New Normal Random Thoughts #3

It’s more than a month since I landed back to the new normal, and there’s something quite clear about these days when compared to the quarantine ones: I have less time to think.

It’s the main reason why I have been writing less on these pages: it’s not just that I don’t have much time to write but I have a lot less time to think about what to write, which clearly I had plenty of when I was living all by myself, never leaving my little flat in Ealing.

The situation in Italy is still mostly stable, so far Italians seems to be doing better than all other countries that were hit hard. As strange as it sounds, I wonder if this is related to Italians generally having very little trust for authorities and being more inclined to figure out things by themselves (especially when scared).

I haven’t booked a flight back to London yet. I’m still undecided. It doesn’t look like “going to the office” is going to become normal again any time soon. If the future is working from anywhere, it might be worth just accepting the kind offer from the Government of Barbados.

We got a new car last week. It’s a cool new toy, it’s all modern, digital, it parks by itself and it has an intimate relationship with our iPhones, but I want to leave one last thought for the old car which we sold. The little yellow Ka had 20 years, it got us everywhere we needed to go, it has been sitting under the weather for all this time and the Ford CD player still worked!

I’m pretty sure that in 20 years the new car will not be able to connect with my iPhone (or whatever people will be carrying with them in 2040).

Good bye to the old Ka.

Speaking of upgrades, I have updated all my devices to the latest betas of Apple new operating systems. I have also been playing with CarPlay, which I had never seen before and it’s supported by the new car. I’m surrounded by new user interfaces and enjoying every second of the experience.

Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of change, but when it comes to trying new things, even if this means dealing with unstable and buggy systems, I always enthusiastically embrace change as soon as I can. I wonder why.

Well… that’s it for today. Be safe and be kind.

New Normal Random Thoughts #2

I’ve been back in Italy for almost two weeks now. Things at work are quite busy at the moment, so days are still long sequences of zoom calls, but it’s nice to be able to take a break in the garden, or chat with somebody in person between virtual connections.

I have been able to go for daily walks in the woods around here. I love the fresh air of the morning, the smell of nature waking up, the occasional encounter with the little animals of the forest.

On one of my standard routes I often walk by the cippo Corridoni, a big lump of stone loaded with fascist symbols, commissioned by Mussolini himself. It doesn’t disturb me, I find it healthy to be reminded of our history, but I often wonder how this thing is still here after all these years. I guess it’s just too far away from the main roads to be noticed.

Cippo Corridoni.

Things appear to be going relatively well in Italy with the pandemic. Number are still low and most people are still following most rules. I must admit to feel a bit of pride for how this country managed the crisis: it was hit early and hard, but after fumbling the initial response it was able to control the pandemic and bring the numbers down much better than many others.

It’s disheartening to follow what is happening in the UK, with face masks only now being required in shops, but only from the 25th, but only for clients, but nobody will enforce it, but yeah, but no, but yeah, but no… That is the country I chose to move to, and to be honest I would have expected them to be able to manage a crisis better than Italian. Guess I was wrong.

On the other hand I had just a couple of occasion to deal with the Italian bureaucracy and in both cases I just wanted to just drop everything and head back to the airport, promising to never ever try to run a business in Italy again (“never ever” on this blog should be read as “At least 5 years. Maybe 3. Definitely not less then 6 months”).

This always reminds me of a conversation I had with Dave Winer while walking around the Duomo in Milano, perhaps a dozen years ago (details might be wrong). I was complaining about how things were in Italy, he told me that things actually appeared pretty good to him, that looking around he could see a functioning society, and that everywhere you go there are problems.

Of course I thought he wasn’t getting it, that the situation in Italy was special.

Of course he was completely right and I was wrong: at the end, we are all special.

Stay safe, be kind, keep in touch.

New Normal Random Thoughts #1

Last week I got to Italy without too much trouble. There wasn’t a lot of people at the airport, all restaurants were closed, everything was happening slightly ahead of schedule. The flight was quick, everybody was wearing a mask for the entire duration of the flight “except for drinking and eating” (every time I heard the announcement I was tempted to ask “and what about smoking?”). The flight was probably around 60/70% full, the seat next to mine was empty, but I had people sitting right behind.

Sitting at 1A, I was the first one off the plane and through passport (and temperature) control. In all effects I was the very first international passenger to land in Trieste in three months. The flight was in the local news, but by the time a photographer showed up I was already at home sipping a glass of wine.

Things in Italy feel quite different from the UK. They started their lockdown ahead of all other Western countries. Shops, restaurants and other services have been open for almost a month and it looks like people are already used to the new normal.

We went to a couple of restaurants, supermarkets, various shops, even a car dealership, unlike the UK face masks are compulsory and people are just used to slip on their masks as soon as they enter (you can take off the mask once you are seated at your table in restaurants). There are sanitizer dispensers at the entrance of every establishment.

My much needed haircut was pretty straightforward: had to wear a disposable mask (except while trimming my beard), and the one tool they couldn’t use is a brush to remove hair, since those cannot be sterilised.

I decided to keep my hair long-ish (didn’t go back to my pre-covid length), apparently this has been the case for a lot of other people, some who had a chance to grow their hair longer for the first time.

According to my hairdresser, some people are also reluctant to go back to more formal fashion: they just got used to wearing tracksuits all the time and they are sticking with the comfortable option.

Buying fish on a Sunday morning.

Masks are yet another fashion item telling people something about yourself, and of course Italians are embracing it! It’s not only about what kind of masks (disposable, reusable, flat, shaped, cotton, linen, coloured, patterned, black, etc.), but also how you wear it: for example it looks like older people tend to wear it with their nose out, making them pretty much useless.

Then there’s the whole thing about where to keep your mask when you are not wearing it. Under your chin? Hanging from one ear? On your wrist? In your pocket? Everyone has a style.

That’s all for this update. Stay safe, be kind, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #24

This is the last post of this series. I’m at the airport, on my way to Italy, once I get there I cannot keep calling this “quarantine”. It’s a bit surreal, the information screens that I have spent hours checking, exploring the list of destinations are now almost empty.

I’m happy to be heading home, but at the same time I feel strangely sad about the end of this weird period. The truth is that in many ways I enjoyed it, it has been a good time for reflection. People pay to go to meditation retreats like this!

I have completely emptied my fridge, eating everything I had (except for a single red onion that I threw away). At this point I’m planning to be away for a couple of months. Then… we’ll see, this doesn’t seem to be a good years for plans, anyway I don’t have any flight booked.

Speaking of eating all food, I added some extra garlic in my pasta yesterday. Life lesson #386: if you eat extra garlic and then you happen to be wearing a face mask, everything is going to be all right until you try to talk.

Well… that’s all folks. I’ll go have my haircut tomorrow morning, and there’s a lot of barbecue in my future.

Stay safe, be nice.

Quarantine random thoughts #23

The temperature should reach 31º today, which by London standards is “quite hot indeed”. Having failed to successfully launch Zoom Bikini Day™ with the rest of the team, I think I will just remove all my clothes between calls. Or move my workstation in the shower. Another advantage of working from home!

I’ve been back to Central London a couple of times in the last week. It was nice to go back, it’s still much less crowded than usual (all tourists are missing!).

Good old Horatio all by himself on a Saturday afternoon (later in the day the square was actually quite crowded with protesters).

I followed the WWDC keynote this week, had a good chat with Euan about announcements in an upcoming podcast.

It reminded me of WWDC 1995. My dad attended the conference, and when he came back to Italy he brought with him an early beta of the QuickTime VR authoring tools.

Two big plastic binders of documentation and a bunch of CR-Rom. It was the most exciting thing ever! We had to take photos with a special rig using a professional camera with very wide angle lenses, send out the film to be scanned on PhotoCD, then use command line tools to stitch photos together, slice them and convert the file into a QuickTime VR file. We actually made a business out of this for a while.

I have a special appreciation for how you can shoot pretty good panoramas on any phone these days.

Also, I went to the office to work with a couple of colleagues yesterday.

It was odd and familiar at the same time. We met because we had to shoot a short video, not really planning to go back to the usual routines. Since I’m flying back to Italy in a week, I don’t think I will be back in that office for most of the Summer.

Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch, and shoot a panorama of your living room, it will be nice to find it in a few years.

Quarantine random thoughts #22

Had a bit of an adventure on Friday. I was walking out my local Mark & Spencer shop after buying eggs, double cream and courgettes for my quiche, when I was stopped by two security guard and escorted to a dingy room in the back and ordered to sit on a foldable chair.

2 minutes earlier…

What had happened is that I was shopping using the M&S “Mobile Pay to Go” app, somebody in the shop saw my picking up products and dropping them straight in my shopping bag and had alerted security.

I was asked to remove my mask and to provide an ID (which I did not have). The attitude was quite aggressive until they finally accused of theft and I was able to show the receipt on my phone. At that point they apologise profusely, claiming that the app was a new thing (it isn’t) and they were not aware of the fact that it was available in that shop (duh).

The quiche came out all right.

My two random thoughts about this

Companies work at different speeds, especially large companies. I was caught in the space between somebody releasing an app one side of the company and people providing security on site on the other. It would have been simple for them to just ask for the receipt when I was stopped at the exit, but it looks like the idea of a customer leaving with products without going through a traditional payment process was not even considered.

I wonder if the fact that I was wearing a black face mask and a black ball cap had anything to do with me being stopped, after all I had used the app a lot of times over the last six months while wearing my usual middle age (and white) face. If this was the case, and masks remove a little privilege, I think that overall it’s a good thing.

Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch, make yourself a nice quiche.

Quarantine random thoughts #21

Damn… it’s Friday again. For the last couple of months my weeks have been: Monday, Friday, Sunday – Monday, Friday, Sunday… everything else is lost in a blur of zoom calls.

I did manage to go to Kew Gardens on Sunday. Weather was meh, most services in the park are closed and the flowerbeds were empty, but it’s still one of my favourite places.

Since I rebooted this blog I see blogs as the solution to everything (if all you have is a hammer…). In particular with people working apart (in different locations, different companies, different time zones) writing daily updates in the form of blog posts seems the most natural thing to do to avoid having more zoom calls and move more communication to asynchronous channels.

Except that even the concept of what is a “blog post” is not that clear to most people who never had the experience of a thriving community of bloggers. I’m trying different things, for example using a Slack channel as a blog, so far without too much success.

Or maybe it could be something else? Maybe podcasting or sharing videos could be an alternative. There’s no lack of tools or forms of expression, the challenge is convincing enough people to lead by telling good stories.

Meanwhile I’m looking forward to my haircut. Already booked, in exactly three weeks!

Stay safe, be nice, and keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #20

End of week 12. When I started I wasn’t expecting to write 20 of these posts. It doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon.

Chatting with a friend yesterday, we agreed that one of the best things you can do these days is cancelling a zoom meeting at the last moment. This used to annoy me to no end, but nowadays it’s bliss!

Have you ever tried an onion bagel with a fried egg?

It must have been around 10 years ago, in Don Winslow’s novel The Winter of Frankie Machine the main character describes to great detail his favourite breakfast: an onion bagel with a fried egg.

Wow…

I immediately though that it was a great idea, but at the time I was in Italy and had zero access to any type of bagel, let alone onion ones. Luckily in the period I was spending a lot of time on the West Coast. On my next trip I couldn’t think about anything else for the whole flight, as soon as I landed I dropped my stuff in my studio apartment in San Francisco, ran out and bought a bag of bagels, a carton of eggs and some butter.

My life has never been the same.

Since then I have eaten hundreds of bagels. After moving to the UK I found out about “proper” bagels from North London bakeries. Proper onion bagels make everything in your bags smell like onions for a week, but when they are fresh and still crunchy nothing beats them.

I tried different types of bagels, different eggs, tried them with smoked salmon or bacon, learned to keep my egg runny (unlike Frankie I eat them right away in a plate, not later a linen napkin).

