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Day 64 – May 19, 2020

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

These little walks down memory lane, like yesterday’s piece on Mt. St. Helens, always seem to stir up something else… that I likely haven’t thought of in ages. Indeed, yesterday’s piece started off about a Sunday morning, with me describing how I was just sitting there reading… and nobody has asked me what I was reading, but I will tell you anyway… it was the stock-exchange listings from the previous night’s Vancouver Sun. And if you’re wondering why is an 11-year-old kid was reading stock prices on a Sunday morning 40 years ago, I’ll tell you…

Our grade-6 teacher had created a very cool one-month project. We would all get to buy and sell stocks, all starting with a virtual $1,000, and he would track it on a big chart in the classroom. Every day, we would submit our “trades” — buy this many shares at this price, sell this many at that price. He would do the math and track everyone’s profit/loss. We would submit our trades every morning, along with where we’d gotten the price — The Vancouver Sun or The Province.

There wasn’t really much research that could be done on it… at best, you’d have day-old news to contemplate, and anyway, we were in grade 6… who’s doing any sort of real research, and even if we did, to what end… whatever we might come up with would already have been built into the stock price. But it was a fun exercise, and of course, it grew very competitive, watching everyone’s graph-lines wiggle up and down from day to day. For the most part, people were picking stocks by names that sounded good, or maybe familiar. By the end of two weeks, a few lines had started to separate upwards… and I wasn’t one of them, and it was bothering me. And it didn’t seem like lucky guesses. These guys knew something.

As it turns out, indeed they did; their fathers were stock-brokers or somehow involved in business where they had access to better information. My dad was a mining engineer, so at best he suggested a few mining companies that were exploring for gold… but they weren’t going anywhere in a hurry. I needed to find an edge.

Arbitrage is the simultaneous purchasing and selling of an asset, where the buy price is lower than the sell price, so the transaction generates an instant and risk-free positive return. The most common place where this takes place is financial markets, where, for example, a certain stock may be listed on multiple exchanges. If you have instant access to both markets and notice that shares of ABC are offered for $10⅛ on one and being bid at $10⅜ on another, you buy the cheap one, sell the expensive one, and deliver the cheap ones to the guy that bought the expensive ones. This all happens instantly, and while making ¼ on that transaction may not sound like much, it certainly adds up when you do it 1,000 shares at a time, multiple times a day. There are armies of supercomputers trying to do this continually, all day these days, and to some extent, that serves a useful purpose… it keeps prices in check. As soon as an opportunity arises, some arb grabs it instantly, and the advantage is gone.

And what I had stumbled upon a few days earlier was this… perhaps an opportunity for manual arbitrage, though at the time, I did’t even know that word… all I knew was that, on the same day, the prices listed in The Vancouver Sun were different than The Province. Why?

As it turned out… The Sun was an afternoon paper… it’d always show up around 5pm. The Province was an early-morning paper, always there by breakfast. In our home, we got both. And here was the thing…. by the time The Sun needed to go to print to make it for afternoon deliveries, the stock markets weren’t closed yet. The price listed in The Sun was the day’s mid-morning price, taken at… 11am? Noon? Not sure, but certainly well-before the 1:30pm market close. The Province the next morning had the closing prices from the previous day… and so, differences in price. And by scouring for prices that were higher in The Province, I could “buy” them with yesterday’s lower price and hope the upswing held long enough that I could “sell” them at a higher price. Not all stocks that went up in that last hour of trading stayed up, all through the next day, in time to sell them… but something like 80% of them did, which is staggeringly-high, well-beyond any typical financial wizardry from even the best analysts.

My wiggly line started heading north pretty quickly after that, much like the Mt. St. Helens ash plume… and with almost as much vertical force. Within a week, I’d caught up to the competition…. and just kept rolling… which led to the teacher asking me to stay after school that next Friday. “OK, what’s going on here?”, he asked. Of course, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut… I was so proud of being so clever and figuring out this loophole. I spilled everything. “Do you think that’s fair?”, he asked me… and my simple question back was, “Is it against the rules?”

From there, we had an interesting discussion about The Rules vs. The Spirit Of The Rules. What rules? The stock market is a game where you’re trying to win, and to win, you have to out-think someone else. Where in the rules does it say I can’t do this? Yes, I realize this isn’t possible in reality, but this is not real. It’s a game, and I found a better way to play it.

And after that, although I think he was impressed by my resourcefulness, he changed the rules. All trades must be submitted in the morning, using that morning’s quotes from The Province. End of advantage, and I ended up losing because one of those other guys sold everything, and put it all onto one particular stock which shot up on the very last day. Because asking daddy for inside information is ok, but figuring out how to play the game better… is not. Yes, I’m still bitter.

So… there are rules.… some rules, archaic and irrelevant, are meant to be broken. Some rules, for the greater good, need to be adhered to. Then… there’s that grey area of bending rules. Today, here in B.C., the rules have changed. We have had rules in place for more than a couple of months, and they have served us well. So well, that many people will insist we never needed them, and that is very wrong. Either way, as of today, with our rule changes, it’s one step forward towards a return to normal.

On the assumption that the people who make these rules know what they’re talking about — and, given their success, they certainly do — we should follow them. Indeed, our local rules and implementation thereof have become a model not just for Canada or North America, but the entire world. For populations of 5 million plus, we are number one. I would really love to see us stay there. Some people will break those rules. Some people will bend them… but I suggest, let’s try to stick to them. And if you think you can’t stick to the rules, at least consider the spirit of the rules. It’s not just about you. The stakes are a lot higher than those wiggly lines on a large paper chart from 40 years ago. Look at the wiggly lines on the charts attached to this post, especially the yellow one. Especially today. That is success. That is a win. Let’s all do our part to keep it there. Let’s keep rolling.

