Thursday 30 April 2020

Day 45 of self-isolation - more excess deaths

Excess deaths

If you take the average number of deaths at this time of year over the last five years, you can compare that with the current numbers. If the current numbers are a lot bigger, those are called "excess deaths".

What's the cause? The obvious cause is Covid-19. But there are subtleties. First, the road usage is a lot lower, so traffic collision deaths are lower. In the UK, that would be about five people per day, and when you compare that with the Covid-19 deaths, it's a drop in the bucket. So that won't make much difference, even if road deaths drop to zero.

But there's also heart attacks, strokes and other serious conditions that would, in normal times, send you straight to hospital. It might be that such cases are reluctant to go to hospital, not realising how severe their problem is, because of fear of infection. We don't know. But we can still say that these deaths add to the "butcher's bill" that the virus has, indirectly, caused.

So how big are these numbers? Very big. Very big indeed. Firstly, let's note that although we're getting Covid-19 numbers day by day, the overall death numbers are only available a few weeks after they happen. So we can't look at current numbers, only at the recent past, a few weeks ago. And we can compare "excess deaths" with the reported Covid-19 numbers.

One major source of under-reporting, is elderly people in care homes. They die, they get buried, they don't appear in the statistics that come from the hospitals.

There's also a "cause of death" question. If the cause of death is given as "pneumonia" on the death certificate, then that wouldn't be recorded in the Covid-19 numbers. But maybe Covid-19 was a factor, and dead is dead. By looking at "excess deaths", we'll be including cases where it's uncertain what the last straw was.

Yale university did a study, looking at March to April 4. In the USA, excess deaths were 15,400, but at the same time, Covid-19 deaths were 8,128. So that's 90% more than the reported Covid-19 numbers.

The Financial Times has also done an analysis.

They checked 13 European countries, and found 122,000 excess deaths, compared with the official Covid-19 numbers of 77,000.

So in the USA, that raises the death count by 90%. In Europe, by 58%. In England and Wales, the number of excess deaths was also 58 per cent higher than the total number of reported Covid-19 deaths for the same period.

It's worse in cities. London's excess deaths bring the Covid-19 numbers up by 96%; New York by 300%. Madrid is 161% Bergamo (Italy) 463% and Ile-de-France, 122%

Conclusion - it isn't the top priority for doctors to count coffins, and many people are dying outside hospitals. The real number of deaths caused directly and indirectly by the pandemic, looks to be at least 50% more than the reported numbers.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Day 44 of self-isolation - supplemental. Fake UV disinfectors

I've been swindled.

I bought one of these, and I've been using it, according to the instructions, as a way to sterilise incoming post. But it doesn't work. I'm hoping that all the post that I disinfected with it, was uninfected anyway - it probably was.

I've asked for a refund. I'll also be complaining to eBay about this fake product.

It is actually a disco light. Can you imagine the kind of person that would sell a fake disinfectant light in the middle of a pandemic?

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Day 44 of self-isolation - Can you get Covid-19 a second time?

We had our weekly delivery from Waitrose; we wrote down the expiry dates and I sprayed it all - spraying makes the dates illegible in some cases. And we got a Radio Times!

Can you get Covid-19 a second time?

The short answer is, we don't know.

The longer answer is, it depends. With some diseases, the antibodies that you develop in response to the disease, last for many years. With others, much less.

There is also the question of virus mutation. Viruses evolve just like other life-forms (unless you're in a religion that doesn't believe in evolution, in which case what happens is God creates a new virus every so often, but the effect is the same). That's why flu comes round each year. If you had last year's flu, that doesn't give you immunity to this year's. That's why you get a flu shot each year (or, if you're an anti-vaxxer, that's why you carry an onion wherever you go). That's why the common cold recurs - we don't seem to get immunity to it.

Coronavirus is actually a family name "Coronaviridae", sub familiy "Coronavirinae". That family includes SARS, MERS and the common cold. Influenza is part of a different family, Orthomyxoviridae. I know all this because I just Googled it. I'm not a medical doctor.

All of these consist of a single strand of RNA, so if someone tells you that DNA is the code for life, tell them that - although some people wouldn't classify viruses as being alive. Well, it certainly replicates.

The correct name for this is SARS-Cov-2. The disease it causes is Covid-19. "Coronavirus" is a word that is commonly used, but technically it refers to a whole family of viruses.
Both influenza and SARS-Cov-2 are about 100 nanometers in diameter. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. So, if you put a thousand of these side by side, they'd reach a tenth of a millimeter. Flu is a strand of RNA of about 14,000 nucleotides; SARS-Cov-2 about 30,000.

So, back to the question - can you get Covid-19 a second time. We don't know. The WHO points out that there's no research that says that you get a length of immunity, but there's also no research that says that you don't. Also, if the virus mutates sufficiently, any immunity that you had to the first version, might not work against the second. Indeed, I'd say that it probably won't, because if it did, that second version wouldn't be able to spread. A new version has to evolve resistance to existing antibodies, to be successful.

People talk about "herd immunity". This is the concept that if 60% or 70% of the human "herd" is immune, then the virus would find it very difficult to spread - that's why we try to get a very large percentage of the "herd" vaccinated. Except anti-vaxxers, of course - they can keep an onion in the room and I hope that protects them.

If you can get it a second time, does that mean that vaccines will be useless? Again, it depends. I'd assume that the Oxford University vaccine project has already thought about this, and is aiming to make a vaccine that will also work against variations in the genome.
It's possible to test people for antibodies, and if they have them, that shows that they had the virus, and have beaten it. Maybe you could even give such people a badge to wear "I beat C-19". But are these people immune against a second dose? We don't yet know.

So, in summary. I'm not pessimistic, but neither am I as blindly optimistic as some, that infection confers immunity. And until it's proven that it does, the idea that you can test people for it and give the immunes a badge or certificate, is unproven.

But I can tell you this - follow the guidelines from your government. Wash hands, social distance and wear masks

Day 43 of self-isolation supplemental - what's your size?

What's your size?

