Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Family Money

Personal Directions

The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Mrs. DoLittle’s Corner

Family Money: Selecting a Financial Advisor

By Leslie Wright,
Managing director of Westminster Portfolio Services (Thailand) Ltd.

There are a huge number of investment options available offshore, encompassing offshore funds and insurance based investments. You should ask the basis on which the adviser’s range of options is selected.

It may surprise you to find that the choice offered by many brokerages is restricted, in some cases to funds or unit-linked insurance vehicles from only one or two providers. This indicates your brokerage is not a truly independent advisor, but either a tied or semi-tied agent. (It may be an independently-owned firm, but which has elected to represent or was able to obtain terms-of-business agreements with only one or two providers, as opposed to a wide range of options for its clients). It is therefore perfectly proper to ask how many firms your prospective adviser deals with. (Less than five will restrict the choices he can make, and thus the degree of ‘best advice’ he can offer you).

As you would expect, some investment companies have a strong record of performance in some markets, but not in others; whilst others are recognised for their specialisation in one type of investment solution or another. It’s hard to argue against the merits of choosing an advisory brokerage that offers at least a high degree of independence and a wide – if not comprehensive – selection of investment vehicles.

While access to a full range of investment options is an important factor, an adviser still needs to be able to accurately assess your personal needs to provide the best options for you. Just like a pharmacy may have a huge stock of pills and potions to cure a wide range of ailments, from which you can select those you think might cure you, a doctor will rely on his professional expertise to prescribe those most appropriate to curing your particular illness. Similarly, a responsible financial adviser, before making any recommendations, should fully understand your circumstances and financial objectives through a detailed and thorough fact find.

This may mean you need to answer a number of probing questions about your circumstances and your financial objectives, but this is a small price to pay to ensure that the adviser’s recommended solution is the most appropriate for you. Of course, you aren’t obliged to subject yourself to such an assessment, but it makes sense to do so. – just like a check-up at the doctors.

A reputable independent financial adviser’s job boils down to finding the best offshore products out there and helping you select those that best match your needs, both now and in the future. Armed with the appropriate information about your particular needs and circumstances, he can also avoid recommendations that may not have the risk profile or future flexibility that you need. He should, in fact, be able to provide an almost perfect match of investment vehicles to each client’s particular needs and circumstances.

It sounds an obvious approach to take and it is. But as with many things, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes in order to fulfil such a simple philosophy.

Determining ‘best’ in itself is quite a challenging task. New investment products come onto the market all the time, and last year’s ‘best’ may not necessarily be this year’s. Again, having selected the most appropriate vehicle, the ‘engine’ that drives it – the underlying portfolio – will, just like a car engine, need servicing and tuning up every so often. A good financial advisor should therefore arrange regular review meetings with you – at the very least twice a year – to review both your investment strategy and whether there have been any changes in your own circumstances. He should also make recommendations as to any ‘switching’ that may be appropriate both to changing market conditions and your changing needs.

One of the critical aspects of financial planning with an international outlook is to ensure that you maximise the opportunities for tax efficiency. Whilst it is always recommended that you seek advice from your own specialist tax adviser, your financial adviser ought to have a good understanding of the tax implications of any recommendations he may make, and ensure that both your current and likely future tax status is taken into account.

Last but not least is the way your adviser will earn his money. Many investors don’t like the idea that their investments will incur charges. But like any other professional, your financial adviser or broker is entitled to earn money for his services. After all, do you work for free? The traditional method has been for the institution to pay the broker a commission for business placed with them. The accusation has often been made that the broker will always recommend the vehicle that pays the most commission. Sadly, in some cases this is true and this has – rightly, in my view – become a thorny subject throughout the financial services industry.

But financial service has become a highly-competitive industry, and the rates paid to brokerages nowadays are very similar from one provider to another. If the recommended vehicle matches your stated needs and circumstances, and it carries with it the various bells & whistles you may have stipulated – or were identified in the course of a fact-finding discussion – then it is probably the appropriate vehicle for you, and your adviser will have fulfilled his function of providing you with ‘best advice’. The amount his firm and he as an individual earns from providing that advice then becomes very much a secondary consideration.

