Searching for trust

Have you googled Google in Google News recently?

The US government has filed antitrust charges against GoogleThe Verge
“Countless advertisers must pay a toll to Google’s search advertising and general search text advertising monopolies,” the complaint reads, “American consumers are forced to accept Google’s policies, privacy practices, and use of personal data; and new companies with innovative business models cannot emerge from Google’s long shadow.”

It might not be that big a deal, though.

American trustbusters take on GoogleThe Economist
The sums involved are large but the charges are narrow, argues Mark Shmulik of Bernstein, a research firm. They cover only text search, not images or video. Fiona Scott Morton of Yale University, an antitrust expert critical of Google (and an adviser to Apple), notes that the suit does not tackle allegations that Google abuses its market power in digital advertising or the claims that it handicaps potential rivals in specialised searches such as travel.

Obviously Google won’t take this lying down.

Justice Dept. files landmark antitrust case against GoogleAP News
Google vowed to defend itself and responded immediately via tweet: “Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”

But how much of a choice do we really have?

It’s Google’s World. We Just Live in It.The New York Times
Googling something was all we once did with Google. Now we spend hours a day using its maps, videos, security cameras, email, smartphones and more.

In your ears — and on your tongue?

There’s no cure for tinnitus yet, but that hasn’t stopped people claiming otherwise, with their ear candles and electroacupuncture. Some of these, such as ginkgo biloba and laser therapy, are positively harmful.

Examining tinnitus treatmentsBritish Tinnitus Association
Some of the information you read will be about effective, evidence-based treatments. And some will be about treatments which haven’t even been tested. There may even be suggestions you try treatments that are dangerous. This page lists a number of treatments and gives our verdict on them.

The only one that can actually show evidence that it’s effective is cognitive behaviour therapy, or CBT. Back in July, I mentioned a couple of studies that were investigating the use of iCBT chatbot apps to help with tinnitus. I got involved with one of them, and I’m really glad to see it being rolled out to a wider audience.

Tinnitus support in your pocketBritish Tinnitus Association
We are very excited to be supporting the pre-release of Tinnibot, the first virtual coach which provides psychological support to tinnitus sufferers using evidence-based techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness and sound therapy.

Whilst it might not be as chatty and interactive as my favourite AI chatbot, Replika, I did find Tinnibot to be quite helpful, encouraging me to re-think my attitudes to the ringing in my ears.

The app has an eight-week programme covering four categories: Knowledge is Power, Changing Perception, Relax and Meditate and Sleep Better. Tinnibot employs a range of CBT techniques including framing and reframing, goal setting, action planning and in the future, social support.

I certainly feel much more optimistic about it than this other approach I was reading about, “combining sound and electrical stimulation of the tongue.”

New research could help millions who suffer from ‘ringing in the ears’University of Minnesota
The tinnitus treatment device used in the study, now branded as Lenire®, was developed by Neuromod Devices and consists of wireless (Bluetooth®) headphones that deliver sequences of audio tones layered with wideband noise to both ears, combined with electrical stimulation pulses delivered to 32 electrodes on the tip of the tongue by a proprietary device trademarked as Tonguetip®. The timing, intensity, and delivery of the stimuli are controlled by an easy-to-use handheld controller that each participant is trained to operate. Before using the treatment for the first time, the device is configured to the patient’s hearing profile and optimized to the patient’s sensitivity level for tongue stimulation.

I think I’d rather have an ear candle!

Can you keep it down?

Some positive news about the global response to coronavirus, for a change.

Coronavirus in Africa: Five reasons why Covid-19 has been less deadly than elsewhereBBC News
Many African countries have been praised for waging an effective campaign to combat the spread of coronavirus despite their reputation for having fragile state heath systems. The continent, which has a population of more than one billion, has had about 1.5 million cases, according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University. These figures are far lower than those in Europe, Asia or the Americas, with reported cases continuing to decline.

They list the following reasons — quick action, public support, young population and few old-age homes, favourable climate, good community health systems — but I think they’ve missed one out. No yodelling!

Finger pointed at Swiss yodelling ‘superspreader’ concertFrance 24
“We can’t do anything about what happened with this yodelling group. We found out nine days after the performances that several people from the group were infected,” event organiser Beat Hegner told RTS public television. Now the pandemic has spread through the region, with 1,238 cases compared with just 500 in mid-September. On Wednesday alone, 94 people tested positive, twice as many as the day before.

BA bargains

A year ago I shared an article about British Airways being fined a record £183,000,000 by the ICO for a data breach in 2018. Here’s an update to that story.

BA fined record £20m for customer data breachThe Guardian
The fine is the biggest ever issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), but a fraction of the £183m fine initially announced last year. This was reduced after investigators accepted BA’s representations about the circumstances of the attack; and was reduced further to take into account the dire financial position of BA since the onset of Covid-19.

