Apple’s new iPhone SE 2 shows that even ‘small’ phones are big now

It’s been a bad year for small phone lovers. It’s no secret that the average size of new smartphones has increased dramatically over the past few years. But this year it feels like the idea of a small phone you’d actually want to use as a primary device (read: not whatever that Palm phone was trying to be a couple years back) is truly dead and gone.

Earlier today, Apple announced the second-generation iPhone SE, which is basically an iPhone 8 with the processor of the iPhone 11. It officially replaces the first iPhone SE, which Apple released in 2016 and stopped selling some time in 2018. The new SE shares the original’s attractive price point and fingerprint-scanning home button, but it’s a significantly larger device. It has a 4.7-inch display compared to the original’s four-inch screen and the entire phone is almost 30 percent bigger.

Sure, the new SE is smaller than the rest of Apple’s current lineup and is smaller than basically any Android phone you can buy now. But if you were holding out for something truly small, along the lines of the original, it’s not what you’ve been waiting for.

The original iPhone SE is dwarfed by Apple’s current models.
Image: Dan Seifert / The Verge

This trend is also reflected in Samsung’s recent Galaxy S20 lineup. The smallest model available has a 6.2-inch screen and is undeniably a Big Phone. The step-up S20 Plus and S20 Ultra go out of their way to push the boundaries of how big a phone can be. A year ago, Samsung released the 5.8-inch S10E alongside its bigger phones, but this year there’s no such option.

Perhaps the worst offender of calling a big phone small is OnePlus. This week, the company had the gall to introduce its new OnePlus 8 as having a “compact” design, despite the fact that it has a 6.55-inch screen and is bigger than most other phones on the market right now. The OnePlus 8 may be slightly smaller than the even-larger OnePlus 8 Pro, but it’s laughable to think that a phone that measures over six inches tall and almost three inches wide is “compact.”

If you’re a fan of bigger phones and all of the benefits they bring, such as more immersive screens, bigger batteries, and more wireless radios, you may think the idea of a small phone is quaint in the middle of 2020. After all, your phone is likely to be your most-used computer and the most important gadget in your life.

But if you’re someone who has trouble using today’s phones in one hand, or keeping them in the pocket of your favorite jeans, you know that the 4.7-inch iPhone SE 2 is still a big phone, regardless of the fact that Apple referred to it as having a “small 4.7-inch design” in the hype video introducing the product. Today’s phone makers are basically saying, “suck it up and deal with a big phone that may not fit your needs.”

It’s easy to see why Apple went with the larger design for the new model: the company claims this size is the most popular iPhone ever released, and on a technical level, it’s easier to fit components into a larger frame than a smaller one.

Plus, Apple has years of experience with this basic form factor, going all the way back to the iPhone 6. In fact, if you cast your memory back to that time, you might recall that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were worldwide blockbusters because Apple was finally meeting demand for big phones. What was big in 2014 is now small in 2020.

We can talk about those industry trends for days, but all that would be little consolation to those that just want a smaller phone.

Rumors have it that Apple is planning to release a multitude of new iPhone models later this year, including one with a 5.4-inch, edge-to-edge screen (read: without the chunky bezels found on the SE 2) that should be smaller than the 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro is now. But it’s unlikely that new model, should it be released, will reach the compact dimensions of the original SE, and small-phone wanters will likely be left in the cold once again.

Source link


Charter customers who pay for HBO will get HBO Max free when it launches next month

Customers who currently subscribe to HBO through Charter, including those who pay for Charter’s Silver and Gold video packages, will get access to WarnerMedia’s new HBO Max streaming service when it launches next month.

All of Charter’s current HBO subscribers will automatically get access to HBO Max for no additional charge, “and with no action required other than signing into the HBO Max app,” according to a press release issued by WarnerMedia today. Other Charter customers will also be able to purchase HBO Max directly from the cable and internet provider. Much like how current HBO subscribers have access to HBO Go, Max is an upgrade for those already with HBO.

“This new premium streaming experience will be a welcome addition to Spectrum subscribers; we will offer HBO Max on a multitude of platforms for purchase by our video, broadband and mobile customers alike,” said Tom Montemagno, Charter’s executive vice president of programming acquisition.

Back in October when AT&T and WarnerMedia executives spoke about the direct-to-consumer streaming platform, they stressed the importance of partnering with different carriers to ensure HBO Max is available to as many customers as possible. Charter is one of the United States’ second biggest cable provider, alongside AT&T and Comcast — which launched the first wave of its own streaming service, Peacock, today.

AT&T will use its own network to try to migrate people over to the app, too. Existing HBO subscribers on AT&T (approximately 10 million) and HBO Now direct billing subscribers will get HBO Max for free. Customers who subscribe to AT&T’s premium video, mobile, and broadband packages will be offered bundles at launch with HBO Max at no additional cost. AT&T also worked out a deal with YouTube to ensure that HBO Max will be offered via YouTube TV. AT&T estimates that HBO Max will have 50 million subscribers in the United States by 2024.

Being able to give Max to as many paying subscribers as possible is crucial, especially when the cost of Max is considered. HBO Max is one of the most expensive streaming services on the market, coming in at $14.99 a month. That’s the same price as what customers pay for the network via their cable packages, as well as the price of HBO’s current standalone streaming app, HBO Now. HBO Max will combine all of HBO’s offerings with a slew of original titles (although some, like the Friends reunion special, are facing delays following production issues caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic), Warner Bros. movies, and more.

HBO Max is set to launch in May. No official date has been announced at this time.

