Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

China, the United States and the world, and the challenge of an emerging global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – 158

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on June 22, 2021

This is my 180th posting to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic that we now face and that by now has found its way into essentially every nation on Earth, and into every facet of our lives. And it is also the 158th installment to this specific series on that.

As usual, I begin this installment with newer updates to a set of basic epidemiological findings, sharing more recent globally sourced data as offered by the World Health Organization as to the current overall state of this pandemic:

• June 21 at 01:38 GMT: 179,252,416 reported cases with 11,565,083 currently active, 167,687,333 now closed, and with 82,622 active in serious or critical condition (0.7 %), and 3,882,008 closed cases reported as deaths (2 %)
• June 22 at 02:11 GMT: 179,534,957 reported cases with 11,415,861 currently active, 168,119,096 now closed, and with 82,638 active in serious or critical condition (0.7 %), and 3,888,361 closed cases reported as deaths (2 %)

I have been writing here, in recent installments to this series, of lessons learnable from this pandemic, and of how we have not learned them from past experience. I was initially planning on switching from that narrative line, back to a more here-and-now one as to where we currently are in the pandemic that we are now going through. And I will pursue that, starting in the next installment to this. But before doing so, I want to offer at least one more longer-term and big picture oriented note to this. And I begin doing so by closely paraphrasing an increasing number of political and governmental leaders as they speak out in response to lowering numbers of new cases of COVID-19 in their countries, and of lower numbers of resultant deaths from this disease too.

China was the first to announce to the world that they had beaten COVID-19, ending it as a threat to their nation and to their peoples. Others: accurately and otherwise have made the same boasts – including the politically motivated in the United States, as well as voices of COVID deniers and minimizers who can be found there and in many other nations as well.

• As I have been saying throughout this series, denying and minimizing the threat of this disease, and actively pushing for public behavior that denies and minimizes its reality has correlated very strongly with increased disease transmission rates, increased numbers of new cases and of resulting deaths from COVID-19 and more.
• And that “and more,” as I have discussed here, means increased opportunity for, and likelihood of the emergence of new forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes this disease, that are more contagious, more virulent and more likely to be less effectively covered by our current vaccines.
• As I said in Part 155 and Part 156, the delta strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to represent a big step in the direction of realizing all of those fears.
• And as I said in those postings, the emergence of more dangerous forms of the virus responsible for this disease, is by far the most lagging indicator that we currently face as we seek to understand and to in some way limit this pandemic.

Our leaders in nations that appear to have gained local control over this pandemic, within their borders, show way too much hubris in the face of this potentially disastrous unknown. And yes, a new highly contagious form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that was effectively entirely resistant to our current vaccines would be a global disaster, affecting everyone, everywhere for its societal impact.

What I write of here may by couched in terms of COVID-19. But it mirrors attitudes expressed and decisions made in the 1918 flu pandemic too, and with less developed and left-out nations continuing to see cases of the pandemic flu for years after this “ended” in the more well to do, developed world. And influenza became the annually resurgent endemic disease that we still know and everywhere globally, and with its ongoing costs in lives from that, that has to be measured in the tens of thousands and more.

I have frequently said that we do not learn the lessons of the epidemics and pandemics that we face, so we keep suffering the same consequences and again and again and …. Ultimately, safeguarding ourselves, and even in the richest and most developed of nations, in the face of potential globally reaching health crises, requires that we end our us versus them naiveté – our us versus them hubris that would tell us that we can be safe in the developed world and that the problems of the developing and left-out nations are strictly their own.

• Look to today! The delta strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (also known as B.1.617.2): first appeared in India, in the midst of a tidal wave of new COVID-19 cases there. And it arose from an already very troubling development with the emergence of an already much more contagious and dangerous strain of that virus there: the original B.1.617 form of it.
• Both initially arose in that developing nation, and both began spreading and globally – and into the most developed, richest nations too, and before their public health systems could even really begin to identify and track this development.

We need to move past our toxic parochial, us versus them mentalities if we are to prevent a next pandemic from taking millions of lives the way that the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 did and the way that COVID-19 is now.

And I add that we need to achieve this if we are collectively going to address the threats of global warming and climate change too, among other challenges that we all face and that respect no borders. But how can we do this without falling into the traps of the seemingly simplistic, when human history has so richly verified that diversity of voices and balances of power are essential if we are to avoid the worst of all worlds, with unopposed authoritarianism but with those global challenges simply continuing on anyway?

The history of the 20th century and of the first decades of the 21st offer way too many examples in support of my offering concern here, to make any simple resolution to the problems that I write of here possible.

I leave that as a source of still open but crucially important questions. Meanwhile, I am going to switch directions in the next installment to this series and focus on more immediately here-and-now issues again. That noted, you can find this and my earlier COVID-19 related postings to this series at Macroeconomics and Business 2 and its Page 3 continuation, as postings 365 and following.

Building a startup for what you want it to become 49: moving past the initial startup phase 35

Posted in startups by Timothy Platt on June 21, 2021

This is my 49th installment to a series on building a business that can become an effective and even a leading participant in its industry and its business sector, and for its targeted marketplaces (see Startups and Early Stage Businesses and its Page 2 continuation, postings 186 and loosely following for Parts 1-48.)

I began discussing in Part 48, a case study example of how a manufacturer that functions in a rapidly changing marketplace, might adapt and change so as to remain both relevant and profitable there. And to repeat my initial bullet point description of the business under consideration there, I reintroduce:

• Archtex, Inc: a consumer market oriented business that produces mid-range priced but high quality (and certainly for its costs) home electronics goods: multifunctional radio plus CD plus DVD players.

I focused in Part 48 on the challenge that this business faces as more and more of their once strong and significantly scaled customer base turn to cloud sourced and streaming provided entertainment, and with that already supplanting large portions of the CD and DVD markets that the founders of this enterprise built it for. And to bring this initial orienting note up to date, I ended that installment with this question:

• What should they do and how and when, and with what transition accommodating prioritization in all of this?

One obvious answer there would be for them to embrace the new. I did not stress the fact in Part 48, that Archtex home entertainment systems prominently include high quality radio receivers as well as CD and DVD players and all of the supportive hardware needed to bring the best out of them. But they do, so they are already oriented towards providing wirelessly, remotely sourced content.

• What would they need to add to their systems beyond WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity? That would include new chip sets that would run in parallel with the ones that they have in their offerings now for managing and providing the types of content they already cover. But their newly augmented devices would use essentially the same power sources and more that they already have. And as most of the technology they use is digital now and integrated circuit based, and this would be too, they would not face significant new challenges, excess heat attenuation included.
• Most all of the new components they would need for this could be purchased from specialist providers, and the same way they source integrated circuit chips and other specialized production components that go into their products now. In fact they could get most of the new that they would now need, from third party providers that they already turn to now for parts supplies. So this should be an easy and even small-stepwise evolutionary change for their parts acquisitions and assembly lines – once they have updated their product designs to include all of this.

