Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation 

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

The Doctor's Consultation: Is cancer a ‘relative’ risk?

by Dr. Iain Corness

We have known for many years that certain diseases run in families. This includes diabetes and asthma for example. We have also known that certain types of cancer seem to run in families, with breast cancer in women being the one that has probably been best documented, with the gene responsible having been identified.

In an attempt to get further towards the truth, a study was carried out based in Iceland, where scientists have access to unique family tree data covering the whole population, and from the 27 types of cancers studied, 16 appeared to show the inheritance factor, with seven of these showing a very strong connection.

The research was set up to establish how often cancers occurred in first to fifth degree relatives of about 32,000 cancer patients over the past 50 years. The 27 cancers studied included many of the most common, such as lung, breast, prostate, colon and skin.

In addition, the incidence and types of cancers suffered by the partners of cancer patients were also noted. These cancers included stomach, lung and colon cancers and were seen more frequently in the partners of patients, suggesting the involvement of shared lifestyle and environmental factors, as inheritance was not a factor in this group.

Study leader Kari Stefansson, chief executive of the drug company deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, said, “Our findings indicate that genetic factors contribute to the risk of specific cancers, but also that certain types of cancer can be looked upon collectively as broad, complex phenotypes (diseases with distinct characteristics).

“The next step in this work is to isolate the key genes contributing to the common forms of the disease and to use this information to develop better medicine. At the same time it is crucial to emphasize that lifestyle and environmental factors play a very significant role in the development of cancer and are things we may all be able to do something about today.”

The seven cancers with the highest increased familial occurrence both in close and distant relatives were breast, prostate, stomach, lung, colon, kidney and bladder cancers, the researchers reported in the on-line journal PloS Medicine.

Cancers at certain sites of the body also showed a familial association with other cancers. For example, relatives of people with stomach, colon, rectal or womb cancer were more likely to develop any one of these diseases.

So that’s the bad news, what’s the good news? Well the good news is that just because a close relative had cancer does not mean to say that you will definitely get it too. Remember that what was looked at here, in the study of 32,000 cancer patients, were relative numbers. The association with environmental factors also means that there are more factors at work than just heredity. And environmental factors are usually under your control. These are factors such as smoking, for example. Yes, another dig at smoking, the most easily corrected environmental cancer producing factor in the world.

So let’s imagine that a close relative does come up with one of the seven most reported in families, those of breast, prostate, stomach, lung, colon, kidney and bladder, what do you do now? Throw in the towel? Write your will? Spend all your money this evening? Hopefully none of those! There are screening tests and examinations that can be done to see if you have any of those conditions. Screening tests, X-Rays, blood tests, stool examinations, endoscopies and suchlike.

Having cancer is not the end of the world these days, and just having a relative with cancer is definitely not a death sentence!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
I’ve often had the urge to write in. But after reading yet another sad reader’s submission I really couldn’t resist this time. I’m referring to “Tired Tim” who wrote for advice about his sulky girlfriend.

Why was she sulky, you ask? Because Tim fancies a drink with the boys a couple of nights week. He then relates that he gives her 30,000 baht a month. Well as they say, “every village has one”.

Unless your girlfriend has a masters degree and looks like Miss World I’d suggest you’re overpaying her. This, not your nights out is to blame. It has turned her into a spoiled brat who believes you are “stoopid”. My suggestion to you and all the other poor misguided fools is to send her back to the bar where she was found. Earning 30,000 baht a month under numerous sweaty customers is a lot harder. Sorry to say but I am constantly amazed at the amount of money given to girlfriends. Read the local press and see what the going rate for monthly employment is. A hard working craftsman would be over the moon with 8,000. A well educated office worker would be happy with 10,000 so why does an ignorant, sulky, provincial bumpkin need three times that amount. Get yourself out and about you can find pleasant friendly local girls who don’t work in bars only too happy to have a Farang boyfriend, and what’s more, they’ll have a job and wages too. Farang men stop selling yourselves short and wasting your money. No wonder they think we’re mad!! Start thinking.
Somchai

Dear Somchai,
Are you a bean counter by profession? Whilst your argument is very well reasoned and makes sound financial sense, it ignores one very human factor - emotion. Farang men will always form an attachment somewhere, but not necessarily in the most honest environments. However, being a ‘girlfriend’ is not a profession, nor should time spent with a partner be considered a commodity to be traded for a monthly ‘salary’. Love for sale is never ‘love’ and hence the high divorce rates in certain sections of the community. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the pleasant, friendly local girls, but the ease of getting to know these paragons of virtue, compared to the ladies of the night, means that they tend to be overlooked. I still believe it is up to Tired Tim to work out finances with his lady, rather than you or I suggesting what the monthly stipend should be. Never-the-less, you do sound like an honest, thinking man, my Petal. Just up the ante a little bit more and Hillary could be persuaded to give up tapping away on the keyboard.