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Day 63 – May 18, 2020

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

Forty years ago, to the day… May 18, 1980, I was lying in bed reading… a lazy Sunday morning… reading, and listening to LG73. I had a window open, so the loud boom shortly after 8:32am was very audible. It rattled the windows. What the hell was that, I thought to myself? Nothing like a car crash, and everything else was silent outside. A distant bomb? Those teenagers across the back lane that always seemed to have a stash of firecrackers? I finally decided it must have been a big tree that fell over. Not that I’d ever heard a tree fall over near me… but then again, I’d also never heard a volcano 300 miles away blast 1.4 billion cubic yards of ash 80,000 feet into the sky.

But that’s what happened that morning, when Mount. St. Helens blew her stack. What’s interesting about it is that nobody was expecting it, and it came as a complete surprise. How could we ever have prepared for it?

Yeah, that’s complete nonsense. Experts from many disciplines had been well-aware of the strange rumblings around Mt. St. Helens for months… there had been a small earthquake on March 20th, the first of thousands over the next eight weeks. There had been 16,000-foot ash plumes. There had been fresh craters. There had been sightings of magma. While things got quiet again in late April and early May, there was an increasing bulge on the north face that was growing by 5 feet per day. On May 7th, things started firing up again, and the bulge’s growth became worryingly inconsistent. Geologist David Johnston, camped 5.5 miles away, dutifully kept measuring and reporting his findings. The last of those reports was at 6:53am. His last words, captured shortly after 8:32am by a nearby ham-radio operator were, “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” — a message to his fellow USGS researchers, at the University of Washington in Vancouver, WA., that never made it. Two miles away, Gerry Martin, a radio operator tasked with observing the volcano for the state’s department of emergency services, saw what had happened and what was coming. His last words were, “It’s going to get me, too”.

There were only 57 deaths attributable to that eruption, and I say “only” because that number could have been higher — into the thousands. Indeed, it was scientists — I repeat, scientists — like Dr. David Johnston, an expert in volcanoes, and numerous other researchers… who pleaded with authorities to keep the area closed — an area very popular with campers and hikers and visitors to nearby lodges. For the most part, people listened.

One of those who didn’t was a man by the name of Harry R. Truman — not to be confused with former president Harry S. Truman — who refused to leave, despite numerous pleadings, suggestions and finally, orders — to do so. He owned and operated the Mt. St. Helens lodge, right at the base of the mountain, near Spirit Lake. For months, he was told to leave. He dismissed the danger and he dismissed the scientists’ claims. Even though he was being woken up continually by earthquakes and could see plumes of ash shooting up… he was heard saying things like, “the mountain has shot its wad and it hasn't hurt my place a bit, but those goddamn geologists with their hair down to their butts wouldn't pay no attention to ol' Truman."

By then, the state had set up a restricted zone well outside the perimeter of the mountain, and it infuriated them that people would ignore it, in many cases to interview ol’ Truman, putting themselves in significant danger.

Truman was alone in the lodge (with his 16 cats) that Sunday morning. It’s likely he died instantly, from heat shock… his body vaporized… before the lodge and everything around it was engulfed by 150 feet (half a football field high) of volcanic debris.

In the weeks preceding the eruption, there was a lot of noise from a lot of people… open the mountain, open the campgrounds, think of the economy, we need the tourism, we’re willing to take the risk, it’s our right as free Americans, etc etc. All too familiar words these days. The parallels between these two situations, 40 years apart, are many.

There are some notable differences too. At what point does the government’s (or society’s) role in trying to keep people safe… cross the line? That fine line is being tested these days — between freedom, and the perceived benefit of the greater good. History is full of people running towards impending disasters, like ignoring evacuation orders at the base of an impending volcanic eruption, or running to the beach to take some cool pictures of the expected tsunami, or visiting a tribe of cannibals to spread the word of Jesus, or thinking you’re ready to summit Mt. Everest because you can do the Grouse Grind in less than 45 minutes. More power to you, I suppose — as long as your narcissistic desire to show the world how invincible you are… doesn’t take others down with you.

If Truman wanted to die in his lodge (he was 83), perhaps it’s his right to do so. He wasn’t hurting anyone else (aside from his 16 cats). And perhaps that’s the biggest difference of all, the issue some people have a hard time understanding… that sometimes, it’s not just about you.

Looking at the numbers across Canada… lots of recent green days… and, especially here in B.C., it’s time to take things to the next level… bring on the openings… but where it goes beyond that is entirely up to all of us, collectively. This can be slow, steady and predictable… or not so slow, not so steady… and somewhat less predictable. The rules have served us well so far; let’s stick with that.

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Day 62 – May 17, 2020

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

Queueing Theory is a fascinating branch of math that deals with the science behind… queues, as in line-ups. First of all, let’s take a moment to admire that word… queueing… how often do you see a word with five vowels in a row?

When it comes to line-ups, there’s more to it than you might think. The variables used in analyzing queues involve things like how often do new people show up to join the queue? How often is the person at the front getting pulled out of it? How long does it take to process and then get rid of that person? How long is too long? …because arriving people may see a long line and just say forget it.

The red velvet rope that delineates where to stand plays an important psychological role. If you arrive, and the queue extends past the end of the rope, you might think the line is too long, and bail….but if there’s lots of room and the rope extends way back… well — it can’t be too bad, right? Straight line vs snaking line? Should you be able to see the whole line, or should some of it be hidden?

Nightclubs play a balancing act… perhaps you’ve been to clubs where you wait outside a while, finally go in, and the place is half-empty. They make you stand in line to appear busy… to attract others to come…but, of course, if the line is too long, you may be dissuaded to wait… it’s a fine… line.

Some of it is fancy math, and some of it is just social engineering, but fundamentally, there are right and wrong ways to do queues. Like, what’s better… 6 independent line-ups for individual bank tellers, or one central line-up that sends the person at the front to the next open window? That one is a no-brainer… pretty-much everywhere that can support the latter has switched to that model. It’s not necessarily better for an individual who might luckily pick the fastest line, but it’s the fairest… and from a psychological point of view, that keeps everyone happy because it’s balanced. It’s very aggravating to be standing in a slow-moving line while everyone else is moving around you. And if you picked that line, part of you is thinking you “lost”.

