Author Archives: iluvryuzaki

Flatten the Curve: How long is the Coronavirus going to affect US?

These are unprecedented times. I think people are waking up quickly (some faster than others) that the coronavirus threat is very real, and it is not just something happening to someone in some obscure corner of the world. It is everywhere. In the absence of a vaccine or cure, the next best option of social distancing has been first recommended and then required in most parts of the world. In the US we are in a 15-day period of advised social distancing and depending on which state you are, the strictness and enforcement varies. For the most part the country has come to a pause. All businesses and workplaces have closed and only grocery stores and restaurants (with takeout and delivery only) have been allowed to function. Currently the question on everyone’s mind is when do things get back to normal? When does the economy reopen? When can we start meeting people like we normally do again? The answer is probably what you may think it is. No one knows exactly for sure. But we are not completely in the blind and given what we already know, we can make an educated guess and that’s what I would like to do.

Let’s start with the basics. We keep hearing the phrase ‘Flatten the Curve’ a lot, but what does it even mean? The curve here refers to a graph of the number of infected people by the Coronavirus versus time. Obviously, the number of cases were initially zero (at a good time when no one was infected), and then started increasing. As the virus continued to spread, more people caught it and the graph started rising. Let’s look at China’s graph.

China Curve
(Source: Worldometers)

Towards the end of January, China started testing extensively. In about ten days, the number of active infected cases had been identified to be around 20,000! In twenty days, the number of cases had doubled to nearly 40,000. This is a rising curve. Somewhere around Feb 17th, the number of cases reaches its peak. Notice the days between Feb 14th to Feb 20th (the ones marked in orange between points B and C) where the curve is not rising sharply anymore. In fact, it is becoming flatter, and beyond Feb 20th, we see a drop in the number of infected cases! The implemented shutdown measures are working, the curve has peaked and then flattens and finally falls. For the curve to drop (which signifies that the number of infected people is reducing), it must first stop rising sharply and then start flattening. If we test extensively and quarantine well and take good measures, the curve will not be a sharp, tall one but one which peaks lower and is more flatter in nature which means that the rate of increase of the number of cases is lesser (the virus is spreading less quickly), and the peak is lower (the maximum number of people the virus affected is lesser). This is why flattening the curve is important. The graph below provides a good understanding.

 

Healthwise

(Source: Healthwise)

As of March 25th, the infected number of cases in China had dropped significantly enough that China feels it can reopen its economy. All this tells us a few things:

1. Social distancing and shutting down the country along with imposing travel restrictions work. China was very strict on this and enforced it well.
2. It took China around six-eight weeks to recover.

China has begun to reopen the economy in phases, and we can all hope and pray that there is no relapse and that the number of infections drop to zero. One could now think that China being a larger population and the source of the virus probably had it the hardest and other countries will not face the same wrath of the virus. This is probably what most of us thought initially and perhaps why some have not taken this seriously. That assumption is simply wrong. Case in point being Italy where the virus hit very hard. And if you had not already heard it, as of today (March 27th), USA has the most infections (85,000) in the whole world. This should hopefully be enough to wake the remaining people up. The curve has begun to flatten in Italy. South Korea and Hong Kong did a commendable job in flattening it very quickly. India should also be applauded for quick action. As of this writing India has 800 cases (compared to a population of 1.33 billion) and has enforced a strict 21-day national shutdown and for the most part people are taking this very seriously.

Now let’s look at USA’s graph:

 

USA

As can be seen, the curve has not even begun to flatten. And it is still rising! If we compare it to the Chinese graph, we are somewhere between points A and B. If I must guess I would say somewhere around the middle. We can’t be sure exactly where between A and B we are because we don’t know where the curve will peak. But where the curve peaks and where it flattens and how fast all this happens really depends on two things:

1. The government steps up the number of people being tested. It stops the spread by quarantining the infected and treating them effectively.
2. People take things seriously and don’t wait for the government to enforce stricter rules. From beach parties in Florida to even people in NY parks playing basketball and other team sports and hanging out in large numbers etc., people are still not doing it. It means we might not beat this soon.

