COVID-19 SmartWatch: Proof of Concept 1

What is it?

A SmartWatch for infectious disease eradication, free to everyone worldwide.

Underlying Thinking

  • COVID-19 is a global problem so we’ll only be safe when the last country is clear of the disease. We need a global solution.
  • The more data we have on the transmission of COVID-19, the faster we can react and the less we need to disrupt our lives unnecessarily.
  • A SmartWear solution brings the most advanced technology to the people and countries who need it most.

Key Features and Benefits

  • Built-in thermometer for accurate readings and early notifications of infection.
  • Manual entry of symptoms with a global or state-level decision tree for the diagnosis.
  • Built-in proximity sensor for tracing previous contacts, to automate selected isolation.  
  • Real-time display of daily infection rates worldwide, countrywide, and region wide.

Roll-out and Proof of Concepts

Our team is working on this solution in our spare time. We’re at the conceptual stage right now. If we’re able to build the device, the next step is to build grass-roots support to test it.

If we can prove that the device works at a local level, both to lower the spread of infection and lessen our periods of isolation, we’ll need state support to roll it out further.

What’s Next?

You.

As we develop the COVID-19 SmartWear Debugger, we’re also planning the distribution and gauging the likely appetite for adoption.

If you could imagine yourself wearing a SmartWatch, entering your symptoms, and joining a global effort to rid the world of COVID-19, please show your support by liking and loving this post and sharing it further and faster than any virus can travel.

Over to you.

Coronavirus The Game

Everyone’s talking about the problem. Let’s talk about the solution.

Coronavirus The Game

We all know the game now, it’s Corona vs Humans. Corona wants to wipe Humans out and Humans want to stop him asap. 

Corona is looking to work his way up the pandemic leader-board and position himself among the other shining examples of mass devastation. He’s got his eyes on the likes Spanish flu with a very respectable 50 million lives. 

Humans are looking to trounce Corona and leave him barely a foot-note in human history.

It’s game on!

Current State of Play

Corona got a head-start on humans and if I were Corona I’d be feeling pretty smug so far. I’d be thinking, I’ve barely used any tactics at my disposal (animal transmission, mutations) and I’m already causing havoc. The economic fall-out is well under-way just weeks in.

The bit I’d really like is the wave of inconsistent national policies. Half the world’s humans are in the brace position and the other half are barricading themselves in. It’s a dream scenario for Corona – a couple of tweaks and he could bounce around for years. 

Better still, humans are now talking about a ‘herd’ response, allowing Corona to infect everyone it can. When Corona hears about that, he’ll be rubbing his dirty hands with infected glee. He barely needs to do anything to win against these clowns.

Counter-Attack

Corona has had a good run at this. I’d say too good for a relatively weak virus. I propose we up the ante. 

If I were playing the game, as a Human race, I’d play to my strengths and exploit Corona’s weaknesses. In the nicest possible way, I’d cut Corona’s legs off.

That means bypassing governments. They’re too slow for this game and I wouldn’t want maverick politicians messing everything up. Corona would love that. 

So I’d be after a global solution, utilising the best of human technology and innovation in times of crisis. If he’s as smart as he says he is, Elon Musk may have to pause playing with rockets for a bit and help out.

I’d pull together the power of the world’s biggest corporations and get them working on this in unison. 

I’d ask Google to pull aside its best engineers to create a mobile app which tracks who we’ve been in close-proximity with, when, and for how long (hint: dating apps use similar tech). Then get the AI chaps involved and really turn nature on itself. 

As all humans start using the app to enter their symptoms, the app will work out who needs to be self-isolated. That would mean humans won’t have to isolate unnecessarily and they’ll be quickly alerted to any new outbreaks and mutations. Even new diseases will be stopped in their tracks. Google can hack this app in a week.  

I’d ask Apple, Samsung, and the like, to mass produce phones with the Corona-debugging app pre-installed. These companies would start production whilst the app is being developed. They’d need to do this in 2 weeks. 

Fedex and all our logistical friends can work out how to distribute these phones whilst Google is developing the software and Apple is building the hardware. I propose we parachute phones into countries if necessary – let’s not leave governments to distribute them. 

