Learning in the time of crisis

Learning in the time of crisis

There is a mix of good and bad information regarding Covid-19 on the internet so be careful that what you are reading isn't fake news, especially when it comes to numbers and cures. The numbers available are those reported by each country and are based on testing and the honesty of each government, so will vary from the actual state. This is where the major social media platforms are being exposed even more. They are deleting valid information, such as on hydroxychloroquine trials, while promoting hit pieces on globalisation.

- With the number of people staying at home growing, the load on the global internet also increases, especially for those isolated and doing more streaming. There is an upper limit on bandwidth, so as more people use it, the average speeds will reduce. This is basic physics, so don't be surprised if your provider isn't giving you the usual speeds all the time. What shut-ins could try is a free learning package of some kind. There are many available covering a wide range of subjects. I entered "free learning packages" in Google and was shown a range of products from early school age through to computer programming and more. Results will vary depending on what country you're in but there is plenty out there.

- As expected, online orders are way up. As more and more people are required to be at home and cannot go to the regular stores, they order online instead. If a regular store also has an online ordering process then this is good for them. For those that don't, I expect the demand for online cart systems will skyrocket.

- Some of us remember when the LCD screen came out. It was like magic, no more bulky boxes or rear projection set-ups. Over the years the resolution improved, as did the refresh rates, and the panels got thinner and a lot bigger.

- These days there are few LCD makers and there will be one less as Samsung will discontinue production of LCD panels by the end of the year. Falling demand, an oversupply in the market and the growing demand for newer technologies will see the end for this major player in LCD panel manufacturing. All outstanding orders will be met and any future demand will be taken up by the Chinese manufacturers who have been at the centre of a price war in recent times.

- A bigger reason for scaling down is the demand for the new OLED and AMOLED technologies, particularly in the mobile market. As you would expect the newer technologies give better colours and use less power to run, with the expectation that OLEDs will take the market from LCDs sometime this year. Samsung has a factory in China that is LCD only but they may upgrade to a QLED, or quantum-dot production line. This is close to OLED in brightness and colour but costs less to make. It is also more durable, covers the full colour range and is potentially better in bright sunlight. All reasons Samsung is focusing on the QLED technology over OLED.

- In 2003, the European Space Agency launched the Mars Express (MEX) spacecraft. It had a 687-day mission, being one Martian year. Close to 17 years later it is still making discoveries. Its history is one of technological software updates and brilliance that have kept the satellite up and running well past its use by date. Power loss, memory corruptions and gyro issues were all solved by sending the right commands at the right times. With care, systems could last until 2030. By that time there may even be a manned mission to Mars, or two.

- People working from home should be more conscious of security. The usual rules apply, have good passwords, don't leave your devices unattended until you lock the device and so on. Another one is to make sure your communications devices are secure. Enter Zoom. No, not the old Microsoft music player but rather the meeting app used by millions, including until recently the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It turns out that the option to encrypt a call end-to-end isn't really what it claims to be and there are some hijacking Zoom calls.

- Finally, for this week, some new technology. Scientists have uncovered a ternary (three-bit) memristor. They claim this is closer to the components in a human brain and could solve memory issues in our computers. This discovery comes out of Singapore. Ignoring the marketing announcements, the discovery is based on a metal-organic complex molecule whose electrons can be in one of three states. These states are stable over time and can be manipulated at room temperatures. Molecules can form a three-bit memristor or a two-bit memcapacitor, or both. There was a lot of technical elements to the announcement but in summary, lower power requirements, faster processing, more memory in the same space and a three-bit, eight-state construction that requires a new form of computer to be built. Stay tuned.

James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com.

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