November 29, 2021

My first thought upon hearing that there’s a new, far-more contagious variant emerging was, “Great… finally.”

Given the world’s sudden panic with respect to it, I guess I should clarify. I’m not some Evil Overlord awaiting the demise of humanity; quite the opposite. So… here’s what comes to mind…

Let’s rewind to the beginning of the pandemic. But no, not this one… the big one a long time ago. And no, not that one either… I’m not talking about the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. Let’s jump further back… and arrive at the 1889-1890 Russian flu pandemic. That pandemic killed around a million people out of a world population of 1.5 billion… roughly 0.7% of everyone which, if you map it to today’s world population, would be a death toll of over 5 million… a number which, unfortunately, has already been far-exceeded by Covid-19.

That flu epidemic has been studied ever since, and it certainly got a closer look in 1918, when scientists were trying to figure out what they were dealing with. As it turns out, after a century of research, with scientists all-along trying to shoehorn in what sort of flu virus that might have been (because nothing made perfect sense, and nothing really fit), a simpler explanation has recently come to light… and it’s become evident that the Russian flu pandemic wasn’t actually the flu after all. It was… yeah, you guessed it.

This sort of retro-science is obviously much easier in hindsight… indeed, that’s the only way to do it… so when you read about the symptoms of that ancient pandemic these days, and read about the high fever, chest inflammation, respiratory issues, killing predominantly older people, loss of taste and smell… yes, it does all sound somewhat familiar… and it’s not the flu.

As it turns out, the great Russian flu pandemic was actually caused by a coronavirus strain labelled OC43, one that has been found to have jumped into the human population exactly around 1890… and it certainly hit the ground running, infecting and killing countless people.

But here’s an interesting fact, 130 years later… OC43 is one of the leading causes of… the common cold. Has it gotten weaker over the years? Is it now more contagious but less virulent? Are we just more immune to it? Did we acquire some of that immunity from our parents? Are treatments more common and accessible to the extent that it’s no longer a big deal?

Yes – to all of the above. It’s just a common cold. We’ve all been dealing with it all our lives, and it’s generally – the vast majority of the time — not a big deal.

For virus like OC43 to go from killing close to 1% of the population to being no big deal took over a century. These days, we’re not interested in waiting that long. We have nowhere near the attention span. The sort of mindset that demands we be able to binge-watch an entire seven seasons of some show during three days of lockdown is the same mindset that insists everything, including pandemics, be dealt with in a quick and efficient manner.

Nature doesn’t really care what we think, so we simply have to take what we can get… but what we’re getting, as per my opening paragraph is, in my opinion, cautiously optimistic.

Like a common cold, we’re all going to come into contact with it. Everyone scrambling to close their borders? It’s a nice theatrical exercise, but the truth is that the Omicron variant is probably already here. Where’s here? Exactly. Everywhere. Watch for cases to start rising dramatically… everywhere.

And is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Cases will go up, but far-more-importantly, will hospitalizations? ICU admissions? Deaths?

I won’t go out of my way (yet) to say it’s all a good thing, but there’s one potentially very positive version of this: That this is the virus’s end-game. That this is where it gets a lot more contagious and a lot less virulent. Indeed, if we start getting data that this thing spreads like wildfire but causes only mild symptoms, we’re actually well on our way out of this mess… on a global scale. While it’s still too early to say for certain, initial indications imply a milder disease. While Delta cases cause elevated pulse rates, low oxygen levels and the loss of taste and smell, Omicron cases seem to cause different symptoms: Fatigue, head and body aches, and occasional sore throats and coughs.

And if that’s the extent of it – what sounds like nothing more than a common cold – and if it’s so virulent that we all get it and, with that, develop antibodies against the underlying C19… mission accomplished. Problem solved.

It’s interesting that this variant was first identified in South Africa.

On a somewhat related noted, it’s interesting to note that for the most part, the entire continent of Africa bypassed conventional telephone lines. It just wasn’t worth it to wire the entire country. They missed out on decades of the benefits of telephones in every household… but they’re making up for it now. Cellular infrastructure has arrived and, with it, internet and apps and everything that comes with it. They missed telephony the first time around, but thanks to leapfrogging technology, are pretty-much caught up. They’re exactly where you and I are with mobile phones, and, given how much we pay for cell service around here, probably a bit ahead. They leapfrogged into the cellular age… and they may end up leapfrogging vaccines.

