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Ministers and a dancing robot at the ICT projects exhibition

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The ICT exhibition showcasing the projects of final year ICT students was held yesterday evening at the new premises of the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology. The 65 projects touched on several fields of ICT including software development, robotics, game development, and social networking.

In an opening speech, the Hon. Chris Cardona, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business praised the Faculty of ICT for its new structure which demonstrates Malta’s capability of standing in line with other developed countries. It is important to him that the Government invests in youth to encourage innovation and creativity and to ensure that employers have a large pool of talent from which to choose from. An example of such governmental support is the Malta Digital Games Fund, aimed at helping companies develop digital games. Indeed, Cardona pointed out that Malta is becoming an important location for the development of gaming which will in turn help boost the country’s economy.

The Hon. Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Education and Employment, spoke of the important role played by the University of Malta in both education and research, the latter of which is a great challenge due to Malta’s relatively scarce resources. Therefore it is important for the Government to channel these resources well, primarily through the University.

Awards were also handed out with last year’s KSU Social Policy Commissioner Tamara Caligari winning the Chamber of Engineers Award for the best ICT students’ project of 2013 and Janice Attard winning the MITA (Malta Information Technology Agency) Award.

This third-generation robot is being used by the Department of ICT for research purposes. Watch it dance to Michel Telo’s version of ‘Au Si Eu Te Pego’ in this video!

Posted in Tech

How Facebook has changed student life since its inception

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Surprisingly for many, Facebook celebrated its tenth anniversary on Tuesday the 4th February. Originally called Thefacebook.com, today Facebook is the third most visited website behind Google and YouTube. It has regular users of all ages, from teenagers to middle-aged parents to the elderly, and even preadolescents who, despite Facebook’s minimum age limit of 13, have accounts. Because it is popular among all generations, it has inevitably changed the world in many ways. However, despite Facebook getting rid of its registration limits in September 2006, the dominant age group using the site is still the 18-29 group. Thus, it is the original target users who have been affected most by the social network: university students, both current and recently graduated.

Many adults view Facebook as something negative for students. It is not uncommon for students to have online friendships, where they talk to certain friends on Facebook often but do so much less face-to-face. This results in weaker relationships. As a written medium, students should also bear in mind that anything said on Facebook is more lasting than spoken conversation. This can have a detrimental effect on their relationships.

The most common argument made against Facebook is that it is a distraction for students. Many adults consider it to be a waste of time which students could use to study. As smartphones, tablets, and laptops pervade lecture halls, the Facebook addiction becomes more dangerous. During lectures almost every student has at least one means of accessing Facebook and communicating with friends rather than pay attention to the lecture. Another criticism of the social network is its limited privacy. Students often post things on Facebook without bearing in mind that anyone could be reading their posts. Some of these, including sharing personal stuff, photos, or political beliefs, could be harmful to students once they graduate and start looking for a job. During the past ten years, students have faced the task of making sure that they are not tagged in anything which they would rather not have everyone see, as Facebook has become an important part of employers’ pre-employment screening processes.

Facebook has, however, impacted student life in positive ways as well. From an employment point of view, students can use it to their benefit. Facebook is one huge lasting network. Many users add as online friends not only people they have known for a long time, but also course mates with whom they are not close or who are mere acquaintances; that person who they met during that extracurricular activity; or that exchange student who now lives on the other side of the planet. Once they are friends on Facebook, their relationship still exists in the background even if they have not met for a long time. That one friend who you hardly ever spoke to might be just the person you are looking for to get information in the future.

The benefits of this network are felt not only post-graduation, but also during the university years. Collaboration among students is easier than ever because students can work together from the comfort of their own homes. Most courses have Facebook groups where students can ask questions and discuss material related to their particular course. Updates on venue or timetable changes and other university-related things are shared easily among students through Facebook, ensuring that the message reaches everyone quickly.

Facebook is all about socialisation. Students can strengthen the relationships they make at university by keeping in touch with their friends when at home or during recess. Through Facebook, student organisations can keep students up to date with the latest events more easily, as an invitation is just one click of a button away, and any updates can be quickly communicated through a post. When studying, students can motivate or help each other without being too much of a distraction, because Facebook does not require a person to answer immediately.

Another major way in which Facebook has changed university life is by empowering the students’ voice in society. It has made communication between students and representatives quicker. Students can express their views on many important subjects. Facebook has also made many students more aware of contemporary events. While many young adults do not watch the news or read the newspaper, today they are still aware of the news because their friends share it on their walls.

Facebook has influenced university life in good and in bad ways. The negative impacts are pointed out more often than the positive ones, but I believe that responsible students can avoid them. The positive effects, however, are hard to replicate without Facebook. Thus, while many have criticised Facebook, I say we’ve had a good ten years, and may we have many more.

Posted in Opinion, Tech

GTA V surpasses the astounding $1 billion mark

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This weekend, just three days after its release, Rockstar’s acclaimed Grand Theft Auto V surpassed the $1 billion mark in revenue. According to some statistics, this means quantum leaps over what the 2nd most profitable game achieved, which was Call of Duty: Black Ops II – the latter hit the same mark after 15 days! In fact, GTA V had already raked in $800 million on its first day, compared to Black Ops II which got a relatively “meagre” $500 million.

Here are some interesting comparisons: On its first day on the store shelves, GTA V managed to generate more than 9 times the revenue than the premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” achieved globally.  It made more money than Singapore’s daily GDP of $757 million; more money than Van Gogh’s 7 most valuable paintings (together sold for $700 million), and more money than the cost of the Sears tower, formerly known as the tallest building in the world.

Moving on from the fun facts, however, all this might have a slightly sinister side to it. No, I’m not about to entertain the ridiculous claims that GTA V is making people more violent after that story in the UK where a person who had just purchased a copy of the game got assaulted. Rather, it is the fact that entertainment as our parents knew it has been completely redefined and reshaped. We are slowly but surely entering a new era where virtual reality is not an unattainable fantasy.  We ARE on the threshold of virtual reality. Most of us still have the sentience to know that the real world is ultimately vastly better than any artificial one – but who knows how the situation will be 20 years down the pipeline?

That being said, I’m quite gutted that GTA V still hasn’t been confirmed for the PC platform as I’m positively ecstatic on trying it out myself. So far, a petition started by Mike Juillard has accumulated over 470,000 signatures, and is set on hitting the 500k mark by next week. The question is not “if” it’s going to be released, as Rockstar aren’t as dumb as to ditch the platform which kickstarted the whole franchise.  Rather, it’s “when”. Until then, I can only lust after console gamers while asking them to keep this in mind:

Enjoy your gaming, responsibly.

 

Posted in Tech

The New Motorola Is Focusing On “Very Few” Devices, And A Low-Cost Phone May Be Next

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Motorola has never been the most prolific smartphone maker, but there’s no question that they’ve churned out a lot of hardware over the years, but now that Motorola is flying under Google’s banner, you can expect to see some shifts in the company’s hardware strategy, and it looks like that scattershot approach to making phones is getting the ax.

According to Motorola Corporate VP of product management Lior Ron, the company is going to be trimming down the number of phones it releases so it can better focus on the ones that are really worth it.

“We’ve done a lot of devices before,” Ron told TechCrunch in an interview. “Now we’re going to do a few — very few. Everyone of those devices is going to really matter for consumers.”

Those are some pretty bold words from the man who headed up the Moto X project, but it isn’t the first time that we’ve seen the company try to embrace a more streamlined product strategy. Sanjay Jha, CEO of a then-unified Motorola, basically said the same thing a year-and-a-half ago, citing the woes “incremental innovation” as the big drivers behind his decision. At the time, it seemed as though Jha’s words struck a chord with at least one other beleaguered Android device manufacturer, as HTC publicly committed itself to producing a smaller number of “hero” devices just a few days after Jha did.

According to CNET, the next of those “very few” devices that Motorola is reportedly working on is a lower-cost device meant to expand Motorola’s position in cost-conscious global markets.

Ron declined to explain just how dramatic this change in focus is going to be for the company, but that’s not to say that Motorola will be without its share of repeat customers. Motorola confirmed to CNET earlier this month that the company is slated to become the sole manufacturer of Verizon’s popular Droid line of Android devices. Previously, companies like HTC and Samsung were allowed to pitch in as well, but it now appears that Motorola will run that show entirely.

Then again, the “more wood behind fewer arrows” approach presents some potential issues, too, and HTC serves as proof. Despite the fact that the HTC One received near-universal critical praise, the company that made it recently reported quarterly profits down a whopping 83 percent from the year before. On the other hand, many have argued that Google’s interest in Motorola was based purely on the value of the company’s patent treasure trove — it’s not hard to look at any revenue that Motorola brings in from hardware sales as icing on that cake. And Google (naturally) seems all for the strategy, despite the potential pitfalls it entails.

“Our mandate from Google, from Larry, is really to innovate and take long-term bets,” Ron said. “When you have that sort of mentality, it’s about quality and not quantity.”

 

Posted in Tech

How big is enough?

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Mobile phones these days seem to be set on out-sizing conventional TVs by 2020. The adage “bigger is better” may apply to may things, but surely there must be a limit on an object which is meant to be portable above everything else. Ever since Samsung strode out onto the battlefield with their famous Galaxy phone series, it’s been a fight to the last inch for who can manage to squeeze the largest possible screen estate onto the smallest, thinnest and lightest package possible?

I still remember most people’s reaction when the Galaxy Note was announced. A 5.2” screen? How could anyone even think of wielding such a massive slab of a phone, let alone carry it? Still, the Note proved to be another powerful weapon which boosted Samsung’s sales and gave them a considerably larger share in the smartphone market. Ever since then, manufacturers have been dishing out flagship phones in ever-increasing screen sizes. The “smallest” of the so-called current flagship phones is the HTC One, which has a 4.7” screen. The norm now seems to be 5” screens, with phones such as the Sony Xperia Z and the Samsung Galaxy S4 all boasting of such screens running a full-HD resolution. Apple seems to have, for now, stuck to its own guns and presented its latest iPhone with a 4” screen – it’s also quite probable that the iPhone 5S will have a 4” screen as well. However, rumour’s abound that the iPhone will soon jump on the Android bandwagon and increase its screen estate in the 2014 models.

The latest shocker has indeed arrived from Sony, an Android phone manufacturer – they recently announced the Sony Xperia ZUltra (ZU in short), a “phablet” device with a whopping 6.4” screen, making it the biggest “smartphone” currently available. It even outsizes Samsung’s Galaxy Mega which has a still-gargantuan 6.3” screen. As shown in the featured picture above, that puny phone on the left is a Sony Xperia Z with a 5” screen. Reviewers who have held the phone in their hand have almost unanimously agreed that this time the boundaries have been pushed too far and that the phone might prove to be too big to be comfortably handled. Still, the same thing was said for the first Galaxy Note, so one will have to wait and see whether the Xperia ZU will be a hero or zero.

I for myself find 5” to be the perfect phone size as it offers plenty of screen estate for comfortable internet browsing, fast texting (as my typing skills on touch displays are mediocre at best) and especially reading e-books – the full-HD display is really amazing and one can safely say smartphones have become media powerhouses in their own right. Still, the boundary line between tablets and mobile phones is becoming increasingly blurred, as conventional tablets start at 7” screens. Does this mean an impending doom for all tablets? Or will phones stop “growing”? Personally I think that with the advent of flexible displays, phone manufacturers will manage to squeeze even 10” screens into a portable enough package, although that would surely mean that tablets would become nigh-on useless. Only time will tell whether this current trend will live on for a while or whether we may even go in the opposite direction and opt for “wearable” technology, such as smart-watches and smart-glasses.

Posted in Tech

Google’s tyrannical approach to the new ‘Glass’

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Google’s tyrannical approach to the new “Glass”

Google has finally unveiled its much-discussed Glass device and is offering it to a select public for the hefty price of $1500. The main aim of this device is to slowly dispense with smartphones, tablets and all the other fancy gadgets we’ve had thrust upon us in the past decade. The Glasses are made up of a heads-up display just above the right eye, enabling you to view data up close and personal – and with a horde of other features such as snapping point-of-view photos, voice-directed controls and bone-induction sound technology, Google is set on surfing the new wave of products and leading the charge on to the post-smartphone era. However, we may be glimpsing a 1984-ish contrivance by Google when it comes to owning this product.

Google has decided to follow the Apple route of “bricking” and is trying to ensure that its Glasses are only used by a single person. “Bricking” means deactivating a device when it is used by any person other than the legitimate owner. It was initially meant as a security feature to cut down on thefts and unauthorized use of a product, but it is quickly becoming an irksome problem for the average consumer. Google Glasses are sold with the normal (boring) terms and conditions, one of which forbids the buyer from “reselling, loaning, or transferring the technology without Google’s express permission”. While this may not sound like much to those tech aficionados who would rather part with their liver rather than this technological jewel, this may present be a thorny problem for those who for some reason or another eventually wants to sell their Glass. This comes as no wonder really – the limited availability of this device has seen a couple of eBay bids on these “specs” rocketing up to over $90,000, until such auctions were shut down at Google’s request.

By taking this approach, Google is effectively set on controlling the use of its device in the post-purchase period. This might be seen as an over-intrusive breach of privacy by some, although to be fair these are developer iterations of the Glasses (and the testers are actually dubbed as “Explorers”) and so Google might be justified in restricting their use. The real can of worms might be opened when apps start being developed – and there’s already a confirmed app in the making, allowing you to find your friends in a crowd of people. That’s only the tip of the iceberg – imagine identifying a person and knowing basic information about her/him just by getting that person into your sights while using the Glasses, or maybe unknowingly taking pictures which might end up accessible to anyone on the web.

I might be slightly on the pessimistic side of things, but I’m certainly no Luddite and I find these glasses to be slightly unnerving. As I already mentioned, I’m an avid fan of “1984” by Orwell, and a simple hack of such devices would give literal point-of-view access into anyone’s life. At the same time, the concept is pretty exhilarating and my geeky side’s attention has been well and truly piqued. At this point in time, we can only wait and see how things turn out.

Posted in Features, Tech