That much is obvious, and I add so is a great deal of the marketing change that they would need to pursue in retaining and where needed, rebuilding their customer base for those who see streaming as an essential option in what they buy and use. But that noted, I turn to consider another side to this story that I began addressing in Part 48 that merits fuller consideration here too. And I begin with a consumer facing problem that absolutely everyone who uses streaming media will see in their own direct experience if they have not run into it already – and even if they really like that option:

There is a movie or a piece of music that you absolutely love and you would like to see or hear it again and right now. But the streaming services that you use do not offer it in their inventories. This can even mean content that they did offer but that they dropped, in lieu of adding newer and fresher to their offerings. This might mean content that they never have included and offered, and for any of a wide variety of reasons, with them only starting with an inability of that service provider to reach a licensing agreement with that content’s owner that both sides can agree to.

This type of content unavailability can happen for a variety of reasons and under a variety of circumstances, and it does and on an ongoing basis. None of that detail matters to a would-be listener or viewer when that special something that they really want to be able to enjoy now, is unavailable and slated to remain that way.

That is the problem; hold-in-your-hands CDs and DVSs are an answer, and certainly for the many who still have collections and even small libraries of these offerings – and with that including music and movies and more that are in low general audience demand that streaming services would be quick to drop if they ever include them in their inventories at all.

• If you yourself have CDs and DVDs still, look through them and ask yourself two simple questions.
• What of this collection do I really like, and want to be able to play at least occasionally?
• And how much of this is available on the streaming services that I use now, and likely to remain available there too and long-term?

Focusing on the flip side to that second question, to use a term dating back to disk recoded vinyl records, how much of it can only be available to you if you still have CDs and DVDs and the equipment that you would need to play them?

• That is the market and the marketing and sales opportunity that I started presenting in Part 48 and that I continue and flesh out for its details here.

Legacy can mean also-ran and left-over and slow to adapt to change. But it can also mean enablement and preservation of options. And in this case, and with the way that streaming media content does evaporate from availability, and in ways that no consumer can influence let alone control – that limitation can be important enough to create market enabling and even a significant and durable market enabling strength for an Archtex, Inc.

• And scalability and growth can mean building for, and into new while strategically maintaining a crucially considered balance of old and even legacy, where the right combinations there can be essential for both longer-term flexibility and strength and the longer-term market share that drives that.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment where I will at least begin to discuss the issues raised in that bullet point, in this business example context. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory and at its Page 2 continuation.

Knowledge, ignorance and the challenges of ubiquitously sourced information 4

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 20, 2021

This is my 4th installment to a brief series that seeks to address the challenges of the epistemic bubbles that we all increasingly seem to live in, and certainly as we venture online. See Social Networking and Business 3, postings 490 and loosely following for Parts 1-3.

I have been writing here of the epistemic bubbles that we live in and that so fundamentally divide us – and in ways that undermine our strivings for achieving a more inclusive and enabling democratic governance and way of life. And as part of that, I noted in Part 3 that:

• Effective online social networkers who come to hold particularly wide and strong networking reaches, are almost always people who seek to widely connect, and as a strategic capability for helping them to reach their own goals as well as for how they can help support communities that they see value in.
• But at least as importantly, they have something to say that would resonate with the people who they reach out to, and in ways that would lead to favorable enough responses so as to forge new networking connections – that they would expand their current reach out from as they continue to so network.
• They speak and tweet and otherwise connect with a message that has impact. And they share it in ways that have impact and that others would repeat and share, and certainly in the circles that they seek to network more effectively within.

I then said at the end of Part 3 that I would turn here to discuss the role that social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook play in all of this. And that will mean by focusing on the third and last of those three points, and one other that I also added there:

• Hyper-polarization and the hyper-partisanship that it engenders arise when essentially anything and everything can become fuel for increased us-versus-them divisiveness and when any differences or disagreements and even just any possibility of that would be enough to shut down any possible dialog.

Facebook makes its money, and in the many billions of dollars of profits every business quarter, by selling targeted advertising space to client businesses. And those businesses: large and small alike pay for this marketing and sales access, and at the price points that they do because Facebook can point to the numbers of page views that those landing pages: those individual member pages get. This incentivizes Facebook, through its algorithms to highlight and spread content that is provocative and even openly polarizing, as that catches the most attention and triggers the most click-throughs and the most sharing. Basically, Facebook makes its billions and makes its key owners, such as its founder, billionaires by actively encouraging extremism and polarization on its site.

Twitter has followed a similar pattern, and both have fought any challenge to their policies and practices there, and certainly where they have been called out for actively allowing and even actively supporting the spreading of false and even dangerously misleading information. That has included the spread of fallacy-based challenges to vaccinations against dangerous diseases such as measles, false and misleading polemics concerning COVID-19 that have challenged efforts to contain that disease, white Supremist and other bigoted lies and more.

• Donald Trump would never have been able to rise into political power without his Facebook and Twitter platforms, and particularly if he had not had his Twitter accounts. Facebook and Twitter and their principle owners have become incredibly rich from that, personally.
• And now Trump has lost those platforms and he is trapped for the most part into social media irrelevancy as a result, resting on the still substantial momentum of his prior seemingly 24/7 online presence but unable to substantially add to that now.
• And in this, now former president Trump is simply a symptom here and not in any way a cause. The business models and their dynamics of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and of them in particular, are a lot closer to being the actual causes here.

I write this brief note in June, 2021, knowing that time will pass and that the current challenges of today will drift into a more old-news and history context. So as a thought exercise, think back over the past months since the November, 2020 US presidential elections when Trump lost to Biden, and resoundingly so – just to deny that and launch an epistemic bubble-enabled and promoted reaction from his followers that led to the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capital Building and more. Think back to this as if it were more settled in time and not still so recent. And do so from an awareness that in today’s world, Trump’s followers and in large numbers still, as of this writing, at least claim to think that he won that election in what he calls a “sacred landslide”: his loss then by over 70 Electoral College votes and over 7,000,000 in the popular vote notwithstanding.

What type of a turning point in history will those events come to be seen as? Their root causes were and still are complex, but the issues that I write of in this series represent what are probably their greatest enablers, for having made those decisions and actions possible, and even perhaps inevitable. And the momentum of their dynamics have left a once justifiably proud Republican Party: the once Party of Lincoln, the now party of Trump. (Yes, Twitter and Facebook eventually did ban Trump from their platforms but the damage was already done and its consequences still fester on.)

I will have more to add to this line of discussion in future installments to this series. But that said, I am going to turn to consider the role of single news and opinion sources as they shape both individual communities and even entire nations. And I will begin doing so in the next installment to this series.

Meanwhile, you can find this at Social Networking and Business 3. And you can find related material both there and at that directory’s Page 1 and Page 2.

