Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
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Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 under Windows 10
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Palm Sunday


We wish you a blessed Palm Sunday. Since we cannot attend church today, we are joining many of our fellow church members in putting greenery (not necessarily palm branches) on our front doors.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Out of COVID-19 on the other side

Some encouraging news: Two friends of mine had COVID-19, were not seriously ill, and have recovered, with evidence that they are probably at least temporarily immune.

There is now a rapid test available that detects both IgM and IgG antibodies. That means it detects both the initial onslaught of the disease and the immune response.

We are soon going to have a substantial and fast-growing number of people who had COVID-19, no longer have it, and are resistant to it.

In other news, Georgia's new-case-per-day rate continues to fall nicely. A few days ago there was a sudden pop-up in the amount of testing (or a catch-up on completion and reporting of tests administered a while back), and it shows on all the graphs. But apart from that, the rate in Georgia is falling steadily.

This epidemic is not going to last forever.


Pleiades, Venus, and clouds


This evening Venus was even closer to the Pleiades star cluster, but some thin high clouds wanted to get into the picture. The overall result is, I think, pleasing despite the clouds. Nikon D5500 (H-alpha mod.) on fixed tripod, single 1-second exposure at ISO 400, Sigma DG EX 105/2.8 lens at f/3.2.

Toilet-paper famine explained

Currently, toilet paper is scarce, paper towels are absolutely unavailable, and there are spotty gaps in the selection at grocery stores.

The toilet-paper shortage started around March 12. At the time, survivalists were making noises about buying a 3-month supply of everything, and there was some hoarding, so a lot of us thought those behaviors were the cause. But that should have sorted itself out in a week or so — eventually they'd buy all they wanted, and there would be plenty for the rest of us. Yet the shortage persisted.

Another explanation was that people were moving to shopping less often and buying more at each shopping trip. But that, too, should have smoothed out in a couple of weeks.

At that point we began to understand, dimly, that the supply chain was fragile and was failing us in some unanticipated way.

Now this article in Marker (a business news site I had not seen) explains what's really going on.

Very simply: People are going to the bathroom at home rather than at the office or at school.

And home toilet paper isn't the same thing as institutional or commercial toilet paper. It is supplied on a different kind of roll (to discourage pilferage) and is made in different factories, even by different companies.

If the shortage gets worse, I suppose people could buy the commercial stuff for home use. The rolls are large and awkward, and the minimum purchase is normally large.

I'm guessing the situation with paper towels is simply that people staying at home more of the time use a lot more of them. As for groceries, the ones sold to restaurants and institutions aren't the same as the ones for home use. Not only is the packaging very different, they are different sizes and grades of fruit and vegetables and cuts of meat.

Manufacturers can adapt, but how long before we revert to our previous habits? Nobody knows! Retooling everything just for two weeks of changed habits is expensive.

At least now we know where to look for temporary solutions.

Brief notes on life in wartime

Today's theme, both in the media and in Facebook chit-chat, is, "You should be afraid. You're not afraid enough."

Some of this is cowards wallowing in their emotions, and some of it, I think, is because some people won't take precautions unless they're scared. So everyone is trying to scare everybody else.

Meanwhile, while running a couple of essential errands lately, we've noticed a lot of people driving incompetently, as if they don't know how. People go down a one-way lane in a parking lot the wrong way and give angry looks to the people going the right way; they weave out of their lanes on the highway; they honk rather than going around the car in front; they hang on to their cell phones. What is going on?

Yesterday's war story is that Melody had to go to a doctor's office (unrelated to the epidemic) and the elevator was broken. We were sent to "the stairs behind the building," so upon climbing the stairs behind the building, we found a door locked. I went back to the main entrance to ask directions. They sent me to another door, with no visible stairs, with a sign on it saying emphatically to go somewhere else. But that was it, and inside were two big flights of stairs. Melody, who as you recall has had six hip operations, managed to climb them.



Venus and the Pleiades


Here is Venus passing almost in front of the Pleiades star cluster on the evening of April 2 (April 3 UTC). Venus is blurred into a large irregular orb because it's overexposed. Single 1-second exposure, Nikon D5500 (H-alpha mod.) at ISO 400, Sigma 105/2.8 DG EX lens at f/3.2, fixed tripod.



A couple of weeks ago, two of my neighbor's cedar trees started trying to force their attentions impolitely upon my garden shed and fence. Today (April 2) they were removed.

