Category Archives: Technology

Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak Will Speak at BDL Accelerate 2016

Posted By :

woz

Steve Wozniak is the first announced speaker at the BDL Accelerate 2016. Wozniak has long been overshadowed by Steve Jobs but he’s the man who single-handedly developed the 1976 Apple I and co-founded Apple with Jobs. [Wiki]

He will be speaking at Banque du Liban (BDL) Accelerate 2016 which is taking place on November 3,4 and 5. Last year’s BDL Accelerate event was a bit boring to be honest and speakers were very late on the day I attended so let’s hope this year will be more exciting with Wozniak showing up.

You can register for free [here].

Tips to Choosing the Right DSLR Camera and to Taking Better Photos

Posted By :

Mary-Jo, my little girl, is a passionate little photographer. She refuses to use amateur cams and wants to use the DSLR camera.

Let’s face it, we all want to take great pictures but we rarely invest in a good camera and a bit of time to learn a couple of tricks in order to enhance the quality of our photos.

I know that it is a lot more practical and easier for us to use our mobile phones as all-in-one devices. I’m an advanced photographer and most of the time I find myself too lazy to carry a camera. But there are times, when you wish you had a good camera at hand, to capture those great moments, especially if you have kids around you.

(Left) Had to wake up at 4am to take this picture, waiting until the full supermoon and the olive tree in my backyard could be seen in the same line of sight. (Right) This was taken as we were hiking up the Qadisha Valley

I use my phone cam for everyday activities and I always make sure to have my DSLR camera all charged up and handy for those occasional events and gatherings. This way my photo library is mixed with everyday mobile pictures and the higher quality one taken with my camera.

Najib wanted to get a good camera that is easy to use and to move around with. My recommendation to him was to go with the Canon EOS Rebel T6i, (reasons listed below) it is a high quality product that can be bought for a really good price. At the end of the day, it is a home camera for amateur usage and Canon has the best cams in the market. Of course there are many good brands out there, but I’ve been a loyal Canon guy for the past 15 years.


I- TIPS TO CHOOSING A GOOD CAMERA WITH AN AFFORDABLE BUDGET IN MIND 
(Regardless of the Brand):

1- Lenses:

Make sure you invest in a cam that has a lot of optical lens power (3al Libneneh: 3enda zoom). The best photographs are taken with different physical lenses. Most modern cameras nowadays come with interchangeable lenses, but if you don’t want to invest in buying multiple lenses, then make sure you buy a camera with a flexible lens that will work in most conditions for near and far objects. (i.e.18mm – 200mm)

Rule of thumb: The smaller the mm, ex. 24mm, the wider the shot and the closer you need to be to the object. The higher the mm, ex. 300mm, the better it is for capturing distant objects.

2- Video Capture:

My kids love arts and crafts and it’s nice to document their works-of-art in the making, this is a capture frame from the movie.

Make sure you select a camera that can capture Full HD videos at 25 or 30fps. Nobody wants to carry an additional video cam around. Photo cameras that have HD video capture will give you great movie results. Photography lenses give you the ability to play around with the depth of field and have videos that are not flat but rather look and feel as rich as the still photos.

3- Memory Card:

Invest in a memory card with a large storage capacity, ex. 64GB, and that is high quality with fast memory. Not all memory cards are fit to be used for cameras, especially if you are taking burst shots and videos. Each memory card has a capturing/transfer speed, the higher the speed (60MB/s, 90MB/s, 280MB/s), the better the performance. It becomes more expensive but it is worth every penny.

4- Tripod:

You are not going to use the tripod everyday, but it will come in handy with night shots or when used to shoot a fixed frame video such as a ceremony or end-of-year school event. You can purchase a cheap tripod, but most importantly make sure you choose a lightweight one. Carrying a heavy weight tripod can be very tiring.

5- Flash:

Although it’s one of my least favorite pieces of hardware because most people overuse the flash and get super flat images. But then again, there are pictures that you just cannot take without a flash. Better have one on your cam to be used whenever needed.

6- Pixel Count:
Choose a camera with the biggest pixel capacity, ex. 24.2MP. A bigger pixel count means a higher quality picture.


II- TIPS FOR TAKING BETTER PICTURES
(Regardless if you are using a Mobile Phone or DSLR Camera)

1- Backlight:

These images were intentionally shot to show the foreground as dark objects, but we are using them here as an example. (Left) my friend Tony in Pink Floyd. (Right) Some random cat on the street.

