Is It Too Soon for Covid-19 TV Shows?

 

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

 

It was bound to happen. Earlier this week, Grey’s Anatomy executive producer Krista Vernoff was on a (virtual) panel for the Television Academy and revealed that, yes, her show would be tackling Covid-19. “There’s no way,” she said, “to be a long-running medical show and not do the medical story of our lifetimes.”

Vernoff is right, of course. For Grey’s, a show about a hospital in Seattle, one of the coronavirus’ early targets, ignoring the pandemic would feel like an egregious oversight. The show has tackled nearly every other issue of its time, from mass shootings to white supremacists, why not Covid-19? The answer is probably that it should—but it might be too soon.

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Part of this stems from the fact Grey’s Anatomy incorporating Covid-19 isn’t just another attempt at a Ripped From the Headlines plot, it’s a plot that’s still dominating headlines—and likely will be when the show returns. For months now, people around the world have been watching a pandemic play out in real time on their TV sets. Take out the fights and hookups and the show doesn’t look that much different than what’s on CNN at any given point. Life is a medical drama for many Americans, Season 17 of ABC’s Thursday night juggernaut may not have too much to add. It’s always been a show about coping with trauma, but perhaps this one might be a little too new. Even if the new season doesn’t come for a year or more, the pandemic will still be fresh on viewers’ minds and they may not be ready yet to relive it.

Presumably, this will or could be true for any television show (or movie, or song, or YouTube series) that seeks to address the pandemic. Undoubtedly, creative works always comment on the times in which they exist, but there often is, or should be, a period of reflection before they do. United 93 came out in 2006, five years after the 9/11 events it depicts; Philadelphia came out in 1993, almost a full decade after the beginning of the AIDS crisis. The question then becomes not if movies and TV shows should address Covid-19, but when. Social media and the internet writ large have already accelerated the rate at which people consume events to levels much greater than those 20 or 30 years ago—and 24-hour news has already turned coronavirus into must-see TV—but will anyone want to see the disease on Grey’s Anatomy even a year from now? It seems unlikely, especially if the virus isn’t fully eradicated by then.

But just because people may not want to watch it doesn’t mean there may not be some benefits. During her panel, Vernoff noted that Grey’s writers have been meeting with real-life doctors about their experiences with the coronavirus and “they are literally shaking and trying not to cry. They’re talking about it as a war—a war that they were not trained for.” If TV and movies can do anything, it’s make the rigors of medicine and science a little more comprehensible. In the last season or so of Grey’s, the titular doctor, Meredith Grey, has been campaigning to expose the financial flaws in America’s health care system. Perhaps she could do the same when it comes to explaining the importance of masks, vaccines, and herd immunity.

That’s a big “perhaps.” It also necessitates that Grey’s Anatomy—or any show—can resume filming any time soon. Although the show’s writers are working on a new season, the pandemic itself is still keeping most shows from restarting production, at least for the next few months. Just this week delays caused by the pandemic pushed back the release of Disney+’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier and it was just the latest in a series of holdups caused by the pandemic. A return to anyone’s regular TV schedule could be a long time coming.

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Covid-19 Data in the US Is an ‘Information Catastrophe’


Two weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services stripped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of control of national data on Covid-19 infections in hospitalized patients. Instead of sending the data to the CDC’s public National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), the department ordered hospitals to send it to a new data system, run for the agency by a little-known firm in Tennessee.

The change took effect immediately. First, the hospitalization data collected up until July 13 vanished from the CDC’s site. One day later, it was republished—but topped by a note that the NHSN Covid-19 dashboard would no longer be updated.

Fury over the move was immediate. All the major organizations that represent US public health professionals objected vociferously. A quickly written protest letter addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, HHS secretary Alex Azar, and Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, garnered signatures from more than 100 health associations and research groups. The reactions made visible the groups’ concerns that data could be lost or duplicated, and underlined their continual worry that the CDC is being undercut and sidelined. But it had no other effect. The new HHS portal, called HHS Protect, is up and running.

Behind the crisis lies a difficult reality: Covid-19 data in the US—in fact, almost all public health data—is chaotic: not one pipe, but a tangle. If the nation had a single, seamless system for collecting, storing, and analyzing health data, HHS and the Coronavirus Task Force would have had a much harder time prying the CDC’s Covid-19 data loose. Not having a comprehensive system made the HHS move possible, and however well or badly the department handles the data it will now receive, the lack of a comprehensive data system is harming the US coronavirus response.

“Every health system, every public health department, every jurisdiction really has their own ways of going about things,” says Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It’s very difficult to get an accurate and timely and geographically resolved picture of what’s happening in the US, because there’s such a jumble of data.”

Data systems are wonky objects, so it may help to step back and explain a little history. First, there’s a reason why hospitalization data is important: Knowing whether the demand for beds is rising or falling can help illuminate how hard-hit any area is, and whether reopening in that region is safe.

Second, what the NHSN does is important too. It’s a 15-year-old database, organized in 2005 out of several streams of information that were already flowing to the CDC, which receives data from hospitals and other health care facilities about anything that affects the occurrence of infections once someone is admitted. That includes rates of pneumonia from use of ventilators, infections after surgery, and urinary tract infections from catheters, for instance—but also statistics about usage of antibiotics, adherence to hand hygiene, complications from dialysis, occurrence of the ravaging intestinal infection C. difficile, and rates of health care workers getting flu shots. Broadly, it assembles a portrait of the safety of hospitals, nursing homes, and chronic care institutions in the US, and it shares that data with researchers and with other statistical dashboards published by other HHS agencies such as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.



