Tag Archives: pandemic

Some very good thoughts (especially at the end) and the usual ramblings on a new year (i.e. the January 2023 edition of my not-a-newsletter newsletter)

We finally closed the book on another pandemic year (2022), and have moved through the first month of 2023. Yay for us!  Is 2023 going to be a pandemic year as well? An endemic year perhaps? We don’t know. One thing for sure: compared to last January, this one has been much gentler.

I think in some ways 2023 may be a transition year. We continue to have transitions when it comes to COVID. We still have new variants like the Kraken (XBB.1.5) that has surged to 40.5% of all infections and rises in hospitalizations. But we take that as a matter of course now. Indeed, there is talk of having annual COVID and flu vaccines. COVID may be more serious than the flu in terms of illness and death, but we may end up approaching them in the same way. No one talks much of flu deaths, and perhaps other than places like Nova Scotia, no one will talk about COVID deaths either. For example, in my province of Ontario it is relatively easy to track hospitalizations related to COVID: it’s relatively hard to report on deaths.

I know because I still have been reporting on COVID hospitalizations every week on twitter for months. My last update was this one:

As I tweeted, the numbers have been dropping recently. Even the ICU numbers, which shot up due to the tripledemic, have declined as the tripledemic declined. Thank god: the pediatric ICUs in November were over 100% full for a time.

So we are transitioning in a positive direction. Good. And not just with COVID.  Everywhere you see spike graphs, like this one for unemployment:

To this one for inflation:

My expectation is that the annual inflation rate will continue to transition and decline in 2023, and interest rates will follow them. That is not to diminish the impact that inflation has had so far. Things have reached the point where people are stealing food and law firms are promising to defend them for free. That said, many, including the New York Times, expect inflation to cool this year. Perhaps it will drop back to where it used to be (i.e. below 3%). If you are skeptical, I recommend this piece in VOX.

Unlike COVID or inflation, not everything has the prospect of improving in 2023. Guns in the US  continue to be a major problem. There is no end in sight for the war in the Ukraine NATO is still supportive and continues to send weapons, although it seems like Zelenskyy had to clear the decks before that occurred. As for cryptocurrencies, it may not be a year of recovery for them as the trial of SBF and FTX unfolds. But who knows: maybe this rally will be a difference.

I suspect crypto will stay dormant for many reasons. One big reason is that tech is going to change its focus from Web3 to AI. Sorry Web3. (Sorry metaverse for that matter!) Microsoft alone is spending billions on it. AI will be all anyone will talk about this year. (No one knew what to do with crypto, save techies and rich people flogging NFTs. Everyone I know seems to be using ChatGPT and the like. That’s a key difference). I’ll be writing more about AI in standalone posts in 2023, there will be so much going on.

In 2023 I expect a continuation of the trend of people flooding back into cities after having left them, based on data like this: Annual demographic estimates census metropolitan areas and census. While residences have become scarce (and rents have become high) as a result, people have not been flooding back into offices. So much so that places like NYC are looking to convert office spaces to residential spaces. The problem with the pandemic is that the changes it has forced on society are more rapid than social systems can respond. But respond they will.

Then again, a new surge could reoccur in China. If that occurs, all bets are off. For now my bets are staying on the table.

Finally, thanks for reading this and anything else you read on this blog recently. I appreciate it. I am optimistic for 2023 in many ways. I hope you are too.

Keep wearing your masks when advisable. Get vaxxed to the max.  Try not to pay attention to Elon Musk or the fate of Twitter: that will all play out in due course. Don’t get too hung up about what AI is going to do: that will all play out as well. Continue to read newsletters. Watch streaming. Listen to podcasts. Most importantly: get out and about whenever you can.

There will always be bad people in the world, and bad acts occurring. Do what you can to prevent that from happening, but don’t rob yourself of your capacity for joy as a result. Be a happy warrior on the side of good. Joy is your armour.

Never forget: you have lived and possibly thrived through some of the most dramatically difficult times in history.  You deserve better times ahead.

Enjoy yourself. Live your life robustly. Whenever you feel lethargic, think back to those times of being locked down and unable to even go to a park and sit down.  Let’s go and get it. Here’s to a better year ahead. We are counting on you, 2023.

2022 is done. Thoughts and rambling on the last 365 days (i.e. the December 2022 edition)

Another year over. A semi-pandemic year, in a sense. Covid is still with us, but we did not (so far) get slammed with a bad new variant like we did last year with Omicron. Instead the pandemic is lesser than it was, but greater than the flu in terms of the sickness and death it brings. We still get vaccinated, though less than before. Schools are attended (though  affected),  restaurants are dined in, parties and special events are attended.

You could say things look….normal. But then you can look towards China: they seem to be struggling to deal with COVID lately. Who knows what 2023 will bring? More normal or more like China?

But that’s for 2023. As for last year and what was trending, we can look to  Google which has all its data. One place that was trending alot in 2022: China. China is struggling with both Covid and Xi’s approach to it, as this shows. As for the Chinese leader himself, it was a bad year for Xi, as well as Putin and other global bad guys, sez VOX. And it’s not just the Chinese residents that are having to deal with Xi and his government: Canada has been investigating chinese police stations in Canada. More on that here. I expect China will also trend in 2023. Let’s hope for better reasons.

Other trending events in 2022? Crypto. There was lots of talk about it and people like Sam Bankman-Fried after the collapse of his crypto currency exchange and subsequent arrest. We had stories like this: How I turned $15 000 into $1.2m during the pandemic and then lost it all. Tragic. The overall collapse of the industry has lead to things like bans on crypto mining. That’s good. It has lead to questions around the fundamentals, like: Blockchains What Are They Good For? Last, to keep track of all the shenanigans, I recommend this site: Web3 is Going Just Great. I expect crypto to remain a shambles next year. Time and money will tell.

Elon Musk also managed to trend quite often due to his take over of Twitter and more. He still has fans, but many are disillusioned. After all, his campaign to win back Twitter Advertisers isn’t going well. He was outright booed on stage with Dave Chapelle. (No doubt being a jerk contributed to this.) Tesla stock is tanking. Even his  Starlink is losing money. What a year of failure. I can’t see his 2023 improving either. Hard to believe he was Time’s Man of the Year in 2021!

Because of Musk, people are looking to join other networks, like Mastodon. (BTW, here’s some help on How to Make a Mastodon Account and Join the Fediverse). Some are looking to old networks, like this: the case for returning to tumblr. Some are looking at new ways to socialize online, like this.

Musk was not alone in trending this year due to being a bad guy. Let’s not forget that Kanye West trended as well due to his freakish behavior and antisemitism.

AI was another big trend this year, with things like ChatGPT and stable diffusion (here’s how you can set it up on AWS). We also had stories like this: Madison Square Garden Uses Facial Recognition to Ban Its Owner’s Enemies. Not good. What’s next for AI?  This takes a look. I think we may get an AI winter, but we have 12 months to see if that holds true.

For what it’s worth, Newsletters like Matt Yglesias’s are still going strong, though levelling off I think.

Trends and development aside, here’s some other topics I found interesting and worth being up to close the year:

Assisted death was a grim topic in 2022 in Canada. I remain glued to stories like this: We’re all implicated in Michael Fraser;s decision to die, and  this and this. It all seems like a failure, although this argues that assisted dying is working.

Here’s two good pieces on homelessness Did Billions in Spending Make a Dent in Homelessness? And ‘It’s a sin that we all had to leave’: Moving out of Meagher Park.

Need some advice for the new year? Try this: How Much and Where Are You Really Supposed to Tip? Consider this a good approach to  reading. Here’s a good approach to  slowing down, while here’s a good discussion on  Boundaries. Things to avoid:  the biggest wastes of time we regret when we get older.

Things I found interesting in sports this year:

Things I found interesting in general this year:

Finally, here’s some good advice to close out the year: Don’t Treat Your Life as a Project.

Thanks for reading this and anything else you read on this blog in 2022. I appreciate it. I managed to blog about roughly 3000 things on the internet this year. I hope you found some of them useful.

Happy New Year!

Thinking numerically about CERB fraud

Thanks to Auditor General Hogan, there has been much discussion about CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) and fraudulent claims. Indeed, this piece indicates it’s a problem: Canada paid out billions of dollars in CERB to people who lied about needing it. I mean billions of dollars is a lot! It must be really bad. So let’s look at what was said, and specifically, let’s look at the numbers.

The article states: “In the end, the federal government distributed $210.7 billion ($74.8 billion in CERB alone) to Canadians who were unable to work — or rather, those who told the government they couldn’t work.” So $74.8 B went out for CERB.

Why did the government do this? It goes on to say: “The government’s decision to take workers at their word, without any sort of screening, was criticized by some when the pandemic first hit, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued that getting payments out swiftly was more important than verification.” It also states that: “Officials promised at the time that they would conduct extensive post-payment verifications to claw back anything taken by scammers or ineligible recipients, but according to Hogan, they have yet to sufficiently do so.”

Key word there: sufficiently. Let’s drill down further to see why that AG said that. The article says:  “In doing so, it (the Government) recognized that there was a risk that some payments would go to ineligible recipients. We found that overpayments of $4.6 billion were made to ineligible individuals, and we estimated that at least $27.4 billion of payments to individuals and employers should be investigated further.” Ok, so now we have some extent of how many billions were lost. But wait, we also have this: “Hogan noted that some $2.3 billion of errantly-distributed funds had been recovered as of this summer, thanks mostly to voluntary repayments from individuals who’d received them.”

In short, of the $74.8 billion that went out for CERB, the AG knows that $4.6 billion of that went out to ineligible individuals but it retrieved $2.3 billion of that. So around 6% of the overall money went out to ineligible individuals but then half of that was retrieved. Another way to look at it is 94% of the money went to eligible individuals, and of the remainder, half was recovered.

Now it’s possible that a good chunk of the $27.4 billion also went out to ineligible individuals. But based on the concrete data that was provided, it seems like the program was effective, based on percentages.

This doesn’t mean fraud is good or unimportant. Fraud is bad and payment systems and payment providers need to combat it. But in light of these numbers, the amount of fraud seems low. For what it’s worth, this piece argues that in the US medical system, fraud can be as high as 20% of all claims. In an ideal world, there would be no fraud. In a real world you want to get close to zero, but you proceed knowing there will be some fraud and make tradeoffs in comparison with other benefits.

In the case of CERB, the benefits were real and significant. I agree with the government on this: there was no time to put a rigorous benefit program in place. The pandemic needed quick solutions: you could not take 12 or 18 months to develop a system to get money to people you told could not work. That would have led to all sort of societal problems. You needed to get money into the hands of people now. Delay is fatal. The last time I saw government organizations fail to take action was at the beginning of the Great Recession: that failure almost led to the collapse of the global economy.

CERB was an essential program that kept parts of the Canadian economy afloat during the worst part of the pandemic. It’s upside was good, and despite what the AG says, the downside was not that bad.

For more on why CERB was good, see this.

 

 

 

What was new in our crazy mixed up world, November 2022 edition

Yowza! It’s been a crazy month, this month, between surges in diseases, Twitter turning into a dumpster fire, crypto imploding, inflation hanging on, the war in Ukraine intensifying with seemingly more attacks on civilians, the US GOP becoming more Nazi curious….you name it.  Let’s take a look.

Pandemic: we are still seeing the effects of the pandemic rippling through our society. In Ontario the ICUs of our children’s hospitals have been slammed, with usage up to 108% at one point. Blame the pandemic on that. Other things to blame the pandemic on? Nursing shortages. In fact work shortages in general: long COVID continues to affect many people and has taken many of them out of the workforce.

In response, people are still wearing masks, though not many. Some people are carrying their own CO2 monitors to tell them when internal air quality is risky. Other people are even making their own. Fortunately new vaccines are rolling out, and you can still get COVID tests for free at some places, although that may be going away. Get that flu shot too, don’t end up being a flu statistic.

Will things gradually improve? I believe they will, but who knows. Some people thought worse variants would come along, but so far so good.

Social media: after years of something of a status quo, social media has entered a meltdown/transformation phase. This has been lead by Elon Musk, who has taken over Twitter. Initially people were wondering: will it matter? Turns out it mattered a lot. He started by firing lots of people. Then he told those left to either be “hardcore” and work under insane work conditions or quit. Not surprisingly, many quit. Other people quitting? Celebrity users. And most importantly, advertisers like GM. It doesn’t help that Musk has loaded up the company with a lot of debt. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, if it even can get better.

