World Unique Innovation

A new “aspirin” after 50 years

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Aspirin is an effective and inexpensive medicine that millions take daily to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Who could improve on that?

The inventor of aspirin

In ancient times, salicylate-containing plants such as willow were commonly used to relieve pain and fever. A salicylate is a salt or ester of salicylic acid . Salicylates are thought to protect the plant against insect damage and disease. Aspirin is a derivative of salicylic acid. It is known as acetylsalicylic acid.

In 1897, a German chemist, Dr. Felix Hoffman, working for the Bayer company, was able to modify salicylic acid to create acetylsalicylic acid, which was named aspirin. However, the company dismissed the market potential of aspirin on the ground that it had an “enfeebling” action on the heart. At that time, the company was more interested on the potential of another new drug-heroin, which was also synthesized by the company.

Subsequently, aspirin was found to be more tolerable to the stomach than salicylic acid, which led to the widespread use of aspirin for pain relief. Furthermore, Hoffman’s acetylation of salicylic acid also proved its ability to prevent cardiovascular events. Aspirin, was considered by many as a wonder drug.   

One common adverse effect of aspirin is an upset stomach. More significant side effects include stomach ulcers, stomach bleeding and worsening asthma. Aspirin is not recommended in the last part of pregnancy.  

Aspirin is one of the most widely used medications globally, with an estimated 40,000 MT  (50 to 120 billion pills) consumed each year. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. It is available as a generic medication. In 2018, it was the 40th most commonly prescribed medication in the US, with more than 19 million prescriptions (wikepedia).

According to Bayer, the history of aspirin can be summarized in the following milestones.

1897

In a Bayer laboratory in Wuppertal, Germany, Dr Felix Hoffman was the first to succeed in synthesizing a chemically pure and stable form of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), which became  the active ingredient of aspirin.

1899

Aspirin was registered as a trademark. It was launched on the market in powder form. Bayer delivered the medicine to pharmacies in small 250-grams glass vials. 500 mg of the powder was then weighed out and dispensed to customers in small paper bags. One year later, Bayer launched the analgesic in the classic tablet form-one of the first medicines to be marketed in dosage form.   

1915

Aspirin became available without prescription and became a best-seller in the US.

1949

Aspirin turned 50, and the following year, was the first time it featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the most frequently sold pain reliever in the world.

1969

A box of aspirin flied to the moon aboard Apollo 11.

1977

A study reported that aspirin could prevent ischemic stroke in appropriate patients. In the same year, the World Health Organization introduced its “Essential Drug List. Aspirin was included right from the start as an essential analgesic.

1997

Acetylsalicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, celebrated its centenary.

1999

Aspirin took its place among such medical advances as the stethoscope and artificial heart when it was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History, US.

2004

British researcher Professor Derek W. Gilroy elucidated the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin.

2012

Publication in the journal Headache by Lampl et al, which reaffirmed the effectiveness of aspirin as a first-time treatment of migraine or episodic tension type headache and found that pre-treatment headache did not predict potential success or failure of aspirin.

2014

The active ingredient of new aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, was used in the form of microparticles that were on average 10 per cent of size of particles found in previous aspirin tablets.

Microparticles were combined with sodium carbonate, which acted as a disintegrant and local buffer, helping new aspirin dissolved more quickly, entered the bloodstream faster, and relieved  pain twice as fast as previous aspirin tablets.

(Source: bayer.com/en/products/aspirin)     

Enter a “new aspirin”: Vazalore

A US-based company, PLx Pharma (www.plxpharma.com) is trying to do that. According to the Barron’s online on September 20th, 2021, there has been no innovation in the aspirin market in over 50 years. The company, based in Sparta, New Jersey, US, is seeing an opportunity to launch a new product, Vazalore, in some 30,000 retail drug stores in the US.

The aspirin market is a crowded field, where aspirin has been around since 1899. The company noted that Vazalore’s advantage is that it reduces aspirin’s tendency to irritate the stomach for people who use it regularly, a problem that can lead to ulcers. In addition, Vazalore has been shown to achieve better absorption than coated aspirin, according to studies by Harvard Medical School cardiologist Deepak Bhatt, who heads PLx Pharma scientific advisory board. PLx Pharma is facing the challenge of convincing existing users of aspirin to switch to Vazalore. Vazalore will cost US$25 a month versus a few dollars for coated aspirin. It is estimated that 43 million Americans take aspirin on their doctor’s advice, plus millions more to treat the symptoms of arthritis and other ailments.  The company estimates that every new customer will be worth US$230 a year to PLx Pharma, so that it could realize US$100 million in annual revenue from each 1 pe cent of those 43 million people.    

