How Will the Pandemic End?

Photo by Andrzej Pobiedziński from FreeImages

According to this article from the LA Times, coronaviruses aspire to be like the common cold. In other words, more infectious than Covid-19, but less deadly. The article says that at least four coronaviruses have mutated to follow this pattern.

According to Daniel Defoe, in “The History of the Plague in London” the early form of that disease was both infectious and lethal. Later it made people ill, but it didn’t kill quite so readily. (I’m interpreting what Defoe said, and interpolated his conclusions). It may be that this is the way that the Covid-19 epidemic ends. In the case of the plague, this happened within a year (if I’m correct), and it is likely that Covid-19 may mutate and produce a much less lethal strain on a timescale of months.

Coronaviruses are noted for their ability to mutate. Mutating fast means that any immunity that someone gets from being infected quickly erodes. So, if the flu is a good guide, the flu’s rapid mutation means that we have to get vaccinated every year to protect ourselves. Sometimes the flu virus is a more serious disease than at other times, but it doesn’t seem to become a lot more lethal over time.

There is a possibility that that is mostly due to better medical treatments and facilities for sufferers. But there is always a chance that the flu could become more lethal in spite of this. If Covid-19 doesn’t mutate to become less lethal or harmful, then life as we knew it is over. Border controls, social distancing, and so on are here to stay. Outbreaks are here to stay. Fast cheap air travel is at an end. Global tourism is at an end.

The Covid-19 pandemic may not actually end, but governments may have to act as if it has. They will be forced to open the borders some time, and this will, inevitably, let the virus in again. More people will die. It seems that vaccines will at the most be only partially effective. People still get the flu even if they have been vaccinated, because the virus continually mutates and the same may prove true of Covid-19.

In Defoe’s time people eventually suffered from “plague fatigue”. They took the attitude that if the plague was going to get them, it didn’t matter what they did, and they stopped avoiding plague victims, and just carried on with business as usual. (They wrapped it up in religious language, but that is the essence).

This, interestingly, appears to be happening in NZ and in the rest of the world. In Defoe’s time, in London, this happened at the peak of the epidemic, and things, coincidentally I believe, got better from then on. In Trump’s America, (and some other countries) we can see the consequences of giving up too soon.

Consequently, I believe we in NZ should continue the fight against the virus, for so long as it remains so lethal. We should hope that, within a year, the virus mutates to become less lethal. We should hope that a vaccine becomes available, but we shouldn’t pin all our hopes on that. Viruses have ways of getting around vaccines.

Some of my stories have been published on Amazon (as eBooks and paperbacks) and Kobobooks and Smashwords (as eBooks). Here are the links to my Author Pages on those sites.

Black Swans and Cherry Picking

A family of black swans. [Photo by luis rock from FreeImages]

There’s nothing quite like arguing with Climate Change disbelievers or those who believe that 5G is harmful. Or similar ‘fringe’ believers. Oh, some of the fringe beliefs may turn out to be true, it is true, but most of them, and almost certainly the ones I mention above, will turn out to be false.

One particular line of argument caused my jaw to drop. I want to share its ridiculousness with you. It goes this way. Firstly those who cite mainstream articles, ones which espouse Climate Climate or the harmlessness of 5G are accused of cherry picking the results that support the mainstream point of view. There are after all, hundreds of papers, the critics point out, that espouse the opposite view.

Well, yes. In a very narrow sense they are right, of course, but why would anyone cite papers that oppose their point of view? There are good theoretical grounds for believing that Climate Change exists, and that 5G will not harm us, therefore the fact that most experiments support this view is not surprising. Experiments that do show that Climate Change doesn’t exist, or that 5G will harm us should therefore be considered with suspicion, especially if, as is usually a case, there is no theoretical basis for the claims, and the claims are unverified.

It is worth noting that some papers that support Climate Change do cite papers which deny Climate Change and the same is true of some papers that investigate the effects of radiation on the human body. They cite them in the sense that “we looked for the effect described in this paper, but didn’t find it”.

But mainstream believers can turn around and accuse the deniers of Cherry Picking their references too! Can’t they? Surely they also have been choosing only those results that align with their view?

“Not so!” the deniers cry. “The references that we pick are Black Swans!”


A little background. The philosopher Karl Popper stated that a theory can never be proved, but can only be disproved. One example that is often quoted is the theory that “All swans are white”. This can never be proved because, no matter how many white swans that you find, the next one you find might be black. Or red or green or blue, maybe. All the white swans that you find support the theory, but one Black Swan demolishes it completely.

Of course, it is rarely as black and white as that (sorry). Scientists figuratively find an off-white swan.

“See, we said that the theory is false. That is not a white swan,” say the deniers. The other camp say “Yes, of course it is white! A bit of a dirty white, but still white.” “No, it isn’t!” “Yes, it is!”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a finance professor and former Wall Street trader, extended this idea. He defined a Black Swan event as one which  is impossible to predict due to its extreme rarity but which could have catastrophic consequences, and which is explained in hindsight as if it were actually predictable. Just as a verifiable counter example could be catastrophic for a widely accepted theory.

