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Entries for March 2020 (April 2020 »    May 2020 »    June 2020 »    Archives)

 

Concatenation

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2020

Concatenation is a Rube Goldberg-esque video montage made up of cleverly arranged stock video footage. This is one of those things where I’m like, “ugh this is so good, why didn’t I think of this?” See also this clipart animation:

(via waxy)

Update: The music video for Cassius’ Go Up uses a similar technique of juxtaposing stock videos. (via @endquote)

Grocery Store Worker Offers Suggestions for Staying Safe While Shopping During the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2020

Rebecca Marquardt works at a grocery store and has some tips/suggestions/requests for grocery shoppers on how to keep themselves and grocery store employees healthy while shopping during the pandemic.

1. Make an organized shopping list so you can get in and out.
2. Stock up (DON’T hoard) so you don’t have to come in as often.
3. Go to the bathroom at home.
4. Sanitize your hands right before you enter the store.
4 1/2. Forgot when I filmed — wipe down the shopping cart/basket.
5. Touch only what you need to.
6. Maintain space between you, other customers, AND employees.
7. Ask if we’d like you to bag your own groceries.
8. Wash your reusable bags!
9. Sanitize your hands when you leave the store.

Are people serious with #3?! Jesus. I know it can be difficult to think of something as simple and ubiquitous as grocery shopping as requiring forethought, but these are not normal times. Make a plan and stick to it. The goal is to minimize your exposure (to keep yourself and workers safe) while getting necessary supplies. Marquardt’s list is really good, but I’d add a few more things based on common sense & policies I’ve seen at other stores:

1. Send only one person per family to do the shopping. And especially don’t bring your kids into the store.
2. Wear a mask.
3. Take only what you absolutely need into the store — no big purses or bags if you can help it. Use a paper shopping list; keep your phone in your pocket. Have your credit card out of your wallet and in a pocket for ease of use. All this minimizes the things you touch and need to potentially disinfect later.

Again, I know it feels completely idiotic to have to think about going to the store like you’re Serena Williams prepping for a Grand Slam final. It seems like an overreaction. But as Williams would probably be the first to tell you, preparation and careful execution of a plan are things that can help you feel more confident, comfortable, and in control about a potentially stressful event. We owe it to Marquardt and other store workers to keep them safe during all of this while they work to keep us fed and stocked with essentials. (via digg)

Chris Ware’s Moving Pandemic-Themed Cover for the New Yorker

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2020

Chris Ware Covid-19

This is Chris Ware’s illustration for the cover of this week’s New Yorker, the magazine’s annual Health Issue. The pandemic had to be the topic for the cover, and Ware’s daughter suggested that the specific theme focus on the families of the healthcare workers on the front lines of the crisis.

“As a procrastination tactic, I sometimes ask my fifteen-year-old daughter what the comic strip or drawing I’m working on should be about — not only because it gets me away from my drawing table but because, like most kids of her generation, she pays attention to the world. So, while sketching the cover of this Health Issue, I asked her.

“‘Make sure it’s about how most doctors have children and families of their own,’ she said.

“Good idea. And a personal one: one of her friend’s parents are both doctors; that friend, now distilled into a rectangular puddle of light on my daughter’s nightstand, reported that her mom had temporarily stopped going to work, pending the results of a COVID-19 test.

People Behave More Cooperatively During Disasters

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2020

I’ve been wanting to write something about this for a few weeks now, so I was glad to find this short but meaty Twitter thread by Dan Gardner about how people react in a crisis: they get more cooperative, not less.

Please remember: The idea that when disaster strikes people panic and social order collapses is very popular. It is also a myth. A huge research literature shows disaster makes people *more* pro-social. They cooperate. They support each other. They’re better than ever.

But the myth matters because it can lead people to take counterproductive actions and adopt policies. The simple truth is we are a fantastically social species and threats only fuel our instinct to pro-social behaviour.

Incidentally, this point is made, and is forgotten, after every disaster. Remember 9/11? Everyone was astonished that snarling, greedy, individualistic New Yorkers were suddenly behaving like selfless saints. No need for surprise. That’s humanity. That’s how we roll.

A reader suggested I check out Rebecca Solnit’s writing on the topic, and indeed she wrote an entire book in 2010 about this: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Solnit recently spoke to CBC Radio about her research.

I had learned by reading the oral histories of the 1906 earthquake, and by reading the wonderful disaster sociologists in a field that begins in part with Samuel Prince, looking at the Halifax Explosion in 1917 … that actually in disasters, most people are altruistic, brave, communitarian, generous and deeply creative in rescuing each other, creating the conditions for success of survival and often creating these little disaster utopias where everyone feels equal. Everyone feels like a participant.

It’s like a reset, when you turn the machine on and off and on again, that our basic default setting is generous and communitarian and altruistic. But what’s shocking is the incredible joy people often seem to have, when they describe that sense of purpose, connection, community agency they found. It speaks to how deeply we desire something we mostly don’t have in everyday life. That’s a kind of social, public love and power, above and beyond the private life.

I’ve put this 2016 episode of On Being with Solnit on my to-listen list.

The amazing thing about the 1989 earthquake — it was an earthquake as big as the kind that killed thousands of people in places like Turkey and Mexico City, and things like that. But partly, because we have good infrastructure, about 50 people died, a number of people lost their homes, everybody was shaken up. But what was so interesting for me was that people seemed to kind of love what was going on.

That same year in the aftermath of the election, she wrote an essay called How to Survive a Disaster.

I landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, shortly after a big hurricane tore up the city in October of 2003. The man in charge of taking me around told me about the hurricane-not the winds at more than a hundred miles an hour that tore up trees, roofs, telephone poles, not the seas that rose nearly ten feet, but the neighbors. He spoke of the few days when everything was disrupted and lit up with happiness as he did so. In his neighborhood all the people had come out of their houses to speak with each other, aid each other, to improvise a community kitchen, make sure the elders were okay, and spend time together, no longer strangers. “Everybody woke up the next morning and everything was different,” he mused. “There was no electricity, all the stores were closed, no one had access to media. The consequence was that everyone poured out into the street to bear witness. Not quite a street party, but everyone out at once-it was a sense of happiness to see everybody even though we didn’t know each other.” His joy struck me powerfully.

More reading material on this, via Gardner: Disaster Mythology and Fact: Hurricane Katrina and Social Attachment, Psychological disaster myths in the perception and management of mass emergencies, There Goes Hurricane Florence; Here Come the Disaster Myths, and 5 Most Common (and Most Dangerous) Disaster Myths.

Note: A version of this post first appeared in Noticing, the kottke.org newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Some Good News with John Krasinski

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, John Krasinski thought it would be worthwhile to pause and take note of some good news happening in the world in this new YouTube series. As Andy Baio noted, this hewed so closely to Ze Frank’s The Show that I kept expecting to hear him call viewers “speed racers” and ask us to make an Earth sandwich. Keep your eyes peeled for a small The Office reunion with a certain regional manager via Zoom.

Minimal Pics

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2020

Marcus Cederberg

Marcus Cederberg

Marcus Cederberg

I don’t know about you, but Marcus Cederberg’s minimalist photography has a soothing effect on me. Check out his Instagram for the newest stuff.

You Should Be Wearing a Face Mask

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2020

Wear A Mask

Have you been wearing a face mask when going out in public recently? There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether they are effective in keeping people safe from COVID-19 infection, and it’s been really challenging to find good information. After reading several things over the past few days, I have concluded that wearing a mask in public is a helpful step I can take to help keep myself and others safe, with the important caveat that healthcare workers need access to masks before the rest of us (see below). In particular, I found this extensive review of the medical and scientific literature on mask & respirator use helpful, including why research on mask efficacy is so hard to do and speculation on why the CDC and WHO generally don’t recommend wearing them.

I was able to find one study like this outside of the health care setting. Some people with swine flu travelled on a plane from New York to China, and many fellow passengers got infected. Some researchers looked at whether passengers who wore masks throughout the flight stayed healthier. The answer was very much yes. They were able to track down 9 people who got sick on the flight and 32 who didn’t. 0% of the sick passengers wore masks, compared to 47% of the healthy passengers. Another way to look at that is that 0% of mask-wearers got sick, but 35% of non-wearers did. This was a significant difference, and of obvious applicability to the current question.

See also this review of relevant scientific literature, this NY Times piece, this Washington Post opinion piece by Jeremy Howard (who is on a Twitter mission to get everyone to wear masks):

When historians tally up the many missteps policymakers have made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the senseless and unscientific push for the general public to avoid wearing masks should be near the top.

The evidence not only fails to support the push, it also contradicts it. It can take a while for official recommendations to catch up with scientific thinking. In this case, such delays might be deadly and economically disastrous. It’s time to make masks a key part of our fight to contain, then defeat, this pandemic. Masks effective at “flattening the curve” can be made at home with nothing more than a T-shirt and a pair of scissors. We should all wear masks — store-bought or homemade — whenever we’re out in public.

At the height of the HIV crisis, authorities did not tell people to put away condoms. As fatalities from car crashes mounted, no one recommended avoiding seat belts. Yet in a global respiratory pandemic, people who should know better are discouraging Americans from using respiratory protection.

I have to admit that I have not been wearing a mask out in public — I’ve been to the grocery store only three times in the past two weeks, I go at off-hours, and it’s rural Vermont, so there’s not actually that many people about (e.g. compared to Manhattan). But I’m going to start wearing one in crowded places (like the grocery store) because doing so could a) safeguard others against my possible infection (because asymptomatic people can still be contagious), b) make it less likely for me to get infected, and c) provide a visible signal to others in my community to normalize mask wearing. As we’ve seen in epidemic simulations, relatively small measures can have outsize effects in limiting later infections & deaths, and face masks, even if a tiny bit effective, can have a real impact.

Crucially, the available research and mask advocates stress the importance of wearing masks properly and responsibly. Here are some guidelines I compiled about responsible mask usage:

So that’s what I’ve personally concluded from all my reading. I hope wearing masks can help keep us a little safer during all of this.

Update: From Ferris Jabr at Wired, It’s Time to Face Facts, America: Masks Work.

It is unequivocally true that masks must be prioritized for health care workers in any country suffering from a shortage of personal protective equipment. But the conflicting claims and guidelines regarding their use raise three questions of the utmost urgency: Do masks work? Should everyone wear them? And if there aren’t enough medical-grade masks for the general public, is it possible to make a viable substitute at home? Decades of scientific research, lessons from past pandemics, and common sense suggest the answer to all of these questions is yes.

Update: The Atlantic’s Ed Yong weighs in on masks:

In Asia, masks aren’t just shields. They’re also symbols. They’re an affirmation of civic-mindedness and conscientiousness, and such symbols might be important in other parts of the world too. If widely used, masks could signal that society is taking the pandemic threat seriously. They might reduce the stigma foisted on sick people, who would no longer feel ashamed or singled out for wearing one. They could offer reassurance to people who don’t have the privilege of isolating themselves at home, and must continue to work in public spaces. “My staff have also mentioned that having a mask reminds them not to touch their face or put a pen in their mouth,” Bourouiba noted.

He also writes about something I’ve been wondering about: is the virus airborne, what does that even mean, when will we know for sure, and how should that affect our behavior in the meantime?

These particles might not even have been infectious. “I think we’ll find that like many other viruses, [SARS-CoV-2] isn’t especially stable under outdoor conditions like sunlight or warm temperatures,” Santarpia said. “Don’t congregate in groups outside, but going for a walk, or sitting on your porch on a sunny day, are still great ideas.”

You could tie yourself in knots gaming out the various scenarios that might pose a risk outdoors, but Marr recommends a simple technique. “When I go out now, I imagine that everyone is smoking, and I pick my path to get the least exposure to that smoke,” she told me. If that’s the case, I asked her, is it irrational to hold your breath when another person walks past you and you don’t have enough space to move away? “It’s not irrational; I do that myself,” she said. “I don’t know if it makes a difference, but in theory it could. It’s like when you walk through a cigarette plume.”

And from the WHO, here’s a video on how to wear a mask properly.

Update: One of the reasons I started to wear a mask when I go out in public was to “provide a visible signal to others in my community to normalize mask wearing”. Maciej Cegłowski’s post touches on this and other reasons to wear a mask that don’t directly have to do with avoiding infection.

A mask is a visible public signal to strangers that you are trying to protect their health. No other intervention does this. It would be great if we had a soap that turned our hands gold for an hour, so everyone could admire our superb hand-washing technique. But all of the behaviors that benefit public health are invisible, with the exception of mask wearing.

If I see you with a mask on, it shows me you care about my health, and vice versa. This dramatically changes what it feels like to be in a public space. Other people no longer feel like an anonymous threat; they are now your teammates in a common struggle.

Cellphone Data Shows How Quickly Partying Spring Breakers Spread Across the Country

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2020

People on Spring Break in Florida for the past couple of weeks were famously unconcerned with social distancing measures implementing in other areas of the country to help stem the tide of COVID-19 infections and save lives. Using cellphone location data from just the phones of the people gathered on a single beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this video shows just how far those people spread across the country when they went home, possibly taking SARS-CoV-2 with them. They go everywhere.

Show of hands: who feels uncomfortable being reminded of the extent to which 3rd party companies know the location of our cellphones? With tools like the one demonstrated in the video & other easily available info, it has to be trivial to identify individuals by name using even “randomized” data and so-called metadata. (via @stewartbrand)

Simulating Many Scenarios of an Epidemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2020

Back when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to be taken seriously by the American public, 3blue1brown’s Grant Sanderson released a video about epidemics and exponential growth. (It’s excellent — I recommend watching it if you’re still a little unclear on how things are got so out of hand so quickly in Italy and, very soon, in NYC.) In his latest video, Sanderson digs a bit deeper into simulating epidemics using a variety of scenarios.

Like, if people stay away from each other I get how that will slow the spread, but what if despite mostly staying away from each other people still occasionally go to a central location like a grocery store or a school?

Also, what if you are able to identify and isolate the cases? And if you can, what if a few slip through, say because they show no symptoms and aren’t tested?

How does travel between separate communities affect things? And what if people avoid contact with others for a while, but then they kind of get tired of it and stop?