Now I’m listening to Broken, Don Winslow’s latest collection of stories (narrated by Ray Porter, one of my favourite), and sure enough at some point one of the characters asks “have you ever tried an onion bagel with a fried egg?”.

I had to drop everything!

Thanks Don, you have changed my life.

Stay safe, be nice, and keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #19

It looks like the weather won’t be so great this week. Which is remarkable considering that it has been beautiful for pretty much the whole duration of this quarantine. Some say it’s the driest spring since 1929, I haven’t verified the claim, but it kinda fits that major economic crises of the century come with good weather.

I have done some house keeping on the site, now it should be more readable on mobile and if you want you can subscribe via email leaving your address in the form on the side. Subscribing via email sounds a bit a thing of the 90s, but looks like it’s all we have outside social media (I do encourage you to figure out RSS aggregators if you have some time, it’s still totally worth it).

Last week I watched the launch and docking of Crew Dragon. Quite a show! There was a lot of waiting for things to happen, but there were moments even better than Apple’s product launch events. That booster landing back on the drone ship is always amazing!

I’ve been pulled down a rocket science rabbit hole on YouTube for the last few months, so I found the whole thing even more interesting. It did remind me the excitement of watching the first launch of the Space Shuttle with my grandfather when I was 10.

Space Shuttle vs. Crew Dragon

Many have shared a picture comparing the Space Shuttle cockpit with thousands of buttons to the Crew Dragon one, with three touch screens and a couple of dozen of buttons. I think that the most remarkable thing is that those buttons could very well have been used by astronauts to switch between Netflix and Amazon Prime, after all the whole mission was self-driving (the same hardware flew a couple of months ago with an empty suit sitting on the chair).

Imagine these two guys, who made their career out of trying to control the most advanced and uncontrollable vehicles that humankind had ever built, just sitting along for a ride. Actually the instructions they got just before docking on the ISS was to stow away some shit and wipe the screen, just like any other cleaning lady.

I got my new Etsi mask this week. Looks great. Stay alert, scare the virus.

Ready to go grocery shopping or join the riots.

Stay safe, be nice, and keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #18

We are getting to the end of the 11th week, 75 days in self-isolation, the weather is beautiful, it’s getting warm and frankly there’s not much else to be reported. I have been a bit more social lately, having conversation in person with three different people in two separate occasions. Other than that, it’s all zoom.

Did you notice how this pandemic has sent everybody down memory lane?

Maybe because we cannot visualise the future, we turn back to the past, which now feels safe and stable. I find myself having odd feeling of nostalgia for the 80s or even the 70s every time a friend posts an old picture.

Or maybe it’s just that we have more time to organise our photo archive. I love how Photos on all Apple devices is keeping my 25K photos all nicely tagged, organised and synchronised. In the last few years I have also scanned a decent amount of printed pictures, trying to date and tag them appropriately and merge them seamless in my archive. This makes falling in nostalgic time-space wormholes incredibly easy.

We all look better or cuter (or both) in old photos, and sometimes on social media they are a good excuse for a bit of name dropping, bragging and back dating: you know, those who “were on the web” well before Sir Tim invented the thing. It’s fine, we all have history.

My, writing my first blog post, 1972.

I got a new pair of AirPods this week. I went for the Pro version, with noise cancellation. Quite expensive, but I have used my old pair almost every day for 3 years until battery life got too short to be usable, they are one of my favourite Apple products. These new ones are good, noise cancelling is very effective but transparency mode is what makes them amazing. We’ll see how well they will work with my daily dose of zoom calls.

Maybe I’m doing this wrong, but I find all these calls draining. After a full day of speaking with a slightly louder tone of voice, without being able to move much, struggling to understand people who could not be bothered to use a headset, having to constantly decode another language and a ton of different accents, my brain hurts. When work is over I might like to have a chat with friends and family, but I really struggle to convince myself to start yet another zoom call.

Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch (but don’t call).

Quarantine random thoughts #17

43 days until my flight home. 44 days until my haircut.

I’m preparing for my trip. I have procured face masks (thanks to those who helped), and it looks like there won’t be the need to self quarantine once on the other side. I’m conscious that taking the Central Line, then a train, then an airplane is significantly riskier than never leaving my flat, but at this point I feel like risking a bit. Maybe I will self quarantine anyway for a few days, just to be on the safe side.

Yesterday I went out for the weekly groceries run to Waitrose, it was a beautiful and warm day and the park was full of people. Things are starting to feel normal.

I don’t mean “normal” as “back to normal” but in the sense of “not exceptional”.

I suppose that many are just growing tired of the exceptionality of the last few months. I have mostly given up following the daily updates or frantically checking the stats every day.

Last weekend I went for a relatively long walk to Richmond, but the most exciting thing is that I actually met a friend. Like in person! We bought lunch at Whole Foods Market and then ate by the river. The best day in quite a while!

Richmond upon Thames

Being outside my flat for six hours felt nice, but it’s curious like many of my friends and people I interact with regularly are not finding this new lifestyle all that distressing at all (and in some cases are dreading the idea of going back). This is a good time for us introverts who can cook.

Stay safe, be nice, and keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #16

Finished another t-roll this morning. The third since the beginning of the quarantine. For some reason I take a picture every time, here’s the complete collection: April 12, April 27, May 14. This is history.

Even if I never had any problem (I didn’t even try to buy any toilet paper, and it was only missing from shops for the first couple of weeks), I don’t think I will take it for granted for a while. Who knew that it would have been the first sign of the end.

The rules are changing in the UK, “Stay Alert” is the new “Stay Home”. Day after day we are learning what this actually means, on Monday I heard a prominent politicians explain that: “People should assume they should go to work rather than presume they should not.” Unless they can work from home. And you can meet one person. Outside. Not closer than 2m.

On Tuesday another member of the government said “The number of people who died has come down”. Basically, it’s the zombie apocalypse.

