Even as suppliers struggle to keep up with demand, it’s a great time to buy a new TV. The mid-tier market is more competitive than ever. You can get a lot these days for well under $1,000, and prices keep plummeting while our eyes reap the rewards.
The Vizio M-Series is among the best of a very closely matched bunch. It has quantum dots for brighter colors, local dimming for deeper blacks, a variable refresh rate for gaming, and a current price—at 55 inches—under $700. A TV that ticks all of those boxes is rarely this affordable. If you’re in the market for a new flatscreen, then that’s very good news for your wallet.
The Black Box
When you’re shopping in person, it can be tough to pick between good mid-range TVs because they all tend to look the same. Unfortunately, the M-Series is no different. Like various mid-priced models from TCL, Samsung, and LG, it’s about an inch and a half thick with relatively thin bezels. It comes with a rather generic-looking plastic remote that has a few hot keys for streaming services.
You’ll want to wall-mount this one unless you have a big TV stand. It has legs out near the ends, rather than a center pedestal, which means you’ll need a stand that’s about as long as the TV itself. That’s not going to work in every living room.
All of this is because Vizio’s entire business model is to take top-tier technology and put it into something affordable. That means compromises in aesthetics. So you’re not getting razor-thin looks here, but you do get Vizio’s excellent backlighting technology and iQ processing engine.
The company’s local dimming backlighting tech can turn off or dim based on the content that’s playing. In super dark scenes, some of the 32 zones of the backlighting are able to hit different brightnesses, so you get less gray and something closer to black.
Local dimming isn’t as good as with organic LED, or “OLED” technology, where each pixel is its own backlight, but it definitely still improves contrast quality. Vizio’s expertise with the tech is fully on display with this new M-Series. Watching darker shows like Stranger Things and The Mandolorian, I noticed that everything still manages to look crisp and clean, with just a touch of light bloom (where you get a halo around bright objects on dark backgrounds).
I should note that this model has HDMI 2.1 ports—an earlier 2021 M-Series model came with HDMI 2.0 ports, but that’s been remedied here. This upgraded port supports the eArc standard for easy soundbar setup that immediately integrates with the TV remote. And you should use a soundbar or a set of speakers, because the TV’s audio is pretty tinny, though it does sound better than thinner TVs.
Earlier this month, when the Kremlin told multiple Big Tech companies to suppress political opposition amid nationwide elections in Russia, their answer was unequivocal: no. Yet just two weeks later, Apple and Google deleted from their app stores the Smart Voting app, opposition leader Alexey Navalny and his party’s primary tool for consolidating votes against Vladimir Putin’s regime. Then Telegram and Google-owned YouTube also restricted access to the recommendations for opposition candidates that Navalny was sharing on these platforms. Putin of course was ecstatic.
The US tech platforms’ sudden knee-bending didn’t just hurt the opposition’s ability to communicate to the Russian people. It also marked the dangerous effectiveness of a new Kremlin policy: Force foreign tech firms to put employees on the ground, so they can then be coerced and threatened into doing the Kremlin’s bidding. For all that the world’s politicians and analysts discuss internet censorship in technical terms, this episode is a powerful reminder that old-fashioned force can decisively tighten a state’s grip on the web.
Putin’s regime has long relied on thuggery to oppress, from beating protesters and a botched attempt to assassinate Navalny to jailing him as he was still recovering from being poisoned. So it’s no surprise that after Navaly’s imprisonment prompted mass nationwide protests that the Kremlin would try to control every possible election risk, including by strong-arming US tech companies.
One of Putin’s biggest targets was Navalny’s Smart Voting project, which has had success over the past couple of years in disseminating candidate recommendations to interested voters to take parliamentary seats away from Putin’s ruling party, United Russia. Hence the Russian internet regulator’s absurd demand that American tech platforms censor Smart Voting. Russian mobile network providers were able to block the entirety of Russia’s access to Google Documents, simply because Navalny’s team had posted a doc listing United Russia challengers. But when Apple and Google resisted deleting the opposition’s app, the regime turned from code to muscle.
