Archive for November, 2020

Plague diaries, Day 262

Monday evening. Another day, another sophisticated Excel tool built from scratch.

My covid escapism continues: my videogame character has just crossed the Mexican border, whereupon he found a casino and lost mucho dinero at a poker game with his new amigos. I’m pretending that their Spanish chatter is my language lesson for the day.

…It’s funny, now that I think of it: French is the sixth language I’ve studied. There’s Russian, obviously, then English since elementary school, German in middle school, a year of Spanish in high school (and now again), two years of Japanese in college before all the kanji finally defeated me, and now French. Mind you, I’m not fluent in four of those, but I like to think I’d be able to survive with a dictionary if I got parachuted abroad. Learning them gets easier after a while: there are common trends and associations, and counterintuitive grammar rules no longer seem quite so alien.

To keep things interesting in my Man-Cave of Solitude, I’ve switched from devouring my new 71 e-books to reading some comic books I’d never caught up on. I remember reading The Walking Dead about 10 years ago, but I stopped along the way. Now I’m reading the whole saga from the start on Comixology: $6 a month is a great deal, considering. (If you liked the TV show, you miiiight like the comic book that inspired it. Or not – but give it a shot anyway.)

In covid news, Atlas shrugged. Or, to be more precise, Dr Scott Atlas has given up on trying to sabotage public health from the inside and resigned from the White House. I’m always curious how objectively incompetent people view themselves. Either Atlas needs a new publicist, or he legitimately believes he hasn’t done anything wrong. In his resignation letter, he wrote “I always relied on the latest science and evidence, without any political consideration or influence.” Considering that he was a radiologist with zero epidemiological experience (he got Trump’s attention from his Fox News appearances where he’d opined on covid), and keeping in mind all of his strange antics, such as promoting herd immunity or posting anti-mask tweets… The word “science” does not mean what he thinks it means. We’ll never be able to calculate exactly how many people died because of each individual misstep or unforced error caused by this administration’s handling of covid. I think it’s safe to say, though, that as a top presidential advisor Atlas was a net negative.

The White House still hasn’t rolled out any new covid initiatives, stimulus packages, or other ways to support the American people. About 50 more days until Biden’s administration takes over. Fifty more days of utter inaction as the virus keeps up its exponential growth.

This is the last day of November. A while back, I mentioned that I had nightmares about November 16th. Might as well tie that loose thread: I’d been having disturbing dreams about xgf catching covid, and visiting her in some strange ICU, in a plastic sarcophagus filled with life-support equipment, on November 16th. That didn’t materialize, fortunately. She’s still at risk, but hiding out in that tiny town away from Toronto with her parents, she’s almost as safe as any of us. Here is to another month of this hell.

Plague diaries, Day 261

Sunday night. Weekends sure feel longer when you wake up at 7am without an alarm.

You know that expression, “life is what happens when you make other plans”? Well, there’s just not much happening right now. Leaving the house only once every 10 days for a grocery run, working from home, and with dating not really being an option right now, there isn’t much of anything going. So might as well make plans, eh? I’m sketching out a mental model of what my 2021 will look like. A lot will happen next year, contingent on getting my Canadian PR and covid vaccine. And after that… well, there will be some interesting life decisions to make. A year from now, I expect to be someplace much more fun, tropical, and entertaining than this strange, cold-but-snowless suburb of Toronto, with landlords who break lockdown regulations (four guests this time) and keep bringing over that fun but incessantly barking Corgie.

Just to give y’all some idea of the sheer levels of boredom at work here: during my big roadtrip to Ottawa last month, I was listening to some podcasts and learned about exciting advances in the CRISPR gene-editing field. (It really is exciting: they managed to completely eliminate someone’s sickle-cell anemia!) Afterwards, I found out that the University of Toronto has the best Molecular Genetics in Canada, and learned all about their admission process. The deadline for 2021 was three weeks ago… In the end, I decided against it, if only because I’d have to get a whole new undergrad degree, and wouldn’t get my Masters degree (and join the gene-editing party) until six years from now, at age 40. I know, I’ll turn 40 one way or another, and yes, I know, Julia Child didn’t roll in culinary school till she was 37. One fun thing about CRISPR, though, is that anyone can join that party if they really, really wanted to – and even if not, cheering on from the sidelines is still a fun potential future.

