Is the USA turning the corner?
I don't think so. Yesterday, the number of new Covid cases in the USA was 91530.
Oct 25 - 63514
Oct 26 - 69848
Oct 27 - 75980
Oct 28 - 81585
Oct 29 - 91530
It's also very bad in Europe - very, very bad. UK, Italy, France, Spain and even Germany are seeing a wave of infections greater than we saw last March/April. And deaths are also rising fast.
It would be nice if we'd turned the corner, but the reality is that things are getting worse, rapidly.
In Europe, we're increasingly going to more lockdowns. In America? I have no idea what you guys are doing. You tell me.
South America is even worse than the USA. Iran is deep into their third wave. In Russia cases are roaring up, despite the claim that they have a vaccine.
Personally, I'm back in 100% lockdown. Groceries by delivery van, masking if I go anywhere, I have a good stock of toilet rolls, because we're also going to be hit by a no-deal Brexit soon.
The gleam of light at the end of the tunnel, is the vaccine. The first vaccine to be tested and available will be the Oxford University vaccine. The clinical trials should be complete within a few weeks. Manufacture has not been waiting for approval (the risk is that we'd have to incinerate the doses if the test fails) but if the testing is good, we have the doses ready to go.
What about distribution? That shouldn't be a problem. Even our incompetent government managed to distribute the influenza vaccine recently - I had mine a few weeks ago, and it was very smooth. The side effect was that my arm felt slightly bruised for a few days. The Covid vaccine can go exactly the same route. The distribution will be via NHS hospitals and clinics (I got my flu jab at my local clinic) and also via pharmacies. The big pharmacy chains (and the small retailers) already have a supply system in action, so it can just be fed into that. I expect that the first few days will be for healthcare workers, then for other key workers, then for over-65s, and then down through the age groups.
I could be vaccinated by Christmas.
And as far as I'm concerned, if the NHS says that it is safe, then it is, and I'm going to get vaccinated as soon as it's available to me.
Saturday 31 October 2020
Is the USA turning the corner?
Friday 30 October 2020
Last January, I joined the Labour party so that I could vote in the forthcoming leadership election. I voted for Keir Starmer. He won.
Just now, the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission, which was set up by the Labour party) reported back on the accusation of antisemitism in the Labour party. The report was damning. It said what we already knew; the Labour Party was institutionally antisemitic. The leaders of the party interfered in the process of investigating cases.
- political interference in antisemitism complaints
- failure to provide adequate training to those handling antisemitism complaints
The culture of the party didn't do enough to prevent antisemitism, and at worst, could be seen to accept it.
Yes. We knew that. I was obvious to anyone with ears and eyes.
Jeremy Corbyn claims that he "hasn't an antisemitic bone in his body", but that's because he is Corbyn the Boneless. He lacked the fortitude to tackle a clear problem, and by failing to deal with the problem, he let the cancer of antisemitism spread unchecked.
This was a major factor in Labour losing the last election. Jews would not vote for an antisemitic party, and neither would a large number of non-Jewish voters. And what about canvassing? In the past, many Jews would have been active in the party - but not last December. And on the doorstep, canvassers were asked about this issue. And the only answer they could give was "It's not that big a problem".
The Labour Party has until 10 December to draft an action plan to implement the recommendations, which is legally enforceable by the court if not fulfilled.
Jews have been facing antisemitism from the far left, antisemitism from the far right, and antisemitism from Islamic extremists. Antisemitism is the only bigotry where the targets are called inferior and superior at the same time.
Corbyn still doesn't see it. He claims that a tiny tiny problem has been blown up for political reasons. That makes him part of the problem, and Keir Starmer announced that the party has suspended Corbyn, and withdrawn the whip
Will Corbyn apologise and admit that he's wrong? I don't think so. The suspension will turn into an expulsion. Corbyn will whine and moan, and the party will split into pro-Corbyn and anti-racist.
Labour voters can now hold their heads up high. Starmer has now demonstrated that he really means to eradicate racism from the party. And in doing this, and in accepting the recommendations of the EHRC, he will make Labour a credible opposition to the Tories, and will stand a real chance to win the 2024 election.
Thursday 29 October 2020
Bristol has moved to tier 1 plus - if you live in Bristol, you'll need to find out what that means.
Wales is in a Firebreak - if you live in Wales, you'll need to find out what that means.
In Scotland there is going to be five tiers - if you live in ....
Yesterday we saw 367 deaths, and another 310 today. Last March, the peak was around 900.
I feel like we're rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I hope we learned some lessons from last spring; better treatments for Covid, and not so many ventilators. Better care of care homes, and maybe by next year, we'll have a test and trace system.
Christmas is looking rather doubtful, although I suspect that a lot of people will break whatever rules there are by then. But I have a bold proposal for Christmas - postpone it. My suggestion would be June 25.
There is no rational reason to celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Even fervent Christians will admit that there is no reason to believe that he was born on that day. So let's move it.
June 25 is in summer; it will be warmer and sunnier than December. Instead of wood fires, we can have picnics! Barbecues! Instead of snowball fights, daisy chains. The people who go door-to-door singing carols, won't get frozen toes.
Australians celebrate Christmas in summer. We can too.