In July, Putin signed a law that requires foreign information technology companies operating in the Russian market to open offices in the country. The Kremlin would say this is to ensure compliance with Russian national security laws, but it’s really about getting bodies on the ground to bully. Not every platform has yet set up shop (Twitter remains a holdout), but Apple and Google have. So when they wouldn’t comply with censorship demands, the Kremlin sent armed men to sit in Google’s Moscow offices for hours. Russian parliament also summoned representatives from both Google’s and Apple’s offices to a session on the Navalny app, where they were berated and threatened. The government reportedly named specific Google employees it would prosecute if the company didn’t delete the app, and the same plausibly went for Apple.
And, poof, the following morning, both companies folded and removed Smart Voting from their app stores. Apple further conceded by disabling Private Relay in Russia, a feature designed to ensure that when browsing the internet with Safari, no entity can see both the user’s identity and what they’re viewing. This undoubtedly bolstered the Russian Federal Security Service’s (already robust) ability to spy on citizens’ online traffic. YouTube, widely used in Russia by the opposition, then removed a video in which Navalny’s camp lists the names of leading opposition candidates, and Telegram blocked access to Navalny election services.
The debacle lays bare the misguidedness of decades of American “internet freedom” rhetoric that pushed the view that Western tech companies operating in authoritarian states would lead to democracy. During the Arab Spring, for example, many American pundits ignored the importance of local blogs and citizen organizing to brand the movements a “Twitter revolution.” A 2010 speech by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton addressed the ways authoritarian regimes were using the internet to their advantage but still reflected the prevailing view that more Western tech in dictatorships would promote “freedom.” In yet another data point to the contrary, it was these companies’ physical presence in Russia that made them vulnerable to Putin’s will.
Everything old was new again this week as ransomware came roaring back into the headlines, hitting a crucial Iowa grain cooperative, among other targets. And WIRED sat down with DeSnake, the former number two of the dark web marketplace AlphaBay, to hear about his reemergence and relaunch of AlphaBay four years after its takedown by law enforcement. “AlphaBay name was put in bad light after the raids. I am here to make amends to that,” DeSnake said.
The Groundhog Day vibes continued with the annual release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 15. The new OS comes with a slew of privacy features, including more granular details about what your apps are up to, a mechanism to block email trackers, and a sort of VPN-Tor Frankenstein monster called iCloud Private Relay that protects your browsing activity. Use WIRED’s handy guide to get up to speed and start changing some settings.
And if you want a DIY project that isn’t tied to a tech company’s walled garden, we’ve got tips on how to set up your own network attached storage (NAS) that plugs straight into your router and gives you a place to share files between your devices or easily store backups.
And there’s more! Each week we round up all the security news WIRED didn’t cover in depth. Click on the headlines to read the full stories, and stay safe out there.
A letter to Congress shared with Motherboard shows that the US National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other members of the Intelligence Community use ad blockers on their networks as a security protection. “The IC has implemented network-based ad-blocking technologies and uses information from several layers, including Domain Name System information, to block unwanted and malicious advertising content,” the IC chief information officer wrote in the letter.
You may use an ad blocker to make your browsing experience more pleasant, but the tools also have potential defense benefits. Attackers who try to run malicious ads on unscrupulous ad networks or taint legitimate-looking ads can steal data or sneak malware onto your device if you click, or sometimes by exploiting web vulnerabilities. The fact that the IC views ads as an unnecessary risk and even a threat speaks to long-standing problems with the industry. The NSA and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have released public guidance in recent years advising the use of ad blockers as a security protection, but the IC itself wasn’t required to adopt the measure. Its members deployed ad blockers voluntarily.
The security division of Russian telecom giant Rostelecom took down a portion of a notorious botnet this week, thanks to a flaw introduced by the malicious platform’s developers. The error allowed Rostelecom to “sinkhole“ part of the system. A botnet is a zombie army of devices that have been infected with malware to centrally control coordinated operations. The platforms are often used for DDoS attacks, in which actors direct a firehose of junk traffic at a target’s web systems in an attempt to overload them.
The Meris botnet is currently the largest botnet available to cybercriminals and is thought to be made up of about 250,000 systems working collectively. It has been used against targets in Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, among others. The Rostelecom partial takedown is significant, because Meris attacks are powerful and challenging for targets to combat. Earlier this month, a Meris attack on the Russian tech giant Yandex broke the record for largest-ever volumetric DDoS attack. Yandex managed to defend itself against the assault.