The Vazalore capsule holds a liquid formulation of aspirin bound up in lipid, which prevents the aspirin’s release until it passes through the stomach to the intestine. It was reported that PLx Pharma will apply its patented technology to ibuprofen and other drugs that give some users stomach problems.

We doubt users of aspirin will drop it anytime soon.

Must-Read Reports

Part 2: Digital transmission of scents

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I wish that I can smell my first leather shoes

In an emerging area of olfactory research, scents are digitally transmitted via computer code that can be sent online  or via smartphone app and reproduced at a kiosk or through scent-emitting device.

Previous attempts to re-create scents have faced challenges because liquid or gaseous odorants often contaminate each other. The Aroma Shooter, developed by a Japanese start-up Aromajoin, (www.aromajoin.com)  gets around this problem through the use of solid-state materials that can deliver split-second volleys of over 400 different scents. The technology is being used to create aroma “signage” in major department stores and to improve virtual-reality applications. Another Japanese start-up , Scentee (https://scentee-machina.com), has developed the Scentee Machina,  a device that connects to a smartphone app that can diffuse different fragrance according to the user’s mood and the time of day. At All These Worlds (https://allthseworlds.com), a VR company based in California, US, researchers have  developed a wireless-enabled scent collar that releases targeted scents for virtual reality simulations.

One area of application is the use of digital scents in mental health testament. Research has shown that our moods are greatly affected by different odors: Lavender can reduce labor pangs in childbirth and promote sleep.; peppermint can improve physical performance ; and orange may help calm our nerves. One study showed how low-cost nasal clips containing lavender odorant could improve the quality of sleep for individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Digital olfaction also opens up the possibility of bringing the past to life the re-creation of long-lost smells. Researchers at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage in London are re-creating and preserving “historical scents” that could otherwise be lost, such as the dusty smells of hundred-years old books.

Digital olfaction also opens up the possibility of completely new smells and products optimized by algorithms to personal tastes and different settings. Combined with other technologies such as VE and haptics, digital olfaction could radically transform the entertainment industry, by bringing us closer to a true multisensory experience in the realms of fashion, retailing, leisure, and tourism. Visitors at a museum could smell the blood of fallen warriors in ancient wars through digital olfaction.

Capturing the potential of digital olfaction

Mark Purdy, Max Klymenko and Mia Purdy have suggested four actions that can help guide business to capture the potential of olfaction.

  • Understand your olfactory value chain

Companies can start by mapping their olfactory value chain to identify the role that olfactory plays across different areas of their business.  A fast-moving consumer goods company, for example, could have thousands of product lines ; scents are an intrinsic part of these products’ appeal to consumers but remain largely unquantified. In some industries, such as  wines or fragrance production, digital olfaction can complement the tacit knowledge of experienced testers or product formulators. Olfactory mapping can trace how a product’s olfactory features vary across the supply chain, over time, and across different locations. Such profiling can improve product development strategies and supply chain optimisation and ultimately garner a stronger competitive advantage through distinct consumer appeal.

  • Prepare for contestable markets

As digital olfaction begins to decode the volatile organic compounds that contribute to our sense of smell, it offers the possibility of reverse engineering many well-kwon or distinctive aromas. Just as digital technologies are lowering entry barriers in many markets and making them “contestable” with new products, we may see something similar with digital olfaction. Copycat versions or products with distinctive or hard-to-replicate aromas–perfumes, fine wines, furniture, ceases, teas, coffee—could proliferate. Companies will need to expend efforts to preserve the intangible capital of their olfactory signature.

  • Consider multiple senses

In real life, our experiences are formed from a range of senses. Digital olfaction will be the most powerful when combined with other sensory technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, haptics, holograms, and emotional AI systems. Sensors and machine learning algorithms will be critical in capturing, decoding and translating olfactory signals.     

  • Anticipate ethical and regulatory hurdles.

