🦠 Son felt ill on Friday night, took him for a COVID-19 test on Saturday at 10am. Tested positive, but only got the result on Tuesday afternoon. Track and trace with those he was in contact with only really happening now. Not exactly ‘world beating’.

Met with the founders of Readwise yesterday to talk about my experience of using the platform, and the Readmill-shaped hole in my life. There is so much more to Readwise than first meets the eye. I’m now in the process of consolidating all of my highlights and quotes there.

Weeknotes #86–87 — It’s always Friday

Life goes by so fast right now. It has become a running joke in the team that it is “always Friday”. This is good in the sense that the weekend keeps turning up quickly but bad in the sense that you always wonder what just happened and how you didn’t get the things done that you wanted to.

A couple of weeks in which I:

  • Was up at 3:45am again for a day of working with the team in our Beijing office. We had a good result in that we have increased our capacity for wired devices, improved redundancy in our Internet/WAN connections and have re-established videoconferencing in some of our meeting rooms.
  • Met with the CEO of one of our International offices to discuss some of the networking problems they have been having. It’s a human trait to just work around problems without fuss, so our main focus was on emphasising reporting them so that we can investigate further.
  • Decided to take a few days off over the coming week while the boys are off school. I feel like I’ve hit a productivity wall and need a bit of rest, having only taken the odd day off here and there since January. I am not sure how much three days away from the keyboard will help, but it’s better than nothing.
  • Agreed a draft role spec for an IT support team member in Beijing. Will now need a crash course in Chinese employment law to see if hiring a temp is the same as it is in our other offices.
  • Got pulled into helping out with a flagship annual event run out of our São Paulo office, which like so many other events this year has gone virtual.
  • Continued to scratch my head at a large company-wide transformation initiative. I keep attending meetings where everyone seems to be running forward, and I feel like I’m the only one where I don’t understand what the destination is yet. People are willing to talk and share their views, and I am gaining knowledge with every interaction, but I am a few iterations away from truly understanding it.
  • Continued interviews for the role of Head of Infrastructure and Operations in our team. I am hopeful that we’ll have the right person in the team soon who can make a big difference for all of us.
  • Struggled to get to emails again. But people are learning that it is definitely not the best way to get hold of me.
  • Had a lovely ‘random coffee’ with an intern in our São Paulo office. There’s nothing like meeting someone literally half your age to make you feel old.
  • Attended my first Microsoft 365 UK user group meeting. Really impressed by the quality of the speakers and the materials. I’ve been reading Joanne C Klein’s blog for a while so it was great to hear her talk. The topic was Protecting Your Teamwork Across Microsoft 365, and gave an excellent overview of the tools available in the platform. The whole session is available on YouTube. I’ll be joining the next one.

  • Set up and ran our school Pay Committee meeting. Virtual Governor meetings seem to be so efficient compared to when they are face-to-face. Once things are ‘back to normal’ we need to look at why.
  • Attended my youngest son’s football match where for the first time this season I didn’t have a job to do. I think I have been the only mask-wearer at all of the events so far this year, and can’t believe how close the parents from all teams stand to each other.
  • Finished reading Normal People by Sally Rooney. A good book, but I wish I had read it before seeing the TV adaptation, as the two were virtually identical.
  • Had my running judder to a halt after pulling a calf muscle on a Monday morning run. It’s so strange how you can be doing nothing different to any other day, on a route you have run lots of times, and suddenly have a problem. I was limping for a couple of days but still managed to get on the bike as it seems that I only use that muscle for running and not riding.
  • Joined 100 other people for Helena Deland’s debut album launch party. Online gigs don’t come anywhere close to being there in real life, particularly in terms of sound quality, but it was nice to give some support and feel like part of a little community.

  • Finished watching The Haunting of Bly Manor with my wife. Properly scary in places with characters that you really get to know. Great series.
  • Continued our family movie ‘round robin’ with my choice of The General (1926), which to my surprise everyone seemed to really enjoy. Taking it in turns between the four of us to pick movies has been great; we get some forced family time where we’re sharing things and not just all off consuming media on our own every night. I’ve watched so many films that I wouldn’t have picked myself, and for the most part they’ve all been enjoyable.
  • Loved watching the F1 race at Portimao in Portugal over the past weekend.

Next week: A couple of days’ work and then a few days off. Trying to get our networks up to scratch in our two most remote offices, and hoping that things go well for our conference in Brazil. Trying to balance the myriad of items on the backlog with the need to get my head up and look at the bigger picture.

🎬 Flicking through Disney+ last night I watched Steamboat Willie (1928). Contains a cat that chews tobacco and spits on himself, and a vicious Mickey Mouse who strangles a tune out of a duck, then kicks a piglet off its mother so he can play music on her teats. Different times!

Excited that my Luminelle Records parcel made it here from the US. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this into a record label before. All of their artists I’ve heard so far have been excellent.

📷 Berkhamsted, UK // 14 Oct 2020 // 7:47am

The view from just outside my garden office. A chilly morning, with clouds that look like they are from an oil painting. Work started very early today.

Posted for the wonderful micro.blog’s A Day In The Life #adayinthelife

Are you still not going out?

Friends and family think I’m at best over-cautious, or at worst ridiculous. They don’t say it to me directly, but I sense it.

