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Play it safe

E-sports and gaming online is all the rage at the moment, but it is imperative that people know how to stay safe while gaming online, says ANDREAS HADJIPASCHALI, CEO of Bravado Gaming.

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Get behind the wheel of a supercar, fight terrorists, score the winning goal, defend kingdoms against evil hordes, sink pirate ships, solve mind-bending puzzles, or just be the last one standing… in the world of online gaming, you are spoilt for choice. Age is not a factor, either: there are activities for young and old to enjoy. Online gaming can be exciting and a place to hang out with friends as well as meet new people.

But not all online experiences are alike and some can be troublesome. Unfortunately, there are people online who are not the right fit and can even be dangerous. Fortunately, they are far and few between, but it doesn’t hurt to take a proactive stance towards online safety.

The teams at Bravado Gaming have a lot of experience playing online, both with friends and strangers. They offer some advice on how anyone can start playing safely.

General rules of thumb

There are many types of games online, ranging from serious competitive PC titles to ad-hoc mobile sessions. Each is different and engages with different players online. Most happen on public servers, which means that people you don’t know might join the game. In some cases, you don’t even have direct contact with other players. But more and more titles are adding ways to communicate in the sessions, such as typing in a chat box or using online voice chat.

If there is communication, you should be careful about what you share, said Dillon ‘Lithium’ Charalambous, captain of Bravado Gaming’s Call of Duty team:

“Don’t give out any personal details on a public platform. Even if someone messages you directly, don’t give information out there. You don’t know who they are. Gamers have a long tradition of playing with nicknames or gamertags. Stick to those until you join a group where you get to know the people involved.”

On rare occasions, someone might try to provoke you into engaging with them directly. Just ignore this kind of baiting. If they persist, report them to administrators. But a more urgent concern is what people send to you, said Jana ‘SaltyMonkey’ Du Toit, captain of Bravado Gaming’s all-female team, Bravado Finesse:

“Don’t click on any links sent to you by people who are not your direct, real-life friends. Just like bad links on email and social media, these could be used to plant dangerous software on your system or send you to a dangerous website.”

Scams are becoming more common on gaming platforms. Some are designed to go after online valuables, such as rare items or high-level characters, which are sold illegally once stolen.

But criminal also use game interactions to access other information, such as your banking details. Phishing – a criminal tactic that uses a fake version of a real site, such as a banking login page – is very common. Gamers playing online titles such as Guild Wars and PUBG are frequently targeted with phishing messages and emails. It doesn’t help that many players often use similar emails addresses and passwords for their gaming as for their private and business credentials.

Find safe places to play

As mentioned earlier, most online gaming will happen on public servers. This means the game can be accessed by people other than those you know. The alternative is a private server or to play in private games that are protected by passwords.

“Playing public games is not a bad thing and even necessary if you want to take part in ranked matches,” said Bravado Gaming’s CEO, Andreas Hadjipaschali, referring to matches that raise your public rank for a game. “Good public game servers are policed by administrators and reporting tools. If someone bothers you or if something concerns you, contact one of the administrators. You can also report the person, though don’t do this for frivolous things or you could be marked as an abuser of the system.”

Most online games will connect to public servers that are hosted by the game’s developers or publishers – the people who build and sell the game. But some games allow third parties to create their own servers. Again the same rules apply: don’t share personal information and do engage with administrators if there are problems. If the problems don’t go away, change to a different server.

Gamers looking to play competitively will want to find servers that cater to that. These will often be hosted and supported by eSports teams and enthusiasts. To find those, plug into the relevant communities, said Wasim ‘Wass’ Rajah, captain of Bravado Gaming’s FIFA team:

“The main thing here is getting yourself onto social media. Once you are on there, the links open up. There are certain organizations from who, if you follow them, you’ll get word of most tournaments, like ACGL, Zombiegamer, Mettlestate and VS gaming.”

You can also follow Bravado’s social media accounts and women can reach out to the all-ladies team Bravado Finesse for a bit of feminine support and guidance.

Going online as a minor

If you are still very young – or you are concerned about your kids going online, there are a few extra precautions you can take. Though there are people online who prey on younger gamers, they are thankfully an extreme minority. Still, the above rules of careful communications are more important than ever.

