Category Archives: Science

Pandemic Update – 5 July 2020

As I watch the statistics–new COVID-19 cases and new COVID-19 deaths–there are other observations that present themselves. One is that every weekend the numbers fall in comparison to the weekdays. I attribute this to delays in reporting. Weekend staffing in hospitals and government agencies tend to be lower than during the week, so the cases and deaths get added after the weekend. Numbers tend to run higher early in the week, which I believe is to catch up for the weekend.

Although new cases are increasing in many areas, deaths continue to decline. Among those with the most new cases, Florida started to climb about 24 June, Arizona’s cases began increasing 16 June, with a similar trend in South Carolina. North Carolina, on the other hand, has been on a steady rise since March.

I thought there might be an increase after the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and I used Minnesota, Washington state, and the District of Columbia as likely examples. I saw no dramatic increases. These demonstrations began 25 May, so we’ve been through two incubation cycles. On television, it appeared that many demonstrators maintained wore masks.

I have no idea where things are headed and I make no sweeping claims based on the statistics I’ve been tracking. However, I believe that facts are important and they are the first step toward solving any problem, including the pandemic.

 

It Will Never Be a Movie

If the Coronavirus COVID-19 were a movie treatment, it probably never would get made. Look at the plot elements:

  1. A deadly disease begins in a faraway city known for both selling live exotic animals for food and for having a secret government lab.
  2. The disease is viral. Viruses, unlike bacteria, do not respond to antibiotics. Since a virus is not actually alive, it cannot be killed, only neutralized.
  3. The disease preferentially attacks the poor, minorities, the aged, females, and people with pre-existing medical problems.
  4. Some who are infected by the disease show no symptoms, but are carriers of the disease and can transmit it to others.
  5. Some of those infected exhibit flu-like symptoms, are misdiagnosed. The defining symptom, death, follows soon thereafter.
  6. Some adult patients show no obvious symptoms, except upon examination, it is discovered that their oxygen levels are dangerously low, which can lead to death.
  7. Children, at first were believed to be asymptomatic, later many develop a whole host of symptoms that are completely different from those experienced by adults.
  8. Politicians, faith healers, scammers, etc. seize the opportunity to amass wealth and/or power.
  9. Much of the protective equipment, drugs, and medical supplies needed to handle the disease are produced in the country from which the disease originated. Many US companies had moved manufacturing offshore to save money; there is insufficient manufacturing capacity in the US.
  10. Scientific experts advice is ignored while the Internet and other sources promote a variety of alleged cures, treatments, and religious talismans–none of which seem successful.
  11. There is insufficient capacity to test all suspected cases, so the number of people affected are likely under reported. Some cases are only diagnosed after death, when an autopsy is performed.
  12. State and local governments discourage people from engaging in activities that spread the disease, encourage the use of masks to protect others, and maintaining a six foot buffer between people.
  13. With workers unable to do their jobs, the economy suffers. People are laid off or lose their jobs.
  14. The number of confirmed cases in the US approaches 1.5 million confirmed cases, with nearly 90,000 deaths. These numbers only include patients who were tested or otherwise diagnosed.
  15. Some claim the disease is caused by a new cellular telephone system; others call it a hoax; still others see it as a conspiracy to restrict constitutional rights.
  16. Armed dissidents, encouraged by a variety of sources, protest the social distancing, stay-at-home orders at the state capitals, clustering in large groups, usually without masks.
  17. In the meantime, the country from which the disease arose and several of its allies launch cyberattacks on the US to steal medical secrets relating to healing or preventing the disease–and anything else they come across, once they get inside a computer.
  18. As US cases seem to slow their rate of growth, state and local governments relax social separation. People immediately return to pre-pandemic behaviors and the dissidents declare victory.

The screenplay ends here. The audience is left in limbo, unsure whether the disease is indeed winding down, or preparing for a second wave. Unsure as to the future of the economy.

As I said at the beginning, no studio would ever consider wasting time on a script for this scenario.

It’s Not About You

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Sneeze.JPG

“The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
                                                                                  – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wearing a mask in public is not to protect the mask wearer from germs. It’s to keep germs from being transmitted to others. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and is contracted by inhaling the virus.

