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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: Taking action on HIV/AIDS

Owen Elias

The new HIV/AIDS Action Centre will be opening its doors for the first time on July 12 at Health and Development Networks.

The Action Centre is intended to provide a focal point, resource centre and meeting place to improve communication on HIV/AIDS and other related issues.

Incorporating a library and meeting space and providing access to information on HIV/AIDS, counselling and testing, local NGOs and community events, the Action Centre is there for anyone who wants to research, network, share ideas, volunteer or seek advice.

Health and Development Networks, 22-22/1, Soi 1, Ratchaphakhinai Rd, Chiang Mai (near Chiang Peuak Gate), open Mon–Fri 10 a.m.-12 noon and 2-4 p.m. telephone 053 418 438 or email: [email protected]


The Doctor's Consultation: Can check-ups save your life?

by Dr. Iain Corness

Can check-ups save your life? This is actually far more complicated than it seems on an initial glance. The answer being that yes indeed, check-ups can save your life, but on the other hand, regular check-ups do not guarantee that you are going to live forever! Regardless of all the advances in modern medicine, the death rate will always be the same - one per person!

What prompted me to write about this subject was the situation one of my acquaintances found himself in last month. This chap has been having regular annual check-ups for some years, and everything was going along fine. Till this year! This examination turned up an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, which we medico’s abbreviate as an AAA, but it is nothing to do with your credit rating!

Now an AAA is a swelling of the main artery running from the heart down into the abdomen. They can be slow growing, the dilation taking many years - or they can be fast and catastrophic. Catastrophic, because if one bursts, you have no chance. You will be dead before you get to ER, as your heart happily pumps the life-sustaining red fluid into your abdom U.N. chief says AIDS epidemic is accelerating on every continent and calls for more moneyinal cavity.

AAA is a relatively common finding in people over the age of 50, and when we find one the immediate concern is whether this is something that has been there for years, or is this something that has just happened and is a veritable hand-grenade in your belly, waiting for the pin to be pulled!

So now you can see one advantage of the annual check-up. With my friend, it was not evident 12 months before, but was now fairly large. Answer to the question was not to hang around and watch and see how quickly it grows - we knew that already! The answer was to open him up, remove the dilated aortic section, replacing it with high quality medical-grade garden hose, and he was fine. And should be fine for the rest of his days, but he will continue to have annual check-ups, having been given a ‘reprieve’ this time. Money well spent, too, I might add.

There are many other life threatening conditions that can be turned up in an annual check-up, and many factors measured that can influence the course of life threatening diseases. Blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels being obvious markers that can herald diseases that can be just around the corner, both diabetes and coronary artery disease. Again, the rate of progression can be measured and it is the annual comparison that makes these regular check-ups such a good idea, from the point of view of preventive medicine. Taken today, the blood sugar may be “normal”, but if it has been steadily going up within that “normal” range for the past few years, you can almost pin-point the time when the level will be outside of the normal range. The same goes for cholesterol and other factors such as PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) for the men over 40 years. While PSA is not the be all and end all of the prostatic cancer story, the rate of progression of PSA levels is a very useful indicator. So again you need more than one estimation - you need a series.

Even simple tests such as blood pressure and weight become more significant and predictive when you can compare today’s results with ones taken 12, 24 and 36 months ago.

Yes, I do believe in regular check-ups, and before you ask, yes, I do have an annual check-up myself! (Occasionally I practice what I preach!)