European law enforcement in Italy and Spain have arrested 106 people on suspicion of running a massive fraud campaign over many years, with profits totaling more than $11.7 million in the last year alone. And police said this week that the individuals involved have ties to an Italian mafia group. The suspects allegedly ran phishing schemes, conducted business email compromise scams, launched SIM-swapping attacks, and generally perpetrated credit card fraud against hundreds of victims. The activity was also allegedly connected to drug trafficking and other property-related crimes. To actually extract funds from these digital scams, the suspects allegedly laundered stolen money through a system of money mules and shell companies. In addition to the arrests, law enforcement froze 118 bank accounts and seized computers, SIM cards, 224 credit cards, and an entire cannabis plantation in connection with the bust.
Joseph Reisert, a government professor at Colby College, has found that science fiction novels such as Brave New World add a lot of value to his “Introduction to Political Theory” class.
“I wish I could claim that this idea was original with me, but actually I got the inspiration from the first political theory class I took as an undergraduate,” Reisert says in Episode 485 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The professor at that time assigned a political theory class that began with Plato and ended with Brave New World, and he made a lot of the connections for us then that I try to bring out when I teach it in my class.”
Reisert says that science fiction can help us imagine scenarios that we would never consider otherwise. “Science fiction enables us to try out, in literature, very different sets of social arrangements,” he says, “and through the medium of story maybe even get beyond that reflexive, ‘It’s different so it must be bad,’ and sort of play out in our heads, ‘Well, could this work? What would that mean? If we change this thing, what happens to these other things?’ I think fiction does that really well.”
Reisert is currently teaching Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed to help students understand Marxist ideas of a society without private property. “It’s the one imagining of a society without property that seems reasonably plausible to me,” he says. “I love that novel, and I think the central insight there is that to make that society without property work, even apart from the organizational challenges, requires a kind of moral transformation that’s not easy to accomplish.”
Another advantage of science fiction novels is that they tend to be more entertaining than political treatises, meaning that students are more likely to actually read them. “One shouldn’t underestimate the importance of having a light, easy reading at the end of a long semester right before people take exams,” Reisert says.
Listen to the complete interview with Joseph Reisert in Episode 485 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Joseph Reisert on Star Trek:
“Even as a kid I knew it was progressive—there’s still the Cold War going on and there’s a Russian on the bridge, and it’s interracial. But what struck me as a kid, and what I still really like about it is the optimism of the vision. I just found that so appealing, and the sort of mediating balance among [the characters]. If you think of Kirk as courage or spiritedness, and Spock as reason or intelligence, and McCoy as basically heart or friendship, all three of them turn out to be necessary. There are at least a few original series episodes where they come upon an apparently perfect but stagnant society that [puts] limits on intellectual inquiry, assertiveness, exploration, and daring, and the Enterprise folks bring it down.”
Joseph Reisert on Brave New World:
“[Bernard] is trying to impress Lenina Crowne by taking her to the Savage Reservation, and that’s where they meet John and Linda, and they bring them back to London. … When Linda dies, John kind of snaps and his disgust at the Brave New World is unleashed, and so he decides he’s going to liberate the Delta caste workers at the hospice for the dying by throwing away their drug ration. ‘Be men! Be free!’ he shouts to them. A riot ensues, and you’ve got to love the Brave New World, they break it up by foaming everyone with soma gas, and I think they have anesthetic water pistols so people fall asleep. And there’s the big, booming voice of their hypnotic instruction urging them to start an orgy. I think it actually ends with an orgy, this riot.”
Joseph Reisert on free speech:
“I definitely am pretty close to a free speech absolutist. Part of it is that anything I see being censored by somebody, I usually regard that as a reason to [think], ‘Well maybe I should look again at that idea, because somebody’s really afraid of it.’ It’s just so offensive to adults to say, ‘You can’t hear this’ or ‘You can’t hear that,’ and I think politically it’s just deeply corrosive. I think it’s much better to let people talk, because if they stop talking the next thing is violence. … There is a kind of—I don’t even think it’s a large group, but there’s a kind of loud, censorious, progressive set of students who really can’t abide having their pieties challenged at all, and they can make life difficult for people who would even want to talk about alternative perspectives, let alone actually embrace them. And I think that just has to be resisted at all costs.”
