It's very rare for me to have such a strong reaction to a book as I has to The Shallows. A combination of high expectations from the people who recommended it and the ironically poor quality of the book almost forced me to stop reading it. It gives me a great and perverse pleasure to summarize this book into a single paragraph: the Internet is bombarding us with information and stimuli, therefore training our brains to skim the surface of things and depriving us of the ability to "deep read", meaning slowly digesting large blocks of text and fully processing what we read is now difficult to impossible for most people. That is it! There is nothing else in this book. And the reason why this book was bad is that it brings nothing more to the original idea explored by the author in an Atlantic Monthly cover story than quotes from other people who agree.

  Nicholas Carr decries (and cries and cries) the way the medium of the information we digest is changing the way we process that information. He uses page long paragraphs filled with big words meant only to make him look well read to repeat the same things over and over again, all the while complaining about people skipping to the juicy parts. I mean, I've been known to use a few pompous words myself, but I don't think I've ever went out of my way to use complicated expressions when simpler ones would do.

  The multitude of citations from people ranging from ancient Greek philosophers to Artificial Intelligence scientists are cherry-picked to make his case of the demise of the "deep read" in favor of meaningless web skimming. Carr makes the correct case that too much information trains us to not completely absorb the content of the things we read, but he completely misses the mark on why that happens, ironically made evident by his style of writing: boring, pompous, long, verbose. In a classic (by now) bubble effect, he writes a book about his fears that no one but people who share those fears would actually be able to read.

  Also ironic is that he makes some predictions (in 2010) about artificial intelligence and how people will use the various (and nefarious) web services like Google Wave that now make one laugh out loud.

  The point, Carr, is that people who are bombarded with lots of information learn to quickly categorize that information, then send it in the correct bin. You skim an article, see that it is mostly word filling around a central idea, you extract that idea, then move on. There is no deep reading because there is no deep writing. It happens with books, too. One is quick to determine when one book is captivating, engaging and well researched rather than repetitive, single-sided and written for the pleasure of reading oneself and looking smug rather than for knowledge sharing or the pleasure of others. The point (made clearer by research in how AI systems designed after brains function) is that this is how brains have always worked: filtered out as much as possible of the meaningless and tried to absorb as quickly as possible the meaningful. It is literally a search for meaning, you buffoon!

  So, yes, no one finds the time to laboriously study a book, annotate it, keeping well received paragraphs and quips in notebooks they carry with them. But that is because there is more information out there that brings more value through its diversity. In a very sad way, The Shallows reminds me of those religious people who complained about how laic books made people not study the Bible and absorb its teachings.

  Now, the book is not completely without merit. It's just very annoying. The way we use our brains does change the abilities we later have. It's what brains are meant to do: adapt.

  Would it hurt to regularly take a break from distraction, reading something that we have decided is important and high quality, then taking the time to think and absorb and maybe reread what we thought was valuable? No, of course not. I am intimately familiar with the restlessness that comes when trying to spend more than an hour doing the same thing or keeping my attention focused on one thing only. In this, Carr is not wrong. But in assuming that slowly and carefully navigating an avalanche of information is possible, he is definitely going too far.

  Instead of complaining about how we don't absorb meaning because we are too busy filtering out noise, one could be optimistic about the ability of people, helped by technology and not despite it, to improve the way they separate chaff from wheat. Instead of decrying the size and complexity of the information that one must use, making it impossible to hold it all in one brain, why not enjoy the ability to collaborate, network and share that makes it possible for that information to be well processed by groups of people?

  Bottom line: the ideas explored in this book are conservative in nature, fearful of change, focused on what drives that change yet blind on where it takes us. It is the intellectual pompous version of the old man wagging his cane in the air, shouting in anger at young people. It is a book that examines one phenomenon without bringing one any closer to an understanding of it. Woe betide things will change! Well, duh!

  It was more than two years ago when I was reading the first four books in the series and not being very impressed. Then there was a long break in which I wasn't really interested in reading the fifth and last: The Dark Talent. But I am a big fan of Brandon Sanderson so I finally read it. It's very short, pretty pointless and ends badly. And by badly I mean written in a bad way, which is quite unexpected, but even worse, it ends in a cliffhanger, pending a sixth book.

  The entire series is tonally all over the place, but I remember for the first books it kind of grew on me, even if it was funny one moment, tense the next, breaking the fourth wall immediately after. The Dark Talent, though, I hated! I couldn't empathise with any of the characters, I found the jokes elaborate yet dull and the twists were obvious chapters before.

  I guess Sanderson can't do only good. He has to vent the silly and the bad and the weird in order to write the good ones like The Reckoners and Elantris. I am pretty sure I will not read any of the books in this series.

  The first 20% of Gods of Jade and Shadow has nothing to do with anything fantastic. Since I have a large collection of books and choosing which to read more or less at random, I was afraid that I chose one of those young girl coming of age stories, because basically the first fifth of the book is a Cinderella story. Nothing wrong with that, just I didn't feel like reading such a story then and I almost stopped reading it. But a few days later I kept going.

  And the book picked up, with the introduction of Mayan gods, only that afterwards it all turned into one of the watered down episodes of American Gods from the TV show (not the book, which was great!). It's a big road trip, with enough information to basically know where the characters will end up and in what state they will get there. The only unknowns were the bits of Mayan mythology, which were nice, but not nearly comprehensive, and the final chapter. And the final chapter is full of symbolism, only I felt that it didn't have a lot to do with the rest of the book. Worse, a lot of the characters introduced in that first 20% were basically abandoned for the rest of the story. It was like Silvia Moreno-Garcia started to write something, then she thought of a cool ending and then she abruptly veered off and filled in the space to get to that ending.

  Bottom line: it was decent writing and perhaps in a more receptive mood I would have "got it", but as it is, I didn't. It seemed an attempt for something that the book never got to be, instead I got something fractured that didn't feel neither original nor magical.

  I am writing this post to make people aware of the changes that happen around them because of the Covid pandemic. How easy was it for them to pop up and how many of these "extraordinary measures" will stick with us after we get rid of the virus? 

