Tuesday, May 26, 2020


SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch: tomorrow

You'd never know by this blog so far, but I'm a huge space nerd. I co-organize the Toronto Space Club, which grew out of my Venus Labs project. I follow all the awesome "new space" stuff very closely.  Anyway, all of this is just lead up to: I'm VERY excited for tomorrow's SpaceX Crew Dragon "Demo 2" Launch. Of course, NASA and SpaceX will be streaming it, and I'll be watching. Launch at 4:33:33pm EDT (exactly, they need this precision to rendezvous with the ISS), but I'll be tuning in starting at noon to catch when the Astronauts actually board the vessel - full schedule.  I'll probably also be checking in with the stream at Everyday Astronaut, in addition to the official NASA streams, that guy is living his (and my) dream!

There hasn't been anything like this IN MY LIFETIME, humans boarding a new rocket to space for the first time. And IMPORTANTLY, under the new "NASA is just a commercial customer" scheme, anyone (rich enough) can book tickets to space, though obviously you'd need permission if you e.g. want to go to the ISS. I expect to see humans land on both the moon ("to stay", as Jim Bridenstine says) and Mars in this decade, i.e. before 2030. It's an exciting time to be alive; I'm hoping that humans on Mars will reset the world a bit, in the same kind of way that "pale blue dot" did.

Thanks to Elon for the image of the rocket & payload we're talking about, he posted a huge version on twitter and it's now my desktop background image.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


The New Normal

Ontario is making some very small moves to "open up" the economy again, because we are seeing consistent downward trends in the number of new cases & deaths (see chart right, from my tracking spreadsheet). That's great, and I'm super happy about the finally declining numbers (only several weeks later than I predicted), but what's the new normal actually going to be LIKE?

I guess first, a quick roundup of what we actually accomplished with our very expensive lockdown:
Coming out of the lockdown, and into the "new normal", here's some more thoughts:

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


Painting Process

Here's a behind the scenes look at what goes into making a painting. There are basically four big steps:
1) Image selection. This step actually takes a potentially unlimited of time, and it's all digital for me. I come up with an idea ("robots!") and then I start using google image search, looking for interesting candidate images. Or a combination of images, or whatever (this is the "creative freedom" part - so far I've mostly confined myself to picking ready made images). I collect a whole bunch of options ("save image as..."), and then I basically stare at them and try to figure out how hard they might be to paint. How many different colors are there? Are there any blended areas where colors fade into each other (this is hard to do with paint)? How much detail is there? Any weirdnesses? (like bokeh, also difficult with paint). Is the color palate appealing / does it have enough contrast to look good? Is the source image high enough resolution) to make it work at canvas scale (even HD really isn't sufficient, I need a BIG image)? Finally I'll pick one that I think is doable at just beyond my current level of skill (i.e. will require a bit of a stretch on my part, trying something new). My skill level has been increasing rapidly, so recent images are much more complex than initial images. Pictured is the unaltered image of Wall-E that I choose this time.
2) Digital image preparation. Once I pick an image, then there is usually a problem with aspect ratio or framing. The image aspect ratio has to match the canvas exactly! And, it needs to at least give a nod to the "rule of thirds" for proper framing - this is super important for the overall look of the painting! So I'll have to either crop, or extend in a direction which doesn't require too much detail (e.g. for The Return, I cropped the sides AND added some sky to the top). I'll print one copy of the final image in full color (8"x11" is ~1/4 scale, if you fill the page). And then I'll "edge-detect" the image (reducing it down into a series of lines), make it 4x as big, and print that out for:
3) Tracing. I'll cut & tape together the four edge-detect pages, and press them into the back of the canvas. Then using a DIY light-table, I'll trace the outline into the canvas. Typically this is pretty inexact - the papers move around, the edge-detect lines are not perfect / even present sometimes, my pencil strokes don't match those, etc. So there will also be a whole second phase where I remove the edge-detect papers, and compare traced image on the canvas to the smaller printed image, and correct the trace, region by region, adjusting lines and adding details as required. This step is essential, as I learned on Strider Alpha, where I didn't do it, and things like knees, shields, and the boat just were not correct (or even present) from the tracing, but I didn't notice until I had way to much paint on the canvas to fix it...
4) Painting. Really the painting process is the easiest part, though it's also longer than image prep or tracing. The most challenging part of the painting is the color mixing, it's quite difficult to end up with the color you want starting only from the primaries (blue, yellow, red, white, black). Some colors in fact seem to be impossible - I could not make a teal, despite trying for an hour. And of course metallic is impossible - I later obtained a silver base color to make metallic possible. The other hard part is to get the detail in, my smallest brush was previously still pretty large, and getting a fine line is difficult - though I have seen other people accomplish way better lines using the same equipment, so obviously it's PEBBAF (problem exists between brush and floor)... one of the upsides to painting is, you really can go back and fix a lot of mistakes. Just paint over it in white, and then paint it again. If you have to match colors on the borders, that increases the challenge, but it can still be done. Anyway, most of my paintings to date are basically paint-by-numbers, trying to fill in the various areas with color & texture that makes them match the target image. It's inexact, and especially for texture, there is a lot of experimentation and failure (see: water for The Return), but it's typically fun, and progress is fast - the entire painting can be done in 3-5 two hour sessions, each of which adds satisfying levels of new awesomeness. I've never been a perfectionist, so for me, typically the painting is DONE when all the white of the canvas is gone. Obviously other people could continue to obsess about the details for several more session beyond that, but I've learned already that I'm as liable to make it worse as I am to make it better, so that will have to wait for when I have higher skill!
And that's how a painting gets made. And then of course, the all important:

5) Blog about it :-)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


Coronavirus Ontario Long Tail & Reopening Thoughts

Lots of people are talking now about when and how we're going to be able to unlock and get "back to normal", so I figured I'd join that corus.  Some interesting links first:
In my previous post, I predicted Ontario would end this phase mid May with between 8-12k cases. Sadly, in the last few days, we HAVE NOT seen the kinds of declines in numbers of new infections that I was hoping for. Here's a table of how it's been going:
Reporting DateConfirmedDaily new confirmedDaily Growth RateCompound 7 day rateDaily tests done
Wed, Apr 1584474946.2%7.0%6010
Tue, Apr 1479534836.5%7.7%4852
Mon, Apr 1374704216.0%8.0%5065
Sun, Apr 1270494016.0%8.3%6844
Sat, Apr 1166484116.6%9.0%2050
Fri, Apr 1062374788.3%9.7%5573
Thu, Apr 957594839.2%10.9%4097
Wed, Apr 8527655012%12.0%3237
Tue, Apr 747263799%13.3%2568
Mon, Apr 643473098%14.3%3750
Sun, Apr 5403840811%17.2%3708
Sat, Apr 4363037512%17.9%4585
Fri, Apr 3325546217%18.5%4020
Thu, Apr 2279340117%18.4%4859
Wed, Apr 1239242622%19.5%6245

You can see that it's been basically flat in terms of the number of new cases per day, with the "peak" such as it is on Apr 8th, itself several days later than I would have predicted based on our lockdown date. And recently it hasn't even been declining in percentage terms, let alone absolute, which is terrible.

Basically, we're looking at a decline here more like they have in Italy than they have in BC (or Australia, or Korea, etc), and that means that (a) it'll take a lot longer to get to a place where we can open up and (b) we'll end with a far higher number of cases.

Why is our tail longer? I think it's basically two reasons: (1) our testing has been somewhat crappy, so some of the cases we're reporting now actually come from earlier, i.e. our peak is actually larger than it looks (this crappy testing is also evidenced by our fairly high case fatality rate, currently at 4.6%) and (2) our lockdown has sucked, in the first week we didn't properly close most businesses in Ontario, and even now, our social distancing isn't great (I can see how crappy it is in Trinity Bellwoods Park, and also at the local Metro).  I think we ARE getting better over time, e.g. with actual proper PPE on the staff at Metro now, and more people taking the distancing seriously, but it's taken way too long to get here, and we're seeing that in an extended flat period in the cases, rather than a decline as we all hoped to see by now. I think we WILL see it start to decline eventually (hopefully in a few more days, once we work through the testing backlog again), but it's clear that we're in for a lot more cases than a quick decline (like happened in BC) would have predicted.

Anyway, the net-net is, my prediction now is that we're going to need to stay locked down until the end of May, and that we're likely to have 15-20k cases by then.