The pathetic vaccination rates in Africa (not because they don’t want it, but because it just hasn’t been made available) might quickly become as irrelevant as an old Bell telephone (you know, the old ones… the ones where you could deliciously slam down the receiver in frustration) – because the prevalence of a mild and very-contagious version of this virus might finally be the thing to slam it out of existence. Africa may immunize themselves out of the pandemic by simply infecting each other with a much milder strain. And if that turns out to be the case, it won’t just be Africa; it’ll be everywhere.

I sincerely hope I’m not completely wrong. It’ll take a bit of time to confirm (or shoot down) some of these assumptions.., but I think it’s fair to put out there that there’s a version of this doom and gloom that’s not so gloomy and doomy. Far from it. The news that initially sent the world into a panic and markets tumbling and airports shutting down flights… might turn out to be a significant positive turning point.

February 4, 2021

Appropriate for sympathizing with the world’s smallest violin is the guy who decided to go visit a friend in North Carolina, took the wrong test on the way back (rapid test, which offers more false negatives than the government-required PCR test), and found himself stuck in a Toronto hotel, whining to the world about how unfair it is. I will gloss over the facts, because there’s something near the bottom of the story that’s just as important.

Indisputable is that this guy traveled to North Carolina to visit a friend, restrictions on non-essential travel notwithstanding. Canada requires proof of a negative PCR test, taken within the last 72 hours, to allow boarding onto a Canadian-bound plane… or, upon arrival. The guy should not have been allowed on a plane to begin with, but he was. And so, when he landed in Toronto, his answers with respect to quarantine were inadequate… and he was taken to what he describes as a detention centre. It was actually an airport hotel, where he was “incarcerated” for 60 hours.

He laments he’s out $130 for the useless test. He laments he could see Tim Horton’s, Harvey’s, Subway and Swiss Chalet from his 9th-floor room, but wasn’t allowed to order from them. He was stuck with the government-issued free food instead of that potential gourmet offering. And… he got in under the cut-off, so you and I paid for his hotel, food and internet.

The reporter reached out to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) to generate some outrage to add to the story, but the CCLA seems to be in agreement with the government. Their Director of Fundamental Freedoms, when asked to comment, replied, “If you take a look at section 4, it seems to deem a person without a proper test to be someone who is unable to quarantine themselves (s. 4(1)(a)), and then in s. 4(2) says that those who are unable to quarantine themselves must follow certain directions related to quarantine, which I think would include the requirement to quarantine in a hotel like the situations you describe”.

Basically, this guy made his own tax-subsidized bed, and then he had to lie in it… having neither a valid test result nor a quarantine plan upon his return.

But what bothers me most about this story is another quote from this poor, unfortunate soul who was stuck for three days with his warm bed and free food and free internet… with respect to the other eight people from the same flight taken to that hotel: “Some cried and said they would lose their jobs or didn’t have babysitters.” In other words, those other eight people also had the same idea as our hero: to hell with quarantine; it’s not in our plans.

You don’t have to agree with the rules, but you have to understand that they’re there for a reason, and that they’re clearly being taken seriously by the people enforcing them. Perhaps you shoul do the same. Or not. Up to you… but… play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

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By |2021-02-04T17:03:22-08:00February 4th, 2021|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics|Tags: , , , , , , |7 Comments

July 28, 2020

A lot of discussions these days – the ones where you ultimately have to walk away, or at least agree to disagree because you can’t actually believe what you’re seeing/hearing/reading… end like this:

“Where on earth did you get that idea from?”

“I researched it.”

The “researched it” thing gets thrown around a lot these days, and as per the famous quote from The Princess Bride… “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Unless you compiled a literature review, and wrote (or at least, read) abstracts of the articles you read… and/or collected a random sample of sources and performed an independent analysis of their credibility… and, if not, at least looked into the sources of those articles (authors, publishers and, most importantly, funders) and dug into that… for fallacies, distortions or just plain-old, flat-out lies… you didn’t really research it.

And even if you didn’t do any of that, did you at least think about the source of the article and why the aforementioned list (author, publisher, funder) might have been motivated to distribute it? What about the people who refer or promote the article; what might be their motivations? This wouldn’t be research, but it would be at least a semblance of critical thinking that might serve to possibly justify your opinion with respect to the credibility of your sources.

To be clear, clicking a link to a video or an article from your finely-tuned, curated feed on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok or whatever flavor-of-the-day social media platform serves as your de-facto news source – no, that’s not research. In fact, given the way with which that information is making its way to you, it’s perhaps as opposite to research as you can get. It’s spoon-feeding you exactly what you want to hear, because then you’ll click on it and generate some revenue for someone far down the line. And, in doing so, pad your conformity-bias just a little bit more because something new agrees with it… and set you up to click the next related thing.

