Sunday, April 26, 2020

That's not what "leave me alone" means...

There's a super annoying guy in my village. I've been trying to be patient with him - he has some form of brain damage - but at this point in time, my patience is wearing thin. I keep telling him to leave me alone, but I'm starting to think he doesn't know what it means.

It all started when I got a friends request on Facebook from someone in my village. I accepted and forgot about it. Then, he started sending long, rambling messages, and I felt like this was going in a direction I wasn't comfortable with, so I responded that I am a very busy person and I want to be left alone.

He kept sending messages, I ignored them, and every now and then he sent a message asking why I wasn't responding.

The first time, I explained how my life works, that I can't be the friend he's looking for, and that I want him to leave me alone.

He kept writing, I kept ignoring him, and he kept asking why I wasn't answering. Every time I wrote back, "I've have asked you to leave me alone. Please leave me alone."

I finally blocked him on Facebook.

He started showing up at my office, tried to make me invite him over for Christmas, asked me to come over and clean his windows, follows me around the stores, and lately he has started showing up at my house.

He also keeps trying to get to walk my dogs. They're too strong and wild for him - he'd lose them in about five seconds. It's not happening.

It's driving me crazy.

What do you do when a person doesn't understand "leave me alone" - no matter how many times you say/write it? How do you get rid of them?

I've had people follow me around the village before, like that guy a couple of years ago who came to my office every day, but my home is MY space. I need people to accept that.

I shouldn't yell at him, because if he doesn't have the mental capacity to understand "leave me alone" he won't understand the words shouted at him any better, but I'm going to snap soon and yell anyway.

I don't want to be his friend. I don't want him in my life. That sounds really mean in writing, but it's still true.

How would you handle this?

March had 330 days...

I saw a meme on Facebook about 2020. It's an unusual leap year: February had 29 days, March around 330, and April is five years long. Completely true - and I guess it proves that time is relative.

Even though the months are very long, I haven't been here on my blog for some time. My mom died from the virus a couple of weeks ago. She was in an assisted living facility, and they closed them to visitors the day before she fell ill. So when the nurse called to tell me, they couldn't let me come visit her. I thought it would be possible to suit up in something and be with your loved ones the last few days, at least hold her hand and let her hear my voice, but that was a firm no.

I also thought they'd take the elderly to the hospital if they fell ill, but that was in the old world. In this new and improved (???) world, elderly persons get to stay where they are. If they're strong enough to make it, they make it.

We're not having a funeral at this point in time - in Sweden you're still allowed to have groups up to 50 people, but I will not risk making this worse. Just imagine putting all remaining relatives in the same room... Not happening. There's a memorial area by mom's favorite church in her home village, and when summer comes we'll spread her ashes there. It will be outside, and maybe by then the situation will have calmed down enough for people to be able to meet.

It's surreal. I haven't even been able to go to the facility to gather her things.

In media, there are many discussions about how Sweden has chosen to handle the virus. We haven't had a major lockdown; just guidelines for social distancing. Some international media make it sound like life here goes on as usual - that is not true - but we have fewer restrictions than many others.

I think we've been right about some things - you can only quarantine people for so long, and it isn't possible to shut a society down for as long as it will take for this to blow over.

I also think we've been wrong about some things - our health officials have taken many international findings with a shrug and refused to acknowledge information until it was too late. For instance, that asymptomatic persons can be carriers and infect others.

Many try to compare other nations with the "Swedish Model." That is unfair to leaders all over the world - our societies, habits, and peoples are so different at the best of times. In Sweden, we have a certain amount of faith in our leaders, and we're fairly good at following advice from the authorities. They've told us it's best to stay a couple of meters apart, and many of us practically self-quarantine. Stores offer hand sanitizer and gloves at the entrances, and have marked out appropriate distances on the floor. Without being ordered to do so.

How are things going where you live? Are you worried about society reopening? Looking forward to it? Tell us all about it!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Apparently, I have shit for brains. Or so I've been told, lol.

I know arguing with people online is pointless, but I still sometimes fall for the temptation to try to explain. The person on the other side may be unwilling to understand, but I hope someone else will be helped.  

