The others

Recent covid cases have hit the port/marine industry and the airport borders pretty consistently. Low, but consistent occasional cases of transmission from their interactions with foreigners.

Kinda sucks to be them. It’s a constant risk. Maybe it’s not as high profile as the risk of healthcare workers treating and attending to covid patients, but nevertheless it’s a higher risk than other industries that’s walled off.

Because it’s not as recognized, it might not be as appreciated too. I should say hardly anybody’s job description is to deal with this viral outbreak 24/7/365 and ongoing. The general healthcare industry on a normal day attends to medical issues without such risk of transmissions, the port industry just wants to move ships and cargo, the airport industry just wants to check and move people and cargo.

I’d liken it to like a normal policeman is not equipped or supposed to be having to guard against the mafia or a war day in and out. Tough. Hope y’all have an easier time soon.

The others

Phase 2 once again

So we back into “Phase 2” covid measures, sort of. mostly.

The ‘little’ TTSH case, and cluster, seems to have blown up significantly. There are so many reactions to it, so many comments, complaints. Somehow I just feel the measures are both quite-expected, and yet also not-expected. It’s cringe-y to see public’s reactions, many which are just off-the-cuff feelings or layman.

Probably will not be able to cover everything, but:

  • The presence of a single nurse-case in TTSH – not unheard of in itself, though rare. Not a major concern if a single case.
  • The presence of a sizeable cluster within the Ward 9D
    • very alarming as it directly proves that person-to-person retransmission has occurred
    • the transmission either happened really fast, or the detection has been late
    • the presence of cases in inpatients, who are already ill, who are very elderly (high risk factor), and have significant medical history
    • the presence of positive cases in fully vaccinated individuals, which indicates high transmissibility, break-through of vaccination, and even symptomatic infections
  • On the same day they announced an ICA guy, + transmission into the entire family group that shared a meal
  • from the above evidence, in day2 of public announcements, it was already clear to me that this was strongly indicative of a large big cluster, very high transmissibility and vaccine breakthrough which is like the strong Indian variant rampaging in India.
  • It was probably a coincidence that the multiple community cases and clusters all surfaced in the same few days, but it could also show that now we are experiencing influx of the Indian variant, which behaves very differently from the previous variants/clusters/quarantine escapes. At that time they didn’t have evidence yet to say this publicly, and implement community lockdowns, but it was apparent from their actions (by friday) that the situation was intense behind the scenes:
  • they announced which (ttsh) cases went to which venues, implemented 2 day venue closures and clean-ups. they implemented testing for all inpatients, all staff (mega exercise + cost), they isolated lots of staff. much unprecedented actions compared to all previous advisories, or even any other hospital case.
  • the announcement and measures were announced so hastily that it was obvious they were rushing and reacting to the situation

I don’t think the strong public outcry is wrong, there are many good points brought up by public, online, media, although we do bear in mind the rule that hindsight is 20/20.

(The media must be having a field day with all the delicious news cycles though)

Before I go through the Phase 2 festivities, between friday and tuesday, things escalated daily, notably:

  • more ttsh staff, inpatients and visitors were added to the cluster, in sizable numbers daily
  • multiple hospital wards during lockdown
  • community-visited places spanned all over Singapore
  • multiple clusters being fought, with many of them considered as under active cluster period. while likely unrelated and individually manageable, having all of them come under the same period is alarming, stressing (to infrastructure), and potentially a problem (specifically this is a potential but real risk), all of which led to:

The mega Phase 2 announcement on 4 May 2021.

