Doing Gain-of-Function (GoF) Safely

If a strong enough argument is made, we can do GoF and minimize risk. Here’s a start on how this might be accomplished.

“SOME KIND OF GEODESIC DOME WITH TREES?” by ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓ 
  1. Antarctica only. Build a lovely facility there. Power it with a fission reactor of the type used by Navy ships. Domes with gardens and all. It doesn’t have to suck.
  2. Five Navy quarantine ships are required. Three in use at any given time. One headed South, two headed North. Each Southbound passenger spends 20 days quarantining. Northbound passengers do 20 days on the first ship and then do an isolated transfer for 20 days to the second ship before returning to society. Each physical ship gets sanitized and then sits for 20-days afer handling facility staff before being ready for the next batch. Might as well install UV bulbs in each room while building the ships and leave them on for the 20 days.
  3. Sailors don’t interact with the facility staff and the isolated Sailors who interact with their food, air, and waste (incinerated) are also subject to the same quarantine procedures. Any medical emergencies will require involved medical staff to become part of the quarantine cohort and the clock restarted.
  4. Anybody breaking quarantine is shot. If there’s any kind of quarantine break (even fire/emergency), the entire ship is quarantined for the full 40 days.
  5. Deliveries by drones, airdrops, or distanced cargo unloading only. No human-to-human contact.
  6. No outbound material. Humans only – wear a paper suit to embark when leaving. It will be incinerated.
  7. Personality profiles for all participants. Nobody low in conscientiousness can go. High agreeableness may be contraindicated.
  8. Accidents automatically start an onsite quarantine clock that preempts any other schedule and doesn’t start until remediation is complete.
  9. GoF is banned on the other six continents. Violating the protocols must be treated as a presumptive War Crime.

This is a better tour than War duty for the Sailors. Scientists who feel strongly enough about doing the work can put up with it. If they won’t put up with it they can find a different job.

It’s not cheap but the expense is manageable (if GoF is deemed worth it). Five million dead is more expensive by any measure and that is unaffordable.

It’ll be a nicer trip than Mars, so it’s a matter of finding the right personnel.

Shamans, Therapists, MDMA, and Crimes against Humanity.

MDMA is in the news lately, having successfully passed the first of many FDA-registered Phase III trials. MAPS, the life passion of Rick Doblin, has been working on this for 35 years, fighting the US Federal Government over the right to access top quality psychiatric care and is finally winning big. But our society is the biggest winner.

MDMA deactivates the amygdala, and from there trauma can be dealt with. Normally the amygdala puts up a wall of fear that prevents frontal-lobe control of the trauma emotion so the cycle of experience repeats indefinitely without resolution.

Some people are critical of the Phase III trial requiring talk therapy with the medicine, but it really is necessary to gain approval. Practiced Stoics and meditators may be able to achieve solo resolution, but most people aren’t those in 2021. And it’s always possible for any psychedelic to uncap a “bad trip” emotional storm that lies beneath a calm sea.

For these reasons, a good therapist will guide the exploration and resolution of trauma. This has been the role of the shaman since before history was recorded. It’s literally an essential part of being a human social creature. Humans have called that role by different names: mystics, shamans, priests, elders, pastors—but the need hasn’t changed even if the titles have.

One day, if we achieve the Übermensch we can reevaluate, but for now there’s hope of moving beyond the societal trauma epidemic to a degree not seen since the Mystery Religions.

The deep tragedy in all this is that therapists were actively saving lives with MDMA in the 70’s and 80’s—describing it as a wonder drug for PTSD—and then the holy-roller politicians stepped in and illegally banned it—because it validated therapists as being effective without the priest/church apparatus being required (not that incense in churches haven’t been psychedelics over the years).

The number of cases of avoidable suicides, depression, rage stemming from depression—that leading to suicide, murder, battery, and mass killings that could have been prevented—are unspeakable. Those will all fall rapidly after approval and integration into society.

Were there justice, those politicians, if they are alive, would be held to account for a massive crime against humanity.

The thing that’s really going to bake their noodle is when many of these same people experiencing treatment believe—for the first time—that they have experienced something they can best describe as “God”.

The Folly of the “Well-rounded Collective.”

Dartmouth Medical School is in the news for both its cheating and the scandal that emerged from overbearing countermeasures. When I was at Dartmouth we operated on the Dartmouth Honor Code. Want to do your calculus exam out on the Green? No problem, just be back in time. You had a “blue book” exam packet so everybody left you alone.

About ten years later they stopped favoring “the well-rounded individual” and started looking for “An Incan trapeze artist/cellist with an interest in entomology ” in Admissions. Administrators would extol the virtue of ‘specialists’. They started to try to engineer the well-roundedness of the collective rather than the individual. I mentored some of these kids. They stood no chance of passing Calculus without cheating.

The software is a countermeasure to the symptom but doesn’t address the cause. Getting back the culture of Honor once it is gone is a Herculean task. Something that took centuries to build can be destroyed in half a decade by practitioners of a corrupt ideology.

But the alternative to not trying is to be locked in a perpetual arms race that will forever erode the culture from within—until there is nothing left.

All the mind’s a stage.

All the mind’s a stage, and all the personalities merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
They bravely fight the demons of their inner dialogue;
Occasionally offering us glimpses of the vast World within;
Truly knowable only to one.

[Review] Inkbird ITC-1000 Digital Temperature Controller

This is a review for an Inkbird ITC-1000 digital temperature controller/thermostatic switch I bought from Amazon for $15.99 in December of 2019. Its primary job in this application is to control a portable oven for making yogurt and better steaks.

Let’s get the complaint out of the way: I really don’t understand how, according to reviews at Amazon, this thing has been shipping with two incorrect wiring diagrams for four years. I left one star off for that on my review there. The actual engineers on the controller must know how to make a diagram, so who is in charge of documentation?

That said, it’s pretty easy to use if you know what the terminals do and how the circuits are intended to operate. 1&2 are power for the controller itself, 3&4 are for your temperature probe, order doesn’t matter, 5&6 are for heating, 7&8 are for cooling. 1, 5, and 7 are wired to line hot. 2 gets tied to line neutral. 6&8 are switched-hot to the heating/cooling device loads. Here, white/black/red is heating and white/black/blue is cooling.

I originally hard-wired this to the portable oven but reconsidered and wired it up to an outlet (and put a new plug on the oven…). By breaking the tab between hot screws you can use one duplex outlet for both heating and cooling loads (the neutral can remain unbroken). These wires here aren’t pushed in, just placed loosely in the holes for illustration purposes – make sure your wires are stripped far enough for the back-stab spring clamp to grab on tightly.

If you’re hard-wiring, the heater/cooler neutrals get tied to line neutral. If you’re using a two-prong plug to line power then ground ought to be tied to neutral too. Remember, on a polarized plug the big one is neutral and on a two-wire cable the side with the extra plastic ridge is neutral.

The connections were soldered and covered with heat-shrink tubing.

Be careful – the frame of the controller melts easily with a decent heat gun.

Label everything and don’t exceed its maximum rating.

Finally, some imprecise hot glue was added around all the gaps for splash protection. This is just a box I had on hand, nothing ideal, so strain-relief still needs to be added.

I wondered how the control hysteresis worked so I experimented. With the temperature set to 115 and the hysteresis set to 1, the cooling side shut off and the heating side turned on at 114. The default is 3 which is probably better for compressors but fans and resistive heaters should be fine at 1.

Overall, I’m glad I got this and the price is amazing. I last priced something like this ten years ago at about 15x this price.

2019 Influenza Surveillance & Flu Vaccines

Here’s a quick rundown of the 2019 flu surveillance data. I do one of these each year to see if my family should get the vaccine and if so which one. My usual guidelines are: a) skip every other year if the subtypes are the same as last year’s vaccine, b) skip it if the vaccine is a total miss, and c) get it otherwise.

Last year, during the two peak weeks, influenza caused 7.7% of all deaths in the US. If you’re a Libraries-of-Congress units types of person, that’s roughly four 9/11 attacks every year attributed to this one family of viruses. Maybe that deserves some military funding, or just FDA approval for the broad-spectrum anti-flu agents already mired in years of testing. Right-to-try ought to be expanded to any disease with such a massive body count.

TL;DR – despite possible reduced effectiveness, get the regular vaccine this year. Here’s why:

The good news is the FDA has specified all regular-dose vaccines are to be quadravalent (4-strain) this year. This is excellent news as many people have died over the past several years because the FDA recommended trivalent vaccines at “free” clinics and buying a quadravalent vaccine took serious legwork. This was extreme malpractice in my opinion; after the first year the data was clear. Anyway, deciding between tri- and quad- was one of the main reasons I do this every year, and I am glad to not have to do that again. In fact, the ‘extra’ quad component this year is a home-run. More on that later.

Down to the dirty details, then. There are some interesting observations in the latest CDC technical report [2]. First, the number of gene sequenced viruses is up 5-10x over last year. This is great, and a huge jump. Next, among the circulating H1N1, nearly all have evolved to subclade 6B.1A, vs. last year’s much larger percentage of clade 6B.1. Similarly, the H3N2 subtype 3C.3a increased from 12% to 81% in just a year. Interestingly, among the B/Victoria strains, now more than 85% of circulating strains have either a 2 or 3 amino-acid deletion in the HA protein, which binds the virus to a cell membrane. Most likely this is one of those quick evolutions which helps evade the human immune system (and makes a cultured-virus vaccine so difficult to stay current).

A bit of great news is that the B/Yamagata (Y3) circulating flu strain was 100% susceptible to the vaccine (B/Yamagata B/Phuket/3073/2013), which is the same as last year’s vaccine. So, even healthy people who don’t get vaccinated this year should have good coverage if they got last year’s quadravalent. As I mentioned above, this is the strain that was non-standard last year (16% of 2017-2018 circulating virus) and only in the quad. Almost everybody gets it this year! This could potentially reduce total deaths by 16% with more sane policy.

Lastly, a full 62% of tested 3C.3a samples (representing 28% of the circulating strains) did not respond well to the vaccine antigen test. The cause appears to be an HA protein mutation related to the eggs they were cultured in. Here’s what I don’t know (please comment if you do): will the flu shots cultured in eggs be less effective because of it? Are there any cell-cultured vaccines available on the market and are they the standard “free flu shot”? The way I’m reading this, the H3N2 (3C.3a1) A/Singapore portion of the vaccine may have very low effectiveness. The only silver lining is that this is at 7% of the current strains. It could well become more dominant if it can run rampant even among vaccinated members of the population. This may lead to discontinuance of egg-cultured flu vaccines in the future, but I don’t think anybody was sounding the alarm bells about this possibility – it seems like quite a surprise, though entirely plausible in retrospect.

Besides the virology data, I also learned one more interesting factoid: apparently the CDC has a small army of ferrets, whose job it is to fight the flu for antigenic sensitivity testing. These ferrets are probably having quite a bad time, but the information they provide could very well save thousands of human lives. However, for people who take a principled stand against animal testing – you should probably not get the flu vaccine, as its composition is determined to a significant degree based on animal testing. I do implore you to let your kids make that decision for themselves when they turn eighteen, though.

Bonus section: Antivirals. Treating flu with antivirals depends on catching it super-early, and getting immediate treatment for maximum effectiveness. It’s probably a waste of money, otherwise, in most cases, but if my life depended on it, I’d ask for a cocktail of the endonuclease inhibitor baloxavir (Xofluza) and the neuraminidase inhibitor zanamivir.

Again in 2019, as of right now, New England is showing minimal activity but the Mid-Atlantic is picking up steam. Act accordingly.

Summarized Data Table based on CDC Technical Report as of 2019-w37

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2019-2020.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fflu%2Fseason%2Fflu-season-2019-2020.htm
[2] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6824a3.htm?s_cid=mm6824a3_w