Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Reopening: The best laid plans

Posted in analysis, economy, history, virus by commorancy on April 29, 2020

motivational quote

As the United States sees the COVID-19 infection rate reach 1 million (a milestone as some are calling it), that’s not a milestone to cheer. In fact, it’s a milestone to jeer. Why? Let’s examine how our leaders have entirely failed us.

Donald Trump

Let’s start with our President. While the President has taken the pulpit regularly to spout all sorts of seeming nonsense unrelated to the virus and which has incited some people to take rash and sometimes suicidal actions, our leaders are lost amid this pandemic. Our political leaders have never been trained to handle such the medical reality our society now faces.

It’s clear our current country leadership is still and was, when the virus arrived, not in any way prepared to handle this medical crisis. Even though those in the medical community and many outside of it have long predicted another pandemic, our political leadership team took no action to prepare, stock up, or in any way plan for such an eventuality. Instead, the US government was so busy trying to kowtow to the constant rhetoric from large businesses and make sure they were happy (so they could get large political contributions), they were blinded by these now unnecessary, never ending and futile actions.

In fact, the largest businesses of the world, including Wall Street, effectively drove us to the present dire and unprecedented medical situation that we all must now face. By diverting government attention and money away from a brewing medical crisis, they were constantly being distracted by unnecessary business demands.

DPA

Sure, the economy is important, but not at the expense of what is now taking place. The President is negligent in his handling of this crisis, make no mistake. He took no immediate action on January 1, after COVID became known to the world. He failed to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) timely, which could have diverted necessary industry resources towards producing more PPE for hospital workers and other critical industries (including supply lines). Instead, he did nothing. It took weeks before he actually invoked it in a limited fashion, but only after the PPE shortage was already at the breaking point. Even then, our hospitals are still critically short on supplies.

This means that the general public now has no access to these supplies to protect themselves because literally all of it is now being diverted to hospitals. Even with those diverted supplies, the hospitals are still short on supplies. Many are requiring their workers to reuse masks for days that were designed to be used for an hour or two. It’s no wonder why some of these critical care workers are dying from COVID.

Economic Disaster Looming

While attempting to avert other economic disasters (or at least perceived disasters) prior to the outbreak, this left a huge hole in our preparedness for such a pandemic, like COVID. Yet, we now see exactly how much of an economic disaster that being at this level of unprepared means to the United States.

The President may claim to be “doing good things”, but the reality is, he and other past administrations did nothing to prepare for this eventuality, nor have they been effective at the leadership needed to drive this virus from US soil. Instead, they chose to ignore the warnings and focus on other unrelated tasks that vied for their immediate attention. Tasks that, while extremely diversionary, shouldn’t necessarily be minimized. They were, of course, important at the time. However, they shouldn’t have ignored the warnings. We’d already had two previous tastes of what was to come with COVID including the H1N1 (2009 Pandemic) and SARS (2003 Pandemic). These two weren’t that long ago.

Those warning shots should have been the necessary wake up call to get the government to mobilize a pandemic plan. Between 2009 and the present, the government could have been granting hospitals the necessary money they’ve needed to stock up on supplies. They could have had the hospital industry stocked and ready with medical supplies should the need arise.

In fact, the government could have been building ready-made hospital structures out of FEMA buildings, ready and waiting for the time when such a pandemic might occur. I realize that at the time of non-crisis it can be difficult to justify such preparedness dollars. However, it is crystal clear that the United States leadership failed us on this one.

What that means is that where we are today, the United States is in an amazingly fragile position economically. We simply don’t know where our economy may head in the next 6-12 months. There’s no way to even know if the upcoming Presidential election is even possible due to the outbreak. A second larger and deadlier wave is still looming and will likely hit sometime around September or October, just prior to the election. It may hit even before then based on reopening plans of many cities and states.

1% Infection Rate of the US Population

Let’s dive right into this topic as there’s no way to sugarcoat this. To date, the United States has confirmed less than 1% of the population infected. This means that approximately 99% of the population is still susceptible to COVID. Considering that we’ve had 60,000+ deaths and counting for just over 1 million people infected, it’s not hard to extrapolate these numbers.

There are around 330 million people living in the United States. If 50% of those 330 million people become infected, that’s 165 million people infected. Extrapolating up the death rate, let’s do the math. 60,000 people dead for 1 million infected is a 6% mortality rate. Of course, some could argue that the 1 million could be under reported. That the infection rate is much higher. This could be true. However, we have no way to confirm the number that have been infected. Let’s assume that this 6% number is, in fact, accurate.

That 6% is much higher than the reported 1.25% death rate from this virus. Partly, this may be due to the overcrowding situation in New York City where the vast majority of these deaths have occurred. New York City isn’t, unfortunately, an anomaly. It is a reality. It is a reality that will be seen played out all over the nation should the nation reach a 50% infection rate at the same moment in time.

When hospital overcrowding becomes a major issue (and it will), hospitals will be forced to turn away patients. Hospitals will have no choice. This is where that 1.25% number goes up, perhaps even over the 6% that we’re currently seeing. For the sake of argument, I’ll present death numbers for both 6% and 1.25%. Keep in mind that 1.25% is a number that can only be achieved WITH the help of hospital care. Without hospital care, that number will soar much higher… just as it has with the present situation.

At 165 million people infected (50% of the US population) and at 1.25% mortality rate, that’s 2,062,500 people (2 million) dead. At a 6% death rate (more likely what we’ll observe if we reach 165 million people infected at once), that 6% number means 9.9 million people dead. Those 9.9 million dead bodies have to go somewhere, perhaps lining the streets in body bags in some locales. Even 2 million bodies have to go somewhere. There might not even be enough body bags to handle 2 million, let alone 9.9 million people dead. Crematoriums will be working overtime just to keep up with this dead body count.