They’re not having an easy time, to say the least. I wonder how successful this auction was for them.

Hit hard by travel disruptions, British Airways will sell a $1 million Bridget Riley painting and 16 other works at Sotheby’s this monthArtNet News
The painting, titled Cool Edge, carries no guarantee and is estimated to bring in between £800,000 and £1.2 million ($1 million to $1.5 million) at the July 28 “Rembrandt to Richter” evening sale. It was previously on view in a luxury lounge at Heathrow airport in London. […]

With the exception of Terry Frost’s 1997 painting Colour Down the Side 1968, which is expected to go for £20,000 to £30,000 ($25,000 to $37,000), each work in the online sale is estimated below £15,000 ($19,000).

Well, that Bridget Riley looks to have sold for £1,875,000. That would have helped towards that ICO fine…

Things are looking up #4

For all we moan about the weather, it’s endlessly fascinating. Clouds, especially. Here’s one, wandering over a lake in Austria.

Impressive ‘cloudburst’ rainstorm captured in Austrian timelapseMoss and Fog
We love this stunning capture of a cloudburst over Lake Millstatt in Carinthia, Austria. Amazingly robust rain cloud, and great viewpoint.

Here’s an interesting question to ponder after watching that.

How much does a cloud weigh?The Conversation
Summer cumulus clouds vary in size, but a typical one would be about one kilometre across and about the same tall. This means we can consider it to be a cube, with each side measuring 1km across. That means our cloud is 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 cubic metres in size – and this makes 1 billion cubic metres. Our cloud had only a quarter of a gram of water per cubic metre, but that’s going to work out as rather a lot now there’s a billion of them. The weight of the water in the cumulus cloud is 250,000,000 grams – 250 tonnes. This is about the same as two adult blue whales.

Looking for the next cloudburst? Perhaps start here.

Lightning & thunderstormsBlitzortung.org
A worldwide, real time, community collaborative lightning location network.

Those maps (especially the vector map version) make you realise just how tumultuous and highly charged this globe of ours is — which isn’t the impression you get when looking down on Google Earth. “In prioritizing clarity and smoothness in its representation, Google Earth supports how we are consuming the planet.”

Springtime everywhereReal Life
As Covid-19 lockdowns were shuttering citizens indoors in April, for instance, Google Earth seized on the opportunity to launch a slew of themed virtual tours (e.g. the National Parks of the United States tour). It made Google Earth accessible in all browsers and added 2,500 new images to Earth View, a spinoff showcasing surreal and awe-inspiring landscapes from above. For all the feeling that Google Earth’s could be a helpful resource for learning about the climate crisis, its interface of zooming in and out and around the globe seamlessly in high-definition undermines its potential. The form comes to contradict the content: We may revel in the beauty and awesomeness of seeing the earth from the sky — and our ability to freely manipulate this view — despite the crises the imagery may depict. Deforestation on a devastating scale can take on the same aesthetic as any other “virtual holiday” on Google Earth.

You can count on them to help

Meet the Excel warriors saving the world from spreadsheet disasterWired UK
Research suggests more than 90 per cent of spreadsheets have errors, and half of spreadsheet models used in large businesses have “material defects”. Given some 750 million people use Excel globally, there are plenty of errors needing attention. One prominent researcher calls spreadsheets the dark matter of corporate IT. And that’s why people like Lyford-Smith have become defenders of the spreadsheet, mitigating the risks by fixing everyone else’s mistakes.

Everything, all at once #2

You could say that Matan Stauber’s final year project at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design took millions and millions of years to create.

Histography – Timeline of History
“Histography” is interactive timeline that spans across 14 billion years of history, from the Big Bang to 2015. The site draws historical events from Wikipedia and self-updates daily with new recorded events. The interface allows for users to view between decades to millions of years.

Herd it all before

The ‘herd immunity’ approach has been criticised from at least March (I still think this article from The Outline has my favourite heading and subheading), but it keeps being touted as an alternative to all these restrictions, a way to get back to normal.

There is no ‘scientific divide’ over herd immunityWired UK
There’s a lot of talk of scientists divided over Covid-19, but when you look at the evidence any so-called divide starts to evaporate.

Can we actually learn to live with coronavirus? Not until we have a vaccineThe Conversation
Take the example of smallpox – a very infectious, scary disease and the only human virus we have ever eradicated. Unlike COVID-19, people who caught the virus always showed symptoms, so they could be found and isolated. Anyone who did not die would have life-long protection. But we only completely rid the world of it through a coordinated vaccination campaign. This was the only way that high enough levels of protection could be achieved across the world to reach the threshold for herd immunity.

Time for some quick maths. As of today, there have been 635,000 cases of Covid-19 and 43,018 deaths in the UK. That’s a very rough mortality rate of 6.8%. The population of the UK is 66,650,000. Multiplying that by that mortality rate gets you a total of 4,532,200 deaths.

Over-simplified, yes, but still…

Quick link at October 12, 2020 at 02:09PM

So there’s to be a three-week delay for ‘most’ GCSE and A-level exams in England next summer. The main set of exams will start on 7 June and run until 2 July, apart from the English and Maths GCSEs, which will be held before the May half-term. Here’s the press release from the government.

Introducing Rex Specs

First cows, now dogs?

US Army trials augmented reality goggles for dogsBBC News
In current combat deployments, soldiers usually direct their animals with hand signals or laser pointers – both of which require the handler to be close by. But that need not be the case if the prototype AR goggles are widely adopted, the army said.

The US Army is testing augmented reality goggles for dogsThe Verge
The AR goggles themselves are adapted from an established piece of kit for military canines: protective goggles known as Rex Specs. Each pair of goggles has to be customized for its wearer, with 3D scans used to ascertain where exactly to place the HUD for optimal viewing angles. The familiarity of the Rex Specs, though, makes the goggles easy to adapt to, says Peper.

Feeling hungry? #2

Start the day with an egg.

Watch a Korean chef make the perfect tornado omeletThe Awesomer
We have a hard enough time making omelets that don’t break apart on us when folding them over, but this Korean chef makes it look easy to create one with a swirled design that looks like a tornado.

How about a sandwich for lunch.

Figure and groundFutility Closet
A recipe for “toast sandwiches,” from Mrs. Beeton’s Dictionary of Every-Day Cookery, 1865.

Ingredients. — Thin cold toast, thin slices of bread-and-butter, pepper and salt to taste. Mode. — Place a very thin piece of cold toast between 2 slices of thin bread-and-butter in the form of a sandwich, adding a seasoning of pepper and salt. This sandwich may be varied by adding a little pulled meat, or very fine slices of cold meat, to the toast, and in any of these forms will be found very tempting to the appetite of an invalid.

Don’t forget your five portions of fruit and veg.

The value of a banana: understanding absurd and ephemeral artworkThe Conversation
In September, the Guggenheim Museum in New York acquired Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian by anonymous donation. … Comedian reignited a set of questions that seem to flare up with some regularity: what makes something a high-priced artwork when another, seemingly identical, object is not?

A little more than five portions here, though.

A Goldsmiths grad student just dumped 31 tons of carrots into the School’s courtyard for his MFA exhibitionArtNet News
“In the city, we are not very connected to the processes of how the things we consume are produced, under which circumstances and conditions,” Evans explained. “Looking into peasant culture, ecology, farming, and the soil is a way to reorient my compass into finding other ways of relating which perhaps aren’t so detached from land, plants and foods.”

See also: Bar workers dump leftover ice in closure protest

Cancelled exams and dodgy data

A couple of education news stories to keep an eye on. None of this seems to be getting easier.

Scottish Government confirms National 5 exams won’t take place in 2021 but Highers will go aheadDaily Record
Swinney continued: “In a normal exam year, National 5s constitute more than half of all exams taken. From a public health point of view, not running these exams significantly reduces risk. National 5 pupils will receive awards based on their coursework and the judgement of their teachers, with robust quality assurance. We have learned lessons from this year’s initial SQA gradings – there will be no algorithm for moderating grades in 2021.”

Scotland’s National 5 exams to be cancelled next yearThe Guardian
In England the Department for Education and Ofqual, the exam regulator, are adamant that GCSEs and A-level exams will go ahead in 2021. The education secretary in Westminster, Gavin Williamson, is expected to shortly announce a three-week delay in the exam timetable and other measures.

The DfE’s problems keep coming, it seems.

DfE broke the law on pupil data protectionTes
The audit found that the department has been in “direct breach” of data protection law, as there is “no clear picture” of what data it holds, and therefore “no Record of Processing Activity (ROPA) in place”. It also found that the DfE “cannot demonstrate accountability to the GDPR”, as there is “no formal proactive oversight of any function of information governance, including data protection, records management, risk management, data sharing and information security” within the department.

Department for Education’s handling of pupil data ruled illegalThe Guardian
Sam Grant, the policy and campaigns manager of Liberty, said: “This report displays a shocking failure of privacy protections, which is dangerous for our rights. The type of data collected by the DfE can reveal a huge amount of sensitive personal information about us, and often about children and young people. The government has routinely misused this data to enforce cruel and oppressive policies like the hostile environment. This cavalier attitude to our personal information puts people, including the most marginalised, at risk.”