Archive for October, 2020


Plague diaries, Day 223

Thursday night. I blinked, and it was Friday once again…

I’m still riding that emotional high from having helped out that customer with my long road trip yesterday. The clarity of driving… Having an entire day with nothing to do but think (with food for thought rolling in from all the interesting podcasts) really helped put some things into perspective. My mind is now abuzz with thoughts of several potential futures, of what might be, of what I might always regret if I don’t do. 2020 is a very big year for me in very many ways. I’m setting a few plans in motion – only time will tell how well they will play out.

Skipping the exercise today since my back is a bit sore from all the heavy-lifting yesterday. There’s a distinct possibility it’s just my mind being lazy, but I don’t want to risk an accidental and avoidable injury. I’ll pick it back up tomorrow.

The final presidential debate just ended. It was a hot mess, which wasn’t a big surprise. It was curious to see Trump actually talking for two hours without coughing or wheezing: either they temporarily stabilized him just for tonight, or they’ve pumped him full of more experimental treatments. (Or perhaps both.) It’s interesting, though, that when he appears in public, there are obvious traces of IV needles on his right hand. Oh well. The US election is in 12 days. Hopefully, it won’t be contested or fought over – I and many others like me would really like that particular dumpster-fire to end.

In covid news, Trump defended his covid approach during the debate and said he’d rather open up more businesses instead of changing anything or calling for a mask mandate. And in Florida, there are plans to stop daily reporting of new covid cases – and it’s unclear whether the reporting would switch to weekly cadence or stop altogether. I suppose that’s one way to make the virus disappear magically – if you just stop reporting on it at all.

Ye gods, what a shitshow… I love you, Canada. 🙂

Plague diaries, Day 222

Wednesday night.

Damn, this feels good. My roadtrip took a bit longer than expected due to some logistical issues, so it took me 15.5 hours to cover the 653 miles to Ottawa and back. Without breaking any confidentiality rules… A treadmill didn’t get delivered to a customer. It got sent back to our hub hundreds of miles away. There were no other sellable treadmills of that model that we could ship to the customer.

This had all the signs of a surefire disaster right until I looked into this, found the original treadmill at our hub (it showed up as a returned item, not a brand new one), and volunteered to make the trip.

I left at 7am, delivered the thing at 9:30pm, and got home at 10:30pm. Had to eat like a garbage raccoon along the way and skipped my daily exercise, but this was so worth it. (I also had to rent a small U-Haul trailer along the way because the treadmill was just 1″ too high to slide into my Kia Rio’s trunk.) The work I do on my computer matters, and it’s impactful – but this, right here, actually made a difference for one of our customers, and the warm fuzzy feeling of satisfaction from a job well done is one hell of a drug.

The world is still on fire (literally: Colorado’s wildfire has been burning for two straight months now), there’s a raging pandemic for which we don’t have a vaccine yet, and days are getting shorter, darker, and colder. And yet this, here, today, was indescribably great and rewarding. Here is to more days like this one.

Plague diaries, Day 221

Tuesday night. When you exercise at home, the hardest part is getting off the couch.

I’ve slept on my decision to shave the Apocalypse Beard, and decided there’s no sense in prolonging the inevitable. Before shaving it to a far more respectable-looking Van Dyke, I took a few high-resolution pictures and recorded a video for my future self. When some older and wiser version of me entertains the idea of growing a beard at some point in the distant future (probably a year from now, give or take), hopefully the video will dissuade him. Oh well, that was a fun quarantine project: at least now I know what 149 days of facial shrubberry look like.

I’ve found out that I’ll end up making the big work-related roadtrip after all: to Ottawa and back! It’s roughly a 10-hour roundtrip, all for the sake of customer experience, since that’s the fastest and cheapest way to get something from point A to point B. I’ve already mapped the route and loaded up on podcasts. (Sean Carroll’s Mindscape podcast is amazing.) I’ll get up earlier than usual tomorrow, but it’ll definitely be worth it. Before the pandemic, this sort of customer-obsessed adventure would’ve made for a merely great story. These days, it’s a great story and probably the most exciting thing that will happen to me since my July vacation. (Which, as you recall, I spent roadtripping and gem-hunting around Ontario.) This October is remarkably warm, but it’ll snow soon enough, and then long roadtrips won’t be as safe… Gonna have to make the most out of tomorrow’s trip.