I found this interesting site displaying the curves of daily new cases using an arbitrary unit for the vertical axis, which makes them easy to compare. Here’s the two countries I’m most interested to follow:

So I have booked a flight home. I visited the Ryanair site and they were offering seats to Trieste starting on the 2 of July. I’m booked on that flight. Still not sure if it will happen, but at least it’s a date on the calendar.

There will probably be voluntary quarantine on the other side, and then again coming back, but it’s not a problem, I’m planning to spend the summer in Italy.

Most likely I will have to wear a mask on the flight. I don’t have one and need to figure out where to find it. I wonder why Ryanair didn’t offer me a mask, instead of the Samsonite trolley which I have been refusing to buy from them for the last 18 years.

Since a lot of friends were recommending it, I have been watching Money Heist. It’s a good show. Since I cannot stand dubbing anymore, I’m watching it in Spanish with English subtitles. So it often happens that I have whole dreams in Spanish, which is odd given that I don’t really speak Spanish.

And here’s a new episode of our podcast:

That’s all folks. Stay safe, be nice, and keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #15

It’s a weekend again, I wrote the first post of this series on the 14th of March, that’s 9 Saturdays ago.

As I was meditating this morning an idea I had before came back, about the concept of the two minds: there’s the “thinking mind”, which keep sweeping us away all the time, and there’s the “observing mind”, through which can see the thinking mind and which we develop with our meditation practice.

Well, here’s my idea: I think of the “observing mind” as running a top command in a terminal window (or the Activity Monitor utility), when I can focus on my observing mind I can see my thoughts starting and stopping, taking more or less resources, and when necessary I can kill them (or “let them go”, in meditation parlance). Next time any of my nerdy friends will try meditating, you can use this visualisation.

I had two deliveries this week. I ordered some pipe tobacco from the Black Swan Shoppe somewhere up in Yorkshire, and it arrived via Royal Mail in 24 hours. Fantastic.

Then on Wednesday I ordered a Pizza from Santa Maria (a local restaurant which happens to make one of the best pizza in London). Since it’s local I had never had it delivered. Between the moment I hit “order” button on the Deliveroo app and the photo below only 9 minutes passed. Amazing!

This week I finished watching Ricky Gervais’ After Life (excellent). I also watched Jerry Seinfeld’s latest special on Netflix (good, perhaps not his best).

At this point I had to go back and watch again Talking Funny, an old HBO show which is just Gervais, Seinfeld, Louis CK and Chris Rock talking shop for 50 minutes. If you like standup comedy and haven’t seen this, add it to your playlist.

Speaking of comedians, I caught a few bits of the Prime Minister Question Time this week, it was the first time for the recovered Boris Johnson in front of the new leader of the opposition Kier Starmer. I don’t have a dog in this fight (I’m in a situation of “taxation without representation), but I did find interesting to see Boris in an empty chamber struggling in front of what looked for the first time as an adult asking questions that needed to be asked.

Yesterday it was VE Day, the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany surrender at the end of WWII. Oddly this one is not celebrated very much in Italy (of course it isn’t… we lost), it was interesting to see how the celebration of a victory looks like. Spitfires flew, the Queen spoke again, and then everybody singed “We’ll meet again”.

That’s all for now. Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #14

We are sailing through the 8th week of self-isolation. I had to count the weeks in the calendar, time has a whole new dimension. I realised that until last week I was waiting for my birthday, now there’s no “next date” to be looking forward to. Of course, eventually stuff will happen, but we don’t know when.

As of today the UK has the highest death toll in Europe, surpassing Italy. Not that this means much, these numbers are mostly meaningless when used to compare situations.

On Saturday I went for a walk in the park for the first time. It’s allowed here, but for some reason I never really felt like just going. The weather was nice, the park was full of dogs and yoga pants running free. Everybody very careful about avoiding each other, often walking off-path to guarantee enough distance.

Found the Covid-19 settings in the latest update of iOS. It was on by default. In theory my phone is now pinging other phones, keeping track of who is getting close. But this information will not be used in the UK, as the government has decided not to use Google/Apple decentralised approach, favouring instead a centralised (and potentially more privacy invasive) system. Still… it feels like a waste of valuable data.

I heard somebody on the radio suggesting that the UK approach is influenced by researchers in Oxford consulting the government. Phew! At least it’s not Cambridge: a city name now synonym with privacy!

My driving licence has expired. I meant to renew it here, but for a bunch of reasons I ended up deciding not to go to a post office in the middle of the pandemic. Not that I need it, but no idea how this will be resolved. There’s also some other bureaucratic problems that I need to solve in Italy, and it doesn’t look like it will be easy to solve them remotely or by catching a quick flight home. I hope these won’t become real problems.

In the good news department, credit cards bills are significantly down from last month and the month before. No restaurants, no online shopping, no public transport, no nothing. The interesting fact is that I could order stuff online or buy takeaway food, but between not having a working doorbell and being very lazy, I just don’t. And the truth is that I don’t really miss any of that stuff. Eventually it will creep back, but I’m going to try to keep this rhythm for as long as possible.

Meanwhile make sure you stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #13

I accidentally bumped into someone yesterday.

At Marks & Sparks, I was reaching for a bottle of fresh orange juice, she stepped back from the pub-lunch ready-meals section, our shoulders touched for an instant. “Sorry”, “sorry”. Six weeks to the day since I had any physical contact with another human. I can reset the counter now.

Wednesday was my birthday. Last month attending an online birthday celebration with a whole bunch of people was interesting. Now it seems we have all had enough of online group celebrations. Or at least I have.

But I still want to implement the “Negroni fountain” plan, in my garden, sometime this summer. Ryanair says they will start flying in July. Planning to be on the first flight out of here.

Speaking of Negroni: I have concluded that Italian red vermouth gives me weird dreams. And I mean seriously weird. Must be the wormwood. I also confirmed that Antica Formula is worse than Cocchi (I still have a third of a bottle of Antica Formula, I think I will introduce lunch-time Negronis to finish it away from sleep time).

