What a cough looks like.

The New York Times ran a story today about what a cough actually looks like. As everyone I know has one at the moment….I thought you should take a look. And there’s interesting stuff about Schlieren photography, which I had never heard of before…

The image, published online Oct. 9 by The New England Journal of Medicine, was created by schlieren photography, which “takes an invisible phenomenon and turns it into a visible picture,” said the engineering professor, Gary Settles, who is the director of the university’s gas dynamics laboratory.

Schlieren is German for “streaks”; in this case it refers to regions of different densities in a gas or a liquid, which can be photographed as shadows using a special technique.

“In my lab we use this technique a lot,” Dr. Settles said. “Often it’s used for other things, like in supersonic wind tunnels, to show shock waves around high-speed aircraft.”

The process involves a small, bright light source, precisely placed lenses, a curved mirror, a razor blade that blocks part of the light beam and other tools that make it possible to see and photograph disturbances in the air. In the world of gas dynamics, a cough is merely “a turbulent jet of air with density changes.” Though coughs spread tuberculosis, SARS, influenza and other diseases, surprisingly little is known about them. “We don’t have a good understanding of the air flow,” Dr. Settles said.

To map a cough, he teamed up with Dr. Julian Tang, a virus expert from Singapore. A healthy student provided the cough. The expelled air, traveling at 18 miles per hour, mixed with cooler surrounding air and produced “temperature differences that bend light rays by different amounts,” Dr. Settles said.

He went on: “The next thing is, you get a couple of people in front of the mirror talking, or one coughs on another, and you see how the air flow moves, how people infect one another. Or you look at how coughing can spread airborne infection in a hospital. This is really a suggestion for how we might study all that. The techniques used in wind tunnels can be used to study human diseases.”

Other schlieren images show the churning air and shock waves that emanate from a pistol’s firing; an Airedale sniffing a small flower; and the unseen, shimmering world around a candle burning in a breeze.

The final photograph, in a full-scale mock-up of an aircraft cabin, captures in microseconds the flash of an explosion under a mannequin in an airplane seat and the propagation of shock waves into the cabin. The blast was a re-creation of a terrorist’s attempt in 1994 to bring down a Philippine Airlines flight with a nitroglycerin bomb. The plane did not crash, but the explosion did kill the passenger seated over the bomb. The simulation used a less intense explosion than the actual bombing.

“The simulation helps to understand how the energy of an onboard blast reverberates around the cabin,” Dr. Settles said, “and it is also useful to check the results of computer blast simulations.”

What the Governor of the Bank of England said in his address to the CBI yesterday – apparently he is throwing a hip hop party

It’s about time I ran a serious article about the economy after weeks of crisis – and Melvyn King gave an interesting analysis of what’s been going down in his speech to the Confederation of British Industry this Tuesday, which I am publishing in full here. However when I searched for an image of “King addressing CBI” this one came up, so I thought I would include it anyway. Pound drop, don’t stop….or something.

