November 20, 2022

Ok, What is this Mastodon Social Networking Thing and How Do I Move In?

 Mastodon, how do I move in?

So, you are on Twitter and have used the platform for many years like I have. (I am @kpmitton on Twitter) Now we have had to deal with conmen, conwomen, narcissistic ex-presidents, white supremacists, liars, Nazis, anti-democratic power mongers, bigots, and racists. So we all would like a place where the servers are not owned by one company, or one billionaire, and where fake news and misinformation are not permitted. That is where Mastodon servers were born designed to take the best of the earliest forms of networking on the Internet when it was mostly UNIX-based, command-line computers and accounts. Think nodes, think neurons, think decentralized networks, yet think also about being able to follow and be followed by anyone with an account on any of many Mastodon servers. Still able to have followers as you could on Twitter but Elon Musk and Donald Trump have no say at all about the Network nor can they permit hate and lies with the excuse (used wrongly) of freedom of speech. This is how Mastodon works. Where do you find it, and how do you join it? It's as easy or as hard as it was when we all joined Twitter. We may fumble around a for a few days until we get the hang of it, but here is how to get there and how it works. It is no more complicated than Twitter, but better moderated by its users. That would be you and me. It does not run on commercial advertising revenue and it is not governed by algorithms that companies can pay to control who and what you see in a 1984 senario. How? Read on.

I will tell you right now that the easiest way to start with Mastodon is to use the App on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You can make an account from those apps. You can also go to a joining website portal. Before making your account, know this. It is possible to have your own username. On Twitter, I am kpmitton and in the Mastodon universe, I am also kpmitton. There is no one collection of servers run by "Mastodon". You might find you can make accounts with the same user name on different servers in the network, but that would not serve you well because users on any server can follow you and be followed by you from any server you live at. 

Mastodon is really the communication protocol that people use to set up servers which are called "instances" or "Mastodon Instances". They are really similar to different people having their own websites on their own servers. For social interaction and communication, it is like having many Facebook servers and different people grouped on different ones. This is kind of true about the Facebook platform. Yet everyone can connect with each other in Facebook. You are oblivious to the fact that you and your best friend may have Facebook accounts that are residing on completely different servers. However, Facebook controls it all, they own rights to use your words and videos, and images as you store them there for free. They can also change the name of the game, and the rules of the game at any time and you have no control over it. If Facebook decided to start charging $10 a month for your Facebook account, they could, they are a private company, and fundamentally a business that exists to make a profit. Same for Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp.

In the Mastodon universe, you see and know what server your account resides at. It is like your server is a particular town or city and your username is also linked to that address. Mastodon users with accounts on other servers can find you by searching your user name (kpmitton for me), or they can directly find your account with your full address. My "town" server is called "TechHub.Social" and it was started by a guy named Nic. A programmer. 

BEFORE you make an account browse the servers, or instances, available. Servers have been set up in this new social network by persons with various interests, so you may find one that is for journalists, or technology persons like myself (there were no bioscience ones, but biotech is tech too). These servers can often be joined by anyone, even if you are not a techno geek you are welcome to join Techhub.social. Do not rush, servers are not going anywhere. Then pick one and make an account for yourself. Again, you can start from the phone apps for Mastodon (in the Apple Store, or Good Play) and they will let you pick your user name, register your email, and be associated with one of the many servers now set up around the globe. Even some companies and institutions and newspapers are setting up their own Instances (servers) using Mastodon's open-source code. Servers have been set up for different parts of the globe, different work interests, arts, humanities, social connections, disabilities, and different Human Communities. No Nazis though. Not permitted. 

If you want to use a website from your laptop, you can join Mastodon at  joinmastodon.org . Again, do not be confused by all the server instances. No matter which one you join, you will have access to the entire collaborative community. If you are a photographer or editor, you may want to join a server that was started with your community in mind. A good place to make contacts with others who have your immediate interests. (Currently, 11/20/2022, there is NO mastodon.org. That domain is reserved but not used. Use JoinMastodon.org for web browsers.)

I chose to join TechHub.Social, an instance of Mastodon server set up by a fellow Canadian. (Turns out he is from Quebec. I was born in Quebec as well, but alas, I am an Anglophone Quebequois, not very French. But I bet we both like the Habs? Maybe we both like St. Viature Bagels in Montreal?) The Mastodon Apps are just like the Twitter apps in your hand. You see your posts (Toots I call them, elephants and mastodons toot, right?), and who you follow and who follows you. On my laptop here is the web version of my view right now using the "Light" colored option:


And here is my view when I select the "Dark" colors option:



As you can see I have set up my profile picture from the Edit Profile option and added an Artemis-1 screen capture from NASA's mission tracker. I love NASA and space stuff :). I have started to add people that I follow, and some have started to follow me back. Here I can scroll down, like we do on Twitter, and read the posts in my personal feed from those I follow, or topics and #hashtags that I can set up to watch as well. Note that we can repost other posts too as in Twitter. In Mastodon, this is called boosting. 

