Categories
society

Where are We in this Thing?

It’s a good question, and one which doesn’t have a good answer. We don’t really have a consistent story of which states are doing what, much less what individuals are doing. The economic force, which is major, seems to be overpowering the protective force. A backfire is the major risk, with some areas of the country already seeing rises while others continue to fall.

The main challenge is, will the various governments be aware enough to catch new outbreaks early, and even if they do, will the stacks of human cordwood, that have their sights set on beaches and beer and all that, heed the call if a small flare-up risks becoming a five-alarm blaze?

The cordwood looks to do the heavy lifting, at least in the South, where the business community has caught the eye of the political class and they will not listen to science. If your area has an outbreak, and your government says all is well, believe the science. Practice the rules of prevention. At the least, you won’t be contributing to someone else’s misery with a deadly virus by not spreading it.

You don’t want to pass it on to your family or your hunting buddy, no matter how good a beer at the bar sounds.

Governments that are unwilling to follow science will be governments that find themselves without support in elections to come, and states that ignore science will be states that find people and businesses leaving. The short-term economy is currently the enemy of the long-term, in that sense.

What’s supposed to have happened is that testing would ramp up and tracing would ramp up and best practices, tailored to the business, would ramp up. Instead, testing is slowly getting better, but is unlikely to get to the levels really needed with asymptomatic transmission. Tracing doesn’t really do much without adequate testing. It has some marginal benefit, some localized protection, but not a ton if you don’t have the testing to feed it.

Best practices rely heavily on strong communication skills and coordination, but without governments leading on that, it’s a very sloppy and mixed effort. Some states aren’t even publishing their numbers honestly. (Same for nations.)

Think back on driver’s ed, and that old two-second rule. That you should be at least two seconds behind the car ahead, which means more distance at higher speeds. That you need that reaction time.

With our current trajectory in the pandemic, our lag time comes in around a couple weeks. That’s for the governments to act. Add at least a couple more days for the most aware citizens to act. Then a few more for the next half. The remainder, God knows.


At each stage of this crisis, there is an opportunity, there is time to be used to effect whatever changes make sense for the next moment. The administration hasn’t used any of them to do that.

  1. Early warning of emergent threat. The administration could have started ramping up PPE at that point, briefed governors on the basic playbook. They did neither. Donald John Trump turned a blind eye.
  2. Early domestic phase. Could have begun shutting down the largest of gatherings, put us on a kind of half-open footing some states are entering on reopening. Donald John Trump lied that it wouldn’t amount to anything.
  3. First wave hitting. Ramping testing up quickly. Work on mitigation plans for reopening. Donald John Trump Still said it would quickly vanish.
  4. First wave began to taper off. Begin demonstrations of how various workplaces should be operating. Have tracing network ready. Donald John Trump and his team chose to push to reopen without any real plan or messaging beyond that.
  5. Reopening begins. Donald John Trump and his daughter and son-in-law are not planning for how to handle new outbreaks, much less a new wave.

And that’s where we are in this thing.

Categories
entertainment

Terraria: Journey’s End (Plus: Some more plague activities)

If you came for the plague activities, please scroll down.

I was a latecomer to Terraria when I first played the game in the spring of 2017. Best I recall, I saw a screenshot of something someone had built in the game, and intrigued by that creative aspect I gave it a try.

That is still probably my biggest plus for the game: building, creating. The worlds are generated, which gives you a good amount of variability to begin with. That variety includes the different zones or biomes like the ocean, desert, and jungle. Each has its own flavor, and you can build in any of them.

A house in a jungle with a roof made of living vines and plants.

The final major update has released today. The official word was that there would be some delay in Linux (and Macintosh) stability or optimizations, but so far it plays fine here.


One of the other neat things about Terraria was digging into their savegame format (with the help of some sites that publish some of the specification) with Python. Prior versions (we’ll see what 1.4 does) use what’s known as run-length encoding (RLE) to store a subset of the actual world tiles. You can think of it similar to a keyframe system in video, except it marks the last tile type and then the number of (vertically and below) tiles of the same type. Given that large parts of the world are filled with the same type of material (dirt, sand, etc.), this saves a lot of space.

Anyway, for awhile I had a lot of fun messing with that, even wrote a simple tool to turn an image file (using PIL as I recall) into background walls (something that, from a search at the time, had been done by several others).


The main thing I’m looking forward to for 1.4 is the improvements for building (including the ability to craft previously-uncraftable walls and some of the new furniture and other enhancements). They also add a feature called block-swap that speaks for itself, but will be useful for quickly changing the look of a building without having to tear everything down.

A single-mast ship with sail down (in port).

But some of the other features will be nice, including the more responsive world, updated artwork, added music, new town NPCs, and even golf.