When all this is over, I think many retail outlets will have failed; they have no income but are still expected to pay rent. And by the way, why is that? Since the government commanded them to shut, could not the government have also mandated that they have a rent holiday?

I think that shopping habits will change permanently. The social distancing will persist for at least a year even if the lock down ends. There are three hour queues at supermarkets, which argues that many more people would be willing to pay for a delivery service. I know I'd rather pay £5 than queue for three hours. Of course, it takes time to ramp this up; you need more refrigerated delivery vehicles, more employees (it should be easy to hire people right now).

Some things can be bought online very easily. Books are a good example of this; when you know which book you want to buy, you don't need to actually see the book.

Other things are more difficult.

I recently bought a few dozen underpants online. I know my size, I know what colour I want, the only variables were, what style, how many.

But I was talking to Ladysolly about this. It's different for women. There is no standard for the sizes of women's clothing. Each outlet has its own sizing system. Size 12 doesn't mean the same thing from place to place.

That's crazy.

If I buy a pair of trousers with a 40 inch waist, then that's what I get (and I know it'll be far too tight). If I buy a pair of shoes size 11, then I KNOW they will fit.

If clothing sales are to move towards online, then this has to be fixed. Someone has to invent a sizing system that everyone can agree to use. I'd suggest the metric system. Just cite the relevant measurements in centimeters.

Day 43 of self-isolation - a really loud whistle

In the plant room, something was screaming. It was a really loud whistle, so I looked in to see what the problem might be. It was so loud, I couldn't tell where it was coming from, but the big box that had four ventilation pipes was an blinking orange error message. I powered that off; the whistle continued, so I powered it on again. So maybe the main boiler, which was also showing an error message? I powered that off; the whistle continued, so I powered it on again.

But what about the UPS? I have a UPS in there, which used to power the fiber router (this has now been replaced by a newer UPS).  But I hadn't unplugged and powered off the UPS, and sure enough, when I powered it off, the screaming stopped.

Job done.

Monday 27 April 2020

Day 42 of self-isolation - How do we end the lock down?

How do we end the lock down?

First, we need to get the infections and death rates down way below the peak; currently, we are weeks away from there.

Then, experts all seem to agree that we need testing and tracing. Testing to see who is infected, and contact tracing to see who they might have infected.

So, for example. It is discovered that Joe Bloggs is infected. How is this discovered? Either we test large numbers of people (expensive, and way beyond available resources) or else Joe starts coughing, sneezing and has trouble breathing. So he tells his doctor, doctor orders an ambulance, and then we know that Joe is infected.

Now we need to trace his contacts. "Joe, where have you been, and when?" Joe's answer is either "Cough cough sneeze" or else "I really can't remember in detail". "Did you have your phone with you?" "Yes".

So, we can do contact tracing using people's mobile phones. They will have to have GPS services enabled, and be running an app that reports location to a central server once per minute or so. For 63 million people. That's a lot of data. But if we have that data, and can analyse it (that's a lot of computing) we can use Joe's data, and the data of everyone else, to work out who Joe came close to. Then we can contact those people and test them. If any of them are positive, we follow the chain. Trace and test, trace and test.

Before Joe showed symptoms, he was infectious for a week, so we have to check all the people he was near for the whole week. and contact them, and test. Trace and test, trace and test.

It's a huge job. Huge. I can see how the central server program would work, but it'll need a LOT of compute power to do the tracing job. Which I suppose we could rent from Amazon or Google.

But there's another problem. Will people tolerate the huge invasion of privacy that lets the state know exactly where you've been and when? A lot of people won't. Criminals won't. Freedom freaks won't. I certainly wouldn't in normal times, but in the patriotic interest of winning the war against coronavirus, I would. But this isn't going to work unless most people sign up for it. And, of course, there's a ton of people who don't own a smart phone. In the younger age groups, it's 95%, but when you look at the people aged 50 or more, that percentage drops to 50% or so - and those are the more vulnerable people.

And how good is testing going to be? How many false positives, how many false negatives? Each false positive will trigger the test-and-trace chain reaction, as the contacts of that uninfected person are tracked down and tested. And every false negative will be one more chain of infection unsuppressed. If you have  90% accuracy then you have a 10% false positive rate, and Joe Bloggs was close to 100 people over the week he was infectious - then even if all of those 100 people are uninfected, that 10% false alarm rate will give you 10 people you wrongly think are infected, and then you follow the chain of those, and each time you find 100 contacts, that's another 10 people to follow the chain ... this test had better be really good at avoiding false positives.

And if you get a false negative? If half of Joe's contacts were infected, and you find all of them ... except 5 ... then those 5 will start a chain of their own that you don't know about. This test had better be really good at avoiding false negatives.

So is test-and-trace going to work? I don't know, but at the very least, it's going to be an enormous IT project, and governments generally have a very poor record in creating huge IT projects in a very short time frame. And it's going to need a really accurate test system.

80% accurate isn't enough. 

What is the accuracy of Covid-19 tests?

And in America especially, the "freedom first" brigade of unpatriots will insist on their god-given right to do whatever they want, and if that includes spreading the virus, then that's their constitutional right.

So, I'm pessimistic about test-and-trace.

I don't have a better idea, though, so I hope it works.

Sunday 26 April 2020

Day 41 of self-isolation - Excess deaths

We went for a long walk yesterday - longer than planned, because I found a track off the footpath that I hadn't known about, so we explored along it, and when it came out we found ourselves on Finch Lane, which came out by the White Lion (looking very sad and closed), then along the Amersham Road back to Little Chalfont (also looking very sad and closed), and then home. About four miles.

Excess deaths.

It sounds gory, and it is. The average number of deaths in April (averaged over the last five years) is 10,000. If we see more people dying, then that's "Excess deaths".

We're seeing 6,000 excess deaths per week, which is 60% more than expected. Many of those are Covid-19, but some of them are knock-on effects, such as people who die of heart attacks or strokes, who didn't call an ambulance to get immediate treatment. On the other hand, there are slightly fewer road traffic deaths on account of the lower road usage.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Day 40 of self-isolation - In New York State, they did a test.

