A code orange region with a code yellow weather.

We are in lockdown level “orange” in our region. Which is better than red, but worse than yellow. Shops are open, restaurants are closed, we can’t leave our municipality unless we have a good reason. There are a lot of discussions in the family around what count as a “good reason”. In any case this situation has zero impact on my life: I go out for a walk in the early morning, and then spend the rest of the day on zoom calls. Every. Single. Day.

To make things even more exciting, today the news are reporting that there’s a “yellow” bad weather alarm. Actually the weather has been exceptionally good since I got back, with a long serie of crystal clear days. Today it has changed, and we finally got our first dark, windy, rainy, snowy, cold winter day.

Beautiful weather.

In other news, for the last couple of months I’ve been using an app to track calories intake and my weight. With a little attention and no big sacrifices I’ve lost a whole bunch of kilograms: let’s just say that I’m back in the 80s, which had not happened since the 90s.

I’m also starting to think about heading back to the UK in early January. Haven’t booked a flight yet. We’ll see how the situation evolves in the next few weeks.

Chatting with my wife we were wondering who of us will get the vaccine first next year. At this point I cannot really say if I trust more the Brits or the Italians with anything healthcare related.

Stay safe, be good: it’s almost Christmas.

New Normal Random Thoughts #11

I have been back home in Italy for 10 days, and it looks like we are heading for a new lockdown.

Back in England I was waiting for my new driving licence. It was one of the reason I went back in September. It was supposed to arrive in three weeks, but of course there had been Covid related delays, and when I called the DVLA they had no idea of the status of my application. My main concern was my passport, which I had to send them as proof of identity. I could still travel with my Italian identity card, but the idea of my passport being left for a couple of months, all by itself, with the Royal Mail was not reassuring.

Luckily, the very day before I was supposed to leave, two envelopes arrived, with my passport and my brand new UK driving licence. It expires on April 28 2041. I’m counting on the fact that by then cars will self drive and I won’t have to renew it.

The colours on my hills are magic in this season. I’ve been enjoying them in my daily early morning walks.

Once I got back to Italy I was supposed to be tested and self-quarantined until I got the results. There was zero information on how to get tested at the airport, the police woman who checked my passport didn’t have a number or any other useful information.

After some useless phone calls and some digging on a number of local healthcare web sites, I found an email address. I sent a message and within five minutes I had a reply! Next morning we went to a drive-through testing facility near a local hospital, there was no queue, got swabbed and a few days later a nice lady called to say that I was negative and free to go.

So here we go, two experiences with European bureaucracy which turned out to be not bad at all.

Stay safe. Stay home. Vote. Hug your pet.

New Normal Random Thoughts #10

So I’m flying back to Italy this week. I don’t know how the situation has changed there over the last six weeks, while I more or less follow the news I’m missing the day to day experience, but I’m looking forward to get back to what seems to be a much less stressful environment.

Meanwhile I’m loosing some of the admiration I had for my new home, this article on the NY Times captures well the feeling and the situation in London:

The current crisis seems exacerbated by an offshoot of the very virtue celebrated in the conventional historical narrative — an admirable refusal to bend. The national mantra, “keep calm and carry on,” seems to have been reconfigured into the misguided notion that nothing is amiss.

The sense of permanent confusion here is just unnecessarily stressful, there’s a continuous flow of contrasting information coming from all sides, and while the Prime Minister likes to compare himself to good old Winston, instead of delivering “we shall never surrender” speeches they seem to be afraid that shutting down pubs would trigger an insurrection. While I have always found the tradition of pubs interesting, I had never realised before the importance of the “right to get drunk” felt by what appear to be sizable parts of the population.

Weekly laundry in 2020.

Then last week there was a debacle with the track and tracing programme (which government here defines “world-beating”), where some 16,000 test results were lost for a few days.

Many wrote that the problem was somehow related to using Excel to process some of the data. I feel bad for whoever was in charge of setting up this whole system: I have recommended myself to just dump data to Excel if you need a quick way to manipulate large tables: it’s almost as available as a web browser and it is usually a much faster and more effective tool than building custom software.

So while I don’t know what really happened, I’m pretty sure that whoever had to put together a highly scaleable solution with little time and resources and then hand it over to thousands of untrained users is not the one who chose to call it “world-beating”.

Meanwhile on the streets and the shops of London there’s still plenty of people not following social distancing rules, and recently I’ve heard been defined “fascists” those shops imposing them in a slightly more assertive way.

On Thursday I’m leaving this all behind. I’m not saying that everything is going to be perfect, but at least we have plenty of experience with fascists in Italy.

Hope to be back soon, in the meanwhile be kind, and good luck.

