Facts NOT Fear

We have entered the stage of 24 hour news cycle about the Coronavirus, Covid-19.  The virus has devastated our economy and certainly my business will take some time to get back on track WHEN we are allowed to reopen.

I am a daily shopper (well, I WAS a daily shopper). It is just my wife and I now that are kids are grown. I have NO idea what I am going to make for dinner until. go to the store and see what looks good.  Early last week I was at the store, it was fairly quiet and the shelves were starting to look “normal” again. There was one man pushing a completely overloaded cart. Filled with enough food for months. The complete look of terror on his face was what struck me. I felt so bad for him.  He had been worked up into such a frenzy that he was fear shopping. Buying things before anyone else did.

I blame this on the national politicians in our country. ALL SIDES.  For decades they have just peddled fear. Be afraid of the other side. Be afraid of the other country. Be afraid of that person who doesn’t look like you. Be afraid of that person who doesn’t think like you.

What happened to humanity?

This is a time for FACTS not FEAR.  Here are the facts and this is what we can do to make it better and improve our odds.

I came across an article on Yahoo news finance. It was had some great facts about the spread of the virus and what to expect.  I have edited it just for readability.  IT IS GOING TO BE OK.  It is just going to take a while.

Inan Dogan, PhD

Executive Summary

Right now 2 million Americans are infected with the coronavirus. The total U.S. death toll by April 15th will be more than 20,000. We estimate that 80 thousand of the 2 million infected Americans will be hospitalized over the next 2 weeks.

Thesis:

./////////////,,,,,,Three parameter estimates are needed to predict the number of infections and number of deaths over the next 3 weeks: infection fatality rate, infection growth rate, and the number of days between initial infection and resolution (either death or recovery) of the infection.

1. We now estimate that the coronavirus’s fatality rate is ~0.8%. This means 1 out of every 125 infected people will die. We know that almost all countries had problems with testing and identifying all infected people. There are two exceptions to this: South Korea and Japan’s Princess Diamond cruise ship.

South Korea tested more than 320,000 people and identified 8652 infections. The total number of deaths was 94. This means South Korea’s case fatality rate is 1.09%. We believe there are still a considerable number of South Koreans who were asymptomatic and weren’t tested. So, we estimate that the actual fatality rate is anywhere from 0.5% and 1%.

In early February the Princess Diamond cruise ship was quarantined in Japan after one of the passengers tested positive. This was a bad idea for passengers as a total of 712 passengers were eventually infected and 7 of these people died. As far as I know all 3000+ passengers of this cruise ship were tested, so we have a reliable dataset with pretty accurate number of infections and number of deaths. The case fatality rate on Princess Diamond is 0.983%. We know that the fatality rate is higher among older people. Assuming that the median age of passengers on Princess Diamond is greater than America’s, which is 39, we can estimate that the new coronavirus’ fatality rate will be around 0.8% in America (maybe a little lower, but this is a nice round number).

2. This paper estimates that an infection takes around 23-24 days to resolve. The first 5-6 days the patient doesn’t show any symptoms. It takes an average of 5 days between the onset of symptoms and hospitalization. Finally it takes about 2 weeks between hospitalization and death (about 10 days in ICU).

3. There is no accurate direct way of calculating the infection growth rate because there is a huge variation in the number of people we are testing. [We were testing only a few people a couple of weeks ago, so we identified only a small number of infections. In recent days we started testing a large number of people (especially in New York) and now our case count is growing at alarming rates.] However, we can assume that the death rate is constant and we use the change in deaths to estimate the infection growth rate. There is a 23-24 day lag between an infection and the resolution of that infection. This means the growth rate in the number of deaths today is a very good estimate of the infection growth rate 23-24 days ago.

On March 19th, the U.S. reported a total of 205 deaths. That figure was 85 on March 16th and 47 on March 13th. This means the number of deaths doubles about every 3 days. This also means that the number of infections were doubling every 3 days on February 25th (the people who are dying today were infected on February 25th).

