Chris X Edwards

Found myself silently wondering: Is that a malapropism or catachresis? Better to remain silent than commit one myself.
2020-05-22 12:53
Just learned 5th power quirk: `[f'{pow(n,5)}'[-1] for n in range(10)]` produces `['0', '1', '2', '3', '4', '5', '6', '7', '8', '9']`. Huh.
2020-05-21 09:26
Being geeky is like wearing glasses. You can take them off and be more attractive, or use them and see the beauty in the world more clearly.
2020-05-20 10:26
Philosophers are like software. The latest releases are unstable or fads. Too old, and it's obsolete.
2020-05-20 10:05
A Renaissance Man was not called that because he knew many things. People were learning a lot about many things which caused a renaissance.
2020-05-20 10:01
Blah Blah

Virus Epidemic For All

2020-05-23 22:53

An Illustrative Fable

Imagine you’re swimming in a small lake and some massive creature grabs your leg and mauls you with hundreds of sharp pointy teeth. You kick and thrash and barely make it to shore. "Holy shit! What was that!?", you would wonder as you frantically look for a tourniquet. After extensive reconstructive surgeries and weeks of healing you’d still really love to know what the hell could have done that.

Now imagine it’s a few months later, say March, and some old people who had gone for a swim in this popular lake have been found washed up on the shore dead, torn to pieces by some beast. Ok, that’s weird. Now the police department and animal control officers go to "thoroughly" search the lake. Nothing. Some more people get mauled, but only people who go swimming in the deepest water — the kids in the shallow beach area never have any problem. But clearly there’s something going on. The police and officials get more serious about it because now things are starting to look bad. Still nothing.

Now we’re hearing that because of "air travel" one of the river dolphins from the Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology has gone missing. (By the way, that’s a real place where such things live; so slightly less imagining should be necessary. You’re welcome.) Ok, so now we’re thinking that yes, this could have been the work of a rogue cosmopolitan river dolphin, and, sure "air travel", whatever… why not? It’s got to be something, right?

River dolphins - do they look trustworthy to you?


This is a busy swimming lake and people keep swimming in it because only a really small percentage of people have any bad experiences. Come on, who gets mauled by something swimming in a lake anyway? It’d be really bad luck, right? But now that officials are paying attention, yes, it does turn out that shark bite specialist surgeons are becoming overbooked for some reason related to this lake. It would seem that there must be a river dolphin in the lake! It all fits! Scientists set up monitoring cameras and finally, at the end of March, they catch a glimpse of it. It has been confirmed — there has been a river dolphin in the lake! The shark bite surgeons inspect some of their patients for river dolphin bites and it does turn out that a vague percentage of them may have been bitten by river dolphins! Because of such scientific analyses people are starting to worry.

This dolphin is trained to do tricks and therefore is good at hiding and very hard to catch. While professional dolphin humiliaters are summoned from Seaworld, the lake is declared a danger zone. Outside of their own homes, everyone must breathe through a snorkel and wear a pointy hat to approximate the snout of a dolphin (unless they’re buying fish of course). No one is sure if this is sufficient or necessary but it is decided that literally everything possible must be done — even the things that don’t exactly make sense.

My important question to you is this: when did this dolphin book his flight?

For most people the dolphin obviously arrived in March when everyone started talking about it and wearing the pointy hats. When scientists got photos of it, that made March seem "scientific". But is that a satisfactory explanation? If you had your leg mauled swimming in December, I’m going to suggest that you would have some different feelings. Sure, some people who got bit by a snapping turtle or scraped their skin on sharp submerged rocks may be over-imagining that they had been mauled by a river dolphin years ago the last time they visited the lake, but if you still have scars of hundreds of little teeth marks in your leg from December, you may feel that the March hypothesis leaves something to be desired.

It’s going to take a lot to convince you that this river dolphin wasn’t there when you got mauled. If videos of that specific dolphin doing tricks at a February show in China emerge on Tik Tok, that is still not the end of it. Even in that case where we have high-quality information exonerating the river dolphin in December, there is still something very important to say about the lake, something important that must be done once the dolphin is captured…

Keep looking.

Because that’s not your only problem is it? Either that river dolphin was mauling people in December, or there’s another lake monster doing naughty things.

Who Cares?

Why should anyone care? That’s a solid question. I personally care because I was mauled by something functionally identical to Covid19 in December and the official story is that it could not possibly have been related to the pretext for our current global calamity. I would consider it epidemiologically curious if I did have Covid19. However, it would have been a serious and interesting freak coincidence if I did not have it.

If I did not have it, clearly there’s something else out there that we may additionally want to freak out about. If you think Covid19 is scary, wait until you hear about Covid19 plus some other thing that will horrifically kill you!

I feel like I have insight into contracting and surviving a Covid19-style disease. (If that sounds especially interesting, see my other post where I go into too much detail about exactly what happened to me.) For example, I have heard no one hypothesize that having some external temperature stress could exacerbate the disease, but in my case I feel that is likely what happened. It definitely is worth considering and such information would have policy recommendation implications.

Also as a survivor of a serious Covid19-like disease, there’s another topic I’d love to address — no one ever talks about how to help the afflicted. These CDC guidelines on how to take care of "yourself" when you’re sick suck ass. They are, in fact, basically guidelines to keep you from passing it on. They are how to take care of others while you are sick.

This document says: "People with COVID-19 who have stayed home (home isolated) can leave home under the following conditions**:"

Fine but what about when the victim is losing a lot of weight and needs to buy some food and can barely stand? What was that disinfectant they were supposed to go acquire? How many times were they supposed to do spring cleaning every day?

What I would have said in December is, "See you in Hell!"

Seriously, to offer "help" to people who are knocking on death’s door by basically saying, "stay away from me you icky monster", is not help. How about some resources or tips on how to get food or take care of your family when you’re more than half dead?

What Is The Reality Of Covid19?

Not the societal reaction to it; right or wrong, that is going to be a colossal mess. No, what is the reality of Covid19, the infection, in real life? Well, obviously I can’t say because I had exactly all of the symptoms in December. But I can can say exactly what it’s like to have a functionally identical disease. When you get Covid19 I’m told that you are likely to present the following symptoms.

  • Fever (83–99%)

  • Cough (59–82%)

  • Fatigue (44–70%)

  • Anorexia (40–84%)

  • Shortness of breath (31–40%)

  • Sputum production (28–33%)

  • Myalgias (11–35%)

That information is from this CDC web page.

By the way, "anorexia" is the symptom anorexia, which just means that getting enough to eat becomes problematic, not the full eating disorder thing. Sputum is stuff you’re likely to cough up when your respiratory system is sick. And the only other symptom with a fancy medical term is myalgia which is simply obfuscatory doctor talk for "muscle pain".

But don’t rest yet.

Here is a different list from the CDC (from 2020-05-14 with order preserved):

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Muscle pain

  • Sore throat

  • New loss of taste or smell

In December, because I suffered all of these exact symptoms, I looked for what malady they likely imply. Only once Covid19 found me (and everyone else) did I have a perfect candidate. If you know of an illness that is exactly like Covid19 and valid in Western New York or Southern California at the end of 2019, do let me know.

Were there any other interesting symptoms I had that are not on this list? Nothing major really. The things I would add are the following.

  • Loss of mental acuity, but that is directly related to hypoxia ("shortness of breath"). I’m lucky to have recreationally played with that one (without drugs! e.g. at high altitude, freezing temperatures, sunstroke, et al.) and I am good at handling it.

  • Hypoxia is also related to the numbness in my fingertips. That second CDC list does mention both of these items under "When to Seek Emergency Medical Attention". (They say bluish lips or face - that’s related to bluish fingers, cyanosis that can accompany serious pneumonia — they weren’t blue but I did describe numb fingertips before learning all this.)

  • I also had an ear infection at the end of the ordeal. That was unnerving because I couldn’t hear out of my left ear for a while. That did thankfully clear after a couple of weeks.

  • Reading the record today I was reminded of little red spots on my chest and back. I’m a middle aged guy and I still get acne, so my skin isn’t the most easygoing in any case. These little red spots were almost too small to notice and they went away quickly. Still, I must mention them for completeness as a symptom I’ve not heard about.

Let’s consider symptoms I did not have because I think that’s just as interesting.

  • Some sources vaguely mention diarrhea but it is not a hallmark symptom. I did not have any such problems.

  • Likewise my stomach was fine. I wasn’t hungry in a profoundly pathological way, but it was not from nausea or the kinds of things people must mean when they say "stomach flu".

  • One of the official symptom lists includes sore throat. I don’t have strong memories of that being a serious problem but I do remember some level of throat irritation. It was just overshadowed by much more serious problems. With all that coughing, this symptom seems almost redundant.

  • Congestion. My sense of smell broke, but not simply because my nose holes were blocked. At the end once the main symptoms were receding I did have a bit of congestion but nothing out of the ordinary really.

The loss of smell, or anosmia, was a very strange symptom. I went from eating 500g of chocolate per week to temporarily not liking chocolate. Thankfully that recovered! A lot of my food preferences were completely messed up. It might be wise for the CDC to add "sensation of taste" even though it is ultimately related to smell.

I feel like reports are pretty solid that anosmia is idiosyncratic to Covid19. Yes, other viral infections can do this, but it appears to be unusually common with Covid19 victims. This infectious disease researcher, who suffered a serious case of Covid 19 himself, says…

Loss of sense of smell is kind of a unique symptom. It’s not present in everyone. But if I have a patient call me and say, I don’t feel good and I’ve lost my sense of smell - until proven otherwise, they have COVID, there’s no question about it.

Here is a short paper about the loss of smell in Covid19 patients, written by people at UB just down the street from me.

Not Just Me

I’m not alone here. There are a lot of people who are hearing about Covid19 and thinking to themselves, ah, well that perfectly explains my very strange mystery illness.

The NYT wonders if maybe C19 was earlier than commonly supposed.

By the time New York City confirmed its first case of the coronavirus on March 1, thousands of infections were already silently spreading through the city, a hidden explosion of a disease that many still viewed as a remote threat as the city awaited the first signs of spring.

Hidden outbreaks were also spreading almost completely undetected in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle, long before testing showed that each city had a major problem, according to a model of the spread of the disease by researchers at Northeastern University who shared their results with The New York Times. … "We weren’t testing, and if you’re not testing you don’t know," Dr. Heguy said. The new estimates suggesting that thousands of infections were spreading silently in the first months of the year "don’t seem surprising at all," she said.

There are other signs that the outbreak was worse at an earlier point than previously known. This week, health officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., announced a newly discovered coronavirus-linked death on Feb. 6, weeks earlier than what had been previously thought to be the first death caused by the virus in the United States. … In mid-February, a month before New York City schools were closed, New York City and San Francisco already had more than 600 people with unidentified infections, and Seattle, Chicago and Boston already had more than 100 people, the findings estimate. By March 1, as New York confirmed its first case, the numbers there may already have surpassed 10,000.

Here’s another one in USA Today citing some of the same researchers.

The Mount Sinai study looked at 90 SARS-CoV-2 genomes from 84 confirmed COVID-19 cases in its health system in New York and found "multiple, independent but isolated introductions mainly from Europe and other parts of the United States from January through early March 2020," the researchers wrote.

Van Bakel told the Times that his team identified seven distinct lineages of the virus circulating in New York.

"We will probably find more," he added.

Without early testing and then sequencing of the virus, though, public health officials weren’t able to know where the virus was coming from and who could be at risk before it grew to its current levels, Heguy said.

"Every single case of strange pneumonias here in New York, they could have been testing earlier and then do immediately the contact tracing," she said.

Heguy said continuing to collect data and build out a larger sample size will be a next step in the research. Scientists are also hoping to understand the clinical implications of the different strains of the virus. Sequencing the virus' genetic information now will also help in case a second wave were to occur, she said.

This Reuters report is also very suggestive.

A French hospital which has retested old samples from pneumonia patients discovered that it treated a man who had COVID-19 as early as Dec. 27, nearly a month before the French government confirmed its first cases.

In that article, a doctor foolishly entertains the idea that this may have been "patient zero" in France. To me it seems ridiculously unlikely. That’s like finding a 6e6 year old hominid fossil and assuming you must have found biblical Eve because that’s really old!

