01 January 2025

Where to get my books

There are two options; Google Play, or the Draft2Digital publication targets. Google Play isn't available globally (though they intend to be, based on how the publisher interface sets up billing regions!). So you might need to try one of the Draft2Digital targets. Kobo seems to be a good fallback choice for availability though not for avoiding DRM.

Title Google Books2Read
The Human Dress on Google Play via Books2Read
The March North (Commonweal #1) on Google Play via Books2Read
A Succession of Bad Days (Commonweal #2) on Google Play via Books2Read
Safely You Deliver (Commonweal #3)                  on Google Play via Books2Read
Under One Banner (Commonweal #4) on Google Play via Books2Read
A Mist of Grit and Splinters (Commonweal #5) on Google Play via Books2Read

My current best understanding of how to download the EPUB file from Google Play.

Update 2019-01-29:  Amazon changed their agreement with Draft2Digital to require a whole lot of information transfer to Amazon.  I have removed The Human Dress from sale at Amazon. Still up everywhere else it was available.  (And has been added to a bunch of library services.)

11 September 2021

Voting is an obligation of citizenship

 Dear editor,

Duty is what you do so you like yourself in the future.  Necessity is what you do so you are in the future at all.

Civilization exists to keep us out of necessity. In a civilization, when you die, on the odds it wasn't from violence, starvation, or preventable diseases.

We've seen all the parties respond to a pandemic, a thing governed by necessity.  This tells us how well we can expect them to respond to other constraining necessities -- climate change, inequality, supply chain failures, a housing market that does not provide for all Canadians, and the consequences to the medical system of containing the pandemic.

In this election, we have no excellent choices.

We do still have choices; we can pick the candidates who will act to keep us as far from necessity as these present times allow.

Vote, so it's a little easier to like yourself in the future.  You will have tried.


Graydon Saunders

05 September 2021

The purpose of the system is what it does

William Gibson quote-tweeted someone musing about supply chains in a context of "is this going to delay necessary change?" and it makes me want to scream into the void.

You can't control an economy in detail past a certain size.

What you can do is pick your tradeoffs; the long-supply-chain economy we've got is that way because it maximizes profits not through detailed control (which, remember, does not work) but by biasing the system to have small numbers of any particular community of practice, which tends to improve returns on investment in any particular community of practice.  If there's one factory on earth making titanium cookware, investing in the factory is both more reliable (there's demand, this is the whole supply) and more profitable (there's no competition).  This pattern extends to everything.  It relies on cheap shipping, so that shipping resin from the US Gulf Coast to China makes sense as a way to manage your industrial inputs.

Cheap shipping relies on nothing going wrong; if stuff goes wrong, you have to build in margin for it, and margin costs.  Competitive shipping prices -- one of the few areas where real competition remains -- rip out all the margin.  ("Just-in-time scheduling" is a palatable term for "zero-resilience manufacturing"; it's a cost optimization that deliberately choses systemic fragility to raise profits.  This was and is policy, just as much as not paying labour is policy.)

The other thing is that you're substituting a reliable schedule for having a system.  Systems have feedback.  Price signals are not sufficient feedback. (Prices can't reflect events people do not know about.  "Where does the hurricane land?", and so on, aren't predictable.  Resiliency has a cost, but it's a structural cost, you can't price it into a low-resiliency system.)

Necessary change is NOT "infrastructure resilience".  Necessary change is stuff like performing the experiment to answer "how small an economy with zero fossil carbon inputs can provide critical services?" (the stuff like refrigeration and anesthetized dentistry and a comms infrastructure).  It's a completely different world (at a somewhat higher elevation).

We can't get there from here; the only route involves coming down off this local maximum, and the sooner you do it, the less it costs.  The more deliberately you do it, the more survivable it is. (With machine agriculture, failed supply chains can result in a failed food supply just as easily as general agricultural failure due to climate shifts.)

Society is a machine.  The machine we've got is there to make sure the rich get richer.  It is not capable of doing anything else. (As we can see from the comprehensive failure of a pandemic response, including the "I have no obligations to something that doesn't exist" responses about social duty.)  It's absolutely not capable of resilience.