  I wake up and turn on BBC News. First reporting of the day is the mass graves in the US. Yeah, I was surprised, too... but just a little bit. Mass graves? Aren't those things that happen when people want to kill a whole bunch of other people? Like conflict or ethnic cleansing or whatever the euphemism of the day is for war? And in the US? Home of the brave, the free, the rich and the apathetic? Apparently New York has had a special little island close by to use as the dumping ground for dead people that don't have money or relatives or names. It's been a human garbage bin for 150 years!

  Then I open up YouTube and watch this video that is unrelated to the virus, but at the beginning of the video they talk about "the virus that we cannot name". Apparently YouTube has rules to protect "the truth" by censoring free speech. And yes, it's not the government, it's a private company that pretty much can do whatever it freaking wants, and what it wants if for you to not speak some specific words. Facebook does it, your search engine does it, TV stations do it. I open a news site and I see an article about a conspiracy theorist who was "allowed" to speak on BBC about his dumbass ideas. Ofcom, the media regulator in the UK also has rules about what people can say or not on TV. Next article is about a movie about xenophobes in an elevator picking on an Asian woman who dares cough. The whole idea of the article was to wonder if the film was "unethical" or if it is too soon for Covid movies. Who gets to decide what is true or not, hurtful or not. This is an older question, but now it's come into contrast.

  I go out and I see a military police car, all armored, with a gun rack on top, police stopping cars passing by to check the papers of the drivers. Every minute or so a patrol car would pass, blinking lights on. And the new rules. We are now at the eighth iteration of a military ordnance telling civilians what to do. Governments have instantly given themselves as much power as possible, some using it to further their own agenda, like the prime minister of Hungary moving quickly to pick on gay people. And yes, Israelis laugh at the world going all brisly about these rules that most believe a bit extreme, regardless of how necessary, because in Israel they have these kind of rules into their regular constitution. This did not stop Netanyahu to get even more power and use it immediately when he could. And this without mentioning Trump. There was a scene in the American TV series Homeland where it is asked "What do weak presidents do to appear strong?" "They go to war". But we are not in war.

  How did this happen? How did we reach a point in which the military is telling everybody what to do, corporations and pundits and social pressure tells us what to say and governments get extra judicial power that they use however they see fit in a time of peace?

  When this whole thing started, the first thing I googled (again, Google) was what to do in case you are infected. And all the pages that came about were about Covid and the official recommendation from both politicians and doctors: stay in, wash your hands, leave masks to the medical professionals, don't self medicate, report immediately if you have symptoms. So I repeated the query, now with -covid so that I see what people were saying about what to do when you get a virus *before* all of this started. And lo' and behold, the advice was completely different: hand washing (or waving) doesn't really do much, do self medicate with anti inflammatory drugs to avoid a cytokine storm, take vitamin D (or generate it by being in the sun) and zinc, vitamins C and E also help, masks help with both sick and healthy and, most of all, keep hydrated by drinking lots of liquids, preferably warm, like soups. Slowly, the "expert view" is changing back to what people in the field were saying from before the declaration of the pandemic.

  This is also important: the definition of pandemic is a disease that is prevalent over a country or the entire world. Practically it became a pandemic from the moment the World Health Organization declared it so. Our belief in the terms that are vehiculated gives them power. I am not saying that Covid is not prevalent over the world, or that you should not take it seriously, but things only began to move when enough people were convinced that it was real. Before action, an ideological pandemic has to happen. The brutal decisions that are being taken in your name right now are based on your belief in various narratives that may be correct or not. BTW, if I search now on Google on the same thing a search page dedicated to Covid-19 appears. 

  The question is not of truth, but of utility. If it is not useful, who cares it is true? is the old adage. But then the question becomes: useful to whom? At first they wanted you to come to the hospital, so that they can have as much information and control as possible and to isolate you, then get all the people you came into contact with and do the same to them. It is good for us all as a community, but not particularly for the sick person who is now confined in haste, perhaps with other people that are infected so they can swap strains and being taken care of in medical systems unfit for that job. Wearing masks doesn't do much if you are in an infected place, but it can protect both you and others in more relaxed environments, like public transportation or on the street, not to mention that it's a simple way to remind you not to touch your face. But they were way more useful to medical personnel and so they spun this story where you should not use them unless you know you are sick. When the number of masks and the number of sick increased, the narrative changed to use masks, but don't come to the hospital.

  I've said it before and I will repeat it at nauseam because it is true, it is important and it is verifiable: the only reason the very deadly pandemic in 1918 was called The Spanish Flu was that Spain was neutral and therefore free to report on people getting sick and dying of a disease. All the other countries were caught in their little World War that killed way less people, but that put the military in power to enact censorship. It is also the reason why most of people today haven't even heard of the 1918 influenza pandemic. We are not in a declared war right now, but the reaction of authorities all over the world is kind of the same. It's impossible to hide things in this world of social media and non stop global TV networks, right? Wrong. There were news outlets in 1918, too, and they all declared themselves independent. There are a billion films and books and plays about the heroes of WWI. Where are the ones about a virus that killed so many people? Things don't have to be hidden from you, just depicted a little differently than reality in a consistent way. Doesn't the current situation appear similar? And we are not in a war.

  Ask yourself this: what narrative is being spun around you and who does it benefit? Have you looked at the problems you have and actively searched for solutions that were not pushed towards you by others? The truth is out there, but you have to actually look for it. Yes, we need to find a solution to the virus that has spread around the world and kills people, but we are not at war. We have a problem and we have to solve it, that is it. So the next time some solemn guy with a grave face tells you what to do, ask yourself, why the hell is he wearing an uniform? We are not at war.

Intro  

  One of the most asked questions related to the novel coronavirus is "what is the mortality rate of the disease?" And most medical professionals and statisticians will choose not to answer it, because so far the data is not consistent enough to tell. Various countries report things differently, have different testing rates and methods and probably different definitions of what it means to be dead or recovered from Covid-19. To give a perfectly informed answer to this is impossible and that is why the people we look to for answers avoid the question, while people who are not professionals are giving all of the possible answers at the same time. I am not a professional, so I can give my answer and you can either trust my way of thinking or not.

