26 December 2015


My laptop screen suddenly went BLACK.


Okay, don't panic...

I'm on a laptop and the battery is charged and the cord's plugged in at both ends and I don't think this laptop has a one-touch-make-the-screen-go-black button and the house lights are still on so it's not a power outage and even if it is I'm on a friggin' laptop so what the hell?

Check connections.

All good.

Check connections a second, third, and fourth time.

All good.

Try another power cord just in case the battery's bombed AND the cord's crap.

Nope... nothing.




That was two Tuesdays ago. I was, as I often am, multi-tasking on my laptop: five or six windows open and hopping from one to the next. I need a copy of that appointment slip for next week's trip to the American Consulate in Saigon, so I'll save it as a PDF... Then, when I tried to print a hard copy, my printer suddenly showed "off-line". Strange, I thought, I can see it from here and the blue Wi-Fi light is glowing...

Then, suddenly: BLACK SCREEN.

No fade-to-black; no BSoD (blue screen of death); just BLACK!

Now I'm getting a bit concerned because I really don't want to have to buy another computer... maybe this one is salvageable. What's that phrase? "Whistling past the graveyard"?

Yeah, that's the one.

In the days that followed, I tried:

  • Everything listed on the Windows "Your computer just died and we want to give the impression that we give a shit, so here are five things you can do to feel better once you finally give up trying to fix it" web site
  • "Windows Repair" on boot-up x 3
  • "Windows Recovery Disk" (yes, I actually made one many months ago) x 2
    • The first attempt ended with a message along the lines of: "Sorry, Charlie, no can do"
    • The second one ran about 60 hours before I decided that it must be stuck in a loop and stopped it
  • Removing the hard drive and putting it in a "Hard Drive Enclosure", then plugging that into my backup laptop as an external drive to access the files.
  • Taking it to TWO local computer gurus
All fruitless...

If you read the above and thought, "I'm sure that John, logical person that he is, has a recent backup of his hard drive" because you have one, please read on.

If you read to the previous paragraph without once thinking about a back-up and/or do not have one of your computer, then please finish this paragraph, click on the link at the end, and sign-up to immediately begin backing up your computer to the cloud. Once that is running, please come back and finish reading this post. Click here to go to and start your on-line backup.

Now that you have, or are in the process of creating a back-up, I will tell you that yes, all of my 282GB were continuously backed up in the cloud. The only file I lost was the PDF that I created just prior to the crash... and maybe my IE and Firefox bookmarks; I hope they are in the backup, but I don't know.

Ironically, less than a week prior, I had a conversation with Lorelle at One More Café about computers and back-ups. I told her that I've used Carbonite for about four years and had another cloud-based back-up provider a couple years before that. I also mentioned that I should do a hard back-up because it's been too long since my last and if the system does crash, the cloud-based systems can literally take weeks to restore all of your files—especially with the slower Internet download speeds we have here in VN compared to many Western countries.

I'm now working on my back-up laptop and waiting for Carbonite to re-populate it with my files. I already downloaded the 9.1GB Outlook file (30 hours) and extrapolating out from that, the rest of the files should be complete within... UT-OH...

So far, the backup laptop is holding up. Now I get to buy a new laptop.

Top contender is an iMac 13" with Retina display because I think I'm DONE with Windows. Whatever I buy will probably wait until my trip to Thailand because:
1) I will have a better selection
2) Prices are significantly lower
3) I need time to consider the learning curve

This is one of the few times I'm looking for other people's opinions and so far, everyone says, "DO IT!"

I ask again... are you fully backed up? Click here for Carbonite's backup options.

10 December 2015

Dalat seafood (hai san) restaurant update

For those currently in Dalat or headed there, I withdraw my high praise for the local seafood (hai san) restaurant in my post of 30 October. Two recent consecutive disappointing visits mean that it will be a while, if ever, before I revisit. Since I praised it so highly just six weeks ago, I feel it necessary to post an update.

Patronize this restaurant at your own peril. Last night, for the second consecutive visit, about 60% of the crab claws were "OLD". By that, I mean that they tasted ammonia-ish and were inedible.

I spit the first one out and started sniffing each before eating it. In the west, they would've gone back after the first one but, remember... I live in Việt Nam—the land of no returns or refunds. The second bad one went on the table. When I hit the third bad claw, I called the owner over and told her via Google Translate:

She shot me about two sentences of something I didn't understand and went back to work, leaving the plate of claws in front of me. I'm pretty sure she told me that she didn't care... or similar. I then put on my jacket and helmet, walked to where she was cooking, showed her a second screen:

paid the 65,000 ($3) I owed (it's Việt Nam!), and left.

