A.I. and Its Expanding Role in the Global Fight Against COVID-19

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There’s only a little more than a week left in February, and when March arrives it will be a bit of a not-so-great milestone. It will have been a year since the global pandemic began, and as most of you will have seen we’re really not much closer to getting past this than we were at this time last year. Not suggesting that the lack of a fix is for a lack of trying, and the fact that we have vaccines now IS a positive development.

But it’s one that’s countered somewhat by the fact that new mutated variants of the virus are now making their appearances, as they were predicted to do. There’s been concerns about whether the vaccines will be as effective against these new strains as they are for the standard COVID virus. So given this very much a new-world problem, it is fitting that new-world technologies may be set to play a pivotal role in making sure these new virus variants don’t gain the upper hand.

We’re talking about Artificial Intelligence here, and if there’s one thing that’s uniform for all Canadian web hosting providers it’s that we are always very enthusiastic about watching and admiring how the digital space has the capacity to bring far-reaching benefits to all of humanity based on the far-reaching capacity of the web itself. And in particular when it stands as platform for rolling out all that new digital technology is capable of on the biggest of scales.

We definitely have an ideal viewing spot alongside the information superhighway this way, and given how we set up so many people to have their own spot on the expressway it’s stuff like this that really grabs our attention.

Powerful Predictor

So where we’re going with this is that news is coming out now that A.I. may be just the powerful ally needed to create vaccines that are able to thwart the new virus variants. Here’s what we know so far.

The University of Southern California has made many very worthwhile contributions to the science community, and it appears they may be about to do it again. USC researchers have developed a new method to counter new mutations of the coronavirus and speed up vaccine development to stop the pathogen that’s already had its way unchallenged for the most part, and way too long.

The research team at the University’s Viterbi School of Engineering has come up with a method to speed the analysis of vaccines and zero in on the best potential preventive medical therapy. What’s most critical about it is that this methodology is easily adaptable to analyze potential mutations of the virus. With the aim being to ensure the best possible vaccines are identified as quickly as possible.

If this pans out as hoped for, it may give vaccine researchers a big advantage with getting an upper hand on the evolving contagion. The machine-learning model they now have in place can accomplish vaccine design cycles that would have taken months or years before. They may be able to produce the same conclusions in a matter of minutes, or even less than that. It remains to be seen just how powerful this A.I. tool might be, but there’s a lot of reason to be thinking positively about this one.

Candidates & Clinical Trials – On the Double!

It’s important to state that what they have here is still a tentative framework, but the basis for it – that the framework can provide vaccine candidates in just seconds and then speed them along to clinical trials without compromising safety – is pretty solid according to industry insiders. Plus, the idea is to keep it going and geared to be able to adapt to help all countries of the globe stay ahead of the virus as it mutates and becomes more of a problem.

For SARS-CoV-2 (virus that results in the person developing COVID-19) the computer model rapidly eliminated 95% of the compounds that might have been considered as treatments against the pathogen and then presented the remaining percentage as legit ones that should be researched further for their effectiveness.

26 potential vaccines that would likely work against the coronavirus came out of this, and from those scientists identified 11 that were best. The idea is then to create a multi-epitope vaccine, one that can attack the spike proteins used by the coronavirus to penetrate a host cell. And independent of what the molecular nature of the virus is in any particular instance. This effectively ends the virus’ ability to replicate.

Super Vaccine Potential

With the technology applied this way, engineers can construct a new multi-epitope vaccine for a new virus in a matter of minutes and then validate its quality in no more than an hour or two. Currently, authorities must grow the pathogen in the lab, then deactivate it and inject it to cause the disease and then measure the effectiveness of each would-be vaccine individually. This is a time-consuming process that usually takes more than a year, and that’s an awfully long time when you’re trying to rein in a global pandemic.

This is particularly fortunate at this time and stage of the pandemic, with the virus starting to mutate around the world. in populations around the world. If this technology develops legs though, as the expression goes, then SARS-CoV-2 may be slowed considerably with this AI-assisted method being used to design other preventive mechanisms quickly.

Researchers working on this project are reporting that the proposed vaccine design framework can take on the most frequently observed mutations and then be reworked further to take on other ones if / when they arrive. And this is all built on top of the giant bioinformatics database – Immune Epitope Database (IEDB) – where scientists around the world have been compiling data about the coronavirus, along with over 600,000 known epitopes from some 3,600 different species.