Wednesday 28 October 2020
First, some good news. When I weighed myself this morning, the scale said 16 stone, 0 pounds. I was slightly surprised, so I checked it on ladysolly's scale, and got the same reading. Great! So my BMI is 30.3, which is obese, but just a tidge away from "overweight". The NHS BMI calculator recommends that I lose 11 pounds, and if I do, I'll be "overweight". So that's my target.
Next, I went to the Covid-19 risk assessment site. Most of my risk comes from age, with an extra for being male, and another extra for asthma. My asthma isn't an ongoing problem, but when I get a heavy cold, I get some major wheezing, and I use an inhaler that the doctor prescribed. So my overall risk level was 6, which puts me just into the high risk level. I already knew that, and that's why I'm being more careful than most people. Ladysolly, being female, is medium risk.
And our Ocado delivery didn't happen today, which is only a minor problem, we can last till our next delivery. Apparently, this does happen from time to time.
367 UK deaths were recorded from Covid-19 yesterday, which is a horribly large number, and is back to the level of last May. New cases are 22,885, still a huge number. The other European countries are also deep into this second wave. Lockdowns are happening all over.
There has been a study on how long immunity to Covid-19 lasts - 365,104 adults took part in three rounds of testing, and it looks like immunity lasts for just a few months. More if you're younger, less if you're older. This means that any country that has a strategy of herd immunity, might be badly disappointed. Just 4.4% of adults had some form of immunity against Covid-19 in September, when cases began to increase again. This is compared with 6% found to have antibodies between June 20 and July 13, and 4.8% between July 31 and August 31.
So we really need that vaccine.
The Oxford University vaccine, with the snappy name of AZD1222l is till under phase three testing. But we're getting 30 million doses; some in 2020 but mostly in the first half of 2021.
The tests of AZD1222 have shown a strong immune response in the elderly (usually with Coronavirus vaccines, the elderly get a lower response than the young). So it looks like all age groups will be protected. As a nice bonus, there are lower side effects in elderly patients. Side effects might be very minor - when I had my flu jab a few weeks ago, I had a side effect. My shoulder felt as if it had been slightly bruised, but that effect soon vanished.
AZD1222 does generate antibodies, which last a few months. Also T-cells, which, judging on the way other vaccines for similar viruses have worked, will last for several years.
Tuesday 27 October 2020
On the 28th October, 1973, two people got married. That was 47 years ago, a long, long time. The repercussions of that marriage were huge. Without that, there would have been no daughters, no grandsons and no Antivirus Toolkit. Two lives were changed for ever by that marriage, and thousands and thousands of other lives were touched as a result. Many people are still using the engine that powered that software, but under another brand name now. Many ex-employees say that it was the high point of their life.
The pandemic has brought those two people closer together. After eight months of confinement, there have been no major rows, no violence and best of all, no Covid-19.
There have not been many outings. One long walk was notable for the fact that one of us developed a very painful boil. We've had outings to the dentist, a flu shot and several blood tests - exciting stuff. The highlights of the time were visits from and to the daughters and kids.
Monday 26 October 2020
Dump Dido Harding
After a successful career as a jockey, she became the boss of TalkTalk. Under her leadership, TalkTalk suffered a major hack, affecting 157,000 customers, and costing the company £77 million.
Most recently, she was put in charge of the NHS Test and Trace. Last week the system hit a new low of 59.6% of the contacts of people who tested positive being successfully contacted and told to self-isolate.And people are pointing the finger at the woman in charge, Dido Harding.
So far, she has survived the six months of test-and-trace failures. And right now, with 20,000 new cases each day, it's probably not possible to trace all the contacts. But wouldn't it have been great if we had a tracing app at the time that Ireland had one? How come we didn't?
Back in August, we had really low numbers. That was when tracing would have been most valuable.
When the case numbers get down again to better levels, contact tracing will become more possible, and more important. We have perhaps a month or so, to get this system working, but is Dido Harding the right person for the job, or do we need someone who actually understands technical matters?
Labour's shadow mental health minister Rosena Allin-Khan said Lady Harding's position had become "untenable". Senior Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin said there was a "vacuum of leadership" at the top of the organisation, and said that \Harding should be given a "well-earned break". Meaning, dump Dido.
Here's Dido at Goodwood, in 2017.
Sunday 25 October 2020
My first encounter with zinc, was when I was about 13, and getting interested in chemistry. Stinks and bangs. Zinc plus hydrochloric acid (or any other acid) gives you hydrogen, which bubbles up from the test tube, and can be collected by using the fact that it is lighter than air, by holding an inverted test tube over the reaction.
After a while, you can light it, and it explodes. It's not much of an explosion, more a "pop". But it's fun to do.
My bible was "Chemistry experiments at home for boys and girls", a superb book (I still have it) which would probably be banned now. The "sugar plus sodium chlorate" explosive experiment alone would get it banned, let alone the nitrogen tri-iodide which explodes when you touch it.
My latest encounter with zinc is a lot less exciting. Dr John Campbell (on youtube) is a medical doctor of great experience, and he's been following and analysing the pandemic, with references to published academic papers. That's why I'm on 2000 IU of vitamin D. And he talked about zinc.