Everything else is continuing just as before: zoom call after zoom call after zoom call. I was reading this article about bookshelves of celebrities spotted on ‘house calls’ and realised that I miss my bookshelves in Italy. They would be a much better background than my kitchen/living room. I considered other angles in my room, but nothing really works: here it’s back-light, there is booze, the dark door… I’l stick with the “oven angle”.

My room, May 1st 2020.

I hear that things are slowly restarting in Italy, among all sorts of complains (if there ever was a loose-loose situation for a politician, this is it). Things are slower in the UK, and the numbers are still dreadful. I also have the feeling that we are mostly hearing the worse possible predictions, while in fact “no one has any idea of what the fuck is happening or what we should do about it“.

Oh, and we recorded another episode of the podcast. This is a good one.

This is it. Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #12

This is the end of week six. Liberation day in Italy. Francesco Guccini playing in the background. Time for a quick update.

Life in quarantine continues uninterrupted. I’ve been out a couple of times this week, strictly for groceries runs. I like schlepping all the way to Waitrose, I get to walk through the park and wait in line in the sunshine.

I’m still surprised by how this new condition is not as upsetting as I would have imagined.

I’ve been practicing meditation on and off for the last six years. More on than off. Basically I’ve been preparing for this: sitting alone with myself, being in the moment, there’s only “this”, let alone the idea of “shared human condition”… it is all helpful and it works.

On the other hand, I am starting to miss having plans. A lunch in town with a colleague next week. A visit to Kew next weekend. Having a flight home booked for next month.

Yesterday I actually almost booked a Ryanair flight to Trieste in May. It was available on the web site. It’s unlikely to really happen, so I didn’t buy it. But I might get it anyway, it’s not expensive, and if they cancel I will probably get the credit.

Right now every single item on my calendar is a zoom call. Work. Friends. Family. Happy hour. All in a zoom call. I try to use different devices in different corners of my room for different types of call, just to introduce a little change, but I’m starting to feel zoom fatigue.

And it’s not just zoom, it’s communication fatigue. I’m giving up closely following charts, news, opinions, projections, even the latest outrageous proclamations from the most absurd politicians are not as interesting as they were.

I’ve spent less time writing here too. Since I rebooted this blog I got back in a peculiar condition: I’m basically writing posts in my mind all the time. But mostly they are not very interesting, and I don’t want to bother you few readers with them.

Stay safe, be nice, and keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #11

End of week 5. At least three more to go. So far, so good.

It has been one month since I last touched another person. It’s not that I particularly miss anything (I’m not tempted to go out and try to touch a stranger), it’s just another item on the “it never happened in the last 49 years” list.

I went to Waitrose yesterday. Long queue outside, it took about 20 minutes to get inside. In other situations I might have been annoyed, but not yesterday. I enjoyed being outside, listening to my audio book, counting tiles on the floor trying to keep track of the 2 meters from the person in front of me. Just being there.

Queue outside Waitrose, West Ealing.

People in this country are particularly well suited for social distancing in public spaces. Outside any pandemic, every trip to the supermarket requires saying “sorry” at least 10 times, just because you happen to walk in the same aisle of anyone else, so no big change, the only difference is that now you should exchange the “see what we have to go through mate?” look.

I still don’t have a very positive feeling about how the crisis is being managed in this country (see? this is me practicing understatement). We have no idea of what the plans are for the future, apparently the populace cannot be trusted with the plan. Boris is still MIA, recovering. So it’s stay home, protect the… whatever.

This week I watched Louis CK latest comedy special. Louis CK was my favourite comedian before the scandal. After watching this, Louis CK is still my favourite comedian (and yes, he does mention the elephant in the room).

And we recorded another episode of the SotN podcast. Available on all podcasting platforms, or just clicking below.

Okay… I guess that this is it for this update. You stay safe, be nice, and keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #10

I haven’t been out for almost a week, and it feels strangely normal. It’s just what we do these days.

The narrative has been slowly shifting, in the news they have started talking about the government “exit strategy”, how are we going to get out of this. It’s still early, so to save everybody time I have prepared this:

I don’t watch any broadcast television, but I do see a good amount of advertising on YouTube, and I have noticed how suddenly mid-last week a whole number of new commercials have started being Covid-19 orientated. It feels like all major brands waited for a couple of weeks to see if all this was just going away, and then decided to switch.

I did see a “Crisis and opportunity” white paper describing the amazing opportunity that marketeers have to create content for people stuck at home. Probably true, but kinda sad.

I’m getting a bit of a 2002 early blogging feeling. Some of the same people (including me) have started to re-emerge and do stuff online, it’s great to see again old friends. I can only imagine what it will take to get us back to blogging the next time.

Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #9

It’s Easter Monday. Did you have a good Easter? I did.

Maybe what is happening is an acid test for politicians. I think that the number of deaths in each country will be an indicator of how good they are at managing complexity, and consequently it will likely predict how well and quickly national economies will recover. From this perspective, it’s not a surprise that populists, who tend to offer simple (and wrong) solutions to complex problems are the ones struggling most.

There’s no going back. There never is: we always go forward. We won’t be able to recover the meals in restaurants, the walks in nature, the hugs we did not enjoy in the last few weeks. But we will have more meals, walks and hugs in the future.

There’s a narrative about “going back to normal” which I don’t find very helpful. Change happens all the time, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. This is definitely a time of very fast change, which gives us all the opportunity to improve faster. Or to fuck things up faster.

Some objects will remain meaningful to those of us who lived through the First World Pandemic.

In the last few days:

  • I “went” to a birthday party
  • I “had lunch” with my family on Sunday
  • I spend a whole day without uttering a word (except for maybe an “hey Siri”)
  • I helped fix remotely our Ikea smart home system.

The Zoom birthday party was an amusing experience, with an incredibly interesting and diverse group of people who would have never met in real life. I ended up staying for almost 3 hours, which is about 170 minutes longer than I expected. I realised that what makes these gatherings different from the in person kind, is that only one person at the time can speak. Which should make them worse, but it didn’t.

Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #8

It’s Good Friday. It’s the end of the fourth week working from home, observing social distancing rules.

People celebrate NHS and key workers every Thursday at 8pm, here’s my street last night.

We used to say that the UK was two week behind Italy, but with the Prime Minister still in hospital (but out of intensive care), the number of daily deaths getting at the same levels as Italy at its worse, and still less testing than Italy one month ago, it doesn’t look like the UK used these two weeks to prepare better. The feeling is not particularly optimistic.

I have always found amusing how governments in the UK use slogans to address their citizens. From the iconic Keep calm and carry on poster, to pretty much everything Churchill said, all the way to “See it, say it, sort it” that we hear on the tube and finally today’s “Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save lives”, there seem to be a unique tradition and approach.

So while in Italy people leaving their home during lock down get fined by the police and in India they get beaten by the police, here we are receiving a passive-aggressive messaging from all the government: it’s not that you can’t go out. But you really, really, really shouldn’t.

We’ll count the dead at the end.

I’ve been out for food runs a couple of times this week: there’s a bit less people around, but still plenty. Apparently it’s especially young people who don’t follow the rules. It’s those who mostly voted against Brexit propagating a disease that kills those who mostly voted leave.

Meanwhile I’m ready for another month of this. In the sense that I have reserves of my favourite coffee and tobacco for another month. I’m trying to decide at which point impose rationing and go down to one cup of coffee and one pipe a day. But we are not there yet.

The weather is nice. The tree in my neighbour’s back yard is full of flowers, so my bedroom smells of flowers. Can’t say it’s a particularly good smell, but it’s still nice.

Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Covid19 vs. supply management marvels

First I heard this interesting episode of Planet Money (one of my favourite podcasts):

Among other things, they talk about the partnership between GM and Ventec, a small manufacturer of ventilators in Seattle. The contribution of GM has nothing to do with cars, but the fact that they are a “massive supply management marvel”. GM allowed Ventec to procure in just a few days the hundreds of parts needed manufacture their products, up to a quantity of 200,000 ventilators (from their current 200/month).

Then today there’s this tweet by Tim Cook:

Again, in just a few days Apple can design, source, manufacture and distribute masks in huge quantities.

Over the years these companies have created incredibly sophisticated infrastructures that allow to produce incredible amounts of complicated products and distribute them to billions of clients. They can produce car or phones, but they can quickly solve problems for ventilators and masks.

This bit of globalisation might turn out to be useful.

Quarantine random thoughts #7

Went to the supermarket yesterday morning. There was a long queue, so I decided to try again later. In the afternoon the queue was even longer. People were distancing at least 5 meters, so the long queue didn’t necessarily mean a lot of people. Still, it took about 30 minutes to get in the store. Maybe it’s just that it was Friday.

New stickers on the floor at M&S. Yes, I do understand how this works, I stepped onto it right after taking the picture for y’all.

Since I’m partially writing this as a diary, to read back in some distant and happier future (why would one do that?), I’m recording the fact that right now my expectation is that this quarantine will last at least until the second part of May.

This means that my plans for the Negroni fountain in my Italian garden for my birthday at the end of April are now officially cancelled, sorry.

It’s interesting how expectations change. When this all started, just three weeks ago, I had almost bought the ticket to fly home at the end of April.

We keep trying to guess when we will be able to go back to at least some normality, trying to read the tea leaves, the numbers and the news, but my attitude has been changing.

Just like everybody else I keep watching press conferences, refreshing web pages of statistics, getting more familiar with exponential growth and logarithmic scales, but I’m finally realising that this whole charade is much less meaningful than I thought.

The total number of confirmed cases is not how many people got it, is how many tests resulted positive. This number is mostly dependent by how many tests are performed (determined by political decisions and capacity) and by who is being tested (which changes significantly from region to region): we all know that it is underestimated, but we don’t know how much. But the bottom line is that governments all over the world can manipulate these numbers as much as they like.

So while these numbers might be giving an idea of the trend of the disease, it doesn’t make any sense to compare them. Stuff like “the UK is two weeks behind Italy” is meaningless, because the numbers that we are comparing are not comparable.

I’m realising that we have all been looking at that number because it was a relatively simple thing to do, but of course there’s no simple solution to complex problems, and this is a pretty damn complex problem, with a lot of unknown variables, which even the experts are learning to deal with every day.

In other news from the UK, we have been promised 100.000 tests a day by the end of the month (but they are only performing 10,000 a day now, which is less than what Italy was doing by mid March), tomorrow the Queen will address the nation 👑 from her quarantined castle, and I’m getting a bit more annoyed every time somebody asks me to “stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Keep calm and carry on.

Quarantine random thoughts #6

I need a haircut.

I had my last one just before Christmas and I was planning to get my next one on my first trip to Italy (I prefer to go to my guy). So here’s the situation:

It’s not that bad yet, but as everybody says: it will get worse before it get better. I have seen people grabbing a clipper and heading to a bathroom all by themselves, but I’m not so brave. I will stick to my decision and get my next cut when I manage to go back to Gorizia. With my guy. It’s gonna get hairy.

Yesterday I realised that it has been two weeks since I spoke to anyone in person.

I did go out a couple of times, but I didn’t had to talk to anyone, not even at a supermarket till (I use the app, remember?).

While I was thinking that this might have been some kind of record, and that never in my life I had such a long stretch, and who knows how long it could last, the upstairs neighbor knocked on my door. “Is everything all right?” “Yep, you?” “Yep” “Well, call if you need anything” “Sure, thanks, you too” “Bye” “Bye”. And that was the end of my record.

There’s a Tado smart thermostat in my flat.

It’s not that smart, it just has an app that you use to programme it. The only smart thing it does should be geofencing: detect when I’m out and turn off the heating (which is not the most useful feature at the moment). Anyway, when I went out for 20 minutes to pick up some groceries on Monday, Tado did notice that I was out, and set itself in away mode. When I came back Tado did not notice. So I ended up woking up in a very cold flat on Tuesday morning. 🙄

Oh, and we recorded another episode of the Sotn podcast. Just one week later.

Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #5

Wow… it’s two weeks since I wrote the first post of this series. Two weeks that most of us have spent shut in our homes.

I’ve realised that I hardly know anyone who has to go out to work. I suppose it’s another case of echo chamber: most people in my social network can work from home or in any case are not part of that large group of people who can’t afford the safety of social separation and have to go out every day to provide some indispensable service.

Aside of the prime minister catching it, there aren’t significant news here. Numbers keep climbing. Nobody knows what will happen, for how long it will happen, what will we find on the other side. But it does look like the worse predictions get more clicks, and this does not improve the media landscape. If you want to read something a bit less gloomy, you might like this article on the Oxford Science Blog: COVID-19 ‘should not necessarily foreshadow an economic downturn’.

In the last few days I have noticed a surge of conspiracy theory links coming from friends and family… still trying to decide how to deal with them. I have also received my first Covid19 joke from my friend Perry:

Yesterday while watching The Stranger on Netflix (I haven’t finished the season, but the first few episodes are not bad at all), I felt a strange uneasiness seeing people going around and standing closer than two meters apart. It’s a bit like when you watch an old movie, where people are smoking, don’t use the web, don’t have a smartphone or you catch a glimpse of the twin towers in New York, and you instinctively realise that the scene was happening in a time “before”. Of course, eventually we will go out again, but at the moment it feels we are all living in a time “after”.

As you might guess I like to be blogging again. I rediscovered the continuous process of thinking about things in the context of a blog post. Some old friends got back in touch, and I also got a few inbound links (thank you Dave and Colin), I had forgotten how good it feels :)

To complete the 2002 vibe, I have also restarted using an RSS reader. NetNewsWire works very well on MacOS and iOS, and I have a Feedbin account to keep things nicely in synch, so now I’m rebuilding my subscription list, reading good stuff every day, and wondering why did I ever give up.

That’s all for today. Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #4

It’s another lovely sunny day in London, and here’s the view from my window this morning.

You know what? I’m fine!

It’s what I keep repeating myself: right now I’m just fine. I’m warm. I have food and booze. I have the Internet. I’m more in touch with my friends and family than ever, and they seem to be fine too. The future hasn’t happened yet, the past is gone. Let’s not get carried away from the news and all those stats.

Anyway, since yesterday we are quarantined for good. We have to stay home. Protect the NHS.

Like everyone else I got the text message from Her Majesty government, which links to a site which displays these logos:

Now… I don’t know why, but the fact that they had to come up with a bunch of bad logos for this slogan annoys me. I’m sure that they employed some nudge unit to come up with the most effective way to convince people. And yes, just telling them to stay home clearly was not working. But still… really? Protect the NHS? Bah…

For future memory, this week the rules are:

  • Work from home if you can;
  • You can go out to get food and medicines, but you have to stay at least 2 metres away from other people;
  • You can go out once a day for physical activity, but only with one other person of your household;
  • The police will be enforcing this!

I wonder if the police will come house by house to force you to go out for some physical activity. That would solve a whole set of other problems for the NHS!

But today, after 5 days, I did go out to get some groceries. I still have plenty, but since my experience last week with the desperately empty shelves I was a bit concerned, so I figured that it was worth going out, maybe get the last scraps of food before everything was finished and the great famine of 2020 would start.

My local Marks & Spencer supermarket is now limiting the number of people who can enter the place at the same time, so I joined the nice and well distanced queue.

It took about 10 minutes, and once I got in… I could not believe my eyes!

I’ve been shopping here for 5 years, and I had never seen this place so well stocked! Not only they had everything but they had a lot of everything!

So now I have eggs.

In other news, this week we also had some time to record a new episode of the SotN podcast, as usual get it where you get your podcasts, or just listen here:

We just got some very nice comments about the show. To be honest I would do this even if nobody was listening, I just have fun and every time I learn something new. But knowing that somebody else out there is enjoying these too is great!

And this is all for today. Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #3

This is the state the roll. At this rate and with current reserves I should be good until August.

One week went by and I have left my flat only three times.

After a short walk in the park on Monday, I travelled to central London on Thursday to get some pipe tobacco in one of my favourite shops: JJ Fox (I heard it kills people, it should work on viruses, and anyway this is not the time for quitting).

Even if there’s not nearly the level of shut-down my family is experiencing in Italy, there was a lot less people around. All the tourist are gone. Most restaurants were already closed. Here’s what Piccadilly looked like:

If it is true that the UK is two weeks behind Italy, next week is when things should become serious. I was curious about the effectiveness of the different approaches taken in these two countries: the prescriptive approach in Italy (you get fined if you are caught out without a good reason) versus the collaborative approach here, were people are just advised to stay home and avoid contact.

Well… one week in it doesn’t look like moral suasion is working. Not only there’s still plenty of people everywhere (and they don’t all look like NHS staff on their way to work), but the repeated advice not to panic buy is clearly not being respected.

Yesterday I went to M&S for some grocery shopping. I have been using their shopping app for a while, but now it’s nicer than ever to be able to walk in, get some stuff in my own shopping bag and leave, without having to touch anything but the products I’m buying! It works quite well, highly recommended.

Anyway, the store had been stormed and was half empty. I could still buy everything I had on my list, except for eggs. This hoarding of fresh food doesn’t make any sense, but it looks like it’s still happening and it’s not getting any better.

My initial plan was to go out early this morning to try to find eggs, but then decided not to. I don’t really need eggs, so I opted to stay home and write a blog post complaining about people who did go out and got my eggs.

Everything else is smooth, as expected working from home is not a big challenge, I have re-started meditating regularly (I’m back on Headspace), I’m enjoying cooking all the time.

I’m still wearing my Apple watch every day, just because I find not having to unlock my Mac with a password very convenient, but of course the activity tracking is embarrassing.

