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Ideas & Analysis

Discussions of various issues including suggested solutions to problems and pure speculation

Does Zinc Interfere with mRNA Vaccines?

During my reasearch into how SARS2 mRNA vaccines operate, a very odd notion occurred to me: Can zinc ions interfere with vaccines?

It’s an important question for Carol and me. At the advice of our doctor, we’ve been taking zinc supplements and an OTC supplement called quercetin now for well over a year. We’d been taking it for months before we got the Pfizer vacc.

(If you’ve not read up on mRNA vaccines yet, this short explanation for laypeople is the best I’ve seen so far.)

The Pfizer vacc is the first of its kind. Vaccination is the process of familiarizing our immune systems with a specific pathogen. This is generally done by injecting weakened or fragmentary pathogens into the patient. The immune system reacts to those weakened or fragmentary pathogens and develops enough familiarity with them to attack the little devils on sight.

Making large quantities of a whole or partial pathogen is a slow business. Because time was of the essence, Pfizer used a new mechanism called mRNA, which literally creates a sort of crude virus using RNA sequences. This RNA virus enters human cells in the patient and begins manufacturing parts of the target pathogen. In the case of SARS2, it’s the spike proteins. Our immune systems then recognize the spike proteins as enemy action, and kill anything having that specific spike protein.

I twitched a little when I figured this out. We’re infecting ourselves with a virus that makes virus parts in our own cells, thus avoiding the delay of having to generate gazillions of doses in vitro. It’s an elegant solution, sure, and we were able to get it on the street in record time. There are a lot of fistfights going on right now over the issue of serious side effects. I’ll leave that discussion to others. The issue here is fundamentally different from that of side effects.

Carol and I had plenty of zinc ions in our systems when we were vaccinated. The quercetin (taken daily) is a zinc ionophore. It “escorts” zinc ions into a cell. Zinc really doesn’t like virus replication, and stops it cold. This is how some clinicians have been treating COVID-19: by giving patients zinc and a zinc ionophore as soon as symptoms appear.

My question is simple: Can zinc + a zinc ionophore block the mRNA vaccine’s spike protein replication process?

Don’t say, “Of course not!” I doubt that question has even come up yet, given the media’s mad-dog attack job done on a certain zinc ionophore called HCQ. We don’t know. If you’ve seen somebody take up this question elsewhere, send me a link. I’ve begun to wonder if the shots we were given actually took, and if they did, to what extent. We reacted to the shots, which is a good sign. That doesn’t mean the generated immune response wasn’t weak, brief, or both.

The issue isn’t whether the vaccines work. The issue is whether we were in fact fully vaccinated at all. And y’know, about things like that I’d really like to be sure.

Omicron as Variolation

My Irish grandmother Sade was a very funny woman, and if I have any gift for humor myself, it came down from her through my father. She had funny words for things, and it was years after she died that I realized that a lot of them were real words. “Oinchek” (or close) meant “goofball” or perhaps “dumbass” in Irish slang. “Redshanks” were Irish and Scottish mercenaries of the 16th century. Sade used the term for imaginary creatures who dug up her tomato garden; we pictured them as mice in red pants. “Gomog” hasn’t turned up in my research and may be Sade’s coinage, but it’s another term for “goofball.” Then there’s “omathaun,” (simpleton, fool) which I thought Sade invented until I heard it used in Disney’s Mary Poppins. And last week, when I first heard of the “omicron variant,” I initially read it as the “omathaun variant.”

Heh. In some respects, all the variants have been omathaun variants, judging by mainstream media reactions. Oh yeah…I keep forgetting…say it with me now…we’re all gonna die!!

Fecking ijits. (You can figure that one out for yourself. Sade never used it in our hearing but it’s real.) The South African researcher who identified the omicron variant told the media that the symptoms of omicron are “unusual but mild.” Reading her description, well, it sounds like the common cold. Milder, even. In fact, the symptoms are at such variance from COVID-19 that my first reaction was, is SARS2 really behind it? Evidently that’s been established to most everyone’s satisfaction. And that’s a good thing.

Omicron could end the pandemic.

Work with me here. I have no citations to offer; this is pure speculation on my part. Omicron appears to be what evolutionists and epidemiologists predicted long ago: a mutation that spreads easily but causes a less serious disease. What it leaves in its wake is natural immunity, which doesn’t exist according to the media, but to everyone with half a brain and some education, it does. (You can get thrown off of Twitter or Facebook for even mentioning it.)

