Monday 30 November 2020

Day 259 of self-isolation - A fraud

A fraud

Someone I know has been getting emails from Amazon for quite a while. You and I know that they weren't actually from Amazon. It's just as easy to forge the from-address on an email as it is on a paper letter.

The email was asking to update the card details, and gave a link to click on.

That link wasn't Amazon, of course, but it was made to look like Amazon, which is very easy - you just copy their page.

And if you give the card details, that goes to the fraudster. Who then bought pizza, in large amounts.

Not a huge financial disaster, but bad enough.

In this blog, I've often shown spam which looks very realistic. And even one that looked fake, but turned out to have genuinely come from the VAT authorities in Hungary. So what can you do?

One simple rule. If you feel the need to go to a web site, don't do it by clicking on the link. Type the name (, or, or whatever) into your browser URL bar. Remember that the from-address in an email is as easy to forge as the from-address in a paper letter.

Sunday 29 November 2020

Day 258 of self-isolation - An assortment of good news.

An assortment of good news.

In the UK, the R number is down to  between 0.9 and 1.0, and we can see that by the fact that new cases has fallen from a peak of 25000 to 16000 and falling.

Also, we're expecting the vaccinations to start in a two weeks or so.

And in the USA, the FDA is expected to approve a vaccine on December 10th, with 6.4 million doses to be rolled out the next day.

There's more good news. More than 2.5 million vulnerable people in England will be offered free Vitamin D supplements this winter. I'm already taking 2000 IU per day, as a precaution. But in the UK, especially in winter, many people are vitamin D deficient (especially if you have dark skin, because dark skin makes D more slowly). And if you've been locked down and indoors, you've got even less vitamin D. The recommended dose is 400IU (10 micrograms) per day.

It's about time this was made official - there is ample evidence that many people are D deficient, and we know that D is part of the immune response. And the pills are really cheap, and widely available.

Saturday 28 November 2020

Day 257 of self-isolation - Fugging


A small village in Austria is changing it's name. They got fed up with being the target of risque jokes, tired of having their village sign stolen and they had enough of being laughed at for their name.

The town council of Scunthorpe has not commented on this.


Friday 27 November 2020

Day 256 of self-isolation - Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

In America, the 26th was Thanksgiving, a time when American families traditionally get together indoors in large numbers to eat turkey, drink, and be happy together. An excellent tradition. But not appropriate in 2020.

Travel is heaviest at Thanksgiving. Today, travel was 90% as heavy as last year. People are gathering from all parts of America to meet, eat, hug and swap viruses.  It's like one big pox party, happening at a time when the number of new infections per day in America is higher than ever. 

There's nothing to be done about that. Americans are like lemmings; they follow the leader blindly off a cliff, and no-one can understand why.

Christmas is coming. In America, I'm guessing they'll gather again, egged on by Donald Trump, ignoring the warnings of the CDC and the doctors. Christmas will be four weeks after Thanksgiving, it will be like a wave starting from the high point left by the Thanksgiving wave. America has surrendered to the virus, and not even the vaccine will save them, because most of them will refuse to take it.

But I had hoped that the British fighting spirit was undimmed. We're in the second wave now, and we did a one month lockdown, which has had a good effect. The number of cases has peaked, it seems, and although death numbers will continue to be horrible for the next few weeks, at least the number of new cases each day has stopped rising.

And then our oven-ready government announced that from 23 to 27 December, restrictions will be eased for Christmas.

First, let's think for a moment about the unfairness of this. A Christian festival has been given the go-ahead, but the Hindu, Islamic or Jewish festivals got no similar easement.

Next, let's think about the effect of this. Has our world-beating government negotiated a Christmas Truce with the virus? Will we be singing Christmas carols in chorus with the virus? Will there be a friendly game of football, NHS vs Covid?

I don't think the virus will be taking Christmas off. I think the virus will enjoy Christmas; the close gathering of families, all unmasked (because you can't mask while you're eating). The gatherings of worshippers in stuffy churches. The shopping frenzy. If a virus could devise a way to infect lots of people, it would invent Christmas.

And yet, and yet. We've been running this gruelling marathon since March, and we're in sight of victory. We have three powerful vaccines about to be rolled out, we can see the finishing line. Now is not a time to lie down and let the virus roll over us.

My Christmas will be a roast turkey dinner, eaten in company with a large family gathering - over Zoom. This Christmas will be virtual. 

Next Christmas will be EPIC

Thursday 26 November 2020

Day 255 of self-isolation - Who to vaccinate first?

Who to vaccinate first?

Vaccination will start in December, and, obviously, not everyone can be vaccinated at once. I'm very optimistic about how fast this can happen. As an example, I look at my own small town, Little Chalfont, population 6858.

So who will be able to do vaccinations? There is one doctor's surgery there, and one pharmacy. In addition, there is an optician and a hearing specialist. If each of those are able to offer one nurse to do vaccinations (I had a flu jab recently, and it really isn't difficult to do), and if it takes two minutes per jab (more like half a minute), and they work a 7 hour day, then that's 4*7*30 per day = 840 per day. So that's 8 days. 

