What did Q think about Wesley Crusher?

An omnipotent and (reasonably) omniscient being comes to visit our crew, and yet only interacts in a most cursory way with the one member of the crew who is on the verge of transcendence[1]. Why?

Q is the most canonical foil to the Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) Enterprise crew, from the pilot[2], where he declares humanity a dangerous, savage child race, to the series finale, where he helps Picard expand his mind.

Wesley Crusher is the boy genius of the crew, responsible for saving the day on numerous occasions. The Traveler, a being who is able to transcend space (and perhaps time) with the power of thought, sees Wesley’s potential, works with him to save his mother[3], and eventually takes him under his wing to help him develop his powers.

These powers, as demonstrated by Wesley (and The Traveler), include manipulation of and travel through time and space.

So, if Wesley already had the potential to manifest these powers, why did Q not interact with him at all, save for a throwaway ‘gift’ through Riker of temporarily growing him up?

Two images.  First image titled 'Expectations', from TNG episide 'Hide and Q', showing the 10-years-older Wesley Crusher along with his mother Beverly Crusher.
Second image titled 'Reality' showing  a recent image of Wil Wheaton at a convention, adorably and excitedly holding something.
Adult Wesley Crusher: Expectation vs. (Adorable) Reality

Given Q’s demonstrated abilities to simulate entire future and past realities, and his also demonstrated ruthlessness over policing beings with Q powers, one might expect more actions or reactions from him.

Some possible in-universe theories:

Q is unaware of Wesley’s powers, latent or otherwise.
– This feels unlikely, for the reasons above, but it’s possible the powers were latent enough so as to be beneath notice whenever Q encountered Wesley, and Q did not visit the Enterprise between the time when Wesley first manifests his powers (4×05:Remember Me), and when Wesley leaves the Enterprise (4×09:Final Mission).
– It’s also possible (as S suggests) that the Q Continuum had decided to chaperone humans (or even specifically Wesley), and while interacting with the Enterprise, Q fell in love with Picard, basically ignoring all others[4][5].

Q considers Wesley’s powers beneath his notice
– It’s possible that Wesley and The Traveler’s powers are beneath the notice of the Q Continuum. Perhaps their teleportation or basic time manipulation is only moving around in one reality, whereas the Q Continuum is easily able to create alternate realities with a snap of the fingers

Q considers Wesley’s powers as ‘part of what should happen’
– Part of the conceit of the Loki series is the ‘sacred timeline’ where there is a set of timelines that are what is ‘supposed’ to happen. It is possible that the Q Continuum is involved in watching over this in the Trek universe(s). In this theory, Wesley and The Traveler’s powers are progressing as expected, and don’t require intervention or notice. Q could be indirectly pushing this future by letting Riker age up Wesley, to have the dialogue:

Wesley: “I just want to get there on my own”
Q: “But it’s easier, boy”,

to help Wesley build his willpower/sense of self.

Q wants to hide Wesley’s powers from the Continnum (or others)
– Perhaps drawing attention to Wesley’s powers would cause too many problems, preventing them from developing, or intervention from the wrong parties[6] (perhaps even including the Q Continuum).
– Perhaps Q interacting with Wesley would activate Beverly’s even more latent powers, something for some reason that Q is trying to avoid.

Q considers such powers as unimportant relative to a species’ emotional maturity
– Q mentions the word ‘Savage’ multiple times in the pilot. Perhaps Q sees powers such as Wesley and The Travelers’ as inevitable, but what is far more important is the emotional maturity of the species that will be wielding them (so the Continuum can trust them, instead of having to purge them). Some folks over at the Daystrom Insitute[7] speculated that it was some combination of Picard representing the mainstream of human thought[8], and some aspects that the Q don’t have.

So, what do you think? Is it one of the above, or something else?

[1] The most evocative example of this in TNG is ‘John Doe‘ from ‘Transfigurations‘, who transforms into a being of light at the end of the episode.

[2] The series pilot gave us my favourite-named character in all of Star Trek, also spawning a music group and an absurd meme page.

[3] Wesley’s mother, Beverly mentions that her thoughts created the pocket universe/warp bubble that she is trapped in, that they’re working to save her from. This suggests a possible inherited component, if she is also able to bend bend or create spacetime with a thought. “My thoughts created this universe. Can they get me out of it again?”

[4] Except Riker, in ‘Hide and Q‘. Interestingly, if you attribute Q’s actions to a grand plan to prepare the Enterprise to counteract the Borg threat, it would make sense for him to assess and test both Picard and Riker.

[5] Also Data. Someone must have had rank order on the brain.

[6] You think that you see ‘Many Bubbles‘ instead of ‘Fingers’. In the case of the Q Continuum, this might actually be true, as they seem to be able to simulate entire realities.

[7] In case of link rot:


Q can manipulate space-time already. Why would they be interested in that? Q says over the course of his adventures he’s interested in growth, change, evolution. He says humans might one day be greater than Q because they have qualities that Q don’t. He’s probably only interested in beings with traits that aren’t normally expressed by Q. Wesley probably just doesn’t share these qualities with Picard or Riker. Wesley is a genius no doubt but so is Q. Wesley can affect space-time with his mind, but so can Q. Wesley just doesn’t show promise of something new to the Q, even if he is an advanced human.

“…Actually I think Q is more interested in human development in the social and moral sense, not a random genetic mutation that gave some kid mutant powers. Wesley is not representative of human government and political attitudes. Picard is…”


Q isn’t particularly interested in the development of human capabilities beyond noting that they are progressing, he’s more interested in human moral ethical and philosophical development. I think Q being able to exist beyond linear time knows that humanity will develop into Q like beings if they’re allowed to keep on developing for long enough. In that case seeing one human who’s ahead of the curve in wesely wouldn’t be all that interesting to him, just a precursor to something that he already knows is going to happen.