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
I regularly take an early morning stroll along Beach Road and have become fascinated by a female street cleaner. She has the most sparkling eyes I have ever seen. They are dark brown and reflect the first rays of morning light. When she looks at me, she flutters her long, curly lashes in a provocative manner. Unfortunately her eyes are all I can see, as her face is completely covered by a veil protecting her from the dust and the elements. I’ve tried talking with her but she apparently doesn’t speak English. In stead she hums the old Beatles song, ‘Love Me Do,’ as she swishes her broom around me. Are her mannerisms indicative of a female trying to sweep me off my feet and how can I entice her to reveal herself?
Mighty Mouse

Dear Mighty Mouse,
How the ‘mighty’ hath fallen - now we’re infatuated with street cleaners! When will this ever end? Or where? My poor little Mouse, since when have you been combing the lovelorn streets at first light? That’s around six in the morning, my Petal. Mornings don’t have a six o’clock unless you’re coming home late. No wonder you’ve fallen for the lady with the birch broom after fruitlessly traipsing the streets all night. However, on second thoughts, are you a masochist, looking for a right proper birching? (Always keep in mind the difference between sadists and masochists. The easy way to remember is that a sadist is someone who is nice to a masochist.) As far as revealing herself to you, have you tried 500 baht? The old ‘purple persuaders’ never fail. But, I say again, little Mouse, you should be happily tucked up in your mouse hole when the first rays of morning light strike the accumulated rubbish in the gutters.
Dear Hillary,
I was shocked to see that that Michael Jackson person was let off in America. How could this be? Our group were quite sure that justice would be served. Anybody who has been following the case from the beginning could see that he should have gone down for a long stretch. What do you feel about this, Hillary?
Janet

Dear Janet,
Your last name certainly wasn’t Jackson, was it, Petal. Honestly, Hillary does not want to get into this case, or any others, about which I know nothing other than what comes out of pulp media and that dreadfully biased American TV “news” reporting. Quite frankly, I know of nobody who has been following the case from the beginning. None of my friends were that interested - they had their own lives to lead. The case was tried under the American judicial system and the 12 tried and true jurors found him innocent. End of story, and let’s get on with our lives. Your group interests me, though. Do you all wear funny pointed hats and bed sheets?
Dear Hillary,
My husband and I are both getting on and are forced to use reading glasses. This would be fine if we both used the same strength - we could share, but this cannot happen because of two reasons. The first is that my husband needs weaker ones than me, so he can use mine, but I cannot use his. Second is the fact that he is a most forgetful man and loses his all the time. I carefully look after mine, to find that he has lost his, taken mine and lost them as well! This is driving me quietly batty. What do you suggest Hillary?
Myopic Minnie

Dear Minnie,
The answer is easy. Wear your glasses around your neck at all times and refuse to let him borrow them. If you are in a restaurant then still don’t pass over your spectacles either, but order for him - of course it will be something he doesn’t particularly like, won’t it! Eventually he must get the hint. Anyone who keeps on losing things is either doing it deliberately to annoy or is truly dopey. You work out which one it is.
Dear Hillary,
On Thai beaches there appears to be some sort of discrimination or secret code. The beach concessionaires arrange the chairs in long rows at the front closest to the sea which are taken up by foreigners, while they arrange the chairs in squares, with the seats facing each other for the Thai’s. Is this a deliberate thing or what? I know you will know the answer, Hillary, you seem to know the answer to everything else.
Ellen

Dear Ellen,
Thank you for the vote of confidence, though I must say, my little friend Mighty Mouse is worrying me these days! We’ve had this query before, but it is simple to answer. The farang holidaymakers go to the beach to lie in the sun and try to get brown, so that when they go back to their home countries their friends all say, “Haven’t you got a lovely tan!” You will therefore find them lying, covered in oil and slowly broiling on all sides. The Thais, by comparison, go to the beach to have fun and chat with their friends and stay out of the sun as much as possible, so they don’t get a tan! You will have noticed that the deck chairs in square formation are grouped around a table and underneath beach umbrellas. So it’s different strokes for different folks, I guess.


Camera Class: Become a composer for maximum effect

by Harry Flashman

What is it that makes some photographs stand out from others? Why are some portraits so powerful visually, and others merely snaps of people? Even photographs of the same seashore or mountain range landscape can be eye-catching or dull. What is the secret? What is the difference?

It certainly is not a technical reason relating to exposure values. With the increasing sophistication of today’s automatic cameras the vast majority of photographs are properly exposed. The new film stock materials are also such that the colour renditions are very satisfactory these days. Auto-focus will keep the subject sharp, so it is not the fuzzy photo problem either. So what then differentiates a “good” photo from a “bad” or “ordinary” one?

An excellent composition by Ernie Kuehnelt

The simple answer is our old friend “composition”. Put another way, understanding photographic composition is the key to getting great photographs. Now the so-called ‘photographers eye’ is something that you may or may not be blessed with, but there are some easy hints which will improve the composition of your shots and the final effect of any of your photographs.

The first rule of composition is to “Look for a Different viewpoint”. While the standard, “Put the Subject in the Middle of the Viewfinder” idea will at least ensure that you do get a picture of the subject, it will also ensure that your photographs will most likely be dull and boring!

In attempting to get that different viewpoint also try to take some shots not from the standard eye-level position. Squat down, lie down, stand in the back of a pick-up, climb a ladder - anything! Just don’t get stuck with standard eye-level views. If nothing else, take two shots, one in the “usual” horizontal format and the second one in a vertical (portrait) format. That’s at least a start!

The next way to add interest to your photographs is to take the subject out of the geometric centre of the frame. Be brave and place the subject one third in from either edge of the viewfinder. Just by placing your subject off-centre immediately drags your shot out of the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats call this the “Rule of Thirds”, but you don’t need to know the name for it - just try putting the subjects off-centre. Some of the latest cameras, such as the Nikon D2X reviewed a couple of weeks back, even electronically monitors for placement one third in.

While still on the Rule of Thirds, don’t have the horizon slap bang in the centre of the picture either. Put it one third from the top or one third from the bottom. As a very rough rule of thumb, if the sky is interesting put more of it in the picture, but if it is featureless blue or Bangkok grey include less of it. Simple!

Now what else can you do to improve those shots of yours? One good little trick is to include some details in the foreground of a shot to lead your eye towards the main subject. Look for lines, roads, telephone wires, fences etc with strong lines to include in the shot. Arrange the picture so that the lines “point” towards your main subject. Even without lines, a few foreground details also help add interest to any photograph.

One foreground detail to always look for is the possibility of producing a “frame” around the main subject. We call this the “Frame within a Frame” technique. It is a very successful way to convert an ordinary shot into one with a lot of visual appeal. And this is indeed a successful ploy in photo competitions. You will see the technique used over and over, and yet it does not lose its appeal.

Perhaps the last tip in making your shots more interesting is to include people in them where possible. That shot of sweeping rolling hills always looks better if you can put some human interest into it as well. A girl on a horse, a couple on a seat or a jogger all help to elevate a landscape above the hum-drum. Always look to add the human element as it gives relative size, if nothing else.


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

by Dr Byte, Citec Asia

I am often asked for an opinion about Google and the many little add-ons they provide. Accepting that Google’s interest in all this is to drive you to Google rather than the competition, they actually do provide some useful tools.

George runs an internet cafe not far from Chanklan Road and he asked me about the free Google tool bar that can integrate with his browser. When you’re looking for something specific on the web, having an assistant (especially a Google assistant) to help your research can be really handy. But there are plenty of other browser add-ins you can use and two of the most useful are the Google toolbar and GuruNet. They work in different ways but both improve your surfing experience and the quality of results.

Google it

The Google toolbar helps when surfing by offering a way to perform a Google search without having to visit Google first, thus saving an entire step. The toolbar includes a Browse By Name option allowing you to type a name in the Internet Explorer address bar and letting it find the appropriate site for you. The tool bar now also features a spell check, word translator and for lucky US users, a street auto link tool.

This tool is useful when the site you’re looking for doesn’t have an obvious web address. When a good match isn’t found, Google shows a search results page with a list of possible matches. To enable this, from the Google toolbar, choose Options and check the Enable Browse By Name in your browser’s address bar checkbox.

Using the Google toolbar, you can search for websites as well as images on the web, Google Groups (newsgroups) and Froogle, its new shopping site. It also has a handy pop-up blocker which stops most of them and lets you easily view those that you want to see.

