Walking and Thinking

I don’t know why walking is so conducive to letting your brain think. Maybe it’s to do with the blood flow, or like the way sticking your tongue out helps you concentrate, the steady, regular steps allow your mind to delegate body control to some unconscious subroutine, freeing your conscious mind up to really focus.

Whatever it is, it works, and you end up feeling good physically too.

Lockdown: The Country Scale Experiment

One thing about how humanity has dealt and is continuing to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak is that it’s really a huge experiment with country scale populations. Some really interesting effects are being seen, I’d say that the research hasn’t even really started yet. There’s all sorts of questions that could be examined, from mental health effects to lack of traffic and cleaner air.

Two that caught my eye so far are related to pollution in the air we breathe. I hope that things like these will really bring home to people just how much impact that invisible air pollution has on our health.

Two million people in the UK with respiratory conditions such as asthma have experienced reduced symptoms during the coronavirus lockdown, according to the British Lung Foundation.

Guardian: “Cleaner air during UK lockdown relieves asthma for millions

Back in the day, I remember our science teacher telling us that asthma was on the increase, and at the time we considered smoking as a possible cause, but now I’d point the finger at air pollution. While Dublin had cleaned up the very visible smog, the fine particle pollution was on the increase, as it is today.

Another fascinating one is the fall in pre-term births:

An “unprecedented” fall in pre-term births in one of the country’s largest maternity hospitals is being credited to the effect of positive lifestyle influences during the lockdown.

The number of underweight babies fell dramatically in University Maternity Hospital Limerick in the first four months of the year, a trend researchers believe is due to reduced stress and healthier lifestyles brought on by the Covid-19 restrictions.

There was a 73 per cent reduction in the number of very low birth-weight babies born in the hospital, compared to the average for the same first four months of the year in the preceding two decades, a study has found.

If the same finding is replicated nationally for the first four months of the year, there could be up to 200 fewer very-low-weight births this year, and several hundred more if the effect were to last to the end of the year.

Likening the unique conditions of the lockdown to “nature’s experiment”, lead author Prof Roy Philip said the improvements were due to a mix of self-imposed behavioural changes by mothers and externally imposed socio-environmental changes.

These include: reduced work; stress; commuting and financial strain; increased family support; reduced environmental pollution; better infection avoidance; improved sleep and nutritional support; adequate exercise; and reduced exposure to tobacco and illegal drugs.

Irish Times, “Positive lockdown influence credited with fall in pre-term births”

The real research here will be picking apart the confounding factors, some of the changes noted above for example – I’d guess that lots of mothers experienced more stress, perhaps worse family support (relatives couldn’t visit) for example. I hope more research gets done on this.

The privilege of being clutter free

Don’t pack too light:

A few weeks into coronavirus quarantine, a reader who had cleaned out his home according to the decluttering guru Marie Kondo’s ultra-popular KonMari method emailed me to ask if I had heard from anyone else who was regretting that move. He’d been happy with the results until the country’s circumstances had abruptly changed, and his family ended up reordering some of the same board games and casual diversions they had parted with back when their lives were busier and the boxes were taking up space in a closet.

Packing light for a lifetime has its perks, but it’s not a strategy that’s highly adaptable to sudden unemployment or overburdened supply chains. America’s economy asks its residents to cycle new things in and out of their home constantly, and for decades, the process has looked like a perpetual-motion machine to all but the poorest among us. When the pandemic hit, it became clear that the process was much closer to musical chairs. Tossing everything that isn’t just right in the moment is its own kind of privilege, which is why Kim Kardashian’s house looks like a mausoleum, and why the set for the anti-capitalist film Parasite is all sharp edges and sleek wood. The pursuit of domestic perfection should be done only by those who don’t have to worry about what unforeseen wants or needs might lie ahead. Among consumer culture’s most impressive sleights of hand is convincing far too many people that they’re in that group.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/the-triumph-of-the-slob/612232/?utm_source=digg

Everything in moderation is the best approach. Absolutes tend to be brittle when hit with changing circumstances don’t they? I think it makes it easier to adapt to change. That’s my philosophy piece for today.

What’s really wrong about Dom’s lockdown trip

Fintan O’Toole nails it:

So why does his odyssey during lockdown produce a whole different kind of emotion? Because it reaches into the innermost experiences of millions of people. It cuts right through to the pain of a loved one dying alone, of grandchildren growing distant, of precious human bonds being forcibly severed. It grabs hold of that torment and it squeezes the meaning out of it.

We endure these things individually because we understand ourselves to be also enduring them collectively. Cummings’ actions – and, even more, Johnson’s valorisation of them – strip away the second part. The big, communal and institutional structure that gives a value to the millions of individual sacrifices has been kicked away – in Johnson’s defence of Cummings, the only value is the individual “instinct” of the members of the ruling caste. To use the Blitz analogy that England apparently cannot escape, it’s fine to leave your lights on during the blackout if you’re an important person with documents to read.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/26/cummings-contempt-lockdown-rules-public-catholic-church-ireland#maincontent

Flour

10kg flour bags
Aw yiss

With everyone stuck at home, flour has tended to be in somewhat erratic supply since the lockdown started. Especially strong flour, which I haven’t seen in weeks. Anyway, Tesco are trying to get ahead of the demand curve with these ten kilo bags.

Probably as restaurants and bakeries aren’t buying these sizes there’s a surplus. Good value of you’ve somewhere to store it!

Lockdown helps eradication battle against other diseases too

Every cloud:

Having already lasted seven weeks, the lockdown also mitigates one of the biggest challenges usually facing sexual health clinicians: it can take up to a month from potential exposure to HIV for current tests to return a definitive result. “If nobody has had sex which has put them at an HIV risk for at least four weeks,” says McOwan, “there will be nobody in this blindspot who might otherwise be missed.”

When taking regular treatment, people who are HIV positive have an undetectable viral load and therefore cannot pass on the infection. New HIV infections had already been dropping nationally, in part because the NHS is increasing public access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. In 2012, there were an estimated 2,800 new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men in the UK. In 2018 the figure was down to 800, a 71% fall.

“If we can now find the remaining people with HIV through testing and put them on treatment,” says McOwan, “we could remove anyone who is infectious from the population with long-lasting effects. We won’t get this two-month window of no sex again.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/13/covid-19-crisis-raises-hopes-of-end-to-uk-transmission-of-hiv

Teamwork

Interesting article about teamwork and personalities, it’s always been important but I think that the current all-remote-working situation in the IT industry has made it all the more essential:

But even though teamwork is everywhere, we continue to train people — whether in education or in the workforce — for primarily individual and technical skills. As someone who’s worked with teams for the past 25 years in the corporate world and written two books about teamwork, I think that needs to change. And that’s why I’m going to share with you the three simple virtues that make for a good team player.

The first and by far the most important is humility. If you want to be an ideal team player and if you want to be successful in life, you really need to be humble. Most of us know what humility is — it means not being arrogant or self-centered but putting others ahead of ourselves. It’s such an attractive and powerful thing.

When somebody lacks confidence and makes themselves small, that’s not humility. To deny our talents is actually a violation of humility, just like it is to exaggerate them. The writer C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote, “Humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves, it’s thinking about ourselves less.” (Editor’s note: That quote has long been misattributed to Lewis.)

The second is equally simple: You have to be hungry. This simply means having a strong work ethic. People who have an innate hunger about getting work done are typically much more successful on teams and in life. This quality is the one that you probably have to develop earliest in life; when I work with people later in life who never developed it, it can be harder for them to build it. Being hungry is not about workaholism, though. Workaholics are people who get their entire identity from their work. People who are hungry just want to go above and beyond what’s expected; they have a high standard for what they do, and they never do just the minimum.

The third attribute is what I call being smart. But it’s not about intellectual smarts; this is about emotional intelligence and having common sense around how we understand people and how we use our words and actions to bring out the best in others. This is so important in the world, and being smart is one of those things that people can work on and get better at.

You need to have all three qualities to be a great team player.

via Delilah, who always finds good articles.

Emerging Science of what Covid-19 does to a human body

Fascinating overview of what the current state of knowledge is. It’s a rapidly changing field out there, and this is science working full-tilt in ‘all it’s messy glory’ (via kottke ):

I’ve been hearing that although Covid-19’s attack begins in the lungs, it is as much a vascular disease as it is a respiratory disease — and there is some evidence emerging to support this view:

If COVID-19 targets blood vessels, that could also help explain why patients with pre-existing damage to those vessels, for example from diabetes and high blood pressure, face higher risk of serious disease. Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on hospitalized patients in 14 U.S. states found that about one-third had chronic lung disease-but nearly as many had diabetes, and fully half had pre-existing high blood pressure.

Mangalmurti says she has been “shocked by the fact that we don’t have a huge number of asthmatics” or patients with other respiratory diseases in HUP’s ICU. “It’s very striking to us that risk factors seem to be vascular: diabetes, obesity, age, hypertension.”

What struck me most about this piece is the sheer energy of the vast network of minds bent towards understanding this thing with the hope of beating it as soon as possible. This is the scientific method at work right here, in all its urgent & messy glory.