I think about that whenever I’m stuck in a bank line-up… that this is the best way to do it, and it could be a lot worse. How much worse? Allow me to describe what’s possibly the worst way to do it…

In Copiapó, back in the day, here’s how it worked… one day, I was told to run to the bank… here are some papers, some forms… just go there and hand them over; they’ll know what to do. And go now, and hurry, it’s 11:45. Doesn’t the bank close at 4? Yes, but you need to be there before noon — go!! So off I went to the bank, a couple of blocks away.

There were four tellers open, and each with a few people waiting, each with its own line-up. I joined one with 2 people ahead of me… like, who knows, right? Go with the shortest line, of course. But as I’m standing there waiting, time is ticking and ticking… and the people around me all seem to be getting more and more agitated. Grumblings of “what’s going on” and “hurry up” and so on. Whatever, I’m up next, but as soon as the person ahead of me is done and leaving, the teller pulls up a “closed” sign. In fact, all 4 tellers do it at the same time. It’s exactly noon, and it’s lunch time. Much groaning from the people all around me… but nobody moved, so neither did I. And I watched, as she pulled out a paper bag. From it, a sandwich, an apple, an orange Fanta and a paperback. And I stood there, for exactly 30 minutes, watching her and her co-workers have their lunch, simultaneously. She ate her sandwich, she ate her apple, she drank her Fanta. During that, she read her book as if there weren’t a crowd of people, me at the front of it, staring at her during the entire time. And at exactly 12:30, she put all that way, removed the sign and it was back to business. My thought at the time hasn’t changed: there can’t possibly be a worse way to have organized this.

Most places that can afford the space have moved to the “single lineup feeding into multiple spots” model. In that model, it’s best to leave the decision-making to the very last minute… everyone is in the same queue, and as soon as a spot opens up, the next person, which by definition is the person who’s been waiting the longest, gets it. Sometimes, that decision point has to be made earlier, and that tends to unbalance things. For example, airport security… you’ll often be thrown into a single long line, at the end of which some person will look around for what looks more open, and send you to that security screening area (one of 6, let’s say) which will already have its own line-up. Depending on many things, you may end up 10 minutes ahead or behind the person that was next to you.

Line-ups have been around forever, but different cultures treat them with varying degrees of respect. And in some cultures…

Yeah, speaking of airports and speaking of Chile… when you fly down to South America from Vancouver, you have two choices… go through the U.S., or don’t. Which means either flying through L.A. or Dallas…. or flying through Toronto. From a hassle point of view, a no brainer. Avoid the U.S. and TSA and security line-ups and all of that. But there’s one part of the trip that you have to see to believe.

We’re all used to respecting queues, like when boarding a plane… Zone 1, Zone 2, etc. We all get into that little set of chutes and wait for our turn. But if you’re in Toronto, flying down to Santiago, Buenos Aires or Rio…. all bets are off. There is no semblance of respecting any sort of queue. It is an angry mob that’s standing, jammed and jostling, for an hour before boarding. Forget the children and families first, forget the elite status business class VIP whatever. None of it matters. But one thing those Latin American cultures do respect is the elderly… so what you will see in front of the mob are wheelchairs. One or two? No… try 30, most of them with surprisingly mobile people once it’s time to board… oh, don’t worry, they say as they miraculously rise from their front-of-the-line chair, I can take it from here. I’ve asked the gate agents about all of this, and it’s very simple, especially since it’s a late-night flight and they just want to get home: “We don’t even bother anymore”.

One thing we’ve all gotten used to these days is finding queues where we never had them… especially grocery stores. Queues that tell you where you can stand, and where you can’t. Big Xs on the ground and arrows to point you in the right direction. A visit to many groceries these days is a moving, one-way queue — first in, first out, no going back. It’s evident to me, that in some cases, not a lot of thought went into it initially, and that’s fair. Everyone is trying to figure things out as they go along, and most people don’t have an arsenal of queuing-theory formulas at their disposal. Even before all of this, the supply/demand for cashiers at Safeway wasn’t dictated by some supercomputer. The cashiers themselves see things suddenly getting busy and just page someone to come help. And when things get slow, that person disappears to the back. That “busy-ness” has now moved to the outside of the store, which in many ways is a better place for it.

Ultimately, that’s the way we’re all doing it these days; just go with what works, and course-correct it as needed. And for what it’s worth, as time has gone on, certain things seem to have improved… as you’d expect. People have realized when it’s “good” to go, which self-balances things. People have realized if they can make their shopping trip efficient, it helps a lot. No aimless wandering up and down aisles… plan ahead, know what’s where, and do it all at once. Far less time wasted. There are now many things in place that didn’t exist until recently, and will likely stick around when things are back to normal… just one more thin, silver lining to the big cloud of the day: this pandemic is making parts of our society much more efficient.

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Day 61 – May 16, 2020

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

In 1966, a researcher (Gordon Stephenson) conducted an interesting experiment. He put 5 monkeys in a locked room. There wasn’t much in the room except a sort of ladder in the middle of it. At some point, he lowered a bunch of bananas within reach of the top of the ladder, and eventually, one of the monkeys noticed them and scampered up the ladder to grab them… as soon as the monkey touched the bananas, he (and all of the monkeys) were sprayed with cold water. This caused quite a frenzy, as you might imagine. Eventually, after they’d calmed down, another one of the monkeys decided to try his luck, ran up the ladder… and was met with the same fate. Cold shower for all of them. The disgruntled monkeys eventually learned that maybe it wasn’t worth it.

Then, one of the monkeys was removed, and a new one was placed in the room. And that monkey, as soon as he saw the bananas, made a move towards climbing towards them, but was quickly subdued by the other monkeys. He must have been confused, so he tried again, but again, was jumped by the others.

Then, another one of the monkeys was removed and a new one put in his place. As expected, the same thing happened. And, quite interestingly, the monkey that’d never even been sprayed joined in the ruckus, helping keep the new monkey away from the bananas.

