Sci-tech

Rain brings some relief to Western Cape farmers

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Agri Western Cape says good rains and heavy snow has placed the industry in the province in a much better position than last year.

CEO of the organisation, Carl Opperman says although dams are filling up in the province, the drought is far from over.

Ground water was used extensively as a result of the drought, and needs to recharged.

The area from Bredasdorp to Mossel Bay and inland to the Karoo is still in a dire situation.

Opperman says as a result of the drought, many farmers are still in financial dire straits and many face cash flow problems.

Opperman says there is an urgent need for all stakeholders, including government to look at setting up an insurance plan or programme to assist farmers when serious crises hit.

“We’ve got assistance on the live stock side, but there’s no assistance for your horticulture and viticulture, people or your grain farmers at this point in time. We got to really look at it.”

“The upcoming farmers are still in dire straits because there is no capital or balance sheet to back them up. So we must also look at ways and means to assist up and coming farmers. We need to find ways to sustain them and take them further when we face crisis like this,” adds Opperman.

 

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HRC urges better dialogue following healthcare strike

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The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has called on healthcare workers to consider engaging it when they fail to resolve their disputes with government instead of embarking on a strike action that compromises the provision of healthcare.

The Commission is hosting a national dialogue on the impact of protest action on the right to access healthcare services.

The North West province was plunged into chaos a few months ago when healthcare workers went on a prolonged strike action over salaries and poor working conditions.

HRC Chairperson Bongani Majola has also appealed to government to develop early warning systems in order to resolve issues as soon as they are raised.

“Where the state fails to engage properly, we’d like to encourage trade union movements and workers together to consider engaging the Commission instead of venting their frustrations on innocent and ailing members of the public, who are compelled by their conditions to seek help in public hospitals and clinics. The Commission is committed to ensuring that the human rights of everyone are promoted and protected and this includes the rights of healthcare workers.”

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Uber returns to Finnish roads after taxi market deregulation

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Uber Technologies [UBER.UL] will re-start its ride-hailing business in Finland on Wednesday after a one-year pause, it said, seeking to benefit from the country’s transport law reform.

The US company has come under pressure from traditional taxi drivers and regulators across Europe, who accuse it of unfair competition and skirting traditional licensing rules.

In Finland, Uber was deemed legal provided its drivers held valid taxi licenses, but the company has been the target of police investigations and drivers have been ordered to give up their earnings to the state for not having valid permits.

An overhaul of transport legislation came into force on 1 July , removing a cap on the number of taxi licenses the government issues in a year and fare restrictions, while creating a legal framework for apps such as Uber.

The company will relaunch its uberX and UberBLACK services on Wednesday afternoon in the wider capital region, including Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen.

“Drivers who have been fully licensed under the new regulations will now be able to help hundreds of thousands of Finns get around at the touch of a button,” Uber Nordics general manager Joel Jarvinen said in a statement.

“We hope that other countries, where local people are not currently able to use apps like Uber either to get around or to make money on their terms, will soon follow suit.”

Jarvinen said more than a quarter million people in the Helsinki area have opened the Uber app since August even though the company was not operating.

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Brics conference aims to advance science innovation

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Science and Technology Ministers from countries in the Brics say the main focus for a two-day Science and Technology conference held in Durban was to identify social problems and find solutions to common challenges.

The conference kicked off on Monday.

They say the forum gave them a platform to exchange perspectives and ideas to generate science solutions.

The ministers have come to a resolution to establish a science innovation hub between countries in the Brics grouping.

Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says South Africa with other Brics countries are already working on various development strategies to advance science innovation.

“There is quite a number of things that are happening – either in South Africa and in particular countries within the Brics countries – in establishing corporation. We are learning from the work that we are doing as SADC – because we have been able to do quite tangible work since we have seconded somebody from South Africa to SADC to look specifically on Science and Technology.”

“Out of that we are learning that we can do more, co-ordinate the work and implement,” she adds.

 

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Facebook shares drop on report of widened probe on data scandal

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Shares of Facebook Inc fell 2 percent on Tuesday, after a report that a federal probe on the data breach linked to Cambridge Analytica had been broadened and would include more government agencies.

Facebook shares were down 2 percent at $193.36 in early trading on the Nasdaq, erasing nearly $12 billion from the company’s market valuation. The stock lost about 18 percent of its value in the seven trading days after the data scandal broke, but has since gained about 27 percent to date.

Facebook has faced intense scrutiny around the Cambridge scandal, which saw millions of users’ data improperly accessed by the political consultancy.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission have joined the Department of Justice in its inquiries about the two companies and the sharing of personal information of 71 million Americans, the Washington Post reported citing five people.

A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters late on Monday that it is cooperating with officials in the US, UK and beyond.

