All posts by JenThorpe

Codeacademy Offers Scholarships to Students Affected by COVID-19



Codeacademy is offering 10,000 scholarships to Codecademy Pro for free to high school and college students who are affected by COVID-19. The Pro memberships include Codeacademy programming, data science, and mobile development curriculum, a community of peers, and paths to help students be successful.

Codeacademy teaches millions of learners web development, mobile development, and data science skills. In the wake of COVID-19, we’re offering 10,000 scholarships to Codeacademy Pro for free to high school and college students across the world for the rest of the school year. Those students get access to the same features that every Codeacademy Pro learner does: roadmaps to figure out what to learn, thousands of hours of courses and projects to learn programming and data science, and a community of supportive peers.

CEO of Codeacademy, Zach Simms, said: “This is massively important. COVID-19 is leading to so many changes all at once – disruptions in finance, education, work, and more – and so much of our lives are moving online as a consequence. Online education is the only way for people to stay on top of their learning while kids are learning from home. We hope that what we’ve learned from 45 million users can help millions more during this difficult period. At the same time, we think Codeacademy is also helpful for those that might be out of work as a result of a financial challenge. Learning to retrain for a new job is a sure way to better your opportunity set.”

To get started with a free Codeacademy Pro scholarship, students must visit the Codeacdemy website and click a button called “Join Pro”. Doing so will start their 90-day scholarship. This offer is valid for any student with a valid school email address.


Robot Deployed at Texas Hotel to Zap Pathogens Amid Coronavirus Outbreak



The Westin Medical Center Hotel in Houston has become the first hotel in the country to use new ultraviolet light robots to combat germs and pathogens amid the coronavirus outbreak, and the company that makes the robot says interest in the technology is surging as the crisis escalates.

LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots have been deployed to carry out part of the cleaning process for the hotel in what is now a more effective and quicker way to sanitize room after guests check out.

The technology used by the robot has previously only been seen in the medical healthcare field, but with the growing demand for disinfections due to coronavirus, the robots are being sent into hotels for the first time.

The robot uses an intense UV light to kill bacteria and SARA and MERS, other strains of the coronavirus family, down to the microscopic level. UV light can damage or destroy various types of pathogens and the destructive power of UV light depends on factor such as wavelength and the type of organism the rays are impacting, Melinda Hart, a spokesperson for Xenex Disinfection Services, the technology company that manufactures the robot, told AccuWeather.

Research has yet to be published showing that UV light has the same affect on SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 outbreak. But some experts believe UV light, which primarily comes from the sun, could also kill the strain.

There may not be many people traveling these days, with all of the social distancing that’s in effect, but travelers who stay in rooms cleaned with the technology may be able to rest a little more easily.

The robot takes only two minutes to clean an area and can even kill certain strains of coronavirus, Dr. Sarah Simmons of Xenex told KTRK-TV. Hart said the robot uses new technology that creates intense germicidal light that can quickly deactivate viruses and spores. Older technology relied on the use of mercury bulbs, which don’t create as strong a UV light.


Facebook to Award $100 M in Cash Grants to Small Businesses



Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg posted on Facebook about the company’s plans to help small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. In the post, she stated that the economic disruption poses a severe risk to small businesses. Facebook will help by awarding $100 million in cash grants and ad credits to small businesses.

…We’ve listened to small businesses to understand how we can best help them. We’ve heard loud and clear that financial support could enable them to keep the lights on and pay people who can’t come to work. That’s why today I’m announcing that Facebook is investing $100 million to help 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries where our employees live and work…

Reuters reported that companies will be able to use cash to pay rent, cover operational costs, or run advertising on Facebook. Reuters also pointed out that Facebook will disclose more details soon about how businesses will be able to apply for assistance.

The Facebook for Business website now has a Boost With Facebook page. Small business owners who want to obtain a grant from Facebook can sign up for updates through that website. Facebook will begin taking applications in the coming weeks.

I think this is an excellent idea. Small businesses who receive a grant can make use of that money to keep their business running during the COVID-19 pandemic. The best part is that grants do not accrue interest and are not something that the small businesses who are eligible for this program will have to pay back to Facebook later on.


Google Launches Google Translate for Android



Google announced that Google Translate will be rolling out in the next few days for any combination of the following eight languages: English, French, German, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Thai.

Sami Iqram, Product Manager, Google Translate, shared a story where he used Google Translate:

Recently, I was at my friend’s family gathering, where her grandmother told a story from her childhood. I could see that she was excited to share it with everyone but there was a problem – she told the story in Spanish, a language that I don’t understand. I pulled out Google Translate to transcribe the speech as it was happening. As she was telling the story, the English translation appeared on my phone so that I could follow along – it fostered a moment of understanding that would have otherwise been lost…

Those with Android phones can try the transcribe feature by going to their Translate app on Android, and making sure they have the latest updates from the Play store. Select the source and target languages. Users can pause or restart transcription by tapping the mic icon.

Right now, the transcribe feature will work best in a quiet environment with one person speaking at a time. In other situations, the app will try to provide the gist of what’s being said. There is also a Conversation mode in the app that can continue to help users have a back and forth translated conversation with someone.

