Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Touch Test

Image credit: Touch Test
Of the five senses -- sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch -- the last one is the most personal. It's all about who is touching what, whom, where, when, why and how.

Have our attitudes towards touch changed over time, especially in the light of the recent MeToo movement? Are everyone now more sensitive and circumspect in this matter?

A worldwide online survey based on an elaborate questionnaire is currently on to understand the way people across various categories -- like nationality, gender, sexuality, age, profession, disability etc -- view physical contact, be it accidental or intentional.

The study, called Touch Test Project, is a partnership between BBC Radio 4 and Wellcome Collection, which has commissioned the project from psychologists at Goldsmiths, University of London

This elaborate study seeks to understand how touch might be not only linked to our health and well-being but also our association with partners and medical practitioners, and even the way we think about our own bodies. It also covers how technology has affected our attitudes towards touch.

The project, which went live on January 21, will run for a few months; and the results will be announced at a live event at Wellcome Collection in the autumn. It will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service.

I completed the survey yesterday.

It might take up to an hour to complete it (depending on the speed with which you read the questions and answer them), but you need not do it all in one sitting. You can stop and resume within seven days, but on the same browser on the same computer. I did it over two days.

I guess if more people take part, more accurate the survey results will be. To take part in the survey, go to May be you should check it out. It's totally anonymous, and no personal details are collected.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Is there a cure for coronavirus, the new threat to human life?

It is truly worrying if something as common as cold or cough could ultimately lead to death. That's what a new strain of the coronavirus, called novel coronavirus, or nCoV, is doing to humans. The virus first surfaced in a Chinese city called Wuhan in December 31, 2019. Ever since then the virus has spread around China and outside China, as infected people travelled from one place to another and infecting other people.

Other strains of the virus are responsible for diseases like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), besides the more common respiratory tract infections like cold and cough.

What is a coronavirus?
It is a family of different types of viruses. There are four types of them: alpha, beta, gamma and delta. Alpha and beta infect only mammals, like bats, pigs, cats, and humans. Gamma infects birds especially poultry, while the delta variety infects both birds and mammals. The first type of coronavirus was discovered in 1960s, and since then we knew six of them. The type that has been discovered in Wuhan now is the seventh one.

Why is it called coronavirus?
It is called so because the virus has crown-like spikes that also look like the corona (or the outer surface) of the sun.

Coronavirus attacks which part of human body?
Coronavirus affects the respiratory system.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common cold, running nose, difficulty to breath, fever.

Any cure for coronavirus?
So far none. There are no medicines or vaccines. Patients are treated for the symptoms they show.

Does garlic kill or reduce the effect of coronavirus?
Can coronavirus be cured with taking boiled garlic water?
There is no scientific proof yet of garlic either killing the new strain of the coronavirus or reducing its effect. But it is a fact that garlic does have many good health benefits, like antioxidant properties, improving blood circulation, and reducing levels of cholesterol. This strain of the virus itself is new. It will take time for researchers to find a cure or a vaccine. There might be anecdotal evidences of patients showing improvement in their condition after taking garlic, or something similar food that has health benefits. But that doesn't qualify as a cure or a medicine.

What kind of indigenous medicine is suitable for coronavirus eradication?
As of now, there is no medicine -- indigenous or any other type -- for coronavirus. Patients are being treated for the symptoms they show.

Can coronavirus be deadly in Indian climatic conditions?

There is nothing conclusive so far to show that people in a particular geographical region is more or less prone to contracting the coronavirus. The 99% of the cases is in China. The rest 1% is spread across all the continents, except Africa.

What precautions one must take?

Wherever we are, we must make sure that we maintain good personal hygiene, keep away from people who have cold, cough or fever; and avoid being in crowded places and travelling in crowded public transport.

Is it safe to travel to Bali from India now due to coronavirus outbreak?

There is no harm in travelling to Bali or anywhere, from India or from anywhere. To say "don't travel", is being alarmist, and it's not the right approach. What is important is to take adequate precautions. (See the answer above.)