Counter Argument

Here are some scientists who think they’ve done sufficient science (checking mutations and assuming the rate is constant per time). And maybe they have and their methods are sound. Still I thought of some pointy questions for them.

  • One problem is if they see a second line that they can’t tell is a sequential mutation or just that such mutations are more likely (perhaps because they are benign). Sort of like two distinct populations of people could get a genetic resilience to alcohol, not because they’re in communication or descending from each other, but because it promotes success.

  • It seems a big assumption to assume mutations are constant. Maybe that’s ok though. They say "about two mutations per month".

  • What’s the error rate on correctly transcribing the sequence? Surely it must be something. And there must be self-checks that would be much less likely to happen from gradual mutations. I get the feeling that the error rate could be as high as 3 in 29811, C19’s genome size. See the above point about 2 mutations a month and think of how long we’re talking about here.

  • This may be effective methodology for very well established cases and outbreaks, but there could have been entire outbreaks where no one cared. Clearly that was true in my case whatever specific pathogen I had. (Still no one cares!) It is quite reasonable to consider whether there was a much more massive outbreak among relatively healthy people (one that reached all over the world) before it finally got into nursing homes and vulnerable populations in a noticeable way (where dying frequently is normal).

Without better controlled data and source material, this seems like a just so story. But I understand that so does the other hypothesis that this pathogen was in the wild before people realized it explicitly by name. It will be interesting to see if the hypothesis in this work holds for subsequent data.

Here is a report from my local WNY county which expresses surprise that a decent number (actual quantity strangely unspecified) of antibody tests showed a low percentage of infection.

Earlier this week, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told us 92% of the community has tested negative for antibodies at this time.

There are a lot of unknowns here. For example, maybe it was 90% of the population had the antibodies at some point but they wear off.

[The Erie County Health Commissioner] also says we’re still learning more about antibodies, including if they even provide more immunity for those who test positive and for how long.


My goal here was to put my personal situation and observations down in writing so I can stop thinking about them. One of the following things is true.

  1. Covid19 was far more prevalent in the USA in 2019 than previously assumed.

  2. There is some very nasty other thing that is every bit as bad and scary as Covid19 out there unaccounted for that was in WNY in 2019.

  3. I am ridiculously unlucky to get a Covid19-style epidemic of one.

As with most medical facts, the surest thing you can say is we don’t know.

Virus Epidemic For One

2020-05-23 22:47

Here is a good photo of me illustrating my baseline health in 2019. I am visiting San Diego and because it is the main activity I miss about the geography itself, I rode a bike to the top of Mt. Soledad. At least four times. The last time was on 2019-11-27.


Less than 10 days later I was in the poorest state of health of my entire life, as close to dying of natural causes as anyone ever has been who ultimately recovers on their own. Normally I would be horrified to complain or seem like I was complaining about any untoward ill-health. And I am not complaining now! Or fishing for sympathy or whatever it is that normally motivates people to complain/brag about their maladies. But because of the Virus That Broke The World, obviously everyone is much more interested in novel coronavirus symptoms than they’ve ever been before and ever imagined being.

I am hoping that this account can possibly be helpful in discussions about that other virus, which official people assure me, I could not possibly have had. My recollection of events was challenged even as they happened and time has naturally made them even fuzzier. I thought it would be interesting to review any writing I had from that time where I share interesting and relevant details about my ordeal. It turns out that my personal email was rich with statements which clearly illuminate my situation.

If you don’t like reading about other people’s medical problems (I’m with you there) or you don’t feel my personal life is worth a lot of reading (it is my blog after all) then feel free to skip this one. If however, you’re interested in my life, this is definitely one of the most interesting things that has happened to me. Let’s review the historical record.


The day after my last ascent up Soledad, I was in airports/airplanes all day, Thanksgiving Day, returning from a visit to SD.


My wife leaves for a routine visit to her family in SD. Something isn’t perfect with my health, but nothing worth mentioning. With some rest I expect to feel fine.


Instead of the deliberate rest I remember explicitly planning, I get a surprise opportunity to have some work done on my (job-related) boat. This prevents me from sleeping in and I end up standing outside chatting with the guys doing the work for 3 hours in 32F/0C weather. That’s standing outside doing nothing physical which is actually harder on the body than being active. I knew I wasn’t feeling full strength the day before, but this is where I think things took a serious wrong turn.


Because my wife is away, I have a nice written record which provides detailed insights. I write to her…

I hope you’re feeling ok. I am definitely fighting off a tough illness. I got out of bed today at noon and now, 1830, I’m going to head back to bed. I’ve had severe chills all day and I’m wearing my outdoor winter gear and my robe! I’m super unsteady and clumsy. My lungs want to cough, but it hurts too much for that. I could barely eat anything. Ug. Tough day.

The next few days I’m really out of it with no written record. I am completely alone in the house and time goes by in strange ways as I spend almost all of my time sleeping. I’m having serious fever issues. I made a change to my bedding format because despite being around 60F/15C in my bedroom, I was sweating so much that the polyester comforter could not vent the moisture fast enough. I remember doing that because I liked the format change well enough that it is still that way now.


Despite not having enough snow to ski I report that I barely managed to shovel the driveway, something I usually find easy and enjoy doing. Later, I write, "I did laundry. And now I’m very tired." Usually my lifetime of athleticism adequately provides for folding clothes!

I write to my dad…

I’ve been very sick for the past 5 days or so which is a novelty for me. This one’s a strange one. No food tastes good; I’m losing about a pound a day. My fingertips go numb. I can hear my eyelids. Each follicle of hair on my scalp seems somehow individually in mild pain. I’m wearing my outdoor gear all the time inside now and just can not be warm. I’m clumsy and have poor balance. All terrific fun! Still it clocks in at 3rd place behind real pain like dislocating your shoulder. And of course I can laugh this stuff off to my grave thanks to migraines spoiling the scale for any pain related phenomena.

Writing to a friend asking me for help with something…

I personally am unlikely to help at the moment. For the first time in my memory I have some very bad pathogen — worst since I had mumps at age 8 in Iran.

In retrospect — worse than mumps.


Despite taking me to a doctor precisely zero times for illness the entirety of my early life (including mumps), my dad was actually concerned enough about what I described that he recommends I think about professional help. I allay his fears by demonstrating his apprehension of doctors has been duly passed on. Maybe amplified.

