#RetroTech; The ZIP Drive

Another tech memorabilia from the 1990’s hidden away in a box for 25 year to be recovered during the attic exploration, the infamous iomega zip drive 100.

Iomega 100 ZIP Drive

This was certainly a smart innovation in the early 90’s when the predominant (transportable) media was the 3.5″ disk with 1.4MB. Iomega came up with this removable 100MB storage device using a similar form factor like a disk, but offering 70 times more disk space. Take note, at that time the average hard disk space was around 500MB, so 100MB were a decent backup option. The drive was not cheap with a price around U$ 200,- and single disks roughly at U$ 20,-. Various types were offered, supporting IDE, SCSI, USB, Firewire connections. Still the device was not as scuccessful as expected, it had to compete with the (writable) CD-ROM and CD-RW, it faded away in the early 2000’s. Iomega does not exist any longer, the company was acquired by EMC in 2008.

The above device was recognized by Windows 10 and the 20 years old backup files could still be read.

Some other similar devices were introduced during the same decade, all eventually disappeared: Jaz Drive, EZ 135 Drive, Super Disk and a few more. All sharing the same faith and leaving you in trouble if you trusted them for long term archive purpose.

Usual office desk sight with storage boxes for disks.

This is a common theme and “retro” problem that we look at here, starting in the last episode with the 3.5″ disk, a few more similar cases I will discuss in upcoming posts. We are now roughly 35 years into main stream office and home computing and we already facing challenges to persist data more than a few years.
Book-printing was invented by Gutenberg in the 15th century, there are still books around from the medival times and we still access the data, aka. read the text. The comparison can be challenged, not feasible to store today’s data volume on paper.
Fun fact: There are some tools and libraries that support creating paper-based backups, though volume-limited, this backup will survive dooms-day and any EMP, as long the paper does not catch fire and is laminated to protect against humidity. Give paperback a try, it even supports key encryption.

Main problems with old storage media and types:

  • File Format
    The format certain type of data is stored on any medium (no matter if magnetic tape or BlueRay or cloud storage) might not be supported any longer after a few years because the format is e.g. propietary or outdated, like the MS Access 2.0 format from the last post.
  • Storage Media Type
    Propietary devices from decades ago to read the respective media, are not built any longer, not supported by current OS or just do not function any more.
  • Media Preservation
    Depending on the media type, magnetic, optical, flash-memory (semi-conductor), the data can survive a more or less long time before it starts to degrade and become corrrupted or unreadable.

Stay tuned for more retro tech explorations..

#RetroTech; Rewind 35 years with the 3.5″ disk

A recent visit to our attic during the xmas break revealed a number of technology artefacts from the past. Holding these items in hands you will realize how long you already have been working in IT. Let me share some of the findings with you, like these installer disks (3.5″) sitting in a box for almost 20+ years. Surprisingly the majority of these disks, kept in a dry box, still can be read without problem.

You noticed when 3.5″ disks faded away ? At some point the drives were no longer built-in notebooks (same already happend to CD/DVD-ROM drives today) and eventually disappeared from desktop PC’s too, maybe with the end of the Windows 95 start-disk. In the 1980’s the 3.5″ disk was launched as replacement of the infamous 5.25″ floppy disk. While the initial SD version (early 80’s) only offered 360kB, we could store 1.4MB with the HD version towards 1990. Take note, a 3min MP3 file is roughly 4 MB in size. It was the main media to store and transport any kind of data. Only by 2010 Sony stopped producing them, now in 2021 the disk is extinct.

