Tag Archive: 2020


Plague diaries, Day 283

Monday night. The longest night of the year.

The winter solstice is virtually indistinguishable from other winter days if you don’t know any better, but it’s still a fun symbolic occasion to track and celebrate. We’ll start getting marginally more light now. (When the sunset is at 4:45pm, that’s just wrong.) There’s supposed to be a grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn today, but it’s been too damn cloudy to see any of it. Oh well, they’ll have another one of those in just 800 years. Funny thing about these rare astronomical occurrences: there are so many of them that there’s always something going on.

Even with the pandemic, the postal service is still working fine: all the Christmas presents and cards from family and friends started showing up in the mail. Let’s just say I’ll have enough candy and chocolate to last me for another month or so.

Just had a phone chat with my mom… She lives near Seattle, and she’s doing well, but she keeps going to a nearby Russian store to buy some exotic ingredients or cheap produce. The problem is that the store’s owners and customers ignore all the mask orders and laugh at her mask, and every now and then there’s a sneezing kid or two. When we last talked, I asked her not to go there anymore: it’s not worth getting exposed to potential covid carriers. (Those who disregard one set of restrictions are likely to do so with others.) And yet, I just got an earful about the great deals that store had on persimmons. (And how nobody there wore a mask this time around, either.) I was as diplomatic and patient as I could when I explained that she’d get her vaccine shot in just a couple of months, and that maybe those persimmons aren’t quite worth dying for. She said she wouldn’t go there again. I’m not sure I believe her…

Between my sister vacationing in Florida, and my mom going time and again to a store that ignores every public health warning, the odds are not great for our entire family coming out of this unscathed. Hope everlasting, eh.

In covid news, Ontario is finally doing its first real lockdown after a series of poorly orchestrated localized restrictions. (If you can drive a few minutes and get to a township that’s not locked down, your “lockdown” isn’t all that efficient.) Good news: schools will be shut down, there’ll be no dining anywhere (except for takeout), and most stores will have to do curbside pickups. Bad news: they’re starting on Boxing Day, December 26th. Premier Doug Ford’s official explanation is that businesses need a few days to adjust. The unofficial explanation is that he doesn’t want to ruin people’s Christmas. This is effectively a huge wink-wink-nudge-nudge to everyone, encouraging them to party it up just before the lockdown begins. That’s despite Ontario’s own epidemiologists saying we need to lock things down ASAP. I get that this is just human nature, but this is getting really old at this point. (Jehovah’s Witnesses might have a point about avoiding holidays altogether.)

And given how many people in the States ignored the official guidelines and had big Thanksgiving get-togethers, there’s little reason to believe things will be different on Christmas, either. (It’s tiresome, trying to keep up with the news in two countries at once.) The big lockdown in Ontario will last at least four weeks in the south (Toronto, Ottawa, Niagara, etc) and two weeks in the north. I would be very curious to see how or if they will enforce it this time, since it took a massive outrage campaign to shut down the defiant BBQ diner a few weeks ago. 2021 should be off to an interesting start.

Happy solstice, y’all. May your lives be increasingly brighter.

Plague diaries, Day 282

Sunday night. The beginning of the last full week of this strange year.

Today was filled with random acts of self-care: half an apple pie for brunch, champagne with cheese and crackers for dinner (fancy, I know), and nothing but gaming all day long. Just about done with Red Dead Redemption – it feels satisfying to finish something I’d started eight years ago. The third act, which takes place back in the US (circa 1910, I think) is, once again, more than a little racist, this time against Native Americans. The game tries to put a positive spin on it, showing the white scientist as a buffoon, but all it really did was convince me that I would not enjoy time travel. I’ll finally finish the damn thing tomorrow: as accomplishments go, it’s absolutely meaningless, but any progress, even if it’s completely virtual, is a welcome distraction while the pandemic rages on.

To be fair, it was pretty hilarious to try and complete a challenge that required me to stab a grizzly bear to the death with a simple knife. (If you found this page because you’re stuck on that challenge as well, the trick is to keep chasing the bear until you corner it against some water, trees, or mountains. Then shank it at will.)

