Pandemic Dashboard: 1

I’m starting a new blogchain to track the COVID-19 pandemic, in a new, modular, block-based format. Each part will be a variable number of tweet-sized status assessments in titled blocks, coded red/green/yellow, like so:

Flattening the Curve

The innumeracy of the initial versions has given way to an appreciation of the actual level to which the healthcare system will be overwhelmed, but no actual solution.

I call this format a blocktrace dashboard: a dashboard in the form of a blogchain of blocktraces evolving across parts. For this first dashboard, I have 15 status blocks, most of which I think I’ll be tracking for a while. But most updates will probably be 3-4 blocks. If you want to make your own blocktrace dashboard to track the pandemic (or anything else), scroll to the bottom for the how-to. It’s really easy in WordPress.

PPE Shortages

Shortages of personal protective equipment still at critical levels, and healthcare workers exposed to severe risk in the United States. Logistics shutdowns prevent movement from surplus to deficit areas.

Monetary Intervention

Zero interest rates in the US. Well, that’s about as far as you can go with normal monetarism for now. Negative interest rates? Cash is king and deflation looms. What’s next? We’ll see.

Pollution Levels

Looks like wherever there is a significant social distancing to quarantine level responses, pollution goes down radically, with climate and health benefits.

Fiscal Intervention

Looks like a shitshow of epic proportions destined to turn into the usual sort of corporate welfare boondoggle and a decade-long trashed economy.

Supply Chain Freeze

To be expected. But looks like it will pick back up faster than the healthcare system will get back on its feet at least. So far, no signs of collapse in essential goods/materials flow.

Culture War

The Culture War has simply morphed into a virus edition that promises to make things worse all around. Mooks on all sides unable to reorient to target the virus rather than the outgroup.

The Great Indoors

Domestic cozy morphs into hard cozy, with some long overdue strengthening of inner, domestic life after a century+ of consumerist culture. Cooking, crafts, bodyweight home exercise. All good.

Service Economy

Borked. Possibly for good in many cases. Visible services like restaurants might be able to sell gift cards, less visible ones are in trouble. Perishables like flowers are extra hard-hit.


Some positive signs aside (Ventec, the 5-in-1 startup out of Seattle), this is basically bright red. Other manufacturing lines cannot be easily transformed to produce more ventilators in time.


Anti-globalists seem to assume this is the death-knell of globalization, with rollback to nationalist industrial bases. There is trouble ahead for globalization, but no rewind button. Looks threatened but not fatally so.

Financial Sector

No moves to reform it in any meaningful way. Proposed cures all sound like bailouts/nationalization in, not imaginative ways forward. No sign moral hazard of externalities will be addressed.

Normal Accidents

The probability of normal accidents in Charles Perrow’s sense just went up dramatically. Imagine an earthquake or forest fire or other crisis hitting while this is going on.

Beyond Fat and Lean

Understandable backlash against lean, largely uniformed, but we’re headed for a global technology stack that will transcend the lean vs. fat dichotomy. I want a piece of this conversation.

Virtual Culture

The biggest silver lining in this whole thing is the dramatic increase in intelligent attention being directed at every aspect of virtual culture. The internet will save the world.

Blocktrace Dashboards

Basically, the idea is to take the blogchain idea one fractal level lower, and make it work as a sort of braided collection of slow-evolving twitter-thread style traces of tracked items. If the blogchain unbundled the longform blog post, the blocktrace dashboard unbundles the blogchain further into something comparable to twitter threads. We’re headed for full containerization of text here on ribbonfarm 😎.

When this is all over, I hope to export these to a set of index cards somehow to try and make big-picture sense of what the hell happened. This dashboard is more logging and observation than interpretation or analysis.

Make your own blocktrace dashboard!

If you’d like to copy this format on a WordPress blog, you can easily create reusable blocks to make it trivial to use. I used a 1:2 ratio 2-column layout block, with the red/yellow/green icon images on the left, an H4 title block and a paragraph block on the right. When I want to do a block status, I simply insert the appropriate (red/yellow/green) reusable block, convert to regular block, and edit as desired. Use a series plugin to make a blogchain out of the individual dashboard posts. Feel free to copy my RGB status images or make your own. And feel free to copy-paste this how-to explainer block if you decide to start one.

Use simple, obvious blocktrace titles. New ones can be added, and old ones can be abandoned. One-off status notes can be inserted not every new status block has to be the start of a blocktrace. You can build up a batch update over several days by adding one block at a time and then “pushing” a blogchain entry with a handful of blocks.

You could also do individual block threads on twitter by keeping a set of RGB images handy, or on Mastodon, and string them together as a metathread. There’s probably also a way to do this using block references in Roam.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Normal Accidents => a 5.0 earthquake hit Zagreb yesterday (fairly dead on) and of course there were large groups of people on the street subsequently. Expect more covid there.

    Globalization => Spanish flu spread without globalization, but globally integrated knowledge is, and keeps, vastly reducing number of casualties.

    • On a less controversial note, how are you defining the service industry? Long term, I think human care will rebound (especially in-home eldercare, because putting medically fragile people in a cross between a hospital ward and a college dorm is dry kindling for infectious diseases). Nail salons might not.

      Tangential: Could hospital campuses start shifting from a supermarket model (everything in one building or complex) to a “large airgap between Contagious Disease and everything else, separate staff, separate ER, separate cafeteria and laundry, different colored scrubs” model?

    • Whoops, I meant to make a separate threas.

    • Dear Ivo,

      I think you’Re not rigth with that: “Globalization => Spanish flu spread without globalization”

      There was recently an article claiming that Spanish Flu, which was brought to the European war places of WWI with ca. 80-90.000 soldiers from China (one year earlier in 2017 Northern China had an epidemy), spread rapidly.

      Soldiers from all countries helped to spread.

      Globalization is a processs that is much older than you think. Roman Empire was part of globalization as much as the Huns, Djingis Khan and many many others.


      • The so-called spanish flu of 1917-1918 ws brought in Europe by American soldiers. Europe was on one hand very happy to welcome 400’000 American soldiers and could not publish the news that they brought a new strain of the flu. And that this killed more people worldwide than the whole WWI.
        The poor Spanish had nothing to do with that flu except that Spain being neutral in WWI they did not use fake news and hidden informations as the other otherwise-busy european governments and actually tackled the issue it had received not so voluntarily from its closest neighbours (geographically this would have been France & Italy).
        So the then politicians hid information, lied about its origin and risk, negated its impact and blamed it on their neighbours. Mmmm, let me think, what does that remind me, I wonder….

  2. QuartusPrime says

    Your method of analysis isn’t like anything I’ve seen before. Great work!

  3. Seems like you could use a category for Political Instability (or something similar). Already being felt in Israel and who knows what the effect will be on the already cracking-at-the-seams US elections.

  4. I suspect most sides in the Culture War view many of their current skirmishes as defense against offenses by their opponents–at least those that aren’t blatantly for or against the present POTUS.

    (Slate-reading, Warren-voting white blue-state professional, just to give a rough approximation of my position on the 4D chessboard.)

  5. (Reposting as separate thread, as intended.)

    On a less controversial note, how are you defining the service industry? Long term, I think human care will rebound (especially in-home eldercare, because putting medically fragile people in a cross between a hospital ward and a college dorm is dry kindling for infectious diseases). Nail salons might not.

    Tangential: Could hospital campuses start shifting from a supermarket model (everything in one building or complex) to a “large airgap between Contagious Disease and everything else, separate staff, separate ER, separate cafeteria and laundry, different colored scrubs” model?

    • Agreed – “service” seems to be a misleadingly defined bucket now that one of our major differentiators is “value produced by IRL large groups” and “value produced digitally, or in small groups”.

      If the new normal is a “dance” per Tomas Pueyo (Medium, building on Imperial College’s report) that will extend for 18 months, and possibly longer given mutation, I see this period as a further blow against the survival of “joined” IRL organizations: churches, bowling leagues, service clubs, etc. Sports is in a new world, too; theater, orchestras. Museums of every sort.

      I’m an architect, and I’m already thinking about all the rules we follow about how many people can be in a room before we add more exit doors, or when it’s large, add sprinklers. Those rules came from the last 150 years of fire experience. How will buildings change when we think about germ transmission too? And what do we do about the old ones that don’t support social distancing? For starters, all corridors will have to be wider – this alone easily adds 20% to building cost. Handwashing stations at every entrance? Construction labor is already scarce and driving construction costs – stricter PPE requirements will make it more expensive, and some skilled labor sadly will die early. I saw headlines today about convertible hotels – so that when another pandemic wave rolls through and shuts down travel, the hotel can become a temporary ICU.

  6. “Virtual Culture” = South Korea?

  7. I have started following a very interesting series of LockedIn posts by a French guy (Pierre Paperon) on Covid-19 which not only documents its sources but draws regular learnings on what is being discussed or investigated. Its only limit is that the posts are in French, but its sources of data are very interesting.
    Check this “highly interactive” (= a s**t to handle) and very instructive graph on cases or deaths per millions of inhabitants, as a function of geographical location :

    And a thought that is only emerging here in Europe : confinement helps slowing down the curve of cases & death due to Covid-19 by not swamping the hospitals, but that is not gonna be the end of the fight. Then, what next that will restore normal life whilst waiting for cure & vaccine ? To stay sober on vaccines, does anybody remember that sickness that appeared 40 years ago that still has no vaccine called AIDS ? Your clown-in-chief is likely to shout other lies about what comes next, but this is a really important and interesting question to think about. And South Korea might well have some good elements of answer :)

  8. Love the simple framing for hugely complex situation. Curious on Fat and Lean, what that means, and if there’s more intel on what you think might happen next in that category. Appreciate the thinking her, per usual