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This Week’s Cartoons: ASMR, Sloths, and Twitter Mistakes


Friday, May 8, 2020. By Jon Adams, with cartooncollections.com. Twitter is not well suited for complex discussions or nuanced analyses. So let’s bring back blogs.

Thursday, May 7, 2020. By Teresa Burns Parkhurst, with cartooncollections.com. Can a wearable detect Covid-19 before symptoms appear? Stanford researchers hope to find the answer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020. By Shannon Wheeler, with cartooncollections.com. From Final Fantasy XIV to Stardew Valley, here are the best videogames to play when you’re stuck inside.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020. By Mick Stevens, with cartooncollections.com. A coronavirus silver lining: There’s less driving and fewer crashes.

Monday, May 4, 2020. By Maddie Dai, with cartooncollections.com. ASMR can replicate a sense of being touched, even when there’s no one around. As the world self-isolates, that feeling is more important than ever.

Every weekday, WIRED publishes a new cartoon about the worlds of science and technology. Check back here for more laughs throughout the week. And if that’s still not enough, you can find all of WIRED’s cartoons in one place, right here. Plus, sign up for the Daily newsletter and never miss the best of WIRED.


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The Confessions of Marcus Hutchins, the Hacker Who Saved the Internet


Cybersecurity researchers named the worm WannaCry, after the .wncry extension it added to file names after encrypting them. As it paralyzed machines and demanded its bitcoin ransom, WannaCry was jumping from one machine to the next using a powerful piece of code called EternalBlue, which had been stolen from the National Security Agency by a group of hackers known as the Shadow Brokers and leaked onto the open internet a month earlier. It instantly allowed a hacker to penetrate and run hostile code on any unpatched Windows computer—a set of potential targets that likely numbered in the millions. And now that the NSA’s highly sophisticated spy tool had been weaponized, it seemed bound to create a global ransomware pandemic within hours.

“It was the cyber equivalent of watching the moments before a car crash,” says one cybersecurity analyst who worked for British Telecom at the time and was tasked with incident response for the NHS. “We knew that, in terms of the impact on people’s lives, this was going to be like nothing we had ever seen before.”

As the worm spread around the world, it infected the German railway firm Deutsche Bahn, Sberbank in Russia, automakers Renault, Nissan, and Honda, universities in China, police departments in India, the Spanish telecom firm Telefónica, FedEx, and Boeing. In the space of an afternoon, it destroyed, by some estimates, nearly a quarter-million computers’ data, inflicting between $4 billion and $8 billion in damage.

For those watching WannaCry’s proliferation, it seemed there was still more pain to come. Josh Corman, at the time a cybersecurity-focused fellow for the Atlantic Council, remembers joining a call on the afternoon of May 12 with representatives from the US Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, the pharmaceutical firm Merck, and executives from American hospitals. The group, known as the Healthcare Cybersecurity Industry Taskforce, had just finished an analysis that detailed a serious lack of IT security personnel in American hospitals. Now WannaCry seemed poised to spread to the US health care system, and Corman feared the results would be far worse than they had been for the NHS. “If this happens en masse, how many people die?” he remembers thinking. “Our worst nightmare seemed to be coming true.”

At around 2:30 on that Friday afternoon, Marcus Hutchins returned from picking up lunch at his local fish-and-chips shop in Ilfracombe, sat down in front of his computer, and discovered that the internet was on fire. “I picked a hell of a fucking week to take off work,” Hutchins wrote on Twitter.

Within minutes, a hacker friend who went by the name Kafeine sent Hutchins a copy of WannaCry’s code, and Hutchins began trying to dissect it, with his lunch still sitting in front of him. First, he spun up a simulated computer on a server that he ran in his bedroom, complete with fake files for the ransomware to encrypt, and ran the program in that quarantined test environment. He immediately noticed that before encrypting the decoy files, the malware sent out a query to a certain, very random-looking web address: iuqerfsodp9ifjaposdfjhgosurijfaewrwergwea.com.

That struck Hutchins as significant, if not unusual: When a piece of malware pinged back to this sort of domain, that usually meant it was communicating with a command-and-control server somewhere that might be giving the infected computer instructions. Hutchins copied that long website string into his web browser and found, to his surprise, that no such site existed.

The Best Outdoor Furniture and Gear to Camp Out in Your Backyard


The yearly beach vacation? Canceled. That backpacking trip with high school friends? Scrapped. Nevertheless, you must make the most of what you have. A socially distanced summer doesn’t mean you can’t spruce up your own private outdoor space to make the most of the warmer months. Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to turn my own backyard into a gear testing space. These are my favorite picks for making your backyard—or small patio or balcony—as serene as possible.

Happily, this is but a small selection of the backyard-appropriate gear we’ve tested. Be sure to check out our other buying guides on the best grilling gear, Bluetooth speakers, and compact cameras, to name a few.

Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.

If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to WIRED

Lenovo Duet Chromebook Review: The Right Notes


The vast majority of laptops that cross my desk are dull pieces of plastic and metal, but every now and then I get to test a machine that feels genuinely fun, innovative, and exciting. Lenovo’s Duet Chromebook is exactly that. The fact it’s relatively cheap to boot only adds to the appeal.

The Duet isn’t right for everyone. It’s a Chromebook after all, which means there are some software limitations. It’s also not terribly powerful. But for people who can live within the confines of the Chrome browser, and who want something ultra-portable with great battery life and tablet functionality, this Lenovo laptop delivers.

