Message in a bottle (a.k.a. Chronicles of Coronavirus)

Message in a bottle (a.k.a. Chronicles of Coronavirus)

I send an S.O.S. to the world, I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.

(Sting – 1979)

Jump to a day

Chronicles of Coronavirus

As more and more countries implement social distancing policies to try to contain the Coronavirus epidemics, some news websites estimate that today, more than a billion people are at home. Since this unwanted guest made his way into our houses, we are forced to rediscover life in a confined space. Today I start my chronicles from confinement. It is a way to defy boredom, reach out to the outside world and share what happens in this part of the world. These are difficult days, but we will overcome difficulties and who knows, maybe learn something from all this.

Sunday, 22nd of March

Today, the government announced that employment pass holders will not be allowed to enter the country, unless if they work in the transport or medical sectors. I will not be able to travel abroad until further notice.

Monday, 23rd of March

I am still working from home this week. Today the gym in my condo has been closed down until further notice because we have three cases of Coronavirus. I know that these are first-world problems but with less daily exercise, it will be harder to keep my mind cool.

Today, while I was walking to go to my German class, I bumped into this guy, who was sticking plastic bands on the floor, outside a popular fast-food restaurant.

Singapore is a process-driven place, and today the government has issued new regulations on social distancing.

Japan is also very process-driven, but one entity is even scarier than Coronavirus: the boss. Today I had a conference call with our Tokyo office. No one works from home there, as employees are afraid to be perceived as lazy if they remain at their place instead of going to the office. 

After today, my German class moves online. The teaching institution cannot respect the new rules and grant one meter of empty space between two students.

I went on FlightRadar 24 website and captured a snapshot of air traffic over France. The difference between today and a normal day is impressive.

Update from Italy: after weeks where new Coronavirus cases in Italy increased day-in day-out, numbers published today show that yesterday, they decreased substantially. It is very early to understand if the trend is changing, but it is important that this happened. 

Tuesday, 24th of March

Update from Italy: yesterday again, the number of new cases was smaller than the day before. This is the second day in a row: it never happened since the beginning of the Coronavirus spread. Major social distancing measures were adopted on the 9th of March, so the hypothesis that virus spread is slowing down as an effect of such measures is on the table at the moment. There are still many unknowns on this virus: I read an interview with an expert in epidemics, explaining that 40% of infected people show no symptoms. If the containment phase is missed as it was in Europe, strict social distancing is the only way to curb Coronavirus. I cross fingers and hope Italy progress continues tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25th of March

Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist, recently formulated the hypothesis that increase rate of new cases is the most reliable indicator of Coronavirus propagation. By tracking the moment when the increase rate slowed down and projecting the number of deaths and recoveries from that moment on, he predicted that the total number of Coronavirus in China would end up around 80,000, with about 3,250 deaths. This forecast turned out to be remarkably accurate: As of March 16, China had counted a total of 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths.

Update from Italy: yesterday the number of new cases was higher than the day before and this came after two days of decreasing trend.

I had a phone call with a co-worker living in Bangalore, India. Last weekend, the government called Indians for a social distancing test: the population was asked to stay at home. According to my co-worker, few people respected the guidelines and authorities decided to lock down the whole country: borders are closed, people cannot move from one state to another, all bars and restaurants are closed, as well as all shops. Only available option for grocery shopping is home delivery, but the delays are huge.

My Italian food importer informed me by email today that they are facing difficulties because of COVID-19 issues. All goods coming from Italy have to transit through an intermediate location before being shipped to Singapore and for this reason, the price of Burrata and Mozzarella will spike. Luckily I inquired  about the availability of Grana Padano, that does not need to be shipped weekly and can be stored locally for a few months. Grana is still available, I ordered three kilos that should allow me to survive the crisis 😉

Thursday, 26th of March

Thirteen days ago I sent to my parents in Paris a pack containing surgical and N95 masks, but they have not received it, yet. The masks are worth maybe 20 Euros but in times like these, they are seen as more precious than gold and may never reach their destination.

Dear Coronavirus,

Now I understand that this is what virus do: take away things from you and sometimes even worse. But why you cannot take everything at once? Why I have to endure the pain of losing all the things that filled my life little by little? I understand that you are greedy, my dear Coronavirus and I am OK to give you all my pass-times. Can you just take them all in one shot?

This is the list of new restrictions, effective from tonight, 26th of March.

Update from Italy: yesterday, 25th of March, number of new cases decreased again in comparison to the previous day. My feeling is that a downtrend will be confirmed soon and then accelerate. As explained yesterday, the decrease of number of new cases is probably the most important indicator of Coronavirus propagation.

Friday, 27th of March

Update from Italy: on 26th of March, increase of daily cases spiked up again, contradicting the optimistic update I posted yesterday. I will illustrate current situation with the chart below.

The blue line represents the daily increment of new cases. The orange line is the average of daily increments of new cases over the last seven days.

A simple way of looking at the chart is as follows: the more the orange line is heading upwards, the faster Coronavirus spread is progressing. In the current situation, every day that the blue line points downwards, the slope of the orange line becomes less steep, until the moment it will finally invert, which is when the virus spread really starts to slow down. When the blue line crosses below the orange, it is a good sign: in the finance industry, this situation is typically seen as an early indication of a trend inversion.