In covid news, Ireland is going into a strict six-week lockdown starting tomorrow night. Most retail stores will be closed, folks won’t be allowed to visit each other’s homes, and there’ll be movement restrictions – no more than 5km (or 3 miles) away from your home. Police checkpoints on the roads will help enforce the rules. Public transit will be capped at 25% capacity. The one small upside is that those who lose their jobs will get weekly unemployment payouts. The lockdown is supposed to last until December 1, but some lockdowns in other countries have been known to get extended… If all goes well, they’ll be able to enjoy their December holidays with far, far lower virus levels.

It’s interesting that the sort of strict lockdown Ireland is about to kick off is far above and beyond anything we’ve had in the US and, to a lesser extent, Canada. (Some Canadian provinces had road checkpoints too.) Most US/Canadian initiatives were well-intentioned but not nearly as strict as this: even now, if you don’t like the rules in your local municipality, you can just drive a few miles out and enjoy your freedom (from common sense, presumably). A guy on local social media claimed that his brother-in-law drove an hour outside Toronto just to enjoy a lunch out on the patio. I hope that two-hour covid safari was worth it. I’m not sure how people would handle it if an actual Irish-style lockdown were implemented nationwide: Canadians would probably politely protest; Americans would likely start trying to kidnap and kill more public officials, as they do. What a fascinating time to be a fan of both politics and epidemiology, eh.

And now, off to bed, to get all the zzz’s for tomorrow’s big drive. Stay healthy out there, folks.

Plague diaries, Day 220

Tuesday night. If the 1920s were filled with parties and ended with a disaster, and the 2020s began with a disaster instead… Does that mean we’ll get to party it up for nine years?

Another utterly unremarkable day here in suburbia, except that both of my landlords were coughing up a storm this morning. They both say it’s just a bad cough and there are no other symptoms, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. Even so, it’s always possible that’s something worse. If that’s covid, then I’ve probably already been exposed… We’ll see. The tickle in the back of my throat is still there, even though it’s been about a week, but it and I have a non-aggression pact. It’s possible that’s all there really is – just some cold with mild symptoms.

At work, I very nearly got to volunteer to drive and deliver a thingy five hours away, which would have resulted in a fun 10-hour roadtrip. Alas, that didn’t come to be. Too bad, but there’ll be other roadtrips later. Not anytime soon, most likely: the first snow is just a few weeks away, and driving between cities when all that white crap is sticking everywhere doesn’t strike me as safe. These days, I mostly escape into the thoughts about the past and the future – anything but the present. Depending how well things go next year, I miiiight be able to finally vacation someplace warm, exotic, and sunny. (Still a little salty that Tunisia didn’t work out for me back in March.) But if not, and if things stabilize in Quebec, then maybe Montreal… Yay hypothetical imaginary future roadtrips.

In covid news, same old, same old. The other night, Dr.Fauci appeared on 60 Minutes where he frankly discussed how frustrated he is with America’s covid response. (Or lack thereof, really.) He said he and his family got harassed and received death threats… Now the poor guy has to have security with him when he goes on his power walks. He’s almost 80. After the recent spike in attempted political violence, it’s possible that some other idiot will try to go after Fauci himself, security or not. And, of course, Trump didn’t help things, calling Fauci an idiot later on, mocking all the safety measures, etc.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to live in the US right now. Stay strong and safe and sane, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 219

Sunday night. Another uneventful weekend is behind me, another uneventful week about to start.

The biggest accomplishment of my week has been binge-watching all 30 episodes of Ozark. Fine show – a strange mix of Arrested Development and Breaking Bad. I must say, I had no idea it’d be such a wild mix of finance and political science: the two things I love the most. Heh. I suppose if nothing else, that TV show makes for a great cautionary tale. And now, off to find more random entertainment… (The video game I keep playing, Elder Scrolls Online, has hundreds of hours of content, but it does get mighty repetitive after a while.)