So, here is my simple mathematical model.

For the sake of argument, I am going to assume that all 205 American deaths occurred on March 19th and all of these people were infected on February 25th (this assumption simplifies calculations, we don’t need a complex model to have a thorough understanding of what is going on).

Our estimate for the fatality rate is 0.8%; this means for every death we have 125 infections. Since we have 205 total deaths, there must have been 205 times 125 total infections on February 25th. That’s 25,625 infected people. If you understand this part of the calculation, the rest of our analysis is pretty straightforward.

The number of infected people doubles every 3 days. So, on February 28th the number of infected people doubled to 51,250 (let’s round it down to 50,000). Three days later, on March 2nd, the number of infected people doubled again to 100,000.

Do you see start to see the gravity of the situation? There were 100K infected people on March 2nd in America. We know that 0.8% of these people will die by March 26th. That means our death toll will be 800 on March 26th [you can verify the accuracy of our model on March 26th by comparing the actual death toll to our estimate].

Our model tells us that the number of infections doubled again on March 5th, reaching 200,000.

Our model also tells us that the number of infected people was 400,000 on March 8th, 800,000 on March 11th, and 1.6 million on March 14th.

These calculations imply that the American death toll will be 12,800 on April 7th. To put that in perspective, yesterday, the total death toll in Italy was 3400 and 3000 in China.

I know that these are just estimates, but even if my estimates are off by 50%, we will have still twice as many coronavirus deaths as China 2.5 weeks from now.

Enter social distancing. On March 14th, various municipalities and agencies started introducing social distancing. The practice eventually began to be suggested or required in the hardest hit parts of the nation.

The good news is that we started cancelling schools and closing down restaurants around March 14th. So, the number of total US infections isn’t doubling every 3 days anymore. Unfortunately, the horse is already out of the barn. As of March 14th, one out of every 200 Americans is already infected.

Italy put the entire country under lockdown 12 days ago, yet its death toll is still increasing exponentially. That’s because there is a 24 day lag between an infection and its resolution. We haven’t put our country under a lockdown yet. (As of 3/24 the death toll in Italy, although staggering, has decreased. Showing that social distancing has worked. TR)

Except a few educated people, no one has any idea that there are already around 2 million infected people in America today and the American death toll will exceed 15,000 in just 24 days. If we don’t take strict measures, we will be reporting 1000 deaths per day in just 3 weeks.

This is a mathematical certainty. It is inevitable.

China taught us how to contain the coronavirus outbreak. We have to put the entire country under a strict lockdown.

Update 1 (March 21, 2020): The number of deaths on the Princess Diamond cruise ship increased to 8. The case fatality rate for this group is 1.12%. This doesn’t change any of our parameters or estimates. We still expect to see around 800 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. by the end of March 26th.

 

 

A Season of Hope. We can have better days.

fullsizeoutput_3ea1The days are getting longer. Each minute brings us closer to summer here in the Northern Hemisphere.

2019 has taken a toll. A toll on our patience. A toll on un individually and collectively.  We need to remember that we are of one race. The human race. When one of us succeeds- we each succeed. It breaks my heart and my spirt to see people walk by a struggling individual. To see a mighty nation turn it’s back on it’s neighbor.  I still hold out hope for us. We are truly better than what we have recently shown.

Time does not have a rearview mirror or reverse. It can only move in one direction. We have HOPE for better days.

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

I need someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And thats faith and trust and peace while we’re alive
And the one poor child who saved this world
And there’s 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

Some great artists have been taken from us this year.

One of my favorite groups in the late 70’s and 80’’s was The Cars.  Singer/songwriter Ric Ocasek died of cardiovascular disease at the age of 75.

Rest In Peace.

Happy New Year All.

Peace,

Tony

A Season of Hope. Christmas Truce

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This time of year we really need to put aside our differences.

When we say “PEACE ON EARTH” remember that peace doesn’t see race, color, or religion. I truly believe that 99.9% of all people on earth want the same thing.