So yeah… Chilling, staying healthy, planning, plotting, waiting. So much waiting. I’ve started something new to keep ye olde grey matter active: one of the huge gaps in my education is classical music. To remedy that, I’ve started streaming the greatest hits of the greatest composers while doing other things. (Literally just started that today.) First impressions so far: Bach is pretty good, and his Badinerie (especially this flute performance) is brilliant. I figure it’ll take me at least a week to get through all the biggest classics, at which point I’ll be able to sagely nod and say pretentious stuff like “ahh, yes, just like Beethoven’s 42nd!” at cheese&wine parties. Or, barring that, become the classiest ex-Russian out there. (Or the most interesting Russian-American-Canadian in the world! Heh.)

In covid news, there is a fascinating study by Kate Petrova of Harvard that links negative reviews for scented candles with the rise of covid. This is my favourite kind of research: the kind that looks at publicly available information through an entirely different lens to find a striking conclusion. (Not unlike the very recent discovery that platypuses glow under the UV light: it took them that long to shine a UV flashlight on one of them. But I digress…) Petrova’s data suggests that the 2020 spike in negative reviews for the hitherto bestselling scented candles was caused by the covid-induced loss of smell. Online, there are anecdotes from Starbucks baristas who claim their customers don’t like the taste of their liquid candybars anymore, which ties in nicely with the scented candle issue.

That makes one wonder just how far the virus has spread, and how many got infected but not tested. It’s pretty obvious the actual number of cases in the US is far higher than the official 13.4 million. Two days ago, an online friend of mine in New York couldn’t get a covid test without a doctor’s note – at least not until she refused to leave the testing center. Even now, in late November, and in New York, of all places, not everyone can get a test. By now, tens of millions of Americans have most likely been infected. The true number may even be in the 100 million range. We’ll simply never know, but strange developments like the decline of scented candles will keep popping up. Someday, we’ll be able to paint the full picture, if only by focusing on the negative space.

Stay safe and sane, folks.

Plague diaries, Day 260

Saturday night live blogging, whoop-whoop.

Another quiet weekend day. It’s curious that the pharmacy store across the street was pretty packed today, even though they have only one aisle of food and frozen food. (I ran out of hair pomade for my video meetings, and had a hankering for a frozen pizza.) That’s not the worst logic, since all the major stores are probably even more full than ever before. On the upside, I got a lot more proficient with using a self-checkout machine. (The machines have big plastic barriers between them now; that’s relatively new.)

Red Dead Redemption (2010 vintage) continues to amuse and amaze. Seth, the Gorlum-like character who loots cadavers for a living, is a fascinating character the likes of which I haven’t seen a lot in fiction. Kudos to the game’s writers and voice actors.

It feels so damn good to do nothing at all, just leisure with a side of self-guided education. (About 167 days in a row on DuoLingo thus far. C’est magnifique!)

In covid news, San Francisco is joining the rest of California in its curfew after a 265% increase in covid cases over the past month. Their curfew will go from November 30th through December 21st, and will be between 10pm-5am. It’ll be accompanied by all the other strict restrictions on businesses, gatherings, etc.

…I’ve been thinking about the Aztecs lately. I remember being a kid, reading about their culture, and wondering how on earth their society could function, logistically and morally, when they’d sacrifice hundreds or even thousands of their own people at a time? (Hey, what can I say, I was a weird kid.) The whole concept of slaughtering an entire town’s worth of people just to placate some god was inconceivable to me. Well, I think I got it now… Covid has been in the US less than a year. At this point, it kills over a thousand Americans per day. Sometimes over two thousand. At some point this winter, maybe even over three thousand per day. And people are fine with it. It has become normalized. There is no stimulus package, no coordinated federal response, no sense of urgency and unity – nothing of the sort. There are many others like myself who take this very seriously, and then there are those who actively and maliciously oppose and protest any protective measures. And there are those who are ambivalent: they’ll wear a mask to get inside a store, but still travel to their elderly parents or go clubbing.

