Bay Area continues the mandate requiring all people to wear masks indoors. I support health directives that have a meaningful impact. At this point in the pandemic cycle, I do not see evidence that it does though. To my annoyance, the requirement stays.
Certain individuals announce they intend to wear masks indefinitely. They believe it is useful to not only prevent covid, but also other infectious diseases like seasonal flu. Since this is a low cost measure and beneficial enough, they say they will keep wearing masks forever.
I found such justification alarming. Humanity has lived with infectious diseases since the beginning of time. Is there such a grave threat that, at this point of history, we decided to change our behavior permanently? Are these people just overdoing it?
I am particularly opposed to the idea that wearing a mask is a low cost measure. There are common objections. It constricts airflow and is uncomfortable to wear all day. It makes speaking and hearing more difficult. Fogging on glasses is a constant annoyance for me. Even if it is low cost for an individual to do, mandating something for the entire population for an extended period of time automatically makes it not low lost.
My greatest concern of all is that it impairs our emotional connection with other human. The economic cost of wearing a mask may be small compared to shutting down the city, but the social and emotional cost is not. We are just not good at measuring it.
Scientists have learned human brains are hard-wired to recognize faces. We are social species. We communicate a lot simply by reading other people’s facial expressions. Does the other person agree with us? Are they happy? Angry? Worried? All this we can tell to a great degree from other people’s faces. This is our innate ability as a human. Face masks obscure half of the face from us. It impairs our ability to read and understand other people.
Perhaps the greatest master of facial expression is Charlie Chaplin. His silent movies have delighted us since last century. His comic character, the Little Tramp, produced belly laughs to generations of audiences. Chaplin delivered the dynamic performance through pantomime acts using only facial expressions and body gestures. His presentation is understood and beloved across all cultures universally.
If Chaplin were to perform with a mask on, it would lose much of the charm. We won’t see the character’s signature mustache. There won’t be a grinning teeth smile, nervous smile, embarrassed smile, surprise face, disdain face, or frightened face. Charlie’s performance would have fallen flat if it was hidden under a mask.
Like many pandemic prevention measures, they incur hidden costs for inhibiting social and emotional connection. Having no dollar amount attached does not mean it is not significant. Quite the contrary, its toll on our well being should not be underestimated. We don’t want to keep on inhibiting social connection beyond what is necessary. We want to see Charlie Chaplin’s beloved characters as a complete person, not hidden under a mask.
Half for me, half for you, says beekeeper Hatidže Muratova. She was repeating the traditional practice of harvesting half of the honey for people's use, while saving the remaining half for the bees themselves. There is perhaps the most fitting saying of sustainable agriculture.
Mainly due to Covid travel restrictions, I still haven’t visited any of our customer’s fish farms. Salmon aquaculture is a large industry in Norway. Many fish farms can be found in Norway’s inlets. With Google maps, I can take an aerial tour.
Three circular fish pens are connected to a barge that supplies fish feed.
Each pen’s diameter is 50m. How large is that? An Olympic swimming pool is 25m x 50m. A fish pen would fit inside two Olympic swimming pools.
I was curious about how a fish pen compares to a land based farm by size. To do that, I looked up a center pivot irrigated farms in Kansas. The farms’ circular shape makes them stand out from the air.
I superimposed the image of a Norway fish farm on a circular land farm. The fish pens are just small circles inside the much larger circle. It has a diameter of 800m, the same width as the Golden Gate Park. If the entire Golden Gate Park is converted into circular farms, it can fit five of them.
Kansas is full of farms like this. Just see this when we zoom out to this 70 x 35km area. This is only one corner of Kansas.
I know little about the business of farming. But I bet that the yield, by economic value, is higher for the six salmon pens than the much larger grain farm.
What about calories? Could a fish farm yield enough to produce a meaningful share of protein for the world’s population? A 50m fish pen is large at human scale. But it is just a speck of dust relative to the vastness of the ocean. Could aquaculture scale up much more?