These simulations are fascinating to watch. Many of the takeaways boil down to: early & aggressive actions have a huge effect in the number of people infected, how long an epidemic lasts, and (in the case of a disease like COVID-19 that causes fatalities) the number of deaths. This is what all the epidemiologists have been telling us — because the math, while complex when you’re dealing with many factors (as in a real-world scenario), is actually pretty straightforward and unambiguous.

The biggest takeaway? That the effective identification and isolation of cases has the largest effect on cutting down the infection rate. Testing and isolation, done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

See also these other epidemic simulations: Washington Post and Kevin Simler.

Note: Please keep in mind that these are simulations to help us better understand how epidemics work in general — it’s not about how the COVID-19 pandemic is proceeding or will proceed in the future.

Sight & Sound: The Cinema of Walter Murch

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2020

From Jon Lefkovitz, Sight & Sound is a feature-length documentary film about the legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch, who edited and did sound design for films like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Conversation.

This feature-length documentary, viewed and enjoyed by legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch himself (“The Conversation”, “Apocalypse Now”), was culled by Jon Lefkovitz from over 50 hours of Murch’s lectures, interviews, and commentaries.

That’s the whole film embedded above, available online for free. Here’s the trailer in case you need some prodding. I haven’t watched the whole film yet, but I’m definitely going to tuck into it in the next few days.

See also Worldizing — How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film.

Indoor Voices, A Quarantine Group Blog Just Like The Old Days

posted by Aaron Cohen   Mar 27, 2020

A few weeks ago, writer Kyle Chayka Tweeted “I predict a great Blogging Renaissance,” to which also writer Kevin Nguyen responded, “i kinda wanna do a weird free-for-all quarantine blog.” Then they added other writer Bijan Stephen and started Indoor Voices, a group blog which has now grown to about 80 members, all of whom miss what the internet used to be like AND happen to be home quite a bit at the moment. (To cement old school credentials, Indoor Voices is hosted on ancient blogging platform Blogspot, the place I got my blogging start in 2004. (Out of an abundance of shame, I absolutely will not be linking to this first blog.))

From the Indoor Voices about page:

Blogging is not a substitute for direct action. Direct action in this case involves staying home. Blogging is one thing to do while staying at home. Please wash your hands. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time where the internet was just full of casual websites posting random stuff. And you’d go to them maybe even multiple times a day to see if they had posted any new stories. It was something we all did when we were bored at our desks, at our jobs. Now there are no more desks. But there are still blogs.

There’s no theme, except quarantine. There’s no schedule, except people post every day whenever they want. As you might expect from a group of 80 people, post subjects vary. There are beauty tips, missives to Deadwood and Steven Universe, strategies to get through your pile of New Yorkers, and a regularly featured What Should You Do Tonight? I myself have posted about working from home with kids (it’s…fine), what help small businesses need right now, and Quarantine, an anthem sung to the tune of Dolly Parton’s, Jolene. (This level of blogging productivity hasn’t been seen by me since 2014.)

In a brief interview, cofounder Kevin Nguyen had this to say about Indoor Voices:

We started Indoor Voices because we were nostalgic for classic days of blogging, and partly as an inside joke. Then we realized that the blogs we missed felt like an inside joke that a small community was in on. So far, we’ve been really thrilled with the creative, chaotic energy that people have been putting forward. It’s writing for writing’s sake, and we’ve enjoyed seeing just how diverse and funny and strange that’s been. Probably helps that we’re all slowly going stir crazy.

Note also, Kevin’s first novel, New Waves, is finally out. It’s my most anticipated read of the year, but don’t take my word for it. Almost every publication that writes about books regularly listed it as anticipated as well.

Coldplay’s Tiny Desk Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2020

Maybe I’m gonna get some guff for this, but I believe that Coldplay is an underrated band. Oh sure they’re popular, but they are also good, better than their reputation suggests. Brian Eno doesn’t work with just anyone after all. Their recent Tiny Desk Concert at NPR bears this out. Backed by a fantastic nine-person choir (who previously performed with the band at a prison-reform benefit), Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and guitarist Jonny Buckland joyously perform a few of their songs (like Viva La Vida and Champion Of The World) as well as a rousing cover of Prince’s 1999.

How to Shop Safely in a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

Note: Please check the updates below for some important corrections to some of the information in this video.

From Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen MD, a video on how to ensure that your grocery shopping experience is as safe as possible and to avoid potential COVID-19 infection from plastic and metal surfaces. I’m going to be honest with you: a lot of this seems like overkill (as it should — see the Paradox of Preparation). However, this is also pretty much what I’ve been doing after grocery shopping for the past 2 weeks because I am a fastidious motherfucker1 with plenty of time to wipe down groceries. If it comes down to a choice between watching 7 more minutes of The Mandalorian or wiping down my groceries before putting them in the fridge, I’m gonna wipe them groceries. Baby Yoda can wait.

See also this PDF from Crumpton Group about how to keep your household free of the outside effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Household members should understand that their principal effort should be directed towards isolating the inside of the home from the pandemic effects outside. All physical thresholds of the home will serve as a cordon sanitaire. Strive to decontaminate everyone and everything to the best practical degree before entering.

Many of Dr. VanWingen’s recommendations mirror those in the PDF. See also expert guidance on COVID-19 and food safety. (thx, meg)

Update: I have not had a chance to read it yet (was attending to some other things this evening — family, trying to have some normalcy), but I’ve been told that this thread is a good response to the video above. I’ll have a closer look at it tomorrow.

Update: Ok, I’ve read Don Schaffner’s thread criticizing this video. At least I think this is the video he’s referring to because he never says it outright — which I’ll get to in a minute. (Schaffner is a professor in the food science department at Rutgers who I linked to the other day in my post on COVID-19 and food safety.) As he notes, there are a couple of factual errors and VanWingen does offer some dubious advice, particularly about washing food with soap (which I didn’t take seriously). I do not believe, however, that VanWingen was suggesting that people leave frozen items and perishables in a warm garage for 3 days and that the normal rules of food safety are somehow countermanded by potential coronavirus contamination. If you want to leave that box of Cheerios that you don’t need in the car for 3 days, go right ahead. He definitely should have been clearer on that point though.

But the bulk of VanWingen’s video was about how to handle your groceries and takeout food coming into your house to minimize the chance of infection. (And as I mentioned, much of it mirrors the advice in this document and in Dr. Michael Lin’s document from a couple of weeks ago — this isn’t just his opinon or my opinion.) If we are to take seriously a) the assumption that anyone could have COVID-19 (including yourself & grocery workers) that we are operating under w/r/t to handwashing & keeping a 6-foot distance, b) the preliminary results that suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can last on some surfaces for days, and c) that person-to-surface-to-person transfer of SARS-CoV-2 might result in infection (i.e. the reason we are doing all this handwashing and face not-touching), then we should be disinfecting surfaces that other people have been touching recently. Right? We should assume that all surfaces are contaminated. This doesn’t seem outlandish, especially when grocery stores are restocking shelves continuously — that bag of chips that you put into your cart may have been placed on the shelf only 30 minutes before. How is disinfecting your Oreos package when you get home from the store a bad idea? Sure, wash your hands before you eat, but if you have kids, you know how futile that can be sometimes, especially when Oreos are involved. So why not just clean the package? Ditto with transferring takeout food to new containers and giving it a blast in the microwave to warm it up.

Schaffner’s stance is that most surfaces aren’t contaminated to a high degree, which is undoubtably true. Having watched the video & read Schaffner’s advice (and other advice by other experts), where your personal comfort level with making sure the surfaces you and your family come into contact to are disinfected is up to you. Ultimately, advice from experts is still advice and you have to figure out whether it works for you. It’s easy to believe you should wash your hands frequently because that’s universal advice. But “you should disinfect surfaces you touch” and “you don’t have to worry too much about disinfecting your grocery packages” are genuinely conflicting bits of advice from well-meaning experts! You’ve gotta use your noggin and make up your own mind, based on your personal idea of risk and safety. It’s gonna land differently with different people.

Finally, I’m going to get a little cranky here, but I found Schaffner’s overall tone in the first few tweets of that thread mocking, ungenerous, and unhelpful. Instead of gently offering alternative authoritative advice, he subtweeted (by refusing to link to the video and calling Dr. VanWingen not by his name but referring to him as “the video MD”) and made fun of VanWingen’s outfit. I know it must be frustrating to see what you perceive as misinformation out there, but we do not need Doctor vs Doctor battles here. Everyone’s just going to get defensive and dig their heels in. </cranky>

Update: From Joseph Allen of Harvard’s School of Public Health, Don’t panic about shopping, getting delivery or accepting packages.

Yes, the virus can be detected on some surfaces for up to a day, but the reality is that the levels drop off quickly. For example, the article shows that the virus’s half-life on stainless steel and plastic was 5.6 hours and 6.8 hours, respectively. (Half-life is how long it takes the viral concentration to decrease by half, then half of that half, and so on until it’s gone.)

And here’s how to take reasonable precautions when getting a package delivery or going to the grocery store:

You can leave that cardboard package at your door for a few hours - or bring it inside and leave it right inside your door, then wash your hands again. If you’re still concerned there was any virus on the package, you could wipe down the exterior with a disinfectant, or open it outdoors and put the packaging in the recycling can. (Then wash your hands again.)

What about going to the grocery store? The same approach applies.

Shop when you need to (keeping six feet from other customers) and load items into your cart or basket. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping, and wash them as soon as you’re home. Put away your groceries, and then wash your hands again. If you wait even a few hours before using anything you just purchased, most of the virus that was on any package will be significantly reduced. If you need to use something immediately, and want to take extra precautions, wipe the package down with a disinfectant. Last, wash all fruits and vegetables as you normally would.

Important caveat: the coronavirus half-life times are for room temperature. For colder temperatures (like in the fridge or especially the freezer), the virus will last longer. So maybe wipe down that bag of frozen peas even if you’re not going to use them for a couple of days.

  1. Hey, if you don’t know what you should be doing in a certain situation w/r/t to coronavirus, just ask your most detail-oriented friend. You know, the one who shows up to things on time and is usually a fussy pain in your ass. They’ll have a plan all ready to go and will be happy to share it with you because they’ve been waiting YEARS for some shit like this to happen. NOW IS OUR TIME TO SHINE!

Stream Ken Burns’ Baseball Documentary Series for Free on PBS

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

It would have been Opening Day for baseball here in the US. Since we’re without the actual thing due to COVID-19, Ken Burns asked PBS to allow people to stream his 18-hour documentary series on baseball from 1994 for free (US & Canada). Here’s part one:

(via open culture)

What To Do About Our Collective Pandemic Grief Before It Overwhelms Us

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

For That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, HBR’s Scott Berinato interviewed David Kessler, who he calls “the world’s foremost expert on grief”, about what we’re collectively feeling as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

HBR: People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?

Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

HBR: You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?

Kessler: Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

And what can we start to do about our grief?

Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

Kessler recently came out with a new book called Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.

I wrote a bit about grief a couple years back in this post How Do You Help a Grieving Friend?

One of the odd things about getting older (and hopefully wiser) is that you stop chuckling at cliches and start to acknowledge their deep truths. A recent example of this for me is “the only way out is through”. As Devine notes, in this video and her book It’s OK That You’re Not OK, there’s no shortcut for dealing with pain…you have to go through it to move past it.

See also a collection of resources for dealing with death compiled by Chrysanthe last year. (via laura olin)

Update: Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving by novelist R.O. Kwon:

Other people who couldn’t stay home were going to work every day — many without the option, the privilege, of doing otherwise — while here I was, home, and I couldn’t, of all things, write. Yes, there’s a pandemic, and yes, I felt by turns anxious, furious, and terrified, but it’s 2020 in America, and I’ve felt quite anxious, furious and terrified for a while. The inability to work, though, was new.

But then it occurred to me, as I ate another astringent chip, that this lassitude, the trouble focusing, the sleep difficulties, my exhaustion: Oh yes, I thought, I remember this. I was grieving. I was grieving in early March, I’m still grieving now, and chances are, you are, too.

(via @_chrysanthe)

Surreal Drone Tour of a Pandemic-Emptied San Francisco

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

This is a short drone tour of San Francisco with the shelter-in-place order in effect — it looks abandoned. Fisherman’s Wharf, downtown, Market Street, the Haight — I think I saw like 8 people total during the whole video. Heartening to see that people are taking shelter-in-place seriously.

Update: Walking through the empty streets of Rotterdam:

A similar amble through Amsterdam. Here’s NYC:

(via the morning news)

Update: And here’s Miami:

Can America Turn Our COVID-19 Failure into Some Sort of Success?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

From Ed Yong at the Atlantic, a great article on the current state of the pandemic in the United States, what will happen over the next few months, how it will end, and what the aftermath will be.

With little room to surge during a crisis, America’s health-care system operates on the assumption that unaffected states can help beleaguered ones in an emergency. That ethic works for localized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, but not for a pandemic that is now in all 50 states. Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper.

Partly, that’s because the White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

If you’ve been reading obsessively about the pandemic, there’s not a lot new in here, but Yong lays the whole situation out very clearly and succinctly (he easily could have gone twice as long). The section on potential after effects was especially interesting:

Pandemics can also catalyze social change. People, businesses, and institutions have been remarkably quick to adopt or call for practices that they might once have dragged their heels on, including working from home, conference-calling to accommodate people with disabilities, proper sick leave, and flexible child-care arrangements. “This is the first time in my lifetime that I’ve heard someone say, ‘Oh, if you’re sick, stay home,’” says Adia Benton, an anthropologist at Northwestern University. Perhaps the nation will learn that preparedness isn’t just about masks, vaccines, and tests, but also about fair labor policies and a stable and equal health-care system. Perhaps it will appreciate that health-care workers and public-health specialists compose America’s social immune system, and that this system has been suppressed.

Aspects of America’s identity may need rethinking after COVID-19. Many of the country’s values have seemed to work against it during the pandemic. Its individualism, exceptionalism, and tendency to equate doing whatever you want with an act of resistance meant that when it came time to save lives and stay indoors, some people flocked to bars and clubs. Having internalized years of anti-terrorism messaging following 9/11, Americans resolved to not live in fear. But SARS-CoV-2 has no interest in their terror, only their cells.

