Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Odd Lots

  • Pertinent to my last two entries here: City Journal proposes what I proposed two years ago: To reduce the toxicity of social media, slow it down. What they propose is not exponential delays of replies and retweets to replies and retweets until those delays extend fifteen minutes or more. Like a nuclear reactor control rod, that would slow the explosion down until the hotheads cooled off or got bored and went elsewhere. Instead, they suggest Twitter insist on a minimum of 280 characters to posts. That might help some, but if the clue is to slow down viral posts, eliminate the middleman and just slow down responses until “viral” becomes so slow that further response simply stops.
  • A statistical study of mask use vs. COVID-19 outcomes found no correlation between mask use and better outcomes, but actually discovered some small correlation between mask use and worse outcomes. Tough read, but bull through it.
  • While not as systematic as the above study, an article on City Journal drives another nail in the coffin of “masks as infection prevention.” Graph the infection rates in states with mask mandates and states with no mask mandates and they come out…almost exactly the same.
  • Our Sun is getting rowdy, and getting rowdier earlier than expected. Cycle 25 is starting out with a bang. Recent cycles have been relatively peaceful, and nobody is suggesting that Cycle 25 will be anything close to the Cycle 19 peak (1957-58) which was the most active sunspot max in instrumental history. What Cycle 25 may turn out to be is average, which mean 20 meters may start to become a lot more fun than it has been in recent (slow) years.
  • And this leads to another question I’ve seen little discussion on: To what extent are damaging solar storms correlated to sunspot peaks? The huge solar storm of 1921 took place closer to the sunspot minimum than the maximum. The legendary Carrington event of 1859 took place during the fairly weak Cycle 10. As best I can tell, it’s about individual sunspots, and not the general state of the Sun at any point in time.
  • NASA’s Perseverence Mars rover caught a solar eclipse, when Phobos crossed the disk of the Sun as seen from Perseverence. The video of the eclipse was sped up, but it really is a startling image, especially if you know a little about Phobos, which is decidedly non-spherical.
  • I found this very cool: An online, Web-based x86/x64 assembler/disassembler. Although intended for computer security pros, I found it a lot of fun and it may turn out to be useful here and there as I begin to revise my assembly book for the fourth time.
  • Skipping sleep can lead to putting on belly fat, which is absolutely the worst place to have it. Get all the sleep you can, duh. Sleep is not optional.
  • How many stars are there in the observable universe? It’s a far trickier and sublter calculation than you might think. But the final number looked familiar to me, and might look familiar to people who do low-level programming.


  1. Keith says:

    What is your source that says the video of the transit of the sun by Phobos was sped up? I saw a comment in one of the articles I read that did a calculation using 8 hours as the orbital period of Phobos and .3 degrees as the apparent diameter of the sun from Mars to get the transit time being essentially equal to what the video showed.

  2. I don’t recall. I’m glad you did the math, and gleefully accept your results. I wade through a lot of stuff looking for interesting things to post here and on Twitter. Sometimes I misremember. It’s an old guy thing.

    1. Keith says:

      I did not do the calculation — I was just reporting on what I recalled of a calculation I saw in some other article about the video of the transit. The calculation seemed correct to me, so I wanted to alert you that you might have received wrong information.

  3. Bob Wilson says:

    “Get all the sleep you can, duh. Sleep is not optional.” I think the emphasis has to be on ”you can.” Articles like the one you quote seem to think that people can control how much they sleep. I think our control over sleep is much less than you think. I’ve been a lifelong insomniac and actually articles like this make my insomnia worse.

    1. I think the people they’re talking about are those who can sleep just fine but choose to stay up until 1 ayem even if they have to get up to go to work at 6. I know a lot of people like that.

      As for insomnia, I’ve had good luck with a new class of sleeping pill called dual orexin receptor antagonists (DORAs) that you might ask your doc about. There’s only two on the market so far (Belsomra/suvorexant and Dayvigo/lemborexant) but others are in development. I’ve tried both, and they’re more or less the same.

      1. TRX says:

        I found out a dietary supplement called L-Tryptophan didn’t do much for what I was taking it for, but one of the side effects applied to me: it makee me sleep like a rock. Good solid sleep, that I wake up from refreshed and ready to start a new day, not edging in and out of semi-sleep for a while before I could manage to crawl out of bed.

