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#1553: Apple security updates, iMac Pro discontinued, Mail scrolling bug, locked Apple ID, magnetic USB-C charging adapters

Apple today released iOS 14.4.1, iPadOS 14.4.1, macOS 11.2.3 Big Sur, and watchOS 7.3.2 to address a concerning WebKit vulnerability. Over the weekend, Apple quietly discontinued the iMac Pro and is selling off the remaining stock. Will it return in some form, or was it just a stopgap while Apple redesigned the Mac Pro? If you’ve had trouble scrolling through email messages in Mail on your Mac, Adam Engst has a possible explanation. The mystery of Dustin Curtis’s locked Apple ID has been a hot topic in the Apple community, and we try to tease out what happened. Finally, if you’re missing MagSafe for your MacBook, Adam takes a look at magnetic USB-C charging adapters to see how they compare. Notable Mac app releases this week include iMovie 10.2.3; BusyCal 3.12.4; Audio Hijack 3.8.4 and Piezo 1.7.3; Final Cut Pro 10.5.2, Compressor 4.5.2, and Motion 5.5.1; DEVONthink 3.6.3; Transmit 5.7.2; Zoom 5.5.5; and Safari 14.0.3.

Josh Centers 18 comments

iOS 14.4.1, iPadOS 14.4.1, macOS 11.2.3 Big Sur, and watchOS 7.3.2 Address WebKit Security Vulnerability

Apple has released updates for most of its current operating systems—iOS 14.4.1 and iPadOS 14.4.1, macOS Big Sur 11.2.3, and watchOS 7.3.2—to address a single security issue in WebKit that could let attackers execute arbitrary code from a Web page. Separately, Apple updated Safari 14.0.3 (8 March 2021) to new builds for 10.15 Catalina and 10.14 Mojave.

macOS 11.2.3 release notes

The language in the security notes linked above is standard phrasing, but the fact that Apple would update all its operating systems and the relevant bits in Catalina and Mojave suggests that the vulnerability is serious.

Impact: Processing maliciously crafted web content may lead to arbitrary code execution
Description: A memory corruption issue was addressed with improved validation.

If you’re already running the latest versions of Apple’s operating systems, we recommend installing these updates sooner rather than later due to their narrow scope and the likely severity of the vulnerability.

Here’s how to install the updates:

  • iOS 14.4.1 and iPadOS 14.4.1: Install the 143.6 MB iOS 14.4 update (on an iPhone 11 Pro) from Settings > General > Software Update. The iPadOS 14.4 update weighs in at 84.1 MB on a 10.5-inch iPad Pro.
  • macOS Big Sur 11.2.3: Use System Preferences > Software Update to install the 2.44 GB update.
  • watchOS 7.3.2: Open the Watch app on your iPhone and go to My Watch > General > Software Update. It’s a quick update (60.4 MB on an Apple Watch Series 4) but does require that the watch be on its charger and charged to at least 50%.
Josh Centers 5 comments

Apple Discontinues the iMac Pro

Over the weekend, MacRumors broke the news that Apple had quietly added a “while supplies last” tagline to its iMac Pro product page. Apple has since confirmed to MacRumors that it is phasing out the iMac Pro.

"While supplies last" notice on the iMac Pro listing

Apple first introduced the iMac Pro in 2017 as a stopgap in the lull between the 2013 Mac Pro and the 2019 Mac Pro (see “Apple Releases the iMac Pro,” 15 December 2017). However, other than resetting the core model from an 8-core processor to a 10-core processor in 2020, the iMac Pro languished for over three years without any updates from Apple.

The iMac Pro had a few things working against it. Along with a hefty price tag that started at $4999, the iMac Pro suffered from a lack of expandability and repairability, both key to professional users. Apple also didn’t support it well. When one of Linus Sebastian’s employees broke an iMac Pro, Apple refused to fix it. Linus eventually recruited independent repairman Louis Rossman to help fix it.

