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Day 72 – May 27, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Politics, Life in Vancouver, Travel Stories, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , |

As per usual, researching things leads to interesting facts. What do you think is the driest place on earth? I always thought it was the Atacama Desert in Chile, but turns out it’s in second place… to an area in Antarctica where it hasn’t rained in somewhere between 2 and 14 million years. You’d think you could safely assume there isn’t much life around there… but there actually is. Way underground, inside the rocks… bacteria that feed on iron, potassium and sulfur. And, for those bacteria that aren’t doing keto (or cheat a bit sometimes), carbon.

I can attest to the dryness of the Chilean desert because I lived there. In the driest parts… the further north you go, the drier it is. Some weather stations record 1mm of precipitation a year. Some have never recorded any.

Where I lived, Copaipó, a bit further south than that, rain was rare enough that it was talked about like a big event… The Big Rain of ’85. Part of the reason it’s such a big deal is that every single place around there spends zero on mitigating it. No drains, no gutters. So when it rains, it’s an unmitigated disaster. Everything floods. Everything… because there’s nowhere for the water to go. People will be sweeping water from their homes into the street. The streets are a flooded mess of mud. Eventually, often sooner than later, the sun comes out and it all evaporates away, leaving the usual Martian landscape. And a huge mess to clean up.

Though, it should be noted, and this is super-cool because it’s so rare… there is some version of suspended life under the Atacama desert — seeds just waiting for their one chance. They wait decades for their one big moment… and then it comes… and the desert flourishes with life for a few hours — an incredible array of colour, albeit briefly. That happened in 2015, and it was spectacular. But also, it was more rain than they’d possibly ever had… almost an inch of water fell… and caused massive flooding and landslides, killing 25 people and leaving thousands homeless.

The ability to count on no rain leads to some interesting possibilities. Very few people had a dryer; clothes-lines everywhere. And.. there was a road up in the mountains made of salt… and when you think about it, cool idea… salt water is free (Pacific Ocean is nearby), and all you do is lay it down and let it evaporate. What’s left is salt. Then you do that again… and again… till you have a nice bed of salt…then crush it with one of those Looney Tunes machines with the rolling drum… and voila, salt road. Every once in a while, top it up and flatten it out, and you’re good to go for years. Until it rains and completely destroys it, washing it all away.

Those two examples are just a couple of many of the sort I’ve talked about before; what’s normal and expected here can be very different elsewhere in the world.

And it’s becoming evident that you don’t need to travel 14,000km south of here to find them. They start just south of the 49th. And no, I’m not going to turn this into a Republican/Democrat thing, at least this time. Enough of that for now. Chile is doing what they’re doing because it makes sense to them. That’s how they’ve built their culture, one that’s been around longer than Canada and the U.S. combined. The U.S., of course, in their terribly-mismanaged responsibility-deflecting fashion, are doing the same.

For all the mistakes Canada may have made in what’s an incredibly complex situation, at the end of the day, numbers don’t lie. We are looking at a national trend that’s very encouraging. We’ve seen two straight days of less than 1,000 new cases. The last time that happened was in late March, when things were headed in the wrong direction. Last 5 days in Canada, from 5 days ago to today: +1156, +1141, +1078, +1011, +937, +872. That’s a trend. B.C.’s numbers are so low, there’s no way to define a trend. +10, +7, +6, +11, +9. It’s like the trend would be skewed by the time of day the test was taken, and whether the result counts for today or tomorrow.

Anyway, that’s what we're doing around here and across the country. And I like it.

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Day 71 – May 26, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Science of COVID-19, Life in Vancouver, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

There’s an interesting footnote about that Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918… which is the age distribution of deaths. For COVID-19, the median age of mortality is… well, it’s high. Depending where you look, it’s almost always north of 80. The younger you are, the better your chances… all the way down to zero, where except in extremely rare cases, often associated with other contributing factors, pretty-much anyone under the age of 20 looks safe from developing any serious symptoms.

A lesser-discussed pandemic is the Russian flu, which ran over a period of 4 years, peaking around 1890… and ultimately killing more than a million people worldwide. Its mortality profile is similar to COVID-19 in that it was far more dangerous for the elderly. But also, a big difference… is that it also killed a lot of very young people. The mortality rate for ages 0 to 10 was similar to those somewhere in the 40-60 range. The 10-30 age range was the least affected… and those over 70 were more than 20x likelier to die than that 10-30 group.

The 1918 pandemic hit the young people the hardest, a puzzling question that’s still being discussed, and there are very different ways of approaching it. The worst age to be for that pandemic was 28 — that was the highest-mortality age group. One common thought is that those who survived the 1890 pandemic built immunity, and were far less affected in 1918. But another interesting analysis starts with some simple math… 1918-28 = 1890. Indeed, those who survived the 1890 pandemic as infants… whether just born or perhaps still in utero — they were the ones hardest hit 28 years later.

To further confuse the issue, while it’s established that 1918 was without a doubt influenza (H1N1), there are some theories that 1890 wasn’t actually a flu, but a coronavirus… which obviously means that the theory of acquired immunity for older people can’t be correct, and that perhaps some drastic effect on the immune system of infants took place during a critical time of development.

Such are the sorts of things I learn when I fall into the Google spiral of doom… setting out to research something, and winding up very far away… and you all know how that can go… even here on Facebook, you log in to just send a quick message to a friend, and 20 minutes later you’re looking at wedding pictures of people you’ve never heard of.