And then this happened a few more times; a new monkey would be cycled in, and get beat up for trying to reach the bananas… by all of the others. Eventually, all of the monkeys that’d ever been sprayed had been replaced, but the behaviour continued. If you’re less than civilized, and just want to fit in… indeed, by virtue of needing to survive, you have to fit in… you just go with the crowd, even if you don’t understand the behaviour.

If monkeys could talk, and you’d ask them what’s going on… why aren’t you letting anyone reach those bananas… their answer might be, “That’s just the way it is”.

Apart from being a great song by Bruce Hornsby — a song that instantly comes into my head when I hear those words — those words, throughout history, have been used to “excuse” some pretty inexcusable behaviour. It’s not a far leap from there: “I was just following orders”.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a problem with those words, when things just don’t make sense. It’s a fallback for when someone doesn’t want to take responsibility, even if they know what they’re standing behind doesn’t make sense.

Off the top of my head, an example that I thought of when I was writing about Copiapó a couple of days ago… it sounds like the start of a joke, but here’s the question — how many people does it take to buy a box of band-aids in a pharmacy in Northern Chile? Here’s how it works….

You walk in, and go to the counter, where the pharmacist asks you what you want. Pretty much everything is over-the-counter, even things that around here you’d just grab. Interestingly, many things for which you’d need a prescription around here, like antibiotics, are also simply over-the-counter.

Anyway, he pulls out a box and shows it to you. You confirm it. But he doesn’t hand it to you. Instead, on a little piece of paper, he writes down “Bandaids 100 pesos”. You take that little piece of paper to the cashier, who is actually at the back of the store. While you’re going to the cashier, the actual box gets handed from the pharmacist to a runner, who makes his way over to an area called “packaging”, and hands it over. There, someone will wrap it up like a gift, with paper and tape. While it’s being wrapped, you pay for it, and the cashier will stamp your little piece of paper with “paid”. By then, the package (via runner) has made its way to the person near the front of the store, near the exit… in the area called “pick-up”. You show up with your “paid” receipt, they rip the corner off it and give you your wrapped package… and you’re on your way. Pharmacist, runner, wrapper, cashier, pick-up. It takes five people to sell you a box of band-aids. It’s ludicrous, infuriating and takes forever because inevitably, one of those stations is a choke-point. If the pharmacist is busy talking to someone, you wait… while the other people twiddle their thumbs waiting for something to do. Or someone is having problems paying… log-jam at the cashier.

But the one that really made me lose it once was when they jammed-up at the wrapping station, because someone was demanding separate packages for a number of things. There were people ahead of me, and my three items we back there somewhere, not getting any attention for a while. I tried to speak to someone, to tell them to just give me my toothpaste, soap and shampoo… but no, I’m sorry sir, it has to be wrapped. I don’t need it wrapped; just give it to me. Sorry sir, we can’t. Why not?! This is ridiculous!! “That’s just the way it is.” Aggghhhh.

Whenever we’re in a situation that’s new… unplanned… unforeseen… when people start making up their own rules — that’s when you start getting a lot of this. When people start behaving like uncivilized monkeys and falling back on the excuse that everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I… well, great example from around here was the Stanley Cup riot of 2011. That event made criminals out of a lot of people who otherwise probably wouldn’t be. And I’m not talking about the handful of actual criminals who got things going; I’m talking about the teenagers caught-up in it, simple Canucks fans suddenly seeing a smashed-in window to one of their favourite stores… wandering in and stealing something… because, well everyone else is doing it and I don’t need to understand it, right? As long as we’re all doing this together, it should be fine, right?

No — not right. I’m saying this today because of what society may look like for a while, with people choosing what suits them personally, and falling back on just shrugging their shoulders. We all paid for the aftermath of that riot, and we will all potentially pay for being a little too individual and self-serving. If there was ever a time to think a little more “big-picture” than usual, it’s now. Your actions may affect a lot more than just you. Let’s remember, we’re all aiming towards the same desired outcome… it’s much easier to get there together, right? That’s just the way it is.

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Day 60 – May 15, 2020

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

“Collect as much data as you can for now.” — this is a mantra that is common in many different disciplines, especially the ones where you’re not sure what data matters. One day, you’ll have a chance to look back on it and figure out what matters, but for the most part, especially initially, the thing to do gather as much as you can, and eventually learn from it.

“Eventually” could mean decades from now. It could also mean tomorrow. In fact, it could even mean 15 minutes from now. On that note, as you’re reading this, somewhere, on the periphery of your focus, there are ads and sponsored posts and other slight differences that are being thrown at you; an experience that will differ slightly for someone else. Some of it is based on your history, but some of it is just data collecting… like, does it work better to use this ad or that ad? Does it work better in red or green? Does it work better positioned here or there? This data is all being crunched, often in real-time — to deliver to you the most pleasant experience possible. Haha, sorry, not quite — to deliver to you the most profitable experience for someone… is the better answer. Facebook is worth $500 billion, and their revenue stream has to come from somewhere, since 99.999% of the people who use Facebook have never given them a penny… so, rest assured, those who are paying want to make sure they’re getting their maximum bang for the buck.

And, of course, an awful lot of data is being collected about this virus, and there are disagreements about what’s important. As per above, it’s always a good idea to gather it all and then figure out later what matters and what doesn’t. Sophisticated modelling techniques do this all the time. For example, a neural network. That sounds a lot fancier or scarier than it really is. It’s not some sort of artificial brain which can think for itself, become sentient and launch an attack on humanity… rather, it’s just software for taking a ton of data, much of it possibly unrelated, and grinding through it in such a way that it “learns” what inputs are relevant to outcomes, and which are noise. A properly trained neural network can be very useful for predicting outcomes that a person may not as easily see, because it’ll have filtered out the irrelevant aspects and focused only on what makes a difference.