With Twitter in chaos, what can users do? Some people like me are considering moving on to other platforms, like Hive and Post and Mastodon. However, the alternatives have not really taken off yet, and in some cases, they are not keen for people like journalists to take their business there.  (Maybe they should have read these mastodon tips.) Who knows how it all shakes out.

One good thing about the twitter debacle: it has lead to some good essays. Like this one: Welcome to Hell, Elon. Or this one on the fraudulent king. This one by McSweeney’s was funny.  Also this. Last but not least, this piece with a rundown on how Musk is a terrible person.

If Twitter is quickly imploding, Facebook/Meta is slowly collapsing. Like Twitter, it has had its shares of layoffs. The whole Meta project seems to be failing or at least flailing. It has suffered security problems, too. Generally the company is seen poorly, as this piece by Om Malik shows. It doesn’t help that much of the popular content is trash on Facebook, though they have tried to clean it up. I’m not sure what will happen with this company either, so I’ll leave the last word on Facebook/Meta to Stratechery.

In other news, Trump’s Truth Social continues to be a dud. Tumblr is allowing nudity. And Youtube, which is kinda social, struggles with ad targeting. Just one dumpster fire after another.

How to consider all this? Maybe by reading this piece in Nature on collapsing social networks. I found it very insightful.

Crypto/NFTs: other things melting down recently is the whole crypto currency business. This was lead by Sam Bankman-Fried and his FTX company.  Not that the lunacy is limited to him: Peter Thiel had a new company that lasted three months.  Relatedly, NFTs are not doing well, but people are still flogging them. Companies are looking to incorporate them into TVs.  Into the restaurant scene. Even into famous paintings like the work of Hilma af-Klimt. Ugh. Crypto winter can’t come soon enough.

Christmas: speaking of winter, for those of you celebrating Christmas, here’s a few links you might like. Here’s some gift ideas for those of you on a budget. Here’s more gift guides you can use. I especially thought this would be a good gift for young and aspiring scientists. For people looking for cool decorations, check out that link.

Other Cool stuff:  I’ve recently got an Apple Watch and it is excellent for anyone worried about their heart. Here’s something on how it detects arrhythmia. I recommend the Apple Watch just as a health device. In terms of other devices, if you use a Kindle, I recommend Libby. This is also a cool plant device (shown below).

Inflation: Inflation is like a tenacious beast, hanging on. One place in particular that people are experiencing it is in food prices. Lots has been said about the cost of food these days. Companies like Loblaw have done quite well in turn. There has been some attempt by them to respond to this, despite these moves, I expect there will be more pressure on them in the months ahead. For one thing, the Walmart giant is waking up. Maybe more people will join me and get their groceries there. I’m a happy customer. Let’s see.

Work: workwise, things are still unsettled post pandemic. Wages aren’t rising, despite inflation. Some employees are returning to the office, but aren’t necessarily happy about it. Indeed, employees seem to be unhappy in general. It doesn’t help to be reading of layoffs in many places, even Amazon. Odd times.

Ukraine: the war in Ukraine slogs on. It could be a very tough winter for Ukrainians, though they continue to fight back in many ways. I don’t think anyone knows how to end the war. Either one side will collapse or it will be a stalemate. Zelenskyy wants it to end. The head of Turkey says Putin wants it to end. Let’s hope and pray for a quick ending.

Finally: for new fans of football watching the World Cup, here’s how to determine offsides. You’re welcome. 🙂

Thank you to those who have read this far. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you! Enjoy the last few days of 2022: here’s to a brighter 2023.

 

A ramble through what was new in the world, Oct. 2022 edition

Here’s a month end cornucopia of things I found interesting and worth reading but don’t really fit into any specific category. (I would have posted it yesterday, but I had that very important 12 foot skeleton post to submit. :))

As I’ve said before, I like posting these because I will be curious to see how they read in the next 5-10 years. I hope you find it worth reading now, though. And thank you!

AI and art: Artists and non-artists continut to make art and play around with AI. Microsoft is even going to incorporate some of the tools into their software. Where this goes, I am not sure. But here’s something on an artist in Amsterdam using it. Not everyone is keen on it: the Getty is banning it.

NFTs: speaking of the art world and new technology, they continue to flirt with NFTs, as you can see here: MoMA and NFTs. Also here’s a piece on what Christie’s is doing:  Meet The Artist Who Just Launched Christie’s New Platform For NFT Sales. This investment by museums does not seem like a good idea to me, as this shows: NFTs and art going bust. Not to mention that NFTs are tanking on Opensea and these six-figure NFTs are down 99%. That won’t stop people trying to make money from them, such as these private clubs using nfts. But there has been some payback: Kim K getes a fine for crypto flogging. NFTs have been terrible forever and that doesn’t look like it is changing soon.

Pandemic/Inflation: we continue to make our way through the pandemic as COVID remains a threat. Even though we also continue to try and live with it, the disease has brought big pandemic life changes,  Fortunately there are more booster coming out. Also a number of people I know are using  CO2 monitors to measure CO2 in indoor spaces. There is still some mask wearing.

In Canada there’s been some complaints about the cost of the arriveCAN system. It was expensive, for sure.  This piece breaks down the costs. Meanwhile, some jokers convinced some in the media it could be built for next to nothing at a Hackathon. This just tells me the media needs to get more tech savvy to such boasts.

One holdover from the pandemic is the rise of tipping for everything. I get it, but I also think it has gotten out of control. This piece touches on that: Why tip requests on touchscreen tablets are everywhere (and make us feel guilty.

Part of the problem is that everyone feels they have to cut back due to inflation, tipping and otherwise. So we get pieces like this from Consumers Reports on how we save money now . Or this on how inflation is costing lives. Relatedly, car prices are crazy right now, so you see lots of pieces like this  How to Negotiate With Car Dealers as Prices Keep Rising.

Canada: We’ve had some political changes in Canada. A new premier in Quebec. A new one in Alberta. The PM is promising money to the folks out east to recover from Fiona.

Meanwhile in Toronto we had an election with poor turnout and mostly incumbents voted back in, including the mayor. People in the city are worried about the fact that the city is cashed strapped and the mayor isn’t going going to do anything about it other than cut services like the Toronto Public Library. Grim. The Mayor was even mocked in this art installation called austerityTO.

Totally unrelated but not grim: the Canadian legend Mr. Dressup is getting a documentary! Nice.

Work: employers continue to struggle with remote work. The Times argues: Remote Work Is Here to Stay. Lean In Employers.. The flip side of that is we get many stories of employers tracking workers. It’s a strange new working world. Speaking of that, here’s a piece arguing for using AI to supercharge workers. As a long time automation specialist, I agree.

The World: In the US, here’s some pieces on the January 6th commision: Jan 6th and the Oath Keepers and Laws passed to prevent another Jan 6th. Lizzo played a historical crystal flute and racism broke out. Never mind, Lizzo: you sounded great. The right wing is morphing into something ugly in America, so you get things like this:  We Need To Stop Calling Ourselves Conservatives. I think the word they are looking for is Fascist. Finally, here’s a piece on the US Supreme Court: Inside the law school chaos caused by SCOTUS decisions. More on SCOTUS .

In China, everyone was shocked by what happened to  Hu Jintao. More on Hu Jintao here.  Meanwhile, Noah Smith uses game theory to explain why he thinks an invasion of Taiwan probably means WW3. Yikes. In other news, China Delays the Release of G.D.P. and Other Economic Data. Never a good sigh.

Elsewhere in the world, the right wing leader is unusual to say the least, based on this: How Lord of the Rings Inspires Italy’s Giorgia Meloni. Ok. Meanwhile lots of speculation on the  Russian nuclear threat. Clearly a sign of how bad things are going for Putin. Speaking of going badly, we have the chaos currently underway in UK Strong and stable? Maybe maybe not.

Signs of the times: A weird chess scandal broke out recently. I thought these pieces in the WSJ here and here did a good job on assessing it. As did this piece in the Atlantic.

Cheating is not just a chess thing either. The Times had a story on the  Fishing Contest Rocked by Cheating Charges After Weights Found in Winning Catch. Lots of money and fame can bring the cheaters out everywhere.

Meanwhile, social media continue to dominate some people’s lives, based on this:  Want to Get Noticed by a Celebrity? Snag Their Username on Social Media. Speaking of social media, Facebook/Meta is tanking and Elon Musk took over Twitter. Oh well. Blogging is still going strong! As are you if you are reading this: thanks very much!

Happy Autumn!

The pandemic hit NYC in so many ways, including an unusual one

The pandemic hit NYC harder than many cities, I believe. While terrible things like COVID deaths and ad hoc evacuation have thankfully declined, it is still feeling the impact. Dining is one of these things that was affected. According to the Times, the city that never sleeps is now turning off the “Open 24 hours” sign, at least in some places:  In NYC Some Doors Now Close at 10 p.m. One of the reasons for this could be that for (some) New Yorkers, 6 p.m. Is the New 8 p.m. How long will will this last? I’m guessing like many things in New York, it is transitory and the city that used to never sleep will be sleepless soon enough and flocking to places like Katz’s Deli in the Lower East Side.

I love New York. It never gets old. It’s just acting like an oldster lately. 🙂

P.S. Somewhat relatedly, this was a fun story: Immigrant brothers crafted New York’s hand-drawn posters for decades 

(Image: from the Times piece – Katz Deli)

What was new in the world, September 2022 edition

Here’s a month end cornucopia of things I found interesting and worth reading but don’t really fit into any specific category. Among other things, I like posting these because I will be curious to see how they read in the next 5-10 years. I hope you find it worth reading now, though. 🙂

China: China has been making noise about invading Taiwan. A recent visit by Nancy Pelosi especially helped stir that pot. Foreign Policy had some good pieces on it here and here. China has been threatening Taiwan with drones, although it will take much more than drones to accomplish it.

Other things to note that are happening in China are a Banking Scandal and a poetry contest that causes problems. For more on China, this talks about how China is dealing with Covid. This addresses how China’s Surveillance State is encountering public resistance. Businesswise, Huawei is running into problems. More stories on China’s entrepreneurs.  Last, this piece and this one address how good or bad Xi Jinping is as a leader.

Asia: in Japan, Chie Hayakawa imagines a Japan where the elderly volunteer to die. Bleak. Here’s a piece on how the Unification Church causes problems in Japan. Meanwhile, India scrambles to contain fallout over insulting comments about Islam.

Europe:  Mikhail Gorbachev recently passed away. Vox looked at his legacy. As everyone knows, the Queen also died. Here’s why VOX thinks monarchies are better than republics. As for the new king, some think that he could be an improvement, at least when compared with Charles I and II 🙂

The right is strong elsewhere in places like Poland and Hungary, though the paths of those countries have diverged. Indeed, as the war goes on in Ukraine, Polish pilots Training to fly the Bayraktars war drones. Meanwhile, The right is ascendent in places like Italy and Sweden.

The U.S.: While Biden and Trump are likely to be fighting to be president in 2024, others are looking to content. Politico looks at how Nikki Haley raises money. And Josh Barro dismisses Gavin Newsom . AOC ponders if she will ever be president. Some day. Maybe. Finally, here’s a piece on the DeSantis Martha’s Vineyard stunt. Odious. Speaking of odious, Ken Starr died. Politico properly assesses his poor legacy.

Canada: Here in Canada the Conservative party has a new leader. Let’s see how that goes. I’d like to pause for a moment to highlight the interim leader, Candice Bergen. She forced the previous leader out of Stornoway so she could move in. Then she retires. Nice. Have to remember that the next time the Tories complain others not being fiscally conservative. More on that  here and here.

It’s the end of August. This looks like a newsletter, and reads like a newsletter, but it isn’t a newsletter

Here’s a month end cornucopia of things I found interesting and worth reading but don’t really fit into any specific category. I hope you find it worth reading, too.

The pandemic is being memory-holed, unfortunately. Before people forget or try to gaslight us, here’s a piece comparing how Canada did in the initial 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic vs other places. And here’s where you can find information on Covid and Ontario . Who knows how long that will last?

