How Czechia Flattened the Curve (Maybe, Hopefully)

Our current prime minister has been in the past often criticized as akin to Donald Trump re: conflict of interests and use of state resources to enrich himself and his family. And rightly so in my opinion, I cannot stand the man personally and politically.

However, when SARS-CoV-2 hit the Czech Republic, he, unlike Donald Trump, has done the right thing. In response to the pandemic, he has left decisions on the policy to actual epidemiology experts from the very beginning. Thus when CZ had mere 116 cases, 12 days after the first three on March 1., he declared a state of national emergency and just two days later virtually everything was put on hold except the absolute bare minimum (grocery stores, delivery services, apothecaries and some more). It was criticized by the opposition (our equivalent of US conservatives) as needless panic-making and fearmongering and the measures as needlessly draconian and a PR for himself and his party. Especially the order of mandatory face masks (home-made and improvised masks are allowed) was met with scorn.

On March 18. I have taken the data of confirmed cases so far, plotted them on a graph and calculated the best-fit exponential curve. It was at a daily increase of 39%, an effective doubling every two-three days, approsimately the same trajectory it has had all over Europe. This growth meant we should have over 140.000 cases today, but we, luckily, do not. We have less than 5.000. Howso?

Look at this graph:

The red curve is the actual cumulative cases as reported every day at midnight. The blue curve is the exponential best fit that I have calculated on March 18. And then there is the orange curve, which is also an exponential best-fit but only for the last week from March 28. to April 3. You can see that the two best-fit lines intersect on March 21.-22.

That is, in my opinion, the day when the enacted measures started to have a visible effect – eight to ten days after they were enacted. I do not know whether I am doing the right thing here mathematically – I have dabbled in statistics at work, but not in epidemiology – but it does seem right to me.

The new rate of growth is still exponential, but instead of 38% daily it is 8% daily. And although the difference between multiplying the cases daily by 1,08 instead of 1,39 does not intuitively look like much, it means the doubling of the cases is prolonged from mere 2-3 days to 10-11 days. Still not enough for an illness that can take up to 6 weeks to heal and kills 1% of infected people, but a very noticeable drop.

And AFAIK that drop is not due to insufficient testing. Testing has grown proportionally, although still not as much as it perhaps should have. But the ratio between positive/negative tests is getting lower, and that indicates that the drop in overall cases is real.

Now there is certainly much more to it than this oversimplified graph. For example, Germany took longer to enact strict active measures, relatively speaking. That is, CZ government enacted nation-wide strict measures when we had just several hundred people ill, whilst the German government did leave many decisions to individual states and instead of strict orders tried to control the situation with recommendations only at first. This has led to a bit of inconsistent reaction and different measures being enacted (and ignored by people) in different states. It worked, but not as much as was desired. Strong nation-wide measures started being implemented only when there were several thousand people ill already- at about the same time as in CZ. And at about the same weekend the curve began to break in Germany as well.

It was similar in Italy too, there the curve began to break at around March 15. (only estimated, I did not calculate the fit curves for Italy, I am doing this in OpenOffice and that is not the best program for this kind of work), about two weeks after the most-hit municipalities were put on lock-down.

Another quick analysis that can be done just by looking at the numbers – In Italy, it took 22 days for the cases to grow from about 100 to 20.000. In Germany, it took 24 days, in Spain 18 days, in UK and France 25 days and in the USA 20 days. The Czech Republic is now 24 days from its 100th case and we are nowhere near 20.000.

So even these amateurish and quick&dirty analyses show that quick reaction, regardless of what the nay-sayers say, is essential in avoiding the worst in case of an epidemic. The enacted measures work as intended. I only hope that our government and our people do not relax too soon.

Stay safe, stay at home whenever possible, and fingers crossed for you and your loved ones.

The Art of Book Design: The Violet Fairy Book

Andrew Lang. The Violet Fairy Book. Illustrated by H.H. Ford. London, New York, Longmans, Green, 1906.

Andrew Lang published a series of 12 Fairy Books, all identified by colour. The books were illustrated by H. J. Ford, and they’re filled with detailed black and white line drawings, plus a series of coloured plates. These books are amongst my favourite in the Fairy Tale genre and I’ve been saving them for a special occasion. I think the pandemic qualifies, and so for the next 12 weeks, Children’s Book Saturdays will feature the Andrew Lang series. We begin with the Violet Fairy Book, and it was difficult to choose which illustrations to share because there are so many that I like. I”ve attached all of the colour plates, plus many line drawings that include dogs, cats, snakes, lions, bears, boars, horses, dragons, plus a mermaid, because I know at least one mermaid fan out there. If you’d like to see the entire book, you can check it out at the link to The Internet Archive here and below. During the pandemic, The Internet Archive is allowing all their on-loan books out with no waiting lists, so now is the time to check them out. It’s easy to register (find a book you want, click the “borrow” button and the site will ask for your email – that’s all)  and they have millions of things you can check out all for free. Any book that isn’t offered for loan can be read at the site. The site also carries music, magazines and artwork. There’s a lot of good stuff for adults and children. Enjoy!