  In order to compute mortality with absolute certainty we need several things:

  • the pandemic has to be over
  • the number of deaths from SARS-Cov-2 has to be exactly known
  • the number of people infected with SARS-Cov-2 has to be exactly known

 Then the answer would be the total number of dead over the total number of infected people (100*dead/infected). During the epidemic, though, people tend to use the numbers they have.

Panic!

 One of the most used formulas is: current number of deaths over the total number of infected so far (100*current deaths/current infected). This formula is wrong! Imagine there would be two people A and B. Both get infected at the same time and no one else gets infected after that. A will die from the disease in a week, B will recover in two weeks. If we use the formula above, for the first week the mortality of the disease is 0, then it becomes 50% after a week and it stays that way until the end. If B would die, too, the mortality would be computed as 0, then 50, then 100%. As you see, not much accuracy. In the case of Covid-19 the outcome of an infection is not known for three weeks or even more (see below).

  But let's use it anyway. Today, the 31st of March 2020, this would be 100*37832/786617 which is 4.8%. This is a large number. Applied to the entire world population, it would yield 362 million deaths.

  Accuracy comes from the finality of an outcome. A dead man stays dead, a recovered one stays recovered. A better formula is current number of deaths over the sum of current number of deaths and current number of recovered (100*current deaths/(current deaths+current recovered)). This eliminates the uncertainty of people who are sick, but still have to either die or live. If we would know with certainty who is infected and who is not, who died from Covid-19 and who recovered, this would actually be pretty accurate, wouldn't it?

  If we use it on Covid-19 today, we have  100*37832/(37832+165890), which gives us an 18.57% mortality rate. "What!? Are you insane? That's a fifth of all people!", you will shout, with immediate thoughts of a fifth of the world population: 1.4 billion people.

  So which number is the correct one? Neither. And it all comes from the way we define the numbers we use.

Reality

  OK, I kind of tricked you, I apologize. I can't answer the question of mortality, either. My point is that no one can. We can estimate it, but as you have seen, the numbers will fluctuate wildly. And the numbers above are not the extremes of the interval, not by a long shot. Let's explore that further while I explain why numbers derived from bad data cannot be good data.

  What are the types of data that we have right now?

  • deaths
  • infected (cases)
  • recovered
  • tested
  • total population of an area

  And we can't trust any of these.

Cases/infected

  One cannot confirm an infection without testing, which is something that for most countries (and especially the ones with numerous populations) it is really lacking. We know from small countries like Iceland that when you test a significant part of the population, half of the number of infections show no symptoms. The rest of 50% are on average also experiencing mild symptoms. The number of severe cases that can lead to death is relatively small. The takeaway here is that many more people can be infected than we think, making the actual mortality rate be very very small.

  So, can we use the Iceland data to compute mortality? Yes we can, on the part of the population of Iceland that was tested. We can't use that number for anything else and there are still people that have not been infected there. What is this significant percent of the population that was tested? 3%. 3% right now is considered large. Iceland has a population of 360000, less than the neighbourhood I live in. 3% of that is 108000 people. The largest number of tests have been performed in South Korea, a staggering number of 316664. That's only 0.6% of the total population size.

  But, using formula number 2, mortality for from the Iceland data would be 100*2/(2+157), which is 1.26%. Clearly this will get skewed quite a lot if one more person dies, so we can't really say anything about that number other than: yay! smaller than 4.8%!

  We can try on South Korean data: 100*162/(162+5408) which gives us a 2.9% mortality rate.

  Yet, assuming we would test a lot of people, wouldn't that give us useful data to make an accurate prediction? It would, only at this time, testing is something of a confusing term.

Testing

  What does testing mean? There are two types of tests: based on antibodies and based on RNA, or molecular tests. One tells you that the body is fighting or has fought an infection, the other is saying that you have virus stuff in your system. The first one is faster and cheaper, the other takes more time, but is more accurate. In all of these, some tests are better than others.

  There were reports that people who were infected before and recovered got reinfected later. This is not how that works. The immune system works by recognizing the intruder and creating antibodies to destroy it. Once your body has killed the virus, you still keep the antibodies and the knowledge of what the intruder is. You are, for at least a number of months, immune to the virus. The length of time for this immunity depends not on how forgetful your immune system is, but on how much the virus mutates and can trick it into believing it is not an intruder. As far as we know, SARS-Cov-2 is relatively stable genetically. That's good. So the reason why people were reported to get reinfected was that they were either false positives when they were detected or false negatives when they were considered recovered or false positives when they were considered reinfected.

  Does it mean we can't trust testing at all and it's all useless? No. It means that at the beginning, especially when everybody was panicking, testing was unreliable. We can start trusting tests now, after they have been used and their efficacy determined in large populations. Remember, though, that the pandemic pretty much started in January and for many countries just recently. It takes time to make this reality the new normal and people and technology work in a "proper way".

  Testing is also the official way of determining when someone has recovered.

Recovered

  It is surprisingly difficult to find out what "recovered" means. There are also some rules, implemented in a spotty way by the giants of the Internet, which determine which web pages are "not fake news", but I suspect that the system filters a lot of the legitimate ones as well. A Quora answer to the question says "The operational definition of “recovered” is that after having tested positive for the virus (you have had it) you test negative twice, 3 days apart. If you test negative, that means that no RNA (well, below a certain threshold) from the virus is found in a nasal or throat swab."

  So if you feel perfectly fine, even after having negative effects, you still have to test negative, then test negative again after three days. That means in order to determine one is recovered, two tests have to be used per person, tests that will not be used to determine infection in people with symptoms or in people who have died. I believe this would delay that kind of determination for quite a while.

  In other words, probably the number of recovered is way behind the number of infected and, obviously, of deaths. This means the mortality has to be lower than whatever we can compute using the currently reported values for recovered people.

Deaths

  Surely the number of dead is something we can trust, right? Not at all. When someone dies their cause of death is determined in very different ways depending on where they died and in situations where the morgues are overflowing with dead from the pandemic and where doctors are much better used for the sick you cannot trust the official cause of death! Moreover, on a death certificate you can write multiple causes of death. On average, they are about two or three, some have up to 20. And would you really use tests for covid for the dead rather than for the sick or recovered?

