Thursday, February 28, 2013

Africa, it's time to innovate

 Africa's future prosperity lies in its embrace of technology and innovation.  It's the key to the continent's much-desired renaissance.  That was one message that came strong last year at the Africa Innovate Conference of the Africa Business Club of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School.
That message is set to resonate again with only few days to yet another Africa Innovate conference.  The conference, a unique pool of tech-savvy and entrepreneurial Africans will hold on March 15 and 16, 2013 at the MIT Media Lab.
For those who only see Africa through the lens of wars, hunger, poverty and hopelessness, it is an opportunity to encounter a different Africa, and come face to face with innovative minds and enterprising young Africans, the continent's Mark Zuckerbergs and Larry Pages.  The passion they exhume is infectious and their vision for their homeland remarkable.
I attended last year's and was remarkably struck by the wit, innovative thinking, entrepreneurial energy on display.  It gives tremendous hope about the future of Africa.   This experience is a good healing for Afro-pessimism.
For those who only see Africa through the lens of wars, hunger, poverty and hopelessness, it is an opportunity to encounter a different Africa, and come face to face with innovative minds and enterprising young Africans, the continent's Mark Zuckerbergs and Larry Pages
Africa is rising and the Africa Innovate conference is one place to discover this.  The speakers are remarkable young achievers and their stories are compelling, and the discussions quite incisive.
The students will this year host as guest, the World Bank Vice President for Africa, Senegal-born UK trained economist Mahtar Diop, as they discuss investment opportunities in Africa.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shocking facts about Oscar Pistorius' murder case

Ahead of the last year's London Olympics, there was intense debate about whether Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee have unfair advantage over his natural-legged counterparts.  Scientists were as divided on the matter as were ordinary sports enthusiasts.

As the debate raged, a team of scientists were gathered at Rice University to figure out just what was going on with Pistorius's body. The team included Peter Weyand, a physiologist at Southern Methodist University who had the treadmills needed to measure the forces involved in sprinting. Rodger Kram, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was a track and field fan who studied biomechanics. Hugh Herr, a double amputee himself, was a renowned biophysicist.
Was it cold-blooded murder, as police claim, or did Pistorius think he was shooting at an intruder? Lawyers will argue, a verdict will be reached and observers around the world will debate, but only one man knows the answer, and he's sitting in a holding cell, awaiting word on whether he'll go free before South Africa's trial of the century
The trio, and other experts, measured Pistorius's oxygen consumption, his leg movements, the forces he exerted on the ground and his endurance. They also looked at leg-repositioning time—the amount of time it takes Pistorius to swing his leg from the back to the front.

Africa takes to the skies in technological drive

 How long will Africa remain a consumer society only, ponders Kofi Ashilevi, director of the fledgling Ghana Space Science and Technology Centre. "Do the sceptics think Africa does not have people with intellectual capabilities to do real science?"
The director had been asked whether African countries could justify science training and infrastructure, when there was pressure to deliver basic services. Ghana and Kenya, with the help of South Africa, are pioneering radio astronomy in Africa by converting old and obsolete communications dishes into radio telescopes, with other countries showing increased interest.
However, the decision that South Africa and its partner countries — Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Zambia — will host 70% of the €3bn Square Kilometre Array (SKA), has changed perceptions about the continent’s ability to do science, and increased African countries engagement with science.
But the African VLBI Network, which is what the project is being called, is separate from the SKA, but will lay the groundwork for the leviathan telescope, says SKA associate director Anita Loots, who is leading the project. Last year, the African Renaissance Fund agreed to put R120m towards the project.
With four radio telescopes, the continent will be able to have its own VLBI network, "and then we can own all the science", Ms Loots says. The African VLBI Network is based on very long baseline interferometry — a radio astronomy technique which involves observing a single object through a number of telescopes simultaneously, so that all the telescopes act in effect as one very big telescope.
South Africa has been involved in international VLBI networks since the 1970s, with its dish at Hartebeeshoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in Gauteng. HartRAO MD Mike Gaylard says: "We (the observatory) are the reference point for the survey system in SA.
"We measure continental drift; we are critical for geography, measuring polar motion and where all the continents are going; as well as providing an absolute reference for all GPS stations in Southern Africa."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Car that drives itself using iPad

