Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Life in the Laugh Lane

Language Matters

The Doctor's Consultation: Learn to ‘drive’ your own diseases

by Dr. Iain Corness

The secret of living a long and healthy life is learning to control your own innate disease problems. This goes in particular for such conditions as hypertension and diabetes. Both of these are amenable to treatment, and both of them can be monitored by yourself. Whilst it is necessary for a doctor to oversee your treatment, your doctor can do this much more efficiently with a little help from you.
Taking blood pressure monitoring first, there are many automatic, self-inflating cuff instruments that will give you a digital read-out of your systolic (the high reading) and diastolic (the low reading). For these home readings to have even more significance, you need to have a small notebook recording time and date. After many days you will be able to show a strong pattern so that your doctor can really tailor the medication to keep your BP in ‘safe’ limits, and avoid side effects from the medication.
By doing this, you can give yourself upwards of another 10 years of healthy living. That has to be worth it, surely!
The other condition that lends itself to home monitoring is diabetes. We know that uncontrolled diabetes is life threatening. We also know that poorly controlled diabetes will shorten your life and lower the quality of life. However, well controlled diabetes need not be a bar to a good and happy long life.
However, how do you know if your diabetes is well controlled? The blood test you have once a month, both blood sugar and glycated hemoglobin, can give your doctor a ‘snapshot’ of what is going on, but at best, it is only a rough indicator. Something more exact is much better, and that something is under your control! This is home blood sugar monitoring.
If you wish to lead an independent and active life, learning to test blood sugar levels by yourself is essential. The results from the home monitoring provide information about how meal intake and timing, medication, exercise and stress affect your blood sugar levels. All important factors both your doctor and you need to know to be able to correctly balance your blood sugar levels with diet and medication.
There are many different monitors for checking blood sugar and your doctor or diabetes team can advise you on makes and models suitable for your condition.
Just like blood pressure monitoring, keeping a log book is a very important part of the monitoring. Random blood sugars are very inaccurate methods trying to get in control.
However, unlike blood pressure monitoring there are certain precautions you have to take to get the required accuracy. Note that you need to make sure that:
The meter is clean;
The meter has the correct code that matches the strip you are using;
Wash your hands with warm water,
Shake your hands below your waist.
Squeeze or milk your finger a few times gently. Excessive milking is discouraged as results obtained may be inaccurate, but do make sure you have a good-sized drop of blood.
Now you need to know how often you should test. This is where you must follow the recommendations from your doctor, as your doctor will want levels at different times of the day to get an idea of how well your treatment program is working for you.
Generally, the best times to check are before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner and before bedtime snack. Sometimes it is also useful to check blood sugar two hours after a meal to see the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. You should also test your levels more frequently during periods of stress, illness, or surgery, when you are pregnant, or when low blood sugar is suspected or when there are changes made in your treatment program, such as a change in medication dose, meal plan or activity.
You should also know your own target range. This depends on your age, which type of diabetes you have and the duration of the diabetes. Your doctor will help you with targets, and an ‘action plan’ for when your home monitoring shows levels above or below the targets.
Learn to drive your own diseases and live happily ever after (or until you are 100)!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
I am an avid reader of your Agony Column, which is always very informative and showing great insight. Due to unfortunate circumstances, I also am in need of your wise counsel.
You indicated some time ago that, if there is no emotional connection, a relationship has no depth and is unstable. I fully agree with this and infer that such a relationship is in danger, sooner or later, to come to grief, unless emotional closeness can again be achieved.
The question is, what can a loving partner do who is trying very hard to improve the relationship emotionally, when he is confronted with a seemingly unending grudge and a total lack of any love, forgiveness and compassion? What indeed?
Despairing
Dear Despairing,

I feel for you, my Petal, I really do. The saying “Between a rock and a hard place” sort of describes what you are currently going through. Human romantic relationships do require emotional commitment, which as you correctly imply, must come from both sides of the relationship. Unfortunately, no one person can make another return affection. It has to be freely given. I take it from your letter that there has been some event which has soured the relationship, one that requires forgiveness and compassion. To achieve this forgiveness, you have to look at what your partner found attractive in you from the beginning. If you were the strong silent one, then by becoming a cringing, hand-wringing, please-forgive-me type, you cannot expect to renew the fire in the relationship. You almost have to pretend that the schism has not happened, and try to be the man you once were. This may or may not work, but this is giving it your best shot. If it doesn’t, then all you can fall back on is ‘time’, the great healer. Best of luck, my Petal. I feel you may need it.