 Logically it's difficult to assign a death to a clear little category. If a person dies of a heart attack and it is tested positive of SARS-Cov-2, is it a heart attack? If someone dies of hunger because they lost their job during the pandemic, is it a Covid-19 death or not? If an 87 year old dies, can you really say which of the dozen medical conditions they were suffering of was the culprit?

 So in some situations the number of deaths associated with Covid-19 will be overwhelmingly exaggerated. This is good. It means the actual mortality rate is lower than what we can determine right now.

Population in an area

  Oh, come on! We know how many people there are in an area. How can you not trust this? Easy! Countries like China and Italy and others have implemented quarantine zones. That means that the total people in Italy or China is irrelevant as there are different densities of the contagion in regions of the same territory. Even without restrictive measures, geography and local culture as well as local genetic predispositions will work towards skewing any of the relevant values.

  Yeah, you can trust the number of people in small areas, especially if they are isolated, like Iceland, but then you can't trust those numbers in statistics, because they are not significant. As the virus spreads and more and more people get infected, we will be able to trust a little more the values, as computed over the entire world, but it will all be about estimations that we can't use in specific situations.

Infectiousness

  An important factor that will affect the total number of deaths, rather than the percent of dead over infected, is how infectious Covid-19 really is. Not all people exposed to SARS-Cov-2 will get infected. They are not really immune, some of them will be, some of them will be resistant enough to not catch the virus. I need a medical expert to tell me how large this factor is. I personally did not find enough information about this type of interaction (or lack thereof) and I suspect it is a small percent. However, most pessimistic scenarios assume 80% of the world population will get infected at some point. That implies a 20% that will not. If anyone knows more about this, please let me know.

Mortality trends

  There is another thing that has to be mentioned. By default viruses go through the process of attenuation when going through large populations. This is the process by which people with milder symptoms have a larger mobility, therefore they infect more people with their milder strain, while sicker people tend to "fall sick" and maybe die, therefore locking the more aggressive strains away from the general population. In this context (and this context only) quarantines and social distancing are actually bad because they limit the mobility of the milder strains as well as of the aggressive ones. In extreme cases, preventing people from interacting, but then taking severely sick people to hospitals and by that having them infect medical personnel and other people is making the disease stronger.

  However, statistically speaking, I expect the mortality of the virus to slowly decrease in time, meaning that even if we could compute the mortality rate exactly right now, it will be different later on.

  What about local authorities and medical administrators? How do they prepare for this if they can't pinpoint the number of sick and dead? The best strategy is hope for the best while preparing for the worst. Most politicians, though, live in a fantasy world of their own making where words and authority over others affect what and how things are done. There is also the psychological bias of wanting to believe something so much that you start believing it is probable. I am looking at you, Trump! Basically that's all he does. That being said, there are a lot of people who are doing their job and the best they can do is to estimate based on current data, then extrapolate based on the evolution of the data.

  So here is another piece of data, or rather information, that we have overlooked: the direction in which current data is moving. One of the most relevant is what is called "the peak of the contagion". This is the moment when, for whatever reasons, the number of infected and recovered has reached a point where the virus has difficulties finding new people to infect. The number of daily infections starts to decrease and, if you can't assign this drop to some medical or administrative strategy, you can hope it means the worst is behind you. Mind you, the number of total infected is still rising, but slower. I believe this is the one you should keep your attention on. While the number of daily infected people increases in your area, you are not out of the woods yet. 

Mechanism

  Statistical studies closely correlate the life expectancy of a population with the death rate in that population. In other words there isn't a specific mechanism that only kills old people, for example. In fact, this disease functions like a death probability amplifier. Your chances to die increase proportionally to how likely you were to die anyway. And again, statistically, it doesn't apply to you as an individual. The virus attacks the lungs and depending on your existing defenses, it is more or less successful. (To be fair, the success of a virus is measured in how much it spreads, not how badly it sickens its host. The perfect virus would show no negative symptom and increase the health or survival chances of its host. That's how vampires work!)

  I have no doubt that there are populations that have specific mutations that make them more or less susceptible to SARS-Cov-2, but I think that's not statistically relevant. I may be wrong, though. We can't know right now. There are reports of Italian regions in the middle of the contagion that have no sick people. 

Conclusion

  We cannot say with certainty what is the mortality rate right now. We can't even estimate it properly without going into horrible extremes. For reasons that I cannot ascertain, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on the 3rd of March a mortality rate estimated at 3.4%. It is immense and I personally believe it was irresponsible to make such a statement at that time. But what do I know? A UK study released today calculates a 1.4 fatality rate.

  My personal belief, and I have to emphasize that is a belief, no matter how informed, is that the mortality of this disease, by which I mean people who would have not died otherwise but instead died of viral pneumonia or organ failure due to SARS-Cov-2 overwhelming that very organ over the total people that have been exposed to the virus and their immune system has fought it, will be much less than 1%. That is still huge. Assuming a rate of infection of 80%, as many scenarios are considering right now, that's up to 0.8% of all people dying, meaning 60 million people. No matter what proportion of that number will die, it will still be a large number.

  The fact that most of these people would have been on their way anyway is not really a consolation. There will be loved grandparents, people that had various conditions and were happily carrying on with their first world protected lives, believing in the power of modern medicine to keep them alive. I really do expect that the average life expectancy, another statistic that would need thousands of words to unpack, will not decrease by a lot. In a sense, I believe this is the relevant one, though, in terms of how many years of life have been robbed from people by this virus. It, too, won't be easy to attribute. How many people will die prematurely because of losing their job, not getting medical attention when they needed it, getting murdered by people made insane by this whole thing, etc?

  Also, because the people who were more likely to die died sooner, or even got medical attention that they would otherwise not gotten, because pollution dropped, cars killed less people, etc, we might actually see a rise of the life expectancy statistic immediately after the pandemic ends.

