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Posts Tagged ‘pandemic

“One person’s data is another person’s noise”*…

 

Seismology

A drop in seismic noise from humans could help scientists track volcanic tremors in places like Auckland, New Zealand. Credit: Wikipedia/DXR, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Seismic noise has dropped by half during coronavirus lockdown measures, giving scientists a rare lull to search for hidden signals usually drowned out by human activities.

Researchers measure seismic waves coming from natural sources, like earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as human activities. Trucks, cars, factories, and even shopping can create high-frequency seismic waves radiating out from population centers, and most scientists filter out human noise to seek for natural signals.

But seismic noise has been unusually quiet lately, in what scientists are calling the “anthropause.”

“If it’s quieter now and we can pick up some of the smaller signals, that improves our seismic risk analyses,” said Paula Koelemeijer, a lead author on a study published today in the journal Science.

Tracking smaller earthquakes can help scientists understand larger, more dangerous quakes and monitor how faults move. When a magnitude 5.0 earthquake struck Petatlán, Mexico, on 4 July, a station 380 kilometers away was able to detect the quake from raw data. Normally, the station would have missed the small quake without filtering out noise.

“This is likely to become a landmark article in the fields of seismic monitoring and ambient noise tomography,” said volcanologist Jan Lindsay at the University of Auckland who was not involved in the study. “The ‘2020 seismic noise quiet period’ will likely become something that Earth science students of the future will learn about in textbooks.”

Globally, seismic noise dropped by a median average of 50% during the coronavirus lockdowns from March through May. The measurement includes all seismic signals, but scientists attribute the drop to human activity by comparing changes in seismic noise with mobility data from Google and Apple.

The drop in noise varied by location: It decreased by 33% in Brussels, Belgium; 50% in Sri Lanka; and 10% in Central Park, New York. Rural areas grew quieter too—noise at a station at Rundu, Namibia, dropped by over 25%. (Koelemeijer attributed the drop to fewer tourists at a popular hippo-watching spot nearby.) The study pulled data from 185 seismic stations across the globe in both urban and rural locales…

“This study impressively demonstrates just how much man-made noise there actually is,” said research associate Carolin Böse at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences who was not involved in the research. “Seismologists around the world now have a chance to make good use of the data presented in this study and hunt for otherwise ‘hidden signals’ in the seismic recordings.”…

Taking advantage of the “anthropause,” scientists are listening for faint natural signals during the quiet of coronavirus lockdowns: “The Seismic Hush of the Coronavirus.”

* K. C. Cole

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As we celebrate (relative) silence, we might recall that one of the primary man-made sources of seismic “sound” got a boost on this date in 1870: America’s first asphalt pavement was laid in front of City Hall in Newark, N.J.  Edmund J. DeSmedt, the Belgian chemist who oversaw the work, had received a U.S. patent for this asphalt paving method two months earlier.  Later that year, DeSmedt became the inspector of asphalt and cements for the District of Columbia, and oversaw wide application there.

DeSmedt’s crews at work in D.C. in 1876

source

 

Written by LW

July 29, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Animation can tell more than live action”*…

 

Tokri

 

A clumsy accident leads a young girl onto the streets of Mumbai in the hope of making things right. A gentle and touching father/daughter story depicted in exquisite stop-motion from Indian animation mainstay, Suresh Eriyat and his Studio Eeksaurus.

The idea for the story of Tokri came to Suresh from an incident that happened in his life. A little girl walked up to him one day at a signal trying to sell him some baskets. In Mumbai, one often finds beggars at traffic signals, and most of them are usually children. Suresh did not think much of it and shooed her away. As he drove off, he was hit with guilt, wondering what circumstance made the little girl sell baskets, and what if his brashness had done little but drag her situation for longer. He was perhaps her umpteenth attempt at selling it. There began his inspiration for the story.

Suresh wished to revive the popularity of clay animation through this film. Although clay animation is known to be a painstaking process that is both time consuming and tedious, it is an art that gives life to inanimate objects, bringing with it an energy on screen that shines through, one frame at a time. The project thus began with an enthusiastic group of young artists who had never worked on stop-motion of this scale before, and had never anticipated that it would eventually take 8 years to complete…

See the 14 minute film:

And you can peek behind that scenes of the production– and see how very hard Suresh and his team worked to earn the dozens of awards and accolades they’ve justly scored:

 

[TotH to Boing Boing]

* Makoto Shinkai

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As we celebrate skill, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that Universal Studios, in the Universal City area of Los Angeles, opened to the public as a theme park.  (It had been in operation as a motion picture studio since 1912.)