Dear Hillary,
I was doing some spring cleaning in my computer at work and found all this porno stuff on it. I am supposed to be the only person in my office to use this machine, but it isn’t passworded or anything, and sometimes other staff members work late too. What should I do about it? I am worried that if I make a noise about it, then others will think I’m just covering my ass. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as red-blooded as the next bloke, but I wouldn’t like some of the girls in the office to see this stuff. It’s pretty graphic. Any ideas Hillary?
Pete
Dear Pete,

You are worried that you will become known as “Porno Pete” I suppose, but I have to say I find it a trifle unbelievable that you never go looking for the odd bit of fancy photography, which in turn leaves its grubby pawprints inside your computer. There’s only several million sites on offer, despite the Thought Police’s Department of Naughty Bits trying to block it all the time. One of the guys in the office told me you only have to click again if the site is blocked and you get through the second time. Try it next time. I don’t think there is much to be gained by having a witch hunt in the office, just quietly delete it and check the comp daily until you find the culprit. You never know your luck, it might be one of the office girls!

Dear Hillary,
My Thai girlfriend and I want to buy some land upcountry where she comes from near Nong Khai. The price is quite reasonable and in a few years I would be happy to retire in that place. The other day she went up country and rang me to say that we could buy some land OK, but it would take two months for the deeds to be transferred into my company’s name. If she were to buy it in her name then the deeds could be transferred in two days. This doesn’t seem right to me, Hillary. Do you think I am being taken for a ride here?
James.
Dear James,

First off, James my Petal, is to decide whether it is “my Thai girlfriend and I” who want this land, or is it your Thai girlfriend? I must say I do not know too many farangs who have successfully retired to Nakhon Nowhere, approximately 20 kilometers this side of the Laos border. Since you want the title deeds in your company name, I take it that you want to retain control over it. Buying it in someone else’s name does not fit in with that does it? Go and talk to a lawyer.

Dear Hillary,
Every time I go to get a hair cut the man or woman barber always want to bend me over in the chair half way through the cut and start thumping my back as some sort of massage. The best the other day was when the man approached me with some sort of vibrating electric motor strapped on his hand and began to try and massage my legs! All I want is a haircut. Where, Oh Hillary, where do I go?
Harry
Dear Hirsute Harry,

Lucky you! What was the address of that shop?


Camera Class:  Man beats machine - Over-ride the electronics

by Harry Flashman

With the newer and more sophisticated cameras that can apparently do everything, making the photographer almost redundant, it was very heartening to receive an email from one photographer who had found that perhaps the electronic brain did not know everything.
Regular readers will know that I often advocate turning the camera off the ‘auto’ mode and going on to full manual. I also suggest turning off the inbuilt flash for many night shots. Why? Because only you know exactly what you want to get on film. The electronic brain inside your camera does not!
Now this goes for all types of cameras that have manual settings, be that film or digital. The concept is the same for both and the rules remain true. A camera is merely a black box that lets light on to a sensitized layer, be that film or magic pixels. No difference.
Now my friend had emailed me after he had tried to photograph the moon with his new digital SLR, but had fitted his old lenses, from the same manufacturer. The details were a new Pentax DSLR with a 40 plus year old Pentax Super Takumar F2.5 135 mm lens. However, he also tried letting the new digital camera do its best, and by comparison he did his best and the difference was quite spectacular.
There are actually only two rules to be followed in taking lunar pictures (unless you are going up there, courtesy of NASA):
Rule Number 1 – Do not use any autoexposure modes (program, aperture, or shutter priority) - switch to full manual.
And Rule Number 2 - follow rule number 1.