Have you wanted to learn how to play chess? Check out this at the New York Times. Here’s a good piece on how to copy quotes from a library book. If you want to learn about ten classic polish films , go there.

Filmwise, here’s a sad piece on the decline of Bruce Willis . These pieces, on the death of a Minecraft Youtuber, a young influencer who dropped out of college, and a piece on Hope Solo struggling with addiction were all sad but worth reading. Also sad was reading about an old relative in the obits: John (Jonk) Raymond Melnick | Pierson’s Funeral Service Ltd.. RIP, Jonky.

Old movie trailers, even for great films, can be embarrassing. This link can help with that: Aliens modern trailer. Speaking of Sci-Fi, here a piece on the rise of Skywalker nostaglia.

Do you know if you live in one of one of the 49 Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World Right Now? You may be if your area appears on that list. Nothing for Toronto, though some for Montreal and Vancouver.

Speaking of cool, here’s a video of Night Music episode 121 from 1989 fearuring Robert Cray, John Hiatt, Nat King Cole, Tracy Nelson, World Saxophone Quartet. Night Music was always cool.

The Stones video of “Emotional Rescue”? Also cool:

Speaking of odd, here’s something on What Justin Bieber taught someone about fun things to do. Also odd, at least to me: How influencers get paid by affiliate marketing . If you were wondering why the Girl Explaining meme is all over your Twitter feed , that link will explain why. Odd.

I used to write often on newsletters. The newsletter boom has died down but the format isn’t going away. Crypto isn’t going away either, but this the SEC crackdown of it won’t help. Shame. Not.

Finally, here’s a twitpic I took a long time ago. Amazing they still exist.

Ian Brown catches COVID again and why that’s good

It’s good not because I want him to be ill! Not at all. Rather, it’s good because what came out of that is this fine essay: I caught COVID, again – this time, nobody cares (The Globe and Mail). It nicely catches where we are in this ongoing pandemic. Not just by writing about the disease and what we are doing or not doing about it, but also what else is competing for our attention. I highly recommend it.

I hope by the time you read this Ian is well and none the worse for having suffered through another bout of COVID.

 

On rethinking work

Work takes up a significant portion of your life. To me, it is something we should always be examining, if we care about our lives.

This is especially the case during this pandemic. I think we all have been examining work as a result of it. as a result of  how we have had our working lives disrupted. That’s a good thing.

I expect employers are going to want us to resume working as if it were the Before Times. Maybe you are one of those employees who wants to go back to that time. Maybe you aren’t.

All that is to say that I recommend you read these two pieces as you reexamine your work life:

We sometimes need prompts to help us think about things. Those two pieces will help with that.

Thinking about your work life is thinking about your life in general. A worthwhile thing to do.

The end. Here’s my last highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form, June 2022 edition)

Hey there! Yes, this is my last newsletter in blog form. My first edition of Highlights and Ramblings (a newsletter, as such) was in March of 2020, the beginning of the pandemic. When I started I wanted to provide:

a list of  random items I’ve been stashing away while working from home in this time of social distancing and the pandemic. Initially my goal was to create a newsletter, and perhaps I still will create one. Most of the newsletters I get, though, read like blog posts. That’s fine. But then why do I need to create a newsletter, when I can just post here. Plus, it will save you another thing to deal with in your inbox. Read when you have nothing else to read.

That was my goal. But pretty soon (as early as June 2020) these monthly posts transformed mostly into what was happening pandemic wise. In that month I noted it was…

…a weird time in the pandemic: in parts of the world, the worst is behind them (e.g. parts of Europe)

“The worst is behind them”. How little did I know! In fact, as the months passed, things grinded on with wave after wave of infections. But there was also progress, as I highlighted a year later in June of 2021 :

Canadians continue to ramp up on getting vaccinated. 30% of the population has been fully vaxxed, including yours truly. Well done!

And now it’s been a year later and most Canadians have not only been vaccinated but boosted. Some — like me — double boosted! And many of us — me again! — got COVID anyway. Got COVID and lived and stayed out of hospitals. Not great but good nonetheless.

Societally, we have shifted in our stances. From lockdowns to free travelling and association. Restaurants are full. People are still working from home (although some bullies like Elon Musk are telling staff that ‘remote work is no longer acceptable’). People are still wearing masks. Ottawa even announced the end of troubled COVID Alert app this month. All in all, it feels like the pandemic is over.

But it is not over.  COVID-19 is still out there mutating and people are still getting sick and in some cases dying. It hasn’t gone away, only our extraordinary approach to it has. I don’t know what will happen in the fall. No one knows. Many have beliefs. Some are wondering if and when will COVID-19 be endemic? We will just have to do our best and see.

With that, I think it is time to retire this “newsletter”. Truth is, I don’t have much news to share on a monthly basis that you don’t already know. I’m never go to get rich or gain a big following that way. It’s fine. And not having a monthly deadline is a relief.

Unless  the pandemic was to be medically and socially disruptive, it will stay done. What I do plan to do is just randomly writing my ramblings posts on general topics. We will see. In the meantime, a list of all my newsletters is here. If nothing else, it’s a somewhat interesting plague journal.

Plenty of things have happened in this period. The worst of people (e.g. Putin, Trump) did their worst and left unpunished. The better people (Biden) did their best, only to be unappreciated. Economies recovered, but inflation sprung up. With luck and strong action, in a year from now the war in the Ukraine and worldwide inflation will be positively resolved. One hopes.

Besides newsletters, the other fad of the pandemic  was cryptocurrencies, NFTs, Web3 and all that nonsense. Now with the coming of crypto winter, we may hear less of that. There was also Wordle. Some of you are still playing Wordle, though it seems less so. (if you are, click here to help your score).

We will go on. Thanks to all of you who have read these pandemic ramblings over these many months. If you want to continue to keep up to date on what is happening with Covid, I recommend this newsletter from Eric Topol called Ground Truths. As for me, look here for my (non-pandemic) ramblings and other posts. Take care. Stay well.

 

The great Starbucks retreat

For most of the pandemic, food/bev businesses worked hard to hang on and last through this period. Not Starbucks. They did the opposite. As soon as they could, it seems they shut down their locations. Locations that had barely been open a few years were shuttered. Even this location above, on Eglinton Avenue just east of Yonge in Toronto closed up despite a steady flow of customers even during the pandemic. 

Apparently at the start of the pandemic their goal was to close 400 stores over 18 months.  I would not be surprised if more than that closed. 

I wonder what the fallout for all this will be? One thing for sure, the idea of getting Starbucks as a tenant will likely lose its lustre when they do come back and want to expand. Then again, given that people are reluctant to go back to the office, that expansion could take some time.

Here’s eight good pieces reflecting the state of work these days

I wanted to say the state of work is in flux these days due to the pandemic, but I have to admit that work is always in a state of flux, regardless of what is going on in the world. Here’s eight pieces that reflect that:

  1. According to VOX,  employees don’t want to return to the office . If the pandemic had lasted less than a year, we might not have seen this. But two years later, many people have adjusted and settled.
  2. Still, some are going back to the office. It will be interesting how this looks in a year.
  3. For those working at home, try and find an employer that does not use such surveillance. Such companies do not care about you at all.
  4. If you are going to look for a new job, here’s how to get your resume past the robots .
  5. If you are considering how to balance work and non-work, here may be the best thing ever written about “work-life balance” according to Austin Kleon .
  6. Whatever you do, do not write open letters complaining about your employer, especially AT WORK. Sheesh. I know I am old, but this is a terrible idea and I am not surprised that SpaceX fired the open letter writers.
  7. Here’s a good piece on how the billable hour is a trap into which more and more of us are falling. For some jobs, the billable hour is important. But find other ways to show your value to your clients, your employer and your co-workers.
  8. And finally, whatever you do, remember that you are more than your job title. 

On my recurring pandemic dreams

During the pandemic I had a recurring dream that was unique to me. It’s not unlike the recurring dream people have about showing up to class and realizing there is a test. In my recurring dream I am travelling somewhere and I know this because I am on a boat or at an airport or in the process of transporting from A to B. But I can’t get to B. Something in the dream starts to come undone: the transportation breaks down, or I don’t have my travel documents, or I have to go back. I keep trying to prevent the breakdown, but it continues until I wake up. Or in some dreams, I say to myself: you are having the Failed Travel dream again, it’s not real.

I wonder if others have had a similar dream or their own dream during the pandemic?

I wanted to record this in case I forget that this occurred.

On retiring my COVID-19 reporting (for now)


Recently I was reporting COVID-19 data daily. I wrote a program called covid.py that scraped the Ontario.ca Covid web site and and pulled out data for hospitalization and cases. It was a rough but useful gauge to see how COVID was going in Ontario, and I was able to get the information in a snap.

Unfortunately the information is no longer posted on the page I was visiting with my code. The data is out there somewhere in the datasets, but I think I will reconsider things before modifying my code. It is a shame that the data is harder to get though.

All these actions by government organizations to make it harder to get data is a bit frustrating. I read people say: you should track the pandemic and make good decisions. It’s hard to do that though when the information is hard to get.

For more information and data:  Government of Ontario data sets on COVID-19 are here. Government of Canada COVID-19 information is here. More on my code, here.

 

May is done. Here’s some of the highlights and some ramblings for May, 2022

Last month, I thought I needed to switch up this monthly missive of a quasi newsletter. Make it a bit more rambling, a bit less worldly and world weary. I decided to push down the pandemic stuff and look at some other things first. I hope you like it.

In Canada one of the big things last month was the streak that Mattea Roach had on Jeopardy. I swear everyone in Canada was proud of her. In fact, it was funny to read the news in Nova Scotia and Ontario, because both of them wanted to claim her for their own. I get it! She’s great!

She caught the attention of not only Canada, but the US too. Even the NY Times did a piece on her. Not surprising: she is newsworthy.

Speaking of the Times, they did two pieces this month that gave me some perspective. First there was this piece on why for tens of millions of Americans the Good Times are Right Now. That was somewhat hopeful. And this piece on the relationship between being happy and being rich was also good, perspective wise.

I mean let’s face it, if being rich meant being happy, then Elon Musk would be the happiest person ever. Instead, he is on social media all the time making a fool of himself. Not just due to his trying to buy twitter, but his opinions in general. If you want to read more about what he is/was up to at this time, you can read this or this. I think the less we hear from him, the better.

Speaking of rich, the whole NFT/ crypto/thingamabobs did not do well this month, with articles on their big meltdown all over the place. This says NFT sales are flatlining , but ‘flatlining’ is too kind a word. Finally, I think the Beaverton captured it perfectly . I love the Beaverton: a perfect blend of Canadian humour and perspective. A good counterpoint to all that financial madness.

Apropos of nothing, here’s news on the black hole at the center of our galaxy. Very cool.

Overall, May has been a month of transition, from the relatively new (Apple phases out the iPod) to the relatively old (Charles Gives Queen’s Speech at State Opening of Parliament in U.K.). The iPod is not coming back, but the Queen did, opening her new subway line, the Elizabeth Line, in London this month. My daughter was in London and I was encouraging her to ride it for bragging rights in the future, if nothing else.

The pandemic is in a state of transition too. Here in Toronto we have ended our pandemic emergency declaration after 777 days. Wow. That’s a long time and big number. Another big number is the number of Covid deaths in Canada, 40,000, and in the US, 1,000,000. For those who have lost loved ones, the fact that Canada managed the pandemic better than the US is cold comfort. It’s also astounding to think about, numbers wise. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been without vaccines.

I’m also curious to see what happens as people let down their guard. Lockdowns are over everywhere. Concerts and travelling are ramped up. People are still wearing masks, but less and less so from what I can see.

What’s next? Well, hospitals are in transition, if I read this piece correctly in The Atlantic . Also viruses on hiatus during the pandemic are coming back which is not great. Smart people like Bill Gates and others are thinking about how to prevent the next pandemic. I hope we can. We will need lots of effort, smart people and tools. Although I don’t think the metaverse is going to be one of those tools, despite what this piece says. (Wanted to throw a bone to the metaverse here….we used to hear about it all the time. Now, barely at all. :))

The provinces of Canada are in transition too. In Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stepped down after barely surviving leadership. I was surprised by that. Let’s see how Premier Ford does in Ontario after the upcoming election. Maybe he will be surprised too.