What Q is interested in is the philosophical development of humanity, it’s shown that the Q continuum does in fact have some pretty strict rules about interference and how individual Q are allowed to use their powers. They seem in fact to have something like their own version of the prime directive if what various Q besides Q himself have to say (we need a pronoun for the Q that’s not just Q btw). Among the continuum Q seems to be the one most willing to skirt the boundaries of what they consider proper, but he also doesn’t appear to actually disagree with the continuum’s moral or ethical stance. Most of the time when he does something strange or incomprehensible it’s later revealed to be a test, and almost always a test of ethical behavior that conforms to what both the federation and the continuum appear to espouse: the idea that they shouldn’t abuse their superior powers compared to various less developed lifeforms and civilizations.

Q wasn’t interested in Wesley because Wesley wasn’t really all that interesting, he was just starting to develop the powers that Q knew humans were going to develop. Picard and Riker were much more interesting because of their ethics and morals, they were much more representative of where humans were going philosophically than Wesely who was just a kid with talent.

[8] What does it mean to open the mind of someone in the mainstream? In ‘All Good Things…’, Q opens Picard’s mind to the idea that one can affect the very initial development of one’s species…but this is not a particularly difficult scientific concept, especially given the number of time travelers. One would think that any number of Sci-Fi genre-savy individuals exist in the Federation. So why Picard? Is it just that Q likes him, or sees something in him? Is he helping ‘farm’ humans, in a more respectful way than the Borg? Is there something in what it takes to grow a good starship captain, to grow someone who can make generally good decisions independently, and lead people? Is it especially important to be able to convince *that* person, to open *their* mind?? (Cf. statements about how long it takes to grow a resilient investment bank.). Does it have something to do with the difference between a Sci-Fi writer or even theoretical physicist thinking something is possible, and someone at the helm of the mainstream *knowing* that something is possible? Think about how you would change your actions if you knew something about future science or even just the future with *absolute certainty* instead of just informed speculation.

Auditions, and Going Beyond Words and Notes

Why do some auditions go well, and why do some go so poorly? Why are some performances (even of the same material) go so differently?

Over dinner today, we were watching Gabi Belle’s video about the dearth of good actual comedies in theaters, and she showed some original casting clips from The Office (U.S. version).

It’s always interesting to see the initial audition tapes for actors who have starred and inhabited their roles for years. The most iconic example for me is Robert Downey Jr.’s screen test for Iron Man, where he so inhabited the character that there was no other option but to cast him[1].

The Office original casting clips tell a similar story. John Krasinski (Jim Halpert) completely inhabits his character, and Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute) exactly nails the level and type of insanity that a person would need to have to say the lines in the audition script to a co-worker, apropos of nothing. Jenna Fischer, Brian Baumgartner, Oscar Nuñez, Angela Kinsley, Leslie David Baker, Kate Flannery, B.J. Novak, Craig Robinson, and others, culminating in Melora Hardin and Steve Carell completely embodying their characters. This is basically what you’d expect, from a set of excellent actors/comedians auditioning for a role that would make a bunch of them famous.

What was far more interesting was the performances of the actors/comedians who didn’t make the cut. From the outside, they are just as proficient in their craft, and yet, each of their performances fell flat[2]. Seth Rogan, Bob Odenkirk, Eric Stonestreet, Kathryn Hahn, and Patton Oswalt are each excellent elsewhere (who can forget ‘It was Agatha, all along!‘ (mild spoilers for WandaVision).

This felt really odd. These are all excellent actors/comedians, some of them at the top of their game. How come their auditions were so poor? It felt like they were just reading, or phoning it in. Were they uninterested or just unable to inhabit the character(s)? Were they having an off day, or perhaps they had 10 auditions that week, and they thought The Office would never go anywhere?

Back in the day, I used to do singing competitions, and many of our coaches would talk about ‘going beyond words and notes’, to the point where we were focusing on putting ‘heart’ into our performances. It feels like there’s something like this at play here, where the part goes to the person who can best embody the character, whether that’s because they are a better actor, or because it’s a better fit, the one who can practice their part until it feels natural, until they embody it, until they get beyond ‘words and notes’, and focus on the ‘heart of the character.

Either way, this inspires me to practice my performances more, whether I’m standing in front of some slides, or singing to my wife. Thanks for going on this journey with me. 🙂

[1] RDJ has a well-known and documented checkered past (note: allusions to suicide)

[2] Judah Friedlander had an energetic take on Dwight, but I feel didn’t quite nail the appropriate type or intensity of insanity required for the part. Adam Scott did a decent Michael Scott, but in hindsight, his audition was an even better Ben Wyatt.

He Never Expected to Feel Taller

He’d finally been ‘convinced’ to start tidying his office. He’d been slowly winding down his practice, getting ready to retire, when they met on that fateful case. He had forgotten what it was like to work with someone…perhaps he had never really known.

Either way, it was kind of fun, although it definitely made life ‘different’. He’d been in this office for more years than he could count, and things had….accumulated… Memorabilia from old cases, books he didn’t really need any more, but hadn’t been able to part with, puzzles he used to assemble between cases, or during especially difficult cases, to distract his hands and eyes and allow him to think. There was that puzzle of a castle, that always reminded him of the ‘bracer’ case. ‘brase.’ ‘He he’, he laughed to himself.

Throughout the course of the day, he brought things down from the top of his bookcases, filtering through them to find things to throw out or put on the kerb. At the end of all of it, he had completely cleared off the top of one bookcase, just enough room to display a couple of prize mementos.

It did feel better. The room felt larger, things felt more organized, there were fewer mental distractions as he sat and looked around as he was thinking.

What he didn’t expect was that he felt taller. He wasn’t especially short or tall (indeed, his non-descript appearance had served him well over the decades), but it turned out that the piles on top of his bookcases, no matter how useful they might be to his filing ‘system’, had been looming over him for so long that he had somewhat shrunk into himself.