Source link


French ruling pushes Amazon to close its warehouses over COVID-19 health concerns

Amazon has decided to shut down all of its fulfillment centers in France after a French court ruled the company could be fined €1 million per item for shipping anything not directly related to medical supplies, hygiene products, and food items. The company, which plans to appeal the ruling, says that at the moment the “risk [is] too high” that it will run afoul of the ruling due to complexities in its warehouse operations. The shutdown will last from at least April 16th to April 20th. Reuters originally published the news on Wednesday morning.

“Following the judgement of a French court on Tuesday, we have to temporarily suspend operations in our Fulfilment Centres in France. This is in spite of the huge investment we made in additional safety measures to keep our hard-working, dedicated colleagues safe, while ensuring they had continued employment at this difficult time,” an Amazon spokesperson tells The Verge in statement. “Our FC operations are complex and varied, and with the punitive 1M euro per incident fines imposed by the court, the risk was too high. We remain perplexed by the court’s decision, which was made in spite of the overwhelming evidence we provided about the safety measures we have implemented, and have launched an appeal.”

Amazon has come under fire both in the US and overseas for its handling of health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis has only made the e-commerce giant’s services more vital as people shelter at home and rely more on online ordering and delivery of household goods, food, and other items. But more than 50 Amazon-owned facilities have confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the Financial Times, and the company is now building its own testing lab to try to keep its operations running amid panic surrounding the virus’s rapid spread through its warehouses.

Throughout the crisis, Amazon has been criticized by workers, activists, and politicians for not properly communicating to warehouse workers when a co-worker has been diagnosed with the illness and for not taking enough precautionary measures to prevent the illness from spreading by closing down facilities and deep cleaning them. In some cases, Amazon workers say they only hear about a COVID-19 diagnosis from co-workers, and in Kentucky, the governor ordered Amazon to keep its returns facility closed after numerous confirmed cases among the workforce.

In one particularly high-profile controversy, Amazon also fired a warehouse worker in New York City who organized a protest against the company’s handling of health and safety issues related to COVID-19. The situation, in which Amazon claimed the worker violated the company’s self-isolation guidelines to attend the protest, drew the attention of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and accusations of retaliation. It was later discovered Amazon executives internally planned how to smear the organizer in the media.

In France, the Union Syndicale Solidaires trade union filed complaints pushing for more oversight of Amazon’s handling of health issues during the pandemic and calling for the closure of facilities due to overcrowding. Amazon now says it is asking its fulfillment center workers to stay home. Amazon employs about 10,000 people in warehouses in France, according to Reuters.

“In the mean-time, we are working through what this court’s decision means for them and our French operation,” the statement reads. “While we will do our best to minimize the impact on French small businesses, those who depend on our FC network to deliver their products will be negatively impacted by this ruling.”

Amazon says it will continue to serve French customers using its Marketplace sellers and “robust global fulfillment network.” However, it’s not clear if that means French customers will have to order from Marketplace sellers outside the country and have those products shipped in without routing through a warehouse, or if French Marketplace sellers will be able to ship the items directly or through an Amazon partner.

Source link


How GM and Ford switched out pickup trucks for breathing machines

In the most severe cases of COVID-19, a patient’s lungs become so inflamed and full of fluid that they no longer deliver enough oxygen to the bloodstream to keep that person alive. One way to counteract this is by using a ventilator, which helps the patient’s lungs operate while the rest of the body fights off the virus.

As the spread of the new coronavirus bloomed into a pandemic, it became clear that there may not be enough ventilators in the United States (and around the world) to treat the coming wave of patients with these severe symptoms.

The race to build more ventilators has seen automakers like Ford, General Motors, and Tesla morph into de facto ventilator distributors and designers, while also helping medical device companies scale up production of the critical equipment. Ford and GM have turned the lights back on at some of their idled facilities to start producing ventilators themselves, with the Trump administration going so far as to use the Korean War-era Defense Production Act (DPA) on the latter to ensure that whatever they make goes directly to the national stockpile. Other technology companies, like Virgin Orbit (Richard Branson’s rocket-launching division), SpaceX, and Dyson, have joined the effort as well.

It’s currently unclear if that combined effort will be enough to stop a ventilator shortage from happening in the US, as there has been in other countries like Italy. But as these companies spin up their operations, it’s worth knowing why they got involved, why we’re facing a shortage, and what, exactly, a ventilator is in the first place.

What is a ventilator?

A ventilator is a mechanical device that helps a patient breathe by inflating the lungs and delivering fresh gas to their respiratory system, according to Neil MacIntyre, the medical director of the respiratory therapy department at Duke University. Ventilators often accomplish this with a tube that runs into a patient’s trachea, making it an “invasive” device. There are “noninvasive” ventilators that help deliver gas to a patient’s respiratory system via a removable mask or a “nasal pillow.” Doctors have largely avoided using the noninvasive models because they could increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus in hospitals since patients can still cough virus-laden droplets into the air.

Invasive ventilators can help support a patient’s breathing while their body fights off the effects of the virus. But ventilators are not a cure for COVID-19, and doctors using the devices can only hope that they will buy patients a little more time as they battle the infection.

Advanced invasive ventilators are in high demand because, as MacIntyre explains, lungs are supremely “delicate structures,” and ventilators can “really cause more harm than good” if the wrong settings are used. It takes a trained respiratory therapist to make sure the ventilator is delivering the precise airflow to properly ventilate a patient’s lungs, providing the right amount of oxygen, and helping cycle out (or “expire”) carbon dioxide.

The critical care ventilators in the highest demand are built to be used in intensive care units (ICUs), but there is a wide variety of ventilators, typically designed for specific care environments, according to Chris Brooks, the chief strategy officer at Washington-based ventilator manufacturer Ventec Life Systems. In addition to the ICU ventilators, there are more portable versions that can be used in a home setting and so on. In fact, Brooks says, this variety is one of the reasons why it’s been hard to get an accurate count of how many the country already has, and therefore how many more are needed.

