Hurricane Harvey

I just saw the Nova program about Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Houston and surrounding areas in 2017. As this year’s hurricane season and election seasons begin, we all should review the historical facts and human tragedies that the show presents. In brief, at least eighty-two (82) deaths and about one hundred twenty five billion dollars ($125,000,000,000.00) of damage resulted from Harvey. Millions of people and their homes were severely affected by it.

Harvey was a “five-hundred-year storm” in its size and power. This means that the odds of such a storm in that location, each year, are said to be one in five-hundred, based on long-term records of the weather. Or I should say, the odds once were considered to be one in five-hundred.

There were three “500-year” storms in three years in Houston; the third was Harvey. If you think the odds this year are still one in five-hundred, you should not do any insurance underwriting, nor sports betting.

Scientists know beyond doubt that storm strength (the wind and rainfall) increase more when the storm passes over warmer water. Houston is on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The surface water of the Gulf of Mexico steadily grows warmer in recent decades; we measure it carefully with buoys and satellites. The gradual warming of the Gulf (and the planet) agrees completely with scientists’ understanding of climate change, greenhouse gasses, and global warming.

Two more huge hurricanes, Irma and Maria, struck after Harvey in the 2017 season. We were lucky that “only” a few Americans died and damage was “only” a few billions of dollars in those storms. Cuba, Barbuda, and St Martin were less lucky. Those storms grew stronger, faster, than almost any storms on record. Scientists know that this was because the water of the Gulf of Mexico is warmer than ever. Scientists know that the warming of the Gulf is because of global warming of the climate. Scientists know that global warming is caused by human releases of greenhouse gasses. Real scientists agree on these things and signed a unanimous declaration to that effect years ago. Denials are just propaganda; investigate them and you will not find reputable scientists denying the proven models of climate.

It doesn’t matter how you voted or who pays for your candidate’s campaigns. Climate change is obvious to your common sense, and is also well-settled science. If you denied the science, last year you helped kill 82 people in Houston and many more elsewhere. If you deny climate change and global warming today, you point a gun at hundreds of millions of Americans and others people.

Put down the gun. Reject people who reject climate science, and correct all statements that reject climate science. For God’s sake – for the nation’s sake – for the children’s sake – for the sake of your own soul and your own self-respect! – reject and correct the anti-science propaganda. That propaganda comes from corporate interests, cynical demagogues, and Russian spies. Stating the truth is the first step to deal with a very large problem, one that we have mostly ignored.

It isn’t hopeless. Those 82 people didn’t have to die. Preserving wetlands would have helped. Reducing global warming would have helped. The steps in the Paris Accords would have helped.

Correct policies begin with respect for truth, especially for scientific truth. And today, only one of the two major political parties in the USA has respect for science. Only that party deserves your respect.

 

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The Pain Centers

Scientists, including Prof. Irene Tracey, PhD, have made great strides in the study of pain. Her work is described in a recent article at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/07/02/the-neuroscience-of-pain . (The New Yorker’s freemium model gives  a few free articles per month. Two thumbs up!)

It seems the “dorsal posterior region of the insula” is deeply involved with pain. “It’s just this lovely island of cortex hidden in the middle, deep in your brain,” Prof. Tracey said. “And it’s got all these amazing different functions. When you say, ‘Actually, I feel a bit cold, I need to put a sweater on,’ what’s driving you to do that? Probably this bit.”

But the root cause of much pain is perhaps an undiscovered “island of cortex” that I shall call the “Egoism and Jackass Center (EJC)”. Pain is often the eventual result of the operation of this center when it causes disputes and rash actions. One’s pain may be caused by the operation of one’s own EJC, or someone else’s, but most often when all parties involved behave like asses.

I have a quirky, sporadic angry side. IMO it is genetic on the maternal side, considering the wide variety of family members with whom I share the trait. For instance, this morning, after about the hundredth technical problem with Comcast services, I cancelled the cable-TV and phone services. I was ready to cancel internet service too, even though I knew that the internet is essential to us. My EJC was firing on all cylinders! But luckily, some more-rational “island of cortex” overruled my EJC on that.

(More overruling may occur when the rest of the house finds out there is no cable TV.)

