Pandemic staycation

Posted in Canadian life, Health, Married life, Random thoughts, Travel at 3:15 pm by ducky

My beloved and I, at my instigation, took a little vacation on Friday. I wanted to celebrate finishing our taxes, the weather had been beautiful and sunny (although still slightly cool, c’mon, it’s British Columbia in March), and we hadn’t been out at all together in a very long time.

So we rented a carshare, ostensibly to cruise around and look at cherry blossoms.

But of course there was scope creep. Oh hey, if we look at cherry blossoms out at UBC, then we should get takeout from my fave campus restaurant and eat at the little park next door. And of course get ice cream from my fave ice cream shop. Oh, and if we have a car, we should go visit J&A (distanced, in their back yard), who my beloved hasn’t seen in person for a year. And because they can’t invite us in, let’s get takeout on our way home! Oh, except beloved as a doctor’s appointment at 3pm, so we’ll need to add that in. Oh, and as long as we have a car, we should pick up bulk kidney beans and yellow raisins at the Punjab Food Centre.

We are still in a pandemic, so there were a few things that we knew would be different, even in the planning stage. In Before Times, maybe we would have stayed at J&A’s for dinner. In Before Times, we would have eaten at the restaurant. I also carefully checked fave restaurant’s web site to make sure they were still open.

I gave a passing thought to toilets. We should probably pee at fave restaurant at lunch. I considered whether that was safe, and decided it was. Their washroom was relatively large and lightly used even when in Before Times.

Well. When we got to fave restaurant, there was a sign which said that it had closed on 7 Dec. Grrrr, thanks for keeping your website updated, not.

And I needed to pee!

The UBC hospital is very close, so we headed over there. I felt a little bad about sneaking in, but I had been a patient there before, and I really did need to go. But a sign which said, “NON-ESSENTIAL VISITS PROHIBITED.” While finding a toilet was essential for me right then, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t find it essential. I could not enter in good conscience, even though I was wearing a good mask.

So instead, we went to the UBC Health Clinic, where we are both current patients. They have big washrooms with low usage, so I felt pretty sure it was safe. Success!

That gave us enough breathing room to find a fast food joint near the ice cream shop. We ate a leisurely lunch outside, had ice cream outside, and then… I needed to pee again. After a little bit of discussion, we decided to swing past home and pee there. (It also let my beloved pick up his wallet, which he had forgotten at home because he doesn’t go out that much because pandemic.)

I thought about staying home and having him swing around afterwards and pick me up, but then decided that if I went with him and waited in the car (because pandemic), then we could head straight over to J&A’s.

Did I mention that my beloved got the food at the restaurant? And so when I asked for a cola, dutifully got me a cola? Which came in a 591ml bottle instead of the 222ml mini-cans which I usually drink?

Yep, after Jim got done with his doctor’s appointment, I had to pee again. And since J&A couldn’t let us in their house…. yep, we swung past home again.

After we left J&A, I was able to hold it until we got home, but I was definitely paying attention to my bladder.

“You have to plan potty breaks really carefully” is not the pandemic advice I ever expected during Before Times.



Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 10:06 pm by ducky

I know we are having a pandemic, but I am getting tired of masking. I will take it out on you, Dear Reader, because, well, I can.

A few years ago, when there were really bad wildfires, my spouse and I bought eight N95 masks for particulates (i.e. with vents in them).

When the pandemic hit, I taped up the vents and used them in particularly scary situations (like when I went to the doctor for something).

Even reusing the N95s for a while, we used up most of our stock of N95s. I didn’t want to use them all up, so I researched alternatives, and found that a simple cheap surgical mask was allegedly as good as an N95 if you wore a mask brace over it. Awesome.

I bought a mask brace, put it over a surgical mask, and went for a long walk to test it. The brace did a great job of eliminating gaps, and it made my glasses fog less, but the brace also held the mask so close to my mouth that I couldn’t avoid getting my lips on it. At the end of a 90-min walk, it was wet. I hear that they are less effective after you get them wet.

I still had one of my old N95s, so I pulled the tape off and now wear it under my surgical mask under the brace, purely for structural reasons, to keep the surgical mask away from my mouth. Great!

