Representative image of coronavirus. (Reuters/Nexu Science Communications)
Folding@Home runs in the background and taps into the additional computing power of your personal machines, pooling them into a COVID-19 research base.
Last Updated: March 24, 2020, 2:10 PM IST
As we actively continue to work from home, scientists and researchers across the world are actively on the lookout for potential drug matches, cures and vaccines to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While the best way in which you can do your bit is by staying indoors and avoiding physical contact as far as possible, Folding@Home has another way through which you can contribute to the global fight against COVID-19, all without venturing outdoors, or taking on any activity that might threaten your own safety, and in turn, the safety of those around you.
The Folding@Home community is a distributed computing project, which you can register on and enable your own personal laptop or PC, whichever you use. Once downloaded, you can then give it express permission to work in the background. How Folding@Home works is that, when your personal laptops and devices are not being used actively, its processor and graphics powers are pooled in to process algorithms hosted on cloud networks. As a result, your personal computer would become one of the thousands of processors that will pool in their own processing power towards a common cause — in this case, giving our researchers more firepower to run more robust algorithms, which in turn can be critical in finding a cure for SARS-CoV-2.
According to recent reports, Folding@Home has seen an exciting amount of participation globally, with reputed technology publications Tom’s Hardware and AnandTech challenging each other to a race, to see which of the two mighty proponents of the PC Master Race can contribute more to the distributed computing project, all for a great cause. Other mighty contributors are them folks behind the incredible Summit supercomputer, all of whom have come together to create a 1,200 percent increase in the amount of contribution, amounting to over 4,00,000 new members in the past couple of weeks.
Folding@Home is, hence, the best way in which you can use your computers at home to help researchers find a cure for the global pandemic, faster. It does not matter how less powerful your laptop may be, any contribution goes that extra inch in taking progress forward. The premier space organisation, NASA, has also leaned in to the global coronavirus battle by pulling in the might of its own supercomputers, and software giants such as Microsoft have brought in their machine learning expertise to create a vast database of coronavirus-related published research work, all of which may go some way in us finally finding a cure for the deadly pandemic.
It was reported yesterday that the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) had written to over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms requesting them to temporarily move to SD (Standard Definition) rather than HD (High Definition) streaming. As a response, Netflix has announced that it is lowering video quality in India for the next 30 days. The move has been taken by the streaming company to reduce network traffic. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has led to an increased need for internet services as people have been advised to isolate themselves at home.
According to Netflix, this will not affect the video resolution so you will still get HD and 4K quality depending on the plan you have paid for. The company is lowering bitrates which is expected to cut traffic by 25 percent. A similar change was implemented by the company in Europe last week.
“Given the crisis, we’ve developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on telecommunications networks by 25 percent while also maintaining the quality of our service. Consumers should continue to get the quality that comes with their plan, whether it’s ultra-high, high- or standard-definition. We believe that this will provide significant relief to congested networks and will be deploying it in India for the next 30 days,” said Netflix’s VP of content delivery, Ken Florance in a statement.
Your Video Streaming Quality Could Soon Drop Due to the Coronavirus Outbreak
As of now, Netflix is the only streaming platform that has pledged to make changes to its service so as to help in reducing internet traffic in India. A majority of Indians have been using Netflix’s mobile plan priced at Rs 199 that streams only in standard-definition (SD) on their mobile phones. Even Hotstar, which is one of the most popular OTT players in India said that most of its users are streaming at SD since they are on the basic ad-supported tier.
For representation: A child being treated for coronavirus in China. (Reuters)
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had said last week that the state had about 5,000 to 6,000 ventilators but it might need 30,000 of them.
Last Updated: March 24, 2020, 1:44 PM IST
Chinese company Beijing Aeonmed has reportedly been working 24/7 since January 20 to make ventilators in a bid to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While it managed to meet the country’s needs two weeks ago, the factory continues to work non-stop on various orders from overseas. The company has employed three shifts with research and development staff also put on the production line.
As the death toll rises, one of the biggest requirements of doctors from Milan to New York is ventilators. A ventilator can help a Covid-19 patient breathe and determine if he lives or dies. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had said last week that the state had about 5,000 to 6,000 ventilators but it might need 30,000 of them.
Business is at an all-time high as orders are rolling-in from dozens of countries, some of which are chartering planes or using military aircraft to pick up the machines. “There’s literally no country in the world that doesn’t want to buy a ventilator from China right now. We have tens of thousands of orders waiting. The issue is how fast we can make them,” said Li Kai, director of Beijing Aeonmed.