This whole situation will turn into a literal nightmare scenario for leaders and citizens alike. Where people are chanting to open cities back up today, this scenario is what’s driving leaders to consider reopening way too early. In fact you can’t reopen anything while the virus is still being spread. You simply can’t do it. We already know this virus spreads exponentially over time. It takes ONE person to spread the virus to others who will then spread theirs infection to others. Reopening the economy will lead us down the road to a much, much higher infection rate than the 1% of the population we have today.

As a result, the somewhat overcrowded situation at hospitals will turn into a situation of hospitals turning away patients. There will be no place for the sick to go. They’ll have to head home and take their chances at home. Without access to immediate medical care, many will die. This raises the mortality rate tremendously and it will go way beyond the 1.25% mortality rate.

Low Numbers and Infection

I see a lot of ignorant people downplaying the present COVID situation. I see a lot of people claiming that it’s not that serious, the numbers are low or there’s nothing to fear or spouting other such nonsensical rhetoric. They’re making these statements without claim to how they arrived at that thought rationale (other than the numbers appear to be low). Make no mistake, the low numbers we are seeing for infection have nothing to do with the virus’s severity level or its ability to kill. The low numbers have everything to do with the present distancing and staying-at-home orders. Lifting that and the virus will take hold in much, much larger numbers.

Should the world re-open as it was, the death rate will soar way beyond the 1 million infected so far. We will see a second wave of death and infection rates that far exceed anything the world has seen to date. Yes, it’s coming.

Ignorant People

There are many people who feel that the government is lying and this is all a ruse by the government to erode human and constitutional rights. That’s actually the irrational view. If you value your own life so little as to not understand the ramifications of this virus, then perhaps you need become infected and take your chances. While my view might be considered a rather callous view, some people need to learn life’s (or death’s) lesson’s the hard way. It’s Social Darwinism.

If you choose to venture out by defying stay-at-home orders, become infected and then become a death statistic, that’s your choice. You made that choice. I won’t feel any sympathy for anyone making such stupid choices. That was your choice to make, as stupid as it may have been. You made that decision and you died.

As with Darwinian ideals, the point is to rid the world’s population of people who are simply unwilling to grasp certain realities. If you are unwilling or unable to grasp life and death concepts, then perhaps the world’s gene pool is a better place without you in it. If you want to venture out and become infected, the door’s right over there.

This is why I show no sympathy towards any anti stay-at-home protesters. If you’re out and about attempting to get infected, you may also be the ones spreading the infection. For these folks, I’ll let the virus run its course on them. If they succumb at home, then so be it. If they survive, and some will, then so be it. At least some of these folks with dumb ideas won’t survive. But, that’s on them and there’s no sympathy here. I’ll just point to the Darwin Awards, of which there will be many issued this year. From the Darwin Awards web site:

Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.

While the Darwin Awards may not recognize those COVID-19 anti stay-at-home protesters as “extraordinarily idiotic”, I personally think this situation qualifies. Of course, if the Darwin Awards were to qualify every COVIDiot, they’d be updating that web site for years to come. I can understand why this site might want to disqualify all COVIDiots of the world to avoid this problem… allowing them focus on those deaths that don’t apply to COVID-19.

Personally, I think the Darwin Awards needs to create a special site devoted to the COVIDiots who off themselves by contracting the virus and die by thinking it doesn’t exist or that it is some conspiratorial government rights erosion scheme.

Likewise, for parents who want to send their kids out to the playground and who then contract COVID-19 from another child on the playground, I have no sympathy. You sent your child out there, that was your choice. If your family perishes, that was also your choice.

Population Control

While COVID-19 is a virus and it does have a fairly grim death statistic, perhaps it is also intended to be an equalizer of sorts. It could be used as a way to “thin the herd”, so to speak. It doesn’t matter the age, race, color or gender, this virus is non-judgemental. It will infect a 1 year old as easily as any other age. Whether it ends up killing is entirely based on that person’s immune system and health. People with asthma or other lung diseases or conditions may be at higher risk.

The point is, COVID-19 is now quickly becoming a population equalizer. That means that while it started out as a viral problem, it is quickly beginning to thin the herd. For those COVIDiots who choose to run around claiming that it’s fake or that “God will protect them”, you’re living in a fantasy world. Nothing will protect you from COVID-19 except staying away from other people. Latching onto a fantasy that “God” or any other outside influence will protect you is delusional. The virus will just as easily invade your system as it will anyone else’s. Whether it will kill you, you’ll have to take your chances. You may survive, you may not. Once you’re infected, it’s yours until you win or lose.

If COVID-19 thins the herd, then so be it. That’s how the chips fall and that’s how they will remain. If the United States loses 10% of its population to COVID-19, then that’s where it ends up. I won’t say that a loss of 10% of the population won’t be devastating to the economy, but it will recover in time. Eventually, enough babies being born will make up for this loss. The population will again grow after COVID-19 is over and done. Until then, COVID-19 will become the most modern version of a great equalizer, just as the 1918 Pandemic was.

Doomed to Repeat

If the 1918 H1N1 Pandemic taught us anything, it was that you can’t let your guard down even for a moment. When everyone thought that the 1918 pandemic was subsiding by late summer, restrictions were relaxed. That’s when the second even more deadly wave hit the country. The reason for this second wave was attributed to soldiers bringing it home and spreading an even deadlier version around.

Today, we have a very high possibility of this situation repeating itself. It won’t repeat because of soldiers, however. History will repeat due to worldwide travel, loosened social restrictions, people thinking it’s over and because businesses are itching to open back up.