Brooks says Ventec has developed a ventilator that can bridge the intensive care and home environments, and it’s currently working to mass-produce it with General Motors. Ford, meanwhile, recently announced that it’s helping General Electric manufacture a simple ventilator that doesn’t require electricity to operate, which could find use in field hospitals.

While these simpler designs are easy to manufacture and will be used if needed, Brooks says that, broadly, hospitals and governors around the US want the complex ventilators with the most features. Those features give respiratory therapists more precise control over the ventilator, allowing them to adjust settings to accommodate changes in the patient’s condition.

MacIntyre and Brooks say more advanced ventilators make it easier to wean a patient off of a ventilator when the time comes — a crucial part of the process, especially because the longer a patient is on a ventilator, the fewer there are to go around.

“These devices support life and buy time, but they don’t cure anything. There is nothing therapeutic about a ventilator. It’s a support device,” MacIntyre says. “The best you can hope for is that it effectively buys some time without hurting the lung.”

Brooks puts it more bluntly: “Every day you’re on a ventilator, the less chance you have of coming off of that ventilator.”

Why are automakers making ventilators?

While there were between 160,000 and 200,000 ventilators in the United States as of mid-March, some health experts believe as many as 1 million COVID-19 patients might need the devices in the country over the course of the pandemic, while others think it will be in the mid-to-high hundreds of thousands. One reason the country in this position is the repeated failure of the federal government to build up a proper ventilator stockpile.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had anticipated as far back as the early 2000s that a pandemic could cause a potential ventilator shortage, according to ProPublica. But despite millions of dollars invested in designing more portable emergency ventilators, by March 13th, 2020, only 12,000–13,000 ventilators were stored in the Strategic National Stockpile.

A number of companies have stepped up to try to make up for this shortfall, and the ones shouldering the biggest efforts are automakers like GM and Ford, which recently shut down car production amid the pandemic.

GM is helping Ventec Life Systems increase its rate of ventilator production, and it has made space at its factory in Kokomo, Indiana, to manufacture Ventec ventilators. Ford is engaged in a similar effort, working with General Electric’s health care division to help increase production at a Florida ventilator company called Airon. Ford is also going to manufacture Airon ventilators licensed by GE at one of the car company’s idled factories.

Automakers are well-suited for these partnerships for a few reasons, according to Adrian Price, the global vehicle engineering director at Ford who’s overseeing the company’s ventilator effort. Not only do these companies already work with components that are similar to the ones found in ventilators, but cars are highly complex products that require a unique amount of knowledge, planning, coordination, and logistics to build.

“There’s thousands and thousands of parts that we assemble, and each of those parts is made up of a number of subassemblies that are sourced [from] around the world at multiple tiers deep,” Price says. “You could probably take any subsystem of that vehicle and it would be more complex than the average consumer product.”

Brooks, who’s spent the last few weeks working with GM, agrees. “They have a fantastic supply base, so they are sourcing a lot of the same materials, whether it’s plastic or metals, and these are suppliers who have been working with them for years and they have a really good relationship and working understanding of their ability or inability to make certain parts,” he says. They also have the advantage of scale, Brooks says, with car companies making thousands of cars per week, while ventilator companies normally make just hundreds or dozens of ventilators during the same time.

Since the big automotive companies may have an advantage in manufacturing, their efforts to build ventilators have attracted the attention of the federal government, which is still trying to plug the giant gap in its ventilator stockpile.

Trump has said he believes the need for ventilators is overblown but ultimately used the DPA to order 30,000 of the ventilators being made by GM and Ventec to help stock up.

The DPA is a Korean War-era law that essentially lets the government jump ahead of other buyers of critical goods in times of need. While the Department of Defense has used it hundreds of thousands of times per year under Trump to procure materials for missiles and drones, the administration has been reluctant to use it to fill the apparent need for ventilators.

What about Tesla and the other companies making noise about ventilators?

Elon Musk has said that Tesla (and SpaceX) will help make the crucial devices as well, and he has been working with Medtronic to find a way to manufacture them at one of his companies’ factories. In the meantime, his companies have been buying equipment from China and shipping it to hospitals and governments in need.

While Musk has provided at least one batch of invasive Medtronic ICU ventilators to New York City, he has mostly focused on procuring noninvasive ventilators (often used to treat sleep apnea) that hospitals are then repurposing into invasive critical care versions.

The devices donated by Tesla can be “modified to provide safe and monitored ventilation to patients” who are experiencing acute respiratory failure, according to a post by David Reich, the president and chief operating officer at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

His team has figured out how to make the devices work through a tracheal tube (which helps reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure). They’ve also added “monitoring devices to allow for precise measurement and display of inspired oxygen concentration, tidal volume delivery, and expired carbon dioxide levels,” allaying some of the concerns that people like Brooks have expressed about hospitals using ventilators that weren’t designed for a critical care setting.

Meanwhile, Virgin Orbit has started making a new breathing device from the ground up, combining its own manufacturing and supply prowess with its employees’ advanced engineering skills to create something that could help patients who don’t need something as serious as a ventilator.

What comes next?

The potential for a ventilator shortfall will remain as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the United States, especially because it will take time for Ford, GM, Tesla, and the ventilator companies to increase production.

GM and Ventec have said they will only be able to make a few hundred new ventilators in April before ultimately ramping up to as many as 10,000 per month. Ford, meanwhile, says it will build 12,000 of its more simple ventilators by the end of May and 50,000 by July.