A sneeze is a veritable biological weapon. Whatever is in your mouth and nasal system is sprayed as an aerosol, covering an area well beyond the social distance of six feet. In fact, it appears to be well over 20 feet. The droplets can remain suspended in the air for several minutes When they settle, pathogens are deposited on surfaces with a virus that can last up to several days.

National Geographic has an interesting article.

Some decry that their rights are being violated by pandemic restrictions, such as face masks.

Using Supreme Court Justice Holmes logic, your right to go without a mask also ends where my nose begins.

 

 

Octopus Sans Garden

There has been some interest in octopuses (I, being a heathen, used to call them octopi–sorry!). Nevertheless, I’ve always found them fascinating.

Years ago, I was able to successfully maintain a marine (saltwater) aquarium. At various times, I had coral and clown fish, sea horses, and an octopus, although not all at once. The octopus was the most interesting–here’s what the octopus taught me.

  • My octopus could not only change colors for camouflage, it could mimic patterns and shapes. On the bottom of the aquarium, it would match the pattern and color of the gravel. On coral, it would have the color of the coral and appendages on the skin that made it blend in marvelously.
  • They are so good at camouflage that there have been reports of apparently empty aquariums being drained, only to find a number of octopuses hiding.
  • An octopus is curious and loves to climb. If one is in an aquarium and there’s a teeny-tiny-miniscule gap, the octopus is likely to squeeze through and climb up (Apparently,up is their favorite direction),
  • When my octopus saw food, it turned reddish–it’s “Time to Eat” signal.
  • My octopus–like all other octopuses–had no bones. It was a squishy organism. It’s hard to believe that the favorite food for an octopus is crab. It amazes me that the squishy creature routinely eats a one with a shell and nasty pincers.
    The octopus would stalk the crab, then suddenly turn red and in a split second, attack land on the crab like a parachute. An expels a toxin that paralyzes the crab and in the middle of the octopus underside is a very effective beak–exquisitely designed for opening a crab shell.
  • Octopuses are wonderfully intelligent, although difficult to keep in captivity.
  • My octopus would watch me as I walked around the room. It used two of its arms to hold onto the aquarium glass. When I walked, it would move along in parallel and in synch with me, supporting itself with two arms and swinging the others to imitate my legs.

Now, isn’t that better than reading the news?

Conspiracy!

Photo CNN

In England, vandals have set cellular towers on fire because they believe, thanks to internet, that the new 5G cellular system causes coronavirus. I can–but won’t–speculate on how they came up with this.

I suggest that everyone who has clicked on such links be banned from the internet and required to write a ten page essay, complete with footnotes and bibliography, proving the cause and effect relationship between 5G and coronavirus. Manifestos and anecdotes would not be allowed.

Alternately, each could be required to repeat sixth grade science class–in a real sixth grade class with genuine sixth-graders, complete with sixth-grade size desks.

I also suggest that internet sites that allow such blatantly false information to be posted would forfeit gross revenue for the length of time that the postings were hosted. The forfeited money could be used to improve public education.

Sometimes the Old Ways Are Best

“(CNN)NASA may have a multi-billion dollar budget and some of the most advanced technology in the world, but when the Mars InSight lander got into a spot of bother, scientists came up with a charmingly rudimentary fix for its space technology: Hit it with a shovel.”

The apocryphally named “GM’s Law” says, “Don’t force it! Get a bigger hammer!”

Sometimes the old ways are, in fact, the best. Occam’s Razor rules.

Rules of Acquisition

The Ferengi appeared as aliens in several Star Trek iterations. They were the ultimate business people who frequently quoted from their 286 rules of acquisition. I’ve heard they were originally planned as the villains for Star Trek: The Next Generation, but came across as more silly than intimidating.

In my favorite interaction, one Frengi asks, “What if this becomes a war?” The other replies, “Rule 34.”

The first responds “Ahhh, war is good for business. But, but, what if it doesn’t lead to war?” The response is “Rule 35.”

“Ahhh, peace is good for business.”

