Category: plague diaries

Plague diaries, Day 346

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 345

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 344

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 343

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 342

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.

Plague diaries, Day 341

Thursday night.

Just spent almost four hours filling out a very long questionnaire about my taxes while also looking up all sorts of numbers. Life was easier once… With luck, this will be it. It’s extra painful since I know I’ll end up paying a lot in taxes, so it’s not like there’s a pot of gold at the end of this particular twisted rainbow. Heh.

Today was the much-awaited congressional hearing with the big wigs from hedge funds that started the Gamestop affair, as well as Keith Gill, the average guy who taught himself stock analysis and was among the first to notice how undervalued that stock was. I listened to some of it in the background while working: some congress-critters were ruthless and insightful, while others accused redditors of being Russian and/or Chinese robots. That right there makes me suspect that the main outcome of this whole saga will only make regular investors’ lives more complicated.

It was pretty funny to watch the congress-critters fumble with their technology: the hearing was held remotely, and there were so many issues with their microphones, the feedback echo, random people screaming “WHO ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU HERE?!” in the background, etc. Didn’t help that quite a few of them had crappy Internet connection and no microphones. At the risk of sounding like a complete tech bro, if someone at work had that many easily preventable issues, they’d never live it down. In the US, that’s just another day in the federal government. Heh. It’s quite telling that the person with the best microphone and camera setup was Keith Gill, who (until just now) made less money than anyone else on that call, and who also happened to be the youngest person at that hearing. I’m sure Millennials will be terrible with new technology 50 years from now, too, but come on – at least ask your local IT people to show you which buttons to push, eh?

In covid news, Pfizer has begun the first-ever study of covid vaccines on 4,000 pregnant women – in the US and all over the world. It’ll take them even longer than usual to get all the data from the study, make sure the babies are fine, etc, but if all goes well, hopefully that’ll be enough to dissuade some of the least rabid anti-vaxxers.

I hope y’all have a bit more fun with your taxes than I did, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 340

Wednesday night.

Online, there are wild videos about the situation in Texas. One shows a line of people waiting outside to fill their empty buckets from a spigot. Normally, that’s the kind of footage you’d see from some war-torn country. Instead, it’s from Houston: some of them no longer have running water in their homes, while others are under the water-boiling advisory. In another world, I didn’t leave Fort Worth for Tampa in 2014. In that world, I might be standing in a line just like that one… Elsewhere, people are posting pictures of buckets filled with snow that they brought inside to get some fresh water. All of that is utterly insane.

I’m getting secondhand anxiety just reading all this news from the US, just getting updates from my many acquaintances I’d made while living in all those places. I can’t even imagine how bizarre it would be to actually live there. Just in the last year alone, there were unprecedentedly blatant police shootings, mass protests, half-assed covid shutdowns, nameless masked thugs that kidnapped protesters, equally nameless thugs with guns standing guard in Washington DC, a rogue postmaster general who actually tried sabotaging his own postal service, an election that went on for days before getting called, half a million covid deaths, the attempted coup on January 6th, and now the polar vortex that sent Texas back to the 19th century… And I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. After all of this is over, some countries will come out with improved reputations (way to go, Vietnam!), many will be unchanged, but some will never be able to regain their previous prestige…

I may have finally acquired all eight documents I’ll need to file my very complicated taxes. (Being a Russian-American-Canadian is hard, eh.) I’ll still have to plug in all those numbers and answer a very long series of important questions, though. I wonder if I declared myself a sovereign citizen and made them prepare my tax bill for me, would that save me some headache on the balance? (Especially if I copy a certain president, hire a sleazy lawyers, and pay only a small percentage of the total. Heh.) I’m joking, of course, but I really do wish there were a much easier way to just set it and forget it – the way I think other industrialized countries do it. Oh well.

In covid news, they’re starting to organize vaccine trials on children, ages six and up. All the previous trials were on adults. In a way, we got extremely lucky that children are mostly (but not always) unaffected. If covid had affected them as severely as adults… The world would’ve been an even more depressing place, then. It’ll be months before any coherent and consistent conclusions come out of these new trials: if kids do get vaccinated, it won’t be anytime soon, and they’ll likely be at the very end of the line. Still, the more we learn about this damn thing, the easier it’ll be to defeat – here and now, as well as with all the future variants.

