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2020-09-05 The shadow people of social media

When Google+ ended, I had about two thousand followers and was following a few hundred people. On Mastodon, I now have about 1.7K followers and I’m following about 550 people. What a strange feeling – not because there are so many people listening but because I don’t interact with that many people. I don’t think that the problem is the Dunbar number: I interact with less than 150 people and I read more or less all the post of the people I follow. I suffer from fear-of-missing-out (FOMO), yes I do. What remains is the slow dread of being followed and following 80% zombie accounts. It’s not a clear cut thing for now, just a feeling of unease.

Back in 2019 I was talking aboug Google+ and the blogs and using arguments such as the data krakens of our time. But really, what has changed? The data krakens are probably just connecting to the fediverse and siphoning our data, selling it for pennies. Psychopathic programmers at work.

Anyway, what does that mean, when I feel like I’m standing in the light somewhere, with maybe fifty other strangers from the Internet, surrounded but hundreds, maybe thousands of shadow people. Maybe they’re listening, scribbling into their notebooks, recording with the ingenious devices, feeding the data tanks and refineries, or maybe they’re dead, their faces permanently frozen in that strange grin of their last post made a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. Dead husks, their owners moved on, have a different life, a different presence. They shed their skin and left it there, standing in the shadows. In cyberspace, there’s no gravity to pull it down; there’s no funghi to break it down; digital junk and digital identities remain. Nothing is forgiven, and nothing is forgotten.

Perhaps these are the first signs of winter coming. The sky turns grey and grows heavy, the clouds come lower and lower, and life between heaven and earth is a drag, all is mud, wet clothes, rotting leaves. I fear those short days of murky light and that cold grip of winter on my ribs.

Sometimes I idly wonder about restarting the Mastodon account. Delete all the followings. Block and unblock all the followers (I think that’s how you force-unfollow others?), delete all the earlier blocks, delete all the favourites, boosts, and posts (archiving them offline, I guess – but what for?). And then see what happens. Would I end up in the same bubble? Would I start with ten people I remember from before the reset? Thirty? How important would it be to make a reset permanent instead of a new account? Would a simple alt account do the trick? Perhaps the finality of a reset would change the outcome. No peeking at the old lists!

@pet84rik says that you end up in almost the same bubble. “People with about the same interests will find your, sooner or later.” I guess that’s a good thing? Shake off the shadow people and find your bubble again?

There’s also the interface to consider. One of the ways to find new people is to look at the public feeds, the local feed and the federated feed. But if you have “enough” people you’re following, you don’t need to check the public timelines anymore. And if you’re on an instance that’s no longer open, there are far fewer new folks looking for people to follow on the public timelines, too.

Lots of guessing and vague feelings of winter, that is all.

My summer break is over, I spent a week at the office again. I also drank a glass of Armagnac. I didn’t drink any spirits over the summer break. Is work making me drink? Would I turn into an alcoholic over the years? I must shake all those winter thoughts. Maybe part of the problem is COVID-19. I don’t miss people. I don’t like people. At least I think I don’t. But perhaps without people, my mental health is starting to drift a little. I should meet more friends just in order to get centered.

I’m going to ask my wife for a run, get some fresh air, see the sun and the sky and the grass and the bees, to hear kids and dogs and crickets. Autumn has just begun. There’s still time.

Comments on 2020-09-05 The shadow people of social media

love your remark about there not being any fungi to break down the old detritus in cyberspace. the natural processes benefit us all yet we’ve forgot to build them in to our online worlds

– lukee 2020-09-05 14:26 UTC

Yeah, like gravity, all these omnipresent things need extra programming in cyberspace.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-05 15:33 UTC

I went for a run with my wife and it was nearly two hours long and it was peaceful and we were in the flow and the forest was green and the sun was shining and our feet were tapping along in harmony, it was wonderful. Then we went out for dinner with friends and it was interesting and we laughed a lot and it was wonderful, too.

– Alex 2020-09-05 22:49 UTC

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2020-08-31 Summer's gone

Like every summer, I enjoyed a long summer break. Two months of staying at home, doing whatever I fall into. This year, it was Gemini, and Phoebe, my Gemini wiki.

Sadly, summer’s gone and that means going back to work!

