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Can you tell I’m a geek?

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Compiled by Roy Blumenthal (roy.blumenthal@pixie.co.za)

You know who he is by now. Gareth Branwyn is the dude who wrote the super-guide to using modern media effectively for business and pleasure, “Jamming the Media”. You know who he is cos you’ve got a great memory, and you recall in glorious Technicolor detail the review I wrote of the book. Then come straight back here and find out all about the author. (Be warned: there is a major solicitation later in this piece asking you to buy the book. You’ll find the link to the Amazon-Gadget book alliance below.)

GADGET: Let’s kick off this digitally enabled interview with the most important question in the world: “How should I go about buying a gadget?!!”

GARETH: Don’t believe the hype! Even if you see half a dozen of those ubiquitous “What’s Hot” columns about a product, be cautious, if not sceptical. Most of such columns are “rip and read” pieces, taken from the manufacturer’s press release or written by an overworked tech journalist who’s tired, wants to go home, and who doesn’t really have time to do much more than make sure the gadget turns on.

Read several of the in-depth reviews found on sites like Gadget, Street Tech and “deep geek” sites like Tom’s Hardware (http://www.tomshardware.com) and AnandTech (http://www.anandtech.com).

Check newsgroups related to the device you’re interested in. Wait ’til there’s a sense of what those in the know REALLY think about the product. Then you should be able to make an intelligent purchase.

I also use shopper.com (http://www.shopper.com) to find the best possible price on most computer gear.

GADGET: Well, that’s one way to work up a sweat – don’t just buy the darn thing. Do some research. What do you do after all the thinking? What’s your stress-release method-of-choice?

GARETH: I’m a voracious reader (sci-fi, science and technology, underground comix, art and design, biographies, pop culture and music). I also subscribe to dozens of magazines, (MIT Technology Review, half a dozen computer/Net rags, Robot Quarterly, Steven Brill’s Content, Jazz Times, Spin, Rolling Stone, Utne Reader, Esquire, Jane, Details, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly). And I track a number of zines (Bunnyhop, Murder Can Be Fun, BUST, Hermanaut).

I also enjoy geeking out with my son, building miniature robots and model rockets, and playing role-playing and video games. Gee, can you tell I’m a geek?

But I do have a social life. I swear! I’m a big music fan and love going to clubs, raves, concerts and parties.

GADGET: Let’s peek into your workroom. Tell us what computers you own…

GARETH: Micron Millennia 450, PowerComputing 120, Transport Trek 2, PowerBook 1400, Everex Freestyle PDA, REX Pro [Museum Pieces]… 486 clone, Mac Iisi, Mac SE, PB100, Newton 100…

GADGET: The poor sad Newton! At least it’s not alone, huh? Now let us in on the hardcore stuff. What projects are you currently allowing your faithful production machines to help you out with?

GARETH: Version 2.0 of my web site Street Tech (http://www.streettech.com), ongoing development of my other sites (http://home.earthlink.net/~garethb2/http://home.earthlink.net/~garethb2/jamming), article writing, and work on a novel you’ll probably never see.

GADGET: Here’s a nitpicker deluxe. Our readers have expressed interest in knowing what software other people use, so we’d like a list of all the software you’ve got loaded.

GARETH: Oh man, that would be a VERY long list. My primary software tools are BBEdit (Mac), Photoshop, QuarkXPress, MS Word (ick), PixelSpy, Fetch (FTP), NCSA Telnet, Netscape Navigator and Claris Emailer.

GADGET: Time to put on your inventor’s hat. What three Gadgets would you rush out and buy if they existed?

GARETH: 1) A computer that actually works without system crashes, endless upgrades, and crappy performance. This computer would be entirely modular, allowing you to (easily) upgrade processors, chipsets, sound and video cards, drives, etc., so you buy ONE computer (say every 5-10 years instead of every two years) and then gradually change components as need dictates and pocketbook allows.

2) A good-quality Internet phone that allows you to talk with all types of phone users (other Internet telephony hardware, software-based telephony, regular analogue phones) – all for FREE.