When Apple rolled out the redesigned Mac Pro in December 2019 for only $1000 more than the iMac Pro, there was little reason for professionals to opt for the iMac Pro instead (see “2019 Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR: Big Iron for Big Bucks,” 10 December 2019). The Mac Pro was both a much more powerful machine and had the expandability and repairability pros want, even if Apple’s support hasn’t improved much (see “Apple’s Mac Pro Support Reportedly Lacking,” 14 March 2020).

However, the release of Apple’s M1 processor was the true death knell for the iMac Pro. The M1 offers such a massive leap in performance over Intel processors that the base-model MacBook Pro beats even the Mac Pro in single-core benchmarks and gives it a run for its money in multi-core tests. And that’s a chip Apple tweaked for power efficiency for its low-end Macs, not one designed for maximum performance.

We expect Apple to start releasing significantly faster successors to the M1 for professional-level desktop Macs within the next year. It’s not inconceivable that an Apple silicon-powered iMac Pro could return, but given Apple’s lack of enthusiasm in the past, it seems more likely that the company will focus on the iMac and the Mac Pro.

Adam Engst 13 comments

Can’t Scroll a Message in Mail? Here’s One Reason Why

The report from J.C. Stauttener was unusual. He had received the Dutch translation of TidBITS in email every week for years, but in the last few months, when he opened one, he wouldn’t be able to scroll in the issue. His workaround was to reply to the message, at which point he could scroll through the quoted text with no problem. The problem started in macOS 10.15 Catalina, he said, but it persisted through a clean install of macOS 11 Big Sur. Nor did the problem afflict any other messages—just TidBITS in Dutch.

I was, frankly, befuddled. None of my basic troubleshooting suggestions (testing in the preview pane versus a standalone window, trying a different user account or Mac, etc.) made any difference. While J.C. and I were going back and forth, our estimable Dutch translation team was investigating the problem as well. In short order, they figured it out.

We frequently embed YouTube videos and Google Forms-based surveys in articles on our Web site. It’s a superior user experience—rather than having to click a link and be sent off to YouTube or Google Forms, you can just watch the video or respond to the survey inline. However, email marketing company Mailchimp recommends against including embedded video and content that uses the IFRAME tag in email messages because most email clients either don’t support the necessary HTML tags or explicitly block them for security reasons (IFRAMEs often contain scripts that could potentially be malicious). As such, our custom WordPress-based system automatically strips embedded videos and IFRAMEs before sending an article in email or building an email issue. We always provide a backup text link for those receiving it in email.

I had failed to mention this technical quirk to our translators, who have always created their own processes for translating articles and assembling them into an issue. Since they start their translation from the Web version of each article, they were getting the embedded videos and IFRAMEs in their source material. The Japanese translation team had independently discovered the problem and stripped any IFRAMEs from their issues, but the Dutch team, unaware of the concern, left them in. We use IFRAMEs only infrequently, but because we were running surveys alongside Jeff Porten’s CES 2021 articles, they popped up in quite a few issues so far this year.

Therein lies the rub. Although Mailchimp says that Mail is the only major email client to support the HTML5 embedded media tags, it apparently cannot handle IFRAME content—or at least the IFRAMEs containing Google Forms that we were creating—or even fail gracefully. That’s a bug, and I’ve reported it. I don’t anticipate Apple devoting much attention to it, though, given how few people would accidentally include an IFRAME in email at this point in time.

Nevertheless, if you ever find yourself unable to scroll a message in Mail, the reason is likely due to an embedded IFRAME in the source. The workaround is to reply to the message and read the quoted text, and you will gain tech karma points for alerting the sender to the problem with a link to this article.

Josh Centers 7 comments

The Mystery of Dustin Curtis’s Locked Apple ID

There has been a lot of buzz in the Apple world lately about designer Dustin Curtis and his locked Apple ID. It’s a long and winding tale, but one that’s disturbing for those of us who are heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem. In short, Dustin’s Apple ID ended up locked such that he couldn’t download or update apps, nor could he use Apple Music. His iCloud calendar stopped syncing, and even Handoff stopped working. However, iMessage and Photos continued to work.