Within 4 weeks from our start date we could have ½ the world using our Corona app, cutting down his path in every direction.

By 8 weeks we’ll have Corona on the ropes, every attempted mutation spotted by our app and closed down before it sees daylight.

In just 16 weeks time, starting today, it’s GAME OVER!

In 3020, our Wikipedia entry will look like this:

Humans of the mid-Silicon era made extraordinary advances in the field of virus containment. In 2020, the first and last recorded cases of the deadly COVID-19 disease appeared just 6 months apart, cheating all expectations. COVID-19 was the last recorded human pandemic.

If you like the sound of this game better than the current live version, do say, and let’s start playing it for real.

Algorithms to Delight

Are you the sort of person to colour-code your keys or key-rings?

If so, you’re likely a bit of a nerd, sure, but you’ve made your life easier by applying a simple algorithm for finding a particular key amid a pile of other keys. If you’re not gaining a little pleasure every time your algorithm works, perhaps it’s time to start. It’s simple and clever.

I have no such system. I have unmarked keys everywhere. Any time I need to find one, I have to wade through linty jacket pocket after linty jacket pocket. If that doesn’t work, I’m off fumbling between the sofa cushions. And then I repeat the process.

After researching algorithms recently, I discovered that computer scientists call my type of key finding algorithm a “shit algorithm”. I get that. I leave the house frustrated every single time. My algorithm for finding keys is not delighting me.

My Algorithm for Delight

I have better algorithm though. In fact, my food ordering algorithm appears to be one of the best on the market, so I want to share it with you. It’s very simple.

I start by reading the menu top down, like normal people, and I stop at the first dish that catches my fancy. That’s the one I order. Then I put the menu down, and continue ogling the waitresses, Trump-stylee.

In the process of ogling, I completely forget about my food until I hear “who ordered the porcini mushroom lasagne?”. Then I pause my ogling and think: gosh, that sounds nice!

And suddenly it’s there, in front of me, exactly the dish I would have wanted if I’d chosen it myself. I’m delighted. My algorithm surprises and delights me, and my food tastes all the better for it.


Your Algorithm for Disappointment

That’s not your algorithm though. If I may hazard a guess, yours looks more like this. Read the starters a bit, but not really, and then move on the mains and dessert. You’re just glossing over at this point, picking out the odd sautéed potato perhaps. And then you go back to the start.

And, following the instructions of your algorithm, you perform this same process, in increasing degrees of agitation, as the growing volume of food data starts spinning your mind. Your head is now awash with asparagus and tiramisu. And you still haven’t decided.

With the time and effort it has taken you to read the menu, your blood sugar level has started to dip until you can barely read any more. And, even as the waiter comes over to take your order, you’re performing a final whirlwind review of the menu to make 101.1% sure you didn’t miss anything on your first 99 reads.

Your decision is becoming urgent, yet unbearable, and when you do finally have to commit to choosing something, you’re both fearful and exhausted. Yet, you can’t even relax after you’ve ordered. The next part of your algorithm – paranoia over future food envy – requires you to question your choice again and again, until you go all but nuts.

When your order arrives, you finally snap out of your slump, and like a starved prisoner finally receiving some sustenance, you devour your food not so much for the flavour but simply to stay alive. If the food is not as good as you’d hoped – as so often happens after the scrutiny you’ve invested in ordering – you’re disappointed, yet again.

These algorithm things are personal, of course, and only you can know whether your food ordering algorithm is as well tuned as it could be. For all I know, perhaps you get a perverse kick from hyper-anxiety just before eating and, like a gambler, you’re more addicted to failure than success.

With that said, I’ll leave you to ponder whether you want to take another look at your food ordering algorithm, just to make sure it’s really working at its full potential.

In the meantime, I need to find my keys. And wallet. And phone.

B**king No!

Open Letter to Alex Chisholm, Chief Executive of the Competition and Markets Authority

Dear Alex,

It will have come to your notice that Booking.com has finally agreed to stop price fixing in Europe, five years after the matter was brought to the attention of your competition authority (CMA).

