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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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Day 56 – May 11, 2020

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

William Henry Harrison was elected to the presidency of The United States of America in 1840, as only the 9th president of that young nation. Indeed, right around the time he was born, George Washington was giving his first State of the Union address. His running mate, John Tyler, was elected vice-president. But this posting has little to do with the presidency of Harrison, because he didn’t do much, and died a month into his term, leading to his VP’s ascension to the throne.

John Tyler (1790-1862) was sworn in as the 10th president, and served in that capacity from 1841 until the next election, where he was soundly defeated, making him the longest-serving president who was never actually elected.

Tyler may not have made a great president, but he did make a lot of children… 15 of them. He was 63 years old when one of them, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935), was born.

Lyon Gardner wasn’t quite as good as his dad at fathering lots of children, but he did ok, having 6 of his own. And he was certainly good at having them at an older age. One of them, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Junior, was born in 1924, when Senior was 71. And another, Harrison Ruffin Tyler (we can only assume after whom he was named) was born in 1928, when daddy was 75.

These Tylers clearly come from good stock… but it’s still mind-boggling to realize that since those latter two are still alive, John Tyler, born in 1790, has two living grandsons. Three generations that span the entire existence of the country.

That was perhaps the best example I could find of just how “new” the U.S. is. It’s arguably three generations old. From a Canadian point of view, someone born at the time of confederation (1867) could easily have a child that’s still alive today. Two generations.

There’s a rich history between these two young countries, who at times have been mortal enemies. In fact, it was a war that started both… and depending with which side of history you want to associate, you could say, as an American, that you “won” — and those defeated British, who went on to retreat to what ultimately became Canada, “lost”. If it means so much to call it that, by all means — take your victory. And of course it should be noted that both sides of the war were being fought by people who had much more in common with each other than the indigenous people, whose land it actually was.

The two countries weren’t done squabbling quite yet. The war of 1812, which technically was between the U.S. and the U.K. was really more Canada vs. America. We burned down the Capitol and White House in that one.

It’s not fair to summarize a complex war — that went on for years — in one paragraph, but the summary is that it was probably a sort of stalemate, which of course, in North America, means both sides thought they won. Or at least claimed they did. There is no overtime or shootout or sudden-death to an entire war, but by the time the Treaty of Ghent was signed, both sides simply had had enough. Nobody had any fight left in them, so that was that.

The fighting didn’t end there, as far as America was concerned because of course, the civil war came along… more similar people just fighting each other over ideology. The soon-to-be Canadians fought in that war too, on both sides — but the vast majority with the anti-slavery Union soldiers, who eventually defeated the Confederate states. Interesting little factoids… the soldier who organized the detachment of Union solders that captured and killed Lincoln-assassin John Wilkes Booth — was Canadian. And the composer of “O Canada” was a French-Canadian Union soldier.

By the time the two World Wars rolled around, the countries were strong allies, and have been ever since. The world’s longest undefended border. Each other’s largest trading partners, till recently.

But as young nations grow — and by any measure, these are still mere children in the sea of adult countries from around the world that have existed for many centuries or millennia — personalties begin to develop, and whatever the older generations may have had in common… well, things change. It’s sometimes hard to gauge whether you’re dealing with the attitude of an entire country, or just a vocal minority, or just its leaders… especially when the messages are so mixed. For two countries that are really pretty similar when you compare populations with anywhere else… we sure seem to be on different paths these days. Americans really like to stick to their guns… in every sense of that statement. The vast and conflicting confusion that’s becoming evident is worrisome to say the least. A cohesive plan is by no means guaranteed to succeed, but a confused, mismanaged one is doomed to fail. It seems like a lot of state governments aren’t listening to the feds. It looks like a lot of municipal governments aren’t listening to the state. It looks like a lot of people aren’t listening to any of those three, and just doing what they want — or cherry-picking what works for them, and hoping for the best.

I’ll end this with my usual profound gratitude that I was on the “losing” side of a War of Independence… and as much noise is being made about how poorly Canada is handling this at a federal level (it’s not a lot of noise, and it’s not really true) — or how the government here, whether provincially or municipally, could be doing so much better, because jobs economy lockdown jobs money jobs economy — yeah, we get it, we are all suffering. We’re also all surviving, and are far more likely to with an infrastructure that can handle it. I’ll take Canadian-handling criticism all day long. If what we’re doing is some version of failure, some version of “losing” — like the British or Canadians from wars of the distant past — I’ll take it.

Some numbers… the U.S. counted its 80,000th death over the weekend. Canada is under 5,000. That’s deaths per million of 247 vs. 132. And today was the third straight day of declining new-case numbers in Canada.

Bring on the phased re-openings… with all things continuing as they are, that’ll be just after the upcoming long weekend.

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Day 55 – May 10, 2020

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

As it’s Sunday, no B.C. numbers today… so I’ll throw in my usual guess, which today is just the same as yesterday’s +15, and we’ll leave it at that… and hopefully that’s pretty accurate (we’ll know tomorrow) because it’d imply another good day all across the country. Speaking of good days, Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there… I hope those who are celebrating in person have found a safe and socially-responsible way to do so. The weather is certainly cooperating… outside is good, for many reasons. Just stay away from others and it’ll be more than fine. You know the drill.

