Narnia, Lincoln and Tevis super cheap

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The chronicles of Narnia, to be read in whatever order you feel is correct (but there is really only One True Order), are now for a short time available for $1.99 each in Kindle form. This probably only applies to US buyers, but I don’t know that for a fact.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia Book 2 BUT REALLY BOOK 1)

The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia Book 1 BUT REALLY BOOK 2)

The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia Book 3)

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia Book 4)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia Book 5)

The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia Book 6)

In addition to this, a very special and engaging biography of LBJ: Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

And this, which I’ve not read, but thought you might like to know is cheap:

The Man Who Fell to Earth


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How To Think About Immunity to COVID-19

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This is what immunity is not: You are an organism walking down the street, and you are immune to the rare virus squirrelpox. A squirrelpox virus is walking on the same sidewalk towards you. It sees you, and goes, “that one’s immune to me,” and quickly crosses the street, going nowhere near you. Beause you are immune.

This is what immunity often is: You have built up an immunity to a common cold virus. Somebody infected with that virus sneezes on you and now that virus is in you. It begins to reproduce and do its thing, and you develop cold symptoms. However, your adaptive immune system has seen this virus before, so it quickly mounts a defense, so even though you do get a cold, you fight it off quickly and in five days you feel fine.

Lots of times, though, immunity works like this: You have an immunity to a certain disease. Perhaps you had that disease earlier in your life and your adaptive immune system developed a strategy to attack this pathogen next time it comes around. Perhaps you got a vaccine that prompted your adaptive immune system to develop a strategy to attack this pathogen next time it comes around. The virus goes in you — the virus does in fact infect you, it does not “cross the street” to avoid you. But your body is so ready for it that the counter attack is fast and effective, and before you can either develop symptoms or start passing the disease on to someone else, your body’s immune system has literally killed it.

An acquired or induced immunity can be called “100%” and it can be “life long” but it is never able to actually keep the disease out, and it is likely that few, if any, adaptive immune system build-ups last for the entire life of a person who lives a long time. Some immunity does not stop you from getting sick but does cause you to get better faster, and some immunity doesn’t last that long.

Much of the misunderstanding about immunity comes from the fact that our understanding of immunity comes from two distinct diseases: Polio and influenza. Polio vaccine is famous because its invention and deployment was historic and significant. Polio vaccine confers a strong immunity, one that is seen as life long and complete. Even this is not so simple, but if you believe what I just said about polio vaccination and immunity you would be in the ballpark. Influenza immunity is often discussed because it is at the center of the anti-vax debate, everyone gets the flu now and then (or so it seems) and the so-called “flu vaccine” is supposedly only “60% effective” or thereabouts, and thus, being imperfect, is the focus of rage on the internet as though it was a candidate for office.

If polio is an outlaw gunslinger in the old west, and the polio vaccine is Marshal Dillon, then influenza is all the underground crime organizations imagined in fiction and the flu vaccine is a competent but underfunded police agency.

When we say that the influenza vaccine is 50% effective in a give year in the US, as an example, what that can mean is that there are five kinds of flu circulating at various proportions in the population, and there are three kinds of vaccine in the shot you get; maybe two of those vaccines are nearly 100% effective in immunizing a person against two of the circulating influenza viruses, one of the viruses is untouched by the vaccine but doesn’t get you that sick, and one of the vaccines is for a virus that never really showed up, and the leftover viruses are the ones doing most of the damage. Or something along those lines. The outcome is, across the population, that the average vaccinated person in the population under consideration would have their chance of getting the flu if exposed is half what it would have been were they not vaccinated. So, 50% effective that year. Some other year these parameters may be very different, and the “vaccine” (a mix of different vaccines in one shot) is different. And, each vaccine may itself have a higher or lower level of effectiveness.

And that is the simple version of the story.

Immunity is not a folk concept. It is a medical concept. The fact that many people believe that immunity is the inability of a disease to affect a person, which is 100% wrong in every way, is not relevant to anything but people’s misunderstanding of the concept.

When we hear that there is a certain possible reinfection rate of COVID-19 in China or Japan, this does not mean that people don’t get immunity once they have the disease, or that COVID-19 has special powers. One health expert misstated that since we don’t know for sure what acquired immunity to COVID-19 looks like, we can’t assume that it is long term. That is balderdash. It is very likely long term (if “long” is years) because that is what normally happens. This statement is like looking at the first new car off the line of a new make and model and saying, “since we’ve never actually seen one of the drive, we have to assume there is a good chance none of these cars will work.” There may be a few recalls in the future of this make and model car, but it will work.

