Coronavirus | Dominik Mayer – Products, Asia, Productivity

The Source Code of a Coronavirus Vaccine  

Bert Hubert dives into the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 vaccine:

The code of the vaccine starts with the following two nucleotides:

GA

This can be compared very much to every DOS and Windows executable starting with MZ, or UNIX scripts starting with #!. In both life and operating systems, these two characters are not executed in any way. But they have to be there because otherwise nothing happens.

It’s absolutely fascinating how we’re just a combination of myriads of little biological computers.

How Vietnam Fought a Pandemic and Won  

For VnExpress Phan Anh retraced how Vietnam successfully contained the Coronavirus in the first and second wave. It all started way before other countries realized what was going on:

Despite its best preventive efforts, Vietnam recorded its first Covid-19 cases on January 23 in HCMC: two Chinese nationals, a father and a son, who were quarantined at Cho Ray Hospital after testing positive.

Immediately afterward, on January 24, Vietnam suspended all flights from and to Wuhan despite the World Health Organization (WHO) saying there was no need for widespread travel bans at that point in time.

More flight suspensions followed in the days after that as more cases sprouted up until finally flights to China were completely stopped on February 1.

The Lab-Leak Hypothesis  

Nicholson Baker writing for the New York Magazine:

What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe. It was an accident. A virus spent some time in a laboratory, and eventually it got out. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began its existence inside a bat, then it learned how to infect people in a claustrophobic mine shaft, and then it was made more infectious in one or more laboratories, perhaps as part of a scientist’s well-intentioned but risky effort to create a broad-spectrum vaccine. SARS-2 was not designed as a biological weapon. But it was, I think, designed.

He explains how scientists could make a virus infecting mice mutate to now infect hamsters:

They did it using serial passaging: repeatedly dosing a mixed solution of mouse cells and hamster cells with mouse-hepatitis virus, while each time decreasing the number of mouse cells and upping the concentration of hamster cells. At first, predictably, the mouse-hepatitis virus couldn’t do much with the hamster cells, which were left almost free of infection, floating in their world of fetal-calf serum. But by the end of the experiment, after dozens of passages through cell cultures, the virus had mutated: It had mastered the trick of parasitizing an unfamiliar rodent. A scourge of mice was transformed into a scourge of hamsters.

Read the article, make up your own mind.

Nurses, Doctors and a Pilot  

In case you’re not following Vietnam’s Coronavirus success story you might not be aware of “Patient 91”, a British Vietnam Airlines pilot that was the most severe Corona patient in the country.

He caused one of the largest clusters of infections in Southern Vietnam and was comatose for over two months. During this time the news media reported on all the details of his health. From blood levels to treatment plans.

Now the pilot is awake and the media shares pictures, videos and a conversation between patient and doctor.

Today, VnExpress’s Anh Thu wrote an article about the nurses and it’s pure gold. Some of my favorite parts:

The patient is over 1.8 m tall and weighs 88 kg, while the average female nurse only weighs around 40 kg.

And:

After the patient exited a two-month coma, one of the biggest challenges proved to be his Scottish accent, which the nurses found hard to understand, fueling his bad moods and the frequent scolding of nurses.

And:

He is quite sensitive and has a low pain tolerance. Nurses must inform and explain in detail any procedures prior to commencement, according to gentle and resilient Tham.

The patient’s eating regime and taste also proved a major obstacle. When he started eating again, Vietnamese cuisine simply did not appeal, forcing the hospital kitchen to dish up anything from spaghetti to western-style lamb chops.

And:

“He is very sensitive and cries easily,” Thi said.

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing 😆.

Privacy at Apple  

Former Apple engineer David Shayer explains on TidBITS why he trusts Apple’s new exposure notification. He touches the internal processes that prevent excessive user tracking:

Once I had recorded how many times the Weather and Stocks apps were launched, I set up Apple’s internal framework for reporting data back to the company. My first revelation was that the framework strongly encouraged you to transmit back numbers, not strings (words). By not reporting strings, your code can’t inadvertently record the user’s name or email address. You’re specifically warned not to record file paths, which can include the user’s name (such as /Users/David/Documents/MySpreadsheet.numbers). You also aren’t allowed to play tricks like encoding letters as numbers to send back strings (like A=65, B=66, etc.)

Next, I learned I couldn’t check my code into Apple’s source control system until the privacy review committee had inspected and approved it. This wasn’t as daunting as it sounds. A few senior engineers wanted a written justification for the data I was recording and for the business purpose. They also reviewed my code to make sure I wasn’t accidentally recording more than intended.

Read the whole thing. It’s fascinating.

The Liar Tweets Tonight

New lyrics for a new time. Roy Zimmerman and friends to the melody of The Lion Sleeps Tonight:

In the White House, the mighty White House the liar tweets tonight
In the West Wing, the self-obsessed wing the liar tweets tonight

Coronavirus: What’s Behind Vietnam’s Containment Success?  

Chris Humphrey writing for the South China Morning Post:

“Vietnam responded to this outbreak early and proactively. Its first risk assessment exercise was conducted in early January – soon after cases in China started being reported,” Park says.

I’m impressed with Vietnam’s reaction to this crisis. They closed cinemas, bars, karaoke parlors early, then restricted access to restaurants and finally closed everything that’s not absolutely necessary.