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Events and Life Mindsets Politics and government Science and nature Wellbeing

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

We live in challenging times. Here in Israel we have the dual challenges of this new coronavirus, and having just had our third elections in the hope that our leaders will grow up, place Israel first, and form a sustainable government.

Larger forces, and uncomfortable spaces

The recent elections had been coming, so we knew more or less what to expect. This new coronavirus really shook 2020 up for us. Between these two events (at least here, for me), there’s a lot of uncertainty, and a sense of larger forces at play.

This is not a comfortable space for me to be in at all. I have very little control over either situation, only my responses to them. Even then, my responses are limited. So, like I said, not a comfortable space to be in.

Both events have a sense of inevitability to them.

Either our leadership will form a government (at the very least an emergency government to deal with the current situation), or they won’t (and we’ll head to a fourth set of elections).

As for the coronavirus, and the spread of COVID-19, well hopefully we’ll see a vaccine developed, and the virus’ spread start to slow sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we wash our hands, cough into our sleeves, and limit our exposure to people who could be affected, or infected.

Toilet paper shortages, and panic in homes

With all of this going on, it’s hard not to be concerned, even scared. When terrorists fire rockets into Israel, we can see the projectiles, and where they’re going. We have defense systems that can literally blow them out of the sky.

A virus is invisible to us, and unless a person is symptomatic, we can’t see our “enemy”. This unseen enemy, coupled with the coronavirus’ spread being categorised as a pandemic, is leading to panic.

We see this in empty toilet paper shelves as families fear they’ll be forced into two weeks of quarantine. Supermarkets are limiting access to 100 people at a time due to a prohibition on more than 100 people in a closed space, some are even doing temperature checks before allowing people in.

On the one hand, this is no longer “business as usual”. On the other, panic is hardly helpful.

Now and then I hear or see messages that our kids friends exchange in their WhatsApp groups. They’re telling each other that simply going outside will make them sick, as if COVID-19 is hiding in the bushes, ready to pounce.

Closeup photo of a toy monster with a gun
Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

When our education minister mistakenly said that kids in my daughter’s grade would still need to go to school (school is closed for kids in her grade and older), she burst into tears because she didn’t want to “get corona” by going to school.

This is despite our kids understanding that the virus is transmitted from person to person, and what precautions to take. They also understand that even if they become infected, it should be pretty mild for them.

Parents are also panicking (understandably).

Perspective, and sanity

Despite this being an unprecedented event in our lifetimes, I’m working to maintain a healthier perspective on the pandemic with our kids.

I remind our kids that as viruses go, this one isn’t deadly to all who contract it. I also remind them to wash their hands, cough or sneeze into their sleeves (or a tissue), and to be mindful of how close they are to people.

I also tell them that it’s ok to be scared. This pandemic is almost unprecedented in our lifetimes (we weren’t particularly affected by SARS or MERS in South Africa). At the same time, we understand how to reduce the likelihood of being infected.

Still, it’s scary when you see so much discussion about the coronavirus everywhere you look. The Media’s coverage often leaves you with the impression that the Zombie Apocalypse has finally arrived with virtually every image being somber looking people dressed in environmental protection suits.

Taking a step back, or several outdoors

I went for a walk the other day to pick up some items for home. It was a warm evening, and I was thinking about Israeli politics, and the pandemic. I caught myself, and decided to rather just walk mindfully in the warm evening, appreciating being in that space.

It worked, and I felt better. It didn’t fix these challenges we face, but it reminded me that sometimes all we can do is change our response to situations like these. That and these challenges will pass in time. Change happens.

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Events and Life Science and nature Wellbeing

Possible oral vaccine for COVID-19 in months

An Israeli research team has developed an oral vaccine for COVID-19 that seems to be heading for testing, and could be distributed in a matter of months.

According to The Times of Israel:

Chen Katz told The Times of Israel that the new oral vaccine for adults and children could “turn this disease into a very mild cold.” He said that for many people who are inoculated and then infected by COVID-19, “potentially it will not affect them at all.”

The rapid potential progress by the state-funded Migal Galilee Research Institute stems from the fact that the institute has been working for four years toward a vaccine that could be customized for various viruses, and has now adapted that work to focus on the coronavirus, he said.

