Sat 2023-Sep-30

Long Time, No Blog?

Tagged: About / Beauty / CatBlogging / CorporateLifeAndItsDiscontents / COVID / NotableAndQuotable / PharmaAndBiotech / Politics / Sadness

So… long time, no blog, eh?

Multissimae Apologiae

Yes, I pretty much went dark from mid-August through the end of September. (And yes, this post is back-dated by a few days to appear on Sept 30. I just couldn’t bear the idea that I blogged nothing in the month of September.)

Lots of things going on:

  • persistent mild cognitive impairment (though sloooowly healing?) as one of the sequelae of COVID-19 a year ago,
  • the return of depression that’s been a lifelong companion, though this time at some scarier levels necessitating in anti-depressants,
  • some kind of non-COVID-19 virus that hung on for weeks, and
  • a couple urgent issues that required full-time attention (with my phase now finished, apparently successfully).

So while I’ve collected lots of articles thinking “I should blog that”, no blogging resulted. Apologies to all 6 of my readers globally, in case you were worried. Also apologies to all 8 billion - 6 of the rest of humanity, for not putting up articles for you to ignore. :-)

I have to do a lot of work to get back into blogging shape, though:

  • Comments haven’t worked for most of a year, ever since Heroku sank their free accounts. So I have to figure out the details of how to host Staticman on something like Render’s free accounts, or find a replacement.
  • Page view counts haven’t worked since April, since countapi went dark. It appears the developer sold it to a commercial interest (good for them!), and had to shut down the free service (bad for me). So we gotta find a replacement service, basically a key-to-integer database service. I’d really rather not write my own!

Of Note in the Meantime

During my sluggardly absence, many events of note occurred. Only the most deeply disturbed of persons would agree with me that these are the high points:

Wikimedia: Stanislaw Petrov in 2016

  1. Petrov Day: We missed Petrov Day, last Sept 26! Though it’s apparently mostly an Effective Altruism movement thing, it seems generally worthwhile to all of us here at Chez Weekend.

    We’ve celebrated it for the last 3 years (2022-Sep-26, 2021-Sep-26, and 2020-Sep-26). So we’re sad to have missed it this year, which was the 40th anniversary of the (non-)end of the world.

    Celebrate on your own: Do something that does not end the world, ideally making the world robust against destruction. Get vaccinated. Vote Democratic (in the US). Donate to charities. Be kind.
    OWiD: Age-adjusted weekly COVID-19 deaths, by vax status

  2. COVID-19: Contrary to everybody, or at least the shrill media voices and commonly held opinion, COVID-19 has not gone away.

    Via Jeff Shallit, consider this graph from Our World in Data of weekly death rates from COVID-19, stratified by vax status. It’s age-standardized, to account for the vaccination rate differences between older and younger people. The vertical axis is the death rate per 100,000 people.

    The blunt-trauma-obvious conclusions:

    • Unvaccinated people, in the orange curve, had huge death rates at the end of 2021, and since then have had lower, but sustained death rates higher than anybody else.
    • The blue curve shows people who got vaccinations up to, but not including, the bivalent booster from this spring. Note how dramatically lower their death rate is compared to the unvaccinated.
    • The green curve shows those who also got the bivalent booster (starting in late 2022, when it became available). Note that this is the best curve of all, i.e., this is where you want to be!

    The moral of the story: Get vaccinated. Anybody who tells you otherwise is pulling the wool over your eyes, and it doesn’t matter why they’re doing that. You should live, and not die.
    Nobel Commission: Karikó & Weissman Wikimedia: pseudouridine synthase rotates a ring on uridine

  3. Nobel Prize: As we’ve long predicted, the Nobel Prize Committee announced that Katalin Karikó will share a Nobel Prize, as seen in this Tweet.

    The key insight here was a remedy to the problem of clearance rates of mRNA from the body. Your immune system isn’t stupid: if it sees something that looks like viral mRNA running around loose, it’s going to destroy it ASAP. For mRNA therapeutics, this typically means the mRNA is cleared too fast for it to do its job.

