Fractional dosing of COVID vaccines may help more people get immunity faster

The advice to date has, quite rightly, to get any COVID vaccine that’s available to you. For me, that’s meant a double dose of AstraZeneca, and I’m happy about that.

But as the pandemic progresses, we need to be aware that some vaccines are more effective than others. This working paper, building on one published in Nature earlier this year, looks at how ‘fractional dosing’ of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines could reach more people more quickly.

Needless to say, we shouldn’t be in the position where people in less developed countries are getting access to vaccines much more slowly than the rest of the world. But, pragmatically speaking, this may help.

We supplement the key figure from Khoury et al.’s paper to show that fractional doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have neutralizing antibody levels (as measured in the early phase I and phase II trials) that look to be on par with those of many approved vaccines. Indeed, a one-half or one-quarter dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is predicted to be more effective than the standard dose of some of the other vaccines like the AstraZeneca, J&J or Sinopharm vaccines, assuming the same relationship as in Khoury et al. holds. The point is not that these other vaccines aren’t good–they are great! The point is that by using fractional dosing we could rapidly and safely expand the number of effective doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

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One more point worth mentioning. Dose stretching policies everywhere are especially beneficial for less-developed countries, many of which are at the back of the vaccine queue. If dose-stretching cuts the time to be vaccinated in half, for example, then that may mean cutting the time to be vaccinated from two months to one month in a developed country but cutting it from two years to one year in a country that is currently at the back of the queue.

Source: A Half Dose of Moderna is More Effective Than a Full Dose of AstraZeneca | Marginal REVOLUTION

People pay selective attention to what they deem important

I really enjoyed this article, ostensibly about the amazing vocal technique of one Charles Kellogg who could “put out fire by singing”. Apparently he could also imitate birdsong perfectly. There’s an interesting video at the end of the article about that.

More interesting to me, however, is the anecdote about what Kellogg’s ear was attuned to, even in a busy urban environment.

Perhaps the most revealing anecdote tells of him walking down the street during a visit to New York, when Kellogg stopped short at the intersection of Broadway and West 34th Street. He turned to his companion and said: “Listen, I hear a cricket.” His friend responded: “Impossible—with all this racket you couldn’t hear a tiny sound like that.” And it was true: cars, trolleys, passersby, shouting newspaper vendors created such a hustle and bustle that no cricket could possibly be discerned in the hubbub.

But, true to his word, Kellogg scrutinized their busy surroundings, and a moment later crossed the street with his companion following along—and there on a window ledge pointed to a tiny cricket. “What astonishing hearing you have,” his friend marveled. But instead of responding, Kellogg reached into his pocket and pulled out a dime, which he dropped on the sidewalk. The moment the coin hit the pavement it made a small pinging noise, and everybody within 50 feet of the sound stopped and started looking for the coin. People listen for what’s most important for them, he later explained: for New Yorkers it’s the sound of money, for Charles Kellogg it was the chirping of a cricket.

Source: The Man Who Put Out Fires with Music | Culture Notes of an Honest Broker

No more simplified URLs in Chrome

On balance, I’m pleased that this ‘experiment’ is being put to rest. Although I’m for simplifying needlessly-complex aspects of the web, my previous work on web literacy would suggest that there’s a certain amount of knowledge and understanding people need to be able to have to read, write, and participate on the web effectively.
Example of domain showing instead of full URL

At the time, Google said that the reason for running the experiment was that showing full URLs makes it harder for non-technical users to distinguish between legitimate and malicious (phishing) sites, many of which use complicated and long URLs in attempts to confuse users.

Showing only the domain name was considered a good way to remove the extra chaff from a complex URL and only leave the core domain visible in the URL bar.

If users wanted to view the full link, they could click or hover the Chrome address bar to reveal the rest of the page URL.

However, despite its good intentions, the experiment never sat well, with both security experts and end-users alike, who often complained about it when Google silently enabled it on some browsers to gather usage statistics.

Source: Google abandons experiment to show simplified domain URLs in Chrome | The Record

A point-based system for email address pronounceability 

My personal email address scores 1, my co-op email address (because it ends in .coop) gets a 2.

You’re at the doctors office, talking to an aquaintence, or ordering something on the phone and they ask the question: What’s your email? Depending on your name, age, and your life choices this can be a breeze or the dreaded question. How long does it take before you have to break out the phonetic alphabet? How many times do you have to repeat it?

Today we’re going to come up with a scoring system to measure how painful your email is to tell someone. It’s a golf scoring system with low scores being easy and each point is one unit of struggle for both you and the recipient.

Source: How Hard is your Email to Say?

The end of petrol stations

Another article looking at the future of electric vehicles. I particularly like the section where it talks about how, if you were trying to sell the idea of petrol stations these days, you’d never get anyone to sign off the health and safety side of things.

Electric vehicle optimists paint a world where you can plug in anywhere you park – at home while you sleep, as you work, when you are shopping or at the cinema.

Pretty much whatever you are doing, energy will be flowing into your car.

At this point, says Erik Fairbairn, 97% of electric car charging will happen away from petrol pump equivalents.

“Imagine someone came around and filled up your car with petrol every night so you had 300 miles of range every morning,” he says. “How often would you need anything else?”

In this brave new world, you’ll only ever pull over into a service station on really epic, long journeys when you’ll top up your battery for 20-30 minutes while you have a coffee and use the facilities.