Yesterday, I gave up on explaining after being informed that I have shit for brains. That may be so, but the only way we currently have to contain the spread of Covid-19 is for people to limit interactions and stop traveling.

Preventing Americans from gallivanting off to neighboring nations is not done because of some form of reverse racism or to make Trump look bad - it's to stop the spread of a potentially lethal pandemic.

Seriously, during my lifetime we have never had closed borders between Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The mere idea would have been preposterous. Today, it's a fact. It doesn't mean that Finns no longer like Swedes or that Swedes and Norwegians have developed a sudden quarrel - it means that people need to stay put.

Now when that's settled... ;-)

No matter what your favorite leader says, this situation will not be resolved in two weeks, or by the end of April. Even if the virus were to "suddenly go away" it's likely to come back, because history shows us that pandemics tend to come in waves. The Spanish Flu for instance affected people on and off for three years.

No matter where you are right now, or whether you're under a shelter-in-place order or just told to practice a physical distancing to other people, try to find a mindset where you can ride this out long-term.

Absolutely hope for a vaccine, but be aware that developing vaccines is a lengthy process. (Yes, we get flu vaccines quickly, but this isn't a flu.) I don't think we'll see a vaccine this year. Maybe in 2021.

Long before that, I think and hope we'll see antiviral remedies that can help the people who fall really ill. I also think and hope we will have a convenient way to test if people already had the infection.

I personally don't think this is a type of disease where we will develop a long-term immunity, but I'm a science fiction writer and not a virologist, so what I think may not be relevant. Even if I'm right, people might be immune for at least a couple of years.

That means, if we can test to see if people already had the virus, a bunch of us may be able to go back to work - keep society going and care for those still at risk.

It is definitely tempting to call for shelter-at-home orders and quarantines - there have been times during the past few weeks where I have longed for being ordered to stay at home, because it would make it easier for me to justify my decision to do so. Though, it isn't feasible to keep entire populations locked in their homes for six months or a year. A couple of weeks, sure, but you have to know that the virus will still be out there, so life won't return to normal just like that.

This sounds like doom and gloom in writing, but at this point in time, I think realistic expectations will help all of us cope with what's ahead. We're clever beings, we can adapt and get through this!

And, there's always this great video from Lady Flufferton!

Monday, March 23, 2020

I am concerned about my country

Don't get me wrong - at a time like this it's prudent to be concerned for the whole world, but Sweden and our scientists seem to have caught another virus that might be just as dangerous as Covid-19: Hubris.

All along, they've been saying that younger persons don't really have to worry. People under the age of 70 should be cautious and not visit older relatives, because older people must be protected, but everyone else will get a "really mild illness."

Reports have streamed in from all over the world, saying that while it's mostly older people who die, younger people also require intensive care. We're talking about spending three weeks in a respirator and emerging without a lung.

Sweden is still going, "No, everyone who isn't older will get a really mild illness."

Right now, about half of persons who require hospitalization because of Covid-19 in Sweden are younger. Experts are saying it's a fluke, and these numbers will change.

Meanwhile, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of US cases from February 12 to March 16 shows 38% of those sick enough to be hospitalized were younger than 55.

French health ministry official Jérome Salomon says half of the 300 to 400 coronavirus patients treated in intensive care units in Paris are younger than 65.

Italian media has reported numbers of around 35% of people in Intensive Care being under 65.

Half of the ICU patients in the Netherlands are younger than 50.

But in Sweden, younger people are apparently invincible. At least if you're to believe health officials.

(They've also said children couldn't be affected, and several weeks ago we had "reached the peak" and cases would start to go down. Both these things were also false.)

I think there is a risk in understating the consequences for younger persons. Doing so makes us careless. And once the average person sees that the authorities were wrong - again - and our statistics follow those of other nations, the public will lose faith and stop listening.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Please be kind and show respect!

Right now, people all over the world are struggling. Many are afraid, if not for themselves, for their loved ones. Many worry about the future. Will they have jobs? With so many industries affected, will they be able to support their families?

With all this worry going around, try to think of the people around you.

