Posts with «author_name|dana wollman» label

Sheryl Sandberg has left Meta, but the company will keep paying for her personal security

Sheryl Sandberg officially stepped down from her post as Meta COO in August, but the company will continue to pay for her personal security into 2023, Reuters reports. The board, citing "continuing threats to her safety," agreed to pay for security services from October 1st through June 30th, 2023, with protection available to Sandberg at her residences and while she is traveling. 

It is unclear what threats Sandberg has been receiving that would warrant the company paying for continuing protection after she has resigned. We have asked Meta for comment and will update this story if the company chooses to elaborate.

Sheryl Sandberg joined Meta in 2008, and her last official day as an employee was September 30th. Going forward, she will continue to serve on Meta's board and receive compensation as a non-employee director. Although Sandberg apparently resigned of her own volition, her final chapter at the company was marred by personal scandal. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journalreported that Sandberg used company resources to help kill negative reporting about Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, who she was said to be dating at the time. 

Two months later, the Journal also reported that Meta had launched an internal investigation into Sandberg's use of company resources, and that the inquiry actually extended back "several years." In addition to the allegations about protecting Kotick from negative press, Sandberg was also reportedly being investigated for possibly using company funds to pay for her 2022 wedding. Meta lawyers were also reportedly looking into whether and how Facebook staff helped Sandberg and her foundation, Lean In, promote her latest book, Option B.

Sandberg's final years on the job were also marked by a series of company crises, including the 2019 Cambridge Analytica scandal; allegations of enabling genocide in Myanmar; shrinking revenue earlier this year; and a change last year in iOS's approach to third-party app tracking that undercut the core of Meta's business model. 

It is not unusual for Facebook to invest heavily on personal security for its top executives. In 2020, the company reportedly spent $23.4 million in 2020 to protect CEO Mark Zuckerberg. However, the board's announcement on Friday comes days after Meta was reported to have suspended all hiring, with a warning of possible layoffs on the way, making for some potentially awkward optics. 

Amazon's latest sale knocks up to 50 percent off Fire tablets

Amazon appears to be kicking off its fall Prime Day event a little early. Hot on the heels of announcing a new generation of gadgets, the company is holding a sale on Echo smart displays, Fire TV devices and, it seems, Fire tablets. Highlights include the Fire 10 HD, which is back down to $75, a price we last saw during Amazon's Prime Day event in July. Meanwhile, the new Fire 7 tablet has been discounted to $45.

Buy Fire HD 10 at Amazon - $75Buy Fire 7 at Amazon - $45

While the Fire HD 10 is the older of the two devices, the deal on that tablet is still the highlight here. For the money, you get a 10.1-inch display with full HD resolution, an eight-core 2GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, 12 hours of rated battery life and up to 64GB of internal storage (expandable to as much a 1TB via a microSD card). 

As for the Fire 7, we need to caution you that it earned a lackluster score from us when we reviewed it last summer. Although we acknowledged the then-$60 tablet got some basics right, including battery life, USB-C charging and, well, the affordable price, we dinged it for its unimpressive display quality and sluggish performance. If we were to review it fresh today with a $45 list price, perhaps we'd be a little more generous in our rating.

It's unclear when Amazon will refresh either its 10- or 7-inch tablet line. At its hardware launch last month, Amazon only mentioned a new $100 8-inch model, which promises 30 percent faster performance, slightly improved 13-hour battery life and a new Tap to Alexa feature that allows you to summon the voice assistant without speaking. 

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Amazon's Echo Show 5 drops to a new low of $35

Days after hosting a major hardware launch, Amazon is apparently having a sale on its older Echo devices. Among the deals, we noticed that both the Echo Show 5 and the larger Echo Show 8 have hit new record lows. The Echo Show 5, which went on sale last year for $85, is now down to $35, a 59 percent discount. The 8-inch model, meanwhile, is down to $70 after having debuted at $100.

Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon - $35Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $70

Both devices, but especially the Echo Show 8, were designed to be used as a possible alarm clock, with a sunrise alarm feature that gently wakes you up by slowly brightening the display. And, as you might expect, both devices offer the same suite of Alexa voice commands and integration with Ring smart home devices. Where the two devices differ most, obviously, is in size — and what rooms of the house where they were meant to live. 

The Echo Show 5 is primarily pitched as a bedside device, and in our review last year we praised its surprisingly decent audio quality (beyond just the ability to scare you awake). With the Echo Show 8, you get a modest 2-megapixel camera and 960 x 480 display, which we praised in our review for its overall quality and in particular the video calling experience. You might use it in the bedroom, sure, but we can also see it working in the kitchen or living room.