Aeonmed isn’t the only Chinese company pushing the boundaries to build ventilators. “All the ventilator factories in China have reached their maximum capacity, occupied fully by foreign demand,” said Wu Chuanpu, director of supply chain at Vedeng.com. Vedeng is one of the main platforms in China connecting medical equipment suppliers and buyers. Factories have orders to keep them at full capacity until May, adds Wu. Vedeng is getting over 60 to 70 new orders every day, each asking for hundreds or thousands of ventilators.
In COVID-19 times, love seems to be blossoming on online dating platforms and extra-marital dating app Gleeden has seen subscriptions increased by over 70 percent in India as more people stay home, the company said on Monday. Gleeden which has registered a longer time spent on the website globally said it expects subscriptions to rise further in India as most parts of the country are observing lockdown till March 31.
The extra-marital dating app Gleeden has seen longer threads in chats (2.5 times longer than usual), an increase in the upload of pictures in both public and especially private albums and in the number of members who are updating their profiles with a new description. Gleeden started its operations in India in 2017 and now claims to have over 8 lakh active Indian users.
In Italy, where mandatory quarantine started on March 4, the platform has seen a boom in subscriptions after the first week that has tripled in the past two weeks. “The traffic on the website has been increasing by 300 percent and the time spent on the website went from an average of 2 hours to a current average of 3 hours every day in Italy,” said Gleeden. More and more people are using Gleeden to meet strangers (online) or spending their time in order to know people in a better way than they were already talking to. In France and Spain, where the lockdown started a few days ago, the platform is witnessing a surge in subscriptions.
“Discreet platforms like Gleeden that put members’ privacy in the first place and guarantees privacy and secrecy is in high demand these days. This is because it’s easier and more discreet to connect from the phone, where members can activate the “discreet mode” where Gleeden’s interface looks like Facebook’s,” said the company. Gleeden is also witnessing an increase of sudden disconnections because members are taking advantage of the “Shake To Exit” function, which allows them to disconnect immediately and close the Gleeden app with just a quick shake of their device. “Very useful when the spouse sneaks up on you!” said the company.
The COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic has caused massive, worldwide disruption of normal life, with a vast majority of individuals, including government employees, being asked to work from home. As a result, it is likely that you will be self-quarantined at home, at least until the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control in India and abroad. During this time, it is likely that you would find it difficult to maintain your productivity by virtue of being stuck at home, and once the boredom and monotony sets in, you may want to start looking around for more options to keep yourself engaged. Here, we look at some of the best free online courses that can help you add more skills to your resume, to make the most of your time spent at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Coding and IT essentials
Built by Indian startup Guvi that was incubated in IIT Madras, here you find a vast array of online coding courses that can serve as key resources for evolving your career in information technology. If you work in India’s massive IT sector, this is a great repository of courses that can teach you to code and work on Python, Java, HTML, CSS and more. You also get courses that take you through the essentials of product management, giving you just the database that can help you add key skills to your CV while stuck at home in quarantine. The courses are all premium, but until March 31, can be availed for free by anyone from here.
If you have always fancied yourself as a writer, but circumstances led you to pursue a different path in your career, now may be the time to pick up the pen and hone your skills. If what you are looking for is just a slight nudge in the right direction, we’ve got your back. The Open University has an excellent, two-week course that is designed to help you start writing your own fiction novel. The course will help you learn key basic points about how you can design characters and weave storylines. It even offers a free statement of participation at the end of the course. Learn all about it here.
This is truly a one of a kind opportunity. The Professional Photographers of America has opened up their widely acclaimed and vast collection of online photography courses to the world, and for the next two weeks, all of their 1,100+ courses on photography, ranging from the very basics to intricate and detailed, are available for you to access for free. The art of photography, as we all know, is much vaunted and works as an incredibly satisfying passion. Access their courses by simply creating a free account on their website. As a thankful gesture, you can do your bit by spreading their word among similarly interested folks.
Been intrigued about all the discourse around smart cities, their key advantages and everything else that makes such cities the obvious way forward for mankind? This great two-week course with the Open University has you covered. In their own words, “You’ll explore what it’s like to live in a smart city, the role of systems thinking, living labs, open data, crowdsourcing and roadmaps. You’ll debate challenges of privacy, ethics and security, and weigh up the value of leadership, standards and metrics. You’ll learn how to co-create a smart city project where you live.” In many ways, such a course can help you be prepared to participate in future e-governance projects, and spark off a way to open up an all new career avenue in the near future. Join it here.
