Some ways to track H1N1

This message was passed on David Farber’s IP mailing list:


Hydrogen fluoride molecule
Dangerous goods label for hydrochloric acid: c...

Does anyone who’s seen it know if the season 1, episode 2 Breaking Bad scene involving hydrofluoric acid and a bathtub is chemically accurate? Not that I am planning to employ a similar technique, but a friend just recommended this series and I have started to download episodes. (thanks, abby) Thanks in advance for any insights.

Swine flu fears prompt quarantine plans, pork bans

“Countries planned quarantines, tightened rules on pork imports and tested airline passengers for fevers as global health officials tried Sunday to come up with uniform ways to battle a deadly strain of swine flu. Nations from New Zealand to France reported new suspected cases and some warned citizens against travel to North America.


Governments including China, Russia and Taiwan began planning to put anyone with symptoms of the deadly virus under quarantine.” (Yahoo! News).


Toward a Million?

Shameless self-promotion dept.: It is only six months until Halloween, more or less, and you know what happens shortly thereafter, don’t you? It’ll be the tenth anniversary of FmH in November. So far, my hit counter has recorded around 825,000 hits since the inception of this weblog. I suppose it is out of the question to hit the 1,000,000 mark as a birthday present to FmH, isn’t it? That would require 175,000 hits in 180 days, abit less than 1,000 hits a day on average, which is an order of magnitude beyond our normal readership and three times what FmH has attracted at its peak. But, if you ever thought you might disseminate a link to Follow Me Here, now would be the time.

Update: It never occurred to me, as a commenter pointed out (thanks, stan), that RSS readership doesn’t drive up the hit counter. This may mean that I am alot closer to the million mark than I think. If a significant number of people read my RSS feed (how would I know? drop me a comment if you do, please), it might be part of the explanation of the apparent progressive falloff in readership from earlier years. (I have been convinced that I lost a significant segment of my readership when I took several months’ hiatus a couple of years ago…) Of course, it may also be that FmH is attracting less interest than it used to, either intrinsically or because there is so much more competition out there. (None of which is to say that I am doing this for the circulation numbers!)

Ultrasound scans with your smartphone?

A fetus in its mother's womb, viewed in a sono...

“Ultrasound imaging now possible with a smartphone. Computer engineers at Washington University in St. Louis are bringing the minimalist approach to medical care and computing by coupling USB-based ultrasound probe technology with a smartphone, enabling a compact, mobile computational platform and a medical imaging device that fits in the palm of a hand.” (Science Blog).


The State Of The iPhone Is Strong — Very Strong

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

People can downplay the actual number of iPhones in circulation all they want — the fact of the matter is that it has changed things. While there were some third-party mobile app developers before Apple’s App Store, they received almost no attention, and as such, it wasn’t really a viable business. Now, everyone and their mother is flocking to develop for the App Store. And every major mobile player is rushing to make their own app stores. But Apple’s already has over 35,000 apps — and in a few short hours, there will have been one billion apps downloaded in just 9 months.

Think about that for a second: One billion apps downloaded. There are currently 37 million iPhones and iPod touches combined. Certainly, there have been a lot less than that over various stages in the last nine months, but just take that 37 million number. That means that every single one of those devices has had an average of 27 apps downloaded to it. 27 apps — that do everything from games to music to movie times to fetching me a taxi.

I remember the phone I had before the iPhone, fondly: Motorola’s RAZR. It had zero third-party apps, and the most exciting thing it could do was take a grainy picture. That was just two years ago.” — MG Siegler (Techcrunch).


Why We Should Get Rid of the White House Press Corps

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 20:  U.S. President Bara...

…[T]oo often, the White House briefing room is where news goes to die.

Name a major political story broken by a White House correspondent. A thorough debunking of the Bush case for Iraqi WMD? McClatchy Newspapers’ State Department and national security correspondents. Bush’s abuse of signing statements? The Boston Globe‘s legal affairs correspondent. Even Watergate came off The Washington Post‘s Metro desk.

Here are some stories that reporters working the White House beat have produced in the past few months: Pocket squares are back! The president is popular in Europe. Vegetable garden! Joe Biden occasionally says things he probably regrets. Puppy!

It’s not that the reporters covering the president are bad at their jobs. Most are experienced journalists at the top of their game — and they’re wasted at the White House, where scoops are doled out, not uncovered.” Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette) (Washington Post op-ed).