Today there are real Ferengi; not as exotic looking, but every bit as greedy:

  • People pretending to be employees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are knocking on doors, wearing white lab coats, telling residents that they’re testing for COVID-19. Then they rob them.
  • A former White House advisor asked if people staying home to avoid the virus is worth the economic consequences.
  • Senators dumped stocks after being briefed on the coronavirus, but before that information was released to the general population.
  • All kinds of scammers are selling phony medications or religious talismans.

Oh, wait. Rule 14.  “Anything stolen is pure profit.”

Sorry, I Don’t Believe in Reality

Well, actually I do, but there are apparently many others who do not. The coronavirus COVID 19 is the current pressing example. People are dying–why wouldn’t you believe in it?

Easy.

If someone has a radio talk show or a podcast that makes money for them, there’s more money in denying reality than accepting it.

KACHING!

As a human being, I am embarrassed. It may not be as profitable, but it is more human to help one another instead of leeching off others’ misfortune.

Medical Mayhem

One of the problems with medical issues is that scientists’ and physicians’ assessments must constantly be revised. As additional facts are uncovered, logical conclusions are changed. That is difficult for some people to accept.

For example, 1.2 + 1.2 when rounded is two. However, if additional research adds a mere .1 to the equation, the answer would be rounded up to three. This is how science works.

This is how reality works. This is how life works.

The view of the effects of coronavirus is changing as more data are available.  This is good. This is how the intellectual process works. This is a time for thought, not emotion.

Viruses are unaffected by opinions, polls, or politics. So too are suffering and death. It is by keeping an open mind, examining the facts, re-examining the facts, and focusing on facts that we can progress.

Bring on the NANOBOTS!

See the source image

I love nanobots.

Nanobots are microscopic robots that can do anything from curing disease to treating injuries or providing energy to weapons. There’s just one minor problem with nanobots . . . .

They don’t exist in the real world.

But they are a staple in science fiction. Have an insurmountable problem? Write how nanaobots resolved it—it’s the best Deus ex machina* tool ever. For example:

Powerful, evil dudes attack good people, who are powerless to resist.
Nanobots are released that change the mental and emotional state of the bad guys. Soon, everybody sings Kumbaya.

However, there may be technology on the horizon that provides the benefits of nanobots using existing materials. The first, albeit tiny, steps are being taken in utilizing a virus to edit genes in a patient by using the CRISPR technique. It’s not as sexy as the nanobots in a John Scalzi novel, but this is real world technology, which is rarely sexy.

Will it work, or like so many other ideas, fail to execute as imagined.

Stay tuned!

 

 

* Deus ex machina (/ˌdeɪəs ɛks ˈmækɪnə, – ˈmɑːk-/ DAY-əs ex-MA(H)K-in-ə,[1] Latin[ˈdɛ.ʊs ɛks ˈmaːkʰɪnaː]; plural: dei ex machina; English ‘god from the machine’) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence.[2][3] Its function can be to resolve an otherwise irresolvable plot situation, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or act as a comedic device.

Corona Virus Side Effects

There is a lot of angst regarding the corona virus (COVID-19). Oddly, most news coverage focuses on its impact on the stock market.

The news media, critically important for a democratic society, focuses on stories that sell newspapers, encourage internet clicks, or result in more pharmaceutical advertising during the evening news.

However, it’s best to put things in perspective.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are now 459 COVID-19 [link] cases in the United States. There was a death  today, which although is regrettable, makes a total of one.

On the other hand, influenza (the flu) has sickened at least 19 million across the U.S. and led to 10,000 deaths and 180,000 hospitalizations. This does not seem as significant because we encounter influenza every year. The Spanish flu in 1918 killed between 50 and 100 million people around the world.

The disease that infects millions and kills thousands is no big deal because we see it every year. A new disease, because it is novel, scares us to (near) death.

I’m not minimizing the potential of the virus. However, COVID-19 has been sensationalized, so the threat and probability of encountering it are more prominent in our mind, regardless of likelihood. Each of is, at least at this point, far more likely to be seriously affected by or to die from influenza, yet we focus on COVID-19.

I wish each of you good health–and a speedy recovery for your equity holdings.

