Are You Electric?

Are You Electric?

When 2022 started, I set a very simple goal to read more books than I did in 2021. With that in mind, I jumped right in, and on January 1, 2022, I purchased “Lights Out,” a book authored by longtime ABC News Correspondent Ted Koppel. The subtitle is “A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.”

In short, Koppel’s book scared the shit out of me. The over-arching theme is, “what happens when the power grid in the USA is attacked?” It wasn’t IF; it was WHEN. Because it has already happened, don’t let little old Jeff’s words sway you. Here’s part of the description of the book:

It isn’t just a scenario. A well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure—and in the age of cyberwarfare, a laptop has become the only necessary weapon. Several nations hostile to the United States could launch such an assault anytime. In fact, as a former chief scientist of the NSA reveals, China and Russia have already penetrated the grid. And a cybersecurity advisor to President Obama believes that independent actors—from “hacktivists” to terrorists—have the capability as well. “It’s not a question of if,” says Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin, “it’s a question of when.” 

So that’s scary. Here’s more:

Imagine a blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Tens of millions of people over several states are affected. For those without access to a generator, there is no running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light. Food and medical supplies are dwindling. Devices we rely on have gone dark. Banks no longer function, looting is widespread, and law and order are being tested as never before. 

Crazy! By the way, this book was written in 2015. We are now close to 8 years later, and in the big picture, more needs to be done in terms of advancements to protect the power grid. In the last month alone, we’ve seen two pretty major attacks on power grids: one in North Carolina that took out electricity in 45,000 homes and one on Christmas day in Washington state, affecting 14,000 homes. Christmas without power. Damn. The question that many are asking is if these are small dry runs for a significant attack soon. Nobody knows. Over 100 attacks on the electrical grid in the USA occurred in 2022. That’s the most in the last decade.

We all have experienced a loss of power, typically for a few hours or maybe one day. Manageable. But ask yourself what would happen if it was a week? Or two weeks. Or a month. The US has three major power grids across the country, but thousands of substations take power wholesale from “the big three.” These little substations are more susceptible to attacks because they don’t have the budget or sophistication to protect themselves, which is what we are seeing. With larger budgets, brainpower, and security, the big three are tougher to penetrate but not foolproof. It’s natural – and it’s scary.

So I read the Koppel book, which you should read. I arguably spiraled a small bit after that, buying another book about protecting yourself from a long-term power outage. I’ve thought about a generator, but I’m not sure I’m there quite yet. Some of the advice was sound, with good instructions on basic things to have on hand in the event of a prolonged outage. So I did put a bin together of those basic recommendations and they are all sitting in a large Rubbermaid container in my house. Other advice was paranoid bordering on insane – like talk to your neighbors and set up an agreed-upon high ground in case of attack. That’s kinda ridiculous. I’m imagining myself walking around to my neighbors, knocking the door and trying to get alignment on a high ground in case of attack. I laugh to myself at what they might say when they close the door after that conversation!

Mr. Roboto

A few of you have messaged me over the last month wondering why you don’t see comments right away when you submit them in response to one my posts. In a world of instant gratification, I understand why it can frustrating or odd, or make you think that the comments engine doesn’t work. There is an explanation for this – for every real comment posted, there are literally 100 posts of spam. Some of them are just stacks and stacks of porn links or other strange websites, but others try to “fool” the spam filter.

So I’ve basically set up any and all comments to line up for review before I let the real ones through. That’s right, I comb through all the chaff to find the wheat. Just for you! So don’t fret if you post a comment and don’t see it – I try to check a few times a week and if yours is a legit comment, I will green light it.

But since I’m here, I thought it might be fun to give you a sample of some of the comments that don’t make the cut. Lots of them make zero sense. I obviously won’t cite the “commenter” since they are probably not human anyway. Here we go:

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Big, Big Up That Energy

My typical approach to most things medical is “oh, that’ll go away” or “I don’t have to worry about that yet.” I’m not irresponsible by any means – I know when to go see a doctor, and I do. But if I have a sore hip or elbow or if my lower back aches, I’m pretty confident that’ll it go away eventually. If it gets to the point where it’s months, then I know I should probably go in for a look.

Things like metabolism, on the other hand, seems like stuff that floats around in the vast distance. In my 20s and 30s, I recall an older friend often saying “just wait until you hit your 40s and your metalbolism slows down.” Well, I didn’t really know what that meant and I didn’t pursue the knowledge. Why? Well, go back and read the first sentence of this post. I think I’ve always just thought of metabolism as tied to the energy my body produces as a result of my food intake or something. And that when my metabolism slowed down, I’d have to change my eating habits or exercise even more so that I didn’t gain unhealthy weight.

This week as I was reading my various news feeds I came across this article from the Scientific American about metabolism and I thought to myself that it was time to dig in and learn more about this thing that was supposedly going to show up one day, slap me upon the face and render me a useless sloth.