There’s been other things happening too, like the Roe vs Wade situation in the US, not to mention the horrible shootings there. Sadly, no transition for the better in either case. And the war in Ukraine still goes on, though sadly it has become less newsworthy.

Inflation has been bad and newsworthy, but I believe it is going to be transitioning for the better. It has been tough on people, though, leading to articles like this: How to put delicious meals on the table as inflation drives up costs. Inflation is good for people with large fixed debt, but bad for people barely getting by. Let’s hope it gets under control soon.

The weather is also transitioning, from cool to hot. That can make it tough to sleep at nights. If that’s you, consider some of the ideas here: 5 Cheap(ish) Things to Keep Your Bedroom Cool | Wirecutter .

That’s it for another month! Thanks for reading, you half dozen people who read these every month. I appreciate it. 🙂

Enjoy the nice weather.

 

 

It’s Spring (somewhat). Here’s my highlights and ramblings for month year (a newsletter, in blog form)


It’s spring, somewhat, here in Ontario. That means one day you can be out walking in the sunshine, admired all the blossoms, only to have a snowfall dump on you the next day. It’s a rollercoaster of a month. You could almost say that April rambles. Much like this newsletter. Here it is, once again! May you associate it more with sunshine than snowfall.

Pandemic: is the pandemic over? Well, the behavior of many seems to be, yes. I dunno. I still see enough hospitalization and deaths to say it is not. It seems we are in a state where most people can avoid the worst, but still get sick. Sometimes repeatedly, as this shows. And what happens as you try to move on? Well, as airlines have shown, the ones that dropped mask requirements are now suffering staff shortages.  Meanwhile, we are seeing soaring covid infections among health care workers. And places that did well during most of the pandemic, like Nova Scotia, are now getting walloped.

What should you do? Remember, you are more or less on your own now in the pandemic. I’d recommend sticking with masks and social distancing still. If you do still get COVID then here are two pieces on managing it yourself at home: this and this.

That’s for the short term. What does the long term look like? Well there’s this: Five reasons why COVID herd immunity is probably impossible, and this: Canada’s hospital capacity crisis will remain long after the pandemic is over. And then there is long COVID to consider. Not promising.

And let us not forget these things. A study in Nature says that COVID’s true death toll is much higher than official records. And when people say we should have handled things like Sweden did, here’s a reminder how badly Sweden did during the pandemic.

One last thing. I go downtown sometimes and see many places closed up. Like the many deaths that have occurred, there is a blindness to it, it seems. I find it throws me off, that we have gone through this terrible event and we are still dealing with it and yet there is a rush to act like it never happened and move on. It’s weird.

Ontario: In Ontario where I live, the province is gearing up for an election. The government is doing what it can to prepare to win the election, including releasing this budget and hoping it can win enough people over by things like eliminating some highway tolls. Let’s see. Meanwhile for those of you concerned about COVID in this province, here is the Ontario COVID dashboard to keep track of.

Ukraine: I don’t have to tell people that life in Ukraine continues to be grim. There are constant stories about it everywhere. Here is a snapshot that shows what life under the occupation by Russia is like.

Meanwhile Ukrainians fight. I support them and want them to be free and independent from Russia. There is nothing good about the situation, just degrees of bad. That’s why I find it is sad and remarkable with how many people in the West are war happy and get excited about shipping more and more weapons to Ukrainians. It may be a necessary evil, but it is an evil in the light of a greater evil.

As an aside, here’s what is happening to one of the few allies Russia has left: Belarus. It’s a place I am keeping an eye on. I suspect the last thing Putin wants is for stuff to go poorly there: he has enough trouble his hands (trouble he is solely responsible for).

USA: There is a weird thing happening on the right wing in the US with regards to moral panic. My belief is that it is a strong reaction on the right to the push on the left against transphobia and other such initiatives. Even Disney got swept up in all this talk about “grooming” and generally abusing kids. You can see part of it here and here . I have a theory that this is partly a blending of moral panic/bigotry and the rise of the Internet. In the days of early trolling there was this bizarre character that was used to accuse people and groups of being pedophiles. (Pedophile being the worst thing you could accuse someone of.) I suspect that right wing push, combined with Internet culture, has led to those accusations being used widely. Gotta love when the sewers of the Internet overflow into the general culture. (Not!)

The right in the US is also in some cases trying to restrict the use of abortion pills. These are all skirmishes on the broader culture war occurring down south, in places like Florida with its battle against “indoctrination” with things like this and this. All events to set up the governor of Florida as being the next Trump. That’s what culture wars stoked by politicians are about.

Speaking of Trump, the first family of corruption continue to make news with stories like this and this .

I had some other ramblings about the world, but frankly it is all too grim. Let’s change gears.

Elon Musk: yeah, no. The man is festering in attention as it is. You can get nonsense elsewhere.

Fun: I loved this: the museum of endangered tech sounds. We all know them! Speaking of sound, this is a very cool device.

Not fun but useful: do you have trouble finding a notary? It can be hard. If you need one, consider this. I also thought this piece on starling murmurations was great.

Finally, I think I need to switch this newsletter up soon. It has become too worldly, too worldweary. I appreciate you reading it: thanks for that. But you deserve better ramblings. I’ll try to do that. Meanwhile, enjoy Spring!

 

What I learned writing web scrapers last week


I started writing web scrapers last week. If you don’t know, web scraper code can read web pages on the Internet and pull information from them.

I have to thank the Ontario Minister of Health for prompting me to do this. The Minister used to share COVID-19 information on twitter, but then chose recently to no longer do that. You can come to your own conclusions as to why she stopped. As for me, I was irritated by the move. Enough so that I decided to get the information and publish it myself.

Fortunately I had two things to start with. One, this great book: Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. There is a chapter in there on how to scrape web pages using Python and something called Beautiful Soup. Two, I had the minister’s own web site: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/. It had the data I wanted right there! I wrote a little program called covid.py to scrape the data from the page and put it all on one line of output which I share on twitter every day.

Emboldened by my success, I decided to write more code like this. The challenge is finding a web page where the data is clearly marked by some standard HTML. For example, the COVID data I wanted is associated with paragraph HTML tag and it has a class label of  covid-data-block__title and covid-data-block__data. Easy.

My next bit of code was obit.py: this program scrapes the SaltWire web site (Cape Breton Post) for obituaries listed there, and writes it out into HTML. Hey, it’s weird, but again the web pages are easy to scrape. And  it’s an easy way to read my hometown’s obits to see if any of my family or friends have died. Like the Covid data, the obit’s were associated with some html, this time it was a div statement of class sw-obit-list__item. Bingo, I had my ID to get the data.

My last bit of code was somewhat different. The web page I was scraping was on the web but instead of HTML it was a CSV file. In this case I wrote a program called icu.sh to get the latest ICU information on the province of Ontario. (I am concerned Covid is going to come roaring back and the ICUs will fill up again.) ICU.sh runs a curl command and in conjunction with the tail command gets the latest ICU data from an online CSV file. ICU.sh then calls a python program to parse that CSV data and get the ICU information I want.

I learned several lessons from writing this code. First, when it comes to scraping HTML, it’s necessary that the page is well formed and consistent. In the past I tried scraping complex web pages that were not and I failed. With the COVID data and the obituary data,  those pages were that way and I succeeded. Second, not all scraping is going to be from HTML pages: sometimes there will be CSV or other files. Be prepared to deal with the format you are given. Third, once you have the data, decide how you want to publish / present it. For the COVID and ICU data, I present them in a simple manner on twitter. Just the facts, but facts I want to share. For the obit data, that is just fun and for myself. For that, I spit it into a temporary HTML file and open it in a browser to review.

If you want to see the code I wrote, you can go to my repo in Github. Feel free to fork the code and make something of your own. If you want to see some data you might want to play with, Toronto has an open data site, here. Good luck!

 

The pandemic is not done and neither is my newsletter. Here’s my highlights and ramblings for March 2022 (a newsletter, in blog form)

Spring is here. And with Spring, thoughts turn to getting outdoors. I understand the feeling. People want to enjoy themselves after a tough winter. But hey, if you have a few minutes, I hope you can take the time to read this, my latest newsletter.

Pandemic: Well Omicron rushed out as fast as it rushed in, at least in my part of the world. Just in time to mark the 2nd anniversary of the pandemic. It’s been so dramatic that people are willing to declare the pandemic is over. There’s been constant talk of returning to normal. But what does Normal even mean? I’m not sure, and I don’t think anyone else is either. As this post states, How Did This Many Deaths Become Normal? . There’s nothing normal to return to. Ask Hong Kong.  They are dealing with a  ‘preventable disaster’. They wish they could return to normal.

Nonetheless, in some parts of Canada, premiers are trying to get there somehow, even as they are cautioning that the pandemic isn’t over. And newspapers like the Toronto Star are reminding us that just because we are feeling done with covid, it doesn’t mean it is done with us.  This hasn’t stopped places like Ontario from removing restrictions like the mandatory use of masks, although you will need them in some places like subways.

Speaking of the Ontario Government, I was disappointed that the Minister of Health decided to stop posting COVID stats on twitter. Fortunately they can be found on a web page. So I wrote a python program called covid.py to scrape the data and output it. I then post it on twitter myself. (You can find the code here.)

As for what is in store for us as we trying to be Normal again, there is some good insight published here, here and here. Whether people are ready for potential new waves of the pandemic remains to be seen. Case in point:  Once again America is in denial about signs of a fresh Covid wave.

Finally, I recommend that you take matters into your own hands and keep an eye on things. For example, here’s data on Hospitalizations for COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Ontario. Also good data in general, here. CBC.ca is tracking information here.

Work: As for work life, people have been going into the office. If this will be you and you forget how to dress, then this (on dress jackets) or this (on no suit business attire) may help. It would be nice if the office you went back to looked as green and lush as this. Or they were as open to personalizing your space as Corbusier wanted.

Ukraine: things seem to be reaching  new phase in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Apparently peace talks are progressing. We shall see. I am sad to see such needless suffering has been brought on by the Russian government.  It is bittersweet that the Ukrainians have held out this far, thanks to their own fighting and the aid of NATO nations. Let’s hope for an end to it soon.

Unlike the pandemic, I haven’t kept too many pieces on it. However, I thought these two were worth reading: one from a socialist perspective and one from a military perspective. As was this: Xi’s China during the war.

Climate: Is it possible to write anything positive about Climate Change? Well this piece comes close: Global update: Projected warming from Paris pledges drops to 2.4 degrees after US Summit: analysis.

In other news:  I was in London last week and I saw the British Museum is getting into NFTs. Sigh. According to this, it’s not just them. (London was great btw. We had a week of sunshine and warm temperatures. It was a perfect vacation.)

Streaming is becoming a bigger and bigger deal. So what are these streaming platforms considering doing more of? Ads. Streaming also had its moment at the Oscars recently, as this piece shows. (What about Oscars and the Slap, Bernie? We don’t talk about the slap no no.)

Inflation is still a concern these days. One way companies are dealing with it is by shrinking the products you buy. Many products are too big, so this could be something of a good thing. Inflation is still a bad thing.

Twitter: someone made a twitter bot specifically to respond to brands posting their Ws during International Women’s Day. Here the story behind the Twitter Bot posting the gender pay gap of brands celebrating IWD . A nice bit of guerilla activism.

Electric vehicles continue to make progress. A new (to me) competitor for the Tesla is the Polestar . I like how their ads are mainly saying they are not Elon Musk’s company. Tesla’s shareholders should take note.

Thanks again for reading this newsletter. I hope someday it will be filled with things having nothing to do with sickness or conflict.  It’s good to be hopeful. See you next month.

 

The bleak midwinter is done! The pandemic is not! Here’s my highlights and ramblings for February 2022 (a newsletter, in blog form)

Well, happy (?) end of February to you. February has always been the toughest month for me in Canada. It’s too dark, too cold, and both Christmas and Spring seem far away. Perhaps this newsletter can distract you and I from the challenges of this time. Or remind you of them. Sigh.

Pandemic: Omicron came in with a roar and is now rushing back out again. Good. It was very contagious, which means most of us had it but then it was done. I hope that’s true.

For more on why it was so contagious, see this: Omicron’s Surprising Anatomy Explains Why It Is Wildly Contagious.