A simple example would be trying to train a neural network to predict the outcome of horse races. This is a project that as been on my “to-do” list for about 30 years, and perhaps if enough horse racing returns soon, and I’m still locked up at home, I’ll finally have a chance to work on it. And I will tell you exactly what I plan to do, and what I hope to find. The first thing is to take tens of thousands of historical races and format the data in a way that it can be fed into a neural net. Then, it will grind away on it, “learning”… and I would assume it’ll find a high correlation for specific horses with respect to things like fractional quarter-mile times, weight carried, relative class of opponents and track-surface-conditions. It’ll find a low correlation with things like the name of the horse, what time the race was run and what day of the week it was. That’s the beauty of the neural network; just throw all of the data at it, and let it figure out what matters. It might figure out correlations for specific horses… that even the most astute handicapper or sharpest bookie might miss.

I know a lot of people reading this are thinking whoa dude, that’s pretty cool. Yes, it is… it would be. I’ll keep you posted.

More relevant to all of us are our local numbers, and there are many to look at. We are on track (haha!!) for opening things up soon, and, at least around here, it makes sense. It’s been a while since I’ve talked about “Time To Double”, so let’s look at that a bit. The graphs below don’t do justice entirely to where we’re at, because TTDs when presented in this fashion becomes a “lagging” indicator. Things are better than what those graphs imply, if you’re looking at the TTD lines.

Recall, back in the day… like back in March, which seems like it was 20 years ago… we were looking at some scary TTD numbers. The new-cases numbers were increasing by about 25% day-over-day, a TTD of about 3. Scary exponential growth.

If we take some averages of the last 5 days of confirmed new cases… the TTDs and percentages look like this:

B.C.: 130 (0.53%)
Ontario: 43 (1.63%)
Quebec: 37 (1.89%)

Canada: 44 (1.62%)

These are obviously very-flattened curves, compared to where we were.

I am well aware of the people standing up screaming that those numbers aren’t real. Have a seat, and let’s discuss the obvious. Of course not. There are more, and have been more, cases than we’ve “known” about. We will in due course know how “off” we were… like is the real number 10x that? 100x? 1,000x? I’d love it, if it were 2,000x because that’d mean we’ve all been exposed to this, and if you believe that gives you immunity (and that seems to be the case with coronaviruses in general), we’d be in great shape. That number is way too big, but while I’m here, in an effort to make numbers and guesses and projections more accurate for all of us, I urge you all to visit the bccdc dot ca site and take the survey. You may even get a serological antibody test out of it.

Inaccuracy of those particular numbers aside, there are some concrete ones which are indisputable… hospitalizations, ICU cases, “pressure on the medical infrastructure” and excess deaths… to name a few of the most critical ones. These numbers vary wildly around the world, but they’re the best indicators, along with new cases, to indicate how close jurisdictions are to phasing-in re-openings. At least around here, those numbers look good… good enough that we’re marching ahead to the next phase.

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Day 59 – May 14, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Politics, Business & Economics, Travel Stories, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , |

Thinking about my time in Northern Chile, in Copiapó, a few decades ago… led me to realize how much of that experience has aspects relatable to a lot of what’s going on these days… around here and around the world. Here’s an interesting sociological observation…

Back then, there wasn’t much to do except work. With no TV and only one radio station, it felt very much cut-off from the rest of the world. There was exactly one magazine kiosk that got anything in English, and everything was always, at best, a couple of days behind. But a 2-day-old New York Times was better than nothing, and I’d read every word of it. Most days looked like this: You’d be up early, get to work… work until lunch… which could turn into a 3-hour break if you threw errands and a siesta in there… and then back to work, till about 7pm. Then an hour or two of socializing, and then dinner… then sleep, and back to it next day.

It was about an 8-hour work day… 8:30am to 1pm, 3:30pm to 7pm… and the socializing to which I refer was often not more than wandering the streets and running into people and chatting. A feature of every single city, town, village in Latin America is what’s called the “Plaza de Armas” — a central plaza, usually located near the heart. Any place that has at least two sets of parallel roads will have the middle of that tic-tac-toe, and that is the de-facto Plaza de Armas. Often, it’s much bigger… 2 or 3 sets of streets ending at the square from all sides. A 3×3 block of grass, trees, paths, benches, statues. And the hub of outdoor social activity.

I lived a block away from the Plaza, so I was there often… and it was great. Lots of people milling around, kids kicking soccer balls around. It was also a commercial area… some artisans selling their work, and the permiter around the plaza on all sides — that was the “downtown”, if that’s the right word… populated with government offices, businesses of all sorts; the typical eclectic collection of one-off mom-and-pop shops, including two thirds of the entire town’s restaurants.

But right around that time is when things began to change.

Some Latin-American satellite TV company began offering service in Santiago… and quickly, people were asking… if Santiago can get satellite TV, surely it must be possible in Copiapó, which is actually 800km closer to the equator… right? Of course, and don’t call me Shirley.

It was a big deal when the TVs showed up. A handful of people got them, and crowds would gather in the street to peer through these peoples’ living room windows to check it out… and those windows to the world offered a very impressive view. For example, recall a show called Miami Vice… two cool cops, Ferraris, fast women, alligators, flamingos, everything in pastel shades of pink and blue… wet streets, slicked-back hair. The whole package was pretty impactful around here; imagine how it looked to people who’d never neither seen nor imagined any of that. And the commercials. Sensory overload. And an emerging attitude and understanding that the world has a lot more to offer, and why can’t we here have all that… stuff.

And then one day, a SuperStore/Costco sort of place showed up. They bought up a huge parcel of land and built a warehouse-sized shopping experience, with aisles and tall shelves. Very quickly, that became the Plaza de Armas; that’s where you’d go to socialize and be seen. And, of course, you can’t go to a shopping destination without at least the illusion of shopping, and that’s what it was… people walking up and down the aisles, filling their monster-sized shopping carts with crap they didn’t need, and in many cases, probably didn’t understand… all while running into other people. You’d hear snippets of conversation like, “Oh hey Pablo! You’re here too, yeah awesome, hey check this thing out, it’s a carbon-monoxide fire flood detector emergency light, cool eh, yeah, ok nice seeing you”.