The deniers, it appears, have in turn extended this definition to “a Black Swan is any experiment whose results run contrary to mainstream thought”. This completely demolishes the counter argument, supposedly, whether the experiment is verified or not. And they are never verified.

A true Black Swan experiment could be defined as one which is a) verified and accepted as producing true results, and b) contradicts a currently widely held theory. The ‘Black Swans’ pointed to the anti-5G supporters fail to fulfil ‘a)’ above.

Leaving aside the fact that scientists have their biases just as do normal folk, one can’t tell simply from a list of papers whether they have been verified by others or not. Very often, the list is said to contain ‘peer reviewed’ papers, as if that adds any veracity to any of the papers in the list. A peer reviewer merely reports that a paper is OK to publish or not.

For example, there were plenty of peer reviewed papers that supposedly showed that smoking cigarettes was harmless. There were others that supposedly showed that smoking would kill you.

Why did those that argued that smoking was dangerous win? Certainly not because of any ‘cherry picking’ or ‘black swans’.

Picked cherries [Photo by fgdfgd dfgdfg from FreeImages]

Firstly, there was a consensus among scientists that smoking endangered health. This was driven by the sheer corpus of evidence that built up in favour of that theory, and the fact that the experiments that favoured the opposite could be criticised on many levels. It couldn’t be said that the opposition was ignored. In fact many scientists spent many hours examining supposedly contrary evidence and decided that it was wrong.

Secondly, there was evidence that the chemicals in tobacco smoke were shown, outside of the context of smoking, to be dangerous. So, if you inhaled them because you were smoking, then you exposed yourself to those dangers.

Thirdly, there was ample evidence that stopping smoking resulted in better health outcomes, even if the smoker had been a smoker for years. Even the proverbial man in the street could see it.

As regards Climate Change and 5G opposition, the evidence continues to build for the former, and attempts to demonstrate a harmful effect for the latter continue to be less than impressive.

Climate Change is all but confirmed, but people do continue dissent. That is their right, but it is pointless.

The 5G opposition is strident and irrational. They continue to ignore the evidence, and instead present a body of so-called evidence that is not convincing. They ignore a body of evidence that claims that EMF of the 5G frequencies does not affect the human body, and justifies this by a ludicrous appeal to ‘Black Swans’ which is misapplication of the ideas of Karl Popper.

I’m sure that Popper would be spinning in his grave, if he knew the ways that the 5G opposition were misusing his wise words.

5G [Image by ADMC from Pixabay]


Photo by Martyn E. Jones from FreeImages

Most people would agree that the climate crisis is real and serious. Many people would say that we are not doing much to combat it, and they are probably correct.

One effect of the climate crisis and the spread of humanity to all corners of the globe is that species are becoming extinct, as climate change or the spread of humans and their activities destroys their habitats. In some cases, humans have deliberately targeted species for food or even sport. If you search the Internet you will find numerous lists of extinct species like this one.

The effect of our activities and the resulting climate changes on wildlife is horrific. For example, Polar Bears are affected by the melting of the sea ice, which they use to travel, and which they hunt on and hunt from.

Image by Thomas Picard from Freeimages

Unless these animals, and others who have lost their habitats from climate change, or human expansion, can find new ways to hunt, then they are doomed to extinction.

Humans are expanding so fast, and taking over so much land, that they are destroying the habitats of species and driving them to extinction. Logging and forest fires, both natural and deliberately lit, have decimated the habitat of the orangutan , for example, and many, many other less noticeable species have probably already been driven to extinction .

As I have said, the coming apocalypse is probably unavoidable. Many species will become extinct, and the human race, at best, will be reduced almost to the caveman level. At worst, we will become extinct too. Post-apocalyptic novels generally show the human race bouncing back from almost complete annihilation, but that is unlikely to happen. Species don’t often rebound from such a set back if their habitat has been destroyed.

“_MG_3544” by Lauer Manuel B is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Suppose the human race and 90% of life on Earth becomes extinct. What then? Well, actually, the outlook is bright for the planet. This is not the first time that such an extinction event has occurred. According to some, there have been five prior mass extinction events.

So, life on Earth, as a whole, has bounced back, even if individual species, have been rendered extinct. How does this happen? Surely there would be fewer species around, and while competition might be reduced and predators may have become extinct, still, how are a few species going to repopulate the world?

It may be surprising to some, but almost all of the species that have ever existed are now extinct. Every species that we see is a descendent of a few species that survived the previous extinction event. Only about 25% of species that existed at the time survived, and in earlier extinctions, only 5% of species survived.

“Badger’s face” by Heliosphere is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Suppose one species, maybe a badger, survives. Whatever species (plural) survive, they are likely to be adaptable, able to eat anything, and be fast breeding. The badger flourishes in the post-apocalyptic world, and spreads far and wide. Few other mammals are around to compete with it.

The badger families start to differentiate. Some prefer open areas, some prefer trees, some might even take to the water. Over a long period the families lose the ability to inter-breed. They become different species, filling all the niches that other species used to fill, and they don’t even look like badgers any more.

If this is a sixth extinction event then for a long time only a few species would rule the world. But over a longer time frame, as I noted above, the few species would evolve to fill all available niches.

