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There’s a lot to love about Apple’s M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBook Pro. The return of ports, MagSafe charging, and even ProMotion are worthy upgrades before you even consider the performance gains and boosted battery life. We haven’t had the chance to test drive these notebooks yet, but it’s hard to imagine what could go wrong based on our experience with Apple’s standard M1 Macs.

Based on what we know so far, it’s actually rather difficult to land a joke about these Macs. I would argue that’s an effective test for predicting the overall reception of this generation of MacBook Pro.

Critiques that make viral jokes turn into permanent memes are the same dings that reviewers pick up on and contribute to the reputation of a product. The worst one could throw at the new MacBook Pro so far is that it:

has a notch but no Face ID

doesn’t have cellular

isn’t touchscreen

I admit that a notch on a MacBook does make me at least squirm, but the worst criticism being that the bezels are so thin that a notch exists around the webcam is pretty positive. Cellular should eventually come to MacBooks, but the big touchscreen story on these Macs is that Apple removed the one that received no love.

Compare that to the outgoing generation of MacBook Pros, a single generation of notebook that will be known for numerous keyboard repair programs, propping up an industry of dongle makers, and whatever happened with the Touch Bar.

And here’s where I admit something that’s changing about how I consider community feedback. Until now, I’ve admittedly been quick to dismiss criticism that seems to snowball into a meme until it feels baked in as the truth.

I really liked the look and feel of the butterfly keyboard and thought initial reliability issues were overblown, but switching back to a scissor switch mechanism was absolutely the right call. I judged the utility of the Touch Bar against that of function keys and considered it cool tech, but the best argument for it years later is that it has potential. And I was all aboard the dongle train when I needed to be, but the return of ports is honestly refreshing.

This internal recalibration on my part isn’t just from MacBook Pro course correcting. Critics panned the HomePod for its high price tag, I saw the value in it existing, and Apple killed the product to focus on the smaller version with the same feature set for a third of the cost.

What this tells me is that whether or not I agree with the initial round of criticism doesn’t matter. When the meme becomes the truth, Apple’s best move may be to listen and adapt. Fortunately for this generation of MacBook Pro, the memes aren’t quite as plentiful, which is a win for everyone.

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Grace Forrest: Everyone Is Talking About The Cup, Let’s Talk About The Casualties

Grace Forrest is the Founding Director of Walk Free, an international human rights organisation working to eradicate modern slavery.

While football fans are sitting back and enjoying the 2023 FIFA World Cup, others are carrying out the sombre task of putting to rest the bodies of loved ones who died in preparation for the global showpiece of the ‘beautiful game’.

Banners of football stars hanging from the side of buildings flap in the wind while down below, construction workers gather in the streets of Qatar’s capital, Doha, demanding they be paid their stolen wages. Since it was announced that Qatar would be hosting the highly anticipated tournament, thousands of workers, mostly migrants, have reported horrendous working conditions, stolen wages, and work-related deaths leading up to the most expensive World Cup yet.

Despite a chorus of unprecedented criticism, the shocking reports of forced labour among migrants working on the construction of Qatar’s World Cup reflect a wider issue: slavery is not a thing of the past. In fact, it is more common today than at any other time in history.

Qatar has been wrapped up in international criticism due to multiple allegations of human rights abuses against their migrant workers. However, this is far from the first time the world has seen such a strong reliance on forced labour. In fact, with almost 30 million people living in forced labour globally, it could be argued it is the foundation of our modern economy. Whether it be construction, manufacturing, agriculture, or domestic duties, forced labour touches virtually every part of the workforce.

The 2023 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, produced by Walk Free, the International Labor Organisation, and the International Organisation for Migration, indicate there are almost 50 million people living in modern slavery today, with over half of those in situations of forced labour. That equates to more people living in slavery today than during the time of the transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history. And the legacy of which persists today through the exploitation and dehumanisation of workers in low-income countries, to largely benefit wealthier, typically Western, countries.