In the case of both devices, we said in our review that competing devices from the likes of Google offered an easier-to-navigate user interface. That might still be true, but it might be even less of a dealbreaker at such bargain-basement prices.

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Tune into our Amazon hardware event liveblog at 12PM ET!

Amazon is holding its annual fall showcase of new devices on September 28 at 9AM PT/12PM ET and as usual for an Amazon event, we expect things to get a little chaotic. Amazon's stream is not open to the public, or even to all members of the press. Meanwhile, and during the one-hour-or-so presentation, we expect the company to unleash a firehose of new products ahead of the holiday season, from Fire TV devices to Echo speakers and displays to who knows what else. (Remember that time Amazon surprised us with an Alexa-powered microwave?) 

Fortunately, Team Engadget are among the media outlets that can view the livestream, and we'll be liveblogging everything that comes out of the event. Bookmark this page and tune in below to our liveblog, kicking off around the same time the event does, at noon ET on Wednesday.

Apple needs to take fertility tracking more seriously

Fertility apps have always been sketchy. As I’ve experienced it, it’s a Faustian bargain of sorts: Take your chances on one of many options in your app store, and pick the one with the best reviews, or maybe the simplest interface. You’ll sign up feeling unsure of what to make of the opaque data policy, and then you’ll bear with the ensuing deluge of targeted ads – all in exchange for an accurate prediction of when you’re most likely to conceive. Judging by those ads for maternity clothes and organic cotton onesies, someone somewhere knows I’m either trying to conceive or have already given birth, even if they can’t decide which. I don’t like it, but I put up with it.

I’ve been mulling the subject of period and fertility trackers ever since I decided I was ready to become a parent, though for privacy’s sake, I didn’t imagine writing about it until after I’d given birth to said imaginary baby. But in the two months since Politico published a draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson, the case that has overturned the constitutional right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, a lot of people have been talking about period trackers. Some activists and privacy advocates have asked if the data captured by these apps can be used to help prosecute someone seeking an abortion in a state that doesn’t allow it. Some have simply exhorted readers to delete these apps altogether.

I understand why. And I also understand why people use these apps in the first place: Because the version of that app that’s built into your smartphone OS isn’t very good.

In my case, I have an iPhone. I’ve been using period tracking for a couple years now, though Apple began introducing these features much earlier, in 2015. From the beginning, Apple wascriticized for moving slowly: Some observers wondered why Apple didn’t have women’s health features ready when it launched the Apple Health app the year before.

In its current form, the app is decent in the sense that it can accurately predict when you’re about to menstruate, and it’s easy to log when you do, either through your iOS device or Apple Watch. This is useful not just for avoiding potential surprises, but for knowing when your last period started in case your gynecologist asks. (And they always ask.) What's more, irregular periods can sometimes underscore larger health issues

The fact that Apple hasn't paid more attention to this, when hundreds of millions have downloaded third-party alternatives, is honestly surprising: Apple could own this space if it wanted to.

In order for it to do that, though, Cycle Tracking has to be equally good at helping people get pregnant or avoid pregnancy. Because ultimately, those users all need the same set of data, the same predictions, regardless of their intention. If you know you’re ovulating and want a baby, you should definitely have sex. If you’d like nothing less than to get pregnant, that ovulation window is also a useful thing to be aware of.

Here’s what Apple would need to add to its app to match its competitors and build a true all-in-one period and fertility tracker. (Apple declined to comment for this story.)

Ovulation prediction

Dana Wollman/Engadget

First off, it must be said that Apple doesn’t attempt to predict when you’re ovulating. What you’ll see is a six-day fertility window, shaded in blue. But not all fertile days are the same. One has a roughly 30 percent chance of conceiving on ovulation day or the day before; five days before, your chances are closer to 10 percent. Unless you plan to have sex for six days or avoid it that whole time, a six-day fertility window with no additional context is not very helpful.

Other fertility apps learn from previous cycles to predict how long your typical cycle is and when you’ll likely be ovulating. I’ve seen more than one app present conception odds on a bell graph, with some even displaying your estimated percentage of success for a given day. Apple can decide for itself how complex of an interface it wants, but it most definitely has the machine learning know-how to predict ovulation based on previous cycles.

