Day 112 – Go somewhere else

This is literally a blog post telling you to go somewhere else on the internet – and somewhere else in the world.

It’s ok: if you’re reading this, you’ve already done enough to be counted as one of the literally 10s of readers that visit 6000 miles… each day.

Thanks for coming along. But I know that you really want to head off somewhere else now and there is not better way of doing that than having a look out of someone else’s window using WindowSwap*.

You can go to a park in Hamburg, overlook a highway in Bordeaux, see some guys waiting to cross a road in Mexico City or watch an urban farmer at work in Bangalore. And why?

Say the developers:

Let’s face it. We are all stuck indoors.
And it’s going to be a while till we travel again.
Window Swap is here to fill that deep void in our wanderlust hearts by allowing us to look through someone else’s window, somewhere in the world, for a while.
A place on the internet where all we travel hungry fools share our ‘window views’ to help each other feel a little bit better till we can (responsibly) explore our beautiful planet again.

I’ll be honest – it’s not quite the same as actually travelling the world, but it is a good deal cheaper and you’re actually able to do it right now.

I’m going to find time this weekend to record a bit of Cape Town and send it in. Maybe to go with my lockdown Flickr photo for a group with the same idea.

Right now though, a quick run around the block (to scout out possible views and angles).



* please type carefully – I found that “WidowSwap” offers an entirely different service. 😮

Day 92 – Some good advice and some nice visuals

Two things to share with you today: one is some good advice and the other is some nice visuals.
You’d probably guessed that from the title of the post though.

First up, a nice, practical piece from the Daily Maverick, written in language we can all understand.

We cannot be saved by government policy alone – the things we can all do are what will save South African lives. And those things are pretty simple.

Our Summary:

Do everything possible outdoors;
Open windows;
Wear masks;
Keep at least one metre distance (two metres is better) from people
Avoid crowded spaces
Be quick

It’s good stuff, it’s easy to read, and each point is backed up by (layman’s) scientific reasoning.

My one gripe is the little contradiction that creeps in under the “No Shaming” heading:

There is no need to shout at people exercising outdoors without a mask but at a distance, or in the park with their family; they are not going to infect you.

Sure, I wasn’t going to shout at them. But wearing a mask outdoors costs no time, money or effort and reduces the risk of transmitting the virus from “low” to effectively “nil”. So why make any exception at all: why not just wear the damn mask like the law and any decent sense of morality says you should?

It’s not hard.

And then these visuals of “How the Virus Won” from the NY Times. (This link spotted first via @JacquesR, and then in about four other places I frequent very shortly afterwards.) Yes, you need to register (free), but it’s very interesting and probably worth it.

Some basic graphics, some good data – again explained in layman’s terms, the odd political quote (only the ones where the politicians in question got it horribly wrong – hindsight is 2020 – but why on earth would you want to go there ever again?).

It regularly looks horribly like one of the 1960s graphics you get where some killer plague spreads across the world.

Strange that.


Those are your interesting links for Friday. Have a nice day.
Wear a mask. Don’t be in America.

Day 75 – Epidemiologist expectations

Here’s an interesting article in the New York Times (behind a “free” “paywall”, but summarised here for your ease of reading):

These are the personal opinions of a group of 511 epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists who were asked by The New York Times when they expect to resume 20 activities of daily life, assuming that the pandemic and the public health response to it unfold as they expect.

These are American epidemiologists, so their timelines will (and should!) be different to what our local experts might think – maybe we need to add two or three months to each of the timelines presented here. Additionally, it should be noted that their 3-12 month period includes a winter – that’s our “now”.

Important disclaimer:

Their answers are not guidelines for the public, and incorporate respondents’ individual life circumstances, risk tolerance and expectations about when there will be widespread testing, contact tracing, treatment and vaccination for Covid-19.

So yes, there are a lot of variables, assumptions and personal opinions in there, but even given that, there are still some interesting trends to look at.

The NYT has helpfully highlighted the most popular option in each case and assigned them to a “now”, “soon” or “much later” section.

Those first three are pretty clear cut, but the haircut has divided them, hasn’t it? And – as I think we are experiencing already in our everyday lives – it’s very much a case of wanting/needing to do something and then performing a mini mental risk/benefit assessment as to whether it’s worth doing.
Mail – something we want and need, limited risk – let’s go.
Doctor – something we need, possible risk, but yes, beneficial – ok.
Weekend break – definitely a want more than a need, potentially risky, but you can make a call on where you’re going and what precautions or safeguards are in place there and then choose based on that knowledge – could be safe.
Haircut – would be nice, but certainly won’t die without it, prolonged close personal contact – hmm, maybe not just yet.


For Robert A. Smith of the American Cancer Society, a haircut might be worth the risk: “It really is a trade-off between risky behavior and seeing yourself in the mirror with a mullet.”

Fair point.

And then there are the ones which are a bit further out:

‘Hiking with friends’ and ‘sending kids to school’ are interesting, given that some people are already doing the former in Cape Town and we’re all being told to do the latter. And yet (with that time difference mentioned above), the majority of the experts questioned here would be looking at ±6 months before they would consider either of them.