China, the United States and the world, and the challenge of an emerging global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – 157

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on June 19, 2021

This is my 179th posting to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic that we now face and that by now has found its way into essentially every nation on Earth, and into every facet of our lives. And it is also the 157th installment to this specific series on that.

I focused in Part 155 and Part 156 on national and global vaccination campaigns, and on globally spanning efforts to bring this pandemic as such, to an end. Then at the end of Part 156, I said that I would turn here to step back from the particulars of this pandemic to consider global vaccination programs and their implementation in general. Put simply, what have we now learned from this pandemic, and perhaps belatedly from earlier epidemics and pandemics: the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 included? And how will this impact upon and even fundamentally reshape what is done in the face of such challenges, so we do not blithely end up facing the same “lessons never learned” challenges again?

Again, as in never again? That sounds too grandiose, so I would more realistically, if still perhaps at least somewhat grandiosely hope that we can do at least somewhat better next time and work from there. And there will be a next time and a next and a next after that. Epidemics and true pandemics do happen and they will continue to do so. So let’s start with at least some of the more generalizable lessons that experience has thrust upon us from this pandemic, and from earlier widespread disease events.

• The virus that is responsible for COVID-19: the SARS-CoV-2 virus first appeared in or very close to Wuhan China. There was, and I add still is debate as to how this moved from being a disease of other species, to it’s becoming a human disease. But it did, and gaps and delays in even just bringing effective awareness of this transfer event to the attention of China’s national government in Beijing, can be seen as a source of lessons learnable for moving forward.
• Then China’s national government downplayed this. And it has still adamantly refused to be open, as far as sharing essential information on this where the world is concerned. That still goes way beyond their refusal to allow unimpeded access to outside professions and their organizations as efforts are made to determine how COVID-19 began.
• Just considering one of the major routes of disease spread, globally, for COVID-19, that disease spread across China, and from there to other Asian nations … and from China and those nations to Europe, and unimpeded by any possible effort to slow let alone stop the spread. And it traveled into the United States, and particularly into New York City and its greater metropolitan area, arriving in the lungs of hundreds of thousands of visitors. At the time, Europeans were still denying the fact that an Asian originated disease could spread to their territories and to their peoples and very quickly: even within its incubation period. At the time, all attention regarding the spread of COVID-19 into the United States, was focused on the West Coast and with concern over direct spread from China itself.
• All predictive disease-spread modeling for this type of development needs to be based upon a reliable flow of currently accurate, real-time understanding of actual travel and transportation routes and their volumes of activity. And that model with its patterns of volumes of point-to-point activity, needs to be looked at as a source of disease-spread risk metrics where more people traveling from any given place A to any other place B would represent a probabilistic likelihood metric for the numbers of those already infected who would be included there.
• Let’s reconsider my China (and Asia) to Europe (and particularly Western Europe), and then to the United States disease spread example as just offered above. Huge numbers of people were routinely traveling by air between Asia and Europe, leading into this pandemic. So when actual numbers of active cases in China were rapidly growing, the likelihood of their being large numbers of people from China who were already infected with this disease and who might travel was essentially a certainty.
• That consideration, plus the level of contagiousness of this disease meant that when vast numbers of people who might have become exposed from this, were flying from Europe to the United States and back, that meant that it was inevitable that a great many who were infected with COVID-19 were flying into airports such as Kennedy International.
• Twenty/twenty hindsight is easy … but realistically this should not be looked back upon through that exculpatory filter. This should have been predicable, and predicted. Simply shutting down flights from China to the United States and particularly to its West Coast could not realistically be enough, and certainly if a possibility of disease spreading in steps and stages were to be considered.
• Epidemiological and related information that can be developed when an apparently new disease is arising, has to be gathered in and organized and shared and widely so and particularly as we can and do travel nationally and globally, and faster than any disease incubation period.
• And we need to coordinately, globally prepare for and plan and act in addressing any new potential epidemic or pandemic, and from as early on in it as possible, on the basic of information that is more accurate and complete and real-time up to date than any that is currently available.

This posits epidemic and pandemic response as a fundamentally information gathering and management challenge and it is, and particularly for understanding and limiting how far and wide any new disease can spread, and how quickly it can do that. Success here begins with catching such a disease outbreak early and fast and preventing it from ever developing past its initial real growth phase for the numbers of those infected with it. But realistically, the planning and the capacity for follow through on that has to include an improved lessons-learned capacity for dealing with outbreaks that have already overtly become real epidemics or pandemics too.

• Information enters into that too, and both for knowing how many people are actively infected and where, and what the transmission rates are for this and where.
• But this is more than just an information development and management problem per see. Look at the challenges that COVID-19 has exposed, as are fundamentally built into our basic global supply chain systems.
• We saw this early on in the COVID-19 pandemic with a lack of availability of personally protective equipment and even for frontline healthcare workers who had to deal directly with infected, contagious patients all day and all night long without protection. How many of them avoidably suffered and even died from that?
• We still see this basic challenge, and even for vaccine manufacturers whose facilities all but sit idle now from a lack of essential raw materials. I have discussed the Serum Institute of India in this regard in this series, as a major vaccine producer that has been hit by this challenge. But the supply chain challenges that I make note of here represent a much larger ongoing problem than just that, as significant as that example of it is. Supply chain inadequacies have affected seemingly everything and throughout the healthcare systems of the world. And these challenges have affected supply availability and end user prices faced, and on a supply and demand basis for that if from nothing else, for a vast range of products and across essentially all markets.

I said that I would discuss vaccination programs here, and so far the closest that I have directly come to doing so, has been in how I have cited challenges to vaccine production. But it is not going to be possible to produce the right vaccines without knowing precisely what has to be vaccinated against. See my Part 156 discussion of viral genome testing in that regard. It is not going to be knowable, how to allocate and prioritize vaccine distribution without knowing the epidemiological numbers that should guide such decisions (as also touched upon in Part 156.) And it is not going to be possible to know, and certainly early on, if a vaccine preparation is not working as effectively as expected due to mutational change in the pathogen it is supposed to immunize against, if the numbers are not there and widely shared and known and acted upon for how that outbreak is developing. So I come back to information there too and to vaccination programs being information driven, and at least as much as anything else.

Learning the lessons of now and of past massively consequential disease outbreaks is all about thinking through and acknowledging gaps and inconsistencies and yes: bad decisions made and not corrected from and even in spite of emerging evidence that should be forcing such adjustments. And this applies to vaccination campaigns and how and where they would be carried out, as much as it does to anything else faced in this type of circumstance.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will return to offering new updates from the World Health Organization to put my updates into a more here-and-now perspective. Meanwhile, you can find this and my earlier COVID-19 related postings to this series at Macroeconomics and Business 2 and its Page 3 continuation, as postings 365 and following.

