The shops need customers, but do the customers need to be in the shops?
Black Friday’s just round the corner, or is it?
When is Black Friday 2020? The deals aren’t canceled, but shopping will look different – Good Housekeeping Black Friday is going to look a little different this year. Even if you’re used to going in person to a certain store every year for its Black Friday sales, this year you’re going to want to call ahead and confirm that they’re going to be open on the big day. If you are going out, you can assume most stores will have COVID-19 safety protocols in place and limits on how many people will be allowed in the building at once, so endless lines and door-buster stampedes are going to be a thing of the past.
Holiday shopping will certainly be different this year — less crowds, more clicks.
Reinventing online shopping on Microsoft Edge – Microsoft Design As new shopping behaviours emerge and retailers revamp their selling strategies, we investigated how the browser can play a more active role to help navigate online shopping instead of being the traditionally dormant gateway to websites. Our vision is to empower people to make confident purchase decisions by saving time and money. By automatically applying coupons and surfacing price comparisons in the browser, we are taking our first step towards realizing this vision.
So it’s safer online, but safer for who?
Amazon says more than 19,000 workers got Covid-19 – CNBC The information comes months after labor groups, politicians and regulators repeatedly pressed Amazon to disclose how many of its workers were infected by Covid-19. Early on in the pandemic, warehouse workers raised concerns that Amazon wasn’t doing enough to protect them from getting sick and called for facilities with confirmed cases to be shut down. Lacking data from Amazon, warehouse workers compiled a crowdsourced database of infections based on notifications of new cases at facilities across the U.S.
Almost 20,000 Amazon workers in US test positive for Covid-19 – The Guardian Athena, a coalition of US activist groups campaigning for greater regulatory oversight over Amazon, called for immediate investigations into the company by public health officials as well as regular reporting on the number of employees with Covid-19. Athena’s director, Dania Rajendra, said in a statement: “Amazon allowed Covid-19 to spread like wildfire in its facilities, risking the health of tens of thousands of people who work at Amazon – as well as their family members, neighbours and friends. “Amazon is, in no uncertain terms, a threat to public health.”
Inside an Amazon fulfillment center, masked up and spaced apart during COVID-19 – GeekWire Not far from where hundreds of robots were buzzing about the floor of Amazon’s sprawling BFI4 fulfillment center south of Seattle this week, a human stood in her own wheeled contraption. The innovation-in-progress, intended to allow a supervisor to roll up to various work stations and provide support behind a protective barrier, is one of the more striking ways the tech giant is addressing employee safety in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But we just can’t get enough of it, can we?
How Amazon became a pandemic giant – and why that could be a threat to us all – The Guardian A few weeks ago, Amazon announced results from the following quarter, and yet another boost to sales and profits. Now Christmas looms, while lockdowns have returned across the world, sending even more customers its way. Every time “nonessential” bricks-and-mortar shops are told to close, you can sense the company once again seizing its chances, and a great social and economic transformation gaining pace. […]
“You’ll never get a major retailer boasting about opportunity in the middle of a pandemic,” [says Natalie Berg]. “But it’s clear that the timing and very nature of Covid has been fortunate for Amazon. I think they’ll be the only retailer in the UK, possibly the world, to come out stronger on the other side. If there are winners and losers of the pandemic, Amazon is hands-down the winner.”
The Truth About Amazon – All 4 As the high street goes into lockdown, Amazon is booming. This Supershoppers special reveals how to buy smart off the online retail giant, from the best bargains to avoiding scams.
Today marks a year of Covid-19 – Kottke According to an unpublicized report by the Chinese government, the first documented case of Covid-19 was a 55-year-old person living in Hubei province on November 17, 2019. That makes today the first anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A year later, and 1,340,000 people have died. That might not be enough for some, though.
Hartmann was convinced this was the purpose of creation: that our universe exists in order to evolve beings compassionate and clever enough to decide to abolish existence itself. He imagined this final moment as a shockwave of deadly euthanasia rippling outwards from Earth, blotting out the “existence of this cosmos” until “all its world-lenses and nebulae have been abolished”.
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 elsewhere – BBC 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’ concert – France 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.
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.
Can we actually learn to live with coronavirus? Not until we have a vaccine – The 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.
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 ahead – Daily 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 year – The 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.
DfE broke the law on pupil data protection– Tes 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 illegal – The 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.”
I enjoyed, if that’s the right word, this description of us from across the Atlantic, taken from The New York TimesMorning Briefing: Europe Edition newsletter. Their description of us certainly feels quite accurate. Unfortunately.
Britain, operating without adult supervision Coronavirus cases in Britain are rising rapidly, with a record 12,871 new cases reported on Saturday evening. But as our correspondent Peter Goodman writes, you would scarcely imagine it on the streets of London, where masks hang below chins, punters cluster in pubs and cafes and rules around mask wearing or social distancing are frequently ignored.
