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The Doctor's Consultation 

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Money Matters

Mrs. DoLittle’s Corner

The Doctor's Consultation:  Coughs and sneezes spread diseases!

by Dr. Iain Corness

A catchy headline, but not mine I am afraid. The honours go to the late Tony Hancock, a fine British comedian, who whilst he could make other people laugh, found life too depressing and ended it all in Sydney Australia many years ago. So sad.

However, sniffles and sneezes can try the patience of the proverbial saints too. It really is a condition that makes you miserable. Drippy nose, sneezing, croaky throat sometimes and generally feeling sorry for ones self.

Colds characteristically come at the change of seasons, and right now we have had a change of season at least four times a day. As I write this, the water is streaming down outside, after three hours of brilliant sunshine.

Now if you think you are having a hard time of it with this cold of yours, wiping your nose with a tissue every five minutes, think about how it was for the more primitive civilizations who did not have such luxuries. By the way, did you know that the reason we have buttons on the sleeves of jackets was to stop the wearer wiping his nose on his sleeves! True!

Your cold, or Coryza, as we medico’s call it, is not produced by a bacterium, but by another of those pesky viruses. This is why antibacterial agents (called antibiotics) do not work for the simple cold. In fact, not much works for it, but there are a few options to make life a little better while we wait to get over the condition.

The first thing to do is to dive into your supply of paracetamol which you keep at home or if you don’t, then that is what you get at the pharmacy, not antibiotics. Take two 500 mg tablets four times a day, keep your fluids up, prop yourself up in front of the telly and make the most of your enforced 24 hour holiday. It does help get you better quicker. Paracetamol comes as different trade names such as "Sara" and "Tylenol" and "Panadol" - just read the packets carefully.

Staying away from other people in the office or wherever is an important factor too. I am not going to directly accuse any of my office mates - but, the thought is always there. The cold virus is very contagious and hangs around in the air every time you sneeze. When you release millions of virus bodies in the moisture droplets in your sneeze, they have the potential to go and infect the next person who inhales them. Or even groups of people. This is why colds run in epidemics - so don’t get too close, please!

Of course, there are times when the cold progresses into something else. The sniffles turn into a really sore throat, you start to cough up green or yellow coloured phlegm and you begin to run a fever. What has happened is that another infecting organism has come along and hit you while you are down. This is particularly likely if you are a smoker, because the oxides of nitrogen in cigarette smoke depress your ability to shift mucous and funnily enough lowers your resistance too. Just another of the three million nine hundred and ninety seven good reasons to give up the fags!

Now it is time for the appropriate medication - and your doctor can advise you on this. Please don’t just go to the pharmacy and grab some "antibiotics". That is not good medical practice. Let your doctor prescribe!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
Some friends of mine are coming to Thailand for their first visit. They are all middle aged couples (and even older, but they wouldn’t like me to point that out), but they knocked me over with their request that they want to see a sexy show while they are here. I know that these go on in the night entertainment areas, but these are not the places I would go to. There I was finding out about temple tours and they want to be middle aged voyeurs? Do you think this is a good idea, Hillary? Or should I tell them that everything is changed these days? I really don’t know what to say.
Flabbergasted Fanny

Dear Flabbergasted Fanny,
Do I think what is a good idea? The fact that your friends have become peeping Toms? Oh dear, what a predicament, my Petal. Here you are, as pure as driven snow, and your grubby friends want to see what they have been missing out on for the past forty years! However you have really no need to worry. Those sort of shows do not exist in Chiang Mai any more, or so the nice policeman told me, last time I was asked about this. And we know that policemen would never tell a lie, don’t we! However, there are plenty of karaoke bars that do not seem to have incurred the wrath of the upholders of justice. Perhaps your naughty friends might try a night in one of those. But do warn them that the Fun Police will be taking them back to their hotels shortly after midnight, when all our red buses turn into pumpkins. Tourists have to learn to toe the line too, it seems these days.
Dear Hillary,
This is a very important money problem. I tried to speak to Mum about it, but Mum thinks it’s nothing, but to me it means a lot. It’s my pocket money allowance. My Dad handles the money in the house and it’s not as if I don’t get an allowance. The problem is that the other kids at school are getting more allowance money than I get. I’m 14 years old and my Dad only gives me 200 baht a week and I find it bad because I don’t get as much as the other 14 year olds. Some 12 year olds two classes below me get more than me. Do you think it is fair Hillary? How much do you think I should get?
Schoolgirl Sue