    They discovered an interesting substitution. Substitute uridine with pseudouridine. As you can see from this illustration, the enzyme pseudouridine synthase just rotates the hex ring attached to uridine, making it a different isomer. Little things like this can fool a lot of cells into letting a molecule past their defenses.

    Then you can thread the needle between being:

    • different enough from viral mRNA that the clearance rate from the body is pretty slow, but
    • similar enough that in a cell it will still transcribe the viral spike protein which elicits the immune response of the vaccine.

    We’ve talked about the practical application of this before, when we discussed the content of the sequences in the Pfizer & Moderna vaccines. Look there for some discussion of the practical details.

    The bottom line: In the meantime, this is a well-deserved prize. She certainly had to swim upstream, having been fired a couple times for pursuing such “unfruitful” research. The actual fruit is saving something like 100s of millions of human lives, and opening a new era of both vaccinations, cancer therapies, and immune therapies.
    Albrecht, et al.: 'solastalgia' as emotional distress from environmental change

  4. A word for our times: Via Sideria, Sybilla Bostoniensis comes the best Word of the Day: solastalgia, for the psychological distress caused by environmental change.

    The paper by Albrecht, et al. [1] discusses the psychological state of people of New South Wales living through persistent drought and living through open-cut coal mining. They have pronounced “negative affect” (sadness or depression) and a sense of helplessness, as one might expect.

    One also expects that, if we had taken seriously the psychological welfare of aboriginal peoples like Native Americans, Africans, and Australian Aborigines while being colonized, we would have had a word for this long ago.

    We should all expect everyone to experience solastalgia as climate change gets worse, and a billion people are forced to migrate from their no longer habitable countries. Also expect the safer, wealthier countries to become more xenophobic and possibly more fascist.

    No, I don’t like it either: Nobody likes it.
    D Rector, MIT math dept, 1966: shortest known PhD thesis

  5. Shortest known PhD thesis: Via Fermat’s Library, I learned the shortest known PhD thesis.

    It’s an MIT math department thesis by David Rector in 1966 [2], when the author was all of 25 years old and had been at the Institute for only 4 years. It weighs in at a grand total of 12 pages: 7 pages of main text, just 1 page of bibliography (!), and a biographical note. (You can get a copy and see for yourself from the reference link below.)

    It must have been really good. They say that thesis quality is inversely proportional to length, where the brilliant ones are brief and the others make up in brute force what they lacked in brilliance.

    Department of Ego Deflation: Mine is 265 pages. Go ahead and draw the obvious conclusion after computing the ratio 265/12. I don’t mind. Much.
    Tesco groceries in the UK: Battered sushi, for deep frying

  6. British supermarkets vs sushi: Various wags have been reporting a new foodcrime being committed by the Tesco’s grocery chain in the UK.

    As you can see here, it consists of “sushi”, by which they mean “fluffy” rice with “marinated” salmon or “white fish”, coated in “crispy batter”. Apparently, one is meant to deep-fry this.

    The mind boggles. Japanese rice is a short-grain sticky rice, not fluffy. The rice is supposed to be vinegared, not a marinade in the fish. “White fish” is an awfully vague category, isn’t it?

    And on top of that… deep-fried sushi?!

    Culinary Conclusion: I mean… come on! I’m not one to mock anybody’s ethnic food, but sushi is not fish & chips. Just in case somebody was unclear on this matter.
    Fork bomb from a furry

  7. Important lessons from the internet: Apparently, this is making the rounds in the guise of teaching n00bs about the Unix command line. I’m pretty sure it’s intended humorously, but…

    The use of a furry persona just amps up the High Weirdness to match the environment, so nothing particularly wrong there.

    But do not run this script under any circumstances; it is a fork bomb (a.k.a. a “wabbit”, as in “kilda”). It defines a function called “:” (to make it look mysterious) which, upon execution, creates infinite copies of itself in other processes. Something will crash; if you’re lucky, it won’t be your entire computer.

    There are a number of lessons one can learn here, none of which are about the Unix shell which was purported to be the subject.


