Start Up No.1280: the 5G coronavirus madness, marooned in paradise, our Tiger King world, wear a mask!, Italy’s uneasy peace, and more


RCGS Resolute: a cruise liner not to be messed with, as Venezuela’s navy learnt CC-licensed photo by David Larson on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them on a precautionary basis. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Broadband engineers threatened due to 5G coronavirus conspiracies • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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Telecoms engineers are facing verbal and physical threats during the lockdown, as baseless conspiracy theories linking coronavirus to the roll-out of 5G technology spread by celebrities such as Amanda Holden prompt members of the public to abuse those maintaining vital mobile phone and broadband networks.

Facebook has removed one anti-5G group in which users were being encouraged to supply footage of them destroying mobile phone equipment, with some contributors seemingly under the pretence that it may stop the spread of coronavirus and some running leaderboards of where equipment had been targeted.

Video footage of a 70ft (20 metre) telephone mast on fire in Birmingham this week has also circulated widely alongside claims it was targeted by anti-5G protesters. Network operator EE told the Guardian that its engineers were still on site assessing the cause of the fire but it “looks likely at this time” that it was an arson attack.

The company said it would be working with the police to find the culprits. It said: “To deliberately take away mobile connectivity at a time when people need it more than ever to stay connected to each other, is a reckless, harmful and dangerous thing to do. We will try to restore full coverage as quickly as possible, but the damage caused by the fire is significant.”

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Celebrities promoting the idea that the coronavirus is somehow linked to 5G. It’s insane. To be so divorced from the capacity for rational thinking is one thing; not to be able to see how it might affect your fans is quite another. I do wonder if the celebrities will be called to account on the Monday morning TV shows, or if that would be seen as spreading the nonsense.
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They were the last couple in paradise. Now their resort life continues • The New York Times

David Zweig:

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By Sunday, they were the only guests at their resort, the Cinnamon Velifushi Maldives, which normally is at capacity this time of year, catering to some 180 guests. (“Room rates start at $750 a night,” its website still says.) The resort comprises the entirety of its speck of an island. There is nowhere to go. The couple reign like benign yet captive sovereigns over their islet. The days are long and lazy. They sleep in, snorkel, lounge by the pool, repeat.

The resort’s full staff are at hand, because of the presence of the two guests. Government regulations won’t allow any Maldivians to leave resorts until after they undergo a quarantine that follows their last guests’ departure. Accustomed to the flow of a bustling workday, and the engagement with a full house of guests, most of the staff, having grown listless and lonely, dote on the couple ceaselessly. Their “room boy” checks on them five times a day. The dining crew made them an elaborate candlelit dinner on the beach. Every night performers still put on a show for them in the resort’s restaurant: Two lone audience members in a grand dining hall.

At breakfast, nine waiters loiter by their table. Hostesses, bussers and assorted chefs circulate conspicuously, like commoners near a celebrity. The couple has a designated server, but others still come by to chat during meals, topping off water glasses after each sip, offering drinks even though brimming cocktail glasses stand in full view, perspiring. The diving instructor pleads with them to go snorkeling whenever they pass him by.

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Such fabulous tales that are being thrown up by this most disruptive of circumstances. (Soon after this, the couple were told by the embassy to vacate – to another five-star resort, where all the South Africans are being gathered.)
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Why this crisis is a turning point in history • New Statesman

John Gray:

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A situation in which so many of the world’s essential medical supplies originate in China – or any other single country – will not be tolerated. Production in these and other sensitive areas will be re-shored as a matter of national security. The notion that a country such as Britain could phase out farming and depend on imports for food will be dismissed as the nonsense it always has been. The airline industry will shrink as people travel less. Harder borders are going to be an enduring feature of the global landscape. A narrow goal of economic efficiency will no longer be practicable for governments.

The question is, what will replace rising material living standards as the basis of society? One answer green thinkers have given is what John Stuart Mill in his Principles of Political Economy (1848) called a “stationary-state economy”. Expanding production and consumption would no longer be an overriding goal, and the increase in human numbers curbed. Unlike most liberals today, Mill recognised the danger of overpopulation. A world filled with human beings, he wrote, would be one without “flowery wastes” and wildlife. He also understood the dangers of central planning. The stationary state would be a market economy in which competition is encouraged. Technological innovation would continue, along with improvements in the art of living.

