April 2020

You join me today as we approach week 7 of quarantine. I recently discovered that quarantine actually comes from the Italian word for “forty”. Back through the Middle Ages, when Venice was the trade capital of the world, they blocked travellers from entering the city for 40 days. Instead, all new arrivals would be sent to one of the lesser islands around Venice, where, apparently 9 out of 10 people died. Taken in a historical context, we’re having an easy ride of things, but at the same time, we’ve now pushed past the original definition of quarantine — so maybe we need a new word, maybe something like “cinqotine”.

I think with most of the modern comforts that are available to us through television, radio, internet and whatever else, the whole experience has been reasonably adaptable. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m generally introverted and need some quiet time at home to recharge the batteries. In the same breath, I’m also the same person that usually starts crawling up the walls on a Sunday morning if I didn’t go out on the Saturday.

I’ve been working from home, thanks to the power of the internet since November, so in many ways I was a little used to being at home a lot. It just meant I had a little more company than usual. Even if, I have been missing my daily walks to daycare in the morning. Adaptation for the rest of the family has been a little more challenging.

Rotem, for at least the first 4 weeks, felt like every day was Saturday morning. That meant, running in to wake me up nice and early before proceeding to drag me down to the floor in the living room to play with his toys. And from then on, mostly demanding my attention for all waking hours. At least in those first weeks we still had the local park to promenade through, even if it were still covered in ice and a little treacherous in places. However, my backup plan of making ample use of the pool in the building was quickly scuppered when the regional government closed all parks and pools at the same time.

Early on, Natalie was wise in investing in numerous activities that would make our lives easier by keeping the little one distracted. We are now proud owners of a water table, that lives in our kitchen (a great success), a small bouncy castle that fills most of entrance area (a move that dangerously walked the line between genius and madness) and much arts and craft supplies (a resounding failure given the total absence of artistic talent of the parents). 

As time has gone by, we’ve settled into our own little routine again. Basically, we’ve shamelessly ripped off the daycare schedule because a) I trust that it was implemented by people that know what they are doing and b) it should minimize disruption for him when he inevitably goes back. This way he gets a little bit of independent play, bits of learning numbers and language and a little bit of exercise each day. Everything the body and soul needs to stay nourished. And before anyone goes thinking that I’m some sort of saint,  an organized schedule is something that I can then mindlessly follow, which avoids the path of least resistance which would be just dumping him in front of the TV all day.

Of all of these things going on in our daily lives, Natalie is having the toughest time. She was already having a tough time of it as she was trying to shift gears between being a researcher in a lab and actually running the show. Her life is mostly focused currently on writing research proposals and building out her professional network both inside and out the university at the moment. The idea being that, she has both the finances to do her own research but also the connections and collaborations to do meaningful science. You wouldn’t expect it to be so difficult to convince someone to fund work on infectious diseases, but the pot of money is quite small, and largely publicly funded so everything requires a lot of justification.

As you might imagine, the proposal writing is a lonely pursuit a the best of times — imagine essentially locking yourself in a library to find out everything about everything in a given field of study, digesting everything and trying to formulate some ideas as to where you can contribute. But, at least given her office at the university she was just around the corner from a bunch of supportive colleagues that have previously gone through the hardships of starting a new lab. With the world going into lockdown, she’s trying to do the same lonely exercise, just without the support of someone that understands to get coffee with. She’s strong, she just needs to find a new normal where she commits to a few pages of writing every day. She’ll get there.

Regarding my own work, I’ve been with the new company for over a month now and my timing has been nothing short of miraculous. Obviously, more blind luck than considered decision-making, but sometimes in life, you just get lucky.

As soon as I walked out of the door of Boeing, Boeing shuttered all of their offices across North American. Initially, for only 2 weeks while the virus was working itself out, but they’ve yet to reopen the offices and have pushed everyone into working from home. Nothing unusual compared to any other company around here, but then the latest thing wrong with their new planes hit the press and the share price starting to fall. And sadly, as with so many large corporations, they are only as good as their last quarter and what the shareholders might think.

In any case, Boeing’s best selling plane has been out of the skies for over a year with more things crawling out the woodwork.  A classic case of once you catch a suspicious eye, then they are always going to find more. In this case, the fiasco and scandal has also made the regulator look deficient — so the inspectors now have something to prove. Either way, airlines started cutting or canceling orders. A few weeks on, the entire airline industry is struggling just to survive so the need to spend a couple hundred million on new aircraft is evaporating and causing more canceled orders.

And then finally, to add fuel to the fire, Boeing senior management has spent the last couple of years using all available cash to buy back company shares from the market, so there’s no cash lying about for a rainy day. Or worse still, they’re starting from a point of a lot of debt.

As you can imagine, this equates to a very poor situation for those that I used to share an office with. Waves of voluntary redundancies, termination of contractors, shuttering of projects. From what I’m hearing, my old office has been reduced to 70% time. Even then, for those that have stayed on, there is no certainty for them that things will won’t get worse before they get better. The company then risks losing all of their best staff as they get poached by anyone else who thinks they can snag a bargain.

Like I say, my departure could not have been much better timed. In any case, the new company is like night and day compared to the old one. The new company is full of experienced, yet still young professionals that are keen to just execute and get things done. Everybody is empowered and trusted to make smart decisions for what is best for the company. As supply-chain experts, we’ve actually seen a large uptick in interest from existing and new clients across supermarkets, pharmaceutical and medical supply companies as they want advice on streamlining their operations on getting the most stuff to the right place as efficiently as possible. Seems timely for the situation we find ourselves in.

Right now, my team is working with a major international airline’s cargo division with a goal to maximizing the number of boxes you can get onto a plane.

Not directly related to what I’m doing, but a good example nonetheless is what is currently happening at Shanghai airport. There is so much global demand for the medical supplies coming out of Shanghai that the airport has had to enforce hard restrictions, not just on the number of planes that can takeoff and land each day, but also the number of planes that can be kept on the tarmac. This week, 2 supply aircraft commissioned by the Canadian government were forced to return from Shanghai empty because of complications on the ground meant that the shipments didn’t arrive on time to be loaded onto the planes.

The whole world in general seems to be a bit topsy-turvy right now. As far as things are concerned in my own little world everything seems to be okay. Everybody is fit and well, Natalie and I are still employed like normal, we just have a bit more company at home. Yes, it is a little difficult to find a couple of uninterrupted hours to dive deep into focused work, but that can often be the case working in offices too.

I guess the strangest element of it all is just how quiet our dinner table has gotten. The usual conversation filler of “How was your day honey?” just doesn’t work the same way when you’ve largely been in the same room all day. Watched the same things on the TV, starred out the same windows. Heck, even with dipping into the news from 3 or 4 countries (sadly American news seeps in everywhere) the news has just been recycling the same talking points for the last month.

It’s funny really, when this was all coming into the global consciousness I was being asked a lot of questions as someone that spent by university years studying disease and having worked a few years in public health. But at this point, everyone is so fatigued about talking about every possible avenue that everyone seems to be desperate to find something else to talk about. But the schools are closed. The parks are closed. The airports are closed. Virtually all pastimes or hobbies are closed. Everyone was in the same boat. I have some spent some time on the phone and talking to friends from various chapters of my life from around the globe, and this has been an excellent time for catching up. It’s just so peculiar for everyone to be so excited to talk and yet run out of things to say so quickly.

Anyway, I think that’s enough brain vomit for one night, I should probably head to bed.

Stay safe, wash your hands and know that I love you.

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