I know, I know, I had decades to just pop it into Google, so why now? I don’t know. I don’t have to explain myself! The urge just hit me. Lo and behold, the article is more interesting and fun than you might think when you hear the words “metabolism” and “Scientific American.” Witness here, the author talking about his daughter’s seventh birthday party:

Aside from the fresh veggies left wilting in the sun, none of the food was recognizable as a product of nature. The cake was a heat-treated amalgam of pulverized grass seed, chicken eggs, cow milk and extracted beet sugar. The raw materials for the snacks and drinks would take a forensic chemist years to reconstruct. It was a calorie bonanza that animals foraging in the wild could only dream about, and we were giving it away to people who didn’t even share our genes. All this to celebrate some obscure astronomical alignment, the moment our planet swept through the same position relative to its star as on the day my daughter was born. 

Scientific American, January 2023

Not exactly what went through my mind during my kids birthday parties, but I digress. The author is an “evolutionary anthropologist” and the article goes on to report out on a study done by he and his colleagues, where they made “important strides in understanding how our bodies use energy” and how their findings “have overturned much of the received wisdom about the ways human energy requirements change over the course of a lifetime.”

So my very amatuer understanding of metabolism seems to be in the ballpark. The author further defines it for me in the article:

Our metabolism is the energy we expend (or the calories we burn) each day. That energy comes from the food we eat, and so our metabolism also sets our energy requirements. Calories in, calories out.

Herman Pontzer, Scientific american, january 2023

And there you have it. Bascially every phase of our life, every minute of it in fact, requires some kind of energy. Our growth, reproduction, day-to-day needs – all driven by food and energy. I won’t ruin the rest of the article for you – you really should read it – but it goes to talk about the results of the study and as it turns out, my older friend was both wrong and right about metabolism “coming for me” in my 40s and 50s. Wrong because I’ve managed to stay active and eat relatively healthy, therefore my energy has generally been good and consistent. But he was right because it really depends on your food intake, exercise regimen and yes, those pesky genetics. Turns out that metabolism stays remarkably consistent until about age 60, but of course depending on how you treat yourself in the run-up to that age.

Check out that blue area on the graph on the right – very consistent from age 20-60.

Rhinestone Eyes

Rhinestone Eyes

On this day 14 years ago, I put out the message below on Facebook about Lasik. Even back in 2008, Lasik was on my mind and I know it was on my mind before that, too, because I can remember talking to an Ask Jeeves co-worker (shout out, Chris Damsen!) about his experience with Lasik. In fact, I was talking to a lot of people about it.

My eyes are a pain in the ass. I first got glasses in 1988 when I was 17 years old and a junior in high school. I really wish I had a picture somewhere of me wearing them because they were, um, of the time. I haven’t been able to find one. What I am really trying to say is that the frames made me look like a mass murderer and I bet you know exactly the frames I am talking about, don’t you? Of course you do. Witness:

I remember putting the glasses on and being dumbfounded about how clear everything was, so obviously I needed glasses long before 1988. I am pretty sure the reason that there may be no pictures is because I tried to avoid wearing them whenever possible. But more and more I had to rely on them to see in class, to drive and to watch TV. Sigh. It also was a bit of a conundrum playing hockey, because my eyes had built up a need for them, so when I took them off to play, my vision was shit. You kinda need vision for hockey.

Anyway, back then it was just plain old near-sightedness. Over the years time has really done a number on them, as is the case with many people in their fifties. I have to take off my glasses for certain things, put them on for other things, sometimes I just lift my head and point my eyeballs down to see something on my phone or whatnot. Now I wear progressive lenses, which is my next step towards inevitable death (I joke).

I basically feel like that 50 year old man always having hold something out far or within an inch of my eyeball to see it clearly. Oh wait – I AM THAT 50 YEAR OLD MAN.

OK, I’m rambling. Back to Lasik. All I ever heard was how amazing it was, how everyone said “I can’t believe I didn’t do this 10 years ago!” And I was jealous. Boy, was I jealous. I priced it out, I checked insurance, I even called around to a couple of places and talked to my doctor about it. Now you might even be asking yourself why the hell didn’t I just do it then?

Well, here’s your answer: I’m a wimp.

That’s right. A wimp. I could never get over the mental hump of surgery on my EYES. I don’t think it was the prospect of pain, it was more about the notion of something going really south and then I’d blind forever in one eye and have to wear a patch. Or blind in both eyes! Or it wouldn’t work. Or I’d have to go back and constantly get adjusted. Well, now after 25 years of wanting Lasik, but being a wimp, I have my vindication and I now no longer want it.

The New York Times ran a piece earlier this week about the dangers of Lasik. I guess it took 30 years to figure it out? I don’t know.

Patients considering Lasik surgery should be warned that they may be left with double vision, dry eyes, difficulty driving at night and, in rare cases, persistent eye pain, according to draft guidance by the Food and Drug Administration. After surgery, patients may still need eyeglasses, the document warns.

New york times, december 7, 2022

So yes, it’s DRAFT guidance. But now I do take great pride in knowing that my wimpiness and fears were not unfounded! The Times fairly points out that the F.D.A. document is not final and they are now reviewing the input from testing while preparing the final documents. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire, I say! And now I welcome all the comments coming from all of you Lasik lovers who’ve had no problems whatsoever. Good for you! I’m not joining your eyeball surgery club!

