Ever since Apple announced in 2016 that the iPhone 7 would not have a headphone jack, thus requiring its customers to purchase wireless AirPods, the company has received some flack for its profit-driven, forceful choices. Today, four iPhones later, headphone jacks have still not come back; investing in AirPods or an adapter remain the only ways to “wire” into your Apple device’s audio.
Now, hardly a month after the release of the iPhone 11, there is a new model of AirPods on the market, titled AirPods Pro. Even though the Pros have some revolutionary features, many Apple patrons’ initial reactions, as is typical in social media, were dismissive, snide, or mocking.
Immediately after Apple released the AirPod Pro’s design, the Internet whipped up a few viral memes about it. Given the earpiece’s cone-like, beakish appearance, people have been comparing the Pros to several tube-faced characters. According to the Internet, the AirPods Pro distinctly resemble Bellsprout from Pokèmon, Peashooter from Plants v Zombies, Birdo from Super Mario Bros, Pingu the Penguin, Q*Bert, Snoopy, and more. Outside of pop-culture references, the new earbuds have also been aesthetically likened to seahorses, hairdryers, and even sex toys.
Indeed, there is a lot of laughter and eye rolling going on at the new AirPods’ expense, and it doesn’t help that they cost $250—nearly $100 more than the previous model. Still, however, despite their flaws in appearance or marketing, the AirPods Pro have a few noteworthy features worth checking out.
First off, their strange new shape is not without purpose. Allegedly, the AirPods Pro are built for comfort, molded to easily fit the figure of one’s ear. Not only will this help the wireless earbuds stay in place, but the shape is also supposed to help cancel out outside noise by creating a tight seal between your ear and the rest of the world so you can listen without interference. If that wasn’t enough, the AirPods also use a new ventilation system to make sure pressure is equalized within your ears. Plus, they are water and sweat proof to endure an active user’s lifestyle.
On a more technical level, the AirPods Pro utilize advanced software and a dual speaker system to create an immersive experience for the listener. One of the two speakers points towards the ear, projecting music in the eardrum’s direction. Meanwhile, the other speaker actually points outwards and reacts to the environment, making sure the noise cancellation is optimal in any given situation. This dual system can reportedly update the sound signals up to 200 times per second.
Furthermore, the Pros also employ Adaptive EQ technology, which fine-tunes music to best fit the user’s ear shape. Using data given off by vibrations, the technology can work with frequency, range, and distortion to deliver a personalized, ideal auditory experience. Then, if all of this is too much, the Pods also offer a Transparency Mode, which gives users the option to soften the noise cancellation if they want to hear something going on outside their own head.
Apple also claims that the AirPods Pro will charge faster and last longer, read text messages aloud, respond to voice activated Siri commands, and allow multiple Pods to be linked to a single device, allowing for easy shared listening. Lastly, the AirPods will supposedly work even better when paired with Apple’s upcoming iOS 13.2 update.
So, even if they do resemble Bellsprout or Snoopy, there are definitely some nifty details in Apple’s AirPods Pro, and early tests-runs have already deemed the product phenomenal.
Are these well reviewed fancy details worth an extra Benjamin, though, or are they just excessive? Currently, the answer to that question is up to you. Nobody is forcing you to buy the AirPods Pro right now. However, given the way Apple operates, perhaps a few updates or iPhones down the road, they will be a necessity… that is until the next auditory Apple invention comes along.
Apple reveals new AirPods Pro, available October 30
- AirPods Pro will be available for $249 (US) and are available to order from apple.com and in the Apple Store app in the US and more than 25 other countries and regions.
- AirPods Pro will start shipping on Wednesday, October 30 and be available in stores beginning later this week (varies by country and region).
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Shadow Bans, Dopamine Hits, and Viral Videos, All in the Life of TikTok Creators
A secretive algorithm that’s constantly being tweaked can turn influencers’ accounts, and their prospects, upside down
By: Dara Kerr
It was the middle of the pandemic, and Mason McClellan had just started his first semester of college in Georgia. He was stuck at home, learning remotely, and had more time than expected on his hands. So, one night he made a few short videos loosely based on small-town news stories and posted them to TikTok.
“I made five videos in the first day, went to sleep, and then ended up with 50,000 followers out of nowhere,” McClellan said. “Then I was like, ‘I gotta make more videos now.’ ”
He kept going. Over the next three days, he made several more videos and amassed one million followers—a major milestone in the world of TikTok. Views on his videos continued to tick up throughout the fall, and several million more followers streamed in. McClellan began to make money off his account, roughly $500 a week, but then, in January, it took an unexpected turn—he started hemorrhaging followers, losing roughly 200,000 in a matter of weeks.
