Monday, March 30, 2020

Mask 'em if you got 'em - but don't buy them, yet

Who knew antifa were practicing good public health? Bandanas are better-than-nothing substitutes for masks.

So, did not cover itself with glory on coronavirus during the month of February. On Feb. 13 it mocked Silicon Valley efforts at physical distancing and said that data "from the CDC suggests that the flu is a greater threat to Americans than the coronavirus." I checked their NYTimes reference supposedly supporting the claim (archived here), and it doesn't.

Before that, on Jan. 31, Vox confidently declared that covid would not become a pandemic (they deleted the Tweet last week with a Nixonian vague reference to the Tweet no longer being operative). And on Feb. 25, Vox said "there’s no good evidence to support the use of face masks for preventing this disease in the general population."

I'm in my usual backseat driving position of critiquing something where I'm not an expert, but it wasn't hard to be skeptical about the masks. I wrote on Facebook on Mar. 2 that it was disingenuous to say masks protect medical workers but not the public. On some of this (not all of it), Vox was just uncritically reporting the consensus position. Historically we've needed the media do a better job of reporting the climate consensus, but a distinction here can be made between the massive scientifically-established climate consensus versus the motivated-reasoning guesswork by the establishment that wanted the public not to buy masks when they're desperately needed by medical workers.

To be fair, Vox seemed to clean up its act in March, and it's certainly no Trump. Not glorious, though.

I feel a little guilty beating up on the US government's medical establishment as they work hard while I sit on a sofa. Everyone all the way up to and including the Vice President are surely working hard right now. And I'm not beating up the 99% of the medical people working for the government that didn't make these decisions, but at the top there were major mistakes, and it wasn't just Trump and his cronies that made them. Producing a faulty test was a huge error, not importing substitute German tests was another, not allowing locally-made substitutes a third, and giving bad advice on masks/not telling people to wear bandanas and scarves a fourth.

Trump ran the show, these are all his mistakes. But when he's gone, there will have to be more work to guarantee they don't happen again.

Don't buy masks, yet. The government should've commandeered all of them, weeks ago. But if you have them, keep one or two to use and reuse, and give the rest away. In a month or two, there should be enough to buy them for everyone, which could be a big part of successfully transitioning back to a more normal world.

In Memorium Philip Anderson

Philip Warren Anderson Philip W Anderson American physicist Britannicacom

Philip Anderson has died at the age of 96. Worshiped (not too strong a word) by physicist of the condensed matter tribe, Anderson was also the father of Susan Anderson, an old (and missed) friend of Rabett Run to whom Eli and Brian extend their condolences in this time of her sorrow and difficulty.

Philip Anderson's Nobel Prize autobiography provides clues about him, his work and his life.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Now is the perfect time for some types of outdoor climbing

I've got a dozen-plus tabs of relevant things I think I should blog about, and then I saw this at Slate, "Climbers, Please Control Yourselves: This might feel like the perfect time to go climbing outdoors. It’s not."

Slate pushes a semi-contrarian position often enough to merit its own nickname, the Slate Pitch. Sometimes it's interesting and useful, more often it's annoying and wrong. Kind of like contrarianism in general.

I'm a long-time mediocre rock climber and a much worse mountain biker (more on biking later). Now, in fact, is the perfect time for the type of outdoor climbing that I do the most and most of my friends do the most - top-rope climbing as day trips. You can easily maintain 2 meter distances, and it's very safe so you're not likely to end up in the ER. Top-roping means you can walk to the top of the cliff you're climbing and set up a rope system from the top. When you go back down and start climbing with a partner controlling the rope, you won't fall any more than the stretching distance of the rope. It's possible to get injured top-roping by climbing far to the left or right of the rope line and then falling, but you could also choose to not do that.

The main change from business-as-usual would be no carpooling to the climbing site. Okay, fine.

Slate's article talks about multi-day climbing trips staying at hotels, and sitting in crowded restaurants. You could, like, not do that. And I'm not buying their idea that getting gas and groceries is all that dangerous an activity.

The main good argument they have is that ending up in a hospital is pretty selfish thing to do these days, as well as a more dangerous thing to do than in normal times. So, you could still do lead climbing, multipitch climbing with really awkward systems of trading off gear while mostly keeping a distance from your partner, and camping away from crowds - but you'd have to climb at a nearly-no risk level which limits its interest.

Contrast top-roping and climbing generally to mountain biking. I only do pretty easy trail riding and even then I see plenty of opportunities to break a leg. My road biking buddies move much faster than me and deal with cars. And then there's just driving to any open space, where you can get into an accident on the drive.

So rather than "not climbing" the advice should be to change what you do to maintain physical distance and reduce risk below what is just acceptable to you, to a level where there's very little chance that you're taking hospital space.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Simple Suggestion For Broadcasting School Lessons

When Eli was but a little bunny, New York City owned a radio station, WNYC, which during the day would broadcast school lessons. Some of them were for extra credit as it were, interesting stuff that teachers could play in their classrooms during the school day. Broke up the monotony of reading, writing and adding stuff up (Eli was a little bunny, little algebra, no calc). But there were also things that kids stuck at home sick could learn from and not bug mom (most often) for an hour or more.

Thus a small suggestion:

Television stations could use their sub channels to broadcast lessons for the kids at home. Cable broadcasters have even more room for learning channels. If they were feeling nice, a lot of this could be openly streamed so all that was needed would be a cell phone

There are broadcast ready materials from online open ed efforts, but it should be possible to recruit from the local ed folk

Here is a place to start

105 tools for distance learning and strategies for student engagement


Currently open for the emergency

Math lessons by grade K-12

The Wayback Machine has some curated educational sites

Added 3/16 Curricula and other material from Minnesota

Monday, March 02, 2020

Bahamas v. Puerto Rico on renewable energy as resilient response to disasters

Renewable energy, especially in distributed microgrids, has a lot of advantages over fossil fuels that need large plants and a vulnerable power distribution lines. This is especially true in island countries that get hit with devastating weather and pay exorbitant prices for diesel power imports.

Puerto Rico seemed at least in the first year after Maria to take only token steps towards use of renewable power. The Bahamas, hit six months ago, seems to be doing better:

Exactly six months ago this evening, Hurricane Dorian slammed into the northern Bahamas. It was the fifth Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in just the last three years. Before that, there hadn't been a single "Cat-5" storm in nearly a decade.

There's a growing consensus among scientists that climate change is what's making hurricanes stronger and more destructive....But the Bahamas has found a ray of hope - specifically, a solar array - that can help its islands survive future hurricanes. And in the process, it may have important lessons the rest of the world should learn, as Mother Nature continues to brew devastating storms like Dorian.

To be fair to Puerto Rico, it's been several years since Maria, giving more time for renewable power and especially battery power to get cheaper, and microgrids to become more familiar to governments (and it's unclear from the report how much better Bahamas will actually do).

Hopefully this improved response will continue and put some silver linings on disaster response, as well as making climate adaptation assist with climate mitigation. See Rocky Mountain Institute's Island Energy Program for more info.