Some of the above highlights:

  • MS DOS 5 and 6: Release 5, first version supporting 3.5″ disks, released in 1991. The same year I bought my very first (own) IBM compatible PC. Release 6 came in 1993 and eventually 6.22 was the last official release in 1994. (Wikipedia link)
  • MS Windows 95
    Released in 1995, it merged DOS and Windows 3.1 into one OS. The first 9x release with the distinct Windows look that persists until today. Slowly stepping into the 32bit era, unfortunately it was not really stable, crashed frequently and slowed down over time (my most prominent memories at least). I remember the plug’n-play feature which was not so plug’n-play as proclaimed and spending endless hours finding and fiddling with obscure drivers for hardware. (Wikipedia link)
    That’s 25 years ago, you remember the commercials with the Rolling Stones song “Start me up” and the “Where do you want to go today ?” slogan ? Fun fact: Bill Gates paid something like 14 million dollars to Rolling Stones.
  • MS Visual C++
    You notice there is no release number ? Right this is the initial (“visual”) release 1.0 in 1993 running under 16bit Windows 3.0. My first steps with this programming language. I remember how troublesome it was to create even basic looking application gui’s. (Wikipedia link)
  • SUSE Linux 7.2
    Five years after the initial release 4.2, the version came out in 2001. The first Linux I installed on my own PC, until then I used Linux solely at University and work.
  • 3D Pool by Aardvark
    This 1989 game came with my first PC set, a 3D pool simulation. Quite amazing 3D rendering on a 256kB PC with a simple S3 VGA adapter supporting 16/256 colors. Experience it here.

Using this USB disk drive I was able to retrieve my digital sourcecode memories. You get these drives for about Euro 30,- . If you look for a 5.25″ solution you have to ressort to the used stuff on the usual selling platforms, plus you require a desktop that still supports IDE.

USB 3.5″ disk drive
Nerve-racking transfer speed

It took only a few disks to stumble upon a time traveller, the AntiCMOS.A virus from 1994. Survived on the disk for 25 years and being kicked out by Windows 10.

Some sourcecode retrieved from old disks, like these memories of Z80 assembler code. Can you be any closer to the CPU than this ?

Z80 Sourcecode

Extract of a Turbo Pascal application that manipulated the graphics card directly using Assembler.
Supposedly there was a way to brick or burn the 1992 graphics hardware with a combination of specific direct calls, I remember vivid discussions with the head of the IT institute at my university fearing I would damage something. Today I think that was a tech myth.
I came across Pascal first time in the mid 1980’s at high school in the IT class equipped with Apple IIe and Apple Pascal. Btw, Pascal is 50 years old in 2020 !

Pascal Code

I remember my very first PC system, a 80386 SX running at 20Mhz, 256kB RAM, equipped with 5.25″ and 3.5″ disk drives, plus a whopping 20MB harddisk, which I thought would provide enough space for many years to come.. I spent DM 2,500.-, today’s equivalent of roughly Euro 2,300.- for this set, inclusive of a 14″ CRT color screen and a Star LC 24-10 dot-matrix printer.

You fancy to run the old systems ? Let’s go, we have a few options at hand.

  1. Original Hardware
    Provided you are willing to spend money on old harware and find an old IBM comp. PC (like a 80386) on Ebay, plus all the installation disks, this is truely the retro nerd way. You going to experience 1990’s first hand with all the slowness and swapping disks, failing stuff, etc. I skip that one.
  2. Virtual Box
    If you still own the original disks (like I do in this case), you can spin up a DOS guest session in Oracle’s VirtualBox and install everything from the scratch. Much faster than option 1, but still a little bit more nostalgia than option 3 and 4.
Windows 3.11
Windows 95

3. DOS Emulator
Save the time creating a virtual PC and install a native emulator on your windows environment. Try DOSBox.

4. Online Emulator
As usual, there is an emulator for everything now, any you can spin up an old piece of hardware in your favourite browser without touching a screwdriver or a disk. Drop by the PCjs website and explore all kind of OS and software from the past with the click of a button.

Conclusion

Fun nostalgia experience exploring the roots of software and hardware we use today. I learned a lot during this barebone hands-on times back then, valuable when looking at today’s IT environment where you are layers and layers away from hardware and the basic understanding how things work under the hood.

There are times you need to spin up these emulator or old OS, when you come across files that are no longer supported by modern OS and software releases. I had to install MS Access 97 in order to read old Access 2.0 databases.