This illness is not a big deal. It’s annoying to lose so much time, sure, but I’ll live. This ailment is nowhere near as bad as whatever would be required to see a doctor. [I meant the hassle to just figure out US medical "care" which is prohibitively complex to me. I literally have no idea how to "see a doctor".] It’s a bit hard to take them seriously when their ROI R is questionable and their I seems designed to cause poor health. I’ll be fine though. Migraines taught me patience waiting for health to come back. I’m just thankful that it hit me right as [my wife is out of town] - so she neatly missed it.

I’ve had experience/practice with my thinking being compromised.

I’ve stopped [having fires in my fireplace] while sick because I am not touching my razor sharp axes until my clumsiness is quite gone. My metacognition is fine!

Here I’m concerning myself with what I can possibly eat that I will be able to enjoy enough to make up the caloric deficit I’m sensing.

I had an exhausting day which under normal circumstances would seem like I didn’t do anything. I walked to the [nearby] store and they did sell matches. I was surprisingly exhausted after that, like I’d just run, on foot, [20km] or something. After a nap, I actually went to Trader Joe’s where I amazingly not only remembered everything on my list, but thought of the things I couldn’t remember when making the list! I was interested in getting some of that horrendously delicious [chocolate] bark stuff that in normal times I feel like I could eat non-stop until I died of an overdose. But they didn’t have it. Fresh squeezed OJ was a gamble, but fortunately, its taste is not too badly corrupted in my system. I bought lots of bottle water. I guess I need to drink more so I will.

I knew I was very dehydrated from all the fever sweating.


I write to my mother in SD…

I meant to write earlier to say thank you for hosting me on my recent trip. But I’ve been attacked with some kind of lung infection that has kept me in bed pretty much this entire week. And it’s not letting up. I’ve lost about 5% of my body weight this week and if it keeps going down, that could get bad.

To my wife…

Well, still alive again today but really no change. I’m extra tired today, probably sorting out yesterday’s over ambitious activities [a short walk and shopping for food]. I’m pretty nervous that this will not be gone by the time you’re back. If I still have this I’m pretty sure you’ll conclude the best way to make me stop making the horrible coughing noises I can not not make is to just kill me. … Yesterday’s preliminary experiments suggested I could eat an entire tamale and so I’m going to do that now. I’m also going to try to make some lemonade. I’m very tired already just outlining the plan. Ugh.

My son had been sick with a strange fatiguing illness when I visited SD. My mother in a different household also reports recent strange lung infections. Here I reply to her skeptically about the source of my illness assuming my temporally closer contacts might be more relevant. But at this point, who knows? It seems well established that in December 2019 a lot of people in the USA were more sick than usual in weird ways.

→ I also have been coughing up stuff from my chest. … Now [other person in household is] showing the same signs and symptoms.

Ya, [my son] seemed to think I was suffering from his illness too, but I do not think so. I was back home for days feeling fine and got sick after hanging around my colleague at work who had been quite seriously sick. He’s a tough hombre too who we were surprised to see lose a week to this.

You know something is off when I overlook a chance to use whom pedantically.


Writing to my wife who is about to return, I first mention being worried about having the strength to shovel snow to get the car out to pick her up. Then I joke around about the grimness of the previous week…

It’s just too bad you can’t wait until I’m not half dead. You also must start working on your expectations. You can’t come back and say, "What the hell happened here?! This place is awful, like no one has done anything but awkwardly sleep in the bed since I’ve been gone." Because that is exactly what has happened. I stopped weighing myself but am still struggling to be calorie positive. I boiled some eggs tonight and eating one was not bad, a huge concession, I think, to the fact that I’m starving to death. I’m also quite worried about how much you will not love the horrible noises, which I can not stand to hear, which I must make or die. Yup, all night long!


My wife returns, so I no longer am writing to her to tell her how I am. She can see first hand now and wisely starts sleeping in a different room. (My emails to her now are, ironically, us trying to win the exhausting fight to maintain health insurance. No, not to receive care — that’s a ludicrous idea — but merely continued coverage to avoid a billion dollar liability if something really bad happened involving cars + my bike.)

Email to a friend…

Sorry to be out of touch for a while. I’ve been uncharacteristically very ill. I’m not that good at flu/cold/pneumonia terminology because it does not really ever happen to me, but this last week, holy fuck, it happened to me! I’d like to say I’m recovering, but who the fuck knows? I could still have this in May. Or at my current weight loss pace, I’ll disappear by May. I usually get up and then after hacking and coughing and getting dressed and ready, I’m exhausted and ready to lie down again and rest. The day pretty much repeats like that. A good measure of how useless I am is that I can’t even play video games for very long. Now I kick myself for not learning how to "watch TV" as a modern person. I can’t even do that!


My son arrives. Less activity in the written record. Most of my energy is spent worrying about finding enough food for him and me to eat. Thankfully, grocery stores and restaurants were open but after making whatever meal preparations were necessary, I was exhausted. He was not feeling completely healthy at this point either. He does know how to "watch TV" like a modern person so we do lots of that.


This mail to my dad is the first recorded mention of the serious myalgia. First we get an idea of the general situation at this time…

I would not dare eat one [of the beloved holiday foods of my ancestral culture] anyway for many weeks since this pathogen has seriously messed up how things taste for me. I’m still fighting it but the chances of me surviving are much higher now. I can definitely see how a pandemic (e.g. 1918) can kill a zillion people in a hurry. It’s mostly on the run from my respiratory system and now has tried messing up the chemistry of my heavy meat muscles. I had some worry as it crept up my back (almost as painful as a migraine, but you can’t rest) but it mostly went for my legs where I can fight back. Thanks to the bike stand you have lent me, I was able to set up a "Pathogen Heater" and bake any imposter chemistry in my legs. In the last 24 hours it has lamely gone after my tibialis anterior muscles — this causes shin splints, something that while famously painful, is something I’ve been dealing with recreationally for decades. Again, burned some of that off on the bike. Feels great to be able to take the fight to the pathogen. Always an adventure to see what’s next on the hit list. I even had little red pox-like bumps (though not nearly so numerous or serious as, say, chicken pox, which I’ve had) on my chest and back as it messed with my skin chemistry. A tough thing has been the grinding pain making resting difficult and then I couldn’t get the Heater up to full burn because my lungs had been broken. And then it’s just dragged on and on. So many days wasted. So much of me wasted — I lost about 10lbs which I did not have to lose! Hopefully I’m coming out of the wraith world soon. I’m hopeful that my body has been laying good defenses for this kind of nonsense as we’ve made the grand tour through all my important subsystems. I figure if I can keep this shit at bay to every couple of decades (this is the worst I can remember) then it is probably acceptable that each recurrence will probably have half the chance of survival. But this one will not kill me. I will beat it. I believe very soon.