We can assume normalcy, we can assume biology to do what biology does. Bill O’Reilly does not know how tides work, but someone else does. Normally, adaptive immunity occurs, and lasts for a good time. Normally, immunity to certain kinds of viruses can be less than 100%, so there is some getting sick, and normally, a subset of people don’t develop much of an immunity because their own immune system simply fails at that task. COVID-19 will ultimately be found to match normal biological expectations, though we don’t know the details yet, and we won’t for some time. The fact that normal biological expectations do not form the basis of folk thinking about this disease, or pathogens and immunity in general, does not make Covid-19 a preternatural force, or an unknowable thing.

Still, remain hiding in your house until the all clear.

There is another level of thinking about immunity that I won’t go into detail about right now, but I’ll mention. We often, rightly, think of immunity at the population level, even though it does, truly, work at the individual and molecular level. Assume a particular vaccine, or exposure, typically provides ~100%) immunity in individuals. If 10% of the population have that immunity at the start, the disease will act like nobody is immune, as far as we’d be able to see. Often, natural (genetic?) immunity at low levels exist in a population, and can only be discovered by intensive research over a long time. If, on the other hand, 90% of the people in a population are ~100% immune, the disease may be so unable to get a foothold that it is like it isn’t there. The point is, the appearance of a diseases behavior seems to range from 0% (there ain’t none) to 100% (it’s everywhere!) on the surface, but this outcome is a function of a much smaller range of actual immunity values, like the 10-90% just noted, or more likely, closer to 0-70%. Putting this another way, a population gets very close to “immune” at the population level as the proportion of individuals who can’t get and pass on the pathogen rises over about half. This is called herd immunity. It will take several cycles of COVID-19 infection to achieve natural herd immunity, most likely, unless a vaccine is found. But once that happens, the disease is likely to stay around at low levels then occasionally come back and be menacing, but not as bad as it is now, on occasion.

So, let’s get that vaccine going!


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The Complete Scientific Guide to COVID-19

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… will be written in about three years from now. Meanwhile …

We labor under a number of falsehoods about how science works. Even scientists do. There are considerable differences among the panoply of scientific disciplines, and these are important enough that I would never trust the practitioners of one scientific discipline to, say, review research procedures or grant proposals from another discipline, by default.

These differences are even more significant outside of science itself. A common example is this one. A lay person evaluating peer reviewed research claims that a certain scientific conclusion can not be supported because there have been no double blind studies. That person may be unaware of the fact that almost no science uses double blind studies. This is a methodology used only in some areas of research. A study of earthquake hazards, genetic phylogeny of chickadees, or how long a particular virus lingers on a surface will not have a double blind methodology.

In some fields of study, a single idea will often be represented by a single major publication (sometimes a book) and will not be seen elsewhere unless it is being criticized. This is not common in the true sciences, per se, but this does happen in the peer reviewed literature. In other fields of study, a single idea may be addressed in hundreds of peer reviewed papers. In some fields of study, if a published peer reviewed paper presents a conclusion that is thought to be wrong, because of some flaw, the scholars in that field are expected to learn of this problem and thereafter avoid citing that paper. In other fields, when this happens, the paper is withdrawn from the literature after the invocation of complex rituals that might or might not involve the sounding of trumpets.

There seems to be two falsehoods affecting some of our thinking about COVID-19. One is the idea that a “study” or “publication” about some detail of the disease tells us something that we can take as fact. Yes, Covid-19 stays on a certain kind of surface for N days, therefore we can’t do X! That sort of thing. However, this research is, firstly, not peer reviewed. There may very well be no peer reviewed papers on COVID-19 at this time. This Pandemic has lasted less time that the typical peer review process takes. Maybe there are a few out there, but mostly, we are dealing with non-reviewed work, or work in review. This is good work, and important work, but it is more like a set of “emergency results” that address specific pressing questions in a provisional way.

It has been important to decide which of a small number of broad categories COVID-19 can be placed in, and the work on persistence on various surfaces has provided that rough and ready guide. There are pathogens that can find their way out of an exam room, go 20 feet down the hall, and infect a person sitting in a different exam room. There are pathogens that are so unlikely to infect another person that you practically have to lick the inside of their mouth five times to catch the disease. COVID-19 is in the in between category, where it sheds into the air and hangs around on surfaces for long enough that surfaces are found to have the virus on them. Is COVID-19 more or less surface-contaminating than, say, norovirus? Rotavirus? Nobody knows, because the research to determine that, and the publication array that would be necessary to lead to policy and recommendations about that, will take time. Someday there will be a study that looks at how much of the virus persists for how long on various surfaces, integrated with the other important question of how can the virus on a given surface actually infect a human, in order to allow for a realistic and useful statement about how to go about keeping a home, and ICU, an examining room, or a school relatively safe. COVID-19 has the potential to be the most studied pathogen in recent history, but not today.