Source: Why it’s the end of the road for petrol stations | BBC News

A glimpse into the future of autonomous electric vehicles

Ideally, we’d all be using mass transit rather than just switch fossil fuel-based vehicles for their electric equivalents. But, as a student of human nature, I recognise that autonomous electric vehicles might be a pragmatic stop-gap.

This is an interesting article, as it puts a price on how much these vehicles might cost by the hour (~7 Euros) and talks about what people might be doing while waiting for them to recharge (playing video games!)

The German automaker is considering charging an hourly fee for access to autonomous driving features once those features are ready. The company is also exploring a range of subscription features for its electric vehicles, including “range or performance” increases that can be purchased on an hourly or daily basis, said Thomas Ulbrich, a Volkswagen board member, to the German newspaper Die Welt. Ulbrich said the first subscription features will appear in the second quarter of 2022 in vehicles based on Volkswagen’s MEB platform, which underpins the company’s new ID.3 compact car and ID.4 crossover.

Source: What would you pay for autonomous driving? Volkswagen hopes $8.50 per hour | Ars Technica

Health and sanity before profit

This is an interesting article that takes the tennis player Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open as a symptom of wider trends in the workplace.

Many Americans have experienced burnout, and its adjacent phenomenon, languishing, during the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, it has hit women, especially mothers, particularly hard and women’s professional ambition has suffered, according to a survey by CNBC/SurveyMonkey. This trend might be read as a grim step backward in the march toward gender egalitarianism. Or, as in some of the criticism of Ms. Osaka, as an indictment of younger generations’ work ethic. Either interpretation would be misguided.

A better way of putting it: Ms. Osaka has given a public face to a growing, and long overdue, revolt. Like so many other women, the tennis prodigy has recognized that she has the right to put her health and sanity above the unending demands imposed by those who stand to profit from her labors. In doing so, Ms. Osaka exposes a foundational lie in how high-achieving women are taught to view their careers.

In a society that prizes individual achievement above most other things, ambition is often framed as an unambiguous virtue, akin to hard work or tenacity. But the pursuit of power and influence is, to some extent, a vote of confidence in the profit-driven myth of meritocracy that has betrayed millions of American women through the course of the pandemic and before it, to our disillusionment and despair.

Source: Naomi Osaka and the Cost of Ambition | The New York Times

Rationalising work for the 40+ brigade

Buried towards the bottom of an update about the Breaking Smart newsletter, Venkatesh Rao includes this diagram and links to a post where he commits to longer-term work.

In an associated Twitter thread, one tweet talks about one way of telling whether a project is a new TLP (‘Top Level Project’) or part of an existing one: does it require a new name or domain name? Interesting.

I’m trying to rationalize all my activities to be simpler and easier to manage. An important first step for me was shutting down my other newsletter, Art of Gig, a month ago. Another was adopting 2 long-term rules across my projects — no new top-level projects, and minimum 10-year commitments.

Source: Upcoming Changes | Breaking Smart

Anti-social media

As I mentioned on my blog recently, I sometimes feel a strong pull to ‘nuke’ everything and start over again. With Twitter, I actually did this back in 2017, deleting 77.5k spanning 10 years. They now auto-delete every three months.

This article is based on a survey that BuzzFeed News carried out which revealed a shift in attitude, especially among younger people, to social media. (I think we need a different name for social media that any member of the public can see and those that are private to your followers by default?)

Trying to live in the moment isn’t just difficult because so many of us are prone to documenting our days, our phones and social media apps are also intent on continually resurfacing aspects of our past. While some respondents said they were happy to have the reminders (one mentioned loving comments popping up from her late grandmother — “she was hilarious!”), others had more mixed or flat-out negative feelings.

Seeing versions of ourselves from 5 or 10 years ago can be cringey, which is why a lot of respondents have purged old posts altogether. Ashlee Burke from Boston, who’s in her late 20s, said she made her old Facebook photo albums private because they’re embarrassing, not because they showed any illegal activity or anything — “unless it’s illegal to be the most embarrassing teenager on the face of the Earth.”

Source: COVID Made People Delete Facebook And Instagram | BuzzFeed News

AI-generated misinformation is getting more believable, even by experts

I’ve been using thispersondoesnotexist.com for projects recently and, honestly, I wouldn’t be able to tell that most of the faces it generates every time you hit refresh aren’t real people.

For every positive use of this kind of technology, there are of course negatives. Misinformation and disinformation is everywhere. This example shows how even experts in critical fields such as cybersecurity, public safety, and medicine can be fooled, too.

If you use such social media websites as Facebook and Twitter, you may have come across posts flagged with warnings about misinformation. So far, most misinformation—flagged and unflagged—has been aimed at the general public. Imagine the possibility of misinformation—information that is false or misleading—in scientific and technical fields like cybersecurity, public safety, and medicine.There is growing concern about misinformation spreading in these critical fields as a result of common biases and practices in publishing scientific literature, even in peer-reviewed research papers. As a graduate student and as faculty members doing research in cybersecurity, we studied a new avenue of misinformation in the scientific community. We found that it’s possible for artificial intelligence systems to generate false information in critical fields like medicine and defense that is convincing enough to fool experts.

Source: False, AI-generated cybersecurity news was able to fool experts | Fast Company