The green circle highlights the promising lapse of time between the 23rd and the 25th of March. Yesterday, the blue line crossed above the orange one. My interpretation of the curve is that, although Coronavirus spread is still increasing, it seems to slow down a little. These early indications will have to be confirmed in the days to come.

I decided to make a donation to EMERGENCY, a medical NGO that is working side by side with Italian authorities and healthcare organization to ease the pain in Lombardia, the region most affected by Coronavirus.

I think EMERGENCY is doing the right strategic moves by:

  • Relying on their core skills and past experience
  • Focusing on the systemic approach by helping building the most urgent infrastructure in the most affected areas
  • Taking actions to protect health of doctors and nurses, who are in the front line of operations
  • Easing the pain of that part of population that struggle getting support by other organizations such as self-quarantined elder people, migrants, homeless et cetera

If like me, you believe EMERGENCY is making the right moves, help them making a difference by donating.

These are the details of EMERGENCY action to respond to Coronavirus ( from their website):

EMERGENCY will give the authorities all the help it can to manage the coronavirus outbreak.

We will put our expertise in treating patients in the midst of epidemics, honed in Sierra Leone in the Ebola outbreak of 2014 and 2015, at the disposal of the health authorities. On Friday 6 March, we spoke to the authorities of Lombardy region and offered them our help in managing the Coronavirus danger. We are keeping in contact with other authorities to see whether we can give them a hand at this difficult time.

In Bergamo

Our medical and logistics team is working with Azienda Regionale Emergenza Urgenza (AREU) and the medical corps of the Alpini mountain troops to set up a new field hospital purely for treating patients affected by COVID-19. The hospital will be built at Fiera di Bergamo, the town’s exhibition and trade fair centre, and should be fully operational by next week.

We are collaborating on the design for the new facility, offering our experience in managing epidemics, thanks to our work on Ebola in Sierra Leone in 2014 and 2015, where we protected staff from contagion. EMERGENCY’s team of approximately 20 people will consist of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, and logisticians, who will run the intensive and sub-intensive care wards.

We have reorganized the areas and patient flows to reduce the chance of contagion as much as possible. Every detail at the facility is essential to containing the disease. It’s crucial to separate every area, clearly define the places for dressing and undressing, and thoroughly plan any movement of people in advance. We’re offering the experience we gained in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic, and to do that we’ve brought back some of our staff who were working abroad. We want to do our part at such a difficult time for Italy,’  says a spokesperson.

In Brescia

We have been contacted by various health authorities in different Italian regions. We are currently working with the Health Department at Brescia hospital to protect healthcare personnel and the hospital from contagion.

In Milan

EMERGENCY has answered the municipal government of Milan’s call for support services for the city’s people, offering its full help to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Using the government’s platform Milano Aiuta (Milan Helps)EMERGENCY has, as of Friday 13 March, been running a service delivering goods – food, medicine and other basic items – to people over 65, who have been ordered to quarantine themselves, and vulnerable people who cannot risk leaving their homes. EMERGENCY’s volunteers and Brigate di Solidarietà are supporting elderly people and those with chronic or immunosuppressive conditions, who are most at risk and have been advised to stay at home.

The service runs from 9 am to 1 pm, Monday to Saturday. It can be reached by calling 020202 and is completely free of charge. Every case is given a unique code and a level of priority. Calls are passed on by the Milan municipal government to Casa Emergency, EMERGENCY’s headquarters, where a work area has been formed to assign cases to volunteers spread around the city

Volunteers are currently moving in pairs and will wear a badge to identify themselves. All of them have received special training to minimise the risk of contagion to both themselves and the people they are supporting. Volunteers will not provide medical services of any kind.

Our support  to migrants and  homeless people

The work is managed by two teams from EMERGENCY, each made up of a nurse, a logistician, and a doctor in case of need. The point is to monitor the situation at the centres, see how the spaces are run when it comes to hygiene, safe distances and cleaning, and make sure the government’s instructions are being followed. After doing these checks, EMERGENCY points out any changes that need to be made to keep staff and patients healthy. We also train staff at the facilities on protocols and tutorials to follow to help them better manage the emergency.

It involves monitoring in shelters for homeless people and unaccompanied migrant children within the SIPROIMI (formerly SPRAR) system, including intermediary shelters and certain gypsy camps pointed out to us by Milan’s municipal government.

EMERGENCY will give basic training to Cooperativa Dar Casa, so it can let homeless people go into quarantine in its building on Via Carbonia, in the Quarto Oggiaro neighbourhood.

The project has begun  in collaboration with Milan’s municipal government.

In times like these, the worse thing that can happen to a country is to have executive powers concentrated in the hands of few leaders ignorant enough to dismiss science.

Saturday, 28th of March

Update from Italy: the new cases trend continues to show promising signs. Below is the chart updated with yesterday numbers.

I explained yesterday how this chart should be interpreted. The green circle shows something we never observed before: today the average number of new cases over the last week for the first time shows a slight decrease: as you can see, the orange line is flat. Another important sign that the Coronavirus spread in Italy is not accelerating. As I already said in previous days, it is important to see what happens in the few days to come. It is reasonable to expect that the number of persons infected with Coronavirus in Italy should finally start decreasing 5-10 after the orange line shows a clear trend downwards.

