Bushfire prediction tool can simulate dangerous ember showers and fire-generated thunderstorms

On January 6 and 7, 2016, a dark, dense and rotating plume of smoke grew over the West Australian towns of Waroona and Yarloop.

Known as a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, it brought thunderstorms, lightning and strong winds.

What followed were intense ember attacks, which went on to destroy the town of Yarloop and kill two people.

The extreme behaviours of pyrocumulonimbus clouds and ember attacks have made some of Australia’s biggest bushfires significantly worse — not only due to the volatility of these phenomena, but because they are difficult to predict.

But after years of struggling to predict bushfire conditions, researchers believe they have built a helpful tool which may curb the impact of these events.

Spark Operational, developed by the CSIRO and the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services (AFAC), is a simulator that produces predictions, statistics and visualisations of bushfire spread.


Similar to other simulators, it combines specific and localised weather information with topography, fuel loads, vegetation type and on-the-ground fire behaviour information to simulate and predict the path of a fire over six to 12 hours.

But Spark has the ability to easily incorporate new developments in science as they occur.

And with the increasing scale of bushfires in Australia, researchers and firefighters know they need every tool at their disposal to help protect lives and property from some of the more extreme fire behaviours of ember attacks and fire-generated thunderstorms.

Ember showers a major threat

Fire-generated thunderstorms form by intense updrafts from the heat rising from the fire — similar to the way a thunderstorm develops.

The danger is these thunderstorms can produce sudden and very powerful downbursts of wind that can quickly whip up fire behaviour, including spot fires and lightning.

A diagram of a firestorm: Fire causes an updraft, which creates strong gusty winds. A pyrocumulonimbus cloud forms, which can extinguish the fire but may cause more lightning.(



Ember attacks are often linked to the powerful downbursts from the pyrocumulonimbus clouds, but have also been known to develop when there are gusty, erratic winds conditions in certain topography.

DFES WA rural fire division executive Mark Bowen said ember showers had caused fires to expand significantly, so predicting their likelihood and spread was important.

“In the past, we’ve had examples of fires in Sawyers Valley heading south-west and then jumping the Mundaring Weir — a whole dam — to start a fire on the other side,” he said.

The platform has been under development for six years, with Phase 1 of the rollout having just begun.

A log smoulders after a bushfire rushed through Yarloop
A log smoulders after a bushfire rushed through Yarloop and the surrounding area, January 9 2016.(

Supplied: DFES


CSIRO Spark project lead Mahesh Prakash said while current fire simulators were helpful, there were limitations to their utility.

Dr Prakash said scientists often struggled to incorporate new prediction research into existing simulators, and had been stymied by the lack of a consistent national platform.

“The main thing is the consistency across all states,” he said.

“There is [also] a lot of scientists in CSIRO and universities and BoM who are working on new fuel models and ember transport models.

“Spark will be able to bring those into operational practice much sooner that the normal process it takes to get it onto operational systems.”

Accuracy of weather forecasts boosted

There are currently ember transport models used in simulators, but Dr Prakash said they relied on empirical data.

A “more robust”, physics-based ember transport model is being trialled on the Spark platform, through collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology.

Two men from DFES stand in building between desks
Jackson Parker, from DFES in WA, and Mark Bowen say fire simulators have provided huge benefits in battling fires(

ABC: Tyne Logan


DFES WA director of bushfire technical services Jackson Parker said WA’s simulation tool, Aurora, had been a “game-changer” in fire prediction since its introduction a decade ago.

But he said Spark’s additional functionalities — particularly its ember transport model and potential to incorporate atmospheric effects, like fire-generated thunderstorms — would bring benefits.

Mr Parker said having a second modelling option would also strengthen the accuracy of forecasters’ predictions.

Fire storms a research challenge

Reliable models for predicting fire-generated thunderstorms are still in development, with several research organisations trying to better understand the physics behind their occurrence.

Bureau of Meteorology fire, heatwave & air quality team leader Bradley Santos said there were a few factors that made the storms so difficult to predict.