Don’t take pictures whenever your subject is standing in front of a large source of light such as a window. You will end up with only a shadow of that subject with a very bright background.

2- Lighting:
Make sure your subject’s face is always facing the light source (such as the window).

You can’t get Anthony my little boy to stand still in order to take a picture. Mary-Jo always helps out sometimes grabbing him to get the job done.

Avoid using the flash as much as possible as it flattens the face and gives the picture a two-dimensional feeling. Instead try to look for a well-lit place before taking your photos and use as much daylight as possible.

Always avoid using direct sunlight and spotlights as they give hard shadows on the subject. The person’s face will not be relaxed but rather squinting from the annoying light.

The beautiful thing about Sunday morning bike rides is that you can stop anytime you see a beautiful frame and take a picture.

If you are shooting outdoors, try to avoid noontime photo shoots and aim for earlier or afternoon photo sessions for softer light. It is even better to take pictures when it’s clouded without direct sunlight, the colors will pop up.

3- Angles:

I am a part-time instructor at AUB, you probably know that cats are the stars on campus.

Take pictures from different elevation points. Most people take pictures from eye-point level, because we simply point and shoot. Try to lower your cam and come closer to the subject, experiment a bit with different heights to take less boring pictures.

4- Cropping:

I love taking nature pictures after it rains, everything looks so clean and fresh.

Come closer to the subject and avoid filling the frame with useless objects. Make sure the object you are shooting is the one that takes the biggest part of your framing and avoid distracting backgrounds.

Beirut rooftops are just fascinating to the eye. I took this shot around the Burj Hammoud Area.

Use the rule of thirds and move your object from the middle, every camera comes with a grid option that you can enable and use accordingly. For example, don’t place your horizon in the center of the image, unless you want to, but rather in the top or bottom third.

The most beautiful moments on video and photo are those spontaneous ones, facial expressions are genuine and real. Mary-Jo here was caught off-guard when the water hose broke loose.

Take horizontal videos and avoid tilting the cam vertically when taking videos. So many phone users got into the habit of taking vertical videos but this is a big NO. Remember that you want to enjoy your videos on a TV/Computer screen, with vertical videos you will end up with a big back screen and a small video in the middle.

5- Keep your camera and lenses clean at all times:
Don’t remove the lens unless you really need to and if you do, don’t do it in a dusty environment. Make sure to cover up both sides of the lens and most important do not touch the mirror inside the camera or blow on it.

Avoid touching the lens with your hands and don’t clean it with any tissue. Blurry pictures most of the time are the result of dirty lenses. Make sure to get a cleaning kit. They are very cheap and available at any photography shop.

6- Settings:

Always set your cam to the highest quality settings and keep it on automatic mode if you are not a savvy photographer. It will do all the work for you if you follow the basic tips that were explained above.

Of all the Red Cross pics I have, this one is my all time favorite as it shows these men and women for what they are, proud and strong.

7- Patience:
Avoid taking 90 consecutive useless burst shots, have some patience and wait for the right moment.

I can still feel my eyes burning from the tear gas that was shot on people during the YouStink protests. But, I had to try and take this shot. I took many shots until I got it, every time the flag would fly in a different direction.

8- Storage:
Don’t keep your pictures in your camera. Make sure to copy your photos from your memory card to your computer after each use and make sure to store pictures and videos separately (we will be tackling this topic in details in a later post)

I hope this post was helpful. Enjoy using your camera!

For some cool shots, follow me on Instagram @jimmyghazal

Meet My New SLR Camera: The Canon EOS Rebel T6i EF-S 18-135mm

Posted By :

canon slr

I bought my first SLR which was a Nikon D600 almost 6 years ago. It came with an 18-55 mm lens and cost me around 600$. I’m an amateur photographer so I started to read online and asked my friends on how to take great shots but the pictures were never that great and I soon lost interest and relied on my phone cameras.

canon slr2

However after my wife gave birth last year, my friend told me that I should invest in a new SLR with a better lens because phone cameras can never capture moments and expressions the way SLR cameras do and that I will regret it later. I took his advice and started looking online for budget-friendly SLRs (under $1000) and finally settled on the the Canon EOS Rebel T6i with an 18-135mm lens.

