France, Italy, and Spain are on lockdown as governments and individuals in those countries try to slow the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 and “flatten the curve” so that as the virus does spread, it does so slowly enough that it doesn’t overwhelm health care systems.
Over the past week or so, the United States has started to take similar measures — in a much more patchwork way. Because health care policy in the US is more decentralized than in many other places, we’re seeing actions vary from state to state, county to county, and city to city.
My family is hunkered down in Philadelphia for the long haul at this point — Philadelphia has yet to shut down as many local businesses as surrounding communities, but schools and libraries are closed, the governor has ordered lockdowns for several neighboring counties, and it generally seems like a good idea to leave the house as little as possible. (Update: Looks like most “non-essential” businesses in Philly will be shutting down starting tonight.)
I’ve been working from home for much of the past 14 years, so my day-to-day experience hasn’t actually changed very much other than the fact that my wife is working from home. But I can’t imagine how much more difficult things would be if we had children who were home from school at the moment, jobs that couldn’t be performed remotely, or internet access to stay connected to the world in the coming weeks and months as the impact of the pandemic and its effect on the economy and the lives of people around the world are felt.
But this is a tech blog. So let’s take a look at some recent tech headlines related to the way folks are adapting by moving their work and leisure activities online.
- Zoom conquered video chat — now it has even bigger plans [Protocol]
Video conferencing service Zoom was already huge. But now that in-person meetings and other events are being cancelled around the globe, it’s become an indispensable tool for many. This article attempts to answer the question of why Zoom rather than one of its many competitors.
- Steam hit its all-time concurrent user peak over the weekend [The Verge]
Stuck at home and looking for something to do?Over the weekend it looks like 20-million people decided to login to Steam and play some games — the first time Steam has had that many users within a 24-hour period.
- Microsoft Teams goes down just as Europe logs on to work remotely [The Verge]
The outage lasted about two hours before Microsoft resolved the issue. But it shows how dependent many people working from home have become on specific technologies — which may be facing unprecedented strain.
- Live at Home [Wiener Staatsoper]
Of course there are plenty of other ways to pass the time indoors. You could binge videos from the service of your choice… but if you’re looking for something a little mor ehigh-culture, the Vienna Opera has made its archives available to stream for free.
- Streaming up from Boston [Dropkick Murphys]
Alternately, Celtic-inspired punk band has performed live St. Patrick’s Day concerts for more than two decades — but with large crowds being discouraged or banned this year, the band has announced it’ll perform a free live stream on Tuesday night instead. I suspect the show could have the smallest or largest live audience to date, depending on how you count.
- Carriers suspend internet data caps during coronavirus [CNET]
All that streaming could be a way to burn through your data cap quickly — but most major US wireless carriers have announced they’ll be waiving those caps for the next few months to accommodate folks stuck at home and make sure people can stay connected. Comcast has also announced it’ll be offering its entry-level Internet Essentials plan (normally designed for low-income customers) for free for 60 days. And some wireless carriers have announced unlimited data for folks who are normally on cheaper plans.
- Coronavirus could force ISPs to abandon data caps forever [TechCrunch]
So what happens when the coronavirus pandemic passes? Whether that’s weeks or years from now, all those companies that provided relief by doing things like “temporarily” eliminating data caps will have to justify why they existed in the first place. If the original justification had been that the networks would buckle under the strain of unlimited data — and they haven’t actually done so at a time when usage is probably much higher than usual, then who would believe ISPs when they try to make that claim again in the future? The same argument could be made for a lot of other institutions that are reacting to the pandemic by easing restrictions that many already saw as arbitrary.
- Donate your spare CPU & GPU resources to better understanding the virus [Folding@Home]
Distributed computing project Folding@Home allows you to install an app on your computer that will run when your PC is idle (or there are unused resources available) to help analyze complex data sets to better understand diseases. Over the past few weeks, the folks behind Folding@Home have added several projects involving the virus that causes COVID-19. Lending your PC’s resources may not help identify a vaccine or have any other immediate impact, but it could help scientists better understand the structure of the virus and develop possible treatments.
- CovidLock: Mobile Coronavirus Tracking App Coughs Up Ransomware [DomainTools]
While the outbreak is bringing out the best in some folks, others are looking to cash in… whether by hoarding and price gouging or distributing Covid-19 related malware.
- Amazon to hire 100,000 more workers and give raises to current staff to deal with coronavirus demands [CNBC]
The pandemic may be putting a lot of people out of work, at least temporarily. But demand for online shopping and delivery may be higher than ever. This morning I was reading headlines about how Amazon Prime Day might not be feasible this year. By this afternoon, Amazon announced that it’s hiring 100-thousand warehouse and delivery workers to help keep up with demand. Maybe every day is Prime Day right now.
How has the coronavirus affected you? Have to cancel any travel plans? Stuck at home? Tired of getting emails letting you know how your bank/local stores/service providers are handling the crisis? Struggling to find toilet paper? What tech and/or strategies have you adopted to cope?