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  • Ethiopia launches space program, the first in East Africa

    An electrical engineer pictured during the construction of the observatory - GETTY

    High above the crowded streets of Addis Ababa, among fields where farmers lead oxen dragging wooden plows, sits Ethiopia’s space program. 

    Perched atop the 3,200-meter-tall (10,500-foot) Mount Entoto, two metal domes house telescopes, each a meter in diameter. 

    Operational for only a few months, the specialized equipment — the first in East Africa — has propelled Ethiopia into an elite club of African countries with a space program. 

    Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most-populous nation, wants the program to give a technological boost to its rapid development. 

    “Science is part of any development cycle. Without science and technology, nothing can be achieved,” said Abinet Ezra, communications director for the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS). “Our main priority is to inspire the young generation to be involved in science and technology.” 

    ESSS, funded by the Ethiopian-Saudi business tycoon Mohammed Alamoudi, was set up in 2004 to promote astronomy. 

    It has a bold mission: “To build a society with a highly developed scientific culture that enables Ethiopia to reap the benefits accruing from space science and technology.” 

    But its supporters have had a tough time setting it up. 

    For the past decade, a handful of enthusiasts — including Solomon Belay, director of the observatory and a professor of astrophysics — battled with the authorities to convince them that in a country that is one of the poorest in the world and where malnutrition is still a threat, the exploration of space is not a luxury. 

    Ethiopia strongman Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, considered them dreamers. 

    “People said we were crazy,” said Belay. “The attention of the government was to secure food security, not to start a space and technology program. Our idea was contrary to that.” 

    The space observatory is, above all, a symbol. 

    The $3 million center houses computer-controlled telescopes and a spectrograph to measure wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. 

    It allows the handful of astronomy and astrophysics students at the University of Addis Ababa to train on site rather than taking expensive trips abroad. 

    “Being poor is not a boundary to start this program,” Solomon said, adding that by boosting support for science, it would help develop the country. “Engineering and sciences are important to transform our agriculture into industry.” 

    The site at Entoto, which is often hidden by clouds during the rainy season and is close to the lights of Addis Ababa, struggles to compete with the world’s major observatories, including the far larger Southern African Large Telescope in South Africa. 

    But Ethiopia has plans, including to build a far more powerful observatory in the northern mountains around Lalibela, far from city lights. 

    With the authorities now won over that Ethiopia should invest in space science, the government hopes to launch a national space agency — and to put an Ethiopian satellite in orbit within five years, for the monitoring of farmland and to boost communications. 

    “We are using space applications in everyday activities, for mobile phones, weather — space applications are fundamental,” said Kelali Adhana, the International Astronomical Union chief for East Africa, who is based in Ethiopia. “We cannot postpone it, otherwise we allow ourselves to live in poverty.” 

    At Ethiopia’s Institute of Technology in the northern town of Mekelle, scientists plan to test the first Ethiopian rocket to go more than 30 kilometers (18½ miles) into the sky, although that is still below the 100-kilometer frontier between the Earth’s atmosphere and space. 

    Ethiopian astronauts, however, remain far off even though the prospect of conquering space is an attractive one in a country that lays claim to be the birthplace of humankind, with the remains of the ancient hominid Lucy housed in Addis Ababa. 

    “We are in no hurry to go to deep space,” said Belay.

    Source: japantimes 

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  • How Africa caught mobile web fever

    If when you say internet, you think of a computer, then you probably don't live in an African country.

    The continent has some of the lowest fixed-broadband subscription rates in the world, with most people's first encounter with the world wide web coming via their mobile phones.

    Around 70% of mobile users browse the internet on their devices, and Africa's mobile broadband growth is increasing at a rate of more than 40% -- twice the global average.

    This is largely due to the weak land-line infrastructure on the continent, which makes connecting through a desktop computer difficult. Low-cost or second-hand feature phones are also much cheaper to buy, which has made them ubiquitous across the continent, and it is estimated that by 2016 Africa will have a billion mobile phones. Feature devices also stay charged for longer -- a crucial requirement in a part of the world where the supply of power is irregular and unreliable.

    Read the full story on the CNN website.

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  • 30-cent device could save your life - CNN VIDEO

    Biotechnologist Ashley Uys has developed a "rapid test" kit which can diagnose the tropical disease as well as which strain you are suffering from. He explains it can also identify if your suggested course of treatment is working effectively. Using blood samples, the test can offer results in less than 30 minutes.

    If a test display shows a single line, this indicates a negative result. Uys says if two lines are present, the test has identified a plasmodium falciparum infection, which is the most deadly strain. If three lines are shown on the device, the patient suffers from a mixed infection.

    At 30 years old, the South African scientist has successfully created several innovative solutions to local problems through his company Medical Diagnostics. For the malaria self-test kits, Uys is proud to have created something cheap and affordable for the public. "For me, it is very satisfying to know that a farm worker in a rural area doesn't have to worry about going to a doctor. Our product can be used at the point of care," he says.