If you are zinc deficient, that affects the immune system. And one of the treatments they gave Trump was, apparently, zinc. So I ordered zinc supplements from Waitrose; it works out at 2.5p per day (sixpence in old money), and I've made those part of my daily intake. Because if I do get Covid-19, I want to give myself every chance I can to brush it off.
Saturday 24 October 2020
Clocks go back
On 29 March, a week after lockdown, we moved the clocks forward an hour. On Sunday 25th, we move them back an hour. Seven months have passed; it feels more like seven years. We're all getting "Covid fatigue".
This idea of changing the clocks twice a year, is not an idea I like. The computers switch automatically, but there are several clocks around the house that I have to reset.
I just think it doesn't give us any benefits today; I'm not convinced that it ever did.
Friday 23 October 2020
I decided to test the two dozen memory sticks that I keep for spares. So I set up a server that I had as an extra, and ran the Memtest+ program; That cycles through memory, testing the memory with stress patterns. That server was down in the Data Shed, so I put a web cam on it so I could keep an eye on it from a distance.
The first several sticks tested fine, so I labelled them as "tested 2020", but then the server started crashing after a short time.
I tried replacing the power supply, that didn't work. So the next most likely was the motherboard. I replaced that, and it worked fine, so I continued the tests.
Three of the memory sticks failed. That's no surprise. They are getting old, and memory sticks don't last for ever.
We're all getting old.
Thursday 22 October 2020
The lights are going out all over Europe
Deaths are slightly lower than yesterday, because yesterday's numbers were puffed up by the usual weekend under-reporting. But new cases are sharply up again. We're going heavily into the second wave (in the USA, the third wave). European governments are increasingly locking down - America can't because so many Americans love to take risks and hate to wear masks.
The UK's oven-ready government is distracted by Brexit; fishing rights, industrial subsidies and food security. This might help to explain why the UK response is looking increasingly improvised and fragmented. And, of course, we still don't have test-or-trace, let alone test-and-trace. Wales is in lock down, England is not. Scotland is looking increasingly like they want to leave the UK.
We aren't likely to get down to London for the next couple of months, and our Christmas get-together is looking unlikely. 2020 will be looked back on as the "plague year". But 2021 will be so much better. Maybe we'll celebrate Christmas in February.
Wednesday 21 October 2020
Disaster in Europe
The numbers that came out today, are horrendous, and are still rising. We're back in the situation we were in last March/April. On the plus side, we know more about how to treat the disease, and we have treatments that reduce the death rate. So the Case Fatality Rate is lower than it was then, but if hospitals get swamped, we'll be in a very bad place again.
What else have we got that we didn't have six months ago? We don't have a test-and-trace system, and it's rather astonishing that after eight months, we still don't have that.
We have the Nightingale overflow hospitals. We now know that ventilators should be the absolute last eventuality. But do we have the staff for them? Since we created a hostile environment for EU-origin workers, the recruitment of health workers from the EU has dried up.
We don't have a vaccine, but, hopefully, we are six months closer to having a vaccine.
We have an economy that has been ravaged by the lock down, and some sectors (pubs, restaurants, travel) are losing hope of ever recovering. Another lock down such as we did in March, is going to be very unpopular.
We have a government that staggers from blunder to shambles, and (by the way) is about to crash out of the EU without any deal (and they'll blame that on the EU, but that's another blog post).
In the UK, peak cases last spring were 5000; now we're seeing 21,000. Peak deaths were 1000; now we're seeing 241 - and remember, death numbers lag case numbers by a couple of weeks.
And we're coming into autumn, and the influenza season. Winter is the flu season becasue we huddle indoors, close to each other, in poorly ventilated rooms.
This is looking very bad.
The Battle of Trafalgar
On October 21st 1805, the British fleet met the combined fleet of Spain and France at a place near to Cape Trafalgar. 27 British ships fought 33 French and Spanish fleets, and comprehensively defeated them by a combination of better gunnery, better crews, better seamanship and a better admiral.
The French and Spanish lost 22 ships; the British lost none.
That admiral was Horatio Nelson, one of the greatest heroes of our nation. His last signal to the fleet was "England Expects that every man will do his duty".
He died during that victory, deeply mourned by all England.
In the middle of London, there is Trafalgar Square, and a statue of Nelson looks from a column of 169 feet, 3 inches, looking across London and guarded by four bronze lions.
Nelson knew he was outnumbered. But he made a plan, ensured that his captains understood the plan, and then carried it out with courage and determination.
Because when you are fighting a strong enemy, you marshal all your weapons, ensure they are ready for action, make a plan and then carry it out.
Our leaders in the UK and the USA, have noticeably failed. We didn't prepare, we've been caught by surprise (which was understandable in February, but not in October). We've failed to get testing working adequately. We've failed to get contact tracing working. We've hared off in all directions after fake medications. We failed to implement even the simple cheap precaution of wearing cloth masks. Indeed, back in March our world-beating governments were telling us not to mask, which goes a fair way to explain why many people are sceptical about the advice to mask.
We locked down too late (or in the case of the USA, in a very patchy way. And instead of the glorious victory of Trafalgar, we are suffering the bloody defeats and fatalities by the virus.