  • 8 person to 5 person restrictions.
    • this strongly strongly reduces the transmission possibility. social distancing is by far the most effective tool in reducing risk. don’t forget the main idea in infectious disease is reproduction rate. reduction of social contact, regardless of any any other factor (eg variant, severity, vaccination), will 100% cut or reduce transmission.
    • However it’s a huge impact to Hari Raya and other social events, sizable impact to F&B industry
    • It’s not as bad as stopping of dining-in, but still quite a headache to industry.
    • It’s definitely majorly proven by the ICA cluster, very rare has a variant infected the entire dining group.
  • 50% WFH.
    • theoretically this allows economy to continue at near the same levels while reducing transmission, as all companies who can reduce has already known how to do so, while at the same time excluding essential workers.
  • Reduction of attendance at in-person events like weddings, funerals, museums, libraries, tours.
    • Very broad measure, odd as we didn’t have proven transmission this way
  • Closure of gyms.
    • HK had a real bad case of this. Quite similar to why Karaoke and pub singing are banned. Low economy activity and disproportionate risk, and also affect small target population segment only.
  • TT-only check-in
    • about time to just go ahead and stop dilly dallying on this. Very helpful right now due to large number of cases. Digital tools really help avoid alot of manual labour. Disregard the whiners.
  • advising all public who have been to venues where ttsh infected cases have been to
    • big move. something like what Australia does. very tedious and high amount of work for some minor returns. really shows they are worrying and trying hard and throwing everything they have at it
    • the long queues and ‘lack of planning’. fairly disappointing after so long, poor management, also shows how last minute this decision was
  • Banning ttsh-exposed visitors from visiting other hospitals
    • wowzer. understandable as there was one case. Poorly managed as it wasn’t announced clearly to the public. again shows the rush.
  • Postponement of non-urgent admissions and procedures at all hospitals.
    • fairly impactful, points more to the temporary loss of ttsh functions, the wide ranging Leave of Absence and Quarantine orders applied
    • also alludes to their planning and prediction of:
      • how a cluster (ttsh) develops over time as new infections typically do not test positive for days/weeks
      • time taken to even complete Round 1 testing of current inpatients and staff (still ongoing after days!)
      • time taken to complete testing of public
      • time taken for newly infected to also test and treat
      • time taken for quarantine periods to end
    • while the above is taking place, for even round 1 to be secured down, it will take weeks to clear. And then after that there’s still round 2 of confirmatory testing to clean up stragglers.
    • near complete shutdown of one of our biggest and busiest public hospital, AND the important NCID capacity is highly and disproportionately impactful of their planned covid capacity.
    • together with their mathematical modelling, prediction of undetected cases, it probably triggered a red line in their warning systems.
  • 14 to 21 day SHN for imports
    • it seems to be quite painful for incoming persons, both in cost and time. 3 full weeks is a long time to be ‘jailed up’
    • based on previous % numbers, number of community leaks seemed to be a balanced risk. they know there are leaks, they aren’t stupid, they just want to balance the economic cost and financial cost to employers
    • Is it possible to even stop leaks? Taiwan and Australia both experience SHN / hotel leaks too. It is important also to not stop 100% of leaks until you can’t detect any leaks and all your internal infrastructure shut down. It’s similar to body immune systems, prime it with vaccines and small infections, build up the capability and strength, remain on heightened alert, shutting down will take time to ramp up, who is paying for the $$ to maintain at high alert level!
  • banning of India incoming non-citizens and PRs.
    • overdue. however politically testy, and sends quite a signal. we were among the first countries to ban, but we are also having one of the highest number of incoming from India, and the cleanest internal state (maybe compared to Australia)
    • still, could be some weeks earlier once India hogged the news with astronomical cases and deaths
    • never ever wait for WHO to announce anything
  • Suspension of in-person Meet MP sessions, school activities, nursing home visits, etc etc
  • delay from Friday to Tuesday
    • well things always move slower over weekends and public holidays, but this should not be a valid excuse for this. I’m sure they were already working hard to come to a consensus to approve the above painful Phase 2 package
    • some unnecessary events like May Day Rally should have been cancelled. prevailing advisories don’t count.
  • Vaccination push
    • Just keep going. There are many logistics and contractual and production limitations. Public should push the govt, but we also know that it probably would not have prevented this cluster really.
    • Don’t fall into the India trap that vaccination solves everything. Social distance first, everything else later.
    • hoo-ha that vaccination “didn’t work” – the caveat was always there, people just didn’t realize or read between the lines. We knew. But from a public health perspective, they still had to market vaccinations as Very Helpful etc. You can’t explain the fine print to everyone, not everyone is capable of fully rational and critical thinking. However the evidence is stark and still eyebrow raising. Comes back to the point about vaccine breakthrough and strength of this mutant. Also again it ties into infectious disease modelling.
  • HK travel bubble
    • It’s cursed, what else can we say. Glad we’re not the ones with pressing travel plans. Granted some people have strong family reasons etc. In this pandemic, sometimes strong reasons aren’t good enough if confronted with long term disability and death on the other end of the scale.
  • Shangri-la dialogue event
    • facepalm, just cancel it. still trying to save face and keep it dicey right now. go away and do video calls like everyone else. political suicide to keep it, prob still trying to spin a story.

Many, many people are just so misled with statistics. Maybe online is just not great for serious discussions, maybe they just don’t know any better.

I’ve been trying to get a feel of the false-negative rates of incoming imports. It’s a little scary. I know/hope someone is keeping an eye on this. Factors include, prevalence of virus in incoming cohort, absolute number of incoming cohort, false negative rates. We know that prevalence is not insignificant, and pretty high or getting higher. This is going to happen regardless of testing skill. A very long SHN should help, but still not guaranteed.

People keep quoting the 93% effectiveness of vaccines. Well there are multiple factors inside there. 1. antibody production of the individual and whether it even worked on your body in the first place. If it didn’t work, you’re screwed 100%. Also this is not black/white, it’s a range of how well your body worked. 2. if you have a shield that works pretty well, but if you using this shield against 100 bashes (covid positive transmission attempts), you’re probably still going to lose 5% of the time. Meaning if you get hit 100 times, you’re still ded. Again, prevalence. 3. if you do all that and your body is having a bad day, meaning weakened immune system, you’re still ded. Also see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhZGAt_SDtc

Phase 2 once again

Jan 2021 – WhatsApp is at a weak point

A significantly sized hoo-ha over WhatsApp privacy is sweeping many countries. WhatsApp has an app / platform has been growing larger and larger over the years, and it’s at a rare weak point.

There are many reasons for WhatsApp, and against WhatsApp, same as for many other messaging apps and platforms. I’ll list them below.

Security is complicated

But while these tools and their characteristics are important, one must remember they are not the end-all of your personal digital security, privacy, or safety. That relies on a holistic care and maintenance of your digital life and habits. Changing from WhatsApp to Signal does not make you a spy. But that’s a story for another time, meanwhile all we can say it 2fa helps.

So which app is better

This isn’t a comprehensive and detailed table as I don’t have the time for that, nor is it a serious IT security analysis, this is just my personal opinion and impression of the apps.

