May 23, 2021

I hope you got your good dose of sunshine in yesterday, because around here, we’re back to “the usual” for a week. The big Vancouver Weather Wheel (VWW) has only three sections… “It’s about to rain”, “It’s raining” and “It just rained.” A recent spin landed in section 2, and that’s where it’ll sit for a while… and actually, that’s ok. The freshest air on the planet exists when things transition from section 2 to section 3.

The other thing going on these days is the transition from the NHL regular season to the NHL playoffs –lots of rain equals Spring equals NHL playoffs… and there’s an interesting correlation… you can sort of map playoff performance with Covid-19 numbers.

Here in B.C., our numbers have recently tanked, which is very good. The Canucks have also tanked… which is good or bad, depending on whether you like to see a strong finish or a better draft pick. Either way, both our pandemic numbers and our team’s performance have crashed down noticeably. Playoffs? LOL.

One province east of us is Alberta, whose pandemic numbers were riding high. Also riding high were the Edmonton Oilers… who seem to have hit a brick wall when they entered the playoffs. And right around the time the Oilers began their journey to falling down two games to zero to the Jets, so did their C19 numbers. That’s an impressive meltdown, their daily new-case numbers… falling like a rock. Much like the Oilers’ chances of getting much further in the playoffs. They might go down 3 games to 0 to the Winnipeg Jets, who are flying high these days.

Unfortunately, so are the C19 numbers in Winnipeg. Manitoba is the one province that isn’t yet headed in the right direction, though perhaps they’re turning the corner too.

As has happened numerous times in the past, the Leafs and Habs are battling it out; that series is tied, similar to the C19 numbers in those two provinces, as far as things getting better… though I’d have to give the “trending advantage” to Quebec… which, in this warped correlation of mine, is good news for Leafs fans.

Two of those four teams will meet in the next round of the playoffs, and only one will make it to the semi-final round… where they’ll run into an American powerhouse team.

I hope at that point, the team is Las Vegas… and I hope that’s there this correlation breaks down. Las Vegas numbers are looking so good these days, the place is almost back to normal. They’ve already thrown the doors open in most places, and will do so entirely in the next couple of weeks; any Las Vegas hockey game will play to a packed house, and that’d be a great way to watch a game… whether live or on TV. I’ve been to games in Las Vegas; usually it’s the Canucks getting beaten up, but it’s always a memorable experience… one I hope to partake in once again, sooner than later. I don’t see myself in that crowd anytime soon… but watching something that real will be a very good indication we’re in the final stretch.

And, for what it’s worth, it rarely rains in Vegas.

May 17, 2021

Encouraging local numbers today… and if you don’t like analyzing numbers, just look at the pretty pictures… specifically the B.C. one… which, in a nutshell, shows the rise and fall of the 3rd wave. Our numbers these days are exactly where they were at in early March, when things started to go sideways.

And, actually, not sideways… just up… sharply. But as you can see, as quickly as they went up, they’ve come down. That little plateau was in the second week of April, and it’s been downhill (in the good sense) ever since then. What’s going up sharply these days is the temperature… and vaccinations.

Looking across the country, as it turns out, nobody has managed this third wave as well as B.C. Quebec would be a close second though; their worst is over and they’ve slid down to the bottom of their own hill.

Alberta has turned the corner, but has a ways to go. Saskatchewan as well, though slower… but Manitoba is still arguably headed in the wrong direction; really not sure what happened there, but this week will tell a lot.

And Ontario… certainly headed in the right direction… their daily numbers and their average is lower… but it’s still wildly volatile and it always feels like they’re near a tipping point. Aided by warmer weather and lots of upcoming vaccinations, their worst is also likely over.

I don’t want the maritimes and the northern territories to feel left out… all looking good.

Locally, nothing will change before the May long weekend… but, by then, we may be poised to see some significant relaxations. Don’t hold me to it; I don’t make the rules… but given all of the above, given what we’ve learned in a year, given where we are with vaccinations, given what we now know about the colossal difference in risk between indoor and outdoor gatherings, given that we know it’s a tiny number of people who infect lots of others.. not everyone infecting one or two others… given all that, it wouldn’t be difficult to put some rules in place that really open things up in an effective way.