In addition to seeing posts from those I set up to follow, I can click on Local and quickly see the recent posts from my local group or instance, that is the "TechHub.Social" server in the Mastodon federation. Like the Neural Retina that I study as a scientist, this federation is sort of like creating a whole field of vision from a network of photoreceptors. Vision is decentralized, in that if you lose photoreceptor "instances" in one part of your visual field, you still have the rest of your visual field. To take out your vision, you would have to neutralize the entire eye or take out the entire Internet to break Mastodon communication. Even if the Mastodon server I use was taken away, I would just move my account to a different server of which there will be thousands. All over the world. Servers are set up and communities of users chip in a few bucks to support having our servers up and running and we communicate and can share information. Follow and be followed. No Musks or Trumps or Nazis to cramp our Democracy. 

Find me on Mastodon. Look for kpmitton or kpmitton@techhub.social from inside your Mastodon. Think the bird is cute? So are Mastodons, as you can see from the info page of the techhub.social instance, set up by @Nicdex: See https://techhub.social/about



SUMMARY:

1) Use Mastodon App to set up your account, or go to the JoinMastodon.org website.

2) Browse around the different community interest servers (instances) available around the globe. Most let anyone join, but you may find one already started by persons in your career, hobby, or other interest. Some are just for social networking. It's kind of nice to belong to a specific server, yet be fully connected to the full network.

3) Make your account on the Mastodon instance (server) you choose. 


4) Just like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, edit your profile and add some information. 

5) Send your friends your user name in Mastodon and invite them to join and find each other. 

6) I am @kpmitton@techhub.social (my account is based on the server with the domain name TechHub.Social, and it links and communicates in the greater Mastodon federation).


7) Enjoy no ads, and no longer have Elon Musk control what you see or follow. Also enjoy a place where it is not permitted to participate if you post misinformation or promote hate, antivaccine information, and other such harmful activity. LGBTQ community is welcome and attacks on persons or communities are not allowed to participate in the Mastodon network. 

8) Follow George Takei, just search for him. Your very first nice person.




Remember. You can be your own scientist. Knowledge is power.








November 14, 2022

COVID19 Walks Into a Bar.........

A COVID19 virus walks into a bar and asks the masked bartender for a dark draft beer, hands $5 to him, and watches the game on the TV. COVID finishes his beer and goes to the bathroom, and returns to find $5 beside his glass refilled with beer. Amused, but pleased, COVID enjoys a second draft, and hands the $5 to the bartender again. Soon COVID heads off for another bathroom break and returns to find his beer glass again full and the $5 again. "What, did I win free beer today or something?", he says to the barkeep. No, you are just really popular with those two guys over there in the corner booth and they insisted to pay for all your drinks.  COVID turned around, letting eyes adjust to the dimly lit corner booth, and who did COVID see?....

September 3, 2022

The Science of Tuition and Student Loan Forgiveness in about 60 seconds.

I may be a university professor now, but I too was new in college in the 80s. Education cost at a university in 1980 was about $4,500 per student. Most States gave about 70% of that to the college and tuition was the student's share. About $1200 a year. Since then Education Cost has only risen with the average accumulated US inflation rate just like cars, homes, and just about everything in the economy. 

If percentages stayed the same as in the 80's for tax collected and State support of education cost to colleges, then tuition now would be about $4500 per year. Why then is it more like 15-16 thousand dollars per year? Simple. States have gradually over the last 40 years deceased their cut of the Education Cost pie. Now they may only provide 16% of education cost per student to a college. That is a big shift from 70% of the pie. In 2022 who takes care of the other 84%.? You guessed it. The student and this is their much larger tuition. 

The funny thing is that most legislators my age, also went to college in the 80s and they were happy to have the State provide 70% of their education cost. Many Americans from 50-80 years of age who complain about tuition forgiveness simply got their support from the Gov't before they wrote their tuition check. 

The divestment in higher education and post-secondary trades higher education will diminish the competitiveness of the United States over the next few decades unless it is reversed.
Ken Mitton

April 27, 2022

To Mask or Not to Mask, That is the Question?

 As a biomedical scientist, who also blogs, I get many questions from people around me concerning getting vaccinated for COVID19 and now more often about masks. Which mask? Do I need to mask? Where do I need to mask? Do they work? Should I just let myself get COVID19 to gain natural immunity? Is that better than vaccinated immunity? 

As far as immunity goes, I have two doses of Pfizer and two doses of Moderna now. Yes, I have the second booster just a few weeks ago, and yes I wear a mask and an N95 one at that when I am in crowded indoor spaces. I will be wearing an N95 mask in airports and on aircraft and in convention centers. 

Most importantly, I made the decision to wear an N95 mask because of my own skill and knowledge set as a career scientist and inventor with over 25 years of lab time under my belt. I understand DNA and RNA, how to put RNA into cells (like the RNA vaccines do), and how RNA is used as a template to make protein and all that stuff. That is what I do for a living. I have even designed a genetic test panel that we use to DNA-sequence kids with very rare inherited retinal conditions to determine the changes in their DNA that cause their medical condition.