I really hope that Betteridge’s law is wrong about that headline I wrote.

Time Lapse of a Sunflower Growing from Seed to Flower

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

Starting from a seed, a sunflower plant grows, flowers…and then wilts. I’ve always thought these kinds of videos were wonderful, but given recent events, they are hitting with an extra poignance. Or maybe hope in a strange sort of way? I don’t know what one is supposed to be feeling about anything these days.

In this other sunflower time lapse, you can more clearly see the little seed helmets worn by the tiny plants soon after sprouting. Cute!

Ikea Instructions for COVID-19 Quarantine

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

Ikea Stay Home

Instructions for staying at home during the pandemic, courtesy of Ikea Israel. (thx, caroline)

Iconic Art & Design Reimagined for the Social Distancing Era

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

While it predates the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying social distancing by several years, José Manuel Ballester’s Concealed Spaces project reimagines iconic works of art without the people in them (like what’s happening to our public spaces right now). No one showed up for Leonardo’s Last Supper:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights is perhaps just as delightful without people:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

And Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus has been rescheduled:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Ben Greenman, Andy Baio, and Paco Conde & Roberto Fernandez have some suggestions for new album covers:

Corona Art Design Reimagined
Corona Art Design Reimagined
Corona Art Design Reimagined

Designer Jure Tovrljan redesigned some company logos for these coronavirus times.

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Coca-Cola even modified their own logo on a Times Square billboard to put some distance between the letters.

Corona Art Design Reimagined

(via colossal & fast company)

Update: Some emoji designed specifically for COVID-19. The Earth with the pause button is my favorite. (via sidebar)

Even Waffle House Is Closed for COVID-19

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

When America wants to know how bad things are in a crisis, they look not to the President or FEMA, they look to Waffle House.

The “Waffle House Index,” first coined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Director W. Craig Fugate, is based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm and indicates how prepared a business is in case of a natural disaster.

For example, if a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well prepared for disasters, Kouvelis said, it’s rare for the index to hit red. For example, the Joplin, Mo., Waffle House survived the tornado and remained open.

At last count (as of 10:42am on 3/25), 418 Waffle House restaurants across the country were closed, an unprecedented event. The remainder, from what I can gather from social media and news reports, are operating on a carry-out basis only. Kudos to them for doing the right thing in trying to keep their employees and patrons safe.

“What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

Today’s must-read is What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus by NY Times editor Jessica Lustig. If you’re on the fence about whether COVID-19 is worth all this fuss, Lustig’s account of caring for her gravely ill husband in a Brooklyn apartment while trying to keep herself and their daughter from getting sick should help straighten out your thinking.

Now we live in a world in which I have planned with his doctor which emergency room we should head to if T suddenly gets worse, a world in which I am suddenly afraid we won’t have enough of the few things tempering the raging fever and soaking sweats and severe aches wracking him — the Advil and Tylenol that the doctors advise us to layer, one after the other, and that I scroll through websites searching for, seeing “out of stock” again and again. We are living inside the news stories of testing, quarantine, shortages and the disease’s progression. A friend scours the nearby stores and drops off a bunch of bodega packets of Tylenol. Another finds a bottle at a more remote pharmacy and drops it off, a golden prize I treasure against the feverish nights to come.

His doctor calls three days later to say the test is positive. I find T lying on his side, reading an article about the surge in confirmed cases in New York State. He is reading stories of people being hospitalized, people being put on ventilators to breathe, people dying, sick with the same virus that is attacking him from the inside now.

This is a rough read, no doubt about it. I started crying at the part about his father’s sweater.

The Girl with a Schmeared Earring

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2020

Girl with the Schmeared Earring

From Joseph Lee, a super abstract rendition of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Another one for my collection of GPE remixes.

Previously from kottke.org on Joseph Lee’s work: Ultra-Impressionistic Portraits Made with Just a Few Thick Strokes of Paint.

Virtual Travel Photography in the Age of Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2020

Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy

Times Square in NYC

Huntington Beach, FL

Bourbon Street in New Orleans

Using live feed webcams, Noah Kalina is “travelling” around the world photographing places. From top to bottom, Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, Times Square in NYC, Huntington Beach, CA, and Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Here’s St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City from just a few minutes ago — it’s completely deserted.

Stream Helvetica & Other Design Documentaries for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Thinking that some people might need high quality entertainment while shut inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, filmmaker Gary Hustwit is streaming his films online for free, one film per week. First up (from Mar 17-24) is Helvetica, his documentary on typography and graphic design. Here’s the trailer:

Click through to watch the whole film. (via daring fireball)

Recently Discovered Comet Might Put On a Show

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Back in late December, a new comet called Comet ATLAS (or C/2019 Y4) was discovered by a robotic astronomical survey on the lookout for objects that may strike the Earth. Don’t worry, Comet ATLAS isn’t going to hit us, but it has a chance to put on quite a show.1 It didn’t seem like much at first, but since its discovery Comet ATLAS has gotten brighter much faster than scientists have expected.

When astronomers first spotted Comet ATLAS in December, it was in Ursa Major and was an exceedingly faint object, close to 20th magnitude. That’s about 398,000 times dimmer than stars that are on the threshold of naked-eye visibility. At the time, it was 273 million miles (439 million kilometers) from the sun.

But comets typically brighten as they approach the sun, and at its closest, on May 31, Comet ATLAS will be just 23.5 million miles (37.8 million km) from the sun. Such a prodigious change in solar distance would typically cause a comet to increase in luminosity by almost 11 magnitudes, enough to make ATLAS easily visible in a small telescope or a pair of good binoculars, although quite frankly nothing really to write home about.

Except, since its discovery, the comet has been brightening at an almost unprecedented speed. As of March 17, ATLAS was already magnitude +8.5, over 600 times brighter than forecast. As a result, great expectations are buzzing for this icy lump of cosmic detritus, with hopes it could become a stupendously bright object by the end of May.

But the brightening could also be a sign that the comet is ejecting a lot of material because it’s burning itself out, so grain of salt. But if keeps brightening at a good pace, it could be visible during the day in the northern hemisphere.

If Atlas manages to remain intact, some in the field have suggested it could grow from magnitude +1 to possibly -5. At the brightest extreme, it could be visible even during the day.

The location of the comet is also notable-unlike more recent comets, it will be best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere.

Chuck Ayoub recently captured the comet arcing across the night sky with his backyard astrophotography rig:

Oh I hope Comet ATLAS can keep it together. I vividly remember going outside in rural Wisconsin darkness to see the tail of Comet Hyakutake stretch halfway across the sky. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.

Update: It looks as though Comet ATLAS will not be dazzling naked-eye observers later this spring — the comet seems to have broken into 3 or 4 pieces as it nears the Sun.

Comet Atlas Broken

  1. Although I guess Comet ATLAS is good news if you’re looking for signs of the apocalypse too. Pandemic: check. Bright new light in the sky: check.

COVID-19 and Food Safety

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Like many of you, I’ve been wondering about COVID-19 & food safety. Is it safe to eat takeout prepared by your local restaurant? To answer that and many other questions, Kenji Lopez-Alt has compiled a comprehensive guide to food safety and coronavirus for Serious Eats. Kenji is the most fastidious and exacting food person I know — how could you think otherwise after having read The Food Lab? — so I take his thoughts and research on this very seriously.

Even so, plenty of folks — myself included — have been confused or curious about the safety of allowing restaurants to continue preparing and serving food. Is it actually safe? Should I reheat the food when I get it home? Is it better to support local businesses by ordering food, or am I only putting workers and delivery people at risk? And if I’m cooking my own food, what guidelines should I follow?

To answer these questions, I referenced dozens of articles and scientific reports and enlisted the help of Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist from the North Carolina State University and cohost of Risky or Not and Food Safety Talk.

Let’s get right to the nitty gritty:

Q: Can I get COVID-19 from touching or eating contaminated food?

According to multiple health and safety organizations worldwide, including the CDC, the USDA, and the European Food Safety Authority, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 has spread through food or food packaging. Previous coronavirus epidemics likewise showed no evidence of having been spread through food or packaging.

Be sure to read on for answers to questions like “Are we going to run out of food?” and “Am I more likely to get COVID-19 from take-out, delivery, or cooking at home?”

The FDA has a coronavirus safety page on their website as well.

Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.

In a piece from March 14, Amanda Mull talked with epidemiologist Stephen Morse from Columbia University about food safety:

Even if the person preparing it is sick, he told me via email, “cooked foods are unlikely to be a concern unless they get contaminated after cooking.” He granted that “a salad, if someone sneezes on it, might possibly be some risk,” but as long as the food is handled properly, he said, “there should be very little risk.”

And Don Schaffner, a professor in the food science department at Rutgers, has been posting information on food safety & COVID-19 on Twitter.

Even if a sick worker sneezed on my food (I know that’s gross), my risk of contracting COVID-19 from it are very low.

First it’s important to realize that this is a respiratory illness as far as we know. The biggest risk is being around sick people who are shedding the virus when they sneeze or cough.

Even if the virus did get onto food, we’re going to put that food in our mouth and swallow it so the virus will end up in our stomach. Our stomachs have a low pH which would likely in activate the virus.

Some Programming Notes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Hey folks, just wanted to check in on a few things this morning. I hope you are staying healthy and kind.

1. I spent some time this weekend on the Quick Links infrastructure. (Quick Links are posted to the @kottke Twitter acct and displayed on the front page of the site, right under the most recent post.) There is now a public archive of the Quick Links available here. (If you’re a kottke.org member, you’ve had access to this for months now.) I also started periodically pushing the Quick Links into kottke.org’s RSS feed (yes, ppl still use RSS…at least tens of thousands of them by my count).

2. After a hiatus, I have restarted kottke.org’s newsletter. It was previously a weekly affair, but due to quick moving pandemic news and information, I’m now trying to publish a couple times a week at least. Click here to subscribe.

3. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve noticed that about two weeks ago, I abruptly switched to covering the COVID-19 pandemic almost exclusively. Aside from 9/11, kottke.org has never been focused on a single topic like this, but I believed it was important to get the word out about how infectious diseases spread and how seriously we should be taking this. (VERY SERIOUSLY.) I still believe that. But the site will likely start wandering back towards other topics this week, at least a little bit. This crisis is hitting all of us in many different ways — some are sick, some are bored, some are terrified, some are out there on the front lines saving lives. I hope it’s possible to keep all of those folks (and their different realities & needs) in our minds & hearts while still finding moments of connection to other kinds of human interests and obsessions.

Thanks for reading.

Some People

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2020

Some people feel helpless & anxious.

Some people are bored.

Some people are self-quarantined alone and are lonely.

Some people are realizing that After will be very different from Before.

Some people are really enjoying this extra time with their kids and will miss it when it’s over.

Some people just got off their 12th double shift in a row at the hospital and can’t hug their family.

Some people visited their favorite restaurant for the last time and didn’t realize it.

Some people have died from COVID-19.

Some people can’t stop reading the news.

Some people cannot afford soap.

Some people are learning how to bake bread.

Some people are working from home while simultaneously trying to homeschool their kids.

Some people are single parents trying to work from home while simultaneously trying to homeschool their kids.

Some people are living paycheck to paycheck and the next one will not arrive.

Some people are unfit to be President.

Some people left the city for their home in the country.

Some people can’t go to the grocery store because they’re at risk.

Some people lost their jobs.

Some people can’t sleep.

Some people are watching free opera online.

Some people have been quarantined for weeks.

Some people can’t work remotely.

Some people have contracted COVID-19 and don’t know it yet.

Some people can’t concentrate on their work because of anxiety.

Some people can’t afford their rent next month.

Some people are still gathering in large groups.

Some people are keeping the rest of us alive at significant personal risk.

Some people didn’t buy enough hand sanitizer.

Some people bought too much hand sanitizer.

Some people are missing their therapist.

Some people can’t go to work but are still being paid by their employers. For now.

Some people are mainly concerned about what to watch next on Netflix.

Some people are volunteering.

Some people are going to lose their business.

Some people are realizing that teachers are amazing.

Some people are ordering takeout from local restaurants.

Some people would really just like a hug.

Some people can’t convince their elderly parents to take this seriously.

Some people are worried about their 401K.

Some people have never had a 401K.

Some people will face increased abuse at home.

Some people are going to get sick or injured and will have a harder time getting medical care.

Some people can’t buy the food they need because the WIC-eligible stuff is sold out.

Some people won’t stop partying.

Some people lost their childcare.

Some people are doing everything they can to remain calm and hopeful and it’s not working.

Some people are watching Outbreak & Contagion and playing Pandemic.

Some people don’t know what they’re going to do.

Some people are overwhelmed with advice on how to work from home.

Some people are drinking or eating too much.

Some people are thinking about after.

Some people are upset because they can’t travel.

Some people are horny.

Some people are planning for a larger garden this year.

Some people won’t see their families for months.

Some people are logging off to stay grounded.

Some people can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Some people will realize they need to split with their partner.

Some people are singing Imagine.

Some people aren’t on this list.

These are all based on the experiences of real people drawn from news stories, social media, and friends. Take heart: you are not the only person experiencing what you are going through. But be mindful: not everyone is having the same experience you are. Ultimately though, we are all in this together.

Picking Up Glowing Hot Space Shuttle Tiles with Bare Hands

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2020

Space Shuttle thermal tiles conduct heat so poorly that after being in a 2200 °F oven for hours, you can pick them up with your bare hands only seconds after they come out, still glowing hot.

Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2020

On March 10, Tomas Pueyo published a widely read and praised article called Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now. Yesterday, in the wake of the Imperial College paper and the criticism of it, Pueyo has published a second article: Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. I urge you to read it — it’s sobering yet hopeful. A summary:

Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.

As the title indicates, Pueyo and his collaborators are suggesting an approach that combines initial aggressive action followed by a longer period of efficient vigilance. First comes the Hammer — we use aggressive measures for weeks, giving our healthcare system time to ramp up & scientists time to research the hell out of this thing and for the world’s testing capability to get up to speed.

And then we Dance.

If you hammer the coronavirus, within a few weeks you’ve controlled it and you’re in much better shape to address it. Now comes the longer-term effort to keep this virus contained until there’s a vaccine.