Sadly, the mistreatment of workers during the construction of the stadiums and infrastructure for the 2023 World Cup is just one example amongst an ever-growing pile of case studies – from the technology we all rely on every day, to the coffee, tea and chocolate on the shelves of every supermarket. Businesses across all sectors are fuelled by exploitation because it is enveloped in the way our globalised supply chains function.

Reports of Qatar’s mistreatment of migrant workers have not just surfaced in the months leading up to the tournament. In 2024, Amnesty International accused companies within the host country of abusing their migrant workers, with workers reportedly madeto live in squalid and overcrowded accommodations, pay exorbitant recruitment fees, had their wages withheld, and passports confiscated[5] – all situations which constitute modern slavery. Many migrant employees working on the construction of football stadiums said they were being deceived about the type of work and their pay, as well as being threatened for complaining about conditions.[6] Reports of forced labour among migrant workers across Qatar became known six years ago, yet the mistreatment of workers continued well beyond this.

Migrant workers continue to be at much higher risk of experiencing forced labour, up to three times more likely than non-migrant workers. With limited access to local networks and information, migrants frequently need to look to third party sources. If information about labour rights and protection is not readily available, then employees can easily exploit workers. Migrants are also highly vulnerable when fleeing situations of violence and conflict, with their vulnerability persisting when disconnected from community and family support structures. Additionally, many migrants gain employment through recruitment agencies that rely on fraudulent practices, like charging exorbitant fees so that clients are forever bonded by debt. Although migrant vulnerability has been highlighted by Qatar’s World Cup, this work experience is not confined to one part of the world. In fact, both Australia and New Zealand have been home to exploitation across their migrant workforce. That is why it is imperative that the Australian Modern Slavery Act of 2023 be strengthened to tackle this now definitely growing problem.

There has been much talk about the legacy left behind for host countries of the FIFA World Cup. For Qatar, this means making history by being the first country in the Middle East to host one of the world’s greatest sporting events. This means reaping the enormous economic benefits of hosting and garnering international attention. Since its right to host was announced, Qatar has been thrusted onto the global sporting stage, already becoming the destination for future major events.  Qatar is set to host the 2023 Asian Football Cup and the 2030 Asian Games, while it is bidding for the Summer Olympics.

However, underneath the legacy of the glamourous stadiums and futuristic hubs, are thousands who died in the name of the beautiful game. Long after the ticket holders have witnessed the winning country lift the trophy and returned home, families of migrants will continue to mourn their lost ones. They will continue to live in deep economic uncertainty with their main breadwinner gone. How do we ensure that our pleasure in loving sport, does not come at the cost of the suffering of those who build the very stadiums we cheer in? How do we ensure games are not literally built on the same slavery record as the World Cup? If the true legacy of exploitation is never recognised, who is to say this will not remain the foundation for these games, not only in Qatar but across the globe.

With almost 50 million people living in modern slavery today, we need urgent, and immediate action. Confronting modern slavery requires addressing the world’s deep power imbalances.  Modern slavery thrives off injustice, hence we must address inequality – especially where it is happening in plain sight. The 2023 FIFA World Cup serves as an alarm bell, one that is loud and clear, demanding our attention. While many have tried to hold Qatar accountable for the human rights abuses committed over the last 10 years, we need to demand that same accountability from every business, organisation, and government around the world.

Grace Forrest is the Founding Director of Walk Free, an international human rights organisation working to eradicate modern slavery.

Ticpods 2 Pro Review: The Airpods For Everyone

Our Verdict

Mobvoi is giving users even more control when it comes to interaction with the TicPods 2 Pro. Alongside the return of “Tickle Touch”, new gesture and voice-based control make these a versatile set of truly wireless buds. An impressively small charging case and a considered range of colours also appeal, but not everyone will back Mobvoi’s decision to ditch the in-ear design of the TicPods 2 and 2 Pro’s predecessors, nor will some of the performance inconsistencies encountered.