Moore’s law, software design lock-in, and the constraints faced when evolving artificial intelligence 18

Posted in business and convergent technologies, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on June 18, 2021

This is my 18th posting to a short series on the growth potential and constraints inherent in innovation, as realized as a practical matter (see Reexamining the Fundamentals 2, Section VIII for Parts 1-17.) And this is also my 15th posting to this series, to explicitly discuss emerging and still forming artificial intelligence technologies as they are and will be impacted upon by software lock-in and its imperatives, and by shared but more arbitrarily determined constraints such as Moore’s law (see Parts 4-17.)

I begin this posting as I have all recent installments to this series, by noting a set of fundamental issues: fundamental lodestone precepts that have underlined all that I have been offering here. And I repeat them for how they hold particular relevance in the context of emerging, increasingly capable artificial intelligence and its possibilities in an emerging quantum computing context, where I cite and discuss that hardware framework as one possibility for enabling true artificial general intelligence:

1. A reconsideration of risk and of benefits, and both as they would be viewed from a short-term and a longer-term perspective in this new and emerging context,
2. A reconsideration of how those issues would be addressed in a design and manufacturing context,
3. The question of novelty and the challenges it creates when seeking to discern best possible technological development paths forward, where they can seem to be clear when simple cosmetic changes are under consideration, but opaque and uncertain when more profound changes are involved,
4. And lock-in and certainly as that becomes both more likely to arise, and more likely to become more limiting as novelty and the unexpected arise.

To bring this preliminary orienting note up to date for how this installment fits into the developing narrative of its predecessors, I offered Part 17 as a hardware platform agnostic discussion of the limits to self-learning in an artificial intelligence system and certainly when this means deep learning that would extend into step-wise self-analysis and change in that agent’s own algorithmic underpinnings – where it can develop and in some sense optimize both its selection of data, and its fundamental systems for processing and making use of that and for making decisions and for when pursuing courses of action as a result.

I ended that posting on two notes: one negative and one at least potentially positive:

• The limitations of clutter, and of development of an artificial intelligence systems counterpart to the metabolic storage diseases of organic organisms, and
• The possibilities of system simplification processes that would help to at least limit that as an emerging challenge.

And I said at the end of that posting that I would at least begin to discuss human brains and their functioning to this overall narrative and with that including my discussing the overall networked systems of synapses in a brain: its synaptically connected architecture, and synaptic level wiring and rewiring as take place within that complexity and on an ongoing, lifelong basis.

To clarify my meaning and my intentions there, I note a crucially important point of understanding. The functional capabilities of a brain reside in its networks of neurons as they connect axon to dendrite and from one connected neuron to the next. But that statement on its own masks orders of magnitude of both complexity and of nuanced capability. Single neurons can synaptically connect with hundreds and even thousands of other neurons and mirror neurons as a perhaps extreme case there can individually have up to 10,000 synaptic connections.

Plasticity in functionality can arise at the level of pruning out and elimination of old neurons and the development of new. But the pruning away of and the addition of new synapses, and the functional strengthening of synaptic connections that are functionally important is both a faster and a more comprehensively followed method for this and both for adaptive change in overall functionality and for specific detail learning. As such, a brain’s overall array of interconnecting synapses is identified as a specifically significant construct with its own term: the synaptosphere. And this is both vastly larger in its complexity and much more individualized than any cellular level neuronal mapping of a brain.

This line of discussion up to here, offers a selective perspective on how a brain is functionally organized and in a way that allows for and actively supports both plasticity and individuation as based on experience and learning. But how does this, and how do brain structure and function issues per se relate to more artificial constructs that might be developed as platforms for intelligence, and even general intelligence? I begin addressing that complex of issues by pointing out a crucially important point of detail that has applied to essentially all electronic computers ever built and used and for any computational or other data processing purposes. They are all digital, where a human brain is an analog system.

• What of artificial neural networks and computer systems that are built to function as such? If they operate through integrated circuit or similar technology they are digital emulators of analog neural network systems.
• What of quantum computers with their spectrum of possible non-binary values entering into all calculation steps as carried out? They carry out what is much more like the analog processing of synaptically connected neurons, where what amount to consensus vote determinations based upon the sums of inhibitory and excitatory postsynaptic potentials, determine if and when those neurons will fire – as they connect to which functionally downstream next step neurons, or functional affectors (e.g. muscles or glands.).

Are brains quantum computers? That is the wrong question. Both are fundamentally analog, and just of different forms and certainly where our current early embryonic development stage quantum computers are concerned. I expect the hardware of quantum computing to change with time, and at least as fundamentally as electronic computer technology computers have, going from hand rewired vacuum tube systems to our current and upcoming next generation integrated circuit based systems. I would not even try to guess what we will eventually see in that or what it might be like, or how.

That all noted, and primarily at a reductionistic level and certainly when considering digital and analog systems and their component elements per se, how are these systems organized and structured at a higher level? And how do they compare there?

I am going to begin discussing that complex of issues in the next installment to this series where I will at least begin to compare brain architectures and their biological implementations, digital computers, and at least potential developments that we might expect in how larger scaled quantum computers might be designed and built – at least when that is considered from a simple evolutionary perspective from our current here-and-now for those systems. And in anticipation of that discussion to come, I will address potential challenges such as the ones raised here in Part 17 when discussing and speculating on these issues.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3 and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I also include this in my Reexamining the Fundamentals 2 directory as topics Section VIII. And also see its Page 1.

Telecommuting reconsidered as a new normal 8

Posted in outsourcing and globalization by Timothy Platt on June 17, 2021

This is my 8th posting to a series that has its roots in this blog going back to its beginning, and certainly in my thinking. More concretely and as a matter of written record, this has its roots here, going back at least as far as late 2012 when I thought through and then wrote and posted a short series on a possible business model that would take online and remote working to its logical conclusion, with the possibilities of an essentially entirely online and remote workplace business: a true telecompany. See Outsourcing and Globalization, postings 48 and following for my series: Telecommuting and the Marketplace Transition to the Telecompany. And you can find this series at that same directory page starting with its posting 70.

I began explicitly discussing the telecompany model, as it might be realized coming out of our current COVID-19 pandemic, in Part 7. And I said that I would continue that line of discussion here. I begin so by picking up on a point of detail that I offered in that posting that at the very least bears clarifying elaboration.

I wrote there, in keeping with my earlier discussion of this topic, of a telecompany as being a business that would functionally exist as an:

• “… essentially entirely online and cyber presence and with essentially no business owned and maintained physical presence of its own to maintain. … Its online presence would be maintained on third party owned and maintained servers and it would functionally exist in the cloud. And its visible presence as presented to the world: its marketplace and customers and potential customers included, would be found and seen and connected with entirely online.

That in its pure form, might apply and effectively so for businesses that provide services but no physical products per se, and that process information in-house as part of, and in support of this activity. But realistically, even a strictly service-providing business might face challenges in developing itself into a true telecompany, and even prohibitively significant ones. And to take that out of the abstract, consider a type of business that I have touched upon recently in another series, in a Green business context: a business that specializes in stripping and treating and protectively coating wood flooring and outdoor wood decking that uses Green supportive materials and exclusively so to do this.