So, that is the first fallacy: that a handful of quick and dirty, rough and ready, studies designed to get a clue about this disease constitute a well tempered and developed peer reviewed literature from which we can glean an accurate characterization of most o fhte important details of this disease. Nope.

One cost of this fallacy is the second fallacy, that we can evaluate models of either COVID-19’s behavior, or the efficacy of our reaction to it, based on a solid knowledge of the disease. That is backwards. We will eventually be able to evaluate ideas like “curve flattening” by understanding a lot about COVID-19, but that will happen after we have actually seen what various curve flattening efforts have done. A recent proposal that certain areas of the world may have seen a prior passage of COVID-19, causing some local immunity. One well meaning expert (not an actual expert) on social media responded that given the way COVID-19 operates, this is simply impossible. But that is backwards. The way we will eventually be able to describe how COVID-19 actually works is by observing it, measuring it, developing good explanations for what we see, strengthening and tempering those explanations by further hypothesis testing, replication, critique in the formal peer review process as well as the less formal but sometimes more important conversations at the conference-bar setting, and time. Time to just think. Then, we will be able to say things like “X is pretty much impossible because this is how COVID-19 works.” Now, we have an expansive void where some good theory and data will eventually reside, and the job of the scientists focused on this problem is to carefully and thoughtfully fill that void with what they come to know. To get a sense of how this works, read up on the literature that came out of the 2013 Ebola epidemic. Many key known things about the pathogen and its effects were not nailed down until months or years after the last patient was identified. These things take time.

I’m not an epidemiologist, but I play one in the classroom. Amanda and I teach a class on the immune system and epidemiology. Had I not gone into palaeoanthropology, I might have gone into this field. Excellent books on the topic include The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett (not current but mind-changing and foundational, includes some important forgotten history), Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (Open Yale Courses) by Frank Snowden, and for a good textbook, Gordis Epidemiology.


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US Hummingbird Migration

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People in central or northern United States (excepting the Pacific Coast) need to get their hummingbird feeders ready, but don’t put them out until the birds are about to arrive! One of the more common mistakes people make with hummingbird feeders is putting them out too late. That’s like opening your lunch restaurant at 1:00PM. If you had a lunch restaurant that you could open, which you don’t. Another mistake is putting the feeder out, with the “nectar” in it, too early so the sugary liquid goes bad. That’s like getting the salad bar in your impossible lunch restaurant all ready the day before. Fake nectar doesn’t wilt, but it does go bad.

In order to make this work, you can use the Hummingbird Central Spring Migration map. Click here to visit it. This is what it looks like this morning:

hummingbird migration map, showing hummingbirds just staring to fly north of the southern coasts

Most people will not need a A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America, because there are not a lot of different species. But if you do, the Peterson guide is probably the best.


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COVID-19: Don’t Just Flatten The Curve, but also, do this….

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Is Washington State leveling off?

Are mainly Republican states seeing the greatest increases in COVID-19 infections (outside of New York)?

Is the NOLA effect an explainer of the the distribution of COVID-19 outbreaks?

What is the difference between flattening the curve and pushing the curve, and why is the latter what we need to be doing?

These and other questions….

Washington State is especially interesting because until New York muscled it out of the way, it was a US epicenter of Covid-19 infection. Over the last several days, the percentage increase in cases in Washington look like this:

16
11
18
11
11
11
4

Before getting too excited about that “4” we must digress to examine the “ever trust the last datum rule” in epidemiology. If you have been following the progress of COVID-19, you’ll notice that on many day — most days, really — the current situation always looks a bit rosy because the exponential rise in new cases is less for the most recent reading than for the previous readings. This is almost always an artifact of the nature of the data. Ignore the last day.

Having said that, it remains true that over the last several days the state of Washington’s new case number has not gone up as a percent of total cases. Washington is still in trouble, but measures being taken there may be helping.

It has been suggested that Republcian run states are going to have disproportionately more trouble from COVID-19 than Blue states, because Democrats pay attention to science and Republicans spend their days punching hippies and making liberals cry. This characterization of Democrats vs. Republicans is pretty much unassailable, but the effect on COVID-19 right now is a bit more complicated. Population size and density and other factors probably matter more, and it is possible that all the different virus related factors come together in the New York City Metropolitan area (which, to the surprise of Federal health authorities, includes about 10-12 counties, not four as they have been saying) to make that a hot zone no matter what.

