The pandemic update from Britain: protective gear, black holes, and dead rats

Some days the government gives me so much to make fun of that it’s just embarrassing.

Not so many days ago that we’ve forgotten about it yet, the government announced with great fanfare and many imaginary trumpets that it was buying protective equipment from Turkey to make up for the shortfall it had created. 

Okay, they didn’t say it that way. It was something about the shortfall that mysteriously created itself in spite of our government working day and night to procure the best equipment that our heroic frontline staff needs.

Anyway, a shipment was on its way. Along with a few more notes from the trumpets. 

After mysterious delays, the shipment limped into the airport and turned out to be less than a tenth of what they fanfare’d. 

Now the story’s worse than that: The 400,000 surgical gowns that did arrive are unusable. Or possibly most of them are unusable. I’ve heard the story both ways from different news outlets, probably because the trumpets are interfering with reception.

Either way, the gowns would expose the users to infection.

Stop, people. It’s not Christmas. I have more than enough to work with. 


Irrelevant photo: A gerbera daisy.

Speaking of protective gear, Robert Jenrick, the housing, community, and local government secretary offered an explanation of why we’re having so much trouble getting protective gear where it’s needed: “Supply . . . in some areas is in short supply.”

Once you understand that, you can be more sympathetic.

Apologies for a messy link here. The quote’s in there, but you’ll have to dig around a bit.


Forgive me for recycling something I already put on Twitter, but our cat, Fast Eddie, brought dead rats home for two nights running, and he has me worried: If this keeps up, who’s going to run the country?


Now, about that tracing app that People Who Know These Things say may not work: Here’s the problem–or here’s the part of the problem I understand. The app relies on a kind of herd immunity. Not the kind that, if enough people die of Covid-19 and enough people get it but don’t die, will protect the people who did neither. This is virtual herd immunity. It relies on some minimum number of Android users in an area signing up for the app. If they don’t, it won’t work. 

The root of the problem is that Android phones aren’t allowed to stay connected to Bluetooth for long once they’re minimized. Basically, they hang up. Once that happens, the phone won’t register contact with an app on a nearby phone. So if one of the people carrying those phones is infected or needs to be told that the other person is? Even if when they passed each other they fell into each other’s arms and kissed with 46 minutes worth of passion, the apps on their phones would ignore each other. 

The only way to keep the app awake on an Android is for its owner to pass by a whole bunch of other Android owners who are all using the app. If that happens, their phones will chastely brush electronic feelers and the app will send the information to a central database.

Australia tried something similar in its app and now says the app “progressively deteriorated.”

The UK government is now “open” to the possibility of ditching the app and using a different one.

No, I don’t know how much that detours cost either.


Astronomers have found a black hole a thousand light years from Earth. That’s close if you’re an astronomer. It’s in (or “among,” and I haven’t figured out what the difference is in this context) the beautifully named HR 6819 system.

What’s that got to do with the pandemic? The black hole is where all the missed targets are being shipped. And the missing protective gear? It’s there too. That’s why supply has been in short supply in undersupplied locations.

A new shipment of bad news has been launched in its general direction but will probably miss by a few dozen light years.


I’m always a day or three behind the actual news here. It’s one of the many reasons I recommend reading actual newspapers. The real ones (as opposed to the bottom feeders) are better at this than I am. Even when they’re not funny.

Stay well, everyone. Even when it starts to feel delusional to hide from something invisible, remember that it’s real.

76 thoughts on “The pandemic update from Britain: protective gear, black holes, and dead rats

  1. I suspect the majority of us are Android users, given the expense of iPhones, so it would be nice to have an app that works on that platform. It does sound, though, as if the platform is at fault here, rather than the app.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect–and I haven’t researched this because I’m too clueless about smart phones (mine is dumb)–that the problem is who owns what. Android, I assume, is owned by The Wrong People to have easy access to Bluetooth. And everything spirals outward from there. It sounds to me like the app developers looked at that problem, shrugged, and said, “It’ll be fine.” Or didn’t look at it, didn’t shrug, and just trusted to luck. But again, I’m making that up. And trusting to luck.

      Liked by 2 people

        • As I understand it, two decentralized apps already exist, Google’s and Apple’s. And they seem to work. If we could give up the idea of a centralized one, then they can pick one off the shelf.


            • I haven’t seen any specifics and assumed it was just about centralized vs. decentralized. I can certainly see being unhappy with a choice between Google and Apple, but they do need something that’ll work.

              Liked by 2 people

              • You want something that’ll work? … well, why didn’t you say so in the first place! … here, take this magic golden ring (ignore the elvish inscriptions if you drop into a fire) … click these ruby slippers (which are more like fuck-me stilettos, but we’ll ignore that too) together, and with this sword (I know, I know it’s still got that bloody stone attached but turns out adolescent boys can’t do a damn thing with it- so ignore the stone too) smite this giant beanstalk until whatever you want to work falls out of the sky!!!!
                There, fixed it for you!