This is a business that might not need office space for any of its white collar work activities, and from marketing and sales, and setting up and managing specific orders and accounts on through to the work activities of its chief executive officer and owner. But they will still probably need to have business owned and branded vehicles and equipment, and they will need to purchase and maintain supplies of the chemicals and materials that they use in this work.

One way to limit their ownership footprint there and bring them closer to being at least telecompany-like would be to rent space as needed and even their fleet of vehicles; many businesses do in fact rent vehicles and even routinely so, and they have from well before COVID-19 with its imperatives for slowing if not stopping disease spread. But to focus on physical space and its rental, and on stocks of supplies of those chemicals and other disposables that would have to be maintained, consider this at least potential for fundamental conflict here:

• The challenge of just in time business practices and lean inventories, versus potential supply chain inefficiencies, and certainly as they can and do arise as sudden and even disruptively unexpected problems.

First of all and as an obvious point, just in time and lean inventory mean both reduction in the drain on liquidity that a business needs to maintain from holding a portion of its overall monetary value in forms that might not be easy to immediately turn into cash, and certainly without loss. This comes from the direct costs to buy inventoried stock, and the costs of warehousing it as a business owned and held asset. Lean in particular there, directly reduces both, leaving more of a business’ monetary value liquid. And yes, the value tied up in capital assets such as owned warehouses can be the larger of the two and particularly if they are located in areas with high overall property values and with property taxes and other assessments to match.

But look at the shortages and delays in availability that have haunted both nationally reaching and global supply chain systems as a consequence of COVID-19, with its shutdowns in both developing raw materials and preassembled parts that would go into producing finished products, and for developing those finished products themselves.

I have written in this blog of the challenges that the Serum Institute of India has faced in securing the raw materials that it would need in order to produce the hundreds of millions and even billion and more doses of COVID-19 vaccines that it initially promised to manufacture and send out. This has added to India’s healthcare and public health crises from how it has meant hundreds of millions of its citizens not having access to vaccine doses that were promised to them. But it has also effectively ended their government’s efforts to position India as a real power in the world for how it would be a source of life saving vaccines to other developing world nations.

That is an explicitly COVID-19 based example of a much more far reaching problem that has challenged production and delivery of computer chips needed to manufacture a host of product types for a vast range of manufacturing industries, and more – much more. And this side to the above bullet pointed challenge dictates a need to maintain a prudent excess above any more explicitly, predictable-based assessment of what lean or just in time plus lean would call for.

That on-hand excess, and best case, worst case and normative case risk management assessments of where to say enough of it would be enough, can be seen as setting basic parameters as to how close to a telecompany model any business can actually become, at least without taking on unacceptable risk from doing so.

What businesses might be the immune to this? As a basic, and perhaps simplistic answer, I would say pure play information industry businesses where information is their raw material input, their product and service output, and all that takes place in between.

That said, I will at least offer some thoughts on how even that type of business would have to rethink and redevelop to make a true telecompany approach work for them. And that is where both supply chain and larger business and market ecosystems enter this narrative.

I am going to turn to that complex of issues in the next installment to this series as I further refine what a telecompany would be. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Outsourcing and Globalization.

China, the United States and the world, and the challenge of an emerging global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – 156

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on June 16, 2021

This is my 178th posting to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic that we now face and that by now has found its way into essentially every nation on Earth, and into every facet of our lives. And it is also the 156th installment to this specific series on that.

As usual, I begin this installment with newer updates to a set of basic epidemiological findings, sharing more recent globally sourced data as offered by the World Health Organization as to the current overall state of this pandemic:

• June 14 at 01:18 GMT: 176,702,148 reported cases with 12,150,843 currently active, 164,551,305 now closed, and with 85,074 active in serious or critical condition (0.7 %), and 3,818,942 closed cases reported as deaths (2 %)
• June 15 at 01:47 GMT: 177,020,418 reported cases with 11,991,342 currently active, 165,029,076 now closed, and with 84,602 active in serious or critical condition (0.7 %), and 3,827,430 closed cases reported as deaths (2 %)
• June 16 at 01:24 GMT: 177,393,240 reported cases with 11,732,014 currently active, 165,661,226 now closed, and with 83,695 active in serious or critical condition (0.7 %), and 3,837,600 closed cases reported as deaths (2 %)

I addressed a set of issues in Part 155 that relate to the complex puzzle of national and global immunization programs for ending the COVID-19 pandemic as such. And as part of that I offered a number that some might find a bit startling and certainly overblown: an estimation that full global immunization against this pandemic might take some 11 billion vaccine doses, counting single and dual dose vaccine preparations and the inevitability of dosage loss and spoilage.

I then said at the end of that series installment that I would add some more numbers here in order to flesh out that line of discussion. And I begin with what under most circumstances would qualify as a very big one: 500 million, and with a news reference that cites it:

Addressing the Global Vaccine Shortage, Biden Cites ‘Our Humanitarian Obligation, to Save as Many Lives as We Can.’ which I quote from with:
• “President Biden, under pressure to address the global coronavirus vaccine shortage, announced on Thursday that the United States will buy 500 million doses of vaccine and donate them for use by about 100 low- and middle-income countries over the next year.”

This brings up a second here-relevant number too: 100, as in about 100 nations. And I acknowledge up-front to all that I will say here in this posting, that there are a hundred and more nations that are still effectively being left out as far as access to COVID-19 vaccines are concerned. So from a moral and ethical point of view, it does sound both reasonable and justifiable, distributing these doses that way, giving each of these nations on average some 5 million doses. That would presumably just be an average number with recipient nations that have larger overall populations receiving more doses and smaller nations less. But simply distributing from this bounty, proportionately to national population size would be one way to manage this, and it would be difficult for anyone to complain of favoritism there, and certainly from among those roughly 100 nations.

But let’s reconsider this, starting with a basic if unstated assumption that is built into that decision and its implementation details as just offered. The above approach would make sense if COVID-19 transmission rates within those nations were in fact a recurring constant and the same for all. And it would make sense if the basic healthcare systems in these nations were all about equally impacted upon and stressed by this challenge. But a simple distribution approach that I will refer to here as the egalitarian plan, would begin to break down for both its effectiveness and for its ethically and morally grounded evenness and fairness when the types of homogeneity that I just cited begin to break down. And in that context see:

Vaccines cannot come too soon for regions like Latin America, the W.H.O. says.

Latin America has within it, particularly hard hit nations with soaring COVID-19 numbers and overwhelmed healthcare systems. And while Brazil might be their poster child example for that, and certainly as of this writing, it is not unique for holding that status. And Africa and Asia have their particularly severely impacted upon COVID crisis nations too, and with that going way beyond the single best known Asian example: India.