Is Pornography the New Tobacco?

The last few remaining pornography and peep sh...

“Imagine a substance that is relatively new in the public square, but by now so ubiquitous in your society that a great many people find its presence unremarkable. Day in and day out, your own encounters with this substance, whether direct or indirect, are legion. Your exposure is so constant that it rarely even occurs to you to wonder what life might be like without it.

In fact, so common is this substance that you take the status quo for granted, though you’re aware that certain people disagree. A noisy minority of Americans firmly opposes its consumption, and these neo-Puritans try routinely to alert the public to what they claim to be its dangers and risks. Despite this occasional resistance, however, you — like many other people of your time — continue to regard this substance with relative equanimity. You may or may not consume the thing yourself, but even if you don’t, you can’t much see the point of interfering with anyone else’s doing it. Why bother? After all, that particular genie’s out of the bottle.” — Mary Eberstadt (Policy Review).


How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write


“I knew then that the book’s migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social. It will give writers and publishers the chance to sell more obscure books, but it may well end up undermining some of the core attributes that we have associated with book reading for more than 500 years.” — Steven Johnson (WSJ).

Students in New York Fall Ill, and Swine Flu Is Suspected

‘Tests show that eight students at a Queens high school are likely to have contracted the human swine flu virus that has struck Mexico and a small number of other people in the United States, health officials in New York City said yesterday. The students were among about 100 at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows who became sick in the last few days, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City’s health commissioner.“All the cases were mild, no child was hospitalized, no child was seriously ill,” Dr. Frieden said.’ (New York Times )

A few comments on pandemic influenza

Terry Jones
Terry Jones

“The virus has, as far as we know, not spent much time in humans yet. Once it does, it will begin to adapt itself in unpredictable ways. It may become more virulent, or less virulent. It may develop resistance to the antivirals that are currently effective. Antiviral resistance has been a topic of great concern for at least a couple of years. The current virus is already known to be resistant to both amantadine and rimantadine, though oseltamivir is still effective.


Some aspects of the current outbreak are, to my mind, cause for great concern.

The acting-director of the CDC has already said: “There are things that we see that suggest that containment is not very likely.” That is a remarkably candid statement. I think it’s very clear that the cat is out of the bag. The question is how bad is it going to be. That’s impossible to tell right now, because we do not know what the virus will look like in the future, after it has had time to mutate and adapt inside humans.


The new virus has been popping up in various places in the US in the last days. I expect it will go global in the next couple of days, maximum. What’s to stop it? The virus has been isolated in several diverse areas and in many cases is genetically identical. The 1918 virus also popped up, in many cases inexplicably, across the US…

There were 3 waves of the 1918/19 pandemic. The first was in summer of 1918 – very unusual, as influenza normally falls to extremely low rates during summer. Note that the current outbreak is also highly unseasonal.

The 1918 pandemic killed with a very unusual age pattern. Instead of peaks in just the very young and the very old, there was a W shape, with a huge number of young and healthy people who would not normally die from influenza. There are various conjectures as to the cause of this. The current virus is also killing young and healthy adults.

The social breakdown in a pandemic is extraordinary. If you read The Great Pandemic by John Barry, you’ll get some sense of it. America’s Forgotten Pandemic also helps give some idea of what it must have been like.


The influenza people at the CDC and the other international labs are an amazing team of experts. They’ve been at this game for a very long time and they work extremely hard and generally get a bad rap. It’s no wonder flu is such a political issue, the responsibility is high and the tendency towards opaqueness is understandable. Despite all the expertise though, at bottom you have an extremely complex virus – much of whose behavior is unknown, especially in the case of antigenic shift, especially when it is so young, and especially when you don’t know what nearby mutational opportunities may exist for it in antigenic space – spreading in a vastly more complex environment (our bodies), and with us moving and interacting in odd ways in a complex and extremely interconnected world. It’s a wonder we know as much as we do, but in many ways we don’t know much at all.” — Terry Jones via fluidinfo.


Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse?

Urbi et Orbi

“In their efforts to solve fundamental problems in cosmology, many researchers have converged on the idea of a multiverse — the theory that a vast number of universes lie beyond the limits of what we can observe.

Because they’re unobservable, multiverse theories are also untestable, blurring the line between science and speculation and making them controversial in the scientific community. Princeton University physicist Paul Steinhardt has called the multiverse “a dangerous idea that I am simply unwilling to contemplate.” By challenging both humanity’s uniqueness and our central place in the cosmos, multiverse theories have also become embroiled in theological debates  — some fear they will join evolution as another battleground in the culture wars.” (Seed)

R.I.P., J.G. Ballard

In more than 20 novels and story collections, Mr. Ballard coupled his potent descriptive powers with an imagination attracted to catastrophic events and a melancholy view of the human soul as being enervated and corrupted by the modern world.

He is best known for Empire of the Sun, a somewhat autobiographical novel from 1984 about an English boy growing up in Shanghai, during the Japanese occupation in World War II. The book made the short list for the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award, and Steven Spielberg turned it into a 1987 film (with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard) starring Christian Bale and John Malkovich.

Although not a characteristic work — it was neither as fantastical nor as provocative as many of his other books — Empire revealed Mr. Ballard’s own childhood as the source of much of his surrealistic imagination. It is full of the images — emptied swimming pools, abandoned buildings — that came to symbolize his view of the world as “a bizarre external landscape propelled by large psychic forces,” as he said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 1990. (New York Times obituary).

I’ve been a reader of Ballard since his earlier works such as The Drowned World and The Wind from Nowhere. My devotion remained through The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash.

Ethics of Physicians’ Sexual Relationships with Patients


A good introduction to the issue; helps you to understand the strict medical ethical guidelines against intimacy with our patients and even former patients, even when the parties are two consenting adults insistent on the consensual nature of their liaison. The ‘transference‘ to the authority of the physician, the AMA says, makes free choice on the part fo the patient difficult. The situation is even more thorny, the violations more egregious, and the condemnation of the profession more emphatic in my discipline, psychiatry, as you might imagine.


The Neuroenhancement Underground

The human brain

Every era has its defining drug. Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited for our efficiency-obsessed, BlackBerry-equipped office culture. (The New Yorker)

Campus use appears to be greatest at the most competitive institutions, but not among the highest achievers. It seems that stimulant use can compensate for partying and not being that motivated for your schoolwork. Is the use of neuroenhancers like cheating? Or, to turn the ethical question on its head, could it one day be considered unethical not to dose oneself in certain professions — neurosurgery, for instance.

The Well-Meaning, Bad Parent

“Psychologist Richard Weissbourd contends that parents who are obsessed with their children's happiness are ignoring other important values — like goodness, empathy, appreciation and caring — that are necessary to a well-rounded personality. Weissbourd is the author of The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development.” (NPR)

Sunset at the North Pole

[Image '' cannot be displayed]
...with moon at its closest point to the earth

Update: Hoax. This is a digital creation, not a photo, says Snopes.

(I was troubled by how big that moon was, I can now say in 20/20 hindsight. But it is lovely, nonetheless.)

The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks

Egyptian hieroglyphics from the Ptolemaic Temp...

I’ve received a number of links to the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks. I’m as much a “grammarian” as many others out there, but my feeling is that enough is enough. Yes, we get it, most sign-posters do not know how to use quotation marks. Very little rationale, IMHO, to keep amassing example after example of this pretty annoying but pretty common English usage blunder. Now, is there much of descriptivist pushback against prescriptivists with respect to unnecessary quotation mark practice, given how widely distributed this usage pattern is?


How the Conficker Problem Just Got Much Worse

This post discusses an ominous scenario in which the point of April 1st wasn’t for Conficker to do any real mischief but rather to dig in deeper and spread vastly more widely, creating so many more infected nodes that it cannot be stopped whenever it does unleash the real malice. via Gizmodo.

11 Extinct Animals That Were Photographed Alive

[Image '' cannot be displayed]
Tasmanian tiger

“Although fossil reconstructions or pictorial representations can sometimes be difficult to connect with, it’s impossible to ignore the experience of seeing a photograph of an animal on the brink of extinction.

Thus, what follows is a list of 11 extinct animals that were photographed while still alive…

The current rate of extinction is 100 to 1000 times higher than the average, or background rate, making our current period the 6th major mass extinction in the planet’s history.” via EcoWorldly.


Aircraft could be brought down by DIY ‘E-bombs’

Airbus A380

“Electromagnetic pulse weapons capable of frying the electronics in civil airliners can be built using information and components available on the net, warn counterterrorism analysts. All it would take to bring a plane down would be a single but highly energetic microwave radio pulse blasted from a device inside a plane, or on the ground and trained at an aircraft coming in to land.” via New Scientist.