Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mosquitoes, chicken wire, COVID-19 and masks

Is wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 really pointless? Let's take a look at one of the objections in detail.

By now you've probably heard some people say that using a mask to stop COVID-19 is like using a chicken wire fence to keep out mosquitoes. In some respects that’s true. The virus is tiny, 120-160 nanometres in diameter where a nanometre is one billionth of a metre. A top quality medical mask can trap particles as big or bigger than 2.5 micrometers. The virus is about 21 times smaller than that so it seems that it can pass through a mask easily.  HOWEVER it’s not quite so simple.

To remain capable of infecting, the virus must be in droplets of water. When we sneeze, cough, shout, pant, talk or even breath we emit such particles with the smallest being two micrometres in diameter. Each can contain hundreds of viral particles. These droplets would seem to still easily pass through the gaps between the mask fibres. BUT it’s not as simple as that.

The mask fibres carry a small electrical charge and they attract the water droplets. When they touch, they absorb the water and with it the virus. Few viral particles will get through in theory. Those who complain against mask wearing say this is theoretical and no one has proved this.


If those against mask wearing are right then what harm will be done? - a slight bit of inconvenience. It would make no difference to the number of people infected.

If those against mask wearing are wrong then what harm will be done? - the disease will spread more and a greater number of people will die.

Wearing the mask is the least risky option. If everyone wears one then there’s a good chance of stopping this virus spreading.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

I wear this mask...

COVID-19 has caused a lot of controversy and upset. The latest being that in many areas people are being required to wear masks when out in public. Some people see that as an infringement on their rights.

What symptoms can I get if I am infected with COVID-19?
Good, bad and terrible news.

Protecting Others

Take a look at this picture:
Now I have to admit it's not a real picture. It's cobbled together from different images to illustrate a point. Look closely and you'll see tiny droplets of spittle from the shouting man. We probably all know that these droplets are produced when we sneeze or cough. We probably all know that 'coughs and sneezes spread diseases' too. BUT it's not just those who cough and sneeze that produce these infective droplets. We all produce them when we shout, talk, breath heavily (think joggers) or even breath normally. This means if you are asymptomatic - are infected but show no signs of it - you can spread the disease without knowing it and this disease can kill people! Are you OK with killing others?

This is where wearing a mask helps. It traps any of these infected droplets and stops others from catching it from you. If you are near others then wearing a mask, even a cloth over your mouth, can prevent the infection spreading.
Image from Reuters

Do masks protect YOU?

A simple cloth mask is unlikely to offer much protection to the user.
A mask with an exhalation vent may give the user some slight protection but won't help others.
A medical N95 mask, the right size and properly fitted may offer protection to the user and others.

ANY mask is better than no mask.

What are the best types of mask?

Buy at least five N95 masks. If you can, avoid those made in Asia since they are probably made to fit Asian faces which tend to be flatter. Your mask should have a metal strip at the top which you can shape to your nose. The best ones have three layers and the outer layer will be water resistant. Some have a soft plastic strip inside at the top which acts to help seal the gap around your nose. The straps should not be too tight or they will distort the metal strip over your nose. They will also irritate your ears.
Dust masks will help protect others but not those masks which have an exhalation vent.
You can make your own masks which will certainly help prevent spreading the virus and might help you if made properly. Spray the outer layer with a water repellent solution but not the inner layers.

How do you wear a mask properly?

  • Wash your hands before putting it on or use hand sanitizer.
  • Metal strip at the top. 
  • Place the mask over your nose and mouth then loop the straps over your ears.
  • Using both hands at the same time mold the metal strip over the bridge of your nose. The straps should not stretch this strip out of shape. If they do, consider extending them somehow.
  • Add glasses or safety glasses over the top of the mask. If the glasses fog up then consider using an anti-fog spray from an optometrist or washing the glasses in soapy water then allowing them to air dry. 
  • Use the mask when you are out and in contact with other people. Remove it when you are alone, in your car or at home.

Can I re-use a mask?

