The Corona Pandemic and How it Affects All of Us.

Already in 2011, I published my first pandemic adventure novel TWO JOURNEYS (soon followed by its sequel FIELDS OF FIRE). Both books deal with the dramatic effects of a Corona virus epidemic. The inspiration for these books came from the SARS epidemic that occurred a few years earlier, in 2003.

Both novels continue to gain a lot of attention. This pleases me; first of all as an author and artist, but also as a scientist that has been active in biomedical research and healthcare for many years, also in virology. My books are pure fantasy and adventure, yet they have a scientific basis and… contain a few warnings that are worth highlighting in this post.

Without doubt, the 2020 Corona pandemic has a big impact on society. I blogged some words of advice already. Part of that impact we cannot even start to fathom today. The pandemic will cost all of us a lot of money, that’s for certain. It may lead to political instability and a shift in the global powerplay; examples include the apparent Russian disinformation campaign or Chinese attempts to lay the blame elsewhere. However, most of all, the Corona virus has the potential to create a lot of sorrow and pain.

Surprisingly, crises like these also highlight the strength and good in us humans (listen to these Italians singing; perhaps not completely on tune :-)).

Alan, the hero of TWO JOURNEYS, soon notices that in pandemic times, several forces start to kick in:

  • Facts and truth start to suffer. Today, it seems that a majority of people have difficulty to understand exponential growth-curves, or aren’t interested to build up that knowledge, or even to listen to experts that can interpret exponential growth. Yet, suddenly everybody is an amateur virologist, and every bit if information is (mis-)used for own purposes. This forces some of these individuals to make a 180 degree turn in opinion within mere days – damage done.
  • People start blaming experts, either for not warning early enough, or for being too pessimistic: “they were wrong about the SARS epidemic as well, weren’t they?” This reveals a deep misunderstanding of how science works; which is a serious education issue. If you have no clue how science works, get involved and read up on it… but NOT in the National Enquirer, the Sun or on Facebook or other social media. Don’t develop opinions about things that you do not understand; certainly don’t start spreading those opinions. Read this interview with the prominent virologist David Ho to understand the Corona pandemic mechanisms and the right measures. The pertinent information is out there: for instance at the CDC, at your local government website, but also from multiple doctors reporting directly from Italy‘s Bergamo.
  • Downplaying the crisis or (even worse) creating panic about it. Putting on your blinders for the issue as it develops never helps, especially since you as a layperson do not have all the relevant data at your disposal. At the same time, IF all the advice from the authorities is followed by ALL of us, any emergency can ultimately be contained. And once that tipping point is achieved, not only will the exponential growth curve of a viral infection be broken, but also the growth-curve of all the associated concerns – health, financial, societal. Stay realistic, don’t panic, and always realize that a pandemic is a moving target, where even the best experts and politicians will need to constantly adjust their policies and advice (if you think you can do a better job, I urge you to apply for a job at your local health authority – don’t waste time writing about it on social media ;-).
  • People start to use the pandemic for their own populist agendas. In TWO JOURNEYS this is embodied in the character of the wannabee dictator Somerset, who believes that with a decimated population world-power is within his grasp. Populists play with their citizens’ lives, as they only have their own objectives in mind: to get re-elected, for financial gain, to strengthen their power, or whatever sick idea they follow. Populists, in contrast to sincere politicians, experts or the members of the healthcare staff in the ICU of your local hospital, do not regard helping you as primary objective. They simply can’t, it simply isn’t in their DNA. Populists have a goal, and will filter and (mis)use data that seems to substantiate that goal. Science and common sense do the opposite: collect data first, then define a theory and finally a goal. Needless to say, populists will impact their own citizens’ lives dramatically – and your life too. A pandemic (the word implies the ‘global’ impact of an epidemic) will not stop at a national border… or your doorstep for that matter.

These observations could be the ingredients of a highly depressive story line. But every cloud has its silver lining. TWO JOURNEYS is very much a story of hope. It highlights the goodness of people, and their ability to persevere in the hardest of times, together. We can see the same happening in today’s situation: our strength is our willingness to help one another; to be sensible, to focus on facts, in a disturbing, shifting situation. And not to panic. Forget about hoarding toilet paper.

