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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, August 08, 2020



An Eleventh View from The Apocalypse


Despite the (reasonably) hot weather the Covid spikes continue to spike – hardly a surprise when you see people crowded onto trains & on the beach. Fundamentally though very little has changed. There has been some breakthroughs with therapeutics which is good. Anything that brings down the mortality rate is a good thing in my book! But the virus is still out there doing its job – infecting people and spreading. ‘Normality’ isn’t anytime soon unfortunately.

I was actually visiting my nearby (20 minute walk) big supermarket and bumped into someone I knew from work. She’d retired in December and had planned lots of travel for her and her partner. They’re big walkers – the Austrian Alps for preference – but have had to put pretty much everything on hold until things clear up. Until recently they couldn’t even meet up (as they live in separate houses) and had to sustain their relationship chatting at different ends of their driveways. NOT good. Nearly everyone I saw was wearing a mask though which was good. It’s mandated now in pretty much all public/indoor places and it’s very rare you see someone NOT wearing a mask – at least inside a shop. Still plenty of people walking around outside without one – including me. People are very good keeping their distance though, although generally anyone under 18 seems to think things like this don’t apply to them or that they’re basically immortal so it doesn’t matter. Hopefully they don’t end up taking an extra special present to Grandma….!

Nothing very much happening here. It’s been pretty warm (low 80’s F) which is a nice change although were expecting rain most of next week. It does mean that I’ve had the time to work on my painting skills (non-existent) on some exterior woodwork that needed some TLC. Still gaming (ONI in the afternoon and Last Stand – part of an old Warhammer 40K game – in the evenings with my regular gaming partner) and still reading about 2 books a week which means my review pile is stubbornly staying locked at 10 books. I’ll see if I can reduce that by slipping in a few hefty buggers to, at least occasionally, drop below the replacement rate.

Apart from that I am, along with the rest of the world, waiting for a vaccine so I can get my life back. OK, it won’t be HUGELY different from what I’m doing now but at least I’ll have CHOICES! I spoke to my Mum a few days ago (clocking in) and everyone is fine. Likewise my gaming buddies are all well. All good news. I think I’ll go into ‘town’ around the end of the month to see if my fave book shop survived the zombie hordes. I do hope so. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. Be safe, stay safe – see you on the flip side!      

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Just Finished Reading: Infectious Disease – A Very Short Introduction by Marta L Wayne & Benjamin N Bolker (FP: 2015)


Continuing my latest (Pandemic Edition) book blitz this slim volume delved into what the previous book on the Immune System needs to deal with – infections & bugs. Or at least viruses and bacteria which have fought a very long war to propagate themselves at the expense of their hosts (quite often us or the animals and plants we use to survive).

Naturally anyone who has been paying attention to the news this year has picked up a fair bit of medical jargon about transmission rates and R numbers – I know I have. If you’ve struggled to understand exactly what that all means then struggle no more! This book makes such things easy to understand by the use of filters – encounter and compatibility – that help describe the dynamics of epidemics as well as the important distinctions of virulence, resistance and tolerance.

Moving on to case studies the book covers the main ones we’ve all heard about – influenza, HIV, Cholera and Malaria as well as one I’d never heard of which was a fungus in amphibians which has only recently emerged onto the world stage (called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis if you must know!). Each disease in turn is covered with respect to origin, history and what it does to bypass any filters which exist to prevent its spread and each, apart from the amphibian fungus, is looked at for its impact on humanity. All very interesting stuff. Finally the authors look ahead – from 2015 that is – at the emerging and re-emerging diseases that are all too clearly on the horizon with anti-bacterial resistance and the double whammy of habitat destruction and ongoing climate change. Despite the hopes of scientists in the 1970’s we are not going to be disease free for the foreseeable future and should prepare for the inevitable. If nothing else the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that we were very clearly not prepared for a global pandemic. Luckily for us the overall lethality of this admittedly highly infectious disease has been thankfully quite low in absolute terms. A clearer warning shot cannot, I think, have been heard around the world. Looking back over history we have seen clearly what infectious disease can do to individuals, families and whole civilisations. We very much need to learn from these horrid experiences and up our game. Definitely a must read for anyone interested in current and, no doubt at all, future events. Recommended.        

Monday, August 03, 2020

Just Finished Reading: The Immune System – A Very Short Introduction by Paul Klenerman (FP: 2017)


I’ve been meaning to do something like this for a while now – a VSI Book Blitz on Pandemics. The plan was to start small and personal and then expand outwards. So the Immune System seemed the ideal place to start out from. Now I haven’t formally studied anything Biological for a LONG time (around 40 years I’d say) so I’m definitely a bit rusty and frankly out of touch with present understanding of such things which is one of the reasons for playing catch-up. So I wasn’t totally surprised to find that around the first quarter of the book was a tad above my pay-grade knowledge wise! But I did think that the reading level of the book throughout – when it either dropped to my level of understanding or moved into areas I was more familiar with (in other words away from bio-chemistry!) – was above the general reader level. More than once I did think it was aimed more at GP’s or trainee doctors who just needed an appreciation of the subject or maybe a quick refresher course.

Despite all that I did find myself learning quite a bit here from how exactly the Immune System worked – recognising self from non-self for instance as well as how it developed a ‘memory’ for previous infections and then how it fails by either under or over performing its tasks. All very interesting and it did give me a very good base from which to move forward with my next VSI Pandemic reading. If you’re coming from a point of only a vague appreciation of human biology this might be a rather daunting read. If you’re made of sterner stuff or have a few years of college education in biology under your belt (but are somewhat out of touch with things) this will definitely bring you up to date. An interesting read if rather a challenging one!