“We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues,” the spokesperson said. The questioning from federal investigators centers on what Facebook knew three years ago and why the company did not reveal it at the time to its users or investors, the Washington Post said.

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Cape Town officials battle effects of severe weather

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The City of Cape Town‘s Disaster Management says technicians are still working to restore electricity in a number of areas across the Cape Metro affected by heavy downpours and flooding.

Trees have been uprooted and power lines damaged in areas including Langa, Parow Valley, Mfuleni and Constantia.

Officials have cleared most roadways and unblocked drains.

The highest recorded rainfall in the City was in Kirstenbosch at 72 millimetres.

The City’s Charlotte Powell says they are still assessing the extent of the damage.

“At this stage, roadways have been cleared and trees have been removed. Community day centres in Ravensmead and Belhar have been flooded and have been referred to nearby communities, electricity has not yet been restored in some areas and technicians are on site.”

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WHO hopes to use Ebola vaccine to stem outbreak in remote area of Congo

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The World Health Organization said on Friday it hopes to deploy an experimental Ebola vaccine to tackle an outbreak in a remote area of Congo to prevent it spreading, particularly to the provincial capital of 1 million people.

Congo reported the outbreak on Tuesday, with 32 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of the disease since April 4, including 18 deaths. A new suspected case was reported on Friday.

The WHO is moving quickly, having been criticised for bungling its response to a 2014-2016 outbreak that killed more than 11 300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“We are very concerned and planning for all scenarios,including the worst case scenario,” Peter Salama, WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, told a regular UN briefing in Geneva.

The outbreak area is 15 hours by motorbike from the closest town and has “absolutely dire” infrastructure, Salama said, so the WHO wants to send in 20-40 experts by helicopter this weekend and then clear an airstrip for more supplies.

“This is going to be tough and it’s going to be costly to stamp out this outbreak,” he said.

The immediate risk was to the provincial capital Mbandaka,with about 1 million inhabitants, but Congo’s nine neighbours have also been put on high alert in case the disease crosses a border, especially by river to the Republic of Congo or Central African Republic.

Gambia, Guinea and Nigeria have already said they are taking steps to ensure the virus does not spread, and Kenya’s Health Ministry said on Friday it would bolster screening of travellers with thermo scanners at airports.

Normally a remote setting would reduce the chance of the disease spreading. But already there are three separate locations covering 60 km or more, and some of the victims were healthcare workers, potentially “an amplification factor” for outbreaks, Salama said.

The local culture, with traditional healers and communal burials where there was close contact with the deceased, could cause “super-spreading” of Ebola, which kills up to 90% of sufferers, he said.

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Found: lone asteroid expelled from early Solar System

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An asteroid ejected from our infant Solar System found refuge billions of kilometres away, beyond the orbit of Neptune, where it has now been spotted, astronomers said Wednesday.

The curious loner is the first carbon-rich asteroid ever observed in the far-flung region called the Kuiper belt, which is filled with frozen objects, a team reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Its composition suggests the asteroid must have been formed in the inner Solar System, likely in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, before migrating to its outer reaches, said the team.

This makes it “a relic of the primordial Solar System”, they added.

Theoretical models of our early Solar System describe a tempestuous time with gas giant planets on the rampage, ejecting small rocky bodies from its the system’s centre to far-flung orbits.

Such models suggest the Kuiper Belt should contain a small number of rocky bodies, perhaps also carbon-rich asteroids.

The new observation, using telescopes of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, provides “strong support for these theoretical models of our Solar System’s troubled youth,” said an ESO statement.

The asteroid was spotted partly because it reflects light differently than other objects in the Kuiper Belt, which are icy while asteroids are rocky.

“It looked enough of a weirdo for us to take a closer look,” said study lead author Tom Seccull of Queen’s University Belfast.

It is, nevertheless, very difficult to study.

The 300 kilometre-wide (186 mile) space rock is four billion kilometres from Earth, and dark.

“It’s like observing a giant mountain of coal against the pitch-black canvas of the night sky,” said co-author Thomas Puzia of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

Dubbed 2004 EW95, the asteroid is moving, and feint.

“We had to use a pretty advanced data processing technique to get as much out of the data as possible,” said Seccull.

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Children miss school because of drought in parts of Kenya

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Several school going children in some of Kenya’s arid areas have not resumed classes following a long dry spell in most parts of the country.

Children are said to have followed their parents for long treks away from their villages in search of water and pastures for their animals. Most of the affected are Masai who are traditionally herders.

The previous day we met Henry Matiyan, a guardian who had come to collect a transfer letter for his brother.l The drought has forced his family to move several kilometres away from here – he will now continue schooling elsewhere.

“If it continues, it means there will be no school; all these children will go away with their parents,” says Kinuthia.