A roof over our head

A better life for our children

A world of peace and prosperity.

To Love and be Loved.

Lets focus on our similarities not our differences.

100 years ago- PEACE BROKE OUT.

During World War I, on and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies.

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.

On Christmas Eve, many German soldiers put up Christmas trees, decorated with candles, on the parapets of their trenches. Hundreds of Christmas trees lighted the German trenches and although British soldiers could see the lights, it took them a few minutes to figure out what they were from. Could this be a trick? British soldiers were ordered not to fire but to watch them closely. Instead of trickery, the British soldiers heard many of the Germans celebrating.

Time and again during the course of that day, the Eve of Christmas, there were wafted towards us from the trenches opposite the sounds of singing and merry-making, and occasionally the guttural tones of a German were to be heard shouting out lustily, ‘A happy Christmas to you Englishmen!’ Only too glad to show that the sentiments were reciprocated, back would go the response from a thick-set Clydesider, ‘Same to you, Fritz, but dinna o’er eat yourself wi’ they sausages!’

In other areas, the two sides exchanged Christmas carols.

They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang ‘The first Noël’, and when we finished that they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs, ‘ O Tannenbaum’. And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words ‘ Adeste Fidéles’. And I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.

British and German troops meet in no man’s land. Boxing Day, 1914. Photographed by 2nd Lt Cyril Drummand, RFA.
British and German troops meet in no man’s land. Boxing Day, 1914. Photographed by 2nd Lt Cyril Drummand, RFA.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.

Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield, but even a world war could not destory the Christmas spirit.

Right now I feel many times we find a reason to have a fight and to fight a war. I think it is time we have a reason to wage peace.

Peace to All of you. Pass it on.

 

Even the SADDEST Christmas song can give you hope. Here is one of my personal favorites.

It is a song I tried to sing to my kids when they were little.

 

 

Peace.

A Season of Hope. There is Beauty Out There- if you look.

The world is filled with beautiful and amazing things. You need to slow down to see slowdown and notice. It may be a flower growing in a trash filled vacant lot. It may be the white helmet volunteers in Syria. It may be a young girl with autism in Northern Ireland with the voice of an angel.

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Girl With Autism Sings A Stunning Rendition Of ‘Hallelujah’

It’s not just good because she’s dealing with autism … It’s good because it’s good — really good.

This 10-year-old’s rendition of “Hallelujah” would have given Leonard Cohen himself chills. Turn the volume up and give it a listen.

 

Kaylee Rodgers, a student who has autism and ADHD, sang the solo part for the famous tune during her school choir concert at Killard House School in Donaghadee, Northern Ireland, and the performance went viral.

Rodgers’ voice is stunningly beautiful ― and she exudes confidence while she sings with her classmates. Tracy Rodgers, Kaylee’s mother, told the BBC that Kaylee’s music teacher, Lloyd Scates, played a huge part in nurturing her special talent.

“She always loved singing, but it wasn’t until she started at Killard House School that she really came into her own,” she told BBC. “[Mr. Scates is] like her safety blanket ― he’s amazing.”

Killard House principal Colin Millar told ITV that Kaylee was very shy when she started at the school. She “wouldn’t really read out in class,” he said. So “to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing … It takes a lot of effort on Kaylee’s part.”

Go and find beauty in the world today.

Peace.

A Season of Hope. Winter Solstice

The winter solstice has been celebrated in cultures the world over for thousands of years. As the shortest day/longest night of the year, this start of the solar year is a celebration of light and the rebirth of the Sun. We have all completed one more official journey around the Sun.

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As the Winter Solstice has arrived, it is a time to consider yin and yang, darkness and light – and the exquisite balance that exists between all things. After weeks of shortening days, we have been affected in a number of ways by the scarcity of light and the growing darkness. Though we may have experienced sadness or slowness as a result of this winter season, we must also remember that the darkness is necessary in order to experience light.