Dear Hillary,
My girlfriend speaks quite good English, but I can find it difficult to understand her true meaning and we end up having an argument. The other day she seemed worried and said “I want stay by myself” and I thought she wanted to leave. I asked her why, as everything seemed to be OK before, but she just started to get mad at me for continuing to ask her what was wrong. The next day, when she hadn’t left I worked out that what she wanted to say was that because she was trying to work out a personal problem, she wanted to be “alone” for a while. I try to understand, but it is a problem. Have you any advice for this communication problem we are having?
Communications Conrad

Dear Communications Conrad,
In any relationship, clear and open communication is most important. When the two people come from different cultures and have different native languages, then it becomes even more likely that confusion will occur. Your girlfriend is trying her best to communicate with you in a foreign language, but I note you do not say whether you can communicate in Thai, her language. If there are times of confusion, you should just say “mai kowjai” and ask her to put it another way. Finally, try not to hang on the literal meaning of every word - try and get the overall meaning or emotion. And get some Thai lessons too!
Dear Hillary,
With all the horrible tales you hear about the foreigners being ripped off by the girls in Thailand, have you any suggestions about how you tell a “good” Thai girl from a “bad” Thai girl? There must be some way. Before any more of us get taken to the cleaners, let us into the secret Hillary. I’m from London and I thought I was street smart. The motorcycle shops must just love us, and the gold shops too. Please, before it’s too late!
Jason

Dear Jason,
Take your time. Hasten Jason will only get you in trouble in double quick time. Have you been hurt already, my Petal? All you have to do is follow the “rules” that you would in your own country. When looking for a soul mate would you go to the local bar? Finding “good” girls as you call them is difficult, but you generally do not find them in bars. They work in offices, hospitals, shops, optometrists, architects rooms, tourist hotels - are you listening to me, Jason! Finally, if all else fails, here is Hillary’s tip for the selection of “good” girls. Check the legs first - good girls wear pantyhose. There you are, Jason, it’s easy! Happy hunting.


Camera Class: Wat to photograph?

by Harry Flashman

Sometimes you can become so used to what is around us, that you don’t see it any more. Our Wats (temples) are a classic example. We have seen so many, we don’t see them any more, yet the first time tourists to Thailand go mad when they see the temples. Hundreds of rolls of film are shot, because Thailand is actually a photographer’s paradise. The ambient light levels are strong, shadows are strong and images are also strong if you use light and shadow to your advantage. The ideal venue to use all these aspects is in your local Wat.

We all forget that we are living in a country that other people save up for 11 months just to get here for two or three weeks!

So here is how to take that great Wat shot - only it isn’t one shot. It is impossible to show a Wat with one snap. It requires a series. One of the reasons for this is the fact that a Wat is a microcosm of Thai society. People eat there, live there, learn there and go there after they die. So really you are trying to show not only the grandeur of the architecture, but the fact that the Wat has its own life going on within its boundaries. It is the centre of all village life.

Here is how I would approach the subject, and remember we are looking for production quality shots here. The preparation is to go there the day before your shooting day to see how the sun shines on the buildings. To get the textures and colours you need the sun striking the walls at an angle. Full shade or full sun is not the way. It’s back to using light and shadow to show form. You will have to note what are the best times of day to record the various architectural details. Also be prepared to use a close up shot or two to highlight some of the small details. By the way, always remember that a Wat is a place of religious worship and significance, so do take your shoes off and be respectful.

Wats are inhabited by much more than the saffron robed monks. There are teachers, nuns, novitiates, school children, street vendors and even tourists. A very mixed bag. Try to take shots to show just why these people are there in the Wat and its compound. This is where a “long lens” (135 mm upwards) can be a help. You can get the image you want without having to intrude into the person’s personal space. However, remember that if there is any doubt as to whether your subject would really want that photo taken - then ask permission first. It is my experience that the vast majority of people will happily respond positively to your request. Even when there is no common language, a smile and a wave of the camera in their direction and an “OK?” is generally all that is necessary.

