Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Your Health & Happiness

The Doctor's Consultation 

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

Your Health & Happiness: Health Ministry in drive to slash suicide rates

The Department of Mental Health hopes to cut Thailand’s suicide rates by 10 percent by roping in teachers and community leaders to watch out for people suffering from depression, a move which the department hopes could help save the national economy Bt500 million a year.

According to statistics released by the department’s deputy director, Dr. Seri Hongyok, around 4,000-5,000 Thais commit suicide each year, causing economic losses of at least Bt5.5 billion.

Topping the list for provinces with the highest suicide rate last year was Nakhon Ratchasima in the Northeast, with 261 cases, followed by Chiang Rai, Nakhon Sawan, and Lamphun - all in the North - with 195, 111 and 106 cases respectively.

Since 2001 the department has made a concerted effort to reduce suicide rates, and in the first three years of the scheme focused on 33 provinces thought to be most at risk.

Teachers and community leaders have been enlisted to monitor possible suicide cases and watch out for people suffering from depression.

“Our assessment of past performance shows that the rate of self harm has dropped from 51.5 cases per 100,000 population in 2001 to 36.8 cases in 2003, while the rate of death has dropped from 8.2 cases to 5.7 per 100,000”, Dr. Seri said.

While acknowledging that the rate of self harm rose last year, Dr. Seri said that the actual rate of death from suicide continues to fall, and that the department would continue to work to secure a reduction of at least 10 percent in the national suicide rate. (TNA)


The Doctor's Consultation: Contact lenses and safety

by Dr. Iain Corness

There are countless millions of people throughout the world that wear contact lenses. The advent of these was many years ago, and while it did free many people with visual problems from the necessity of wearing glasses, the ‘fix’ has some problems too. Even if it is just the fiddling around putting them in and taking them out.

To put everything in perspective, it is probably a sobering thought that eye problems are some of the commonest reasons for a doctor visit. And for those of you who wear contact lenses (like me) there are even more eye problems for us to get, despite the common use of contact lenses these days, even just for the vanity of fashion, to change your eye colour.

What has to be remembered is the fact that no matter how it is packaged, a contact lens is a foreign body in the eye. One “skill” in manufacturing the contact lens is in making it so smooth that the eyeball doesn’t realise there is a foreign body there at all.

There are various types of contact lens, the old hard ones were made of a material called polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) which is rigid and doesn’t let oxygen through, but the newer ones have a material called siloxane which is gas permeable. These hard lenses are the most trouble free, although the most difficult to look after.

The second type of lens is the soft contact lens, of which there is a “permanent” style and a disposable type. These are made of hydroxymethylmethacrylate (HEMA) which contains between 30-60% water and are gas permeable. However, soft disposable lenses give the most problems, but are the easiest to look after, in direct contrast with the hard lenses.

The commonest problems with all contact lenses is infection, and since the lens is a foreign body, there is a good reason to get an infection immediately. For those of you who leave your lenses in overnight, you have an increased risk of infection by a factor of 10. Take them out every night, is my advice.

Infection should not be thought of as something that just happens and when it does you just pop in a few eye drops and it gets better automatically. Bacterial infection can be sight threatening and the cornea (the clear bit in the centre that you look through) can be destroyed in 24 to 48 hours. There is also a parasite that can get into the eye of contact lens users who have rinsed their lens with contaminated water, or who have worn their lenses swimming in contaminated water.

One very common problem is “losing” the lens in the eye, both the hard and soft types. The most important thing to remember is not to panic. The lens cannot go “behind” the eye. It just gets caught under the lid. Try to avoid rubbing and it will reappear in an hour or so.

The other very common problem is eye irritation. This is caused by material under the lens or damage to the lens itself, such as splitting or tearing. If you are like me and you wear your “two week” contacts until they fall apart - remember you are running a risk!

Lens care is the most important feature and you should always wash your hands before removal or insertion. The lens container should be scrupulously clean and the storage/cleaning fluid should be fresh, and never use water.

Look after your lenses, change them frequently and remove them immediately if there is any irritation or redness. “See” you next week!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
I’m attracted to a food cart vendor and I’m wondering if this attraction is good for my health. Her cart is nothing out of the ordinary but her movie star good looks are. She is drop dead gorgeous and I’m mesmerized by her beauty and the delicate way she cooks. The sensuous way that she lifts and separates the noodles or squeezes the juice from the limes leaves me tingling.