There are tons of people, including politicians, who want to declare the pandemic over! Especially since this is the end of the second year of dealing with it. Here’s a good piece on why being done with COVID is easier said than done. That said, I am hoping we are done with it, but here’s a good reason why we may not be: Discovery of New HIV Variant Sends Warning for COVID Pandemic.

Finally, here’s an interesting piece on how the two years of COVID have affected us physically: How The Pandemic Is Changing Our Bodies.

Russia: As I write this, Russia is in the process of invading Ukraine. In the short term this is catastrophic for the latter, but the pain of this will soon increase for the former. No one gets to invade a country and not pay the price. Putin may not think so, and perhaps he will quickly overrun the country and put in a puppet government that does all the dirty work. All the scenarios are hard to consider.

China: Russia seemed to have waited until the Olympics completed before moving on Ukraine. A sad transition from a joyless Olympic games. Perhaps a fitting Olympics for a joyless state, or at least that is how China seems to me. Here’s two pieces on them: George Soros: Investors in Xi’s China face a rude awakening and A Digital Manhunt: How Chinese Police Track Critics on Twitter and Facebook.

America: America continues it’s weird drift away from what it could be. States continue to gerrymander and their Supreme court continues to veer right so hard that even the Chief Justice, John Roberts, has lost control.

Joe Rogan: Everyone has been talking about this guy recently. I don’t have much to say about him. Certainly not much that is good. I certainly am not happy about how he has supported and help propagate COVID-19 misinformation right-wing myths. Not many others are happy about him either. For more on him, such as his other Spotify controversies, you can read this.

Trucker protests: Well after almost a month of shenanigans at the capital of Canada and elsewhere, the “trucker” protest has retreated. It took Trudeau using The Emergencies Act, partially due to some prompting from his critics.  Thankfully he quickly withdrew it. Like Joe Rogan, I don’t have anything positive to say about it either. This sums up the delusion of the protesters: The American Anti-Vax Fantasy of Canada’s “Freedom Convoy”.

Meanwhile, most truckers are vaccinated and doing their jobs. And a hard job it is, based on this: The Real Reason America Doesn’t Have Enough Truck Drivers.

Otherwise: the metaverse shambles on. Here’s a study on the hype of the Metaverse. Speaking of hyped things, here’s more on NFTs: New Study on NFTs Deflates the “Democratic” Potential for the Medium. Zero surprise there.

Finally, here’s something fun: The best Jedi. I liked this guy’s site: Kevin Basset. And for all of you into punk, here’s  Dystopia-core: what is the new pandemic-era punk look? You can see it below. It seems right for our time.

(Photograph: Broadimage/Rex/Shutterstock)

 

Why some people in the hospital with COVID despite being vaccinated …

…is explained by this tweet from Dr Jennifer Kwan:

Yes, vaccines great reduce your chances from landing in the hospital from COVID. But it can still happen. Get vaccinated and stay well.

(Image from her tweet)

It’s the third year of the pandemic. Sigh. Here’s my highlights and ramblings for January 2022 (a newsletter, in blog form)

This is the third calendar year of being in this pandemic: 2020, 2021 and now 2022. True, the duration is technically less than 3 years (March 2020-January 2022) but heck it feels like three years to me. Likely it does for you too. I can assure reading this newsletter will go by quickly in comparison.

Pandemic: The last month has seen Omicron variant slamming into the world with  full force, including yours truly. After managing to avoid Covid-19 in all its variant forms, me and the people in my bubble (save my son) managed to get it within a day of each other. Fortunately we were all vaxxed and in some cases boosted. Likely because of that, we all felt sick and weak but nothing remotely requiring a visit to a hospital, never mind a stay. It sucked, and I missed some work in order to rest up (and frankly in the early days I slept most of the day while my body worked overtime to squash those bugs). We are now as healthy as we were before.

And it wasn’t just us. It seemed almost everyone had it. Partially because of all this sickness, we started to see impacts of it everywhere, such as the grocery stores. It seems like grocery stores running out of food, but this piece has what’s really going on. The stores are empty in many parts. But I suspect this will not be for long.

Other areas continue to suffer, such as travel. Case in point:  Air Canada ending flights between Sydney and Halifax in January. Also the  health care system. While Omicron is relatively milder, hospitals are still filling up with people due to the number of unvaccinated people. I am not sure if it’s true that our current health-care disaster could have been averted, but some believe it could have been

Meanwhile, speaking of the unvaccinated and the anti-vaxxers, in much of the West the walls are closing in on them. Let’s hope that leads to less and less unvaccinated people. Sadly, there is still a big convoy going to Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates. Idiots.

A milder form of protest is in the form of people whose livelihood depends on crowds. Restaurants for sure, but also the arts. It was stated here that  arbitrary shutdowns show that most Canadian leaders hold little value in artists. It may seem unfair, especially in light of sporting events going on. But to say that crowded venues are harmless is wrong, in my opinion.

Elsewhere, here’s two views on other parts of the world that are in the vanguard of dealing with the pandemic: Japan (What Japan Got Right About Covid-19) and Israel (How do key COVID-19 metrics compare to the early 2021 peak in Israel?).

It’s important thing to keep in mind the true cost of the pandemic. As this shows,  the pandemic’s true death toll is millions more than official counts. It has been a time of great tragedy and loss.

Business: the pandemic continues to impact business and the working world in many ways. Besides food shortages, we also have demand driven inflation.  Here’s a horribly wrong take on how to deal with it: What a Socialist Response to Inflation Should Look Like. While I am sympathetic to the impact inflation has on low income workers, price controls will not effectively deal with it. Income supports and other programs would be far more effective.

Besides that,  workers quit jobs in droves to become their own bosses. At least in the US.  Here’s how  millions of jobless Americans can afford to ditch work. As well,  distributed work continues to appeal. Companies are going to want to move away from that and back into offices. I am not sure how successful that will be.

Toronto: Meanwhile in Toronto we were hit with a big blizzard this month. it was so bad, people helped push a TTC bus out of the snow during it.  Meanwhile, our premier, who is trailing in the polls, decided to drive around Toronto and pick up people stranded by the blizzard. It did not go over well it seemed, as people mocked the whole thing as a stunt.

Crypto: it seems like there is an explosion of discussion with regards to digital finance. While there are many aspects to it, it seems to have centered around the term “crypto”. Here’s a good piece on it from Josh Barro: Why I hate cryptocurrency. Here’s an attempt at a fair assessment Crypto: the good the bad and the ugly.  I still think it is mostly bad. Even in areas where it is supposed to be helpful, it isn’t. Case in point: NFT art sales are booming. Just without some artists’ permission. I find the whole topic depressing to think about.

Speaking of depressing, here’s the dumb man’s idea of a smart man, Jordan Peterson making a fool of himself on the topic of climate:  word salad of nonsense: scientists denounce Jordan Peterson’s comments on climate models. This is grim: The return of the 10-minute eviction in the US. Also downbeat is how America can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to improving their country with programs like Biden’s Build Back Better. This article seems to think it will not go well for one opposing senator: West Virginia‚’s coal miners just made Joe Manchin’s life a lot harder. I’ll believe it when I see it. Of course we just can’t stand by and watch it happen. The American polity is cracked and might collapse. Canada must prepare. Sad.

Wordle! One good thing about the pandemic was the mass adoption of the game Wordle.  For those of you wondering or have forgotten, here are  your other Wordle questions answered. Also on the topic: Six Lessons From the Success of Wordle.

Finally and positively: In general, it is easy to get downbeat in the midst of winter during this seemingly endless pandemic. But it is truly incredible how quickly we have developed a vaccine and rolled it out (and continue to roll it out) around the world. Most people have worked hard to do the right thing and try and end this situation. It is too easy to focus on the bad parts like the antivaxxers and antimaskers, when at least in Canada the vast majority are provaxx and promask and supportive of good initiatives. Let’s focus on that for a moment. Meanwhile do what you can to stay well and help your community to do the same.

P. S. I took a drawing challenge this month: draw every day and post it on Instagram. I failed, but I failed in a “shoot for the stars, land on the moon” way. I didn’t manage to draw 31 images, but I managed to draw much more than I had been in ages. I was glad for that. Here’s one of those sketches: white conte on black paper.

When I lived on Castlefield Avenue I would often see the sky like this walking home late at night. It’s a good image and memory for me. Thanks to my friend and old colleague Karen Maxwell for the challenge.

Hey! Thanks for reading this. See you next month.

Notes from having COVID last week

Last Monday (Jan 3) my daughter had a sore throat. She got tested later that evening and was positive for COVID. No one in my house/bubble had symptoms before that, but by Wednesday morning, all but one of us had them.

Our experience with the disease was similar to Liz Renzetti and her family, described here: Opinion: Lessons from the COVID not-so-sick bed – The Globe and Mail.

All of us felt tired and exhibited symptoms associated with COVID. I had a incessant cough, runny nose, stuffy head, and at one point fever then chills. I also slept a lot. Normally I am restless so if I am sleeping that much then I am sick.

We all isolated from each other as much as we could. We had a hepa filter going, and we were all vaccinated (and in some cases boosted). We did what we could to minimize the impact. As it was, the course of the disease took under a week (at least in terms of present symptoms).

People were great in offering us well wishes and close friends offering to bring us food. We were lucky to be able to have food delivered and appreciative of the people who did so.

We only had one rapid antigen test between us. (Good luck getting one of those anywhere.) We were all pretty sick, but we used it and the results were negative. My doctor friend tells me the false negative percentage is 30% (vs 1% false positive).  We acted all we all had COVID anyway and we likely did.

I don’t have any great insights into the disease. Get as vaccinated as you can as soon as you can. Follow local public health guidelines. Take care of yourself and others. Hang in there.

(Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash )

 

Another pandemic year is done. Here’s my highlights and ramblings for December 2021 (a newsletter, in blog form)

Happy New Year’s Eve to you! Raise a glass of cheer for another year of pandemic nonsense down the drain. Last month I said: it’s hard to believe we are in the pandemic, like it was about to be finished soon. Now what we got in December was almost a throwback to the beginning of the pandemic! Painful. I hope the reading of this newsletter brings something other than pain.

Pandemic: Last month I wondered what the Omicron variant would bring. Now I know: it brought us an incredible amount of sickness. Cases have shot through the roof and it seems like COVID, once preventable with reasonable measures taken, is less so. Worse, even with vaccines people are still getting ill. The one piece of good news so far is hospitalization seems to be manageable.

That said, Omicron has been hard on us.  Like this piece says, the week Omicron arrived was  the week that Covid sucker punched the world. Alot of our hopes and dreams have been dashed because Omicron is rewriting the COVID plan for 2022. Not surprisingly, across the world Covid anxiety and depression take hold.

But people have also been making an effort. People are getting test like crazy, and not surprisingly, this has led to test backlogs. The challenge here is sometimes the backlogs are due to overwhelming demand and sometimes it is due to underwhelming supply. People are assuming the problem is the latter, but even the most efficient supply chain can get overwhelmed by too much demand. That said, some places (Nova Scotia) are really good at distributing tests, while other places (Ontario) not so much.

Before omicron, the number of hot takes on COVID had seem to die down. Now they have fired back up again. Uncertainty provides fuel for all these spicy opinions. My boring take is that people should continue to mask up, avoid crowds, and get fully vaccinated as soon as they can. Heck wash your hands for 20 seconds still…it can’t hurt.

I get that people are sick of the pandemic. We all are! But pretending it isn’t happening is ridiculous. Unfortunately we have organizations like the NBA limping along because money, I suppose. I mean here are the Raptors with 10 of their players out due to COVID.  So we have these ridiculous events with 10,000 people in the stands to watch pickup basketball. No wonder we are stuck. I understand restaurants trying to get people into them: it’s do or die for many of them. The rich NBA? I have less understanding.

Christmas: it’s Christmastime, despite the pandemic. Here are three pieces on that time of year that aren’t necessarily festive, but are certainly interesting: first, here’s a story on how Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ helped U.S. fight fascism in WWII. This was interesting: Christmas and slavery: The holidays were the best time to escape. Finally, this was fun: Christmas shopping the IBM way: computerized gift selection in 1962.

Non-Pandemic: In the US, lots of people writing off Joe Biden due to Joe Manchin putting a pin in his Build Back Better legislation.  My take is: we shall see.  It’s certainly benefited Manchin in the short term. But the cliche that a week in politics is a long time is a cliche for a reason. Biden has time. He’s already achieved a lot, but it is hard to feel that. This article attempts to understand that and is worth a look.

