Tag: pandemic (page 1 of 3)

He that overvalues himself will undervalue others, and he that undervalues others will oppress them

🎺 What Time Feels Like When You’re Improvising — “A great example of flow state is found in many improvised art forms, from music to acting to comedy to poetry, also known as “spontaneous creativity.” Improvisation is a highly complex form of creative behavior that justly inspires our awe and admiration. The ability to improvise requires cognitive flexibility, divergent thinking and discipline-specific skills, and it improves with training.”

💼 SEC proposes rules for giving gig workers equity — “The five-year pilot program would allow gig companies to issue equity as long as it’s no more than 15% of a worker’s compensation during a 12-month period, and no more than $75,000 in value during a 36-month period (based on the share price when it’s issued).”

🧠 Your Brain Is Not for Thinking — “Your brain’s most important job isn’t thinking; it’s running the systems of your body to keep you alive and well. According to recent findings in neuroscience, even when your brain does produce conscious thoughts and feelings, they are more in service to the needs of managing your body than you realize.”

Social Unrest Is the Inevitable Legacy of the Covid Pandemic — “Like turpentine on flames, Covid-19 has rekindled older divisions, resentments and inequities across the world. In the U.S., Black Americans suffer disproportionately from police brutality, but also from the coronavirus — now these traumas merge. And everywhere, the poor fare worse than the rich.”

👣 A new love for medieval-style travel — “We might today think of pilgrimage as a specifically religious form of travel. But even in the past, the sightseeing was as important as the spirituality. Dr Marion Turner, a scholar at Oxford University who studies Geoffrey Chaucer, points out that “it was a time away from ordinary society, and allowed for a time of play.”


Quotation-as-title by Dr Johnson. Image via xkcd.

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other

Graphic showing a hospital, face masks, and hand washing

😷 How do pandemics end?

🙆 How I talk to the victims of conspiracy theories

🔒 The Github youtube-dl Takedown Isn’t Just a Problem of American Law

🖥️ The Raspberry Pi 400 – Teardown and Review

🐧 As a former social media analyst, I’m quitting Twitter


Quotation-as-title by Eric Hoffer. Image from top-linked post.

Seeing through is rarely seeing into

Statue of a man showing bicep muscles, but the statue is crumbling

♂️ What does it mean to be a man in 2020? Introducing our news series on masculinity

🎓 America Will Sacrifice Anything for the College Experience: The pandemic has revealed that higher education was never about education.

💽 One of the world’s most cited computer scientists wants cooperatives to be the future of how data is owned

✏️ Your writing style is costly (Or, a case for using punctuation in Slack)

🔐 Taking Back Our Privacy: Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of the end-to-end encrypted messaging service Signal, is “trying to bring normality to the Internet.”


Quotation-as-title by Elizabeth Bransco. Image from top-linked post.

Biometric surveillance in a post-pandemic future

I woke up today to the news that, in the UK, the police will get access to to the data on people told to self-isolate on a ‘case-by-case basis’. As someone pointed out on Mastodon, this was entirely predictable.

They pointed to this article by Yuval Noah Harari from March of this year, which also feels like a decade ago. In it, he talks about post-pandemic society being a surveillance nightmare:

You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a temporary measure taken during a state of emergency. It would go away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there is always a new emergency lurking on the horizon. My home country of Israel, for example, declared a state of emergency during its 1948 War of Independence, which justified a range of temporary measures from press censorship and land confiscation to special regulations for making pudding (I kid you not). The War of Independence has long been won, but Israel never declared the emergency over, and has failed to abolish many of the “temporary” measures of 1948 (the emergency pudding decree was mercifully abolished in 2011). 

Yuval Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus (The Financial times)

Remember the US ‘war on terror’? That led to an incredible level of domestic and foreign surveillance that was revealed by Edward Snowden a few years ago.

The trouble, though, is that health is a clear and visible thing, a clear and present danger. Privacy is more nebulous with harms often being in the future, so the trade-off is between the here and now and, well, the opposite.

Even when infections from coronavirus are down to zero, some data-hungry governments could argue they needed to keep the biometric surveillance systems in place because they fear a second wave of coronavirus, or because there is a new Ebola strain evolving in central Africa, or because . . . you get the idea. A big battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy. The coronavirus crisis could be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between privacy and health, they will usually choose health.