The attraction may be mutual because she adds extra chillies to my food. I’m not usually a spicy food eater but I don’t want to hurt her feelings by rejecting an apparent act of generosity, so I force myself to eat it all.

I’d like to ask her for a date, but unfortunately the heat in the chillies makes me sweat profusely and my throat quickly swells to the point where I can’t talk.

Do you think that spicing up my food is her way of making advances towards me or is she just trying to boost my metabolism? Also, is there a better way of easing the ‘next morning burn’ other than sitting in a bucket of iced water?
Mighty Mouse

Dear Mighty Mouse,
Fallen in love again! That’s about the third time this month, little Mouse! You may be correct that by ladling the chillies on to your food, your food cart vendor is telling you that she’s got the hots for you. Literally. As far as the ‘afterglow’ is concerned, you’d do better to drink the ice water the night before.

Dear Hillary,
I am very confused. I met the most beautiful girl in the world the other night in a bar. She is not like the other girls I have met in bars here and I have been in Thailand for two weeks now, so I know my way around, so to speak. I have never seen anyone as gorgeous, she is tall even taller than me with long hair and a stunning figure. She can speak English but prefers to whisper in my ear rather than talking out loud in the noisy bar area. Hillary I am worried because she seems so reluctant to talk that she may have something wrong with her throat. To be perfectly frank could laryngitis be a symptom of some other disease, even AIDS perhaps? I feel I have to know before I go any further in this relationship. I would hate to find that I would have to be a nurse-maid to her or lose her to some terminal illness. Can you tell me how to check?

Check-up
Dear Check-down,
Have you stopped to think that her “ laryngitis” might be normal and nothing wrong with her voice at all? There are probably some other anatomical factors you should check before looking for “diseases.” Start by observing the size of her Adam’s apple, hands and feet before venturing further south. To be on the safe side stick to girls your own size or even smaller. And always remember that in Thailand, the best looking girls are always guys.

Dear Hillary,
I been living with good man for the past few months. He not be here too much long and not like go-go bar and go drink drink all time. He watch football but I want go dancing, but he say have football match and he stay inside to watch, not go outside for dance. He say I can go by myself, but I not want. I want him for dancing but he just want me when no football on VDO. Should I stay or go as I think he like football more than me?

Noi not football girl
Dear Noi not football girl,
That is a dangerous game you are playing. For many men, kicking balls is a religion. There is only one Arsenal, but there could be a lot of eligible young ladies like you. If you are not careful you could end up getting a red card and missing the matches all together. Hillary suggests you go dancing on nights when the Football Team is not playing or you will find yourself in the Left Right Out or Drawback positions forever. Learn to shout “Foul” at the right moments and you will get a secure seat in the supporters club.

Dear Hillary,
One of the girls in my regular bar was reading a letter from a farang and asked me to translate a couple of sections for her. It was the usual boyfriend to girlfriend letter and in it he said he was looking forward to coming back next month. When I asked her who he was, she said she didn’t remember! Hillary, why do these girls act like this? Surely they must remember, or was she just playing with me?

Jack
Dear Jack,
She wasn’t playing with you - you’re playing with you! That is their job, or didn’t you know. They are usually looking for marriage and future security material, and obviously the fond pen pal hadn’t made as much of an impression as he hoped. Mind you, he’ll probably have bought her a motorcycle, 10 Baht of gold and a three bedroom house by the time this letter is printed. These girls can also remember very quickly too.


Camera Class: Landscapes - how to take pix with impact

by Harry Flashman

Landscapes have been inspiration to painters for centuries. Photographers have developed recording their favourite places into an art form - just look at Ansel Adams’ work for example. A well done landscape is sensational.

If your landscapes are at best ‘ordinary’, this is usually the result of trying to cram too much into one photo and not choosing a subject with impact. Anyone can learn to take great landscapes. All that has to be mastered is to relax and take the time to really see through the viewfinder. The following hints will help anyone take outstanding landscapes.

The most important decision is composition, or where to put what in the photo. To learn how to see through the viewfinder and to know what to include, ask yourself these questions. 1. What is the most important subject in the scene, what do I want it to say? 2. Where should the horizon be placed? 3. Will the shot look better framed vertically or horizontally?

The horizon line is an important element in every landscape. If it cuts the picture through the middle it looks boring. Experiment with different proportions of sky, land and water. Giving one element far more emphasis results in dramatically different looks. Remember a tilted horizon is distracting so use a tripod if necessary to keep it level.

Now for the frame up. Trees, waterfalls and cliffs usually suit a vertical framing, while beach scenes, countryside and street markets are ideal for a horizontal format. Change the framing while looking through the viewfinder and select the one with the most eye appeal.

Landscape photography is not a point and shoot situation, so take your time. Good composition must be slowly and carefully considered. Just look and shift your viewpoint to rearrange elements into a more pleasing picture. Remember the rule of thirds. Place the main subject one third in from the left or right of the picture, and one third up or down.

As distinct from other pictures, landscapes have three zones - a foreground, a middle ground and a background. The best views show this with maximum depth of field. For those with manual cameras f stops of f16 or f22 will achieve the best front to back sharpness or depth of field.

Standard lenses will take great shots of standard scenes, but to bring mountains closer and ‘compact’ the scene, use a telephoto lens or put the zoom in the ‘tele’ position. For a panorama, however, choose the widest angle or turn the zoom to wide angle for best results.

There is no need to pack up and go home when the weather is less than ideal. Better pics can often be had at these times. Dull overcast days provide diffused shadowless lighting and give a great opportunity to SLR owners to try out their filters.

Graduated filters, if you possess them, will add colour to half the scene. The most useful grads are blue, green, tobacco or magenta. Used together, grad blue over the sky and green over the grass or water brightens the dullest picture. Grad tobacco or magenta can save an insipid sunset. So too can simple orange cellophane taped over the lens sparkle up an early evening shot.

It is fun to experiment with deep blue filters. Use them to change late afternoon into moonlit landscapes. The overall blue colour makes it look as though the photo were taken at night. If the sun is included it will look like the moon. For insurance, bracket the exposure by using different shutter speeds.

Try the moonlight effect this weekend with blue cellophane bought from the newsagent. Doubled and secured over the front of the lens it will give an idea of the result. If the picture appeals then rush out and splurge on a proper blue filter to use next time.

If you follow these steps you will take great landscapes! Think carefully about composition, subject, horizon and framing. If you can, use a tripod or other camera support to achieve sharpness, pack filters for a gloomy day and experiment.


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

by Dr Byte, Citec Asia

If you surf the web, chances are that your computer has been attacked by one or more programs that are collectively called spyware. Actually as a description this is now quite inadequate but more importantly, Spyware / Malware not only slows down your computer but could be tracking what you’re doing, capturing key strokes or damaging files.

There are a number of signs that indicate infection. One is a general slowing down of your computer, another is that you see a different home page or search page in your browser. Other indicators are toolbars that appear when you didn’t install them or seeing popup ads appearing at unexpected times.

Some of these changes are annoying but others can be dangerous to your PC’s health.

How does Spyware/Malware arrive?

Some spyware is delivered inside spam and other email messages as attachments in much the same way as computer viruses. Other times spyware infects your computer when you’re browsing especially if you do not have a working and up to date Firewall.

The simplest way of solving the problem is to avoid infection in the first place. Keeping software such as your browser and operating system up to date is important and if you’re not wedded to using Internet Explorer then you will find other browsers such as Firefox aren’t targeted by malicious programs in the same way as IE.

When signing up for any web service or downloading programs make sure you know exactly what you are agreeing to. Often these programs have “features” that track your web travels and may subsequently use this information to deliver targeted ads. Kazaa is a well known example of this. If you are using IE, set your security level to at least Medium by choosing Tools, Internet Options, click Security and then Internet and click Custom Level and set it to Medium.

For sites that you trust and want to accept content from that would otherwise be blocked, click Trusted Sites and add that site. If you’re told you can’t add the site because it does not offer a secure connection, disable the Require Server Verification checkbox. Now configure a lower security level for Trusted Sites than you use for other websites.

If you are very concerned about cyber intruders, set the security for the internet zone higher and plan to add sites you visit frequently and trust to run scripts, such as your bank, as Trusted sites. Don’t forget, always use a firewall when connected to the internet, particularly if your connection is an “always on” connection.

Can I kick out intruders?

