I was fortunate in being able to get a copy of a report the World Health Organization wrote about the early days of Italy’s response to COVID. I have not had a chance to read the whole report yet but post it since I expect it would be of interest to anyone following the course that COVID has taken in early 2020.
Today, November 09, 2020, it will be eight years since I got word that Roger Anderson had passed away at 1:47pm and what I expect will be a sad day for everyone that knew Roger.
I remember I got the call from a friend of the family, Ing, and was told “Roger died”. It was a Friday. I was at a customer site at that moment and not sure what was going on. The person delivering the message was not a native English speaker, so I was hoping that I had misheard her or somehow it was a miss translation. (Of course, how much off could two simple words be?) So I rushed around my customer site telling the controller and human resources person that ‘everything was fine, but I had to go immediately to Shrewsbury to check on something.’ On the way their I called one of my classmates, who was an attorney in Massachusetts at the time, and put him on standby in case a lawyer would be needed.
When I got to his house at about 2:30pm, it turned out, Roger really had died. Roger did not get up for the day, like he normally would, even in the worst of neck or back pain to at least have a coffee and talk with his family in the morning like he normally would. So they went to check on him around 11am, found they couldn’t get him up, and ‘he was gone’. We had always feared that in Roger’s declining health days that he was going to end up in a nursing home that would take up all of his assets but never, ever expected that when the end came, he would just simply ‘be gone’ and nothing possible to be done. The day before Roger seemed fine. While he was recovering from something like the flu, he was generally ok. I even spent time helping to get his van running with the expectation that Roger would go to the store for several hours and be open for customers getting their comics from the weekly shipment. I remember leaving Roger’s house at 10:15pm the evening prior to Roger passing away, and outside of his family, I was the last person to see Roger.
The whole problem with the van was somewhat amusing. Roger, for whatever reason, had a habit of letting the gas run down in any vehicle he was driving. Normally, this was not a problem but in the one he had at the time, a GMC suburban I think, if you let the gas run down to about 1/8 of a tank or less, and the weather got cold, I think frost would form on the gas filter in the tank, and then you would have trouble starting the van. The same thing happened about a year earlier where I helped Roger with the exact same problem, until I realized what was probably wrong and fixed it (get more gas, then jump the battery and then the van was fine). The problem is that by the time I figured out what was wrong we would have spent so much time trying to start the van that the battery would need to be jumped, after a few more gallons were put into the gas tank. So on this evening, just like months prior, after trying to start the van for a while, with it seeming it was going to start, I ran the battery down. Then I realized what the problem was, had to make a few trips to the gas station to put in a few gallons, jump the van battery from my car, and then finally could get the van started, recharge its battery. Since I had to run the van for a while, I took it over to a car wash and cleaned it up a little. That all took about 90 minutes or so, but at least then the van was ok for the next day.
It is hard to believe that so much time has passed and how things have changed. While everyone had some hope that maybe Roger’s comic book store, Musicquest, would somehow be able to stay open, that was not be to and now the space is currently vacant. I have thought about maybe trying to reopen the store, once I was in retirement, but realize that without Roger there can be no Musicquest and is something that I mentioned about the whole comic book store thing. As long as the owner is still around, it is possible for a store to keep going. Even if all of the inventory is gone, the owner can just setup with a stack of comics, a table, chair and phone and ‘he is in business and the store still alive’; but if the owner is not around anymore, then even with a mountain of inventory is it not possible for the store to keep going. While there maybe some kind of business there, it will not be the old store plus after a period of time many of the old customers will have gone elsewhere.
I have been fortunate in that I have been able to stay in contact with a few of Roger’s friends and customers, even after all of these years, and hope to continue to do so in the future.