Digging around the internet is the place to do research these days, but what exactly you’re doing makes all the difference. There’s a lot of good stuff out there; it’s just a question of wading through the crap to find it, and using some methodology to achieve that.

Incidentally, Wikipedia… a relatively good place to find a pretty good summary of anything within the entire body of knowledge of human history — can be easily downloaded. As crazy as it sounds, it’s only 10GB (compressed)… which is 42GB uncompressed, ie plain text… which means all of it, like all of Wikipedia – every single article – fits easily onto a $15 64GB USB thumb drive. You can carry around with you the entire knowledge base of humanity on your keychain, with lots of extra room for pictures and family videos. Not a bad thing to carry around in case you’re shipwrecked in the middle of nowhere with your solar-powered laptop. Or abducted by aliens.

Yeah, aliens… they’re here, living among us. It’s true; I researched it.

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Day 81 – June 5, 2020

My list of top-ten favourite movies has evolved over the years, but since 1994, the number-one spot has been held by a title that’s unlikely to ever move from that spot. The movie is “The Shawshank Redemption”, based off a Stephen King novella by a similar name. Stephen King movie adaptations are very hit-and-miss, especially as SK is known for giving movie rights away to aspiring film makers for $1. The good ones get proper treatment though, and it doesn’t get any better than this one. If you haven’t seen it — just do. Don’t Google it, don’t preview it, don’t research it. The less you know, the better it’ll be.

I’m going to talk about one particular scene… and don’t worry, this doesn’t spoil anything. In this scene, which takes place in Shawshank prison, a particular prisoner gets hold of a record player and some vinyl. The record happens to be from Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro”. He starts playing it, and quickly realizes he’s in the same room from where the P.A. system for the entire prison is operated. He flips on all the amps and starts blaring this beautiful duet to every corner of the prison.

The movie is narrated by a character named Red, played by Morgan Freeman, and he describes it like this:

I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

I had the experience of seeing this opera in Italy, and experienced something I’d never seen… after this particular aria (an aria in this context is a little song within an opera), the applause was so thunderous that it brought the performance to a halt. The applause turned into a standing ovation, and the chants of “Brave!” — side note, the plural of Bravo is Bravi — but when it’s feminine, like if you were applauding a single female, you’d say Brava!, but the plural, as would be appropriate in this duet sung by two women, is Brave. Anyway, the chants of Brave turned into “Encore!”. Typically, of course, an encore comes after the performance, not during it… but technically, in French, “encore” means “again” — and that’s what the crowd wanted. And that’s what the crowd got, much to their rapturous delight. The performers and musicians turned back a few pages, rewound 4 minutes, and did the aria again. Very powerful.

The aria (“Canzonetta Sull’aria”) comes along at the perfect time in the movie, and its effect on the audience is similar to what Red describes in the prison. Again, very powerful. Red doesn’t know what the aria is about, but I do, so I’ll tell you… these two women are scheming… one of them is a Countess, and she’s dictating a note to her maid… because, as it turns out, the Count is sort-of into this maid, and the Countess is trying to catch him cheating. So, she’s dictating to the maid, a note… a sort of “Meet me later tonight out by the bushes” sort of thing… where she (the Countess) intends to dress-up like the maid and catch him red-handed. Good stuff — not anywhere near as pure and powerful as Red may have interpreted it, but at least it’s intriguing.

And that’s sort of what this is about… when Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message” back in 1964, there was no Internet. People’s present-day information came from 4 sources.. TV, radio, print and word-of-mouth. The stakes back then were much, much higher. The words of Walter Cronkite were gospel; indeed, he was known as “the most trusted man in America”. Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Anarchists…. whoever — they may all have vehemently disagreed on many things, but they all listened to the same source. And perhaps that’s the fundamental issue; broadcast news went from boring to entertaining when competition came in… 3 major networks (and 2 here in Canada) were the critical mass… “real” news could survive in that environment. But beyond that, if you wanted to grab those advertising dollars, you’d better have had a competitive product… and that’s clearly when things went downhill… down to where we are today, where it isn’t news that people are after; it’s easily-digestible content confirming what they already believe, or want to believe, disguised as news. And the social media platforms welcome those clients with open arms, spoon-feeding them curated “news” that’s right up their alley… click-click-click… $-$-$.

