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Factcheckers Slam YouTube’s Allowance And Inaction Regarding Misinformation

More than 80 fact-checking organizations are calling Youtube “one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide,” and asking for the popular video streaming site to be better about stopping misinformation.

In an open letter addressed to Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the organizations claim Youtube is allowing unscrupulous actors to “weaponize” the site, thus harming and exploiting other users. The letter stated that Youtube has been insufficient in helping to stop this by not implementing further policies.

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The groups gave a number of examples of how Youtube — which is owned by Google — has become a platform for abuse and misinformation. In addition to conspiracy groups in multiple nations thriving, Taiwan election results were hurt by unsubstantiated claims on the site, while hate speech has spiked in Brazil.

“Millions of other users were watching videos in Greek and Arabic that encouraged them to boycott vaccinations or treat their COVID-19 infections with bogus cures. Beyond COVID-19, YouTube videos have been promoting false cures for cancer for years.”

Following the Capitol riot and the U.S. Election, videos that supported the idea of Donald Trump losing the election due to fraud were watched more than 33 million times. Youtube’s lack of inaction could be contrasted to sites like Twitter, which suspended Trump after the events for “inciting violence.” However, Twitter has endured much more reaction for their allowance of misinformation in the past than YouTube.

The groups proposed a number of solutions to the platform, such as Youtube not only supporting independent research about the origins and reach of misinformation campaigns, but also publish its full moderation policy regarding disinformation and misinformation.

Also recommended was acting against repeat offenders, extending efforts against disinformation and misinformation in languages other than English — while additionally providing country- and language-specific data — and superimosing context or offering debunks on videos.

The group of organizations come from over 40 countries, and include Italy’s Facta, Israel’s The Whistle, U.K.’s Full Fact, and France’s Science Feedback. The U.S. has a number of representatives with The Washington Post Fact Checker, Lead Stories, and all participating.

In response, Youtube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said the company is has “invested heavily in policies and products in all countries we operate to connect people to authoritative content, reduce the spread of borderline misinformation, and remove violative videos.” Hernandez also called fact-checking a useful tool, but added it’s just one piece to a larger puzzle in addressing the spread of misinformation.

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On their site, YouTube states it “does not not allow misleading or deceptive content that poses a serious risk of egregious harm,” and relies on clear facts when basing policies. YouTube also claims its policies — which are listed as misinformation, elections misinformation, COVID-19 medical misinformation, and vaccine misinformation — are done in partnership with externals experts and content creators.

A 2020 Pew Research study showed that a quarter, or 26%, of U.S. adults get their news from YouTube. Of that group, 59% said the site is an important way to get news (with 13% saying it’s the most important way).

30% of news consumers also stated they viewed misinformation as a very big problem, while 33% saw it as a moderately big problem. Just 9% didn’t see it as a problem at all, the lowest “no concern” total of all issues touched upon in the study.

YouTube has garnered plenty of criticism for their renovative actions in the last couple of months. The site removed the dislike button from videos, which prompted co-founder Jawed Karim to call it a “universally disliked change” while predicting a decline due to platform interference.

ICE, Homeland Security Agents To Test Use Of Body Cameras

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced its intentions to begin a six-month pilot program that will see ICE law enforcement officers to test the usage of body cameras for “pre-planned operations.”

“With its body worn camera pilot, ICE is making an important statement that transparency and accountability are essential components of our ability to fulfill our law enforcement mission and keep communities safe,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas explained, noting the Department will continue to seek ways to “ensure the safety and security” of their workforce, partners, and the public.

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According to the ICE’s release, the deployment of the cameras will occur in phases throughout the U.S., beginning with 55 Homeland Security (HSI) special agents — part of a SWAT-like unit — in New Jersey, Texas, and New York. Enforcement and Removal Operations agents (ERO), who primarily deal with immigration, will then follow.

ICE stated that all participants in the program have been trained on how to use the body cameras, in addition to other training such as data storage, uploading, tagging, and retention. The cameras will be mounted on the participant’s outwear, which can include the vest, helmet, or shirt.