Pablo didn’t need that device, nor pretty-much anything else in that basket. Pablo was a labourer, his wife was a housewife, and they lived in a modest home… and could never afford any of that stuff. So after an hour of socializing and filling the cart, when it was time to go home for dinner… Pablo and his wife, where-and-when no one was looking, would just ditch the cart and go home. And from there emerged a job that I don’t believe exists in many places: the “restock-the-shelves-from-abandoned-carts” gig, popular only in cultures where something so jarring is imposed, that it actually shifts the underlying fabric of society.

Once the cat was out of the bag, that society changed, and never looked back… and it could be argued, not for the better. Not for the better because it didn’t happen organically. It didn’t slowly grow to that; it was self-imposed, and it was weird… and some things that used to exist in the past, to a great extent, vanished. But also, arguably, for the better. A consolidated place to shop, a bit of free-market capitalism to keep prices fair. Progress, change, sometimes not evil, sometimes necessary, sometimes good.

I’ve spoken before about the radical lifestyle changes we’re all getting used to… and will quickly point out the obvious; today’s changes are not by choice. We’re not copying the behaviour that some other culture 30 years ahead of us is providing us as an example that we may wish to emulate. This has all been jammed down our throats. If we could snap our fingers and Restore to our Saved Game from 6 months ago, we all would.

I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind; to some extent, this current new-normal will provide some great insight for when things are ready to go back to the old normal. We’ll have the luxury of going back to our old ways, with the insight gained by having imposed upon us a whole new set of ways of doing things. I’m optimistic about the emergence back to the “new” old-normal… because it’ll ideally encapsulate the best of both worlds.

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Day 58 – May 13, 2020

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

Here’s a common scenario… there’s that cute girl in algebra class you’ve been dying to ask out, but you’re not sure. Like maybe she’s been giving you some looks… maybe. And finally one day, she’s alone at her locker and you somehow dig down for every milligram of self-confidence you have within you, convert it into courage, walk up to her, and babble something like, “Yeah so like… hey.. like you know, if you like… umm… you know, if you ever like maybe wanna study together or go out and I dunno, do something or whatever like maybe.. you know… I mean like you know, you don’t have to, but maybe you want to but like… ok.”

Or another scenario… you have a joke… you think it’s pretty funny, but it’s also sort of offensive… maybe. You think you know this crowd and setting… board room, end of meeting, end of day, everyone is in a good mood… and they’ll like it… you think. It should be ok. It’s funny. We’re all friends here, sort of, right? So, you serve up your joke…

In quest-based video games, you die a lot. And when you do, you’re magically reborn and you keep going. Early game developers were quick to address the concerns of annoyed players who had to keep going back to the beginning every time their character died. From there emerged the “Save Point”, where you could set a point (“Save Game”) from where you’d resume next time you died. If you were in a forest, approaching a castle and suddenly… the ground was littered with first-aid kits, fancy weapons and ammo… well, it’d be advisable to pick up all that stuff and then Save Game before you storm that castle, because you know what’s coming.

It’d be a different world if we could all periodically Save Game and then Restore when things didn’t go our way.

Like in my first example, you’d have done a “Save Game” before you went up to her, before she laughed in your face, and her nearby friends looked up and noticed what was going on and also laughed, and the last thing you heard from behind you as you ran away was “are you serious?”, your face burning hot and red like a tomato…

Or in the next example, you tell your joke, but instead of laughter, you’re met with stony silence and several “what an idiot” expressions…

So what do you do? Restore game, of course. In both those cases, a full rewind to before the micro-implosion in your life, like it never happened.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t offer that, so at any given point, we just make the best decision we can going forward and hope it works out, knowing full-well that in hindsight, it might have been a mistake. You have the rest of your life to process the regret you just managed to generate… because there’s no going back.

But let’s recognize that the vast majority of the time, we’re all making decisions based on what we hope is in our best interest. The thing is, defining that best interest has become more difficult these days, with the vastness of conflicting interests. Whether we’re talking about the planet… or the individual levels of governments that control certain parts of it… or the people below those governments, the individuals like you and me… there is a colossal, multi-dimensional tug-of-war going on. A lot of finger-pointing and blame. A lot of the three most famous words you hear at a racetrack or casino or poker table: woulda, coulda, shoulda. None of those particular venues would function at all if we could Save Game and Restore. Oh, well gee, I just lost all my money on a horrible decision — let’s just go back a few minutes.

The giant gamble some governments are taking with people, and that people are taking themselves, also doesn’t offer a Restore point. We’re stuck with what they tell us to do, and what we choose to do. And at the end of it, there’s one thing I can be sure of, as I’ve said before — nobody will have been right, and nobody will have been wrong. Part of the reason has to do with the unexpected direction things have taken in some places. Part of the reason is that we’re learning something new every day. Part of it is that there are people who march around with no masks, guns and signs that say things like “let the weak die”. I will never be able to relate to that person, and vice-versa.

And part of the reason is that it’s impossible to judge any of it until we can look back on all of it. That will be a big, thick book, with hundreds of chapters and an additional LXVIII appendixes.

Let’s just all remember — we have no ability to Save Game. We have no ability to Restore. None of us have a functional crystal ball. All we have is the ability to make what we think to be good decisions, and hopefully create a going-forward future with the least amount of regret.

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Day 57 – May 12, 2020

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

One of the most interesting times in my life was a year away from school, Vancouver, and real life in general as I knew it. I packed my bags in the late Summer of 1987 and headed down to Chile, returning in the late Spring of 1988. I wasn’t here for the Calgary Olympics… in fact, I missed them entirely because where I was had no T.V.

Where I was… was in a town called Copiapó, in northern Chile, in the middle of the Atacama desert. No T.V., one radio station, one very old movie theatre, three questionable restaurants, lots of dirt roads. It’s grown a lot, both in population and modernity, but back then, it was like living in the 1930s. There were telephones, but not many. My phone number had 4 digits.

The relatable aspect these days was the culture shock of going from what we’re used to around here, to that — literally overnight. It’s the same sort of jarring impact life around here has recently given us. As tough as it was down there, especially initially, you get used to it… and over time, it seems normal. Those three questionable restaurants… well, they seemed to have gotten better over time.