Promising Tablet

The Duet is slightly smaller than the entry-level iPad, though the experience of using it is much closer to the Microsoft Surface Go. It has a similar 10-inch screen with a detachable keyboard and back cover.

As a tablet, it’s comfortable to hold. It’s the perfect size for reading on the couch or in bed. But this is one area where Google’s Chrome OS isn’t ideal, as there’s no easy way to turn off automatic screen rotation, something you can do in operating systems like Android or iPadOS. That’s no fault of the Duet, but something to be aware of—Chrome OS is still rough around the edges on a tablet.

Photograph: Lenovo

The good news is that Google has been putting some work into making Chrome OS more tablet-friendly. Early this year, an update added support for a “tablet mode,” which offers several navigational gestures similar to those in Android phones.

Swipe up from the bottom of the screen and you’ll see the dock with your favorite apps. Use the same gesture, but swipe up further and faster and you’ll get to the home screen. Use the same gesture yet again, but pause at the end of the swipe and you’ll see the recent apps screen. When you’re browsing in Chrome you can swipe in from the left side of the screen to go back to the previous page (though this did not always work for me).

The Duet automatically enters the new tablet mode when you detach the keyboard, and it makes a great way to browse the web. The 1920 x 1200 screen has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which gets a sizable amount of text on the screen at once. And the 400-nit brightness is good enough to read in bright sunlight, though the glossy screen does have a good bit of glare. Still, I was able to work outside and use the Duet without straining my eyes.

It’s worth noting that the experience of using Android apps on Chrome OS still isn’t great, whether in tablet mode or not. Slack, in particular, was terrible. It constantly failed to refresh, causing the Duet to lock up repeatedly, and refused to send messages. The Android Zoom app wasn’t great either, though Zoom worked just fine in the browser. It’s why I mostly stuck to using Chrome.

Slim Convertible

As much as I enjoyed browsing the web in tablet mode, I am a writer, and it wasn’t until I attached the keyboard that I really started to like the Duet. It remains an incredibly slim and lightweight package, and that makes it easy to toss in a bag whenever I’m heading anywhere—even the backyard.

The keyboard snaps solidly in place thanks to a magnet and pin system, though the “hinge,” a thin piece of material that attaches the keyboard to the connector, feels a little thin. Fortunately, the back cover (which is also a separate piece that attaches magnetically) has a nice folding kickstand that keeps the whole package steady on any flat, desk-like surface. The floppy hinge is really only an issue when you put the Duet in your lap.

The Eerily Dark Willis Tower Tops This Week’s Internet News Roundup


Spring, if you’ve been quarantined inside and haven’t noticed, has sprung. The sun is out, the weather is warming up, and Michigan has lost two dams, flooding large areas of the state even as President Trump made vague threats about withholding funding to the state because of how it’s offering absentee ballots. OK, that last bit doesn’t have anything to do with the season—American politics continue apace year-round—but it’s still worth mentioning. Elsewhere, you might be waiting a while for your tax return, Lana Del Rey wants to fight people who argue she’s glamorizing abusive relationships, and NASA scientists might have discovered a parallel universe where time runs backwards (or maybe not). In other words, everything’s under control, situation normal. But that’s just the beginning. Here’s everything else the internet was talking about last week.

President Trump Says He’s Taking Hydroxychloroquine

What Happened: Just when you thought you’d heard the last of hydroxychloroquine, it comes roaring back—in a statement from President Trump declaring that he’s been taking it despite the fact that it’s not been proven to be effective as a treatment for Covid-19.

What Really Happened: Before this week, it had been awhile since the leader of the free world had really talked about hydroxychloroquine, the antimalarial drug that he’d called a “game changer” in terms of its impact on the coronavirus, even as the FDA warned against use of the untested medication for Covid-19 because of potentially life-threatening side effects. Indeed, some noted that President Trump had toned down his promotion of the drug as those side effects became more known. Also, President Trump had moved on to talking about injecting disinfectant, so it seemed as though hydroxychloroquine’s moment had passed. Turns out, it had not.

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Yes, on Monday, Trump announced that he was personally taking the drug, after multiple people in the White House, including Trump’s personal valet, tested positive for Covid-19. This comes after studies about the drug suggested that, while its curative properties are yet to be proven, its dangers are far more obvious.

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Hours after Trump’s announcement, the White House attempted to catch up, via a letter from the president’s physician backing up the claim.

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Something worth noting, though—the letter doesn’t necessarily say what some people think that it did.

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So, what did President Trump’s colleagues in government think?

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Meanwhile, Fox News’ Neil Cavuto noted, on air, “If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment … it will kill you. I cannot stress enough. This will kill you.” This prompted Trump to attack Cavuto. Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had this to say.

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While the comments certainly got the media’s attention—and prompted a conversation about fat-shaming, as #PresidentPlump trended on social media in the aftermath—Trump didn’t clap back.

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The Takeaway: Rounding out the week, this happened on Friday.

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Congratulations, Tiffany

What Happened: Sometimes, what seems like a lot of people congratulating someone for graduating from law school is actually something very different indeed. But then, not every graduate is Tiffany Trump.

What Really Happened: It started as a relatively benign tweet from a father to his child—although, as things turned out, that may not have been the case. Nonetheless, midweek, President Trump took a break to send this message out to the world, and one person in particular.

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This is (mostly) nice. Within hours, “Congratulations Tiffany” was one of the top trending topics on Twitter—although by the time that happened use of the phrase had veered somewhat off-topic.

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Oh, and there were also tweets like these.