Tuesday 20 October 2020
The Welsh dyke
From Friday 23rd October until 9th November, Wales is going into a stay-at-home lockdown. It's pretty much the same lockdown that we all did last March and April. Pubs and restaurants will close, but nurseries will stay open, primary schools will reopen after half-term, and in secondary schools, years 7 and 8 will return.
A lot of people are saying that the rest of the country should do the same thing - there isn't any kind of wall between Wales an England. Offa's Dyke is no longer a barrier.
The UK is still running around 20k new cases per day, which is very high, and pressure is building up on the hospital system.
Monday 19 October 2020
If you want to stop people from installing the tracking app and from taking a test, what do you think would be the best way to persuade people to avoid getting tested and not install the app?
Tell them that the police will have access to this data.
So, obviously no sane government would ... what? They did? You're kidding.
Yes. They did.
It's almost as good as allowing Special Advisors and MPs to be exempt from the rules that the rest of us follow.
So how would someone avoid this police surveillance? Simple - they would avoid being tested, and avoid installing the app.
The rules on self-isolation are good. The tracing would be a good idea if only is worked. But discouraging people by opening this channel to the police, is a seriously dumb idea.
I've install the app on my iPhone 7 (my iPhone 6 couldn't handle it). But will I keep it? I don't know. Sixteen million people have installed the app, which is only 25% of the population, and we need more than 60%. But will people who haven't installed it so far, get it?
Now hear this. The app isn't going to give information to the police, but the tracing service can. It's a fine distinction. The app tells you that you've been in contact with an infected person, so you go get tested (or else you don't) and at that point, you're on the radar.
It's just another bungle.
Sunday 18 October 2020
is currently at level 2. Boris wants them to be at level 3. The mayor,
Andy Burnham is threatening legal action of that's imposed on the area.
But the real problem wouldn't be the legal action, it would be if
Mancunians refuse to comply - how will they force this? The police will
follow the law, obviously, but if they are faced with mass disobedience,
It's become a big row. And the rest of the country, currently at level 2, is watching, because what happens there, could happen elsewhere.
Daily UK deaths are up to 150, a level not seen since last June, with new cases at 16,171 and there is increasing pressure to have the "circuit breaker".
Saturday 17 October 2020
Manchester is revolting
Andy Burnham is the mayor of Manchester, and he rejects the government's decision to put Manchester into "very high" lockdown status. He's demanding that 80% of wages be paid for closed businesses.
Can he do that?
Probably not, in law. But the lockdown relies on the cooperation of citizens. There aren't enough jails in the whole country to lock up all the people who might refuse.
Right now, about half the country is rated as high or very high. And I can't help feeling that there are two causes.
The first cause was the "Eat out to help out" scheme, which encouraged people to go back to restaurants, where you HAVE to take your mask off to eat. And the second cause has been the scheme whereby teenagers are crammed together into buildings - also known as "student hostels". Maybe that first idea wasn't as good as they thought, and result of the second action was rather inevitable.
Burnham is also asking for the "circuit breaker" lockdown; I already explained why I don't think that will do as much as some people hope.
Friday 16 October 2020
London is high risk
It's just as well we got our visit done last week, because London is now high risk. You must not meet socially with friends and family indoors in any setting unless you live with them or have formed a support bubble with them. This includes private homes, and any other indoor venues such as pubs and restaurants.
We can meet outdoors, in a group of 6 or less (including children). But it isn't summer now, and if it rains, it's going to be pretty miserable. And it'll get colder as winter draws on.
But just look at the numbers. 138 new deaths, and 18980 new infections Thursday; a similar number the day before with 137 new deaths and 19722 new infections.
We're not in London; our area is still "medium risk", but I think that's only a matter of time.
So, we hunker down.
I've been taking 2000 IU of vitamin D each day. I'm going to start taking 15mg of zinc supplements. They cost £1.50 for 60 from Waitrose, and they're one of the things they gave Trump. I did a bit of research, and being low on zinc does make it worse. I don't know if I am low on zinc, but for 2.5p per day, it seems like a sensible precaution. The recommended dose is 11mg/day, so 15 is about right.
Thursday 15 October 2020
The third wave
UK is in the second wave, and it's looking worse and worse. 137 deaths today, and 19,724 new cases. That means that new cases are still growing at a horribly fast rate, and are now FOUR times as many as they were in April. Remember April? How it felt like the apocalypse?
Of course, now the NHS is much better at treating the virus than they were when it hit them out of the blue last March. We learned. We have treatments that we know can help. But still - there will be fatalities. And if the hospitals are swamped, the percentage of fatalities will soar. Remember "protect the NHS"?
But Iran is in the third wave. Yes, there can be a third wave.
Right now, in the UK we're trying to control the second wave, and so far, no success, as you can see from the graph. Perhaps success will come? Maybe.
Keir Starmer is suggesting a "circuit breaker", a period of two weeks in which we all lock down 100%, as suggested by SAGE. Would this help?
In theory, yes. If everyone stays away from everyone else, the number of cases plummets dramatically. But that won't happen. First of all, there are all the "critical workers", like Bob who drives the Ocado van, and Yusuf who drives the Waitrose van. And the transport workers, and the NHS workers, and so on and so on.