I meet so many people who say all this is hysteria or panic. If you feel that way, that is also a valid emotion - and it might be a reaction to what's happening - but you don't have to tell every other person you meet that they are hysterical.

Your feelings are valid, and theirs are valid too. Please respect that. People who are worried for their future or their loved ones have good reason for that, and they won't worry less because you tell them your feelings on "worldwide panic."

I also encounter many who don't care, because there's a good chance the disease won't make them very sick.

If that's you, please stop gloating about your good health. Put it to use instead. I bet there's someone physically close to you who doesn't have the fortune of good health and might need help with going to the store.

The past few days have held some intense discussions with people who refuse to stay home, because they're just "a little sick." If you're just a little sick, staying home can be boring, I get it. But the people you meet when you go shopping, hang out at the animal shelters, or whatever it is you want to do, might be at risk. Going there can mean sentencing another person to death.

Stay home until you feel well, even if you're convinced you only have a cold. Because, passing your cold to someone can lower their resistance to infection.

Follow your local authorities' advice and instructions.

Some people - like me - can work from home. It doesn't matter where we are physically, and that's a huge privilege at a time like this.

A lot of people can't do this. Nurses and doctors are obvious, but also the people who empty your trash, the mail carrier, the truck drivers who make sure goods will be delivered to stores, all the people who put items on shelves and work cash registers... The list is nearly endless.

They are worried too. The person in the grocery store may have to encounter a thousand people before going home to a loved one who is elderly or has a pre-existing condition. Please be kind.

It isn't their fault if the item you're looking for isn't available. It isn't their fault if you have to stand in line. Thank them for the job they do. Be kind, and try not to take your frustration out on them. It can make a world of difference to someone who's struggling with getting through the day.

These things should be self-evident, but I guess they're not.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Harry Potter, Illustrated

I have a confession to make, and it is completely unrelated to viruses and the state of the world. It is a horrible thing for a book nerd such as myself: I don't have the Harry Potter books.

I've been meaning to buy them, but never got around to it.

I've read them, but I borrowed them and never bought them.

Looking around online, I saw that there's an illustrated version. Currently, only the first four books are available and they're quite pricey, so I decided to buy one to see if I'd like it. I got it yesterday, but didn't really have time to look.

Unpacking it this morning made me go "Ooooh!"

It's amazing. It's gorgeous - almost every page is decorated. It's huge, like a magical book in a fairy tale.

I hope all of the books will be available in this format at some point in the future, and that the whole collection will be in my shelf. :-)

Friday, March 13, 2020

Understanding "the curve" and why the number of infections is important

I heard some statements today that were weird to me. Like, "The Italian healthcare system must be bad if they can't take care of their people." And, "How can the Italian healthcare system not be equipped to deal with emergencies." Then I realized that people have faith in their system and never had to think about how it works.

This is the thing; all healthcare systems around the world are dimensioned for handling a normal influx of patients with a mix of illnesses.

There is a finite amount of hospital beds, equipment, doctors, and nurses. Many western countries have 4 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants. That is 0.4%. The average for the USA is lower. On any given day, most of these spaces will be occupied by people with broken bones, cancers, heart issues, respiratory issues, child births, children with tummy aches, and so on.

Let's go with Manatee County in Florida where I used to live as an example. There's Blake Medical Center with 383 beds, Manatee Memorial with 319 beds, and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center with 120 beds. (There might be some other facility I've forgotten about, but these are the big ones.)

That adds up to 822 beds. The population of Manatee County is roughly 385,600. That means 0.2% of the population can be hospitalized at the same time - and at that point, the hospitals are at capacity. (I spent many nights waiting with Mike at Blake Medical Center, because they didn't have a spot for him, so they are full from time to time.)

Now, imagine that your already full hospital with 383 beds gets another 1,000 patients with the same medical issue at the same time. There's no way to make room for them. Unfortunately, all the other hospitals in the area have the same issue. And, your staff is specialized in pediatrics, oncology, rheumatology, and other things - none of which is infectious diseases.

This is a problem with no solution - it's like trying to pour a gallon of milk into a quart size jug.