Will we get coronavirus if we eat fish or other non-vegetarian food?

Humans first contracted coronavirus from animals in China. But it's safe to eat non-vegetarian food. Only ensure it is properly cooked.

Is it safe to drink cow's milk safe? Will we get coronavirus?

It's safe to drink cow's milk. But ensure it's properly boiled.

What is the incubation period for the coronavirus?
Incubation period is the time taken for symptoms of a disease to surface after the person has been exposed to a virus or bacteria. It's currently 2 to 10 days. However, it's advisable to be under observation for at least two weeks.

Will I be quarantined at airport if I fly with cough, cold and fever?
Very difficult to say. But there is a high possibility that you might be quarantined if you have been to China or you have been around with people who were China. 

How many days a person survive after effected from coronavirus?
It varies depending on the immunity levels and general health of the individual.

WHO - Health topics / Coronavirus
WHO - Q & A on Coronavirus
CDC, US - Types of coronaviruses
WHO - Situation Report
EU - Geographic distribution of coronavirus

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Australia Tour - Part 9 - Wish you a Happy New Year 2020

It became very cold later in the night, especially with strong wind blowing over the Sydney harbour waters. What a change from the nearly 40 degrees in the afternoon. 

Around 11.50 pm, the spectators began setting their cameras in place. At midnight Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up and flares went up. 

The highly colourful and massive pyrotechnic display, one lakh of them, went on for 12 minutes from three points: Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and barges in the harbour. 

Apparently the whole thing has cost the Sydney City administration $6.5 million. There was a parallel bush fire fighting fund drive around the harbour that collected close to a million dollars. 

After nearly 7 hours at Circular Quay, at 12.15 we joined the vast crowds making their way to nearby train/metro or bus  stations. The Circular Quay train station was shut. So we had to walk nearly 10 mins to get to the Martin Place station. We reached home a little before 2 am.

Once again, my good wishes to all for a cheerful new year. May there be more tolerance and less strife around the world  in 2020.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Australia Tour - Part 8 - New Year Eve night at Circular Quay

I am posting this ahead of the third part of the Auckland tour because of its timeliness. We reached back here in Sydney from Auckland on 30th evening. 

We planned the Aussie trip with the idea of seeing the fireworks on new year eve at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not just because it's an iconic annual event.

Though new year breaks in New Zealand two hours earlier, and there too there are fireworks, we have all grown up seeing the Sydney photos on the front page of newspapers.

But this time, fireworks have evoked mixed feelings. It's not just about celebrations. Forest fires that are still raging (for well over a month now) in New South Wales and Victoria states have claimed many lives and property. News of the fires is the headline news every day. 

There was a demand to have this marquee NYE event cancelled in deference to the feelings of those affected by the forest fires, especially since all around Sydney there is a total fire ban in place.

After all the debates and campaigns, for and against, the Royal Fire Service gave the go ahead. One of the reasons for it is that many people have already paid to watch the event. But there are a good number of people who aren't happy that this is happening. One of my friends here is boycotting this. She said she won't watch it even on television. 

It's with this mixed feeling that my wife, son and I are sitting at Circular Quay, one of the best spots. We reached here at 5.15 pm. 

It was a very hot in the morning and afternoon with hot wind making it quite unbearable. But now the temperature has dropped and sunshine doesn't have the severity it had earlier in the day. 

Two flags fluttering atop the bridge are flying at half mast.

Most of the vantage points have already been occupied. But we managed to find a seat for three of us with a good clear view of the bridge.


It's now 7.45 pm. Absolutely pleasant weather now here with cool breeze blowing. People are still streaming in. Most of them are tourists. All vacant spaces on the ground have now been almost fully occupied with people spreading clothes to sit on. 

Some of them are reading books, some listening to music, some on video chat, some others are playing cards, a few are having snacks. After all, over four hours to go.

Meanwhile, the flags, which were flying at half mast earlier in the evening, are now flying at full mast.

At 9 pm the family fireworks were set to go off. But, it began only at 9.15.  Later I learnt that it was because of the strong gusts of wind that has blowing across this region. This fireworks is meant for the small children who might not be awake till midnight. 

There were loud cheers as flares went up at three locations, and crackers burst. This precursor to the real event was impressive enough. 

It's like a break time now, with many dispersing for dinner or snacks. Soon all will be back here for the midnight fireworks.

Waiting for the clock to strike 12, taking us to 2020. We plan to leave this place around 1230.

Wish you all a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Auckland tour - Part 2

The last two days, we were busy museum hopping.

Friday, December 27

On 27th morning we went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, situated close to the CBD. Opened in 1929, it's one of the first museums of the nation and entry is free for residents of Auckland. 

The front part of the museum is a war memorial, and a good part of the museum is about how the first world war broke out, how it spread to different parts of the world, how New Zealand got involved in it, and the sacrifices of New Zealand soldiers in the war. 

It's not just about the war. One section is about the Maori and Pacific cultures. We saw a one hour Maori Cultural Performance, a lecture-demonstration showcasing their traditions and lifestyle. After the programme we had a chance to interact with the artists, and take photos with them. 

Another interesting section was on Tupaia, the Tahitian priest, navigator and artist who travelled on the Endeavour to Aotearoa in New Zealand. 

Then there are sections on the plants and animals of the regions, besides arts and culture. It took us almost the entire day. 

Saturday, December 29

In the morning we went to the Kelly Tarlton's Marine Museum. The biggest attraction there were the penguins: birds that can't fly, who walk on their two feet, whose wings are like fins for them to swim and dive under water. 

There is a replica of the Scott's Hut built in the Antarctica in 1911. Capt Robert Scott was one of the first to extensively tour Antarctica.

Other sections include those on sharks, jellyfish, sea horse, and various aquatic plants. 

There is also an area where children can play, and draw and colour pictures of marine animals.

Post lunch we headed to the Museum of Transport and Technology. It's a huge 40 acre facility that has on display the history and evolution of everything that is related to transportation and technology related to our everyday life. 

The facility, which opened in 1964, is spread over two locations, MOTAT 1 at the Great North Road and MOTAT 2 at Meola Road. 

We started with MOTAT 2 which is all about aircraft. The moment I saw the huge metal birds, I was reminded of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Air and Space Museum, in Virginia, which of course is much bigger and exhaustive than this section in MOTAT. 

One of the exhibits is the Sunderland of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. It's one of the most powerful and widely used maritime reconnaissance aircraft used in the World War II. The one on display is one of the only four remaining in the world. 

There is a tram that runs every 15 minutes connecting MOTAT 1 and 2, via the Auckland Zoo. This tram number 906 too has a history. It entered service for the city's tram network in 1945 and was retired in 1997. Then in 2006 it was moved to MOTAT as a shuttle service. 

We took this tram to MOTAT 1 which is far bigger than the other side. It has sections on locomotives, turbines, motors, cars, buses, communication equipment like telegraph, telephone, radio, television, computers etc. The Morse code signal that Titanic's captain sent is also on display. 

An old dial telephone allows visitors to dial a particular number on a phone at one end which rings the phone at the other end, and the two person can talk. 

Another fun exhibit is the Whisper Dish. There are dishes facing each other sepatared by around 25 - 30 meters. When a person whispers into one dish, the sound waves get reflected from dish and refocusses on the other allowing the person at that end to hear what the other person is whispering. 

In the evening, we went to the Hunua waterfalls, at Hunua village, about an hour's drive from the city. The drive around curved roads amongst tall trees is itself a great experience. The water fall from a height of around 50 meters from the Wairoa river is a beautiful sight.

(To be continued) 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Auckland tour - Part 1

We reached Auckland, New Zealand yesterday late night by a Qantas flight from Melbourne. The flight had quite appropriately stewards sporting Christmas costumes and the in-flight sound systems playing carols. We all also got chocolates.