Plague Activities (to get them out of your hair long enough to catch your breath)

As obvious, age-appropriateness depends on propensity to put things in mouth, dexterity, etc.

  1. Painting the basement walls. Requires a paintbrush and some container with water. Suffice it to say, you let the kid dip the brush in the water, then use the brush to make wet the basement wall, because it looks like they’re painting it. Could work on other surfaces like sidewalks/walkways or exterior walls. Good for a relatively unsupervised 20 minute break.
  2. Sort the things. Requires three containers, items to be sorted. Preparation: dump the things to be sorted into one bucket, then task your child to put the items of each type into the other buckets. More buckets needed if more than two types of things. Elastic task, as the more things to sort the longer it lasts, but boredom may take hold at around 20 minutes depending on complexity/enjoyability of the particular stuff being sorted. Suggested items include coins, pasta of different shapes, nuts and bolts, goats and sheep, etc.
  3. Terraria! The new version has so-called “journey mode” which lets you turn off enemies. You could build in peace, and you could play a video game while your kid(s) help you decide what to build. Something to consider anyway. Probably works better if you’re already familiar with Terraria. Not as unsupervised as some, but you get to videogame while keeping the runts entertained! Could work for some other games including Minecraft, bridge building games, Besiege, etc.
  4. Tape recorder. If you have an app or other way to play with audio recording, kids can amuse themselves quite awhile just recording, then replaying what they recorded. (At least I did when I was wee. I spent a lot of time playing by myself, in case you wondered.)
  5. Draw your own alphabet. (Requires basic alphabet skills.) 26 new drawings for new letters. Even if they take a minute to come up with each one, that’s 26 minutes back to you.
Categories
society

The Oddity of Opening

The polling and reporting tells the following story:

  1. Most people think that the measures aren’t there to reopen.
  2. Republican-connected groups have been pushing protests to reopen.
  3. Based on that, some Republican governors have been getting ahead of themselves and reopening.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense. While some businesses have a majority of Republicans supporting reopening, a lot do not, and even where there’s a majority, it’s still split (though maybe less or more if you factor in margins of error). There is, once again, a minority Republican view being pressed and causing policy here.

More importantly, there’s a huge business case to be made to pay what’s actually needed to reopen (testing and tracing). It could even be done in a VAT or similar vehicle! But instead of doing it correctly, there are businesses pushing for blanket immunity.

The self-described pro-business lobbies always seemed a bit fucked in the head, but they’re really smashing the old Budweiser can on their forehead this time. If the virus gets worse, all those businesses that reopen will just keep losing revenue. Immunity from lawsuits doesn’t pay bills.

It’s been months now, coming up on five if you count from when the administration had a heads-up from the intelligence community. There’s been ample time to stand up supply chains, to ramp up testing. They haven’t been able to do it.

The problem is this: most people in most states aren’t going to be John Rambo, so most will stay home. Business revenue won’t be improving in the way the open-uppers think it will. But there also won’t be a viable way to open up more or get people back in public, because they still aren’t working on test-trace. So the economy stays a bummer, the virus stays a plateau, and we continue to waste time and money spinning our wheels. It’s stupid. It’s ridiculous. It’s Donald John Trump.

In order for an economy to function, you need supply and demand. The supply is shut for health reasons, but also for demand reasons. Even before stay-home orders hit, many businesses were seeing demand plummet. There is demand—aspirational, “wouldn’t it be nice” demand. But there is not “I’m getting in the car, let’s go now” demand, and there won’t be unless and until there’s a good bet you won’t get sick.

From a numbers point of view, if even 50% of regular demand is there, that’s probably not enough, and if new upticks in cases happen even under depressed demand, that 50% will drop even lower and won’t recover the next time a reopen is attempted.

From a numbers point of view, the cost of the shutdown is very high, far higher than what it would cost to implement real testing and tracing, and yet… the governments are still not saying that. They aren’t doing that. They are ignoring the facts that are plain as day.

Categories
unAmerican

Evidence and Allegations

There has been an allegation that in the early 1990s Joe Biden sexually assaulted a staffer. This post offers some thoughts on that and the larger problem.

First, Associate Justice Kavanaugh. He was accused of past wrongdoing during his confirmation hearings, and the Republicans in the Senate, along with the White House, blocked any real investigation into the matter. This is a sick pattern among Republicans, of blocking information about matters big and small. The Republican party is a shadow party, content to hide from the light of day all sorts of important information vital to the functioning of capitalism and democracy. So long as it’s not about a Democrat. Indeed, Mitch McConnell has called on Biden to release his Senate papers, while he and the White House blocked the release of thousands of pages of relevant information during the Kavanaugh hearings. To this day, I still do not have enough information to judge whether the allegations against Kavanaugh were true.

Now, Biden. As it stands, I do not have sufficient information to decide whether to believe the allegation. The claims of corroboration do not actually corroborate, but merely repeat. There were no additional details or indications of past details being offered by the people the allegator allegedly told of the incident.