A proper calendar view

Apple’s is the only period tracking app I’ve seen that doesn’t offer a gridded calendar view. Which is incredible when you remember everything related to fertility (and later pregnancy) is measured in weeks. Instead, Apple Health shows the days in a single, horizontally scrollable line. On my iPhone 12’s 6.1-inch screen, that’s enough space to see seven days in full view. Also, if you input any data, whether it's sexual activity or physical symptoms, that day will be marked with a purple dot. That isn't helpful at a glance when that dot could mean anything. Another tip for Apple: color-coding might help.

If I were just logging my period, I’d appreciate not having the red-colored possible period days sneak up on me. (Okay, okay, you can set notifications too.) But for those trying to conceive, a calendar view would help for other reasons, like matching factors like sexual activity and body temperature against your predicted fertile days. Which brings me to my next point…

An easier way to log and understand basal body temperature

Dana Wollman/Engadget

One way that many people measure their fertility is by taking their temperature every day, at about the same time. The idea is that your temperature shoots up right before ovulation, and drops back down after, unless you’ve conceived. It doesn’t matter so much what each day’s reading is; what matters is the pattern that all of those inputs point to. And the only way to see a pattern is to view your temperature readings on a graph.

This is how temperature tracking was meant to be done in the old days, before smartphones: with graph paper. It’s awfully difficult to spot the surge when you’re scrolling, one day at a time, through Apple Health’s left-to-right calendar. It is very easy to spot the surge when it’s presented as an infographic. And I know Apple could do a good job of this. This is already how Apple presents changes in my daily exercise minutes or fluctuations in my heart rate throughout the day.

Oh, and while I’m ranting on this topic, Apple doesn’t just let you type in whatever number you see on your thermometer. You have to select it from a scrolling dial, similar to how you would set an alarm in the Clock app. (When you go to enter your temperature, you start at the last temperature you entered.) Basal thermometers show your reading down to the hundredth of a degree, so even mild fluctuations in temperature from one day to the next can lead to an annoying amount of scrolling.

The ability to recognize ovulation strips

Dana Wollman/Engadget

Not everyone uses temperature readings to predict ovulation. Many people use the newer invention of ovulation tests: at-home pee strips that measure Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which surges ahead of ovulation. The result always includes two lines, and how close you are to ovulating depends on how dark each of the lines are. Because that color exists on a spectrum, from light purple to very dark, it can be difficult to suss out the nuances with the naked eye, especially toward the deeper end of the color grade. Fortunately, many apps allow you to take or upload a photo of the results, and the app will use camera recognition to classify your test results into one of three categories: low, high or peak. Again, I have no doubt that Apple has the technology to do this.

Resources for pregnant people

One of the reasons people download and continue to use fertility apps after they get pregnant is that they can learn, week by week, whether their baby is the size of a raspberry, prune or avocado. These apps can also be a resource for first-timers who are feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what symptoms and bodily changes they can expect at each stage. The information in these apps vary in depth, and likely accuracy. There’s no governing body so far as I can tell that regulates what information apps include as resources. Not even the App Store. I’m not suggesting Apple write its own content. But it can use the same system of curation that it uses for the App Store, Apple News, etc. to provide users information from trusted outside sources, whether that be medical sites like WebMD or reputable medical centers like the Mayo Clinic.

Some BMWs are shipping without Android Auto or CarPlay to avoid delays

Due to the ongoing chip shortage, BMW is temporarily shipping some vehicles without support for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, according to report from Automotive News Europe (which we found through 9to5 Google). According to a statement the company gave to Automotive News Europe, BMW has changed suppliers and begun using a chip that does not fully support Android Auto or CarPlay. As a result, the company continued in its statement, affected vehicles will receive an over-the-air software update by "the end of June at the latest."

As 9to5Google notes, you can check if your recently purchased vehicle is affected by checking for "6P1" in the car's production code. It also seems that all of the vehicles in question were manufactured in the first four months of 2022, and have final destinations in the US, France, Italy, Spain and the UK.

This is not the first time that BMW has delivered cars missing certain non-essential features in order to avoid shipping delays. Last fall, the company omitted touchscreen features from some vehicles, also due to the global chip shortage. And BMW is hardly the only automaker to take this tack either. Last fall, around the same time BMW was grappling with the touchscreen issue, Tesla decided to ship some cars without USB ports. Then, earlier this year, Ford, shipped some Explorer SUVs without rear climate controls. 

In the case of BMW's missing Android Auto and CarPlay support, it could be worse. As Automotive News Europe notes, when Mercedes-Benz was faced with a similar dilemma, it chose not to include the requisite chips in some vehicles, at which point customers would be forced to bring their cars into a ship to have them installed later.