To be honest, they would’ve done it already if they could count on people sticking to the important parts. Like, golf? Out golfing with friends? Risk of transmission on the golf course… near zero. Risk of transmission on the 19th hole, downing a pitcher of beer? Much higher. Can we count on people to play a round of golf, but then not spend three hours in a crowded, poorly-ventilated pub? This is where the give an inch/take a mile issues come into it, and managing that, going forward, will be the bigger challenge.

May 2, 2021

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

That’s perhaps the most famous opening line of any novel – “A Tale of Two Cities”.

Charles Dickens was talking about London and Paris… but today I’m going to write about a tale of two provinces… B.C. and Alberta… which these days are about as different as those two cities during the French Revolution. It’s interesting though… you read that paragraph, and you might find yourself relating it to present day. It fits.

Here at the 7-day daily new-case averages for the two provinces:

four weeks ago: AB 1,221 / BC 1,122
three weeks ago: AB 1,413 / BC 1,041
two weeks ago: AB 1,573 / BC 942
last week: AB 1,870 / BC 818

You don’t need to graph it to see the pattern, but I’ll describe what it looks like… it’s a big less-than sign (“ < ”) … where AB is going up and BC is going down. As usual, we don’t have weekend numbers here, so tomorrow we’ll get some idea where things are going… but it should be noted we’re entering the period of time where the effects of the latest set of restrictions should start becoming evident. I would expect things to follow this pattern of improvement… or, at least, be no worse. But that’s just here in B.C. There’s no large English-Channel-like body of water between these provinces… there’s barely a border… that you might miss if you’re going too fast and blink at the wrong time. And we’re certainly not at war. We want both sides to win. I hope they figure out and take the steps necessary to control things; it’s a tough spot to be in… and it’s a bumpy ride to the finish. But it’s not as bumpy as the end of that fine book, where the protagonist, Carton, is having some final thoughts as he heads towards the guillotine… “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” That’s a little extreme. Then again, he was about to go get his head cut off. If you wanted to map that closing line to the present day, let’s keep it simple… do, as usual, the right thing… and then get a good night’s sleep.

April 28, 2021

“It is often easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”

It was Admiral Grace Hopper, a legend and pioneer in the world of computer science, who said that… though it’s possible she didn’t quite realize the extent to which people would eventually lead their lives by it. It makes sense sometimes to bend the rules, but you have to know where and when to pick your spots. It’s not a free-for-all for reckless decisions.

You think you already know what I’m about to say, so instead of repeating what I’ve been saying for a year, here’s are some different examples.

Perhaps the shortest existence of a professional sports league in the history of the world took place last week. If you don’t follow football (ie soccer) on a global level, there’s a good chance you missed it entirely. Basically, a small group of the biggest teams in the world, spanning multiple leagues, announced they were forming their own super-league. Forget rankings and playoffs… this league of elites is by invitation only, and here’s $5 billion TV deal to go along with it, just for them.

Imagine the uproar you’d hear in Canada if the top 6 NHL teams decided to break away and form their own little league… and now imagine it on a global scale. The backlash from literally millions… of fans, players, coaches, reporters… pretty much everyone… was a tidal wave that, when you think about it, was completely to be expected.

“OK ok we’re sorry… forget the whole thing!! Jeez!!” – said the ringleaders… who no doubt are re-thinking their ridiculous, stupid assumptions that led to it in the first place. And who are now facing significant consequences for their failed mutiny.

Closer to home, the existence of Playland being open lasted just as long. The backlash was swift and expected. What else is going to happen when a few hours after announcing no inter-provincial travel, you announce the opening of one of Canada’s biggest amusement parks? “Sorry sorry yeah you’re right”. Playland will be open one day, just not when anybody from out of town isn’t supposed to be there in the first place.