Sunday, 29th of March

Albanians came by the thousands to Italy in first years of the Nineties. When Nave Vlora reached the shore in Bari with its load of men, women, kids, babies, those of us who saw it on TV or in real, all wondered how it could still stay afloat. In the following days, there were Albanians everywhere. They looked dirty and dangerous: that kind of dirty and dangerous look that comes with years of dictatorship, hunger, suffering, struggle for survival. It was a better Italy: I don’t remember anyone suggesting to sink ships from Albania, back then. We rolled up our sleeves, fed them and cleaned them up. Some of the people that arrived on Nave Vlora, and their families and kids, still live in Italy today.

Sometimes a brain that can focus longer than a Tweeter message and a good memory can help putting things in perspective.

Today, as Coronavirus spread rages in Italy and kills hundreds every day, Albanian prime minister gave a simple speech surrounded by 30 doctors and nurses ready to leave to go and join Italian doctors in the areas that are suffering the most.

“I know that someone here in Albania will find strange that 30 doctors and nurses of our small army dressed in white are leaving today for Italian front line. I know that 30 doctors and nurses are far from enough to invert the balance of power between the invisible enemy and the white army that is fighting against it on the front line on the other side of the Adriatic sea. But I know that down there, it is also our home, since Italy and our Italian brothers and sisters saved us, hosted us, adopted us, in their homes while Albania was burning with immense pain. We are fighting the same invisible enemy and our human and logistic resources are not unlimited. But today we cannot keep our forces idle, waiting for them to be called to action, while in Italy, war hospitals are treating Albanians wounded by the enemy, too and desperately need help. Today all borders are closed and very rich countries are turning their backs to others. Maybe it is really because we are neither rich, nor deprived of memory, but we cannot avoid to demonstrate to Italy that Albania and Albanians never abandon friends in danger. In this war, no-one will win alone and you, courageous members of a life-saving mission, are leaving for a war that is also ours. Italy must win and will win this war for us, for Europe and for the whole world.”

Dear Edi Rama, Albania Prime Minister, this is a very touching gesture. Thank you.

Monday, 30th of March

The level of government response continues to increase each day. Many five stars hotels have been requested to stop accepting booking and prepare to host citizens repatriated from other countries.

Yesterday newspapers reported that a citizen has been stripped of his passport for failing to comply with mandatory stay at home notice.

We continue to maintain a high level of attention, following guidelines in terms of social gatherings and keeping a slightly bigger than normal food stock at home to overcome the consequences of panic hoarding.

Otherwise, the morale is high: we have been spared the pain that many other countries are enduring and I feel grateful for this. At the same time, I think it is important to comfort and relief the many dear people that live in Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, and in general to be mindful that we have been lucky so far, but this can change anytime. We have to to be mentally prepared and ready to take the right actions should worse come to worst.

Today, for the first time my German class moves to online as an effect of measures rolled out by the government last week.

Update from Italy: as anticipated in previous days, the number of daily new cases have reached the inflection point, the curve inverted and started to decrease. This is a good news, although hundreds of persons still die every day. The number of people infected by Coronavirus in Italy is still increasing, but at a slower rate. Looking at the charts, I believe it is reasonable to think that it may start to decrease in 5-10 days from today.

From today, we will be looking at a different chart, shown below.

The red line in the chart is the moving average over one week of the daily decrease of total number of infected people. The decrease is caused by people healing or unfortunately dying.

The orange line is the moving average over one week of the daily increase of total number of infected people. It is the same orange line I described in past days and represents an average of new daily cases.

The green line is the difference between the orange line and the red line. When and if the orange line will meet the red line, the average increase of total cases will have equaled the average decrease. Eventually, the red line will cross above the orange line and the green line will enter negative territory; from that point on, the total number of persons infected by Coronavirus in Italy will start to decrease.

The main indicator that we need to look at in these days, is how steep the green line is headed downwards: the steeper, the better. Let’s cross fingers and hope to see a steep downward slope.

Tuesday, 31st of March

Asian countries are leveraging some of their best assets to fight against Coronavirus. In Hollywood movies, Asians are sometimes relegated to the stereotyped role of computer geniuses, but now technological creativity is playing an important role in efforts to curb the virus spread.

Recently, the TraceTogether application has been released on Apple store to make contact tracing more effective and ensure people that have been in contact with someone diagnosed with Coronavirus can effectively be identified and quarantined.

This application is technically elegant in the way it solves the problem of data privacy. It relies on Bluetooth signals exchanged by different devices to detect users of the application that came in contact within a typical signal propagation distance of about ten meters. If someone using the application is diagnosed with COVID-19, he or she can simply upload their data to the Ministry of Health, which will then be able to decrypt the information and begin contacting other application users who have been in close contact of the confirmed COVID-19 case.

The application does not collect location data and I believe this fact is essential to its success. In the past, governments – I am especially thinking of post 9/11 mass surveillance programs rolled out in USA – abused difficult times like this to intrude in people personal life and when this happens, often there is no way back.

As Mr Jason Bay, Senior Director of Government Digital Services at GovTech, who leads the team that developed the application explains:

“Instead of attempting to tackle the issue of contact tracing by answering the question of ‘where,’ we address contact tracing by answering the question of ‘who’,” explained Mr Bay, who led the team behind TraceTogether. “After all, you could argue that the virus doesn’t care where transmission happens; it’s only interested in whether there is a hospitable host in close contact.”