Form filler

Google will, if you choose to do so, store your personal data for faster form completion.

Type your data into its AutoFill tab (click Options, AutoFill), and when a form appears for which Google has your details, it will colour the form fields yellow to indicate that it can automatically complete them from the data it has stored about you.

Click the AutoFill button to complete the form with this data. You will find this tool saves time when completing online forms.

Perhaps the nicest part of Google toolbar involves searching. Type words describing what you’re looking for in the search area and click Search Web. When you find and open a site that matches your search, the words you queried appear as hotlinks in the toolbar. Click any one of them to jump to the first instance of that word on the page. This feature saves you from having to use Edit, Find to locate the data manually. You can also click to have search terms highlighted on the page, if you prefer.

Personal Gurus

GuruNet has been around for years and was previously known as Atomica. It operates in a number of ways either as a browser toolbar or a small application in your taskbar into which you can type a word or topic.

GuruNet’s strength is in providing resource material and information on your desktop so you don’t always have to go out looking for it. For students and anyone who enjoys researching topics and who has an “always on” internet connection, it’s an excellent tool.

The GuruNet browser toolbar looks very much like Google’s and has a search area, a pop-up blocker and a translation button for translating pages. Use the taskbar tool to access a dictionary definition of a word as well as encyclopaedia references and websites containing information about the topic. It’s like having a small collection of reference material on your desktop instantly accessible.

If you’re working on a project, for example a document in Word, Alt + Click on a word and GuruNet will pop up automatically with information or a definition of the word, depending on what it relates to. Of course, you must be connected to the web for all this to happen as the resource material you are accessing is on the web and not your computer. You can also work from the GuruNet window and type the text you’re interested in.

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: Property

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

Could 2005 be the year that Anglo Saxon economies finally see their property markets come under strain and actually realise negative returns for the year?

Well, if ABN AMRO and many others are to be believed this could be very well be the year. In the UK house prices fell continuously in the last six months of 2004. The excess supply of properties on the market has yet again increased. In November 2004 every county except Cheshire reported falls in the price of housing. The following makes for bleak forecasting:

* Mortgage approvals in the UK have fallen 40% from their peak and survey data suggests house price are falling rapidly (the UK mortgage approvals graph illustrates this all to well).

* First time homeowners have all but disappeared from the UK property market. Their share of new purchases has fallen from long run average of 50% to 30%.

* The long-run house-price to earnings ratio in the UK is 4. It was bad enough getting a 5ฝ-times earnings mortgage in the late 1980s when average earnings growth was running in double digits. After 8 years, incomes would double, making it easier to pay back debt.

* But it is disastrous to get a current 6ฝ-times earnings mortgage now when earnings growth is around 4ฝ% pa (so it takes 16 years for incomes to double). How are today’s first-time buyers ever going to repay their debts?

* On top of all of this, interest rates have moved up in the UK, so servicing the debt has become more difficult.

* It has also discouraged the buy-to-let investors, as their rental yields have fallen at the same time that mortgage rates have increased. According to ABN AMRO, there is now a negative carry of around 2.5% for buy-to-let investors.

* In the US, the property market does not look much better.

* But they are of the view that until the Fed gets more aggressive on rate hikes, the property bubble will only get bigger.

* Factors that worry them about the US market are the very high vacancy rates and the relative rating of house prices to average disposable income. (See US bubble trouble graph)

US house prices were up by an average of 9% in 2004. Sales of existing homes have set an all time high over the last 12 months. Some people on Wall Street remain bullish on property. In truth though, the only ones insisting that there is no ‘bubble’ is those who are involved in the construction industry and those who want to sell their houses at vastly inflated prices. The real question is not if but when the bubble will burst.

As regular readers of this column will know, we believe that everything is cyclical - nothing keeps going up or down forever. The property market has had its run and now it is time for something else. An interesting article appeared recently in the Daily Business Review which is a local paper in Miami. It cites the case of the Chief Operating Office of a local company selling nearly 100,000 shares in Lennar commom. He made about USD5 million. Now, insiders may have all kinds of good reasons of reselling but, as we have said before, anticipation that the stock is going to go up is not one of them.