My landlords surprised me with an early Christmas present: a giant jar of cookies. I’ve yet to wrap my present for them: a gold-panning kit, a set of cheese knives (I really have no use for them), and a starter collection of Ontario’s minerals. What can I say – being my friend has unusual side effects.

In covid news, more and more countries are banning flights from the UK due to the new strain of covid that originated there. At first, it was just the Netherlands. A lot more countries set up their own bans in the past 24 hours: France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Romania, Croatia, and Canada. The bans vary in length, but the sheer speed of these developments makes it look like a lot of high-level people are panicking. As far as I know, all these countries have already failed with regular covid containment. I doubt they’ll be able to come up with a groundbreaking new way to stop this new strain, especially if it is indeed capable of spreading faster. We’ll learn more in the next few weeks. The thing I’m really curious about is whether the new strain will be affected by the vaccines that are being rolled out. If not, then 2021 will be a whole lot sadder…

In somewhat positive news, the US Congress has finally agreed on a $900 billion stimulus deal. (It only took them most of the year.) The agreed-upon deal includes a $600 direct payment and $300 in enhanced unemployment benefits for the next 10 weeks. That’s better than nothing, but not much better, especially since several months passed without any financial help at all. The cynical consensus is that the only reason this stimulus passed is because Republicans want to get some good publicity ahead of the runoff race for two senate seats in Georgia. That election is in about two weeks, and it will decide which party controls the senate. Yay politics.

Hang in there, amigos.

Plague diaries, Day 281

Saturday night. If you eat a mermaid, is that cannibalism, seafood, or 50/50?

Another weekend day spent sleeping, munching on Tim Hortons drivethrough, gaming, and staying safe from covid. My usual Saturday morning treat of two breakfast sandwiches, a donut, and a large black coffee, which I devour in my car next to Tim Hortons while reading an e-book, feels almost like the old times, before the plague. If I pretend just a little, it’s easy to imagine that I’m just getting a quick and quiet energy boost before going out, or treating myself for making it through yet another workweek. That is a lie, of course, but sometimes even a small lie to oneself can be helpful.

I’m forcing myself to finish that Red Dead Redemption game I mentioned earlier. (I know, forcing myself to play videogames – my so-called problems are ridiculous.) The game’s second act takes you to Mexico just before a civil war breaks loose. I finally remembered why I quit this game about eight years ago: you can’t skip all the parts about politics, and you don’t have any choice in the matter. (I realize the irony of this blog being so political most of the time, but hey, there are actual cartoonish villains trying to sabotage pandemic efforts, so this is different.) At one point, your character turns into a gun-slinging Terminator, killing Mexican rebels and authorities alike by the hundred. And then, on top of that, there’s some really R-rated stuff that your character can’t stop. I can see where the writers were going with that: civil war is ugly, and it’s not glorious in the slightest. But then they kind of got carried away with it, to the point where your character ends up killing a statistically significant population of Mexico. Even for a Wild West video game where life is cheap, that’s really over the top.

I’m speeding my way through the game just to see how it ends: that’s sad, because some of the writing is borderline brilliant, with gems like “In a country where most people cannot read the newspaper, song is a powerful means of communication” or “If you win power, remember why you wanted it.” I’m a “completionist” when it comes to gaming, and it pains me to leave something undone. I might as well knock out the game now – if I don’t, I have a hunch I’ll just end up playing the whole thing all over again in another eight years or so. And hey, it distracts me from a pandemic killing thousands of people with every passing day. Whatever it takes, eh? (And yes, I really am that passionate about my entertainment choices.)

