Tag Archive: pandemic

Plague diaries, Day 396

Tuesday night.

That Old Man’s Sky game never ceases to surprise me. One random planet I just landed on is filled with dinosaurs. It’s also highly radioactive, so good luck to all the promo-mammals out there. You’re gonna need it, little dudes. Oh, and the overabundant flying killer robots aren’t helping either, but hey – it’s a planet full of dinosaurs, and that makes up for a lot of things. I’ve established my latest base (conservatively named “Dino World!!!”) out there, and just the sheer entertainment value will be enormous as I explore that new world.

That game came out five years ago, and it’s still amazing – at least to me. It would’ve been the height of science fiction just 20 years ago. And 15 more years from now… I can’t even imagine. We might not get holodecks, but what fascinating new directions will the video game industry take, I wonder? Haptic-feedback bodysuits, as featured in Ready Player One? More versatile and less bulky VR headsets? Something entirely different? Between advances in small drones, 3D printing, and gaming, we’ll probably get a lot of really cool stuff in the coming decades – assuming we don’t get more pandemics and get out of the semiconductor bottleneck. (Oh yeah – if you’re reading this in the future, the supply lines for high-tech components have pretty much collapsed.)

My impromptu (and entirely self-imposed) house arrest is made mildly more bearable by the crappy, chilly weather outside my window. The occasional person coughing their lungs out just underscores that the outside world isn’t really all that great right now. Still, I look forward to being able to go on a long walk, or partake in my usual Tim Hortons meal… It’s really minor, considering all the huge societal changes that have occurred during the pandemic, but wow, I’d never thought that fast food, of all things, would become the meal I’ll look forward to the most. After my second vaccine, and after yet another two-week house arrest/quarantine, and if they allow restaurants to reopen… I can’t wait to have the first proper meal in well over a year. I fetishize the sensation of holding a menu and contemplating the overabundance of choices that won’t come from my instapot. I salivate even now as I imagine the crunchy, juicy, texture-filed sensation of a cheeseburger…

This line of thought is not helping my house arrest blues.

In covid news, there’s an interesting interview with Dr Michael Warner, the head of critical care at a nearby Toronto hospital and a formidable social media presence. His stories are chilling… More importantly, he claims the ICU shortage is so severe that they had to clear out their pediatric department to make more space for sick adults. He claims the exponential growth is turning Toronto into the same nightmare as New York and Italy a year ago. When an expert of his caliber speaks, we should all listen. One of the factors he explicitly mentions is Doug Ford’s refusal to even consider paid sick days in Ontario – as if it were some political issue and not a vital necessity. Ford is a college dropout and an idiot, but other people aside from him, around him, ought to have realized how exponential growth works. There are more low-key headlines about Ontario potentially switching to triage when ICUs completely run out… It’s tempting to say that we should let mathematicians run things to prevent future nightmares like this one from happening ever again, but that’s not a perfect solution either. Robert McNamara was a great mathematician, for example, but he had zero understanding of psychology or politics, which is why he failed to win the Vietnam War despite clear numerical superiority. Will we as a society ever be able to find a good compromise between electing idiots and nerds?

In other news, the US is recommending a “pause” for the Johnson&Johnson vaccine. That follows six cases of blood clots in women, one of whom died. The CDC is investigating that, while the FDA is claiming the pause would probably last just a few days. More than 6.8 million doses of J&J have been administered in the States, which means the odds of blood clots are less than one in a million. Even so, when people realize that mRNA vaccines have no such associated risk (as far as I know, at least), they’ll likely rush toward them instead. Scientists can – and do – change their minds as they get more data, but average people are far less flexible. The media is having a field day with this… If you listen to their reporting, you might walk away thinking people are dying of blood clots left and right. This is a shiny new story for them, and they’re squeezing it for all it’s worth, all the while generating vaccine hesitancy and prolonging this pandemic as a byproduct. If they’d spent nearly as much energy and enthusiasm to describe how horrifying it must be to die of covid and never wake up after getting intubated… Well, we might have had far fewer cases, let’s put it that way.

…it’ll be so bizarre to be among the few fully vaccinated Ontarians if the local healthcare system gets overrun… Like a time traveler going back to some medieval plague outbreak. I really, really hope it doesn’t come to that.

Good night, y’all. Stay safe out there.

Plague diaries, Day 395

Monday night.

Just nine more workdays left until I’m fully out of the workforce: four more this week, then five more three weeks later, on my final week. Feels so strange… I’ve set it up so that my last week of work would also coincide with the end of my second and final quarantine. Strategy, eh. Keeping that in mind, even the routine humdrum of creating a lot of written bridges (think TPS reports from the Office Space) on Mondays didn’t phase me. At this point, it’s a collector’s edition sort of event: it’ll only happen one more time, and that’s it.

Aside from the occasional outbursts of rage at inefficient, impotent, and incompetent bureaucracy and its designated contractors, I can’t stop marveling at lucky I am, and how fortuitously all of this worked out. There are so many ways things could’ve gone wrong… I’m not going to be one of those white dudes who, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, would say they achieved everything through their talent and hard work. Nah, luck was a major factor. I did many things right, but there are plenty of alternate universes where things played out rather poorly for me.