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If you’re curious, that’s a reference to a legal ruling that allowed a fraud suit against Trump, his three eldest children, and one of Trump’s companies to proceed, with the suit accusing them of seeking “to enrich themselves by systematically defrauding economically marginalized people looking to invest in their educations, start their own small business, and pursue the American dream.”

As should only be expected, mainstream media noticed the trend. But here’s an added twist to the whole thing: The president’s tweet congratulating his daughter for graduating appeared on Wednesday morning—but that was a day after tweets like the ones below.

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In fact, Tiffany Trump graduated on May 16, a full four days before President Trump tweeted out his congratulations, and it was far from a secret, given the media coverage it received at the time. So, was Trump publicly shamed into congratulating his daughter via social media? Or was he just busy? He did have a lot going on last week. Perhaps the American public will never know.

The Takeaway: Surely other folks had this same reaction, right?

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Joe Rogan Goes to Spotify

What Happened: Spotify picked up Joe Rogan’s podcast in what can only be described as a “very big deal.”

What Really Happened: In recent years, The Joe Rogan Experience has climbed the charts to become one of the most popular podcasts in the world. Spotify, meanwhile, has been on a mission to dominate the world of audio. Then, last week, this happened.

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Yes, comedian, former Fear Factor host, and Ron Paul supporter Joe Rogan is moving his podcast exclusively to Spotify before the end of the year. Think that’s small potatoes? It’s not.

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Spending that amount of money might seem like a risk, until you see what happened after the announcement.

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Apparently, the market really likes Rogan. That seems to be the lesson here. One of the strangest side effects of the deal was watching people declare that this was the end of Rogan’s current home, which is an argument that might make sense if his current home wasn’t largely YouTube.

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Perhaps what this is actually likely to mean is that podcasts are moving into a new era, and a whole new wave of pivoting to video could be in the offing—one that could be a bellwether for media companies trying to rebuild amidst declining ad revenue and mass layoffs.

The Takeaway: There’s no denying that the combination of Rogan’s demographic, the audience for media stories, and the very involvement of Spotify lead to some interesting responses to this particular story. Including this one from a real-life Armie Hammer character.

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Willis Tower Goes Dark

What Happened: To everyone in Chicago, it’s not just paranoia: Maybe something really is watching you at night. Maybe it’s the Willis Tower (aka the Sears Tower).

What Really Happened: Hands up everyone who had “the Chicago skyline is the ideal visual metaphor for 2020 as a whole” in the pool. It’s time for you to collect.

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As it turns out, the tower went dark last weekend because of flooding. (If you’re curious how that can happen, and why it’s seemingly only affecting one building, here’s your answer.)

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The building’s blackout is a sign of how bad things are in Chicago—the answer is pretty bad, which might come as a surprise considering the relative lack of nationwide coverage—but that’s not why anybody was talking about it. Instead, they were focused on just how creepy the Willis Tower looks with all of the lights off.

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I mean, it kind of looks like something, doesn’t it? But what does it look like?

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OK, sure, that might be it. A surprisingly over it robot seems fairly convincing.

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For Minecraft fans, however, there was definitely something else to see.

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Now one for the Tolkien fans out there.

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Like we said: The Chicago skyline is the ideal visual metaphor for 2020, thanks to the Willis Tower. Just accept it.

The Takeaway: Speaking of the “Willis Tower” …

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Here’s What Happened to Everyone’s Plans in 2020

What Happened: This is the year in which anyone who made any kind of plans has already learned to kiss them goodbye, but at least everyone got a meme out of it. That’s got to count for something, right?

What Really Happened: Look, let’s just admit it: 2020 isn’t going the way anyone thought it would, and last week Twitter really embraced that reality for the first time in the only way that matters: via an easily understandable, three word meme.

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It was the ideal meme for these times—some entries were even reminiscent of old memes from the internet that was! That meant, of course, that it went mainstream very, very, very quickly indeed. But why shouldn’t it? It’s a meme that everyone can understand!

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Yep, sounds about right.

The Takeaway: Some people, at least, were refreshingly honest about how everything has impacted their lifestyle.


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Trump’s Fight With Twitter Finally Grew Teeth. Now What?


LG: Gilad, thanks for breaking that down for us. We’re going to take another quick break and when we come back, it’s time for recommendations.

All right, Gilad since you’re our guest, you should go first. What’s your recommendation this week?

GE: My recommendation is putting a little bit of mayonnaise on your egg and cheese sandwich.

LG: Oh, all right. The show’s over. This podcast is over. That’s it.

GE: That’s such an unsophisticated response.

LG: This is like an egg on a roll. Like you go to the deli, or in the before times, you’d go to the deli and just say, “I want an egg on a roll.” And you’re saying put mayonnaise on that, that beautiful thing.

GE: So that’s what I’m saying, Lauren. Here’s the thing. Eggs are good, cheese is good. Egg and cheese is good. Mayonnaise is good. So mayonnaise with your egg and cheese should be good. And I tried it this week, it was good. I also put Sriracha on. Not a lot of mayo though.

LG: Did you make this yourself or did you order?

GE: Yeah, but I didn’t make the mayo.

LG: OK.

GE: But it’s important to keep in mind that egg is a crucial ingredient in mayonnaise. So there’s a sort of circle of life thing to this.

LG: Mike, what do you make of this?

MC: Well, Gilad I want to yes and your recommendation, and here’s what to do. You get a squeeze bottle and you fill up the squeeze bottle halfway with mayonnaise and halfway with Sriracha, and then you mix it up and make one-to-one Sriracha mayo squeezy.

