I have no idea how I got it (though I should also tell you, I have a foggy idea at best of how community spread works). None of the people I saw one on one in december were likely vectors. I probably picked it up in an elevator.

I ran out of sugar on day 1.

I have no idea what the rules are or how long I should stay indoors. The CDC website had a cursed introduction to 0-based arithmetic, and seems to care deeply about the difference between 5 day quarantine and 5 day isolation. Quarantine technically means 40 days, so insert ‘sparkling isolation’ joke if you like.

If my IQ was halved by having covid, it was tripled by fixing a bunch of other things: I did zero multitasking. My phone was in do not disturb mode constantly, and I checked it like twice a day. I had zero days with less than 4 hours of sleep. (‘Now that’s some halved-tripled thinking’, a friend said about this general topic).

(I’m joking but not entirely joking about the IQ stuff. It’s plausible that covid has serious sequelae in various organ systems. Get a mask that fits, I conceivably got it while wearing a KN95).

There’s a book in the david brin uplift series where the dolphins become atavistic in a crisis, and dolphin captain creideiki has to coax them back to ‘science and language brain’ with ultrasonic trinary haikus. I feel like this getting back to work, like I’m ‘forcing my brain into modern thinking’. Which I will do, but reluctantly, and make sure to still embrace atavism once in a while.

My point: this forced week off came closer to repairing my bonkers relationship with work and time than anything else I’ve tried.

If you read with a soundtrack: alanis morisette’s thank you, because it’s about negatives as positives, and also is a guilty, guilty pleasure, like this whole isolation week has been for me. Like most adult men in my age bracket I owned1 the jagged little pill CD.

  1. I’m tired but I’m working yeah
  2. Anosmia
  3. new york
  4. Saying no to things

I’m tired but I’m working yeah

There are worse things than being atavistic and dolphin-brained2. For a week, I didn’t have to make any decisions about time. I just said no to everyone! It was a superpower.

My work life balance last year was me not saying no enough, and not valuing my time correctly, and feeling an absurd disconnect every time I put in an hour of time at a loss. I read something about d-day and normandy which said that new soldiers are, the first time they take fire, motivated by loyalty to the person next to them and little else. Saying yes to favors can be a sugar hit, and hijack your incentives. But this is not something covid tolerates.

Also the beaches of normandy are not a good model for your career. Beware dolphins bearing haikus.

I muted the phone for a week. I ignored IMs for hours. It was paradise. I’m sensitive to interruptions, am on an extreme of believing they’re an awful tax, and haven’t been able to shut notifications off for a year, and needed this.

(It turns out dolphins are great at interruptions – they can stay alert in a stimulus task for days on end. If I were actually dolphin-brained I wouldn’t care about the IMs. But the covid didn’t give me unihemispheric sleep, or unihemispheric anything, unfortunately).

At one point I thought the phrase ‘this is absolutely no reason to be losing sleep’, and spent the rest of my isolation period living that. I now have zero temptation to do anything inconvenient like wake up 3 hours after going to bed for an unnecessary short-notice meeting in a random time zone.


Like most adult men I have a system for deciding when to shower that relies on all five of the senses, and around the middle of my isolation week I thought to myself wow, I smell surprisingly clean.

I rely on smell to know if coffee is working because I can smell it coming out of my pores.

Not having a sense of smell is fascinating. It’s like putting your phone in black and white mode to make it less tempting. Well, I always thought that trick was bullshit. But it’s different and refreshing is the point.

I never feel dirty. Air that would be stinky is just air; you know that ‘fresh air conditioned’ air taste, not the recycled metallic airplane air, that good late 80s summer camp computer lab filtered air? All air has become that air. All skin feels clean.

When I was first figuring this out, I assumed I had gotten a dud lemon and just tried smelling it harder and harder. Same with garlic, same with soap. It felt like a hole in my senses; a phantom limb but for information, with my brain’s sensor fusion system trying to bridge the gap with scent-correlated features like temperature and humidity.

This ‘phantom sense’ feeling is weirdly similar to being in VR; an experience that is more real than normal screen interactions, but with something missing.

Coincidentally, david chalmers has a new book out about simulations and was on the kent bye vr podcast this week pushing it. His conclusion is that he’s not sure if we’re in a simulation, which is maybe not surprising from a guy whose chief contribution to consciousness research is that he’s not sure what to ask about consciousness3. Chalmers has spent some portion of his recent career doing a lecture series about the matrix (yes, the film), and may or may not be planning a transition to ready player one scholarship.

new york

I have no idea where I got it, I said before, but in a larger sense, I know exactly where I got it: manhattan, labyrinth of elevators and subways.

Which 1) makes any other isolation I’ve been doing stupid, because to get anywhere here, you have to get inside a box with tourists and other malcontents.

And 2) new york is maybe not the place. To what? To ride out a pandemic, but you can finish that sentence a lot of other ways. There’s a joan didion essay, goodbye to all that, which is about why she left. It’s personal to her and may not generalize, but it’s also personal to me.

(For you outer borough crew, I’m talking about manhattan specifically, take it down a notch).

Not being able to go in the elevator, a.k.a outside, this week, was very 2020, and made me wonder about big cities as epicenters. nyc is society organized around a series of box-shaped petri dishes – elevators, subways, taxis. Then someone let bob moses build the shittiest zig zagging 2 lane highway from here to the worst international airport, an airport that I have never visited without either witnessing a biblical plague or being arrested. What did we think would happen when we connected them?

I don’t know what % of people are getting it from face-to-face vs elevator. (I still don’t know how community spread works). I don’t know how well masks work, or if 90% masking is great but 70% of people masking part of their face is the same as 0%.

If you buy enrico moretti’s research about industrial agglomeration enabling specialization, maybe those petri dishes are good. He’s anti wfh fwiw, possibly in the way einstein was anti quantum mechanics. See clarke’s first law on distinguished scientists doubting things.

Saying no to things

On day 5 I ventured out for more lateral flow tests. I’m still highly positive! Obviously. You know that movie the thin red line? This one was thick, spell that as you like. I also restocked junk food and was instantly sick. Sugar and dairy indeed seem like bad choices.

(On food – periodically I felt like the anchorite from terry pratchett’s small gods4, where he has cold beer and feasts constantly, but once in a while he heads out for some mushrooms and brackish water. For me it manifested as a citrus craving around day 6 as scurvy set in. It’s possible I ate a whole lemon).

Covid, and my brush with scurvy, both are not the big C. To survive cancer you have to cut things out, and not just the tumor5. You have to say no to more things. You get to say no to more things. I experienced a very, very light version of this.

Last year, and I think this is a me thing rather than a universal pandemic thing, was about how hard it is to say no to things that are bad for you, that are not working, that are underwater. But saying no with covid is EASY. It’s automatic.

This isn’t all gravy. People die from this. I may develop long term symptoms. Getting covid wasn’t my new year’s resolution. But improving my time management WAS. No human being had the power to change my habits until a random old lady in my building rode the elevator without a mask. A little part of me is thinking ‘thanks for the wakeup call’.

less is more

Sometimes less is more.


  1. ‘Owned’, not ‘own’. What happened to mine was that a classmate was going through my CDs and said ‘you have this?’, and I said, ‘that’s not mine, someone from sleepaway camp left it in there’. And she said ‘can I have it then’, and that’s why I no longer own the CD. I still have the jewel case somewhere. If you leaned on my laptop at the hypothetical wework and were like ‘you have this?’, I would probably end up giving it to you. This tactic absolutely works. 

  2. Who wants to join me in becoming cube brained 

  3. He has a list of philosophical stances on whether we’re in a simulation, but doesn’t talk about computability. If the rules of computation are the same in our universe as a hypothetical simulated universe, then it’s illegal to mine bitcoin on clouds. and we mine bitcoin, therefore we’re not in a cloud. (by rules I mean literally rules, not laws of physics, but there’s a version of this argument that uses O(N) rather than TOS). He wonders if minds in a simulation would be non-conscious, but doesn’t ask the more-plausible inverse question: is consciousness a side effect of a simulation, are only simulated minds conscious. Kent Bye is obsessed with the topic of reality, and has a reading group of process philosophers and quantum ontologists that’s currently reading ‘untying the gordian knot’. 

  4. Small gods, which I reread recently as a post-pan adult, is a very good book about critical thinking, and brutha’s miracle is a subtle and rewarding take on what sainthood would mean to TP 

  5. FYI I know this from the south park where wendy beats up cartman and it may be false in real life.