Well, not really that sad at all.  The missus and I are kind of running out of money and, as I'm here right now on a tourist visa, I can't legally take a job.  While it may seem a little pathetic to choose the Google keyword tool over a night with friends I'm actually doing the right thing, earning money so there can be many, many more nights with good food, good friends and good beer.  I'm giving up one night now for the sake of endless nights in the future. 

At least, that's what I told myself as I trudged home to the computer last night. 

Keep on truckin', Taylor.

God, We Got Fat

The missus and I have had, to say the least, a sedentary year.  I've spoken a little about this before, but last October I was deported from Mongolia, the home of my girlfriend, and barred from returning for a year.  Since then we've been scratching out a living around South East Asia before finally being allowed to return to Ulaanbaatar late last month.

Now, we spent four months living in a city called Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and this year the wet season was particularly hot and humid.  Rather than leave the apartment in such weather we ordered in most days: heavy, unhealthy western food in the main.  We both put on weight, but we told ourselves that we'd exercise more when we reached a cooler climate.

Now we're in Mongolia, and the temperature is around -30 Celsius, faaaar too cold to leave the house for a run.  Even a short walk leaves me in pain, and the heavily polluted air doesn't help one bit.  Again, we're gaining weight.  Why oh why can't we find a climate somewhere in the middle?

In any case, for the next couple of months we're going on a health kick.  It starts with eating healthy: our kitchen is now free of snacks, and we haven't so much as smelled a pizza in three weeks.  Additionally, we were reading some fat binder reviews and decided to give them a try.  Fat binders prevent dietary fat from entering the bloodstream by binding it all together into a mass too large to be absorbed so, along with a healthy diet, they can apparently help you lose weight.

Anyway, we start the course tomorrow, and we'll let you know how it goes :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bad Week for Mongolians and Storage Units

Jeeeeez, it's been all go here in Ulaanbaatar these past few days.  First, a friend of mine is in the process of being deported after overstaying his visa for just 10 hours.  This guy has been living here for 6 months, and he'll be leaving behind an apartment, a girlfriend and a highly paid job, and all because he forgot how many days were in November and thought he had an extra day to get to the border on a visa run.

The second problem is the pollution, which has to be seen to be believed.  The half million people living in shacks and gers out in the ger districts around UB have to resort to burning anything flammable at this time of year to battle the -30 Celsius cold, and when you throw in the crap spewing from the city's 3 coal-fired power stations... well, the air gets a little thick.  It's been suggested that breathing UB air in the winter is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.  What's worse, my Arizona-based friend Gregg had his flight home cancelled Saturday because the pollution was so thick around the airport that the incoming flight from Beijing was cancelled.

Not too big a problem, I thought, as the airlines will just reschedule him and put him on the next flight out, and in the meantime he can crash on our couch.  The problem is that this delay means that he's missing two conventions in the US, the registration of his new non-profit (the date has been set in stone since the summer, and he needed to be there to sign the papers) and the lapsing of his Tuscon self storage contract.

So, because the corrupt as hell government here refuses to provide shelter and heat for the countryside refugees we have half a million folk with chattering teeth, big late fees on the storage unit for Gregg and the possibility that his non-profit status will be revoked, which would really hurt Mongolia.

So, yeah... bad week.

Converting Dexter

Don't you just hate it when you spent weeks downloading a video only to find that it's in the wrong format for your video player?  Pain. In. The. Ass.

As I've mentioned more than once we're living in Mongolia right now, and our apartment is connected to the internet (barely) by a frayed cable that has been chewed to hell by a mongrel dog.  I'm not sure whether the connection was any better before the dog had her way with the cable, but it sure does suck right now.

So, my girlfriend has been getting into Dexter, the show about a serial killer police officer, and she asked me to download the first season so we can watch it together in English - our TV only shows it with bad Russian dubbing.  The process has taken 3 weeks, partly due to the crappy connection and partly due to the small number of seeders.

When the file finally finished downloading I tried to open an episode on my video player of choice only to find that it was in the MKV format, a file type that my player doesn't recognise.

So, to play the file we had to transfer is from MKV to AVI.  I've tried doing that once before, long ago, but couldn't find a decent program to do it.  After a looooot of searching I tracked down an MKV to AVI Mac compatible piece of software, and just five minutes later we were sitting down to watch a guy hack people to death in Florida.

Happy days.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lease Purchase Agreements Kick Ass

So, we're planning the big move back to Thailand at the start of January.  I wish we could have stayed in Mongolia longer (my girlfriend's family are all here), but at -3o Celsius it's a little difficult to warm to the country, if you'll excuse the pun.

So, we're gonna be in Bangkok for an initial stay of just three months, but the ultimate plan is to buy a home in Bangkok to ride out the Mongolian winter, then come back here for the beautiful Ulaanbaatar summer.

Obviously this is all a little expensive, and right now neither of us are earning much money, so we hatched a plan to get a lease purchase agreement in the city.  Essentially, this means we'd lease a house with a view to buying it in the future, and our rental payments would be laid against the final price.

We used to do this a lot back as a kid in the UK.  Thousands of government owned properties were made available for purchase by the current tenants, and a heck of a lot of people got great deals.  We used to call it 'let to buy', but it's exactly the same as a lease purchase agreement.

Anyhoo, I'm a little clueless when it comes to lease purchase agreements so I've been consulting the web for a little info.  The best resource I've found so far is, which offers all sorts of handy advice of leasing to buy.  The site is US-oriented, but it still offers a lot of tips that apply to us here in the east.

Wish us luck!