ProsCons
WhatsApphuge network effect, probably near ubiquitous in your circles, free to use, fast app, lots of useful features like audio calls, video calls, location sharing, file sharing, picture sharing, video sharing, tagging, forwarding, web app, chat encryptionsfacebook owned, new monetization push, new privacy policy change, sharing of data to facebook servers for certain info, bad history of facebook company integrity and culture, probably future encroachment
Telegramfree to use, lots of fancy features, gaining in popularity, one of the more common apps amongst the rest, stickers, large group chats, file sharing, photo and video sharing, web app, not by facebook/apple/google/microsoft/amazonugly, bloated app, still mobile number based, russian-linked, new monetization push, not wholly encrypted
Signalfree, encryption, audio calls, pretty app, fastnewer and small in network, still mobile number based, few people using, USA influenced, non-profit org
FB messengerfree, chat w fb contacts, instagramfacebook, need fb acct
WeChatchina network, lots of china featureschina gov control, no privacy, irrelevant features
Google Hangouts / Chatfree, google contactsslow app, poor features, unable to integrate with mobile contacts
SMSubiquitousnot free, no features
RCSfree, independentlow availability, low reliability between sms/data switching, low features
Lineirrelevant
iMessagesecure within Apple, integration with Apple productsonly for Apple, irrelevant to everyone else
Viberif you’re in Philippinesdidn’t win the global competition

Why stick to one app

If you are a digital native, you would be super used to commenting/replying/interacting on all platforms, you would have lots of different groups, and that could be interest groups, family, extended family, significant other, friends, close friends, work, colleagues, work contacts. Not just across different apps, different platforms, but also across different phones.

You should keep them separate, don’t use your one facebook account to comment on everything, don’t use your one email account to sign up for everything.

In this (digital) age, where the online world continues to grow, where data sharing is inevitable, data leak is also inevitable, you can only minimize your exposure by hedging your bets.

  1. multiple accounts so that if you lose one, you don’t lose everything. as many as you can keep up with.
  2. have different tiers of security. higher security accounts for important things.
  3. don’t blindly use your real full name on everything online. you might not be untraceable, but at least make it less easy or obvious at first glance.
  4. look for companies with a better commitment / culture / alignment of incentives
  5. some security is better than no security

Tradeoffs

One big issue here is that WhatsApp new privacy change was very poorly communicated, as characteristic of Facebook, with no proper release, explanation, guarantees.

It did not present a benefit to the consumer. Many other services with privacy tradeoffs like smarthome assistants provide a huge benefit for an intrusion of privacy and heightened risk.

Given how WhatsApp and Facebook behaved, plus the bad history of the split of the WhatsApp founders, most tech savvy individuals knew it was going on a downhill path, down to the Facebook level, which is easily assumed, and nothing else could be believed because of poor behaviour by Facebook towards their other properties.

Will something better appear

My hope is that something else better and more stable appears. It took the world many many years to get to where it was with WhatsApp, and many years with Facebook to ruin it.

But something better can still come along. It’s impossible to say which app or from where. After all Zoom seems so popular, for now.

I really hope that apps can stop being tied to mobile numbers and the contact list. While it’s a quick way to gain users, it’s less flexible, less anonymous, and unable to support multiple identities and privacy.

So what exactly am I using

So many things. I still use alot of WhatsApp, because of the network there, because of work, but I also am almost equally active on Hangouts/Chat (on at least 3 google accounts), I use Telegram for certain groups/stuff, I install wechat only when I need it, I’ll see if anyone really wants to use Signal, but I avoid other platforms.

Jan 2021 – WhatsApp is at a weak point

no longer a baby

It kinda feels like she’s no longer a baby, and more of a child. Wasn’t it so many months ago that she was just crawling, and pulling herself up by holding on to a box, that she was cruising along the dining chairs, that she was standing under the dining table, that we had to pull her up by the hands to get her to take some steps.

She’s even past just walking by herself, now getting stronger, more stable, walking further. Still stumbling often for sure.

But now she’s communicating what she wants, doesn’t want, being sticky to people, and just thinking so much more.

15 months and no longer a baby.

So tiring

no longer a baby

2020 movies and shows

stay at home, also means lots of shows watched:

  • The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)
  • Knives Out (2019)
  • The Farewell (2019)
  • Frances ha (2013)
  • Then Came You (2019)
  • While We’re Young (2015)
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019)
  • The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
  • Official Secrets (2019)
  • The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
  • Knock Knock (2015)
  • After The Wedding (2019)
  • Wild Rose (2019)
  • Shazam (2019)
  • Dunkirk (2017)
  • Ford v Ferrari (2019)
  • A Beautiful day in the Neighbourhood (2019)
  • Jojo Rabbit (2019)
  • 1917 (2019)
  • Little Women (2019)
  • Good Boys (2019)
  • The Old Man & The Gun (2018)
  • The Night Clerk (2020)
  • Suburbicon (2017)
  • Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
  • Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
  • Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
  • Anna (2019)
  • The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
  • Love & Other Drugs (2010)
  • Uncut Gems (2019)
  • The Colony (2013)
  • The Gentlemen (2020)
  • The Half Of It (2020)
  • Mistress America (2015)
  • Equilibrium (2002)
  • Lost Bullet (2020)
  • Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
  • Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)
  • The Old Guard (2020)
  • Greyhound (2020)
  • Twelve Monkeys (1995)
  • Tron: Legacy (2010)
  • Nobody Knows I’m here (2020)
  • An Education (2009)
  • Hamilton (2020)
  • When Harry Met Sally (1989)
  • Don Jon (2013)
  • The Princess Bridge (1987)
  • T-34 (2018)
  • Project Power (2020)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
  • Midsommar (2019)
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
  • Easy A (2010)
  • Stardust (2007)
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
  • Enola Holmes (2020)
  • The Cold Blue (2018)
  • Enemy at the gates (2001)
  • Triple Frontier (2019)
  • The Witches (2020)
  • Secondhand Lions (2003)
  • Drive (2011)
  • The Hangover Part II (2001)
  • National Theatre Live: Skylight (2014)
  • Fatman (2020)
  • Wet Season (2019)
  • Moana (2016)
  • The Greatest (2009)
  • Tenet (2020)
  • Our Times (2015)
  • The Notebook (2004)
  • Sometimes Always Never (2019)
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
  • The Midnight Sky (2020)
  • Page Eight (2011)