Despite the promise of olfactory technology, there are technical, ethical, and regulatory challenges to overcome. A particular concern is the potential for addiction as ever more powerful olfactory triggers are developed; at the other extreme, overexposure could lead to the desensitization of people exposed to powerful scents on a daily basis, just as loud music has caused hearing loss for some in the entertainment industry or hospitality industries. Early engagement with regulators and health authorities will be critical, both to mitigate the risks and promulgate the health-enhancing effects of digital olfaction.

Conclusion

Smell is our most primordial sense, used by our ancestors t find food, sense danger, and detect illnesses. Yet it remains the most complex and least well understood of all senses. The human olfactory receptors were only identified in 1991, earning a Nobel Prize for the scientists , Richard Axel and Linda Buck, who made the discovery. With advances in digital olfaction, we now have the ability to decode and harness the sense of smells in ways never thought possible.

For businesses and innovators, digital olfaction opens up opportunities: new products, services, and consumer experiences; faster and more accurate production processes; low-cost environmental and healthcare solutions, and new ways to reach and engage consumers. There will be challenges too: regulation, responsible use, and new competitors and business models.

One business model that comes to my mind; digital storage of smell in a cloud, similar to the photo archives of Pinterest.

Reference” Mark Purdy, Max Klymenko, and Mia Purdy. Business scents: the rise of digital olfaction. MIT Sloan Management t Review, Summer 2021, Volume 62 (4).    

Must-Read Reports

Exciting technology of digital sense of smell

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“Durian” has a very pungent smell but most Malaysians like the taste

According to a world-famous chef, the “king of fruit”, known in Malaysia as “durian”, has the most fouling smell. Despite that, many Malaysians and a couple of my former Korean neighbours like it so much. Due to its strong odor, the fruit is not allowed into hotels or planes. The bad odor sticks to the fabric of your car for weeks.

We are expecting that people all the world will have the chance to experience the smell of “durian” through digital transmission of smell in the near future.  

This article is the first of two articles on emerging digital olfaction or sense of smell. 

Marketers have been interested to study the impact of olfaction on purchasing decisions of consumers. Buyers of new cars are excited by the smell of new leather in very expensive cars. Cookies are openly baked to allow their smell to waft in a shopping complex.

According to an article in latest MIT Sloan Management Review, despite the economic and commercial importance of olfaction, there are no robust tools to detect, measure, and manage smells in a scientific manner. This is now changing with the emergence of two branches of digital olfaction technology: one focused on the digital detection and analysis of different odors, and the other on the digital transmissions and re-creation of smells. These technologies could alter a range  of industries, from fragrances and food to the environmental and healthcare sectors.

The technology draws on several scientific disciplines., including organic chemistry, silicon engineering, machine learning, data science, photonics, and software engineering. A company. Aryballe (https://aryballe.com), based in France, uses tiny proteins called peptides grafted into silicon wafers that react to the gas molecules associated with different odors. The various digital signatures are then decoded using machine learning and expressed in the terms that humans use to  describe smells; woody, floral, fragrant, smoky, and so on.

Another company, Aromyx (www.aromyx.com), based in California in the US, uses the same receptors that are found in the human nose and tongue to identify different odors.

Applications of olfactory detection

The olfaction technology would be able to enhance products’ appeal to consumers. It will also support a variety of uses for improved product quality, as well as human health and safety, in areas as diverse as food, auto maintenance, healthcare, and the environment.

These applications include the following:

Faster and cheaper quality control

Digital olfaction is starting to transform quality control, traditionally a labor-intensive and somewhat subjective activity for many industries. In the fragrance industry, for example, traditionally, teams of  highly trained human testers have to assess the quality of different product batches, but the process is time-consuming and ultimately subjective. Aryballe is using digital olfaction to test different fragrances against a “god standard” for the particular scent. The company noted that a fragrance will usually change as it is exposed to the air or to different conditions. By using digital olfaction, it can track how the perfume changes over time as it is exposed to different kinds of skin types, sweat, air conditions, and so on. Based on this analysis., the company helps to create completely new fragrances that have the desired qualities perceived by consumers.

Digital olfaction can also be used to identify minute variations in the quality of food products and detect pathogens that could endanger human health or lead to foods spoilage during supply chain transport. Digital olfaction can greatly aid the search for better and healthier foods.

Adjusting to regional or local tastes.

Many retailers and manufacturers recognize scent as an important factor influencing the consumer appeal of a product, but the consumer-scent relationship varies significantly by region and country, making it difficult to calibrate and measure. Take the automotive industry, for example. It is well- known that new-car smell influences our decision to purchase, but there are strong regional differences. While the aromas of leather, resins, and plastics tend to captivate Europeans and American car buyers, it is a turnoff in Asia, where consumers prefer a more neutral odor. Digital olfaction can help optimize the new-car aroma for different market and car-makes.