What I started with today has to do with headlines like this:

“Coronavirus cluster linked to pool party” (Arkansas)
“Several members of a Franklin church test positive for COVID-19” (North Carolina)
“A second hairstylist potentially exposed 56 clients to COVID-19” (Missouri)

When I started writing this today, the American death count was below 100,000. As I prepare to hit [Post], it’s now over…

Some American states violently threw the doors open at the start of May — so now we’re seeing not just the initial effects, but the secondary ones as well. With an incubation period of 5 to 14 days, we’re perhaps even seeing the beginnings of a third. So how does it look… well, in 17 states, the numbers of new cases are trending upwards… among them Arkansas, North Carolina & Missouri. And Georgia. And Alabama. It’s really not a big surprise to see where things aren’t headed in the right direction. And there’s no reason to single out the U.S. — we’ve all seen those pictures from that park in Toronto a few days ago. I went for a great bike ride today, and my usual ride would have taken me down the Arbutus corridor, down to the water, and around the seawall… with a lap of Stanley Park if time (and regulations) permit. But I avoided all that, because I didn’t want to be anywhere near the sort of crowd I imagined I’d find.

The vast majority of people whose behaviour really makes you wonder… are younger. Because, you know, they’re invincible. And I don’t mean to single out an entire generation or two as irresponsible; it’s just what I happen to observe around me.

And when you think about it, I’m double their age and even I can’t really say I’ve suffered through any global health crisis that’s affected me. I’m old enough that certain vaccines didn’t exist when I was a kid, so I, along with most of my peers, suffered through chicken pox. The MMR vaccine showed up a few years after I was born, which means I missed the ideal window to have gotten vaccinated. I did, of course, as soon as it made sense… but anyone younger than me… they’ve largely been immune from birth… to diseases which, not that long ago, would’ve been affecting — and possibly claiming the lives of — friends all around them.

“The risks are for the history books and life is meant to be lived and we’re not really at risk, etc etc.”

It’s not a great attitude, in general… and it applies to everyone who thinks for some reason we’ve made it free and clear to the other side. We haven’t, yet. Opening up doesn’t mean throwing caution into the wind.

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Day 70 – May 25, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Politics, Science of COVID-19, Life in Vancouver, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Yesterday’s post was met with a wide range of reaction, and the questions and comments lead me to think a bit of clarification and more detail would be appropriate. Some of those comments came from Swedes themselves, a little bit upset at being painted somewhat ruthlessly; to clarify, I’m speaking about leadership and their policies; not the general population, many of whom don’t agree with the official policy in the first place. And to also clarify, I’m not implying their leadership and epidemiologists are evil. They simply came up with a strategy, and it’s not working as they’d hoped. So, här är del två…

I first wrote about Sweden on April 10th… more than 6 weeks ago. I welcome you to scroll down and find it — it’s a pretty good summary of where things stood at that point, what measures where (and weren’t) in place, and what I thought of the whole idea. And sure, “What do you know?” is a fair question to ask of me… especially 6 weeks ago. We’re all continually asking the question of each other, and hopefully learning something. That same article also mentions a famous letter signed by more than 2,000 Swedish doctors, scientists and professors… the contents of which can be summarized succinctly as it relates to government policy (which hasn’t changed): “They are leading us to catastrophe”.

First of all, let’s clarify exactly what is meant by herd immunity.

Herd immunity is where enough people of a population are immune to the extent that the infection will no longer spread within that group. The more infectious a disease, the higher that percentage has to be. For example, mumps is very contagious. It has an Rø of 10 to 12, meaning every infected person will infect, on average, 10 to 12 others. Left unchecked, this would lead to 95% of the population getting infected. After that, the population can be considered to have acquired herd immunity, and the other 5% will inherit the benefit of that… because at that point, there’s no one left to catch it from. Measles has similar numbers. That particular herd-immunity threshold is very high, and can only be reached via vaccination because allowing everyone to catch either of those horrible diseases is not an option. And these days, completely preventable.

With the way the math works, the higher the Rø, the higher that herd immunity threshold. For COVID-19, estimates seem to run between 1.4 and 3.9. Both of those numbers seem extreme, but for the record, they imply a range of 29-74% to achieve herd immunity. An Rø of 2.3 seems to be generally accepted, implying herd immunity could be achieved with 57% of the population having become infected.

Is that likely in Sweden? Anywhere?

Before we answer that, it’s worth noting that the policy-makers in charge in Sweden have been backing away from claiming this was the idea in the first place. It’s a mixed message for sure, and it’s changed over time. I think it’s reasonable to assume it was the original intent; shelter those most at risk (an impossible task, but that’s also a different discussion) and then let the virus do as it may. But, to confuse things a bit, while businesses were to be open, a vast number of Swedes, not too different from Americans in some confused places, said to hell with what the government tells us; we will take our lead from others, perhaps like those 2,000 who signed that letter.

That’s intelligent on their part, but certainly affects the plan of “get the virus out there”. You can’t have it both ways, and perhaps you end up in a purgatory of sorts… where there’s too much illness to be handled properly, but nowhere near enough to be even close to establishing herd immunity. Indeed, by an order of magnitude, nobody on the planet is even remotely close. What do we need? 70% 60%? I’ll give you 50%. What’s Sweden at? Maybe 9%. More likely closer to 7%. And let me clarify… I am in no way blaming Swedish society for not doing their part; I’d have done the same thing, isolating myself and not frequenting crowded places. Even without any sort of lockdown, achieving herd immunity was not going to happen. Even if it were possible, it’d take years. To be sure, there are a lot more people who’ve been infected than we know… but still… that Stanford study that implied infection rates 50 to 85 times higher than thought… there are problems with that study, but let’s take it at face value… where are we at with that, near San Francicso? 2%. Nobody is even close to herd immunity, and it’s likely nobody will get there. Of course, a vaccine achieves that instantly, and that’s why we’re diligently aiming in that direction.