As he finished clearing off the top of that bookshelf, he stood in his office for a minute, surveying the results. He felt odd. It was like the room had expanded, but at the same time, so had he. It was the strangest feeling: he felt taller.

But wait…that meant…

He picked up his phone and dialed.

“Can you meet me downtown in 20? I think I have an idea.”

“Yes, same place. See you then.”

Oppenheimer: Not What I Expected

So, we just watched Oppenheimer today. I’d been resisting it, because despite[1] all the hype, I didn’t really see the point; I didn’t really see why I specifically needed to watch it[2]. However, S really wanted to watch it together, and it was now out on home video[3] so we sat down for a nice holiday Tuesday matinee[4].

First off, it was fantastic, really well done. If you haven’t seen it yet, please pause this read, do so, and then come back here.

[Spoilers beyond this point]

It’s interesting that I feel I have to talk about spoilers here, for a historical/biographical movie. But I do need to. Anytime there’s a biopic, there are choices about what is shown on-screen, and how each of those things are sequenced and portrayed. The flashback structure and eventual reveal at the end was really good for building and releasing the dramatic tension (the music was fantastic for this…especially the completely silent atomic bomb explosion, which was fantastically effective, along with dramatically representing some of the delay between seeing and hearing such an event caused by the difference between the speed of sound and light).

I’d always conceptualized the Manhattan Project through the eyes of Feynman, from his essay ‘Los Alamos from Below'[5]. I think it wasn’t until today that I really understood that he really meant it that way. I had always seen Oppenheimer as the leader/front man who had to exist so that the project could happen, but also as a quasi-mythical distant figure. I’d also conceptualized the ethical dilemmas about actually building a nuclear device as being shared and agonized over by each and every one of the scientists and engineers (and everyone) at Los Alamos.

The Oppenheimer story, being a biopic largely of one person, centralized a lot of that in one person (Oppenheimer). Interestingly, the movie tried really really hard (and I think succeeded) at leaving Oppenheimer a complex character, with multiple possible interpretations of many of the very real decisions he made along the way.

Cillian Murphy was fantastic, it seemed to me having some of the ‘dazed at the enormity of what we’re doing’ present at all points of the movie, which is appropriate for flashbacks, or perhaps for someone who had his head in the clouds of physics his entire life[6].

Having not seen much about the movie (aside from a clip or two, and hearing about how Cillian Murphy prepared for the role[7]), I wasn’t expecting what type of movie it was, or how pivotal a role Robert Downey Jr.’s character was to play (or that he was to be the villain). He had mentioned in an interview that Nolan had asked him to play against type[8] compared to many of his recent characters.

Florence Pugh was fantastic, although it’s hard to top her iconic performance as Yelena Belova. Matt Damon was an excellent potty-mouthed general, and Emily Blunt and the rest of the supporting cast were great.

I thought it was a really nice touch having Einstein and Bohr both mention that they were from the previous generation, and that this problem was not theirs, but fully belonged to Oppenheimer. S mentioned in particular that it was interesting to see a different, older/more bitter side of Einstein, rather than the ‘genius’.

I also appreciated for the nods to Copenhagen (the play), where Bohr mentions that he got significant information from Heisenberg, and a disturbing scene where Oppenheimer meets Heisenberg, and then immediately turns away and leaves, presumably because he (a Jewish boy from New York) senses that Heisenberg would be willing to work on a Bomb for Hitler[9].

There was also just enough of a Feynman cameo, with two shots of him playing the bongos. With his charisma and fame, anything more might have upstaged the rest of the movie.

Great movie. See it if you haven’t. Let me know what you think!

[1] Or perhaps because of it. I’m often somewhat contrarian about things like that.

[2] Interestingly, I perceived that I needed to see Barbie more than Oppenheimer, but that’s a story for another time.

[3] How anachronistic is the phrase ‘home video’ now?

[4] I find many/most movies emotionally draining/exhausting, and they often require significant processing time afterwards (and this was no exception), and it’s really nice to still have some sun out after the movie is over, which somehow helps with this.

[5] “Los Alamos from Below

[6] It might also be a side effect of playing Oppenheimer while trying to embody the extreme gauntness of the character

[7] Apparently, he lost a significant amount of weight, and kept apart from other cast members during filming, to keep himself in the role and to be prepared for the grueling shooting schedule.

[8] Original NYT interview.

[9] Not much was said in the movie, but it seemed that Nolan (or American Prometheus) had very specific opinions about the Copenhagen conversation.

It had been a long time….

It had been a long time. He found himself wanting to say ‘It’s been a minute’ like the kids used to say. ‘Kids’. Huh. Those ‘kids’ had been grown up for years, decades, even, and the vernacular had long moved on to far stranger things…

…but that was beside the point. If he started thinking about that, he’d be back in Vienna again, and he didn’t have time for that right now.

Rollick paused for a moment. No footfalls. Either that meant no one was following, or they were even more careful than he was, something else he didn’t care to think about right now.

Emerging from the alley, he started to be able to almost feel the beat coming from Collatz. Even the most advanced dampers couldn’t damp the ground displacement of a truly heavy bass. He put in his earpieces and joined the line, tapping them twice to change modes to ‘club’.

Quick survey of the line. No one he recognized, but they could be using a face skifter. He never used them because they were far too detectable by automated systems. He preferred to use his hat and his trained ability to shift his facial muscles. Front of the line. Standard pat-down and scan. Bouncers were no-nonsense, your standard retired linebacker-types. No piece today, not on a mission like this. Just causes more problems than it solves, especially in a crowded club.

