Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies

Life in the laugh lane

Your Health & Happiness

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Travel insurance: Are you covered?

When you are going overseas, do you take out travel insurance? Do you buy it from an insurance broker, or from the insurance company, or just from the travel agent? There could be many different scenarios, and you should be aware of them. Medical treatment overseas can be cripplingly expensive.
Unfortunately, many people have a somewhat cavalier attitude to insurance and I’m just as guilty! A few months ago I did mention medical insurance in this column and it was amazing the response that this brought. When people began to see just how much they were financially “at risk” by not having insurance, the better brokers were inundated. Let’s see what the response to this week’s column will be when we look at travel insurance. By the way, this is not travel insurance to cover your lost luggage, but to cover medical emergencies. Your lost good health.
Unfortunately many people travel under the misconception that the travel insurance they took out with the travel agent is going to cover them for all eventualities. Sadly not. The following is a true story, taken from one of my medical journals from Australia. A gentleman with a leaking heart valve, which was under investigation and examination by a cardiologist, has to make a business trip to America. He took out travel insurance from the travel agent, but discloses nothing about the on-going cardiologist’s review, as he does not think it is that important. Two days after getting to San Francisco he got very short of breath and was admitted to hospital. The insurance company was contacted which then asked for a report from the American hospital, and a report from the patient’s usual doctor in Australia. This, by the way, is standard practice.
The history of the cardiac condition now came to light, and the insurance company state (justifiably) that if they had known of this situation, they would not have accepted the man as a reasonable risk and refused cover. Meanwhile, the man’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he has to have an emergency heart valve replacement. All was not plain sailing and he ended up having 42 days in intensive care. Total cost came to $US 576,500, for which the businessman was totally liable. To raise the sum of over half a million dollars he had to liquidate his company and sell his house at “fire sale” prices. But he thought he was insured.
Like another horror story? A young woman is going to the UK for a working holiday. Like many people, she has asthma, but it is reasonably well controlled. Since she was flying directly to the UK and there is a reciprocal medical agreement between the UK and Australia, she decides she “logically” doesn’t need travel insurance. Six hours into the flight she gets an acute attack of asthma and has to be off-loaded in Singapore. Complications occur and she ends up being in Singapore for 6 weeks and then has to be medically evacuated back to Australia with a doctor and nurse escort team. Her stay in Singapore and the medivac came to $A 390,000 and her parents had to sell their farm to raise the money.
So you can see from that example, just because you are covered at the other end of your flight doesn’t mean to say you are not “at risk”. The moral of these two tales is simple - take out good travel (medical) insurance and make sure you declare any pre-existing conditions. Insurance companies are in the business of “risk” assessment. Forgetting to declare your medical history is not thought of as being an acceptable risk. This omission could prove deleterious to both your health and your wealth. As I have pointed out, insurance companies do not just blindly take your medical conditions at face value. Conditions that must have been long-standing will not be covered, unless they are noted beforehand. Degeneration of a hip joint is not something that just arose, out of the blue.
Think about it before your next trip!