Once movie theaters, concert venues, sporting events and any other large crowd gatherings are allowed to exist, this is where the second wave will begin. Worse, if we end up with a different mutated strain ending up on US soil, one that hasn’t yet been passed around, it could reinfect survivors of the earlier strain. It might even kill those survivors due to the body’s already weakened state from the last infection. In other words, a second wave is almost inevitable.

As some states are poised to reopen due to “dropping numbers of infection”, this false sense of security will be their undoing. By states and leaders opening it all up, people WILL venture out thinking that the situation is over. It’s no where near over. 1% of the US infected? No, we’ve barely just scratched the surface. There’s still 99% of the population left to infect… and infect many of these people the virus will. As restrictions relax, people will start doing the things they have been desperately craving while stuck inside. They’ll be doing all of these things with even more careless abandon than usual, only to find that 14 days later they, their friends and their families are now infected. Yet, there won’t be hospital space for the throngs more who are now infected.

This is where and how the much more serious second wave begins.

Election Day

Depending on when this second wave begins, election day may or may not be possible. If enough people become infected before election day, the sick won’t be able to head to the polls. Those uninfected will also be scared to turn out. How will the government entice people out of their homes when, within 1 to 2 months, 100,000 or more people are dead? Yeah, that’s a major challenge.

The government needs to begin planning for an alternative election polling system now. If they don’t begin this process today, come November 3rd, few may actually turn out to vote. If fewer than 10% of the population show up to vote, is that fair representation of the populous?

Let’s consider if some of the current candidates end up succumbing to COVID-19 in this second wave and, for obvious reasons, are no longer on the ballot. How does that work? Yeah, some contingency planning is in order here. Perhaps they can plan for voting from your car (using NFC) or some other similar hands-off voting system with a phone app. For the candidate infections, that’s a whole different bag.

Phone apps have proven their safety, effectiveness and security if properly built. A vote-in-car system could be used by holding your phone up to the window to be read by an external NFC device. It could even be done by connecting to a local WiFi service at the voting center which automatically forces a login page which is used to both verify identity, then collect votes right from the car. No need to leave the car. There are plenty of hands-off approaches that don’t require leaving the confines of your vehicle to vote, yet still allow you to vote in person. These are contingencies that the government needs to consider now. If they aren’t considering such countermeasures, come November 3rd, we could see a huge problem with voter turnout.

The Second Wave IS Coming

A second even larger wave is looming on the horizon. It’s only a matter of time. Once state leaders realize they can’t keep their states closed forever, they will begin to open without realizing that that action is a ticking time bomb. The second wave will be born from each governor’s loosening of restrictions. It will be these very actions around the US that leads to a second larger and potentially even more deadly wave.

When the second wave arrives, this will spur an even bigger panic, not only in the economy, but by people across the globe.

Is there a better way? Personally, I don’t see it. I think we have to let the leaders have their folly. It’s the only way for them to wake up to the realities of this tragic situation. There’s really no way around it. I’m not intending to be a “Debbie Downer” more than a realist. Sometimes you have to look at a scenario and understand that people will do what they do, regardless of how smart that choice is. The pressures from business (and the looming economic failure) is tremendous. It’s exactly what’s driving the leaders to reopen. It is also this exact driving force that will lead us to a second wave of COVID-19. It’s an inevitable outcome.

We’ve tied our society so heavily to the economy that one can’t survive without the other. When you have a virus invading this space, it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t scenario. There is no correct choice here. Stay closed, the economy crashes. Open up, the economy crashes because of the second wave.

The economy will crash either way. There’s no way around it. Leaders think that opening up is the road that leads us to recovery. For a short amount of time it will appear that way while we are lulled into a false sense of security. That is until the virus latches onto yet even more people and drags them down into death’s spiral. Then, the whole situation starts ALL over, but this time it will infect unchecked because it’ll be too late.

Being a realist, a lot of people see us as “wet blankets”. We always bring up the one thing that people never want to hear. Everyone wants to see the rosy side of all situations. The problem is, the rosy side almost never exists. It’s a fantasy in someone’s mind. The realist sees the situation as it is (and can predict how it will play out). It’s like truth. People don’t always want to hear the truth. It’s too brutal and too realistic. People want to be told lies so they can feel better about themselves.

In the case of that dress or those shoes, these are harmless lies that don’t hurt people. Lying that the virus is subsiding will only serve to get people dead. Being a realist has its place and can help prevent the deaths of so many. Yet, our leaders are so gung-ho to get the economy restarted, they’re willing to sacrifice many people to that end. Yes, there are still more sacrifices yet to come.

The difficulty is that, as realism dictates, the downside of opening up into a second wave is an even bigger economic disaster. There’s no way to prepare for or prevent this event. We just have to wait it out. The economy will recover, eventually. Just not today. Not tomorrow. In fact, the economy won’t recover until COVID-19 is either eradicated or there’s a vaccine to protect the entire world’s population. After COVID is gone, the economy can begin to recover and those who survive can bring back the world into a new prosperous era. Perhaps we can even learn a thing or two about the value in pandemic preparedness. Considering that we really learned nothing from 1918’s pandemic, then again perhaps not.

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Is loosening Social Distancing a good thing?

Posted in economy, Health, history by commorancy on April 26, 2020

an empty street under cloudy sky

I know a lot of people are going stir-crazy being stuck in without much to do. Movie theaters are closed. Beaches are closed. Concerts are canceled. Work is performed at home. Kids are home schooled. All of the normal social things we do every day, like shopping and restaurants are not really available (other than grocery shopping, of course). Let’s explore what it means to loosen social distancing.

Viruses

Like the Flu or Colds, a virus is a virus. No, we don’t yet have inoculation for even the common cold or the flu. For the flu, we have the once a year flu shot. This shot is formulated to contain a very specific set of inactive flu strains that “someone” deems as the “most likely” to hit the population. When you get a flu shot, the body acts on these inactive flu strains like they would live flu, which teaches the body how to fight off each specific strain.