In the first few years after Roger was gone, I had keys to the store space and would go there for a few minutes on November 09 every year, get some Chinese food from the restaurant next door and read some of the latest issue of Knights of The Diner Table comic. (I was even able to do this one last time after the building was sold in 2014 since nothing was being done with the space with the new owners.) In recent years, I will stop over and take a few pictures of the building front, even if it is just from the window of my car, like I did one year since it was night out and raining and wanted to get ‘my memorial’ of this day.
While I knew back then, that things eventually change, somehow I always felt that ‘the fun would never end’ and that somehow Roger would always be around. Now it is the later, am not really sure what to expect in the future, do miss how things use to be and know that it is all an era gone by forever. Once in a while when I am at the laundry mat or Chinese food take out place, that are still open next to what was Roger’s store, I run into someone that remembers the store and maybe even Roger, so at least I know that people still remember Roger and the store.
Link to uploaded video of Roger on the Worcester Community Cable channel in 1984. Roger Anderson appearing on Greater Media Cable in Worcester, MA WCCTV-13 show Entertainment Showcase in 1984. This digital copy is from a VHS tape that was found as part of the Roger Anderson estate and saved by his friend Kraig.
Today would have been Roger’s 69 birthday but he passed away Nov 09, 2012 at the age of 61. It is hard to believe that it was only eight years ago we were celebrating his 61st birthday with his family and a friend from across the street. Since his daughter’s friend across the street also had the same birth date, we did a joint celebration with a cake for both of them. Initially, we were not sure to have the cake on the 19th or not, since Roger’s mother in law passed away a little after 5pm the day before, so no one felt too ‘happy’ enough to be having a birthday party (What would Miss Manners say, or the protocol be, about having a birthday party the day after a relative has passed away?); but since the friend had been invited days before we didn’t think we should delay having the cake for her also since it was still her birthday so we went ahead with the joint birthday cake for both of them.
As it turned out, it is a very good thing we went ahead since Roger passed away only 21 days later. If we had delayed having a cake for him for something like a month, he would have missed it.
In general, I see the progress towards an AGI in two phases or parts; the first part would be part of a general overall total automation of the entire workforce. The second part would be the automation of the directing of that workforce. I also see that once the full automation project reaches a certain point that it would become in effect an AGI, which could then build a SGI.
From looking some of the writings and research on the subject, I think there are many problems with the approaches being taken in AGI:
1: Too much focus on pure research and not enough on applied. MY recommended approach would be to follow applied through the automation of the workforce and eventually an AGI would result. The pure research seems to be going no where or making any progress. I am reminded of a story from the book Hackers, where some teen working in one of the labs, maybe MIT, was able to coble together enough information and parts from other researchers to make a robot that could coral an object thrown in front of it into a goal area. As I recall the story, this was the 1960s or 1970s and the other people in the lab ‘went nuts’ because it was something they had not been able to do but this ‘kid’ beat them to it. While the kid may have been much better at it than them, I think part of the reason for his success was that he was focused on an end object and making something that did something; where as the other researches were mostly focused on pure research.
2: Computing power – We have more than enough computing power to do something useful towards full automation of the workforce. There are now available single board computers that cost as little as $9. I would put it to people that the problem is not of computing power, but what to do with it or how to program it. Many of the current processes that are being done for work add little to no value to producing goods and services. A fully automated workforce would be an opportunity to eliminate those items.
3: Question on what happens to the workers – This is a question that needs to be considered now, while it may be a decade or two before there is a fully automated workforce, a discussion needs to be had as to what to do with the large numbers of people that will not need to work. While I expect there would still be a need for the creativity from people, at least until the SGI come online, there is a question as to how to structure to run things. My present idea is that if we can get things to where people and governments are not in debt, and running things on a current budget, that either each person would have its own collection of machines that would work for them or there would be some kind of taxing system on a weekly basis where part of the profits from the automated workforce would be paid into a system and then everyone gets an equal share of that on a weekly or month basis, and the amounts would be such that a person would be able to maintain a reasonable lifestyle like our current middle class. I expect that under such a system that finance and banks would still exist but not as large as they are now, since if people could get enough to have a reasonable standard of living then there would be little to no need to borrow or finance current spending from future income. Many other things would need to be changed, like the constantly inflating of assets would need to be stopped by central banks since that would create problems with the value of the weekly incomes being handed out.