Otherwise, the data, as shown in the following graphic which has a smudge on each state with the most rapid recent increase in COVID-19 infection, speak for themselves.

Sometimes, when data speaks for itself, it mumbles.

Not shown on that graphic because things are happening too quickly is the sudden and dramatic increase in cases, and deaths, in Louisiana. It thought that COVID-19 was active in that state during Mardi Gras. Contagious carnivalians were literally parading around on floats throwing the virus (on beads and such) to innocent revelers. There might have been some other forms of exposure. Right now, this morning, it appears that Louisiana has the second highest infection rate in the US, second only to New York and Washington, but possibly rising at a meteoric rate soon so surpass everyone.

And, of course, all those people who went home after Mardi Gras took it with them. I want to see travel to and from NOLA and other carnival sites mapped against infection outbreaks. Globally; Mardi Gras is only one carnival of many.

Flattening the curve is a nice idea, but there are two problems with it. First, it is probably very difficult to do unless cases are truly isolated prior to multiple infections. The idea of flattening the curve is to reduce R-naught, the number of people, on average, that are infected per infected person. Social distancing can help, but the only way to make a huge difference is to identify ill individuals very early in the course of their infection, and take them totally away from society. Social distancing does not do that enough. One can somewhat attenuate the curve, but mere social distancing is not going to do what happened in South Korea, Singapore, and China.

Moving the curve is somewhat difference. This involves recognizing that a spike will happen (though maybe a lower one than otherwise), but one moves the spike about two to three weeks ahead in time. Why? Because a given region probably has about 1/10th (or maybe in better scenarios, 1/5th) of the ICU beds needed to save most lives of the critically ill.

Flattening the curve is, explicitly, making the maximum infection rate low enough to duck under the bare of ICU bed number. Like this:

If the curve flattens a bit but fails at this objective, it was not flattening the curve, but rather, failing and losing to the virus. Like this:

Pushing the curve to later, which would probably reduce the amplitude of the peak but mostly result in the same huge increase in number of cases, allows the build up of ICU bed number. Like this:

That is what we are doing in Minnesota. We expect thousands of people to require ICU beds, no matter what happens. We are partly locked down, and increasing the lockdown on Friday. We are building new ICU facilities, apparently, at a sufficient rate to handle the eventual need.

Communities that are just flattening the curve, and that expect it to work, may run into trouble if they are not building out infrastructure now. We can argue about what the best approach is, but trying different methods in different states or regions is a hell of a way to test a hypothesis.

I learned yesterday that about 15% of the ventilators used in the US are made in Minnesota. We have about 2% of the population. So we’re good.


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COVID-19 Conversation: Updates and meanderings

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Updates

Spain has had a major surge in Covid-19 numbers. India has more people locked down right now than any other country. Trump intends to “open up” the economy by Easter. Fortunately he is powerless to do so. The best available information suggests that Covid-19 is not mutating much, suggesting that once a vaccine is developed, it can work widely and be more effective.

Things are bad in Iran. According to Arash Karami, “Iran’s confirmed corona cases is now 27,017 with 2,077 deaths. In the last 24 hours there have been 2,206 new cases and 143 deaths. In total 43 doctors and nurses have died from corona.”

Yesterday, March 24, is the day Trump told us we would have zero cases of Covid-19 in the US. The actual number was 53,478.

I hear chest freezers are flying off the shelves.

Covid-19 is Partisan in the US

Example of the effects of social distancing on a symptomatic indicator of Covid-19, suggesting it is working well at least in some place.
The default behavior of the Covid-19 virus has almost the same pattern of spread and increase everywhere — exponential increase with a fairly high exponent, for a virus.

How different societies or regions attempt to “flatten the curve” seems to result in very different specific outcomes, but in several areas there has been real success.

It is probably true in the US that the federal response has been pretty much perfect, from the point of view of the Virus. Trump is treating Covid-19 much like he treats Putin. “What can I do for you, sir?” But fortunately, locally, it does not work that way.

Broadly speaking (with too few exceptions) Republican executives are literally supporting the virus in this manner. They want it to spike. Democratic executives are ordering serious responses and it is working to varying degrees. In states with Republican governors, Democratic (usually) mayors are responding despite what the Governors are saying, and that is working locally.