  Bottom line: look for the daily number of newly infected people and rejoice when it starts consistently decreasing. After the contagion, try to ascertain the drop in average life expectancy. The true effects of this disease, not only in terms of mortality, will only become visible years after the pandemic ends.

  Update: mere days after I've written this article, BBC did a similar analysis.

  I didn't want to write about this. Not because of a false sense of security, but because everybody else talked about it. They all have opinions, most of them terribly wrong, but for me to join the fray and tell the world what I think is right would only put me in the same category as them. So no, I abstained. However, there are some things so wrong, so stupidly incorrect, that I can't maintain this silence. So let's begin.

  "The flu", "a cold" are not scientific, they are popular terms and they all relate to respiratory infectious diseases caused by a variety of viruses and sometimes bacteria or a combination thereof. Some of them affect us on a seasonal basis, some of them do not. Rhinoviruses are the ones most often associated with the common cold and they are seasonal. However, a whooping 15% of what is commonly called "a cold" comes from coronaviruses, thus named because of their crown-like shape. Influenza viruses, what we would normally call "flu" are a completely different type of virus. In other words, Covid-19 is more a common cold than a flu, but it's not the seasonal type. Stop wishful thinking that it will all go away with the summer. It will not. Other famous coronavirus diseases are SARS and MERS. The SARS epidemic lasted until July, the MERS epidemic spreaded just fine in the Middle Eastern summer weather. This will last. It will last for months from the moment I am writing this blog. This will be very important for the next section of the post.

  Also, there is something called the R-naught (R0), the rate with which a virus spreads to other people. It predicts, annoyingly accurate, how a disease is going to progress. This virus has an R0 probably twice as high as that of the influenza virus, which we all get, every fucking year. Draw your own conclusions.

  The only reason we got rid of SARS and MERS is because they are only infectious after the symptoms are apparent and the symptoms are pretty damn apparent. Covid-19 is very infectious even before the first cough, when people feel just fine. Surely masks will help, then? Not unless they are airtight. Medical masks are named so because medics use them in order to not cough or spit or breathe inside a patient, maybe during surgery. The air that the doctor breathes comes from the sides of the mask. So if you get sick and you wear the mask it will help the people that have not met you while you had no symptoms yet.

  Washing the hands is always good. It gets rid of all kind of crap. The primary medium of spreading Covid-19 is air, so you can wash your hands as often as you'd like, it helps very little with that. Stopping touching your face does little good, either. There is a scenario when someone coughs in their hand, touches something, then you touch it, then you pick your nose. Possible, so it's not all worthless, it's just statistically insignificant. What I am saying is that washing your hands and not touching yourself decreases the probability a very small amount. That being said, masturbation does increase the activity of your immune system, so be selective when you touch yourself.

  The idea that old people are the only ones affected is a myth. Age statistically correlates with harsher symptoms because it also correlates with negative health conditions. In other words, people with existing health conditions will be most affected. This includes smokers, obese people, people with high blood pressure, asthma and, of course, fucking old people. The best way to prepare for a SARS-Cov-2 virus (the latest "official" name) is to stay in good health. That means healthy food, less alcohol, no smoking and keeping a healthy weight. So yes, I am fucked, but at least I will die happy... oh, no, I am out of gin!!

  Medically, the only good strategy is to develop a vaccine as soon as possible and distribute it everywhere. It will lead quicker and with less casualties to the inevitable end of this pandemic: when more people are immune than those who are not. This will happen naturally after we all get infected and get healthy (or die). All of the news of people who got sick after getting healthy are artefacts of defective testing. All of it! Immunity does not work like that. You either got rid of it and your body knows how to defend itself or you never had it or you had something else or somebody tested you wrong.

  That being said, fuck all anti-vaxxers. You are killing people, you assholes!

  Personally, the best you can do is keep hydrated and eat in a balanced way. You need proteins and zinc and perhaps vitamin C (not sure about that). Warm bone broths will be good. Zinc you get from red meat and plant seeds. There was a report of drinking green tea being negatively correlated with influenza infections (different virus, though). And don't start doing sport now, if you haven't been doing it already, you can't get the pig fat one day before Christmas. Sport is actually decreasing the efficiency of your immune system.

  This is the end of the medical section of this post. There is nothing else. Probiotics won't help, Forsythia won't help, antibiotics will certainly not help. The only thing that fights the virus right now is your immune system, so just help it out. If there was a cure for the common cold you wouldn't get it each year every year.

  But it's not over. Because of people. When people panic, bad things happen. And by panic, I mean letting their emotions get the better of them, I mean not thinking people, not zombie hordes, although sometimes the difference is academic.

  Closing schools and workplaces and public places has one beneficial effect: it makes the infection rate go down. It doesn't stop the spread, it doesn't stop the disease, it just gives more time to the medical system to deal with the afflicted. But at the same time, it closes down manufacturing, supply chains, it affects the livelihood of entire categories of people. So here is where governments should step in, to cover financially the losses these people have to endure. You need money for medical supplies and for keeping healthy. Think of it as sponsoring immune systems.

  The alternative, something we are seeing now in paranoid countries, is closing down essential parts of national economies with no compensation. This is the place and time for an honest cost vs. gain analysis. Make sure the core of your nation is functioning. This is not one of those moments when you play dead for a few minutes and the bear leaves (or falls down next to you because he really likes playing that game). This is something that needs to work for months, if not a year or more. This is not (and never was) a case of stopping a disease, but of managing its effects. Some people are going to die. Some people are going to get sick and survive. Some lucky bastards will cough a few times and go on with their day. Society and the economical system that sustains it must go on, or we will have a lot more problems than a virus.

  Speaking of affected professions, the most affected will be medical personnel. Faced day in and day out with SARS-Cov-2 infections they will get infected in larger numbers than the regular population. Yes, they will be careful, they will wear masks and suits and whatever, but it won't help. Not in a statistical way, the only way we must think right now. It's a numbers game. It's no longer about tragedies, it's about statistics, as Stalin used to say. And these people are not regular people. They've been in school for at least a decade before they can properly work in a hospital where Covid-19 patients will be admitted. You lose one of these, you can't easily replace them. Especially in moron countries like my own, where the medical system is practically begging people to leave work in other countries. The silver lining is that probably, at the end of the outbreak, there will be a lot more medical people available, since they went through the disease and emerged safe and immune. But there is a lot of time between now and then.