In a Facebook post on March 23, the Minister in charge of the Smart Nation Initiative said that the application will be open-sourced. This means that the software’s source code will be made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

“We believe that making our code available to the world will enhance trust and collaboration in dealing with a global threat that does not respect boundaries, political systems or economies,” said the Minister.

Staying fit when you work from home is challenging. Since my gym has been shut down earlier this month, I intensified my home core routine. I have never done so many push-ups as in March 2020 😉

Update from Italy: March 2020 has maybe been the most dramatic year of Italy post World War II history. We have seen things we would have never imagined and Italian have been forced to reconsider how lucky they were before the virus came to jeopardize their life. Many countries have been looking attentively at the situation in Italy to try and learn how to fight this invisible enemy. The response has not been perfect, but my personal reading is that authorities did their best given the information in their possession.

Data on Coronavirus spread released yesterday, 30th of March are as follows.

As explained yesterday, the orange and red lines are two averages of seven days of data. The orange averages new Coronavirus cases, while the red represents cases decrease as people heal or unfortunately die. The green line is the difference of the two. The month of March ends with a very promising sign. The green line is now looking clearly downwards and this makes me hope that, in about 10 days from now, the number of persons infected with Coronavirus in Italy will start to decrease.

Wednesday, 1st of April

There is a cause-effect relationship between decisions taken by the authorities throughout the world in these critical days and the final outcome of Coronavirus pandemic. If we look at the evolution of the situation under the angle of protection of human life, I stated yesterday my opinion that, although their response has not been perfect, Italian authorities did their best given the information in their possession: the harsh measures imposed in China were hard to enforce in a Western country, there were unknowns in the virus spreading mechanics and Italy was the first Western country to be severely hit.

After Italy, things are no longer the same and lessons learned there are being used in many parts of the world. Browsing through the internet, I am still puzzled by the situation in New York.

Quoting an article appeared on Channel News Asia on 29th of March, New York area has been the most seriously hit by COVID-19 in the United States, with more than 52,000 cases in New York state. The same article reports that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had not discussed the opportunity of a quarantine in New York during his recent meetings with Donald Trump. Then following statements given by Mr. Cuomo during a press conference are quoted:

“I don’t even know what that means (a quarantine), But I can tell you, I don’t even like the sound of it. Not even understanding what it is, I don’t like the sound of it.”

“I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable. And from a medical point of view, I don’t know what you would be accomplishing”.

Previously, Mr. Cuomo announced a statewide “stay at home” order on March 20, warning New York state’s 19 million residents that those who defy the expansive edict could face civil fines. “When I talk about the most drastic action we can take, this is the most drastic action we can take,” Cuomo said.

The restrictions took effect the night of March 22 and stipulate:

  • All New Yorkers are ordered to work from home.
  • Employees in essential jobs and government personnel can continue to work.
  • Solitary walks and outdoor exercise is permitted but all team sports are banned.
  • Residents are allowed to go to the grocery store and run errands.
  • Restaurants and bars can still deliver to homes.
  • All non-essential businesses statewide must close their premises.
  • Liquor and wine stores are classified as essential so can stay open, as can pharmacies, grocery stores, and restaurants and bars offering takeout and delivery only.
  • Mass transit and roadways are not affected.

It is interesting to compare situation in USA to what we are observing in Italy. This chart highlights the growth on new Coronavirus cases in United States of America in March. New York is by far the most impacted area.

As we can see, the blue line, representing daily increment of new COVID-19 cases, is quickly stepping away from the orange one, that represents average of number of new cases over the previous seven days. This simply means that COVID-19 spread in United States of America is accelerating and the pandemic looks out of control.

The same thing happened in Italy and Italian authorities rolled out severe lock-down policies across the whole country. As we speak, the measures seem to have played a key role in curbing the virus spread.

I found the list of measures that have been rolled out in the different states within United States of America. They seem light compared to the harsh restrictions that have been taken in Italy and I anticipate that they will likely be insufficient to slow down COVID-19 expansion.

If measures implemented in New York are effective, we should observe signs of new daily cases trend inversion around the 6th of April. If this does not happen, more restrictions will have to be considered. The situation calls for extreme actions and failing to take the right decisions in the name of protection of economic interests is a very risky bet.

Think of it from a different perspective: what if, after finally realizing that the virus spread is completely out of control, lock-down had to be finally enforced in New York and United States of America when there was no economic interest to protect anymore?

Thursday, 2nd of April

Tomorrow, my office will finally close until further notice. We received a communication saying that closure is planned until 30th of April but at this point in time, with the number of cases on the rise in this country and Coronavirus raging everywhere, no-one really know when we will re-open. Last time I went to the office it was on last Friday, and it looked like this.

It was unnatural to see all these empty chairs and the space was so silent. I was caught thinking that it is only when we lose them that we realize how much the interactions that happen in the office shape our everyday life.

For about one month until today, my company has adopted systematic temperature checks at the office twice a day. Also, the workforce was divided in two teams and only members of the same team were allowed to access the office at any given time. The idea was that if one of the teams was quarantined because one of its members tested positive, the other team could have continued coming the the office if needed. Members of different teams were not allowed to meet inside or outside of the office and this last restriction will remain in place even after the office has shut down. Last Friday, I found on my desk this message from Shirlynn, a friend who I am not allowed to meet.

The day I will meet Shirlynn again, it will probably mean that the office is open again and COVID-19 is starting to fade away.

