Yikes

The news about the delta variant the last day or so is troubling.

  • As transmissable / contagious as chicken pox
  • At least as deadly as the original strain, perhaps more so
  • Definitely able to break through and infect vaccinated folks, though they appear to be 90% less likely to require hospitalization
  • And, once infected, even a vaccinated person is highly contagious
  • An equal opportunity variant, infecting young and old at similar rates

The US had already begun to celebrate the end of the pandemic (I know I had), and now…not so much. Yesterday I went to the grocery and I was the *only* person there wearing a mask, including the cashiers. And this is liberal CA, not the deep red south.

I’m worried about our extensive travel and family visit schedule coming up, starting in August. We made plans a couple of months ago when it looked like the end was near. Now we’re looking at 200K new cases per day in the coming weeks, focused on larger unvaxxed populations. And *if* we get back to 100-200K new cases per day, we’ll also get back to 2-4K deaths per day. Just doing the math, let’s say 100M Americans are still unvaccinated. If we allow the delta variant to run unchecked, it will kill approximately 1.5% of them, or 1.5M people! That’s an upper bound, but, wow.

It may already be too late to change the course of things much, but we do what we can do. Wear a mask indoors, stay out of high risk situations and evaluate every event with caution.

UPDATE: Nick Carroway over at Juanita Jean’s has a perfect take on this. Go read it.

D-day

Today’s a big day. My quantum encryption project has been on hold for about six weeks while the client decides if they want us to continue. Today we learn the answer.

I’ve already dusted off the novel and am ready to rewrite. So given a perverse universe and an egocentric view of it, the client will come back and say “keep going” just to keep me from finishing the book.

More seriously, I *am* taking steps to give me the time and energy to restart. Whatever the outcome of the project decision, I can get there. But it’s still a big day. And this guy wants to know the answer!

UPDATE: Curious vulture gets his answer – we are moving forward! Good for the project, right decision, and I now have to figure out exactly what it means to me.

Inhuman communication

Perhaps as a result of my pessimistic views about humanity (see previous post), I just signed up for two automation-driven behavior modification systems – Replika and Noom (I say automation because I don’t know if their interaction algorithms are based on machine learning, pure scripting, neural nets or some combination – but these are all automation techniques).

I’m interested to see if Noom is an effective coach/mentor/nag. I know I do much better in maintaining a discipline when I have a coach. In this case the discipline is eat better and exercise more, which I do for short periods and then give up. Perhaps with a coachbot I’ll stick with it.

Replika is more of an experiment in the Turing test. With enough interaction and derived facts, can a modern chatbot deliver a conversation natural enough to make me forget (mostly) that it’s a bot? Eliza was one of the first attempts at this oh so long ago, in the 60’s. Eliza was 100% script-driven.

Tough world

Events of the last few days have reinforced my post-2020 pessimistic view of Americans – we’re not very nice or smart people, in general.

  • In the nation’s #1 COVID hotspot, partying at Lake of the Ozarks is at full swing and being maskless and unvaccinated is the cultural norm. Wear a mask, you get cursed and shamed. Meanwhile, local hospitals are full and medical leaders plead for citizens to get vaccinated. The area is hovering around 35-40% vaccinated.
  • After tens of thousands of dollars of executive coaching, multiple interventions and touchy-feely workshops, the management team at one of my companies digressed back into passive-aggressive sniping, fear, anger and mistrust this week. It’s incredibly hard for people to change.
  • California is spending $200M for a recall election of a Governor made unpopular by stricter-than-average COVID rules and by pressure from conservatives. We’re spending $200M instead of just waiting a couple of years to the next scheduled election. Meanwhile, our fire to water ratio is burning the state down.
  • Republicans and Democrats can’t come together to investigate the Jan 6 insurrection properly. Congress is 100% broken.
  • On NextDoor, message threads about vaccination and hydroxychloroquine are cesspools of hate, misinformation and coded “us vs them”. It’s like 2020 never happened.

I’ve said it before. Prior to 2020 my world view was that 80% of everyone was decent, caring and fundamentally good. My world view now is that it’s more like 20%. It’s a tough world out there, and civilization holds together by a thread.

My views only apply to those I can observe more or less directly, Americans specifically. I’d like to think that some other national cultures haven’t devolved in the same way (I’m thinking of you, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, etc.).

Unsocial media

I’ve been online writing a lot today and I made the mistake of checking in to NextDoor after months of ignoring it. Big mistake.