However, not everyone is on board with ICE’s operations. Speaking to CBS News, the National ICE Council president Chris Crane is opposed to the program, calling the agency’s timeline “ridiculous” while also saying they won’t be able to start the pilot anytime soon. Crane also blamed politicians for hastily rushing the pilot.

“Suspecting they may lose control of the House in the next election, Democrats on the Hill are forcing the program before it’s ready while they’re still in control. We don’t know enough about the feasibility of its use at ICE.”

Speaking to various reporters, an anonymous ICE senior official said that footage captured will be subjected to Freedom of Information Act requests, and will be available to defense lawyers in criminal cases.

The reporter also explained the program will be evaluating the effectiveness of the equipment and the overall costs. A summary of the pilot’s findings will be released to the public following the conclusion.

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These implementations are just the latest as more government agencies are starting to introduce body camera technology. In September, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) had agents use the equipment, becoming the first federal officers to do so. The Biden Administration also permitted the allocation of 6,000 cameras to agents in Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The use of body cameras by authorities has seen mixed results. In 2016, a Beauru of Justice survey reported that nearly half — or 47% — of all U.S. law enforcement agencies had worn body cameras, and two-thirds that didn’t possess cameras at the time said they were thinking of acquiring them.

Despite the high usage, a 2018 George Mason University survey found that cameras did not have “significant effects” on measures conducted by both officers and civilians, or civilians’ views of police officers. The study also stated mixed results when it came to reducing police brutality.

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Tesla Drivers Playing Video Games Raises Safety Questions

As cars become more advanced, they offer greater utilities and features. The catch is that some of these upgrades appear to be putting their drivers in harm’s way. According to the New York Times, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking into Tesla drivers being able to play video games while in motion after the matter was raised by a complaint.

Tesla drivers being able to play video games on their dashboard touch screen isn’t new. Previously, drivers could play video games if they were stationary. An over-the-air software update released last summer changed that restriction.

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According to The Verge, the Tesla 3 model allows users to play “Sky Force Reloaded,” “Solitaire,” and “The Battle of Polytopia.” The site noted that while the Tesla asks if the user is in motion before playing the game, it doesn’t take any measures to ensure their answer is the correct one. A driver can easily lie and play the game while on the road.

Speaking with the Associated Press, Vince Patton — a retired journalist and Tesla owner who filed the complaint — explained that even if a passenger is playing the game, it can still be distracting to the driver because the game takes up two-thirds of the screen. Patton also said that drivers frequently use the games while their cars are being recharged.

In an email, an NHTSA spokeswoman noted the administration is currently talking with Tesla — though the conversations were not discussed in depth — and that laws prohibit the selling of vehicles with design flaws that can put drivers in danger.

“We are aware of driver concerns and are discussing the feature with the manufacturer. The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with design defects posing unreasonable risks to safety.”

In 2019, 3,142 people were killed due to distracted driving, which was 8.7% of all fatalities. That was a 9.9% increase from 2018.

When it comes to famous pairings, Tesla and safety might not quite be in that group. In June, the Models 3 and Y lost their IIHS “top safety picks plus” designations. Tesla released a “Safety Score” feature as part of its Full Self-Driving (FSD) software back in September, which in theory is a way to incentivize and gamify safe driving. The safety score monitors a driver’s braking, turning, how many times a collision warning is activated, and tailgating.

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However, according to Consumer Reports, attempting to avoid “hard brakes” could make drivers fail to make a complete stops for pedestrians or go right through intersections. Tesla stated that data shows the features improves driver safety.

The “self-driving” aspect also poses serious concerns. A Model Y driver filed a complaint with the NHTSA, stating that the vehicle took control, went into the wrong lane, and crashed on Nov. 3 while in FSD mode. Tesla also recalled 12,000 vehicles sold since 2017 last month because of a communication error could have caused an accidental activation of the emergency brakes.

