Chris X Edwards

Enjoyed skiing the new snow in Breck this morning. Free parking, no lift waits - in fact, I saw no one on the groomed trails. #Nordic FTW.
2021-02-27 12:12
Socks always seem to lack chirality until you get the first one on and then it's obvious the other sock goes on that foot.
2021-02-24 09:25
Another tip: if you own skis(etc) that you must leave unattended and you like them, decorate them with your favorite theme and contact info.
2021-02-21 19:49
When renting sports gear (skis, bikes, skates, etc) take photos of any satisfactory sizes and settings; keep with other photos of the event.
2021-02-18 09:16
Anyone tried typing "goggles" recently? It's comically difficult these days.
2021-02-06 14:00
Blah Blah
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Vaccines - Let's Not Give Them To Everybody

2021-02-02 21:25

Oh god, not another post about The Plague. Ug. I’m so sick of it! But I have to squeak my little thoughts yet again because some of what I see in the news is so maddening! I’m going to throw a quick disclaimer that I’m not necessarily solving the world’s pandemic problem — that’s not my job — but I can point out some things to think carefully about.

First on the list is vaccines! Wooo! A magical cure. Perfect. But there are problems. Over on Marginal Revolution they’re really pushing the idea that distribution plans for these two dose systems are badly conceived. Let’s take pharma at face value for a second and assume that after two injections you are completely immune from The Plague. But after only one injection? Let’s be pessimistic and say it offers 70% of the protection. (Let’s not even worry about what that exactly means because, god knows, articles on the topic don’t.) The question can be best thought about on an island of 1000 people who get a shipment of 800 vaccines. Should 400 people become essentially immune? Or should 800 people become almost immune? Well, I’m not going to do the math, but I will point out that some math should be done.

Don’t forget to throw in the adverse effects being widely reported. It seems that spending a couple of days in bed is not uncommon after the second shot. At least according to the FDA.

The most commonly reported side effects, which typically lasted several days, were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting, and fever. Of note, more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose, so it is important for vaccination providers and recipients to expect that there may be some side effects after either dose, but even more so after the second dose.

Interestingly there are rumors that side effects seem concentrated on the first injection if you’ve already had Covid19.

It doesn’t stop with a single dose strategy though. Sensational articles are making white people FOMO at the mouth because minorities may be prioritized over cranky old people of no color. That is a big sensational distraction but it is also subtle. Here are the CDC’s distribution priorities. They correctly get the first three right:

  • Ensure safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines

  • Reduce transmission, morbidity, mortality of COVID-19 disease

  • Help minimize disruption to society and economy, including maintaining healthcare capacity

But in my opinion the final one is wrong.

  • Ensure equity in vaccine allocation and distribution

I get it — disadvantaged people have enough disadvantages. But this really should be a subordinate priority. We don’t give a flying shit who gets an injection; what we care about is ending the pandemic. We know the CDC can be so coldly heartless and focused on such large scale pragmatic utilitarianism. We know this because all of their advice "for" victims of Covid 19 is essentially tips for how the victim can limit their danger to others.

Are you following me here? What I’m trying to say is that if you want that latinx hotel maid to not die of Covid19, you must prioritize ending the pandemic. It may seem that arbitrary/random/equitable allocation of vaccines is as sensible as anything but that is a failure of imagination. A more sensible plan is to find strategic points where the pandemic is spread and focus on that. Check out this random person’s blog post from 2017 which summarizes Season 2 Episode 5 of the great Canadian TV series "Travelers". In the show people from the future come back in time to sort out problems. In this episode they’re curing a plague. Check this plot out:

The current flu killed 70,000 people worldwide in the original timeline. According to Phillip, over the next few months an antigenic shift will allow the virus to mutate, affecting more of the population, but it’s eventually gotten under control. The broad spectrum antiviral they’ve been given will prevent the virus from developing each of its mutations. The mission is to save three host candidates who died the first time around, and also spread the virus- a flight attendant, a personal trainer, and a travel blogger.

While the team is inoculating their three targets, two more targets are being inoculated in Shanghai, China and Berlin, Germany.

marcy.jpg

Note that some of their medical practices, as shown above, are probably too advanced; in the show, these are people from the future with perfect knowledge. But in reality they are Canadian people writing a TV show script and they’re showing more good sense than the CDC! They’ve realized that a few key people are the biggest problems — super-spreaders — and need to be targeted to most effectively save <insert your favorite demographic group here>. Flight attendants (men/women, gay/straight, any color) probably should be vaccinated! After a year of this virus do we really still wonder who is spreading it? Moralizing should not be a part of the model — vaccinate the homeless, drug dealers/addicts, prostitutes, clergy, politicians, etc. The details need to be worked out, but is working out some details too much to ask with the biggest calamity of our lives?

And now we come to the main story that’s been driving me especially crazy. A couple of weeks ago I posted about the new flood of rough articles attempting to address the critical question of how long does immunity last? For people who asymptomatically tested positive? For people who had serious symptoms? And, importantly, for people who have been vaccinated?

Now that more people are awake to the issue I’m getting the feeling that a huge amount of speculating is coming from one particular article.

This was the "medical" article that the "news" articles I cited last time cited. Basically it seems that a lot of people skimmed the abstract and walked away with this quirky — likely wrong — fact.

Interpretation: A prior history of SARS-CoV-2 infection was associated with an 83% lower risk of infection…

I went ahead and read the whole thing — it’s written in regular enough English and not really that long. If anyone can tell me where that 83% number comes from, I’d really appreciate it because I could neither find nor calculate anything close to that in the body of the article.

What I did find was this.

…participants in the positive [already infected previously, presumably now recovered] cohort had 99% lower odds of probable reinfection…

(There is confusion about what "83% lower risk" and "99% lower odds" means; consider a 20% off sale made 50% better; is that 30% off or 70% off? But…) No matter how you interpret that, it would seem that having been infected previously is very helpful in not getting infected again.

This study is pretty good given the chaos of the last year, but it leaves much to be desired. For example, it doesn’t account for severity of disease presentation. Stronger symptoms may imply a stronger immune response — remember those cytokine storms?

The cohort in this paper was 84% female! While I understand why a bunch of health care workers might skew this way, that doesn’t exactly improve the clarity of the study.

I am also skeptical of reported odds of "re-infection" because of the large amount of information pouring in from people who have "long haul" Covid. Are symptoms of the same infection flaring up? Were they never fully "recovered"? These tests seem to be antibody tests and if there’s one thing we know about antibodies, it is that the immune system is complicated. I don’t have answers but that is a genuine complication. Here’s a direct quote from the paper in question, "…some of these potential reinfections were likely residual RNA detection at low population prevalence rather than true reinfections…" This is interesting too, "Investigations have been restricted by the limited availability of data and samples from historic infections, with most swabs discarded without sequencing, preventing the genomic comparison between infection episodes required to confirm a reinfection." Or how about "…use a range of testing platforms and assays, there is the possibility of misclassification bias." Or "Some of those PCR results, especially early in the epidemic, may have been false positives or laboratory contamination episodes…" At least they know they don’t know.

The citations provide a long list of interesting reinfection reports. I’m still predicting that the vaccines will not be radically better than previous live symptomatic exposure. Yet even if vaccines are somehow better, there will still inevitably be issues with efficacy.

My reading of the actual numbers is that out of the 6614 people they identified as having some kind of test profile suggesting infection only 2 of them "probably" were reinfected (13 had suggestive symptoms and 44 total is the maximum that could possibly have had "it" by any loose definition). That’s a reinfection rate of 0.03% (to 0.67% assuming the loosest standards of reinfection). Compare that to an infection rate of 318 among 14173 unprotected subjects, 2.24% (to 2.91% if you add antibody seroconversions).

The results do seem unambiguous and they say as much.

This study supports the hypothesis that primary infection with SARS-CoV-2 provides a high degree of immunity to repeat infection in the short to medium term; with similar levels of prevention of symptomatic infection as current licensed vaccines for working age adults.

I’m going to let that be the final message. If you will be comfortable hanging around with someone who was vaccinated a year previously, you should be safe with me today.

UPDATE 2021-02-20

There’s another dimension to the topic of vaccinations and that is whether an immunized person can spread the virus while being at low risk of developing any symptoms themselves.