Scientists in Oxford University have created a car that can be driven by via iPad by a driver miles away.
"The scientists behind the system say it is far superior to conventional satellite navigation because it is much more precise – reading to within a fraction of an inch compared with a few yards with sat-nav – and the car does not need a satellite reference to know where it is," reports Daily Mail of UK.
RobotCar, a specially adapted Nissan Leaf electric car, has small cameras and lasers built into its chassis. When the car is driven manually the lasers and cameras act as its ‘eyes’, mapping a 3D model of its surroundings, which is fed into a computer stored in the boot.
The car can then ‘remember’ roads and suburbs, allowing it to drive itself along familiar routes.
It asks the driver via an iPad on the dashboard whether they want to engage the autopilot and, at a touch of the screen, the car takes over the controls.
A laser under the front bumper scans the direction of travel around 13 times per second for obstacles, such as pedestrians, cyclists, or other cars, up to 164ft ahead and in an 85 degree field of view.
If the car sees an obstacle, it slows and comes to a controlled stop. The driver can also tap the brake pedal, like in current cruise control systems, to regain control from the computer at any time.

Read more

Are scientists normal people?

Scientists are different from other people. For example, a recent American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology survey of young scientists showed the top factor for choosing a career in science is "freedom to pursue my intellectual interests". Only on moving down the list to No 4 and No 5 is there more typical job-related concerns, such as "job availability/security" and "pay/benefits".
This is not particularly surprising. It's not that we do not want to be paid decently for our work. We do! But it's clear that as scientists, our career choices were not particularly influenced by earning potential. It's interesting that my grandfather, an immigrant to Canada, was accepted to medical school – despite the official quota of Jews allowed into the programme each year – but had to drop out because he couldn't afford it. With a similar interest in science, his son (my father) also ended up in medical school, but managed to complete his studies. Tempted by research, a bad experience turned him back towards the clinic. At that time (please note that the inherent male chauvinism in this statement in no way reflects my views!), Jewish immigrants in Canada apparently had a saying: "What do you call a good Jewish boy who can't stand the sight of blood? A lawyer."
The point that I'm trying to make is that for those of us in science today, successful careers are not measured by Fortune 500 standards, or by salaries and bonuses. Instead, academic freedom is the gold standard.
This is not to say that scientists live in an ivory tower and piddle around all day, doing whatever they please with no external pressure. My colleague Sylvia McLain recently wrote an interesting piece titled "Like butter over too much bread" discussing that Forbes has recently ranked "university professor" at the top of the 10 least stressful jobs. I suspect that no one involved in compiling that list spent any time shadowing a real university professor or witnessed the overwhelmingly hectic types of schedules we endure. Some time ago, I did my best to try to portray an average day at work; believe me, that is no exaggeration.

Facebook hacked

Facebook Inc., operator of the largest social network with more than 1 billion members, is working with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to probe a malware attack, people with knowledge of the matter said.
Facebook said Friday that it was subjected to a "sophisticated attack" by hackers last month, without saying where the attack originated. Investigators haven't found any evidence that user data was compromised, Menlo Park, Calif.- based Facebook said on its website. The people who discussed the FBI's involvement asked not to be identified, citing the sensitive nature of the probe.
Facebook, which stores information on users, often grapples with attempted breaches. It has a team dedicated to detecting and responding to attack attempts, pays bounties to outside programmers who help identify malfeasance and said it successfully prevents attacks the "vast majority of the time."

Friday, February 8, 2013

20 year-old mother accused of witchcraft burnt alive

A mob stripped, tortured and bound a woman accused of witchcraft, then burned her alive in front of hundreds of horrified witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town, police said Friday. It was the latest sorcery-related killing in this South Pacific island nation.
Bystanders, including many children, watched and some took photographs of Wednesday's brutal slaying. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country's two largest newspapers, The National and the Post-Courier, while the prime minister, police and diplomats condemned the killing.
Leniata, a 20-year-old mother, had been accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in a hospital. She was tortured with a hot iron rod, bound, doused in gasoline, and then set alight on a pile of car tires
In rural Papua New Guinea, witchcraft is often blamed for unexplained misfortunes. Sorcery has traditionally been countered by sorcery, but responses to allegations of witchcraft have become increasingly violent in recent years.
Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old mother, had been accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in a hospital on Tuesday.
She was tortured with a hot iron rod, bound, doused in gasoline, and then set alight on a pile of car tires and trash in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen, national police spokesman Dominic Kakas said.  (Click here for photo of the barbaric burning)

