The Thai government has implemented a visa extension for tourists coming from some countries for medical treatment. The countries are Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar (CLMV) plus China. Medical tourists from those countries will be able to stay for 90 days without applying for an extension rather than 30 days as was the previous case.

Bangkok Post has a story that mentions the Thai government’s efforts to capitalize on the global wellness trend. Part of that effort is something they are calling Amazing Thailand Health and Wellness Showcase 2017. They put together a website to promote it with the ridiculous url The event was held on 11 August 2017. I missed it since I was out of the country at the time. Here is the list of categories being represented by various healthcare givers at the event:

  • General Hospital
  • Plastic Surgery Hospital
  • Regenerative & Functional Medicine Hospital
  • Anti-Aging Clinic
  • Cosmetic & Aesthetic Clinic
  • Dental Clinic
  • Cell Therapy Clinic
  • Lab Check Up
  • Medical Spa
  • Senior Nursing Care Center

I think it would have been interesting to see what some of the more unusual treatments being offered are all about.

I recognized one of the so-called anti-aging clinics, Panacee, because they have a branch at the My Ozone resort in the Khao Yai area not far from where I live. It’s a big nice resort in the rolling hills near Khao Yai National Park. I took a look at the web page (ridiculous url here and noticed a couple of things. They mention the resort is located in a “…magnificent 475 acre valley of natural ozone source.” In the next paragraph they mention another branch that is located in Germany. They say “Panacee medical center, Grand Rommerbad is situated in the ozone rich area of the Black Forest.” Apparently this medical group does not know that “Ozone in the air we breathe can harm our health”. That’s the first sentence on the US government EPA website on the page about health effects of ozone. Ozone is a pollutant, and “Even relatively low levels of ozone can cause health effects.” Does that give anyone else pause about trusting these people with your health?

Here is a blog post that expands on my mini tweet storm about measles becoming endemic again in the US due to a drop in children’s vaccination rates. I put the graphics and links all in one place so you don’t have to keep clicking through to other websites to see them.

This story comes from Arstechnica where they quote the researchers who point at that a drop of 5% in the MMR vaccination rate drop will triple the number of cases and be very costly in terms of public healthcare costs. The personal costs are pretty high, too. Quoting:

Measles, in particular, requires vigilant vaccination. The highly infectious virus can linger in the air for hours after a cough or sneeze. Those sickened develop high fevers, rashes, inflamed eyes, and cold-like stuffy nose and cough. But people can spread the infection days before those symptoms appear. About 30 percent develop complications, such as pneumonia, brain swelling, and blindness.

So there’s that.

Since I am originally from California I was curious about how prevalent unvaccinated kids are these days in my home state. A while ago I did an analysis of data from the California Department of Public Health on the percentage of kindergarten children who had been granted “Personal Belief Exemptions” in 2015. Here is a map of California with counties colored according to percentage of unvaccinated kids.


Note that it looks like most of the northern half of the state suffers from this risk. The county names are not listed in the graphic but the 20 with the lowest vaccination rates are shown on my Rpubs page at Nevada county leads with 21.4% unvaccinated, followed by Mariposa county at around 15%. Amazing in this day and age, like a third world country in this respect.

Something odd I noticed when I was writing this post is that the data that I used in this analysis has been moved or removed from the CDPH website. So the link to the source on my Rpubs page is now broken. The CDPH website does have some summary data that shows vaccination rates overall are climbing back up. Here, for example they say that overall vaccination rates went from 93% in school year 2015-2016 to 96% in 2016-2017. So that’s good news, although still a little low. I haven’t spent the time to search for the raw data; perhaps it is there somewhere.

The developing country of Thailand, where I live, hasn’t lost its mind. The vaccination rate for measles has risen rapidly since 1984 and was reported at 99% in 2015. Here is a chart from World Bank based on the data they have collected.

Thailand Measles Vaccination Rates

Vaccination Rates of Children Age 12 – 23 Months in Thailand

From on 27 July 2017.

Maybe it is because so many people in Thailand can still remember the horrible days before nearly everyone received vaccinations.

I previously posted about a robot arm built with cardstock and Arduino. The idea comes from a project on called Cardware. The motivation for Cardware is that there are lots of hobbyist robotics components available like servo motors, controllers, sensors, etc, but to put together a complete robot of any kind you have to either buy an expensive kit (which may not even be available depending on where you live, e.g. Amazon does not ship to Thailand) or have the tools and expertise to fabricate something like 3D printed plastic or laser cut MDF body components. The talented project owner of Cardware developed plans for folded card stock as the body components that can be assembled into a complete robot.

