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Amazon Chime takes on Skype

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Amazon Web Services has released a video-conferencing service called Chime, which directly challenges the dominance of Skype in this field, but at a price.

Amazon Web Services this week announced Amazon Chime, a new unified communications service designed to make meetings easier and more efficient. It offers high-quality video and audio meetings with one-click, allowing customers to host or join a meeting, chat, and share content and screens with a seamless, synchronised experience across desktops, iOS, and Android devices.

However, the basic free version only allows two people to be in conversation at the same time, and does not include screen-sharing. That demands $2.50 per user per month for the Plus service, while a Pro service that includes up to 100 participants in a meeting costs $15 a month.

Hiven the leap from 2 to 100 participants, it appears aimed at either individuals or large enterprises, with little benefit for those caught between.

AWS provided the following information:

In a world where meeting attendees are often not in the same city, much less the same office building, unified communications has become increasingly more important. Arguably the most prevalent form of unified communications is meetings. Most meetings solutions are disappointing. They’re clunky and hard to use, the video is grainy and disconnects frequently, the audio quality is poor, there’s constant background noise and it’s impossible to know who’s causing it, they require long PINs to enter and join a call, and have second-rate mobile features and apps. Further, most are only good at one thing (e.g. voice calls, video conferencing, screen sharing, or instant messaging), so users often have to toggle between several different tools, none of which really solve their problem.

Amazon Chime takes frustration out of meetings, delivering very high quality video, voice, chat, and screen sharing. Amazon Chime calls all participants when a meeting starts so joining a meeting is as easy as clicking a button in the app, no PIN required. When there’s noise on calls (think about how often somebody has to say things like “could you please stop typing so close to the speaker”) or somebody joins or drops mid-call, there’s no longer mystery who it is as Amazon Chime shows a visual roster of all attendees. And, any attendee has the power to put an end to background noise by muting any noisy line. Amazon Chime offers strong mobile and desktop apps, and keeps meetings and chats synchronized across devices, so users can join meetings from anywhere via Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows apps (and seamlessly switch from mobile to desktop, or app to app whenever needed). Amazon Chime can be integrated with existing corporate directories, and provides IT administrators the ability to manage identities and control access across an organization. Amazon Chime requires no upfront investments, complicated deployment, or ongoing maintenance – customers can simply download the application and get started using the service in minutes. And Amazon Chime is one-third the cost of traditional solutions.

“It’s pretty hard to find people who actually like the technology they use for meetings today. Most meeting applications or services are hard to use, deliver bad audio and video, require constant switching between multiple tools to do everything they want, and are way too expensive,” said Gene Farrell, Vice President, Enterprise Applications, AWS. “Amazon Chime delivers frustration-free meetings, allowing users to be productive from anywhere. And with no ongoing maintenance or management fees, Amazon Chime is a great choice for companies that are looking for a solution to meetings that their employees will love to use.”

Amazon Chime offers the following benefits:

·         Like being in the same room, even when miles apart: Amazon Chime uses noise-cancelling wideband audio to deliver high-quality audio and crisp, clear HD video to make it easier to have real conversations in a meeting. And with Amazon Chime, video works great across all user devices and many conference room video systems with no upgrades required.

·         On-time meetings that can be joined with a single-click: Dialing into meetings has never been easier. Instead of trying to type in those hard-to-remember multi-digit pins, Amazon Chime calls participants when it is time for the meeting to start and lets them join with a single-click. And, those who are running behind can tap a “running late” button to automatically notify everyone in the meeting.

·         The end of “who just joined?”: Once in the meeting, Amazon Chime provides a visual roster that allows users to see exactly who has joined, who is running late, and who can’t make it. It also allows everyone to see who is talking or where background noise is coming from – no more barking dogs or loud typists – and anyone on the call can easily mute that participant.

·         Work from anywhere: Amazon Chime was built for mobile use from day one. With easy-to-use apps for Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows, Amazon Chime keeps meetings and chats synchronized across devices, and users can join meetings from any device and easily switch devices – even in the middle of a meeting.

·         Sharing made easy: Amazon Chime makes it easy to collaborate. When in a meeting, anyone can share their screen, instantly, without asking a host to “pass the ball,” or jump to a different application. For ongoing collaboration outside of meetings, Amazon Chime offers chat rooms that allow people to work together in a single place, securely storing chat history and files for ongoing reference.

Amazon Chime is now available in three versions. Amazon Chime Basic Edition is free and lets users attend meetings, call another person using voice or video, and use Amazon Chime’s messaging and chat capabilities. Amazon Chime Plus Edition adds user management, such as the ability to manage an entire e-mail domain, disable accounts, or configure Active Directory, as well as 1GB per user of message retention – all for $2.50 per user, per month. Amazon Chime Pro Edition adds the ability to host meetings with screen sharing and video for up to 100 users and also includes support for mobile, laptop, and in-room video along with unlimited VoIP support – all for $15 per user, per month.

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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