Google funds projects to find, fight new pathogens

first_imgOct 21, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The philanthropic arm of the Internet search company Google today announced it is awarding more than $14 million for various projects aiming to prevent the next pandemic by detecting new pathogens and disease outbreaks in Africa and Southeast Asia.The awards by Google.org are going to six different initiatives aiming to “identify hot spots where new diseases may emerge, detect new pathogens circulating in animal and human populations, and respond to disease outbreaks before they become global crises,” the company said in a news release.”Business as usual won’t stop the next AIDS or SARS,” Dr. Larry Brilliant, Google.org executive director, said in the news release. “The teams we’re funding today are on the frontiers of digital and genetic early detection technology. We hope that their work, with partners across environmental, animal, and human health boundaries, will help solve centuries-old problems and save millions of lives.”The statement said three of the grants are for efforts to use mapping and weather and climate data to help predict where and when disease outbreaks will occur:The Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass., will receive $2 million to support satellite mapping of forests to improve monitoring of forest loss and settlement expansion in tropical countries.Columbia University International Research Institute for Climate and Society will get $900,000 to improve the use of forecasts, rainfall data, and other climate information in East Africa and to link weather and climate experts to health specialists.University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is awarded $900,000 to develop a system for using weather projections to inform and target responses to disease threats in West Africa.”For Rift Valley fever and malaria, long-term weather forecasts and deforestation maps can show us where to look for outbreaks, up to six months in advance,” said Frank Rijsberman, director of the grant program for Google.org.The other three grants, the company said, are for projects designed to detect early signals of possible epidemics through blood sampling, molecular diagnostics, mining of digital data, and other surveillance efforts:The Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI) will receive $5.5 million for collecting and analyzing blood samples from humans and animals in hot spots in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Malaysia, Lao PDR, and Madagascar. The grant will be matched by the Skoll Foundation. Dr. Nathan Wolfe, GVFI’s founder and director, said the project’s aim is to monitor the movement of viruses from animals into people.Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York City, is awarded $2.5 million to support research to speed the discovery of new pathogens and promote rapid regional responses to outbreaks by establishing molecular diagnostics in hot spot countries, including Sierra Leone and Bangladesh. Columbia’s Dr. Ian Lipkin and colleagues already have discovered more than 75 viruses.Children’s Hospital Corp., in Boston, will receive $3 million to combine the online disease-detection efforts of HealthMap with ProMED-mail’s global network of human, animal, and ecosystem health specialists who report disease outbreaks. The project will assess emerging-disease reporting systems, expand networks in Africa and Southeast Asia, and develop news tools to improve outbreak detection.See also: Oct 21 Google releasehttp://www.google.com/intl/en/press/pressrel/20081021_googleorg.htmlJuly 21 CIDRAP News story describing HealthMap and other nontraditional disease-monitoring initiatives: “More efforts look outside the box for outbreak signals”last_img read more

Castro to host Iowa forum about changing nominating process

first_imgDES MOINES — Democratic candidate Julian Castro, a former San Antonio mayor, has been criticizing the role Iowa and New Hampshire play in the presidential nominating process. He’s planning a town hall forum next Tuesday in Des Moines to discuss the issue.“There’s no reason that Iowa and New Hampshire that hardly have any black people or people of color should always go first,” Castro said during a conference call with reporters yesterday.New Jersey Senator Cory Booker told Iowans yesterday that if he fails to get enough support in qualifying polls, there will be a billionaire on the stage for the televised debate later this month, but no black candidate since with California Senator Kamala Harris dropped out of the race this week. Castro hasn’t qualified for the debate either“My concern is not the presence of any one candidate on the debate stage only,” Castro said yesterday. “We need to change the whole game.”Castro is not a fan of the caucus process.“There’s no reason that a caucus system that makes it harder for working people and people with disabilities to participate should be what we begin with,” Castro said. “We need to work to reform how we elect a president in the first place.”Later today, Castro is among the candidates who will participate in a forum in Waterloo that’s sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The Iowa Farmers Union is hosting a forum in Grinnell this afternoon where several candidates will speak.last_img read more