Chinese AI specialist Mobvoi is bringing its second-generation true wireless buds, the TicPods 2 and 2 Pro, to the world.

Originally launching in China at the end of 2023, these new buds step in the opposite direction to Apple’s most recent wireless earbuds in one regard, whilst also gaining new functionality absent from their predecessors, the TicPods Free, in another.

The Chinese company first stepped into the true wireless space in early 2023, with the TicPods Free. Their stalked design immediately led comparisons to be drawn with Apple’s iconic wireless buds.

If you’re already sure you’re not tempted by TicPods 2 or 2 Pro, why not check out our roundup of the Best True Wireless Earbuds you can buy right now – comprised of everything we’ve reviewed so far.

Price & Availability

While both the TicPods 2 and 2 Pro are already available to purchase in China, international variants were announced at CES 2023 (the Consumer Electronics Show) on January 7 and made available to pre-order on the same day.

Both versions are available to purchase through Mobvoi’s existing retail channels and its regional online stores starting January 15.

Like their predecessors, the new TicPods offer relatively aggressive pricing, coming in at £85.99/$99 and £119.99/$129 for the 2 and 2 Pro, respectively.

Design & Build

With this year’s iterations, the company is more closely aping Apple’s original true wireless buds from a design perspective, with an all-plastic body that forgoes the TicPods Free’s extended ear tips for a less-intrusive vented design (meanwhile, Apple’s new AirPods Pro move in the other direction embracing silicone ear tips, which are absent on the classic  AirPods).

While open-bud designs such as these are few and far between (Apple, Huawei and Razer being among the few major companies with similarly-fashioned products), Mobvoi apparently made the change from one generation to the next based on user feedback. The new design allows for passive passthrough of external sounds, for those who like to maintain a level of audio awareness about their surroundings.

The trade-off is weaker sound isolation, compared to the likes of the TicPods Free, plus a looser fit – especially when working out, where sweat against the plastic finish can cause the buds to slide out of your ears if you’re not careful (it’s worth mentioning these buds’ IPX4 certification against dust and water, though).

While functionality differs between the TicPods 2 and TicPods 2 Pro, the actual design and finishes you’re able to pick these buds up in remains consistent across both variants.

The included charging case resembles that of the previous generation, with accentuated wave-cut detailing along the top to add a bit of interest, however, Mobvoi’s also managed to make it 42% smaller, with the intention that it’s compact enough to fit into the coin pocket generally found in the average pair of denim jeans – a trait that does hold water in practice, even though it’s an undoubted squeeze.

The case and buds come in one of three colour-matched hues at launch: Navy and Ice (dark blue and white) which the TicPods Free were also sold in, alongside a new Blossom (pale pink) colourway – again, an inclusion that came out of Mobvoi listening to its users.

The punchy Lava (orange/red) found on the original TicPods is also set to feature, but not until later in the year, coinciding with the likes of Valentine’s Day in relevant markets.

While there’s no doubting how impressive the compact nature of the TicPods 2 charging case is compared to most of the alternatives out there, the layout and finish leaves a little to be desired.

For one, the plastic feels a little cheap and this sense carries across to the flimsy lid design too, which was likely kept thin to keep weight down but flexes all too easily when handled.

The buds snap magnetically inside the charging case with an angled overlap but the positioning of each bud seems counterintuitive to how the average user would pry them from their respective beds.

Functionality & Controls

Like their predecessors, the TicPods 2 line features a touch-sensitive strip along the stalk of each bud. Both variants offer touch controls which the company calls “Tickle” touch; letting you change the volume, pause, play and skip tracks, make and end calls, and envoke your device’s virtual assistant.

Questionable naming aside, it’s an impressively robust means of interaction and intuitive enough to work out without much practice. Some controls can be customised by way of Mobvoi’s companion app too, which also doles out battery percentage breakdowns for each bud, plus the charging case.

