Category Archives: Technology

#NERD16: Let’s Build Robots To Collect/Recycle Our Garbage & Prevent Fires

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#NERD16 is an open nationwide tournament that is hosted at AUB on March 2016 and the biggest robotics tournament in Lebanon. This year marks the sixth edition of NERD (National Education Robotics Day) and it will feature more competitions and challenges than the previous years. Moreover, this year’s theme “Robots for Nature” is related to our current situation and the robotics challenges are about waste management and environmental issues.

I guess this is a good opportunity to figure out solutions to our current garbage problem. Who knows? Maybe students will come up with robots that recycle and collect garbage for us. I heard Volvo is working on something like that already, so here’s a chance for Lebanese students to offer a solution. I’d love to see someone design a robot that can be deployed in forests and prevent fires before they take place as well. That would be very helpful especially in Lebanon.

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I know the ideas that I’m proposing may seem impossible to achieve, but we have a lot of talented young students participating in this competition and one of our Lebanese teams (Fast & Curious) has won the first place in at the Arab Robotics Championship last year and a World Robotics Festival in the US.

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#NERD16 is open to all Lebanese student teams or individuals aged 6 or more. The registration period for schools, universities and teams starts on October 23 and ends on December 31. It’s the best opportunity for smart and geeky students to shine so don’t miss out!

PS: For school students, their schools must register. For university students, they can register by themselves. Registration can be done on the website www.etclb.com where anyone can find the rules of all the different competitions and challenges.

[YouTube]

BlogBaladi Is Lebanon’s Most Influential Blog And The Blog Of The Year 2015

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[LebaneseBlogs] has just published this morning its blogging statistics and awards for 2015 and BlogBaladi emerged as Lebanon’s Most Influential Blog of 2015, also known as Lebanon’s Blog of the year which is awesome news!

What I love about these statistics is that they are not based on subjective opinions, but on hard data gathered and analyzed from the thousands of posts that were published and indexed this year, and I thank Mustapha for going through this effort to pull out these results because I know it’s not easy.

BlogBaladi was featured in all the top lists as follows:

Lebanon’s 20 Most Shared posts on Facebook:
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My post on the Facebook Safety Check following the Burj Brajneh attacks gathered over 30k in terms of shares and ranked #7 in the most shared Facebook posts list.

Congrats to Elie from A Separate State of Mind for topping the list.

Lebanon’s 20 most shared posts on Twitter:
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It’s very hard to compete with KarlRemarks on Twitter but I managed to sneak into 10th spot with my post on Lebanese journalist and activists and my friend Joumana Haddad being denied entrance to Bahrain.

Ambassador Tom Fletcher topped the list this year with his farewell tweet.

Lebanon’s most viral blogger:
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BlogBaladi was ranked as the 3rd most viral blog in 2015 with an average of 35.9 over 50. Virality is a “score for each post that combines its Twitter shares and Facebook shares while normalizing extreme variations”. Last year my average was 21.72 so this is a huge improvement and I’m glad that all the hard work I put into generating better content this year paid off.

Congrats to Elie from A Separate State of Mind and Ralph from Blog Of The Boss for the top 2 spots.

Lebanon’s most prolific blogger:
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Last year I was the most prolific blogger with over 1,557 posts throughout the year, and I could have probably topped the list this year but I decided to cut down my posts to 2 or 3 per day and try to improve the quality of the posts even further and it surely paid off in the virality average and user engagement.

Congrats to Anthony from NoGarlicNoOnions for topping the list.

Lebanon’s blog of the year:

I’m very proud to top the list and be Lebanon’s most influential blogger for 2015. Blogging is hard work and it’s always great to see your work being appreciated, especially when it’s based on objective results and hard data.

Check out all the results [here].

How Lebanese Ayah Bdeir’s #littleBits Is Changing The Engineering Landscape

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Even though littleBits was launched in 2011, Ayah Bdeir’s award-winning platform is still making headlines worldwide and the latest was this interview with WIRED on the cult of littleBits, and how “this tech toy is changing the engineering landscape”.

