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 pushes Thai herbs onto global market

They may look small and insignificant, but Thai herbs could be the next big earner if plans unveiled recently by the Ministry of Public Health bear fruit.

With a declared mission to jump on the global bandwagon of alternative medical treatment, Deputy Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told manufacturers of herbal medicine gathering in Bangkok for a conference that Thailand ranked as one of the top sources of herbs in the world.

Speaking of the urgent need for research and development to take advantage of the global popularity of herbal medicine, he noted that the export of herbal medicines, cosmetics and food supplements could help provide financial compensation for imports of modern drugs.

The ministry has already placed some herbal medicines on its national drugs list, including turmeric, cassia, Andrographis paniculata, Clinacanthus nutans and others.

In 2002, Thai herbs earns the nation around 40 billion baht in 2002, and this year the Ministry of Public Health plans to develop the manufacturing and processing of Thai herbs for export, under wider plans to transform the nation into a regional medical hub.

The 12 herbs which the ministry is focusing on have stimulant, anti-ageing or slimming properties, and were named by the deputy health minister as turmeric, Androgrphis paniculata, Pueraria Mirifica, Morus alba, Kaempferia parviflora, Hibiscus sabdariffa, Cassia alata, Zingiber purpureum, Centella asiatica, black pepper, Garcinia atroviridis and Stevia.

The ministry hopes to earn annual sums of 11 billion baht from the domestic sale of the herbs and Bt32 billion from exports.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently encouraging the manufacturers of herbal medicines to comply with internationally-recognized good manufacturing principles (TNA)

The Doctor's Consultation: Monitoring your own BP - without fears or tears

by Dr. Iain Corness

Blood pressure is something we all have. If you haven’t got Blood Pressure, then you are dead because your heart (the pump) has stopped pumping.

While we all have Blood Pressure (BP), high blood pressure (hypertension) is not what we want, as it can lead to many medical emergencies and strokes. Hypertension is life threatening. Normal tension is not.

Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood inside an artery. We get this number by putting pressure around the arm with an inflatable cuff until the artery is squashed flat, then slowly lower the cuff pressure and when we hear the blood squirting through again, that is the peak pressure, called the systolic. The actual units of measurement are called millimeters of mercury, and come from the old sphygmomanometers (BP recorders) that measured pressure with a column of mercury.

However, there is another pressure we measure, and this is the resting (or ambient) pressure, called the diastolic. With today’s automated home blood pressure recorders the screen will indicate this one too. This is the lower of the two readings and BP is expressed as systolic over diastolic, and is shown, say for example, 140/90.

High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer,” because it usually has no obvious symptoms and most people cannot tell if their own blood pressure is high unless it is measured. Home blood pressure monitors make it easy for you to measure your BP.

Electronic battery-operated monitors use a microphone to detect blood pulsing in the artery instead of having to listen with a stethoscope. The cuff, which is attached to your upper arm, is connected to an electronic monitor that automatically inflates and deflates the cuff when you press the start button. First you place your upper arm inside the cuff. Then press the start button on the monitor and wait for the reading to be displayed. The monitor also records your pulse as well as your blood pressure. While these electronic devices are by far the easiest to use, they are also the most expensive, but can be an invaluable tool in self-monitoring.

There are a few rules, or guides, to getting reproducible results from home monitoring. You should not have just eaten or used any tobacco products. Do not take medications known to raise BP (such as certain nasal decongestant sprays), or do strenuous exercise before taking your BP readings. Avoid taking your blood pressure if you are nervous or upset. Rest at least 15 minutes before taking a reading.

Other important factors are that BP is higher in the mornings and lower at night, so take your recordings at the same time of day. There can also be differences between your two arms, so use the same one each time too.

The very rough guide as to “normal” and “high” BP is as follows. If your BP is less than 140/90 then it is most likely of no problem. If however, either the systolic or diastolic is over 140/90, then this ‘may’ indicate a problem.

The other very important factor to remember is that one BP reading does not mean that your BP is always at that level. That goes for the so-called normal, or even the hypertensive readings.

In the initial stages, take three readings a day, then drop it back to daily. Record the readings each time, and if consistently up, see your doctor. By the way, if you are already on blood pressure medication, let your doctor adjust the dosage - not you!

Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
What do you do about house guests that keep on arriving from the old country (the UK)? I’ve had five sets this year and it looks like there are more coming for Xmas. If I had nothing else to do other than entertain old friends then it would be fine, but I have work I have to do as well as commitments with charity organizations that I don’t want to let down. I don’t want to give old friends the cold shoulder, but I’m at my wits end, honestly! What should I do?
Bed & Breakfast Barbie

Dear B&B Barbie,
You have already answered your own problem, my Petal. Your friends are really just looking for B&B, so point them at one closest to you, so that they can come round some evenings for dinner and a chin-wag. Accommodation is so cheap in Thailand that your friends won’t mind at all. For 500 baht a night they will have somewhere that’s clean, air-conditioned and secure. That’s about six pounds a night. Travellers can afford that. Go ahead and welcome them all, but just book them into a real B&B.
Dear Hillary,
What do you do about your husband drinking too much? He has a drink after work every day, drinks with dinner and then drinks after dinner at home, or goes down the pub with his mates. This is surely too much? He is not violent or anything, but I just worry that he can’t be doing himself much good with all this drinking. Please don’t suggest I go drinking with him as I do not drink. In fact I think it’s quite horrid, though I know you like the bubbly!
TT Wife

Dear TT Wife,
If you are so sure he is doing himself a mischief, then why don’t you get him to go for a check-up? If the doctor says he’s OK, then be guided by that. If the doctor says he’s not OK, then he has to be guided by that. Wisdom of Solomon really. I think I’ll have a glass of fizzwater to celebrate!
Dear Hillary,
My girlfriend does drive, but hasn’t got a license, so I have been trying to teach her to drive properly, but there are many problems. The first is that my Thai is minimal and her English not much better, so technical terms like “let the clutch out slowly” are impossible to get across. The second problem is that my pick-up is very large and she has problems estimating the sheer size of the vehicle. The third snag is that she seems to have very little of what I’d call “road sense”. Do you know of any places I could send her to learn to drive, Hillary?

Dear John,
Always a perennial problem. In Thailand most people get their license first and learn to drive later. How this happens, I am not sure, but just take it as read that it does! I have never been successful at teaching people to drive, so I know the problems. There is also an even greater problem in that your insurance is null and void if you have an accident with an unlicensed driver at the wheel. It’s all too difficult, Petal. Keep looking for a Thai driving school. There is always one in most cities. Best of luck!
Dear Hillary,
My husband is a member of an international club here in Thailand and is talking about having an exchange student stay with us for a couple of months later this year. When he spoke about this a few months ago I agreed, even though we only have a two bedroom apartment. Now I find that he is arranging to have a young woman from America come over for work experience and she is to stay for three months as well. This is unsettling for me. This is the first time I have lived overseas, though my husband has been an expatriate most of his life. Is this normal in this country, or is there something wrong about all this? I don’t want to be alarmist or appear mean, I’m just not sure of what happens in these cases. Can you help, Hillary?

Dear Worried,
What do you want Hillary to do, my Petal? Do you want me to take the exchange student in, or what? You also don’t mention what you get in exchange. Perhaps if it’s for an unlimited supply of champagne and chocolates I might even be interested. You are worrying over nothing. Exchange students are selected as being good representatives of their own countries, and as the hosts in the host country, your husband (and you) have also been chosen as being upstanding people in the community. If you have a teenage daughter, or have friends with one, this will also make your life easier. You don’t have to ‘mother hen’ the young woman. They are sent over here to experience our culture, as part of their own growing up. It is a great idea, and you should be very happy to be involved. Just stop fretting!

Camera Class: Medium Format - is it worth it?

by Harry Flashman

For all of my pro photographer life I had medium format cameras as part of the equipment I used. There was no getting away from the fact that to show an art director a 6 cm x 6 cm transparency on the light box was much more impressive than squinting at a 35 mm slide. Mind you, when you dropped a 5 inch by 4 inch transparency down beside them, it looked more impressive again.

So if bigger is better, or size matters or suchlike, why not use 5x4 all the time? Size of the camera and ease of use covers all that. While I have taken a 5x4 on location, it practically required a team of native bearers to carry it, the film holders and light-proof bags and the tripod and compendium. No, 5x4 is wonderful in the studio and impractical in the wild (unless your name is Ansel Adams and you are prepared to wait days to get the clouds in the right place).