Perhaps we can innovate to produce food from much less land. Then we could stop cutting down forests for farms, even reverse the agriculture’s land use impact, allowing farm land to turn back into forests and wildlife habitat. The next green revolution could be world changing.
Coronavirus is once again making waves in the US. Many people, once relieved by the wide availability of vaccines and low inflections rate, are on the edge once again. The necessity of wearing masks comes up in the headlines. Many governments are considering making it mandatory again.
I have a lot of doubts and questions about the strategy. This attitude, I name it mask primacy, believes the use of masks at population level is the primary mean to stop the spread of coronavirus. I challenge the validity of this belief. I think people overestimate the utility of masks and the governments are overinvested in masks.
First of all, I am not anti-mask. I started using a mask last year once I was convinced it could be helpful, before it was actually recommended by health authorities. Stay home when you are sick. Wash your hands and avoid rubbing your eyes. Maintain social distance. Stay six feet apart. I do them all. Then masks are added to the list. I too was exasperated at the resistance from the conservative population and the politicalization of a measure that was meant to protect public health.
The difference is I don’t see masks as a game changer. It is one of the many things to do that might help. I saw the virus sweep through the US in 2020. It hit the East coast states, it hit the central state, it hit West coast states. It hit the conservative states, and it hit the liberal states. There were some differences. But I don’t see any measures that clearly differentiate one region from another. Here in the Bay Area, we follow virus precautions quite diligently. Our inflection number in 2020 is about 40% of the US average. It is a good result, relatively speaking. But we were still hit by waves of inflection. The result was nevertheless bad by world standards.
I still think washing the hands helps, staying six feet apart helps, wearing masks helps. I still think we should take necessary precautions. But I see no evidence that they would produce a game changing outcome. I don’t want to mislead the public to think this way.
There is only one game changer - the vaccine. There is mountain of evidence showing its effectiveness, from decisively reducing death to suppressing virus infection and spread. It has reported that some vaccines are 90% effective, a number demonstrated experimentally. No other measure has comparable experimentally proven effectiveness.
So why is it that as soon as the inflection rises, some people and municipalities immediately call for a mask mandate? How do we explain this mask primacy? Why are people so confident that it can cause a change in the result?
The story goes like the delta variant is far more transmissible and puts all of us at risk. Even vaccines do not provide adequate protection. Therefore we must use masks.
Why do people not have similar doubts about masks? They could have said the same thing. The delta variant is so much more virulent, while the mask was helpful back in 2020, it is not as helpful against the delta variant. Therefore we should stop using surgical and cloth masks and switch to N-95. Or more sensibly, stop counting on masks to provide basic protection and make sure we all get vaccines.
In a stressful situation, people instinctively go back to masks. This is mask primacy.
People are quite sensitive about vaccine breakthroughs, people catching a virus despite being vaccinated. Any such story can make news headlines. Rationally speaking, comparing the much lower inflection rate and death rate between the vaccinated and unvaccinated should provide reassuring evidence that that vaccine is effective. Nevertheless, if only single vaccinated die, it would have deeply shaken the trust on vaccines’ protection.
The same people who are so concerned about the breakthrough inflection of vaccines would have thought nothing about breakthrough inflection of masked people. I have not seen any official numbers, but there are likely to be in the millions. How many people die despite diligently using a mask? Probably too numerous to count. Would this information have shaken the trust of the mask? Probably not. If you confront people, they would shrug their shoulders. “It is not perfect. But it has certainly helped”, they rationalize.
A breakthrough inflection to the vaccinated causes panic. A breakthrough inflection to the masked has no effect on the mask reliance. This phenomenon is another sign of mask primacy.
To think about it rationally, a breakthrough case causes a lot of concern because people expect much higher, perhap 100%, effectiveness on the vaccine. They accept certain breakthrough inflections that happen to masked people means that they have much lower expectations on masks. Inside, people understand that vaccines provide a different class of protection compared to masks. However, once people feel at risk, they still go to mask the first thing.
Even if a mask is not very effective, does it still help? The problem is we should focus on things that help the most, not things that help a little bit. When data show most new inflection comes from unvaccinated people, yet we react by asking the vaccinated people to wear masks. You can immediately see its futility.