Photo by schulergd from FreeImages

DNA, which is within every living thing, determines everything about an organism. Species, shape, abilities. DNA is so flexible that the number of possible organisms is very large, almost infinite. This means that even though millions of species may become extinct, the few survivors can evolve into millions of new but different species.

So, while there would not be mice, there might be mouse-like creatures. There would be bird-like creatures, mosquito-like creatures, and probably human-type creatures. They wouldn’t look much like their present day counterparts, but they would fill those niches, provided those niches still exist. As an example the replacement for the bird species would probably be as different from birds as the pterodons were from present bird species.

Photo by Davide Guglielmo from FreeImages

It depends on what the conditions turn out to be. For example, in the time of the dinosaurs, the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, conditions favoured large herbivorous animals, although there were certainly also large carnivorous animals.

But those were only the most obvious species. I avoid the word ‘dominant’ because they may have been the most obvious, the biggest animals, but there may have been smaller, less obvious animals that we know little about. (I may be showing my ignorance here!)

Intelligence has, so far as we know, only evolved once. It may well be a fluke, and in the future, post-apocalyptic world, it may not evolve again. If it does, let’s hope that any intelligent species that evolves in the future will do better than we did.

Photo by John Nyberg from FreeImages

The Coming Apocalypse

Bombed out church
Photo by Lisa Setrini-Espinosa from FreeImages

I see people and nations trying to come to terms with global warming, but the efforts to reverse it seems disorganised, incomplete and ineffective. Governments sign agreements containing measures that sound good, but which are not implemented or implemented badly, and all the time the ice melts and the ice caps break apart.

I see Greta Thunberg ranting at the United Nations about their inaction on climate change. She has a point. If the world is to be saved, then those in power should take decisive action, now. But she is preaching to the wrong congregation. Most of those in the UN are in the later stages of their careers. The people that Greta should be taking to task are those of her parents’ generation, those who are just coming into their powers, mainly the millennials.

Can the millennials save the world? I think not.

Can the world be saved through democratic processes? I think not.

The problem with global warming is not the flooding of islands and the melting of the icecaps inundating coastal areas. People can always move inland. No, the problem is inland, in the areas that grow the crops that feed the world and in the forests that provide the life-giving oxygen and remove the stifling carbon dioxide. Global warming is going to inevitably cause crops to fail and forests to die. Droughts, floods, storms that devastate large parts of whole countries will become common.

Dry ground
Photo by Scott Liddell from FreeImages

This will lead to food shortages and famine. Famine leads to the spread of disease and to war, as those without food invade those areas which have food, and those who have food fight to keep what they have. Inevitably the wars will result in the inability of the food growing areas to produce food, leading to deepening famine, and deaths in the billions.

Technology will suffer. The things that we use every day, like cooking equipment, technology that we utilize to entertain ourselves, or our means of communication, like our smartphones, will not be produced as people find it necessary to concentrate on obtaining food rather than producing technological wonders. The networks will fail.

We will see the failure of democracy and the rise of autocracies as wars proliferate and famine and disease spread.

Fidel Castro
Photo by Mike Minor from FreeImages

The autocracies and wholesale death by famine and disease may be the saving of the human race. If the human race is decimated, the pressure on the planet may ease, and the forests may return, springing up from remnants of the original forests or from species that have imported into the area by humans of our era. The autocrats may force workers to recreate the forests, because, after all, they will have experienced the effects of global warming. They can compel whereas democracies cannot. Autocrats are not magnanimous, but their best interests will hopefully be served by an end to global warming.

Where does that leave us? With a human population of much less than a billion. With the forests returning, maybe not the original forests, but forests made up of different species from other parts of the globe. There will be animals, but probably not the original species. With temperatures falling, and oceans returning to health.

There will be countries, but not the countries of today, and it is unlikely that any global organization, like the United Nations will remain. All current treaties and agreements will be long gone, replaced by other more local agreements and treaties.

Indigenous peoples may resurge in some places, but disappear in other.

It will be a world unlike our current world. Technology will have reverted as the huge factories needed to support it will have gone, but the knowledge may be retained, and the technology may resurge, but probably in a simpler fashion, using fewer resources. The day of the mega-factory will be over.

People will not fly around the world, and would probably live, and die close to where they were born. Large cities, of the size of London, Shanghi, or New York, will probably die, but smaller cities will likely survive.

That is the best case scenario. In the worst case the famines and wars will reduce the human race to very small numbers, and once the decline has got to those sorts of levels, the human race will fade away. No species resurges to previous levels after a die off of this magnitude without outside help. Where are the aliens when you need them ?

Inflatable aliens
Photo by Cheryl Empey from FreeImages

Writing and Arrogance


Have you ever written a word and wondered if you spelled it right? You say to yourself, “That word looks weird!” But the spellchecker doesn’t underline the word. It must be right, mustn’t it? I typed “arrogance” above and it looked wrong, but it is right.

Anyway, that is an aside. As I’m taking a break from the GIMP and Blender, I decided to do some writing. I had an idea in mind, but when I started to write, another story decided it wanted to be written. I mean this seriously, though, obviously stories can’t actually decide anything. It just feels like that.

I had vaguely thought of submitting the story, when I had finished it, in a competition, but it got longer and longer and by the time I had tied up all the loose ends, it had exceeded the competition limit. Rats!

