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English as a foreign language

Living as a German in an increasingly English-speaking world

Articles from June 2020

2020-06-27: wear a mask, people

Listen people. I’ll let you in on a secret.

Now of course I know there are those of you that don’t give a rat’s arse about other people and refuse to wear a mask in public because it interferes with your right to breathe (it doesn’t, you can breathe just fine wearing one), and it fogs up your glasses (it does, I know, I wear glasses myself), and is generally a royal pain in your behind (it is).

But there may be a little-known benefit to wearing a mask: It may, just possibly, save you from dying a real miserable premature death. How so? Well, you know, this mask that irks you so much may limit your exposure to SARS-CoV-2 just enough to save you from a severe case of COVID-19. Maybe you will not be infected at all; maybe you will be spared hostitalization, being put on a respirator and ultimately dying.

This is your public service announcement for today: wearing a mask in public is not a perfect protection from being infected, but it may contribute to protect you. The exact degree of that protection is unknown, but it is very likely significant.

Wear a mask. For your own benefit, and for the benefit of others. That will be all for today. Thank you.

2020-06-18: Paid sick leave is essential.

I mean what the fuck is wrong with people? This time it is German meat-processing plants but it doesn’t really matter. If you feel sick, you must have the liberty to stay home, and/or seek medical attention, without fear of losing out on pay, being out of a job, or being bankrupted by medical costs. This is so obvious that that German enterprises are trying to wiggle out of it is a shame.
I feel ashamed that this bullshit is going on in Germany today. We really should know better than this.

2020-06-16: Tracing apps galore!

So I see normally sane people boasting that they have installed their country’s tracing app; ours came out today. Why is that, I wonder?

Be sure not to misunderstand; I am not a tin-foil hat wearer that tells you that tracing apps are the devil, and that you should not use them no matter what. You can install and use one if you want; you just need to know that they are, by design, almost completely pointless.

You need to know a few things. First, the likelihood that any random encounter between two people will be even registered is the square of the rate of people (not smartphone users) who have the app installed. So if we do hit the target of 60% of people (which is almost 100% of smartphone users, the maximum possible), the likelihood of any random encounter being registered is a bit above a third (36%). The highest numbers of actual adoption of a tracing app is from Iceland, where it is about 38% of the population. That means that the encounter of two random people will be recorded with a probability of a whopping 14.4%, or about one in seven. (Do the math.)

But that’s only one side of the coin; the easy one. So we now know that almost all dangerous encounters will go undetected.

What about the ones that do get detected? Are they dangerous?

And that’s where things get dicy. The closeness of contact is estimated (at least for the German app) using the strength of the Bluetooth signal. Unfortunately, the relative strength of the Bluetooth signal is governed by very different factors from what governs the chances of infection. Imagine talking to someone separated from you by a plexiglass barrier. The chance of infection is small. Yet, your app will count it as a dangerous contact. Or maybe you are on a café’s terrace, seperated from someone on the inside by a full-height window. Chance of infection: zero. Closeness of contact according to the app: very close. And since (again, with the German app) you are not told exactly where and when you were in close proximity: maybe you left your phone in your car while going for a jog, or a swim, and someone parked their car with their phone next to you? Maybe it was on a charger at the time, and someone else’s came close? Maybe your phones got intimate with each other but you didn’t?

And that’s before we start talking about masks.

Oh, you are wearing your phone in your butt pocket? I see many young women do that. Your body (which is mostly water) shields your phone from detecting people breathing directly into your face from counting as close encounters while anyone rubbing their butt (and phone) against yours will be counted as very close, high-risk contacts. (Same goes for people carrying phones in backpacks.) And of course there is no calibration for the measurement of Bluetooth signals; measured values can be all over the place.

So what does it tell you if your app does not have any reasons for alerting you? It means “You may or may not be infected; remain cautious and considerate to those around you.” What if the app tells you you had a potentially dangerous encounter? It still means “You may or may not be infected; remain cautious and considerate to those around you.”

I don’t need an app for that.

Install it if you want; no harm done. (That is a simplification, I know. Not much harm done, anyway.) But not much gained either.

2020-06-12: How I view people

Maybe there are people that are sill unclear on how I view my fellow human beings. So let me get a few things straight.

To say that I don’t care about attributes of yourself that you have no control over would be an overstatement. If I personally take an interest in you, and you let me on to this kind of information, I will know if you are gay or straight (or any other flavour of Q), Caucasian, Mexican, Vietnamese, or whatever it may be, what your native language, your favourite imaginary friend or other background is and quite a few other things. To say that I don’t care about these things would be rude.

I do care. Because I do care about you.

The one thing I don’t do is judge you by these things. I judge you by what you say and what you do. Not by who you are.

That will be all for now. Judge your fellow humans by their personal words and actions, not by whatever properties they may have.