Here’s where the Pro model steps out in front most prominently. Unlike the standard TicPods 2, the Pro model also packs in what’s called TicHear and TicMotion.

The first adds voice controls to the experience, letting you summon your phone’s virtual assistant (be it Android or iOS-based) using the phrase “Hey, Tico”, which works reliably well, even in noisy surroundings. There are also voice commands for the aforementioned touch controls, covering both media playback and call handling.

TicMotion, meanwhile, adds gesture-based controls, such as shaking your head up and down or side to side to accept or reject incoming calls.

We were dubious about this feature’s reliability but sure enough, so long as you make deliberate shaking motions with your head (just a couple of nods or turns – no need to give yourself an injury), the TicPods 2 Pro convert your motion into call acceptance or rejection with surprising reliability.

Once you start to gauge the sensitivity of the accelerometers at work, this feature comes in handy when your hands are full and someone’s trying to ring you.

Performance & Battery Life

Despite different Qualcomm-based Bluetooth chips between the two variants, both 2 and 2 Pro make use of the latest Bluetooth 5.0 standard. Support for the company’s own aptX audio profile is on hand when the TicPods are paired with compatible Android phones too, but the buds default to standard AAC support when used with iOS devices.

We did encounter an inconsistency across devices, with one bud sometimes failing to connect to iOS devices, while some Tickle touch gestures, like pause and play, only partially seemed to work on mobile, but then behaved as promised when used in conjunction with MacOS. 

The TicPods 2/2 Pro output sound through 13mm drivers, delivering a fairly flat sound with weak bass but good definition. There’s also the option of single or (superior) dual-microphone noise cancellation during calls, respectively.

Noise reduction is serviceable on the 2 Pro, with call recipients stating that conversations are discernable, even with background din, however, switching to the phone’s own microphone and earpiece still makes for a cleaner call experience.

The buds themselves each contain a 30mAh battery, while the case sports a 390mAh cell of its own. Battery life across the board is par for the course, considering the competition, with the richer feature-set of the Pro model actually resulting in weaker longevity compared to the more reserved TicPods 2.

Mobvoi quotes four hours of music playback from the buds themselves but a reduced 20 hours, compared to 23 hours, by the time you exhaust the 2 Pro’s charging case.

In practice, four hours seemed conservative, with our testing leading to around five hours of use from the buds before needing to go back in the case, however, without clear understanding of the setup, audio source and volume that Mobvoi gleaned its official figures from, it’s unsurprising that there’s a level of variability when it comes to longevity.

As for the case – expect to charge it daily and you should be fine. 20 hours, broken down into intermittent stints actually only means you’ll likely have just-enough to get through a day’s use. Based on the figures, the standard TicPods 2 should get you from one day to the next with a little more breathing room.

Verdict

Mobvoi’s new true wireless buds offer a rich feature set, a considered range of colours and aggressive pricing for those after some AirPods alternatives.

The functionality offered up by the TicPods 2 Pro in particular highlights the company’s strengths in AI and user interaction – something that’s prevalent across its other products, like the equally fresh-faced TicWatch Pro 4G LTE.

Where they fall down is with regards to a couple of fundamentals: the open-style ear tip’s fit won’t be for everyone and longevity measures in at just enough for daily use, no more.

Specs Mobvoi TicPods 2 Pro: Specs

13mm drivers

TicHear voice commands

TicMotion head gesture control

Touch controls

Dual-mic noise cancellation

Qualcomm aptX support

Battery life = Up to 4 hrs (buds only)

Battery life = Up to 20 hrs (with case)

Fast charging

Quick pairing

In-ear detection

Multi voice assistant support

Bluetooth 5.0

IPX4 dust and waterproof resistance

USB-C charging port

30mAh battery (each bud)

390mAh battery (charging case)

4.4 grams (each bud)

29.5 grams (charging case)

Colours: Navy, Ice, Blossom

Why Everyone Is Abandoning Sha

The Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) has been perhaps the most instrumental tool in the fight against hackers during the beginning of the 21st century. Its ability to encrypt data without an immense amount of effort while demanding an inordinate amount of hardware to break it has kept our accounts and data safe for the better part of a few decades. This is why it may come as a surprise that all the major browser developers appear to be unanimous in the idea that SHA-1 should be abandoned completely in favor of its bigger brother, SHA-2. Why is everyone suddenly determined to phase it out by 2023, and why couldn’t both of them coexist?

