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Retrogaming to the fore in SA coding contest

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Many games comes and go, but a few, most often the classic ones stand out in gamer’s minds for years to come and keep them coming back for more. TIMOTHY KROON of Entelect looks at these retrogames and the aspects that make them so addictive ahead of the annual Entelect R100K Challenge.|Many games comes and go, but a few, most often the classic ones stand out in gamer’s minds for years to come and keep them coming back for more. TIMOTHY KROON of Intellect looks at these retrogames and the aspects that make them so addictive ahead of the annual Entelect R100K Challenge.

Many of us remember spending hours at a time playing retro, one-dimensional video games on arcade machines and home consoles as children. Today, these classic games are no longer exclusively for children, and – in spite of the incredible advances in technology and software, rendering the make-up of these gaming platforms outdated – they have in fact become a global and local cultural phenomenon, seeing scores of children and adults alike taking up the pastime of what is now known as ‘retrogaming’.

What is it about these games that have seen their sustained popularity over the decades, in spite of the newer, faster and more sophisticated games being released in their thousands every year?

“There is something quite intangible about the cult-hit phenomenon surrounding many of these games, which sees them still revered and enjoyed by gaming enthusiasts and novice players today,” says Timothy Kroon, General Manger of Resourcing at Entelect.

Retrogaming, also referred to as classic gaming or old-school gaming, describes the playing and collecting of vintage PC, console, and arcade games.

“As most of the systems which these games were intended to run on are now obsolete, players either source the rare original hardware, or play them on newer devices through an emulation process,” explains Kroon.

According to Kroon, most retro-games which have become re-popularised were created during the 1980s and 1990s.

“Videogames were introduced to the consumer in the 1950s, but the 1970s are considered the golden age of videogames, seeing the release of still popular titles such as Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers, Sonic, Galazian and Frogger. In more recent times, these games regained their notoriety among consumers, driven by an appreciation for the simplicity and individualised challenge of many of these games, as well as a sense of nostalgia.

“This is particularly true for gaming enthusiasts as well as many members of the development and coding community, which forms part of why the annual Entelect R100K Challenge is traditionally based on a cult classic gaming platform.”

The increasingly popular R100K Challenge is an annual artificial intelligence (AI) coding competition aimed at novice to expert gamers and developers, in association with NAG and official product sponsor, Sony Mobile. Launched in 2012, the Challenge has been themed annually around a different retro-game, seeing previous years pay homage to Pac Man Battle City and Tron Legacy, while this year’s competition is based on the popular retro-game, Space Invaders.

“The personality types of our entrants, whether entering the novice or expert gamers and developer categories, show a great affiliation and appreciation for classic games, and we believe this is a key driver in the outstanding interest and enthusiasm the R100K Challenge has received since its inception,” he notes. Kroon goes on to say that these classic games have the added benefit of a simpler and more basic construction than the highly designed and complex games developed today. “This allows for easier modification and element development during the Challenge.”

The popularity of retrogaming shows no signs of slowing down, and the cultural phenomenon is permeating mainstream popular culture through various means such as social media, the press, and films such as the recently released retro-themed movie, Pixels.

“As the retrogaming culture grows and spreads throughout new audiences and generations, the increasing rarity of original hardware also makes accessories more sought after by dedicated fans. With new technologies being developed on which these games can be played, a wide variety of classic game re-makes being released, creative retrogaming projects being driven through platforms such a Kickstarter, as well as the adoptions of classic game references in large events and corporate initiatives such as the Entelect R100K Challenge, the ability of these games to influence both modern culture and business continues to grow and present new opportunities,” says Kroon.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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