A lot of epidemiologists have a lot more faith in the safety of tubular aluminium petri dishes than I do. It’ll take a lot to get me flying again before there’s a vaccine and I’ve had it.

Another figure that sticks out here for me is the 4% who will never go back to exercising in a gym. Earlier in lockdown, someone (locally) said on twitter that they had realised just how easily they could manage without gym. At that point, I was really missing my time at gym, but the longer that time goes by, the less I feel I need it. Will I go back when I am allowed to? Performing that little risk assessment in my head, no, probably not. Obviously, I appreciate the benefits of it, but it is a properly high risk environment:

Surprise, surprise, the more energetic your breathing, the more virus you expel. So runners are the ones who are more likely to be spewing clouds of virus out.

Stick a lot of heavily-breathing, exercising individuals in an enclosed space and… well… you do the maths. It’s not pretty.

No thanks.

And then there are the things which used to be perfectly normal, but are now – and will remain for the next year, at least! – out of bounds for most of the respondents.

And yes, it seems that social contact is the major casualty of the pandemic. But then, were our learned friends doing it anyway? T. Christopher Bond from Bristol Myers Squibb states:

“Real epidemiologists don’t shake hands.”

Yeah. Us microbiologists aren’t big fans of the practice, either.

Masks work. Epidemiologists recognise this fact and most will be wearing them for the foreseeable future – probably until they have been vaccinated. Mere mortals should take notice of this. Look at that 7% in the first column (and add the 3 months) and understand how much a part of our daily lives masks are going to be for the rest of 2020 and probably most of 2021 as well.

And then the sporting event, concert or play. Sadly, these things are now a high risk luxury and I can’t see them coming back (safely) any time soon. Maybe not ever again in the way that we used to enjoy them before.

So what was your last concert or sporting event BTV, and will it be your last one ever?
I bet you weren’t thinking that way when you were there.

As mentioned above: this isn’t a scientific study, but it is a study of scientists and I think it provides a valuable insight into how the behaviour and the lives of the people in the know is going to change.

And if they are thinking that way, why should we feel that we know any better?

Day 56 – Superspreading

Not much here today, but I did enjoy the back-to-basics lessons available in this Sciencemag article.

It’s all about how certain individuals and certain situations are more likely to spread the virus than others. And while we’re not 100% sure of the reason for some people spread more virus than others:

Some people shed far more virus, and for a longer period of time, than others, perhaps because of differences in their immune system or the distribution of virus receptors in their body. A 2019 study of healthy people showed some breathe out many more particles than others when they talk… People’s behaviour also plays a role. Having many social contacts or not washing your hands makes you more likely to pass on the virus.

…it’s very much a reason that the virus gets passed on more quickly in some situations. These people don’t know they’re doing it and they don’t have a big red flashing light above their heads, but with quotes like:

“Probably about 10% of cases lead to 80% of the spread”

…if you’re not wearing a mask while you’re out and about, you’re very much part of the problem.

Especially if you are exercising. Surprise, surprise, the more energetic your breathing, the more virus you expel. So runners are the ones who are more likely to be spewing clouds of virus out. So those runners who are “unable” to cover their faces while they run because “it’s not very comfy” are potentially putting a lot of other people at risk.

Nice. Thanks, you precious, selfish twats.

As I shared just yesterday, the Washington Post described three superspreading events as being one reason why Cape Town has so many cases of Covid-19 at the moment. So there’s so much local relevance here.

But perhaps my favourite “OMG, that’s so obvious” moment was the meat-packing plant connection. Meat-packing plants are the perfect place for respiratory viruses for two reasons:
Firstly, they are cool (temperature-wise, rather than in trendiness), meaning that virus particles remain intact – and infectious – for longer, and
Secondly, because the machinery in the plants is loud and so workers have to talk more loudly to be heard. Louder voice (shouting, singing, deep breathing, panting) means you’re more likely to expel virus.

Amazingly simple. Amazingly obvious.
I love that someone actually had the sense to take it back that far.

Anyway, like I said: good article.
Wear a mask. Be lekker.

Day 54 – Planet Parade

Let’s not mention the V-word today.

Instead: how about this? I spotted this on Twitter earlier and got in touch with amateur astronomer Grant Petersen to ask if I could share the image on here.

He said yes, and so… well… here is that image:


These were taken using a Celestron Nexstar 8″ SCT with a focal length of 2032mm and a focal ratio of F/10, and an Orion USB camera II.
And then arranged on a smartphone.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

I am blown away by this image (hence my asking if I could put it on here), but if there is one minor (hopefully constructive) criticism I might make, it’s that there is no image of Earth. And that really should surely be one of the easiest ones to get.
I’ve got several myself. And they are lot closer up than these.

Of course, ironically, getting a shot of Earth in the same vein as these images is a great deal more difficult than even shooting Neptune, which despite being quite a large planet…

…is also a ridiculous 4.5 billion kilometres away.


Photo credit: Grant Petersen