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Apple Finally Remembered What Makes Laptops Great

Apple Finally Remembered What Makes Laptops Great

The reintroduction of a MagSafe magnetic charging port, a staple in older Macs, is especially welcome if you tend to be clumsy and trip over your charging cables. MagSafe mostly ensures the cable releases and that the laptop doesn’t go crashing to the floor.

That reversion to functionality has come with some sacrifice. The new MacBook Pros are heavier than the previous generation of MacBook Pro, weighing 4.7 pounds and 3.5 pounds, respectively, adding about a half pound of heft to the previous generation. But they’re also just a hair thicker, which means Apple has done some clever maneuvering of the machines’ internals to make these ports fit. Battery life, in some ways the only spec that matters, is supposed to be substantially better as well.

That’s due in no small part to the chip upgrade these laptops are getting. The new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips build on last year’s M1 chip, which was Apple’s first custom-designed processor for Macs and powered last year’s MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. These new chips should offer massive gains in performance—though benchmark and speed tests will soon reveal just how big these boosts are—and in a series of not-so-subtle charts, Apple showed how the chips should outperform Intel-powered machines in almost every category. The company claims that the M1 Max’s 32-core GPU, for example, rivals even the most powerful laptops with discrete graphics processors.

Apple’s own apps have been optimized for the new chips, which will start rolling out when the new MacBook Pros ship at the end of the month, and some third-party developers were on hand (via pretaped videos) to vouch for the newfound power of the Macs. But these new MacBook Pros will still use last year’s emulator to run some x86 apps. Arguably, it’s some of these apps that are the most important element of MacBook Pros: Buyers of Apple’s high-end hardware also tend to be the customers who will spend a lot of money on software, whether for their jobs or more casual use cases, and this is exactly who Apple is targeting with these $2,000-and-up machines.

“A lot of creative professionals have been anxious to see how the M1 was going to be developed for their needs,” says Mikako Kitagawa, research director at Gartner. “It’s not like all the apps they need are [optimized], but Apple has been working with key third-party developers like Adobe, so between the performance boost and key applications this could be the time for creative professionals to replace their devices.”

Kitagawa said she believes these new MacBook Pros won’t be high-volume items, considering their starting price of $2,000. Putting it another way: She doesn’t think that sales of the new MacBook Pros will alter Apple’s current market share in global PC shipments.

But the new machines are still technologically—and symbolically—significant for Apple. She noted that Microsoft recently announced a new Surface Studio laptop, which is also aimed at designers, developers, and producers. That’s another laptop that’s unlikely to make a huge dent in the market, but it’s a chance for Microsoft to show off what it thinks it can offer creative consumers. Appealing to creatives, and to some extent, counterculture, has been in Apple’s computer DNA. In recent years, it lost its way. To build MacBook Pros for the future, Apple rightly followed the path back to that past.


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The Facebook Whistleblower Won’t Change Anything

The Facebook Whistleblower Won’t Change Anything

Truth be told, predicting the future isn’t my strong suit (and I have a trophy to prove it)—but here’s one prediction I make with full confidence: The latest Facebook revelations, courtesy of whistleblower Frances Haugen, will have zero impact on regulation. No new laws, no new regulations, no new challenges worth a damn. And the issue isn’t Haugen’s testimony or proposals (not that there aren’t issues with both), nor the inanity of some of the questions she got in return (ditto). Rather, the issue is with the expectations we place on whistleblowing. The idea we have of what whistleblowing can achieve.

If whistleblowing has an archetypal story, it goes something like this. A stand-up figure within an organization, an everyperson, comes face to face with some central injustice the organization is perpetuating. Sometimes the motive is company profit, sometimes it’s personal profit, but whatever the case, there’s a smoke-filled room of men with cigars cackling while the rest of the world—including regulators—carry on oblivious to the damage being done. At great personal risk, the everyperson goes public with their concerns: the truth outs. There are hearings called, exposés published, laws passed—the sclerotic machinery of oversight belatedly kicks into gear, and the people in charge exchange their cigars for handcuffs. Think: Sherron Watkins, Cynthia Cooper, or Daniel Ellsberg.

This is a popular idea for how change happens, and its popularity is no surprise, because the change it promises riffs on some very foundational myths of American society. It’s built on the assumption of good intentions—on the idea that, sans a few ne’er-do-wells, regulators (and organizational employees, and legislators) are ultimately just dependent on the right information to ensure justice is done. It’s built on assumptions about the importance of the individual whistleblower—the individual, full stop. No wonder that, in a cultural milieu that so loves its individualism (even, as Rodrigo Nunes notes, on the left), we hold up the whistleblower as the path to justice. But today, whistleblowing doesn’t make those movements more possible; to the contrary, as I’ve previously written, with its insistence on the individual expert as the source of change, it makes them more difficult to sustain. Precisely because it venerates the single, public, heroic figure, the notion of whistleblowing actively denigrates the less glamorous work necessary to sustain activism.