If omicron really is SARS2, then a person who gets it, stays home for a day or three and then recovers, may come away with immunity to all variants of SARS2. The fistfight over whether natural immunity is stronger and longer-lasting than vaccine immunity is ongoing. Given that the CDC no longer states that the vaccines impart immunity at all, I’m betting that natural immunity is indeed stronger and broader and longer-lasting.

As Edward Jenner discovered circa 1790, people who had recovered from a mild disease called cowpox (many of them women who milked cows) didn’t get smallpox. Jenner found that deliberately infecting people with cowpox imparted immunity to smallpox. Jenner invented vaccination, which for a long time was called variolation, after variola, the scientific name for the smallpox virus.

Omicron may finish off an inadvertent ongoing regimen of SARS2 variolation. A great many people around the world have already fought off SARS2 and are now immune to it. Vaccinated people who get breakthrough infections will come away with immunity. Those who haven’t been infected will probably get omicron eventually. They may not even realize that they had it. Omicron may “fill in the cracks” of SARS2 immunity, and turn the damned thing from pandemic to endemic, like flu. People still die from the flu every year, and we don’t go into a screaming panic over it. Or…omicron could make SARS2 rare enough that it mostly disappears. Where’s SARS1 these days, anyway?

The comparison may not be germane; I don’t know. The important thing is to read news from many sources (including international sources) and not panic. From all I’ve read (and I read a lot) the end of the pandemic is definitely in sight.

Where Are the Job-Seekers?

I’ve read dozens of short items online recently saying how desperate employers are to fill a record number of vacant positions. The explanations offered for this are all over the map. (I’ll list some I’ve seen a little later.) The end of the unemployment extensions and the eviction moratorium didn’t seem to push people into the labor force. The number of job openings and the number of people no longer looking for work are both at record highs. So how are all those unemployed people who aren’t looking for jobs paying their rent? What the hell is going on here? I have a little list, based on a broad skim of articles asking the question:

  1. Wages. People are standing back from the job market until pay levels improve. Pay at many low-level jobs in restaurants and hospitality has already gone up. It does not appeared to have helped. And the question of how the stand-backers are paying their bills remains unanswered.
  2. Covidphobia. Young people are too scared of COVID to get back out into the world. The ones who still have parents may be moving back in with parents to dodge the virus. There may be a little of this going on, but from a height it doesn’t ring true. And it certainly doesn’t account for the numbers.
  3. Schools. With schools closed, women have left the job market for lack of daytime childcare. I haven’t found good numbers so far on how many schools are still closed, but I doubt it’s enough to account for the gap between jobs and job seekers. Most of the closings I’ve seen mentioned were for the 2020/2021 school year. We’re now well into 2021/2022.
  4. Stupid HR tricks. This is not a new problem. Most people in tech know about the screwy online hoops you have to jump through to even get a return email. Keywords, sheesh. And things like “Must have twenty years’ experience in Kubernetes,” when Kubernetes didn’t even exist until 2014. I don’t know who said it, but it’s truer in HR circles than most others: “An inability to find a 5-pound butterfly does not indicate a butterfly shortage.” Again, none of this is new, and I doubt it has much impact on the current labor shortage.

From ten steps back, I’m tempted to say, “All of the above,” and I might be right. There is, however, something more. This quote, from the website of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) may point to the heart of the problem:

SHRM also polled 1,000 unemployed Americans who were laid off or left their jobs during the pandemic-the majority of whom worked hourly jobs in industries heavily impacted by the health crisis, such as food service and retail. The top reason for remaining unemployed, cited by 42 percent of respondents, was not having received any responses to jobs for which they’ve applied.”

Skills mismatch and berserk credentialism will probably take the blame. But we’re not talking about software engineers here. These are low-level service jobs, most of which probably don’t require any college at all. Earlier today, a post on Nextdoor in my area repeated a suspicion I’ve had for awhile now:

Lots of companies – of course not all, but many – say they are hiring and can’t find people, but are not really hiring. By staying understaffed, their payroll expenses are way down, they can blame ‘lazy workers’ for the poor customer experience, and most of all if they ‘can’t fill’ key positions they dont have to pay back those pandemic bridge loans from the federal government. This is a real issue facing many people – some companies claim to be hiring but really don’t want to fill the positions.”