We got another delivery; frozen meals from Cook. That was the highlight of the day.

In New York State, they did a test. They used antibody testing (which tells you if someone has had the virus), and randomly tested 3000 people at grocery stores and shopping locations. This is a good size of sample. The idea was to find out how many people have been infected.

The result was for New York State, 13.9% infected.

We can extrapolate that 13.9% to the whole population of New York State, of 19.5 million, giving 2.7 million infected.  As of today, there are  21,283 deaths, which is 7.89 deaths per thousand, a death rate of just under 0.8%. For comparison, influenza is about 0.1%, so Covid-19 is 8 times as deadly as flu. Also, each year we have a flu shot that gives some protection, and if you had flu once before, then that might also confer some small amount of resistance. But, even ignoring that, Covid-19 is eight times as deadly as flu.

But remember, some of the people currently in hospital, will die. So that 0.8% is a very low estimate. 

There are 225835 current cases. If 0.8% of those die, that's another 1800 deaths. But the ones in hospital, are the bad cases - the ones who got infected and just had light symptoms, didn't go to hospital. So that 0.8% would, realistically, be a lot bigger.

But let's stay with that 0.8% figure. If we assume that 70% of people get infected (a low number, because this virus is very infective), then that's 13.7 million infections of New Yorkers, and 0.8% of that is 110,000 (the current number in New York is 21,283).

Scale that up to the whole of the USA, and that's 1.9 million deaths (assuming 70% spread). The current number is 50,988.

So that's the battlefield. Two million dead people. In the UK, that would be 380,000 dead people.

That's why we're taking this very seriously, very seriously indeed.

And, by the way - do NOT drink disinfectant, do NOT drink medical disinfecting alcohol, do NOT irradiate yourself with ultraviolet-C, and do NOT inject yourself with anything except with the specific prescription of a medically qualified doctor.

Disinfectant is for cleaning kitchen, bathroom and other surfaces. 

Wash hands, wear masks, social distance.

Friday 24 April 2020

Day 39 of self-isolation, supplementary - Trump's treatment

Trump's treatment

Trump suggests that people might inject themselves with disinfectant to cure coronavirus. To be precise, he suggested that the White House coronavirus task force should investigate whether a disinfectant could be injected as a treatment for coronavirus victims. Or hit the body with ultraviolet. Or bring the light inside the body, either through the skin "or in some other way."

"It sounds interesting to me."

Bleach, Dettol and Chlorex are certainly good for cleaning kitchen surfaces and bathrooms. But no-one in their right mind would suggest injecting them. The White House coronavirus task force is going to investigate this? Really?

Ultraviolet is also good for disinfecting surfaces. But if you use it on human skin, you get sunburn - and it can be very bad sunburn. And as for using it inside the body? Daft.

The danger here, is that someone will take him seriously, as happened with his hydroxychloroquine idea, and kill themselves with this. Bleach releases chlorine gas (the same gas used in World War One). This attacks the lungs and eyes, mouth and throat. If you do get exposed accidentally, seek immediate medical help. If you do it on purpose, seek immediate medical help, followed by psychiatric help.

Or someone with access to a UV tanning bed, could try to use that. But those use UVA, which tans the skin (and an overdose gives sunburn, or even cancer), not the UVC that kills viruses. A moron owning a UV tanning bed, could do himself a lot of damage - and do nothing about any viruses.

This video clip is now circulating widely; the first time I was told about this, I simply didn't believe it, until I saw the video.

Some things are just too bad to be true. But this extremely bad idea, really did fall out of President Trump's mouth.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Day 39 of self-isolation - Time for some rays of light

Time for some rays of light.

We all remember the desperate situation in Spain and Italy a month ago. I watched some of the harrowing videos shot by exhausted doctors, begging other countries to avoid the mistakes they made in not locking down soon enough.

So let's do a retrospective.

This is the graph of known cases; remember that testing isn't done of the whole population, or even of everyone showing symptoms. But it does show the pressure on the healthcare system.

This peaked on March 26th after an exponential growth - four weeks ago, and you can see from the graph how new cases have fallen.

A week or so later, the daily death rate peaked at 961, and is now down to less than half that. So, still a horrible pile of corpses, but things aren't as dreadful as they were.

The same picture can be seen in Italy.

This peaked on March 21 after an exponential growth, and you can see the decline thereafter.

Deaths also peaked a week after the cases peak at 919, and again is now down to less than half that number - and still falling.

And now the UK
As you can see, the UK peaked somewhat later than Italy or Spain, and the lock down came later. I can't see a decline in the number of cases yet. But that will come as the lock down continues.

And although deaths haven't gone above the 980 of April 10, there isn't a clear decline yet a was the case in Spain and Italy.

The UK is a week or two behind Spain and Italy, and the picture of the situation in Spain and Italy, is how we can hope it will go in the UK.

In the USA, new cases is on a plateau. It has started to improve in New York and adjacent states, but that is balanaced by the increases in other states.

The situation in the USA is similar to the UK, except that deaths might still be on an up trend; the biggest figure (so far) was  2804, on April 21. So we can't really be optimistic yet that the numbers have flattened, let alone started to decline.

So the picture we see is that Italy and Spain were the first Western countries to be hit by the virus, growth in infections was exponential, and after about a week or so, deaths were also. But then the lock down started to take effect - the virus can't infect new victims if we stay apart. And so new cases started to come down, followed a week or so later by new deaths.

The UK and the USA are likely to follow a similar path, but delayed by a couple of weeks, because the virus got widespread in those countries a week or two later.

However. If we stick to our guns, and care about our fellow citizens, the numbers infected and killed will start to decline.

Day 38 of self-isolation

We did a family Zoom conference, it's the only way we can all get together now.

Another Waitrose delivery; the usual fruit, vegetables chicken, eggs and other foods. I sprayed while ladysolly put things away.

When the high point of your day is the arrival of the Waitrose van, you start to wonder.

