Should Students Still Be Graded In the Time of Covid-19?

theodp writes: The LA Times reports that controversies over grading are roiling universities and colleges, as the coronavirus outbreak prompted them to shift to online learning and send most students home to disparate circumstances. Some students and faculty believe that normal grading practices during these times are deeply unfair, while others feel students should be able to choose between a letter grade or pass/fail, arguing that earning high marks can distinguish them for jobs, scholarships or graduate school. At Harvard, all undergraduates will receive grades of either “Emergency Satisfactory” or “Emergency Unsatisfactory” in their spring classes. Faculty may supplement this terminology with a “qualitative assessment of student learning.” The coronavirus situation has also prompted grading changes at the high school level. The College Board announced that all AP exams will be streamlined and only include questions on material covered thru early March. Students taking the AP Computer Science Principles course will not even be subjected to an AP exam in 2020 but can still earn college credit.

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Source: Slashdot

NYT Investigates America’s ‘Lost Month’ for Coronavirus Testing

The New York Times interviewed over 50 current and former U.S. health officials, senior scientists, company executives, and administration officials to investigate America’s “lost month” without widespread coronavirus testing, “when the world’s richest country — armed with some of the most highly trained scientists and infectious disease specialists — squandered its best chance of containing the virus’s spread.”
With capacity so limited, the Center for Disease Control’s criteria for who was tested remained extremely narrow for weeks to come: only people who had recently traveled to China or had been in contact with someone who had the virus. The lack of tests in the states also meant local public health officials could not use another essential epidemiological tool: surveillance testing. To see where the virus might be hiding, nasal swab samples from people screened for the common flu would also be checked for the coronavirus…

Even though researchers around the country quickly began creating tests that could diagnose Covid-19, many said they were hindered by the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process. The new tests sat unused at labs around the country. Stanford was one of them. Researchers at the world-renowned university had a working test by February, based on protocols published by the World Health Organization…. By early March, after federal officials finally announced changes to expand testing, it was too late. With the early lapses, containment was no longer an option. The tool kit of epidemiology would shift — lockdowns, social disruption, intensive medical treatment — in hopes of mitigating the harm.

Now, the United States has more than 100,000 coronavirus cases, the most of any country in the world… And still, many Americans sickened by the virus cannot get tested… In tacit acknowledgment of the shortage, Mr. Trump asked South Korea’s president on Monday to send as many test kits as possible from the 100,000 produced there daily, more than the country needs. Public health experts reacted positively to the increased capacity. But having the ability to diagnose the disease three months after it was first disclosed by China does little to address why the United States was unable to do so sooner, when it might have helped reduce the toll of the pandemic.

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Source: Slashdot

One Woman Can Smell Parkinson’s Disease Before Symptoms Manifest

“For most of her life, Joy Milne had a superpower that she was totally oblivious to,” reports NPR. Long-time Slashdot reader doug141 explains what happened next:
Milne’s husband’s natural odor changed when he was 31. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 45. When Joy walked into a Parkinson’s support group, she smelled the same odor on everybody. A Parkinson’s researcher tested her with blind samples from early stage patients, late-stage patients, and controls…
NPR tells the story of that test, which took place at the University of Edinburgh with a Parkinson’s researcher named Tilo Kunath:
[O]ut of all the samples, Joy made only one mistake. She identified a man in the control group, the group without Parkinson’s, as having the disease. But many months later, Kunath says, that man actually approached him at an event and said, “Tilo, you’re going to have to put me in the Parkinson’s pile because I’ve just been diagnosed.”

It was incontrovertible: Joy not only could smell Parkinson’s but could smell it even in the absence of its typical medical presentation.

Kunath and fellow scientists published their work in ACS Central Science in March 2019, listing Joy as a co-author. Their research identified certain specific compounds that may contribute to the smell that Joy noticed on her husband and other Parkinson’s patients. Joy and her super smelling abilities have opened up a whole new realm of research, Kunath says… Joy’s superpower is so unusual that researchers all over the world have started working with her and have discovered that she can identify several kinds of illnesses — tuberculosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and diabetes.
Kunath says the ultimate goal is developing a new tool that can detect detect Parkinson’s early. “Imagine a society where you could detect such a devastating condition before it’s causing problems and then prevent the problems from even occurring.”

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Source: Slashdot

Cringely Predicts 2020 Will See ‘the Death of IT’

Long-time technology pundit Robert Cringely writes:
IT — Information Technology — grew out of something we called MIS — Management Information Systems — but both meant a kid in a white shirt who brought you a new keyboard when yours broke. Well, the kid is now gone, sent home with everyone else, and that kid isn’t coming back… ever. IT is near death, fading by the day. But don’t blame COVID-19 because the death of IT was inevitable. This novel coronavirus just made it happen a little quicker…

Amazon has been replacing all of our keyboards for some time now, along with our mice and our failed cables, and even entire PCs. IT has been changing steadily from kids taking elevators up from the sub-basement to Amazon Prime trucks rolling-up to your mailbox. At the same time, our network providers have been working to limit their truck rolls entirely. Stop by the Comcast storefront to get your cable modem, because nobody is going to come to install it if you aren’t the first person living there to have cable…

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) extends both the network and a security model end-to-end over any network including 4G or 5G wireless. Some folks will run their applications in their end device, whether it is a PC, phone, tablet, whatever, and some will run their applications in the same cloud as SASE, in which case everything will be that much faster and more secure. That’s end end-game if there is one — everything in the cloud with your device strictly for input and output, painting screens compressed with HTML5. It’s the end of IT because your device will no longer contain anything so it can be simply replaced via Amazon if it is damaged or lost, with the IT kid in the white shirt becoming an Uber driver.
Since COVID-19 is trapping us in our homes it is forcing this transition to happen faster than it might have. But it was always going to happen.

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Source: Slashdot

Working From Home Hasn’t Broken the Internet

sixoh1 shared this story from the Wall Street Journal:

Home internet and wireless connectivity in the U.S. have largely withstood unprecedented demands as more Americans work and learn remotely. Broadband and wireless service providers say traffic has jumped in residential areas at times of the day when families would typically head to offices and schools. Still, that surge in usage hasn’t yet resulted in widespread outages or unusually long service disruptions, industry executives and analysts say. That is because the biggest increases in usage are happening during normally fallow periods.

Some service providers have joked that internet usage during the pandemic doesn’t compare to the Super Bowl or season finale of the popular HBO show “Game of Thrones” in terms of strain on their networks, Evan Swarztrauber, senior policy adviser to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said this week on a call hosted by consulting company Recon Analytics Inc.Broadband consumption during the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m . has risen by more than 50% since January, according to broadband data company OpenVault, which measured connections in more than one million homes. Usage during the peak early-evening hours increased 20% as of March 25. OpenVault estimates that average data consumption per household in March will reach nearly 400 gigabytes, a nearly 11% increase over the previous monthly record in January….
Some carriers that use cells on wheels and aerial network-support drones after hurricanes or tornadoes are now deploying those resources to neighborhoods with heavy wireless-service usage and places where health-care facilities need additional connectivity. Several wireless carriers including Verizon, T-Mobile US Inc. and AT&T Inc. have been given temporary access to fresh spectrum over the past week to bolster network capacity.

While Netflix is lowering its video quality in Canada, the Journal reports Netflix isn’t as worried about the EU:

Netflix Vice President Dave Temkin, speaking on a videoconference hosted by the network analytics company Kentik, said his engineers took some upgrades originally planned for the holiday season near the end of 2020 and simply made them sooner. A European regulator earlier this month asked Netflix to shift all its videos to standard-definition to avoid taxing domestic networks. Mr. Temkin said Netflix managed to shave its bandwidth usage using less drastic measures. “None of it is actually melting down,” he said.

And the article also has stats from America’s ISPs and cellphone providers:

AT&T said cellular-data traffic was almost flat, with more customers using their home wi-fi networks instead — but voice phone calls increased as much as 44%.Charter saw increases in daytime network activity, but in most markets “levels remain well below capacity and typical peak evening usage.”Comcast says its peak traffic increased 20%, but they’re still running at 40% capacity.

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Source: Slashdot

MacBook Air 2020 review: The most boring Mac is among the best

Apple wants people to fall back in love with its latest MacBook Air.

For many users, the pre-Retina, 13-inch MacBook Air one of the best laptops ever made. For too long, though, it fell behind the curve as Apple introduced better performance and higher-resolution screens to the rest of its lineup. Finally, Apple brought the high-res Retina display and some other improvements to the Air in 2018. Maybe the world’s best laptop was back?