In other words, companies that lost their cash cushion due to COVID lockdowns and are now in debt to the Feds want to run lean for awhile to get back on their feet. Making noise about not being able to find workers is cover. The intent is to get by with as few employees as possible–temporarily if not permanently.

I see this playing out in supermarkets: At the Fry’s where we shop, I don’t remember when I last saw two or more “people” lanes open. Nearly all the goods are going through the self-checkout kiosks. Now, automation eliminating jobs is not a new problem. Self-checkout kiosks have been with us for years. The COVID disruptions may have pushed some firms to try automation solutions those firms hadn’t before considered.

Not even that is a complete explanation. What we’re seeing may simply be a perfect storm of a lot of smaller things acting together that keeps a worker surplus from becoming employed during record-high demand for workers. I’m still puzzled how people pay their bills while staying out of the job market. I’m watching the topic, and if anything crisp turns up I’ll mention it here.

Strictly Bespeaking

A year or so ago, Carol and I were driving somewhere, and we passed a bus stop shelter with an ad for condos on one side:

The Gildersleeve
Bespoke Apartment Homes
Starting at $200,000

Huh? What the hell did that mean? (I made up the word “Gildersleeve” and the price, but it’s a species of ad we see a lot of here, on bus stop signs and elsewhere.) To my recall, “bespoke” was a verb. Not one you see often, and when you do see it, it’s usually where somebody is trying to sound old-timey. I do not recall ever seeing it used as an adjective.

I grabbed my 1936 New Century Dictionary, which is my closest dictionary and within arm’s reach. It simply said, “Preterit and past participle of bespeak.” Looking up to the entry for “bespeak,” all definitions were as verbs, and the one of interest was “to give evidence of or indicate; fortell.” Ok, sure. That’s how I understood it. Nothing about condos. I had to go down the hall to fetch my 1974 New World Dictionary. Here, “bespoke” had its own separate entry. Its first meaning was the same as New Century had it. The second meaning, as an adjective, meant “custom or custom-made; making or made to order.” The entry did tag this usage as “British.”

Heh. Not anymore, evidently. (At least with respect to condos.)

So the matter rested until a few nights ago, while I was curled up in Chairzilla reading Poul Anderson’s The Boat of a Million Years. Early in Chapter VI, Poul writes:

“A short, somewhat tubby man with a pug nose and a scraggly beard turning gray, he was given to self-importance. Yet leathery skin bespoke many years of faring, often through danger, and goodly garb told of success won by it.”

Like I said, old-timey. The odd thing about all this is that now, at 69, and having read untold numbers of books since I learned to read at 4, I have no recall whatsoever of seeing “bespoke” used as an adjective, to describe condos or anything else. Ever. This is odd. Hell, I used to read the dictionary for fun. My father told me early on when he bought me my first dictionary (I might have been eight or so) “Every time you look up a word in the dictionary, read the whole page.” And I did. After that, nobody at school could beat me at vocabulary or spelling.

Running across a use of a word so different from the one I knew was jarring. I take some comfort in the adjective form being a Britishism. After all, they call car hoods “bonnets” and trunks “boots.” They spell jail “gaol,” which somehow sounds Halloweenish, or at least mildly diabolical. There are plenty of examples beyond that.

In poking around online, I see the word used a lot in custom tailoring, as in “a bespoke suit.” This seems peculiar. A custom-tailored suit does not give evidence of its being custom-made (I have one) so it does not bespeak anything. Yet it is bespoke.

Sigh. No wonder my Polish grandparents never learned to (be)speak English.

Masks as Inadvertent Variolation

Yesterday’s post on the effectiveness of masks reminded me of something I had taken notes on over a year ago: masks as variolation. The insight wasn’t original to me, but alas, I don’t recall where I first saw it.

Variolation, if you’re not familiar with the term, is the process of generating immunity to a virus by exposing people to small amounts of the virus. It was invented for (and named after) smallpox (variola). The process, however, can be applied to other viruses. I wonder if wearing a so-so mask within a population carrying SARS-CoV-2 would allow the inhalation of enough virus to cause antibody generation via a mild or even asymptomatic infection, but not enough to cause a full-bore and possibly severe symptomatic case.

This isn’t where I saw it, but an article in the New England Journal of Medicine from late 2020 makes precisely this point. In my article on masks I was talking about the aggregate effectiveness of masks, which depends on how many viruses you inhale through the filtration medium–and how many viruses are squirted out through jets at the edges of your mask when you exhale. No mask is perfect. A lot of them are worthless, but quite a few are effective enough to reduce viral load by some percentage, which obviously varies by the type of mask and how it’s worn.

