Archive for February, 2021

Plague diaries, Day 352

Sunday night.

I have achieved either peak efficiency or peak laziness. (It can be really hard to tell them apart.) Instead of driving to the grocery store two miles away, I’ve decided to start driving to the store that’s literally three blocks away. It keeps the car battery mildly active, and there’s less risk of getting hit in the crazy Toronto traffic. Besides, there’s only so much food I can carry myself, eh. Ahhh, the adventurous quarantine life…

I’ve dipped into my emergency video game reserves and reinstalled CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive.) This game was released in 2000, and it’s changed a fair bit since I last played it three years ago. It features the perpetually fighting groups of terrorists and counter-terrorists: there’s essentially zero backstory, no chance to sit down and talk it out, and if you get killed, you’ll just respawn to try again next round. It’s a modern-day Valhalla simulator, just without any feasting or drinking. (You can kill chickens if you’re so inclined.) I remember playing that game in Russian cyber-cafes as a 14-year-old teen… It’s been 20 years now. So much has changed, so much has stayed the same. I wonder if I’ll still dip my toes into those highly addictive CS:GO waters in 2041, in 2061, in 2081… How different will the world be then? Either way, this game alone should help fill many weeks: it was designed to be engaging and addicting, and the occasional headset chatter of fellow players is a nice, if tiny, connection to humanity.

My favourite astronomer, Dr. Katie Mack, has replied to one of my tweets and retweeted me. Today has been worthwhile. (Well, that, and an investing-related post I made on Reddit got so many virtual awards that it’s basically a Christmas tree now. Yay social media.

In covid news, a lot of press has been about western Europe and North America, with very little coverage for other countries. That seems to be changing somewhat. This report on Tanzania paints a disturbing picture: they haven’t published covid statistics since May, there’s no testing, and their president (John Magufuli, who just won a sketchy reelection) claims the vaccines are dangerous and that prayer can cure covid. There’s much more to dig into there, but purely anecdotally, there sure is a lot of pneumonia deaths in Tanzania… Situations like this one are really skewing Africa’s true covid death toll. Earlier in the pandemic, it was a bit of a mystery why covid largely avoided African countries. Now we know it was most likely just severe under-reporting.

And meanwhile, there’s an unfolding disaster in the Czech Republic, where the covid death rate is among the highest in the world. It looks like their government followed the US closely (intentionally or otherwise): there was no mask mandate, businesses were reopened prematurely, and reactive rather than proactive measures. Their hospitals are overflowing now, and things don’t look that great. I’m not posting these things as some sort of macabre death porn: I’m doing this because it’s important to remember that even as some countries are vaccinating millions of people and aiming to end their pandemic by the end of the year, many others are still struggling to survive and don’t have much to look forward to…

Here is to a whole new month, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 351

Saturday night.

Take a wild guess what I did all day today. If you guessed “gaming, some reading, some Tim Hortons, and social media” – congrats, you guessed correctly! Ye gods, the boredom… I think it’s a lot worse because the people I used to know in real life are getting their vaccine shots in the US – their ticket to freedom. Knowing that something is just there, almost within reach, and that I’ll still have to wait who knows how long… Argh. I might have been happier if I were just sealed in a shipping container (with all the same amenities) but without any Internet access or news, right until a masked medic gave me my shots months later.

It’s a bit like the aftermath of my spontaneous 600-mile roadtrip in October when I delivered a customer’s treadmill from Ottawa to Toronto. I’d been just fine staying solo, but that single day-long adventure, meeting new people, driving for 10 hours – all of that made me stir-crazy in the aftermath. (Right up to the point of almost enrolling in the University of Toronto for fall 2021 because I heard a particularly amazing podcast on CRISPR and the advances in gene editing. Heh.) This is quite similar, only much, much worse.

One minor upside: my first intro call with the local search and rescue group (OVERT) will be in less than 48 hours. Finally, some minor sign of progress: it’ll take a while for the orientation courses to start, but it’ll be something to look forward to. Something to differentiate all these monotone weeks.

