Vitamin D a miracle drug or simple correlation

Vitamin D, just like many vitamins are important to good nutruitional health.  Our bodies need vitamins and various other minerals for general health.  Not having the recommended amount of these over time will create health risk factors depending on what you are missing.  Yet it is important to keep in mind that in times of health scares (ie epidemic or pandemic) it is easy to want to find  a silver bullet that will eliminate the deadly diseases and put our mind at ease.

As of writing this over 200,000 people have died in the USA as a result of the Covid 19 virus.  You can nitpick on these numbers but the fact is that diabetes or being overweight (or many other risk factors) would have killed these people anyway but it would have statistically been over a much longer time period than the six months it took to accumulate this death toll.

There are always studies or beliefs about many different supplements that don’t pan out.  Pointing to a specific supplement is much like a fad diet.  There may be for some people some relief but this is perhaps not due to the supplement itself but rather other factors, one unchangeable one is the luck of having “good genes” from your parents.

Rather than pin our hopes on something that actually has “needs to be studied further” (this is from the article not me) we can focus on much less glamorous options.

  • good diet
  • enough exercise
  • plenty of sleep
  • healthy body weight

A good diet will ensure that you get all the nutrients you need along with plenty of fiber.  Exercise doesn’t have to be 2 hours in the gym, it can be as simple as taking the stairs where there are escalators, park at the back of the parking lot when shopping, or taking an evening stroll.  If you do go outside and catch about 10-30 minutes of sunshine a few days a week you will have gotten your vitamin D.  There is inevitably not enough time to do everything and so going to bed on-time may feel like a punishment but it does guarantee your body is well rested and able to fight off infections.  This might be the common cold or even Covid 19.

Yet, lets take the side of suppliments for a moment.  What harm could a little extra vitamins do? Well, actually a lot. 

  • nausea
  • bloody stools
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • fluid build up lung/liver
  • hair loss
  • liver damage
  • severe headaches
  • bone pain
  • blurred vision
  • dry skin
  • vomiting
  • abnormal heart rhythm
  • constipation
  • frequent urination
  • muscle weakness
  • confusion
  • blood clotting issues
  • nerve damage
  • jaundice
  • elevated liver enzymes
  • nausea
    https://www.flushinghospital.org/newsletter/can-you-overdose-on-vitamins/

I wrote this because I had received an email about how vitamin D deficiency might cause a 1.77 times greater chance to get the Covid 19 virus.  I find that to be a bit suspect as it sounds like they are advertising a silver bullet, but also because the article itself says

“… a finding that suggests that suggests randomized trials may needed to determine whether vitamin d affects covid 19 risk.”

I believe that this sentence can be paraphrased to the following.

“… this is an interesting observation but we need to actually test it to see if there is any causation”

In addition to just change to live a healthy lifestyle it might be a good idea to have a sceptical eye on health suggestions from the news … unless it is eat all of your vegetables.

Definitions 

A correlation between variables, however, does not automatically mean that the change in one variable is the cause of the change in the values of the other variable. 


Causation indicates that one event is the result of the occurrence of the other event; i.e. there is a causal relationship between the two events.

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The irrationality of bottle deposits

When I was younger, growing up in the USA,  I would see the occasional bottle littering the street and thought that perhaps if we simply sold all softdrinks in glass bottles with deposits this problem would go away – no more bottles in the streets and less garbage in the landfills.

Wow, a few years later in a different country that attempts to fulfill that dream has really changed my mind against such a solution.

In Germany a lot of drinks are sold with bottle deposits.  Rather than having a single coherent policy they initially opted for a jumbled up mishmash approach.  The easiest target for such a deposit was softdrinks, energy drinks and beer.

0.25                    0.25                      0.00              0.25                 0.00

If you purchase a softdrink or can of beer you have to pay a 25 cent deposit on the container. When this was initially implemented it was done in literally the worst possible way.  You had to keep your receipt and bring both the bottle and the receipt back to the place you originally purchased the drink.

I have no idea how much of a windfall that was for the sellers of such drinks but it must have been fairly large.  Who had the time to track where you bought your drink and make a special effort to get back to that part of town (or another town) to get back the deposit all without loosing the receipt.

Fortunately, the law was changed so it was then possible to return the container to any shop that sold that type of drink.  It was about this time that machines came to the rescue in the form of bottle return machines.

Simply show up at your favorite grocery store and start to pop those bottles and cans into the machine.  A lot of the machines accept cans while some do not – this wasn’t such of a problem for me.

A bigger problem was that not all bottle types can be put into the machines.  There are two different types of plastic  bottles, single use versus refillable.  The refillable bottles are a different type of plastic and much sturdier.  Instead of the same 25 cents as the other plastic or cans these bottles have a deposit of 15 cents.

This wasn’t so much a new rate as the rate that has always been used for refillable plastic bottles while refillable glass bottles have always been just 8 cents per bottle.

The exceptions

One of the nice things about shopping in Germany is that when you see some item for sale that costs 9.99, you know that it costs exactly 9.99.  The retailers have the labels printed to include the tax that must be paid.

I don’t know how many times I have spoken with someone from Germany who visits America for the first time and doesn’t understand how it is done there. Just how much will an item will cost? They don’t understand why an item might not cost the same as the next city over due to a city tax.  Each state has its own state tax with some items being exempt from taxes while other products such as alcohol have extra taxes added on.

I feel the same way now when purchasing a drink from a gas station as sometimes there is no deposit but sometimes there is 8, 15 or 25 cents deposit required.  Sometimes the deposit is included in the price on the shelf while other times not.

More exceptions

From looking at some of the exceptions it appears that the deposits are not designed to help recycle certain plastics nor metals.  The deposits do not appear to specifically target juices or water as it is possible to purchase drinks in a tetrapak without paying any deposit.

I initially thought that perhaps this might be aimed at people who consume alcohol (ie beer) and throw the empty cans on the street.  This is a possibility but that rings a bit hollow as there is no other deposit required for wine, sparkling wine or hard spirits.

The problem revealed

This entire conspiracy of bottle deposits was fully partially cleared up not that long ago.  What had apparently happened was someone had managed to convince the politicians that it wasn’t soft drinks or alcohol that was the problem but rather it was carbon dioxide.  Yup, it is the people who consume products full of carbon dioxide that are littering the streets.  Thus this last round of bottle deposits was levied on beverages that contain the hated carbon dioxide.

In the meantime, I have to remember to take some empty bottles with to the store as they are really starting to accumulate.

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Just don’t vacuum in Germany

Every culture has its quirks. In America there is a lot of attention paid to the first and second amendment. These allow for free speech as well as the right to own guns. From looking at the various newspaper articles that pop up near every election (or after a large mass shooting) you would think that owning a gun is the most important right a person can have.

In Greece children’s teeth are not picked up by the tooth fairy but instead are tossed on top of the roof of their house. The ideas behind this custom is to bring good luck and a healthy replacement tooth.

Another odd custom, in my opinion, is “La Tomatina Festival” that is held in Buñol Spain. Every year, on the last Wednesday in August this festival takes place. I have read a number of different explanations of the history of how this began but the net result is that this is a food fight. Specifically this is with tomatoes.

Germany’s quirks are actually less dramatic than in some other countries but they can have a tendency to be a bit suffocating. I was reminded of this today when my son and I were doing a bit of crafts. Ok, ok, crafts might be slightly minimizing our efforts. We were in the middle of a multi day process of building a work bench for the garage (only a few hours a day).

The only power-tool that we currently own is a drill so most of our work is taking place with hand-tools. I guess we are not very efficient, or perhaps need more power-tools, as for the first two hours we only made about 4 cuts and the rest of the time was spent painstakingly adjusting these leg supports into the proper position, drilling a hole, and hand screwing the 5 inch screws into place. I know it was two hours because my helper pointed out that we were only half done.

Once we were finished we realized we needed a few tiny blocks to make sure that everything was steady. My son and I split up and started our work only to learn that there are rules in Germany about doing such activities. My bad, we were doing this on a Sunday in the afternoon.

I had just cut myself with the saw when I received a phone call. There is no point in going through the specifics. The net result was one of our neighbors thought we were making too much noise and so they called my wife. My neighbors had been googling the internet to locate the rules for what kinds and how much noise you can make on a Sunday.

I don’t have a comprehensive list of German rules but this is the one that came up today.

https://anwaltauskunft.de/magazin/leben/freizeit-alltag/ruhezeiten-darf-man-sonntags-bohren-haemmern-und-staub-saugen

If you don’t read German than this article will be a bit much. The summary for this is as follows. You can drill, pound or hammer but only if the noise level is not to loud. This also includes building furniture or longer vacuuming sessions. The idea is that there should be some sort of quiet time on Sunday to allow you to regather your strength from the working week.

So, I am on the phone with my wife bleeding as she is explaining that the neighbor will be getting a lawyer to sue us over this particular infraction. I guess a simpler first move might have been for my neighbor to have stopped by and explained that they find all of this hand sawing a bit much and could we take a break or stop all together.

I was also rather surprised by who had called us on such an obnoxious behavior on a Sunday. It wasn’t my mother-in-law, nor an octogenarian who lives nearby but actually a neighbor that is just into her forties.

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Math for politicians or poor students

I really hate to get too involved in talking about politics as it usually has very little return. It is not all that different from trying to convince someone to change religion. If the Catholics and the Protestants cannot agree with each other, despite having a lot of common ground between the two, then how could you convince the atheists or the Muslims to agree with the Christians.

Yet, it is not religion but math that causes me to fire up my computer this evening. I happened to read in the US press that 99% percent of Covid19 cases are harmless. On its face, this particular statement sounds a bit simplistic, but let’s run a few numbers to help prove this statement cannot be true.

Letting Google do most of the work, I have found that the chance of getting a serious is about 37%

The majority of people who become infected with coronavirus are not expected to become seriously ill, but a large segment of the U.S. adult population – one third (37.6 percent) of adults ages 18 and older – have a higher risk of serious illness if they do become infected due to their age or underlying medical condition.

kff.org

That particular statistic is almost directly in contradiction of the 99% harmless. That seems to simple to be the answer, so lets consider that if we are speaking about the same disease with a suitably large group of infected people then it seems reasonable that the number of infected people would be at a similar rate.

Here are a few statistics for a few different EU countries

Germany Confirmed 207,707

Germany Deaths 9,131

Germany Death Percentage 4.39%

UK Confirmed 301,455

UK Deaths 45,961

UK Death Percentage 15.1%

Singapore Confirmed 46,098

Singapore Deaths 27

Singapore Death Percentage 0.005%

It is true that in general the percentage of the deaths should be somewhat similar but this can also vary. There can be different strains of a virus but other factors such as general health and specific genetic factors which could either provide additional protection or additional susceptibility.

So none of these death factors, which is perhaps the easiest way to measure how harmless a disease is.

I guess as I am not able to find any other statistics that imply that the United States has a 99% chance that the Covid19 cases are harmless.

https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

https://ncov2019.live/

There is no evidence that I can find so I will simply use the John Hopkins data for the US as a final check.

US Confirmed 4,401,599

US Deaths 150,090

US Death Percentage 3.40%

I guess that politicians are not the best at math when it creates a contradiction to their narrative.

** Fact Check **

Failed

It almost makes you wonder if this level of attention to detail would be the cause for failing in the Casino industry.

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Hamsters and masks

I was speaking with a medical professional about the effectiveness of wearing a mask. There are a number of different types of masks, the N95 for example actually will filter out 95% of the airborne particles. This is an especially effective mask to wear in order to prevent from getting the corona19 virus.

There are other masks that are not of that same quality but health professionals ask, actually implore everyone to wear a mask as there is a belief this will help to prevent the spread. The logic is common sense, if people cannot easily spread airborn particles containing the virus then things will obviously be better.

Where is the proof?

Well, now there is proof. Hong Kong scientists have been conducting research on hamsters to prove that masks help to reduce the rate of spread. I only wish that I could have seen the little hamsters running around with little masks on.

More on this topic can be read from yahoo.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/coronavirus-hamster-research-shows-effectiveness-123507102.html

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Too many tests results in too many results

** conspirancy alert ***

It is pretty hard to not see what is going on in the USA with respect to the pandemic. There are a lot of reasons why things might not be doing so well there when compared to other countries.

  • Not wearing masks
  • Opening bars, restaurants, gyms, shops
  • Opening other crowded venues

The current cheerleader and chief has suggested that perhaps because so many tests are being done they are showing more people who are infected. Well, yes that might be the case to a minor level but taking tests is just holding up a mirror to reflect the current situation.

What is the conspiracy? Well, the president wants fewer tests and then I read in the newspaper that the federal government will be ending funding of various testing sites. This decision shortly after the president suggested reducing the testing would make everything look better sounds suspicious.

president says we need less testing and then the government funds less testing

This was a pretty clumsy way of trying to eliminate these statistics. Not only was it clumsy but quite a few of these federally funded sites were in one of the states, Texas, where the numbers were increasing. This was pretty worrisome, especially for the people in Texas, so within a few days this decision was reversed.

Wow, I wonder how we could somehow eliminate the nasty statistics that make the covid19 pandemic look bad in the US.

hmmmm

What if we forced all of the hospitals in the USA to change how and to whom they submit their covid19 statistics.