Which brings me to my pet peeve, which is pertinent here: The media never talks about COVID-19 deaths. They only talk about cases, which can include mild or asymptomatic infections–or, in truth, false positives on the fluky PCR test. What the media absolutely will not talk about is natural immunity, that is, immunity conferred by an actual infection with the pathogen. We know such infections happen. We have no idea how prevalent they are. My hunch is that many or most of these new cases are not cases as generally understood (a sick person!) but positive tests from people who have had an infection and threw it off, perhaps thinking it was a cold or without even knowing they’d had anything at all.

I’ve seen studies indicating that natural immunity is stronger and longer-lasting than vaccination immunity. This post on The Blaze mentions some of them. What this means is that the “exploding case count” the pornpushers are screaming about could well be a count of positive-test people who now have natural immunity and will probably never contract the disease again.

How could this be? Simple: The vaccine gives you a quantity of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which teaches your immune system to recognize the virus by its spikes. An actual COVID-19 infection teaches your immune system about the whole damned virus, spikes and everything else.

Obviously, nobody wants to catch the disease, since the panic industry has pushed what I call “mask-it or casket” porn, typically just-so stories of some guy who claims the vaccine is fake and then dies of COVID the next day. The vaccine is not fake; Carol and I got it as soon as we were eligible. (I do wonder whether we would test positive under PCR. It might be worth the cost of the tests to find out.) What I’m talking about is that huge unknown: how prevalent natural immunity is–and how we came to get it.

Masks don’t protect you completely (as the government seems to imply) but they protect you some–and maybe enough to generate that natural immunity without suffering from the disease itself. That’s variolation.

As several of my friends have found, even mentioning “natural immunity” on Twitter or Facebook will get you banned, most likely because natural immunity argues against all the panic, and argues in favor of our hitting a degree of herd immunity (also a ban-attractor) soon or even already. Remember: A case is a positive test, symptoms or no symptoms. It’s very rare to contract the disease again after you’ve had it and thrown it off. It’s much more common to contract it after vaccination. (We’re ready for that, though given the prevalence of comment harpies, I’ll share details only with people I trust, and then one-on-one.)

Now, this notion of masks as variolation is just speculation. I bring it up because it exposes a huge gap in the coverage of COVID-19 that we’re getting from conventional online sources, who are censoring all mention of natural immunity and its related topics. It’s also why I keep my own instance of WordPress on my own hosting service rather than an account on the WordPress site. I don’t talk about controversial topics very often, but when I do, I don’t want the conversation to be suppressed.

Masks Can’t Work–But Not for the Reasons You Think

I’ve been pondering this issue since last fall, waffling constantly about whether I should write about it at all. I was sure that any number of other people would make the point I’m about to make, but I haven’t seen it. Maybe it’s too simple. Maybe people are past caring. I don’t know.

Here’s my point: Consumer-grade masks can’t stop SARS-CoV-2. It’s impossible. But not for the reasons you might think.

First, some background. Surgical masks were originally developed to protect vulnerable patients from pathogens exhaled by doctors. They were not designed to protect healthcare workers from patients. Some people recognized this early on, in memes stating (rather too confidently) “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.” In a perfect world, that might be true. Such a world does not and cannot exist.

The key word here is perfect.

In order to be effective, a mask must meet these requirements:

  1. It must be made of a material allowing the flow of air while seriously restricting the flow of droplets and aerosol virus particles. Such masks are uncommon. The only ones I know of are N95 masks, without exhalation ports. (Exhalation ports render an N95 mask pretty much worthless, as this study showed.) And I’d just as soon reserve N95 masks for front-line healthcare workers.
  2. A mask must fit close to perfectly. I don’t know how anybody expects one mask design to fit all the infinite varieties of human faces. Fit often requires that the mask straps be very tight, so tight as to be nasty uncomfortable. A couple of loose straps over your ears won’t do it, especially if your face is unusually long or wide.
  3. The mask must be worn perfectly. If adjusted for comfort, even a perfectly fitted mask will leak like a sieve and ceases to be effective.
  4. Touching the filtering medium of your mask is a no-no. If you’re in an area with aerosol virus particles floating around, those particles will accumulate on the outside of the mask. Touching them transfers them to your fingers, which can then easily transfer them to food or tissues.