According to Venture Beat, Google plans to bring Transcribe to iOS devices at an unspecified date in the future. Venture Beat also points out that at launch, Translate is unable to export speech recording audio or a translation transcription. That feature might appear in the future.

Personally, I think Google Translate is a good thing that will help people to communicate with each other. It can help break down the language barrier and perhaps encourage people to get to know their neighbors who speak a different language than they do.


French Antitrust Authorities Fined Apple Largest Penalty Ever



France’s L’Autorité de la concurrence, which is the country’s competition agency, has fined Apple 1.1 billion euros ($1.24 billion) for anticompetitive behavior. The French authority said that this penalty was the largest ever handed down in one case.

“Apple and its wholesalers agreed not to compete and prevent distributors from competing with each other, thereby sterilizing the wholesale marker for Apple products,” Isabelle de Silva, President of the French Competition Authority, said in a statement [to CNBC].

A spokesperson for Apple told CNBC: “The French Competition Authorities decision is disheartening. It relates to practices from over a decade ago and discards thirty years of legal precedent that all companies in France rely on with an order that will cause chaos for companies across all industries. We strongly disagree with them and plan to appeal.”

Venture Beat explained that, under French law, a company is not allowed to work with distribution partners to determine pricing, and must treat partners the same way it would treat internal sales channels.

According to Venture Beat, a company called eBizcuss was part of the Apple Premium Reseller program (APR). These stores only sell Apple products. The lawsuit comes from eBizcuss, who accused Apple of abusing its position by “recommending” prices, restricting promotional materials that a distributor could use, and limiting supply if a distributor ran a promotion Apple didn’t like. In 2012, eBizcuss had to shut down.

To me, it sounds like this case is seen by the French Competition Authorities as a situation where price fixing occurred. Apple clearly disagrees, and plans to appeal the decision. It is unclear to me if the final outcome of the case would benefit eBizcuss in any way at all.


Amazon is Out of Stock of Household Items Due to COVID-19



Are you finding it difficult to buy household items from Amazon? You aren’t the only one! It turns out that Amazon itself is having trouble stocking products that became extremely popular after COVID-19 started spreading. Not even Amazon is immune to the problems that occur when people start hoarding toilet paper.

Amazon posted an explanation about the situation it is facing:

…As COVID-19 has spread, we’ve recently seen an increase in people shopping online. In the short term, this is having an impact on how we serve our customers. In particular, you will notice that we are currently out of stock on some popular brands and items, especially in household staples categories. You will also notice that our delivery promises are longer than usual. We are working around the clock with our selling partners to ensure availability on all of our products, and bring on additional capacity to deliver all of your orders.

CNBC reported Amazon has added a notice to the top of its marketplace that reads: “Inventory and delivery may be temporarily unavailable due to increased demand. Confirm availability at checkout”. This issue is affecting Prime users, as well as those who don’t have Amazon Prime. It is an equal opportunity shortage.

This problem is happening because people are hoarding things like toilet paper and cleaning products. Some people have been selfishly buying all the hand sanitizer out of stores and selling it on Amazon for an inflated price. In response, Amazon has removed those items and blocked the sellers who are trying to profit from a pandemic.


Verily Collaborates with California on COVID-19 Risk Screening Survey



Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet that is focused on life sciences and healthcare, is a sister company to Google. Verily is working in collaboration with the California Governor’s office, federal, state, and local public health authorities to create an online COVID-19 screener survey.

Californians will be able to take an online COVID-19 screener survey through Project Baseline beginning Monday, March 16. People who meet eligibility and requirements for testing will be directed to mobile testing sites based on capacity, where they will complete a nasal swab test. Once tested, individuals will be informed of their COVID-19 test results within a few days.

To be clear, Verily’s COVID-19 Screening Survey is not available outside of California. It also doesn’t cover all of California (at least, not upon launch). Verily says the COVID-19 testing pilot program will start by testing the highest risk individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there is a significant volume of cases. Verily explains, “As more testing kits and sites become available, we plan to scale the capacity”.

CNBC reported that in order to qualify for a screening, users are required to log in with their Google account. Users also have to agree to allowing information to be potentially shared with Google. According to CNBC, Verily asks for the user’s name, address, email, phone number and health information – all of which can be shared and used by various government and health authorities, and for “public health purposes”.

It is a good idea to have something that can remotely screen people to determine how likely it is that they have COVID-19. Doing so enhances social distancing, because users can access the screener from home.

However, Verily has some obvious flaws. It is currently only usable in a very limited location. It will exclude users who don’t have a Google account (or who don’t want to have their Google account connected to the Screening Survey). It also collects and shares users’ data, and does not appear to give them an option to disallow that. This could potentially be in violation of California’s CCPA.

If Verily (and Google) really wanted to help with COVID-19, they could create the screening tool without using it to collect and share people’s personal information. To me, it feels like Verily and Google are using this opportunity to get more people to sign up for a Google account, and also to benefit from people’s data. That’s not a nice thing to do, especially to people who are afraid they might have COVID-19.