I have a quirky taste for the TV show “Cops” and its imitators. (On “Cops”, police officers go about their normal activities, but with camera crews recording it all.) It is clear that the police generally have excellent control of their EJCs. That is, under huge stresses, and in great danger, and even under physical attack, they usually control their behaviour well, and stay within the complex rules that govern what they can and cannot do. (Of course, there is probably a bias against airing footage that shows the police erring.)

Control of the EJC varies widely among the suspected criminals on these shows.  I imagine that education, socialization, and innate personality all play a role in this. The EJC stimulates dangerous and self-defeating criminal behaviours: car chases, physical attacks on police officers, domestic violence, and the like.

Suspects’ behaviour clearly varies based on the drugs that are found with the suspects and the drugs they have (apparently) used. On average and in general, alcohol and cocaine and amphetamines increase the operation of the EJC, resulting in stupid actions and great pain, but marijuana decreases the action of the EJC, which often spares the suspects the worst possible results.

The evolutionary role of the EJC is unclear. I believe that humans evolved as social animals, in groups that have leaders. Cooperation must have beeen important. But is jackass behaviour always anti-social? Or does the EJC help a leader take forceful action, without self-doubt?

Hopefully the next administration will erase the federal bans on funding scientific research into gun violence, and scientific research on marijuana. Maybe a more peaceful society is within our reach.

 

VPNFilter (Going Off-Topic!)

I have seen a lot of bad advice about dealing with the VPNFilter malware.  Since it is such a serious problem, and since I have seen a lot of incorrect and incomplete advice about dealing with it, I am diverting the blog from my usual topics.

Here is my idea of the correct procedure:

Download the manuals for your network device aka router/WAP/Switch/whatever, and download the latest firmware update for it, and then,
Save your network device’s settings on paper, and then,
Know/learn how to re-emplace those settings after the cold boot, and then,
Update and scan your trusted Mac or PC, and then,
DISCONNECT your trusted Mac/PC from all networks, and then,
Do the safest possible reboot of Mac/PC (but with networking), and then,
DISCONNECT your network device from all networks, and only then,
Reboot your network device to factory defaults (pin-in-hole or however yours does it), and then,
Connect your network device ONLY to your trusted PC/Mac, and then,
Set the best possible security settings for your device but >>DEFINITELY change the admin password to a complex password<<, and, if your device supports it, >>DEFINITELY disable remote administration<<  and then,
Update the device firmware, if your device supports that and if there is an update that makes it immune (elsewise, phone vendor daily to assist, by reminding them to fix it), and then,
Return the item to normal usage in the network, along with the trusted PC/Mac.

Dementia Downer

A meta-analysis (analysis of previous studies) has found that there is not strong evidence of major success for any one approach to preventing or treating mental decline, and specifically, Alzheimer’s dementia. This includes treatments using medicines, diet, exercise, vitamins, and cognitive training (doing a lot of thinking, puzzles, and the like). But, there were some encouraging conclusions too, and some that were less discouraging.

As reported in https://www.medpagetoday.com/neurology/dementia/69970?xid=NL_breakingnews_2017-12-18&eun=g449820d0r&pop=0&ba=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=LateShift_121817&utm_term=Late%20Shift , the very scientific Minnesota Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) concludes that “Overall the results didn’t show much benefit…”.

There were positive results that were not statistically strong enough to meet the standards for recommending a new standard of care. It is possible that treatments were not done soon enough (early enough in life) to bring major benefits. It also is possible that treatments were not done long enough to yield solid gains.  And of course, better drugs may be developed in the future.

One of the better results is this:”… the FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) trial showed that of 1,260 adults ages 60 to 77 years with CAIDE (Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia), those who received an intervention with physical activity, diet, and cognitive training saw a 25% greater 2-year improvement in multi-domain neuropsychological test performance …”

Other than cognitive training, the best results in the studies are from the usual suspects: Diet and Exercise. And, probably for the usual reason: circulation. Lots of studies link mental performance and circulation of the blood to the brain.

