Tech Sightings, December 4, 2013

Posted December 4th, 2013 at 9:17 pm (UTC-4)
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Katy Perry Puts Twitter Army on Standby

Pop queen Katy Perry, who has  a record 48 million followers on Twitter ,  told AFP that she is ready to put her force to good use. The 29-year-old star officially became an envoy for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday.

Volcano Alert: A System to Warn Us About the Next Major Iceland Eruption

With more than 30 active volcanoes, Iceland is one of the most tectonically active spots on Earth, and each eruption has the potential to send all of Europe into an economic tailspin. So a coalition of 100 European and US scientists calling itself Future­Volc has been working to get ahead of the problem.

Africa: Bleep Bleep – an Earthquake is Two Minutes Away

Developers at the University of California, Berkley have spent the last five years developing a system that uses the accelerometer – a sensor that measures the speed of the phone’s movement – and global positioning system (GPS) in smartphones to detect tremors.

How Facebook Contributes to Eating Disorders

In order to figure out how Facebook affects young girls’ sense of body image, researchers from American University in Washington D.C. asked 103 adolescent girls to complete 20-30 minute surveys over the course of a week. The girls were asked about their Facebook usage as well as  about their body image.

Google is Building Robots, These Demos Show Them at Work

Yes, Google is building robots. And not just self-driving cars, which, of course, are technically robots, but humanoids that can walk around and make cow eyes at you. It will probably be a while before anyone sees a Googlebot walking the streets. For now, the plan is to develop behind-the-scenes robots for use in manufacturing, warehouses and the like.

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates Put $9M Into EducationSuperHighway to Improve School Broadband

EducationSuperHighway, which lets schools test broadband speeds and guides them on how to secure better connections, is announcing a significant funding to help schools get on the fast track. The funding is being led by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Startup: Education fund and also the Gates Foundation, the charitable group led by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and his wife Melinda.

African Mobile Penetration Hits 80% (and is Growing Faster than Anywhere Else)

A new report on the African telecommunications market highlights that mobile penetration in Africa hit 80 percent in the first quarter of this year, and is still growing at 4.2 percent annually.

Teens in Asia Dominate Global Test; US Stagnant

Teens from Asian nations dominated a global exam given to 15-year-olds, while U.S. students showed little improvement and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or reading, according to test results.


Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Sightings, December 3, 2013

Posted December 3rd, 2013 at 8:58 pm (UTC-4)
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The Latest Theory is that the Creator of Bitcoin Is a Blogger

Despite the massive attention bitcoin has received this year, no one knows the true identity of its creator.

Apple Awarded Patent on Wireless Charging

The wireless charging patent includes the ability to power up desktops, as well as mobile devices.

Bitcoin Rises as South Korea’s Cyber Dough

Paris Baguette store becomes the first physical shop in South Korea to recognize Bitcoin as a form of payment, allowing its customers to buy its goods using the virtual currency.

Technology, Rules Keep Amazon Drone Delivery in Hangar, for Now Inc Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’ bold vision of delivering goods to millions of customers by using a fleet of unmanned drones is not likely to become a reality this decade.

5 Tech Innovations that Could Change the Developing World

Across the developing world, new technologies are helping to distribute resources for education, connectivity and health far and wide. Innovators are finding ways to make technology cheaper and therefore accessible to millions previously excluded by high costs.

Hydrobee Charges Your Gadgets with Water

There is something interesting doing rounds at Kickstarter, something which will be a dream come true as far as trekkers and travelers are concerned.

‘Web’: What it Means for the Whole World to Get Online

The new documentary ‘Web’ takes a close-up look at the One Laptop One Child program, contrasting the nascent online presence in rural Peru with established Western tech entrepreneurs and thought leaders. The film grapples with the nature of connected life and the cost of online actualization.

Coin: Stepping Stone or the Next Wave of Mobile Commerce?

An all-in-one device for credit and debit cards sounds both antiquated and too-good-to-be-true all at the same time. So which is it?

South Africa: SA-Developed ‘Smart Glove’ to Help Lepers

Innovative technology to help leprosy patients that was developed partly at the University of Cape Town is currently being tested in India.

Facebook Is Trailing Social Messaging Apps Globally

There is a race underway to be the global leader in over-the-top social messaging, and one of the latest surveys suggests Facebook, while still dominant in the U.S., is falling behind the upstart mobile players in the rest of the world.