Well, except that if it’s raining, as it does frequently in the Pacific Northwest in the winter (aka “always”), the N95 keeps the mask far enough from my mouth that it sticks out farther than my hat can shield it, and the rain gets on it. So if it starts to rain, I need to take the mask off.

(I am not too worried about being outdoors in the rain without a mask. First, the outdoors is very well-ventilated. Second, when it’s raining, there are fewer people out and about. Third, I figure that the rain will hit some of the virus particles and knock them down.)

So anyway, that’s the context.

Here’s what I did today.

  1. Got ready to leave the apartment and get into a small, poorly-ventilated enclosed space (the elevator). Took off glasses, put on N95/mask/brace/glasses/hat.
  2. Got outside the apartment building. It was raining. Took off hat/glasses/brace/mask/N95, replaces glasses and hat.
  3. Walked to hospital, prepared to enter hospital. Took off glasses/hat, put on N95/mask/brace/glasses/hat.
  4. Sinus doctor wanted to stick things in my nose. Took off hat/glasses/brace/mask/N95, replaced glasses.
  5. Sinus doctor removed nasal truffles (but that’s a whole different story). Doc said that he didn’t think he got them all but he thought that to get the rest he’d have to anesthetize me. Took off glasses, put on N95/mask/brace/glasses/hat.
  6. Went outside. No longer raining. Stifled a massive sneeze, and somehow a nasal truffle ended up in my mouth. Took off glasses/hat/N95/mask/brace. Replaced glasses.
  7. Spat out the nasal truffle, examined it, took photo. Took off glasses, put on N95/mask/brace/glasses/hat.
  8. Walked over to cell phone store to get my cracked phone screen replaced. They told me to wait an hour. Went outside and wandered around for a little bit before deciding to grab some lunch. It started raining again. Took off hat/glasses/brace/mask/N95, replaced glasses/hat.
  9. Decided on pizza. Under the pizzeria’s awning, took off glasses/hat, put on N95/mask/brace/glasses/hat.
  10. Got my slice, went and sat at a table outside under the awning. (Yes, it is cold but I’ve got good gear on.) Took off hat/glasses/brace/mask/N95, replaced glasses/hat.
  11. Finished my lunch. Went back to phone store. Took off glasses/hat, put on N95/mask/brace/hat/glasses.
  12. Got my phone, left shop. Still raining. Took off hat/glasses/brace/mask/N95, replaced glasses/hat.
  13. Walked to drug store. Took off glasses/hat, put on N95/mask/brace/hat/glasses.
  14. Left drug store, disappointed that they did not have face shields in stock which would protect the mask from rain. Still raining. Took off hat/glasses/brace/mask/N95, replaced glasses/hat.
  15. Walked to apartment building. Took off glasses/hat, put on N95/mask/brace/hat/glasses.
  16. Entered our apartment. Took off hat/glasses/brace/mask/N95, replaced glasses.

I realize that putting on/taking off masks is a minor inconvenience compared to, say, not breathing, but it’s still annoying. I am ready for the rain to stop.


Why are there so many COVID-19 vaccine candidates?

Posted in Random thoughts, Technology trends at 4:52 pm by ducky

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker lists 292 vaccines in development as of 2021-01-26, and there is at least one not on that list yet. At least 69 vaccine candidates are currently in clinical trials.

Why are there so many? Surely, you say, we don’t need so many candidates. Why did so many companies try? Why don’t most of them quit now. Why don’t the losers just manufacture the winners’ vaccines?

There are several reasons why there are so many.

  1. There are nearly 8 billion people out there. That huge market means a huge opportunity to make money, so many people wanted to invest.
  2. There are lots of different market segments out there, and not all vaccines are appropriate for all markets. For example:
  3. Countries have a financial incentive to fund domestic development of vaccines. COVID-19 costs a huge, huge amount in lives, money, and social well-being, for every single day that the pandemic continues. Compared to being in a pandemic longer, a vaccine development program is cheap.
  4. Countries have domestic security reasons to develop their own vaccines:
    • Countries would rather not have to inject their citizens with liquids coming from their political rivals. For example, Taiwan might not want not trust vaccines from China.
    • There are (IMHO legitimate) concerns that other countries might slap export controls on vaccines developed in their home countries, insisting that those vaccines go to their own citizens first. Countries have no control over when they can have access to foreign vaccines, but might be able to exert some control over domestic providers’ priority and sequencing choices.
  5. Players — both countries and companies — have an incentive to invest in vaccine technology to ensure long-term competitiveness, especially for mRNA vaccines. The mRNA vaccines are so good that being able to make them domestically is a huge strength, both in terms of being able to make your citizens healthier in the future and in terms of increasing your country’s economic might.