MS Access 97 Installer

Stay tuned for more retro tech exploration..

Podcasts on AI and Data Science

The interest in Artifical Intelligence has exploded over the last few years with hardware and software increasing performance massively, the same time we have data in abundance to work with. Deep Learning is certainly the number one looked for topic in Computer Science. Anyone can do ML/DL now at home, the whole field is both democratized and made accessible. With a regular laptop you can get started easily with a selection of online and local tools/resources, and a huge choice of data at hand (e.g. Kaggle and other datasources), you can scale to process larger datasets either by having more RAM and a GPU installed in your machine, or use paid resources from AWS, Google, Microsoft and others.

The learning curve is steep, many online courses and books are available, maybe too many to choose from. Beyond that, how to stay up-to-date or get more insights ? The good old Podcast (20 years since the term was coined) is a welcome alternative to reading. You can listen during you commute (who is commuting nowadays ?) or any other physical activities. Though I find it a bit hard to get complex technical stuff (algorithm) explained without any visual context but there are still many topics to be covered, ranging for legal and ethical aspects to interviews with practitioners in various fields and many more topics. It is impossible to follow all podcasts out there, but you can subscribe to a few and hand-select the episodes that are of interest or relevance for you.
Here a list of podcasts that I follow which I like to highlight, updated over time. Focus on podcasts that are produced in English language and actively maintained. (Last Update 2020-12-05)

Lex Fridman

Lex is a researcher at MIT, working on autonomous driving, human-robot interaction and all kind of machine learning topics. He appears as quite an introvert character allways wearing a black suite, speaking very calmly without fuzz and excitement but transporting lots of insights to his audience. His interviews cover topics from machine learning, mathematics, philosophy, ethics, astrophysics to plasma physics.

Since 2018 he produced more than 140 episodes of his podcast and it is amazing to listen to the high profile people he invites from the academic world in interviews between 60 to 90 minutes in length. Among his guests were Alex Filippenko, Michio Kaku, Andrew Ng, Ian Hutchison, Kai-Fu Lee, James Gosling, Richard Karp, Elon Musk and many more.

I also recommend to watch his presentation “Deep Learning State of the Art (2020)” from the MIT Deep Learning Series and the accompanying website deeplearning.mit.edu

Episodes: 140+ since August 2018

Podcast Website: lexfridman.com/podcast (all the episodes also available on YouTube)

In Machines We Trust

Running since Summer 2020 host Jennifer Strong and the MIT Technology Review team discuss the more ethical side of machine learning. I highly recommend the episodes about application face recognition and its implication for society.

Episodes: 15+ since July 2020

Podcast Website: forms.technologyreview.com/in-machines-we-trust

Eye On A.I.

Former New York Times correspondent Craig S. Smith runs the audience through a very divers of AI related topics by interviewing various experts.

Episodes: 61+ since October 2018

Podcast Website: www.eye-on.ai/podcast-archive

Practical AI: Machine Learning & Data Science

Chris Benson and Daniel Whitenack are discussing real usecases, datasets and setups of AI exploration. Unlike many other interview type podcasts this is rather hands-on.

Episodes: 115+ since July 2018

Podcast Website: changelog.com/practicalai

The TWIML AI Podcast

In this very actively maintained podcast with new episodes every few days, Sam Charrington is talking to various AI researchers, data scientists, engineers and tech-savvy business and IT leaders.

Episodes: 449+ since May 2016

Podcast Website: twimlai.com

The AI Podcast

This podcast is operated by NVIDIA, the biggest player in the GPU hardware manufacturer games, runs talks and interviews with leading experts in the field.

Episodes: 129+ since November 2016

Podcast Website: blogs.nvidia.com/ai-podcast

AI with AI

The podcast moderated by Andy Ilachinski and David Broyles from the Center for Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence, a group inside the CNA (Center for Naval Analyses, research for U.S. Navy and Marine Corps), discusses latest development in the field. The topics are sometimes related to military use of AI, but recent episodes also look into Covid-related topics.

