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Extracting samples for CalScope study

The California Department of Public Health sent me an invite for a coronavirus study. I’m not sure what they are studying – distancing habits and infection rates? They have a blurb explaining the study in their website, which I couldn’t understand. Anyway I participated and here’s what it looked like:

I thought that the test data would be useless after I got the coronavirus vaccine, so there wasn’t much time left to get an “untainted” blood sample pre-vaccine. Got the invite around April 24 and I was set to receive my first vaccine dose on May 1, but somehow they managed to get me the test kits on April 30. So I did it right away.

The first problem was getting the test kit out of my mailbox. The test kit comes inside a sturdily built paper box, and they have participants re-use the box to mail the results back while protecting the paper from bending and stuff.

Turns out this box was barely the right size to fit inside the cubicle while the mailman has the rack open, but once they lock the rack and it’s my turn to pull the package, there’s an ever so tiny metal bezel that makes up the mailbox structure that makes it impossible to pull it out. I tried bending, rotating, squeezing… ended up ripping out the plastic, ripped the box, and only then was able to bend the box to pull it out of the mailbox.

Inside the box was a tracking barcode that I had to enter on the project website. That threw me off a bit. I already provided some information online while accepting the invite – do I need to enter it again? Maybe it’s for people who somehow didn’t provide info? So I ignored it and proceeded with the manual.

Going through it, it felt like a very complex cooking recipe with lots of steps. In retrospect it was actually pretty simple, but I felt I would be needing to look at each page as I go through the steps and generally there were a lot of steps about preventing blood sample contamination.

I thought that later on mid-procedure, if I had a bleeding finger and needed to turn pages, it was not gonna be very easy, so I ripped up the entire instructions booklet, and laid it out across the desk so that I could see the whole manual while doing it. I wouldn’t be able to see half of the booklet as it’s on the back side of each page, but that’s fine – I can use the Spanish language copies. (The manual came in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese)

After struggling to understand how the overall process worked before starting, I finally followed the first instruction and pulled everything out of the plastic bags. Is this okay? They are so worried about sample contamination but just let you pull everything out before you know what you are not supposed to touch.

Then I saw the blood drop card and got excited that finally there was something easy to do – write age, sex and race! Easy stuff. Done. Then as I read further, I noticed that Step 4 specifically said “don’t touch the circles in the card”. Great. I think I touched the circles while writing, because I needed to open the flap to write on the Age line. I vaguely remember that I probably only touched circle 5, or 4 and 5… so hopefully it’s not too contaminated.

After disinfecting the finger, it was time to prick the finger and drop blood over the card. One thing that was weird was that the instructions said “prick your pinky finger”, which is finger #5, but the illustration showed finger #4. The needle shocked me because I needed to firmly push against the finger, and only after crossing some pressure threshold would the needle spring out of the thing and puncture the finger. Kinda scary. Anyway there’s blood coming out, okay with some aim.. the second drop (first drop is discarded probably due to contamination) fell a bit off from Circle 1. Not bad.

And then things went downhill.

There wasn’t much blood coming out after the second drop. As instructed, I massaged the finger down to push more blood to come out, but it just wasn’t gobbling up or anything – it was a pretty slow buildup. Also, the blood looked pretty viscose and it just was clinging to the finger for dear life and wouldn’t fall off. I wasn’t supposed to touch the paper – the instructions said let the blood naturally drop.

I figured it was time for more drastic measures – got up, and starting vigorously running in place to force more blood circulation. Ran for a bit, then massaged the finger. The problem is that while it was working, I couldn’t quite tell how long I had to run before stopping and carefully aiming above the card as the drop was about to fall. So I was doing short bursts of running then looking at the slightly bigger drop and trying to assess if it looked like it would fall off soon, then get back to the running.

Another thing that worried me was that massaging the finger using the other hand could potentially contaminate the sample if I ended up touching the stream of blood. My pinky finger is not very long – there isn’t much distance to “massage it down”. Also, by this point there was a lot of blood around the tip and I couldn’t remember the exact location of the puncture.

After two horribly aimed drops – the third one you see on the photo fell while I was shaking the finger to drop the blood – I just decided to try touching the card – I touched circle #5, which was a lost cause anyway. The touching revealed what the problem was: blood had coagulated already.

So I washed my hands, and went for the left hand’s finger #4 now. (I’m left handed, so I had started with right hand pinky.) Also, this time I wouldn’t puncture the middle of the fingertip. On my first finger, I didn’t like how the blood stream wasn’t growing right under the puncture – it had to travel the skin for a bit further down to coalesce at the edge of the tip, and from there it would fall. I felt I was losing some of the blood to liquid surface tension because of the skin distance to be traveled.

So some pre-prick running, then the puncture. Remembering how the prick was so sudden, I was very scared of applying force on the device. Can’t I just slowly stick a needle into the finger? It’s much more predictable that way. Although I understand this is needed to the keep the needle clean.. oh well.

I think I managed to keep more blood flowing from the lessons learned in the first finger. But everything was a drop hazard – running in place; massaging the finger; shaking the finger to force the drop to fall off. Eh this is good enough for a noscope 360 headshot. After I finally managed to completely fill two circles, I called it a day, dried it, packed it up and shipped it back.

Before packing it, I went to the website with my tracking code, and then I saw that they had an extensive survey that I had to complete online. One of the questions is “have you received the vaccine?”, so maybe vaccinated peoples’ data will also count as some form of comparison group. And after the survey, there was an online version of the paper manual but with videos that showed you how to massage your finger and stuff. I think at the end it didn’t matter that I saw the survey at the end, as the video lessons did not have new information that the paper didn’t. But I guess it would have helped me make a mental image of the procedure a bit more easily. The box didn’t say that the website needed to be done first – it just said “to get started, go here”. I guess the “to get started” was the clue that I missed.

I think this study is gonna end up with a ton of samples with methodological mistakes done during blood sampling – the researchers probably planned ahead for it and I wish them luck.

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Testing self video

I have never really taken selfie photos before. Here, I’m testing out various technical questions related to filming myself on an impromptu selfie stick. Filmed using a Pixel 3a smartphone.

  • does the external mic work? yes
  • how wobbly is the video? does it need a gimball? it seems.. okay..
  • how much environmental noise can this setup withstand? a ton, actually. There was construction going on to my side and I could still hear myself
  • How much impediment does the mask represent for capturing sound? I can hear myself pretty clearly through the mask.

There is, however, an unexpected length discrepancy between the video and audio portion of the recording. The audio is about 1% shorter, and in the second clip, it aligned towards the end. In the first clip, however, it as shorter, but it didn’t align towards the end. I’m thinking maybe the Pixel 3a is not fast enough to process the video in real time, resulting in the audio problem.

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Colorful Eviction-Promoting Advertisement

This 1/3 page ad in a Korean newspaper today is kind of amazing. It’s riddled with strange translation artifacts, but it seems to wink at landlords to take it to their law firm and start evicting people “right now!” while pretending to be a PSA by giving information to “both sides” (tenants and landlords). It reads:

Emergency Information! Public Notice about Special Law about the ‘California Eviction Catastrophe’!

– Law Angeles APC

[Left Box: How Business and Residential Tenants Can Defend from Eviction]

Although California’s Governor signed a eviction moratorium through 2021 due to COVID-19, you have to recognize that there are numerous exceptions due to a new California law.
Depending on CASE, the building owner can do a lawful eviction lawsuit any time. Therefore, you could be evicted! Landlords should also recognize that they have the right to use the new law’s exceptions to evict them. We are confirming to you that a lawful response can protect your business and home for a long period of time.

[Right Box: How Landlord Can Evict Tenants in Commercial and Residential Buildings]

Many building owners are struggling and in much pain due to COVID-19. California’s Governor said that evictions are frozen until January of 2021 if tenants pay 25% of the rent, but we are letting you know that based on a new California Eviction Law(Unlawful Detainer), depending on CASE an eviction is very possible. You also need to be cognizant that the proposed Mortgage Payment Postponement Act is wholly up to the bank(lender), and therefore there is absolutely no guarantee about mortgage postponements.

Attack fast and conclude it fast! We are letting you know that landlords have the right to both evict and claim UNPAID RENT from your headache-causing tenant.

[Bottom disclaimer] We are letting know to landlords and tenants who are eligible for the above new California Special Eviction Law, that experienced, talented, powerful attorneys can use eviction and eviction defense to protect businesses and tenants from eviction for a long time, and use eviction defense law to lawfully live in their apartment or run their business for long time, and that the exception clause allows for immediate eviciton. And we also protect your home through Bakruptcy Law Chapters 7, 11, 13 and bankruptcy stoppage.