The primary failure mode for masks is leakage. When the whole mask fetish first became a thing, we bought some masks and I did some experimenting. I put a mask on as best I could, dipped a finger in a glass of water, and held the wet finger around the edges of the mask while I breathed normally. I could easily sense jets of air at several places around the edge of the mask, no matter how I adjusted it. These jets did not pass through the mask material, and if the wearer is contagious, the aerosol virus particles will be sent in several directions with significant force. I was surprised, in fact, at how much force was behind the jets from even normal breathing.

Think about jets of air for a moment. Even a tiny amount of air will move quickly if forced through a small hole or gap. Those jets leaking around the edges of your mask will carry aerosol viruses a long way. Sure, droplets quickly fall to the ground within the standard distance of six feet. SARS-CoV-2 travels as both droplets and as aerosols. Droplets are big enough to be trapped by the mask’s filtration medium. Aerosols are so small that most go right through it, absent expensive materials like those used in N95 masks. Cloth masks depend on the nature of the cloth. Cheap surgical masks barely stop them at all. Woodworking masks are completely worthless. Hold that thought; I’ll come back to it.

I’ve found some interesting videos. In this first one, a woman takes a hit off her vapestick, puts her mask back down, and then exhales. She immediately blows two jets of smoke right into her eyes, and then starts choking. Bad idea. The takeaway is that smoke came out the edges of her mask in a hurry. Obviously the mask was not being worn correctly. Hold that thought too; I’ll come back to it.

Here’s another, better video, in which a man wearing several types of masks inhales from a vapestick and exhales while wearing the masks. (I can’t tell whether he’s wearing the masks correctly or not, though it looks correct to me.) Smoke or vapor (I’m not especially familiar with the technology) streams out from the edges of the mask on every side. The smoke or vapor is there there simply to help you visualize how leaky cheap masks are. Clearly, my mask doesn’t protect you, and your mask doesn’t protect me. (The video was originally posted on YouTube several times, and taken down every time. It’s now on BitChute. The Powers obviously don’t want you to see failure modes in enforced conventional wisdom.)

Even a high-quality mask will leak around the edges, especially if you have a nonstandard face. We needn’t mention gaiters, which have no mechanism for preventing significant jets through the gaps on either side of your nose.

Now, I told you all that to tell you all this: Suppose a high-quality, perfectly fitting mask worn perfectly traps a significant number of aerosol particles. Here’s the extra-large economy-sized question:

How do you guarantee that all mask wearers are wearing effective masks that fit well and are worn correctly?

We all know the answer: You don’t. Masking is a collective exercise. It’s gotta be almost everybody or it might as well be nobody. There is no enforcement mechanism that will render a mask-wearing public immune to SARS-CoV-2. I’m pretty sure there’s no enforcement mechanism that will keep a mask-wearing public from exhaling massive numbers of aerosol viruses. Post mask cops on streetcorners, checking mask types and adjusting them to fit correctly and well? Really? Most of the public doesn’t like masking and will do the minimum necessary to meet a mask mandate. I’m thinking a lot of them will wear their masks as loosely as possible, just for spite.

My conclusion is this:

Enforcing an effective mask mandate on the public is impossible.

I can already hear the crowd screaming at me: “The perfect is the enemy of the good!” Well, yes. In this case, the chain of contingencies leading to effectiveness is so long that anything less than perfect is just about no good at all.

“But if a mask stops even one virus…”

The fifty billion other viruses gleefully jetting away around the edges of your mask might want a word with you. Or maybe they’ll just laugh.


Note well: This is a controversial topic, and as with all such topics, I require heroic courtesy from all commenters. Screaming at me won’t convince me of anything; it just makes you look like a moron. I’d appreciate that if you take issue with something I’ve said, take issue with the point I actually made.

The Ionophore Experiment

A year and some months ago, when the whole COVID-19 thing was just getting out of second gear, one of the doctors I see recommended that Carol and I take zinc and the OTC supplement quercetin every day. The explanation was simple: Quercetin is a zinc ionophore. Ionophores are chemicals able to transport certain ions through cell membranes through which those ions would not ordinarily pass. Zinc is known to attack viruses of all sorts, especially cold and flu viruses. Quercetin attaches to zinc ions and escorts them through cell membranes, into the cells where viruses replicate. Zinc stops virus replication cold.