So, I took a copy of the story and set about shrinking it. That’s not too hard, in practise, but it does change the story. I got it down below the limit, but then I had doubts about whether or not it was good enough in the shrunken version. Or for that matter the full version.

Reducing the Size
Reducing the Size

So I asked my daughter.  I didn’t show her about the story, but I asked her questions like “How would you react if this happened….” At the end she said something which shocked me. She said something like “It has to be really different from <a TV series>, otherwise it is not worth writing.”

My story did have similarities to the TV series. Was it different enough to make it interesting? It’s a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears, to write a story. Now it appeared that, not only do I have to ask myself, “Is it good enough?”, but I also have to ask myself, “Is it too similar to anything else?” Ouch!

OK, I took that on board and I’ve parked the abbreviated version for a while, and I’m working on the slightly longer version. I’ll see if I can polish the shorter version until it glows like a pearl later maybe.

This is Weka
This is a Weka. He came up in a search for “short” and “long” for some reason.

So, around the time that I was revising the shorter version, I came across several web pages which categorised adverbs as bad. If a famous writer like Stephen King thinks that adverbs are bad, then they must be bad, right? Well, I invite you to go on a search for articles about adverbs and writing, and while they mostly stop short of demonising adverbs, the consensus is that it is best, and usually more descriptive, if you don’t use them.

OK, I’m convinced. Mostly. So I had a look at my stories and replaced or removed as many adverbs as I could find. That added a few dozen words to each version, so I still had work to do to get the short version down to the limit. Oh well.

This is where the arrogance comes in. (The word still looks weird!) I’ve never read any articles or tutorials on how to write stories. I always just sit down and write. I don’t have even so much as a skeleton of a plan, and indeed, my stories often end up in places that I hadn’t even thought about when I started. I have generally been thinking about the story for some time before I start. I usually have a character or characters in mind and one or two scenes (for want of a better word).

Wooden Dragon
Dragon without her rider

Maybe the lead character sits on her dinosaur at the top of the mountain pass and contemplates the view before she descends to the peace conference. Or the big battle. She and I will find out which it is as she follows her friends and comrades down into the valley.

So, I searched out a few articles on how to write a story. I’d expected them to all insist on a plan or a synopsis. A character list, a world for them to interact in, and a reason for them to interact. Days, weeks, maybe months before I would get to write a word.

Of course some do suggest that sort of thing, and sometimes they even suggest using spreadsheets! For the record, I’ve tried that, even before I read the articles, before I’d written much at all. It seemed logical. Get the ducks in a row and you can knock them off one by one.

It might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. As my story grew, it deviated from my plan, and I didn’t go back and change it. Change it? I didn’t even look at it. But it did give me a start.

People on a Beach
People on a beach. (The logos imply that they are probably filming turtles)

OK, the Prince didn’t rescue the Princess from a dragon. No, the Prince rescued his Prince from a forced marriage to the Princess, who was pleased because she was über-friendly with the strapping female leader of the Guard. Only the Princess’ parents were miffed.

I might use this seed of a story sometime. But it started with the idea of someone rescuing someone from something, and I was already vaguely dissatisfied with standard boy saves girl and they fall in love thing. That’s just the Hero Syndrome. Boring. The above scenario still uses the syndrome, but it does give it a bit of a twist.

But anyway, he said, returning to the point, I discovered that the articles on how to write a story were full of useful advice, including in some cases, suggesting the avoidance of adverbs. Who knew? Well not me obviously.

Problem or Puzzle

The articles were full of good advice, techniques for pressing on when you are stuck, which is something that doesn’t happen to me. Many of them emphasise the trio of people, problem, and place.

What I mean by that is that almost every story needs characters. Oh, of course they needn’t be human. Almost every story needs a reason for the characters to interact, and they to have somewhere to interact.

Take the film “Lost in Space“. The ‘people’ were the Robinson family, together with the Robot and Doctor Zachary Smith. The ‘problem’ was that, because of Smith’s actions they had crash landed on an alien planet and couldn’t make it home. The ‘place’ was obviously the alien planet. Consideration of these three components no doubt helped the writers of the series. I’ll bear that in mind in future.

I’m going to read more of these “How to Write” web pages, to see what I can glean. It was arrogant of me to think that they had nothing to offer me. If I come across something that seems to me to be extra useful, I may write about later.

Alien landscape
Alien landscape

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. Just search for my name, Cliff Pratt. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

Progress with Blender

This is an update on how I’m getting on with Blender. I spent some time reading and viewing tutorials about the Blender interface, and it is unusual in many way. There are dozens and dozens of menus, panel, screens, and many of the buttons are small on my not-so-big screen (see above). That’s not so good for my ageing eyes.

I decided to try some of the tutorials on how to build a simple house, and eventually I ended up with above. A grey house on a grey background in Blender’s 3D view window. I then tried to recreate the above without looking at the tutorial, but before I get into that, I’m going to mention “rendering”.

Rendering is the name of the process for converting the 3D model, whatever it is, into a image that can be used on the web, or as input for further processing using a different program such as the GIMP. It is during this stage that colours and textures get applied. Below is the image resulting from the rendering of the model above. I didn’t do any colouring or apply any textures so it still looks very grey.