Hashing Explained

In order to understand SHA, we have to look into the process and purpose behind hashing as a practice. A hash is a string that represents a particular asset but doesn’t substitute it. In simpler terms, unlike most cryptographic algorithms, you can hash a sentence but you cannot “un-hash” it. The only way this is useful is if the destination server doesn’t necessarily need to know the content of the data. Instead, it only needs to compare the hash of your input with the hash inside its database and authenticate you when both of them match. This is why hashes are so useful when storing account passwords; the server doesn’t need to know your actual password to authenticate you into a site.

Why Is SHA-1 Being Abandoned Then?

If hashes are so difficult to reconstruct into actual data, then why is it that everyone is in such a hurry to phase it out of existence? All of it has to do with hardware.

You see, a hash can be “hacked” if someone can stumble upon input that produces the hash that coincides with the value that a server has in storage. If your account password has the hash b27263b7466a56b1467822108f5487422d054bbb, a hacker only needs to find another piece of text (it doesn’t necessarily have to be your password) that could create that exact combination when it is hashed. It used to be extremely expensive to acquire the kind of hardware that could do this within a reasonable amount of time. In the year 2024, however, this could all be done with the help of a cluster of GPUs. As hardware becomes more powerful and cheaper, it will be so inexpensive to solve SHA-1 that even small-time hackers and enthusiasts could feasibly do this.

Meet SHA-2

To do away with the problems that have plagued SHA-1, SHA-2 has been created as a family of cryptographic algorithms with the purpose of making life extraordinarily difficult for well-to-do hackers. Since browsers and hosts will stop using SHA-1 certificates, the cost of hacking an account through the above-mentioned method would be astronomical. SHA-2 uses a maximum of 512 bits in its output, giving it the space it needs to ensure that any attempt to decipher and reproduce the string would take an unreasonable amount of time. Of course, this algorithm will also be broken at some point in the future and will eventually be replaced by another one that can continue the fight.

For the foreseeable future, however, SHA-2 will remain the champion of the Internet.

Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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Ai News Anchor. The Future Is Here!

