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Tech meets Art at Wits

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The creative relationship between hardware, software and art will be discovered, examined and explored as the Fak’ugesi Arts Residency returns as part of the 2015 Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival.

The Fak’ugesi Residency will once again bring together the best local and international creative technologists for festival goers to enjoy.

This year, the Wits Art Museum Basement Gallery will be transformed into an inspired ‘Fak’ugesi Lab’ for the entire three week duration of the festival. During this time, resident artists will engage visitors and run workshops with the public in the development of a final installation that responds to the theme: “Futurist visions of Johannesburg: uncovering place and space, physical and virtual responses to ‘now’ for African socio-cultural technologies of the future.”

Tegan Bristow at the Digital Arts Division at Wits and Irini Papadimitriou, a technology arts curator with Watermans and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London have developed this year’s residency with support from the SA-UK Seasons 2014 & 2015, a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture and the British Council. In the spirit of the evolving partnership with Wits Art Museum, Watermans and Fak’ugesi Festival, Ling Tan and Kasia Molga, two UK based creative technologists will join forces with Jepchumba and Nathan Gates, two Africa based creative technologists to collaborate on the development of this year’s theme. In addition to the residency and exhibition at the Wits Art Museum, the residents will also participate at the annual Digital Performance Weekender Festival at Watermans in the UK later this year.

The not-to-be-missed 2015 line-up includes UK based, Ling Tan – a designer, maker, coder and trained architect will be exploring the modes of interaction between the people and the spaces of Braamfontein using wearable and mobile technology.

Also joining the Arts Residency from the UK is Kasia Molga, a media artist and environmentalist. Molga will be working with the intersection of art, science and technology in a bid to challenge our relationships with the city with its green and man-made spaces.

Jepchumba, who originates from Kenya, will be feature as the resident “African Digital Artist”. With a background in digital art, online development and social media strategy, Jepchumba will examine how young people envision themselves in the creative futures of the city, join her at the museum to “Meet Your Future Selfie”.

South Africa based Nathan Gates joins the Artist Residency line-up as the second African artist. Gates’ interests include the domestication of knowledge at the hands of digital technologies. During the residency he will explore processes of creation in thinking about the future of Johannesburg.

Fak’ugesi Festival Director, Prof Christo Doherty, describes the residency as an exciting evolution of the first event pioneered at last year’s Festival.  “In 2015, we are seeing the development and extension of the residency concept that builds on the lessons learnt and the relationships established at last year’s Festival.  We look forward to a vibrant public engagement and challenging creative collaboration around the theme of futurist visions of Johannesburg.”

The Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival will run from 21 August to 13 September in Braamfontein.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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