As a parent, you should accept that online gaming is as part of a player’s world as being part of a sports team. So it is better to arm your child with the right skills, as well as keep open channels with them, said SaltMonkey:

“Urge your child to have an open and honest relationship with you in terms of their gaming. They should know that it is okay to speak to you about what is happening in the virtual world and that you won’t get mad. Therefore, be accepting of gaming and try to meet them halfway.”

It should also be a definite rule that only adults are allowed to install games and other software on the machine used for games. There is a real risk of dangerous software being sent through bad links, some masked as games. This is particularly dangerous on mobile devices, where it is not hard to disable safety measures and install unauthorised apps.

But even official apps and in-game purchases can be a danger – to your credit card! Even though some services have put measures in place to limit such activities, it’s prudent to keep an eye on credit card transactions. If a minor needs to make an online purchase, an adult should do it for them.

Finally, always set the profiles of young players to private, stopping anyone unauthorised from looking at their details. Even seemingly innocuous tidbits, such as the child’s age and gender, can be used against them. Staying anonymous is good.

Online gaming is a lot of fun. It’s a way to participate, to make friends, build confidence and blow off steam. Unlike the caricature of lone spotty teens hiding in basements, online gamers draw from every walk of life. That can spell danger. But take the right steps, keep the right attitude, and everyone can have a safe online experience.

Cars

Cape Town not so calm – if you’re a driver

Cape Town drivers lose on average 162 hours a year to traffic jams, so will need some tech and a few tips to stay calm

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Cape Town drivers lose, on average, 162 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, and the city is ranked 95th out of around 200 cities, across 38 countries surveyed globally, in terms of congestion issues.

That’s according to the latest INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which is an annual analysis of mobility and congestion trends. The study provides a data-rich evaluation of information collected during peak (slowest) travel times, and inter peak (fastest point between morning and afternoon commutes) travel times. Together they provide a holistic account of congestion throughout the day, delivering in-depth insights for vehicle drivers and policy-makers to make better decisions regarding urban travel and traffic health.

Of the further five South African cities surveyed:

  • Pretoria drivers lose, on average, 143 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, ranking as the 64thmost congested city
  • Johannesburg drivers lose an average of 119 hours annually, ranking 61st
  • Durban drivers lose 72 hours, ranking 141st
  • Port Elizabeth drivers lose 71 hours, ranking 75th
  • And Bloemfontein drivers lose 62 hours, ranking 165th

If these hours sound horrific, spare a thought for the poor drivers in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá who lose, on average, a whopping 272 hours a year stuck in traffic jams!

On average, drivers’ commutes increase by roughly 30% during peak versus inter-peak hours. And the reality is that congestion issues aren’t going away anytime soon. Not here in SA, or anywhere else in the world. So what can we, as drivers, do to make the situation easier to cope with on our daily commute?

Change of mindset

Stressing about the unavoidable, the inevitable, and all the things that are out of our control – like congestion caused by accidents, faulty street lights, or bad weather – is a waste of energy. We should try finding ways of using that time in our cars more productively, to create a less tense, more positive experience. Learning to change our perspective about this challenging time, and associating it with something enjoyable, can drastically alter our reaction to and engagement with it. Rather than expending all our energy on futile anger and frustration, we can channel our focus on things that relax or energise us instead.

Just one more chapter

Being stuck in traffic usually aggravates us because it feels like a huge waste of valuable time. But like a wise man once said, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Listening to a podcast or audiobook can not only be entertaining, but also educational, which is a brilliant use of your time. Ifyou think of your car as a ‘learning lab’, a mobile university of sorts, and your time spent inside as away to exercise your brain and grow intellectually, you may even find yourself wishing for bad traffic so you have an excuse to carry on listening to your podcast or audiobook.

Tame your inner Hulk

Pulling up a playlist of your favourite, feel-good songs can do wonders to combat stress levels. Downbeat music has been proven to have a mellowing effect on drivers. Making a quick switch to downbeat music shows measurable physiological improvements, with drivers calming down much sooner, and making fewer driving mistakes. So the next time you feel your inner Hulk emerging, crank up the volume on your favourite tunes.