On a meta level, I find that my life got a lot calmer after I stopped visiting that politics blog I mentioned a few months ago. (Lawyers, Guns & Money.) At this point, I have no idea what’s happening with the US politics, and I love that. There’s some noise about yet another politician being caught in yet another sex scandal, but I have no idea about the specifics, I have no one in my life telling me about that, and I’m perfectly happy with that state of ignorance about the things I can’t change anyway.

…outside my window, someone is coughing their lungs out. I don’t think I’ll open it up for fresh air tonight. Microscopic odds, but why risk it?

In covid news, our Vaccine Hunters group is going. The Ontario chatroom on Discord has grown from 40-ish people to 100 to almost 200 as of today. (And that’s not counting the 10,000 Twitter followers.) Some of the stories people share, though… Some of the local clinics are empty, either because no one wants to sign up for the AstraZeneca vaccine, or because they made their criteria so narrow that most people can’t get in. Someone made an excellent analogy: this is just like the plane boarding process when they invite the platinum members to board, followed by gold, silver, ruby, kryptonite, etc. And then, when they finally announce it’s time for general boarding, everyone goes in all at once. Likewise here.

What’s worse is that there are lots of anecdotal accounts about people refusing to sign up for the AZ vaccine at all, even when that’s the only option available. It’s a fascinating paradox: vaccines are a scarce resource (at least here in Canada), yet the existence of choice between vaccines turns people into picky eaters, whereas the only logical reaction should be “OMG yes, yess, yassssss, give me, give me give me give me!” Some of my fellow vaccine hunters are claiming that some of their over-the-hill friends and relatives who refused the AZ vaccine are now in the hospital with covid… Many more are claiming are that after the initial refusal to sign up for an AZ slot, their loved ones haven’t been able to find any slots at all. Heh. So spoiled. So very, very spoiled. The other day, there was a local news story about a woman who actually burst into tears when she found out her vaccine appointment was for AZ, not Pfizer.

Also in Ontario; that big initiative to vaccinate everyone 18 and older in the postal codes with the most covid cases? Yeah, that was a lie. Doug Ford announced that on television with his health minister standing right behind him, but did not actually authorize the health ministry to do anything about that. Now there are thousands of people calling their local hospitals, demanding their vaccination slots, and (I imagine) very depressed hospital workers telling them for the thousandth time that no, there is in fact no way for them to get vaccinated. This is such a dumpster-fire. An absolutely, utterly self-inflicted wound.

It’s so strange to try and reconcile all the covid-related news coming from every direction: there are some amazing breakthroughs in technology and vaccination campaigns, all the while cases are rising all over the world. (And here in Canada as well.) For example, Canada has just performed its first double-lung transplant for a guy with covid. (Only 40 of those have been done for covid victims worldwide.) But at the same time, Japan is setting up 2-week quarantines for travelers from Spain, Finland, and specifically Ontario. (Not Canada, just Ontario. Ever feel like the universe is just picking on you? Heh.)

The head of China’s CDC has admitted that the efficacy of his country’s Sinovac vaccine is so low (perhaps as low as 50%) that they’re considering mixing vaccines to try and boost the odds. The fact that he actually went on record with that is remarkable. And Slovakia is claiming that the shipment of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia is very different from the vaccine that got a glowing review in The Lancet two months ago. Russia is claiming that’s all fake news and demanding its vaccine shipment back. That’s the same country that submitted fake urine samples to try and hide the proof of doping among their top athletes… I’m biased here, I know, I admit it – but they’re really not going out of their way to help clarify things. Oh well.

Just 11 more days until my second drive to Ohio… Can’t wait.

Stay safe, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 394

Sunday evening.

Well, that was interesting… As per Canada’s travel restrictions, travelers must take a covid test at home (using the kit they get at the border) on the 10th day of their two-week quarantine. (For some reason, they counted the border-crossing day as day one. That’s a bank error in my favour, even though I crossed the border around 7:30pm.)

I checked the instructions first thing this morning. They seemed easy enough: open the kit, get everything ready, don’t touch the specimen collection tube thingy, and log on the SwitchHealth site to have a nurse walk you through the process during a video chat. You’d think it’d be easy. You’d think wrong.

I went so far as to wash my hair, actually put on some clothes, and arranged my chair so it’d get the best lighting available in this single-light-bulb studio. And then… When I logged on at 10:20am, it said I was #1,456 in line. It also said “The nurse will be with you shortly.” Heh. It moved fast, but not fast enough: approximately 400 people per hour, so it would’ve taken over three hours to get to me. I set my phone down and did some light gaming on my PC, all the while making sure the phone didn’t fall asleep. About three hours later, I got to #360 in line, and then it just died. The error message said the connection timed out. Their site’s FAQ claimed that if there are connection issues, you can just refresh the page and get back to your spot in line. That claim was incorrect.

