Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Dogs - Man’s best friend

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Money Matters

Life in the Laugh Lane

The Doctor's Consultation: Back Pain

One of the commonest conditions experienced by the human race is back pain. There are several reasons for this including poor engineering design in the first place, and secondly our insistence in walking upright, when our spine was actually designed to allow us to walk on all fours, and also our not keeping the spinal muscles toned up, to do the job of keeping our spines together. There is also a problem with overloading! In actual fact, our human spines are a walking disaster, looking for somewhere to happen. It is estimated that 50 to 80 percent of adults have had back pain at some time and that 10 percent of the population will experience back pain in any given year.

Medically we tend to lump back pain into three baskets – Acute, Sub-acute and Chronic. The pain itself is also graded as mild, moderate or severe.

Acute back pain is the most common (around 80 percent), and often comes on after an accident or injury. This type of pain is usually severe, but does not last more than seven days. Typical of this, is the pain after lifting and twisting. Immediate pain, severe in intensity, but settles quickly with bed rest. Sub-acute back pain drags on and on for a few weeks. Generally the intensity is not severe, but the pain is always there. Chronic back pain on the other hand, grinds on for months, and months and months. The pain can be anything from an annoying niggle, all the way through to intractable agony.

One reason for the spine’s problems, as I stated before, is the incredible complexity of engineering of the spine itself. Made up of 24 bones (vertebrae), with ‘springy’ (intervertebral) discs in between, there is a ‘hole’ down the back through which the spinal cord runs, and between each vertebra, off-shoots from the spinal cord go out to supply nerve connections to the body. Keeping the spine together are a complex series of ligaments and muscles, without which the whole shooting match would just fall apart. The vertebrae also ‘lock’ together if weight is placed on the back, but only with the spine parallel to the ground, like a horse! However, the vertebrae become unstable and unlocked when the spine is bent forwards from the vertical position and you try and lift something from the floor.

Now whilst we would be much better off walking around on our hands and feet, or crawling as we did as babies, it is probably too late to change the habits of the last umpteen million years!

Unfortunately, the causes of back pain are numerous. Anything that puts pressure on your back muscles or nerves can cause pain. Any illness or damage to your spine also can cause pain. The cause of most acute back pain is unknown, but
is probably due to minor strains, sprains and overuse.

Other causes include ruptured intervertebral discs. This does produce severe pain, and comes from the nucleus of the disc popping through the outside and pressing on the spinal nerves. CT and MRI scans have made it easier to pin-point the exact disc, and also assist in deciding whether surgery or traction is required.

Another is spinal stenosis, where the spinal canal becomes narrowed. This squeezes the nerves and puts pressure on them, causing the back pain (similar to the ruptured disc physical pressure). Numbness, pain and weakness in the legs also can occur.

Osteoarthritis is just one form of arthritis that can also cause back pain. It breaks down the spinal joints and other joints and often produces lower back pain in the elderly, or those who have been manual laborers all their lives.

There are many more causes, but if your back pain is accompanied by any of the following, see your doctor today:

Weakness or numbness in one or both legs.
Pain going down one leg below the knee.
Pain from a fall or injury.
Pain accompanied by fever without flu-like aches.
Pain that continues to interrupt sleep after three nights.
Pain that remains after six weeks of home treatment.


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
I came back, (not to Brylcream), but to Chiangmai, and to the best Country on Earth. Hillary whenever I walk around cities in England and Australia everyone seems to be dressed quite normally, but when I walk around here the Chiangmai farang seem to be dressed anything but normally.
Do you think I should start a Pedestrian Police Force? I could send all these strangely dressed farangs to the nearest circus, where it appears they must have escaped from!
Seriously though, I’m lucky enough to be a volunteer teachers assistant at Anubaan Chiangmai, but I notice a large percentage of the children aren’t really interested in learning English. Do you think it could be that the Farang they see around town puts them off?
Delboy

Dear Delboy,
Glad to see you are back in Thailand, and enjoying it as much as ever. Probably the reason that the children aren’t interested in English communications is they’re not old enough to know how to use an ATM yet. Give them a couple of years. Teach them “Herro sexy man!”, “Sit dow pleez”, “Wun moah beeyah?” and they’re ready for a long and fruitful association on the economic front with farangs, no matter how they are dressed. Don’t start a Pedestrian Police Force, we’ve got too many boys in brown already!

