Seems like almost every year we are encountering some sort of serious outbreak in a given region of our world, whether it be a variant of the coronavirus, ebola, the avian flu, or even the black plague (yes it is still lurking out there). In fact, I've read a number accounts of concerns being raised regarding the re-emerging of smallpox. To top all this off we've recently discovered dormant viruses buried in glaciers dating back thousands of years.
WHO (Worldwide Health Organization) has stated many times we are on the verge of a worldwide pandemic. The coronavirus is not, as yet considered one.
Viruses. Why do they even exist other than to cause ongoing suffering? Strangely enough their goal is simple - to multiply at the expense of their host. Not much different then a parasite in a sense.
What makes a really dangerous virus? We'll start with a couple basic terms:
Incubation Period - the time one is infected before exhibiting symptoms.
Contagious/Infectious Period - the time one is shedding the virus and could infect others.
These periods may overlap. One may be contagious and NOT show any symptoms (for a time). This is different for each virus of course, but viruses that exhibit this ability are not uncommon: measles, chickenpox, rubella, and on and on...
Consider a virus with an extended incubation period, where the host experiences no symptoms, and is unknowingly quite contagious to others.
Next point is in regard to mode of transmission, accompanied with the ability of a virus to survive without a host, and lastly, its preferred attack vector - or way of infecting the host.
Blood-born viruses such as dengue-fever, malaria, and many STDs are good examples of diseases that are transmitted through the exchange of blood and/or bodily fluids. You would think these viruses would have a hard time surviving, yet they manage quite successfully year after year.
Raise the danger level up a notch, however, and you now have the common flu/cold, and variants such as H1N1 (swine flu) or H5N1 (avian flu), H1N1 (spanish flu), and of course let's not forget the Covid-19 (coronavirus) with all its similar sub-types (MERS,SARS). These particular nasties attack the body either through breathing it in, or landing near facial entry area including the surface of one's eyes. Their primary method of transmission is traveling through the air in suspended droplets ejected from an infected coughing host. In addition, they are hardy enough to withstand a range of temperature fluctuations, and can remain dormant but alive on surfaces for many hours.
Again this demonstrates the need to wash your hands many times during the day. You pick up a nasty on the escalator rail, then touch your face - too late.
There's a term for "rate of infection" they call r-naught (R0). The higher the number, the worse the infection propagates through a population. Measles is 12-18 (essentially the highest we know of for now). In comparison, the 1918 flu that literally killed millions was only around 2.4 on this index. Note: If you get under 1.0, the infection will usually fizzle out. The R0 for coronavirus Covid-19 is ranging from 2.2 and 3.1 depending on the sources. This essentially means a person who contracts the virus is highly probable to further infect 2-3 others.
Now if a virus was particularly ruthless, and tended to kill its host, the R0 would likely drop, as its infectious period would be shortened. To be truly successful, a virus must be devious, take its time to incubate and infect the host's systems to the point that host is contagious. Upon onset of symptoms the virus will then proceed to make the host truly miserable for an extended period of time (short of not killing the host), and throughout this time actively shed itself, ensuring the host is highly contagious throughout, effectively managing to replicate itself over many, many hosts.
Anyone familiar with this sort of behaviour? Alas, it is the common cold and the dreaded flu.
As eluded to above, many viruses are not benign, and they have an established mortality rate - usually expressed as a percentage. One must consider the population affected to understand this number. If a particular population has little to no previous exposure to a similar virus family, then the rate goes up. If the population is aged, or possibly very young, and their immunity systems are weak, the rate may go up. How healthy and adaptable the population is plays a factor here.
Let's revisit the yearly flu. It usually averages between 1.5 - 1.8%. In contrast, the 1918 flu was estimated to be in a range from 10-20% (although the upper range representing the extreme, and we can't know for sure, as this outbreak was worldwide and not properly documented). The 2019 flu season numbers are still in progress - but we are in the range of multi-millions infected and tens of thousands have died. This is a bad flu season in comparison, regardless of the shadow cast by the coronavirus.
Depending on your information source, the current coronavirus outbreak is ranging from 2.5% to as high as 11%. So why doesn't this outbreak seem as deadly as the 1918 spanish flu outbreak?
I have my theories, but it is very important to understand what often accompanies these lousy infections: Pneumonia (viral or bacterial, doesn't matter much). Once the virus is done with us, we are ripe targets. In fact. organizations such as CDC/WHO often amalgamate the two when they present mortality/morbidity rates for flu strains.
Some good news: we have some things they didn't have back in 1918 - antibiotics and vaccines. Add this to our repertoire of medical practices, plus the general understanding by the average person to avoid exposure in the first place - and things are much better.