As for the question of why the losers don’t just manufacture the “winners'” vaccines, in addition to #5 above:

  • The “losers” might not have accepted yet that they have “lost”. Even if the pandemic eases in the developed countries in the next year, there’s still going to be billions of people who still need the vaccine. So even if the “loser” vaccine doesn’t get to market for a year, there’s still a lot of time to make money on the vaccine after that.
  • The “winners” might not feel comfortable licensing their manufacturing technology to their rivals. Why should Moderna show Providence Therapeutics how to make mRNA vaccines, when Providence might turn into a competitor later on?
    • It would make more sense for the “winners” to flat-out buy their competitors. The winners presumably are making money right now, so they ought to be able to afford it.
  • The “winners” are busy right now. They are making (and selling!) vaccines as fast as they can at the moment. Technology transfer deals — or outright purchases — take time and attention, and companies like Moderna probably do not have any attention to spare at the moment. Look for deals in a year or two. (Right now, Pfizer is doing an internal upgrade to its factory to boost production, causing a short-term drop in supply, causing people to totally lose their collective shit enormous consternation among their customers.)


Switching strains in mRNA vaccines

Posted in Health, Random thoughts, Technology trends at 12:13 am by ducky

There is a lot of nervousness right now about new strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There is now very good evidence that the B.1.1.7 (“UK”) strain is more transmissible than the original strain (which I will call the “Wuhan” strain because I haven’t seen anyone give it a name). There are also strains out of South Africa and Brazil which have similar mutations and are similarly worrying.

So I have been wondering how fast Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech could tweak their strains to produce vaccines targeting the UK strain instead of the Wuhan strain. That has not been entirely straightforward to figure out, but I think I have finally pieced it together from reading, mostly from this and this.

The things that need to be done include:

  • Get the DNA sequence of the new strain’s spike protein. That’s something which comes from outside the company. (Zero additional time.)
  • Modify the sequence slightly in completely predictable ways: add a start block on, add an end block, convert all the thymine with 1-methyl-3’-pseudouridylyl, translate some bases into equivalent sequences to get a higher proportion of cytosine and guanine, etc. (See Reverse Engineering the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine for more on these algorithmic modifications.) (Educated guess: probably fifteen minutes of additional time, not even worth counting.)
  • Modify the sequence slightly to improve manufacturability. This will be a proprietary step that the company will do. Given how small the physical changes are between the Wuhan strain and the UK strain, I suspect that this step will not take long, and possibly could be skipped. (Guess: 0-1 days.)
  • Convert the text sequence into physical DNA, the “template DNA”. This is a completely straightforward, common process, but I don’t know how long it takes to get the amount of DNA needed. (Guess: 1-4 days)
  • Verify that you got the right DNA, I assume using a PCR test. (6 hours, 0.25 days)

After this point, all the rest of the production steps are exactly the same as are already being done for the Wuhan strain. If I were Pfizer or Moderna, I would already have done the previous steps for all of the scary variant strains and have a bunch of DNA on ice, ready to ship out if the green light was given. So it might in fact be zero additional days. (2-6 weeks, 6 weeks)

Addendum 2021-03-02: This article says that finish & fill — testing, getting the serum into the bottles, and labelling — take five weeks.

I have not heard of any official floating the idea of modifying the vaccine, probably because it looks like the Wuhan vaccine will be good enough against the UK strain. (Addendum: the B.1.351 is a different matter.) However, if there started to be rumbling about how the vaccine should be changed, if I were Pfizer or Moderna, I would actually go through all the steps to make enough doses of the UK vaccine for testing if need be.

