Monthly Archives: August 2021

car contemplations

We are talking about maybe getting a new, larger vehicle.  It’s difficult fitting all three kids in the back, and I’d really like to be able to pick up a fourth kid.  Basically, I’d like at least 5 passenger seating.  The law says kids shouldn’t ride in the front seat until all other seats are full.  So, in theory, if we needed to pick up one extra kid in a pinch, we can seat Isla in the front seat with a booster.  Which is good to know, but not a good solution for regular car pooling.

I consider AWD a hard requirement, as I drive over a small mountain to drive the kids to and from school every day.  Also, we go skiing occasionally and live on a very steep hill ourselves.  AWD gives me peace of mind, and I’m definitely willing to pay for it.

More earth-friendly would also be attractive.  We currently have a Subaru Outback (26 / 33 mpg), and an old Ford Focus (23 / 29 mpg).  It’s interesting to me that our Outback, which is a much larger vehicle, is so much more fuel efficient than the Focus.  I guess that’s the outcome of Obama’s fuel standards, mostly, and time to technology development.  I felt pretty good about buying the Outback for this reason, even though it’s not a Hybrid.

Minivans and 3-row SUVs are harder.  When you start looking at AWD, things get pricey, fast.  Some options I looked at today:

  1. Subaru Ascent, AWD 21/27 $36K 3RSUV
  2. Chrysler Pacifica, AWD 17/25 $44K Van
  3. Toyota Sienna AWD $43K 35/36 Van
  4. Toyota Highlander AWD $44K 35/36 3RSUV

Chrysler does make a hybrid electric van, but they don’t offer it in AWD.  Perhaps that will change.  I can’t really see buying a car that only gets 17 mpg around town.  The Subaru Ascent isn’t much better.

The Toyota Sienna is the lowest rated van in its class by many.  They specifically knock it for having limited 3rd row space, even with the 2nd row seats all the way forward.  Since we’d have at least one person in the third row most of the time, that’s a pretty big deal.

We paid about 28K all in for our Outback, so the idea of paying more than 40K for a car definitely gives me sticker shock.  Even 36K for the Subaru sounds a lot more appealing than 43 / 44K for the two Toyota options.   Isla will be old enough to sit in the front seat in 3.5 years.  Maybe we just need to stick it out.

I guess the thing to do would be to test drive a few different options.  Any thoughts from van owners or 3 row SUV owners?  If you have one or the other, how did you decide which to get?


this and that

S started coughing three nights ago.  It was kind of a nasty cough, interspersed with nasty sounding breathing.  Croupy breathing, I’d call it, and my first thought was croup, along with a stomach-dropping fear that it might be Covid.  In any case, it disappeared during the day and worsened the next night – classic croup symptoms – so I took her in.  Going with a sick child for medical care is just not fun these days, with all the Covid protocols and medical practitioners dressed like Darth Vader.  I noticed, however, that the nurse was only wearing a surgical mask (plus face shield and coverall and gloves).  The doctor wore an N95 but no shield.  Why the discrepancy?  Shouldn’t there be standard guidelines for what to wear?  Their patient exposure in an urgent care setting is similar.  Seeing potential Covid patients all day long must be stressful.

In any case, the doctor said it was, in fact, mild croup.  He gave me some advice for how to treat and was about to disappear on his way, when I was like, Um, should we test for Covid?  He was basically like, Why not?  I don’t usually recommend for children not in daycare who are low risk, but it doesn’t hurt.  I thought that was a little odd, but whatever.  The nurse came back and gave her a PCR test.  She informed me that they didn’t do rapid tests, and the result would take 1 to 3 days.  In fact, it took about 36 hours, which isn’t bad, but again, I thought this was odd.  A lot of people testing out of an excess of caution, especially vaccinated people, will be reluctant to skip work for three days for something that’s probably not Covid.  Why no rapid tests?

Thankfully, it’s not Covid.  But it’s been a long week.  Last night (night 4) was better but still not what I’d call restful.  I think she’s turned the corner, though, and tonight should be better.

In other Covid news, I saw this article in the NYT today about how kids in the UK don’t wear masks to school.

New South Wales has officially thrown in the towel and given up on 0 Covid.  They will start giving vaccinated people more freedoms from September.  Believe it or not, for high risk areas, this means that a household can gather outside, without anyone else from outside their household, rather than just staying in their apartment all day long.  I feel for people living there with kids.

I think it’s really interesting to look at the R0 numbers.  (See above plot.)  The lockdown clearly had an impact, and within one to two weeks pulled R0 from an average of around 4 down to just above 1.  Since then, excepting one blip, R0 has been between 1 and 1.5.  But they just can’t get it below 1!  So close, yet so far.  This is the power of Delta.  If it were Alpha, they’d have been able to get it just that little bit lower below one, and they’d be trying to stamp out those last cases right now.  Instead, they’ve hit 1000 cases per day (at peak) in NSW.  That’s not far off what we’re dealing with in Seattle, where we’re at about 80% of our highest case load ever.

