Monday night.

Someone hung Christmas lights on the building across the street from my window. That makes keeping track of time ever more confusing, the mind immediately thinking that somehow it’s still December whenever I look outside. They are pretty, though.

Myanmar’s military has just deposed its civilian government. The new rulers have declared a year-long state of emergency, though those things never go away quite so fast or easily. I know very little of Myanmar, and I won’t even pretend to speculate on anything. All I know is that it’s got 54 million people – 50% more than in Canada – whose lives got turned upside down. These things generally go from bad to worse: once the military coup genie is out of the bottle, it becomes an acceptable tactic going forward, a legitimized way of seizing power. I hope this time, against all odds, the world’s community will intervene and undo the damage. (All the same, I wouldn’t put any money on that bet.)

And here and now, in snowy Toronto, in my Studio of Solitude, I’m trying to keep myself entertained with some very light online clothes shopping ($60 won’t make or break me) and buying a $10 ebook bundle from Humble Bundle. This one is yet another collection of the Make magazine’s collected articles, and the “Edible Inventions: Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes” ebook seems like fun. Even if my cooking options are limited to just my instapot at the moment (I don’t want to risk a huge fine if I set off the fire alarm by frying stuff), it’ll still be great to learn about the biochemistry of it all, as well as some fun new tricks. I enjoy the science-pop (as opposed to pop-science) books that don’t overload you with cute stories or historical trivia, but provide an engaging, if watered-down, explanation for how stuff works. The $10 I spent on that will get me many hours of entertainment – and as an added bonus, I’ll almost certainly learn something useful. As the bang-for-buck ratio goes, that’s way better than spending $20 to see a 2-hour movie.

Online, the r/wallstreetbets subreddit has become a battleground. Some of the smarter hedge funds figured out that they can easily hijack the message. Over the weekend, there was what appears to be a coordinated troll-farm campaign, with multiple suspicious accounts (either brand new or long-dormant) posting long diatribes describing why SLV, a silver-based ETF, was the greatest thing since sliced bread. All those threads got showered with shiny virtual flair (awards that redditors buy for each other) to draw people’s attention. It may have worked: today, SLV went up by 7% while GME (Gamestop) fell by 31%, and by additional 16% in the afterhours, ending at $190 per share. Everyone – absolutely everyone – in the media immediately started claiming that wallstreetbets is fully behind SLV now, and has abandoned GME. It’s uncanny to watch the exat same message propagated by every talking head, on every outlet, even as the subreddit’s regulars post threads pointing out that no, they’re not, in fact, behind this. SLV is partially owned by the same hedge funds that had shorted Gamestop…

It’s a beautiful propaganda campaign in its own way. The 6 million newsbies who joined wallstreetbets last week don’t know any better: between the shiny promoted threads and the ongoing trading limits on Gamestop, it’s no wonder its price fell so much. If they keep that up for just a few more days, that’ll be it. Conversely, if Robinhood and others finally remove the trading restrictions, the increased volume could drive the price higher. Robinhood’s CEO, Vlad Tenev, will testify in Congress on February 18th, so maybe he’ll try to play nice and lift the limits – or maybe he’s too far gone to care. My sole concern is that all the regular people, those who know nothing about investing and flew to that subreddit over the past few days, might end up risking the money they don’t have on things they don’t understand – and lose it all. They’re all adults, and responsible for their own decisions, but still… Manipulation is manipulation.

In covid news, Toronto just had a massive covid outbreak at meat processing facility. Of the 78 confirmed cases, at least two had the new and more contagious B117 variant. This was the first workplace outbreak in Toronto to feature this new strain: those workers had no travel history, which means it’s already here, spreading through the community. February is not off to the best start here – even the plain old covid strain ended up shutting down the entire city. If this new version really is that much more contagious… Things will get bad. Remains to be seen, I suppose, just like everything else.

In much better covid news, Biden’s administration has awarded $230 million to an Australian-based company that manufactures highly reliable and fast at-home covid tests. Evidently, Ellume’s test kits are 95% accurate, take just 15 minutes, and cost only $30 each. That’s huge if true. In 2020, just about every test kit available on the market was either over $100, or not very accurate, or required several days to process, or all of the above. Had something like that been available at the time, a lot of things would’ve turned out differently – but it’s here now (“here” being the US), and that’s great news. Ellume will produce 19 million kits per month, of which 8.5 million will go to the US government. That’s not nearly enough for the entire world, but that’s a damn good step in the right direction.

Good night, y’all.