Blockchain and cryptocurrencies
Like the PPA’s free library of photography courses, this here is also an incredible deal to avail in times of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Taught by Don Tapscott, executive director of the Blockchain Research Institute, the Blockchain Revolution Specialisation course hosted on popular online courses platform Coursera is right now available for free. The course focuses on giving its students a thorough understanding of blockchain, and learning how it can find practical application in real world situations. Rated as one of the best online courses on blockchain, and perhaps one of the best online courses overall, it does not require you to have prior coding knowledge, and only requires you to invest about 12 hours a week, which boils down to less than two hours a day. Avail it here.
Learn Mandarin Chinese
It is always a great skill to learn a new foreign language, and given the significant impact that China has on today’s global economy, knowing the basics of conversing in Mandarin Chinese is a very important skill to have. The Open University has just the right course for beginners in Mandarin Chinese, and teaches it through conversational techniques that will actually help you get a grasp on basic conversations in Mandarin Chinese. The course is also quite comprehensive, which should help you follow up with advanced courses in Chinese should you wish to, at a later stage. Learn all about it here.
The beauty of this course is that it can suit practically anyone — from an IT or management professional, to directorial executives, students, school and college teachers, journalists, technical writers, and more. Promoted by the University of Helsinki in Finland, the Elements of AI course is free for all to access, can be completed in your own time (but the University suggests following a six-week curriculum), and offers a great beginner course into understanding and learning the very key concepts of AI. It can help you get rid of misinformation around the subject, and is a great place to learn even more details of AI about. Sign up for it here.
If you are still doing online shopping and buying lots of stuff that you may or may not need, you might just want to pay heed to these researchers and hold off on ordering stuff that isn’t absolutely essential. It turns out that the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 remains stable and infectious on cardboard and plastic for as long as three days. Yes, 3 days. That’s 72 hours. Your next super quick courier delivery will be well within Coronavirus’ window of opportunity to get inside your home and do some damage. The latest confirmation comes from the New England Journal of Medicine, which has published the latest study on the longevity of the Coronavirus on different surface types.
The researchers studied the conditions which allowed the SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 to stay and remain active on aerosols, plastic, stainless steel, copper and cardboard in different scenarios. “SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces,” say the researchers. The study was done by researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Hamilton, Montana, Princeton University, University of California, Los Angeles and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The research says that on copper, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 4 hours and no viable SARS-CoV-1 was measured after 8 hours. On cardboard, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours and no viable SARS-CoV-1 was measured after 8 hours.
Earlier, the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany had pointed out that viruses can remain on surfaces and retain their infectious tendencies for up to nine days, in a room temperature environment. On average, they survive between four and five days. “Low temperature and high air humidity further increase their lifespan,” said Professor Günter Kampf from the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the Greifswald University Hospital.
While the Coronavirus likes stainless steel and plastic the most, it doesn’t seem to like copper that much—it is gone from copper in around 4 hours. These findings mean that courier packages, smartphone cases and even containers can become a rather nice host for the Coronavirus as it plots its next move. Health authorities are recommending generous use of hand sanitizers to keep your hands clean, and a regular wipe-down of the surfaces around you could also be quite important. Also, wash your hands regularly with soap, and avoid touching your face with your hands. “This virus is quite transmissible through relatively casual contact, making this pathogen very hard to contain. If you’re touching items that someone else has recently handled, be aware they could be contaminated and wash your hands,” says James Lloyd-Smith, a co-author of the study and a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) recently announced its Work@Home broadband plan, and now Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) has reportedly introduced double data offer on all of its broadband plans in Delhi and Mumbai. The benefit includes both landline and mobile broadband plans to encourage people to work from home.
The company made the announcement on Twitter saying that it will offer double data on broadband plans for landline and mobile for a month. Soon after, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also tweeted the same update to encourage users to work from home during the epidemic. The benefits will be available for all existing customers and notably, the MTNL broadband double data offer will be available in the Delhi and Mumbai circles only for a month. There is also news that MTNL will wave off installation charges for new customers opting for copper-based connection. These new customers will, however, have to pay for the modem that will be required for the service.
Recently BSNL launched its new “Work@Home” promotional broadband plan offering Internet access to its landline customers without any charge. This special plan offers 10Mbps download speeds with a 5GB per day data cap for all BSNL landline subscribers. After finishing 5GB, users will get Internet speeds at 1Mbps. The plan also offers a free email ID account with 1GB storage space. This promotional plan is available for customers across all circles, including the Andaman and Nicobar. The new plan can be availed without any security deposit.
The spread of novel Coronavirus in India has called for lockdown in a number of states. While most of the private and public officers already declared work from home facility for most of their staff, the complete lockdown has mandated working from home for the rest as well. As the usage of data has increased, the customers are looking for interactive plans to facilitate the smooth working of operations. In order to make this easier for customers, Reliance Jio has introduced a new plan.
