In the beginning…

My family are a constant source of useful information. My nephew James tells me he’s just discovered that it’s ‘World Design Day’. (He’s a designer and nobody had mentioned it to him before now. Shocking, eh?)

Anyway, this is another nice episode in what is rapidly becoming a theme on Status-Q. We started with The International Year of Planet Earth, then moved on to the discovery of Earth Day, but World Design Day surely has to be the most ambitious. I mean, where do you start?

Well, I guess you might begin with ‘Let there be light…’?

The Liar Tweets Tonight

This is just brilliant…

The Biggest Event You’ve Never Heard Of?

In a slightly-related follow-up to my recent repost from the archives…

Yesterday, apparently, was ‘Earth Day’. I missed this fact — you may have done so too — but, unlike my brother, I had actually heard of it before, so I knew it wasn’t a marketing ploy by vendors of topsoil and compost. But I thought it was some one-off hippy jamboree back in the 90s.

However, it turns out to be a regular and international thing, which has been going on about as long as we have! He only found out about it because it was included in his Apple Calendar. He went and Googled it, and sent me a link.

Gosh, the ways we find out about things these days, eh? Other people put them in your calendar, and you have to go and look them up to find out what they are. Whatever next?

Anyway happy (belated) Earth Day, everybody! You’ll know for next year…

Daddy, what did you do in TIYOIY?

Sometimes, I find, it’s worth looking back into my blog archives to ponder how the great events of the past have affected the world since.

Do you remember, for example, when we declared 2009 to be TIYOIY?

A remote dawn

Around Christmas and New Year, I was in Scotland in my campervan. I took lots of video footage. Far too much, in fact, so I’ve been gradually working my way through it, on and off, for several months. This evening, I came across this rather pleasing scene. It’s just a still frame captured from video, and on a GoPro too, so the quality’s not great, but I hope you enjoy the view!

This is a dawn dog-walk at Uig on the Isle of Lewis, on New Year’s Eve. Not only was I up at dawn, I had already breakfasted and was setting off for a hike! However, this sounds a bit less impressive when I point out that sunrise in mid-winter up there is after 9am.

The small black blur on the right-hand side, which you may be able to see if you click for a larger version, is Tilly romping in the heather.

Spare a thought for the politicians

I am constantly bemused by the number of naïve people who want to blame politicians for all the evils of the world, and especially those medical evils that are besetting us at the moment. As I pointed out in an earlier post, this is happening in many, if not most, countries — which should immediately give any critical thinkers pause for thought — but let’s focus for the moment on the UK.

The NHS is, as the Guardian so nicely put it recently, “the UK’s unofficial religion”, so to question any aspect of its operation is blasphemy. If the health service were given free rein, clearly everything would be fine and sunny, so, as Epicurus would have wondered, “whence cometh evil?” Other religions usually deal with this problem by inventing the idea of devils, who exist to take the blame for the difficult problems raised by the belief system. Also to blame are heretics, who consort with them, don’t pay sufficient tithes to the gods, and should therefore be burned at the stake. In the modern world, we group these problematic actors together and call them politicians. (Oh, not the ones you voted for, of course. They are the priests.)

Anyway, since we don’t just have a two-party system, and not everybody votes, the majority of the population will probably disapprove of whichever party is currently in power. That party is therefore always an easy scapegoat for significant frustration. And the minister in charge of the particular challenge du jour is probably Beelzebub himself in human form. Certainly, any media outlet suggesting that is going to get higher advertising revenues than one that suggests the opposite, so it’s a meme that propagates by simple Darwinian processes.

But is that really fair?

Now, just to set the scene, let me emphasise that I’m no particular fan of our current government, and I didn’t vote for them. And yes, with hindsight, there are some things that they could have been done better. It’s easy to say that now. We must never forget that they are fallible humans, after all, with fallible advisors, and voted for by fallible people.

But if, like me, you didn’t vote for them, then try assuming, as a thought experiment, that the people you did vote for came to power in the election just a few weeks ago, and had this dumped on them. They would, I hope, if they were smart, have taken broadly the same decisions. Yes, they would. They would have had the same health service, the same civil servants, the same scientific advice from the same scientific advisors and, hopefully, would have followed it roughly as the current government have done. So they would have had the same outcomes.

There might have been variations — the advice they’re given by the experts isn’t unanimous, after all — which might have moved the infection curve forward or back by a week or two. But it probably wouldn’t have been a significant change (unless your politicians chose to ignore the scientific advice completely like a certain transatlantic President I could mention!)

This graph from the FT is a good way to see that most comparable countries to the UK are following a pretty similar trajectory; the UK peak is higher than most, but our numbers are dominated by London’s population size & density, and its transport infrastructure; neither of which are replicated in many otherwise comparable places. If you restrict your view to urban centres, Paris followed a pretty similar curve to London. France, however, has half the population density of the UK overall, and that’s probably a significant factor in limiting the spread on a national scale. And so on.

Anyway, let’s assume that your favourite party is in power and hasn’t done a significantly worse or better job, because they don’t have that many parameters to tweak. Where they might have made different decisions, these would have had other costs of their own: damage to the economy, significantly higher future taxes, closure of businesses leading to higher unemployment, etc. The best choice wasn’t necessarily obvious back then; managing this is almost always about having to choose the lesser of two evils. And now they’re being blamed by the media and everyone on Twitter for the shortage of PPE, tests, and ventilators.