This sounded familiar, and it was. About that time I had begun hearing of the work of Dr. Zev Zelenko, a New York physician who had begun treating early COVID-19 patients with a drug cocktail consisting of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), Zinc, and an antibiotic. Dr. Zelenko has a wonderful metaphor describing the cocktail’s operation: Zinc is the bullet. HCQ is the gun. Sure, it’s a little more complex than that, but despite metric megatonnes of anti-HCQ bullshit in the media, the cocktail works.

I’ve seen quercetin described as a zinc ionophore in many places. HCQ is also a known zinc ionophore. It’s a prescription drug that must be taken under medical supervision to avoid certain side effects. However, people I know personally are taking it every day and have for years for autoiummune disorders. I’m not sure how you measure the effectiveness of one zinc ionophore vs. another, so it’s unclear how “strong” an ionophore has to be. Everything I’ve read suggests that quercetin is strong enough to kill viruses wholesale by escorting zinc into cells.

Quercetin has, at best, mild side effects. It’s found in many foods, including kale. Alas, I won’t eat kale, so I take it as an extract in a gelcap. Carol and I followed the physician’s advice, and we’ve been taking 800 mg of quercetin once daily in a formula that includes bromelain. We also take 50 mg zinc daily in the form of zinc gluconate. I’ve talked about this before here on Contra, though it may have been a whole year ago or more. I bring it up again because Carol and I have noticed something unrelated to COVID-19: Neither of us has gotten a cold since we began taking quercetin plus zinc.

And that, my friends, is worth something. My long-time readers have heard me bitch about catching colds and feeling miserable down the years. I get one or sometimes two bad colds a year, and a scattering of sniffles that last for a few days and vanish. We get flu shots, but we still got the flu really bad back at the end of 2017. So the experiment is this: Even though we’re fully vaccinated, we’re going to keep taking quercetin plus zinc, and see how long it is before either of us catches a cold or flu. (We’ll still get our flu shots. I’m a strong believer in vaccination.)

Now, a lot of the country is still hiding out, though here in Arizona mask mandates are mostly a thing of the past. So it’s possible that we ducked colds for the past fourteen months by simply not rubbing shoulders with people much. Those days are past. We shop at big stores like Safeway and Target and Costco even when they’re crowded and nobody has masks. In other words, we’re more or less back to normal life. And my experience of “normal life” prior to COVID was (at least) one cold a year.

Carol and I aren’t worried about COVID anymore. Is it possible that we don’t have to worry about catching colds either? I’m turning 69 in a week. I’ll recap in another year. There’s still no cure for the common cold, but if two OTC supplements can stop colds before they start, man, I call that a revolution–and one helluva birthday present!

Music You’ve Heard But Can’t Name

Leroy Anderson came up in conversation recently, and I remarked that his orchestral compositions are a perfect example of music that everybody’s heard but (almost) nobody can name. When you hear an Anderson piece, you think, Sure, everybody’s heard that! But then you waste a minute or two trying to remember what it’s called. And you fail.

There are exceptions. Anderson wrote “Sleigh Ride,” and although you may not remember the name of the composer, you damned well know the name of the song.

I’m not sure what Leroy Anderson’s most-heard but least-named piece is, but I’d wager it’s “Fiddle Faddle.” (If you like ants, here’s a video of ants walking around to “Fiddle Faddle.” Don’t watch it if you don’t like bugs. Fits somehow, though, doesn’t it?) Second place may well go to “Blue Tango.” with “Forgotten Dreams” close behind. A lot of people know the name of “The Syncopated Clock,” but fewer, I think, could name Anderson as the composer.

My personal Anderson favorite may not be quite as well-known (It only made it to #180 of the Billboard annual tally–in 1953) but if you’re among the 50+ crowd, you’ve definitely heard it. And the sound effects pretty much give it away. My grandmother gifted me her huge cast-iron Underwood typewriter in 1962, when I could barely lift it myself. I pounded on it for six years, until my godmother bought me a Smith-Corona electric in 1968. The Underwood Standard #5 hammered out a lot of my juvenalia during its tenure, but I’m pretty sure that it could not smack the platen anywhere near fast enough to do justice to Anderson’s borderline-manic “The Typewriter.” This guy tries pretty hard, though with a much smaller typewriter.

Which leads me to wonder: How many people these days have ever actually heard a manual typeriter, much less used one?