GE: Mike, I’m literally crying. That suggestion is so good that it made me tear up.

MC: OK. Next level, Japanese mayonnaise.

GE: Tell me more.

LG: I mean, is this still an egg and cheese sandwich or do we need to like, give it a new name now? Are you also going to start recommending that we put like, I don’t know, avocado on this and maybe a little bit of sour cream while we’re at it?

GE: I would try sour cream.

LG: I feel like maybe we are destroying the sanctity of a simple egg and cheese on a roll.

MC: No, you’re just making it a Megg and cheese.

LG: All right. You know what? I don’t want to dissuade Gilad from coming back on the show.

GE: Yeah, I didn’t come here to be vilified.

LG: So I will accept this recommendation for now. Maybe I’ll even try it, but I make no promises. Do you have any other recommendations you’d like to share.

GE: Me?

LG: Yeah.

GE: Yes, sleep masks.

LG: Oh, what kind of sleep masks? Like the kind that are like heavy over your eyes or are you like into the lotiony masks?

Protesting Tips: What to Bring, How to Act, How to Stay Safe


The United States has a long, ugly history of police brutality, specifically and overwhelmingly targeted toward black people. In the wake of last week’s killing by Minneapolis police officers of the unarmed black man George Floyd, and in response to the recent killings by police of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and Tony McDade in Florida, solidarity protests have erupted nationwide.

If you’re thinking about joining a protest near you, there are some crucial factors to consider: Police brutality is an abstract concept for some but a stark reality for others. There are ways you can contribute if you don’t feel safe protesting or are otherwise unable to physically do so. You can donate money, drop off supplies, or contact local legislators.

That being said, protesting is a right of all Americans under the First Amendment (more on that below). Before you head out, you should know that police across the country have acted with unnecessary force, including driving vehicles through crowds, partially blinding a photojournalist, and macing children. The list goes on and on.

If you still want to join in, we’ve gathered up some advice, as well as a list of items you may want to bring with you. This advice applies to most protests, but we’ve also included specific information regarding solidarity protests with Black Lives Matter and similarly aligned groups. Be careful, and stay safe.


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What to Bring (and Not to Bring) to a Protest

It’s smart to have supplies on hand for a day of protesting. We recommend the following. You probably have everything you need around the house, and if not, these items will likely be accessible at your local stores. We’ve included some links to online retailers for your reference.

  • A bag and/or backpack: You’ll need something small and durable. I, Louryn, use a cheap $10 daypack from Walgreens for most supplies, and I also strap on a belt bag, which I use to hold the essential items I’d need if I were to lose my backpack. Use whatever you have on hand that lets you keep your hands free. If you don’t have anything, we have a list of our favorite fanny packs. And while your bag should be big enough to hold all the supplies you need, be sure to avoid anything too bulky.

  • Water: There’s a good chance that your protest will include a march. Temperatures are climbing across the country, and you’ll likely be chanting, so you need to pay attention to proper hydration. Carry drinking water. Bring the biggest bottle that you can fit in your bag. Water can also be used to clean wounds and flush the eyes of anyone who’s been hit with chemical gas or pepper spray.

  • A face mask or bandana: There’s still a pandemic going on. Take precautions and cover your face with a mask or bandana. Face coverings also have the benefit of shielding your identity from cameras and police surveillance. (We have a separate guide about digital privacy during protests.). Bring an extra mask if you have one. And if you don’t have an extra, here’s how to make a cloth face mask.

  • A hat and/or sunglasses: Aside from shielding you from the sun during a long day of marching, hats and sunglasses can obscure your face from surveillance and protect your privacy. If you wear a hat, and you’re interested in further protecting your identity, keep the brim low.

  • Snacks: You are likely in for a long day. Pack lightweight, nutritious, protein-rich snacks. Jerky, energy bars, and nuts are all good picks.

  • Protest signs: If you want to carry a sign, there are some things to consider. Ensure that your slogan is in big, bold letters that can be easily read from far away. Short and punchy sayings are arguably better than a block of script. Poster board is flexible, but stiffer foam board is more durable. You can affix paint-stir sticks or other flat, wooden sticks to the sign using strong tape to create a handle. You might want to make extras to hand out to fellow protesters. Don’t litter—when you’re done with your sign, dispose of it properly, or donate it to another protester.

  • Suitable clothing: It’s a good idea to wear all black, both because that’s what the organizers of most solidarity protests suggest and because it helps you blend in with a crowd. It’s also recommended that you cover any tattoos, if you can, and that you hide your hair if it’s dyed a distinctive color.

  • A change of clothes: If you’re protesting on a particularly hot day, you may want to have extra clothes. These can also come in handy if you’re exposed to substances that can hurt your skin or if you’re splashed with paint, gross road water, or other people’s sweat. I usually carry a pair of shorts, a tank top, and an extra pair of socks in my backpack.

  • Hand sanitizer: You might find yourself holding hands with a stranger, grabbing onto gunky street signs, or tripping and falling into a puddle. All these scenarios coupled with Covid-19 make hand sanitizer an essential thing to carry. Most stores now have at least some form of hand sanitizer in stock, but we also have a guide on making your own.

  • Good walking shoes: This is nonnegotiable. Wear closed-toe shoes that are broken in and good for walking long distances.

  • Your ID (maybe): If you’re detained, not having your ID on you might keep you stuck for longer. However, in some states, you might not have to show the police your ID if they ask for one. Use your best judgment, and consider looking up the laws for your state for more specific guidance.