How It Happened

The good news is that Apple has reactivated Dustin’s account, but the concerns remain. Let’s try to piece together a timeline of the story:

  1. Sometime in January: The bank account number tied to Dustin’s Apple Card account changed, causing autopay to fail.
  2. Mid-January: Dustin bought an M1-based MacBook Pro with his Apple Card. Apple offered a trade-in credit for an old MacBook Pro, and Dustin was told he would receive a trade-in kit and would have two weeks to send it in.
  3. The trade-in kit never arrived.
  4. Apple apparently tried to charge the Apple Card.
  5. Mid-February: Apple sent Dustin an email asking about the trade-in. Dustin replied that he never received the kit but didn’t receive a response from Apple.
  6. February 15th: Apple sent another email saying that it was unable to collect full payment for a new iPhone (that was erroneous, and was presumably an automated message) and that Dustin’s iTunes and Mac App Store accounts would be disabled until he resolved the situation with an Apple Card specialist at Goldman Sachs. Dustin missed this email initially, finding it only in a search after Apple locked his account.
  7. Late February: Dustin discovered that his account had been locked. He immediately called Apple Support and was told that they could do nothing except escalate the issue and that he should hopefully get a call within a day.
  8. Two days later, Dustin called Apple Support again. The representative said something about Apple Card but couldn’t help because Apple ID was a different department. The support rep emailed that department—email was apparently the only way to contact them.
  9. Dustin found the email he missed earlier and corrected his Apple Card info. However, when he tried to reply to that email, he received an automated “Address not found” bounce.
  10. Dustin used Apple Business Chat to contact Goldman Sachs support, who said they would email the Apple ID support department.
  11. An Apple ID support rep called Dustin to tell him that his accounts would be restored in 3–5 days. That happened, and all is back to normal.

In a statement to 9to5Mac, Apple denied that the issue was at all related to Apple Card:

We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience we may have caused for this customer. The issue in question involved a restriction on the customer’s Apple ID that disabled App Store and iTunes purchases and subscription services, excluding iCloud. Apple provided an instant credit for the purchase of a new MacBook Pro, and as part of that agreement, the customer was to return their current unit to us. No matter what payment method was used, the ability to transact on the associated Apple ID was disabled because Apple could not collect funds. This is entirely unrelated to Apple Card.

However, developer and blogger Michael Tsai questions Apple’s explanation:

As far as I can tell, it really is an Apple Card-specific issue. With a regular credit card, you can imagine that Apple would have pre-authorized a charge for the trade-in in case it didn’t arrive. And if the bank account linked to the card changed, that would not be Apple’s concern. Apple would add the additional charge, which would go on the card account, the issuer would pay Apple, and then from Apple’s point of view there would be no debt.

Many commentators have suggested that this situation was Dustin’s fault, and while that’s at least partially true, it also exposes some problems at Apple’s end.

Dave Mark at The Loop said:

And to be clear, I think I am less concerned that Apple disabled Dustin’s account as I am that it took so long to address the issue. If the call to Apple customer support had made the issue clear immediately, a couple of clicks would have resolved this. As is, and if true, looks like the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.

At the very least, it seems that Apple has fallen prey to what happens to so many large companies: entire departments don’t communicate with each other, aren’t aware of broader company policies, and can’t resolve problems outside of their direct sphere of influence.

For the rest of us, Dustin’s story throws a spotlight on the danger of doing too much business with a single company. When you buy your hardware from Apple, purchase your software through the App Store, and rely on subscriptions to Apple cloud services, paying for it all with an Apple credit card, you’re signing up for both great convenience and a certain level of risk. That’s not necessarily a bad strategy, but as the 19th-century industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie recommended, “Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.

In this case, watching the basket would entail paying attention to the effect that bank account numbers changing might have, making calendar reminders for known deadlines (like the trade-in kit arriving and its two-week return period), and creating an email strategy that reduces the chance of missing an important message.