Some brokerages have moved to charging a fee for their services, and foregoing the commissions to the benefit of the client. While this moves towards greater transparency and does eliminate the cost of ‘lost’ time when a prospective client does not take up the adviser’s recommendations, in some cases it could end up costing the client more money than if the brokerage earned only commission.

To ask your prospective adviser how he gets paid (salary, fees, or commission) is nonetheless a perfectly reasonable question, in my view. And if he receives commission, ask whether this will be paid at the beginning of the relationship, or on an ongoing basis over time. This will tend to indicate whether he works for you and your best interests, or him and his firm’s best interests; and how interested he will be in looking after you, not just now, but for many years to come.


Personal Directions: Using mind and inner life to release the infinite potentials of life

By Christina Dodd,
founder and managing director of Asia Training Associates

Lately I have been quite involved in developing and delivering sessions on self-affirmation and auto-suggestion. I don’t know whether you agree with me or not on this subject, but I believe that the power of these techniques, if applied in the correct way, can bring great and astounding reward to the individual, so much so that lives can be changed dramatically and for the better.

I feel that one of the greatest discoveries of modern times lies in the statement, “What the human mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Read this over to yourself and the mammoth energy and truth in these words will reveal themselves to you.

Take things one step further and consider that all things we are and achieve are centred around a mixture of belief and faith. Wrap this with desire to inspire thought. The thoughts we have, combined with a balance of emotions and feelings will create imagination and energy. In turn they will create vibrations, ideas and actions which will create results and the reality of our lives.

Having said that, take a look at this article I would like to share with you. I don’t know the author - Sri Aurobindo - but the message contained certainly is in tune with the infinite power of the human mind.

“Most of us live our days habitually; repeating the same routines over and over without much change. There is little freshness and dynamism in those acts. However, if we wish to overcome the dullness of habitual repetition, to consciously bring new freshness into our daily routines, we can do so by organizing ourselves to a higher level of functioning. We can do that my using the higher mental capacity of conceptual thinking. By utilizing this capacity of mind we can consciously conceive of new approaches and strategies to make the day more dynamic. By utilizing the power of thought to conceive new possibilities and approaches we can make our daily existence more alive, fresher, more dynamic, more effective.

For example, we can begin by thinking about such things as “how can I make the day better;” or “what can I do to improve my life, myself, to make things better around me.” Then through this conceptual power of mind to self-conceive new possibilities for ourselves, we can devise creative strategies to do the same things in a new way, bringing in new energy and freshness, enabling new possibilities to burst forth from life. We can also use this “self-concepting” power of mind to further our long term direction in our lives, by developing a vision of what we want in life, establishing our priorities and goals, and then carrying them out through well thought out strategies. In all these cases we are self-conceiving that which we wish to be by using this dynamic power of self-conception of the mind.

We can even go further. There are also levels of consciousness that we can reach that may require us to use powers of mind that are even higher than this conceptual power of mind. We can learn to tap into a wider consciousness, enabling us to tap into the infinite possibilities and potentials of life; where we can gain knowledge and understanding directly and intuitively. To do this we must go beyond even the conceptual and logical powers of mind, and come in contact with greater powers of mind that border on the spiritual.

For example, one can learn to move away from living on the surface of life, and instead learn to live in the depths of our being, where we encounter a wider consciousness that provides us greater insight, knowledge, and possibility for accomplishment. When one moves from the surface to the depths, from the outer life to an inner life, one moves away from a mere mental existence that is tied to the input of the senses, where we live a reflexive and impulsive type existence, where we are centred in our limiting habits, opinions, and attitudes, at the level of the pushing and pulling of the surface.

As we learn to live in the depths, we experience a wider calm; our consciousness expands, as we perceive a wider reality around us, as we discover greater possibilities of choice, greater insight, knowledge and comprehension in every act and situation. We feel one with others, with the environment, with the unfolding of events and circumstances.

This is true because when we go within we move away form our ego-sense; the sense that separates ourselves from others and the environment; a status that tends to reduce our field of awareness, of what is possible.

As we move into the inner being we move away from the ego that hardens us to our own opinions and attitudes, to our limited perceptions and our limited claims to the truth.