I wrote in Part 155 of the challenges that come to both healthcare systems and public health efforts, that arise from the emergence of new, more contagious and virulent strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. And I at least briefly wrote there of how some of the new and emergent forms of that virus that have already emerged, show changes that would at the very least make some of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use, less effective. I have written at least briefly of the science behind that too in this series, and stress its increasing significance given the emergence of new forms of the virus such as the delta strain (B.1.617.2).

• This and similar potentially game changing new forms of the virus that cause COVID-19 are much more likely to arise in nations with high transmission rates and high numbers of currently active cases of the disease – and to the risk creating detriment of all, everywhere. And that unavoidably real fact directly challenges the egalitarian plan as noted above, by draining large numbers of doses away from nations that present the greatest risk for this, and that are suffering the most now, sending them to nations with low transmission rates and very low case totals.

And this brings me to what I would call the risk and needs calibrated plan, which politically I would refer to as an egalitarian plan as adjusted to account for immediate needs faced and risks that come from that.

• None of the roughly 100 nations of the Biden version of the egalitarian plan would be left out of this. But the numbers of vaccine doses allocated where, would be based at least to a significant degree upon current COVID numbers, known levels of which new more contagious and dangerous forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are being found there, and similar weighting factors.

And I just tossed an element of chaos into that at-least initially reasonable sounding broadly stated plan description. And it is one that I raised and discussed in Part 155 that merits acknowledgment of here too: the fact that new viral form identification is a lagging indicator in tracking and understanding this pandemic, and one of a half year or so for its degree of lag. So I would add two specific requirements to the above:

• All nations participating in this as vaccine dose recipients, would have to allow and actively support assistance in gathering more accurate, real-time COVID-19 epidemiological data. This would align with the interests of these nations and particularly for those hard hit, where underreporting would reduce their vaccine allotments and both for these 500 million doses and for any next round follow-up distributions too.
• And all nations participating in this as vaccine dose recipients, would have to allow and actively support assistance in gathering more accurate, real-time data as to the emergence of new forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through viral genome testing. For the nations receiving these vaccine doses, this would primarily mean they’re facilitating access to fresh specimens from COVID-19 tests administered and either at hospitals or clinics, or as collected in local communities, as for example by personnel operating out of trucks or other vehicles. But this would also call for their officially allowing and supporting such testing and with building space and other resources that they could provide for it and that would be locally needed, offered.

My intention here, is to offer at least a possible approach to a solution to this challenge that would help address current needs in nations that have been left out, while at least partly addressing the challenge of knowing where we are, nationally and globally as far as new forms of this virus are concerned – and where we actually are as far as COVID-19 numbers are concerned.

Actually designing and setting up this type of plan would reveal its implicit and unavoidable complexities, so marketing this to the world would not be easy. That would in fact be much harder than explaining and justifying a simple and seemingly straightforward egalitarian plan, even with such a plan’s build in flaws. But that said, I offer this for what it is worth and to anyone who might find it of interest or use.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in the next installment to this series in a few days, where I will step back from the particulars of this pandemic to consider global vaccination programs and their implementation in general.

Meanwhile, you can find this and my earlier COVID-19 related postings to this series at Macroeconomics and Business 2 and its Page 3 continuation, as postings 365 and following.

Dissent, disagreement, compromise and consensus 72 – the business context 21

This is my 72nd installment to a series on negotiating in a professional context, starting with a focus on the employee-to-employee and employee-to-business side of that as found in more individual jobs and careers contexts. See Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 484 and following for Parts 1-51 for that side to this overall narrative. And in that context, I have also been discussing the business side of negotiating here. See that same directory Page 4, and its postings 535 and following for Parts 52-71.

I began this second progression of postings from a business-to-business perspective and where all involved in these conversations and negotiations are acting on behalf of larger organizational entities, and not strictly on their own. Then I turned in Part 69 to the issues and challenges of business-to-individual negotiations and the conversational and related interactive contexts that lead to and shape them.

Of crucial importance in this developing narrative, I began preparing for more detailed context and circumstance-specific discussions here, by offering a two part note on negotiating styles in Part 70 and Part 71. I offered that note in more general terms and as a basis for developing and offering better, if not necessarily best practices approaches for dealing with specific here-and-now business-to-individual negotiating scenarios. And my goal here is two-fold:

• To begin addressing those more specific scenarios,
• And to more generally take my Parts 70 and 71 discussion out of the abstract with an example of how things can go wrong when a more opposite approach is followed.

I have often said in this blog, and in general – certainly in my consulting, that sometimes our best teachers and the most compellingly effective lessons that we can face and learn from, come from the worst case in point sources that we face. When everything is moving along smoothly and all is basically good, nothing really stands out that can serve as a clear starting point for better understanding possible excellence there, let alone serving as a starting point for developing best practices for achieving that. But when things are really going badly, it is more common to find that the failures and disconnects that creates, stem from specific identifiable sources: specific details of the overall of what is being done and how and why. These pain points do create real, significant openings for considering and understanding both how and why they have led to problems, and for thinking through and developing better approaches that would at the very least help prevent their repetition.

Think of the case-in-point example and the executive who made it possible, that I would offer here as a first specific scenario, and as presenting one of the best and I add one of the most widely applicable learning opportunities that I have ever faced in my work life. And I begin by categorically stating that this senior level manager and supervisor achieved this by violating both the letter and the spirit of everything that I sought to include in my Parts 70 and 71 discussion.

This goes back a number of years now. I took on what at first looked to be an open ended consulting opportunity with a large compartmentalized organization with both private sector and public sector ties. And I was brought onboard to resolve a high priority problem that that organization, or rather that siloed part of it faced. They had a long history of seeing their former clients falling away and effectively disappearing to them and they needed to reconnect through social media in building what would ideally be a mutually supportive community with renewed involvement.

• This meant my identifying key networkers and other starting point resources, such as LinkedIn groups that these people would be more likely to join. See my earlier posting on Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy for a categorical discussion of the types of individual key networkers who I reached out to for this. And I refined my online groups list iteratively and both from what I learned from these individuals and from the groups themselves.
• And this meant reaching out to these individuals and groups and in ways that would help me to connect and engage with them more effectively and with that leading to still wider reach.
• But I was also responsible for developing a database system for all of the information that I would develop out of this, with names and contact information and other pertinent data that would make those name lists useful in this business needs context.
• I knew that I was going to be largely on my own for the social networking and outreach half of this. But I was led to believe that I would be given technical support and hands-on support as well for the nuts and bolts detail work of actually building the database, and with my role there more focused on planning out the data fields and the SQL queries that would be employed there.
• And then I took that job and began working there and a whole array of underlying truths started to become visible. My boss’ boss there: a relatively senior executive, saw this project as one of his high priority goals so he was going to actually hands-on manage it. That, in and of itself was no problem and it could in principle have been a real source of opportunity and particularly where access to information from outside of that silo but from within the organization was concerned – which did prove to be needed.
• But the problem was that this leader was a sadist who seemed to delight in denying support of any kind – and certainly for that database work.
• I was in fact able to secure what looked to be the support that I needed, from a mid-level manager there, and I kept getting reports on its progress. Then literally the day before I was supposed to give a largely-working first step demonstration of this new resource with thousands of client records to sort and filter through in answering real business questions faced … that database disappeared. So did the programmer who was helping me with it.
• And one more detail: I found out as this was developing, and unraveling that I was not the first or the second or even the third to have been hired to take care of this project. This executive had already undercut a succession of earlier attempts and it seems that every single time, a next try was forced to start from scratch with none of the fruits of earlier efforts shared with them as starting points for their own work.
• And everyone working there, my direct supervisor in this definitely included, was so afraid of this executive that no one was willing to tell me any of this until I was already on essentially the exact same glide path to failure that my predecessors in this had traveled.