  • Your phone (maybe): To protect your privacy and prevent surveillance, the best thing you can do is leave your phone at home. Consider using a secondary or burner phone instead. If you want to bring your phone, avoid using traditional phone calls and texts if at all possible. Signal is a secure, end-to-end encrypted messaging app that offers the option to delete messages after they’re sent. You should also disable biometric unlocking, like FaceID or fingerprint features, and use a six-digit passcode instead. If you do need to carry your primary phone, keep it turned off until you absolutely need to use it. This will make it harder for law enforcement to track your movements.

  • Cash: Just like your phone can leave digital breadcrumbs indicating your whereabouts, using your debit or credit card will make it easier for the authorities to track your movements. Instead, bring cash. Separate your bills; stash some in your bag, and keep some on your person, either in your shoe, your bra, your pants pockets, or somewhere secure.

  • A power bank: If you or members of your group will have a phone, you need to make sure that you have a way to charge devices. Other protesters may need to charge their gear as well. If you don’t have one already, I really like this option from Anker. The company also makes another good power bank that’s a bit smaller.

  • Other things you may want: A cooling towel. Duct tape or gaffer’s tape. A flashlight or a headlamp. Ibuprofen. Goggles. Blister-prevention patches. Extra hair ties. A pen and paper. A Sharpie. A laser pointer. Bandages or other first aid supplies. Ear plugs. Saline solution. Extra face masks. A copy of emergency phone numbers and a card declaring necessary medical information that someone may need to know if you’re unable to tell them yourself (for example, if you have asthma or if you’re hard of hearing). Medications that need to be taken on a schedule (in a labeled prescription bottle if possible) with the understanding that you may be away from home much longer than anticipated.

Before You Leave

We asked some organizers and civil action experts about key things to understand about protesting. Here’s their advice.

Educate Yourself

Do not go to a protest without knowing what it is you’re fighting for. Don’t show up and ask someone there to educate you. If you’re a non-black ally, do the work yourself and study as much as possible—not only about the actions you’re protesting but the context around them. You might know that a senseless tragedy took place, but do you know about the history behind the countless other events like it? This Twitter thread offers some excellent guidance. There are also several books you can read to gain more knowledge about racial justice.

Realize It’s Not About You

“The most important thing to realize—especially if you’re a white person going out for the first time to protest police brutality against black people—is that you’re showing up in solidarity with other people,” says Tony Williams, a member of MPD150, a Minneapolis-based coalition that has studied the history of police activity and seeks police-free alternatives to community safety. “It’s not your job to decide how things should go. It’s your job to show up and listen and be in support. Deprioritizing yourself is an incredibly important part of the experience,” Williams says. If you aren’t black, you shouldn’t be speaking over black protesters. Think about that. Be prepared to amplify what others are saying. Be prepared to listen. If you aren’t comfortable with potentially physically intervening, shielding black protesters from police violence, and listening more than you speak, your efforts to be an ally are likely better spent elsewhere.

Get in the Right Mindset

Mental preparation is important. Protesting can be physically grueling and emotional taxing. You may experience sheer joy. You might cry. You might get angry. You might get scared. Most likely, you’ll experience all of the above. Take the time to prepare yourself before heading out. Make sure to drink some water, apply sunscreen, and eat a meal.

Know Your Rights

In the US, it’s entirely within your rights to peacefully demonstrate in public. The basic act of assembling and protesting action by the government is unquestionably protected, according to the First Amendment Coalition, a California-based nonprofit that’s committed to protecting freedom of speech. Also, as a general matter, “people have the right to film or otherwise document things that are happening in the public space,” says David Snyder, director of the FAC. “If police demand that you turn over your notes, I would say that you can assume they don’t have the right to seize that.” That said, if it comes down to a matter of force and you are physically outmatched, you may have to weigh the risks to your immediate personal safety, potentially have your notes or phone stripped from you, and pursue legal action later on. Also, Snyder notes, the First Amendment to the Constitution does not protect protesters against unlawful activity, which includes destroying property or assaulting other people.

Form a Group

If you can avoid it, don’t protest alone. It’s important that you go with at least one other person so you can have each other’s backs. There is strength in numbers. Know your “roles” within the group before you go so you can be prepared for anything. For example, maybe one of you is prepared to drive the group home if the situation gets dicey, maybe one of you has first-aid training, or maybe one of you is hyper-observant and prepared to monitor your surroundings to keep tabs on the vibe. Stay close to your group. Meet up beforehand, stick together the entire time, and leave the protest together. If you don’t have a group, check social media sites—there are probably discussions where you can find people to meet up with locally.

Make a Plan

There will be a lot of people and a lot of emotions. You need to have a plan for what to do if the situation escalates. Pick a spot to meet if your group gets separated for a certain amount of time. (For example, if you get separated for more than 30 minutes, you meet back at a designated street corner.) It might be smart to have a few spots to meet at in case one is inaccessible. You should also have multiple routes planned for if you need to leave and streets are blocked off. Is there a curfew where you live? Have previous protests in your city escalated to violence? Will there be portable bathrooms stationed along the route, or should you map out places to relieve yourself after chugging water all day? Prep a plan.

Take Out Your Contact Lenses

If you’re exposed to tear gas or pepper spray, contacts will make the experience much worse. Wear glasses if you have them. If you wear contacts, protect your eyes with sunglasses at the minimum, though ideally you’ll be wearing goggles or keeping them handy. For the same reason, avoid wearing makeup or oil-based products like lotions, as the irritants in dispersion measures deployed by police can stick to them.