“Since Jan. 18, I haven’t had a day that I’ve gained followers,” McClellan said. “Before late February, even my followers weren’t seeing my videos.”
McClellan hadn’t taken time off, posted taboo content, or altered the style of his videos. On his side of things, nothing had changed. And he isn’t alone: Jan. 18 was a pivotal day for many TikTok creators who say they saw inexplicable drops in followers.
No other platform can provide the explosive virality that TikTok is known for—Charli D’Amelio became famous for casual dance routines on the app and now has her own TV show, and rapper Lil Nas X credits TikTok for the meteoric rise of his song “Old Town Road.” Who goes viral is largely dictated by a discovery-based system in which TikTok’s algorithm puts together an endless “For You” feed where viewers spend most of their time picking and choosing who to follow.
Unlike YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, which depend on creators building a network of followers, TikTok’s algorithm can put videos at the top of the For You scroll and turn people into overnight sensations. But similarly, if videos suddenly disappear from that feed, creators’ prospects can evaporate. Those people who’ve centered their lives around performing on the app can be left trying to figure out how to stay relevant on an impenetrable, constantly changing platform. The growing industry around TikTok resembles the promise and callousness of early Hollywood—burgeoning creativity, swift fame, and little by way of worker protections—except that instead of studios creating stars, it’s a faceless, inscrutable machine.
“What is so incredibly precarious is often the [algorithmic] tweaks that are unannounced. They can wreak havoc on a creator’s livelihood,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, associate professor of communication at Cornell University, who studies social media and digital labor. “There’s always been this unpredictability, and creators have little to no recourse.”
TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide declined to comment on questions about the company’s algorithm, specifically how often it’s changed and if creators are told about such changes.
The private company, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, arrived in the U.S. in 2018 and is estimated to be valued at around $50 billion. TikTok has acknowledged the mystery around its algorithm. Last June, it wrote a blog post about how the For You page generally works, saying it shows people videos based on their stated interests, such as pets or travel, and how they engage with certain videos and accounts.
A few months earlier, TikTok announced the launch of its Transparency and Accountability Center, saying experts would be able to observe its moderation policies in real time and examine the code that drives its algorithm.
McQuaide declined to comment on questions about the center but pointed The Markup to a September blog post that says nearly two dozen experts and lawmakers virtually visited the center and were guided through various demonstrations on TikTok’s safety and security practices.
Meanwhile, creators say they still feel largely left on their own.
“The TikTok algorithm is very opaque,” McClellan said. “You have to post O.K. content, but after that it’s really just random chance that your videos are going to blow up.”
Shadow Bans, Algorithm Tweaks, and Censorship
Jan. 18—the day many TikTok creators reported a sudden drop in followers—has gained some infamy in the networks creators use to trade complaints and insights into the mysteries of the algorithm. One Reddit forum directly discusses the “myths and questions about the Jan 18 suppression” with theories about a possible unannounced tweak to the algorithm.
Speculation also points to what creators call “shadow banning,” which is the belief that TikTok silences accounts without explanation. With shadow banning, nothing changes in what creators see, but they’re invisible to most everyone else.
Rumors around shadow banning are rife on TikTok, with nearly six billion videos hashtagged with #shadowbanned and more than 300 million with #unshadowbanme. YouTube tutorials, Quora forums, and entire websites are filled with tips and tricks for people hoping to get rid of TikTok shadow bans. The “Tiktokhelp” subreddit even has a popular topic tag titled “algorithm question/shadowbanned,” which is filled with thousands of comments about supposed shadow bans and advice on how to avoid them.
Cameron Hickey, project director for algorithmic transparency at the National Conference on Citizenship, studies the spread of disinformation on TikTok and other social media platforms and believes all of these sites do some sort of algorithmic downgrading. Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube have also been accused of shadow bans.
“Are they shadow-banning? I’m sure of it,” Hickey said. “How do we prove it? We don’t know.”
One of the reasons shadow-banning myths have especially taken off on TikTok could be that the company appears to be more proactive in content moderation than other social media platforms.
“They are taking down individual content from creators, and we see creators constantly complaining about that. It says to me that they’re much more aggressive and they seem less beholden to a very strict set of criteria,” Hickey said. “Facebook’s default is to let stuff stay on the platform. TikTok seems to be the opposite.”
TikTok bans violent extremism, hateful behavior, adult nudity, and more. In its community guidelines, it says it enforces its rules “using a mix of technology and human moderation.” Additionally, for videos that “could be considered upsetting or depict things that may be shocking to a general audience—we may reduce discoverability, including by redirecting search results or limiting distribution in the For You feed.”