YUVAL NOAH HARARI: THE WORLD AFTER CORONAVIRUS (THE FINANCIAL TIMES)

For me, just like Harari, the way that governments choose to deal with the pandemic shows their true colours.

The coronavirus epidemic is thus a major test of citizenship. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians. If we fail to make the right choice, we might find ourselves signing away our most precious freedoms, thinking that this is the only way to safeguard our health.

YUVAL NOAH HARARI: THE WORLD AFTER CORONAVIRUS (THE FINANCIAL TIMES)

Scenario planning, climate change, and the pandemic

Tim O’Reilly is a funny character. Massively talented and influential, but his political views (broadly right libertarian) seem to mean he miss things when he’s neverththeless heading in the right direction.

In a long article published recently, O’Reilly introduces his readers to scenario planning from a very US-centric point of view. It’s also a position that, on first reading at least, is a bit techno-solutionist.

He starts by explaining that just because we date decades and centuries a particular way (“the 90s”, “the twentieth century”) it’s actually cataclysmic events that define the start and end of eras:

So, when you read stories—and there are many—speculating or predicting when and how we will return to “normal”, discount them heavily. The future will not be like the past. The comfortable Victorian and Georgian world complete with grand country houses, a globe-spanning British empire, and lords and commoners each knowing their place, was swept away by the events that began in the summer of 1914 (and that with Britain on the “winning” side of both world wars.) So too, our comfortable “American century” of conspicuous consumer consumption, global tourism, and ever-increasing stock and home prices may be gone forever.

Tim O’Reilly, Welcome to the 21st Century: How To Plan For The Post-Covid Future

For me, the 21st century began on September 11th, 2001 with the twin towers attack. The aftermath of that, including the curtailing of our civil liberties in the west, has been a defining feature of the century so far.

O’Reilly, however, points to the financial crisis:

Our failure to make deep, systemic changes after the financial collapse of 2009, and our choice instead to spend the last decade cutting taxes and spending profusely to prop up financial markets while ignoring deep, underlying problems has only made responding to the current crisis that much more difficult. Our failure to build back creatively and productively from the global financial crisis is necessary context for the challenge to do so now.

Tim O’Reilly, Welcome to the 21st Century: How To Plan For The Post-Covid Future

All of these things compound one another, with financial uncertainty leading to political instability, and the election of populist leaders. That meant we were less prepared for the pandemic than we could have been, and when it hit, we’ve suffered (in the UK and US at least) from an incompetent response.

I recently finished reading A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara E. Tuchman, which discusses at length something that O’Reilly picks up on:

If you are a student of history, you know that the massive reduction of the workforce in post-Black Death Europe forced lords to give better terms of tenure—serfdom all but disappeared, and the rise of a mercantile middle class set the stage for the artistic and scientific progress of the Renaissance. Temporary, but catastrophic, events often usher in permanent economic changes. Sometimes the changes appear to be reversed but it just takes time for them to stick. World War II brought women into the workforce, and then victory ushered them back out. But the wine of opportunity, once tasted, was not left undrunk forever.

Tim O’Reilly, Welcome to the 21st Century: How To Plan For The Post-Covid Future

I’m hoping, like O’Reilly, that there are silver linings that come out of the pandemic related to climate change. Unlike him, I don’t think the answer is more consumption. As an article I shared recently points out, not only can we not have billionaires and solve climate change, but the whole edifice of over-consumption needs to collapse under its own weight.

The clever man often worries; the loyal person is often overworked

Man in field sitting at desk and computer

👏 Blue sky thinking: is it time to stop work taking over our lives?

👍 Attitudes are skills

🤦‍♂️ How Not To Kill People With Spreadsheets

🕸️ Viral Effects Are Not Network Effects

🤯 Inventing Virtual Meetings of Tomorrow with NVIDIA AI Research


Quotation-as-title from a Chinese proverb. Image from top-linked post.

Face-to-face university classes during a pandemic? Why?

Earlier in my career, when I worked for Jisc, I was based at Northumbria University in Newcastle. It’s just been announced that 770 students there have been infected with COVID-19.