3) A universal handicap device that functions as a cane, a picker-upper, a storage space for small items, a leaning stool, etc. I have an arthritic disease and am just appalled at the poor design of a lot of handicapped tech. I have a vast collection of useless, if not downright dangerous, picker-uppers and a cane that falls over if you so much as breathe near it.

GADGET: What’s your favourite gadget in the world? One you own, that is…

GARETH: Currently the thing I’m most enamoured with is the LEGO MindStorms Robotic Invention System (http://www.legomindstorms.com). I think it could have an amazing impact on kids growing up with the ability to design, build and program all manner of computer-controlled autonomous devices.

My other current fave is the Matrox Marvel G200-TV card. It’s a multifunction card with video, 2/3D acceleration, TV tuner. Also has hardware MJPEG and comes with Avid’s new consumer-grade video editing software (Avid Cinema). Inside of minutes (if all goes well), you can be loading in audio/video and editing your own vids. All for under US$300.

GADGET: Let’s round off by giving our readers an unashamed bit of biographical info. Go on, no blushing now, let’s hear it straight…

GARETH: I’m a writer on the intersection of culture and technology. I’m a contributing editor of Wired, and the Tech Tool editor of P.O.V. I also write for Details, The Industry Standard and the Baltimore Sun. I’m “Le Grande Fromage” at Street Tech (http://www.streettech.com), a hardware and consumer electronics review site that attempts to provide honest, no BS reviews that focus on the “out-of-box experience,” something we can all relate to. Our motto is “to rant about the stuff that sucks and rave about what doesn’t.”

I’m also the author of seven books, including “The Happy Mutant Handbook” (with the editors of bOING bOING), “Jargon Watch: A Pocket Dictionary for the Jitterati” and “Jamming the Media,” a DIY guide to various forms of “media hacking” (zines, cable access TV, indie music and film, media pranks, and more).

I’ve been (dare I say) blissfully married to the incomparable Washington, DC jazz singer, Pam Bricker for 18 years. We live in Arlington, VA with our 11-year-old son, Blake.

GADGET: Thanks Gareth. As I mentioned above, I’m now going to ask our subscribers to go buy your books. All of them… “You heard me, dear reader – links below!”

* Write to Gareth Branwyn at garethb2@earthlink.net

* Gareth is the Editor-in-Chief of the wonderful consumer-technology site, Street Tech (http://www.streettech.com) It’s good to see other people in the world doing stuff that flows with what Gadget is doing.

* You already know he’s a contributing editor at Wired magazine. Go see all of his goodies online (http://www.wired.com/news/news/search_results_news?words=branwyn).

* Head for the Baltimore Sun web site and do a search for “What’s Hot” or “Branwyn” to find some of his stories there. (http://www.sunspot.net)

* And of course I’m going to be asking you to line our coffers by spending your cash through the Amazon-Gadget associated bookshop! So here I go… “Please buy Gareth’s books through us! (And save 20%!)” Go straight to the titles by following these links and slipping them straight into your shopping basket…

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TikTok looks for SA talent

The fast-rising short-video platform has launched a #PickMe campaign to discover local stars.

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TikTok, which claims to be the world’s leading destination for short-form videos, launches its first PickMe campaign, an effort to discover creative talents and provide a stage to express themselves in South Africa. Starting March 1, TikTok kicked off a month-long search through participants’ 15-second videos under hashtag #PickMe.

TikTok says it is committed to investing in South Africa and discovering the local talents. The PickMe campaign is supported by its local partners like Huawei, MTV Base and Digify Africa.

Local stars, including comedian and singer Lasizwe and singer Nadia Jaftha, have joined the campaign and called for users to show their talents on TikTok.

There are 5 categories of video shooting in the campaign, namely dance, acting, comedy, singing and cosmetics. Participants need to shoot a 15-second video using TikTok using #PickMe and tag @tiktok_africa to participate in the challenge. The finalists will be selected based on their video performance. The most popular and talented participants will have the chance to win prizes like Huawei Mate 20 Pro smartphones, a day at MTV Base, and a once-off-presenter opportunity and attendance at an intensive video production workshop delivered by Digify Africa.