If this pans out like researchers are hoping it will, it will be among the most attractive feathers in the cap that A.I. will have enjoyed so far since it first got off the ground. Let’s hope so, for everyone’s sake.

Ecosia: A New Globally-Conscious Web Browser Choice

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Google’s Chrome may well be the top dog of web browsers, with Microsoft’s Edge and Apple’s Safari not too far behind. Not the world’s most glorious distinction, but when you consider how much our vehicle of choice for the information superhighway plays into our daily lives then there certainly is something to be evaluated. Think about it – can you imagine there’s been even 1 day in the last however many years that you haven’t been somewhere on the World Wide Web at least once?

The significance of one’s browser of-choice goes even further when they’re a person who makes their living in the digital space, and is preceded only by the absolute need for reliable high-speed internet. Often that need is paired with the primary means of making oneself and one’s service or product visible – a website. That would lead us to a discussion of those of us here at 4GoodHosting or any of the many other quality Canadian web hosting providers across the country.

Now of course we have our preferred browsers too, but one of the things that we believe in here is the need for environmental stewardship within the digital world. One example is how we’ve made efforts to ensure our data centres are as energy-efficient as possible, and we’ve definitely taken some cues from others there. And that leads into what we’re going to discuss here today for Family Day in Canada, how an emerging web browser choice is aiming to make the world a more liveable place for families here in Canada and elsewhere around the globe.

The Tree-Planting Browser

Ecosia was founded in 2009 by Thomas Kroll, and what it does is direct any revenue not required to cover its overheads, tax, and marketing efforts towards tree planting initiatives. The company is founded on green principles and power for its infrastructure is provided by very large solar farms, which serves a bigger picture interest in itself by proving that investing in renewable energy is actually profitable,

The company also has an excellent value proposition. Due to competition being less fierce, advertising on Ecosia is roughly two or three times less pricey per click than it would be for Google, equalling cheaper and more profitable traffic. Ecosia, however, is still a nobody in the world of web browsers – as of now they are responsible for less than 1% of search worldwide. Google? 91.39% of market share.

But one thing Google can’t ever claim is that they’ve planted a tree. Ecosia, on the other hand, has planted an estimated 120 million trees around the world at 9,000 different sites and they’d like to do a whole lot more of it.

Here’s the breakdown of how it’s been working, and something to think about if you’d like to do some global good with your web searching tendencies. For every 45 searches made with Ecosia, one tree is planted. That’s been working out to about 1.3 trees per second, which suggests that about 5 million searches are carried out every day with Ecosia as the web browser.

Ecosia is currently the largest private tree planting organization in the world, and their belief is that one trillion trees will need to be planted over the next two decades in order to counteract the effects of climate change.


2 Functional Differences

While all of this may have a real feel-good vibe to it, some people may be asking if there’s any deficiency in results when using Ecosia rather than Google chrome. The general consensus online is that the 2 search engines will bring back the same results for any given query most of the time, but there are differences.

Ecosia is built on the Microsoft Bing algorithm and infrastructure. What this means is that search queries will generate slightly different results compared to what the Google algorithm will generate. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it doesn’t mean you’ll get lower quality or less keyword-specific results. But it’s something that users should be aware of if they’re interested in using this eco-friendly web browser that also promotes social initiatives.

Another thing to relate is that Ecosia lacks many of the ‘rich answers; that you’d get with Google (examples being live sports scores or basic responses to common questions). According to data from 2019, more than 30% of Google searches generated rich answers. That’s great, but let’s keep in mind that building this functionality is resource-heavy and involves complex licensing agreements.

Ecosia also doesn’t use data to build out profiles for each user, and this means that ads and search results are identical for everyone. With limited data collection search results are less likely to yield precisely what users are looking for, but concerns around data privacy and the effects of echo chambers are minimized.

So if you find ‘personalized’ ads to be a little creepy and intrusive to being with, that might be another reason to go with Ecosia as your web browser instead. Ecosia is also working to implement a mechanism that allows users to choose which priority to optimize for, search accuracy or privacy. This is one wave-maker that deserves having an eye kept on it, and there’ a lot to be said for bringing philanthropy into web browsing.

Ways to Increase Mobile Signal Strength

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Most people will associate bars with blocking, at least when it comes to the most average of contexts in daily life. There’s even a verb based on the word, as to ‘bar’ something is to block it from happening. So there’s definitely something to understanding that more bars means more blocking. Now of course when we’re looking at the top right corner of the screen on our smartphones, it’s a whole different thing. We want to see as many bars as possible, because that’s an indication of signal strength and the ability to enjoy mobile connectivity at a full roar.

