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Twitter to relaunch account verifications in early 2021, asks for feedback on policy

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Twitter announced today it’s planning to relaunch its verification system in 2021, and will now begin the process of soliciting public feedback on the new policy ahead of its implementation. Under the policy, Twitter will initially verify six types of accounts, including those belonging to government officials; companies, brands and nonprofit organizations; news; entertainment; sports; and activists, organizers and other influential individuals. The number of categories could expand in time.

Twitter’s verification system, which provides a blue checkmark to designate accounts belonging to public figures, was paused in 2017 as the company tried to address confusion over what it meant to be verified.

The issue at the time was that Twitter had verified the account belonging to Jason Keller, the person who organized the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In response to the wave of criticism directed at Twitter as a result of this action, the company defended its decision by pointing to its policies around account verification, which explained its blue badges were awarded to accounts of “public interest.”

Critics argued that genuinely noteworthy figures were still struggling to get their own accounts verified, and that verifying a known white supremacist was not something that should ever be in the “public interest.” As a result, Twitter in November 2017 decided to pause all account verifications.

The following year, the company announced work on the verification system would be placed on a longer, more indefinite hold, so Twitter could direct its resources to focus on election integrity. That proved to be a significant undertaking, as it turned out.

Though the company this year verified medical experts tweeting about COVID-19 and labeled candidates running for public office, these efforts were managed in more of a one-off fashion.

Now, with the 2020 U.S. presidential election having wrapped, and with a transition underway, Twitter says work on its new verification system will finally resume.

The company today shared a draft of its new verification policy in order to gain public feedback. The policy details more specifically which accounts can be verified and introduces additional guidelines that could limit some accounts from receiving the blue badge.

For example, Twitter says the account must be “notable and active,” and the badge won’t be awarded to any accounts with incomplete profiles. Twitter will also deny or remove verification badges from otherwise qualified individuals if their accounts are found to be in repeated violation of the Twitter Rules.

The company additionally admitted it had verified accounts over the years which should not be, as based on these guidelines. To correct this, Twitter will begin to automatically remove badges from accounts that are inactive or have incomplete profiles, to help it streamline its work going forward.

The policy also lays out specifics about how it will determine whether an account in a supported category will qualify.

For example, news organizations will have to adhere to professional standards for journalism, and independent or freelance journalists will need to provide at least three bylines in qualifying organizations published in the last six months. Entertainers will need to be able to point to credits on their IMDb page or to references in verified news publications. Government officials will need to show a public reference on an official government website, party website or multiple references by news media. Sports figures will have to appear on team websites, rosters or in sports data services like Sportradar. There are a few other ways to be verified in these categories, too.

The guidelines for public figures are more detailed, as they must meet two different criteria for “notability” — one that quantifies their Twitter activity and another that highlights their off-Twitter notability, like a Wikipedia page, Google Trends profile, profile on an official advocacy site and more.

“We know we can’t solve verification with a new policy alone — and that this initial policy won’t cover every case for being verified — but it is a critical first step in helping us provide more transparency and fairer standards for verification on Twitter as we reprioritize this work,” a company announcement stated. “This version of the policy is a starting point, and we intend to expand the categories and criteria for verification significantly over the next year,” it noted.

Twitter users will be able to offer feedback on the new verification policy starting today, November 24, 2020, and continuing through December 8, 2020. The policy is being made available in English, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. Users can either respond to the survey Twitter has posted or they can choose to tweet their feedback publicly, using the hashtag #VerificationFeedback.

In addition, Twitter says it’s working with local non-governmental organizations and its Trust and Safety Council to gain a range of other perspectives.

After December 8, 2020, Twitter will train its team on the new policy and introduce the final version by Decemeber 17, 2020. The verification system itself, which will include a new public application process, will begin in early 2021.

Though Twitter is giving itself time to make policy changes based on public feedback, it had already begun to develop the underlying technology for the verification application process.

Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch this June it was in the process of building a new in-app system for requesting verification. The feature had been found buried in the app’s code by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who tweeted a screenshot of a new option, “Request Verification,” that appeared under Twitter’s account settings. At the time, Twitter wouldn’t confirm when the new system would go live.

Though not everyone will qualify for verification, Twitter says it’s working on other features that will help to better distinguish accounts on its platform. Also in 2021, the company will introduce new account types and labels that will help Twitter users identify themselves on their profiles. More details on these features will be announced in the weeks to come, Twitter says.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/24/twitter-to-relaunch-account-verifications-in-early-2021-asks-for-feedback-on-policy/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sarah Perez

Iconic Arecibo radio telescope to be dismantled after 57-year run

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The famous Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which has provided an invaluable service to scientists for 57 years as well as establishing itself in popular culture, will be dismantled after it incurred irreparable damage in recent months.