Episodes: 15+ since July 2020

Podcast Website: www.cna.org/news/AI-Podcast

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Raspberry Pi goes Desktop

The Raspberry Pi Foundation just launched the Raspberry Pi 400, the regular ARM-based SPC with 4GB memory, a bunch of external ports and wireless connectivity, but all packaged into a neat keyboard casing. First time walking away from the pure tinkering setup to a just-hook-it-up-to-a-screen-to-get-started set. You can choose to buy the “keyboard” alone at Euro 70,- or get an Euro 100,- set with power-plug, hdmi-wire, keyboard and pre-loaded micro-SD card that gets you up and running in less than 15min (incl. auto downloading and installing the latest Raspberry Pi OS). The form factor reminds me remotely of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and ZX 81 in the 80’s.

Raspberry PI 400 in the box
Raspberry PI 400 (all built-in)
Raspberry PI 400 (back)

The Raspberry Pi 400 has not changed the specs from the last 4B release as of 2019. The SPC comes with the ARM quad-core Cortex-A72 CPU at 1.5 Ghz, 1/2 or 4 GB of memory (now also 8GB version available), wireless LAN, Bluetooth 5.0, BLE, 4 USB ports (2.0 and 3.0), 2 micro HDMI ports supporting 4Kp60. Plus the favourite 40pin GPIO connection for prototyping and accessing the huge tinkering space, to get started into anything between from home-automation to controlling robots or weather stations.

Is it a Desktop PC or Windows Notebook killer ? Depends, maybe not. With the Raspberry PI OS, a debian-based operating system, you have access to a lot of applications for daily use. You know Ubuntu, you know Raspberry PI OS !

Raspberry PI 400 running a 4K Screen

It won’t work for corporate environements living in the Microsoft product world, though you could use the web version of Office365. It is also not the right choice if you want to do linear video editing or run fancy resource hungry DX12 (Windows again) games. But it works perfect for surfing the web, Youtube, etc. Most of the average usage is web-based anyway and with this device we can keep energy consumption as low as 5 Watt (plus screen).

A remark on 4K: Out of the box (without overclocking and proper heat sink/ventilation) you will get only a stuttering experience, the regular HD 720 works fine, even Full HD is still acceptable.

Raspberry PI setup as we know it

Conclusion: A great idea gets re-packaged, to make it accessible to a wider audience. This would be a great platform for our education system. Instead of fixing kids to Microsoft Products or spending hundreds of Euro’s to Apple iPads’s as part of the so-called digitalisation roadmap you would better embark on such an open platform. Have you attached a temperature sensor to an iPad as part of the physics curriculum ?

The only thing missing is a Raspberry PI coming as tablet or notebook.

HTTP Cookie Warfare

You won’t visit any web page today without having cookies being involved, literally making you leaving a trail of crumbs for all kinds of third parties to track your whereabouts and activities in the web. Cookies get a lot of attention, you are constantly creating and updating them by accepting or consenting to the privacy and cookie usage terms on many websites, but most internet users don’t really know what cookies are or how they work. They were created back in 1994 by Lou Montulli, working at Netscape, with a legitimate reason, storing a file in your local browser storage as a reference to inform a server if the user has visited the site previously. It was patented in 1995:
US5774670A Persistent client state in a hypertext transfer protocol based client-server system

Original Drawing U.S. Patent 5,774,670 Page 6

About Cookies

Cookies are served by either the website you visit (First-Party-Cookie) or as a Third-Party-Cookie of a service embedded into the website you visit, e.g. ad companies. The browser creates a local cookie file with some unique ID to check on the server side during the next visit or visit to another site using the same cookie. The primary purpose is session management, personalization and tracking. Technically, it is a text file with key-value combinations, in the modern browser it is stored in a database, e.g. Firefox uses a SQLite DB. Unlike common understanding there is no encrypted information and there is no personal information such as your name or similar. The power is the creation of a digital fingerprints by combining with other information, e.g. the IP address, the agent-string send by the browser and information about other sites visited to perform profiling of the user.