Auto exposure

Manual exposure

There are two reasons behind these simple rules. First, the camera’s metering circuitry will average the exposure over the night sky (most of the frame) and the bright Moon in the center, in its design which is to produce 18 percent grey. This will result in a hopelessly overexposed frame. Even if you have a spot-metering mode in your camera, you’ll not avoid this, unless you are using a 400 mm or greater focal length.
So how do you get the right exposure to keep the night sky black and still some detail on the moon’s surface? You can actually use the “sunny 16” rule here: with the aperture of f16, set the shutter speed to one over the ISO speed of your film (or its digital equivalent). So that would be (with 100 ASA) f16 at 1/125th. That will get you in the ball park, but is not necessarily the exact correct exposure. For that you have to ‘bracket’ since exposure times given by formulas are approximate, varying according to the exact phase of the moon, atmospheric conditions, etc. To be safe, bracket at one and preferably two stops on both sides of the exposure suggested by the formula.
There are other factors to be taken into account with lunar photography, and first is the tripod. Always use it! And a cable release if you have one. If you are using a digital camera, also use the highest resolution setting.
Photos of the full moon are flat and featureless. For more interesting pictures, photograph the moon at crescent or quarter phases when the mountains and craters are illuminated from the side and cast shadows.
Another factor not to be overlooked is that the moon is moving, and so is the earth you are standing on. Because of the earth’s rotation, the moon appears to move approximately half its diameter in one minute, so long exposures are best avoided. The longest acceptable exposure time is somewhat arbitrary, and depends on the amount of enlargement, but most guidelines recommend an exposure no longer than one minute.
For the good shot here, the photographer used the new Pentax DSLR on full, manual mode (100 ASA) at 1/125th at f16. Just as the formula suggested!
Try some moonscapes today, or rather, tonight!


Life in the Laugh Lane: Plastic Baggage

by Scott Jones

In America, you might find these things in a plastic bag: severed pig snouts, miscellaneous worms, an excrement-brown casserole of sinister gooey stuff containing vaguely familiar shapes that, upon closer inspection, you realize are chicken feet. That bag would be a black garbage bag. Here in Thailand, you can take these splendid items home separately from the market in clear-plastic doggy bags. Anything is available in plastic bags of all sizes, including miniscule ones that hold a quarter teaspoon of fish sauce. Although the unofficial symbol of Thailand is the elephant, it should be the plastic bag. (If you look closely at the symbol, the elephant is actually in a plastic bag.)

Motorbike with customized plastic baggage.

When I first arrived here, I ordered a Coke and received it, with ice, in a bag with a straw. This was new to me, since American marketing slogans never mentioned “Coke is it! Pick up a refreshing bag today!” It worked okay, but I couldn’t really sit down and set it on a table. I had to finish it before tackling my next novel activity, trying to decide which insects to eat, which was quite simple - none. I had yet to learn that I could buy 150 bagged Cokes, 75 sacks of complete meals, plus an unlimited amount of random brooms, stuffed animals, and used car or squid parts, hang them all over my motorbike and sell them in the streets.
After three years in Thailand, I still haven’t mastered the art of removing the steel-belted rubber bands used to close the bags with a complex series of mystical twists and knots, a slight-of-hand trick deftly performed in one second by vendors. I need knives, scissors or sharp keys to puncture these bulging, pressurized bags, which invariably sends instant-staining chili sauce spurting onto the whitest part of my shirt (this taught me to dress in black or multi-colored clothing, soon crusty with dried food, but at least you can’t see it.) I want to master this remarkable binding maneuver, so I can quickly bag the head of the rooster that wakes me every morning at 2:30 a.m. or perhaps the next motorcycle mechanic who returns my bike disassembled in a bag.
Recycling is approaching official religious status in America, but I was indoctrinated decades ago by my grandmother, who carefully washed and reused the few bags that appeared in our home. With my marginal Thai skills, I politely try to convince the salesperson that I don’t need another bag for the bag of peanuts that are already in a bag, thank you very much, I can just put this bag in my handbag. They look at me as though I’m insane, as if the sale isn’t complete without the final, redundant bag and they have failed in their job. They put the peanut bag in another bag anyway, which I remove from their bag and hand back to them, which they promptly throw away, foiling my useless attempt at saving the environment. Three cheers for Rimping Market and their new program: for every bag you do not request, or use, or something, they’ll give a charity 50 satang, a mythical denomination of Thai currency - nothing costs 50 satang; you only get it as change. Unfortunately, the clerks haven’t read the signs explaining this at the checkout, and look at you like you’re insane, as if the sale isn’t complete, etcetera.
My modest recycling efforts in America helped the world a bit, but ruined my reputation in the neighborhood. By separating my garbage, I got a break on my collection bill. Colored glass bottles, clear glass bottles, plastic bottles, newspapers, cardboard, Styrofoam boxes with unintelligible classification symbols printed somewhere: all had to be divided into individual bins behind my garage. The apartment building across the alley had no program, just one huge dumpster. A few concerned tenants clandestinely dropped their hodge-podge of garbage onto my segregated trash, including enough liquor and beer bottles to host a block party. To no avail, I posted signs requesting them to stop, so I accepted my duty to a higher cause. I systematically combined their garbage with mine, on Sunday night at 30 below zero, amongst the snowdrifts. Whatever. They’re trying; I’ll help. Years later, while chatting in the alley with my neighbor, I asked if she ever got bags of trash from the void. She did not, so I described my plight. She said, “Well, that’s good to know, because every Sunday night I’d wonder about your massive piles of liquor bottles. I knew you liked to party, but never saw any major bashes. You went to work everyday and lead a reasonably normal life, but I could not believe how much alcohol you put away every week!”
I’ll continue my mini-quest for the Thai environment. So far, I may be responsible for contributing 50 satang to a charity, which should provide someone with a microscopic bag of fish sauce, one dried squid tentacle or six peanuts.