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Yes, it is possible to fall in love with a person one has never met. I have fallen in love with you. This of course is predicated entirely on your being a woman and not already married but the latter could be dealt with if you are ready for a change, surely?
You are funny, intelligent, bright, commonsensical, witty, shrewd and have all the mental and spiritual qualities I require in a partner. Clearly, you would hand out the clout of all time to any partner who dared to be silly enough to stray off the path of virtue whilst involved intimately with your splendid self. I have a mental picture of you which does not disappoint and which I am sure will not be far off reality; you are Western; British or Australian; what is known as a ‘handsome’ woman, i.e., not 25 but still very attractive; fun to be with and an intelligent and witty companion and just the lady, I am sure, who could walk tall with me as I bravely enter the twilight years.
But of course, before you say yes to a pig in a poke, you will want to know something about me. I’ve been here for many years, speak Thai and several other languages; have a sense of humor (you need one when you see my face in the mirror each morning), am educated, have been married twice to splendid Thai women and have a lovely, bilingual, Eurasian daughter. I am at the moment unattached and need a companion who is not some silly little biddy who doesn’t know New York from New Year.
As to age: well I’m a youthful mid-sixty-ish type of fellow who looks younger and doesn’t drink; and a past which involved, in part, military experience, has left me with an underlying musculature and no ghastly flab. I walk ten km per day, hence my iron-hard thighs; and I have blond hair. Dyed, of course, but it looks tasty, and I am not bald. I have a sense of humor and am well-read; I love music of all sorts, poetry and good English and I am a published writer.
Enough...crossing your mind is: and I will be delicate here - can I still cut the mustard? I am happy to say, the answer is squarely in the affirmative and no chemicals are involved.
Over to you! Very warm regards from
Edwin
Dear Edwin,
Goodness me! A 404 word proposal! And so romantic, Petal. I haven’t had an offer like that since little Johnny Carstairs wanted to see my knickers when we were in fourth grade. You so nicely describe me in your mental picture of myself. Ah yes, if I were only 25 again. I too, have a mental picture of you with your ‘suicide’ locks (dyed by your own hand), but I am not sure I needed the description of the thighs, after all, they say thighs doesn’t matter these days! I am a little perplexed about the ‘mustard’ which you want to cut without chemicals. Is this Dijon or Colman’s? Honestly, Edwin, I can cut all kinds of mustard and don’t need chemicals to do it. I usually use one of those lovely cheese knives, as I normally have the mustard on the cheese, washed down with a bottle of bubbles. And here is our first stumbling block - you don’t drink! Don’t drink? Do you have some sort of a medical problem you are hiding from me? And then there’s the military side of things. Sorry, Edwin, but uniforms do nothing for me. I can imagine you shouting at your bilingual daughter and I on our compulsory 10 km walks every day. Left, right, left, right, halt at T junction! So thank you, but unfortunately I must say no. However, congratulations on knowing when to use a semi colon, as opposed to a comma. Very rare, in this day and age.

Dear Hillary,
My agent in the Hammock Room reports that you often wear not one but two Blue Peter badges attached to your DD Cups! I wonder if these relate to your pathological and morbid interest in water loving beasts which led you to being fondly remembered as Buffalo Hill?
Mistersingha
Dear Mistersingha,
My day started off well. A proposal of marriage, which I unfortunately had to refuse (if he’d attached it to a bottle of sparkling giggle juice, I might have given in), but then the second email was yours. What a total let-down. However, you have given us all an insight into your fantasies. Blue Peter (for all those unfamiliar with Blue Peter, it is a children’s show on TV, named after the maritime flag that is hoisted when a ship is about to sail), goodness me, Mistersingha, how long have you been watching? The show was supposed to be a voyage of discovery for children. Perhaps you could also sail off somewhere, using some DD cups as kayaks? Please try, that’s a good boy. Off to play then.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Can you really throw away your flash?

