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Monthly Archives: March 2020

'Stay the f**k at home': Samuel L. Jackson reads you a sweary, poetic social distancing PSA



Almost a decade ago, Samuel L. Jackson’s reading of bedtime poem “Go the Fuck to Sleep” captivated the internet. Now the actor has returned to spoken word, presenting author Adam Mansbach’s timely new adaptation of the classic: “Stay the Fuck at Home.”

“The ‘rona is spreading, this shit is no joke — it’s no time to work or roam,” read Jackson, delivering the important PSA on a video call with Jimmy Kimmel. “The way you can fight it is simple, my friends: stay the fuck at home.” 

Jackson has taken his own advice and is social distancing in his own home with his wife and daughter. He also encouraged people to donate to Feeding America, a charity that works to relieve hunger in the U.S. Read more…

More about Jimmy Kimmel Live, Samuel L. Jackson, Coronavirus, Covid 19, and Social Distancing

Sophie Turner and Conan talk getting drunk at home for coronavirus



Like many of us, Game of Thrones actor Sophie Turner is holed up at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, judging by Conan’s video call with her on Tuesday, it seems social distancing suits the Queen in the North just fine.

“I see how people are finding it difficult, but I don’t understand how people are really struggling to practice social distancing,” confessed Turner. “I’m like, all you have to do is stay at home and get drunk at home. It’s great.”

Turner’s husband Joe Jonas hasn’t taken to the social distancing quite as well, though. 

“It’s like prison for him, but it’s great for me,” said Turner, who has been supporting his livestreamed DJ sessions by bringing him shots of tequila.  Read more…

More about Conan O Brien, Sophie Turner, Joe Jonas, Conan, and Coronavirus

Stephen Colbert would like someone to TP his house for April Fools' Day



April Fools’ Day is looming, but nobody is in the mood for jokes. Tolerance for tomfoolery is at an all-time low, as the coronavirus pandemic has people hoarding toilet paper and staying confined to their homes.

“At this point the only April Fools’ joke I want is someone TP-ing my house, preferably in two-ply, quilted,” quipped Late Show host Stephen Colbert, recording the show from his home. “I have a very sensitive backdoor.”

Fortunately Americans’ efforts at social distancing seem to be paying off, as early real-time data suggests coronavirus infection rates appear to be slowing.

“It’s working!” said Colbert. “Just keep doing it America! And by ‘it,’ of course, I mean nothing.” Read more…

More about Stephen Colbert, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, April Fools Day, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

Larry David's annoyed social distancing PSA is the most Larry David thing ever



POV: Larry David yells at you for being an idiot who goes outside and possibly spreads coronavirus to old people like him, but not necessarily specifically him, because he wants nothing to do with you.

California is at the top of the social distancing PSA game, from former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mini horse to this crotchety gem from the Curb Your Enthusiasm icon, via current governor Gavin Newsom’s social channels. 

“Go home! Watch TV! That’s my advice to you,” David says, gesticulating exasperatedly in the general direction of idiots who aren’t staying home.

“You know, if you’ve seen my show, nothing good ever happens going out of the house, you know that. It’s just trouble out there. It’s not a good place to be.” Read more…

More about Larry David, Coronavirus, Social Distancing, Entertainment, and Health

'Beauty and the Beast' parody stresses the importance of social distancing



Belle’s introduction in Beauty and the Beast now has a pandemic twist in a parody version that emphasizes just how fast the coronavirus can spread if people don’t take precautions. 

Much like the original, Belle starts off her day by greeting her fellow villagers also living dull, provincial lives. But in this version, Belle isn’t the protagonist. Instead, she’s the one who won’t wash her hands, isn’t self-quarantining, and won’t keep the CDC-recommended six feet of space between herself and other villagers. 

“I’ve yet to see a reckless fool quite like her,” the villagers croon. “Without a mask or gloves she goes?…She’s gonna get us all infected, that is Belle.”  Read more…

More about Viral Videos, Beauty And The Beast, Coronavirus, Culture, and Web Culture

Vericool raises $19.1 million for its plant-based packaging replacement for plastic coolers



Vericool, a Livermore, Calif.-based startup that’s replacing plastic coolers and packaging with plant-based products, has raised $19.1 million in a new round of financing.

The company’s stated goal is to replace traditional packaging materials like polystyrene with plant-based insulating packaging materials.

Its technology uses 100% recycled paper fibers and other plant-based materials, according to the company, and are curbside recyclable and compostable.

Investors in the round include Radicle Impact PartnersThe Ecosystem Integrity FundID8 Investments and AiiM Partners, according to a statement.

“We’re pleased to support Vericool because of the company’s track record of innovation, high-performance products, well-established patent portfolio and focus on environmental resilience. We are inspired by the company’s social justice commitment to address recidivism and provide workplace opportunity to formerly incarcerated individuals,” said Dan Skaff, managing partner of Radicle Impact Partners and Vericool’s new lead director. 

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Forget Zoom: Use these private video-chatting tools, instead



Zoom is so last week — which, in the time of coronavirus, might as well be last year. 

