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Yeah but things are good Sun, Mar 29, 2020
Somebody shared this John Stossel thing on Facebook recently, about how life is better now than it used to be.  I have a hard time understanding this point of view. 

Like, I get it:  Things are better now than they've ever been.  Measurably, statistically, actually better.  And that's awesome.  So I get that angle. 

But I can't help but feel like this line of reasoning is intentionally downplaying the other side of the story, where people don't make enough money to afford housing expenses or who'll go into unmanageable debt due to routine medical issues.  Yes, the world is a better place than it was 100 years ago.  But can we at least acknowledge that things aren't perfect yet?  And I know the response I'd get from people who subscribe to this worldview:  We're not downplaying people's current problems; we're just trying to focus on the positive.  I know they think that, but it doesn't come across that way.  Telling a person with $100 in their savings account "Hey, things used to be much worse" literally doesn't help anything.  It provides zero benefit.  It reminds me of that Tweet about Black Lives Matter, "#AllLivesMatter is like I go to the Dr for a broken arm and he says "All Bones Matter" ok but right now let's take care of this broken one".  It further reminds me of something I heard in a church sermon many years ago:  It's not always a good idea to say something simply because it's true; it helps if it's also necessary.

Preparation vs. panic Sat, Mar 28, 2020
I think there's a fine line between preparation and panic, and it's sort of hard to tell when the former becomes the latter.  Preparation is buying groceries before a snow storm, when you might not get a chance to go shopping for a few days.  Preparation is having some non-perishable foods, water, and batteries in case of a power outage.  Preparation is not leaving dirty dishes in your sink when there's a storm inbound (lesson learned the hard way). 

Preparation is planned.  Panic is reactionary.  Panic is buying a bunch of toilet paper.  Panic is buying all the meat at the supermarket.  Panic happens when you see other people buying something and think, "Wait, maybe they know something I don't.  I should buy that too before there's none left."  Panic is irrational, and in a sense, unstoppable. 

Side note:  Honestly, what's with the people buying all the toilet paper during the coronavirus quarantine?  It's not even the right thing to panic-buy.  The right thing would be fresh food, but not more than you can eat before it goes bad.  Or canned food, or beans or rice or something.  But toilet paper?  Do they plan to spend a lot of time on the toilet?  Do they realize that's not even one of the symptoms of this viral infection?  It's a perfect example of an irrational panic-buy. #psychology

Society in emergency Sat, Mar 28, 2020
One of the disconcerting things about the brief period of pre-panic before the coronavirus quarantine was how unconcerned people were about basic preparation for emergencies.  I stocked up on a few essentials -- canned food, rice, water -- not in any crazy quantity, but enough to last us a few days in case something unexpected happened.  Everybody was like, "How could something crazy happen?"  I guess I've been on the receiving end of enough power outages from minor natural disasters (snow storms, hurricanes, etc.) to know that our society is held together by a very thin thread.  Hurricane Sandy was a real eye-opener in that respect.  When a bunch of people who live in the same area lose the same service at the same time, it suddenly puts a lot of pressure on stores and businesses in the area to provide.  And they obviously can't provide at that rate.  There were a few moments of almost-desperation -- "quick, get that gas container, they're almost all gone" -- where you realize there could've been an incident.  You get one particularly angry person who hasn't eaten or slept well for a couple days, and suddenly you have a spark that can ignite a fire.  It really wouldn't take much.  Add in some restrictions about when you're allowed to be out or how much you're allowed to buy, and suddenly you've got a full-blown panic. 

As much as we like to think we live in a well-run, organized, prepared, abundant society, all it would take to run this train off the tracks is for a store to run out of something -- meat, vegetables, toilet paper -- for some things to start going down.  Desperate people do desperate things to survive, and when scarcity looks threatening, desperation grows. #sociology

Hourly work Fri, Mar 27, 2020
One thing this whole coronavirus quarantine is pointing out is the futility of tracking progress by the number of hours worked.  When I physically go to work, and I'd imagine this is the same for most people, I'm required to be there for a certain number of hours, regardless of the actual amount of work I do.  What I've found while working from home these past two weeks is that I'm accomplishing way more actual measurable work in much less actual time, while still technically "being present" or putting in the same amount of official work time (in case my employer is reading this, yes I put in the correct amount of hours and yes I filled out my timesheet, now leave me alone).  Part of it is that I don't want my employer to take away the option of working from home, so I'm sort of intentionally working harder.  But there's also the fact that there are so ridiculously fewer distractions when I'm not in an office environment, especially for someone like me who is incredibly introverted, and especially for the type of work I do which is collaborative at the project level but extremely individual at the working level.  For me, there's a stark difference in productivity between being present at an office and working quietly alone at home. 

This brings up the pesky question of what exactly counts as work.  For hourly workers and/or workers who are expected to be present at an office for a set amount of time, the types of activities that qualify as work are quite varied.  Waiting for a computer to boot up?  Work.  Bathroom break?  Work.  Water cooler discussions?  Work.  Leaving the office for lunch?  Not work.  Taking a walk outside?  Not work.  Staring mindlessly at a computer?  Work. 