My first memories of Leeds are from a wet summer in 1958. I was ten years old, we lived on the moors above Hebden Bridge, and my father took me to my first Test Match – England against New Zealand at Headingley. It rained all day on both Thursday and Friday, and, when play started in mid-afternoon on Saturday, on a drying wicket New Zealand were bowled out by Laker and Lock for 67. So I became a slow bowler. I was taught to bowl – slow left arm – at Old Town primary school by the headmaster, Alfred Stephenson. During the morning break he would mark the wickets in chalk in the playground, and draw a small circle exactly on a length. If we could pitch the ball within that circle he would give us a farthing. As we improved, and the payout of farthings increased, the morning break became shorter and shorter – my first lesson in economic incentives, or what is known in the trade as “moral hazard”.
So let me move forward 50 years to the events of 2008, and describe the nature of the financial crisis, the steps that governments and central banks have taken to deal with it, and, most important, the implications of recent events for the UK and world economies. Since August 2007, the industrialised world has been engulfed by financial turmoil. And, following the failure of Lehman Brothers on 15 September, an extraordinary, almost unimaginable, sequence of events began which culminated a week or so ago in the announcements around the world of a recapitalisation of the banking system. It is difficult to exaggerate the severity and importance of those events. Not since the beginning of the First World War has our banking system been so close to collapse. In the second half of September, companies and non-bank financial institutions accelerated their withdrawal from even short-term funding of banks, and banks increasingly lost confidence in the safety of lending to each other. Funding costs rose sharply and for many institutions it was possible to borrow only overnight. Credit to the real economy almost stopped flowing. In financial markets, confidence in others fell to a point where investors sought refuge in government instruments such as US Treasury Bills, which at one point yielded a negative return. Central banks around the world were providing enormous amounts of liquidity to some institutions while at the same time taking large deposits from others. Eventually, on 6 and 7 October even overnight funding started to dry up. Radical action was necessary to ensure the survival of the banking system. And on the morning of 8 October that action was taken when the Prime Minister and Chancellor unveiled a UK plan for recapitalising the banking system on which the Bank, FSA and Treasury had been working for a while. Why was radical action necessary? When the financial turmoil began in August 2007, markets for a number of financial instruments, including mortgage-backed securities, dried up. Most observers expected this closure to be short-lived, and the predominant view was that the crisis was one of (a lack of) liquidity. But, as time passed and markets did not re-open, it became clear that the problem was deeper seated, and concerned the solvency of the banking system and the sustainability of its funding model. Attempts to deal with the problem by injections of liquidity from central banks led to temporary alleviations of the symptoms, but, after an initial improvement, conditions would deteriorate again. The scale of central bank liquidity support during the crisis has been unprecedented, and all central banks have increased the scale of their lending in broadly similar ways. The UK taxpayer now has a larger claim on the assets of banks (in the form of collateral held by the Bank of England) than the total equity value of UK banks. Massive injections of central bank liquidity have played a vital role in staving off an imminent collapse of the banking system. Such lending can tide a bank over while it is taking steps to remove the cause of the concerns that generated a run or lack of confidence. But it can also serve to conceal the severity of the underlying problems, and put off the inevitable day of reckoning. I hope it is now understood that the provision of central bank liquidity, while essential to buy time, is not, and never could be, the solution to the banking crisis, nor to the problems of individual banks. Central bank liquidity is sticking plaster, useful and important, but not a substitute for proper treatment. Just as a fever is itself only a symptom of an underlying condition, so the freezing of interbank and money markets was the symptom of deeper structural problems in the banking sector. So let me explain why a major recapitalisation of the banking system was necessary, was the centrepiece of the UK plan (alongside a temporary guarantee of some wholesale funding instruments and provision of central bank liquidity), and was in turn followed by other European countries and the United States. Securitised mortgages – that is collections of mortgages bundled together and sold as securities, including the now infamous US sub-prime mortgages – had been marketed during a period of rising house prices and low interest rates which had masked the riskiness of the underlying loans. By securitising mortgages on such a scale, banks transformed the liquidity of their lending book. They also financed it by short-term wholesale borrowing. But in the light of rising defaults and falling house prices – first in the United States and then elsewhere – investors reassessed the risks inherent in these securities. Perceived as riskier, their values fell and demand for securitisations dwindled. For the same reason, the value of banks’ mortgage books declined. Banks saw the value of their assets fall while their liabilities remained unchanged. The effect was magnified by the very high levels of borrowing relative to capital (or leverage) with which many banks were operating, and the fact that banks had purchased significant quantities of securitised and more complex financial instruments from each other. Not only were these assets difficult to value, but the distribution of losses across the financial system was uncertain. Banks’ share prices fell. Capital was squeezed. Markets were sending a clear message to banks around the world: they did not have enough capital. At the Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington ten days ago, the message was reinforced by our colleagues from Japan, Sweden and Finland, who, with eloquence and not a little passion, reminded those present of their experience in dealing with a systemic banking failure in the 1990s. Recapitalise and do it now was the lesson. Recapitalisation requires a fiscal response, and that can be done only by governments. Confidence in the banking system had eroded as the weakness of the capital position became more widely appreciated. But it took a crisis caused by the failure of Lehman Brothers to trigger the coordinated government plan to recapitalise the system. It would be a mistake, however, to think that had Lehman Brothers not failed, a crisis would have been averted. The underlying cause of inadequate capital would eventually have provoked a crisis of one kind or another somewhere else. So where does this leave us? The recapitalisation plan is having a major impact on the restoration of market confidence in banks. Perhaps the single most important diagnostic statistic is the credit default swap premium – an indicator of market concerns about solvency of banks. These premia have fallen markedly since the announcement of the UK plan. From the close of business on 7 October to now the premia on the UK’s five largest banks have more than halved. We