…upon steady, sober, and non-subjective reflection on my reflection, I’ve decided that Apocalypse Beard is not such a good look for me after all. This seems to run in the family: there’s simply not enough facial hair density to make it look presentable. Ah well. I hope I won’t forget to take a picture for posterity before I shave it off, lest I forget and get the same bright idea to grow it out a few years down the road. Making personal progress in lockdown, eh?

With luck, this will be the week I get the long-awaited phone call to make an appointment with Canada’s biometrics and get one tiny step closer to becoming a permanent resident. (Toes and fingers crossed!)

In covid news, a giant Hasidic wedding with 10,000 guests got shut down on extremely short notice in Brooklyn. Apparently, it’s a big deal when a grandchild of some religious big wig gets married. The new plan for the wedding is to narrow the attendance down to just “close family members.” That may mean they’ll abide by the 50-person limit, or they’ll use the family loophole to sneak in a few thousand of their closest friends. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

This ultra-orthodox sect has been vocally anti-mask in New York this year, to the point of organizing a mask-burning bonfire… Diversity is good. Alloys are stronger than base metals. But the real test of cooperation and strength comes during crises such as this one. Will that community find a way to coexist with their neighbours and take the pandemic as seriously as it ought to be? Time will tell.

And in the “modern-day horror stories” category – a woman in Texas died on a plane. She was in her 30s. The plane hadn’t even taken off – they were still on the tarmac. That means she was well enough to make it through security, then sat down, and… There were some accounts from the 1918 pandemic that the flu was so virulent that some people would sit down on the subway and die before the train reached the end of the line. Some modern-day scientists claimed those stories were made-up exaggerations. Well, here is a modern-day version of those tales. I’m sure that some decades later, some scientists who aren’t even alive yet will scoff and laugh and shrug at this news report the same way their modern counterparts downplayed the horrific accounts from 1918. If we can do nothing else, we can at least document everything around us. Record whatever you can: you never know when it’ll come in handy.

Plague diaries, Day 218

Saturday night. What if the government paid people to stay indoors on weekends, the same way it pays farmers not to grow crops?

My landlords’ daughter has a cute Corgi named Royce. She brings him over every now and then. Today was Royce’s second birthday: he got a cute squeaky toy and some steamed hot potato. (His favourite delicacy, since dogs don’t get a birthday cake.) Royce hates my smoothie blender with remarkable passion: he turns from a good-natured pup into a prehistoric direwolf the moment he sees the blender. The highlight of the weekend so far was both of my landlords chasing the Corgi around the first floor to catch him while I hid the blender behind my back to keep from annoying the pupper even more. (In the end, we corralled him into the backyard for a few minutes.) Even adjusting for the low entertainment levels of this lockdown, that was mighty funny: in another world, that would’ve been a great silent movie with a jaunty piano soundtrack.

…I was going to write about the variety of culinary options (aside from the usual protein smoothie and chicken) I have available to me after last night’s grocery run, but that’d be too sad even for me. Heh. There’s just not a lot of variety when you’re under self-imposed house arrest and everything is closed. Aside from playing “hide the blender” with Royce, the highlight of my weekend will be not exercising on Sunday and treating myself to the Tim Hortons drivethrough for my weekly fast food indulgence. But hey, no news is good news, right?

In the US, early voting began not too long ago, and the turnout is already breaking records. In California, Republicans started installing their own unofficial ballot boxes, and promised not to tamper with them and turn in the ballots within 72 hours. If one assumes they’re doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and will not do anything funny, one is a moron. The big election day is just 17 days away. I hope it won’t get too ugly. It’s strange to think that just three weeks from now, we’ll know the final score at long, long last.