4: Programming methods that do not make sense – I have noted that most of the Machine Learning or AI are all centered around ‘big data’; we take a huge set of data and setup some kind of learning conditions for a machine to come up with the best spaghetti web of code to do the task. While it is clear this is better than some of the traditional programming, I do not think it is the best long term. As an example, self driving cars. We are collecting all kinds of images and photos and the car ‘learns’ from what it is told and feedback what it all means; but if you think about how you are thinking when you drive; are you searching through millions of patterns to figure out what to do? I would put it to you that no one thinks that way, and people think a lot slower than a computer, so we are going about it the wrong way. To me it seems like since we could not figure out how to program vision or driving in a car, that we instead are collecting this huge set of data and running a million IF/THEN statements against it to get it to work. While better than nothing, it is not a very good way to program. We need to figure out how things really work and then model the systems on that, not going off and making millions of IF/THEN statements.
5: Better uses for our computing power – In the books AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order and Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy the only things this big data seems to be being used for is to sell advertising and more and more things to people who already have houses full of stuff. Where is all of the world changing innovations that were supposed to be coming from all this computing power, cures for diseases, productivity improvements, automating the workforce? Instead, most programming seems to be focused on remaking software that already exists or selling advertising to sell more products to people who already have houses and businesses that are overloaded with stuff. Google, for all its computing power and wealth, is really nothing more than a seller of advertising space! What good is that in the long run, especially when everyone has a house full of stuff they mostly do not use?
These are some of the considerations and plans for fully automating the workforce.
Within the last few weeks, people have started talking about ‘The New Normal’; basically, how the world will have permanently changed due to effects from the recent virus outbreak of COVID-19.
Some of these changes are due to the nature of COVID-19 itself, and others are the secondary effects caused by these changes.
1: Social Distancing – New measures, and recommendations, have been put into place for people to maintain a distance of at least 6 ft from other people, or at least people that they do not live with. The thinking and idea is that being more than 6 ft from other people makes it hard for COVID-19 to spread. Some places are experimenting with various kinds of Plexiglas dividers to keep people semi isolated from each other. I have seen examples for use in restaurants, beaches and parks. All of them seem interesting but I do not think any of them really will work well enough for people to want to put these into enough use to keep business at the pre outbreak levels.
2: Wearing of masks and goggles and other personal protective equipment (PPE) – New recommendations for everyone to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) of masks, goggles and even gloves when out in public. While wearing PPE out can’t hurt, unless worn incorrectly, there are problems with this approach. I have seen people wearing PPE when they were out by themselves and even driving alone in a car. These are two examples of PPE doing nothing since there was no one around the person for COVID-19 to spread to or from and the person was simply wasting a mask. Currently there is a shortage of masks so bad that many medical facilities are reusing masks, which is something that would have never been done pre COVID-19 outbreak. My best estimate of world wide mask production is about 110 million masks per day; but since there are about 8 billion people on the planet, that would mean that on average each person could have a new mask every two or three months or so.
I am particularly alarmed at medical facilities have to reuse masks instead of the standard practice of using a new mask every time a new patient was seen. It seems that a more defined standard of use of masks should be published to the public with:
A: Supply enough masks to medical facilities so that a new mask can used each time a new person is in contact.
B: Masks for people that are in contact with elderly or people with health conditions; like nursing homes or senior centers
C: Anyone else that is in close contact with people and can’t maintain a distance of 6ft.