Brian7

I basically wanted a camera that is easy to use, takes great pictures and videos, has a touch screen, built-in WIFI and most importantly comes with a flexible lens that works in most conditions for near and far objects. Jimmy, who’s an enthusiast and advanced photographer, approved my choice and told me that it’s a fantastic cost/quality product. In fact, prior to my search, he sent me a detailed email on what to look for in a camera and how to choose the one that’s most suitable for me. He will elaborate on that topic in a future post for those who are clueless about SLRs like myself.

canon slr3

It’s been 3 months now that I’ve been using the Canon EOS Rebel T6i and I love it. The only thing I’m unable to capture though are macro shots but I’m fine with that. I bought it from Amazon for $970.

BabyBrian_151227_0370 Shot by Jimmy using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a fixed 85mm lens – I need some time before I get there 😀

IMAX Theater To Open By Mid September at VOX Cinemas – City Centre Beirut

Posted By :

imax1

VOX Cinemas are putting the final touches on their IMAX theater that will be available by mid-September hopefully. I passed by today to check it out and it should be done very soon. I already know (tentatively) which movie will premiere at the IMAX theater and I will definitely have tickets to give away so stay tuned!

I’m definitely looking forward to the IMAX experience but I’m more interested right now in winning the trip for 2 to Hollywood that VOX is offering for every online booking! Fingers crossed 😀

imax2

imax3

Next Automated Robots (NAR): A Beirut-based Startup Making Drones Smarter

Posted By :

drone1

NAR (Next Automated Robots) is a Beirut-based startup that develops smart drone-based solutions by integrating with drones and analyzing and processing data on the fly. NAR started as a final year project at the Lebanese American University back in 2014 before evolving into a startup and is currently planning to launch its first commercial product to be available in 3 months. NAR has already undergone three acceleration programs and won the Microsoft Imagine Cup in May 2015.

NAR does not build drones. Instead, it works with drone manufacturers to supplement their models with their software and hardware if needed. Their current model works on detecting gas and oil leaks but their aim is to go beyond oil and gas and tackle other fields like “wildfire monitoring, agriculture, rescue, surveillance, shipping and traffic monitoring”.

How does NAR work?
Their software is integrated with existing drone models and sensors are added to enable data processing on board the drone, and in turn reduce the amount of data being sent and the time needed to do so. Therefore, instead of sending large chunks of data from the drone to analyze, they process this data and send useful reports, for example the coordinates and size of a gas or oil leak once detected.

[YouTube]

I think their solution has potential and can definitely be used in Lebanon for wildfire monitoring and border surveillance among other things. Traffic monitoring will be obviously useless.

You can read more about NAR on [Executive] and [Technology Review].

Wizmates: Online Food Delivery in Beirut Made Easy

Posted By :

wizmates review1

“What are we having for lunch”…”Which nearby restaurants deliver”…”Who has restaurant X’s number”…These questions have become an almost inevitable part of our everyday at the office. Outside of the workplace, this same scenario probably happens in most households and in multiple social settings. The hardest part is finding a place that caters to everybody’s preferences, to spare ourselves going over countless menus before making this “critical” decision.

It goes without saying that having all dining options at our fingertips in a user friendly mobile app or web-based platform would make this process significantly smoother. It’s actually a perfect startup problem to tackle but unfortunately no proper food delivery app has been put in place yet. The only similar food delivery app available is “Onlivery” which was launched four years ago and is still growing.

[YouTube]

Nothing else came along until “Wizmates” was brought to my attention. I was first introduced to Wizmates app by a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, and have been trying it out since. The app is extremely user friendly and easy to navigate. It is location-based, and features at this point over 60 restaurants, including some of Beirut’s most popular restaurants. I can honestly say it is the best online food delivery app we’ve had until now in Beirut. This first version of the app focuses on the Beirut area, with future plans aiming to expand to other parts of the country.

wizmates_menu

How does it work?
First things first, you can either use Wizmates on the web or you can download the app from the Apple store or the Android market. Enter Wizmates, and it automatically picks up your location and pins it on the map. Based on this location, the app will prompt you to search and find restaurants that deliver around you.

The app will generate a restaurant list that can be organized by the type of food offered. These include, but are not limited to: Lebanese, Sushi, Healthy, Fast Food, Pizza, Burger, Indian. I guess the categories will get updated in time as more restaurants are added to the list.

Once you select a category, a list of representative restaurants will pop up. The app will indicate which restaurants are currently open or closed for service. Pick a restaurant, and the app gives you access to navigate the menu. The menu screen is comprehensive, clear, and easy to browse. It includes a detailed description of each item, as well as the associated price. Once you have made up your mind, you can pick your items of choice and add them to your basket. A cool feature of the app is that it includes a section for special requests such as food restrictions and extras, as well as asking for change if needed.

Once you are done, you can review your selections in the in-basket and finalize your order. You can also enter special instructions at this time too, in case you forgot to on the order screen. The app will prompt you to enter your address. After your first time using the app, you can save your address to use for future orders, making the process even smoother.
Finally, you can choose if you wish to have the order delivered, or make ready for pickup in store.

order

Can I track my food?
As soon as you place your order, you will receive an email and phone notification. You will also receive notifications when your food is ready to deliver or for pickup.

cookin

How do I pay? Are there hidden fees?
The app is free of charge. The delivery charges are set by the restaurants, and the app will not charge any additional fees for your order. The main payment method currently is cash on delivery. I was curious to see if the app will also allow for cashless transactions. The app will actually feature two new methods of payment soon: online credit card payment as well as credit card machines at the door when available.

wizmates review2

Which restaurants are taking part in it?
Wizmates currently has a list of over 60 restaurants that includes places such as Chilis, Casper & Gambinis, Sandwich w Noss, Diwan Beirut, and others. The app aims to target every restaurant in town, starting with the most popular spots and branching out to all others.

Will the app allow for delivery from several places at the same time?
Yes, Wizmates will allow for orders from several restaurants. This aims to please different food preferences within the same group. The app developers also told me that they will have their own delivery fleet soon, and therefore will be able to deliver from stores and restaurants that do not offer delivery service or simply cannot afford it.

Deals section:
Wizmates also offers a hot deal feature for delivery. This is a very attractive option for the Lebanese market, where everyone is always looking for a “good deal”. Vouchers and specials will also be featured.

Where can I download the app?
[Wizmates] is a web-based platform and is also available for download on iOS and Android. Most people would go for the mobile app nowadays but I love the website experience as much as the app.

Here’s a small video to show you how easy the process is:

[YouTube]

CardioDiagnostics: Cloud-based Heart Monitoring Powered by Microsoft

Posted By :

sankra

Ziad Sankari was 17 years old when his father died of a heart attack. Ever since, Ziad has dedicated his career to cardiac care and has founded in 2012 CardioDiagnostics: an award-winning medical technology innovation company specialized in the R&D of breakthrough cardiac monitoring technologies.

CardioDiagnostics uses FDA-approved wearable devices that are 24/7 GPS-enabled heart rate monitors allowing for heart monitoring centers to communicate diagnostic and preventive information to patients in the United States and in Lebanon. Ziad has already won several awards and was recognized last year by US President Barack Obama as one of the emerging young entrepreneurs from around the world.

CardioDiagnostics is constantly evolving and now uses the Microsoft Cloud to transmit the patient’s cardiac data to a Cloud that’s made available to physicians anywhere in the world. Check out this nice feature made by Microsoft for CardioDiagnostics.

First Pictures of The New Lebanese Biometric Passports

Posted By :

bio2

Biometric passports are officially available as of today. Anyone can apply for the new passport and those who wish to replace their old passports can also do so. According to the below FTV report, the documents needed are as follows:

– Passport Request Form to be filled out at the mayor’s office.
– Applicant’s original Individual Civil ID (Ikhraj Kayd Fardi) or or his original new Lebanese I.D. card.
– One recent color photo showing full details of the face with a white background.
– The old passport if available.
– The price will remain the same, $40 or 60,000 LL for one year and $200 or 300,000 LL for 5 years.

Design wise, I think they should have kept the big Cedar tree in the middle showing like the one before. It’s a nice and modern-looking passport but the Cedar tree in the middle is barely showing.

Those who just renewed their passports will NOT need to replace their existing ones. As for Lebanese expats, I believe they should follow the same procedure at any embassy. Check out this useful [link] taken from the website of the Lebanese Embassy in Washington.

[YouTube]

bio

Lebanon Improving In The Networked Readiness Index

Posted By :

leb_nri2016

The Global Information Technology Report (GITR) is prepared by the World Economic Forum, INSEAD and Cornell University and examines “the increasing proliferation of technology and its effects on advancing global prosperity”. Digital innovation is reshaping economies worldwide and pressuring states and tech and non-tech sectors to adapt to the speed and scale of changes while mitigating ethical, legal, and regulatory risks.

As far as Lebanon is concerned, it still ranks among the worst Arab countries in terms of Networked Readiness but was the second biggest mover this year, gaining 11 ranks to land in 88th place in the overall NRI. The NRI currently assesses the state of networked readiness using 53 individual indicators. For each of the 139 economies covered, it allows the identification of areas of priority to more fully leverage ICTs for socioeconomic development.

Here’s what the report said:

Importantly, the country is registering substantial positive moves in all four subindexes. In terms of adoption, Lebanon is doing best in individual usage (46th), followed by business usage (97th) and government usage (124th). Most indicators of personal usage have been improving over the past year, with the business sector catching up in its use and adoption of digital technologies; with overall perceived progress in business adoption being slow around the world, this is a positive exception to the trend. Starting from a low level, government indicators are also moving in the right direction: in particular, the regulatory environment is improving in terms of judicial independence, the efficiency of the legal system, and the effectiveness of law-making bodies. Substantial
improvements are registered for the impact of ICTs on business models, organizational models, basic services, and government efficiency. Building also on a solid basis in terms of education, skills, and knowledge-intensive jobs, Lebanon has many of the factors in place to continue on this positive trajectory.

leb_prof_gi2016_1

This is encouraging news of course but we are still very far behind and the technological gap between Lebanon and Gulf countries is already substantial.

You can check out the full report [here]. Lebanon’s profile is on page 142. If you look at the indexes, almost everything government-related is ranked among the worst worldwide

Thank you Rami!

Updates on MOT’s 2020 Strategy: 4G/LTE on Track, DSL is Bad

Posted By :

One year ago, I shared a lengthy post on the Telecom Ministry’s 2020 plan and mentioned that fiber optics are expected to be deployed within 5 years while 4G/LTE coverage was expected to all over Lebanon.

Fiber Optics:

Both the Telecom Ministry and Ogero were committed to implementing this plan but the illegal internet case that was raised almost 4 months ago turned things upside down. Three of Ogero’s top officials, including Abdel-Monhem Youssef were indicted over “negligence that led to the squandering of public funds and evading taxes by allowing some people to set up unlicensed internet in the country.”

The illegal internet companies operating had a bandwidth equivalent to 1/3 of the bandwidth set by the Telecom ministry and as soon as they were cut off, DSL speeds which were already average became worse and there were several outages during the first few weeks but then things went back to normal, and by normal I mean relatively decent internet speeds inside Beirut and lousy ones (barely 1.5MB) in most of the areas outside Beirut. I was told that Ogero opened up the bandwidth several times ever since Youssef disappeared and to cover for the illegal networks that were shut down but I can’t confirm that.

So in terms of fiber optics, I highly doubt that it will happen by 2020 but the least that should be done is upgrading internet stations from the current DSL connections to +VDSL.

4G/LTE Coverage all over Lebanon

This part of the MOT 2020 plan is still on track fortunately. 4G+ was announced back in March by Alfa and Touch and the first phase of 4G+ deployment was organized few days ago by both telecom operators in the presence of Telecom Minister Boutros Harb.

During Alfa’s event, they did a stunt with Lebanese champion Abdo Feghali who joined the press conference towards the end and went on a live drifting session to demonstrate Alfa’s 4.5G LTE-A network speed. Check out the last 5 minutes it’s pretty cool.

Launching the Internet support hotline 1516

The Telecom Ministry introduced a new hotline (1516) that consists of a dedicated team (a sort of emergency unit) aimed at helping customers with internet issues. I’ve tried it a couple of times and it’s practically Ogero’s customer helpline and as you probably know by now, my experience so far with their support has been a really disappointing one.

Overall Verdict:

The only reason I trusted this plan might work is that Ogero was committed to it, but I’ve been repeating it for years that having a state-owned (privately-managed) entity controlling the Telecom sector is a recipe for disaster and that’s why we are here now. I had hopes that we’d get this plan implemented and then go back to the political bickering between all parties but the illegal internet scandal was so big Ogero’s head flew for a whole month if not more to Paris, presumably for “medical purposes”.

In regards to the Telecom Ministry, blaming them solely for not knowing about the illegal internet stations and failing to implement the fiber optics is unfair but I believe Minister Harb should have communicated better what’s happening with the online community and responded to major complaints like the cost of additional MB consumption on 3G plans and the lousy DSL connections in remote areas.

All in all, our 3G/4G speeds are good enough but quotas and prices need to be improved while DSL speeds are still lousy and we are in desperate need of an upgrade VERY soon! I’ve said that back in March and repeat it: “we will have over 3 million internet users in Lebanon by 2017, Lebanon has the 4th highest internet penetration in the region and we still cannot get a proper 2MB DSL connection outside Beirut, and sometimes even in Beirut. This is embarrassing and unacceptable.”