One of them was Chinese food, and it the first couple of times, it was awful. The next few, not so bad. By the end of my time down there, it was among the best I’d ever had. Same thing with another hole-in-the-wall restaurant, where the food was awful to begin with… and it ended up being my favourite. By the end of it, they’d named a dish after me… where I’d described to them how to cook giant clams… by soaking them in white wine, then coating them in garlic butter, smothering them in parmesan cheese and baking them. Squeeze a lemon over all of that at the last minute. Certainly not my recipe, but they’d never heard of it. Deeeeelish.

But as much as you get used to it, you remember your old life… and you miss it. The one thing that made it all palatable is what, in common terms, is called an “out”. “Outs”, like in poker, where after the flop, your hand is behind and you need some help — but you’re not dead yet. Perhaps the only chance you have is to pair that King in your hand with one of the last two cards. As far as you know, there are three Kings left in the deck. You have three outs. When you have a crappy but well-paying job… and sometimes you’re close to just saying to hell with it… because in the back of your mind, you have a “anytime you want to join us, just call — start tomorrow” job offer pending in the background, there’s your Out. In baseball, quite literally, as long as you still have some outs, you’re in the game. It might be the bottom of the 9th with two outs and nobody on base and you’re down 10-0… but you still have an out. Many teams have come back to win games from exactly this situation. As long as you have an out.

Down there, my Out was that I could, with little more than a couple of week’s notice, find myself on a plane back to Vancouver. Knowing that Out existed made things tolerable, no matter what. It was there if I needed it, and the peace of mind that came with that… made all the difference.

As distant as they are, we have Outs here. Many of them. They’re not on the near horizon, but life will eventually get back to normal.

For the moment, we’re stuck in this new-normal, and that’s what it is — for now. I’m actually sick and tired of the dystopian “new normal is here forever”, “your life will never be the same” bullshit-scare-tactic click-here-to-read-more stories. They’re awful, pandering to our worst fears. Trust me, things will eventually get back to normal. There will be restaurants and operas and music festivals and beaches and hockey games and race tracks and graduations… with full crowds. It’ll be more than 10 days from now and less than 10 years from now. We can refine that range as time goes on… call it within a one-to-three year window before things are back to totally normal, with hopefully some remnant changes that make sense now and make sense in the future.

And when things are back to normal, we will look back at this time and think… yeah, that sucked. As used to it as we got, as new-normal as it was, it was nothing like the real thing. Indeed, that’s what went through my mind when I came back from Chile and went to one of our local Chinese restaurants. Truly, there was no comparison. But that in no way diminished the fact that what I got used to, at the time… it had its moment, and it served its purpose.

In baseball, when you hit into that final out, you’re Out. In poker, when your opponent flips over his cards to reveal a hand so strong that nothing can help you, it’s called drawing dead.

Nobody around here — not you, not me, not society — is drawing dead. We have Outs. Let’s continue to play our cards right, like continuing to do what we’re doing — and we’ll win this thing.

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October 15, 2020

By |October 15th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Philosophy, Art & Literature|0 Comments

There has to be something inherently wrong with a political system that can so brazenly show everyone the middle finger, with zero care or concern, and face zero repercussions.

The Republicans are blatantly trying to give themselves every possible advantage, legal or illegal, that they can in this election, and while it seems the media does what it can to report on it, the people pulling it off just laugh, don’t care… and just carry on. The shenanigans are blunt and transparent.

The most blatant of all has to do with the infrastructure that’s going to decide the election. Trump himself has made a lot of noise about mail-in ballots and absentee ballots… which for some reason are patriotic and acceptable and honourably welcomed in Republican states, but vilified and fraudulent in Democratic states.

And now, ballot-drop boxes in Republican states are being limited to one per county… but in California, a Democratic state, the GOP themselves are putting up theur own (illegal) ballot-collection boxes. They have been handed a cease-and-desist order… but have chosen to simply… not cease-and-desist.

Can you do that? The last time I checked, laws and court orders exist to uphold some semblance of civilised society. You don’t get to pick and choose which laws apply to you and which don’t; that’s a fundamental point of democracy.

But no… the Republicans, empowered by their “anything goes” and “make it up as we go along” leader, are doing their part. “What will help us win this election?”, they ask… and the answer is pretty simple, depending on where you are; either they will help you cast your vote, or they will help to suppress it. Every vote counts. We are all equal. Until we decide what counts and what’s equal.

To whom are these illegalities accountable? Remember Orwell… everyone is equal. But some people are more equal than others. What does that mean? Well, you’re seeing it play out with your own eyes.

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October 14, 2020

By |October 14th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Science of COVID-19, Philosophy, Art & Literature|4 Comments

Blood is in the news… for a couple of reasons. The first reason is a recently-published Canadian study (which followed-up on earlier studies) that analyzed different blood types and how they relate to C19. In a nutshell, it’s slightly better to be type O and slightly worse to be type A… as far as likelihood and severity of C19. In no way should it alter anyone’s behaviour, because it’s not *that* statistically significant.

I happen to be one of these type-O people… O-negative, in fact, which makes me a universal donor. If any of you ever need some blood, hit me up – I’ve got lots, and can always make some more. Being O-neg, as many of my fellow O-neg people will tell you, means a phone call from the Red Cross every 56 days to go donate blood. I don’t go every 56 days, and I’ll admit I haven’t gone in quite a while… but I do go, and I enjoy my well-earned orange juice and chocolate-chip (not oatmeal-raisin!) cookie for doing so.

Here in Canada, apart from the cookies and juice, we don’t get paid to donate blood. I was interested to learn that in many parts of the world, you do. It’s not a lot, like around $30 per donation, but for some people that can make a difference, and there are people who depend on it. It’s a strange sort of welfare system.

Which brings us to the curious second reason; a plea from a university in the U.S. to its students… to not purposefully contract C19, with the intent of creating antibodies and then selling their plasma.