In response to the possible accidents caused by software kinks, Tesla has asked drivers to accept that footage from both inside the car and outside can be used in the event of a crash. The footage collected will be associated with the owner’s vehicle. Electrek suggested that by asking for footage, Tesla is looking for evidence in accidents that would allow them to defend their FSD.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Resigns As CTO Parag Agrawal Takes Reins

Twitter announced on Monday that CEO Jack Dorsey has stepped down from his position. Replacing him with be CTO Parag Agrawal. The company noted Dorsey will remain on the Board until his term expires at the 2022 stockholders meeting.

Dorsey commented on the exit, stating his belief that the company is set to continue on without his input while also expressing his confidence in Agrawal’s abilities to take over in his role as CEO.

“I’ve decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders. My trust in Parag as Twitter’s CEO is deep. His work over the past 10 years has been transformational. I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart, and soul. It’s his time to lead.”

In an email he tweeted out, Dorsey discussed the idea of the importance of a company being “founder-led,” which he called as being “severely limited” and a “single point of failure.” As to why he’s not staying or becoming chair, Dorsey stated he thinks that Parag needs the space in order for him to efficiently lead.

In addition to co-founding the social media microblogging network back in 2006, the 45-year-old Dorsey also co-founded — and operates as CEO of — Square, a digital payment company. Dorsey, who has a net worth of $11.9 billion, might not be the typical image of a tech giant founder – his laid-back, hippie attitude is a unique (and criticized) presence in the industry.

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This isn’t Dorsey’s first time stepping down from a chief position – he served as CEO from 2007 to 2008 before being pushed out of the role by tech entrepreneur Evan Williams. Following the creation of Square, Dosey rejoined Twitter in 2011 before reclaiming the CEO title in 2015.

When it comes to the economic impact, Yahoo! Finance explains that Dorsey’s departure is actually good for investors. Indeed, the numbers prove this theory right – Twitter stock went up 11 percent since the management shift.

Dorsey was the center of controversy for numerous years in regards to how he handled former President Donald Trump — Trump was permanently banned from the app last year — as well as his frequent inaction on internal matters.

Dorsey’s departure also shows a growing trend, as The New York Times points out – numerous tech moguls are stepping down from leadership roles in recent years, which includes Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

There are a number of possibilities for this, one of which is that the companies are so established and profitable now that they no longer need their original founders and visionaries. Another is how the moguls are simply becoming bored with their work lives, and desire a new, exciting change or project.

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Twitter has wasted no time making significant adjustments following Dorsey’s departure. Less than a day after the news, the company announced it was changing its “private information policy,” and that users can no longer share media — such as images or videos — of “private individuals” without their permission.

Twitter explained the change is meant to “curb the misuse of media to harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of private individuals.” The change has left many confused due to several grey areas that are involved. The sudden user backlash likely isn’t what the new regime hoped to start out with.

As for Dorsey, MarketWatch reported he’s “all-in” on Square, which could help the company’s worth flourish in the foreseeable future. Dorsey has also shown a passionate interest in Bitcoin, which he told a crowd back in June 2021 he would be working on if he wasn’t at Twitter or Square. In 2019, Square created Square Crypto, a team focused on bitcoin open-source work.


How Simple Lawnwork And Safety Protocols Can Help To Prevent Wildfires

Although scientists have confirmed that climate change is at play when it comes to the increased risk of wildfires, estimates say that nine out of 10 wildfires are sparked by humans. 

Record breaking temperatures, due to the climate crisis, have caused severe drought conditions in many areas of the world, from North America to Europe. These conditions are optimal for wildfires. As global temperatures increase, wildfires become more frequent and more severe. 

While combating the climate crisis is important to prevent these fires from worsening, there are also ways that you can directly help prevent wildfires according to official sources. 

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The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) advises first and foremost that before you engage with any activities that involve fire or sparks, check local weather and drought conditions. Check especially when it is hot, dry and windy and if the conditions are not right, look to use non-flammable options, or save your activity for another day when conditions are safer.

