Category: Covid-19

Military Intel, Russia, and COVID

As I’m reading that Russia tripled their reported COVID death toll, I cannot help but recall an old rule of military intel analysis. If the report is a good thing (e.g. amount of grain produced this year), halve it. If the report is a bad thing (here, the number of people dead from a virus), double it. I never took the maxim literally, but rather thought of it as a reminder that ‘the bearer of bad news’ was not something you wanted to be within the Russian government. Thus numbers picked up from internal reports were apt to be CYA inaccurate.

Not sure if that rule was meant to apply to revised numbers (basically our fake numbers are off by a power of ten, so we’re going to adjust within the half/double rule to produce stats that are within the realm of possibility) or if not (reality was so readily apparent that the official numbers had to be revised close to reality).

School’s out for winter

My local school district is moving to remote learning for what’s left of December and a few weeks in January. Not unexpected, and a part of the reason we chose a different learning option for Anya this year. The Superintendent’s message highlights the two big problems I expected with in-person learning. Firstly, 28 positive cases resulted in 467 quarantined individuals. That’s about 16 people in quarantine for every infected individual. The district had about 3,000 students before some percentage opted to use virtual learning this year. Add some 300 staff — they’ve had about 15% of the school out in quarantine in the past three weeks. And that’s before any increase in infections from Thanksgiving. Secondly, people who send their kids to school with COVID-like symptoms (I believe they have a special nurse’s office in each school for those kids to hang out in all day so people who have to swing by the nurse’s office to get medication or a scrape patched up aren’t exposed to a room full of sick kids) and even while awaiting test results.

Liberatarianism is great in theory … but, in practice, the entire point of the belief system is that you’re free to make whatever choice you decide to make. Even if you want to ignore the bears.

Understanding Exponential Growth

Using the data from in the most recent seven day span (10-16 November), 1,056,346 people in the US have been infected with this coronavirus. The total number of cases yesterday was 11,047,064. That means 9.562% of the *total cases* in the US were new cases in the past week.


This is how exponential growth works — and why you heard a lot about ‘flattening the curve’ earlier in the year. If you put a penny on the first square of a chess board, double it and put two pennies on the second square, double it and put four pennies on the third square, and continue in that fashion … mathematically, you have 2^n pennies on each square, where n is the numeric sequence of the square, 0-63. On the last square in the first row, square #7, there are 2^7 pennies — 128 pennies, or a buck and twenty eight cents. Not a lot. And the end of the second row, you have 2^15 pennies — 32,768 pennies. That’s $327.68 — over three hundred bucks. A lot more than a buck, but not a huge amount of money. But you’re up to 2^23 at the end of the third row — 8,388,608 pennies or $83,886.08. Eighty three grand is a lot of money. By the time you get to the mid-point on the board, the end of the fourth row, you have 2^31 pennies on a square. 2,147,483,648 pennies for $21,474,836.48 — over twenty million dollars. A lot of money, but it’s possible. The second half of the chessboard is where exponential growth becomes unsustainable. The end of the fifth row is 2^39 — 549,755,813,888 pennies. The end of the sixth row is 2^47 — 140,737,488,355,328 pennies. The end of the seventh row is 2^55 —  On the final square, you have 2^63 … 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 pennies for $92,233,720,368,547,758.08 … 92 quadrillion dollars. If the going price of Earth is only five quadrillion dollars, you’re putting a marker for the entire solar system (and then some) on that last square.

And that ignores the accumulating total — while you have 92 quadrillion dollars on the final square, you have another 92 quadrillion dollars on the entire rest of the board. Now, obviously, we are not doubling our rate of infections every day. But we’re entering “second half of the board” territory just the same.

Large Numbers

It’s often difficult to conceptualize large numbers — something that allows statistics dealing with large numbers to convey something other than reality. I think I heard Trump say the government is ready to vaccinate 200k people a day. That sounds like a lot of people (it is a lot of people), but there are a lot of people in the US: an estimated 328.2 million according to a quick Google search.


That’s four and a half years to vaccinate the current population of the US at 200k a day, every day. Which doesn’t take into account new people being born (or aging into the range where a vaccine is administered). The CDC shows 3.79 million births in 2018 — of course that number changes every year, and it’s been decreasing. But at 3.5 million births per year, new people still add a few months to the vaccination timeline. About four and three quarter years to vaccinate the US population. And that assumes a one-dose vaccine. Administering two doses to everyone, at 200k people per year, would take just under ten years. Saying ‘it could take us five years to vaccinate everyone’ isn’t nearly as impressive sounding as ‘we can administer 200,000 vaccines each day’ — but it’s the same thing.

What you know

I don’t get why school boards (and businesses, for that matter) are so stuck on attempting to replicate what we had two years ago. It’s like some form of denial — it’s going away soon, no reason to rethink things we’re doing.

I cannot help but think of veggie burgers. Attempts to be “beef like” are generally awful. Attempts to make a flavorful, filling, crunchy sandwich filling that bears little resemblance to a beef burger? Lots of delicious options. I think that was what I liked so much about SNL’s at home episode … it wasn’t *trying* to be like an in-studio production. It was a new thing that was entertaining in its own way. I don’t know what the school version of my spicy garbanzo sandwich or SLN@Home would be … but, having seen The Reopening Plan, I know that my local school board spent the last four or five months trying to figure out how to achieve the most school-like thing possible regardless of the long-term feasibility of the solution (and they’ve got a slide detailing the “swiss cheese” approach to risk mitigation … something gets through each layer but risk is mitigated by the aggregation of layers. Nothing says safety like swiss cheese!).

