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Viruses can also be the good guys

May 07, 2020 — BarryK

Today I read "The Andromeda Strain", by Michael Crichton, first published in 1969, a science fiction classic. There was a movie made based on the book, and a TV mini-series -- the movie followed the plot of the book fairly closely, but the TV mini-series was very different.

The book is appropriate to read during the current pandemic. Quoting:

Most people, when they thought of bacteria, thought of diseases. Yet the fact was that only 3 percent of bacteria caused disease; the rest were either harmless or beneficial. In the human gut, for instance, there were a variety of bacteria that were helpful to the digestive process. Man needed them and relied upon them.

In fact, man lived in a sea of bacteria. They were everywhere -- on his skin, in his ears and mouth, down his lungs, in his stomach. Everything he owned, anything he touched, every breath he breathed, was drenched in bacteria. ....

And there was a reason. Both man and bacteria had gotten used to each other, had developed a kind of mutual immunity. Each adapted to the other.

And this, in turn, for a very good reason. It was a principle of biology that evolution was directed toward increased reproductive potential. A man easily killed by bacteria was poorly adapted; he didn't live long enough to reproduce.

A bacteria that killed its host was also poorly adapted. Because any parasite that kills its host is a failure. It must die when the host dies. The successful parasites were those that could live off the host without killing him.

And the most successful hosts were those that could tolerate the parasite, or even turn it to advantage, to make it work for the host.

Interesting that Mr Crichton wrote passages like that in the past tense. Also, the use of the word "man" is not so politically correct these days.

Reading this reminded me of a top health official in the Australian Government, advising us that when the Covid-19 crisis is over, we must retain the habit of frequent washing of the hands with an antiseptic hand cleaner.

This is paranoia. Actually, we need to be exposed to bacteria, and viruses, to keep our immune systems active. Perhaps also, there are other health benefits from constant exposure to bacteria and viruses.

Mr Crichton did not mention viruses, but we also have zillions of them on and in our person. From a brief look online, it seems that not much is known about their benefits, except for a few. Here is one interesting read:

https://www.knowablemagazine.org/article/living-world/2018/why-viruses-deserve-better-reputation

I recall reading somewhere that children who are kept "too clean" will grow up to have health problems, that children left to run wild in the environment will not have. Those problems include allergies and auto-immune responses.

Let's see, there is lots of info on the Internet about this, such as:

https://www.todaysparent.com/blogs/study-explores-link-between-dishwashers-and-kids-allergy-risk/

Quoting:

The “hygiene hypothesis” is based on the idea that allergies are on the rise because we keep our houses—and our kids—too clean. Children need exposure to bacteria early in life to strengthen and boost their immune systems. Other recent studies have found that using antibacterial soap can increase the chance of developing allergies, while having pets, living on a farm and even spit-washing your baby’s pacifier can decrease the risk.

Just some thoughts, so that we don't get too paranoid and negative about these little guys.

EDIT 2020-05-08:
GCMartin sent me an email with a link to this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=X29lF43mUlo

Reminds me of my childhood. I grew up in the countryside and ran wild. We used to swim in a nearby dam, that was murky soup -- sometimes there were dead sheep in it. And we drank water from streams and rainwater tanks. We relied on rainwater tanks for drinking, cooking and bathing -- one day dad discovered a dead possum in our water tank -- he commented, "that's why our water has such a nice sweet taste!". But we did take basic precautions, such as vaccinations, and I got a tetanus shot a couple of times, when I cut my head when hit something in that dam, and stepped on a nail.     

Tags: ethos

Covid-19 droplets hang around in air for 3 hours

April 02, 2020 — BarryK

Yesterday a scientist was interviewed about research they had done on how long Covid-19 can last on surfaces and in the air. He said on surfaces up to72 hours, but on some surfaces, such as cardboard, only about 12 hours. There is earlier research on other coronaviruses indicating up to 9 days.