According to Eastman Kodak, the technology is here now, and will become universal in 12 months, by which low-light photography becomes easy. Provided you have made the jump to digital technology.
Ben Dobbin, reporting for AP writes, “An innovative camera-filter technology promises crisper photos in poor light.”
Rochester, New York (AP) - A year from now, capturing a crisp, clear image of a candlelit birthday party could be a piece of cake - even with a camera phone.
Eastman Kodak Co. said it has developed a color-filter technology that at least doubles the sensitivity to light of the image sensor in every digital camera, enabling shutterbugs to take better pictures in poor light.
“Low light can mean trying to get a good image indoors of your kid blowing out the birthday candles. It can mean you want to take a photograph on a street corner in Paris at midnight,” said Chris McNiffe, general manager of the photography company’s image sensor business. “We’re talking about a two-to-four-times improvement in (light) sensitivity.”
Analyst Chris Chute does not doubt that the new filter system, intended to supplant an industry-standard filter pattern designed by Kodak scientist Bryce Bayer in 1976, represents a breakthrough in boosting photo quality - especially when light conditions are not ideal.
“It’s often the most simple concepts that can have the most profound impact,” said Chute of IDC, a market research firm near Boston. “This could be revolutionary in terms of just changing that very simple filter on top of the sensor and basically allowing companies to use it in all different kinds of cameras.”
Kodak expects to provide samples of its new technology to a variety of camera manufacturers in the first quarter of 2008. The technology is likely to be incorporated first in mass-market point-and-shoot cameras and camera-equipped mobile phones beginning sometime next year.
“Typically new features like this would be more likely to show up in high-end products and then trickle down,” said analyst Steve Hoffenberg of Lyra Research Inc. “But I think the biggest potential benefit of this may come in the camera phone environment. Camera phones are using smaller sensors to begin with and smaller sensors generally mean smaller pixels, which means lower sensitivity.”
When the shutter opens on a digital camera, an image is projected onto the sensor, which converts light into an electric charge. Most sensors use the Bayer mask: half of the millions of cells on a checkerboard grid are filtered to collect green light and a quarter each are filtered to let through red and blue light. A computer chip then reconstructs a full color signal for each pixel in the final image.
The new method, which has been under development for more than five years, adds “panchromatic” cells that are sensitive to all wavelengths of visible light and collect a larger amount of light striking the sensor. Tailoring software algorithms to this unique new pattern enables faster shutter speeds, which reduces blurring when capturing a moving subject, McNiffe said.
So what does all that really mean for you and I? In simple terms, it is the equivalent of using fast film of ASA 1600, instead of the ASA 100 that you normally use. It means that you would be able to hand-hold a low-light shot at 1/60 shutter speed, instead of having to use 1/4 second exposures. It also means (as far as I can work out), that the graininess associated with low-light photography will be overcome.
It is amazing that the Bayer mask has been accepted as an industry standard all this time, especially as it was developed in 1976, which is more than 30 years ago. In this fast-moving technological age, where the electronic gizmo you buy today is superseded tomorrow, we are still using a 30 year old concept.
I have to say that I am somewhat disappointed with the thrust being towards low end point and shoot cameras, and even worse, that abomination called a ‘camera phone’. I do believe we should strive towards excellence, and I don’t need a camera that will telephone people, nor do I need a phone that takes pictures. I have a camera to do that. What do you feel?


Money Matters:  Graham Macdonald MBMG International Ltd.

If U.S. Equities are doing so well why is the U.S. Economy struggling? Part 2

At the end of May, the S&P broke record ground for the first time since 2000. The DJ Industrial 30 got to over 13,633. People have short memories or, possibly, do not remember what happened the last time new highs were set - i.e. massive losses soon followed. Even after the correction of February, which was led by sell offs in China, it did not take long for the investors to come back and they have been pushing US markets steadily upward ever since. This time, the nervousness was much shorter-lived. “If we see a 20 or 30 percent decline in the Shanghai index, that will cause investors to sit up and take notice,” Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor. “Basically, investors say, ‘You’ve got to increase the shock value, not merely replicate it to get my attention the second time around.’”
Markets in the USA have been strongly supported by one or more of the following: Mergers & Acquisitions, corporate takeovers, companies buying back their own shares and company earnings that are proving to be better than expected.
Things now come full circle. This optimism now seems to be overshadowing worries about the slowing US economy, rising energy prices, increasing commodity costs, a potential rise in interest rates and the problems of the housing market.
“We have a remarkably positive environment for securities,” said James W. Paulsen, chief investment strategist for Wells Capital Management. “You have 5 percent real world G.D.P. growth right now and you have massive excessive liquidity sloshing around.”
As reported in the US press, in the minutes of the Fed meeting in mid-May, officials believe that the economic outlook has improved whilst at the same time admitting the housing market and the problems in subprime mortgages would serve as a bigger drag on the economy than they had previously thought.
These same minutes then went on to show that policy makers are still concerned that inflation is too high and too unsettled to warrant a change in policy. This means that interest rates have had to be left unchanged at 5.25 percent. There are also signs that the recent moderation in inflation could be threatened by rising fuel prices - these have risen to over USD3 per gallon for the first time in almost a year.
However, investors remain unperturbed. While the outlook for profits is not as strong or upbeat as it has been in the last few years it is still quite optimistic.
Also, low interest rates have continued to enable people and businesses to have easy access to credit. “Until interest rates rise significantly and investors become excessively optimistic, the market is likely to continue upward,” said Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist at Robert W. Baird & Company, a securities firm.
Despite all this some analysts and economists are worried that investors have become too complacent. The S&P has gone up by around eleven percent in the last three months or so. This rise does not allow for the rise in interest rates, the slowdown in the economy and the recent increase in petrol prices.
“Markets never move in one direction for a long period of time,” one investment analyst said. “The glass is being viewed as half full, which it is, but there is always another side to the story.”
The energy sector is now leading the way in the markets. This is followed by the materials business. Both of these sectors have benefited from the upsurge in commodities that has been driven by China, India and other developing nations.
Even though there is evidence to show that the US indices are doing extremely well, there is also doubt at the back of the American investor who can still recall the horrors of 2000 and 2001. The flow of money into mutual funds that concentrate on domestic equities, a good guideline for investor sentiment, has been less than strong over the last few years.
This can be seen from the fact that in the first four months of this year, the US investor has put only USD25.3 billion into mutual funds that specialize in the US markets whereas they have spent more than twice that, $56.1 billion, into international funds.
So, even though the US markets do not appear to be in too bad a shape the reality is that the economy may cause them further trouble and so it is better to be safe than sorry - keep your money out of the US unless you do not mind a rough ride.