Mother’s Day every year marks the point in the NHL playoffs where fans around here are trying to figure out who to cheer for now, because if the Canucks made the playoffs, they’ve probably been recently eliminated. There’s a reasonable chance they could’ve gone a little deeper this year, but we’ll never know what this season and post-season would have looked like, were it not so rudely interrupted. We can only speculate.

Speaking of hockey and speculation… back in the day, when Wayne Gretzky dominated the NHL, it became a bit of an issue what to do with him in hockey pools… the pools where you draft players and then accumulate points as the players on your team accumulate goals and assists throughout the season. Fantasy sports leagues do this on a whole new level, where you have to decide who on your roster you’ll “dress” for tonight’s game, because you can’t play your full team of 22 players. Rest assured, in today’s world, the guy who got to draft Gretzky would dress him 100% of the time. In fact, Gretzky was a bit of a hockey-pool one-man wrecking machine, because whoever got him usually ended up winning everything. To prevent that, one possibility was to break Gretzky’s goals and Gretzky’s assists into two, as if he were two separate players, and then someone could draft one or the other. But even there, his assists alone were dominant. Or, of course, nobody got the opportunity to draft Gretzky, and that kept things even.

That was a good example of the tail wagging the dog, a good metaphor where one little statistically-significant aspect of something can have a profound and obfuscating effect on everything else. And, as mentioned, one option is to remove it entirely,… but then things look a whole lot different.

Today’s example of the tail wagging the dog involves a pair of U.S. states, New York and New Jersey, very much the hotspot of this outbreak in the U.S. Let’s call that area NYJ for simplicity.

NYJ has a population of 28.4M out of the American total of 331M which is around 8.6%. But out of the American total test case count of almost 1.4M, they have 35.6% of them. And 44.7% of the more than 80,000 deaths. Not just the hotspot, but now very much the epicentre, which was not always the case.

What’s interesting, and good for NYJ, is that they’ve managed to get things far more in control than was the case not so long ago. The individual numbers there are flattening and trending well. Who knows what that will look like after seeing the crowds in Central Park, but at least they’ve contained things to a manageable level… and, in doing so, made the U.S. numbers in general look a lot better… and consequently, created a lot of false optimism.

The Federal recommendation for re-opening involves declining case rates over a period of 14 days. This does not mean 14 straight days of succeedingly-declining numbers. It simply means a 14-day period after which the number of active cases is simply lower, ie recoveries (plus deaths, I suppose) have out-paced new cases. At present, numerous states are in varying stages of re-opening. At present, the number of states who meet that 14-day criteria is… zero. Nevertheless, openings with reckless abandon. Because that’s Freedom.

Perhaps a better spelling of that word these days, in some places, would be “Free-dumb”. Somehow, freedom and the constitution and liberty and guns all get wrapped up in the same, confused package. There’s the word for it.

Indeed, more than 200 years ago, American founding father Patrick Henry proclaimed “Give me liberty or give me death!”

It seems some Americans, not happy with having to make a choice, and perhaps a little greedily — both from inward-facing and public-facing points-of-view — have found a way to obtain both.

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October 25, 2020

By |October 25th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics|2 Comments

Like the NDP in B.C., COVID-19 is back for a 2nd term… and it’s more powerful than the first.

I’ve added a new series of graphs… these are a subset of the graphs above them, and plotted logarithmically… starting at a good guess with respect to the beginning of Canada’s 2nd wave – right after Labour Day.

Since they’re logarithmic, they tend to squash the numbers… but that’s useful, because it tells you at a glance when the growth has stopped… like when the new-case numbers are linear, not exponential. Indeed, if you look at Quebec, the bad news is that they’re getting 1,000 new cases a day. The good news is that those numbers have been steady for a couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, 1,000 cases a day isn’t great, but it’s far, far better than the implication of seeing those numbers continuing to rise sharply.

Which brings us to everyone else… where, across the board, every other province is edging upwards. That part is expected. How steep and how long… that remains to be seen. We’ll see what B.C. and Alberta – and therefore, the national picture — looks like tomorrow.

October 25, 2020

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October 24, 2020

By |October 24th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Follower Favourites, Our Dog|5 Comments

No local numbers today or tomorrow… so no speculative guesses either. If the last few days are any indication, things are going to get worse before they improve… but in the meantime, why don’t we just enjoy this incredible weather… it’s a beautiful day to be outside, and if you’re wondering where to walk, might I suggest your nearest polling station to go vote, if you haven’t already done so.

Instead of fully-updated numbers and graphs (the partial one is here, if you’re interested), here’s a video of my dog fetching a frisbee… with some spectacular views of blue skies and the ocean thrown in for good measure.

Words: of some value
Picture: a thousand words
This video: priceless

In the midst of “the worst is yet to come”, there’s always some beauty to be found.