In covid news, general Gustave Perna, the military leader of Operation Warp Speed, said it was his fault that several states received fewer vaccine doses than they’d been promised. It’s strangely refreshing to see a government official accept the blame for something, for anything at all. (As Trump famously said on March 13th, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”) Of course, it would’ve been great to have had that before the government initially blamed the affected governors and Pfizer. A bit of a kneejerk reaction by this point, I suppose. I’m curious if Perna really did screw up, or if he’s just taking the fall for others. There’s no way to know right now – but at some point in the future, there’ll almost certainly be a special commission report on the pandemic handling in the US, as well as worldwide. It’ll be as significant as the 9/11 report a whole generation ago. (And hopefully with far fewer blacked-out redactions.)

There’s a new mutated strain of covid in southern England… I didn’t write about it earlier because that might have been just plain old sensational journalism: viruses mutate all the time, and most of the time it’s a nothing-burger. It seems to be spreading fast, though: it’s not 100% clear if that’s just because things are bad in England right now, or because this new mutation makes the virus more transmissible. It doesn’t seem to be more dangerous than regular covid, but it’s unclear if it’d be affected by vaccines… There are just too many unknowns right now. Meanwhile, the Netherlands became the first country to block incoming flights from the UK to keep the mutated virus out. That’s a mostly symbolic gesture, since it might spread all over Europe in any case. This is eerily similar to the situation almost a year ago, when no one knew anything, when governments panicked and set up travel restrictions just to be safe. Here is hoping the whole thing is a whole lot of nothing.

And in some good news (well, sort of good, by the 2020 standards, anyway), the mysterious illness that popped up in India two weeks ago was neither bacteria nor a virus. Looks like it was due to pesticide residue. On top of that, they also found high levels of nickel (potentially toxic) in the town’s milk, and mercury in the town’s water supply. The illness might not have been caused by that nickel or mercury, but that just highlights the sad reality of life in large parts of the world, with multiple contaminants in your food and water… It shouldn’t have to take a mass illness to find and fix these conditions. But hey, by this year’s standards, that’s almost a success story: not a new pandemic, not contagious, and theoretically fixable. Here is hoping the rest of this year’s weirdness gets resolved just as easily.

Plague diaries, Day 280

Friday night. Thus ends the last full workweek.

Is there a word for online autograph collectors, or did I just invent a whole new hobby? It’s like the opposite of trolling: you follow famous people online, interact with their content, make insightful (or funny) comments, and get them to like or share what you wrote. Yesterday, it was my favourite archaeologist, Sarah Parcak, who liked one of my tweets. Today it was James S.A. Corey, the author duo behind the Expanse series, who retweeted me. I may or may not have a text file with links to those precious interactions. (I totally have that text file.) I fully realize how geeky and obsessed that is, but hey, there’s very little else to do in terms of entertainment now, and it’s supremely cool to know that a brilliant famous person paid attention to something you wrote, if only for a few seconds. No clue what to call this, though. A specter collector?..

Today’s distraction from boredom: a library e-book I’d placed a hold on months ago has just become available. Frugality rule #17: libraries can get almost any book you want for free, but you’ll have to wait. It’s interesting so far, and you gotta love the dedication: “For everyone who has wanted to want more.”

I miiiiight have to abandon my wild hopes of learning basic Vietnamese: the DuoLingo course can be politely described as “utter garbage” since it features extremely little pronunciation. For a multi-tonal language like that, I’d need either a perfect app or a very patient Vietnamese tutor. (And my landlords are busy enough as it is.) Back to French and Spanish, I suppose.

A random impulse led me to share my lean-FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) plan on a Canadian subreddit and ask for feedback. Most people seem to dig my idea of staying in Canada most of the year while spending five months per year backpacking the world and enjoying all the sights, beaches, and sunsets it has to offer. One person in particular was enthusiastic enough to message me with a ton of questions. As it turns out, he lives near Toronto as well: a college student, way younger, but with the same frugal mindset and dreams of early retirement. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship – after everyone gets their vaccines, of course.