Ghana’s world first in legal timber

first_img(Image: Wikipedia)New laws should be in place in Europe by the end of 2010 obliging timber importers to ensure the wood they buy has been legally produced – and Ghana will become the first exporting country to be able to offer such a guarantee.The timber trade is a huge business. In Cameroon, where timber exports rank second only to oil in value, it is worth more than US$700-million a year. Indonesia earns nearly $3-billion a year from wood and wood products, but Greenpeace says that as much of 80% of the logging in Indonesia is illegal.It is more than seven years since the European Union adopted a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (Flegt, PDF, 1 MB) action plan. Negotiations have been grinding on ever since, both in Brussels, and between the EU and supplier countries. But last week an update meeting in London heard that a compromise text of the new legislation had been drafted and would probably be adopted by the end of the year.The key element is an obligation for importers to show “due diligence” – to prove that they have taken all reasonable care to ensure they are not buying illegal timber. What is or is not legal will be left to the producing countries; if the timber is produced according to local laws and regulations, the EU will accept it.And since the importers can hardly be expected to go and poke about in tropical forests themselves to see where their wood is coming from, the EU is negotiating VPAs – voluntary partnership agreements – with its traditional suppliers.Ghana was the first country to sign and ratify a VPA. By the beginning of next year it should be selling licensed timber under Flegt. Any importer who buys it will automatically be considered to have fulfilled the due diligence obligation.Pilots for the new Flegt assurance scheme have already started in Ghana, with inspectors out in the forest armed with tags and handheld GPS and barcode scanners.Patrick Newton, who is developing the necessary software for a company called Helveta, described how bar-coded tags would be put on standing trees, and more would go on the logs cut from those trees. Between the sawmill and the ship, consignments would be reconciled by volume and by species, and the system would then generate a Flegt-compliant export licence.“The buyer will be able to look all the way up the supply chain from the point of export,” Newton told the meeting, “all the way back up the chain to the forest where that timber came from.”Kingsley Bekoe, a forestry specialist with Ghanaian NGO Civic Response, stressed how important the agreement is to the country: “Almost 60% of our timber exports are to the EU market. If you don’t sign this agreement, I guess you will increasingly lose out.“The market is starting to ask for legal timber. It’s Europe and also the US but other markets are getting increasingly interested in this. So if you don’t enter that agreement you will gradually be losing your market share.”With Ghana, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo were in the first group to sign up. Negotiations are ongoing with Malawi, Indonesia, Liberia and the Central African Republic. Gabon, the DR Congo and Vietnam have asked to start the process.Each agreement will be different. Any VPA with Vietnam, for instance, will have to take into account the fact that it imports most of its timber and makes furniture to sell to the EU and Japan.“There’s no blueprint,” Matthieu Bousquet of the European Commission told the meeting. “No hard and fast rules, no absolute recipe.”Illegal logging fearsBut John Palmer of the Forest Management Trust was critical: “These agreements are now moving into states where the law is little understood,” he told the meeting.“And as you demand more and more documentation, you will get any kind of documentation you are prepared to pay for. It’s a simplistic assumption that everyone is basically working in the same direction. Illegal logging is hugely profitable; there’s a lot of money involved.”London-based campaign group Global Witness agrees. “This can curb illegal logging to a certain extent,” said its forestry expert, Reiner Tegtmeyer. “But only when the structures are in place to be sure that the certificates issued are not just paper. We have always said that independent monitoring is essential.”Illegal logging has been a source of funds for conflict and destabilisation, most notoriously during Liberia’s civil war. With Charles Taylor’s rebels in control of the densely wooded southeast of the country and the port of Buchanan, timber was one of their main sources of income.After Taylor became president, he continued to divert timber revenues for his own purposes – Global Witness believes that by 2000 around $100-million a year was unaccounted for. Because of fears that it was being used to fund conflicts elsewhere in the region, the UN imposed sanctions on the country’s timber exports.Those sanctions have now been lifted, but Liberia is struggling to re-establish its logging industry. Victoria Cole of the country’s Forest Development Authority says she is worried the Flegt process is being pushed ahead too fast, and that her country does not have the capacity to implement it.“If I show you a piece of wood,” she said, “and say this bit of wood is legal, then what makes it legal? People have to understand.”In Liberia, legality would mean that the concession had been awarded by competitive bidding, that the company treats its workers fairly and fulfils its obligation to the local community, that it only cuts mature trees and does not exceed its quota and that it has paid all its taxes.But she likes the fact that the EU will base its standard of legality on Liberia’s own laws. “We are the ones to determine it,” she says. “No one is going to determine it for us.”Source: Irin Newslast_img read more