It’s also worth putting some thought into how you would work around such a problem if it happened to you. Most Apple services aren’t mission-critical—you could probably go without Apple TV+ or Apple Fitness+ for a while—but what about iCloud Mail and iCloud Drive? Would the loss of iCloud Calendar syncing be problematic? Ensuring the continuity of certain services is yet another facet of a modern backup strategy (see “The Role of Bootable Duplicates in a Modern Backup Strategy,” 23 February 2021).

Adam Engst 10 comments

Are Cheap MagSafe-Like Adapters for USB-C Worthwhile?

Much as I’m amazed by the performance of my M1-based MacBook Air, I miss MagSafe. And by MagSafe, I mean the original MagSafe charging plug technology that Apple introduced in 2006 on the first MacBook Pro. Inspired by magnetic power connectors in deep fryers and Japanese countertop cooking appliances, MagSafe made it trivially easy to plug and unplug the power connector.

The big win of the breakaway magnetic connector was that you couldn’t trip over a power cord and damage the power jack or pull the MacBook onto the floor. I can’t say if MagSafe ever saved me from such a calamity, but I appreciated using it for many years across several MacBook models. There was something so utterly satisfying about pushing the power plug toward the MagSafe jack and having it latch on with a solid thunk. Equally gratifying was being able to grab a MacBook off the desk with the merest wiggle to detach it from power.

The main complaint I ever heard about MagSafe came when Apple weakened the magnets in MagSafe 2. Several people accidentally disconnected the connector and pushed it up onto the MacBook just as they closed the screen onto it, breaking the screen. Andy Ihnatko also once complained to me that MagSafe connectors tended to get disconnected when working on soft surfaces like messy hotel beds. Regardless, MagSafe was justifiably popular with most people.

Apple’s desire to move to a single jack that could do double-duty for power and communications was the beginning of the end for MagSafe. USB-C offers those capabilities with a generally well-designed connector that is both slim and bidirectional. The only thing USB-C is not is magnetic.

Happily, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has published rumors suggesting that Apple plans to bring MagSafe-like charging back to the MacBook Pro line when it releases the next high-end models based on Apple silicon. But that won’t do those of us with an M1-based MacBook Air or MacBook Pro any good.

Enter Magnetic Charging Nubbins

There is a fix for people like me, who don’t plan to buy a new MacBook Pro purely for a better charging experience. Thanks to Marc Zeedar, who recommended one of these products in TidBITS Talk, for turning me on to this product category.

Magnetic charging nubbins, which are readily available on Amazon from a variety of random Chinese manufacturers, have two parts. A tiny USB-C nubbin sticks out slightly from the side of the laptop, and an L-shaped magnetic connector connects to your existing USB-C charging cable on one side and grabs onto the nubbin with the other.

A magnetic nubbin charger, plugged in

There are two types of these connectors for sale, those that support both power and 10 Gbps data transfer, and those that focus on charging, supporting just USB 2.0-level data transfer. I think relying on a magnetic connection for any data transfer is a terrible idea—it’s far too easy to disconnect accidentally. The data-focused magnetic nubbins are also quite a bit larger since they need more pins, so they may block two ports. I can’t recommend them.

However, for about $20, you can get a two-pack of the power-focused magnetic nubbins with support for up to 100-watt charging. Marc Zeedar recommended this set from Anmone, whereas I ended up buying a seemingly identical set from Fonken because they came in black and white instead of just black. (I thought the color difference might help distinguish between the charging cables for Tonya’s 2016 MacBook Pro and my M1-based MacBook Air.)

In real-world usage, the magnetic nubbins are as simple as I’ve described. I plugged the nubbin into one of the USB-C ports on my M1-based MacBook Air, plugged the L-shaped magnetic connector into my USB-C charging cable, and then slapped the two together to make a charging connection. A little blue LED illuminated to show the connection had been made correctly, and the MacBook Air made its happy little bong noise to indicate it was slurping down power. Disconnecting from power was just as easy as it ever was with the old MagSafe—I just hold the power connector down as I pick up the MacBook Air. Check out my quick video to see it in action.