This is probably the single biggest, most important mistake people make when thinking about this stage: they think it will keep them home for months. This is not the case at all. In fact, it is likely that our lives will go back to close to normal.

But, here’s how the Dance works:

How come South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan have had cases for a long time, in the case of South Korea thousands of them, and yet they’re not locked down home?

In this video, the South Korea Foreign Minister explains how her country did it. It was pretty simple: efficient testing, efficient tracing, travel bans, efficient isolating and efficient quarantining.

That way, most people aren’t locked down, just those who need to be — the sick, the people who have been with those who have gotten sick, etc. Most people can go back to work, back to fairly normal routines.

I call the months-long period between the Hammer and a vaccine the Dance because it won’t be a period during which measures are always the same harsh ones. Some regions will see outbreaks again, others won’t for long periods of time. Depending on how cases evolve, we will need to tighten up social distancing measures or we will be able to release them. That is the dance of R: a dance of measures between getting our lives back on track and spreading the disease, one of economy vs. healthcare.

This piece in the Atlantic, This Is How We Can Beat the Coronavirus by Aaron E. Carroll & Ashish Jha, advocates for essentially the same approach.

We can create a third path. We can decide to meet this challenge head on. It is absolutely within our capacity to do so. We could develop tests that are fast, reliable, and ubiquitous. If we screen everyone, and do so regularly, we can let most people return to a more normal life. We can reopen schools and places where people gather. If we can be assured that the people who congregate aren’t infectious, they can socialize.

We can build health-care facilities that do rapid screening and care for people who are infected, apart from those who are not. This will prevent transmission from one sick person to another in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. We can even commit to housing infected people apart from their healthy family members, to prevent transmission in households.

An Epidemic Graphing Calculator

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2020

Epidemic Calculator

By manipulating values like R0, incubation time, and hospitalization rate with this this epidemic graphing calculator, you really get a sense of how effective early intervention and aggressive measures can be in curbing infection & saving lives in an exponential crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Kid-Friendly Explanation of How Hand Washing with Soap Clobbers Coronavirus

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2020

I don’t know if they specifically had this in mind when making it, but this video from Vox about the importance of hand washing with soap to kill coronavirus is very kid-friendly. From my pals at the excellent The Kid Should See This

Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. This is the very best way to kill viruses like coronavirus. But why? What’s happening on our hands when we use soap and water? And why do we have to wash with soap for 20 seconds? Why not ten?

The glow-in-the-dark explanation of the 20-second rule was extremely convincing.

See also How to Wash Your Hands Properly and Washing Your Hands Is Important Because Soap “Absolutely Annihilates” Coronavirus. (via tksst)

Update: Mark Rober did an experiment with a powder that glows under UV and can be transferred from surface to surface (or hand to surface). You can see the germs spreading from person to person and all over that classroom. Yikes.

An Explanation of How Coronavirus Damages Your Body

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2020

This morning Kurzgesagt released their video about COVID-19 that they’ve been working on for a week, and it is excellent, particularly the first part where they explain exactly what the SARS-CoV-2 virus does to a human body and why it can be so dangerous. I hadn’t heard that described before, especially in such relatively simple terms.

The virus has not caused too much damage yet, but corona is now going to release a real beast on you: your own immune system. The immune system, while there to protect you, can actually be pretty dangerous to yourself and needs tight regulation. And as immune cells pour into the lungs to fight the virus, corona infects some of them and creates confusion. Cells have neither ears nor eyes — they communicate mostly via tiny information proteins called cytokines — nearly every important immune reaction is controlled by them. Corona causes infected immune cells to overreact and yell bloody murder. In a sense, it puts the immune system into a fighting frenzy and sends way more soldiers than it should, wasting its resources and causing damage.

Kurzgesagt always provides a list of scientific sources used to produce their videos, and the one for this video is particularly extensive and they are going to keep it updated.

Update: For more information on the coronavirus itself, SARS-CoV-2, see Ed Yong’s piece in the Atlantic and How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It) from New York magazine.

Modifying Hospital Ventilators to Work with Multiple Patients

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2020

One of the key shortages in areas overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients (like Italy) is ventilators in hospitals. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and respirators are essential in treating patients with acute symptoms. In the US and other countries, experts are warning of ventilator shortages and manufacturers say it will be difficult to ramp up production quickly enough to meet demand. So healthcare providers are looking for other solutions.

One potential solution is modifying ventilators to work for more than one person at a time. Based on feasibility research published in 2006, the simple technique uses inexpensive parts that hospitals already have on hand to modify machines to work with 4 patients at a time (with important caveats). One of the authors of that research paper, Dr. Charlene Babcock, explains how to hack the ventilators in this video:

Some notes from the video:

In closing, Babcock says:

Now here’s my disclaimer. This is off-label use of the ventilator. The ventilator is made for one person and I’m using it here in a simulation of four patients. I always hope that you would never need to use it in this way, but you can never predict what’s going to happen in a disaster. And if it was me and I had four patients and they all needed intubation and I only had one ventilator, I would simply have a shared discussion meeting with all four families and say “I could pick one to live or we could try to have all four live”. But this is clearly off-label and likely would only be used in dire circumstance, which we may see with COVID-19.

Other people are working on designing and deploying open source ventilators and ventilators made from parts of other machines. All this reminds me of that scene in Apollo 13 where NASA engineers design a modified CO2 scrubber using only parts available on the spacecraft. A similar “failure is not an option” spirit might be called for in this case as well.

Spirits Distilleries Around the US Now Producing Hand Sanitizer

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2020

Barr Hill Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer, a necessary tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, has been difficult to come by in stores the past few weeks (or months, depending on your location). Last night, I read in a local email newsletter here in Vermont that Mad River Distillers is producing hand sanitizer and giving it away for free to local residents. They’ve set up two pick-up stations for today — it’s BYOB and limited to 6oz per person. Earlier this week, workers at Barr Hill’s closed distillery made hand sanitizer and distributed it to local food shelves. Green Mountain Distillers and Smuggler’s Notch Distillery have also begun producing hand sanitizer.

These Vermont companies join dozens of other distilleries around the country (and world) that have started using high proof alcohol to produce hand sanitizer that meets the CDC’s recommendation of 60% ethanol needed to inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19: Texas, Alabama, Florida, Connecticut, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oregon, and many more. From Bloomberg:

Basic recipes include aloe vera for moisturizing; distilleries will also add the botanicals or flavorings from their signature spirits as a twist. Portland, Ore.-based Shine Distillery & Grill isn’t treating its formula like a trade secret. “I have fielded some calls from Seattle and suggested they contact their local distilleries to tell them what we are doing,” says general manager Ryan Ruelos. “Because any distillery can do it.”

The one thing they cannot do, though, is sell their sanitizers: Sales of distilled spirits are strictly regulated by the government and could jeopardize business licenses. Instead, distilleries are giving them away to customers who come through their doors. In some cases, such as at Psychopomp Microdistillery in Bristol, England, donations from customers who take the sanitizer are being given to charity.

Around the world, alcohol is often used in toasts that relate to health: the Irish “sláinte” (health), the Mexican Spanish “salud” (to health), the Russian “vashe zdorov’ye” (to your health), the Persian “be salamati” (good health), and the Hindi “achchee sehat” (good health). These distillery-produced hand sanitizers are a toast of health from them to us, and I am very grateful for it.

Visualizing the History of Pandemics

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2020

Visualize Pandemics

From Nicholas LePan, Visualizing the History of Pandemics.

The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century, in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Cautious port authorities required ships arriving in Venice from infected ports to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing — the origin of the word quarantine from the Italian “quaranta giorni”, or 40 days.

One of the first instances of relying on geography and statistical analysis was in mid-19th century London, during a cholera outbreak. In 1854, Dr. John Snow came to the conclusion that cholera was spreading via tainted water and decided to display neighborhood mortality data directly on a map. This method revealed a cluster of cases around a specific pump from which people were drawing their water from.

While the interactions created through trade and urban life play a pivotal role, it is also the virulent nature of particular diseases that indicate the trajectory of a pandemic.

One of my big takeaways from the Tracking Infectiousness section of the piece is: holy shit, look at how contagious measles is! An R0 of 16! (The common flu is about 1.5 and ebola is 2.0.) And people want to keep their children from getting vaccinated for this?!

Fox News Moves Closer to the Truth as COVID-19 Crisis Deepens

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2020

The Washington Post made this short video that shows how Fox News personalities were talking about the COVID-19 pandemic a week or two ago — it’s a Democrat hoax!! — compared to their more recent coverage that aligns closer with the truth.

For weeks, some of Fox News’s most popular hosts downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, characterizing it as a conspiracy by media organizations and Democrats to undermine President Trump.

Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham accused the news media of whipping up “mass hysteria” and being “panic pushers.” Fox Business host Trish Regan called the alleged media-Democratic alliance “yet another attempt to impeach the president.”

It has never been more plain that Fox News is not journalism but conservative propaganda. They, along with Trump, some conservative members of Congress, and conservative talk radio, were just straight up lying, misleading the public, and peddling conspiracy theories until it became overwhelmingly clear that this is a serious situation, as experts had been saying for weeks. The video shows completely contradictory statements made by the same people days apart; as Andrew Kaczynski says, “what a damning indictment”. I’ll go further than that: Fox News endangered the lives of Americans with their false and misleading coverage. People will suffer and die unnecessarily because of it.

I’d urge you to show this to your red state relatives and ask them to defend Fox News as journalism, but I don’t think it will actually do any good. The whole point of propaganda is to deprive people of, as Hannah Arendt puts it, the “capacity to think and to judge”.

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie-a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days-but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

Caremongering

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2020

Canada caremongering

In Canada, “caremongering” groups are being organized to connect helpers with those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first “caremongering” group was set up by Mita Hans with the help of Valentina Harper and others. Valentina explained the meaning behind the name.

“Scaremongering is a big problem,” she tells the BBC. “We wanted to switch that around and get people to connect on a positive level, to connect with each other.

“It’s spread the opposite of panic in people, brought out community and camaraderie, and allowed us to tackle the needs of those who are at-risk all the time — now more than ever.”

During times of crisis, Mister Rogers urged children to “look for the helpers”. As adults, we need to step up and be those helpers, even though many of us are self-quarantined at home. (via jodi)

Free stock photo of hockey player on phone courtesy of Canada’s Internet Registration Authority.

We May Be In This for the Long Haul…

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2020

Note: I feel the need to add a disclaimer to this post. This was a really hard thing to read for me and it might be for you too. It is a single paper from a scientific team dedicated to the study of infectious diseases — it has not been peer reviewed, the available data is changing every day (for things like death rates, transmission rates, and potential immunity), and there might be differing opinions & assumptions by other infectious disease experts that would result in a different analysis. Even so, this seems like a possibility to take seriously and I hope I’m being responsible in sharing it.

This is an excellent but extremely sobering read: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand, a 20-page paper by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team (and a few other organizations, including the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling).

The paper is technical in nature but mostly written in plain English so it’s pretty readable, but here is an article that summarizes the paper. It discusses the two main strategies for dealing with this epidemic (mitigation & suppression), the strengths and weaknesses of each one, and how they both may be necessary in some measure to best address the crisis. For instance, here’s a graph showing the effects of three different suppression scenarios for the US compared to critical care bed capacity:

Suppression Graph US

Two fundamental strategies are possible: (a) mitigation, which focuses on slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread — reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection, and (b) suppression, which aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely. Each policy has major challenges. We find that that optimal mitigation policies (combining home isolation of suspect cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspect cases, and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of severe disease) might reduce peak healthcare demand by 2/3 and deaths by half. However, the resulting mitigated epidemic would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over. For countries able to achieve it, this leaves suppression as the preferred policy option.

We show that in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members. This may need to be supplemented by school and university closures, though it should be recognised that such closures may have negative impacts on health systems due to increased absenteeism. The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package — or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission — will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) — given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed. We show that intermittent social distancing — triggered by trends in disease surveillance — may allow interventions to be relaxed temporarily in relative short time windows, but measures will need to be reintroduced if or when case numbers rebound. Last, while experience in China and now South Korea show that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced.

If you missed the scale on the graph (it extends until March 2021) and the bit in there about closures, quarantine, and self-distancing measures needing to remain in place for months and months, the authors repeat that assertion throughout the paper. From the discussion section of the paper:

Overall, our results suggest that population-wide social distancing applied to the population as a whole would have the largest impact; and in combination with other interventions — notably home isolation of cases and school and university closure — has the potential to suppress transmission below the threshold of R=1 required to rapidly reduce case incidence. A minimum policy for effective suppression is therefore population-wide social distancing combined with home isolation of cases and school and university closure.

To avoid a rebound in transmission, these policies will need to be maintained until large stocks of vaccine are available to immunise the population — which could be 18 months or more. Adaptive hospital surveillance-based triggers for switching on and off population-wide social distancing and school closure offer greater robustness to uncertainty than fixed duration interventions and can be adapted for regional use (e.g. at the state level in the US). Given local epidemics are not perfectly synchronised, local policies are also more efficient and can achieve comparable levels of suppression to national policies while being in force for a slightly smaller proportion of the time. However, we estimate that for a national GB policy, social distancing would need to be in force for at least 2/3 of the time (for R0=2.4, see Table 4) until a vaccine was available.

I absolutely do not want to seem alarmist here, but if this analysis is anywhere close to being in the ballpark, it seems at least feasible that this whole thing is going to last far longer than the few weeks that people are thinking about. The concluding sentence:

However, we emphasise that is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear.

The paper is available in several languages here.

Update: Here is a short review of the Imperial College paper by Chen Shen, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and Yaneer Bar-Yam. The important bit:

However, they make structural mistakes in analyzing outbreak response. They ignore standard Contact Tracing [2] allowing isolation of infected prior to symptoms. They also ignore door-to-door monitoring to identify cases with symptoms [3]. Their conclusions that there will be resurgent outbreaks are wrong. After a few weeks of lockdown almost all infectious people are identified and their contacts are isolated prior to symptoms and cannot infect others [4]. The outbreak can be stopped completely with no resurgence as in China, where new cases were down to one yesterday, after excluding imported international travelers that are quarantined.