As for un-nameable music, Leroy Anderson had no lock on the concept. I think a lot of people have heard at least portions of “The Light Cavalry Overture” without knowing what it was. You’ll have to listen for a couple of minutes to get to the familiar part. But when you do, you’ll know it. It’s become a metaphor for slogging doggedly along, and in truth I like the other parts better. Ditto Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld Overture.” You have to get about seven minutes into the work, but, then, yes, you’ve heard it a hundred times.

Any others come to mind?

Proposal: A New Standard for Encloseable Small Computers

Monitors are getting big. Computers are getting small. I think I’ve mentioned this idea before: a cavity in a monitor big enough to hold a Raspberry Pi, with the monitor providing power, video display, and a couple of USB ports for connecting peripherals like mice, keyboards, and thumb drives. Several of my Dell monitors have a coaxial power jack intended for speaker bars, and a USB hub as well. I’ve opened up a couple of those monitors to replace bad electrolytics, and as with most computer hardware, a lot of that internal volume is dead space.

The idea of a display with an internal computer has long been realized in TVs, many of which come with Android computers inside. That said, I’ve found them more a nuisance than useful, especially since I can’t inspect and don’t control the software. These days I outsource TV computing to a Windows 10 Intel NUC sitting on the TV cabinet behind the TV.

The top model of the Raspberry Pi 4, with 8 GB RAM, is basically as powerful as a lot of intermediate desktops, with more than enough crunch for typical office work; Web, word processing, spreadsheets, etc. With the Debian-based Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian) and its suite of open-source applications, you’ve got a desktop PC. More recently, the company has released the Raspberry Pi 400, which is a custom 4GB RPi 4 built into a keyboard, with I/O brought out the back edge. (In truth, I’d rather have it built into a display, as I am extremely fussy about my keyboards.) Computers within keyboards have a long history, going back to (I think) the now-forgotten Sol-20 or perhaps the Exidy Sorcerer. (Both appeared in 1978.)

What I want is breadth, which means the ability to install any of the modern small single-board computers, like the Beaglebone and its many peers. Breadth requires standardization, both in the monitor and in the computer. And if a standard existed, it could be implemented in monitors, keyboards, printers, standalone cases, robot chassis, and anything else that might be useful with a tiny computer in its tummy.

A standard would require both physical and electrical elements. Electrical design would be necessary to bring video, networking, and USB outside the enclosure, whatever the enclosure is. (I reject the bottom-feeder option of just leaving a hole in the back of the enclosure to bring out conventional cables.) This means the boards themselves would have to be designed to mate with the enclosure. What I’m envisioning is something with a card slot in it, and a slot spec for video, network, i2s, and USB connections. (GPIO might not be available through the slot.) The boards themselves would have slot connectors along one edge, designed to the standard. The redesigned boards could be smaller and thinner (and cheaper) without the need for conventional video, network, audio, and USB jacks. (Network connectors are increasingly unnecessary now that many boards have on-board WiFi and Bluetooth antennas.) Picture something like the Raspberry Pi Zero with edge connectors for I/O.

Defining such a standard would be a minor exercise in electrical engineering. The big challenge would be getting a standards body like ANSI interested in adopting it. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has the engineering chops, obviously, and once a standard has been created and proven out, groups like IEEE or ANSI might be more inclined to adopt it and make it “official.”

I understand that this might “fork” the small-board computing market between GPIO boards and non-GPIO boards. Leaving the GPIO pads on the opposite edge of the board is of course possible, and would allow the board to be enclosed or out in the open, or inside some other sort of enclosure that leaves room for GPIO connections. A big part of the draw of the small boards is the ability to add hardware functionality in a “hat” that plugs into the GPIO bus, and I don’t want to minimize that. I think that there’s a market for non-GPIO boards that vanish inside some larger device or enclosure that provides jacks for connections to the outside world. The Raspberry Pi 400 is an excellent example of this, with GPIO header access as well. What I’m proposing is a standard that would allow a single enclosure device to be available to any board designed to the standard.

Ok, it would be hard–for small values of hard. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be well worth doing.

The Question That Nobody’s Asking

I’ve been scratching my head a lot lately, and I need to stop before I wear through my scalp. (My natural armor has been mostly gone for thirty-five years.) It’s a natural, nay obvious question, which I’m putting in bold and giving its own paragraph:

If masks prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections, where did the current explosion of cases and deaths come from?

Take a look at the screenshot below. This is from the Arizona Department of Health Services’ COVID-19 dashboard. The graph is deaths by date of death for the entire state of Arizona. The curve starts heading toward the sky during the last week in October.