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What Remains After

Because I have so many links about art saved (>200), I’m trying to group them by themes. Today’s theme is abandoned spaces, and although the title seems a bit dark, it’s not a commentary on current events in the world. 

What remains after we are gone? After the life industrial has faded and transformed into its modern, shiny, robotic cousin? (Well, that’s how the moving pictures show it…)

The end of everything? The slow decay of silent things, with no one to witness their passing? The carcasses of once-great buildings, now uncertain in their unstable uselessness and sharp aura of danger? There is potential in these abandoned and lost spaces – but a melancholy potential, the complete opposite of new beginnings, a potential that is meaningless and only full of the possibilities of what could have been, what never was, what never will be. A lot of never will be.

From THE END OF EVERYTHING, by Jan Erik Waider.

Still, what it can be is a whole lot of art.

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Corona Crisis Crafting VII: Finally Finishing a UFO

In crafting circles, a UFO is an Un Finished Object and they tend to be common. You may remember that some time back voyager sent me a giftbox that contained lots of pressed leaves and I wanted to do something special with them. I had bought a set of small couch tables from IKEA and wanted to turn the larger one into a resin covered table. If you look at the pictures from Ikea, you can see that they’ve got a rim around them and I didn’t want to fill that with resin during the first casings, so I carefully taped around the rim using gaffer tape.

Well, let met put it like this: there’s still resin on my kitchen floor. Also some of the leaves very stubbornly refused to take on any resin. And removing the now resin glued gaffer tape took off parts of the white coating.

Now of course I needed something else to construct a barrier around the table and I decided that I could hotglue some firm plastic round it. Once it was finished I would heat the glue with a hairdryer and remove everything. This created a resin proof barrier. To hide all the horrible things that happened to the tablerim I poured some orange there. and tried to persuade the damn leaves to please let themselves be coated. In the end, the hot glue removal involved sharp knives and took off a lot more paint and I think you can see why I lost a bit of enthusiasm. Because I don’t have a router I needed to carefully round the new sharp rim by hand. Also the orange hadn’t managed to hide the damage completely, so I decided to leave it matte, which actually does look quite nice. At this point i was so fed up that the table went into the Lego room unfinished until I took it out again this week.

I painted the sides again where the colour had parted with the wood, and looking at it in the sunlight I noticed that my top was anything but nice. now I probably only have myself to blame. When mixing resin you have to make sure it’s well mixed. There are certain amounts that mix well in a 0,2l cup. Too little and you stir in too much air. Too much and you can’t mix thoroughly anymore. If you want to do it right you mix, pour it into a different container and mix again. Usually I am too lazy for that and when working with small amounts of coloured resin it doesn’t matter, because you mix it again when you add the ink and then you see perfectly well if you need to keep mixing. This time, not so much. I tried polishing it out with chrome polish, but that didn’t work. I tried 2000 grit paper to no avail and then decided to go back to 800 grit and you know how much that hurts. I got most of the “stains” removed and it does look ok when not seen in direct sunlight. Thank goodness the window in the Lego room is quite small…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved You can see the spots here where no resin ever stuck.

I do have ideas fro the second table in that set, now with a lot of knowledge about “how not to do it”. When I do that one I’ll probably give this one a well mixed top coat, but until then I#ll call it finished. Of course I#m less than totally happy with the result, but it’s still a pretty and unique piece of furniture.


The Importance of Having Soft Tissues

Everybody knows dinosaurs are awesome, but it’s also commonly known that scientists and artists are extrapolating heavily from the available fossilized remains – in other words, reconstructing the Jurassic past requires a lot of guesswork. What we think dinosaurs look like is a carefully estimated probability of which muscle attached where, based on the (sometimes very) few bones that are found.

However, from time to time the circumstances align just so and some soft tissues are also preserved – as formerly squishy soft things and also in the bones of dinosaurs.