Comments on 2020-08-31 Summer's gone

It turns out I made a mistake! I knew that I had wanted to start a week earlier, and had told my project manager, but then I forgot about it but remembered that I wanted to start a week earlier, so when I showed up in the call today they were surprised. Alex is back one week earlier! Whaaaaaat!?

OK, I really got confused this time. Which is a good sign regarding summer break. If you can’t remember things from before your holidays, then those are good holidays in my book! I did remember my password, though, so the mind wipe wasn’t complete... 😀

I’m thinking of taking off two weeks in October in order to make up for it. So far, so good!

– Alex 2020-08-31 10:08 UTC

Did I tell you that at my wife’s office the people working in Human Resources (HR) think that we should talk about “Life Balance” instead of “Work-Life Balance” since work is also part of life... That is such a clumsy way of trying to rework the language in order to reframe the mess we’re in, it makes me cringe. “Fremdschämen” is the German word to use when we feel shame for the mistakes of others.

Incredibly, I’ve since learned that they are not alone in their attempt to use “life balance.”

I think they’re trying to get away from the whole discussion of Work-Life Balance, all the books and papers and feelings on the subject. Instead of trying to fight the idea that work is something many and me included wouldn’t be doing if the consequences wouldn’t be so terrifying, they are trying to establish a new mind space that is still terra nullius. There, no opposition exists.

Which is why I like to fight this change. If we keep calling it Work-Life Balance, we have the existing literature in our back. And when they say that “work is not the opposite of life” we can either argue that an established concept is an established concept, even if the exact wording don’t match their expectations; we can’t just ignore the existing literature on the idea even if we don’t like the name of the idea. Or we can argue that “life balance” means even less: life in balance with what? A well balanced life in terms of what aspects? Like, how much walking we do instead of driving? Of watching TV instead of reading? We need to name the things we’re going to be looking at. Or are they going to just hand-wave it and claim, “everything?” In which case, the concept seems pretty meaningless. If we’re going to talk about how much time we spend away from the family and our relations, if we’re going to talk about the hours we spend at the office, if we’re going to talk about burnout, then let’s call a spade a spade. We’re talking about work.

– Alex 2020-08-31 10:21 UTC

Your post has reminded me to create my own! I’d love to see other geminauts report their summers too.

– Timur 2020-08-31 18:52 UTC

The Cure remains one of the best bands. 😄

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-01 12:00 UTC

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2020-07-28 What to do if I die?

I’m trying to write a document for my wife describing all the IT stuff I run so that she knows what to do or who to contact in case I can’t do it any more. My problem is that I don’t have any friends interested in these things. Nobody knows Perl around here. The two people that do live in Estonia and Canada and they don’t share my hobbies.

What is going to happen to a site like Sure, my wife can keep them up for a while. But she’s not going to turn into a system admin? All these wikis and apps. Somebody should be running this stuff. How does one find people willing to take over? Damn. I should organise better.

How does one archive these things for the future? The problem is that people can export their data but most of them will not, I’m sure. Upload to the Web Archive? Upload to Git Hub? Both? Other stuff? Are there other archives interested in this kind of thing? I mean, in a way I feel it is part of our collective history and how is that going to work, aren’t the national archives interested in keeping copies of all these things? They usually want copies of all the printed books… but websites? Apps? I think this necessarily must change – unless the apocalypse catches up, first.

Makes me think about resilience to capitalism and the apocalypse, both. I recently read the following by @yaaps, in an unrelated thread:

You’re an artisan. Occupying niches too small for economies of scale is how this precapitalist pattern survives and how it spawns new businesses under capitalism. It relies on a certain amount of privilege in that you need free time, skills, and personal/professional connections to succeed. in addition, the artisan is vulnerable to their own success. Replacing artisans with commodity labor is how capitalism grows

To scale up while maintaining autonomy, you need to establish a worker’s collective. That provides a model to distribute income for skilled labor, as needed, without selling equity.

Yeah. I reminded me of the fact that in order to get anything done, we need to organize. I should create an association according to Swiss law to run my sites and find people interested in keeping this stuff up. And then these people can continue after I’m gone? Let me know if you’re interested and we can write some bylaws together! It’s not hard, there are templates.


Comments on 2020-07-28 What to do if I die?