According to the EU this concession by Booking.com may have come too late. It notes that Booking.com has achieved such an advantage in that time we may have already reached the “point of no return”.

I’m sure you don’t need reminding, but for the sake of my readers I’ll draw your attention back to the fact that the CMA attempted to assist Booking.com’s price fixing strategy.

In 2014, the CMA very nearly managed to enshrine price fixing in law by rubber-stamping a proposal by Booking.com that was so irrational it begged belief. Indeed, it was only because two travel agents took the matter to appeal that this proposal didn’t make it into the market and assist Booking.com further.

I must also remind you and my readers that the CMA not only sought to defend its position in court but also tried to pervert the course of justice by willfully withholding what the tribunal later termed “crucial evidence”.

Whilst I don’t want to distract attention away from Booking.com, which to this day deceiving customers with its Best Rate Guarantee, nor Expedia and Intercontinental Hotels, which persist with their price fixing strategies, I hold the CMA responsible for allowing Booking.com to get to the position that it was able to assert undue dominance over the hotel industry to the detriment of the consumer.

For all that, I don’t want to rake over old ground other than to draw people’s attention to the fact that the CMA was instructed by the tribunal to reopen its case against Booking.com. There’s no evidence that has happened in the six months since the order was made.

Whether or not that’s legal in itself, I am aware that the CMA is due to update the case in May and I trust that it will rule in favour of the consumer this time to restore the reputation of your competition authority.

Kind regards,

Dorian Harris
Founder, Skoosh

Deranged Marriages, Sanity on Trial

Next week we’ll come to the final chapter of a story crazy enough to rival Catch 22 and Alice in Wonderland.

It started with a call from the Fairest Authority in the Land (F.A.i.L), travelled across the Atlantic to the States, back across toOFC Calling Card continental Europe, and concludes next week in a court case where we’ll see the Competition Authority and the largest companies in the travel industry on trial, along with my sanity.

Jump back four years and you’ll find me sheltering by a wall in a pub car-park in Land’s End, the wind and rain sweeping in across the sea, my phone pressed tight against my ear to try and catch what these Fair people are telling me. I can just make out that they want to see me as a matter of urgency.

They would, of course. That part of the story was pre-written. I had reported industry-wide corruption, alleging a vast system of benefit cheats and arranged marriages, with lesser charges of racketeering, cannibalism and incest. There was no way this could be swept under even the deepest of legal rugs.

That night, after the warmth of a few ales dissipates, I will very nearly die of hypothermia in a sleeping bag and tent entirely unsuited to gales and driving rain, but I wake knowing that a story is coming together and it’s entering Hollywood territory.

The press were enchanted by my tale and more than one paper wanted to run it as a modern day ‘David & Goliath’. As much as I liked their enthusiasm, that wasn’t how I wanted the story pitched.

For a start, the original David wasn’t a snitch, nor did he take shelter behind an Authority with the power to whack Goliath so hard in the wallet he’d be living off food stamps for the rest of his natural born life. The journos got my point, toned down their copy, and even the less dramatic version made it to the front pages.

The middle chapters will have to wait for ‘The Book’. For now we jump forward three years. I’m sitting across the perfectly fair table, drinking perfectly fair tea, conversing with perfectly unreasonable people. They’re trying to convince me that the trio they’d investigated off the back of my complaints had put forward a compelling defence claiming they merit disability allowance on account of their being obese.

I may not have put it quite so mildly but I remember proposing that the defendants shouldn’t eat so much greasy food. The Fair Office told me it was none of my business what their clients ate. ‘I’m not worried about what they eat’ I said, exasperated. ‘I’m concerned that they’re claiming benefits and they’re not even married!’.

“To the extent that no evidence has come to our attention to evidence that assertion we have no reason to question our team” came the baffling reply. Perhaps seeing my dejection they tried to soften the blow for me.