Warren Buffett has released his annual letter to Berkshire-Hathaway shareholders earlier today. He’s 90 years old, and his right-hand man, Charlie Munger, is 97. A lot of their Berkshire investments are being managed by their apprentices these days (Buffett never would’ve invested in Apple on his own), but the two still have a wealth of experience. Should be a fun read: if anyone can provide optimistic commentary on the dumpster-fire that was 2020, it’ll be Buffett.

In covid news, the US has set a new daily record for mass vaccinations: 2.4 million Americans got their vaccines in one day. Woooo, go US! On this side of the border, a pub trivia night on February 2nd in British Columbia led to a cluster of 24 cases among the attendees. They ended up infecting those around them (daycare, school, families, work, etc), and now there are 300 cases linked to that single pub night. A game to die for, eh?.. There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on between the province (which allowed bars to reopen), the pub’s owners, those who are outraged at the selfish trivia enthusiasts… There are no good guys here. As always, I hope everyone makes a full and speedy recovery. But if this super-cluster causes even a single death, I hope the pub’s owners and the trivia fans who should have known the risk will live with that guilt. Then again, there’s always the chance that they’re so self-absorbed and arrogant that they’ll just brush it off.

We’re in a strange twilight zone where vaccines are almost here, so tantalizingly close, yet people are still making dumb life choices which create new covid clusters, causing entirely preventable and avoidable misery in their communities. Every covid death is tragic, but those that happened with the vaccines just around the corner somehow feel even more tragic than the rest.

And just to end this on a good note, the FDA has officially approved the Johnson&Johnson vaccine, though it was only a matter of time after their announcement earlier this week. The US government plans to distribute 4 million doses across the country next week, with more to come. I’m blown away by the sheer scale of this rollout. The sooner our yankee neighbours recover, the sooner Canada will be able to piggyback, eh.

Enjoy the second half of your weekend, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 350

Friday evening.

At work today, my department tried to do something different. Since meeting up in person for a long monthly munch is not an option in this here pandemic, they sent each of us an Uber Eats giftcard instead. We munched on our delivered food in front of webcams and spent an hour talking about absolutely nothing. That was fun. I don’t generally use food delivery service because of bad experiences in the past and because that’s unnecessary up-close contact with another human being, but hey – free food is free food, and I needed a little pick-me-up after this week. I ordered pad thai from a random local restaurant, and made sure to tip both the establishment and the bicycle courier guy. That was the first restaurant-cooked meal I’ve had in almost a year… The delivery was late, the food was lukewarm, the dish wasn’t at all spicy, and it was dry after I microwaved it – but it was nonetheless delicious. Once I adjusted my old expectations to the new reality, it was… not a blast from the past, but an unexpected gust of wind carrying an old, not-quite-forgotten scent evoking memories of yore. It was a lukewarm dry mass-produced pile of noodles with some meat in it, but it was also a small and welcome sign of normalcy, of the way things had been, of the way they someday will be again.

If you’re one of the five poor schmucks reading this blog on regular basis, or if you are by some chance binge-reading through it in the future – I know, this stuff is mighty depressing. (What’s the male version of Debbie Downer?) I know that. I know. Mental states grow like sediment layers: slow and gradual but eventually thick enough that what had been beneath them is long gone. I remember happiness, and not entirely too long ago. After I moved to Canada. Before she killed herself. Before the world as we know it ended. Before we fled. Before this year of solitude. I am aware of my current state and know what could begin to change it. (“Skin hunger,” as we aces put it, or just the simple magic of a human touch.) Once folks get vaccinated, however long that takes. Purely mathematically, I know that this is an equation that can and will be solved. I don’t have to be a prophet to know that at some point in the future I will be free, and immunized, and someplace beautiful and sunny, and sufficiently happy – or close enough to disregard the difference. This here is just the dreadful in-between.

…my sole window faces east. Each day is slightly longer now, with earlier sunrises. It’s almost to the point now where I can watch the full cycle, from the dark sky to the light blue in the background of this cityscape when my alarm goes off at 7 every morning. That’s a very small pleasure, but it’s something. I don’t think I’ve ever had this kind of lazy arrangement where I could simply watch the sunrise while lounging in bed. A whole new experience, eh.