These assumptions obscure some awkward truths of their own. They obscure, for example, how central the identity and perspective of “the whistleblower” are to the audience they receive. Many people have, quite rightly, highlighted the different experiences of Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang: the former a nice white lady whose concerns don’t stop her from arguing that Facebook should not be broken up, the latter an Asian American woman who sees Facebook’s ideology and financial interests as fundamentally undercutting efforts to solve these problems. Only one of them got a congressional hearing. We might compare both to Alex Stamos, whose resignation from Facebook in 2016 resulted in a write-your-own-job-description offer at Stanford, and contrast all of the above with Timnit Gebru, who was fired from Google for (so far as anyone can determine) having the temerity to be angry while Black. As Daniela Aghostino, Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, and I have noted have noted at different points, who tells the truth, matters. What that truth is, matters. The stories that have legs—that get uptake from the status quo—tend to be those that challenge it the least.

Even if whistleblowers’ treatment was entirely neutral (whatever that means), they still can’t save us. Because of that other assumption hidden behind whistleblowing: that the truth is the only thing standing between the present and a just future. It’s hard to see how, exactly, this idea lines up with our current reality. In 2002, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, inspired (in part) by Cooper’s and Watkins’ disclosures, passed into law after a 423–3 vote in the House of Representatives and a 99–0 vote in the Senate. In contrast, the present day sees a struggle to acquire even a single cross-party vote on issues as seemingly uncontroversial as “the government should avoid defaulting on its debt.”

In this environment, whistleblowing can’t save us, because the issue isn’t an absence of information but an absence of will. And what builds will, and shifts norms, doesn’t look like a single, isolated figure speaking truth, but mass movements of people setting new standards and making clear there are costs to regulators and companies for not attending to them.

Does this mean whistleblowing is pointless? Of course not. Information always has the potential to be useful if deployed correctly. But the default attitude toward whistleblowing—tell some left-leaning newspapers, tell some legislators, and the hard work is done—is simply naive. The most generous of interpretations is that these figures genuinely believe this is the hard work; that they have that aforementioned faith in the institutions they’re disclosing to. The less generous interpretation is that it is, to a certain degree, a secular form of confession: an unburdening of souls by complicit figures who wish for absolution (absolution that, just-so-coincidentally, sets them up for an entirely new career as the “acceptable” and “safe” technology critic, with a contract for a mediocre book and a largely vacuous research institute).

But if whistleblowing-as-usual isn’t changing anything, then what we need is a different way to approach whistleblowing and disclosures, a way that treats whistleblowers’ knowledge as just one tool in a wider repertoire, and their expertise as one stock of knowledge in a broader realm of concerned, invested, and knowledgeable actors.

Rather than discharging their moral responsibilities through disclosing to regulators and walking away to start their own think tank, whistleblowers might seek to strengthen, draw attention to, and participate in the many pre-existing movements for change in this area—movements led and driven by those people most affected by technology’s excesses. Our Data Bodies, the carceral tech resistance network, the Detroit Community Technology Project; all of these collectives and organizations have been working on problems of surveillance, power and injustice in data and technology since long before Haugen (or Harris, or Willis, or, or, or …) turned critic. They might seek to participate in an ecology of activism; a multitudinous array of actors coordinating for change rather than competing for visibility.

Imagine if, rather than disclosing to The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, Frances Haugen (or or any of a whole range of other self-appointed moral compasses) had disclosed to those movements. If they had gone to existing organizations, already doing the work, who could contextualize the knowledge they brought, and made those organizations the focus of the story. Imagine if they had used the attention that comes from the information they brought not to keep the limelight on their (individual, insider) perspectives on what change looks like, but the longer-term thinking of the people who have viscerally experienced the consequences that whistleblowers find themselves more-abstractly squirming over. Imagine if we, the public, and they, the regulators, could see proposals coming not from a Silicon Valley coder but from community organizers, street activists, and practitioners who fundamentally understand that what is needed is not a messiah but a movement.

The 10 Best TVs We’ve Tested (and Helpful Buying Tips)

The 10 Best TVs We’ve Tested (and Helpful Buying Tips)

Saving up for a new screen? To help you navigate the dozens of seemingly identical TV models from Samsung, LG, Vizio, TCL, Sony, and other manufacturers, we’ve watched hundreds of hours of content on them and picked a few of our favorites. We’ve listed everything from the best budget TV to the absolute best set you can buy—and a few excellent choices in between.

Unless labeled otherwise, every TV we link to is 55 inches. There are often larger and smaller sizes available on the retailer’s site, but this is a very good size for most living rooms. All of these models have a 4K Ultra HD pixel resolution (and some have 8K), because there aren’t a lot of good reasons to buy a standard HDTV anymore.

We also believe you should invest in a good soundbar and TV streaming stick. TVs now come with wonderful displays, but they’re terrible at sound and running apps. Be sure to check out our many other buying guides.

Updated October 2021: We’ve added the Samsung QN90A, Hisense U8G, LG C1 OLED, and Sony A90J. There have been mild price fluctuations due to the international chip shortage. We’ve updated the links and prices, but they may fluctuate more than usual.

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Hackers Keep Targeting the US Water Supply

Hackers Keep Targeting the US Water Supply

In light of all the Facebook news lately—although frankly, when isn’t there any—you may finally be thinking about jumping ship. If so, here’s how to delete your Facebook account. You’re welcome.