Today morning we went to the Botony Town Centre, a large shopping and entertainment complex housing over 200 stores, in East Tamaki. Being Boxing Day, there were up to 50 per cent discount on many items, and the place was swarming with shoppers. 

After lunch, we headed to a place on the west coast called Manukau Heads Lighthouse, a 19th century tower, in the rural hinderlands of Auckland. 

All through we could see lots of greenery, vast areas of farmland, and large number of cows grazing. Rustic beauty in all its glory. 

The drive around curvy roads up to this place, which is 240 metres above sea level, presents a breathtaking view of the valley below and the Tasman Sea. The place is also home to many rare flaura and fauna.

From the car park we climbed 120 steps to the top of the tower. It's a beautiful sight no photo or video can recreate. 

The place also commemorates the watery grave of New Zealand's worst maritime tragedy, HMS Orpheus, in 1863, in which 189 lives were lost. 

(To be continued) 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Australia tour - Part 7

Tuesday, December 24

The place we went to today might not be very high on an average tourist's list of must-see places. But it's the type I love. And it was an unforgettable experience - getting into a gold mine. 

It's in Ballarat, the third largest city in the state of Victoria. Its claim to fame is the discovery of gold in 1851, which not only brought an influx of people from around the world in search of fortune but also dramatically changed the socio political and economic profile of the people.

There are many places in the city that showcase various facets of the gold-triggered industrialisation of a hitherto village of sheep farmers. 

But the best place to see is Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum, spread over 25 acres, that has recreated the township, with tents and buildings as they were during the gold rush days 150 years ago. 

When gold was struck first, the miners worked for themselves. Once top layers were mined and it became more difficult to mine, various machineries entered the scene and gold mining companies set up shop there, and miners were employed as workers by them. 

The museum has working displays of machines that are used in the processes involved in the extraction of pure gold from the minerals. At one spot, we can actually pan water and look for very tiny specks of gold.

There is a section called Gold Pour, where an industrial blacksmith melts pure gold that is valued at $200,000 and pours it into a container to turn it into a bullion bar. When he revealed the gold and its price, there were loud gasps of wonderment from the room full of people. 

We got into two mines. One is the Red Hill Mine, which is a self-guided tour of about 15 minutes. As we enter a tunnel, we are guided by an audio description of the mine. There is a very impressive hologram display of how mining was done in those days without the help of any machinery. 

But what is more worth seeing is the guided mine tour that lasts 45 minutes. Along with a guide, we descend into a dark tunnel to around 60 feet below the earth's surface in a small open-roof tram. 

In order to acclimatize our eyes to very low light, the initial couple of minutes or so of the tram ride into the tunnel is in total darkness. We aren't allowed to turn on the torch mobile phone. 

Then, we deboard, and walk through the tunnel. At regular intervals, we halt and the guide explains the life and work of miners. This was a real mine which functioned in the 1870s. Here some mechanical equipment like Rock Drills were used to drill holes into rocks for explosives to blast them.

But the drilling inside the tunnels produced sharp silica dust that got lodged in miners' lungs. Many of them contracted silicosis leading to their early deaths. The Rock Drill came to be known as 'widow maker'. 

A great experience of going deep inside a mine and learning about the life and work of miners. Really worth it! 

Nearby there is a Gold Museum that chronicles the life during the Gold Rush. Apparently photography was a major activity during those days. There was a Travelling Photographer's Cart which had all the equipment for taking a photo. It travelled through towns and villages and parked itself in scenic places. People could take their portraits taken. The museum has a replica of the cart. 

The museum also has a replica or what was called Hansom Cab. It was invented by Joseph Hansom of Birmingham, England in 1833-34, and was introduced in Australia in 1849. It had many innovative features like a front door instead of one in the back allowing better and easier monitoring of passengers by the driver. Also the seats were located such that they helped women to board and alight easily. 

The museum has many such interesting facets of life in those days. 

(To be continued)