President Zuma announces new Cabinet

first_imgMineral Resources – Ngoako Ramathlodi 26 May 2014 Cyril Ramaphosa was appointed Deputy President and Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene was promoted to minister of finance in President Jacob Zuma’s new Cabinet, announced on Sunday following his inauguration for a second term as President on Saturday. Zuma said the new executive – which includes new appointments in the minerals, energy, police and telecommunications portfolios – had been picked in order to drive economic transformation and restore foreign investor confidence by “ensur[ing] implementation and the impact of the National Development Plan (NDP)”. Ngoako Ramathlodi is promoted from deputy minister of correctional services to minister of mineral resources; Tina Joemat-Peterssen, previously minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, takes over as minister of energy; former department of labour director-general Nkosinathi Nhleko takes over as minister of police; and Siyabonga Cwele moves from being minister of state security to being minister of telecommunications. In another big announcement of the evening, President Zuma said Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene would be promoted to be the Finance Minister, replacing Minister Pravin Gordhan moves from the Treasury to head up the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs portfolio. His successor, Nhlanhla Nene, is South Africa’s first black finance minister. Nene was the chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on finance for a number of years before being appointed deputy minister of finance in 2008. His wealth of experience and track record is set to ensure continuity and maintain confidence in a portfolio that is key to the country’s economy.New and merged departments Besides appointing new personnel, Zuma also announced a number of changes and mergers to the departments in his executive. The Cabinet now includes a new Ministry for Telecommunications and Postal Services, Ministry of Water and Sanitation, and Ministry for Small Business Development. The National Planning Commission and the Ministry for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation has been combined into one Ministry in the Presidency in order to harmonise planning and monitoring. It will be headed by former justice minister, now minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe. A new Communications Ministry has also been established for overarching communication policy and strategy, information dissemination and publicity, and the branding of the country abroad, Zuma said, adding that improved marketing of the country would promote investment in the country. This department will include the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), the public broadcaster, the SABC, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), Brand South Africa, and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA). The Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities has become the Ministry of Women, located in the Presidency, with functions related to the support of children and people with disabilities transferred to the Department of Social Development. And the Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development and Department of Correctional Services have been combined in the Department of Justice and Correctional Services.New Cabinet ministers: full list The ministers in President Zuma’s new Cabinet are as follows: Arts and Culture – Nathi Mthethwa Energy – Tina Joemat-Peterssen Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs – Pravin Gordhan Communications – Faith Muthambi Public Service and Administration – Collins Chabane Social Development – Bathabile Dlamini Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – Senzeni Zokwana Environmental Affairs – Edna Molewa International Relations and Cooperation – Maite Nkoana-Mashabane Rural Development and Land Reform – Gugile Nkwinti Public Enterprises – Lyn Brown Minister of Women in the Presidency – Susan Shabangu Human Settlements – Lindiwe Sisulu Home Affairs – Malusi Gigaba Small Business Development – Lindiwe Zulu Defence and Military Veterans – Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula Minister in the Presidency – Jeff Radebecenter_img Public Works – Thulas Nxesi Sport and Recreation – Fikile Mbalula State Security – David Mahlobo Telecommunications and Postal Services – Siyabonga Cwele Police – Nkosinathi Nhleko Health – Aaron Motsoaledi Source: SAnews.gov.za Labour – Mildred Oliphant Economic Development – Ebrahim Patel Science and Technology – Naledi Pandor Justice and Correctional Services – Michael Masutha Tourism – Derek Hanekom Higher Education and Training – Bonginkosi “Blade” Nzimande Trade and Industry – Rob Davies Transport – Dipuo Peters Water and Sanitation – Nomvula Mokonyane Basic Education – Angie Motshekgalast_img read more