“You can get married too”.
“I don’t want to get married!”
“Well, now you can. And you can even pawn your engagement presents”.
“Do what?!”
“If you don’t want to you don’t have to. We’re just saying you can if you want to”.
“But the others aren’t married themselves. They’re just masquerading as married to get benefits. I thought you got that”.

At this point the team of fair people all rose, held hands, and sang their chorus:

Show us evidence that they’re not married.
Show us the evidence.

(Repeat, ad infinitum)

With that ridiculous tune ringing in my ears I left the Fair building, dazed and confused, and determined to walk away to preserve my sanity. I hadn’t foreseen this part of the story and I planned to write myself out of it immediately.

And I really thought I’d made it, my normal ‘Truman Show meets the Big Lebowski’ life resuming, when I was approached by another giant, a gentle one this time, who also didn’t want to get married. She asked me to join her in an appeal. I politely declined, said she didn’t need me, that my part in this story was over.

Or so I thought. Weeks later I saw that this brave lady giant was taking the Fair Authority to an even Fairer Authority still and, more remarkably, the first Fair Authority was being defended by the original ’3 Goliaths’. This was truly horrible. It was like I’d summoned up the courage to shop the three biggest bullies in the school only to find the teacher I’d reported them to in bed with them.

This was a new and unexpected twist which I couldn’t ignore so I was back in, supported by a remarkable team of barristers and lawyers, all kindly assisting me without cost. Together we dredge through the legal detritus which has been building up all these years and for the first time in a while I’m feeling supported and optimistic.

But there’s also a nagging doubt in my mind. I’m writing and writing, crafting this entirely new chapter, but I can’t see where it’s going. I suspect I may be losing the plot.

As of now, I’m only just waking up to why I can’t win this case. No-one wants to see their teachers in the dock, defending themselves against the charge of ‘irrational and perverse’ behaviour.  If they’re defeated, then what? Do I have to go back to school and show them how they should do their job properly or do I risk them swanning off again with the bullies and coming back with something more absurd than they did in the first round?

I’m going to see this chapter through because I have to and I know that, whatever happens now, I can take comfort in the knowledge that there’s already a blockbuster movie here.

Even if it’s not likely to be the classic fairy tale of Good winning over Evil there’s more than enough material to play with here. This screen-play can blend the rational with the insane, fantasy with reality, feature a bit of glamour and a lot of pot. I’m picturing “Erin Brockovich meets Cheech and Chong”.

The case starts next Monday.

Open Letter to Gaucho Rasmussen, Enforcement Director at CMA

Dear Gaucho,

You’ll remember that earlier this year I applied for my barrister to receive a copy of the case the Office of Fair Trading (now CMA) took out against Expedia, Booking.com and Intercontinental Hotels. The case, as set out in the CMA’s ‘Statement of Objections’, detailed the possible areas of anti-competitive behaviour of the above defendants.

On that occasion, access to the Statement of Objections was denied to Skoosh’s barrister on the basis that it wasn’t relevant. However, now that Skoosh is challenging the CMA’s decision with the Competition Appeal Tribunal I feel that document is more relevant than ever and I am uncomfortable knowing that I am the only person to have a copy.

Whilst I take your point that the original case is the CMA’s, with Skoosh merely the complainant, I also see it as a matter of public interest. To put it another way, the UK tax-payer paid for a case which it never saw, which was concluded to the open dismay of not just Skoosh but also by large sectors of the travel industry, and which threatens to fundamentally change the way UK travellers book hotel rooms.

Without any legal assistance I can’t know with any degree of certainty whether the Statement of Objections contains any material which would be relevant in the tribunal. The CMA’s repeat reminders that unauthorized disclosure is a criminal offence makes me wonder whether there is anything in there. That said, I don’t need reminding and I won’t illegally disclose it under any circumstances but I would like your approval to disclose the case to my barrister at the very least. If he decides it is irrelevant we can ignore it of course.

On that basis, would you please reconsider my application to disclose the Statement of Objections to my barrister.

Kind regards,

Dorian Harris
Director, Skoosh.com

p.s. In the interests of transparency a copy of this email has been posted on my blog at dorian.skoosh.com

Closing Letter to the Office of Fair Trading

Hi Ingrid,

Thank you for taking the time last week to try and explain the proposal you have put forward on behalf of Expedia, Booking.com and IHG.