Taking pictures inside a Wat is not as easy as the exterior shots. The light levels are very low and there is often the feeling that you are intruding in someone else’s religious practices. Taking a flash photograph really is an intrusion in my view. This is where the tripod is great. Set the camera up on the tripod, compose the shot, set it on Time Exposure and quietly get that shot of a lifetime. You will probably need around 5-10 seconds at f5.6, but that is just a guide and you should experiment. If you set the camera on Auto mode and turn off the flash you will get better results.

By now you should have taken almost one complete roll of film on your local Wat. Verticals, horizontals, close-ups and wide angle shots. Do not be afraid to shoot film. It is the only way to improve and the only way to get great shots. Film is the cheapest thing in photography, always remember that. Just avoid taking the ‘same’ shot four times - one vertical and one horizontal for each subject, but that is all.


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

by Dr Byte, Citec Asia

In the last edition, I promised some more questions and answers. Don’t forget, if you’re connecting to the internet, you must have three applications installed on your PC or face the sad consequences. Anti-Virus is no longer enough, and you also need to have something to sweep for Spyware (or Malware as it’s sometimes called), and a Firewall. I will be over-viewing some of what’s on offer for the next column so watch out to see what’s new, what’s old and what works.

Ric, near Wat Umong asks: I am a senior (70 now) and still new to computers and all their quirks. When I bought my computer last year it had antivirus software installed. I believe this is now out of date. I have Windows XP and Outlook Express and have just switched to home ADSL and the technician installed another Anti-Virus. Do I need anything extra and what else should I do to keep the nasties at bay?

Answer: With new viruses and variations discovered every day it is essential antivirus programs get the latest data so they can recognise new threats. If you’re living in a condo, your condo probably organised for a shared ADSL connection for all the units and probably insisted on you having Norton Anti-Virus (which their technician would have installed if you didn’t have that).

I genuinely doubt that the condo would have purchased 40 or 50 Norton Anti-Virus licences for their condo units, and so you probably have an unlicensed version. I don’t recommend Norton Anti-virus or McAfee for that matter, but do recommend that you install at least three applications. 1: Anti-Virus and I recommend AVG which is free from the Grisoft Company, UK. 2: Ad-Aware to scan for spyware, trojans and malware and 3: A Firewall (note that the XP Firewall is very basic protection but something like Zone Alarm (also free) provides serious protection for both incoming and outgoing activities).

Set up AVG to scan your computer daily and schedule the free update from AVG at least twice a week. Check for an Ad-Aware update weekly and scan your computer immediately after. These activities can take time, so time them for night time or weekend when you don’t need your computer. If you’re not sure how to find and install these applications, talk to one of the professional computer maintenance companies here in Chiang Mai. These include IS Com / Media Magic (now located in the new Com City), Chi Chang in Chiang Mai Land Road and Citec Asia in the old Australian Consulate in Sirimankalajarn Road. IS Com staff and Citec Asia staff will help you in English.

Monica of Sankhampaeng writes: I am running Windows XP Home Edition. When I attempt to turn off my computer it runs through the shutdown process but always reboots - I have to wait until the moment it restarts before I can switch it off as reboot recommences. Can you help?

Answer: Windows XP is, by default, set to restart the computer when it stops responding. In your case, it seems that it stops responding rather inconveniently during the shutdown process. Microsoft has a support article describing this. However, by far the most helpful information on this problem comes from James A. Eshelman, whose Windows XP Shutdown and Restart troubleshooter lists several prime suspects for the problem, including third party CD programs, power management and USB connections. Look at: http://www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,45584,00.asp -

Again, if your not a techie, discuss the problem with one of the professional computer companies listed in the previous answer.