It took me a bit to make the connection, but I think my general lack of enthusiasm this week is caused in part by my Sunday decision to roll back to just one cup of black tea with breakfast instead of several cups of coffee throughout the day. I passed out while reading at 9pm last night, woke up at 2am, and (to be frank) wasted five hours of my life browsing social media. Heh.

In covid news, Health Canada has just approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. It’s a traditional, non-mRNA vaccine that requires two shots and doesn’t need to be stored in a freezer. It’s more efficient than 50%, which is a good start – and if you jab into enough people, it’ll go a long way. There are some doubts whether it’s efficient for folks over 65 since for whatever reason the vaccine hadn’t been tested extensively on that most vulnerable age group. Because of that, France and other countries are not giving the Oxford vaccine to those over 65. The WHO swears that it’s both safe and efficient, but after all of their shenanigans last year, it’s hard not to instinctively do the exact opposite of their suggestions. (Just like selling the stocks that cable news parrots on CNBC tell you to buy, and vice versa.)

Canada has ordered 22 million doses of this vaccine, enough for 11 million people. They will arrive between April and September, but the first shipment of 500,000 doses will arrive on Wednesday, just five days from now. After that, it’ll be up to the provinces and the local health units to distribute them. (And Ontario is not very good at logistics.) The Oxford vaccine may not be quite as effective as Moderna or Pfizer, but it’s a lot better than nothing, and it does prevent serious covid cases: I would take it in a heartbeat, provided I could also load up on that sweet, sweet mRNA goodness in the weeks or months to come.

One interesting caveat: this vaccine is coming from India. Not the EU, not the US, but all the way from India. That is geopolitically fascinating. After the US blocked all exports, after the EU did some frankly shady stuff with shipment scheduling, India just might become Canada’s new BFF. What strange fun new alliances will emerge in this post-covid world…

Online, some are floating an interesting concept: vaccine tourism. Canadian snowbirds are already getting vaccinated en masse in Florida. (After successfully dodging the coughing and infected maskless hordes, I assume.) If some American town that’s hard up for cash but has plenty of mRNA vaccines offered a vacation package consisting of fun in the sun and “shots, shots, shots-shots-shots!” (everybody!), I would be among the first in that line. Sure, hanging out in the same place for three whole weeks to get the second dose would be fairly boring, but why the hell not, eh?

The Germans have a similar idea, apparently. I haven’t been following the German situation closely, but somehow, some way, they are in even worse boat than Canada, with some Germans being told they won’t get theirs until 2022 due to a remarkable series of procurement screw-ups. If I’m going stir-crazy due to waiting all the way till September, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to know for a fact that your lockdown would last two whole years. Ye gods… Germany’s largest airline, Lufthansa, is planning to launch a special “Corona Lounge” in a Moscow airport where rich Germans and other foreigners could land, get their jab of the Sputnik V vaccine, and fly home, to return again a few weeks later for the second shot. Sputnik V still sounds incredibly sketchy to me: despite their positive endorsement by Lancet, there has been limited testing and (as far as I know) they never shared their data from phase 3 clinical trials. (Vlad Putin doth protest too much.) But hey, if folks want to pay €1,000 to fly back and forth and improve their chances – shady vaccine or not – more power to them.

And finally, there’s more corruption in Florida’s vaccine rollout. Either there’s a very improbable series of glitches, or The Powers That Be are deliberately setting up pop-up vaccination clinics right where they wealthy buddies and donors live. Remember, this is the state that jailed a woman (after pointing guns in her family’s faces) for the terrible crime of reporting accurate covid numbers on her dashboard. (Remember Rebekah Jones, the rogue data analyst and the Millennial hero.) None of the things this pandemic is revealing are brand new or shocking, but it’s still quite something to see the old suspicions and stereotypes not merely confirmed but reinforced time and again. They aren’t even trying to be subtle about that.

…and with that, time to sign off, continue to digest my pad thai, and see what those crazy kids on r/wallstreetbets are up to after keeping Gamestop above $100 for two days in a row. Have yourselves a fine weekend, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 349

Thursday night.