Who is the Founder & CEO of littleBits?
Ayah Bdeir completed her undergraduate degrees in Computer Engineering and Sociology at the American University of Beirut then earned a Masters of Science degree from the MIT Media Lab. She’s the founder and CEO of littleBits, a TED Senior Fellow and an alumna of the MIT Media Lab. She has received several awards for her startup in the past years and has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s 35 Under 35, one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business and one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 among others.

How does littleBits work?
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littleBits is a platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that empower you to invent anything, from your own remote controlled car, to a smart home device. The Bits snap together with magnets, no soldering, no wiring, no programming needed.

It’s actually very simple, as simple as assembling Lego blocks, and that’s the beauty of it. littleBits makes the learning process fun and easy and is accessible to everyone from age 8 and above. In fact, I was checking their Christmas gifts and they have gift sets for young inventors, music lovers, minecrafters and professionals. If you have a geeky kid, you should consider getting him a littleBits kit.

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All in all, littleBits is making technology simpler and encouraging everyone to be an inventor. The platform has been growing steadily over the past 4 years and has recently raised $44.2 million in new funding. It is currently being used in more than 100 countries, 2100 schools and universities and by more than 8000 educators. Moreover, littleBits is “partnering with Barnes & Noble stores to empower the spirit of invention in its retail stores across the U.S” which is awesome news!

Everything you need to know about littleBits is on their website so check it out [here].

Is The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus Worth The Upgrade?

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s6 edge plus

I’ve been carrying The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge for almost 6 months now, and I still didn’t get bored of its unique design and curved side screens, but I missed having a bigger screen and I’ve been struggling with the memory and the battery. In fact, battery life is much better than the S5 but it’s still relatively bad especially when your memory is near full (which is the case almost always with me).

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I basically needed a bigger S6 Edge with a larger battery and that’s exactly what Samsung delivered. The Samsung S6 Edge Plus was launched along with the new Note 5 and even though I loved the new Note and tested it out for a while, I opted for the S6 Edge Plus because I got used to its slick design and edged curves.

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ vs. Galaxy S6 edge: What’s the difference?
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The Galaxy S6 edge+ is basically a bigger version of the S6 Edge but there are five key differences that are worth mentioning:

1- Bigger Screen: The hardware is the same, the design is almost identical but the display jumped from 5.1 to 5.7 inches which is quite significant (25% more screen).

2- Bigger Battery: The (non-removable) battery is 3000 mAh vs 2600 mAh for the Edge, which is normal since the phone is bigger.

3- Fast Wireless Charging: If you thought Fast Charging is great, Wireless Fast Charging is amazing! It’s mostly useful at the office as it keeps your battery charging and your phone unplugged. Personally speaking, fast charging is one of my favorite features in the new Galaxy series and compensates for the lousy battery life.

4- Improved Performance: The S6 Edge plus has 4GB of RAM instead of 3GB, which means a better performance and improved multi-tasking. The S6 Edge was already ultra fast so I doubt that I will notice a significant change.

5- No IR Blaster: I never used my smartphone as a remote so this feature is pretty useless for me to be honest, but I don’t understand why they removed it.

There are other features that were first introduced with the S6 Edge Plus, like the Apps Edge, Video collage and Live broadcast but they are all available on the S6 Edge now. As far as cameras are concerned, I read somewhere that the S6 Edge Plus camera was slightly improved but I didn’t notice any improvements yet.

Is It Worth The Upgrade?
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To be honest, I usually wait a couple of months till the prices drop before upgrading but Samsung CTC’s swap campaign helped me speed up the process, especially that I got an extra discount as gift. At first, I wanted to swap my S6 Edge but then I decided to swap an old iPhone 5S I have for the new S6 Edge Plus because the price I got for the iPhone was better than most cellular shops and I ended up paying a difference of around $300 for the new phone (+ I got the Wireless Fast Charging for free). For those interested, you can value your phone [here] before doing the swap.

All in all, I recommend upgrading to the S6 Edge Plus if you love big screens and want a better battery life. If you are a Note fan and make use of the pen, the Note 5 is a major upgrade from the previous models and comes highly recommended.

How To Enable Google Traffic View In Lebanon

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The “Traffic” feature on Google Maps shows current traffic conditions on highways and roads but it is not available in Lebanon and several other countries. I always thought that Google didn’t have enough data to activate this feature but that’s not the case apparently. In fact, Google has enough data as it uses crowd-sourcing from people driving around and sharing their location, pretty much like Tari2ak works, and my friend Rita el Khoury figured out a work-around to activate Traffic view in Beirut.