If you thought life can go back to normal after the 15-day period ends in March, know that this is not the case. It is not even going to be a week or two beyond March, it is going to be much longer. If the economy for some funny reason is restarted before people are treated and the curve flattens, we are looking at potential chaos and unpredictability and undoing any good the 15-day period did. Ad hoc measures will not do. The virus will not die because you gave it respect and ceased to do things for 15-days, it will continue to do what it does. It is up to us to react well. Bill Gates has suggested severe national shutdown for six-ten weeks. That sounds like a good idea. A national shut down is something which US has still not done, policy on the strictness seems to vary from state to state which does not make much sense. The reasoning may have to do with where the impacts of the virus have been higher and which regions are denser but that does not matter. Even in states where the number of cases is lesser currently, it can all change very fast because the virus spreads exponentially. It does not make sense to do halfhearted measures and be stuck with this for several months. Might as well do everything possible and hope to turn things around quickly.

The Chinese shutdown was nationwide and included sealing off the initial epicenter Wuhan along with 15 other cities where the virus hit hard. Testing was extensive and they handled the hospitalizations and quarantining very effectively. There has not (yet) been any sealing off areas hit hard in the United States and there has been a shortage of testing along with equipment.

Bottom line: If we do like the Chinese did, we might be able to beat this in two more months. Expect the life that you are seeing right now (and possibly a harder version of it if the government tightens the screws), till at least the mid or end of May. Given that the testing has not been that extensive, there has not been a national shut down or sealing off regions, and a lot of people are still being reckless, this could take even longer. This is not to scare you; this is to help prepare you (and me). Make plans to care of your physical and emotional health. Do workouts at home, go for walks where there are less people (and even then, follow the guidelines of 3-6 feet away from people) or go cycling. Text, talk to people over the phone and video call often. Social media might finally be truly useful to help people stay connected. Form plans for your life, this a very good time to sit and think. It is a great period to pick up meditation. If you are living with someone, that helps with not feeling socially isolated. If you are living alone (like me), then having one or two people you can meet physically, every now and then will be a good idea. Balance the social element while being very precautious. Currently I am meeting just one other person, my neighbor and the only person he is meeting is me which reduces the odds of either of us getting infected (or transmitting infections to someone else) while having some human element and maintaining our sanity.

We are in this together and it will be a while. It can be faster if we help each other out and act sensibly.

Movie Trailers: A Lost Art?

I am sure many of you are pumped about the new ‘James Bond: No Time to Die’ and ‘Fast and Furious 9’ trailers that just released recently. I am excited that the trailers were released, but I am not excited about the trailers themselves. Let me explain. A trailer being released sets up awareness (in some cases hype) for a movie and gives us information on when the movie is releasing so we can mark our calendars. And this is all good. The problem though, lies with the trailers themselves. They are far too long nowadays! They are not trailers anymore, they are spoilers. They show you the best scenes from the movie straight up. I know of comedy movies where if you saw the trailer you would have been convinced that it was going to be a hilarious ride, but you walk out of the theater with the realization that all the jokes were actually embedded in the trailer and the movie had nothing new to offer. I saw a trailer of a romantic movie (I forget which one), wherein they show how the romance starts, i.e., how the couple met together, the magical times they share, the surprising conflict that ensues and drives them apart and finally the denouement where they get back together. I thought the movie looked good and had I not known exactly how things are going to play out I may have seen it.

From what I remember, the trailers being made more than a decade ago had it right. They were shorter and smarter. They intrigued me without revealing everything the movie has to offer. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore. The trailers of yesterday are the teasers of today. The reason could perhaps be the increased competition movies face against each other (heck even a great TV show rivals a movie nowadays) or that budgets have gotten bigger. So, the primary goal becomes to sell the movie, not the audience satisfaction. Hence the need to dump every good thing within the trailer in the hopes that people buy a ticket. But it can be counterproductive too – just like what happened with me and the romantic movie.

In any case the way I deal with this now is quite simple. It takes me about 20-30 seconds while watching a trailer to understand if this is a movie I am going to watch. If the answer is yes, I shut down the trailer. If I am in a movie hall, I simply stop paying attention and look away from the screen. If I realize after the 20-30 seconds that this is not a movie I am going to watch, I continue watching the trailer. I might as well use all the reveal to my advantage and enjoy an entire movie in 3 minutes while I can!

I am going to keep this article short – just like how our trailers should be.