If I understand this correctly, Shen et al. are saying that some tactics not taken into account by the Imperial College analysis could be hyper-effective in containing the spread of COVID-19. The big if, particularly in countries like the US and Britain that are acting like failing states is if those measures can be implemented on the scale required. (thx, ryan)

Update: The lead author of the Imperial College paper, Neil Ferguson, has likely contracted COVID-19. From his Twitter acct:

Sigh. Developed a slight dry but persistent cough yesterday and self isolated even though I felt fine. Then developed high fever at 4am today.

Ferguson says he’s still at his desk, working away.

Update: The pair of articles I linked to in this post are excellent and you should read them after reading the Imperial College paper.

Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.

Moral Choices in an Overwhelming Emergency

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2020

This is from a few days ago, but because the United States is a couple of weeks behind Italy in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, what was happening there then might still be in our future if we don’t take (seemingly unreasonable but actually entirely reasonable) precautions. From Yascha Mounk’s The Extraordinary Decisions Facing Italian Doctors:

The authors, who are medical doctors, then deduce a set of concrete recommendations for how to manage these impossible choices, including this: “It may become necessary to establish an age limit for access to intensive care.”

Those who are too old to have a high likelihood of recovery, or who have too low a number of “life-years” left even if they should survive, would be left to die. This sounds cruel, but the alternative, the document argues, is no better. “In case of a total saturation of resources, maintaining the criterion of ‘first come, first served’ would amount to a decision to exclude late-arriving patients from access to intensive care.”

In addition to age, doctors and nurses are also advised to take a patient’s overall state of health into account: “The presence of comorbidities needs to be carefully evaluated.” This is in part because early studies of the virus seem to suggest that patients with serious preexisting health conditions are significantly more likely to die. But it is also because patients in a worse state of overall health could require a greater share of scarce resources to survive: “What might be a relatively short treatment course in healthier people could be longer and more resource-consuming in the case of older or more fragile patients.”

Mounk continues:

My academic training is in political and moral philosophy. I have spent countless hours in fancy seminar rooms discussing abstract moral dilemmas like the so-called trolley problem. If a train is barreling toward five innocent people who are tied to the tracks, and I could divert it by pulling the lever, but at the cost of killing an innocent bystander, should I do it?

Part of the point of all those discussions was, supposedly, to help professionals make difficult moral choices in real-world circumstances. If you are an overworked nurse battling a novel disease under the most desperate circumstances, and you simply cannot treat everyone, however hard you try, whose life should you save?

Despite those years of theory, I must admit that I have no moral judgment to make about the extraordinary document published by those brave Italian doctors. I have not the first clue whether they are recommending the right or the wrong thing.

I have been rewatching The Good Place with my kids (they love it), and all of the moral philosophy stuff underpinning the show has taken on a greater meaning over the last week or two.

The Power of the Individual in an Exponential Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2020

Over the past week or so, echoing public health officials & epidemiologists, I’ve been trying to illustrate the often counterintuitive concept of exponential growth that you see in an epidemic and how flattening the curve can help keep people healthy and alive. But I think people have a hard time grasping what that means, personally, to them. Like, what’s one person in the face of a pandemic?

Well, epidemiologist Britta Jewell had a similar thought and came up with this brilliantly simple graph, one of the best I’ve seen in illustrating the power of exponential growth and how we as individuals can affect change:

One Person Exponential

Jewell explains a bit more about what we’re looking at:

The graph illustrates the results of a thought experiment. It assumes constant 30 percent growth throughout the next month in an epidemic like the one in the U.S. right now, and compares the results of stopping one infection today — by actions such as shifting to online classes, canceling of large events and imposing travel restrictions — versus taking the same action one week from today.

The difference is stark. If you act today, you will have averted four times as many infections in the next month: roughly 2,400 averted infections, versus just 600 if you wait one week. That’s the power of averting just one infection, and obviously we would like to avert more than one.

So that’s 1800 infections averted from the actions of just one person. Assuming a somewhat conservative death rate of 1% for COVID-19, that’s 18 deaths averted. Think about that before you head out to the bar tonight or convene your book group as usual. Your actions have a lot of power in this moment; take care in how you wield it.

The Paradox of Preparation

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2020

Coronavirus, social distancing, exponential growth, flatten the curve, pandemic, immunocompromised — those are just some of the concepts related to COVID-19 we have had to come up to speed on over the last few weeks. We should add the “paradox of preparation” to that list.

The paradox of preparation refers to how preventative measures can intuitively seem like a waste of time both before and after the fact. Most of us don’t stop brushing our teeth because the dentist didn’t find any cavities at our most recent checkup, but with larger events that have effects more difficult to gauge (like COVID-19, climate change, and Y2K), it can be hard to spur people to action. From Chris Hayes:

A doctor I spoke to today called this the “paradox of preparation” and it’s the key dynamic in all this. The only way to get ahead of the curve is to take actions that *at the time* seem like overreactions, eg: Japan closing all schools for a month with very few confirmed cases.

That was in response to Dr. James Hamblin:

The thing is if shutdowns and social distancing work perfectly and are extremely effective it will seem in retrospect like they were totally unnecessary overreactions.

Epidemiologist Mari Armstrong-Hough made a similar point earlier on Twitter:

You won’t ever know if what you did personally helped. That’s the nature of public health. When the best way to save lives is to prevent a disease rather than treat it, success often looks like an overreaction.

Preparation, prevention, regulations, and safeguards prevent catastrophes all the time, but we seldom think or hear about it because “world continues to function” is not interesting news. We have to rely on statistical analysis and the expert opinions of planners and officials in order to evaluate both crucial next steps and the effectiveness of preparatory measures after the fact, and that can be challenging for us to pay attention to. So we tend to forget that preparation & prevention is necessary and discount it the next time around.

The good news is that while unchecked epidemics grow exponentially, another thing that can also spreads exponentially is behavioral norms. The basic expert advice on how we can slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities is pretty unambiguous — wash your hands, don’t touch your face, maintain social distance, self-quarantine, etc. — and so is the huge potential impact of those precautions on the number of people who will get infected and die. To help overcome the paradox of preparation, let’s continue to spread the word about what the experts are urging us to do. Because if we don’t, there might be a lot fewer of us around in a month or two.

Update: In the same vein, Vaughn Tan writes:

This means that any effective actions taken against coronavirus in the few days before the epidemic curve shoots upward in any country will always look unreasonable and disproportionate.

By the time those actions look reasonable and appropriate, they will be too late.

And Now Is the Time to Overreact Ian Bogost in the Atlantic:

The idea that an extreme reaction, such as closing schools and canceling events, might prove to be an overreaction that would look silly or wasteful later outweighs any other concern. It can also feel imprudent; just staying home isn’t so easy for workers who depend on weekly paychecks, and closing is a hard decision for local companies running on thin margins. But experts are saying that Americans can’t really over-prepare right now. Overreaction is good!

It’s hard to square that directive with the associations we’ve built up around overreactions. Ultimately, overreaction is a matter of knowledge-an epistemological problem. Unlike viruses or even zombies, the concept lives inside your skull rather than out in the world. The sooner we can understand how that knowledge works, and retool our action in relation to its limits, the better we’ll be able to handle the unfolding crisis.

Michael Specter writing about America’s weakened public-health system for the New Yorker:

Few people have trouble understanding the purpose of public education or public housing: they are tangible programs that, at least in theory, are designed to improve our lives. Public-health accomplishments, however, are measured in an entirely different way: success is defined by what is prevented, not by what is produced. This creates an odd psychological dynamic.

When public-health programs are successful, they are invisible, and what is invisible is almost always taken for granted. Nobody cheers when they remain untouched by a disease that they hardly knew existed. That makes it easy for shortsighted politicians to deny long-term realities. And that is what they almost always do.

Excellent Presentation on the Latest COVID-19 Research, Hygiene Tips, and Treatment Options

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2020

From Stanford professor of neurobiology and bioengineering Michael Lin, this is an excellent 31-page PDF presentation (Slideshare) on what we know about COVID-19 so far and how to deal with it, with extensive references to the latest research (as of 3/15). I’m going to include a few of the most interesting and important slides right here, but do read the whole thing — it is very informative.

Michael Lin Covid

Michael Lin Covid

Michael Lin Covid

Michael Lin Covid

Michael Lin Covid

Michael Lin Covid

Michael Lin Covid

And here are a few other quotes I pulled out:

Compare to Spanish flu of 1917-1918: Cumulative infection rate 27%, IFR 2%. Spanish flu might have higher IFR than COVID-19, but medical care was much worse then (no ventilators, no drugs). In reality COVID-19 is likely the more severe disease. In any case, Spanish flu was devastating.

Large meetings that bring people from around the country are obviously a big risk. Large numbers of people who might breath the same air and touch the same things (e.g. at Biogen meeting, attendants used the same serving utensils at a buffet, and 70 got infected)

If you are young, the worry is more about transmitting virus to older people than about yourself.

Death rates will lag infection rates by 3-4 weeks (2 weeks from diagnosis but that’s 1 week from infection time on average with current testing practices)

Read Lin’s entire presentation here.

Expert Advice and Harsh Truths About Social Distancing

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

Social distancing has been recommended by epidemiologists and public health officials as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19, flatten the curve, and save lives. Avoiding rock concerts and sporting events is easy, but what about going to the grocery store or visiting with a friend? The Atlantic’s Kaitlyn Tiffany talked to a number of public health experts about The Dos and Don’ts of ‘Social Distancing’.

Q: Should I be avoiding bars and restaurants?

Cannuscio: People should avoid gathering in public places. People should be at home as much as possible. The measures that have worked to get transmission under control or at least to bend the curve, in China and South Korea, have been extreme measures to increase social distancing.

Q: Should I stop visiting elderly relatives?

Cannuscio: I think if we are fortunate enough to live near our elders and we get into the mode of seriously isolating our own families, then one person should be designated to go and visit. If we’re not in a situation where we can truly limit our own social contact, then we will be putting that elder at risk by going to visit.

In my estimation, the answers that Carolyn Cannuscio, of Penn’s Center for Public Health Initiatives, gives are the ones to follow. Dr. Asaf Bitton’s advice is even stricter:

2. No kid playdates, parties, sleepovers, or families/friends visiting each other’s houses and apartments.

This sounds extreme because it is. We are trying to create distance between family units and between individuals. It may be particularly uncomfortable for families with small children, kids with differential abilities or challenges, and for kids who simply love to play with their friends. But even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent. The symptoms of coronavirus take four to five days to manifest themselves. Someone who comes over looking well can transmit the virus. Sharing food is particularly risky — I definitely do not recommend that people do so outside of their family.

They both rightly talk about how the early actions we take will end up having a big impact in limiting the damage. (Check out this video about epidemics & exponential growth if you haven’t already.) Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other places were able to nip the epidemic in the bud in part because of aggressive social distancing practices.

Celebrating 22 Years of Kottke.org

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

Hello all. I know there’s a pandemic going on out there, but I wanted to take a moment to celebrate kottke.org turning 22 years old today. If you’ve been reading along the entire time or for only a few days, it’s been an honor for me to inform, provoke, entertain, and possibly even infuriate you all for a few minutes every day. Thanks for reading — and an extra-special thanks to those who support the site with a membership. As I said a few weeks ago, all this really means a lot to me.

Italy Sings Together During Coronavirus Lockdown

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

People under quarantine lockdown in Italy due to the country’s COVID-19 outbreak have been singing and playing music out their windows and on their balconies to keep their spirits up while social distancing.

Here’s a Twitter thread with more videos from Salerno, Turin, Naples, Siena, Florence, etc.

No matter how much fear and panic and anxiety and negativity are on display during a crisis, it also brings out the best in people. Humans are social animals and we can’t help sharing with our neighbors, comforting one another, and coming together even when we’re physically apart.

Pandemic Advice from Wu Tang Clan

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

Wu Tang Covid-19

A message from Wu Tang Clan on Instagram about what to do about the COVID-19 pandemic. This is better guidance than we’re getting from the executive branch of our government. (via maria konnikova)

How to Wash Your Hands Properly

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2020

Most humans have been washing their hands since childhood, but I bet very few of us have been doing it correctly. Because of the effectiveness of hand-washing with soap in preventing the spread of COVID-19, the CDC and the WHO (and health professionals everywhere) both make it their top recommendation and provide guidance on how to do it properly: CDC hand-washing instructions, WHO hand-washing instructions.

Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

Here’s a video from the WHO on proper hand-washing technique (and a similar one from Johns Hopkins that has subtitles):

And a graphic from the WHO:

Wash Hands Instructions

And if you’re getting sick of singing Happy Birthday while washing your hands, a site called Wash Your Lyrics can help you make a hand-washing infographic with your favorite song’s lyrics.

Why Is the US So Behind in COVID-19 Testing?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2020

According to an ongoing investigation at The Atlantic, the US has tested only about 14,000 people for COVID-19 so far (a stat CDC data seems to confirm). 14,000 out of 330 million people. Olga Khazan writes about the four main reasons why the US is so behind in testing for the virus.

Interviews with laboratory directors and public-health experts reveal a Fyre-Festival-like cascade of problems that have led to a dearth of tests at a time when America desperately needs them. The issues began with onerous requirements for the labs that make the tests, continued because of arcane hurdles that prevented researchers from getting the right supplies, and extended to a White House that seemed to lack cohesion in the pandemic’s early days. Getting out lots of tests for a new disease is a major logistical and scientific challenge, but it can be pulled off with the help of highly efficient, effective government leadership. In this case, such leadership didn’t appear to exist.

Here’s another take on the problem from a few days ago in the NY Times.

The US has bungled the situation so badly that a pair of Chinese foundations announced this morning that they were donating 500,000 testing kits and 1 million masks to the US. Last month in my Asian travelogue, I wrote that my main observation after spending three weeks in Asia was: “America is a rich country that feels like a poor country”. That we have to rely on foreign aid in situations like this is a good example of what I was referring to.

Washing Your Hands Is Important Because Soap “Absolutely Annihilates” Coronavirus

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2020

The number one recommendation on the list of protective measures for COVID-19 from both WHO and the CDC is to regularly wash your hands. The CDC in particular recommends hand-washing over using hand sanitizer.