Stay healthy and let’s come out of this stronger, together.

img00011 20100430 0808

Our dog Buddy enjoys the outdoors and spots a stork during our self-isolation.

 

Advertisements

How to prepare during the Corona Covid19 virus epidemic, or any flu-like outbreak or pandemic.

Corona virus is a new flu-like virus. A number of challenges are associated with such new types of viruses:

  • Like with any virus, antibiotics will not help.
  • There are no vaccinations available for such new viruses as they appear.
  • Especially people with weakened immune systems are at risk (elderly, children or people with health conditions). But anyone can become sick, and also a source of infection (even before any symptoms occur).

Simple measures can reduce your risk of contracting such viruses, and will help stem the spread. These tips are common practice even in the absence of a new virus: the common flu causes ~400,000 deaths each year (source).

  • Frequently wash hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap (my extra tip: don’t shake hands with anyone)
  • Cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing. Don’t sneeze in your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods. My extra tip: revisit your shopping, cooking, and eating habits – these viruses stem from animals like pigs and poultry. E.g. Corona virus originated from a fish market.
  • Lead a healthy life. Eat vitamin rich foods, don’t drink alcohol, don’t  smoke, get sufficient sleep, and spend time outdoors.
  • keep surfaces clean (use alcohol, bleach or soap). Viruses may survive on surfaces for days, so cleaning will help to protect you. Also regularly open the windows to replace the air.

Part of this information originates from this article in the Guardian.
It is advisable to stay up to date on the epidemic: how is your area affected, what do your local health authorities communicate? Best is to select a reliable, down to earth news channel – not a gossipy scaremonger: panic and half truths don’t help. Official government sites are good sources, most good media will use that information. Regularly check the Corona site from the World Health Organization, which explains in detail the best way to act and most up to date status www.who.int/COVID-19.Diseases such as the flu are seasonal, peaking (in the northern hemisphere) in February. The passing of time supports eradication and there is some chance this may be in our favor – although at this stage this is not completely confirmed for corona (SARS-CoV, Covid-19 or 2019-nCoV).

At this moment, the mid and long term economic impact of the epidemic is hard to determine. Listen to the CNBC interview with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. She cautioned against comparing this outbreak to the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. Not only is COVID-19 different than SARS, but eg China and the world economy has changed (China only represented 8% of the world economy in the early 2000s and now makes up a 19% share). Corona may turn out to be very disruptive for investors, reflected in my advice here.

It makes sense to check whether you still have enough emergency supplies in your home – which you should do regularly anyway. After all, during an epidemic you may be forced to spend considerable time indoors. Here’s a list that I find useful. I try to add some variation in my emergency stocks; eating peanut butter three times a day for two weeks can get on your nerves. I have enough space, so I stock dozens of cans with food and sufficient water; enough to last us two weeks. Think about your pet as well.
A stock is created slowly over time. Stocking of food and panic buying are NOT the same. Panic buying ironically creates shortages and empty shelves. In any situation, panic is a poor advisor, so keep your cool. Consider the wellbeing of others.

C lick here for information about my adventure novels Two Journeys and Fields of Fire, which deal with a global pandemic.

 

Are we all just part of a magnificent computer simulation?

About a year ago I was the host of a business dinner in New York, half a dozen men and women met at a fine restaurant after a day of intensive meetings. Perfect food, some great wine and a very nice group of people from hard- and software companies, the majority from the USA, some from Europe.

The conversation focused on business, but as the night carried on, turned to other topics. We discussed politics, history… and computing. These people were all computer specialists, many with engineering degrees. At a certain point the discussion turned to the theory that was humans do not exist, but instead are just avatars on a piece of very advanced hardware. This theory is not new: Elon Musk is one its proponents. It is based on the observation that computers are becoming more and more advanced as well as that the distinction between virtual reality (VR) and reality seems to be disappear. Some time in the far future, somebody will be able to create a computer that doesn’t just simulate a human brain (which according to some estimates may be possible in 50 years or so), but the brain of all humans. It is just a matter of scale; throw in some quantum computing, sufficient hardware and real-time analytics with deep machine learning, and it should be possible to do this.

We could thus easily just IMAGINE that we are physically alive, today and here on this planet; whereas in reality we are just characters in a very advanced computer game played by a acne-faced teenager 200 years in the future. Everything that we experience; all pain and war and suffering and all love and rewards and happiness would then only be part of a simulation.