In many ways this is an appealing vision, but it is also unreal. There is no world authority to enforce an end to growth, just as there is none to fight the virus…

…the notion persists that pandemics are blips rather than an integral part of history. Lying behind this is the belief that humans are no longer part of the natural world and can create an autonomous ecosystem, separate from the rest of the biosphere. Covid-19 is telling them they cannot. It is only by using science that we can defend ourselves against this pestilence. Mass antibody tests and a vaccine will be crucial. But permanent changes in how we live will have to be made if we are to be less vulnerable in future.

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The word people are throwing around for this situation is “Ballardian” – as in, like a work by JG Ballard. True, though which one?
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Tiger King reflects our world back to us – one run by megalomaniacs and amateurs • The Guardian

Jessa Crispin:

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Tiger King’s most powerful message might be about the people who have been elected and selected to keep us safe, to give wise counsel, and steer us through this crisis. Most true-crime entertainment sings love songs to cops, giving us smart, eager detectives who just can’t get that one unsolved case out of their heads, who will tirelessly pursue truth and justice, no matter how long it takes. These men, and it’s almost always men, will be haggard and aged, so we can imagine all of their hard work and sleepless nights.

Instead, Tiger King shows authorities for how they actually often are: fumbling, inadequate and drunk on power. The detective faced with finding Carole Baskin’s missing husband: well, gee, I don’t know, maybe one day we’ll find something or someone will say something. The prosecutor who may well be relying on the testimony of a liar to ensure the conviction of a defendant: well, golly, he sure seemed credible to me, seeing as how he said exactly the thing I wanted him to say.

I switched between watching Tiger King and the news and it’s like there’s no difference between the two. The lead member of the White House coronavirus taskforce: well, shucks, I sure do think America is doing the best job in the world with testing and treating coronavirus patients. The president who for months insisted the coronavirus was a minor problem until it had spread to the largest number of cases in the world: well, gee whiz, America is the best, we’re doing the best, we’re going to be fine, and hey, why don’t I put my son-in-law with no experience in anything in charge of this. And meanwhile the numbers of diagnosed patients and fatalities just keep spiraling upward.

The pathologies on display in Tiger King – the drive for power, the constant need for more, the willingness to remove any obstacle to what you desire, even by using violence – underlie a society that can’t take care of its sick or poor, that can’t pass regulations that would reduce real suffering.

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I watched Tiger King, by the end of which I felt profoundly sorry for the tigers and lions, and glad for the rare moments when they could assert themselves. The tigers are us, aren’t they?
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Let’s all wear a mask • Idle Words

Maciej Cieglowski:

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Here are the ways wearing a mask will help you as an individual:

• A mask is a barrier that keeps you from touching your nose and mouth. By now you’ve probably noticed how irresistibly drawn your hands are to your face, far more than you would have guessed possible before paying attention to it. Masks make it harder to indulge that habit, as well as other unconscious habits like nose-picking, nail-biting, chewing on pens, or licking your finger when you count money.

• Wearing a mask is a mental reminder that things are not normal. Just like many religions ask believers to wear a special garment to keep them mindful of their duty to God, having a mask on your face can help you remember that you are in a situation that calls for special behavior.

• Masks are somewhat uncomfortable, a helpful feature when we’re trying to limit time spent in public places. Wearing one out in the world gives you an incentive to get your business done quickly so you can go home, scrub your hands, and paw at your naked face in voluptuous luxury.

•Masks can help you remember to wash your hands. If you form an association between handwashing and touching your mask, it becomes harder to forget to wash your hands when you come home and take your mask off.

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I guess the masks I’ve got for DIY sanding will pass muster then.
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Boeing 787s must be turned off and on every 51 days to prevent ‘misleading data’ being shown to pilots • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

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According to the directive itself, if the aircraft is powered on for more than 51 days this can lead to “display of misleading data” to the pilots, with that data including airspeed, attitude, altitude and engine operating indications. On top of all that, the stall warning horn and overspeed horn also stop working.

This alarming-sounding situation comes about because, for reasons the directive did not go into, the 787’s common core system (CCS) stops filtering out stale data from key flight control displays. That stale data-monitoring function going down in turn “could lead to undetected or unannunciated loss of common data network (CDN) message age validation, combined with a CDN switch failure”.

Solving the problem is simple: power the aircraft down completely before reaching 51 days. It is usual for commercial airliners to spend weeks or more continuously powered on as crews change at airports, or ground power is plugged in overnight while cleaners and maintainers do their thing.