  Closing borders is probably the most idiotic thing one can do, with perhaps the exception of countries that had real problems with immigration before. If sick people don't crowd your borders in order to take advantage of your medical system, closing borders is just dumb. The virus is already in, the only thing you are stopping is the flow of supplies to handle the disease. Easter is coming. People from all over the world will just move around chaotically to spend this religious holiday with their family. It will cause a huge spike in the number of sick people and will probably prompt some really stupid actions taken by governments all over the place. One could argue that religion is dumb at all times, but right now it makes no difference. It's just an acceleration of a process that is already inevitable, Easter or no Easter.

  Statistics again: look at the numbers and you will see that countries get an increase of 30% in infected cases every day. It's an exponential curve. It doesn't care about your biases, your myths, your hopes, your judging. It just grows. China will get infection cases as soon as travelling restrictions relax. Consider the ridiculous situation where one somehow protected their country against infection when the whole of the world went through a global pandemic. It doesn't even matter. It's not even healthy, as sooner or later that virus will affect only them. The best they can do is manage the situation, bottleneck it so that the medical system can cope with it.

  Do you know what the most important supply chain is in this situation? Medical supplies. A lot of countries get these from China and India. Because they are cheaper. So they can sell them to you at ten times the prices and make those immense profits that generated the name Big Pharma. It's not a conspiracy theory, it's common knowledge. What do you think happens when you close your borders with China and India?

  In this situation, the globally economy will stagger. It will be worse than the 2008 crisis. But while that was a crisis generated by artificial and abstract concepts that affected the real economy, that of people working for other people, this one comes as real as it gets, where people can't work anymore. That means less money, less resources, scarcity of some resources, less slack to care of the old and sick in your family. It's a lose-lose situation: the most affected by the pandemic will be affected either by people not being able to care for them or people giving them the disease while caring for them because they must make much more effort and human contact to get the supplies needed. Now, some countries can somehow handle that by employing a healthy transport infrastructure and care system, but in others, where they can barely handle normal quantities of sick people that come to hospitals themselves, they will never be able to cover, even if they wanted to, the effort to give supplies to previously affected people.

  So does that mean you have to go to the supermarket and get all the supplies you might need for months to come? I am afraid to say that it does. The reasonable way to handle this is for the governments of the world to ensure supply and financial support for everybody. Then people wouldn't need to assault shops to get the last existing supplies. If you can trust your government to do that, by all means, trust you will always have a nearby shop to sell you the goods you need to stay alive and health. But I ask you this: if you got to the farmacy and bought their entire stock of some medicine that you might need and then you hear your neighbor, the person you greeted every day when you got to work, died because they couldn't get that medicine, what then? What if you hear they need the medicine now? Will you knock at their door and offer it to them? Maybe at five time the price? Or maybe for free? What if you are the neighbor?

  And you hear that some country has isolated the virus and are making a vaccine. Oh, it's all over, you think. But before they even start mass producing it, they need to test it. People will die because of how overcautious and bureaucratic the system is. People will die when corners are cut. People will die either way. It will take time either way. This thing will be over, but not soon. After they make it, you will still have to get it. That means supply chains and money to buy things.

  Bottom line: it's all about keeping systems going. In your body, the immune system has to be working to fight the disease. In your country, the economy must be working in order to handle the effects of the disease. Fake cures and home remedies are just as damaging as false news of the crisis not being grave, getting over soon or going away by itself.

  Here is a video from a medical professional that is saying a lot of the things I've listed here:

[youtube:E3URhJx0NSw]

  One more thing: consider how easy it was for this panic to lead to countries announcing national emergency, a protocol that gives extraordinary powers to the government. A few dead here, a few sick there, and suddenly the state has the right to arrest your movement, to detain you unconditionally, to close borders, to censor communications. Make sure that when this is over, you get every single liberty back. No one it going to return freedom to you out of their own good will.

  I don't remember why I thought this would be a good book to read. Perhaps because it was one of those "gothic novels" and I had just read one that I liked a lot. The Owl Service is a short novel, but it took me ages to finish it. Whenever I had the time to read/listen to it I always found something else to do. I think Alan Garner wanted to do right by the story, which is a reimagining of a traditional Welsh legend, but it ended up an opaque and pretentious mess with characters that you cannot stand. If at least the writing had called to me. Garner is not a bad writer, but the style of writing didn't capture my attention. I had to make efforts to stay in the story and not let my mind wander.

  The plot revolves around a valley in Wales where a British family owns property and where the locals are treated as uneducated peasants. The family comes to spend the summer and weird things start to happen. But they are either completely random or, when it comes to be some sort of possession or empowerment, there is always someone near to break the spell or destroy things in fear and righteous anger, which made it all rather boring. At no point there was anyone saying "Oh, that's peculiar, let's dig into it!" or "Hey, I can make books fly by themselves, let's see if I can solve world hunger or space exploration".

  The worst part was the characters, all entitled twats. Every single one of them believes he can order other around, force things upon them or do and say whatever the hell they want. And I mean everyone, including the Welsh help. If they don't insult you, force things upon you or treat you like scum just because you are different, they smack you upon the head with indignation for not having done what was rudely ordered to you. And that's the maid doing it!

  Bottom line: as a scholar of Welsh legend and the literary interpretation of myth in British literature I... hell, no! Just leave this book be! It's just bad.

I know I am shooting myself in the foot here, but, to paraphrase some people, staying quiet doesn't help anyone. I've come to love Dev.to, a knowledge sharing platform aimed at software developers, because it actually promotes blogging and dissemination of information. It doesn't do enough against clickbait, but it's great so far. So, hungry for some new dev stuff, I opened up the website only to find it spammed with big colorful posters and posts supporting female devs. It was annoying, but it got me thinking.