Beyond the obvious ways that this cavalier behavior is disconcerting, it has enhanced a widely shared sense that Britain — famously rule-abiding — is now operating without adult supervision. Public confidence has plummeted, with more than half of respondents in a recent survey declaring the government has botched its handling of the pandemic, up from 39 percent in May.
The current crisis seems exacerbated by an offshoot of the very virtue celebrated in Britain’s conventional historical narrative — an admirable refusal to bend. A national mantra, “keep calm and carry on,” seems to have been reconfigured into the misguided notion that nothing is amiss.
And as if to further illustrate the point about a lack of supervision.
Excel: Why using Microsoft’s tool caused Covid-19 results to be lost – BBC News “Excel was always meant for people mucking around with a bunch of data for their small company to see what it looked like,” commented Prof Jon Crowcroft from the University of Cambridge. “And then when you need to do something more serious, you build something bespoke that works – there’s dozens of other things you could do. But you wouldn’t use XLS. Nobody would start with that.”
About 40 universities report coronavirus cases – BBC News Health minister Helen Whately said “it must be really tough” for students, but they wanted outbreaks “under control”. Universities were working hard to be able to resume some face-to-face learning, the health minister said. But some students have questioned why they were told to leave home when most teaching is being done remotely.
Students ‘scared and confused’ as halls lock down – BBC News Up to 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University and hundreds at other institutions, including in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are self-isolating following Covid-19 outbreaks. In Manchester, students are being prevented from leaving by security.
It’s difficult dealing with all this uncertainty, but perhaps I just need to re-think things?
The value of uncertainty – Aeon Understanding our own relationship with uncertainty has never been more important, for we live in unusually challenging times. Climate change, COVID-19 and the new order of surveillance capitalism make it feel as if we are entering a new age of global volatility. Where once for many in the West there were just pockets of instability (deep unpredictability) in a sea of reliability – albeit sometimes in disagreeable structures and expectations – it lately seems as if there are just pockets of stability in a swirling sea of hard-to-master change.
One certainty I’m still clinging to is that everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK yet, it just means we’re not yet at the end. I was happy to jump to the end of this roundup of expert opinion on how the next year may unravel unfurl.
“Online art school is not art school”: The future of creative higher education in the age of Covid-19 – It’s Nice That Amid much controversy, institutions began digitising all interactions and creative output months ago as part of their emergency response to the global crisis. Aside from the exam results fiasco of last month, students and tutors alike have been told to embrace the “new normal” this coming term, even if their creative futures depend on it. We’ve seen an uproar from students around the world questioning how teachers are able to measure creativity through a screen. It begs the question: if online learning proves to be successful, what does that mean for the future of creative higher education?
Ed-tech mania is back – The Chronicle of Higher Education [The] problem for today’s charismatic technologists is that the types of disruption they envisioned haven’t happened. MOOCs, adaptive tutors, chatbots, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, learning analytics, and other recent innovations have played very minor roles in higher ed’s crisis pivot to online learning. Instead, the pandemic has seen us embrace two dominant technologies. The first is the learning-management system — a place to distribute and collect resources online. Learning-management systems were theorized in the ‘60s and ‘70s, commercialized in the ‘90s, and made open source in the ‘00s. The other major technology we’ve embraced is similarly old school: it was called “videotelephony” when it debuted in the 1930s, and it has gradually morphed into today’s videoconferencing. Faculty members have simply turned from the classroom lectern to their home-office webcam without the assistance of chatbots or AI tutors.
Take-up of NHS contact-tracing app could be only 10% – The Guardian Officials at the test and trace programme, however, believe there will be benefits even if few people adopt it. A recent study by the same data team at Oxford University, looking at the experience of Washington state in the US, found that if 15% used an app that notified them of exposure to an infected person, infections were reduced by 8% and deaths by 6%.
But even the best only got up to 40% take-up.
Everything you need to know about the NHS Covid-19 tracking app – Wired UK The country with the highest download rate is Singapore, which was the first nation to introduce a contact tracing app. The TraceTogether system has been downloaded 2.4 million times as of September 9. This accounts for around 40 per cent of Singapore’s population. The country has also moved beyond the contact tracing apps by trialling a Bluetooth ’token,’ a wearable device, that people can use for contact tracing purposes.
There were a number of significant worries about what the start of this academic year might look like for university recruitment. But perhaps things will be OK.
The results comes as British universities are becoming cautiously optimistic that most have avoided the worst scenarios anticipated following the worldwide coronavirus outbreak and the exam grading turmoil that engulfed UK schools. Several institutions have said that student recruitment has held up across the board, with few domestic students opting to defer their studies, while international students numbers appear not to have fallen as feared.
