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Data and the stars

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An ambitious star-mapping project highlights the growing importance of big data and the cloud, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

At an event in Berlin today, the European Space Agency (ESA) is unveiling the biggest set of data about the stars ever gathered. The positions and magnitudes of no less than 1.7 billion stars of our Milky Way galaxy have been gathered by the Gaia spacecraft, which took off in 2013 and began collecting data a year later.

The ship is also transmitting a vast range of additional data, with distances, motions and colours of more than 1.3 billion stars collected so far. And that is without counting temperature measures, solar system analysis and radiation sources from outside the galaxy.

“The extraordinary data collected by Gaia throughout its mission will be used to eventually build the most accurate three-dimensional map of the positions, motions, and chemical composition of stars in our Galaxy,” according to a project document. “By reconstructing the properties and past trajectories of all the stars probed by Gaia, astronomers will be able to delve deep into the history of our Galaxy’s formation and evolution.”

The entire project would be impossible were it not for advances in cloud computing storage,  big data analysis and artificial intelligence systems during this decade. The storage demands alone are mind-boggling. The ESA roped in cloud data services company NetApp, which focuses on management of applications and data across cloud and on-premise environments.

NetApp was previously involved with the Rosetta space mission, which landed a spacecraft on a comet in 2016. Lauched as far back as 2004, ten years later it became the first spacecraft to go into orbit around a comet, and its lander made the first successful landing on a comet.

“For the next two years Rosetta was following the comet and streaming data,” says Morne Bekker, NetApp South African country manager. “But with the comet speeding away from the sun at 120 000kph, Rosetta would soon lose solar power. Scientists seized the opportunity to attempt what no one had ever tried before — to gather unique observations through a controlled impact with the comet. Despite blistering speeds and countless unknowns, the spacecraft landed just 33m from its target point. 

“It’s quite phenomenal when you think of the data and analytics harvested, and the information it can send back. Now we’re helping with the Gaia project. You can imagine how much data is being collected daily. The catalogue will probably end up at 2 Petabytes in size – that’s 2-million gigabytes. If you think of the minute points of data being extracted, obviously you have to be using AI and machine learning to analyse all of this.”

Ruben Alvarez, IT manager at the ESA, sums it up simply: “Data is everything. Our biggest challenge is processing of the data.”

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Naturally, ESA required absolute reliability from data storage. It also demanded almost infinite scalability to support the massive data requirements of past, present, and future missions. 

“We have a commitment to deliver data to different institutes in Europe on a daily basis,” says Alvarez. “Adding to the challenge, data from every mission must be accessible indefinitely. In the coming years, we will be launching new missions that will demand huge amounts of data. NetApp provided us with solutions that were scalable, even if we didn’t know in advance how much disk storage we were going to need.”

ESA says it expects to publish the full Gaia catalogue in 2020, making it available online to professional astronomers and the general public, with interactive, graphical interfaces.

The catalogue, says Alvarez, will unlock many mysteries of the stars.

“We call our site the Library of the Universe because we keep the science archive of
all of our scientific missions. This is how we allow people to really investigate the universe. t’s all about the data.” 

The mission has tremendous scientific implications, but also makes a powerful business case for big data and cloud computing.

“The capabilities for AI and machine learning in the processing of mass amounts of data are far-reaching,” says Bekker. “Not only does it equate to extreme performance, but also to massive non-disruptive scalability where scientists can scale to 20 PB and beyond, to support the largest of learning data sets. Importantly it also allows scientists to expand their data where needed.”

Across Africa, the power of the cloud and big data is only slowly being harnessed. A new research project, Cloud Africa 2018, conducted by World Wide Worx for global networking application company F5 Networks, shows that cloud uptake is now pervasive across Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

However, the research reveals that each country experiences the benefits of the cloud differently. Respondents in Nigeria and Kenya named Business efficiency and Scalability by far the most important benefit, with 80% and 75% respectively selecting it as an advantage. Only 61% of South African respondents cited it.