285px-Universal_archway_2019 source

Also on this date (that is, today) Hong Kong Disneyland is closing indefinitely due to a resurgence of the coronavirus (having re-opened about a month ago after a pandemic-driven closure).  While Universal Studios LA is also closed (though the City Walk shopping area is partially open), the Orlando-based Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida are open, both with warnings that suggest “Exposure to COVID-19 is an inherent risk in any public location where people are present; we cannot guarantee you will not be exposed during your visit.”

HK Disney

Hong Kong Disneyland

source

 

Written by LW

July 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Study the past if you would define the future”*…

 

plague-6-kings-and-queens-vs-the-plague-in-medieval-europe-2_orig-1024x545

A segment of Danse Macabre, Bernt Notke, late 15th century

 

“If the Black Death caused the Renaissance, will COVID also create a golden age?”

Versions of this question have been going around as people, trying to understand the present crisis, reach for history’s most famous pandemic.  Using history to understand our present is a great impulse, but it means some of the false myths we tell about the Black Death and Renaissance are doing new damage, one of the most problematic in my view being the idea that sitting back and letting COVID kill will somehow by itself naturally make the economy turn around and enter a period of growth and rising wages.

Brilliant Medievalists have been posting Black Death pieces correcting misconceptions and flailing as one does when an error refuted 50 times returns the 51st (The Middle Ages weren’t dark and bad compared to the Renaissance!!!).  As a Renaissance historian, I feel it’s my job to shoulder the other half of the load by talking about what the Renaissance was like, confirming that our Medievalists are right, it wasn’t a better time to live than the Middle Ages, and to talk about where the error comes from, why we think of the Renaissance as a golden age, and where we got the myth of the bad Middle Ages.

Only half of this is a story about the Renaissance.  The other half is later: Victorian Britain, Italy’s unification, World Wars I and II, the Cold War, ages in which the myth of the golden Renaissance was appropriated and retold.  And yes, looking at the Black Death and Renaissance is helpful for understanding COVID-19’s likely impact, but in addition to looking at 1348 we need to look at its long aftermath, at the impact Yersinia Pestis had on 1400, and 1500, and 1600, and 1700.  So:

• This post is for you if you’ve been wondering whether Black Death => Renaissance means COVID => Golden Age, and  you want a more robust answer than, “No no no no no!”

• This post is for you if you’re tired of screaming The Middle Ages weren’t dark and bad! and want somewhere to link people to, to show them how the myth began.

• This post is for you if you want to understand how an age whose relics make it look golden in retrospect can also be a terrible age to live in.

• And this post is for you if want to ask what history can tell us about 2020 and come away with hope. Because comparing 2020 to the Renaissance does give me hope, but it’s not the hope of sitting back expecting the gears of history to grind on toward prosperity, and it’s not the hope for something like the Renaissance—it’s hope for something much, much better, but a thing we have to work for, all of us, and hard…

University of Chicago historian, novelist, and composer Ada Palmer (@Ada_Palmer): “Black Death, COVID, and Why We Keep Telling the Myth of a Renaissance Golden Age and Bad Middle Ages.”

* Conficius

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As we look back, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to al-Ghazali; (he was born (as nearly a scholars can figure) on this date in 1057.  One of the most prominent and influential philosophers, theologians, jurists, and mystics of Sunni Islam, he published prolifically– perhaps most notably here, the Tahāfut al-Falāsifa (“Incoherence of the Philosophers”), a significant landmark in the history of philosophy, as it advanced the critique of Aristotelian science developed later in 14th-century Europe.  Indeed, al-Ghazali has been credited with kicking off what has been called “the Golden Age of Arabic philosophy.”

Al+Ghazali+2 source

 

Written by LW

July 5, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Everyday, it’s a-gettin’ closer / Goin’ faster than a roller coaster “*…

 

depression

 

The American economy is reopening. In Alabama, gyms are back in business. In Georgia, restaurants are seating customers again. In Texas, the bars are packed. And in Vermont, the stay-at-home order has been lifted. People are still frightened. Americans are still dying. But the next, queasy phase of the coronavirus pandemic is upon us. And it seems likely that the financial nadir, the point at which the economy stops collapsing and begins growing again, has passed.

What will the recovery look like? At this fraught moment, no one knows enough about consumer sentiment and government ordinances and business failures and stimulus packages and the spread of the disease to make solid predictions about the future. The Trump administration and some bullish financial forecasters are arguing that we will end up with a strong, V-shaped rebound, with economic activity surging right back to where it was in no time. Others are betting on a longer, slower, U-shaped turnaround, with the pain extending for a year or three. Still others are sketching out a kind of flaccid check mark, its long tail sagging torpid into the future.

