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Airborne Virus spreads science across the globe

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Airborne Virus spreads science across the globe | The Thaiger

While many visitors arrived at Phuket International Airport in the run-up to last month’s Songkran Festival, a French couple, whose microlight aircraft landed there on April 11 for safety reasons, raised more than a few eyebrows at the busy facility. Stephen Fein reports:

PHUKET: The couple, 31-year-old Adrien Normier and his fiancée Clementine Bacri, 28, are on an around-the-world journey of scientific exploration quite unlike any other that has come before it. They were en route from Penang, Malaysia to U-Tapao airport, in Thailand’s Chonburi province, when cloudy conditions atop a hill range east of Phuket made it impossible for their tiny aircraft to continue onward.

The plane, a 6.2 meter long Pipistrel Virus Short Wing [details below], can only be flown “line of sight”, which in aviator parlance means VFR (visual flight rules). With almost zero visibility, the pair had no option other than to divert to the nearest suitable airport they were aware of at the time.

During their short and completely unplanned stay on the island, the Parisian couple sat down with the Phuket Gazette to explain how their dream project, which they call ‘Wings For Science’, came to be.

“We began designing this project five years ago, when we decided to do something different and useful for at least a year. Some friends of mine in France had already asked me to do science using small aircraft,” said Adrien. Shortly thereafter, the young AirFrance pilot had a burst of inspiration.

“We’re going to do this in different places all around the world! It’s going to be interesting’,” he recounted.

Their goal established, Clem and Adrien then sent an offer via France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) to get the message out that the couple would be more than happy to use a light sports aircraft to conduct free research in remote locations around the globe. In return, all they asked for was the right to interview the researchers and discover what they were doing, then shooting short films about the work.

“We wanted to be useful and to discover the world in a way different from what we were used to. We thought that taking part in interesting projects would be a great way to discover new places and the people who live there,” explained Clem, a lawyer by trade who practices in both France and Luxembourg.

After lining up an impressive array of collaborators and sponsors, the couple’s first project involved researching atmospheric pollutants in the city of Luxembourg in December 2012. Taking aerial photographs, they helped create three dimensional images of the inner city using specially-developed software that is the key to much of their work.

From there, taking turns flying a maximum of five and a half hours a day, they headed north to take part in creating three-dimensional models of two islands off Iceland.

Then they headed even further north to take part in two projects in Greenland.

The three dimensional models their software helps create allow researchers to gain valuable, possibly lifesaving, geophysical data about the landforms they study. For example, the images they produce of a volcano dome enables researchers to predict points of collapse during an eruption, and the likelihood, or otherwise, that lava flows will run into inhabited areas nearby.

The Virus, with its low stall speed and hi-tech photographic equipment, is an ideal platform from which to create detailed 3D images that would be impossible from either a land-based perspective or by satellite imagery, explained Adrien.

“This gets you a very high-resolution 3D model, with a clarity of the ground that is not possible with Google Earth,” he says.

“Also, in Google Earth you have pictures without any notion of the volume [of landforms],” notes Clem.

Not all of their work has involved mountainous landforms, however. They also marked the movement of mudflats in mangrove forests in French Guyana, taking tens of thousands of images and “creating a sort of private Google Earth database for the research institute conducting the study there,” Adrien said.

Apart from 3D mapping, the pair have also done some “observation flights” in search of specific features, such as spotting whales for an oceanographic campaign in Canada that collects biodata on individual migrating cetaceans.

“With the airplane we can extend the range of prospection of the whales,” said Adrien.

The intrepid couple have also successfully taken part in several “aerial archeology” research projects.

Asked how microlight aircraft could be involved in a pursuit more often associated with excavation pits, dirt and pickaxes, Adrien explained.

“In some very specific environments, you can actually look for archeological remains from the air. In Europe, we looked for and found Roman archeological artifacts, such as villas, using this method,” he said.

He went on to note that in the dry European summer, crops can be very sensitive to amounts of water that get collected or trapped by stone formations beneath the earth’s surface. Common crops, such as oats and wheat that tend to grow at the same rate under uniform conditions, can tap into these precious water sources.

The plants that do it tend to grow taller than those that do not, and the differences can form a sort of contour indicating the position of subsurface structures, including those left behind by ancient civilizations. Such patterns may be discernable from the air, but go unnoticed by people on the ground – including those who planted the crops.