An interesting idea: some sort of Sysop Buddy System.

– Alex Schroeder

That’s a tricky one. So far, things I’ve done include making sure my sites are easy to crawl and/or re-host (mainly by making them static for the most part), and making sure trusted friends have admin rights on social media groups I manage. Not sure what to do about my domain names, since I don’t have anyone who’s both trusted enough and technical enough. Your solution is interesting.

Felix 2020-07-29 15:32 UTC

Reply by Cos.

I’ve also been part of an association offering hosting … many of our members have much less interest in helping to keep it going than they once did. A few faithful plug away, but each year things feel a little more grim.

Yes, that’s what I fear. In the past, I used Eggplant Farms. Super nice one-person operation. They used to be more than one but then it all shrank down to just one, sadly. We’d have to prepare for that, too.

I think bank accounts and passwords are ok. Gotta check those instructions again, though. And perhaps find a better way to access my passwords other than using Emacs...

– Alex Schroeder 2020-07-30 05:56 UTC

I can gladly take over your websites and manage them in the way how you wish it. You would need only to pay your domains and hosting for the number of years you wish and need. Since 20 years I am managing servers.

– Anonymous 2020-10-18 16:49 UTC

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2020-07-18 The meaning of life

There has been an interesting discussion about the meaning of life in Geminispace. It all started with acdw’s post, two days ago: “I’m having a hard time finding meaning in my life of late. I want to make money but I really don’t want to do a job all day. Like, any job.” Yesterday, maleza wrote a reply and said, “Today I can only find meaning into feeding kefir, baking sour dough bread, taking care of crops, hugging my family…”

I talked it over with my wife over breakfast on our balcony, with some self-made bread, the sun shining, a cool breeze, bees and bumblebees visiting the flowers in our pots, drinking some white tea. Such a beautiful day.

An important of this is part time work. After two years of work, I was ready to quit. But then I got the opportunity to teach for two winter semesters for one day per week and during the summer semesters I took Fridays off. When I left the position, I decided to stay at 80%. A few years later, when the company said they wouldn’t give me a raise but was there anything else they could do for me, I said I wanted to work less. I try to take all this unpaid time and my holidays in a big block in summer. A seventeen week summer break, and a few days around the holiday season.

It costs thousands of dollars in lost opportunity costs, in the capitalist mindset, but fuck that shit. You can’t take money to the next life, and your kids aren’t going to love you more when you’re dead and left them more money. Then again, I have no kids, so what do I know.

One the whole, this arrangement has been very good for me. It also leads to a big yearly mood and activity cycle, though. We already have the cycle of seasons: eight hours of sunlight in winter vs. 16 hours of sunlight in summer, warm with temperatures between 20°C and 30°C in summer and temperatures around 0°C in winter, endless grey skies and rain in autumn, glaring sunlight in spring. And now my work cycle goes along with that.

In winter I feel down, stretched thin, trampled over by Moloch and Mammon. In spring I start to take notes, start making plans. In summer, holidays begin and I fall into a hole, what am I going to do? After one or two weeks, my soul starts to blossom, unfold its leaves, make contact with the sun, drink from the fountain of life, I want to make music, paint, code, do all the things. In autumn, the sky darkens and the shadow of work comes back. Time to shrink, to fit into that box, to live in those precious hours around dinner. And so it goes.

Sure, work can be fun. I laugh and joke, I work, drink coffee, have lunch, do meetings, write code, I like my coworkers, I usually like our clients. I want to help them all, I love it when plans come together. I also hate it when I feel that we’re being treated unfairly, I hate the open plan offices and the lousy excuses we’re being offered, the need for headphones. I hate all the unfairness about salaries, dividends, unpaid overtime, even if I feel I’m doing fine. I think the problem is that it doesn’t feel real. It’s an elaborate game I need to play. I wear my mask, I play that role, and it sucks my energy. I get home and I’m tired.

I try to walk to work and back. It takes me about forty minutes. That’s because I appreciate the opportunity to slowly change into and back out of my role. I used to joke that my soul travels about as fast as I can walk. If I take the train or the tram, I come home and need half an hour of quiet time on the sofa to change. Work is draining.