TikTok’s McQuaide declined to comment on questions about content moderation, Jan. 18, or shadow banning.
Last May, Black TikTok creators organized a protest against the company, saying their content was being shadow-banned and censored. TikTok denied those claims. Then, in late May, just after the killing of George Floyd and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter surged across all social media, TikTok admitted to a glitch in its system and made a rare apology.
“At the height of a raw and painful time, last week a technical glitch made it temporarily appear as if posts uploaded using #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd would receive 0 views,” TikTok’s U.S. general manager Vanessa Pappas and director of creator community Kudzi Chikumbu wrote in a June 1 blog post. They explained the glitch was a display issue, and the posts still generated billions of views. “Nevertheless, we understand that many assumed this bug to be an intentional act.”
The incident happened just months after The Intercept got hold of internal documents from TikTok that outlined what seems to be a clear example of shadow banning. The documents instructed moderators to exclude creators with “ugly facial looks,” “abnormal body shape,” “too many wrinkles,” and other physical features from the For You feed because they could “decrease the short-term new user retention rate.” TikTok responded to The Intercept saying those guidelines were an attempt to prevent bullying and were no longer in use.
Dopamine Hits and Trying to Make It
Tinuade Oyelowo watched the conversations around Black creators feeling marginalized at the same time she was starting to get into TikTok herself. The Brooklyn-based artist’s goal was to promote her work and to come off as a body-positive Black woman and spread that vibe to others. Her first video shows her skateboarding along a river waterfront, and when she loses her balance, she flashes a thumbs up. But Oyelowo hasn’t experienced the same rapid success as McClellan.
“It felt like crawling up on my bare hands to get 500 [followers],” Oyelowo said. “To get to 500 was really really difficult. I was posting and posting videos.”
At first, she tried all the tricks to get views and followers, like a 30-day video challenge and “follow trains” in which creators promise to follow whoever follows them. She even joined a private Facebook group led by a marketer who promised to reveal the secret to success on TikTok. “And then things just naturally started to pick up without me doing anything,” Oyelowo said.
She said seeing those pings roll in on her videos gave her the dopamine hits that social media is known for. “It is definitely addictive,” Oyelowo said. “I would argue it’s not even the likes that are the addiction, it’s the validation and the feeling of being seen.”
Duffy, the associate professor at Cornell, said this idea of being seen is hardwired into the way TikTok works. “For content creators, their livelihoods depend upon their ability to get visibility,” Duffy said. “With this entire system, it extracts labor. And more specifically, it extracts labor to direct attention to the platform.”
Christian Barnes, of St. Louis, has steadily grown his TikTok audience since last summer and now has 1.5 million followers. Many of his videos involve comical skits in which a quiet school kid surprises his teacher and classmates with unexpected dance moves or musical skills. He posts about four times a week, and each video takes roughly three hours to create and upload. He shoots and edits the videos at night once he comes home from his day job waiting tables. It can be exhausting, he said. So, a couple of months ago he decided to take a three-day break.
“You definitely get tired sometimes and lose motivation,” Barnes said. “That’s why I decided to take a break that one time. I was like, ‘This is too much for me.’ ”
When he started uploading videos again, he noticed they were getting fewer views than normal. Trying everything he could think of, such as interacting with his followers and posting consistently, he got his audience back. But it took weeks. To this day, Barnes has no idea what happened.
“There are a lot of times I go out of town and I’m scared I’ll lose views if I’m not uploading videos all the time,” he said.
Despite that, Barnes said he enjoys making videos and hopes to one day parlay his work on TikTok into a full-time job. On a good week, he’ll make a couple hundred dollars from TikTok’s creator fund, which the company set up last July as a way for popular creators to earn money from video views. He’s also sponsored by a water bottle company and color contact lens maker and uses their products as props in his videos.
Chasing the Pot of Gold
Barnes doesn’t yet have an agent, but over the past year, it’s become common for Hollywood talent agencies to sign TikTok stars. They promote creators and act as middlemen in making deals with brands. D’Amelio, for example, is repped by United Talent Agency, which has managed actors like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. A3 Artists Agency’s roster lists around 200 digital creators, including Avani Gregg, who has 33 million followers and Larray, who has 23 million. With such massive audiences, TikTok creators can be good at bringing in money.
“As an agency, we get paid when they get paid,” said Keith Bielory, an A3 partner in alternative programming, digital media, licensing, and branding. “This could be a lucrative industry for years and years to come.”