The high point of tomorrow, will be the arrival of the Cook van.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Day 37 of self-isolation - The curious case of BAME doctors

The curious case of BAME doctors

All over the world, black and brown people are dying in disproportionate numbers from Covid-19. It's been suggested that this is owing to socio-economic factors; they are lower paid, and have less access to spacious accommodation, good quality food and good healthcare.

But it's also been suggested that this is down to clinical factors. It's true, for example, that the main benefit of pale skin in temperate climes, is that it's faster at making vitamin D, and vitamin D is generally thought to be important to the immune system. And there are other clinical differences between people of differing origin.

So here's two facts.

1. The first 10 doctors in the UK named as having died from the virus were all BAME. Since doctors tend to be paid irrespective of skin tone, that argues for a clinical explanation.

2. BAME are 13% of the population, but BAME make up 44% of doctors and 24% of nurses. Of the 82 front line health and social care workers who have died of Covid-19, 61% were BAME.

I do understand that "race" is a controversial topic, but it seems to me that we owe it to our NHS workers to investigate this. One way forward would be to issue vitamin D supplements to all front line NHS staff; this would end any possible D deficiency, and then we could see if that reduces the death rate. I believe that vitamin D tablets are cheap and plentiful (I just bought a load online), so it would be an easy test to make.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Day 36 of self-isolation - Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed in our immune system, and right now, our immune system is all we have to fight off Covid-19. It's also important for fighting off plain old flu, colds, and other invaders of our bodies.

It has become clear that people with darker skins, have been hit harder by Covid-19 than people with lighter skins. I've heard many opinions that this is for socio-economic reasons. Such as, a difference in job functions, a difference in quality of housing or a difference in access to healthcare (that would be in the USA).

But we also know that darker skins are slower to make vitamin D than lighter skins.

I like to think about evolution - we tend to acquire characteristics because they help us survive and flourish. It's generally accepted that Homo Sapiens came out of Africa, and were originally dark skinned. So why are so many people in temperate and cooler latitudes light skinned? The only advantage of a lighter skin, is that it's faster at making vitamin D, so the fact that people in the more northern latitudes have lighter skins, is surely because the synthesis of vitamin D is so important, it becomes a trait that is selected for by evolution.

Also, men are much harder hit by this virus than women, which is completely unfair, of course, and I'm starting a campaign to rectify this - equal rights for men! And as a non-young, somewhat burly, sunlight-averse male, I'm in one of the highest danger zones. I could only make it worse by taking up smoking.

I was tested several months ago, and the test showed that I was vitamin-D deficient. The test was fairly simple - they took a sample of my blood, and it was analysed in a laboratory. As a result, the doctor put me on a very heavy course of vitamin D tablets for three months, 70 micrograms per day.

When those pills ran out, I bought a tub of pills from the pharmacy, and took 25 micrograms per day; after a month or so, I got tested again, and that seemed to be keeping my D levels at a satisfactory level.

I've been following the Youtube videos of Dr John Campbell, and he's been asking why people aren't being tested for vitamin D deficiency, to discover if that is the reason for the difference in infection rates for darker skinned people. Maybe that isn't the reason, but it would be easy to check and rule it out. And if that is the reason, then it would be very easy to fix the situation - vitamin D pills are cheap and easy to get. He recommends 50 micrograms per day (that's 2000 International Units), and not to take more than 100. So I've ordered three tubs of them, enough for about nine months. I wanted to get Boots own brand (because I know they aren't fake), but they show as sold out, so I went to the Waitrose web site, found out what they sold, and ordered that brand from eBay. Because I know how easy it would be to make fake tablets and sell them online, so I want the real thing.

Monday 20 April 2020

Day 35 of self-isolation

After six weeks, I can't understand why we're still short of simple stuff like masks, gowns and face shields.

I could understand a shortage of complex stuff like ventilators. but how can we be six weeks into this, and still we're short of simple stuff?

And why hasn't the UK government told us to cover mouth and nose while in public. If you're certain that you can maintain those six feet, I could almost understand it, but the fact is, if you go shopping, or on a bus or train - you're sure to get within six feet sometimes.

The face covering doesn't need to be a surgical mask - just a cloth over nose and mouth will do. The purpose isn't to protect the wearer, it's to protect everyone else from the wearer. A sneeze emits a swirling cloud of virus-laden droplets for up to 20 feet (six meters); a cough travels 15 feet. Just talking to people is offering them any viruses that you're carrying. And if it's just a fabric mouth cover, it's washable and reusable. This is what WHO recommends, this is what the USA CDC recommends, this has become mandatory in New York. It doesn't cost anything, everyone has a suitable square of cloth to use.

So, we bought testing kits from China, paid for them - then discovered they didn't do what we needed.

So, we bought 84 tons of PPE from Turkey, due to arrive Sunday, and now where is it? Not arrived yet, don't know why.

I feel like we're in a situation where we've become so desperate for stuff that we're willing to buy from anyone, cash down, delivery ... later. Maybe. I hope we paid by credit card.

Day 34 of self-isolation

Here's what not to do.

100,000 people in Bangladesh, all jammed together. If a couple of dozen were infected, then now a couple of thousand are infected. This is the mistake New Orleans made with Mardi Gras a month ago.

Wash hands with soap - Social distance - wear face mask in public.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Day 33 of self-isolation - testing


Testing is going to be really important to ease the lock down. But testing isn't as simple as it sounds.

When you do a medical test, there are false positives and false negatives. A false positive is when a test says that you're infected, but actually you are not. A false negative is when the test says you're clean, but you're infected. I know all about false positives and false negatives from my previous experiences.

Medical tests are rarely without false positives, false negatives, or both. Clearly, a test with fewer test errors is better than one with more test errors. But if a test is 99% accurate, is that better or worse than a test that is 95% accurate, but a tenth of the cost (meaning that you can  test ten times as many people?)

And when you have a test, how do you assess how many false positives and how many false negatives? For that, you need to compare it with a "gold standard" test, which is 100% accurate. And I doubt if we'll have one. So the accuracy of testing, will be a bit of a guess.


Everyone now is focusing on testing. But please remember that these tests won't be infallible, and that we probably won't have an accurate idea of how fallible they are.