TV shows

  • The Mandalorian Season 2
  • Young Sheldon Season 3 & 4
  • Star Trek Picard Season 1
  • Altered Carbon Season 2
  • Westworld Season 3
  • After Life Season 1
  • Collateral Season 1
  • Band of Brothers
  • Modern Love Season 1
  • The Umbrella Academy Season 1 & 2
  • Raised by Wolves Season 1
  • The Great British Bake Off Season 11

2020 movies and shows

2020

Masks and Sanitizers on sale back in March 24, 2020. These were in short supply and prices were high.

It’s 9 December 2020, and many Recaps of the year are coming out. It’s that time of the year to take stock, look back at what happened. What. Happened.

Reddit had an absolutely awesome recap post. It was, in it’s own essence, so very Reddit-like. From the title, the post, the contents, the comments. Everything was so hilariously Reddit. It included a video, animated with highlights of posts and videos taken from Reddit this year, and of a commissioned soundtrack that was so apt. The song is Never to be Forgotten Kinda Year, by Dan Bern, and boy is it apt, and beautiful. It has that touch of whimsy, brevity and uplifting spirit that only a species that has lived through 2020, could appreciate. 

Post: https://www.reddit.com/r/blog/comments/k967mm/reddit_in_2020/

Video: https://www.reddit.com/r/blog/comments/k967mm/reddit_in_2020/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3

Like I said, it’s 9 December 2020, which is barely 22 days to the end of the Gregorian Calendar year. True, it’s an arbitrarily taken period of time, created by humans in this particular day and age, half based on astronomy, and no other species or part of the planet even cares about it, certainly not this virus. But I guess it appeals to our sentimental selves that it’s an period, a substantial period of time that we have lived through, experienced, that draws to a virtual close, and a new year beckons, a new year that supposedly is different, will be different. 

It’s 9 December, and the news in Singapore is filled with the top story of the day – a confirmed infected passenger on a cruise ship that departed Singapore a few days ago and has to cut short it’s trip to return. Cruises being one of the early nightmare scenarios of the Covid-19 infection due to early spread and clusters aboard certain ships in other countries, very early on. A nightmare scenario of how easily to be cross infected, of how hard to escape from the ship, of ships being denied berthing and disembarking by many countries. A scenario that was decimated cruise travel for practically the whole year, and hasn’t really recovered. 

You would think that we might be past a lot of these, but it seems not! It seems not. It seems that on the 9th of December we are still haunted by the same ghosts. Maybe slightly better, but not gone. 

Lots of countries are still struggling. 

But perhaps let’s go back to the start of the year, to the bright early morning of January 2020, not the first weeks, but mid to late January, where some bits of rumours and news came out of China about a new virus. I’m sure it was there in the medical, scientific, and especially infectious disease circles, before the news leaked out into the public sphere, of China investigating virus outbreak linked to wet markets (well so we thought), to bats, some coronavirus linked respiratory disorders. The measures in China slowly, slowly ramped up. There was suppressing of information, as usual, and also leaks by China citizens onto their local social media. The thing about 2020 is that the Online is so powerful now, even in China. We watched as more and more details leaked out, independently of news outlets, government announcements (both China and elsewhere), of details of seriously infected numbers in Wuhan and then other cities, of hospitals getting flooded with patients, of medical staff struggling and also getting infected, of doctors leaking the real news out, of brave citizens, of the government reacting, of other governments nearly starting to react – Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and slower – the rest of the world. 

We started to get into February – the Chinese New Year period. We watched in horror as China practically shut down their New Year celebrations – easily their biggest festival of all year. Travel restrictions came into place. It was an environment of close watching and distancing from China. That was the plan.

Well alas we still had some visitors from China – both tourism, business, and social visitors. It reached our shores, in no small numbers. We scrutinised each and every case, cluster, visit, location, spread. Each was taken in shock, surprise, and utmost concern. Was it that serious? It seemed so in China, and there were many deaths as Wuhan and some other cities were overwhelmed in the number of seriously ill cases. More serious conditions than a typical influenza strain, faster spread, novel. A seemingly incredible super mix of amazingly powerful coronavirus that the regular person is trying to understand, mixed up with an horrifying inter species jump from bats to humans. 

So we kinda became one node here in Singapore, due to our heavy exposure to China. Well we weren’t alone, the other countries like Japan, South Korea, Hongkong with heavy traffic with China all were hit. Mostly under control as all these countries react overwhelmingly for the short term to stem the tide. It kept things under control. Locked down kinda but at least under control. Was it still February or was it now March? It’s hard to recall as it’s all a blur of news from so many countries, so many new details in China. I suppose the news agencies can do a deeper recap.

