Friday Five: Why Excel got the blame for Covid confusion
Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…
1. Why Excel got the blame for Covid confusion
When the news broke that 16,000 coronavirus cases had gone unreported in England, it was poor old Microsoft Excel that got the blame. But what happened? Well, it turns out that Public Health England’s developers inexplicably decided to use the XLS file format (which dates back to 1987) for their Excel templates.
As a result, each template could only handle 1,400 cases. When that total was reached, further cases were simply left off. Had the developers used XLSX (which superseded XLS in 2007!), it could’ve handled 16 times as many cases. Or they could’ve used a bespoke tool that isn’t renowned for causing spreadsheet disasters…
2. Facebook removes Trump’s fake news
Five years ago it’s hard to think we’d be in a situation where the US President had a Facebook post removed for spreading misinformation about a virus that had killed more than 200,000 US citizens, but here we are. A recent study found that Donald Trump is the biggest source of Covid-19 misinformation, so at least he’s consistent.
This time Trump falsely asserted that Covid-19 “is in most populations far less lethal!!!” than flu and claimed “sometimes over 100,000 Americans a year die from flu” (also untrue). Facebook removed the post for breaking its rules, while Twitter left it up but added a warning label and restricted interactions with the post.
3. Teachers being instructed not to use NHS app
More than 16 million people have downloaded the NHS Covid-19 app, but a range of employers are actively discouraging their staff from using it. GlaxoSmithKline and a Hull-based fuel supplier both said it was unnecessary in their “Covid-secure workplaces” but, more worryingly, teachers are being told not use the app in school.
The BBC has received anonymous reports from teachers saying their schools had told them to delete the app for reasons such as “so it doesn’t interfere with A-level resits”. Another teacher said: “Too many schools want to keep staff in, even if it means breaking the law.” It’s not hard to imagine the morale level in that staff room.
4. Bot the builder begins automated bricklaying
In what is being described as a UK first, a house in East Yorkshire is being built by a robot. Instead of using labourers, the bricks and mortar of the three-bed property are being laid by a robotic bricklayer created by Construction Automation. It can even build round corners, meaning it can construct a whole house without stopping.
The company behind the robot says it will take the robot about two weeks to build the house and automation would increase productivity and build better quality houses. However, it still needs labourers to place all the bricks and mortar in the appropriate places for it to be able to function. Plus it’s also stealing their jobs.
5. “You know the one — the ‘Galileo’ song…”
We’ve all been there — when you’ve got the line of a song running through your head but you don’t know (or can’t remember) the name of the song. What do you do? Well, normally I’d just google it but Spotify are helping to cut out the middle man by letting you search for songs by their lyrics on iOS and Android.
Apple Music has let users search for songs using lyrics since 2018, so Spotify is playing catch-up. It’s actually a really handy feature to have in-app, particularly for that rare breed of song that doesn’t actually include the song name in the lyrics (Bohemian Rhapsody and Smells Like Teen Spirit, to name but two).