Speaking of Playland, I really like that midway horse racing game… the one where you’re trying to fire the balls into the right hole which makes your little horse-in-lights move along. If I can’t have real horse racing, I’ll take that for now.

And speaking of horse racing, this weekend’s running of the Kentucky Derby notwithstanding, there’s an interesting sort of horse race that’s easier to explain if you visualize it… so, see below.

Replacing all of the tiny vaccination graphs today is one big one; this is what the provincial horse race of vaccinations looks like. This graph is based on vaccination percentages, using 10% as the same starting point for everyone.

What exactly does it tell us? You’d never have known that Manitoba seems to be vaccinating people, per capita, faster than anyone. Conversely, Alberta is the slowest.

At the end of the day, it’s not a big difference. It took Manitoba 23 days to go from 10% to 25%. It took Alberta 31 days. Everyone else is somewhere in between (B.C. is 26 days). By any definition, it’s a tight race. Also, who cares… the idea is we all get to the finish line, and then we all win.

But just to circle back to the premise of this entire piece, we get there not by doing stupid things and begging for forgiveness. Better to ask first… and act responsibly.

April 10, 2021

In old Star Trek episodes (the original series), the starship Enterprise and the crew would often find themselves in battle against some aliens whose technology was compatible with respect to being able to launch weapons at each other. Accordingly, Captain Kirk would sit on his throne on The Bridge and bark orders to Spock and Chekov… and when they were under heavy attack and the ship was in trouble, it would be something like, “Divert all power to the shields!!”

By that time, though, the poor Enterprise had been suffering volleys of alien torpedoes and lasers and whatever version of energy beam was the flavour of the week… it was springing leaks, and major systems were malfunctioning… so, quite often, Kirk was met with a response of… “Unable.”

Captain Kirk always improvised, and things always turned out well. They always managed to survive. In fact, he, Canadian icon William Shatner turned ninety a few weeks ago. That’s the actor. The actual captain won’t be born till March 22nd, 2233… a birthday celebrated every year in Vulcan, Alberta.

But there’s not much to celebrate in Alberta these days, nor here… nor anywhere in Canada… because, like Kirk vs. The Universe, we’re in an epic battle… against an alien we thought we knew, but now some variant aliens are showing up, and it’s a problem… and the ship is perhaps damaged more than we can tolerate.

To continue with the metaphor, if the Enterprise is the world, we here in Canada are presently the shields. We need more power diverted to us. But… the entire ship is under attack and everyone needs energy, and perhaps there’s nowhere to pull it from. The heroic crew member that’s in the engine room where the Warp Core is about to breach… that guy is asking for help. Send power… we need to vaccinate the anti-matter containment field. Scotty needs to vaccinate the shields. Deck 8 needs to vaccinate the hole in the hull that’s already ejected a few unfortunate red-shirts into deep space. Dr. McCoy needs more power to Sick-Bay so that he can… well, perhaps, actually vaccinate people.

When the shields were low and the Enterprise would take a direct hit, everyone would be bumped hard… left or right, for some reason… never up or down. I guess the gravity system didn’t need a lot of power to keep operating.

The next couple of months are going to feel like that… we’re going to get bumped around. And the present inability to have badly-needed energy/vaccines directed to us will be a good topic of discussion once the ship is docked at Starfleet for repairs. Once the pandemic is over.

But, for now, we just need to get there. Beam me up, Scotty… quickly, before a travel ban is imposed.

April 7, 2021

History speaks of many examples of products that were designed for a specific purpose, but were ultimately repurposed for something entirely different. For example, bubble wrap… it was originally designed to be cool, textured wallpaper. That market didn’t catch on – especially in households with little kids, I’m guessing – but the inventors, sitting on tons of unused inventory, trying to figure out what to do with it, came upon the bright idea that it’d he useful for transporting fragile goods. They contacted IBM, who they figured would be interested in having a way of safely shipping their delicate electronics, and they were right; that caught on, and we’ve all had the pleasure of popping those little things ever since… the extra bonus when anything fragile gets shipped to us.