At this point, the new vaccine would need some testing. According to the FDA officials, this would not need to be a full randomized clinical trial:

It might be the first time we do it, we’ll check an immunogenicity study. But it’s not going to have to be another 30,000 patient clinical trial. Those immunogenicity studies are usually 400 patients, just to make sure that we have the right check of what’s coming out. And even that may not be necessary after we check at the first one or two times. So I think we’ll have a way of evolving here with these.

If I understand correctly, immunogenicity studies are tests of the blood which check to make sure that the vaccine causes the desired immune response.

This would mean that the the company would vaccinate volunteers — apparently about 400 — give them enough time for their immune system to react

  • Recruit test participants. Hopefully they would have volunteers ready to go. (Zero additional days.)
  • Inject test participants with their first dose. One vaccinator plus support staff in a high-throughput clinic can vaccinate 30 people per hour, so with appropriate application of resources, it should be no problem to get them all vaccinated in one day. (1 day.)
  • Wait for the test participants’ immune systems to react to the vaccines. (14 days.)
  • At this point, the test participants’ blood could be tested to see if it mounts the desired immune response. One might think they could stop there, but regulatory agencies probably would want to check after the second dose. Moderna ran their first trials with a 21 day delay; Pfizer did a 28 day delay. (7 or 14 more days) Addendum 2021-03-04: These new vaccines are being positioned as boosters, which means there would not be a second dose.
  • Give all the volunteers their second dose. (1 day)
  • Wait for the volunteers’ immune systems to react to the vaccines. (14 days.)
  • Take blood samples from the test participants. (1 day)
  • Test blood to see if it mounts the desired immune response. (Guess: 2 days)
  • Write up report. I think this wouldn’t take long because they could copy and paste a lot from the Wuhan vaccine’s report. (Guess: 2-7 days.)
  • At this point, it would go to the regulatory bodies.

Add that all up, and it comes out to about 7-8 weeks from finishing the vaccine production to the data delivered to regulators, 3-4 weeks if they only require one dose.

The regulators would need to evaluate the data. Different regulators take different lengths of times, but the Pfizer vaccine took about three weeks from the application to approval by the US Food and Drug administration, and about the same amount of time for Health Canada to approve it. A new strain would have far less data to pore through, so I would guess it would be only a week or so. (Guess: 1-3 weeks) Addendum 2021-03-04: I’m now thinking 1 week is probably too optimistic. Say 1-3 weeks.

In summary, my best guess is 4-6 weeks to manufacture the new vaccine, 7-8 weeks to do clinical trials, and 1-3 weeks for approval, or a total of 12-18 weeks.

Addendum 2021-02-06: According to a Washington Post article on 2021-01-25, Moderna has started working on a vaccine for the P.1 variant.

The scientific and pharmaceutical race to keep coronavirus vaccines ahead of new virus variants escalated Monday, even as a highly transmissible variant first detected in people who had recently traveled to Brazil was discovered in Minnesota.

Moderna, the maker of one of the two authorized coronavirus vaccines in the United States, announced it would develop and test a new vaccine tailored to block a similar mutation-riddled virus variant in case an updated shot becomes necessary.


Addendum 2021-02-07: I forgot that the delay between the first and second dose is not 14 days, it’s 21 (for Moderna) and 28 (for Pfizer). I have adjusted accordingly.

Addendum 2021-02-19: Today, an article in the Washington Post said

A prime inventor of the technology behind mRNA vaccines, Drew Weissman, of the University of Pennsylvania, said he has been told by the leader of BioNTech that it could take as little as six weeks to formulate a new mRNA payload and manufacture it to target a variant. Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla told investors earlier this month that he anticipates that a variant-specific vaccine could be approved in 100 days, including clinical testing and regulatory reviews.

Addendum 2021-02-23: Pfizer says that it has gotten its manufacturing time down to 60 days (from 100). That’s 8.5 weeks, so my estimate was optimistic.

Addendum 2021-02-24: Moderna has started a Phase 1 trial of a vaccine specifically against the B.1.351 (South African) strain. Pfizer announced that they are going to do a test also.