The virus is inactivated if it is allowed to dry out. Detergents will destroy the virus.
  • If your mask is home made then wash it after each use and by all means re-use it. You probably can't wash bought surgical masks.
  • When you have used a bought mask, let it dry for at least three days before re-using it. You can re-use masks described as 'single use' provided you are not someone like a doctor or nurse in constant contact with patients. Drying masks in sunlight works but glass windows filter out the sun's UV rays which kill the virus.
  • Drying a mask using silica gel drying packets with mask and drying agent in a sealed plastic bag works well.

What other steps can I take to protect myself?

  1.  Wash you hands often. If you can't do that use an alcohol based hand sanitizer 65% to 70% alcohol works best. 100% alcohol (meths) and alcoholic spirits such as vodka don't work.
  2. Wear glasses or some eye protection. Your eyes are protected by very thin membranes which are vulnerable to viral infection. Ever notice a cold can make your eyes sore?
  3. DON'T touch your face while out. Easy to say but not easy to do. We normally constantly touch our faces to make ourselves feel secure psychologists say. Most times we are not aware of this. Wearing gloves and glasses can help break the habit, so can wearing make-up. If you simply MUST scratch that itch use a knuckle rather than a fingertip.
  4. Wear gloves. They act as a barrier between you and things other people have touched. That includes door handles, shopping cart handles, buttons, magazines, books, money. After wearing gloves remove them without touching the palm side of the glove and either wash them or leave them in a sunny place to dry out.
  5. If you have long hair fasten it up and consider wearing a hat. 
  6. When you return from shopping wipe over metal and plastic coated products with a disinfecting wipe. Paper and card objects will probably be OK by the time you get them home. Then wash your hands.
  7. After shopping take a shower and wash your hair and clothes.

What symptoms can I get if I am infected with COVID-19?

According to New Scientist it's not just a matter of a cough, fever and difficulty breathing. 
  • You may have no symptoms at all yet still be able to infect others.
  • You probably (but not always) will get a persistent dry cough.
  • You probably will develop a fever.
  • You may be sneezing.
  • You may lose your sense of taste and smell.
  • You may suffer from exhaustion, numbness or diarrhoea
  • Some people have excessive weight loss (but it's not a good way to diet)
  • Some people complain of brain fog.
  • Muscle pain seems fairly common
  • In many cases people develop rashes
  • In a few people there are hallucinations. It appears that this virus can cross into your brain.
  • It can cause lung failure but also heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage and other conditions involving blood clots.
  • Whilst most people can shrug off many symptoms in about two weeks there are symptoms which can last months.

And finally the good and bad and terrible news

The good news is that unlike the other corona viruses, colds and flu, this virus is beginning to show that once you recover you may be relatively immune from catching it again. It's early days to tell that for certain though.

The bad news is that although it first appeared that the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions were worst affected there are now many cases of young, healthy people who have either died or been left with failing hearts, lungs, kidneys or other organs. Unlike flu this virus seems quite happy to spread during the summer months.

The terrible news is something that science has known for a while. All viruses cause harm. The cells of your body they kill will usually be replaced. Some cells survive with damaged DNA and as you accumulate more of them these cause you to age.

 Where did all  this come from?
Back in 2007 my wife and I were doing research for a novel 'Immortality Gene'. We explored science journals for how different viruses spread and what their long term effects were. We explored how a virus could be used for gene therapy. In the process we learnt what could be done to protect ourselves from colds and flu. I started shopping at quiet times during the night. I wore gloves and glasses. I used hand sanitizer. We didn't catch colds or flu. With COVID-19 we put our experience to use again. This time we could wear masks since it became socially acceptable to do so.
We hope you find this information of use and if you want to repay us, download a FREE copy of our book Immortality Gene. It's the first book of a series. It's long and it has been a #1 top technothriller at Amazon.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

If you could make all 7.5 billion people on Earth sit down and read a book of your choosing, what book do you choose and why?

It would be an optimistic book. One which points out what’s wrong with the world today but which suggests how we can fix things.

It would require a different political system. One which fulfills the needs of the people rather than the profits of the rich. It would mean raising the living standards of the poor. That would lead to more industry and higher profits while also reducing crime.

It would draw attention to the fear that we needlessly face. For example you are ten times as likely to drown while taking a bath as you are to be killed by a terrorist.

