Saturday, March 28, 2020

Ribbons in the trees


Taken from River Notes, by Riitta Päiväläinen.

"It races through the landscape, entwines, weaves into
giant knots, rosettes, cobwebs and labyrinths."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Of morbid charts and shifting curves [updated]

My news setup is pretty locked down at the moment - has been for a while now, but right now I'm carefully monitoring news 'articles' coming into the country that is my own awareness. Broadly, I'm running off a mix of:
  • RSS feeds for some friends, interesting newsletters, weeknoters, and other blogs for useful topics. Nothing newsy or virusy - everyone in my feeds is lovely and calm.
  • 1-1 and small conversations: email replies to my own newsletter send-outs, family emails, Signal, and now (fairly reluctantly, but desperate times, etc) WhatsApp
  • Work Slack chatter
  • Updates from the missus
  • The FT, and after all of that, BBC news
I make a point of not checking news as soon as I wake up, and make sure I wash, dress and eat, and am settled in myself before hitting any news channels. On both the FT and BBC news, I rarely scroll own more than a page, and never open more than 3 headlines on each.

Increasingly, beyond what-you-legally-need-to-know, the only progress I'm really interested in right now is this slightly morbid death tracker on the FT, via their free to read stats analysis:


The UK curve on this one is giving me some hope, at a local scale. Hope for normality perhaps, but more hope for mobility, for the social panic to die down a bit. Hope is everything. If I can sort out the household and the UK can sort itself out, then we can figure out what we can do to support others round the world. And they're going to need it.

The latest death count for the UK is 578, which is being reported as a "rise of more than 100 in a day", but I think still puts us on track for crossing the Italian and French lines over the next 2-3 days, and - very roughly - could - if the curve holds - cross with China in 5 or 6.

And just check out South Korea and Japan.

I mean, that's something, right?

Current listening: 65daysofstatic's Safe Passage Anti-PandemicAnxiety Extended Edition

Update: Just realised the y-axis is exponential, duh, which makes sense but makes my own extrapolation even flatter than I thought. With virus control, the number of deaths per day increasing is not as important as the multiplication rate. Here's yesterday's update, showing the increase to 578, already cutting under the Italian line:


As we see deaths going up at different rates, it also gets clearer that any country is not just at the whim of network effects of course. Strain on a health system can reach a critical point - lack of resources could trigger outbreaks within hospitals, or a sudden lack of available care, which could spark a rise in deaths. Or the virus may have reached a particular cluster within a state some weeks ago (such as a city) which could only now be manifesting.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Repairing new disrupted rhythms

Quick general update because not getting much time to write these days. Had a week of switching into full on staying focused mode, gearing the office and company up into full remote mode, rather than the partial remote mode we usually run. Luckily I'd done some forethought on what a partially remote company could look like and, even if we haven't rolled that out fully, it meant I was mentally prepared, and it turns out everyone is pretty great and is doing it all anyway.

I mean, I'm still making sure that our core infrastructure is as resilient as it can be, but others have sorted out setting up Zoom calls, putting together mental health guidance, grabbing spare monitors from the office, etc etc. There are some nice photos-from-home going round the office Slack, too, and it feels like we've ... 'opened up' a little in the move to being locked down.

At home, I'm moving to a series of half-days as we now have two boys to look after all day, and both of us parents are still working. I wasn't sure how this would go at all - the first week working remotely was without them, and that was kind of fun. I set up up in my summer house and enjoyed birdsong and my makeshift standing desk (an old bookshelf unit, not with tinges of mould from the winter).

But, fortunately, so far, this week has been good. We're lucky enough to have enough space for the four of us. It's been more relaxed not having the morning rush and the school pickup, and it's been intriguingly fun to do 'lessons' with the boys - I really appreciate the fact that they just love learning, and have come to think this is more fundamental than even literacy or maths. We can pick a subject and weave learning into it pretty easily. In 3 days we've looked at anglo-saxon history, normal distribution and probability, spelling, Scratch and Roblox coding, and a lot of trampolining and jogging round the pond.

So, I figure the plan is to hammer that out this week, get ourselves sorted and routine. It feels kind of selfish saying that as the world kicks off, but this Twitter thread on slowing down and looking after the essentials made a lot of sense to me. Hoping that next week I can find something useful to do in the community, but TBH looking after a company and a family is pretty tiring. I'm sure there will be some little things I can pick up, and I'll see if the NHS volunteering thing could fit into my routine.


One of the weirder things about it all is how much some people are really unaffected - or rather, the distinction in lifestyles is now being laid a bit more bare. I feel like I'm scrambling to re-factor my whole life, yet when I talk to developers who have no dependents, a lot of the time they say it's nearly 'business as usual' - sometimes even more productive!

So in some ways, I feel like I've reconnected to a lot of people, and there is a lovely openness that comes out in Britons in these times. But on the other hand, I also feel disconnected, like I'm in a very different place.

And yet. I talk to the team and to friends and family, and I dig a bit, and I find out that we're all anxious about something, that just because you're not panicing doesn't mean you're fine with things. Sometimes the anxiety is a longer term one - measureable in days or weeks, rather than hours.

So maybe the best thing I can do is just carry on chatting to people. Keep people's rhythms going.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Designs for a cog city



Vague shoddy sketch for approaching a cogged city. The border came first and I'm not quite sure things are where they should be, but it's good to get these things out onto paper. 

The tower set adrift is reminiscent of the September Tower from a MUD world I started putting together years ago, but never finished. In that world, the cogs are in the tower though, and I never got further beyond the cliff that the tower stood next to. 

Worldbuilding still fascinates me. Maybe more to come on that in due course. 


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Little things

An opened envelope, a postcard of Penguin's Pearls and Men book, a bag of teabags, and a mug with a teabag in.


Unexpected and a breath of air, this tea bag care package plopped through the postbox after James saw my moment of desperation over at the Disposable Evidence newsletter. The kettle was boiling at the time - sometimes the universe just ticks that way (hint: moreso if you believe in it).

Pearls and Men gets mixed ratings, and no reviews, over at Goodreads. This is enough to make me want to read it now.

And such a timely arrival also means I don't quite have to stoop into the unknowns of the Putin teabags just yet...


Photo of a Vladimir Putin set of teabags