Here’s what you need to do:
1- Open Google Maps. If you try to activate Traffic in the left menu for Lebanon, you won’t be able to.
2- Scroll to a nearby country (like Turkey or KSA for example), where Google Traffic is available and activate it.
3- Once you see the colored roads, move back to Beirut et voila! You will have Google Traffic for Lebanon.

I tried it this morning and it was pretty accurate and useful.

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What’s great about this work around is that it will keep on working even if you exit Google Maps or restart the device. However if you try to click on the Traffic option while over Lebanon it will stop.

PS: If your Google account is not set up for Lebanon, you can activate it directly and it should work. My friend just tried it.

14-Year-Old Lebanese Wins Apple’s WWDC 2015 Scholarship

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Jake  el Mir Jake al-Mir is only 14 years old and has developed two apps already – Picture from the DailyStar

Jake al-Mir is a remarkable 14-year old Lebanese high school student that taught himself how to code at age 12. He came up with an app called “Emoji Escape” two years ago and was invited this year by Apple to attend its World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco thanks to his app on speeding and driving “NoSpeed”.

Jake is one of 350 students worldwide to qualify for a paid scholarship to the conference and presumably the only Arab participant at the event but I can’t confirm that. Some are claiming he is also the youngest developer to be awarded Apple’s WWDC 2015 scholarship, which is awesome news!

How does the “NoSpeed” app work?
app

Jake Al-Mir developed the “NoSpeed” app to tackle the problem of speeding and try to decrease car accidents especially in his home country Lebanon. The app functions even when the mobile phone is locked by sending the driver a notification whenever he exceeds the speed limit, therefore also helping people avoid speeding tickets.

Here are the key functionalities:
• Track the speed of your car and when it surpasses the speed limit it will send you a voice notification to slow down. IT EVEN WORKS WHEN YOUR iPhone IS TURNED OFF (IN BACKGROUND)
• Customize your speedometer with your favorite color
• Track your altitude while driving
• Benefit from the included compass
• Switch between MPH or Km/h mode

It’s a smart idea to send notifications when the phone is locked but I think there are apps that do the same thing already. However Jake’s app is different as it sends a voice notification that plays without the driver’s intervention. Of course I know for a fact that new cars have smart systems that allow drivers to set thresholds and get alerts for almost anything but I don’t know if they are linked to a mobile app.

Nevertheless, Jake is only 14 and is obviously very talented. I studied Computer Science and I don’t even know how to start writing an app while he has two apps on iTunes already!

Thumbs up to Jake for this awesome achievement and I hope we will see him working for Apple one day.

“NoSpeed” is available on the Appstore for $ 0.99.

The Middle East’s First Official Apple Store Is Now Open In Dubai

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Marhaba

The first official Apple Store in the Middle East will officially open tomorrow to the public in the new Mall of the Emirates extension in Dubai, followed by a second launch at Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi. This is obviously big news for the UAE but also for Apple fans in Lebanon. I know a lot of people who prefer to buy their Apple products from the Apple Store itself, experience the official Apple retail experience and get the proper service and warranty. Moreover, the closest Apple Store to Beirut is in Europe right now and is usually expensive because of the Euro and taxes. Of course what would be ideal is having an Apple store in Beirut but we all know that’s not gonna happen anytime soon.

Apple store

My friends at AbsoluteGeeks.com were among the first to visit the Apple Store in Dubai and shared their experience. I’m sharing a couple of sneak peek pictures from inside the store and few things you need to know about the first Apple Stores in the Arab World.

– The last time Apple opened two stores in one day was back in 2001 on the same day in the USA.
– More than 150 products will be sold at the Apple Stores. The Apple TV and the Hermès edition of the Apple Watch are not available though yet.
– Apple will be hosting women-only workshops in the coming weeks besides the usual calendar.
– The store’s design components were done in partnership with Foster + Partners, the same team which designed the Apple Campus at its headquarters in California.
– There are two Genius Bars in the middle of the store in Dubai surrounded by self-watering trees.
– The two UAE Apple Stores will have over 150 employees who speak 40 languages and represent 30 nationalities.