It would point out that evolution has engineered us to be nice to each other. We work together better to improve things - that has survival value, rather than work against each other. We hear a lot about the ‘bad’ because our media considers bad news is more interesting. Bad news generates fear. Fear makes us demand action. Idiot politicians pander to this and their actions generate more bad news.

Sorry religion - you would be required to justify your existence. It’s not enough for you to defend your ‘faith’. Let’s look at ‘faith’ in terms of what it really means - a belief which does not depend on evidence, one which is not open to reason and discussion. Faith has no right to being secure from being questioned. Faith can’t move mountains but we’ve seen what it can do to skyscrapers. We may blame the Islamic faith for acts of terrorism but other religions cannot say their ‘faithful’ followers did not carry out brutal acts.

The book would draw attention to how we are damaging our planet and suggest ways we can fix this. We cannot continue to treat finite resources as though they were infinite. We need those resources to look further for new resources and we are unlikely to find those on earth.

Instead of war I would propose we work together on expansion into the last frontier. Space. We must colonize space to ensure the survival of our species. Certainly we can look to the moon and Mars but that’s NOT enough. We need to move further to the stars. When we do so we should take with us all the lifeforms we can collect. When we have moved out a radius of 30 light years from earth, then and only then can we think of Earth’s life being secure.

Is this all a pipe dream? It is until we make the effort to start.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

How humans and computers follow instructions

Image result for computer brain

Years ago, when I taught Information technology, I used two stories to explain the difference between how computers and people followed instructions.

1. People are rubbish at following the simplest of instructions.

I'd ask the class to all point at the brainiest pupil in the room and then select that person as my victim to demonstrate. I'd bring them out in front of the class and tell them:

Teacher "I'm going to say three simple words with a pause between each word. All you have to do is repeat the word. Here's the first - Cat."

Pupil  "Cat."

Teacher "Rhino"

Pupil "Rhino"

Teacher "WRONG!"

Pupil, looking flustered "What was wrong? I said Rhino."

Teacher You failed. The third word was the word 'WRONG'.

People think about their answers - computers just do what they are told to do.

2. Computers do EXACTLY what you tell them to do.

Imagine a boy with a computer instead of a brain. he is woken up one morning and told the following by his mother.
"Run down to the shop and get a loaf of bread. Take £2 from my purse on the kitchen table. And for heavens sake - Get dressed"
The boy immediately runs to the nearest shop. It's a butcher's shop and doesn't sell bread so he waits there until someone comes in with a loaf of bread. That may take a while. Eventually a little old lady comes in with a loaf of bread in her shopping basket.
The boy wasn't told to pay for the bread so he 'gets' it. Effectively he steals it from her.
The boy wasn't told to come back but the next instruction was to get £2 from the purse on the kitchen table so he does come back.
The purse isn't on the kitchen table. it's on a work surface at the side. So he waits again for the purse to move to the table. He doesn't put the bread away because he wasn't told to do that.
When the purse is eventually on the table he tries to take £2 from it. If the purse only has five pound notes in it he is again stuck waiting.
When the boy eventually has a £2 coin only then does he get dressed.

Humans take bad instructions and correct them. They decide the best order to do them in and include missing instructions. Computers can't do that. We won't have true Artificial Intelligence until a computer can follow the second task and get it right.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A viral post (and how to protect yourself)

Do you understand how viruses spread? Knowing this can help safeguard your health. That's particularly important if you want to minimise your risk in the event of a COVID-19 coronavirus or flu pandemic. It can help protect you from the common cold too.

Back in 2011 my wife and I wrote the second book in our A Vested Interest series. In it we figured out how a benign virus could be deliberately spread to infect as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. We pressured an antagonist into doing the job and carry any possible blame. Here's what he was told to do:

“We have a little task for you,” Sir Richard said. “Take these cans of antiseptic. Spray it on this cloth, and then use it in Hexham. Visit every single pub there.”
“Go to the toilets,” Lady Triplet said. “Spray the door handle or plate of each toilet and stall and give them a quick wipe. We want them nice and shiny.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Liu,” Juanita said with mocked respect.” It won’t hurt you. In fact, it’ll do you good.”
Richard smirked. “If anyone asks, why you’re doing this, tell them you’re mysophobic, a clean freak.”
Donna softly chuckled, watching Liu flip his attention from one side of the table to the other. “Next, put on a pair of these gloves,” she said and slid a box to the end of the table. “Spray them and go shopping.”
“Visit all the supermarkets, department stores, fast food shops, everywhere you can.” John chuckled; enjoying the look of horror on Liu’s face. “Make a trip to the hospital and browse through the magazines and leaflets.”
“Be nosy,” Gary said. “Touch everywhere. Don’t forget things like lift buttons, shopping trolleys, children’s rides, handrails, touchscreens. You get the idea.”
“Why? What is this stuff?”
“Surely, you can guess, John,” Sir Richard said.

In this clip the spray Liu was given really was an antiseptic, the virus had already been released. Liu thought he would be spreading the immortality virus though.

This clip demonstrates how many corona viruses can be spread. They are not just the COVID-19 'Wuhan coronavirus' both common colds and flu are coronaviruses too. They can spread directly by droplets from coughs and sneezes but they can also be spread by contact with an infected surface. Once on your hands you can increase the chance of infection by eating, touching your lips or nose or particularly by touching your eyes. You would be surprised how often we do that without noticing it.

Time can play a big part in this. Most viruses can't survive long as infectious agents outside their host. Under ideal conditions, a damp cool surface hidden from sunlight it's possible for viruses such as these to survive for nine days outside a living host. The examples mentioned in our story are good targets for passing on infection though.

So how can you protect yourself? If you are going out shopping:
  • wear gloves. 
  • avoid touching any part of your face if you can and if you must rub your eyes then use a knuckle rather than a fingertip.
  • Wash your hands often, especially when you get home.
  • While out, use hand sanitizer. Get your children to use it also.
The older you are, the more you are at risk as this image from Statista shows. For those people maybe it's time to get your groceries delivered if you can.

What about a mask? The chances are that wouldn't be very effective. people find them uncomfortable, they feel stupid wearing them and many don't fit very well. They won't protect you from contact with an infected surface. They would be useful in preventing the spread of the virus from an infected person though.

If the COVID-19 'Wuhan' coronavirus does become a serious problem in your area then bear these hints in mind.

And if you want the 'Dark Secrets' book, it's available as an ebook via It's the second book of the series. The first is available free.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

How Jeremy Corbyn should make his position on Brexit clear.

Jeremy Corbyn tax hikeJeremy Corbyn refused nine times to be drawn on his position on Brexit and was much taunted by it in the election debate. This is how I think he should resolve this:

"Although the 2016 referendum result indicated a 52/48 percent split, the number voting 'Leave' represented only 37% of the electorate. This is NOT a majority. Neither was there a majority in  the 1975 referendum  when 63% of voters chose to stay in the then Common Market. That represented only 43% of the electorate. I stand for a government which does not accept that the wishes of a minority should be used to make decisions for the majority. 
The referendum has caused a great deal of division in the UK population and in Parliament. It has proved impossible to negotiate acceptable terms of leaving which Parliament will accept.We recognise that leaving without an agreed settlement will cause hardship in both the UK and in Europe. 
The labour party will therefore use the result of the 2016 referendum as an indication that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the EU. Over the next year we will set up a commission to establish why so many in the UK,  and indeed in the other members of the EU, are against membership of the EU. We will work with the EU to fix those things that are perceived as wrong and at the end of that time will hold a further referendum. If 50+ percent of the electorate (not just those that vote) vote one way or another we will consider the matter resolved and take appropriate action.
My own personal opinion on Brexit does not matter - it is the will of the people which counts."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

There's no such thing as democracy when it comes to Brexit

In 2016 the UK held a referendum on whether to leave the European Community. The Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, committed the UK government to carrying out the results of the referendum. Democracy in action? Not in the slightest.