She knows I'm a good customer because she greets me every time with a warm smile and "Xin Chao" (Hello) and, while I am getting seated, she brings over the bag of kitten food that I bought (third one) for her two kittens that were previously surviving on scraps, and feeds them. Other customers arrive and she might acknowledge them with a nod.

Yet she does nothing to keep me as a customer... like replace the bad claws with good or, what a concept, replace the whole damn plate!

Because it's Việt Nam!

Patronize her at your own peril.

08 December 2015

Recipe for a Cat Lovers' Dessert

This recipe first came to me in 2004 via the Feline Friends mailing list and, although I never got around to preparing it, I think it'd be great fun!

I know a few of my readers will try this... please send photos!

Cat Lovers' Dessert

1 spice or German chocolate cake mix
1 white cake mix
2 large pkg vanilla instant pudding mix, prepared
1 large pkg vanilla sandwich cookies
green food coloring
12 small Tootsie Rolls®

Prepare cake mixes and bake according to directions (any size pans).

Prepare pudding mix and chill until ready to assemble.

Crumble white sandwich cookies in small batches in food processor, scraping often. Set aside all but about 1/4 cup. To the 1/4 cup cookie crumbs, add a few drops green food coloring and mix until completely colored.

When cakes are cooled to room temperature, crumble into a large bowl. Toss with half the remaining white cookie crumbs and the chilled pudding. Important: Mix in just enough of the pudding to moisten it. You don't want it too soggy. Combine gently.

1 new kitty litter pan
1 new plastic kitty litter pan liner
1 new pooper scooper

Line a new, clean kitty litter box. Put the cake/pudding/cookie mixture into the litter box.

Put four unwrapped Tootsie rolls in a microwave safe dish and heat until soft and pliable. Shape ends so they are no longer blunt, curving slightly. Repeat with four more Tootsie rolls and then bury all eight in the mixture.

Sprinkle the other half of cookie crumbs over top. Scatter the green cookie crumbs lightly on top of everything -- this is supposed to look like the chlorophyll in kitty litter. Heat the remaining four Tootsie rolls and partially bury them as seen in the photo below.

The finished dessert:


06 December 2015

Youth is wasted on the young

Over the past thirty years or so, the phrase "Youth is wasted on the young" occasionally rears its head and haunts me for a bit. Fortunately, I feel I did better than most in getting the full value of my pre-30th birthday adventures—skiing; skydiving (at 17); scuba diving (alliteration unintentional); wild oat-sowing; piloting a hot air balloon; self-employment; a bit of international travel; and more.

A young couple who is doing an even better job of spending their youth well than I ever imagined is Kasia and Manu, writers of "The Clueless Abroad" blog. Their style is engaging and the photos are very good. I mentioned them in a previous post and just today started catching up on their blog. I especially like their post on Dalat, for reasons beyond the fact that they contributed to and mentioned the Helmets For Children project.

I finally found their card, too...

If you're still young—in body and/or mind—and find yourself making a bucket list, do yourself a favor... stop making lists! Get out there and DO!

Slightly shifting topics from those who don't wear ties to those who do...

“And that, by the way, is why I think men so often wear ties… because if you are going to embody disembodied Western rationality, you need a signifier. And what could be a better signifier of disembodied Western rationality than a garment that at one end is a noose and the other end points to the genitals?”—Michael Kimmel

Moving on to standardized testing in what passes for "education"...

Finally... I recently found a photo of my 2002 visit to Cincinnati to visit family.

I'm the HUGE guy in the first row... pushing 290 lbs, if I remember correctly.

For the past few years and when I left the U.S. last year, I was down to about 240 or so.

Now, after a year of living in Vietnam, eating mostly local and unprocessed foods and walking frequently, I'm pretty happy at 215 lbs...

though I'd like to get a bit lower.

I show the fat photo because I have a number of friends and acquaintances in the west who are, if photos are to be believed, a LOT heavier than they were just a few years ago. If you are one of them, please stop eating fast and processed foods—they're killing you.


