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Can you take the weather with you?

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The technology for forecasting the weather has been getting more and more local in recent years. Now it’s personal, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Crowded House, one of the rock sensations of the late 20th century, sang the lyrics, “Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you,” they weren’t referring to a gadget. But their song about the effect of one’s attitude on one’s environment is an apt metaphor in a world of smartphones, apps and gadgets that can monitor every element of the human and natural elements.

For a few years now, we’ve had a semblance of carrying the weather with us, thanks to apps like AccuWeather, which have become a standard feature on smartphones.

Two years ago, a company called Netatmo took the concept a step further, when they launched a personal weather station at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It comprised two tubular devices, one for indoor and a weatherproof one for outdoor monitoring, with the two connecting to each other and to a smartphone or computer via Wi-Fi.

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It’s surprising that, for a weather-obsessed country like South Africa, it has taken so long for the device to arrive here. It’s now being distributed locally by the Core Group, meaning it will be available in all iStores. Eventually, all electronics outlets should stock it.

The big question will be, of course, whether it does much more than AccuWeather. Will consumers be able to justify a gadget costing more than R2500, when they can instead have a free app that does the job reasonably well?

The answer lies in how much more Netatmo offers, and how easily it does so. We ran it through the Gadget Five-question User Test to answer these and other questions consumers will have before reaching for their wallets.

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  • Ease of use

It’s easy enough to set up, although it requires a number of steps, some of which don’t quite live up to the ease-of-use promise. For example, the outdoor module requires batteries to be fitted into a decidedly unfriendly battery compartment, which uses screws to be fitted in place. A lot like they used to do in the mid-20th century. However, the ease of set-up, either via a downloadable application on a computer or an app on a smartphone, more than makes up for this. The two modules integrate seamlessly with a home Wi-Fi network. Once set up, the app and application deliver vital statistics seamlessly and without further intervention.

  • General performance

The weather station begins monitoring the environment the moment set-up is complete, and starts delivering data on aspects of the home and its immediate surrounds that might never have been considered before. From actual humidity level to what the humidity probably feels like to noise levels to carbon dioxide concentration in the home, it is almost a case of too much information, but that would be a matter of the needs, interests and benefits that the user perceives.

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  • Add value to your life

Whether the weather and environment in tiny detail adds value is a question of how much data you want about the world around you. This will become very much a matter of what kind of data personality you are. Those who love activity monitors like the Fitbit are the most likely candidates, as it will add yet another layer of data on all the health and activity information being monitored, collected and analysed.

From a weather forecast and monitoring point of view, the device will come into its own for anyone with specialist weather or temperature monitoring needs. It would be exceedingly useful for all the South African restaurants that serve red wine at room temperature due to their lack of understanding of what the term actually means for wine (it’s in fact average European room temperature, 16 degrees, rather than any temperature to which a room is heated). More likely, though, it would be used for people looking for an extra edge in keeping a cigar or wine collection in perfect conditions. Serious gardeners may also find it gives them an extra edge. No doubt, there are numerous specialist purposes that will see the device succeed in niche markets.

  • Innovation

The level of innovation in the device lies in the extent to which it integrates environmental measurements that cannot be offered or matched by local weather stations. Carbon dioxide levels in the air inside the house and the noise level in the environment are the two key variables that will enter the user’s life once the Netatmo Weather Station is activated. Of course, that also means the user has to learn what terms like ppm (particles per million, in reference to carbon dioxide levels) and db (decibels) really mean.

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My home showed a measure of 315ppm, compared to a general carbon dioxide concentration level in the Earth’s atmosphere reaching 400ppm this year, according to NASA. 350ppm is regarded as an upper safety level, which suggests the air is cleaner indoors than outdoors. So much for convincing the kids how much healthier it is to be outdoors!

More seriously, what it does reveal is that so-called greenhouse gases are not evenly distributed. If someone regards these measure as important, the Netatmo will help them make key decisions about their living and working environments.

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  • Value for money

The Netatmo Weather Station for Smartphone is not cheap. In the USA it retails for between $140 and $170, so that a poor Rand exchange rate means it makes for a seriously expensive set of devices in South Africa. However, for those who already are inveterate gadget geeks, or have strong professional or hobbyist reasons for having this kind of data at their fingertips, it is well worth the investment.

In summary, not only can you now take the weather with you, but your entire environment.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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