I recommend you check out the full article [here] for more info.

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samer

Netflix Might Be Launching In The Middle East Soon

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According to IGN, Netflix has confirmed they will be launching in the Middle East soon. In an email to IGN ME, Netflix’s Joris Evers said, “We plan to complete our global expansion by the end of 2016. Of course the Middle East is part of that, hence our hiring.”

If you look under Jobs on Netflix.com, you will find that there’s one specific position for the Middle East area. This is definitely great news but we still have to see what will be available on Netflix once it starts here. Currently, people are using VPN services to access Netflix.

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The State Of Broadband 2015 Report: Lebanon vs The Arab World

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According to Ogero’s July 2015 report, there are 3,638,051 internet users in Lebanon as of December 2014, out of which 2,505,875 mobile internet users. The internet penetration is 86% which puts Lebanon in 4th position regionally after Bahrain, UAE and Qatar. Unfortunately, the speeds and quotas are still lousy but things are moving in the right way hopefully especially after the fiber optics joint announcement done by the Telecom Ministry and Ogero.

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About the BB Commission:
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development was launched by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call to step up efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Established in May 2010, the Commission unites government leaders, top industry executives, thought leaders, policy pioneers, international agencies and organizations concerned with development.

As far as broadband is concerned, the 2015 State of Broadband report was released few days ago and Lebanon’s indicators were relatively good when compared to other Arab countries. Broadband is seen as foundation for sustainable development by the UN and an “affordable and effective broadband connectivity is a vital enabler of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection”.

Where does Lebanon stand in the Arab World?

– Lebanon ranked first (47th globally) in terms of fixed-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants with an average of 22.8 over 100.
– Lebanon ranked 8th (57th globally) in terms of mobile broadband per 100 inhabitants with an average of 53.5 over 100. Kuwait ranked first regionally and third globally with 139.8 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
– 68.4% of households in Lebanon have internet (vs 98% in Qatar, 94% in KSA and 90.1% in UAE)
– 74.4% of Lebanese have used the internet in 2014 (vs 91.5% in Qatar, 91% in Bahrain and 90.4% in UAE).

Check out the full report [here].

While Lebanon’s indicators are promising, it is still important to get cheap, fast and abundant internet to all the Lebanese. Telecom Minister Boutros Harb was tweeting yesterday about the latest fiber optics updates and promised a monthly report to highlight the progress. Of course I’m not expecting fiber optics before 2-3 years but I’m still waiting for DSL services to be upgraded to VDSL2+ because we desperately need those especially in regions outside Beirut. I just applied for a DSL connection last week for my new house and I’m still waiting to see if I can get more than 1 MBPS.

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Thanks Rami!

Review: Should You Buy The Apple Watch?

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First Impression:

I wasn’t very impressed with the Apple Watch when it first launched as I thought it was too big but I changed my mind when I saw a friend wearing it. He had the 42mm Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black Sport Band and it fit his hand (and mine) perfectly. Since I was already looking for a smart-watch for myself and mainly for my wife (iPhone user) as she doesn’t like carrying her phone all the time, especially with the new baby, I decided to get her the smaller 38mm Apple Watch Sport from Virgin Megastore in Beirut. I thought she’d find it more convenient to receive texts, emails and calls on the Apple Watch when she’s taking care of the baby at home, taking him out on her own or even at work during meetings. I basically wanted to see if getting notifications on the watch was truly more efficient and whether the health tracking would help her get more active.

Needless to say, I was more excited about trying the watch than she was as I’ve been hearing so many mixed reviews and wanted to see how it compares to other smart-watches and health trackers that I’ve tried. More importantly, a lot of people have been asking me if they should consider buying the Apple Watch or not, so I needed to try it out first.

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To Buy Or Not To Buy The Apple Watch:

Instead of posting a long and technical review, I’ve compiled the pros and cons that I’ve encountered into three key points that will hopefully help you decide if you should consider getting the Apple Watch or not.