I got two packages today. One contained the potassium ferricyanide I ordered for growing a shiny crystal. (Funny: it feels like it was just last week, but apparently it was 11 days ago. One’s perception of time is one of the casualties of boring lockdowns, apparently.) The other package had potassium iodide tablets in case of radiation exposure.

Maybe this pandemic is making me even more of a pessimist and cynic than I had been before. Or maybe it’s just opening my eyes to how well and truly inept and selfish people can be, from your neighbours all the way up to elected officials. There is a nuclear power plant in Pickering, Ontario – less than an hour drive from where I am. In January 2020, they sent out a false alert to every single phone in Ontario (about 15 million people, give or take). The alert said there was an unspecified incident but there was nothing to worry about. That obviously sent people panicking. It turned out the alert got sent by a negligent employee who thought they were using the test version of the software – and no one knew how to retract the message.

That particular incident was a nothing-burger, but if something did happen… Happy thoughts and positive thinking don’t help with radiation exposure. I should know: when I was six, an aging nuclear power plant a few miles away had an explosion and released a lot of radioactive material into the local environment. The cover-up was pretty good, but Time magazine still called it one of the world’s 10 worst nuclear disasters. There were an awful lot of cancer cases and miscarriages in my city of 500,000 in the years to follow… So nah, not taking any chances. It’s actually pretty amusing that I hadn’t realized there was a nuclear power plant so close to Toronto until the alert went out: that’s just not something that comes up in a casual conversation.

The upside is that now my stash of survival goodies is good enough to protect against just about everything: burns, cuts, pains, dirty drinking water, radiation… The iodine tablets cost a bit more than I was comfortable spending, but a) it’s not like I’m going out and spending money on anything much, and b) it’s better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.

A bit too stressed from work (more Q2 prep) to commit to watching a 90-minute movie, so I figure I’ll just fall asleep reading my new library download, The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack. I rather like astronomy, and Dr.Mack is an excellent storyteller. This should be an interesting diversion, if only for a bit.

In covid news, my mom got her first shot! She’s 67 and lives near Seattle: they’re rolling out the vaccinations by age, and just now got to the 65+ category. That is excellent news: she’s fairly cautious, but her favourite Russian food store is always filled to the brim with anti-maskers. Just knowing that she will be unlikely to catch it now, or that it’ll almost certainly be a mild case… I’m happy for her, eh.

In other covid news, just thinking out loud here… Canada’s vaccination campaign appears to be screwed: even if the AstraZeneca and/or Johnson&Johnson vaccines get approved, there’ll once again be an issue with logistics. (Pfizer and Moderna have finally come through with their promised shipments for Q1 and there’ll be many more vaccines coming, but the provinces haven’t had a chance to learn best practices in terms of mass vaccination, so they’ll have to learn on the fly, making expensive and avoidable mistakes. That’ll get messy.) Meanwhile, the US is vaccinating left and right. Some claim that the US could finally reach herd immunity by late spring: a combination of sacrificing over half a million of their own people by letting the virus sweep across the country, and vaccinating a good chunk of the survivors.

If and when that happens, there’ll be a lot more political pressure to reopen the land border (you can still fly back and forth, but most folks drive), and it’ll be an odd reversal. Instead of being statistically likely to be plague bearers, American visitors will be far more likely to have some measure of immunity. Heh. Canada’s economy will boom when the border reopens, but the real question is whether the US will finally share the vaccine. (Under Trump’s 2020 orders, there are no exports until the US decides to do so.) There’s a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (I’ll never believe that’s a real place.) If the US gets better, and if they reopen the borders, and if they decide to share, then maybe Canadians will get to partake in that humanitarian aid and turbo-charge the vaccination effort here. And if not… If the US border is reopened and if the US doesn’t share but if there are doses available for absolutely everyone there by, say, June, maybe I’ll be able to drive south, get my shot, head back north, and repeat the process again three weeks later. Dreams and aspirations, eh? I already skipped one summer last year. I want to be able to enjoy this summer if at all possible. Hope everlasting…

Good night, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 348

Wednesday evening. Yay hump day.