In covid news, there’s a lot going on. The FDA has just approved the Moderna vaccine, which is just as efficient as the Pfizer vaccine, and doesn’t need to be stored in super-cold temperatures. That’ll make the logistics a lot easier. The logistical angle is strange: multiple states report that they’ll get fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine than they’d been promised. This is different from Trump’s refusal to send PPE supplies to the states that voted against him in 2016. This time, states like Iowa and Idaho are affected alongside Maryland and Washington state. Of course, the government’s first reaction was to blame Pfizer for the delay. Heh. In my company, one of the core principles is Ownership: gotta own up to your own mistakes. I guess we’re more principled than the US government.

In Brazil, president Bolsonaro publicly criticized vaccines and suggested Pfizer won’t take responsibility for any side effects, even if “you become superhuman, if a woman starts to grow a beard or if a man starts to speak with an effeminate voice.” A lot to unpack here… Definitely some grade-A toxic masculinity, but also, if I had a 33% chance of becoming a superhero, I’d sign up for the vaccine in a heartbeat. Brazil is rolling out its vaccination campaign, but when their own president actively criticizes it and says he won’t get vaccinated… There’s no way to measure the direct impact, but if enough people follow his superstitious machismo, don’t get vaccinated, catch covid, and spread it to others – people will die.

Meanwhile, in the US, vice-president Mike Pence got his vaccine shot: it’s curious, since he never publicly stood up to Trump’s assertions that the virus is a hoax. He also used prayer to fight the virus a whole lot more than he recommended following the CDC’s advice. Don’t get me wrong: everyone is entitled to their own opinions (even when said opinions actively interfere with their alleged job), but people at least ought to be consistent. You stood by and did nothing when scientists got mocked, and then tried to pray away the coronavirus? Then go the full mile and skip the vaccine – but if you do volunteer to get vaccinated, at least have the decency to record a message saying you’re sorry for having been an anti-science zealot while leading the covid task force.

And in other, more personal news, my New York sister (as opposed to my Los Angeles sister or my Siberian sister) has decided to fly to Miami after all… It’ll be her, her husband, and their pre-teen son. Presumably for a couple of weeks. She claims they’ll be careful and already ordered a grocery delivery to make all their meals at their condo, but still: if they manage to go to that outbreak zone, have a good time, and not get infected, that would be highly statistically improbable. (There are three of them. It’ll only take one of them to make one mistake, and that’s it.) There’s nothing I can do now: apparently, they didn’t get swayed by my perfectly reasonable suggestion of just turning on some bright lights, cranking up the heater, and drinking beer and eating tacos in a bathtub with some ocean noises playing in the background. Heh. I won’t know if they got lucky or got sick until sometime in early January. I wish them luck because they’ll surely need it.

In more uplifting news, I’d forgotten just how many of my Facebook friends were nurses and physicians. Yesterday, they all posted pictures and videos of them getting their first vaccine shot. It’s hard to explain the boost of joy I felt when I saw that. Intellectually, I knew that vaccines were being distributed all over the place – but seeing my old friends and knowing that they’re safe, that at least some of the people I know and love are safe… This has been a good week.

To wrap up this wall of text, here is a pic of me in my full-on hermit mode, featuring roughly 230 days of uncontrolled (and likely uncontrollable) hair growth. That’s not bed hair – that’s what I typically look like around 7pm after pulling my hair out all day long. About five more months to go…

Plague diaries, Day 279

Thursday night.

Boredom level: I’ve accidentally started an iPhone/Android war on social media. Well, more of a skirmish. With multiple comments and 138 “likes” so far. In my defense, I was half-asleep when I wrote that.

Just five more workdays until the much-needed staycation. Things are looking great at work but covering so much, for so long, requires some relaxation. At my tenure level, I get 22 days of vacation time (aka enough to leave for an entire month) as well as six days of PTO, and if you combine the unused time that rolls over from one year to the next… That’s a lot of time off, eh. That falls right into the #GrigoryProblems category, I know – the sort of problem that most people don’t encounter in everyday life.

Oh, and coworker sent me a set of oil paint as part of the Secret Santa gift exchange. That looks great. If/when I finally dip into my hoard of art supplies (any month now), I look forward to playing with that.

