What’s up with all these models?

Here we are, in the middle of dealing with COVID-19. We’re stuck at home, trying our best to deal with a bad situation. We naturally want to know when things will go back to some semblance of normal.

To do this, we need models. In science, a model is a way to make some part of the world easier to understand. In this case, how dangerous COVID-19 is. We hear about esoteric things like R0 (R-naught), which is how many people an infected person infects. But that’s hard to figure out. So we predict what the things that make up R0 are. That means that different people/organizations come up with different values of R0. The same things go into trying to determine how deadly this blasted disease is. Just what goes into making these predictions anyway?

Well, the author of the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a really good explanation of what scientists are dealing with trying to come up with a good model. You can read it over here. It gets into the nitty-gritty of what is going into the models for COVID-19. As such, it is pretty technical. But worth reading if you want to know more about why R0 seems to be different in the US than in Italy.

Play Wikipedia!

Back in the mists of time, like the 1980s, there was a genre of computer games called Interactive Fiction. This is where there is a story, and you’re part of it. You might remember those “choose your adventure” books where that say something like “if you want to go to France, go to page 17”. Well, Interactive Fiction is the computer version of those books. And the king of Interactive Fiction was Infocom. They made games like Zork, Deadline, Suspended, Moonmist, Trinity, and many more. There weren’t graphics, just text, and you filled in the graphics with your imagination.

West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

You can choose to go to the house, look around, read the letter in the mailbox, pick up objects, etc. Oh, you can play Zork here.

So what does this have to do with Wikipedia? Well, now you can play that in the same way. Choose a starting place, and see what’s there. Say “go north” (or just “n”) for short. Wander around the Colosseum, and more.

Go exploring!

Be careful who you give your DNA to

In a recent Scientific American article, they warn that giving your genome to 23andme may not be quite as safe as they’d like you to believe.

23andme wants to be the Google of personalized health care. They want to use your genome to sell advertising to you. They also want to be able to use your genetic information to sell to pharmaceuticals and insurance companies. I can easily see companies using this information to deny people service based on genetic potential. They feel that sifting through a database of your genes “does not constitute research on human subjects”. If it did (which it certainly looks like to me), then they would be subject to lots of rules and regulations.

Anyone who’s seen the movie GATTACA will recognize where this is going, and it isn’t pretty. Discrimination based on genetics is not a world I want to live in. Watch the movie, it’s good.

Teaching with Portals

Portal 2 is a game where you have to use portal guns to create teleportation fields to move around and survive. I’ve head about teachers using it for lessons, especially for physics, but I haven’t had the chance to look into it. There is a website teachwithportals.com which has lesson plans for use with Portal 2. Surprisingly with Language Arts lessons as well as science. I’ll have to look into this.