Nine year-old girl gives birth

A 9-year-old Mexican girl, under the reported name of Dafne, gave birth to a baby girl on Jan. 27, 2013 in Jalisco, Mexico.
Both mother and child are at home and healthy, Dr. Enrique Rabago, director of Zoquipan Hospital, said at a press conference this morning.
The search continues, according to authorities, for the baby’s 17-year-old father, who may be criminally charged for having a sexual relationship with Dafne.
“She did not realize that she was pregnant until the seventh month”
“Due to her young age, we don’t know if she is being entirely truthful,” says Lino Ginzalez Corona, spokesperson at Jalisco State Prosecutor’s Office, who received an account of the relationship from the young mother who describes a loving relationship.
According to Corona, the 17-year-old and Dafne were dating but the young girl is unwilling to release any further information regarding the association between the two.

Gunmen kill 9 health workers in Nigeria

Gunmen have shot dead at least nine health workers who were administering polio vaccinations in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, police say.  The attacks on Friday morning in two different locations in Kano.
"Nine people were killed in two separate attacks by gunmen on [motorised] tricycles when they attacked two dispensaries where polio immunisation workers were preparing to go out for polio campaigns," police spokesman Magaji Majia said.

Read details here

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rape victim jailed for crying out, journalist jailed for reporting it

Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab controls southern Somalia

Somali male journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, is facing jail time. His crime? Interviewing a woman (also facing jail time), who claimed to have been raped by soldiers.
Court officials claim that there is medical evidence that the woman had not been raped and that she and the reporter had insulted the government in suggesting otherwise. This story is only the latest demonstration in Somalia’s general attitude against women — uncaring and unyielding.
Human Rights Watch Africa Director Daniel Bekele condemned the arrests as a “politically motivated attempt to blame and silence” as well as point out how often rape cases go under-reported due to fear of backlash. A United Nations official has also condemned the results of the case while the U.S. Department of State has since given a press statement displaying concern.
Experts have ranked Somalia as one of the worst places in the world for women to live. The sheer amounts of discrimination and sexual violence against women living in the country is frankly, disturbing. In militia-controlled areas of Somalia, any speck of hope shines dim.
Women’s rights activist Lisa Shannon interviewed a woman whose father was killed when he refused to force his daughter into sexual slavery by the militia known as Al-Shabaab. She was also brutally gang-raped by Al-Shabaab officers in front of her family.

Facebook developing app that will track your every move – even when it’s turned off

Facebook is developing a new smartphone app to track the location of users in an effort to target them with localised adverts, according to reports.
The app will help users to find friends who are nearby, alert them when it detects one in close proximity even when the app is not open on the handset, it is claimed.
It will be just one of a whole suite of mobile apps Facebook is building up to help it profit from the increasing proportion of its users who access the social network on the go.
But privacy campaigners warned it was another example of 'profit trumping privacy' and called the function 'intrusive'.
Facebook's privacy policies already warn users that the social network may use location data to 'tell you and your friends about people or events nearby, or offer deals to you that you might be interested in.'
The new app would help Facebook target advertising to users based on their location and their daily habits, helping corporate clients to reach the audiences they feel are most likely to want their products.

Plans for the app were leaked to Bloomberg by two people 'with knowledge of the matter', the financial news service said.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Food waste is eating up billions in the US

Americans talk a lot about government waste. But some of the most astonishing waste occurs in how Americans produce and consume food.
According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. What does that cost? It translates to $40 billion a year in losses just for households, the report estimates, and $90 billion overall.
40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. What does that cost? It translates to $40 billion a year in losses just for households
The report includes other mind-numbing figures. The average American throws away 33 pounds of food every month. With the amount of water that goes into food production, 25 percent of all freshwater in the United States is wasted. It costs $750 million just to dispose of all the wasted food, and food waste accounts for about 4 percent of total U.S. oil consumption.
"One billion people are malnourished even though the world produces enough food to feed twice the world's present population."
Food is wasted in all parts of the world, and most waste occurs in production. But, through over-purchasing, spoilage, and plate waste, consumers waste an enormous amount of food, and North Americans are by far the worst offenders.