I have also noticed that many people are wearing masks as though they think the mask will protect them from COVID-19. This is not how mask wearing really works. When you wear a mask, you are mainly making it so you do not spread germs from yourself. The mask acts as a barrier to stop particles that the virus can ‘ride’ on from spreading to other people. In the same manner, when you come across other people that are wearing a mask, protection from the spread of COVID-19 is provided by the mask the OTHER person is wearing. I have noted that some people are wearing the masks when they are outside even though they are not near anyone and will not be near anyone. Wearing a mask in that situation is simply a waste of a mask.
The best studies that I have come across indicate that mask wearing is, at best, 90% effective, so it is not 100% and a better choice would be to maintain distance.
3: There will probably be a second and even a third wave of COVID-19. If the Spanish Flu of 1918 is any guide, there will probably be a second wave and even a third wave of COVID-19 outbreaks. I expect COVID-19 progression to follow the same course as that outbreak. Assuming this is correct, we can expect the first wave to end in June or July and almost seem like the whole thing with COVID-19 is over. Then in late fall or early winter 2020 the second wave will start and it will be worse than the first wave. After several weeks that wave will be over and then a third wave will be in late spring 2021. The third wave will be worse than the first wave but not as bad as the second wave.
From looking at a charge of deaths per 1,000 for the Spanish Flu of 1918, it looks like the first wave peaked at 5 deaths per 1,000, the second wave peaked at 20 deaths per 1,000 and the third wave peaked at 10 deaths per 1,000. My impression of what I have seen of COVID-19 so far seems to be a peak number of deaths in the first wave of 1 per 1,000. Based on that it looks like COVID-19 is about 20% of what the Spanish Flu of 1918 was which would mean a second wave of COVID-19 we can expect 4 deaths per 1,000 and the third wave of COVID-19 2 deaths per 1,000.
4: There is a question if a vaccine will be developed in time to matter. – From looking back at the Spanish Flu of 1918, it looks like there was never a vaccine developed. The most recent discussions about a vaccine for COVID-19 is 12 to 18 months, and some estimates put that it will not be until the end of 2021 that a vaccine will be developed. While useful, if it works, by that time COVID-19 will probably have already spread through the entire population making a vaccine not needed anymore. There are also discussions that COVID-19 may undergo various mutations over time and make it something like a seasonal illness, like colds or flus are today, and something that can’t really be vaccinated against because it keeps changing too much. hopefully this is wrong but if it turns out that is what happens then it will be a difficult time for the elderly or anyone with any kind of medical problems.
5: Multiple secondary effects on the economy. With the massive disruptions to many lines of business there are many industries that will need to completely redo how they conduct business and restructure how they are financed. Many loans are probably going to go bad in these businesses. Foreclosures and repossessions may not work as well in the past to cure default debts since what good is to foreclose on a building if there is no market to resell the building and no one to rent it out to. Many lenders are probably going to be forced to renegotiate the amounts of the loans they extended in an effort to keep businesses going so they can recover at least some part of the debt. While not ideal, I can not see any other way for things to move forward. At the moment there are a number of lenders that seem to be acting and pretending that things are going to go back to ‘normal’ within a few months, but I think they will be shocked when it is clear that in ‘The New Normal’ things have changed and are not going back to the way things were.
One example are comic book stores. Comic book stores, at best, get by in good times in recent years but with COVID-19 they had had no new shipments since mid March. Some stores are doing curb side pick up and at least are getting some sales, but I fear that many stores will not be able to recover from being closed for a number of weeks plus having large numbers of their customers on unemployment. I have been surprised to hear of the efforts that a number of customers have made to do what they can to keep their local comic book store going and hopefully these efforts will help them to make it through all of this. So far it seems that the only stores to close during these COVID-19 lockdowns were ones that were already scheduled to close in March, April or May 2020 and the lockdowns just caused them to move the final date up by several weeks. Diamond Comic Distributing is supposed to ship a weekly order this week so starting on Wed, May 20 there will be new comics in the stores for the first time since mid March and hopefully that will keep the stores going.
I will write move about the economic and social changes in my next part talking about ‘The New Normal’.