We’ll have been listening and talking about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be the future. Nonetheless, I believe Future is already here. If AI can create a news presenter then what else could be the future? Yes, you’ve heard it right. State News Agency of China has deployed a virtual newsreader or AI anchors to be more precise. The newsreader or the anchor wears a crisp suit which has a robotic voice. According to Xinhua News, the anchor can read texts just how a human can pull off easily. However, there might be people who won’t agree. In its very first project, the AI anchor says, “Hello, you’re watching English News programme. I look forward to bringing you the brand new news experiences.” One of the constituents for developing this system was a Chinese search engine called as Sogou. Basically, computerized composites are used from the footage of human anchors read out the news using orchestrated voices. It’s not evident precisely what technology has been utilized to make the hosts, yet they’re in accordance with the latest machine learning research. It appears that Xinhua has utilized films of human hosts as a base layer, and afterward animated the parts of the mouth and face to transform the speaker into a . By consolidating this with an , Xinhua can program the computerized anchors to read the news, far speedier than utilizing conventional CGI. However, before jumping to any conclusion, it’s important to talk to a few AI experts to understand their analysis. Xinhua says the grapples have “unlimited prospects” and can be utilized to efficiently produce news reports for the office’s TV, web, and portable yield. The telecasters made their presentation amid China’s yearly World Internet Conference, an event intended to be China’s Davos for the tech space and additionally a stage for China’s vision of the web. While China is home to a portion of the world’s biggest tech organizations and somewhere in the range of 800 million web clients, its web is a standout amongst the most controlled on the planet. Eyewitnesses stress China is transforming into a digital police state, with innovation from iris and gait recognition being sent to screen activists, ethnic minorities in spots like Xinjiang, and normal citizens. At the gathering in Wuzhen in southern China, participants saw their photographs streak on a screen when they went through security checks utilizing facial recognition. In a session on fintech, organizations talked about coordinating with law implementation, giving data to careless residents to be put on social credit boycotts. However, this new innovation has its restrictions. In the recordings above and underneath of the English-talking stay, clearly the scope of outward appearances are restricted, and the voice is unmistakably fake. But, machine learning research here is making quick upgrades, and it’s not difficult to envision a future where AI anchors are indistinct from the actual and human anchors. This will strike numerous as an exasperating prospect, particularly as the innovation is being deployed in China. There, the press is always blue-penciled, and it is almost difficult to get clear reports of even far-reaching events like the nation’s of the Muslim Uighur people group. Making fake anchors read news sounds great. In any case, what the real impact on society might be if such AI presentators end up across the board is difficult to pass judgment. If Xinhua needs somebody to talk out the news without challenging it, they needn’t bother with AI to get that going. In the interim, synthetic characters are gradually finding their way into the standard culture, with figures like virtual pop star and acclimating general society with this kind of creation.

Offline Gmail Is Almost Like The Real Thing

[Updated at Wednesday evening with new information from Google.]

The main difference is speed. Regular Gmail is generally fairly quick, but you can still find yourself waiting at times for it to check in with Google’s servers. In offline mode or the very cool Flaky Connection Mode, everything — opening messages, searching for information, labeling missives — happens almost instantly, since all the data is local.

The tradeoff is that you don’t have access to all of your mail. For my account, the system synced up around 6500 messages, about two months worth of email. (It’s not clear whether Gmail limits the cache by the number of messages or the length of time since they were sent. I’ve got a question in to Google to find out.)

“We try to download your most recent conversations along with any conversations that seem to be important (regardless of their age). We also try not to dowload uninteresting conversations. This process is done heuristically and as with any heuristic can and will miss things. We’ll continue to tune things up, but more importantly, we’ll eventually provide a UI that will allow you to change the settings. Here’s a sketch of how these messages are selected:

UPDATE: Here’s Google’s explanation of that mystery:

Finally, the system determines a list of labels to exclude conversations from being downloaded. For example, Trash and Spam are always in this list, along with any label that contains mostly unread conversations (unread count greater than 99%). So, we won’t download a conversation if it contains only labels in this list. A typical Trashed message will not be downloaded, but a Trashed message that contains the label “alpha” will.”

You turn on offline capability through Gmail Labs. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to install Google Gears, the background system that enables offline capability in services like Google Documents and Zoho Mail. Once you okay Gmail using Gears, it’ll start downloading messages. On the EV-DO connection I use during my commute (the very definition of a flaky connection), Gmail synched about 150 messages a minute. Once I got on my home broadband connection, things went much faster.

The system gives you status updates as it’s pulling down messages, though I found some of the information to be wildly inaccurate. At one point, the status message told me that if I stopped synching now, I’d have access to messages back to January 10. In fact, Gmail had copied messages back to Nov. 28 of last year.

You can’t edit your contacts while you’re offline, but the system will still autocomplete addresses for people in your contact list. One surprise is that Tasks aren’t available in offline mode – that seems like it would be a fairly simple thing to sync and something that most users would want access to when they’re offline.

Flaky Connection Mode seems like a real winner for anyone whose connection is at all unreliable or just slow. The system works with the local cache of data, so everything happens very fast. But Gmail still syncs with its servers whenever your connection allows, so you still get new mail and messages you compose are sent as soon as possible. As long as you don’t need access to messages more than a few months old, it’s the best of both worlds.

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