What caught my attention though, was he commented about droplets in the air. He said that if someone with Covid-19 coughs, they will expel tiny droplets that will float in the air, and he stated that those droplets can hang around in the air for up to 3 hours.

Oh wow, it only takes one droplet breathed in, to become infected.

I posted on March 20, when I went into the city by train, and two people coughed in the carriage in which I was travelling:

https://bkhome.org/news/202003/why-the-panic-about-coronavirus.html

That was my last train journey! A couple of days ago, I visited my local Coles supermarket. In the row next to me, someone coughed, so I made sure that I walked in the widest possible path around them.

Health officials are advising anyone who coughs in public, to do so into a tissue, or into the cloth of their elbow.

But I have to ask, why do people cough in public? Is it an irresistible urge? If so, shouldn't they not be allowed in public? Coughing into a tissue or elbow is unlikely to stop droplets being sprayed out into the air, so why are health authorities giving that the OK? What to do about people who don't even bother to cover their mouth when coughing? 

EDIT 2020-04-04:
I received an email from Paul, requesting that I not post sensationalist information without backup reference. He was referring to the "droplets can hang around in the air for up to 3 hours".

I don't recall what TV program that was, however, the same information was repeated on a program called "The Virus" on ABC News channel 24, Australia, at 4.44.pm, repeated at 10.15pm (WA time), yesterday, Friday 3rd April. The program started yesterday and is expected to be a series every Friday:

https://www.ontvtonight.com/au/guide/listings/programme?cid=2155&sid=774016&dt=2020-04-03+08%3A44%3A00

Here are some references:

https://www.npr.org/2020/03/28/823292062/who-reviews-available-evidence-on-coronavirus-transmission-through-air

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/18/coronavirus-lives-for-hours-in-air-particles-and-days-on-surfaces-new-us-study-shows.html

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/04/03/825639323/scientists-probe-how-coronavirus-might-travel-through-the-air

The WHO is downplaying the possibility of Covid-19 spreading through the air, a position that various experts are questioning. 

Tags: ethos

Why the panic about coronavirus?

March 20, 2020 — BarryK

It is just about the only thing on the news, countries isolated, today the Prime Minister has told us that we must always be 2 metres away from other people. There is no toilet paper in the supermarkets, as soon as some comes in, people rush into the shop when it opens and it is gone in minutes.

I understand that we need to take precautions, so as to limit the spread, so that hospital emergency departments don't get overwhelmed. However, we also need to have some perspective.

In 2019, almost 60 million people died

Yep, that many. In fairly peaceful countries, about 90% of those die from old age. We are mortal, just on this planet for a tiny time span:

https://ourworldindata.org/births-and-deaths

Many elderly people die from complications from the flue. Death from flue complications is estimated to be as high as 650,000 per year:

https://www.health.com/condition/cold-flu-sinus/how-many-people-die-of-the-flu-every-year

So, what about coronavirus, covid-19? 10,400 deaths so far:

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

So keep some perspective. The elderly are dropping dead all around us, mostly out of sight unless it is a relative, so we are not aware of the scale. The coronavirus has just bumped the tally up a bit.

EDIT 2020-03-21:
Correction, the Prime Minister (of Australia) announced that we need to keep a space of 4 metres squared around us, that is 2x2 metres.

Rereading the above blog post, I may have created the wrong impression. The covid-19 outbreak is serious, and we need to be responding appropriately. But soberly, not panicking.

We all need to be pulling together. Unfortunately, we have narcissistic people who don't care about others. We are advised to stay home if have any cold or flue-like symptoms. It is not the law, only a recommendation, in Australia. Today I travelled by train into the city, to go to one of my favourite restaurants. On the train, someone coughed. After a short time, he coughed again, quite vigorously. I stood up and moved to the other end of the carriage, "upwind". Ha ha, I was sitting there at the top-end of carriage, and some else near me coughed!