Dear Schoolgirl Sue,
It is not as easy as saying that if Jane gets 500 baht then so should you. There are lots of differences between families in the way that they divide up the family budget. Some families make the children responsible for their own toilet items or entertainment, for example, so those children will appear to get more of an allowance than children who get their toothpaste from the family budget. Do you have to pay your own way in the movies, or does Dad give you the money when you go? If you reckon you’re underpaid, and Mum is not supportive, then all you can do is to sit down with Dad one day when he’s in a good mood and discuss things as you see it, but do remember to listen to how Dad sees it too. There are always two sides to everything. Hillary also believes that any allowance should reflect the work you do in the family - it should not be a ‘free’ hand-out every week. Mum and Dad work for their money, and so should you. When was the last time you tidied your room for example?
Dear Hillary,
My problem is very embarrassing. I am an ordinary looking 25 year old woman of average height and weight, but my bust development stopped when I was about thirteen, so I now have only a 30 inch bust. I know I have to live with this problem, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Try wearing a 30 A bra. I normally wear big sloppy shirts to disguise my figure, but I cannot go to the beach because it is so obvious that I have nothing on top. I know the easy answer is to avoid going to the beach, but there is a man at work who is showing interest in me and he is a very keen sailing enthusiast and has asked me out on his boat a couple of times. Have you any advice for flat-chested girls, Hillary? Please don’t say a padded bra as I gave up trying with those many years ago.
Two Fried Eggs

Dear Two Fried Eggs,
At least you have a good sense of humour, and it is probably that which makes you attractive to this man in the office. You can always wear a bulky yachting parka style of top I suppose, but if your fried eggs are really holding you back then you should consider plastic surgery. It can be done in Chiang Mai and I know the better Chiang Mai hospitals have cosmetic surgeons on staff. You’ve nothing to lose by enquiring, and it sounds to me that it would do your self esteem a power of good.


Camera Class: Helmut Newton - the continuation of an icon

by Harry Flashman

At the beginning of this year, one of the world’s more controversial photographers died in a car accident. His name was Helmut Newton, the man who turned fashion photography on its ear in the 1960s with his extremely confrontational images, and left the world the most amazing photographic book, called "Sumo" - a tome which weighs in at 66 kg and costs USD 1,500. Even some of his previous works, which are now out of print, can fetch large sums. I have in my collection his book published in 1984 called "World without men" which is currently valued in the USA at USD 250.

Paloma Picasso

However, as well as his photographic books, his widow has made sure that her husband’s works are still seen, displayed in the art gallery in Berlin, bequeathing the entire collection to the German authorities. "His heart was in Germany," she said at the opening of the exhibition. For some people it seemed a strange statement, as Newton is not a German name, and many people believe that Helmut Newton came from Australia; however, this was not the case.

Newton was truly a unique character. He was born in Berlin in 1920, where he was the son of well to do Jewish parents who wanted him to join the family business. However, even in his early teens, he was single-minded in his purpose, saying that he wanted to be a professional photographer. Consequently, he was apprenticed to the studio of Yva when he was 16. However, two years later, with hostilities looming and his father arrested by the Gestapo, Newton was sent to Australia in 1938. It was there, in Australia, that he westernized his German surname into the more easily pronounced (and accepted) one of "Newton".

