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 ?


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.

Overview Covid-19 Tracing Apps and Protocols

Last Update: 2020 May 6th

Protocols and Initiatives

Open Source Apps, Code or Demo/POC

Mobile apps or projects with public accessible sourcecode.

Propietary Apps

Android Apps in the Google Playstore.
To notice quite a number of apps receive rather average reviews and quite some negative comments.
Not all apps are tracing apps, but information portals or self-checks.
[Average rating – number of ratings – installs] (As of April 29th)
Trac(k)ing apps are highlighted with * (Bluetooth) and ** (GPS). Specific contact tracing apps highlighted in bold.Other applications are general health, guidance, self-check or crisis apps.
Source: Respective app page in Google Play Store

Document References

Papers, articles, PhD Thesis, Research Documents. Focus on Wifi/Bluetooth/BLE technology.
No specific order, no attempt to be complete, quite a number of documents are discussing these topics.

(Image by Samuele Schirò from Pixabay)

Daily Tech Observations

Some technology related observations from the last few days in these exceptional times we are facing at the moment. A lot of positive actions and activities going on.

COVID-19 Apps

A number of organizations try to build apps that help to control the spread or inform affected people. Most ideas take personal data protection into consideration and allow transfer of data to authorities or servers only upon consent and approval. Though nothing has been releases yet at a larger scale.

  • CoEpi: Community Epidemiology In Action (link)
  • geoHealthApp: Spread the app not the virus (link)
  • ebolaApp: Its team tries to reuse an existing app (link)

Google Playstore and COVID-19 Apps

With hackers, malware and virus producers jumping on the train to misuse the situation (just to mention the ransomware that people behind coronavirusapp[.]site trying to spread an app that locks mobile phones), Google decided not to release any apps in this context until they find appropiate ones. Until a few days ago you did not find any app when searching for the term. By now you find only 1 app in the Germany Play Store with a app released by Singapore government funded app.


Put smart people together and let them work in short time on ideas, this time solely virtually.

  • #WirVsVirus Hackathon by the German government last weekend (link)
    Not less than 42.000 people attended in one way or another.
  • Hack the crisis – Accelerate Estonia (link)
  • AI for mankind hackathon (link)
  • Not to forget to mention the Kaggle Competition (link)

Transparent Prices for panic-buying products

While supermarkets run out of toiletpaper and a few other more important products, mainly due to distribution and logistic problems, the net revelead a whole universe of profiteers via the usual selling and market platforms or through self-created shop websites. Interesting to observe the price development, two weeks ago it was very much wild west with skyrocketing prices, by now the market platforms try to remove and ban any ridicolously priced offers and shops. The below screenshots from a local price tracking shows only samples of “reasonable” increased prices.
Good to see other companies like car manufacturers jumping in and trying to produce equipment in high demand (which hopefully can be produced b y non-medical companies). (Link)

Toiletpaper prices up 40%
Desinfection (hand sanitizer) price tripled

Still it need someone to buy these items and willing to pay the price or being very desperate. Open market physics..

Apps in Trend

Now communication apps like Zoom, Skype, Teams, etc are seeing more downloads. Also streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. But some trending apps are rather weird, like the game Plague Inc. in the current top 10 of games. The game was released in 2012 (not to blame the company) and was not updated since Feb 2019 but getting downloaded more often now. Not sure who wants to play this while we face it for real without a “restart game” button..

Quote description: “Can you infect the world? Plague Inc. is a unique mix of high strategy and terrifyingly realistic simulation. Your pathogen has just infected ‘Patient Zero’. Now you must bring about the end of human history by evolving a deadly, global Plague whilst adapting against everything humanity can do to defend itself.