Predictive maintenance

Digital olfaction can be used in a range of industries to detect problems before they become apparent, improving safety and reducing the risk of costly unscheduled repairs. In industrial sectors, olfactory technologies can alert people the presence or buildup of dangerous gases in chemical plants or petroleum refineries.

Early diagnosis and prevention in healthcare

We humans have long believed that our olfactory senses provide important clue to our well-being, both physical and mental. Ancient physicians used to smell a sick person’s breath to identify his/her  illness. More recently, research has established that canines can detect the early presence of diseases such as lung cancer via breath and urine. Electronic noses have been shown to be around 96 per cent accurate in detecting lung cancer in patients. A good news is that recent research has suggested that digital olfaction could provide  a quick and a safe test for the detection of Covid-19.

These developments open up the exciting prospects of low-cost, non-invasive technology to screen for a wide range of diseases and viruses, particularly those that are hard to detect with conventional early-stage screening.  An application could be that of a mask that automatically lights up when coming in contact with the coronavirus.

Reducing environmental impacts

Companies and government agencies spend billions of US dollars every year to control or eliminate noxious odors in the environment. Digital olfaction makes it possible to detect, monitor, and reduce emissions at lower cost. Bio-electronic noses can identify harmful pollutants in factories or urban areas, assess water quality, measure soil contamination, check for chemical or hazardous materials in warehouses and harbours.

The next article will be on digital transmission of scents

Reference: Mark Purdy, Max Klymenko and Mia Purdy. Business scents: the rise of digital olfaction. MIT Sloan Management Review  Summer 2021, Volume 62 (4).

World Unique Innovation

Good news for needle-phobics all over the world

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There are many needle-phobics

The rapid Covid-19 vaccination drive in Malaysia has highlighted that there are a big group of Malaysians who have fear of needles being injected into their arms. Many would be recipients of vaccines missed their appointments. Others have high blood  pressure before receiving their vaccines. One of these needle-phobics is my wife. Fortunately, she had received both Covid-19 jabs after a doctor gave her a medication to calm her down before her injection.

Now there is good news for these needle-phobics. An article in the London Guardian on August 2nd, 2021, reported that people would be able to be vaccinated without using the dreaded needles.         

The sight of a needle piercing skin is enough to put a fear on a quarter of adult Britons and trigger up to 4% into fainting. But hope is on the horizon for needle-phobics as researchers are working on a range of non-injectable Covid vaccine formulations, including nasal sprays and tablets.

Almost every vaccine in use today comes with a needle, and the approved Covid-19 vaccines are no exception. Once jabbed, the body’s immune system usually mounts a response, but scientists in the UK and beyond are hoping to harness the immune arsenal of the mucous membranes that line the nose, mouth, lungs and digestive tract, regions typically colonised by respiratory viruses including Covid-19, in part to allay the fears of needle-phobics.

To understand the role this anxiety may be playing in vaccine hesitancy in the UK and other parts of the world, Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, and colleagues recruited more than 15,000 adults – representative of age, gender, ethnicity, income and region of the UK population – in a study and found that a quarter of the group screened positive for a potential injection phobia.

Notably, this subset of people were twice as likely to report that they would put off getting vaccinated or indeed never get the jab. Out of the total number of those fearful of needles, 10% were found to be strongly Covid vaccine-hesitant.

Probably about 3% to 4% of the UK’s total adult population were needle-phobic (have an intense fear of medical procedures involving injections), he said. And the fear of needles was more prevalent in younger adults, he added. “So, potentially, needle phobia explains more of the hesitancy in younger people.”

“The fear of needles is the one type of anxiety where actually you can faint and that sort of fear and sometimes the embarrassment about fainting is a powerful driver that people want to avoid.”

This avoidance, among other reasons, has spawned efforts to develop Covid-19 vaccines in the form of inhaled vapours, tablets, oral drops or intranasal sprays.

Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at Leeds University, said he was constantly asked by UK healthcare staff when there would be non-injectable formulations of Covid vaccines – not just for patients, “but because there are so many needle-phobic staff”.