What is the craziest part of this? The people I worked with there, liked what I was doing enough so that that organization paid for me to get a mini-MBA, tuition free to me as a bonus!

I wrote in Parts 70 and 71 of building and burning bridges. This executive burned every one that he could reach to ashes and throughout his siloed off fiefdom there. And his toxic narcissism and his sadistic take on management meant that he never actually achieved this, his high priority goal as in fact required of him from still higher up in that business. (I have reason to believe that attempts made after mine failed too, and in essentially the same way.)

I wrote in Part 71 of being honest and reasonable and good, and expect that some readers would roll their eyes at that for its apparent naivety. Think of this unhappy but very real narrative as showing how that approach can be both workable and essential too. Its opposite is all but certain to lead to dysfunctionality and disaster. And I end this scenario example by posing a simple question:

• What would have happened if that executive leader had been as supportive as I was initially led to believe he would be, and yes even as a manager who wanted to take a more hands-on – but in this case supportive role there?

One likely answer is that I would have never been offered this work opportunity because the first person brought in to try taking it on would have successfully completed it, and certainly up to the point of developing a stable working, maintainable resource.

I will only add that the issues and challenges raised there are not unique, and certainly at a level of working constructively with others, and listening to them and negotiating with them as needed. So I end this posting by citing a news story from the more immediately here-and-now of the COVID-19 pandemic that we currently face:

Ex-Trader Joe’s Worker Claims He Was Fired for Requesting More Store Safeguards Against COVID.
• As an openly, publically visible news story, this raises fundamental challenges for that business as it seeks to present itself in a positive light in its customer and community facing marketing too
• And certainly when so many of the people who they seek to gain and keep as customers would be repelled by possible unsafe conditions at a store and certainly during a COVID-19 pandemic.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to consider more positive and best practices approaches to business-to-individual negotiating. And I will do so in the context of specific real world scenarios.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Page 4 to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, and also see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3. You can also find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 3, and also see that directory’s Page 1 and Page 2.

Rethinking and reframing Green as reemerging opportunity – 10

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 14, 2021

This is my 10th posting to a short series, concerning priorities and relevancy as they arise and are shaped by circumstance, and as they are maintained or not and both within a business and for its marketplace. And more specifically, this is a posting and a series of them about reemerging opportunity in a time of change and transition. See Social Networking and Business 3, postings 470 and following for Parts 1-9.

I have been discussing Green marketing in this series since Part 7 and continue that narrative line here, where I will focus on an increasing important area of consideration that can best be thought of as a child of the interactive internet and the social media channels that it makes possible.

Put in more general terms, consumer and community member sourced, individually personalized reviews and publically visible feedback have come to hold tremendous weight in both shaping a business’ marketing and more. Positive and negative messaging there and their balance, and any trends in what they would say, can and do affect businesses as a whole and for what they do and how and with what priorities and with what success. That said, these capabilities have become subject to abuse, and predictably so.

• Businesses can post their own laudatory social media postings or pay to have third party providers do this for them, to increase the volume of the apparent social media attention they are getting and in favorable terms of their choosing. And some do this.
• Businesses can pan their competition with social media messages and online reviews that appear to come from customers or other outside voices too.
• And trolls and trolling behavior that simply seeks to challenge and denigrate can come from outside individuals and groups too and for any of a variety of reasons, few if any of which are laudatory.

My point here is simple. Social media posted and shared experience can hold a lot of weight as its readers make their own buy and use or not, and support or not decisions. And we all turn to online reviews too, in order to capture some of the lessons-learned value from other peoples’ experience. But realistically, it is a foolish consumer who does not take what they see and read in this, with a grain of salt: with a measure of due diligence doubt. And the organizations that all of this messaging is about, need to be aware of all of this too.

One way that a Green business can act upon that awareness, is to look for recognized third party validation from organizations that offer certifications or their equivalent that show to the world that they at least meet specific high level standards of excellence. I mentioned Green supportive building standards in earlier installments here, so I begin with that.

If your business wants to show to the world that it is Green to its core, one way to do so would be to show that it acts as environmentally responsibly as possible in its basic business operations and in where it carries them out. And for building certification and related validations as to how a business maintains its business space, this preeminently means recognition such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the buildings involved themselves, and Energy Star certification and similar for how it makes use of them.

• What are the basic industry and business sector that your specific Green business belongs to, and that you want it to stand out in and positively so?
• Now what are the most positively recognized, authoritative certifying organizations that businesses in your industry and business sector would turn to, in order to unequivocally demonstrate their Green excellence?
• Apply for recognition and certification there, and market these proofs of your accomplishment as you attain them. And look full cycle there, where this means pointing out and validating the positives of how you manufacture your products and from what, on out.

To take that out of the abstract, citing the food industry in its varied forms as a source of working examples, selling for a food store, or using certified organic foodstuff at a restaurant is a real positive, as is buying locally wherever possible so as to reduce a business’ carbon footprint. And for a testing and certifying agency that specifically looks at and reports on the carbon footprints of foods, consider CarbonCloud. A restaurant that buys locally and organically wherever possible and that turns to resources such as this to make sure that they buy Green and even when they cannot buy locally, can create a very genuine, very positive message to share from that.

What does your business do? How does it do that? What materials or products does it use, and what does it produce and both as useful product and service and as waste products from that? How does it source for the former and dispose of the later, and with what environmental impacts? How can you make all of this more Green aware and supportive? And what organizations track and performance review and even explicitly certify for at least key areas of all of this? And how can you best reach out for positive recognition from them that you can cite as validating your business?

This posting is about marketing; I am going to turn in the next installment to this series to address the issues of mission fulfillment oriented networking and communicating, where you and your business actively engage with your community to make Green more actively happen. In anticipation of that line of discussion to come, I add that there is a significant amount of overlap between the two and particularly where marketing is used to inform as an essential preliminary to its being used to persuade.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 and Page 3 continuation pages.

China, the United States and the world, and the challenge of an emerging global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – 155

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on June 13, 2021

This is my 177th posting to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic that we now face and that by now has found its way into essentially every nation on Earth, and into every facet of our lives. And it is also the 155th installment to this specific series on that.