Tesla sues former employee for allegedly stealing trade secrets and then attempting a cover-up

Tesla has sued a former employee who it is accusing of stealing trade secrets related to its supercomputer project, Bloomberg reported on Friday. According to a filing in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, thermal engineer Alexander Yatskov quit on May 2 after having joined the company only a few months earlier, in January. According to Tesla, Yatskov admitted to transferring confidential information to his personal devices and later handing over a "dummy" laptop after company officials confronted him on suspicion of theft.

In addition to breaching a non-disclosure agreement intended to protect trade secrets, Bloomberg reports that Tesla is also accusing Yatskov of misrepresenting his experience and skills on his resume. Bloomberg also says that Yatskov declined to comment. 

“This is a case about illicit retention of trade secrets by an employee who, in his short time at Tesla, already demonstrated a track record of lying and then lying again by providing a ‘dummy’ device to try and cover his tracks,” Tesla wrote in the filing, reports Bloomberg.

CEO Elon Musk has been teasing Tesla's supercomputer project, called "Dojo," since at least 2019. Last summer, the company finally explained the project in more detail, laying out a goal of using AI to analyze massive amounts of vehicle data, ideally resulting in a safer, more refined autonomous driving experience. The computer, which offers 1.8 exaflops of performance and 10 petabytes of NVME storage running at 1.6 terabytes per second, trains itself using video from eight cameras inside Tesla vehicles running at 36 frames per second. 

Tesla claimed last year that although this approach generates a tremendous amount of data, it is still more scalable than building high-definition maps around the world. At the time, Tesla indicated that the system was most successful in sparsely populated areas where cars could mostly drive uninterrupted. Even so, the company also touted some early successes in denser areas, including Dojo's ability to learn new types of traffic warnings, pedestrian collision detection and pedal misapplications (accidentally hitting the gas instead of the brakes). 

Xbox is recovering after the second of two outages this weekend

Xbox users hoping to enjoy some solid playtime over the weekend were stymied on Saturday, following an outage that lasted about nine hours. Microsoft issued a tweet around 4pm ET on Saturday, acknowledging that some users were unable to purchase and launch games or join Cloud Gaming sessions. The service Downdetector also logged a spike in error reports around that time.

We're aware that some users are unable to purchase & launch games or start Cloud Gaming sessions. Our teams are investigating. Please keep an eye here and on our status page for updates. https://t.co/kQKp1LYR4o

— Xbox Support (@XboxSupport) May 7, 2022

Players could have switched to physical discs (if they owned a console that even had a disc slot) or, in theory, they could have played offline. But, as The Verge reports, even offline play wasn't working for some users.

Microsoft posted an update around 1am ET on Sunday, saying users should no longer be experiencing those issues, though Downdetector notes a trickle of new complaints that has continued into Sunday morning. 

Players should no longer be seeing issues when it comes to purchases, launching games, or joining Cloud Gaming sessions. Thanks for being patient. Happy gaming! https://t.co/WTAzvBkgcY

— Xbox Support (@XboxSupport) May 8, 2022

Adding to players' frustrations, this was in fact the second Xbox Network outage so far this weekend. Xbox suffered a similar outage that began late Friday afternoon and extended into Saturday morning, with Microsoft then, too, warning of problems with launching and buying games, and starting Cloud Gaming sessions. In addition, Microsoft admitted, some users were also struggling during the earlier outage accessing streaming apps such as Netflix and Disney+. 

We're aware that some users are unable to purchase games, launch games or start Cloud Gaming sessions. Our teams are investigating. Please keep an eye here and on our status page for updates. https://t.co/kQKp1LYR4o

— Xbox Support (@XboxSupport) May 6, 2022

We understand some users may be having trouble accessing media streaming apps such as Netflix or Disney+, and are currently looking into the matter. Keep watching here and our status page for updates.https://t.co/a6CwLeKdjJ

— Xbox Support (@XboxSupport) May 7, 2022

Microsoft only claimed to have fully resolved the Friday outage at 1pm on Saturday, about three hours before user complaints began to spike again. 

Disney's 'Obi-Wan Kenobi' premiere will include two episodes to make up for delayed debut

The tone is almost apologetic. "I have some important news," says Ewan McGregor, star of the upcoming Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi. "Our premiere date is moving just a couple of days." His hands are raised, as if to say "don't be mad!" Indeed, Disney is pushing the show's launch back by two days, from Wednesday, May 25th to Friday, May 27th. 