As we touch the inner being, even down to the very essence and soul of our being, we open ourselves to the great expanse, where everything is possible, where life cooperates, where knowledge and understanding seems to descend into our being in our silence, as light of vision, as intuition. Stationed in the inner being, we open the floodgates to the potentials of infinite accomplishment, success, and joy in life. We stand at the threshold of our higher nature.

In summary, the logical and conceptive aspect of mind can be used to conceive our world anew, to break old habits, and enable new ways of living our lives. This is the organizing and conceptual power of mind to help us grow and develop. At a further point mind can be withdrawn by moving into the depths of our being to enable deeper, wider comprehension, possibilities, truths, to fill up our moment to moment existence. This is the connection to spiritual mind above the normal functionings of mind. Here we touch the infinite powers of creation, and thus the infinite possibilities in our lives.”

If you wish to talk further on matters of personal and self development, or on matters that concern your business, the effectiveness and needs of your staff, then please contact me directly at Asia Training Associates - email: [email protected] gassociates.com

For details on our programs and Asia Training Associates, please visit our website: www. asiatrainingassociates .com.

Until next time ... have a great week!


The Doctor's Consultation: Some amazing medical facts!

by Dr. Iain Corness

When you research Evidence Based Medicine as I do (EBM for short, as we medico’s love acronyms), you have to deal with many statistics, that great pseudo-science where you can “prove” so much by use of applied mathematics. For example, did you know that every child is born within six months of its mother’s birthday? Or even more fantastic, the date of your death will be within six months of your own birthday! That has to be another good reason to stop having birthdays after the age of 50!

Now while that sounds interesting, if you look a little harder you will see that this is just a mathematical ‘truism’ and nothing to do with biology or astrology. If you take any reference birth date, let’s use June 30th for example, then any child born between Jan 1st to June 29th is within six months of its mother’s birthday, as are any children born between July 1st to December 31st. In one case it is looking forwards, and in the other it is looking backwards.

If you think that is an abuse of mathematical science, then what about the fact that 99% of all people who died traumatic deaths in London last year were all wearing shoes. Does this prove that shoes are the greatest killers of mankind? An absurdity - of course not! Again, this is ‘bending’ the parameters of science. Since about 99% of all people in London wear shoes, you can safely predict that 99% of those who get skittled on the roads will still be wearing their footwear.

Getting closer to home, I read just the other day of a study in Thailand on varicose veins, and how tight underpants were dangerous (as opposed to boxer shorts, I presume) because this study showed that something like 30% of varicose vein sufferers were wearing jockey underdaks. What was not stated in the report (in the popular press, so it may have been selectively reported) was the choice of underpants of those who did not have varicose veins, nor what percentage of men wearing jockeys did not get varicose veins. Without these other figures, the rest is hocus-pocus.

Pseudo-science also works the other way too. Classic examples of this are when people will pronounce, with great authority, that cigarette smoking does not bring about your early demise. The ‘proof’ of this is their great uncle Edward who lived to be 112 and smoked two packs of cigarettes every day for 85 years. All that this shows is that great uncle Edward had a wonderful constitution. Nothing else, sorry.

If three of the four people in your office get the flu, this does not mean that 75% of the city is in the grip of an epidemic. All that can be assumed is that 75% of your office has a problem. Nothing else.

There is a branch of medical science called Epidemiology, which is a study of the incidence of diseases, and epidemiological research requires the researcher to look at thousands of cases, before coming to conclusions. Great uncle Edward alone is not enough. The data we get from thousands upon thousands of cases, looking at smokers and non-smokers, is now enough for us to say, quite categorically, that smoking does put you at a very much greater risk of dying from cancer - that is ALL cancers, by the way, not just lung cancer.

Forget the great uncle, give up now, before you too are a statistic.