It was 1:45pm, and now I was #2,231 in line. It was moving faster – about 500-600 people per hour were getting either helped or disconnected. By 5pm, I was once again #360 (or thereabout), when it kicked me out again. When I refreshed, it said my new spot in line was approximately #1,400 or so. Their site said there was an option to do the testing over the phone if I had no computer or no Internet connection. (The fact that you needed Internet access to read that on their site was pretty ironic.) I then spent 45 minutes on hold without encountering a single human being. I did, however, get blasted with an annoyingly cheerful and loud little tune. Remember that Walking Dead episode where Darryl got tortured with the “Easy Street” song? It was a little bit like that.

Finally, after I posted an angry thread on Twitter, I got that company’s attention. After a lot of back and forth, they called my cellphone and walked me through the process: all voice, no video. That was a simple nasal swab test where you swab your nostrils, not the brain-poking test that people hate. I scheduled the courier pickup for tomorrow.

…I am not proud of my reaction, but there’s no point in lying on my own blog. I felt rage. Passionate, incandescent, I-want-to-destroy-something-beautiful rage. They had one job. They literally had one and only job: to help people with their take-home test kits. And yet they still managed to fuck it up. Every single step of the way was a failure: their process (with about 50-100 nurses, I think) didn’t scale, their site didn’t restore your place in line, their customer support lines weren’t staffed…

But that was a third-party company that somehow won the contract. (I hope it was through nepotism. If they are indeed the best tech/health company out there, we’re all in deep trouble.) The local health authority was supposed to send people to check up on me and make sure I was actually staying at home. Today is the 10th day, and all I got was three robo-calls that asked five incredibly simple yes/no questions. I could’ve answered them from anywhere. The threat of enforcement, of home visits, of everything else, was just so many empty words. The paperwork they gave me mentioned large fines, too, but if the way US tourists who strayed from the road to Alaska got treated last year is any indication, there’ll be no fines, either. (At no point during the pandemic did they actually enforce the rules or use the power the rules granted them.)

A couple of years ago, I used to co-manage a giant fee program that affected 200,000 people and had the annual revenue of several hundred million dollars. There were only two of us running it (with some colleagues who owned separate, adjacent pieces), and we had to make sure everything was flawless. All our customer support people were provided with the latest FAQs and manuals. The customer-facing pages on our site were modified, proof-read, made crystal-clear, and had multiple examples. The communications were sent out several times, in several languages. The data on the projected fees was available in multiple places. All that work, for a single (though large) recurring campaign at a single corporation. And here we have a prosperous industrialized country that tried to roll out a quarantine procedure (which they had a full year to brainstorm) for all of its residents and visitors, and this bureaucratic nightmare was the best they could come up with. The very fact that this could be done over the phone and not by video means that a sufficiently long (and slow-motion) YouTube video could’ve done the trick. Instead, they got thousands of people spending an entire day hoping they don’t get disconnected.

At first, earlier this morning, I tried to cheer myself up by thinking how cool it was that over a thousand of my fellow travelers were waiting with me – all of us, separate but united, doing our part. (The whole “waiting in line” thing also reminded me of the Soviet Union, much like the book I’m currently reading.) Now I’m just angry. I know that it’s basic human nature to look the other way until some calamity (in this case, incomprehensible level of incompetence) affects you personally. I know all that. I tried making excuses when Canada failed to set up any sort of quarantine for international travelers. Or when the quarantine was so inefficient that people could literally walk away from the airport and the police did nothing to stop them. Or when so many provinces put unqualified generals in charge of their vaccine efforts. Or when it turned out there were no vaccination plans aside from “um, maybe we’ll vaccinate every last person over 80 first before giving to any other ages or high-risk groups?” Every step of the way, I tried to rationalize it, to assume that was just a coincidence, over and over and over again. Until that bureaucratic hell hit me personally. Heh.

Let’s be honest: most countries fucked up in their pandemic response. Very few did most things right. But even with that in mind, Canada’s efficiency is closer to Brazil than to New Zealand. So many perfectly avoidable mistakes. So much basic incompetence. So few effective leaders. So little planning, especially since they’d had so much time… Not even the year-long prep between the first cases and the first vaccines: Canada never implemented the recommendations in its own official report after bird flu outbreak over 15 years ago. At some point in the future, there might be yet another full-scale postmortem analysis of all the things that went wrong. It’s possible but unlikely that anyone will lose their job. It’s possible but unlikely that the report’s recommendations will get instituted for the next pandemic.

I still like Canada. I’m still glad I moved here. But ye gods, what a shitshow. Lessons learned: next time you start seeing sporadic online reports about some mysterious new virus that seems to be very good at killing people, go ahead and jump on the first plane to Taiwan, New Zealand, or Vietnam. It’ll be a bloody mess everywhere else, same as it has been.