The videoconference tool that’s captured the nation’s attention as it socially distances and shelters in place has won legions of converts for its easy-to-use interface and fun backgrounds. It also happens to be a privacy nightmare. Thankfully, there are other options that cybersecurity and privacy experts say will get the job done — without the baggage. 

And yes, Zoom has a lot of baggage. Let’s start with the fact that the company has misrepresented the security of its videoconferencing serviceThe Intercept reported today that, despite telling users that “Zoom is using an end to end encrypted connection,” the company does not in fact end-to-end encrypt calls on its platform.  Read more…

More about Privacy, Cybersecurity, Zoom, Coronavirus, and Tech

What does a pandemic say about the tech we’ve built?



There’s a joke* being reshared on chat apps that takes the form of a multiple choice question — asking who’s the leading force in workplace digital transformation? The red-lined punchline is not the CEO or CTO but: C) COVID-19.

There’s likely more than a grain of truth underpinning the quip. The novel coronavirus is pushing a lot of metaphorical buttons right now. ‘Pause’ buttons for people and industries, as large swathes of the world’s population face quarantine conditions that can resemble house arrest. The majority of offline social and economic activities are suddenly off limits.

Such major pauses in our modern lifestyle may even turn into a full reset, over time. The world as it was, where mobility of people has been all but taken for granted — regardless of the environmental costs of so much commuting and indulged wanderlust — may never return to ‘business as usual’.

If global leadership rises to the occasional then the coronavirus crisis offers an opportunity to rethink how we structure our societies and economies — to make a shift towards lower carbon alternatives. After all, how many physical meetings do you really need when digital connectivity is accessible and reliable? As millions more office workers log onto the day job from home that number suddenly seems vanishingly small.

COVID-19 is clearly strengthening the case for broadband to be a utility — as so much more activity is pushed online. Even social media seems to have a genuine community purpose during a moment of national crisis when many people can only connect remotely, even with their nearest neighbours.

Hence the reports of people stuck at home flocking back to Facebook to sound off in the digital town square. Now the actual high street is off limits the vintage social network is experiencing a late second wind.

Facebook understands this sort of higher societal purpose already, of course. Which is why it’s been so proactive about building features that nudge users to ‘mark yourself safe’ during extraordinary events like natural disasters, major accidents and terrorist attacks. (Or indeed why it encouraged politicians to get into bed with its data platform in the first place — no matter the cost to democracy.)

In less fraught times, Facebook’s ‘purpose’ can be loosely summed to ‘killing time’. But with ever more sinkholes being drilled by the attention economy that’s a function under ferocious and sustained attack.

Over the years the tech giant has responded by engineering ways to rise back to the top of the social heap — including spying on and buying up competition, or directly cloning rival products. It’s been pulling off this trick, by hook or by crook, for over a decade. Albeit, this time Facebook can’t take any credit for the traffic uptick; A pandemic is nature’s dark pattern design.

What’s most interesting about this virally disrupted moment is how much of the digital technology that’s been built out online over the past two decades could very well have been designed for living through just such a dystopia.

Seen through this lens, VR should be having a major moment. A face computer that swaps out the stuff your eyes can actually see with a choose-your-own-digital-adventure of virtual worlds to explore, all from the comfort of your living room? What problem are you fixing VR? Well, the conceptual limits of human lockdown in the face of a pandemic quarantine right now, actually…

Virtual reality has never been a compelling proposition vs the rich and textured opportunity of real life, except within very narrow and niche bounds. Yet all of a sudden here we all are — with our horizons drastically narrowed and real-life news that’s ceaselessly harrowing. So it might yet end up wry punchline to another multiple choice joke: ‘My next vacation will be: A) Staycation, B) The spare room, C) VR escapism.’

It’s videoconferencing that’s actually having the big moment, though. Turns out even a pandemic can’t make VR go viral. Instead, long lapsed friendships are being rekindled over Zoom group chats or Google Hangouts. And Houseparty — a video chat app — has seen surging downloads as barflies seek out alternative night life with their usual watering-holes shuttered.

Bored celebs are TikToking. Impromptu concerts are being livestreamed from living rooms via Instagram and Facebook Live. All sorts of folks are managing social distancing and the stress of being stuck at home alone (or with family) by distant socializing — signing up to remote book clubs and discos; joining virtual dance parties and exercise sessions from bedrooms. Taking a few classes together. The quiet pub night with friends has morphed seamlessly into a bring-your-own-bottle group video chat.

This is not normal — but nor is it surprising. We’re living in the most extraordinary time. And it seems a very human response to mass disruption and physical separation (not to mention the trauma of an ongoing public health emergency that’s killing thousands of people a day) to reach for even a moving pixel of human comfort. Contactless human contact is better than none at all.

Yet the fact all these tools are already out there, ready and waiting for us to log on and start streaming, should send a dehumanizing chill down society’s backbone.

It underlines quite how much consumer technology is being designed to reprogram how we connect with each other, individually and in groups, in order that uninvited third parties can cut a profit.