If there is one important thing that should happen, I believe it is for the FDA to formally approve the vaccine with greatest urgency. Right now a lot of vaccine hesitant cite the emergency approval as the reason they are reluctant to take it. We should remove these excuses. Many institutions, from schools to the military, are also pending on FDA’s final approval before they can mandate it to their members. The formal approval has a lot of real life impact.
When hundreds of millions of people have already been vaccinated with clearly positive results, there is no question about its safety and effectiveness. The work on science and biology are painstaking. But the hard work has already been done. What is left is bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is an obstacle created by humans. It is within human’s power to overcome them.
I have enjoyed Lakoff and Johnson's classic book Metaphors We Live By. Originally published in 1980, they argue that metaphor is not simply a literary device. Instead it is a fundamental way the human mind makes sense of the world, by using knowledge in one domain to reason about another domain. The use of metaphor is pervasive in our throught, whether we are aware of it or not.
Once I learned how to look, I started to see our use of metaphor everywhere. For example, we describe a computer program execution (a job) as a life object.
The job is created
The job uses a lot of memory
Is it still alive?
It is frozen
Kill the job
A faulty computer program is said to have a bug. A job as a programmer is to find bugs and remove bugs from software.
Data Structures are often conceived metaphorically. We have data structures like stacks (e.g. a stack of paper), queues, trees, and dictionaries, etc. Tree is a special metaphor. It is structurally similar to a biological tree. It has many branches and each branch has more sub-branches. On the other hand, we don't use other parts of the metaphor such as that tree is a living object that breathes and requires nutrition. Instead, all these data structures use the container metaphor. We put things into them and we take things out.
Computer science is often abstract in nature. We map abstract ideas into familiar concepts using metaphors. The mechanics of a "pointer" is a number used as the memory address of another data of interest. Instead of thinking about the mechanics, we conceive the pointer as an arrow that points to the referenced item. The pointer metaphor makes this much easier to make sense of.
I have a devotion to obituaries. Most of the time, I don't find them sad at all. Instead, it is a review of what one accomplished in life and the legacy they left behind. They actually cast a guiding light for living. While we constantly struggle in the hectic day to day life, they tell us, at the end of the day, what really matters.
With his health failing, Gensler had recently stepped down from long terms of service on the boards of directors for California College of the Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato.
But he did not step down from his own design practice and had a calendar of meetings scheduled for Monday and the rest of this week.
Gensler showed me the life I aspire to. He applied himself to the greatest extent, from leading his firm to serving the public. He was going strong until the very last day!
Over the last 15 years, Gensler gave away half of his fortune, including a $10 million bequest to endow the Cornell art, architecture and planning program in New York City.
We all have limited time in this world. As we depart, the wish is to bequest others what we have and help them live better.
Today, the Covid pandemic has receded definitively. A large majority of people have been vaccinated. The case rate stays low. Death from Covid is vanishing. We are finally coming out from the emergency. With most restrictions lifted, what are we going to do now? Should we stop wearing masks? Should we go on long delayed vacations? Going back to the office? Jump back into events with large crowds?
Too much energy has been put into the mask wearing debate. It is neither the most effective prevention, nor is it too restrictive to use. I don’t mind continuing to wear a mask in some settings, like in public transit or schools, if only as a gesture to help people to ease back into normal. While there is an itch from the travel bug, I don’t have a strong urge to make up for the lost time. The offices will take more time to be filled again, more because of people’s hate of commuting than the threat of Covid. It was frustrating not to be able to go to restaurants, sports events, or traveling. But none of these is truly essential.
The most important change to make today is to end social distancing.
If you have not seen your parents or children for sometime, go see them now. Don’t skip your regular family gathering. Spending time with extended families is one of the most beneficial things you can do to your wellbeing.
Go meet your friends. What a delight it is to see them again after a long time?
We need hugging. Have we forgotten that? Two people embrace each other in their arms, chest pushing against chest. This is the proper greeting to someone who you have known for years.