We need something resilient.  We can have it as soon as we decide we're going to have it, instead of this.  It's not an "and" question; it's an instead.

04 September 2021

That's where my sense of doom went

 I'm not real happy about the election.  If this was a fairytale, everybody in the incumbent government who stayed in Cabinet rather than resign over approving new fossil carbon infrastructure would be last seen gnawing the dry bones of their children in a vast expanse of desolation.

They are, however, also the people who took obtaining vaccines seriously and who are trying, against substantial provincial incompetence, to get people vaccinated more and faster.

There are those failures in public life where you leave it, and never talk to anybody again. (Merely starting the Great War, as observe the later life of Mr. Hohenzollern.)

There are (supposedly) the kind of failures in public life where you apologize to the Empress;  we're already well past the point where Dougie's corpse ought to be discovered at the feet, or at least before the plinth, of the Queen's Park statue of Queen Victoria.

If you look at the Ontario COVID dashboard, for awhile there the "estimated percentage caused by Delta" was 100%.  Which is kinda expected; Delta displaces the other known variants.  It's such a problem precisely because it spreads better.

It helps to know that the testing for variants is minimal; Ontario tests for two (2) mutations, and classifies variants on that basis.  Right now, if it has neither the N501Y mutation nor the E484K mutation it's presumed to be Delta.

The current "estimated percentage caused by Delta" number is 99.5.  It was 99.6 yesterday.

There's been that daily tenth-of-a-percent tick down for a few days now.

My (rather numb) sense of doom looks at this and says "if something is displacing Delta, Ontario is not doing enough testing to be able to tell what it is."

If it's a Beta descendant (it could be; having N501Y would get it off the Delta list, and that was and is a marker for Beta (as well as Alpha and Gamma)), one is reminded that Beta was the one you could almost be glad Delta out-competed it because Beta was the one looking like it was headed at vaccine escape.

And here we are at 75% vaccinated, no mandatory vaccination, and lots of virus circulation. Pretty much precisely the environment to produce selection pressure for vaccine escape.

If that's what we've got happening, some historian is going to have coin a novel term for the magnitude of the failure.

15 August 2021

Making the pandemic political

 I've been seeing a lot of "why would?" remarks about attacks on health care workers.  (Mostly threats so far.)

The "culture war" isn't about culture; it's about where authority comes from.  If authority derives from facts, the consent of the governed, and the greatest good for the greatest number, a lot of powerful things go away. (Patriarchy.  Fixed hierarchical systems.  Fossil carbon extractive industries.)

How do you keep your authority -- the "it's true because I say so" authority of a fixed hierarchy -- in the presence of a pandemic and facts?  You don't change your mind; changing your mind runs you into the Iron Law of Bureaucracy (every organization acts to keep existing before it does anything else) and you stop being relevant to anything.  You come up with reasons to ignore the facts, and (since the pandemic is a fact, and the deaths are facts, and the insisting that it's not, it can't be, makes everything worse) you need something with a lot of emotional pull.  So you create increasingly outre stories about how the pandemic (or climate change, or the negative health consequences of air pollution, or...) isn't real.  And since you have to be relatively detached from reality -- to already have a considerable disdain for facts -- to start to believe the stories, you get a self-reinforcing spiral.  People commit their entire identities to falsifiable axioms.

Reality doesn't bend.  This creates a temptation to think "Surely people will see sense".

From the historical examples -- particularly cults predicting the end of the world -- no, people will not see sense.  Anything is emotionally cheaper than admitting your identity axioms are wrong.

The next step is to recognize that the construction of civil power inside a nation-state was invented to deal with this problem.  Which is why so much propaganda effort has gone into an effort to make people accept religious conviction as an excuse for flouting the law; if they can create that acceptance, they've broken the rule of law and the civil power.  It's pretty close to winning the fight, from the viewpoint of someone who wants to go back to control of women, cattle, and slaves as the core organizing principle of society.

This is one reason to be in favour of truly mandatory COVID vaccinations. (The other, stronger, reason is that it might work; a fully vaccinated population and some additional infection control gets us closer to extirpation.)