Elsewhere in the US, unions are having a moment. So says Time. Time also says Elon Musk was man of the year. Meh to that. Every year brings my opinion of the man down a level.

Speaking of technology, there’s lots of talk lately about web3. Frankly I am highly skeptical of it. It seems like a bunch of overhyped schemes to make money. If I had to recommend one thing to read on it, it would be this.

The other thing people were talking about technology-wise were the multiple outages at AWS and the log4j vunerability. The former I was surprised by: the latter not so much. People do not realize how exposed we all are to the soft underbelly of open source: the log4j problems were a good reminder/wake up call.

Entertainment wise, I continue to avoid going to movie theatres, concerts or anything with crowds. I made an exception for television/streaming. While I rarely watch TV, there were a few things I did watch this December, including Don’t Look Up and Get Back. I thought the former was a hot mess. and this piece aligns with my views. As for Get Back, there was a lot I liked about it, including how it changed my  opinions of the band. Although a huge Paul McCartney fan, my opinion dropped of him after watching it. Same with George Harrison. My opinion of John and Ringo rose, as did my opinion of Yoko. I still love them all, but I was surprised to see my opinion still change despite all these years of being a big fan.

I also watched  some of American Crime Story on the Clinton Scandals. Bill Clinton does not come out well in it, however sympathetic you are to him. The women generally come across as human and multidimensional, which I liked. If you are into such drama, I recommend it.

Other things I enjoyed and continue to enjoy is the twitter account Canadian Paintings.  Whoever curates it does a superb job. There is such a wide range of art displayed and it is often topical. I love it every time the account posts.

Cooking-wise,  my new  favorite instagram account and web site is Salt & Lavender. Good RICH food. The account does not shy away from high fat ingredients and frankly, I love that. If you need to treat yourself, visit their website.

The other food person I follow is Carolina Gelen on IG. A very entertaining account with good recipes. She is a superb communicator.

Well that’s it for the newsletter. Remember, last year in January we were still waiting for the vaccine: we have made tremendous progress since then! We still haven’t put the pandemic behind us (I am a terrible predictor!) but I think we can soon. Hang in there!

Speaking of hanging in, if you got this far, thank you! I appreciate it! I hope you have a good and safe New Year’s Eve, and despite the challenges, you manage to have a good year next year. You deserve it. We all do.

It’s coming up on Christmas. Here’s my pandemic highlights and ramblings for November, 2021(a newsletter, in blog form)

Happy holidays to you! It’s hard to believe we are almost at the end of the 2021.  It’s also hard to believe at times that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, but we are. Let me reflect on that and more in my latest and relatively short blog newsletter for you.

Pandemic: The big pandemic news this month has been the rise of the new variant: Omicron. It’s all very new, as this shows:  WHO discusses new COVID-19 variant with unusual mutations.  As I write this there is still much happening to determine its impact.

Even before the new variant, there were problems. Another Ontario region had reinstated some lockdown restrictions amid surge in cases this month. I don’t know why, other than the cold weather has more people inside and that leads to more cases, perhaps.

To prevent this,  people like me have been getting boosters. If you can, get yours too. Lots of young people have been getting their first shots. When I got mine on Saturday, there were lots of old people like me and lots of kids with their parents.

While there is still so much to be done to vaccine all of the world, people are working hard to do so, as this story shows:  Drones Ferry Pfizer as Precious Deep-Frozen Vaccine to Africa’s Remote Villages.

Meanwhile, there are people in rich countries refusing to get vaccines, like the Chicago police. Fortunately when push came to shove, most people accepted vaccine mandates and got their shots, although some quit. At this point I have zero tolerance for hold outs.

Workwise, The Great Resignation is still ongoing, at least in the US. It will have big ramifications for business going into the new year (and already has is 2021.) Speaking of that, I suspect we will not be going into the office for at least until the first quarter of 2022. Indeed, nearly 80% of downtown Toronto office employees are still working from home . I can’t see that percentage dropping much.

As for me and my work,  I am still engaged on this:  Alberta launches app to read COVID-19 vaccination QR code. It’s good.

This story struck me: Cape Breton woman says CERB will most likely make her bankrupt . I can’t say why she applied for CERB when she was not eligible. I can say the government should not be so harsh in how it claws back the money. The pandemic is hard enough: impoverishing people is not a good way to fix things.

That’s the reality of the pandemic. In fantasy news, Royal Caribbean is offering a 9-month-long ‘World Cruise’ visiting 150 destinations . I think you need your head examined if you signed up for such a thing. Likewise, this call for a New Public Spirit in the US after the failures of the pandemic sounds nice and dreamy and won’t happen.

In other economic news, there are still shortages these days due to the pandemic and the supply chain problems it caused. For example, Ikea won’t be selling Christmas trees in Toronto this year due to shortage . My favorite example of this though is a Santa shortage! Despite all that, I believe the supply chain issues will clear up fairly soon.

Non pandemic: I thought this was a good summary of the bizarre age we live in: The Golden Age of Grift . I think such grift happens in any era when there is an abundance of capital and a spirit that compels people to capture it. In such an era you get things like this happening: A one-ton tungsten cube was just bought by a crypto cabal for $250 000 . And you get decadence like this socially, as well as a desire to punish it: Chrissy Teigen Is Catching A Lot Of Heat For Hosting A Lavish “Squid Game”-Themed Party. Maybe this decade is going to be more like the Roaring Twenties of the 20th century than I thought.

Finally: this video mocking the Metaverse and Mark Zuckerberg made the rounds this month and it was excellent: Introducing the Icelandverse

Last word: I hope the holidays are good to you. If you need help during this time, I wrote a number of posts on Christmas over the years. I think they are hood and helpful. You can find them here.

Thoughts on getting my booster vaccine

I got my booster shot yesterday. It was different from my other two in several ways. My first two were AZ shots at my local pharmacy: this was Pfizer at the Toronto Metro Convention Center. Getting it at a pharmacy is very low key: at the Center it was a process. That said, it was a well organized and fast process. I went from entering the building to sitting in the waiting area in minutes. There are lots of signs and assistance everywhere and well done.

Like my other two vaccines the side effects occurred. I slept a lot. With this one, my arm was sore longer. Also I had flu like chills at one point. Overall though it was fairly mild.

The pandemic is hard. Get your vaccine booster when you are eligible. Get a flu shot too.

The future of delivery might be this e-scooter

One thing that proliferated with the pandemic was food delivery and delivery in general. I’ve seen people delivering via cars, bikes, scooters  and on foot. No doubt Honda noticed it too. Perhaps it was driven by other things, but their  e-scooter with a roof so people can deliver parcels even in the rain seems to be made with the assumption that people will continue to do lots of deliveries and they need a proper vehicle to do it. We’ll see. Right now what you see above is exclusive to Japan. I expect Honda to break out and have these everywhere food and other things are being shuttled from one building to another.

On pop-up restaurants

During the pandemic there was a number of great pop-up restaurants that appeared in my neighborhood. Perhaps yours too. It was one of the few good things during all the lockdowns. I was especially glad to wander down to the Dai-lo popup on Yonge near Davisville that served a small menu (4-6 items) of delicious Asian food in a coffee shop that was available for them in the evenings. Sadly, it’s gone now, but it was great while it lasted.

A good story on what it’s like to run such a place is here:  The Promise and Perils of Running a Pop Up Restaurant | Bon Appétit

Well worth reading, especially if you love pop-ups or thought of running your own. My naive self thinks: oh, it would be fun to have such a place. I have just enough sense to know it might be fun, but it would not be a lark and it would definitely be a lot of hard work to be successful.

(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash who is available for hire)

It’s Hallowe’en. Here’s my pandemic highlights and ramblings for October, 2021(a newsletter, in blog form)

Happy Hallowe’en to you. For those celebrating, I hope the weather is good and the night is sufficiently scary and enjoyable. Here’s my monthly newsletter and ramblings as the year passes the three quarter mark. Grab some candy and dig in.

Pandemic: the pandemic is not new and not as scary as it used to be, but it is still bad enough and still not done. Alas. Publications like Vox are wondering what the winter will bring, Covid wise. So far we have seen a decline in cases, but not near enough to zero. Even places like New Zealand have had to abandon their Zero-Covid ambitions. As I have said before, the pandemic humbles us all. If you run restaurants, this has been especially true. Ask Toronto celebrity chef Mark McEwan, whose restaurant and gourmet foods business filed for creditor protection, citing a cash crunch. Or the poor IT people from Ontario whose website to download Ontario vaccine QR code crashed on first day it’s open to all residents. The pandemic has been challenging no matter what you do or where you are.

It doesn’t help that if anything the virus may be mutating into new variants of concern, as this shows:  3 takeaways from the emergence of the Delta Plus coronavirus variant. Yikes. That hasn’t stopped people from yearning to go back to the office, though it seems employers are not communicating post-pandemic workplace plans. I am not surprised: COVID-19 makes it hard to plan anything. For example, some places are wondering how to deal with  the Great Resignation, although there is talk that the notion is over blown. Certainly you would think so if you read this: A worker in Florida applied to 60 entry-level jobs in September and got one interview. Sooner than later we will go back to the office. Some of you even missed the commute. If you have, then read this: The Myth of the Productive Commute.

As for me, I’ve been working with a great team on  Alberta’s Vaccine Passport rollout. I am happy to have contributed in a small but positive way to ending this pandemic.

Non pandemic: there has been much happening that has nothing to do with the pandemic. For example:

Facebook has been in the news much of late. Mark Zuckerberg has tried to shift the conversation to the new name and vision for his company. This piece talks a little about Meta, Facebook’s new name. I can’t help but think it’s a Second Life clone (Third Life?). Whatever you think of Meta, I think Vice sums up the venture nicely for me: Zuckerberg Announces Fantasy World Where Facebook Is Not a Horrible Company. And what is Mark Z and his team trying to get you to not think about? This: The Key takeaways from the Facebook Papers.

I don’t know what will happen to Facebook-the-company. I have long suspected Facebook-the-service has been in decline in all sorts of ways for years. Generally, we have long realized that much of social media is not good for us. Some people have likened it to smoking. I think this may be a better comparison: Social Media Has the Same Downsides As Alcohol – The Atlantic

Climate-wise, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference is starting today. What will come from it, I can’t say. We will know in the middle of November. Recently I have been somewhat cheered up by this piece that argues that yes there is progress but no it is not enough. A fair assessment. It’s not that there are not Climate change solutions, it’s that we can’t deploy them fast enough. My belief is that things will accelerate in this regard and we will get much further faster than many now think. That said, much will be lost and damaged in the meantime. I am cautiously hopeful though not naive.

China has much to say about climate change, and  Xi from China will be there at the climate conference, but how influential he will be remains to be seen. He has been withdrawn lately, as this shows: Xi Hasn’t Left China in 21 Months. Covid May Be Only Part of the Reason. Part of the reason may be that China’s government is starting to screw up. Still, the government has its supporters, such as  the patriotic ‘ziganwu’ bloggers who attack the West. The question I have is what will happen if China’s growth slows significantly? Or if big companies fail?How will Xi’s crackdowns affect Chinese society and his reign? We will see in 2022.

Russia has been in the news of late, and not for the best of reasons. As someone who values a free Internet, the fact that Russia is censoring the Internet with coercion and Black Boxes is a bad thing. There is talk that Russia wants to cut itself off from the Internet. It’s easier said than done if you want to be a successful country. Though they are trying. And the coercion doesn’t stop with Russians. Even American companies like Apple and Google Go Further Than Ever to Appease Russia. Not good.

Gee, Bernie, this version of your newsletter is bleak. What’s good? Well, this is fun: Cats and Domino. I loved this: Essential Irish Slang Everyone Should Know . This was interesting: Beat writers and bohemians: One woman’s memoir of 1950s Greenwich Village. Speaking of NYC, we should go to the Big Apple and visit  the 14 Most Iconic New York City Bars and Restaurants. That would be fun. Not fun, but fascinating is this story: The Medieval-like reformatory for ‚Fallen women on Riverside Drive, New York.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up some NFT lunacy. Here’s the latest gem: Our Lady Peace looks to the future by bundling NFTs with new album . Honestly I could fill my newsletter with this stuff. As for newsletters, it seems Newsletter Writer Fatigue Sets In . Ha! I am not surprised. They need to learn a lesson from Andrew Sullivan, who discovered this ages ago with his blog and ended up hiring staff for what became a publication disguised as a blog. Of course it helps to be pulling in serious money like he does: not many people can do that.