It was likened to SARS from old. I guess it was. Quite something to live through two outbreaks. Surprisingly we had a newly opened National Centre for Infectious Disease, almost an entire half hospital specialising in this. Best stroke of luck (the timing) we could have, and probably reduced our mortality rate by quite a few. Our best laid plans, as awesome as they were, still had to adapt to the situation. Well, if you’re used to the Army and tactical situations, I guess that’s the way, but you still can’t help the common citizen throwing criticisms back at ya. 

We had lots of people coming out with tracking sites, detailed data built upon the trickle of daily notices put up by the Ministry of Health. I suppose all the govt agencies went topsy turvy handling this situation. Every single person’s work changed, in one way or another, good or bad. 

Italy got hit early on, real real bad, with huge numbers and deaths. It spread fast there. Sporadic numbers in Asia in the middle of the year. Some numbers in Europe but not huge. Many areas in Asia put in serious restrictions and closures to bring it down. We had a really long and extensive ‘cluster’ in our worker dormitories that took massive restructuring to clear up. LOL they tried almost everything they could think of, from country wide Circuit Breaker starting in April, to separating dorms, separating rooms, testing testing, isolating, step down care facilities, ramping up hospitals, escalating DORSCON levels, nationwide broadcast addresses, taskforce press conferences, budget handouts, employee salary support. News after news after news.

We started working from home, many many people did. Not many had to go out, except for allowed services. This was incredible. Being able to be home all day long, with my baby, saving on travel time, spending more time with her, having lunch at home. Woot. Staying safely at home while watching half the world burn. 

It must’ve been hell for lots of badly affected industries – tourism, travel, airlines, restaurants, supporting industries, and others. So many people with reduced income, job losses, changes. Madness. In such large numbers as well. Four Budgets for the year, with tons of money withdrawn from past reserves. Official government measures, and also lots of interventions by Temasek, the govt-linked entity. Various sanitizer handouts, face mask handouts. So many people did so much. 

Then we had a big hooha over a General Election in SG, held during the pandemic, quite unnecessarily in fact, since the situation has stablized further in end 2020 and likely into 2021 (in SG at least). Big wins for Workers Party, a GE held mostly online and over the air. 

USA had tons of scandals and ridiculous news, with NYC doing terribly in Covid, and then UK getting into it, other areas in US, Spain, etc. Indonesia, Philippines, India, Russia, where hasn’t it been. It gets quite sad that many countries have huge number of deaths. The worldwide official count is now at 68 million cases and 1.5 million deaths. That’s only official positive counts, with many many more unaccounted for. 

Many countries went into partial or temporary lockdowns, hitting their economies hard. Some couldn’t manage well, some had many more infections, many more deaths, some fewer. Most countries ended up isolating themselves to stave off infections from other countries, hopefully. The situation in China cleared up. Well not totally as there are still some recurring infections even in such a tightly controlled country. Tough. Or should we say, impossible.

Singapore entered into a manageable lull, without many cases. Stable. Slowly opening up a tiny bit, a tiny bit. Steps so small you wonder if they’ll ever finish. 

Companies started manufacturing face masks to cope with insane demand. Hand sanitizers. Test kids. Different test kits. Hah. From high priced face masks, to cheaper face masks. 

Bernadette grew up through all this, from when she was 3 months old, to 4, 5, 6, 12 months old birthday, 13, 14 months old. She finished going to hospital for follow-ups, she had to isolate more from crowds, watch us start wearing masks when outside, from being afraid and associating masks to vaccination injections, to being used to it, and I wonder if she’ll have to keep wearing it when outside in the future. 

The malls were shut, dine-in everywhere was stopped, seats were cordoned off, restaurants were closed, shops were closed, food delivery, online shopping delivery. The roads emptied out of cars, buses and trains were empty, taxis were empty, private hire suddenly lost business. ‘Self employed’ was now a problem.

I spent more time with my baking, well there’s time at home. Various tarts. New stuff. New recipes. Watching old shows. Fixing up the house. We set up new cupboards.

Bernadette started crawling around more, faster, further. She played with more toys, new toys. She started pulling herself up, standing. Standing! Toddling. She spoke more, made more sounds, got smarter, and smarter. She started taking solid food, oh what a headache that was, to prepare meals instead of just drinking milk. At least she still sleeps well. Eczema problems, various doctor visits. Busy. So much to occupy one’s time. 

Things and habits out there have changed so much, it’s such an odd world. 

What’s next? 

Now news of vaccines being released, and news of increased second waves in various countries, Australia grappling with it, UK, Spain, Italy again!?!, and probably more who have given up. Now grappling with vaccines, whether it will be effective, whether it will be available, roll out properly. Hah.

It’s a year of lockdowns, 5 person groups, social distancing, face masks, contact tracing, cordons, of video calls, video calls, video calls.

It’s December. December 2020. Almost 2021.

Covid-19, into 20, into 21.

You’ll look back, and wonder how was it possible. How did one survive through that, through that infection rate, death rate. But it happened, and life happened, the virus happened, we humans got through it as usual, survived through a certain adversity? Diversity? Not so easy to exterminate. 

So many wars, epidemics, and other insane things that have happened in history. Still alive? But then again, if we all died, I wouldn’t be around to write this.

1 January 2021

And 2020 ended, just like that, almost like any other day at home, with some faint echos of celebrations around the neighbourhood, with us going to bed, tired from another day of taking care of a baby and still having to wake up early the next morning. 