So, yes, Covid-19 response is partisan, and one of the parties is acting like a Death Panel determining that the aged, infirmed, and the less privileged be sacrificed for the benefit of the economy. The other party is trying to help. Republicans vs. Democrats.

The response in Congress is also partisan, but the Republican response is so awful that Democrats are winning out of sheer shame on Republicans. Plus at the moment, more Republcian Senators are down with the virus than are Democrats, so that seems to shift the balance of power.

In my own neighborhood, I’ve seen the Deplorable Housewives of Minnesota (yes, that is a thing) congregating in groups at the grocery store and loudly yammering about Nancy Pelosi and how she hates America, spreading viruses onto each other as they wander like a pack of hapless Gollumoids through the produce section.

(In the past the Senate Republican leadership has always been against remote voting. Now that it is in McConnell’s interest to have remote voting, expect his situational ethics to resituate.)

Bad News

The mother of NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns is very ill with Covid-19, as of this writing. Amy Klobuchar’s husband is in the hospital on O2 and quite ill. Minnesota’s Lt. Governor’s brother has died of complications of Covid-19. A minor youth in Los Angeles has died. Prince Charles has been diagnosed positive. There is a long list of famous people from Jackson Brown to Natalie Horner to Prince Albert II diagnosed. Terrence McNally dies of Covid-19. These folks happen to be famous, and the tends of thousands of non-famous victims do not exist on a lower plane. But having famous names across the spectrum of how people know them and what people think of them is, perhaps, to this pandemic what a set of really bad hurricanes is to climate change, if you get my drift.

Watching an interview with a former official from the Louisiana Health Department last night, we got two reminders. One is that Mardi Gras happened at just the right time and place to be a major incubator of the disease, and probably accounts for a lot of sick people. The number of cases in NOLA has skyrocketed. The other reminder: Official Atlantic Hurricane season starts June 1st, but actual hurricanes or tropical storms can show up in May. Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard hospitals and communities night have an interesting year.

Here is an interesting history of the N95 mask. An outtake:

In the fall of 1910, a plague broke out across Manchuria… “It’s apocalyptic. … It kills 100% of those infected, no one survives… within 24 to 48 hours of the first symptoms,” …

What followed was a scientific arms race, to deduce what was causing the plague and stop it. “Both Russia and China want to prove themselves worthy and scientific enough, because that would lead to a claim of sovereignty,” …

The Chinese Imperial Court brought in a doctor named Lien-teh Wu to head its efforts. … after conducting an autopsy on one of the victims, Wu determined that the plague was not spread by fleas, as many suspected, but through the air.

Expanding upon the surgery masks he’d seen in the West, Wu developed a heartier mask from gauze and cotton, which wrapped securely around one’s face and added several layers of cloth to filter inhalations. His invention was a breakthrough, but some doctors still doubted its efficacy.

“There’s a famous incident. He’s confronted by a famous old hand in the region, a French doctor [Gérald Mesny] . . . and Wu explains … his theory that plague is pneumonic and airborne,…and the French guy humiliates him . . . and in very racist terms says, ‘What can we expect from a Chinaman?’ And to prove this point, [Mesny] goes and attends the sick in a plague hospital without wearing Wu’s mask, and he dies in two days with plague.”

On Twitter


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Dune, Other Worlds, Cheap

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For kindle, Dune, cheap, at least for American customers.

Meanwhile, of possible interest: Other Worlds Than These by John Joseph Adams.

We can all imagine such “other worlds”–be they worlds just slightly different than our own or worlds full of magic and wonder–but it is only in fiction that we can travel to them. From The Wizard of Oz to The Dark Tower, from Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass to C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, there is a rich tradition of this kind of fiction, but never before have the best parallel world stories and portal fantasies been collected in a single volume–until now.

It is an anthology of some kind, I put it here because it looks interesting, but I’ve not read it. Have you?


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One way schools could help with the Covid-19 response

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Most schools have science classes. Among the science classes there are some that occasionally use nitrile or latex gloves (“surgical gloves”). While it may be perennial true that science classes are low on gloves, there is a good chance that there are a few unopened boxes in the cabinet somewhere.

Schools will not be using these gloves for the rest of the school year, because there is not going to be in class instruction for the rest of the school year.

So, figure out how to get these gloves to an appropriate medical facility.

If you are not a teacher you may not understand this part: The science teachers may have had to promise their first born to even get these gloves, and other important scientific equipment, in the first place. They may be unwilling to go up against the bursars to give these gloves up now and fight later. Indeed, it would be technically illegal for them to unilaterally root through the cabinets and gather these gloves together.