“TikTok has definitely evolved into something that everyone loves and uses. It’s given creators a space to create more unique content and also help the creator gain a whole new kind of fan base, ” says Preven Reddy, Imbewu The Seed TV-star and Megazone radio host who is also a TikTok user.

Says TikTok video creator Mihlali Nxanga: “As a young South African working towards being in the entertainment industry, TikTok has given me the platform to grow my following tremendously. Within 6 months, my fan base has grown by a whopping 90 000, and not only from South Africa, but the whole world. For me, TikTok is not just a content platform, it is a global community.”

The campaign will wrap up on March 31. The list of the finalist will be announced in the app and on official Instagram @tiktok_southafrica. For more information, please visit the TikTok app.

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Rugby fan experience transformed by digital platform

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The South African Rugby Federation has embraced digitalisation as a key enabler of its strategic aspirations. It has worked with Accenture to transform fan engagement for Springbok supporters with the launch of a digital fan platform.

“Digital technology and social media have transformed how modern fans watch, support and engage with their favourite teams,” says SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux. “To maintain our relevance amid this new market dynamic, and grow our fan base, we’ve acknowledged the vital need to digitally transform our organisation.”

Wayne Hull, managing director for Accenture Digital in Africa, says: “SA Rugby’s ambition to pivot to a more fan-centric strategy requires digital design, content, platforms and insights because modern consumers, including loyal Springbok supporters, engage predominantly via mobile digital channels and expect hyper-personalised experiences.”

Accenture Digital’s development process started with quantitative and qualitative research, which informed the user experience (UX) design guidelines and content strategy for the digital fan engagement platform.

“To know what fans want, we needed to understand the fans themselves,” says Hull. “The Accenture Digital team mined the research data and identified multiple fan ‘personas’, which all have different content consumption, platform functionality and engagement preferences.”

The platform development team focused on three critical elements to meet these requirements – the customer experience (CX), the engagement engine and cloud-based deployment.

“To deliver a memorable and engaging CX, Accenture Digital leveraged leading digital experience software,” says Hull. “The result is a fully integrated and responsive platform that creates seamless, personalised digital fan experiences across SA Rugby’s content, commerce and digital marketing initiatives in a manner that makes fans feel recognised and connected to the players and the game.”

The new platform will serve as the first point of call for any rugby fan who wants to get their data fix with exclusive statistics, analytics and insights. The platform’s content style will include more visual elements – videos and images – with more concise articles that are easier to digest, in accordance with evolving content consumption preferences on mobile screens. This will complement long-form thought leadership and insight pieces. 

In addition, fans will enjoy exclusive access to player-related content, such as behind-the-scenes footage and game and training performance stats. SA Rugby will also benefit from the ability to track comments and mentions via the Sitecore analytics platform Accenture Digital implemented, to respond and engage in the conversations Springbok fans are having on social media about the game, the teams or the players.

To do this, SA Rugby required a consolidated view of the customer. However, data resided in disparate sites across ticketing providers and SA Rugby’s e-commerce and online magazine databases. This information will be consolidated into the CRM system, with multiple integration points available to leverage this data.

The CRM system’s functionality will help to reveal insights such as fan communication preferences and their likes and dislikes, which will place hyper-relevance at the core of SA Rugby’s fan experience and engagement strategy.

 The final element in the platform development was cloud deployment, which allows fans to access the platform from any device that has an internet connection. The platform is hosted within the Microsoft Azure environment, which is stable, secure and fully redundant. It gives SA Rugby the flexibility to manage the platform themselves, with the option to integrate or scale additional functionality down the line.

Based on the outcome, Hull believes that Accenture Digital has successfully reimagined, built and delivered a world-class, modern and mobile-friendly digital fan platform that creates a fun, immersive and engaging experience for fans.

“It’s a major step towards helping SA Rugby realise its ambition to become a fan-centric, forward-looking and nimble organisation, and we look forward to building and developing the platform further with the team as their digital fan engagement requirements evolve,” says Hull

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