Nubbin Niggles

In all honesty, the user experience with the magnetic nubbin isn’t as good as Apple’s MagSafe. Either the magnets aren’t quite as strong, or the “outie” design of the magnetic nubbin means that it’s more readily subjected to shearing forces that break the connection. The old MagSafe ports were “innies,” which made their connections a bit more secure. The other problem is that the standard Apple USB-C charging cable is thicker and less flexible than the old MagSafe charging cable. That makes it a little harder to connect successfully since the magnetic connector has to align perfectly with the nubbin, and it’s more likely to be disconnected by movement.

Magnetic nubbin sticking out from the MacBook Air

I also don’t love the L-shaped design. Apple went back and forth on that, with both a T-shaped design that had the cable perpendicular to the edge of the laptop and an L-shaped design that routed the cable parallel to the edge of the laptop. I preferred the T-shaped design before, too—it just feels more natural to me.

Another slight downside is that the nubbin is small enough that it’s a touch tricky to extract from the USB-C port if you need the port for something else. It’s not that hard, but it can be a little frustrating if you just cut your fingernails. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some percentage of them broke—for $10 each, I don’t expect high-end manufacturing.

Finally, some have noted that only one side of the L-shaped adapter has an LED, rendering it harder to determine if it’s connected when the LED is facing down. While I understand the criticism, I consider it more of a feature than a bug, since there are times—hotel rooms while traveling, notably—when I cover overly bright LEDs with carefully placed socks.

All that said, after a few weeks of usage, Tonya and I are happy with the magnetic charging nubbins on both of our laptops. If you’ve been missing MagSafe as well, I think they’re worthwhile, given how inexpensive they are.

Watchlist

iMovie 10.2.3 3 comments

iMovie 10.2.3

Apple has issued iMovie 10.2.3, a maintenance release devoted to fixing bugs related to importing projects from iMovie for iOS. The update prevents fonts from changing when using the Slide and Chromatic title styles, ensures longer titles don’t shift from one line to two lines, prevents filters from being removed from clips, and improves import reliability. iMovie 10.2.3 also fixes an issue in which changing an event name in the All Events view could cause that name to be displayed incorrectly for a different event. Finally, in what appears to be a distribution oversight, iMovie accidentally installs an unnecessary provisioning profile. Kudos to Jennifer Bettiol for discovering the profile and Howard Oakley for explaining that you can delete it. (Free from the Mac App Store, 2.2 GB, macOS 10.15.6+)

BusyCal 3.12.4 1 comment

BusyCal 3.12.4

BusyMac has released BusyCal 3.12.4 with improvements and bug fixes for the calendar app. The update ignores bogus/missing calendar names from WebDAV feeds, warns that importing a meeting invite from an email attachment may result in a duplicate after sync, removes the menu option for picking a timezone for Google accounts (which no longer support floating timezones), introduces a workaround so that you are still alerted with sound for events and alarms created in BusyCal for Google accounts, fixes a bug where declining a recurring meeting on Exchange would not immediately reflect the change in the Info panel, and resolves an issue where all-day events (banners) could overlap. ($49.99 new from BusyMac or the Mac App Store, in Setapp, free update, 32.3 MB, release notes, macOS 10.12+)

Audio Hijack 3.8.4 and Piezo 1.7.3 No comments

Audio Hijack 3.8.4 and Piezo 1.7.3

Rogue Amoeba has released Audio Hijack 3.8.4 and Piezo 1.7.3, updating the underlying Audio Capture Engine to version 11.7 with an upgraded sample rate converter and improved drift correction. Both audio recording apps now support capturing audio from Xcode’s Simulator and make accessibility improvements to the Installer and Quick Tour. Audio Hijack also improves support for VoiceOver, providing better read-outs for disabled blocks as well as the On/Off switch within each block’s popover. If you’re a TidBITS member, you can purchase Audio Hijack and Piezo at a 20% discount. (Audio Hijack, $49, 28.7 MB, release notes; Piezo, $19, 17 MB, release notes; both are free updates and require macOS 10.13+)