Wash Hands

Vox recently talked with chemistry professor Palli Thordarson about why washing with soap is so effective when dealing with coronaviruses.

The soap takes care of the virus much like it takes care of the oil in the water. “It’s almost like a crowbar; it starts to pull all the things apart,” Thordarson says.

One side of the soap molecule (the one that’s attracted to fat and repelled by water) buries its way into the virus’s fat and protein shell. Fortunately, the chemical bonds holding the virus together aren’t very strong, so this intrusion is enough to break the virus’s coat. “You pull the virus apart, you make it soluble in water, and it disintegrates,” he says.

Then the harmless shards of virus get flushed down the drain. (And even if it the soap doesn’t destroy every virus, you’ll still rid them from your hands with soap and water, as well as any grease they may be clinging to.)

And why do you need to wash for 20 seconds? Because that gives soap time to do its work.

First off, your skin is wrinkly, and it takes time for soap to penetrate into all the tiny folds and demolish the viruses that lurk within. Then the soap needs a few moments to do its chemical work. “You do need a bit of time for all the soap to interact back and forth with the virus particle,” he says. Twenty seconds should do the trick just fine.

See also Why Soap Works from the NY Times, which explains why soap & water is better than hand sanitizer in these cases:

On the whole, hand sanitizers are not as reliable as soap. Sanitizers with at least 60 percent ethanol do act similarly, defeating bacteria and viruses by destabilizing their lipid membranes. But they cannot easily remove microorganisms from the skin. There are also viruses that do not depend on lipid membranes to infect cells, as well as bacteria that protect their delicate membranes with sturdy shields of protein and sugar. Examples include bacteria that can cause meningitis, pneumonia, diarrhea and skin infections, as well as the hepatitis A virus, poliovirus, rhinoviruses and adenoviruses (frequent causes of the common cold).

Update: Thordarson also wrote an article for The Guardian on how effective soap is at killing coronavirus.

A Joyful Flash Mob Plays Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

This is an oldie but a goodie. Watch as a single busking bass player grows into the Vallès Symphony Orchestra and a pair of choirs to perform a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (Ode to Joy) in front of a delighted crowd. (via @victoriamia)

Recipe for Making Your Own Hand Sanitizer

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

Many stores have long since sold out of hand sanitizer in the US and washing your hands is a better move anyway, but if you’d like to have some sanitizer on hand for when you can’t get to a sink, the World Health Organization has you covered. The WHO recipe is for making 10-liter batchs, so Popular Science helpfully scaled it down to a more reasonable size:

1 cup 99% isopropyl alcohol
1 tablespoon 3% hydrogen peroxide
1 teaspoon 98% glycerin/glycerol
1/4 cup, 1 tablespoon, and 1 teaspoon sterile distilled or boiled cold water

To the alcohol, add the hydrogen peroxide & glycerin and stir or shake if you’re mixing in a container with a lid. Then add the water.

For COVID-19 prevention, the CDC recommends a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol; this recipe will end up being about 75% alcohol. The Popular Science piece also includes another recipe for a hand sanitizing gel that’s much closer to store-bought gels that involves mixing isopropyl alcohol, aloe vera gel, and tea tree oil. They also note that vodka does not contain enough alcohol to meet the CDC’s recommendation, especially when mixed with the other ingredients.

Surreal Video of a Soccer Match Played In an Empty Stadium

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

Yesterday I watched a bit of the Champions League match between PSG and Borussia Dortmund, played at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, which has a seating capacity of almost 48,000 under normal circumstances. But for yesterday’s game, the game was played in a completely empty stadium in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Without the chants, jeers, and cheers of the crowd, you can clearly hear the actual sounds of the game like the players talking to each other and the ball being kicked.

Here’s another video from a Borussia Monchengladbach & FC Koln match played under similar circumstances. This shot from just before kickoff really underscores just how huge and empty these stadiums are.

Surreal Soccer No Fans

I’m not sure how much the empty stadium hampered the potential spread of the virus though — PSG fans gathered in huge numbers outside Parc des Princes to cheer on their team during the match and celebrate the win afterwards.

The NBA was considering playing their games in front of empty stadiums, but then Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 (after touching all the microphones as a way to mock coronavirus fears — life comes at you fast!) and now the NBA has suspended its season for at least a month. MLB and the NHL have done likewise.

No Frills Branding

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

No Frills Branding

No Frills Branding

No Frills Branding

Designer Kunel Gaur, head of a creative agency called Animal, has redesigned the packaging for several familiar brands using minimal black & white graphics and unadorned typography. The designs don’t seem to be collected in one place, so you’ll have to poke around his Instagram to find them.

That LV bag actually looks like something Virgil Abloh would design — it would sell like hotcakes. Dye it millennial pink and you’ve got a freaking worldwide sensation. Fashion design is so easy!! (via moss & fog)

Why Do New Diseases Like COVID-19 Appear First in China?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

This video from Vox is a few days old but is still a good look at why diseases like SARS and COVID-19 originate in China. It involved the designation of wild animals as “natural resources” by the Chinese government, which caused a large increase in wildlife farming, with many more and different kinds of animals being put into contact with humans and each other on a regular basis. Add illegally trafficked animals into the mix, and you’ve got the right conditions for diseases to jump from the animals to humans. Then potentially infected animals and their meat, accompanied by potentially infected humans who raised those animals and butchered that meat, are then brought to the wet markets for sale to the public.

It’s important to note, as Christopher St. Cavish says in the LA Times, “most wet markets are not wildlife markets, and confusing the two is dangerous”:

“Wet” markets are what China calls its fresh food markets, the kind you see all over the developing world and in many parts of Europe, where small stalls sell fresh vegetables and butchers sell meat, primarily pork. They are the daily market for tens of millions of Chinese who prefer to talk to the people who sell them produce, meat, seafood and tofu, and in small cities, are often the only outlet for small-scale farmers who can’t meet the supplier requirements for supermarkets.

I couldn’t find any up-to-date information on which animal is suspected of passing the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 along to humans, but bats are a prime suspect with a possible pangolin intermediary. (via open culture)

Media Paywalls Dropped for COVID-19 Crisis Coverage

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2020

In recent years, many media outlets have joined publications like the WSJ and NY Times in erecting paywalls around their online offerings, giving visitors access to a few articles a month before asking them to pay for unlimited access. Due to the continuing worldwide COVID-19/coronavirus crisis and in order to make information about the pandemic more accessible to the public, several publications have dropped their paywalls for at least some of their coronavirus coverage (thanks to everyone who responded to my tweet about this).

Among them are The Atlantic, WSJ, Talking Points Memo, Globe and Mail, Seattle Times, Miami Herald (and other McClatchy-owned properties), Toronto Star, Stat, Dallas Morning News, Medium, NY Times, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor and several medical/science journals. Notably, The Guardian relies on online subscription revenue but doesn’t put anything behind a paywall, including their coronavirus coverage.

In addition, a group of archivists have created an online directory of scientific papers related to coronaviruses, available for free download.

“These articles were always written to be shared with as many people as possible,” Reddit user “shrine,” an organizer of the archive, said in a call. “From every angle that you look at it, [paywalled research] is an immoral situation, and it’s an ongoing tragedy.”

Kudos to those media organizations for doing the right thing — this information can save people’s lives. Let’s hope others (*cough* Washington Post) will soon follow suit. And if you find the coverage helpful, subscribe to these outlets!

BTW, like The Guardian, kottke.org is supported by readers just like you who contribute to make sure that every single thing on the site is accessible to everyone. If you’re a regular reader, please consider supporting this experiment in openness.

Update: Added the NY Times to the list above. I am also hearing that many European papers are not dropping their paywalls in the face of the crisis.

Update: Added several media outlets to the list, including Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. At this point, it seems to be standard practice now (at least in the US & Canada) so this will be the final update. (thx, @maschweisguth)

WHO Declares COVID-19 Outbreak Is Officially a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2020

In a media briefing that’s still ongoing as I’m writing this, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization, has officially characterized the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. A pandemic is defined as:

An influenza pandemic is a global epidemic caused by a new influenza virus to which there is little or no pre-existing immunity in the human population. Influenza pandemics are impossible to predict; and they may be mild, or cause severe disease or death. Severe disease may occur in certain risk groups, which may correspond to those at risk of severe disease due to seasonal influenza.

Here’s a transcript of Dr. Tedros’s opening remarks from the briefing.

WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.

We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.

Progress on fighting COVID-19 can be made everywhere when the right steps are taken:

If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.

Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus.

Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.

The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same — it’s whether they will.

But WHO also acknowledges how disruptive the pandemic can be:

We are grateful for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea to slow the virus and control their epidemics.

We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China.

All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.

And in closing he deflects attention from the word “pandemic”:

Let me give you some other words that matter much more, and that are much more actionable.

Prevention.

Preparedness.

Public health.

Political leadership.

And most of all, people.

We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.

Decrease in Economic Activity Due to COVID-19 Reduced Air Pollution and Saved Lives

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2020

COVID-19 Pollution

Stanford professor Marshall Burke, who does research on the social and economic impacts of environmental change, wrote a post about how the decrease in economic activity in China due to COVID-19 quarantine and other countermeasures resulted in a significant drop in air pollution, which Burke estimates will save more lives than deaths caused by COVID-19.

Putting these numbers together [see table below for details] yields some very large reductions in premature mortality. Using the He et al 2016 estimates of the impact of changes in PM on mortality, I calculate that having 2 months of 10ug/m3 reductions in PM2.5 likely has saved the lives of 4,000 kids under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China. Using even more conservative estimates of 10% reduction in mortality per 10ug change, I estimate 1400 under-5 lives saved and 51700 over-70 lives saved. Even under these more conservative assumptions, the lives saved due to the pollution reductions are roughly 20x the number of lives that have been directly lost to the virus.

And his conclusion is not that viral pandemics are a net positive for the world (you will see people naively arguing this, siding a little too closely with a snapping Thanos for my comfort) but that situations like this remind us, as Burke summarized on Twitter: “the way our economies operate absent pandemics has massive hidden health costs”:

But it seems overall incorrect and foolhardy to conclude that pandemics are good for health — and again I emphasize that the effects calculated above are just the health benefits of the air pollution changes, and do not account for the many other short- or long-term negative consequences of social and economic disruption on health or other outcomes. But the calculation is perhaps a useful reminder of the often-hidden health consequences of the status quo, i.e. the substantial costs that our current way of doing things exacts on our health and livelihoods.

Graphic above via NASA.

How to Stop the Spread of COVID-19: Cancel Everything

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2020

Yascha Mounk writing for The Atlantic:

These three facts imply a simple conclusion. The coronavirus could spread with frightening rapidity, overburdening our health-care system and claiming lives, until we adopt serious forms of social distancing.

This suggests that anyone in a position of power or authority, instead of downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus, should ask people to stay away from public places, cancel big gatherings, and restrict most forms of nonessential travel.

Given that most forms of social distancing will be useless if sick people cannot get treated-or afford to stay away from work when they are sick-the federal government should also take some additional steps to improve public health. It should take on the costs of medical treatment for the coronavirus, grant paid sick leave to stricken workers, promise not to deport undocumented immigrants who seek medical help, and invest in a rapid expansion of ICU facilities.

This is very close to my own personal thinking right now, particularly after watching this excellent video about exponential growth and epidemics.

Exponential Growth and Epidemics

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2020

From 3blue1brown’s Grant Sanderson, this is an excellent quick explanation of exponential growth and how we should think about it in relation to epidemics like COVID-19. Depending on how rusty your high school math is, you might need to rewind a couple of times to fully grasp the explanation, but you should persevere and watch the whole thing.

The most important bit is at the end, right around the 7:45 mark, when he talks about how limiting person-to-person exposure and decreasing the probability of exposures becoming infections can have a huge effect on the total number of people infected because the growth is exponential. If large numbers of people start doing things like limiting travel, cancelling large gatherings, social distancing, and washing their hands frequently, the total number of infections could fall by several orders of magnitude, making the exponential work for us, not against us. Small efforts have huge results. If, as in the video, you’re talking about 100 million infected in two months (at the current transmission rate) vs. 400,000 (at the lowered rate) and if the death rate of COVID-19 is between 1-3%, you’re looking at 1-3 million dead vs. 4-12,000 dead.

So let’s start flattening that exponential curve. South Korea and China both seem to have done it, so there’s no reason the rest of the world can’t through aggressive action. (thx, david)

Update: Vox has a nice explainer on what epidemiologists refer to as “flattening the curve”.

Yet the speed at which the outbreak plays out matters hugely for its consequences. What epidemiologists fear most is the health care system becoming overwhelmed by a sudden explosion of illness that requires more people to be hospitalized than it can handle. In that scenario, more people will die because there won’t be enough hospital beds or ventilators to keep them alive.

A disastrous inundation of hospitals can likely be averted with protective measures we’re now seeing more of — closing schools, canceling mass gatherings, working from home, self-quarantine, avoiding crowds - to keep the virus from spreading fast.

Epidemiologists call this strategy of preventing a huge spike in cases “flattening the curve”.

Here’s the relevant graphic explanation from Our World in Data’s COVID-19 package:

Flatten The Curve

Our Subpar National Parks

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2020

Amber Share of Subpar Parks is producing illustrations of real one-star reviews of America’s National Parks from apparently dissatisfied park visitors. Zion National Park is a bit standoffish:

Subpar Parks

Newsflash: Sequoia National Park is outdoors and has insects:

Subpar Parks

From a bored Joshua Tree guest:

Subpar Parks

Follow along with the rest of these on Instagram — Share is doing one drawing for each National Park and she’s got many more still to go. Prints, postcards, stickers, and tshirts are available from her shop (or will be soon).

Update: See also beautiful photos paired with one-star reviews of the places in question and Snowbird’s creative ad campaign based on one-star reviews. (via @ebellm & @mattgist)

Roxane Gay’s Ode to Baking

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2020

For Wirecutter, Roxane Gay talks about her love of baking and how her KitchenAid stand mixer helps her achieve the consistent results that baking demands.