are far from the end of the road back to stability, but the plan to recapitalise our banking system, both here and abroad, will I believe come to be seen as the moment in the banking crisis of the past year when we turned the corner. As concerns about the viability of our banks recede, banks should regain the confidence of the market as recipients of funding. There are already some signs of greater activity. But the age of innocence – when banks lent to each other unsecured for three months or longer at only a small premium to expected policy rates – will not quickly, if ever, return. In itself that does not affect the ability of banks to fund lending, but confidence has been badly shaken after the traumatic events of the past few weeks. New sources of funding will develop only slowly, although the temporary government guarantees of new lending to banks will help. So it will take time before the recapitalisation leads to a resumption of normal levels of lending by the banking system to the real economy. And we cannot assume that there will not be problems in other parts of the financial system and in some emerging market economies to be overcome before the crisis can truly be described as over. With the plan for recapitalisation in place, the focus of attention has moved to the outlook for the UK and world economies. Over the past month, the economic news has probably been the worst in such a short period for a very considerable time. The most recent activity indicators for the second of half of the year have fallen sharply. In the UK, unemployment continues to rise and, over the past three months, has risen at the fastest rate for seventeen years, albeit from a relatively low level. House prices declined by about 5% in the third quarter and are 13% lower than a year ago. The recent weakness of the housing market is likely to continue. And if the news on the domestic front were not sufficiently discouraging, the rest of the world economy also appears to be slowing rapidly. Why has the outlook deteriorated so quickly? The banking crisis dealt a severe blow to the availability of credit. Growth in secured lending to households fell to an annualised rate of 1.9% in the three months to August, its lowest level in more than a decade. The Bank of England’s survey of credit conditions suggests that the terms on which banks provide credit to companies have tightened even further. And, on some estimates, the supply of finance to the UK corporate sector has ground to a halt. This credit shock has come on top of a fall in real disposable incomes resulting from the rise in energy and food prices earlier in the year. So, taken together, the combination of a squeeze on real takehome pay and a decline in the availability of credit poses the risk of a sharp and prolonged slowdown in domestic demand. Indeed, it now seems likely that the UK economy is entering a recession. At the same time, consumer price inflation, our target measure, has risen from around the 2% target at the beginning of the year to a worryingly high rate of 5.2% in September. Oil and other commodity and food prices have all been rising very rapidly. In those circumstances, it was sensible to allow those price changes to be absorbed by movements in consumer prices. The alternative would have been an even sharper slowdown in the economy. Central banks in other countries also find themselves in a similar position. Over the past year or so, CPI inflation rose from 2.0% to 5.6% in the United States and from 1.7% to 4.0% in the euro-area. It is surely probable that the drama of the banking crisis, which is unprecedented in the lifetime of almost all of us, will damage business and consumer confidence more generally. But two pieces of good news should temper the gloom. First, the banking system will be recapitalised and, in due course, the banking system will resume more normal lending, although by normal I do not mean the conditions that prevailed prior to August 2007. Second, oil prices have now fallen from a peak of $147 a barrel only three months ago to around $70 today. And wholesale gas prices have now also started to follow oil prices down. That will help to support the growth of real incomes as well as bringing down inflation. So, what should the Monetary Policy Committee do now? It must continue to set Bank Rate in order to meet the 2% inflation target, not next month or the month after, but further ahead when the impact of recent developments in both credit supply and world commodity prices will have worked their way through the economy. This is the time not to abandon but to reinforce our commitment to stability. The slowdown in demand, and the recent falls in energy prices, will bring inflation back towards the target. The Committee must balance the risk that a prolonged slowdown in domestic demand pulls inflation materially below the target against the risk that today’s high inflation rate becomes embedded in inflation expectations. During the past month, the balance of risks to inflation in the medium term shifted decisively to the downside. And the MPC – in an action co-ordinated with six other major central banks – cut Bank Rate by half a percentage point to 4.5%. Looking ahead, the outlook is obviously very uncertain – both for the world as well as our own economy. The MPC cannot simply extrapolate the past into the future. The prospects for oil and other commodity prices are difficult to assess. So too are the period over which bank lending will return to normal and the extent of the damage to business and consumer confidence. Moreover, the credit crunch affects not just demand but also the supply potential of the economy, complicating the assessment of the inflationary impact of changes in the level of demand. The associated shift of resources away from those parts of the economy that have flourished in recent years towards other areas of economic activity will moderate the increase in potential output while that adjustment is taking place. The MPC must monitor carefully all the available evidence about fastchanging patterns of spending, supply and prices. It will act promptly to ensure that inflation remains on track to meet our target.
The downturn in the economy will affect not just monetary policy but fiscal policy too. That subject is for another occasion, but there is one point I do want to make tonight. The cost of supporting the banking system will inevitably raise the level of national debt. Managed properly, however, such a rise in national debt need not prove inflationary. Indeed, within a reasonable period it should be possible for the Government to reduce its stake in the banking system, for example by selling units in a Bank Reconstruction Fund, and repay the additional debt that had been issued. That is one difference between past increases in national debt in times of war and the increase now to pay for recapitalisation of the banking system which involves the acquisition of an asset. Let me take you back again to 1958. In the very first television interview given by a Governor of the Bank of England, Cameron Cobbold explained national debt to Robin Day on “Tell the People”, the highlight of ITN’s Sunday evening schedule fifty years ago. Here is the exchange:
Cobbold: The National Debt represents the sums of money which the Government have over the years borrowed from the public, mainly in this country and, to some extent, abroad. That is really the amount of expenditure which they have failed over the period to cover by revenue.
Day: Have we paid for World War II?
Cobbold: No.
Day: Have we paid for World War I?
Cobbold: No.
Day: Have we paid for the Battle of Waterloo?
Cobbold: I don’t think you can exactly say that.

On this occasion, we should have little difficulty in evaluating when we have paid for the recapitalisation. There are, though, questions about the source of the funding and the level of borrowing by the country as a whole from overseas. For several years, the UK banking sector has been relying extensively on external capital flows, principally shortterm wholesale funding, to finance its lending activities. Those external inflows have 9 fallen sharply – a mild form of the reversal of capital inflows experienced by a number of emerging market economies in the 1990s. Unless they are replaced by other forms of external finance, the adjustments in the trade deficit and exchange rate will need to be larger and faster than would otherwise have occurred, implying a larger rise in domestic saving and weaker domestic spending in the short run. With the bank recapitalisation plan in place, we now face a long, slow haul to restore lending to the real economy, and hence growth of our economy, to more normal conditions. The past few weeks have been somewhat too exciting. The actions that were taken were not designed to save the banks as such, but to protect the rest of the economy from the banks. I hope banks will come to appreciate, just as the New Zealanders at Headingley in 1958, the Yorkshire virtues of patience and sound defence when batting on a sticky wicket. I have said many times that successful monetary policy would appear rather boring. So let me extend an invitation to the banking industry to join me in promoting the idea that a little more boredom would be no bad thing. The long march back to boredom and stability starts tonight in Leeds. ENDS

Don’t shake hands with a Northerner.