Creating continuity between in-class and at-home learning so individuals with resources (time, money, internet access, computers for kids to use) could participate at home and reduce the number of people on the bus, in the classroom, at lunch, etc does not appear to have been an avenue of exploration. This would allow individuals in quarantine to continue their education uninterrupted, too. The district’s plan right now is … they’ve got no idea what to do when a class full of students is asked to stay home for two weeks.

Reopening Plans

Yeah, this is going to be a nightmare. I have an awesomely well behaved kid. One with a lot of deference to non-parental authority. She’s also decidedly not an automaton and does her own thing. Which is developmentally great, but not so great in a carpark. She would totally wear a mask all day in school, even if it’s 90 degrees in the classroom (which happens, no AC in this old building). She will walk in a spaced-out line and play by herself at recess if that’s what the teacher says to do. She’ll also rub at her eyes, do a crap job of washing her hands before eating (and there’s no way the teacher is ensuring everyone is properly clean before lunch and snack), take her mask off while walking up the driveway and chew on her finger because she’s growing a new molar. There are kids who had three warnings in a day *before* all of these risk mitigation rules went in place.

How much time is a teacher going to spend teaching when they’re also reminding kids to keep their masks on, not share that crayon, no you cannot move your chair and sit closer to Timmy. Even if online education isn’t as effective as in-person education was two years ago … I think it is going to be far more effective than trying to teach in between warning kids about breaking rules.

And that’s just elementary school kids. From what I hear from friends with older kids, the district has been completely unable to address physical assault (which they like to call bullying, but someone who walked up to me on the street and punched me in the face would totally be getting changed with assault). How in the world are they going to address someone who thinks its a gas to rip off someone else’s mask and sneeze in their face?

At that, how are they going to address someone who gets sent into school with a fever? From a strange conversation I had with the nurse’s office when my daughter had bloodshot eyes from allergies, I kind of gather that the nurse cannot make medical diagnoses and could not *make* me come pick her up. Five cycles of “I’m sure you want to get her tested for pinkeye” / “she’s got allergies” and I gave up and got my kid. I guess they can use the gymnasium as a room for possibly infected kids sitting 20′ apart.

Web Stats

Since my website has a lot of information about Microsoft Teams, I can see when a lot of new Teams users came online during the lockdown. Now that people are returning to offices (and, I expect, are more familiar with the platform), I’m starting to see fewer search engine referrals. But I’m still 3-4x the numbers I’d seen pre-lockdown.

The Proliferation of Misinformation

A friend mentioned that Madonna has jumped on the demon-sperm-doctor’s ‘a cure exists’ train. To which someone replied “who cares?” … which is a reasonable gut reaction. Some celebrity, or has-been celebrity, wants to walk around telling everyone they need to get Airpods? I don’t care.

I don’t care that one individual believes, well, any crackpot idea or conspiracy theory either. There was a guy in downtown Philly who walked around with a sign declaring that the alien invasion was nigh and we should save ourselves by … I don’t even remember what he thought would appease our future alien overlords. People generally ignored him or felt sorry for him. Sometimes gave him a hairy eyeball. And we all carried on.

When the crazy idea is picked up by more individuals? Nonsense is less objectionable when a lot of people believe it (i.e. there are people who read this doctor’s statements from the fifth source & think maybe it’s true).

When those who hold sway over a lot of other people start promoting disinformation? Some percentage of Trump’s 84.3 million followers, and some percentage of Madonna’s 2.6 million followers, take this seriously. They use the ‘information’ to justify mask refusal, heading out to parties, etc. Unless you’re completely off the grid, you’ll be sharing space with them at some point. That’s why I care.

Grown Up Temper Tantrums

Someone wants to wear a swastika bandana(?) flag(?) draped across their face? My complaint is that it’s not a very effective face covering (although they are covering their noses and mouths, so possibly better than people who have real masks below their nose and certainly better than the chin protector you-never-said-what-part-of-my-face-to-cover look). I said a week or two ago that I’d be happy enough if the pro-Confederacy anti-maskers would wear a confederate flag mask … gonna have to go with the same opinion for swastika masks. It’s a temper tantrum. But having a kid has taught me to pretty much ignore those — especially when the tantrum includes doing what I wanted her to do. Yeah, calmly picking the toys up off the floor would have been my perfect world. Not an option. Stomping around whilst putting those toys away? Total win.
It’s not like removing the symbol over their mouth is magically going to change their opinion on much of anything (and, in the context in which they were wearing the mask, it does not seem like they actually think Nazi-ism is a Good Thing™). They’re certainly uninterested in a calm discussion of valid scenarios where the government really should be mandating people take (or not take) actions, nor would I want my quick trip to the store turning into an hour long debate over slippery slopes. They want to tell me that voting for Biden means I’ll be living in Nazi Germany? Well, at least I’ll be living. A vote for Trump means I’ll be dying a painful death in Nazi Germany.