In covid news, French president Emmanuel Macron has covid. He’ll be self-isolating for a week while continuing his work. He’s 42: aside from being male, he’s not in any risk groups. It looks like his wife (who is 25 years his senior) doesn’t have symptoms for the time being. I get that you can’t exactly run a country from a bunker, but it still amazes me how many presidents, ministers, princes, etc are catching covid while hunkered-down people like myself don’t. Part of that is just blind luck, I’m sure (Macron did manage to go almost an entire year without catching it) but the fact that some world leaders haven’t caught it yet means there are varying degrees of caution being exercised in France and the US compared to other countries. Interesting.

Elsewhere, there are all sorts of wacky conspiracies, rumours, and downright misinformation about the covid vaccine on social media. Some claim that a nurse died after getting vaccinated. Others use the dumb old meme – “I don’t know what’s in it, so I don’t want it in me.” That would’ve made more sense if they didn’t also eat ground beef, drink random energy drinks, or vape. The vaccine will get rolled out to the general population in about three or four months. I wonder how many people will go absolutely rabid from disinformation or catatonic from social media fearmongering by that point. The good guys have science on their part, but that doesn’t make for good counter-memes. 2021 is gonna be a weird year…

Plague diaries, Day 278

Wednesday night.

Am I the only Siberian who hates cold weather? I can handle it, and I know enough mental tricks to ignore it, but damn, it’s unpleasant. It’s not even the lack of sun (since I know it’ll return in a few weeks or months, once we’re past the solstice) so much as the total misery of being cold. In other words, yes, I’ve ventured outside for groceries again, and just the walk through the parking lot was miserable enough to make me wish I were in Costa Rica.

Without anything else to do (or rather anything safe to do), there’s nothing much to spend money on except for food and an occasional online purchase. Before the pandemic, I used to scoff at those little plastic packages of store-made sushi: it’d always be at least a few hours old, and cold (well, obviously), and never as good as the stuff you’d get at a sushi restaurant. But now that dining is a bad idea for five or six more months… Why the hell not? The plastic package sushi was passably delicious, considering it was the first I’ve had in about a year. I also walked past some merengue cookies and strawberry-flavoured waffles… Heh.

About 200 days or so ago, I came up with a new life motto: “It’s okay to allow yourself happiness.” I spent most of my adult life being broke as a joke, followed by instinctively living way below my means and squirreling away everything I could, being not merely frugal but stingy. For years and years. That got me to a relatively good place in life, at least compared to the rest of my disadvantaged generation, but really, one must have something to be happy about. So now I live merely below my means, not way below them. Small luxuries like a $12 package of cold sushi or a $4 package of merengue cookies… My idea of lifestyle inflation, eh.

I’m fighting the grey mundanity by streaming the first three episodes of the fifth season of the Expanse on Amazon. I wrote earlier that they like to release one episode per week, just like with old-fashioned TV shows. (And also squeezing more money out of people, since they have to maintain their membership for several months.) Once I figure out when the new episodes actually drop, that’ll be my first marker in ages to differentiate the passage of time. From one Friday to the next, or whatever day that would be.

In covid news, there’s the small stuff and the big stuff. On the small scale, I’m trying to convince my New York sister not to fly to Miami for the holidays. I think I’ve mostly convinced her, but her husband is still set on going. He knows covid is dangerous, he knows that vaccines are coming, so I guess he must really want to enjoy some sunny weather. We all do, but flying someplace with 12.8% positivity rate would be a tremendously bad idea. His flight is scheduled for Friday. I hope he cancels it.

In medium-scale news, this excellent article by Texas Monthly describes the experiences of wedding photographers. One of them didn’t find out until well into the ceremony that the groom had been diagnosed with covid the day before. The photographer ended up getting sick, but at least she got her kids out of the way and kept them safe. I’ll never be able to understand why so many people thought it was fine to have giant weddings during the pandemic. Is a non-refundable deposit really worth dying for? Some of the quotes in that article… Well, see for yourself. The whole thing strikes me as the mix of Bridezilla and Idiocracy.

