Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

Archive for the ‘COVID-19’ Category

COVID-19 Vaccination

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Second floor vaccination facility at Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, NY. Everyone wearing masks and socially distanced. In the far background are some of the great soldiers attending the people receiving the vaccine.

I’m an Emerging Media professor at Hunter College, Department of Film & Media Studies and this past school year, I have been teaching entirely on Zoom. This semester, spring 2021, I’m teaching a new course XR Development & Design. We started the first few weeks with apps that are relatively easy to introduce and start using – A-Frame and Spark AR. A-Frame is a webvr framework that utilizes HTML, CSS and JS; it’s built on top of the javascript framework three.js that has been around for the past ten years. A-Frame makes three.js much more accessible and with an understanding of HTML and basic JavaScript, students can start constructing 3D virtual worlds that reside on the web. Spark AR is FaceBook’s augmented reality tool to create filters and other virtual artifacts that reside on Instagram or FB. Now we are getting started with Unity, a much more complex application that facilitates virtual reality and augmented reality and desktop and mobile projects… – it’s an application that allows you to build projects across platforms.

I first proposed the course a year and half ago, before the pandemic and I received an institutional grant to afford equipment for the course. I put off the course for a semester (a year ago, I had planned to teach it in fall 2020). Due to the pandemic, I understood that a VR course in which students would be sharing Oculus headsets and iPad Pros, wasn’t going to work and that it would have to wait. Sadly, I had already purchased some of the equipment, equipment that has since gone obsolete such as the Quests that are now probably slow in comparison to the Quest 2. However, as it became clear that the pandemic was not miraculously going away by Easter 2020 or summer 2020 and that the Trump administration had entirely failed to rein in the spread, I decided to re-tool the course for primarily online in order to run it this spring. Thus far, I’ve seen amazing projects created by the students and I’m excited at how they are adopting these new tools for storytelling and documentary.

Now with a new Presidential Administration in place, one that recognizes the gravity of the pandemic and has taken a much more professional roll out of vaccination, I am feeling more confident about a return to in-person teaching. One of the purchases for the class is an iPad Pro (I got funding for two, but due to the pandemic only ordered one). I ordered the iPad Pro for its LIDAR 3D scanning capability with the hope of scanning the students and having 3D versions of themselves populate their projects or scanning buildings to tell location-based AR stories… The course that I’m teaching is technically a hybrid – both online and in-person. In order to make the in-person a reality and to utilize that iPad Pro with the students, I signed up for the vaccine and this past Friday, February 26th, I received my first dose at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Biking my way from Flatbush to Crown Heights, I envisioned a line, who knows how long (regardless of having an appointment scheduled) and nurses attending the vaccine receivers. This was not at all what I encountered. I locked up my bike and walked up to two soldiers standing outside a long white tent adjacent to a sports facility building. I told them that I had an appointment, they asked me to pull out my documentation that I had filled out the forms and an ID and ushered me forward through the tent. At the other end, was another soldier, who again told me to have my form and id ready and sending me into the building. Up three stairs was another solider who directed me to the end of one row of a series of tables staffed by many soldiers, each sitting in front of a laptop in the lobby of this large gym. The last solider at this row of tables smiled and waived me forward. I presented my driver’s license and printed proof of having filled out the appropriate forms. He did something on the computer, perhaps searching for my appointment and verifying my data. He then directed me to a line with about six people, a line running outside a gym entrance.

I only waited in this line a few minutes. As I peered into the gym, I saw a highly organized and socially distanced temporary facility. Along the perimeters were curtained enclosures and in the center white plastic fold out chairs with people waiting. I anticipated having to wait on one of those chairs until my number was called. Instead, I was directed upstairs to another, smaller outdoor gym that was transformed into a bubble, a temporary interior gym. It had the same layout – along the walls curtained enclosed areas, each administrated by two soldiers and white plastic chairs spread out in the center. A solider escorted me to one of the curtained “rooms” where I was received by two soldiers, one behind a desk and another across from the chair that I was asked to sit on. They asked that I verify that I consented to the vaccine and asked me if I had any questions. I had been trying to find out what vaccine was being given at this location and had not found the information, so that was my first question – it was Pfizer which I was pleased about. I also asked when the second dose would be and was told that it would be in three weeks and that I would receive an email with the date and time. The soldier across from me then asked me which arm he should inject, I pointed out my left arm. The soldier injected me and told me to take a white chair and wait for 15 minutes, he handed me a paper that had hand written the time when I should leave – 2:09pm.

I sat, took the selfie above, scanned email and waited. At the far end of this gym, there was an exit and just before the exit a table with two or three soldiers who checked the time on people’s paper slips as they exited. As my minute arrived, I got up, walked to the exit, showed the soldiers, my slip, in their eyes I saw a smile as they waived goodbye.

Besides the surprise of the entire facility being militarized and feeling like I was in a movie, ET came to mind, the vaccination was incredibly smooth. No waiting in long lines, no anxiety about being inside a space with many people as everyone wore a mask and was socially distanced. The soldiers were at once courteous and efficient. It was an amazingly swift, efficient, reaffirming experience. Reaffirming in the power of a professionally organized federal, city and military collaboration. It was a visceral experience of coming out of the fog of lies, misinformation and ineptitude to a vaccine rollout that may be relied upon.

Now, I am hoping that the students who feel comfortable meeting in-person and who take all the appropriate precautions will gather for some 3D scanning following spring break and we can add a new layer to the course.

Written by ricardo

March 1st, 2021 at 8:38 am

Posted in COVID-19

2021 Vaccine Year

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Following the devastating year 2020, 2021 is a year of hope and expectation. In the United States, the most widely effected country by COVID-19, the Trump administration’s rollout of the COVID vaccines has been poor. Today, the U.S. House and Senate convene to announce electoral votes to formalize the Biden/Harris defeat of Trump/Pence. Trump zealots are gathering in DC to protest an election that over and over has shown to be fair and democratic, however, Trump continues to make false claims that agitate his following. Once the election is finalized, the zealots will grudgingly go home and Trump will decamp to Mar-a-Lago and hopefully a sense of normalcy will slowly return to politics.

Of course, many will remain resentful and angry and the country will remain highly politicized and divided. Meanwhile, I have a few predictions:

There will be a rise of mass shootings. As rage and a sense of injustice is fed from white supremacist parents to adolescents, some will act out in violence.

With the Biden administration in place, vaccine distribution will be handled by professionals and will be accelerated.

As an individual dedicated to public service, Biden will present a solemn and honest message to the country regarding the pandemic. Slowly that message will sink-in through most of the country and the spread will slow.

The Federal government will present a large stimulus aiding many individuals and small businesses.

While the stock market continues to trend up, a correction will occur that will slow wildly over valued stocks.

Global economic inequality will continue to increase.

Biden will recognize the need to help vaccinate underdeveloped and poor countries and will increase a global vaccination movement.

“Exercise snacks” will take off as a viral phrase that excites new micro-workout format.

Written by ricardo

January 6th, 2021 at 7:27 am

The Deficit Myth 001

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I recently finished Stephanie Kelton’s book The Deficit Myth and I’m going to create a series of blog entries considering the material of the book. In doing so, I will liberally be quoting the book as part of my goal is to consider and digest my highlights from the text.

Kelton’s goal is to have us understand Modern Monetary Theory and how if embraced, it can help us create a better society. Kelton asks “What would it look like if the government overcame the deficit myths [the concept of having to maintain a household budget] and started budgeting like a currency issuer instead of pretending that it needs to pay for its spending just like the rest of us?” (pg. 42)

Although I think that we should all read this book (though it can be a bit repetitive), I’m going to copy the main points of the United States federal deficit myths that need to be debunked. These points are in the introduction and are given a chapter each:

First Myth:
The idea that the United States federal government needs to budget like a household is pernicious… “MMT demonstrates that the federal government is not dependent on revenue form taxes or borrowing to finance its spending and that the most important constraint on government spending is inflation.” pg. 9

Second Myth:
“It is possible for the government to spend too much. Deficits can be too big. But evidence of overspending is inflation, and most of the time deficits are too small, not too big.” pg.9

Third Myth:
Deficits will burden the next generation. Ronald Reagan was one of the wort perpetrators of the myth that we would saddle our children with too much debt, because it’s powerful political rhetoric. “As a share of gross domestic product (GDP), the national debt was at its highest – 120% – in the period immediately following WWII. Yet, this was the same period during which the middle class was built, real media family income soared, and the next generation enjoyed a higher standard of living without the added burden of higher tax rates… Increasing the deficit doesn’t make future generations poorer, and reducing the deficit won’t make them any richer.” pg.9

Fourth Myth:
“…deficits are harmful because the crowd out private investment and undermine long-term investment… government deficits eat up some of the dollars that would otherwise have been invested in private sector endeavors that promote long-term prosperity. We will see why the reverse is true – fiscal deficits actually increase private savings – and can easily crowd-in private investments.” pg. 10

Fifth Myth:
“Deficits make the United States dependent on foreigners [China and Japan as they hold large quantities of U.S. debt]… this is a fiction that politicians wittingly or unwittingly propagate, often as an excuse to ignore social programs desperate need of funding. Sometimes this myth has used the metaphor of irresponsibly taken out a foreign credit card. This misses the fact that the dollars aren’t originating from China. They’re coming from the U.S. We’re not borrowing from China so much as we’re supplying China with dollars and then allowing them to trade those dollars in for a safe, interest-bearing asset called a U.S. treasury. There is absolutely nothing risky or pernicious about this. If we wanted to, we could pay off the debt immediately with a simple keystroke.” pg.10