But even as these companies ramp up production, experts worry that we could wind up with a shortage of qualified medical professionals to operate the ventilators.

“The limiting factor for ventilator use will most likely not be ventilators but healthy respiratory therapists and trained critical care staff to operate them safely over three shifts every day,” a group of doctors from across North America wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine last month.

Brooks says this is one reason why Ventec is trying to accelerate production of its more approachable ventilator with GM. “We’ve very intentionally designed our device to be easy to use, so it has a touchscreen that works much like a cell phone rather than a complicated medical device,” he says. “It still requires supervision from a respiratory therapist, and a trained clinician, but we have a lot of training available on our website for anyone who’s curious to learn how to use it.”

The risk of a shortage of critical care ventilators (and personnel to operate them) is why Ford decided to help scale up a simpler ventilator, according to Price. “The data shows that the number of [COVID-19] cases requiring ventilator treatment quickly outgrows the capability of traditional medical facilities,” he says. “[We wanted] to be able to get units out into the field as fast as we could, because it seemed to us that, you know, having a ventilator that was very high-end and had a lot of electronics components was necessarily going to slow down the process.”

That said, MacIntyre, the respiratory therapy expert, says he’s wary of using overly simple ventilators, even in the absence of more advanced ones.

“I am just afraid that as we get to more and more primitive machines, that the monitoring and the flexibility that you need to properly care for sick people is gonna get progressively less,” he says. “A bigger problem is having people who use them properly. My therapists at Duke, for instance, say if you give them a simple device, they can make it work safely. But they’re really sharp folks. And I’m afraid that level of expertise is not widespread.”

Source link


White supremacists are targeting Jewish groups on Zoom

Mindy* listened to the rabbi preside over her uncle’s funeral on Zoom. The virtual event has become commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it still felt surreal to her. Her father and uncle Ralph had been unusually close — their dad died when they were young, and Ralph helped raise his little brother. The rabbi was talking about the siblings’ relationship when the screen went white, and black letters started to appear. The scribbles looked like the handwriting of a child. “That’s weird,” Mindy thought. “Someone’s kid must have taken over the screen.” The letters began forming words: “Die Jew.”

Mindy was stunned. She realized she and her family were being Zoombombed — something she’d only read about in the news. A white supremacist had snuck into the call to spread hatred and anti-Semitism. “It was like a punch to the gut,” Mindy says. She jumped up, trying to cover the screen with her body so her daughters, ages 12, 13, and 16, wouldn’t see. But it was already too late. Large swastikas began to appear, followed by porn and more profanity. The 13-year-old burst into tears.

The incident Mindy and her family experienced is part of a wave of Zoom attacks targeting the Jewish community. As Americans stay quarantined due to the pandemic, events that used to take place in person — town halls, weddings, and funerals — are now streaming on the videoconferencing platform. The trend has brought with it a new form of digital harassment: Zoombombing, where trolls enter meetings uninvited and stream disruptive or offensive content.

Online bigotry didn’t start with the quarantine. Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, says, “we’ve been dealing with issues with hate online well before coronavirus.” Anti-Semitism in particular has long been a part of internet culture. It’s just recently migrated to Zoom.

The videoconferencing platform has moved to quickly fix the glaring security issues that made such attacks possible. On April 5th, Zoom rolled out meeting passwords and waiting rooms as the new default setting for all users. CEO Eric Yuan also announced the company would temporarily stop developing new features and shift its engineering resources to focus on privacy and security.

But the Anti-Defamation League says this short-term emphasis on safety might not be enough. “Extremists won’t stop. They never do,” says Segal. “Zoom can’t stop looking at new ways they’ll be exploited.”

Zoom was not designed to be social. It’s a corporate business tool that suddenly became the pandemic’s go-to communications platform. Yuan probably didn’t anticipate his software turning into a concert hall, much less a school or a therapy office. Then the novel coronavirus started to spread, shutting down much of the world’s economy. From December 2019 to April 2020, Zoom went from 10 million users a day to more than 200 million. A product that used to be utilized by business professionals became a lifeline for students, families, and religious communities.

Yuan was as surprised as anyone. “I never thought that overnight the whole world would be using Zoom,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Unfortunately, we did not prepare well, mentally and strategy-wise.” The lack of preparation was underlined by the fact that most Zoom attacks weren’t the result of sophisticated hacking. People posted meeting links publicly. White supremacists found them. Chaos ensued.

Some of the attackers are well known members of the alt-right. On March 24th, Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer, known by his pseudonym weev, interrupted a class at a Jewish community center to go on an anti-Semitic rant. But others were just trying to cause mayhem. To the victims, the distinction didn’t matter. They were shocked and traumatized either way.

A wave of bad press hit in March. TechCrunch broke the story about Zoombombing. Vice discovered Zoom was leaking peoples’ email addresses to strangers. The Intercept realized the company had been claiming its meetings were end-to-end encrypted (they were not). An engineer found that Zoom was evading macOS administrator controls and installing its app without final consent.

Yuan argued this was all a function of an enterprise product becoming a consumer tool overnight. “We did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home,” he wrote in a blog.

This was only partially true. As Casey Newton wrote in The Verge, the company purposefully designed its product to be as consumer-friendly as possible. Asking users to enter a password or download an app before joining a meeting creates friction. Zoom wanted to be frictionless. “Consumer-grade ease of use is essential for a tool like Zoom,” wrote Newton, “but so is enterprise-grade security.”

This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when fear and anxiety are running high and people are isolated from one another. “There’s this desperation for community and safe spaces at a time when safety seems hard to attain,” says Segal. “When somebody comes into that space and abuses that, it shatters the normalcy and connection. Hate is bad always, but when you add that to the current environment and the fear and anxiety, it’s an extra notch problematic.”