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
Are these letters you get from somebody called Mistersingha real? I am sick of reading about Wee Nit and her elocution lessons. I get that steamed up about it that it stops me reading the rest of the column. If there really is someone called Wee Nit, then he should do something about teaching her English himself, or send her to someone who can. Tell him to get back into his bottle, he’s getting far too frothy.
Misterleo

Dear Misterleo,
I think you are taking everything far too seriously. If Wee Nit makes you throw a wobbly, then you are losing the plot I fear. “Jai yen yen” - take it as it comes. Mistersingha is harmless. However, he did promise me a Mars bar which is still not forthcoming. On second thoughts, you may just be right. Maybe I’ll not publish any more of his letters until the Mars bar comes. After all, this month we are the closest to Mars that we have ever been they tell me! Perhaps we should all duck? By the way, it would probably also be better if you don’t read any further! He’s written again!
Dear Hillary,
In response to your query (6.9.03) I would suggest that you check out the website of the lady in question (Janet Reger). There you will find displayed a tantalisingly tasty, though inedible, collection of lingerie, which even the dreaded batter-pudding hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea might have been distracted by. Both Nit and Ying (les adorables) look most delightful in their matching sets, especially when tittupping. Have you been known to tittup, Hillary, or is it beyond your ken?
Mistersingha

Dear Mistersingha,
Please don’t think I have forgiven the lack of chocolate offerings, just because I have published your letter. I have merely done so because I had space to fill, so don’t get swollen headed. Now then, about this strange British practice of titupping and somebody called Ken. I’m sorry, Petal, I don’t know any Ken’s and I’ve never gone titupping, which my UK friends assure me is a winter sport to do with turning blue tit’s nests upside down to get at the eggs. However, I am glad to see that the dreaded batter-pudding hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea is still alive and well. God bless Sir Neddy Seagoon and all who sailed in her.
Dear Hillary,
Like so many “elder statesmen” from the UK I have settled down here in Pattaya with a Thai lady many years my junior. Our association has been mutually beneficial, with me enjoying her company and the attentiveness for which Thai women are so famous, while I have helped her family out, including educating her two children from a previous marriage. We have been together four years now, but the requests for assistance have been getting more and more every month. It appears that every cousin, sister, brother are putting demands on my lady, and she just hands over what ever they ask for. I give her a monthly allowance, but that is gone in a few days as she gives it away to the “needy” relatives. If I had a huge bank account I would not mind so much, but I am living (and supporting people) on a UK pension in addition to the interest from my meagre savings account. I do know that the Thai people value the family ties much more than we do, but surely there has to be a line drawn somewhere, Hillary. What do you say? Should I put my foot down and say no more? You will understand my position here.
George

Dear George,
Generous George, you are such a good man. I do understand your predicament and I applaud your taking the education of your lady’s children as being your responsibility. All very noble. You are also correct when you say that Thai families do look after the members in it, but the correct direction is upwards, towards the parents and grandparents, not sideways or downwards. Most Thais will send money “home” every month to help support those left “at home”. Now George, in all associations there has to be a degree of give and take - and that’s not you give all and they take all. Having been with your lady for four years you should be able to sit down and discuss this problem with her. If there are language barriers towards understanding of finer details, get someone in who is really bi-lingual. Explain that things are different in the UK, and she has to see your side too, after all you have been seeing life from her side of the fence all this time. Only by talking will you get over this hurdle, and it can be a bit of a high jump for someone like you who is obviously thought of as the family “cash cow” my Petal. My suggestion would be to arrange regular payment each month to the parents and everything else be subject to discussion between the pair of you before any money leaves your account. When it becomes a little more difficult to milk the cow, the buffalo will come to look after itself!


Camera Class: What do you really need to get into photography

by Harry Flashman

With the range of cameras available these days from budget film box with lens, through to thousands of dollars worth of digital equipment, it can be confusing for someone who is just starting. This article is a guide as to what I think you should have, and keeps an eye to the future, so that you are not left in the position of replacing gear with more expensive gear.

Firstly, you need a good camera - an SLR (single lens reflex). The first pointer is to select a good brand. There are many to choose from, but if you look at the pro’s who are out every day shooting oodles of feet of film you will find the same names on the camera cases. I make no secret of the fact that I use Nikon - bulletproof and quality lenses. Others such as Canon and Olympus etc are also excellent brands, all of which have interchangeable lenses too, so your basic system can be enlarged upon over a period of time, and your original lenses will still be good. An important feature.

The SLR is the centre of your equipment. It is this camera that will allow you to be creative in your shots. It is this camera that will win you awards and recognition. It will be expensive, so choose wisely. For my money, the ideal “starter” SLR would be a Nikon FM2n. A mechanical camera that allows you to make all the decisions. Yes, I do have one. No, it is not for sale.