Unfortunately, the flu mutates regularly and often. This means that it’s easy for the flu shot formulation to miss one or two or many strains that might hit during a given flu season. This is why taking a flu shot can be hit-or-miss. It means that even if you do take a flu shot, you can still get the flu. Why is that?

It’s because flu strains are not all alike. The body can only recognize specific flu strains to combat. If a new flu strain comes along, the body won’t recognize it as something it has fought before. This allows that flu strain to get a foothold and make the body sick before the immune system response learns and kicks in against this invader.

Enter COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2

Two names for the same virus. SARS-CoV-2 is actually the virus strain name. The difficulty with SARS-CoV-2 is mutation. Like the flu, a mutation could be ignored by the immune system as a past infection. Meaning, if you have had SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-3 comes along, the antibodies created for SARS-CoV-2 may not be recognized or used against this new virus. This means you could get COVID again. If you’ve recovered the last time, this time it might result in death. Even the strain on the lungs from a previous infection might damage the lungs enough to cause a new infection to kill. This virus is difficult to handle and even more difficult to know exactly how it might mutate.

Yes, it could mutate into an even more virulent and deadly strain. This is why a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 might be an impossible task. What I mean is that it may be next to impossible to create a vaccine that covers not only SARS-CoV-2, but every possible strain that could follow. If the medical community hasn’t been able to create a flu vaccine that functions against ALL flu virus strains, how are they going to create a COVID vaccine that covers all current and future COVID virus strains?

The answer to this question is uncertain. What does this have to do with relaxing social distancing requirements? Everything.

Herd Immunity

Considering the above regarding the flu, there is no such thing as herd immunity against the flu or even the seasonal cold virus. We regularly get these viruses even after having had previous flu or colds in the past. It’s inevitable and we understand how this works. Some of us are more lucky than others and rarely get these. Some people get colds and flu frequently, like every single virus that rolls around. Logically, we must apply this same behavior to COVID.

Opening the World

Eventually, the world must reopen. That’s a given. The question is, when is the best time to do that? Given the realities of how viruses operate, there’s no “best” time to do it. This virus is here to stay. It will continue to infect the world. At least SARS-CoV-2 will. Unfortunately, herd immunity isn’t likely to work with this virus. It might for a short time, but we all know that any immunity we may have for past colds and flu last, at most, one season. When the next season rolls around again just a few months later, we’re again susceptible, perhaps even to a strain we’ve previously had. We’re never tested for the exact strains of colds and viruses that we get to know for sure if we’re being reinfected by the same strain.

With COVID following the same patterns as the cold and flu viruses, it’s inevitable that the world must reopen. Yes, perhaps to a new more cautious reality. Perhaps we can’t ever go back to the throngs of people crowding together into a mosh pit, club or similar body-to-body crowds. Even large sporting events which formerly drew large crowds, like football and the Olympics, may find it hard to operate in this new reality.

One thing to realize is that simply because the world reopens doesn’t mean people will venture out in it. Just because parks or beaches or concert halls or Broadway have reopened, doesn’t mean the crowds will come.

COVID is still dangerous

Simply because the world has reopened doesn’t mean that COVID has magically disappeared. It is still very much being passed from person to person. Worse, not even 1% of the US population has been infected as of the numbers being released today in late April. The population would have to see at least 3.3 million infected before we’ve even reached 1% of the population. Consider that we must see at least 80-90% of the rest of the population infected before this virus may ever be considered “over”.

Second Larger Wave is Coming

Considering these above grim statistics, relaxing social distancing requirements WILL lead to a second even larger wave of infection. It’s inevitable. If at least 90% of the population is still uninfected, that means this virus has a lot more work to do before this situation can be called “over”…. let alone consider relaxing shelter-at-home requirements.

These states which are relaxing social distancing are doing so at their own peril and without any reason for doing so. They’re relaxing requirements because of social and economic pressure, not because it’s prudent or in the interest of public safety.

This is where things get grim… very, very grim. As I said, since 90% of the United States population has not been infected, relaxing shelter-at-home is only likely to “stir the pot” causing an even larger second wave.

Depending on how much gets relaxed, it could get much worse much, much faster this second time around. Why? Because any relaxing of requirements indicates to many people that the situation is over… that they’re now safe… that the virus has been contained… and such similar thought rationales. These are all false assumptions made based solely in irrational actions by local government leaders. Basically, these leaders are leading many to their deaths by these reckless actions.

Milestones

The only two ways we can ever be safe from COVID is to know that 99% of the world’s population has had this strain or that it has been eradicated 100% from the population. Unfortunately, the former assumes there are no other strains out there. The latter is almost impossible to achieve at this time. With any virus, we know there are other strains. In fact, with COVID, there were, at the time of the Wuhan outbreak, 2 strains. An earlier strain and a newer strain. It was this newer strain that jumped into humans and began its deadly trek around the world.

It will again be a new strain that jumps around the world. How many strains will there be? No one knows. Will those new strains be as deadly, more deadly or less deadly than the current strain? Again, we don’t know.

We also don’t know that someone who has survived one strain of COVID has any protection from any future strains… and this is the problem with relaxing any social distancing or, indeed, reopening the world.

How can we proceed?

This is the basic problem to solve. So, how exactly do we proceed? As much as it pains me to write this, we may have to open the world and let the chips fall where they may. Whomever dies, dies. Whomever doesn’t, doesn’t. The Herbert Spencer adage (usually attributed to Darwin) of “Survival of the Fittest” may have to win this situation in the end.