Segal added that the issues Zoom is experiencing should serve as a warning for the rest of the tech community. As people continue to spend more time online, extremists are sure to find new ways to spread hate and fear. “I hope that we learn our lessons from Zoom so the problems aren’t repeated on other platforms,” he says.

For Mindy and her family, the Zoombombing incident shattered their ability to find closure at her uncle’s funeral. Even worse, it traumatized her children. “That was so ugly,” her daughter said in the wake of the attack. “Why do they hate us? Do they know where we live?” Mindy didn’t know what to say. “For my kids, it was a shock,” she says. “They’ve never been subjected to that before. I’m not quite sure they have ever felt what it’s like to be the subject of such hatred.”

In a statement emailed to The Verge, a company spokesperson for Zoom said: “We have been deeply upset by increasing reports of harassment on our platform and strongly condemn such behavior. We are listening to our community of users to help us evolve our approach and help our users guard against these attacks.”

The ADL now has a running list of anti-Semetic Zoombombing incidents to track the ongoing attacks. On March 27th, a synagogue in Maryland reported that virtual shabbat services were interrupted by someone yelling “Heil Hitler” and “Jewish scum.” One of the Zoombombers had a swastika tattoo and exposed his genitals to the group. On March 30th, a Jewish nonprofit was hosting a call with over 100 people when a Zoombomber started yelling “death to the Jews” and “Heil Hitler.” Then on April 1st, a weekly Talmud class led by a rabbi near Detroit was interrupted by someone who pointed a rifle at the camera.

“Extremists never miss an opportunity to leverage a crisis for their hatred,” says Segal. “They’re now trying to bring it into our homes.”

*The Verge agreed to only use Mindy’s first name to protect the identity of her family.

Source link


Google and Apple’s COVID-19 system can’t save lives all on its own

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Guinea, global health researcher Anne Liu struggled to convince public health officials that apps and other technologies could help manage the spread of disease. To beat back the outbreak, officials had to locate every person an Ebola patient may have interacted with while they were infectious, in a process called contact tracing. Liu and her colleagues wanted investigators to use apps to compile information, rather than pen and paper. At the time, it was a hard sell.

“The fight was more, is technology going to be useful at all,” says Liu, now the senior technical advisor at the Clinton Health Access Initiative. “I don’t think that’s the battle anymore.”

Now, during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, some experts are turning to technology to take over the contact tracing process entirely. Countries like Singapore and China are using cellphone-based tools to identify and monitor people who might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The United Kingdom is building a contact tracing app, and in the United States, Google and Apple partnered to build a Bluetooth-based tracking system that can automatically log people’s interactions.

Whether this type of tech could help halt a disease outbreak is still unclear; it’s never been studied before. Some experts are optimistic that automating contact tracing could scale up the COVID-19 response in the US. But creating systems that can do that work is only the start of the conversation.

“This type of technology is not a silver bullet. It has to be part of a comprehensive public health strategy,” Liu says. “Technology is usually the easy part.” These new systems won’t be useful without a dramatic increase in the amount of testing done in the United States, clear messaging, and strong integration with public health policies.

Shifting the burden

The goal of contact tracing apps is fairly simple. They’d log every phone within a certain range of a person, and if that person later tested positive for COVID-19, they could send an alert to each phone that had been nearby. Google and Apple turned to Bluetooth, which can monitor the other phones in your area without tracking your specific location. There are limitations to this approach: Bluetooth casts a wide net and may struggle to tell if two phones were actually close enough for their users to transmit a virus between them. The systems also wouldn’t be able to monitor the contacts of people who didn’t agree to use it or of people who don’t have smartphones.

That’s why app-based tracking will not be a full replacement for manual contact tracing, and public health agencies still need to vastly expand the contact tracing workforce in the United States. Apps could, though, take on some of the work and make the process more efficient.


Irish Army cadets training to do manual contact tracing.
Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images

“Generally what’s done is a huge amount of manual work. We have to increase the public health workforce, and this new technology could ease a lot of that burden,” says John Brownstein, an infectious disease epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital.

An automatic system can do things that a manual contact tracer can’t. It’s hard for people to remember everyone they interact with each day, let alone over a week or two-week period, and an app would take some of the guesswork out of the equation. It would also be able to flag people who someone may not know they interacted with, like a stranger they stood next to in a subway car.

“Let’s say you’re an infected grocery store worker,” says Ranu Dhillon, a researcher in the division of global health equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “There’s no way to track who you may have exposed.” An automated system could comprehensively identify those previously unknown contacts at a huge scale.

An automated system is also fast. “The biggest advantage, I think, is speed,” Dhillon says. It can take a few days for a contact tracer to manually track down everyone on their list for each case — and in that time, infected people could be passing the virus on to others. “Instantaneous notification can make a big difference,” he says.

What happens next?

Once those notifications are made through the app, the second wave of work begins. It’s still not clear if the system will give public health agencies any information about the identified contacts of a known positive case.

“Typically, in contact tracing you want a health official to have some ability to follow up,” Liu says. Manual check-ins or follow-ups may not be as important for COVID-19 contacts as they were for Ebola contacts — for Ebola, tracers circle back to contacts every single day for a few weeks. People exposed to COVID-19 are usually just asked to monitor themselves for two weeks.

Liberia Turns Towards Normalcy As Fight Continues To Eradicate Ebola

A contact tracer in Liberia checks for Ebola symptoms.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Liu still thinks that it would be helpful for officials to know who the contacts of each case were, just like they would with manual contact tracing. She acknowledges that it might be a difficult ask given that people may feel differently if that information is processed through an app or software. “I can understand that in settings where people are concerned about privacy, that might be a challenge,” she says. At a minimum, contacts should still be given some sort of public health information by the app so that they can make a decision about what steps to take after finding out they’d been exposed.