I love programming as a hobby but not my job. I do my job for the money and managed to find a niche where I can work part time, but we also live in a small flat, we have no house, we have no kids, we have no car. And yet, all time off also allows me to still pursue programming as a hobby. I hardly know anybody at the office programming in their time off. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m the only one at work enthusiastic about programming to actually do it for the love of it. And yet, this is the game: the expectation is that we all tell each other how we love the job. It’s true, I’m not quitting. I like my coworkers and my clients. But I do it for the money. Without the money, I wouldn’t be doing it. Isn’t that proof enough? If we do it for the money, then it’s not love.

So, coming back to the question of meaning. I think it should be obvious by now that the meaning of life cannot be found in the work we do. I suspect that even if you’re working for doctors without borders, you think your life has meaning, and you do the thing, but you’re also haunted by the terror of life on earth, the injustice of it all, the randomness of fate, the never ending charnel house of the reality we’ve created for ourselves, humans all.

What is it, then? Does the question have an answer? I say it does not. But you’re a human, and humans are equipped with a body optimised for a monkey life, and therefore the things we enjoy are the things our monkey nature enjoys, and we can lose ourselves in life. When we do, the question has no meaning. Who cares if it has meaning if you’re in the flow? Yeah, this is where all the words turn out to say the same thing maleza said in the pithy words quoted in the first paragraph. To live your life making food, growing food, with friends and family, making and building things, talking and laughing, playing and looking, seeing other humans, seeing the world, the mountains and flowers, the forest, the ground, to simply focus on our senses, the smells, the sights. This is why I love to run in the forests and mountains.

In a way, it’s that endless texture of life that captivates me. The world of forests and branches and leaves and light falling through and dancing on the floor, needles, mushrooms, pebbles, grass, flowers, bushes, the wind in our face, the air we breathe, our partners, if you’re in the flow it is intoxicating and the question of meaning simply disappears. It has been answered by the life you live, not by the words you say.

Oh well, I guess I’ve been writing about this for a long time.


Comments on 2020-07-18 The meaning of life

I’m at a point where I’m considering going to my supervisors and asking for every other Friday off (via webmention)

@takeonrules 2020-07-24 00:05 UTC

Due to the webmention spam (which you can still see by visiting “View other revisions”, possibly followed by “View all changes” if you’re reading this many weeks later), I’ve banned all links.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-07-24 10:22 UTC

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2020-07-06 Five Questions

@cosullivan is trying to bring some interactivity to Gemini-space and has asked “five questions” in her gem-space in June, and five more in July.

This post attempts to answer the earlier questions from June. I’m late! I’m late.

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is drive with my window rolled down and the music turned up. What is on your summertime playlist?

I have an old iPod Classic hooked up to a loudspeaker in the kitchen. I loaded it with a few dozen GB of music and that’s it. I hardly listen to new music anymore. These last few days I’ve been listening to Evanescence. It’s some sort of soft metal: emotional and not raging. Most of the lyrics are about failed relationships, guilt, care, loss. I’m a melancholy person and I have to take care: must not approach the abyss. I hardly ever listen to The Sisters of Mercy, God Speed! You Black Emperor, or The Cure anymore. If I do I’ll wallow in misery for a day. And thus, Evanescence it is.

Other bands I’ve listened to in the recent past: The Gaslight Anthem. Bruce Springsteen.

I recently moved back to the area where I grew up. Tell me about where you grew up - has it changed? If you left, what would induce you to return? If you’ve always lived there, what would induce you to leave?

Many years I lived in Kleindöttingen – a small village across the river from Döttingen. “Klein” means small. It’s the smaller sibling of an uninteresting town. The newer parts of the village are big apartment blocks. We lived on the fifth floor of a seven floor building. Stepping out of the elevator, our entrance was to the right. That’s how I learned to tell left from right. My stepmother still lives in the flat. I don’t think I’d ever want to go back. Too provincial without being rural. There’s an old power plant in that river, resulting in a lake that’s famous among ornithologists. Who knows. I do like birds.

What tree is your favourite and why?

Larches make me think of hiking in the mountains. When I was younger I liked willows, maybe because the intro sequence for Ultimate IV involved a weeping willow. That extra “weeping” struck a chord in me. Later, when I lived closer to the sea and learned to love the smell of it, and the cries of seagulls, the roaring and crashing of waves on rocks, when I read about the elves

What were you afraid of as a child? Are you still afraid or did you “grow” out of it?

I have always been afraid of dark rooms, dark cellar passages (in Switzerland these used all to be bomb shelters with subdivisions for all the tenants made of a wooden grate), because I kept imagining shadows growing, vampires emerging – and I still have remnants of that. These days I know I have to control my imagination, talking to my inner child about the task at hand; but sometimes I sit on the toilet late at night, in the semi-dark such as not to wake myself up and suddenly I’m imagining cockroaches or spiders on the wall or under the toilet seat and that old sense of dread comes back. When I switch the light on, will I see a dead person hanging from the ceiling? I don’t know where these images come from and I can keep them at bay, but the seeds of panic are still there.

Who are some poets that you enjoy? What is it about them that speaks to you?

I like Georg Trakl’s wild melancholy sadness. I found some English translations in this PDF: Twenty Poems of Georg Trakl, translated and chosen by James Wright and Robert Bly.


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2020-06-20 Glasses

I’ve been using reading glasses for a few years, now. I think I bought them in 2016. I used to read a lot. Then I started disliking it. It must have taken me a year or two before I realised what was happening. I was getting a headache! The glasses took some getting used to, but so far so good.

Sadly, the age-related deterioration of my eye sight kept picking up speed and when I started doing home office this year, began to sit in front of a small laptop screen for hours instead of hooking it up to a large monitor that is more than an arm’s length away from my eyes, I had to put on my reading glasses while sitting at the laptop, too.

Over the weeks, I started to get more headaches, though. Headaches when I got up and walked around. Headaches when I tried to do the dishes or cook. Sometimes the reading glasses just didn’t seem to help. I decided to see an ophthalmologist, an eye specialist. They suggested “working glasses”. Depending on the angle, a different distance is in focus. So if you look up, it’s up to 1½m, and if you look down, it’s closer, better for reading.

I agreed to that and went to an optician, ordered those glasses. They’re about as expensive as an iPhone, or a good laptop – a bit more than CHF 1000! My father in law tells me that his glasses are even more expensive. That was a surprise.

A week later I got my glasses. And I’m not sure I like them. I was told that physics prevents the glasses from working when I look sideways. No problem, I thought. The example offered was me reading notes and then looking to the left or right at a presentation. I get it. But what I didn’t expect was that I have to move my head from left to right and back as I read on the laptop screen. The screen is close; close enough for the line width to prevent the glasses from working.

So now my head moves a little left and right, a little up and down, as I try to get the letters in to focus. My head still hurts. I feel like my body is failing me.

I’m reminded of an article I wrote back in 2018, To the Young Ones. I feel like this is a continuation.

I did not understand. I was chuckling as older coworkers kept putting on their glasses and taking them off again. I smiled as older people couldn’t read the menu at the restaurant because they had left their reading glasses at home. I thought people looked silly as they looked over the rim of their glasses.

Old age, here I come. 🖕


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2020-04-05 Covid-19 Pandemic

Where do I write about the global pandemic? What is there to write when everybody else is writing about it?

The things I find interesting:

Let's all wear a mask, and people making their own masks, posting patterns and pictures on Mastodon.

@fribbledom saying: “It’s like my entire life prepared me for this...” 🤔 – and posting this image from Hong Kong:

A poster from the Hong Kong Centre of Health Protection

Here’s what it says:

Together, We Fight the Virus!
To prevent the spread of novel coronavirus in the community, we need to work together
Reduce social contact to protect yourself and others
Avoid crowds
Work from home
Stay at home
Avoid social gatherings
Avoid shaking hads with others
Avoid meal gatherings

Also, changing my avatar:

But also this... warning: extreme eye contact ahead!

I’m at home, working on the company laptop; it has a small screen; I’m too lazy to go into the office and carry a monitor home (half of the way would be on foot since I don’t have a car). So... I make due. But unlike the private laptop where I use font size 16 and above everywhere, and Emacs, on the company laptop it’s Eclipse and Outlook and other stupid tiny shit, making me wear reading glasses. Such is life at 45 and older!

Image 2

But then again, I’m also enjoying home office coffee break!

Image 3

I think I’m getting used to this. The hashtag to use is #whfwork from home.

Image 5

My setup was not comfy. The bench looks nice but my ass was as flat as it can get and it started to hurt. I didn’t know my office was so ergonomic until I started to work from home.

Image 4

Got an old chair from the cellar...

Image 6


Comments on 2020-04-05 Covid-19 Pandemic

Apparently the numbers in Switzerland are going back up. At it’s peak in March we had about 1300 to 1400 new cases per day. In May it went down to between 0 and 10 new cases per day.

Here’s an image from the beginning end of May:

Image 7

Now we’re at the end of June, and the numbers are coming back up. Today: 69 new cases (that last number is missing in the Spreadsheet below).

Image 8


New coronavirus: Situation in Switzerland, Federal Office of Public Health.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-27 13:17 UTC

September 2020

It’s coming back and people at the office more ignorant than ever.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-17 17:58 UTC

Got more than 2800 new infections since yesterday...

– Alex 2020-10-14 11:34 UTC

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2020-02-23 Offline

ℹ Looks like my internet access might be spotty for the next few weeks...


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2020-01-01 Donations

Collecting donations for 2020. I’ll start with the regular stuff: I regularly donate $120/year to the EFF, $120/year to the FSF, CHF 250/year to Digitale Gesellschaft, and €180/year to the FSFE.

It makes me sad that I have to support charities in the USA in order to help them prevent the USA from adversely affecting the legal situation in Switzerland. Grrr!

As for political associations in Switzerland: we are members of Mieterverband (for tenants) and VCS Verkehrs-Club der Schweiz (for sustainable mobility, unlike the Touring-Club, which is pro-cars).

I donated…

More to be added throughout the year, I hope.

And I pay double subscription for the local leftist weekly newspaper, WOZ, CHF 530 in total.


Comments on 2020-01-01 Donations

Happy new year, Alex!

– Enzo 2020-01-02 16:39 UTC

Thanks. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-02 18:44 UTC

I applaud your charitable donations. But I have to warn you about WWF. The WWF was founded by trophy hunters. In the US, if you buy a WWF t-shirt they ship it exclusively using FedEx (the same company that ships hunting trophies, slave dolphins, and shark fins). FedEx also supports the NRA and US republicans, the party who is quite destructive to the environment. The shirts are also composed of unsustainable cotton.

That’s just off the top of my head. WWF often does things contrary to their own mission. So if the environment and wildlife conservation is your motivation, there are many other charitable organizations that are true to their cause. Extinction Rebellion is probably a good one.

– Gavin 2020-01-17 16:48 UTC

Yeah, I keep thinking about the WWF. Ugh.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-17 20:36 UTC

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2019-12-09 The Common Cold

I’ve been suffering from a common cold for a few days now.

But remember “Thumper’s Rule.” In the movie Bambi, Thumper the rabbit remarks that Bambi is wobbly and Thumper’s parents tell him: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Ah! Something nice to say about the common cold?


Back to the basics: Alex, what is best in life!? To read Wikipedia, of course!

Here’s something for you. If only I had followed this advice:

There is no vaccine for the common cold. The primary methods of prevention are hand washing; not touching the eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; and staying away from sick people.

Common cold on wikipedia

Ah, and there’s more:

Rhinovirus-caused colds are most infectious during the first three days of symptoms; they are much less infectious afterwards.

That is to say, the hand washing must continue until the very end. There’s no way around it. They are less infectious, but not quite gone. And the cold lasts for a very long time, too!

Symptoms may begin within 16h of exposure and typically peak two to four days after onset. They usually resolve in seven to ten days, but some can last for up to three weeks. The average duration of cough is eighteen days and in some cases people develop a post-viral cough which can linger after the infection is gone. In children, the cough lasts for more than ten days in 35–40% of cases and continues for more than 25 days in 10%.

I’ve heard it say that the common cold comes for a week and goes for a week.


Comments on 2019-12-09 The Common Cold

We have a saying that cured cold lasts for 7 days and uncured for a week. There is something true about that.

Peter Kotrčka 2019-12-10 02:49 UTC

Haha! Apparently having a headache and a running nose makes for better blogging, somehow. Weird!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-12-10 09:41 UTC

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