I’ve always loved baking, the patience and precision it requires, the end result when baking goes well, the lessons learned when it doesn’t. It’s actually quite conducive to writing because it forces you to step away from your work and tend to the baking process at specific intervals. When I am feeling down, when I am stressed, when I want to procrastinate, when I want to nourish people I love, I bake, which is to say I bake a lot.

I found this link via my friend David, who has gotten into baking in a big way over the past couple of years, perfecting his recipes for pizza dough and bread. I got a KitchenAid for Christmas this year, but I haven’t had a chance to use it yet. Maybe this week…

COVID-19 Empties Out Public Spaces

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2020

For the Atlantic, Alan Taylor compiled a bunch of photos of normally bustling places that are a lot emptier due to the COVID-19 crisis. This is the Grand Mosque in Mecca:

Covid 19 Empty Spaces

A Europa league football match played in an empty stadium (play in Italy’s Serie A league has been suspended until at least April 3):

Covid 19 Empty Spaces

And here’s Sunday mass at a church in Milan:

Covid 19 Empty Spaces

You can see the whole photo gallery here.

See also Ghost City Photos of a Usually Bustling Shanghai During Coronavirus Outbreak.

Update: Several more photo collections of the outside world’s increasingly empty spaces:

For Nieman Lab, Cherine Fahd and Sara Oscar wrote about the uncanny melancholy of empty photographs in the time of coronavirus.

These artists demonstrate a longstanding fascination with photographing architecture devoid of human subjects.

This fascination may be due to what architectural historian Anthony Vidler described as “the architectural uncanny.” Abandoned and deserted spaces, he said, make our familiar spaces become unfamiliar. For Vidler, this estrangement from space hinges on visual representation, such as in photography. These photographs of empty public spaces capture a departure from our everyday and instead visualize this uncanniness: an alternative reality emptied of our presence.

COVID-19: Not Just A Bad Flu

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2020

A few days ago, Dr. Daniele Macchini, a physician in Bergamo, Italy, made a long post on Facebook (also reprinted here) about how the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is overwhelming the hospitals there and pleads with the rest of the world to take the virus seriously. The original post is in Italian and Google Translate does pretty well with it. Dr. Silva Stringhini translated the important bits of Dr. Macchini’s post in this Twitter thread and is somewhat easier to read:

After much thought about whether and what to write about what is happening to us, I felt that silence was not responsible.

“I will therefore try to convey to people far from our reality what we are living in Bergamo in these days of Covid-19 pandemic. I understand the need not to create panic, but when the message of the dangerousness of what is happening does not reach people I shudder.

“I myself watched with some amazement the reorganization of the entire hospital in the past week, when our current enemy was still in the shadows: the wards slowly ‘emptied’, elective activities were interrupted, intensive care were freed up to create as many beds as possible.

“All this rapid transformation brought an atmosphere of silence and surreal emptiness to the corridors of the hospital that we did not yet understand, waiting for a war that was yet to begin and that many (including me) were not so sure would ever come with such ferocity.

“I still remember my night call a week ago when I was waiting for the results of a swab. When I think about it, my anxiety over one possible case seems almost ridiculous and unjustified, now that I’ve seen what’s happening. Well, the situation now is dramatic to say the least.

“The war has literally exploded and battles are uninterrupted day and night. But now that need for beds has arrived in all its drama. One after the other the departments that had been emptied fill up at an impressive pace.

“The boards with the names of the patients, of different colours depending on the operating unit, are now all red and instead of surgery you see the diagnosis, which is always the damned same: bilateral interstitial pneumonia.

Dr. Macchini urges: “Let’s stop saying it’s a bad flu.” But this is the part that stopped me in my tracks and got me to write this post:

So have patience, too, that you cannot go to the theater, museums or gym. Try to have mercy on that myriad of older people you could exterminate.

His overall message is that we shouldn’t panic, but that we should take COVID-19 seriously. The goal here is to keep the most vulnerable of us as safe as possible and work to slow the spread of the virus so it doesn’t overwhelm our healthcare system. So let’s do that — the elderly and those most at risk are counting on us.

New York Apartment For Sale, Only $43.9 Billion

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2020

New York Apartment

For New York Apartment, an art project commissioned by The Whitney, artists Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain compiled actual NYC real estate listings into a listing for one mega apartment for sale.

Compiled from actual online real estate listings, the artwork collapses the high and low ends of the market, architectural periods and styles, and neighborhoods and affordability into a single space that cumulatively creates a portrait of New York’s living spaces and the real estate market. Like a standard real estate ad, the listing shows the price, number of bed- and bathrooms, and square footage, all of which are updated weekly based on the city’s aggregated real estate listings.

Take some time to explore the project — take the 3D virtual tour, scroll through all of the bathrooms & closets, peruse the apartment features, and take the video tour:

Do you crave brilliant sunshine and the peace Zen behind closed doors at home, and the bustle and excitement of the big city at your doorstep?

Do you dream of a Manhattan life?

Do you dream of Brooklyn living with Manhattan in reach?

Do you have a thing for top floor apartments?

Do you have vision?

Do you like light?

Do you love to cook?

Do you love to entertain?

Do you need lots of closet space?

Do you own or plan to buy a car?

Do you prefer simple shaker style wood cabinets with solid surface counters or custom lacquer cabinets paired with a travertine marble?

Do you want a home just steps to the beach?

Do you want Katz Deli, Russ and Daughters or maybe some Economy Candy?

Contact information for all of the brokers is listed on the site in case you’re interested.

The Long Goodbye

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2020

British rapper and actor Riz Ahmed released an album last week called The Long Goodbye. It’s a breakup album with a twist — Ahmed is not breaking up with a partner but with a racist, post-Brexit Britain. A Guardian review describes it as “a conceptual work based around the idea that British Asians are locked in an abusive relationship with the UK and that the rising tide of racism spawned by Brexit might represent the moment at which they’ve finally been dumped”.

To accompany the album, Ahmed collaborated with director Aneil Karia to make a short film (embedded above). It starts out with a typical British domestic scene but after a few minutes, it becomes something else entirely. Be warned: this film is quite intense & dystopian. (via dunstan)

Weird Internet Careers

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2020

Gretchen McCulloch, author of Because Internet, has developed a Weird Internet Career as an internet linguist. In the first installment in a series on such jobs, McCulloch explains what they are:

Weird Internet Careers are the kinds of jobs that are impossible to explain to your parents, people who somehow make a living from the internet, generally involving a changing mix of revenue streams. Weird Internet Career is a term I made up (it had no google results in quotes before I started using it), but once you start noticing them, you’ll see them everywhere.

Weird Internet Careers are weird because there is no one else who does exactly what they do. They’re internet because they rely on the internet as a cornerstone, such as bloggers, webcomics, youtubers, artists, podcasters, writers, developers, subject-matter experts, and other people in very specific niches. And they’re careers because they somehow manage to support themselves, often making money from some combination of ad revenue, t-shirt sales, other merch, ongoing membership/subscription (Patreon, Substack), crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Ko-Fi), sponsorship deals, conventional book deals, self-published ebooks, selling online courses, selling products or apps or services, public speaking, and consulting.

I’ve had a Weird Internet Career for more than 15 years and even though it’s much more normalized now than when I started (folks generally know that people make money from being popular on YouTube or Instagram), it’s still a struggle to explain. Usually someone will ask me what I do and I tell them. Them, wide-eyed: “That’s your job?!” Then there’s a long pause and eventually their curiosity overwhelms their politeness and they tentatively say: “Can I ask…uh…how do you make money doing that?”

For awhile, in an attempt to have more symmetrical relationships with new friends — because 5 minutes of googling yields so much about who I am, leading to weird information imbalances — I would be vague about my profession, saying that I managed a website and not offering any further information. This approach often backfired because you’ve essentially given people a mystery, and mysteries must be solved. More than one person looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and asked, “Do you run a porn site? Is that why you don’t want to tell me?” *facepalm*

Mysterious Sources of Light Pollution

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2020

If you look at online light pollution maps, most light pollution comes from cities, but Alex Altair noticed that there are some unexpected sources of light out there as well. For instance, this sprawling site in North Dakota is one of the brightest places in the country despite what Altair calls “an intense lack of urbanization”.

Light pollution in North Dakota

The light in that area is from oil drilling & extraction in the area.

The light pollution comes from the associated gas flares. These flares are deliberate, continuously burning fires, and they convert methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into CO2, a much less potent greenhouse gas.

Intense heat also accounts for an odd light source in Hawaii — you can probably guess, but you’ll have to click through to confirm.

See also Lost in Light: How Light Pollution Obscures Our View of the Night Sky.

The Drawings Secretly Inserted into Official Swiss Topographical Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2020

Hidden drawing in a Swiss map

Hidden drawing in a Swiss map

For decades, mapmakers working for the Swiss Federal Office of Topography have defied their mandates to create the most accurate maps possible by covertly inserting drawings in official maps.

But on certain maps, in Switzerland’s more remote regions, there is also, curiously, a spider, a man’s face, a naked woman, a hiker, a fish, and a marmot. These barely-perceptible apparitions aren’t mistakes, but rather illustrations hidden by the official cartographers at Swisstopo in defiance of their mandate “to reconstitute reality.” Maps published by Swisstopo undergo a rigorous proofreading process, so to find an illicit drawing means that the cartographer has outsmarted his colleagues.

It also implies that the mapmaker has openly violated his commitment to accuracy, risking professional repercussions on account of an alpine rodent. No cartographer has been fired over these drawings, but then again, most were only discovered once their author had already left. (Many mapmakers timed the publication of their drawing to coincide with their retirement.)

Some of these blend remarkably well within the usual details of the maps — I never would have noticed the reclining nude in the second image above if it weren’t highlighted.

See also trap streets, errors deliberately introduced by mapmakers to catch others copying their work. (via @jschulenklopper)

Hear How Choral Music Sounded in the Hagia Sophia More Than 500 Years Ago

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2020

When the Ottomans invaded and conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Orthodox Christian church Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. As a result, the Christian choral music that had reverberated in this acoustical masterpiece for centuries was not allowed. But thanks to a digital filter developed by a pair of Stanford researchers, one an art historian (Bissera Pentcheva) and the other an acoustics expert (Jonathan Abel), we are now able to hear what a choir might have sounded like in the Hagia Sophia before the mid 15th century.

When they met, Pentcheva started telling Abel about the Hagia Sophia — how we couldn’t really understand the experience of worshipers there unless we could hear the music the way they did. And as she talked, Abel started to feel a prickling of excitement. They could recreate what that music would sound like. If only they could get in the Hagia Sophia and pop a balloon.

When a balloon pops, it makes an impulse, a sharp, quick sound that takes on the character of whatever space it’s in. So when a balloon pops, you’re really hearing the acoustics of the space itself, says Abel.

In this clip from 2013, the Cappella Romana choir sings a hymn passed through an early version of the Hagia Sophia filter:

The marble interior of Hagia Sophia was 70 meters long, while in height it reached 56 meters at the apex of the great dome. The vast chamber and its reflective surfaces of marble and gold resulted in unprecedented acoustics of over ten seconds reverberation time. As a museum Hagia Sophia today has lost its voice, no performances could take place in it. Using new digital technology developed at CCRMA, the second portion of Cappella Romana’s concert at Bing aims to recreate sound of what singing in Hagia Sophia must have been like. Each singer caries a microphone that records the sound transforming it into a digital signal, which is then imprinted with the reverberant response of Hagia Sophia. What you hear as a wet sound is the product of a digitally produced signal transmitted through loudspeakers placed strategically to create an enveloping soundfield. This digital signal may shock you with the way it relativizes speech, transforming its content into a chiaroscuro of indistinct but immersive sound. For the Byzantines, this sonic experience was associated with the water: the waves of the sea.

Last year, the Cappella Romana released an entire album of choral music recorded with the filter — you can listen on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Tidal, or Pandora.

Needless to say, the album sounds better with the best pair of headphones you can muster. You can find out more information about the filter and the acoustics of the Hagia Sophia at Icons of Sound.

See also this online Gregorian chant generator.

The Cephalopoda, a Hand-Drawn Atlas of Octopus and Squid (1910)

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2020

Cephalopoda

Cephalopoda

Cephalopoda

The Valdivia Expedition, led by German marine biologist Carl Chun in 1898-1899, was the first time humans had explored the ocean depths below 500 fathoms. What they found changed our conception of the oceans. The results, in the form of 24 volumes of text and illustrations, took decades to be published. Among the volumes was The Cephalopoda, published in 1910 and filled with colorful hand-illustrated drawings of octopuses and squid, courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

I found this on Brain Pickings, which identifies the illustrator as Friedrich Wilhelm Winter, a credit I couldn’t find in the actual book itself. They’re also selling some of the illustrations as prints, like this one of the octopus featured above.

Fossilized Skulls of Cartoon Characters

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2020

Cartoon Fossils

Cartoon Fossils

For his Cartoon Fossils series, Filip Hodas used 3D modelling software to create fossilized skulls of cartoon characters like Scrooge McDuck, Tweetie Bird, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy.

These remind me of Michael Paulus’s Character Studies, drawings of the skeletons of the likes of Lucy from Peanuts, Betty Boop, Marvin the Martian, and Pikachu. I have his Hello Kitty drawing hanging in my living room, purchased after Leslie Harpold pointed me towards his work back in the day. (via colossal)

The Curiosity Rover Captures a 1.8 Gigapixel Panorama of Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2020

Mars Curiosity Pano

Late last year, NASA’s Curiosity rover took over a thousand photos of the Martian landscape while exploring a mountainside. NASA stitched the photos together and recently released this 1.8 gigapixel panorama of Mars (along with a mere 650 megapixel panorama, pictured above). Here’s a version you can pan and zoom:

And a narrated video of the panorama:

Both panoramas showcase “Glen Torridon,” a region on the side of Mount Sharp that Curiosity is exploring. They were taken between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, when the mission team was out for the Thanksgiving holiday. Sitting still with few tasks to do while awaiting the team to return and provide its next commands, the rover had a rare chance to image its surroundings from the same vantage point several days in a row.

I like how NASA is casually suggesting that the rover is just kinda taking some vacation snaps while waiting on friends.