Write Down Emergency Numbers

Write down your emergency contacts’ information. Write down the number of emergency legal counsel—several law firms are offering pro bono representation for arrested protesters. Research the firms in your area. You may also want to write down the number of a local bond fund. You should have two copies of these phone numbers on your person—write them in the notepad stashed in your bag, on the hem of your shirt, or on a notecard that you keep in your pocket. As a redundancy, you can also write them somewhere on your body (like your forearms), preferably in permanent marker.

While You’re at the Protest

Once you arrive and join in with your fellow protesters, follow this advice on how to behave and how to stay safe.

Study Your Surroundings

You can designate a certain person in your group to make this a top priority, but regardless of who you’re with, you should maintain awareness of what’s going on around you. This is important for numerous reasons. Is someone wearing steel-toed boots, a colored armband, and a hearing device, and also showing the outline of handcuffs in their pocket? That person might be an undercover cop. Is someone carrying a bag of supplies emblazoned with a big red cross? They might be a street medic. Did a protester fall down get hurt while marching? Open eyes and ears will help you react more quickly when needed.

Help Those Around You

If you’re marching, you’re probably going to be in close proximity to a few dozen other protesters. These are the people you’ll be chanting with, walking with, and closest to if the situation escalates. Be friendly with them. Offer them water if you’ve got extra, or hold their stuff while they tie their shoes. Solidarity can start small. Remember that you’re in a massive crowd; assume your actions are being watched and that your words are being listened to.

Consider the Ethics of Taking Photos

It is your right to take photos at any protest in the streets or on public property. However, a protest is not a social media photo op. You should avoid taking photos of protesters that clearly show identifying information like their faces or their tattoos, since those photos could make them vulnerable to abuse or retaliation. Law enforcement may also respond with force if you point your camera at them, even though it is well within your rights to film their actions.

A Note on Engaging With the Police

If you’re white, you can use your privilege to your advantage. Your presence in the crowd can prevent more police brutality against people of color and black people in particular. You can shield people of color with your body if necessary and if you’re comfortable doing it. You can also film arrests and police activity in general—it’s your right to do so. But we can’t prepare you for every situation you’ll encounter. Study up on the effects of the nonlethal weapons that could be used against you. Do what makes you comfortable and what makes sense at the time.

What to Avoid

When you’re protesting, the actions you don’t take can be just as important as the actions you do. Here’s some advice about what not to do while demonstrating.

Don’t Run

Humans, just like other animals, can be profoundly influenced by this tricky thing called collective behavior. When you’re in a group, your brain takes cues from said group, and you’ll react to things based on how the group reacts. This is why, if someone starts running while you’re in a crowd, you automatically get the urge to run as well. You might not even know why they’re running, but a message in your brain says, “OK, it’s time to go.” Running also draws attention to yourself and those around you, which isn’t ideal at a demonstration where protesters are being targeted for violence. For these reasons, it’s important that you refrain from running while protesting—you might incite a panic, hurt someone, or hurt yourself. If you need to move quickly, that’s OK, but try to avoid running if you can help it. If you need to leave the larger group, move quickly and calmly to the edge of the crowd, out of the throng of people. When returning home, try to find a side street or a route that’s out of the way, and stay with your smaller group.

Don’t Police Other Peoples’ Behaviors

You are going to see a lot of folks behaving in a lot of different ways. If somebody’s behavior makes you uncomfortable to the point that you’re considering asking a fellow protester to stop doing something, it’s time to leave. This includes emotional public speaking, tagging, looting, or provoking the police. If you aren’t comfortable with what’s happening, take that as your cue to head home.

Don’t Participate in Protest Tourism

Do not travel to another location to protest. Now is the time to strengthen your ties with your own community. You can still donate to organizations in locations close to your heart, but when it comes to physical actions, your energy and efforts are best spent within your own locale.

What to Do If …

We can’t prepare you for every possible scenario. In unknown situations, your common sense and your best judgment should guide you. But for the circumstances listed below, these tips may help you form a plan.

… You’re Exposed to Tear Gas

Tear gas is a thick, powdery fog that sticks to moisture, like saliva, sweat, tears, and mucous membranes and causes an intense burning sensation. If gas is used, it’s important to stay calm, because panicking will worsen the effects. Follow airplane rules: Help yourself before helping others. If a tear gas canister is deployed, move away from the cloud, quickly and calmly. Try to keep your breathing slow and even. If you’re able, try to help those around you move away from the cloud. Tear gas is heavier than air and eventually falls, so move to higher ground if you’re able.

You’ll need to flush out your eyes. The best thing to use for this is water. Protesters and street medics have used what’s called a LAW solution, which is a mixture of 50 percent unflavored liquid antacid and 50 percent water. Protesters and street medics have also used a baking soda solution consisting of a teaspoon of baking soda for every 8.5 ounces of water. These solutions are fully effective only if they are thoroughly mixed. Blinking rapidly encourages natural tear production and can help flush the eyes. Do not use milk; it’s less effective, can spoil quickly, and can cause infections, especially in eyes. You should also blow your nose and spit—and avoid sniffing or swallowing, as this may worsen symptoms. Change your clothing as soon as possible. Take a shower as soon as possible too, but use cold water, as hot water can make the burning sensation worse.

… You’re Exposed to Pepper Spray

Some of the same advice as tear gas exposure applies here. Move away quickly and try to remain as calm as you can. Change your clothes as soon as you can. Avoid touching your face or any other area that was exposed. Pepper spray is oil-based, so it can be trickier to remove, and it spreads over the skin easily. Water will help with symptoms, but it won’t remove the irritating oils. LAW solution, baking soda solution, or diluted “no tears” shampoo are more effective.