“The first one is that it requires an interaction of the weather and the fire and there’s also the complicating factor of the local variations of the weather due to topography and fuel,” he said.

A huge smoke cloud over a large landscape of hills and trees.
Spark is aimed at helping predict fire clouds like this one in Queensland’s Darling Downs region in the midst of the Ravensbourne bushfire.(

Supplied: 17 Mile Cottage


While research has helped shed light on fire-generated thunderstorms in the past, there continues to be a significant gap around creating a prediction model that can tell if and when they will occur.

Spark will not be able to predict firestorms until there is sufficient research to support it, but Dr Prakash said the simulator would eventually be able to incorporate it — something other models could not do as quickly and easily.

“You’ve got research projects that take three to five years to reach a point where it can be operationalised, or in some cases, that research just stays there,” he said.

“Whereas now what we’ve got is a system that self translates that research into something that can be operationalised.”

The technology’s development has received funding from the Minderoo Foundation and is expected to become fully operational, with its additional functionalities, in the next two-to-three years.

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Indigenous patients anonymously report racism in health care with new online tool

Hundreds of Indigenous patients in B.C. have been using a new online tool to anonymously report the racism they’ve experienced within the health-care system. The initial demand for the tool has been so high that creators are aiming to expand the platform across the country next year.

The platform Safespace, currently run through the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres website, allows people to share their experiences at a health-care facility and rate it on a five-point scale.

“I’ve experienced racism personally in the health system. I’ve observed it. I’ve been there with family members… who’ve gone through the same situations,” Canadian Medical Association president-elect Dr. Alika Lafontaine, who created the tool, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Since the app launched in November, it has recorded approximately 1,500 complaints and stories from Indigenous patients and their family members.

A lot of people “didn’t feel safe sharing them with the health system,” Lafontaine said, adding that those who did report incidents were ultimately disappointed with how things ended up.

This discontent could be because a health-care provider wasn’t disciplined or because there wasn’t any change in a facility’s methods overall. And Lafontaine explained that for many patients, complaining publicly has only served to strain their relationships with their doctors, leaving them in “worse place than if they’d said nothing at all.”

The app was launched on the heels of an investigative report released in November 2020, which found troubling, widespread racism against Indigenous patients in the B.C. health-care system. Another report in the province found Indigenous people also have less access to primary care doctors, less access to primary care providers for seniors and lower rates of cancer screening than non-Indigenous people.

Similar disparities are being seen across Canada, highlighted by high-profile incidents such as the case of Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman in Quebec who recorded herself being insulted by health-care workers before she later died.


Lafontaine, an Alberta-based anesthesiologist of Anishinaabe, Cree, Metis and Pacific Islander descent, said the idea was partially sparked by his brother and Safespace co-founder who was subjected to racism.

“He said, ‘it doesn’t matter what type of privilege I accumulate — whether I’m a business leader or highly educated, or contribute to the community –when I put on that [hospital] gown, I’m just another Indian.”

Lafontaine chose to partner with the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres for the first phase of Safespace rollout because those centres are places people already trust when it comes to patient advocacy and emotional and social support.

The group has 25 facilities across British Columbia and during the first half of this year, workers will be offering workshops to help familiarize the community with the Safespace tool.

Leslie Varley, executive director at the BCAAFC and member of the Nisga’a Nation, told CTVNews.ca over the phone that “to one extent or another, we all experience racism.” She said this can involve health-care providers in emergency rooms falsely assuming patients are drunk or them being disregarded or roughly treated during hospice care.

Without collecting personalized data, Safespace anonymously catalogues incidents to flag potential issues in the future, and identify patterns or prevalent issues in certain facilities or across the province — and lobby them to change.

“Our hope and intention is… to take that data and use it very specifically at one hospital or clinic, or health-care clinic or [address] systemic racism overall,” Varley said, adding she encourages health-care providers themselves to report things they witness, since they might not do so out of fear of putting their job at stake.