Having decided that medium format was going to be needed and that it was much more practical than 5x4, it was necessary to see what was on the market and how did I find them in use. Fortunately, since there was quite a nest of photographers in the area it was possible for me to try out various models before taking the plunge myself.

The first was the Pentax 6x7. I was initially attracted to the fact that it was like a larger 35 mm camera. A full range of lenses were available from fish-eye to 1000 mm telephoto. I was sure it was going to be ‘my’ camera - till I used it! The sheer physical size of the thing made it unwieldy. 184 mm wide, 149 mm high and 156 mm deep (and that is the body only). And what did it weigh? A whopping 2.4 kg, that’s what. Then there was the delay between depressing the shutter and the horrible ‘thunk’ inside as it all happened, the shutter shuddered and the mirror clanked its way out of the way! No, it wasn’t a Pentax 6x7.

I then tried the Mamiya RB 67 Pro-S. This is not like a 35 mm camera, but rather like a large box with a film holder on the back and a viewing screen on the top. Difficult to get used to initially, but it certainly took sharp photos, but the interlocks eventually wore me down. To take verticals or horizontals with this 6x7 camera you had to flick levers and turn backing plates - it was all too fiddly, though there are pro photographers out there who swear by their Mamiyas.

However, the medium format camera that everyone spoke about in hushed tones were the Hasselblads. These had the largest system with four cameras, over 20 lenses and interchangeable backs, including Polaroid. You can practically photograph anything with a Hasselblad, and even though it is medium format, even the motor-driven ones are not as heavy as the Pentax. While there is a waist level view finder, most photographers opt for the metering prism viewfinder which was so accurate you could almost dispense with light meters. It really was the case of a quick adjustment, trial with Polaroid, and if it was OK, blast away.

I have to admit I loved my ‘Blads, but as the years rolled on and 35 mm film became even sharper, the need for medium format became less. Even the art directors began to see that unless you wanted to blow the image up to the size of the side of a house, 35 mm was quite satisfactory.

But there was still a great satisfaction to be had from using the 6x6 camera and looking at the gorgeous transparencies. Unfortunately, except for some very specific reasons, medium format has been superseded and now with the digital revolution will soon be museum pieces. However, if you ever do see a medium format camera going for sensible money, do get it and try it. You will get a satisfaction from your photography that is hard to beat, especially compared to today’s auto-everything electronic marvels.

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

by Dr Byte, Citec Asia

It might be only one letter, but the difference between spim and spam is more than most of us will care for. Unlike spam, which targets email, spim invades instant messaging systems such as Yahoo! Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger with annoying pop-ups and immediate user interruptions.

Analysts say spim’s format is more invasive because it automatically pops up on screen. Because spammers often come through users’ address books, it is also a more aggressive form of marketing - and harder to prevent. According to Electric News, spam emails might target 10,000 users in order to get five responses. Spim may be able to generate the same interest with only 10 or 15 messages and this is why spim has become so popular among marketers. They have realised spam emails no longer have the same impact they would have had a few years ago.

Spim also works as a low-maintenance method of sending messages. Once the program is written, all spimmers have to do is wait and see if anyone answers them. According to the Radicati Group, about 70 percent of spim messages direct users to pornographic websites and around 12 percent are finance and “get-rich-quick” plans. Consumer products for sale make up about 9 percent and loans or finance messages about 5 percent.

In the recent “Osama found” adware campaign, innocent users were tricked into links from what were supposed to be people in their contact book. Another spim ploy used the Bizex worm to direct users to a website which stole financial information from their terminals. Systems such as Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger are worried and new software has been developed to fight it. Akonix, FaceTime Communications and IMlogic have created management systems that can detect and prevent spim. Better still, Yahoo! is taking the issue seriously. It is monitoring IM users and checking for anyone sending a high amount of messages. Yahoo! is even suspending user IDs from suspect IM-users.

Now for some more reader questions.

Randall of Sai Lom Joi asks: “Can you tell me if there is some way for Outlook Express to display incoming emails as text, even if the messages are sent to me with fancy formatting?”

