Social Distancing Day 12

It was a very sunny,  if cold day today here in Cambridge. The roommates and I took advantage of the weather and took a nice long walk. Some people were out and about, mostly people with pets or children, and everyone seemed to be keeping proper social distance. Unfortunately, not everyone in Boston appears to be doing the same. For the last few days I was letting my hopes rise that Massachusetts might not need stricter measures since we seem to faring well so far, but I’m not so sure about that anymore.

Twitter continues to be a source of alternating rage, anxiety and depression, and the only way to win is to not play the game. I managed a good day with that today. Spent two hours talking (via Zoom) with friends from graduate school. Watched an episode of Lost in Space (the newest version, on Netflix, I’m rewatching Season 1 before I watch Season 2). All in all, I have to say that it’s been a pretty good weekend. I did probably more “socialization” than I would do in a normal weekend, it was just all in front of screens.

Something I’m noticing is a sense of stagnation, or pause, and not in a good way. It feels like everything is on hold, even though I know that time is still passing, there are things I have (and want) to do, and goals I want to achieve. I don’t expect myself to do things at the pace I would if things were normal, and some things I can’t do at all, but for other things (work in particular) I want to be moving at more of a normal pace. Right now, I don’t know how to do that. It’s fundamentally hard to deal with periods of crisis like this, where so much is out of our control. I think the best we can expect is to do a little better tomorrow than we did yesterday.

So we’ll see how I do tomorrow. Till then, stay sane, stay safe, and take care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 11

A fairly quiet day today. It seems that like last week, Saturday is still Saturday. I woke up late, called the parents, ate a late lunch of leftovers. In the afternoon, I played a couple games of Age of Empires 2 with friends, cleaned the kitchen, watched Frozen 2 with the roommates, lusted after Apple’s new MacBook Air. I feel this pandemic may be a time of firsts for me, today was the first time I actually played a video game online with friends.

There’s a certain sense of calm today. Maybe it’s because it’s Saturday, maybe because I managed to stay off Twitter for most of the day, maybe it’s because I spent most of the day in immersive flow activities. For whatever reason, it feels like a day of respite, an oasis of calm in the middle of everything that’s going around us.

I am still trying to find some sense of balance in the middle of all this, and not doing a very good job of it. So far I have learned that developing and sticking to routines helps. Having regular meals at regular times, taking a shower and changing clothes in the morning (even if it’s not “work clothes”), putting the phone down, or stepping away from the computer, all of that helps.

I think it’s important to remember that besides staying at home as much as possible, and maybe helping our neighbors and contributing supplies and resources to good causes, there isn’t much that most of us can do at this time. Of course, if you are a healthcare professional, or someone in an executive position with access to resources, things are different. But for the rest of us, the best we can do in this time is to stay safe, stay sane, and take care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 10

Hello dear readers, we are now into the double digits of social distancing days, and at the point where I have to look up yesterday’s entry to figure out which day we’re on. A number of states have gone from social distancing to “shelter in place”, meaning that residents are not to leave their houses except for groceries (and other essentials) and medical necessities (and maybe short walks). Massachusetts will probably do the same within a few days. My roommates and I have been doing that voluntarily for this week, so it won’t be a big change for us, except our walks might become even more infrequent. But as I noted in yesterday’s post, though these measures are inconvenient and annoying, they are a sign that people are taking the threat seriously and reacting appropriately. Better late than never.

Some news from around the Coronavirus world: there seems to now be a test to detect antibodies to the coronavirus, which means that it would be possible to detect not only those who currently have it, but those who had it and have recovered. This means that even if you never had symptoms, you can find out if you had it. Having antibodies to the virus will render you immune to it, but it’s unknown for how long. There’s some evidence to believe that immunity will last for about a year. Here’s a detailed thread with lots of references and information on this aspect of things. And here’s an interesting video on why the hand washing instructions you may have seen are what they are (and different from how you’re used to washing your hands). Yesterday, I pointed to the Massachusetts site for tracking COVID-19 test, today I found The Atlantic’s tracker, which collects statistics across states. Finally, you may have seen some photos of nature “recovering” as a result of people staying at home. Unfortunately, they are probably not accurate.

On a different note, a few days ago I said that the plural of anecdote is not data. It turns out that I was wrong about that.