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 Graham Macdonald on [email protected]


Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

Travel broadens the mind and for many people it is true. For some there is a strange reluctance to do anything except take advantage of the new locale, abuse it and go home. They never accept that they are the visitors, the foreigners and Rome residents staged protests recently against the invasion of hooligans arriving for stag parties. Other visitors are simply silly and I cherish the true story of the woman who said that she could not cope with the local currency whilst in Spain. Why, she wondered, could they not have double sided notes – with the local amount on one side and the British value on the other. It seems that the excess baggage in terms of ignorance and prejudice is carried in the mind not the suitcase.
Of course, you don’t have to travel to have your horizons broadened and I have been pleased (and amused) to see the reaction the visit of my Thai friend has had. There are some 40,000 students at any one time visiting this town and they mostly live with host families (many of which are ill equipped mentally and physically to cope with them). Do they, I wonder, all get spoken to at three notches above the norm or get asked questions obliquely or worse still through a third person. It reminds me of the great title of a radio programme about the disabled, ‘Does he take sugar’. Ands why is there an inbuilt assumption that none of the trappings of ‘civilisation’ are available in far away countries.
But for me, obviously, the most interesting aspect has been the response of a visitor from Chiang Mai to our very different environment. We have travelled throughout Thailand and to Vietnam, Laos and elsewhere but this is the first trip to Europe, which later this week will take in a little of France and then Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. The reaction has been mixed. London was somewhat overwhelming, but the London Eye visit – 133 metres above the ground in that vast wheel – and a Thames River cruise were wonderful ways to see the landmarks. London’s parks and open spaces and the great buildings such as St Paul’s were also a great success. But the traffic and pace were all too reminiscent of Bangkok. There is no doubt though that the abundant farm lands in the south and the overall lushness and greenery and flowers and shrubs have been the most captivating aspect. The unseasonable rains and April sunshine have had a hand in this.
The beauty of the older cities such a Chichester and Salisbury, including their cathedrals have also impressed, as have the superb sandy beaches (despite the wind and the rain making them unusable). Yes there have been plenty of plusses, including the very fresh air, outside the capital and negatives as well. Not just the excessive traffic (what about Chiang Mai during the flower festival?), but the fact that most vehicles have only one person in them. Our profligacy does not pass unnoticed. But the biggest contrast of all is one I have noted before in this column.
The number of cameras on the streets and the abundance of signs and restrictions providing the non-stop exhortations to do this and not do that. All of which has been brought home by the July 1 ban on smoking in public places and more sadly the recent attempt by terrorists to blow up parts of central London and then Glasgow airport. Barriers, further restrictions and notices have sprung up over night. A necessary evil against evil.