“When it’s desert, you can really see stuff. You can see hilltops shaped like squares and you can see that there was a pyramid there. In Peru it is very obvious. There are thousands and thousands of remains,” Adrien said.

During their work in Peru, home to the world famous Nazca Lines geoglyphs, they detected a previously unknown formation of stones that are now thought to be the remains of an ancient cemetery that could be up to 5,000 years old, according to initial estimates.

A photo of a shaman performing a religious rite at the site is among the many interesting images available on their Facebook page, and on the many other social media the technically savvy pair use to keep the public up to date on their journey of discovery.

The only break in the couple’s circumnavigation of the planet came when they had to ship the aircraft in a container from South America all the way to Australia.

SAFETY CONCERNS


As is now becoming standard on many small aircraft, the Virus comes equipped with a “rocket-propelled parachute ballistic recovery system”, which means that if worse comes to worst they can simply pull a lever and a parachute will deploy, allowing the entire plane to come safely to the ground. Fortunately, the pair had yet to deploy this technology at the time they left Phuket.

Safety is always of paramount importance to the researchers, however.

“It is actually dangerous, but we take every precaution possible because we want to come back to do other adventures,” said Clem. “We wait when the weather is not good or we divert, as we have done here. We also have a Luxembourg-based meteorologist who communicates with us through satellite phone to update all of the meteorological aspects of the flight,” said Clem.

Asked how a single weatherman could remain on call 24 hours a day, the couple laughed.

Their eye in the sky, as it were, is a “very cool and nice” retired meteorologist named Ernest who “has trouble sleeping and is always there on the line when we need him. We couldn’t do it without him,” Clementine said.

Asked what their worst experiences have been, Adrien was quick to say they had all been on the “administrative side”.

As just one example, after they chose to divert

— Stephen Fein

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Phuket

“Self-myofascial release” – what is foam rolling?

The Thaiger

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“Self-myofascial release” – what is foam rolling? | The Thaiger

by Krix Luther

The word is out about self-myofascial release – foam rolling – and, no, Thailand people, this doesn’t have to do with a ‘soapy’ or ‘happy-endings’.

So what is foam rolling you ask? Well, it was once a secretive technique used by professional coaches and therapists but has become a regular practice for people across the spectrum of all fitness levels.

Self-myofascial release is just a fancy term for a technique of self-massage that helps deal with muscle tightness and trigger points.

With a massage parlour never being farther than a kilometre away, and decent one-hour massage costing you less than 500 baht, it might be difficult to see the point of learning the technique – which would explain why I always see a bunch of rarely used foam rollers in the corner of Nai Harn Gym in Phuket (one of the places I work).

Nonetheless, the understanding of your body and muscle structures that comes with practising the technique can offer many benefits.

  • Increases flexibility and range of motion
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Prevents chances of DOMS
  • Reduces post-workout stress
  • Helps with post-workout cooldown
  • Reduces recovery time
  • Prevents training-related injuries
  • Reduces chances of overtraining

The practice can be done with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, Theracane or your own hands by simply applying pressure to specific points on your body, aiding in the recovery of muscles and assisting in returning them to normal function. We can think of ‘normal function’ as when your muscles are elastic, healthy and ready to perform at a moment’s notice.

Foam rolling after a workout will provide deep compression that will help relax tight muscles and adhesions (fibrous bands) between muscle layers and their surroundings. The benefits of foam rolling are outstanding, in addition to increasing blood flow, which will speed up muscle recovery. Foam rolling can be used for a variety of corrective bodywork.

It can loosen muscles to re-balance posture, re-establish proper movement patterns, enhance performance and help create pain-free movement.

Stretching alone is not always enough when it comes to releasing the tightness, which makes the technique very helpful. Additionally, you are able to feel exactly what is happening and adjust the pressure so that it is uncomfortable, but not unbearable – not always the case when it comes to the toes of your Thai masseuse digging into your back.

Krix Luther has been a Personal Trainer in Phuket for more than 10 years, he specialises in weight loss, strength & conditioning, TRX and CrossFit. For more information about Krix and his services, visit krixluther.com

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Thai Life

Japan’s legendary cherry blossom is only 5 hours away

The Thaiger

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Japan’s legendary cherry blossom is only 5 hours away | The Thaiger

by Kaoru

Do you travel frequently between Thailand and North America and want to break your journey on the way? Or are you simply looking for somewhere to escape the scorching weather forecast for the next few months? 

Japan has become a very popular holiday destination among Thais with visitor numbers expected to reach one million a year. Many of them are excited to see snow in winter but March~April is a more pleasant time of year with spring flowers and festivals all over the country. Cherry blossoms are well known but the plum blossom season starts earlier in mid-February and the flowers last longer. 

While in Thailand I met so many expats, mainly farang, who had “been there, done that” all over Asia but not yet been to Japan. It seems these days, it’s the free-spending Thais who are travelling in numbers. Budget airline Nok Scoot started flying from Don Muang to Tokyo Narita last year and Thai Lion has now joined the competition. 

Those of you bound for North America can connect flights in Tokyo or Osaka, flying legacy carriers like JAL or ANA out of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK.) Actually, Tokyo has two international airports, Haneda (HND) which is close to the city and Narita (NRT.)

Japan's legendary cherry blossom is only 5 hours away | News by The Thaiger

Narita Airport is about 60 kilomentres from Tokyo but lies close to a temple town of the same name, only 10 minutes by train. Plum blossom festival is held there until March 3, Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated earlier than Thailand in April, and there will be two days of drum (taiko) performances on April 13 and 14.

However the largest plum blossom festival in the region is held between February 16 and  March 31 in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, about an hour and a half from NRT by coach.

To visit this event you might need a stopover of at least one night. The main venue is the Kairakuen Garden with 3,000 plum trees spread over 50 hectares.  On selected dates an outdoor tea ceremony will be held, and you may also like to taste local plum wine which is sweet and a lot milder than sake (Japanese rice wine.) 

“Plum Blossom Ambassadors,” ladies dressed in traditional costume (kimono) greet visitors at the gardens. Thailand is a photogenic country and so is Japan. I was in Chiang Mai until a few weeks ago, so with memories still fresh from the Flower Festival, I quickly approached of them for a photo shot. 

Then, a prominent feudal lord who ruled Mito reappeared from a few hundred years ago and also wanted to join the photo. Known as Mito Komon, his retired life is dramatised as a legendary figure who travels around the country disguised as a commoner, confronting villains and exposing corruption while helping the weak.

Even if you are familiar with Asia you will notice big differences as well as similarities when you come to Japan. “Will I be able to communicate and find my way around?” You might ask. Japan’s ranking in terms of English proficiency is in the same league as Thailand, only slightly ahead, according to one research by an international language education organisation. That sounds challenging to any foreign visitor but it shouldn’t put you off- If you enjoy life in Thailand you already know how to adapt to a different culture. 

* Special thanks to Mito Tourism and Convention Association for arranging my visit. Thai visitors please let them know beforehand that you are coming so that they can display their welcome banner. 

Japan's legendary cherry blossom is only 5 hours away | News by The Thaiger

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Thailand

The legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes, is now in effect

The Thaiger

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The legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes, is now in effect | The Thaiger

Grass, pot, ganja, marijuana… cannabis.

Whatever you want to call it, it can now be grown legally in Thailand and used in medical and scientific applications with the consent of the authorities, under strict guidelines.

The Narcotics Act 2562, which seeks to amend specific provisions of the Narcotics Act of 1979 to enable the use of marijuana for the treatment of patients, study, research and development, has now been published in the Royal Gazette.

The revised also allows for cultivation in agricultural, commercial and industrial uses for medical benefits as well.

However, the legal use of marijuana will be placed under the control of a committee headed by the permanent secretary of agriculture and comprises heads of several departments such as the Health Support Services Department, the Industrial Works Department, the Mental Health Department and the Medical Council.

The law also allows for the legal use of “kanchong”, or hemp, with consent from the committee.

Import and export of marijuana in quantities, appropriate for medical treatment of certain ailments, is now permissible under the law, but there must be a prescription or a certificate from a certified medical practitioner.

However, the import or export of marijuana in excess of 10 kilograms remains prohibited as this will be considered trafficking in narcotics.

This is the first time in Thailand that marijuana can be used legally for medical or scientific purposes despite the fact that the studies indicate the plant may possess medicinal qualities of value to some patients.

The controlled use of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes is considered an initial step which will eventually lead to wider use for other purposes.

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