Obviously, that's just one small town, but it does give a flavour of the size of the vaccination task, and that's why I think it doesn't look as immense as some people are saying.

But I'd like to think about the order in which people are offered vaccination. The current plan is to first vaccinate healthcare workers and people who work or live in care homes. That makes sense to me; the care homes have been decimated by Covid (decimated means one in ten are killed) and the NHS have been the front-line heroes who are exposed to the virus, but work hard nevertheless.

But after that? Government plans currently are to vaccinate age 80+, then 70+, and so on down the age cohorts. That makes sense because age is a major risk factor for Covid. But another major risk factor is skin tone. The darker your skin tone, the higher the risk.

This might be for socio-economic factors, or it might be vitamin D related. The US CDC said that hospitalization rates among non-Hispanic Black people and Hispanic or Latino people were both about 4.7 times the rate of non-Hispanic white people. 

So, whatever the reason, skin tone is a big risk factor. So shouldn't this be taken into account when deciding the priorities? 

And there are other known risk factors - asthma, diabetes, compromised immune system.

So then we get into a complex algorithm, which will be difficult for ordinary people to understand (and we all remember the unpopular algorithm for A level results).  And how to you measure skin tone, and whether someone has asthma, and to what degree?

The age-based system has the virtue of simplicity. It's easy to understand, and easy to apply. The NHS already has my age on record, so when I'm called, I shall answer. 

Soon, I hope.


Wednesday 25 November 2020

Day 254 of self-isolation - Movie theaters

Movie theaters

A long time ago, the only way to show a movie, was in a big room, with a screen and a projector.  People would pay 1/9 (one and nine, a shilling and nine pence) to sit in the big room and watch 20 minutes of advertisements, followed by 90 minutes of movie.

The first nail in the coffin was TV. Why go out to a movie, when the movie can come to you?

The latest nail in the coffin, is Covid-19. Why sit in an enclosed space with hundreds of other people, some of who might be infections?

Movie theaters changed. Today, they are no longer one big room, but are divided up into several smaller spaces, each showing something different. I remember when some of them were converted into ten pin bowling alleys.

Now they are in a poor financial situation. They've been closed and reopened, closed and reopened, and even when open, they are restricted in the number of people they can accommodate.

I think that the number of movie theaters, post-covid, will be far fewer than before.


Tuesday 24 November 2020

Day 253 of self-isolation - The Oxford vaccine

The Oxford vaccine

The vaccine was developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca. The test covered 20,000 people; half got the vaccine, half got a placebo.

There were 30 cases of Covid in those who had two doses of vaccine, 101 cases in those with the placebo. This implies 70% protection.  No-one getting the vaccine developed severe symptoms, or needed hospital.

3000 people were given a half-sized first dose and a full sized second dose - they scored 90%. The fact that they tested this, means that they must have suspected that it might be different.

Right now, four million doses are available, but first it has to be approved by regulators. Then care home people will get vaccinated, followed by healthcare workers and over-80s. Then we'll work down through the age groups. Twenty million doses will be available by the end of the year, another 70 million by the end of March. The UK government has ordered 100 million doses. Enough for everyone in the UK, unless some of the people who have said that they'll refuse the vaccine, change their mind.

The protection conferred seems less than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which scored 95%, but the Oxford vaccine has to big advantages. First, the cost is £3 compared to Pfizer (£15) or Moderna (£25). Secondly, it can be stored at the temperature of an ordinary fridge, unlike Pfizer or Moderna, which need very cold (-70C or -20C respectively) storage.

One reason why the efficacy looks less than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines is that AstraZeneca included mild cases as infections. AstraZeneca used the PCR test, which flags even very mild infections, whereas Pfizer and Moderna measured only symptomatic infection. So it might be that all three vaccines are equally effective.

The reason why it is so much cheaper, is that AstraZenica has promised that they won't make a profit from this. Up to 3 billion doses will be available by end-2021. This is a world-saver.

As soon as those who are most at-risk are vaccinated, life can return pretty much to normal; this could be in a couple of months.


Monday 23 November 2020

Day 252 of self-isolation - Thanksgiving

I heard that Thursday will be "Thanksgiving". For non-Americans who don't know what that means, I'll explain.
It means that all over America, people will be travelling thousands of miles to spread Covid-19 to and/or from their loved ones. Unable to mask, because they will be eating and drinking, they will gather in poorly ventilated rooms to breathe virus particles at each other.
Some of them will be doing this because they still think that 1.4 million dead people worldwide is a hoax, some will be doing it because they think that the virus will also take a holiday. Some will be doing it because they know the risk, but they just don't care - the thought of a slice of turkey overrides caution.
With new American infections per day currently looking like 200,000, some will think that this is just part of a hoax, others will think that it can't possibly get any worse.
Yes, it can. God bless America.
But I can't complain. In the UK, we're getting ready for the biggest Covid party of all time, based around December 25th.

Sunday 22 November 2020

Day 251 of self-isolation - Compulsory vaccination?

Compulsory vaccination?