Talk to your neighbors. We have acquired the habit to dodge others when they are approaching on the sidewalk, jumping off into the street if necessary to maintain six feet of space. Not anymore. Relax. Smile. There is no need to avoid other people like plague.
Go to a church service. Go to a group spiritual practice. While it is beneficial to meditate alone, meditating in a group reinforces and resonates with others. That’s why people practice in groups. The energy flows without even needing to talk.
I trust that you and your friends have made the good decision to get vaccinated. Do not feel guilty for hugging. Feel guilty if you are not vaccinated.
Human beings are social animals. Social interaction is essential to our wellbeing. We live in cities to be close to others. We trade, we learn and we socialize. When the pandemic hits, we responded to blunt its impact. Stay Home, Save Lives. We accepted the difficult bargain. But this bargain needs to be reassessed constantly. When it is no longer useful, it is unhealthy to continue the sacrifice out of fear or habit.
At the end of the day, I believe love and bonding will help to pull us through any challenges and catastrophes. We should never neglect to foster social connections.
Dreams can be surprisingly creative. Regrettably, I forgot most of them. The wild dreams I had while sleeping evaporated quickly once I woke up. Only on some occasions, I remembered enough and cared to write them down. This leaves me with some complex and intriguing stories.
This morning, my dream lingered long enough in my mind that I decided to write them down. It has three separate stories. My real life is woven into the dream. Therefore, I added some brief background to give some relevant context of my real life.
Story I - The Fish Cohort Movie
Background - At work, we were talking about “fish cohort”. Our business is to serve the aquaculture industry in Norway. My Norgwegian colleague explained to us the industrial practice. “Fish cohort” is a group of fish that were grown together. They might get moved to other places and mix with other cohorts.
I was in the audience watching a fish cohort movie. The fish pen is a large farm house (a house on land). There are many cohorts, or groups, of fishes inside. They were played by adult men. They weren't wearing fish suits or had any sign to suggest they are fishes. They dressed in regular clothes. We simply accepted that they play fish cohorts. Soon we recognize individuals and their respective cohort. After living for some time in the farm house, they marched out of the house to be harvested. They were vaguely aware of their fate on the way to the slaughterhouse. I was part of the last cohort to leave.
Story II - The bike trip
Background - I have just made a major bike trip to climb the highest peak in the Bay Area. It was a strenuous all day ride that tested my stamina.
After the first movie ended, I left the farm house. I have made a major bike trip to this place for vacation. Now it was time for me to go home. I changed my mind to go back by car. I decided to bike back via another route and use rail for part of the trip. I started to research the travel plan. Where and when can I catch a train? The pressure to be there at the right time has become stressful (stress about getting somewhere on time is a recurring theme in my dream.)
Before I could figure out the schedule, I heard the horn from an approaching train. The station was within sight. So I sped toward there on my bike. I ran down a hillside. There was no trail. I just ran over the dirt and through the shrubs. I got down to the track. Unfortunately, the wire fence stopped me from reaching it. I found an opening further ahead. Passengers were getting out from the opening.
I finally made it onboard. It was a very short train with only two cars. One is like a cattle car with no seats, just a completely open floor. As I was catching my breath, I noticed I have not worn a mask like everyone else. I searched for the mask in my pockets.
I haven’t figured out the travel plan yet. So I went to the next car to look for a printed schedule.
The main area of the car was taped off. There was a man struggling on the floor. He might be suffering from a heart attack. I was told the space was tape off to create social distance space, not to make room for medical personnel as I expected.
Story III - The Boy
Background: I have recently watched a retrospective of a Hollywood director Mitchell Leisen. He was well known in the first half of the 20th century but was very much forgotten today. I like his movies and their humanistic story. This story is a psychodrama falsely attributed to Leisen. It is actually my dream.
The characters were a couple. He has experienced childhood trauma as a boy. His father had ran into financial problem and it ended in his suicide. The long shadow might have been the root of some couple issues they have today.
I don't recall the main part of the movie. It goes straight to the final scene.