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  • October 23, 2020

October 23, 2020

By |October 23rd, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Science of COVID-19, Sports & Gaming|0 Comments

Last night’s debate was a lot more sane than anyone might have imagined. Kudos to the moderator, who did a far better job than anyone else has in previous debates.

Donald Trump, in poker terms, is down to the felt… the meager chips he has left were waiting for an opportunity to go all-in, and that’s what he attempted last night. Unfortunately for him, the hand he flipped over wasn’t too good. How it plays out remains to be seen.

Civility aside, the debate offered more lies than usual. Biden was off on a few points, but Trump was on a whole other level. We’re used to it from Trump, but that doesn’t mean we should let it slide. I’m not one of these people who usually screams at TVs or during movies, but I did find myself yelling “That’s bullshit!” or “That’s not true!” more than a few times.

Donald Trump doesn’t quite understand how ridiculous he sounds when he blames the high case counts on the fact that they’re doing a lot of testing… too much testing…more testing than anyone in the world, he claims… which isn’t actually true. On tests-per-million-of-population, the U.S. trails behind countries like Singapore, Denmark, Israel and Britain, to name just a few.

But that’s far from the point… because the logical conclusion of that nonsensical line of thinking would be to just not test at all – and then, like magic, no more cases… problem solved! In presidential terms, Mission AccomplishedTM – but it’s just not true, no matter how hard Trump claims it to be the case. It hasn’t just rounded the corner. It’s not almost gone. Things aren’t weeks away from being back to normal.

Indeed, his “It’s not so bad” claims are a little contrary to his “I’ve saved millions of lives with my actions” statements – neither of which are even remotely true.

Yes, it’s bad – how bad is it? Since the White House took over the numbers, it’s all a bit suspect. Case counts go down, but deaths (numbers not entirely in their control) don’t go down. Let’s ignore the case counts and go right to the guts of the matter.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics… The White House is reporting 229,000 deaths due to C19. Recent numbers released by those independent parties adding … [Continue Reading]

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  • October 22, 2020

October 22, 2020

By |October 22nd, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics|0 Comments

A couple of days ago, Donald Trump gave an interview to 60 Minutes. A couple of people, just sitting down for an interview. One was articulate and well-prepared. The other was not.

It didn’t go well for Trump, because Leslie Stahl pressed him on questions to which she wanted answers, and his constant deflection, and then bringing up irrelevant topics, did not deter her. A couple of times, it devolved to “You’re lying, no I’m not, yes you are, no I’m not.” Trump wasn’t happy, and eventually stormed out, like the kid taking his soccer ball and going home, claiming nobody ever passes it to him.

A couple of hours ago, Trump posted the 37-minute raw footage of that interview onto Facebook. A couple of minutes ago, I finished watching it… and, while still fresh on my mind, here are a couple of thoughts about it.

First of all, there was nothing unexpected. Trump interrupted and deflected and made things up – his usual. It troubles me that a lot of people will see this as a “win” for him – Donald just being Donald, Donald not caving to the evil fake news media, and so on. What’s troubling is everyone who still thinks this is ok presidential behaviour. It’s far from it, but four years of it has jaded us all. Half of the people are like, “RahRahRah Go Trump MAGA!!!” and the other half are resigned to “This is just how it is, for now.” Neither should be acceptable, but here we are.

Tonight, it will be another couple of people who will sit down to “discuss”, when Trump and Joe Biden will sit down in the last presidential debate before the election. The moderator will have a “mute” button at their disposal, but I’m not entirely sure how that might play out. Trump’s mic might get cut, but that won’t stop him from continuing his extemporaneous (adj. spoken or done without preparation; impromptu) bullshit. It might be disjointed and difficult to watch, even more than last time. And let’s remember, this is his last hurrah. His last stand, his last opportunity to make an impression. This is the last round of a long and bitter boxing match, and Trump is behind on points. He needs a knockout, and he will come … [Continue Reading]

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October 21, 2020

By |October 21st, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report|0 Comments

You’ll notice some new columns and a new graph today… please join me in welcoming Manitoba to the club.

Manitoba has had a bit of a different journey with respect to the pandemic. Like the rest of the country, things shot-up there in late March and early April… but then got flattened out very effectively. They flared up a bit again during the last week of August, but again they managed to stamp it down. More recently, in the middle of October, they had a pretty bad three days. Where it goes from there remains to be seen. After that spike, it looked like it was tailing off again… but the last couple of days don’t imply a good trend. Either way, now we’re keeping an eye on them as well.

Note to Saskatchewan, The Maritimes and everyone else… I hope you remain insignificant enough that you’re not worth mentioning here. Numbers are creeping up everywhere, including places that haven’t seen cases in a long time. The Yukon reported two new cases a couple of days ago; their last new case had been August 7th. And the Northwest Territories… one new case yesterday, two more today. It’s the first time since April that they’ve seen new cases.

Around here, B.C. saw more than 200 new cases today… the first time it’s ever been over 200 in a 24-hour period.

Similarly, in Alberta… but the number there is 400+. Ugh.

The top Canadian prize still goes to Nunavut… they’re still having none of it.

October 21, 2020

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