        It’s inexpensive, but it might be hard to find locally. eBay and most online retailers sell it, though.

        1. I’ll ask Carol about that. She’s the medical expert in the family. I’ve heard of tryptophan (mostly in connection with turkey meat) but I don’t think I’ve ever taken it. Might be worth a shot.

          1. Rich Rostrom says:

            I remember your former brother-in-law Doug saying that he’d had a health issue which was resolved when he “did a lot of tryptophan”. I can’t remember anything more (it was a long time ago), but the comment stuck in my memory for some reason.

        2. greatUnknown says:

          L-Tryptophan is a natural amino acid, part and parcel of our proteins. It is interesting in that in high-light environments it is metabolized to serotonin, which is a mood booster [and occasionally used to treat depression] but in low-light environments the serotonin is further synthesized into melatonin, which induces and maintains sleep. Some people take melatonin directly as a sleep aid, but it has a rather short half-life in vivo; using L-Tryptophan stretches out the time of effectiveness.

          1. Thanks; I haven’t researched it yet and that’s a good start. The light/no light difference is fascinating. During the day I work in light as bright as I can get it. Besides, this is…Arizona. At night I like it dead dark. So it would be interesting to try taking it first thing in the morning and just before I turn in. I vaguely recall that the FDA found some problem with it and banned it for ten years or so a long time back; must look that up too.

  4. Rich Rostrom says:

    “To what extent are damaging solar storms correlated to sunspot peaks?”

    Given that the Earth is a very small target, I suspect that the intensity of solar storms here is mainly affected by whether the plasma blob happens to hit us square on.

  5. Mapleton Reader says:

    Just a few thoughts on mask research.

    I believe it is notoriously difficult to get good data on the effectiveness of masks. Designing a useful (statisical) experiment for mask effectiveness is difficult but should be the most robust in forming conclusions. Doing statistics on the effectiveness of mask mandates as a surrogate for mask effectiveness causes confusion and faulty conclusions unless one is very careful. In fact RA Fisher, one of the fathers of statistical analysis said the doing statistics on existing data is like doing a post-mortem, at most you can tell what the patient (experiment) died from.

    That said, the first study cited should be taken with a grain of salt. This study tried to see if there was a correlation of mask wearing against Covid death based on aggregated death data and reported masking percentages. The death data is likely accurate but it would be challenging to know how accurate the masking percentage was. The fact there wasn’t any correlation should not be surprising unless masking was “highly” effective. The fact that there was a slight correlation between masking and death is interesting. However, could it be that older and immunocompromised people (who tend to be the most likely to die) are also the ones most likely to wear a mask?)

    The second CJ article is also subject to the same caveats. The “natural” experiment was not statistically designed and subject to confounding events. Again the most we can expect from such a study is that the mask effectiveness can’t be very high.

    See for a nice study, statistically designed study (which was not double blind for obvious reasons), that tries to show whether or not masks are effective against covid infections (using 360,000+ individuals in Bangladesh). They found masks reduced Covid infections by ~10% with no adverse effects. Ten percent is a rather low number (some other studies suggest a larger number, around 30%) but I will go with the lower number here. This number is low enough that it was likely swallowed up in the “noise” of the first two aggregate studies in Jeff’s post. This study also makes a point that those wearing a mask also social distanced more, perhaps another factor in the reduction in covid infections.

    Now if we believe masks are 0% effective, we can then state mask mandates are ineffective and should not be done. If masks are 10% effective, should we still argue against them (especially for those who chose not to be vaccinated)?

    It raises an interesting hypothetical. Should states pass laws to allow people to take ivermectin ( as well as other articles – do search on site) which is now shown to have no clinical benefit) while curtailing mask mandates (shown to have a minor but positive effect)?

    For a lengthy view of misinformation about masks please see

    1. The thing about masks is that they cannot be tested against anything but very large populations.That’s why I consider graphs of mask use against case rates valid for a state or a nation–but not for a smaller, corruptible cohort. There is tremendous pressure from power centers to demonstrate mask effectiveness. I’m not sure I trust any study that includes fewer than a million people. Masking is about populations–entire, large populations–and network effects predominate. I’ve explained this in detail before and won’t cover it again here. Mask discipline cannot be forced. Period, full stop. Most masks are useless. Even good masks have jets at the edges unless they are worn so tightly that people simply won’t do it. Any such effort by a political party to police masking in a useful way would be the death of that party.