Varley said a lot of the complaints so far are from Indigenous doctors and health-care workers who say “they’re not feeling safe at all.”

Next year, she said the National Association of Friendship Centres, which boasts a network of more than 120 facilities, will be further expanding the program.

Dr. Alika Lafontaine


Lafontaine said one of the short-term goals will be to “help patients to make more informed decisions about where they access care.”

“For example, if they realize racialization is an issue within emergency departments in and around a certain place in B.C., they can choose to move to a different place of care or if they have to go there… they can at least go and be prepared.”

But he said this data should force health-care providers to look inwards.

Lafontaine explained doctors, nurses or other health-care providers may have inadvertently learned racist ideas in school, which have been reinforced in the field. “But once you become aware of the harm you do have a responsibility to stop it.”

“We can create that normalcy of being an anti-racist… where we have to go to create change in the system but that’s going to take stories,” he said, hoping that the app helps in “creating the opportunity of a new narrative in health care.”

Lafontaine hopes Safespace prevents people from feeling alone and baring the “the weight of history on their shoulders.”

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Researchers design a new highly-selective tool to study — ScienceDaily

Researchers have developed a new tool to study ‘undruggable’ proteins through the sugars they depend on. Almost 85 percent of proteins, including those associated with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, inflammation, and certain cancers, are beyond the reach of current drugs. Now, with a new pencil/eraser tool, researchers can start to study how sugar molecules affect these proteins, insights that could lead to new treatments for the ‘undruggable.’

Sugar has been called “evil,” “toxic,” and “poison.” But the body needs sugars, too. Sugar molecules help cells recognize and fight viruses and bacteria, shuttle proteins from cell to cell, and make sure those proteins function. Too much or too little can contribute to a range of maladies, including neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, inflammation, diabetes, and even cancer.

About 85 percent of proteins, including those associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are beyond the reach of current drugs. One critical and abundant sugar (O-GlcNAc, pronounced o-glick-nack) is found on over 5,000 proteins, often those considered “undruggable.” But now, researchers at Harvard University have designed a new highly-selective O-GlcNAc pencil and eraser — tools that can add or remove the sugar from a protein with no off-target effects — to examine exactly what these sugars are doing and, eventually, engineer them into new treatments for the “undruggable.”

“We can now start studying particular proteins and see what happens when you add or remove the sugar,” said Daniel Ramirez, a co-author on the paper published in Nature Chemical Biology and a Ph.D. candidate in biological and biomedical sciences in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “This is turning out to be very important for a lot of chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes and Alzheimer’s.”

Ramirez designed the original O-GlcNAc pencil, which was reported in ACS Chemical Biology.

All cells carry a multitude of sugars (called glycans), but they’re notoriously hard to study. Current tools either provide a wide-lens view (turning on or off all the O-GlcNAc in a cell) or an ultra-zoomed in view (turning on or off a single sugar on one amino acid on one protein). Neither of these perspectives can show what O-GlcNAc molecules are doing to a protein as a whole, the crucial insight that would enable researchers to connect the dots from O-GlcNAc to disease.

“With the protein-level approach, we’re filling in an important piece that was missing,” said Christina Woo, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology, who led the study. Her lab’s tool is like Goldilocks’ lukewarm bowl of porridge: Not too broad, not too specific. Just right.

“Once you have any protein of interest,” said first-author and postdoctoral scholar Yun Ge, “you can apply this tool on that protein and look at the outcomes directly.” Ge engineered the O-GlcNAc eraser, which, like the pencil, uses a nanobody as a protein homing device. The tool is adaptable, too; as long as a nanobody exists for a protein of choice, the tool can be modified to target any protein for which a homing nanobody exists.

The nanobody is a crucial component, but it has limitations: Whether or not it remains stuck to the target protein is still in question, and the molecule could alter the function or structure of the protein once stuck. If cellular changes can’t be definitively linked to the sugar on the protein, that muddies the data.