As I said I now attempted to draw the house from scratch, not using the tutorial. It took me some time, but eventually I managed to create the model below.

As you can see, I forgot to create the eaves, but apart from that I managed to recreate something like the tutorial model. I should have planned the house properly before I started it. I could correct it in Blender, but it is easier, with such a simple model, to start again.

I’d read or watched a tutorial where materials were applied to a model to, among other things, apply colour to the scene. “Scene” in blender means a single model that can be worked on, such as the houses, backgrounds and lighting in the models above. I decided to render my house, and to colour it in the process, and ended up with the following image. The green area that the house stands on is an object in the scene that I created and coloured, a large flat “mesh”. In Blender your work sort of floats in space, although there is something called “Physics” that I haven’t investigated yet, that may change that.

I continued to familiarise myself with the Blender interface by playing around with house models, and then I decided to try to recreate my UFO from the GIMP in blender. Here it is, in Blender. Unfortunately, the image is quite small.

And here’s a rendered view. I coloured it black and white, so it doesn’t look too impressive and the light levels are a bit low.

I restarted building the UFO, and here’s a screenshot of the second version. This time it should be more visible. It’s view of the mesh that creates the shape of the UFO. Its skeleton, if you like.

And finally for this post, here’s a rendered image of the UFO. AS you can see, it’s a bit chunky, but I’ll be investigating how to smooth it out.

I’m deliberately not going into detail on how I built these images, since they only use the really basic tools, (the UFO is just a squashed sphere for example), and there are many good Blender tutorials on the Internet. If I find some process or facility that I find interesting, I might go into detail, and when I start building a full image, I may post the various steps that got me to the end result.

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

Supply Chain

When I go into the supermarket, I see foods from all over the world. I’m not talking about the items in the so-called International section, but even the stuff on the other shelves. I just picked up the nearest supermarket purchased item that came to hand. Batteries. They are packed locally, but are manufactured in China. When I say locally, I mean almost 500 kilometres away.

Much of the fruit and veges that I purchase come from overseas. Bananas and pineapples don’t grow here and are imported from various countries. If I want to buy a t-shirt it will almost certainly originate in Asia somewhere. I just looked at the t-shirt that I’m wearing at the moment, and yup, while it has a designed featuring a local attraction it is manufactured and printed in China.

All our electronic gear come from Asia, our clothes from Asia and plastic ware like laundry baskets also originates overseas.

This is not unique to this country though. It’s much the same in any other country. This country produces dairy products, meat and meat products, fruit and wine which are exported to other countries. The world is full of goods being shipped from one place to another, and sometimes a product will go to more than one location on its journey from where it is produced to the supermarket that it ends up in.

I don’t know if this actually happens, but one can envisage that milk taken from a cow is turned into milk powder here, sent elsewhere to be turned into mozzarella cheese, which is then sent to a pizza manufacturer, who sends the finished pizza to an pizza outlet where it is cooked and then sent out to satisfy the appetites of people somewhere else yet again.

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There’s a term for this. It is “supply chain”. Actually it’s more like a supply network as, if we consider the pizza case, the pizza is made up of multiple ingredients all of which pass through several stages. Even the box that contains the pizza may have a complex history before the pizza is dropped into it and it is sent off.

It’s also possibly that the box may be made of recycled material. Cardboard collected at a recycling station may be pulped, processed and made into pizza boxes. Some of the collected cardboard may be old pizza boxes.

Generally, though, the components or ingredients of a consumer item, like a cell phone or a pizza with extra pepperoni start out by being harvested or dug out of the ground. If you want to cut out the supply chain, you could grow your own, but then you need to source the seeds, you need to buy in compost, unless you make it yourself from vegetables that you’ve sourced somewhere else, which come from goodness knows where, and you need to feed the plants with chemicals which have all come from somewhere else, and most likely have been processed in various ways.

So what would happen if the supply chain broke? People in the cities, who have no other way to acquire things except through the supply network would quickly starve, and would likely flee the city for the countryside, where things would be much better, and where they could settle down and grow things, right?

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Except that most useful productive land in most countries has already been taken for farms, and the fleeing city folk would be forced onto marginal land and would starve, or they would be forced to steal from the farmers who are already there, or maybe they would beg for food from the farmers or work for them for food. Or they would fight to displace the farmers from their lands. In any case a flood of refugees from the city would likely be a trigger for conflict.

Actually the farmers would not be that much better off than the city folks. Most farms these days are more like little factories feeding into the supply chain and would concentrate on one or two crops. A beef farmer would have a surplus of beef, a potatoes farmer would have nothing but potatoes, and so on.

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So, it is likely that even farmers would have severe problems if the supply network broke. Even if the farmer could trade most of his produce with other farmers so that he did not have to subsist purely on potatoes, he would have great difficulty in producing more crops after the first one. He’d quickly run out of fertiliser and without insecticides he would probably loose a lot of his crops.

The problems would be even worse if his land was deficient in some critical mineral. Many farmers these days have to add traces of minerals to their land, either to help grow bigger produce or to add the trace elements that the crops need to even grow.