Non-injectable vaccines could be gamechangers for many other reasons. Room-temperature formulations could be a boon for countries that don’t have the logistical resources to handle the ultra-cold requirements of existing Covid vaccines. Crucially, targeting mucosal tissues has the potential to produce “sterilising immunity”, or the complete elimination of infection in the body, thereby theoretically thwarting transmission. Current intramuscular vaccines, though dramatically effective in preventing serious illness and death, cannot stop transmission altogether.

But there have been hiccups in the quest for non-injectable vaccines – for instance, an existing nasal spray flu vaccine has been shown to outperform flu shots in young children, but its performance is muted in adults. And in June, the US biotech company Altimmune abandoned its intranasal Covid vaccine project, saying that it generated weaker than expected immune responses in an early trial.

At the moment, there are many researchers in the early stages of developing a non-injectable Covid vaccine. An Oxford/AstraZeneca aerosolised formulation is in development, and the Chinese biotech company CanSino Biologics recently kicked off the development of its inhaled vaccine. Others looking at nasal sprays include a team at Lancaster University, which is expected to report data from animal trials imminently, as well as the US-based Cadogenix and India’s Bharat Biotech. Drugmakers are also looking at oral alternatives, such as the San Francisco-based Vaxart, which has completed an early human study on its tablet.

My wife told me that many of her friends have refused to be vaccinated for Covid-19 due to their fear of needles and other many reasons. Hopefully, they will protect themselves and others from Covid-19 infections if needleless vaccination is available.    

World Unique Innovation

Let us harvest the power of the sun: the pioneers of PV solar technology

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Solar flood light and solar panel

Every day I use solar flood lights to deter wild monkeys from feasting on my ripe rambutans. Hopefully, the flood lights will also deter unwanted strangers from stealing the ripe rambutans. I recharge the solar flood lights using solar panels.

Many are interested to know who invented the solar panels that let us to harvest the sunlight and to be stored in the batteries of the solar flood lights. I purchase the solar flood light from an ecommerce platform at about US$50 a unit. 

Solar panels have experienced rapid reduction in prices thanks to a combination of Chinese  industrial might backed by American capital, financed by European political supports and made possible largely thanks to the pioneering work of an Australian research team.

The solar power history begins with a succession of US presidents and the quest for energy independence. First was Richard Nixon, who in November r 1973 announced Project Independence to wean the US off Middle Eastern oil. Then came Jimmy Carter, who declared the energy transition the “moral equivalent of war” in April 1977 and pumped billion of US dollars inro renewable energy research, which stopped when Ronald Reagan came to power.

By then, Australia took the interest on solar power.

The father of photovoltaic (PV) solar technology: Professor Green

The solar cell was invented when Russel Shoemaker Ohl, a researcher at Bell Labs in the US, noticed   in 1940 that a cracked silicon sample produced a current  when exposed to light. However, little improvement had been made until the contribution of Martin Green, a young engineering professor working out of the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Green had spent some time in Canada as a researcher before going back to Australia in 1974. A year later he had started a PV solar research group working out of a small laboratory built with unwanted equipment sourced from major American firms.    

His first experiments, alongside a single  PhD student, involved looking for ways to increase the voltage on early solar cells.

Professor Green, an important pioneer of the PV industry ,

Not long after, Green and his team began to raise their ambitions.. Having boosted the voltage, the next step was building better quality cells. The early efforts broke the world efficiency record in 1983. The team continued to achieve efficiency records in the next 38 years.

In the very early years of the PV industry, the received wisdom had been that a 20 per cent conversion rate marked the hard limit of what was possible from PV solar cells. Green, however, disagreed in a paper published in 1984. A year later, his team built the first cell that pushed past that limit, and in 1989 built the first solar panel capable of running at 20 per cent efficiency.

It was a moment that opened what was possible from the industry, and the new upper limit was set at “25 per cent”—another barrier Green and his team would smash in 2008. In 2015, they built the world’s most efficient solar cell, achieving a 40.6 per cent conversion ion rate using focused light reflected off a mirror.    

Enter the sun king

Out of this activity, the Chinse solar industry would be born largely thanks to a ambitious physicist named Zhengrong Shi. Born in 1963, Shi had earned his master’s degree and come to Australu in 1988. He had spotted a flyer advertising a research fellowship and talked to Green into bringing him as a PhD student in 1989. Shi would finish his PhD in just two and half years. He stayed on a as a researcher.