Everybody else was just stoically ignoring them. Which is very Aussie, I think.

Was I being excessively paranoid today? Certainly I have a heightened sense of needing to avoid contagion, after being subjected to news about the spread of covid-19 day-after-day on the media.

Sitting in the train on the way home, I was thinking, no wonder that covid-19 is spreading. What would happen to someone in China, if they coughed in public?

Anyway, back onto the statistics. We do need to be alert. The 10,400 deaths is now 11,826, and the curve is accelerating. So although it is minor compared with overall deaths, it may become more of a major player before we have the vaccine. 

Tags: ethos

How green are electric vehicles

March 07, 2020 — BarryK

I was reminded of this question last year, in May 2019, just before the Australian Federal elections. The leader (Bill Shorten) of the Labour Party (a slightly left-wing party), which all polls showed as sure to win the election, gave a final speech, which was a long list of promises, one of which was a massive push to electrify vehicles in Australia.

There were so many promises made, that were going to be very expensive, which really made me recoil. I am kind of mild right-wing/conservative, but I have voted for the labour party many years past. However, on this occasion, the speech reminded me of the Whitlam era, when it was spend, spend, spend. There is a story, I don't know if it is true, where the treasurer asked Whitlam how are we going to afford all of this (free university education, plus heaps more) and Whitlam replied "We will just print more money". Yeah, result was inflation went through the roof.

What happened in 2019 was the polls got it completely wrong, and the Liberal party (conservative, slightly right-wing party) won by a huge margin.

I usually avoid political commentary, so the above is enough, onto the topic of this post, electric vehicles...

The point that I want to get onto is that so many "greenie" agitators and politicians keep saying that we need to deploy electric vehicles in Australia on a massive scale. We even have people demonstrating in the streets in support of this. In this blog post, I want to question this, are they justified?

On the topic of comparing how "dirty" EVs are compared with ICEs (internal combustion engines), this video is revealing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_zdtaJeYmw

...so, in terms of "dirtiness", or damage to the environment, the break-even point is 116,000km in Germany. That ADAC report quoted in the video, has been criticised as being based on 5-year-old data, when Germany had more coal-fired power generation.

One of the big questions is how long the battery in an EV will last. The Nissan Leaf is probably a bad example -- I did some research on it and found that it does not have sufficient cooling for Australian climate, so the battery gets hot, which greatly reduces it's lifespan.

However, EVs with premium battery designs seem to be much better. Apparently, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz guarantee the battery to have 80% capacity after 160,000km.

The Hyundai Kona is guaranteeing "a 5 year unlimited mileage warranty, a high voltage battery warranty for 8 years or 200,000 kms."

So, the Kona EV will pull ahead of an ICE car after 116,000km. It will still be more expensive to run though, due to the high purchase cost and depreciation.

Ah yes, depreciation. There are cheap second-hand EVs on the market, 5+ years old. This is the point where the owner realised how expensive a replacement battery will be, and decided to sell instead.

After your EV has done 200,000km (let's be generous and believe Hyundai), the battery will have degenerated to such a point where you will need to buy a new one. Which takes your EV back to the starting point.

That is from the environmental point of view -- actually before the starting point, as you have dumped a battery that may become landfill -- recycling is still a work-in-progress in most countries.

There is also the financial point of view -- the cost of the new battery. The $33,000 mentioned in the above video is a peculiarity of that model of the Nissan Leaf. I did a bit of a search, and for a modern EV it will be $8,000 - $10,000 in Australia. But, you need to be wary of cost figures for EVs, as some governments are subsidizing them, both to purchase, and, I think, replacement battery in some countries. I did a search for Australia, and the ACT and Victoria have some subsidies.

Regarding purchase price, the cheapest EV in Australia is the Hyundai Ionic Electric Elite, at $45,000.

In summary: Environmentally, the EV will pull ahead of the ICE from 116,000 to 200,000km, then you are back at before square one. Financially, well, you lose big time with the EV.

