How to gingerly reopen society

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It occurs to me suddenly, the way something hiding in plain sight abruptly presents itself, that the most important concept for the coming weeks and months will be prudent risk.

The first two months of the post-Wuhan phase of the pandemic have been a mad scramble to understand what the hell was going on. We joked about everyone becoming an epidemiologist. But we really were trying to absorb the learnings of infectious disease experts to know how to keep our families, our employees, and ourselves safe. We grasped the concepts about social distancing. We hungrily read about how long the novel coronavirus survives on various surfaces. We memorized the symptoms of a disease that didn’t exist at Thanksgiving.

Now we’re starting to appreciate how little we know, experts and presidents alike. We still can’t comprehend why some areas are more affected than others. We aren’t sure what therapies will work. We have no idea when a vaccine will become available at scale. We don’t even know this thing’s mortality rate.

Instead we plunge ahead, gingerly reopening society, understanding that even trusted experts—let alone a president who won’t wear a mask—can’t tell us all the answers. In other words, we take prudent risks. It’s okay to play golf, but not to touch the ball-washing station. Curbside pickup at stores is fine, but don’t walk inside—even though it’s acceptable to visit Target and Home Depot. Eventually restaurants in coastal cities will reopen with restricted capacity. Maybe schools will do this too. And dormitories.

These decisions will be based on science, yes. But only the probabilistic kind. They are predicated on the notion that infections and deaths will continue, but at a level of risk we can tolerate. It’s the same argument anti-lockdowners made from the beginning about cars: We know they’re dangerous, but we drive them anyway.

Silicon Valley understands risk better than most places. Venture capitalists make a living risking other people’s money, often expecting only one in ten of their bets to work. Software makers in the connected era understand that if a product sucks before lunch, they can improve it before dinner. Uber figured out it could risk flouting the law and build a multi-billion-dollar business anyway.

Prudent risk-taking rules the day. At least, let’s hope it is prudent.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Make him an offer he can't refuse. Struggling movie-theater chain AMC may be rescued by a tech titan. Amazon has held talks about acquiring AMC, which must service $5 billion of debt despite the closure of most of its 1,000 locations. It brings to mind the famous Captain Kirk quote from Star Trek V, "What does God need with a starship?" What does Amazon need with a failing movie chain? The better to control Hollywood and boost its original video fare, perhaps.

Cloudy with a chance of emailballs. Ever get swept into a reply-all storm? When some well-meaning but misguided individual replies to everyone on company-wide email and then others reply to that reply and sometimes the email server gets overwhelmed? Microsoft finally is adding an automated feature to Office 365 and Exchange to block the storms. 

People don't come to see the tigers. Apple stores in Idaho, South Carolina, Alabama, and Alaska will reopen this week, with “additional safety procedures" such as requiring face masks, social distancing, and temperature checks, the company says.

A perfect processor. The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use subsidies to lure major chipmakers like Intel, Samsung, and Taiwan Semiconductor to build new cutting-edge factories in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reports. Such a move would reduce the world's reliance on factories in Asia used by Apple, Qualcomm, AMD and many others. 

I've tried, but I can't. Before all those factories go online, maybe some additional security checks will be in order. Dutch researcher Björn Ruytenberg on Sunday demonstrated a method to bypass all security protection on a Windows laptop via the Thunderbolt port. "Intel created a fortress around this," cryptography professor Tanja Lange tells Wired. "Björn has gotten through all their barriers."

What's in a name. The eBay of used cars, Vroom, filed plans to go public in the next few months. (Well, maybe eBay Motors is the eBay of used cars, but you get the idea.)


University of Washington researcher Maddie Smith is about to embark on a great adventure on the German icebreaker Polarstern. She'll spend months drifting around the North Pole studying ice sheets. In an interview with Geekwire, she explains the mission's goal.

Arctic sea ice demands our attention now because the Arctic climate is changing more rapidly than anywhere else in the globe, and we have the most uncertainty in how it will change in the future. So, it has an outsized impact on our predictions and decisions related to global warming. Although our climate models already have sophisticated representations of the sea ice, the Arctic is shifting to a new regime that may necessitate an update. There are always things that can be improved. I can’t imagine not being a part of the effort to understand and reverse climate change. This is the most interesting and exciting way I can picture doing that.


Why the stock market is up, even though all the economic data is down By Anne Sraders

The Coronavirus Economy: How an elementary school teacher teaches P.E. online By Michal Lev-Ram

Disney’s biggest financial problem has nothing to do with the coronavirus By Shawn Tully

Why a bankruptcy filing doesn’t necessarily mean your favorite store is going away By Phil Wahba

Affirm’s Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, on the future of money after coronavirus By Jeff John Roberts

The Trump administration wants U.S. supply chain to leave China—but U.S. companies want to stay By Eamon Barrett

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a 50% discount for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


Enough with the cute videos. Let's shift our pandemic diversions to the written word. Josh Glenn over at HiLoBrow has compiled a list of 250 of the best adventure novels written in the 20th century, with a bonus prequel listing of the 25 greatest adventure novels of the 19th century. Many are out of copyright and available online as free ebooks. I'm planning to start with Zane Grey's 1912 Western, Riders of the Purple Sage. How about you?

Aaron Pressman


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