Dr Shi, who kick-started the Chinese PV solar industry

With time, the university was increasingly looking to commercialize its world leading solar cell technology and reached a partnership agreement with t Pacific Power, an Australian power generator in 1995. The Pacific Power invested US$47 million into a new company called Pacific Solar. A factory was set up in the Sydney suburb of Botany and Shi was made the deputy director of  research and development.

Shi worked in the company for a few years. In November 2000, he was made an offer. At a dinner held at his home , four officials from the Chinese province of Jiangsu suggested the 37-yaer-ol researcher and Australian citizen return to China  and build his  own factory there. After some consideration, Shi agreed and ended settling in the small city of Wuxi where he founded SunTech with US46 million in start-up funding from the municipal government.  

Shi’s arrival caused a stir in China. The ability to cheaply build conventional solar panels  with 17 percent efficiency was far beyond what his competitors  were capable off. Shi was quoted; “The first reaction was: that’s the future. Everybody said that’s the future. But they also said it was one step too early. What they meant was that there was no market for it yet. In China, at that time, if you mentioned solar, people thought of solar hot water”.

All that change when Germany passed new laws encouraging the uptake of solar power. Quickly it became clear there was a massive global demand and the world’s manufacturers were struggling to keep up with supply.

Spying an opportunity for investment, a consortium that included Actis Capital and Goldman Sachs  came knocking to pitch Shi on taking the company public. When the company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005, it raised US$420 million and made Shi an instant billionaire. A year later he would be worth an estimated US$3 billion and crowned the richest man in China, earning him the moniker “the Sun King”.

As Shi had shown the way, the Chinese PV solar industry began a massive expansion. SunTech alone boosted its production capacity from 60 megawatts (MW) to 500MV, and then 1 gigawatt in 2009. The company grew so fast, its supplies of glass, polysilicon and electronic systems needed to build its panels came under strain, forcing it to invest heavily in local supply chains.

Around 2012 the world market was flooded with solar panels, sending the price plummeting through the floor, leaving SunTech vulnerable. Already under intense financial pressure, disaster struck when an internal investigation found a takeover bid it had launched had been guaranteed by Euro560 million in fake German government bonds. Upon discovering the bonds didn’t exist, Shi was removed as CEO of his company and a year later SunTech would file for bankruptcy protection when it couldn’t repay US$541 million loan that fell due in March 2013.

Chinese manufacturers dominate the PV solar industry

Between 2008 and 2013, China’s fledgling solar panel industry dropped the world’s prices by 80 per cent, a stunning achievement in a fiercely competitive high technology market. Today, the PV solar industry is worth US$100 billion a year.

As a result, China has eclipsed the leadership of the US solar industry, which invented the technology, still holds many of the worlds’ patents and led that industry for more than three decades. Now China dominates nearly all aspects of solar use and manufacturing.

I can now buy Chinese solar flood lights at cheap prices to light my garden at night. Thank you Professor Green and Dr Shi for your pioneering works on  the PV solar technology.

References:

Royce Kurmelovs. Insanely cheap energy: how solr power continues to shock the world.  The Guardian, April 24th, 2021.

John Fialka. Why China is dominating the solar industry. Scientific American, December 19th, 2016.

Cryprocurrency

The Language of Crypto Traders

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Shiba inu, the latest most popular crypto coin created in August 2020

Crypto currencies, especially bitcoins and ethereum, have been in many people’s minds. The prices of bitcoin has been on fluctuating widely. This phenomenon is logical. The more people want something, the more value you can attach to it. It is supply and demand, which is the oldest rule in thew economics textbook. But when everyone wants something because some people on Reddit say they want it, that is when you get the sort of price fluctuations that would make a Venezuelan finance minister smiles widely.  

Crypto currency operates through a decentralized peer-to-peer transaction, a way for people to lend, borrow and spend without using traditional banks or money, up the revolution, boo the central banks and al that.

The idea that any old former Microsoft/Google/Apple employees or other IT geeks can just invent their own digital money and convince other people to buy it is rather baffling.  As of last month, it is reported there were more than 4,000 cryptocurrencies, each with their own fan clubs promising high returns.       

New cryptocurrencies or tokens such as dogecoin and Siba inu token are attracting the attention of crypto  traders. The crypto traders have developed their own language. Among the popular terms are:

HOMO

Fer of missing out.