Now you look at lenses. The “standard” lens that will come with your SLR will most likely be a 50 mm. Buy firstly a wide angle lens. Around 28 or 24 mm is good, or even 20 mm for very dramatic shots, but the distortion problem can be a little much at this wide angle. The next lens you should buy is around the focal length of 135 mm - the ideal lens for portraits.

No zooms? No, I personally do not like zoom lenses. The sharpness is not as good as “prime” lenses (though the manufacturers say they are much better these days), but even more importantly, zoom lenses make for lazy photographers. Instead of walking in to compose the subject, the photographer zooms in. The depth of field is lost, the flash is too far away and the chance of a perfect shot is lost. Don’t be lazy. Walk in close yourself.

You should also have a Point and Shoot compact camera. Again, stick to the better brands if you want to get something which will last, and even more importantly, one that will return crisp images. Olympus make some very good small point and shooters, with excellent lenses. This camera is for those situations where you don’t want to lug all the gear, when you need something light and pocket portable. Get one with a 24 or 28 mm lens and built in flash which can be turned off.

The next important piece of equipment is the bag you carry your equipment around in. I like the soft padded camera bag with adjustable divisions. Waterproof in tropical rainstorms is important, so get one that has the zip fastener covered by a lip of material. Some exterior pockets to carry batteries, a spare pair of fold-up reading glasses (if you need them) and a pocket torch. Again, get a good one. My bag is quite battered and worn, but is now over 20 years old and has been round the world several times. It was money well spent.

Other equipment includes filters, and I would refer you to previous articles on this subject - but do use adaptor rings to bring all the lenses to the same size. Again a cost saving later. And a good quality tripod.

Last but not least, always have some spare rolls of film - there is nothing worse than running out of film just when you have just stumbled across the shot of your life.


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Q. Dear Dr Byte,

Why oh why is Thai Internet so bad the last few weeks. Business connections, home connections, email connections, internet cafe connections, my friends connections all seem to be plagued with problems. Can you explain what is going on and why?
Internet junky
Kamala Bay

A: Thai internet continues to be both a curse when it’s playing up as well as a blessing when things are going well. Over the two and half years that I have had experience with Thai internet, I don’t think anything has changed in all that time. But, sometimes it’s not Thai internet that is to blame.

Take the last week of August for example. E-mail servers around the world almost came to a halt as they were flooded with the fastest growing virus ever released on an unsuspecting world. Our own server, for example, came to a grinding halt when it was inundated with more than 500,000 emails in the space of a few hours. Normally processing 40-50,000 emails per day, it was never designed to cope with the volume created by Sobig and Blaster.

In the same way, not all internet problems are caused by Thai Internet or CAT. My experience over the last 2-1/2 years supports this, although I can say that most ISP’s and the Thai Telephone organizations are not proactive when there is a problem. It can take hours to find out what’s wrong and even more hours to find out when it’s going to be fixed, especially if you don’t speak fluent Thai.

That said, I have been monitoring the Internet daily from the office and I often see the internet working well. The last couple of weeks have been anything but and as an example, taking more than 5 hrs and many, many attempts to upload a small file to a web site for an overseas client.

I notice that CAT have changed the Internet Fibre Optic Cable connections out of Thailand and instead of 2 small footpaths and 2 country road connections to Korea, Japan etc, we now have one massive superhighway and 1 small footpath. Having gone to the expense of setting this all up, it’s a shame to see daily 33% up to 66% losses on this new connection. Of course this will affect how quickly you connect to the rest of the world and on top of the Sobig and Blaster problems, makes all our internet connections unreliable and slow.

Have you ever wondered why in certain areas (like Bali or some provinces in Thailand) it is almost impossible to achieve an Internet connection beyond 38-40 Kbps and connections are prone to drop outs every 2 minutes?