Little speaks against this theory from a technical standpoint: as long as technical progress continues (to accelerate) at the same pace it has for the last 150 years, this is easily imaginable. This is naturally also a weakness of the theory: life on Earth as well as history hardly ever were linear (although this may seem so to us: we only experience a very small fragment of all of history, yet we think it is all encompassing). For instance, about every 1000 years or so, a major volcanic eruption happens, which tend to dramatically alter the progress of humanity’s culture. Nevertheless one could argue that such catastrophes might delay the development of a super VR computer, but delay doesn’t mean that it could never be created.

So why do I still think there is no value in the theory that we are all just part of a very advanced computer simulation? At the Free University of Amsterdam where I studied biology many years ago, one of the highlights of the first year was a course in Philosophy and Methodology  of Natural Sciences. I have forgotten the professor’s name, but the man did a tremendous job at hammering home some basic scientific principles. Thus, the main argument is that although the simulation theory MIGHT be true, there is NO way to prove or disprove it; it is a theory that isn’t falsifiable. By what criteria could anyone prove that we are, or are not part of a simulation? After all, at some timepoint, the simulation would be so perfect that it couldn’t be identified as a simulation anymore. It is similar to stating that we are created by an invisible fairy living at the bottom of our garden – a theory that people may shrug at, or ridicule, but which would be very hard to prove or disprove. And, as my professor taught us, non-falsifiable theories have, from scientific point of view, no value.

My eBooks on iTunes here.

How to get to Betelgeuse. Turn right on your way from Monoceros to Alzirr. #Newspudding

Always wondered how to find Betelgeuse?  The picture below will elucidate the location of this gigantic star.

81D9C22F-248D-498C-984A-D733D7DE5A23

Betelgeuse is also called α Orionis. Betelgeuse originates of the Arab yad al-ǧauzā, the hand of the giantess, sometimes also referred to as the shoulder star of Orion.

Why is Betelgeuse intriguing?

Betelgeuse is a giant star and is classified as a red super-giant. It has about a thousand times the diameter of our sun and has about ten thousand times as much luminosity, as a result of which Betelgeuse can easily be seen in the night sky, as it is the tenth brightest star. This star is of great astronomical interest. Its radius was the first to be determined by interferometry and it varies by about 15%. As a result, also Betelgeuse’s brightness varies a factor between +0.3 and + 0.6. This is one of the very few stars that are visible from Earth as a surface, not just a point in the sky. Most likely this star is an amazing 500 light years away!

More newspudding articles here: https://clemenssuter.com/?s=newspudding

In the opinion of astronomers, Betelgeuze will end up as a supernova (read this Guardian article from 2020). Opinions vary when this event will take place: it could happen within the next thousand or one hundred thousand years. The resulting supernova will be easily visible and will shine over the entire firmament. With a red giant of this type you can expect a 16,000-fold increase in the luminosity. This supernova could reach the brightness of the full moon. Luckily enough, the axis of rotation of the star does not point towards the Earth, and the gamma-ray flash would not be so strong that it would affect the Earth’s biosphere. Now, THAT would be a post-apocalyptic experience ! The remnant of this supernova is expected to be a neutron star based on the mass of 20 solar masses.

Bonsais in the national botanical garden of Tokyo

When traveling to foreign countries I always attempt to find a few attractions off the beaten track. Botanical gardens are such a spot; as a biologist by I have visited gardens in places such as Paris, London, New Mexico, Hawaii … and now in Kyoto.

In a corner of the Kyoto Garden is an absolutely impressive collection of bonsais. In fact, it has inspired me to start growing a bonsai myself. I’m still in the information stage, so very little progress to report except that growing a bonsai  doesn’t seem to be trivial. I will keep you posted!

My eBooks on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/clemens-p.-suter/id581561439?mt=11

More photos from our trip to south England

Below the study of Charles Darwin, perhaps the greatest scientist of all time. We visited his family home Downe House, located south of London.

Vacation in England is incomplete without the occasional shower. You can see some of the raindrops on the window of our small caravan. Beautiful sunset though.

We visited Brighton – I have chosen an atypical motif. Or is it? Not so sure as Brighton is a surprising city.

Cream tea is a traditional!