But there are also the "covidiots" who think that the rules don't apply to them, like Dominic Cummings and Margaret Ferrier. They have undermined confidence in the government more than they realise. So how many people will follow the example of Cummings and Ferrier? Rather too many, I think.
The "circuit breaker" in an electrical circuit, stops all electricity from flowing. The Covid
"circuit breaker" is only going to be partial. Will it be enough? No. Because when the
"circuit breaker" is switched off again, we're back to where we are now.
What we need is the vaccine.
Wednesday 14 October 2020
One of my servers has been rebooting, about once per month. This is annoying, but not devastating. However, I decided to have a look at it.
When a computer acts like this, these are the likely causes, in order of likelihood
3. Power supply4. Motherboard
Fans are mechanical, and wear out . It's easy to spot when a fan isn't working, because the fan isn't working. In this case, all the fans were working.
Memory gives up after several years. I don't know the exact cause, but I suspect cosmic rays. I have a memory test program - in this case, it passed the test .
Power supplies have a lot of electronic components. The fans can wear out (which is obvious) or a capacitor can weaken. I have a PSU tester; when I plugged it in, it beeped many times and told me that the 3.3 volt supply was all over the place. So I think that was the problem. I replaced the PSU, and put the computer back on the rack.
Motherboards fail with the capacitors. CPUs hardly ever fail. The only way I know of testing a motherboard or CPU is to replace it. I bought a whole bunch of motherboards, CPUs and memory on eBay for £20 each, and they will last me quite a long time.
Tuesday 13 October 2020
Medium, high or very high risk.
It's a three tier system, which isn't going to work; more tiers are needed. And how do I find out what tier I'm in?
It's a good idea (I would say that, wouldn't I?) but they didn't quite get it right. Maybe they can make it work, but given all the past bungles, I'm not terribly optimistic.
The reason why it's a good idea, is that it makes it possible to write an unambiguous set of rules, that (hopefully) anyone can understand, and so the rules don't change, only the alert level of the area that you're in.
You can find out which level you are at here. I would have preferred it if I could give my postcode, and it would tell me my level. I'm in Buckinghamshire, so I'm medium.
And here's what you can and cannot do at each level.
- you must not socialise in groups larger than 6, indoors or outdoors (other than where a legal exemption applies)
- businesses and venues can continue to operate, in a COVID-secure manner, other than those that remain closed in law
- certain businesses are required to ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and must close between 10pm and 5am
- businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-through
- schools and universities remain open
- places of worship remain open, subject to the rule of 6
- weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on numbers of attendees
- exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, or indoors if the rule of 6 is followed
You should continue to:
- follow social distancing rules
- work from home where you can effectively do so
- when travelling, plan ahead or avoid busy times and routes. Walk or cycle if you can
Monday 12 October 2020
A grand day out.
I went to London on Sunday, to see the daughters and family. We discussed the usual subjects, with the exception of Brexit, which is a dead horse now.
For dinner, we had meatballs and rice.
I suspect that this might be the last time we can all get together for several weeks.
And when we got home, we found that the heating system has failed.
Sunday 11 October 2020
One of my servers failed. It failed by crashing. A cold boot got it working again; it crashed again after a few minutes. After trying that a few times, I knew that I had to fix it.
I took it out of the rack, put it on the workbench and opened it up. A temperature check showed no problem, so I replaced all the memory (memory can fail eventually) and took out the ethernet card. I started it up again, and now it failed during startup.
It's either the motherboard, the cpu or the power supply. I decided to shortcut the process, and replaced all three. The CPU and motherboard are quite old, and I have a dozen newer ones that I got as a job lot for £20 each, including memory, so I used one of those; faster cpu, better motherboard (it has gigabit ethernet) and more memory (8gb instead of 2gb).
I could have reinstalled the operating system, but I thought, wotthehell and just put the hard drives from the old computer in. I gave it power, and it booted straight up! No need to install a new OS. One small problem; it didn't recognise the gigabit ethernet. So I checked ifconfig and it had actually recognised the networking, but was using DHCP instead of a hard-coded IP address.
I installed NetworkManaget-tui and ran nmtui. I deleted the cards that it thought it had, and added the one it actually had, told it the IP address I wanted, and the DNS servers, and then it all worked fine.
Slight problem - this motherboard doesn't have an external serial port, because hardly anyone uses those now. But my temperature monitoring system uses a serial interface. There is a serial header on the motherboard, it just doesn't have a nine pin D-shaped connector. No problem, I have a boxful of cables with a header on one end and a nine-pin-D on the other, so I plugged that in.
And Thunderbirds are go!
Saturday 10 October 2020
The Situation in Europe
In Spain, we're in the middle of the second wave. I'm glad to report that daily case numbers are on a strong downtrend, but the daily deaths are still rising - the latest number is 241.
In France the second wave is still rising rapidly. The latest daily case number is 20339, about four times as many as in the first wave.
In Italy, the second wave is on a strong uptrend, and could soon equal the worst of March/April.
In Germany, the second wave is on a strong uptrend, and looks like it will reach the levels of last spring quite soon.
In the UK we're on the second wave, and the numbers of new cases are about three times as much as last March/April, and still rising fast.
So it looks awful, but it's not as bad as it looks. The CFR (case fatality rate, the number of deaths divided by the number of cases) is a LOT lower than it was last spring. That's partly because we now have better treatments than we did back then, and partly because we're now detecting the virus much sooner. Meaning, not at the point when the infected person is already gasping for breath.
In the UK, the test-and-trace system seems to have completely broken; only 25% of conacts are being traced within a short period of time. That's what happens when you put a jockey in charge of an IT system.
Friday 9 October 2020
It's looking increasingly likely that London is going to Defcon four, so before that happens, we're making another trip to see daughter.1 etc, because we didn't see her last trip.
This, of course, is conditional on there not being a lockdown before Sunday that prevents that. Because things are not looking good right now, with 17540 new cases yesterday, and another 77 deaths. And the curve of new cases is on a strong uptrend; deaths will follow a few weeks later.
Meanwhile, in America the second round of Trump vs Biden looks to be cancelled, because no-one wants to get into an enclosed room with a disease carrier, so the cross-party committee agreed to have it virtual. But Trump chickened out of that - maybe the White House internet connection is a bit iffy.
Thursday 8 October 2020
Trouble up North
Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle are facing additional lockdowns. Pubs and restaurants will be further restricted. This is because the priority is to keep schools and universities open.
Now that the "blocked spreadsheet" problem has been Dynorodded, a lot of cases have become apparent. As you can see from the chart, the number of cases is now well above the worst of last spring (before removing the blockage, the number was thought to be around 7000, but was actually 50% bigger and climbing. We still need to avoid swamping the hospitals.
Death numbers aren't as dreadful as last spring, because our world-beating government has now realised that we can't just dump infected people into care homes. Also, we now have much better knowledge of how to treat Covid. But anyone who does reach hospital, will still need care and attention, and there are bottlenecks such as the number of beds (Nightingale temporary hospitals help with that) and staffing, which isn't solved so easily. So deaths are up to 70 per day, a tenth of last April, but still rising in a very unpleasant way. And since deaths lag cases by a couple of weeks, I think that will get worse.
London has not been targetted yet for more restrictions, but I suspect that it will.
I'm sad for the pubs, restaurants, theaters and the whole hospitality industry, but if I had to choose between those and the education sector, I think our children's education is more important.
So do we have the option of just letting the virus rip through the population? Yes, of course we do. But whoever makes that decision, will have to live with their conscience owning a number (unknown) of additional deaths.
I'm glad I'm not the decision maker.
Wednesday 7 October 2020
We don't have anything like this in the UK. Our elections are short and (mostly) about the policies and issues. American elections are long and brutal, and mostly about the shortcomings of the politicians.
Nothing seems to be out of bounds. No dirt is buried too deep to be exposed. A baby kissed 50 years ago is reframed as a pedophile incident. Any trip or stumble is turned into an allegation of dementia.
And, of course, it's election season, so the attack advertisements are coming thick and fast. My favourites are from "The Lincoln Project". No punches are pulled, every silver lining has a cloud. The adverts are mostly a minute long, and are vicious, aggressive and accuse Trump of betraying America, killing Americans and giving the voters a stark choice - "It's Trump or America".
I'd like to find a similar series of adverts attacking Biden, but I couldn't find any good ones. But I did find this collation of ads over the last 60 years, showing that attack ads are a long term American tradition.
Tuesday 6 October 2020
Another shambles - uncounted cases
16,000 cases of Covid went missing. For example, October 2 figures were 6868, and should have been 4786 more. This isn't just a statistics shambles, it also means that 4786 people did not have their contacts identified and notified. The whole point of test and trace is to be able to do that, and if you don't trace, the people who should have been contacted, aren't told, and if they were infected, will be out in the community merrily spreading the virus.
And how did this happen?
An Excel spreadsheet reached its maximum file size, so the automated process could no longer add more names. The maximum file size is 2 gb. If there are a million people in the database, and each person uses 2 kb of data, then you've hit 2 gb. How could anyone think that there would be less than several million people to get infected?
And no-one noticed for several days.
This needs a database. What idiot used a spreadsheet? Spreadsheets are for small simple stuff. I use a spreadsheet to track my computers; some 200 of them, unlikely to rise to 300, file size is 100kb. The great thing about a spreadsheet is that anyone can use them, it's "programming power for the people". The terrible thing about a spreadsheet, is that many of the people using them have no programming or database experience, don't know what the limitations are, don't know about the need for debugging or how to do it and assume that "the spreadsheet is OK because I made it myself".
So, when I was looking at the case numbers for the last few days, it looked like the numbers had peaked and were slightly falling, which is very encouraging. But it turned out that this wasn't true - I had been misled by the inaccurate numbers - and so had the oven-ready policy makers in our world-beating country.
And, of course, Dido Harding is in charge of all this. Baroness Blunder herself. The Shambles-in-Chief who was in charge of TalkTalk when they had their huge IT failure. But it's just another instance of the UK government being unable to organise an IT project in a brewery.
Monday 5 October 2020
A trip to London
We had a big day yesterday.
First we visited our local doctor for flu vaccination. We whisked in and out, it was all very well organised - a sharp scratch and we're done, exit through a different door from the entrance.
Then home for a shower. We always shower and change after visiting medical places, because it might not have much effect, but it's easy and cheap. And after I got home, my new printer arrived.