The further north you go in England, the more likely you are to have faecal bacteria on your hands. And if you’re using the London Tube (underground railway) it’s an even bigger pile of sh*t than you ever thought. This story by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that one in four commuters have faecal bacteria on their hands. So the North-South divide is perhaps more fundamental than we realised.  And I speak as a Northerner. Are my hands clean? Does a bear go to church? Does the Pope……..

The further north you go, the more likely you are to have faecal bacteria on your hands, especially if you are a man, according to a preliminary study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

But women living in the South and Wales have little to feel smug about. In London, they are three times as likely as their men folk to have dirty hands, and in Cardiff, twice as likely. The men of London registered the most impressive score among all those surveyed, with a mere 6% found to have faecal bugs on their hands. Overall more than one on four commuters have bacteria which come from faeces on their hands.

The Dirty Hands Study was conducted in order to provide a snapshot of the nation’s hand hygiene habits, as part of the world’s first Global Handwashing Day today. Commuters’ hands were swabbed at bus stops outside five train stations around the UK (Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham, Euston and Cardiff).

The results indicated that commuters in Newcastle were up to three times more likely than those in London to have faecal bacteria on their hands (44% compared to 13%) while those in Birmingham and Cardiff were roughly equal in the hand hygiene stakes (23% and 24% respectively). Commuters in Liverpool also registered a high score for faecal bacteria, with a contamination rate of 34%.

In Newcastle and Liverpool, men were more likely than women to show contamination (53% of men compared to 30% of women in Newcastle, and 36% of men compared to 31% of women in Liverpool), although in the other three centres, the women’s hands were dirtier. Almost twice as many women than men in Cardiff were found to have contamination (29% compared to 15 %) while in Euston, they were more than three times likelier than the men to have faecal bacteria on their hands (the men here registered an impressive 6%, compared to a rate of 21% in the women). In Birmingham, the rate for women was slightly higher than the men (26% compared to 21%).

The bacteria that were found are all from the gut, and do not necessarily always cause disease, although they do indicate that hands have not been washed properly.

Dr Val Curtis, Director of the Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, comments: ‘We were flabbergasted by the finding that so many people had faecal bugs on their hands. The figures were far higher than we had anticipated, and suggest that there is a real problem with people washing their hands in the UK. If any of these people had been suffering from a diarrhoeal disease, the potential for it to be passed around would be greatly increased by their failure to wash their hands after going to the toilet’.

For more information, or to interview the investigators, please contact Gemma Howe in the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Press Office on 0207 927 2802 or gemma.howe@lshtm.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

Global Handwashing Day was initiated by the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (www.globalhandwashing.org), which is dedicated to promoting handwashing with soap to reduce diarrhoea in developing countries and implement large-scale handwashing interventions by combining the expertise and resources of the soap industry with the facilities and resources of governments. Global Handwashing Day activities are being implemented in more than forty countries and focus on raising awareness among policymakers and the public about the role handwashing plays in public health.

For more information about Global Handwashing Day, please go to:
www.globalhandwashingday.org. All materials on the website are available to be downloaded, or can be used in publication.


I found this on the internet today and it provided me with a refreshing antidote to the stories of Royal Bank of Scotland plunging over 40 percent in value, America in dissarray, Wall Street bankers hurtling to their doom down the sides of skyscrapers….. purporting to be a 419 scam (you know, those emails from scammers claiming to be the president of Nigeria) for me it captures the mood of a moment.

Dear American:
I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.
I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of US$800 billion. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.
I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.
This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.
Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.
Yours faithfully,
Minister of Treasury