Skip to main content

The all-too common cold

As someone who is in their eighth decade, I have had to come to terms with the inescapable fact that most of my life is behind me. So looking back is an everyday occurrence. But that doesn't mean that I have abandoned ambition.

The last couple of days has seen me step up the running part of my walk. I now feel sufficiently sore after exercise to know that it's really making a difference. And my heart beats per minute at the end, I do the running towards the end of my walk, have risen into the zone where there should be real cardio benefits. But even so, the average speed of my locomotion remains a tad under six and a half kilometres per hour.

I vaguely have had the view that a suitable end game should be that I am fit enough to do a 10 kilometre run in a decent time. I am already covering that distance on most days, so that's half the requirement. I merely have to up my speed by a bit over 50% to get the time under the hour.

The world record for 10,000 metres, on an athletic track rather than on our up and down roads and paths, is about twenty-six minutes. So being well over twice the age of the record holder, if I can get my time down to twice that world record, that sounds a decent target. So a one hour target is it. Then I shall look for a competitive run to enter.

It is said that golfers preen their egos if they do a round of a championship course in one stroke for each year of their age. Maybe the general target for running should be the world record divided by the younger age and multiplied by the older. With a 23-year old record holder and my being 73, that makes my target for 10,000 metres 82 minutes. So I am setting that as the target for the end of Parliamentary recess.

There's an important point in all this. Even in one's eighth decade, it's necessary to still be setting targets. Gain new skills and knowledge; work on the fitness of body and brain.

We can be pretty certain that the future remains very uncertain in public life and how it may affect us as private citizens. We are in the middle of a pandemic caused by a new coronavirus. A small proportion of our common colds, I think I more or less permanently have the symptoms of one, are from this virus family. Some think as much as a third of acute respiratory infections follow a cold (careful: I cannot find a source to back up this memory but it sounds plausible).

For forty-three years between 1946 and 1989, the Common Cold Unit (CCU) in England's Wiltshire conducted research to understand this most frequent of illnesses. As part of its contribution to widening knowledge of the current pandemic, Elsevier, a Dutch publisher, has created an archive of relevant research which is free to browse (https://www.elsevier.com/connect/coronavirus-initiatives).

One of the papers in it was published by David Tyrell, former Director of the CCU, in 1992 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7133934/pdf/main.pdf).

A selected quote which shows that some things never change is on page 10 (page 113 on the printed page; it's that page in an academic journal);

"Possible strategies for prevention and treatment Common colds, like any other infectious disease, might be brought under control by intervening in a number of ways. These are to prevent transmission, enhance host immunity, limit virus replication..."

Sounds rather familiar.

I was born in 1946, the same year as the CCU. In my whole life, research has been conducted worldwide; without delivering a vaccine against the coronavirus, or the other viruses, that causes the common cold.

My planning assumptions are in two parts. Firstly, the reprioritisation of basic hygiene measures is the measure that will make the biggest reduction in our picking up bugs, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing so much difficulty right now, from others. I now carry a small sanitising spray with me at all times, wash my hands regularly and thoroughly, and expect to do so for the rest of my days. I assume this needs to be a permanent change.

Secondly, and rather less encouragingly, I assume that since we have spent my whole life looking for something that would tinker with our immune system to stop the common cold in its tracks, and have failed, we won't develop a vaccine for COVID-19. But given that we have been successful in developing anti-flu vaccines, I may well be wrong.

I can do something about my first action, in the hope that my second assumption matters much less than it might do otherwise.

Technology and our understanding of the mechanisms in the human body are continuing to increase, and the rate of understanding is also rising sharply. But.

On the 5th of October 1972, I was at a conference at the University of York for a conference on the future of COBOL. That's the COmmon Business-Oriented Language which is a programming language then widely used on business computers. It was designed as a follow-on to the first "plain English" programming language, Flow-Matic, previously designed by Rear-Admiral (from 1983) Grace Hopper. Part of the attraction was that she was a speaker at the Conference. I was privileged to join a small private meeting with her. She was a true hero of computing. When she retired from the US Navy at the age of 79 years eight months and five days, she was the oldest ever uniformed member of that country's armed services.