That sad thing about Sweden is that they could’ve seen it coming, but did nothing to prevent it. The U.K. tried this strategy… shelter the weak, keep things open, weather the storm… and bailed on it around March 17th. The U.K. was only at around 2,000 cases, but it was the drastic nature of growth that led them to quickly understand how bad this could get. Sweden had seen its 1,000th case by then, but it wouldn’t have been too late to re-evaluate then. Or the next day. Or any of the 40+ days since.

There is a discernible and not-too-surprising pattern emerging around the world; here are the worst three countries… for total cases, and daily new cases. In other words, not only have they seen the most cases, but they’re all still growing — faster than anyone else: U.S., Brazil, Russia. What do they have in common? Here’s a hint: Trump, Bolsonaro, Putin. Try changing those minds.

The Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, is no renegade populist. He’s a social democrat. And he’s dealing with a population of only 10 million people. It’s not great now, but it’s not too late. I wrote recently about the joys of being wrong, and the opportunities it affords. Perhaps it’s time for Sweden to give it some thought.

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Day 69 – May 24, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Business & Economics|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

No updated numbers for B.C. today, so, as usual… I’ll make an intelligent guess and fix it tomorrow.

So let’s talk about yesterday’s numbers, and let’s begin with the old “5 blind guys and an elephant” parable. The premise of it is straightforward… these 5 guys have never encountered an elephant, and each reach different conclusions about the different parts of the elephant that they touch. The guy who grabs a leg describes it like a tree trunk. The guy who grabs the tail describes it as a rope. The guy who grabs an ear describes it as flat and floppy. The other two guys… one grabs a tusk, the other grabs the trunk. Their interpretation and discussion with each other is outside the scope of this post; we’ll leave Freudian experts to discuss their conclusions.

The moral of the story actually changes, depending on what lesson you’re trying to teach. Maybe that vastly differing opinions are all justified when talking about the same subject, like someone else’s opinion is just as valid. Maybe that sometimes, we’re fighting about the same thing. Maybe that we need to question our method of questioning. In some versions, the guys aren’t blind; just in the dark. But once they’ve “seen the light”, they all agree.

Let’s go with something like that… the guys aren’t blind, just initially blindfolded… but were convinced by their first impressions, especially because they went around telling everyone, and in doing so, convincing themselves that their version was “the most correct”. Indeed, even after the blindfolds were lifted, and they could see the big picture, they still clung to their beliefs… perhaps since they were already so invested. And, to add a bit more to it… once they could see, they realized that they were actually in an elephant park… with lots of different elephants. And, all of the elephants had been given names… of places, like in that series “Money Heist” (side note: watch Money Heist, and watch it in Spanish, with subtitles… incredibly good.. it’s on Netflix).

So these elephants… there’s one off in the distance… her name is New Zealand. She’s tiny, but looks very healthy. There’s one called Canada, who is really big and, for the most part, looks ok — parts of him looks much healthier than other parts, but he’ll be fine. There’s an elephant called United States… poor thing is really beaten up and needs to rest, but some trainer has a rope around him and is literally trying to drag him onto his feet.

But the elephant these guys had all initially touched and reached wildly different conclusions about… his name is Sweden.

Let’s pause here and be perfectly pragmatic. Without any opinion yet, here are some numbers, and a bit of comparison… of two places in the world where lots of people insist things are going really well: Sweden, and British Columbia. Starting points can be arbitrary, but for what it’s worth, both places had the same number of known cases (7) on Feb 27th. Sweden accelerated upwards far quicker than BC, and here’s where things are at, as of yesterday:

Population: BC 5.1M, Sweden 10.2M (2x)

Testing rates: BC 21.6 people out of 1,000, Sweden 20.8 (~same)

Known cases: BC: 2,517, Sweden 33,459 (13.4x)

Deaths: BC 157, Sweden 3,998 (25.5x)

Active cases: BC 303, Sweden 24,490 (81x)

Resolved cases recovery: BC 92.9% recovered, Sweden 55.4% recovered

Resolved cases deaths: BC 7.1% died, Sweden 44.6% died

Last 3 days: BC +40 positive tests, Sweden +1,665 positive tests (41.6x)

Last 3 days: BC 7 deaths, Sweden 161 deaths (23x)

I was chastised for stating somewhere that Sweden is letting their old people die. OK, I will clarify… they’re not letting their old people die; they’re letting everyone die. And by that, I simply mean they’re letting the virus run its natural course through the population, taking down whoever is unfortunate enough to contract the serious symptoms that might show up. The demographic profile of who’s actually dying is similar in both places, it’s just that for every elderly BC resident that passes away, 25 pass away in Sweden. That is the cost they’re willing to bear to keep the economy going, and there are undoubtedly people who’ll look at all of that, the same elephant I’m looking at, and come to a completely different conclusion as to what’s success and what isn’t. At some point, this is purely about opinion. The numbers speak for themselves, and you’re free to interpret them however you wish.