In other news, I was in two virtual town halls today, one for Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and one for the Computer Science department. Most of the questions and concerns were related to continuing education for our students, especially related to grading and evaluation. But there was also discussion of how we are continuing to support custodial and maintenance staff, which I found heartening. This is an unprecedented and trying time for us all, but it’s good to have some feeling of being part of a community that is trying to do right by its members.

I’m in the process of wrapping up reviews for PLDI, and hoping get back to doing research full time next week. I’ve made a certain amount of peace with our current situation, at least for now. There’s not much for me to do at the moment besides going about life as best as I can. I have some remote social activities planned over the next few days which I’m looking forward to. I’m allowing myself to feel excited about Apple’s new MacBook Airs. I’m focusing on staying sane, staying safe, doing the best with the time I have, while also keeping in mind what Heather Havrilesky said: We’re living through an unprecedented moment in global history. Give that the weight it deserves.

Social Distancing Day 9

First, a big thank you to everyone who has told me that it’s been helpful for you to read these days. It means a lot to me, and motivates me to keep on writing. Secondly, apologies for missing yesterday. I seem to have underestimated the psychological toll of this whole situation. Even though I am safe and sound (and so is pretty much everyone I know), I am worried a lot and often, both by the pandemic itself, and increasingly about the economic chaos it’s causing, at least here in the US. So even though I had a pretty good day yesterday (some remote socializing, some work progress, watching an episode of The Witcher), I was completely exhausted by the end of it. Staying off social media helps, but often that’s easier said than done.

Anyway, I am less exhausted today, and getting to writing this before I get any more tired. The roommates made an extended shopping trip today. Most of the stores are out of things like wipes, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. Thankfully we have enough of those in stock to last a couple weeks. We managed to pick up a substantial amount of food, both fresh and shelf-stable, as well as things like dishwasher pods, soap and shampoo. Some of the stores are rationing things like eggs and meat, and limiting the number of people who can be in at once. While these measures are inconvenient, the fact that they are being enacted is actually a good thing. It means that there will be more for everyone rather than allowing a few people to hoard everything. And the supply chain doesn’t have to play catch-up for several weeks.

The latest news on Coronovirus suggests that the virus can survive for a couple days on plastic and cardboard, so we are letting some of our new supplies sit in a corner for a few days before putting them away. Curiously, the virus only seems to survive for a couple hours on copper, and some maker of copper pens and pencils are now offering discounts on their copper products. We live in interesting times.

I’ve been keeping abreast of virus-related happenings in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth’s Department of Public Health has a concise, but informative site keeping track of Coronavirus numbers and quarantines, including a summary number of tests and confirmed cases. There is also a Twitter account for combined COVID-19 test capacity in the US. The state’s testing lab is doing about 400 tests a day, but the Broad Institute is gearing up to run a 1000 tests a day starting next week, and Quest Diagnostics in Marlborough is hoping to get up to 3000 a day.  That’ll be a testing capacity of about 4000 per day for a state of 6 million. For scale, South Korea, with a population of about 52 million was doing about 12,000 tests a day. So not bad, Massachusetts, not bad at all. It would have helped to have that capacity a week ago, but there seems to be still time for effective curve-flattening. Unfortunately I am hearing that hospitals are already encountering shortages of masks and other essentials, so it’s definitely not all on the upswing. And I’m not even trying to do similar calculations for the rest of the country.

All told, today was better than yesterday, and hopefully tomorrow will be better still. I am still pursuing some sense of normalcy, and having mixed experiences. But each day is an opportunity to try again. Until then, stay safe, stay sane, and take care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 7

I’m starting to get into something of a routine. I’m still waking up later than I would like, but early enough that I can spend the morning meditating, exercising, and generally getting ready for the rest of the day. Afternoons are for working, evenings are for dinner and hanging out with the roommates, or video conferencing friends. I usually spend another hour or so working or writing these posts before calling it a night.

The last couple of days I’ve been working on reviews. I’m on the Artifact Evaluation Committee for the PLDI 2020 conference, and reviews are due at the end of the week. That means that I get to look at a number of pieces of research software, and verify that the software operates as described in the corresponding research paper. It’s been good to have something concrete and relatively well-defined to focus on. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to stay glued to Twitter all day.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and the roommates’ put together some thematically appropriate fare for dinner: corned beef, cabbage, green beans, and bread, paired with some Guinness. Things can seem pretty bad at the moment, and in a lot of ways they are, but it’s important to celebrate when possible.