The opposite happened with the most important benefit among South Africans: Time-to-market or speed of deployment came in as the most prominent, at 68% of respondents. In contrast, only 48% of companies in Kenya and 28% in Nigeria named it as a key benefit.

This appears to be a function of the infrastructure challenges in developing information technology markets like Nigeria and Kenya, where the cloud is used to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of efficiency.

In South Africa, where construction of the giant Square Kilometre Array multi radio telescope is due to begin next year, the learnings of Rosetta and Gaia will ensure that data collection, storage and analysis will no longer be a challenge.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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AppDate: DStv jumps on music bandwagon

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights DStv’s JOOX, Cisco’s Security Connector, Diski Skills, Namola and Exhibid.

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DStv JOOX

DStv is now offering JOOX, a music streaming service owned by China’s Tencent, to DStv Premium, Compact Plus and Compact customers.

In addition to streaming local and international artists, JOOX allows one to switch to karaoke mode and learn the lyrics as well as create and share playlists. Users can add up to four friends or family to the service free of charge.

DStv Family, Access and EasyView customers can also log in to the free JOOX service directly through JOOX App, but will be unable to add additional friends and won’t be able to listen to add-free music.

Platform: Access the JOOX service directly from the services menu on DStv or download the JOOX app for an iOS or Android phone.

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Cisco Security Connector

With all the malware, viruses and trojans doing the rounds, it is difficult for users and enterprises to ensure that they don’t become targets. Cisco, in collaboration with Apple, has brought out its Cisco Security Connector to protect users. The app is designed to give enterprises and users overall visibility and control over their network activity on iOS devices. It does this by ensuring compliance of mobile users and their enterprise-owned iOS devices during incident investigations, by identifying what happened, who it affected, and the risk of the exposure. It also protects iPhone and iPad users from accessing malicious sites on the Internet, whether on the corporate network, public Wi-Fi, or cellular networks. In turn, it prevents any viruses from entering a company’s network.

Platform: iPhones and iPads running iOS 11.3 or later

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the Apple App Store for downloading instructions.

 

Diski Skills

The Goethe-Institut, in co-operation with augmented reality specialists Something Else Design Agency, has created a new card game which celebrates South African freestyle football culture, and brings it alive through augmented reality. Diski Skills is quick card game, set in a South African street football scenario, showing popular tricks such as the Shibobo, Tsamaya or Scara Turn. Each trick is rated in categories of attack, defence and swag – one wins the game by challenging an opponent strategically with the trick at hand. Through augmented reality, the cards come alive. Move a smartphone over a card and watch as the trick appears on the screen in a slow motion video. An educational value is added as players can study the tricks and learn more about the idea behind it.

 

The game will be launched on 27 October 2018 at the Goethe-Institut.

For more information visit: www.goethe.de

 

Namola

With  recent news of kidnappings on the rise, a lot more thought is going into keeping children safe. Would your child know what to do in an emergency? Have you actually asked them?

Namola, supported by Dialdirect Insurance, is a free mobile safety app. Namola’s simple interface makes it an ideal way for children to learn how to get help in an emergency. All they need to do is activate the app and push a button to get help that they need, even when their parents are not around.

Parents need to install the app on their child’s phone, hold down the request assistance button, program emergency numbers that will automatically be dialled when the emergency button is pushed, and teach their children how and when to use the app.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Exhibid

Exhibid could be thought of as Tinder, but for for art lovers. The interface looks very similar to the popular mobile dating app, in that users swipe left for a painting that doesn’t appeal to them, or swipe right for something they like. Once an art piece is liked by swiping right, one can start bidding or make an offer on it. The bid is automatically sent to the artist. Should he or she accept the offer, the buyer makes a payment through the app’s secure payment gateway and the two are put in contact to make arrangements for delivery.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

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New kind of business school

At a recent meeting, ALLON RAIZ, founder and CEO of Raizcorp, realised that in order for today’s youth to become entrepreneurs, teachers, the curriculum and the parents need continually expose them to entrepreneurial thinking from a young age.