There are multiple advantages of this approach:

  • Availability – card stock, or something similar, and general purpose glue are available nearly everywhere in the world, although there may still be some challenges as I discuss below in the video.
  • Tooling – an internet connection and printer are the tools needed to be able to download and print the patterns on the card stock. Even in less developed areas there is usually a school or internet shop where this can be accomplished. After that all that is needed is a pen and a cutter to score and cut the pieces.
  • Cost – high quality card stock is inexpensive by Western standards. It isn’t cheap by local standards in Thailand (and probably many other developing countries), but one can substitute lightweight cardboard such as cereal boxes, although there are some issues (mentioned in the video below).

The are some disadvantages to this approach. Dimensional accuracy and stability are not tightly controlled and depend highly on the quality of your cuts and folds. As a result, one can easily end up with a robot that is not well aligned and does not move smoothly. Another disadvantage is the fact that cardstock is not nearly as durable as 3D printed plastic or laser cut MDF. Due to the clever design and folding the strength is pretty good, but pivot points wear rapidly. Durability can be improved a bit by using lots of glue such as PVA to strengthen seams. And pivot points can be strengthened by gluing in plastic bearings made from something like short pieces of tubing cut from ball point pen cartridges.

In the video below I demonstrate the early stages of a build of version 2 of Cardware. At this stage I am driving two servos with the Arduino Uno.

In the video below I discuss some issues with the materials used in Cardware. My focus is on how this robotics learning platform can be globalized so that learners in developing countries can easily make use of it. In Western countries it is easy to take for granted something like cardstock. But it could be a real obstacle in a developing country.

These issues aside, I went ahead with the next version of Cardware using cardstock rather than reclaimed cereal boxes. The designer did some very nice work on it and I encourage you to visit to see more details about Cardware. I finished the papercraft part of the project and started installing the servos. At that point I did not have enough servos to complete the project so it was put on hold. Events have intervened since then so it is still incomplete and looks like this at the moment

Robotic quadrapod make from cardstock, hobby servos and Arduino MEGA

Cardware Quadrapod

I anticipate a new blog post once it is fully assembled with all servos and an Arduino MEGA as controller.

An Arduino Uno combined with a multi-function shield makes a great inexpensive starting point for projects. I had an extra Arduino-compatible laying around so picked up a multi-function shield with the idea to use it as a teaching tool. It has a 4-digit 7-segment display, a buzzer, three pushbuttons, a trimming pot, and a number of headers for attaching additional things like up to three servos. That provides lots of opportunities to dabble and learn how to control physical hardware with Arduino code.


Arduino Multifunction Shield

I originally had just a vague idea of how I would use the Arduino + multifunction shield for teaching purposes. But then I decided to combine it with a project I was contributing to on The project started out as something called Cardware (which has since evolved quite a bit). The concept is that there are lots of hobbyist robotics components available like servo motors, controllers, sensors, etc. But to put together a complete robot of any kind you have to either buy an expensive kit (which may not even be available depending on where you live, e.g. Amazon does not ship to Thailand) or have the tools and expertise to fabricate something like 3D printed or laser cut body components. The talented project owner of Cardware developed plans for folded card stock as the body components in which servos could be mounted and then the components assembled into a complete robot.

More details on the development of Cardware will be in another blog post. Now I will just jump to the finished result of combining Cardware with an Arduino Uno + multifunction shield.

I introduced this to the teacher who runs the coding club at my kid’s school. They are already using to teach primary school kids coding. The kids in the club make art and games using Blockly. Adding a real world physical component like this gets kids excited and is what makes robotics such a great way to inspire young learners. There are many kits available targeted at that space. But I like this approach because it is much more DIY. It is more challenging than snapping together pieces of a kit so more adult help is needed. The Arduino can be programmed using a Blockly-like tool within the Arduino IDE. So kids can actually program the robot arm to move the way they want it to.