Some COVID-19 raw data

Those of you who saw my surprisingly encouraging graphs from 91-DIVOC the other day may want to know what happened next.



The answer is still encouraging, though not as good as it first looked. Testing is very irregular and what happened in Georgia was simply a lack of testing, followed by a catchup.

The number of new cases per day is still rising, but the rate of rise seems to be decreasing, as I said.

For more and better analysis, scroll down.


So how are we holding up?


The answer is, we're holding up fine, and FormFree is very productive, but other people are uneasy — Facebook was full of rants and raves today. I think a lot of people are finally realizing they can't deny COVID-19. We're starting to get high-profile reports of people dying from it. I know someone whose friend died of it, and others whose relatives are hospitalized.

Now people know it's real. It comes as a real shock to people who were accustomed to believing their fantasies and calling everything else "fake news."

In response, some people are panicking competitively. Others are trying to reinstitute denial. As a result, if you say anything nuanced or realistic about what to expect, both sides come at you! When I say 100,000 COVID-19 deaths are predicted, which is 1/30 of the number of Americans that normally die in a year, the left thinks I'm encouraging denial and the right thinks I'm encouraging panic. Can't win.

Georgia now has statewide restrictions, which you can see here (my archived copy); they are very similar to the restrictions for Athens, which I blogged about last month, but now they have teeth, because violators can be charged with a misdemeanor. I gather the goal is to deal with a hard core set of people who insist on gathering in crowds despite the danger to others.

The real hazard right now is not the disease itself, but the overcrowding of hospitals, with makes the disease much more damaging, and also costs lives by preventing treatment of other medical problems. That is the tragedy we are trying to minimize. Imagine what the death rate would be, from all causes, if all our hospitals were non-functional for a few weeks!

I continue to watch statistics, but I also recommend covid19.healthdata.org, recommended to me by a colleague who is an eminent medical researcher in a relevant field.

The current predictions from that site are:

U.S.A. New York Georgia California Kentucky
Peak hospital
April 15 April 8 April 23 April 27 May 17
Peak death rate April 15 April 10 April 25 April 28 May 18
Total deaths per
million population
287.4 835.9 304.4 128.3 183.8

For the last row, I divided the totals on healthdata.org by populations from Wikipedia.

So what does this tell us?

(0) These models take into account the lockdowns and other precautions that we are already taking. Without them, things would be gigantically worse.

(1) An early peak is a bad thing. New York has an early peak and terribly overcrowded hospitals. Kentucky has a very late peak, and its hospitals may not be crowded beyond capacity at all. Most states are in between.

(2) Most places are not like New York. For both physical and cultural reasons, New Yorkers are very crowded together. The disease has spread like wildfire — no, like wildfire on gasoline — in New York; it only spreads like ordinary wildfire elsewhere. The results are tragic.

(3) We need to keep trying to slow down the virus even though it results in longer quarantines. "Getting it over with" is not the goal. This is a war to be won by being more patient than the enemy.

(4) If we take reasonable measures, the total number of deaths is small, but if we stop fighting too soon, the situation will get a lot worse. Nationally, less than 300 deaths per million people are forecast. That's one person in 3000. Yes, someone in your town will die; no, you are not going to lose half your neighbors. If we keep taking good precautions. There will be collateral damage from other diseases not adequately treated, but there will also be collateral benefits from not spreading other diseases.

About those graphs I posted a few days ago: It turns out that the big falloff in Georgia was due to a reporting problem, but the overall flattening trend is real. We are dealing with very unreliable measurements, and it's good to have models with a theoretical basis (like those on healthdata.org) rather than just extrapolation of raw numbers.


Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 under Windows 10

Picture There's a shortage of webcams for videoconferencing right now. I briefly thought about using my ASI120MM-S astrocamera (monochrome, in infrared) with its fisheye lens but concluded I would look too strange, so I snapped up a Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 on eBay.

Many web sites give the impression that this camera doesn't work under Windows 10.

But in fact it works perfectly. The secret? Don't install the drivers or software that come with it. It's a Microsoft product and Windows is already ready for it! Just plug it in. The Camera app in Windows 10 can be used to test it.

The above information is perfectly serious, even though today is April 1. But for a couple of amusing spoofs of an ecclesiastical nature, use a search engine to find references to a papal bull titled Stultus Aprilis.

If what you are looking for is not here, please look at previous months .