That’s a pretty interesting intuition about how being old produces a nonlinear susceptibility to dying from such an illness!

My dad then captures the essence of this blog post writing,

"That is really weird. Don’t you want to know what it is?"

He suggests I go to some medical service, the thought of which makes me ill for different reasons. And I offer my best guess at the time.

So my diagnosis is "some kind of virus, probably one of the many flu viruses". In theory I could get a "rapid test" (RIDT) but they’re not that accurate. … I picked up some flu virus (probably). I’m a very weird specimen with weird physiology. I am practiced at internal physiology battles. I am strong, especially in respiration (1918 flu strangely was especially harsh to the especially strong, but still, probably not a bad thing). … Now, if the situation radically worsens, say a bacterial infection wracks my lungs and I cough up too much blood, well, then some magic beans may be in order. Maybe some oxygen and other serious intervention. But I’m not to that point. No need to poke that bear with a stick just yet!


At this point I’m fighting back — my idiosyncratic belief is that there are only ever two ways to cure any and all health problems: 1. rest 2. ride a bicycle. I knew that doing my normal matador routine with cars would quickly be fatal in the state I was in, but there was a solution — I set up a (stationary) bike inside. And so how was that DIY approach working out? Here I describe things on Christmas Day.

I went to bed last night and writhed in pain all night until I couldn’t take it any more. I finally got up at 0500 and did 30m on the bike. Went back to bed and could then sleep fine. Tonight, I’ve got 30m scheduled before bedtime. I just need to marshal enough calories but being able to ride that bike inside has been a huge help.

This is what I was doing to fight the serious muscle pain in my legs. I’m no stranger to serious leg muscle pain but I’ve never felt anything this severe.


I’m feeling a lot better today. I think I’ve chased the pathogen out. If it’s not completely gone it will be soon. There are still some lingering strange things like I can’t look at close objects because if I position my eyeballs to look at something near, they hurt. That’s so weird, it’s almost funny. And I was sitting here and I realized my shins (those tibialis anterior again!) were freezing cold for no good reason. I now just need to recover from 3 weeks of being in the wraith world. But I survived this one.


Recovering. Replying to my dad.

→ Glad to hear that the worst may be over. Quite an experience.

Indeed. I used to know in a statistical way that people did die from such things but now I know exactly how that could happen. But not this time!


I feel better this morning than I have in about 3 weeks. Still that’s not great but encouraging. I was getting nervous about a secondary infection that was going after my ear. I had lost hearing in my left ear. … I feel like I just need to keep aggressively going after calories. If I can regain some strength I’ll be able to kick this mess out of my body for good.

The best I’ve got though is going to [a restaurant with normal American food] where I could relatively easily pick up 2500 calories and burning some pathogens on the bike. I always feel better after such a burn but the weight loss is an unnerving challenge.

It was frustrating that it was winter because my California solution to severe calorie deficit is simply ice cream.


Feeling well enough to commit historical puns.

Ya, this serious illness thing is completely new to me. After a month of fighting it I think I’m starting to get on top of it. … If modern medical quackery (and agribusiness) continue to tragedy the commons of antibiotics, we’ll be back to [pre 19th century] levels of medical barberism pretty soon.


However, my illness is finally starting to properly go away. In retrospect, it is more obvious to me now that I had pneumonia. A simple influenza infection shouldn’t last more than a month! That’s why my lungs were so damaged and filled with pink sludge. With lungs at 25% power, breathing is difficult. With that kind of hypoxia, my appetite went away and my brain stopped working as well as it normally does. Pretty much like altitude sickness. I was down around 61kg which is much too light for my frame. I’m now eating everything I can and looking a bit less skeletal. I can breathe properly and my health is coming back.


My son goes back to SD.


I lost a lot of weight and am now trying to eat as much as I can. My lungs were pretty beaten up. I either cracked a rib or tore some connective rib tissue from coughing and that’s still not healed. There were a lot of random bizarre problems that were caused by the pathogen or my overactive pathogen defense — things like sore eyeball muscles, couldn’t taste things properly, couldn’t hear in my left ear, etc. The attack systematically went through all my main muscle groups simulating various large athletic exploits (e.g. running a marathon) when I had actually done nothing. For example, one morning I might wake up with shin splints… The next day, it was the muscles in my feet. Etc. But I’m actually pretty good at having those muscles be pushed to the limits. I know how to sort it out. I mostly was trying to stir up my main meat muscles on a bike set up on a trainer inside. But with my lungs very weak it was hard to generate wattage. But it helped. I’m mostly back now. I’m back to work and I’m hoping I’ll be ready to bike to work by next week. I don’t want to push my luck though. It was definitely a surprising brush with non-invincibility.


I’m still weak in the thermoregulation department. Wearing a puffy jacket (basically outerwear) right now indoors. And it’s not even cold outside!


I’m pretty much over my illness. It’s pretty obvious in retrospect that it was pneumonia. That’s how you take a normal flu in a very healthy guy and drag that out close to death for over 5 weeks. But I outlived it. Now I’m just beat up and weakened by it. But I’m coming back! I was on the bike (inside) today long enough to actually generate enough wattage to be mostly naked and covered in sweat. That’s a big improvement over having thermoregulation problems and being cold all the time. I still have to be careful with that but reminding my body that generating heat is something I’m good at is a reasonable part of the recovery IMO. My lungs are starting to work at a reasonable level again. It was a pretty huge change to go from my normal high level of oxygen processing to that of a heavy smoker. I could barely climb the stairs! … I also have some rib damage [presumably from all the coughing] that is lingering as rib damage does. Sit ups are still very hard for me. But overall, I’m coming back. My thinking is back to reasonable levels (no oxygen to the brain isn’t the best for mental clarity).