    • Furries are kinda weird. We already knew that. But they’re mostly harmless and occasionally amusing. And once in a while, they’re not harmless, as here.
    • Don’t run scripts handed to you by some internet rando. Honestly. Just don’t.
    • In fact, don’t take instruction in anything from an internet rando, until you’ve carefully vetted both the content and the source.
    • Yes, I know you won’t listen to me.
      O'Mahony @ Guardian: Philip Glass
  8. There are no pedestrian people: A variety of sources have pointed to an older article in The Guardian [3] about the composer Philip Glass.

    From time to time, this famous artist would support himself with “pedestrian” jobs like cab-driver or plumber. On one apparently famous occasion, his customer was the art critic of Time magazine:

    Throughout this period, Glass supported himself as a New York cabbie and as a plumber, occupations that often led to unusual encounters. “I had gone to install a dishwasher in a loft in SoHo,” he says. “While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.

    Sometimes the people you think of as “pedestrian” are anything but that. In fact, most plumbers are not famous composers. But they are people. Pretty much anybody, when you get to know them in a real way, will no longer appear “pedestrian.”

    On finding composers among plumbers: It’s important to honor everybody, regardless of what you think about their social status. They are almost always more than meets your eye. APoD 2022-Dec-07: circular rainbow over Norway

  9. The rest of the rainbow: People have been posting & reposting a picture of a circular rainbow, alleged to have been seen from an airplane at 30,000 ft altitude (e.g., here). Alas, it has a number of features that are unphysical; it’s been debunked and traced back to a Chinese social media web site called Little Red Book, in reference to Mao. It seems to have been AI-generated, purpose unknown. I almost posted that version, because it is, after all, quite pretty. But something about the geometry was just off! (Elliptical shape, sun in front of observer with rainbow, crossing the sun position, … etc.) So I poked around and found it was fake.

    To assuage your disappointment and mine, here’s a picture of a real circular rainbow, from the highly reputable Astronomy Picture of the Day web site, on 2022-Dec-07.

    No dodgy Chinese social media sites here! Note that the sun is behind the observer, the rainbow is in front, and is exactly circular with blue on the inside and red on the outside. This is all as it should be. Also: beautiful.

    What we can learn: The truth is beautiful. Seek the truth. Apply appropriate amounts of skepticism.

Weekend Publisher and Weekend Assistant Publisher, in a high-level management staff meeting

  1. New Weekend Staff Member: Here at Château Weekend, we have a new staff member.

    The Weekend Publisher (a.k.a. “my cat”) has long been complaining of the workload cutting into his nap schedule. So he hired the Weekend Assistant Publisher (a.k.a. “my other cat”) to lighten the load.

    As with many new hires, the on-boarding process has not been without its bumps. For the first 2 days, the little guy was kept in a separate room with the door closed, so they could smell & hear each other, but no more. Then the door was opened, with a screen in place, so they could see but not murder each other. Then finally they were both allowed into the same space.

    It’s been 2 weeks of cat diplomacy now. The little guy, still just a kitten, is happy to try to “play” with the big guy. The big guy is most definitely not pleased with this development and wishes to fire the new hire. Our Cat HR Department will not permit this. So now we’re at the stage where they somewhat tolerate each other’s presence, but the Weekend Publisher hisses and growls when approached by the New Idiot. I’m pretty sure he’s cursing, but he won’t translate for me.

    And it’s understandable: the new guy has no manners at all, e.g., he’ll try to eat his boss’s food when the boss is sitting right there. It’s enough to make me grab him and ask, “What did you think would happen when you steal food from a cat 8 times your weight, right in front of him?!”

    Cat Diplomacy Report: As HG Wells, said, “Civilization is in a race between education and CATastrophe.” Let’s hope the little guy learns some cat manners fast enough to avoid being murdered. The Cat HR Department is firmly against firing, but wishy-washy on the subject of murder. Because… cats.

Dishonorable Mention

And last of all, in the position of (dis-)honor: Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). His main qualification for the Senate appears to be that he was a college football coach, and the voters of Alabama love football and fascist/racist right-wing politics.