Yes… the measuring sticks of success are different, for different people. I don’t like to dwell in the purely pragmatic world, because it leaves out many things I consider very important and are part of my core values. Purely pragmatically, if you’re worried about economics, letting old people die makes sense. Same for sick or disabled people. The moment that the carrying-cost of someone’s existence outweighs the benefit, economically, to society, we’re throwing money away. Care homes? Wheelchair ramps? Braille on signs? Feeding into old-age pension plans? Think of all the money we could save.

A little over 80 years ago, around 1,000km south-west of Stockholm, there emerged a madman with that sort of agenda. Off he went, trying to rid his society of who and what he deemed undesirable, in the name of his version of the greater good. I wonder if perhaps the deep personal attachment I have to that particular historical event skews my objectivity, but on the “lives vs. economy” scale, I am very heavily tilted towards the “lives” side. Notwithstanding that without lives, you don’t have an economy anyway.

The few family members who managed to survive The Holocaust came out of it with very little, except each other, and that’s what I keep thinking about when this discussion comes up. Lives and family first, economy second. Elephants never forget… and when it comes to this, neither do I.

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Day 68 – May 23, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Politics, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Imagine a good old-fashioned campfire. The kind where you roast old-fashioned marshmallows and sing Kumbaya. Much like the kind many of you will be enjoying around here soon… as long as you’re a B.C. resident. Works for me… a policy I very much agree with, especially if we’re all being told to not leave the province. Here’s a great advantage to living in Beautiful B.C. — we have world-class everything at our disposal.

But imagine you’re sitting by that campfire, and you have an old-fashioned 1,000-page phone book that you want to burn entirely. There are right and wrong ways of doing that. For example, you can tear out one page at a time, scrunch it into a little ball, and throw it into the heart of the fire. What will happen? That little ball of paper will burn to a crisp 100% of the time. And if you do that for every page, you will have a 100% success rate if the intent was entirely burning that phone book.

But what if you throw the whole phone book in there? It’ll catch on fire, for sure… the entire brick of paper will be burning.

But eventually, when everything has gone out, what will be left? Chances are, that phone book will not have been entirely consumed. It’s a big thick block of paper, and oxygen probably couldn’t reach the very center of pages 470 to 530. There will probably be some fragments of paper that’ll still have some legible print on them.

Would it be fair to say that this particular fire was only 99.8% effective in burning this phone book? No… it’s not the fire’s fault. It would’ve done the job just fine if you’d given it the opportunity.

Similarly, we’re told hand washing is 99 point whatever percent effective in disinfecting your hands. Well, not quite — it’s actually 100.0% if you do it right. As it happens, COVID-19 is pretty fragile… and to make a long chemistry story short, the virus is wrapped in fat, and soap annihilates fat. Whatever armor the virus had while trying to hop from host to host — is gone. Common soap is as effective as alcohol in wiping out this virus — perhaps better — unless you have the necessary concentration, like what is found in hand sanitizers. If you wash your hands properly, ie. you get soap on every surface of your hands, the virus can’t survive. There is no tiny fraction of super-protected virus balls that make the percentage less than 100, just like there’s no magical page 567 of that phone book that, when crumpled alone, will survive burning.

And so… masks. Yes, masks. Dear, lovely, sainted masks. Let’s talk about masks one final time. Haha! Yeah, you’ll be hearing a lot more about masks, whether from me or numerous other people. One thing you might hear is that they’re not 100% effective, so why bother… and the simple answer is that if you need to burn the phone book quickly, getting all the edges and most of the pages is better than nothing. A lot better.

The arguments you hear against wearing masks are many, but they all have a common denominator. Me, me me… my rights, my freedoms, you’re free to wear a mask and I’m free to not wear one. Sometimes coupled with the “scientific” reasons to try to justify that… they cut off oxygen, they hurt your lungs, they’re bad for the immune system. Come on.

The truth is… me wearing a mask helps you more than it helps me. Conversely, you wearing a mask benefits me more than you. There’s that old parable… religious/inspirational/team-work — whatever the set-up is, I’ll go straight to the punchline… it’s the one were everyone’s arms are suddenly frozen, sticking straight out. Suddenly, people can’t feed themselves and are starving. But of course, those that learn to cooperate… feed each other, and humanity is saved, yadda yadda, It’s not a difficult lesson to understand… the kind you can wrap your head around; no need to memorize. Also works for me.

I was amused with a Facebook ad that popped-up on my feed; an ad for masks, but they’re all branded Trump and MAGA and “It’s my choice not to wear a mask” and “U.S.A” and all the rest of it. For those whose intellect is incapable of indulging in the delicious irony provided, great! Wear them as your protest…. “See this mask I’m wearing?! Well, I don’t have to be wearing it!! It’s my choice, and I’m showing you how much I’m against them and how you’re trampling my rights… by wearing it!!”. I love it — more power to you. Just wear the mask. Yeah… works for me.

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Day 67 – May 22, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Science of COVID-19, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

During high school, I came to the realization that there are two basic ways of learning. One is simply memorization. The other is actually understanding the subject matter and being able to apply it in a more generalized form, mappable to new situations. Some people are good at both. I’m really only good at the latter. And I suppose some people… neither.

Imagine someone who is awful at math, but memorizes the times-tables all the way to 99. You can ask them 73 x 96, and they know 7,008 instantly. But ask them 2 x 100 and they have no clue. Do they really know the subject matter? I worked with a lady once who told me how she’d missed the day they’d learned the seven-times-tables.