Final Cut Pro 10.5.2, Compressor 4.5.2, and Motion 5.5.1 No comments

Final Cut Pro 10.5.2, Compressor 4.5.2, and Motion 5.5.1

Apple has released Final Cut Pro 10.5, Compressor 4.5, and Motion 5.5 with a short list of improvements and bug fixes for the professional video editing apps. Final Cut Pro adds support for a new Universal RED plugin that enables native RED RAW decoding and playback on both M1-based and Intel-based Macs, while also improving stability when playing corrupt H.264 video files and when using AirPlay on M1-based Macs. It also fixes a bug that could cause text to disappear when double-clicking a value field in the inspector and resolves an issue that could prevent custom Motion titles stored inside the library from appearing in the Titles browser.

Compressor addresses an issue with an incorrect preview image when using the Timecode Generator effect and adds a new icon for captions in the batch area. Motion fixes a crash that would occur when undoing a reset of animated color curves and fixes a bug that rendered a black canvas after resetting keyframed Color Wheels. (Free updates. Final Cut Pro, $299.99 new, 2.9 GB, release notes, 10.15.6+; Compressor, $49.99 new, 314.5 MB, release notes, 10.15.6+; Motion, $49.99 new, 2.4 GB, release notes, macOS 10.15.6+)

DEVONthink 3.6.3 No comments

DEVONthink 3.6.3

DEVONtechnologies has released DEVONthink 3.6.3, addressing throttling-related issues with iCloud syncing and improving the speed of importing notes with attachments from Evernote. The document and information manager now enables you to use the Insert > Checkbox command in the Edit and contextual menus when editing Markdown documents, ensures that moving an indexed group to another indexed group no longer changes the filename of the group, improves VoiceOver support in the Document > Links inspector, fixes a bug with renamed long file names displaying incorrectly in the item list in macOS 11 Big Sur, and resolves an issue with losing focus on formatted notes in Big Sur. ($99 new for DEVONthink, $199 for DEVONthink Pro, and $499 for DEVONthink Server with a 15% discount for TidBITS members; free update; 115 MB; macOS 10.11.5+)

Transmit 5.7.2 3 comments

Transmit 5.7.2

Panic has published Transmit 5.7.2, adding support for Dropbox Business Team Spaces. The file transfer app also gains an option for exporting servers and their passwords to a password-protected encrypted file, extends the default connection timeout to 2 minutes of inactivity, resolves an issue with the initial connection being closed unexpectedly after logging in, updates Command-G to advance to the next match in the document while the Find field is focused, fixes a bug where the content of the server activity window would not always resize properly, and resolves a potential crash that could occur with the info sidebar. ($45 new, free update, 43.1 MB, release notes, 10.14+)

Zoom 5.5.5 No comments

Zoom 5.5.5

Zoom has updated its eponymous video conferencing app to version 5.5.4, letting you use a custom gallery view order (drag thumbnails into your preferred arrangement) even when non-video participants are hidden. When a non-video participant turns on their video, their video will be added to the bottom-right corner of the last page of gallery view. The update also more clearly displays what content you’re sharing and when participants can see the content (this feature requires at least 80% of participants to be using version 5.5.4), resolves an issue regarding slides as virtual background not recording properly, and fixes a bug with chat screenshots disappearing before sending. Shortly after this release, Zoom was updated to version 5.5.5 to resolve sharing issues on UDP wired connections when running macOS 11.1 Big Sur or later. (Free, 23.3 MB, release notes, macOS 10.9+)