Book Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

(spoiler free review focusing more on the general flavor of things and my own overall experience, like all my other reviews)

I was excited to start reading ‘Red Seas under Red Skies (book two of ’The Gentlemen Bastards’ series) for two reasons. The first being that it was a sequel to one of my favorite novels of all time, ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’. The second one had to do with the fact that I was having reading blues which I have talked about in my previous post. I was about fifty pages into the book and loving it and was confident I would finally finish a book effortlessly. I did end up finishing it, but it required a lot of effort.

The novel starts off superbly. Locke and Jean are in a gambling tower, where advancing to every floor above requires you to prove your proficiency against opponents in gambling games. The difficulty of the games gets harder as you proceed upwards, for you face more experienced players but so do the rewards of winning; the whole concept being akin to a video game. Their aim? To pretend to advance to the top and gain the trust of the people within the establishment, while what they are looking for is not just winning money through advancing in the gambling games but rob the whole place itself. How interesting! But the initial excitement tends to die out after a while. Multiple sub plots are being introduced and the story begins to advance extremely slowly. The book enters new waters, quite literally. For Locke and Jean somehow find themselves doing a crash course in how to be a pirate (or appropriately how to pretend like one).

There are a few problems I found with the book. For one despite a great start, it starts to become too long winded. You are clueless as to what direction the story is taking. In the first book, we were introduced to our beloved characters and their backgrounds, we knew what the stakes were, who the villains were and what Locke and Jean ended up eventually aiming for, i.e., revenge. It is hard to say what this one is about. It did not even feel like it was setting up the stage for future books. We see a lot of characters being introduced and I think it is unlikely we will see any of them again. I felt unsure who to root for. This book felt more like a standalone story, albeit one that loses pace with time.

There are too many interludes which are essentially reminiscences, all in the beginning of the book. It broke the rhythm of the story for me. Maybe they could have being spread more throughout the book. Perhaps Scott was aware enough that the interludes were getting to be too many, that he appropriately titles the final one as ‘The last reminiscence’. Almost sounding like, hang in there reader I know I am testing your patience but bear with me.

I found a lot of ship and ocean jargon (Locke and Jean are pirates in this one like I mentioned before) being hurled at me constantly, not something I liked. It would require me to use a dictionary to understand in depth what was being referred to (ex: parts of a ship, ways of managing it etc.). I mostly skimmed those parts, but there are too many of those. It generally surprises me when authors take a very specific topic (in this case ships and navigation) and use terminologies the reader is unlikely to have encountered before. I for one don’t mind a small word list at the end of the book, along with their meanings to help with this. It may seem odd, but I have seen it done before and it works (ex: in the book ‘Eragon’, if I recall correctly).

The last hundred pages of the book is where things start to get really heated up. This reminded me of the first book which had a great ending and the pace being fantastic towards the end. This is classic Scott Lynch fashion. There is a major twist towards the end, one that will tug at your heart strings. But enough with teasing spoilers.

While this book is not great it is still a decent read. The first one remains my top fiction books of all time. I have also invested time and energy, so I will still definitely pick up the third novel of the series. The plan is that he will write seven novels for the series and I am a sucker for epic fantasy series spanning multiple novels. Generally, with long series we tend to figure out what the overall plot is about. Ex: Hogwarts life and adventures aside, Harry Potter is in the end a fight against a Dark Lord. Even after finishing book two, I don’t see a broader plot (only hints). All that said, this remains a brilliant series with tremendous potential. Last, I checked Scott had done a George RR Martin by making everybody wait a millennium for the fourth novel of the series, which at this point is not out yet. But I still have the third one to read so I am not too worried about that. I hope this one delivers.

 

Overall Book Rating: 3.5/5

Interesting Phase in my Reading Habits

In the past three or four years my reading habits have changed. For one I have had to read a lot of academic texts because I am in graduate school. After studying for four hours and more on an average every day, there is only so much energy I have left for reading fiction. Consequently, my fiction reading has dropped considerably (and I do not like this one bit). Secondly and this is perhaps more important, I have started second guessing myself – a lot. After having exposed myself to lists like, ’100 must read books before you die’, ’50 best novels of the twentieth century’, I have tried to consciously change the genres I read. Along with the other things impacting my life what has resulted is that I am preoccupied with questions like, ‘What should I be reading as a reader? What is it that will make me a well-rounded reader? Is there a better way to read books? Should I be giving more careful attention to details I tend to skim through? Should I change the pace at which I read? Should I be reading a book from cover to cover?’ These questions have taken the center stage and what has happened is that I have picked up books and not finished them. This is not just a rare occurrence for me, it is a new one. And to add to that I have had too many of these recently.

