Linked List: October 7, 2020

How Excel’s Row Limit Caused Loss of 16,000 COVID Test Results in England 

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian:

A million-row limit on Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software may have led to Public Health England misplacing nearly 16,000 Covid test results, it is understood. The data error, which led to 15,841 positive tests being left off the official daily figures, means than 50,000 potentially infectious people may have been missed by contact tracers and not told to self-isolate. […]

In this case, the Guardian understands, one lab had sent its daily test report to PHE in the form of a CSV file — the simplest possible database format, just a list of values separated by commas. That report was then loaded into Microsoft Excel, and the new tests at the bottom were added to the main database.

But while CSV files can be any size, Microsoft Excel files can only be 1,048,576 rows long — or, in older versions which PHE may have still been using, a mere 65,536. When a CSV file longer than that is opened, the bottom rows get cut off and are no longer displayed. That means that, once the lab had performed more than a million tests, it was only a matter of time before its reports failed to be read by PHE.

The primary problem here isn’t Excel’s million-row limit; it’s the fact that if you import a CSV file that exceeds that limit, Excel doesn’t report an error. It just silently cuts them off, which is inexcusable. [Update: This tweet from Leon Zandman indicates that Excel does present an error message when it attempted to import a CSV file with too many rows or columns. Update 2: BBC News, without citing an explicit source, fingers the use of the old XLS Excel file format, which has a limit of just 65,000 rows of data.]

Everyone knows error messages are bad, but the reason they’re bad is the error part, not the message part. Not reporting errors just makes everything worse, by pretending that the errors aren’t even happening. (Apple, I’m looking in your direction.)

Also reminiscent of our cuckoo-in-chief’s unshakable belief that the solution to America’s COVID pandemic is to reduce testing, not reduce the number of infections.

‎Golf on Mars 

Speaking of iPhone games I love, one of my all-time favorites is Justin Smith/Captain Games’s 2014 classic Desert Golfing (yours truly: 5,001 strokes through 1,925 holes — really let myself slide after hovering closer to 2 strokes per hole).

Finally, a sequel: Golf on Mars. It’s exquisite. $3 (cheap!) in the App Store.

Up Spell 

Clever, deceptively simple new iPhone word game from Ken Kocienda (author of the excellent book Creative Selection and lead developer of the original iPhone keyboard, among numerous other accomplishments in his 15-year stint at Apple). Up Spell is like a fast-paced solo version of Scrabble. I enjoy so few games, I wind up linking to just about every one I do like — and I’m digging Up Spell. (I think I kind of stink at it, though, because while I’m decent at word games like Scrabble and Letterpress, I’m a slow thinker.)

$2 (cheap!) with no in-app purchase horseplay.

Netflix 4K Streaming on Mac Requires Safari on Big Sur and a Mac With a T2 Chip 

Netflix Help Center:

Mac computers support streaming in the following browser resolutions:

  • Google Chrome up to 720p
  • Mozilla Firefox up to 720p
  • Opera up to 720p
  • Safari up to 1080p on macOS 10.10 to 10.15
  • Safari up to 4K on macOS 11.0 or later


Netflix is available in Ultra HD on Mac computers. To stream in Ultra HD, you will need:

  • A Mac computer with macOS 11.0 Big Sur installed.
  • The latest version of Safari browser
  • Select 2018 or later Mac computer with an Apple T2 Security chip
  • A 60Hz 4K capable display (with HDCP 2.2 connection if external display).

(Erratic use of bullet-point terminating periods, sic.)

I almost never watch Netflix on my Macs, personally, but I didn’t realize that non-Safari browsers are stuck with 720p. Not sure what the deal is with that. But the fact that 4K support is going to require MacOS 11 Big Sur and a T2-equipped Mac (or, surely, all future Apple Silicon-based Macs) is an anti-piracy measure. I think the T2 has an HEVC decoder built in, so all the video decoding happens at that level, making it harder for anyone to pirate. It basically makes the video decoding chain on Mac very much like the video decoding chain on iOS devices, where we’ve had 4K streaming from Netflix for years.

As a “march of progress” indicator, I find this fascinating. Until recently, efficiently decoding 4K video in real-time was computationally impossible. Now, Macs are doing it not with their CPUs or GPUs, but with this extra T2 subsystem that’s primarily there for security.

White House Refuses to Say When POTUS Last Tested Negative 

Jake Tapper:

White House officials believe POTUS was infected at the event for Judge Barrett on Saturday Sept 26.

They will not say when POTUS last tested negative, raising questions as to whether he was tested at all between infection and the debate Tuesday Sept 29.

My theory ever since this White House outbreak erupted is that Trump had not been getting tested regularly, at all. The accurate tests aren’t painful but they are momentarily unpleasant (I got tested back in June), so I think Trump had been telling his doctors to just test everyone else around him, not him. I don’t think he was tested before the now-infamous super-spreader ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, I don’t think he was tested before the debate last Tuesday (which now seems forever ago, no?), and even after top advisor Hope Hicks got sick with coronavirus, I don’t think he got tested before heading out to campaign events in Minnesota and New Jersey last week.

They won’t say when last he tested negative because the answer is scandalous.