Now that we've touched on the basics, and in the process avoided explaining how our immune system actually defeats a viral attack, maybe we should touch on that too.
Our immune system is a collection of different "fighting" cells that are dispersed throughout our body. They use the bloodstream and lymphatic systems as highways to move throughout our body. Most of these cells originate from within our bone marrow starting as stem cells and morphing into T or B (lymphocyte) cells, and many other types as well. The key thing here (and yes I am simplifying) is that the our immune system creates "antibodies" which are soldiers built specifically to defeat a given virus. As each virus is unique in its overall shape/configuration - not all our soldiers can reach the heart of the virus successfully - to infiltrate and kill it. So we have all these very unique antibodies standing ready to be replicated and sent onto the frontline. This is why vaccines work to ready our bodies for a given virus. We inject pieces of the virus (dead, or DNA/RNA strings - let's call them antigens) into our bodies, which then allows our immunity cells to learn and adapt, effectively readying our new soldiers.
And all of this works great as long as the immune system recognizes this antigen as a foreign invader...
Last but not least, as I've saved the best for last (of course)...
There is something they refer to as mutation - meaning that the virus modifies itself during its generation process, and changes itself sufficiently to stop our antibody soldiers in their tracks. We still don't fully understand this mechanism, although we have discovered many viruses are actually internally programmed to mutate. Adding insult to injury - the more successful the virus is in infiltrating many hosts, the greater the odds we will see a mutation occur.
When a mutation occurs all bets are off - the virus can adapt new and even more dangerous abilities.
Mutation is why we have a new flu season almost every year.
Mutation is how a serious outbreak turns into a pandemic.
So to wrap up (since I am a sci-fi writer). Maybe the real danger in us finding our precious "sister world" to Earth will not be competing sentient aliens. Maybe the danger will be the foreign nasties operating at the cellular level. Our act of colonization will result in us fighting a different kind of war.
I think I need to educate myself more on biology...
If you'd like to understand the immune system and how it works in more depth, try this youtube series link, fascinating stuff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jBpv9fYSU4
It's 2020 and best wishes to everyone - hope all of you have a memorable year.
I just finished reading a few articles which posed an interesting perspective on the Climate Change issue - they discuss the effect this particular problem is having on children - their increase in anxiety, the expectations upon them to become active in the face of an immovable barrier of government indifference. It seems many have taken on the belief that this is truly the end of all things, that our planet is dying - and we will soon follow.
It was heartening to witness the marches throughout the world during international World Environmental Health Day (Sep 26th,2019) , on its heels Global Client Strike Days (ie: week), all of it tied to the UN Client Action Summit in one way or another.
Indeed, certain political bodies have made an effort to inch forward in some form or another in the reduction of CO2 emissions. In (two) words, that's great. In another two, not enough. To quote Greta Thunberg (a very passionate young lady from Sweden) "We'll be watching you."
Don't put too much faith in the governments. Think of their track record. Too little, too late is what we can count on there. We'll need some real leaders to make a difference here.
For argument's sake, let's start with the infamous science. Carbon dioxide passed the 400ppm mark many years ago (Sep 2016). That was a limit which this planet has not experienced for 2.2 million years, but hey, our (Sol) system and its planets are over 4.5 billion, so this is no biggie, right? Interestingly, Scientists have aligned the 405ppm measured limit (which we are arguably closing in on) with a full 2 degree planetary temperature increase.
"So!" exclaim the hoax advocates. "Some polar ice melts, some summer days are a little warmer. This is ALL part of the natural order of things - nothing Earth has not seen before. They're all just making a big deal out of nothing . This is scaremongering to the masses."
Yes, the message is unclear - and is based on projection, linking other negative trends through association - when "this" amount is known (in the climatic record, based on geology), the overall temperature was "this".
I'm being obtuse here for a reason. The actual values of "this" DO NOT matter. The point is the predicted future is "predicated" by the past. The irony is that this future - our future - will not be like the past, it will be very, very different. How can I say this? Simple logic - all the variables are different - things have changed since way back then. It's difficult to transpose the past into the future - doesn't really fit.
One thing most people can agree on is that things are changing. The real question is what will be the new normal - where will all of this end up?
I can state, with absolute surety, it is time to welcome in the unknown...
Does that scare you?
Let me help you with this. There are a few facts I've not presented:
1. Everything is interconnected. Sounds reasonable, but shall I postulate what that could mean in one specific case?
It's a bit impossible to actually measure the total billions of kilograms of water currently migrating from the poles to oceans, but I will say the extra weight is significant. These waters will not evenly distribute themselves, either. Push down on specific tectonic plates, and you get geological instability, which leads to - you guessed it - geological events (earthquakes and volcanoes). I put these events in the category of pretty bad, bad, and very bad.