Anyway, the whole point here is that I like to look at paleoart. But how do we know they are right? (Spoiler: we don’t, not really.) What C.M.Koseman has done is examine some modern day animals and try to reconstruct them from the point of view of a fossil hunter millions of years in the future (personally, I think there might be a multi-leg bias in future interpretations, but Koseman has done his best):

C.M. Kosemen is an Istanbul-based artist and author (along with John Conway and Darren Naish) of the 2012 book, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. A long-time creature designer, Kosemen had always had an interest in dinosaurs, but he embarked on his book with Conway after they began to realize that something was a bit off. “We were both dinosaur geeks, but the more we looked at these skeletons, and the more we looked at the pictures, we noticed that most mainstream dinosaur art didn’t look at dinosaurs as real creatures,” says Kosemen.

Most serious paleoart bases itself on the detailed findings of paleontologists, who can work for weeks or even years compiling the most accurate descriptions of ancient life they can, based on fossil remains. But Kosemen says that many dinosaur illustrations should take more cues from animals living today. Our world is full of unique animals that have squat fatty bodies, with all kinds of soft tissue features that are unlikely to have survived in fossils, such as pouches, wattles, or skin flaps. “There could even be forms that no one has imagined,” says Kosemen. “For example there could plant-eating dinosaurs that had pangolin or armadillo-like armor that wasn’t preserved in the fossil. There could also be dinosaurs with porcupine-type quills.”

I think he undervalues the vast majority of the artists who do draw prehistoric art, because the process involves a lot of imagination and creativity, with the added pressure of scientific accuracy. Certainly we don’t know the outer shapes of dinosaurs or other prehistoric creatures, so artists must work with what little scientific information they do have, and look at animals existing today, and then add layers of interpretation – not easy by any stretch. If Koseman is just arguing for more flamboyance, though, I’m 100% on board.

Anyway, the Atlas Obscura article has some examples from C.M.Koseman, and they are suitably creepy:

How a baboon skeleton might be interpreted by future paleoartists. via Atlas Obscura

My favourites are the swans, though – not going near those anymore!

Swans imagined as though they were featherless dinosaurs. via Atlas Obscura

Are these overexaggerations? Maybe. But until we see some real dinosaurs (someone invent that time machine and make it back alive, please), there is no way to know how accurate today’s interpretations (which have already changed so much).
The closest we can get, though, are the afore-mentioned paleoartists, and one of my favourites is Mark Witton:
Two main aspects of my life have, for as long as I can remember, been art and palaeontology. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil and have stubbornly refused to grow out of the dinosaur/palaeontology craze that afflicts most children. The latter proved so hard to shake that I studied for a degree in Palaeobiology and Evolution between 2002 – 2005 at the University of Portsmouth, UK and stayed there for my PhD studies between 2005 – 2008. I have since held a research position at Portsmouth. In 2010 I was honoured to be part of a joint University of Portmsouth/Royal Society exhibition which installed several models of giant flying reptiles in the centre of London (image of me and Bamofo, one of our giant azhdarchid models, right). In 2013 my book, Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy was published by Princeton University Press to critical acclaim. I now make a living as a technical consultant on palaeontological documentaries, palaeoartist, graphic designer and author.
He’s got a great collection of prints and books, and… household products. There’s a certain appeal to hiding behind a large T.Rex while enjoying a hot shower, I have to say.
Do check out his gallery, I will end with a small sample here:

Go look at more.

YouTube Video: I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike

I have a hate-hate relationship with all professional sports*, especially with zero-sum competitions. Apparently even that IMO shitty environment can be made even shittier for women by men who have no clue but wield a lot of power.

This video spoke to me for some reason.

*In short, they are unhealthy and they more often than not foster self-harm, tribalism, and abuse.

Mountains and Dreams

This is a small piece (finished painting 10x15cm) for a colleague-friend, who I have now known for a couple of years but who only recently asked for a painting. Since I used his expertise to find out interesting information about my mitochondrial DNA at no cost, I figured it’s a fair trade.

Now before anyone comments on the fact that this scene is astronomically impossible, I would like to say that this scene is astronomically impossible. The mountain is a real mountain, but in real life its orientation is such that the constellation Orion would probably not appear above it at that angle. I think the same about the full moon.

The main reason for drawing a scientifically inaccurate scene, however, is because the original sketch idea is based on Mount St Helens, where this astronomical alignment is perfectly possible.  At least, possible enough for my artistic license (except for the full moon again, I think – not both together like that). But since Friend is from some other mountains, it would not do, so I had to substitute in something from the Alps.

First, a teaser – a by-product of the process, the process below the fold.