I’m quite certain that today’s rage shaved off at least a few days from my life expectancy. The bad news is that I’ll have to deal with the same bureaucratic stupidity three weeks from now, when I finish my second and final quarantine. The good news is that after that, I’ll hopefully (toes and fingers crossed!) be free of bureaucrats for the foreseeable future. I’ll never be a self-sufficient handyman like Ron Swanson from that Parks & Recreation show, but I’m starting to think that by the end of this year, I’ll share his incredibly cynical attitude to all things government. I guess it takes a pandemic to break a political science major’s faith in the system, eh.

Stay safe, y’all. I hope your Sunday was more pleasant than this mess.

Plague diaries, Day 393

Saturday night.

The highlight of my week: a clandestine run to the backyard to take out the garbage. The bread I bought just before my big trip had gone moldy – I guess humidity is objectively high and it’s not just me, eh. Instead of enjoying artisanal locally grown mold spores for several days, I obeyed the spirit but not the letter of the law when I ran outside and threw away my accidental science experiment. It’s pretty funny: my studio’s door got jammed in place due to misuse, and I actually had to give it a good shove to get out. Heh.

The highlight of my day, aside from that: chasing wild animals in No Man’s Sky, feeding them treats, and digging through their virtual alien poop to find the right chemical (cleverly called “faecium”) to advance my mission. Alas, they kept giving me alien milk and eggs instead. That did result in my making alien cream and churning it into alien butter, but it took a while to find a replacement formula to synthesize artificial alien poop the mission required. Ahhh, the glorious quarantine life…

I’m getting giddier with every passing day. Just 13 more and I’ll get my second shot. This feeling is a lot like the anticipation you get as a long-wished-for vacation draws ever closer. You know it’ll be a major change of scenery, and you’ll experience something new, and your life will, in some small but measurable way, be a little bit different afterwards. For me, this will be a ticket to freedom, at least as far as this goddamn pandemic is concerned. I know I’m lucky and most folks in Canada won’t get to experience the same… In our Vaccine Hunters group, those who finally got their first shots are saying their second-shot appointment is in late July, more than three months from now. Only time will tell if NACI’s nationwide experiment with long gaps between the shots will be successful. If it fails… I’ll be in a very bizarre position of being a very rare person with both shots in their system, while whatever new variant will rage all across the country. Hopefully it’ll never come to that, but the odds are greater than zero, as with all things.

In covid news, this is an interesting article from a few days ago. It profiles three different Canadians who traveled to the States (temporarily or permanently) to get their shots. It’s not just me, then: to quote a great old show, “There are dozens of us! Dozens!” Heh…

In more serious covid news, India is kicking ass: it holds the world record for getting to 100 million administered vaccine doses faster than anyone else. They accomplished that in 85 days, whereas it took the US 89 days; it took China 102 days. That’s a huge logistical accomplishment, though it’s mildly tarnished by the fact that 100 million isn’t even 10% of India’s population. (Or, to be fair, China’s.) Still, though – the race is on, and here is hoping other countries will try to beat that record.

Good night, y’all: may your bread stay fresh and may your virtual aliens produce all the poop you want.

Friday night.

I wrote a few times that I measure my life in vitamin bottles: a preordained length of time encapsulating within it a slice of chaotic uncertainty. I also wrote that when several key things happen, everything will move fast. And here we are: now everything is measure in mere weeks, not months.

Two weeks from today, I’ll get my second shot of Pfizer in Ohio. Four weeks from now, the second hit of the mRNA goodness will finish its highly specialized work, and I’ll be as covid-proof as anyone possibly can be. That’s also when my second post-travel quarantine will end. (Heh: 28 days later.) Five weeks from now will be my last day at Amazon, and the beginning of my lean-FIRE journey…

Almost eleven months ago, I liquidated all my company stock and moved it into a handpicked portfolio of companies that had been particularly hard by covid: banks, oil, retail, cruise ships. I’d researched them for quite a while, using everything I’d learned about investing by reading and listening to every last word Warren Buffett ever said. (I went so far as to write an e-book analyzing his biggest blunders.) Now, 10 months and 26 days later, my portfolio is up by 199.5%. No, that’s not an arithmetic error, and no, my Gamestop windfall in January wasn’t responsible for most of that. (Though it certainly helped.) Some of the stocks I bought recently aren’t doing so great, but they’ll straighten out before the year is done. (Fairly sure Blackberry will hit $13, if not higher, by the end of the year, and likely much sooner.) What I did wasn’t impossible, but it required a bit of luck (Amazon’s stock was up while everything else was down), a lot of research, and very high stress tolerance: there were five months between June and November when my stocks fell from their early-June peak and took five months to recover. (They rallied 19% the day Pfizer’s trial results got announced.)

