Thursday 30 April 2020

Level 3 and the Big Cac

Do you want cornflakes with that?
And so New Zealand has moved from the highly restrictive lockdown of level four to the slightly less restrictive lifestyle of the third variety. In practice, most will experience no difference- at least that is the theory. Businesses can open if there is no intimate contact with the public. Thus, construction workers can get to it as long as they keep at least a shovel length away. Carpenters are expected to maintain at least a Planck distance.

Apparently, New Zealand has been lauded throughout the world and hoisted as the paragon of COVID-19 control. Tis true, as I write, on the 30th April, that only one new case has been reported. This is wonderful when considering the number of new COVID-19 cases savaging the known world (and beyond). 

We have become so complacent, that in lockdown, fast food establishments can open if they sport a drive-through. MacDonald's and their ilk have complied with gusto. And the public has complied with complacent gusto. In Wellington, for instance, folk deprived of their greasy fix for the past 5 weeks were prepared to queue overnight at MacDonald's drive-through. By opening time the line of cars extended way down the street and police had to initiate traffic control. The first person in line was asked why she had queued all night by an intrepid reporter. She replied prosaically: "I missed cheeseburgers". This is dedication to a culinary delight, of dubious provenance, that is mildly disturbing.

On Tuesday evening, at about 8pm, I was returning from a day in the 'windy city', after a hard day's graft, and I was gratified to see that the local inhabitants of my rural town were just as dedicated as sophisticated city folk in their quest to obtain a grilled patty of gristly goodness with the resultant queue of cars extending out and about and around the block.

As for KFC: well, that's another story. Arse.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Crossbow Build Update

The 'Bow of Redemption' in repose

I was so impressed by the joint venture with the son in law that I decided to have a go on my own. And so my solo crossbow build has been completed. In this instance, I used a prod made of fibreglass attached to a piece of sturdy ash. I kept the build simple as in the style of a primitive bow although I attached a spring to facilitate the return of the firing mechanism. The prod was lashed to the stock with hemp fibre. I successively pared down the prod until I achieved a decent draw weight. I was acutely aware that I had to get this right. I wanted a powerful draw but at the same time, I didn't want to overstress the fiberglass to the point of losing a finger or two. In the end, I settled for a draw weight of about 150lbs. That said, when I shot the bow I did manage to get my thumb in the way of the released string- it stung a tad, see photo below. It needs to be said that health and safety was not a prominent theme in the Dark Ages. Anyway, suitably chastised, I shot the bow anew. Afterward, I checked my digits and was amazed to determine, that although truncated, the number of my fingers remained, after much scrutiny, similar in number to that previously enumerated following the great chainsaw disaster of '95.   
The problem with this build is the simple nature of the 'release'. Because the way it is designed it is not really suitable for high draw weight bows as the strong string tension hampers the release. The next bow will have a more sophisticated trigger system fashioned out of mild steel.

Close up of primitive trigger mechanism

I reckon the power of the crossbow is enough to take down a deer if the shooter is so inclined.  I would recommend a lot of practice as the bow has no sights. Also, be careful so you do not run out of fingers. The next crossbow build is ongoing: stay tuned. 

Anyway, enjoy the bespeckled photo of blood and doom.....

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Greedy shit

Shoot Hoarders

After all this madness has subsided will anyone still remember the panic buying of toilet paper and hand sanitiser? Well, I suspect that one Australian fella will have a good reason to remember and rue the time he hoarded 5,000 toilet rolls and 150-litre bottles of hand sanitiser. His cunning plan was to sell on these items, at a vastly increased price, on eBay. Unfortunately for the ‘Toilet Roll Mogul’, eBay refused to list the items.

Cunning Plan 2: The budding Aussie entrepreneur remained undaunted at this twist in his fortunes and decided to implement Plan Two. He returned to Drake’s supermarket in Southern Australia and casually asked for a refund of about $AUS10,000. As to be expected the owner-operator was not too impressed and refused the request. The next day our toilet roll magnate returned and offered a 30% discount. Again, the owner refused and our budding loo paper tycoon returned to his bubble, deflated, discombobulated and disenchanted with life as a top tier toilet roll, businessman.
Ain't life sad and manifestly unfair. 

If you are interested, here is the video of the supermarket owners response. The relevant bit starts at 5.22.