Safari 14.0.3 10 comments

Safari 14.0.3

On 1 February 2021, Apple released Safari 14.0.3 for macOS 10.15 Catalina and 10.14 Mojave with fixes for three security vulnerabilities in WebKit. Now the company has updated Safari 14.0.3 to address another WebKit vulnerability that could allow malicious Web content to execute arbitrary code, changing only the build numbers this time. For Catalina, the new build number (look in Safari > About Safari) is 15610.4.3.1.7, and for Mojave, it’s 14610.4.3.1.7. You can download Safari 14.0.3 only via System Preferences > Software Update. Given the narrow scope of this update, it’s probably best to install sooner rather than later. (Free, release notes, macOS 10.15 and 10.14)

ExtraBITS

5 comments

Don’t Go to 11: Insights from the Apple Hearing Study

The combination of tightly integrated Apple hardware and software, a huge user base, and Apple’s Research app is enabling the kind of large-scale studies that were previously infeasible. Current studies include the Apple Women’s Health Study, the Apple Heart and Movement Study, and—in the news now—the Apple Hearing Study, conducted in partnership with the University of Michigan to help advance the understanding of how sound exposure levels over time can impact your hearing, stress levels, and cardiac health. Apple is now sharing data from the hearing study to help people better understand their hearing health.Headphone safety settings

Hearing health is a big deal—the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that, by 2050, more than 700 million people worldwide will have severe hearing loss. Apple and the University of Michigan are also sharing data with the WHO’s Make Listening Safe initiative.

Apple found that many of its users are at risk of hearing loss. 25% of participants were exposed to a daily average sound level over WHO recommendations. Average weekly headphone exposure was higher than the WHO recommendations for about 10% of participants. 20% had some sort of hearing loss, 10% had hearing loss likely caused by noise exposure, and 25% of participants said they experience ringing in their ears a few times a week or more, which could be a sign of hearing damage.

In short, turn that volume down and take advantage of the options in Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Headphone Safety!

6 comments

Brave to Launch Its Own Search Engine

Brave Software, which develops a Chromium-based, privacy-focused Web browser, has announced that it has acquired the open search engine Tailcat and will use it to launch its own search engine. Right now, the main search engine choices include 800-pound gorilla Google and distant second Microsoft Bing, with Bing also powering runners-up Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and Ecosia to greater or lesser extents. Brave Search promises to emphasize privacy, with no tracking or profiling of users, and it will offer a paid, ad-free option in addition to free, ad-supported search. Brave says those ads won’t have the trackers usually associated with Web ads. Another unique aspect of Brave Search is that it promises to use open, community-curated ranking models to ensure diversity and prevent algorithmic biases and censorship. If you’re interested in testing Brave Search, you can sign up for the waitlist.

30 comments

NFTs: A Waste of Money or the Future of Art?

The term NFT has been in the news a lot lately, but just what is it? NFT is short for non-fungible token—which may not help. Fungible items are commodities that have no difference among them, like copies of a mass-market printed book or pork bellies of a particular grade. NFTs use a blockchain ledger, similar to the one that powers Bitcoin, to digitally sign pieces of digital art, like images, short videos, and songs. That signature makes each one unique, allowing them to have their ownership irrevocably transferred or resold in a way that can be publicly and cryptographically verified. The Verge has published an amusing explainer to help you wrap your head around the idea.

One of the non-intuitive aspects of NFTs is that they don’t work as a form of digital rights management, nor do they have to include any copyright or rights of reproduction or distribution! Why spend $16,000 (or more!) on this Gucci Ghost animation when you can Control-click it and save it to your Mac? The perceived value for which buyers are paying big money lies in the bragging rights surrounding owning what backers of the approach claim is the “original,” unique copy of that work of art.

It’s easy to dismiss NFTs as a bit of Internet madness akin to the GameStop short squeeze, but they do offer a real benefit for artists. That’s because artists can set it so when the NFT is resold, the artist also gets a cut. As a piece of art is sold and resold, it often increases in value, particularly if the artist has become better known in the meantime, and it has long seemed unfair that artists don’t get to share in that appreciation. In the end, the Internet has made it increasingly challenging for artists to make a living from their art, and NFTs might be an answer to that conundrum.