Of course, not everyone would starve. Some non-city dwellers would eventually, after a period of realignment, be able to feed themselves. But many, many city dwellers would die, and a significant number of non-city dwellers would also die before an new balance is found. All trade would be local, probably barter based, as the city dwellers are the ones who keep the banking systems going, and they would be dead.

I haven’t yet considered what sort of catastrophe could disrupt the global supply network. If the oil ran out, and couldn’t be replaced by some other source of energy, that would do it. Local power could be generated using solar energy or water power, but the ships that ship goods from one place to another run on oil. That means that we would not be able to source solar cells in sufficient number.

If someone started a global nuclear war, then that could cause significant disruption and throw many countries back on their own resources, especially those who are more isolated than most. Similarly, if a super volcano were to erupt anywhere in the world, and as a result the world would become shrouded in clouds of dust for years on end, killing all food crops, then there would be no food to be shipped, even if the ships were to keep on working. And without food crops animals would starve, and so would we.


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Today is the last day of 2017. I will probably stay up tonight to “see in” 2018, but I’m not about to follow other traditions, such “first footing“. It’s all superstition anyway.

I think it’s interesting and a little illogical that we celebrate arbitrary dates throughout the year, such as midsummer’s day or May Day, though I understand that the origins of these celebrations. When the Church ruled (in at least the part of the world that I come from) and when times were uncertain and you could be fine one minute and dead of the plague the next, superstition comes naturally.

I can understand the joy that a winter solstice or other celebrations at that time of can bring. We are, at those times, at the lowest point of the year, and things can only go up from there. Strangely the low point of the year in the Northern Hemisphere comes at the top of the calendar. Who arranged that?

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There are no equivalent large celebrations around the time of the summer solstice, at least in the places in the Northern Hemisphere that I have lived. In the middle of the summer, winter is so far away, and I guess that we don’t want to celebrate it. In the Southern Hemisphere the summer solstice occurs round about the time of Christmas and New Year. In either hemisphere we celebrate the summer solstice by getting out in the sun more.

In the spring, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are some celebrations of May Day, around the time of the Vernal Equinox. At that time of year, we are leaving the darkness of winter and the short days for the longer sunny days of summer, and that is probably worth a celebration. May Day actually falls closer to the middle of the climactic spring than the equinox does.

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Of course any spring festival coincides with the increased fertility of the soil, plants and growing and animals are mating, spring plantings are complete, humans also respond to this. Some spring festivals acknowledge this time of the quickening of the blood in various ways, and sometimes the establishment, notably the Church, tries to suppress or at least put the reins on some of the excesses.

Autumn is the time of harvest and any festivals around the Autumnal Equinox acknowledge this fact. However the tone of such celebrations is likely to be restrained as people buckle down for the chills of winter.

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In the Southern Hemisphere, all this is messed up. The calendar is the same, so the southern Spring Equinox happens in September, around the twenty first of the month. Since most of the traditions have been imported from the Northern Hemisphere, mainly from Europe and particularly the UK, there is no obvious spring celebration to copy.

However, the southern Autumnal Equinox happens in March, and there is a northern celebration at the beginning of May. May Day is celebrated as an almost purely political holiday, with roots in the union movement, and is not, generally celebrated in the same way as May Day is in the Northern Hemisphere.

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When people emigrate from the Northern Hemisphere, specifically from Europe, they often experience homesickness. It can take a lifetime to shake off, but most people eventually relocate their roots. In particular, people from the Northern Hemisphere often find it strange that Christmas falls in the summertime.

People from the Northern Hemisphere expect Christmas to be in the winter. Short days, inclement weather and the perennial question “Will it be a white Christmas?” At one time carollers used to travel from door to door, wrapped up in thick coats, scarves and wearing woollen hats. Father Christmas is well wrapped in thick red and white clothes as he takes orders in the frantic malls before Christmas.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Father Christmas still wears his thick red and white clothes, and sits in a grotto decorated with fake snow and snowflakes, but he is most likely to be near hypothermia as the mercury rises.

There is however a southern version of Father Christmas. This version wears red swimming trunks and usually retains the red hat with the white rim and the white bobble, but may sport sunglasses and wear jandals on his feet. He may even carry a surfboard. He may be lying in a sun lounger shaded by a parasol, and with a non-alcoholic (of course) fruit based drink to hand.

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While Rudolph and his team may feature south of the equator, in Australia Santa’s sleigh is pulled by six white kangaroos, known as “boomers” (at least according to the song recorded by Rolf Harris). The implication is that the traditional reindeer can’t handle the summer heat in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve drifted somewhat from my initial topic, which was the New Year. New year in the Southern Hemisphere is about beach parties, if you are below a certain age. For those above a certain age, New Year means backyard barbecues.

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Beach parties can be riotous, to the point where police intervention is required, but largely they are good natured and convivial gatherings. New Year comes towards the beginner of the seasonal summer, and the celebration doesn’t really equate to any Northern Hemisphere celebration.

The northern Christmas and New Year celebrations are constrained by the short days and the long nights and are celebrated indoors in cosy snugness. In contrast the southern celebrations revel in the long days and short but warm nights and celebrate the outdoors.