The education that’s necessary that I spoke about yesterday… it has to begin at an early age, and it has to begin with critical thinking. Someone who can’t think for themselves will welcome the spoon-feeding that comforts them. I don’t want to think, I don’t want to change my mind… I’m happy with my beliefs, and look, a lot of other people think the same way. We can’t all be wrong. Gimme gimme gimme. Feed me. Om-nom-nom.

In the movie, Red is a convicted criminal with a grade-school education. He’s touched by something he doesn’t understand, but at least manages to guess the language correctly, and knowing full-well he can’t understand a word of it, comes up with an interpretation that suits the moment. There’s a huge difference between “this is what it says” and “this is what I hope it says”, and knowing when and how to apply that difference… that is the key for an educated, peaceful and harmonious future.

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Day 80 – June 4, 2020

I had a whole thing written out today… but it’s taken a sharp turn… and I ended up pulling the plug on the latter half of it. It might not surprise you to learn that I have a lot to say about all sorts of topics, and sometimes my personal opinion perhaps clouds my judgement… or let’s just call it objectivity. I have a pretty clear idea of what I think is right, but that’s never stopped me from trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes, to see how things look from their point of view. Everyone has their story, as incongruent as it might be, so let’s hear it. I might learn something from it.

I’m going to get a little technical for a moment. There are two techie things to understand: A Virtual Machine and a VPN. Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you know what those things are.

A Virtual Machine is basically a computer running inside a computer. A host computer runs the virtual machine, and the virtual machine (and everything running in it) thinks it’s running as a stand-alone computer. For example, this is being written on a Mac, my primary computer (and host computer). But off in the corner, at the moment, I have a tiny VM… running, of all things, Windows XP. I need to do this because I have some hardware that needs controlling and for which there’s no current software; the old stuff runs fine, so rather than having a whole computer dedicated to it, I have this 20-year-old operating system running inside a VM that makes it look like 20-year-old hardware. That operating system thinks it’s running on a computer with a Pentium 4 chip, 512 megs of RAM and a 5GB hard drive. Minuscule numbers for today, but they work just fine for the purpose.

A common use for a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is to establish a location different than where you actually are. Typically, VPNs are used to grant access securely to some remote resource, but people quickly figured out a convenient by-product… that often, those VPNs are based elsewhere. From there sprung-up a whole industry for people trying to bypass local controls. For the most part, a website can only tell where you physically are from the IP address you’re using. It’s a big no-no in some places in the world to connect to a VPN… like everywhere that the government controls access to the internet, because many VPNs allow you to select the location you want… be it a country, state or even city. Around here, people mostly use VPNs to watch US-based Netflix. When you connect to a VPN, you can “be” anywhere in the world that you want.

So a while back, I created a completely clean VM — like a brand-new installed operating system. I then set that VM to always connect through a VPN, in what we would all call a very red state. Serious MAGA country. Then I signed up for a new fake email address and then, Facebook. That FB profile had a fake name and fake credentials… no pictures of me… just many of American flags, Donald Trump, etc.

The intent here was research. I had no intent on engaging with anyone. I just started “Liking” lots of different groups, friending lots of American patriots, to see what my feed would look like. What would show up, and, more importantly, what “news” would show up? I just wanted to see what this world looks like from a very different lens… and you’d be surprised… slick and professional. Totally believable… so much so, a few times I had to go back and check other news sources to compare. What actually did happen today?

Near the end of the experiment, I made the mistake of engaging, because I was getting frustrated at all the crap I was seeing, and the same non-questioning, non-critical-thinking RaRaRa MagaTrump etc… there was such misinformation being posted that it begged asking… so I sent this blurb to a few people:

“I am curious about something — are you propagating misinformation on purpose? Are you just blindly copying/pasting information because it aligns with what you hope is reality? I apologize in advance if this comes off as a personal attack; it’s not meant to be. I’m just noticing a lot of people taking information that can’t possibly be correct and reposting it because it agrees with their version of reality, as warped as it might be. What you posted — do you know it’s bullshit? Do you not expect to get called on it? I’m genuinely curious.”

The result was what you’d expect, but far worse. It became impossible to manage.

I ended up shutting it down. I closed the FB account, closed the email, dragged the VM to the Trash. The whole fake identity no longer exists. Unfortunately, the reality with which that identity briefly interacted — it’s all still there.

I am desperate to see real change in the word, but I am incredibly discouraged by what I experienced. There is a whole block of population that simply can not understand, doesn’t want to understand, is unwilling to understand… it doesn’t matter how you word it. There are people who will post something so outrageous that it’s literally impossible for it to be true, yet they will defend it to the death. There is no logic that can be applied to convince them otherwise, because they don’t want to be convinced. They have their truth. So if you can’t convince someone who seems intelligent and educated… that their COVID-19 numbers, claiming a death-rate that would require the US population to be 15 billion people — are bullshit, how far do you think you’re going to get with more subtle, reasonable arguments… be it the pandemic, politics, racism, whatever. Their minds are made up, and nothing will ever change them.

