Previous “COVID-19” posts

An Awful Way to Profit 

Wednesday, January 4th, 2023

During the height of COVID-19 in America, companies like Netflix, Zoom, and Peloton saw the values of their stocks soar. It was a bit grotesque for investors to reap profits resulting from a pandemic, but that was nothing compared to the increase recently seen in the stock price of China’s largest funeral services company.

Maybe They Offer a Lifetime Guarantee 

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

When I first ran into QR codes in 2011, I had an amusingly miserable experience. In the decade-plus since, the technology has gotten a bit more usable, particularly after QR code scanning was built in to the camera app on smartphones. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants switched to online menus accessed via QR code, and many still haven’t switched back. I suppose people just weren’t poking at their phones in public enough already.

While QR codes are now pretty well established, they remain distinctly unappealing to me. They feel like a kludge, unwanted technology that’s been forced on us to solve a problem in a clunky way. As such, when I heard about a company placing QR codes on gravestones, my immediate thought was “Tacky!”.

A gravestone with a QR code on it.
Sorry, Danny Boy.

Beyond that, though, it just seems unlikely that this business will last very long in the grand scheme of things. The idea of preserving the stories of the deceased is a fine one, but using QR codes to link to a small company’s website just feels terribly fragile. In 20, or 50, or 100 years, when “The Story Of” ever stops paying for their servers, these gravestones are just going to be festooned with useless trash.

Still, it could be worse. From the picture above, it appears it won’t be to difficult to remove the codes in the future. At least they aren’t engraving QR codes directly onto the headstone.

COVID-19 Deaths Now Skew Political 

Monday, November 28th, 2022

COVID-19 is still with us, and it’s still killing people. In 2021, however, the people it killed were not evenly distributed when it came to their political affiliation.

The study, titled Excess Death Rates for Republicans and Democrats During the COVID-19 Pandemic, used voter registration and death records to answer a question: is there a link between political affiliation and rates of COVID related death in the U.S.?

The short answer is yes…in the summer of 2021—after vaccines were widely available—the Republican excess death rate rose to nearly double that of Democrats, and this gap widened further in the winter of 2021.”

We have tools to greatly diminish the lethality of COVID-19, but one group of people has been much more reluctant to take common-sense precautions like getting vaccinated (and boosted) and wearing masks. Instead, they’ve fixated on a noxious belief that their “freedoms” are more important than the health of others. That group has been led astray by their political leaders and news outlets, and now it’s literally killing them. This loss of lives is horrible, but it’s difficult to feel sorrow for people who refuse to even care about themselves, let alone others.

We Don’t Need Robots for This 

Friday, September 23rd, 2022

Delivery food is seldom particularly good, but it’s grown enormously popular in recent years, in no small part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, pools of workers bustle around cities for companies like Grubhub and Uber Eats, delivering food from dozens of different restaurants. This army was already strange, but Los Angeles has one-upped it., with multiple companies using robots to carry out these deliveries:

Over the last two years, a handful of delivery robot companies have popped up in Los Angeles, which are essentially remotely piloted (or autonomous, in some cases) cooler-shaped chests on wheels. The issues associated with these robots vary: In Santa Monica, a company called Coco has basically turned food delivery into a video game. Delivery “drivers” pilot the robots remotely, using an Xbox controller and using a series of cameras to help guide them. Serve Robotics explains that its robots operate with “Level 4 autonomy,” meaning they are fully autonomous in certain areas.

The linked article is actually about one of these robots driving through an active crime scene, which is not great! But really, the idea of sidewalks crowded with delivery robots moving autonomously or piloted by unseen humans seems terrible all on its own.

Dogs Can Smell COVID 

Monday, June 6th, 2022

Trained dogs can detect COVID as well or better than other tests. Maybe one day in the future, instead of having a swab jabbed up my nose to get tested, I’ll just be able to pet a cool dog.

I Didn’t Know They Could Do That 

Friday, May 13th, 2022

Right up front, I’m going to say that I’m sorry. Please note that for your benefit, I did not include any photographs of the following story.

Nevertheless, if I have to know that Malcolm MacDonald’s penis fell off as a result of a blood infection, and then he had a new one grown on his arm, then so do you. That’s just the way it works.

We’ve All Had This Happen to Us 

Friday, May 6th, 2022

Don’t you just hate it when you buy a marble portrait bust for $34.99 at Goodwill and it turns out to be a 2,000-year-old relic that was probably looted from Germany as a trophy at the end of World War II and then you’re stuck with it because of an inability to find any original owner to whom you can return it so you have to hire an attorney who specializes in international art law to help handle the matter and because of slowdowns caused by a global pandemic it all takes years to resolve? That’s just the worst.

Maybe Tack on Some Rose-Colored Glasses Too

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

My pal Rich W. has long had a gripe with appliance maker Dyson, namely that they spend massive amounts of time and energy solving relatively inconsequential problems. Perhaps most famously, they perfected the vacuum cleaner, a device whose previous incarnations already did the job pretty well. They’ve also made an assortment of over-engineered hair care products, hand dryers, and other products.

Now, they’re introducing the “Dyson Zone”. It’s a “wearable purifier” that captures air pollution. It’s a set of headphones, too, one that cancels noise. It’s filtering so much! Oh, also, it looks absolutely ridiculous:

Headphones coupled with a mask-looking air purifier

So, what problems is Dyson trying to solve with this? From their announcement:

…the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 9 in 10 people globally breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline pollutant limits. Where NO2 pollution in cities decreased during the Covid-19 pandemic , levels have quickly returned to normal, or exceeded pre-pandemic levels across many global cities. It is estimated that more than 100 million people, around 20% of the European population, are exposed to long-term noise exposure above WHO guidance.

The world is afflicted with dirty air and too much noise. Those do seem like problems worth tackling. Perhaps we might curb pollution and work on cleaning the air at large. We might also invent quieter machinery and devices. Making the entire world a better place, that’s a noble goal.

On the other hand, that sounds like quite a lot of effort. Why not just have the wealthy go through the world wearing noise-cancelling headphones that also clean their air, but no one else’s. Hey, these weird-looking jerks had the hundreds of dollars1 necessary to buy this product. They deserve it!

Of course, they are still going to get sick from COVID-19. That’s because despite the fact that it looks like a mask, and hides your mouth like a mask, the Dyson Zone doesn’t actually function as a mask. That might seem a bit strange in the era of our global pandemic, but it’s the result of this project taking six years.

Rich might have a point.


Footnotes:

  1. The actual retail price is unannounced, but it will surely be $200 or (much) more. ↩︎

Mostly Complete Cars 

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

Speaking of missing chips, Ford is apparently going to start selling Ford Explorers without the chips that power rear air conditioning and heating controls.

Ford spokesperson Said Deep told The Verge that heating and air condition will still be controllable from the front seats, and that customers who choose to purchase a vehicle without the rear controls will receive a price reduction. According to Deep, Ford is doing this as a way to bring new Explorers to customers faster, and that the change is only temporary.

The global supply chain problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to cause issues, particularly when it comes to embedded electronics. In this case, the vehicles will get upgraded within a year to restore the missing abilities. This is slightly ridiculous, but it ultimately seems like a reasonable solution to a vexing problem.

Happy Evacuation Day 

Thursday, March 17th, 2022

In much of this country, folks are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, often by drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Here in Boston however, we celebrate a different holiday: Evacuation Day. Rather than (just) a nod to the vomiting that’s likely to ensue from all that binge drinking, Evacuation Day commemorates the end of the siege of Boston, as the British troops were forced to withdraw. It was General George Washington’s first victory in the Revolutionary War, and an important morale boost for the colonies.

My towniest pal Mat and I have a long-standing tradition of meeting for a bit of Evacuation Day revelry. Ordinarily, we imbibe a few beers at a local Irish pub, and razz the British. Of course, there aren’t actually any British troops about, so it’s more general razzing into the ether. “Getcher arses back to jolly old England” and whatnot. A good time is had by all.

Sadly, we’ve not been able to celebrate in person for the past two years. But this year? This year we are on for some backyard beers. So, a Happy Evacuation Day to you, dear reader. I’m off to raise a glass to the patriots of the American Revolution. And sure, Saint Patrick as well.