Addendum 2021-02-25 from an article dated 2021-02-22: the US FDA has released guidelines on what testing vaccines against variant strains will need to do. They need to vaccinate volunteers with the variant vaccine, and look at the blood to see how big of a response to the virus variants the volunteers’ blood makes. If the response is comparable to the one from the Classic vaccines, it’s a go. Addendum 2021-03-04: There’s a consortium of European non-EU countries which says the same basic thing about approving vaccines against new strains.


Moon landing and mRNA

Posted in Random thoughts, Technology trends at 5:34 pm by ducky

It does not seem appropriate to feel proud for things I had no part in. I don’t feel proud that the Sony recording of Saint-Saens: Cello Concerto No. 1 / Piano Concerto No. 2 / Violin Concerto No. 3 is awesome, for example.

However, I am proud of the moon landing. Not personally, but as a human. I am incredibly proud that we — collectively, over the centuries — managed to land on another celestial body.

The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich makes the case that “learning from others” is what sets humans apart from all the other animals. Apparently we are really really good at learning from others compared to other animals.

The moon landing is a great example of this. To get to the moon, we had to build upon many technological achievements. We humans invented writing and governments and paper and books and lending libraries and addition and subtraction and exponents and the zero and protractors and slide rules and furnaces and tin snips and fireworks and rockets and tubes and space suits and we did it! Us humans!

I am also proud, as a human being, of mRNA vaccines.

Not at first — I was a little nervous about the mRNA vaccines when they first got approved for use against COVID-19. The mRNA vaccine was a very new technology, and there was a huge amount of pressure. Did corners get cut, sacrificing safety for speed?

But after reading a bit about it (especially this explanation), I was in absolute awe. The mRNA vaccines are sort of like “pre-vaccines”, which convince our own bodies to make the things we want our bodies to recognize and destroy. Instead of injecting us with millions of SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, we get injected with instructions for our cells to make bazillions of spike proteins. This makes the mRNA vaccines 95% effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

From xkcd

The mRNA vaccines are so beautiful (and effective) that they make all other vaccines now look primitive to me, like clumsy bumblings of extremely lucky ignoramuses. (“How did they ever work???”, I marvel.)

We humans — collectively, over the centuries — managed to figure out chemistry and anatomy and microscopes and cells and X-Rays and DNA and stop codons and antibodies and sequencing and ribosomes and introns and synthesis and how to do randomized clinical trials lipid nanoparticles and proline substitution and we did it!

Go humans!


Tommaso, Riccardo, e Araldo

Posted in Random thoughts at 9:55 pm by ducky

I recently discovered that Italian has something similar to but not identical to the English “Tom, Dick, and Harry”: “Tizio, Caio and Sempronio”.

While in English, “Tom, Dick, and Harry” means “everyone” (and “Tom, Dick, or Harry” means anyone), “Tizio”, “Caio” and “Sempronio” are placeholders for actual humans whose identities are not important.  (In computer science terms, they are aliases.)

You might use them like this:

We had real trouble in our Zoom class last night.  First, Tizio couldn’t find the link for the video.  Then when we were all trying to watch the video, Caio’s dog started barking and Caio couldn’t figure out how to mute. Finally, once we got into a breakout room, Sempronio couldn’t figure out how to unmute herself!

In English, the first thing I could think of was “Alice” and “Bob” (which are canonical names in the computer security field for two people trying to pass a message securely), but those are people with specific roles, not aliases for some person who is very specific in the story you’re telling.  Similarly, “Karen” has the role of being an entitled jerk, while “Chad” has the role of getting all the chicks. 

While I am not familiar with the usage, apparently “Bubba” is used sort of like “John, Dick, or Harry” in some cases.

“John Doe” is used in a somewhat similar manner to Tizio, Caio and Sempronio, but that name is is used to deliberately obscure someone’s identity, or when the identity is unknown.  Tizio, Caio and Sempronio, on the other hand, are used when it doesn’t matter.  (I don’t remember which of my classmates had trouble with her mute button, but it doesn’t matter to the story.)

The Wikipedia page on Tizio, Caio, e Sempronio (in Italian) says that there are analogues in other languages, including “Pierre, Paul ou Jacques” in French, “Hinz und Kunz” in German, and “Andersson, Pettersson och Lundström” in Swedish.  (The page also mentions “Tom, Dick, and Harry”, so the exact details of how these names are used clearly varies by language.)

