Japan closes 4,000 schools to protect them from Swine Flu


Japan has always been very sensitive to protecting people from viruses. In the western world we have been looking at masks from the perspective of keeping ourselves safe from others. When I visited Tokyo for the first time I asked about the people I saw wearing face masks and found that this is normal practice for people who have a respiratory illness such as a cold or flu, so that they could continue to work and go out while protecting other people from their germs. In NZ we don’t look at it that way, if we share our germs, its just tough luck for the recipient. 

Of course one of the problems in Japan is shear numbers of people, not dissimilar to Mexico City. I used to stay in Shinjuku and would regularly catch local trains to get around Tokyo City. Shinjuku station serves over 1 million people a day, the first time I visited Tokyo they still had men with white gloves, pushing people onto the trains to make way for more.

Today I read an announcement that Japan had closed over 4,000 schools and kindergartens as around 170 confirmed cases of Swine Flu had been found around Kobe and Osaka. It seems that there are as yet no confirmed cases in Tokyo and of course authorities are hoping that they can contain it, although chances are it has already been rushed in by bullet train.

In the meantime, downunder, it is as if it’s all over, and people are starting to think that it was all overhyped and just another case of bird flu, where there was a brief panic followed by nothing. 

It seems that there is so much confusion about Swine Flu that it makes it very difficult for the average Joe Citizen to know what to think. On one hand we hear stories that it may be more infectious than we thought, while on the other hand scientists are postulating that it is quite weak.   

Traditionally the influenza virus targets babies and elederly people, both groups having weakened immunity and comparisons with the 1918-19 flu epidemic stop here, because the Swine Flu is killing people of all ages and seems to particularly attack people in the 25-40 age group. Noone knows why that is at this stage, but it is certainly another reason why people should be more vigilent, especially given that this is probably the age group that does the most international travelling and therefore more likely to either catch the virus, or to be carriers.

As a footnote, some people are thinking that because WHO hasn’t raised the alert to Phase 6, it can’t be too serious yet. The official move to Phase 6, which is specified as a pandemic is only based on the number of countries that it has been found in, not the severity of the illness. Officially a pandemic is when the disease is global, but given that it has now been found in 40 countries, many countries are asking WHO to announce it as a pandemic now.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Could Swine Flu Be Man Made?


I have to start by saying I don’t think it was, but it is a ligitimate question, given that bioviolence is something that many countries around the world will be considering and it is an obvious threat from terrorists. We don’t hear anything about the neutron bomb these days, but the concept of killing off people but leaving the environment intact, is not new.

Several years ago I was helping a water authority with mobile data communications around the same time as a meeting of world leaders . Even though bioterrorism has not been seen in this country, there were was hightened vigilence of the city’s water reservoirs, to ensure that they were not deliberately contaminated as a protest against the international meeting.

You would have to have your head in the sand to not consider the act of unleashing a virus as a possible act of warfare and in order to run tests to assess the viability of such an exercise, it would seem that the best way to test whether this is possible, would be to try it on humans.

Swine Flu has so far only been highly contagious in one city of the world. Most of the deaths occured in Mexico or a small number of people who had been to Mexico City. If you were running tests, you would of course not want your tests to accidentaly kill off a large percentage of the human race, you would want it to be in  controlled environment, particularly one where your countries citizens were a vast minority.

It is common public knowledge that the US military does research into infectus diseases and according to The Frederick News, Fort Meade is investigating the possibility of missing virus samples fromthe U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to consider wht the Army would have such an Institute. You could ligitimately suggest that they need this in case other countries or terrorist groups decide to engage in bio-warfare and of course in order to understand how to defend against such attacks you would of course have to know how to create the viruses.

The web is littered with sites like Freedom Watch saying that since 9/11 the US has been preparing for further terrorist attacks and that biological warfare would make a lot of sense. Many of these sites appear to be from civil liberty organisations and while many of them are based on reasonable foundations, there are obviously many that appear on the redneck fringe.

Nevertheless, this type of warfare of sorts has been documented for thousands of years, with the first known use of biotics was from 1500 – 1200 BC where Hittite texts suggested the use of ergot being used to deliberately contaminate water wells. Ergot was the same hallucinatory that is said to have been the foundation of the Salem witch trials, where the rye was contaminated causing LSD like hallucinations. So the concept is nothing new.

I spent quite a lot of time looking for any credible authority that suggests that there is any credibility to this possibility, but they all seem to quote Freedom Watch and similar sites as their source.

So was Swine Flu N1H1 man made? I doubt it. Is it possible, of course. Could a virus like this be mutated and used by terrorists or foreign governments as a military weapon, absolutely.

So back to the future. According to NZ Herald, the current list is now over 6,600 people in 33 countries, including over 70 deaths. The media in the US keeps saying they aren’t seriously concerned at the moment because summer is coming and the bacteria doesn’t survive for long in warm temperatures. Of course in New Zealand we are now heading into the flu season and there are currently around 400 people in isolation as I write this blog. A bit different to the bird flu we were worried about.