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Many of us gather with our friends, family and loved ones, and no matter what tradition we observe for this holiday season, we begin to create our own light – the light of the love we feel for those we care the most about. It’s also a time for remembering those we love that are not with us- those who are separated from us by miles or death or simply the loss of relationship.

Many of the customs, lore, symbols, and rituals associated with the Solstice have survived into the 21st century so let’s see how we can join in this ancient celebration to bring love, light, joy and meaning to this season.

ENLIVEN YOUR SURROUNDINGS with the color red. The color of the sun is energizing, and symbolic of love, courage, warmth, fire. Wear red sweaters, scarves and hats, light red candles, bring in red flowering plants (the red poinsettia is a great one). The color red has a powerful effect in the darkest days of the year to lighten your mood and create a festive, heartening atmosphere.

ADORN YOUR HOME with sacred herbs and colors. Decorate your home in holiday colors red, green, and white. Place holly, ivy, evergreen boughs, and pine cones around your home, especially in areas where socializing takes place. Hang a sprig of mistletoe above a major threshold, an evergreen wreath on the front door to symbolize the continuity of life and the wheel of the year. Bring in a Christmas tree with colored lights.

CONVEY LOVE to family, friends, and associates. At the heart of the Solstice was the custom of family and friends feasting together and exchanging presents. Continue this custom by visiting, entertaining, giving gifts, and sending greetings by mail and/or phone. Play games, enjoy children, roast chestnuts over an open fire (what fun). Consider those who are and/or have been important in your life and share appreciation.

HONOR THE NEW SOLAR YEAR WITH LIGHT. If you have an indoor fireplace or an outdoor fire circle, burn an oak log as a Yule log. Decorate the inside and/or outside of your home with electric colored lights.

PARTY HEARTY on New Years’s Eve, not just to welcome the calendar year but also to welcome the new solar year. Celebrate and remember how much the sun means to our planet earth, bringing heat, and light.

CONTRIBUTE TO THE MANIFESTATION OF MORE WELLNESS ON OUR PLANET Donate food and clothing to the poor in your area. Volunteer time at a social service agency. Put up bird feeders and keep them filled throughout the winter to supplement the diets of wild birds. Donate funds and items to non-profit groups, such as churches and environmental organizations. Meditate for world peace. Work magic for a healthier planet. Make a pledge to do some form of good works in the new solar year.

CELEBRATE As you think about setting goals for next year, take some time to write down and celebrate everything you have accomplished this year. Keep your focus on your successes. Be careful of negative self-critical thoughts coming in when you remember the goals you did not achieve. Put those on your list for next year.

CELEBRATING keeps our focus on the positive and attracts more for us to celebrate. Take this energy of celebration with you into the new year and keep it with you throughout the whole year.

However big or small the occasion, look for excuses to be in a state of celebration. You can celebrate failures too. They open doorways for something new to come in. Your positive attitude will make sure you attract more positivity and goodness.

A Season of Hope. Unexpected Gifts

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This time of year is a weird time of year for me. I miss my friends from when I was growing up. I miss my current friends who I simply do not get enough time to spend with. I miss my family in NY and I miss my own kids who are busy with their own lives.

It can at times seem hopeless. But when I stop and look around- there are many reasons to have HOPE.
On tonyretrosi.com I have been writing that this is a SEASON of HOPE. It started off as a challenge to myself a few years ago. Could I come up with something hopeful to write every day for the month of December?
Since then, I have written and re-written these posting them. Editing them, reposting them.

Every now and then you get an unexpected gift. It could be a coffee, a note, or even just someone forwarding something to you that brings a smile to your face.

The other day I got a FB message from a friend out west. A young women who I met at a clinic I was doing. She had seen some of my “Season of Hope” postings and wanted to pass something on.

It made my day and I truly appreciate it. I look forward rtf seeing her again and I wish her well.

Thank You H.

I hope you have a great holiday.