Israeli-made oral vaccine for coronavirus on track, but testing will take months | The Times of Israel

What’s particularly exciting about this development is that the research team was able to adapt research they had been doing into a vaccine for a related virus for four years, into a potential vaccine for COVID-19.

[Dr Chen] Katz clarified that the 90-day time frame in the February 27 statement was until the product is ready for human testing, and said he still believes this is realistic. He said that skeptics should understand that his team is not working on new research, but rather customizing an existing innovation, meaning that a fast turnaround is realistic. He stated: “The important thing is that we were working on a vaccine, unrelated to this outbreak, and this is a great advantage.”


Update (2020-03-12): According to The Times of Israel, the Israeli Ministry of Defense has announced that the vaccine isn’t quite as advanced as it seemed yesterday:

“There has been no breakthrough in the efforts of the Institute for Biological Research to find a vaccine for the coronavirus or to develop a testing kit. The institute’s activities are being carried out on an orderly schedule and they will take time,” said the ministry.

Defense Ministry denies ‘breakthrough’ on vaccine for COVID-19 | The Times of Israel

Still, I’m encouraged, and optimistic. 😊

Categories
Events and Life Science and nature Wellbeing

Facts and rational advice about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19

There is a lot of hype about the current coronavirus pandemic, much of it coming from the media. In times like these, you really want to focus on facts and rational advice about the virus, and precautions you can take.

To slow the virus down, you need to act as if you already have it …

Why fighting the coronavirus depends on you

Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so I won’t offer advice other than urging you to look to science for your information, not rumours and media outlets looking for more clicks.

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

What are COVID-19 and the coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization:

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)

Useful resources

I’ve come across a number of helpful, and informative resources about this current virus:

World Health Organisation

The WHO has a useful FAQ that’s worth reading: Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19).

Israeli Ministry of Health information page

Here in Israel the Ministry of Health has advice for Israelis that can also be helpful for non-Israelis: The Novel Coronavirus, Ministry of Health.

Israel has adopted a pretty aggressive approach to the coronavirus in order to limit the spread of the virus in Israel.

Reddit megathread in r/askscience

Here’s a comprehensive thread in r/askscience:

Ars Technica guide to the coronavirus

Ars Technica has also published a pretty comprehensive guide to the coronavirus, and sensible precautions to take: Don’t Panic: The comprehensive Ars Technica guide to the coronavirus | Ars Technica.

nCoV2019.live

This site contains data scraped from multiple sources.

There’s a really interesting story about the young man who created, and maintains this site here.

SciShow

The SciShow channel on YouTube has an interesting video about whether this is a pandemic, and what that term means:

World Health Organisation’s Twitter feed

Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction

This is a podcast by CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr Sanjay Gupta about facts and inaccuracies about the coronavirus:

Coronavirus Tech Handbook

This is an interesting crowdsourcing initiative:

a crowdsourced resource for technologists building things related to the coronavirus outbreak

COVID-19 Dashboards

This site has a collection of data dashboards about COVID-19 that are updated hourly. You can also subscribe to a feed from the site, although it doesn’t seem to load for me.

What the curves mean for COVID-19

This is a pretty good video that explains why it’s important to flatten that infection curve.

Vox’s COVID-19 series

Vox has a pretty good series of videos about aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic that are worth watching. Here’s their playlist:


unsplash-logoFeatured image by CDC
Categories
Science and nature

Spectacular BECO cutoff during Starliner launch

NASA and Boeing launched the Starliner Commercial Crew space craft yesterday. One of the stages is BECO cutoff where the main booster detaches from the rocket, prior to the Centaur engine starting up, and pushing Starliner into orbit.

There’s an awesome view of the rocket from the ground that shows this spectacular effect at BECO cutoff:

You can see this in the NASA video around now:

Categories
People Photography Science and nature Travel and places

The mountains won’t remember you

I really enjoyed Peter McKinnon‘s video titled “The Mountains Won’t Remember Me” for a few reasons. To begin with, his photography is awe inspiring. The video was created from a shoot in Banff, Canada. It’s probably one of the most beautiful regions I’ve every seen, albeit through McKinnon’s video.

The mountains, the hills, and the rivers in this video are idyllic. If I could live anywhere in the world, I’m pretty sure I’d want to spend most of my time there.

I also appreciated the central premise of the video – the enduring nature of these mountains, and their utter indifference to our day to day struggle to stand out, and be noticed.