Language Matters : Words, Words, Words: The Direct Approach to Teaching Vocabulary

by Peter McKenzie-Brown

You are studying a foreign language, you want to learn ten new words every day, and the mental task of managing your growing word list seems formidable. To put the job into context, consider the following from linguist Stephen Pinker.
“Children begin to learn words before their first birthday,” he says, “and by their second they hoover them up at a rate of one every two hours. By the time they enter school children command 13,000 words, and then the pace picks up, because new words rain down on them from both speech and print. A typical high-school graduate knows about 60,000 words; a literate adult, perhaps twice that number.” (*1)
Smaller than a toddler’s daily intake, your ten-word vocabulary list suddenly seems like a pauper in a palace. And the problem of properly learning vocabulary involves much more than remembering words. In the classroom, only a few words and a small part of what the learner needs to know about a word can be dealt with at any one time. For the common words, which often have multiple meanings and complex nuances, you can only teach a bit at a time. The more information you present, the more likely your learners are to misunderstand.
For both teacher and learner, vocabulary is a huge challenge. But help is at hand from vocabulary researcher Paul Nation, whose magisterial 480-page tome, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, offers endless insights into the science and practice of teaching and learning vocabulary. (*2) He calls his preferred method of vocabulary teaching the direct approach.
Nation describes vocabulary learning as a “meeting” between the learner and the word, and he stresses that it only makes sense to have close encounters with common, useful words. Most teachers emphasize the most common 2000 English words. The most widely accepted list is available on the Internet by googling Michael West’s General Service List.
“Useful vocabulary needs to be met again and again to ensure it is learned,” Nation says. “In the early stages of learning the meetings need to be reasonably close together, preferably within a few days, so that too much forgetting does not occur. Later meetings can be very widely spaced with several weeks between each meeting.” (*3)
There are essentially four ways to learn and teach high-frequency words.
* One is direct teaching, mentioned earlier. For the language teacher, explaining vocabulary is a critical part of classroom duties.
* Also, encourage your students to participate in direct learning, which involves study from word cards and dictionary use.
* A third method, incidental learning, can involve guessing from context in extensive reading or through word use in communicative activities.
* The fourth method Nation calls “planned encounters.” These encounters include vocabulary exercises and graded reading - that is, using reading materials like shortened novels with reduced vocabulary for language learners. (*4)
Graded readers are available in many language teaching bookstores. In Chiang Mai, the best source is DK Books, on the second floor.
Nation’s direct approach to vocabulary teaching is built upon three main ideas. First, vocabulary teaching should focus on high-frequency words that will be of continuing importance for the learners. As a teacher, you have a duty to pass over low-frequency words completely or with little comment. Also, you have to make sure the learners come back to the word frequently, to diminish the power of forgetfulness.
Also, when you teach a word you should focus on its “learning burden” - that is, the features of the word that actually need to be taught. These can differ quite dramatically from word to word. Take the word “think.” You need to explain that it is an irregular verb; that it includes the irregular spelling “thought”; and that “thought” can also be a noun.
Finally, direct teaching should be clear and simple. To learn a word in all its complexity, learners need to meet it many times. Don’t try to teach a complex word - for example, the many meanings of the word “right” - in one sitting. That kind of intensive vocabulary teaching takes place in boring classrooms, and it frequently leads to perplexed students.
Peter McKenzie-Brown teaches TEFL at Chiang Mai University’s Language Institute
*1 Stephen Pinker, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language, p. 3.
*2 Paul Nation, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press) 2001.
*3 This article relies heavily on ideas from Paul Nation, “Teaching Vocabulary,” Asian EFL Journal. Accessed online, May 25, 2006.
*4 Nation, 2001, p. 16.