2. Change is occurring right now.
I don't need to predict anything here, just watch the news. Dare I say the rain forests are burning? Drought in areas, floods in others, die-offs of birds, fish, whales, seals, etc., etc., etc.. We are seeing significant shifts in weather patterns, storms reaching beyond strength into the the once-in-every-100-years patterns. What happens when crops start failing on a global scale? People go hungry. What happens when we destroy the primary producers of oxygen?
3. It's the unanticipated that really hits us hard.
Interconnections are incredibly varied and strange. We've seen disease carrying insect populations (such as ticks with their lyme disease) moving further north, and even more unusual diseases being transmitted by mosquitoes (Zika virus). Our bodies simply aren't prepared for this onslaught.
And we aren't the only ones affected here. Our flora and fauna feel it too. Whole populations of plants from trees to flowers are dying.
Sure, we can anticipate the water levels are going to rise, but there are so many other possibilities at play. If one were to flood ANY specific shoreline city the true effect would go well beyond the immediate relocation of residents. Consider the damage to the environment by our poisons being carried within the water.
The truly insidious nature of the unknown is that we cannot, no matter how hard we try, prepare ourselves for what is coming.
4. The worst of all the facts, is that C02 is just a key - a catalyst - the real warming has yet to be triggered.
It's called methane, and it continues to burst up from the warming ocean floor, and the expansive northern plains of Russia and Canada. Methane is 86 times more effective at retaining heat than carbon dioxide. I present this to you with consideration, we are just at the beginning of this train ride.
The question is, as it was, as it will be, and I'll pose it yet again: Where does it all stop? Will our climate achieve a new balance - or worse is this potentially becoming a runaway system with no stability?
Well take heart. I do believe that entropy will always win. One day in the future the Earth will again be mostly covered in ice - but that is for the geologists of the future, not for any time soon. We'll be gone a long time by then.
OK, I have to admit, like everyone else out there I get caught up with the stuff of life. Work, family, and a long list of TODOs. So why did it take me so long? I mean, I was ready in April (pretty much). I guess I am guilty of procrastination, or just maybe this being my second book I was not as excited to push this project to the end. Regardless, it's done.
To my insiders, stay tuned as I'll be running a few price reduction passes (as per allowed programs through KDP select).
Yes, I am writing my next novel (as I've hinted at) although I admit summer has me distracted. I'm sure I'll start gaining some traction as fall wanes on...
In the meantime - take care and happy reading!
I'm a Canadian, and yes, proud of my country - that is our people, our way of life, you know the whole democratic ideological socialistic approach thing. No, I don't include politicians in this list. As a mater-of-fact I find myself consistently at odds with what I consider poor decision-making in Ottawa.
I'm sure this one will take me some time...
Now that I'm wrapping up "A Bellicose Dance" I am refocusing my attention to my next pet project: an anthology (a collection of selected literary pieces or passages or works of art or music).
Each story a passage. I like that word. It defines an imagery that is literal, yet ambiguous.
We'll start with the title - the vision if you will, the common tie: The 4 Seasons of Man. Seasons in the context of the span of our civilization: where we've started, where we are going, our ongoing travel down a winding, yet challenging, path only to reach some ultimate destination. How does it at all end - if it does?
Winter: Geologists have the evidence, and it's clear. Our planet has survived many life-ending events - filter events of our survival if you will. Time and time again we seem to pull through these troubled times, but not without baring the scars. No matter how bad things get, we have our hope, and eventually, the sun does indeed rise and we feel its warmth again.
Spring: brings with it new life, new opportunity, and promise of something better. We are a speck in the universe. There is so much out there, presenting so many possibilities, and we do so much like to explore.
Summer: is the time of reaping the benefits of our accomplishments, when we leave our imprint upon that which we command, if not only what we can influence. With so much knowledge at our disposal, and such unlimited capability, we have to be very careful of the decisions we make.
Fall: As our days grow darker, and our great domain diminishes to a shred of what we once remembered, the last true great filter looms ahead.
And nope, dunno where this will all end up in the end. This is where we are going...
Bellicose - a predisposition to war: confrontational, aggressive, militant
My posts have been few in 2018, 'tis true.
I'm not a full time writer. I work a full time job. :o
Well OK, enough excuses. The real question is what have I been up to with my free cycles of time. Right now, as I'm writing, I have CBS News Sunday Morning playing in the background as they reflect back on 2018 - the many events, the faces of those who passed, the hope for tomorrow.
Tomorrow (in the general context) for me is grounded in work (really, what else?). My free cycles have been trying to get this 2nd novel out the door. How many editing passes is this now? This is getting painful (to me not you hehe).