This article in Smithsonian Magazine frames the problem like so.

Since scientists haven’t yet found evidence that the vaccines provide mucosal immunity, someone who is vaccinated and has no symptoms of illness may be carrying the live SARS-CoV-2 virus and spreading it to others when they cough, breath or sneeze.

The article also brings up a very interesting possibility that I don’t hear much discussion about.

A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in November shows that people who recover from natural Covid-19 infections develop antibodies to protect the mucosal regions in the respiratory tract, but there is no evidence yet that the same is true with vaccine-induced immunity.

Too bad the link to that study is broken for me. But this is hardly supportive of the idea that vaccination protects society far better than a naturally acquired immunity attained by surviving the disease.

The Weapon That Killed Satire

2021-01-25 06:22

After reading descriptions of two decorated guns and told one was a Canadian parody of American chauvinism and the other was an actual unironic manifestation thereof, I believe most people would no longer be able to tell the difference.

fc5cosplay.jpg

Ticks Vs. Covid19

2021-01-22 21:45

Stephen Colbert has a routine where he asks celebrities a bunch of questions, one of which is "What is the scariest animal?" Here is George Clooney answering incorrectly. No, it is not "hippo". Sorry. The correct answer, which I have been attacked by in George’s hometown, is: tick. We’ll come back to ticks, which are very scary animals indeed.

For some reason the New York Times has put out a very long article on the long term effects of Covid19.

And then on the same day, they put out an even longer article on the same topic. (By the way, quick tip, I just do a Ctrl-a and copy the entire article into the clipboard and paste it somewhere sensible. Because I’m not interested in playing paywall games with links. If you let a search engine read it, you’ll let me read it.)

Really, that one is impressively long — so long that I could easily imagine that people with the malady they describe could easily get fatigued by reading it. I’ve been in training for reading such long articles for a while so I made it through both. And they were pretty interesting.

One bit I found very interesting in the first article was this mention of everybody’s favorite Covid19 spokesman.

In early December, the National Institutes of Health held its first workshop on long Covid, saying it posed a looming crisis and needed to be taken seriously as a syndrome. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, told a crowd of medical researchers, doctors and public-health officials that even if long Covid affected a small proportion of the millions of people infected with the virus, it is "going to represent a significant public-health issue."

Yup. I’ve been saying this for a long time. Let me share with you an excerpt from an email I sent to the brilliant economist, Tyler Cowen, on 2020-10-19.

But as an early adopter of C19 …, I can tell you - there can be long term effects.

It may be that they all clear up for everyone who suffered in a year or two. Who knows? But consider this — if I’m (effectively) operating at 3000m altitude some days and a lot of other people are too, I worry that it will not be negligible to general productivity. That kind of fatigue is not easy for mountaineers and it’s not going to be easy for normal people. Let’s hope there was plenty of productivity slack in our civilization!

So that’s fun. Good luck to everyone.

I’d say the biggest buzzkill for the whole area is Borellia. Borellia is a kind of bacterium that causes Lyme Disease. If you think it’s a pain for humans, these poor arachnids are now even more reviled than they used to be.

2018-10-03-1748-tick.jpg

In that second very long NYT article I found it quite interesting that lingering Covid19 symptoms seem quite similar to Lyme disease.

A similar argument over what drives chronic symptoms — persistent infection versus lingering inflammation from a past infection — appears prominently in the study of Lyme disease. Some people infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the tick-borne bacterium that causes Lyme, fail to recover even after antibiotic treatment. Patients may refer to this illness as "chronic Lyme disease," but doctors prefer to call it "post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome," because they’re not sure an infection is still really there. As in ME/CFS research, the debate over the root cause of this post-Lyme illness has for years polarized the field.

There are other similarities as well. The Lyme problem is underrecognized but immense. Every year, an estimated 329,000 people are infected by B. burgdorferi. About 10 percent of those treated with antibiotics develop lasting symptoms, including fatigue, pain and occasionally nervous-system conditions like dysautonomia — heart rate, blood pressure and other basic bodily functions in disarray. It appears to strike women more than men, it has long been dismissed as psychological and the long-term illness is often judged worse than the acute infection.