Sixth Myth:
“Entitlements are propelling us toward a long-term fiscal crisis. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are the supposed culprits… Our government will always be able to meet future obligations because it can never run out of money. The money can always be there. The question is, What will that money buy? Changing demographics and the impacts of climate change are real challenges that could put stress on available resources.” pg.11

Kelton ends the introduction with a call to arms:

“The fact that 21 percent of all children in the United States live in poverty- that’s a crisis. The fact that our infrastructure is graded at a D+ is a crisis. The fact that inequality today stands at levels last seen during America’s Gilded Age is a crisis. The fact that the typical American worker has seen virtually no real wage growth since the 1970s is a crisis. The fact that forty-four million Americans are saddled with $1.7 trillion in student loans debt is a crisis. And the fact that we ultimately won’t be able to ‘afford’ anything at all if we end up exacerbating climate change and destroy the life on this planet is perhaps the biggest crisis of them all.” pg.11

“These are real crises. The national deficit is not a crisis.” pg.12

“THE CRIME OF the tax bill signed by Trump in 2017 is not that it added to the deficit but that it used the deficit to provide help to those who needed it least. It has widened inequality, putting more political and economic power into the hands of the few… We should tax billionaires to rebalance the distribution of wealth and income and to protect the health of our democracy.” pg. 12

As the many citizens of the United States need a financial lifeline from the federal government to help make it through this pandemic, Kelton foresees the stalling of a second stimulus:

“The federal deficit, which was expected to top $1 trillion before the virus became a threat, will likely skyrocket beyond $3 trillion in the months ahead. If history is any lesson, anxiety over rising budget deficits will lead to pressure to reduce fiscal support in order to wrestle deficits lower. That would be an unmitigated disaster. Right now, and in the months ahead, the most fiscally responsible way to manage the crisis is with higher deficit spending.” pg. 13

My Wild Ride with NVAX

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NVAX on December 1st 2020 from Yahoo Finance

Yesterday, November 30th 2020, I sold my remaining shares of the biotech Novavax Stock at $143.53. I had previously sold shares of the stock in July at $98.29 and then regretted that sell when the stock rose to over $170 a month later. Although I expect the stock to once again rise, I decided that I was satisfied with the gains and did not want to monitor a company that had never brought a vaccine to market in its 33 year history, but received $1.6 billion dollars from the Trump Administration’s shady Operation Warp Speed.

In 2018, fresh from a divorce and having to meet new financial responsibilities of child support and thinking ahead about my son’s college fund, I opened an account with Robinhood. After all, the trading app allowed me to open an account with next to no money, unlike my experience with Vanguard with which I needed a base $3k to start investing. So I needed to generate more money and felt it was time to learn about the stock market beyond the safety of Vanguard indices.

Amongst my most speculative investments was Novavax as I know nothing about biotech, but the stock was a penny stock and I figured, why not take a small gamble. Of course, I considered the company’s long history dating back to 1995 and looked at the rise and falls of the stock. I thought to myself – it’s been around a long time, it has 500 employees, I’ll buy over hundred shares at an average of .56 cents and see what happens. Again, I was new to investing and did not have substantial funds to gamble with so I only buy small amounts, hoping that little by little, I can buy more.

On May 10th 2019, NVAX had a 1 for 20 reverse split, so for each 20 shares of NVAX that I owned pre-split, suddenly became 1. I watched my 120 shares that I had spent $72.21 become 10 stocks (yes not a 1 to 20 and I don’t understand this). Although the dollar amount remained the same, I hated seeing my over a hundred shares become 10. I was so annoyed with the stock, but oh well, nothing to do but let it sit. (The math here doesn’t add up, according to my Robinhood history, I bought 100 shares at .62 cents and then 20 shares at .51 cents and then those 120 shares became 10 following the reverse split. However, the dollar amounts below are correct.)

In the end, I spent $72.21 and sold for $1344.84 for at total gain of $1272.89. Now, I’ll take that gain and buy perhaps Apple or Google or Amazon – a stock that I expect will be around for at least ten years – this is my friend Greg’s advice – buy shares of companies that will stick around. (I’ve already bought Tesla and have only gained, but keep expecting that to entirely disappear at any moment.)

I understand that I’ll never become wealthy at this rate of playing it safe, but I elected to not be greedy and instead to be happy with this gamble, while walking away from Operation Warp Speed nonsense. By the way, yesterday, I sold NVAX at $143.53 and today it is at $125.32; after today, I’m not looking at this stock again. After spending way too much time looking at stocks over the last two years, I’m ready to stop speculating, hang up my dreams of getting rich quick and just invest in relatively safe companies, while also getting back to more meaningful use of my time.

My take away: It took a pandemic and a dirty president to turn my $72 into $1200. The money is dirty and we need to be transparent about how stocks rise and fall to help reign in financial disparity.

Written by ricardo

December 1st, 2020 at 9:39 am