©rq, all rights reserved


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Jack’s Walk

The Hollow, Twisted Tree ©voyager, all rights reserved

“Mommy… Mommy,” I heard Jack call out excitedly from somewhere up ahead. Soon I saw him exit the forest and do a quick trot toward me on the trail. All of this was quite surprising because Jack seldom gets excited, and he doesn’t do the quick trot anymore, so something was up.
“What is it, Bubba?” I asked as he got nearer.
“Oma Troutchen is missing, and the fairies need our help.”
“Why do the fairies need our help?”
“They need my nose, and you have to drive,” Jack said, “Gnorman will explain it. He wants to talk to you.”
“Is Gnorman a fairy?” I asked, getting excited at the thought of finally meeting one of Jack’s fairy friends.
“Silly Mummy. Gnorman isn’t a fairy. Gnorman is a Gnome. Over here,” Jack said, walking back into the woods and stopping beside a tall, twisted tree stump.
I approached carefully and looked around, but I didn’t see anyone except for Jack.
“Where is he, Jack?”
“Up here, you Ninny, and put that camera away,” I heard a gruff voice say, but I still didn’t see anyone.
“Here, in the tree,” and sure enough there he was, a small wizened creature with a bushy white beard wearing a pointed red cap, standing inside the hollowed-out tree.
“Why must I put the camera away,” I asked.
“Because I told you to. Now, are you going to keep asking silly questions, or are you going to listen?” Gnorman said.
“I’m listening, but I’d like to take your photo, please,” I said as politely as I could.
“Maybe later. Right now, we’s got a lost fairy, and we needs Jack to help us find her. And Jack says he needs you to help him, so we’s decided to take a chance and asks you’s fur a bit of human help.”
“I’ll help however I can,” I said, wondering what on earth I could do to help find a fairy.
“It’s Oma Troutchen we’s lost. She was out collecting acorn caps with the school kids yesterday when young Freddy Fox wandered in and started sniffing around, and somehow Oma got caught up in his tail, and the silly fool ran off with her hanging there, and he’s done went and lost her.”
“That’s terrible.” I said, “Do you have any idea where she might be?”
“That’s the trouble. Freddy says that he thinks he lost her around Punkydoodles corner, but that’s a long way from here, and the fairies don’t have their wings yet to go looking for her. The birds is out looking for her, but they haven’t found her yet, and Oma ain’t gonna do well on her own for long.”
“Why won’t Oma do well? And why don’t the fairies have their wings?”
“Great grasshoppers! You sure do ask a lot of questions.” Gnorman said.
“Everyone knows that Fairies shed their wings in the fall and grow them back in the spring, so’s it’s easier for them to live underground in the winter. As for Oma, she’s very old and has the forgetting disease. Everyone in the forest is out looking for her. Even them drunken Imps are helping, but Freddy took her too far, and it’s hard to find a fairy who ain’t got her wings.” Gnorman was getting upset. “, where’s that stupid fox. He was supposed to meet us here to give Jack a bit more knowing about where they went. Hrmph! You just can’t trust a fox.”
“if you can’t trust a fox, how do we know he’ll tell us the truth?” I asked.
“‘Cause he’s got the whole durn forest mad at him and even a fox is smart enough to know you don’t mess with the fairies.”
“Everyone loves Oma Troutchen, Mummy,” Jack spoke up. “She’s been living in this forest for a long, long time and she’s friends with everyone. She was the first fairy I met, and she tells the best stories. I love her, too.” Jack sighed heavily, and I could see his eyes misting over.
“Alright, Gnorman. Jack, can you find the trail without waiting for this fox to turn up?”
“I can find fox trails, but I can’t be sure which one belongs to Freddy,” Jack said sadly.
“Well, then, I guess we’d better wait to see if Freddy turns up,” I said, sitting down on a log to wait.
“Thar’s a good girl,” Gnorman growled. “Now, I’ll let ya take one photo, but not too close. You humans always seems to make us Gnomes look silly.”
“Well, you do look a bit silly up in that tree,” I said.
“I climbed up here to make it easier for you, young lady, there’s nothing silly about that.” Gnorman smiled for the first time.
“Thanks,” I said, smiling back at him. “I appreciate your effort. And it’s nice to be called ‘young lady,’ no one calls me that anymore.”
“Well, you don’t look a day over a hundred to me,” Gnorman said merrily, and while I was letting that remark sink in, he quietly said, “Thanks to ya, fur helping us,” and then he blew me a kiss.
I reached for my camera and snapped a quick photo before Gnorman changed his mind.

Jack lay down beside me and placed his head heavily on my foot. I could see he was tired, and I stroked his back, hoping he would take a power nap.
And so we waited, hoping Freddy Fox would turn up soon.

Gnorman, ©voyager, all rights reserved