A year ago the site was burning up in Trump “patriots” vs liberal socialist posts and COVID-denier posts. Both were maddening so I quit reading or commenting.

Today the site is overrun with anti-vaxxers and a remnant of the Trumpists, those who still maintain that hydroxychloroquine is a COVID cure that is being blocked somehow in a huge conspiracy.

Hard to understand this, but here are some factors that I think come into play:

  • People in general, including me, have too much free time on their hands.
  • Most of the country is not strong in science, math and logic.
  • Confirmation bias keeps people reading the same propaganda over and over – beliefs, proven true or proven false, get reinforced.
  • There’s a lot of fear and helplessness out in the world, and it comes across as aggression.
  • We’ve never had a connected world in the way the Internet connects us, and we don’t have good checks and balances for what it does to us psychologically.
  • Assuming a constant rate of 0.5% purely bad people (a wild ass guess (WAG) estimate), with small populations that’s just a few bad eggs spread around. With 350 million people, that’s 1.75 million sociopaths, criminals, creeps and jerks. Social media gives them a place to shine.

These are all reasons to stay off social media. So goodbye again, NextDoor.

Who the hell is Jordan?

Amazon just announced that “The Wheel of TIme” series will be released this November! That’s big news for SF&F fans – it’s been a long time coming. Like, 40 years long. My introduction to TWOT is an interesting story combining my love of reading SF&F and using computers..

The year was 1994. The Internet was unknown to most people, and new even to technical types like me. I was playing around with the first web browser ever released (in 1993), NCSA Mosaic, and browsing through one of the early “social media” networks, Usenet. Usenet was a series of subject-based chatrooms where you could find a few enthusiasts posting messages to each other about…almost anything.

I forget how I stumbled upon the Robert Jordan Usenet group, but it was rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan and it was filled with thousands of messages. Thousands. They were all talking about characters from something called The Wheel of Time. How could I not know about this, being a diehard science fiction/fantasy fan?

I read a bit and then dove in with a message titled “Who the hell is Jordan?”. I quickly received dozens of replies, ranging from enthusiastic explanations to “fuck off, newbie”. Trolls have been a part of the Internet forever, it seems. But with that simple question I got turned on to Robert Jordan’s book and TWOT, and have been a fan ever since.

I bought all the books, read them at least twice (there are 14 books comprising over 11,000 pages and 4 million words!), and still have them in my library. I met Jordan once at a signing event in CO, and he was kind of a dark, weird guy. Unkempt. Turns out I met him only a few years before he died of a rare blood disease, so no wonder he wasn’t brimming with energy.

So I’ve got a long history with Jordan and his work. The Amazon series has a lot of fans to satisfy, and I hope they’re up to the task. Casting Rosamund Pike as Moraine is a fine start.

Poetry

Jackson Browne released (announced?) his new album today, Downhill From Everywhere. Of course I’ll get it, but first I took some time to read the lyrics of the album’s songs. JB’s lyrics are poetry for me. Here’s an excerpt from a song I know I’ll like, “A Little Too Soon To Say”.

“I came for inspiration
I came looking for grace
And found my reflection
In every passing face
In everyone who gathered
Standing on that shore
Searching the horizon
Not knowin’ what exactly for

Searchin’ the horizon
For what we can’t quite see
When all we’ve ever needed
Has been there all along
Inside of you and me

I wanna see you holdin’ out your light
I wanna see you light the way
But whether everything will be alright
It’s just a little soon to say”

There’s a lot more, but I love that sentiment – “…all we’ve ever needed, has been there all along, inside you and me”. The guy was a musical/lyrical master at 18 and still going strong at 70-something. We get to see JB and James Taylor in Louisville next month, so I suspect we’ll hear this song in person.

Animals

We visited the Safari Park (aka the WAP, the Wild Animal Park) last weekend with our out of town company. While there I got some pretty nice animal and plant pictures (I’m a photo omnivore). The feature picture above was a little pool in tiger country.

First up, a burrowing owl.

Next, our cousin in a pensive pose.

How about a yellowbill stork?

Or a cheetah with a menacing yawn.

Finally, Mr. Elephant throws on some sunscreen. Being environmentally conscious, he uses sunscreen that does NOT kill coral reefs. I can think of a lot of human sunbathers who would look better in this same application.

It was a good day for pictures, though it got pretty hot before we left. I’ve always loved the WAP and it didn’t disappoint on this July day.