White House Strips CDC Of Data Collection Role For COVID-19 Hospitalizations

This wouldn’t be a prelude to removing any public access to this data.

Coronavirus data has already disappeared after Trump administration shifted control from CDC

If I didn’t know better I would look at this and think that perhaps someone thinks that everything is ok and perhaps everyone might forget about this if we could really hide some of these unflattering statistics from Covid 19.

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Covid Times

The biggest story in the newspapers over the last few months is not just bush fires.

  • Donald Trump’s impeachment
  • Bush fires in New South Wales, Australia
  • Prince Harry steps down
  • Kobe Bryant dies in helicopter crash
  • UK withdraws from European union

The covid19 pandemic has actually received quite a lot of press for a lot of reasons mainly the destruction to human life. Unlike an epidemic which is an outbreak in a particular region or community a pandemic is an epidemic that spreads over multiple countries or continents.

I was speaking with a doctor at my local hospital about the effects of the pandemic on the emergency room. Here in Germany, after the lockdown of many shops, the emergency room does test for the covid19 virus but unlike some other countries a fairly low percentage come back as positive.

My doctor was talking about the differences in hospitals around the world. Earlier in her career she did a internship at a hospital in the US. What is the difference between a hospital in the US and a hospital in Germany?

In both hospitals the staff are required to purchase their own shoes and stethoscopes. In both hospitals the doctors and nurses wear scrubs and heal the sick.

The most surprising difference is that the doctors in America must clean their own scrubs. Yup, at the end of the day they change into street clothes and pack their dirty scrubs into a bag to be washed at home. I always like to hope my home washing machine will do a fabulous job but I work in IT. When going to work I don’t get exposed to sick patients, strange diseases nor have anyone bleed on me. I might get some dust on my pants from crawling under desks but I think a standard wash machine will take care of it.

During normal non-covid19 times the doctors in America don’t have to wear a mask, well outside of the operating room. This is also true in Germany but the difference is that in the USA wearing personal protection equipment is optional. At my doctor’ hospital it is required to wear a mask and the physicians risk being fired if they are not wearing a mask. Oh, the masks are also provided by the hospital.

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Payday loans or modern day loansharking

I never thought about the sources of spam nor the types of spam until I started this blog. I must not have this site configured very well as I receive spam daily. I have tried to set things up to filter spam out but the spammers are actually much more clever. That is why today I am writing about payday loans.

I have been around and in some countries it is possible to have payday loans where the annual percentage rate is calculated to be the equivalent of 2600% and can even be advertised on the television. Wow, that is a hefty percent, boy am I glad that the USA doesn’t stoop to such business practices.

Well, I guess that last sentence was created with out a lot of thought or research. Of course payday loans are legal and I suppose even thriving in the land of the free. Not even in America’s heartland is it possible to escape.

What is a payday loan

A payday loan is a small short-term loan that is taken out with the intent of covering an immediate need that cannot be met with existing resources. Because this loan is a very short term it is expected to be repaid once you receive your next pay check. The average length of a payday loan is two weeks. A payday loan differs from a traditional loan in a few key points. A traditional loan is paid back in installments while a payday loan must be paid back in a single lump sum. Also installment loans are of a much longer duration ranging from months to years. The biggest difference of the two is the amount of interest paid for the privilege of the loan. A traditional loan interest rate is usually in the single digits while a payday loan is easily in the digits.

Wow, 100% interest? Nah, usually more like 400 or 500% interest but it is never really advertised that way. It is usually more in the way of a fee charged for the use of the money over life of the “loan”. I was looking at one such payday loan website to see just how much it might cost for a quick loan.

Finance charge. A finance charge will usually range from $15 to $30 per every $100 you borrow. If we use a two week loan as an example, your finance charges can cause interest rates grow to as high as 400-780% APR.

I guess they do advertise that the loan may have a 400% interest rate.

How to calculate APR.

For this example I am going to assume the following.

  • loan amount of $250
  • Fee of $20 per $100
  • loan duration two weeks

Annual percentage rate (APR) is calculated with the following steps.

  • Divide the finance charge by the loan amount ( 50 / 250 = 0.20)
  • Multiply the result by the number of days in a year (0.20 x 365 = 73)
  • Divide this result by the length of the loan (73 / 14 = 5.214)
  • Multiply by 100 to make this a percentage ( 5.214 x 100 = 521.4%)

The APR is not quite so intuitive as the common but incorrect calculation of what is the cost of the loan divided by the amount of money ( 50 / 500 = 0.2 ) multiplied by 100 to make a percentage (0.20 x 100 = 20%)

Rational for a payday loan

I get why someone might get into a financial bind. The alternator on their car breaks on December 26 which is also the same month their second child was born. Unexpected costs are both unexpected and hard to cover.