Wolfram Alpha’s $50 iPhone App: Too Expensive or Worth the Extra Money for the Premium Experience?

first_imgfrederic lardinois When Wolfram Research released its iPhone app for Wolfram Alpha earlier this week, most of the attention quickly shifted away from the features of the app itself and towards the high price of the app. At $49.99, Wolfram Alpha is far more expensive than most apps in the App Store today, where only a small number of highly specialized apps sell for more than $9.99. Today, we got a chance to discuss Wolfram’s pricing strategy with Schoeller Porter, the product manager for Wolfram Alpha’s iPhone app.Early ReactionsOnTwitter and in the tech blogosphere, the reactions to the app’s price were anything but subtle. We called it “too expensive” ourselves, though others had strongerwords for it. MIT’s Technology Review called it a “a pricey online calculator for geeks” – a product that’s more like the expensive but immensely powerful Mathematica than Stephen Wolfram’s original idea for Alpha (“Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people”). It is worth noting that the Wolfram Alpha app quickly appeared in the list of top 100 grossing apps in the iTunes App Store (iTunes link) and has been hovering at the lower end of the top 50 ever since. That doesn’t make it a breakout hit, but some people are clearly buying the app, even though only a small number of users have left reviews. Why IoT Apps are Eating Device Interfaces Tags:#mobile#Product Reviews#Trends#web Related Posts Role of Mobile App Analytics In-App Engagement A Premium Price for a Premium ExperienceThere can be little doubt that the Wolfram Alpha team was expecting some backlash. As Porter told us today, the Wolfram Alpha team decided to price the app with the cost of a hardware graphing calculator in mind. At $50, the app costs roughly half of what a hardware calculator would cost. As Porter also stressed, the app offers a far superior range of features thanks to its connection to Wolfram’s server farm. The company thinks this price is justified because of the superior experience of using the app over the mobile website. After using the app for a few days, we definitely have to agree there. The dual-keyboard solution makes entering queries in the app much easier than using the mobile site and accessing Wolfram Alpha from the app is also much faster then using the mobile site. Porter noted that Wolfram is trying to set itself off from the mass of $0.99 apps that only get used once and are quickly forgotten. Instead, the company hopes that the app will become a regular companion for its users, whether they are using it for help with their homework in school or college, or in their professional life.At the end of the day, this is an app for specialists. While Schoeller Porter worded this more carefully in our interview today, the basic fact is that Wolfram is charging a premium price for a premium experience. Users who don’t need the app can continue to use the website, while those who are willing and able to spend $50 on the app will get a superior experience. For the time being, Wolfram doesn’t expect to bring the price of the app down and so far, according to Porter, the team has been happy and excited about how the app has been performing in the marketplace.The Price of iPhone AppsThis also leads into a broader discussion about the current pricing in the iPhone App Store, where even the most complex apps and games have to sell for under $10 to reach a wide audience. At the end of our discussion, Porter noted that the Wolfram app may lead to some changes here, though we have to wonder if anything is likely to change the current drift towards lower prices in the App Store. It is also worth pointing out, though, that a lower price point opens up the market for an app to a far wider audience – often to the point where the lower price brings in exponentially more users and more than offsets any potential losses from the lower price. What Do You Think?Is Wolfram’s price point for the iPhone app a bold move? Hubris? Or would you be happy to pay $50 for the superior experience and ergonomics of the app? What it Takes to Build a Highly Secure FinTech … The Rise and Rise of Mobile Payment Technologylast_img read more