Update from Italy: the battle against COVID-19 on Italian front line is far from over. Number of daily cases spiked up yesterday, and although the trend remains positive, the few days to come will be critical and country lock-down will remain in place until further notice. The virus spread is accelerating in other countries that seem to be replicating Italian curve with a few days of delay. Although observing daily trends is fundamental to understand what is happening, we will only know in a couple weeks from now which country will have managed to slow down or contain Coronavirus, if any.

Friday, 3rd of April

The Prime Minister will go on TV in one hour from now to announce more stringent social distancing measures. Most likely he will announce school closure and probably shopping malls will be closed, too. It is another of these moments where I am forced to evaluate what else I can let go without pain. If I can still go for a walk, a swim and I can still provide for my need for food, I am happy 😉 . Welcome into COVID-19 game, where the sum of what you get and what you lose is always negative.

And so it is. PM spoke earlier this afternoon and from next Tuesday on a new round of measures will become effective. Schools and offices will be closed, essential services such as transportation and grocery shops will remain open. Restaurants will be allowed to operate, but only for take away food. Doing physical activity such as running is still allowed but keeping a minimum distance of one meter from other people. Gatherings, on the other hand, are not allowed.

These measures are motivated by the rise of untraceable cases of COVID-19; they are effective until 30th of April but will be extended if need be. The government believes that if they fail to act now and effectively bring the number of infected people below a safe threshold, the virus will spread in an uncontrolled way and cause even more damage in the future.

At this stage, we can only hope that this will be enough. Dear Coronavirus, you win another round, but we are still determined to kick your ass one day.

Saturday 4th of April

As I reported yesterday, new measures will be implemented next Tuesday to slow down the Coronavirus outbreak. The key points are highlighted in the infographic on right below, while the one on the right lists services that are defined as essential and will continue to be granted.

Yesterday’s prime minister speech reached out to the majority of the population. Immediately after, people started debating on its implications and like in previous occasions, an enthusiastic toilet paper hoarding run ensued.

COVID-19 highlighted how countries react differently to a scary and massive threat, depending on cultural aspects, the leadership style of their rulers, their form of government. But if there is something that seems to be bringing humanity together in these hard days, regardless of any form of diversity, that one thing is the primal fear to die of starvation and without having been able to properly wipe ourselves. 

Update from Italy: Coronavirus keeps slowing down. I previously forecasted that the number of infected people may have started to decrease around the 10th of April, but we will have to wait a little longer. Let’s look at the latest chart.

The green line, representing the average difference of new cases and closed cases, is still headed down. Its value today is around 2700 and in the last days it has been decreasing of around 250 units per day. I was expecting that the red line representing the average sum of deaths and healed patients, would increase faster as more and more people who tested positive in the previous days died or healed, but for some reason that does not seem to be happening. Given the latest dynamics depicted by the chart, Italy should reach the peak number of infected people in around 10-12 days.

5th of April

We were lucky today and we could go for a bicycle ride, before the town is shutdown.

I took those few pictures and, for those who are closed in, I want to reassure you, there is still a lot of beauty out there, and it will still be there once we go out.

Before Coronavirus intruded into our work place, I used a joke to define the often abused “digital transformation” buzzword. “It’s like teenagers and sex” – I used to say “everyone wants to do it, but no-one knows how. Although the concept of digital transformation encompasses a lot more than working from home, we have to admit that Coronavirus is redefining the corporate job in these hard days.

My company operates globally through a network of hundreds of physical offices. We use to say that we have an office in a bigger number of countries than those represented at United Nations. Some of our sites have a population of 4000-5000 employees, commuting from their homes to their work place every day.
When the first restrictive measures started to be enforced throughout the world, and in a matter of days, like many other companies, we shifted all our operations to our homes. Coronavirus has been a formidable digital transformation benchmark and we are today coming to fruition of years of effort spent to implement cloud technologies, cooperative working tools, video conferencing infrastructures. I did not fully grasp the amplitude of the transformation that happened in the past years, but I can see now how global companies that managed to stay at the edge of technology are today more robust, flexible and technologically resilient.

The last missing piece was the mindset shift towards an instinctive collaborative working attitude. Forced in our homes by Coronavirus, through the usage of intuitive technologies, we are building a new neuronal network made of remote co-workers that help us not only in our working tasks, but also to understand the complex reality of the outer world. Our personal messengers complete the network and connect us to our remote friends and families. Thanks to these networks, we are aware of the challenges awaiting for us in these difficult times inside and outside the work place.

We are forced to adapt every day as the wind of COVID-19 change blows with the force of an hurricane. Let’s do our best to steer our boats out of the storm, and keep in mind that the pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, the realist adjust the sails.

A sky full of lanterns

A sky full of lanterns

During 2020 Chinese New Year, raging Coronavirus was claiming a heavy death toll in Chinese province of Hubei, when me and my girlfriend travelled to Taiwan for a short trip. One morning, we visited the National Palace Museum, hosting some of the finest Chinese imperial era pieces of art sent to Taiwan during the civil war between the Communist and Nationalist armies. Later that same day, we took a train to the small city of Pingxi, just a few kilometers East of Taipei, to attend the local sky lantern festival.