 

Clear Title

Sometimes, in our effort to remain relevant, we change simple, explanatory terms to ones that are less so. For example, when people reach middle age and there are hormonal changes, we now call it menopause. First, it’s not a pause; when we pause, we usually start up again. Second, a lot more happens to the female body than the lack of menstruation.

In my parents’ day, they referred to it as “change of life,” which in my opinion is a much better description. Everything seems to change–muscle mass, skin tone, libido, moisture in the mucosa, hair color, energy level, hot flashes, etc., etc., etc.

Menopause sounds more clinical even though the name refers to only one symptom. In reality, pretty much everything is different.

Men may not have the same physiological catalyst or the hot flashes, but life changes for them as well–muscle mass, skin tone, libido, energy level, etc.

I think the old title worked better.

Wallowing in the News

It seems like the Internet now focuses so much on negativity:

Cardiologists say avoid this food . . . .

Movie Star denies hiding millions in secret Swiss bank accounts . . . .

When did Obama become a Republican?

You get the drift. The other spots on the news websites are filled with rumors about celebrities–who’s dying, who’s cheating, who’s raising kittens–the whole nine yards.

At least I no longer have to sneak a peak at the tabloids in the supermarket.

Boeing 737 Max B

Aircraft evolution is really quite fascinating—right up to the Boeing 737 Max 8.

Initially, the Wright Brothers (Wilbur was the real inventor, Orville was the trusty sidekick) actually bent the wings to cause it to turn. Fortunately, if wings are fabric covered wood slats held up by metal cables, bending them is easy. Soon, elevators (the little wings at the tail) controlled whether the aeroplane pointed up or down, and ailerons (movable sections of the main wings) determined whether a plane would angle and turn; the rudder helps turns but is mainly to keep the back of the plane coordinated with the front.

The United States entered World War II in 1941 with most of its aircraft still made of wood frames covered by fabric AND two sets of wings, but more modern planes were arriving and more under development. By 1945, the US Army Air Corps (there was no US Air Force until 1947) was flying multi-engine, high altitude aircraft with pressurized cabins. Next, jet engines replaced many propeller-driven airplanes. Soon passenger aircraft were taking business from the railroads.

The biggest change came when the technology changed from mechanical controls to computers. Small general aviation aircraft, for example, have cables connected from the pilot’s yoke (the thing that looks like a partial steering wheel) and the rudder pedals to the various control surfaces. The pilot pulls back on the yoke and the plane points its nose up; push and the nose goes down. There are other factors that that play a parrt, but you get the idea.

Fly-by-wire describes having a computer between the pilot and the aircraft control surfaces. When the pilot pulls back on the yoke, it is really a computer interface that gives a command to the elevators to move. It’s designed so that to the pilot, it feels the same regardless if it’s mechanical linkages or fly-by-wire. So far, so good.

Basic general aviation planes are built to be stable, and therefore forgiving. The Cessna 172 that I learned to fly, for example, could recover itself from some unusual situations (like a spn) if I just let go of all of the controls. I never tested this, but like most student pilots, I was harder on that little plane than it was on me.

When you add computers, there are all kinds of possibilities, starting with sophisticated autopilots. A military fighter aircraft ideally needs to be highly maneuverable, which means you sacrifice stability. However, by adding a computer, it’s not just the commands from the pilot, but hundreds of little adjustments by the computer. These invisibly make the aircraft act stable but still give the pilot control.

In a modern military aircraft, the pilot is the weak link. The aircraft can accelerate to speeds that would cause the pilot to black out. The aircraft can fly longer than the pilot can remain alert. The pilot’s main job is to provide judgment; even so-called “drones” are remotely piloted.

Planes like the Boeing 737 Max 8 have an upgraded computer system. The new 737 seemed so similar to previous versions, except for the computer and software, that the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t require the exhaustive testing required of a brand new aircraft. It’s possible that the new software has some flaws, flaws that reportedly cause the plane’s nose to drop and not respond when the pilot pulls the yoke back to correct it.