The department states that “conditions and local restrictions should guide your decision for any fire-related activity such as building a campfire, operating equipment, off-roading on dry grass, or burning debris.”

Human activities that can cause wildfires include but are not limited to smoking, fireworks, campfires, barbeques, accidental ignitions, sparks from equipment and railroads, and obviously, intentional arson.  According to Science Magazine, “human-sparked fires typically spread about 1.83 kilometers per day, more than twice as fast as the 0.83 kilometers per day for lightning-induced burns.”

If you have checked conditions and are proceeding with activities involving fire or sparks, be sure to follow some safety protocols to prevent an accidental fire from occurring. If you are building a campfire, be sure to build it in a flat, open location which is away from flammable materials – such as logs, leaves and so forth. When building the campfire, clear away grass leaves and needles, leaving only the soil to build on.

Only start a bonfire, campfire, and so forth in an appropriate fire pit. Cut wood in short lengths and keep it in the cleared area, before you start the fire. Once you have lit the fire, never leave it unattended and completely extinguish it before you leave.

To completely extinguish the campfire, douse it with one bucket of water, stir it, and then douse it again with another bucket of water. Before you leave the campfire, it should be cold to the touch. 

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If you smoke, do not discard any cigarettes, matches or smoking material on flammable land – this includes park grounds and forests. Do not discard them out of moving vehicles, and ensure cigarettes are completely extinguished before disposing of them. 

National Geographic states that you should follow local ordinances when burning yard waste. “Avoid backyard burning in windy conditions, and keep a shovel, water, and fire retardant nearby to keep fires in check. Remove all flammables from the yard when burning.”

When working with camp equipment that requires fuel, take care to store fuel away from appliances, only refuel when the appliance is cool and avoid spilling flammable liquids. Follow the safety procedures when using such equipment. 

For machinery, aim to keep sparks away from dry vegetation. Keep equipment such as chainsaws well maintained. Same goes for vehicles, but additionally, keep them off of dry grass. The DOI says to remember that exhausts can reach temperatures of 1,000+ degrees when off-roading.

If you notice an unattended fire or an out of control fire, call 911, your local fire department, or park services. If you are unsure of the proper protocols for fire safety and preventing fires for any activity, check with your local fire department or official fire prevention resources. 

If you live in an area where wildfires are common, Red Cross has also provided tips on maintaining your home to reduce the chances of a small fire becoming a wildfire, or preventing an unintentional fire from growing. They advise various methods to follow, such as choosing fire-resistant plants, creating empty spaces between shrubs and trees, mowing grassy areas regularly, removing dead and dry plants — along with fallen leaves and pine cones — and pruning trees above the height of shrubs and bushes.

Billionaire Businessman, Orlando Bravo, Claims The Metaverse Will Be Big, And Should Be Invested In 

Puerto Rican billionaire businessman Orlando Bravo, co-founder and managing partner of the private equity firm Thoma Bravo, claimed this week that the metaverse will be the “big word of 2021, and is a big time investment.” 

“The metaverse is very investable, and it’s going to be very big.” 

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Much like the movie “Ready Player One,” the metaverse is a sci-fi concept where humans put on some sort of virtual reality gear that allows them to live, work, and play in a virtual world. The concept has been viewed as a utopian dream, and a dystopian nightmare, depending on your standpoint. 

Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his company’s plans for the metaverse last month. Zuckerberg also recently changed the name of Facebook to Meta, claiming the new company will have a major focus on the metaverse. 

“The metaverse is the next frontier just like social networking was when we got started.”

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The entire concept of the metaverse has been heavily debated online. One marketing campaign in Iceland even went as far as to mock the metaverse announcement video as a means of bringing in tourists. In the video, a Zuckerberg lookalike introduces viewers to “Icelandverse, a place of enhanced actual reality without the silly-looking headsets.” 

Beyond Facebook, tech giants like Microsoft, Roblox, and Nvidia are already trying to enhance their software so that it’s compatible with the metaverse, and can even be used to power it if needed. 