I still don’t understand it I’m afraid. I don’t understand how you expect it to work practically and I don’t understand how it can possibly be seen as a measure to stop Expedia and Booking.com further stifling the hotel industry.

I came to you saying that Expedia and Booking.com are preventing my company, Skoosh, from offering discounted hotel rooms by intimidating my suppliers. I told you that they’re also preventing hotels from offering deals directly to guests. I told you that they’re deceiving the public into believing that they have the best http://www.thecorsetcenter.com prices themselves. And I told you that they’re buying price comparison sites so they can spy on their competitors and force them to raise their prices.

That your proposal doesn’t solve my concerns is not an issue. The problem now is that you’ve left people in a state of confusion. As a public body, paid for by the tax payer, you’re duty bound to put out clear messages both to industry and the consumer. You’ve done neither. I’ve got travel agents, hoteliers, journalists, economists and lawyers asking me to make sense of your proposal and I can’t of course because I have no idea what you’re trying to achieve.

I’ve also got lawyers urging me to take this to a judicial review or all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. I don’t intend to do either. As sceptical as I am about the arrangement you’ve come to with the defendants, and as much as I’d like to challenge the absurd lack of transparency in your organisation, for my part I just want to have the details out here on public record and leave anyone else to take it up as they see fit.

Kind regards,

Dorian Harris
Founder, Skoosh.com

Open Letter to Martin Couchman, Deputy Chief Executive of the British Hospitality Association

Dear Martin,

Further to our recent conversation, I understand that it is awkward for you to involve the British Hospitality Association in the ongoing price fixing investigation in the hotel industry because many of your members are unsure about their legal standing. I now feel that’s exactly why you need to step in.

As we all know, there’s an elephant in the corner of this industry the size of the Ritz. We exist in this grey legal area of fixed prices or ‘rate parity’, a practice that underpins all our individual businesses. Yet no-one knows if it is legal. In the meantime we can’t move forwards or backwards because we’re too scared we’ll either be punished by the authorities or our trading partners.  Apart from a couple of major players, this industry is stagnating.

I am also now in an uncomfortable position in that I am being asked to assist hotels in a case which I no longer even hold as my own.  One wrote to me:

“I am aware of the devastating effect some OTAs have on the industry…We need all the help we can get and you seem to know the problem well”.

However, the OFT is no longer representing my interests. I am not sure who they’re representing any more but I do know that the commitments in their recent proposal, if accepted, will affect every one of your members in one way or another.

To be clear I was never asking you to come down one way or another in your position on this. I was only proposing that your members were made fully aware of what’s at stake with the commitments in the OFT’s proposal.

As much as I want to help my colleagues in the industry it is time for others to take over. As the representative of the British Hotel Association I’m hoping you can manage the way out of this. It would be wonderful if Britain could take the lead in solving this global problem.

I have taken the liberty of copying in Gaucho who is heading up the investigation for the OFT. Also, in the interests of transparency, I have put a copy of this correspondence on my blog.

Kind regards,

Dorian Harris
Founder, Skoosh.com

Another Final Open Letter to Clive Maxwell, Executive Director Office of Fair Trading

Dear Mr. Maxwell,

Thank you again for taking the time to reply.

Whilst I understand that the OFT doesn’t necessarily agree with the complainant about the nature of the problem nor indeed the solution, I am afraid that’s not a satisfactory response in this case because the OFT clearly hasn’t understood the industry. The net result is that it hasn’t solved anyone’s problems bar the defendants.

Legal Uncertainty

To remind you, I run a UK business and I came to the OFT more than 3 years ago to explain that I am severely hampered because my competitors are forcing me to sell at the same prices as them. It transpired that it wasn’t just happening to me but many other UK travel agents and thousands of UK hotels.