The enormous observatory was completed in 1963 and immediately established itself as a powerful tool for astronomers and atmospheric scientists around the world. The enormous instrument boasted a larger size and different architecture than anything before it, opening up new possibilities for monitoring the universe (and transmitting to it, not something every array can do).

Countless researchers and projects used Arecibo, which as a federally funded resource was at least partly dedicated to public proposals. Signals coming through Arecibo helped inform our understanding of stellar objects from Mercury to distant pulsars.

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence famously used the telescope to transmit a message at high power towards a nearby star cluster structured so that its artificial nature would be unmistakable, at least to any form of life remotely like our own. The organization also scoured years of the observatory’s data for patterns that may indicate intelligent life doing the same thing in reverse.

Arecibo’s crowning moment in pop culture, however, is certainly its appearance in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye — and the wildly popular Nintendo 64 game based on it. Who could forget the climactic showdown between Bond and his antagonist, suspended hundreds of feet above the dish?

Sadly, Arecibo’s infrastructure has aged and the cost of replacing some parts seems to have been too great for its custodians to attempt. Though it has survived countless storms and earthquakes, the battering it has received in recent years seems was too much for some of its cables, two out of 12 of which broke in recent months, damaging the dish itself. It is suspected that the others may be in a poor state, and if so that vastly increases the danger and cost of repairs.

Consequently it was decided by the board at the University of Central Florida, which manages Arecibo on behalf of the National Science Foundations, that a controlled decommissioning was the only reasonable path forward.

“This decision was not an easy one to make,” the NSF’s Sean Jones told press at a briefing today. “We understand how much Arecibo means to the [scientific] community and to Puerto Rico.”

No specific plan has been arrived at yet for the dismantlement of the facility, but it would need to be done fairly soon to prevent more accidents from further reducing the safety of the site.

The loss of Arecibo is a grave one, and its capabilities are not replicated exactly by other observatories in the world, but it is no longer the largest or most sensitive radio telescope out there. Many successors have been built in the six decades since Arecibo was made operational; China just took the wraps of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope at the beginning of 2020, which promises to be an immensely important facility for astronomers worldwide.

While the famous telescope may soon be gone, Arecibo may remain as a scientific facility, suggested Arecibo’s program director at the NSF in remarks reported by Space.com. “We’re discussing the decommissioning of a structure made of steel and cables,” he said, “It’s the passion of the people that work at the observatory to continue to explore, to learn, that is the true heart and soul of Arecibo. It’s not the telescope that’s the heart and soul, it’s the people.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/19/iconic-arecibo-radio-telescope-to-be-dismantled-after-57-year-run/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Devin Coldewey

This $99 gadget helps you make music, no skill required

At CES back in January, I met with a handful of founders who were/are crowdfunding musical instruments. It’s a fascinating category and one to watch if you have a passing interest in either music or technology. Like a vast majority of hardware startups, most companies in the space will build one product if they’re lucky — and even that can feel like something of a long shot.

Coupling the Hail Mary pursuits of hardware development with an earnest attempt to reinvent the musical wheel feels like an act of futility. And honestly, it is. But every so often, something breaks through in an exciting way. Roli is probably one of the best examples of the phenomenon in recent years. The company’s Seaboard was a clever take on the synth — and the U.K. company has continued to release clever music products.

Nashville-based Artiphon managed to capture the imagination of online music lovers as well, with the simply named Instrument 1. The hybrid guitar/piano-style device pulled in a wildly impressive $1.3 million on Kickstarter back in 2015. I spoke to the company’s founders about the project at CES this year, but it was their second device that really interested me.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Last year’s Kickstarter campaign for the Orba bested its predecessor, raising $1.4 million. And it’s easy to see why. The company describes it thusly on its campaign page:

Hold out your hands and meet Orba, a new kind of musical instrument. It’s a synth, looper, and MIDI controller that lets anyone make music immediately. Orba’s minimalist design resembles a cross between a gaming controller and a half a grapefruit, and its feather-touch sensitivity translates gestures from your fingers and hands directly into sound. Orba introduces a new and fun way to make music anywhere, even if you’ve never played an instrument before.

It’s that last bit in particularl that caught my attention. The thing that united most of the devices I looked at in January is some kind of base-level requirement of musical skill. Which, understandable. But as an overzealous music fan with — let’s just say limited — ability, I’ve been looking for something that might scratch that musical itch. Honestly, I was pretty hopeful for Roli’s Blocks, but ultimately found their appeal for novices to be overstated.

