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iSmile – The Tech Report: 17 -21 February 2014

MONDAY

Last week the i-smile report focussed on a very important international meeting that was taking place in the tiny Overberg town of Kleinmond.

The meeting saw some very serious conclusions taking place between members of the grouping that represents the world’s strongest developing economies.

This grouping is known as BRICS, which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA.

It ended with delegates visiting our SKA site in the Northern Cape and the signing of the Cape Town Declaration, which you have to admit, has quite a nice ring to it.

Tasliema Viljoen speaks on behalf of the host – our Department of Science and Technology

Now what that means is that the CT Declaration becomes part of the official to which bureaucracy each country will presumably be allocating budget.

Tasliema says they also re-affirmed a memorandum of understanding to be signed in Brazil in July.

So considering previous i-smile reports it does make sense that our fields of expertise be radio astronomy and space sciences.

I mean, we are building the SKA and the Meerkat, have one of the world’s few digital planetariums, have placed our first CubeSat into orbit and helped India and the U.S with some of their space explorer monitoring, including Mars missions.

We did the same with a very recent Space-X launch from Bredasdorp, so we are fairly well versed in space sciences.

While the gathering can be seen as yet another money-wasting talk shop. Tasliema says they have some very definite plans going forward.

I love the sound of that – countries purposefully sharing some of their propriety information to help each other grow.

And for us Tasliema says in the end, the benefit goes to all South Africans, especially the youth and students.

And like Tasliema don’t believe THAT is a pipedream.

If only in the field of science and tech, we certainly have the potential to become a fully-fledged knowledge economy.

TUESDAY

I have mostly been steering clear of games and gaming news and reviews.

That’s largely because the gaming culture largely escapes me; the truth is, I see it as complete and total arbitrary self-indulge.

Until now that is.

I have found a game that strips away all that is fancy and graphically superior about games and gives it a very worthy cause to boot.

Last week, Cancer Research UK launched the smart phone game “Genes in Space” and by most accounts it is loads of fun with a purpose a mobile game that helps with cancer research.

Researchers usually trawl through vast amounts of faulty DNA data to determine patterns that lead to cancers.

With the help of gamers around the world, playing means you help the researcher’s achieve results in hours, as oppose to weeks.

This fun number crunching helps to identify patterns of faulty DNA and chromosomes that cause cancer.

If you don’t understand it that’s fine just accept that you are doing a lot of good by playing this free game – steering your space ship through colourful galaxies shooting down asteroids and looking for targets known as “element alpha.”

That is from the online introduction to “Genes in Space”.

As games go, this is quite a lot of fun, although very serious gamers will find it basic with little to no what is known in gaming circles as “replayability factor.”

Technically speaking I am sure there are many things wrong with this game that must be improved upon, but it’s finally taken the selfish out of gaming; doing good while having fun.

And if that doesn’t draw you in; at least one online reviewer notes it’s not all that bad and comes with a certain stickiness that makes you want to go back and play again to increase the difficulty and reach the next level.

And it’s not the first time a game is being employed for research purposes.

A previous game “Cell Slider” was PC-based and helped to analyse archived tumour samples.

Genes in Space can be played on both android and Apple devices and can be downloaded from APP stores online.

WEDNESDAY

Technology is taking over just about everywhere, so it’s no surprise that it would have a strong presence in the world of toys.

Oddly, no kids attended the American International Toy Fair in New York.

It is a trade show that draws adults who manufacture, design, distribute and collect toys.

This year’s gathering is again a toy lover’s paradise of all things fun and games from slack lines that test your balance and work your core, to a talking Despicable Me-2 Minion and a 3-wheeled scooter that you propel with your hips instead of your feet.

It has special flex tech that allows you to carve, drift and apparently do some very cool 360s.

Isabel Carrion speaks for America’s Toy Industry Association.

She points out that many of the toys emerging have a strong technology angle.