The CDN is a Boeing avionics term for the 787’s internal Ethernet-based network. It is built to a slightly more stringent aviation-specific standard than common-or-garden Ethernet, that standard being called ARINC 664. More about ARINC 664 can be read here.

Airline pilots were sanguine about the implications of the failures when El Reg asked a handful about the directive. One told us: “Loss of airspeed data combined with engine instrument malfunctions isn’t unheard of,” adding that there wasn’t really enough information in the doc to decide whether or not the described failure would be truly catastrophic. Besides, he said, the backup speed and attitude instruments are – for obvious reasons – completely separate from the main displays.

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Pilots always sound sanguine, even when they’re terrified. It’s the training. Sounds like a clock overflow problem, of course, though finding where it is in the system is easier said than done.
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The WHO has failed us again • UnHerd

Ian Birrell:

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Taipei officials said in late December they tipped off WHO — through a warning system designed for exchange of such facts — that medical staff in China were becoming ill: a clear indication of human-to-human transmission. But this critical information was not shared, since Taiwan was excluded from a key WHO platform; indeed, the body did not even bother to reply. “An opportunity to raise the alert level both in China and the wider world was lost,” Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan’s vice-president and an epidemiologist, told The Financial Times.

It took until the end of January before Tedros finally proclaimed coronavirus to be a public health emergency of international concern — by which time it had spread to 19 nations on four continents. Some experts defend his pragmatic need to work with China to contain the outbreak, despite scepticism over data. And despite WHO’s sluggishness to declare a pandemic, the body has been hailed for subsequent work to marshall global efforts to contain the virus. Yet when this crisis is concluded, there needs to be accountability for actions that have again damaged its credibility.

WHO was guilty of disastrous inaction over the deadly ebola outbreak six years ago, when its slack approach was accused of fuelling death and suffering. The terrible epidemic killed more than 11,000 people in three west African nations, provoking fear and paralysing these countries, as I saw for myself in Liberia.

Yet when Médecins Sans Frontières begged the world for help and warned the disease was out of control, it was rebuked by a WHO spokesman on social media. Only after four more months did this body, which is supposed to show global leadership, concede that  there was an international health emergency. A devastating inquiry by British and US experts accused it of “the most egregious failure” for failing to sound the alarm.

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As bureaucracies grow they tend to become self-sustaining and self-protecting, more interested in threats to themselves than to those they’re meant to protect. If the bureaucracy is meant to respond to global health threats, that’s not good.
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Singing stops in Italy as fear and social unrest mount • The Guardian

Angela Giuffrida and Lorenzo Tondo:

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Tensions are building across the poorest southern regions of Campania, Calabria, Sicily and Puglia as people run out of food and money. There have been reports of small shop owners being pressured to give food for free, while police are patrolling supermarkets in some areas to stop thefts. The self-employed or those working on contracts that do not guarantee social benefits have lost salaries, and many small businesses may never reopen.

Paride Ezzine, a waiter in Palermo, Sicily, no longer gets his salary. “Obviously, due to the lockdown, the restaurant closed,” he said. “I have a wife and two children and we’re living off our savings. But I don’t know how long they will last. I asked my bank to postpone payment instalments – they said no. This situation is bringing us to our knees.”

The ramifications of the lockdown, which is poised to be extended until at least Easter, are also affecting the estimated 3.3 million people in Italy who were working off the books, of whom more than 1 million live across Campania, Sicily, Puglia and Calabria, according to the most recent figures from CGIA Mestre, a Venice-based small business association.

A billboard in Naples reads: ‘All together, without fear.’ Photograph: Carlo Hermann/AFP via Getty Images
“In reality, we don’t know how many are working in the black as these numbers are only estimates,” said Giovanni Orsina, a politics professor at Luiss University in Rome. “However, a significant number of people live day to day, doing occasional jobs. There are also many shopkeepers, or professionals working for themselves, who may have moderate reserves that will run out the longer they’re in lockdown.”

Amid the brewing social unrest, the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said €4.3bn (£3.8bn) from a solidarity fund would immediately be advanced to all municipalities and an additional €400m would go to mayors for conversion into food stamps. But mayors have protested that the funds, especially the €400m for food vouchers, are insufficient.