If you’re reading this in the future, if you haven’t lived through 2020, this may not make sense. Hell, this barely even makes sense to me now, and I’m actually here. (Unfortunately.) But this is what the proudest country in the world has come to in less than a year: de facto large-scale human sacrifices, with many more to come. The Aztecs weren’t incomprehensible weirdos, they were just like us: human, corruptible, adaptable, and capable of rationalizing even the most gruesome atrocities. Gene Rodenberry was wrong: at its core, the fundamental human nature doesn’t change.

Stay safe, folks.

Plague diaries, Day 259

Black Friday night.

My landlords decided to celebrate the end of the first lockdown week by inviting some friends, who are very definitely not part of their household. Smooth, guys. Real smooth. Judging by the noise, it was about three people, probably the same ones that come over every other week. It’s reasonable to assume that the guests are still staying safe and careful, but these are not reasonable times. Human nature being what it is, just about everyone else is probably doing something similar, even though the public health authorities specifically asked not to socialize with people from other households. Oh well, gotta feed that pandemic somehow, eh? Most people never think something bad would happen to them: only to some abstract “others.”

If foresight and strategic thinking are gifts, I’d like to return mine, please and thank you.

There wasn’t a whole lot of interesting stuff on sale this Black Friday. In terms of physical stuff, the only thing I got was a Fire TV stick from Amazon. In terms of non-physical stuff… I got a bit carried away and got 71 ebooks. The upside is that they cost me just $68 altogether. The secret is this page over here. It lists every Kindle ebook on Amazon, and at any given moment, thousands of them are free. (Authors run temporary giveaways sometimes; even if 5% of authors do that at any given time, that’s still a lot of ebooks.) The link already has two filters: four stars or higher, and ranked by price, starting with $0.00. Just click on your favourite genre on the left, et voila! – hundreds of free books to choose from. You can thank me later.

Some of the ebooks I downloaded are pure brain candy (science fiction… so much science fiction), some of them are entrepreneurial, but most are reference books. After all the exorbitantly expensive textbooks back in college, the best way to feel like a millionaire was to enter a thrift store and browse their fine selection of used textbooks, knowing that none of them cost more than $5. See it, like it, buy it. With that collection of free ebooks I discovered… That’s really rather remarkable: an entire shelf of college into textbooks available for free. I look forward to eventually devouring all of them.

I might end my health experiment a week from today, and get back to (moderate) consumption of cider and what not. Over the past few weeks, there were some significant positive milestones I passed but didn’t properly celebrate like I’d promised myself I would. To remedy that, I’ve acquired six bottles of champagne earlier today – to celebrate the past successes, as well as those that will happen soon. I know this is a plague year. Is celebrating macabre? Maybe, a little. But it’s a small and much-needed island of normality amid this crazy storm. There always must be something to look forward to: the light at the end of the tunnel, a promise of glory, or just a small treat to celebrate a milestone.

Speaking of which: the more I think of it, the more I’m convinced there’s no future for the cruise industry. I know, I know, I wrote that I invest in them. That is no longer the case. Even if vaccines get distributed to all the oldest (and most cruise-loving) people out there sometime around December-March, it’s more or less guaranteed that the hundreds (thousands?) of cruise ship workers won’t get theirs. Ditto for those, like myself, who won’t get their vaccine until much later. A single cough, and… If you also consider that a lot of normally cruise-friendly countries would not like to get potential plague ships docking at their shores anymore… Well, things will be pretty dicey. I don’t think they’ll get back to normal at any point in the first half of 2021, or maybe at any point in 2021 at all. Some of those companies might survive, but they’ll make for shitty investments. Their stocks will likely rise a bit, but I expect them to inevitably crash once the implications of the new reality sink in. As always, I admit I might be completely wrong about everything. Meanwhile, I’ve rerouted the money from my cruise stocks into five underpriced S&P-500 companies in the energy sector. They have some doubling potential, or at the very least 20% within five months. (The entire energy sector hit the rock bottom in March when the world shut down.) We’ll see.