After the war he resumed his photographic work gaining some international clients and then moved to make Paris his base in 1961. His hard edged approach to his fashion shoots stood him apart from the others of the day, as well as his exacting perfectionism in the actual taking of the photographs. He was the ultimate hard-driving ‘Type A’ personality.

In 1971 he suffered a heart attack and gave up the impossible time schedules he used to take upon himself and embarked on a style of photography that was more personally pleasing for him. That style was, however, even more confrontational, with women fighting often being a recurrent theme, and erotic images and innate cynicism showing through his fashion portfolio.

Some of Newton’s work has been labeled pornographic, but he refuses to admit to any definite demarcation between the erotic and the pornographic. He just has an eye for the image that will produce the most impact, and even the fashion shot published here has that powerful presence about it.

A portrait done by Helmut Newton was not an airbrushed soft focus beauty shot, but was like the one of Paloma Picasso - powerful and traffic stopping. As Paloma and her famous father were themselves.

Now while many will say that Paloma’s portrait is "art", Newton himself had no time for the "Fine Art" school of photography. Speaking about those photographers he said, "I admire their steadfastness but often find their pictures boring. I have to thank the ‘consumer society’ - for whatever success I have had, not foundations, museums or grants." He spoke further, "When I take pictures I don’t do it just for myself, to put away in a drawer. I want as many people as possible to see them."

In his lifetime, this photographer became an icon for many, and the legion of photographers who have copied his style are also a tribute to him. When Newton adopted the ring flash to his fashion shots, used in medical photography, sales in ring flashes went wild. However, none have the sharp edged way of presenting the subject matter as did Helmut Newton.

Helmut may have gone to the great darkroom in the sky, but his desire that as many people as possible should see his photographs lives on, through the generosity of his widow.


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

by Dr Byte, Citec Asia

In answer to some recent and interesting questions, this week is devoted to Google’s new e-mail service and the end of the floppy disk. Yes you read that correctly - RIP.

Q. Dear Dr Byte

I read your article a couple of issues ago about Hotmail. I agree with your comments about using web mail. But I heard that Google is starting an e-mail service with 1Gb of space for accounts. Is there any advantage in switching from Hotmail apart from the extra space and everyone sending their e-mail to [email protected]?
Hotmail user
Lamphun
A.
For those who have noticed, Google is getting bigger, but is it getting better? The latest offering from Google is GMail and its arousing some concerns around the world. The massive amount of disk space is a nice bonus, about 500 times more storage than a service like Hotmail offers for its standard free email account. However, did you realise what is actually going to happen when you use the service? For example, an e-mail message from wife to husband confessing to denting the car would arrive with links to Car Body Repair Shops stuck all over your e-mail. An email from a friend suggesting dinner would arrive with links to restaurants and so on.

This could be the future of free email services if Google has its way. Personal messages would be scanned and loaded with advertising relevant to their content before they have even been read by their intended recipients. It’s the price users would pay for the gigabyte of free email storage the company is offering with Gmail, a service now on trial around the world.

But experts say Gmail could fall foul of a clutch of laws around the world, even violating proposed changes to telecommunications interception laws, which could attract criminal penalties. It’s the second Google product to raise alarm. Gmail borrows heavily from the company’s controversial, paid-for search listings, where advertisers pay for their products to appear at the top of search results.

Unsolicited ads could also put Gmail on the wrong side of anti-spam legislation around the world. While Google would have the consent of Gmail subscribers, it would have no way of getting permission from the people subscribers send their ad-laden messages to, potentially making Google liable for some serious fines. "Anti-spam laws cover a lot of different relationships [between advertisers and email users] but what Google is proposing didn’t exist when most laws were being drafted."

Gmail’s soft launch came just weeks after an Australian privacy expert published a paper warning of the privacy threat of social networking products, including Google’s Orkut. A major concern was the means of extending the network by encouraging members to upload their regular contacts to the network, sometimes without their permission - a data harvesting method described as "disturbing". An open letter signed by more than 28 privacy groups is urging Google to suspend Gmail "until the privacy issues are adequately addressed." What do you think?