05 December 2015

Undercover cops; Ali Baba photographers; and why I "fired" the Dalat Red Cross

In the post two prior to this one, I wrote about how I foiled two female Ali Babas' attempts to appropriate four of our children's Protec motorbike helmets at the first school's helmet donation event. Even though we (with the help of the Red Cross) had all the proper government paperwork filed with the proper authorities, we suspected someone might try to extort a few helmets or a financial "donation" at the last minute. Such things are all-but standard procedure in Việt Nam, and occasionally make things a little more interesting. My tactics that evening were pretty much seat-of-the-pants, though the basic skills were honed over years of teaching sales and negotiation as well as 60 years as a smart-ass.

As a result of that attempt, we had undercover police at our second event. I didn't even know they were there until a week or so later when I was reviewing the photos with one of our volunteers. She is an almost 30-year resident of Dalat and knows many of the local cops, so when she pointed to one of the men I pegged as a parent and said, "He is police" I believed her. I asked why he was there and she said that after the self-proclaimed "government official" tried to steal helmets at the first school, they were assigned to be at the second school in case something similar happened.

Nothing like that did happen and, honestly, I was a bit disappointed. I enjoyed the first encounter and hoped they'd try again so I could have a little more fun. As you can see from the photos like this, one of my favorites,

I had plenty of fun anyway.

The volunteer also told me that the traffic police were there (in plainclothes, probably both to keep a low profile and possibly so that the people didn't freak out) because they are thrilled that I am giving helmets to children and wanted to see it first hand. Will that help me the next time I get stopped for speeding? Doubtful, though who knows?

All-in-all, the second school's event was a huge success.

A few days after the event we met with the husband/wife videographer/photographer team that the Red Cross arranged to video and photograph both events. When the husband called to arrange a meeting for payment and delivery, he told Vy that the price was 5 million for the video and 1.5 million for the photos. She called me to ask if that was okay, and, since almost everything here is open to negotiation, I told her to get them to 4 million and 1 million, which she did. That was 5 million VND (~US$225) for their time at both events and all of the video and photos taken. Or so I thought.

The wife arrived at the coffee shop with only the video DVD. She explained that her husband was still working on the photo DVD and that we would get them the next day. I popped the DVD into my laptop and was very impressed with the quality of the video presentation, though at times the audio would have benefited from a directly connected microphone. I was so impressed, that in addition to the negotiated 4 million, I gave her a 500,000 bonus.

Their primary business is weddings, so the video compilation

he created and she delivered opens with a nice introduction to Dalat before giving a comprehensive record of helmet donations at each of the two schools.

Right after she promised that we would have all of the photos the next day, her husband arrived with the disk. We chatted for a few minutes, I paid the 1 million for the photo disk as we said our goodbyes—without looking at the photos. I forgot for a minute that I am in Vietnam. For my forgetting we paid a great cost.

When I got home, I put the disk in my laptop and opened the photos. There were many good ones; a few were posted in previous entries here. Unfortunately, a LOT of photos were missing. I know this because there were some I specifically requested and remember being taken... and especially because the photos are numbered and there were gaps in the numbering of 12, 17, 41, 59, 62, 73, and 91 photos. I understand that there will be a few soft-focus or bad shots missing, but NOT between 17 and 91 consecutive bad shots! WTF???

I immediately emailed Vy, told her of the missing photos—we had only 129 out of approximately 579 photos—about one in four (exactly 22%) of the photos taken. I asked her to immediately contact the photographer and request the missing ~450 photos. There is no voicemail here, so it took a couple days for her to connect with the photographer on the phone. The photographer told her that they would burn a CD the next day and call her when it was ready.

Wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn?

When Tuyết and the Red Cross got involved in Helmets for Children, they volunteered to assume two responsibilities:
1) Take care of any and all government required paperwork
2) Arrange for the photographer and videographer.
     a) Though I never heard a price, I thought that it was determined up-front.
     b) Silly me.

As we realized that we had a potential disaster in the making, I had My, our volunteer who has a long-term relationship with Tuyết, contact her and fill her in on what was going on. Tuyết said that she would contact the photographer and straighten out any misunderstanding... and, as I found out later, she didn't do a damn thing!

The next day Vy called the photographer and was told, "We are very busy; it will be a few more days." This happened again and on the fourth call, Vy talked to the husband/videographer. He said that it would cost 10,000 VND EACH to burn the missing photos to a DVD. That multiplies out to over four million VND additional—FOUR TIMES times what they originally agreed on to give us ALL of the 500+ photos! Vy called me to relay the information and it's lucky for the fcuking Ali Baba videographer (and probably me) that I don't speak Vietnamese, 'cause I would've immediately ridden over there and it would have gotten very ugly.