Friday 17 April 2020

Flaxen Sequestered on the Homestead

New Zealand has undergone almost total lockdown for three and a half weeks however certain restrictions will be lifted on the 22nd of April. For most folk, the lockdown will continue but certain sectors of industry will be allowed to operate as long as there is no face to face contact with the public. As the family Patriarch, I'm the designated family member allowed to leave the compound for essential services such as visits to the pharmacy and supermarket.

We are fortunate in that we have a large property and individual family members can seek solace and solitude in parts commensurate with their mental fortitude. I find that I'm spending quite a lot of time in my barn/workshop engaging in a multitude of projects. The recent acquisition of a 'beer fridge' has helped with sequestration. In the last three weeks, I've managed to build a shoe tidy; a shave horse for bow making; an extension to my woodwork table; several stools and I've transformed an old manual rotary tool into a fixed rotary sanding tool. However, the most exciting project underway is a joint collaboration with my son in law. We have been inspired by a YouTube video from the stable of Tod Cutler where he constructs a relatively simple crossbow (see link below).

Initially, we constructed a small and even simpler version to test out the concept. This worked well so we embarked on an upscaled version. Our crossbow is based on Tod's original design with a few modifications. For the prod, we utilised schedule 40 plumber's pipe. Fibreglass rods were inserted to increase the draw weight and the pipe was flattened using a heat gun and a flattening jig. Tod's medieval-style firing mechanism was replaced with a more complex trigger. Throughout the build, we used pallet wood only. The local mega-hardware store (Mitre 10) supplied the pallets free of charge and therefore the various woodworking projects have cost us virtually nowt. The downside, of course, is that the pallets need to be dismantled and the nails removed. Also, the wood is of poor quality especially pallets sourced in New Zealand as they are exclusively manufactured from pine. Australian pallets are generally made from hardwood (?red oak) and therefore the wood is a lot better for most construction projects. In our instance, the crossbow build used Australian pallets exclusively. That said, the crossbow stock is full of nail holes. This has not compromised the structural integrity of the bow but it adds nothing to the aesthetics and therefore it was decided to fill the holes with putty and then coat the stock with several coats of linseed oil. Anyway, I've attached a few photos of the final construct. I've not had time to shoot the bow and that pleasure will have to wait the morrow however, from prior testing, I estimate that the draw weight at the end of the power stroke (12 inches) is about 100 pounds. This is not particularly powerful as modern commercial crossbows tend to be 175 pounds and up. Here is the link to Tod's video if you are interested.

Saturday 4 April 2020

James The Just

In these strange and wondrous times, I thought a change from dreaded crony virus topics, which seem to assail every available orifice these days, would at least add a little intellectual variety. 

The fact that Jesus had several brothers, and at least one sister, is a fact attested to several times in the New Testament. It is also recorded that his family appeared to have little to do with him during his ministry. Perhaps his mother was present at the crucifixion but there is no mention of his siblings. Indeed during his ministry, Jesus made it plain that he wanted little to do with his immediate family.

The mention of Jesus’ siblings in the bible did not sit well with the early church fathers as it contradicted a certain creed that Jesus was born of a virgin and that Mary never relinquished ‘this treasure’, at least not to a mortal man. The presence of Jesus's siblings was a major embarrassment and Christian scholars, ancient and modern, have come up with a host of contortions in order to explain away inconvenient bible passages. Thus, perhaps the gospellers were referring to Jesus’s cousins or maybe Joseph’s children from another mother. The half-sibling scenario raises further problems: if Jesus had half brothers and sisters they must share a father, that is Joseph. But isn’t Joseph just a surrogate father as Jesus’ real father is none other than God himself? Of course, Christian apologists, old and new, were well aware of this conundrum and on the whole favoured the cousin ‘hypothesis'. As for the cousin hypothesis, I would say this: the New Testament was written in Greek and the Greek language distinguishes between ‘cousins and brothers’ very well. If the New Testament writers meant to write about Jesus’ cousins they would have had the lexicon to say so. O what a tangled web we weave.

From the book of Acts and from other sources, James, the brother of Jesus, becomes the leader of the early Christian movement after Jesus’s death, at least in Jerusalem. James was a highly observant Jew according to Jewish law (Torah) and was known as ‘James the Just’ among, not just his Christian followers, but also considered so by orthodox Jews. As far as we can piece together, James became a Christian after the ‘appearance of the risen Lord’. I’ll say no more about the resurrection stories as we stray from the territory of history and enter the murky world/word of faith.