As Lorna Finlayson, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Essex, points out, the desire to get students on campus for face-to-face teaching is driven by economics. Universities are businesses, and some of them are likely to fail this academic year.

[A]fter years of pushing to expand online learning and “lecture capture” on the basis that it is what students want, university managers have decided that what students really want now, during a global pandemic, is face-to-face contact. This sudden-onset fetish reached its most perverse extreme in the case of Boston University, which, realising that many teaching rooms lack good ventilation or even windows, decided to order “giant air circulators”, only to discover that the air circulators were very noisy. Apparently unable to source enough “mufflers” for the air circulators, the university ordered Bluetooth headsets to enable students and teachers to communicate over the roar of machinery.

All of which raises the question: why? The determination to bring students back to campus at any cost doesn’t stem from a dewy-eyed appreciation of in-person pedagogy, nor from concerns about the impact of isolation on students’ mental health. If university managers had any interest in such things, they would not have spent years cutting back on study skills support and counselling services.

Lorna Finlayson, How universities tricked students into returning to campus (The Guardian)

I know people who work in universities in various positions. What they tell me astounds me; a callous disregard for human life in the pursuit of either economic survival, or profit.

This is, as usual, all about the money. With student fees and rents now their main source of revenue, universities will do anything to recruit and retain. When the pandemic hit, university managers warned of a potentially catastrophic loss of income from international student fees in particular. Many used this as an excuse to cut jobs and freeze pay, even as vice-chancellors and senior management continued to rake in huge salaries. As it turned out, international student admissions reached a record high this year, with domestic undergraduate numbers also up – perhaps less due to the irresistibility of universities’ “offer” than to the lack of other options (needless to say, staff jobs and pay have yet to be reinstated).


But students are more than just fee-payers. They are rent-payers too. Rightly or wrongly, most of those in charge of universities have assumed that only the promise of face-to-face classes would tempt students back to their accommodation. That promise can be safely broken only once rental contracts are signed and income streams flowing.

Lorna Finlayson, How universities tricked students into returning to campus (The Guardian)

I predict legal action at some point in the near future.

One is not superior merely because one sees the world in an odious light

Wear The Mask poster

😷 “Wear The Mask” poster now available as free download

🐙 How To Win Any Debate

🤔 Irish court rules Subway bread is not bread

🚀 Jet suit paramedic tested in the Lake District ‘could save lives’

👍 Helsinki Design Lab Ten Years Later


Quotation-as-title by Chateaubriand. Image from top-linked post.

The crisis in professional sport is one of its own making

I couldn’t agree more with this analysis from Barney Ronay, one of my favourite sports writers:

Professional sport is facing a crisis of unprecedented urgency. It must be prepared to face it largely alone.

At which point it is worth being clear on exactly what is at stake. This is a moment of peril that should raise questions far beyond simply survival or sustaining the status quo. Questions such as: what is sport actually for? And more to the point, what do we want it to look like when this is all over?

It helps to define the terms of all this jeopardy. There has been a lot of emotive rhetoric about sport being on the verge of extinction, its very existence in doubt, as though the basic ability to participate, support and spectate could be vaporised out from beneath us.

This is incorrect. What is being menaced is the current financial management of professional sport, its existing models and cultural practices, much of which is pretty joyless and dysfunctional in the first place.

Barney Ronay, Never waste a crisis: Covid-19 trauma can force sport to change for good (The Guardian)

Was sport less enjoyable before loads of money was thrown at it? As Ronay points out, Gareth Bale earning £600,000 per week “could keep every club in League Two in business by paying their combined wage bill out of his annual salary”.

I’m not sure the current model is sustainable, so if the pandemic forces a rethink, I’m all for it.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can be very creative about it

Post-pandemic cities

🌱 From garden streets to bike highways: four ideas for post-Covid cities – visualised

💰 Should Employers Cut Your Salary If You Change Cities?

🏂 Friluftsliv, the Norwegian Concept of Outdoor Living

🐟 A whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled

🤯 F1 Pit Stop In 2-Seconds: An In-Depth Analysis


Quotation-as-title by Richard Koch. Image from top-linked post.

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