With Omicron spreading in the UK the potential for disruptions to Christmas plans are high, whether you’re limiting your contacts or have been forced to isolate. But the fact you can’t meet in person doesn’t mean all the festivities have to stop.
It will not be quite the same but you can still join your family and friends and have a good time virtually. Here are some ideas to help keep you connected over the festive period – whether it’s checking in for a chat or sharing entertainment.
Easy video calling
Video calls are most people’s first port of call. You can use almost any device with a camera, but tablets or laptops are the easiest to set up for longer chats if you have them.
Zoom is one of the easiest cross-platform services available with an app available for most devices. It can be used for free for up to 40 minutes at a time.
For those in the Apple ecosystem, FaceTime is built into every iPhone, iPad or Mac, is very easy to use and now you can send invites to those on Android or Windows for calls in their browser. Google users can use Meet on Android, in Chrome on a computer or iPhone and iPad apps.
Those sitting on their own should use headphones to avoid feedback and help keep conversations more natural, and shorter video chats are usually better to avoid fatigue. Place a tablet or laptop at the end of the table if someone can’t make a gathering.
Party games over video call
Chats can get old quickly, so why not try party games over video calls. Some things are easier to do than others. Charades is a natural fit: just prop up your video calling device and make your shapes to the camera.
Pictionary is also fairly easy to do over a video call using pen and paper, or you can use a shared drawing service such as the free Microsoft Whiteboard to see what other people are drawing on their screens or tablets.
Quizzes are a video chat favourite, too. You can try using Google Docs or similar services, but the old(er) fashioned way of pen, paper and a bit of screen sharing if any pictures are involved often works better.
Share films, TV shows and music over video calls
The latest addition to the growing list of video call activities is watching videos or listening to music at the same time. Apple’s new SharePlay offering makes this easy – it’s built into FaceTime as of the latest software updates.
While you’re on a FaceTime call you can start watching a TV, movie or playing music in an app that supports SharePlay, such as Apple’s Music and TV, Disney+, Pluto TV and TikTok, and it will sync up with the others on your call when you tap on “play for everyone”. It works on every Apple device, including the Mac or an Apple TV streaming box so you can watch the movie on the big screen.
Watch movies together without needing to call
If you’d rather not see the faces of others when watching a film, or you don’t use Apple devices, you can still watch on-demand services together remotely.
Disney+ has a feature called GroupWatch built in, which is easy to use and works on most devices. It lets you invite other people with a Disney+ subscription to join you to watch the content at the same time. Amazon’s Prime Video Watch Party can do similar via Android devices, computers in the browser or Fire TV devices.
Group watching on Netflix is more limited at the moment, requiring the free Teleparty Chrome or Edge browser extension on your PC, Mac or Chromebook, so it won’t work on your smart TV, phone or iPad, but you can text chat with other viewers in a bar to the side. The BBC launched a pilot service called Together last year that allows you to group iPlayer, Sounds, Bitsize, News and Sport on a computer.
But don’t forget, if you pause it your end for a quick pit-stop it’ll pause it mid-action for everyone else too, which they might not thank you for.
For a low-tech alternative you could just tune into a live broadcast on TV or stream and chat with WhatsApp.
Play video games remotely
Multiplayer and co-operative video games are big business and they can be exceptionally rewarding when you can’t physically be together.
Shared Christmas playlists or a roaring (digital) fire
If it is simply some of the communal Christmas atmosphere you are looking for, and live radio doesn’t quite cut it, then a shared music playlist might be the answer. Spotify is the best known for collaborative playlists allowing everyone to add tracks using either free or paid accounts. But you can at least share a basic playlist you’ve made by sending friends a link from the various apps for Apple Music, Amazon Music and most others services if they also subscribe.
For a bit of ambience, you can put a recreation of a roaring fire on your TV too, so you’re all watching the same mesmerising dancing flames. The easiest way is to play one of the surprisingly large libraries of fire videos on your streaming service of choice, be that Netflix, Amazon, YouTube or others. There are smart TV apps available too for most platforms. Just search for “fireplace”.
The Big Hit Show “Twilight is stupid; if you like it, you’re also stupid.” Why is there so much vitriol towards female Twihards? (Spoiler: misogyny.) In the first run of a series unpicking pop culture’s biggest moments – from the Obamas’ media company – Alex Pappademas starts by dissecting the wildly popular tale of teenage vampire love – and what the reactions to it say about us. Even if you’re not a fan, he raises some great questions. Hollie Richardson
Fake Psychic Journalist Vicky Baker captivated listeners with Fake Heiress and now she investigates the fascinating story of Lamar Keene, the go-to spiritualist of 1960s America. When he hung up his questionable crystal ball he decided to reveal the tricks of supposed psychics, and Baker asks if that too was a con while pondering the authenticity of the psychics who followed. Hannah Verdier
Deep Cover: Mob Land Animal lover, lawyer and switcher of identities Bob Cooley is the subject of Jake Halpern’s new season of the reliably mysterious podcast. Cooley was a top Chicago mob lawyer in the 70s and 80s, but what was the price when he offered to switch to the FBI’s side? This dive into corruption quizzes the key figures around him. HV
Chutzpod This lively, engaging podcast attempts to “apply a Jewish lens to life’s toughest questions”. Hosts Rabbi Shira Stutman and one-time West Wing actor Joshua Malina cover topics ranging from reality TV shows to the Jewish “New Year of the Trees”, via the recent hostage stand-off at a synagogue in the Dallas suburb of Colleyville. Alexi Duggins
Backstage Pass with Eric Vetro Eric Vestro is a vocal coach who’s worked with the likes of John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and Ariana Grande. Here, he entertainingly lifts the curtain on their craft, talking to them about their journey in a manner that feels genuinely intimate given their pre-existing relationships. Expect some enjoyably daft voice exercises too. AD
Chosen by Danielle Stephens
It’s fair to say that in the last couple of years the British monarchy has been put under a microscope for the way they handle their own family members, whether that be an heir to the throne and his American wife, or a prince embroiled in a civil sex abuse case. In a two parter titled Royally Flush, however, the Broccoli Productions’ Human Resources podcast goes back in time to investigate the royal family’s role in the slave trade in Britain, questioning how influential they were in trying to prevent abolition.