To skirt these potential limitations, the team engineered their pencils and erasers to be “catalytically dead,” said Woo. The neutered enzymes won’t make unwanted changes along the way to their target protein. And, they can both add and remove sugars, unlike previous tools, which cause permanent changes. Of course, once they connect a specific protein function to O-GlcNAc, they can then use those tools to zoom in and locate exactly where those sugars are latching onto and modifying the protein.

Already, a few of the Woo lab’s collaborators are using the pencil/eraser combo to study O-GlcNAc in live animals. One, for example, is using fruit flies to study how the sugar impacts a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The sugar is also associated with Parkinson’s disease progression: “If you’re taking in less glucose,” said co-author Ramirez, “then you’re not able to produce this sugar inside the cells.” That means the body can’t attach the sugars to the proteins, which causes wide-reaching changes to the cells, aggravating the disease. In diabetes, excess sugars cause similar global disruption; and cancer cells tend to eat lots of sugars. Now, with the Woo lab’s pencil/eraser pair, researchers can identify exactly how these sugars impact various proteins and start to design drugs to reverse negative effects.

Next, the team plans to tweak their tool to achieve even greater control. With optogenetics, for example, they could switch sugars on or off with just a flash of light. Swapping out nanobodies for small molecules (used in traditional drug design), they could edge closer to new treatments. They’re also designing an eraser for the eraser — a tool with a kill switch — and plan to incorporate nanobodies that can target a naturally-occurring protein (for this study, they tagged proteins so the nanobody could find them). “We’re basically trying to make the system more natural and function the way the cell does,” said Ramirez.

Woo also plans to investigate how O-GlcNAc may influence traditionally “undruggable” proteins called transcription factors, which turn genes on and off. If O-GlcNAc plays a role in that process, the sugars could be engineered to study and regulate gene function, too.

“We really don’t know what people are going to find once we give them these tools,” said Ramirez. The tool may be new, but the potential is great: “We’re on the iPhone one, basically,” he continued, “but we’re already working on the next couple generations.”

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Antique & Collectable Hand Tool Market

Antique & Collectable Hand Tool Market

Antique & Collectable Hand Tool MarketAntique & Collectable Hand Tool Market

HTPAA | Hand Tool Preservation Association of Australia Incorporated



Outdoor market on Sunday 21st March at the National Steam Centre, 1200 Ferntree Gully Rd, Scoresby. (Eastlink Freeway adjoins the Steam Centre).

This is the venue where the HTPAA hold displays during the Melbourne Steam Traction Engine Club’s annual Steamfest held on the March long weekend.

The Tool Market will be on a lawned area and will will run from 9am to 2.30pm.

Entry will be $5 per person.

❊ When & Where ❊

Date: Sunday 21st March 2021

Times: 9.00 am to 2.30 pm

❊ Venue ❊

 National Steam Centre  Events 5
⊜ 1200 Ferntree Gully Rd Scoresby | Map

National Steam Centre1200 Ferntree Gully Rd, Scoresby, , 3176

✆ Event: (03) 9876 2742 | Venue: (03) 9763 1614

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❊ Be Social ❊

❊ Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update ❊

As Victoria takes action to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), events may be cancelled at short notice. Please confirm details before making plans | Disclaimer

❊ Web Links ❊

Antique & Collectable Hand Tool Market

→ www.ozwrenches.com

→ www.htpaa.org.au

→ Scoresby Steamfest 2021

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Tool time at Canberra women’s shed empowers members to get handy and upskill during COVID-19 pandemic

In many respects, women have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic more than men, so it makes sense that 2020 is the year Canberra got its first women’s shed.

Similar to men’s sheds that can be found in many towns across Australia, Canberra’s women’s shed is a place to learn new skills and connect with other people.

Skye Haffner counts herself lucky she still has paid work, unlike other members of the group.

“It started off with a lot of women unfortunately losing their jobs during the pandemic,” she said.

“The women’s shed is there to help women upskill or learn new roles or things like that so I think if anything, the women’s shed has been birthed out of the pandemic.”