The word has to come from the top. Call your local school’s principals or superintendents. Or email them. Make the suggestion. They’ll make a call or send out an email and it will happen.

I mentioned above “unopened boxes.” I assume previously opened boxes are less of interest to medial facilities, but I might have that wrong. Anybody know?

Anyway, try it, it may help.


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Ancient Chinese Historians and the White House Press Corps

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This is a story that I learned from a well respected scholar of Chinese history and archaeology, K.C. Chang. He was, briefly, my graduate advisor. I am not a scholar of Chinese anything, and I can’t remember if this story had a textual source, but I have a vague feeling it was in a book introduction or review article written by Chang, and the subject matter was Chinese historiography. Historiography is the study of historical writing, in other words, the study of methods in history. When one studies Chinese historiography, one is often looking at very ancient texts, written by ancient Chinese historians. Apparently, “historian” was a job, not necessarily that different from “scribe” in some other ancient contexts, and during some times and in some places, the Chinese historian sat in the court of the Emperor.

Every now and then, I look for the original story, or some version of it, but I can never find it. It is a story with a lesson so important that it should be retold many times. I do not attest to its veracity, but I will stand by its meaning. Lacking a source to refer to, I hereby make up, er, reconstruct, a version of it so I can put it here in this blog post and refer to it later.

The story goes like this.

An Emperor was sitting court, and attended to by one historian and the historian’s assistants, and others. A man had been accused of a crime, and the Emperor was to decide his fate. Those arguing on behalf of the man clearly demonstrated that he had not committed the crime, and should be let go, but the Emperor had taken a dislike to this man, and ordered his immediate beheading. And so, he was beheaded.

The historian recorded this event, and included in the record, made right then and there, a phrase such as “The Emperor had the man wrongly beheaded.”

Made aware of this, the Emperor insisted that the historian, right then and there, “correct” the record to indicate that the Emperor was just in his decision. The historian pointed out that this was wrong, and he could not change the record.

The Emperor ordered the historian beheaded, and so he was, right then and there.

The first assistant historian then took over the job of historian, and recorded, “The Emperor had the man wrongly beheaded. Then, on seeing that the Historian recorded this accurately had that Historian beheaded.”

Becoming aware of this entry to the historical record, the Emperor insisted that the new historian “correct” the record to show that the Emperor was just. That historian refused, and under the order of the Emperor, was promptly beheaded.

The next assistant historian then took over, and recorded that the Emperor had wrongly ordered the beheading of a citizen, then, wrongly ordered the beheading of the historian that recorded that fact, then ordered the beheading of the historian that recorded that fact. This historian fully understood that he would now be beheaded as well.

But he was not. The Emperor saw that his own reputation was becoming more and more severely damaged, and he understood that a line of historians would form at his court to record this, because this was the role of historians at this time and place. The Emperor relented, went on with other business, and the third historian lived.

And this is why we know today of what that Emperor did.


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Automate The Boring Stuff with Python Coding

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If everyone in the world understood and had a working command of regular expressions, everything would run smoothly. Especially if all of our interfaces to text allowed for their use. This has been pointed out. And, Automate the Boring Stuff with Python, 2nd Edition: Practical Programming for Total Beginners has a whole chapter on this.

What is a regular expression? We can talk about that in detail some other time. Briefly, it is a string of symbols that is designed to match a specified set of symbols, or a range of a set of symbols, in a larger body or stream of text. For example, if you pass a stream of information (say, all your emails) through a filter with the regular expression:

‘\d\d\d-\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d’

then any part of that stream of information that looks like a phone number (not using parens), such as 636-555-3226, will be isolated.

Automate the Boring Stuff with Python is a book that teaches beginning Python computer Augean programming focusing on examples from day to day life, including but well beyond REs.

The new edition includes pattern matching with regular expressions, input validation, reading and writing files, organizing files, web scraping, manipulating Excel spreadsheets and Google Sheets, PDF and Word documents, CSV and JSON files, email, images, and automating your keyboard and mouse.

The great benefit of a book like this is that you learn Python (the first part of the book gives you all you need to know to program in Python) in the context of things you actually want to do with Python. If you are interested in learning Python, or coding in general, this can be your first book.

The book is well done, as all in this series are, and fun. There are strong on line resources including all the code, and that information is regularly updated. Generally, “No Starch” press books are great, and this is one of those!

I would like to have seen at least sidebars on manipulating things using Libreoffice software, but note that the book focuses on documents, and OpenSource software does work with normal Excel and Word documents, so it is there.