If you’re not able to check your social media apps or the like then it’s really not that big of a deal. But if it’s a situation where getting your email to open is like pouring molasses then a lack of bars up there is going to be a real frustration. We’ve all been in those situations where a lack of signal strength is being a real bother for us. It’s definitely something that any Canadian web hosting provider will be able to relate to, as the nature of what we do is directly related to all of the different content and resources you’re looking to access with your mobile devices.

For most people the only idea they’ll have to increase mobile signal strength is to twist their phone left to right, up and down and add a verbal ‘come on’ to it for good measure. That’s usually not going to do very much, but there are some effective ways to do this and that’s what we’re going to discuss here today.

Here’s what’s known to be the best approaches for this

Toggle Airplane Mode / Reboot the Phone

You get a little too confused sometimes, and turns out your phone does too. If it was to be constantly searching for the best signal you’d then be furious that your battery has died so quickly. If you’re away from home and you seem to have constant weak-signal issues no matter where you are then it may be best for an instant reset to give your device a chance to start over without anything messing with its understanding of accessing networks.

So what you do here is toggle airplane mode on, and then wait 10 seconds or so. Then toggle it off again. What this does is quite basic; it forces your device to check to determine what networks are available. Airplane mode is easily found in your iPhone Control Center and Android’s Quick Settings panel, and you probably already know that getting there is as simple as swiping down from the top of your screen.

In some cases may need to reboot your phone. This is common when crossing international borders, or sometimes when crossing into or out of roaming carrier zones.

Hold it Differently

Alright, we’re aware about what we said earlier about twisting your phone around in your hand and how that doesn’t really work. But in some instances a variation of what you’re doing there may in fact be effective. Some of you may remember how the iPhone 4 was hampered by having antenna bands that were easily blocked by your hand.

That mobile device is a long-since relic now, but that same issue happens sometimes. You might be accidentally blocking whatever antenna on your phone is in use, or the one closest to or most appropriately pointed at the cell tower.

This can be tested by holding up your mobile device with just two fingers, and making sure that you’re blocking as little of the case as possible. Keep in mind as well that some cases – and in particular ones that are the ‘rugged’ type for maximum drop protection – can actually contribute to blocking a signal. Most phone cases do not diminish a signal though.

If this test finds that you get more bars available with holding it up with way, you may want to look further into if your specific type of device is known to have signal-strength issues.

Go with a New SIM – or Clean It

This is one that is often overlooked, and it’s really good information for the average individual to have. Often when a person has been with the same carrier for a long time the SIM card in their phone may not contain the most updated and ideal data to connect to the latest network systems.

Another issue can be that the contacts on the SIM card may have dirt caked onto them or are worn down. This can cause intermittent failures, and it’s going to be a problem that will always get worse over time if you aren’t aware of it and do something about it. Taking the SIM card out and cleaning its metal surface with a disinfectant wipe, or a cotton swab and a little bit of rubbing alcohol is pretty simple. And it may be just the fix you needed.

If that doesn’t work, you can go to your network provider’s customer service and request a newer SIM card. They will almost certainly give you one quite happily and after that you may start seeing all those bars you were hoping for no matter where you are in town or out of it.

Go with a Different ‘G’ Network

Most of us who’ve been on 4G for as long as we can remember are more looking ahead to 5G rather than even considering moving back to 3G. But it’s true that making a switch can get you a better mobile signal, and it’s also true that 80+% of what you do with your phone doesn’t require the superior connectivity of a more updated network.

3G, 4G, and 5G all have different properties and, sometimes, come off different towers. The newer a network your phone is on, the more efficiently it uses carrier resources, so it benefits the network provider to have as many devices as possible on the newest networks possible. This can result in weak connections simply due to the volume of connected mobile devices.

Toggling between different available network modes may also be a good fix for you here. On the iPhone, go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Voice & Data and you should at least be able to choose between 5G and LTE (4G). Depending on your network, you may also be able to go down to 3G.

For Android phones, you can go to Settings and find an area that is usually called either Connections or Wi-Fi and Internet. Choose Mobile Network or SIM & Network, or something similar. There should be a ‘network mode’ option by which you can select between 5G (or ‘global’), 4G, 3G, or even 2G.