It was funny to see the local case numbers jump and spike again in the last 2 days of 2020. Almost like a last jab at you. Hah. You thought you were clear!? It’s not over yet! It was funny to see the vaccine news, supposedly good news, but yet tinged with so many shades of concern it wasn’t funny how bungled it seemed to be. Poor marketing by the western countries that made it, as usual. They’ve never seemed to be able to project any sense of confidence and reassurance this entire year / pandemic. And it flows down. We don’t trust it, because it was a rush job, by countries desperate for something, that’s why. It’s not that we don’t trust vaccines in general, nor our govt. But it wasn’t made by us, and given these countries’ current public track record, it’s not reassuring. Our exact same self-preservation instinct that has kept us relatively safe so far, is doing the same. Call it our own immune system. 

I realized that for some months and weeks now I’ve kinda dropped off on the covid news a little, just to not be too crazy about it, and also busy with work and busy with life, and busy with baking! Which I thought was more productive than doing nothing and following numbers of other countries like a busybody. 

Still, Australia news of Sydney Northern Beach clusters and new restrictions, Germany’s sudden severe revival, Switzerland falling, Netherlands falling, Belgium falling, US…nothing new to say, UK falling, France falling, India oddly seemingly manageable, Indonesia falling off the news, Philippines off the news, China still grappling a little. It’s a little worrying that the top tier countries have so much bad news that the secondary tier countries really fall off the radar, nobody even has time to think if their numbers are correct and real. 

Minor scandals in Singapore of rule transgressions, mostly to little effect. It’s testament to the stable situation that we have time to bother with these, rather than horror stories in the US etc of overflowing ICUs, stuck ambulances, lack of oxygen, rising deaths, lack of compliance, lack of compliance, lack of compliance. 

And a sudden concern over a “UK strain” B117, more infectious, supposedly. It might just come to naught, really. But it was a swift closing of borders against UK, poor things. London, who was already suffering just days before Christmas, with nearly everything cancelled at the last minute, now under the scrutiny of the world. 

But it wasn’t a hugely horrible year for us. Can’t say that when our jobs weren’t affected too much, when it wasn’t a worry and risk, when our infant mostly grew well and had a great time at home. We spent time together, at home, we spent more time with our infant than otherwise possible, much much much more than otherwise possible. We saved on commute time, we spent less on going out, on travel. We didn’t have to meet people, we didn’t have to think about going overseas, we didn’t have to think about missing out because there was nothing to miss out other than spending time with family. We didn’t have school-going kids, we didn’t have elderly to take care of, we didn’t have regular things we had to keep going out for.

It helped that we were already used to it, through the late pregnancy months, the newborn months, all the staying home, enjoying being at home. In a comfortable amount of space, both physical space in a relatively new flat, and also space for ourselves away from others. 

My parents had it good, their shop business did well and also very luckily didn’t have to suspend, and with additional govt support. My sister had a rough year, having been in the travel industry, but at least is ending it okay. 

I guess it was the topsy-turvy kind of year, where many people’s concept of the world changes, where things no longer have to be the old way, and it could break the old mould and improve, and improve greatly in a monumental change. 

It would be incredible to think back and wow I lived through that, something that was so shattering to the human race in that year. It’s always been how incredible to watch those movies of World War II, how widespread the impact, how long the dang thing lasted. Well now we have Covid-19 and it’s unabating death wave. It’s not that without covid-19 all these people would have been alive and well, because people will still die of other causes, many of them are already terribly old, and there would be more of other illnesses, but it’s still a very fancy number when looked at alone. 83 million confirmed cases and 1.8 million attributed deaths so far. (Wow World War 2 had 70-85 million casualties, so I guess we are still far off.) Given current known Infection Fatality Ratio, Covid-19 would not exceed WW2. 

Still, it’s quite scary to have an invisible virus going in your lungs, no matter where you are in the world and just minding your own business, no nuclear bombs needed.

Really shocking that countries that can maintain nuclear weapons can’t get a coronavirus under control…

I was looking through my photos of the year, and I really only had a handful in April that were really reflective of Covid situation. Well that was like the only real Circuit Breaker / lockdown period, soon after that things reopened majorly. That’s the major extent of the extreme disruption to daily life, it was really quite liveable after that, many shops were open, food was never a problem, groceries and supermarkets were great, online shopping platforms covered miscellaneous things. 

Social Distancing is the name of the game, markers are up everywhere.

All the time at home also let us try new food that deliver, to people like us stuck at home with a sleeping baby:

And being at home, also means, improving things at home and working on baking:

It meant many many more sunsets experienced, and more of my neighbourhood explored on long jogs.

The moon above apartment blocks

It’s far from over, let’s see what happens next.

2020

Your child

Some of the most endearing parts of being a parent, are the small things that aren’t often listed:

  • the feeling of watching your child fall asleep
  • the feeling of waking your child up to feed, for meals, to go out, to go home, etc.

These are the little moments, that by itself probably doesn’t really mean very much, but are just the little moments you have, and are privileged, to witness as the parent.

Little acts that maybe only you are entitled to do. Often we are so afraid to awaken or disturb a sleeping baby – yes they do get really grumpy and wail-ly if woken up without enough sleep, and yes messing up the sleep pattern will mess up the feeding pattern and middle-of-night timing, etc. So it’s really only the parent who gets the right to do so.

Yup. It’s your baby, and your child.