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Several years ago, I found myself in a meeting with my business partner and two of my staff members. In front of us was a client who was sharing some of the frustrations in his business. At the end of the meeting, my partner and I were extremely excited about the prospect of two massive opportunities we had both independently identified while listening to the client. My two staff members, on the other hand, completely missed them. This led me to wonder what it was in my own and my partner’s backgrounds that allowed us to so easily spot opportunities while my two staff members remained oblivious … I realised that the difference was that my partner and I both had an early exposure to entrepreneurship while they didn’t.

Not long afterwards, I was delivering a lecture about how Raizcorp grows and develops small businesses at Oxford University’s Said Business School in my role as their Entrepreneur-in-Residence. I mentioned the above incident and spoke about my intention of going into children’s education with a view to providing an entrepreneurial perspective.

One of the professors in attendance asked me if I’d ever heard of a piece of research by Henrich R Greve called Who wants to be an entrepreneur? The deviant roots of entrepreneurship. It’s a pretty unfortunate title but a fascinating piece of research nonetheless. It highlights how certain contexts in childhood result in a much a higher probability of becoming an entrepreneur. For example, kids who participate in solo sports such as tennis or athletics are more likely to become entrepreneurs than children who play team sports like soccer and cricket. Conversely, your mother’s participation in the parent-teacher association has a negative correlation to you becoming an entrepreneur. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the professor’s office discussing other research papers that unequivocally proved that context during your childhood has a massive influence on whether or not you will follow the entrepreneurial route.

Another member of the lecture audience was a double-PhD from the USA who was completing her MBA at Oxford. After the lecture, she approached me and volunteered to help build a framework to incorporate entrepreneurship in the school curriculum without interfering with the formal requirements of the CAPS curriculum.

She spent nine months in South Africa working with me to build out a practical framework. The next phase of the plan was to find the right school at which to embark upon this journey. In December 2015, Raizcorp purchased Radley Private School and we began our entrepreneurial education adventure in earnest in 2016.

At the centre of the Radley philosophy is that the school (the physical building), the teachers, the curriculum and the parents are the “marinade” in which the kids need to soak in order to be continuously exposed to entrepreneurial thinking from a young age. The aim was that if, in future, the kids found themselves sitting in a boardroom with me and my partner, they too would be able to identify the opportunities that we did.

A big shift this year has been the launch of our Entrepreneurial Educator Guide (EEG) programme where we have been training our Radley teachers (whom we call guides) to understand entrepreneurship, business language, business concepts, financial documents and the like. (The EEG training makes use of Raizcorp’s internationally accredited entrepreneurial learning and guiding methodologies.) We have also employed a full-time staff member to ensure that these concepts are imbedded into all lesson plans and classroom activities.

Through my network at Raizcorp, I have been pleasantly surprised by the massive support we’re receiving from prominent entrepreneurs and businesses who want to participate in our Radley Exposure programme, where we take our kids of all ages on visits to different types of businesses so they can understand the difference between retail, wholesale, manufacturing, logistics and so on. Prominent businesspeople have put up their hands to come to the school and tell their stories of hard work, resilience and perseverance. This ties in beautifully with the 17 entrepreneurial concepts that we are instilling into our Radley learners (such as opposite eyes, lateral thinking and opposable mind), while never compromising on our quality academic offering.

As parents, we’ve all heard the terrible statistics about the probability of our kids finding jobs in the future. At Radley, we’re working hard to ensure that our kids have a legitimate and lucrative alternative to finding traditional employment and that is to become an entrepreneur. Radley is all about producing job creators and not job seekers!

To enrol your child or find out more about the school, please visit www.radley.co.za.

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