“Really? What’s 7×3?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about 3×7?”
“Oh, that’s easy. 21”
“Yeah… but… ok, what about 7×8?”
“I don’t know!”
“But 8×7…”
“You realize that if you just flip the numbers around, it’s the same… like 7 times anything is always the same as that anything times 7.”
“…. oh. OK, sure”.

I’m sure she didn’t quite get it, but kudos to her for finding a way to “learn” something, using the tools at her disposal. But that’s kind of the thing. I’m not sure how useful those sorts of math skills can possible be if you don’t really understand. Many animals can be trained memorize something, but it doesn’t mean they understand it.

Here’s a neat trick for you… quick, what’s 8% of 50? If that has you thinking for more than 2 seconds… flip it. What’s 50% of 8? That works for any percentage. You’re welcome.

One time, in grade 10, we had to memorize some Shakespeare. It was a long passage from Julius Caesar that starts with “I cannot tell what you and other men think of this life, but for my single self…. yadda yadda…” It goes on for a long time, and I struggled for 2 whole days trying to memorize it. I am genuinely in awe of Shakespearean actors… I honestly think it’d take a lifetime to memorize an entire play. The thing is though, once I “know” it, I know it forever. That long passage I just described, I guess you could say I “learned” it, as opposed to photographically memorized it. I still know every word of it, decades later, a parlour trick I’m happy to trot out on occasion… and it’s impressive how long it goes on. Usually till someone finally says, “Yeah, yeah… we get it.”

That passage was assigned on a Monday, for a Wednesday class where the test was simple: walk in and write out the passage. It will be marked out of 50, and every spelling or capitalization or formatting error will cost one point. We had to memorize not just the words, but their presentation. Like I said, I struggled tremendously. Memorizing anything is hard enough, but Shakespearean English? if 't be true thee bethink mem'rizing mod'rn english is sore, what doth thee bethink about this confusing mess?

English was the second class of the day. As we left math class on our way to write this test, I was walking with a friend, and reading through the whole thing again, for probably the 2,000th time. I asked him…

“So, you ready for this?”
“Ready for what?”
“This Shakespeare thing, did you memorize it ok?”
“Oh, shit! That’s today?”
“Uhhhh… it’s now.”
“Here, give me the book.”

It was a 3-classroom walk from math to english, during which time he scanned the text 3 or 4 times.

“OK, got it.”
“You’re kidding.”
“Yeah, no problem.”

We walked in and we wrote the thing. After school, I asked him how he did.
“Aced it”, he said.
Sure, I thought. And he also told me that 15 minutes after the class, he’d already forgotten the whole thing.

When we got it back a couple of days later, he got 50/50… 100%. It was perfect. I got 30/50 — 60%. I had mis-spelled some words, missed some capital letters, missed some punctuation and put some in where it didn’t belong. It was like every single line had one little thing wrong with it. All of those mistakes I would consider irrelevant, if you’re trying to capture he actual meaning, the actual spirit of the thing. What exactly was learned in that scenario? My friend didn’t learn anything. He just got to flaunt his photographic memory. I don’t call what I retained any sort of useful “learning”.

That high-school experience also provided two very different types of history teachers. One of the classes was all about taking notes, literally transcribing what the teacher said and regurgitating it during tests. Exact dates, times and places. The other one was about understanding what was happening, and what led to what, and how certain events affected future events. The tests were all about expressing opinion on historical events, not asking what date they happened. You can guess in which of those two classes I did better.

At the end of the day, everyone has a different way of learning… of capturing information, analyzing it and storing it. I’m usually not interested in learning anything that doesn’t involve some element of understanding… but, sometimes, you don’t need to actually understand it; just memorize it. Masks, good. Crowds, bad. Social-distancing, good. Enclosed spaces, bad. Outdoors, good. Hydroxychloroquine, bad. Etc, etc.

On it goes. For those who like learning about things, this pandemic has been offering ample opportunity. Endless, evolving research. Feel free to dive in, if you feel so inclined. And if you don’t, that’s ok too — just memorize the important stuff.

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Day 66 – May 21, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Business & Economics, Science of COVID-19, Life in Vancouver, Humour, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , |

As talented as I’ve been with computers from an early age, the dream out of high school was to become a rock star. It’s funny now, given the direction my life has taken… nobody looks at me and thinks, wow — that guy… total rocker. It’s not just tattoos and piercings and stories from the road that are missing… it’s actually the talent. The real reality check came in first year university, where my intention was to do a lot of music and a little computer science. It very quickly became evident to me that pursing a life of music would be tough. I was surrounded by people notably more talented than myself, and all of them were prototypical starving artists. This was going to be a steep uphill. So I switched, focused on computers… and decided to keep music around as a hobby, and perhaps one day down the road, figure out a way to be involved. Just not on stage. I am so happy to have recognized that I was, initially, wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re wrong. It’s a genuine sign of maturity. I’ve learned to enjoy being wrong, because I welcome the learning opportunity. It’s like… my entire life’s experience has led up to this point, where I just made a decision… and it was wrong. 50+ years of knowledge wasn’t enough to get it right; let’s figure out why. And the number doesn’t need to be around 50 — that applies to everyone, at every age. One day you’re a kid and one day you’re not, but still… maturity and taking responsibility and holding yourself accountable… is independent of that.