I’ve been asking after the Orba since January. I doubled down in March/April when the COVID-19 shutdown really hit us in earnest here in New York, thinking it would be a good way to pass some of the time that didn’t involve rewatching Tiger King. Initially planned for an April delivery, founder/CEO Mike Butera notes that things like COVID-19 and the ongoing trade war put a damper on those plans.

“Despite that, we started shipping to our 12,000+ Kickstarter backers first this summer, and we’re now 95% shipped globally (100% in the countries where we’ve opened sales),” he says. “All remaining backers are already in logistics.”

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It took a while for the device to finally come through, but I finally got my hands (well, hand, really) on it — and so far I’m pretty into the thing. I can’t promise my attention span is going to hold up beyond a week or two, but I’m really digging it right now. As you’d expect, having some musical skill is certainly helpful, but it’s not a prerequisite. The learning curve is surprisingly small, and the thing, quite literally, works out of the box. Hooking it up to a computer (via USB-C) or smartphone (Bluetooth) enhances the experience, sure, but it’s not necessary.

The easiest way to think about the peculiar little object is as a kind of compact, pre-programmed MIDI controller you can use to build songs by layering loops on the fly. The “grapefruit” comparison is pretty apt (especially if you get the citrusy silicon cover), with each of the “slices” representing a different element of an instrument. In “lead” or “chord” mode, they generally represent different notes. With “drums” they’re different pieces in a kit or other percussion instruments.

Holding down the big “A” lets you switch between instruments, adjust the BPM (tempo), record a track or play it back. I’ve found the easiest way to approach it is laying down a rhythm track with the drums (to the built-in metronome) and then layering chords over that. Here’s a Day One attempt. It’s not Bach or Wendy Carlos, but you get the picture:

https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/song-1-orbi.mp3

I should add the software doesn’t currently support saving/exporting songs, which is a big bummer. The above recording was jury rigged in a very lo-fi way by holding the instrument up to a mic during playback. There are other methods, including using the headphone jack as audio out, but the above was honestly just the easiest method at the time. The feature is included in the instructions, but not the app. Butera has since confirmed with me recording/sharing is, indeed, coming soon.

For the time being, the app is mostly good for switching sounds. There are about 10 sound packs per instrument (with considerable overlap between them). It’s a pretty good start, though most tend toward the electronic and ambient, with drum sounds that more closely approximate an 808 than a proper analog drum kit. It makes sense. Again, this thing is a MIDI controller at its heart and will never be able to sufficiently approximate a chamber orchestra.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The chords/leads are in a scale, so it’s impossible — or at least difficult — to hit a wrong note. Artiphon is working to expand the library of sounds. There are no plans to let users contribute to the library, though they can alter the sounds themselves by using the system as a MIDI controller.

The current level of customization leaves a little to be desired. Though that’s certainly to be expected from a first-gen product from a small startup. And, honestly, there’s something to be said for keeping things relatively simple when it comes to appealing to beginnings. It also warrants mention that the little hunk of plastic is surprisingly versatile when it comes physical interaction. The “keys” don’t have give, but the company has added a number of clever ways to alter the input. It takes some getting used to and can sometimes lead you to trigger an accidental result, but over all, it’s a nice feature.

Stealing the graphic from the Kickstarter page:

Image Credits: Artiphon

I’m not ready to classify the Orba as a serious musical instrument — and honestly, I don’t think that’s really the point. I have no illusions of becoming the next Flying Lotus or Dan Deacon here, but damn if the $99 gadget isn’t fun to have lying around to blow off steam, kill some time and keep myself occupied during boring conference calls — on mute, of course.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/18/this-99-gadget-helps-you-make-music-no-skill-required/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ will air on PBS, in spite of Apple TV+ rights exclusive

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Call it a holiday miracle. Apple today announced that animated holiday classics “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will, indeed, be appearing on television this year. The news comes after some pushback against an Apple TV+ exclusive that found the Peanuts cartoons being pulled from TV broadcast.

As we noted last month, the deal would mark the first time in 55 years the beloved Christmas special wouldn’t be broadcast on network television. Both holiday specials appeared to be resolved to a similar fate as the 1966 Halloween special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

While Apple’s rights had a clause that involved a window for free broadcast, it was hard to shake the feeling that relegating a holiday tradition to a premium subscription service flew in the face of the original special’s staunch, anti-consumer message.

Thankfully, in addition to appearing on TV+, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” will appear on PBS and PBS on November 22, 2020 at 7:30 pm local time/6:30 pm CT, while “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air on December 13, 2020 at 7:30 pm local time/6:30 pm CT.

