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Into the Shadow: A look behind SA’s Netflix Original

Netflix Original writer Gareth Crocker chats with Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER about writing a show as a novelist.

Netflix’s first South African Original acquired series was a courageous move for the streaming giant. 

That’s the view of Gareth Crocker, writer and director of Shadow, is an eight-part show that began airing on Netflix a week ago. The series, which revolves around the life of a superhero and ex-cop, Shadrach “Shadow” Khumalo, is South Africa’s first Netflix Original.

“Our studio hasn’t had the opportunity to work with Netflix in the past,” said Crocker. “Netflix brings a fresh approach to TV, and they’re here to disrupt the TV industry.” 

Crocker was asked how he got his show to be the first South African Netflix Original: “We didn’t approach Netflix. We made it series first, financed it ourselves, and it went out to the market. Very fortunate for us, Netflix loved the show and acquired it. There was a very big chance, and it took a lot of courage, especially considering we are the first show that has been acquired.”

With the various recent superhero Netflix Originals added to the platform, Crocker said: “The superhero aspect is very subtle, and very different from the recent Umbrella Academy series. We didn’t want the superhero aspect to dominate the show, and rather portrayed a street superhero approach.”

As a South African series, an obvious question is how the show would be perceived across Netflix’s international audiences.

“Our thinking was to make a universal show with a South African flavour. It’s also important to note this is an aspirational show, and it’s not rural. The Western-African fusion that the South African TV viewer doesn’t often get.

“A great example to compare the fusion to would be Cool Runnings. What’s so fantastic about that is you get a touch of Jamaican culture in a Western film.” 

The series also represents a variety of genres. 

“In terms of the show’s overall genre, it’s an action drama. My background as a novelist leads me to pay a lot of attention to emotion. I felt like my job really is to make viewers feel something in the show. We have created ‘micro-genres’ per episode. For example, episode two follows a very serious tone, while episode four is a lot lighter. We have tried to bring some nuance to each episode to keep it fresh for viewers.”

The show was shot on location in Johannesburg. Visitors to the Maboneng precinct will recognise many scenes. 

Said Crocker: “We’re a small team. What makes it quite different is that very little of the show was set-based. Most of it was location-based – we’re talking tops of building, coffee shops, it is very much set in Johannesburg and we think it shows.”

We asked if the show was born from Netflix’s need for more superhero content. Crocker said: “Because we made the show without Netflix in mind, we made it as our own original. Netflix’s acquisition only came later. Writing the show, we wanted to make our audience feel something and I like to think the emotions will be strong for viewers. I think locally, we will get a kick out of it being a South African themed show but, in my experience, my novels have been international sellers.

“We are very mindful about where the show is experienced, and it won’t always be in a lounge. With Netflix on smartphones and tablets, especially available for download over Wi-Fi so that a user doesn’t have to use data, it will be easier for viewers to watch. We designed the show so that viewers on public transport can get their quick fix. We think Shadow will be that.”

The Netflix Original series, Shadow, is available to stream now on Netflix.

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as it reaches the end of its support, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2005.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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