Thomas Bravo alone has more than $83 billion in assets under management and a portfolio that contains more than 40 software companies. Beyond his excitement for the metaverse, Bravo also discussed his passion for cryptocurrency and bitcoin. 

“How could you not love crypto? Crypto is just a great system. It’s frictionless. It’s decentralized. And young people want their own financial system. So it is here to stay,” Bravo said.

Yahoo, Epic Games To Pull Out Of China Among Citings of “Challenging” Environment

Yahoo Inc. announced on Tuesday that it has decided to pull out of China, citing an increasingly challenging environment as one of the main causes for their removal.

“In recognition of the increasingly challenging business and legal environment in China, Yahoo’s suite of services will no longer be accessible from mainland China as of November 1,” the media corporation explained in a statement.

Yahoo has slowly been ramping down their operations for quite some time in the country. As CNN Business notes, since 2013, Yahoo’s features — such as email and news — have slowly disappeared. Yahoo also closed its Beijing office in 2015, eliminating around 300 jobs in the process.

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Yahoo isn’t the only major company pack up and leave in the past few days. Epic Games, the creator of the popular battle royale game “Fortnite,” announced its exit as well. The game, which generated nearly $9 billion in revenue over its first two years, will see its servers ended in China on Nov. 15.

The version of “Fortnite” that was played in China was extremely different from other versions that gamers across the globe have become accustomed to. Referred to as a “test version,” the game had a number of changes that affected cosmetics, gameplay, and micro-transactions in order to align better with Chinese rules.

Epic Games’ removal was likely due to China’s new enforcement regarding when children can play video games. Anyone under the age of 18 is forbidden from playing on weekdays and are limited to just three hours on the weekend.

That rule will have a gigantic impact on its population: China has over 720 million gamers, and around 110 million of them are under 18. Chinese gamers also average 12.2 hours a week playing video games, higher than the U.S. average of 7.7 hours and the global average of 8.5 hours.

Microsoft’s LinkedIn pulled out in mid-October, also citing a difficult environment given the regulations. They will instead replace it with a job board-only version of the site, called “InJobs.”

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Cultural content across the board is avoiding China altogether. Marvel’s upcoming film, “The Eternals,” will not be releasing in the country, possibly due to critical comments made by the China-born director. China has also banned online fan clubs.

China’s crackdown — which has seen number of legislative deals that focus on anti-monopoly, data security, and protection passed under President Xi Jinping — has resulted in billions of dollars lost in tech stocks. Yahoo Finance states that companies who don’t apply with the country’s regulations could be fined up to 5% of their last year’s turnover.

The crackdown is an effort to bring more regulation towards Chinese tech giants such as Tencent and Alibaba. Speaking to Time, Technology Police Institute president Scott Wallsten explained that the U.S. could see ripple effects from China’s tightened grip when it comes to their own tech companies.

“One of the arguments that we shouldn’t be going after Big Tech so strongly in the U.S. was that China has analog firms for every one of these companies, and they would be able to roll over U.S. companies because the government was supporting them. Well, overnight, that argument just went up in smoke.”

China is, however, making progress on some rules that might interest certain U.S. citizens. According to Time, the country is set to place limits on tech companies’ artificial intelligence algorithms, which would make it the first in the world to do so.

American tech companies like Facebook have been heavily criticized over their non-transparency and handling of AI algorithms, among other actions. An E.U. proposal would have a similar impact on companies’ algorithms, although it still has a while to go before it comes into play.

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Google Introduces New Tool To Help Minors Delete Their Photos From Search 

Google is now making it easier for minors or their parents to delete photos from search results within their devices. 

Google posted a blog post this week in which they detailed how they’ll be rolling out a tool that allows parents and their kids, younger than the age of 18, to request the removal of images from Google’s imaging tab, as well as request to have the images no longer appear as thumbnails in search inquiries. 

Google previously released methods for users to request the removal of personal information and photos that are deemed as “non-consensually explicit” or reveal “financial, medical, and national identification” information. The company’s newest security measures extend that protection to images of minors. 