Cross Reference Bands

There are ways to cross reference the bands you need at your location. CellMapper.net is the resource for this. Choose your carrier and location, and look for your nearest towers. Clicking on them should give you the frequency bands being hit by your device. Then you can go to FrequencyCheck.com and see which bands operate on your phone model. If those numbers don’t match up it means your phone can’t hear what the tower is broadcasting.

In this scenario, you need to consider upgrading your mobile device.

Benefit from a Booster

Yes, this is a solution that’s going to cost you, but it can be the ultimate fix and the best one if you want to fix the problem and then some. What network signal boosters do is collect weak signals using large antennas before rebroadcasting them within your house or car. They’re pricey though, and many times upgrading to a new device will be nearly as effective and a much more appealing cost-effective alternative.

2 Super New Features for Google Chrome for Android

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Most of us are more inclined to let others have their preferences when it comes to mobile devices, and usually without needing to know why. Some people will be in the iOS camp, and others will be in the Android camp and more often than not that’s where they’ll be for the foreseeable future. There’s always going to be those who are inclined to be vocal about their preference, but truth of the matter is if you like your smartphone then that’s all there needs to be about that.

One thing that’s fair to say though is that Google definitely knows their stuff when it comes to web browsers. Not to suggest that Safari isn’t a worthwhile alternative and matches up for the most part, but there are obviously going to be reasons why Chrome is the most popular web browser on the planet. Here at 4GoodHosting we’re going to choose what pretty much any other good Canadian web hosting provider would choose and that’s to stay on the fence and not have any stated preference for iPhone or Android.

One thing that can be said is that these days the folks at Google seem to be pushing the boundaries a little bit more when it comes to revitalizing the mobile experience, and despite how smitten with apps so many of us are there’s still so much primacy in how well a device allows you to get onto the information superhighway and roar along it to wherever you’d like.

It’s for that reason that 2 new features coming out for Chrome for Android are as noteworthy as they are these days, and so that’s where we’re going to focus this week. And hey – it’s February now and the first month of 2021 is already in the rear view mirror. Time does fly!

All About Tab Grouping

It’s true that the desktop versions of Chrome have included support for tab grouping for some time now, but for whatever reason Google hasn’t seen the need to bring the same feature to the mobile editions of the Chrome browser. Until now that is. Google is in the process of delivering two major tab-related changes to Chrome for Android; The first is tab grouping, and the second is a tab switcher.

While both of them are being enabled by a server-side change activated by Google, it’s possible to make the app give you access to the new features right now. Read on.

Until now, Chrome tab switcher was access by tapping the tab button on the right of the address bar. Which would then display tabs in a stack. This is space-efficient, but it can be hard to look at and visually identify the different tabs this way, and especially considering you’re looking at a handheld display and not a monitor or notebook display. The new layout for tabs provides each tab with much more space and a larger preview to aid identification.

In truth it’s only an aesthetic change, but the early consensus is that it makes the new layout easier to use as well. It’s when the tab grouper is paired with the new tab switcher that it really starts to take an appealing form overall.

And Tab Switching Too

Open the new tab switcher and you’ll see how users can rearrange the order in which tabs are displayed by tapping and holding on a tab before dragging it to a new position. You can also create tab groups by dropping one tab on top of the next. Alternately, you can tap the 3-dot menu to the upper right of the tab switcher and choose a Group tabs option. Tabs selected here can be converted into a group.

Then using the tab groups you have created is simple – just tap one of the groups and its contents will expand into view. You can then treat the individual tabs as normal, tap on one to visit that site. Or tap, hold, and swipe away to remove a tab from the group.

Chrome 88 & Up Only

In order to get in on all this goodness you need to make sure that you have updated to Chrome 88. Once done, here’s what you do to enable these 2 features:

  • Launch Chrome and go to://flags/#enable-tab-grid-layout
  • Select Enabled from the drop-down menu
  • Restart Chrome twice

As for the last step there, remember that you simply need to restart Chrome after changing a setting using flags, but do that with this aim and you won’t see the new features at work. You need to make sure that your restart Chrome twice for the settings to stick. Not sure why that’s the way it is – but that’s the way it is.

It may also be good to know that if you are in the group of people one of those for whom the new tab options have been enabled by default and you actually don’t prefer the new screen layout they create then you can use the same flag to turn them off. Just head to the same location and select Disabled from the drop-down menu, and again restarting Chrome twice to confirm the change.