      As for ivermectin, well, I don’t accept that it has no clinical benefit. The politics of the issue are so utterly poisonous and biased in favor of the “no effect” crowd that I consider the question at best unknowable. There are plenty of physicians who have had success with ivermectin. Many of them were attacked for off-label prescribing, some to the point of having their licenses revoked. What are we to make of clinical reports? Do we brush them all aside because admitting ivermectin works would invalidate Pfizer’s EUA? That’s how it sounds from here.

      Please answer this question, which I consider key to the whole business: What are the medical (not regulatory) hazards of prescribing the human formulation of ivermectin at known-safe doses?

      1. Mapleton Reader says:

        See for my previous answer to your question you posed.

        In response to your other concerns, I would encourage you to read the Yale mask study methodology I referenced. It details the accuracy of determining mask usage along with the protocol for testing for covid infection (including blood tests for antibodies for asymptomatic individuals) for the experiment. I would argue that the 300,000+ data points along with the analysis is better than the graphs of the “estimates” of mask wearing (with the caveats you mentioned) along with covid deaths as a surrogate for covid infections.

        I believe you also have a false idea about the sample size needed to determine an effect in a statistically designed study. (see for a readable version. For example a sample size of 1000 has an error of 3.2% in the final results. Going to a 10,000 sample size you have an error of 1%. Since the mask study indicated had 300,000+ samples is was pretty accurate at picking up a difference of 10% mask effectiveness against covid infection (+/- 1% assuming the 10,000 sample size). I note that the articles you cited do not provide a accuracy statement, only a p-value with the unstated assumption of 100% accuracy in the data used (mask percentage and covid deaths in place of covid infections)

        It also appears that you are conflating mask mandates with mask effectiveness. That only confuses the issue that I am speaking about, mask effectiveness against covid. The effectiveness of mask mandates is a separate but important issue that the Yale study plays into.

        My approach for ivermectin effectiveness is similar. Can it be shown by a statistically valid test to be clinically useful against covid? The answer so far is no on the side of experimental designed tests, and yes based on what appears to be cherry-picked data and early non-rigorous small sample data. The bias that you mention toward the the “no effect” crowd can likely be traced more rigorous studies performed that remove confounding issues (including the placebo effect). The study results remain, whether or not people disagree with them. The results can only be refuted by showing the study cannot be replicated, or at worse, there was fraudulent data included (as was the case with some early ivermectin studies [google this for references]). The slobbering, poisonous invective pro and con for ivermectin is a separate issue. This invective does not change the science of statistically designed experiments (and their results as confirmed by other experiments).

        1. Please answer my question.

          1. Mapleton Reader says:

            Copied from source noted from first sentence (dated March 31). Sorry, for referencing it rather than a copy/paste.

            2) In answer to your question, There probably isn’t any medical hazard of treating Covid with ivermectin at proper dosages. There also isn’t any hazards of treating Covid with aspirin, vitamins A, C, D, or K, Zyrtec, sugar pills, or Pringles potato chips (all at proper dosages) other than it won’t help. I should note however that medical science has found that the placebo effect is real and may have some positive effect. This is why a good research study will compare any proposed treatment against a placebo (with the doctors AND patients unaware of which is which (e.g. double blind)) to remove this bias in the study.

          2. Mapleton Reader says:

            Please accept my apologies. My motives at first were simply to point out some issues I saw with some of the covid and mask articles. I’m afraid that I ended up sounding rather shrill. What’s worse, my motives became more contentious and self-righteous for which I am sorry, and especially so if that bled through my comments to you and your readers. It is clear that you and I disagree about what we accept as important and what constitutes proof or support of our beliefs.

            It seems unlikely that we will change one another’s opinions. I however appreciate the mental challenge of reviewing the covid and mask literature that you cite and hope some of my comments may have added some balance or clarification despite my behavior. I wish you well.

            (I don’t know the order in which the blog will place this comment. It was posted after my “May 18, 2022 at 8:14 PM” post).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.