Whomever is left after COVID-19 does its dirty deed may be the only outcome available to the world. It’s not an outcome without major ramifications, however. If we can’t eradicate the virus from the world in another way, then letting it play out in the population as a whole is the only other way to handle it. There are two choices here:

  1. Find a reliable and quick testing methodology. Require everyone to be tested, then force isolate anyone who is found infected until either they die or they recover. Isolate any recovered persons for another 30 days to ensure they are no longer contagious. Rinse and repeat until no one else left in the world has it. Difficulty level: 10
  2. Allow the virus to run its course through the entire world’s population infecting everyone it can and let the chips fall where they may. This is the “Survival of the Fittest” approach. Whomever lives, lives. Whomever dies, dies. Difficulty level: 1

While scenario 2 is the easiest, it’s also the most costly to the world’s population, and indeed the economy. All told, if everyone in the world becomes infected and 1.25% is the average death rate holds steady (hint: it won’t), that means up to 96 million people dead across the globe or up to 4.13 million dead in the United States.

This assumes status quo and that the virus doesn’t mutate into a second deadly strain with an even higher death rate. If the virus mutates into a single deadlier strain, scenario 2 will lead to even more millions dead. If it mutates into multiple deadlier strains, then it could end up with a billion or more dead.

Yes, scenario 2 might be the least difficult, but it is the scenario that leads to an untold number of dead not only in the US, but around the globe.

Scenario 1, on the other hand, has a high difficulty factor. It will lead to not only a high economic toll, but it could change the world economy forever. Though, with scenario 1, we may be able to contain COVID-19. We may even put the genie back into the bottle (i.e., eradicate it from the population). Attempting this one could could save many, but at a huge economic cost.

Economic Impact

Either scenario affords major economic impact across the board. Billions of dead means much lower tax base for all countries. The US had been relying on 330 million people in tax revenue (the estimated population of the US). If 10 million die, that’s 320 million in a new tax base. Assuming any of those 10 million who died were high contributors to the tax base, that revenue has dried up. That’s a lot of money to lose and a lot of economic impact.

If under Scenario 2, multiple mutations sweep the world and kill 10x more than expected, that’s 100 million dead in the US. The new reality could see the United States at 230 million… the same population that the US saw in 1981. If the population gets to 200 million, that’s the number the US saw in 1968. The more who die, the worse the economic impact for the United States and the farther back in time we go. Millions dead means many empty houses, a huge mortgage crisis and the list of economic problem goes on and on.

Flattening the Curve

This concept is important for one specific reason. What does it mean, though? By attempting to slow the infection rate through stay-at-home measures, this keeps hospitals above water for patient load. Relaxing the stay-at-home orders means more people out and about and more people getting infected. More infections means more people sick at once.

This is the exact opposite of flattening the curve. Relaxing social distancing will have an inverse impact of flattening the curve for an already overtaxed hospital system. What that means is that those who become infected during a higher demand hospital period are more likely to die at home. Hospitals have limited numbers of beds, limited staff and limited means to treat very limited numbers of people in a given area.

In densely populated urban areas, hospitals will become overloaded quicker. This means densely populated urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York City, New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit and so on will see significantly higher death rates under scenario 2. The death rate will climb and never stop if stay-at-home orders are lifted AND people venture out in the expected droves that they always have.

Ultimately, scenario 2 will likely lead to a much higher death rate than the currently estimated 1.25% simply due to the saturation of patients with not enough hospitals to cover the load. This scenario playing out is inevitable with an early relaxing of distancing requirements by reopening of social areas, shops and businesses.

What can I do?

You can say, no. Basically, if the United States (and the world) adopts a “Survival of the Fittest” approach to handling this crisis, then your health is left up to you. If you want to believe that everything is safe and you can venture out into the world without a care, then that’s your choice. If you get COVID-19, expect that you may end up trapped at home in your own bed without any means or access to medical care. Hospitals will likely be over-saturated with patients. You’ll be left to fend off the virus yourself. If your body can survive, it will. If it can’t, you’ll die.

This also means you can end up bringing the virus home to your children, your parents, your friends and your partner. You could end up infecting them as well. They, like you, will take their chances with the virus… at home… and very likely not in hospital care.

“Survival of the Fittest”

This may end up being the approach that governments are forced to adopt in the end. The world economy can’t survive without a population to operate it. Unfortunate, this catch-22 situation of opening up the population also means a much higher death rate once the dust settles. It’s effectively a no-win scenario for any government leader. Scenario 1 is almost impossible to achieve without some severe military measures enacted (see China’s handling). Scenario 2 is the easiest to achieve as it takes little to enact. Scenario 1 likely leads to death from people starving and unable to live due to economic impact. Scenario 2 leads to death from an overburdened hospital system while the economy flounders along at a snail’s pace, along with exponential growth in infections.

Unfortunately, death is an entirely inevitable as an outcome under either scenario. Unless the government leaders step up and halt the concept of money and the transfer of money between businesses as a metric of success and instead ask businesses to operate their businesses without quid-pro-quo for an extended period of time, this no-win situation will see to the deaths of millions of people in time no matter which path is chosen. Money flow must halt while society heals and the virus is eradicated from the population. This is the only way scenario 1 works.

Money and its Continued Necessity

The root of this situation is money. In fact, it is the single thing that’s leading our entire situation. If our economy was founded on something other than money, we might have had a chance to survive this situation with a minimal death toll.

Unfortunately, money is driving the need to reopen the economy which is driving the “Survival of the Fittest” scenario. No one can predict how the world will look in 2 years. We simply can’t foresee the number of deaths that might result. The higher the number of deaths, the worse the economies will fare. It’s a vicious cycle being driven by the insatiable need for ever more money… a silly metric when world survival in at stake.

Instead, survival in this world should never have been about money. It should have been about the positive benefits that humans can offer to one another without the driving need for acquisition of a piece of paper.

We are put on this earth to learn, grow and understand our universe. That’s the driving need why we are here. Knowledge is the currency. It’s what keeps our society functioning. It’s the scientists, architects, mathematicians, engineers and thinkers who keep our society flowing, growing, moving and functioning. It’s not money. Money is a means to an end, but is not the end itself. The end goal is the acquisition of knowledge, not money.

That’s where society needs to rethink money’s place in this world. Does money help acquire knowledge? No. It helps acquire sustenance and material possessions. Do we need jets or fast cars or million dollar houses? No. That’s unnecessary luxury. What helps humanity is the acquisition of knowledge and using that knowledge to progress society and humanity further. In that goal, computers are important, but only from the need for access to and for acquiring knowledge.

Money, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything to do with the acquisition of knowledge. Sure, higher learning institutions take money and, in quid-pro-quo form, teach you something. Though, technically, you could learn that something on your own. You don’t need to pay an institution to learn. You can read the books for yourself.

Sounds like Communism

I’m not advocating communism here. I’m actually advocating something beyond communism. I’m advocating that we need to learn to rebuild a society based on the currency of knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge rather than of money. The more “wise” you are, the more you contribute to the world’s betterment, the more you are afforded and the more you are revered. That’s what the world needs to achieve. This is the ideal a prosperous world needs to grow well into the future. Those who do and learn and give back are afforded the riches of the world. Those who choose not to learn are afforded much less.

Money, at this point, is an antiquated measure of success that COVID has clearly shown is the world’s Achilles heel. Success should not be measured by how much you have in the bank, it should be measured how much you’ve contributed to the world in problem solving. Let’s use the brains we have been given to solve societal problems and better our world condition, instead of trying to acquire and throw silly printed pieces of paper at it.

How would a new society work?

This is where this article must diverge. Such a new society would need a fully realized manifest across all sectors describing how to accomplish such a transition away from money. That’s way beyond the scope of a few paragraphs. Perhaps I could write this manifest in a book entitled, “How to transition society away from money”. I might even write such a manifest. Unfortunately, that goes way beyond the scope of this article. I’ll leave that manifest for another day. Suffice it to say that it is possible for society to exist in a new state without money as its primary motivation. Let’s get back to the topic of relaxing social distancing.

The World’s Ills

Unfortunately, our leaders are very much constrained by the ills of our economy revolving around pieces of paper. As such, our leaders are now constrained to look for solutions based on this ill conceived narrow situation of our own making. None of these leaders are attempting to think outside of the box. They are firmly rigid in their thought processes regarding how to restart our economy “as it once was”.

Our economy as it formerly existed is over. It will take full eradication of this virus from every person in the world, coupled with about a decade for this situation to recover the world back to where we were just a few months ago. A decade. Yes, I said a decade… and that’s a conservative estimate. It could take several decades.

Consider that if we lose 10% of the United States population, we’ve taken our economy back to the point where we were 38 years ago, in 1981. 20% of the population lost and we’re back over 50 years ago, in 1968. 50% of the population lost and we’re back to an economy that ended 64 years ago, in 1955. Don’t think that losing even 10% of the population is enough to cause major widespread problems in the United States, let alone throughout the world.

Losing a vast number of people in a short period is enough to send ANY economy into a tailspin. Because this virus is not at all selective towards whom it targets, it will kill anyone indiscriminately in any age group and in any economic status from young to old to male to female to rich to poor. It may even kill animals. Granted, poor people may fare worse living in closer proximity to one another, but this virus doesn’t care about age groups, race, gender, economic status or, indeed, anything else. It only seeks a host to survive and that’s exactly what it is doing.

Reopening

At a less than 1% infection rate while planning to reopen the world, Wall Street, main street or any other street is a guarantee for a second even deadlier wave. It’s a fool’s errand and foolhardy. These reckless actions will trick many people into believing that they are safe, when in fact our leaders are setting themselves (and the population) up to be a death statistic.

This article serves as both a cautionary tale and as a solemn warning to world leaders. Opening up the world at this point is effectively looking down the barrel of a gun while playing Russian Roulette.

When the second COVID wave hits, and it will, it will leave hospitals with zero space while the death toll catastrophically soars well beyond that of the statistically averaged 1.25%. Perhaps this hard lesson is what the world leaders need as a wake up call? Unfortunately, this lesson learned will be on the backs of so many who died.

If you’re reading this article, don’t fall for this reopening trick. Stay at home and urge your workplace to remain closed. If you value your health and, indeed, your own survival and your family’s survival, stay at home even after reopening. We’re still only at the beginning of this… there is still a much, much longer and deadlier road ahead.

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CanDo: An Amiga Programming Language

Posted in computers, history by commorancy on March 27, 2018

At one point in time, I owned a Commodore Amiga. This was back when I was in college. I first owned an Amiga 500, then later an Amiga 3000. I loved spending my time learning new things about the Amiga and I was particularly interested in programming it. While in college, I came across a programming language by the name of CanDo. Let’s explore.

HyperCard

Around the time that CanDo came to exist on the Amiga, Apple had already introduced HyperCard on the Mac. It was a ‘card’ based programming language. What that means is that each screen (i.e., card) had a set of objects such has fields for entering data, placement of visual images or animations, buttons and whatever other things you could jam onto that card. Behind each element on the card, you could attach written programming functions() and conditionals (if-then-else, do…while, etc). For example, if you had an animation on the screen, you could add a play button. If you click the play button, a function would be called to run the animation just above the button. You could even add buttons like pause, slow motion, fast forward and so on.