The power of ‘caromatherapy’

There are numerous studies on aromas and their impact on human emotion, behaviour, and performance. Researchers have found that peppermint can enhance mental and athletic performance and cognitive functioning, while cinnamon may improve tasks related to attentional processes and visual-motor response speed. A study from Kyoto University in Japan revealed that participants reported significantly lower hostility and depression scores, and felt more relaxed after awalk through a pine forest. It makes sense then, to incorporate some ‘caromatherapy’ into our lives. There are plenty of off-the-shelf car diffusers available, or you could add a few drops of essential oil to DIY felt air fresheners. Citrus scents like orange or lemon can provide a boost of energy, while rosemary can relieve stress and anxiety. Take care not to hang anything that might obstruct your field of vision though, and always make sure to test out essential oils at home first, in case a scent makes you dizzy or overly relaxed, which could affect driving focus.

Contemplate your navel

The mind is a powerful thing, and simply willing yourself to relax might be the most effective method of all. While we don’t recommend meditating while driving due to safety reasons, breathing exercises can help you stay focused and feeling calm. One useful practice is the one-to-one technique – breathing in and out for the same count with the same intensity. Deep, measured breaths facilitate full oxygen exchange, helping to slow down the rate of your heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure, as opposed to shallow breathing, which doesn’t send enough air to the lowest part of your lungs, causing you to feel anxious and short of breath. Just always keep your eyes on the road, and take care to ensure you’re not so busy counting breaths that your concentration is compromised.

Not all those who wander are lost

Some of our best ideas come in those moments where we’re alone with our own thoughts, able to really reflect on the ideas we have without having something immediate that needs our attention. Allow your mind to wander, and do a little brainstorming. Alternatively, use the time to simply day dream. Remember, downtime is not dead time. It is both necessary, and important for your mental health. Use this time as an opportunity to take care of yourself.

In-built vehicle tech

“As we spend more and more time commuting, cars are being designed to accommodate longer periods behind the wheel,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Ford uses human-centric design to deliver vehicles that are inviting, accommodating, and intuitive. For example, our SYNCT infotainment system offers nifty, hands-free functions, like allowing drivers to listen to their texts, change music or climate settings, and make phone calls easily with voice control. Our range of driver-assist technologies, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist, are also designed to take some of the stress off city driving. If our lifestyle means that we might be spending more time in our cars than we do on holiday, then we should make sure we make the most of that time.”

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Vodacom exits Africa biz services

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Vodacom Group has sold Vodacom Business Africa’s operations in Nigeria, Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to Andile Ngcaba’s Synergy Communications. The two entities are in the process of concluding the acquisitions, which are subject to the approval of the regulatory authorities within these markets.

Vodacom says the transaction supports the Group’s enterprise strategy in Africa, which has been refocused to grow and strengthen its core business. It will no longer directly service global enterprise customers in these three markets but will rather continue to operate as a pan African telecommunications networks provider through local relationships, like the one with Synergy Communications. 

This acquisition represents a significant milestone in Synergy Communication’s quest to be a leading provider of cloud and digitally based services in key markets across sub-Saharan Africa and provides key additional assets in its build out of a regional footprint. Synergy Communications currently has operations in Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique.

Andile Ngcaba, Chairman of Synergy Communications said: “This is an exciting landmark transaction for Synergy Communications, providing us with additional momentum in the delivery of our strategy as a pan-African enterprise digital Services Provider. Synergy Communications will partner with major global cloud providers and deliver platform-based services to both multi-nationals and local enterprises.”

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, said: “Vodacom has a clear vision for strengthening our position as a leading pan-African business and will work with local service providers like Synergy Communications to grow in these markets. Crucially, Vodacom is not exiting any of the territories related to this transaction and remains focused on continuing to deliver exceptional service to our global and multinational clients in these markets through long-term commercial agreements. 

“To support the sustainable growth of pan African digital economies and building connected societies, Vodacom will, via local service providers, continue to service clients in each market. We seek to leverage the collective strengths of Vodacom and Synergy Communications to meet the changing requirements of clients across each of these markets.”

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