Yes, I know. Probability, quality control and statistics are a mess. That's how the world is.


The UK spent £16 million on tests from China, a few weeks back. That was the basis for our government telling up that testing would be greatly increased. We paid upfront for that, sight unseen. We sent them to Oxford University for evaluation, and they turned out to be useless for what we wanted. They were tests for antibodies in people who were already heavily infected. That doesn't tell you if someone is in the first week of infection and hasn't generated antibodies yet.

That's what happens when a government panic-buys.

So now we have £16 million worth of tests that don't do what we need, and a big shortage of masks, face shields and gowns, all of which is very low tech, and I would have thought that it wouldn't be beyond the wit of our government, to find people who could manufacture large numbers of these.

Friday 17 April 2020

Day 32 of self-isolation

 My 105 watt super-UV light arrived. It's big, and has a little fan to stop it from overheating. I've started using it to disinfect the incoming post.

We had another Waitrose delivery. We have a routine - spray each item with alcohol except the things that don't need refrigeration. Those things just get left for three days, which is the time needed to be sure that the virus has died off.

One welcome item, was a copy of the Radio Times - ladysolly has been missing this sorely, and although it isn't one of life's necessities, since it was part of the larger order, it's allowed. Most of what we got was fresh fruit and vegetables, plus milk (normal and long-life), and some chicken. We have a delivery every six days, which is half as often as we normally shop. By the sixth day, the tomatoes are very squishy!

We've also found that we can get an occasional delivery from Cook, a place that sells frozen pre-prepared meals, thus making the cooking task much easier.

It rained today, that was also very welcome, breaking the long spell of sunny days. The garden was very happy.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Day 31 of self-isolation - oil prices

 We went out for a walk. We took a footpath close to home that led across the local golf course, into a bluebell wood, past a bunch of houses and which then led to a road. As we walked down that road, we saw several people who we chatted with (at a long distance). I've never seen so many people on that road.

At one point in my life, I was supposed to be the expert on oil prices. That was a few decades ago, but it is an important indicator.

This is what has happened to Brent Crude, a key indicator of oil prices.

This is what happened to West Texas Intermediate, another key indicator

And the OPEC basket of crude oils

So, the price of oil has collapsed to a third of where it was pre-crisis. This is because we don't need as much oil right now, as we did pre-crisis.

It will recover after economies recover. But that could be a long time.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Day 30 of self-isolation - John Conway died

John Conway died.

John Conway was a professor when I was at Cambridge. I was a regular at the "Puzzles and games" ring, and so was he. He turned up one day with this new game, he called it the "Game of Life". With a couple of simple rules, a pattern of dots would evolve and change. Remember, this was before computers, so we played it with pencil and paper. That game became world-famous.

He also came to a meeting once with a Klein bottle that started as a square of fabric, but with two zips, and when it was half-twisted and joined, you got a Klein bottle.  John was one of my heroes.

On March 4, I went on a road trip to visit the National Space Museum. It was a "Summer Wine" kind of trip; three of us, and I was the only one with a full head of hair. It was a grand day out in Ian's new Tesla, which was very impressive. 200 miles up the motorway, some hours at the museum, seeing lots of interesting stuff, then 200 miles home.

Ian was infected a few days before. He hadn't known that, and he wasn't showing symptoms. No coughs or sneezes, so maybe he wasn't infectious.

Five weeks later, he's just getting over the illness, which hit him pretty hard. Either I didn't catch it from him, or else I did but didn't have any noticeable symptoms. But it shows you how easily this virus can spread. And there were great flocks of children swarming around the museum. Maybe that road trip was unwise? But I seem to have survived. When antibody testing is available, I'll find out if I did get it. Ladysolly is sure I didn't.

Ladysolly came into my office, very excited. She's booked three Waitrose delivery slots, spaced a week apart, which means she's secured our food supplies for three weeks now.

There is a food shortage issue coming at the country, though. The problem is, a large amount of food production and distribution, is aimed at bulk supplies. That means to restaurants, and fast food shops, and hotels, and suchlike. It isn't easy to divert  that food to the retailers, because the packaging is all wrong. You can't put a ten gallon container of milk into a supermarket, or a 25 kilo package of pizza topping cheese.

So food producers could change their distribution systems, but then they also have to find their new customers. And will they recoup the cost of those changes, if the restrictions are lifted some weeks from now?

Many small businesses are suffering acutely. We have five hairdressers in my area that I know of. All are now closed, of course, but how many will reopen? We have three Turkish-style restaurants, all are closed, how many will reopen? I can think of five Chinese restaurants, three Indian, several pizza shops and umpteen coffee shops. Many of those will never reopen. The government help comes in the form of loans, which are funnelled through banks, but banks are still applying commercial criteria to making a loan.

I'm hearing guesses of a 35% fall in economic activity as a result of Covid-19.  I think that's wildly optimistic.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Day 29 of self-isolation - Tim Brooke-Taylor died

Tim Brooke-Taylor died. His credits include the Goodies, Isirta and Isihac, but at one point, he touched my life. Commodore decided to launch a range of computers, and TBT was in a video that came with the computer. That video told people that there was a learning program that came with the computer, to teach them Dos.

But at the last minute, there was a glitch - they couldn't use that learning program, for copyright reasons. At the time, we had a Dos-learning program, so they asked if they could use that. They offered several thousand pounds for a few thousand copies, so naturally |I said yes. But the catch was, we had to provide those thousands of copies, on floppy disk, within 24 hours. So I said, "Still yes". And another condition - they had to approve the program. "OK"

So I rushed down to their HQ, with the master copy, and showed it to them. They were doubtful about this, and wanted this change and that change, so I said "OK, but that will take a few days". They looked at each other, and decided to go with what we already had.

So I motored from there to "Diskcopy labs", run by a pal, who was expecting me, and he put all his dozens of disk copiers on the job. A couple of hours later, I had all those copies in a box, and drove back to S&S HQ, where Ladysolly had organised a disk-labelling party; every member of staff, plus wives, sisters, cousins and aunts took part in a peel-and-paste hour. So, with all the diskettes ready, we sent the cartons down to Commodore, who paid up (eventually). I also got one of their computers free. It was unimpressive.