The shed is the baby of friends Sunita Kotnala and Robby McGarvey, who conceived the project while working alongside each other at their local community garden.

“We primarily really wanted to focus on tools competency, because while growing up no-one really encouraged us to use any tools or repair things,” Ms Kotnala said.

Robby McGarvey (left) and Sunita Kotnala started the shed earlier this year.(ABC News: Susan McDonald)

But what do you do when you have ambitions for a women’s shed and no shed? You ask for one — in this case a big one.

Sunita and Robby walked into Fyshwick recycled timber business Thor’s Hammer and requested regular access to its commercial workshop.

“We had a chat with Thor and he said ‘yeah, that’s a good idea, I would like to consider it’, and we sent him a proposal and he accepted and that was it,” she said.

Owner Thor Diesendorf agreed to free up a workbench for the women and a cabinet to keep tools, goggles and high-vis vests.

“We’ve got quite a lot of women working here doing apprenticeships and it just sort of seemed to fit in with the business,” he said.

“We let them use our space on a Saturday morning when we’re not quite as busy in production and it’s been working quite well.”

Every woman has a different story to tell

Ms Kotnala admits she was “really bored” with life under coronavirus, before deciding to set up the women’s shed in September.

She had experienced the concept in Sydney and was surprised one did not exist in Canberra when she moved to the capital in March.

A young woman inside a workshop holds a hammer and stands smiling at the camera.
Members can learn from professionals like Lola Munday, an apprentice cabinet maker at Thor’s Hammer.(ABC News: Susan McDonald)

Ms Haffner, who also recently moved to Canberra and is working in the administration side of a major construction firm, said joining had been a learning experience.

“But it’s also made me a lot more confident in potentially if I buy a house soon … renovating, things like that, it just makes me a little bit more empowered to pick up a tool or use things around the home.”

The group now boasts 64 paid-up members who are discussing offering a “pay it forward” option to help more women who may be struggling to join.

The women come from a range of backgrounds and ages — from skilled carpenters to young mums wanting to repurpose old furniture and retired women who desire the confidence to hang a picture frame.

The workshops so far are as diverse as their members — covering chair upholstery, sustainable flower arrangement and “edible suburbia” but the main focus is on learning how to use tools.

“How to hold a drill, how to hold a saw, how to measure things,” Ms Kotnala said.

“Many of our members are living on their own now, living in smaller apartments and they really wanted to learn new skills and work with tools and do basic handyman jobs in their residence, and also express their creativity.”

It’s difficult to imagine a more inspiring place to learn than Thor’s Hammer, a Willy Wonka-like factory for lovers of bespoke floorboards, doors and furniture.

The Women’s Shed projects are more modest — Sunita’s working on a wooden cover to conceal a downpipe — but just as full of purpose and heart.

While the women bring in their own trainers, they can also draw on the guidance of the professionals around them like apprentice cabinet maker Lola Munday.

“It makes me realise how far I’ve come because when I first started I didn’t even know the difference between a drill or a driver,” Ms Munday said.

The group also hosts workshops at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands Education Centre and from next year the Hughes Community Centre.

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New prognostic tool predicts the need for ICU among COVID-19 patients

Researchers in the UK have developed a prognostic tool that accurately predicts whether patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the agent causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – will require admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), die, or survive without escalation to ICU.

“We have developed a dynamic risk score to predict escalation to ICU or death within the next 24 hours,” says Timothy Card and colleagues from the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Nottingham.

The researchers say the tool discriminated well between patients who would and would not require ICU admission (or die) and was better and predicting this need than current prognostic tools.

The risk scores currently used do not generally account for the dynamic changes in severity of disease on a daily basis during the hospital admission period, say the researchers.

“We have shown that incorporating daily measurements of clinical observations and blood tests improves the accuracy of both the prediction of prognosis and of resource demand in secondary care patients with SARS-CoV-2,” they write.

If validated in other populations, the findings suggest that such a tool could provide a warning that an escalation of care and certain ICU resources are going to be needed.