It’s a small victory, perhaps, but these days we’ll take them where we can get them. And this time without ads.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/18/a-charlie-brown-christmas-will-air-on-pbs-in-spite-of-apple-tv-rights-exclusive/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

The new Mac mini: The revival of the no-compromise low-cost Mac

There’s nothing small about the latest Mac mini.

Never mind the Mac mini’s tiny size or low price. This diminutive desktop is a revolution for most users, thanks to Apple’s new chipset. Called the M1, this chip platform replaces the Intel CPU long found at the heart of Apple’s desktop and portable computers, and the results are impressive.

Using the M1 Mac mini feels like using a new iPad or iPhone. Everything satisfyingly snaps into place. I keep waiting for my test machine to start lagging, and nearly a week later, it’s just as fast as the day I started using it. The new Mac mini is surprising, and most users will find it a major upgrade over existing Mac computers. It’s hard to beat regardless of the price.

For casual users, those who live in a web browser or Apple’s apps, the Mac mini is a no-brainer option. This is the desktop I would buy for myself. Even for power users, those who run bespoke applications, the Mac mini should be seriously considered. Most mainstream applications excel on the new Mini — especially apps with a creative tilt toward photography or video.

The Mac mini has long been a forgotten friend among the Mac lineup. Hardly updated and never promoted, it sat on the bench for years, watching as Apple’s portables received updates and refreshes as the world became more mobile. But here we are in the midst of a never-ending pandemic. With coffee shops closed and business travel limited, the COVID-19 crisis could lead to the rediscovery of the desktop computer.

The M1-powered Mac mini is a winner.

Review

There are several things you should know. One, the new Mac mini runs the M1 SoC, which is fundamentally different from its Intel predecessor. Instead of a CPU, it’s an SoC — System on a Chip, which comes with advantages and concessions. The chipset is built around an ARM design with more integrated components than its CPU counterparts. In many ways, it’s more similar to the system powering phones and tablets than the chips used in traditional computers. Because of this design, components that used to be discrete are now integrated directly into the chip.

Second, Apple provided a 6K 32-inch Pro Display XDR with my test Mac mini (these will be returned to Apple). I’m also running a 24-inch display over HDMI. According to the Mac mini’s product page, the system is limited to two monitors. I was able to hook up a third monitor through 3rd party software but it was unstable and should not be considered a capability.

Lastly, you should know TechCrunch also reviewed the new 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. We benchmarked these systems with similar conditions to demonstrate the differences between the units. You can find the reviews here for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

In our tests, we found Apple’s M1 system on a chip (SoC) to outperform its rivals, regardless of price. With the M1 at its core, the Mac mini is faster in most regards than every Apple computer available except for the ultra-expensive Mac Pro — and sometimes the Mini is faster than the Mac Pro, too. What’s more, this performance increase is noticeable throughout the system and not just limited to raw computing tasks in purpose-built applications. The system is snappy, responsive and feels like the start of a new era of computing.

MacBook Air M1 review: The right Apple Silicon Mac for most

The new Mac experience

Snappy hardly describes the experience of the new Mac mini. This system flies. Users will instantly notice the increase in speed, too, from startup time to launching apps. In the past, even on powerful machines, macOS has always felt heavy compared to iOS, but not anymore. With the M1 chip, macOS (Big Sur) is light and free and a joy to use.

Even better, the ARM-based M1 chip allows Macs to run iOS applications, and they run as smoothly on the Mac as they do on an iPad.

There’s likely a hesitation around embracing a new Intel-less Mac. Will your legacy applications run on these machines? Will they run well? I can’t answer every variable. I installed and ran dozens of applications during my few days with the system and never experienced a roadblock. Even with older programs, everything ran as advertised, and in most cases, ran better on this M1-powered Mac mini than on my few-months-old 15-inch MacBook Pro. I didn’t find one application unable to run on the new platform.

The largest speed increases are most noticeable when using native apps for the M1 processor. With Apple’s Final Cut Pro, the application loads seemingly instantly — two seconds from button press to it being open and ready to go.

With the M1 chip, it’s less painful to edit 8K footage in the native Final Cut Pro app than it was to edit 4K footage on an Intel Mac. Exporting the files still takes time, though, and this is one of the few tasks where Intel’s platform outperforms the M1.

Even when using legacy software, the system preformed with ease. Edits in Photoshop seemed more fluid. Lightroom loaded photo albums quicker and without hesitation. Editing video in Premiere was easier and less painful as I scrubbed through 6K footage. Even unzipping files was much quicker.

Image Credits: Matt Burns

This is a silly demonstration, but watch the GIF above. Applications open instantly — all of them at the same time. If Apple put a beachball in this system, I haven’t found it yet.

The M1 chip is based on an ARM design, which required Apple to rework macOS to run on this new computing platform. While it looks mostly the same, the macOS is now purpose-built for Apple’s own silicon. To take full advantage of the redesigned chip, applications need to be re-coded into an Arm-friendly design. And yet, we found something surprising: Even the apps that are not re-coded yet are still impressively fast thanks to Apple’s Rosetta 2 that enables software encoded for Intel’s platform to run on the new Apple platform and take advantage of the M1’s power.

For most uses, this holistic approach of building the hardware and software results in major advantages. Common system-level tasks like launching apps, waking from sleep and unzipping files are lightning-fast. Other items like rendering video and editing photos are just as fast, too. Right now, at launch, all of Apple’s apps — from Music to Photos to Safari — are re-encoded for the M1. Like those from Adobe, other apps are not yet native, but the older versions run fine, and in most cases, run better on the M1 than an Intel platform.

The M1 platform lacks a dedicated graphics processing unit. It’s built-into the core of the chip. Thanks to a memory dedicated to machine learning, this lack of a discrete GPU is hardly noticeable for professional users. Still, those who do intensive graphics work (like professional gfx visual artists) should hesitate. Even then, this conclusion could change once the applications become native to the new ARM architecture.

The M1 also lacks the ability to use an eGPU — an external graphics card — but most users should not fret. It could be a problem for pros who found the Intel-based Mac minis paired with a powerful eGPUs as a viable, low-cost alternative to the Mac Pro. However, based on our testing, the GPU performance in these M1 systems are impressive and could be good enough for most, even in creative media editing applications.

In addition to common workflows, I ran through some industry benchmarks to see how the system responds and came away impressed. We took it one step further, too, and charted the performance between Apple’s top-of-the-line systems and the new 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Benchmarks often oversimplify results, but in this case, they seem necessary. This puts systems on common ground. By looking at multiple tests, the results draw a common conclusion. The M1 is really good.

The new Mac lineup

The Mac mini has two siblings. The M1 is also available in Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. The differences are minor. The same computing platform powers all three but feature different cooling schemes in the MacBook Pro and Mac mini. Because of the improved cooling, the MacBook Pro and Mac mini are better suited for sustained performance.

In our testing, all three machines performed similarly. The Air started to fall short in the longer tests, and that’s likely due to its passive cooling that does not feature a fan. In the MacBook Pro and Mini, the SoC is cooled by a fan, while a heatsink is used in the Air.

What does this mean for you? For most users, the Air’s performance is sufficient as it only slows down during long, intensive tasks. For browsing the web, editing photos and watching videos, the Air is perfect.

There’s one downside to the new Mac mini over its Intel sibling. The M1 Mac mini only sports two Thunderbolt 4 inputs — that’s because the M1 chipset has an integrated Thunderbolt controller and it supports up to two of these ports. For some users, this could be a deal-breaker, though it’s not for me. There are countless ways to expand the Thunderbolt capability of the Mac mini, and to me, the performance of the machine outweighs the port limitation.

The M1 Mac mini also lacks a 10GB Ethernet option, limiting its use as a server for some users. This is also likely an M1 limitation, and something I would expect would be addressed in future chipset revisions.

Multiple monitor support is a major downside to the M1 Mac mini. It only supports two monitors: one through Thunderbolt and one over HDMI. I was able to get a third monitor running at low resolution through third-party software, but it was unstable and performed poorly. To some, including me, multiple monitor support is a major issue and two monitors are often not enough.

Benchmarks

Apple, when promoting the M1-powered computers, laid out some wild claims about the chipset. We found most of the claims to be factual. We ran a handful of benchmarks on the M1 systems, comparing them against the most recent Macs, including the Mac Pro.

Benchmarks paint with a broad stroke and often miss nuances. That’s the case here. While the first few benchmarks demonstrate the speed of the M1, the final test fails to capture a critical aspect of Final Cut Pro. Sure, it’s slower to export than an Intel-based system, but using the M1-native version of Final Cut Pro is much smoother than what’s available on older systems. I was able to easily manipulate, scrub and edit 8K footage without even a hiccup. Rendering takes longer, but editing is seemingly easier.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Here we downloaded the Xcode 12.3 beta. It’s an 11.57GB file that extracts a 28.86GB folder. Lower times are better.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Here we compile WebKit. Lower times are better.