Dearest Hillary,
I have once again had the privilege of visiting your great and wonderful city. It was a fine time for me, no Baht Bus Barbarians, no rip offs, no trouble, a great time.
There were a few things though that “itched” me a little, such as the constant ding dong every time you enter one of the country’s two most famous supermarkets. Does this constant ding dong not also make the friendly workers there also a bit ding dong?
Another thing that interested me, or more to say it annoyed me, was the “would you like to buy a suit sir” line. Everywhere I went, morning, noon, night I got the same old scam. People trying to block the footpaths with the old “have suit for you sir”. Sometimes there were five of these so called shops, one after the other, with salesmen trying to shake hands with the innocent tourists.
P Dorf

Dear Mr. Dorf,
I have to agree about the ding-dong supermarkets, but with now one every 50 meters, the ding-dong is firmly entrenched as part of the national music scene, and probably of more musical merit than the local hip-hop heroes. As far as the sartorial splendor situation, perhaps you are dressed in the garb that Delboy is alluding to in the letter above yours, so the tailors are only trying to improve your dress sense, to make you even more desirable. Are they saying, “Herro sexy man!”, “Sit dow pleez” and “Wun moah beeyah?”

Dear Hillary,
There seems to be a severe local shortage of sturdy knicker elastic! Dear old Pater requires a piece for his catapult and wonders where he can lay his hands on some.
Mistersingha

Dear Mistersingha,
Words fail me, my pubescent Petal. As large as life and twice as lively, up you bob again, as if we are close confidants. Nothing could be further from the truth, other than your good self, who is so far removed from what is truthful, that I doubt if you could even lie straight in bed. With or without your Isaanette twins Nit and Ying to act as nocturnal splints, which I am sure would be needed in your case. Anyone who reads this column regularly, knows of your hollow, empty promises, complete with incessant excuses. Take a leaf out of Delboy’s book and you won’t have to spend your time running around trying to look after your father’s knicker elastic needs. In fact, if you really were the dutiful son you claim to be, you could buy your father a complete new catapult, which comes with knicker elastic Grade A, and will last longer than the knickers from the chrome pole palaces.

Dear Hillary,
One of my close friends is worrying me a lot. He has dark moods and gets depressed very easily. When he is down, everything is “wrong”, but when he is not depressed he is really a great person. He is only in his forties, but I worry that he will get worse as he gets older. Have you any suggestions, Hillary, as I like this man and would like to help him. Would psychoanalysis help?
Julia

Dear Julia,
First, Hillary is not an analyst, but what you are describing is very common. When people get depressed, they naturally think that the world is dark and gloomy. This is not something that you should tackle on your own, as skilled help will be required. When your friend is in one of his happy times, you can try and discuss whether he thinks he would like to see someone professionally, but don’t try and fix the problem yourself. It will end up in tragedy if you do. Be careful, Petal!


Camera Class:  Now even Kodak has deserted film

by Harry Flashman

For a second year, Kodak leads in US digital camera market, reports Ben Dobbin, the AP Business Writer. Eastman Kodak, the company that brought photography to the masses, and have undoubtedly been one of the prime movers for the acceptance of film processing at the corner store, entered the digital market in 2001, in a move that many said would be the end of the company. By being in the digital market, Kodak was killing its own film cash cow, was the popular opinion.

What popular opinion had got totally wrong, was the fact that digital photography was going to take over the popular market, at least. Kodak’s move was made at the right time, and with their now ‘digital’ corner store has successfully combined both film and digital photography. After all, despite the ease of digital cameras, you still want to send a print to mother-in-law of the new baby.