Here’s a good benchmark for my recovery.

Yesterday I just rode my bike to work for the first time in about 6 weeks (didn’t go in for 5 weeks!). (Last winter I rode pretty much every day.)

If going for a bike ride in the winter does not seem normal, remember that for me it is.


I’m still very weak on the bike but I have resumed riding to work again. And my rib still hurts when I do sit-ups but I can do sit-ups again. My thinking seems to work as well as ever now too. Making progress.

And that concludes my personal story. It is obviously weird to have had an exact functional replica of the terror-inspiring Virus That Broke The World, but my pretty reliable written record does seem to indicate that’s how it happened.

With personal details about me now safely ignorable here, I am likely to continue commentary about the strangeness of this generally in another post. Which I have now written.

Coronavirus Weakens Work-From-Home Resistance

2020-05-16 15:33

Wow. It is happening. Finally. As seen in normal news headlines:

Coronavirus: Twitter allows staff to work from home forever

Or how about this one…

It is just what the headline says. Wow.

You might be just shrugging and impatient to move on to something you care about, but let’s just take a moment to watch the sea recede before the tsunami. If you’re living in the Bay Area, you may want to seek higher ground.

A long time ago, mid 1990s, I realized that new technology rendered contemporary dating customs utterly obsolete. I signed up for some dating thing (on Compuserve - before www-based dating existed) when the ratios were easily 100 to 1. And I actually was able to go out on a date with a bona fide female! This was a disaster — both the date and my prescience.

Today, I’m getting the impression that using computers and software is by far " the most popular way U.S. couples connect".

The article says…

Meeting a significant other online has replaced meeting through friends. People trust the new dating technology more and more, and the stigma of meeting online seems to have worn off.

But to me, in 1994, I had already understood the inherent possibilities of this and there was no stigma. Though I ultimately had to meet my wife in real life decades later (she was reading an interesting paper book no less), the important point here is that I am very weird and my opinions and prognostications are quite likely to be very wrong, even when my facts are correct and history eventually vindicates my beliefs.

We are at the dawn of another such change that I see clearly and yet many others, apparently do not. I see it so clearly that I’m horrified and shocked because it, like rational dating, is happening about 20 years later than I expected. Working from home is suddenly a big deal.

Frist let’s review the fact that not working from home is weird. Very weird. Historically we’ve "gone to work" only for a couple hundred years. Formerly "going to work" entailed tasks like resource extraction (going to a mine or a forest to get wood). People would also farm land between villages. There were ship crews and courriers and soldiers on the march. But mainly people lived and worked in pretty much an area smaller than Google’s Mountainview campus. So returning to that is not a shocking unnatural thing for humans to do.

For decades, my rhetorical question to large Silicon Valley companies has been this: Do you really think that the smartest people — who graduated at the top of their high school class — want to be "rewarded" by being separated from their home and family? You can say that these smart people like making far more money than they would otherwise make if they were able to stay connected with their families but this isn’t entirely right. Just like you may not find the optimal sex partners by hiring people who will have sex with you for money.

And the irony is this: if you’re a tradesman or a nurse or a some other "essential" skilled labor, you can work anywhere, including your hometown if you like. If however, you appease the STEM gods with offerings of pointless homework and masochistic isolation, you get to live in an 800 sqft apartment with some guys from the other side of the earth who are living without servants for the first time in their lives. And you would think that being a plumber would preclude working from home, but it only precludes you from working from your own house. Your kids still get to visit their grandparents.

The more brutal irony was hopefully belabored in my post about the sign painter problem: How the fuck can tech companies repudiate tech when it comes to the most important quality of life issues of their own constituents? But they do.

The fact that this willful stupidity was so stupid meant it could not last. There was some sticky cultural inertia that prevented modern people from engaging with modernity. The conronavirus, bless its black little heart, has smashed that inertia. Consider the ramifications.

If FAANG competes with Twitter for warm bodies to fill their tech bro mosh pits, how competitive will they be if Twitter is saying they’ve done away with the humiliation of the tech bro mosh pits entirely? You don’t even have to come live in the stupidest, least affordable place on earth! That’s going to have some ripples. Among smart people anyway. The only way those companies previously got away with such stupid practices is by aping each other in the first place. If this sticks, the other big tech companies will have to follow. If the big companies are all doing it, all wannabe companies will likewise do so as part of their normal cargo cult rituals.

With the miraculous speed of an email crossing the globe, things could change very quickly.

If this sticks, Silicon Valley real estate is about to get a lot less stupid. Read this Bloomberg headline: Tech Workers Consider Escaping Silicon Valley’s Sky-High Rents. That article talks about fancy tech people fleeing Silicon Valley for places like Lake Tahoe and Hawaii. Why the hell not?!

Let’s think about small towns. What if our valedictorian nerd protagonist hero stayed around and brought some income and, frankly, Blue State intellectual diversity to rural nowheresville? It could happen. What about small towns that are more nice than convenient. Sure there’s intertia to stay in the small town you’ve always been in, but Silicon Valley slaves will be delighted to actually have an opportunity to get the hell out and spend their loot in the real world. I can imagine them overrunning tourist towns to live permanently. After all one of the defining properties of people who can comfortably work from anywhere are workers who have been asked to do work while on vacation.

Now imagine that the talented tech nerds are not self-segregated in the Bay Area, but driving around in the most fancy trucks in their hick country neighborhoods. Of course they will be cruelly mocked and shamed, like always, but they will also be more readily inspirational to latent closeted tech nerds. And owning the biggest property, they shouldn’t care too much what the neighbors think anyway — when they come to service the estate.

Of course the down side is that like minded tech people can not get together and do nerdy things so easily…. Stop. That was a test… Do you believe that? Listen to my message — tech people, of all people, do not need to be in the same physical place to interact! In fact, this potential for dissolving the clot of tech nerds in the Bay Area could strengthen true tech’s ability to communicate like proper true nerds should. If you don’t know where the Linux kernel development headquarters main building has historically been you may not be a part of the club.

