Hi. I’m Duncan Davidson.
I’m an American software developer living in Berlin, Germany. During the day, I work as Technology Advisor at Microsoft for Startups. After hours, I’m a photographer and author. All opinions here are mine.
You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Getting out into nature expands our horizons, both literally and figuratively. It’s something that’s hard to do right now, however. Even if you can make it out to somewhere else, somewhere you don’t feel as stuck as you did, anything trivial (or maybe not so trivial) can snap you back to the limits imposed by the moment.
We’re lucky enough to have found a place where we can isolate in beauty, but just walking down trail to the next beach or two over typically brings us a view of those that are disregarding any sense of distance — bringing along a sense that’s akin to revulsion with it and snapping the horizon back to 2 meters and right now. Going to the market in the nearby village is a hit or miss affair. Sometimes there are just too many people milling about with no idea how to distance. So, we bounce away, and come back later.
The same feeling accompanies making plans for the next few years. Where do we want our son to go to school? Where do we want to be? How do we want to make our living, modulo what’s possible and available to us? Every other paragraph of our conversations, no matter how far in the future we’re looking, we come snapping back to the uncertainties of the moment.
At least the family is adopting my penchant for going to the beach either early or late in the day. It seems like there’s a correlation between the people who have a hard time distancing and gathering in groups that feel way too large and those that don’t pay attention to how high the UV index is at midday. In the late afternoon, at least right here, it’s easy to find a place to drop the worries of the world and let the horizon expand out to the distance, where it should be.
If just for a few minutes.
🏖 We’ve changed locations from Pelion (Πήλιο) to Halkidiki (Χαλκιδική). Our house is out of the way, and we have access to an out of the way beach few know how the almost hidden turn off to from the main road to take. In otherwords, we’ve found a perfect place to sequester ourselves for a while. The downsides: <10Mb/s DSL; usually just a bar or so of 3G service; and the lack of ability to have loads of friends visit due to the circumstances.
I can handle that. For a little while, at least.
🇺🇸 A frequent topic with the people I do talk with here in Europe? America. If I could put all of the brilliant thoughts I’ve had on the topic down, I couldn’t even hope at expressing the way things are as a cohesively as Dave Wade does in his article, The Unraveling of America:
COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken. As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease. The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.
No matter what happens in November, no matter what happens in January, there’s no going back.
🥖 On the other hand, maybe it’s too easy to be pessimistic. A lot of us who watch startups have been super pessimistic about the effects of the pandemic. Yet, the worst never came. I love Cyan Banister’s quote in the article: “People made enough bread and grew enough gardens and decided to start working on a start-up now.”
Greetings from Pelion
🏞 We spent the weekend in Pelion (Πήλιο). It’s a region half way between Athens (Αθήνα) and Thessaloniki (Θεσσαλονίκη) where you can be in the mountains one part of the day, then drive down to lovely beaches for the second part. There’s not a lot of people around this summer, and it’s easy to keep our precautions up.
🛳 Maybe it was a bit premature to think that even small cruise ships should start operations again? More than 40 people have tested positive for COVID-19 from the MS Roald Amundsen’s two voyages in July. You couldn’t pay me to go on a cruise ship right now.
😷 If wearing a mask in a public school is a personal choice, as a district in Georgia is saying, then I have to ask about so many things — not the least of which are the school dress codes I remember being strictly enforced for all sorts of trivial things.
🌍 What’s worse than COVID-19? Climate change. Bill Gates thinks that the effects from climate change will be just as deadly as the current pandemic by 2060. Five times as deadly by 2100.
🏜 That future has already arrived in some places, including on the Western Slope of Colorado where average temperatures have already gone up by 2ºC.
📷 Shifting gears to something nice for a change, I love that Fuji has released a promo video for their 8 year old XF 35/1.4 lens. David Hobby’s take on it is right on: launching an homage video to a lens that has an 8-yr track record of producing gorgeous images makes WAY more sense than the nonstop hype-a-thon of every shiny new piece of kit.
Bits from the weekend
✊🏿 Calendly founder Tope Awotona’s story about overcoming challenges is amazing. I love his closing thought: “You can dwell on all the reasons you shouldn’t do something or why it’s harder for you. Or you can just go out and do it”
🏡 Harvard Business Review has published a report about how employees adapted to being remote over these last months. A surprising tidbit: The number of 1 hour meetings actually went down in favor of an increased number of 30 minute meetings.
☎️ Personally, I’m a fan of the 20 minute online meeting. It gives time for a bit of note taking between calls, or even a quick bio break. Of course, the number of meetings that could still be an email discussion is too high.
🌍 Vox’s explainer on Microsoft’s climate change initiatives is a good read. I appreciate that it points out where the company can do better as well, including critiques of helping the oil industry continue to extract carbon from the earth and its weak public policy actions.