Q. Dear Dr Byte

I recently upgraded my Desktop Computer and I was very surprised to be told that the Floppy Drive is now an extra addition at extra cost. Ok, Ok, not a lot extra, but it’s not integral and that’s the point. I always rely on moving small files around on Floppy Disk and at one time even backups onto floppy disk, so what has changed?
Happy Floppy User
Samut Sakhorn
A.
It’s not hard to understand why this is happening. Typically, floppies (floppy disks) store just 1.4MB of information. That’s not enough for most of today’s commonly used files. If you want to store complex Word documents, spreadsheet data, PowerPoint presentations, digital photographs or MP3 music, you’ll quickly bump up against the size limit. Some computer makers still build them into systems and, yes, some people continue to use floppies, yet the simple truth is that disks are slowly disappearing from supermarket shelves and other outlets.

CDs offered a viable alternative. Nowadays at a cost of around 25-100 baht, a CD-R stores 650MB or so. However, if you don’t already have one, you’ll need to buy a CD-Writer and burning software isn’t always straightforward. For example, in Windows, you can’t just drag and drop files to a CD-R as simply as you can copy them to a floppy.

Some proprietary software will let you use CD-RW discs like jumbo-sized floppies, but discs made this way often run into compatibility problems when moved between machines. What’s more, CD-RW discs have a high failure rate. Although high-capacity DVD hardware and media are rapidly dropping in price, they don’t really resolve these shortcomings.

CD technology is inadequate in another way. It isn’t suitable for moving large amounts of data between computers and gadgets such as PDAs, digital cameras and MP3 players. The attraction of these devices is their small size - so there’s no room to accommodate a CD or DVD drive.

So what’s taking the place of the good olde floppy? Users of digital cameras will know what I am talking about, as the explosion of digital cameras over the last 5 or 6 years has seen the development of Flash Memory. Flash memory is a smarter way to transfer data between gadgets, computers and other devices. In plain English, flash memory is a type of storage chip that retains information when the power is switched off. It comes in a variety of formats and capacities. You can buy anything from 8MB to 1GB in a single package and, depending on the format, expect to pay around $1 per MB (in the USA).

USB drives, sometimes called USB keys, package flash memory in a device that plugs directly into a computer’s USB port. They start at about 16MB in capacity and go up to 2GB, although manufacturers say 4GB devices should be available soon. USB drives don’t require any special software on Windows ME, Windows XP or Mac OS X. You can’t use them with Windows NT, but they will work with Windows 98 if you install drivers. They don’t require an external power source.

To use a USB drive, you simply plug it in. After a few seconds it shows up as an external drive on your system. You can immediately drag and drop files to and from the drive - it’s that simple.

Increasingly, USB drives are commodity devices - prices are more competitive than other types of flash memory and you can expect to pay as little as 50 cents per MB or even less during promotions.

In order to compete, some manufacturers add security features such as password protection, which means your data is safe if someone steals your drive. Some companies have built MP3 players using the USB drive technology, so you can store songs or data files on the same unit.

USB drives have one other especially useful feature. They can be made bootable. That’s great for troubleshooting faulty computers and rescuing important data. It’s also possible to install software applications that automatically run when the drive is inserted into a socket.

When shopping for one, watch out for the drive’s width - models wider than about 23mm might crowd out other USB devices in other ports on your system. If your machine has USB 2.0, the compatible drives are up to 40 times faster, but they draw on more power and don’t work with some hubs. On the other hand, they will also work with USB 1.1.

Dr Byte appears in Chiangmai Mail every 2 weeks and if you have any questions or suggestions you would like to make, you can contact me at Dr Byte, Chiangmai Mail.


Money Matters:  “The name’s Bond - Treasury Bond”

Graham Macdonald
MBMG International Ltd.

There is a danger that with equities being such an extremely risky investment right now, investors will again turn to favour bonds, or fixed interest securities, as they were doing prior to last year. During the last equity market downturn, bonds comfortably outperformed equities from 2000-2002 with global bond markets achieving double-digit returns in both 2000 and 2002. However we believe that the danger now for investors is a double whammy - a stock market collapse combined with falls in the value of bonds. Therefore asset allocation has to take a much broader remit than previously. Our clients will make positive returns this year, but I’m not sure how many other investors can confidently say that.

However, before we write off bonds, let’s take this opportunity to fully examine what they actually are and how they work. During the 1970s, bonds were shunned by many investors, who correctly surmised that inflation is one of the main enemies of fixed-interest investment because it erodes the value of capital over time. In current financial markets, the scenario has radically changed. Faced with an environment of protracted low inflation, slow economic growth and uncertain returns from equities, it was hardly surprising that the attraction of bonds resurfaced. The strong economic growth that drove equity markets up and was such a threat to bonds in previous market cycles has been replaced by low growth. The sophistication of the bond market has also increased. Financial innovations have resulted in the emergence of many different types of bond, and individual bonds are now subjected to the most intense risk/return analysis.

The bond market has grown rapidly in size and plays a vital role in the economy as a source of capital for governments and companies, and a bond’s yield is also an indicator of the financial market’s view on interest rates, inflation, public debt and economic growth. At the simplest level, bonds take the form of debt issued either by a government or a company. This debt is tradable and the investor effectively lends money to a government or company in return for a fixed rate of interest and repayment of the principal at a known date in the future. Debt may be short, medium or long term and the price will depend on economic conditions and forecasts (particularly for inflation), supply and demand, and the specific characteristics of the issuer. Government bonds tend to be more liquid than equity investments and dealing costs are significantly lower. For government and index-linked bonds, valuations are most influenced by future interest rate and inflation expectations; if interest rates rise, bond prices should fall.

In theory, index-linked bonds are not vulnerable to rises in inflation as they offer protection of capital and income against inflation, and provide a modest real return as well. In the UK, index-linked gilts are tied to the Retail Price Index, which represents the most widely used measure of inflation. The government bond, or sovereign debt, of major economies is usually regarded as being of the highest quality since the debt or interest would only be left unpaid if the government itself failed. Gilts, for example, which are bonds issued by the British government, are regarded as free of default risk and assigned a triple-A rating – the highest possible level. This is not the case for all sovereign debt, however, as shown by the Argentinean default crisis in 2002. Indeed in the 1930s the UK was the only major nation not to default on its bond commitments at that time, although even there the bonds were re-scheduled.

Corporate bonds, which are bonds issued by non-government issuers, offer a higher yield than government bonds and, in a low-interest environment, this has obvious attractions. The price paid for a corporate bond reflects the market’s perception of the credit, or default, risk associated with investing in it. Corporate bonds are said to trade at a credit spread, or yield difference, to the risk-free government bond yield, and the greater the risk then the greater the credit spread. In other words, the higher the credit risk, the greater the return required by investors to compensate for the additional risk. Investment-grade corporate bonds offer an excess return over gilts, without excessive risk or the high downside potential of equity investments. The potential for added value through good stock selection in credit markets gives additional scope for performance. A major source of out-performance in corporate bond funds is the avoidance of bonds that are likely to suffer unexpected downgrades. While credit agency ratings provide a guide (the higher the rating, the cheaper the cost of debt to the issuer) it is vital in corporate bond markets to have a full understanding of the industry, as well as a detailed financial analysis of the company, and a comprehensive assessment of the management.

However for now, fixed income arbitrage is about the only reliable way to make money on bonds in the short term as capital values will come under severe pressure over the next 12-18 months.

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Graham Macdonald on graham @mbmg-international.com


Mrs. DoLittle’s Corner: Life is not easy in the jungle

‘Pop Eye’ the python

People often ask me about snakes. Mainly on how to keep them out of their garden! Most people are afraid of snakes although there are not very many poisonous ones in Thailand. But rather than guess as to which ones are harmless and which aren’t, people prefer to be rid of them.