Your child

House and Home

One night I was carrying her around the house, trying to get her to get back to sleep. It was probably 3 or 4am, the house is dark, quiet. S is asleep, and it just reminded me of when we first got the flat, when it was bare walls and rough floors, with no lights, no furniture, no color, and I was just there wiring it up. The house has changed so much, it’s full of things, full of people, of a crying baby, and we spend so much time in it now. It’s becoming a lived-in house, a home.

House and Home

The ‘Great’ Pixel Original Quality Photo Storage Controversy of 2019

Was that too dramatic? Did you know of the change in storage options? Let’s go through this in detail, where Google failed, and where the marketing and execution could be done wayyyy better.

History:

  1. Google Photos launched a few years back, and it was superbly well received. They provided excellent features, super reliable backup, super fast and smooth mobile app and desktop apps (they don’t get enough credit for their AMAZING mobile app).
  2. But best of all, Google Photos offered photo and video backups from your phone at two tiers. First is the Original Quality (OQ) tier, where the photos and videos are backed up as-is, no change in file, quality, size, resolution etc., except for enhancements and edits. Second is the High Quality (HQ) tier, which is a space-saving option with some magic trickery that only Google knows. It shaves off huge amounts of storage size, downsizes photos to 16 Megapixel if higher, downsizes videos to 1080p if higher, and uses a different compression algorithm to make photos way smaller while retaining amazing amounts of quality in the media files. Almost all phones were less than 16 MP at that time, it wasn’t a big deal, and 16 MP is a lot. Everyone was also amazed at how much quality is preserved, indistinguishable for most use cases and displays. It really is very good.
  3. Original Quality storage uses up your Google account storage space, which is 15 Gigabytes by default, shared with your Gmail and Google Drive etc. You can purchase more storage using the old Google Drive storage options or the current Google One options.
  4. High Quality storage is given free of charge (so far), making it a great deal. I configure this for any family member that I know who can’t handle their own phones/media. It’s really good enough for almost everyone but serious photographers and tech geeks.
  5. All was peaceful until Google launched Pixel phones. The first Pixel phone (differentiating name Original Pixel or Pixel 1), had a great promotion of Free Original Quality backup, in perpetuity, as long as the media was uploaded from the phone itself. It perhaps celebrated the amazing phone camera and AI, and a brilliant marketing strategy. After all, it was the first Google branded Pixel phone. People loved this. Well not that everyone appreciated it. But it was awesome. Pixel phones were associated with free OQ storage, great cameras. Of course Pixel phone pricings were also up there with premium iPhones, so that helped justify the cost to us.
  6. For Pixel 2, perhaps Google toned it down, they still offered OQ storage, but only limited to 3 years from launch. Fair enough, you probably won’t use the phone for more than 3 years, and you would switch to a new Pixel phone so you don’t really lose anything too much. Still awesome. Phone is still expensive, but people bought it.
  7. Pixel 3 – same as Pixel 2, 3 years of free storage. It’s becoming a trend, a classic Pixel thing, but it’s fair, no complaints.
  8. Pixel 3a – Google launched a budget level Pixel phone. Much cheaper, simpler hardware specs, but downgraded to High Quality photo storage only. Still very justified as the phone is way cheaper and targeted at those who are less picky. A little annoying that Google kept on marketing it as Free photo storage on the ads, despite this service being given the same as any other free google account and Android phone out there, it was a tad misleading and tsk tsk.
  9. Pixel 4 – woah Google quietly dropped Original Quality storage, kept up the 3a style marketing of ‘free photo storage’, and dared to pass off High Quality storage on Pixel 4 buyers like nothing happened. That was very very very poor marketing strategy and totally picked up by discerning users upon seeing launch marketing materials and reading the fine print. This is a huge deviation from previous imprinted user mindset and associations of full priced Pixel phones with great cameras and photo storage, where you can just take photos and videos and enjoy the camera without worrying about storage (and local device storage is less generous than other cheaper Android flagship phones, and no SD card). Pixel 4 price remained high, they carried on the great-camera branding.

Possible reasons for this:

  1. Free Original Quality storage is possibly pricey in costs, and with the hopefully increasing number of Pixel phones, including old phones, this might be a cost issue. (But Google is so rich, but Google has so much storage, but Google loves to have our photos)
  2. Pixel phone buyers do not rate this feature highly in market surveys or are aware of the exact differences and benefits. Their user research might show this to be true in the general population or less savvy users who want to buy Pixel phones.
  3. HQ storage is really good, and good enough. Most of us only might possibly print like 0.001% of our photos, uploading them online always gets compressed and resized anyway. Who even has a 16MP display screen.
  4. OQ media is only required for people who want to take super high quality for local editing, and can transfer this out to their PC or Mac for processing on Photoshop/Lightroom. And photographers don’t often use a Pixel phone as a main work camera, nor videographers. The manual controls, battery life, form factor just don’t replace a full camera. Even youtube vloggers have a nice Sony RX camera now.
  5. Do you even have a choice? If you want a highly secure, well-maintained Android phone guaranteed with work with Google services, top line camera and apps, fancy face recognition, fancy Google Assistant, there’s really no other phone you can choose? much like how Apple users only have effectively one phone in different sizes.