Much to Cameron's surprise, after a lacklustre 'Remain' campaign, the UK voted 52:48 in favour of leaving the EU.
Let's take a look at that referendum result. Here are the detailed actual results:
37.44% of the electorate voted to leave the EU  17,410,742 in total and 51.9% of the vote.
34.71% of the electorate voted to remain in the EU   16,141,241 in total and 48.1% of the vote.
27.79% of the electorate didn't vote    12,922,659 in total.
0.06% of the electorate spoilt their voting  papers   25,359 in total
England and Wales voted by a narrow majority to leave. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted by a significant majority to remain.(55:44 remain in NI; 62:38 remain in Scotland)
Now taking the overall results of the entire electorate I make that 37.44% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and 62.56% did not vote to leave the EU..
The sensible thing to have done would to have contacted the EU and said something like this:
"Although the referendum result indicated a 52/48 percent split, the number voting 'Leave' represented only 37% of the electorate. This is NOT a majority. Neither was there a majority in  the 1975 referendum  when 63% of voters chose to stay in the then Common Market. That represented only 43% of the electorate. The UK government does not accept that the wishes of a minority should be used to make decisions for the majority. 
The referendum has caused a great deal of division in the UK population and in Parliament. It will very likely prove impossible to negotiate acceptable terms of leaving which Parliament will accept.We recognise that leaving without an agreed settlement will cause hardship in both the UK and in Europe. 
We will now therefore use the result of the 2016 referendum as an indication that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the EU.. Over the next five years we will set up a commission to establish why so many in the UK are against our membership of the EU. We will work with the EU to fix those things that are perceived as wrong and at the end of that time will hold a further referendum. If 50+ percent of the electorate (not just those that vote) vote one way or another we will consider the matter resolved and take appropriate action."
Expecting sense from government unfortunately often leads to disappointment. David Cameron resigned as PM and it was left to Theresa May to try and sort out the mess. She decided to follow the wishes of that 37% minority. Naturally the country and Parliament was deeply divided on the issue.On 29 March 2017, the UK government formally began the process of withdrawal by submitting Article 50 and began the process of negotiating Brexit. She got nowhere, the only result being a sharp fall in the value of the pound. In an attempt to make progress in Parliament a snap general election was called in June 2017 but instead of gaining the majority she needed the  country indicated its deep division and she lost the small majority she had! Propped up by the Northern Ireland DUP party she pressed on and negotiated a settlement with the EU which was promptly rejected by parliament. The pound fell further.
The problem was that the country had been given a binary choice in the referendum. Leave or Remain. In actual practice there were many more options. Here's six of them:
  1. Leave, and adopt a European Free Trade Agreement 
  2. Leave, and adopt a World Trade Agreement 
  3. Leave, while the UK remains intact
  4. Leave, while the UK splits up (Ireland and Scotland did not want to leave) 
  5. Remain under current terms
  6. Remain for the present while attempting to 'fix' the EU.
Added to the lack of options given was the clear misrepresentation of facts in the referendum campaign by both sides and actions by the leave campaign later deemed to have been illegal. It was not  surprising that nearly 28% of the electorate chose not to vote.
It's significant too that the most vociferous campaigners on both sides of the debate are also wealthy. Having a few million pounds allows such people to make money as each Brexit crisis sweeps past the markets by selling stocks before each event and buying them back when the market price drops.

Theresa May, having taken up the Brexit poison chalice, got nowhere. Her very own cabinet failed to back her and she too resigned. I doubt we should feel sorry for her since she made the mistake of assuming 37% was democracy (and her family is heavily involved in banking and investment). Her place was taken by one of the most rabid of the Brexiteers, Boris Johnson.On the face of it Boris seems a 'nice fellow' but there are people convinced that he's untrustworthy, a liar and philanderer. He also is wealthy, involved in investment, has the most dreadful hair style and Trump likes him. He too protests that he's following the wishes of that 37% 'majority' and that faith in democracy will be damaged if he fails to deliver the Brexit he's promised.
So what of the future? We have yet another postponement of Brexit and our PM has triggered yet another election. Again he says he hopes to obtain a majority to continue with his negotiated Brexit settlement but sorry - I for one don't believe him. Here's the latest message I received from the Conservative party who may well get another nasty shock.

Forcing Brexit on the 63% who didn't vote for it WILL shake my confidence in democracy. I have no confidence that anything will be achieved by 31st of January 2020 but do believe that that day will prove very profitable for Boris Johnson and his rich cronies.

Brexit isn't democracy!