It’s probably old news to experienced makers and crafters, but I only recently discovered this adhesive called B-7000 that works well on a number of plastics. Several projects I built utilize plastic bottle caps to fashion wheels, often requiring gluing a couple of caps together. Those are typically made of LDPE or HDPE. Empty yogurt containers, made of polypropylene, were used in another project. I had poor results using the cements I had on hand (hot glue, cyanoacrylate, “all purpose” plastic cement). After a little research I learned of B-7000 and, happily, it is available on Aliexpress at attractive prices.

A few test pieces showed it forms a very strong bond on the two materials I previously had trouble with.


The test items were subjected to stress testing by a very strong six year old. Those two bottle caps are inseperable. The yogurt containers bonded pretty well but did come apart with only a moderate amount of force. Good enough for most projects but if a super strong bond on polypropylene is desired then a different adhesive is needed.

Of course, like so many items on Aliexpress that come from China, you get the silly English labelling.


“Surprise adhesive force” and “Stimulate the taste-free”, chuckle. But the adhesive works very well and at about US$1 for a 25ml tube it is a good deal.

In the US you can probably find it at a local craft store and there are many sellers of it on Amazon. Being in Thailand means there are few local sources for specialty craft materials such as this adhesive and Amazon does not ship here. But Aliexpress has nearly everything, and much better prices (that 25ml tube cost me US$1.00). You just need the patience to wait three weeks or so for it to arrive. There are plenty of sellers. Another option in Thailand is Lazada which delivers in under one week, but at several times the price.


Commend Science Square in Bangkok

Posted: December 1, 2016 in Thailand

The facilities and programs at Science Square in Bangkok are excellent. I recommend parents with kids in Bangkok take advantage of them.


Science Square at Chamchuri Square in Bangkok


Science Square is a branch of Thailand’s National Science Museum. The main science museum as well as a natural history museum and an information technology museum are located in Pathumthani. Visit their website at Be aware that the English version of their website is incomplete as some of their programs are described in Thai only. Also be aware that the programs at Science Square described below are all in Thai. So it is for Thai speaking kids. For an overview of the displays with some photos check out the review at I’m going to talk the actitivies they offer.

Science Lab

There is a great program called Science Lab that is held every day of the week. There are three one-hour long lab projects on different subjects held each afternoon starting at 1:15. My six year old son and I have done three of the labs so far. They are real content-filled activities, not simply empty play.

We did a lab about copper. We dissolved copper sulfate in hot water, then used a mild acid (ascorbic acid) to precipitate out pure copper. We collected the pure copper and added gum arabic to make a sort of paint. A button battery holder and LED were attached to a card that was printed with the circuit diagram. Then we connected the battery to the LED by painting a circuit with the copper paint we had made.


Circuit Wired Up Using Copper Paint Made in the Lab

Another lab was about ice cream. The concept was to demonstrate how adding salt to ice lowers it’s melting point which is needed to make the ingredients cold enough to form ice cream. After the salt was added to a bucket of ice the ice cream ingredients were added to a metal cup inset into the ice and whisked (for a long time) to make ice cream.


Making Ice Cream the Hard Way

The third lab we did was about bacteria. We made our own hand gel using water, cabopol (thickening agent), alcohol, triethanolamine (surfactant), and triclosan which is the actual anti-bacterial agent. Kids got to choose a food color and fragrance to add to their gel. The lab leader talked about helpful and harmful types of bacteria.


Learning About Helpful and Harmful Bacteria

Then the kids took at a look at several types of bacteria using microscopes set up in the Science Lab.


Viewing Bacteria Under the Microscope

Maker Space

They also have a nice looking Maker Space at Science Square. There have not been any Maker activities on the days we have been there but we want to join them when we can.


Maker Space at Science Square

It looks like they do some fun projects for kids, like these doodle bots.


Doodle Bots Made at Maker Space at Science Square


Science Square is located in Bangkok on the top floor of Chamchuri Square. That makes it easy to reach by public transportation for people in Bangkok – the Sam Yan subway station is located right at Chamchuri Square.

I recently finished the Data Science Specialization offered by Coursera. It is a nine course sequence that covers all aspects of data science, from finding and cleaning data, to creating reproducible research, applying regression models and machine learning, and producing data products. The final class is called Developing Data Products and we were required to develop a project for it. For my project I created an interactive data visualization of data scientist jobs worldwide that I call “Where The Jobs Are”. The app processes data scientist job listings obtained from the API, showing numbers of jobs and salary ranges in bar charts and box plots by region. Users can drill down one level by selecting the region and see jobs by city. They can also see job listing details and click through to the actual job advertisement.