Compulsory vaccination against Covid-19 isn't going to happen in most countries. Or is it? It can be made a condition of employment, travel or entry.

There are precedents for this. If you want a job as a doctor, you have to have the right qualifications and certificates. If you want to go to university, you have to have achieved a level of academic achievement. If you want a job as a typist, you have to be able to type. If you want to come to the UK from Pakistan, you have to have been vaccinated against polio.

So what jobs might require a current certificate of vaccination? Suppose there were two airlines; one is able to advertise that all cabin staff are vaccinated, the other isn't. Which would you prefer to travel on? Same with supermarkets, shops, pubs. If a pub can have a policy of "no shirt, no shoes, no entry" then it can also have a policy of "no vaccination, no entry".

Once Covid vaccinations are generally available, I would expect that at least some employers will make it a condition of employment, that you have current vaccinations. I would expect that pretty much all international travel will require a vaxcert. That when cruises restart, they will require vaxcerts. That taxi drivers will display a vaxcert, and people will prefer those. And so on, and so on.

So vaccination might not be compulsory, but getting vaccinated will confer so many advantages that many people will prefer to be vaccinated.

Saturday 21 November 2020

Day 250 of self-isolation - A survey

A survey

I was phoned today by Ipsos Mori, a market research organisation whose name means "They die". Very appropriate, because they wanted to poll me about our oven-ready government's response to Covid.

If you've been reading my blog, you can imagine my answers. The government's response was too little, too late last March. The "Eat out to help out" campaign in August had the entirely predictable result of a surge in infections now, and the Government telling people to stop working from home and go into the office made things worse.

The failure to follow the scientific advice while telling us that they were following the scientific advice helped to destroy our trust in them, and the Dominic Cummings affair (by the way, he's been asked to switch on the Christmas lights at Barnard's Castle) did even more damage.

Yes, the furlough was a good idea, because it helps share the pain of the lockdown. No, I didn't run any errands for other people during the lockdown, but I did get help from other people - mostly Waitrose and Ocado.

I still have confidence in the NHS (they did extremely well when I had three cracked ribs) and I've used them since the virus (blood tests and a dental filling, which is temporary but has lasted very well).


Friday 20 November 2020

Day 249 of self-isolation - Space Force

Space Force

Hurrah! We're going to have a space force. Boris has found £22 billion on the Magic Money Tree. We'll be launching our first rocket in 2022 - presumably on November 5th.

It's about time.  Dan Dare was in the Eagle from 1950, and is still available on Amazon, in hard cover and Kindle format.

Alternatively, I can recommend "Ministry of Space" by Warren Ellis, my second favourite comics writer (Garth Ennis is the number one).

Thursday 19 November 2020

Day 248 of self-isolation - Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming

And the virus is getting fat. 

There is going to be a lot of pressure to open up for Christmas. Everyone wants a party - me too!

It's too soon to make a decision, but it does look as if the number of new cases per day has stopped climbing. But new deaths per day is still running over 500.

But will the virus take a day off on December 25th? No chance. What the virus really likes, is an indoor location with poor ventilation, and lots of unmasked people. I don't know how to eat turkey while wearing a mask.

 Meanwhile - there's a study showing that mouthwashes containing CPC (cetylpyridinium chloride) kills Sars-Cov-2 ... in vitrio. Meaning, in a test tube. But does it work in a mouth? That's yet to be determined. The mouthwash used was Dentyl. Other mouthwashes containing CPC include:

  • Crest pro-health multi-protection mouthwash
  • Colgate Total Pro-Shield
  • Sensodyne Pronamel Daily Mouthwash
  • Oral-B Pro-Expert Multi Protection alcohol free mouthwash
  • Colgate Plax Cool Mint
  • OraCare+ Senstiive alcohol-free fluoride mouth wash

I'm currently using Listerine. Does that kill Covid? I don't know - that isn't why I use it. But if they fond that CPC works in vivo, I'll be using it.

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Day 247 of self-isolation - Windows and Figgy

Windows and Figgy

I do have a Windows computer, because there are a few things that Linux can't do. It's running Windows 7. The system drive is an SSD (solid state drive), plus I added a 2tb drive for extra space.

The 2tb has started to fail, which throws a warning message up every few minutes. I thought a bit, and I don't think I actually have anything on that 2tb that I need, so I disconnected it.

As a result, I had to reinstall iTunes (I use that for copying files from my iPhone), and move my three copies of GSAK (a geocaching program) to the C drive. Then I rummaged around and cleaned up the C drive, removing a lot of unwanted stuff.

I have another computer whose main task is to do backups. I have three backup sets. The first is made on days 1-10 of each month, the second on days 11 to 20 and the third on all other days. And the drive that accommodated the first set of backups failed totally.

So I took Figgy off the rack, took that drive out and replaced it, then copied all the files to it, about 1.4 tb. By the time the copy was done, that drive was showing 4000 failing sectors. Not good. So I took that out, and put in another 2tb drive, and the files are copying now.

Then I looked at the failed drive. I tried to test it, but my testing computer didn't recognise it as present. I tried swapping the drive electronic from another drive, but that didn't work. So, it's a dead drive.

