Thursday, July 23, 2009

The cuckoo's nest

Tom Jefferson, a British epidemiologist working for the Cochrane Collaboration, says in an interview with Der Spiegel that whilst swine flu is undoubtedly a pandemic, there has been a near-hysterical desire on the part of many vested interests (pharmaceutical companies, governments, and the media, as well as certain sectors of the scientific community) to turn it into some kind of killer threat. It might sound like a vast conspiracy theory, but this definitely has the ring of truth about it. The article is worth reading in full, not least for his comments about the SARS outbreak and the relative ineffectiveness of Tamiflu.

Apparently Hong Kong has the world's lowest rates of transmission of swine flu, in theory because we learned the lessons of hygiene during the SARS outbreak. Jefferson thinks the best protection against flu is just washing your hands.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ground control

There's a fascinating article on the NASA website about the approach to food on space missions in the 1960s. Apparently "On Christmas day, 1968, during the first lunar orbital mission, the Apollo 8 astronauts opened packages of thermostabilized turkey and gravy and ate with spoons". One of the biggest challenges was the astronauts' constant weight loss - not necessarily due to calorie expenditure (Buzz Aldrin used 300 calories an hour walking on the moon), but possibly because of stress, and how unappetising early food options were. "Inflight food consumption proved inadequate to maintain nutritional balance and body weight" and crews experienced nausea, anorexia, and "undesirable physiological responses".

I was laughing the other day thinking about Ali G's interview with Buzz Aldrin. Buzz reacts with appropriate dignity when the mugging Ali G keeps referring to him as "Buzz Lightyear" and asks him if he was jealous of Louis Armstrong for being the first man on the moon.

(Photo via NASA)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Song to the siren

Call me grossly sentimental (I'm grossly sentimental): I find the fact that drivers pull aside when a siren sounds behind them peculiarly moving. Drivers, and I am sometimes one of them, are generally pretty self-absorbed and set on their goals. Lemmings in their cars, part of the problem and not part of the solution, I mutter bitterly to myself as I wait for my bus in Admiralty with the passing traffic kicking up pollution and every car seeming to contain only one person, who's always gazing blindly, mutely ahead. But when a siren sounds, the lemmings wake up to be reminded, and then to demonstrate, that there is such a thing as public-spiritedness.

I was quite shocked to discover that, in fact, in Hong Kong it's not customary to try to move off the road to allow a path for an ambulance, fire engine or police car with sirens howling. Instead, Hong Kong's selfish commuters sit there determined to hold onto their hard won place in the traffic jam. My office looks directly down on a highway and I've never yet seen anyone pull aside; the emergency vehicle waits impotently with lights flashing and siren sounding.

Perhaps this can partly be explained by the fact that Hong Kong's narrow roads, often bounded by concrete walls, and countless loops of flyovers, don't allow for anyone to pull to one side. But the fact that no one so much as makes an effort to move is astonishing.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Station to station

I was telling someone the other day how excited I was, on starting a new job in 1993 (my first proper job, in Alva Street in the West End of Edinburgh) to be able to use the fax machine. If I'm honest the idea of being able to write something on a piece of paper and then have it reproduce on the other side of the world somehow still really impresses me. Here I am now, on a train from London Euston to Penrith, writing a blog post, able to report that the American Christian evangelical (with the pamphlets to prove it) sitting opposite me has a large spot on her ample chin and is sniffing continuously and annoyingly; that it's raining in Tamworth, where the train just stopped; that we're running 15 minutes late... all this of little interest to anyone of course (and that's what blogging's all about!), but despite the fact that I deliver training to lawyers on technology, and consider myself fairly computer literate, I still have a childlike delight in what technology can do. Perhaps that's partly because I'm of the generation that didn't grow up with it. It still seems like a miracle to me that you're reading this.