… You Encounter a Violent Police Officer

Say as little as possible. You are not obligated to have a conversation with the police. In most states, you need to give an officer your name and address if they ask for it. This is why it’s important to look up the specific laws for your location before the protest. Stay calm, keep your hands where officers can see them, and consider filming the interaction as unobtrusively as possible as a safeguard. You may be able to make a plan with the members of your group where those not involved in a police encounter can film it as a bystander. Try to write down or remember the officer’s badge number and any defining characteristics (like height, eye color, or tattoos) if the badge number isn’t visible.

… You Encounter the National Guard

Listen to and follow the orders being dictated by the National Guard. If you are planning to engage in civil disobedience, be prepared for the very realistic scenario of encountering crowd-dispersal measures like tear gas or less-lethal rifle rounds, and getting detained or arrested. Understand the consequences that may pertain to you specifically; if you’re undocumented, a person of color, or belong to any marginalized group, your course of action here may be different from that of a white protester. Use common sense, take cues from the protest organizers, and keep your safety and the safety of others around you in mind.

… You’re Arrested or Detained

Since you did your research before you left, and you know your rights, you’re prepared for this. According to the ACLU, you should say you wish to remain silent, and immediately ask for a lawyer. Do not resist arrest, even if you think what’s happening is unfair. Write down the badge number of your arresting officer, if possible. Ask for a phone call. Note that arrests during protests don’t always follow the typical pattern of arrests that might ensue from something like a traffic stop. You might be left waiting for hours without access to a phone. You might not have any information about what’s going to happen next, or when. Try to stay as calm as possible, and follow instructions given to you. If needed, you can pursue legal action once you’re home and safe.

… You See Someone Getting Arrested

If you witness an arrest or police brutality happening in public, you have a right to film it. Do not intervene physically, and do not try to hide the fact that you are recording. If you’re white, your presence alone may deter additional police brutality, and filming interactions may further bolster that deterrence.

After the Protest

If you were motivated by a specific cause or call to action, don’t just go home after you’ve marched and consider it done. Follow up with the organizers and ask if there’s more action to take or how you might continue to push local leaders toward policies you consider more just. Even if you weren’t able to show up in person, there’s still a lot you can do from home, says Lila Eltawely, who sits on the board of the Minneapolis-based advocacy group Reviving Sisterhood. “Buying supplies and food for people who are on the ground works too. It’s all a chain,” she says. “Protesting is on a spectrum. Some of us have the ability to go outside and hold up a sign, and some of us are not able to. So whatever helps the overall goal of the current situation helps.”


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To Adapt to Tech, We’re Heading Into the Shadows


This setup allows for all kinds of “gray area” adaptation too. People might think you’re a bit odd or irritating, but you can practice your knots on a subway pole, eat your lunch while practicing dissection in the cadaver lab, and pester your attending surgeon during a procedure to let you do more. Your community will see these actions as benign violations as you try to adapt.

Given this, your robotics rotation comes as a rude awakening: The entire da Vinci system—and therefore the entire procedure—can be controlled by one person at a time. This means your involvement in the surgical work is entirely optional. Not only are you not really fluent with this glorified videogame controller, you are working with a surgeon who knows that if they give you all-or-nothing control of this beast, you will be much slower and make more mistakes than they would. Moreover, every action you take is broadcast to the attending physician’s console and onto large high-definition TVs. The attending, nurses, scrub, and anesthesiologist can see and judge it all. Put together, it means the attending will barely let you operate, and will “helicopter teach” you when they do, and nurses and scrubs will spread the word that you suck to other attendings. You’re stuck in “see one” mode for most of your residency. After four or five years of trying to learn the approved way, you’ve barely gotten to work through an entire robotic surgery yet are legally empowered to use this tool wherever you land.

Building embodied skill in a high-status profession is just one tiny slice of how we adapt and innovate, given new technology—but the reasons for the rise of productive deviance are clear here and evident in many other industries, ranging from policing to chip design to journalism.

What happened here? In search of major leaps in productivity, we’ve created and deployed intelligent technologies. These allow for two things: much higher-quality, more widely shared scrutiny of the work by more people, and for a single expert to take much more precise and complete control of the actions required to get the job done. On the surface, this is fantastic—allowing each expert to make better use of their talents and for a team of diverse professionals to coordinate much more fluidly. Under the surface, it blocks you from learning in the “See, do, teach” pathway that’s been the approved default for a long, long time. And gray area options aren’t really available—you don’t have legitimate access to the system before your training starts. And you aren’t going to even try to push your way into a procedure, because you know you don’t have the basic skill you need to be granted control of the thing, and so does that expert. They are just going to swat you down.

If you’re going to adapt—and about one in eight residents in my study did—you have to do so in really inappropriate ways.

If you’re one of the few who manage to get really good with the robot during your residency, you started getting practical exposure to it years in advance—when everyone (even you) would say it’s totally inappropriate. In undergrad or medical school, you hung around in labs when you should have been getting a generalist education. You spent hundreds of extra hours on the simulator or reviewing videos of robotic surgery on YouTube when you should have been spending time with patients. Then, after all this prep showed the attending, nurses, and scrubs that you could handle the da Vinci, you used this to get preferential access to procedures and, most importantly, to operate without an attending in the room. The more you did this, the better you got, and the more rope you were given by attending physicians. But every one of these steps was at best a serious, very concerning breach of standards for your profession and hospital operations—and in some cases maybe even against the law.