Waved through, the door opens. The first wave of the beat is felt more than heard. Down the corridor, no coat check today, with the temperature being ‘ambient’. He enters the club proper, and is assaulted by the sound for a split second before his earpieces kick in. ‘Ah, modern technology.’

He glances at the booth. Good, she’s not spinning right now, so there should be just enough time.

Working his way through the crowd, he moves just enough to the music to look not too much out of place, but not so much that he stands out. He risks a longing glance towards one of the more open areas of the dance floor, but that might be a little too visible today.

He can’t help but look at the endlessly changing light mathematical light display that gives the club its name. With difficulty, he manages to draw his attention away.

Passing the bar, he heads back to the head (natch). No one in the hall, good.


[door buzzes]

He pushes the door open and slips inside.

“You’re late.”

Music: Charlotte de Witte

What does it mean to ‘Roll the Dice’ on COVID?

A few days ago, I posted about some chilling COVID statistics[1], and said that each time you get COVID, you and your children ‘roll the dice’ (referring to the relatively high probability of death and/or organ damage/disability).

A friend of mine commented that this was ‘loaded language and emotional rhetoric’, and it came ‘across as an attempt at manipulation or a genuine reflection of fear felt by the author’.

Setting aside the obvious ‘loaded dice’ pun[2], I’d like to interrogate the meaning of ‘rolling the dice’ (and also the use of such rhetorical flourishes in a Health and Safety context).

“Rolling the dice” is generally[2] defined as “…something could have either a good result or a bad result”, or “to take a risk in the hopes of a fortunate result or gain“[3].

Colloquially, I’ve always thought of it in the second sense given by Miriam-Webster: “It’s a roll of the dice whether we succeed or fail.”, meaning that we are not in control of the outcome, and you should be prepared for the high chance of negative outcome.

Of course, ‘high chance’ is defined differently by different people, and in different situations, people having different risk thresholds than each other, and at different times. For example, a 1 in 10 chance of the bottom of your sock becoming wet[4] is very different than a 1 in 10 chance of being hit by a car.

For the sake of argument, let’s compare the above usage of ‘rolling the dice’ with the most popular[5] dice betting[5a] game ‘Craps‘. In Craps, the two most well known[6] sets of odds are ‘Pass’, or ‘will you win this set of rolls’, and winning on the first roll.

‘Pass’ has a win rate very close to 50%[7], perhaps the origin of the term ‘crapshoot’.

Winning on the first roll in Craps requires rolling either a ‘7’ or an ’11′[8], for a total probability of 8/36, or about 22%. Many might think that rolling a 7 is the way to win in Craps (it’s also one way to lose, if your first roll was 4,5,6,8,9,10). Rolling a 7 has a probability of 6/36, or about 17%.

17-22% is within the range of values found in the literature for the prevalence of Long COVID (currently listed as 5-50% by Wikipedia), and is not dissimilar to the 1 in 7.7 (about 13%) deaths in Canada in 2022 attributed to COVID.

One could also argue that ‘a roll of the dice’ is rolling one six-sided die[9], but that just gives us the 1 in 6 or ~17% chance above again. Higher (or lower) order polyhedral dice[10] (or larger numbers of dice) can give us arbitrarily different odds, but let’s stop here.

Today, Statscan reported on the prevalence and ‘Experiences of Canadians with long-term symptoms following COVID-19’.

"As seen in Chart 2, Canadians reporting two known or suspected COVID-19 infections (25.4%) were 1.7 times more likely to report prolonged symptoms than those reporting only one known or suspected infection (14.6%), and those with 3 or more infections (37.9%) 2.6 times more likely. " https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2023001/article/00015-eng.htm
“As seen in Chart 2, Canadians reporting two known or suspected COVID-19 infections (25.4%) were 1.7 times more likely to report prolonged symptoms than those reporting only one known or suspected infection (14.6%), and those with 3 or more infections (37.9%) 2.6 times more likely. ” https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2023001/article/00015-eng.htm
# of inf. 	% LTS 	95% Confidence Interval (lower, upper)

1+ infections 	19.0 	17.3 	20.9
1 infection 	14.6 	12.8 	16.7
2 infections 	25.4 	21.5 	29.7
3+ infections 	37.9 	29.5 	47.0

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian COVID-19 Antibody and Health Survey - Follow-up Questionnaire, 2023.

This shows that about 14.6% reported long-term symptoms after one infection (about 1 in 7), then of the remaining 85.4%, about one in 8 developed long-term symptoms after a second infection, then of the remaining 74.6%, about one in 6 developed long-term symptoms.[11]

Each of these is pretty close to ‘a roll of the dice’, as we defined above.

Perhaps more disturbing is that more than half of those who reported long-term symptoms reported no improvement in those symptoms over time:

"Almost half of Canadians who reported that they continue to experience long-term symptoms also reported no improvement over time" "Many Canadians with long-term symptoms experience a protracted symptom duration. As of June 2023, 58.2% of infected Canadians who ever reported long-term symptoms continue to experience them. Among Canadian adults who continued to experience long-term symptoms, 79.3% had been experiencing symptoms for 6 months or more, including 42.2% with symptoms for one year or more (Figure 1)." https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2023001/article/00015-eng.htm
“Almost half of Canadians who reported that they continue to experience long-term symptoms also reported no improvement over time” “Many Canadians with long-term symptoms experience a protracted symptom duration. As of June 2023, 58.2% of infected Canadians who ever reported long-term symptoms continue to experience them. Among Canadian adults who continued to experience long-term symptoms, 79.3% had been experiencing symptoms for 6 months or more, including 42.2% with symptoms for one year or more (Figure 1).” https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2023001/article/00015-eng.htm

Also, more than 1 in 5 of those with persistent symptoms (600,000 Canadians) missed days of work or school, missing an average of 24 days each.

Having shown that this is a reasonable use of the phrase ‘roll of the dice’, I also wanted to address the idea of using emotional appeals in public education about health and safety.