I made a genuine sacrifice to meet her. The Conference had been suspended so that attendees could sit in the main hall to listen to the last ever live broadcast of the Goon Show. I choose to listen to her in a side room. As someone from across the pond, that radio program meant nothing to her.

Grace's legacy lives on today in the way we do "linear" programming (if you are not a techie don't bother to ask). And after a program run failed in 1947 when a moth, the Americans call them bugs, got jammed in an electro-mechanical computer she was using, the term "computer bug" became common currency.
By Courtesy of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, VA., 1988. - U.S. Naval Historical Center Online Library Photograph NH 96566-KN
COBOL is still widely used. Not much for new programs but still firmly mainstream in programs in use around the world.

Not being modern or fashionable, maintenance of COBOL programs rests on the shoulders of old lags who learned the language decades ago. Their number has been shrinking for some time.

One of the ironies of the present pandemic can be seen in the US program to payout support to those affected by it. It has required amendments to their "MasterFile" software; which is written in COBOL. Not easy to change this software from 1962, especially as the skills reside in an age group most severely affected by the pandemic (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/17/stimulus-unemployment-checks-delays-government-delays/).

COBOL was the first programming language I learned in 1969.

I wonder what the current going rate is?

I don't need to leave my house to help out.



2020-07-15 Correction: Reference to "SARS-CoV-19" virus has been amended to be "SARS-CoV-2 virus".

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Advice to the new MSPs

A contribution made to Portland PR 's weekly briefing on Holyrood A new job is a time to look in the mirror and undertake a self-assessment about what one can contribute in a new role. And what weaknesses one may have that could inhibit success. Being elected an MSP is no different in that respect. But very different in many others. One has become public property and every action, or action thought to be by you, will be open to public comment, often unfairly. Silence is often your best response. When one comments on criticism one lengthens the “war” and widens the knowledge of it. Set your own agenda rather than respond to that of others. Who can you trust among your fellow Parliamentarians? Make contact with as many as you can as quickly as you can. And make it a priority to interact with political opponents. The first substantive decision in the new Parliament is the election of a new Presiding Officer and it will be a secret ballot. Understanding the dynamic of other partie

End of an Era 2016-2021

Written for  Holyrood magazine's "The End of an era 2016-2021"  published 07 April 2021.    Neil Findlay is the man who loves you to hate him. As he rises from his habitual place in a distant corner of the Parliamentary Chamber, a snarl as firmly attached to his face as he is disconnected to any symbol of middle-class values such as a tie, tension flows as he selects his target for the day. Is it dapper John Scott? The record-holder for the shortest time between his being sworn in and making his first speech in Parliament; a mere twenty hours. Does Willie Rennie attract his ire? Confession; we went to the same school. Almost anything liberal is bound to attract this Labour very-back-bencher’s contumely. Greens rarely attract his attention but he should remember that John Finnie, another member of this year’s escape committee, can efficiently direct a canine arrest. Now of course, I have sought to avoid any engagement with the fellow. I never, just never, even acknow

Clutter

When big things go wrong, and one feels powerless to do much about them, small things in one's life can become surrogates for one's anger. And there are quite a few big things around at the moment; COVID-19, No-Deal Brexit; A US Presidential Election where the incumbent leads with racist statements. As the end of the current session rushes towards us, many of my colleagues are concluding that they will not be putting themselves forward at the forthcoming election. A couple of our younger colleagues are placing their families first. But most are looking at being in their eighth decade, as I already am, at the end of the next session. When the two leading candidates for the US President are both older than I am - seventy-four in five week's time - it may seem surprising that retirement may be beckoning for me and others a lustrum younger than I am. But it illustrates the profound differences between being a back-bencher in our Parliament and the political life of a US Senator