In the next column I will be looking at Spyware, Anti-Virus and Firewall applications and awarding them with ratings based on cost, usability, effectiveness and availability. Don’t forget to keep your preferred anti-virus and spysweepers up to date. Do a full hard disc scan and sweep at least once a week. Don’t open e-mails with funny attachments if your not expecting them and last but not least, make sure your firewall is on. 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: Wall Street’s Crystal Ball Reveals Overcast in 2005

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

Smith Barney
Tobias Levkovich,
chief investment strategist
New York
S&P 500: 1300;
DJIA: 11700

“We started getting more positive on the market in September,” as a number of conditions continued to improve, says Mr. Levkovich. Principally, he says, companies’ huge wads of cash give them power to “take things into their own hands.” The question is whether companies will use that cash to hire. “We’re seeing all the right signals,” says Mr. Levkovich. “But there’s no guarantee. It won’t be phenomenal. Companies have learned to be more productive with fewer workers.” Mr. Levkovich recommends investors put 60% of their funds in equities, 35% in bonds and 5% in cash. He likes farm-related stocks, consumer staples and biotechnology stocks. Technology stocks may turn around some time in 2005, he says, but he’s not sure when. The biggest risk to the economy? Protectionism, he says, which “would cause unhealthy inflation.”

MBMG is glad that corporate America is run by individuals a lot more savvy than Mr. Levkovich – the CEOs aren’t hiring and won’t be. The biggest risk to the economy in our view is if anybody takes Mr. Levkovich’s Fantasy Island musings seriously and the corporates spend all their cash making the bubble bigger for another year. This would have the effect of proving Abbey Joseph Cohen right about 2005 by deferring all the problems until next year.

Briefing.com
Dick Green,
Chief Executive
Chicago
S&P 500: 1275;
DJIA: 11400
Fed-funds: 3.5%
10-year yield: 5%
Gold: $425
Real GDP: 3.5%

“The stock market outlook for 2005 is good,” writes Mr. Green. But not great. His S&P forecast is among the lower end of the 10 market watchers we surveyed. Still, 2005 should be a solid year for profits, he says. Economic growth should “continue at a fast pace” in 2005, enough to produce 10% earnings growth for the year. The biggest obstacle to a strong 2005 is a sharp rise in interest rates, he cautions, so keep your eye on the 10-year note, which remained quiet throughout 2004 even as the fed-funds rate increased by 1.25%.

A Sharp rise in the 10-year note yield could cause the P/E (price-to-earnings ratio) to contract more than expected if investors see that as likely to curtail the economy and earnings growth into 2006,” writes Mr. Green. And that might cause a spike in – you guessed it – inflation.

10% earnings growth? 10% earnings growth? 10% earnings growth? – MBMG is speechless. HSBC expects that GDP growth currently running at 4% will average 2% for the year. 4 now, 2 for the year average, what does that imply by the year end, and what, in turn does that imply for earnings growth? 10% apparently if you use the special briefing.com calculator.

Bank of America Securities
Thomas McManus, chief investment strategist
New York
S&P 500: 1200

Mr. McManus, one of the few 2005 bears surveyed should get a more sympathetic ride from MBMG. He thinks stocks have gotten too pricey relative to earnings. That makes them a risky bet heading into a year that will likely see rising interest rates, he says. Today’s stock valuations “overlook the significant rise in inflation expectations,” writes Mr. McManus. However he adds, “Inflation isn’t going to creep – it’s going to jump right in our faces,” he says, since “we’re going to see a plethora of rising prices” in the first quarter of the year.

Investors have become overconfident, says Mr. McManus, and are ignoring a number of risks. Part of that overconfidence stems from the fact that P/E ratios, while high by some accounts, are still well off their historic highs. The operating P/E ratio of the S&P 500 companies currently is at 21.02, compared with 46.05 in December 2001. But as inflation ramps up, companies will have trouble maintaining their profit margin, he says, and that could hurt P/Es.

MBMG thinks that overconfident doesn’t even begin to cover the kind of thinking already described by some analysts. Mr. McManus fails to spot, however, that inflation and higher interest rates will both simply be a spike – the real question being whether or not they peak before or after the end of 2005.

Miller Tabak
Phil Roth, chief technical market analyst
New York
S&P 500: “If you put a gun to my head, I’d say it’s down.”

Long-term Treasuries have failed to price in the real rate of inflation, says Mr. Roth, due to a prevailing view (among the bond markets BUT not the analysts here) that the U.S. economy has been soft. “People have constantly distrusted the economic expansion and believed that there was no inflation,” he says. “But there are strong signs that inflation is picking up.”

He says that “we’ve almost had a miracle in the bond market this year” and that “bonds are much more mis-priced than stocks.” That will be the story for 2005. “Rising long-term interest rates,” he says, could “choke off the market.”

