Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for March 27, 2020

in STEMGeeks2 years ago (edited)

A TED talk describing the "code for Venezuela" project and its emergent solutions; A new app helps researchers track coronavirus and learn about risks; Google eliminating the "User Agent" string from its Chrome browser; DIY face shield finds its way into hospitals and onto Ford's production floor; and a Steem embedded video discusses the nature of the US election system


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Links and micro-summaries from my 1000+ daily headlines. I filter them so you don't have to.

First posted on my Steem blog: StemGeeks, SteemIt, SteemPeak*, SteemSTEM.


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  1. Simple, effective tech to connect communities in crisis | Johanna Figueira - This TED talk by Johanna Figueira was posted in February, 2020, and it came across the site RSS feed on March 25. Figueira is a Venezuelan emigre who launched the project, code for Venezuela, in order to provide a way for the four million Venezuelans who left the country to provide assistance to friends and family who were left behind. More than 300 participants participated in a hackathon to suggest solutions to "on the ground" problems that were identified by Venezuelan experts who were still in the country, and two projects were identified to continue forward. These included, MediTweet and Blackout Tracker. MediTweet is a Twitter bot that helps Venezuelans find life saving medicines and medical supplies. Blackout Tracker lets people report on Twitter when the lose power by using the #SinLuz (without power). This is an important service because Venezuela is experiencing an energy crisis, and the government censors news about the locations of power failures. Figueira argues that this isn't just a vital information service for the people of Venezuela, but it's also a way to hold the government accountable.

  2. A new app might help researchers monitor the spread of coronavirus - The Covid Symptom Tracker launched on March 26. It was developed by King's College in London for a decades long study of coronavirus in twins. It was subsequently opened to the general public in the UK, and now the US. The idea is to identify the most vulnerable populations by linking symptoms and underlying conditions. When a person signs up for the application, they are asked to enter information about medicines taken and long term medical conditions. Then, the application asks participants daily whether they're experiencing symptoms like cough, breathing problems, or headaches. The team that developed the app reports that the data will be used exclusively for academic research purposes, and it will not be sold or used commercially. As-of Thursday morning, the Google Play page for the application says that it is incompatible with all my devices, so I'm not sure how widely accessible it will be.

  3. Chrome Phasing out Support for User Agent - The history of the "User Agent" string in the browser dates back to Mosaic in the early 1990s, although it saw little use at the time. That changed when Netscape came around, when developers began making use of it to improve the user experience and advertisers started using it for browser fingerprinting. With the advent of javascript, developers had better tools for determining a browser's capability, but it continued to be used for fingerprinting and user tracking. Now, in a bid to protect privacy, Google is removing it from the company's Chrome browser, where it will be replaced by an API called, Client Hints, which will give the client more control over the particular information that a web site is able to collect. -h/t OS news

  4. Engineers Made a DIY Face Shield. Now It's Helping Doctors - When confronted with a shortage of face shields to protect staff who were administering coronavirus tests, the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked Rodgers Lennon if he could manufacture some for the school's hospital. Lennon made a trip to Home Depot, and thus began a series of design iterations by Lennon and a couple of colleagues. After meeting with approval from the hospital staff, the team was able to ramp up production and deliver 1,000 masks to the hospital. They also posted the design online, where Ford is now using it to produce 75,000 of the masks at a subsidiary's manufacturing plant in Plymouth, MI.

  5. Steem @answerswithjoe: Why US Presidential Elections Are So Messed Up | Answers With Joe - This post contains an embedded video from 2016 describing the systemic aspects of the US election cycle. Although the video is from 2016, it's relevant to the upcoming election cycle. The first aspect of the system to be discussed is the idea of one vote per voter, which forces people to consider likely outcomes of an election, and vote for their favorite candidate - with a chance of winning. Instead of this, a system where voters ranked the candidates would provide a more accurate reflection of voter preferences while incentivizing voters to vote for their preferred candidate first. The second aspect that he talks about is the electoral college, which he says was necessary in the past, but has been rendered obsolete by modern communications technologies. However, he doesn't address the common retort to that argument, that the electoral college was also intended as a barrier to prevent the large states from completely dominating the small ones. (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @answerswithjoe.)

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