The point of all this isn’t to brag – just to explain what happens next, especially since this blog series will end a fortnight from today, when I receive my second shot… My five-year plan will end six months ahead of schedule: I’ll be a permanent Canadian, and with enough money in the bank to live forever on a grad student budget – or for quite a bit as a normal person until I have to get another job to fill the piggy bank back up. It’s… indescribably bizarre and strange to sit here, typing all of this up, summarizing the end result of the wild and audacious plan I first put in writing on November 15th, 2016, right after that disastrous election, and when all seemed so glum. It’s morbidly ironic that it took a worldwide pandemic for my investments to get to the point that used to be just an out-of-reach fantasy. How strange, this world we live in…

And meanwhile, I’m just sitting here and plotting, here in my Studio of Solitude, halfway through my first two-week quarantine. It’s tempting – so very, very tempting – to run to the grocery store a few blocks away and load up on fresh fruit or salmon, or drop by Tim Hortons (which is even closer) and treat myself to something delicious. And yet… First of all, there’s still a microscopic chance that maybe I did get infected during my roadtrip, and maybe it has a longer-than-average incubation period, and maybe I’m actually covid-positive and contagious, and would start a super-cluster that would wipe out all of downtown Toronto. Highly unlikely, to put it mildly, but not impossible. But secondly, I feel like being a good Canadian and following this quarantine, even though I suspect quite a few people break theirs. Not just because of the threat of large fines and/or jail time, but because, well, I’m not a dick. I’d known the price when I made the trip: the two weeks of house arrest without ever going outside. It was well worth it. The upside is that I’m halfway done. Hooray… It’ll be pretty intolerable to stay inside for my second quarantine starting two weeks from now, though, after my second shot and with all that beautiful May late-April weather outside. That’ll make me plan my summer trip to the US even harder, I suppose.

In covid news, there’s more and more spotlight on the giant pile of AstraZeneca vaccines just sitting there looking pretty in the US. They have 20 million doses now, and the grand total will be at least 80 million doses when all is said and done. AZ hasn’t even requested the FDA’s authorization yet, so it’ll be weeks if not months before Americans can even use that two-shot vaccine. Trumps’s “America First” policy resulted in rather flawed contracts signed with all the major pharmaceutical companies last year: the agreements prohibited any exports outside the United States. The only possible loophole, one which allowed the export of 4 million doses to Mexico and Canada, was that the vaccines could be loaned, with some hypothetical expectation of repayment later on. (Words like “gift” and “donation” were deliberately not mentioned.) That happened once, and that can happen again – if not to America’s neighbours, then to literally any country out there that would agree not to hold the vaccine manufacturers responsible should anything go wrong. (Keeping everything within the US is a great way to avoid legal liability.)

I haven’t been keeping up with the barrage of AZ news – who is approving or banning or shrugging about it, etc. It seems, though, that the EU’s drug regulator found a “strong association” between AZ and blood clots in folks under 30. With everything that’s happened, it seems unlikely that AZ would get approved in the US – not impossible, but unlikely. For all its flaws, it still protects against covid (though maybe not against every variant), and there are lots of countries who could use those millions of doses… Bureaucracy in the time of plague, eh?

Good night, y’all. May your weekend be sunny and free of self-imposed house arrests.

Thursday night.

I love it when I’m proven right in something that actually benefits me. Almost two months ago, I researched and invested into FNMAT – a T-series issue of Fannie Mae’s stock. It had a sizable market cap and was selling at a significant discount off its 52-week high while the rest of the market was booming. Just like every other Fannie Mae stock, it was in a slump and waiting for the outcome of a Supreme Court case (Collins v. Mnuchin) that would decide if the government’s conservatorship of Fannie Mae would end, whether it’s finally paid for its sins leading up to the housing bubble. The case is still pending (the verdict will be out by the end of June) but meanwhile, the stock I bought has jumped from $4.74 to $6.10, a 28.7% increase in less than two months. Feels good, eh.

At the time, I shared my analysis with a group I’m in: mostly tech employees, all of them obsessed with investing. I already got messages from two of my colleagues who said they owe me a dinner and a cider. I’m going to keep holding instead of cashing out: I could get a guaranteed 28.7% profit now, or a chance at a 100% profit in just a few months… Even if fails, I’ll still make a few percentage points.

Such a strange hobby, investing: it takes much longer to master than most hobbies out there (and for many people, that mastery never comes), but then it literally pays off. Heh.

In other news, it turns out being under a 2-week quarantine lockdown/house arrest and choosing to forego pants does, in fact, have disadvantages. My jeans would’ve absorbed most of the bump when I hit my hip against the kitchen counter, but nope, now I’ve got a pretty gnarly-looking gash there. Nothing that requires stitches, but with all the dried blood that’s one impressive-looking medal in my one-man war against pants. (I think “Down with pants!” would make a pretty catchy slogan.)

In covid news… Our little Vaccine Hunters group is growing. There are 88 now, from all walks of life: a guy who got his shot because of his obesity, a few young and healthy people like myself (aka in the back of every line), some who feed the latest news and developments to an awesome local journalist, and at least one more American like myself who drove to get his shot in Ohio. We share stories as well as updates: even in our small group, two people got turned away by hospital gatekeepers even though they had valid appointments. One was told that her mental health issues didn’t qualify and that she should not come back. The other one was told, just earlier today, that epilepsy is not on the list high-risk conditions (it is) and that it had been removed just earlier that morning (it hadn’t been). After 20 minutes and two escalations to supervisors (who also called a security guard for some unknown reason), she finally got her vaccine shot. That was two people out of 88, right here in Ontario. A tiny sample size, I know, but if 2.3% of those who sign up get that kind of treatment… Abhorrent. Absolutely abhorrent – petty bureaucrats power-tripping with their life-or-death power. Not every place is like that: in fact, there appears to be no universal standard of any sort. It’s all just chaos…

In more official covid news, Canada is about to overtake the US in cases per million, which would make for a strange reversal, given all that happened in 2020. The CDC has issued its highest-level alert warning for Canada, saying no one should travel here, even if they’re vaccinated. Jerks. In Brazil, they had the deadliest day yet, with 4,249 covid deaths in 24 hours. (I believe this might be the world record…) Hospitals all over Brazil are starting to run low on oxygen, and this could become even more of a disaster than it already is. And 34% of work-from-home employees said they’d rather quit than return to a full-time office job. After more than a year without commuting, without annoying office neighbours, without paying for parking (aka for the privilege of getting to work), a lot of people have become a bit radicalized, it seems. I’m definitely one of them. This will be one of the more interesting changes of the post-covid world to come… Some companies will try to snap back to full-time office-only operations. Some will set up hybrid arrangements, where their employees can work from home fairly often. Some companies promised they’d give their employees the option of full-time work from home. It’ll be interesting to see if that sticks. This will be just one of many, many social changes once we finally get through this (even though the world won’t get through this at the same time at all), and there’ll probably be some that we can’t even anticipate at this point. What will the future bring?..

Good night, y’all. Stay safe out there.

Wednesday night.

I actually had to check what day this was. Definitely a blursday, eh?

With nothing else to do, I’m slowly excavating and using all the random crap I’ve been lugging with me from one rental to another. So far, just two big findings:

  1. Licorice tea is disgusting. It should be declared among the worst conceivable crimes against humanity. Licorice fields must burn. The very word must be forever stricken from every book and media recording ever made.
  2. Apparently, I still have that 3-in-1 Axe shampoo/conditioner/soap thing I won in a silent auction over a year ago. (It was for charity, okay?) I have no clue what strange forbidden alchemy this is, but it’s actually great for my ever-expanding hair. Huh.

And otherwise… just nothing. Meh, getting my first shot of Pfizer was still worth it.

In covid news, there’s a new sheriff in town: Dr. Homer Tien has replaced general Hillier (who was not, by the way, a doctor) as head of Ontario’s vaccine task force. His changes are already happening: Toronto has declared that it’ll start vaccinating everyone 18 and older in the biggest covid hot zones all around the city, based on their postal code. That is a huge, huge departure from the previous policy of trying to lure the oldest people in the city to vaccination centers in the middle of Toronto, followed by exasperated sighs and delaying vaccinations for everyone else (you know, like frontline workers) by yet another week.

They’ve published a list of postal codes that are eligible for universal vaccinations and, well, this is pretty ironic. Two of my last three rentals are in those hot-zone areas. Specifically, the house in Mississauga that I moved out of about three months ago after my landlords snapped and started hosting dinner parties. (So many dinner parties…) It’s more than a little ironic that literally the only thing I had to do this whole time to get my shot was stay in one place. If that’s not a perfect example of the Taoist concept of wu wei – action through inaction – then I don’t know what is. That neighbourhood is filled with immigrants, and many of them, from what I gathered, have either manual labour jobs or commute to work. My landlords liked bringing over other folks from their culture for dinner, perhaps to keep their loneliness at bay in this strange country. This is purely conjecture on my part, but if even half of our neighbours were the same way (socializing with multiple households in the time of plague, commuting to work, unable to work from home, etc), then yeah, I can see how those areas would have a lot more covid cases. I’m fairly certain that if I’d stayed, I would’ve gone mad from the overall anxiety caused by their parties. Oh well.

I did, however, text them and let them know that they can (and should) sign up for their vaccine appointments ASAP. They don’t follow the news closely (and few people follow the covid news as closely as I), so that was a nice surprise for them. My good deed for the month, eh. Speaking of which, the little Vaccine Hunters group is filled with other news junkies like myself: it gets overwhelming to see dozens of people digesting all the local covid news, hunting for vaccine appointments, etc. Some of them are real heroes, helping their friends, families, and even random cashiers find vaccination slots. One guy in particular is so successful that strangers refer their friends to him, just so he could assist them in their vaccine quest. That’s how dysfunctional the whole rollout has been: they had over a year to prepare for this, and it’s come down to this – random online heroes helping strangers navigate the byzantine labyrinth of bureaucracy. To paraphrase a brilliant movie about the uprising of oppressed proletariat, “Geeks together strong.”

Things are changing fast, and hopefully they’ll keep changing for the better now that an actual doctor is in charge, eh. I know I post an awful lot about the covid situation in Ontario and not so much elsewhere, but a) this is relevant to me personally, and b) later on, there will be lots of records about the major events in the US, UK, etc. I’m not sure how much information or contemporary perspectives will be preserved about Canada in general and Ontario in particular. Someday, some way, somehow, someone might find this useful.