But hicktowns in the rural USA are really just the beginning. Did you know that you can save 80% on rent in San Diego by moving 50km south? Sí, se puede. And that’s just an example I know about. I have no idea how this will shake out in the labor market globally. On one hand, a bezillion people from certain large populous nations will statistically produce some very smart people; on the other hand, a lot of them seem to be in the USA already. How might that change?

One thing tech nerds require that is sometimes deficient in the middle of nowhere is superb internet coverage. But consider that places packed with massive population densities aren’t exactly enjoying top quality network access. Moving from a crowded coastal California mega-city to a modest sensible typical mid-west town got me a 15x improvement in download speeds and about double that for uploads. I’m guessing this work from home stuff will actually smooth out some rural access issues (see also the history of paved roads).

That’s going to give tech people even greater freedom. And tech itself will be more plausible out on the farm. And if I don’t have to slave away in a sweatshop, there will also be less economic pressure for my neighbor to do so. Good times!

I’m excited by the prospect of tech people getting out into the real world and engaging with real problems. Not made up nonsense which "help" tech people navigate their own self-inflicted purgatory. There are unironic apps "to help you organize your apps". Get a life, Silicon Valley! You’ve got no excuse now!

I have always resisted. By choice and necessity. Not being able to live where exotic computer nerds must live to earn full exotic computer nerd compensation has cost me around roughly a million dollars over my career. Worth every penny! (And not that much when spent on CA real estate.) I’m hoping my career-long ability to do all of my work from literally any place on earth (with an internet connection) becomes less irrelevant.

You know what skill is relevant for normal salarymen in tech? Showing up to a very inconvenient place every day. Will we see some better performance metrics emerge? I think we have reason to be hopeful. Will people adapt to smarter communications? Value practical applied literacy more? I think we have reason to be hopeful. Will there be less carnage and pollution because of fewer cars needlessly clogging the roads to The Office? I think we have reason to be hopeful.

I know this happens already a bit, but why not put servers in even smarter places? I know that example seems like one where people need to do a lot of on-site work, but not so much the engineering nerds really. Oh and if you ever get the chance to see this quirky Mexican science fiction movie: "Sleep Dealer" aka "Traficantes de sueños", you should check that out. For a very cheap movie it is filled with sensible practical science fiction. The important bit is the obvious rise of teleoperation using cheap labor as the brains of things like skyscraper welding robots. It is time for tech to really deliver on its promises and this has been a blindspot in my opinion. Is there really any reason why a backhoe operator should be on site with the backhoe? ( Hint : local small business equipment rental drops it off at job site.) Working from home is for more people than you think.

Are secretive companies (e.g. Apple) going to balk at letting their tech leak out of their fortresses and into their serfs' living rooms? Sure they will. But by the axiom of being able to move data around effortlessly generally, security problems and leaks are not magically precluded — that fortress was just a prop. Issue everyone separate work computers for working on work if new props are needed. There are ways to do it right. For grandmaster level intelligence agencies, the work-from-home show is a delightful honeypot opportunity.

And think of the women. If you’re a tech bro in Silicon Valley the ratios can’t be good. If you’re a woman you’ve got a whole different set of problems. How will this new remote thinking affect couples who both genuflected before the STEM alter and who therefore are likely to have mutually exclusive rigid career tracks? Will the flexibility of being at home help with child care? How could it not?


So there you go. That’s my speculative take on new work from home cultural shifts. Remember, I’m probably wrong. This proably will not happen. Once the Virus That Broke The World mysteriously departs, there may be a mad rush of the sheep dogs to herd the flocks back into their open plan pens. I am confident that my son’s generation won’t tolerate this rote nonsense about going to the office merely for ritual status displays but that could be 20+ years away.

Historically the only tepid reason I’ve ever heard why putting the sheep in pens was necessary was the circular argument that it was probably necessary. The sheep might not be able to handle the isolation in some vague way. If there’s one thing that we can say about this topic that is a done deal it is that this uncertainty is now completely removed. Do the self-styled smart people of the world really need to be babysit at a kindergarten? We will now know the answer conclusively. Working from home is optimal for me for reasons that are so obvious that it’s painful — but we’ve also established that I’m weird. Now we’ll know if it works for everyone. Remember, nothing is stopping anyone from renting an office and spending 27 minutes a day driving to it. Uh… have fun with that.

The sheep are out now, and they might have reached escape velocity. If so, many things will not be the same.

UPDATE 2020-05-17

A loyal reader who has worked from home as an engineer for 25 years draws attention to the sad dreary milieux now seen in abundance in video conference backgrounds on a daily basis. Many dining room tables and awkward domestic scenes. But he’s a pro. I’m a pro. Normal office grunts have some catching up to do. But they will! No matter how it turns out, normal people are investing in this and getting better at working from home.

Besides simple cinematic directing, what people working from home need is dedicated space. Nice dedicated space. Is this too much to ask? No.

There are two important reasons. First, people can now leave Manhattan or Menlo Park and live somewhere where their house buying investment can afford a substantial space dedicated to professional activities.

The second reason is macro economic. This is not a zero sum solution — the companies win too! They no longer have to buy astronomically expensive, yet utterly stupid, accommodation for their workers. In theory, this value should be returned to the workers or society or shareholders or, hell, even the bosses. Currently it’s just being lit on fire. Sorry Steve Jobs — your "gorgeous" Apple Park is stupid. Stupid. Was stupid then and is stupid with fireworks spelling S-T-U-P-I-D now. According to wikipedia this thing cost $5e9 and holds 12k densely packed sheep. That’s over $416k per employee. If I gave you $416k you could easily set up your dedicated video conferencing facility in this room with fine visual appeal.


After purchasing this place outright!


That’s an increase in floor space for our hypothetical Apple sheep from 233 to 4612 square feet! And I’m just considering the office accommodations.

And what is the "downside"? You have to live in Erie, PA? Let me tell you as someone pretty familiar with both Erie and Cupertino — even with fewer McLaren dealers, Erie is a damn nice place!

Don’t like the look of that snow? Migrate during the winters! You can do that now! The reader I mentioned migrates to snowy Colorado for ski season each year without skipping a beat professionally. Silicon Valley is geographically okay and known for its anodyne weather but it is crap compared to, say, Mackinac Island in the summer. Some of us prefer such places in the winter!