Do you remember the exact moment where you went from almost-adult… to adult? I actually remember mine. That old grumpy guy yelling at the neighbourhood kids to get off his lawn… at some point, way back when, he was that kid. When did it change? For me, I was on the seawall… somewhere between Granville Island and Stamps Landing. This is when I lived near Granville Island, so I was around 27. I was just standing there, minding my own business, watching the mountains or water or whatever, when some kid came flying by on rollerblades. Like, flying… and actually — well, he didn’t hit me, but he grazed me. Having been lost in thought, it certainly startled me. I looked up, but he was already long gone, racing toward the horizon. And I had two simultaneous thoughts… “Stupid irresponsible kid!” and… “Wow, that looks like fun!”. For that moment, I was both kid and adult, but after that… we all know in which direction time flows.

It gets more interesting when entire groups of people shift their opinion. Perhaps they were wrong, in hindsight… but it made sense at the time. Who is “they”?

Scientists, doctors, society in general. Sometimes, all of them combined. If you go to YouTube and search for “Flintstones smoking ad”, you will find the the Winston tobacco company used to sponsor the cartoon — yes, those Flintstones. In one of the ads, Betty and Wilma are seen being busy housewives, while Fred and Barney sneak out the back for a smoke break. It promotes a sexist version of marriage and that smoking is good — and it’s targeted to children. A trifecta of cringe… but there was a time when all of that made sense. It seems like smoking has followed this sort of evolution, as far as the general public is concerned:

Encouraged… accepted… tolerated… frowned-upon… limited access… banned.

In trying to come up with a current issue that might fall onto that spectrum… perhaps it’s eating meat. We’re somewhere in the neighbourhood between accepted and tolerated… but it’s heading quickly down the line towards frowned-upon. People quit smoking for a variety of reasons… health, cost, public opinion. And not everyone quits all at once, and not everyone stops entirely. And there will always be a place to go and smoke, and you can always smoke at home. There are many parallels.

One particular memory of SFU, as a student, was an argument I had with a computer science teacher. In arguing my case for having done a coding project a certain way, her counter-argument was, “I am right. This is the way it’s been done for 20 years”. In hindsight, I have to thank her. At the moment, I was livid… that has to be the most stupid argument imaginable when you’re talking about a subject where things change on a continual basis, and she was defending a methodology from 1970. The toolkits at our disposal were evolving almost daily, so to not embrace them because “that’s just the way it is” ? — don’t get me started on that again.

But I’m grateful that it showed me that there will be people all along the way who are set in their ways, who won’t admit they’re wrong… and whose attitude can have a profound effect on my life. I avoid those people like the plague these days, because they’re draining. They’re annoying. And in a pandemic, actually dangerous. It’s frighteningly easy to find a lot of people these days, in public office and/or with a big soapbox to preach from — saying “I am right and they are wrong” — who contradict the person next to them, who’s insisting the same thing.

This should be like the smoking thing, not the computer thing. And so, from that point of view, let’s let views evolve and let’s go with those who are willing to admit their mistakes. We’re not all always right, and listening to someone who insists they always are — can’t possibly be the right way to think about things.

The advice on masks, the advice on social distancing, the advice on treatment, the advice on what’s a safe place to congregate and what numbers are appropriate in all of those cases — this is knowledge that’s evolving, and there’s more method than madness to it, contrary to what some people think. “So-and-so said this, and it was wrong… therefore, everything that person has said is wrong”. That, in itself, is wrong. Very wrong. That just shows that said person is willing to admit, and learn, from their mistakes. As opposed to “So-and-so has never admitted to being wrong; clearly, they’re always right… right?” Wrong.

Trust the people that are wrong, once in a while… it’s the right thing to do.

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Day 65 – May 20, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Life in Vancouver, Travel Stories, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , |

Some years ago, I travelled down to Santiago, Chile, and stayed at a “W” hotel. I’d never stayed there, but it was in the area I needed to be, and why not try something new. I don’t usually do well in “W”-type hotels because it’s just not my scene. I get that there’s an entire demographic that loves that sort of stuff, but for me… being in a place that’s trying too hard to be hip and cool, it just comes across as pretentious, Bright purple colours, edgy art, a DJ during what’s supposed to be a quiet Sunday brunch, a lobby that feels like a nightclub and is full of people who aren’t guests — but just want to be seen there. In trying to emulate what they think is hip and cool, they lose the message. And when you couple that with cultural differences… what you end up with is what greeted me shortly after arrival, when I called down to housekeeping. They answered, and here’s how it went:

“Umm… hello….?”
“Yes, Mr. Kemeny… what can I do for you?”
“Oh… hi. Yeah, do you have any extra coat hangers? Could you please send some up?”
“Uhhh… sorry, what?”
“Yes, right away… someone will be up right away with some hangers.”
“O…K… great. Thank you.”

She hung up, and I sat there thinking about it. I totally get where they think they’re coming from… it’s their “W” motto — “Whatever, Whenever”. It’s plastered all over the walls, as in, “Whatever you want, Whenever you want it”. That message is clear and appreciated and exactly what you’d hope for in a boutique hotel. But in trying too hard, and not quite getting it, it comes across as incredibly rude and dismissive.

Don’t get me wrong, I found it amusing, and completely embraced it for my entire stay. I’d get in the elevator, and someone from the hotel staff would say hello, and I’d say…. “Whatever!”, with a big smile. Walking out the front door, the doorman would wish me a good day and I’d reply, “Whatever!”, and give him a nice tip. It became my de-facto reply to everything, especially because it’s often what I’d feel like saying anyway. Still or sparkling water? Feather or foam pillows? Milk or Cream? Freshen the towels? Restock the mini-bar? Turndown Service? Whatever.