Here is an example of the phrase being used in a brochure by the Australian National Electrical and Communications Association

A number of years I had the privilege of attending safety training run by Minerva Canada, where a talk was being given by a representative from a car manufacturing company that you’ve heard of. He was talking about their ‘getting to zero’ workplace accidents project, and he mentioned that at some point, after you’ve tried asking people nicely enough times, you have to get the ‘300 lb gorilla to go tell the guy to wear his @#$%ing safety harness’.

That was my sixth and this will be my seventh post talking about the dangers of COVID. At some point, using stronger (but still accurate) language to educate people about the dangers they and their children face due to action or inaction becomes necessary if we actually want to solve the problem.

Thank you for reading, and stay safe out there.

Get boosted, mask (with an N95 respirator) when you’re indoors with others. Get COVID as few times as you can, and if you get it, rest up longer than you think you need to. Push for better (HEPA) air filtering and ventilation (more air interchanges per hour).

[1] “tl;dr: About 1 in 8 deaths in 2022 in Canada were caused by COVID-19. Organ damage caused by COVID seems to be persistent. Each time you get COVID, you and your children roll the dice again as to whether you die or get Long COVID. Get boosted, mask (with an N95 respirator) when you’re indoors with others. Get COVID as few times as you can, and if you get it, rest up longer than you think you need to. Push for better (HEPA) air filtering and ventilation (more air interchanges per hour).” link to post

[2] In this case, specifically by Miriam-Webster
[3] Idioms Online

[4] Captain Minor Annoyance (abbreviated MI’) is the creation of Ryan George, one of my favourite Youtubers

[5] In North America. Apparently, Craps, and its predecessor ‘Hazard’ are nowhere near as popular in the rest of the world.

[5a] I mention the ‘most popular dice betting game’ partially because most people will have a passing familiarity, I know some of the odds, and those odds are easy to explain. Compare with the games on the ‘top 10 all-time best-seller list‘: Monopoly (3), Clue (5) (uses one six-sided die for movement, but the deduction and knowing your opponents is far more important for gameplay), and Backgammon (8)

[6] I admit, most well known to me, based on learning about Craps during a probability module in high school. There are a large number of ‘standard’ betting options in Craps, but I suspect most people will not have heard of most of them.

[7] Wikipedia says the Craps ‘Pass’ house edge is less than 2%, similar to that of Blackjack, also well-known for have a very slim house edge.

[8] TIL that ’11’ is often called ‘Yo-leven’, to prevent confusion with ‘seven’.

[9] You’d be wrong, as I define ‘die’ as one die, and ‘dice’ as two or more, but many people disagree.

[10] Most common are 4 (tetrahedron, don’t step on these!), 6 (the familiar cube), 8 (octahedron), 10 (not a platonic solid, but a ‘Pentagonal Trapezohedron‘ #til), 12 (dodecahedron), 20 (icosahedron)

[11] Here, I’m assuming that each time a person catches COVID, they either progress into Long COVID, or stay ‘long-term unaffected’. This allows modeling of each subsequent infection independently. With the numbers above, 1st infection has a ~14.6% chance of leading to Long Covid (1 in 6.85), of the remaining 85.4 people, 25.4-14.6=10.8 of them or 10.8/85.4 = 12.6% or 1 in 7.9, then of the remaining 74.6 people, 37.9-25.4=12.5 of them or 12.5/74.6 = 16.8% or one in 5.97. Note that the last number includes those with more than three infections, so one would expect the number for 3 infections to be less than that. Also note that biology is often not linear, and a linear model such as this one may be simplistic, and should only be used for illustrative purposes, no matter how well it fits the curve.

Unless Something Changes, Nothing will Change

tl;dr: About 1 in 8 deaths in 2022 in Canada were caused by COVID-19. Organ damage caused by COVID seems to be persistent. Each time you get COVID, you and your children roll the dice again as to whether you die or get Long COVID. Get boosted, mask (with an N95 respirator) when you’re indoors with others. Get COVID as few times as you can, and if you get it, rest up longer than you think you need to. Push for better (HEPA) air filtering and ventilation (more air interchanges per hour).

It’s been three and a half years since COVID-19 burst into the world consciousness, and ten months since I last wrote about it.

With cases dramatically increasing in North America , and numerous people being ‘surprised that COVID-19 is still a thing‘[1] the time seemed right for an updated review of what we know.

Ontario COVID-19 Wastewater Signal, showing the current (November 2023) peak as the highest in the past 13 months.
Ontario COVID-19 Wastewater Signal, showing the current (November 2023) peak as the highest in the past 13 months.

What is COVID-19 and how do you get infected??

COVID-19 is an airborne contagious disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-Cov-2, transmitted from an infected person through inhaled aerosols. These aerosols can linger in indoor air for hours.[2]

How does COVID-19 work?

The SARS-Cov-2 virus affects numerous parts of the body, by attaching its ‘spike protein’ to the ACE2 receptor found in the lungs, heart and cardiovascular system, gastro-intestinal system, and kidneys, causing issues and organ damage in all of those areas.

Longitudinal studies have shown that this organ damage is persistent, with 80-100% of damage present at 6 months still being present at 12 months[2a].

SARS-Cov-2 is also known to have effects on the brain, causing loss of taste/smell and vertigo.[3] Last time, I also reported the UK ‘Brain Bank’ study[3a] which showed ‘detected damage to areas of the brain associated with taste and smell, along with measurable cognitive impact, even when COVID cases which required hospitalization were excluded’, suggesting that even ‘mild’ COVID cases cause brain damage.

In 2022, StatsCan[4] shows that there were about 43 thousand ‘excess deaths’ in Canada (compared to 2019 and earlier), with 18 thousand people specifically confirmed to have died from COVID.