This is what has happened in Italy, and it will happen to my country and to your country if we can't "flatten the curve." That really means spreading the cases out over more time. The same amount of people fall ill, but not at exactly the same time. Instead of getting 10,000 persons over the span of two weeks you may get them over a span of three months, giving the healthcare system a chance to help everyone.

To hoard or not to hoard

My country has a Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB in Swedish). They work with issues concerning civil protection, public safety, and so on. For years, they've been trying to tell people that we need to be prepared, that we are responsible for being able to look after ourselves, and that everyone should have a contingency plan for at least a week in case something happens.

Up until now, they've had a hard time getting traction. They've sent out brochures to all Swedish households. They created a TV series, like a reality show, with a simulated crisis. They sent out lists of what to think of what to keep in the house, how to rotate groceries so your supplies are edible in a time of crisis, and so on. 

Most people went "Meh, whatever." 

Right now, even we Swedes have noticed supply chains may be shut down in a time of crisis. We're having to wait for our purchases from China, and some things are sold out in the stores. I think it triggered a collective hoarding instinct where everyone realized we may need supplies for a two-week period.

Last night on TV, a reporter called a representative from this agency to talk about the hoarding. I'm pretty sure the angle was supposed to be that people shouldn't hoard, but it became pretty funny.

The woman from MSB said, "We want people to be prepared. We've been trying to make everyone stock up for years."

Journalist: "But store shelves are getting empty. Doesn't this worry you?"

"They will be restocked."

"Not hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is out."

"People can use soap and water."

"But, aren't you worried about permanent shortages and delivery problems?"

"Not at this time. People may not get exactly the brands they're used to eating, but we don't predict a shortage of food."

And so it went. This probably wasn't as funny as it seemed to me, but her attitude was so refreshing. 

Have you stocked up on anything? Do you think you will need to?

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

That's pretty funny, for real!

The other day, I blogged about the gap between self-insight and lack of knowledge. Sometimes it becomes pretty funny. This popped up in my news feed, and I'm assuming it isn't a Photoshop. 

In a way, it's comforting that stuff like this happens to everyone. 

A less hilarious level of ignorance is: people seem convinced that if they believe they're infected with the COVID19 virus, they should go to the ER. 

Don't do that. An emergency room is crammed with people who are sick or hurt for other reasons, and going in there will almost guarantee that you spread the disease to someone with a compromised immune system who might die.

If do you need urgent medical care, call before going and follow their instructions. That way, healthcare professionals can help you in the best way possible without risking themselves or anyone else.

We can do this! 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Coming soon: Conscripted

Conscripted is turning into a short novel and will be ready soon. I haven't set a date yet, but my goal is to have it available before summer.

Since my hobby is kidnapping people and sending them to space, it will start something like this...

“I’m not going.”

Viola stared at the uniformed man outside her door come to give her wonderful news. Not.

Yes, she was aware of her society being on the brink of war.

No, she did not feel that this related to her in any way.

War and peace were someone else’s problems. There were people paid to deal with all this. The United Planetary Systems might be a loose organization, but it was an organization with a fleet of starships, and if someone else wanted a piece of the action, whatever the action might be, professionals should take care of it.

Not her.

The man didn’t even blink.

“You have the option to cooperate of your own free will. Pack what you need and come with me right now.”

“I’m not going.”

Repeating the words didn’t faze him. He spoke into his collar.

“I will require an extraction team.”

“What? You require a what?”

She tried to pull the door closed, as if that could prevent them from just bringing her. He said, “It really is easier for you to come willingly, but it’s the same to me.”

His story about ten thousand civilians with suitable skills being drafted seemed preposterous. She was good with electronics and math. So were androids, and they would be much more useful on a starship.

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you have the potential to be.”

Had he read her mind? It didn’t seem likely, but in this day and age, who knew.

“That makes no sense.”

A shadow of a smile tugged at his lips.

“It doesn’t have to make sense right now. You will learn on the ship.”

“This is what all the surveys were about.”