An interesting new angle is not yet covered by the kind of studies that the EPC reviewed. Recent research indicates that the “glymphatic system” has “clean-up” cells which may remove or reduce the tangles of beta-amyloid that usually exist in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.  (These tangles are now considered the proximate cause of many symptoms of dementia; their origin and root causes remain under investigation.) The glymphatic system probably performs other maintenance tasks in the brain, as well.  The glymphatic system’s activity may be linked to, and enabled by, the shrinkage of other cell types in the brain during sleep, which increases spaces in-between by up to sixty percent. The increased space may be necessary for proper “cleaning” to occur. It is very possible that getting enough sleep is a factor in avoiding dementia.

 

Motivation to Exercise

Thrive suggests an article on how to become motivated to exercise. The technique that has worked for me is simple. Allow time to pass, and avoid slowing the time-space continuum.

To clarify: at my age, the motivation to exercise is obvious. My peers are sickening and dying. In my circle, most of the parents’ generation is dead.

People my age often suffer serious illnesses and die. Conversations turn to these events. I  have a smallish circle of friends. Yet two have died of illness in recent years, and two others had incidents which would have been fatal, or at least disabled them, were it not for prompt intervention and modern medicine.

The missing piece for some people may be educational. Not everyone realizes that exercise prevents or delays all the major causes of death for my age group. Those causes are cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, accidental injury*, liver disease**, and diabetes.

Get up and get moving!

*Accidental injury: proper exercise improves muscle strength, improves bone strength, improves circulation, and improves balance and coordination, definitely reducing the danger from accidental injuries.

**Liver disease: I am convinced that exercise, leading to better circulation, will improve the condition  of the liver in general. I am also convinced that better circulation will enable the liver to function better, even if the condition of the liver itself does not improve. Studies show that 1) Excessive liver fat content is reduced with exercise 2) Liver steatosis and liver cirrhosis improve with exercise and weight loss, except with excessive alcohol use 3) Liver fibrosis does not respond to weight loss and exercise.

Return of Sciatica

The music of Chick Corea’s band “Return to Forever” is exciting, upbeat, and jazzy. The return of my sciatica after over a year was dull, painful, and humbling.

It happened without warning during the music festival “Lock’n”. I suspect that several factors aggravated my lower back. Of course there is no way to identify a single culprit; I feel quite motivated to avoid all of them in the future.

The first mistake was to switch from my full-body workout to a beach-run in the weeks before the festival. I love the beach, but it’s no substitute, imo. For me, strengthening the body’s core is the key to avoiding sciatica. That’s what the talented Dr. Han taught me.

The next error may have been driving all night to the festival.

Perhaps the tension of a three-hour wait at the entrance gate contributed.

I overworked my back lugging gear to the campsite. (We chose a wooded campsite rather than car-camping.) I also brought too much gear. I should have moved less gear each trip. There may be an attitude problem involved.

I definitely stood too much, and danced too much, all day and half the night, for several  days. Possibly the wonderful craft beers of Virginia dulled pain that would otherwise have served as a warning. As I always say, pain is Nature’s messenger. On the final day of the festival, I was stuck in my portable chair for most of the shows, out of necessity.

There were no seats with proper back support at the festival. I now know this is an absolute requirement.

I received a program of back-stretching and core-strengthening exercises from Dr Han years ago. I haven’t done them regularly for about a year, except that I do the “Horse” position at every workout. Maybe I should restore them to my daily routine.

I do not think that a softer and more level sleeping surface would have helped. I didn’t feel painful upon waking up. Probably the time laying on my back helped.

Thankfully, the sciatica is 99% gone three weeks later. I credit the return of workouts at the park, and, the wooden “English Banker” chair at my computer. (It fits me perfectly; I have a very flat butt.)

Workouts 305 to 310

Category: Workout log

Workouts number 305 through 310 were “recovery” workouts, after a month without any.

I switched to beach-running workouts for two weeks. Then I went to a festival for a week and got only a little real exercise. Then I had a busy week and failed to get back to my routine.

When I did get back to the park, i reduced my workout by about 20%. But it wasn’t reduced enough. My left forearm muscles got sore. My left shoulder’s tendinitis, and my left wrist’s old injury, began to give some pain too. During this time, I also had some heavy physical work to do.

It was only with workout 310 today, almost two weeks later, that I was almost back to normal. I am still reducing chin-ups and the horizontal ladder, in order to coddle my left arm.