Answer: Yes, there is. Go to the Tools menu, then Options. Click the Read tab and tick the box marked ‘Read all messages in plain text’.

John of Huay Keow Road asks: “I am trying to encourage a retired friend to have fun with the computer. He’s mastered playing games but now I’d like to get him into email. His pension does not allow for a fixed monthly subscription. Is there free or pay-by-time internet access?”

Answer: Web-based email services such as those offered by MyOwnEmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and many others are free. All your friend needs is internet access and to decided what address he wants to use. I do recommend MyOwnEmail which allows you to set up an account with more than 200 choices of address.

Brian of Chiang Mai Gate asks: I had my Outlook Express upgraded to Outlook Express 6. Now every time I start up, the “dial up connection” screen appears and it seems to lock up everything.

Answer: It’s a fair bet you are using Windows XP. Snags can happen when autodial is turned on and there’s a program somewhere on your system trying to get online for some reason (possibly to check for information or updates). I suggest opening Internet Explorer and click on Tools (in the menu bar) and then click on Internet Options. Then Click on the Connections Tab and deselect Always dial my default connection / Dial whenever a network connection is not present. Make sure Never dial a connection is checked and then save the changes and close IE6. Then go to Outlook Express and click on Tools > Options and then click on the Send Tab. De-select Send messages immediately. This will now allow you to start Outlook Express and not connect until you are ready to.

If you feel up to it, Microsoft support article 316530 explains several methods for changing this XP behaviour. Kelly’s Korner (Search in Google) also has a page on modem issues and registry tweaks that can modify XP’s odd habits.

In the next column I have a few more Questions and Answers to share with 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 3

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

Increases in interest rates and declines in stock prices would undoubtedly reduce domestic demand further at this critical time. Also, as the authors admit, “Large declines in the dollar and sharp movements in other asset prices could damage balance sheets positions in ways that might also restrain spending. Finally, such financial market developments might erode business and consumer confidence.”

They manage to brush this aside by simply looking at the their data sample and concluding, “However, these contractionary effects likely would be substantially (and perhaps more than fully) offset by the positive effect on net exports of dollar depreciation.”

We’ve already said that none of the other economies had the same debt burden, the same asset bubble, the same trade imbalances, a current account imbalance of this proportion but perhaps the biggest flaw is the thinking that a currency devaluation could lead to a huge take-up in US exports.

US growth and consumption rates have been totally exceptional in relation to the other global economies over the last few years. The other growth stories around the world have been largely on the back of the US economic success story. There is nowhere to be seen an obvious consumption market for US exports on the scale that would be necessary to address a deficit of this size. On top of that, the effect of a U.S. recession would be devastating for China, the Asian Tigers, Latin America, Canada, India as well as Europe too.

MBMG has strong opinions on how things will pan out, but like everyone else we’re only really guessing. Unlike the researchers, we admit that we’ve never been here before, and we recognise that none of the quoted data has even the most passing resemblance to where we now find ourselves.

In fairness they don’t claim to be assessing the likelihood of disruption – “The authors intent is not to formally test the disorderly correction hypothesis - that hypothesis does not specify the source of the shocks that induce adjustment, nor the causal chain leading from those shocks to key financial and economic variables, with sufficient clarity to allow such a test. Rather, our intent is merely to assess whether an important number of past external adjustment episodes in industrialized economies evidenced features similar to those described by the disorderly correction scenario.”

But then why bother to undertake the study at all if no valid comparative data is available. Why write a research paper studying in great detail a data set of 23 totally distinct, different, inappropriate and inadmissible episodes of current account adjustment in response to fears about the effects of current account adjustments in the USA?

Why identify what factors caused the seven episodes of greatest economic expansion and greatest economic contraction within this data set if, fundamentally, not one of the episodes stands up as directly comparable evidence. Why exclude the emerging market data because of the criteria of foreign currency debt (which also applies to many developed country examples within the survey), when we would argue that great parallels could be drawn from the experience of many developing economies in the past decade?

For example, Mexico in 1995, the Asian countries in 1997-98 and, most recently, Argentina. After 2001 all point to an association between current account adjustment and contractions in GDP, especially when a currency crisis accompanies the current account reversal.

Ultimately we don’t believe that the experience of these developing economies would be a good road map. We don’t dispute that they are more reliant on foreign currency denominated debt than industrial economies and therefore, they suffer greater balance-sheet deterioration in the face of the currency declines associated with adjustment.

But there are very many similarities in terms of the extent of leveraging, asset bubbles, growth rate discrepancies and economic imbalances which would merit a detailed study.

Undoubtedly the detail in which the authors have analysed the economic and financial indicators across 23 episodes and across the expansion and contraction episodes in particular is an impressive work of scholarship. Impressive but sadly and, ultimately, irrelevant.

Detailed over are the 23 episodes – I just don’t see any relevant structural similarities between where the US is at in 2005 and where the US was in 1987, where Canada was 1981 to 1993 or the UK in 1989 or Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Finland, Ireland, Greece have even been.

If history has any precedent for where we might be heading, I don’t think that the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System International Finance Discussion Paper Number 827 takes us any close to finding it. Please contact us if you would like a copy of the above paper.

Sweden 1992 Ireland 1981
Sweden 1982 Greece 1985
Canada 1993 Italy 1981
Spain 1981 Belgium 1980
Italy 1992 Greece 1990
US 1987 Denmark 1986
France 1982 Portugal 1982
Finland 1991 New Zealand 1984
Austria 1980 Australia 1989
Canada 1981 Norway 1986
Austria 1999 UK 1989
Spain 1991

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: Golf is a four-letter word

by Scott Jones

Golf spelled backwards is flog. Flog: to beat a person or animal with a stick or whip, i.e. “He was publicly flogged and humiliated.” Golf: to beat your self up with a stick or balls, i.e. “I publicly golfed and humiliated myself.”

Some people have low golf “handicaps” which I’ve never really understood. I’m just genetically and terminally handicapped. Invalid. Why don’t I follow the insightful words of Mark Twain? “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”

Golf was invented by psychiatrist Dr. Bogie Parbirdieagle, the head of a mental sanatorium in Scotland, as a punishment for unruly inmates. They were forced to wear funny clothes and hit stones with sticks into gopher holes. It was hot, pointless and took all day, but the crazy patients couldn’t get enough. These are the direct descendents of all golfers today. Dr. Bogie turned his hospital into a golf club and focused his psychology skills on marketing bizarre clubs and balls at exorbitant rates to insane people he convinced that expensive new equipment would actually improve their game.

After a three year hiatus, I’m back at it for uncontrollable hereditary reasons, torturing me and the course. At 6:30, which I had forgotten was a time in the morning as well, our five some was in high spirits. Warren Peace was enthralled to be with at least one person older than him. Mango Joe happily represented the Middle Ages, I qualified as Second Youngest and Baby Dave just gurgled contentedly after a large breakfast of Chang beer. Elder Gem Jim, who last year was 64 but now thinks he’s 50, arrived in a time machine selling pills that either reduce your age or your memory.

It went downhill from there. Mr. Manager with his Little Book of Pathetic Rules wouldn’t let me wear my sandals. (There are few shoes I can wear since a motorcycle accident changed my foot into a leather sack of loosely-attached bones.) He didn’t want to lose face and we wanted to rearrange his. Livid, I rented a huge pair of excrement brown golf shoes a little larger than two kayaks and paddled to the men’s tee. My first drive almost made it to the ladies tee. Most of my balls were sand or water magnets, making it very clear I should be at the beach, not on the course. The various numbers on the clubs determined how large a divot I dug out of the ground. When I left, the sign that said PLEASE REPLACE THE TURF should have said PLEASE RETURF THE PLACE. I actually did get four pars but then there were the 8s, the 11s, the blank score when I gave up on one hole, and a 43. I may have set a new course record on the wrong end of the list.

Afterwards we drank several hundred beers at the clubhouse while discussing golf tips. Gem Jim said, “Forget about the ball and concentrate on your swing.” Mango Joe said something about imagining Velcro on the club and your ball will stick to it. Right. Before Mango got to that lesson his pro had said, “This next guy will believe anything! Watch me lay the Velcro story on him.” Low-scorer Baby Dave had already demonstrated his astute advice by drinking an entire beer on every hole. I’ll take the tip from Warren Peace: “My instructor said I should take a break for a couple weeks and then just give up the game altogether.”