Digital cameras began outselling film cameras in the United States in 2003. And in 2005, Kodak generated more annual sales from digital imaging than from film-based photography for the first time. A few weeks ago, I wrote “film is dead” and it seems Kodak has the numbers to back me up.

The size of the market in the US is just staggering. While Kodak is king, Japan is not far behind with Canon Inc. and Sony Corp second and third. Domestic sales of digital cameras surged 21 percent to 28 million in 2005, and Kodak’s market share leaped to 24.9 percent from 21 percent in 2004, according to data released
by IDC, a research firm in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Look at these numbers, Kodak shipped 7.05 million digital cameras to US retailers last year, 43 percent more than in 2004. Tokyo-based Canon moved ahead of Sony into the No. 2 spot with 5 million shipments, a 16 percent increase, but its market slice still shrunk from 18.3 percent to 17.7 percent, IDC said.

Japan’s Sony, which lost its front-runner position in the US market to Kodak for the first time in 2004, was third in 2005. It shipped 4.78 million cameras, up 10 percent from 2004, but its share of the US market slumped to 16.9 percent from 18.5 percent, IDC said.

Do the maths – that is 17 million digital cameras in one year. And there is also the digitals from other manufacturers, to add in as well. Behind the top trio in the U.S. ranks in 2005 were Nikon Corp. with an 8.2 percent share and Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard Co. with 7.5 percent. Next in line were Olympus Corp. with 6.9 percent and Fuji Photo Film Co. with 6.3 percent, IDC said.

However, this is small bikkies compared to the world market. In the global digital camera race, Kodak was third in 2004 with an 11.8 percent market share to Canon’s 17.1 percent and Sony’s 16.7 percent. While the 2005 rankings are still a few weeks away, “we don’t expect any big changes” but Kodak will likely make up some ground, said IDC analyst Christopher Chute.

It is even more interesting to break down Canon’s 17.1 percent too. Canon benefited from robust sales of digital single-lens reflex cameras, IDC said, showing that the more serious amateurs are abandoning their SLR film cameras and replacing them with digital SLR’s. There is also a strong group who have started with digital compacts, and now want a little more. It is reported that Kodak is now increasingly shifting its focus (nice pun) toward boosting sales of higher-end models. Its new pocket-sized EasyShare V570 couples two lenses - a 3x optical zoom lens and a specialized lens for ultrawide-angle pictures.

Even on the local front, I have noticed the inexorable move towards the higher end digital SLRs too. My photographic friend Ernie Kuhnelt, a man who has been true to film, has just purchased a Nikon D50 as a starter kit, and so far is delighted with it, and the results are excellent. As I have written before, there is no substitute for a good piece of glass up front, no matter what way you capture the image in the back of the camera.


Dogs - Man’s best friend: General Health Care: External Parasites Control – part III

Nienke Parma

Enjoying a walk and bath at the foot of Doi Suthep.

In the two preceding articles in this column I wrote about the most common external parasites and their effects on their hosts, our dogs and cats. I continue with the control methods you can use to free the animal of its complaints.

Fleas are very resistant; they can do without food for months, fairly easily withstand scratching and biting by their host and reproduction and biting-activities are strongly increased under warm conditions. They can even survive one year being frozen! Luckily, there are many effective insecticides on the market that easily kill them, which is probably one of the reasons why I hardly ever find fleas on our (guest) dogs and cats but mainly on strays and neglected pet animals. Most anti-flea products are safe, but application should be done with care and moderation. Not only the affected animal should be treated, but also the other animals in the household, plus their living quarters where they sleep, eat and play should be carefully sprayed and vacuum-cleaned. It is advisable to provide the animal/s with tape-worm treatment as fleas can transmit this intestinal worm (see the article on this subject in the Mail’s Vol.V. No. II).

Lice infested dogs and cats should receive a thorough bath followed by a few treatments with a regular insecticide, which will be enough to clear the animal of these pests. The infected bedding is best destroyed and the animal’s living quarters disinfected.