Back in the pre-COVID-19 era, a key concern being attached to social media was its ability to hook users and encourage passive feed consumption — replacing genuine human contact with voyeuristic screening of friends’ lives. Studies have linked the tech to loneliness and depression. Now we’re literally unable to go out and meet friends the loss of human contact is real and stark. So being popular online in a pandemic really isn’t any kind of success metric.

Houseparty, for example, self-describes as a “face to face social network” — yet it’s quite the literal opposite; you’re foregoing face-to-face contact if you’re getting virtually together in app-wrapped form.

While the implication of Facebook’s COVID-19 traffic bump is that the company’s business model thrives on societal disruption and mainstream misery. Which, frankly, we knew already. Data-driven adtech is another way of saying it’s been engineered to spray you with ad-flavored dissatisfaction by spying on what you get up to. The coronavirus just hammers the point home.

The fact we have so many high-tech tools on tap for forging digital connections might feel like amazing serendipity in this crisis — a freemium bonanza for coping with terrible global trauma. But such bounty points to a horrible flip side: It’s the attention economy that’s infectious and insidious. Before ‘normal life’ plunged off a cliff all this sticky tech was labelled ‘everyday use’; not ‘break out in a global emergency’.

It’s never been clearer how these attention-hogging apps and services are designed to disrupt and monetize us; to embed themselves in our friendships and relationships in a way that’s subtly dehumanizing; re-routing emotion and connections; nudging us to swap in-person socializing for virtualized fuzz that designed to be data-mined and monetized by the same middlemen who’ve inserted themselves unasked into our private and social lives.

Captured and recompiled in this way, human connection is reduced to a series of dilute and/or meaningless transactions. The platforms deploying armies of engineers to knob-twiddle and pull strings to maximize ad opportunities, no matter the personal cost.

It’s also no accident we’re also seeing more of the vast and intrusive underpinnings of surveillance capitalism emerge, as the COVID-19 emergency rolls back some of the obfuscation that’s used to shield these business models from mainstream view in more normal times. The trackers are rushing to seize and colonize an opportunistic purpose.

Tech and ad giants are falling over themselves to get involved with offering data or apps for COVID-19 tracking. They’re already in the mass surveillance business so there’s likely never felt like a better moment than the present pandemic for the big data lobby to press the lie that individuals don’t care about privacy, as governments cry out for tools and resources to help save lives.

First the people-tracking platforms dressed up attacks on human agency as ‘relevant ads’. Now the data industrial complex is spinning police-state levels of mass surveillance as pandemic-busting corporate social responsibility. How quick the wheel turns.

But platforms should be careful what they wish for. Populations that find themselves under house arrest with their phones playing snitch might be just as quick to round on high tech gaolers as they’ve been to sign up for a friendly video chat in these strange and unprecedented times.

Oh and Zoom (and others) — more people might actually read your ‘privacy policy‘ now they’ve got so much time to mess about online. And that really is a risk.

*Source is a private Twitter account called @MBA_ish

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FDA introduces a new program to expedite deployment of potential coronavirus treatments



The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new program today that’s designed to foster close collaboration between public and private organizations in order to “bring coronavirus treatments to market as fast as possible,” according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a press release. The program, dubbed the “Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program, or CTAP, will see the FDA redeploy resources and personnel with an eye towards providing private companies, researchers and scientists with “regulatory advice, guidance and technical assistance as quickly as possible.”

Based on the information provided by the agency, it sounds like CTAP is a formalization of a lot of the work that was already being done within the FDA to reduce the burden placed on companies and scientists looking to field trials and take the steps required by the administration to qualify new treatments and therapies for use.

In real-world terms, the FDA says that means it’s turning things around much more quickly, reviewing protocols for many freshly-submitted clinical studies within 24 hours, and also turning around single-patient requests for expanded access to some therapies granted under compassionate or investigate use “generally within three hours.” The FDA is also looking at how it can build out streamlined protocols that can apply across use by different institutions and for different programs wherever possible to further limit processing time through templated strategies.

Internally, the FDA has re-arranged staffing resources to help make this possible, putting medical and regulator staff that otherwise be focused elsewhere on teams dedicated to COVID-19-related reviews.

There’s likely to be some debate about the implications of the introduction of a program like this. On the one hand it should help novel approaches and even startups in the biotech space with unproven, but promising technologies in development to work hand-in-hand with the FDA on potential solutions. On the other, the administration has already been criticized for some of its more aggressive decisions regarding COVID-19 therapeutics, including the Emergency Use Authorization ordered for anti-malarial hydroxychlroquine earlier this week.

While small scale studies have shown that the drug could offer some benefit in treatment of COVID-19 patients, the key word there is ‘could,’ and other small-scale studies have shown that standard anti-viral treatments are just as effective. The bottom line is that there isn’t enough data available to say anything definitively either way, and this particular EUA means that efforts to stockpile the drug could make it less available to those who use it for another of its common purposes: treating chronic rheumatoid arthritis, which can be debilitating in its severity.

The current coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in terms of its spread and impact, at least in terms of viral outbreaks during the modern medical era. The FDA definitely needs to address the situation in a unique manner as a result, but critics and observers will definitely be watching to see what results from increased pressure on the agency to cut red tape.

Source

The coronavirus test isn't as scary as it looks



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