I usually recommend all old junk be removed. Snakes love old piles of wood, so if you keep your garden clean on a regular basis, snakes will disappear, as they don’t like to be disturbed. Also having dogs and cats roaming around soon clears out any reptiles.

At the sanctuary, if snakes come into the animal enclosures, we simply relocate them to the forest. We once had a cobra, one of the few venomous snakes in the country, living under a tree stump next to our birdcage for over two years without it harming anyone around.

We respected ‘Rajah’ by leaving milk and raw meat for him at night. But then one day, Rajah was killed by a trespasser. The man thought he had done us a huge favor and couldn’t understand why we were all crying at the sight of the dead snake. Some people think nothing of killing snakes, even skinning them while they are still alive and drinking their blood. They have no mercy for snakes writhing in pain.

Working at CM Zoo I realized there was much education needing to be done to change people’s attitude towards snakes, so I went to the snake department to see if there were any friendly ones which could be used as educational tools. It so happened that a 4 meter reticulated python had just been delivered. It had been someone’s pet and was supposedly ‘friendly’.

Although Mrs. DoLittle had never had any personal relationship with a snake before, her heart jumped at the excitement. It was in excellent condition. How could anyone refuse the temptation of touching it? It was soft as silk and the scales were intricately decorated with marvelous patterns. It was just too beautiful for words. I had to carry it around to let people see for themselves. How could anyone possibly meet this guy and not be charmed?

I named the snake ‘Pop Eye’ because he is after all a python, meaning he is not venomous, he simply squeezes the life out of his prey, with his powerful muscles. I figured if he squeezed me a little too hard, my eyes might pop out. Sometimes they almost did! But to make sure I wouldn’t end up on the snake’s dinner plate, I told the keeper to feed him every day and not once every few weeks which is the norm in the wild. That’s when I found out the snake food comes from the university laboratory where they breed white mice and rats for experiments. The things that are done in the name of science! Either way, the little rodents get tortured to death. The problem is, pythons won’t eat meat they haven’t killed themselves. This was one part of ‘Pop Eye’s’ life that I didn’t want to relate to the public, or we’d lose his fan club. In fact, I couldn’t even be around when they fed the snakes. To see all those scared little mice was too much for Mrs. DoLittle. If feeding ‘Pop Eye’ had been part of my duty, I would have force fed him with tofu and the zoo grounds would be teaming with little white mice.

But then I guess we’d probably have a very constipated snake that would have needed a bit of squeezing himself. So it was a good thing that all Mrs. DoLittle had to do was to pick him up and carry him around for a while every day.

One day during an education session with Lanna International School students, ‘Pop Eye’ gave Mrs. DoLittle the biggest surprise. He had to go to the bathroom! Yes I discovered, along with dozens of other people, the great scientific fact: SNAKES URINATE! Another great fact we discovered: IT STINKS OF ROTTEN MICE!

I will swear upon my diary that snakes have a valve two thirds down their body, which, when necessary, opens up and dumps ten liters of toxic waste into the environment! This stuff is hazardous to Levi jeans and toddlers and should be banned! The whole Niagara Falls event is over in 20 seconds flat. Then the valve closes so tight you would never guess it was ever there. I’m convinced it’s a secret weapon in case of nuclear war against the Cobras. Diluted it could probably be used as an alternative energy source for SUV’s now that petrol prices are rising. In its raw state it could launch rockets to distant galaxies. What I’m trying to tell you is that this was not one of Mrs. DoLittle’s more pleasant experiences with Pop Eye.

The next day a big brown envelope arrived. It contained drawings of snakes and letters from the students. Most of them were in the line of: "Gee, I didn’t know snakes peed" but one of them made my day. It read, "Thank you so much for showing me how snakes pee!"