In covid news, Slovakia decided to test every resident over the age of 9 for covid over the course of the next few weeks. If they can pull that off, it’ll be remarkable. They’ve got only 5.4 million people and 82 deaths so far, which means this should be somewhat simple, logistically speaking, and they’re doing okay per capita – not perfect, but still not as much of a dumpster-fire as the US. It’s pretty funny that they have their own anti-maskers: a crowd of ~500 gathered to display their displeasure against what will probably be mandatory testing. It’s oddly comforting to know that human nature is the same no matter where you go.

And in the US, a mad musician was arrested for trying to kidnap and kill Wichita’s mayor. The guy seemed to be very passionate about “masks and tyranny.” This is coming shortly after the Michigan plot to kidnap and kill their governor. Someday, somehow, some crazy person is going to succeed at one of their insane plots – and not a single outrage-profiteering pundit or politician will suffer any consequences… Ye gods, I’m so glad I’m in Canada now.

Keep enjoying your weekend, folks – and if you haven’t enjoyed it thus far, then try to enjoy the rest of it twice as hard.

Plague diaries, Day 217

Friday night. Time to party it up! (But solo and at home and responsibly, this being a pandemic and all.)

Today I consumed the last multivitamin from the bottle I started a year ago. I remember writing this post at the time: a little time capsule from myself to myself. I measure life in bottles of vitamins… A year ago, I was a different person. The world was a different place. I still live in Toronto’s suburbs, I still have the same position at the same job, but the rest… I wouldn’t have guessed that by the time I eat that 365th vitamin pill, I’d be a seasoned pandemic survivor with a small hoard of PPE. I wouldn’t have imagined that over a million people worldwide would die of a virus that hadn’t yet existed when I bought those vitamins. I wouldn’t have considered that I’d run off with that special someone to three different towns in rural Ontario and Quebec, always trying to stay just a step ahead of the virus.

This new bottle has 250 vitamin gummies. It says to consume between 2-4 per day. That should last me 125 days, until late February. I know I say this a lot, but nevertheless, I can’t stop wondering how different the world will be by then. How different I’ll be. How many unimaginable things will come true… Chances are, it’ll be more of the same: more infections, more deaths, more lockdowns. Regular life will remain on hold. No real-world dating or meetups, but perhaps some more self-improvement, both physical and intellectual.

But then again… Who could have imagined that 2020 would have the worst pandemic since 1918? Granted, the only ways 2021 can get wilder than this is if there’s a nuclear war, or zombies, or if aliens land and ask to see our (hopefully new) leader. Anything can happen, though: the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is heating up, and some nuclear powers might get involved. A zombie virus is a stretch, but weaponized rabies? Easy-peasy. And as for aliens, the Pentagon has been declassifying an awful lot of of reports whose conclusion amounts to a big ol’ shruggie emoji when they describe strange objects encountered in the sky. So yeah, let’s knock on wood and hope nothing wilder is in the works, eh? (Though with luck, the nuclear war will wipe out the zombies, and the benevolent aliens will help clean up the fallout – and maybe the global warming while they’re at it.)

In self-improvement news, I might have to go out and buy more weights soon. I won’t post the exact figures because they’re a bit laughable, but over the past month or so, I’ve been able to benchpress dumbbells 50% heavier than when I’d started this whole exercise thing. Ditto for the slow and steady progress in my chin-up routine. I’m slowly getting back to a somewhat healthy weight after months of self-neglect, so that’s something.

In covid news, yet another suburb of Toronto (the York region) has gone into modified stage-two lockdown, just like Toronto itself did a few days ago. I dropped by the local Costco to pick up more protein powder and chicken earlier tonight: this was the first time I’ve seen a line to get into Costco. It was approximately a five-minute wait, with an airport-style line and little barriers. There was a cop car with the siren on parked in front of the entrance: I can only assume there was a fight or a violent anti-masker. Perhaps both. A sign at the entrance said they’ve sold out of toiler paper, paper towels (aka “sponge towels” in Canada), Lysol wipes, and toilet paper.