Want one more reason to be careful this year? It’s the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese calendar. And Mr. Roth – a technical strategist on Wall Street – says Years of the Rooster are usually Years of the Bear as well. If Mr. Roth is right, a number of the strategists we spoke with may have to eat some crow by the end of 2005.

MBMG’s head is shaking in disbelief – even the bears are growling utter nonsense. Inflation is a short term threat. Recessionary disinflation/deflation now seem utterly unavoidable – the question being whether they will occur in 2005 or the following year. Still I guess it’s better to draw the right conclusions from looking at the data wrongly like Mr. Roth than to draw the wrong conclusions despite having the facts staring you in the face like the other commentators did.

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 Alan Hall on [email protected]


Life in the Laugh Lane: Once Upon a Menu: Part Two

by Scott Jones

Scott Jones

My Vietnamese bus has stopped to drink fuel while we eat lunch. I’m routinely pestered by the world’s smallest and most persistent lottery ticket salesmen, apparently the younger brother of the world’s youngest waitress. Declining to buy a ticket, I distract him with his photo on my digital camera. His life’s mission is quickly altered. Now he really, really wants me to take a picture of his sister and she really, really doesn’t want me to. There’s way too much activity while I’m trying to clandestinely copy the menu. You may have read the Seafood and Chicken sections in last week’s column. Here are the rest of my favourites, all unedited and mostly inedible.

I’ll have one head and one chest with Adhesive Sauce in between.

In the “Vegetable” section (plus some meat): GRILLED AUBERGINE WITH ONION GREASE (Translation: Aubergine = Eggplant; Onion = Onion; Grease = Grease). BOILED BEAN (Only one, but maybe it’s very large). FRIEND FIELD CABBAGE W/PURE OIL (Why not eat your friends? If you don’t like Pure Oil, they can use Onion Grease). CHOP SUEY WITH (Oh, consider the options with this option!) CHICKEN PAW AND PULLING OUT BONE (Ouch! Stop it! Don’t say that! Chicken paw? Did Rover have an affair with a Henrietta?) WITH BEEF SQUEEZING THOROUGHLY (What was the cow squeezing thoroughly? How long ago? Did it finally come out?) WITH BEEF HALF-COOKED (Half-cooked fish could be sushi. Half-cooked cow could be death). WITH LOTOS ROOSTOCKO SHIMP MEAT (Whatever).

In the “Specialties” section, for folks who like food that sticks to the ribs and flies through the intestines: GRILLED CUPINE WITH ADHESIVE SAUCE (What’s a cupine? Female cupid? Poor little thing). GRILLED WIND PIG WITH FIVE TASTES (“I’ll take all five tastes and four more tongues”). GRILLED PIG MAMA WITH ADHESIVE SAUCE OR FIVE TASTES (Don’t even try to translate this into English! Do we get Mama’s kids as appetizers?) GRILLED DEER OR GOAT WITH ADHESIVE SAUCE (If you’re afraid of eating Mama, try something vaguely familiar). GRILLED GOAT IN DODGE STYLE (This may be the goat that hit the grill of a truck yesterday). SAUTED PIG CHEST WITH SALT/PEPPER (“I’ll have one chest, hold the lungs, and a tall glass of bicarbonate of soda). BEEF TEAK W/FRIED POTATO (Cow from a teak barn? Teak board with a marrow marinade?) BRITTLE FRIED INTESTINE SALAD (From whence have the intestines come? Wind Pig, Lotos Roostocko or the elusive Cupine?) GRILLED BEEF WITH WEDDING CAKE (I have no idea. No need for a special occasion, you can just have this for lunch).

And in the Dessert section, if you didn’t dare order the Grilled Beef With Wedding Cake: CHARRED RICE IN FRYING WITH GINGSEN (The rice is already ruined so let’s try frying and spicing it). CHARRED RICE FROM 4 DIRECTION (Maybe they get burned rice from all over the neighborhood?) CHARRED RICE WITH FRIED CHEST (Pig Mama chest? Goat? A farmer trying to save a burning rice paddy?) CHARRED RICE WITH ONION GREASE (Hmm. This is exactly what I throw out from the pans after dinner is over). I stole some Adhesive Sauce but I can’t get it out of the bottle.