For ticks there are only a few really effective powders, sprays and Spot-on products on the market, and then only when it concerns a few ticks on the animal. Despite these precautions, ticks sometimes still attach to their host and can infect it with one of the tick-borne diseases. It is advisable to have your animal checked for anti-bodies against Erlichiosis canis every six months to catch this disease in its acute phase where treatment is still possible. As ticks thrive very well under hot and humid conditions and one female can lay over 500 eggs, they accumulate quickly. The only way I know of in controlling these pests is to call in a professional pest-control company (if anyone knows any environmental friendly method that works, please let me know!) and have your house sprayed, preferably two to four times in succession, two weeks apart. Make sure they spray not only the ground but every crack in the walls, under the roof and on top of the ceilings, under the chairs tables or cage where your animal sleeps, and all the trees and scrubs in the garden. However, be prepared for an enormous mess to clean up after the treatment!

For more information on pet health, dog and cat boarding, dog training and behavior, please visit www.luckydogs.info or contact LuckyDogs: 09 99 78 146.


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

by Dr Byte, Citec Asia

Many people ask me how to manage the ever increasing amount of spam they receive every day. I share your unhappiness as my various business email addresses receive around 70 to 90 spam messages everyday. That’s a lot of checking even if my Spam Checker does most of the work. I organised Outlook Express and later Thunderbird and maintained a list of known spammers, and tried all the tricks I could find. But still some spam got through. The people behind Spam use different addresses every time as well as different methods to hide words in the subject and text, and that’s how they keep deceiving the software.

So decided if it’s time for more drastic action. Here are some simple steps you could follow:

1. Change your email address. Your ISP account may allow you to have several addresses, or if not they may allow you to change your account. Ask them. When you are choosing the new one bear in mind that dictionary searches are used by spammers to try and guess real accounts. Now you can’t change the part that comes after the “@” so put thought into the first part. Perhaps choose a compound word like “[email protected]”. Or disguise the word with numbers in place of letters, but remember that unlike passwords, email addresses are not case-sensitive. If you do choose disguise, remember that you might have to spell your new address over the telephone so you shouldn’t make it too obscure!

2. Then send your new email address to your regular correspondents, and updated all the accounts you use online, including internet banking for example. Yes it will be painful, but do it. For the personal contacts you only have to send a couple of emails: each one to yourself with the list of addressees in the “bcc” field. This maintains the privacy of your correspondents. Send a couple because many servers now limit the number of recipients an email can go to.

3. Ongoing! “Never (yes NEVER) give the primary email address to anyone who is remotely suspect... never, never, never!

4. Never put your primary email address on any web-readable forum including your own web pages, anyone else’s web pages and newsgroup postings. This is a well-known avoidance measure but there are still plenty of people happily giving their addresses away for free!

5. If you really want to be directly contactable from web pages or newsgroup postings then disguise your email in the posting, putting something like “REMOVE-
THIS” before and after the “@” sign, but think carefully about it because spammers are smart and they write clever scanning programs. Or use an image of your email address instead of text. Alternatively give your (ALT) web mail account (see next step) but I’d still recommend disguising it though!

6. Many times internet users are asked to supply a valid email address. For this, open and use one or two free web mail accounts (hotmail/yahoo). These (lets call them ALT - alternative) accounts have good spam catching algorithms and I find getting spammed on these accounts doesn’t hurt because it’s not really “me”! I have one for these purposes and check this web mail account once a week or so and find that perfectly adequate.

7. Just to repeat... never, never, never reveal your primary email address unless you’re confident the recipient is trustworthy. In my experience serious websites are trustworthy: the people who use spam are the “bottom feeders”; you can tell that from the emails they send!

8. One last thing in case you missed it... I never, never, never give out my primary email account unless I trust the recipient! Think of your primary email address as gold. It’s worth gold to spammers; sure not a lot of gold per address, but it all adds up. They don’t do it out of charity; they do it because they get paid. And I am not giving them my gold, however small the amount!

9. And do you know what? It works. I have no spam on my primary account. None. Nil. Not a sausage. Just emails from people I know and trust. Mind you I haven’t received any great offers to order herbal impotence cures or sign up for organ enlargement either... but heck, there’s plenty of time for me to find out for myself!