                Liked by 2 people

              • Fantastic. Can you hold all that till I get my biggest grocery bag so I can carry it all? I know it’s not a great look when you’re slaying beanstalks–I mean, mostly I’d just put on my muddy gardening clothes for something like that, but it’s a lot to carry. Especially with that stone hanging off the sword and the shoes, which I can’t walk in so I’ll have to carry them too. The ring, though, I should be able to wear.

                What do you mean you can’t see me?

                Liked by 2 people

    • My best guess is that they wanted to collect the data centrally–and I can see where that might be a good thing. In the most benign interpretation, it would let them track the spread of the disease and really understand, on many levels, what’s happening. On the other hand, if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. And it raises many questions about who has access to the data.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a bit concerned about setting precedents for tracking our movements and mission creep. Ironically this is because the government have sent me on so many data privacy courses over the years for my job…

    Thanks for another great review Ellen, have a lovely weekend 🌿

    Liked by 2 people

    • And you as well.

      A lot of people are worried about mission creep. (I was just reading an article in the New Yorker about surveillance cameras. That could keep a person up nights.) And sleepwalking into some serious surveillance. The fact is that when an app asks our permission for something, most of us will click on it without reading the fine print. Someone did an experiment once to prove it. The fine print involved giving up your oldest child and a few more outrageous things. People clicked on it.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. The real newspapers got nothin on you. If real newspapers brought us news from black holes and Turkey with rat carrying cats and protective gear that isn’t – all tied up neatly in one essy-to-read box, they wouldn’t be going out of business.

    I was going for the run-on comment award.

    If they fix the phones to leave Bluetooth running, constantly searching for other blueteeth, the phones’ batteries will die in short order.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Possibly. One of the things it said in favor of the app was that it wouldn’t run your battery down. But apparently if you have an i-phone, it’ll keep searching for blue teeth. Which are as rare as hen’s teeth these days.

      I hereby award you the run-on sentence award, and myself a demerit for using “award” twice without gaining anything from the repetition.

      Liked by 1 person

      • An app that stops running doesn’t usually run the battery down. See, that’s the problem with giving design specifications to a programmer. “Hmmm, they don’t want this to be a big battery drain. I know, I’ll just have it shut down after 45 seconds.” That’s how we think sometimes.

        Thanks for awarding me the award. I couldn’t resist. Hopefully I gained an eye-roll.

        Liked by 1 person

        • No eye-roll, but keep trying.

          You make it sound like working with a programmer is like making wishes on a magic lamp. You need to spend a lot of time reading the invisible small print as well as thinking through everything that can go wrong, because it will.

          Liked by 1 person

          • There’s an old joke that sums it up pretty well.

            A wife asks her husband “Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk and, if they have avocados, get six.”

            A short time later the husband returns with six cartons of milk.

            “Why did you buy six cartons of milk?” the wife asks. He replies, “They had avocados”

            Liked by 2 people

  4. My son owns a distillery and has turned his production over to making hand sanitizer. Two weeks ago, he sold a large batch to Amazon. Not to resell on the web but to be used in their massive distribution center in Shakopee MN.

    Now think about how bad things must be to for Amazon to be unable to supply itself.

    A lot of credit goes to Minnesota distillers and brewers who stepped up with making sanitizer. As for the economics, they give away small batches to the public, nursing homes and first responders – but if any cash is dropped into the donation bucket in return – that’s just fine.

    For their larger customers, they charge whatever the customer was paying before pandemic.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. That last sentence is so relevant. A colleague recently said she can’t watch the news anymore – too depressing. I get where she’s coming from, but if I don’t watch it for several days in a row, I kinda forget that we’re in this pandemic and do dumb things like forget my face mask and wipes on my rare trips to the store. I need that reminder – however depressing/alarming it may be – to stay alert. I think they call it “staying frosty.”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks again, Ellen. I obsessively read the news and then I read your thoughts which add some British details I can’t get from Rafio 4. It all makes a nice rounded whole for me. Your reports are especially important here. Our viral rate continues to be low in San Luis Obispo County—1 death and about 230 cases, only a few in hospital plus we are ready with a 900+ bed covid hospital set up in a Cal Poly recreation hall and thankfully gathering dust. Most people are masked. Our biggest fear is about tourists who come from an area east of us who only like the simple minded version of freedom. Lots of them have second homes here. We will see what summer brings. And yes, the thing to do now is not let our guard down. This invisible monster will be with us for a long time. The other thing most Americans are doing is watching the horror in our White House. Will there even be an election in November?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, there hasn’t been a coup yet. Stay tuned.