Table Stucture for cookies in Firefox

You like to observe the creation of cookies and their content when opening a website? Start the developer tools of Firefox or Chrome first. I randomly choose cnn.com, you can do with any commercial website.

Firefox Developer – Cookies View

Take note of cnn.com placing a cookie before you consent.

Earlier, if you want to protect yourself from third party tracking, you had to install additional add-ons for your browser, now Firefox becomes smarter and comes with an onboard protection. If you like to see the blocked cookies, disable the feature. I recommend doing this in a private window session (which deletes all cookies after closing).

Firefox protection
Blocked Tracker Cookies

Cookies and Privacy Consent Pop-Ups

Hidden Options

Very common to all websites, they try to keep you away from not consenting. The ACCEPT button is very prominent but there is no I DO NOT ACCEPT, the options are alway hidden behind a link with different label. They rely on our laziness to go to an extra page to disable the cookies.

Ebay Consent Pop-Up

eBay makes you accept by pressing the button Accept or clicking on any item on the website. To disable cookies you have to go to More Information and scroll to the end to confirm by pressing Continue. At least all cookies are disabled in this screen by default.

Some other samples:

ZDnet Pop-Up
cnn.com pop-up

A sample for proper implementation: One click to reject all or limit cookies.

Overwhelming Number of Players

This marketing landscape behind the scenes can be breathtaking, let’s look at the website wired.co.uk.

Have you ever clicked on the List of Partners (vendors) ?
There are not less than 500 companies listed, each one comes with its own privacy policy.

The different Strategies

Today cookies (or the pop-ups) become an annoyance, it disturbs any user experience in the web because the cookie consent pop-up is first representative of a company or service you will when visiting a site. Sometimes followed by the pop-up asking if it can alert you for any news or a bot assistant asking to give (not so) smart answers. Let’s have a look at the different ways of obstructing content with consent pop-ups.

The Obfuscator Entrance Website

The first thing you see is nothing but the pop-up over a blurred background. You literally can’t read a line without consenting to all or going through the options.

Engadget.com by Verizon (the company that bought Yahoo)
The ‘Not-so-obfuscated-but-no-control” Websites

Same as the previous type, a prominent pop-up, but you can see the landing page content, though you cannot click anything.

The ‘There-are-no-Options” Websites

You land on the page, you can access all links and pages, but you cannot opt-out of anything. There is a permanent display of the pop-up until you finally Accept.

TechNewsWorld pop-up
theverge.com pop-up

Tools

The different browser offer different add-ons to manage cookies or look at their content. One is Cookiebro, there are many similar ones.

Conclusion

With the current laws and regulations (GDPR, 2009/136/EC) all of these samples are in line with legislation (to be proved).
Basically, you cannot escape completely from cookies. If you disable them completely you won’t be able to read your (web-)emails, manage your shopping-cart and do other essential functions. We can rely to some extent to Firefox to block the worse tracking cookies and we can wipe out all cookies after closing the browser, which requires you to enter passwords every time you visit the same site (or use the password manager in Firefox).

Germany’s Covid-19 Tracing App

Finally the contact tracing up is here. With big media attention the app was launched to public 2 days back, after the bumpy start with a complete strategic change from centralized to decentralized model. SAP and Deutsche Telekom cooperated and created an app-server environment in less than 2 months, chapeau for that performance. It comes at 20 million Euro, plus 2 to 3 million monthly for Deutsche Telekom, mostly to operate the hotline (not sure if they actual build an office building first, but anyway). Some might claim a start-up could have done it for a fraction, yes, maybe, would it be ready ? Would it be able to provide a system that can talk to the public healthcare system to create TAN’s to push alerts ?

You can download for Google and Apple. Interestingly the app was downloaded more than 1 million time within 2 days, after 3 days supposedly 8 million times and got more than 30.000 ratings/reviews (Android only) in that short timeframe (mostly positive) !
The team seem to work agile, they pushed out an update within 72 hours.