A3 helps influencers in every area except growing their TikTok fanbase. In the instances when the algorithm seems to be causing a drop in followers, Bielory said, he’ll reach out to his TikTok contacts for insight into what’s happening. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the influencers to keep up engagement.
“A lot of people can go viral, but can they back that up?” Bielory said. “The folks that we work with create content for a living. It’s a lot of pressure to keep that going.”
Tha Lights Global, a smaller talent agency that focuses on hip-hop artists, has represented influencers for years. One of the first dance memes to go viral on social media was from two Detroit rappers the agency represented, Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCal, who came out with “Juju on That Beat” in 2016. Jordan Tugrul, co-owner of Tha Lights Global, said influencers he works with can spend hours a day creating TikTok videos. One of the agency’s goals is get them to think beyond the social media platform.
“They’re going against thousands of other people their age who want to be in the spotlight as well,” Tugrul said. “TikTok might not be around forever, and you cannot rely on that.”
In February, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—Hollywood’s biggest union—announced that influencers who were working with brands would be eligible to join via an “influencer agreement.” This means those members can qualify for benefits, like health insurance, and union protection in disputes that arise.
“The influencer space is still often referred to as the ‘wild wild west’, and it’s a place where creators can be taken advantage of,” Gabrielle Carteris, the union’s president, wrote in an email to The Markup. “This agreement is there to help empower and give self-determination to influencers, who are oftentimes trying to navigate their professional careers without much guidance—they’re true pioneers in this space.”
For now, SAG-AFTRA is focused on helping creators negotiate with brands and doesn’t yet assist in dealings with TikTok or other social media platforms. But, Carteris said, “This agreement is just a first step; we’re always exploring what is needed in this community.”
Despite their ups and downs on TikTok, McClellan and Barnes still regularly make videos and don’t plan to stop anytime soon. For Oyelowo, the novelty has worn off.
She has more than 1,000 followers and still likes making videos for fun but posts just once a week, at best. Spending hours trying to tap into what’s trending and scouring her Facebook group for advice is tiring, she said, especially given the whims of TikTok’s algorithm.
“You invest time in it because it’s this odd mystery puzzle,” Oyelowo said. “With algorithms, in theory, there is a potential solution, there is a way to figure it out—everybody is chasing that pot of gold in some way. But it’s a moving target.”
This article was originally published on The Markup and was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.
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Viral ‘pyramid’ UFO footage confirmed as Legitimate by Pentagon
Official acknowledgement of ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’ is becoming more commonplace
After a viral video was shared massively across the internet, now the Pentagon has confirmed that the footage showing what appears to be UFOs is authentic. Even more significant is the fact that the pyramid-shaped unidentified flying objects were “stalking” the guided-missile destroyer USS Russell in coastal waters near California in July 2019.
In an interview with Fox News Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Gough said “I can confirm that the referenced photos and videos were taken by Navy personnel. The UAPTF [Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force] has included these incidents in their ongoing examinations.”
“I can confirm that the referenced photos and videos were taken by Navy personnel. The UAPTF [Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force] has included these incidents in their ongoing examinations.Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Gough
“Whoever is operating these technologies are far more advanced than anything we have in the U.S. arsenal and that should be a warning sign. We need to find out the intent of the operators of these vehicles.”Jeremy Corbell, UFO researcher and filmmaker interviewed on Fox News
The public acknowledgment of the incident, that happened near San Clemente Island, where five different U.S. warships were operating at the time, was a required act. This is due to the new provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2021 which requires the U.S. to disclose what it knows about UFOs.
According to the provision the director of national intelligence (DNI) must work with the secretary of defense to create a comprehensive report of what information the U.S. government has regarding unidentified flying objects. The full report is due on June 1, 2021.
A highly sophisticated aerial display leaves doubt and open questions as to the origin of the objects
The incident that is seen in the footage involved unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or “drones”. In addition to the otherworldly appearance, the UFOs were observed flying around the U.S. warships for multiple hours, longer than would be possible based on the maximum flight time of most commercial drones currently known and available.
Highly coordinated and precise movements were also noted, raising the question of what methods of control were being utilized. Further questioned were raised by the calculated range of more than 100 nautical miles that would have been required, under conditions of very low visibility, that would have been required during the time elapsed during the encounters.
Though investigations have been conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard, Nave and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the mysterious UFOs and their behavior continues to perplex.
The new openness required by the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2021 is a welcome change and more details are bound to surface regarding these phenomena. Since August 2020, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) is known to be operating and putting further official resources behind the study and analysis of UFOs and other “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”.