Huh. Didn’t mean to babble quite so much.

In covid news, now that mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are awaiting emergency approval, logistics is the name of the game. There’s a lot of speculation as to how the rollout will work, when, how, and who will run it. In Canada, the effort will be spearheaded by Major-General Dany Fortin, apparently a highly experienced leader with excellent track record. In the US, their military and shippers like FedEx will distribute vaccines to all 50 days the day after FDA signs off. From what I understand, the local distribution will be run by individual states. Given how North and South Dakota have the highest covid infection and death rates in the entire world (and led by anti-science governors), I wonder if those two states will just burn their vaccine allocation in a great big bonfire simply to own the libs. There’ll definitely be a lot of variation in how different states execute the distribution: we’ll see examples of great efficiency and bureaucratic nightmares, likely at the same time.

The end is not yet here, but we can almost see it. Stay safe, folks.

Plague diaries, Day 258

Thursday night. Another day, another loonie, eh?

I’m trying not to be a full-on consumer with all the upcoming (and early) Black Friday sales, especially since I still haven’t quite unpacked all of my purchases from Prime Day six weeks ago. That said, the selection of heavily discounted e-books on Amazon is downright amazing, and I might have bought about a dozen. Some people have a huge collection of Steam games that they’ll never fully get through. I have a bunch of e-books that I might get around to reading someday in my early retirement.

Did you know you can beat caffeine headaches by adding more caffeine into your life? Stay tuned for this and more exciting nuggets of wisdom! A cup of black tea with breakfast did the trick: the headaches are gone, and I still moderately tired toward the end of the day. That really, really makes me wonder just how battered my nervous system was from all the coffee I’d been drinking… Ho hum.

It’s Thanksgiving in the US today. Some projections say that almost 47.8 million of them have traveled for this occasion. That’s a lot of new clusters… My hat goes off to everyone who sat this one out.

Playing Red Dead Redemption for the third night in a row has me quite nostalgic about the scenery (but not much else) of Fort Worth, Texas, where I spent a year of my life about seven years ago. Their downtown still has genuine old-timey buildings, there’s all sorts of folksy Wild West stuff in the tiny thrift stores, and there isn’t a single coffeeshop open after 3pm within 10-mile radius. (Or at least there wasn’t back in 2013.) The game is honest enough to show some of the racism, intolerance, and strange religion in that region – all among the reasons I left. (When I first moved there, there was an outbreak of measles at an anti-vaxx megachurch just a few miles away. Heh.)

In covid news, the US Supreme Court ruled that capacity restrictions on churches, temples, etc violate their First Amendment rights. It’s interesting that the deciding vote belonged to Justice Barrett, who got the job in the middle of the pandemic from the same senators who refused to pass a covid relief bill. (And who subsequently took a break for Thanksgiving.) I suppose the freedom of religion outweighs the freedom not to get infected by the religious in the US. One final ironic note: the Supreme Court meets remotely. They teleconference and avoid in-person gatherings because of the pandemic, all the while fighting local restrictions on public gatherings. Heh.

Here in Toronto, the BBQ saga continues. The diner’s owner got arrested earlier today. That was after the police locked the diner’s doors but let him get in through the back “in good faith,” which ended with him smashing through the internal partition and getting into the establishment. A pretty large crowd of protesters and counter-protesters yelled things like “Shame! Shame!” and “This is Canada, not North Korea!” thus confirming that we do, in fact, live in a South Park episode. The guy shouting about North Korea has no idea how good and privileged his life is: a month-long break from consumerism (while drivethroughs and take-out are available) is not quite the same as living in a shitty communist dictatorship. (Pardon the triple redundancy.)