So it’s not terribly surprising that he’s pulled a number of bonehead maneuvers. The latest is to hold up all senior military promotions (usually a pro forma confirmation in the Senate) because sometimes the military will help pregnant members travel to a state where they can get the care they want, i.e., abortion. He’s so against abortion, or at least the performative signaling of that, that he’ll attempt to cripple the entire US military. Genius.

Griffiths & Woody @ BI: Sen. Tuberville vs poetry Lately, he’s been criticizing the military for being too “woke”. He says the military is “not an equal opportunity employer”, even though it is. He apparently just doesn’t like the idea of Black senior officers. He also recently slammed a poetry reading by sailors on an aircraft carrier [4]:

“Secretary [Carlos] Del Toro of Navy, he needs to get to building ships, get to recruiting, and he needs to get wokeness out of our Navy,” Tuberville said Wednesday evening on Fox News. “We’ve got people doing poems on aircraft carriers over the loudspeaker. It is absolutely insane the direction we’re headed in our military.”

Sigh. If the sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln or the USS Gerald Ford want to throw a poetry slam in their off-duty hours, that’s great. Tuberville’s apparent idea that poetry makes for bad soldiers, on the other hand… perhaps he should read Homer’s Odyssey?

Or better yet, consider the Greek poet Sappho. In Sappho #65, “To One Who Loved Not Poetry,” she wrote ca mid-600BCE of the barbaric nature of those who did not appreciate poetry:

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσῃ οὐδέ ποτα
μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ’ οὐδὲ †ποκ’†ὔστερον· οὐ
γὰρ πεδέχῃς βρόδων
τῶν ἐκ Πιερίας· ἀλλ’ ἀφάνης
κἠν Ἀίδα δόμῳ
φοιτάσεις πεδ’ ἀμαύρων νεκύων

But thou shalt ever lie dead,
nor shall there be any remembrance of thee then or thereafter,
for thou hast not of the roses of Pieria;
but thou shalt wander obscure even in the house of Hades,
flitting among the shadowy dead.

Quoting Sappho, the famous poetess of Lesbos, contra the right-wing misogynist from Alabama seems almost too fitting for words.

(And no, it’s not the first time I’ve invoked Sappho against pomposity. Not my first rodeo.)

The Weekend Conclusion

Ok, enough for one post, anyway.

Back to gobbling anti-depressants and hoping to heal the post-COVID-19 sequelae of mild cognitive impairment. I particularly hope to get some math ability back: that’s been the one thing that I can contribute to society to justify my taking up space. Having that not eliminated, but certainly blunted, is like a visual artist going partially blind.

I hate it.

Outer Limits: Demon with a Glass Hand Ever seen the Outer Limits episode by Harlan Ellison called “Demon with a Glass Hand”? True, it aired a long time ago (1964-Oct-17), but I still remember it vividly. And I’m sure it’s on streaming video somewhere.

Most of the plot, while excellent, is irrelevant here. The relevant bit: a man wakes up with no memory. He has a glass hand with no fingers, which is also a computer. The hand tells him he has to find the remaining fingers to restore its memory, and thus learn what’s going on. Indeed, there are all sorts of incomprehensibly creepy things happening around him, some dangerous. (Murderous time-traveling aliens, you know.) So finding those fingers is a high priority.

That’s what it’s like. Only creepier. (And I’m not as handsome as Robert Culp, needless to say.)

Notes & References

1: G Albrecht, et al., “Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change”, Australasian Psychiatry, 15 Suppl 1:S95-8, 2007. DOI: 10.1080/10398560701701288.

2: D Rector, “An unstable Adams spectral sequence”, MIT Math PhD thesis, 1966.

3: J O’Mahony, “When less means more”, The Guardian, 2001-Nov-23.

4: BD Griffiths & C Woody, “Sen. Tommy Tuberville argues the Navy is ‘too woke’ because ‘people are doing poems on aircraft carriers’”, Business Insider, 2023-Sep-07.

Published Sat 2023-Sep-30

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