That’s not all that happened this week, though! Google shed some new light on the Iranian hacking group known as APT35, or Charming Kitten, and how they use Telegram bots to let them know when a phishing lure has a nibble. Speaking of Telegram, a new report shows just how poor a job the messaging service has done keeping extremism off the platform.

There was good news for Cloudflare this week, as a judge ruled that the internet infrastructure company isn’t liable when one of its customers infringe copyright designs on their websites. And there was bad news for humanity, as the governor of Missouri has threatened repeatedly to sue a journalist for responsibly disclosing a security flaw on a state website that he uncovered.

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.

In February, someone tried to poison a Florida city’s water supply by hacking into its control system and dramatically increasing the amount of sodium hydroxide. In 2020, a former employee at a Kansas water facility accessed and tampered with its controls remotely.  And that’s before you even get to the four ransomware attacks that intelligence officials documented this week, in a joint warning about the ongoing threats that hackers pose to US water and wastewater facilities. The alert notes that water treatment plants tend to invest in physical infrastructure rather than IT resources, and tend to use outdated versions of software, both of which leave them susceptible to attack. Disgruntled insiders have ample access to wreck havoc, and ransomware attackers always like a target that can’t afford to stay offline for any significant period of time. While this isn’t necessarily surprising—we sounded the same warning back in April—the joint FBI/CISA/NSA/EPA memo gives new detail into how many confirmed attacks have taken place in recent months, and it offers some guidance for critical infrastructure operators on how not to be the next victim.

A comprehensive hack of Twitch recently included source code, gamer payouts, and more, causing quite a stir among streamers especially. But it’s not the biggest hack in Twitch history. That distinction belongs to a 2014 compromise, detailed by Motherboard this week, that was devastating enough that Twitch had to “rebuild much of its code infrastructure,” according to the report, because so many of its servers had likely been compromised. Inside Twitch, the hack became known as “Urgent Pizza” because of how much overtime engineers had to work—and dinners the company had to feed them—to mitigate the attack. It’s well worth a full read. 

Chances are you’ve heard this story by now, but it’s still worth including a case with allegations this wild. The Department of Justice has charged Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife with trying to give state secrets to a foreign country; the people on the other end of the line turned out to be FBI agents. Toebbe allegedly participated in several “dead drops” of sensitive information; court documents say he hid data cards in everything from a peanut butter sandwich to pack of gum. He allegedly offered up thousands of documents, asking for $100,000 of cryptocurrency in return. 

It’s always a good idea to update all of your devices all of the time—automatically, even—but especially so when that update is specifically designed to fix a so-called zero-day bug. In this case, a security researcher had gotten so tired of Apple not crediting his submissions that last month he posted a proof-of-concept exploit and full details for four separate iOS security flaws. This is the second one to be patched, which leaves two to go. Hopefully Apple will give him a proper hat tip when it gets around to fixing those. 


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FDA Backs Boosters, Travel Restrictions Lift, and More News

FDA Backs Boosters, Travel Restrictions Lift, and More News

The FDA backs additional doses, international travel restrictions end, and vaccine mandate rules progress. Here’s what you should know:

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FDA panel signs off on additional Moderna and Johnson & Johnson doses

Today, an FDA advisory committee recommended a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot. Many fewer Americans received this vaccine than either of the mRNA shots, so there’s less data overall, but the group has recommended that a second dose be available to recipients 18 and older two months after their initial vaccine. On Thursday, the same committee unanimously recommended booster shots for recipients of Moderna’s vaccine who are 65 and older or are part of several other vulnerable populations. The next step will be for a Centers for Disease Control advisory panel to discuss additional doses in meetings scheduled for next week. If they approve, distribution could start shortly thereafter.

The first boosters, third doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, were approved in the US in August, and in the time since, President Biden has touted additional shots as an effective way for vulnerable Americans to protect themselves. But boosters have not been without controversy, especially because so many countries around the world are still struggling to procure initial doses.

Pandemic travel constraints lift around the world

The Biden administration announced today that, starting November 8, it will lift travel restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors from 33 countries, including a number of European nations, China, and Iran. There will be stricter requirements for travelers coming from places other than these approved countries. Next month, the US will also lift restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers entering the country from Canada or Mexico by land. A different border policy will still apply to migrants.

Outside the US, many other countries are also lifting stringent travel requirements that have been in place for much of the pandemic. Australian officials have said that vaccinated travelers coming to Sydney will no longer need to quarantine starting next month. After 19 months, India is about to start allowing foreign tourists. And Bali and Malaysia will also be opening to vaccinated visitors soon.

Government vaccine mandate rules are in final review despite pushback

Last month, President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write rules regarding company vaccine mandates, and earlier this week the agency showed its proposal to the Office of Management and Budget for final review. A number of state attorneys general have said they’ll oppose the measures, but many businesses have already implemented their own protocols in accordance with the president’s executive order. Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, for instance, recently upheld their employee mandates even though both are based in Texas, where the governor has banned such policies. And another aerospace company, Boeing, recently joined the ranks of organizations requiring workers to get their shots.