I did a quick check of drive prices. 2tb drives cost £40, 4tb drives nearly twice as much. 8tb drives can be found for £120. But I'm not going to buy any drives just yet, I still have half a dozen 4tbs in stock, and prices usually fall.


Tuesday 17 November 2020

Day 246 of self-isolation - Vaccine news

Vaccine news

ModeRna have announced that their vaccine is 95% effective. the trial used 30,000 people. Half had a dummy (placebo) injection and half had two doses of vaccine, four weeks apart.

95 of these developed Covid-19 symptoms. Of those, 5 had been vaccinated, 90 had not. 90/95 works out at 95%, There were 11 cases of severe Covid - none of them were in the vaccinated people.

The ModeRna vaccine is not one of the ones that the UK government pre-ordered, so if that vaccine is used in the UK, that won't be until well into 2021.

One of the good characteristics of this vaccine, is that it can be stored in an ordinary freezer (at -20C) - it doesn't need the -75C that the Pfizer vaccine needs.

For both the Pfizer and the ModeRna vaccine, we don't know if it also stops people from spreading the virus. This is because you can become infected. Your immune system immediately starts fighting the virus, having been given the heads-up by the vaccine. But while this is happening, can you spread the virus? We don't know yet, but it's thought that maybe half of those infected on't be spreaders.

Side effects? Yes, but slight. When I had my recent flu jab, my left upper arm felt like it had been bruised, but this stopped after a couple of days.

Is 95% better than the 90% of the Pfizer vaccine? I dn't think there's much in it. At this level of protection, and with the relatively small number of people that were vaccinated and got Covid (five), you can see that those five might have been a few more. I'd say that it's not statistically different.

In America, Trump is refusing to allow health officials to talk to the incoming Biden administration. If this continues, then on January 20th, there will be a hiatus in the vaccine distribution system.

Monday 16 November 2020

Day 245 of self-isolation - The anti vaxxers

The anti vaxxers

The next big argument will be with the anti vaxxers. Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have already declared that they will be vigilant in removing "fake news" on vaccines. 

There are some valid arguments, and some silly ones. Valid ones include concerns about how well tested the vaccine was (the Thalidomide disaster hasn't been forgotten). Invalid ones are many and varied, and batshit crazy. I've heard that it's all a plot by the "New World Order", but no-one every tells me who they are. Bill Gates gets mentioned. There's talk of microchips being implanted with the vaccine, there's talk that the whole pandemic is a hoax, there's talk that 5G is somehow responsible (ignoring the fact that there is no 5G in many countries).

All this talk leaves people feeling vaguely uncomfortable about vaccination. But does it matter?

In an earlier blog, I calculated the percentage of the population that needs to be immune for herd immunity to happen, and why herd immunity is such a good idea. In the case of Covid-19, that would be about 60 or 70%. Since it's looking like the vaccines will be 90% effective (or more), that means about 2/3 of the population needs to be vaccinated for herd immunity.

However - herd immunity isn't the only benefit available. If I get vaccinated, then I'm unlikely to get Covid-19, and even if I do get it, it will likely be with mild symptoms. So even if I'm the only person in the world who gets vaccinated, I still get the benefit.

If 2/3 of the population get vaccinated, then that means that even those individuals who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons, will still be protected.

I remember when polio and tuberculosis were terrifyingly real diseases. Vaccination has eliminated them from most countries. I remember getting my TB jab. I've also had vaccinations for tetanus, mumps, pertussis, measles, rubella and flu a few times. There was never any doubt about whether it was a good idea. So where has this reluctance to vaccinate come from?

I think it comes from distrust of government. And with our British incompetent government, that's understandable.

Add to that, the fact that most people have no idea how to do research, and think that watching Youtube videos and reading tweets is a substitute.

Usually, when someone does something stupid, only that person suffers. Fake cures harm anyone who believes in them, but refusing to vaccinate harms people other than that person.

The biggest argument against the vaccine has to be the fact that it's taken less than a year to produce, instead of the several years. But that doesn't take into account the fact that labs all over the world put huge priority on this vaccine. Money and brainpower has been poured into this project, simply because the pandemic has had such a huge medical and economic impact. Add to that, the fact that technology moved forward; the first vaccines to appear have been mRNA vaccines, a technique that has never been used until now.

And that's why it all happened faster than ever before.

Sunday 15 November 2020

Day 244 of self-isolation - The reinstall

The reinstall

The reinstall of the borked computer has gone well, but some problems remain. The worst was the GUI interface to my firewall.

I can program my firewall using the command line, but using the Cisco GUI (called ASDM) is much nicer. The problem is, it needs Java, and Java Web Starter, and this is all very old stuff, and it's hard to find it, because Oracle seems to have lost interest. 

It's not as bad as it sounds, because before the borking, I was unable to complete the load ASDM. But now, I can't even get to first base. I messed around with it for a couple of hours, and then I had an idea. I'll run it under Windows 7, because I have a Win 7 machine for exactly those things that Linux can't handle.