A Shot in the Arm

A Shot in the Arm

A few months ago I posted a couple of things on Facebook about the new bivalent COVID vaccines and my uncertainty about getting them, as they hadn’t been tested on any humans yet, just mice. And we’re not like mice. I tried to make it clear in my social posts that I am not anti-vax at all. I willingly and excitedly got the original COVID vaccine on April 12, 2021 (J&J) and then I went ahead and got the booster as well on November 12, 2021 (again, J&J). So I did not get the mRNA version from Pfizer or Moderna. It wasn’t my choice – I showed up at the big vax factory and they moved us like cattle through the lines – they pointed and told me “go over there” and that was that. “Over there” just happened to be the Johnson & Johnson area. I also get a flu shot every year.

So now that I’m doing more long-form writing on my blog, I can explain more clearly how I’m feeling about this.

With that now framed up, this bivalent COVID vaccine gave me pause. As mentioned above, they skipped what I consider a kind of important step, which is testing on humans. I am generally averse to taking a shot of something that hasn’t been tested on humans. Because the Johnson & Johnson shot is not available anymore, any booster I get will have to be Pfizer and Moderna, which is a different technology than the J&J was.

My hesitance is largely rooted in a few things:

  • The lack of testing on humans. This is becoming less of a factor as more time goes by and we see an overwhelming amount of people reacting fine to it. Still, I think it’s logical to say that the rollout of this new booster to the masses in September was, effectively, the trial. YOU were the experiment if you got the shot this fall. And that’s fine. I’m not here to criticize, to each their own. I just decided to sit it out for a little while and not be a part of the experiment. And god bless the humans who volunteer for vaccine testing, by the way. They are kind of unsung heroes. Hesitance level: fairly low
  • Deep distrust of Big Pharma. Try to make sense of what Pfizer and Moderna are putting out there for data around trials and adverse reactions – it’s hard. Very hard. They do that on purpose, you know. These companies are *selling shots* – they are public companies beholden to shareholders and driving revenue. They are not looking out for you at all. You might also feel like the CDC or the FDA are more trustworthy and perhaps they are. But the FDA gets 75% of it’s funding for its drug division by…Big Pharma. Ouch. That feels like a very concerning conflict of interest. It wasn’t that long ago that doctors and patients were told that Oxycontin was perfectly safe and non-addictive. We cannot forget this. Hesitance level: medium
  • The shots don’t seem to work as well as Moderna and Pfizer told us. This is one of my biggest issues. One of my favorite tweets at the beginning of the original vaccine rollout was the CEO of Pfizer, who tweeted that Pfizer’s testing of the vaccine showed 100% effectiveness in blocking transmission entirely. The New York Times ran a piece on December 7 that is worth reading about this, focused on how “Covid-19 Isn’t a Pandemic of the Unvaccinated Anymore.” The article leans more towards the age of people getting it, but has some interesting data around mortality with Covid-19. Hesitance level: medium-high

The share of deaths among people vaccinated and boosted grew significantly as well, from 12 percent in January 2022 to 36 percent in April.

New York Times Op Ed, December 7, 2022
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla

These three things all give me pause. They don’t make me anti-vax and if anything, over the last few months I’m coming around to getting the shot. I’m not there yet, but maybe I’m getting there. I do feel pretty strongly that I have good reasons to wait.

A popular response to my hesitance is the point that, yes, ok, they lied to us and it doesn’t stop transmission, but it *does* prevent hospitalization and death. So I will make one other interesting point. Each week The Boston Globe publishes a COVID-19 data status for the state of Massachusetts. I can’t speak for the other 49 states, but have a look at the total amount of people hospitalized vs. the total amount of *vaccinated* people hospitalized. The total amount of people hospitalized is around 750 this week, 450 of which are vaccinated. 60% of people hospitalized in for COVID in Massachusetts are vaccinated.

I think where things go off the rails for me is all the fear mongering from the hardcore anti-vaxxers. There’s a lot of posts out there about kids and adults collapsing on sports fields. Or people just collapsing on the street or in the course of their daily lives. Or people dying of heart attacks “out of the blue.” All of these things are sad, but they happen. They happened before 2021 and they will happen long after this pandemic is truly abated. But still, they fear monger. When confronted about this, the response is often “but how do you know it’s not from the vaccine? It could have been.” BAH.

There is not a single anti-vax person that can show me data that clearly shows the percent of people dying from the COVID shot isn’t the same as the percent of people dying from the flu shot or any other vaccine. They LOVE to show charts and graphs singularly showing the number of people having reactions since 2021, but when asked to show the percentage of reactions vs. total administered for COVID vaccines vs other vaccines, they go silent. Of course. Because they love fear mongering. OF COURSE the sheer volumne of reactions is going to be higher! The total number of vaccines given starting in 2021 skyrocketed!

Look, I’m not a doctor. This is a topic that people are really passionate about. And I respect and do not criticize anyone’s position on this. But I just wanted to get a longer form explanation of how I’m feeling. Now go get vacccinated! Or don’t! Either way, I’ll still love you.