Traditionally, at the beginning of the Lunar Calendar year, just after Chinese New Year Spring Festival (過年、春節), Chinese farmers used to write their wishes and prayers for a fruitful harvest, reliable water sources, lots of rice, protection from the elements, safety of farm animals onto paper lanterns and release them into the sky to reach the heavens.

In Taiwan and the Pingxi area, sky lanterns came to symbolise a wish to give birth to more boys to help out on the farm since the Taiwanese Hokkien wording for “adding a boy” to the family (添丁) and the word for sky lantern (天燈) have a similar pronunciation, roughly pronounced tiām dīng and tī dīng.

In a magical night, while the whole world held its breath hoping that the Coronavirus would not spread out of China, we looked at thousands of paper lanterns slowly ascending in the dark sky and wished that moment could last in our memories.

Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival Video

Photo credits


Unfortunately the virus spreaded throughout the whole world. I am keeping a chronicle here

97 points in two games

97 points in two games

Going through physical pain and health issues is annoying but we have to be prepared to it as it is an unavoidable part of life; everyone eventually gets old and even individuals that seem immortal cannot escape this rule. Let me get it straight, with an example: everyone gets old and this includes Micheal Jordan.

In January 2000, Jordan returned to the NBA for the second time, after his memorable “I am back” in 1995. That time he would return not as a player, but as part owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. The next summer, Jordan hired his old Chicago Bulls head coach, Doug Collins as Washington’s coach for the upcoming season, a decision that many saw as foreshadowing another Jordan return.

On September 25, 2001, Jordan announced his second NBA comeback as a player in the team he partially owned. Here follows a story that Doug Collins told an ESPN interviewer; it is a snapshot of Micheal Jordan exceptional NBA career sunset. This story goes out to those that were lucky enough to witness this fantastic basketball player dominate the game throughout the nineties.

When I was coaching in Washington we played the Indiana Pacers and we were down 25 at the end of the third quarter. I took Micheal out of the game and I said: “look Micheal, I know you think that we can still win this game but we got to play again soon, you know. If we make a little run tonight I’ll put you back in the game”, but we didn’t.

I found out after the game was over that he had eight points in the game and he broke a streak of like eight hundred and sixty something games in double figures and so the media was: “you know, how do you think Micheal is going to be with this?”

I said: “You know what? Micheal has got championships, rings, he’s got gold medals, he’s got NCAA championships, he’s got MVPs. He is not going to care about the eight points”.

So he (Micheal Jordan) met with the media and agreed.

You know, the bus is lonely as a coach when you’re sitting there after you got your head handed to you, so I was sitting on the bus and actually Micheal had hired me. He was the part owner and president General Manager and he hired me to be the coach and then he came back to play.

I’ll never forget this moment. As his coach this to me was greatness.

He got on the bus and said “scoot over”. Then he looked at me and said: “Do you think I can still play?” and I said: “Absolutely, that’s why I am here to help you”.

He said: “You know, to be my coach you have to believe in me and believe I can still play”, and I said: “Micheal, I believe in you”.

He said: “You did the right thing tonight, you did the right thing tonight. I don’t care about the points but I needed to know that you believed in me”.

Fast forward; we get on the plane, he has a few cocktails, smokes a couple cigars, all the things you’re not supposed to do. We get back about 3.30 in the morning in Washington. At 7.30 that morning he is in the fitness room with Tim Grover, training like you can’t believe. Nice 41 years old. We play the New Jersey Nets next night and Micheal scores the first three times he has the ball.

Byron Scott takes a timeout and Micheal comes over and says:

“I want the ball right there the rest of the game and don’t take me out until I tell you”

And so that’s fine by me but with two minutes to go in the game he gives me the sign like that’s enough.

I take him out of the game, he walks over the bench and I say: “Micheal, what happened tonight?”

He said: “Well, the guy that was guarding me told me his back was hurting, don’t ever tell me you got a problem, I’ll make you pay for that”.

51 points later, 51 points at age 41, he came back the next game with 46 (points) and he looked at me and said: “I told you I could still play”.

97 points in two games. I was absolutely blown away at what this guy could do with his mind, how strong he was, and he is playing on one leg, and he cut his finger doing a cigar, all his finger was bent, he had a bad knee; the competitive will and great, I’ve never seen anything like that, but that moment when he looked at me and asked if I still believed in him, as this is the greatest player to play the game wanting to know if I still believed in him. It was a moment I would never ever forget.

Micheal Jordan played his last NBA game on April 16, 2003, in Philadelphia and retired for good at the end of the season.  He scored 32292 points in his NBA career and for the impact he had on the game and his unparalleled skills, is generally regarded as the greatest basketball player of all times.

Cari ragazzi

Cari ragazzi
Scrivo raramente in Italiano su questo blog e di solito evito  di parlare di attualita’ Italiana, perche’ poco mi interessa ed ancora meno mi manca. Ieri pero’ mi sono ritrovato a riflettere su quel che sta succedendo in Italia ed ho pensato di scrivere questa lettera immaginaria.