Searching for the Best iPhone 4 Apps


A couple of weeks ago my girlfriend 'borrowed' an iPad from one of her sisters - she has six of them, and they all earn so much money that they buy gadgets they don't need and rarely use, so the missus often gets hand-me-downs of brand new, cutting edge gadgets (it works out pretty well for her).

Anyway, I've spent the last few days desperately trying to undo a mistake I made.  I hadn't updated the firmware on my iPhone four for about six months, so I plugged in the iPhone and iPad with the intention of upgrading to iOS 5.0.1, re-jailbreaking them both and sticking a hell of a lot of apps on them before we head off for our three-month long 'escape the winter' trip to Thailand in a few weeks.

Unfortunately, it seemed the jailbreak software wasn't quite ready, so I spent a few days with both the iPhone and iPad empty of apps - and I somehow managed to wipe the photos and contact list on the iPhone, too :(

Anyway, while I've still yet to jailbreak the iPad I managed to get the iPhone sorted out, so I've been on the hunt for the best iPhone 4 apps today.  We have a couple of 24 hour train rides ahead of us, so I need a wealth of games and apps to keep myself entertained.

Of course Ogi needs a few apps too, and not necessarily only those that are designed for the iPhone, so I'll be searching for a bunch of free iTouch apps that'll work on her device.  Happy hunting, me!

Damned Heartburn Again

I've been getting some serious heartburn recently, and I only have myself to blame.  We've been living in an alcohol-centric culture for months now, and it's all too easy to settle into a routine of drinking heavily every night - especially when the temperature is -30 Celsius outside, as it is now.

Add to that the stress of working in a foreign country, dealing with visas, rent, plumbing, internet and all the other little complications of life without a decent understanding of the language, and this all adds up to a very stressed, often drunk or hungover, heartburn filled old man.

When I was living in the US I used to use Prilosec to control my heartburn (and I'd usually be able to use a Prilosec coupon to keep the costs down), but out here in Mongolia you can only get hold of generic Russian knockoffs of western drugs.  It's pretty frustrating.

Fortunately the Russian knockoffs are pretty cheap (most of the stuff seems to be stolen and smuggled over the northern border at Ulan Ude, from what I hear.  Still, the price is still much higher than back in the US where I could get a Prilosec rebate when I bought from Amazon.

There are only a few things I miss about living in the US (God, the breakfasts!), but being able to get hold of decent medication without paying through the nose is one of 'em.

Christmas Shopping Frenzy

As my friends will know I recently moved back to Mongolia to live with my partner, and it's gonna be May before I get to visit the UK for my big brother's wedding.  As Christmas is just a couple of weeks away this presents quite a problem for me.  The Mongolian postal service is about as useful as a chocolate kettle - of the last three things I sent from here, only one reached its destination - so the idea of sending Christmas gifts home to the family is just silly.

Instead, this year I'm buying all of my gifts online and trusting in my hometown mailman to deliver the safely.  It makes sense, then, to try to buy everything in one place to save on postage (hey, I never said I wasn't a cheap skate).  After finding my first gift, a personalised Christmas teddy bear for my little nephew Matthew, I think I've found the right place.  Look at the little guy, he's so damned cute!

So yeah, I guess I've got just a few more days to pick out the rest of the Christmas gifts in order to ensure they'll all arrive before Christmas morning.  I really wish I could be there in person, but I guess his Christmas I'll have to mail it in.  Next Christmas, though, me and the missus will be there in person if it kills me!

Unlocking an iPhone in Minutes

As you may know I recently moved back to Mongolia with my girlfriend (I don't really know why, as the temperature in Ulaanbaatar is currently -32 Celsius - brrrrrrrr!

Anyway... for the last few months my iPhone 4 has been packed away at the bottom of my bag while I used an old Nokia during our time living in Thailand.  I knew I could unlock the iPhone, but I wasn't confident enough to hand the phone over to a local shady service center, and I didn't think I had the skills to unlock the iPhone on my own.

So we got back to UB last weekend, and the first thing the missus said to me was 'right, you're unlocking your iPhone right now' - she knew that if I didn't I'd just borrow her phone all the time and run up a huge bill.  I went along to MobiCom, the usual place Mongolians go for iPhone unlock services, but it seems the place has closed down in the time we've been away :(

Finally I jumped online to see if I could find some assistance from the good people of the web.  Almost immediately I stumbled on this iPhone jailbreak and unlock website - these guys offer software to unlock an iPhone for free, asking only for a small donation in return.  

Within minutes I had access to the software, and a few minutes after that I was done!  Piece of cake.  Don't know what I was worried about!

Christmas Wallpaper - It's That Time of Year Again

Well, it's that time of year again.  As soon as the Thanksgiving turkey went cold we began to gear up for Christmas, and right now in mid-December it's just unavoidable.  The stores are playing Christmas songs from dawn 'til dusk; Christmas trees are appearing in windows, and parents are going slowly insane trying to grab the perfect gifts for their kids.

One little tradition my son Adam and I have kept over the years is that, at the beginning of December, we switch to Christmas wallpaper on all of our computers.  My laptop currently has Rudolph's glowing nose poking out from behind the icons, and Adam's MacBook has Santa flying across the screen on his sleigh.

I stumbled on a site the other day that had a great idea, and I think a new tradition may be starting.  The site where I download my Christmas wallpaper also had a couple of personalized Christmas stories that can be downloaded and amended with your kid's name.  I grabbed a story about little Adam going on a Christmas based adventure and the little guy couldn't have loved it more.  Earlier today I grabbed the second story, a tale about making new friends at Christmas, and I predict tonight's story time will be just as popular as the last.

Merry Christmas, boys and girls!
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