By way of example there are blaster guns that come equipped with camera, so you can record your battles and hits.

Smart watches for kids made a strong showing.

And then there’s the Bluetooth-enabled Wikibear.

Why does that remind me of chucky from the Child’s Play horror movies??

Well luckily today’s kids don’t have a clue what I’m talking about!

But that does prove that there’s a thin line between scary and cute.

The toy fair started off with the toy of the year awards also known as the industry’s Oscars.

And girl’s toys took home most of the prizes here.

And while technology is undoubtedly taking over, actual physical toys are fighting back the old fashioned way, with the unbeatable creative imagination.

The arts and crafts toy Rainbow Loom won hands down and Entrepreneur Barbie is also a firm favourite, although she does come with a mini plastic tablet and smartphone.

But the Toy Fair had enough physical toys requiring actual tactile interaction to keep us old timers happy.

The toy fair is aimed at trying to determine which toy will be the must have for the coming Christmas season.

But there’s also the acknowledgement that often the best laid plans of toy makers can be completely ignored.

Oh and here’s a warning Tamagochis are back!

THURSDAY

I love it when the world’s corporate giants get their hands dirty on the ground.

Microsoft’s Youth Spark Live gathering is just such an initiative – meant to guide youngsters on corporate access and how they can end up working for the world’s biggest software company.

It was meant to take place at City Hall on the 7th of December, but was cancelled in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing.

At the time, Microsoft SA’s Abey Tau explained that the one-day workshop is aimed directly at youngsters.

You’ll be pleased to note that the Youth Spark Live is now taking place at the College of Cape Town in Crawford this coming Saturday.

Abey says they wanted to create a platform for young people from especially smaller towns and cities to come find out about Microsoft’s CSI and enterprise development programmes.

He says young people will be given access to some very valuable information.

The Youth Spark conferences have been taking place elsewhere in the country, including most recently at JHB’s Wits campus.

Abey recently spoke to Benito about it.

So if you are a 2013 graduate and still unsure of what this year holds for you this is something not to miss, if you can still get in.

It takes place at the College of Cape Town in Belgravia Road, Crawford this Saturday and – with limited space – is very popular, so better hustle.

Abey says the conference is really for everyone.

Sounds like a very productive way of spending a weekend.

There’s a lengthy registration process online, so search for Youth Spark Live on Facebook or Google MS Youth Spark Cape Town.

Their Call Centre number is 011 251 5558.

FRIDAY

Do you remember the brief scene in the film The Time Machine, where one sees the moon fragmented into several pieces floating in the night sky, presumably the victim of intensive lunar mining.

In turns out, we may have to guard against just such a catastrophe.

The American space agency NASA has started hearing applications from companies interested in mining on the moon for precious minerals and gases.

As the earth’s oil reserves dwindle, helium-3 seems to be the prize many of them are after.

It’s seen as a much more stable alternative to hydrogen in the production of nuclear power.

Prof Gerry Kulcinski explains.

It appears the moon may be a very rich source of helium-3.

Harrison Schmitt was part of the 1972 Apollo mission to the moon and has since started a company aimed at mining the moon for this gas.

He recently elaborated for a documentary.

An avid geologist, Harrison explains that Helium-3 is no laughing matter. Instead it’s an attractive incentive for private companies, all of whom want to win a contract to build special robots for NASA to investigate the possibility of lunar mining.

But not everyone is happy or excited about this prospect.

There has been lively debates about lunar property rights. IOW, who owns the moon and can any government or corporation do with it as they please.

As part of the Apollo missions of the early 1970s, Edgar Mitchell was also one of the last men on the Moon.

And he is one of THE main opposition voices.

Edgar also worries about humanity’s destructive tendencies.

THAT frightening Time Machine scene of a fragmented Moon, comes to mind again.

There’s a truth in there somewhere. And who DOES the moon belong to anyway?

I reckon all of us.

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