Filmed in black and white, the boy was standing on the rooftop peering over the white stone rails to below. The camera panned to his wife, a close up of her in a room. Her hair style and makeup were of the pre-war era. She looked straight at him and said, "It was you". "It was me", the boy peered over the stone rails. "It wasn't my father who killed himself. He died from another clause. When he died, it was me who jumped off the building and survived". The wife answered, "I know. Your sister has told me".
In the United States, many people have received either Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines require two doses spaced one month apart. There is a period between the first dose, when the vaccine provides some degree of protection, to after the second dose when the vaccine protection is maximized. In public, this is often described as partially vaccinated v.s. fully vaccinated. The label partially vaccinated has a connotation of temporary and insufficient. I believe this is not accurate. I suggest a different set of labels, vaccinated and double vaccinated, to describe these two stages. This label could help shape public perception and health policy and improve outcome.
San Francisco’s COVID vaccine effort continues at a brisk pace. Today, 56% of adults have already received at least one shot of vaccine. How much longer does it take to vaccinate 80% of adults? At the current pace of 12.6k vaccination per day, it will take 15 more days. April 26th is the earliest day where everyone who wants a vaccine will get a vaccine (assuming 20% of people decline). In practice, it will take more days because some vaccines are used for second shots. Nevertheless, it is tremendously encouraging to see the progress. This schedule is ahead of even the most optimistic prediction at the beginning of the roll out.
Sometime ago I discovered Chloé Zhao’s Songs My Brothers Taught Me, the story of a Native American boy planning to leave his family and the reservation. I like the subtle connection and tension between his sister and him. Her films are great portraits of characters from the margin of the society, first Native Americans, then in Nomadland, the tribe of wanderer by choice. It surprised me to learn Chloé was not born American but came from China, for she has made such fine narration that even American filmmakers would have admired.
The COVID trend, in SF, California, and the US as a whole, is clearly heading down. In addition, vaccination is producing result. Vaccine production and vaccination rate is set to multiply in the coming weeks. My prediction is the COVID epidemic will recede definitively in just three months.
Has Tech Destroyed Society? Here is a very interesting story about a bet made 25 years ago covered by Steven Levy. The antagonist - techno-optimist Kevin Kelly and “anarchocommunalist” Kirkpatrick Sale. The prediction – the society would collapse. The date – 2020. The judge – William Patrick, a book publisher whom both have worked with. He is to decide based on the three agreed upon criteria - an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless; a rebellion of the poor against the monied; and a significant number of environmental catastrophes.
Today, January 14th 2021, I have received an email notifying me that a limit order I placed some weeks ago has partially filled. I have sold some employee Uber stock options at $60.03. I have made some money! Hurray!
There is an annoy trend in bike tail light. The vendors are making super bright LED tail light. The idea is the brighter the light, the easier it is for drivers to see, and the safer it is for the riders. But there is diminishing return to the brightness. It is no more safe when the light is bright enough to see one mile away, v.s. a moderately bright light that you can see from half a mile away. Instead, a very bright tail light causes big problem to the rider behind you. It is blindingly bright to follow other with these super bright light.
In front of the stage filled with blue light, an exuberant crowd cheering and anticipating the speech from Joe Biden. First came Kamala Harris. She was beaming with her smile, congratulating the people for acting and standing by democracy. She introduced president-elect Joe Biden. In his speech, Biden declares he will govern as an American president, the president for all. “We are not enemies. It is time to unite. It is time to heal.” There is to be hope and possibility for all Americans.
This morning a newsletter from a right wing media landed in my inbox. Usually I don't waste time on them. But something caught my eyes today. Something about "Trump Responds to Junk Intel Report". I followed a link to read further. It was an interesting trip to the right wing media land. It should make quite a bit of interest to people interested in journalism and social media. The keywords you are going to see - complete BS complete joke ridiculous this nonsense.
South China Morning Post is an excellent resource for international news coverage of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They publish an up-to-date statistics of confirmed cases around the world. I have been following it for some time.