Tizio, Caio and Sempronio were real figures in Roman history, and the use of their names in this way is veerrrrry old, first showing up in legal writings in ~1000AD.

Language is so interesting!


Watching the beginnings of COVID-19

Posted in Canadian life, Politics, Random thoughts at 6:50 pm by ducky

On 22 Oct 1987, when the stock market crashed hard, I happened to be on the UCSB campus. I was surprised that the sun was out and people were smiling and laughing. I immediately realized that it was stupid to expect the world to turn black&white and bread lines to form immediately.

Still, that’s the place my brain jumped to.

I am having a similar odd disconnect right now. COVID-19 has been going for several months now, and yesterday there was widespread and somewhat sudden action in both the US and Canada.

Everything is going to be vastly changed for weeks, or months, maybe even a few years, and yet I see people walking blithely down the street, cars driving across the bridges, and joggers running on the seawall. Acting normal.

Meanwhile, I think about the last global pandemic, the Spanish Flu. When I was growing up (born in the 60s), I never heard about the Spanish Flu. It really wasn’t until the Web came along that I got the full story. Why didn’t anyone (like my grandparents, who were teenagers in 1918) talk about it before?

Maybe it was boring to them because everyone they knew had talked about it forever. I bet, however, it was because it was too traumatic. I know that I don’t like to discuss Trump’s election or the Iraq war because it is so painful for me.

And I wonder where that switch gets flipped. How does that transition happen? How will we go from today’s blitheness to it being too painful to talk about it?

I suspect the answer is “lots of trauma”. I’m not looking forward to that.


The Perfect To-Do List Manager

Posted in Hacking, Random thoughts, Technology trends at 5:11 pm by ducky

There are a huge number of to-do list managers (TDLMs) out in the world now, but none of them do what I want.  Apparently, it’s not just me: I just read an article which said that when students were asked what mobile apps they really wanted, 20% said they wanted “a comprehensive to-do + calendaring + life management app that helps them better organize their lives”.  TWENTY percent!

Is it really that hard?

I have strong opinions about what I want, and I don’t think it’s that hard, so I will describe my desires here in the hopes that somebody will make me the perfect TDLM.  (Some of the features you can see in a TDLM which I wrote for a class project.  Sometimes I think about writing my perfect TDLM, but I’m busy with other things.  I want it to exist, not to write it myself.)

The most important thing is that the TDLM should make you feel better about your tasks.  The biggest problem with TDLMs right now is that they make you feel guilty: the list grows and grows and grows because there are an infinite number of things it would be nice to do and only a finite amount of time.  This means that every time you open the TDLM, you feel overwhelmed by guilt at all the things you haven’t done yet.

1. Hide stuff you can’t work on right now because of blocking tasks.  Don’t show me “paint the bedroom” if I haven’t finished the task of “choose colour for bedroom”.  (This means you need UI for showing what tasks depend upon which other tasks, and I warn you that’s not as easy as you think.)

2. Hide stuff you won’t work on right now because you are busy with other things.  Don’t show me “paint the bedroom” if I have decided that I’m not going to start that project until I finish doing my taxes.  “Do taxes” is not truly a blocking task — it’s not like I am going to use the tax forms to apply the paint — but hide it anyway. (This means you need UI for showing what the sequencing of tasks is.)

3. Hide stuff you won’t work on right now because it is the wrong time of year.  Maybe you want a task of “buy new winter jacket”, but you want to wait until the end of winter to get take advantage of the sales on coats.  You should to be able to tell your TDLM to hide that task until March.  (Or until May, if you live in Manitoba.)  Or “rotate tires” is something which only needs to happen every six months.

Note that this implies connecting the TDLM to a calendar, at least minimally.

4. Allow recurring to-do list items.  I don’t want to have to make a new task for our wedding anniversary every year.  I want to set it once and forget it.  Usually people put things on their calendars for repeating events, but “Wedding Anniversary” goes on August 22nd and is not a task.  “Plan something for anniversary” is a recurring task but should be hidden until at about August 1st.

The TDLM should distinguish between recurring tasks which expire and those which do not.  Non-expiring tasks are ones like “pay phone bill”.  Even if you forget to pay it by the due date, you still need to deal with it.  On the other hand, “run 2km” is an expiring item: if you couldn’t do your 2km run on Monday, it probably does not mean that you should run 4km on Wednesday.