What these ‘lists’ tend to do for me is make reading like a job. Like a to-do list. But reading for me was also about discovery! The process started as soon as I walked into a bookstore, randomly picked up a book which caught my eye and then finished the book at home (and occasionally marvel at how smart I was that I had the foresight to spot a rare gem). But if somebody has already found these gems and compiled a list of them, that takes away half the fun. This and asking myself too many questions have made the reading experience different for me.

I do not know whether a term exists but for me this phase has been something of a ‘reader’s block’. It has taken a while for me to realize that what I should be doing is just reading. Forget lists. Forget how it is supposed to feel. Forget asking myself too many questions. But simply read for the reason I got into reading, for fun and without agenda. And I am delighted to tell you that I have started doing the same again.

What do you guys think? Have you ever experienced a similar phase? Is it possible you experienced this if not in reading but in something else? Maybe in writing? Maybe at work? I must mention, the openness to change is a positive one, but I think when we force it or try too many changes at the same time (which I was doing), it kills the experience or the natural enjoyment one derives. I think change should be organic. You want to add on to things that already exist, you want to experiment, not replace them entirely.

A Modest Proposition

How terribly inactive have I been! Blame it on the burnout that comes from being in graduate school and my own laziness. Well that has to change. And yet, the work levels are only increasing for me making it harder to be active here.

This then is a modest proposition. I plan to write at least 20 articles in 2019. But why not aim higher? New Year, new resolution, new me – about that time to make promises. But we hardly ever keep them do we? So, to avoid promises I cannot keep, to avoid unnecessary self-imposed pressures, here is the goal. I will write at least 20 articles in 2019. I also want my blogging to become something that is laid back and relaxing, hence the modest aim.

In fact, I am going to take the pressure of myself further by counting this as one of the articles (man, I am smart)! Nineteen more to go!

Update: Spectacularly failed on fulfilling this. So no more modest or immodest propositions from me 🙂

On USA and India: Part 1

   I will soon complete five months of living in the US, and I have a few things to share. In a way a lot of us Indians growing up in big cities have already tasted the Western culture vicariously – what through our following of the TV Shows, Hollywood movies, American foods, celebrities, books etc. It should not have been such a big leap living in the US. Well it was for me. Primarily because I have never lived away from home (most people I know have had this experience). I would also soon find that in the US you do your own things. No cook to help you with the food, no maid to clean your house, no one to do your laundry and no one to wash your dishes. No, in US you do everything on your own. An American lady uber driver once told me,” I wish I was in India. They say I would live like a queen there.” The irony of being a developing country was not lost on me.*

img_2715
Me after landing in USA

Oddly the one area I thought I would find it really easy here namely – food is where I am having a rough time adapting. In India if you would ask me what my favorite cuisine is I would jump and say Italian. The pastas, the pizzas…yummy, yummy. That along with American burgers etc. which I was sure to find at every other street and I knew it would be a blast. I thought it would be easy. I thought wrong. Turns out my craving for Indian food is beyond! (When did that happen?). It seems I would soon get bored of sandwiches and pizzas and burgers. I thought it was so cliché when people said they miss mom’s food when they are away. Well it ain’t no cliche, it is the ultimate truth of life.

It is an interesting journey. It is apparent that the people of US are pretty well mannered, social and generally amiable. I found that most Americans are quite emotionally intelligent (and increasingly I think that this is generally enough in life to get by).

Another aspect of USA that is really enjoyable is the weather. The US weather is so kaleidoscopic and vast in its scope and range. And fall, fall is amazing. There are a lot of trees here and lots of trails you can walk in. Between different cities there is a lot of green life so to speak. A refreshing change.