At least four major factors are terrifying economists and weighing on the recovery: the household fiscal cliff, the great business die-off, the state and local budget shortfall, and the lingering health crisis…

Annie Lowrey (@AnnieLowrey) unpacks a painfully-plausible worst-case scenario featuring the four horsemen of what could be an economic apocalypse– the four major forces at work today that are terrifying economists and weighing on the recovery: “The Second Great Depression.”

For more on the fourth and most terrifying force Lowrey cites, see here (and the research that underlies it).

* Buddy Holly

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As we take necessary steps, we might recall that it was on this date in 1867 that Lucien B. Smith patented barbed wire (U.S. No. 66,182).  Eventually competitors produced more than 1,500 different types of barbed wire; but Smith’s patent gave him pride of invention. His simple idea that was an artificial “thorn hedge” consisting of wire with short metal spikes twisted on by hand at regular intervals. For prairie farmers and cattlemen natural fencing materials were scarce, so the invention gave them an accessible way keep their cattle safely away from crops.  It also created tensions between farmers and ranchers: inexpensive barbed wire allowed farmers to fence in their fields, preventing ranchers’ livestock from feeding off of the farmers’ fields, and making it more difficult for cattle drives to cross farmers’ lands.   Ultimately ranchers too recognized the benefits of fencing their herds… and the days of the open range came to an end.

Copy of Lucien B. Smith’s wire fence improvement (barbed wire) Patent, 66,182, dated June 25, 1867 (source)

 

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”*…

 

gilmanweber-1536x1024

 

We’re living through a real-time natural experiment on a global scale. The differential performance of countries, cities and regions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is a live test of the effectiveness, capacity and legitimacy of governments, leaders and social contracts.

The progression of the initial outbreak in different countries followed three main patterns. Countries like Singapore and Taiwan represented Pattern A, where (despite many connections to the original source of the outbreak in China) vigilant government action effectively cut off community transmission, keeping total cases and deaths low. China and South Korea represented Pattern B: an initial uncontrolled outbreak followed by draconian government interventions that succeeded in getting at least the first wave of the outbreak under control.

Pattern C is represented by countries like Italy and Iran, where waiting too long to lock down populations led to a short-term exponential growth of new cases that overwhelmed the healthcare system and resulted in a large number of deaths. In the United States, the lack of effective and universally applied social isolation mechanisms, as well as a fragmented healthcare system and a significant delay in rolling out mass virus testing, led to a replication of Pattern C, at least in densely populated places like New York City and Chicago.

Despite the Chinese and Americans blaming each other and crediting their own political system for successful responses, the course of the virus didn’t score easy political points on either side of the new Cold War. Regime type isn’t correlated with outcomes. Authoritarian and democratic countries are included in each of the three patterns of responses: authoritarian China and democratic South Korea had effective responses to a dramatic breakout; authoritarian Singapore and democratic Taiwan both managed to quarantine and contain the virus; authoritarian Iran and democratic Italy both experienced catastrophe.

It’s generally a mistake to make long-term forecasts in the midst of a hurricane, but some outlines of lasting shifts are emerging. First, a government or society’s capacity for technical competence in executing plans matters more than ideology or structure. The most effective arrangements for dealing with the pandemic have been found in countries that combine a participatory public culture of information sharing with operational experts competently executing decisions. Second, hyper-individualist views of privacy and other forms of risk are likely to be submerged as countries move to restrict personal freedoms and use personal data to manage public and aggregated social risks. Third, countries that are able to successfully take a longer view of planning and risk management will be at a significant advantage…

From Steve Weber and @nils_gilman, an argument for the importance of operational expertise, plans for the long-term, and the socialization of some risks: “The Long Shadow Of The Future.”

* Dwight D. Eisenhower

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As we make ourselves ready, we might recall that it was on this date in 1822 that Charles Babbage [see almanac entry here] proposes a Difference Engine in a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society (which he’d helped found two years earlier).

In Babbage’s time, printed mathematical tables were calculated by human computers… in other words, by hand.  They were central to navigation, science, and engineering, as well as mathematics– but mistakes occurred, both in transcription and in calculation.  Babbage determined to mechanize the process and to reduce– indeed, to eliminate– errors.  His Difference Engine was intended as precisely that sort of mechanical calculator (in this instance, to compute values of polynomial functions).

In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.

220px-Difference_engine_plate_1853

A portion of the difference engine

source

 

 

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