It complained about the certificate being out of date, so I told it to ignore that. And it wanted to load this, that and the other, but eventually I had ASDM working on the Win 7 box.

Another problem I'm getting with the upgrade to Fedora 33, is after some of the computers are upgraded, I can't ssh to them. I get: "Bad owner or permissions on /etc/ssh/ssh_config.d/50-redhat.conf "

I'll have to look into that later, because to fix this, I need physical access to the computers affected. It's probably something minor.

Saturday 14 November 2020

Day 243 of self-isolation - An upgrade

An upgrade

I upgraded from Fedora 32 to 33. It's been going well, until I upgraded my main workstation. And it refused to boot. I did a bit of Googling, and it seems that the problem is my NVidia GeForce 1050 ti. There might be other Nvidia video cards with the same problem.

I tinkered with it for a while, following a procedure that I googled, but that didn't work.

I thought about it, and decided that I could tinker until kingdom come, or reinstall Linux, which I was pretty sure would work.

And it worked. But then I had to set up the IP address, and install of the bits and bobs that I find useful.

And then I tested the HMRC payetools, which I have to run each month. And that didn't work, which is a big roblem. The reason it doesn't work is that my system is 64 bit, and HMRC are still in the 32 bit era. But I found a workaround. There is a workaround on the HMRC web site, but it's for Ubuntu. Here's how I fixed the problem for Fedora:

yum -y install --skip-broken glibc.i686 arts.i686 audiofile.i686 bzip2-libs.i686 cairo.i686 cyrus-sasl-lib.i686 dbus-libs.i686 directfb.i686 esound-libs.i686 fltk.i686 freeglut.i686 gtk2.i686 hal-libs.i686 imlib.i686 lcms-libs.i686 lesstif.i686 libacl.i686 libao.i686 libattr.i686 libcap.i686 libdrm.i686 libexif.i686 libgnomecanvas.i686 libICE.i686 libieee1284.i686 libsigc++20.i686 libSM.i686 libtool-ltdl.i686 libusb.i686 libwmf.i686 libwmf-lite.i686 libX11.i686 libXau.i686 libXaw.i686 libXcomposite.i686 libXdamage.i686 libXdmcp.i686 libXext.i686 libXfixes.i686 libxkbfile.i686 libxml2.i686 libXmu.i686 libXp.i686 libXpm.i686 libXScrnSaver.i686 libxslt.i686 libXt.i686 libXtst.i686 libXv.i686 libXxf86vm.i686 lzo.i686 mesa-libGL.i686 mesa-libGLU.i686 nas-libs.i686 nss_ldap.i686 cdk.i686 openldap.i686 pam.i686 popt.i686 pulseaudio-libs.i686 sane-backends-libs-gphoto2.i686 sane-backends-libs.i686 SDL.i686 svgalib.i686 unixODBC.i686 zlib.i686 compat-expat1.i686 compat-libstdc++-33.i686 openal-soft.i686 alsa-oss-libs.i686 redhat-lsb.i686 alsa-plugins-pulseaudio.i686 alsa-plugins-oss.i686 alsa-lib.i686 nspluginwrapper.i686 libXv.i686 libXScrnSaver.i686 qt.i686 qt-x11.i686 pulseaudio-libs.i686 pulseaudio-libs-glib2.i686 alsa-plugins-pulseaudio.i686

I don't know which of that bundle of bodges is necessary, and I'm not going to experiment to find out. But I do know that after I did that, the PAYE tools worked. Hurrah!

So I put the old drive into the same machine, and copied all the other stuff I needed from drive to drive.

And now everything works ... I think.

Friday 13 November 2020

Day 242 of self-isolation - Antipope


Throughout the middle ages, there was often both a pope and an antipope. The antipope is a rival claimant to the title of pope.

Donald Trump is heading the same way. Right now, there are two claimants to the title of President, Biden and Trump. Will Trump give up his claim on January 20? Maybe not. Maybe he'll spend the next four years claiming to be "the rightful President", to the embarrassment of Americans and the hilarity of everyone else.

He's the embarrassing uncle who insists on dancing the Charleston at weddings.

My guess is that he will set up a TV channel to milk his supporters of $19.95 per month, and will whine and moan about the 2020 election uuntil the cows come home.


Thursday 12 November 2020

Day 241 of self-isolation - Vaccine logistics

Vaccine logistics

 From a logistical point of view, the Pfizer vaccine is quite difficult. It has to be stored at -70C, and people need two shots. The Oxford vaccine doesn't need such deep refrigeration, and only needs one shot. So let's look at the worst case, the Pfizer vaccine.

It should be possible to do a daily delivery of vaccine from wherever they are stored centrally, to the 7000 GP practices in the UK. The vaccine would be delivered in insulated containers packed with dry ice to keep it cold.

In the UK, there are 285 thousand nurses. If 14,000 of them are deployed on this (two per GP practice), that's only 5% of the nurses.

I'm thinking about my flu jab. I just rolled up my sleeve, jab, all done. Finished in a minute. So one nurse could do about 500 per day, 14,000 nurses could do 7 million per day.