Speaking of wallpaper, Play-Doh was originally designed as wallpaper cleaner. I’m not sure how good it is at that, having never actually needed to clean any wallpaper… but as a toy, very successful; there are very few kids who at some point haven’t gotten their grubby little paws on some.

Speaking of toys… there’s the Slinky, originally designed as a spring used on ships to stabilize devices on choppy seas. Until one day, when a slinky was accidentally knocked off a table… and it walked itself over to a guy who had a light-bulb moment; Richard James, the “inventor” of the Slinky. Even he admits he didn’t invent anything; just clued-in to an excellent alternative use for an already existing product.

Speaking of alternative uses for already existing products… toothpaste. Like, for example, white Colgate. Terrific for keeping your teeth bright and healthy, of course… but you know what else? If you have a scratched CD or DVD that’s unplayable, coating it with toothpaste to “fill in” the scratches and then rinsing off the excess… works wonders. I’ve resurrected many dead Discs in my day.

Speaking of health products that have alternative uses… Coca Cola was originally designed to be an alternative to morphine addiction, and to treat headaches and anxiety. The guy who invented it, John Pemberton, was a veteran of the civil war, and a morphine addict. He wanted a sweet, alcoholic drink with some coca leaves thrown in for good measure, so that’s what he invented: Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. Over time, the recipe was tweaked and carbonated… and the rest is history.

Speaking of ubiquitous products that began their existence as something medicinal with a specific purpose, history may end up grouping Covid-19 vaccines into the mix, because the careful research that led to their initial approvals was based on science that described their intended two-dose use, with the spacing of those doses a few weeks apart. I’m not sure those tiny vials have instructions written on them… and if they do, they’re in an unreadably-small font… but anyway, if you take your magnifying glass and read it, you’d find that we, here in Canada, are not following those simple instructions. In fact, that goes doubly-so for us here in B.C… where we are the lowest percentage of fully-vaccinated people in all of North America (!) – but, that’s by design… and I’m totally ok with it because, as we’re finding, and as I wrote about yesterday, if you shift the goalposts a bit… from “not getting sick” to “not getting seriously sick”, the product can indeed be used differently than designed… and very successfully.

Speaking of not following simple instructions… yesterday marked the 3-year anniversary of the devastating Humboldt Broncos bus crash… caused by a driver ignoring a very simple instruction: Stop. Of course, there was far more to it than that, but it’s a good example of how a seemingly tiny rule violation by a single person can have drastic, far-reaching effects… like how Alberta’s outbreak of the P.1 variant can be traced to a single out-of-province traveller. One guy who broke the rules, and here we all are.

Speaking of there being far more to it than that…

Well, there’s always far more to it than that. Enough for now. Speak to you later.

March 26, 2021

The good news with numbers is brief. Yesterday, B.C.’s vaccination rate went from nine point something to ten point something percent. Today, so did Alberta and Ontario… all of which allowed me to change the percentage to one decimal place instead of two. That’s one small step for a decimal point; one giant leap for significant figures as it pertains to reaching the end of this thing. I look forward to Manitoba joining the club soon.

And that concludes the numbers-related good news.

Today, B.C. had over 900 new cases… for the first time since November. What’s also bad is that the new-case growth rate was over 1%… not a particularly good direction for the trend to be heading.

Here are the weekly new-case averages per week, starting 6 weeks ago:

433, 441, 480, 559, 537, 560, 699. There was a nice dip a few weeks ago… right around the time Dr. Henry was calling it a turning point; it’s up to us, yadda yadda… so, how’d we do? There you go.