FUD

Fear, uncertainty and doubt

HODL

Hold on for dear life

ALTCOIN

Any crypto coin that is not bitcoin

TO THE MOON

As in, we are going to be millionaires. When a coin rises sharply, it is said to be mooning.

STABLE CPIN

Theoretically less volatile coin tied to something tangible such as the US dollar.

Whale

An investor with enough crypto to manipulate the price with large transactions.

Brief

Understanding Covid herd immunity

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This week I had two close relatives succumbed to Covid in less than 5 days of being tested positive. In Malaysia, this week also witnessed a high infection rate of over 7,000 daily and a death rate of over 100 patients.

Other countries, such as Britain, are considering lifting restrictions. In the country, three milestones were announced last week in Britain’s bid to beat the coronavirus: zero Covid deaths were reported on Tuesday, three-quarters of adults had received a first dose by Wednesday, and half of all adults had been fully jabbed by Thursday.

Yet, at the same time, doubts are increasing among scientists and politicians that the remaining social restrictions should end as scheduled on June 21st, so-called Freedom Day. So why, with vaccination going so well, are we still in a pandemic? The answer, as ever, lies in the numbers.

New variant, new danger
Britain’s current rules on social distancing, combined with immunity in the population, might have been enough to control the original virus and even the more infectious Kent variant. Unfortunately, the Indian variant appears to be up to 70 per cent more infectious. This means it “out-competed” the Kent variant to become the dominant strain in Britain, which is why the weekly growth rate in Covid cases has risen in the past seven days from 13 per cent on May 22 to 35 per cent on May 29 with more than 4,000 cases a day.

Herd immunity is further away
The goal of British governments wrestling with a pandemic is “herd immunity”, where so many people have protection the virus has nowhere to go. The safest way to get there is through vaccination.

Under the original Wuhan strain, one infected person passed it to three others: scientists say it had a natural R value of 3. If two out of those three people, or 67 per cent, are vaccinated or become immune through infection, the virus stops growing. This is called the “herd immunity threshold”.

The Kent variant was a third more transmissible, meaning one person gave it to four others. If the Indian variant is 50 per cent more transmissible again, one infected person would infect six others.

This means five out of six people, about 83 per cent, would need to be protected through vaccines or prior infection if we want the virus to die out. Britain is  getting closer: the Office for National Statistics thinks that about 75 per cent of adults now have Covid antibodies. But because just 79 per cent of people are adults, we may need to vaccinate teenagers to reach population immunity. That is now firmly on the government’s agenda after the Pfizer vaccine was approved for children on Friday.

The race to double-jab
Last week the British government celebrated vaccinating almost 40 million people with one dose, that’s 75 per cent of adults, or about 60 per cent of the UK population.

However, a Public Health England report on May 22 suggested that one dose may only be 33 per cent effective against the Indian variant after three weeks.

Getting two vaccine doses is vital. Only 40 per cent of the UK population has been double-jabbed, leaving some 40 million people with a degree of vulnerability.

The good news is that protection after two doses does seem to be enough to ward off any variants. In another Public Health England report, on Thursday, just 3.8 per cent of Indian variant cases were among twice-vaccinated people. This could have a significant effect on unlocking society.

Young spreaders
The UK rightly prioritised older people because they were at greater risk of death or needing hospital treatment. However, adults under the age of 40 account for 39 per cent of Covid cases even though they make up only 29 per cent of the population, mainly because they are more likely to mix socially.

So far less than half of adults under 40 have received a first dose and less than 20 per cent are fully vaccinated. Getting vaccines to more people in this group bracket this month will help reduce Covid transmission. Immunity, though, takes a few weeks to build up: we will not see the effect until July.

Why do rising infections matter?
Even though most vulnerable people are protected, a more transmissible virus means more people will need hospital treatment.

About 98 per cent of Covid deaths occur in people aged over 50: 700,000 of them have not been vaccinated and these people threaten to put pressure on Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

Vaccines are not 100 per cent effective at stopping hospitalisation, even after two doses. There is some evidence that the Indian variant has mutated enough to “escape” the protection offered by existing vaccines.

This variant may not only be more transmissible. Last week Public Health England said the risk of hospitalisation could be up to 2.6 times higher than the Kent variant.

Source: The Times London, June 6th, 2021

Dedication:

We would like to dedicate this article to our uncle, Pak Cik Aziz, and our sister- in-law, Norfidah Ahmad. Both passed away so sudden this week due to Covid.