Monday, May 18, 2020

How Speaking Can Spread the Virus

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the benefits of wearing face masks to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, he said that “they are helpful in that they protect others from you “breathing or speaking moistly on them.”

The word ‘moistly’ caused a universal uproar. Comedians had a field day as usual, but Trudeau was actually giving an appropriate and descriptive name to one of the major avenues of infection, which is our own speech.

One of the reasons COVID-19 spreads so quickly is that it is transmitted from people who are asymptomatic. But if they don’t sneeze or cough on you, how are they actually infecting you?

Research is now showing that coughing and sneezing are small potatoes compared to the amount of aerosols people emit while they speak. Coughing and sneezing are like brief but potent rain showers, whereas speaking is a day long drizzle, with smaller drop sizes that can penetrate deeper into the lungs of the unfortunate recipient. They also remain airborne longer, since they are smaller.

It is not just speaking that releases more particles than coughing or sneezing. A person who decides to declare their love by bursting into a serenade, is actually emitting 6 times more airborne droplets than if they were merely reciting a poem.

If things weren’t bad enough, it turns out that people with loud voices emit an inordinate amount of particles. Not only are they a danger to your ear drums but they actually are equivalent to the fire breathers of yore.

Although the louder you speak the more particles you emit, the study also found that certain units of speech generate more aerosols than others. For example, the "E" sound in "need" produces more particles than the "A" in "saw." Read more...

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Science Fiction Becomes Rality

It finally happened. Armageddon has arrived. For over a century, we have been treated to various forms of science fiction. A large portion of this genre’s books and movies has always been apocalyptic - presenting one scenario or another about the end of the world, or at least the end of humanity.

I grew up devouring the works of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip Dick, Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells and many others.

Wells’ The War of the Worlds came out as a radio adaptation in 1938 and as a classic film in 1953. Other classics that mesmerized me as a child include The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Television added a flood of Science Fiction, including Star Trek (the original series, 1965-1969, still my favorite, followed by multiple subsequent “generations”).

Meanwhile, by the end of the 20th century, Hollywood was inundating the market with mega productions of questionable quality - such films as Independence Day (1996), Mars Attacks (1996), Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998) and many others.

Even I tried my hand at the genre: (See my Humanity’s Future: The Next 25,000 Years). At least, my book is not apocalyptic. It goes more along the optimistic prognoses found in many episodes of Star Trek - predicting humanity’s progress rather than downfall.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Hot Spots, Soft Spots and Bald Spots

The English language is really good at turning words into versatile tools that can be used for many purposes, like a Swiss army knife. Take the humble little word spot, for instance. With a snap of our fingers, we can make a spot become hot, sweet, tight, bald, cold, dead, soft or blind. And those are just the noun words. We can ‘be spot on’, an adjective, ‘hit the spot’, a direct object, or ‘spot something a mile off’, a verb. We have a knack for breathing life into language by dressing up simple words and send them out into the world to work their magic.

But why stop there? A single one of these ‘compound nouns’ can, itself, take on different meanings. A spot can be hot, but a hotspot can be a place of unusual popularity, a spot where volcanic magma rises through the earth’s crust, an area of political or civil unrest, a place where a wireless Internet connection is available and more recently a place where the Coronavirus is particularly active.

When I drove down dreary Route 9 in Newton the other day, I didn’t think it was unusually popular and there was no magma in sight. My phone didn’t detect a wireless connection and since I didn’t have a dog in the car, I couldn’t check for its infected skin rash.

But I knew I was entering a hotspot. This is the spot where the month before my car had been rear-ended. As I was waiting at the traffic light, I could feel the heat through the floor of the car. I breathed a sigh of relief when the light turned green, but a while later on the highway, my knuckles around the steering wheel turned white. I was approaching another hot spot where not too long ago, I almost flipped my car, when I collided with a ladder that had fallen off the back of a truck.

So you see, as time goes on, it gets harder to find any spots on my way home that are not marred with bad memories. Some spots are so hot, that driving through them is too painful. Many years ago, I found my daughter in a diabetic coma, unconscious on the floor of her dorm. I have tried to rub that spot off, but it just won’t come out, even after all these years. That is definitely a dead zone, in my book. Read more...

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Looking Back on the Coronavirus Pandemic - An Imaginary, Revisionist History

This is a satire based on an article entitled ‘The Deadly
Polio Epidemic and Why It Matters for Coronavirus’

The current 2050 Nipah pandemic may feel new to many of us, but it is strangely familiar to those who lived through the Coronavirus epidemic of the early 21st century.

The Coronavirus virus a.k.a. Covid19, arrived each winter, striking without warning. We knew how the virus was transmitted but there was uncertainty about its origin. There were wild theories that the virus had been purposely released from a lab in China. At the time, there was no known cure or vaccine.

Parents stopped sending their children to school for fear they would “catch coronavirus.” Swimming pools and movie theaters, beaches and shops were closed.

Because of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), health workers would work without protection to save many a person’s life. The elderly, who seemed to be most at risk from the disease, were isolated in nursing homes and sometimes left to die without treatment.

The number of Covid19 cases in the U.S. peaked at 2 million, resulting in 103,000 deaths. Those who were critically ill with this highly infectious disease ended up intubated and were often left with permanent lung damage.

Ultimately, the coronavirus was conquered in 2022 by a vaccine. Donald Trump, who was our President at the time, signed an executive order forbidding the inventor from patenting his work, saying the vaccine belonged to the people and that to patent it would be like “patenting the sun.” Read more...

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Are there more Crazy People in some Countries than in Others?

Can it be said that there are more crazy/mentally ill people in one society than in another - for example in America than in the Netherlands?

With all the bad news from America these days - mass shootings, Donald Trump suggesting that we try Lysol to cure the coronavirus, etc. - some of my European friends are beginning to wonder whether this country has lost its senses. 

It’s clear that our president is mentally ill. But what about the society at large? Can one society be more mentally ill than another? I have a PhD in Social Psychology (U. Of Minnesota). So this question interests me.

To begin with, we need to recognize that “mental illness” is both physical and cultural.

Going by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) of the American Psychiatric Association, it is obvious that many of the listed mental disorders are rooted in neuro-chemical imbalances and/or damage to the nervous system. These are organic disorders, for example organic psychosis and dementia.
However, many “mental illnesses” are functional. For example bipolarity, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. These have no demonstrable physiological basis. Read more...