We’re likely to see the new-case numbers crawl over 1,000 in the next few days… so, to be clear, we’re very much in a 3rd wave… the question is, how bad will it get? Nowhere near as bad as it’d be if we didn’t have improving weather and vaccines. But nowhere near as good as it’d be if we didn’t have variants… and if we’d all properly followed those rules we used to be so good at. Half of that we can’t control… but the other half…

Now it’s Spring Break; people are traveling and doing their own thing. This is how we roll, and for the people who’ve simply “had it” with the pandemic, none of this matters. Ask me in two weeks how much it really matters, but as good or bad as it gets, when it comes to reaching the finish line, it’s not that we’re not running towards it as fast as we can… it’s that we keep pushing it our further. It’s a tough race to figure out when the finish line keeps moving, but it’s even more frustrating when we’re the ones moving it.

Stay tuned for Monday’s numbers… and don’t hold your breath for any radical change in restrictions. If anything, we’re presently going the wrong way.

February 14, 2021

Happy SnowyFamilyDayWeekendValentinesDay!

You may have noticed how quiet and peaceful it gets when the ground is blanketed by snow. It’s simply due to the fact that snow actually absorbs sound… and, also, the uneven surface helps to disperse sound waves. The opposite of a polished concrete floor is a snow-covered surface – the fluffier, the better.

Two bits of fluffy vaccine news:

One is that the province of Manitoba has ordered 2 million doses of our own mRNA Canadian-produced vaccine; vaccine that’s made in Alberta by Providence Therapeutics. The only slight problem with it is that the vaccine doesn’t actually exist. Well, it does, but it’s only in a Phase-1 trial. Optimistically, Phases 2 and 3 start after May, and counting on emergency authorization from Health Canada in the fall, perhaps it’ll be getting into Winnepegian and Flin-Flonian arms before the end of the year.

Of course, we’ve been told the majority of us in the rest of Canada would have plenty of Pfizer and Moderna available by then, so what this really means is the government of Manitoba saying to the Federal government… “We don’t believe you.” Hard to argue. One thing is clear… one day, Canada will be flooded with vaccine… from what we ordered and from what we’re making. When exactly will that be? Perhaps around the time Hell starts looking like my front yard. At least we’ll have plenty of vaccines around for when this transitions from pandemic to endemic.

The other is that Bill Gates’ daughter Jennifer got her first vaccine dose today. She couldn’t help but crack a joke about it not actually implanting some sort of dad-designed microchip into her brain. It’s funny, but it’s also sad… that enough anti-vax people believe that nonsense to the extent that, as per above, this virus is unlikely to ever go away entirely. At least we’ll have plenty of vaccine supply…

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February 8, 2021

A brief word regarding the SuperBowl… it takes both teams to show up for it to be a great game. Tampa Bay, their defence and, of course, Tom Brady all showed up. The somewhat crippled Kansas City offensive line also showed up, but you can’t blame them… the balance of power when two powerhouse teams go at it is very delicate; it doesn’t take much to make a big difference. Accordingly, that, plus the entire KC offense not having a great day (two dropped TD passes are just a small part of it) equals a well-deserved rout by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And further cementing the fact that 43-year-old Tom Brady, the SuperBowl MVP, whether you love or hate the guy, is unquestionably the greatest QB the NFL has ever seen. And that is the last you’ll hear about NFL football from me for a very long time.

A brief word re the NHL and the Vancouver Canucks… here’s everything good to say about the team at present:

Moving on to what’s important… today we get a numbers “refresh”, and they echo the recent trend… and they keep right along with what I, and everyone else who watches numbers carefully, have been saying… it’s looking pretty good.

I was wrong about the SuperBowl, but so far have been right about the very simplistic assumption that “the worst will be over after the last week of January” – simply because the effects of the holiday season will already have taken effect, and now with warmer weather coming, things should improve… and with vaccines ramping up, and… etc etc.

So… the coldest weather of the year is coming this week. The hail and snow that showed up today is a good reminder… there’s a long way to go. The vaccine rollout has been disappointing; not what we expected. Family Day, Lunar New Year… and the effects of everyone who attended SuperBowl parties are two weeks away, and then some. And, of course, the far-more contagious variants now in our midst. Everything in this paragraph could conspire to wreck those beautiful downward trends we’re seeing everywhere… cases, hospitalizations, deaths.