This is only a guess, based on various news reports. When a thorough investigation is complete, including reviewing the data from the flight recorders—the “black boxes”—then we should know more.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is*

I’ve never been crazy about switching back and forth between standard time and daylight savings time. I realize that daylight savings time is worth billions of dollars to the outdoor grill and charcoal industries, the gulf courses, and–at least on Halloween, the candy manufacturers.

But why switch back and forth? Oh, I forgot, our Congress came up with that idea to save energy, even though it actually uses MORE energy and there’s a great loss of efficiency whenever we change.

Time is pretty arbitrary to begin with. If you set up a sun dial in your backyard, with precise orientation, the time at your location is very unlikely to match the time your clock/telephone/nuclear synched weather station, etc. We have time zones because the railroads needed it back in the 19th century–today I guess it’s for network television.

Take the Eastern Time Zone. It stretches from Qaanag (Thule), Greenland to Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. In Qaanag, sunrise today is at 0819 (8:19 AM) with sunset at 1912 (7:12 PM).

In Indianapolis–in the same time zone–sunrise is at 0758 (7:58 AM) and sunset at 1949 (7:49 PM). On the east coast of Virginia, sunrise is at 0719 (7:19 AM).

Since it is so arbitrary, anyway, why don’t we just stop switching back and forth. Personally, I’d prefer staying on daylight savings time–I like a little sunshine after I get off of work.

Hey! Haven’t We Seen Him Before?

reg

Reg Blank, Max Headroom, William Morgan Sheppard, and . . . Sheppard as a Klingon?

Everyone–or at least everyone of my age–has heard of the six degrees of separation (from Kevin Bacon). If you don’t know->click here.

I’ve read some reasonably academic(ish) articles about how people are connected, and in the entertainment world it is not the big-name actors who are the connectors, but the character actors. Why? Sylvester Stalone, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, or (add your favorite star here) carefully choose the roles they will undertake. John Wayne, for example, was an action figure–a cowboy hero, a military hero, etc.

Character actors, on the other hand, show up in a variety of movies and television shows. They get to play all kinds of roles. They also (probably) get to go to the grocery store without being accosted.

However, character actors still have roles that leave lasting impressions. One great character actor, William Morgan Sheppard, died in early January. You can check him out on IMDB if you wish–you’ll probably find something familiar.

As for me, of all the roles he played, my favorite was on Max Headroom. There was a group of nonconformists who refused to be connected to the computerized network and were not identifiable. To the network, they merely appeared as missing data–blanks–and Blanks were what they called themselves. Sheppard played one of the key blanks who even had his own radio program. His name? Reg Blank.

Great character acting. Great concept. Frighteningly prescient for a Facebook connected world. Here’s a peek.

Bill, if I may, thanks for adding your flavor to the world of entertainment.

 

Medical Tests

I spent many years in healthcare, starting as a radiologic technologist (or, using the pejorative, x-ray technician), moving into management and eventually becoming a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives. I maintained my clinical and management certifications throughout my extended recall to active duty–complete with continuing education requirements–until I accepted a position outside of healthcare. Then I dropped my healthcare credentials–after all, the annual memberships and continuing education requirements amounted to over $4,000 per year. With school age kids at home, that was a luxury that could not be maintained.

Nevertheless, I have maintained as active an interest in healthcare as Sherlock Holmes did for tobacco ashes. (If you don’t what I mean, read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books.)

So why do I even mention this?

First–So many things that were medically disastrous or fatal during my clinical days are now routinely managed if not cured. Halleluiah!

Second–There are so many new areas of medicine that address real issues that were written off before. Again, Halleluiah!

Recently, where I work, they shrunk the functional sized workspaces, with 7 foot high sound absorbing dividers to playpen size (48″ x 48″ x 48″) work areas with which offered almost no sound absorption.

Hey, what could go wrong? The salesman said it would be wonderful!

So, if you make one extremely stupid move, and it creates problems, the next step is to make an even more extremely stupid move. Since everybody can hear everything everyone says, instead of bringing the old cubicle materials out of the warehouse lets ———–

INSTALL NOISE GENERATORS!

The theory of noise generators is that by adding noise on top of noise, the existing noise will be less noticeable. (To me, this is like blasting a diesel horn to drown out traffic noise, but then I am not an expert in interior design.)

