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2020 News

8 December 2020 – Time Kid of the Year

Time magazine has named its first ever Kid of the Year, American school girl and scientist Gitanjali Rao. This follows recognition of Gitanjali's accomplishments over a number of years, including being named America's Top Young Scientist in 2017 for co-inventing a method for detecting lead in water when she was 11 (the photos in the article show her demonstrating the device twelve days before she turned 12). She has her own Wikipedia listing which lists several other achievements such as being a three-time TEDx speaker.

To quote this article in The Guardian:

She said she hoped she could inspire others to dream up ideas to “solve the world’s problems”.

Gitanjali is the sort of person who will solve some of the world's problems. She isn't afraid to dream big, put in the work, and try out her ideas. You go, girl!

22 July 2020 – Present situation

My schedule is quite full at the moment, and my waiting list is only getting longer, so it's unlikely I'll be able to provide new students an available tutoring slot. However, enquiries are welcome.

I have a couple of evening slots still available, which because of the late times are more suitable for senior students.


20 March 2020 – Present situation

My schedule is pretty full at the moment, so it's unlikely I'll be able to provide new students an available tutoring slot, but enquiries are welcome. I have a waiting list which I am happy to add potential clients to.

With the announcement today that New Zealand is at Alert Level Two for COVID-19 I'm happy to tutor using Skype or Zoom.


1 March 2020 – Asphixiating gas

In what appears to be a very sad sequel to the Particulate Fireballs story I posted in July 2017, three people in Russia have died after dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) was dumped into a private pool in a bath house in Moscow to create a visual effect for a party. It basically created a carbon dioxide gas chamber resulting in the deaths, while six or seven others were admitted to hospital in intensive care.

When put into warm water, dry ice quickly sublimates – it turns from a solid straight into a gas. It makes a wonderful cloud effect from water droplets suspended in the air, but carbon dioxide gas is heavier than air and can form an asphixiating layer on top of the water. Breathing high concentrations of carbon dioxide can also form very unpleasant amounts of carbonic acid in the lungs, and result in too much carbon dioxide in the blood.

The Taiwan government minister from 2017 said "if there had been someone with a basic understanding of science at the scene, the tragedy could have been prevented." The "influencer" who was celebrating her birthday is said to be a highly qualified pharmacist, while her now-deceased husband had a "higher technical education."

I said in 2017, science enriches lives, broadens horizons, and can save lives. But we have to use it sensibly.

29 February 2020 (updated 2 Mar 2020, 15 Feb 2021) – It's all coronavirus!

What the news media is not telling you: Every Many of the colds you've caught are caused by a coronavirus. (Update 1 – actually, a lot are caused by rhinoviruses. About 15% of colds are caused by coronaviruses.) Coronaviruses have been in New Zealand for over a hundred years; they have not just arrived, "coronavirus" is not new. COVID-19 is not coronavirus. (Update 2 – changed info about flu viruses.)

A coronavirus is a member of a particular group of viruses that cause respiratory tract infections and have "corona" in their name because of their appearance. The common cold is caused by any of multiple different coronaviruses and rhinoviruses.

Influenza, a disease with similar symptoms, is caused by just three different types of influenza viruses, each of which has several sub-types. (One of the influenza virus types only causes a common-cold like disease in children; the other two produce more serious infections.)

Technical difference between coronaviruses and influenza viruses: Coronaviruses contain a positive-sense, single-stranded RNA genome. Influenza viruses contain a negative-sense, single-stranded, segmented RNA genome. (The segmented nature of the genome allows for the exchange of entire genes between different viral strains.)

"Coronavirus" is not the name of the virus discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. That virus has a name: SARS-CoV-2. (The name has been criticised.) The disease it causes has a name: COVID-19, which stands for COronaVIrus Disease 2019, the year it was discovered. If someone is talking about COVID-19 they should be referring to a disease, not a virus. COVID-19 is certainly not "the coronavirus". The phrase "COVID-19 coronavirus" is almost completely nonsensical.

Almost every mention of "coronavirus" in the news is wrong. The New Zealand and international news media are being very irresponsible in their reporting.

To be clear: Coronavirus is any virus from a particular group of viruses. SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus. COVID-19 is a disease, and not a virus. SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19.

COVID-19 preferentially affects the elderly and those with coexisting conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and hypertension. The elderly and people with these conditions are much more likely to develop pneumonia, and much more likely to die from it than are members of the general population. For these people, it's a very serious disease, and great care needs to be taken.

However, 80% of total cases are mild. Unusually for a coronavirus, young people are very little affected. As of mid-Feb, no known deaths of children under 10 have occurred, although hundreds have had COVID-19. Children have also been found to be carriers of SARS-CoV-2 but without showing any symptoms of COVID-19.

20-02-2020 – The effect of bullying

Australian boy Quaden Bayles is nine years old and has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. He has been bullied so badly he has wanted to kill himself since he was 6 years old. His mother has had enough and posted this video (on Facebook originally; warning, strong content).

More on the story here (including NZ support phone numbers), Aus news article here, and a follow-up here. Update: Here as well.

One of my students of the last four years has a form of dwarfism. Dear chap – he has now finished school. It was a pleasure and a privilege tutoring him.

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