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CES: Weber reinvents the braai

What South Africans will admit they need a hand at the braai? New tech launched at CES this week by Weber may change that culture, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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There was a time, like just last week, when few South Africans would admit they needed help getting their braai* up to scratch. Braai culture in this country tends to be vastly more personal than the American barbecue or the Australian “barbie”.

However, a new barbecue system launched this week at the CES tech expo in Las Vegas may just persuade some to change their religion and believe in outside forces to help serve a better braai. It wouldn’t have been so significant, had it not been for the brand behind the tech: Weber, a household name in South Africa with its kettle braai devices.

Weber has teamed up with cooking technology pioneer June plan to revolutionise the traditional braai with the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub. It’s a step-by-step grilling assistant that sends notifications directly to a smartphone on almost every technical aspect of a braai, from grill setup, to when food is ready to flip, serve, and eat. Braai-purists may object violently, but it could well rescue the reputations of those who only think they are masters of the art.

Weber is showcasing the system at CES in Las Vegas this week, and has already had the Hub selected by CES as a winner of one of its Innovation Awards.

Weber says it is integrating artificial intelligence and nearly 70 years of grilling knowledge to leverage some of the most advanced smart cooking technology on the market. 

“Having the right information at the right time is powerful – it’s the key to getting perfect results and developing your skills as a griller,” says Chris Scherzinger, CEO of Weber-Stephen Products. “Regardless of the type of grill you own, the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub will seamlessly turn it into a smart grill featuring cutting-edge grilling technology.”

Weber provided the following breakdown of how the system works:
How the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub works:

  • Real-time food temperature monitoring: After downloading the Weber Connect mobile app, simply insert the meat probes into food and then connect them to the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub. If using an ambient probe, then place it inside of the grill using the grate clip provided. The probes monitor real-time food doneness and grill temperature throughout the entire cook. Information is then sent to your smartphone through the Weber Connect app. The app is compatible with iOS and Android.
  • Step-by-step assistance: With the Weber Connect app, the griller receives notifications on everything from grill setup, to when it’s time to flip food, change the temperature, and when it’s the perfect doneness to serve. The app will also prompt the griller with tips and techniques to help achieve perfect doneness. It’s like having your own personal grill master by your side every step of the way.
  • Access to decades of grilling expertise: The Weber Connect app features a variety of grilling programs, developed by Weber Grill Masters, with detailed instructions. New content will continuously evolve and be added.
  • New functionality: Weber Connect will continue to evolve and offer new functionality and features, including a planned Alexa integration in 2020.

Matt Van Horn, CEO and co-founder of June, said the company had started with the simple idea of using modern technology to make cooking perfectly easy for anyone, and applied that to grilling. 

“From smoking a holiday turkey to hosting a backyard barbecue, everyone from the novice griller to an experienced grill master will have the confidence that whatever they make will come out perfectly,” he said. “We’ve accomplished the next evolution of cooking technology with the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub powered by JuneOS, by giving everyone the guidance to unlock their true grilling potential.”

That is, of course, also the hype speaking.  On the one hand, no technology can beat the human touch of a great braaier. On the other hand, the perfect braai is a matter of opinion, and cannot be guaranteed by technology. Nevertheless, the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub is going to be a boon to many of us that are braai-challenged.

The Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub will launch in more than 30 countries in early 2020. It will be available at weber.com for $129.99.

* For non-South African readers, that’s the only word we have in this country for a “barbecue”.

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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