That’s like finding out that sharks can now travel all the same places as squirrels. Great.

People who know me know my strong affinity for being outdoors is tempered by a real concern about ticks and Lyme disease. It is therefore somewhat ironic that I seem to have acquired some very similar symptoms to Lyme disease while being so cautious about it.

The good news is that the massive exposure Covid19 is rightly having may promote research that is mutually beneficial for not just Covid19 symptoms but other similar diseases with long term symptom profiles. Any help we provide those suffering with Lyme disease would be a real silver lining to our current calamity.

I've Had It, Covid 19

2021-01-14 14:36

We watched morons storm congress last week. Sure, that was shocking and disturbing, but frankly I was already at the limit of being shocked and disturbed by morons storming congress through democratic elections. It seems to me that a bigger deal, affecting every human on earth now and well into the future, is this damned plague.

When news of covid 19 first really hit a wide audience in March 2020, I was probably one of the first to ask a question that I’m going to propose is one of the most important questions of our lifetime.

Can you become seriously ill with Covid 19 after recovering from being seriously ill with Covid 19?

Am I being obtuse? Am I missing something? How is it that this question dawdled nearly unaddressed for damn near a year? If this virus is serious (it is) and not a hoax (it isn’t), eventually there must be a critical mass of people who, like me, had it. I think we’re finally to a point where there are enough of us that the most obvious questions we have are starting to be addressed.

Questions like…

  • Can I get it again?

  • How much danger am I still in after recovering from acute symptoms?

  • Would contracting it a second time be less severe/dangerous?

  • Does the virus remain subtly hidden and flare up?

  • What damage to my body did it really do and what is permanent?

  • What are the long term effects and prognosis?

  • Is my presence an equal or reduced danger to others, or no danger at all?

  • Could close contact between covid survivors cause any kinds of problems at all?

  • How debilitating will the long-term aftermath be?

  • Will a "test" show skewed results because I’ve had the disease in the past?

  • How accurate/relevant are tests for people who have had it?

  • Does it make sense for recovered victims to wear a mask beyond performative solidarity? A question I first asked publicly in July!

And today, I’m delighted to see the tiniest mote of attention turned to this topic, but simultaneously shocked and disturbed at the stupidity of some of the reports.

Let’s start with the AP’s addled advice: Should I Get A Covid-19 Vaccine If I’ve Had The Virus?

It’s impossible to know how long a person might be immune, said … an infectious disease expert at [fancy medical school]. "There’s no way to calculate that."

Ok, right away, I’m calling bullshit here because there is most definitely a way. Maybe you find it unreasonable of me to contradict trained medical professionals but when they seem unaware of the entire premise of my degree I’m going to push back and say there is absolutely a way to calculate "that" and I coincidentally studied it at university for years.

By the way, some of that same IE magic could probably also cure this absurd problem which seems to be turning the whole vaccination drive into a super-spreader event. It’s one thing for the aforementioned morons in congress to not be concerned about the pandemic but presumably these people are.

c19queue.jpg

But it was articles like this one in The Week that really blew my mind. Getting Coronavirus May Prevent Against Reinfection For Months, Preliminary Study Finds It opens with this mind blowing idea.

Contracting COVID-19 is nearly as effective at preventing reinfection as the two top coronavirus vaccines…

What an extraordinary claim! It’s bad enough that pharma is enjoying their ticker tape parade before their rocket even launches, but using shitty statistical reasoning to come to absurdly unintuitive conclusions must surely be suspicious.

I thought that the coverage in Forbes had more correct language. Past Covid-19 Infection Gives Vaccine-Like Immunity For Months, Study Finds

"…we don’t yet know…" "…it is possible…" "…it will be interesting to see…" "…whether or not these findings hold true…" "It’s not yet clear for how long the protection provided by vaccines last."

Etc.

Reuters' coverage seems helpful and sensible so I’ll quote a bit of it. Covid-19 Infection Gives Some Immunity, But Virus Can Still Spread Study Finds

Preliminary findings by scientists at Public Health England (PHE) showed that reinfections in people who have COVID-19 antibodies from a past infection are rare - with only 44 cases found among 6,614 previously infected people in the study.