There’s no shortage of advice out there, for universities …
Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses – GOV.UK This guidance is designed to help HE providers in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and to provide services to students to ensure they can have an enjoyable experience, while staying as safe as possible. We recognise that providers have been working to prepare for safe reopening and this update is designed to support finalisation of these preparations and provide clarity on some issues raised by providers.
Pupils return to school across England and Wales as Jeremy Hunt backs call for ‘rapid testing’ in classrooms – London Evening Standard [T]he former health secretary Jeremy Hunt backed a call from epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson for “rapid testing” to be introduced in schools, using a similar model to that used in Germany … “I think he is right, and the reason he is right is because we know something now we didn’t know back in January, which is that about 70 per cent of the people who transmit coronavirus don’t have any symptoms at all and so that makes it much harder to get public consent for things like sending people back to school or going back to offices and so on because it is a silent transmitter and even a silent killer sometimes. The way you get round that is by having very quick, very effective large-scale testing.”
Germany faces a ‘roller coaster’ as schools reopen amid coronavirus – The New York Times Germany, like other countries that have managed the pandemic fairly well, was quick to deploy widespread testing, effective contact tracing and tests with rapid results. Crucially, that has helped keep the rate of community transmission low. So far, the lesson from Germany, Denmark and Norway, among the first countries to start the new school year, is that schools can reopen and remain open — if they build on that kind of foundation. But most countries, and most parts of the United States, simply can’t match those conditions.
This isn’t just a problem for schools, of course.
Fears over COVID-19 spread in universities as students set to make ‘UK’s biggest annual migration’ – Sky News The start of a new university year is “the biggest migration of people on an annual basis in the UK,” Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, says. “That’s a million students, moving across country, cycling in and out of lockdown zones, of bubbles, of homes, into new cities, where we are not track and tracking those students, we are not testing those students,” she said. “We are seriously concerned that if the government and universities do not step in and discourage this… we could see universities becoming the care homes of the second wave of COVID-19.”
The area is home to Manchester University’s main accommodation block, and businesses are quietly gearing up for what is usually one of their busiest months, without quite knowing what the return of students will bring. Promoters would usually be dotted on street corners, attempting to lure twentysomethings with £1 shots. But now, when students arrive, they will be greeted by floor markings, hand sanitiser, and signs reminding them to keep socially distanced.
But maybe everything will be OK?
Why heading back to school isn’t as big a risk as it sounds – Wired UK “What’s happened between June and now, is that we now know that young children, so those under ten, have negligible risk from the virus and don’t appear to be transmitting it much either,” says David Strain, clinical senior lecturer and honorary consultant at University of Exeter Medical School. “In June, we knew that the children could catch the virus, and they had no disease. But we didn’t know, at that point, whether they could then take that virus home and spread it on to their parents and grandparents.” One worry is that children will spread the virus to vulnerable members of their household – an elderly relative or shielder. But, luckily, children aren’t as contagious as adults. […]
What is clear is that children staying out of school is hugely damaging – not just in regards to the loss of education, but whether the children come from vulnerable settings, are neglected at home, or at risk of domestic violence. Schools provide a refuge for these children. “We’ve seen an entire generation lose six months worth of education – for some this is their formative years,” says Strain. “This is further driving health and educational inequalities.”
“The government needs to be bold, and on the sort of scale that saw hospitals built in weeks, and workers paid in furlough, to make sure no child is left behind. If not, they risk losing a generation for good. The stakes are simply that high,” she said.
Any lessons from history?
Schools beat earlier plagues with outdoor classes. We should, too – The New York Times The subsequent New England winter was especially unforgiving, but children stayed warm in wearable blankets known as “Eskimo sitting bags” and with heated soapstones placed at their feet. The experiment was a success by nearly every measure — none of the children got sick. Within two years there were 65 open-air schools around the country either set up along the lines of the Providence model or simply held outside. In New York, the private school Horace Mann conducted classes on the roof; another school in the city took shape on an abandoned ferry.
Distressingly, little of this sort of ingenuity has greeted the effort to reopen schools amid the current public-health crisis.
If schools do have to close again, we’ll be better prepared next time, right?
Coronavirus: how can teachers prepare better for remote learning? – Tes The principle of generative learning is that there are activities that we can ask pupils to do in which they create new learning for themselves. All these activities involve pupils taking new information from a source – such as teacher explanation, a written text, video clip etc – and then going through the process of: selecting relevant information; organising it; integrating it into their prior knowledge.
There’s a mountain to climb, even without any further closures.
Pupils three months behind as new term starts, study claims – Schools Week The research has prompted warnings that catch-up must not be seen as a “quick-turnaround solution”, with schools facing a “range of barriers” as they reopen. The survey also found that almost half of pupils need “intensive catch-up support”, with those from the most deprived schools and institutions with the highest proportion of pupils from BAME backgrounds “in greatest need”.