  I like women in software! I too can honestly say I support them. I've always done so. I worked with them, mentored them, learned from them, worked for them, hired them. I want them to get paid what they are due, just like any other person: quiet, happiness, money, respect, understanding. I support their right to tell me when they hate (or love) something I do or say and I am totally against assholes who would pray on them or belittle them. Not because they are women, but because they are human, and no one should stand for stupid little people who only think of themselves and have a chip on their shoulder.

  And yes, women need more support than men, because they traditionally did not have it before. For them it is an uphill battle to fit into communities that contain few females. They have to butt in, they have to push and struggle and we need to understand their underdog status and protect them through that. But not because they are some fantasy creature, or perpetual victims or some other thing, but because they are people. This applies to them, to minorities, to majorities, to every single person around you. I would feel the same about some guy not getting hired because he is too muscular as for some woman who won't get a job because she's bland looking.

  So ask yourself, are you really supporting women, or are you just playing a game? Are you the one shouting loudly in the night "Night time! Everybody go to sleep!"? Are you protecting women or singling them out as something different that must be treated differently? Are you actually thinking of people or just doing politics? Because if you decide to annoy devs on behalf of women, you'd better do a good job supporting them for real.

  We are all racists. We belittle dinosaurs for getting extinct, we pump our chests and declare we are the highest pinnacle of evolution and they are inferior, failed experiments of nature, we, mammals, are clearly the superior product. Yet they existed and flourished and ruled every ecosystem on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. Even today the number of species of birds, the direct ancestors of dinosaurs, is more than double the number of species of mammals. Kenneth Lacovara starts his book with a similar assumption: Einstein was a schmuck! Every one of his great achievements means nothing because, in the end, Einstein died. If that idea is ridiculous for him, how come we still use it for dinosaurs?

  Why Dinosaurs Matter is a short book, one in the TED Books series, and it pretty much adds detail to Lacovara's TED talk, like all of the TED books. Frankly, I am not very happy with the series, as it often adds little to the ideas summarised in the talks themselves. Some people are spending a lot of effort to summarize existing books into 15 minutes bite size media and TED books do the opposite, adding fat onto already fleshed out ideas. That doesn't mean this book is bad. It is well written, it has a lot of useful information, but it felt disjointed, like a combination of an opinion piece and a history book of discovered fossils. It gets its point across, but that's about it.

  And the point is that we can learn a lot from dinosaurs, from how they spread around the world, adapted to all kinds of environments and the biological innovations they brought on with this. We can learn from their apparently absolute dominion and their immediate and humiliating downfall. Being at the top of the food chain is not only a matter of prideful boasting, but also a fragile spot with multiple dependencies. Once the natural order is disrupted, the top of the pyramid is the first to topple.

  Bottom line: it is a nice introductory book in the world of dinosaurs, but not more than that. It's short enough to read on a long train ride or plane flight and it can be easily read by a child or teenager.

  One Word Kill starts off like an episode of Stranger Things. You've got the weird kid, his weird friends and the mysterious girl who is both beautiful, smart and hangs out with them to play D&D, all set in the 80's. Then the main character gets cancer and his future self comes to save... the girl. There is also a school boy psycho after them. But that's where the similarities end... the rest of the story is just... nothing. People explain things that needed little explaining and make no sense, good kids and their parents run around from a school boy, as psychotic as he could possibly be, without involving police or gang member allies and, in the middle of all the drama: cancer, psycho killer, future self, time travel... they play Dungeons and Dragons, a game that promotes imagination and creativity that then the protagonists fail to use in any amount in their real life.

  Having just read Prince of Thorns, I really expected a lot more from Mark Lawrence. Instead I get a derivative and boring story that brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It's reasonably well written, I guess, but nothing Wow!, which is exactly the reaction reviewers seem to have about this book. Have I read a different story somehow?

  Bottom line: I am tempted to rate this average, on account of other raving reviews and on the fact that I liked another Mark Lawrence book, but I have to be honest with me and rate this book alone, which I am sorry to say, is sub par.

  While on the road with his mother and baby brother, a ten year old prince is attacked by an enemy armed group. Thrown into a patch of thorns from where he could not move, only watch, he sees his mother defiled and killed and his brother smashed on a rock like a toy. He vows vengeance. Such a classic story, right? Only we see him a few years later, leading a band of brigands, murdering and looting and raping, his vengeance all but forgotten and replaced by a desire to unite all the hundred little states warring against each other. Well, more interesting, but still pretty classic, right? Nope, stuff still happens that makes the lead character (and you) doubt his thoughts and the true nature of reality and retroactively explains some of the more incredulous questions that the reader is asking.

  I would say Prince of Thorns is all about revealing layers of this world that Mark Lawrence is still shaping. I quite liked that. The first book sets things up, but it is not a setup book. It is filled with action. Nor does it tell us everything, leaving a lot to be explored in the next books in the series. That's something that is sorely missing in many modern stories. In order to enjoy the book, though, you have to suspend your disbelief when it tells of an eleven year old boy smashing heads, swinging swords and leading men. Yes, in feudal times being 11 is the time to have a midlife crisis, but it is all a little bit too much for a child.

  It is a game of thrones kind of book, but mercifully from the standpoint of a single character. There is not a lot of lore, but there is magic and a mysterious connection to an advanced but now dead civilisation, plenty of violence and strategy. I will probably read the next books in the series.

  I've accepted the old man should teach me as the only solution to becoming a champion, but it is hard to swallow it. He is very old, but mischievous, so whenever I try to learn something from him, he kicks me to the ground. He tricks me again and again and again. I am frustrated, but I am trying to keep my cool. I am strong. If I were to really fight him, he might be smart, but every attack would break bone and then what good would he be? Just a bag of meat and broken shards. I close my eyes, I breath, I tell myself it is worth it.

  The old man apologizes and offers me a hand, I take it, only to be kicked in the ass and thrown into a jumble of debris. I lose my temper and stomp away. He doesn't understand. Getting angry at him is pointless, hurting him futile. I have nothing to learn from him. I walk through the old grounds of my conquests, now just the walled in and decrepit underground of the large arena above. I feel a presence behind me and I see the old man is following me, eyes to the ground. Contrition? Surely another of his tricks. "Begone!" I roar at him, but he goes to his knees and kowtows in front of me, his hands touching my feet. I feel tears swelling up in my eyes. He might as well be a little boy asking for forgiveness. Just who is the teacher and who is the student? Who is the adult here?