Good night, y’all.

Tuesday night.

It’s literally illegal for me to go outside – the quarantine doesn’t even allow for general-purpose walks. Instead, I’m diving deep into the infinite worlds of No Man’s Sky. It’s so beautiful… Not only the endless variation of randomly generated worlds, plants, and animals, but also the little things like the writing itself, or little hidden jokes (repurposing an organic fertilizer factory to make a gourmet pellet factory for the race of aliens you hate), but especially the weather… Each world is different: some are placid, some are stormy, some are dead wastelands. Somehow, some way, I keep ending up on worlds where it rains. It reminds me ever so much of Seattle…

I moved there in August 2015: drove all the way from Tampa, which was a great roadtrip marred only by the fact that my relocation payout had been taken away at the very last moment. (I know, my accountant couldn’t believe that either.) On the upside, my friends along the way had comfy couches, and Georgia had roadside rest stops with some nice amenities. Seattle itself, though… The work was hell. I was a business analyst in a small, crowded, windowless office, supporting a Finance person on the other side of the country. She kept sending me endless demands, sometimes while driving to work, three or four in a row, and mutually contradicting. The only consolation for those late, late nights was the fact that I was so low in the corporate hierarchy that I was still paid by the hour. Those 60- (and sometimes 70-) hour workweeks resulted in some nice overtime, which was the sole consolation. I was renting a room in West Seattle, the area usually skipped by the C-route bus. I don’t remember much from my first six months in the city (just stress, so much stress), but I recall the sensation, over and over, of walking through the city late at night, catching that midnight bus home, through a strange city where it never stopped raining, where high-rise buildings were like neon-silhouetted obelisks lighting up the gloom like the generic backdrop of yet another cyberpunk novel.

…some part of me is still there. Some part of me always will be…

I remember the first time I found a nearby restaurant that stayed open 24/7. On Friday nights, at 11pm, 13 Coins had live music. I don’t remember anything from the second half of 2020 but I do remember coming in just as the music was about to start, munching on an expensive but delicious smoked cheddar burger while sipping on my coke (I was so innocent) and listening as the band began to play. I was so miserable: I kept asking myself whether I’d made a mistake, whether I could quit this job with this company I’d been with for almost six years and find something comparable in Seattle, with my virtually nonexistent tech skills. That burger, that diner, that music amidst the rain and gloom were my sole sanity anchor in all that madness. And then… The following spring, I treated myself to a dirt-cheap three-week hostel vacation in Costa Rica, and saw that there was beauty in this world, and got the idea for my five-year plan I launched later that year. It’s been about five years now… How quickly things can change.

Aaaanyway… I’ve tried, and tried, and failed to find a way to read an old-fashioned bulky paper book. Sorry, old textbook dude, I’ll read you sometime in the future when there’s more space and fewer distractions, eh. New book (an e-book on my phone, of course) – Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick. What an excellent writer. What an interesting topic. I was a child then, so there were many things I saw and experienced but probably never understood. I wonder how much of that will resurface and make sense as I flip those little virtual pages.

In covid news, there are debates over vaccine passports as the world is trying to decide what the future will look like. In the US, for a variety of political and logistical reasons, the nationwide vaccine passport won’t work, so they won’t even try. They do have those nifty little CDC vaccination cards, though… England and the EU are both (but separately) working on vaccine certificates. Israel is taking a more interesting approach: their “Green Pass” for the vaccinated and/or recovered folks allows access to all the nice things in life (hotels, theaters, etc) based on the vaccination status. That’s a damn fine way to get the anti-vaxx folks to give up their oh-so-strong philosophical objections and get vaccinated if they want to get back to normal. I doubt a lot of countries will adopt this approach, but hey, you never know.

To round this up, here is a pic of yours truly on the 389th day of this covid journey. It’s been 356 days since I got a haircut (all the way back on day 33), I still have 11 days of quarantine locked up at home, and my work no longer uses webcams – so it’s bathrobe time, y’all! This pic has it all, including my trusty old instapot (I would’ve starved without it), a souvenir from Costa Rica, my wild feral hair, and some clutter and disarray in the background. Heh.

Good night, y’all.

Monday night.

I had two pretty funny reactions earlier today when I learned that Yahoo Answers is finally getting put out of its misery:

  1. Oh no, not Yahoo Answers!
  2. Wait, Yahoo Answers is still alive?

It seems like it got surpassed and then completely overshadowed by Reddit’s r/AskReddit many years ago. I think the last time I used Yahoo Answers was around 2012. It’s definitely part of Internet’s history but wow, it’s so old and decrepit. This reminds me of the shutdown of GeoCities (also owned by Yahoo), with all its adorably clunky ancient personal sites and guestbooks. I wonder if Zoomers would believe it if we told them that once upon a time, your site’s visitors could sign a guestbook. Heh.