The salesman claim that it is not additive–huh? Add X deciBels on top of Y deciBels and you will end up with Y minus X deciBels? (Can I have whatever you are smoking?
Thanks, man! Got any munchies?)

A select few of us don’t hear the noise generators, but instead feel a pressure in the ears similar to a small plane climbing to altitude–accompanied by the feeling of the world was spinning around.

Ergo, we get to spend our time sequestered in areas without the NEW! IMPROVED! sound reduction.

BUT we get to go to physical therapy. This where I found out about a whole new specialty in Physical Therapy that deals with labyrinth issues (the part of the inner ear that impacts balance and such). (In my experience, no new medical specialty emerges without a demand; does that tell you something?)

I’m optimistic that the physical therapist will be able to help me. In the meantime, my free advice to anyone interested:

  1. Don’t accept everything sales people say as gospel.
  2. The scientific method demands that we challenge, prove or disprove, not blindly accept things as fact.

Just something to think about, but that’s what this blog is all about.

Writing Is Sometimes Work

Writing can be like a partial conversation among friends. Writing can be therapeutic by admitting to things that concern or anger you. Writing can be artistic as you commune with the muse whose job it is to inspire you.

However, writing can also be work.

Lately, I haven’t written much because inspiration has been difficult. As an idealist who likes to believe that by pulling together we can accomplish anything, today’s “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude is a definite buzzkill.

What’s wrong with “My opinion and your opinion are mutually exclusive and universally exhaustive, but go ahead and tell me about your opinion anyway,”? Nothing, but instead of conversing, we prefer to find an internet site, radio station, organization, or whatever that reinforces our own opinion. It’s easier than critcally thinking.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a flawed–if not faked–study that linked autism to childhood vaccinations. The study was discredited and the former Dr. Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. However, some believed–and continue to believe Wakefield’s tripe.

Right now, in Asheville, North Carolina, 36 children are suffering from chickenpox. While chickenpox may not be fatal–although in some cases it has, it hopefully won’t be for any of these children. Meanwhile, their parents will most likely continue to limit themselves to associating with others who agree with their concerns about vaccinations.

Perception

Perception is a strange and wonderful thing. Many people live with the perception that “it will never happen to me.” Objectively this sounds foolish, if each of us included everything that could, indeed, happen to us, we would  be paralyzed with fear and spend our lives quivering under our beds in a fetal position.

However, since we are not data driven, realistic, computational intellects, we take totally unnecessary chances that make no sense and what do we have to show for it?

  • The ability to fly
  • Transplanting organs from a dead person to a living person
  • Automobiles, with gas stations full of highly flammable/explosive fuel located throughout the world
  • And a very humongous, etc.

On the other hand, a logical, realist would be naked and cold, banging stones together outside his cave because fire is just too dangerous.

 

Whatever Shall Be Will Be

Hurricane Florence is getting closer. The eye of the hurricane will be about 250 miles to the south of where I live, but, it’s not the eye that causes problems.

Hurricanes–cyclones–rotate in a counterclockwise direction. (Cyclonic means counterclockwise.) This means that if one’s location is above the eye, the hurricane is going to push the water in (deja vu–didn’t I say this yesterday????). So being above the eye is not necessarily a good thing.

Florence is now a category 4 hurricane, which means it moves faster and inevitably covers more territory. It may become a category 5. In any case, I’m going to get wet.

My wife, being much smarter than me, is taking our children to safety, far west and uphill from here. After all our years together, she knows that I live to help, so she understands (but does not necessarily give explicit approval) to my plan to stay here and provide emergency communications.

I expect to be successful, but this could be my last rodeo. After this, I may have to hang up the emergency communications hat and satisfy myself with the more sedate aspects of amateur radio; maybe I’ll take an occasional cruise, or whatever.

Actually, I look forward to that.

Major League catchers eventually succumb to their knees. Superstar quarterbacks succumb to traumatic brain injury. I suspect that, after this storm, I’ll succumb to whatever affliction affects disaster junkies.

Maybe I’m due to have some fun instead of a having one more additional fulltime job.

What do you think?