The best flight safety video I’ve seen in a long time
👩🚀 Working while socially distancing in Greece is about the same as it in Germany. Too many calls on Teams. Lots of juggling coworkers’ hours with family hours. People who don’t want to wear masks indoors, so staying home is still the best option most of the time. But the food. The food is really great. And eating outside this time of year is de rigor.
🦠 We thought it was just a respiratory virus, but we were wrong, say Ariel Blecher and Katherine Conrad in the UCSF Magazine. And, it may be that our own immune systems are responsible for the worst of the damage it can cause.
🔔 Apple Maps is now sending notifications to international travelers. I didn’t get one of these last week when we traveled from Germany to Greece, but I did get three different SMS messages from a Greek number saying ”Welcome to Greece. Because of COVID-19 random testing my apply upon your arrival and you may need to self-quarantine.”
🏠 Looks like Google is planning to work from home until at least summer. I’m not surprised. Even if we do get a workable treatment or vaccine this year, the deployment of such will take a while to make a meaningful impact on the risk equation.
⚛️ From the department of cool stuff that my employer is doing, Microsoft used a 250 kilowatt-hour hydrogen fuel cell system to power a portion of a datacenter for 48 hours. Next up: a 3 megawatt system.
🖥 Git 2.28.0 has arrived, with a new
init.defaultBranch option for changing the default git branch name from master to something else, like main. Soon, all the repos I own will have main as their primary branch.
Six for Friday
📲 Are my days of dual carrying mobile devices about to start again? Looks like the Microsoft Surface Duo device is getting ready to launch. I’m really curious to see what it’ll feel like in hand.
📸 The AP is going to equip all of its visual journalists with Sony gear. That’s pretty massive, but and makes sense to be able to have all of their photojournalists using the same basic kit based around the E-mount, from stills to video.
😱 During the flights we took on Wednesday, I saw one person wearing a chef’s transparent saliva shield. Technically, I guess it is a covering of the nose and mouth, but I think the person was seriously missing the point.
😷 Delta has already banned 100 people for refusing to wear a mask. Delta CEO Ed Bastian: "If you board the plane and insist on not wearing a mask, we insist that you do not fly Delta into the future.“ That’s an airline policy I can support 100%.
👨⚕️ I can’t imagine how Antony Fauci manages to keep going to work day after day. This quote from Fauci’s interview with New York Times Opinion writer Jennifer Senior is downright depressing: "But Jennifer, would you want me to say something that’s directly contrary to what the president is doing? That’s not helpful. Then all of a sudden you don’t hear from me for a while.” I couldn’t do it, myself.
Flying in corona times
Mr. 4 woke up at 7AM and bounced out from his room and right into our bed. “Daddy! Today’s the day, right!?”
“It sure is, kiddo!”
He’s been looking forward to this day for a long time. It’s the first time since the corona crisis started that we’ve gone on a trip outside of Germany, and it’s the first time we’ve had the chance to see any family that hasn’t involved a two-dimensional screen.
Frankly, I was a bit nervous about this trip. It was a serious stretch outside my current comfort zone. If it were just up to me, I’d have stayed happily in Berlin all summer long. So, we thought long and hard about how to make it work while minimizing variables and risk. As part of our risk mitigation, for example, we took a COVID-19 PCR swab test on Monday, as did the family on the other side we were meeting, and got the results yesterday.
Good news, the results were negative all around.
By 9AM, we were in the taxi van to the airport. Luggage in the back. Masks on. A decent plastic sneeze screen between the driver and us. Traffic in general around Berlin is still lighter than it used to be before the crisis, and getting to the airport in decent time wasn’t a problem at all. At the airport, traffic was lighter still.
The taxi driver was confused when I paid him, thinking I’d given him way too many bills. I had, by German standards. Instead of just rounding up to an even number, I had tipped well by American standards. It’s corona times. Every bit counts for service workers, and I wanted to give him a surprise to help put a smile on his face for the rest of the day.
At the terminal entrance, there was a small queue gathered. At first, I thought we were going to have to join them and wait a bit. The people there, however, had arrived so early that check-in wasn’t yet available for their flight. While we had put extra time into getting to the airport, we hadn’t put in that much buffer time. So, we went right in and were greeted by a mostly empty terminal full of empty check-in desks with one longish queue leading to our airline’s counter.
One of the things we did to help make things easier was to fly a carrier that we have status on. It’s an advantage in the best of times, and is even nicer right now. That meant we were able to go right up to the gold checkin counter and skip most of the line, minimizing the time we needed to be even in a spaced out queue with other people.
The check in counters were nicely fortified with plexiglass screens, but the clerks behind the counter weren’t wearing masks. That struck me as strange, and as putting way too much faith in the sneeze shields. Too much faith in my opinion. Otherwise, the check-in process was fairly normal, with the one addition that we had to prove that we had filled out an arrival Passenger Locator Form (PLF) online.