      People are concerned about second homeowners here too–especially the ones who come down and don’t quarantine themselves because, hey, they feel fine and what’s the problem?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes. To be blunt, many of our visitors from East of here are Trump’s people so they are all caught up in their rights and not at all in their responsibilities. He plays them well. They used to be just loud, aggressive annoyances. Now we fear them which is good motivation for staying home.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Ellen, it’s hard to read pandemic news without your “funny.” Homeland Security & the CDC are humorless & anxiety producing. Seriously, the tracing map relies on herd immunity? And the black hole has all those missing targets? We all need to read your news posts and laugh out loud. Laughter is the best medicine after all. It takes the edge off what’s happening in the virus ridden world! 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Talking of shopping online, did you know that 4 kilos of bananas takes up nearly two carrier bags in six bunches? It was quite surprising to me as I was only expecting 4 bananas.

    I suspect the phone app thing was the jolly old UK Government wanting to be British about things and do their own when the only other two, already working well Apple and Google alternatives used already by the rest of the world, were American in origin (and therefore possibly the data it collected was dropped off there somewhere before getting here). The Bluetooth functionality thing has only reared it’s head is because it’s not the other working apps and we’ve messed ours up.

    As we’ve already seen with herd immunity, PPE, testing and tracking, etc. etc. etc., Britain will try to go it’s own way out of this stupid special exceptionalism mindset the current incumbents have before failing miserably, having to do their best to cover it up and then bluster it out to make out we’re doing a better British version of what everyone else was already doing.

    Aside from that, it’s all going spiffingly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Funny you should mention the word spiffingly. I just wrote a post about search engine questions and someone asked if people actually said it. I said not very damn often. I’ll probably leave it that way, but you kind of pulled the rug out from under me there.

      On the other hand, why not?

      Now, about those bananas: Want a recipe for banana bread? I’ve got a great one and it sounds like you might want to make a few dozen loaves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You can email me that – to have something in reserve and I have heard great things about your baking – but we are apparently awaiting the moment of ideal ripeness to do some ice cream, flapjacks and dehydrating some into banana chips… (of course banana chips, would be some sort of magic turning them into anything else really).
        Should be spiffing (that will help your spiffing results in the search engines).

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Quantum physics suggests we might just be able to use that black hole to somehow enter and pop out in another dimension/version of our life:). Perhaps we’ll go to the one where all the supplies sit, along with a quiet beach and a craft cocktail . . . . sigh.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Ah ! All those lost socks from all the dryers of thew orld are in that black hole wih the protective gear ! Now there’s a REAL breakthrough !

    Not sure about Fast Eddie’s dead rats but Trump adviser and immigrant hater Steven Miller (whose own ancestors, of course, immigrated to the US) is married to the Pence staff member who just tested positive (and is allegedly showing symptoms) for Covid.) So maybe it does kill rats. Not sure if the rats who carried the Black Death died or, like Typhoid Mary, were just the carriers.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Supply…in some areas is in short supply.”
    Hm. Sounds like one of those laws I learned in my economics classes many moons ago.
    That might correlate with “demand…in most areas is much greater than supply.”
    Hence, we are all in a black hole of cluster…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Rats. I’ve been left mouse gifts at the door, but never rats. The thing is, with restaurants and businesses shut down, the rats are moving into new neighborhoods, and they’re hungry and may be eating each other, but it sounds as though you should be grateful for the cats as long as they didn’t bring the rats in to play with…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely. The most common theory is that when they do that they’re trying to teach us to hunt. I don’t know if that’s true, but even so I’m working on convincing Eddie that I’m too hopeless to teach.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Gold Dust! Thanks Ellen.
    I share your concerns about who is running the country if the rats are passing on., but on the other hand, one dead rat deserves another.
    The idea of all those missed opportunities, missing PPE, missing tests, soon to be failing tech solutions, broken promises, etc having a home at last and a place to house the responsible rats and bottom feeders is revolutionary! To hell with relativity, quantum & string theory, this is the first real explanation of why we need black holes. It probably underpins dark matter too.
    Bring on the event horizon,
    Really kept me smiling for quite while.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great news. I’m going to make myself a cup of tea and see if Lord Google can explain dark matter to me so I can figure out how it fits into the picture. I’ll admit to starting back at a small disadvantage. I only last week realized that dark matter isn’t the stuff I bump into in the middle of the night when I don’t bother to turn the light on. But having gotten that far, I’m pretty sure I can handle this.


  14. Sorry I’m late to the party but here in Aus the tracing app issue for Android is more about the fact that it doesn’t work on the old versions i.e. the phones owned by older people, which rumour tends to suggest might be the most vulnerable. As you have said, elsewhere, you couldn’t make this up if you tried.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome at the party, late, right on time, or while I’m still vacuuming the floor. I don’t have a smart phone myself and can’t say I want one. A friend tells me that a 30% to 40% takeup is enough for the app to make an impact, but that’s word of mouth and I can’t vouch for its accuracy. If true, would leave a lot of people exposed in the short term.

      Liked by 1 person

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