COVID Deaths:

	2018	2019	2020	2021	2022		1/x cause
Cancer	79,726	80,372	81,242	82,822	82,412	24.67%	4.05
H & Str	67,750	67,081	68,191	68,762	71,272	21.33%	4.69
COVID19			15,890	14,466	19,716	5.90%	16.94
Accid.	15,855	15,527	16,818	19,257	18,365	5.50%	18.19
All:	285,704	285,301	308,412	311,640	334,081	100.00%	
Excess:	0	0	16,334	21,718	43,378	12.98%	7.70

Given the inaccuracies and delays in reporting deaths[5], and the steadiness of the death rate before 2020 (compare the ‘All:’ line in the table above for 2018/2019 with the much greater variability in 2020/2021/2022), it is generally accepted that ‘Excess Deaths’ is the correct way to measure deaths caused by COVID-19.

With that being said, the numbers paint a sobering picture. While 43,378/38 million (0.11%) may not seem like a large number, 43,378/334,081 is 12.98%. That means that for each person that died in Canada in 2022, there was about a 1 in 8 chance that their death was caused by COVID-19.

Also note that there is a substantial uptick in cardiac (Heart & Stroke) related deaths, especially in 2022. COVID is known to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and the ~3,000 excess Heart & Stroke-related deaths in 2022 in Canada help us understand the magnitude of the issue.

COVID-caused chronic diseases ‘Long COVID’:

The prevalence of ‘Long COVID’ is generally accepted to be ‘at least 10%’ , with an estimated 65 million people affected worldwide, with that number increasing daily.[2a1]

Last time, I shared a study[2b] done with data from Veteran’s Administration patients from the U.S., showing that COVID reinfection is just as dangerous (equal chance of death) or more dangerous (increased chance of hospitalization).

While this clearly showed additive effects from second COVID infections, this was a very specific (and not very healthy) cohort.

Since then, there was a study in the UK which looked specifically at the incidence of Long COVID after first and second infections. Among those >=16yo, ‘Activity-limiting’ Long COVID was reported by 2.8% after first infection, with an additional 1.6% after second infection, showing that the effects are either additive, or somewhat random with each infection. Those <16yo had an incidence of 0.6% after first infection, with an additional 0.4% after second infection. The above show that second (and subsequent) infections are still dangerous, still causing life-changing illness, including in children. Even if children may not show the effects as often, they are still affected, and subsequent infections can and do still cause Long COVID in children. So, given the current high COVID rates (see the Ontario graph above), what actions should you take to protect yourself? Wear a good mask: The chart below is from a study performed pre-Omicron, but the general message holds. A cloth or surgical or KN95 (earloop) mask is better than nothing, but not really very helpful unless everyone is wearing one. Specifically, the times below should be revised downward, probably significantly, but even the author has not done so because they don’t know how far to revise them.

COVID Masking Quality Table
COVID Masking Quality Table

If you want to actually protect yourself, you need an N-95 or better (ideally fit tested). My favourite is this one from 3M, as the headloop bands are a mixture of cloth and elastic, and are thus less likely to break.

Check (and improve) the ventilation:

A CO2 monitor such as the Aranet can very quickly tell you how well-ventilated your area is. Anything around 500ppm means that the air in your space is ‘like outside’.

The CDC recommends at least 5 air changes per hour. You can ask your local HVAC expert for the stats on the system where you live or work.

Continue to get vaccinated/boosted:

Vaccinations have been shown to reduce the likelihood of death and long covid[6]

Should you get the next COVID booster?

Health Canada & Toronto Public Health recommend staying up to date with your vaccines (Health Canada says every 6 months, others may recommend more frequently).

If so, which one?

The updated XBB-specific vaccine is known to give a stronger immune response to the more recent variants. Toronto Public Health also has more detailed guidance based on the age of the individual and which vaccines/boosters they have already received.

Should you get the flu shot? If so, how do you time it vs. the COVID booster?

Health Canada recommends getting both the flu shot and the COVID vaccine, and says that it is fine to receive them in either order, or at the same time.

Thanks for reading this far. Working together, we can get through this, but it might get worse before it gets better, until we as a society decide that we actually want to solve this. Stay safe out there.

[1] Twitter announcement that Colbert will be isolating for a few more days.

[2] “Small saliva aerosols (<50 ÎĽm) may remain suspended in the air for hours, during which any viable virus is estimated to gradually decrease. Insights into the evaporation characteristics of saliva droplets and aerosols: Levitation experiments and numerical modeling, Christian Lieber, Stefanos Melekidis, Rainer Koch, Hans-Jörg Bauer

[2a] Multi-organ impairment and long COVID: a 1-year prospective, longitudinal cohort study
Andrea Dennis, Daniel J Cuthbertson, Dan Wootton, Michael Crooks, Mark Gabbay, Nicole Eichert, Sofia Mouchti, Michele Pansini, Adriana Roca-Fernandez, Helena Thomaides-Brears, Matt Kelly, Matthew Robson, Lyth Hishmeh, Emily Attree, Melissa Heightman, Rajarshi Banerjee, and Amitava Banerjee
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Volume 116, Issue 3

[2a1] Long COVID: major findings, mechanisms and recommendations, Hannah E. Davis, Lisa McCorkell, Julia Moore Vogel & Eric J. Topol, Nature Reviews Microbiology volume 21, pages 133–146 (13 January 2023)

[2b] Acute and postacute sequelae associated with SARS-CoV-2 reinfection, Benjamin Bowe, Yan Xie & Ziyad Al-Aly, Nature Medicine volume 28, pages 2398–2405 (Published online 2022 Nov 10)

[3] “The Prevalence of Dizziness and Vertigo in COVID-19 Patients: A Systematic Review“, George Korres,1,* Dimitrios K. Kitsos,2 Diego Kaski,3 Anthi Tsogka,2 Sotirios Giannopoulos,2 Vasileios Giannopapas,4 Giorgos Sideris,1 Giorgos Tyrellis,1 and Konstantine Voumvourakis2