The telecommunication service has launched the all-new Work From Home plan at Rs 251. The Reliance Jio Work from Home plan offers 2GB data every day and comes with a validity of 51 days. However, this plan only comes with internet benefits, so there are no special benefits on calling or SMS. If the customer exhausts the daily limit of 2GB internet, he/she can continue to browse the internet at the speed of 64kbps. The reduced speed data will not have any limit.
Along with this, the company has also made changes to some of its existing 4G data extension offers. The Rs 11, Rs 21, Rs 51 and Rs 101 prepaid plans now offer double the data that they previously offered. The Rs 11 extension pack, which earlier offered 400MB data, has now been modified to 800MB data and 75 minutes of calling benefits. The Rs 21 plan now offers 2GB data along with 200 minutes of calling. Meanwhile, the Rs 51 data booster pack offers 6GB data and 500 minutes calling benefits. Rs 101 plan comes 12GB data and 1000 minutes calling. Calling benefits can be used for Jio to non-Jio calls, while Jio to Jio calls are free of cost. The validity of these plans depends on the usage of the customer.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has written to over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms to ensure smooth video streaming across the country as people are staying indoors and taking to work-from-home amid the coronavirus crisis. The industry body has also written a letter to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) urging the government to issue advisories to the players concerned on this issue.
In its letter to the market players, the telecom industry body noted that in the past few days, government advisories have been issued to stay indoors and work from home and the role of digital means of communications, transactions, and entertainment increases. “This sudden surge in digital use is already putting pressure on the network infrastructure of the telecom service providers (TSPs). The TSPs are taking requisite steps to manage this load and facilitate the smooth functioning of the networks during this critical time,” it said.
It noted that due to lockdown or quarantine measures in various parts of the country, a sudden surge in demand for online video streaming is expected to rise substantially and during this period it is “absolutely essential for the streaming platforms to cooperate with TSPs so as to manage the traffic distribution patterns”. “It is pertinent to note that the need of the hour is that companies offering streaming platform service and TSPs take joint responsibility to take steps to ensure smooth functioning of the data communication networks to align with other measures being taken in this battle to curb the propagation of the virus,” the COAI said in the letter to industry players.
This joint action from all the players to suitably the pressure on infrastructure and to facilitate remote working, online education, digital healthcare, payments, and other critical services at a time of region-wide public health crisis would go a long way in helping the citizens and country at large, it said. The COAI further said that there are various measures that the streaming platform companies can undertake in the current situation to provide a suitable level of service to their customers at the most appropriate bitrate required.
One such measure is temporarily moving to SD (Standard Definition) rather than HD (High Definition) streaming, it said, adding that there may be other such technical measures that may be taken to ease the pressure on infrastructure. Also, during this period, advertisements and pop-ups, which usually consume high bandwidth should be removed and if required, may be replaced with public announcements on awareness regarding the virus, COAI said. The letter pointed out that similar measures are being taken by various streaming platforms internationally — in the US and Europe — as more and more countries enter lockdown to combat the spread of the virus. In its letter to the DoT, COAI has also given a list of the OTT platforms active in India – Amazon Prime Video, Youtube, Hotstar, Zee5, Alt Balaji, Voot, Sony Liv, Viuclip, Hoichoi, Netflix, and SunNXT.
Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has replied to US Senators who raised questions on his warehouse employees’ safety amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Four US Senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, sent a letter to Bezos last week, asking him how the company is keeping its warehouse staff safe as an Amazon warehouse worker was tested positive for COVID-19 at the company’s Queens, New York facility last week.
“There is no instruction manual for how to feel at a time like this, and I know this causes stress for everyone. My list of worries right now like yours,” Bezos said in a company blog post late Saturday. “Much of the essential work we do cannot be done from home. We’ve implemented a series of preventative health measures for employees and contractors at our sites around the world,” the Amazon CEO said. Several warehouse employees have told CNN Business they feel the company should be doing more to shield those at the core of its business who can’t do their jobs from home.
Bezos said the company is ensuring everything from increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning to adjusting the company’s practices in fulfilment centers to ensure the recommended social distancing guidelines. “We are meeting every day, working to identify additional ways to improve on these measures,” he stressed. According to him, Amazon has changed its logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third party seller processes to prioritize stocking and delivering essential items like household staples, sanitizers, baby formula and medical supplies. In a letter sent to Bezos on Friday, US Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sanders and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said. “Any failure of Amazon to keep its workers safe does not just put their employees at risk, it puts the entire country at risk. This isn’t business as usual, and it’s a time of great stress and uncertainty. It’s also a moment in time when the work we’re doing is its most critical,” said Bezos.