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JOEL Joel's Blog

Infectious Times - A Journal of the Plague Year


Infectious Times - A Journal of the Plague Year  1
Many years ago, I was an IT guy. One of my first my first programming jobs involved working with compilers (software that processes code into machine language). The compilers of the time took ages to do their jobs. So every time I wanted to test something or see if I had good code, I would push the "Compile" function and wait fifteen minutes. There was no internet to surf back in those ancient times, so I would bring a book to read. The most memorable book I read during that time was "A Journal of the Plague Year" by Daniel Defoe, best known as the author of Robinson Crusoe. The book is a fictionalized account of the plague infecting London in 1664-65. The fear, panic and uncertainty it depicts is no different than it is now with the coronavirus, although our scientific knowledge is much greater and today's panic about everyone getting wiped out is lower.

Once when I was called for lunch by my colleagues while I was reading the book (and waiting for my computer to finish compiling) I found myself wondering if I should join them because I could catch the plague. It took me a minute to realize that I wasn't going to catch the plague - I was just totally immersed in the story.

Here in NYC the public school system (with well over a million students) is closed for at least 5 weeks. Restaurants, Broadway theaters, movie theaters, bars, museums, gyms, etc. are also closed. We are trying to stay open as long as we can. We have been wiping down all the contact points in the shop, doorknobs, and faucets, scanners and so on. I take the subway to work and lately the trains have been much less crowded. And we are washing hands compulsively. Coronavirus plus stock market slide has been tremendously challenging for the professionals hoping to start a project and for hobbyists wanting to justify a nice tool purchase.

Barring a directive from the city, or issues with pickup of packages by FedEx and USPS, we plan to stay open. We are already experiencing slower foot traffic, but the people who are coming by really need our stuff. And of course a lot of people are ordering on-line. Our shippers are busier than ever, albeit with toilet paper and water rather than tools. We're told that delivery times should still be good - Fed Ex Ground will deliver our package to you next day for a big chunk of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic with a couple of days extra as you head west.

NB Defoe's account of the plague is fictionalized. If you wish to read a contemporary account of of the 1665 plague see the diary of Samuel Pepys. By the way, the plague in both of these accounts is the Bubonic plague, a bacterial infection carried mainly by fleas. The Bubonic plague was responsible for killing a third of the population of Europe in the late fourteenth century. It came back periodically over the centuries. In Pepys' time it was nowhere near as deadly as it was in the original infection.

Photo above: Subway traffic is lighter than normal but more crowded than this picture indicates. The main reason that the platform is empty is that a train (which I missed) just left the station.

Join the conversation
03/18/2020 William Solberg
Thanks, Joel. Good content over and above the platitudes of many other companies. Best of luck and stay open as you please. Bill.
03/18/2020 Stephen Prunier
Thanks for the update and be smart!

About your time in IT, My late Father was the director of research for the Filenes dept. stores until 1985. When I was young in the late 60's early '70s my father would take me with him to Boston whenever there was a problem after regular store hours. Back then the computers were tape reels and you would keypunch? the information onto cards and feed them to the BEAST. One of today's laptops would be more powerful than the millions of dollars in that huge room. :)
03/18/2020 3/18/2020
Wow! makes you think of all the past issues each decade had to endure, sort of that billy Joel tune. My question to you guys... Is it just me or does it seem the more advanced we become the complicated things get. I remember the day without cell phones yet my mother always could find me. Anyway just took delivery of my new SCM combo machine which is a great diversion from the news. best of luck to you and staff Joel, to you all best stay healthy
03/18/2020 Eric Weissman
I've never seen a subway station looking so clean and bright. I worry about all the businesses and non-profits and their (your) employees during what is shaping up to be a monumental contraction. Best of luck weathering this.

I'm thinking of re-watching Bergman's "Seventh Seal".
04/01/2020 Daniel Burgoyne
You wrote it so well.

Here is a similar account of a small pox outbreak in British Columbia in 1892.
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