New Normal Random Thoughts #9

Two weeks since I came back to the UK, three weeks to when I go back to Italy. I’m not counting the hours, but I wonder how much worse the situation is going to get in these three weeks.

Yesterday I installed the brand new UK contact tracing app. It has a couple of features more than the Italian one: it tells you the risk level in your area and allows to scan QR codes that are supposedly installed in all venues. Tried it yesterday at the local Vietnamese restaurant. It works, and it takes away the annoyance of having to fill name and contact information by hand on a notepad, which might help make it a bit more popular.

But this app arrived almost four months later than the Italian one, gotta wonder how many cases could have been tracked in this period if the local authorities had not tried to develop their own approach against Google and Apple’s one, only to end up having to give up and implementing what everybody else already had.

Alongside the new app, a new set of social distancing rules have been introduced, as confusing as ever. Now you can only have 15 guests at a wedding, but you can have 30 at a funeral. I’m not saying that there isn’t a logic in this, but it makes the whole effort feel less serious.

View of the Thames, last Sunday at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

Meanwhile it’s Autumn, temperature and leaves are falling, and it turns out that in London’s chilly mornings wearing the mask keeps your face warm, making it almost comfortable. Soon we will feel naked without.

Be safe, keep warm, and wherever you are, install that tracing app.

New Normal Random Thoughts #8

I’ve been back for a week, and it mostly feels like lockdown again.

But somebody in government did spend time to come up with new slogan: “wash hands, cover face, make space”, brilliantly shortened to “hands, face, space”. FFS.

We have met in the office a couple of times, it was nice but there clearly is no appetite for going more than a day a week from anyone on the team. So I’m just doing zoom call after zoom call sitting in my flat, going out occasionally for a walk around the block or to get some groceries. Just like April.

I have booked my flight back to Italy in mid October. I would have booked earlier but I needed to renew my driving licence and I’m waiting to get it back. Besides the obvious comforts I have in Italy, the situation seems to be much more under control there than here. Who would have thought I would have ever said this?

Guess where I would rather be…

It feels like the open society where all ideas are considered and discussed ceases being an advantage when you need most of the population to follow some rules. And here it just seems impossible to get clear simple rules. There are always “buts” and exceptions and discussions and changes and opinions, and everything becomes messy and confused.

For example, while most people wear masks in public buildings, for some mysterious reason employees in supermarkets don’t. Why? No idea. But it just contributes to the madness.

Meanwhile numbers keep climbing, local lockdowns are ordered across the country and a national lockdown is quite a possibility. I’m not even sure I will be allowed to travel in a month time.

Walk in the park.

Be safe. Be kind. Hands, face, space. 🤦🏻‍♂️

New Normal Random Thoughts #7

I’m back in London!

The new normal of travel appears to include a lot of forms:

  • There was the form to travel in Italy, which was easily filled while checking-in on the Alitalia app (except that the app prevents pasting stuff, which makes everything cumbersome)
  • There was the form to fill to leave Italy, which was requested when boarding the plane in Rome and literally nobody knew about. So every passenger had to leave the line, find a pen, and fill up a badly photocopied form on paper
  • And then there was the form to enter the UK on the .gov.uk site, which was advertised at the airports in Rome and Heathrow, with designated areas to stop and fill it before getting to passport control, with PA announcements saying that you would not be allowed to enter the country without… but then nobody actually checked if I had it. Maybe it was just one of those behavioral science experiments…

I spent a day in Rome, going to an actual business meeting. In person. In an office. Everybody around the table was wearing masks, but nobody even notices anymore.

The eternal city was as beautiful as usual, social distancing was mostly observed wherever I went, except for a pretty crowded piazza in Trastervere full of youngsters being very close, exchanging fluids and mostly not wearing any protection. Gotta admit that I felt slightly uncomfortable crossing the square.

London still feels half empty.

I wonder how long this can continue. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of empty public transport and having more room in general, but all this infrastructure is not build to work at half capacity, at some point governments will stop subsidising it and either prices will go significantly up or some systems will collapse.

I also spent a day in our office with a couple of colleagues. It felt good to be able to communicate without the constraints of zoom. I might do it again sometime.

It’s a little like when I can speak Italian after a long period speaking English. It’s not that I cannot express myself in English, but there’s definitely less brain post-processing power necessary when I can use my own language.

This is it. Be kind, stay safe, bring a pen in case you might need to fill a form.

New Normal Random Thoughts #6

I’m flying back to London this week, after a quick trip to Rome for a meeting on Wednesday. So there’s going to be bit of travelling for me with all the excitement that comes with it.

I’m not really sure about this decision: I want to see if there’s any advantage being close to the office, perhaps meeting colleagues every once in a while, maybe even meeting somebody in person.