Joseph Reisert on Brave New World vs. Nineteen Eighty-Four:
“Even though I don’t altogether agree with [Mustapha Mond’s] defense of the Brave New World, he in some ways embodies all the virtues that nobody else in the Brave New World is really allowed to cultivate. … When O’Brien [in Nineteen Eighty-Four] is eating real chocolate or having real coffee, in a weird sort of way he’s tasting the sorrow of the other party. The point of it for him is the sadistic boot-on-face-forever. Whereas Mond is kind of wistful. ‘If they read Othello, they couldn’t understand it, and it would unsettle them. Yeah it would be nice if they could have real art, but the price would be too high.’ It’s not like he’s enjoying the deprivation of others, which is the vibe I get from Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
The big boat stuck in the Suez Canal, Oprah waving off Meghan and Harry with her “Stop it” hands, all the Teletubbies boinking one another blue as the sun baby watches approvingly, a photo bashing trans athletes shared by Donald Trump Jr. These memes are unified not only in encapsulating the lunacy of 2021, but in the four words that have consistently appeared beside them and countless others, in captions as well as comments: “The internet remains undefeated.”
Surely you’ve seen these words, but maybe you haven’t read them. (Congratulations on your sanity.) An apolitical, amoral stand-in equally for lol, fuck you, and thank you, used for both schadenfreude and firgun, “The internet remains undefeated” is the internet of phrases about the internet, existing everywhere and nowhere, meaning everything and nothing. A seemingly benign expression—until you say it back.
The internet remains undefeated. The internet remains undefeated. The internet remains undefeated.
The more I encounter these words, the more they pierce me with mortal dread. It’s not just the rotten onion of their ambiguity: When did the internet’s winning streak begin? What, or who, is it undefeated against? Ourselves, maybe. But then why are so many of us so jubilant about reminding ourselves that we’ve defeated ourselves? And what would, could, should defeating the internet look like? But my disdain for the saying is also because of its underlying sentiment. The true terror of “The internet remains undefeated” is that it’s most often used in lighthearted contexts, yet exposes the deepest darkness of our lives online, a darkness that we’ve become either blind to or numb to.
Searches on the term “undefeated internet” suggest that the oldest extant usage of the ghastly phrase might belong to Timothy Hall (@peoplescrtic), a film critic and meme lord from Seattle. On the morning of August 12, 2013, he posted on Instagram a meme of a scowling Russell Westbrook, the mercurial NBA dynamo, photoshopped into a character selection screen from the arcade classic Mortal Combat, with the caption “The internet remains undefeated.” It’s a textbook usage, the kind Hall says he’s been deploying on social media and in group chats in the years since. To him, the saying epitomizes the internet as the world’s great equalizer. “You can be POTUS,” he says, “or you can be a soccer mom yelling at a game, not knowing you’re being filmed. Everyone is fair game to become a meme. Maybe it’s POTUS who makes you into a meme, or maybe it’s my 14-year-old nephew. You may not know it’s your day, you just have to ride the wave and let the internet defeat you until it’s someone else’s turn.”
But Hall can’t take credit for coining the phrase; he says he must’ve picked it up from someone on the internet along the way. “If someone ever claimed to have invented it,” he adds, “the internet would defeat them. That’s the beauty of it.”
To a wide-ranging group of social media users like Hall, “The internet remains undefeated” is, on its face, a simple expression of joy, or nostalgia for a more joyous era of the internet. Ryan Milner, a professor of internet culture at the College of Charleston and author of The World Made Meme, says the phrase harkens back to a time, between roughly 2003 and 2013, when the internet was “still kind of this other place that didn’t operate by and could maybe transcend real-world rules.” This was the heyday of early YouTube and message boards like Something Awful, 4chan, and Reddit, “when you saw a flurry of subcultural activity and content creation that became kind of a tone setter for people who are still extremely online.” So in 2021, people comment “The internet remains undefeated” to a flourishing of memes about Bernie Sanders and his mittens or the discord between your fall plans and the Delta variant, because it recalls when life online seemed less about livestreamed mass murders and the algorithmically driven death of democracy and more about rickrolling and lolcats. At the surface level, says Milner, the phrase “is a way to kind of appreciate when the early spirit of collective creativity online resurfaces.”