So those are some of my thoughts on USA (so far). Well, what do Americans think about India? The views are all over the place: ‘All Indians smoke hash’ ; ‘ Urdu is the commonly spoken language’ ;  ‘Most Indians are Muslims’ ; ‘ Half the Indians are poor’; ‘India is a mystical place.’ Now while some people have a positive outlook on India some of the opinions are simply factually incorrect (Ex: India is one of the peaceful nations in the Middle-East). Clearly the common perception about India is as diverse as India itself. It seems however there was unanimity about three things:

  1. Yoga is from India and it is amazing.
  2. Indian food is spicy
  3. Indian marriages are arranged.

The first one I am proud of. The second one is a given. The third one…well. It was thrown at me by another uber driver**. The question was how can you marry someone you don’t know? I jumped to give my opinions on that matter. I said, now hold on, it’s not like that. But wait! Why was I defending a concept I did not believe in myself? It seems I found myself on the back foot often, defending notions about India. Indeed however, how much about India do I know myself? My knowledge comes from living in a big city and it is not very reflective of the humongous piece of land that is India. Often I showoff what a unique nation India is, each state having its own language and culture. The listeners are shocked. They say that is like different countries. Indeed that is why when I am asked to summarize India I find it difficult. These are things that make India unique. These are things that make India beautiful.

(to be continued)

*Of course It would hit me much later that perhaps for these reasons i.e., having people who do things for you is what contributes to India still being a ‘developing’ country.

**They are my unexpected source of interesting discussions.

Tech Overkill and the Ensuing Paradox

 

   It’s been a while!

   Some one once said a lot of the modern technology kills the romance out of many things. He could not be more right. Stargazers once fished their telescopes to the skies and skimmed constantly to spot rare events like the death of a star. It was a time-consuming process but an enjoyable one. But now this can also been done automatically by computers! Our generation is an interesting one, we have witnessed many technologies from their inception to a point now where they have invaded every sphere of our life.

   It must have been in fifth grade when I got a computer to play games. In my seventh I was introduced to the marvelous world called the internet via a 56Kb* Modem…56Kb! What it mean was that my maximum download speed was a lowly 2Kb/sec. Never mind the long 2 minutes it took to actually get started. Never mind the droning siren like noise the modem made while it was getting connected. Never mind the frequent disconnection issues. Still back then it was all magic. I remember that at night the internet speed would be faster. My brother and I tried to make the most of this. We would leave an anime episode for download at night and then hopefully by morning it would be done. This was an 8Mb episode, mind you. But alas it was not so simple. The internet disconnected frequently. So to get past this we would get up every 2-3 hours at night and go check if the episode was still downloading. And we would be excited when it was done. The size of the video was a mere thumbnail and the quality was not altogether great but you know what? We had a blast! That 8Mb episode is a far more fond memory than even the 1 Gb blu-ray rip of today. Nowadays the video quality is blu-ray/HD and you can download a GB of data in under 5 minutes. Nowadays you can also find almost any movie you ever wanted. But being spoilt for choice is not necessarily a good thing.

   The apple analogy comes to mind. If you had just one apple you would eat it, savor it, relish each bite. But if you are given a basket full of apples and told to finish them suddenly each apple seems far less tasty and it becomes like a chore now. That is the way I feel when I see the choices for Movies/TV Shows/Songs/Clothes/Books and almost everything we have today. That is the way so much of tech is today. Automated, uber fast and far too reaching. Clothes are increasingly being bought online. Whatever happened to the actual shopping experience? Even groceries are now being delivered home…it’s downright crazy! (And ironic that a lazy guy who would not do much of these things anyway has to point it out). Try out and return clothes. Basically don’t step out of the house! I think this one beat everything – The Flying Barber – the barber comes home to cut your hair.

   Travel is set to go to digital through augmented reality in the next decade. That day ain’t far where you wear 3D headgear and you can be teleported to Paris (not literally). That’s right…just remove all the romance. This then is the paradox of the world now. Tech is helping all of us, I am not questioning that. However the technology overkill is actually making many experiences less exciting; this in-spite of the fact that it is providing us with so many many many more experiences than earlier. Abundance of options within seconds is not really making (some of) us feel overjoyed. It is making us indolent, further from reality, confused and less satisfied.

 

*To the uninformed 1 Kb stands for 1 Kilo-Byte. 1 Mb a Megabyte i.e., 1000 KB. One Gb is a Giga-byte i.e., 1000 Mb.