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“We know that kids and teens have to navigate some unique challenges online, especially when a picture of them is unexpectedly available on the internet. We believe this change will help give young people more control over their digital footprint and where their images can be found on Search.”

The company’s blog post explained how the new form allows users to flag certain URLs that contain any images or search results that they want removed. Google will then review each submission and reach out to the user if additional information is needed. 

Google did emphasize, however, that these requests won’t result in the total removal of a particular image from the internet, and users will likely need to contact a website’s webmaster to ask for specific content to be removed. 

The company announced this new tool back in August as a part of their larger plan to protect minors across its platforms. Other features within Google such as “Family Link” allow parents to better monitor their kids accounts and internet activity. 

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Big tech companies all over the world have been called out for their lack of efforts when it comes to protecting minors from the harmful content that’s on the internet. David Monahan, campaign manager at Fairplay, a child advocacy group, recently spoke to the media about Google’s newest efforts, and hopes for the future. 

“We’re glad to see Google take this overdue step to give children and teens and their families more control over what images show up in search results. We hope Google will go farther to reverse its collection of sensitive data and give families the ability to erase the digital footprint that Google and its partners maintain on every young person in the US.”

Alexandra Hamlet, a clinical psychologist who works with teenagers, said Google’s request process could also “help parents talk more openly with their kids about managing their online presence. That could include discussing what’s worthy of consideration for removal, such as a photo that could harm their future reputation versus one where they perceive to look less than perfect.”

“While some parents may believe that their teen can handle the removal of various pictures without help, I do suggest that they still have conversations about values and how they tie into image online. They could be missing out on a great opportunity to help their teen to build insight and assertiveness skills,” she explained.

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Apple Reveals New 14″ and 16″ MacBooks, AirPods, And Music Streaming Plan

On Monday, Apple held their “Unleashed” virtual event, and unveiled a number of new and updated products. The belle of the ball was the new MacBook Pro laptops that use M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which the company couldn’t help but fluster over.

According to Apple, the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips help by providing more CPU and GPU cores, faster graphic processing, increased memory bandwidth and unified memory, and are a major step up from Apple chips.

The MacBooks will come in two screen sizes – 14-inch, which will retail for about $1,999; and 16-inch, which will retail for a hefty $2,499. Those are incredible jumps up from previous versions, such as the MacBook Pro 13″ ($1,299) and the MacBook Air ($999).

The MacBooks see increases in features such as battery life (21 hours, which is disappointingly only up one hour from the MacBook Pro 13″) and graphics. They will also have denser screens, an HDMI port, and an SD card slot – which many are happy to see return. The MacBooks will also utilize a MagSafe magnetic connecter.

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Apple also made several additions to the keyboard. TouchID has a ring that allows for easier unlocking, and the power button will have a fingerprint sensor. Webcam capabilities have also been dialed up a notch, with an 1080p FaceTime camera, far superior to the 13″‘s 720p scopes.

However, those who are prone to drops, beware: the laptops will be heavier than previous versions, with the 14-inch coming in at 3.5 pounds and the 16-inch weighing 4.7 pounds.

Apple’s third-generation AirPods will go for around $179 – $50 more than their second-generation AirPods, but still $70 less than the AirPod Pros. The AirPods (which also utilize MagSafe along with the case) are sweat and water resistant, have greater battery life than prior versions, and possess “spatial audio.”

As NBC News notes, Apple’s add-ons, such as the AirPods, have since become some of the tech titan’s biggest holiday sellers – which could be a solid reason for Apple junkies to pre-order them now in order to avoid any potential shortages.

The AirPods, like the MacBooks, are now available to pre-order and will be made available in-store starting on Oct. 26.

Apple also announced a $4.99 monthly subscription for Apple Music titled “Voice Plan.” That makes it $5 less than either Apple’s regular music subscription plan or Spotify’s subscription cost. However, as with anything cheaper, there are limitations. CNBC reported that users can only access the “Voice Plan” through Siri, and that it doesn’t have spatial audio.