Kajiado like many parts of Kenya has not received adequate rainfall since 2016.  It is an arid area – meaning it lacks adequate water.

The Masaai people who are the main inhabitants of the area are livestock keepers – the more one has the wealthier they are, now their livestock’s carcasses dot their land, their cattle bomas are empty and so are their pockets.

Kajaido Resident college student Henry Matiyan has been forced to drop out until the rains.

“Ideally the school fees would come have from, from cattle, I as a masaai that is our bank. We have no other place to look for money, the only way is to sell cattles and goats.”

“It’s a big, big loss, big loss. Cows have died, our goats have died, even donkeys,” adds another resident Amos Lau Lau

To save the remaining livestock, they have now moved hundreds of kilometres from here in search of pastures and water for their livestock together with their children.

Only old women, the pregnant and very little children have been left behind.

Food has kept Enosorua Primary school running at least for now. We witness the children receiving a meal of maize of beans – just a cup per child but that cup means the difference between keeping the school open or closed.

“Do you see? That this food makes children come to school?  Yes, that I really accept, because when it is not there, the children cannot come to school,” says Enosorua Primary School teacher, Maxwell Obaga.

The arid and semi-arid areas make at least 80% of Kenya.

Education officials from the county, who refused to speak to the SABC on camera say, although Kajiado is an arid area, it is not classified as a hard ship area and does not therefore receive food rations from the government.

“It breaks our hearts to see our kids go the whole day without food and they are expected to compete with others who have better facilities,” says Sankale.

We sought a comment from Kenya’s ministry of Education but we were yet to get a response by the time of filing this report.

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Computer chip ‘flaw’ sparks security debate amid scramble for fix

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A newly discovered vulnerability in computer chips on Wednesday raised concerns  that hackers could access sensitive data on most modern systems, as technology firms sought to play down the security risks.

Chip giant Intel issued a statement responding to a flurry of warnings surfacing after researchers discovered the security hole which could allow privately stored data in computers and networks to be leaked.

Intel labeled as incorrect reports describing a “bug” or “flaw” unique to its products.

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich told CNBC that “basically all modern processors across all applications” use this process known as “access memory,” which was discovered by researchers at Google and kept confidential as companies work on remedies.

Google, meanwhile, released findings from its security researchers who sparked the concerns, saying it made the results public days ahead of schedule because much of the information had been in the media.

The security team found “serious security flaws” in devices powered by Intel, AMD and ARM chips and the operating systems running them and noted that, if exploited, “an unauthorized party may read sensitive information in the system’s memory such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications”.

“As soon as we learned of this new class of attack, our security and product development teams mobilized to defend Google’s systems and our users’ data,” Google said in a security blog.

“We have updated our systems and affected products to protect against this new type of attack. We also collaborated with hardware and software manufacturers across the industry to help protect their users and the broader web.”

The Google team said the vulnerabilities, labeled “Spectre” and “Meltdown,” affected a number of chips from Intel as well as some from AMD and ARM, which specializes in processors for mobile devices.

Intel said it was working with AMD and ARM Holdings and with the makers of computer operating software “to develop an industry-wide approach to resolve this issue promptly and constructively.”

Jack Gold, an independent technology analyst, said he was briefed in a conference call with Intel, AMD and ARM on the issue and that the three companies suggested concerns were overblown.

“All the chips are designed that way,” Gold said.

The companies were working on remedies after “some researchers found a way to use existing architecture and get into protected areas of computer memory and read some of the data,” he added.

Microsoft said in a statement it had no information suggesting any compromised data but was “releasing security updates today to protect Windows customers against vulnerabilities.”

But an AMD spokesman said that because of the differences in AMD processor architecture, “we believe there is near zero risk to AMD products at this time.”

ARM meanwhile said it was “working together with Intel and AMD” to address potential issues “in certain high-end processors, including some of our Cortex-A processors.”

“We have informed our silicon partners and are encouraging them to implement the software mitigations developed if their chips are impacted,” the SoftBank-owned firm said.

Earlier this week, some researchers said any fix which would need to be handled by software could slow down computer systems, possibly by 30% or more.

Intel‘s statement said these concerns, too, were exaggerated.

“Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time,” the company statement said.

Tatu Ylonen, security researcher at SSH Communications Security,  said the patches “will be effective” but it will be critical to get all networks and cloud services upgraded, Ylonen said.

British security researcher Graham Cluley also expressed concern “that attackers could exploit the flaw on vulnerable systems to gain access to parts of the computer’s memory which may be storing sensitive information. Think passwords, private keys, credit card data.”

But he said in a blog post that it was “good news” that the problem had been kept under wraps to allow operating systems such as those from Microsoft and Apple to make security updates before the flaw is maliciously exploited.

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