So give it time. The clumsiness the sheep are going through will resolve itself. They’re still reeling from the struggles of having to live in Silicon Valley in the first place. Once they apply themselves to escaping, we have no reason to expect things will stay the same.

Review: The Book Of Why

2020-05-05 20:47

Ok, this is interesting. I just published this and about the exact same time Slate Star Codex creates a contest for book reviews exactly like this.

So I’m going to hide this for now and if it gets into the contest, you can read about it then.

zsh Bashing

2020-04-27 15:36

My wife told me about this last year, but it didn’t really sink in until now: Apple replaces bash with zsh as the default shell in macOS Catalina.


When Apple first came out with a proper OS (for Macs) in 2001, the default shell was tcsh (The C Shell). This is actually the one used by people who were happily using Silicon Graphics workstations the previous ten years.

But zsh? Come on, that’s petulant. Bash is the standard.

The most important feature to consider when choosing a default shell is its prevalence. This is exactly why Apple relented and shifted to it a year after introducing OSX. The reason this is the top consideration and why Bash shines is that Bash is roughly an extension of the ancient classic sh shell. The ubiquitous sh. This is relied upon for many scripts and learning this is never a bad idea. Having it available is not an option — it will be mandatory. If you have learned it and you have it, why not leverage that? Sprinkle some upgrades with Bash (extending old-school sh) and that’s close to optimal.

Maybe some weird nerds have their good reasons to move away from Bash. Fine. That means they’re super fancy folks and they are obviously hard core experts at Bash, right? Because if you’re not, my advice would be to learn what you’re doing with Bash a bit better before thinking you’ve got a better plan. But let’s say you are an expert at Bash and you have Reasons. Well, you have your choice and as a hardened expert you can certainly run exotic shells like ksh or zsh or fish or ash or dash or go right from a Python interpreter or tcl/wish etc. For a similar example, last fall I started shifting over to use the Awesome Window Manager - not Gnome or KDE, etc. This doesn’t mean everyone should! I totally understand that my weirdo better-than-normal-people fantasy is mine alone. If you have that attitude about zsh, great, but don’t make it a default!

The fact is that zsh is not necessarily "better". I feel like it might help one to be clumsy with its particular portfolio of automagical features. Of course automagical features are all over Bash, mostly when you choose them to be.

When I look at why-zsh-is-so-great articles, I mostly see people who don’t know how to use Bash. The one exception is the zsh module system; I’m fine with Bash in this respect but if Bash maintainer Chet Ramey singles this out, I’ll take it seriously. I always assumed a "Bash module" was simply a separate executable. Problem solved.

A lot of the excitement seems to revolve around globbing and completion features that make me nervous because of their unavoidable overhead. Some (Ubuntu-esque) Bash setups have fancy parameter expansion (not merely executable and file argument expansion) because Bash is perfectly capable of such things. I however believe that something like man pyt<tab> should not complete; I find it insufferable how sluggish such features tend to be. If I’m logged into a slow Raspberry Pi on a ship at sea and I have a custom path with millions of files in it for some reason (which might be good), I don’t want to sit there for 5 minutes while it tries to correct my spelling (or indexes its db or whatever necessary trade off is enacted).

I think the most promising advantage to zsh is that it has floating point math. But Chet would sensibly argue that making your shell too heavy with no added functionality would lead to every process using a shell being weighed down. And I say "no added functionality" because Bash’s forte is passing jobs off to more competent systems. This is the classic Bash way — to punt off to a better tool as needed. Here’s Bash getting some floating point math done (by reassigning the task).

bash$ bc -l <<<"1/3.0"

Bash wants you to have choices for things so assumes that if you need crazy floating point math, maybe you need it to be quite serious — maybe more serious than zsh’s 16 places:

zsh% print - $(( 1 / 3.0 ))

Or maybe you can put awk to use. If you can, that’s probably good.

bash$ :|awk 'END{print 1/3}'

How about this exotic variant?

bash$ dc<<<"30k 1 3 /p"

Not only am I getting arbitrary precision, but I’m able to use RPN too (30 on stack, set precision k, 1 on the stack, 3 on the stack, /, then print). And RPN just makes me happy.

Again, I’m emphasizing this because floating point ops are the only thing I’m sympathetic to with respect to zsh. The clumsy auto-corrections are mostly irritating to me (even completions in Bash are close to my limit). Even with the floating point "deficiency" I’m showing that Bash clearly has a plan.

What is unnerving is how many stock unix core systems come without bc these days. I always add it but that is an issue when it comes to Bash’s helper options.

That’s about it for technical details. There really is no compelling technical reason to choose any particular shell. Take your pick if you’re fancy. The real question here is the default and what subtle push is being made to promote one over the other. I suspect the facts are a bit more sinister. Ahem, Apple.

This article makes a pretty good case that the whole switch has been made by lawyers at Apple who are trying to resist very specific clauses of the GPL. I don’t read that stuff closely any more because I have come to completely trust Apple and companies like them — completely trust them to be asshats and do the wrong thing always. On the other hand, I completely trust the FSF to make a curmudgeonly GPL that will annoy most people most of the time, but be the right thing to do.

So booo to Apple if they’re really changing the default shell. Lame. I totally support and encourage people’s decision to use a weird shell, but a standard has already emerged. Messing with that does nobody any favors. Log into a Pi or an AWS instance or any Linux/SteamOS system, etc, etc, and it will be Bash. 18 years of Mac users know no different either. Really, is it a good idea to mess with that? I say no.

Stick with the wholesome classic. The command to set one’s shell in unix is usually chsh, "change shell". Something like this for my Linux.

chsh -s /usr/bin/bash

Or using some Bash features, helpful if you don’t know the path.

chsh -s $(which bash) ${USER}

Those expansions should work in Bash — and also zsh if you’re inadvertently stuck therein.

That’s the proper way to do things — using a shell command to sort out shell issues. It should work on a Mac but YMMV. I used to support people who used Macs and loved tcsh so I know Macs can have idiosyncrasies. But it’s doable. Maybe try this GUI approach. -> Preferences -> General -> Shells open with: -> Command -> /bin/bash

Or you could just edit your /etc/passwd. Just kidding. Don’t do that. That would be really unnecessary — like Apple changing the default shell.


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