For what we’re battling at the moment, and the way we’re battling it, it’s working. Some second-wave drop-offs (like in Alberta) have been as drastic as the rise that led to their peaks. But the key to that is that even though it’s working for now, there’s a nervous trigger-finger on harsher lockdown measures… because what we may end up dealing with is not a third wave of this pandemic; it would be a first wave of a new one… one that blows-up numbers far quicker. At least we’d have a huge head-start in fighting it, because we’d only be months (if not weeks) away from vaccines. A silver lining to this is that by the time most of us get a vaccine, it’ll likely be primed to be more effective for some of these newer strains.

All that being said, ideally, we don’t get to that point.

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January 25, 2021

A year ago today, a man who’d recently returned from Wuhan, China, wasn’t feeling well… and wound up at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, where he became Canada’s first test-positive C19 case.

Hearing that this morning made me think back… what was I doing at the time? Thanks to modern technology, it doesn’t take much to scroll back through recent history.

A year ago last night, I was at the Chan Centre watching my talented nephew, acting in a very engaging and entertaining theatre production. It was excellent, and so, appropriately, the venue was jammed.

A year ago today was a Saturday, and, at 10am, we were back at UBC — at TRIUMF this time — for a couple of lectures. One was about earthquakes – the famous impending “big one” that will hit the south coast, sometime between tonight and 500 years from now. The other was about black holes, cosmic collisions and sensing gravitational waves. Takeaway: If a large earthquake shows up off the south coast, don’t be in Tofino. And, I guess, if a black hole shows up off the south coast, don’t be in Tofino either… but you won’t have much too time to worry about it.

These lectures are super-interesting if you’re into this sort of thing, so, accordingly, it was crowded. Sold out in fact. So sold out we couldn’t get tickets online, and just crashed the venue, hoping we could sneak in. The tickets are free, but seating is limited; fortunately, some people didn’t show up and they let us in.

The kids were there too, and perhaps it took a bit of gentle bartering to get one of them there as well, because we wound up going out for dinner that night, to Kobe. Kobe is excellent, and always crowded as well; you end up sharing a table/cooking surface with complete strangers for a couple of hours.

Talk about taking stuff for granted. Three very different things, but all had one thing in common; hanging out in close proximity with strangers… and thinking nothing of it. That’s how it was.

So, what’s happened in that one year… today also marks another milestone; today, the world went over 100,000,000 known C19 cases. There have been over 2,000,000 deaths. There have also been over 72,000,000 recoveries. In Canada, more than 750,000 cases came after that guy.

My prediction was that here in Canada, we’d be seeing the worst of this pandemic… right about now. Now would be the time when the gradual decline would begin, and while it’d take a long time to snuff it out in due course, it’d never get worse than what we’re experiencing now.

This completely-non-professional opinion was based on the confluence of a few things, but primarily, it’s this: any negative effect that would’ve been caused by the holiday season would now be known and we’d be in the midst of handling. Whether they were supposed to or not, people got together over the holidays. Some of them passed on infections, etc… so how bad was it? Well, it definitely caused a spike, but if you look at the graphs and numbers, things are clearly trending favourably. Couple that with the fact that there are no large family-gathering-type holidays any time soon… and given that vaccines are every day making slow but steady progress into bloodstreams… and that the majority of people and businesses are still towing the party line… put it all together and, optimistically, the worst is behind us. That being said, who could’ve predicted newer mutations that are more virulent, and which could possibly lead to more cases. The answer to that question is epidemiologists… and they did.

We’re far from sounding the all-clear, but the numbers and pictures at the moment tell a cautiously-optimistic story; declines everywhere… ranging from steep (Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec) to moderate (B.C) to mild (Ontario, Saskatchewan)… but the entire country is trending in the right direction. For now.

Today’s versions of cool lectures, theatre productions, and restaurants look nothing like what they did a year ago. There are online and socially-distanced versions of all of that, but they’re nothing like the real thing. A year ago we had the real thing… and every indication is that a year from now, we’ll have it again.

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