When Vy and I talked with Tuyết (Red Cross) and the photographer, we told them that we wanted all of the photos taken at both schools. Nothing was ever said about us getting only 129 photos. That is why I was so surprised when I got the disk home and found only 129 photos and so many missing in-between the first and the last at each school.

The agreement we had was for ALL of the photos, not 22% of them. I understand that there may be some blank or out-of-focus images, but there is no way that 213 of 274 photos at the first school and 217 out of 305 photos at the second school were no good!

What the hell is it with people who won't keep their word or honor a verbal contract? After almost a year here, am I that clueless about the culture? Or is it because I refuse to become cynical and continue to trust people until they show they cannot be trusted?

I asked Vy to call Tuyết and tell her that the photographer was trying to rob us of an additional four million and to ask her, since she brought the photographer into the fold, to please intercede and get him to release ALL photos per the original agreement. Tuyết later told me (through her friend and our volunteer My, because Tuyết speaks even less English than My) that when she called the photographer, he claimed he never asked for more money and that Vy was trying to get me to give up the 4,000,000 VND which she (Vy) would then pocket.

BULLSHIT! Vy is one of the most honest people I know, and I trust her more than I trust anyone else in Vietnam.

Technically, his phrasing may be accurate. While he told Vy that it will cost 10,000 VND per photo to burn another disk, he did not ask for more money. He just told her that if we want the 400+ photos he was still withholding, we would have to pay over 4,000,000 VND to get them... even though we had already paid the asking price AND a 500,000 VND bonus!

In the three weeks that followed, Vy and I did everything we could to try to kick the photos loose. I even offered to pay the extra ~US$200 he demanded.

Then, suddenly, we were told that the photos had been deleted and were no longer available. We were also told to stop calling them because they would no longer talk to us.


I am very sad and disappointed that such a simple thing could go so wrong. We had a verbal contract and the malicious bastards both broke it AND destroyed the photos!

My mistake was in paying for the photos before verifying that I had all of them. While I will never make that mistake again, it is a lesson that was very painful to learn.

All we ever wanted is what we originally asked and paid for—all of the photographs taken at both schools.

98% of the people who read this will never come to Dalat and maybe 1% of the 2% who do come here will ever need the services of a professional photographer or videographer. If you are one of them, I recommend you stay clear of Pham Phuoc!

As for Tuyết of the Red Cross, I was already unhappy with her because at both helmet presentation events, she got up in front of the students, staff, and parents and took full credit for my work. The gist of what she said was that the Red Cross had conceived of this project and then brought me in. In truth, I invited her and the Red Cross into my project. Her contributions were doing the government paperwork, recommending one of the two schools, and bringing in the Ali Baba photographers. Her role was that of advisor/assistant.

I have zero problems sharing credit where credit is due, BUT when someone publicly presents as if what I spent a year creating was his/her idea, integrity is out the window. She was told, after the first presentation, of my discomfort with her remarks, yet she repeated them at the second presentation—the school chosen prior to her involvement.

She also did everything she could to get me to replace my trusted right-hand Vy with a translator of her choosing, including lying about the quality of Vy's translations (this from someone without a word of English beyond "Hello"), the attack on Vy's integrity mentioned earlier, and her refusal to do anything to help us get the 400+ withheld photos. Any one of these is enough for me to keep Tuyết out of any and all future endeavors. The three together garnered her my contempt.

I know that this post might cause concern to those who have donated toward helmets and those who are considering donating. Please know that I am now even more cautious with who is brought into the program and that ALL donated funds are used to purchase helmets. EVERY single non-helmet expenditure comes out of my personal funds.

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02 December 2015

Dengue Fever

I know I promised that my next post would be about hiccups in the Helmet Project...



Within the past three weeks, two acquaintances of mine were diagnosed with dengue fever, a nasty disease that is carried by mosquitos and currently a concern across Asia.

If you live in or are visiting Asia, please read the following taken from the monthly newsletter of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City and take the appropriate precautions.

The first acquaintance, a native Vietnamese, was hospitalized for 10 days and came close to death. The second, an American living in Thailand and currently visiting Vietnam, was just diagnosed in the past 24 hours.

Be aware of mosquitos and DO NOT IGNORE a fever or flu-like symptoms!

Be careful and aware...