Working at my company can be stressful. Today, a high-ranking coworker finally snapped under pressure and literally yelled at me via webcam because I’d dared to say that I have zero bandwidth while doing four times more work than my job description entails. That is not what I signed up for… If we weren’t in the Q2 planning stage right now, I probably would’ve used up my personal time and taken the rest of the week off. (How do you like them ̶a̶p̶p̶l̶e̶s̶ bandwidths? Heh.) Alas, I’m cursed with tactical foresight, and I know that there’d be even more stuff to deal with on Monday: it grows exponentially on busy weeks like this one.

That little work laptop is the only real-time human contact I have now. (Not counting the asynchronous communication on social media, which is just text, never sound or video.) To have one of your own coworkers show their ugly side like that… It’s a little ironic, because my productivity got absolutely shot to hell after that morning surprise, and I accomplished even less than I would have otherwise. So it goes. He’s too high-ranking to suffer any consequences from HR, so for now they’ll just assign some other analyst to take over the building ASAP while I concentrate on the other building I support. I’ve been with the company for over 11 years now… Days like this one will make it much easier to quit when the time finally comes. Not yet, but someday soon.

The Big Short movie last night was pretty spectacular. They took a fairly dry financial scheme an wove a great narrative all around it, with brilliant performances by everyone involved. It’s a shame that the only Oscar they got was for the best adapted screenplay: I didn’t even recognize Brad Pitt until well into the second half of the movie. Next up: Modern Times, a 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie. Maybe tomorrow, when I have more energy and/or motivation.

Fun news in the stock market: someway, somehow, the Gamestop stock (GME) took off again. It went up 104% today, going from the low of $44.70 to $91.71. (It also briefly reached $200 in the afterhours.) There’s absolutely no visible catalyst: the media is claiming that it was due to the CFO’s departure, but that happened yesterday and should’ve had zero effect on the spike that began at 2:30pm. (The eternal question: are financial reporters really that stupid or are they throwing everything at the wall in a cynical attempt to find some semi-plausible explanation for the unfathomable forces at work?) This looks to be another epic short squeeze, but it’s unclear what exactly drove it: that could’ve been SEC’s new rule on short-selling, or maybe something else entirely. Alas, I didn’t own any Gamestop this time around, but Blackberry (BB), which I’m currently holding at a small loss, also took off – on a smaller but similar trajectory: up 9% for the day and up another 9.5% on top of that in the afterhours. The $12.50 calls I bought for January 2022 are already up 21% overall: tomorrow will be an interesting day, eh.

In covid news, the FDA is about to approve the Johnson&Johnson vaccine: all that remains now is the final emergency use approval, which is all but guaranteed. The J&J vaccine isn’t quite as effective as Pfizer’s or Moderna’s, but it’s still quite good – and more importantly, it’s a one-shot vaccine which doesn’t need to be stored in a freezer: it can survive up to three months in a regular refrigerator. In other words, this will be a huge game-changer. A one-shot shop could be established just about anywhere, and vaccinate a lot more people without having to worry about scheduling their second appointment.

In Canada, and specifically in Ontario, the local media is confirming that there is, in fact, no enforcement for the supposed quarantine for international travelers. They’re simply walking away. The local police said they don’t detain those who are non-compliant. Evidently, the fine for ignoring the hotel quarantine is just $820 CAD, or less than the cost of the hotel. That is spectacularly bad system design… An attempt was made, eh?

And just to make things even more fun, Ontario has botched the local vaccination program, even though there was literally nothing to do but plan during the weeks without Pfizer vaccines. Ontario’s online portal for registering for vaccinations (as well as the call center) will not launch until March 15th, almost three weeks from now. That’s even as other provinces have already launched theirs. (Their launches were buggy, yes, but bugs can be fixed.) Retired general Rick Hillier is the person running Ontario’s vaccination effort. (Why is it always former military people?..) He had some grim news: he would not commit to Trudeau’s promise that any Canadian would be able to get vaccinated by September at the latest. There’s also a chance that folks won’t get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (no J&J approval in Canada yet) if there are supply chain issues. As Hillier said, “The federal government has been saying you can depend on the supply of vaccines now. It is stable and here are the numbers that are coming and more are coming later. Well we are going to take them at their word and starting from here on out, we are not going to be saving them in our freezers, that second needle.”

This is a dumpster fire. Online, my US friends are posting pictures of getting their entire families vaccinated at a drive-through vaccination site: they’ve been running long enough now that one of my friends in Nevada just got the second shot for her entire family earlier today. And that was in Nevada: one of the poorest and lowest-ranked states in the country. I’m not eager to entertain the idea of flying back to the States just to get vaccinated, but it may come to that in a few months. (I’m still and always will be a US citizen, and I still pay taxes to the IRS, so I think I’ll be in the clear, ethically speaking.) Things will get pretty bad here in Canada (and particularly in Ontario) if most people still won’t be able to get their vaccines this coming summer…

Good night, y’all. I hope your day was at least slightly better.

Plague diaries, Day 347

Tuesday night.

Over at my previous place, I might have made some tacos to celebrate Taco Tuesday. Over here, though, in my Studio of Solitude, there are really hefty fines for setting off the fire alarm ($1,300 CAD, I think), so I figure it’s best not to risk it. Besides, fried food is bad for you, etc.

Even with my healthy-ish instapot cooking, though, I’m gaining some weight. It’s nothing by American standards, but not acceptable for myself. I’m 6’1″ and typically weight around 165 lbs, give or take a couple. I hit 171 lbs and 14.5% body fat (up from the usual 13%) a couple of days ago, and there might be a pandemic pouch developing. (Like freshman 15 but in a pandemic, get it?) I’m reasonably certain that extra weight did not come from muscle. Heh. I’m going to be a bit more conscientious about the things I shove in my piehole over the next month or so. That means just one Tim Hortons meal per week (as opposed to random minor celebrations), no more cider or coke or fun flavoured wines (cranberry wine is amazing, y’all), etc. Random dumbbell exercises will continue, but it’s all about how much you eat, eh. I might not come out of this pandemic looking like a bodybuilder, but I can at the very least get out of this in mildly better shape than in early 2020.

In other news, I think my video game distractions are wearing off… Even the beloved zombie game is growing too formulaic. (My character has a slow little motorbike, a pump shotgun, and a cool leather trenchcoat: what else does one need for happiness in the post-apocalyptic world?) New idea, then: I can finally catch up on the very, very long list of popular and/or classic movies that I never got around to watching. I don’t think I have it in me to watch every Bond movie, but stuff like Casablanca and Godfather? Might as well. Tonight’s big show: The Big Short. I lived through the worst of the 2008 bubble back in Reno: I knew things were bad when a bartender at a sushi restaurant offered to sell a mortgage to my friend and I. That was a year before the crash, and my friend and I exuded the aura of broke college students, so you can imagine how wild things had gotten just before the bust. I’d read the book the movie is based on years ago, so I already know how it all plays out, but still – should be entertaining. (And it’s been long enough now that I won’t get filled with rage over the destroyed economy. Maybe.)

In covid news, remember the federal quarantine program for travelers that Canada recently rolled out? It’s not doing so hot. Instead of keeping people at designated hotels for 10-14 days, it’s the worst of all possible worlds. Travelers are supposed to book their own hotels prior to flying back, and they’re supposed to stay there for just three days. After that, they’re released to presumably self-quarantine at home. (Even though this whole program was introduced because people are really bad at self-quarantining.) We’ve know for a very long time now that covid can take as long as 10 days to manifest if you get infected, so the three-day timeout won’t do much to stop every incoming case. It’ll piss off the anti-lockdowners and fail to appease the pro-lockdowners like myself. I suspect it would’ve taken too many resources and people to actually organize something as efficient and strict as Taiwan’s strict but comfy quarantine for all incoming travelers. The intentions were good, I’m sure, but the execution… What a mess, eh. I won’t tempt fate by saying this can’t get any worse, so might as well stop typing here. Heh.

Stay safe, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 346

Monday night.

I continue to drown myself in video games simply to keep my mind off the state of the world outside my window, and how much longer it’s likely to remain that way. Some interesting news on the gaming front: Blizzard has announced that they’ll release a remastered version of Diablo II, the groundbreaking game released 21 years ago. I never kept track, but I’m pretty sure I spent thousands of hours playing it, especially during some of the more boring and miserable parts of my life. It’s rather uncanny that Blizzard will only update the visuals (with the option to flip to the original) without altering any plot, dialogue, game mechanics, etc. It’s pretty much unheard of in this day and age – resisting the temptation to tweak something to try and make it better. There’s no release date yet, just at some point later this year. A whole lot of gamers will get to relive their 21-year-old nostalgia, and a whole lot more will get to experience this beautiful game for the very first time. Another small thing to look forward to, eh.

The situation in Texas is still a mess: there’s no power, and their local authorities are asking for donations of bottled water while also instructing Texans how to purify their available water with bleach… Whoever works in Humble Bundle’s marketing department is pretty brilliant: the newest ebook bundle is on prepping. I generally just buy the first 4-5 ebooks for a dollar, but I bought the whole $20 thing this time around. A lot of that reading material is quite relevant (i.e., how to maintain situational awareness in common places, such as gas stations or while driving), some ebooks have advanced first aid descriptions, and some are just plain interesting. (I doubt I’ll ever try smoking meat, distilling, or making cheese – but hey, you never know.) These books might not help those who are currently stuck in Texas (unless they fly off to Cancun like senator Ted Cruz), but they might make all the difference if you decide to disaster-proof your home here and now. Check out that ebook bundle, eh.

Daft Punk announced their breakup earlier today. After almost 30 years together, they’re part of pop music history. For a little while today, everyone who ever listened to their music (so basically almost everyone) commiserated in unison. This may become one of those improbable defining events we’ll all use as temporal anchors: Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash at the very beginning of the pandemic; the time Trump almost died of covid; the time Daft Punk broke up… Heh.

In covid news, Toronto Life has published a long and disturbing article written by a fellow American-Canadian guy who lives in his van and can’t afford to visit his kids. He’s a front-line worker (a pharmacy technician) but apparently can’t afford to rent a place after the child support, the car payments, the monthly storage unit, etc. With the pandemic all around, he can’t find afterhours gigs like washing dishes or offering his handyman services. Some of his writing is eye-opening, some is terrifying. There may be a way out of this for him once life starts to get back to normal, but still – what a horrible existence, and being away from one’s kids… And here I’m complaining how bored I am in my well-heated little studio while thousands of Canadians sleep in their cars. This really does put things in perspective.

Stay safe, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 345

Sunday night.

I’ve put 14 hours into my zombie game this weekend… That accomplished zero in terms of productivity, but it also distracted from, you know, the plague and all for 14 whole hours. In that respect, at least, it was useful. (Also, my character found a jolly Santa hat. Heh.) This is almost like the pre-plague times when I really needed a quiet weekend, except now it’s by necessity, not by choice. I find myself fantasizing about even the most mundane pre-pandemic interactions, like chatting with store clerks.

Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure I legitimately scared a security guard at the nearby grocery store. I had my usual outfit: two masks, a face shield, and a bottle of alcohol spray in one hand. I wonder if he thought that was overkill or if he thought I’m contagious. Life’s little mysteries, eh? Incidentally, I was the only shopper with that level of precaution. I was in a rush and wasn’t glancing around, but all the folks I saw had just one mask each.

By the end of this all, we’ll all look and act so differently… It’d be like the end of World War I, where every foot soldier had a gas mask (a nasty way to go) and a metal helmet – an artifact of the past made necessary once again by all the artillery. (Shrapnel is a bitch, eh.) A year ago, when so much was still uncertain, no one wore masks at all – not in Toronto, and likely not in the US, either. What sort of panic would arise at the mere sight of a risk-aware 2021 shopper, or the covid-related headlines we have today?.. Here is hoping next year won’t get even more horrifying.

In covid news, as of right now the US is at (or very near) 500,000 covid deaths. As always, that’s just the official count, which doesn’t include undiagnosed deaths, excess mortality caused by overflowing hospitals, delayed surgeries, etc. Even so, that’s more deaths than the grand total of America’s three biggest wars of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. For what it’s worth, this grim occasion was commemorated on the front pages of the biggest newspapers. Will they do the same for 600,000 deaths, which will likely be in less than two months?..

In other news, I have to keep reminding myself to check my privilege… This article is quite eye-opening. More than 130 countries haven’t received any vaccines at all yet, while 10 countries have already distributed 75% of the world’s vaccine supply to their citizens. As inequality goes, this is… “horrific” is not the right word. Grotesque, perhaps. I keep complaining that I’ll get my vaccine in August/September instead of May-June like my US friends and relatives, but billions of people will not get their vaccine this year at all. Their lives will remain the strange game of cat and mouse with the ever-evolving dangerous virus, even as countries like Israel, US, Canada, and others return to normality. That is humbling, and horrifying, and really puts things in perspective, eh?..

Good night, y’all. Stay safe. Stay patient.

Plague diaries, Day 344

Saturday night.

The most exciting development in my life: I’ve officially given up on Tropico-1. Heh. That 20-year-old video game well and truly kicked my ass. Games developed in this day and age are far more user-friendly and thus less challenging. I wonder how folks in 2021 would react if the same sort of game came out and refused to let them win unless they spent several evenings (or 12-14 consecutive hours, whichever) trying to beat it.

New distraction from the overwhelming and constantly encroaching boredom: the good ol’ 7 Days to Die, aka the greatest zombie game ever made. I already know how it’ll turn out: either my character gets eaten alive after I dump quite a few hours into her, or I’ll accomplish the badass state of a bike-riding zombie slayer and run out of challenges. The latter should take maybe 50 hours of gameplay.

…who could’ve predicted that the end of the world as we know it would be so goddamn boring?

In covid news, more good news from Israel: those who received both shots of the Pfizer vaccine saw a 98% in fever or breathing problems, and were 98.9% less likely to get hospitalized and die. That is downright amazing. Israel is on track to be the first country in the world to get fully vaccinated, and thus they’re everyone’s giant guinea pig. (If they all develop mRNA-induced superpowers, the Middle East geopolitics will get even stranger.) There’s no lack of negative covid news, but there’s more and more positive stories coming out every single day. I’m trying to focus on those… There’s essentially nothing a person can do unless they’re a hospital worker, so we’re all just unwilling passengers on this apocalyptic ride. Can’t change a thing, so might as well concentrate on the light at the end of the tunnel, eh?

Enjoy the second half of your weekend, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 343

Friday night, whoop-whoop.

I live in a snowglobe… We get a bit more sunlight every day: today, sunset was at 5:55pm. I logged off a little early, did some reading in bed, and watched the giant fluffy snowflakes outside my window. It was still light, and something about that particular snowfall, slow and lazy but relentless, contrasted with everything I own crammed into one small but warm studio, really made it feel like I was watching this from inside out, from within a very strange little snowglobe. It might as well be, given how predictable my routine has become, eh. Still, it was a rare treat to see a tiny bit of nature while the sun was still up. (Give it up for the relentlessly sliding personal standards, folks!)

That Tropico-1 game is still kicking my ass. I’m quite tempted to just quit it (it’s growing more frustrating than entertaining) but there’s not a whole lot else to do for mindless fun, and that soundtrack is pretty amazing.

In covid news, there’s another good update about the Pfizer vaccine. A study determined that the Pfizer vaccine is still highly effective after just one dose, and that it can be stored in regular freezers for two weeks. (The ultra-cold temperatures required for Pfizer made logistics a huge challenge. More so than usual, in any case.) There’s no official word from Pfizer itself (their recommendation has always been two doses), and it’s unclear how effective just one dose would be long-term compared to two… Nonetheless, that sounds almost too good to be true, especially after all the other false starts and setbacks, but I’m allowing myself to get excited about the rare good news. It’s quite a treat in this dark winter, eh.

Have yourself a safe (and hopefully sunny) weekend, y’all.