Grandpa’s Clock

Both of dad’s parents have passed away and one of the things I remember from their house was a clock made from a painted saw blade. As I remember the story, Grandpa got it the saw blade from a local painter and made the wooden part around it. After they both passed away, I was very happy to be offered that clock!

Getting it back to Washington was a story in itself. I decided to bring it home in my carry on instead of shipping it. As we took our bags through the TSA checkpoint, I got pulled aside. “Sir, do you have a saw blade in your bag?!” Me: “What? No! … Oh dear… Yes. Yes I do.” The TSA agent had to check with their boss who had to check with their boss. Finally it was decided that I could bring it onto the plane since it was artwork and the blade was firmly attached to the wood. Phew!

I proudly hung that clock on the wall in my shop for about a year even though the time was never correct. The hands would move but no matter how many times I set it, they would be randomly wrong all the time. I eventually ordered a replacement clock movement and new hands and got it repaired. Now I have the clock in my shop and it even works! I think about Grandpa and his woodworking a lot while I’m out in the shop doing similar things and now I’ll have one more (working) reminder of him.

COVID-19: Part 10

When this whole thing started, it felt wonderful to be fighting something together as a global group. It’s like the story from the cold war when Reagan and Gorbachev were in tense negotiations. During a private conversation in a break, Reagan said, “If aliens attacked the United States, would you help us?” Gorbachev said yes, and after they went back into the room, negotiations went much better. Sometimes there’s a common enemy we can all fight and it brings us together.

That was nice while it lasted wasn’t it? On a recent episode of his podcast, Mike Rowe said, “A couple months ago I said, ‘For the first time in a long time, we’re all in the same boat.’ I take it back. I don’t believe we are. I think we’re all in the same storm. Our boats are different for sure.” When I open up the news, it’s full of tension and anger as each political side beats the drum and rallies the troops for another screaming match. How can people be so different when the data is so clear?

Data like this is far from clear. While this virus was expanding rapidly, the population had to learn how to understand the pace indicated by an upward line on a logarithmic scale. Now that we’re coming back down, a better metric seems to be the “R-value” or the transmission rate. An R of 1 means that for every one person who gets sick, they share it with 1 more person. If the outbreak is at that level, it means that we’re going to hold our ground. Go above 1 and we end up with a mess. Keep it below 1 and we will solve the problem. The trick is figuring out what R value we’re currently at and how that varies by region.

Uncertainty in models showing the impact of various social distancing rules combined with the fires being flamed in politics lead to a situation where everyone can find a “statistical report” that reinforces their bias. I don’t know which point of view this report backs up, but I’ve been keeping tabs on the ones that my company is involved with and one of the best is the Centre for Mathematical Modeling of Infections Diseases. Their estimates show that R is probably at or above 1 in most states. The Institute for Disease Modeling also has a very detailed dive into transmission characteristics in Washington State.

CMMID transmission estimates for the United States
IDM transmission estimates for Washington State

The media thrives in the uncertainty of these models. They can twist the statistics and wording, but if you skip over the media and look at the raw data, you can get a better idea of the situation and the level of confidence you can reasonably gain from it. Are we out of the woods? No way. Have the changes in restrictions over the last couple weeks taken us immediately back to huge increases? Nope. Yay for now, but this virus is pernicious. The time between being infected and having measurable symptoms is long, so the task of finding a good balance between lockdown and a return to normal is going to take a very long time.

It’s hard to know how much of this anger being flamed up around the country is legitimate and how much is an effect of being influenced by bad actors in the system. Other countries love targeting the US and feeding the frenzy. The media makes their money on eyeballs. People love to have their biases reconfirmed. It’s a lot of dry tinder.

It’s easy to get depressed with all the fighting and the numbers that arent’ trending down as fast as we’d like. But there’s hope too. There are other polls that show that we’re not really as divided and angry as it seems. I enjoyed this comic (with sources cited) from Randal Munroe:

Coronavirus Polling

Even if the country really is divided and angry, it doesn’t mean that I have to participate. Tyla and I were talking about good things to come out of this This list will continue to grow for decades as gain more perspective, but here are a few of the things we came up with:

  • We have an amazing digital library that keeps our eyeballs full of good books. A couple weeks before this all started, we had decided to get Elijah a tablet to help with his reading. So not only can we use our awesome library, but now there are floods of educational apps that have free periods. Elijah’s reading skills have skyrocketed!
  • We haven’t been sick for two and a half months! That’s unheard of during school season. It’s usually a non-stop merry-go-round of viruses and bacteria flowing around.
  • I do most of the cooking at dinner time and it’s challenging to keep dinner interesting on weeknights. The removal of my commute means that I can plan just about any meal on any day.
  • What a perfect time for me to build a new computer! It has been a joy to work on this thing every day, and the enormous horsepower has come in very handy with all the video editing that I’ve been doing for church.
  • I’ve been wanting to learn Davinci Resolve for video editing and all of this editing for church services finally pushed me over the edge. While I don’t really have any extra time to learn things since work is busy, I was forced into the situation and after a couple weeks of struggling, I’ve burst through to the other side where now I’m more productive than before and I have an endless list of new features to explore. (It’s like learning to swim the Stennis way!)

I could go on and on, but the point is that while there’s still a lot of uncertainty and we’re being encouraged to fight with “the others”, keep calm and carry on. Good things are happening too. And even if you can’t see those good things when you read the news, you can find them in your own life. Celebrate them and thank God for them.

James 1:17-21

17 Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, who does not change or shift like a shadow. 18 Just as he planned, he gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creations.