Hands-On Amazon Echo Dot and Alexa

Amazon Echo, the voice-controlled and hands-free device/speaker was already launched in the US in November 2014, now 2 years later the Echo, and the Echo Dot second generation, is available in Europe. In Germany it was soft-launched in late October on an invitation base at Euro 59.99, the bigger Echo at Euro 179.-.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

Curious enough about having a glimpse into our household and workplace (?) future I requested one and got it delivered last week Friday. At the size of a hockey puck, the device contains 7 microphones, a simple loudspeaker, WLAN and Bluetooth connectivity. No battery, so the Echo must be connected to a USB power adapter at all times. I must admit, the idea of having a “spy” device with microphones permanently listening into my room brings up some privacy concerns, though Amazon claims only the keyword (Alexa, Echo or Amazon) is activating the device, it’s LED ring starts to turn blue, and the spoken commands get transferred to the Amazon cloud, using the Alexa Voice Recognition Service, on which Amazon supposedly spend a 100 million dollars.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

Here a first hands-on experience resume:

Being an Amazon user with a Prime account and already a Kindle and a Fire HD tablet at home, the setup takes less than 5 minutes, inclusive of setting up a WLAN connection from the Alexa App to the device, preparing the WLAN access from the device to your AP and connecting it via Bluetooth to the home theater system. The device is woken up with the keyword or by pressing one of the four buttons on top of it, followed by your question or command.

It does not run a conversational model in the basic use cases, though the skill sets support sessions ! You raise a question or trigger a command, that’s it. It wont ask back (yet). It will respond with the right answer or execute what you have asked for, or respond it if it does not understand you, sometimes it wont do anything at all after activation other than showing the blue ring (maybe due to noisy environment). The basic services available are rather simple or move around the Amazon product landscape, most prominently playing music on demand from the Amazon Prime Music offerings, ordering products from Amazon or responding with the weather info or respond to simple Wikipedia style questions. The power of the device is unfolding with the skill-sets that allow third parties to offer services based on the Alexa services. This can be house-automation, ordering pizzas and other consumer services. Being a regional feature there are about 3,000 skills available in the US but only about 2 dozens in Germany at the time of writing.

My kids had a Sunday afternoon fun time to play with it and trying to fool with it, though at this stage it wears out pretty fast after hearing “I don’t understand your request” and similar responses if you leave its pre-programmed comfort zone (it is interesting to observe how kids approach such a device). Be aware of the Eliza Effect using a device with a synthetic voice and human-like response.

What makes it particularly interesting to me is the evaluation of a completely voice based service and the platforms extensibility through the Alex Skill Set and the API’s that Amazon provides. You find lots of information at the Amazon developer portal and you can even join the Mashup Contest.

In short, right now it is still a toy but with lots of opportunities to come up in the near future. I will look at the potential use cases in a aviation environment, both operational and as passenger and keep you posted.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

While using the Echo I feel a bit like talking to Hal 9000 in the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” directed by Stanley Kubrick. Echo does not yet have an attitude.

FB aquires WhatsApp – Bye and Thanks for the Fish

WhatsApp known for its massive security issues, still used by millions of people as a free replacement of SMS and MMS, was acquired by FB, one (maybe the) biggest data harvester in the internet. I dont use FB, the acquisition is a reason to finally move on to another more secure communication tool: Threema  (Made in Switzerland app with end-to-end encryption). Hope they wont sell privacy for money. Please help to spread the word.

It is NOT free, but is time to understand FREE comes at a price !

Android 2.3 released

Just noticed Gingerbread is coming to town since yesterday ! A bunch of new API stuff, such as SIP, NFC, multiple cameras and more. Read all the details here.
Now, the usual questions come up:

  • When we gonna see the first native 2.3 device ?
  • Will my device be supported / updated ? (Is Nexus One going to be updated ?)
  • Did you see a device with NCF reader ? (near-field communication)
  • and when we see Android 3.0 ? Will there be a Android 2.4 before ?

According to some news, Gingerbread will be “pushed” to Nexus One owners in the next few weeks.

The Nexus S is going to be the next official Google Phone (Samsung this time!), available after December 16 (doesnt seem to be available through shipping like the previous models)

AWS for free

Starting November 1st Amazon is giving a way cloud computer power for free. Of course it is limited, but way enough to get your feed wet and gather cloud experience at no cost. It only works for new subscribers, but no one stop you to create a second account (if you already have one). Read more at http://aws.amazon.com/free/. Happy cloud computing !

News from the Java World

As expected at JavaOne some news were released. Blogs and development portals are full of it. In short:

  • Netbeans 6.9 becomes 7.0 in order to be aligned with the Java platform itself. (more info here)
    I am fine with that, seems Oracle is still serious about Netbeans.
  • JavaFX Script is dead but the features will be available as API. (more info here)
    OK, the scripting was a bit cumbersome. But you could get used to it using Netbeans.