Here’s What a Googol-to-One Gear Ratio Looks Like

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2020

To celebrate being alive for a billion seconds, Daniel Bruin built a machine with 100 gears with a 10-to-1 gear ratio…meaning that the overall gear ratio is a googol-to-one. (A googol is 1 with 100 zeros.)

This machine has a gear reduction of 1 to 10 a hundred times. In order to get the last gear to turn once you’ll need to spin the first one a google [sic] amount around. Or better said you’ll need more energy than the entire known universe has to do that. That boggles my mind.

You can watch the machine spin for an hour — it’s kinda relaxing:

Bruin says his machine was inspired by Arthur Ganson’s Machine with Concrete, a contraption whose gears spin so slowly that the final gear is embedded in concrete. (via digg)

Remaking the Spider-Verse Trailer with Traditional Animation Techniques

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2020

Animator Pinot Ichwandardi, designer/illustrator Dita Ichwandardi, and their three young children decided to remake some of the iconic scenes from the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse trailer using traditional animation techniques. You can see some of the process and the impressive results in the video above. They drew the scenes by hand, built their own multiplane camera setup (a la Disney), and constructed a camera rig using Lego. You can read more about their process in these two Twitter threads: one, two.

After they were done, Sony Animation invited the family to visit their California campus to meet some of the team that worked on the movie, including producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

See also How Animators Created Spider-Verse.

Peak Car - Scenes from an Automobile Addicted World

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2020

Peak Car

Peak Car

Overview celebrates the potential passing of “Peak Car” with a series of satellite imagery that shows just how much automobiles have altered our lives and landscapes.

Automobiles make up 70% of the emissions from all forms of transportation. There are an estimated 1 billion cars on the planet, with around 80 million new cars sold each year. Despite continually strong sales, experts suggest we have reached ‘Peak Car’ — meaning the average distance traveled per person in cars has peaked, and will continue to fall over time. There are many different factors contributing to this trend, such as a global shift towards urban living, new forms of mobility, new government policies for reducing traffic, and a slowing expansion of road networks.

Why Do Poor People Make Bad Decisions?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2020

From The Correspondent, this is an article by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman about why poor people make low-quality decisions. In a nutshell, it’s because living in poverty overwhelms your brain, decreasing cognitive ability by a significant amount. The piece cites a number of supporting studies, but this one is perhaps the most relevant to separating cause from effect:

Shafir found what he was looking for some 8,000 miles away in the districts of Vilupuram and Tiruvannamalai in rural India. The conditions were perfect. As it happened, the area’s sugarcane farmers collect 60% of their annual income all at once right after the harvest. This means they are flush one part of the year and poor the other.

So how did they do in the experiment?

At the time when they were comparatively poor, they scored substantially worse on the cognitive tests. Not because they had become less intelligent people somehow — they were still the same Indian sugarcane farmers, after all — but purely and simply because their mental bandwidth was compromised.

Another study, of Cherokee families whose income increased dramatically due to casino revenues, shows just how beneficial more money is to poor communities:

Soon after the casino opened, Costello was already noting huge improvements for her subjects. Behavioural problems among children who had been lifted out of poverty went down 40%, putting them in the same range as their peers who had never known hardship. Juvenile crime rates among the Cherokee also declined, along with drug and alcohol use, while their school scores improved markedly. At school, the Cherokee kids were now on a par with the study’s non-tribal participants.

On seeing the data, Costello’s first reaction was disbelief. “The expectation is that social interventions have relatively small effects,” she later said. “This one had quite large effects.”

Costello calculated that the extra $4,000 per annum resulted in an additional year of educational attainment by age 21 and reduced the chance of a criminal record at age 16 by 22%.

This article was adapted from Bregman’s book, Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World, in which he advocates for three main changes to make our global society more equitable: a universal basic income, a 15-hour work-week, and open borders. The UBI issue is what he’s most known for — check out his 2013 article, Why we should give free money to everyone, and his two TED Talks on the topic. BTW, did you know that Nixon almost implemented a UBI in the US in the late 60s?

Photos of an Abandoned & Decaying Ohio Mall, Once the World’s Largest

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2020

Randall Mall

Randall Mall

Randall Mall

When it opened in 1977, Randall Park Mall in Ohio was (briefly) the largest shopping mall in the world. But the place was never a huge success and was finally closed in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis. For six years it lay abandoned and during that time, photographer Michael Christopher captured the decaying building inside and out for his book, Abandoned America.

Whichard Real Estate, who purchased the mall in 2006 for $6 million, was $200,000 behind on property taxes in 2008 and had multiple mortgages on the mall. The next February, Sears announced it was closing its Randall Park location, and with that the mall’s last anchor was gone. The few struggling stores inside the mall, many of which were owned by small business people doing their best to keep the mall afloat, were vacated a month later in March of 2009. The power was shut off in May, and save for the dusty sunbeams streaking through the skylights on sunny afternoons, the mall went dark.

The mall was finally torn down in 2014 and the site is fittingly now home to an Amazon fulfillment center.

Linguistic Constellations

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2020

Linguistic Constellations

Linguistic Constellations

Illustrator Jerry M. Wilson has drawn a series of constellations that explore the etymology of the constellations’ names and related words in several languages. So for example, “Taurus” is Latin for “bull”, which is “toro” in Spanish & Italian and “tyr” in Danish. And then you also have associated words like “toreador” (“bullfighter” in Spanish) and “teurastamo” (Finnish for “slaughterhouse”)…a constellation of words related to “Taurus”.

Stand Among the Giant Redwoods

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2020

Wirth Redwoods

Wirth Redwoods

Using an infrared camera, Nathan Wirth took some great black & white photos of redwoods from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in California’s Redwood National Park. I visited several redwood groves last summer and took hundreds of photos, so I can appreciate the difficulty of capturing the size & majesty of these amazing trees on film. Lovely work. (via moss & fog, both of which are abundant in redwood forests)

Should Political Journalists Vote?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2020

I was reading this NY Times piece on their policies for reporters and editors around impartiality and politics — “newsroom staff members may not participate in political advocacy, like volunteering for candidates’ campaigns or making contributions” — and ran across this from the paper’s chief White House correspondent, Peter Baker:

As reporters, our job is to observe, not participate, and so to that end, I don’t belong to any political party, I don’t belong to any non-journalism organization, I don’t support any candidate, I don’t give money to interest groups and I don’t vote.

I try hard not to take strong positions on public issues even in private, much to the frustration of friends and family. For me, it’s easier to stay out of the fray if I never make up my mind, even in the privacy of the kitchen or the voting booth, that one candidate is better than another, that one side is right and the other wrong.

And similar perspectives from a 2008 Politico piece. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a deeply weird approach — and ultimately an intellectually dishonest one. Not voting is taking a political position — a passive one perhaps, but a political position nonetheless.1 There’s no direct analogy to not voting or not taking private positions on political issues for other areas of reporting, but just imagine being a technology reporter who doesn’t own a mobile phone or computer because they don’t want to show favoritism towards Apple or Samsung, a food reporter who is unable to dine at restaurants outside of work, or a style reporter who can’t wear any clothes they didn’t make themselves. Absurd, right? We do live in an age of too much opinion dressed up as news, but pretending not to have opinions ultimately does harm to a public in need of useful contextual information.

  1. My history professor in college was fond of saying: “Everyone has a world view. Even if you don’t have a world view, that’s a world view, isn’t it?” His name was Dr. Janus, which seems super appropriate vis a vis that quote.

A Military Historian’s Look at the Siege of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2020

In a six-part series on his blog, Roman military historian Bret Devereaux took a close look at the Siege of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King, the final movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Looking at the logistics of moving the Army of Mordor to Minas Tirith is actually a great way to introduce some of these problems in more depth. They say ‘amateurs talk tactics, but professionals study logistics.’ Well, pull up a chair at the Grown-Ups Table, and let’s study some logistics.

The army Sauron sends against Minas Tirith is absolutely vast — an army so vast that it cannot fit its entire force in the available frontage, so the army ends up stacking up in front of the city.

The books are vague on the total size of the orcish host (but we’ll come back to this), but interview material for the movies suggests that Peter Jackson’s CGI team assumed around 200,000 orcs. This army has to exit Minas Morgul — apparently as a single group — and then follow the road to the crossing at Osgiliath. Is this operational plan reasonable, from a transit perspective?

In a word: no. It’s not hard to run the math as to why. Looking at the image at the head of the previous section, we can see that the road the orcs are on allows them to march five abreast, meaning there are 40,000 such rows (plus additional space for trolls, etc). Giving each orc four feet of space on the march (a fairly conservative figure), that would mean the army alone stretches 30 miles down a single road. At that length, the tail end of the army would not even be able to leave camp before the front of the army had finished marching for the day. For comparison, an army doing a ‘forced march’ (marching at rapid speed under limited load — and often taking heat or fatigue casualties to do it) might manage 20 to 30 miles per day. Infantry on foot is more likely to average around 10 miles per day on decent roads.

I admit I did not have time to read this whole thing this morning, but posts like these are some of my favorite things online. See also Rome, Sweet Rome, A People’s History of Tattooine, and some of my logistical questions about Mad Max: Fury Road. (via studio d radiodurans)

Sit-Skier Trevor Kennison Drops Into Corbet’s Couloir

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2020

With a mandatory steep drop into a narrow chute with rock walls on two sides,
Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole in Wyoming is one of America’s most challenging ski runs. During the annual Kings & Queens of Corbet’s event, skiers from all over converge to huck themselves over the cornice, doing backflips, spins, and grabs of all kinds.

I’d heard that sit-skier Trevor Kennison, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since a snowboarding accident in 2014, had dropped into Corbet’s during the 2019 Kings & Queens event but I’d never sat down to watch the video. Do yourself a favor and check this out:

From an REI blog post about Kennison:

Trevor Kennison imagined skiing Corbet’s Couloir — Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s iconic and nearly vertical chute with a dicey, dramatic entrance — six times in his head while waiting at the top. He closed his eyes, took three fast breaths, then visualized it: Ride the ramp at just the right speed, hit the takeoff, hug the rocks on skier’s left, then stick the landing into the chute. If he could picture it going perfectly in his head, he knew he could pull it off.

He’d wanted to ski this line for years and finally, the day had come. Kennison, who’s paralyzed from the waist down, says he wasn’t scared. “I knew what I had to do. I was ready,” Kennison, 26, said. “Everything I do is calculated risk. I think, where is it going to go wrong? I learn so much from the people around me.”

So great. I finally went down this rabbit hole because Kennison skied at our local ski area yesterday here in VT and dropped a couple of cliffs. I didn’t get over there to hang out, but I did see a friend of my son’s skiing with him in his Insta Stories.

Recycling Used Hotel Soaps

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2020

Clean the World is a non-profit organization that works with hotels to recycle used soap & other toiletry products left behind by their customers into new, sanitized soap that is then distributed to people without easy access to soap to prevent disease. Here’s how it works:

Since 2009, Clean the World has distributed 53 million bars of soap and saved 20 million pounds of waste from being discarded. Their hotel partners include Hilton, Hyatt, Best Western, Marriott, and other prominent hotel groups.

How Iceland Has Dramatically Lowered Rates of Teen Substance Abuse Over the Past 20 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2020

There are certain links I’ve posted here that I think about more often than others. One that I think a lot about — weekly at least — is Emma Young’s story for Mosaic about Iceland’s very successful program that’s steered the nation’s teens away from drug and alcohol abuse. At the center of the Icelandic strategy is an insight by psychologist Harvey Milkman about a strategy of replacing substance and other unhealthy addictions with healthier natural highs:

At Metropolitan State College of Denver, Milkman was instrumental in developing the idea that people were getting addicted to changes in brain chemistry. Kids who were “active confronters” were after a rush — they’d get it by stealing hubcaps and radios and later cars, or through stimulant drugs. Alcohol also alters brain chemistry, of course. It’s a sedative but it sedates the brain’s control first, which can remove inhibitions and, in limited doses, reduce anxiety.

“People can get addicted to drink, cars, money, sex, calories, cocaine — whatever,” says Milkman. “The idea of behavioural addiction became our trademark.”

This idea spawned another: “Why not orchestrate a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry — because it seems obvious to me that people want to change their consciousness — without the deleterious effects of drugs?”

BTW, this is a somewhat controversial view but it has always made sense to me for those with mild addictions or depression. Speaking strictly for myself, I’ve found that when healthier alternatives are available to me (spending time with family & friends, exercise, exploring, reading a good book), I spend a lot less time mindlessly doing things that give me the same sort of brain buzz but which I don’t consider positive or worthwhile (drinking alcohol, watching TV, eating poorly, and especially reloading Instagram over and over again like a lab rat slapping that lever to get more cocaine).

But back to Iceland. By giving teens access to more healthy activities, getting parents more involved in their children’s lives, implementing curfews, and administering annual surveys, the country has made great strides over the past two decades:

Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.

The way the country has achieved this turnaround has been both radical and evidence-based, but it has relied a lot on what might be termed enforced common sense. “This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Milkman. “I’m just so impressed by how well it is working.”

Young did a follow-up last year about the expansion of the program into other areas of the world.

Why Don’t Blue Whales Get Cancer?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2020

Even though larger animals like elephants and blue whales have up to 100 billion more cells than humans in their bodies — and therefore many more chances for harmful mutations to develop — they are much more immune to cancer. This is called Peto’s paradox the subject of Kurzgesagt’s latest video. Scientists aren’t sure why this happens, but one hypothesis is that in order to have grown so large, the evolutionary process that resulted in these animals provided built-in defenses against cancer that other animals didn’t need. Further reading on the topic is available here.

Cycling Through All the Streets of London

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2020

Over a period of four years, Davis Vilums cycled every street in central London. A map and a time lapse of his journeys:

London Cycle Map

Including some irregular times off, overall it took me four years to visit every single road on the map. When I started this hobby, it took me 30 to 40 minutes to do the route. Later it expanded to 2 hours to get to the office when I tried to reach the furthest places on my map. One of the main goals was never to be late for work. From the beginning, I planned to visit not only the main roads but every single accessible mews, yard, park trail, and a path that was possible to go through. I used Endomondo app to have a proper record of my journeys and proof that I have been there. After every trip, I prepared my next route in Google maps where it was easy to adjust streets to the next ones and mark points to revisit if I missed something.

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