To make things even more entertaining: a crowd of over 100 protesters marched to Doug Ford’s (the Ontario premier) home to express their displeasure with the state of things. There are lots of videos showing them in a big group, maskless, spreading their spit and possible viral loads all over the place, while the police stand by and do not give out the $750 CAD fines that are supposed to be part and parcel of the whole lockdown business. And this is only the first week… Things will get pretty fun – even more fun than Ford’s own former supporters turning on him.

Oh, and there were some irregularities in the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, so they’re embarking on a new global trial. It’s not very good optics when an Oxford professor has to state “We weren’t cooking this up as we went along” for the record. This will probably diminish the recent wave of optimism, both in the news and in the stock market, and will give anti-vaxxers more ammo.

Crazy world out there. Stay safe, folks.

Plague diaries, Day 257

Wednesday night. Halfway through the workweek already?

It seems as if this self-imposed lockdown is a metaphor for my previous workaholism. Nowadays, I’m a complete shut-in, venturing outside only once every 10 days, and doing very little aside from work and mindless media consumption. In the preceding years… Well, I’d make an effort to go to a meet-up or a party a few times a month, but it was mostly similar to this, with an occasional fun interlude. The real question is whether I can break this routine now that I’ve become aware of it after doing little else for most of the year.

The caffeine headaches took a day off yesterday but came back with a vengeance today. Well, so much for my little science experiment: I can survive without caffeine, but it’s not a whole lot of fun. (No way to tell how long the withdrawal would last.) I’m going to take things slow and treat myself to a cup of black tea in the morning, then play it by the ear.

With a whole lot of nothing going, and with the life becoming just a prolonged waiting game (let’s be honest, it’ll be more of the same until I finally get my vaccine in the spring), I wonder if I should start tinkering with my sci-fi novel again… This “Plague diaries” series alone is more or less book-sized now, and all it took was 20 minutes of writing every evening. I’m using my lockdown time more productively than some people, but let’s see if I can do even more with it.

In covid news, now that Toronto is locked down for 28 days, some local entrepreneurs are testing the limits. The big local scandal is the incalcitrant entrepreneur who reopened his BBQ restaurant for indoor dining two days in a row. (After announcing that on social media, no less.) Despite a pretty big crowd of BBQ enthusiasts, the local police didn’t give out any fines ($750 CAD per person, in theory) or take any names. They did a whole lot of nothing yesterday, and more of the same today. Local authorities charged the restaurant for operating without a license (a sizable fine of up to $75K CAD altogether) but, once again, not for breaking the lockdown rules. Both the mayor and the premier criticized the restaurant’s owner but, again, did a whole lot of nothing.

Laws that don’t get enforced becomes guidelines. Guidelines that don’t get enforced become jokes. More will do the same now, and the divide between those who follow the health guidelines and those who mock them will grow ever wider. I doubt this is a purely Canadian phenomenon. Human nature, eh?

Plague diaries, Day 256

Tuesday night.

I’m trying to use lockdown to catch up on all the lazy leisure things I never had time for: re-reading old favourites, finally playing some video games I never quite finished, etc. After turning everything upside down and failing to find the right cables for my old Xbox 360, I went ahead and bought Red Dead Redemption (aka 2010 game of the year) for PS3 instead. I distinctly remember playing but never finishing it in 2012, and it’s still every bit as good as I remembered.

The game takes place in the Wild West in 1911. I spent most of the evening familiarizing myself with controls, shooting bandits, exterminating jackalopes (bunnies with antlers), and playing Texas hold ’em in an old-timey Western saloon. Yeehaw! As extreme escapism goes, that game is pretty high up there. It cost me $30, but it’ll keep me distracted from, you know, the plague for a good couple of weeks.

Just one month left until Christmas. At this point, I can literally count the remaining business days till my staycation on my toes and fingers. So close!

In covid news, remember that giant Hasidic wedding in Brooklyn that I mentioned 37 days ago, all the way back on day 219? Especially the part where I said “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.” Well, I hate being right… They went ahead and did it: a Brooklyn synagogue (7,000 capacity) was completely packed, and some of the videos of the event look like a covid nightmare. After publicly promising to cancel the event back in October, they spread the news in person, without any official announcements online or in print. Allegedly, the local authorities will slap the synagogue with a $15,000 fine, but that’s small potatoes – and, if anything, an encouragement to have more mega-weddings. This will not help New York’s insular Hasidic community, and the secrecy (the story just broke a few days ago) means there’s no way to do contact-tracing. That’s one hell of a way to get a super-cluster going.

Stay safe and out of secret celebrations, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 255

Monday evening. My 11th anniversary at Amazon.

In November 2009, I was broke as a joke, very close to reaching the limit on my credit card, and looking for literally any job that would take me. Nevada was the ground zero for the housing bubble, and graduating in 2008 was just plain old bad timing. I did some random gigs for a year (including three weeks as an interpreter for a delegation of beekeepers from Uzbekistan), but after a few too many flaky roommates, my bank account was near the breaking point.

The warehouse was 35 miles outside the city: I had four carpool buddies, the five of us squeezed into an old sedan. The driver wasn’t very bright. (We had to push his car to a gas station more than once.) One of the carpool buddies was homeless. Two were chain smokers. Fun bunch, though. As a warehouse temp, I used my university degree to pack boxes coming down the conveyor line. I worked long hours, packed many boxes very fast, and eventually got the full-time employment offer. After that… Eleven years, six cities, two countries, more warehouse (we call them FCs) launches than I can remember, and here I am, 11 years later: the suburbs of Toronto, Canada, working from home, owner of a very fancy job title, and one of the oldest people in the company. (The most tenured 1%, according to our internal Old Fart tool.) What a strange ride this has been…

Anyhow. The Black Friday sale is officially on. I’ve stocked up on a few dirt-cheap ebooks: either the self-published kind that never make it to the libraries or the kind that have huge queues in online libraries. (One sad side effect of the pandemic: with libraries closed, all the readers end up competing over the relatively few available ebooks.)

Ye olde caffeine withdrawal is going better, though after staying up a bit late last night, I pretty much passed out once I reclined with a book after work today. That would be a tremendously bad idea if I went on a long roadtrip… I definitely see more coffee in my future once the health experiment is over, eh.

In covid news – another Monday, another vaccine announcement. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s phase III data (or at least its preliminary analysis) is now available. Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are mRNA-based, the Oxford vaccine used the traditional methodology. (If you have no idea what mRNA means, this article is great.) Upside: the Oxford vaccine works, it doesn’t need the same ultra-cold environment as the other two, and it’s cheaper. Downside: your mileage may vary. Two full doses given a month apart are just 62% effective, but if the first dose is lower, the effectiveness is 90%. They’ll be crunching more numbers on this, but hey, any progress is good at this point.

The stock market had a great day yet again (go die in a fire, short-sellers), and my covid-battered portfolio had another great day. If not for the health experiment, I would’ve popped open a bottle of champagne, having just crossed yet another important threshold. Things are looking up. (And yes, I did just knock on wood. Heh.)

Plague diaries, Day 254

Sunday night. I’ll blink, it will be Friday night again, and I’ll be one week closer to my goals…

It finally snowed: kind of amazing that it took until the 22nd of November to do so. It’s actually been snowing all day, so there’s a nice thick layer of this white stuff all over the place. Perfect timing, since I would not want to go grocery-shopping with this white crap all over the place. In Toronto (and likely everywhere in Canada), lots of drivers don’t get their snow tires on until it’s too late. That leads to some pretty bad car accidents. I stay ahead of the curve by never taking my snow tires off in the first place. Heh.

I spent the day hate-speeding through Borderlands-3, which is complicated given the vast amount of unskippable dialogue between NPCs. (The Internet hive-mind is in agreement on this.) There was a pretty fun tidbit toward the end, where you meet an out-of-shape Jewish version of Indiana Jones, laser whip and all. Alas, that didn’t make up for some pretty bad glitches toward the end of the game. Well, at least is only cost me $20 CAD.

The caffeine headaches continue… Part of me is concerned about side effects in ye olde braincicle. The other part of me wants to see if it’ll get better in a few more days. That high-quality caffeine-free 8-hour sleep every night is hard to beat.

In covid news, Trump skipped G20’s meeting on pandemic preparedness and went golfing instead. He and his administration aren’t even pretending to give a damn about the pandemic anymore. Upside: Biden will take over less than two months from now, on January 20th. Downside: a whole lot of Americans will die due to their government’s utter inaction between now and then.

Hang in there, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 253

Saturday evening. No work, just relaxation. Bliss.

One of the stranger (but, in retrospect, obvious) side effects of quitting caffeine: your sleep gets better, you actually get tired around 11pm, and then you don’t end up sleeping till 1pm on your day off. I actually woke up on my own at 8am today. What is this strange dark magic? (Not gonna lie, I could definitely get used to that.) This really makes me wonder just how much stress my body was under when I was downing all that coffee to stay mentally engaged (due to the lack of sleep caused by coffee, heh) and an occasional cider to stay sane. Huh.

The big lockdown in Toronto and Peel begins in about 28 hours. This weekend coincided nicely with the grocery run I do every 10 days. Even in the morning, the local supermarket was packed. There was definitely anxiety in the air as folks dashed to grab this or that. Canned soups disappeared first. Broccoli, of all things, got completely bought out. The store set up restrictions of one pack of paper towels per person, which was pretty weird, to be honest. I can sort of understand the run on the toilet paper, but paper towels? Verily, wonders never cease in this year of the plague.

I mentioned playing Borderlands-3 a few days ago. (It was my emergency-supply game, to be opened only in case of extreme boredom.) Well, looks like the developers at Gearbox lost their magic touch. They still made a ton of money from all the pre-sales, but will as many people buy the next game? Things you’d never see in videogames just five years ago: ads for expansion packs vocally engaging you as you walk past them. (“Play this fun new expansion! Just press this button to buy it!”) The writing is occasionally witty but not as filled with jokes and puns as in the prequels. One little side quest consumed about an hour of my time because there was no QA work done on the game, and a single wrong movement would throw your character into the literal abyss.

If you’re reading this in the future because you googled Borderlands-3 and the Anvil radio tower: before jumping on that damn pipe, walk to the edge, face the wall, keep pressing against the wall, and jump sideways. That’s the only way. At this point, I’m just hate-speeding my way through the game to see how it ends, and I don’t believe I’ll be playing it (or the inevitable sequels) again. Oh well, at least the three prequels still have lots of replay value. …and that right there is a glimpse into my biggest problems as I wait out the pandemic in my mancave. I know, my problems are ridiculous.

…without any new experiences, my brain is going over my catalogue of memories: old conversations, parties, trips, the paths not taken. I caught myself daydreaming how different life would’ve been if I’d dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles at age 19. Given that I had a negative amount of street smarts, it probably wouldn’t have gone well at all (at least at first), but I wonder how that would have turned – and whether that other Grigory, sitting out his own pandemic in Los Angeles, is wondering how different his life could have been. (Bet you anything he wouldn’t have imagined my Reno-Vegas-Fort Worth-Tampa-Seattle-Toronto odyssey.)

In covid news, there’s a lot of pictures from packed airports as people in the US fly to their families for Thanksgiving. Most of them are masked, but all that shoulder-to-shoulder proximity… The post-Thanksgiving spike is inevitable. The only question is how bad it will be. (The spike in cases usually has a two-week lag, and will materialize in early/mid-December. The spike in deaths will be one week later, just before Christmas.)

And meanwhile, the poor town of El Paso, which had previously requested 10 refrigerated morgue trucks, followed by making inmates move the bodies for $2/hour, has now resorted to asking the Texas National Guard for help. El Paso is generating more of these covid horror stories than any other city in the US right now. I’m sure there will be plenty of fascinating deep-dives into the many causes of that localized disaster, but I also suspect there will be other towns in similar – or worse – situations in the months to come.

As always, here is hoping I’m wrong, eh.