CanDo was an interpreted object oriented language written by a small software company named Inovatronics out of Dallas. I want to say it was released around 1989. Don’t let the fact that it was an interpreted language fool you. CanDo was fast for an interpreted language (by comparison, I’d say it was proportionally faster than the first version of Java), even on the then 68000 CPU series. The CanDo creators took the HyperCard idea, expanded it and created their own version on the Amiga. While it supported very similar ideas to HyperCard, it certainly wasn’t identical. In fact, it was a whole lot more powerful than HyperCard ever dreamed of being. HyperCard was a small infant next to this product. My programmer friend and I would yet come to find exactly how powerful the CanDo language could be.

CanDo

Amiga owners only saw what INOVATronics wanted them to see in this product. A simplistic and easy to use user interface consisting of a ‘deck’ (i.e, deck of cards) concept where you could add buttons or fields or images or sounds or animation to one of the cards in that deck. They were trying to keep this product as easy to use as possible. It was, for all intents and purposes, a drag-and-drop programming language, but closely resembled HyperCard in functionality, not language syntax. For the most part, you didn’t need to write a stitch of code to make most things work. It was all just there. You pull a button over and a bunch of pre-programmed functions could be placed onto the button and attached to other objects already on the screen. As a language, it was about as simple as you could make it. I commend the INOVATronics guys on the user-friendly aspect of this system. This was, hands down, one of the easiest visual programming languages to learn on the Amiga. They nailed that part of this software on the head.

However, if you wanted to write complex code, you most certainly could do this as well. The underlying language was completely full featured and easy to write. The syntax checker was amazing and would help you fix just about any problem in your code. The language had a full set of typical conditional constructs including for loops, if…then…else, do…while, while…until and even do…while…until (very unusual to see this one). It was a fully stocked mostly free form programming language, not unlike C, but easier. If you’re interested in reading the manual for CanDo, it is now located at this end of this section below.

As an object oriented language, internal functions were literally attached to objects (usually screen elements). For example, a button. The button would then have a string of code or functions that drove its internal functionality. You could even dip into that element’s functions to get data out (from the outside). Like most OO languages, the object itself is opaque. You can’t see its functions names or use them directly, only that object that owns that code can. However, you could ask the object to use one of its function and return data back to you. Of course, you had to know that function existed. In fact, this would be the first time I would be introduced to the concept of object oriented programming in this way. There was no such thing as free floating code in this language. All code had to exist as an attachment to some kind of object. For example, it was directly attached to the deck itself, to one of the cards in the deck, to an element on one of the cards or to an action associated with that object (mouse, joystick button or movement, etc).

CanDo also supported RPC calls. This was incredibly important for communication between two separately running CanDo deck windows. If you had one deck window with player controls and another window that had a video you wanted to play, you could send a message from one window to another to perform an action in that window, like play, pause, etc. There were many reasons to need many windows open each communicating with each other.

The INOVATronics guys really took programming the Amiga to a whole new level… way beyond anything in HyperCard. It was so powerful, in fact, there was virtually nothing stock on the Amiga it couldn’t control. Unfortunately, it did have one downside. It didn’t have the ability to import system shared libraries on AmigaDOS. If you installed a new database engine on your Amiga with its own shared function library, there was no way to access those functions in CanDo by linking it in. This was probably CanDo’s single biggest flaw. It was not OS extensible. However, for what CanDo was designed to do and the amount of control that was built into it by default, it was an amazing product.

I’d also like to mention that TCP/IP was just coming into existence with modems on the Amiga. I don’t recall how much CanDo supported network sockets or network programming. It did support com port communication, but I can’t recall if it supported TCP/IP programming. I have no doubt that had INOVATronics stayed in business and CanDo progressed beyond its few short years in existence, TCP/IP support would have been added.

CanDo also supported Amiga Rexx (ARexx) to add additional functionality to CanDO which would offer additional features that CanDo didn’t support directly. Though, ARexx worked, it wasn’t as convenient as having a feature supported directly by CanDo.

Here are the CanDo manuals if you’re interested in checking out more about it:

Here’s a snippet from the CanDo main manual:

CanDo is a revolutionary, Amiga specific, interactive software authoring system. Its unique purpose is to let you create real Amiga software without any programming experience. CanDo is extremely friendly to you and your Amiga. Its elegant design lets you take advantage of the Amiga’s sophisticated operating system without any technical knowledge. CanDo makes it easy to use the things that other programs generate – pictures, sounds, animations, and text files. In a minimal amount of time, you can make programs that are specially suited to your needs. Equipped with CanDo, a paint program, a sound digitizer, and a little bit of imagination, you can produce standalone applications that rival commercial quality software. These applications may be given to friends or sold for profit without the need for licenses or fees.

As you can see from this snippet, INOVATronics thought of it as an ‘Authoring System’ not as a language. CanDo itself might have been, but the underlying language was most definitely a programming language.

CanDo Player

The way CanDo worked its creation process was that you would create your CanDo deck and program it in the deck creator. Once your deck was completed, you only needed the CanDo player to run your deck. The player ran with much less memory than the entire CanDo editor system. The player was also freely redistributable. However, you could run your decks from the CanDo editor if you preferred. The CanDo Player could also be appended to the deck to become a pseudo-executable that allowed you to distribute your executable software to other people. Also, anything you created in CanDo was fully redistributable without any strings to CanDo. You couldn’t distribute CanDo, but you could distribute anything you created in it.

The save files for decks were simple byte compiled packages. Instead of having to store humanly readable words and phrases, each language keyword had a corresponding byte code. This made storing decks much smaller than keeping all of the human readable code there. It also made it a lot more tricky to read this code if you opened the deck up in a text editor. It wasn’t totally secure, but it was better than having your code out there for all to see when you distributed a deck. You would actually have to own CanDo to decompile the code back into a humanly readable format… which was entirely possible.