It's also a reason to recognize that there isn't a nice way forward.  There isn't a way to tactfully urge the people threatening nurses and doctors with death to reconsider their pandemic stance.  Some exercise of the civil power will be required.  It'll be better if that exercise addresses root causes; the lack of an upper bound on wealth is prominent among them.  The lack of a clear general awareness that a functioning society must be about bounds and not norms is another.

08 July 2021

Lagging indicators

 Vaccine effectiveness is measured; you give the vaccine to a number of people, and you count how many of them get sick from the thing you vaccinated them against, and you compare that to the expected number of sick people without vaccination.

The ethics panel won't let you deliberately infect your test group to see who gets sick from exactly how much measured exposure.  You're stuck using random exposure, and that is affected by behaviour.

We've known almost from the beginning that COVID-19 is a dose-dependent disease; how sick you get is influenced by how much virus you were exposed to when you were infected.

People who are not sure if they got the vaccine or the placebo, and who are further not sure that the vaccine works, go right on being cautious.  Caution reduces both their chance of being exposed and their dose if they are exposed.  (They are, after all, the sort of pro-science public-spirited people who sign up for vaccine trials; they don't want to get sick and they're at least aware of the "how not to get sick" guidelines and are probably following a bunch of them.)

People who think they're now immune are less cautious.  They get exposed more often and to statistically larger doses.  They get sick more than the test group does; the measured vaccine effectiveness is observed to go down.

Sure as death, the vaccine effectiveness has been reduced; that's exactly what you expect selection to do when you've got a functional vaccine, a big population of variously infected and vaccinated people, and long illnesses which give the virus a sustained period of reproduction in which to mutate.  But we can't tell how much is selection, and how much is a change in behaviour, without doing experiments to which that ethics board would rightly object.

In terms of things you can change, vaccine effectiveness is a lagging indicator of behaviour.  The vaccine you received is more effective if you distance, mask, and avoid going inside anywhere but your home like the plague.  If you act like COVID-19 doesn't exist, the vaccine is less effective.

(The medical statisticians trying to pull apart how much is behaviour and how much is virus variation have an unenviable job.  We'll never know without significant error bars.  But for planning purposes, here at individual scale, vaccine effectiveness is a lagging indicator of behaviour.)

19 June 2021

The Four COVID-19 Numbers

  1. Worldwide infection count
  2. Local RT
  3. Population immunity
  4. Local cases under treatment
Worldwide infection count is the number we want to be zero for a year.  Then there's a party. That's a ways off and it's a goal of policy and diplomacy.  Don't worry about that one particularly right now.

Local RT is the transmission rate; on average, for everyone who has it, how many people catch it?  You want this number as low as you can get it.  Errors in measurement and wanting to minimize the number of cases -- every case is a chance for a new, worse, mutation -- means you should do everything you can to keep this number low.  Mask mandates, enforced mandatory quarantines, aggressive track and trace, and barriers to inter-regional movement are all important.

Population immunity is the number of people who won't catch it.  There's a statistical relationship between RT, R0, and this number; the consensus of the knowledgeable had it around 85% for the pre-delta variants.  (delta makes this number higher.  And remember that we can never guarantee an individual won't catch it, just make it less likely.)  That's 85% of the total population, fully vaccinated.  This is not a number we can reach with current vaccines, so just vaccination is helpful, but not sufficient.  We're not going to get the worldwide (or even local) infection count to zero solely through vaccination.

Local cases under treatment is the "will the healthcare system collapse?" number.  (If it does, you expect an order of magnitude more dead.)  This is the number you only care about if those responsible have made an intolerable hash of policy responses to 2 and 3.  Focusing policy on this number is an indication of complete failure.  (Also long term system damage; medical personnel take a long time to train.)

If you live somewhere the local RT number doesn't get more public attention than population immunity, or where the local cases under treatment has to be a policy consideration, you can be confident that the policy response is poor and will stay poor.  Plan on the assumption that the only things reducing your infection risk are the decisions you make.