The app is built with R and Shiny, while the Careerjet API is accessed with a Python script. Here are a couple of screenshots.











A year ago came the announcement of a huge barter deal wherein Thailand would pay China for equipment for a high-speed rail project. The plan was for two links, one that passed through Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand to Bangkok, and another that passed through Sakon Nakhon in the northeast of Thailand and then on to Bangkok.

According to Forbes, the new military government of Thailand announced that the deal is off. It’s not really clear why. Maybe the details turned out to be unattractive for either side. Maybe all that stockpiled rice that was planned for the barter isn’t really in the silos or is already rotten – there’s been plenty of searching and posturing in previous months about it.

Forbes says this would have the been the biggest barter deal of its type in history. The most interesting aspect of the high speed rail project is that if it ever does get completed it will provide a very valuable route from mainland China all the way to Singapore. Goods, people, and troops (as needed) will be able to be rapidly and relatively inexpensively shipped a long way.

Upon reading the news about a proposed barter deal where Thailand would trade rice and other agricultural products for high speed train components for its high speed rail megaproject, it occurred to me that this is another example of bypassing the petro-dollar. There are already a bunch of China currency swap deals aimed at bypassing the US dollar in international trade. Barter deals are another way to achieve that end.

Instead of buying agricultural products in the traditional way, which involves currency transactions that end up passing through the USD, they would barter agicultural goods directly for train components. The amounts involved are fairly significant. They are talking about more than one million tons of rice and 200,000 tons of rubber per year for the next five years. Price per ton for rice varies quite a bit depending on the type and quality (see the Thai Rice Exporters’ pricing page here), ranging from USD400 to nearly USD1200 per ton currently. Let’s just take the average as USD800 for arguments sake. That would be USD800 million per year for rice. Maybe they will hit a billion USD or more per year with the combined agricultural products. Not bad.

A couple years ago China and Iran were talking about a barter deal so Iran could sell oil without being hamstrung by U.S. sanctions. There are also deals or proposed deals between Iran and India and South Korea. These bartering deals, especially involving big ticket items like oil, could add to the erosion of the petro-dollar’s strength.

I’m into the third week of the UI (user interface) design course I am taking via Coursera called Human Computer Interaction. The lectures for this week include a discussion of some prototyping techniques to use to quickly create a mockup of the interface for your system. The objective is to have a prototype to put in front of users to see how they interact with it and identify issues early in the development cycle. One of the techniques is called the “Wizard of Oz” method.

The name is inspired by the movie of the same name in which the wizard is really just a small man behind a curtain who is pulling the levers to make something much bigger appear operational. This technique is really great for early evaluation of user interfaces because you don’t have to spend a lot of time solving complex issues in the backend. You just need to have an interface that looks somewhat realistic. A “wizard”, which is a person behind the scenes not usually visible to the users, operates the controls to make it appear as if an automated system is actually running everything.

Today I was reading a story at Natural News with the headline “Head fake! Is only an empty shell MOCKUP of a working Obamacare exchange?” and it struck me right away that maybe really is just a mockup in a Wizard of Oz prototype fashion. All the evidence would seem to indicate that. Like the fact that the people in charge can’t even say how many people have signed up through the system. That kind of information just falls out of a real system. Maybe they don’t know because it really is just a mockup with a bunch of people behind the scenes pulling the levers and they have to poll all them and collate the information before they know.

Another reason to think it might just be a mockup is how quickly and thoroughly it has been overwhelmed. Seriously, any system designed for this purpose would have to consider this volume of users at initial roll-out. I don’t think there is really any system on the backend.

And finally, anyone who has done contract work for the government knows how ridiculous it is. It is standard procedure to have specifications thrown at you that are bloated, poorly written, and often times scoped by inexperienced people. Then the specs get changed repeatedly, causing rework and delays. Then there is a funding issue at the end of each fiscal year when funding runs out, the project has to shutdown, and then later gets restarted again when the funding finally comes through, but in the mean time the previous development team went off and found other jobs. I know this one well from my previous work at an aerospace firm where I was a project manager.

My guess is that the system was not completed in time due to all the vagaries of government contracting. The government was firmly committed to a roll out date, but the system wasn’t ready so they threw up a mockup. The wizards, of course, were immediately overwhelmed.