The payday companies are charging more interest than a bank because they are not expecting to build a long business relationship and it is possible that you might not pay them back. They do need to cover their costs and be able to continue to stay in business but it does seem that a 50 dollar fee for a two week loan of 250 dollars is excessive.

Perhaps using the word loansharking is not quite accurate. That word tends to conjoure images of someone who might break your leg if you don’t pay the load or come up with the “vig” by the end of the week. I guess a more accurate word might be usury.

Usury

The practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest.

During my research I found another source which does clearly describe the process.

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Pandemic Times – Testing for the win

I am uncertain where exactly I heard this particular quote.

“By the way, you know, when you say that we lead in cases, that’s because we have more testing than anybody else,”

Politico

I guess with small bit of information we are seeing what must be an unexpected surge in testing in some of the US states that have reopened. Much kudos for the states to go above and beyond to get some extra statistics in this time of turmoil.

The only thing that would be better to create a exceptionalism in testing would be to have a few large organized indoor events or perhaps a outdoor protest or two.

Not only bank robers wear masks.

Based on all available information this is not Don Ho#s brother

Wear a mask for the win.

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Deep fake in an environment of fake news

I remember reading an internet joke which was a job placement. It was looking for someone who would be willing to work for 40 hours a week, clean up messy spills and deal with diapers and up to 128 hours of unpaid overtime. Without actually referring to the positions title, “mom”, the list of all the tasks and hours sound pretty incredible to the average person who does not have this list of responsibilities.

I think about this as sometimes when I read articles about some of the voice operated assistants that are being invited into people’s living-room. Who would have thought even a few years ago that you would ask personal questions of a computer device that you might not say to a coworker or to your parents. This information is not only going to a big room full of computers but in many cases they are being stored for later analysis and evaluation by people.

  • Siri What are the symptoms of a STD?
  • Alexa I weigh 120 pounds am I obese?
  • Cortana Where is the best place to bury a body?
  • Google now How many sex partners are too many?

Not only are you sharing your most private thoughts but you are actually helping a nameless faceless corporation get better at understanding speech. Nobody actually thinks that this will be used against us in the future. Despite the lack of enough people to analyze everything I might have to say considering that there are millions of other Americans or billions of other Asians this becomes less of a problem when you start to include computers into the mix.

Thinking about being spied on at home is not something that usually causes any lost sleep. If you don’t want to be spied on then don’t give your money to a corporation that will be mining through your personal life trying to maximize their profit on their knowledge of you. What usually gets me is how many people are willing to trade their personal details for little or nothing.

Just recently a smart phone app Zao will allow you to upload a few photos of your face with various differences (blinking, moving mouth, …) to allow their system to analyze your face so it can then create deep fakes of other video footage. Your face could then replace Leonardo DiCaprio as the star of the Titanic or perhaps you become Tony Stark of Ironman.[1]

For me what is shocking is not just the people giving up their likeness but that the company could if they wanted create a database of people. The users sign up with their telephone number which allows a unique id for people who are already providing their picture.

The company whose app created such a stir was forced to issue a statement on pledging changes after critics attacked the app’s privacy policy, which had in it “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicenseable” rights to all user-generated content. [2]

The most important aspect of this situation is the input data for their developers. As a software developer it is often difficult to get good test data. This particular app had become an overnight success and ended up on the top download spot in the Chinese IOS store despite the with it despite rather draconian permissions.

Neither the Chinese government nor Zao are the only companies or governments that want or use facial recognition. Abuses of facial recognition will inevitably occur simply due to the number of closed circuit television cameras and the ravenous nature of both private industry and government to track people.

I cannot stop the eventual tides of survellience but I do have the power to not invite the intruders into my house.

[1] https://hypebeast.com/2019/9/viral-deepfake-app-zao-facial-recognition-swap

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/sep/02/chinese-face-swap-app-zao-triggers-privacy-fears-viral

zao

https://www.pocket-lint.com/apps/news/149159-what-is-zao-and-why-is-everyone-talking-about-it

morphing examples

https://www.theguardian.com/news/shortcuts/2019/aug/13/danger-deepfakes-viral-video-bill-hader-tom-cruise

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