This past couple of weeks feel like they breezed by. I can’t tell whether this is because the quarantine has finally become the new norm, or if it’s because I have been playing several hours of VALORANT every night. Incidentally, the latter is also the reason why there was no issue of my newsletter last week. Good thing I never officially committed to making this a weekly thing!
It wouldn’t be a quarantine-era newsletter without talking about something topical. On April 10, Google and Apple published a joint announcement stating that they would be working in tandem to integrate contact tracing technology into Android and iOS to help health officials track and contain the spread of COVID-19. Obviously I’m biased due to my career affiliation, but I do think this is a noble and well-intentioned effort.
The more technical whitepapers delve into the details of how contact tracing will be achieved while also maintaining users’ privacy and anonymity. In short, each device generates a rotating set of keys that are broadcasted to nearby devices (over Bluetooth LE). If a user tests positive for COVID-19 and consents for their keys from that 14 day window to be pushed to Google/Apple’s servers, other (potentially infected) users’ devices will be able to cryptographically derive whether they have been in proximity of the infected user.
I don’t claim to be an expert in cryptography, so I won’t make any definitive statements on the soundness of this approach. What I will say is that I’m sure that other people who are much smarter than myself probably reviewed this design, and on first glance, it seems reasonable. I think it’s a healthy that people might be skeptical of this type of technology being integrated into their phones, and so maintaining public trust will be of upmost importance moving forward.
I’m reminded of this article written by Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens) on what society will look like in a post-COVID world. He brings up the continuum between “totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment”, citing China’s quick response to curtailing the spread of the virus by utilizing the mass surveillance that already permeates everyday life there. To a certain extent, any useful implementation of contact tracing (no matter how careful) must necessarily ask people to relinquish some of their privacy. In a time of global crisis, is this a reasonable request, and will it be possible to walk things back once things return to normal again?
(As a side note, one of my first thoughts was “I wonder how many iterations it took to land on this as the combined Apple-Google logo for this press release”. These are the things that capture my attention, I guess.)
Another interesting phenomenon to come out of this extended period of social distancing is esports making its way into the general public. Due to sports, well, not happening anymore, traditional sports outlets have struggled to fill their allotted programming slots. To compensate, we’ve seen things like Formula 1 hosting a virtual grand prix and League of Legends’ LCS playoffs airing on ESPN. Apparently the F1 grand prix hit viewership numbers of 3.2 million online and an estimated 1.2 million on TV, which is quite impressive.
I don’t have cable for obvious reasons, so the only impact the LCS changes have had on me is having to endure the LCS casters constantly sending “[their] ESPN viewers” off to commercial breaks. I noticed that the production team has tried to push the storylines of the teams and players a lot harder during the pre-game segments, which is definitely appropriate; this is what draws people to both traditional sports and esports alike.
That being said, it is unfortunate that events like the LCS Finals have to be held online. While esports matches have the luxury of being able to be held remotely, I still feel like online events lack the hype created from being held in a physical venue with thousands of spectators. Watching League live is a super awesome experience, and I’m glad I’ve been able to attend tournaments all around the world.
The latest update from Null Island is that I finally made it to a three-star rating! I wasn’t playing too much due to dedicating all my waking hours to VALORANT, but having visited my friends’ islands, I wanted to at least get to the point where I could terraform and build paths. I was at two stars for a while, so I just bought a ton of flowers from Nook’s Cranny and planted them in random places around my island, and that seemed to be enough to draw the attention of KK Slider.
My main goal now is to continue to amass enough money to rearrange all the buildings on my island to my liking. I got lucky this week and high-rolled a turnip price of 460 on my island, which was awesome. The week before, I got a hint that some nice Microsoft employee was opening up their island to strangers for turnip-selling, and I got in on that too (Animal Crossing’s online implementation seems almost purposefully-designed to prevent this type of behaviour).
To Nintendo’s credit, they did push out a patch that significantly decreased the spawn rate of egg balloons, but I still didn’t clock enough hours to obtain all the cherry blossom DIY recipes. I guess I’ll just trade with other people to complete the collection.
Earlier this week, I happened to stumble upon a video of a rather popular Twitch streamer being coached in chess by GM Hikaru Nakamura. I’m not entirely sure why, but this rekindled my desire to try to learn chess. In a more perfect universe, I would opt for Go over chess (the abstractness of the former is more appealing to me), but I feel like Go games are prohibitively lengthy, and the pool of people who I could play and learn from is at least an order of magnitude smaller if not more; concessions have to be made somewhere.
To bootcamp, I’ve been grinding puzzles on Lichess whenever I have idle time. I’ve noticed myself gradually improve at pattern recognition after just a few days, but more often than not the solution still isn’t obvious. Sadly my chess-brain still isn’t capable of doing a tree search deeper than two or so levels. After becoming more comfortable at solving these puzzles, I’ll probably try to learn a few solid openings and practice end-games, and then begin to challenge people in some faster time controls.
Until next time — stay safe out there!