Categories
Covid-19 essays

Two fantastic posts about coping with covid-19

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.

The second essay is from a blog I just found a week ago, Flashing Palely in the Margins. The post is “Forgiving myself for not being able to focus“.

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

He continues:

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.

Categories
recommendations

New cable modem

Maybe it was getting old, or maybe the much-increased traffic from pandemic WFH caused problems, but for whatever reason our Spectrum-provided cable modem has been a problem. I’ve had to power cycle it a few times to clear slowdowns. Symptoms – speed tests dropped down to under 10 megabits, and on reboot would rebound to over 200. (We’re paying for 400/25 and seem to be provisioned for faster.)

Having seen similar problems before, I first narrowed the suspects down by power cycling the (apple) access point and (Mikrotic) backbone switch and (ER-4) router; none sufficed but a modem cycle did. I found the Spectrum supported modems page, did some research and bought the Netgear CM1000v2 direct from the manufacturer and installed it today.

Install was painless. I called Spectrum’s activation line (877-309-5869) and waited for a callback. The tech took the MAC address, waited patiently for the power, sent down an activation packet and waited for reboot and DHCP to the router. Easiest install I’ve ever had with any ISP!

Now things are back at line speed and I’m a lot happier. I’m spending hours a day on Zoom and BlueJeans and now Google Meet, so fast and reliable internet is rapidly becoming essential.

fast.com is a great test
Admin interface is basic

The CM1000v2 isn’t their fastest – they have ones that can gang 2 or 4 gigabit ports together. I decided not to bother, as 1G is the max available locally and going faster than that would cascade to needing a new router and possibly multipoint wireless. I’ll wait.

New gear

I considered the other supported modems, but the Arris ones ran hot and some had the problematic Intel Puma chipset; hard pass. Do your research if you’re thinking of buying an Arris SB8200 Rev 4 or Arris SBG8300.

Categories
Covid-19 recommendations

1080p webcam for Zoom for $40

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 one: Good webcams are sold out universally.

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.

Hardware requirements

  1. Wyze webcam v2 – vendor, or Amazon. $26 bucks as of today.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Results

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.

Categories
Covid-19

50-ish Days Later – The Tao of Mac

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.

Categories
Covid-19

Somehow, things go on

Local rose today

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.

Categories
Covid-19

Six feet is the wrong model

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 rooms

Luis A. Anchordoqui and Eugene M. Chudnovsky

https://arxiv.org/pdf/2003.13689.pdf?referringSource=articleShare

Categories
recommendations

Damn it Apple

Apple Music on iOS has turned into a ad-infested shitshow of dodgy UX patterns that verge on deceptive; where the big obvious click signs you up to become a positive number on some Apple ARPU dashboard.

This sucks. Quite a lot. You literally cannot be rid of this incessant upsell bullshit. Fucking Apple, I pay a premium to avoid this shit.

My current solution is OK but has limitations – the paid iOS app ‘Cesium’. Two bucks on the App Store. Reliable, no ads, none of the upsells and I’m a happy customer. It can’t download music, bummer, and I’ve not tried the playlist editing but overall at least it works and doesn’t try to scam me out of more money.

Categories
Uncategorized

Covid run

Literally.

Exercise is quite difficult in a pandemic but I really need to manage.

Categories
Watches

Introducing Watchsmith – David Smith, Independent iOS Developer

Watchsmith is an application that seeks to give you complete control over the appearance and utility of your Apple Watch. First, it provides a wide array of complications. Each of these is completely customizable, with controls for things like font, color, hand type and location1. The initial set is just over 50 unique complications, with dozens more planned down the road. My goal is to provide a complication for just about every use and let you make it look just how you want. In the absence of 3rd-party watch faces, this is the closest I can get to making my own watch faces.

Introducing Watchsmith – David Smith, Independent iOS Developer

Insta-download. Yeah, I got a v5 Apple Watch a week or so ago and wow how they gotten better since the launch version I bought when they first came out. Anyway, Watchsmith looks quite clever and promising, and its free to try out.

His privacy policy is fantastic:

Other than these two cases, no personal data ever leaves your devices. Unless you email me for support, I will have no information about you or what you do within the app.

I don’t want the responsibility of managing your data correctly, so I don’t collect it, which I think is better for both of us.

Categories
Computer science recommendations

Lockdown Apps

Found via Hacker News – free and open source tracker and ad blocker, works on-device using VPN hooks. That means that it’ll block in apps as well as Safari. I’m trying it now.
Note – they pay their bills with the subscription-billed VPN but you can decline that and just use the blocker. That’s what I’m trying.

For iOS devices and Mac only.