Let's Go To The Movies: Mark Gernpy

Transformers: US Action/Sci-Fi – It is big, loud, and full of testosterone-fueled car fantasies – a gigantic, spectacular, and funny summer blockbuster movie, with truly exceptional and unprecedented visual effects. If you like loud action movies, see it, you’ll have a lot of fun. You may think it way too long, but if so it’s simply too much of a good thing.
Two warring alien tribes, the good-guy Autobots and malevolent Decepticons, have made their way to earth, their transforming abilities allowing them to pose undetected as transportation vehicles (like your car) and electronic equipment. The Decepticons are out to locate a cube with the powers to allow them to rule the universe, and their one link to finding it is hidden in a pair of eye glasses owned by 16-year-old Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the descendant of an explorer who came upon one of the robots hidden in the ice of Antarctica in the 1800s. He doesn’t look like a teenager to me, but he certainly acts like one. Sam is consumed with everyday worries about school, friends, cars, and girls. His car, as it happens, is an Autobot in disguise. Quote of the week: “I bought a car. . . . Turns out to be an alien robot. . . .Who knew?!” He bonds with his Autobot – boy with car, the old story – after which he gets to save the world. And get the girl!
Its great fun, although I must think the depiction of suburban American family life, with the weird interactions of teenagers with their parents, must puzzle Thais. Sam’s parents here are so believable that they come across as monsters.
It’s an action movie, so there are many car chases, crashes, and explosions. But it’s a real ride! See it if it sounds at all interesting to you!
Live Free or Die Hard/ Die Hard 4.0: US Action/Adventure/Thriller – This one sneaked in a week earlier than scheduled. A fascinating plot of a conspiracy to take down the entire computer and technological structure that supports the economy of the US (and the world). Very scary stuff and very well done. It’s up to a decidedly “old school” non-technological hero, Bruce Willis, in the guise of police detective John McClane, to take down the conspiracy.
Well, Bruce Willis is a dear! He is just a marvelously comfortable person to be with. And does he ever kick butt, same as always. It’s a superb action movie! You get the feeling you are really in the hands of professionals who know what they are doing. It’s slick, well-written, well-acted, terrifically exciting. This one also has many explosions and car wrecks; if that’s your thing, you’ll love it. If you only put up with them, you’ll be thrilled by the rest of it: the story, the acting, and the very good dialogue.
Rakna 24 Hours: Thai Romance/Comedy – An interesting premise: our hero had a twin in the womb (which we see); one of them during birth gets tangled up in the cord, as the other one watches him die. Then the mother, sicko that she is, raises the one surviving baby as twins. It’s enough to seriously screw up a guy’s outlook on life! The child is called A one day, and his twin B the next, all up to the present day when he is 22 and working at a 7/11. When one of them falls in love, problems ensue. Mildly amusing.
Scheduled for Wednesday, July 11
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: US Adventure/Fantasy – Harry returns for his fifth year of study at Hogwarts and discovers that much of the wizarding community is in denial about the teenager’s recent encounter with the evil Lord Voldemort, preferring to turn a blind eye to the news that Voldemort has returned. A new course of study unfortunately leaves the young wizards woefully unprepared to defend themselves against the dark forces threatening them, so Harry takes matters into his own hands. Meeting secretly with a small group of students, Harry teaches them how to defend themselves against the Dark Arts, preparing the courageous young wizards for the extraordinary battle that lies ahead.
Reports are this is the darkest and toughest “Harry Potter” yet. Two more after this . . .