We made one mistake. We put our phone number on the diskette. It turned out that no-one else, including Commodore, had put a phone number in the box. The video by TBT was supposed to be all you needed, plus our "Learn Dos" software. So we got all the tech support calls. For all the problems people had, not just for our software.

My favourite was a woman who called about a problem she had getting the computer to start up. So I talked her though putting the Dos disk in the drive, and plugging everything in, and getting started. She was ever so grateful. So I told her, "Really, your dealer should have showed you all this." She replied, "I am the dealer."

Tim Brooke-Taylor was one of my heroes.

Monday 13 April 2020

Day 28 of self-isolation

The weather was lovely this Easter weekend. Sigh.

In the last few days, the number of UK Covid-19 deaths per day has been declining. Soon, people will start calling for an end to the lock down, but I think that can't happen until some time in May, probably the latter half of May.

I've been exploring the 5G conspiracy theory. It's not very well supported, but those few who do support it display an enthusiasm that is matched only be their ignorance.

I keep feeling that, along with the "chemtrails" and "flat earth" theories, the 5G theory is just a few people having a laugh. As a well-established wind-up artist myself, it's exactly the sort of joke I would play. Sadly, it seems that they're quite serious.

Sunday 12 April 2020

Day 27 of self-isolation

The oximeter arrived. That lets me measure the level of oxygen in my blood, and also displays my pulse rate. One of the big warning signs of a severe infection, is if your oxygen level is low; that's telling you to go to hospital.

It's slightly alarming at first because it takes a few seconds to show the result. It showed 86% for a few seconds, but then it got up to 99% and 58 beats per minute. Every time I get anything tested in hospital, they put one of these on my finger, and they're really cheap on eBay (£11), so I bought one. If either I or Ladysolly start to have trouble breathing, this will be a useful monitor. 95% or better is normal, 92% is not good, 88% is dangerous, 85% is a hospital trip.

The kitchen sink of daughter.2 fell apart. I was asked if I could fix it remotely, but although my powers of grandfatherly magic are considerable, they don't extend to remote kitchen sink repair. Fortunately, Pimlico Plumbers came to the rescue.

Saturday 11 April 2020

Day 26 of self-isolation

I saw a black butterfly.

That means a thunderstorm, and that's certainly what we're seeing with Covid-19.

Problem in the plant room today. The plant room is a glorified cupboard containing the boiler, the tank, the water softener, the incoming telecoms and fiber and the router.  The main symptom was - no hot water.

So Ladysolly told me to fix it. I went into the room and the first thing I saw was a red light on the router. This router has two power supplies; I connected one to the power in the plant room, and the other to a UPS that is fed from another power source. The router was still working (without it, I would have no internet, and would notice immediately) but the red light told me that one of the power sources had failed. So I looked up, and noticed that the multiway connector that it plugged into, was showing no power. Which mean, no power in the plant room.

Outside the room, in the garage, I looked at the contact breakers, and sure enough, one had tripped. I reset it, and power came back on, the red light on the router hanged to green and the boiler restarted itself. So I've fixed it - for now, at least. I'll keep an eye on it. I don't want to have to call in an electrician if I can help it. But we do need hot water. I have a primus, left over from our camping days, but ladysolly won't like it.

We had another delivery from Waitrose; a dozen bags of shopping. Food supplies are still working; the driver said that their sales are 30 to 50% up. That probably means that they are taking sales from retailers who are not offering delivery services.

Why don't they provide masks and gloves for their drivers?

Friday 10 April 2020

Day 25 of self-isolation

Good news - Boris Johnson is out of intensive care.

Bad news - another 881 deaths in the UK.

So what will happen when we come out the other side of this? I mean, apart from a lot of wild parties?

Economies world wide will be very depressed; down at least 30%, maybe 50%, maybe even more. And the money hose that we turned on in the last few weeks, will have to be paid for, either via taxation, or by inflation. I think inflation . I'll post more in the economics some time in future.

In this post, I want to discuss the future of healthcare. Suddenly, it has been forced on us that spending money on healthcare isn't just a luxury, it's a necessity. We didn't expect Covid-19 - except that we did. We knew all along that something like this could happen, and people have been talking about it for many years. But suddenly, it's real.

Healthcare systems will change.

The biggest change will be in the USA, where the private insurance system has been exposed as ineffective. It will be unable to pay for the 2020 USA pandemic. In America, the cry will be "Medicare for all", calling for a system whereby healthcare is guaranteed for everyone.

Because, take New York. Do you think that hospitals are turning people away unless they have a credit card or insurance? Of course they aren't. At a time like this, it's "all pull together", and everyone who needs treatment, gets it, without being asked to pay at point of need. Just like our own dear NHS. And they'll work out how to pay for it later.

This might not happen on a federal level - congress seems to be deadlocked about even the most obvious measures, and I can't see Trump going for a policy that Bernie Sanders sponsored. But it could happen at a state level; for example, in New York. They have seen that health is something that is too important to be left to the private sector, who have demonstrated an inability to cope. And I could even imagine a cooperation between states without involving the impotent federal government - a "Cooperative States of America", whereby those of the states that wanted to be involved, all cooperated in a country-wide healthcare system, free at point of delivery.

But the UK systems will also change. Of course, it will still be our NHS, but the possibility of a pandemic will be taken really seriously now. The shortage wasn't hospitals - it turns out that we can turn an existing space into a huge hospital just by adding equipment and staff. No, the most obvious shortage was equipment, and the obvious answer is to build stockpiles of equipment. And not just PPE (masks, faceshields and gowns), beds and ventilators. And other stuff. We need expert medical people (it turns out that experts are useful after all) to think about all the possible pandemics, and stockpile equipment suitable for all of them.

A less obvious shortage, is staff. You can cancel all leave, you can ask people to work 96 hours per week with no weekends, you can recall retired staff and use final year students. But that still isn't enough. We need more medical people.