The second edition adds a new chapter on input validation. The Gmail and Google Sheets sections, and the information on CSV files is also new. I plan on using the software tips and tricks to develop my own highly specialized and targeted search software. I’m often looking for files that have specific extensions, and certain kinds of content, in certain locations. Just the ability to hard-wire where to search for files will save me a lot of time and trouble.

Author Al Sweigart is a professional software developer who teaches programming to kids and adults, and who is author of Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python, Cracking Codes with Python, and Coding with Minecraft, all of which are quite nice. We need a new edition of Coding with Minecraft, by the way, that looks at a wider range of coding options and keeps up with the major advances in that software environment! So, get to work, Al!


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Republicans and their aversion to the truth, and their attack on science

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Maybe we will now see the end of the Republican war on science. Indeed, we should see people in the streets with their torches afire and their pitchforks a-sharpened. Because of this sort of crap:

source

Also, Republicans are racists. Like this:

“As long as I’m president” Hmm… we can fix that.


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Covid-19 Bored At Home: Try Board Games

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The kids are home from school because the schools have been closed. The adults are home from work because work has been closed. You’ve done all the binge shopping you can afford, and now you are sitting at home with your stash of toilet paper and children’s medicine (oh, and shame on you for that), wondering what to do with yourself other than binging on Netflix and playing Minecraft for hours on end.

You might consider board games to fight the boredom.

We have tried out several board games recently. Some of these were suggested by Jim, Jan, Julia, and Rachel (you’all can identify yourselves in the comments if you like). They are among the top games out there. I knew they were good, but when I googled “best board games” and all of them showed up on the various lists, I figured, well, there you go. These are good games.

Some are new, some are classic. Most interestingly, some are not games in which a particular player wins, but rather, all the people playing either win or lose.

Choose carefully. To get all these games is going to put you out a couple of hundred bucks. Also, some of the games have multiple version and add in packs.

Hyped UP Tic-Tac-Toe

One of the simplest games ever invented is Tic-Tac-Toe. You can play that, oh, five or six times before getting bored out of your mind! But Otrio is to Tick-Tack-Toe what a proton is to organic chemistry.

It is played like tic-tac-toe but instead of writing into a space an X or an O, you just put the O. No Xs. But the O’s come in three sizes, and nest, and there are multiple ways to win. The total number of possible moves is very large. This game is a blast, and you will play it several times as you start to get a sense of strategy.

Ticket to Ride is a classic game that we only recently discovered. There are many versions. When we got this game a while back, we picked the Ticket to Ride – Rails & Sails version. The idea is that players build routes, including train and boat segments, between cities. When the game ends, the player with the mostest and bestest routes win (it is a bit complicated). The various versions of this game have a variety of differences, but mainly, the map you play on varies. This version has a world map on one side of the board, and a map of the Great Lakes on the other side.

This is a game that is fairly simple to play if all the players are novices, but that gets much more complicated as players gain experience and figure out that certain somewhat more complex strategies are required to win.

Stratego is one of my favorite games from my youth. Each player has a number of tiles, representing a range of soldiers, some bombs, a spy, and a flag. You set them up in a way in which you can see how your pieces are arranged, but your opponent only sees the blank side of your pieces. You then attack each other. Lower numbered pieces take higher numbered pieces, but any piece that hits a bomb is dead, except an 8 (the bomb defuser). The Spy can take a Marshal (the highest value piece) but can be taken by any other piece. So, there is room for a great deal of strategy in Stratego. Which is probably why they call it that.

While on the subject of 19th century rooted war games, consider Risk. It is a classic you certainly know about.

Codenames involves all the players against the board. The concept is simple yet diabolical. Two players face off over a set of 25 words. Each player says a word (not among the 25) and a number. The other player then chooses which of the 25 is conceptually linked to that codename. The number supplied with the codename tells the recipient of the clue how many words are expected to match. So, for example, if among the 25 words on the table we have dog, cat, bird, and stroke, I might say “pet, 4.”

That sounds pretty simple, but if the recipient of the clue guesses certain answers, the game ends instantly and you all lose. There are other complexities as well.

There are different versions of this game, mainly depending on how many players you normally would have.

There is also a Harry Potter version. This one is difficult unless all the players are fully briefed on the Harry Potter mythos. Otherwise it becomes an awkward version of a Harry Potter trivia game and, essentially, can’t be played. Our house rule when playing this version is: You can ask Google to define or describe a particular item (ie, “OK Google, what is a Norwegian Ridgeback?”).

