And two Sundays. Poetic, isn’t it?
San Diego has so far escaped the worst of the 2020 police riots, but I’ve still been keeping an eye out. My primary tool for doing so is ADS-B aircraft broadcasts and the OpenADSB iOS app. Here are some sample traces, showing the police helicopters over the city:
It’s notable that the helicopter probably has unbelievably good cameras (gyro stabilizers with long zoom lenses are better than you think) and could well have infrared also. And yesterday, Timothy Shea brought in the DEA to surveill the protests too. That’s not just human intelligence and AT&T’s massive data; it’s also flying dirt boxes.
What the heck is a dirtbox?
TL;DR – it mimics a cell tower and grabs the unique IDs from a phone. They can also intercept text messages and phone calls, and you should assume that they see all non-encrypted communications. All.
Yesterday, I saw this on the app:
That’s a Cessna 206, owned by the DEA, flying out of Montgomery field and meandering over San Diego. I should have gotten more screenshots, but it flew around for a while and followed the coastline north. I consider this high-probability that they’re flying dirtboxes over our cities and recording who’s at the protests.
- If you go to a protest, read this EFF guide before leaving home.
- The ACLU has a good primer on your legal rights.
- Then read this Wired guide.
- If you need a device, consider this one (I got one for Android testing and projects and it’s excellent). Strongly consider not installing a SIM card in it. That flying dirtbox will grab it and link you to it via the cell providers’ database of who’s paying for the account. Maybe keep the SIM card taped to the phone for an emergency or later call?
- Read this about photography.
Consider donating to the EFF and/or ACLU. Vote when you can.
So I know a couple of guys who are thriving under covid-19: Doing more workouts, seemingly minimally and proportionally worried, getting their jobs done while getting outdoors for their adapted exercise routine. Truly exemplars of adaptability.
Me, I’ve struggled quite a lot. I’ve had a few weeks with two low-grade colds, insomnia, reduced ability to focus and the general sensation of an air raid siren sounding continuously. At the same time, I’m one of the fortunate: I have a job, and I can work from home, and my employer is unlikely to lay off staff in the pandemic. (Online tax software is coping OK.)
I’ve got two long-form essays on the subject that resonated with me and wanted to share. The first is from ex-broker Josh Brown, who I’ve had on my RSS feeds for years now. He’s had it tough and is blunt here, but this is the more relatable section:
I couldn’t sleep. Maybe for weeks. And while there were people risking their lives in hospitals and saying goodbye to their loved ones, we don’t feel our own individual stress on a curve, or in the context of someone else’s. Even acknowledging, out loud, that other people are going through a worse situation doesn’t help us trick our own body into complacence.
Your hypothalamus doesn’t care about your relative safety compared to someone else’s as it sounds the alarm. Your amygdala doesn’t consider other people as it passes on its signals – this is an ancient part of your brain that developed to keep your great grandfather from being eaten by something with sabreteeth. Your pituitary glands don’t feel for others as they pump the adrenocorticotropic hormone which lets the adrenal glands know to pump their epinephrine, and so on. Your whole nervous system is now engaged, the gas pedal is pushed to the floor and held there. It’s not designed to react to your empathy for others, it’s designed for your own survival. And when it remains at this heightened state of vigilance for days on end, you’re in trouble.Josh brown
That. Just because I’m fortunate doesn’t mean I’m coping. And there’s good reasons for that. Read the whole thing; it’ll rewire what you expect from candor in the CEO of a financial advisor firm.
Over the past few weeks, my ability to focus has completely disappeared. I set my timer for 25 minutes and then stare at it, not doing work, for minutes at a time. I do a burst of work and realize only six minutes have passed. Earlier this week, I fell asleep while reading a book, in the middle of the day. I can’t focus for long enough to figure out how to fix my inability to focus.
The good news is that I’m not alone: since February, there has been a “300 per cent increase in people searching ‘how to get your brain to focus’, an 110 per cent increase in ‘how to focus better’, and 60 per cent rise in ‘how to increase focus’.”
It turns out that this pandemic has weakened our pre-frontal cortexes—the part of the brain that is responsible for higher function—because of higher levels of stress chemicals that dampen the cortex’s effectiveness in order to prioritize more primitive function.FPINTM
A bit further down it quotes and links to The New Statesman:
There are three major factors that make Covid-19 particularly potent for cutting off our prefrontal cortex: its invisibility; the lack of individual control we have over it; and being forced to go against our normal habits in order to protect ourselves.The new statesman
As disturbing as it may be to think that this inability to focus is hard-wired into our brains, it’s also a bit of a relief to know that this isn’t a personal or moral failing. It makes sense that I’m finding it hard to focus, and that means I can forgive myself for my distracted mind.
That is, after all, the best thing we all can do, in this crisis or not: forgive ourselves for who we are. We can always strive to be better, but we can’t beat ourselves up for being ourselves.FPITM
Read the whole thing. It’s excellent. He (or is it she?) also includes poetry and well-curated links. A wonderful blog to find.
Anyway, if like me you’re not an exemplar of human adaptability, fortitude, etc, etc, then I encourage you to read the essays and accept why your brain is so wigged out. I’m right there with you.
Fact 1:In the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re all on Zoom et al quite a lot.
Fact 2: Apple webcams are 720p resolution and quite low quality.
Fact 3: Nerds want to be helpful.
Consequence two: The people behind the cheap and awesome WiFi webcam brand Wyze have written custom firmware to convert a wireless security camera into a very decent USB 1080p webcam. And it’s free.
- Wyze webcam v2 – vendor, or Amazon. $26 bucks as of today.
- 8GB or so micro SD card. You might have one around if you use Raspberry Pi. I bought this two-pack of overkill 32GB cards, since that’s a useful size for Pi project. $14.
- USB3 A to A cable. These are unusual and I had to order one. I bought a two pack so I can have a spare. $12, and cheaper versions exist. Note that your computer needs to have a USB3 port with an A plug – I’m using the one on my LG monitor.
Flash the firmware
Instructions are here on their site – TL;DR is to unzip the download and copy demo.bin into the root directory. Power up holding reset for five seconds. Pretty do-able even for the less technical.
There are two Wyze cameras, basic or a $35 pan/tilt/zoom. I already had two of each, because at $20 to $35 each, they’re in my hobby budget and have been delighted with ’em. I chose the base camera as I see no use for PTZ.
Here’s the built-in webcam from my MacBook. It’s the 2018 15″ model, my work computer.
Now here’s the Wyze:
Color is a bit off, but resolution is a huge amount better. it’s also wide-angle, with strong curvature at the edges.
I was just in time for a Zoom birthday party.
Why yes, my family does look sharper than everyone else. And wide angle was perfect for this use. Sometimes you get lucky. You can kinda see my low-rent mounting:
I’ll leave it that way for now, as it makes it quick to move around and try other lighting.
Overall – recommended. Pretty cheap, the parts are versatile, and when this ends you just re-flash the camera to get back to a nice smart camera/IoT device.
I’m pretty much exhausted. “Regular” work plus a few overlapping deadlines plus whatever household chores I can manage and all the random stuff that comes with being permanently home means I can’t find the time to relax, let alone do something borderline creative.50-ish Days Later – The Tao of Mac
A better phrasing than I’ve been able to manage. As a 4-year veteran of permanent WFH (heck, my team even created Slack before Slack), I had expected to cope better than I have been. But the side projects, home projects, workouts, etc, etc… have all gotten scant focus.
Who knew. It’s hard to focus in a pandemic.
It’s hard and crazy and the disinformation is everywhere but persevere. There are still roses. Hopes for treatment and maybe even a cure though I’m worried there it’ll be years.
A friend sent me this paper on Arxiv.org – “A physicist view of the airborne infection” by Luis A. Anchordoqui and Eugene M. Chudnovsky. They used SimScale to model airflow in an office and included a couple of nice visualizations:
The paper is quite concise and worth your time, just under 2.5 pages. Short version? Six feet ain’t enough and your office is a Petri dish.
From the physics point of view, we cannot find a good justification for a stationary 6-feet separation in a situation when people spend long time together in a room. Droplets containing the virus move in the air via convection. The convection pattern in a room can be very complex; see Fig. 1. It depends on the location of air conditioners, radiators, windows, and all items in the room, as well as on people producing vortices by moving around. The existing vortices in the air can make a location far away from the source of droplets more dangerous than the location 6 feet away. This applies to meeting rooms, office spaces, supermarkets, department stores, etc. The airflow pattern should be studied for all such facilities to avoid the spread of infection to large distances from a single infected person. The safest rooms must be those equipped with the air sucking ventilator at the top, like hospital surgery roomsLuis A. Anchordoqui and Eugene M. Chudnovsky
What he said.
Melody from “Seven Nation Army” and rewrite it as a vocal fugue. Genius!
Forwarded on a local Slack from a former co-worker, whose wife found it on Facebook. I’m looking for the author and will update if I find him/her.