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I think that we in the southern hemisphere got the best deal. If Christmas and New Year in the northern hemisphere had, for whatever reason, fallen in the summer, then the southern hemisphere Christmas and New Year would have fallen in the winter, and we would have got the short nights and the bad weather.

We would have had to celebrate Christmas and New Year indoors and during the short winter days. There’s no doubt that it would be enjoyable, the interactions with family and friends, but I’m glad that our main holiday falls in the summer.

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But, whatever, the New Year is in ninety five minutes, at least here in Wellington, so, when it swings around to you, I hope that you have a good and enjoyable New Year. I’ll sit here in my t-shirt and shorts, with bare feet enjoying their freedom from shoes, and wish all you there in the Northern Hemisphere, togged up in your woolies and gloves and hats, a Happy New Year.

Tau Hou hari!

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A woman has, within her ovaries, all the ova or eggs that she will ever have. No ova develop in a woman during her lifetime. When she ovulates one egg passes through her reproductive system and embeds itself in the wall of her uterus. If it is not fertilised, it gets shed with the lining of her womb during menstruation.

Actually, I skipped a point above. What a woman has in her ovaries are oocytes, or objects which have the potential to form ova. Even before oocytes form, the future baby girl has seven million oogonia, most of which die, some few hundred of which become oocytes.

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If you are wondering why I started thinking about ovulation and all that, the answer is chickens! Chickens lay eggs roughly every day once they start laying and lay for two to three years at least. Some lay for much longer.

I knew that ova, or rather oocytes, are not formed in human females once they are born, and I sort of thought that chickens would be similar. If my maths is correct, human females are born with five hundred or so oocytes, given that one ova is used up during each reproductive cycle and they have thirteen or so cycles per year for approximately forty years.

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Chickens however lay one egg per day, for up to four years or so, meaning that chicken ovaries have at least fourteen hundred to fifteen hundred oocytes, assuming a similar system to the human female system. Ah, Google showed me this article which pretty much confirms the above.

So, chickens are pretty much big bags of potential eggs. I found it interesting that chicken have an internal production line for eggs operating inside them, and several may be on their way to the outside world at any one time. When I read that it reminded me of my Gran, who used to pluck and gut her own chickens, showing me the immature eggs in a chicken’s oviduct. There can’t be many of the younger generations who have seen that!

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Of course a chicken egg must contain a life support system for the embryo (assuming the egg is fertilised, of course), whereas the life support system for mammals is contained within the mother’s body. This does allow humans to grow larger than chickens – the size of an external human egg would have to be at least as large as a small football, and probably larger, as the developing human embryo takes nourishment from the mother’s body, and an external egg would have to contain all that nourishment at the time that the egg is laid.

Another difference between chickens and humans is that the chicken’s offspring have to immediately be able to walk, eat, and largely look after themselves. The human offspring however can feed off the human mother’s milk for sometime, and can gradually get used to normal human foods, like pureed pears, laced with sugar in a glass jar. Yes, well, that’s a side track I can get into another time, I guess.

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In the animal group called the marsupials, this dependency on the mother is extreme. The babies (joeys) are so dependant on the mother’s milk and are born so small, that they are kept in the mother’s pouch until the become big enough for independent life.

So, which is the best strategy? Well, all things being equal a chicken could have at least a hundred or two offspring, but we aren’t drowning in chickens, so of the thousands of eggs that a chicken lays, only a small number don’t end up as scrambled eggs or feeding a predator. There is huge “wastage”.

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Humans on the other hand, well, we are drowning in humans, one might claim, so the strategy of having only a few, but initially very dependent offspring, seems to work for us as a species. In spite of the fact that children could be totally independent of their parents by the time they are reaching the end of their teens, most human children are so bonded to their parents that only the death of the parent breaks that bond.

Another advantage of laying eggs is that humans like eggs. Boiled, scrambled, fried, poached eggs. Eggs used in cooking. As result, rather than searching the landscape for eggs, humans have domesticated chickens. Everywhere humans are, there are chickens. They have even gone into space with us. On that measure chickens have been very successful. In exchange for a few unfertilised embryos chickens have gone further than chicken-kind has gone before. It’s even possible that when mankind sets up outposts on the Moon or Mars that chickens will accompany them.

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Of course, chickens are often kept in conditions which are, to put it mildly, not very nice. It’s even possible that at least partially because of this, that at some time in future, chickens as a food source may be phased out in favour of some sort of artificial egg production process. However, if we manage to visit and maybe colonise earth-like planets, we won’t initially be able to ship out vast protein manufacturing plants.

No, since we probably won’t know what we will find on a distant planet, we will probably ship along some chickens, or at least some eggs. In addition, if the chickens eat the local vegetation and then keel over, we will know that it is harmful, at least to chickens. In addition, the sound of clucking chickens is restful, and would remind the settlers of a distant of what they have left behind them. They would be a comfort, as well as providing a self replicating source of protein in several forms.

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In understand that scientists can produce chicken meat by using a chunk of chicken and feeding it with nutrients. They can then carve off chunks of it and feed it some more. I don’t know if they have actually tasted such meat, and what the pitfalls are for this scheme. There will be some. It’s likely that it is a cumbersome and tricky process.

No, I suggest that when we travel to the stars we take our chickens with us. Our motto could be “ad astra per alia pulli”. To the stars on the wings of chickens.

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[A note about Gettyimages. Gettyimages is a site that provides images, some of which are free and embeddable in WordPress, and no doubt other similar sites. I’ve decided to use images from Gettyimages to decorate my site. The images may or may not bear any relationship to my text, and I do not endorse any views represented or implicated by the images. They are just decoration. I highly recommend Gettyimages.]


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Humans and not very good at calculating odds and how probabilities work. For instance, if we are tossing coins and we get six heads in a row, the probability of getting yet another head is still fifty-fifty. Yet people feel that after a series of heads that it is more likely that more tails than heads will turn up for a while, so that the ratio of heads to tails returns to the expected one to one ratio.

But the expected ratio of heads to tails for all subsequent tests is one to one. It’s as if a new set of tests is being started, and so any lead that has already built up is, in all probability, not going to be reduced.

This seems odd. If we have done one thousand trials and have turned up 550 heads to 450 tails, the ratio of heads to tails is about 0.818 and the ratio of heads to the number of tests is 0.55. Surely more tests will take the ratios closer to the expected values of 1.0 and 0.5? Surely that means that there will be more tails than heads in the future?

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Well, the answer to both questions is no, of course. The ratios for the whole test may move closer to 1.0 and 0.5, but equally, they may move further away. In the extreme case, there may never be a tail again. Or all the rest of the throws may result in tails.

Interestingly, if the subsequent tests produce a series of heads and tails, the difference between the number of heads and tails stays at around 100, but the ratio of tails to heads for the whole test slowly creeps closer to 1.0 and the ratio of heads to the total number of tests closes in on 0.5 as more and more trials are done. By the time we reach two million tests, the two numbers are not very far from the expected values, being 0.9999 and 0.5000 respectively.

So, if you think to yourself, as you buy a lotto ticket “Well I must eventually win, if I keep buying the tickets”, it doesn’t work like that. You could buy a lotto ticket forever, literally, and never ever win. Sorry.

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Lotto and sweepstakes are, I believe, a different type of gambling from other forms, such as betting on horses or poker and other gambling card games. Lotto, sweepstakes and raffles involve no element of skill, and the gambler’s only involvement is buying the ticket. Betting on horses or cards involves skill to some extent, and that skill comes down to things like working out the probabilities of a particular card coming up and the probabilities of other players having certain cards in their hands.

Both types of gambling encourage the gambler to gamble more. If a gambler doesn’t win on the Lotto he or she might say to his or herself “Better luck next time.” Of course, luck does not exist, but probabilities do, and this is a mild form of the Gambler’s Fallacy described above. Nevertheless, people do win and the winners appear on television for us all to see and emulate.

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There’s two sorts of strategy for winning the Lotto. First there’s the “always use the same numbers” strategy, and then there’s the “random numbers” strategy. If you always use the same numbers, goes the theory, then eventually there must be a match. That’s wrong of course, since the number combination may not appear before the end of the universe.

The random number strategy argues that there is no pattern to results so it is silly to expect a particular pattern to eventuate. This strategy acknowledges the random nature of the draw, but doesn’t give the gambler any advantage over any other strategy, even the same numbers strategy. It is certainly easier to buy a randomly generated ticket than to fill in a form to purchase the same numbers every time.

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Some people experience a run of luck. They might have three things happen to them, so go and buy a lotto ticket while their luck holds. Then is they win they attribute it to their lucky streak. It’s all nonsense of course. They conveniently forget the many, many times that they bought a ticket because of a lucky streak, only for the ticket to be a loser.

The proceeds from the sales of lotto tickets don’t normally all go to holders of winning tickets. Firstly the operators of the system need to recoup their costs. It’s not cheap to own and operate those fancy machines with the tumbling balls and it also costs to employ the people to check that the machines are fair.

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If one of the balls is dented, will that affect the probability of that ball being selected? Maybe, just a little, but the draw should be fair so those providing the lotto equipment spend a large amount of effort to ensure that they are fair, and the costs of that effort must come out of the prize funds.

Secondly, the state or maybe the lotto organisation itself will often withhold part of the lotto sales takings for local or national causes, such as cancer research, or societal things, like the fight against teen suicide. The money for humanitarian causes is deducted from the prize funds.

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One of the humanitarian causes is often the fight against problem gambling. It’s ironic and somewhat appropriate that funds from gambling are used to combat problem gambling. It seems that some people get such a thrill from gambling that they use all their, then borrow or steal from others to continue to gamble.

They invoke the Gambler’s Fallacy. They suggest that their luck must change sooner or later. It doesn’t have to, and may never change, but they continue to spend money on their gambling. They also don’t take account of the fact that they might win, eventually, by sheer chance, but it is unlikely that their winnings will cover what they have already gambled away. They have a tendency to believe that one big win will sort things out for them. It won’t of course.

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So, the only true fact about Lotto and similar draw is that you have to be in to win. But just because you are in doesn’t mean that you will win. You probably won’t. The best way to treat Lotto and other similar games is that you are donating to a good cause and you might, but probably won’t get something back. So, I’m off to buy a lotto ticket. I might win thirty million dollars, but I won’t cry if I don’t.

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