Peace

 

What she sent me:

Look these guys up. A lot better than Greta and actually making a difference.The ocean cleanup is a super cool program! And has already been in effect for a few years and already making an incredible difference! It’s really cool I wanted to share some good news! Happy holidays!!

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A Season of Hope. TSO Old City Bar

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“Old City Bar”

In an old city bar
That is never too far
From the places that gather
The dreams that have been

In the safety of night
With its old neon light
It beckons to strangers
And they always come in

And the snow it was falling
The neon was calling
The music was low
And the night
Christmas Eve

And here was the danger
That even with strangers
Inside of this night
It’s easier to believe

Then the door opened wide
And a child came inside
That no one in the bar
Had seen there before

And he asked did we know
That outside in the snow
That someone was lost
Standing outside our door

Then the bartender gazed
Through the smoke and the haze
Through the window and ice
To a corner streetlight

Where standing alone
By a broken pay phone
Was a girl the child said
Could no longer get home

And the snow it was falling
The neon was calling
The bartender turned
And said, not that I care
But how would you know this?
The child said I’ve noticed
If one could be home
They’d be all ready there

Then the bartender came out from behind the bar
And in all of his life he was never that far
And he did something else that he thought no one saw
When he took all the cash from the register draw

Then he followed the child to the girl cross the street
And we watched from the bar as they started to speak
Then he called for a cab and he said J.F.K.
Put the girl in the cab and the cab drove away
And we saw in his hand
That the cash was all gone
From the light that she had wished upon

If you want to arrange it
This world you can change it
If we could somehow make this
Christmas thing last

By helping a neighbor
Or even a stranger
And to know who needs help
You need only just ask

Then he looked for the child
But the child wasn’t there
Just the wind and the snow
Waltzing dreams through the air

So he walked back inside
Somehow different I think
For the rest of the night
No one paid for a drink

And the cynics will say
That some neighborhood kid
Wandered in on some bums
In the world where they hid

But they weren’t there
So they couldn’t see
By an old neon star
On that night, Christmas Eve

When the snow it was falling
The neon was calling
And in case you should wonder
In case you should care

Why we’re on our own
Never went home
On that night of all nights
We were already there

THEN ALL AT ONCE INSIDE THAT NIGHT
HE SAW IT ALL SO CLEAR
THE ANSWER THAT HE SOUGHT SO LONG
HAD ALWAYS BEEN SO NEAR

IT’S EVERY GIFT THAT SOMEONE GIVES
EXPECTING NOTHING BACK
IT’S EVERY KINDNESS THAT WE DO
EACH SIMPLE LITTLE ACT

The point is – it is never too late to make a difference. Not just on Christmas Eve, any day. WHY NOT TODAY?

Peace

 

 

A Season of Hope. Cherish our Differences 

Our strength is in out differences.

Last night the US House of Representatives voted to Impeach President Trump. 9PLEASE KEEP READING- THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL RANT) Listening to the Republicans and Democrats state their case it was as if they were each operating on their on set of facts. I grew up in a time BEFORE “alternative facts”. The news was respected, even if you didn’t agree with it. In high school and college I had liberal friends, conservative friends, apathetic friends, cynical friends. We joked, we debated, we laughed and cried. What we never did was put each other down.

Have you ever heard the story behind this highest selling Christmas carol? Robert May was an advertising executive that first wrote the poem “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in 1939 as an ad gimmick for a local department store. 10 years later, May’s brother wrote the music. The song was turned down by Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, but Gene Autry recorded it. Today “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the highest-selling Christmas carol, at more than 25 million units.

Do you know why the carol is so loved? You might say that it’s the courage and fortitude of Rudolph, the apparent hero of the story. I think the real charm of the carol is found at the heart of what the carol is really about—grace! Despite that Rudolph was clearly an outsider and an apparent reject due to the glowing flaw of his shiny red nose, Santa chose him. When the fog rolled in and the moment became critical, Santa called on Rudolph, the reject reindeer with the big, weird, red nose to lead the pack. What everyone else saw as weakness, Santa saw as the vital component of strength to accomplish his purposes.