As per the first sentence of this post… I’m cutting it here. My intent here is not to insult people, just inform… be it facts, or simply my opinion.

I talked recently about it being a steep uphill, but this looks like a vertical rock face. I do have my ideas, and perhaps I’ll eventually get around to sharing them… but honestly, at this point, I’m open to suggestions. It has to start with education… but how?

 

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Day 49 – May 4, 2020

Consider this sentence: Over 20% of people tested positive.
Now consider this one: Only 20% of people tested positive.

Without even knowing what we’re talking about… without even knowing if testing positive is a good thing or a bad thing… like, perhaps we’re talking about infections. Perhaps we’re talking about antibodies. Perhaps we’re talking about random drug testing in your office. Perhaps we’re talking about cyclists and performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps we’re talking about asking random people on the street what their outlook is for the future.

We don’t yet have a clue what we’re talking about, but the very first word of that sentence is already guiding your thought process. Better stated, the writer of that sentence (that’d be me) knows what he wants you to think, and is subtly suggesting it. I want you to agree with me. Maybe I want you to think that anything under 20% is fine. Or maybe I want you to think that anything over 20% is bad. But wait a minute, what if testing positive is a good thing? Then it’s the other way around.

Let’s take out those first words… what are you left with…. “20% of people tested positive”

OoOoOohhh, now what. What are you supposed to do with that? Think for yourself and decide?! Indeed, the vast majority of content we consume these days is written more towards getting you to think a certain way, or agree with a certain viewpoint — than to simply present the information. And further to that, once the algorithms have figured out what you like to think/read, they’ll spoon-feed you those sorts of stories… mostly because they know you’ll click on them, and that’ll generate ad revenue for them. This has pretty-much nothing do to with conveying news.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I did work for what was, at the time, the largest multi-line BBS west of Ontario. A BBS is an electronic Bulletin Board System, where you could call in with your computer’s modem and read/post public or private messages and play games and download a variety of different things. The vast majority of BBSs were single-line systems operated by hobbyists, but a few managed to take the technological leap to allow more than one person online at a time, no small feat as it required a lot of computing power, complicated software, multiple modems and multiple phone lines. From there arose chat systems and multi-player games.

This particular BBS, Mind Link, grew from 4 to 8 to 16 to around 40 phone lines by 1994, at which time it was acquired in the first wave of consolidation leading to what is today, the Internet. Indeed, Mind Link was one of the first in all of Canada to be able to offer an on-ramp onto that emerging information superhighway. It was all text-based back then, and it took about 10 finicky steps of loading unstable software in just the right sequence, just to get online. It was a virtual building of a delicate house of cards, every time. One wrong move and it would all lock up. In fact, it often locked-up for no reason at all.

I loved that job, for numerous reasons. First of all, the staff, all wonderful people, all intelligent and bright and some as tech-geeky as myself. And, I got to play with the coolest technology around; I was there the day we switched on the pipe to the internet — four Telebit Trailblazer modems working in sync, achieving a combined bandwidth of about 75 Kbps. Your internet connection today is somewhere between 20,000 and 1,000,000 Kbps. But back then, state of the art. Leading edge. Bleeding edge.

Part of my job was keeping it all going, a jack of all trades fixing whatever problem came up, known or obscure. And part of what I kept going were the news feeds. Back then, Mind Link contracted to receive news from a guy called Brad Templeton. His company was called ClariNet, and it was possibly the very first dot com to ever exist, because before that, commercial use of the internet was prohibited. Brad was a cool guy, and I spoke to him on a few occasions… and one time, the discussion drifted to the commercialization of the Internet, something most of its users (me included) did not want. What the heck is a dot com? There were dot org (non-profit organizations), dot edu (educational), dot gov (government) — but dot com? Commercial enterprise? Forget that. “It’s coming”, he said, “Prepare yourself. There’s opportunity here.” And I remember telling him, “Forget it. We won’t let that happen.” I told that quote to a few friends at the time, and they still won’t stop teasing me about it.

ClariNet dot com was allowed to exist because Brad cleverly convinced the powers that be that news is indeed an educational resource, and it would make sense to distribute it with the existing infrastructure. That he was doing it for profit was a secondary point, because what Brad was doing was very useful… he was consolidating news feeds straight off the wire… from UPI (United Press International), AP (Associated Press) and Reuters. These are the wire services where all news outlets get their news (or should, at least). Here was an unfiltered, raw source of news, straight from the ground. No editor, no opinion, just the facts. Twenty precent tested positive. No “Over”. No “Only”.

Part of what I did was make sure that the ClariNet feed was working properly, and that Mind Link was properly taking the news from those three sources and parsing and indexing everything into the right newsgroups. So, yes — I ended up reading an awful lot of news, and it led to a great appreciation of those particular three sources. I still look to them today for raw news, unfiltered by bias or opinion.

upi dot com
reuters dot com
ap dot org

In my opinion, far better than much of what’s out there.

So, on that note… acting as a news wire today, I will pass along four items of relatively unfiltered news, all of them interesting in their own way.

First… South Korea today is now reporting that those 263 patients who initially had been thought to have been re-infected — weren’t. Those people had re-tested positive after having been cleared of the virus, and it had been thought they may have become re-infected. However, none of those people developed symptoms again, and they’re now saying what many others around the world were saying… it must be a testing issue. Yes… the tests were picking up dead remnant virus fragments, not new infections. It might take months for the body to clear itself of dead virus fragments, but as of yet, there has not been a single case where those fragments have sprung back to life, nor is there any evidence of anyone who’s ever had the virus catching it a second time.

Second… an interesting story developing out of France. Something like 25% of French people smoke… but of the almost 500 COVID-19 patients admitted to a certain Paris hospital, only 5% were smokers. That is statistically significant, implying smokers are less likely to catch this disease. This is so counter-intuitive, it begs a closer look… and what’s emerging from the research is this: There is a cell-membrane protein called ACE2 which the COVID-19 virus attaches to, in order to infiltrate a healthy cell. But nicotine also binds to ACE2, leaving less of an opportunity for the virus to do so. And nicotine is also known to decrease inflammation. I would strongly urge you… do not take up smoking to protect yourself from this disease… but if you’re a recovering smoker and presently on nicotine patches or gum — that might be doing you more good than you think. France is preparing a trial of providing nicotine patches to patients, front-line workers and ordinary citizens. We shall see.

Third… an as-of-yet-not-peer-reviewed-but-still-interesting study… in a small sample group of ICU patients suffering from serious complications of this disease, in a group of patients aged less than 75… 100% — yes, all of them — were found to be Vitamin D deficient. That’s also eyebrow-raising, and it’s one you can very easily manage. Vitamin D supplements are available everywhere, and they’re cheap… and, it’s pretty difficult to OD on Vitamin D. There does exist such a thing as Vitamin toxicity, but you have to go way overboard to get there. Recommended doses range between 500 and 5,000 IU a day. I take 2,000. Apparently, you can go up to 10,000 a day for long periods of time and not suffer any consequences, but one might add that perhaps an optimal range is what’s desired; too much may also be harmful and it should be noted that Vitamin D, unlike Vitamin C, is not water-soluble. It’s fat-soluble, so your body will store it. But then again, you really have to go insane to over-do it… like 40,000 to 100,000 IU daily for months, before it becomes toxic. And/or, of course, just listen to Dr. Henry — go outside to the glorious wonderful sunshine for 30 minutes a day… it’s good for you in more ways than you might imagine.

Finally… green numbers all across Canada today. TTD numbers approaching 4 weeks or more… everywhere.

Extra extra, read all about it… good news all around.

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Day 39 – April 24, 2020

Yesterday, I talked about the dinosaur apocalypse… how they were all wiped out. But, to reiterate, the only ones that were fully wiped out were the ones on the ground. As hard as it is to believe, and I know some will take exception to this… but… birds… are not descendants of dinosaurs. They are dinosaurs… the ones that survived that cataclysmic event 65… sorry, 66 million years go.

That cataclysmic event was so… umm, cataclysmic… that it wiped out 75% of all species on earth. That was fortunate for those who survived, because it gave them the evolutionary advantage to thrive, among them… mammals.

It’s a long line of evolution between those mammals and the first hominoids… but it does beg an interesting question; has the human race ever been close to extinction? Terrestrial dinosaurs were around for close to 200 million years. Humans have only been around… well, depends how you look at it. With broad brush strokes, the human animal… maybe 300,000 years… but we only began to exhibit what you might call “modern behaviour” around 100,000 years ago.

