Covid-19 in New York #3 (July 26)

Upstate New York was doing great for a while. From mid-June until July 9, there were only 1 or 2 active cases of Covid-19 in our county. Most surrounding counties were equally low.

I think people started to think the problem was all over. They visited out of state, and had Independence Day parties without masks or social distancing. As a result, Covid-19 surged back. This past week, the number of active cases in the county has ranged from 32 to 39. It’s almost as many as during the peak in late March. Surrounding counties also have spikes. Oops.

At the peak in March, there were 18 people hospitalized with Covid-19. That dropped to zero, most days in May and June. This week saw a maximum of 4, but it quickly went back to zero. There is much more testing now, so March and April probably had hundreds of hidden cases.

Fortunately, still no deaths in Ithaca and environs. Some nearby counties have experienced 10 to 60 fatalities, especially where the disease hit nursing homes.

On a national scale, the State Rt tracker is starting to show interesting wiggly curves for most states. Growth rates go up, until there are enough cases to make people panic and become more careful. Then growth rates decline, until people breathe a sigh of relief and go back to their old ways. Rinse, repeat.

Globally, cases are exponential again. The number of new daily cases is increasing with the same curve as cumulative cases. That’s how exponentials work.

This disease is not fading away just because the weather is hot. It probably will get worse in the Fall. Many vaccines are under development, but getting a well-tested one that’s both safe and effective is still many months off. So the big question is, how to have some semblance of a normal life as long as Covid-19 is still around?

The IHME Covid Projections site makes predictions for most countries and all US states. It now estimates deaths and infections up until November 1, calculated with and without universal mask adoption. The difference is huge, especially in places that are currently hit hard. Overall I think masks are probably the cheapest and easiest way to reduce transmission, and still carry on economic activity that is as close to normal as possible. There are other options too, but none better than blocking those pesky snot droplets right at the source.

Personally, I wear an N95 mask a lot. Definitely indoors in places with other people. Also outdoors when within 6 feet of anyone who is well-masked. I give 20 feet to anyone bare-faced, or wearing a chin-warmer. I saved seven N95s from a box left over from lead paint removal, and labeled one for each day of the week. They all have an exhaust port, but I put tape over it as a courtesy to other people. After 4 months of use the straps are starting to get ragged, but they still work. Hopefully they’ll last until replacements are back in stock.

Many people around here wear masks, and/or give other people plenty of distance. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of Covidiots who don’t give a crap. I asked one non-masked jogger to give me 6 feet as he charged at me on the sidewalk, and he just ran up close and laughed ha ha right in my face. So now I listen for footsteps and scramble out of the way. It’s safer to walk in traffic, rather than close to idiots/narcissists/sociopaths/whatever.

It’s really too bad that the US recommended against face masks for so long. Too bad that leaders didn’t set an example, for so long. The Feds and most states still haven’t figured out effective messaging, to get people to wear them (and wear them properly). I would suggest pushing a conspiracy theory that Bill Gates has cameras everywhere, and masks are the only way to escape surveillance. Its software uses nose and mouth, so make sure both are covered well.

The only good news is that the US approach is going to be great for epidemiologists. There are 50 different states doing different things, and getting different results. Thousands of cities and counties with assorted rules, and varying compliance rates. It’s going to be incredibly useful data.

Meanwhile, I am still stripping old asphalt and adding new metal roofing on my house. The project just hit 25% completion. I’ve never assembled scaffolding before, nor worked with such long sheets. It’s quite a challenge to remove 3.5 tons of decades-old shingle without creating a mess.

So far I have made almost every possible mistake. I guess that is pretty much how I’ve always learned construction. Or programming. Or anything else in life.

Maybe that’s what the USA also needs to do: make every possible mistake. Then the next pandemic will be easier.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

Goldenseal Pro & QT: First Look (July 20)

Over the past few weeks, our staff has been learning the QT framework. It’s still too early to tell for sure if it will work for the new Goldenseal Pro accounting software, but at least it hasn’t been a disaster like Microsoft’s WinUI 2.4.

In 2015 we hired a contractor to build Goldenseal Pro with QT. He started with the C++ source code for the current Goldenseal, and gradually added QT interface code. With hindsight, that approach probably was a mistake. The project became too complicated, and I think he was soon overwhelmed. We paid him for the first draw, but the project stalled out soon after that.