1- The Apple Watch is a “nice-to-have” but not a “must-have (yet)” accessory:
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The Apple Watch was just released this year and is still a relatively expensive iPhone accessory that has limited functionalities and needs an iPhone (5 or later) to operate. It does feel like a mini iPhone and is fun to use but there’s a lot of room for improvement and I’m sure the second version will be better. Nevertheless, Apple fans desperately looking for a smart-watch and early adopters should definitely get the Apple Watch. I’d recommend you buy the least expensive model (opt for the 42mm size) as they all have the same specs and there’s no point in buying an 18 Karat Gold Edition Apple Watch unless you need a reason to spend your money.

2- Limited battery life is not a deal-breaker:
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The Apple Watch’s battery life is supposed to be 18 hours, which means a full day but just like smartphone batteries, it really depends on how much you’re using it. In my first week of testing, the battery would last half a day because I was making calls all the time and exercising with the heart rate monitor while listening to music. However, in the weeks that followed, the battery would easily last a full day and sometimes even more which is good. If you are just wearing it to check the time and go through notifications from time to time, it can last up to 36 hours.

Of course the battery life is a disappointment to me as it’s a watch after all and I don’t want to charge it every day but battery life sucks in pretty much everything “smart” these days, especially mobiles, so I don’t consider it as a deal-breaker. Nevertheless, Apple should seriously consider improving the battery life in future watches especially if they add more functionalities to them. If we look at the current one, it only does basic and necessary functions (except the sending heartbeats part) so chances are you’re never going to drain the battery unless you spend hours tapping on the screen and making calls.

What sucks though is that the Watch has a different charger than the Mac or iPhone so you need to carry it around with you. The battery charges in around 2 hours.

3- It’s fun to use
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The Apple Watch offers a new exciting way of organizing things and can prove useful when grabbing your phone isn’t that easy. If you only need to take calls and receives/send texts all day, then you can keep the iPhone in ur pocket and use the watch at all time. Getting notifications on the watch allows you to send quick responses (make sure to use Siri!) and keeps you from missing important notifications and phone calls. You can also check the weather, set up appointments, keep track of your schedule and much more. Unfortunately, there are plenty of features missing like adding contacts, edit functions, built-in GPS, sleep tracking and I find it quite silly that the time is not displayed at all time on the watch. It’s the most basic thing that a watch should offer. I was expecting Apple to introduce it in the latest Watch OS 2 but they announced instead a “night mode stand” which still requires the user to click on the watch to get the time. On other hand, Watch OS 2 had some really exciting new features like the time travel feature, the new apps introduced (The Ping App to measure the speed of your golf swing is really cool!) and we can finally reply to emails.

As far as health & activity tracking is concerned, it’s basic when compared to professional fitness trackers and can be drastically improved. There’s no built-in GPS, which really sucks for professional runners, and the heart rate monitor is not very accurate but that’s always the case with wrist straps, whereas chest-straps are usually more accurate. I currently use the Polar chest-strap when I’m exercising and I’d rather use the FitBit or Polar Loop (or my Polar M400 watch) as a fitness tracker, unlike my wife who loved the Health App and got used to it. I think this is a matter of habit as well as it takes time to get used to a new health app. What I loved though about the Health App is how your move/exercise/stand goals are beautifully into a circular graphic to help you track your daily progress.

Overall Verdict:
apple 4 Touch Lebanon recently released an app for the Apple Watch that’s very useful to keep track of your balance and data usage.

As I’ve stated earlier in the post, the Apple Watch is not meant to replace your iPhone and probably never will. Moreover, this is Apple’s first attempt at making smart watches and just like any first-gen gadget, the second generation is guaranteed to be considerably better, so there’s no need to rush and buy it unless you’re too eager to try it out (like myself) and don’t mind paying $400+. The Apple Watch is fun and managing notifications on it is pretty cool. It saves time and comes in very handy during meetings, on the run, or even when you are in the living room and charging your phone elsewhere.

One last thing, someone had asked me why I bought the Apple Watch from Virgin Megastore as it’s relatively more expensive than other places there. To be honest, I’d rather pay a little extra and buy it from a decent shop than get the watch from shops that look more like grocery stores than tech shops. I’ve been buying stuff from Virgin for quite some time and I’ve worked with them on several projects and competitions and they are quite friendly and professional. When I went down to get the 38mm sport edition, it wasn’t available so they checked for me the availability in other branches and sent it to my office once it was available.