And in the biggest news of them all, an HHS science adviser actually wrote down the government’s strategy, according to leaked emails: “[I]t may be that it will be best if we open up and flood the zone and let the kids and young folk get infected” to get “natural immunity…natural exposure.” That was in the email Paul Alexander sent to Michael Caputo and other VIPs back in July. Alexander was Trump’s appointee. It’s hard to believe that Alexander would’ve come up with that deliberate strategy all on his own. That was back in July, when measures could still be taken to stop the nightmare we’re living in now, with over three thousand American deaths every day.

There’s only one key question: if Trump deliberately wanted to infect the United States with covid, what would he have done differently?

In 2016, angry mobs shouted “Lock her up!” in passionate unison, allegedly because they were so angry about the other candidate’s email server practices. Now it’s 2020, and we’re starting to see evidence that the government deliberately wanted to, well, kill people. (There is no mild or polite way to put that, sorry.) And yet I doubt any of them will get locked up or spend so much as a single night in jail. As always, I would be happy to be proven wrong. It’s beyond disappointing that whomever leaked those emails waited not just until after the election, but until after the electoral college declared Biden president-elect. Had this been leaked five months ago, then maybe, just maybe, something might have changed for the better. At least a few lives might have been saved through policy and communication changes. Yet here we are, in this bizarro world where presidents lie, where senators engage in insider training and invest in body bags, where science advisors recommend genocide of their own people.

Not for the first time, and likely not for the last one – I’m glad I left.

Plague diaries, Day 277

Taco Tuesday evening.

Boredom level: I’ve started practicing “Twinkle twinkle little star” with the harmonica I got as a joke on my birthday years ago. This harmonica thing seems remarkably simple, if only because there’s no fancy finger placement (which was my main issue with my ocarina) and you don’t have to tune it. It’s perfect. It’s the Vietnamese of instruments. I might actually learn how to play it, seeing as there are months to go yet.

A few days ago, I used Reddit’s hive-mind to help me find a really old comedy show I watched when I was a kid in Russia. It was made in the 90s, before 9/11, and featured a crashing plane (Broiler-747) with a wacky crew. The show was made in Ukraine: it was a parody of American disaster movies, it had a monotone Russian voiceover (like all the pirated Western movies in the 90s), and it was filled with lots of black humour. (As well as a catchy music score!) Alas, the Nose Dive (aka Крутое Пике) is not available in English but you can get the gist of it by watching some of it on YouTube.

In covid news, the US has recently crossed 300,000 covid deaths. The official count currently stands at 311,025. The excess death count crossed that point months ago… It’ll take a while to get the full picture of how many died, but if you add up all the tangential deaths (suicides, people who were sidelined by the overwhelmed healthcare system, etc), the US is far higher than 300,000. At some point before this all ends, the excess deaths will probably exceed 500,000. At some point, all these numbers become so much noise. Human brain can’t adequately compare giant numbers after a certain point. Some infinities are larger than other infinities, but to us they’re equally infinite and incomprehensible. So it is with the covid death toll.

The big number was mentioned in multiple articles, but it’s not featured at the top of each news site. That news cycle has come and gone: the fatigue has set in. Back when the US covid death toll hit 1,000, that was a huge and symbolic number, with names printed on the front pages, etc, etc. Now a thousand deaths is a surprisingly lucky day, with the baseline being around 3,000, give or take.

What other numbers will we learn to live with?..

Plague diaries, Day 276

Monday evening, eh.

The local weather can’t make up its mind: snowing, melting, then snowing again. It might actually get below freezing over the next few nights. I’ll have to remember to bring in the emergency jugs of water from my car before they burst. (The downside of being a low-key prepper in the winter.)

There was a small obstacle in my grand plan to learn broken Vietnamese: DuoLingo doesn’t cover it all that well. Most of the vocabulary words don’t come with pronunciation, and that’s a bit of a challenge when learning a multi-tonal language. Ho hum. I might have to cheat with random YouTube videos instead.