A pre-print version of the paper is available on the medRxiv* server, while the article undergoes peer review.

The challenges faced by health services

Throughout 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented strain on health services, bringing some systems to a state of near collapse.

The need to redirect resources has probably increased the risk of mortality due to other illnesses, says Card and the team. As the pandemic undergoes further waves, limited resources will again need to be focused on the severely ill while trying to maintain the care of patients with other health problems.

During the first wave of the pandemic, a number of prognostic and prioritization scores were developed.

“Ideal scoring systems would allow safe and early discharge of those that would not be likely to require ongoing hospital care, while at the same time enabling prompt escalation of care for those with deteriorating disease,” say the researchers.

The scores currently used are generally based on clinical and laboratory parameters measured at a single time point (usually hospital admission), but clinical decisions regarding escalation of care must be made throughout the disease course.

Some scores are designed for more dynamic use through the disease course, but they are not disease-specific, says Elliott and colleagues.

“A simple score which is intended to be both dynamic and optimized for SARS-CoV-2 might, however, be expected to perform better and with levels of disease rising again such a scoring system would be of great value,” they write.

What did the researchers do?

The team conducted a retrospective, observational study of all patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection who were admitted to Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) NHS Trust between 1st February and 30th November, this year (2020).

Patients (n=2,964) were divided into a first wave group (those admitted up to 30th June; n=1,374) and a second wave validation group (those admitted thereafter; n=1,590).

Daily status of patients from day of suspected COVID diagnosis

Daily status of patients from day of suspected COVID diagnosis

The NUH electronic records incorporate comprehensive sociodemographic, clinical and laboratory variables, including all measurements recorded throughout the admission period. Complete information was also available for escalation of care, death, or for 30 days follow-up after hospital discharge.

By linking this information to baseline data at presentation, the researchers were able to retrospectively analyze the performance of scores across the whole of the admission period.

“We have therefore set out to develop a truly dynamic and SARS-CoV-2 specific score,” they write.

The model precisely predicted the need for ICU

Among the first wave group, 593 patients were eligible for ICU escalation, and among the validation group, 958 were eligible for ICU admission.

The model was able to predict the daily need for ICU admission, death or survival without escalation of care with good precision through the admission period. Furthermore, the tool predicted this daily prognosis better than previously established scores.

In the validation group, the score exhibited excellent discrimination but had to be recalibrated because it overestimated escalation and death.

“This is likely to reflect the change in demographics and clinical practice between the first and second UK wave, given changes in escalation practice and introduction of the use of steroids in patient treatment,” explains the team.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers say the study has shown that incorporating daily measurements of clinical observations and blood tests improves the accuracy of predicting prognosis and resource demand in secondary care patients with SARS-CoV-2.

“Clinical application of such a dynamic score could be used to prompt clinical review to ensure the timely escalation of care, and to predict the need to increase or repurpose critical care capacity at an operational level in hospitals,” concludes the team.

*Important Notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

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Web scraping is a tool, not a crime

My worry is not unfounded. A vaguely written US law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes accessing this kind of information in programmatic ways a potential crime. The decades-old law was introduced after lawmakers saw the 1983 movie WarGames and decided the US needed an anti-hacking law that forbids anyone from using a computer “without authorization or exceeding authorized access.” 

While the law may have been well-intentioned and has been used to prosecute people who download things from their work systems that they’re not supposed to, it also catches a lot of other people in its widely cast net, including academics, researchers, and journalists. 

What does “exceeding authorized access” mean in an age of social media? Does an employee who has access to a database of research journals for work and uses them for private purposes exceed authorized access? Does a reporter like me who gathers information using automated processes and her own Facebook account commit a crime?

Until now, interpretations of the law have ping-ponged from court case to court case, relying on various judges to give us a better definition of what exactly it means to exceed one’s authorized access to information. But soon the US Supreme Court will rule on the law for the first time, in the case Van Buren v. United States. Nathan Van Buren, a police officer, had access to confidential databases for work and sold information he looked up there to a third party. The court heard opening arguments on November 30 and could announce its decision any day.

