Culture / Development

This Week in Programming: Hackathons Tackle COVID-19

11 Apr 2020 6:00am, by

It’s been one hell of a month, huh? Sometimes it feels like it’s just been one day after another of bad news. In just the last month, we’ve seen stock markets tank, unemployment skyrocket, every big fun thing we could think of get called off, and more and more people dying by the day. And really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, it seems.

I don’t know about you, but I could use some good news.

To that end, we figured that this week we could take a look at some of the solutions rather than just the problems, for once. Previously, we’d examined how developers could help beat the COVID-19 pandemic, looking not only at resources but the various hackathons that sprang up in response. Well, some time has passed, thons have been hacked, and there are some results to explore. Without further ado, three COVID-19 hackathons have announced their winners and we present them to you here today as examples of what technology can do to help in our current circumstances.

First, the Pandemic Response Hackathon recently wrapped up and announced the winning projects, which were pulled from 230 submissions by more than 2,000 participants, and were organized along four tracks — public health information, epidemiology and tracking, health worker safety, and secondary effects of the pandemic. This particular hackathon chose four winners for each category, which might be a bit much to include here, but they range from things like Cov2words, a chatbot-based hotline that advises you whether to get tested for COVID-19, to the Airspar Inflatable Field Hospital, a design for an inflatable negative pressure tent that can be used to quickly scale up hospital bed capacity, to the WhatsInStock, which shows New Yorkers (for now) where they can find things like toilet paper at nearby stores, to reduce the number of trips they need to make.

Next up, the CodeVsCOVID19 hackathon wrapped up with four more winning projects (including a repeat in Cov2words from the Pandemic Response Hackathon). doctor@home, for example, offers self-monitoring and intelligent medical triage for COVID-19 patients confined at home, while WeTrace offers the possibility of finding out if you were in contact with someone that was tested positive, and Detect Now uses deep learning to detect coughing related to COVID-19 from recordings.

Lastly, the CODEVID-19 weekly hackathon has announced one winner each week, as submitted by 1,500 developers from 50 countries. The first week (which was like a year ago in pandemic time) was a COVID-19 dashboard called covid19.pink, which the team managed to get out within a few days of the hackathon start. Next, WeHaveWeNeed.com provides a marketplace to bring together people with needs with the people who can help, while this week’s winner is Charity Shop Exchange, which offers a book and DVD subscription service to combat isolation, all while working with local charities.

This Week in Programming

  • Deploying WebAssembly on Kubernetes: First up, running WebAssembly on Kubernetes just got easier with the introduction of Krustlet, the WebAssembly Kubelet, released by Deis Labs and Microsoft. The name alludes to the project’s make-up, which is that it is a Kubernetes kubelet written in Rust. Deis Labs offers a comparison of WebAssembly binaries, which “can run anywhere regardless of underlying hardware” to Linux containers, which “are designed to provide an OS-level sandbox environment” but cannot run on differing hardware, calling the two technologies a complementary pair. “Krustlet is not intended to replace the Kubelet,” they write. “When run together, clients can run both traditional Linux container workloads and WebAssembly workloads in the same cluster. Applications written in WebAssembly can communicate with applications compiled in Linux containers, and both types of workloads can interact with the rest of the cluster in a similar manner.” Right now, the open source project is in its earliest stages, but stay tuned.
  • Rust Ponders GitHub Actions Versus Azure Pipelines: The Rust programming language team has been evaluating the use of GitHub Actions over Azure Pipelines and has offered an update on its GitHub Actions evaluation, reporting that they expect a decision in the coming months. While the team is still evaluating one versus the other, they say that they expect GitHub actions to greatly speed up the CI process. “The main difference our contributors are going to notice is a big reduction of our CI times. In the current Azure Pipelines setup builds regularly take more than three hours to finish (with 60 parallel two-core VMs), while we expect the new GitHub Actions setup to take less than half the time to finish a build, thanks to a dedicated pool of eight-core VMs GitHub generously prepared for us,” they write. If you happen to be mulling over the difference between the two services, why not let someone else do the research for you?
  • Scratch Enters Top 20 of TIOBE Index: Keeping tabs on the monthly release of the TIOBE index of programming language popularity (according to searches), DevClass notes that the low-code kids programming language Scratch has entered the top 20. The index’s Paul Jansen offers the explanation that “there are in total more than 50 million projects ‘written’ in Scratch and each month 1 million new Scratch projects are added, it can’t be denied anymore that Scratch is popular,” while DevClass proposes that children staying home from school is also a likely culprit for the visual language’s suddenly increased popularity.
  • In Search of COBOL Developers: While COBOL may be a 60-year-old programming language, it ranks at #25 on the TIOBE Index, just slightly more popular than Rust, and this week it took the spotlight as the U.S. unemployment surge highlighted the dire need for COBOL skills. According to a story here on The New Stack by Lawrence Hecht, when faced with a 1,600% increase in usage, New Jersey’s unemployment system simply couldn’t handle the load, and the governor sent out a call for help. If you think the solution is just to move on, Hecht writes that “Just because something is ancient doesn’t mean it should be euthanized. In fact, the most common approach towards COBOL applications is modernization, not retirement according to an ongoing survey of over 500 people involved with COBOL systems.”
  • Node.js Release Schedule Affected by COVID-19: There’s little out there remaining unaffected by the pandemic, and release schedules are no exception. Recently, the Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge teams announced delays to their release schedules, and now Node.js is doing the same, saying it “will be adjusting its release cadence in response to adjusted work schedules.” So, if you’re the sort of person who has those release dates synched on your calendar, you might want to take a gander.
  • On Bread Making: While we’re at it, we see that you and everyone else has taken to bread making. We get it — we’ve been at it for some time now ourselves, as it’s cheap, fun, and allows you to make bread without any of those preservatives or high fructose corn syrups you find in store-bought bread. So, on that point, we thought we’d offer up a tool we ran across this week that helps you schedule your sourdough bread making. It comes with recipes (by weight, the only way to go) and offers a scheduler, with alarm clocks and all.

 

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