So should Google really drop free OQ storage and what they can do better:

  1. if OQ storage is not for general use, then change the marketing, branding, positioning. Pixel buyers are the most common Google service users, they have Google One accounts etc. If their photos are good enough at HQ, then make the phone shoot and save in HQ compression format directly.
  2. Improve on-device Pixel camera storage format, algorithms etc. If HEIC format is so good and small, use it. Pixel phones have limited storage size and no expandable SD slot. How do you expect it to last a full extended vacation trip?
  3. Improve Google Photos settings and options to split photos and video backup settings
  4. Improve Google Photos settings to allow users to selectively save certain photos in Original Quality
  5. Improve Google Photos to show which media is backed up in OQ or HQ, and allow users to selectively compress individual files down to HQ instead of a blanket compression setting. Right now you can only convert your entire library from OQ to HQ in a click, no choosing.
  6. Improve Google One features even further in terms of premium tier photo services, editing, photo management, folder management, machine learning. Yes Google One has great storage options, but I just accumulated 800 photos in 3 weeks of my child, so I really think the free Pixel OQ storage is a really important differentiator to me.

At the end of the day, we ought to acknowledge that Google offers a fantastic service with free High Quality unlimited backup storage, compared to other phone providers. They do deserve for users to pay some amount of subscription, but they need to do a serious rebranding of their service, bump up the marketing, show users what they get for their money, and really differentiate paying users from free users in service tiers.

If subscribing to a Pixel service gives me longer updates, AI/ML camera updates, additional photo management, additional photo storage, I think many people would gladly throw money at it. It’s world leading and very impressive, but not well marketed.

Mobile phone cameras are undoubtedly very good. Pixel cameras are very very good, and many many times more convenient, faster, and better than my Olympus camera. However I don’t want to juggle a mess of mixed Google Photos storage formats and quality tiers in a basic interface. It’s going to be really messy if I have a new phone that backs up at HQ, or if I set it to auto backup at OQ and then manually delete off the unnecessarily files. Google is making this way too troublesome. Storage tier wise, I estimate that if I went OQ on everything, I will need to go to the 20 TB storage tier within 1 phone cycle or 2-3 years. That’s $99 per month!

The ‘Great’ Pixel Original Quality Photo Storage Controversy of 2019

张惠妹 – 记得

Gosh what a nostalgic song to suddenly hear on the bus radio after hearing some bad news about our neighbours. It’s painfully sad to hear of someone breaking up. I guess it’s also something we haven’t heard in quite awhile. As we grow up, and grow older, it’s mostly a question of people trying to find a partner, and struggling to do so, or people settling down, etc. It’s not like the younger days where more people get together and fall apart more frequently. And then worse still, now you have all the other complications. Marriage, extended families, houses. To go through all those huge challenges, all those time, pain, money, effort. It’s super sad to lose it all. It’s really a big loss.

谁还记得 
shui huan ji de
是谁先说永远的爱我
shi shui xian shuo yong yuan de ai wo
以前的一句话
yi qian de yi ju hua
是我们以后的伤口
shi wo men yi hou de shang kou
过了太久
guo liao tai jiu
没人记得当初那些温柔
mei ren ji de dang chu na xie wen rou
我和你手牵手 
wo he ni shou qian shou
说要一起走到最后
shuo yao yi qi zou dao zui hou
我们都忘了 
wo men du wang liao
这条路走了多久
zhe tiao lu zou liao duo jiu
心中是清楚的 
xin zhong shi qing chu de
有一天 有一天都会停的
you yi tian you yi tian du hui ting de
让时间说真话
rang shi jian shuo zhen hua
虽然我也害怕
sui ran wo ye hai pa
在天黑了以后 
zai tian hei liao yi hou
我们都不知道会不会有遗憾
wo men du bu zhi dao hui bu hui you yi han
谁还记得 
shui huan ji de
是谁先说永远的爱我
shi shui xian shuo yong yuan de ai wo
以前的一句
yi qian de yi ju
是我们以后的伤口
shi wo men yi hou de shang kou
过了太久 
guo liao tai jiu
没人记得当初那些温柔
mei ren ji de dang chu na xie wen rou
我和你手牵手 
wo he ni shou qian shou
说要一起走到最后
shuo yao yi qi zou dao zui hou
我们都累了 
wo men du lei liao
却没办法往回走
que mei ban fa wang hui zou
两颗心都迷惑 
liang ke xin du mi huo
怎么说 怎么说都没有救
zen me shuo zen me shuo du mei you jiu
亲爱的为什么
qin ai de wei shi me
也许你也不懂
ye xu ni ye bu dong
两个相爱的人
liang ge xiang ai de ren
等对方先说找分开的理由
deng dui fang xian shuo zhao fen kai de li you
谁还记得爱情开始变化的时候
shui huan ji de ai qing kai shi bian hua de shi hou
我和你的眼中
wo he ni de yan zhong
看见了不同的天空
kan jian liao bu tong de tian kong
走的太远 
zou de tai yuan
终于走到分岔路的路口
zhong yu zou dao fen cha lu de lu kou
是不是你和我 
shi bu shi ni he wo
要有两个相反的梦
yao you liang ge xiang fan de meng
谁还记得 
shui huan ji de
是谁先说永远的爱我
shi shui xian shuo yong yuan de ai wo
以前的一句话
yi qian de yi ju hua
是我们以后的伤口
shi wo men yi hou de shang kou
过了太久
guo liao tai jiu
没人记得当初那些温柔
mei ren ji de dang chu na xie wen rou
我和你手牵手
wo he ni shou qian shou
说要一起走到最后
shuo yao yi qi zou dao zui hou
我和你手牵手
wo he ni shou qian shou
说要一起走到最后
shuo yao yi qi zou dao zui hou

张惠妹 – 记得