Let me be clear that I fully understand that currently there are no laws that force me to wear a mask at all here in Michigan, Oakland County (my work), and Macomb County (my residence). I choose to wear an N95, and so far I am one of the 45% or so of people in the United States who have not been infected with COVID19. This last point is the reason I wear an N95. 

Most of us know many people who have both survived or died from COVID19. I also know many vaccinated persons who just had the "COVID19 cold", and they certainly fell into the "survived" category because they were vaccinated. However, I also know more persons around me who "just had a bad cold", but about a month later strange problems and long-covid symptoms have cropped up in their lives. Things like headaches, insomnia, foggy brain, constant exhaustion, and transient spells of extremely high blood pressure that leave them unable to walk without assistance for an hour. All of this explains two of my personal decisions for my own health:

1) I chose to get vaccinated to get immunity. 

While COVID19 infection and even repeated infections will spark your immune system into action, they are infections and real COVID19 virus still forms in your body and kills and disrupts several cell types of many different organs in the body including lungs, intestinal tract, sinus neurons (smell), and even our brains. I get a better immunity from the vaccines and avoid the dangers of the virus. Its a no brainer for me. I am over 50 and qualified for the 2nd booster, which I have now.

2) I chose to wear an N95 because I do not want a "COVID Cold".

An actual COVID19 infection, even if we have some immunity already, brings to me some risk of developing a new long-term medical condition. As a male who has entered his 60s during this pandemic and who makes a living using his brain to investigate human biology, disease, and design potential new therapeutics, I really need an "unfoggy brain". There are computer scientists, engineers, and medical scientists who have had to take leave from their careers because of neurological symptoms left to them by COVID19. I do not wish to risk being in that situation, even if the risk is tiny. Being told you have a very tiny risk becomes moot if you are one of those who end up in the very tiny "unlucky" group with neurological problems.

So, when will I stop wearing my N95 mask in some higher-risk situations? 

When the high risk goes away. I will base that on my risk of getting exposed to the latest strain of COVID19 going around. Currently, that is still a very significant risk. It is currently a higher risk than we have of getting the flu in most years. Once all the unvaccinated people around my part of Michigan eventually get COVID19 and some immunity, the extent of active COVID19 in the community will get low enough that I will consider taking off the N95. 

With warmer weather, I am going to favor eating outside at restaurants, and attending outdoor events and festivals. I will still pop my N95 on when I go into Starbucks to pick up my coffee, and I will watch the data available for Michigan from testing. Unfortunately, the extent of active COVID19 is harder to judge now as many states have stopped a lot of their testing efforts. However, there is good data from watching current hospital ER and admission data. 

I am simply going to err on side of caution so I avoid COVID19 itself if possible. That is good for my health and it also reduces the risk of a family member getting an infection transmitted through me. Just because a very conservative judge decided to block a Federal CDC mandate to require masking on airplanes does not change the science of the situation. A good mask, N95 is best, serves to stop the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID19 and many more that have plagued humans over time. COVID19 will mindlessly, robotically, continue to spread in the very automated ways that all viruses spread and if you do not have an N95 in a crowded venue then you choose a higher risk of infection. So be it. COVID19 cares not about anyone's politics. In general, illnesses and diseases do what they do regardless. 

So it's my choice for my health, based on how my science brain thinks, to wear an N95 mask. If you choose to be riskier then I wish you good luck. I really hope for the best for everyone, but you will be rolling a pair of dice that are different than my pair of dice. Your dice will have more than one side with one dot and your chances of rolling "snake eyes" will simply be greater than mine. 

Good Luck to us all. 

March 28, 2022

Confused on What to Do Next if Exposed to Someone Who has COVID19? This Calculator Provides Specific Advice.

Have you been in close contact with persons who have tested positive for COVID19? 

Not sure what actions you should take at home or work in this situation? 

Do you wear a mask at home, or should you get a test yourself? 

All the answers depend on time and if you are vaccinated or if you had COVID19 yourself in the last few months. Simply click your answers into this online calculator and it quickly helps you figure out the best medical advice on what to do next. 


CDC COVID Exposure and Response Calculator


January 13, 2022

Omicron Variant versus Delta Variant: Lessons on What to Expect From Coronavirus Adaptations

My previous blog post described how Coronavirus strains adapt and benefit from their naturally high error rate when they copy their own RNA as more virus particles are produced in an infected cell. (Click to read that posting here.) If these changes cause a particular strain to spread easier among us humans then these new strains quickly take over the infection race. There is no evil plot, just the random events of statistics and bad luck for us as variants like Omicron spread faster. Delta is still around, but Omicron gets to new unvaccinated persons first, and eventually, more of those requiring admissions to our hospitals will have Omicron and not Delta. That said, both Delta and Omicron are killing people inside our hospital ICUs. Why exactly does Omicron spread faster than Delta?