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Two SA students through to Imagine Cup World Finals

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Two second year students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) have been listed among the 33 top teams competing at the 2015 Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle.

Following a heavily contested World semi-finals involving 150 student projects from 64 countries, two second year students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) find their team – Digital Interactive Games – listed amongst the 33 top teams competing at the 2015 Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle taking place July 28 –31.

Imagine Cup is a global student technology competition that provides opportunities for students across all disciplines to team up and use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications, games as well as integrated solutions that have the potential to change the way we live, work and play. The South African leg of the competition is co-sponsored by Microsoft South Africa and Department of Science and Technology.

“Microsoft Imagine Cup empowers tertiary education students of all ages and skill levels with the tools, programmes, and instruction to turn innovative ideas into reality. Whether they’re building a game, designing an app, or launching a project, Imagine Cup will help them develop their idea and boldly bring it to life,” says Clifford De Wit, Developer Experience Director at Microsoft South Africa.

Possessing that ‘cease the day’ mindset.

Digital Interactive Games consists of two students, Jason Cross and Nicholas Jordaan, who are both attending NMMU in Port Elizabeth. Cross and Jordaan are currently second year students and are studying Software Development.

The team’s project is called PYA Maze of Gods and is a 3D Labyrinth style game that has been built to challenge the player’s problem solving skills, reaction time as well as their ability to overcome the obstacles. For fans of fantasy, the game involves in-depth lore along with detailed character profiles. In the game, PYA, is the name given to the realm of the gods.

They both share a passion for game development and met each other in the first week of varsity, when Jason decided to put together a team in the hopes of making a game. Nicolas was one of the first people he approached in support of that cause.

To get the programming ball rolling both budding game developers taught themselves Unity Personal Edition (formally known as Unity Free) and Autodesk Maya. During their first year at varsity, the pair entered PYA Maze of Gods in the local round of the Imagine Cup, making them the first ever first year students in South Africa to not only compete and win at the local level of the Imagine Cup, but also progress from the Global Semi-finals to the World Finals.

“This phenomenal achievement reassures us that South Africa is on the right path of developing skills in software development that is able to compete with the rest of the world. Initiatives such as Imagine Cup provides an avenue through which to develop future IT entrepreneurs who will soon be creating jobs for the youth,” says Dr Quentin Williams, Strategic Research Manager at the CSIR’s Meraka Institute.

Cross explains their drive in the following manner: “Don’t be afraid to go into something you truly have a passion for or to take the initiative for what you wish to do one day. Don’t wait until someone offers it or you get taught how to. There is a ton of resources available for anyone to teach themselves as well as exciting opportunities like Imagine Cup. So just go, learn and make sure you have fun doing it.”

Seattle is calling

Cross and Jordaan are looking forward to going to Seattle for the first time and competing in the World finals of the 2015 Imagine Cup.

“It is the greatest feeling either of us has ever experienced career wise. We could never have dreamed we would make it this far in the competition, but we are honoured to have the opportunity to represent South Africa in this category,” says Jordaan.

He added that they also cannot wait to meet and learn from all of the Microsoft officials and hopes that this experience will help them start their own game development company. Previous winners of the South African leg of the Imagine Cup has gone on to do exactly this.

For instance, 2007 Imagine Cup winner Devin de Vries and his colleagues managed to build a successful and thriving business around their winning entry called Where is my transport. This solution provides commuters in select South African cities like Cape Town with up-to-the-minute information and timetables for taxis and buses, directly to their smartphones.

“Like previous winners of the Imagine Cup have shown, technology can be a powerful tool for addressing local development challenges and we believe that the youth of the country can be important partners in this endeavour,” says Ms Jeanette Morwane, Director: ICT and Services Industry at the Department of Science and Technology.

According to Cross, Digital Interactive Games plan to build on their achievements. “We want to expand our team to keep pushing our limits and develop games to the best of our abilities,” he concludes.

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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