In one of my next blogs I will see what I can find out about the 2nd wave. Traditionally these sorts of viruses come back again in waves with the waves often having mutated and being far more virulent than the first and this is one of the problems for the makers of Tamiflu, because the antivirus they make now in massive quantities, might be powerless against the next wave of the bug. Will the 2nd wave start down under, or will it come in 4-5 months on the Amercian continent. Will we be ready for it?

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

For the last word, lets look inside a Mexican Swine Flu Isolation Ward.

I want a domestic Robot


I’m not into singularity, I reckon if we built a robot that has the ability to think in similar ways to humans, they will see us as illogical and like HAL 9000, will consider that it knows better than us what is good for us. But the idea of robots that can take away some of the drudgery of domestic chores, makes a lot of sense. 

In previous blogs I’ve written about the stories we were told in Tomorrow’s Schools when I was a junior futurist, where technology would do all the work and leave us to worry about what to do with our leisure time. This of course didn’t happen, so now I find myself working no less than 50 hours a week and begruding having to spend a lot of my weekends doing chores around the house. 

So the concept of having a robot that vaccuums my house, mows the lawn, washes windows and genrally keeps my home looking spotless, makes a lot of sense. New Zealand isn’t one of those countries where professionals employ housekeepers, most of us have to fend for ourselves. I have many interests including walking, skiing, writing songs, going to concerts, playing poker etc. In my ideal world, there would be no house work, unless it was because it is what I really want to do, although I can’t imagine why, unless it was a green moment in my rock garden.

Korea has been looking at the area of robotics and particularly for domestic use, although defense and medicine are other major opportunities for them and I guess military and surgical robots combined with nanotechnology do offer hugely attractive revenue potential. Korea has been very innovative and when it comes to high tech electronics is right up there with the leaders.

A few years ago the Korean Government made a commitment to have a domestic robot in every home between 2015 and 2020. 

Domestic robots have now come under the term of Personal Robots. Personal robots have been conceived to do everything from bring you a beer, to teaching children to learn languages and help with their homework. There is even an Institute for Personal Robots in Education! 

MIT has a Personal Robots Group, which is exploring many aspects of technology and also human – robot interaction. As well as exploring the many technologies that are involved in developing this technology, they are focussing on what sort of things people would want them to be able to do and ensuring that they can adapt to new tasks, not considered in the initial design.

If you think that buying a domestic robot is over the top and frivolous, maybe security is a good opportunity for you. Imagine your robot, with wireless communications and the ability to transmit  what is going on anywhere in your home, controlled via your mobile. You could see if you left the stove on, whether Johnny is doing his homework, or check the house if the alarm goes off. If it went off because you left your cat inside, it could herd it towards the cat door. It wouldn’t get frustrated and impatient.

While this may all seem very futuristic, as I said at the beginning of this blog, Korea is planning for a domestic robot in every home within the next 9 years, Honda, who gave us Asimo (named after Isaac Asimov who invented the 3 Laws of Robotics) have now come up with a new version, which can be successfully controlled by human thought!  

 

The new Asimo from Honda

The new Asimo from Honda

Given that one of the biggest spends for robots is for military use, which I will explore in a future blog, and an expectation that singularity will happen in the next 20 years, I’ll leave the last word to Hal 9000:

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

And please leave a comment, and tell someone else about this blog if you think they will find it interesting:)

Should we be so quick to dispense Tamiflu?


As the Swine Flu progresses to Level 5 on the 6 point WHO Pandemic scale, in New Zealand they have decided to sell Tamiflu from Pharmacies to anyone that goes in and shows symptoms, without having to see a doctor. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not, because it is likely that the majority of people who buy and use it won’t have the virus.

The biggest concern being expressed about this is that mass use of vaccines can encourage viruses to mutate and evolve into strains which resist vaccines and antibiotics. It seems to me that as it travels around the world it will evolve anyway, but why give it a helping hand. I just hope that there isn’t a rush on it so that people who do need it can’t get it. Tonight’s TV News did say that there was only a small increase in demand for Tamiflu. 

It’s funny watching the news on CNN and other international (read American) TV channels, who seem to almost forget about New Zealand, because early on we were one of the countries that had early exposure in fairly large numbers. Even in the last couple of days, more people have gone into quarantine, now around 500, and we are now in a situation where we actually know people who are in quarantine. It’s no longer 6 points removed.

Mexico is obviously the place that is mostly in the news, and lets hope that their plans for a 5 day national shut down will help contain things until people are no longer contagious.

According to the Google Swine Flu map, the density of infection in the countries where they have confirmed cases, is growing fast. Spain is one of the biggest outside of the US and Mexico for obvious reasons. Switzerland and The Netherlands are the latest countries to get hit.

I was watching the news last night and they were saying that they were lucky that it is spring because viruses don’t spread as much when it is warm, but of course down here in New Zealand it is cooling down and we are heading into the flu season, so it could be potentially worse here. 

Please participate in my poll. Do you know anyone who has been quarantined? It would be really interesting to see how this progresses. The feeling of it won’t happen to me may dissapear as we get to a point where we either know someone or are only 1 place removed. 

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)