And the way to get more medical people isn't a weekly round of applause (although that is nice). The way to get more medical people, is to pay them more. Pay for their education, and pay them more per hour of work.

So in the UK (and I think in other countries) there will be a swing in the direction of better medical preparedness, via seriously large (and maintained) stockpiles, and improved pay and conditions for staff. Because surely we're all agreed that this situation should never happen again, in so far as we can make preparation.

Thursday 9 April 2020

Day 24 of self-isolation

I can't remember World War 2, I'm not old enough. But I remember the Three Day Week, the Winter of Discontent and the Scargill miners' strike.. 

The Three Day Week happened during the winter of 1973/74, when the coal miners went on strike, leading to a coal shortage, and an electricity shortage, and to conserve coal, the Tory PM Edward Heath, ordered industry and commerce to go to a three day week. The impact on the domestic sector, was periodic blackouts.

We used hurricane lamps, and a Tilley lamp for lighting. Television was restricted, pubs were closed and we huddled under blankets, and hoped that something would make this end. What ended it, was Heath calling, and losing, a General Election in February 1974. Harold Wilson formed a minority government, and gave the miners 35%, and another 35% the following year.

These pay rises, and other factors, let to the great inflation of 1974/75. Each time you went to the shops, week by week, the price of everything had gone up.

The  Winter of Discontent was in the winter of 1978-79. James Callaghan's Labour government made a "Social Contract" with the trades unions, whereby they wouldn't ask for big pay rises. I can't remember what they got in return, probably nothing, which is why they called it the "Social Con-trick".

The idea was that pay rises would stay below 5%. It didn't work. Unions went on strike for more, and each union that got more, became an argument for the next union.

When it fell apart, the gravediggers were on strike, so bodies were piling up. Waste collectors went on strike, and Leicester Square become a rubbish dump - and a very attractive food source for rats.

The general election in 1979 was won by the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher.

The final part of this trilogy, happened in 1984/85. The miners went on strike again, expecting the same result. That didn't happen. Arthur Scargill (the miners' leader) called the strike without the support of all the mineworkers, and many of them didn't strike. That, plus the large coal reserves in place, broke the strike. The main reason for the failure of the strike, was Scargill's failure to do a national strike ballot.

The broken miners' union never seriously threatened the country again.

Of course, the fight against Covid-19 is a completely different thing.

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Day 23 of self-isolation

Should we wear masks? Let's look at the science.

Mythbusters did a simple test, and it turn out that a sneeze can carry for 17 feet. More rigorous scientific studies give a distance of 7-8 meters. In other words, if you sneeze, you project whatever viruses that you're infected with, for a long distance. A two meter separation isn't enough!

So, we're advised to sneeze into a tissue, which is a great idea (and dispose of it properly). But I find that a sneeze comes on me so suddenly, I dno't have the time to grab a tissue. The alternative advice is to sneeze into your elbow, which isn't great, but is better than spraying out viruses for 8 meters.

Which is why a mask is a good idea.

It doesn't have to be a medical grade mask; just a cotton scarf around your mouth will be enough to curtail that 8 meter travel.

And the mask has another effect - it will persuade people to stay clear of you. Especially if you wear a sign that says "I have not been tested for Covid-19 so I don't know if I'm infected or not"

Of course, the time to wear a mask is if you have Covid-19. But since you probably don't know whether you have it or not (people are infectious but without symptoms for 7 to 21 days) the public-spirited thing to do in these days of Covid-19, is to wear a mask whenever you go out. So if you do sneeze (or cough), the virus particles are trapped by the scarf.

When you get home, it would be easy to disinfect the scarf, and reuse it later. We've been offered re-usable face masks for £8.

We're running out of milk. My coffee is a lot darker.

And then we had a delivery - mostly fresh vegetables and fruit, but also a lot of milk. Hurrah! Coffee with milk again.

The Diprobase cream has greatly improved the backs of my hands. Or maybe they just got better on their own.

938 deaths in the UK yesterday, 14% up on the previous day. This is a big increase, and a bigger growth rate than we've seen before. Italy and Spain are fown to 3.1 and 4.3 growth; they are a week or two ahead of us.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Day 22 of self-isolation

Boris is still in intensive care, but hasn't got worse overnight. He's paying for the idiotic stunt of six weeks ago, when he visited a hospital and shook hands with Covid-19 patients. We can all learn from his harsh lesson. I hope he recovers.

854 deaths in the last 24 hours, that's a rise of 13%. Very bad news.

 My new electric toothbrushes arrived. The economy is still working.

Monday 6 April 2020

Day 21 of self-isolation

Boris Johnson is so ill with Covid-19, he's now in hospital, thus demonstrating what happens to you if you ignore social distancing advice and shake hands with lots of infected patients.

The backs of my hands are still a bit rough, so I'm treating them with Diprobase ointment.

The new generator arrived. It works.

Sunday 5 April 2020

Day 20 of self-isolation

Blood pressure; 124/83, pulse rate 56. Looking good!

It's Sunday, and the weather is beautiful. I think we'll go out for a walk - in our garden.

More food today - we did a click-and-collect from Waitrose, which was collected for us and delivered. We spent the next hour disinfecting it and putting it away. Ladysolly thinks  she might have over-ordered. I don't think she did, because we are only shopping once each week.

An unanticipated problem - spraying with alcohol has dissolved some of the sell-by dates. In future, we'll relabel them before spraying.

The Scottish Chief Medical Officer,  Catherine Calderwood, twice broke the lock down rules by going to her second home. She should be sacked; this gives out the wrong message. She wasn't sacked, she was just allowed to lurk out of sight in press briefings. Our governments STILL are not serious about this. 

... update ... she resigned.

Saturday 4 April 2020

Day 19 of self-isolation

I've moved the three UV disinfecting lamps to the server room. Thus means I can control the power to them remotely. Handy.

The retort stands arrived. I'll be using them to hold things for the lamps to disinfect.

I keep hearing very silly things about this virus. Apparently, onions protect you. If you have an onion in the same room, you're safe. Also orange peel boiled in water, and you inhale the vapour.