As usual, I begin this installment with newer updates to a set of basic epidemiological findings, sharing more recent globally sourced data as offered by the World Health Organization as to the current overall state of this pandemic:

• June 11 at 02:28 GMT: 175,604,754 reported cases with 12,676,530 currently active, 162,928,224 now closed, and with 84,739 active in serious or critical condition (0.7 %), and 3,788,301 closed cases reported as deaths (2 %)
• June 12 at 01:32 GMT: 176,031,491 reported cases with 12,631,514 currently active, 163,399,977 now closed, and with 84,188 active in serious or critical condition (0.7 %), and 3,800,271 closed cases reported as deaths (2 %)
• June 13 at 01:38 GMT: 176,385,526 reported cases with 12,230,656 currently active, 164,154,870 now closed, and with 85,284 active in serious or critical condition (0.7 %), and 3,810,065 closed cases reported as deaths (2 %)

My goal for this posting is to offer a brief update on what might perhaps best be considered the challenges of COVID-19 vaccinations where they go beyond simple consideration of the international diplomacy of this. And I begin doing so by acknowledging that this is an area of discussion that I have touched upon, and on multiple occasions now as I have successively offered new installments to this series.

To start with the obvious – and the tragic, the world that we live in is divided into have and have not nations and with that so firmly set as a pattern, that we as a species cannot seem to be able to move past it and even when that failure creates existential risk for all of us. And let me be clear there. If you look at the mortality rates for the COVID-19 that we face now, with those successively developing numbers based for the most part on earlier forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, you see an approximately 3% of all those infected dying from that as a direct result. Now add in those who have died and who continue to die from other causes, where that loss would otherwise be preventable – but where challenges to healthcare systems in heavily COVID infected areas have made their effective treatment impossible. And this healthcare access limitation can and does come from multiple directions including both actual over-capacity stress to hospitals and other health providing agencies and services, and fear on the part of patients who see their local hospitals and clinics as being too dangerous to go to for treatment. So early symptoms are brushed aside and consequences develop and build up as a result.

But the real concern that I would raise here can be found in what for our current known iteration, is now being called the Delta strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus: the ongoing emergence of new forms of the virus that causes COVID-19, and of this one as a now-current particular. I wrote of this particular new strain in Part 154, citing it by its numerically based name there as well: B.1.617.2. And I wrote there of how this by all appearance is the most highly contagious and the most virulently dangerous of all forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to be identified so far. But I only touched upon at most, the most important aspects of this development. And they and their implications are why a term such as existential risk might make sense here.

I just made use of the word “new” there in discussing the Delta strain. This mutationally distinct form of the virus was actually first identified in December, 2021. But its potential impact and significance were not really understood until this Spring, when it had already infected enough people and over a wide enough geographic range so as to appear in the epidemiological numbers, and at a statistical level that could not be overlooked.

Not enough testing was done leading up to its being initially found and we still face tremendous gaps and voids in our genomic sequencing testing of infectious materials samples from patients, to know where we are as far as what forms of the virus are out there, which ones are spreading and becoming numerically more important, and which ones are more dangerous. If you do not identify a viral form by genome and type and know precisely what you are facing there, you cannot say anything else specific about it either; that is because you will not know what “it” is, or even that it is.

When did the Delta strain actually first arise, in a for-it single individual patient zero? No one can know the answer to that, but it is likely that this happened months earlier than its first by-chance identification as determined in an inadequately scaled viral identification screening program – in India, a nation that is challenged for its healthcare and public health capabilities in the best of times and with them overwhelmed now from this pandemic.

I said in Part 154 that identification of new and more troubling forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a lagging indicator for tracking where we are now and where we are going in this pandemic. This is in fact the single most impactful indicator from a general public health perspective that we might have, and certainly where a new variant or strain of this virus might mean new demographics groups such as healthy young adults, now becoming more likely to be symptomatically ill and even seriously or critically so. There are indications that the Delta strain might be doing just that.

Then even when a new, highly concerning strain of this virus is identified somewhere, there is way too little testing to map out where it has spread to or how quickly it has done so. I have written in this blog about how death and mortality rate changes are lagging indications where people who go on to die from a COVID-19 infection can routinely last a month and more before succumbing. That is significant for its impact on public health based planning and action. This factor by comparison represents a lagging indicator of at least half a year, with that gap blinding us to what is now emerging that we need to be preparing ourselves societally to deal with.

And this challenge is a largely self-imposed lagging indicator problem insofar as it would be possible to launch high priority, scaled up viral genome sequencing initiatives and it would be possible to build them out and support them in poor and undeveloped nations that could not do this on their own. Where? The obvious answer to that is wherever new COVID-19 case numbers are the highest as that is where new mutational forms are most likely to arise, as a matter of numerical opportunity if nothing else.

What is out there now, already that we still do not know of, and even if a sample of it has been sequenced and simply added into a database somewhere? What is out there that no one has explicitly identified as being new at all? And are any of these still unknowns out there that are representative of the type of antigenic shift, to use the technical term that would make our current COVID-19 vaccines ineffective for them?

I said at the start of this posting that I would write here about vaccines and this has in fact been entirely about them. How many more COVID-19 vaccine doses have to be produced and administered to vaccinate the world from this disease? I have seen several numbers and ranges there, but let’s assume that overall worldwide coverage would call for 11 billion doses, with a high percentage of that coming from a need for two doses per person.

Reducing that number from wider use of single dose vaccines, which is likely, would have to be balanced against spoilage rates and percentages of vaccine doses lost, which is inevitable, and certainly throughout the developing world nations. If a nation lacks effective widespread infrastructure needed to support a really effective vaccination effort that would include its more rural communities as well as its urban centers, then dose spoilage will happen and not just for particularly challenging to handle vaccines such as the Pfizer preparation. That will happen for more stable and easy to transport and store vaccine preparations too. But what happens to these, or any other related calculations if a new form of the virus visibly emerges that is vaccine resistant, or at least largely so – but with that fact only emerging after it has become widespread?

Effective vaccination programs are about vaccine production and distribution and they are about developing robust supply chain systems that can overcome challenges such as dose spoilage rates and even in remote communities that lack infrastructure beyond dirt paths as travel and transport routes. But they are also, and equally importantly about knowing what has to be vaccinated against and having the right vaccine preparations for making that possible. And that is where our gaps and voids in viral genome testing and new mutational form identification leave us lacking here. And that still leaves the problems of politics and of willingness to make and follow up on a coordinated and even long-term commitment for this and certainly as booster shots will become necessary – which they will.

COVID-19 vaccination and certainly as a widely implemented public health consideration, is a complex puzzle with a variety of crucially important pieces that all have to come together to make that work. I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next installment that will go live on this blog in a few days, where I will among other things add some more numbers to it.

Meanwhile, you can find this and my earlier COVID-19 related postings to this series at Macroeconomics and Business 2 and its Page 3 continuation, as postings 365 and following.

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