Cari ragazzi,
Ieri, mentre correvo in palestra, ho ascoltato un’intervista con Jim Simons, un tizio di cui non avevo mai sentito parlare. Per chi non ha ventitre minuti e sette secondi per guardare il video su YouTube, o magari non ne ha voglia, ecco un riassunto:
Jim Simons e’ Americano ed e’ un uomo di successo. Nel 1974, mise a punto miglioramenti rivoluzionari ad una complessa astrazione chiamata teoria delle stringhe e per questo e’ considerato uno dei grandi matematici viventi. E’ anche famoso per un’altra ragione: e’ ricco sfondato perche’ ha creato ed e’ stato a capo per decenni di uno dei fondi di investimento piu’ performanti al mondo. Nell’intervista condivide con chi ascolta la sua ricetta per il successo. In soldoni, dopo essere stato un accademico ed aver messo il suo talento matematico al servizio della difesa degli Stati Uniti, e’ stato uno dei primissimi a capire che la data science potesse rivoluzionare il mondo della finanza. Dopo questa illuminazione, lancio’ un fondo di investimento che operava in modo rivoluzionario:  i piu’ brillanti matematici e fisici Americani venivano reclutati nelle istituzioni accademiche e messi a lavorare alla creazione di modelli matematici da applicare alle decisioni legate al trading. Oggi lo fanno tutti. Dopo aver guadagnato centinaia di miliardi per se stesso ed i suoi clienti, si e’ ritirato dal suo ruolo esecutivo nel suo hedge fund ed ha creato una fondazione che ha l’obiettivo di promuovere l’insegnamento della matematica finanziando programmi scolastici e professori selezionati su criteri di eccellenza. La parte piu’ interessante dell’intervista e’ quando Jim Simons esalta l’eleganza della matematica e ricorda che il  suo successo all’apparenza folgorante e’ in realta’ passato attraverso numeri, studio, eccellenza. Con talento ed applicazione si possono creare modelli rivoluzionari che trascendono il problema per cui sono stati creati, ed il successo diventa accessibile.

Ironia della sorte, ieri ho anche letto che il mezzo primo ministro della Repubblica Italiana Giggino Di Maio ha nominato Lino Banfi ad un ruolo nella delegazione Italiana all’Unesco. Non potevano mancare i commenti dell’altro mezzo primo ministro, Matteo Salvini. Ecco qualche dichiarazione, a dir poco illuminante:
Giggino ‘o fenomeno: “Approfittiamo per dare una notizia all’Italia che a me riempie di orgoglio: come governo abbiamo individuato il Maestro Lino Banfi perché rappresenti il governo nella commissione italiana per l’Unesco. Abbiamo fatto Lino Banfi patrimonio dell’Unesco”
Lino Banfi: “Mi impegnero’ a rendere la figura del nonno patrimonio mondiale dell’Umanità”.
“Ieri sera ero a casa  quando mi è arrivata una chiamata in cui, dal ministero, mi anticipavano la possibilità di entrare in Commissione Unesco. Stamattina sono andato per incontrare il ministro, che ho trovato simpaticissimo. Ero lì solo per farmi spiegare bene di cosa si trattasse. Ho posto subito le mie due ‘conditio sine qua non’: niente inglese e niente laurea”.
Matteo il bullo: “Di Maio ha annunciato Lino Banfi ambasciatore dell’Italia all’Unesco. Va bene, e Jerry Calà, Renato Pozzetto e Umberto Smaila? apriamo questo dibattito. Scherzi a parte, l’Italia è così bella che chiunque può difenderla e valorizzarla”
Concetti profondi e complessi. Proviamo a riassumere semplificando:
1) Un rincoglionito ultra-ottantenne, nominato a rappresentare l’Italia  in un consesso dove si decide come proteggere e promuovere il nostro enorme patrimonio spesso in rovina, dichiara che si occupera’ di parlare di nonni alle riunioni dell Unesco, in Italiano anche se tutti intorno al tavolo parlano Inglese. A parte fare il nonno, molto di puo’ non potrebbe fare, non possedendo alcun titolo o esperienza a supporto dell’importante incarico. Se poi ad una riunione dovesse presentarsi, un laureato, Il Maestro preannuncia che se la dara’ a gambe. Vorrei avvisarlo: e’ probabile che accada.
2) Un mezzo primo ministro gioisce di avere offerto all’Unesco nientepopodimeno che il Maestro Lino Banfi, un patrimonio dell’umanita’ addirittura! Corbezzoli!
3) L’altro mezzo primo ministro enfatizza che  un rincoglionito ultra-ottantenne diventato famoso grazie alla sua scarsa dimistichezza con la lingua Italiana va benissimo per difendere il patrimonio dell’Italia, perche’ potrebbe farlo chiunque. Chissa’ perche’ gli altri paesi si ostinano a nominare in questi organismi gente qualificata?
Insomma, per le nostre due mezze figure, titoli, preparazione, istruzione sono orpelli  inutili e dannosi. La migliore strategia per difendere gli interessi Italiani e’ nominare gente impreparata ed ignorante per rappresentare l’Italia negli organismi internazionali,  tanto l’Italia e’ talmente avanti.

