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kottke.org posts about Maciej Ceglowski

You Should Be Wearing a Face Mask

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2020

Wear A Mask

Have you been wearing a face mask when going out in public recently? There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether they are effective in keeping people safe from COVID-19 infection, and it’s been really challenging to find good information. After reading several things over the past few days, I have concluded that wearing a mask in public is a helpful step I can take to help keep myself and others safe, with the important caveat that healthcare workers need access to masks before the rest of us (see below). In particular, I found this extensive review of the medical and scientific literature on mask & respirator use helpful, including why research on mask efficacy is so hard to do and speculation on why the CDC and WHO generally don’t recommend wearing them.

I was able to find one study like this outside of the health care setting. Some people with swine flu travelled on a plane from New York to China, and many fellow passengers got infected. Some researchers looked at whether passengers who wore masks throughout the flight stayed healthier. The answer was very much yes. They were able to track down 9 people who got sick on the flight and 32 who didn’t. 0% of the sick passengers wore masks, compared to 47% of the healthy passengers. Another way to look at that is that 0% of mask-wearers got sick, but 35% of non-wearers did. This was a significant difference, and of obvious applicability to the current question.

See also this review of relevant scientific literature, this NY Times piece, this Washington Post opinion piece by Jeremy Howard (who is on a Twitter mission to get everyone to wear masks):

When historians tally up the many missteps policymakers have made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the senseless and unscientific push for the general public to avoid wearing masks should be near the top.

The evidence not only fails to support the push, it also contradicts it. It can take a while for official recommendations to catch up with scientific thinking. In this case, such delays might be deadly and economically disastrous. It’s time to make masks a key part of our fight to contain, then defeat, this pandemic. Masks effective at “flattening the curve” can be made at home with nothing more than a T-shirt and a pair of scissors. We should all wear masks — store-bought or homemade — whenever we’re out in public.

At the height of the HIV crisis, authorities did not tell people to put away condoms. As fatalities from car crashes mounted, no one recommended avoiding seat belts. Yet in a global respiratory pandemic, people who should know better are discouraging Americans from using respiratory protection.

I have to admit that I have not been wearing a mask out in public — I’ve been to the grocery store only three times in the past two weeks, I go at off-hours, and it’s rural Vermont, so there’s not actually that many people about (e.g. compared to Manhattan). But I’m going to start wearing one in crowded places (like the grocery store) because doing so could a) safeguard others against my possible infection (because asymptomatic people can still be contagious), b) make it less likely for me to get infected, and c) provide a visible signal to others in my community to normalize mask wearing. As we’ve seen in epidemic simulations, relatively small measures can have outsize effects in limiting later infections & deaths, and face masks, even if a tiny bit effective, can have a real impact.

Crucially, the available research and mask advocates stress the importance of wearing masks properly and responsibly. Here are some guidelines I compiled about responsible mask usage:

So that’s what I’ve personally concluded from all my reading. I hope wearing masks can help keep us a little safer during all of this.

Update: From Ferris Jabr at Wired, It’s Time to Face Facts, America: Masks Work.

It is unequivocally true that masks must be prioritized for health care workers in any country suffering from a shortage of personal protective equipment. But the conflicting claims and guidelines regarding their use raise three questions of the utmost urgency: Do masks work? Should everyone wear them? And if there aren’t enough medical-grade masks for the general public, is it possible to make a viable substitute at home? Decades of scientific research, lessons from past pandemics, and common sense suggest the answer to all of these questions is yes.

Update: The Atlantic’s Ed Yong weighs in on masks:

In Asia, masks aren’t just shields. They’re also symbols. They’re an affirmation of civic-mindedness and conscientiousness, and such symbols might be important in other parts of the world too. If widely used, masks could signal that society is taking the pandemic threat seriously. They might reduce the stigma foisted on sick people, who would no longer feel ashamed or singled out for wearing one. They could offer reassurance to people who don’t have the privilege of isolating themselves at home, and must continue to work in public spaces. “My staff have also mentioned that having a mask reminds them not to touch their face or put a pen in their mouth,” Bourouiba noted.

He also writes about something I’ve been wondering about: is the virus airborne, what does that even mean, when will we know for sure, and how should that affect our behavior in the meantime?

These particles might not even have been infectious. “I think we’ll find that like many other viruses, [SARS-CoV-2] isn’t especially stable under outdoor conditions like sunlight or warm temperatures,” Santarpia said. “Don’t congregate in groups outside, but going for a walk, or sitting on your porch on a sunny day, are still great ideas.”

You could tie yourself in knots gaming out the various scenarios that might pose a risk outdoors, but Marr recommends a simple technique. “When I go out now, I imagine that everyone is smoking, and I pick my path to get the least exposure to that smoke,” she told me. If that’s the case, I asked her, is it irrational to hold your breath when another person walks past you and you don’t have enough space to move away? “It’s not irrational; I do that myself,” she said. “I don’t know if it makes a difference, but in theory it could. It’s like when you walk through a cigarette plume.”

And from the WHO, here’s a video on how to wear a mask properly.

Update: One of the reasons I started to wear a mask when I go out in public was to “provide a visible signal to others in my community to normalize mask wearing”. Maciej Cegłowski’s post touches on this and other reasons to wear a mask that don’t directly have to do with avoiding infection.

A mask is a visible public signal to strangers that you are trying to protect their health. No other intervention does this. It would be great if we had a soap that turned our hands gold for an hour, so everyone could admire our superb hand-washing technique. But all of the behaviors that benefit public health are invisible, with the exception of mask wearing.

If I see you with a mask on, it shows me you care about my health, and vice versa. This dramatically changes what it feels like to be in a public space. Other people no longer feel like an anonymous threat; they are now your teammates in a common struggle.