We each have things that make us unique. Instead of trying to hide those things and viewing them as a weakness, lets view them as a strength. Not just in ourselves but in others.

I was the weird kids growing up. I was the gymnast in a town full of football players. Look at me now! If I had listened to those who wanted me to blend in and conform I would not have be contributing to the lives of thousands of children.

As an employer, I am looking for people who are individuals but share our same passion. It is those differences that add spice to life and makeAtlantic Gymnastics an exciting place.

Cherish the differences in those around you. Appreciate each indivual.

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A Season of Hope. 19 Things That Made the World a Better Place

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There’s been good news this year. No, really. Mixed in amid the political chaos, climate crisis, and other human-made horrors, there have been shining moments in health, space and even politics that suggest progress hasn’t entirely halted. Here are our run-down of the most uplifting and inspiring news from 2019.

Scientists released the first photo of a black hole

A black hole is invisible, swallowing up light and emitting no detectable radiation. Yet, scientists working on the Event Horizon Telescope have shown us the unseeable — and it looks rather like a glowing bagel. The image is of the black hole at the centre of galaxy M87 and shows glowing plasma surrounding the black hole itself, with the darkness at the centre revealing the shape and size of the event horizon, as well as key information about how rapidly it’s rotating. With one black hole in the picture books, EHT is now looking at others — including Sagittarius A* at the centre of our own Milky Way. Read more at WIRED.

The first all-women spacewalk repairs the ISS

The first all-female spacewalk finally happened, but the pair had to wait for a new suit before they could step outside the International Space Station’s airlock. The historic spacewalk by Christina Koch and Jessica Meir was set back by several months for a second medium-sized spacesuit to be sent up to the space station, highlighting the assumptions that hold back women in the workplace, even when it’s not on Earth. Koch and Meir spent five and a half hours outside the ISS to fix a power control unit. Read more at The Guardian.

Jodrell Bank awarded Unesco World Heritage status

After a decade-long bid, the Jodrell Bank Observatory was added to Unesco’s list of World Heritage sites. Home to the Lovell telescope – once the world’s largest, but now ranked third – the University of Manchester site has been used to watch the skies since 1945, and is where the science of radio astronomy was born. It joins the Palace of Westminster, Stonehenge, and the Lake District for British sites on the Unesco list. Read more at the BBC.

Eliud Kipchoge runs a 1:59 marathon

Getty Images / HERBERT NEUBAUER / Contributor

Running a marathon in less than two hours wasn’t supposed to be possible, but science and sporting talent combined in Eliud Kipchoge to break one of distance running’s biggest hurdles. The epic run was achieved through perfect food prep, which included drinking special energy drinks throughout the race, picking the perfect day for weather, custom-made shoes, and using pacers to block the wind. But even with that help, it was no small feat: to hit that time, Kipchoge ran the equivalent of a 100 metre sprint in 17 seconds, but 422 times in a row. Read more at WIRED.

Simone Biles becomes most decorated gymnast ever

The 22-year-old American didn’t only win five gold medals at this year’s world championships, but did it with the largest points margin of her career while performing her own stunt, the Biles II — which involves a double backflip and three full twists — and in doing so, became the most successful gymnast ever. The achievement came a year after Biles confirmed that she too had been sexually assaulted by USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar, leading the athlete to speak out against the organisational cover-up but also to celebrate her own accomplishments, encouraging confidence for female athletes everywhere — even those that can’t do quite so many backflips. Read more at The Guardian.

Quantum supremacy is here

Google leaked a paper, and the world changed — suddenly, quantum supremacy was here. That milestone, when a quantum computer can solve a problem that a standard computer couldn’t in our lifetimes, has been on the horizon for years, with Google predicting it would reach it by 2017, and rivals hoping to do the same. But this year, for the first time, researchers at Google used a quantum processor called “Sycamore” to solve a random sampling problem. Sycamore took three minutes and 20 seconds to spit out an answer; the best of our current supercomputers would take 10,000 years. Quantum supremacy is only the first milestone, but it’s now been reached. Read more at WIRED.

