Contact tracing apps, escape room games, and two interviews

Ben uses a very old smartphone of mine, an iPhone 4S. He’s never been able to download any apps to it or to his Mac due to a problem with his Apple ID. It’s not something that has particularly bothered him because he’s a bit of a Luddite and only uses the phone as a phone – imagine that!

Since it’s likely we’ll all need to get a social contact tracing app I commandeered his phone and laptop today to sort out the problem. It’s was surprisingly time-consuming to resolve. The problem stemmed from his Apple ID still being associated with the New Zealand app store, which, given we haven’t lived in New Zealand for 6 years now gives you some indication of how long he’s had this issue for. I’m not sure whether it was because his phone is so old now but it simply wouldn’t load the page to switch the country and when it did eventually I inadvertently switched to the Albanian app store. When I did manage to select the right country the challenge became trying to accept the new terms which I couldn’t agree to on the phone and which wouldn’t load at all on the laptop. I was eventually successful after signing out of the app store and the iTunes store several times, deleting the app store cookie in the /~Library folder, restarting all devices multiple times, sending an increasingly cranky Ben out of the room to go and unblock the toilet – and let me tell you that a blocked toilet during lockdown is more frightening the running out of toilet paper – selecting the UK store in a web browser as well as in iTunes and rubbing my tummy while patting my head. He’s now able to download apps onto all devices. He also managed to unblock the toilet, thank goodness, and told Daniel he did it by sticking his electric toothbrush into the bowl.

It’s not clear when a contact tracing app will become available in the UK but Christophe Fraser from the University of Oxford was interviewed on The Andrew Marr show today about it and he says about 60% of the population will need to download and use it for it to be effective (the interview is posted below). Fraser says somewhere between 3-10% of the UK population have had coronavirus by this stage. The idea with the app is it will message you if you’ve been in contact with someone who is now showing symptoms of coronavirus or who has tested positive allowing you to isolate yourself so you avoid spreading it further while in the pre-symptomatic phase. The app uses Bluetooth and works in the background. As you move around the community it will build an anonymous database of people you come into contact with who also have the app. For instance, if you’re sitting next to a stranger on the bus who also has the app then both apps will exchange anonymous information. If you become symptomatic you will be able to send an anonymous message to all those people, including the stranger on the bus, to let them know. It’s really very clever and seems to work in the same way as the app developed for the BBC pandemic simulation in 2018.

Yesterday we played this game, Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin. A friend of ours who knows how much we enjoy escape rooms gave it to us last Christmas. Like an escape room, you can only play it once, and completing the game involves solving a series of puzzles to escape the room, or in this case, the cabin. It took us two hours and was great fun. The kids got bored after the first hour but they were a great help in that first hour and Daniel even solved the challenge involving dominoes. Escape rooms work best when you have a diverse team with different skillsets because all the puzzles are so different that it’s best to play on the strengths of each person to solve them. I definitely recommend it, especially at this time when all the real escape rooms are closed.


UnHerd interviewed Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the authors of the Imperial College paper that prompted stricter restrictions in the UK. Some important points from the interview:

  • The infection fatality rate in the UK is about 0.8%-0.9%
  • Ferguson thinks the UK should adopt the South Korean model to end lockdown (I wrote about South Korea’s strategy on my blog and if we adopt it this means schools and universities will remain closed for the foreseeable future).
  • The UK health service is not at capacity and nor have we exceeded capacity so far during the epidemic.

5 thoughts on “Contact tracing apps, escape room games, and two interviews”

  1. I would use an app if I knew lots of other people were using it, to make it worthwhile. I think it needs to be promoted by the government.
    Weirdly I was asking the girls tonight if they liked any board games. I have ordered the Abandoned Cabin and hope they don’t just grunt at me when I ask if they want to play it. There were mixed reviews for all the Exit games, with some saying too easy and some saying no idea what to do, but from the sound of it this sounds doable.
    I gave up on my iPhone 4 when it refused to play Pokemon, that was a long time ago. The iPhone 5 starting refusing Pokemon last year.

    1. I hope you enjoy the game! There are hint cards so maybe the people who found it too easy read all the hint cards? The people who found it too hard probably didn’t read the instructions thoroughly enough. It’s one game where you do have to read the instructions from front to back before you start.

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