All these businesses, including mine, operate in an area of legal uncertainty. Meanwhile our ability to trade is severely restricted by a small number of companies that are benefiting from the same area of legal uncertainty. All I wanted to know, and now what all these businesses want to know, is whether this practice is legal or not because we can’t move forward without this clarity. The OFT has always told me ‘no-one is saying this is legal’. Three and a half years later I still don’t know what that means.

Illusion of Improvements

What’s concerned me in this particular case is that the OFT has put forward a solution dictated by the defendants which not only doesn’t tally with my complaint but that also demonstrates such a distinct lack of understanding of the hotel industry as to make it baffling.

Take the fact that the discounts the OFT has accepted Expedia and Booking.com proposes to make already exist in the market. ‘Closed groups’ are around already. My contention to the OFT was not that they didn’t exist but that they weren’t sufficient. Now the defendants have convinced your team that they’ve created something new. And, perversely, they’ve also offered an extra restriction on consumers accessing closed groups which benefits no-one but themselves.

Climate of Fear

So that’s one problem. Another was the OFT’s failure to understand the tensions in the travel industry. It doesn’t make sense to put out a public consultation in an industry that operates in a climate of fear and intimidation. That can’t be news to the OFT as I have sent it endless evidence to that effect, it’s everywhere on the internet, and publicized by Europe’s hotel association. For all that, it appears that the OFT doesn’t even offer much in the way of concrete security to those offering a response to the proposal and my guess would be that almost no-one has replied.

So there’s a proposal out there in the public domain which is almost unintelligible for all its flawed understanding of the industry. And it is awaiting a response from an industry that only endures the suffocating conditions because it is oppressed by the very defendants that have made this proposal.

Little faith in the OFT

Whether or not the OFT has responded to my complaint or the concerns of the industry is one thing. Perhaps the biggest worry about all this is the abject despondency of the UK consumers. They have precious little faith in your organization to protect them. Read any the comments on any of the huge number of articles written about the case and you’ll quickly see what I mean. Here’s a small selection from recent articles in the Sunday Times and Daily Mail:

– Hotels fix prices?  Get away!

– The OFT started investigation in 2010 and will report back soon. Has anyone told them its the latter part of 2013? It doesn’t take much thought to realize the OFT survives from public money and don’t know that the word efficiency means.

– that is truly shocking. think about it. its like your barrister colluding with the prosecution.

They’ve been told banks are too big to fail. And now they’re being told the travel companies are too big to fail. They didn’t accept the former and I think it’s even less likely they’ll accept the latter. Whilst I appreciate your replying to me it’s really the consumer that needs your response and I don’t think the commitments in the proposal even start to offer that.

Yours sincerely,

Dorian Harris
Skoosh

Final Open Letter to Clive Maxwell, Executive Director Office of Fair Trading

Dear Mr. Maxwell,

Thank you for kindly replying to my last open letter.

Since you wrote I have been petitioned by lawyers, economists, and high ranking officials in the travel industry to respond to your team’s proposal to ensure that it doesn’t get through unchallenged. However, I can’t find it in myself to respond or even attend one final meeting.

I had no experience of competition bureaus when I started my campaign three and a half years ago but I was aware of the enormity of the challenge I was making to the hotel industry. For various commercial and personal reasons I felt that I had to take this one on.

The backlash against Skoosh was inevitable and it nearly bankrupted us a company. My colleagues all stood by and supported me even though they knew their jobs would be compromised. In 2011 I had to take the painful decision to make most of them redundant.

Along with many other travel agents and thousands of hotels we continue to be bullied by Expedia and Booking.com on a daily basis. I have no confidence any more that the OFT will resolve this issue but take comfort in the expectation that competition authorities across Europe and the U.S. will take decisive action against this abuse.

It is disappointing to see the OFT pandering to the specious concerns of the defendants. I see the OFT’s passive approach both as a direct cost to the consumer and, worse, a cost to society as it will give further confidence to big businesses looking to trample over their suppliers and competitors and even customers.

For all that I am now officially removing myself from the consultation process so I can return to my business and my life. I hope you can and will do whatever necessary to ensure the OFT’s case doesn’t undermine those of your European counterparts.

Yours sincerely,

Dorian Harris
Skoosh