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According to Digital Music News, in a survey that was conducted in Jan. 2021, the most popular streaming platform among all U.S. adult age demographics was YouTube, with Spotify decently behind in second (the only category that possessed a close margin between YouTube and Spotify was adults 18-34).

Meanwhile, Apple Music sat in fifth place among all demographics, while not standing out in any particular bracket, either. Perhaps the lower-cost plan could help them make up some ground in the music streaming industry.

Apple’s $99 HomePod Mini speaker (An Alexa-style device), which was unveiled around this time last year, will now come in new colors – orange, blue, and yellow. The new editions will be made available sometime in November.

Previously, the only colors the HomePod Mini speaker came in were white and dark grey. This continues Apple’s age-old tactic of re-releasing older products in newer colors.

Last year, Apple obliterated Wall Street estimates for their holiday 2020 quarter. They fetched a record total of $111.4 billion, well above the projections of $103.3 billion. That was also up 21% from the same quarter in 2019. Suffice to say, it’s not unreasonable to expect Apple to once again break the bank.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Makes Second Launch, With William Shanter In Tow

William Shatner, the actor who portrayed Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, took method acting to another level by becoming the latest celebrity to reach space – albeit just for around 10-15 minutes.

The Enterprise commander caught a ride on a Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, which launched Wednesday morning at 10 a.m ET. Shatner was joined by former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen, Dassault Systemes executive Glen de Vries, and Blue Origin vice president Audrey Powers.

According to Yahoo! News, Boshuizen and de Vries reportedly spent more than $250,000 on tickets, while Shatner was invited to join the flight by Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The flight, named NS-18, was originally intended to launch on Tuesday morning, but was postponed due to forecasted winds as Blue Origin explained in a press release. Cnet gave a brief overview of how a flight like this operates after launch.

“A few minutes into the flight, the capsule will separate from the booster and continue on to suborbital space, where the crew will get to experience weightlessness and an epic view of Earth before reentering the atmosphere for a parachute-assisted soft landing in the desert.”

The flight took the crew about 62 miles above Earth. At 90 years old, Shatner now becomes the oldest person to reach space. In a statement, Shatner explained that he’s “heard about space for a long time now” while calling his opportunity a miracle.

This is the second Blue Origin launching, with the first occurring back on July 20. That trip included Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, progressive aviator Wally Funk (who briefly held the title of the oldest person to reach space), and 18-year-old Oliver Daemon, Blue Origin’s first paying customer.

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Shatner’s trip is just the latest in what has essentially become the one percent’s space race. Prior to Bezos’ flight, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, along with five other passengers, launched in SpaceShipTwo — a winged plane instead of a rocket — on July 12.

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX is making progress, and Musk has already voiced his desire to colonize Mars.

This kind of space exploration has become a heavily debated topic. Many would argue that prioritizing space and science helps to spark a new generation’s interest, answer questions, provide us with new and greater resources, and possibly lead us to untouched horizons.

However, critics have scolded Bezos and Branson for their tone-deafness — Bezos bizarrely thanked Amazon workers for making him enough money to fly to space after his launch — and their spending of over $200 billion that could be better used by helping those going through unprecedented crises on Earth.

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Speaking to Salon, University of California-Berkeley professor of psychology Dacher Keltner explained that the reason millionaires and billionaires have become so absorbed with space is due to them trying to reach a “mystical” status.

Keltner also states that throughout history, there have been similar trends such as this (although certainly not comparable to the magnitude of money or technology happening here).

“They love to gravitate to things that give them this singular status in the world, and I think that’s one of the massive problems of privilege.”

Additionally, University of North Carolina associate professor Joseph Czabovsky told NPR that this kind of zealous marketing attempt, while successful, runs the risk of alienating the public’s view into thinking that space is only for the privileged and wealthy.

While space tourism has been hotly pursued by Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and other companies, the average person might have to wait longer before they can hope on a rocket and see the boundless space and stars for themselves.