The Soviets cloned the Space Shuttle

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2013

How appropriate that at the height of the Cold War, in which the United States was attempting to spend the Soviet Union into collapse (a task at which they eventually succeeded), the Soviets cloned the buggiest, most inconsistant part of the US space program.

Russian Space Shuttle

Called Buran (Russian for blizzard or snowstorm), the program was launched by the Kremlin as a reaction to NASA’s space shuttle and an attempt to gain an edge in space against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative. It was also an attempt to fulfill the Soviet Union’s dream of reusable spacecraft and payloads, ideas that predated the American space program.

A massive effort began. Over a million and a half people worked on the multi-billion dollar project, while researchers developed new, elaborate schemes for Russian space exploration. Among other tasks, Russian scientists hoped that the Buran would be able to carry the space station back to Earth, and — the reported reason for its inception — to allow the USSR to carry out military attacks from space.

And from Maciej Ceglowski’s epic takedown of the Shuttle program, this little tidbit:

The Soviet Shuttle, the Buran (snowstorm) was an aerodynamic clone of the American orbiter, but incorporated many original features that had been considered and rejected for the American program, such as all-liquid rocket boosters, jet engines, ejection seats and an unmanned flight capability. You know you’re in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design.

(via @Mike_FTW)

There are many kinds of cancer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2012

In No Evidence of Disease, Maciej Cegłowski writes about his girlfriend’s cervical cancer and the appearance of a new friend in her life, fellow cancer patient Stephanie. Except that, well, that’s not the whole story.

Cancer comes with an entourage: fear, loneliness, and isolation. Diane didn’t go to the makeup event expecting to make a new friend, but it was a way to get out of the house. She came home excited about having met Stephanie.

Stephanie was ten years younger than Diane. Her illness was acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer in which cancerous precursor cells completely take over the bone marrow. Steph had gotten her diagnosis while studying abroad in Spain, and had been treated there long enough to put her into remission and send her home. Now her life was on hold, and the cancer was coming back.

Her long-term prognosis was poor. Steph was reticent in talking about it straight out, but after she and Diane became better friends, it became clear that she did not expect to survive a year. Her only hope lay in a difficult and risky transplant procedure. I couldn’t imagine having to face this at 23, but of course no one gets to make the choice.

Maciej is a great writer and this is a crazy-ass story and I don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to feel after reading this piece (sad? mad? defeated?), but you’ll definitely feel something. (via @sippey)

Rediscovering the cure for scurvy

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2010

Maciej Ceglowski tells the story of how the cure for scurvy was discovered, lost, and finally redsicovered, but not before it disrupted Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911 expedition to reach the South Pole.

This is a good example of how the very ubiquity of vitamin C made it hard to identify. Though scurvy was always associated with a lack of greens, fresh meat contains adequate amounts of vitamin C, with particularly high concentrations in the organ meats that explorers considered a delicacy. Eat a bear liver every few weeks and scurvy will be the least of your problems.

But unless you already understand and believe in the vitamin model of nutrition, the notion of a trace substance that exists both in fresh limes and bear kidneys, but is absent from a cask of lime juice because you happened to prepare it in a copper vessel, begins to sound pretty contrived.

Loving article about the little-known transcontinental burrito

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2007

Loving article about the little-known transcontinental burrito tunnel linking San Francisco and NYC. “By the time they reach Cleveland the burritos are fully heated through and traveling uphill at about twice the speed of sound.” (via seriouseats)

In this week’s installment of the hot

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2006

In this week’s installment of the hot new show, Secret Agent: Beijing, Maciej turns the wrong way down the street and ends up with a whole bunch of new friends in law enforcement.

Maciej takes George Will to task on

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2006

Maciej takes George Will to task on bilingual ballots. Will thinks bilingual ballots are “a mockery of the rule of law” because you need to speak English to become a citizen. Maciej says, “the insinuation that voters might want ballots in Spanish because they are cheating, lazy, bad people is malicious and wrong. You choose Spanish on your ballot for the same reason you might choose it in an ATM transaction - not because you have contempt for American civil society, but because you don’t want to make a mistake.”

A request

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2005

My friend Maciej’s server died the other day, and it looks like it cannot be resurrected. He runs idlewords.com (not working at the moment, obviously), where you may have read his piece on the woes of the Space Shuttle, the one about the Wright Brothers, or about pizza in NYC (which ended up in Best Food Writing 2005). At the moment, he’s a starving artist and can’t afford a new server or even a vanilla hosting account. Anyone out there a reader/fan/friend of Maciej’s and want to give him a little corner of your server to get his site back online? Here’s his short request:

The site rarely exceeds 1GB/day bandwidth. It would be especially handy if I could install perl modules and run perl CGI scripts, but at this point I would settle just being able to keep the archive alive.

If you want to help, email mceglowski [at] gmail.com.

Update: Ok folks, looks like he’s all set. Thanks!

And as long as we’re on the

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2005

And as long as we’re on the subject (you didn’t think we were even on a subject, did you?), I’m a fan of how Maciej is displaying his oil paintings. For each of his newer paintings (like this one of a West Village scene), he’s documenting the progress of the work as it goes along so you can see how the painting becomes a painting.

Update: Eric writes that he uses this technique for displaying how his art progresses as well (sample).

Use the Technorati Accelerator to “search on

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2005

Use the Technorati Accelerator to “search on any URL and get the same response you would have to wait thirty seconds for on their site”. Zing!

Fantastic must-read article slamming NASA with regard

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2005

Fantastic must-read article slamming NASA with regard to the Space Shuttle program. I’ve been following Maciej’s del.icio.us links about the Shuttle for weeks now and was wondering if he’d get around to writing it up. Worth the wait.