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Victoria develops tool to rapidly track mystery coronavirus cases

An Australian-first tool designed to track mystery cases faster has been developed in Victoria, saving epidemiologists hours of time in contact tracing investigations.

The “Mystery Case Tracker” was invented in-house by Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) epidemiologists and public health experts and uses contact tracing data to quickly generate digital diagrams that can map the links between cases and contacts, and their movements.

The visual-map tool started being used to investigate mystery cases in September and will be used to help public health experts in future cases as the fight against the virus continues.

The tracker enables contact tracers to process data quickly from different sources to help detect and trace outbreaks and contacts faster, to better stop outbreaks in their tracks.

The tracking tool is fed contact tracing data and generates a digital diagram that maps the links between cases and contacts and their movements.(ABC News)

The tracker’s development follows strong criticism of Victoria’s contact tracing system for being slow and clunky during the height of the state’s COVID-19 second wave.

The Prime Minister dubbed New South Wales the “gold standard” that every state should be aiming for.

By comparison, experts said Victoria’s healthcare system was under-resourced and over-centralised.

But now, Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said Victoria was ready to share its new tool with other states.

“Staying one step ahead of this incredibly infectious virus means continuing to advance our case and contact tracing systems, to keep our community safe,” Mr Foley said.

“Finding the link between people, places and times is the key to outbreak investigation and management — the team have done an amazing job to build this new tool that allows these investigations to be done quickly and robustly.”

The Victorian Government said the tool would continue to evolve with expanded location abilities and automated alerts about potential new outbreaks.

It could also go on to be used to help with tracking other infectious diseases.

“We’ve all got a part to play to protect ourselves and those we love from this virus,” Mr Foley said.

“Whether it’s the public health team who are working around the clock, cases providing accurate information to help them do their work, or every Victorian who is staying at home and getting testing when they’re sick — we thank you.”

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Build a COVID-19 Self Assessment Tool with Google Forms

How to create a self-assessment form for COVID-19 that your employees and students must complete prior to entering the work premises. The form will automatically send a confirmation email to the respondent based on the results of their self-assessment.

Published in: Google Forms

Businesses and schools worldwide are using Google Forms to build COVID-19 self-declaration forms that employees, students and visitors must complete every day before they can attend work. Here is a sample COVID-19 Health Screening Form – if the answer is “yes” to any of the questions, the person is expected to stay home.

After a respondent submits the form, a confirmation email is sent to them instantly with the Email Notifications add-on. The email is like a clearance certificate detailing whether the person can attend work or not. If they are allowed entry, the email also contains a dynamic QR Code that can be scanned and verified at the entry point.

Send Conditional Notification Emails

The conditional notifications feature of the Google Forms add-on automatically determines if the respondent should be sent the “Allowed to enter premises” email or not. It looks at the form’s answers and compares them with the specified criteria to make this choice.

COVID-19 Health Screening Questionnaire

For instance, if the employee has entered a value greater than 100.4 in the temperature field, they are sent the “Work from home” email. Similarly, they are not allowed to attend work if they selected any value other than “None of the above” for the symptoms question.

To enable this workflow with Google Forms, you are required to create two email rules – one rule for employees that have passed the self-assessment test and the other rule for people who are required to work from home based on their self-assessment.

Rule 1: Allowed to Attend Work

Create a new rule for the respondents and set the conditional notifications as shown in the screenshot.

Allowed to Attend Office

You can put {{Email Address}} in the email field and this will be replaced with the respondent’s email address that is submitted in the form entry. If you have a Google Form that is restricted to your school or organization, the email address of the submitter will be automatically recorded in the form entry.

For the email template, you can use the QR Code function that will add a dynamic image in the outgoing email with the form answers.

Email Template

Rule 2: Work from Home

To save time, duplicate the previous rule and edit the conditional notification to send a different email to people who aren’t considered fit to attend office and should continue working from home.

