Covid computing

Covid computing

- Things are quiet on the IT front. Well, that's not necessarily true, as many are trying to come to grips with the whole working-from-home existence. Many, including myself, are spending a lot of time in front of a screen. Instead of getting up and conferring with a colleague at their desk, it is a Skype chat.

Instead of a walk to the meeting room, often on another floor, it is a Skype meeting or similar. Many do not have a video camera at home so it is voice only. There are new collaboration technologies like Microsoft Teams to get used to. Instead of handing a report to someone, it is uploaded into a shared area for all to browse. I find that I am sharing my screen more often to go over a document or diagram. On the plus side I recently had an upgrade to my Internet speed. This has helped with downloads but not much else, as a chat takes up very little bandwidth.

- Some will think that working from home is easier and you get less done. Instead I'm finding myself more tired at the end of the day. This might sound strange, but consider that working from home means less movement, less conversation and more time on average sitting in the work chair. As a result, there is often greater focus, and more work can get done. This will of course not be quite the same for a parent home with a few children running around and distracting them. I do think that this extended lockdown process will change the way that many approach their work week in the future, when the Covid-19 situation has moved on.

- I'm sure there have been other uses, but a lot of computing power has been focused on the vaccine and drugs that will help fight the effects and build an understanding of this new virus strain. As one example, the Joint European Disruptive Initiative (Jedi) has launched an ambitious challenge offering millions of euros in prizes. Lasting two months, teams are using the shared resources of supercomputers to study interactions between Covid-19 and a billion molecules in order to find the best candidates for therapeutics. That is a billion for every team, with the target to reduce viral load by 99%. Yes, the company has a cool name abbreviation. Look them up if you want more details.

- With many organisations caught flat-footed, the opportunities for malware writers and phishers to take advantage has also escalated. Emails with bogus cures abound, so do not click on anything that has come from an unknown or unsolicited source. Just delete it. Governments around the world are also experiencing the feelings of power they typically don't have, and this will be very difficult for some, at all levels of government, to let go of when they are supposed to. You have been warned.

- What will change is the interaction with China for many countries. Many are already pulling their factories out of China and back to home base because the reliance on Chinese based production revealed more than a few holes and problems for home countries during this time. Another area getting worse are the social media platforms that are tightening their rules and controls. For example, if you cite anything other than the World Health Organisation as a medical source of information on Covid -- including, say, a well-established medical research lab -- on some platforms, you will be banned and your comments will be erased. Big Brother is always watching.

- Online-ordering package deliveries are up, or delayed in some places. Also, according to the company ThousandEyes, global Internet outages are up 77% in the week commencing 20 April.

- As a man from Florida found out, and many others over the past years, if you buy an HP printer, don't expect it to work forever with a non-HP-supplied ink. This is a perennial problem, particularly from HP. The man bought two printers and after 10 months of working just fine with third-party cartridges, HP issued a remote firmware update that changed the way the printer chipset talked to the cartridge. The result was a non-printing printer. The man sued, but to date has not been successful. This situation has been faced by many in the past and will continue to occur in the future. Some printer makers do not impose such strict controls, so think carefully about your next buy because there can be a huge price difference in operating costs.

- As part of my isolation mitigation, I purchased a USB Midi keyboard, an audio interface and a huge set of tools from IK Multimedia. The idea is to generate some music. I am halfway through the setup process and found that I also need a new micro-SD card and a small USB hub for my notebook computer to get everything working the way I want. By the time the next article is written, I hope to have it all up and running. Stay tuned.

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

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