There had been a lot of them, all sounding official, claiming to chart everything from government websites to woodland usage, and the statistical questions had seemed weirder and weirder.

Gender, household size, do you like aliens?

Income bracket, highest education, would you fight to defend your family/home/planet?

Race, type of employment, are you interested in space exploration?

On their own, the questions seemed silly, but innocent. She had assumed they were to ascertain if people paid attention. Thinking back, the statistical questions must have been the real ones.

“I think I need to sit down.”

He looked suspicious, but she didn’t feel so good all of a sudden. Her heart raced and her legs wanted to fold. She took a step backwards and sat down on the little stool in the hall, the one where she sat while tying her shoes in winter.

Would she ever experience a winter again?

Would she ever see her home again?

“Are you okay?”

She couldn’t look up to meet his eyes.

“I don’t know.”

“The extraction team will be able to sedate you. You’ll be there before you know what happened.”

What is wrong with you? Anything would be preferable to following a person with so little empathy. She folded her hands on her lap to keep them from shaking.

“Okay, I’ll come with you. Let me go pack a bag.”

“You’re going to run out the back, aren’t you?”

COVID19, common myths, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

During the past week, I've been increasingly surprised and concerned about people's attitudes to the new Corona Virus. Don't panic, of course don't panic, but take it seriously. 

Quarantined areas in northern Italy March 8, 2020
16 million people in Italy aren't quarantined because it's a fun thing to do. They're in quarantine to prevent further spread of the virus.

Some people apparently don't understand how viruses work at all. As in, "If you don't intend to meet someone who is affected, you can't get it." A man explained this to me in great detail the other day. His being right would make life a lot easier, unfortunately that's not how diseases work.

A lot of people say it's a cold or a flu. That's not true. Yes, symptoms resemble a flu, but the virus is different. And, it's so new that we don't know a lot about it.

I didn't think that particular misunderstanding would be all that important, until I watched the news during the weekend and the anchor kept talking about the flu vaccine. Her reasoning was that if you take the flu vaccine and still get the flu, you normally get less sick than you would without the vaccine. Thus, the same must be true for Covid 19.

The doctor in the studio kept pointing out that this isn't true at all since the Corona virus isn't a flu and taking a flu vaccine won't affect our immune response to it, but she concluded with "Great, I'll go get the vaccine."

Speaking of vaccines, many seem to think there will be a vaccine any day. Developing a vaccine to something brand new like this will take time. I personally doubt we'll see one in 2020. We - the worldwide community - need to work together to keep this at bay, so the scientists have time to do their thing.

Other comments show both ignorance and a callousness to others' suffering that's plain terrifying.

Besides this person having all their facts wrong, they apparently think 20% of people affected will die, and that's not a big deal. In fact, it's pretty funny.

I wrote a response, explaining, and it was promptly deleted by the person owning the page. 

Seriously people: The objective right now is to limit the spread, so society - and health care systems around the world - have time to prepare, and so we have time to learn about the disease.

Persons not believing it's real will be a problem in preventing it from spreading.

This leads to an interesting side track: have you ever wondered why the most clueless people are also the most stubborn? 

It's basically a cognitive bias where people know too little about something to realize they don't know. This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

An 1999 article from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology states, "People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. We attribute this lack of awareness to a deficit in metacognitive skill. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else’s."

Naturally, this has a massive impact on decision making. 

In daily life, the phenomenon can be annoying, but rarely dangerous. (Think mansplaining. Many years ago I heard a friend - male - explain to another friend - female - where her house was, even though he was unable to find it when trying to visit. She tried to tell him that you go up the hill and turn right, and he kept telling her that her house is to the left.)

At a time like this, people who are dead certain they're right and everyone else is wrong can cause a lot of trouble for everyone else, because they're unlikely to follow instructions.

I don't know how to remedy this, since it seems hard to get through with actual information, but I guess we'll have to keep trying.

And while we wait to see where all this will go, follow any and all advice from the CDC. We'll be okay, but we need to meet this with clear minds and awareness.

That's not what "leave me alone" means...

There's a super annoying guy in my village. I've been trying to be patient with him - he has some form of brain damage - but at this...