So I hear some people worrying about the logistics, and in particular, there is concern that our incompetent government will find cronies to cock it up. But I believe (and hope) that the vaccination logistics will be handled by the NHS, and they already have a system in place for the flu vaccine, and they can build on that.

Another concern is about the number of refusniks. People are saying that they will refuse the vaccine for a variety of reasons, all the way from a fear that Bill Gates will thereby control them (daft) all the way up to a valid concern that the vaccine has been rushed out and has not been tested properly.

Again, we need to trust the experts about how much testing a medication needs. Alternatively, each person could do a seven year course in immunology and decide for themselves. I don't have that much spare time, so I'll be taking the advice of the NHS, just like I did when I cracked three ribs and took the treatments that the hospital recommended.

We all remember the Thalidomide disaster, and we all remember that this led to a big change in how medicines are tested.

In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, 43,500 people were in the trial, and half of those were given the vaccine. There were no serious side effects.

Wait a minute. What about non-serious side effects.Surely they matter? Well, I can tell you from my own personal, recent experience. I had the flu vaccine, and for a few days, my upper arm felt bruised. That's a non-serious side effect; I wasn't even inconvenienced, and if it leads to a good reduction in my chance of falling ill to flu, it's well worth it.

And we need this vaccine.  There were 595 deaths today, which took the total past 50,000. The daily new infections has topped out at 20-25,000 and we can hope that it will now start to decline.

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Day 240 of self-isolation - Dulce et Decorum Est

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Tuesday 10 November 2020

Day 239 of self-isolation - a vaccine!

A vaccine!

The results from the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine are in. 43,500 people were tested in six countries, there were no safety concerns, and the vaccine was 90% effective. Half of the volunteers got the vaccine, half got a placebo. 94 people got Covid during the trial.

90% is much better than I dared hope. 90% is up there with the best vaccines, such as that for measles.

You need two doses, three weeks apart, and you get 90% protection, seven days after the second dose. 

It works in a similar way to a computer antivirus; a snippet of the RNA (the spike protein that attaches to the cell) is used to recognise the virus. The cell then produces the protein fragment, and that trains the immune system to detect and destroy the virus.

One difficultly will be in logistics - the vaccine needs to be stored at -70 or -80 degrees Centigrade.  Liquid nitrogen boils at -196 C.

Pfizer will have 50 million doses by the end of 2020. The UK has 10 million doses expected by the end of 2020, with 30 million on order. Priority will be given to care homes, then healthcare and frontline staff, then the people most at risk on account of age.

This will probably get emergency approval by the end of November, and then vaccinations can start.

I would hope that the Oxford University/AstroZenica vaccine will be close behind. It will be nice to have a choice of two vaccines. The Oxford vaccine will be easier on the logistics, because it doesn't need to be stored at such a low temperature.

The next task will be to roll out the vaccination program, probably starting in December, if all goes well.Here's the priority list - it isn't definitive, and could change to respond to various underlying conditions that increase risk.

  • older adults’ resident in a care home and care home workers
  • all those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers
  • all those 75 years of age and over
  • all those 70 years of age and over
  • all those 65 years of age and over
  • high-risk adults under 65 years of age
  • moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age
  • all those 60 years of age and over
  • all those 55 years of age and over
  • all those 50 years of age and over
  • rest of the population (priority to be determined)

  • Monday 9 November 2020

    Day 238 of self-isolation - Executive orders

    Executive orders

    Biden is preparing a flurry of executive orders, to reverse the executive orders that Trump created. Obama did the same.

     That worries me. It smells of dictatorship. Congress still has control over the purse-strings, I think, but the power to declare war seems to have been eroded, and this flurry of executive orders seems to be a way to rule the country without accountability.

    The US claims that it has a written constitution, but actually that's only part of the story. It has a whole bunch of unwritten traditions, and codes of conduct. And if they aren't written, how can the be enforced?

    There are serious holes in the US constitution, and the next person to exploit them, might not be as incompetent as Trump.

    Sunday 8 November 2020

    Day 237 of self-isolation - Loser Trump

    Loser Trump

    Trump has lost the USA election, Biden has won. But it isn't over. Trump is a sore loser, and will whine and moan about his theory of voter fraud. He will launch frivolous law suits and will throw as many American toys out of the pram as he can in the next few months, because until January 20th, he is still president. After that, he is just another US citizen.

    But it gets better. Our own dear Nigel Farage bet £10,000 that Trump would win ... and lost. Nigel, ex-MEP and veteran failure to win a seat in Westminster seven times, backing yet another loser.

    America is celebrating today. Not everyone, of course. Loser Trump is out playing golf - and I've heard that he cheats at that, too.

    Biden is even-tempered about this. He says that when he is sworn in as president, any trespassers in the White House will be shown the door.

    And this is going to be bad for a no-deal Brexit.