I’m still following the news and reading everything I can, but at this point it’s quite clear that nobody really knows what is going to happen. There are bleak projections, slightly more hopeful ones, and in any case we are all waiting to see what happens in China.

So all we can do is take a breath, step back, and realise that in this moment we are doing just fine. Even without eggs.

Stay safe, be nice, and please do keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #2

It’s day two AV (after virus era), the UK is catching up with the rest of Europe asking people to avoid other people, but from what I can see from my window there’s still plenty of folks out and about (schools are still open, and there’s a school at the end of the street).

Meanwhile I just made some farfalle.

It’s interesting how France appears to be going with an Italian approach (ordering everybody to stay home, policing the streets to make sure that nobody moves), while the UK is still suggesting people to stay away from others, apparently counting on citizens to do the right thing. Let’s see if this works.

In any case things are changing, and everybody is wondering how long this will last: on one side after a couple of months China seems to be coming back online, but others expect the impact of the virus to last much longer, changing our life for as long as one year. That’s great, by the time I will leave my flat Crossrail will be up and running! (Just kidding, of course we won’t be forced to stay home for a year).

There’s more and more data available every day, but it’s not easy to compare and understand what is really going on. Here’s an interesting article comparing the Korean and Italian crisis, trying to understand why the significantly different mortality rate.

Changing your behaviour for a certain amount of time helps forming new habits (I work with a company that has built a product on this). Some say it takes 66 days, some more, some less, but it does appear that we will all have the opportunity of forming new habits this spring.

A lot of people will get used to working from home and get stuff delivered. It’s a trend that was already happening, but any resistance will be blown away. I think that some companies will start wondering if they really need all that expensive real estate.

On the good news side, we will probably get used to better air quality. I wonder if people will notice and do something about this when they will be allowed to leave their homes again.

And canals in Venice are suddenly crystal clear.

Others are still adapting: I just got an automated spam message promoting discounted parking at the airport. Clearly the campaign was set up in the BV (before virus) era and nobody remembered to turn it off.

It’s sad to see all countries closing their borders (in most cases it’s a bit too late for that), and there’s a strange feeling knowing that I won’t be able to go home for a while. I’ve stayed away from Italy for longer, but there was always the option of jumping on a plane and get home. Now there isn’t. Apparently I could catch a bus to Dover, a ferry and then a train to Italy… the world is suddenly big again.

The internet is keeping us together. There have been a couple of glitches in my connection over the weekend, long enough to contemplate with sheer terror the idea of being offline. It was just a moment, but it did feel more uncomfortable than usual.

That’s all for today. Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

Quarantine random thoughts #1

So here we go, I’m all ready with my home office set up, from Monday everybody works from home until further notice. Nobody knows when the further notice will arrive, but from everything I’m reading, it might not be very soon.

If you want something to read, Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now is an interesting article that a lot of friends and contacts have been linking. It’s the first time I really pay attention to a pandemic, and I’m loving all the data sets that you find, I’ve been playing with this one maintained on GitHub by Johns Hopkins CSSE.

While back home in Italy everything is locked down, here in the UK there aren’t big consequences yet. Wondering if here they are incredibly smart or incredibly stupid, we will find out later.

The truth is that working from home doesn’t make a big difference in our line of work, I have been working with remote teams for more than 15 years, most of our life run through zoom and slack anyway. I do think that since it’s so easy for us, it’s smart for us to stay home, while people who can’t work remotely will have to keep moving. The less people around, the better, and while there are no limits to movement in the UK at the moment, I must admit that it felt a bit unpleasant travelling squeezed on the Central Line this week.

Meanwhile the local supermarket are out of pasta and toilet paper, but pretty much everything else is available.

I find this puzzling. In the next few days more toilet paper will be delivered, and, okay, those who were without will buy more toilet paper, but at some point we will reach saturation of how much toilet paper you can store in a house, right? And then what? What do these people know that I don’t? Is there going to be a big shortage of wood fibers used for toilet paper manufacturing? Oh well, we’ll see, meanwhile this from Euan is the funniest bit I read on the topic:

But no worries, I’m okay. I have plenty of toilet paper and enough pasta to last a few weeks. As you can see from the photo above I’ve plenty of booze and I’m planning to keep myself disinfected drinking plenty of Quarantini (a Quarantini is a regular Martini that you drink alone).

On the good news side, there will be plenty of savings. For the next few weeks there will be no lunches in restaurants and no shirts to launder (while the jury is still out on use of deodorant…).

Some say that this quarantine will mark a difference between those who can cook and those who cannot. I have a lot of interesting meals planned for the next few days.

That’s all for now. Stay safe, be nice, keep in touch.

SotN #17

And here’s the first 2020 episode of our podcast, get it while it’s still fresh on Apple, Spotify, Luminary or just click “play” in the box below! This time talk about viruses, behaviour change, narrating human experience, learning from podcast and YouTube.

This is the first time I used Ferrite to edit the show on my iPad Pro, and what a pleasure! Editing using the pencil and gestures has been the best new user experience I had in the last 10 years. Absolutely fantastic!

While Euan had recommended the app before, what pushed me to abandon Garage Band has been this video:

Now I can’t wait to edit the next episode!

It's a wrap

And this is the last episode of our little series. I’m quite happy with the results: I met interesting new people, learned a lot and created some content that can be useful both to startup founders and to investors. The next challenge is to spread the word, get feedback and start preparing for the next season.

State Of The Net Podcast

Last show of 2019! We start by chatting about my other podcast, then Sacha Baron Cohen’s ADL speech and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s new Contract for the web. We move on conversing about millennials, what is right or wrong, we wonder if we would be better off without any rules and we discuss a bit about journalism and its future.

You can listen clicking on the link above, or subscribing on Apple Podcast, on Spotify or even on Google!

State of the Net Podcast – s01e15

Here’s a new episode Euan and I recorded last week. It felt like a good one while we were recording it. As usual, as soon as I finished editing it a whole bunch of things happened which are related and I would have liked to talk about. Oh well… they will be in the next episode. Stay tuned.