In the next column, I will have some more interesting web destinations to travel
to. 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 are 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:  Conclusions that we draw

Alan Hall
MBMG International Ltd.

Over the last couple of months we’ve looked at the history of equities and equity markets and the current global economic background. The conclusions that WE draw from this are:

- The twin deficits are about to derail the US economy and any dissenting arguments proposed so far do not appear to hold water as far as we’re concerned.

- If the US economy is derailed then almost all the
global economy will suffer, particularly other Western economies.

- If there is economic slowdown then equity prices will fall sharply as they are currently priced assuming that earnings will grow at a far faster rate than the historic average of 6% and once it’s apparent that they can’t achieve that let alone exceed it, share prices will have to be adjusted downwards.

- This is all to be expected in terms of the long term economic cycle.

- Japan is out of kilter with the cycle.

So it’s clear to us that in general Western equities should be avoided. Certainly any investment that replicates the main equity indices in the US and almost all Western equity markets doesn’t seem to us to offer good value right now. So we would avoid index funds, ETFs and growth funds. We’d definitely avoid tech and smaller company funds.

We believe that value funds might offer some prospects, as they will benefit from a rotation away from the general market into defensives and for this reason defensive stocks will also relatively outperform the market. However, if things get as bad as they could then even these defensives may turn negative (although still nowhere near as bad as the general market).

Oil and commodity stocks are interesting. However, for oil we would far rather own the commodity itself and for gold the balance between bullion and gold stocks requires careful managing. We’ll actually cover both of these when we look at commodities as an investment class.

So it seems like we’re not touching equities right now? Yes and no. There are alternative methodologies for equity investing that remain attractive right now and there are also still a couple of possibilities for traditional long equity investment that look attractive.

We’ll deal with this latter first - Japan is, as we’ve said, out of synch. It operates
to the same seasonal cy-cles, but its cycles aren’t synchronised to those in the West. Right now the Japanese consumer is awash with cash and Japanese companies have completed re-structuring. Japanese society and government is slowly modernising and having been in a winter cycle for over 20 years, the Japanese economy should now be ready to emerge from this.

While longer term the impact of an increasingly dominant China may cause structural changes to the Japanese economy, in the shorter term there is every possibility of a domestic spending driven recovery. This will have its mettle tested by recession in the West and won’t be plain sailing but we believe that we will see improvement in economic conditions in Japan. This will ultimately bring some relief to the Nikkei which has been in the doldrums for many years (let us not forget that the Nikkei is still around 70% below its 1989 levels!).

We expect the Nikkei to fall back (maybe around 15% or so) from current levels when the Western economies slow but then to quickly decouple and to move back strongly higher as the roots of a domestic recovery are apparent. Trying to time this could be difficult. So some portfolio managers are taking small allocations to Japan right now and looking to increase these on any signs of weakness.

Alternatively, buying a balanced blend of smaller companies, growth and blue chips in Japan every month through a regular savings/investment programme looks a pretty good call right now. To us the right way to buy Japanese equities has always been through the leading fund managers (unlike the US markets where the majority of funds don’t add or detract value). In Japan it seems pretty clear that active management is essential and the differences between the top and the bottom performances are extreme.

The long-only Japanese funds that we currently use are:

Fidelity’s Japan/Japan Smaller and Japan Spec Sits, GAM Japan, Gartmore Japan, Invesco Japan Smlr Cos/ Invesco Japan Discovery, Schroder Japan/Tokyo, Merrill Lynch Japanese Opportunities, Thames River Japan, JPMF Japan Smaller Companies/OTC, and our personal favourites Odey Japan, Polar Capital Ja-pan and Atlantis Japanese Growth.

It may be that Asia in general also benefits from Japanese recovery, but we’re negative on Korea, cautious about Thailand (too much money being borrowed too fast) and we’d avoid the Chinese equity markets. Again Asian exposure through regular purchase might not be the worst investment call right now.