  "How did you get to a hundred years or whatever behaving like a little kid?! You are a child!" I shout at him in admonishment. I look around and ghosts of my past awaken my anguish. I feel my face contort into a painful grin as my tears flow freely. "Every week I was coming here to murder people!", I rage, my voice barely my own, a booming, low, animal growl, my expression that of an enraptured madman, for sure. "I would stake my life every time and I would leave, alive, every time!". The images of old fights flash before my wet blurred vision and I imagine that some of the painted white walls might contain some of the scrolls of the ancient arts, built over by a world that doesn't get it anymore. "I loved it!", I say, walking in the dead halls, every step a pulse of power overlaying glorious past over grey reality. My body is shaking with now uncontrollable weeping. "I killed so many people and I miss it... so.... very... MUCH!".

  Does he get it now, I ask myself? Has he even an inkling of the power he needs to teach me to control? I burst through the door to the surface and climb the stairs that get me to the arena above. The seats are packed with oblivious spectators, all watching some performance I don't even care to notice. I breathe in the fresh air and feel better. Ready to come to a final understanding with the old man, if he is capable of it ,I turn around. There is little time and we should not fight each other. But the old man is gone.

   I strain my eyes into the darkness of the stairs and I feel it, The Beast, the adversary I need to fight is there. He's got the old man and, even if I cannot see it, I know it is there, all cunning, fury and power. My body roars by itself, a predator sound, strong and fearless, no sound a man should ever be able to make. The arena spectators panic in surprised horror, but I ignore them. I jump into the darkness with animal strength. I will fight this beast, I will meet it head on, I will be the most savage, alone I will remain alive.

  The Grace of Kings feels long from the very start. Ken Liu is starting off from a fictional empire of seven islands, but it might as well have been a historical book. Everything is mostly realistic, with very human characters that do what human characters do: harm and kill other people and find rationalizations for it. Some of them are heroic and occasionally think of other people, too.

  Half way through the book (which is one of a trilogy, of course) I couldn't keep up with all the characters that kind of did the same thing, the long expositions of why people did stupid or horrible things to others and the various anecdotes that made some of the characters heroes or villains. And I call them anecdotes because that's what they feel like: short moments that disrupt rather than enforce the long and unfortunately boring history of the realm.

  Bottom line, it feels like a Chinese Game of Thrones, with less interesting characters and no magic as of yet. It's not badly written, quite the contrary, but its subject is long winding and doesn't interest me. I will therefore abandon reading it.

  I guess I don't have to tell you about ad blockers and browser extensions that improve YouTube. They are a dime a dozen and bring many features to the habitual YouTube watcher. However there is one particular new YouTube annoyance that you don't really need an extension to get rid of: the dreaded Video paused dialog.

  To get rid of it is easy: on an interval, check if there is a visible element of a certain type containing a certain text and click its button. While this can be done in simple Javascript, I am lazy, so the script that I am using will first load jQuery, then run a one line function periodically. This code is to be copied and pasted in the Console tab of the browser's development tools, then press Enter.

const scr = document.createElement('script');
scr.setAttribute('src','https://code.jquery.com/jquery-3.4.1.min.js');
document.querySelector('head').appendChild(scr);
setInterval(()=> { 
  $('#button:contains(Yes)','yt-confirm-dialog-renderer:visible:contains(Video paused)').click();
},500);

It's easy to understand:

  • create a script element
  • set its source to jQuery
  • append it to the page
  • execute every 500 milliseconds a code that:
    • finds the element with id button containing the text "Yes"
    • inside an element of type yt-confirm-dialog-renderer which is visible and contains the text "Video paused"
    • click the element

There is an even more comfortable solution, though, that I recommend. You will need a Chrome extension called cjs that loads whatever script you tell it in whatever page you want. It gives you the option to inject jQuery, so all you have to do is write 

setInterval(()=> { $('#button:contains(Yes)','yt-confirm-dialog-renderer:visible:contains(Video paused)').click(); },500);

 as the script to be executed on YouTube.

That's it. You're all done.

  Wakenhyrst is very well written, but where it excels is the dissection of the hypocrisy of people. Michelle Paver is telling the story from the viewpoint of a young girl who must navigate the world and her own adolescence in the house of a father that has no love for her or for her mother, finds every reason to blame others for his shortcomings and deeds, and yet is untouchable because he is a man and the lord of the manor. What legions of screeching feminists could not do, Paver manages with her subdued, yet defiant description of how women are used and ignored and pretty much treated as glorified pets. It is impossible to not hate the father figure in the book, even as the main character is torn between wanting to forgive him and dealing with the creepy and sometimes evil shit he pulls. The ending is powerful, as the daughter finds the strength to sublimate her hate into an even more appropriate emotion: pity.

  But the story's power is not limited to the detailed analysis of the human psyche. It binds together Anglican folklore, medieval beliefs about devils and angels and art, whitewashed (in the actual sense of the term) by Puritans and systematically destroyed by Victorians, the power of untamed nature and the horror of the human complacency. How refreshing to have a very young girl be the rational and intelligent agent that fends for herself in a world of mystical belief and societal poppycock, so that we can identify with her and see it as it was. How wonderful to have Paver describe it all without any trace of anachronism, as if she has lived in that world herself.

  The story starts slow and the pace almost never picks up, yet the tension and the level of details are constantly increasing, managing to somehow convey at the same time two distinct and contrary feelings: one of slow burn and the other of untamed power rising to a crescendo. It brilliantly mingles the oppressive hot wet feel of subconscious fear and superstition with cold analytical reason as its adversary. In the beginning I wanted to rate it above average only, but now, the more I think about it the more I admire the writing and the way the book tells the story. Good job, Michelle Paver!

  Bottom line: move past the slower start, it is certainly worth reading. A gothic tale of subliminal supernatural horror and a very human and real one at the same time.