Convalescent plasma therapy (one of the treatments Trump received) involves taking the blood plasma of a person who’s had C19 and has recovered… but still has the antibodies floating around their blood. Injecting a C19-infected patient with that plasma should give said person’s immune system a good kick in the right direction. Indeed, early trials show a 35% better chance of survival when this is used in “optimal patients”.

It goes without saying that contracting C19 on purpose — any purpose — is not a great idea. That a university has to threaten its students with suspension or expulsion seems to speak to numerous larger issues: young people … [Continue Reading]

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October 13, 2020

By |October 13th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Business & Economics, Philosophy, Art & Literature|2 Comments

In today’s news, we got lots of new numbers… see for yourself. It’s pretty-much what’s to be expected… a little better, if anything. Nothing drastically bad, at least.

What might be turning drastically bad… ok, not drastically, but just to point out… that in elections of the somewhat distant past, there have been some wild accusations thrown around… like the opposing candidate is a well-known to be an extrovert! His sister-in-law is a thespian! He’s engaged in nepotism with his sister in law! Not only that… but, before he was married, he practiced celibacy! And… when in college, he matriculated! Scandalous!

The voters of yester-year we suitably horrified and of course would never vote for such an awful person. You can almost see them crowded outside the balcony with torches and pitchforks, and the poor guy stammering, “But… but…”, but being drowned out by the crowd all chanting “Scoundrel! Scoundrel!”

Indeed, like that not-so-old joke says, waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay sounds like a lot of fun… unless you know what those two things actually are.

The problem with those amusing election allegations is that they’re all true, but of course, nowhere near as scandalous as they sound. Candidates have been hurling insults at each other forever, but I suppose it’s a bit of an art to do it powerfully, yet truthfully.

You might think this is all leading to a little Trump-bashing, but it’s not… other to mention that curious statement he served up recently… where, asked why he hadn’t implemented a nation-wide mandatory mask mandate, he accused Joe Biden of not doing it. It was puzzling to hear, because, of course, the only person who could mandate that is the president himself. But Trump knows what he’s doing, and loves it. He makes it up as he goes along, and his crowd doesn’t care. It doesn’t make sense to accuse Biden with something he couldn’t have done to begin with, but the Trump crowd couldn’t care less. It’s irrelevant. Trump good. Biden bad. Facts – whatever. It’s a bit of a contrast to the past, where as awful as the (non)-insults were, they sounded like they could destroy a career.

Ironically, Trump himself is an extrovert… and a thespian… and he’s been engaged in nepotism with most of his … [Continue Reading]

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October 12, 2020

By |October 12th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Life in Vancouver, Philosophy, Art & Literature|3 Comments

Food, water, oxygen. Those three things have something in common… which is, none of them are a big deal… until you don’t have access to them. Then, depending on how much time has elapsed, they all become a big deal. That is how it is with things we take for granted.

In the case of these three things, roughly speaking, three minutes without oxygen will kill you. Three days without water might too… and the same goes for three weeks without food.

These things we take for granted… we should think about more often than once a year… certainly, on the tail-end of this three-day (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend, pandemic notwithstanding, we really have a lot for which to be grateful.

Most people reading this are living in a country that is most certainly (as it is ranked, year after year) in the top-three in the world with respect to quality of life. And of the cities in this great country, let’s agree Vancouver easily hits that top-three list as well.

There’s no deep political message today; I guess I could write about the original Thanksgiving, and its ultimate implications. Certainly, the associated Columbus Day (which is today in the U.S.) requires a deep look and an intensive re-write, a process already in the works.

But let’s keep it simple… the sentiment of being grateful for what you have; that’s word-wide and eternal. If you’re sitting around a table doing the turkey thing tonight, or did it yesterday, or even if you don’t do it at all, it’s at least a good day to ask someone (and yourself) – name three things for which you’re grateful.

I always have a tough time answering that question. Not because I can’t think of anything, but because I have too many things I’d equally rank and can’t decide what to prioritize. It’s a dilemma I identify as “a good problem to have”. And if you’re reading this, you automatically share in that part of the same problem/dilemma. As bad as things may seem these days, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

We have plenty to appreciate. We have plenty to acknowledge. And we have plenty to celebrate. With that in mind, I think I’ll go have a slice of pumpkin pie. Maybe two. … [Continue Reading]

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October 11, 2020

By |October 11th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Humour, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|1 Comment

When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped onto the ice a couple of weeks go to present the Tampa Bay Lightning with their hard-fought-for Stanley Cup, there was something missing. Well, there was a lot missing, not the least of which were the fans. To its credit, the NHL pulled off an excellent season, given the complexities involved. It all worked out as planned, their whole bubble-infrastructure held together, and even virtual fan experience was so well-executed, you’d forget there weren’t sold-out arenas surrounding the play. The lights, the sounds, the announcers, the crowd noises – as genuine and convincing as possible.

But what was missing were the boos. It’s a well-known tradition… Bettman steps onto the ice, and the fans boo. Loudly. Like the monkeys pulling each other back from reaching the banana, most people might not even know why they’re booing… but everyone else does it, so you do it too. And, for what it’s worth, there are plenty of reasons to boo the guy; pretty-much every team has a reason to, thought it occurs to me that Arizona might be the only exception… and further to that, Arizona might be the only place on the planet that cheers Bettman and boos Wayne Gretzky.

I’m sure the NHL and the broadcasters thought about it. I’m sure they had the recorded boos all queued up ready to play, and left it to a last-minute decision. I’m sure Bettman wouldn’t have cared; he always laughs it off. And/or knows, to a great extent, that he deserves it.

It was a missed opportunity though… just one little bit of normality that could’ve been implemented, but wasn’t… and that’s too bad. I guess the politics and implications of it outweighed the humour and fan appreciation of it… but these days, when all of us are looking for evidence that, as crazy as things are, there’s some normalcy lurking in the background… it would’ve been nice to see.

I hope the next time he’s awarding the Stanley Cup, Bettman is showered with 20,000 real-life boos. I can’t wait. It will long and loud and powerful. I’d love to experience it. And, considering what that implies, I think we'd all love it. Even Bettman himself.

… [Continue Reading]

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