To root out and remove spyware you will need software. If you don’t already have any anti-spyware, there are some good choices. I have mentioned Ad Aware (Free from http://www.lavasoftusa. com/software/adaware/) before, as well as Spy Sweeper (30 day trial version from www.webroot.com). A new one is the very good FREE Beta version of Microsoft Anti-Spyware downloadable from http://www.microsoft.co m/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx

Using one of these cleaners is a good way to identify and clean up most problems. Be aware that, like viruses, spyware is constantly being changed so the program won’t get everything but it will rid your computer of most nasties.

Start by running a full scan using the Sweep option and allow it plenty of time, up to an hour or more, to do its work. When it is done, follow the onscreen steps to learn more about what you’re infected with and how to rid your computer of the problem - it’s as easy as selecting a checkbox and clicking Remove.

If you’re left with spyware that the program can’t remove, there is more information on the web. Visit the site for the anti-spyware software you’re using to see if there are step-by-step instructions. You may also find information on competitors’ sites. As a last resort, search on Google for the name of the file causing problems to see what you can find. However, be aware that unscrupulous operators offer removal tools that actually infect your machine. So, analyse any information you find as to whether it can be trusted. If this is still too much to do it yourself, then do contact one of the reputable computer companies here in Chiang Mai for assistance.

In the next column I have some more questions and answers for you. 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 you’re 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: Financial Market

Part 1

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

The impact upon financial markets and economic activity during current account adjustments has become such a hot topic in terms of its implications to the American economy that a Fed Discussion paper has been penned by Hilary Croke, Steven B. Kamin and Sylvain Leduc.

So much has been written about prospects for U.S. current account adjustment, including the possibility of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘disorderly correction’: a sharp fall in the exchange rate that boosts interest rates, depresses stock prices, and weakens economic activity; in short a recession and a stock (and in all probability property and bond) market crash. Croke, Kamin and Leduc selected some empirical evidence to assess the likelihood of such a scenario, drawing on the experience of recent current account adjustments in various industrial economies, by comparing key economic performance indicators before, during, and after the onset of adjustment, building on the analysis of Caroline Freund some 5 years ago. Ultimately their conclusion was as follows:

“We found little evidence among past adjustment episodes of the features highlighted by the disorderly correction hypothesis. Although some episodes in our sample experienced significant shortfalls in GDP growth after the onset of adjustment, these shortfalls were not associated with significant and sustained depreciations of real exchange rates, increases in real interest rates, or declines in real stock prices. By contrast, it was among the episodes where GDP growth picked up during adjustment that the most substantial depreciations of real exchange rates occurred. These findings do not preclude the possibility that future current account adjustments could be disruptive, but they weaken the historical basis for predicting such an outcome.”

So we can all sleep again at night? Well not really - we’re pretty alarmed that the comparators that were used are just not a good fit with what’s been going on in the USA lately. In their attempts to ensure the relevance of their data the authors did attempt to exclude historical precedents that they felt had insufficient parallels.

That would have been worthwhile and might have led us to some meaningful comparisons had their overall data been sufficiently encompassing to have included at least one historical parallel (if indeed one exists) and had the excluded data been notably less relevant than the data that they retained. There are probably too many differences between the 1920s and the 1990s, the world of radio/telegraph and the world of internet, the inappropriate tax cuts of Calvin Coolidge and those of George W Bush for the ’20s and ’30s to be compared with events of 7 decades later.

However, the elements of stock and property bubbles, high leverage, massive investments in new technologies, excessively accommodating monetary and fiscal policy and, above all, the co-incidence of the same stages of the economic long term cycle suggest to us that the authors would have better spent their time including that era within their study.

So, what can we infer about the prospects for U.S. current account adjustment, and for that adjustment leading to a disorderly correction?

The exact attributes of a disorderly correction are not always fully spelled out, nor are the events believed to precipitate them. In general, a number of commentators fear sharp declines in the dollar associated with a run on U.S. bonds, property and stocks as well, which would slow U.S. and foreign growth.

“If you want to scare yourself, contemplate the following. The dollar begins to fall. That is, its value slips relative to other currencies. Foreigners with massive investments in U.S. stocks and bonds begin to sell their holdings. They fear currency losses on their American investments because a depreciated dollar would fetch less of their own money. The selling then feeds on itself. The stock market swoons. American consumer confidence withers. The recession resumes and spreads to the rest of the world through lower U.S. imports. Wham! Is this horror story likely? Probably not. Is it possible? Well, yes.” Robert Samuelson, Washington Post, May 29, 2002.

