Reduced Flights Reduce Meteorological Accuracy 

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

Well, file this under unexpected consequences of a global pandemic: Weather forecasts may suffer from reduced accuracy, because less data is being collected due to the sharp drop in airplane flights.

For years, thousands of airliners and cargo planes have been involved in a side gig that few passengers or package shippers have been privy to: gathering and transmitting weather data that’s then used for improving weather forecasts issued worldwide.

It makes sense that planes are used to gather weather data, but I certainly wasn’t aware of it previously.

We All Hear a Yellow Multipurpose Machine

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

Planning for an extension of transit service north of Boston began all the way back in 1990, but it took more than two decades of planning and delays before the Green Line Extension finally broke ground in 2012. Though it’s likely difficult for residents to believe it, the project is now getting somewhat close to completion. Some of this construction is taking place relatively near me, and I receive occasional updates on it.

Last week, I was alerted to some night time work which will be done over the next several weeks. Here’s an excerpt from that email:

Somerville and Medford residents living near the GLX MBTA rail alignment— especially residents between Lowell Street and College Avenue—may experience elevated nighttime noise levels over the next few weeks.

“Elevated nighttime noise levels” certainly sound unpleasant, but I suppose to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs. The email detailed the work to be done, and then explained:

The yellow Multipurpose Machine will be on the rails most nights to support this work and the vehicle is required to sound its horn when it stops and starts. Additional heavy machinery in the rail alignment is expected to produce elevated noise levels which may be disruptive at times. The scheduling of the work at night is because its completion requires at least one line of track to be out of service.

The emphasis in the above quote is added, and it bears repeating. In addition to all the noise which naturally accompanies the laying of new train track, a support vehicle used in this construction is required to sound its horn when it stops and starts. That sounds like it’ll be quite a night, or several weeks of nights. It also seems like adding real insult to injury for those living near this construction.

Fortunately for me, I don’t live near this construction, so I won’t be impacted. As a result, I’m most interested to know more about the “yellow Multipurpose Machine”. It’s capitalized as if it’s a proper noun, and yet at present, the only Google search results for it are from this exact press release.

Learning from Pornographers 

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Since the ’90s, the adult film industry in America has used nationwide program to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. It’s likely their experience can help inform how we handle life with COVID-19.

Coffee With COVID 

Monday, May 11th, 2020

Yesterday in Colorado, the C & C Coffee and Kitchen chose to open for Mother’s Day, in defiance of a government order prohibiting eat-in dining. Apparently, hundred of Coloradans joined them in this ill-conceived endeavor. As justification, restaurant owner April Arellano stated:

We did our time. We did our two weeks. We did more than two weeks…and we were failing. We had to do something.”

I sympathize deeply with businesses that are hurting financially. However, that doesn’t make it any less irresponsible to put the community at risk. Further, this economic argument loses its weight when the restaurant chooses to employ no safety measures, failing to require masks or any distancing between patrons. They also showed their foolishness with a sign on the door reading:

“ATTENTION: Our freedom doesn’t end where your fear begins.…If you are afraid to be within 6 feet of another person, do not enter this business!”

This is a complete bastardization of the common aphorism that “your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins”. The point of that saying is that even in a free society, the rights of an individual are necessarily limited by the rights of others.

There are reasonable debates to be had about just how much control the government should exert to protect its citizens, and at what costs. However, this phrase might more appropriately be updated to something like “your liberty to congregate ends when a contagious virus threatens to kill your fellow countrymen”. At issue here isn’t the fear of other citizens, it’s their right to life and health, to not be infected due to the selfish actions of others.

Arellano’s supporters tried to defend her with compliments, including one woman who said “the coffee is to die for.”

That might well turn out to be literally true.

Donald Trump Is Bored 

Friday, May 8th, 2020

It’s natural to try to understand just what those in power are thinking and planning for America, as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. Far too often in the past few weeks, the federal government has utterly failed in its duties to coordinate a national response. Often, it has seemed that the plan is to have no plan.

However, even that requires a level of foresight that doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of who Donald Trump is. Instead, consider this quote, from Amanda Marcotte:

It’s tempting to imagine that Trump is motivated by some clever political strategy — or by any strategy at all — in making this move now. But it’s probably just that he’s getting bored with this whole coronavirus crisis and, now that things are getting really hard, he’s ready to abandon it and move on. That’s exactly what he did during his entire career in the real estate business — and in his marriages — abandoning one failed venture after another the second things turned rocky. Now he’s doing it to the entire country.

Marcotte’s piece for Salon is the most cogent read I’ve yet seen.

Coronavirus Diaries: Virtual Plumber Visits 

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

Since late February, Slate has been running a series called “Coronavirus Diaries”, which they explain as “dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives”. It’s an eclectic mix of stories, offering interesting perspectives you might not otherwise here. Recently, plumber Patrick Garner explained how the plumbing business he works for has adapted, in a piece entitled “I’m Staring Into People’s Toilets on Zoom All Day”.

Look at Me. Look at Me.

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

Yesterday, I received a flurry of emails from various charities to which I’ve donated. They all wanted me to be aware of a new global day of altruism created in response to the COVID-19 outbreak: #GivingTuesdayNow. The name’s a bit clunky, and I’m not sure if you pronounce the hashtag, but it’s a worthy idea.

However, multiple emails I received used a subject line I found rather aggressive:

  • Today is #GivingTuesdayNOW!

Between the phrasing and the emphasis, it’s like they’ve commandeered the “holiday”, and they’re that guy in “Captain Phillips” who tells Tom Hanks “I’m the captain now”.

Anyway, I hope you had a very merry #GivingTuesdayNow yesterday. If we’re going to make a hash of the calendar with repeated Black Fridays and the like, it’s good that we can at least double up on giving back too.

Lean Into That Name

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

I recently received a fairly unnecessary email from American Airlines, detailing their new safety procedures for travelers. However, despite the fact that I have no plans to fly in the near future, this text caught my eye:

  • Kurt Stache, American’s Senior Vice President of Customer Experience, talks about our new requirement for wearing masks in flight…

As did this image:

It was difficult to be sure of what I was seeing with that massive play icon obstructing things, so I clicked to watch the video. Here’s a still:

Alas, my fears were confirmed. American Airlines Senior Vice President of Customer Experience Kurt Stache has no mustache.

Kurt, what are you doing with yourself? How do you not grow yourself a nose neighbor? You can’t be just out there living life looking like a nerdier Joe Buck, while you’ve got a phenomenal name like “Kurt Stache” at your disposal:

L: Joe Buck; R: Kurt Stache

No, you have to lean into that kind of name. Embrace it! Go Rollie Fingers with it:

Or Groucho Marx!1 You’ve got the eyebrows for it:

Give us something, man!


  1. Did you know Groucho Marx’s mustache was fake? I did not! I’ve never seen his films, so I’m perhaps mostly familiar with him via novelty Groucho glasses:

    Now of course those are fake, but the eyebrows and mustache are quite bushy. And yet, in his vaudeville days and in most of his movies, Marx used simple lines of grease paint. Once you really look, it’s obvious:

    I was so blind. Even more confusing, in his later years, Marx grew a real mustache. ↩︎

Counting Flu Deaths Properly 

Monday, May 4th, 2020

As of today, the tally of COVID-19 deaths in America sits around 70,000. That’s an awfully high number, but there are still many misguided people who believe the reaction has all been overblown, and that this virus is no worse than the flu. A major cause of that incorrect thinking is how flu deaths are counted, an issue Dr. Jeremy Samuel Faust is working to correct:

If we compare, for instance, the number of people who died in the United States from COVID-19 in the second full week of April to the number of people who died from influenza during the worst week of the past seven flu seasons (as reported to the CDC), we find that the novel coronavirus killed between 9.5 and 44 times more people than seasonal flu. In other words, the coronavirus is not anything like the flu: It is much, much worse.

Even with the incredible restrictions we’re experiencing during quarantine, COVID-19 is killing many, many more people than the seasonal flu.

Protecting What’s Important

Friday, May 1st, 2020

As discussed last week, our inboxes are being deluged with COVID-19 related emails. From financial institutions telling me all about the marvels of online banking to hotels I haven’t stayed at in years assuring me they’ve got a room for me, every company I’ve ever even looked at wants to let me know that we’re all in this together.

Behind each of these emails, there’s a tremendously misguided marketer responsible for sending it. I like to picture them sitting, sweating, terrified at the idea of a customer one day thinking “Hey! I just realized LensCrafters never checked in on me during the pandemic! Those insensitive jerks!”.

Since mid-March, I’ve been running an informal contest to find the absolute most ridiculous emails sent in relation to COVID-19. I’ve spotted some good ones myself, and friends have provided more. Most recently, friend-of-the-site Quentin C. submitted a real doozy. The subject gets us off to a great start: “Protecting Logs and Lumber in Uncertain Times”.

Oo, tell me more, UC Coatings LLC!

During these uncertain times you may find yourself storing logs and lumber longer than usual. This can cause problems leading to degrade and loss, impacting your bottom line. U-C Coatings, the leader in wood protection, is currently operating during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are here for you. We feature a full line of products to help you protect your logs and lumber from checking, staining and splitting, minimizing your risk of loss.

They certainly checked all the boxes, including mentioning “these uncertain times” and letting us know they’re “here” for us. I’m not sure if they’re just letting me know they’re open, or also informing me that I can call them and sob if I need to. I mean, they don’t say I can’t.

It’s difficult for me to imagine the mindset of someone who thinks “We need to remind people to protect their logs!” in the midst of all this. But even if that were necessary, skip the lead-in. Just vaguely mention the economic slowdown, and this would be a lot less tacky. And as for being “here for me”? You’re not here for me! You’re there, for yourselves, to earn money. That’s fine – you’re a business! You can just say “we’re open”.

Have you seen your own amusingly needless email? I invite you to submit your own nomination for “Most Superfluous COVID-19 Email”. Good luck beating “wood protection products” though.