[3a] SARS-CoV-2 is associated with changes in brain structure in UK Biobank, Gwenaëlle Douaud, Soojin Lee, Fidel Alfaro-Almagro, Christoph Arthofer, Chaoyue Wang, Paul McCarthy, Frederik Lange, Jesper L. R. Andersson, Ludovica Griffanti, Eugene Duff, Saad Jbabdi, Bernd Taschler, Peter Keating, Anderson M. Winkler, Rory Collins, Paul M. Matthews, Naomi Allen, Karla L. Miller, Thomas E. Nichols & Stephen M. Smith, Nature volume 604, pages 697–707 (07 March 2022)

[4] Most recent full-year data, sources: Excess Deaths, Excess Deaths detailed data, Confirmed Deaths by Cause of Death (including Confirmed COVID Deaths).

[5] Many sources, but the most official one: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/subjects-start/health/life_expectancy_and_deaths/faq

[6] Effect of covid-19 vaccination on long covid: systematic review
Oyungerel Byambasuren,corresponding author1 Paulina Stehlik,1 Justin Clark,1 Kylie Alcorn,2 and Paul Glasziou1
BMJ Med. 2023; 2(1): e000385.
Published online 2023 Feb 1. doi: 10.1136/bmjmed-2022-000385
PMCID: PMC9978692
PMID: 36936268

Why are there Multiple Theories of Economics?

The Sciences are generally defined as ‘rigorous, systematic endeavor[s] that build and organize knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world.’ As a Social Science, Economics focuses on ‘the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.’ As a Science, we would expect that Economics would be able to make testable predictions, and that over time, those theories would converge and those predictions would become more accurate.[0]

However much improvement there has been in economic theories over the past century or two, there is still no real consensus on the causes of and solutions for such basic economic issues as high inflation.[1]

So, why is this? A number of ideas come to mind, of varying levels of spiciness:

1) Economics lacks predictive power, and can only rationalize cause and effect after the fact

2) Human behaviour is too complicated to model (this Guardian article suggests that it might be a chaotic system)

3) Basic underlying assumptions are wrong (Humans are not rational actors, there is substantial information asymmetry, etc…)

4) Some combination of payola and regulatory capture (the current consensus on drivers of inflation does not take into account changes in corporate profit rates. Also note that the economics ‘Nobel Prize’ is not a true Nobel prize, and has been disowned by multiple members of the Nobel family[2].)

5) Different economic theories are required for different situations (read ‘Micro’ & ‘Macro’)

6) Economic theory is actually game theory, and as soon as something is figured out, humans compensate for that and change the rules (any large institution that you are trading with will adjust their prices (or other rules) if you figure out how to retain a larger percentage of the profit from a transaction, so as to maintain their margins)[3]

7) Much of human behaviour (and economic behaviour) is based on human sentiment, and measuring and reporting on it affects it (try watching how swings in price fluctuate vs. accepted measures of value for stocks as ‘market sentiment’ changes; cf. ‘Mr. Market‘)

8) Economic predictions are subject to ‘groupthink‘[4], as there are immediate consequences of being outside the mainstream, but few consequences for wrong predictions.

9) The returns from investing are directly at odds with the amount of profit made by investment advisors (see Warren Buffet’s successful bet with the Hedge funds for a good example)[5]

10) The inputs and ‘externalities’ are not things that most humans would choose (climate change is the current most pressing ‘externality’[6] that economic does not deal with well, but the original reason that economics was called a ‘dismal science‘ is another.)

So, which of the above are the main issues with Economics? Some of them? All of them? More importantly, what do we do about it?

Well, we can start by only believing theories that have been confirmed through the scientific method, i.e. Prediction, followed by successfully predicted result. Perhaps we can be more aware of sentiment or groupthink, and try to pay attention to the underlying.

(Just remember the famous quote attributed to Keynes: “Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.”

Other ideas on what are the main causes? Other recommendations on how to deal with them? Let me know in the comments below!

[0] There is one Theory of Gravity (modulo quantum), and one Theory of Evolution, and each of them have massive predictive power. Why not Economics?

[1] Note the three main determinants of inflation mentioned do not include ‘too much growth in the money supply’, or ‘price gouging’, generally accepted to be a major cause of the 2021-2022 (and perhaps ongoing) inflation surge.

[2] “Nobel accuses the awarding institution of misusing his family’s name, and states that no member of the Nobel family has ever had the intention of establishing a prize in economics.[39] He explained that “Nobel despised people who cared more about profits than society’s well-being”, saying that “There is nothing to indicate that he would have wanted such a prize”, and that the association with the Nobel prizes is “a PR coup by economists to improve their reputation”.[38] ”

[3] This is based on my experiences in Forex. I imagine other markets would be similar, but the less regulated the market, and the greater the power asymmetry, the worse this issue would be.

[3] “His analysis revealed that economists had failed to predict 148 of the past 150 recessions. Part of the problem, he said, was that there wasn’t much of a reputational gain to be had by predicting a recession others had missed. If you disagreed with the consensus, you would be met with skepticism. The downside of getting it wrong was more personally damaging than the upside of getting it right.”

[4] In case of link rot.

[5] Note that for example, the IMF focuses on the effects of Climate Change (and specifically says it is a ‘global externality’, rather than wielding its considerable power to propose policy changes that might reduce it.

” Climate and the Economy

Climate change has potential to do significant economic harm, and poses worrying tail risks. It is a global externality—one country’s emissions affect all countries by adding to the stock of heat-warming gases in the earth’s atmosphere from which warming arises.

The process of climate change is set to have a significant economic impact on many countries, with a large number of lower income countries being particularly at risk. Macroeconomic policies in these countries will need to be calibrated to accommodate more frequent weather shocks, including by building policy space to respond to shocks. Infrastructure will need to be upgraded to enhance economic resilience.

Elsewhere, climate change can entail significant risks to macrofinancial stability. Nonfinancial corporate sectors face risks from climate damages and stranded assets—such as coal reserves that become uneconomic with carbon pricing—and the disruption could affect corporate balance sheet quality.”

So many different, poignant ways to Remember

“When all the guns fell silent….”

Today is Remembrance Day, where on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour, we commemorate those who served and died in war. The wars of the past century are almost too numerous to count, and the human experience is complex and varied. We had the privilege today of experiencing parts of four similar but very different commemoration ceremonies.

The first was at the war memorial for the 48th Highlanders. There was a brief parade from near the legislative building, with numerous soldiers, accompanied by pipes and drums[1]. This was followed by a surprisingly poignant speech by (I presume) the head of the war monuments commission about the monument itself, which was commemorating its own 100 year anniversary. He noted that monuments are designed and built to appear (and to be) timeless and eternal, but over a hundred years (and often more), there is the addition of battles and names to commemorate (and the inevitable restoration work), such that the monuments have their own history as well.

There was also the beautifully sung ‘Oh God our Help in Ages Past‘ hymn, where we could see the lined up veterans reading the program and singing along, but I could only see a group of young soldiers singing to comfort themselves and each other in the trenches.

To me, Remembrance day has always felt like it should be a poignant and simple ceremony, where there are a few simple words to trigger the poignant memories, followed by silence to fully ponder them.

As reported in the Manchester Guardian, 1919:

“The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.”

After the hymn, there were speeches, difficult to hear because of the incongruously loud generator (for the sound system) that we were standing beside, so we moved on.

The next ceremony we experienced we had walked through during setup. Surprised by the somewhat subtle but very present security perimeter around the Provincial Legislature, we eventually figured out that it was likely because the Lieutenant Governor (amongst others) would be speaking, along with other dignitaries at the Ontario Veteran’s Memorial.

As we walked around the back of the legislative building we discovered the other reason for the perimeter: Two howitzers set up, ready to give a 21-gun salute. One of the nice young soldiers in the safety perimeter kindly offered us ear protection just before the first gun fired. We demurred, which was likely a mistake, as the first shot startled us (and many squirrels). Through the scurrying squirrels, dissipating smoke, and car alarm sounds, it struck me as jarring that an occasion that was all about commemorating when the guns finally fell silent would include so many guns firing, along with a bomber flyover…but perhaps that helps remind people of the horrors of war.

After experiencing more than enough howitzer sounds (five), we moved on to the official University of Toronto commemoration ceremony at Soldier’s Tower. This was a very standard Remembrance day ceremony, with the chaplain talking about the act of love that is sacrifice in war. This was however somewhat marred by the sounds of howitzers in the distance, scaring the children in attendance, and making us jump.

There was one moment of humour, however. I do like the sound of church bells, but it is very difficult to exactly tune them. It’s been very strange having a King, after having a Queen almost longer than living memory. This was the first time we’d heard ‘God save the King’ as part of a ceremony, and the out of tune church bells delivering their almost mocking rendition of ‘God Save the Queen'[2] were an excellent counterpoint.

Last on our journey, we stumbled upon some UofT Engineers performing their (apparently) annual Remembrance Day ceremony, complete with specially built temporary memorial[3]:

University of Toronto Engineering Remembrance Memorial, 2023-11-11
University of Toronto Engineering Remembrance Memorial, 2023-11-11

Of all the ceremonies, this was the one we identified with: They were engineers, they had built the memorial themselves, the ceremony was small and personal, and there was clear counter-cultural representation.

I thought the quote[4] they chose for the memorial (pictured above) was very important for Remembrance Day (and indeed any day people talk about the ‘Glory’ of war or its self-sacrifice):

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

It speaks to how in war, death is gross and horrific. Wilfred Owen was talking about the horrors of watching your friends die from a poisonous gas attack, but it can just as easily apply to death from anything else.

I think we do ourselves a disservice, especially in a time when war is again raging in Europe, to speak of the glory of war, or dying in war, particularly as a method of convincing people to participate. I believe that as mature individuals (and as a mature society), we can understand that war is horrific and terrible, and gross, but still have the maturity to understand that it is still sometimes a necessary sacrifice for freedom.

[1] I mostly know the 48th Highlanders through the excellent musicianship of their pipes and drums.

[2] It will always be ‘God Save the Queen’ to me.

[3] Another past memorial.

[4] ‘Dulce et decorum est‘, by Wilfred Owen

Truth and Reconciliation: Some Resources, Art, Readings, and Teaching Materials

Saturday September 30th was the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

As with other issues, there are a lot of words that I could say about this, but you shouldn’t be listening to me.

Instead, if you want to understand the issues better, I recommend the reports produced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Commission and National Center continue to produce reports in an ongoing way. They have prioritized what they think you should read first, along with the 2015 reports that include a comprehensive history as well as specific calls to action.

You may be interested in First Nations art across various media. I would encourage you to do your own research, but I would put forward the following:

Kent Monkman is an interdisciplinary Cree visual artist. His paintings and installations are thought-provoking, and helped me see Canadian institutions (such as the RCMP) in a very different way. His most recent installation at the ROM was gut-wrenching and thoughtful and so much more.

If you’re looking for music, you might be interested in The Halluci Nation (formerly A Tribe Called Red) (wikipedia link)

If you’re looking for a book, you might be interested in Thomas King. (wikipedia link), or perhaps Indian Horse (also a film) by Richard Wagamese.

The Toronto Public Library has also a list of recommended resources.

If you’re a teacher (or want to learn more), the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation has a Teaching Resource collection.