With Geekbench, we ran two tests: One, using Rosetta 2 to demonstrate the system’s power when running legacy applications. Then we ran Geekbench in an M1 native mode to test Apple’s silicon. Higher is better.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

For Final Cut Pro, we timed the rendering of an 8K video (80GB). Lower is better.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Breakthrough performance for the price
  • Easily able to run legacy (Intel) and iOS apps
  • Cool and quiet

Cons

  • Support for only two monitors
  • No eGPU support
  • Only two Thunderbolt 4 ports

Test Mac mini specs

  • Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU
  • 16-core Neural Engine
  • 16GB unified memory
  • 1TB SSD storage
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Price as tested: $1,299

The new Mac mini is a fantastic machine and feels like the start of a quiet revival. In another era, Apple was known for its solid, fairly-priced desktops, which is a great description for this Mac mini.

As a longtime fan of the Mac mini, I’m thrilled to see it once again as a great option for those of us who live at a desk .

With the M1 chipset, Apple is moving onto a new chapter in its long history of personal computers. This chip redefines the computing paradigm by offering stellar performance in a small, power-efficient package. In the Mac mini, the M1 shines as a stable workhorse that provides a new experience to Mac desktops. In the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the M1 is just as solid while offering substantially better battery life than previous offerings. Read those reviews here and here.

Should you get the new Mac mini? If you’re stuck at a desk, yes. The new Mac mini is fantastic.

MacBook Air M1 review: The right Apple Silicon Mac for most

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/17/the-new-mac-mini-the-revival-of-the-no-compromise-low-cost-mac/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Matt Burns

Animal Jam was hacked, and data stolen. Here’s what parents need to know

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WildWorks, the gaming company that makes the popular kids game Animal Jam, has confirmed a data breach.

Animal Jam is one of the most popular games for kids, ranking in the top five games in the 9-11 age category in Apple’s App Store in the U.S., according to data provided by App Annie. But while no data breach is ever good news, WildWorks has been more forthcoming about the incident than most companies would be, making it easier for parents to protect both their information and their kids’ data.

Here’s what we know.

WildWorks said in a detailed statement that a hacker stole 46 million Animal Jam records in early October but that it only learned of the breach in November.

The company said someone broke into one of its systems that the company uses for employees to communicate with each other, and accessed a secret key that allowed the hacker to break into the company’s user database. The bad news is that the stolen data is known to be circulating on at least one cybercrime forum, WildWorks said, meaning that malicious hackers may use (or be using) the stolen information.

The stolen data dates back to over the past 10 years, the company said, so former users may still be affected.

Much of the stolen data wasn’t highly sensitive, but the company warned that 32 million of those stolen records had the player’s username, 23.9 million records had the player’s gender, 14.8 million records contained the player’s birth year, and 5.7 million records had the player’s full date of birth.

But, the company did say that the hacker also took 7 million parent email addresses used to manage their kids’ accounts. It also said that 12,653 parent accounts had a parent’s full name and billing address, and 16,131 parent accounts had a parent’s name but no billing address.

Besides the billing address, the company said no other billing data — such as financial information — was stolen.

WildWorks also said that the hacker also stole player’s passwords, prompting the company to reset every player’s password. (If you can’t log in, that’s probably why. Check your email for a link to reset your password.) WildWorks didn’t say how it scrambled passwords, which leaves open the possibility that they could be unscrambled and potentially used to break into other accounts that have the same password as used on Animal Jam. That’s why it’s so important to use unique passwords for each site or service you use, and use a password manager to store your passwords safely.

The company said it was sharing information about the breach with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

So what can parents do?

  • Thankfully the data associated with kids accounts is limited. But parents, if you have used your Animal Jam password on any other website, make sure you change those passwords to strong and unique passwords so that nobody can break into those other accounts.
  • Keep an eye out for scams related to the breach. Malicious hackers like to jump on recent news and events to try to trick victims into turning over more information or money in response to a breach.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/16/animal-jam-data-breach/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Zack Whittaker

NASA sends Baby Yoda to space aboard SpaceX Dragon alongside astronauts

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NASA added a surprise fifth passenger to the Crew-1 mission currently en route to the International Space Station – a plush The Child (aka Baby Yoda) from The Mandalorian. The doll is what’s known as the “zero-gravity indicator” – typically a soft, small object that is allowed to float free in the spacecraft cabin to provide a simple, but effective confirmation of when it passes into the phase of a spaceflight where Earth’s gravity no longer holds significant sway.

Crew-1’s other four passengers are all actual people – NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi. They’re on their way to the ISS to staff it for the next half a year, on NASA’s first operational commercial crew mission, courtesy of partner SpaceX, which certified its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for human flight earlier this year.

Baby Yoda won hearts with its debut on Disney’s original streaming show The Mandalorian last year, and continues to woo audiences with this year’s second season. It earned its colloquial nickname because it’s a juvenile version of whatever the heck the original Yoda from the Star Wars saga is. In the new series, the youngster regularly earns reprimands from the series’ titular bounty hunter for messing around with his spacecraft controls.