Life in the laugh lane: by Scott Jones

Part 1 - A Crash Course in Computers and Harleys

This column comes to you from the complementary computer/internet desk in the comfortable lounge of a massive motorcycle dealership in Staunton, Virginia where I’m uncomfortably waiting and paying for repairs while surrounded by a hundred Harleys and most everything else imaginable that can sport a Harley-Davidson logo: several million accessories, pinball games, pool and poker tables, couches, cocktail tables, popcorn machines, garage floor coverings, wind chimes and a catalog that even lists a Harley-Davidson vault for $12,000, which is probably in their office filling up with my cash. You can set up your own mirrored, mahogany Harley bar with matching stools for about $20,000 to drink heavily before you ride and then pack some Harley Beef Jerky which is what your head will look like after it hits the pavement because you didn’t wear your $300 Harley helmet. The pet section has “fashion” dog t-shirts for $20, canine raingear, and retractable leashes for $31, barking dog chews that say “Bad to the Bone” and little leather hats guaranteed to embarrass any dog meek enough to let his master dress it. Besides the unending mens’ and womens’ clothing section, the kids’ section is filled with propaganda material: t-shirts that say “50% Mommy, 50% Daddy and 100% Harley,” a picture book entitled “Why Grandma Loves Her Harley Too” and—to promote the cult at birth—tiny quilted booties for “Age 0-3 months” that say “Born to Ride.” I’m surprised there’s no Harley Viagra for brand marketing that targets sperm.
For the past two days, I’ve been trying to get to Minnesota, but am still trapped in Virginia, having traveled about 200 miles forward and 200 miles backwards. Before riding away from my friend’s house, I related a couple recent forgetful tales. I left my charger in San Francisco, which is similar to a familiar song and too familiar in my life since I also left one in North Carolina. (Within the year, I won’t have to carry a cell phone charger because all my friends around the country will have one.) As I walked out the Radio Shack door after purchasing my latest one in Virginia, the checkout lady called me back to see if I wanted to take my phone with me. In the parking lot, I put on my sunglasses which felt very weird under my helmet until I remembered I’d forgotten to take off my regular glasses, a new meaning to the term “old four-eyes.” Five miles down the road, marveling at how light the backpack carrying my laptop was, I realized I wasn’t wearing it and had left it in the driveway. I raced back to my friend’s imagining I’d confess, “As an English tutor in Thailand, I learned that demonstration is a more effective teaching technique than explanation. Instead of just telling stories, I thought I’d show you what an idiot I am.”
To my horror, I returned to my friend’s to NOT find the computer in their driveway. I’d left it on my back seat and it had fallen off somewhere on the road. The computer was worth a couple thousand dollars, but the two external hard drives had my entire virtual life, files that would take months to reconstruct and irreplaceable photos from around the world. I didn’t care about the dollars, just the ones and zeros, the precious digital info, all my passwords for bank accounts, ad infinitum. For hours, three friends and one policeman scoured the road sides—thick, tangled ditches filled with poison ivy, tall nettles and blackberry brambles, some leading twenty meters down into streams. A truck stopped and the driver asked, “Y’all lookin’ for this?” and held up my backpack which looked like it had been ripped apart by rabid bears. “Y’alls computer don’t look so good. Ah couldn’t find any names on it and since ah don’t know much ‘bout ‘em, I left it at a client’s house up in the hills.” We drove into the hills which are home to primitive, toothless tribes that speak a different language, similar to Thailand. We found the house and retrieved the mutilated computer before her son could contact my bank account passwords with his ouigi board.
Oh, thank you, Ruler of the Universe and the God of Karma, one of my disc drives was not destroyed and my digital life is intact from the day I left Thailand! While I copied the data on another computer, my friend asked, “Do you have a warranty?” Great idea! I’ll send the crushed pieces to Sony with a letter that says, “I was calmly sitting at the table when the computer suddenly exploded, shooting the LCD screen into our wall, which is made of rubber as you can see by the black marks on the case. The letter ‘E’ flew off the keyboard and blinded my grandmother. Send me a big check or, in true American style, I’ll sue for millions or send millions of armed forces into your country.”
Part 2 of Scott’s misadventures in Virginia continues in the July 17th issue.


Your Health & Happiness: Thai medics to help Cambodia contain dengue fever

Thailand will send health officials and medical equipment to help neighboring Cambodia to contain dengue fever after the number of dengue fever cases there was recorded at nearly 10,000 in June.
The Cambodian government requested Thailand’s assistance to contain dengue fever there after the spreading disease officially became a crisis when the death toll last month was reported at 132, or a five-fold increase over the previous month, according to Dr. Thawat Suntrajarn, director-general of the Public Health Ministry’s Disease Control Department.
Thai Public Health Minister Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla has been assigned by Prime Minister Gen. Surayud Chulanont to lead teams of specialists and carry medical equipment to Cambodia.
Medical equipment will be sent to Cambodia by aircraft of the Royal Thai Air Force. The Thai medical teams will treat Cambodian patients and update Cambodian medical staff on new procedures on preventing and containing dengue fever outbreaks. TNA