In a bit of personal news, my low-key efforts to start looking for interesting people online have paid off. A very interesting person who unfortunately lives on the opposite coast will be in Toronto to see her family in the second half of May… It’s interesting that she’s a Canadian-American to my American-Canadian. Yet another thing to look forward to after this whole mess is over. (Over for me, subjectively. Objectively, it’ll go on for quite some time.)

Business idea: post-pandemic physical therapy to get us couch potatoes in some sort of passably fine physical shape. Like one of those yuppie bootcamps, but more user-friendly.

In covid news, the entire province of Ontario will probably get hit with a stay-at-home order – a lot of medical officials, including Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, publicly called for it earlier today, citing horrific case numbers. This will likely happen: on social media, a wide variety of local doctors are talking about having zero available ICU beds, even for those who don’t have covid. Systems have momentum… The people who will be in those ICUs a week from now are only now getting sick. Even a total lockdown here and now won’t stop the momentum for a solid week or so. Online, people are not taking that well… Everyone used to joke how it’s been a year since we were asked to self-isolate “for just two weeks.” Those jokes are gone now: folks are just angry or sad, or some mixture thereof.

The many, many municipalities that make up the Greater Toronto Area are all doing something different with their vaccine eligibility. Some are opening it up for everyone 50 and over; others are still 55+ or 60+. Some are opening it up for folks with high BMI. Some are allowing people with mental health issues, diagnosed or not. Some are opening it up for those who identify as Indigenous people. You don’t have to be Indigenous, you just have to say that you identify that way. No proof is asked (Canada is, after all, a very polite society), and none is given. It’s a logical outcome of a broken system that didn’t plan the rollout properly, and that routinely has medics standing by with no one to vaccinate because the province is dead-set on luring all the oldest citizens to downtown Toronto (not a very accessible place) before letting anyone else have any vaccines. The system is broken, and as a logical outcome, there’s a real rush as people keep calling the hospitals that might have leftover vaccines, or claim to belong to groups they’re not in (and then gleefully admit as much on social media), etc. In the end, everyone will get vaccinated, but the fact that it’s turned so many of us into liars… Yeesh. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony that I myself had pretended to be from Ohio to get my shot. Same old story: the system is broken. (How can a small and peaceful country like Canada force a country like the US to end the export ban? There’s zero leverage, aside from stopping our maple syrup exports. Heh.)

Good night, y’all.

Sunday night.

I’ve checked the paperwork to verify my dark suspicion, and yep – if you’re quarantined after crossing the border, you’re not supposed to go outside at all, even for exercise. For the next 12 days, my Studio of Solitude will remain my 24/7 home, without so much as a walk in the sun. Meh, still worth it.

Today was spent doing absolutely nothing productive, but a lot of fun nonetheless: my little alien dude in No Man’s Sky has built up a scrappy but functional planetary base, bought a cheap space freighter after defending it from space pirates, and started building his own space business empire. (Everything is better with space in it.) There is an interesting colonial aspect to the whole game… You’re a very nearly omniscient alien invading different planets, strip-mining them for resources (in the game, all the devices have zero emissions to avoid the awkward environmental questions), slaughter local animals (even when they’re described as self-aware or capable of love), and generally make a mess of things before moving on to the next planet. To all those planets and their inhabitants, you’re essentially an evil alien, though the game never delves into that. That was part of why the original Star Trek series was so great: they actually debated whether it was right to interfere, whether their actions would make them villains. If you’ve never seen it before, check out The City on the Edge of Forever – probably one of the most famous, beautiful, and haunting Star Trek episodes ever made. That’s some good stuff, eh.

…yes, I know, I have many opinions.

If you’ve been reading this for a while now, I’d just like to point out that I’m not some tragic deadend case that spends all his life playing games in a basement. (My apartment is on the third floor, please and thank you.) Before the pandemic, before everything, I had a fairly active social life, with outings, and dates, and meet-ups, and parties. (Though to be fair, there were also weekends dedicated exclusively to recharging my introvert battery.) We find ourselves now in this strange predicament where staying inside, and doing anything you can to keep your sanity while staying inside, is heroic – or at the very least responsible and patriotic. I would love nothing more than go bar-hopping, or invade karaoke bars, or audit every bar on Toronto’s lakefront to sample their selection of cider (it’s usually not that great), but here we are…

In covid news, it really is uncanny how often people ignore the news or the increasingly dangerous trend until it finally affects some celebrity. The Vancouver Canucks (a beloved NHL team) got hit with the Brazilian P.1 variant. More than 20 players are sick, and some can’t even get out of bed. That happened despite all of their testing and precautions. It somehow made it out of Brazil, to someone local, and then to them. If even the NHL itself can’t keep its players safe, the odds are bad for average Canadians. There are reports of this variant in Alberta, and it’s likely circulating in other provinces, but since it’s not hitting celebrities, no one cares – at least thus far. Canada and the US are setting new vaccination records every single day (to be fair, the US records are quite a bit higher) but if this variant spreads faster than we can vaccinate people… This will not be pretty. We should find out soon, I guess: for now, there’s a critical shortage of ICU beds in the entire GTA (Greater Toronto Area) region.

Stay safe, folks.