Beyond the end of May, a few Reopening thoughts:


Paintings on Canvas: Outbreak & The Return

After my last two attempts, I decided that I've become skilled enough to stop painting on art paper, and move to actual canvas. I have a total of six canvasses (and plan to give at least one to a housemate too), so these things are precious! I've completed two, and I have plans now for a third.  Click images for a larger version.

First painting: I call it "Outbreak", it's the planet Earth, with a coronavirus infection! My layering idea (paint the background first, etc) worked really well here. Overall I'm super happy with the painting, it totally conveys the sort of emotional tone that I was going for, and my artistic choices (making the landmasses bigger than they really are, making a crescent moon even though that's not physically possible if the Earth is fully illuminated) I think worked well.

Second painting: I called it "The Return", it's the famous dual-booster landing from the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch: Feb 6th, 2018. I'm super happy with how well the trees in the foreground worked, and the flames (which I was super worried about!), but the boosters themselves are a bit underwhelming. The framing is correct though - I'm totally glad that I added way more sky than the source image had, in order to get the 'rule of thirds' working. Probably the most disappointing bit of the painting though is the water; I actually repainted the entire water after the first very bad take, but even this second attempt is still not very good. All the "texture" waves that I tried to add really can't be seen, and it ends up looking more like a wall of blue than like the ocean. But I decided not to do a third attempt on the same canvas, it's clear to me that I don't know how to make it look like an actual ocean yet, so probably need to do a study or something. Anyway, overall, I think this one was decent, but it lacks the punch of the first painting, that's for sure.

Now working on a third canvas painting, which will feature Pixar's "WALL-E" robot! And special bokeh background.

Sunday, April 5, 2020


Coronavirus Long Term Thoughts

I'll get to the long term thoughts, a few brief updates and interesting data things first:

Updates) Ontario numbers have been higher than I was hoping they would be, so I'm revising my estimate upwards again from 3-5k to 8-12k. In this wave, i.e. till about June 1st. The numbers in the last two days have been encouraging in terms of being flat in number of new cases - hopefully this shows that our measures are working, and we can now expect a few more days of flat before we start to see a slow decline.  Obviously if they don't stay flat, my projection above is once again garbage. Ontario itself released models, which was super fascinating. Watch the April 3rd news conference. I agree with almost everything that was said, and I applaud Ontario for being brave enough to release the "sobering" projections. It's especially great to hear that their prediction show us having enough surge capacity in the health care system to meet the expected number of ICU/ventilators needed. The only thing I really don't understand is the projection for 3000-12000 deaths in the next 18 months (slide 13). They say they are hoping to keep the current wave to 200-1600 deaths (slide 12) depending on new measures we take soon. So obviously they feel that there will be somewhere between 1400-11400 deaths AFTER this first wave, clearly implying that they expect at least one more wave which is more serious / less contained than this wave. But surely that is preventable now? Are they instead thinking there will be a slow but steady level of infection which results in steady deaths? I ran some numbers for that, and it's 5+/day for the 18 months, which implies at least 200 new infections every day over that period - at that level we need to lockdown, so I don't understand how we can possibly get to that 3k-12k number. My suspicion is that it's designed mostly to make us know the importance of obeying all these measures, which IS a good reason. We all do need to be scared, and we all do need to stay the fuck at home (a bedtime story for adults, cover image shown above). Maybe I'm missing some third pathway though, where we can have that many deaths without either another epidemic or a steady level of infection which I think would lead immediately to an epidemic?

Data Things) Some cool links: Covid-19 Consumer Impact Tracker shows a lot of interesting charts about what's hot (DIY haircut up 221%) and what not (heels down 35%).  Google released some fascinating COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports where you can see how much travel behavior has changed in pretty much all countries of the world (with the curious exception of China!). Ontario is much less locked down than e.g. Italy, but more so than California, and at about the same levels as B.C., which is several days ahead of us and clearly showing that they have it under control now, so that's quite heartening. The wikipedia entry for 2020 coronavirus pandemic in South Korea is also amazing, so much detail and charts. That's case tracking done right.