For those who grew up with that word and its more common use, you understand that hearing that word from someone doesn’t usually mean “Oh, absolutely, whatever you’d like”. It means something more like, “Your opinion is worthless to me, and while I heard what you just said, I couldn’t care less.” They say the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Indeed, what would be worse to hear back after telling someone you love them? It probably doesn’t get much worse than “whatever”.

As this pandemic goes on, that word and its implications are showing up, and not in the good way. Why aren’t you wearing a mask? Why aren’t you social distancing? Are you really heading out of town for the long weekend? Doesn’t it concern you? The “whatever” replies in this context are a bit more sinister than usual, because in a way, what they’re saying is not just “Your opinion doesn’t matter to me”, but also, “Your health or well-being doesn’t matter to me.”

The great success we’ve had around here fighting this thing… can have a bit of a downside, and that is people getting too complacent, too “whatever”. We aren’t through this yet; not by a long-shot. The idea was to flatten the curve, to be sure our medical infrastructure could handle things if they got a lot worse. Thankfully, that was achieved and things did not get too bad… but rest assured, they still could.

And if you weren’t going around saying, “whatever” a few weeks ago, you certainly shouldn’t be going around saying it now. There’s a big risk that things stay relatively flat, we all see that, and our “whatever” attitude starts taking over as the weather gets better than things open up. I hope we can all remember exactly where we’re at, not even halfway to the end of this. We keep hearing that the second wave can be a lot worse than the first one. As much as I loathe fear-mongering from the media — oohhh, here’s a scary story, click here to read it… this common house-hold item could kill you — click here to find out what it is! — I really dislike that crap, especially because I fall for it as often as you. But the one fear-mongering thing I welcome these days is what we’re being told repeatedly about what can happen if this thing gets out of control. And it will, in some parts of the world. How about we don’t let it happen here.

We all have a roadmap from 100 years ago… there was a first wave, things got better, restrictions were lifted… things went back to normal… more than they should’ve, people dancing in the streets rejoicing… including a huge, crowded parade in Philadelphia (among others)…and suddenly, things got very bad, very quickly. That was a whole lot of people saying… whatever.

So, ok… let’s use that word, but in the good way. When someone asks you to put on a mask, take a step back, move the discussion outside… you can certainly say “whatever” — as in, “Of course, whatever you’d like.”

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  • October 20, 2020 Graph

October 20, 2020

By |October 20th, 2020|Politics, Life in Vancouver, Sports & Gaming|0 Comments

So, I did something today I haven’t done in years… I voted. It was as seamless and easy as I thought, and as I promised recently. In and out in five minutes.

Watching these two elections is like watching the same sport, but in two totally different leagues. Like, there’s FIFA – and their World Cup, every four years… and the whole planet stops and watches soccer for a couple of months. FIFA… with its controversies and corruption and racist scandals. And, as usual, every four years, there’s a U.S. presidential election… and the entire world is watching… and it’s also full of corruption and racism and controversy.

Then, there’s the B.C. Soccer Association. I’m far more familiar with that one, having participated in it as a kid… and, of course, also living within the jurisdiction. And every once in a while, B.C. has an election, and nobody outside of our provincial borders cares. The rest of the country pretty-much couldn’t care less. And it’s all relatively peaceful and harmonious, just like playing soccer around here used to be… with the exception of an elbow to the head once in a while.

FIFA and the BCSA have a couple of things in common… one, they’re both soccer, though at significantly different skill levels. And two, they were both founded around the same time – ages ago, in fact… in 1904.

The two elections have exactly one thing in common; they’re electing people into leadership roles. And that’s where the similarities end.

At the local community center, no armed militia. No 10-hour lineup. Nobody intimidating me. Nobody setting the ballot box on fire.

As I said, take advantage of it. We are living within a framework of peace and freedom that’s rare; history implies us to be in a bit of a bubble around here, and while it lasts (hopefully for centuries, but, as we can see… things can fall apart pretty quickly)… let’s take advantage of it. Set an example… for yourself, for your kids… and in honour of those who went through a lot to make sure we’d have this right… and vote.

October 20, 2020 Graph

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  • October 19. 2020

October 19, 2020

By |October 19th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Business & Economics, Science of COVID-19, Life in Vancouver|0 Comments

Right around the time the distinguished Dr. Anthony Fauci was being awarded the National Academy of Medicine’s first-ever Presidential Citation for Exemplary Leadership, the president himself was quoted as saying, “People are tired of Covid. I have these huge rallies. People are saying whatever. Just leave us alone. They’re tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.”

There are indeed idiots in our midst, but Dr. Fauci is not one of them. However, if you want a good sampling of idiots, look no further than this weekend’s “B.C. Freedom Mega Rally” – 1,000 Covidiots, standing unmasked, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the usual rallying-spot… the Art Gallery plaza.

In no particular order, they were protesting censorship, lockdowns, mask mandates, vaccine mandates, quarantines, travel bans, social distancing, contact tracing and government orders.  Also… claiming it’s all a hoax, and supporting wild conspiracies, anti-vaxxers, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Oops… well… that escalated quickly.

To be clear, not all Covidiots are anti-vaxxer, white-supremacist nazis. I suppose you can be anti-mask or anti-vaccine or anti-quarantine without being a racist freak. But, interestingly, all anti-vaxxer/white-supremacists/nazis are very much against masks and vaccines and quarantines. We don’t see any white supremacists supporting social distancing. We don’t see any neo-nazis with swastika masks.

That should tell you something. Birds of a feather, etc.

In the meantime, the world-wide case number went over 40 million. Over a million have died. Canada just went over 200,000 cases. More than 4,000 people here in B.C. are in quarantine. This is far from over, and it will get worse before it gets better.

Dr. Henry added a fourth word to her mantra today… Be calm, be kind, be safe… and, be brave.

Yes… seeing what’s going on all around us, it’s certainly going to take some bravery to get through this.

October 19. 2020

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October 18, 2020

By |October 18th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Science of COVID-19|0 Comments

No new numbers till tomorrow, but here’s something older that you may remember, especially if you’ve been reading these updates since the beginning. Today’s graphs aren’t the usual up-to-date provincial and national tallies. Rather, these are what those original Time-To-Double (TTD) graphs look like today.

Early in the pandemic, when things were spiraling out of control, the TTDs were being measured in handfuls of days… 2, 3, 5… that’s what we were witnessing in places like Italy and Spain and, for a little while, severely-affected pockets of the U.S. That’s what we were hoping Canada would avoid.

While things are still growing exponentially, the TTDs are way down. The recent second wave is certainly visible, especially in the left-most (non-logarithmic) graph, but the TTD line on which Canada sits is 20.

The middle graph is the same as the one on the left, except represented with a logarithmic Y-axis… which straightens out the curves of those dotted exponential TTD lines, and serves to represent the rate of exponential growth (or lack thereof) compared to the beginning.

The graph on the right is what Canada looks like compared to the U.S… and since the Y-axis is “compressed”, it makes things look a lot closer than they actually are. Rather than scaling up evenly, every Y-axis grid line on those two right-most graphs represents 10-times the growth. The red line is just below 200,000. The blue line is above 8,000,000.

All that being said, the Canadian graphs’ hockey-sticking up-to-the-right is quite evident, both nationally and provincially. What we’d obviously like to see is for them all to flatten out again… which one day they will.. but, hopefully, sooner than later. We know what we need to do to make that happen…

October 18, 2020


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  • October 17, 2020

October 17, 2020

By |October 17th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Philosophy, Art & Literature|0 Comments

We are exactly one week away from the election… no, not *that* election – that one is 17 days away and approaching quickly… but I’m talking about our local Provincial election… and all I have to say about it is… vote. Just go out and vote. You don’t have to wait 10 hours in line, like in some attempted-voter-suppression ridings in the U.S.

Around here, if you haven’t (safely and conveniently) already mailed it in, you can vote in person. It takes 2 minutes, especially if you vote early and don’t wait until next Saturday. Advanced polls are already open, will be open throughout the weekend, and are around until Wednesday. They are virtually empty most of the time.

It wasn’t that long ago that more than half the people reading this post wouldn’t have been allowed to vote… due to race or gender or some other discriminatory reason. But a lot of people went through a lot of trouble to grant you the right… so the least you can do is exercise it.

And if you’re so out of tune that you’re not even sure what’s going on nor who to vote for, simply Google “BC election cheat sheet” and read that article… it’s as good a starting point as any, and you can walk into that polling booth armed with some real knowledge and ownership that you’re putting you vote toward ideals in which you believe.

October 17, 2020

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  • October 16, 2020

October 16, 2020

By |October 16th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Life in Vancouver, Travel Stories, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature, History|0 Comments

This is pretty long… not only because I couldn’t make it any shorter without leaving out something I consider important, but because I have a busy weekend ahead and might not get a chance to post much. No new local numbers till Monday anyway, so here’s most of the weekend’s updates in one convenient place… and we’ll start on the opposite end of the country.

About 25km off-shore from Newfoundland, you’ll find a collection of 8 little islands. They’re not very big. Collectively, they’re about 1/10th the size of Metro Vancouver. They’re known by the name of the two biggest islands, St. Pierre and Miquelon. Not relevant, but in case you’re curious… their population of 6,000 has had 16 cases of C19, 12 of which have fully recovered and 4 of which are still ongoing.

That entire population lives on those two islands, where they do a lot of fishing and play a lot of hockey. No big deal, except if you’ve never heard of them, you’ll be quite surprised to learn that they’re not part of Canada. Even though they’re closer to Newfoundland than Vancouver Island is to the mainland, they’re 100% French. Not like Québec French. Like French French.

How they got to that point is a long and interesting story… Indigenous people, Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, American, Canadian… all have laid claim to the islands at some point over the centuries… but, as it often goes with land grabs/invasions/conquests, whoever had it last… gets to keep it.

And that was France, who, despite opposition from Canada, Britain and the U.S., seized the islands during WWII… seized by that troublemaker Charles de Gaulle… the same one whose “Vive le Québec libre” 20 years later started a shitstorm that will never go away.

But since then, these little independent French islands have been happily doing their thing, and for the most part have a very close and functional relationship with their Canadian neighbours. A little border dispute or fishing-rights argument pops up occasionally, but it’s never a big deal. It always gets worked out.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Trudeau suddenly went nuts and invaded those islands? It would be a very weird situation for us, but also for our allies, especially the U.S. and the U.K…. both of which are always … [Continue Reading]


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