Arboretum is a pretty new game that uses cards. The cards have trees on them. Using a rummy-esque pattern of choice and discard, you lay down the tree cards in a pattern that will form a path through a hypothetical arboretum. A set of simple rules define what makes a valid path. At the end of play, everyone declares what paths they have. There are moves one can make that invalidate the best laid path of another player. The scoring turns out to be complicated, and this is when new players realize that the strategy is deep, despite the simple surface appearance of the game.

Naturally, no panoply of board games in this day and age would be complete without Pandemic. We just got turned on to this one. It is one of those games in which all the players work together to beat the board and, sadly, usually don’t. But you do have fun all dying in a pandemic, so that’s good.

I have a suggestion for a house rule for this game, which you will appreciate once you play. Each player is randomly assigned a “role.” The role is a particular set of abilities, like a researcher who can cure a disease, or a field worker who can stop a disease, etc. My suggestion is to choose, as a group, which role to assign to each player, instead of having random chance decide which roles are even being used. Once you play the game you’ll see how this can add to the fun, but at the same time, not make it ridiculously easy to win. You still won’t win. You will still all die in the Pandemic.

Happy boardgaming!


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Greenland Ice Melt On Track to be Worst Case Scenario

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Ice has been melting from Greenland and Antarctdica’s glaciers at a rate six times greater than 20 or 30 years ago. According to NASA, “If the current melting trend continues, the regions will be on track to match the “worst-case” scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of an extra 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) of sea level rise by 2100.”

Keep in mind two things, when you read this 6.7 inch statistic. 1) Historically, the most hand-wringing, pearl clutching ice melt experts underestimate the rate of melting. That trend has been consistent for two decades. 2) When talking about both Greenland and Antarctica, if Greenland is a big deal, but if Greenland is big, Antarctica is Humongous. Greenland experiences, melty summers and snowy winters, so there is a regular flux of ice mass, with the trend being net loss over time in recent years. Antarctica experiences below freezing temperatures even in the summer over most of its ice mass. Well, until recently. Recently, there have been daytime temperatures sufficient to melt the surface.

In all, the Greenland Ice Sheet has enough water to raise global sea levels by 7.4 meters, if it all melted. From the article in nature:

Over recent decades, ice losses from Greenland have made a substantial contribution to global sea-level rise, and model projections suggest that this imbalance will continue in a warming climate… [Recent research has shown a] five fold increase in the rate of ice loss from Greenland overall, rising from 51 ± 65 Gt yr?1 in the early 1990s to 263 ± 30 Gt yr?1 between 2005 and 2010. … There was, however, a marked reduction in ice loss between 2013 and 2018, as a consequence of cooler atmospheric conditions and increased precipitation. Although the broad pattern of change across Greenland is one of ice loss, there is considerable variability; for example, during the 2000s just four glaciers were responsible for half of the total ice loss due to increased discharge, whereas many others contribute today. Moreover, some neighbouring ice streams have been observed to speed up over this period while others slowed down, suggesting diverse reasons for the changes that have taken place—including their geometrical configuration and basal conditions, as well as the forcing they have experienced. In this study we combine satellite altimetry, gravimetry and ice velocity measurements to produce a reconciled estimate of the Greenland Ice Sheet mass balance between 1992 and 2018, we evaluate the impact of changes in SMB and uncertainty in glacial isostatic adjustment and we partition the ice sheet mass loss into signals associated with surface mass balance and ice dynamics. In doing so, we extend a previous assessment to include more satellite and ancillary data and to cover the period since 2012.

The result of this melting has been .7 inches of sea level rise, or a third of all sea level rise, during the study period.

From Real Climate, where you will see an excellent discussion of sea level rise: Past and future sea-level rise. For the past, proxy data are shown in light purple and tide gauge data in blue. For the future, the IPCC projections for very high emissions (red, RCP8.5 scenario) and very low emissions (blue, RCP2.6 scenario) are shown. Source: IPCC AR5 Fig. 13.27.
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/10/sea-level-in-the-5th-ipcc-report/comment-page-3/

Previusly, the IPCC estimated that global sea levels would rise about 28 inches by 2100. That is enough to remove Cape Hatteras and possibly require New York City to build dikes or move to avoid flooding in much of its area. But, the IPCC gave a range of possible scenarios, and this study suggests that the worst of those is well within the range of possibility.

HERE is the link to the research team’s site.

Source: The IMBIE Team. 2019/2020 (first early publication Dec 10 2019, published in March 12 2020 issue). Mass blanance of the Greenland Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2018. Nature 579, 233-239(2020)


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