What Robert Samuelson thought was possible but not probable in 2002 looks increasingly likely in 2005:

“Up to a point, a falling currency is a blessing. After that, it’s a curse. The dollar has fallen 16% against a basket of its trading partners’ currencies over the past three years. In theory, that should, with time, make U.S.-made goods more competitive with those made abroad, boosting U.S. growth and employment. But a growing chorus warns that the U.S.’s gaping budget and trade deficits will lead to a crisis in which the dollar falls much more sharply, driving up interest rates and squeezing the economy.” Greg Ip, Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2005.

We’ve already seen that the need for current account adjustment has applied upwards pressure on interest rates (and possibly already some minor consequent decline in stock prices) to prevent the stimulus from net exports from pushing GDP much above potential. This is taking place against a backdrop of softening domestic investment and consumption. Admittedly, it is possible for that to take place in an orderly fashion. Increases in interest rates and a weakening of domestic spending have not always implied a disorderly correction. That’s essentially what the Fed research manages to establish even with their various inappropriate historic comparisons. What it doesn’t address is how the frothy US asset bubble can avoid declines in asset prices of a magnitude that would do something rather worse than merely stabilizing GDP. Even the researchers agree that there is a level of reduction in US asset values that would result in significant economic contraction.

Continued next week…

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: The No-Joking Zone (Part 1 of 2)

by Scott Jones

I’ve only been arrested once—for joking. Born with a few too many funny bones, humor is my fate. Comedy cannot end when the curtain closes. Every hour of every day, lines appear that must be delivered. Guffaws lurk in every situation and tiny audiences of one to three are waiting to split their sides. Beware ... even you could become addicted to the spontaneous quip. The thin line between humorous and obnoxious disappears and you can’t mind your manners or your mouth. Remember this story as you enter the airport area known as The No-Joking Zone.

In the early days of airline security when hijacking was often done by amateurs with a box cutter and a note from their mother, I was off-tour and on my way home. There wasn’t a metal detector at the airport in Madison, Wisconsin, just a friendly, blue-haired lady checking bags. She asked what was in my back pack. Viewing her as Today’s Comedy Challenge, I said, “Just two books and a scarf. Be careful, the scarf might explode.” She let me pass. I found my seat and started reading the book.

Shortly after a large, agitated man stormed up the aisle, scrutinizing each passenger. He stopped, looked down at me and asked with the straightest face, “You said something about an exploding scarf?” I thought for a moment, and said, “Yes, I guess I did.” “May I see it please?” he asked. I gave it to him and he handled it gingerly. (I wanted to point out a single string in the fringe that was the fuse, but I didn’t.) Me and my scarf were marched into the terminal where we were immediately surrounded by an irate group of uniformed airport managers, security officers and police.

I told them it was a joke, obviously not a very good joke, but indeed a joke. No one laughed. They grilled me relentlessly, but the incendiary question was, “Do you have any other luggage?” I glanced out the window as my plane was pulling away from the terminal and said, “Yes, it’s leaving on the plane right now.” All the blood drained from their collective faces. The Uniforms went berserk, hands flew into the air and an episode of the Keystone Cops began. “Get that plane back here! Stop the flight! Send in the bomb squad!” (I wanted to burst into a rousing chorus of “Send in the Clowns” but I didn’t.)

As the chartreuse bomb squad truck and coordinated color trailer approached the plane, my guitar and suitcases were summarily ejected. The Squad Brothers squealed out to an unused runway, unhitched the trailer and raced back to the terminal. (I wanted to ask if they had gotten “exploding cigar” confused with “exploding guitar,” but I didn’t.) The large man who had originally removed me from the plane introduced himself as Detective Cross. (I wanted to mention that Cross was a very appropriate name since he certainly was, but I didn’t.) He knew there was no bomb and viewed the chaos as if it were a fire drill. Getting into my spirit of things he said, “Around here buddy, you don’t say ‘Hi, Jack,’ you say ‘Hello, John.’”

(Read next week’s column to see if I’m still in jail or free with duct tape surgically fastened to my mouth.)