The recommendations that each contact would get depends a lot on the infrastructure and policy in place for the disease response. Ideally, Dhillon says, every contact could be tested for the novel coronavirus, and then potentially tested again around a week later (to make sure a first test, if negative, wasn’t incorrect).

Right now, in the United States, there isn’t nearly enough testing available for that to be possible. Instead, it’s more likely that a notification about a possible exposure to a person with COVID-19 would trigger a recommendation to quarantine for two weeks. That’s still useful, Dhillon says. “I’d rather isolate all contacts than isolate everyone. Contacts are still far fewer people than the whole population.”

Without testing, though, the potential burden of a notification would be higher. “You’d be asking a lot of people to potentially quarantine themselves based on a potential contact,” Brownstein says. If the Bluetooth system wasn’t specific enough, and it flagged people as contacts who weren’t actually at risk, those false positives could be stressful and overwhelming. Too many perceived false alarms may also make people less likely to follow instructions after an alert.

If people are regularly alerted to a possible exposure, though, it may have more to do with the caseload in their community than with the reliability of Bluetooth — particularly if the tech can be refined. “If people are flagged multiple times, it probably indicates that people in their social networks are the ones coming back positive,” Dhillon says. “It shouldn’t be as much an issue of false alarms as of a cluster of cases.”

If people are getting lots of alerts, it could also mean that the number of people sick with COVID-19 is so high that contact tracing is no longer the best strategy — and that everyone should be isolating anyway. “That’s when you’re in a situation, such as New York City is in right now, when you just have widespread community transmission. You have to make an assumption that everyone’s been somewhat exposed,” Liu says.

Telling someone that they’ve been around someone with a case of COVID-19 isn’t as useful when the disease is everywhere. Contact tracing isn’t done manually when case counts are high, so it might not be worth having automated systems turned on, either. Decisions around when and where to send notifications have to take that context into consideration, Liu says. “That way you help avoid this issue of notification fatigue.”

Communication is key

Along with ensuring that a system works well and fits into the public health ecosystem, the officials working with automated contact tracing have to push out clear communications to users. “A big part of it is the messaging itself,” Liu says. “Regardless of the technology, you have to make sure the messaging itself is clear.”

Messaging from public health officials about the COVID-19 pandemic has been inconsistent and often misleading, which doesn’t bode well for clear communications around any automated testing system. Still, it’s something that experts say could make or break the proposed systems.

People deciding if they want to use an app or opt into a tracking system need to understand exactly what the technology is for and how it’s being used. They also need to know what a notification from the system would mean and what they should do with that information. An alert wouldn’t necessarily mean a person is in imminent danger, but it could mean that they’re at a certain level of risk of developing COVID-19 — and they have to know what those risks are. “We need to have a lot of public messaging where people understand what the notification is, and can put it into context,” Dhillon says.

Clear communication would also increase the odds that people would choose to use the automated system, which needs a high percentage of participation in order to work. In Singapore, for example, around 12 percent of the population downloaded a contact tracing app — but statistically, that translates to only around a 1 percent chance of two people both using it. With such a low rate of use, it’s not going to catch many random contacts. It’s hard to say how many people in the United States would need to use an app to give it value.

“What would be ideal from an epidemic control perspective is not necessarily what is ideal at a social and policy level, which is just as important,” Dhillon says. “We need enough people to opt-in to make a dent.”

The pandemic is moving at unprecedented speed, and public health experts are sprinting to build the tools they think might help bring it under control. “It’s a little bit of flying the plane while still building it,” Dhillon says. Any automated contact tracing program would have to be carefully monitored to see how well it helps contain COVID-19, how people are interacting with it, and if it’s flagging more people than actually would be at risk from an exposure.

Whatever the systems eventually end up looking like, they have to be introduced alongside public health infrastructure to ensure they have as big an impact as possible. “The tools can’t be used in isolation,” Liu says. “You have to make sure you have the policies in place to support them.”

Source link


Lyft finally wades into delivery to help drivers earn cash during the pandemic

Lyft is launching a new delivery service aimed at helping drivers earn money during the novel coronavirus pandemic. As demand for ride-hailing collapses, Lyft’s new pilot program will tap drivers to deliver “essential” items like groceries, medical supplies, and home goods.

For years, Lyft has lagged behind its rival, Uber, in delivery, but with the pandemic leaving many drivers out of work and the demand for delivery rising, the company is finally wading in. The initiative, first teased last month, is called Essential Deliveries, and it will be available in 11 cities — including Atlanta, Dallas, and Seattle — to start out.

The delivery service will look a lot different than customer-facing services like Uber Eats, Door Dash, and Instacart. Approved partners, which include government agencies, local nonprofits, businesses, and health care organizations, can schedule customer deliveries through an online portal that will then be picked up by Lyft drivers.

Recipients will include seniors and people with compromised immune systems who are looking to minimize risk of exposure to COVID-19. Lyft says it will also deliver to low-income individuals and families that lack access to reliable transportation. For example, one of Lyft’s approved partners, Dole Packaged Foods, will use the service to deliver fruit products from its warehouses to senior facilities in Seattle.

Lyft says it will expand the program across the country as it signs up more partners. The company is currently only available in North America.