Economics & Long Term Thoughts) Some links to good reading: Cities after coronavirus: how Covid-19 could radically alter urban life. The coronavirus: A geopolitical earthquake. Social Distancing During the Black Death. Ted Chiang Explains the Disaster Novel We All Suddenly Live In. The Covid-19 crisis is a chance to do capitalism differently. Obviously there are TONS of this kind of story out there, and I've read at least four for every one that I linked here. I mostly haven't linked all the ones talking about V vs U shaped recoveries, etc.

I guess the first thing that I'd like to say is that this event is of massive historical significance. It's going to leave wounds, and cause changes, to a much greater degree than anything in recent decades - I think it'll end up being at least as significant globally as World War II, and possibly even more so. WWII really reset how generations of people thought about how we should structure society, and ushered in things like the welfare state, the Marshall Plan, and of course, the United Nations. It'd be very surprising to me if long term, this COVID-19 crisis doesn't create similar levels of geopolitical change. Here's a few obvious changes for the first decade, though of course, caveat emptor, these are all my opinions:

Monday, March 30, 2020


Ontario Coronavirus Futures

So lots has happened since I last wrote about the situation 5 days ago. Ontario has managed to ramp testing up to ~6000/day (from ~2000/day), and the backlog of testing has basically been eliminated. Presumably we are now able to start testing some of those people who were not being tested before because their test results wouldn't change the actions we take, e.g. returning travelers (I've personally heard reports that such people were not being tested). I'm still keeping track of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, California and New York in a spreadsheet.  Pictured is the super fancy new interactive map of Canada that's on the Canada covid page as of two days ago, you can actually "play" it to see cases rise over time, which is pretty cool.

Today's disturbing Ontario numbers - 380 new cases - have to be understood in the 'more testing' context, obviously wider testing is going to uncover newer/more cases. What's ALARMING about the number isn't so much the size, as the fact that the test positive rate was so high: 5.84% versus a previous level of around 4%. Obviously the population being newly tested is somehow higher risk than the populations we've been testing to date, which I think does make a little bit of sense for returning travelers who were expressing symptoms. In fact it's kind of surprisingly those wouldn't be even higher. But that's just one possible group of people who might be getting tested now, and honestly, all of this is mere speculation. The reality is that increased testing is going to show increased cases, and this is likely to continue until nearly all symptomatic, historical (meaning: we were alerted to them, but didn't do a test because they were scarce) cases are confirmed. I estimate that'll take many days to work through those kind of cases, so I expect to see Ontario numbers remain at this elevated level for awhile, perhaps a week, plus or minus a week? So hard to know, it sucks that Ontario has never reported presumptive positives / probable cases.

Once we've worked though that backlog of untested cases, presumably we'll get back to data were we can try to understand the continuing community transmission again. I imagine Ontario Public Health itself is tracking community spread vs close contact vs travel related cases, but they are no longer making that info public (and even before today's change in their reporting, we'd only get that data for about half of cases). In the mean time it's going to be quite difficult for us to tell if Ontario's shutdown measures are actually working - we were expecting that this week the percentage growth numbers would finally start trending down, but that will now be masked by the testing boost, so without seeing the breakout, it's going to be hard to tell.

Anyway, I've also been reading a lot more about what the future will be like, and I found this amazing essay on Medium: Coronavirus: the hammer and the dance, which goes into huge amounts of detail about why we're suppressing rather than just distancing or doing nothing. Long abouts the 3/4 mark, it actually gets into "the dance", which is the phase where we open back up, but selectively, letting some kinds of activities happen, doing a lot testing and isolating, and generally trying to keep R0 less than 1. Because we have to keep it contained, sub exponential, since hospitals cannot hope to treat epidemics - even the small scale epidemic we're facing now is going to be a considerable challenge for the health care system, though I continue to predict that we'll be under the capacity here, do to our fairly quick action. Anyway, please go read the essay in full, I'll wait, I promise it's worth it.

Probably the most interesting thing in the whole essay is Chart 16 (click on it here for a bigger version), which is FAKE, i.e. those numbers are all made up as an illustrative example. But we can hope eventually to have real numbers for it, and to use something like that to decide what's possible to open up and what's not once we're in the dance phase.

Summing up my thoughts for Ontario Coronavirus Futures:
So overall that's a kind of depressing "new reality" that we'll be living in, of uncertain duration, but it's hard to imagine how it could be any different, short of some kind of miracle cure or something.

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