19 Remember this, my dear brothers: Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. 20 Certainly, a man’s anger does not bring about what is right before God. 21 So after getting rid of all moral filthiness and overflowing wickedness, receive with humility the word planted in you. It is able to save your souls.

COVID-19: Part 9 – The Awakening

On Friday afternoon, Governor Inslee extended the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order through May 31, but more interestingly, he released the guidelines for how things will be opened back up. There are multiple phases of opening and there will be at least 3 weeks between each phase to ensure that we have time to measure the impact of the changes. Along the way, other states are going to be pushing to open back up much more quickly so we’ll have data about how well (or not) that goes.

It sounds like Phase 1 could start in a couple weeks. That one is only a mild increase from what we currently have, but as an elder at our church, I’m specifically interested in the allowance for drive-in services. I’m also the resident AV geek, so that means I need to come up with a tech solution if we go that route. It will take until Phase 3 for us to start having bigger church services, although even then, we’d need to have a couple of them to fit within the limits.

Phase 2 is looking pretty good right now… it will be really nice to sit on enjoy a small barbeque with friends or family this summer! At that point I think we can let Elijah play outside with friends more too. Schools are notably absent from the plan and it’s hard for me to believe we’ll be all the way through Phase 4 by September, but we can figure that out later.

There are an increasing number of people deciding they are done with the lockdown. I hope that some of them will see this list and realize that they need to dial it back a little. (Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to ignorance. – Hanlon’s Razor) As for me and my family, we will continue to keep any contact outside our house to an absolute minimum. Why? The government told us to stay home, and the Bible is very clear on the role of government for a Christian:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2)

So unless the government starts forcing me to do things counter to the Bible, I need to follow their rules, and in our state right now, those rules are telling me to stay home. I can disagree with the rules, but that doesn’t mean I can disobey them. I can vote to change the rules or elect new leaders, but I can’t ignore them.

We can do this. Together.

COVID-19: Part 8

We made it through day 50 of the lockdown! Most places in the US seem to have seen their peak hospital utilization. Daily infection rates have flattened out so at least things aren’t getting exponentially worse. Our efforts are working. However, our fight is far from cheap. The economy is struggling to deal with this, unemployment is skyrocketing, and people are antsy to gather in groups again.

Your reading assignment for today is an excellent post by Bill Gates. He has devoted his life to global health issues so it’s extremely interesting to get his take on the situation. If you only have time to read one post, read his!

For my own feeble analysis, let’s start by looking at the IHME models. As we move into the long recovery period, I find this to be a great source of information. They do a good job of showing how the current load relates to the total availability of hospital resources, how the speed of recovery is uncertain and at one point we might get to a day when nobody dies from the virus in the state. I took their data normalized it by state population and then calculated the predicted total deaths per 100,000 people based on the average output of the IHME models. I think this helps to show how various states reacted to the virus and how well their efforts to slow the virus are working. I picked the top 10 states along with a few others where some of you live.

LocationMean Deaths Per 100,000
New York119.4
New Jersey79.5
Rhode Island57.7
North Dakota46.7
District of Columbia32.4

Some states have a harder time containing this than others. Most people are spread out in Montana so a lockdown probably doesn’t need to be very severe. New York City is much denser so they need an extreme lockdown to contain the spread. And then there’s the question of how many deaths the lockdown itself causes. What’s the right balance point? I think all we know for sure right now is that “it depends”. With this heavy social and political push to end the lockdown, it feels pretty inevitable that we’re going to start growing exponentially again. Very little has changed since the first growth period. Social distancing is the only tool we have to fight this. There’s no vaccine or treatment, and now the WHO is evening questioning whether it’s possible to build up an immunity. I do think we’re going to oscillate back and forth a bit until we find the least amount of lockdown that keeps us at some sustainable balance of infections and economic pain. I don’t think anybody has the answers about what that balance point is yet so we’ll have to fail a few times as we get it figured out.

The only way this works is if everyone participates in following the guidance provided by your local government. Doing otherwise is selfish. Stay home. Stay healthy. We can do this if we do it together.

If your government says it’s ok to start easing up on the lockdown, then use your best judgement. I know it’s going to be a long time before the three of us feel comfortable in a crowd again. I’m starting to have dreams at night where the basic premise is that I realize I’m in a crowd and regardless of how I got there, I don’t know how to extricate myself. I’m guessing I’m not alone in those kind of thoughts. Thankfully our management has already said that we will not be among the first to return to the office, and even when it is an option, we’ll all be able to keep working from home as long as we want to. I don’t expect a mad rush to fill up the office spaces again.

It has been an interesting time to be a husband and a parent too. Other than getting food, we have had almost zero contact with anyone outside our house and that’s our continued plan until the lockdown restrictions are eased. While being home together is a chance for us to bond and grow stronger as a unit, we’re very eager to have parks and hiking trails open again so we can get out a bit more. More and more trails will be snow-free as the year warms up so that will spread out the hikers and I’m confident I can find trails with low crowds on them.

Little League thinks they’re going to resume practices on May 11 and June 1. I find it highly unlikely that they’ll be allowed to operate on that schedule. On the surface that feels like a great activity since it’s outside and fairly spread out, but if you’ve ever walked through the fields on a Saturday, you know it’s a huge event. Six fields with ~12 kids each plus coaches, families, umpires, and concession booth workers add up to a big crowd in a tiny space. We opted to skip this year and use our money as a credit toward next year. I also expect a fair amount of other families will be opting out so it will be interesting to see hear if they have to combine teams or anything like that.

In the face of uncertainty, we press on knowing that God has this under control and even though we are being tested, we won’t be pushed beyond what we can bear.

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.