The Child merch is already white hot, but zero-G indicators of past have also notably become hot ticket items following their trips to space. On SpaceX’s first human spaceflight mission, the Demo-2 test flight that took place earlier this year, a Ty Flippable dinosaur called ‘Tremor’ quickly flew off shelves following its own free-floating antics.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/16/nasa-sends-baby-yoda-to-space-aboard-spacex-dragon-alongside-astronauts/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Darrell Etherington

These Stanford students are racing to get laptops to kids around the U.S. who most need them

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The digital divide is not a new phenomenon. Still, it largely took Americans by surprise when, as the U.S. began to shut down to slow the spread of Covid-19 in March, schools grappled with how to move forward with online classes.

It wasn’t just a matter of altering students’ curriculum. Many lacked either internet access or home computers — and some lacked both. According to USAFacts, a non-partisan organization funded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer,  4.4 million households with children have not had consistent access to computers for online learning during the pandemic.

It’s a problem that two Stanford students, Isabel Wang and Margot Bellon, are doing everything in their power to address, and with some success. Through their six-month-old 501(c)(3) outfit, Bridging Tech, they’ve already provided more than 400 refurbished laptops to children who need them most — those living in homeless shelters — beginning with students in the Bay Area where there are an estimated 2,000 homeless students in San Francisco alone.

Unsurprisingly, it began as a passion project for both, though both sound committed to building an enduring organization. They always cared about the digital divide; now they’ve seen too much to walk away from it.

Wang, for her part, grew up in the affluent Cleveland, Oh., suburb of Shaker Heights, which has “always had racial tensions,” she notes. (The best-selling novel “Little Fires Everywhere” is set in the same place, for the same reason.) Partly as a result of “racism in our community,” Wang became involved early on in public health initiatives that address those from underserved backgrounds, and part of that focus centered on equitable access to education.

Bellon, a biology major who met Wang at Outdoor House, a student-initiated outdoors-themed house at Stanford, had similar interests early on, she says. Growing up in San Mateo, Ca., she volunteered in homeless shelters in high school and in college, experiences that made her aware of the challenges created by a lack of access to technology. For many, just getting WiFi can mean having to linger outside a Starbucks, she notes, and often, the only computer available is inside a library.

As the world shut down in the spring, Bellon realized these options were no longer available to the many people desperately needing them, just as Wang was coming to her own worried conclusions. The friends joined forces and now 30 other volunteers, almost all fellow Stanford students, are also contributing to the effort.

So far, Bridging Tech has been most focused on securing laptops for students lacking access to tech. Citrix Systems and Genetech have been among the bigger donors, but it’s easy to imagine that the nascent organization could use far more help from the region’s many tech giants.

Once it has lightly used computers in its possession, they are distributed to a handful of refurbishers with which Bridging Tech has partnered. All guarantee their work for a year. One of these partners, Computers 2 Kids in San Diego, also provides clear instructions so that children can get up and running without much assistance.

Bellon says that homeless shelters in the Bay Area typically have tech volunteers who help children turn on the computers and get set up, and that organizations like ShelterTech have partnered with Bridging Tech to ensure these young computer recipients also have access to WiFi.

The devices are also gifted permanently.

In the meantime, Bridging Tech has also launched a tutoring program, as well as a mentorship program based on more skill-based activities like computer science.

It’s a lot of moving pieces for two college students who not so long ago were primarily focused on getting through the next assignment. That’s not keeping them from barreling ahead into other geographies based on the traction they’ve seen in Northern California. Bellon says that they’ve already talked with shelters in New York, L.A. Boston, Washington, Atlanta, and a handful of other cities.

As they’re made more aware by the day, all around the country, disadvantaged kids who’ve been forced into distance learning because the pandemic are falling further behind their peers.

It’s not an issue that the federal or state governments are going to solve alone without more resolve. Consider that about one in five teenagers in America said in a 2018 Pew Research Center survey that they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they don’t have reliable access to a computer or internet connection. In the same survey, one quarter of lower-income teens said they did not have access to a home computer.

One of the biggest questions for Wang and Bellon is how they scale their ambitions. Right now, for example, the computers being refurbished by Bridging Tech are being delivered to shelters directly by volunteers who drive them there. Bridging Tech doesn’t yet have the network or infrastructure elsewhere to ensure that the same happens in other cities.

Both founders are aware of their limitations. Wang says very explicitly that Bridging Tech needs not only more device donations but could also use the skills of a grant writer, a marketer, and a development professional who can help introduce the outfit to other potential partner organizations. “We’re college students, so anything people can teach us is very valuable,” she says.