5. Make me feel super-good about finishing tasks.  A lot of TDLMs handle checking something as done by making it disappear.   This is the worst.  I’ve spent hours, weeks, or months looking at that dang task, and when I finally finish it, I want to savour the moment!  I want my TDLM to cheer, to have fireworks explode on the screen, and maybe even have the text of the task writhe in agony as it dies an ugly painful death.  I want there to be a display case in my TDLM of things that I have finished recently that I can look at with pride.  “Yeah”, I can think, “I am ***DONE*** with painting the bedroom!”  Maybe I don’t need full fireworks for a simple, one-step task which took 15 minutes, but if it was a 2000-step task which took 5 years (like getting a PhD or something like that), I want the TDLM to cheer for a full five minutes.

6. Let me see what I did. Sometimes, I feel like I didn’t get anything done, and it is reassuring to look at a list of the things that I actually did accomplish.  It might be nice to show it in a horizontal latest-first timeline form:

  • 4:47 pm Laundry
  • 3:13 pm Groceries
  • 12:11 pm Replace laptop display
  • (etc)

I would also like to be able to modify the task completion times.  “Oh, I actually finished replacing the laptop last night, I just didn’t feel like telling the TDLM because it was late and I was tired.”

7. Let me see what I am going to do.  People usually use calendars for this, but as I mentioned before, calendars are kind of the wrong tool.  I don’t really want to see “buy birthday present for Mom” in the same place as “Meet with boss, 10:30 AM”.  Plus, a strict time-base is makes zero sense if the dependencies are other tasks.

8. Let me import/modify/export task hierarchies.  Suppose you want to have a wedding.  (Mazel Tov!)  There are predictable things which you need to do: book a space for the wedding, a space for the reception, book an officiant, book a caterer, choose a menu, etc.   If, say, you want a wedding sort of like your friend Joanne’s, it would be nice if Joanne could email you the hierarchy of tasks that she did for her wedding, and you could just drop it in to your TDLM.  (Perhaps that way, you wouldn’t forget to rent a dance floor.)

But maybe you have some Greek heritage and Joanne does not, so you need to add “get a stefana” to your list.  You should be able to do that — and then export your new wedding task list for your brother when he gets married.  Even better, you ought to be able to upload it to a site which hosts lots of packaged tasks, maybe even a whole section on weddings (so your brother could pick and choose which wedding task list he likes best).

Needless to say, the exported task hierarchy should be in a form which lends itself well to version control and diffing.  🙂

9. Let me collaborate on tasks with other people.  I would like to be able to share my “home” tasks with my husband, so that he could assign me tasks like “buy three kitchen sponges”.  Ideally, I’d think I’d like to be able to see three task lists: his, mine, and ours.

My husband and I would probably set things up to both have read/write permission on all three — but there are some things that only one of us can or should do.  I can imagine other couples might want to not have write permission on each other’s, only on the “ours” one.

10. Make it easy to discuss tasks.  This means assigning a simple ID and URL to the task.  If Jim and I are going to share tasks, we are going to discuss them.  It would be nice to be able to say, “Task #45” instead of “that one about the paintbrushes”.  It would also be nice to be able to email a link to him which will take him right to Task #45.

11. (Nice to have) Allow putting a time estimate on the task.  If you know that it takes you about two hours to get to your locker, change clothes, stretch, run 2km, stretch, shower, change clothes, and get back to your workplace, then it might be nice to put in an estimate for the “run 2km” task.

If you can put a time estimate on a task and adjust it later, the TDLM could keep track of estimated vs. actual, and start to help you adjust your estimates.  “For tasks which you estimate are going to be about 3hrs, you spend an average of 4.15 hrs.”

It would also be nice if the TDLM could help you make estimates based on similar tasks which you completed.  When entering an estimate for painting the living room, it would be nice if the TDLM mentioned, off to the side, how long it took you to paint the bathroom and the bedroom.  (It’s even okay if it also tells you how long it took you to paint the landscape or your fingernails; presumably you’d be smart enough to figure out which tasks were relevant.)