That’s it for another newsletter. Thanks for reading my ramblings! Winter is coming soon: enjoy the Fall while you can. It’s a season of colour and cornucopias. Soak up its wealth and coziness. In no time Winter and Christmas will be here, for worse and for better.

Last word:  I came across this fabulous infographic via this: Wes Anderson Films and Their Actors [OC]. Like Christopher Nolan, he likes to work with specific actors over and over again.

He has a new film out now: The French Dispatch. It looks fun. We could all use some fun! Go and have all the fun you can. Until next month….

 

So you are thinking of quitting your job during the Great Resignation. If so, read this

If you are thinking of walking away from your job these days,  you are not alone. As the WSJ says:

The ‘Great Resignation’ is on. Here’s what to do about your finances before embarking on the slowdown you’ve been craving.

Wait! You haven’t thought of your finances before quitting? Well stop for a second and read this: How to Prepare Your Finances Before Quitting Your Job – WSJ.

Change is good. Well thought out change is better. So get your finances in place and then make your move. Good luck!
(Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash )

September, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Happy Autumn to you. It’s the end of September, one of my favorite months. It’s been a good month for me, despite the pandemic. I’ve travelled to Nova Scotia and Montreal. In many ways, travel felt “normal”, save the masks and vaccine passports. If those things mean we get to get around and see the people and places we love, I am all for it.

Pandemic: It seems like a weird time in this seemingly never ending pandemic.  In many places there has been great progress. But there have been terrible exceptions. Generally wherever there are right wing governments with ideological commitments to “freedom”, people have lost out. For example, Florida. Here’s a story on how Florida’s massive Covid-19 spike got so bad .In other places like Kentucky,  schools overwhelmingly keep mask mandates even after Republicans scrapped state requirement. Not that Canada’s provinces are necessarily better: even the New York Times is writing about the failure that is Alberta. To make it worse, covidiots are still being a menace to society. Fortunately,the public is forcing timid governments to get tough with vaccine resisters. I am sure there are a small number of them are genuinely afraid of the vaccine. Mostly though you have fools who will take Ivermectin even though it doesn’t work and is meant for animals.

Governments aside, businesses continue to try and get back to normal, but many companies like Apple are throwing in the towel until January 2022, citing the COVID-19 surges. The fact that remote work may last for two years worries some bosses. On the other hand, who wants covid-19 outbreaks occurring when workers get together? That’s right: no one.

Not only are businesses having trouble getting back to “normal”, but many of them cannot find enough workers to do the job. In the restaurant industry, many former worker are tired of the job and are more than happy to say so. But it’s not just restaurants: lots of industries including the gig industry are losing out. Here’s a good analysis by Noah Smith on why that is. As for Canadian workers, most picked up side hustles during lockdown and plan to keep them.

Finally, it’s no surprise that people are a lot less happy during the pandemic. There’s plenty of data to back that up. And we may stay that way for awhile, if you take into account people are still burnt out from this terrible time. Some argue a 4-day work week might fix that. I’m not so optimistic. Sure, a 4 day work week would be good , but more is needed.

Non pandemic stuff: Here in Canada we just had a federal election and…not much changed. Just check out these charts and you’ll see.

Toronto continues to develop new buildings everywhere. There are so many signs for new developments that someone decided to have fun and came up with a  fake development sign trolling an area with giant tower in middle of Toronto park. Many were not amused.

Homelessness continues to be a problem being struggled with everywhere, especially in Toronto. During the pandemic there were encampments forming everywhere.  Eventually they were  driven underground with a wave of summer crackdowns  that supposed cost Toronto nearly $2 million. Sad, to say the least.

People continue to do crazy stupid things with NFTs because there is crazy stupid money involved. For example, this boy 12 made 290 000 pounds in non-fungible tokens with digital whale art. People are now working on NFT blockchain video games. Meanwhile, an Insider Trading Scandal Hits NFT Industry. Things are just insane, but whenever easy money is to be had, it’s not surprising.

Two of the most underestimated and successful politicians continue to make news. Angela Merkel is exiting the stage, while Joe Biden is suffering politically. I think Merkel will be one of those politicians that rises in stature historically, while Biden will recover from his current doldrums.

That’s it for this newsletter. Enjoy your Autumn all. It’s a time of harvests, and get togethers, but it is also a time of colour and beauty. Enjoy it while it lasts.

 

On the deadly leadership of Jason Kenney and Scott Moe regarding the pandemic

Here is Jason Kenney on twitter in July, 2021, celebrating removal of health restrictions:

Here is a tweet from Robson Fletcher of the CBC on Kenney’s  province and Scott Moe’s province in September of the same year:

I mean, if people in your province are dying at 4X the rate of the other provinces because of direct policy changes you made, you are essentially killing people in your province under your leadership. I don’t know how else to put it.

Also, Jason Kenney should not speak for the Prairies or the West. Both Manitoba and British Columbia are doing better than Alberta and Saskatchewan. It’s not just right wing leaders either. Other right wing provincial parties have been much better stewards of their regions. Kenney and Moe and their leadership are to blame here.

It is terrible when leaders fail their provinces. But this is way beyond typical failure.  I feel great sympathy for the people of this province who have died unnecessarily on their watch.

 

A great introduction to Bayes’ Theorem and how it relates to COVID-19

You may have heard references to Bayes’ Theorem in light of the pandemic and wondered how it is relevant. Well I am here to help. First off, here’s a great guide to Bayes’ Theorem from the website MathIsFun.com. Even if you are math phobic, I think you will be able to read that piece and understand it. Secondly, check out the site Varsity and how it explains how Bayes’ Theorem and COVID-19 testing are related. Both are well worth a read.

Learn Bayes’ Theorem. It’s good to help you understand many things in life, including what is happening during the pandemic.

P.S. This related piece at FT.com  explains why you should expect to see vaccinated people in the hospital with covid despite high vaccination rates.

How to Make Dinner When You Can’t Even

If I were to ask you “are you sick of cooking from home during the pandemic?”and you threw something in my general direction while screaming “YES!”, then I highly recommend this: Easy Dinner Recipes (Without Having to Cook Anything) – The New York Times. 

Ali Slagle does a great job of helping you put together a meal using a simple formula.  So if the thought of getting out a recipe is painful and the thought of ordering take out is equally so, check out that piece from her.

(Photo: Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.)

August, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

I hope you are enjoying your summer and staying safe and well. Summer is the best time of the pandemic — it’s sad I can say that, but this is our second pandemic summer —  so enjoy it as best as you can. If you need something to read as you soak up the sun and sip a cold one, here’s my latest blog newsletter for you.

Pandemic: it’s a weird time in the pandemic: on one hand, most people in places like Canada are getting vaccinated. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, the Delta variant is causing death and devastation.  I once thought the pandemic would be receding, now I am not so sure. We have signs of normality like Via Rail bringing back Montreal-Halifax service. But there is also talk about the fourth wave. People are patronizing restaurants and  people are trying to avoid going to gyms. Places like Israel are struggling after early success. And while restaurants are open, restaurants are having a hard time staying staffed. (I can see that personally: my son works at Stock TC and he tells me they are struggling to hire and keep people.)

As for me, I am finally looking forward to doing some travelling to Halifax and Montreal in the upcoming months. I am going to be going to the east coast to accompany my son as he goes to university there. Then I am going to take advantage of my empty nest status to go to Montreal and partake in that great city and their wonderful views and food. Can’t wait!

It’s weird trying to arrange the trips. So much I used to do with certainty I do with great uncertainty now.

In non-travelling news, I’ve been going to some restaurants in Toronto and eating on their patios. Some patios are really great, others not so much. I love certain restaurants, but sitting on a busy street while cars and bikes whiz by is less than relaxing. Happy to patronize these restaurants, and looking forward to when we can all dine safely inside again.

Besides restaurants, other businesses are struggling to return to normal. My own employer is backing off having people return to the office, at least in NYC. The pandemic is going to have a big impact on companies in a number of ways. For example, there is much talk about preparing for the Great Resignation: 4 ways to be a better boss during the Great Resignation.

Olympics: During the recent Olympics, I expected that this sporting event could be cause of outbreaks. However, this piece argued that  Tokyo has shown the pandemic can be beaten Games health adviser says. That’s good.

Health: One thing that came out of the Olympics was a discussion of taking into account not just physical health but mental health. This lead to articles like this: Why We Need To Normalize Taking Sick Days For Our Mental Health. Speaking of physical health, I agree with this, that  COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to look at weight and what it means to be healthy. Our views of health change from generation to generation, but they should change dramatics because of the pandemic.

Denial: As with climate change, there are people who want to deny it is happening or that it is significant. That never ends well. For example: Oops. Canadian Province That Acted Like COVID Was Over Just Realized It Isn’t. (Yes, that’s Alberta). Some of those same people are using HIPAA as an excuse to not disclose their vaccination status. Those people need to read this: What Is HIPAA? Read This Before You Use HIPAA as an Excuse to Complain About Vaccine Requirements.

My last pandemic comment is this. You might be working from home for awhile, still. If some, here’s some good WFH furniture ideas from Simons. I may be checking it out soon. Regardless of buying new things, you may want to improve the look of your place. If so, check this out: How to curate (just about) anything.

Non pandemic stuff

Climate Change: there is so much news about climate change that I could easily fill the newsletter with references to that. Perhaps I will one day. One thing that stood out for me recently is this news: Hotter than the human body can handle: Pakistan city broils in world’s highest temperatures. The thought of parts of the world being unlivable is terrifying. My belief is that the way to turn it around is massive change on all fronts. So when I read things like this, I get concerned, to say the least: A Bill Gates Venture Aims To Spray Dust Into The Atmosphere To Block The Sun. What Could Go Wrong?. There is no silver bullet for climate change, and anyone who thinks so is wrong.  Climate change is overwhelming, and only overwhelming action on all fronts is going to stabilize and improve things.

Canada: It’s Federal election time in Canada. If you need info on that, go here.  If you need to see the latest polls, go here. I can’t predict what will happen: I expected the Liberals would win in Nova Scotia but the Conservatives ended up on top with a majority.

The US: for a time the President was on a roll in terms of success . His enemies and opponents like Lindsey Graham were struggling to stay relevant. But then he announced that the US was withdrawing from Afghanistan. Since then things have not been going well from him. I suspect over time it will work out for him and the American people. The occupation itself was never going to end well and it was best he declared this early in his presidency.

For some good insight on this, read this piece by Noah Smith: The Afghanistan occupation and the Japan occupation .

Still a thing: NFTs (Russell Simmons launches NFT collection to help pioneers of hip-hop), ransomware (Top 5 ransomware operators by income), and space exploration  (NASA looking for people to spend a year pretending they live on Mars so it can prepare to send astronauts to red planet). Newsletters also still a thing.

Fun: this was a fun thing to read: An Oral History of Adam Sandler Pickup Basketball Legend.

Finally, this is a great time to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only are they enjoyable, it is also a great way to live healthier. So eat as many as you can while you can.

Stay safe. Stay well. Hang in there.

(Photo by Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash)

July, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Happy midsummer to you. We are halfway through the summer of 2021 which also means it’s time for my latest blog newsletter.

Pandemic: For some time now, as vaccination was on the rise, the underlying story of the pandemic was “this will soon be over”. Masks were coming off. Indoor dining was on coming back. Travel restrictions were easing.

Now the Delta variant has taken over the story and masks are going back on and cases are on the rise. More on that here. I suspect that for at least the time being, we are still going to be struggling with COVID-19 in its many forms/variants.

Some places are trying to just act like it isn’t happening. For example, Tennessee abandoned vaccine outreach to minors and not just for COVID-19. That bout of madness lasted only a bit of time before the wise folks of that state reversed things. But like the pandemic, that madness is going around. For example,  Alberta is going to try a similar route, ending COVID rules.