The goal is pretty simple - pick any paragraph, or group of paragraphs, randomly from this book and read them out loud to (anyone). Will the words inspire? Will they intrigue you? Or will they be passed over as flat ramblings, verbose descriptions, background noise.
(Geez I hope not.)
I think I just completed (hopefully) my final pass. Now to my real editor.
I was so very close. I really did want to get this out for Christmas. Alas, realities of time and tribulation.
Maybe I've burned too many cycles, watched too many Christmas specials with my wife (lol). Then again, these dates are my own - no one else's. So I'll get there when I get there. (Soon though) I still have to get the cover artwork done as well. ;)
What's the new novel about? Well it is science-fiction, but I don't want to give it away just yet. No its not a continuation of "Of Days Gone By" - yes there always seems to be a fascination with sequels. This one will stand on its own. But I do hope you like it.
That all being said back to CBS Sunday. .Damn... 2018 was a strange year.
See you on the flip side after the ball drops. I'll try to post more in 2019 (we'll see about that) .
Happy New 2019!
Let's start with a logical breakdown - the 5+Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How)
WHO is performing the processes of terra-forming are fairly well answered in the book
So Let's start with the WHY and WHERE:
Why attempt to transform a world? The cost and effort would be tremendous so the projected benefit has to outweigh the cost.
Ishaida was not a destination world, but was a necessary, advantageous stopover for the massive superluminal cruisers which crossed the expanse on their way to their ultimate destination - Cauputain. The Corporations saw a vision of profit: Create an oasis on the road of travel, and you'll attract visitors. Attract colonist, enable development, attract other investors, bring in more development. The economic math seems simple, it's really only a matter of scale. There are other reasons of course. When we discuss terra-forming Mars is it really about economics or more about conquest? I guess the other WHY could be simple: because we have to in order to survive - at least long term.
Now for the HOW/WHAT:
The viability of creating a standard/boilerplate terra-forming process is probably less realistic as a specific application would depend on the target planet's environment. The novel does touch on a few common ideas, but there's a lot more under the covers.
First thing's first - what the desired atmosphere needs - a) enough gravity to retain it, and b) protection to ensure it won't get blown away by the solar winds. Assuming the first two requirements are in place, it's then a matter of chemistry. Primary contributors to this are: 1) current atmospheric composition 2) geology 3) water 4) types of life. Some would argue (3) is not a valid requirement, but hey, it's my discussion article.
Whatever the current composition of the atmosphere is, it may need to be modified, usually by the introduction of "other" gases at a "planet-wide" and "accelerate" rate. The question leads to where these new elements come from - can they be manufactured (ie: more accurately transformed from other key elements) or will "external sources" need to be introduced into the mix? Now point (4) is/can be an impressive shortcut to this problem as well, creating essential gasses such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and methane to name a few. Other methods may include geological sources and production via engineered chemical reactions. One interesting point of note, sunlight and temperature can itself modify compounds, and initiate chain reactions which may, if thought through correctly, produce a desired end result.
So, it's a matter of chemistry, locating the TFPs adjacent to required any source materials, a significant amount of energy, and scale.
Scale is an interesting problem. I propose what's needed is an organic approach to create the TFP machines - they need to self develop - to literally grow. Start small, add some "water" and voila! OK maybe more like add raw materials, and lots of energy, maybe a production factory, and off it goes.
As I said before energy makes this all happen. We can harness nuclear energy, but also direct solar energy. Any respectable terra-forming plan includes a way to manipulate the sun's tremendous contribution. This may include employment of mirrors, and vast solar collection arrays. Let's not forget referring back to point (4) life on Earth uses photosynthesis to capture the energy of sunlight.
There are lifeforms called extremophiles which can live in conditions of the extreme (hence their name). These lifeforms are key to our ability to engineer solutions. Take, for instance, the fact we have examples of extremophiles that can thrive on other sources of energy, and generate essential gases.
Endoliths are very interesting. Consider a lifeform capable of living deep within the recesses of a planet's mantle. If these creatures could be communicated with, manipulated...
All this being said, we have much to learn about these types of "life" and how we can use these tiny biological machines to affect some very big systems. One key reality is that terra-forming life will need to be very hardy, most likely be able to handle exposure to high levels of radiation. Impossible? Not at all - check out the Deinococcus radiodurans bacterium. Mars here we come!
So with the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHY and HOW, it really just leaves the WHEN. This is more a question of how long such a process would take - decades, centuries, or millennia. The jury is still out on this one as it is the result of so many variables. One key ideal measurement target - one maybe two generations - one hundred years. Hell we're not patient creatures. If we can affect change in one hundred years, what good are the systems we are employing? The rest of the universe can take multiple millennia to make things happen. Not us.
Bottomline it is a real possibility or no? I say definitely possible, and definitely doable, just not easy.