She also readily concedes that Bridging Tech “doesn’t have the process nailed down for in-kind donations in other cities, so we’re mostly beginning to purchase those devices.” (One way it’s doing this is via an organization called Whistle that pays users for their old devices but also enables them to donate the proceeds.)

Still, the two want to keep at it, even after Wang returns to school and Bellon moves on next year to a master’s program.

“For a more equitable society,” says Bellon, tech clearly needs to be equitable. “Covid has exacerbated these issues, but you need tech for everything and that’s not going away.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/14/these-stanford-students-are-racing-to-get-laptops-to-kids-around-the-u-s-who-most-need-them/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Connie Loizos

Microsoft says hackers backed by Russia and North Korea targeted COVID-19 vaccine makers

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Microsoft has revealed that hackers backed by Russia and North Korea have targeted pharmaceutical companies involved in the COVID-19 vaccine development efforts.

The technology giant said Friday that the attacks targeted seven companies in the U.S., Canada, France, India, and South Korea. But while it blocked the “majority” of the attacks, Microsoft acknowledged that some were successful.

Microsoft said it had notified the affected companies, but declined to name them.

“We think these attacks are unconscionable and should be condemned by all civilized society,” said Tom Burt, Microsoft’s customer security and trust chief, in a blog post.

The technology giant blamed the attacks on three distinct hacker groups. The Russian group, which Microsoft calls Strontium but is better known as APT28 or Fancy Bear, used password spraying attacks to target their victims, which often involves recycled or reused passwords. Fancy Bear may be best known for its disinformation and hacking operations in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, but the group has also been blamed for a string of other high-profile attacks against media outlets and businesses.

The other two groups are backed by the North Korean regime, one of which Microsoft calls Zinc but is better known as the Lazarus Group, which used targeted spearphishing emails disguised as recruiters in an effort to steal passwords from their victims. Lazarus was blamed for the Sony hack in 2016 and the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, as well as other malware-driven attacks.

But little is known about the other North Korea-backed hacker group, which Microsoft calls Cerium. Microsoft said the group also used targeted spearphishing emails masquerading as representatives from the World Health Organization, charged with coordinating the effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Microsoft spokesperson acknowledged it was the first time the company had referenced Cerium, but the company did not offer more.

This is the latest effort by hackers trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for their own goals. Earlier this year, the FBI and Homeland Security warned that hackers would try to steal coronavirus vaccine research.

Today’s news coincides with the Paris Peace Forum, where Microsoft president Brad Smith will urge governments to do more to combat cyberattacks against the healthcare sector, particularly during the pandemic.

“Microsoft is calling on the world’s leaders to affirm that international law protects health care facilities and to take action to enforce the law,” Burt said. “We believe the law should be enforced not just when attacks originate from government agencies but also when they originate from criminal groups that governments enable to operate — or even facilitate — within their borders.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/13/microsoft-russia-north-korea-hackers-coronavirus-vaccine/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Zack Whittaker

PayPal says all users in U.S. can now buy, hold and sell cryptocurrencies

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PayPal announced today it’s dropping the waitlist to buy, hold and sell cryptocurrency in the U.S. With the move, all customers in the U.S. will be able to purchase cryptocurrency directly from within their PayPal accounts. U.S. customers will also be alerted to the new feature through both an email and a push notification in the coming days, the company says.

The feature was already partially available in the U.S. before today, but PayPal had been onboarding interested customers via a waitlist.

With the update, users will no longer have to wait for a spot to open,

In addition, PayPal says that due to initial demand from its customers, it’s increasing its weekly cryptocurrency purchase limit from $10K per week to $20K per week.

In October, PayPal had first announced its plans to enter the cryptocurrency market by way of a partnership with cryptocurrency company Paxos. This partner helps to power the new service for PayPal, enabling its customers to buy, sell and hold a range of cryptocurrencies —  initially including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin.

By next year, PayPal plans to allow users to make PayPal purchases with cryptocurrencies as well, the company has said..

In terms of exchange rates, PayPal will charge $0.50 USD on transactions up to $24.99 USD, 2.3% on transactions from $25 to $100 USD; 2.0% on transactions from $100.01 to $200 USD; $1.80% on transactions of $200.01 to $1,000 USD; and 1.5% on transactions over $1,000 USD.

PayPal notes there are no fees for holding crypto in your account. And, to get things started, PayPal is waiving fees until 2021.

The company somewhat quietly disclosed the news today via an update to last month’s press release. It says users can download the PayPal app or log in to their PayPal account to learn more.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/12/paypal-says-all-users-in-u-s-can-now-buy-hold-and-sell-cryptocurrencies/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sarah Perez

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