2018’s Air was a pretty good machine, but it wasn’t a candidate for world’s best laptop anymore, thanks to the prone-to-fail butterfly keyboard design and a painful lack of ports. A refresh in 2019 brought some refinements, but it didn’t address either of those issues. Now, finally, Apple has pulled out the butterfly keyboard and put in something we hope will be much more dependable.

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Source: Tech – Ars Technica

MacBook Air teardown finds positive progress for repairability

iFixit, a company that sells gadget-repair parts and publishes regular teardowns of popular devices, dug into the new MacBook Air this week and found it to be a slight step-up for MacBooks in terms of repairability.

The site found that the move from the butterfly keyboard to the new scissor-switch one only added “half a millimeter to the thick end of the new Air.” And the site speculates that these keys should be much more reliable, noting that no silicone barrier is needed as it was on the butterfly keyboard to mitigate that design’s problems.

Keyboard aside, the teardown uncovered a larger heartsink for the CPU, plus a couple of things that might make this laptop a bit easier to service than its predecessor.

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Source: Tech – Ars Technica

Charter gives techs $25 gift cards instead of hazard pay during pandemic

A Charter Spectrum service vehicle.

Enlarge / A Charter Spectrum vehicle. (credit: Charter)

Charter Communications is giving its cable technicians $25 restaurant gift cards instead of hazard pay for going into customer homes during the coronavirus pandemic, BuzzFeed reported yesterday. The gift cards are a “token of our appreciation,” an internal email from management on Monday said, BuzzFeed reported. Of course, many restaurants are closed during the pandemic, so restaurant gift cards aren’t the most useful perk Charter management could have chosen.

“These gift cards never expire, so if you choose a restaurant that is currently not open, the card will remain valid for future use… Please take some time out of your busy day to enjoy a meal and recharge,” the email read.

Several Charter employees did not appreciate the minimal gesture. “It’s really insensitive, it shows they don’t care,” one New York City-based technician told BuzzFeed. “You think a gift card is supposed to make us feel better?”

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Biz & IT – Ars Technica

The New York Times Releases Its Dataset of US Confirmed Coronavirus Cases

The New York Times has made one of the most comprehensive datasets of coronavirus cases in the United States publicly available in response to requests from researchers, scientists, government officials and businesses who would like access to the data to better understand the virus and model what may come next. From a report: The Times initially began tracking cases in late January after it became clear that no federal government agency was providing the public with an accurate, up-to-date record of cases, tracked to the county level, of people in the U.S. who had tested positive for the virus. The Times led effort has grown from a handful of correspondents to a team of several dozen journalists, including data scientists and student journalists from Northwestern University, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, working around the clock to record details about every case. The Times is committed to collecting as much data as possible in connection with the outbreak and is collaborating with the University of California, Berkeley, on an effort in California. By Friday, March 27, The Times had tracked more than 85,000 cases in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories, over the past eight weeks. More than 1,200 people in the U.S. have died so far.

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Source: Slashdot

OnePlus 8 Pro will finally add wireless charging, IP68 water resistance

The camera assembly of the OnePlus 8 Pro.

Enlarge / The camera assembly of the OnePlus 8 Pro. (credit: OnLeaks)

OnePlus has been regularly pumping out the best Android phones for several years now, so soon all eyes will be on the OnePlus 8 Pro, the company’s upcoming flagship smartphone for 2020. A pair of recent leaks gives us a look at the official press render and the specs.

First up, OnLeaks has a pair of official press renders of the device. Just like the CAD-based renders that OnLeaks posted back in October, these pictures show a design that isn’t far off from previous OnePlus devices, with the big changes being a move to a hole-punch front camera and a new rear camera assembly. The back has four cameras now, an upgrade from the three cameras that were on the back of the OnePlus 7T.The display still looks to be curved along the sides, too.

The second batch of details comes from leaker Ishan Agarwal, who posted a spec sheet for the OnePlus 8 Pro and OnePlus 8. The regular OnePlus 8 sticks close to last year, with a 6.55-inch 90Hz display, and an upgrade to the Snapdragon 865. The 8 Pro has about what you would expect from a flagship phone in 2020: a 6.78-inch, 120Hz OLED display, a Snapdragon 865, 8 or 12GB of RAM, 128 or 256GB of storage, and a 4510mAh battery. The front camera is 16MP, while the rear camera has two 48MP cameras, an 8MP camera, and a 5MP camera. We don’t know what each camera is for yet.

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Source: Tech – Ars Technica