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Regina FIFA eSports competitor warms up for $50K international tournament by crushing CBC reporter

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Every year tens of millions of people play FIFA, the world’s biggest soccer video game.

A 17-year-old from Regina is one of the very best.

Alex Gonzalez-Aldana, who goes by the in-game handle ExraaCA, is in Atlanta this weekend to compete in a 64-person tournament with a $50,000 top prize. A win, or even an impressive performance, could catapult him into a career in eSports as a professional FIFA player.

When I heard about Gonzalez-Aldana qualifying for the tournament it sparked a lot of questions.

It also lit a fire under whatever part of my brain contains hubris. I wondered how well I would fare in a game of FIFA against him.  I’m a casual player, but I’ve been playing on and off since before Gonzalez-Aldana was born. I also love to compete at anything.

I had to challenge him.

Spoiler alert: It went about as well (or poorly) as you’d expect.

‘You have to embrace it’

Gonzalez-Aldana’s first memories of FIFA are from Mexico, where he lived until his family moved to Canada in 2012. As a six-year-old, he would watch his cousins play on an old Xbox.

He inherited his love of soccer from his family.

“We are a family of soccer players and soccer fans,” Alma Aldana Pinto, his mother, said.

Alma Aldana Pinto watches happily as her son Alex Gonzalez-Aldana crushes CBC reporter Sean Trembath in a game of FIFA. (Trent Peppler/CBC News)

Gonzalez-Aldana played “real” soccer from a young age, but once the family moved to Canada he found himself with a lot more inside time due to the weather. He got his own console at age 10.

“As soon as I got it I started just playing and playing and just developed my love,” he said.

Things started getting serious two years ago, according to his mother. Gonzalez-Aldana qualified for a major tournament but was booted for being under the minimum age of 16.

“That was very heartbreaking for him,” his mother said.

She said it was then he started dedicating himself to qualifying again once he was 16. There were times she worried about how much time he was spending gaming.

“At first I was not OK with that. I was just like, ‘Video gaming: no. Your brain is going to explode,'” Aldana Pinto said.

She made sure he maintained a balance between gaming and everything else.

“It’s like any other thing: you have to kind of organize your time and manage your time. You have your school, you have your chores, and then you only have two hours for gaming,” she said.

As he started succeeding and showed he was serious, she allowed him a bit more game time. 

Alex Gonzalez-Aldana competes in FIFA 19 on the Xbox One. (Trent Peppler/CBC News)

He has won money in a few smaller tournaments, like one where he got US$1,000.

Now, two years after that initial heartbreak, he is once again qualified for a major tournament. 

“I’m so proud of him,” his mother said. “I feel like moms should be proud of their kids regardless of what they do. He was determined to be good at one thing, and the one thing he chose was video gaming. Well, you know, I guess you have to embrace it.”

The challenge

I met with Gonzalez-Aldana a few days before his trip to Atlanta.

I asked him how bad he thought he would beat me. He was tactful, but spoke with a confidence that let me know what I was in for.

“I just woke up, so maybe only by a few [goals].”

I did not go into this challenge completely unequipped. 

The first FIFA game I remember owning was Road to the World Cup 98 for the Nintendo 64. In the two decades since I’ve owned FIFA games every three years or so.

I was even paid to play FIFA for a short time. Prior to becoming a journalist I was a video game tester. I worked for Electronic Arts, the company that makes FIFA, and one of the titles I tested for a month or so was EURO 2008, a FIFA title. 

With all of that said, on this day I was completely out of my league.

To use a sports analogy, this challenge was the equivalent of a decent basketball player who might stand out during a pickup game at the YMCA taking on someone who is in the NBA.

Gonzalez-Aldana scored on me before any of my players touched the ball. Tendrils of despair started to poke at the edge of my psyche.

Just as I started to think maybe I could make it respectable he scored again. 

I asked him questions as we played. This was mostly because I am a journalist and I was there to do a story, but a small part of me hoped it might distract him a bit. It did not. He was polite, but maintained his icy concentration.

He scored again. Things were getting out of hand.

Sometime during the first half I got off a decent shot that sailed just wide of the net. My heart leapt. Gonzalez-Aldana seemed unimpressed.

CBC reporter Sean Trembath (orange jersey) competes with Alex Gonzalez-Aldana in a game of FIFA 19 while Gonzalez-Aldana’s family delights in the carnage. (Trent Peppler/CBC News)

We went to halftime at 3-0. As he made substitutes I sat like a death row inmate waiting for the jailer to come escort me to my final destination.

Then, in the second half, it happened. I was awarded a free kick near midfield and launched it in toward my players. One of them fired it into the top corner. I had scored.

In hindsight, I feel a little silly about how excited I was. It was like a mosquito getting a good bite in before being swatted aside. But, man, it felt sweet.

The rest of the game was much like what had come before. Gonzalez-Aldana shredded my defence and made good on almost all of his chances. His mother and brothers cheered in the background as my defeat got more and more emphatic. 

The final score was 7-1.

Gonzalez-Aldana was gracious in his victory. He said I had been better than he expected. 

I’ve never felt so good about doing so bad at something.

‘It’s another thing to play professionally’

Gonzalez-Aldana said he’s excited for the tournament in Atlanta but doesn’t know exactly what to expect.

His goal is to make it out of the first round, or Group Stage. Whatever happens, he’s already also qualified for another one in London next month.

The money at stake may not even be the most important factor in his goal for an eSports career. For anyone looking to truly survive off just gaming, it’s crucial to get a contract with one of the many eSports teams popping up around the world. According to Gonzalez-Aldana, there’s only one path to that: “performing well at these tournaments.”

Alex Gonzalez-Aldana is dialed in to his match of FIFA against CBC reporter Sean Trembath. (Trent Peppler/CBC News)

His end goal is a pro career, but he knows it’s far from a sure thing.

“If I can, I would like to, because it’s so much fun. But it’s another thing to play professionally,” he said.

For now, his mother is content to let him chase his goal of eSports stardom, provided he doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket (or balls in one net, as it were). 

“I was brought up in a family of school and I think school is important. The deal we made is, ‘OK, you do that as long as you want, but I want you to go to school and pursue whatever you want so whenever this doesn’t work, then you have a Plan B,'” she said.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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