At this stage it is important to mention, Saul of Tarsus (later, Paul): a most interesting character and worthy of a separate post. Paul, a Pharisee converted to Christianity soon after Jesus’s death. Paul is a strange, passionate and driven man. He comes over, as mentioned in the biblical literature, as a man on a mission to convert the Roman world and Empire to Christianity. He travelled widely, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, across the Mediterranean. His followers also preached throughout the Roman world as documented in the books of Luke, Acts and in the epistles. Paul comes across as a quarrelsome and prickly preacher. He differed from James’s mission in that he was concerned to convert not only Jews but gentiles as well. In contrast, just like his brother, James was mainly concerned with the conversion of Jerusalem Jews where the leadership of the early church was based.

The mission of James is made clear in the epistle which bears his name (80-90 AD. The epistle is thought by many scholars to be based on a sermon of James. It is highly unlikely that James wrote this letter. James, like his brother, Jesus, was an illiterate peasant. What comes across in the letter is James’s piety; his concern for the poor and the condemnation of the rich. Therefore, we see James advocating and disseminating Jesus’s core message. It was a message unlikely to endear him to the wealthy Jewish priestly elite and to the high priest of the time, Ananus.

While James remained within Jewish law and expected his Jewish converts to continue to observe the law, in its entirety, Paul appears not to be concerned with the trappings of Judaism. Thus his gentile converts did not have to undergo the painful indignation of circumcision or adhere to the strange dietary rules. In this way, Paul’s form of Christianity thrived among the gentiles of the Eastern Roman Empire. However, he could make little headway among the Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora. This is an interesting point: diaspora Jews appeared to be more literate and sophisticated than their Jewish brethren at home in Jerusalem. To cosmopolitan Jews, Paul’s teaching advocating  Jesus as the chosen messiah did not jibe well and did not conform to the Jewish concept of the messiah as related in the bible. More importantly, the notion that Jesus was a manifestation of God would have been deeply shocking, and a complete anathaema to a devout Jew. It would come as no surprise, therefore, that James and Paul clashed heads when it came to teachings and conversions. James’s Christianity was Judaism with a gentle twist and he had no ambition to found a new religious movement. For Paul, Judaism was a base and prelude to the foundation of the new breakaway religion of Christianity.

The bible recounts several terse encounters between Paul and James in Jerusalem. Under pressure and coercion from the primary church leaders, Paul was made to recant and undergo purification in the Temple (57AD). But as we know, Paul soon reverted to his wicked and heretical ways once he left Jerusalem and the orthodox Christian leadership.

It seems that it was Pauls’s brand/blend of Christianity that won out in the end mainly due to a twist of fickle fate. In 62 AD James was executed by order of the High Priest and the leadership of the nascent Christian church passed to Jesus’s cousin, Simeon. Shortly after, Judea descended into chaos and war with Rome. The result: inevitable Roman devastation of the land, the sacking of Jerusalem and the total destruction of the Temple. Under these circumstances Jesus’ followers and Jesus’ conception of Christianity disappeared. Pauls’ brand of Christianity survived and spread due to its simple message of salvation and its focus on the numerous poor. Although persecuted throughout the next couple of hundred of years, Christianity's growing popularity in the Roman Empire led to it eventually being adopted as the state religion in 380AD. The rest is history....

Friday 3 April 2020


The beastie of Doom

This post is a brief introduction to some aspects of the coronavirus. Clearly, within the limitation of the blogging format, the topic under consideration can only dealt with in a superficial manner: this is not a learned scientific treatise.

The pathogen responsible for the disease COVID-19 (as stated by the World Health Organisation) is designated as a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SAR-CoV-2). This is quite a mouthful of nomenclature but entirely warranted considering the mayhem and chaos the virus is currently causing. The genome of SAR-CoV-2 has been sequenced and the virus has been classified as a betacorona virus with filial affinity to the virus responsible for severe respiratory syndrome (SARS). The virus also has a genetic affiliation to several bat coronaviruses. This relationship has led some workers to consider that a bat coronavirus is ultimately responsible for the outbreak. It is envisaged, therefore, that an initial mutation in the bat virus allowed the virus to leap the species barrier thus enabling the infection of a human host.

The virus was first detected in late December 2019 as the cause of a cluster of pneumonia infections in patients from Wuhan city, China. The disease spread quickly throughout China and soon thereafter became disseminated across the globe. SAR-CoV-2 is mainly spread by nasal droplets expelled when infected individuals cough and sneeze. Thus individuals coming in contact with airborne viral particles or viral particles having settled on surfaces can become infected. The time of contact to the expression of symptoms varies between patients but a mean incubation period of 4 days has been reported.