Your connection to the Internet is through a standard telephone line connected to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Most telephone networks are presently a mixture of analogue and digital switching equipment dotted around the various telephone exchanges within a country. PSTN is really designed to carry voice traffic rather than data. Because your connection to the Internet is through PSTN, you are naturally prone to dropouts. Also, don’t forget that here in Thailand, the system is quite old now (someone told me 50 years old or so). You might recall on some occasions when you are talking to a party over the telephone, a crackle or hissing sound suddenly appears. Sounds like these can totally corrupt data and cause dropouts if you are connected to the Internet.

Aside from phone lines, the connection relies heavily on modems. A modem is a device which converts signals from your telephone line into data which your computer can understand. The process of converting this data is complex and any interference to how the data is received or converted may have undesirable effects such as dropouts or partially corrupted or incomplete information. (Interesting note: Modem is geek speak for Modulator/Demodulator.)

External modems are by far the most popular because of their reliability, and they can be carried from one location to another. Internal modems are cheaper but because they are hidden inside the box, users won’t know what is happening with them and it’s my experience that external modems work better than internal, especially here in Thailand. The sad news is that the best modems were being produced by US Robotics and these have now disappeared from the market. I have yet to identify a good replacement.

Q: Dear Dr Byte,

Last week I came across a Search Engine called Dog Pile. Apart from the rather sick name, it seems to work quite well. However, I notice that some returns on a search were similar to returns I saw from Google.

Do you have any tips and tricks to help us internet newbies? Is Google really the best Search Engine?

Newbie
Ayutthaya

A: Here’s some good news. Google’s not the only game in town, but you guessed that didn’t you. ZDNet reviewers give high marks to AlltheWeb, which (at the time of review) had a bigger index than Google’s. Dog Pile unfortunately isn’t what I would call a true Search Engine because they contract with companies like Google to use the Google Database.

Do you know how Google treats the search terms you enter? Did you know you can program Google API with Perl, Java, PHP, Python, and .Net - pretty sophisticated stuff. You can read about all this on Google of course. Have you spotted the Googlism site yet?

What about Googlism? Have you checked this out? If not why not? Enter a name - your own, a friend’s, your city’s, whatever - into the Googlism’s search field, and it will tell you what Google’s site database thinks about it. Try running it on “Bill Gates” and see what you get. (I ran my own name and found out that some guy with a blog really hates me. But I already knew that.)

Another application is GooglePeople and this lets you ask questions like, “Who are the Beatles?” or “Who is Patrick Houston?” As the book says, this may seem like a toy but it’s actually a good way to get a quick read on someone.

Other things I learned are that repeating a search term in the query (Microsoft Microsoft Microsoft) can get a different result than just giving the query term once.

Above I have given away just three tips to help with searching the Internet, and I’d feel guilty to share any more. OK, just one. Look at the Google Pranks and Games: Yes, it really works. (Hint: You have to type backwards - try “radar.”)

That’s it for this week. If you have any tips or tricks that you’d like to share, or any questions about your internet or pc experience, contact me: Dr Byte, Chiangmai Mail.


Mrs. DoLittle’s Corner: Leave nature alone!

Although most people seem to think that animals automatically know who they are, this is far from the truth. Most mammals, just like humans, have to be taught by their parents how to behave in the social order and how to forage for food.

Bearhugs member Rex with Tom the turtle whom he rescued from certain death in the Ping River. A new environment will be created for him at Love Animal Sanctuary - Mae Rim.

The more intelligent the animal, the more complex it becomes. Monkeys and gibbons for example, who have been removed from their mothers and their natural habitat to live with humans, would never be able to survive if released back into the jungle. Instead of looking for food, they would look for humans who would feed them. That’s why most rehabilitation projects have minimal success. Once a wild animal has been given food without effort, it assumes it is the only way to survive. They only know what they have experienced.

People who release birds, fish and turtles to ‘make merit’, as is the practice in Thailand, are actually sending them off to certain death. Birds navigate according to electro-magnetic grid wave patterns radiating from the Earth. If they are unable to ‘tune into’ a frequency signal in an unfamiliar place, they fly in circles until they exhaust themselves and drop dead. Likewise, turtles that are set free in rivers like the Ping, get whisked away by the current and die from shock and stress.

Animals, just like humans, need a familiar environment and a family or friend, in order to survive and to go on to lead a contented life. No living being can survive on its own.

The moral of this story is: If you want to ‘do good’, leave nature alone!