After check in, we moved onto the next hurdle: security. The staffers at Tegal were very serious about allowing only one carry-on. No personal items. Between Katerina, kiddo, and I, we had three primary carry-ons, but we also had a tiny kids backpack for kiddo that I hoped would pass as a “personal item”. Nope. No joy. We ended up stuffing it into one of our other bags. Good thing it was so small.
Once we met the letter of the limits, the process was easy enough. No lines. Just the usual drill. Katerina did have a rude surprise when one of the security people took her glasses off her face, then handed them back after asking if Katerina could see without them. Of course, the gloves protecting the security person would have put whatever they’d picked up from other passengers on her glasses. Needless to say, the glasses got extra attention with alcohol after we were done with security.
Next up: Duty free. The store was creepily empty. We’re not big duty free shoppers, and we didn’t stick around, but I felt a bit bad for the employees there. None of them were wearing masks, however, which struck me as really strange. I’m not sure if they would have put a mask on if somebody had approached them, but I had no interest in finding out.
The most chaotic part of the day was the boarding process. Less attention had been paid to boarding by both the airline and airport than almost every other step. People weren’t spacing out in the queue to board. Aegean used the usual process of elites board first and didn’t board from back to front of the jet like some airlines are.
Once on board and seated, I really didn’t like the feeling of people boarding past me. I really wish I had skipped the instinct —built up over years — to board in the usual group order and instead waited to board last. The carry-on limits for security pretty much meant that overhead bin space wasn’t at a premium.
Add the fact in that there were so many people wearing their masks with their noses hanging out, and ewww. I really want to make some stickers of an entirely inappropriate illustration I’ve seen online to hand to people who sport the look.
Up in the air, things settled back to something that felt reasonably ok. Food service was in prepared bags. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any accommodation for dietary needs. Given that I _do _have restrictions, I was pretty happy that I had brought my own food on the trip. I’m sure the provided food was fine, but just not for me.
At least, Aegean was still using the espresso machines they have on board. I definitely took advantage of that.
Once we landed in Athens, the arrival process was really well done. We had to wait for our row to be called to stand up, get our stuff, and deplane.
Then, after a bit of a walk, we went into a well spaced queue, presented our passenger forms, and some people were sent off to get tested. The algorithm decided that we didn’t need to be tested, so we went on our way to our connecting flight.
The only annoyance on arrival was that we had to exit out through baggage claim and then go back in through security again. I could have really done without the extra security check, but I think they were doing their best to keep the flow of arriving passengers as simple as possible. And, getting through security in Athens was even smoother than it was in Berlin.
Now that we’ve been through the process, I have to say that I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea of flying now than I have been through the crisis so far. That’s not to say that I’d recommend it.
Like I said above, we thought long and hard about the risks of this trip and how to minimize them. We used N95 masks with glasses on, and kiddo had a plastic face shield. We stopped frequently to clean up and disinfect our hands. We upgraded ourselves using miles to business class to ensure that we had more space around us on board the aircraft. And, I was really happy that the relative lack of travelers meant that it was possible to maintain social distancing in most of the situations we found ourselves in.
Really, the only part of the process that the airlines and airports really still need to do more work on is the boarding process.
Nonetheless, I wouldn’t go out and do this again casually. The process of keeping your brain alert through every part of the travel process was tiring. And, even though I’m really happy with how we mitigated risks along the way, the risks are still there. Would I plan another trip if I really needed to? Say a family emergency? Sure. Not a problem, given what I experienced today.
On the other hand, I don’t see changing my attitude about doing my best to avoid very much travel over the year ahead, especially to countries that have been a lot less effective at controlling the spread of COVID-19. I’m looking at you America, especially for anything involving work. The payoff for the trip has to be worth the risk profile and the work it takes to mitigate those risks.
Summertime travel prep
💉 The entire process of approaching travel this summer is so very different, if you’re able to contemplate it at all. The fact we live in a world where it seems perfectly reasonable to drop off a couple of PCR test swab specimens a few days before you fly is just… wow.
🇬🇷 Greece is open, at least if you reside in the EU+ or a dozen or so other countries. There’s also a process. First, you have to fill out an online form called a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) before you go so that they can find you once you’re in the country. Then, the Greek arrival protocols involve using a QR code on arrival to see if you are chosen to be tested. It’s actually not quite as strict as I would have expected. I think they should test everyone on arrival, myself.
🆘 Even once you decide to travel, I think it’s definitely a good idea to make sure that you can respond to changes. Local lockdowns will happen in seemingly random places. A surge of infections could take off at any time. Country closures can come and go in a blink of an eye. Having a thorough plan of what you’d do in a variety of situations seems pretty essential to me.
🚴♂️ Kids in Germany start on two wheels using a laufrad, also known as a balance bike. Basically, it’s a tiny bicycle without the pedals. After a year or two running around getting the hang of balance, steering, and stopping, it’s a short hop to a bike with pedals. Mr. 4 made the transition yesterday and I’m so proud.