A small ICE will set you back about $16,000 here in Australia, and if you are careful with it, expect a life of the engine of about 250,000 - 300,00km. After which, you can recondition it for say around $4,000, or buy a new engine.

In summary, the ICE vehicle loses out environmentally from 116,000 to 200,000km (or less than 116,000km if electricity generation is greener -- as low as 50,000km if generated from renewables). But far cheaper -- not just based on purchase price, but also looking at total-cost-of-ownership -- for example this report -- and that report does not consider battery replacement cost.

Allright, so over half of it's lifetime, the EV is ahead environmentally. Financially, bad news. And, it should be noted not a practical proposition for long distances in rural Australia.

So, is there any other real advantage of an EV? Yes, it moves the pollution out of the cities, to wherever lithium batteries are being manufactured, and to the rural locations of coal-fired power stations.

I could keep rambling on, with more online links. In fact, the first version of this blog post was longer. I had links to many sites with conflicting information. It does seem that those on a particular bandwagon, be it greeny or the opposite, put a spin on the facts, mostly by ignoring some facts, and twisting others.

It seems to me that the problems we should be tackling first, is not moving to electric vehicles, but making electricity generation and lithium battery manufacturing greener. Two things. Electricity generation in Australia is still very dirty, and we even export coal to the rest of the world.

We should also be looking at the supply chain for battery raw materials, such as the child slave labour in Africa to mine cobalt.

We should have facilities to recycle batteries. Apparently, degraded EV batteries can be used in home storage, which will delay the inevitable for a few more years. Unfortunately, Australia has not even managed to process nuclear waste -- it sits in drums in warehouses, gradually accumulating. 

I apologise if you find any inaccuracy in this post. I am not an expert in this field, have just done some reading here and there, and attempted to produce an unbiased summary, without the spin found elsewhere. 

Tags: ethos

Young couple cycling around the world

April 21, 2019 — BarryK

I borrowed a book from the local library, "The road that has no end", by Tim Travis, which details the first leg of their journey, from the USA to Panama. I have not read the second book, which covers the segment from Panama to Argentina. fascinating, they took seven years to get that far, really getting to know each place they went through.

A lot of danger too, and in some places the locals hate Americans, due to US military support of dictactorships, and the young couple pretended they were Canadian.

A few days ago, I borrowed the third book. I would like to have read the second, but will do so when it becomes available. After Argentina, the young couple, well, not quite so young after seven years, now in approx late 30s, flew back to stay with family in the USA, then decided to change their original plan, flew to Thailand, with the intention of cycling through Cambodia, Vietnam, up to China.

Their experiences in Vietnam have brought back sad memories for me. I was in my 12th year of school when conscription was introduced here in Australia. Call-up was by a ballot system, and fortunately I missed out. Anyway, those going onto higher education would have had their call-up deferred. Some members of my class joined the "home guard", forget what it was called, a part-time military service, being a member of was a way of avoiding the military call-up and being sent to Vietnam. The war began in 1965, not sure when compulsory conscription was introduced, but it was in place in 1968 when I reached the 12th year of school.

Quoting Tim from his book:

The Vietnam war lasted eight years and killed 57,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese. It all but destroyed Vietnam, and came pretty close to wreaking America as well, with anti-war protests splitting the country in two. In 1975, two years after the war ended, Communists took over South Vietnam anyway, making the entire ill-conceived adventure for naught.

In Australia, we watched the horror of those millions getting killed, as the US carpet-bombed the North, as well as neighbouring Cambodia. Then there was the spraying of Agent Orange over vast areas. Tim wrote:

Agent Orange, the defoliant used by Americans to clear away Vietnam's lush greenery to prevent the VC [Viet Cong, the enemy combatants) from hiding. Even today, decades after the war, children are being born with no limbs, curved backs or other disfigurements due to the dioxin in Agent Orange.

And again:

It's hard to be proud of America's so-called high moral ground after riding through village after village with deformed and crippled children due to their parent's exposure to something paid for by American taxpayers.

Tim also made a very sobering comment on what he learned in school about the Vietnam war:

Growing up in America, studying history in public schools, and watching television, it was never clear to me exactly how the war came to an end. I tried to remember what I was taught about the Vietnam war, but it seemed fuzzy; possibly a tie.
...
Not only did the USA lose, we lost using some pretty underhanded tactics -- another thing that schools do not teach.

It is all very sad. More recently, we have the war in Iraq, where the US trumped up a story about "weapons of mass destruction", as they needed an excuse to invade Iraq. More massive bombing. I could go on. But, enough, it is all too depressing.

On a bright note, Tim and his wife found the people of Vietnam to be very friendly. Of course, they asked people about their feelings toward Americans, and the general response was of forgiveness. 

The authors have a website:

http://downtheroad.org/ 

EDIT 2019-04-23:
It was "Tricky Dicky" (Richard Nixon) who authorized the carpet bombing, and John F. Kennedy who authorized the use of Agent orange. This website documents the Agent Orange horror story:

https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/agent-orange-1

Did they know in advance that the dioxin in Agent Orange and other herbicides (known as Operation Ranch Hand) was very dangerous? Yes, they did, and guess who manufactured it: mostly Monsanto, also Dow Chemicals. Quoting:

In 1988, Dr. James Clary, an Air Force researcher associated with Operation Ranch Hand, wrote to Senator Tom Daschle, “When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide.”

US servicemen mounted a class action, and were awarded compensation by the chemical companies, but when a group of Vietnamese people mounted a class action, it was rejected by US judges. Quoting:

Fred A. Wilcox, author of Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam, told the Vietnamese news source VN Express International, “The U.S. government refuses to compensate Vietnamese victims of chemical warfare because to do so would mean admitting that the U.S. committed war crimes in Vietnam. This would open the door to lawsuits that would cost the government billions of dollars.”

Which reminds me, there was a class action mounted against Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK, for war crimes in Iraq, based on the trumped up "weapons of mass destruction", but it was rejected by judges. George W. Bush seems to have been immune from such action. Both men were religious zealots, making "faith based" decisions rather than logical, and not minding using "spin" (often considered to be euphemism for a lie) to achieve their goal of Western-style democracy in the Middle East. Then there was John Howard, our Prime Minister in Australia; I conclude that he was a weak man, who sucked up to Bush and Blair.

You might think from reading the above, that I am left-wing. But no, I have always been very conservative, and have tended to vote for the right-of-centre political parties. However, as I became more mature, understood more, I gradually came to understand just how sick the US is, in certain respects, not all. I am not exonerating other countries such as China or Russia either.

I know that Americans are patriotic, and that patriotism is for the principles established by the Founding Fathers. They are very noble. But, many things have gone wrong. Partly, I think, it is individuals and corporations having too much power, as per that old saying "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely".

This started out as a blog post about a young couple cycling around the world, but the book sparked old memories. Enough. Unlikely that I will post anything more about these wars, as there is enough already out there on the Internet. So, signing off, getting back to blogs about Linux, solar power and camping! 


Tags: ethos

Fcubed solar water distiller

April 13, 2019 — BarryK

About five years ago, I mentioned to my daughter how cool these are, then, darn, she went and bought me one. For my birthday. Cool it is, but I did not have a circumstance to use it, so it has been in the shed ever since.

The manufacturer is F-Cubed, and here is their website:

http://fcubed.com.au/aspx/home.aspx

In a nutshell, they manufacture a solar-powered water distiller:

http://fcubed.com.au/aspx/carocell-panels.aspx

img1

They don't seem to make mine anymore. Mine is about 1.1 x 1.1 metres, very short. Much less efficient than the full-length ones. I can't find the water-output specs, but I do recall it is considerably less.

Fast forward to now, I have got it out of the shed and assembled it. There is now a potential use, for when I "go bush" for extended periods, where there is brakish/salty water available. Here it is:

img2

The plan is to mount L-brackets to slide it under my car roof-rack. At the remote site, slide it out, attach the legs, and the water supply.

Curiously, the desalinator is made of aluminium and plastic, the legs of steel -- and the legs weigh as much as the desalinator. So, might just cut some marine ply for each side, something simple to sit it at the right angle.

An overhead water supply is required, but it will also handle pumped water. So, I could just bring brakish/salty water in a bucket, put a 12v pump into it. It would need a filter. Anyone reading this have experience, can recommend a product? Pumps used in fish tanks? 

If you want to see videos:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPo9VjSEIbf2CcWUTXeu-cyYzcmN_lAnc 

EDIT 2019-04-14:
Ah ha, the F-Cubed Malaysian website mentions my panel, it is the "Carocell 1000", with these specs:

Temperature 20°C 5 Litres / DAY
Temperature 30°C 7 Litres / DAY
Dimensions: 1150 x 1150mm x 50mm
Surface Area: 1m2
Weight: 7kg

So, on a hot summer day here in AU, I should expect more than 7 litres. That's good. But, how much water would I have to put in?

I have decided against pumping, gravity feed is good enough, can easily put a water tank on the roof-rack of the car. Bunnings has a cheap 20 litre collapsible water holder. And, as 'scsijon' pointed out in an email, plywood sides is probably not a good idea, as it would restrict air flow -- so will rethink that. 

EDIT 2019-04-17:
My website now has a "nomad" section, and a webpage where I plan to document the water desalination project as it progresses:

http://bkhome.org/nomad/water-desalination.html 

Tags: ethos

Microsoft fails on new laptop

March 01, 2019 — BarryK

Very early in the New Year of 2019, I went on a bit of a spending spree. One item was an Acer Aspire1 14 inch laptop, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD, Apollo Lake CPU, for just AU$240. I wanted something to replace my baby laptop with Intel Cherry Trail CPU, that being very Linux-unfriendly.

So, have had this Aspire1 for almost a couple of months, it has Windows 10S, and have not tried Linux on it, haven't done anything to it, just used it to browse the web while reclining in my lounge chair.

I couldn't even change the web browser, as it will only install from the Windows Store, so was stuck with Edge.

It was doing upgrades automatically. Then, a couple of days ago, was browsing the web, suddenly Windows crashed, with the message:

Your PC ran into a problem and has to restart. We're just collecting some error information then we will restart for you

So it sends off a report to Microsoft, then restarts, then informs me that it is finishing an update. Then got the desktop, then after a couple of minutes, crash again, and the same message as above.

It seems that the last update broke my computer!

This cycle of crash and reboot repeated itself three or four times, then Windows decided, enough, and booted to the Recovery window. Various options, and I chose to reset the computer.

That worked, and I have tried to set things so it won't do automatic updates. They can no longer be stopped, it seems, but I did turn on "metered connection". However, the monthly data limit setting that was in Windows 10 Home, is gone, so Microsoft will still force updates on me, despite having a metered connection.

I have on-going issues with every version of Windows, see the previous post:

http://bkhome.org/news/201808/windows-10-is-soooo-awful.html

I am truly amazed that a brand new Acer laptop has been broken by a Windows update. I saw on TV recently, a company named "Geeks2you" guys who come to your home and fix your computer -- obviously they are doing a roaring trade and can afford to advertise on TV. There must be so many people with broken computers, running slow, virus-ridden, and so on.

Yet, the great unwashed masses will stay with Windows. For now anyway. As they experience the reliability and security of their phones and ChromeOS (and the Apple OSes?), it must raise questions in their brains. Or maybe not. 

Tags: ethos