You can review and download the code at Github. I must admit, the documentation is really good, no one can claim this is not transaparent. Despite still so many people claim it would be used for tracking people and their whereabouts.
First thing to do ? Let’s look at the sourcecode and the underlying libraries by Apple/Google. Did not manage to build it with Android Studio 3.4, had to update to 4.0 to get it built and run on the phone, though it would fail after the initial info screens due to the missing Exposure Notification API on the phone. Guess that will be fixed once the Playstore app is updated.

Findings:

  • Permissions
    As planned and communicated only the bare minimum to make this app work. You can see it does not require the coarse location permission usually required by BLE.
  • Libraries
    A few of the standard libraries: ZXing Embedded, Joda Time, Room, SQLCipher, detekt and a some others.
    Most importantly Google’s Exposure Notifications API
  • Why would you disallow the user making screenshots, if everything is transpraent and opensource ?
  • Once you installed the apk file through Android Studio you cant install the official app, even after removing the app installed through adb.

Conclusion: Full transparency. It did materialize quite fast, too late for the first wave (no app can be ready for something totally new) but certainly in place if a second wave or individual hot-spots appear. I still have doubts if we reach a 60% penetration nut the initial figures are looking good. You can still argue about the quality of measuring the signal strength of Bluetooth and how many warnings we will see.

Bookshelf: Machine Learning and Data Science

With less options in your sparetime in the current situation, we can invest some of the extra time we have gained in reading instead watching (too much) Netflix and other streaming services. Here some recommendations from my booskhelf. Machine Learning and the related topics like Data Science are the hot topics in IT in almost any business domain context and a basic understanding is important for everyone dealing with software, be it sales reps or product managers with little or no computer science background, and the last time you touched discrete mathematics, linear algebra or probability was at high school. The challenge here, both topics have a steep learning curve and it is hard to acquire a decent knowledge, but for most of us, basic understanding is good enough to manoeuvre discussions and appreciate what is possible and what not (now). There is a huge choice of online courses and books, though the majority is most likely to deep-dive or covering a very specific aspect of machine learning. Publisher like Springer and Packt even allow you download selected titles these days or permanently for free.
Here 2 titles that scrape the surface but give you some insights and overview of commonly used terms. Both available as paperbacks or for the Kindle for less than Euro 15,-.

Machine Learning For Absolute Beginners

by Oliver Theobald, Independently published, 2018, 155 pages

If you start from ground zero with no knowlegde, this is a good overview at 10.000 feet without diving too much into formulars and algorithms. You learn about linear and logistic regression, decision trees, clustering and more but just enough to get a basic understanding. Neural networks are covered too, but it might be challenging to transport this through only 10 pages. There is a bit of Python coding sprinkled in if you feel getting more hands-on.

Data Science

by John Kelleher, The MIT Press Essential Knowledge, 2018, 280 pages

This book covers the basics of data science, ranging from the definition of data types and the DIKW pyramid to standard tasks and outlining the whole data science steps in the CRISP-DM process. Non-technical aspects like ethics and privacy are covered too. This book is 99% free of algorithm and sourcecode.

The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series offers a few condensed titles, like Deep Learning, MetaData, Computational Thinking and others.

I will recommend some more titles soon. Stay safe and tuned.

Daily Tech Observations 10

Tracing App Status Germany

While some of the restrictions are slowly being removed and public life resumes to some extent due to the decreasing infection numbers, there is some movement in the discussion around the tracing app(s). In Germany we dont have an app released yet and it is questionable if a significant volume of citizens will buy-in the contact tracing while the peak of epidemy in Germany has passed already, though a second wave could come. The announced cooperation of Deutsche Telekom and SAP target a release date in June. I still have doubts, the usual workflow of huge companies are not known for planning, designing and releasing in production within a couple of weeks. We will see. At least they started to document and release info on Github under the project title Corona-Warn-App. They adopt the decentral approach with DP-3T and TCN and will fully comply with GDPR. SAP develops app and backend, Telekom provides infrastructure.
At the same time we have at least two other groups, both projects of the #WirVsVirus Hackathon by the German government a few weeks back, working on tracing apps. ITO (github) creating a decentral solution and OHIOH (github) creating a server-centric solution. Others are Gretel, Predict-19 and Infection Chain. Some of the initiatives already became inactive or are stopped by now.
The main challenges, there is no standard for data exchange, not for Germany and none for international exchange. With too many apps and too little adoption there is a high risk of failing. Though I support all the activities, at least the teams get attentions and it might help to form or push start-up’s.