Stay warm, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 339

Tuesday night.

I miiiight be starting to fill the boredom abyss with some online shopping. In the local geological Facebook group (can you tell I’m a nerd?), someone posted breathtakingly beautiful pictures of a potassium hexacyanoferrate crystal. Turns out, he grew it all by themselves, though he did say it’s hard to get the exact mixture and conditions. I went ahead and ordered a bottle of potassium ferricyanide: it’s usually a niche chemical for photographers, so the delivery might take a while…

Growing crystals is a weird hobby: you get better at it as you go along, but a lot of is luck, and you absolutely have to be patient. I tried it for a while a few years back, but patience wasn’t my strong suit back then. Then again, I’m even worse at taking care of plants or yeast starters (rest in peace, Clint Yeastwood), so growing a little crystal bro is probably the least harmful option. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally create something beautiful.

The polar vortex is hitting the US even harder than I’d thought… Like many others, I’ve only just learned that Texas apparently has their own power grid, one that’s not connected to the rest of the country. Combine that with good ol’ deregulation and lack of extreme weather preparations, and that’s a really bad situation. Millions are without power due to rolling blackouts. One of the two reactors in a Texan nuclear power plant had to be shut down, possibly due to the cooling system’s water line getting frozen. I’m trying not to read the articles that merely list everyone’s misery (that’s a rather macabre type of clickbait), but just the headlines are disturbing… Failing hospital equipment, people having to burn their possessions to stay warm, etc. How many compounded systemic failures can civilization take?..

At work, there’s some excellent news at long last. It should become official in a couple of weeks. Until then, it’s just quiet celebration. (Incidentally, my emergency mini-bottle of champagne had just 2.2 glasses worth. They ought to make 3/4-sized bottles, eh.)

In covid news, Ontario’s premier Doug Ford is in hot water yet again… I keep forgetting to mention this, but through it all – the lockdowns, the restrictions, then more lockdowns – Ontario’s workers had no paid sick leave. If you think you have covid, then your choices are to stay home and lose money, or to head to work if you’re feeling lucky. In a TV interview earlier today, Ford said that paid sick days are a “waste of taxpayers’ money.” He lied about (or sincerely failed to understand) the federal program called Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, claiming reinstituting Ontario’s sick days would be redundant. CRSB reimburses people for lost wages after they get diagnosed with covid. It does nothing for those who show early symptoms that might not be covid. The locals are less than excited about today’s display of his leadership, to put it mildly… It will never cease to astound me how someone like him got elected.

In slightly lighter news, this is pretty funny. My best friend’s younger sister (they live in the US) switched to online classes a year ago, and transferred to a small college in Portland to finish her degree. She never visited the campus in person, and after that college ran into some kind of trouble, she transferred again – this time to Idaho State University. She’ll graduate in two months, having never actually set foot on that campus. The in-person graduation ceremony will be her first time visiting that university. That’s pretty hilarious, and I’m sure there are many others in the same boat. By the end of this, the pandemic will have lasted at least four semesters: millions of college students will be affected one way or another. My own college years were extremely unremarkable (nerd, remember?) but I’m sorry that so many others won’t even get a chance to enjoy that part of their life to the fullest. What a strange world.

Plague diaries, Day 338

Monday night.

Got really bored and shaved off all my hair beneath the eyebrows. To clarify, there’s a site where people give each other dares – because what else is there to do in a pandemic? That dare seemed as good an idea as any. Downside: I feel like a plucked chicken now. Upside: hey, at least I’m feeling something new. There’s not a lot of novelty in this here year of plague.

Today was a double holiday: Presidents’ Day in the US; Family Day in Canada. (A family day right after Valentine’s. Get it? Heh.) A fancy three-day weekend: the Sunday first aid course split it in two, but even so, it’s a change from the routine. (I can’t describe the sheer horror of looking up and realizing that several weeks passed by without you noticing.) Two weeks from now, I’ll have my intro video call with the local search&rescue group, so there’s at least that to look forward to, eh.