I guess folks are panic-buying again. Some plague profiteers probably made a bundle if they stocked up on the basics when things briefly got better a few months ago. I know that history repeats itself, but must it do so in just six-month intervals? Come on, history, you can do better than that. On the upside, things were pretty civil inside, though the six-foot distancing rule stopped being enforced ages ago. I’ve got enough snacks, food, and drinks (the local non-alcoholic apple cider is delicious!) to last 10-14 days. I imagine things will get even wilder next time I venture outside…

Have yourselves a safe and socially-distanced weekend, y’all. Make the most of it, will you?

Plague diaries, Day 216

Thursday night. I’m trading this and the next two Thirsty Thursday for one sober October, but that fourth Thursday – that’ll be pretty epic.

I’ve spent the evening playing around with my shiny new toy – Echo Show 8. It’s pretty amazing how much progress digital picture frames have made over the years. This thing is a supposedly immortal tablet thingy that’s slightly bulky but can play videos, show you pictures, and do all sorts of Amazon Alexa stuff. I’m looking forward to having it light up the room when the alarm goes off tomorrow: it’ll be either fun or ridiculously unpleasant. Stay tuned for more in the exciting lockdown adventures! Heh.

On a more serious note, after I uploaded pictures of my favourite art, I’ve set up a never-ending slideshow on that 8″ screen. This has the potential for being somewhat distracting, but it’ll definitely brighten up the dull routine.

I’m playing the pandemic game extra-cautiously (in case you haven’t gathered as much on this 216th day of my indoor adventures), which means spacing out grocery store visits as much as possible. Seeing as I’ve just run out of fresh fruit, meat, tea (not the tea!), starting to literally scrape the bottom of my big tub of protein powder, and I’m down to my very last multivitamin pill… Yeah, I’m gonna have to brave the wild wild world of suburban Toronto tomorrow and hope for the best, eh.

My Apocalypse Beard has gotten long enough to chew on, all classy and suave-like.

In covid news, this is pretty funny: after all the gyms got closed for 28 days in Toronto, the locals started invading the gyms in the suburbs. There are news stories, suburban folks complaining on social media, etc. Some gyms have started carding the newcomers to make sure they’re locals and not those big-city slickers with their high likelihood of being all infected-like. (I don’t know what’s up with the southern twang either, but it feels appropriate when discussing the hilarious “big city vs tiny town” dynamic. Yeehaw, eh?) That was pretty predictable, and yet here we are. Lockdown don’t work all that well if they’re geographically selective, and the GTA (the Greater Toronto Area, not the Grand Theft Auto) is one big ol’ area. I bet the owners of the closed Toronto gyms are mighty upset about all this.

Chris Christie (New Jersey’s former governor) has been discharged after spending a week in the ICU. Just about everyone knew that the cover story (spending a week in a hospital “for observation”) was nonsense, but that’s the world we live in now: white lies reported as transparent news. Christie survived despite having multiple factors that were against him. He released a statement that stressed the dangerous nature of the virus and advised everyone to wear masks. That’s entirely different from Trump’s approach: after leaving the hospital, he called his infection “a gift from God” (I am not making this up), and now he’s back to walking around without a mask and calling covid “Chinese virus.” …interestingly, some epidemiologists claim that the synthetic antibodies he’d gotten will not last, and may in fact leave him more vulnerable to reinfection. That’ll be pretty ironic if he just keeps getting sick after continuously and blatantly disregarding every single precaution out there.

Folks in the future who won’t have lived through this pandemic will have no clue how crazy all of this really was…

Plague diaries, Day 215

Wednesday evening. The optimist says, “It’s Wednesday – only two days until the weekend!” The pessimist says, “Ugh, two more days of this crap.” It’s only the realist who asks, “Who is this Wedne? Why do they have their own day, and are they coming to reclaim it?”

Le sober October (or octobre sobre, if you will) is going well so far: it’s strange to chug coke instead of cider with my lunch. Combined with the absence of ginkgo biloba (which, as I understand it, as an upper), my days are a lot less exciting. Just… flat and steady. No more feeling like my brain is in overdrive, a bit less spontaneity and eloquence, but feels okay on the balance. Is that what I was like in my early 20s?.. Fascinating.

