BOOK REVIEW: Official ScratchJr Book

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Most parents with children of a certain age know about the Scratch programming language as much as the kids themselves. It is a free app that lets kids to code in an easy way by showing them how to create games and animations.

The best back-up to Scratch if kids want to learn more about coding is the Official ScratchJr Book, which lets them (as well as their parents and teachers) drill into the app and take things to a different level.

Unlike the app, this physical book isn’t free and costs around £13 from various app stores, the Kindle edition being slightly cheaper. It is, however, worth that small investment. Getting teenagers to code is a Herculean task because for many it is perceived as extra maths or even difficult algebra; timing is key if they are to maintain an interest.

By working with them at any time for the five years before teenhood with books such as these means there is an above-average chance they will go with the coding flow. If they don’t, then by the time they leave their teenage years the world may have no use for them if they cannot code. That is the New Normal, it doesn’t even ‘scratch’ the surface of how important this skill, even art, is going to be.

TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon winner Hiboo steps up

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Hackathon winners sometimes flatter to deceive, but Hiboo, the messaging company that won the 2014 TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in London, has launched its first completed product in the App Store.

Available since the end of January, its messaging app lets users see what their friends are typing while they’re typing, which the company says means they can communicate at the ‘speed of thought’. It also means that friends can’t edit their thoughts; you can see every word. It’s the end of ellipsis as we knew it.

In 2014, Hiboo won out of a field of more than 750 developers who took part in the TechCrunch hackathon. The beta version was launched at the Dublin Websummit in Nov 2015 and is now available for download. Its launch comes at a time when the messaging industry is becoming more niche and private (if reading through your friends’ thoughts can be described as private).

Other companies such as Palringo concentrate on games as a way of engaging their customer base while WeChat, Line, Kik, KakaoTalk, Reel Messenger and Wire are all interesting chat networks that are at various stages of development.

Hiboo is the newcomer on the block that will attempt to build user acquisition as quickly as possible and, like the companies mentioned above, will then leverage that user base to offer other integrated services. It will be interesting to see if they can do it; but the opposition is large and smart, it won’t be easy.

Sumo Digital now in Pune, Sheffield… and Nottingham

sumoI like the people at Sumo Digital after meeting them at a conference in Pune last quarter, a really smart independent games developer, currently working on a range of AAA titles such as Crackdown 3

While Nottingham is not as glamorous as their office in Pune, choosing the city as the third location for its games studio is further proof of the company’s expansion. Opening in March 2016, Sumo Nottingham will work alongside the Sheffield and India studios on a mix of projects and R & D. Beginning with a select group of newly hired employees and staff from the Sheffield HQ, Sumo is actively recruiting to grow the Nottingham team to 50 people in the first 12 months
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“Opening the new Sumo studio proves how serious we are about extending our core capabilities to both better serve our AAA client base and reflect our ambition to explore new opportunities across console, PC, mobile and VR,” said Carl Cavers, Sumo Digital SEO.

Sumo Digital employs 280 staff developing games across all platforms and genres. Known for its versatility, proprietary technology, creativity and high Metacritic, Sumo Digital’s portfolio of games includes Little Big Planet 3, Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed, Forza Horizon 2 – Fast & Furious and Disney Infinity. The studio is also developing Crackdown 3 in collaboration with Reagent and Microsoft.

At the 2013 TIGA Game Awards, the company won Best Arcade Game (Large Studio) and Outstanding Leadership Awards and in 2015 won a prestigious DICE Award for ‘Best Family Game’ and 3 gongs at the TIGA Awards for ‘Best Social Game’ (Little Big Planet 3), UK Heritage Award and Outstanding Individual for CEO Carl Cavers.

150-WORD BOOK REVIEW: The Rift by Alex Perry

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The author of The Rift is a white man who knows Africa and who made his living writing for Time magazine.

Alex Perry knows his subject and chronicles the changing times of the continent as well as the extraordinary Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński.

Praise indeed, but deserved. His anger at the way Africa is portrayed, and the aid organisations who almost profiteer from their involvement, is measured and volcanic at the same time. What he offers is an alternative view to the way Western media belittles the land-where-humans-were-created.

There was one personal bum note, however, with The Rift. Two years ago I received the biggest ovation of my life at a conference in Kenya when I derided the so-called Silicon Savannah moniker foisted on Nairobi’s tech hub and told the African audience they had no need to be compared to Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately, it appears that Perry was the person who coined this phrase, so on that subject we shall agree to differ. On the rest of it, we agree completely and this is an important book that should be read by anybody who wants to get a feel on what is happening in Africa. I loved reading it.

Chinese company launches £500 million London fund

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Chinese technology and investment group Cocoon Networks is launching a £500 million ($720 million) London-based venture capital fund aimed at investing in UK and European tech startups.

Cocoon Networks, with the backing of China Equity Group, was one of the first investors in to Baidu, the ‘Chinese Google’, and Hanxin Capital will invest in tech companies whose products and services show potential for growth in the Chinese market.

The fund will invest in tech companies across a wide range of sectors including fintech, biotech, medical devices and the UK’s creative tech industries. Companies looking to expand into China will also be offered assistance in navigating Chinese legislation and doing business there.

As part of a wider investment, Cocoon Networks, in partnership with University College London, is also setting up the capital’s biggest incubator space, a 70,000 sq ft building situated in the heart of Shoreditch. Cocoon says it will not only be an incubating space for technology companies but it will also work with some of London’s universities to attract talent, offer accelerator programmes and co-working spaces.

John Zai, Founder and CEO, Cocoon Networks said: “The fund and incubator programme will bring awareness for more Chinese investors to get into London’s booming technology sector. It will also help many companies grow and expand into China.”

Gordon Innes, CEO London & Partners, The Mayor of London’s promotional and economic development company, said: “This is a significant vote of confidence in the global nature of London’s tech sector and will deliver significant investment into some of the capital’s brightest and best startups.

The announcement by Cocoon Networks came as London & Partners said that it was on course to secure record investment from Chinese companies in London this financial year.

Over the past nine months, 28 Chinese companies have pledged to set up in London, with that figure expected to rise to nearer 40 by the end of March 2016.