My "old faithful" HP Laserjet 6P has served me faithfully for 30 years, as a printer. But it isn't a copier. And the printer that I use as a copier, has stopped working. So on Thursday evening, I ordered a Kyocera 1220 MFP, and on Saturday it arrived, which is very quick. But I left it until Sunday to install it.
Then we piled into the car and drove to London. Daughter.1 has a tummy upset, and although we don't think it's Covid, she decided to stay at home "out of an abundance of caution". So we visited daughter.2, Mr .2 and grandson.3, who can nearly walk, although I am assured that he can actually walk. I think he'll walk very soon; he just hasn't yet fully appreciated the advantages of bipedal locomotion over quadrupedal..
Then we ordered a takeaway dinner, which should have arrived within an hour, but two hours later I was staring starvation in the face, and even a packet of Hula Hoops didn't still the pangs of hunger. Eventually, we sent Mr .2 out to get pizza. And, of course, a few minutes after they were ready, the food arrived. It was very tasty, but we won't be ordering from them again, because the wait was so much longer than they had said.
Today, I tackled the new laser printer. It was pretty easy to set up, although I still haven't worked out how the paper width control sides work. I did set them to the right width, but I don't know how I did it. But when I went to stow away the manuals, I found a replacement roller and toner for the old machine. So maybe I can fix that.
Kyocera toner costs £67 per cartridge, but I found an alternative for £4 and ordered two.
Sunday 4 October 2020
The Trump situation
As ever with politicians, and especially with Trump, there is the story that we are fed, and there is the truth. And since Trump has told a great many lies (one estimate puts it over 20,000) especially about the pandemic, we take anything that the White House says with a large pinch of salt.
So here's the official story. Trump tested positive on Friday. He had an "extremely mild cough", a blocked nose and tiredness.He was airlifted to the Walter Reed Medical Center, and he's still there. He has tweeted that "I am feeling well!"
And here's the truth. He was given an experimental, unapproved drug Regeneron, which is supposed to encourage the formation of antibodies. Personally, I would not be testing experimental drugs on the President of the USA, but I guess they do things differently there, and rightly assume that senior politicians are expendable.
Ironically, he has not been given hydroxychloroquine, or an injection of disinfectant, or a very bright light.
Saturday morning, Dr. Sean Conley said that Trump had tested positive 72 hours earlier, which put it at Wednesday morning. But then it was realised that this implied that Trump knew he was infected while he made his fundraising trip to New Jersey. When the implications of that sank in, Conley said that he meant that this was day three, and Trump wasn't diagnosed until after that fundraiser.
Conley said "He is not on oxygen." Translation - that means that, at this moment in time, he is not on oxygen, but rather leads us to think that oxygen has not been part of the treatment. It turns out that it was.
An inside source contradicted the "slight sniffle" story. "The President's vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery," the source said.
So - make up your own mind. You can believe the person who, in February, knew that this was a serious air-transmitted pandemic, but chose to lie to Americans "to avoid panic".
Or you can believe the people who contradict him.
So, what will happen now?
The election of November 3, isn't going to be postponed. As long as Trump is alive, he will continue to be the candidate.
But he's always tried to project an impression of strength, and a week-long stay (at least) in hospital is contradicting that. His big rallies are all cancelled. His campaign has run out of money, on account of either fraud, or drunken-sailor-type spending in the last few months by his campaign management. And the worst thing is, the one big issue that he's been trying to ignore and pretend isn't any kind of big deal, has jumped up and bitten him really hard, and ensured that the big story in the weeks to come will the the pandemic.
I wish him a full recovery, just as I wish the other 7.5 million Americans a full recovery. And it will be so much better for America when he is crushed in the election than if he dies of the virus that he called a hoax.
Saturday 3 October 2020
Two more Americans got Covid
That brings the total of American infections to 7.5 million. We're seeing about 45,000 new infections per day in America (7,000 per day in the UK) and we wish them all a full and speedy recovery - but we also know that won't happen, many of them will die. Those two Americans are only a tiny fraction of this dreadful pandemic, but the old obese male of that pair is at greater risk - that's the way this virus works.
So let's face the facts. Boris Johnson came close; he spent time in the Intensive Care Unit, and recovering from that level of illness takes a long time. Boris was 56, male and overweight - all factors that lead to a higher death rate.
In wars, old men send young men off to die. In pandemics, it's the other way round.
Donald Trump is 74, male and obese - look at his picture. His fatality percentage is 4 or 5%. Pot and kettle - I am too. There's nothing I can do about the first two, but I am slowly losing weight - I'm down to 16 stone 2 pounds now, and the NHS web site recommends that I lose another 11 pounds.
But I don't go to large indoor unmasked rallies. I wear a mask when I go out. I wash hands after handling anything potentially infected. I'm reasonably careful. I don't think that this pandemic is hoax. I don't get tested every day like he does, nor do the people around me. But despite that, the virus got him. It isn't enough to just hope you'll be fine, you also have to take precautions. So far, so good - I hope to stay uninfected until the vaccines become available and this long nightmare is over.
Tomorrow, I'm going for my flu jab, and then down to London to visit the daughters. There will be six people present. I'm being careful, following the rules, and I'm fine. I hope that the 35 million infected people around the world also recover, but a million have died already, and more will face the Grim Reaper before this is over.