As for the alternative equity methodologies, we’ll discuss that soon, once we have the latest market news, and then we’ll bombard you with the esoteric details of market neutral, long/short, split strike and a whole bunch of other good stuff.

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: Nine Days of Pleasure and Pain: Part Two

by Scott Jones

My head felt twice this big.

Day Four is perfect motorcycle weather and exquisite riding over the mountain passes from Pai to Chiang Dao. Lunch in the Mae Sae valley is spicy delicious and enhanced by watching steamy backpackers getting off packed local buses that only stop for lunch. Instead of reveling in the fragrant smells of the forest, they get to experience the permeating odors of regurgitated lunches from other passengers whose stomachs can’t take the curves.

That night at Malee’s Nature Huts nestled next to Chiang Dao mountain, we listen to an elderly Welsh backpacker tell his story about walking from Soppong to Pai, some 45 kilometers, in the afternoon, then evening, then night, until his feet were stubs and he nearly froze to death, which made us understand why Wales didn’t replace England as ruler of the British Kingdom.

In the morning, I have a throbbing jaw and a quarter of my back tooth is missing, either taken by the aliens or swallowed during the night. Luckily I’m traveling with a dentist for advice and a girlfriend with a complete pharmacy in her purse. I eat soft yoghurt sprinkled with antibiotics and ibuprofen for breakfast, climb on the bike and wait for the tooth to pass out the other end and bite me in the ass.

It’s encouraging to ride with a dentist so if you have a fatal accident, at least your teeth will be cavity-free in the casket. After a stunning ride up and around Doi Ang Khang through some of the twistiest mountain twisties in Thailand, which seems to take forever with a pounding jaw echoing the pounding of the road, my new used Honda Super 4 decides not to start. We charge the battery, pray to Buddha and head for the very Chinese, very Akha village of Mae Salong which is full of tea plants, drying tea leaves and every size of tea bag for sale. It’s a bit like entering a National Geographic magazine. An ancient, hill tribe, hotel bell girl grabs all the bags from my bike that I can barely lift and lugs them to my room on her head. I try to carry one but she snatches it away from me. Jon the Dentist and Todd the Ice Cream Maker cruise to the only place open after dark, a pounding karaoke bar, while my head pounds me to sleep in my room.

Day Six: After an unsuccessful attempt to find a mechanic who has worked on a bike larger than a 125cc Honda Dream, a young kid with tools succeeds in blowing my main fuse, turning my bike into a dead heap of assembled parts. After another unsuccessful attempt to find a new fuse in prehistoric Mae Salong, another kid with tools repairs the fuse. I’m off to Chiang Rai in search of a mechanic, a battery, a new fuse, a case of ibuprofen, the Holy Grail and perhaps a local bus to Pai.

Riding back after scoring a new battery, fuse and drugs, I hear a “clunk” as the battery vibrates off the bike. A guy loading bamboo into a truck points to the side of the road and comes to help me find it. 10 minutes later, we discover it’s has rolled down the hill into a hill tribe village, luckily avoiding women drying an array of leaves in the sun. (Headlines could have read: Insane Farang Arrested for Assault with Battery.)

That evening I marvel at the Chronicles of Jon the Dentist who took Girlfriend of Scott to the wrong destination and barely made it back by nightfall through several other wrong destinations on remote routes undiscovered by modern map makers, some of which almost end in Myanmar on roads composed of dust, sharp gravel and bedrock. Quoth Jon the Dentist: “I was really scared because it was really scary.” I listen with awe to the Tales of Ice Cream Todd, currently the tallest person in Northern Thailand by a head and a half, dressed in a high-tech, tight-fitting, padded safety jacket with matching, hockey-type knee pads and space helmet which make him look like a telephone pole impersonating a super hero, who has given rides to Akha ladies twice his age and half his height, has evolved into Karaoke Todd though possessing no previous musical skills, and has written new words to the tune of Honolulu Baby called “Oh, My Akha Baby” which he recites to us since he can’t sing.

Oh, my Akha baby!
Where’d you get those teeth?
Better stop chewing betel nut,
Or I’ll be gone in a week.