I was surprised how noticeable my loss of aerobic conditioning was. The beach runs were pretty aerobic.

Prevagen? BS! De-regulation? BS!

Category: Mental Energy

If you watch TV you cannot avoid ads for patent medicines like Prevagen. I would love to improve my memory, so I read up on it.

IMO there is NO reason to think that Prevagen works. There are no studies of Prevagen or its effects. However, the main ingredient has been studied. Here is the opinion of an expert (who posted it on consumerlabs.com) about that:

“Aequorin is a protein and will be hydrolyzed in the stomach. So negligible amount of intact protein will be absorbed into the body from the GI tract. Even if the protein was administered by injection it is unlikely that it could cross the blood-brain-barrier. If by any remote chance the protein does make it into brain cells, it could be neurotoxic by virtue of chelating calcium ions which are essential to cell function.
Robert C. Speth, Ph.D.”

“Neurotoxic” means “poisonous to your nerve cells”. I always joke that that nail polish is a “brain poison” because I dislike the smell. But here is a real one, in a patent medicine.

The US government policy in recent years has been to allow these lies to be broadcast unless the products are actually illegal for other reasons, such as known poisons or controlled substances. This is imo bad government, which is imo typical for “free-market” thinkers. They live in their ivory towers, where they think everyone has full information about everything. IMO we should be protected from these products and their sellers, just like the law protects us from physical assault.

In fact, the FDA has issued a “Sanction Letter” about this product – In 2012!!! Finally this year (2017) the NY Attorney General and the FTC (NOT the FDA) filed suit to end this hoax. Meanwhile they keep it tied up in the courts, and keep making millions of dollars. The FDA has become a joke. That’s what “de-regulation” really means – wealthy businessmen paying lobbyists, paying lawyers, paying off regulators, “contributing” to “election campaigns”, and swindling the public. Caveat emptor, and caveat voter too!

Workouts 301 and 302

Category: Exercise Log

I’ve decided to number the workouts as a motivator. Since I’ve done roughly three per week for roughly two years, numbering begins at 300.

These were very sweaty morning workouts, in warm humid weather. They took extra time, because I cooled down along the way. Luckily, the park where I exercise has many wild blueberry bushes, so I occupied my slack time picking berries.

It’s amazing how much specific muscles matter. Recently, when I jogged a little in sand, my legs ached almost immediately. It seems that the sand engages different muscles, ones my usual workout doesn’t get to.

Two Years of Sweat

Category: Exercise Log.

I’ve decided to categorize posts in this blog. Posts in this category, “Exercise Log”, will discuss progress with exercise, or, describe a single day’s activity.

I have done the exercise course at the park for over two years now, usually every other day. I’ve increased the number of reps at each station gradually, and replaced walking with jogging and running very gradually. I now do the “advanced” level of reps, or more, at almost every station. I now can jog or run (rather than walk) between all stations, unless I am overheated. That is required at the “advanced” level.

Some results are clear. My muscle strength for everyday tasks is greatly improved. My aerobic condition is modestly improved. My muscles are visibly larger and my belly smaller.

I have lost only a little weight since starting, about 5%. Clearly that includes more muscle, and less fat, than before. I hope for more weight loss than that.

I am less depressed than before. Of course, that is subjective and hard to quantify.

I want to have more energy and motivation throughout the day. But actually, after exercising, I am very tired for a while. It’s hard to say whether I am more energetic in the remainder of the day. Again, subjective and hard to quantify.

I want to be fit enough for sports and other physical activity. Here I am a bit frustrated. The other day I did some jogging in the sand at the beach. My (stronger and better-defined) leg muscles were quite sore the next day. Similarly, if I play tennis, my right arm and my legs are usually sore the next day. On the upside, a long day of moving boxes and furniture recently was far easier than it was five years ago.

I want to avoid heart disease, which is probably my main health risk. I used to take statin drugs for years, which is somewhat dangerous to the liver. Now, my blood tests are almost as good, without statins. I’d be curious to see the current condition of my arterial walls, but I doubt that my health insurance would pay for the exam. Twenty years ago, I saw (on an ultrasound) that the walls were thicker than they ought to be.

Net net, I guess the exercise program is going well.