What we will do instead is ignore our current code, and build the new interface completely in QT. If and when that looks good and works well, then it’s time to link in our existing code.

With that approach, we’ll waste less time if QT turns out to be a total dud. And we’ll have a better idea of its limitations, before we design the links between our code and the GUI human interface. I suspect that if we had done that with Apple’s Cocoa framework, we would have discovered its fatal flaws six months or a year more quickly.

QT does some weird stuff with the C++ language: that is one reason we decided not to continue with it, back in 2015. But since then we’ve dealt with even worse stuff in Apple’s Cocoa framework, and Microsoft’s MFC. Now the programming quirks in QT seem downright tame. We can get used to them. Five years of upgrades also helps.

I’m cautiously excited about the prospects of actually getting QT to work. It creates versions for both Mac and Windows, which is a big improvement from where we were ten months ago.

Of course, it will take at least another month or two before we’ve mastered QT enough to actually start using it. There are a couple more books to work through first.

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There was a spell in the 1990s when TurtleSoft seriously considered selling out to a bigger competitor, and moving on to something new. One possibility was Timberline Software (the biggest construction software at the time). Discussions with them went in circles, and ended up nowhere. A couple years later I talked with one of their ex-salesmen at a trade show. He described them like this: “Timberline grew too fast. It created a vacuum in the middle, which sucked in layers upon layers of assholes.”

I suspect that same history may apply to Apple and Microsoft. They were young and feisty underdogs in the late 1980s. Our first products used their tools, which were productive and sometimes even fun to use. Now both companies are fat and arrogant monopolies, with too many layers in the middle.

QT is much smaller. We’ll soon find out if that helps.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

Covid-19: USA and the World (July 8)

I spent a couple days with Excel, futzing with John Hopkins data for Covid-19. The result is charts showing per-capita infections for the 90 most populous countries (confirmed cases per 100K people). They divide up fairly neatly into 5 groups.

First of all are countries that contained the virus quickly. Except for one city in China, their hospitals were not overwhelmed. Life is close to normal for them, now.

This group is about 27% of the global population, mostly in East Asia. That region had a scary experience with the SARS epidemic, so they knew just what to do for the Covid-19 outbreak: quarantines, contact tracing, testing. Local lockdowns when those weren’t enough. Almost everyone wore masks in public, even before the pandemic. They do help.

Next are countries with a low rate that is still growing. These are about 20% of global population. Almost all are Third World or close. That means the low numbers could be from lack of testing, rather than lack of disease. Australia (thicker line) is the outlier. They contained the outbreak for several months, but Covid-19 has recently started to increase again. It’s mid-winter in the Southern Hemisphere, which may be the culprit. That will also be the theme for other countries, later.

For the next three graphs, the vertical scale is compressed by 5x compared to the previous two.

The “getting serious” middle group has exponential growth, with infection rates that are just starting to be dangerous. Columbia (thick blue line) and Mexico (thick red line) are the worst. India (thick green line) is lowest per capita, but it may be under-reported. These countries make up about 36% of global population.

The fourth group had scary rates of infection in March to April, but they are mostly contained for now. Covid-19 snuck up on them, but all these countries responded well. All are First World countries, with 5% of global population.

Then there are the 15 countries already facing a serious impact from Covid-19, with infection counts that are still increasing. You might say these are the basket cases.

Worst of all is Chile (black line), which currently has 1,527 confirmed infections per 100,000 people. That’s over 1.5% of their population. It made the graph too tall for WordPress to handle, so I had to cut it off at the top. Peru (green) is #2 with .91% infected, Bolivia is #11, and South Africa (purple) is #12 and growing fast. Argentina is also exponential, but just below the cutoff I used. All five of those countries are in their winter seasons. That probably is a very bad omen for the Northern Hemisphere, looking ahead to Fall.

The next most bad-growing-worse countries got that way because of politics. USA (#3 red), Brazil (#4 yellow), Saudi Arabia (#6 orange) and Russia (#7 gray) all have autocratic rulers who started out denying that Covid-19 would be a problem. When proved wrong, they still didn’t do much to help fix things. Sweden (#5 light blue) tried a bold experiment, and didn’t shut down. They ended up with more infections, and an economy no better off than the rest of Europe.

All this stuff is just numbers, but it represents many people’s lives. Looking at that steep red line for the US makes me very angry, and very sad. How did we fuck up so badly? But I’d better stop now.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com