Monday, March 30, 2020

Lights shining in the darkness

   Mixed in with the constant flood of dark and dire pandemic news there are increasing bright blooms of admirable courage, ingenuity, and determination.

   The innovative Dyson Company designed and built a new portable ventilator called the CoVent in ten days and is racing to get it into full production “quickly, efficiently, and at volume,” vowing to have thousands available by early April. Tesla bought 1,000 ventilators from Japan for distribution in California and Mr. Musk is dedicating his considerable drive and resources to helping in the fight in any other ways he can. As are Bill and Melinda Gates and others with major influence and resources.
   Big companies like Ford, GM, 3M, and GE are all pitching in to help in multiple ways, including making more ventilators and protective gear for the medical people on the front lines who are quietly and valiantly risking infection themselves every day. Ford is giving six months payment relief to vehicle purchasers with stressed budgets. Some landlords are suspending rent payments. Small businesses are finding ways to serve the public, like touchless pickup and porch delivery and senior shopping hours. People in labs are of course working behind the scenes around the clock in search of treatment medicines and a vaccine.

   Hertz is giving free vehicle usage to medical workers. Fiat Chrysler is converting a plant to manufacture a million masks a month. Duke University has a way to disinfect used face masks with vaporized hydrogen peroxide. They can treat hundreds of masks a day for reuse multiple times, helping bridge the gap until enough disposable masks become available. Abbott has developed a five-minute portable on-the-spot virus tester that’s much more reliable than current methods and without lab waits. Their goal is to do five million tests in April alone.

   There’s a world-wide Maker movement inspired by the DIY Make magazine, which has fostered Maker Faires around the planet from San Francisco to London to Paris to Dubai. (Over recent years they’ve published more than two dozen articles about inventions my clever long-time buddy Larry Cotton and I have conjured up and built in his garage workshop.) Now makers all over are coming up with multiple ways to join the virus battle with ideas like creating devices to open doors and flip light switches hands free, 3D printed parts to repair ventilators in their hometowns, making face shields and Tyvek protective suits for their local hospitals, and cutting up car covers to sew face masks. See:

   Caring, courageous, smart people doing what such folks have always done in a crisis.

   Combined, their light will overwhelm the darkness.


A tip: There are pictures all over the Net showing people standing less than six feet apart. Imagine a person of average height, about five six for a male, stretched out head to feet on the ground and add half a foot. Six feet is more distance than you may realize.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Potential C virus Benefits

   I've figured out why Tokyo refuses to postpone the summer games. Canada and Australia are threatening to pull out and I'm sure other nations will follow. If everybody else does not show up, the Japanese athletes will win all the medals, and maybe even set some Guinness World Records, like Fastest Thousand-yard Dash While Wearing a Respirator.

   I think we need drive-through testing stations that will accommodate black limousines, dedicated to politicians. Their shoes would be examined to find out which of them have been dragging their feet for several months now. We also need romp-through IQ testing stations dedicated to spring breakers. Those testing positive for more than half a brain could be drafted to help care for C virus patients in hospitals. They wouldn't even have to wear masks, considering they're youth-immune. The rest of the breakers could go on to become politicians and lawyers just like Mommy and Daddy planned. We also need dedicated fast-test stations for the wealthy and elite among us, so they can each dispatch a member of their entourage to take the Cv test for them.

   All of that was just me being inappropriately sarcastic and venting frustration. Sorry.

   Seriously, it’s a stressful life-threatening time for all of us, and we’re finding out that even young people are more susceptible to this pandemic than we were first led to believe. Young or old, we’re all learning some hard lessons.

   But there are some potential benefits from all this.

   Companies are discovering that perhaps employees working from their homes is a pretty good idea even in non-pandemic times. It reduces road traffic, thus lowering the toll of accidents during the usual frenzied drive times, cuts gasoline usage and vehicle wear and thus expense, and reduces air pollution. Satellite analysis of China before Cv and after the Cv outbreak shows a dramatic improvement in air quality. It also reduces roadside littering and decreases emissions many scientists say contribute to global climate change.

   Home grocery delivery is also a good idea we ought to use more often. Just one delivery person serving 12 customers on a route as opposed to 12 grocery shoppers driving to and from the store independently makes good sense.

   We’re learning hygiene habits that will protect us not only from this Cv monster but also from other illnesses like the flu and common colds. And we’re learning how all nations can be far better prepared to deal with future biological threats.

   We’re spending more time with loved ones. We’re even starting to pull together like people did during World War Two and after Nine Eleven. Private companies are stepping up and doing what they can to help. I saw an item today about Harbor Freight donating their entire stock of masks and face shields to hospitals in need, for a good example. Ford and Tesla are ramping up to produce badly needed ventilators.

   So, this pandemic may not be all bad if it pulls us together in the fight and forces more sensible, more efficient, and healthier changes in social behaviors and customs from now on.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Thoughts on the C Beast  

   The New York Times is saying only 125 people per million in the United States have been C tested as of this date (3/17). The U.S. has 330.5 million people, so 330.5 times 125 yields the total number tested, which is 41,312 to date. Of that number 4,400 have tested positive.

   This means 9.3% of people tested have contracted the virus. Extrapolate this to the whole population and you get 30.8 million people (9.3 percent of our population) who theoretically could be infected right now and we would not know it.

   Of course there are other factors that affect the real infection number, but based on this very rough extrapolated number, this thing could already be much worse than most people realize.

   My point is that the tested numbers tend to be believed by the public as the actual rate of spread, so people have not been concerned enough, which is exactly what happened in Italy before they finally took strict and adequate measures to limit the spread.

   Naomi found a study that appeared on the net stating samples of the C virus are compromised by elevated heat. If true, that's really encouraging, because the virus should wither with the coming of warm weather, especially if this summer is anything like the last. When I rode a motorcycle back from the Smoky mountains in the last week of May 2019 the temp was 96 F.

   On maps I’ve seen of diagnosed cases and locations, there is a conspicuous lack of cases in the southern hemisphere, where it’s still quite warm.  (Part of this could of course be due to minimal testing.) There is a low-temperature flu and colds season, and I understand the flu is a similar virus to the C beast, so why would it not be reasonable that there is also going to be a cool C virus season? And we’ll be getting flu and C vaccines in advance of the next season.

   I also think abundant oxygen can fight many diseases. In the spring, when trees and plants are all putting out leaves, they're creating abundant oxygen. When people open up their homes and offices to these warm oxygen-rich breezes, sicknesses miraculously seem to vanish. We're opening up our house every day at least for a while.

   And while many humans are practicing “social distancing,” Naomi and I are pretty much just trying to stay away from people.

   Please be cautious no matter your age so you’re neither a victim nor a carrier and be safe.


Monday, March 9, 2020

What could AI become in future generations?

     We lost one of our great scientific and philosophical minds not long ago. Before he left us, Stephen Hawking gave us a warning about the encroachment of artificial intelligence (AI), which has already almost imperceptibly worked its way into our society and taken control of several aspects of our lives. Robots build our cars better than humans can and even perform delicate precision surgeries. GPS can guide us to any destination (I call the one in my car Daisy). Giant server facilities store all our personal information down to what brands of underwear we prefer.

     Our cars can keep us safely in our lanes and hold a preset interval to the next vehicle ahead and even parallel park themselves, and driverless cars are appearing on our roads. Our computers converse with us and store and manage all our knowledge; a library at NC State University can robotically store and retrieve thousands of requested old-fashioned printed books.

     There are computers that can fly and land giant airplanes and conduct experiments and perform exhaustive flawless calculations and create perfect simulations and control complex space missions and beat us at chess and even grow smarter by themselves over time with what is being called deep learning, which mimics the human learning process. We’ve become addicted to our smart phones and laptops and tablets and PCs and we’re heavily dependent on the Internet.

     There's a dark side to all this. Cell phoning drives are killing themselves and others on our highways by the thousands, for example. And our young people especially are ever more absorbed in the artificiality of their phone and tablet screens while ignoring wondrous reality all around them.