The clinical presentation of the condition is variable in regard to symptoms and severity. The majority of individuals appear to have relatively mild symptoms (about 80%) and severe illness is more prevalent in the elderly and those with already underlying health problems such as pulmonary and cardiac disease.

In general, the symptoms can be described as ‘flu-like’. Thus patients may complain of a dry cough, fever, aching muscles, and fatigue. The most serious manifestation of the condition is pneumonia. The overall fatality rate has been estimated at about 2.3% however, a high level of variance between countries has been reported. The reason for the mortality variance is complex and often poorly understood. Countries with an ageing population (eg Italy) have experienced relatively high death rates of 7%. Indeed it is suspected that reported death rates are inflated as a consequence of ascertainment bias.

With that said, let's have a look at the virus itself.

First off, I’ll not get bogged down with scientific semantics/pedantics concerning the moot point whether viral particles actually constitute life.

Coronaviruses, unlike the vast majority of organisms, do not rely on DNA for genome replication. Instead, they utilise a related molecule called RNA, in a single strand format. The virus is characteristically globular in structure and sports a series of protein protrusions on the surface. These ‘spiky’ projections give the virus its name as corona translates to ‘crown’ in Latin. Specific viral proteins present on the spikes seek out and attach to specific and complementary receptor proteins on the host cell. The ACE2 receptors are uniquely present on cells that form the lower and upper respiratory tract and this ‘key and lock’ association facilitates viral entry into the cell. Once ensconced, the virus, like all viral particles, uses its limited genome to hijack the host cell's protein and nucleic acid making apparatus. In this way, numerous viral particles are formed and assembled within the host cell. Once the assembly has been completed, the newly manufactured viral particles are released and ready to infect new cells within the host or expelled into an awaiting and expectant outside environment: thus disseminated the infection cycle continues anew.

A particular characteristic of RNA viruses is their high mutation rate as they lack the proofreading capacity and necessary nucleic acid repair mechanisms of higher organisms and even DNA based viruses. This is a headache for researchers hoping to produce an effective vaccine as new mutations may circumvent and hence negate a targeted vaccine.

The US, as are other nations, are currently undertaking trials to test novel vaccines. The introduction of a new vaccine tends to be exceedingly and excruciatingly slow due to the painstaking protocol inherent in the introduction of any new therapeutic agent. This is crucially important as not only the efficacy of the agent need to be evaluated but also the risk of undesirable side effects requires assessment. Even if a vaccine proves promising, general availability and widespread distribution are unlikely to occur for at least a year. Unlike other viral vaccines, the vaccine currently under investigation does not utilise a deactivated or attenuated virus particle. Instead, the vaccine is an artificial laboratory constructed piece of messenger RNA (mRNA). Messenger RNA is a crucial intermediary in the production of proteins. The presence of this particular mRNA induces cells to manufacture a protein found on the outer surface of the virus and the presence of this protein stimulates the host immune system to manufacture a repertoire of antibodies. These antibodies are expected to attach to the outer coat of the virus, if encountered, thereby inducing the host's immune machinery to lock on and neutralise this grievous offender. Well, that’s the theory at least, whether this works in practice awaits further elucidation and research.

A different approach is being considered and applied. There are a number of drugs, already evaluated, that have been shown to induce a viral limiting response, either in prophylaxis or during active infection. These drugs have the advantage that they have already been evaluated for efficacy and side effects and thus they can be introduced after limited evaluation. The downside: there are a number of drugs of this ilk that need to be specifically assessed for SAR-CoV-2. This will take a little time but because of the number of agencies working on the issue, I’m sure the research can be fast-tracked. That said, unless we find a ‘wonder’ viral agent, the results are unlikely to be as effective as a specific vaccine.

Enough science for now as I’ve just overrun the critical 1,000-word limit for a blog. Unwritten as the rule may be, it is one that the prudent blogger must adhere to, otherwise, astute readers will bugger off to more succinct pastures.

However, I’m tempted to continue writing upon the fertile field of COVID-19. There is much to cover, such as social impact, epidemiology, etc, etc. If readers would like me to wax lyrical on other aspects of the disease, I’m more than willing to comply/apply. Tis good for my mental health, apparently. Just let me know in the comments. Arse.