I assume that those who are complaining have never actually set up a vast manufacturing and supply chain combined with an instant nationwide distribution network. You have? OK, well done. But let’s imagine, instead, that you’re a young guy — we’ll call you Matt — and you have no particular expertise in this area but have been put in charge of everything and suddenly had the world’s most difficult supply-chain problem for some time dropped in your lap. You have to try and sort out in days and weeks what would normally take those who do have lots of experience weeks and months.

Assuming you’re up to this superhuman task, let’s compound it with a few problems:

  • You work for a large, bureaucratic, inefficient and slow-moving organisation. You’re trying to organise this on behalf of and with the help of another large, bureaucratic, inefficient and slow-moving organisation.

  • Many of your key decision-makers are not in the office. Some of them are sick. Some are in intensive care. Including your boss.

  • Many of your lower-level staff are also off sick or have child-care issues to deal with because all the schools are closed. It’s a bit like trying to organise this during a Bank Holiday.

  • This is true of every single organisation you’re dealing with. And there are hundreds.

  • There’s a global shortage of materials needed to make your products. Many of those suppliers are just not operating at the moment. Sometimes their governments wouldn’t even let them sell it to you if they could.

  • There’s a global demand for the product itself. Everybody else is trying to buy it, as well as you. Not just everybody nearby. Everybody in the world.

  • You don’t actually work for or have any real authority in most of the companies concerned.

  • All of this is costing you way, way more than it normally would.

  • If you do manage to manufacture this product, then all the delivery drivers who might eventually distribute it for you are busy delivering other things.

  • Sorry, did I say this product? You’re actually trying to do this many times over, for a whole range of different products.

  • And every day, journalists are badgering you with questions about why you haven’t finished it yet – don’t you know people are dying out there?

Now, given all that, I don’t know about you, but I’m not 100% certain that, even if I were Secretary of State for Health, I’d actually be able to sort this out in the next couple of weeks so we can all go back to work.

Would you? OK, make sure you stand for parliament next time around, so we can elect you before the next crisis hits, and it can then be your name in the papers. Personally, I fancy that role even less than I fancy being a health worker with insufficient PPE!

Sports commentary still going on…

Andrew Cotter, the well-known UK sports commentator, posted this rather nice video on his Twitter feed, not having much else to comment on at present.

Towards self-sufficiency

We get nice deliveries of vegetables from a local supplier.

One day, we got a couple of butternut squashes.

Rose fished a few of the seeds out of the bin and planted them.

Soon, we won’t need to get vegetable deliveries any more…

Coronavirus and cavemen

It seems only a few years ago that, when I walked around my house, the lights wouldn’t turn on automatically! For younger readers, I should explain that in the past you actually had to go to a particular place on the wall and press a switch if you wanted to be able to see things!

Can you imagine the inconvenience if, say, you had your hands full at the time? And when you left the room, if you wanted to save power, you’d have to do the same thing again, and then repeat it as you went into the next room. So people had to install switches in all the places they thought they might go in and out of rooms. They had to come up with complex wiring schemes because you might want to turn lights on at the bottom of a staircase and turn them off at the top, when the upstairs and downstairs lights were normally on different electrical circuits!

It’s hard to believe, in this era of easy home automation, that there are some people still living this caveman-like existence, but it’s true, just as there are those who, when they want to listen to the news, turn a physical dial instead of just talking to their smart speaker! Those whose house doesn’t know when they’re in movie-watching mode, so they have to turn the TV on and off with a remote control.

This is, of course, terribly inconvenient for those people who still embrace the ‘retro’ approach to life, but now it has an extra drawback: every one of those switches, buttons, knobs is a hot-spot for potential virus transmission. How are those people meant to protect their family from infection if, carrying in groceries or deliveries from the outside world, they have to press a light switch that everybody else in the family is going to touch later that day? And if, without thinking, they draw the curtains by hand, how many hands will touch the same spot later?

And that’s just home automation. When the lockdown is lifted, just imagine those poor people who have to go back to work in non-automated workplaces! The potential for contagion is terrifying.

But yes, my young friends, that’s what the world really used to be like for most people! Amazing, but true.

Waning gibbous

Moon over Addenbrooke's Hospital

The moon above Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, on Friday night. Click to enlarge.

The two most useful web pages for understanding the world today?

There are an awful lot of people just complaining about things at present. They’re either complaining about other people going to beaches and parks, or they’re complaining about their politicians, who should have known better/done more/spent more/predicted the future/not been elected, etc.

This is happening, as far as I can see, on all kinds of media in many countries, so it’s a general commentary on human nature and not specific to any particular government or population. Once you’ve read a couple of articles by your favourite complainer, I’d suggest it’s probably best to go and do something more productive rather than reading any more of it!

Here, however, are two excellent sources that might help you understand what’s really going on in the world, without too much complaining.

Geek wisdom of the day

Some people, when confronted with a problem, think ‘I know, I’ll use multithreading’.
Nothhw tpe yawrve o oblems.

Eiríkr Åsheim

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser