Category Archives: Technology

AUB Goes Eco-Friendly, Launches its First Photovoltaic Power Plant

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photovoltaic

The American University of Beirut has inaugurated yesterday its first photovoltaic power plant to “mitigate the high environmental and economic costs of electricity generation through combustion of diesel”. The solar panel system was installed on the rooftop of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA) and will save an estimated $500,000 per year in operating cost, deliver 150 MW of clean energy into the grid and reduce 1,500 tons of CO2 emissions.

The project was completed by three students over a period of eight months and was funded by the European Union’s ENPI CBC Mediterranean Seas Basin MEDSOLAR project (covering 85% of total cost), the FEA, and a local NGO called MONEERA.

Let’s hope this project will be implemented in several areas around Lebanon and in all universities and schools. You can read more about it [here] and/or watch this [LBCI report] by Raneem Bou Khzam.

Earlier last year, ABC Achrafieh installed the largest private photovoltaic plant in Lebanon on ABC’s rooftop. The installation covered up to 4,000 m2 and provides a capacity of 0.45 MW that is enough to power ABC department store, the equivalent of feeding up to 500 houses.

Google Maps Updated For Lebanon

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pedestrian bridge

Google has updated yesterday its mapping application with new, higher-resolution imagery from NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite, which means sharper and more detailed photographs for Google Maps & Google Earth. The maps for Lebanon were updated of course and you can clearly see that from the screenshots below. We now have all the streets and alleys even outside Beirut and even pedestrian bridges are showing on the map now as little grey things. The last update took place in 2013.

Enjoy Google Earth imagery as it’s now cloud-free “thanks to mining nearly a petabyte of data. That’s more than 700 trillion pixels, the company notes, or 7,000 times more pixels than the number of estimated stars in the Milky Way, it adds, having fun with the numbers”. [Tech Crunch]

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Thank you Rita el Khoury for the screenshots & John Awad for the story

Beirut Electricity App Featured In #Apple’s WWDC16

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elec

Beirut Electricity, an app that calculates the power outage hours in Beirut was featured in Apple’s New Beginnings video ahead of the WWDC16. This app basically “tracks the rolling three-hour outages and predicts when the power is on days, weeks, months and even years in advance”. The app also works on the Apple Watch.

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Of course it’s pretty cool to be featured in Apple’s promo but I wish it could have been for something more useful than tracking down electricity outages, but that’s the sad reality we are living in. We have so many talents and so much potential here but there’s no infrastructure (internet, electricity, tech hubs) to support them.

Start watching at Minute 0:38

[YouTube]

5 Cool Things From Apple’s WWDC16

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WWDC16

Apple announced a series of new features and updates across its 4 platforms: MacOS, iOS, WatchOS and TVOS. Here are the 5 things that I liked best:

1- Swift Playground
Apple introduced Swift Playground, a free iPad app that teaches kids how to code. It is fun and intuitive using game like lessons to make learning code seem easy.

WW Swift

2- Calls, Messages and Emojis
You can now receive voice and video calls from third party apps (i.e Whatsapp) to the home screen just like traditional calls. iMessage got a major makeover with integration support for third party apps, services and lots of interactive features as well as fun and predictive emojis.

3- Apple Watch SOS Button and Medical ID Bracelet
You can now long press the side button of your watch to initiate an SOS call anywhere in the world, without even knowing the local emergency number. The watch will also turn into a medial ID bracelet showing all your emergency medical details.

4- Home App
Home allows you to control all your smart devices in your house via HomeKit. It will let you control the lights, thermostats, open doors, view cams and set scenes, all from one native app.

5- iCloud Drive
A more efficient and productive way to use desktop storage and iCloud. Your desktop files are now backed up and stored in the cloud while being fully accessible across all desktop and mobile devices.

Overall Apple is moving towards a more open system, it is giving the developer community more access and tools to push the limits without compromising on the aesthetics, functionality and more important the privacy of the user. The iOS 10 Developer Preview is already out now, with a public beta available in the summer and the final version coming this September with the new iPhone launch.

The Virtual National Museum of Modern Art: The First of Its Kind In Lebanon

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The Ministry of Culture officially launched on Wednesday the Virtual National Museum of Modern Art in Lebanon. This is the first museum of its kind in Lebanon and will feature over 800 artworks including paintings and sculptures from different Lebanese artists.

I was invited to Rome for a couple of days to attend the opening of the Lebanese museum of modern arts last week but it turned out to be a cool stunt by the Ministry to introduce the virtual museum and I got the chance to meet the Minister who explained everything related to that museum, and the gigantic effort that it took to bring this large collection online.

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The virtual museum aims at digitizing the large collection that the Ministry of Culture has, as well as introducing Lebanese here and abroad, and of course art enthusiasts from around the world, to our local talents. You can explore it on [artmodernemv.gov.lb] and there’s an app also available for iOS (iPhone, iPad) & Android users.

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The website is available in four languages (English, Arabic, Spanish & French) and once you click to experience the virtual museum, you will be prompted to enter 4 different “rooms” organized periodically where you will be able to explore the artwork of various Lebanese painters and sculptors. There’s also a section called “Exhibitions” that will showcase artwork by a prominent Lebanese artist every 2-3 months. The first exhibition on display online is for painter Georges Daoud el Korom.

Technically speaking, the website is user-friendly and quite fast. I also tried the Android app and it works perfectly fine. There are few bugs and issues with the website though that I communicated with the concerned people.

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All in all, I loved the initiative as it aims to promote Lebanese modern art to locals and the whole world and will help maintain Lebanon’s arts heritage by digitizing it. Let’s just hope that one day, the Ministry will have enough money to establish a real museum and showcase the 2000+ artistic pieces in its possession.

Here’s a short video to help you experience the virtual museum. (Thank you Wajid from Uf concepts for the editing and the help!)

[YouTube]

PS: If you happen to have an Oculus VR machine, you can enjoy viewing the museum in VR mode.

Note: This post will be sponsored on BlogBaladi’s Facebook page by the Ministry of Culture with my consent of course.

Get Connected to Syrian Mobile Phone Carriers from Within Lebanon

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welcoem

Two years ago, I was driving from Kobayat to Andkit and we ended up somewhere where I got a message welcoming me to Syria and telling me to enjoy roaming with Syria’s operators. I thought that was normal given how close we were to the Syrian borders but apparently this also happens in the Bekaa and a lot of Syrians have figured out ideal spots to get coverage from Syrian mobile phone carriers and make calls to their home country at half the cost of Lebanese tariffs.

Ideal locations for Syrian coverage stretch between Hosh al-Harimeh and Ghazze in the West Bekaa, as well as the areas between the towns of Jdita and Chtaura, as well as the Kroum area in Zahle sometimes.

Needless to say, and given the current circumstances, a lot of Syrians cannot afford getting a Lebanese line to call and check up on their relatives but this is a security compromise as well and the signals should be jammed in my opinion. My friend got the message shown above right before an army checkpoint so this is inadmissible.

The authorities can easily set up special call centers for Syrian refugees to check on their relatives at reduced costs or even for free but this needs to stop. The worst part is that you could be charged for data roaming if you’re spending the whole day there.

Hey Najib, is Everything Secure Enough?

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secure

I seriously have no idea who came up with that ad, but this guy acts exactly like me. I lock my car at least 3-4 times and if I’m leaving the laptop in the car, I check all the doors like 5 times. I make sure our building’s gate is properly closed and don’t get me started with my daily house inspections. I check everything twice every morning before leaving and twice before sleeping.

My wife couldn’t stop laughing when she heard the ad.

PS: As far as online payment is concerned, I only use one specific card with a low limit and always make sure the website is secure enough. Of course with 3D Secure, payments are even more secure now so it’s great news for me and that other “Najib” lol!

The Authorities Can No Longer Monitor Your Whatsapp Messages & Calls

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whatsapp

WhatsApp just got a whole lot more secure after rolling out full encryption to all its users. All the text, photos and calls you make are now fully encrypted and can only be read by the recipient, which means that it’s practically impossible for the authorities to intercept messages and access the content of Whatsapp users’ messages.

If you still didn’t receive the notification shown above, then you probably need to update your Whatsapp version to be the latest. The end-to-end encryption also applies Windows Phone and Blackberry. More importantly, you will be able to detect a user running an older version and not supporting encrypted messages as Whatsapp will notify you if the messages are secure or not.

I’m not sure if the Apple-FBI case or the #Panamapapers data breach triggered this move by Whatsapp but I support any move that protects our privacy and keeps our conversations outside the purview of authorities.

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Lebanese Dream Of High Speed Internet

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intenret via @haidcar

The above table was being shared yesterday as an April Fools’ joke. I have no idea whether it’s all fabricated or inspired from the 2020 plan announced by the MOT, but what’s sure is that we are still far from getting these speeds.

Few days ago, I asked people to share speedtest screenshots on Facebook and some of the speeds I got were deplorable. We are talking about 0.13, 0.47 and 0.12Mbps download DSL speeds here. The majority had speeds below 2Mbps while the highest speed I got was 4.69Mbps from a local cable provider in Achrafieh.

I’m glad that the internet topic is all over the news recently and as I stated previously, slow internet is as important as the garbage problem, whether you like to admit it or not, because technology has a huge impact on every country’s development and falling behind will cost us dearly in the future.

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What Age Should You Get Your Kids Mobile Phones and How to Keep Them Safe?

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I always said that I’ll never give my kids mobile phones before they become teenagers. I was even constantly bashing my friends for doing so, but all this changed when we got kids of our own, and I realized the pressure parents face on the topic.

If you decided to give your child a connected device, then make sure you are in total control and constantly monitoring your little one. It’s a big, dangerous virtual world out there, and you don’t want to send them all alone unprotected. Here are some tips to help you make a safer decision:

Which Devices Are Suitable For Your Child?

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I am an Apple user myself. For me, Apple is always a safer choice when it comes to children. Of course, you can set parental control on Android and create users for your kids to give them limited access on apps and content. But still, the many combined features on Apple provide a full hands-on parental control experience. We’ll be covering Android in a later post.

Ages 2-6

iPad - iGuy Freestanding Case

iPad: I prefer the iPad more than the iPad Mini as it has a big interactive surface for those little clumsy fingers, larger screen which makes it easier on the eyes, and plenty of educational and entertaining apps on the store. You can also find many child-proof covers that most importantly protect the children from hurting themselves, make it easy for them to hold the device and reduce the risk of getting the device broken from the guaranteed falls to come.

Ages 7-12

iPod Touch - 6th Generation

iPod Touch: Many kids this age become more mobile and independent, they are on the move, they go out with family members, they want something easier to carry around, smaller and cooler. The iPod looks and feels like a smartphone but it comes without mobile cellular connection, only WI-FI. This is important because your kids can only connect to a secure and monitored network. Without a mobile number, nobody can call your child or chat (Whatsapp) with them behind your back. With Parental control, you can pre-approve your child’s address book and messaging contacts to make sure they only contact / Facetime / iMessage people you approve.

Old is Gold: (Get a GSM Mobile Handset)
Whether your child has after-school activity, is invited to spend a day-out with friends, or is sleeping over at a family member’s house, there are times when you need to make sure that your child has constant access to a phone and can call you anytime. The best solution is to give them a temporary mobile access for the duration of the trip. The trick is to avoid giving them a smartphone.

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The solution is simple, invest in an “old school” GSM mobile phone equipped with a prepaid SIM card capable of voice calls and SMS only (the $20 Nokia would do). The phone is to be kept at home at all times and only provided to your kids whenever they have an outing.

Ages 13+
If you haven’t purchased a mobile phone for your kid by now then you’ve got superpowers, I salute you 🙂 Dealing with teenagers is tricky since they are technically savvy.

Here are a few things to remember:
Find My iPhone

– Restrict adult content by enabling parental control or restrictions on the device itself and on the home WI-FI network.
– Enable Find My iPhone in order to track the whereabouts of your child.
– Limit screen time, especially at night and in their bedrooms. Make sure they use their devices in the family rooms.
– Make sure you talk to your kids about the risks of sharing confidential information about their home, family and friends.
– Make sure that your kids don’t take sensitive photos (private parts) and share them with friends.
– Always be aware of their latest password and constantly check their devices for inappropriate photos, chats and apps.
– Talk to your kids about what is appropriate and inappropriate content online, and why it’s important to steer clear of the dark areas of the web.
– Monitor your kids for any sudden change in mobile behavior, change of password, hiding the device, etc.

Set Up The Device Yourself And Create An Apple ID For Your Kids:
When you purchase a device, take it out of the box and set it up yourself. Every device requires an Apple ID for it to work properly. On the device, create an Apple ID specific for your child and save the username and password. You can prevent your kids from changing them in the parental controls. However, children under 13 are not allowed to have an Apple ID without a parental consent and without being part of a family plan.

JG KidsMobile AccountsNote: Never login with your apple ID on other devices, your pictures and messages will show up on those devices as well.

Create A Family Plan:
As the family administrator, activate the family plan on your iPhone and add all your family members, this is really helpful on several fronts:

Family Sharing

– You don’t need to issue several credit cards to be allocated to each of the users. You can have one credit card on the main admin account and all the family members will be able to use this card to make online purchases.
– Your kids won’t be making any downloads and purchases without your approval. Every download, purchase, or in-app purchase will need parent/guardian approval before it happens. The parent receives a notification on their device asking for approval on behalf of the child, you can approve or reject.
– The family members can also benefit from apps that are already purchased on different accounts without having to purchase them once again, you can simply re-download these apps for free on the different family accounts.

Activate Parental Controls:
Make sure to activate the parental control feature or restrictions on your kids’ devices and protect it with an admin password. Doing so will give you peace of mind making sure your kids are safely using the device as they will have:

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– Limited access to apps, they cannot download an app without your approval, your next phone/credit card bill won’t arrive jam-packed with surprise app purchases,
– No Access to adult-related content, it can be blocked depending on age of the child and will show age appropriate content.
– Controlled chat environment: One of the greatest threats kids face is chatting with complete strangers and pedophiles. With parental control you can prevent your kids from contacting someone who is not on the safe contact list.
– No or limited Internet access, of course depending on your internet allowance quota.

All in all, we should not fear technology, we should embrace and be on top of it. Yes, we live in a different era, we can no longer raise our kids the way we were raised and act as if these devices don’t exist. In the next 20 years, 50% of the future jobs will be ones that don’t currently exist. We need our kids to be on top of trends, technically savvy, connected with the world and most important connected with us.