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Elon Musk promises Starlink’s internet Max Speed will Double by end of 2021: in UK some say it already did
What began as a “Better Than Nothing Beta” is morphing into to a better than expected sign-up drive
According to SpaceX, there are now more than 1,000 subscribers actively using the service. With its current beta version, the Starlink satellite kit for both domestic and international, users can expect data speeds ranging from 50Mb/s to 150 Mb/s and latency from 20 to 40 ms.
In a response on Twitter, Musk promised that speeds would double to up to 300 Mb/s later this year. He also mentioned that the latency should improve to 20 ms.
“When satellites are far from Earth, latency is high, resulting in poor performance for activities like video calls and online gaming. Starlink satellites are over 60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites, resulting in lower latency and the ability to support services typically not possible with traditional satellite internet,” based on the Starlink’s website.
The speed is the key and faster (with lower latency) is what everyone needs
300 Mb/s will be a very welcome speed upgrade, particularly for those in low to medium population density areas that are the primary target. Musk noted that those in city and urban areas, cellular will often have more advantages than satellites since those systems will be improving also, with 5g roll outs, for example.
Musk’s goal is to have most of the Earth covered and at least partially subscribed by 2022.
Those living in rural areas of the UK and using the beta version of the Starlink satellite are already seeing higher-than-originally-promised internet speeds.
Many who had previously only had traditional (traditionally slow and bad that is) satellite internet were astounded by the extent of the improvement, and pleasantly surprised on measurements how fast the service already is, considering there are many continuous improvements yet to come.
According to an interview from one user who lives in Bredgar, Kent, his household’s service often lagged between .05 and 1 Mb/s making simple tasks like streaming Netflix or downloading video games impossible or nearly so. Using Starlink he now averages 175 Mbps to 215 Mbps which a stark difference than his prior service.
For the rest of this year and into the foreseeable future more Starlink satellites are expected to be launched into orbit nearly every week, and the eventual total could reach over 30,000, the number already approved by the FCC (max total 42,000!). It is unclear if that number will be necessary, or ever achieved, but the service will see steady improvements as the total density increases.
Also, Musk has indicated that, beginning in 2022, there will be a new satellite design upgrade featuring laser systems to allow for satellite to satellite interaction. Speeds after those improvements come online might eventually reach 2Gbps which is faster than the terrestrial fiber systems currently available to consumers.
If you want to order, or pre-order with a timeline based on the availability in your area, you can register on the Starlink website. Bear in mind that the program is currently limited to users in select regions in the Northern US, Canada and the UK. The price for the Beta service is $99 a month plus a $499 one-time fee for the equipment.
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Impressive Robots: one can sing Celine Dion while another grooves to ‘Dirty Dancing’
The future is a robot, yes they can climb, run and are singing and dancing up a storm
Meet Cleo, she’s a next-gen robot, that besides looking very human-like, with her realistic hair, skin, eyes, teeth and body movements, this robot can even do impersonations. Watch the Youtube video, below, from the company that created her, as she belts out a version of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.
Although she can in no way compare to the superstar artist, yet, the expressions and feelings are uncanny, while also a little creepy. It’s getting to be a shock to the system, watching how humans can engineer robots to do more and more life-like actions!
According to the company, Engineered Arts, Cleo is built off the Mesmer platform, its robot system for building lifelike humanoid machines that include sophisticated design components:
- Hardware – Motors, Electronics and Connectors
- Sensors – Cameras, Depth Sensors, LIDAR, Microphones
- Firmware – Motor control for speed, position and torque
- Software – For control of Animation, interaction, audio and lighting
Cleo was created, according to the company, with advanced technology for entertainment purposes. The future and scope of roles for robots appears to be limitless. AI and advances to robot technology can bring aids and have many useful purposes, particularly to help with challenges that have arisen and continue to arise as humanity tries to come to terms with its own uncertain future.
Take Sophia the robot. Built by Hanson Robotics, the company has plans to mass produce these types of robots to collaborate with healthcare professionals and help during the covid-19 pandemic.
Dancing Robots from Boston Dynamics in sync with ‘Do You Love Me’
Cleo and Sophia aren’t the only Robots that can perform. The crew at Boston Dynamics, the company responsible for creating highly sophisticated robots that can tackle highly complex tasks, have a line of robotic “creatures” that have to be seen to be believed. Just a few challenges its robots are able to perform include: climbing rugged terrain, lifting heavy materials, and even helping doctors.
There is one more task that can be added to the list, they can learn dance choreography. The company shared a video of its three robots named Atlas (known for navigating), Handle (known for carrying heavy loads) and Spot (the dog robot) showing off impressive dance moves to the hit song from movie “Dirty Dancing”. Back in 2018, the company shared another dancing video of Spot grooving to ‘Uptown Funk’.