Not a lot changed this week in terms of coronavirus news. The biggest ripple in “when will this be over” news was this New York Times piece about how we'll have to substantially increase testing – to 152 tests per 100,000 people – in order to begin reopening the country. That article has a fairly good set of charts as to the state of testing in each US state.
On a broader timescale, Our Pandemic Summer from The Atlantic talks about how the next couple of months are likely to look like in the US. In short, it's pessimistic on any “return to normalcy” over the summer, raises concerns about a resurgence of cases in the Fall given that our health systems likely won't have a reprieve in the Summer, and outlines a few ways that we could dig ourselves out of this situation short of waiting for a vaccine to be deployed:
If it turns out that, say, 20 percent of the U.S. has been infected, that would mean the coronavirus is more transmissible but less deadly than scientists think. It would also mean that a reasonable proportion of the country has some immunity. If that proportion could be slowly and safely raised to the level necessary for herd immunity—60 to 80 percent, depending on the virus’s transmissibility—the U.S. might not need to wait for a vaccine. However, if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean “this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. “Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.”
At work, our internship program has been shifted to “virtual” for this summer. I feel even luckier now to have graduated when I did; being a student or new-grad in 2020 is going to be rough.
Finally, I watched a bit of the “One World: Together at Home” charity concert this weekend. It was very well produced, though it was a bit saccharine for my taste. Watching a bunch of celebrities perform in their living rooms gave me the feeling that I've been having a lot recently of “damn, we're living through a global pandemic right now”. It's… a weird time, and so much of this feels like the full impact of it hasn't really even sunk in yet.
There's been a lot of ink spilled about how COVID-19 will change our society, but I found Alex Danco's “It's going to get worse” to be compelling (disregard the title, it's really more about societal narratives). I especially agree with his point that COVID-19 will likely be covered in the media similar to sports, just like how politics is now covered as a sport.
Our collective narrative is predictable. The recovery and reopening, when it opens, will proceed a lot more slowly than we can generate narratives about the recovery. And that means the recovery is going to become sports. …
Storylines are going to have to create themselves. We’re going to need narratives, characters, and scapegoats. Our COVID experience will no longer be the news channel; it’ll be the sports channel.
This week I read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It's a novel written by Robin Sloan, whose blog I read, and who wrote the excellent “Stock and Flow”. It was a good novel, and I'd recommend it if not for some cringey Silicon Vally BigCo worship that becomes central to the plot…
I also read James Clear's Atomic Habits. This was one of the better “productivity” books I've read recently. It's not laden with dubious anecdotes, it contains actionable advice, and it doesn't rely much on shaky pseudoscience. It's also mercifully short, unlike many books of that genre. I expect that I'll reread this at some point.
Oh, and I powered through Season 4 of Better Call Saul, which was excellent. (Dare I say it's as good as Breaking Bad?)
My sourdough starter more-or-less reached maturity this week, so I baked a couple things with it. After ping-ponging between a bunch of different bread recipe sources, I settled on The Perfect Loaf for bread-baking knowledge.
I made a batch of sourdough focaccia using their recipe, and it was fantastic. I topped it with olives and rosemary, with lots of olive oil.
I also used my sourdough starter to make a sandwich loaf. The results were “OK”, but it came out a bit doughy. I used Perfect Loaf's Weekday Sourdough recipe. To be clear, the recipe was not at fault; I think I needed to cook it a bit longer, and I didn't do the best job shaping the loaf. Also, I didn't realize that scoring the dough made such a big difference – without the scoring you get a pretty strange appearance.
Someone described bread making recently to me as a combination of art and science. As precise as bread recipes need to be – and they're precise down to the gram, as per baker's percentages – there's still a lot of art to be learned in the development of gluten, handling of dough, and timing of rises.
…But with that, I think I've “breaded myself out” for a while. I ordered a dutch oven, which should level up my sourdough game, but it's taking a while to ship. I'm probably done making bread until then. – I have a lot of extra bread in my freezer now… 😅 But, that's a nice problem to have.
Inspired by this thread on Lobste.rs, I decided to poke around with Clojure a bit this week. I read SICP last year, so I already had a passing familiarity with Lisp. I'm slowly making my way through Clojure for the Brave and True, which is available for free in its entirety online! I don't anticipate using Clojure for anything serious, but my brain needed something to do, and I don't have a Lisp in my working set of languages.
I also started working on a blog post about some hacks I've been doing with Go's
io.Reader recently. The tooling I develop at work does a lot of interfacing
between synchronous reads (e.g.
io.Reader) and asynchronous reads (i.e. using
channels). There's some unfortunate corner cases that arise, so I've been
writing up our current best-effort solutions in that post. This is half to
document potentially useful patterns, and half to see if the larger Go community
can tell me what I'm doing wrong. But, writing “serious” posts take effort, and
I haven't had a lot of spare energy these days.
- A local Seattle pianist has been performing via livestream every few nights on Youtube. I've been listening to these recordings while working – they're quite good!
- The British Library digitized and published some 17th and 18th century European globes. They're interesting to look at, especially from the perspective of what was known and unknown geographically at that time.
- I've been reading Jonathan Borichevskiy's blog recently. He's been doing some interesting experiments with the newsletter format. His latest post toys around with “typed hyperlinks”, which is a neat idea. It's cool to see people (Gwern comes to mind as well) exploring new ways of presenting information on the internet.
That's all for this week. Stay safe, stay sane.