Most people I know seem to have returned to some kind of normality. Getting together indoors, going to pubs and restaurants, eating out, sharing trips in cars. These things crept back in gradually. People are fed up with keeping away from others and so badly want it all to be over. We stopped hearing about the people catching it, going to hospital with it, dying from it. It feels like the risks abated, and behaviour changed day by day.

Because I am not joining in, and continue to avoid any unnecessary face-to-face contact, I’m now very much an outlier. “Are you still not going out, Andrew?” “Life has to go on.”

I question my attitude all the time. I get drawn in. Perhaps I am being over-cautious, and need to get back to being social again. I’m certainly missing human contact and having any kind of a social life. But then I read a horror story about the long-term problems that some COVID survivors are trying to cope with, and it just reinforces my desire to keep away from everyone. It’s as if there is one version of events out there in the real world, and then people I know are gaslighting me.

COVID-19 has not been with us for very long, and every day there seems to be new stories about possible impacts on the human body, or new developments such as being able to catch the virus more than once. Even if the long-term impacts are mild, I am happy to make sacrifices to avoid them. From the New York Times:

“In meetings, “I can’t find words,” said Mr. Reagan, who has now taken a leave. “I feel like I sound like an idiot.””

I remember one December where I had to run a workshop after a big night out of festive drinking. My hangover manifested itself in that I was unable to string sentences together properly. Something had altered in my brain, albeit temporarily, and it was torture. As I spoke, it was as though I had a separate inner dialogue that was asking me “Where is this sentence going?”, and I didn’t know. The thought of being stuck like that permanently fills me with dread.

The film Awakenings (1990) with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams has always fascinated me. Based on a book by neurologist Oliver Sacks, it depicts people who had become victims of the encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the 1920s. From Wikipedia:

The disease attacks the brain, leaving some victims in a statue-like condition, speechless and motionless. Between 1915 and 1926, an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica spread around the world. Nearly five million people were affected, a third of whom died in the acute stages. Many of those who survived never returned to their pre-morbid vigour.

The book and/or the film draws a link between the influenza pandemic of 1918 and the subsequent encephalitis lethargica pandemic that followed. My understanding is that there is no irrefutable evidence that the first pandemic caused the second one, but this continues to be the subject of scientific debate.

Curious, I searched the web for “encephalitis lethargica” and “COVID” and found that (of course) I am not the only one to be thinking about this. Some examples:

US National Library of Medicine: From encephalitis lethargica to COVID-19: Is there another epidemic ahead?

The above characteristics can be indicative of the ability of coronaviruses to produce persistent neurological lesions. Acute COVID-19-related encephalitis, along with the potentially long-term worrying consequences of the disease, underscore the need for clinicians to pay attention to the suspected cases of encephalitis in this regard.

The Lancet:  COVID-19: can we learn from encephalitis lethargica?

We should take advantage of both historical and novel evidence. The prevalence of anosmia, combined with the neuroinvasive properties of coronaviruses, might support neuroinvasion by SARS-CoV-2. Whether the infection might trigger neurodegeneration, starting in the olfactory bulb, in predisposed patients is unknown. We should not underestimate the potential long-term neurological sequelae of this novel coronavirus.

NHS University College London Hospitals: Increase in delirium, rare brain inflammation and stroke linked to COVID-19

“We should be vigilant and look out for these complications in people who have had COVID-19. Whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic – perhaps similar to the encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the 1920s and 1930s after the 1918 influenza pandemic – remains to be seen.”

The Conversation: How coronavirus affects the brain

Encephalitis and sleeping sickness had been linked to previous influenza outbreaks between the 1580s to 1890s. But the 20th-century epidemic of encephalitis lethargica started in 1915, before the influenza pandemic, and continued into the 1930s, so a direct link between the two has remained difficult to prove.

In those who died, postmortems revealed a pattern of inflammation in the seat of the brain (known as the brainstem). Some patients who had damage to areas of the brain involved in movement were locked in their bodies, unable to move for decades (post-encephalitic Parkinsonism), and were only “awakened” by treatment with L-Dopa (a chemical that naturally occurs in the body) by Oliver Sacks in the 1960s. It is too early to tell if we will see a similar outbreak associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, though early reports of encephalitis in COVID-19 have shown features similar to those in encephalitis lethargica.

The aftermath of this global event has many lessons for us now in the time of COVID-19. One, of course, is that we may see widespread brain damage following this viral pandemic.

I’m not sure when I’ll be at the stage where I feel comfortable visiting friends at their houses, sharing car journeys, or meeting up in pubs or restaurants. I doubt that there is a rigorous logical set of conditions that would need to be specifically met before I start doing those things again. I’ll know it when I feel it. Perhaps this stuff is just different for everyone based on their perception of risk versus their need to socialise to maintain a quality of life and good mental health. Perhaps part of it is that I am lucky to have a job that I can do from home so my need to venture out is minimal. Perhaps my interest in politics over the past few years has made me much more deeply distrustful of our government and their response to the pandemic than many other people. Eight months in, the novelty of being at home all the time has worn off, but I’m still ok to keep hunkering down for now.

I have a 4am start tomorrow to coordinate some IT infra work in Beijing. Past experience tells me it’s a roll of the dice as to whether I’ll be fully ‘with it’ or not. I secretly quite like having the excuse to quit the day and go up to bed three hours earlier than usual.