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“I don’t speak computer. What the f*** does this say?” Silicon Valley Covid billboard sparks debate, distaste.

A public health message posted on a billboard in Silicon Valley has drawn a decidely mixed reaction, with the billboard, written in JavaScript, ostensibly encouraging people to wear masks, socially distance, wash hands and get tested — but described as inadvertantly tragicomic by some, and worryingly elitist by others.

The billboard (as per illustration above) was put up by the Department of Santa Clara’s public health department near San Jose Airport around September in 2020, and continues to draw amused Tweets from the tech community. (Sample this week: “Silicon Valley! Where else would you see a billboard like this?”)

Not everyone’s amused.

A recent share drew a mixed bag of reactions, including the poignantly pithy: “I don’t speak computer, what the fuck does this say?”, through to the blunt: “This sort of shit is just a show of arrogance, software development isn’t the most important thing in the world and no-one should pretend it is, but its placement in Silicon Valley, in a state in the US almost unique for its refusal to confront real social problems makes sense.”

What does it say? “This code says masks, testing & social distancing until you die. There is no out from the loop other than not satisfying the condition ‘still alive’, as one observer, @boutros555 noted on Twitter.

They added: “They think they’re clever, but really they’re unwittingly unleashing unending trauma on those they’re trying to help. Actually, on deeper inspection, I don’t think this code even lets you die.”

One programmer told The Stack: “It’s just a slight lack of axiomatic precision (there are more options than they have indicated). The code is definitive, so it would have been better if they used a different variable such as:

while(pandemic) {

...WearMask(), etc

}

One resident in the area who works for a non-profit and who preferred to go unnamed, told us: “It’s kind of striking that they think the tech community needs to be reached with this message. As far as I know they’re masking and probably already getting vaccinated. Meanwhile you’ve got large communities of low income non-English-speaking immigrants (Latino, Vietnamese, Korean) who are struggling to pay the rent in Santa Clara because of the tech community and who are dying or being hospitalised in far larger numbers.”

The Stack has contacted the County of Santa Clara for its response.

While we await it, we note that to be fair its Covid page is available in English, Spanish, Chinese and Tagalog and it offers a public health newsletter in English, Chinese, Spanish, or Vietnamese.

The area has seen 109,276 Covid-19 cases to-date, with 1736 deaths as we write.

While you’re here, thinking about life, check out https://inequality.org/

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Ed Targett

Ed Targett is founder of The Stack. He was previously editor of Computer Business Review/Tech Monitor.

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