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.