    Watch/Read the full story on CNN

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  • Azarias Reda: The Republican Party’s New Chief Data Officer

    Azarias Reda, the RNC's new chief data officer, is leading an internal incubator to change the way the party uses technology for campaigns—and taking a page from the Obama campaign's playbook. (RNC)


    No evidence exists that Francis Bacon made it to Ethiopia, but in a back room of the Republican National Committee building there is a lot of evidence that Azarias Reda absorbed one of the English philosopher’s more famous observations: scientia potentia est. The 28-year-old data evangelist is helping lead the effort to transform the GOP’s knowledge of voters into the power to win elections.

    Republicans got thumped in the 2012 elections in no small part because of a voter-data failure. The Obama team crushed the Romney campaign and the RNC: on turnout, on targeting and in social media. Democrats are betting heavily that their operation will once again save the day—turning out enough voters in key states to save their Senate majority in November.

    Mr. Reda, Ethiopian by birth, American by choice, was recruited by the RNC in November as its chief data officer. He and the nearly 50 data scientists and engineers he has recruited to an in-house tech incubator—Para Bellum Labs—are a mind-blowing sight at RNC headquarters. Hipsters in T-shirts and jeans wade through besuited politicians toward a digital room that sports rows of computers and dry-erase walls.

    This room is where I met Mr. Reda last week and pointed out that Democrats are already ridiculing the Republicans’ big-data effort, claiming that there’s no way the GOP can catch the Obama turnout machine.

    The comment causes the otherwise serious young engineer to break out in a mischievous grin. “I don’t want to catch up to a presidential campaign from 2012,” he says, making 2012 sound like so last century. “What we’re doing here is what a tech startup would do in 2014. Data science has traveled a lot in just the past few years.”

    The RNC line is that it intends to leapfrog Democrats in the technology of turnout, and a lot is riding on the claim. Twenty years ago the GOP created the first voter “file” on millions of Americans. Democrats spent years catching up, only to get outpaced again in 2004 by the Republican innovation of microtargeting, which allowed campaigns to contact and turn out subgroups of voters.

    Read more at The Wall Street Journal

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  • Nude photos leak shows chinks in internet 'cloud'

    cloud computing

    WASHINGTON: If actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton knew little about the internet "cloud," they would not be alone, but the recent theft of their intimate photos has served as a wake-up call.

    Hackers have boasted of stealing nude pictures of dozens of celebrities — including singer Avril Lavigne, actress Hayden Panettiere and United States soccer star Hope Solo.

    And, while some of the pictures appear to have been faked, several A-listers denounced an invasion of their privacy after pictures popped up on anonymous online bulletin boards.

    The cloud refers to storage of data on large-scale shared servers rather than on users' own home hardware.

    It allows people to access their documents and pictures remotely on multiple devices such as PCs, smartphones and tablets from anywhere with an internet connection.

    Hackers appeared to access photos stored in Apple's service called iCloud, which backs up photos and other documents from iPhones. As a result, the private pictures of the female celebrities became public and spread across social media, starting with the image-sharing service 4chan.

    Apple, in its first public statement on the incident, said celebrity accounts were compromised in a "targeted attack" to gain passwords, but maintained that it found no breach of the iCloud or other Apple systems.

    People can choose to back up pictures, videos and other files in the cloud. In some cases smartphones and other devices will do this by default — a fact not all users are aware of.

    "Many iPhone owners are possibly oblivious to the fact that every time they take a photo, it is invisibly and silently uploaded to iCloud in the background," says computer security consultant Graham Cluley in a blog post.

    The private pictures of Lawrence, Upton and others appeared to have been stored in these cloud servers, even if they were deleted from the phones or other devices used to take the pictures.

    Major services like Apple's iCloud and Google Drive use encryption to secure data. But Rob VandenBrink at the SANS Internet Storm Center said a flaw in Apple's "Find My iPhone" app lacked protection against "brute force attacks" from hackers.

    "And of course once an account password is successfully guessed, all iCloud data for that account is available to the attackers," VandenBrink said in a blog post.

    "So no rocket science, no uber hacking skills. Just one exposed attack surface, basic coding skills and some persistence."

    Because many people use easy-to-guess passwords like "123456" and reuse them across multiple services, hackers often can gain access with little difficulty.

    Rik Ferguson at the security firm Trend Micro said attackers could have used the "I forgot my password" link for Apple accounts.

    "The peril in this for celebrities is that much of their personal information is already online and a security question such as 'Name of my first pet' may be a lot less secret for a celebrity that it is for you and I," Ferguson says.

    A better system is to activate two-factor authentication, which sends an additional code to a predetermined email or phone.

    An old technique used by hackers known as "phishing" can get a user to hand over a password voluntarily. This often begins with an email which says an account has been compromised and requests that the user log in via a link.

    Symantec security response manager Satnam Narang said his firm has been warning about fake emails or SMS messages claiming to come from Apple technical support.

    The comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted recently: "I got a text from apple privacy security saying my iTunes id has been compromised — HOW DO I KNOW THEYRE NOT THE SCAM? Help!"

    Narang said these kinds of hacks are likely to continue because many people fall for the scams.

    "Users should also be wary of emails or text messages claiming to be from Apple support, security or protection groups. Don't click on any links in these emails and never send your Apple ID credentials in a text message," he said.

    Chris Morales at NSS Labs said Apple "is doing what everyone else in the industry is doing" to make its system easy to use, which also makes it easier to hack.

    "The cloud is so convenient, so everybody is putting their whole lives in the cloud," he said.


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