That's a shame mostly because the 25th would have been exactly 45 years since the original Star Wars opened. But, as McGregor's body language suggests: don't be mad. As penance for the grave inconvenience, Disney will now be releasing the first two episodes that day instead of just one. 

Incoming transmission from Obi-Wan Kenobi... pic.twitter.com/Awk8rI3Ayh

— Disney+ (@disneyplus) March 31, 2022

For fans of the franchise, this newest series starring McGregor has been a long time coming. The series was first announced in summer 2019, and Disney has since revealed that other big names are attached, including Rosario Dawson and Hayden Christensen reprising his trilogy role as Darth Vader.

What we bought: An $18 lid that makes the Instant Pot actually good at slow cooking

Every healthy relationship is built on compromise. Which is why there probably isn’t room in my boyfriend’s apartment for both my slow cooker and Instant Pot. Before we met, I had been living in my studio for almost eight years – plenty of time to accumulate all manner of cooking gadgets, tools and appliances. I purchased the slow cooker first, with a clear sense of what I wanted to make: soups, chili, maybe some bolognese. 

The Instant Pot, on the other hand, was an impulse buy. I didn’t actually know what I would do with this multipurpose cooker, marketed as a “7-in-1” device. But seemingly everyone else was buying one. And it was on sale for Black Friday, as it always is. I paid $67.99 for the six-quart Duo 60 and, according to my Amazon order history, threw in a 9-inch springform pan and reversible cast iron grill/griddle pan. I somehow doubt those will make the journey over to my boyfriend’s either.

So, of the Duo 60’s seven functions (pressure cooking, slow cooking, rice, yogurt, steaming, sautéing and warming), slow cooking was clearly my comfort zone. The problem is, the Instant Pot is not very good at that, at least not out of the box. The same sealed lid that makes the IP so adept at pressure cooking rice, beans and meat is poorly suited to the task of slow cooking, which requires a meaningful amount of evaporation to be successful. While there’s a steam tray latched to the back of the Instant Pot, a traditional slow cooker would have a glass lid with at least one hole for steam to escape. What’s more, the sealed design rules out the possibility of inserting a probe thermometer, something all conventional slow cookers offer.

Read any number of articles or Reddit threads and you’ll see two pieces of advice repeat themselves: adjust the amount of liquid, or increase the cooking time. My issue with that approach is that I’m not much of an improvisational cook to begin with, and I’d rather not learn after three-plus hours of cooking that my meal is a bust.

Eventually in my research I found this $18 tempered glass lid, made by Instant Pot itself. The company isn’t so cheeky as to acknowledge the lid improves a flawed slow cooking experience, but needless to say, it does recommend the accessory for that purpose, not to mention sautéing, serving and keeping food warm. Though I purchased the Duo 60 in 2017, Instant Pot claims the six-quart lid should fit, well, any six-quart Instant Pot model. As a bonus, it's dishwasher safe, though I definitely hesitated after seeing at least two Amazon reviewers report their wash cycles ended in glass shards. (Mine survived just fine.)

My first test of the new setup was my favorite slow-cooker chili recipe. (As a tip, if you’re new to slow cooking in the Instant Pot, treat the “Normal” setting as the equivalent of low, and “More” when the recipe calls for high. Like any slow cooker, the Instant Pot defaults to a warming mode after the cooking time is up.) After four hours of cooking on low, the chili tasted the way I remembered it: sweet, spicy and certainly not too soupy. And I was grateful to not have had to reduce the liquid by 15 to 20 percent, especially with so many different kinds of fluids required for this particular recipe. Another day, I cooked a vegetable-tortellini soup on high for five hours. (This recipe also gave me an excuse to try some sautéing too.)

Over the long hours each recipe was cooking, I noticed more and more condensation clinging to the underside of the lid. Though the Instant Pot itself got quite warm on low (and close to hot on high), the handle remained more tepid to the touch, which I was able to grab with bare hands without burning myself. As a tip, if you want to remove the lid without dripping all the condensation back into the dish, flip it toward you when removing it instead of lifting it straight up.

Another tip: the lid is also excellent for covering leftovers in the Instant Pot’s inner pot. Just stick the covered stainless steel bowl in the fridge and worry about cleaning it another day. (Yes, my “tip” here is really just punting on doing the dishes.)

In the end, I’m still not sure what will become of my standalone slow cooker. Will I sell it on the cheap? Donate it? Gift it to my mom, who has never used a crock pot? TBD. But now that my Instant Pot is actually the multipurpose cooker I originally wanted, I suspect I won’t be bringing that second appliance to the new apartment.