Featured image by Will Tarpey
Categories
Policy issues Science and nature

Join #TeamTrees, and plant more trees

We watched Mark Rober’s video promoting the #TeamTrees initiative to plant 20 million trees by the end of 2019, this morning:

I was fascinated to learn how trees capture carbon to build mass. I knew that trees absorbed carbon from the atmosphere, but didn’t quite realise how. He explained this as part of his pitch to contribute to the #TeamTrees initiative that a YouTube personality, MrBeast, started with this video:

A growing number of YouTube personalities have joined the call to contribute to the cause that, in turn, donates the money to the Arbor Day Foundation. Each dollar donated will result in a tree being planted.

This initiative won’t fix climate change, but it’s a positive step in the right direction, and sends a signal that this is important. We made a contribution this morning through the site. You can donate either through the #TeamTrees site, or on YouTube where you see donation buttons like this:

Closer to home for us is the Jewish National Fund that receives donations to plant trees in Israel, like these trees in the Ben Shemen forest just outside our city:

Trees in the Ben Shemen forest in central Israel

So, if you’d like to donate to initiatives that plant more trees, here are two options to start with:

More about this

If you’re interested in reading more about the challenges facing initiatives like this, The Verge has a pretty good article that you may want to read: “Planting trees to take on climate change isn’t as easy as YouTubers might think“. While there are certainly important considerations to bear in mind, this is still a worthy project to back.

Tackling climate change is a multi-faceted, long-term process. This is one step, and a way to make a contribution to our shared future on this planet.

Cover image by Daiga Ellaby
Categories
Events and Life Science and nature

Generational differences in our Space Age

First All Women Spacewalk At The ISS

NASA streamed a milestone in Human spaceflight yesterday: an all women spacewalk at the International Space Station. Although it wasn’t exactly a thrilling ride (I’m pretty sure that when it comes to working in Earth orbit, “thrilling” isn’t what you want), it was still momentous in that both astronauts doing the spacewalk were women.

iss061e006501 (Oct. 15, 2019) --- NASA astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch are inside the Quest airlock preparing the U.S. spacesuits and tools they will use on their first spacewalk together. The Expedition 61 flight engineers are holding the pistol grip tools they will use to swap out a failed power controller, also known as a battery charge-discharge unit, that regulates the charge to batteries that collect and distribute power to the International Space Station.
Upcoming spacewalking duo Jessica Meir and Christina Koch, courtesy of NASA on Flickr

Generational gap

Watching the stream on TV left me with the sense that how we and our kids view these events is very much a generational thing:

Parents who grew up with rare televised Space stuff: “Hey kids, check out these astronauts working in space, right now! Wow! And this time they’re all women, wow!”

Kids who grew up with on demand streams of constant Space stuff: “Oh, ok … 🙄” <back to their gaming device>

Parents: 😲


About the spacewalk

If you’re interested in the mission (and likely older than 20-something), take a look at the NASA blog post about the mission:

Two NASA astronauts switched their spacesuits to battery power this morning at 7:38 a.m. EDT. Expedition 61 Flight Engineers Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are venturing out into the vacuum of space to replace a failed power controller, also known as a battery charge-discharge unit (BCDU). The BCDU regulates the charge to the batteries that collect and distribute solar power to the orbiting lab’s systems.

Female Duo Ventures Outside Station for Historic Spacewalk – Space Station

The video stream ran to almost eight hours, but it’s definitely watching, at least in part (this is the sort of video you may just have on in the background):

Categories
Devices Science and nature

A quantum computer did something a classical computer just can’t do

Quantum computing still seems to be at a pretty early stage. At the same time, it looks like it has the potential to do truly remarkable things. In at least one case, it did something a classical computer just can’t feasibly do:

But that seriously understates what’s going on here. Every calculation that’s done on a quantum computer will end up being a measurement of a quantum system. And in this case, there is simply no way to get that probability distribution using a classical computer. With this system, we can get it in under 10 minutes, and most of that time is spent in processing that doesn’t involve the qubits. As the researchers put it, “To our knowledge, this experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.”

Ars Technica

For more, read the full article “Paper leaks showing a quantum computer doing something a supercomputer can’t | Ars Technica“.

Image credit: DWave 128 chip by DWave, licensed CC BY 3.0