Delivery isn’t the only way Lyft has had to adapt during the pandemic. The company is also providing free and discounted bike-share passes and e-scooter rides to essential workers in half a dozen cities. Free or cheap bike and scooter trips are especially useful as public transportation ridership continues to plummet in most cities and ride-sharing is not seen as a safe alternative. In fact, there has been a surge in cycling in New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

Of course, Lyft’s ride-sharing business has plummeted as health officials instruct people to avoid unnecessary travel. The company’s rides business has been cut in half in recent weeks, according to The Information. Lyft’s revenue after paying drivers is likely to be less than $150 million a month currently, down from about $260 million a month during the first quarter of last year, the publication reports. Uber has also seen a huge drop in demand and sales.

The pandemic has also exacerbated Lyft’s labor problems. Both companies have come under fire for classifying drivers and delivery workers as independent contractors. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote a letter to gig companies calling on them to “reclassify your delivery workers as employees, rather than independent contractors, and ensure they are provided a full suite of employee protections and benefits.”

Source link


Facebook is building a hidden, bot-only platform to learn about trolls and scammers

Facebook wants to stop people from abusing its system, so it’s making a world of bots that can imitate them. Company researchers have released a paper on a “Web Enabled Simulation” (WES) for testing the platform — basically a shadow Facebook where nonexistent users can like, share, and friend (or harass, abuse, and scam) away from human eyes.

Facebook describes building a scaled-down, walled-off simulation of its platform populated by fake users modeling different kinds of real behavior. For example, a “scammer” bot might be trained to connect with “target” bots that exhibit behaviors similar to real-life Facebook scam victims. Other bots might be trained to invade fake users’ privacy or seek out “bad” content that breaks Facebook’s rules.

Software simulations are obviously common, and Facebook is expanding on an earlier automated testing tool called Sapienz. But it calls WES systems distinct because they turn lots of bots loose on something very close to an actual social media platform, not a mockup mimicking its functions. While bots aren’t clicking around a literal app or webpage, they send actions like friend requests through Facebook code, triggering the same kinds of processes a real user would.

That could help Facebook detect bugs. Researchers can build WES users whose sole goal is stealing information from other bots, for example, and set them loose on the system. If they suddenly find ways to access more data after an update, that could indicate a vulnerability for human scammers to exploit, and no real users would have been affected.

Some bots could get read-only access to the “real” Facebook, as long as they weren’t accessing data that violated privacy rules. Then they could react to that data in a purely read-only capacity. In other cases, however, Facebook wants to build up an entire parallel social graph. Within that large-scale fake network, they can deploy “fully isolated bots that can exhibit arbitrary actions and observations,” and they can model how users might respond to changes in the platform — something Facebook often does by invisibly rolling out tests to small numbers of real people.

Researchers do, however, caution that “bots must be suitably isolated from real users to ensure that the simulation, although executed on real platform code, does not lead to unexpected interactions between bots and real users.”

Facebook calls its system WW, which Protocol plausibly pegs as an abbreviation for “WES World.” But as that sentence makes clear, Facebook isn’t building Westworld here at all. It’s making a simulacron: a world of artificial personality units designed to teach us more about ourselves. While researchers are presumably limiting these interactions for the sake of real users, they’re also helpfully preventing any catastrophic existential crises among bots. Which is only polite, because if you’re building a fake universe full of tiny beings who don’t know their true nature, you’ve basically guaranteed that you’re starring in a remake of World on a Wire and living in a simulation yourself.

Source link


Formula E launches a virtual racing season, joining NASCAR, F1, IndyCar

All-electric racing series Formula E is launching a nine-week sim racing competition after having to put its sixth season on pause due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The series joins the likes of NASCAR, Formula One, and IndyCar, all of which are already leaning on the robust software and community of online sim racing to keep fans and drivers entertained and occupied in the absence of real-world racing.

The virtual Formula E series will be run in rFactor 2 which, alongside iRacing, is one of the leading sim racing platforms. Races will be run every Saturday, and they will be broadcast on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as by Formula E’s “broadcast partners” (though further details on what that will entail were not shared on Wednesday). The races will be called by Formula E’s (excellent) standard broadcast crew, and the series will also use the virtual events to fundraise for UNICEF’s pandemic efforts.

But instead of mimicking Formula E’s fairly standard real-world race format, the virtual series will be built on the idea of a “race royale,” where the last-place driver will be eliminated after each completed lap until just 10 competitors are left. After that happens, the remaining 10 competitors will complete one final lap fight for the race win and will be awarded points for where they finish.

Formula E will run separate events for its own drivers and any gamers who want to compete, which is a break from how NASCAR, F1, and IndyCar have been running things over the last few weeks. In most of those other series’ virtual seasons, professional sim racers have gotten the chance to compete against the likes of F1 stars Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc or NASCAR champions Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. The gamer with the most points at the end of the series will get a chance to drive a Formula E car in the real world.

That it’s taken Formula E this long to come up with a slate of sim racing events is also striking, especially for such a groundbreaking series. Formula E was one of the first major motorsports to cancel races due to the coronavirus, more than a month before the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic. Yet it took two and a half months for the series to announce this new sim racing effort. In the meantime, Formula E drivers like Antonio Felix da Costa and Stoffel Vandoorne have been competing in some of the other virtual racing events that have thrived in the absence of real-world action. (Even Jack Nicholls, Formula E’s lead announcer, has spent the last few weeks broadcasting some of the other sim races.)

Unless contracts or overall racing politics get in the way, nothing will stop these drivers from competing in multiple sim racing events at the same time. In fact, it’s already happened. That’s part of the beauty of sim racing in the first place: all people need is a computer, the right software, a steering wheel and pedals, and the free time to compete.

Formula E tried to get ahead of the sim racing curve a few years ago when it held a $1 million competition at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, but the event was riddled with technical glitches. The series holds driver-versus-gamer competitions at each of its real-world races (using the Real Racing video game), but it never really launched a sim racing series in the same way that NASCAR or F1 have.

“They could have been one of the pioneers,” an organizer of one of the makeshift virtual racing series told me last month. “I think that [CES race] burnt them. They should be the ones that were leading this effort.”

As odd as it is for Formula E to be following in the footsteps of more conventional motorsports, its new virtual series will likely be a welcome addition to the field of substitute sim races, crowded as it may already be. People around the world are simultaneously looking for distraction and connection. And for Formula E’s growing fan base, watching this virtual stand-in for the canceled races should offer both, while also raising money for a good cause.

Source link


A Fabric Utensil Wrap for Reusables On the Go

Another quick sewing project, that’s also eco-friendly! Make a cute DIY utensil wrap in under an hour!

Cute utensil wrap, made of scrap fabric.

While it’s true that none of us are exactly ‘on the go’ these days, we will be one day…hopefully soon. So, I wanted to share another easy sewing project that can be completed in under an hour. A fabric scraps utensil wrap!

It’s eco-friendly, utilizing scrap fabrics and other remnants for the entire project. And will help you eliminate certain single-use plastics, like plastic silverware, straws, etc in favor of reusables that are tucked into it’s pockets. You can keep one in your car or in your purse, so you always have it with you.

Click through for this easy and quick sewing project for a DIY utensil wrap!

Cute utensil roll, made of scrap fabric, on table with other kitchen items.

Supplies Needed for Utensil Wrap

You’ll need a few items for this quick sewing project and all of the items used are things you potentially already have in your home. Which would make this utensil wrap completely free.

But even if you had to buy the fabric and cord pieces brand new, the total cost would be about $5! Not too bad for something you can use over and over again, right?

Here’s the materials and supplies list…

  • scrap fabric (I used 2 fabrics, but you can use the same for both sides)
  • thread
  • pins
  • sewing machine
  • leather cord (you can also use ribbon, bias tape, etc)
  • iron

What kind of fabric should I use?

You can use any scrap fabric you have. So it really doesn’t matter the type of fabric, as long as it’s relatively durable and preferably washable. You can even use an old piece of clothing if you don’t have scrap yardage to use – an old t-shirt, an old pair of pants, whatever you have!

And the same goes for the cording to use to secure the utensil roll. I already had leather cord, which looks cute. But you can also use ribbon, bias tape, or anything else that you can wrap around the roll.

Quick Sewing Project: DIY Utensil Wrap

Cutting fabric for DIY utensil wrap project.

Step 1: Cut your fabric.

Start by cutting your fabric into two 7” x 24” rectangles.

Sewing two pieces of fabric together on sewing machine to make utensil wrap.

Step 2: Sew along the edges.

With faces of the fabric together, pin and sew along 3 of the edges leaving one of the short sides open. This open edge will become the closing flap.

Ironing fabric to make utensil roll.

Step 3: Flip and iron seams flat.

Turn your piece inside out and iron the edges down. Fold the open piece inward about 1/2” and iron flat.

Pinning and sewing fabric together to create a DIY utensil wrap.

Step 4: Sew finishing stitches and wrap.

Sew the open edge closed. Then, fold the other side up to create the slots for your utensils.

Pin the leather cord (or whatever you’re using to wrap your roll) on one of the sides to be sewn in the seam. Sew the sides of the pocket about 1/4” from the edge.

Finishing the sewing process for DIY fabric roll.

Step 5: Measure and sew utensil slots.

Determine how much space you’ll need for your utensils. I had space for a fork, knife, spoon, and metal straw. I sewed a line up the pocket about every inch.

What else can I use fabric scraps for?

If you have additional fabric scraps leftover from this project that you’d like to use for something else, I have a tutorial for reusable produce bags that you might like. And they only take 15 minutes to make!

Or try my unpaper towels DIY if you want to make the switch from single use paper towels to reusables that can be washed and reused over and over again. I’ve been reusing mine for a year now and they’re still going strong.

Hand reaching into frame to grab wooden utensil from DIY fabric utensil wrap.

Fabric utensil roll closeup with other kitchen items on table.

Fabric utensil wrap closeup on table with other kitchen items.

DIY Fabric Utensil Roll

A quick sewing project, that’s also eco-friendly! Make a cute DIY utensil wrap in under an hour!

Keyword: diy, eco-friendly, quick sewing project, reusable, sewing, utensil

Servings: 1 utensil wrap

Cost: $0-5

  • fabric I used 2 fabrics, but you can use the same for both sides
  • thread
  • pins
  • sewing machine
  • leather cord you can also use ribbon, binding tape, or anything else that you can wrap around the roll
  • Step 1: Cut your fabric.

  • Start by cutting your fabric into two 7” x 24” rectangles.

  • Step 2: Sew along the edges.

  • With faces of the fabric together, pin and sew along 3 of the edges leaving one of the short sides open. This open edge will become the closing flap.

  • Step 3: Flip and iron seams flat.

  • Turn your piece inside out and iron the edges down. Fold the open piece inward about 1/2” and iron flat.

  • Step 4: Sew finishing stitches and wrap.

  • Sew the open edge closed. Then, fold the other side up to create the slots for your utensils. Pin the leather cord (or whatever you’re using to wrap your roll) on one of the sides to be sewn in the seam. Sew the sides of the pocket about 1/4” from the edge.

  • Step 5: Measure and sew utensil slots.

  • Determine how much space you’ll need for your utensils. I had space for a fork, knife, spoon, and metal straw. I sewed a line up the pocket about every inch.

Sewing Casey Harper
Styled final photos Amelia Lawrence

Need help finding cute reusable items to put inside your new utensil roll? I rounded up 24 cute reusable items that might help.

Source link