On the flip side, nothing like a little Delta to light a fire under the vaccination team, and they have been vaccinating people like gangbusters in NSW.  64% of the population has had its first dose, and 35% are fully vaccinated.  They are still dealing with a shortage of doses, but by October, they’ll be in great shape vaccine-wise.

What’s crazy to me is that NZ, despite locking down at the highest level, has not been able to stamp out the outbreak.  They are now going to level 3 (second highest level lockdown) in some less affected places.  The people in charge are still saying they’ll get 0 Covid, but I don’t know.  Looking at the plots, I honestly don’t know if they will.  I’d give them maybe 1:2 odds.

I’ll leave you with this study which suggests that natural immunity is more effective against Delta than vaccination.  Bloomberg’s take on the study is:

People given both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were almost six-fold more likely to contract a delta infection and seven-fold more likely to have symptomatic disease than those who recovered… “This analysis demonstrated that natural immunity affords longer lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease and hospitalization due to the delta variant,” the researchers said… The risk of a vaccine-breakthrough delta case was 13-fold higher than the risk of developing a second infection when the original illness occurred during January or February 2021 (vs vaccinated during same timeframe).

This study demonstrated that natural immunity confers longer lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease and hospitalization caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, compared to the BNT162b2 two-dose vaccine-induced immunity. Individuals who were both previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and given a single dose of the vaccine gained additional protection against the Delta variant.

I’m beginning to think that vaccine plus natural infection would be the ideal combination.

a couple of good things

A couple great things.

We’d been wanting new knives for years . . . and finally bought some.  Cheap and awesome.  Recommended.

I pretty much despise sunscreen, but as the only person in my family (of birth) that hasn’t been diagnosed with skin cancer, probably due to living in Seattle the cloudy, I feel obligated to wear it.  I’ve been really liking this stuff.  It doesn’t smell.  It’s not messy on your skin, and it’s quick to put on.  When you just need a little on face and arms, it’s perfect.

For the want of a booster

Jesse Jackson has been hospitalized for Covid-19, along with his wife.  He was vaccinated starting in January, and is fully vaccinated.  (No word on his wife’s status, but it’s venture to guess that she, too, was vaccinated early in the year.)  If he lived in Israel, he’d have gotten a booster, since he’s over 50 and more than 5 months out from his first shot.  Instead, he’s in the hospital and months out from a booster.

CDC, what gives?

You could blame this on people who won’t wear masks, or people who didn’t get vaccinated.  But given the militaristic lockdown going on in Sydney right now (including mask mandates indoors and out) that has been going on since June, yet nonetheless yielded a record 830 cases yesterday, I would venture to guess that there is only one way to protect yourself against Covid – get vaccinated AND get a timely booster if you are in any way vulnerable.  Jesse Jackson is 79 – same age as my Dad – and suffers from Parkinson’s disease.  Why the hell wasn’t he offered a booster?  According to the Israelis, Pfizer is 15% protective against infection at six months, and only 80% protective against hospitalization.  That is simply not good enough for the most vulnerable members of society, and given 15% protection against infection, getting other people vaccinated is not going to get the job done.

Edit: Jackson’s wife had not been vaccinated.  Honestly, I am just disgusted by people over 65 who are not vaccinated.  Millions of young people missed school and put their lives on hold to protect them, and they can’t even get a shot.  Ridiculous.

Masks in school

One of the most controversial issues right now is masks in school . . . in the US.  Across the world, different approaches have been taken to this, but people with differing opinions aren’t treated like anti-science selfish idiots or controlling zealots.  Reasonable minds can disagree on this issue, as evidenced by the fact that national health bodies across the world have made different decisions for their countries.  But not in the US!  In the US, if you don’t agree with me, you’re a fool and we can’t be friends.  Or maybe it’s just the loudest voices who feel this way.  I feel the middle moderates are getting drowned out by the zealots from both sides.

Korea, Japan, Germany and most states in the US require masks in school.  Many other countries don’t.

  1. UK – elementary aged children had to wear masks briefly in school last winter, but no longer.  I believe older kids wear masks during surges.
  2. Ireland – no face masks in school at any age
  3. France – Masks ages 11 and up, except during a very brief period at the peak of the pandemic.  No cloth masks allowed.
  4. Iceland – Masks Grade 5 and up only
  5. Denmark – No masks in school
  6. Sweden – No masks in school
  7. Russia – No masks in school
  8. South Africa – No masks under age 12

I couldn’t understand why conservatives were opposed to masks when the CDC finally reversed their anti-mask position last spring.  Now I get it.  They understood what I didn’t – that in states like Washington, they’d be mandating masks for 2 year olds INDEFINITELY even with a vaccine.

Personally, I think masks in school are a good idea right now given how contagious Delta is.  Once the surge passed, I’d have a no mask policy for elementary school students, and sixth graders.  I’d mandate vaccinates for age 12 and up as soon as the vaccine is approved, which is supposed to happen in September.  After that, I wouldn’t mandate masks in the older grades either.  I would not mandate masks in preschool, and I would NEVER mandate masks for 2-year-olds.

But I guess the larger point is not really what I think is the right mask policy.  It’s that reasonable minds can disagree on the right approach to masks in school.  And governors who ban mask mandates in school are acting no differently than the leaders in many, many other countries.  They are not extremists or murderers.

I have come to find the pro-mask zealots highly irritating.  If I had ever met an anti-mask zealot, I’d probably find them irritating as well.  But I only know one guy who’s expressed modest objections to masks and vaccines for young children.  He has a PhD from MIT and is being subjected to the usual “You must be an anti-science idiot” response from the liberal cohort.

bio and orgo

I got my grades back on Bio, and ended up getting an A in the lecture class and an A+ in the lab class.  I also got the high score (out of about 120 students) on the lab final.  The funny thing is, after I took the lab final, I figured I’d gotten the high score.  I didn’t study nearly as hard for that final as I did for the lecture final by a long shot, but it was all problems, the type of problems that many people struggle with but are just intuitive for me.  This is particularly true for the genetics problems.  I studied very hard for the lecture final, on the other hand, and knew without a doubt that I wasn’t anywhere near the high score after taking it.  I was about 10 points above the class average, but well below the high score.  (The class provided high score, low score and average on all tests.)  The memorization is just brutal for me.  I can read and absorb a fair amount of material more quickly than most people, but when it comes to memorizing terms and names of enzymes and hormones and whatnot, I am average at best.  I honestly wonder on a fairly regular basis if I might be experiencing early-stage Alzheimer’s.  I constantly lose my phone, watch and other personal belongings and often get distracted in the middle of doing things and forget what I’m doing.  I’m not sure doing well on these tests rules Alzheimer’s out, but it did make me feel a little bit better about my memory.

I’m in the process of applying to take organic chemistry in the fall, and to be honest, the whole things is causing me a lot of stress.  You’re technically supposed to come to the lectures in person, but with a class of 200 students, who’s going to notice if I don’t show up?  But I don’t know yet if the lectures will be online and can’t exactly say that I don’t plan on coming if they are.  Not having to drive to UW (90 minutes – 2 hours round trip) is really the difference between this being feasible or not.  And of course, it still feels like a boondoggle.  What exactly am I going to do after I finish taking classes?  I can’t go on taking classes forever – I’m giving myself 9 months before it’s time to start earning some income one way or another (and also considering working part time sooner).  Is there a realistic path to employment here, given that I can’t really see making my family move out of Seattle?  Hard to say.  On the flip side, I am loving learning so many new things, and I’m not planning on buying any sports cars.  I can have a midlife crisis, as long as it’s temporary, right?  But worrying about it is keeping me up at night.


With the rise of Covid again here in King County, we’ve altered our plans for travel.  Jonathan will go with L, and Bri and S will stay with me.  There were a number of reasons for our decision:

1.) MIL is on oxygen part of the time and is extremely vulnerable.  We felt the chance of Bri or S contracting Covid on the plane (or the taxi, or the subway or just on NYC’s crowded streets) was high since S doesn’t wear a mask at all, and B doesn’t wear hers properly half the time, and levels are extremely high in Seattle at the moment.  If they catch it and transmit to MIL, despite her being vaccinated, we were concerned it could be very dangerous.  L is responsible enough to wear a mask properly.

2.) We were concerned about one of us testing positive in NYC and getting stranded there for an extended duration.  It’s not like we could drive home from there.  My friends who had Covid were quarantined for weeks since they tested positive at different times.  (CDC recommends quarantine for 10 days after testing positive, and I can’t really see getting on a plane inside that 10 day period.)  That would mean being stuck in NY unable to even spend time with H’s relatives.

3.) I don’t love the idea of the kids, especially S, getting Covid while we’re traveling.

All in all, I’m pretty grumpy about the whole thing.  I expected Covid to surge again, but despite 65% vaccination here (all ages), we’re rapidly approaching our highest Covid levels EVER.  As in, any benefits the vaccine has is completely swamped by the increased contagiousness of Delta.  Hospital levels are about 50% lower than the last time we had this much Covid, which is good, but not great.

Naturally, I can’t change my ticket online.  Delta gave me an estimated 35 minute wait time.  It’s now been 63 minutes.  H is out, so I really need to get through to them before S wakes up from her nap.  What a nightmare.

School rules come out tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to say, you can never leave the state again and must wear a mask at all times and not socialize ever.