If you compare this conditional logic screen with the previous one, you’ll notice that it uses OR instead of AND with different criteria indicating that if either of the conditions is true, the email should be sent.

Any condition matches

Demo Check-in Google Form

If you would like to test this self-assessment tool, fill this COVID-19 Google Form and you’ll receive an instant confirmation email with the result. Here’s a copy of the email sent by the Google Form when the respondent passes the self-assessment.

Check the Form Notifications user guide to learn more about the features of the add-on.

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New AI Tool Promises Faster, More Accurate Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Researchers have developed a new artificial intelligence algorithm that can accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s by detecting subtle differences in language.

According to researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, the algorithm promises to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s without the need for expensive scans or in-person testing.

In fact, they say the software not only can diagnose Alzheimer’s, at negligible cost, with more than 95 percent accuracy, it is also capable of explaining its conclusions, allowing physicians to double check the accuracy of its diagnosis.

“This is a real breakthrough,” said the tool’s creator, K.P. Subbalakshmi, founding director of the Stevens Institute of Artificial Intelligence and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Charles V. Schaeffer School of Engineering. “We’re opening an exciting new field of research, and making it far easier to explain to patients why the A.I. came to the conclusion that it did, while diagnosing patients. This addresses the important question of trustability of A.I .systems in the medical field”

It has long been known that Alzheimer’s can affect a person’s use of language, according to the researchers. People with Alzheimer’s typically replace nouns with pronouns, such as saying “He sat on it” rather than “The boy sat on the chair.” Patients might also use awkward circumlocutions, saying “My stomach feels bad because I haven’t eaten” instead of simply saying “I’m hungry.”

By designing an explainable A.I. engine that uses attention mechanisms and convolutional neural network — a form of A.I. that learns over time — Subbalakshmi said she and her students were able to develop software that could not only accurately identify well-known telltale signs of Alzheimer’s, but also detect subtle linguistic patterns previously overlooked.

The research team trained the algorithm using texts produced by both healthy subjects and Alzheimer’s sufferers as they described a drawing of children stealing cookies from a jar. Using tools developed by Google, Subbalakshmi and her team converted each individual sentence into a unique numerical sequence, or vector, representing a specific point in a 512-dimensional space.

Such an approach allows even complex sentences to be assigned a concrete numerical value, making it easier to analyze structural and thematic relationships between sentences, Subbalakshmi explained.

By using those vectors, along with handcrafted features that experts identified, the A.I. system gradually learned to spot similarities and differences between sentences spoken by healthy people or those with Alzheimer’s. That led it to determine with “remarkable accuracy” how likely any given text was to have been produced by an Alzheimer’s sufferer, Subbalakshmi said.

The system also can easily incorporate new criteria that may be identified by other research teams in the future, so it will only get more accurate over time, she noted.

“We designed our system to be both modular and transparent,” Subbalakshmi explained. “If other researchers identify new markers of Alzheimer’s, we can simply plug those into our architecture to generate even better results.”

In theory, A.I. systems could one day diagnose Alzheimer’s based on any text, from a personal email to a social media post, she said.

First, though, an algorithm would need to be trained using many different kinds of texts produced by known Alzheimer’s sufferers, rather than just picture descriptions, and that kind of data isn’t yet available, she added.

“The algorithm itself is incredibly powerful,” Subbalakshmi said. “We’re only constrained by the data available to us.”

In coming months, Subbalakshmi hopes to gather new data that will allow her software to be used to diagnose patients based on speech in languages other than English. Her team is also exploring the ways that other neurological conditions, such as aphasia, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and depression, can affect language use.

“This method is definitely generalizable to other diseases,” said Subbalakshmi. “As we acquire more and better data, we’ll be able to create streamlined, accurate diagnostic tools for many other illnesses too.”

Subbalakshmi and her doctorate students Mingxuan Chen and Ning Wang presented her work at the 19th International Workshop on Data Mining in Bioinformatics at BioKDD 2020.

Source: Stevens Institute of Technology

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