The CanDo language was way too young to support more advanced code security features, like password encryption before executing the deck, even though PGP was a thing at that time. INOVATronics had more to worry about than securing your created deck’s code from prying eyes, though they did improve this as they upgraded versions. I also think the INOVATronics team was just a little naïve about how easily it would be to crack open CanDo, let alone user decks.

TurboEditor — The product that never was

A programmer friend who was working towards his CompSci masters owned an Amiga, and also owned CanDo. In fact, he introduced me to it. He had been poking around with CanDo and found that it supported three very interesting functions. It had the ability to  decompile its own code into humanly readable format to allow modification, syntactically check the changes and recompile it, all while still running. Yes, you read that right. It supported on-the-fly code modification. Remember this, it’s important.

Enter TurboEditor. Because of this one simple little thing (not so little actually) that my friend found, we were able to decompile the entire CanDo program and figure out how it worked. Remember that important thing? Yes, that’s right, CanDo is actually written in itself and it could actually modify pieces that are currently executing. Let me clarify this just a little. One card could modify another card, then pull that card into focus. The actual card wasn’t currently executing, but the deck was. In fact, we came to find that CanDo was merely a facade. We also found that there was a very powerful object oriented, fully reentrant, self-modifying, programming language under that facade of a UI. In fact, this is how CanDo’s UI worked. Internally, it could take an element, decompile it, modify it and then recompile it right away and make it go live, immediately adding the updated functionality to a button or slider.

While CanDo could modify itself, it never did this. Instead, it utilized a parent-child relationship. It always created a child sandbox for user-created decks. This sandbox area is where the user built new CanDo Decks. Using this sandbox approach, this is how CanDo built and displayed a preview of your deck’s window. The sandbox would then be saved to a deck file and then executed as necessary. In fact, it would be one of these sandbox areas that we would use to build TurboEditor, in TurboEditor.

Anyway, together, we took this find one step further and created an alternative CanDo editor that we called TurboEditor, so named because you could get into it and edit your buttons and functions much, much faster than CanDo’s somewhat sluggish and clunky UI. In fact, we took a demo of our product to INOVATronics’s Dallas office and pitched the idea of this new editor to them. Let’s just say, that team was lukewarm and not very receptive to the idea initially. While they were somewhat impressed with our tenacity in unraveling CanDo to the core, they were also a bit dismayed and a little perturbed by it. Though, they warmed to the idea a little. Still, we pressed on hoping we could talk them into the idea of releasing TurboEditor as an alternative script editor… as an adjunct to CanDo.

Underlying Language

After meeting with and having several discussions with the INOVATronics team, we found that the underlying language actually has a different name. The underlying language name was AV1. Even then, everyone called it by ‘CanDo’ over that name. Suffice it to say that I was deeply disappointed that INOVATronics never released the underlying fully opaque, object oriented, reentrant, self-modifying on-the-fly AV1 language or its spec. If they had, it would have easily become the go-to deep programming language of choice for the Amiga. Most people at the time had been using C if they wanted to dive deep. However, INOVATronics had a product poised to take over for Amiga’s C in nearly every way (except for the shared library thing which could have been resolved).

I asked the product manager while at the INOVATronics headquarters about releasing the underlying language and he specifically said they had no plans to release it in that way. I always felt that was shortsighted. In hindsight for them, it probably was. If they had released it, it could have easily become CanDo Pro and they could sold it for twice or more the price. They just didn’t want to get into that business for some reason.

I also spoke with several other folks while I was at INOVATronics. One of them was the programmer who actually built much of CanDo (or, I should say, the underlying language). He told me that the key pieces of CanDo he built in assembly (the compiler portions) and the rest was built with just enough C to bootstrap the language into existence. The C was also needed to link in the necessary Amiga shared library functions to control audio, animation, graphics and so on. This new language was very clever and very useful for at least building CanDo itself.

It has been confirmed by Jim O’Flaherty, Jr. (formerly Technical Support for INOVATronics) via a comment that the underlying language name was, in fact, AV1. This AV portion meaning audio visual. This new, at the time, underlying object oriented Amiga programming language was an entirely newly built language and was designed specifically to control the Amiga computer.

Demise of INOVAtronics

After we got what seemed like a promising response from the INOVATronics team, we left their offices. We weren’t sure it would work out, but we kept hoping we would be able to bring TurboEditor to the market through INOVATronics.

Unfortunately, our hopes dwindled. As weeks turned into months waiting for the go ahead for TurboEditor, we decided it wasn’t going to happen. We did call them periodically to get updates, but nothing came of that. We eventually gave up, but not because we didn’t want to release TurboEditor, but because INOVATronics was apparently having troubles staying afloat. Apparently, their CanDo flagship product at the time wasn’t able to keep the lights on for the company. In fact, they were probably floundering when we visited them. I will also say their offices were a little bit of a dive. They weren’t in the best area of Dallas and in an older office building. The office was clean enough, but the office space just seemed a little bit well worn.

Within a year of meeting the INOVATronics guys, the entire company folded. No more CanDo. It was also a huge missed opportunity for me in more ways than one. I could have gone down to INOVATronics, at the time, and bought the rights to the software on a fire sale and resurrected it as TurboEditor (or the underlying language). Hindsight is 20/20.

We probably could have gone ahead and released TurboEditor after the demise of INOVATronics, but we had no way to support the CanDo product without having their code. We would have had to buy the rights to the software code for that.

So, there you have it. My quick history of CanDo on the Amiga.

If you were one of the programmers who happened to work on the CanDo project at INOVATronics, please leave a comment below with any information you may have. I’d like to expand this article with any information you’re willing to provide about the history of CanDo, this fascinating and lesser known Amiga programming language.

 

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