…I’ve just licked a bath bomb that looked like a jawbreaker. Damn you, impressively diverse gift basket, you got me this time. (It did not taste like a jawbreaker at all.)

In covid news, both Canada and the US started the covid vaccination campaign with the Pfizer vaccine today. This is huge, and amazing, and remarkable. Normally, I’d say this is the beginning of the endgame, but then I read that Florida governor Ron DeSantis said he’d like to give just one shot of the Pfizer vaccine instead of two. DeSantis is neither an epidemiologist nor a medical professional: he cited a Wall Street Journal editorial written by a neurologist (who has nothing to do with epidemiology) who referred to the second shot as a “booster shot.” Upside: DeSantis would get twice as many people vaccinated. Downside: that’d go against both Pfizer’s and the FDA’s guidance, and could backfire with nothing to show for it.

This is really remarkable in its own way: when literally all you have to do is sit back, shut up, and let professionals do their jobs, some people still find ways to cause as much harm as possible. (Or, if you want to be kind, I guess you could say they unintentionally sabotage things by insisting on getting involved – much like Michael Scott from The Office.)

Elsewhere, Germany is going into a tough lockdown from December 16th through January 10th. Non-essential businesses will be closed: presumably, only grocery stores, banks, and Christmas tree outlets will stay open. There’ll be limits on indoor gatherings: no more than five from two households, with mildly relaxed rules on Christmas. (Up to four relatives can be invited.) A few days ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a passionate speech stating that having hundreds of people die every day is not acceptable, and that the new restrictions are a necessary evil. That right there is what real leadership sounds like. It was refreshing to see it, though it’s too bad it was on a different continent.

So it goes.

Plague diaries, Day 275

Sunday night.

This will be the last full workweek of the year. Afterwards, it’s Christmas, Boxing Day (still no clue what is), New Year’s Day, etc. The 10-day staycation can’t come soon enough. A chance to recharge my batteries at long last, after which a few good things should happen in relatively rapid succession, a month or so apart. Or that’s the plan, anyhow.

I ended my self-imposed six-week alcohol/caffeine/alcohol-in-caffeine fast about a week ago, which means I no longer pass out by 11pm. That’s how I ended up staying up till 3am last night, trying to automate a calculation I came up with. In the end, I gave up, finally installed Python, and cobbled together my very own Python program to do the calculation a whole last faster. It’s funny how that works: I tried and failed to finish a Python tutorial several times, and it wasn’t until I finally had a real-life world for it that I started to actually use it. Heh.

Today was mostly spent procrastinating and munching on the gift basket goodies. (I also made some sad single-ingredient beef tacos, so there’s that.) I didn’t intend to, but I ended up spending most of the day binge-reading TVtropes, a ridiculously addictive pop-culture wiki that has functionally infinite archives and examples of different entertainment tropes. I mostly go there to read the “Real life” section – essentially, bite-sized and entertaining anecdotes from world history. (Did you know that Abraham Lincoln had a run-in with pirates when he was a teenager? The boring river-sailing pirates, not the Caribbean swashbucklers, but still.) I’m reasonably certain I’ll never put any of that and other knowledge to good use, but hey, you never know. (And it was an interesting way to kill a few hours.)

Still flirting with the idea of learning basic Vietnamese. This article was a real morale-booster. I knew about the romanized alphabet, but had no idea that Vietnamese had ridiculously simple grammar, no verb conjugations, and just five basic tenses. The hard part would be figuring the six different tones: I’m not tone deaf but I’m more or less tone-mute, if that’s the term. To everyone out there who had to suffer through my renditions of Queen’s “Don’t stop me now” at karaoke bars, I’m sorry. (So very, very sorry.) I’m sure I’ll get passably okay at it (Vietnamese tones, not karaoke) if I keep trying. Yay lockdlown life.