Pensandoci bene, e’ normale che la pensino cosi’: in effetti tutti  applichiamo alle nostre interazioni col mondo esteriore, gli insegnamenti del nostro passato.
Giggino e’ oggi indubbiamente un uomo di successo. Dopo aver fallito nel conseguimento della laurea in legge a Napoli, e’ diventato mezzo primo ministro senza mai aver lavorato un giorno in vita sua, se escludiamo vendere bibite al San Paolo, grazie a qualche decina di “like” su un social network di sfigati complottomani e no-vax. Fra gli incarichi di rilievo ricoperti in passato, ricorda spesso di essere stato capoclasse alle superiori ed altrettanto spesso dimentica di essere socio nell’azienda di famiglia, distintasi ultimamente per l’utilizzo ripetuto di lavoratori in nero.
Il curriculum di Matteo il bullo ricorda molto quello di Giggino. Anche lui e’ uomo di successo e non si e’ mai laureato, eppure una laurea alla facolta’ di Storia della Statale di Milano, a cui era iscritto, non sembra proprio proibitiva. Le uniche attivita’ lavorative di cui si ha notizia in passato si limitano alla consegna di pizze e qualche part-time al Burghy. Dopodiche’ ha svoltato: e’ entrato in politica assicurandosi cosi’ di non dover mai lavorare in vita. Oggi passa le sue giornate su Facebook a mangiare Nutella, fare la faccia triste dopo essere stato mollato dalla fidanzata, giocare con le ruspe.
Queste due mezze figure hanno in mano il destino dell’Italia. Chiedetegli che modelli hanno da proporre a voi ragazzi per costruire il vostro avvenire. Che politiche promuovono per le scuole, le palestre, le universita’, la ricerca, la competizione, l’innovazione? Un’idea di futuro si puo’ limitare ad insulto e derisione di altri paesi, istituzioni e chiunque non la pensi come loro?
E voi pensate davvero che becera ignoranza, egoentrismo, botte al negher, complottismo, bullismo, balle spaziali, protezionismo, scaricabarile, incompetenza siano gli strumenti giusti per raccogliere le sfide di questo millennio? Se la risposta e’ si, preparatevi a fare l’elemosina e vivere in una casa di cartone perche’ la realta’, a parte pochissime fortunate eccezioni come Giggino ‘o fenomeno e Matteo il bullo, tollera pochissimo  l’inutilita’.
Insomma, cari ragazzi Italiani, e’ arrivato il momento di diventare adulti e scegliere. State con Jim Simons o con Lino Banfi?


Se  qualcuno mi avesse predetto che un giorno avrei scritto di teoria delle stringhe e Lino Banfi nella stessa pagina, lo avrei preso per pazzo. Ho mandato una mail ad un amico con il testo qui sopra e lui mi ha risposto: “una delle conseguenze della teoria delle stringhe e’ l’holographic principle, che dice che l’universo e’ una finta proiezione in più dimensioni di quelle reali. Un’illusione insomma. Ecco direi che e’ l’unica spiegazione”. Forse ha ragione il mio amico, e’ solo un sogno e magari mi sto per svegliare.

Good Bye Tsukiji​

Good Bye Tsukiji​

On October 11, 2018, Tsukiji fish market in central Tokyo will close down and the area where the market is located will quickly be redeveloped to become a transport hub for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Tsukiji market started operations in 1935 and is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. It is also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. The market was portrayed in many popular movies, including 2012 Jiro Dreams of Sushi, that revealed to the world the unlikely saga of Jiro Ono, the 93 years old chef that runs a three-Michelin-starred Japanese sushi restaurant in Ginza.

Tuna auctions are maybe what Tsukiji is most known for. Throughout the day, intermediate wholesalers assess hundreds of fresh and frozen tuna before they go up for auction. Following a ritual unchanged for decades, they check fattiness of tail cross-sections in the dim light of their torch lamp and scribble down the lot number of the best animals. After the auction, tunas are cut using hand-crafted traditional knives and dispatched to the next ring of the supply chain.

The fish market will move to a new location in Toyosu waterfront district and precious space will become available in the heart of Tokyo. Since the plans were first unveiled, the project has been delayed multiple times. The last delay was due to concerns about consumers health after important quantities of chemicals had been found in the new Toyosu site.

Paradoxically, the urbanists that layout plans for the capital of the most traditional country on Earth seem not to care about symbols and legacy of old times. Ancient buildings are a very rare sight in Tokyo: many have been destroyed by Second World War bombings or earthquakes. Those that survived will likely be wiped away by Japanese passion for progress and novelty.

More travel photography on this blog

Other media on Tsukiji fish market

The incredible hands: a documentary on Tsukiji fish market and tuna wholesalers

Big Jet Plane

Big Jet Plane

I like Angus & Julia Stone because they are chill and have beautiful voices. It is the kind of music I want to listen when I’m at home for the first weekend in a long time and I’m laying on the sofa, while the warm sun filters through my living room window shade and caresses my cheek.

I definitely took too many planes in the last weeks. Every time the same routine, it seems normal. But flying is a miracle and recently inspired me a collection of pictures named “Airliners”.

Last Sunday, while my stereo was playing that relaxing music and I was enjoying the warmth of the sun filtering through the window shade, I suddenly started feeling creative. So I thought of asking Angus & Julia to lend their voices to my pictures and the result was this video.

Big Jet Plane Video

Floating wishes

Floating wishes

According to the Royal Institute Dictionary 1999, Thai word loi (ลอย) means “to float”, while krathong (กระทง) has various meanings, one of which is “a small container made of leaves which can be floated on water during the Loi Krathong festival”.

Loi Krathong falls on a full moon night, in November. Come the right time, Thais dress up in their best clothes and go in a place close to the water, a pond, a canal or a small lake will do, holding a little boat made of banana leaves. In the boat, they have put flowers and a candle. They light up the candle, set it afloat and make a wish while they look at the small thing going slowly away.

More travel photography on this blog