IBM Call for Code

IBM runs a challenge and supports selected teams to build solutions to replace physical queues by on-demand virtual lines. A different and interesting scope that looks beyond the current situation and attacks social distancing aspects. Find more info here.

Covid-19 Epidemic Forecasting

There are few sites run by research institutes predicting the further development of infection, R and death figures. The below list is from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). They stopped publishing their predictions to public.

Google Community Report

Google is still publishing, the latest report dated May 14th.

Image by Free-Photos on Pixabay.

Daily Tech Observations 9

Tracing Apps Overview

About 35 countries released apps in the COVID-19 context, roughly half of them actually perform some kind of tracing or tracking using either GPS, Bluetooth or both. I reviewed some of them with the information that you find in the Google Play Store in regards of rating, no. of installations and permissions. I could not find any app that has a penetration of more than 5% (Android only), rather lower, and the success of such an app grows with the userbase.

Random samples:
(Numbers for Android apps only, Apple is not releasing the number of installations)

  • Stopp Corona (Austria), ~9.000.000 population and 100.000+ downloads
  • eRouška (Czech Republic), ~11.000.000 population and 100.000+ downloads
  • Aarogya Setu (India), ~1.300.000.000 population and 50.000.000+ downloads

Reference: Population by Worldbank

I noticed some apps are very generous with permissions, also asking for identity, phone number, contact list, all on top of GPS and Bluetooth.

Tracing Apps Details

Thanks to AppBrain you can get more information about individual apps. You can see the underlying libraries used and communication channel. It seems most of the apps make use of Google Firebase Messaging for the push part.

Sample: Dev libs for Stopp Corona (Austria)

Here as sample the details for the Stopp Corona App from Austria taken from the respective AppBrain page. We can see GCM (now Firebase) for messaging, the cryptographic lib Bouncy Castle, the JSON lib MOSHI.
At least none of the apps I have looked at so far, use social or Ad network libraries.

German Tracing App Status

While other countries have a headstart, Germany is falling behind. Despite news stating German Telekom and SAP joining the initiative, there seems to be no schedule, commitment and definitely no budget yet. I fear this will become a humongous project with 90% consultancy. We have existing open source applications following DP-3T as guidance, a small team of less than 15 people can produce an app in short time, and still comply with GDPR and security in place. My take.

COVID-19 Data

Latest Google Community Report was released on May 1st.

Stay safe and tuned.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Daily Tech Observations 8

Corona Tracing App Strategy Change

The German government moved away from the central data approach and the PEPP-PT initiative to a decentral solution. Seems they do not want to wait further on the non-commercial approach by a bigger group and hope the two huge companies SAP and Telekom can come up with an app. Looking forward to see the result, I doubt we will see anything released for another 8 weeks, being optimistic. A lot of countries have a head start here, see my overview post.

Questions I have:
The list of “infected ID’s” has to be updated regularly, potentially a growing list with many records need to be polled every hour ?!
How would you push the info to devices (in the case of infected contacts) ?
Use Google’s Firebase FCM ?

Reference:

Tracing Apps across the globe

There are about 40+ apps in various countries around the globe, adopting different protocols, some are open-source, some are propietary, most of them are in the Android Playstore, some are released as apk-files only.
In some countries we see multiple (contact tracing) solutions at the start, India with 4, Italy 3 and US 3. In the EU with have at least 10 different apps. There is no way to trace beyond the boundaries of individual countries. Have a look at my overview here.