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This is yet another proximate risk from coronavirus: social unrest when – or if – the social contract breaks down.
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All across the United States, the coronavirus is killing more men than women, data show – The Washington Post

Chris Mooney, Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis :

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The Washington Post identified 37 states that provide a breakdown of how many men, and how many women, have tested positive for covid-19. In 30 of those states, including the large outbreaks in Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington, women had a higher number of reported cases, though not always by a large margin. In several large states, including California and Florida, and in the vast outbreak in New York City, the data swing the other way toward male cases, leaving an ambiguous picture overall.

Fewer states provide an analysis of the differing numbers of deaths among men and women. But at least 13 with substantial death numbers reported that data. (The Post did not analyze some states, like Alaska, where the death numbers remain small.) In every one of those states, men died more frequently, and that was the case even if they made up fewer total cases of the disease to begin with.

That’s also true in the city with the country’s biggest outbreak. As of Friday, men made up 59% of overall hospitalizations in New York City and 62% of more than 1,800 fatalities.

“I’ve seen more males that need immediate respiratory support — to be intubated or supplemental oxygen,” Jackson said. “That’s been the major difference. They come in sicker.”

Men in New York are dying at a disproportionately high rate, even when accounting for the fact that male cases are more numerous to begin with. Men make up 55% of cases there, but 62% of deaths…

…For almost all infectious diseases, women are able to mount a stronger immune response then men, [a doctor] said. Women with acute HIV infections have 40% less viral genetic material in their blood than men. They are less susceptible to the viruses that cause hepatitis B and C. Men infected with coxsackie viruses — which in severe cases can cause inflammation of heart tissue — are twice as likely to die of the disease.

That holds true even in other animals. Female birds show higher antibody responses to infection than males, especially during mating season. The immune cells that eat up microbes and cellular debris are less active in male lizards than in their female counterparts.

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Cruise ship sunk Venezuelan Navy ship after being fired at and rammed. Don’t mess with RESOLUTE • Maritime Bulletin

Mikhail Voytenko:

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Cruise ship with 35 maintenance crew on board (no passangers) was positioned outside Venezuelan territorial waters, when she was approached by NAIGUATA and ordered to sail to Puerto Moreno on Isla De Margarita. Warning shots were fired, Master of RESOLUTE (RESOLUTE indeed!) refused to obey and maintained her course. From RESOLUTE owner statement:

… the navy vessel approached the starboard side at speed with an angle of 135° and purposely collided with the RCGS RESOLUTE. The navy vessel continued to ram the starboard bow in an apparent attempt to turn the ship’s head towards Venezuelan territorial waters. While the RCGS RESOLUTE sustained minor damages, not affecting vessel’s seaworthiness, it occurs that the navy vessel suffered severe damages while making contact with the ice-strengthened bulbous bow of the ice-class expedition cruise vessel RCGS RESOLUTE and started to take water…

NAIGUATA sank, but RESOLUTE, as it came out, didn’t flee, she “…remained for over one hour in vicinity of the scene and reached out to MRCC Curacao, and sailed away only after receiving the order to resume passage full ahead by the MRCC and that further assistance is not required”.

So, there’s nothing much else left to talk about, except to laugh and to applaud RESOLUTE Master. Not many – if any – similar cases in naval history, when defenceless passenger ship sunk Navy battleship, and went away with it.

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You might have been hearing bits of this story over the weekend, and it’s absolutely true. There are photos of Resolute in (non-Venezuelan) dock, and its starboard bow is scraped to hell.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1280: the 5G coronavirus madness, marooned in paradise, our Tiger King world, wear a mask!, Italy’s uneasy peace, and more

  1. “Sounds like a clock overflow problem,”

    Yes indeed. These sorts of time values are typically stored as milliseconds (speaking as a programmer, though no aviation-specific work). We have:

    51 days * 24 hours/day * 60 minutes/hour * 60 seconds/minute * 1000 milliseconds/second =

    4406400000 milliseconds

    That’s very close to the maximum size of a common 32-bit integer, which is 2^32 =

    4294967296 bits

    “though finding where it is in the system is easier said than done.”

    I suspect it’s easy to find, in the sense of going through the software and finding where that time value is stored. Whether it’s easy to fix is another matter, since whatever system used might not allow for easy changes involving longer lengths. Then the fix has to be recertified. And then the update has to be distributed to all the affected planes, which is likely the real easier said than done part.

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