What would’ve happened if a pandemic-capable virus had shown up? Not much, because there was next to no overlap of communities distanced by geography. It makes one wonder, how often have there been these sorts of viruses over the centuries? Probably lots. But it was localized, there was no treatment, there was no social distancing… all that happened was a big wave of very sick people dying, and eventually through herd immunity and/or lots of death, the virus made its way through everyone it could, and then disappeared from existence.

But the human race actually did come close to extinction, and it wasn’t that long ago, geologically speaking. Well, this is one theory. It’s interesting, as usual, to research things on the Internet because you can always tell where the conformation bias lies. You can tell what people want to believe, and how they conform their evidence to support their side.

Around 75.000 years ago, there was a massive volcanic eruption — one of the biggest ever. The Toba Supereruption (Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia) erupted and ejected some 2,800 cubic kilometres of magma. That is a staggeringly huge cube of hot, melted rock… and it left behind something the same size as the crater that took out the dinosaurs… an enormous 100 x 30 km caldera complex. Once again, it messed with the environment very significantly… the six billion tons of sulphur dioxide that were ejected into the atmosphere caused a global cooling of up to 15 degrees all around the planet for at least a few years, and it was many decades before things returned to normal. This lowered the tree line and snow line by about 10,000 feet… and for humans who were used to a dry, temperate climate, years of perpetual snow did not sit well.

There is a genetic bottleneck at the time when looking back at humans, meaning it seems we can all trace our DNA back to a small group (like a few thousand humans) who made it through that. The rest were wiped out. And to some extent, if that’s what happened, you have to assume we’ve all evolved from a pretty tough group of humans. This was survival of the fittest imposed in the harshest of ways.

This is one theory, and it’s very interesting. There is another group of scientists who claim that’s hogwash, and that the evidence doesn’t necessarily imply any of that.

Whatever the case, all of that I learned yesterday while digging into dinosaurs… you know how the internet can be… one moment you’re reading about what you were researching, like dinosaurs and their extinction… and 40 minutes later you’re reading about mentally ill monarchs throughout human history.

That’s a good little segue onto a topic I really don’t want to touch here. I had a whole thing written out, and indeed, I could write a book on my thoughts with respect to American politics of the day, but this is a scientific and statistical endeavour, ostensibly aimed at keeping track where we are with respect to this pandemic. On that note, it’s not irrelevant to point out, as I have earlier, the shortcomings I see when it comes to leadership pulling in different directions, etc etc. But I just deleted many paragraphs that delve into far more detail, and will leave it at that.

OK, one paragraph. I worry greatly for the great country of the United States of America. Every single day, thanks to the actions or words of just one man, the chasm that separates two groups (big broad brushstrokes here: Republicans and Democrats) — gets a little bigger. It started on day 1, lying about the inauguration crowd size. “Who really cares” is really what should have been the answer, but he chose to lie about it, then double down on his lies, then make others lie for him… it was bewildering, to be honest. What the hell is going on? There was incontrovertible evidence… pictures and witnesses and everyone who was there… but no. It ended up with “alternative facts” trying to be jammed down our throats. All of this on day 1 of his presidency. And since that day, whenever he says or does something that is completely unpresidential, both sides rise to the challenge. And while the argument rages on about who’s right and who’s wrong, the country slides a little bit more downhill. This is not to bash on Republicans and Democrats… there was a time when both those parties worked in harmony for the greater good of the country, especially in times of crisis. I really wonder how repairable this is now. Long after Trump is gone, the degree of bipartisanship needed to successfully guide a country — may not be achieved for many, many years. And I’m not interested in the bullshit arguments of what a great job he’s presently doing. He’s not. I don’t use vague handwaving and gut feel to come to my conclusions, I use hard facts. As you may recall, this entire project of charts and graphs and light commentary started with a simple exercise of trying to track Canada’s response to this crisis as measured by comparing the U.S. and how they were doing. And comparing them to Italy, who was ahead of them. The short answer now is: Awful. Brutal. Look at the numbers, look at the graphs. This isn’t fake news, this isn’t opinion. These are their numbers. These are confused people. These are hospitals that can’t keep up. These are states and leaders with mixed messages. These are deaths. These are the preventable disastrous blue line and its associated numbers, towering over the green, red and black ones below it. This is failed leadership, from the very top.

Sorry for the long paragraph… but I did say, just one paragraph. But, some numbers… Canada, today, flat or better growth all across the country. U.S…. more deaths today than the number of new cases in Canada. Also U.S., more deaths today than the entire number of known cases seen in B.C., active or resolved, since the beginning of this pandemic. And finally, U.S., more new cases today than all of what Canada has seen, combined, since day one. By the end of the weekend, the U.S. will have seen its one millionth case. Canada will be below 50,000. That same proportion maps to deaths. And some quick math for you… no, the population of the U.S. is not 20 times that of Canada. Not even 10. As President Trump likes to sign at the end of many of his Tweets: Sad.