The Gold Rush mentality has many economists concerned. Some are even liking it to the dot.com frenzy of a few years ago - especially as people are paying for property that has not even been built yet and they are just buying from floor plans and maps on a website. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Realtors (real estate agents) forget to mention what has happened before - sorry it is time for another cyclical history lesson here. In New York median sales prices peaked at USD375,000 in 1987 before plunging 45% to a low of USD205,000 in 1995. Median prices did not climb back up to their 1980’s prices again until 2000. In the North-east, the National Association of Realtors said that median sales prices fell by 11% from 1988 to 1989 and did not return to 1988 levels until 2001.

The biggest threat to the housing boom will be a sharp increase in mortgage rates. “That will quickly knock the wind out of these housing markets and the psychology will reverse as quickly as it appeared,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Economy.com

Interestingly enough, these brokers are not as concerned about property in Euroland, largely because they do not see the ECB raising rates any time soon.

Yes, property has appreciated aggressively in some parts of Europe, but as they point out, valuation per se is not enough of a trigger to lead to a collapse in prices.

The other point to note about property in Euroland is that even if prices were to come off the boil, the impact on consumer spending would not be too disastrous. This is as a result of the fact that it is far harder for consumers to release proceeds from their mortgages, relative to those in the US and the UK.

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: Have you seen my glasses?

by Scott Jones

My optician loves me. Every couple months I visit wearing my severely scratched, backup, geek glasses, smile meekly, order a new pair and give her my credit card. Smart people get cheap disposable contacts, but I get expensive disposable glasses which are either self-mutilated in a chair or on the floor or mysteriously squirt out of the known universe. It’s hard to find your glasses when you don’t have them on to find them with.

Are you sure I need all these for one prescription?

I’ve worn glasses since I was about 9. I suspect my parents didn’t buy them earlier because of the amusement they got watching me walk into walls or use hair gel instead of toothpaste. When they gave me a seeing-eye gerbil, I’d had enough and went downtown to find an eye doctor. In his office, I said, “Doctor, I think I need glasses.” He said, “You certainly do, my boy. This is a bank.” Later an optometrist (wearing comic book spectacles that made his eyeballs look like tiny, bulbous marbles suspended at the end of a long tunnel near the back of his brain) said, “You’re very near-sighted and have bad astigmatism.” (“Astigmatism” wasn’t in my dictionary but “stigma” was and it didn’t sound good. A stigma: “a strong feeling in society that having a particular illness is something to be ashamed of.”) I imagined my lenses would be as thick as glass blocks and require scaffolding on my head to support them or at least strips of Velcro surgically fastened to my nose.

A month later I was in ecstasy, reading signs from afar and able to stare at girls in grade school without being so close they could feel my hot adolescent breath on their neck. Years later I tried the first contact lenses on the market made from some hard, painful material like quartz crystals or thinly sliced diamonds. They felt like refrigerators in my eyes and cost about as much. To blink I had to manually lift the lids over the lenses. My eyes flooded with tears making my vision similar to snorkelling without a face mask. Touted to improve sight, especially while driving, they didn’t help. I was stopped by a policeman who asked, “Where are your glasses? Your license says you need to wear them.” I said, “Sir, I have contacts.” He said, “I don’t care who you know. I’m giving you a ticket.”

The good news? Bad eyesight kept me out of military service during the Vietnam War even though I had a bumper sticker that read: “Join the Army. Travel to distant lands, meet exotic people and kill them.” Being a gentle man who only shoots animals or humans with a camera, it was good for me and the country. No one wanted a sightless pacifist accidentally wasting his comrades or demanding to be equipped with a seeing-eye gerbil.

I’ve lost several pairs of glasses around Chiangmai. If you find a very strong pair, you’ll know they’re mine if you put them on and actually see the smaller moons around Mars, God him or her-self, and perhaps even into the future. Please send them back to me so I can get rid of the gerbil.