Friday 2 October 2020
The Three Stooges
You remember when Dominic Cummings blatantly broke the lockdown rules and got away with it, thereby granting licence to millions of us to follow his example and ignore the rules when it didn't suit us? He should, of course, have been fired. But wasn't. One rule for us, another rule for them.
The first stooge today was Jeremy Corbyn (hereafter referred to as Larry). As you can see from the picture, he's in a group of eight people (one behind the camera), flagrantly violating the rule of six, almost as if he believed that the rules don't apply to him. Larry should now be prosecuted for violating the Rule of Six - I think the fine is £200.
The second stooge was Stanley Johnson (hereafter referred to as Curly). Curly was found browsing in a shop without wearing a mask; this has been compulsory since July 24. So that's another £200 fine.
And the third stooge is Margaret Ferrier, hereafter referred to as Moe. Moe is the MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. On Saturday, she got the symptoms, and took a test. At that point, she should have self-isolated, but no. On Monday, she travelled 400 miles by train to London, a six hour trip, spraying virus particles as she went. Monday evening, she was told that her test was positive.
On Tuesday, she knew that she was infected with Covid-19. So did she self-isolate? Of course not. She got the train back to Scotland, spreading the virus as she went, like a kind of "Johnny Appleseed", but spreading virus instead of apple trees.
And just for added irony, Mo was one of those calling on Cummings to resign after his idiocy. “Dominic Cummings’ actions have undermined the sacrifices that we have all been making in lockdown to protect each other from coronavirus. His position is untenable and he must be removed from his post now … The public health advice is crystal clear. For the safety of others, anyone with coronavirus symptoms must self-isolate, in line with government guidance. They should not leave the house for any reason.”
She's been removed from the SNP, and people are callng for her to resign from parliament. Which she should. Because it should not be "One rule for them, another rule for us".
Thursday 1 October 2020
What is herd immunity, and what do the numbers mean? Herd immunity is the situation when so many people in the "herd" are immune to the virus, that the virus can't find enough people to infect, and dies out. Historically, this has been the only way that epidemics can end.
There are two ways to be immune to the virus. The first way is to become infected. My immune system sees the invader, and does the necessary things to kill it. And it remembers via mechanisms that we've evolved, so that the next time it sees the same (or similar) virus, it can go straight into action and kill it before it affects the body. The other way is to "teach" the body about this new virus - that is called vaccination, or immunisation. There is a third way, of course, and this is to die, but none of us want that.
So what percentage of people need to be immune, to reach herd immunity? The calculation is really quite simple.
Let's call the average number of people who get infected from one infected person, R0. If R0 is less than 1 then the virus will die out, and the nearer it is to zero, the faster it will die out.
If R0 is exactly 1, then each person infects one other person, if it is slightly less than 1, the virus slowly dies out.
What affects R0? A number of factors, such as how the virus spreads, and how many virus particles does it take for it to take root. So for example, if it spreads through the air, it will be more infectious than if it can only spread by shaking hands. We measure the R0 by observation, you can't calculate it from the virus genome.
So, consider a virus with an R0 of 2. Each person infects two other people. But if one of those two is immune, then that drops the number infected to 1, and the virus can't grow. So, clearly, herd immunity for that virus would be 50%.
If a virus has an R0 of 10 (measles is 15) then nine out of those ten would need to be immune, so herd immunity happens at 90%, and that's why public health people are so keen on measles vaccinations for everyone.
And since Covid-19 (the disease that you get if infected by SARS-CoV-2) has an R0 of 3, so herd immunity happens when 2 out of 3 are immune. Herd immunity happens at 66%.
More generally, we can use the formula
Herd immunity percentage = 100 - 100/R0
So what happens when everyone wears a mask? Masking interferes with the transmission of airborne viruses. It works in two ways. First, if someone is infected, then a mask will trap most of the virus particles they are shedding, because it will trap the droplets that they are carried on (especially coughs and sneezes, but also ordinary breathing). Second, if someone is not infected, then the mask will reduce the number of virus particles that they breathe in, and so reduce the likelihood of the virus being able to establish itself in a new victim.
So, suppose that masking reduces virus spreading by half, and the R0 falls from 3 to 1.5. We can put that number into the formula, and we find that we reach herd immunity at 33%.
But it isn't going to be possible to persuade every susceptible person to mask, or even every infected person to mask, because often people don't know that they are infected. So, masking will reduce the spread of the virus, and the population reaches herd immunity at a lower level of immunity. Not-masking means that you don't get to herd immunity until a lot more people are infected.
Vaccination isn't going to be perfect either. Flu vaccines are never 100% effective, and the Covid-19 vaccines won't be either. But a bigger problem (in some countries) will be vaccine refusal. And the people who refuse vaccines might be the same ones that refuse to mask. Countries that have such people will, of course, suffer far more than people who take the sensible precautions of masking and vaccination, but what can be done about that?
The campaign against cigarette smoking was massively successful; UK men smokers fell from 82% in 1948 to 14% today. Why was that? People were told the facts, and shown the consequences of smoking. We need to do the same for vaccination and masking. Show the facts and show the consequences.