Tesla builds a battery to go one million miles

One of the challenges of electric cars is declining capacity in batteries, which could require them to be replaced at high financial and environmental cost. But that could be solved with battery tech developed by Tesla’s head of battery research. Jeff Danh, who is also an academic at the University of Dalhousie, published a paper detailing a battery design based around a series of pouches that could last a million miles without losing capacity, even with constant recharging. With Danh’s design, capacity fell only four per cent after being recharged 3,400 times. Read more at WIRED.

DeepMind plays fair at StarCraft — and still beats us

Google-owned DeepMind’s AI royally thrashed professional StarCraft players — but it wasn’t playing fair. But in a second round, DeepMind’s AI had human-level restrictions to better mimic real gameplay, such as having to look through the in-game camera to see the map just like anyone else. It not only beat its human opponents, but played at an elite level — highlighting the success of the neural network at learning new skills in a real-world environment. Read more at WIRED.

Britain went two weeks without coal

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The road to fully renewable energy sources hit a milestone when the UK went two weeks without using coal to generate power — no small feat given coal provided 40 per cent of British electricity just six years ago. (The figures don’t include Northern Ireland, which shares a grid with Ireland.) While some of the power for those two weeks came from natural gas — not a carbon-free source — as well as nuclear, there have been gains in true renewables, with new records for solar and wind power. Read more at WIRED.

Norway says no to oil project

This year, millions of children skipped school to protest inaction over climate change, while Greta Thunberg shamed political leaders at the UN for their slowness to take up the fight. But Norway apparently heard, with its parliament refusing to sign off on a drilling project in the Lofoten archipelago. It’s one step towards keeping oil in the ground — in this case, three billion barrels of it. Read more at Bloomberg.

First electric aircraft takes flight for 15 minutes

A short, 15-minute flight from Vancouver could be the future of air travel. Harbour Air, which flies turbo-prop planes between the Canadian city and local island communities, worked with Australian engineering firm magniX to retrofit a 62-year-old six-seater seaplane with an electric motor and battery with 160km range. After the successful trial, Harbour Air hopes to electrify its entire fleet, but regulatory tests mean that will have to wait two years. Read more at The Guardian.

Britain’s carnivores are bouncing back

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iStockphoto / DamianKuzdak

A study of Britain’s carnivorous mammals revealed their numbers have improved despite lost habitat, the threat of busy roads, and government-approved culls. The Exeter University study showed that animals such as badgers, stoats, and weasels have improved since the 1960s, with otters, polecats and pine martens recovering from near extinction largely without human help. The only such animal still at risk is the Scottish wildcat. Read more at The Guardian.

Humpback whales recover from near extinction

A study in Royal Society Open Science reveals that the number of Western South Atlantic humpback whales has almost entirely recovered from mass hunting. By the mid 1950s, just 440 were believed to be left, but after a moratorium on hunting, they now number 24,900, close to the original population before the slaughter began three hundred years ago. Read more at Smithsonian Magazine.

UK porn block ditched

TonyBaggett / WIRED

Conservative politicians have spent the last five years pushing through plans to require age verification for porn websites in order to keep children from viewing adult material. After years of delays and plenty of criticism of the security and sanity of the various proposals, culture secretary Nicky Morgan admitted the plans had been shelved, hopefully for good. Read more at WIRED.

Abortion legalised in Northern Ireland

Four decades after the rest of the UK started to legalise abortions, Northern Ireland has finally followed suit, allowing women in the country the right to access the medical procedure. As abortion services are not yet provided, the UK government will pay for women to travel to England for the procedure — something women and girls have done for decades; last year, more than a thousand are recorded to have made the journey. As of next year, local services will mean such a trip is no longer required. Read more at New Scientist.

