Balloon internet service flying high over Kenya

UNTV News   •   July 9, 2020   •   585

Alphabet Inc began offering the world’s first commercial high-speed internet using balloons to villagers in remote regions of Kenya’s Rift Valley on Wednesday (July 8).

The technology has been used before, but not commercially. U.S. telecom operators used balloons to connect more than 250,000 people in Puerto Rico after a 2017 hurricane.

The project aims to provide affordable fourth generation (4G) internet to under-covered or uncovered rural communities and has been more than a decade in development.

The service is run by Loon, a unit of Google’s parent Alphabet, and Telkom Kenya, the East African nation’s third largest telecoms operator.

“Kenya is the first country… to have base stations high up in the sky. Now we will be able to cover the whole country in a very short span of time,” said Information Minister Joe Mucheru after launching the service.

According to Loon, the airborne base stations have a much wider coverage, about a hundred times the area of a traditional cell phone tower. The large balloons carry a solar panel and battery, and float in the upper atmosphere, high above planes and weather.

They are launched from facilities in California and Puerto Rico and controlled via computers in Loon’s flight station in Silicon Valley, using helium and pressure to steer.

They also have software equipped with artificial intelligence to navigate flight paths without much human intervention.

During the launch of the service in the vast, semi-arid county of Baringo in the heart of the Rift Valley, Mucheru placed a video call to President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Locals used to travel more than 60 km (40 miles) to the nearest towns for an internet connection.

Details of the commercial agreement between Loon and Telkom Kenya have not been made public. (Reuters)

(Jackson Njehia, Duncan Mriri)

Tech CEOs dodge question on whether China steals technology

UNTV News   •   July 30, 2020

The chief executives of four of the world’s largest tech companies, Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc, Apple, and Alphabet’s Google, faced a congressional hearing on Wednesday (July 29) where, amongst other questions, they were asked whether the Chinese government steals technology from U.S. companies.

Rep. Greg Steube of Florida, who presented the question, said he was looking for a “yes or no answer”.

The four executives – Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Apple’s Tim Cook – offered a mixed bag of responses, with Zuckerberg coming closest to a direct answer.

“Congressman, I think it’s well documented that the Chinese government steals technology from American companies,” the Facebook CEO said via videoconference.

The day-long hearing marked the first time the four CEOs have appeared together before lawmakers, and was also the first-ever appearance of Bezos before Congress. (Reuters)

(Production: Pavithra George)

Google temporarily shutting down all China offices – report

UNTV News   •   January 30, 2020

GOOGLE HEADQUARTERS IN BEIJING

Alphabet Inc’s Google is temporarily shutting down all its offices in China due to the outbreak of a new coronavirus in the country, technology website The Verge reported on Wednesday (Jan. 29).

The shutdown includes all offices in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, according to the report.

The flu-like virus has killed over 130 people in China and has set-off alarm across the globe with companies closing stores, putting travel restrictions on employees and warning of a financial hit from slowing business in the world’s most populous country. (Reuters)

(Production by: Dan Fastenberg)

Kenyan scientists reveal possible link between hot food, esophageal cancer

Robie de Guzman   •   May 7, 2019

Preliminary findings by scientists suggest that people who like their food and beverages to be warmer than 60 degrees celsius are at a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.

In Kenya, hot food is widely believed to be healthier, while cold food is viewed as dull and unsatisfying.

“Most people prefer hot or warm food because this is the cold season. If you eat cold food, it will affect you. But if you eat hot food, you will feel warm and energetic,” said Nairobi resident Regan Dennis.

For years, researchers have sought to establish the effects of very hot food on the esophagus, the tube through which food travels to the stomach. A study published in the journal “cancer epidemiology” identified thermal injury from hot food and beverages as a possible cause of esophageal cancer.

“It’s an irritant, the heat. You are causing ulceration of the lining. The lining of the esophagus and the throat. And once you cause this constant damage to the lining, it leads to mutation and finally leads to cancer. So, it’s carcinogenic to cause constant irritation of the mucus lining,” said ENT Surgeon John Muiru.

Researchers found that tea drinkers who like their tea to be warmer than 60 degrees celsius and drank more than two large cups daily have a 90 percent higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.

This is bad news for tea-drinkers in Kenya’s western region, who are among those taking the hottest tea in the world. Their beverage is usually 72.1 degrees celsius.

“The ideal temperature is the body temperature, which is about 37 degrees centigrade. Anything above that will be damaging the cells. The cells are designed to survive within the body temperature,” Muiru said.

Esophageal cancer accounts for 11 percent of new cancer cases in Kenya. The latest discovery has had a jarring effect on tea-lovers. But the studies are not conclusive and researchers suggest that the evidence should be evaluated further.

As scientists seek a conclusive answer, tea-lovers begin to grapple with the idea that hotter might not be better after all.

“Food shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. It should be warm,” Saidi Gitau, a Nairobi resident said. (REUTERS)

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