I find it problematic to believe accusations without evidence. That’s not to say I disbelieve the claims, but it is to say I hold in my mind the capacity to place unproven claims in a space dedicated to them. And that’s how my mind is going to operate because there are plenty of things I cannot determine the truth of, at least yet, and I do not also find evidence to dismiss them entirely.

I think that having an independent law firm look through the relevant files and releasing any that apply to the circumstances is reasonable. I think the same should be done for Donald John Trump’s files and the accusations against him. And McConnell can release his own Senate files. But double standards are something I have no interest in. The Republicans who seek to dig into Biden while they hide under the table are public failures and the princelings of loserdom.

Going forward, the reasonable advice that movements like #MeToo should offer is that anyone who has been told by a friend, neighbor, coworker, or other familiar party of serious wrongdoing, sexual or otherwise, should seek out a lawyer to conduct a video recording with a court reporter present. They would make a firm record of the retelling of the telling, including questioning by the lawyer, to be kept in confidence should the need arise in the future to attest to having been told of an incident. That’s prudence, and it would be much more corroborative than anything offered in this instance (or in the allegations against Kavanaugh, for that matter). Nonprofits that specialize in this area can and should work to develop criteria to that end and a process to be followed.

Either we formalize the process, or we continue to entertain allegations and make judgments based on blurry pictures. I’m obviously in favor of formalization.

There are numerous benefits to such a process, and other than the risk of the material being leaked (which would find punitive effects for whatever lawyer allowed that to happen), the defects are few if any.


The allegation against Biden is serious, but without some evidence that is more than an allegation, it would be impossible for me to believe it. I understand others’ judgments work differently and I respect that. My own judgment is my own and is not to say others’ approaches are wrong.

The DNC (and the RNC, for that matter) should, however, have some formal processes in place to investigate any allegations and to, if warranted, replace defective candidates. Voters do at least deserve the reassurance that if details emerge that disqualify a candidate for office, they will not be left holding the bag for that malfeasance.

As for the likes of those who hide from the light like Mitch McConnell, while calling for it only to be shined upon political opponents, one can only hope that the voters of their states wise up and turn them away from their service.

The election is in 26 weeks (half a year).

Categories
Created

Maggie’s Magic Toothbrush

Just an idea I’ve been toying with. First draft quality.


(Origin story.)

Maggie smiled at herself in the mirror of the old dental sales display. She was at the “Tooth Museum” as her cousin called it, where her mother, a dentist, would take her every year on the anniversary of losing her first tooth nine years ago. Officially it was the Museum of Dental Art and Science.

She’d seen the evolution of dentures, from animal teeth and wood all the way to the 3D printed ones that had embedded microcontrollers. She’d seen the exhibit on tooth fashion—braces and whitening and capping, the money makers. Funny how fashion always made someone rich. But today she was let in to the junkyard—”excess archives” they called it.

The archives were all the stuff they didn’t show you. Like her girlfriend’s comic books—she’d show off her #1 Vegetable Massacre, but her frickin’ mattress was propped up by all those boxes full of books she never saw. The excess archives were all the things they didn’t even want, but hadn’t gotten rid of. And that’s how Maggie found this old salespiece, from when dentists went from town to town.

It had a mirror, because even then sales was everything. Make the customer open their mouth and point out what needs fixing, what you can do for them. Let them see for themselves. Everyone likes to smile, and who doesn’t want everyone to like to see them smile?

Maggie wondered if it was real mercury on the mirror, that maybe they couldn’t put it out on that account. The regular archives might have better version already: more complete, better condition, or more definitive. Or maybe it just didn’t fit with enough of the exhibits to really sell itself as part of a package of curiosities to discover.

It had all these pull-out trays with little stickers to cross reference their belongings in some cabinet somewhere. The teeth on offer, the soaps and brushes and picks, those were all cataloged and kept separately.

Maggie pondered the modern version, figuring it would have a digital display where you could zoom in on the teeth. It would outline them and label them and probably report the albedo and all sorts of junk. It would have a built-in scanner, for capturing the full shape information.

She idly pulled out an empty tray, long thin slots for brushes she guessed. Horse hair? Wooden handles, surely, just like the cabinet. Straight ones, though. Harder to angle them and get a good bristle-surface contact. Still, better than just chewing on sticks. And better for the environment than all that plast—it wouldn’t slide all the way in.

She pulled it back out a bit and slowly pushed it back in, but it butted up against something on the right side. She could feel the tray want to go on the left, but the right—something was behind it. She pulled it out all the way and took a look.

Metal handle for something, she thought, reaching her arm in the hole where the tray went. Her fingertips brushed it, but couldn’t quite get there. She pulled out the tray above, and this time she got it.