    Saturday 7 November 2020

    Day 236 of self-isolation - Browsers and Facebook

    Browsers and Facebook

    There are many problems with the Facebook user interface, but one of the worst is the memory leak. If you monitor memory usage as you leave Facebook running, it gradually (sometimes not gradually) increases. This is accompanied by a slowdown in the interface. If you leave it long enough, it becomes practically impossible to use.

    One way to deal with that is to close down your browser when the memory usage becomes too great, and restart. Or even reboot. But that isn't very satisfactory. 

    I tried researching this with Google. But I couldn't find any solutions.

    I was originally using Firefox, and had that problem. I switched to Chrome, and had exactly the same problem. But then I installed Opera. And the problem doesn't happen with Opera.

    A memory leak happens when a process grabs some memory, and forgets to release it. So that chunk of memory is unusable by the system. And then it happens again ... and again .. and the system is having to swap memory in and out, and winds up spending more time swapping than doing useful stuff.

    I don't know exactly why Opera works so much better than Firefox or Chrome. But that's the browser that I'm using now for Facebook.

    Happy Birthday, daughter.2

    Friday 6 November 2020

    Day 235 of self-isolation - Back into crisis

    Back into crisis

    Europe has gone into crisis again. Lockdowns all over, deaths into large numbers. The last UK death number was nearly 500 - today is 378. The NHS has moved to level 4, the highest alert status. Covid hospitalised numbers are now 11,000 (the April peak was 19,000) and rising. We're back in the situation where the NHS could be swamped, which would lead to desperately ill people being turned away from treatment, an appalling thought.

    The furlough scheme will be extended to the end of March 2021, with 80% of wages being paid. We are now in "lock down two" until December 2nd (and there's no guarantee that it won't be extended or repeated).

    And where will the money to fund this come from? Boris Johnson has said that it won't come from cuts in spending, or from higher taxes. Which means that it has to come from inflation, which is the tax that pretends that it isn't a tax. The tax that dares not speak its name.

    France, Spain, Italy and Germany are all looking terrible, and restrictions are being installed. The USA is recording around 100,000 new cases each day, and a thousand deaths or more.


    Thursday 5 November 2020

    Day 234 of self-isolation - A bomb in parliament

    A bomb in parliament

    On November 5, 1605,  Guido Fawkes was a major participant in a plot to blow up Parliament. This would be at the State Opening, and would have killed the King, many of the Lords, and would have been a trigger for a people's revolt to install a Catholic Queen, the nine year old Elizabeth, to replace the Protestant King James.

    Yes - terrorist bomb plots are not new. And religious terrorists are not new. In England, we fought between Protestants and Catholics, because it was thought that everyone in the country had to follow the religion of the monarch, and that anything else was treason.

    This ended with Oliver Cromwell. In the religious settlement of 1653, we started along the road to religious tolerance. In 1655, Jews were readmitted to England, and in 1688 came the Act of Toleration, and with it the acceptance of religious diversity.

    Today, it would be unthinkable to blow up parliament, but even so, there is a ceremonial inspection of the cellar areas before the state opening - not that anyone expects to find anything, but we British do love our ceremonies.

    Instead, if we hate our government, we have an opportunity every five years to vote them out and welcome in a different bunch of incompetents. This, surely, is better than blowing them up.

    But the urge remains. Who wouldn't love to see their least favourite politician burning in a pyre? So each November 5th, we commemorate the Gunpowder plot with fireworks and a big bonfire. And at the top of the bonfire, we burn an effigy of - whoever you dislike.

    Religious violence continues, as we all know - the UK threat level is currently "severe" after the killings in France and Austria. Only the religion is different. In modern times, it isn't Catholicism that is the threat.

    Wednesday 4 November 2020

    Day 233 of self-isolation - Threat severe

    Threat severe

    A French teacher is beheaded. A man runs amok in a church, and an old woman praying is beheaded. A man in Vienna, fresh out of prison for trying to join ISIS, kills four, wounds 20, 14 are arrested.

    In the UK the terrorism threat level has been upgraded from "substantial" to "severe".

    And for what? Why is this so often, the "religion of peace". Didn't anyone tell that to the murderers?

    Education is needed. And it has to come from the Muslim community. Imams and other clergy, have to explain to their Muslim congregations that this is not allowed in Islam. That murderers go straight to Hell. That you have to read the Quran "in context". 

    Because if respected Muslim scholars can't persuade ordinary Muslims that murder is unacceptable, each country will have to close down Islamic schools, so that children can be taught the peaceful part of Islam.

    But there is a much more severe threat.

    In the UK, we recorded 397 deaths from Covid; in France 854.More than 1000 in the USA.  In Austria, 33 deaths. The Islamist threat is tiny, almost trivial compared to the threat from the pandemic.

    Tuesday 3 November 2020

    Day 232 of self-isolation - The US election

    The US election

    Today is the day of the US election . Just as our 2019 election was mostly about Brexit, so the 2020 US election is mostly about the pandemic.

    If you are a Republican, the 237 thousand American dead are an unfortunate happenstance, the wrecked US economy wasn't their fault, and if you elect Trump, there will be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover, just you wait and see.