But experts cautioned that the findings mean people who contracted the disease in the first wave of the pandemic in the early months of 2020 may now be vulnerable to catching it again.

They also warned that people with so-called natural immunity - acquired through having had the infection - may still be able carry the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in their nose and throat and could unwittingly pass it on.

"We now know that most of those who have had the virus, and developed antibodies, are protected from reinfection, but this is not total and we do not yet know how long protection lasts,…"

The BBC’s version is similar, and though confusing it seems technically reasonable. Past Covid-19 Infection May Provide Months Of Immunity

The main point I want to stress is that as far as I can tell only one of the following situations is possible. Only one.

  1. Having Covid does not stimulate the immune system to provide substantial subsequent immunity from future re-infections. A vaccine roll out will take longer than the vaccine provides protection for and may be futile.

  2. Having Covid does stimulate the immune system to provide substantial subsequent immunity from future re-infections for a significant time, much longer than a vaccine roll out. Deploying vaccines makes sense.

  3. Having covid precludes you from ever being in danger of it again - like mumps. Vaccines may be able to match that level of protection and can handily cure the pandemic.

  4. Pharma companies should get to work replacing our entire immune systems immediately because they have a much better chance of promoting our welfare than billions of years of evolution. The vaccines are more effective than natural immunity.

Though none of us really has the answer, I’d bet on the second possibility. What I find extremely difficult to believe is the fourth possibility.

And I suspect I’m not alone. When I see headlines like "I’m Not An Anti-vaxxer, But… US Health Workers' Vaccine Hesitancy Raises Alarm" I have to wonder — did the "40% of frontline workers in LA county refusing Covid-19 inoculation" perhaps already have the disease? I didn’t see a single article that even mentioned the possibility that factor may have influenced that poll. Clearly these people know what the disease looks like more than normal people. Clearly they are exposed to it much more. I can imagine many of them having been infected or tested positive with relatively mild symptoms (or not). Why should they get vaccinated? If there is a good reason, I think we need a lot more detail on exactly what it could be.

Why Breasts?

2021-01-12 03:04

Recently I had (what I believe is) a novel idea for why human females generally have prominent, permanent breasts. Obviously they have DNA that programs breasts as a phenotype but why is that so? Why is that morphology almost unknown in other mammals? If you give it some thought, it is not immediately obvious why the human arrangement of mammary features might be superior except by tautology. Indeed it turns out to still be an evolutionary mystery.

One traditional bad answer is: because men like them. Perhaps that aspect did co-evolve — babies like them too — but that doesn’t explain why other mammals don’t bother. To say that men and women are generally attracted to each other seems unremarkable and a facile explanation for why we are the way we are in the first place. It may seem obvious to some people that men love breasts, but anthropological research (beyond the parochial realm of cultures that do anthropological research) show that attraction to breasts is hardly universal. Now that WEIRD people have plenty of obese men with breasts, I’m going to say that the hypothesis that breasts exist because men like them has been somewhat refuted.

Another common bad answer I found in the literature is very bizarre to me: something for a baby to grab on to. Obviously, many women have breasts that comprise quite a bit of their entire mass, especially during lactation; yet newborn babies have quite tiny hands, hands that are rather inept at doing anything but poking themselves in the face. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. Wikipedia’s only hypothesis is that they protrude to keep flat faced babies from suffocating; maybe that’s so, but why permanent? Explanations like warmth and chest protection also seem lacking if men and other mammals didn’t also get them.

So why did that weird physiognomy evolve uniquely in our species? My theory suggests that breasts co-evolved with tool use. Imagine you had to craft wearable items from dead animals. One could imagine this starting by proto-hominids simply killing animals with tools (flint spears, arrows, sharp sticks, etc) and using the same tools to help eat the game. This would naturally leave behind a pelt as one of the least edible parts of the animal. It wouldn’t take long for our ancestors to totally gross out the rest of the animal kingdom by augmenting their own caveperson fur with these pelts. At first they would just wrap themselves in them at night and enjoy lower mortality. That’s step one.

Before moving on to loincloths or heavy metal attire or any item of clothing we might consider obvious today, I can imagine those pelts being worn for a different purpose than clothing. If I had a sharp piece of flint and a recently deceased deer, and if I was cold and naked, I’m pretty sure I could transfer that deer’s hide to cover mine. What is the next easiest thing to fashion with such tools and materials?

My guess would be a bag, something to carry possessions in. Basically you lay the pelt on the ground, put your things on it, and then gather the edges together with your opposable thumbs. Now it’s easy to pick up many things while gripping one. That’s possibly useful, sometimes, but it suggests an application that is extremely useful almost always for early hominid females — carrying a baby.

Consider how closely the two developments of wearing hides over your body to give extra protection, and lifting bundled babies had to be. This is no mere pointless fashion accessory. This allowed hominid females to be much less constrained by the task of keeping their offspring safely stowed.

Since I personally can imagine myself having the capabilities to simply tie a pelt in a knot, I’m going to suggest that doing so was the next developmental step in the history of clothing. With a knotted pelt, the really big deal is that you essentially have invented the baby sling. I propose that this invention, likely first developed by females, was one of the most profound innovations of our ancestral species that led us to where we are today.

I think of the baby sling as a milestone achievement on par with fire and flint tools. It allowed hominid species to essentially extend the intimate protections of pregnancy even further. This effectively helped create a species that promoted big brains by prolonging the transfer of knowledge, warmth, protection, and nutrients.

That brings us back to boobs. Imagine a new band of especially clever apes whose new mothers now carried around their babies slung over their shoulder in dead animal pelts. (Does it help to consider the mysterious obsession some modern human women seem to have with leather handbags?) When sitting or resting the mother can position the baby in the front for feeding. Maybe protruding breasts help reach babies nestled in hide slings.

However, most of the time while foraging and migrating, women would tend to wear their babies on their backs. Why did human women evolve to have strangely large breasts? I’m going to offer the simple engineer’s explanation of counterbalance. Remember, the hide innovation, like flint and fire, must have hit the innovating species pretty quickly in evolutionary terms. Once hominids started wearing their babies, evolution was going to make some strange and radical selections to keep up with the suddenly new circumstances. That is, to me, a more satisfying explanation of why prominent permanent breasts are such a uniquely human feature.

Perhaps some hominid species were pitched forward naturally and used their hands for stability, like gorillas. As evolution filled in the gaps between them and us, some force would want to keep the delicate vertical alignment once bipeds were fully bipedal. The morphology of modern human breasts may not seem compatible with this explanation of the origin of breasts. Today breasts may well be the equivalent of peacock feathers. But it must be kept in mind that peacock feathers are still feathers and feathers are evolutionarily quite clever in general.

In short, I propose that oversized hominid breasts of some form arose to counterbalance and reach infants being worn in hide slings.

Subsequently breasts could have taken on a new additional role as a signal of reproductive fitness but it would seem arbitrary to propose that as the primary reason for their existence.

I’m not a paleontologist so I don’t know exactly what about this hypothesis is testable. (Spine wear? Skeletal posture?) If some aspects were, and the theory could be strengthened, it may actually provide a way to link hide wearing with physiological features in the fossil record. One could also reconstruct the physiological choreography of reproducing humans. As the baby grew and started to become weaned, the breasts would still serve as a counterbalance. The counterbalance would be further increased by the toddler’s younger sibling in the womb. When that baby was born, it would be time for the older kid to start to walk for themselves.

All of this brings me to my own most valuable advice for reproducing humans: slings are great! Carrying your baby in a sling, like pretty much all human women have done for pretty much all of human history, has so many advantages that it’s hard to enumerate them all. (I’ll let the rest of the internet do that job.) When my son was born I made a (canvas) sling and it was by far my most valuable piece of baby equipment.

I actually got the idea for breasts being a counterbalance when I was trying to learn how arctic natives build igloos. I came across Nanook Of The North, a 1922 documentary from before the time that documentaries really existed. At that time the film’s creators could only properly understand the genius and macho power of the male titular character. But to a modern audience who won’t take such things for granted, the women also clearly inspire awe. Here is Nyla who did an amazing job of demonstrating the most extreme form of a life physically connected to one’s baby.

nyla.jpg

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