Microtransactions, Subscriptions Will Define Next-generation of Games, says Avalanche boss

“Micro-transactions, subscriptions, and other biz models will be the next generation of games. It is that simple,” Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios founder and creative director Christofer Sundberg said.

Bill Gates & President Bill Clinton: Technology and the Value of Connectivity – Exclusive Interview

From medical vaccines to financial services to educational resources, connectivity is key. Bill Gates and President Bill Clinton explain the positive impact of being plugged in on a global scale.

Charting the Future of the Mobile Games Space

Gamasutra asks a few notable mobile game developers to let loose and make educated guesses about the future of the mobile game space.

4 World-Changing Products Dreamed Up by Bill Gates

Bill Gates has tons of ideas for products that would improve lives in the developing world, if only someone would build them. WIRED asked four premier product design firms to turn some of his notions into full-blown prototypes.

The Grand Vision for a Homegrown Silicon Valley in One of Joburg’s Most Notorious Neighborhoods

An ambitious new technology precinct for high-tech business incubation is planned for the heart of Africa’s most prosperous city.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Wi-Fi Solutions Fill Basic Gaps for Developing World

Posted November 29th, 2013 at 2:20 pm (UTC-4)
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A host of governments, United Nations agencies and tech companies, including Google, are working on projects aimed at providing developing countries with low-cost broadband Internet connectivity.


Google estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population lacks fast, affordable Internet access. To bridge the gap, the company has been experimenting with Wi-Fi-beaming balloons.


Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters,” says Google on its Project Loon Website.


While wary of the idea, Laura Hosman of Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology encourages creative solutions to help narrow the digital divide, given the explosive growth of mobile phones among “even the poorest of the poor.”


Least connected countries (LCCs), end 2012

And that makes Wi-Fi connectivity essential for the developing world’s six billion phone users.


Recognizing that need, Inveneo, a San Francisco-based non-profit social enterprise firm, built its largest project in Haiti – a long-distance wireless network that gave non-profit groups communications and Internet access following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.


The project then moved to build broadband connectivity in other rural parts of the world – no small task.


“You can’t just build something and then leave,” said Inveneo’s CTO Andris Bjornson. “I mean, you have to create … knowledge and … a human infrastructure to support the network.”


A Wi-Fi network has to have access to electricity or other power source, like solar power, an Internet connection two miles away from the project location, and a line of sight.


Longer-range Wi-Fi requires “special software to verify that there are … no mountains, no hills, no obstruction” in its path, Bjornson said.


Once the network is established, Inveneo trains partners in 25 countries to build capacity and run the projects.


Wi-Fi networks also need content and content providers. But Hosman says many ISPs avoid building infrastructure in poor, rural areas because they see no profit in it.


Nevertheless, Hosman considers any infrastructure that brings Internet connectivity to developing regions a step in the right direction because it is “infrastructure that’s missing, that is causing basic needs not to be met.”


“I don’t feel like it is necessary to separate out basic needs from the ability to communicate and … get information because you could define those as basic needs,” she said.


“Nobody would argue that someone would rather have Internet than eat,” said Bjornson.


But neither should “the importance of the Internet giving someone additional opportunities to … make more money that allows them to buy more bread” be underestimated, he added.

An Internet connection and the right application can let a farmer in remote parts of Asia or Africa, for example, track livestock and crop prices to help her make more informed decisions.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Welcome to TECHtonics

Posted November 27th, 2013 at 3:06 pm (UTC-4)
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Sometimes it’s hard to remember what things were like before cellphones and SMS messaging, or computers or email, or the Internet, radio or television. People used to have more face-to-face conversations, read more books, write letters, play Scrabble and Monopoly – scenes that seem more like faded photographs from another era.

Technology changed everything. And when computers and modems came along, they put the world in people’s hands.

Yes, software was buggy. And computers and modems were clunky. They supported graphics resolutions that are now relics in a museum of ancient technology – somewhere. But they played those MS-DOS games that no current-generation computer acknowledges. And yes, the Internet connection sputtered on that dim terminal screen. But you actually got things done.

But I will never forget the day – only a few years ago – when a friend, in a distant part of a developing world, received his first computer and connected to the Internet.

His world changed that day. It stretched and warped in every direction, opening windows within windows to new vistas and possibilities that were beyond his horizon before.

And so technology continues to shift the ground beneath our collective feet, much like the earth moves and rattles its plates – techtonically-speaking.

And as it continues to change lives, for better or worse, TECHtonics will keep you informed.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.