    If you are a Democrat, then the 237 thousand American dead were caused by an inadequate response by the Federal Government, and as ever, the buck stops at the desk of the president. Likewise the unemployment problem.

    Trump has made various efforts to draw voter attention away from the number one issue in America, and towards Hunter Biden's laptop, which no-one has been allowed to see, and anyway it isn't Hunter that's running for president. I couldn't imagine a weaker issue to try to pivot to.

    There has been a lot of early votes, and indications are for an avalanche of votes for Biden, as well as a major swing in Congress. It seems likely to me that the Demoooocrats will control both houses as well as the presidency, with a good working majority.

    The big question is not so much who will win the election. The big question is, will Trump try to engineer a civil war over the result. Or possibly a foreign war? Because between November 3rd and January 20th, Trump will still be president, and on his past record, he could try for maximum damage, on the thinking that if he can't have America, then nobody will.

    Shops and restaurants in major cities have put up their plywood board defences, in the expectation of a possible riot on the results. We shouldn't read too much into this, it is just a precaution, but notice that this doesn't happen for British elections.

    America has become profoundly divided, and the division isn't even along political or religious lines. The division is, pro-Trump or anti. Do you think he is the Messiah or the anti-Christ?

    Because of the way their voting works, we won't know the outcome for at least a few days, and if lawsuits are started all over, that could drag on for months. But by the end of tomorrow (US time, maybe some time Wednesday UK time), we should have a good idea of what happened.

    To all my American readers - go and vote. It's your civic duty and privilege.



    Monday 2 November 2020

    Day 231 of self-isolation - Four weeks minimum

    Four weeks minimum

     I think that you know and I know that it isn't going to be four weeks. If we had done a lockdown as per last March (including schools etc) and IF people abided by the lockdown as well as they did last March, when all this was new, then four weeks would be enough.

    But it isn't and they won't and by the end of November, we'll be looking at the figures and feeling that they are still pretty bad. I might be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. But I really think that we should reschedule Christmas.

    This isn't as crazy as it sounds. We have a lot of public holidays that move around somewhat. Christmas in summer sounds crazy, but Australians are happy with it, and have outdoor barbecues.

    We have more serious problems than Christmas. We have an economy that is going to suffer terribly in the next several weeks; many businesses who came through the last lockdown, are looking at the next several weeks and wondering "What's the point?". The announced end-point of December 2nd sounds like an end-point, but we all know that it might not be. I have no answer for that, except that we have to find ways to share the economic pain.

    The big winner is going to be Amazon.

    I used to make an annual pilgrimage to Foyles, a raid on the bookshop that would set me up for the next several months. But for several years now, it's been Amazon, because it's very convenient, and buying books doesn't come with the same risk as buying boots. 

    And now? I bought a iPad, but didn't visit the Apple store, I bought it online from John Lewis. I bought more food-safe nitrile groves - from eBay. "Non-essential" shops are closed for the next four weeks (at least) but Amazon isn't.

    Is this fair? Of course not. But the worst unfairness is that Covid-19 has hit us from nowhere, and we're stuck with it.

    The purpose of the lockdown? Winter is coming, and every winter there is increased pressure on the NHS. In the middle of that, the NHS does NOT need thousands of intensive care Covid patients. We mustn't put our doctors in the position of deciding who to treat, and who to turn away and let die. But that's what will happen if the healthcare system gets swamped, which nearly happened last March. And we now have FIVE times as many new cases per day as we did back then.

    So I do support the lock down, I do think it will last longer than four weeks (and should have been started sooner), and I suspect it will be suspended before Christmas even if medically unadviseable purely because to do otherwise will be deeply unpopular. 

    But with any luck, we'll start seeing vaccinations by the start of December.

    Sunday 1 November 2020

    Day 230 of self-isolation - lock down again

    Lock down again

    That three tier system didn't last long. We are now back to the situation at the end of last March, pretty much. The lockdown will be for a month, starting Thursday 5th November (which, of course, is the anniversary of an unsuccessful attempt to blow up parliament).

    The main rule is - stay home.

    If you can't work from home, you can go to work. You can exercise outside with your household.

    Meetings indoors or in private gardens - not allowed.

    Pubs, bars, restaurants and "non-essential retail" are closed; takeaway and click-and-collect is OK.

    People can form support  bubbles, children can move between homes of separated parents.

    Clinically vulnerable people are asked to be "especially careful". That's me. I rank as "very high risk"

    One huge difference from last March; schools and universities will be open. I think that's a BIG mistake. Consider 15 unrelated families; the virus cannot spread between them. But now each of those, sends a child to school. If any of those children have the virus, then it can spread to the other 14, and thereby to all the other families.

    Some very good news - the furlough scheme will be extended until the end of November. this will help a lot of people, but by no means all. I predict a LOT of people closing their business in the next few days, because they are unwilling to face a month of zero revenue (while still having to pay rent, rates etc).

    This lockdown will not be as effective as the one of last March, for two reasons. First, the schools will be open. Second, people have "Covid fatigue" and are more likely to do a Dominic Cummings.

    And we still don't have effective testing, or tracing. I only hope we have it when we come out of lock down.