Inquiries: Law Angeles APC “Free consultations on a first-come, first-serve basis”
3055 Wilshire Blvd Ste 600, LA CA 90010. 213-414-0609, 213-414-0610

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What does “patchiness” mean in this context?

Addressing this question from HelloTalk:

What does “patchiness” mean in this passage? Is there a similar word in Spanish?

“Many ecologists now think that the relative long-term stability of climax communities comes not from diversity but from the “patchiness” of the environment; an environment that varies from place to place supports more kinds of organisms than an environment that is uniform.”

I often see people use double quotes on an expression when the writer is grasping to find a word that precisely describes the writer’s intended meanig.

  1. It’s possible that the word does not exist in this language, and instead of using “the word”, a flshed out out explanation must be provided instead.
  2. Maybe the writer just doesn’t know the word.
  3. The writer feels that a particular word would be a close approximation of the intended meaning, but it’s not quite there. So the writer uses the word, but puts it in double quotes to indicate that the exact intended meaning is the word plus some additional the context.
  4. The word that the writer is using may be a slang or generally not recognized in the specific environment as the class of word to use. (For example, if using a soccer metaphor while describing politics)
  5. The word that the writer picked may be something close to “private language” – something known in a close circle of friends, or a small specialized segment of the population and the writer is aware that this population does not intersect at all with the intended readership.

In this case, however, it’s easier – there is a semicolon, and the flow of the sentence shows us that what follows the semicolon is the definition of the word “patchiness” as intended by the writer. “an environment that varies from place to place”. However, interpretation of the overall sentence reveals a contradiction, which is puzzling:

A. Ecologists think that stability comes from “patchiness”, not from diversity

B. An environment has “patchiness” when it varies from place to place. An environment that has patchiness is not uniform.

Isn’t the concept of an environment that varies from place to place (B) very close to the idea of a diverse environment(A)? What’s going on here?

Maybe the writer is trying to differentiate between what we would usually imagine when we think environmental diversity (just things being different and varied all over the place) with “patchiness” – possibly the overall environment having multiple, smaller areas within – these smaller areas are uniform internally, but each area is different from other areas. This concept also nicely aligns with the visual image of patches of cloth. You have worn jeans, and patch it up with a square piece of cloth. Now imagine a jean made up with many patched pieces of cloth..

I can also think of another concept that is similar to this – when people describe urban landscapes, an interesting concept is the idea of “microneighborhoods” – the idea that there are neighborhoods, just a couple blocks wide, each being pretty homogenous within each microneighborhood, but wildly shifting in demographic makeup, architecture, and mood when moving to another nearby microneighborhood.

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Repurposing a game

(also posted on reddit)

Northgard is this cleverly executed real time strategy-management-survival computer game rolled into one. It made a splash when initially released a few years ago, and as the game wasn’t terribly deep, the playerbase rush seems to have moved on. It’s not dead, though. A new faction DLC came out as recently as this month. There’s people on the subreddit. Last I checked, you regularly get matched on multiplayer ranked battles.

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Cross-platform key-mapping problems with some Bluetooth clickers

I’ve been experimenting for about a year with using a tablet to read ebooks while on the elliptical at the gym. At first, I was using the 12″ Surface Pro. The Kindle Windows program didn’t make the font big enough, so instead I used the browser-based Kindle Cloud Reader because Chrome allowed for a much wider range of zooming in beyond Kindle’s built-in font zoom. The fact that the screen was so big was nice, but because it was so big, I couldn’t lug it around while doing weights. So my routine was going to the gym and throwing stuff into the keyless locker (as it’s closer to the ellipticals than the locker room padlock lockers), doing ellipticals, then weights, then pulling the tablet out and doing the final stretch of ellipticals or other cardio.

Reaching to the tablet to touch the screen to turn the page breaks the workout flow. Also, at this level of zoom, you have to turn pages a lot. So I got a bluetooth clicker. I settled for the Logitech R500, which has a much thicker body than other models and makes it easier to hold on without dropping while while also holding on to the handlebars using some of the fingers. Also, both the “Next” and “Back” buttons are very big and there is none of the useless extra stuff that other models have. Other than not allowing me to fully grab the handlebars (holding on to the handlebars comes in handy especially when I start jumping), this was a pretty good setup. It also worked well with the Aladdin Ebook Reader for Korean language books.