I’ve just checked and a Ryanair flight back next week it’s just £12,99, so if I don’t like the feeling I can get back very quickly. But most likely I will stay for a while and see how it goes.

It doesn’t make much sense to work on detailed plans, living with uncertainty is the defining trait of these days. I suppose that the truth is that we have never had much control on our destinies, but I gotta admit that it felt good to think we had.

Meanwhile we have spent the last couple of weeks visiting Ikea multiple times buying bits and bobs and revamping our studio at home. We are quite happy with the result.

Each drawers unit takes half the time to build then the previous one.

Numbers of cases in Italy have been increasing, but not as quick as other European countries. Numbers in the UK appear to be increasing faster. Numbers in London seem to be relatively low. Overall I have been trying to ignore the news and I feel just fine.

It’s going to be exciting.

That’s it for today. Be kind, wash your hands, see you in London.

New Normal Random Thoughts #5

Not much happens during August in Italy. Even less in this strange year.

The numbers have slowly been going in the wrong direction. Nothing dramatic for now, nothing exponential yet, but the media is all over it. It’s the youngsters in dance clubs! No, it’s tourists coming back from Croatia! No, it’s the immigrants! Now we have to wear masks even outside, but only from 6pm to 6am, and only in crowded situations. And then there’s a lot of chatter about kids going back to school and some amazing one-seat wheeled desks that they will be using.

The best piece of news I heard today is that apparently a molecule derivate from cholesterol it’s a virus killer. This is exactly the type of news I’m fully ready to believe in. I’m looking forward to sausage therapy. Forget Nightingale Hospitals, at the beginning of the second wave we will take people to McDonalds.

I have Immuni installed on my phone, the Italian proximity tracking app. It’s a nice app, using the Apple/Google tracing system. While the app is perfectly fine, they botched the launch, allowing a whole number of silly conspiracy theories to propagate, which means that the app hasn’t been widely adopted: only 4.6 million people downloaded it by the 1st of June (that’s about 7% of population, clearly not enough density to be useful).

Anyway, every once in a while I get a notification like this:

I checked the logs, which should keep track of the anonymised ID of other devices I came into contact with, and apparently I haven’t come in contact with any other user with the app (which now that I think of it it’s odd, since I know for sure that other family members have the app installed).

I’m sorta planning to go back to the UK on the 10th of September. I haven’t booked the flight yet, but I want to go and check how things are, see if there’s any chance of starting to do some work in person again. While I’m fully expecting to keep working mostly from home, it would be nice to have some meetings outside a zoom window, and we have a beautiful meeting room with a huge table which can guarantee appropriate distancing.

If it doesn’t work, I will just get back to Italy, where I fin the quality of life much better.

That’s it. Be nice, eat an egg, just to be safe.

New Normal Random Thoughts #4

After 5 weeks in Italy, I’m starting to reach the edges of what in the old times might have been reasonable expectations from service providers, but I am discovering they are no longer compatible with the new normal.

For example, Three has decided that I have used more than it was fair to use of my roaming allowance. It doesn’t matter if I have an unlimited account, it turns out that “unlimited” is actually 20Gb. Not clear if 20Gb per month, per year, per lifetime. All I know is that I need to go get another sim with another provider.

Also NowTV has decided that after a month not connecting from the UK, I’m no longer allowed to watch their shows.

No big deal, I’ve cancelled those services, and anyway I’m too busy re-watching The West Wing on PrimeTV. It’s 20 years old, but what a show! It was probably complete fantasy back then, but watching it today feels like we felt back then watching any dystopian future show. But anyway, who cares? Ironman is not realistic but it’s fun. President Josiah Bartlet is even more fun.

We spent last weekend in Venice.

Venice is close and beautiful, and while it takes about the same time to get there from our home in San Martino as it takes to get to the other side of London from Ealing, we only visit for short trips when somebody is visiting, so it was great to spend some quality time there.

We have always avoided Venice in August because of the crowds, so I can’t really compare, but it didn’t feel crowded at all. Yes, there were tourists, but at no time it felt uncomfortable. Most notably for Venice, there were no Americans.

We found a lovely B&B at a very reasonable price smack in the centre of everything, had great food, plenty of spritzes and cicchetti. If you like visiting cities, this is a great time to go to Venice.

I did appreciate how seriously masks are enforced everywhere. The “captain” of a vaporetto refused to leave when a family of four boarded with some plastic contraptions which were clearly not proper masks. Turns out they did have proper masks, and once properly masked we left.

I love the crooked bits of Venice.

Another “new normal” feature is that pretty much all bars and restaurant have a QR code sticker on every table which links to their menu. It always works and once you start thinking about how many people have touched those old menus before you, you never want to go back to the old ways.

Stay safe, keep cool, be kind.

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.