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Day 18 – April 3, 2020

By now, we’ve all settled into some sort of routine… or, at least, the intention of one. 3pm-5pm is my “Corona time” — not because I sit back to enjoy a refreshing Mexican beer (and my preference would be Guiness anyway), but because I’m trying to give this aspect of my life a limited and structured block of time. I listen to the provincial 3pm update from Dr. Henry and Mr. Dix while digging through articles and messages I’ve received, updating numbers, and writing this… and 10 seconds after posting this, shortly after 5pm, I try to forget all about it for the next 22 hours. Much easier said than done, but distraction helps.

If you’re reading this post on Facebook, then you have at your disposal the technology to distract yourself in isolation forever… with endless books, music, videos, movies… all at your fingertips. Distract yourself to your heart’s content with all of that… or just send memes and pictures of cute cats to your friends; whatever keeps your brain in a happy place.

And, of course, connect socially — not physically. You know, of all the whacked-out conspiracy theories I’ve heard — and I’ve heard many — if I had to believe one, it’d be that this virus was created by the people who are behind the Zoom software.

To Zoom’s credit, they took advantage of this situation very intelligently. Luck = preparation + opportunity, and lucky they were… but also smart. They announced that their software would be unlimited and free for educational purposes. Every school jumped onto it. They also made it free for everyone, sort of. Up to 100 people can communicate for free, for up to 40 minutes. It’s genius, because if you manage to get a large group together for free for a 30-minute meeting… and the meeting invariably drifts toward that 40-minute mark, the hassle of hanging up and starting over is superseded by the simplicity of just signing up. Somebody on that call will sign up. We are all signing up in droves. And above and beyond all of that, they understood where the “friction” was, and removed it. Setting up a conference is easy. Joining one, even if you’ve never done it, is simple. Jump through a couple of hoops and you’re in, and once you’re in, the next time is trivial. The days of tying up the first 15 minutes of any videoconference with “We can’t see you” and “I see you but can’t hear you” and “How do I unmute this” and “It won’t install” and “What’s the admin password” and “I’m getting an error… wait…” and so on… those days are over.

A company that many of us hadn’t even heard of a month ago is now worth close to $40 billion. And for those that know what it means, has its shares trading with a P/E ratio of 1,500. For comparison, Amazon’s P/E is 80. Apple’s is 20.

Whether it’s Zoom or whatever else you many be using, this has radically changed the way we socialize and, to a great extent, I find myself Zooming with people I haven’t seen in ages. Like, there is a particular group of people I’ve been hanging out with, on and off, for over 30 years. Before the internet (as we know it) existed, we were a bunch of geeks who connected via modems… which ran at speeds so comparatively low to what we have today, you’d think we’re kidding. We used to go for burgers and beers every week, but as people grew up and evolved into real lives, those meets got few and far between. But guess what we did last week — got together on Zoom, geeked out discussing technology, asked a lot of “Remember that time when…” questions, watched a bit of Demolition Man together, and watched each other eat burgers and drink beer. It was wonderful. Guess what we’ll be doing every week.

Yeah, it’s not the same, but how lucky we are that we have this technology to stay connected. Let’s milk it for all it’s worth. A virtual hug is nowhere near the same as a real one, but it’ll do, for now. Stay at home and reach out to all your friends and consume the gigabytes of free data being generously offered to us by our internet providers.

Back to today… this post didn’t talk a lot about numbers, because around here… B.C., and Canada in general — we’re in this sort of “hurry up and wait” phase. As optimistic as the B.C. numbers look, it’s exactly not the time to take our foot off the collective gas pedal. Don’t go dancing in the streets. Dance all you want in your living room. And if you’re don’t remember why, read yesterday’s post. Once the weekend numbers have settled down early next week, we’ll see where we’re at, and by then, there will be plenty of trending data to discuss. But don’t worry — even if I have nothing meaningful to say, or what I say seems to be irrelevant… the numbers and charts always have something to say and I’ll keep posting them daily while we’re all here.

And finally, in other news… I visited my car for the first time in a couple of weeks and found a 2-week-old Starbucks Iced Latte there. The mold/fungus/bacteria/whatever-the-hell-it-was growing in there may well have held the cure for COVID-19… but we’ll never know.

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