AZCovidDeathsGraph-500 wide.png

Maricopa County, where we live, issued a mask mandate on June 19, 2020. That was right about when the first near-vertical slope in the graph began. It took a few weeks for the mandate to catch on, but by August 1, it was pretty much universal. That’s about when the curve started to fall. There was a certain amount of crowing that the mask mandate had brought the pandemic under control in the state.

Then the end of October happened.

Now, I’ve been watching not only whether people are wearing masks in retail outlets and offices (they are) but also what kinds of masks and how they’re being worn. Over time, the masks are getting better. I’m actually seeing KN95 masks with some frequency, and it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen a useless “train robber” bandana mask anywhere. Mask adherence in the state is at 90%, which aligns with what I’ve seen, if perhaps on the low side. That’s a mighty high rate.

So again, my question: With mask adherence at 90%, why is the curve still so high? Note that the graph is of the days deaths happen, not when they are reported. Death reports are not all received by the state on the days deaths happen, and reports from rural areas can take a week or more to get to AzDHS. What looks like a falling curve at the right edge of the graph may simply be due to lag time in reporting.

There is certainly some inflation of death counts due to the problem of “with COVID but not of COVID.” Some. I don’t think that kind of confusion can cause the numbers we’re seeing here. And it’s inevitable that a certain amount of fraud happens; I’ve seen the news stories describing gunshot suicides, car accidents, and victims of alcohol poisoning described as COVID-19 deaths–some without a positive test for the virus. However, if there had been enough fraud to cause this explosion in deaths, somebody somewhere would have said something.

Wouldn’t they?

Ok. Although I’m open to other theories, I think it’s significant that something happened in the last week of October: Arizona temperatures crashed hard. We had a long, lingering summer here. Mid-October was still giving us 90+ degree days. That went down into the 60s and 70s in a big hurry.

It’s long been known that viral respiratory diseases become much more prevalent in cold weather. Why this should happen isn’t known with certainty. One theory is that influenza and corona viruses have a coating that becomes more rugged in colder temps, giving the virus a longer survival time in air and even in sun. Dry weather favors viruses for reasons that, again, are far from clear.

Well, in Arizona we have dry weather in spades, year-round. Cold, not so much. In fact, a typical winter’s day here is probably about the same temp as a typical summer’s day in North Dakota. Given the uncertainty about what causes viruses to infect more readily in winter, could it be a conjunction of cooler (than usual) temps and extreme dryness? Or (and I like this one better) is there something about the effect of a fall in temperatures (the delta, not the absolute temps) on the human body that gives the virus free rein?

That’s the only theory I have that I haven’t already shot down. It wasn’t Thanksgiving gatherings; the curve took off close to a month before Thanksgiving. And for all that, I consider it pretty thin gruel. It’s dry here probably 340 days a year. It’s even drier in summer than winter.

The theory that people spend more time indoors than outdoors in winter doesn’t apply in Arizona. The reverse is largely the case: When it’s 110 degrees outside, most people stay indoors, or maybe stand up to their necks in the pool. Winter is when people jog, bike, hike, and work outdoors, getting lots of fresh air and plenty of sun (and thus crucial Vitamin D) on their faces, arms, and legs.

Again, where the hell did that near-vertical runup in deaths come from?

I’ll tell you where it didn’t come from: People ditching their masks. The fact that mask compliance is at 90+% during an explosion in COVID-19 deaths screams out something a lot of people don’t want to hear: Masks don’t prevent infection. If they did, the increase would have been a lot more gradual, and probably a lot lower in magnitude.

Let me put it in short, simple words: Masks have been sold as a means of stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2. They’ve been sold hard. Mask skeptics get called a whole lot of dirty words, even though we wear masks as a courtesy to the rule of law. Faced with a graph like the one the State of Arizona itself puts out, what are we supposed to think?

The graph says something else, perhaps a little more quietly: There are no COVID-19 experts. We still have very little understanding of how this thing spreads and (especially) why it hits some people so devastatingly hard, and others barely at all. When our (often self-appointed) experts told us to put on masks, we put on masks. And then the graph went through the roof.

I wish I had answers. I don’t. Why two peaks instead of one? What had been going on between the end of July and the end of September? Were we doing something right? If so, what? And what did we start doing wrong in late October?

Nobody knows. Read that again: Nobody knows.

If I figure it out, you’ll read about it here.