The backs of my hands are suffering from excessive hand washing; I'm treating them with E45 cream. The last time this happened was 33 years when I was first working with computer viruses. I used a "contaminated room" method, and colour coded all infected diskettes as red, but without realising that I was doing it, I stepped up my hand washing (totally ineffective against computer viruses) and got a slight problem on the back of my hands, until ladysolly pointed this out, and I took appropriate action.

The American CDC is telling people that they should wear face masks - but it's voluntary. Of course it's voluntary, the CDC can't pass laws. President Trump is setting an example - by not wearing a mask. That's leadership.

A face mask is to stop you from infecting others, and it doesn't have to be a medical-grade face mask. You might not realise that you're infected - not everyone shows symptoms, and not everyone shows symptoms in the early stages. The governor of Georgia only just learned that. "This is a game changer," he said. Yes, it is - and we knew this a couple of months ago.

Even if you can't get a medical-type mask - just wear a cloth over your face and nose. Then, if you cough or sneeze, the droplets don't spread out in a great cloud. Surely everyone has a cloth they can wear!

Friday 3 April 2020

Day 18 of self-isolation

The generator arrived today. What a mess! It was described on eBay as "new, box dirty". But the generator was badly corroded, and I'd be reluctant to start it.

I've asked the seller to give me a full refund. So I ordered another generator, this time from Amazon. It's another two-stroke petrol, £128 for a 750 watt output.

My electric toothbrush is corroded. I actually have two, one for the main brush and one for the small interdental. Having two means I don't have to keep changing the brush head. The corrosion is on the metal shaft from the motor that drives the brush head. So I took it into my workshop and filed off the corrosion, Dremelled it with a wire brush and now it looks pretty new. I smeared Vaseline over the metal, and hopefully that will sort it. But just in case it doesn't, I ordered a new one from eBay - they're only £7. It's battery operated, because I don't like the ones with a built-in rechargable battery; when that battery no longer holds charge, there's no way to replace it.

I've given up on trying to straighten my little finger. I showed it to the doctor two months ago - the tip droops at an angle of 20 degrees. This is called "mallet finger" and it's a mild case, the finger still works fine. My idea was that I'd splint it for a while, and it would straighten itself. The doctor said that it was worth trying, but was unlikely to work, and I should give up if six weeks gave no result. Do you remember those days, when you could see the doctor about something as trivial as that? So, the treatment didn't work, it's eight weeks later, so I'm giving up.

In the UK, we've taken a big building and converted it into a 4000 bed hospital, entirely for Covid-19 patients, and we did it in nine days. Well done the people who did that!

Thursday 2 April 2020

Day 17 of self-isolation

Weight down to 16 stone 8. Another food delivery arrived today, demonstrating the difference between shopping and ordering food. This time, the goodies included a single leek. I suggested to ladysolly that if we combined that with the single banana that we got last time, we could make leek and banana soup, but apparently, that isn't a thing.

One of my worries has been set to rest - two jars of decaf coffee came in this delivery. I was concernedd that I might have to go back to non-decaf.

Paying people suddenly got more difficult. Our particular Barclays group suddenly went offline, leaving a message that if we needed to contact them, we should phone our personal contact who will be working from home. And, of course, we don't have her home phone number.

It's entirely sensible of them to make this decision - not so sensible to assume that all their customers know the home phone numbers of theis personal contact.

Tested cases of Covid-19 reached a million, worldwide. The worst place to be right now, is New York, with a horrific death rate.

The toothbrushes I ordered on eBay arrived today. Commerce is still working

I did a nice April Fool yesteday. I signed on to Faceebook as Donaid Trump and posted on a politics group. Fun was had by all.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Day 16 of self-isolation

I read an article that pointed out that the suppliers of electricity are also finding themselves short staffed; there is therefore, a possibility of power cuts.

So, thinking about this, we have a freezer containing quite a lot of food, and if power is out for 12 or 24 hours or more, we might have to choose between eating refrozen food (dangerous, and we don't want food poisoning at a time like this) or throwing away some hundreds of pounds worth of food.

So I did some checking. Freezers and fridges don't need a lot of watts; 100 watts at most. So I went onto eBay, and bought a small generator, capable of 700 watts, costing £70 plus £20 delivery. If we get cuts before then, I'll use one of the computer UPSes as a power source.

But how to get the power to the freezer (and fridge)? That's going to need a bit of delving around, but it should be possible. And if the power does go out, that's what I'll do. So the generator is an insurance.

They cancelled the Edinburgh festivals and Wimbledon. Quite right.

912 deaths in 24 hours in America. America is now seeing more fatalities than any other country, and it's going to get worse for the next couple of weeks, because they delayed their lock down. The UK is also getting worse, with 563 deaths in 24 hours.

By the way, these fatality numbers are an understatement; they are only hospital deaths. People dying in care homes and other places, aren't counted in this.

Here's what this looks like from the point of view of Covid-19.

We're organising another Waitrose shopping list, but delivery slots are like hen's teeth, so we're going to do a "click and collect" because that's got to be safer than walking round the supermarket and hoping that other shoppers respect the two meters rule.

I did an April Fool post to a Facebook political group, under the name of Donaid Trump and suggesting that they rename their group in my honour. I did a similar joke last year, and I was quite surprised to find that Facebook hasn't removed the account.

The economic fallout from this will be huge; governments are pouring money into the economy at a great rate. Where will this money come from? It's fiat money; they are just creating it. This will lead to huge inflation in the next few years. I'm not saying this is wrong, just that this is what will happen. I agree that this is an emergency, and we have to support the economy and workers in this way. But we will also have to pay for it, eventually.

In America, it will be worse. The don't have an NHS. Healthcare is paid for out of expensive health insurance. Some of that is included with people's jobs. A lot of people (airlines, hospitality industry, sports, retail)  are losing their jobs, and with that, either they will lose their healthcare insurance, or else they won't be able to continue to pay their premiums.

What will happen to those people? It doesn't bear thinking about.