12. (Nice to have) Make the TDLM geo-aware.  It would be kind of nice to be able to hide tasks until I was at or near a particular location.  For example, if I am not in a big hurry to paint the bedroom, hide “buy paint” until I am actually at the paint store.

Something requested by the students in the article I mentioned earlier was being told to leave in order to make it to the next appointment.  “Doctor’s appointment at 3pm” is a calendar event, but “get to doctor’s office” is a task which needs to happen at a time which depends upon how long it takes to get to the doctor’s office from where you are.  That’s another way that geo-awareness could be useful.

13. (Maybe nice to have) Be able to mark urgency.  I am not actually certain how useful this is.  I have had TDLMs which allowed me to mark urgency, and I found that I almost never used it.  I think people will expect it, however.

14. (Nice to have, but difficult) Integrate with my applications.  Tasktop Technologies has a product called Tasktop Dev, which kept track of what you did in the source code editor (and some other applications, e.g. web browser and Microsoft Office) while you were working on a specific task.  (You had to tell it, “now I am working on task #47” so that it would know to start watching.)  Then, there was a record of what you worked on for that task.  That was useful if you needed to stop and restart the task (especially over a long period of time), or if you needed to go back a long time later and see what you had done.  (“What was the URL of that caterer with the really nice cheesecake?”)

In a work environment, it would be nice to integrate it with other task management systems (AKA “bug trackers”) like Jira or Asana or Bugzilla.

This is what I want.  If it persists in not existing, I might have to do it myself someday.  (27 July 2020 — I got tired of waiting.  I am  now developing the perfect to-do list manager, and it has already changed my life.)


Google Glasses app to help autistic people?

Posted in Random thoughts, Technology trends at 2:11 pm by ducky

I have heard that looking at faces is difficult for people with autism. I don’t understand it, but the impression I gotten from reading descriptions from high-functioning adults that the facial recognition hardware has a bug which causes some sort of feedback loop that is uncomfortable.

What if there was a Google Glasses application which put ovals in front of people’s faces? Blue ovals if they were not looking at you, pink ovals if they are. Maybe a line to show where the center line of their face is.

Maybe that would make it more comfortable to be around collections of people.


AP takes hyphen out of email!

Posted in Email, Random thoughts, Technology trends at 11:47 pm by ducky

Today the AP decided to change its style guide to drop the use of a hyphen in “e-mail”.  I feel vindicated.

When I was writing my books, lo those many years ago, I bucked the prevailing style guides and left the hyphen out.  The hyphen in “e-mail” just looked wrong to me.  “Besides”, I said, “there aren’t any other words that use the pattern ‘<letter>-hyphen-<word>'”.

Well, I proved myself wrong shortly after that:

A is the A-list of who’s the “in crowd”,

B is for B-school to make Mamma proud.

C is for C-note (the gangster’s small change),

While D’s for D-day which cut Adolf’s range.

E is for E-mail, an electronic note,

F is for F-word (that daren’t be spoke).

G is for G-string that dancers must wear,

and H’s for H-bomb to fight the Red Scare.

I is for I-beam to make a strong fort,

and J’s for J-school to learn to report.

K is for K-9, the cop that goes woof,

while L’s for L-bracket (to hold on your roof).

M is for M-dash (the one that is long),

with N for N-dash (all over this song).

O is for O-ring of Space Shuttle tears,

Q is the Q-tips you stick in your ears.

R is for R-value home insulations,

S is for S-set used in German nations.

T is for T-shirt that Americans wear,

and U’s for the U-joint of auto repair.

V is for V-neck which looks rather dressy,

X is for X-ray which acts to undress ye.

Y is for none else but Y-chromosome,

and if I knew Z I could maybe go home.

But you probably noticed I slipped past a few

I left out the P and W.

M-dash and N-dash are sort of a cheat,

But say what you will, they do keep the beat.

But if you know how to make this song better,

Send me a rhyme for your favorite letter!

Other people pointed out F-4, K-12, K-car, K-mart, N-word, O-levels, P-Funk, P-Furs, P-channel and n-channel, T-ball, T-square, U-boat, V-day, W-2, X- and Y-chromosome, and Z-buffering.

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »