Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Four Australian Cities in Lockdown

Lockdowns, tough social distancing, swift contact tracing and a high community compliance have helped Australia quash prior outbreaks and keep its Covid-19 numbers relatively low. 

Todate, Australia has reported 30,611 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began. 

But the coronavirus is determined to make a big comeback. 

New South Wales, the worst-hit state in the country's latest coronavirus outbreak, reported 22 new locally transmitted cases on Wednesday as four major cities endure a hard lockdown to contain the Delta variant. 

Around one in two Australians are under stay-at-home orders with Sydney, the country's largest city, under a two-week lockdown until July 09, while Perth, Brisbane and Darwin are in snap lockdowns until later this week. 

NSW has recorded a total of around 170 new locally transmitted cases since the first infection was detected two weeks ago. 

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney: "New South Wales is demonstrating a steady rate of cases at this stage... but to date our fears about huge escalation haven't materialised and we certainly want to keep it that way". 

Hard restrictions, including mandatory masks and curbs on gatherings, have been enforced in most other major cities. 

Yesterday, I blogged about the heatwave that is baking western North America – but I detailed only the US part of it. To be sure, Canada is suffering too.

Yes, Canada broke its country temperature record for a third straight day on Tuesday at 49.6C (121.3F) in Lytton, British Columbia. 

Before Sunday, temperatures in the country had never passed 45C. In fact, Environment Canada reported the weather system shattered 103 heat records across not just British Columbia, but also in Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories on Monday.

The blistering heatwave has been blamed for helping to cause the deaths of dozens of people in the Vancouver area. With a new record temperature for Canada of 47.9C (118F) set on Monday, 233 deaths were reported in the wider British Columbia area between Friday and Monday, compared with 130 on average. 

The Vancouver Police Department alone said they had responded to more than 65 sudden deaths since Friday, with the vast majority "related to the heat". These deaths were still under investigation – and many of the deceased were seniors. 

Globally, the decade to 2019 was the hottest recorded, and the five hottest years have all occurred within the last five years.

Just So You Know, Vaccines are Not Magic Bullets

I came across this interesting Covid report and I'm sharing it here just so you know.  

A MailOnline headline in the UK on June 13 read: “Study shows 29% of the 42 people who have died after catching the new strain had BOTH vaccinations”. In Public Health England’s technical briefing on June 25, that figure had risen to 43% (50 of 117), with the majority (60%) having received at least one dose. 

It's bound to cause alarm that the majority of people dying in England with the now-dominant Delta variant have been vaccinated. Does this mean the vaccines are ineffective? 

Far from it, it’s what we would expect from an effective but imperfect vaccine, a risk profile that varies hugely by age and the way the vaccines have been rolled out. 

Consider the hypothetical world where absolutely everyone had received a less than perfect vaccine. Although the death rate would be low, everyone who died would have been fully vaccinated. 

Meaning, the vaccines are NOT perfect. 

PHE estimate two-dose effectiveness against hospital admission with the Delta infections at around 94%. We can perhaps assume there is at least 95% protection against Covid-19 death, which means the lethal risk is reduced to less than a twentieth of its usual value. 

But the risk of dying from Covid-19 is extraordinarily dependent on age: it halves for each six to seven year age gap. This means that someone aged 80 who is fully vaccinated essentially takes on the risk of an unvaccinated person of around 50 – much lower, but still not nothing, and so we must expect some deaths.

I'm saying it again, vaccines are not magic bullets.

3D Printed Steaks Are Coming Soon

There seems to be growing popularity for plant-based alternatives to meat – and so, Spanish startup Novameat is using its 3D printing technology to manufacture vegetarian “steaks” that they hope will reach the mass market next year. 

Novameat plan to sell their “steaks” directly to consumers and to businesses such as restaurants interested in producing plant-based meat, business development manager Alexandre Campos told Reuters yesterday. 

The Spanish company, which developed the technology in 2018, was showing how their latest 3D printer produced food at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress (June 28–July 01, 2021). 

Ferran Gregori who tried one of the “steaks” printed at Novameat’s stand at the world’s biggest wireless tech trade fair said: “It didn’t have the feeling of a traditional steak but I was positively surprised because I did not expect that the texture would be so well achieved”. 

The company use 3D technology to test recipes, introducing ingredients through capsules because it is a cheaper process than mass-producing, Campos said. 

Once a model is considered successful, it could then be produced on a larger scale in bigger machines not using 3D technology, manufacturing up to 500 kg of fake meat per hour, he added. 

Campos said the startup’s aim had been to recreate the muscle fibers of animal meat but using 100 percent plant-based ingredients. He forecast the plant-based industry would keep growing at double-digit rates in the foreseeable future. 

The company also said it was producing the fake meat for environmental reasons. 

“(We seek to) replace animal meat for something that is better for the planet, ourselves and animals”, Campos said. 

But in case you’re a “real” meat eater, not to worry! 

There’s already a 3D bio-printed and cultivated ribeye steak made without genetic engineering. Created by Aleph Farms Ltd. and the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, the steak also did not require the slaughter of any animals. 

I understand that 3D bioprinting uses cells instead of ink or plastic to make things. The cultivated ribeye from Aleph Farms has many similarities to a regular steak, such as real muscles and fat.

To create the meat, researchers used 3D bioprinting and real cow cells. The technology allows them to print living cells that can grow and interact in a vascular-like system helping nutrients move and resembling real steak. 

"Our 3D bio-printing is an approach where we assemble a structured piece of meat bottom up outside of the animal from its natural building blocks, which are different types of living animal cells. Our cells are natural, non-GMO and non-immortalized. The 3D bio-printed tissue is then incubated where the cells develop and interact in a similar manner as in nature, granting the tissue the texture and qualities of a steak", Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms shared. 

Aleph Farms' process uses a fraction of the resources required for raising an entire animal for meat, without antibiotics and without the use of fetal bovine serum. Part of the cost savings comes from using natural pluripotent cells that are cultivated in large quantities. Pluripotent cells, such as stem cells, can be used to make all of the other cell types in an organism. 

"The natural pluripotent cells can multiply efficiently and can mature into the cell types that make up meat, like muscle and fat cells. It is enough for us to harvest the cells once, and the procedure we use is non-invasive", Toubia explained. 

In 2018, Aleph Farms made a thin-cut steak, but the new product is thicker and fattier. The company is interested in creating other types of cuts to provide consumers with alternatives to traditional slaughtered meat or plant-based products. 

Aleph Farms want their first products to reach the marketplace in the second half of 2022, according to a Forbes report dated February 12, 2021 – but regulatory approval is required obviously. 

It’s noteworthy to mention that Singapore in 2020 gave its first regulatory approval for Eat Just’s cell-cultured chicken. It will be used as an ingredient in the “chicken bites” or nuggets which the food technology start-up plan to launch at a later date.  

Eventually, cultivated meat may end up on store shelves ready for consumers who want an alternative "meat" option for dinner.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A Heatwave Bakes Western North America

For those still in denial about global warming, it's real. 

I came across a news report this morning that a blistering heat wave is scorching the Pacific Northwest, or the geographic region that is western North America.

It is shattering temperature records and damaging infrastructure across this stretch of land usually known for its mild climate. Larry O'Neill, US Oregon's state climatologist pins the blame on climate change.

Salem, the state capital broke its heat record two days in a row, with the temperature hitting 113 degrees on Sunday and 114 on Monday. 

Sizzling heat waves like this one are significant public health threats, particularly in areas like the Northwest, where many people lack air conditioning. It is pointed out that while 90% of US homes have air conditioning, just 78% of homes in Portland, Oregon and 44% of homes in Seattle, Washington State do. 

True enough, the Oregon Health Authority said they have seen an increase in the number of heat-related admissions to emergency rooms and urgent-care centers. There were 128 admissions on Sunday, up from 56 on Saturday and 24 on Friday. 

The Portland Streetcar, which serves downtown Portland, shut down service Sunday and stayed closed on Monday. The service even posted a photo of a melted power cable to explain the disruption. 

And the city’s MAX Light Rail Service had to shut down too, explaining that high temperatures were straining the power grid and the overhead wires that power its trains. 

In Seattle, it was so hot that the city closed a community pool due to "unsafe, dangerous pool deck temperatures", The Associated Press reported. 

The city was compelled to open cooling centers in libraries, senior centers and other community facilities to offer residents a respite from the heat. 

Communities affected by the heat wave are also dealing with roadways buckling from the heat, making them unsafe to travel on. It also raises the risk of sinkholes that can be caused by thermal expansion, in which concrete or asphalt gets so hot it begins to expand with nowhere to go but up. 

If the above is not enough, there are mounting concerns about wildfire risk in a region that is already experiencing a crippling and extended drought.

We need to recognize that extreme heat events are directly tied to human-caused global warming, with studies showing that severe heat events are now on average about 3°F to 5°F hotter than they would be without emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning, deforestation and other activities.

182 Million Cases and Malaysians at Home for 468 Days

Now driven by the Delta variant, Covid cases have started to surge again. Already, 182 million cases worldwide. 

To make matters worse, a version of the Delta variant – known as Delta Plus – has raised concern among virologists. It is found in at least 22 cases in the Indian state of Maharashtra last week and it is said it could be more transmissible than the original Delta variant. Public Health England have confirmed 41 of the 75,953 UK Delta cases were caused by the new mutation. 

These days, the news are mostly about Covid, Covid, Covid! 

In case, you're interested to know, Malaysians have been "locked up" at home for 468 days! And still, there's no end in sight! 

The US Food and Drug Administration have added a warning about the risk of heart inflammation to fact sheets for Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines. 

The notice on Friday noted that reports of adverse events following vaccination – particularly after the second dose – suggest increased risks of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, or inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart. 

At the end of the second week of June, more than 1,200 cases of myocarditis or pericarditis have been reported to the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. The cases reportedly appear to be notably higher in males and in the week after the second vaccine dose.

It looks like Covid is gonna be a long-term tenant on this planet.

Monday, June 28, 2021

'Bread Steak' As Alternative to Meat

If you’re into a plant-based diet, there are many meat substitutes to choose from on the market. 

From jackfruit to tempeh, tofu to classic veggie burgers, the options are endless for vegans, vegetarians and eco-friendly eaters.

Sure, you have plenty of choices – but what if you’re craving for a steak? 

Well, instead of choosing a slab of fake meat or cauliflower, one journalist, David Tamarkin, has shared his unlikely alternative. 

He opts for a "bread steak", essentially a pan-fried piece of bread covered in parmesan. To put it in another way, it is cheese on toast. 

Writing for Bon Appétit magazine, Tamarkin called the creation "My Vegetarian Steak Swap". 

He described it as: "A custard-soaked, Parmesan-crusted chunk of sourdough – essentially savory French toast – that really is decadent in the vein of a rib eye. It's fatty. It's salty. And if you do it right, it's downright meaty". 

Food website Basically shared a photo of the steak to Instagram, captioning the post: "When @davidtamarkin stopped eating steak, he still craved a slab of something lavish at the center of his plate – and a cauliflower 'steak' just wasn't going to cut it”. 

The recipe has so far received nearly 14,000 likes and many have rushed to the comments section to share their surprise at what it entails. 

One Instagram user, clementine__consort, wrote: "Y'all are really trying to convince people that cheesy bread tastes like steak.... thank you for starting my day off with a laugh".

“So French toast is the Wagyu equivalent”, joked another, in reference to the highly-prized Japanese beef.

"Petition to ban the word “bread steak” from ever being said again. #itstoast", argued another.

Le.lambivert stated: "I'm sure it tastes f***ing awesome but this ain't steak. Don't even try to advertise it as a substitute". 

Narin_mac85 joked: "Whenever I feel like I haven't had enough vegetables in my diet I just cut my steak into the shape of broccoli. That way it satisfies my vegetable cravings without having to eat vegetables”. 

Meanwhile, some on Twitter, where the recipe also found itself, took the time to point out that the steak was not actually suitable for non meat-eaters. 

Jonathnhoey_81 wrote: "It's also not vegetarian (Parmesan cheese, by any useful definition of vegetarianism, never is because they kill the cow to make it)”.

Another added: "It sounds like very delicious toast but it is not a steak! there are so many meat alternatives out there now, just buy one of those if you want a steak!!"

I agree! It's NOT steak and it can NEVER be!

MCO 3.0 Extends Yet Again

Malaysia persists in seeing 5,000+ daily cases in these four days as the number of deaths breached the 5,000 mark. 

Our backdoor prime minister (left) announced yesterday that MCO 3.0 is to be extended again. 

He made it known he is referring to it as Phase One of Movement Control under the National Recovery Plan – as if he can wish Covid away with a name-change! 

Muhyiddin Yassin reckoned this will last until July, maybe middle of the month or so. Meaning, there is no specific end-date. 

He maintained that this MCO continuation will only move to Phase Two when the average daily caseload drops below 4,000, the public health system sees the rate of bed use in ICUs returning to moderate levels, and 10 percent of the population have received two doses of vaccine injections. 

On the economic front, there will be massive uncertainty and we can expect many businesses already teetering on the edge of the abyss to go under. And with that comes more job losses and fast-disappearing savings. What we'll have are hardships taking their toll on lives and livelihoods.

Our future looks the same: Austere pessimism combined with dire foreboding. We should be grateful to the Perikatan Nasional government for the predicament that we find ourselves in today! Sheer incompetence, epic failure! 

#KerajaanBodoh #KerajaanGagal

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Made-in-China Goes to Space

After China’s Mars mission, it is already onto its next expedition. 

The country launched three astronauts – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo – into orbit to spend three months aboard the Tianhe module some 380km (236 miles) above the Earth. 

Tianhe ("Harmony of the Heavens") is the centerpiece of China's first space station, a three-module, 66-ton structure that the nation aims to have fully assembled by the end of 2022. It will take a total of 11 launches to build and supply the orbital outpost that will comprise of living quarters, science labs and even a Hubble-class telescope to view the cosmos. 

This is China's longest crewed space mission to date and the first in nearly five years. 

The crew had successfully docked with the space station just over seven hours after the launch. Their Shenzhou-12 spacecraft took off atop its Long March 2F rocket on June 17, 2021. 

Needless to say, this ignited a lot of interest from the Chinese population – but more than that, observant netizens have pointed out that what’s interesting is the gear and equipment in the Tianhe core module are all produced by Chinese companies. 

In fact, the topic "Daily Life of Chinese Astronauts" had 240 million views on Sina Weibo by Thursday. 

Devices including a Huawei P30 mobile phone, Lenovo ThinkPad laptop and Xiaomi electronic screwdriver were clearly seen in the livestream, released on Wednesday. 

Others such as bone-conduction headsets made by AfterShokz and Huawei FreeBuds didn't escape netizens’ attention either. 

Besides the electronic devices, present too were the Chinese watch brand Fiyta, clothes and sleeping bags for the astronauts by outdoor sportswear maker Toread, not to mention, refrigerators by Haier and microwave ovens by Galanz. 

Apart from the above products, other core products such as computers, operating systems and robot arms were all developed and manufactured by Chinese enterprises. For example, the Kylin OS replaced a Western system on the Chinese space station. 

This represents a big step forward in the development and progress of China's industrial manufacturing. China rocks!

Malaysia's MOH D-G Becomes Useful

Malaysia’s Health Director-General, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (right) has finally found something useful to do. 

Yesterday, he went to the ground to serve as a vaccinator, with a mobile vaccination team in the Parit Sulong vicinity in Batu Pahat, Johore. It was reported that he administered the vaccine to a number of individuals, including bedridden patients. 

He's engaged in an initiative that is productive as compared to hosting a press conference – and which is now reduced to a mere tweet – and dishing out daily Covid numbers, as if that will help Malaysians in any way. 

What we expect are containment strategies and their execution, so that a semblance of normality can return to the devastated country. Regrettably, he is incapable.

And I don't want to even talk about the Health Minister because he's a bigger fool! 

More idiocy has resurfaced. 

Community credit companies or money lenders registered with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government are now permitted to operate during MCO 3.0. 

The decision was arrived at the National Security Council Special Meeting chaired by backdoor Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (left) on June 18. 

It’s an absurd arrangement because it will only encourage desperate people to go into debt. It’s a dumb scheme because it is bound to cause even greater hardship to those who borrow money to tide over the harsh economic climate that they are experiencing now. 

Instead, the said ministry should look into providing economic assistance to those who are financially-strapped. 

Why not use our cash reserves to provide aid to those in need? Or are we going to be told that the government is broke? 

#KerajaanBodoh #KerajaanGagal

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Derek Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years

The US white ex-police officer convicted of killing George Floyd has been sentenced to 22 years and six months in jail. 

The judge said Derek Chauvin's sentence was based "on your abuse of a position of trust and authority, and also the particular cruelty shown" to Floyd. 

Following a three-week trial, the jury on April 20 found Chauvin (right) guilty of murder over the death of the African-American on a Minneapolis street last year. 

Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd's neck during the latter’s arrest last May, ignoring pleas that he couldn't breathe. 

The widely watched footage sparked worldwide protests against racism and police brutality. 

Additionally, he and three other former officers have been separately charged with violating Floyd's civil rights.

Sure, the landmark case for police use of force against black people, and the verdict and sentencing mark a significant break with the past. It's no secret that few officers are charged with manslaughter or murder, and fewer still are convicted. 

Lest Americans get carried away with this so-called victory, they should know that convictions like Chauvin’s are extraordinarily rare. 

Out of the thousands of deadly police shootings in the US since 2005, about 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter and just seven were convicted of murder, according to data maintained by Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Malaysian idiocy surfaces again. 

Federal territories minister Annuar Musa (left) has become the subject of ridicule on social media after saying that people are seemingly unafraid of Covid-19 – which he proclaimed to be an indicator of the country’s success in containing the pandemic. 

Speaking at a forum organized by HarakahDaily on Wednesday, the Ketereh MP said people flouted government restrictions on travel – which, he believed, meant that they were not concerned about contracting Covid-19. 

Is he for real? Oops, I forgot. A fool is a fool is a fool! 

#KerajaanBodoh #KerajaanGagal

181 Million Cases and A Covid Blow to Israel

The world’s Covid caseload is now 181 million. 

Romania is the latest country to have reached one million cases – a total of twenty-eight countries are all in the same boat. 

And Mongolia is country #97 to have joined the C100K grouping. 

Of course, these days, Malaysians are not likely to raise their eyebrows that the country climbed another rung – and we’re now #36 among countries with the highest number of Covid-19 infections. We are not in a good shape and yes, it can still get worse! 

Yesterday, the Israeli health ministry re-imposed a requirement for masks to be worn in enclosed public places following a surge in Covid cases since it was dropped eleven days ago. 

The spike in new infections is a blow for a country which has prided itself on one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts. 

The head of Israel’s pandemic response taskforce, Nachman Ash (left), told public radio the requirement came after four days of more than 100 new cases a day, with 227 cases confirmed Thursday. 

FYI, some Israeli quarters have claimed the country has already achieved herd immunity after it vaccinated roughly 80 percent of its adult population. Note: Children aged 12-15 are just starting to receive jabs. 

Dr. Eyal Zimlichman, deputy director general at Sheba Medical Center, Israel's largest hospital said that at least 70% of Israeli citizens now have immunity to the virus, either through vaccines or natural infection – the latter from the 830,000 people who have tested positive for the virus in the past and which should give them some natural immunity. 

However, Dr Sarah Pitt (left), a virologist at UK’s University of Brighton, urged "extreme caution" in concluding that herd immunity had been reached – something she believes will be difficult even at high vaccination rates.  

I shall repeat, vaccines are not magic bullets.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Plush Lookalikes

I'm not a pet person but I know there are people who keep pets and absolutely adore them. 

I suppose there's nothing quite like your pet. They soothe, they're smooth, and they're worthy of a smooch. Every one of them is unique and in a way, they're irreplaceable. 

Toy creators at Petsies ( multiply the joy by creating replicas of pets, just in case you want to have two of the same, or commemorate the precious memory of a pet who "crossed the rainbow bridge". 

In fact, they claim to specialize in all pets, big and small – the designers and seamstresses custom-make and hand-sew every Petsies plush to match your pet's likeness. 

They don't just stamp out one toy after another without putting much thought into it. They personalize each detail individually, and if your pet has their own unique quirks, they will happily add them to the stuffed animal. The whole process takes patience, so it takes around six weeks for them to create a single plushie. 

And to prove it, they post side-by-side comparisons on their Instagram – it is even said that sometimes the pets act as if the plush lookalike was their own little sibling.

Digital Body Language

Humans rely on body language to connect and build trust, but with most of our communication happening from behind a screen, traditional body language signals are no longer visible – or are they? 

Think about the last work email that you sent. Did its sentences end with full stops or exclamation marks, or did you forgo punctuation altogether? Was it peppered with emoji – or just plain text? And was your response prompt, or did you have to apologize for the time it had taken to reply? 

Consider your last Zoom call. Did you check your phone or email at least once during the meeting? And did you pause to be sure that the other speaker had finished? Or did you find yourself frequently interrupting their sentences, as you failed to take into account the slight delays in the connection? 

According to go-to thought leader on collaboration and a passionate communication junkie Erica Dhawan (right), these are all examples of our “digital body language” – a concept that serves as the title of her latest book. 

Like our in-person physical body language, digital body language concerns the subtle cues that signal things like our mood or engagement, and change the meaning of the words we say – be it in text, on the phone or in a video call. 

Needless to say, the rise of WFH has only made these issues more urgent, but psychologists have long known that digital communication is ripe for misunderstanding. 

For instance, Dhawan cites research from 2005 on how people interpret sarcasm. Overall, around 56% of people correctly detected the sarcasm when it was written in an email – barely better than chance – compared with 79% of people who heard the same words spoken out loud. 

And Dhawan’s own research suggests that these kinds of misunderstandings can lead to a major loss of productivity. In one recent survey of 2,000 employees and managers, she found that 70% report poor digital communication as a frequent barrier to their work, leading to around four hours of wasted time each week. “If you quantify that, it's 10% of a normal working week”, she says. 

So, what can be done? Dhawan avoids offering hard and fast rules of online etiquette; instead, it’s a question of mindfulness, so that we can be sure that our digital body language is intentional and appropriate to the situation at hand. 

And what of emoji?!? 

First consider written communication, starting with the use of emoji and punctuation marks, like the exclamation point. Stylists may sneer, but Dhawan argues that they often help to clarify the meanings of the words themselves, much in the same way as a nodding head or a smirk in person. 

Whether you’re signaling urgency or excitement with ALL CAPS, impatience and irritation with an “?!?” or mutual appreciation with a fist-bump emoji, you are helping your text to convey the feelings you would have embodied in person. 

“Research shows that roughly 60% to 80% of our face-to-face communication is non-verbal language, such as the pacing, pauses, gestures and tone. All of these cues bring energy and emotional nuance to our message”, she says. “In many ways, punctuation and the use of symbols in a digital world are the new means of signaling that emotion”. 

So, don’t feel shy about adopting these more informal digital cues, where appropriate – and be aware that others may well be expecting them. 

Broadly, your use of punctuation and emojis are part of a bigger set of cues that will establish the tone of your exchanges – whether they feel formal or informal, enthusiastic or bored. Other signals will include your greetings (whether you include a friendly “Hello” at the start of the message or simply dive straight in), and your sign off (an emotionally distant “Regards” versus an enthusiastic “Thanks!”). 

It is suggested that one good habit to have is to simply proof-read your messages to ensure that the meaning and the emotional subtext are as clear and appropriate as possible. 

And video calls present their own unique problems. There’s no easy way around that – we must accept that video calls will involve a certain awkwardness. 

But Dhawan has many suggestions to improve the experience and enable easier turn-taking. In group calls, people could be asked to raise their hands before speaking, for example. It can also be useful to designate a moderator for the call, who can ensure people stick to an agenda and don’t get distracted. 

As you might expect, Dhawan strongly advises against multitasking during these calls or allowing yourself to be distracted by other devices. “It is so obvious if you are busy looking down at your phone, when others are trying to make video eye contact with you”, she says. 

You may think no one will notice, but it signals a lack of engagement and enthusiasm. And if you know that there might be an interruption – such as another incoming call – it’s worth warning people in advance, she says, or at least putting a message in the chat box to explain why you have left, just to emphasize your respect for the people who remain in the meeting. 

And another thing, we should be especially careful to express our appreciation. 

“In the past, the handshake and the smile gave us those signals”, she says – but in online communication, our gratitude is often less apparent, or may not be expressed at all. Measures to remedy this could be as simple as sending a follow-up email, after a virtual meeting, to make it clear that you valued someone’s input, or cc’ing a junior colleague on an email to a client, acknowledging the role they played in a project. We can’t just assume that our colleagues will know how much we value them.

All these are good pointers to follow. As Dhawan succinctly puts it: "What was implicit from body language now has to be explicit in digital body language".

Thursday, June 24, 2021

180 Million Cases and Malaysia's Flawed Covid Strategy

The world has chalked up 180 million cases and 3.9 million deaths. 

Malaysia again climbed another rung – and is currently in the 37th spot in the list of countries with the highest number of Covid-19 infections. 

News reports in Malaysia almost exclusively talk about the ongoing vaccination program – and as more and more Malaysians queue up to get their shots, there is the real danger that they are lulled into a false sense of security that they’re safe! 

Folks, vaccines are not magic bullets. 

Covid-19 infections may still occur even with vaccination; the point of inoculation is to prevent hospitalization overcoming health care capacity and resulting mortality. I repeat, herd immunity is still an elusive concept that is being debated by international medical experts. 

Besides, this coronavirus has quite a few tricks up its sleeve. At the beginning of the pandemic, experts estimated that about 70% of the population needed to be vaccinated to keep everyone safe from the disease – but the Delta variant is more transmissible than the original virus, and the new estimate is closer to 85%. 

Additionally, we need to monitor immunity in vaccinated people, because we don’t know yet how long protection will last. When immunity starts to wane, we need to detect this through immune surveillance tests and invite those who are vaccinated to get booster jabs of the same or updated vaccines, as needed, in the years to come. 

My point is that vaccination seems to be our #1 priority, to the exclusion of other containment measures. And that makes it a flawed strategy.

Just look at our numbers. They are not diminishing, not at all. Surely, this tells us something.

I reckon we still have a long way to go out of this cursed pandemic.

Fashion Adopts "Phygital" Format

Yesterday, I had blogged about Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week and the measured return of physical shows, of which only 3 of 47 offered 'live' events.

Starting this week Tuesday, France’s fashion houses are tip-toeing back on to the catwalk. But only six of the 72 brands that make up the official Paris fashion calendar are to present 'live' shows – and these include the two big names in the form of Dior and Hermès.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic blighted the world, fashion shows have been plunged into the digital realm. 

Historically, fashion’s big events have been assigned to major cities in which models showed off the latest creations of top brand names to a ‘live’ audience. Now, they are being redefined for individuals who cannot be there in person. 

Indeed, necessity is not just the mother of invention – but of adaptation to new paradigms. 

And so, what has emerged is not just a fashion show on a screen but a new kind of experience that allows a designer and brand to engage directly with thousands and thousands more than can be packed into a ‘live’ show for a fraction of the cost. 

The precedent was set in March 2020 with the first purely digital fashion week that replaced the traditional kind in Shanghai, China. It was hailed as a great success both in terms of participation and revenue. 

And this format has now been adopted by all the key cities in Europe which organize fashion weeks – embracing the new opportunities enabled by digital transformation. The platform can host exclusive multimedia content from designers, creatives, artists and brand partners that enables collaboration and bringing together fashion, culture and technology. 

Matthew Drinkwater (left), who heads London College of Fashion’s Fashion Innovation Agency notes how digital can more accurately reflect the lack of set boundaries that defined fashion seasons in the past: “Seasonality has been disappearing for some time, and now more than ever, it's time for us to finally say goodbye to that and allow the creative expression from designers to sit within their timeframe or what feels right for their consumers or their audience – not to what the industry dictates it should be”. 

The outcome of this new virtual direction is what is referred to as a “phygital” format. That’s the term for a “high-tech format that blends cinematography, digital technology, and live models”. 

It’s not meant to be a 2-dimensional substitute for the ‘live’ show rendered on video, which Zegna artistic director Alessandro Sartori (right) dismissed as “a fake fashion show.” Instead, he aspires to a new paradigm that combines “real and digital”, which is why he likes the term “phygital”. 

For the viewer, it would be a superior experience: “You can watch it on your device and zoom in on details, accessories – whatever you want. You will see so much more of a garment than you do on a runway”. 

Faced with the necessity of translating fashion to a digital format, the industry marries the pomp and circumstance of a fashion show with the high-speed chill of the internet. At least, it tries to.

It should be a serious endeavor to produce a multimedia experience, rather than just a traditional multi-camera streaming set-up. Meaning, it should capture a ‘live’ creation that is being transmitted digitally. 

Still, I don’t believe the virtual format should replace the other. Methinks, digital and physical must live in tandem and one cannot be a shorthand for the other. 

I’ve seen life through screens: flat. Devoid of feelings, of warmth. Screens have no emotion, full-stop. 

On the other hand, 'live' events, whether fashion shows (or even public speaking events, for that matter) have immediacy. It's the experience we want and really, that makes it very special.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Spain Pardons 9 Catalan Separatists

Spain on Tuesday pardoned all nine separatist leaders who had been imprisoned for their role in Catalonia's failed 2017 independence bid in a gesture the government hope will foster dialogue to keep the region part of Spain and deflating its push for self-determination. 

The politicians and activists were sentenced in 2019 to between nine and 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds – after a referendum on a breakaway that courts banned but which led to a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain's worst political crisis in decades. 

"With this act we want to open a new phase of dialogue, of reconciliation, and to stop, once and for all, all the divisions and confrontation", Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (left) said in a televised address. 

Catalonia's separatist head of government Pere Aragones (right) said the pardons were a first step on "the path of negotiation and agreement", while reaffirming his view that Madrid should allow an internationally-recognized referendum. 

Shortly after, the central government reiterated their opposition to any such vote. 

Note: The pardons are conditional though, and a ban on the leaders holding public office remains in place. 

One of the nine leaders reacted defiantly to news of the pardons. Raul Romeva (left), who as Catalonia's foreign affairs chief in 2017 was sentenced to 12 years, vowed: "We won't give up the fight!” 

Surveys indicate that a majority of Spaniards oppose the pardons. Sanchez is betting they will eventually weaken the pro-independence drive in the wealthy northeastern region. 

In Catalonia, some praised the pardons but said they were not enough. 

Lluis Orriols, political science professor at Carlos III University in Madrid, said Sanchez's high-stakes decision was well-timed, after the nine spent three years behind bars in what the public will likely see as fair punishment, and expected upcoming talks to at least deflate tensions with Catalonia.

Fashion Needs to Be Seen in Real Life, Says Giorgio Armani

Ciao! Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week (June 18-22) is nowhere near the usual 40-plus schedule of 'live' shows – but anyway, it did see Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Etro putting on physical spectacles in the Italian fashion capital. 

As Italy’s second largest industry with pre-Covid turnover hitting the €100 billion mark, Armani (right) said fashion week would “be fundamental” in helping the Italian economy recover following the pandemic. He hosted his first physical fashion show in 16 months on Monday – the spring/summer 2022 menswear show. 

Like the rest of the fashion industry, due to the coronavirus, the veteran designer pivoted to showing his collections in a digital format as opposed to in front of the 200+ strong crowd he is used to – but has “realized that fashion cannot survive for long in an exclusively virtual form”. 

“I appreciate the importance of virtual presentations; they are useful and global”, he added. “[But] fashion needs to be seen in real life…”. 

“The digital fashion show is fake”, said Domenico Dolce (right) alongside his co-designer Stefano Gabbana, whose 94-model show on Saturday was their first since September. 

“It’s not a fashion show to do it digitally, between post-production and everything you lose the show. For us, the show is the moment the clothes connect with people and we [also] get a feeling of what people think about the clothes”. 

Kean Etro (left), creative director of Etro menswear, who staged his spring/summer 2022 show at an outside location on Sunday, concurred. “You can record what you want and you can stream it, but to [really] represent yourself, we need to see each other”. 

I can appreciate the sentiments expressed. 

Public speaking is the same too. As a speaker, it is vital to create connection with the audience. And nothing beats being in a real physical setting. With real people.