An arctic blast swept across North America a few days ago: Canada is snowed in as always, but people all over the US have lost power. It’s especially bad in the south, where folks ain’t used to ice on the roads, and where infrastructure just can’t cope. Whole towns in Texas are without power. Frozen wind turbines can’t supply power to California. It’s a cascade failure. I can’t help wondering how much of that is due to our meddling with greenhouse gases. Would this have happened even if everyone followed the Kyoto treaty instead of treating it like a joke? With any luck, this is a one-off, and there won’t be other arctic blasts like this one for quite a while.

In covid news… I have this log (diary? manly journal?) that I update every three months. It’s my 5-year plan that I started in November 2016. (You can take a boy out of the Soviet Union…) I’m making really good progress toward my November 2021 goal, but the thing that shocked me as I updated it today and re-read the mid-November entry was the jump in the total covid death toll. I had to double-check to make sure it really was that bad. Three months ago, the official (and likely undercounted) covid death toll in the US was 265K. Today, it’s 486K. That’s an 83% increase. That’s 221,000 deaths in just three months. That is terrifying. The news has more or less stopped covering the fact that 3,000 or so Americans die each day. The total is growing higher and higher with all of us pretending not to notice… It’ll likely hit 500,000 by the end of the week. Will that even make the front pages of major newspapers, I wonder?..

And here in Canada, and specifically in Ontario, there’s a covid outbreak in a condo complex in Mississauga, one of Toronto’s suburbs. The condo tower has 1,800 people living and working there. They found a cluster of five cases of the South African variant, B1351. (The current leading mutant strain is the UK variant, B117: it’ll become #1 by the end of the month.) For now, the door-to-door testing is voluntary. If that cluster of five ended up infecting others, and if it’s really that much more contagious than the plain old strain we’ve been dealing with… That’ll be one very, very big cluster.

Stay warm, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 337

Sunday evening.

Well, this was interesting. A seven-hour in-person demonstration of hands-on first aid, all while maintaining social distancing and keeping our masks on. (The CPR demonstration had us say “Breath one, two” instead of actually breathing into our mannequins’ mouths.) A large room in a Toronto office tower. Ten people: seven women and three men. Most everybody there was either in medical school or a caretaker, so while some of us had our masks off for lunch we’d packed, I think the odds of catching covid were much lower than with a group of 10 average people. It helped that the instructor was both engaging and entertaining. (I had no idea, but apparently having nipple piercings could result in them getting torn off if you die and have to be defibrillated. You’d only feel it if you come back to life.)

It was so strange to be in a group of people for the first time in six months… I sensed that at least a few others were in the same boat. Even with our faces obscured by masks, and with very little conversation between us, it felt great just to feel that shared humanity, if only a little, if only for a bit. I like to think that once Canada gets vaccinated, I’ll go out every night, every week, for months to come, just paying off this giant debt of loneliness. It’ll take a while to pay it off: the APR on this thing is through the roof, eh.

In covid news, the World Health Organization sent a team of investigators to China to try and find the origins of the virus – but it didn’t go too well. Setting aside the glaring question of why the WHO waited more than a year to investigate (remember, this is the same WHO that stubbornly refused to call this a pandemic for months), it’s frustrating beyond belief that China’s government refused to share raw data on the earliest cases in Wuhan. Both the US and the UK voiced their concerns and demanded more transparency, though there’s no way to enforce that. The WHO’s report on covid’s origins will be released soon, but we already know it won’t be complete.

It’s mildly infuriating that after 2.4 million deaths (thus far, and not including excess mortality), we might never know the full story behind covid’s origin. Last year, multiple scientists said the virus didn’t have the telltale signs of being lab-grown, and I believe them. China’s reluctance to share even the most basic data, though, is fueling FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) among a lot of people. Are they hiding their data just because that’s what authoritarian regimes do, just out of habit? Or are they hiding their data because it contains something uniquely embarrassing that would make them lose face? (More victims than reported, or much wider and longer spread before it finally got escalated?) The odds are that we’ll never know. Even in alleged democracies, whistleblowers can have state-sponsored thugs break into their home and point guns at their family (see Rebekah Jones, Florida’s rogue data analyst) – and I have no doubt it’s even worse than that if someone in China decided to share information with the whole wide world. I don’t see China collapsing at any point in the coming decades (the way USSR had), so once again, that path for leaked classified information is also out. We’ll likely never know for sure what really happened… How weird is that?

Enjoy the rest of your three-day weekend, y’all.