In covid news, a New York Times article revealed that the White House staff will jump to the front of the line to get vaccinated. That’s a bit ironic, considering they spent most of 2020 claiming the virus was a hoax, that it’s no worse than the flu, and that it would magically go away on its own. (Granted, the White House is a superspreader location at this point, but whose fault was that?) Given the limited vaccine supply at this time, this is a zero sum game: the shots that got to the White House staffers will not make their way to medical professionals or the elderly. Statistically speaking, some at-risk person might die because of this. I’m sure we’ll see more of the same as vaccines make their way to all 50 states.

In an interesting aside, my younger brother might get vaccinated in the next few weeks. He lives in Seattle: a few years ago, I convinced him to join the county’s rescue team (KCESAR) to help rescue hikers and lost folks in our spare time. That’s one of the few things I really miss about the States… I moved to Canada while he remained a rescuer, though with a different county. The local sheriff said that rescuers might be eligible to get vaccinated, since they’re in that slim category of life&death professionals. (Unlike, say, Wall Street traders or White House staffers.) If that works out – good for him. It’ll also be a little funny: I often imagine how different my life would’ve been if I’d stayed in the US. I guess now I know: that baseline Grigory would’ve gotten his vaccine at least three months ahead of the Canadian Grigory. It’s odd how these things turn out sometimes.

Stay healthy, amigos.

Plague diaries, Day 274

Saturday night. Another lockdown weekend, wooooo!

Lots happened today. My adjacent high-level boss called me this morning. He’s not in my chain of command but he’s in charge of the facility that I support. He said he’d drop by my place in 15 minutes and just like I expected, it was an early Christmas present. He dropped off a bottle of wine and a giant gift basket. I guess from now on I’ll be the sort of bachelor who owns a set of cheese knives. In my 11 years with Amazon, that was the single nicest present I’ve ever received. Thanks, eh.

The math book I mentioned a few days ago has just arrived: it’s educational, thought-provoking, bound to be frustratingly difficult at times, and has some humour sprinkled here and there. I spent a significant part of the day working on an interesting math problem myself. It’s… not exciting, per se, but refreshing and invigorating to concentrate ye olde braincicle on a brand new problem where the solution will deliver immediate and tangible impact. Life is good.

In other news, my Reddit browsing has paid off: I’ve stumbled on a highly detailed account of a random person (and fellow early-retirement enthusiast) who lives fairly comfortably in Vietnam on just $300 USD per month. A quick fact-check with my Vietnamese landlords confirmed that Vietnam is, in fact, dirt cheap and has plenty of access to beautiful beaches. Given that my initial early retirement budget was $1,000 USD per month, this is a helluva deal.

In lieu of that, and since I have nothing better to do over the next five months (see yesterday’s blog), I’ve decided to cheat on my French lessons and start Vietnamese instead. It’ll be a fun challenge, since it has zero relation to European languages, save for the alphabet. The romanized alphabet is helpful, since that was my main obstacle with studying Japanese years ago. (Way, waaaaay too many kanji.) Thus far, I’ve learned how to say “I am human” in Vietnamese. With my luck, it’ll come in really useful when I wrestle my not-quite-human doppelganger in front of a native Vietnamese speaker with a gun, Star Trek-style.

There’s little else to do while being stuck here in the pre-vaccine limbo, waiting for my turn… Five months is plenty enough time to learn a new language, brush up on my math skillz, and daydream, since the reality leaves a lot to be desired here and now. I’ve always been a fine strategist and a passable tactician. Today’s daydreams are tomorrow’s strategy.

In covid news, the FDA in the US approved the Pfizer vaccine on Friday night. That came after the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows allegedly threatened the FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to approve the vaccine by end-of-day on Friday or to submit his resignation. (Trump “helped” by comparing the FDA to a turtle on Twitter.) The original timeline was allegedly to approve the vaccine on Saturday: whether it got moved up by 12 hours because of the threats is unknown. This is, however, a textbook example and perfect proof of the White House screwing with scientists. Methinks that was at least partly an attempt to prop up the falling stock market on Friday. Turns out, there was a last-minute stop-gap measure yesterday to postpone the US government shutdown by a week, but that still doesn’t inspire confidence, speaking as an investor.

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