Here’s the problem with this, in my opinion: unlike poverty, politicians can’t ignore COVID. If you try and do so, cases rise, hospitals fill up, more people die. People get upset and promise to vote you out. There’s no getting around it. The only way politicians win in that case is when people ignore them and do the right thing. Even then, their poor judgment is going to hurt them come election time.

As for other provinces,  Ontario  is trying to open as fast as it can, but it has a good plan and it seems to be sticking to it. However, daily cases were in the 150/day range and have creeped up to over 200. The plan may not hold.

I’m still hoping Canada is on the way to post-pandemic status. Based on our vaccine rates, it’s possible. But who knows. The pandemic humbles us all.

In other pandemic stories, it’s important to acknowledge that all tragedy did not occur directly because of the disease. In Ontario, more young people died from effects of lockdown than of COVID itself. That story is a good reminder that making choices in a pandemic are never straightforward. The choice of lockdown, while benefiting many, harmed others.

The New York Times has had many a good piece on how the pandemic has affected us. Here’s another: The Year of Purchasing and Purging

Finally, many of you have been forced to work at home during the pandemic. Here’s a silver lining: Introducing a simplified process for claiming the home office expenses for Canadians working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Non-pandemic things :

 Olympics: It is crazy that the Olympics are going on during the pandemic. There is talk that COVID cases count spike as a result. We will see. As for the Olympics themselves, people are tuning them out. I am not surprised. I know why they weren’t cancelled altogher — a lot of money is at stake — but they should have been.

NFTs: Not much to say here. The fact that Coke is getting into the NFT game tells me that either they are becoming more mainstream or they are petering out.

US: In the US we have a tale of two presidents. The former president continues to be in hot water. First off, it looks like he will be forced to turn over tax records. As well, his actions during the attempted coup of January 6th are getting more scrutiny. Good.

Meanwhile this is what amounts to a Biden controversy: people are upset about his choices of ambassadors. That aside, Biden has a good chance that Congress is going to pass his bipartisan Infrastructure bill. That will be a big win for him.

Another big plus for his presidency is that poverty dropped considerably as a result of poverty aid programs. It’s a reminder that poverty and homelessness are a choice we make.

Finally there was the billionaire space race. I wrote about it here.

Ransomware: Continues to be a problem everywhere including Canada. It looks like Biden has expressed his unhappiness with things to Putin. I am not sure if this is a result of that conversation, but some of the people responsible for ransomware suddenly disappeared.

Lastly thanks for reading this! I appreciate it. Go out and enjoy the summer days while you can.

(Photo by Chris Galbraith on Unsplash)

June, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Wow. It’s the end of June and summer has started. Here’s my latest blog newsletter for you. Short and sweet.

Pandemic:  Canadians continue to ramp up on getting vaccinated. 30% of the population has been fully vaxxed, including yours truly. Well done! I have been impressed by the Federal government procuring the vaccines, as well as the distribution in Toronto. They even had a big event where over 26,000 people were vaccinated in one day at the Skydome/Rogers Center.

Not everything has been awesome. Take the response from the government of Ontario. The Globe has said it has been the worst of all the provincial governments. Hard to disagree with that assessment. Ford has tried to distract others from his performance by trying to shift some of the blame on to Trudeau. That didn’t go far…Trudeau shifted it back onto Ford big time.

While Canadians have generally been good in getting vaccinated, some pockets have been resistant. So governments like that in Manitoba have been offering incentives. Here’s to everyone getting it done this summer!

There has been some positive things to note regarding the pandemic. Crime has plummettedQuarantine rules are changing for the better in Canada. So that’s good.

Businesses are trying to return to normal, but even the best of them, like Starbucks, are having a hard time getting supplies. There is still a labour shortage too. We are not out of the woods in terms of business.

Overall, this has been a tough time. As VOX argues, it has not been a sabbatical.

If you need more on the pandemic, the New York Times has a whole section, here.

Non-pandemic things I noted: NFRs are getting smarter, though there are still lots of nonsense. However at least  this time people like Sotheby’s are tying their value to the artist themselves. That’s a good thing. Another thing I keep an eye on is ransomware. Sadly, it’s getting worse.

In the US, the GOP are still focused on limiting who can vote in the US. They don’t want to change their platforms, they just want to stay in power.
That is obvious as shown here. Meanwhile, Biden seems to have their number, based on this.As for Canada, there has been a lot of focus on indigenous issues and in particular the residential schools. Here’s a good editorial
on it.

Try and go out and enjoy the nice weather while you can. Everything you can do to make the pandemic better is worth doing.

(Photo by Sofia Mejia on Unsplash )

What do you do if you want to keep working from home

While many of us have been forced to work from home during the pandemic, that time may be ending some time this year. Many people will be delighted to go back. If this is not the case for you, then read this article.

That article contains good advice for either finding a new job that is full time remote, or finding a job that can be a hybrid. Either way, if you want to continue to work from home, I recommend you start thinking of how to achieve that now.

(Photo by Collov Home Design on Unsplash )

 

May, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)


It’s May, and it’s lovely in Ontario in terms of weather. Alas, the pandemic is still going on, as is my not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings for this month. Hope you like it.

Pandemic: Here in Canada we are rushing to get vaccinated. Over 50% of the population has at least 1 dose, and some Canadians have two (I got my second shot of AZ/AstraZeneca today). I am happy to see that the governments all seem to be working better again. The Federal government has been procuring them, the Provincial government has been distributing them, and the City has been setting up spots for people to get them. And get them they have. Kudos to everyone making efforts to get out there and end this.

It’s not to say there are no bumps in the road. Some provinces, like mine, ended up in a panic about whether or not to allow people to get additional AZ vaccines. Eventually Ontario relented and people like me signed up and got their jabs. Still, the experience has left people bitter, as this Doug Coupland piece illustrated.

Canadians don’t need much prompting to get vaccinated. This seems to be true down south for the most part, thought some states like West Virginia are offering savings bonds to encourage vaccination while Detroit was giving out $50 debit cards to ‘Good Neighbors’ to help boost lagging COVID-19 vaccination rate.  I encourage governments using any means at their disposal to get vaccinated. It’s too bad that people just don’t go and get it done. Get it done, people! I am hopeful by this summer most of Canada and the US will be fully open or close to fully open. Indeed the mayor of New York City says his city will be open this July 1. Let’s hope every place is.

Now whether we all go back to work right away is another thing. Outlets like the BBC are arguing the future of work will be hybrid. We shall see.

Since the pandemic is still ongoing,  you need ways to cope. One way people are coping is managing their time on Zoom and WebEx calls. Techies have even been inventing devices to hang them up. Another way people have managed is by developing routines. That’s been healthy. Or getting back to exercising. A less healthy way has been drinking too much. If that is you, you might benefit on reading this piece on ways to cut back. But back to healthy, a good way to help yourself is to get out from time to time. I hope to take advantage of Toronto’s outdoor cafes once they are open.

Finally, in case you haven’t read the best restaurant review of the pandemic…now you can.

US : it’s been weird to watch what is happening in the United States. On one hand, you have the Democrats working to deal with the pandemic and the effect it has had on the American people. On the other hand, you have Republicans working hard in places like Texas and many other places to restrict the vote of people for the next election. Not only that, but Republicans are also working to prevent any examination into the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

Here’s hoping for the United States to become a better democracy, not a worse one.

Meanwhile in Canada, we need to do better in many ways, starting with one that is fundamental to me: making sure everyone has access to clean water. I can’t believe I even have to say this.

Non-pandemic things: No new news on newsletters. They are still a Thing…just not as newsworthy. Good.

NFTs are still newsworthy.  For example, this piece is a good way to just see how weird and wild they are:

I still don’t think they make any sense, but I have been proven wrong on such things before.

A year ago: Last May we saw the “cancellation” of Alison Roman. Since then she pivoted to making her own newsletter and a YouTube video channel with over 100K viewers. She seems to have landed ok. Speaking of food, I wrote last May that people were already tired of making their own food. Ha! Still at it a year later.  For more on how the pandemic looked last year, here’s the newsletter I wrote then.

Finally:

Over a year ago we were all struggling to get masks and learn how to wear them properly. Now they are as common as shoes. Here’s a throw back to mask wearing tips from the City of Toronto.

Thanks for reading this! I appreciate it. Here’s hoping for a pandemic ending everywhere and soon.

 

April 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

The pandemic is still going on and so is this! Here’s my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings and thingamabobs for this April.

Pandemic:The pandemic is a story of extremes this month. Some countries, like the US and the UK and Israel, are seemingly coming to the end of it. Meanwhile countries like India are burning up with cases and death. It’s terrible to see. For countries like the US and UK, being able to produce their own vaccines made a big difference. But it wasn’t the only difference (Ahem, going from Trump to Biden). For a deeper dive on just one country, here’s a good piece on how Israel was so successful

In Canada we model the world in some ways. For parts of Canada life is relatively normal and aims to stay that way. (I’m look at you up North and out East.) Then there is Ontario, where I am, which seems to have suffered a collapse in provincial leadership. The provincial government recently issued edicts to the province, only to have everyone from the police to the public health units to the people either ignore it or rally against it. Some newspapers are saying that’s the end for the premier.

I have some sympathy for the government’s plight. On one hand you have  hospitals halting non-emergency surgeries as COVID-19 patients fill ICUs, which is terrifying. On the other hand, you have businesses everywhere saying that they’re at risk of losing everything and need help. What you need is strong leadership at this point, but as the Globe and many other argued, we aren’t getting it. We have a panicked leadership seemingly refusing to do anything other than hope for the vaccines to rescue them for their inability to do more.

I’m too discouraged to say more. I’ll let the Toronto Star have the last word:  A 278-word timeline of Ontario’s COVID-19 response | The Star

Individually, the New York Times says we have all hit the wall and we are languishing. I agree. Some of us are getting vaccines, but the unequal distribution can make us feel guilty. Lots of difficult feeling to deal with. We just have to take breaks when we can and forge on.

Meanwhile for something completely different, pandemic-wise, check out this: Honeywell and rapper Will.i.am just debuted a futuristic face-mask with built-in wireless earphones at Yanko Design.

 Newsletters:last month I said newsletters are “still a thing”. What an understatement. If anything, they are now a Big Thing. So big that the New York Times is getting ready to go toe to toe with Substack.

It makes sense. There are likely some writers at the Times looking at Matt Yglesias and others generating close to a million in annual revenue and thinking: I want some of that. Money changes everything, and the amount of money newsletters are generating tells me that we are going to be talking about them for some time.

US : I am glad of two things in the United States. One, we no longer have to hear about the last president any more. (Although some writers still can’t give him up: he’s like an addiction they can’t quit). Two, they have a president who seems to be in a hurry. Awhile ago Vox argued Joe Biden should do everything at once. It looks like he has decided to do that. Besides Vox, two good pieces on Biden that helped me understand him better were this, Bidenomics, explained – Noahpinion,  and this, the radicalism of Joe Biden.

Other interesting things: I am looking to purge my basement and other rooms of things, so I found this piece on how to let go of any possession good. Post-pandemic, we are all likely going to want to live with less.

IKEA came out with this fascinating cookbook: IKEA ScrapsBook – Zero-Waste Recipes & Ideas – IKEA CA. Worth a look.

In the next few decades, I predict many brutalist buildings will be destroyed. Once I may have cheered this, but I have come around to appreciating them more. Articles like this helped.

Poor Orlando Bloom. He gave an interview on what his day in Los Angeles looked like and was widely mocked and ridiculed for it. I had to laugh as well. Then I came across this piece: California dreamin’ with Orlando Bloom, and other tales of only-in-L.A. obliviousness. It helps explain Mr. Bloom and L.A. in general. Worth reading!

Libertarians have been taking a beating during this pandemic. Understandably. Still, they make a good case for why libertarian principles are still useful during this time here.

Finally: I came across this site which I love: All the Restaurants in New York. It reminded me of the work of the late great Jason Polan, and his attempt to draw every person in New York. This gives me a chance to share some links I have of the beloved artist, including this piece in the New Yorker about his Taco Bell Drawing Club. The New York Times also has a piece on it. Finally here are two other sites showing their appreciation for him: ghostly.com and 20×200.com

 

May we all get through this pandemic soon and gather in large crowds again and be with everyone in New York and every place else as well. RIP, Jason. (Image via the NYT’s piece).