Xgf says she’s feeling better, but she also has a history of withholding important information because she doesn’t want to worry people. On top of that, she’s reluctant to go to the hospital and get tested for covid because her parents said the mandatory quarantine would inconvenience them. It’s pretty remarkable to see such American attitudes here in Ontario. They’d fit right in at one of Trump’s rallies. After all, if you don’t test, you won’t find any new cases – according to him, anyway.

Amazon’s Prime Day sale is about to end. I remain a filthy bourgeois consumer and not the enlightened post-scarcity guru I occasionally roleplay as. Heh. In addition to the instapot and that video game, I’ll also get an 8″ Echo Show and a long string of high-tech Christmas lights. The latter will make my room a little more cozy, since this will be a long lockdown… The former is a digital picture frame with benefits: something to entertain myself with, as well as a way to watch online news broadcasts. (That’s kind of a novelty by this point, since so many of my peers have pivoted from watching cable news to listening to podcasts.) Here is hoping I won’t hoard any other stuff in the months to come. When I eventually move, I’d rather travel light.

In covid news, Washington Post published a story on the Great Barrington Declaration. It’s nice when high-level publications arrive at the same conclusion as yours truly – a fun little ego boost, if nothing else. The epidemiologists they interviewed said the declaration represents the views of “epidemiological fringe.” Heh. Even more interesting, some journos discovered a link between the Declaration folks and the Koch brothers, whose agenda has always been to make money at all costs. The big downside right now is that the veneer of legitimacy from the GBD gives them credibility (if you don’t look too closely) and lets them push their agenda. They’re lobbying Atlas and Azar in the White House, and it looks like Florida’s aggressive reopening campaign was motivated by the same thing. This has a lot of potential to get mighty ugly.

Meanwhile, France is getting an actual curfew: in Paris and eight other major cities, it’ll be in effect from 9pm till 6am. It’s projected to run for 28 days, and it’ll likely get extended further. France isn’t doing so hot: their official death count is 33,037. With one-third of their population being confined indoors for a whole month, things will likely get rowdy. The French are far more passionate about their protests, so… covid riots? I think we’ll get covid riots. That’s one of the few things we haven’t seen in 2020 yet, so that’s bound to happen. I wonder if curfews will be instituted in the US and Canada as well. If so, that’ll probably be at some point within the next four months. Pour one out for all the poor extroverts, eh?

Plague diaries, Day 214

Tuesday night. It’s taco Tuesday, and I’m all out of taco shells. Tragic, I know.

Whelp, we finally did it. Amazon’s Prime Day sale got delayed by three months but it’s finally on. I was about to pontificate on how happy and content I am that I don’t need anything that’s on sale today, but then I saw a nice instapot and a fun video game from last year… Hey, I never claimed to be perfect.

Xgf is down with something. Probably just a cold and not covid, but she hadn’t told me she was feeling under the weather when we hung out three days ago… (She thought she was just running low on sleep.) Now she’s got some fairly bad cough and I have a tickle in my throat which I refuse to acknowledge. On the upside, the O2 levels seem fine, and we both wore masks while hanging out, so this miiiiight be nothing? This cold/flew/sniffles/plague season will be a lot of fun. (It’ll also be pretty ironic if after all the months of being a knight in shining armor, it’ll the former damsel in distress that’ll get me infected. Gotta love those postmodern fairy tales, eh?)

In covid news, there was a fascinating supercluster right here in my neck of the woods. Hamilton, a town near Toronto, has a downtown spin studio that technically followed all the guidelines: the bikes were 6′ apart, equipment was cleaned, and masks were required before and after exercising. (Or so they say, in any case.) Well, looks like all the sweat and heavy breathing in spin classes generates enough viral load to go around: 44 spin enthusiasts (spinsters?) tested positive, there are at least 17 confirmed secondary infections connected to those 44, and there might be as many as 100 people altogether who got sick because of this cluster. There’s more information over here. This may become as notorious as the choir outbreak a few months ago, and this shows why keeping the gyms open is not the best idea right now, or until every gets vaccinated. Here is to home gyms and staying safe while getting in shape…