     In China, Xiaoice (pronounced Shau-ice) is a national celebrity. She’s a guest on talk shows, sings popular songs beautifully, and acts as a personal advisor and confidant to millions. She’s taken part in billions of conversations as people who consider her a personal friend seriously seek her advice, confess their deepest secrets to her, and value her counsel.

    Xiaoice, however, is not human. She’s a software program created by Microsoft. She can flirt, make jokes, even identify photos. The Chinese love her.

     Other software programs can best humans with their expertise. Alexa knows far more than any human and instantly comes up with the correct answer to almost any legitimate question you could possibly ask her. Google translator is precise and lightning fast. LipNet can read lips faster and with more accuracy than a person can. (Hmmm. Could a protagonist in a story use this program to spy on a villain? With a zoom lens, she could take a video from distant concealment and then have the software read it to learn the villain’s evil intentions, perhaps.)

     Will AI continue to help us in our daily lives and explorations?

     Or could it turn on us in ways we cannot even anticipate.

     Lots of fodder for sci-fi writers.


Monday, March 2, 2020

Pen Names and Pseudonyms

   Fake author names come in two versions. Pen Names for average scribblers like me, and Pseudonyms for those more sophisticated authors who populate literary works. (Although nom de plume, French for pen name, sounds equally highbrow.) Both mean basically the same thing. They’re made-up names for one reason or another.

   For several years I wrote for a slick company magazine called Hatteras World, which they sent to Hatteras yacht owners worldwide to foster customer goodwill. Two of us took most of the photos and wrote most of the articles. To make it appear we had a larger staff, we wrote under pen names as well as our own. I used Ed Teach and C.J. Rackham, derived from the pirate Edward Teach who himself had the pseudonym Blackbeard, and Calico Jack Rackham, another notorious but colorful pirate.

   One of the most famous American writers and lecturers was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, of course, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain, which came from the days when a mate in the bows of a Mississippi riverboat would take depth soundings by lowering a weighted line until the weight hit bottom, then shouting to the captain the resultant ‘mark’ on the line.  “Mark Twain” meant the depth was two fathoms or twelve feet.

   Alice Sheldon, a counterintelligence analyst and experimental psychologist, wrote her sci-fi yarns as James Tiptree, Jr., after a jar of Tiptree marmalade she spotted while shopping.

   David John Moore Cornwell was a real spy for MI6 and was ordered by superiors to adopt a pseudonym for his debut novel Call for the Dead. He chose John le Carré, which worked out fairly well for him.

   Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto probably adopted the name Pablo Neruda mostly to save space and ink on his book covers.

   Howard Allen Frances O’Brien was named by her eccentric mother after her father Howard.
She became famous as Anne Rice and chose two other concocted names, using A.N. Roquelaure, which means ‘Anne with a cloak’ and begs to be written in flowing script on covers, for her Gothic stories. She used Anne Rampling for her erotica because she didn’t want father Howard finding out.

   Though he was not a doctor, Theodore Seuss Geisel won hearts young and old worldwide as Dr. Seuss and everybody has been pronouncing his pen name wrong ever since. It’s not Soose, but Soice. He was eventually granted an honorary doctorate by his alma mater Dartmouth. His birthday was 2 March.

   Nora Roberts has somehow produced more than 225 highly popular novels that span three genres, enough to fill her own personal library, writing as herself and J.D Robb and Jill March, and also as Sarah Hardesty in the UK, enough pen personalities for tea parties without having to send out invitations.

   Probably the most unusual pseudonym in English literary history was: T.R.D.J.S.D.O.P.I.I. It stood for The Reverend Doctor Jonathan Swift, Dean of Patrick’s In Ireland. Swift also used other pen names: Isaac Bickerstaff; A Person of Quality; A Person of Honor; M.B. Drapier; and A Dissenter.

   I think he should just have stuck with the distinctive and memorable Jonathan Swift.

   I may even use that nom de plume myself sometime.