When All You Have Is a Hammer...

Australia has some of the biggest natural gas reserves in the world, so when looking around for something to juice the post-C19 economy, what better solution than to push gas as the best option, despite the fact that it’s not a climate friendly as people think.

Both Woodside and Santos have resisted the push, and argued that gas is a “clean” fuel and part of the climate solution. Like Taylor, they claim Australian gas exports are an environmental good as they reduce coal in Asia. Neither the government nor industry have provided evidence to back this up, and officials have acknowledged the competition in Japan – still Australia’s biggest gas market – is increasingly with zero emissions nuclear and renewable generation.

Andrew Grant, head of oil, gas and mining with London-based financial thinktank Carbon Tracker, says the global view of gas has flipped from it being seen as a cleaner fuel than coal, to it being the second-least desirable source of electricity.

Apparently it’s the future, though that’s not supported by any evidence - it’s just a useful way of trying to force fracking upon the states against their populations’ will.

Local Insects

A grasshopper on my garden fence.

That dot above they second set of legs is its tympanum - basically its ear.

Grasshopper

Local Insects

A Hibiscus Harlequin Bug apparently. Landed on my finger at Wilsons Outlook Reserve last weekend.

Hibiscus Harlequin Bug

Notes, May 1st

Mutation Tracking

Interesting article from the New York Times on tracking the spread of C19 by looking at genetic mutations in samples from various places.

That combination of old and new mutations suggested that the student did not acquire the coronavirus from someone who had recently arrived from another country. Instead, the coronavirus was probably circulating undetected in the Seattle area for about five weeks, since mid-January.

Since then, viruses with a genetic link to the Washington cluster have now appeared in at least 14 states and several countries around the world, as well as nine cases on the Grand Princess cruise ship.

Mobile Positioning

With various countries rolling out apps to assist with contact tracing, here’s a look at the various ways to determine position from a mobile phone and why Bluetooth makes the most sense for those apps.

This tells you not much – if anything at all about absolute location, but it does tell you about proximity with high confidence and decent precision and isn’t as creepy as RRLPing the planet. That sounds like what we’re after and there’s a good reason the Singaporean health ministry, NHSX, the Apple/Google joint project, and a bunch of others have converged on solutions that use BLE plus public-key cryptography. It does have some problems – notably, as Ross Anderson points out, it’s still radio and it doesn’t care if you were on opposite sides of double glazing, and there are complicated platform restrictions in Apple iOS to stop you being creepy and weird with it.

Humanity

Finally, Tim Harford has a nice reminder that despite all the stories of bad behaviour, the vast majority of people are actually well-behaved in a crisis

…a mere 3 per cent of shoppers had bought “extraordinary amounts” of pasta. Most of us were merely adjusting our habits to life spent away from restaurants, sandwich bars and offices with their own loo paper. We all went shopping a bit more often, and when we did, spent a little more. No cause for collective shame, but it was enough to strain supermarket supply chains.

What about those who ignore pleas to keep their distance? Again, the misdeeds are exaggerated. Lambeth council grumpily closed Brockwell Park in south London, complaining of 3,000 visitors in a single day — not mentioning that the park might easily see 10 times that number on a normal sunny Saturday, nor that taking exercise in a park is perfectly permissible.

Notes

General Nutters

The nut jobs are out in force with various fanciful theories related to C19, mostly designed to deflect criticism of Dear Leader Trump’s inept response and idiotic press statements. Bill Gates is a recent target.

Mr. Gates, 64, the Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist, has now become the star of an explosion of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus outbreak. In posts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, he is being falsely portrayed as the creator of Covid-19, as a profiteer from a virus vaccine, and as part of a dastardly plot to use the illness to cull or surveil the global population.

Apparently the fact that he gave a TED talk a few years ago is reason enough to have nutters foaming at the mouth.

How long more?

Der Speigel has an interesting interview with Dr. Gabriel Leung, Hong Kong epidemiologist, going over his thoughts on how we start coming out of lockdown - balancing the economic impact against the ongoing impact of the virus.

The baseline is: Every year, the flu kills a lot of people in Europe, thousands, even tens of thousands. But you don’t get a riot every year. So, it seems to be acceptable to people to deal with that level of morbidity and mortality. Nobody likes it, but it is tolerated. Nobody asks for zero flu deaths. But if you exceed the capacity of your ICUs, then you would be breaching a very red line. So, somewhere between what people tolerate by implication every year and having completely overwhelmed ICUs like in New York City, somewhere between these extremes lie your tolerance levels.

Contact Tracing Apps

Governments are busy building apps to help with contact tracing via Bluetooth, which are hampered by the phone’s privacy protections. Normally we do not want to be tracked, so iOS in particular places sever restrictions on how an app can use Bluetooth in the background, rendering most contact-tracing apps useless.

But the policies, unveiled last week, apply only to apps that don’t result in the creation of a centralised database of contacts. That means that if the NHS goes ahead with its original plans, its app would face severe limitations on its operation.

The app would not work if the phone’s screen was turned off or if an app other than the contact tracer was being used at the same time. It would require the screen to be active all the time, rapidly running down battery life, and would leave users’ personal data at risk if their phone was lost or stolen while the app was in use.

Australia launched its app yesterday despite the above issues. It doesn’t work on iPhones unless it’s on screen. Apple and Google are working on their own interoperable changes to allow contact tracing apps to work in the background, but only in a strictly anonymised mode, so will be interesting to see how that fits in with various Governments’ plans.