This is clearly a pandemic production as audio quality can sometimes be shaky, but the content is an important listen. As the country gears up to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee, writer and host, Moya Lothian-McLean takes us on an unexplored trip down memory lane, presenting fascinating insights into why – despite ample evidence that the monarchy was historically instrumental in propping up the slave trade in Britain – we haven’t heard so much as a sorry coming from Buckingham Palace, according to the program maker.
Never underestimate the skill that goes into making a good podcast. Over a year since Meghan and Harry’s audio production company Archewell signed a podcast deal with Spotify, they’ve only managed to release a single podcast. Hence, presumably the job ads Spotify posted this week, looking for full-time staff to help Archewell.
The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s refusal to block California’s net neutrality law (SB 822), affirming that state laws can regulate internet connectivity where federal law has gone silent.
The decision is a blow to the large internet service providers that challenged California’s regulations, which prohibit network practices that discriminate against lawful applications and online activities. SB 822, for example, forbids “zero-rating” programs that exempt favored services from customer data allotments, paid prioritization, and blocking or degrading service.
In 2017, under the leadership of then-chairman Ajit Pai, the US Federal Communications Commission tossed out America’s net neutrality rules, to the delight of the internet service providers that had to comply. Then in 2018, the FCC issued an order that redefined broadband internet services, treating them as “information services” under Title I of the Communications Act instead of more regulated “telecommunications services” under Title II of the Communications Act.
California lawmaker Scott Wiener (D) crafted SB 822 to implement the nixed 2015 Open Internet Order on a state level, in an effort to fill the vacuum left by the FCC’s abdication. SB 822, the “California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018,” was signed into law in September 2018 and promptly challenged.
In October 2018, a group of cable and telecom trade associations sued California to prevent SB 822 from being enforced. In February, 2021, Judge John Mendez of the United States District Court for Eastern California declined to grant the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction to block the law.
So the trade groups took their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has now rejected their arguments. While federal laws can preempt state laws, the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband services has moved those services outside its authority and opened a gap that state regulators are now free to fill.
“We conclude the district court correctly denied the preliminary injunction,” the appellate ruling [PDF] says. “This is because only the invocation of federal regulatory authority can preempt state regulatory authority.
The FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services
“As the D.C. Circuit held in Mozilla, by classifying broadband internet services as information services, the FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services. The agency, therefore, cannot preempt state action, like SB 822, that protects net neutrality.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supported California in an amicus brief, celebrated the decision in a statement emailed to The Register.
“EFF is pleased that the Ninth Circuit has refused to bar enforcement of California’s pioneering net neutrality rules, recognizing a very simple principle: the federal government can’t simultaneously refuse to protect net neutrality and prevent anyone else from filling the gap,” a spokesperson said.
“Californians can breathe a sigh of relief that their state will be able to do its part to ensure fair access to the internet for all, at a time when we most need it.”
There’s still the possibility that the plaintiffs – ACA Connects, CTIA, NCTA and USTelecom – could appeal to the US Supreme Court.
In an emailed statement, the organizations told us, “We’re disappointed and will review our options. Once again, a piecemeal approach to this issue is untenable and Congress should codify national rules for an open Internet once and for all.” ®
An existing drug called PARP inhibitor can be used to exploit a vulnerability in the way breast cancer cells repair their DNA, preventing spread to the brain.
For a long time, there have been limited treatment options for patients with breast cancer that has spread to the brain, sometimes leaving them with just months to live. But scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) have found a potential treatment using existing drugs.
By tracking the development of tumours from diagnosis to their spread to the brain, a team of researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre found a previously unknown vulnerability in the way the tumours repair their DNA.
An existing kind of drug known as a PARP inhibitor, often used to treat heritable cancers, can prevent cancer cells from repairing their DNA because of this vulnerability, culminating in the cells dying and the patient being rid of the cancer.
Prof Leonie Young, principal investigator of the RCSI study, said that breast cancer research focused on expanding treatment options for patients whose disease has spread to the brain is urgently needed to save the lives of those living with the disease.
“Our study represents an important development in getting one step closer to a potential treatment for patients with this devastating complication of breast cancer,” she said of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Deaths caused by breast cancer are often a result of treatment relapses which lead to tumours spreading to other parts of the body, a condition known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer. This kind of cancer is particularly aggressive and lethal when it spreads to the brain.
The study was funded by Breast Cancer Ireland with support from Breast Cancer Now and Science Foundation Ireland.
It was carried out as an international collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and the University of Pittsburgh in the US. Apart from Prof Young, the other RCSI researchers were Dr Nicola Cosgrove, Dr Damir Varešlija and Prof Arnold Hill.
“By uncovering these new vulnerabilities in DNA pathways in brain metastasis, our research opens up the possibility of novel treatment strategies for patients who previously had limited targeted therapy options”, said Dr Varešlija.
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