I would argue that more work gets done sometimes during what would traditionally be considered non-working time.  Again, especially for me and the types of things I do, I often get the most done while I'm taking a break outside or when I'm commuting home.  A lot of times, just having a break in flow or surroundings helps my brain solve an issue I was having or approach a problem from a different angle.  Those times don't technically count as work because I'm not in an office, at a computer, or somehow otherwise checking the boxes that official work entails.  But it's work, and it's valuable, and I hope the employers of the world come around to this idea. #business

Coronavirus thoughts Fri, Mar 20, 2020
A few observations regarding the coronavirus outbreak and ongoing quarantine:
  1. I could be wrong, but I think the main consideration in slowing the spread (i.e. flattening the curve) is simply (a) hospital beds and (b) ventilators.  People will die simply because there aren't enough medical supplies to go around, which is stupid but true.  It's a logistics problem that simply can't be solved.
  2. How will small businesses survive even a week without income?  Even if the government offers some sort of assistance, I can't imagine it'll be enough, or that there will be enough to go around.
  3. Seeing store shelves empty of something makes you sort of panic and think you've missed the boat.  It's not hard to see how mass panics start.
  4. I've never had a stronger desire to touch my face than when I was walking around a store around other suspicious-looking people.
  5. It'll be interesting to see how many jobs really require physical presence, after everyone has been working remotely for weeks or months.
  6. It was surprising how quickly people started taking it seriously.  Less than a week ago, it was still somewhat a fringe pandemic in the eyes of the average American.
  7. The projections are looking pretty grim in terms of timeline and mortality (Twitter thread).
  8. It's hard to convince people who will likely suffer no ill effects that quarantining and social distancing benefits other people more than it benefits them.  Those dumb kids on spring break in Florida could be any one of us 20, 30, or 40 years ago.
  9. It'll be interesting to see the long-term effects of this in terms of policy (more hospitals, beds, better emergency preparedness) and society (no more handshakes or hugging, only bowing from now on).
  10. If this all works out ok, it'll feel like a huge waste of time and energy and panic.

Govt is bad at some things Wed, Mar 18, 2020
It's becoming more and more clear to me that the government is bad at doing things when there's already a viable commercial alternative.  Case in point:  web-based teleconferencing.  At my job, we're forced to use the government's phone numbers and websites FoR sEcUrItY rEaSoNs, but both products are routinely unreliable and of poor quality.  Or downright unavailable.  If a private company made a product that didn't work, they would lose money and go out of business.  If the government makes a product that doesn't work, oh well, try it again in an hour. #business

Public computer guest mode Wed, Mar 11, 2020
Microsoft really needs to implement a feature that speeds up the process of logging into a public computer as a guest.  I literally cannot even begin to estimate the amount of human working hours spent watching a projected view of the conference room computer as it finishes setting up a new user account and establishing all the settings and preferences that go along with that.  Like seriously, all I ever want to do is show a stupid PowerPoint presentation.  It's a simple concept, and it's not an uncommon task.  I will likely never log onto this computer ever again, for all eternity.  I don't need a user account, I don't need access to any special stuff, I just need to open this one file that's located on our network drive. #technology

Coronavirus and the media Tue, Mar 10, 2020
I keep hearing that the media is blowing the coronavirus out of proportion and causing unnecessary hysteria to further their financial goals.  That sounds about right, except for the fact that the media didn't impose a quarantine of 11 million people in China.  The Chinese government did.  Same with Italy.  Also, the media didn't impose corporate travel restrictions or cancel conferences or reduce attendance at live sporting events.  Companies did all that, as a result of their internal risk management strategies which all oddly seem to line up with each other.  It's almost as if everyone agrees this is a serious issue that requires taking drastic steps.  And it's almost like people have been conditioned to think the media is the enemy.  I can't imagine why. #health

Daylight Savings Time Mon, Mar 09, 2020
It's time to do away with Daylight Savings Time.  Nearly every person on earth agrees with this sentiment.  "But what about the farmers?"  You're not a farmer.  You don't know any farmers.  Farmers make up like 0.01% of the population; why are we catering to them?  Also, they don't give a shit.  They'll work when work needs to get done, not when their clock says to.  It's really not that complicated. 

Not only is it crappy to be an adult during Daylight Savings Time change-overs, but having a child has brought a new level of hatred to the equation.  You have bed times, you have naps, you have meal times.  Ok now arbitrarily shift all of them an hour, twice a year.  It's fucking stupid, and we all know it. 

Daylight Savings Time:  It accomplishes nothing, it benefits no one, literally everyone hates it.  Abolish Daylight Savings Time.

Experts are bad teachers Fri, Mar 06, 2020
From the Hidden Brain episode When Things Click
Everyone can think of learning moments when things broke down. One reason for this is that experts often make poor teachers. Once you've mastered a skill, it becomes difficult to remember what it felt like to not know the skill. Once you know how to ride a bike, you might say to a newbie, just push off. Start pedaling. It takes an enormous act of effort, of empathy to go back and remember how it felt when something seemed confusing or impossible. This is sometimes called the curse of expertise. Experts forget how difficult it can be to learn something because they've already mastered it.
Holy crap yes.  This was about 99% of my experience in college.  I've already told the story of my college professor who said, "You should already know that" and then simply moved on.  People who become experts at something are rarely even remotely qualified to teach. #education

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