Next year’s exam season will be rolling around before you know it.
Perhaps some people need to go back to school more than others.
Ofqual chief Sally Collier steps down after exams chaos – BBC News “This move follows the failure of the statistical model that led to this year’s grading fiasco, but the fault is not hers alone,” said the head of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton. “Ministers have questions to answer over the extent to which they scrutinised and challenged the methodology and reliability of the statistical model, particularly given the enormity of the task and the importance of getting it right.”
Everything that went wrong with the botched A-Levels algorithm – Wired UK “This whole story has really highlighted the problems that there are around automated decision making, in particular when it’s deployed by the public sector,” says Tennison. “This has hit the headlines, because it affects so many people across the country, and it affects people who have a voice. There’s other automated decision making that goes on all the time, around benefits, for example, that affect lots of people who don’t have this strong voice.”
Can algorithms ever make the grade? – Ada Lovelace Institute Hindsight delivers 20:20 vision, as we know. But Ofqual should have been aware that it was deploying an algorithm against a backdrop of existing public scepticism towards algorithmic systems, and an environment of tenuous trust in Government data use. It needed not only to meet, but to exceed existing standards for transparency and accountability, to avoid doing indelible harm to public confidence in data-driven decision making. […]
It would be easy to blame Ofqual here, but the choice of goals – in algorithms as in policy more broadly – is a political question, not just a technical one. Professor Jo-Anne Baird, a member of Ofqual’s Standing Advisory Group, has publicly stated that Ofqual was specifically directed to deliver exam results that controlled grade inflation, and within those parameters, this algorithm is the best you can get. So why did the public have to wait until results day in August to find out that this was the goal?
The lessons we all must learn from the A-levels algorithm debacle – Wired UK The statistical problems within the algorithm – such as the ability to only award a certain number of each grade per school – could have been spotted before it was deployed. But external expert advice was ignored months before results day. Members of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) offered to help Ofqual in April, but faced five-year non-disclosure agreements if they wanted to be involved in the project. The RSS experts said they believed some of the issues with the algorithm could have been avoided if independent expert advice was taken.
How might Ofqual have avoided this turmoil? – HEPI Ofqual were set a nearly impossible task: Provide students with the grades that they would most likely have achieved had they sat their exams, while maintaining overall national standards for prior years, and protecting groups from being systematically advantaged or disadvantaged. The methodology arguably failed on all three aims. The situation we’re left with is in many ways worse. But could this all have been avoided had the methodology been better designed and communicated?
School exams and Covid: what could the UK have learned from EU? – The Guardian The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced in April that the country’s 740,000 final-year students would be awarded an average grade for each subject based on coursework and tests during the first two terms. Local juries assessed and – if necessary – adjusted students’ grades according to national averages and on schools’ past examination records. The pass rate for the 2020 bac was over 95%, more than seven percentage points higher than the previous year, forcing the government last month to create about 10,000 extra university places for September in the most popular subject areas.
Students get ‘bizarre’ rises from moderated grades – Tes A headteacher of a West Yorkshire school said that, in one case, a pupil forecast a grade 1 in a subject had been given an 8 after the Ofqual moderating process. He also had 12 students in the same subject where final grades were four grades higher than the centre assessed grades produced by the school.
British writer pens the best description of Trump I’ve read – London Daily Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.
Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.
That’s not to say he’s not a rich source of humour. He is funny, in a if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry/I-can’t-believe-he-actually-said-that/thank-god-he’s-over-there-not-over-here kind of way.
A new Will Self short story – Will Self
It’s usually a mistake for a fiction writer to rush into print with a story that takes flight, imaginatively, from events that are still underway, and which are affecting large numbers of people. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, this injunction to keep out would seem to be as strident as the black-and-yellow striped tape swagged about a crime scene.
Indoors – Scottish Ballet With 28 doors and 36 dancers, Indoors is a playful new work by Sophie Laplane, set to Mozart’s ‘Papageno, Papagena’. Rehearsed via Zoom and recorded in lockdown, the short film explores ways we can open our doors to new possibilities, all in Laplane’s distinctly unique style.
I think I’ll pass on that. How about these instead?
Face masks hold fish tanks and overgrown patches of botanics in surreal illustrations by Kit Layfield – Colossal A long way from the packs of blue, disposable masks many of us bulk purchased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the face coverings Philadelphia-based illustrator Kit Layfield envisions are a bit more complex and otherworldly. He draws intricate contraptions featuring the traditional nose-and-mouth covering that then are connected to larger collars adorned with luxuriant shrubs, miniature ecosystems, and tiny fish tanks. The individual subjects all are situated within the diverse environments, providing the necessary structure to keep the micro-systems flourishing.