Humans placed in suspended animation

When trauma victims arrive in A&E, doctors have minutes to save their lives. Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine are buying medics more time by placing patients in suspended animation. Called emergency preservation and resuscitation, the procedure is used on patients with acute trauma whose heart has stopped beating and have lost at least half their blood, leaving them with a five per cent survival rate. To give surgeons time to operate, this procedure cools the patient by replacing their blood with cold saline, stopping brain activity. After two hours, the patient is rewarmed and their heart – hopefully – restarted. The work is still in trial phase, with results expected in 2020. Read more at New Scientist.

Antiretrovirals prevent HIV transmission

A Lancet study of 1,000 couples over eight years revealed that the use of antiretroviral drugs prevents transmission of HIV. Not only does that mean those with HIV need not worry about infecting their partners, but suggests that if everyone with HIV had access to treatment, there need not be any more infections.

That good news comes as researchers have revealed a second man has been cleared of the HIV virus using a bone marrow transplant. The treatment was given for the unnamed patient’s cancer, and the procedure is largely unused for HIV infections because bone-marrow transplants can be risky and other treatments are preferred. However, researchers hope it could lead to new treatment techniques and say it proves that HIV is curable. Read more at The Guardian.

li Xin/AFP/Getty Images

Google is still capable of listening to criticism, in at least one case. Project Dragonfly was the codename for controversial plans to launch a censored search engine for China, ten years after it departed over disagreement with the government over the issue. Dragonfly would have blocked results for sensitive searches, such as “Tiananmen Square”, as well as sources such as the BBC and Wikipedia. But, after the plans leaked, Google quietly killed the project.

Given all the dodgy decisions made by Google this year – suspending its AI ethics board after appointing a right-wing think tank leader, hoovering up health data via Project Nightingale, plus an investigation into whether it fired staff in retaliation for activism against company policies on hate speech – it’s good to see a bit of light, and know that the behemoth can still be influenced on moral grounds. Read more at the BBC.

Greggs’ vegan sausage roll sparks meat-free fast food frenzy

Greggs makes sausage rolls, so it made one for vegans. It pissed off Piers Morgan, caused queues and sellouts, and helped bump profits for the baked goods chain by 58 per cent. Now, Tesco and M&S both offer vegan sausage rolls, KFC is set to start selling a vegan chicken burger and McDonalds is considering vegan options, making it easier to eat fast food without the impact on the environment or animals. It’s a good time to be vegan, even if just for a meal. Read more at The Independent.

A Season of Hope. Compassion

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For the last nine years, Eric Schmitt-Matzen has dressed up as Santa to spread joy around Knoxville, Tennessee.

A few weeks ago, he also brought peace to a five-year-old terminally ill boy, who ended up dying in his arms.

The 60-year-old Schmitt-Matzen was working at his day job as a mechanical engineer in Jacksboro when a nurse called him from a nearby hospital.

The name of the hospital is not being named out of the privacy of the parents.

“She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “I told her, ‘OK, just let me change into my outfit.’” She said, ‘There isn’t time for that. Your Santa suspenders are good enough. Come right now.’”

When Schmitt-Matzen got to the hospital, he was taken to the Intensive Care Unit where he met the boy’s family and was given a toy to give to him.

Schmitt-Matzen also gave the boy a pep talk.

“I sat down on his bed and asked, ‘Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas! Why, you’re my Number One elf!

“He looked up and said, ‘I am?’

“I said, ‘Sure!’”

Schmitt-Matzen said the boy then asked him point blank: “They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”

The kindly Kris Kringle figure told the boy to just tell everyone “you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”

Schmitt-Matzen then hugged the boy as the child died in his arms.

The story has since gone viral and is touching people based on social media comments.

The experience was emotionally draining for Schmitt-Matzen, who admits he thought about hanging up his Santa suit for good.

He has since changed his mind after doing what he thought was one final show, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

“When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play,” he said. “For them and for me.”