All posts in “Tech”

Great, now Apple users are seeing outages

Well that's just plain rotten.
Well that’s just plain rotten.

Image: Tom Brenner / getty

Unfortunately for everyone, Apple just took a page out of Facebook’s playbook. 

One day after Facebook suffered a massive outage, a wide array of Apple services are down for some users. Offerings including Find My iPhone, Find My Friends, News, and whole chunks of iCloud are on the fritz. 

A look at the company’s system status page shows just how widespread the problems are and appear to have began at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time.


Image: screenshot / apple

According to DownDetector (which is owned by Mashable’s parent company), at the time of this writing users across the globe are experiencing problems with iCloud.  

We reached out to Apple in an effort to determine the cause of the outage, and when the issue will be fixed, but received no response as of press time. 

So, you know, maybe wait until it’s all fixed to lose your $1,000 phone. 

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Facebook’s former chief security officer compares company to ‘The Matrix.’ Whoa.

Free your mind.
Free your mind.

Image: Kevin Winter / getty

A system designed to keep us docile while extracting value from every aspect of our dulled existence is both an extremely rough plot summary of the 1999 film The Matrix and a description of Facebook.  

Just ask the company’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, who in a Twitter thread detailing a possible cause of Facebook’s March 13 mega outage managed to draw a pretty clear line between his one-time employer’s social media platform and the machine-run simulation of The Matrix films. That’s right, in Stamos’s thread, Facebook plays the part of AI villain. 

Stamos, who reportedly left Facebook in August of last year following disagreements on how the company should respond to governmental misuse of the platform, started the March 14 Twitter thread with a disclaimer that he has no special knowledge of what knocked the system offline for so long. That, however, does not mean he doesn’t have thoughts

“Several reporters are asking me for insight on the FB outage,” he tweeted. “I have none, other than that outages on massive distributed systems can sometimes follow this pattern:”

That’s when thinks took a turn for the interesting. With a series of Matrix GIFs acting as visual aides, Stamos walked curious readers through what he believes might have gone down. Essentially, he speculates, it boiled down to a small error cascading into something much larger. 

It’s kind of interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing. Where it gets really fascinating, however, is the final tweet in the thread. 

“Humans win, but after paying a significant cost,” he writes. “The system, now rebooted into its new incarnation, is safe for now. But how long can the peace between man and machine hold?”

Accompanying this last tweet is a screenshot from the final scene of The Matrix Revolutions, the third movie in the trilogy.  

Stamos is clearly, if perhaps unintentionally, equating the oppressive machine-driven simulation in The Matrix with the Facebook platform itself. And yeah, now that it’s up and running again, we can all go back to mindlessly feeding our data into the machine — granting it power in the process. 

Time will tell how long the peace holds. 

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Deals on cheap laptops: Acer, Dell, and HP laptops on sale for less than $500

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Take care of your most important tasks with powerful laptops for less than $500.
Take care of your most important tasks with powerful laptops for less than $500.

Image: HP

We don’t always have the cash to shell out for the latest MacBook Air. But take a moment to step back and think about what you really want in a laptop. There’s an entire world of laptops from trustworthy brands that tackle all of your essential tasks without straining your budget. Whether you need to just work from home, watch movies, or write your memoirs, you have plenty of laptop options available for under $500. 

Every day offers the chance to find cheap laptops at Amazon and Best Buy, but there are some amazing deals available right now for top brands such as Acer, HP, and Dell. Let’s take a quick rundown to help you find the best budget laptop option for your needs. Everything listed below costs less than $500, with some as low as $300.

The Acer Aspire E 15 is the definition of a well-rounded laptop for everyday use. Available for $70 off its regular price, you get plenty of power for a laptop that’s just over $300. Packaged with an 8th Generation Intel Core i3 processor, you can take care of almost any workload and take it anywhere with over 13 hours of battery life. This configuration also starts off with 6GB of RAM and 1TB of hard drive storage. If that’s not enough for you, the Aspire E 15 also includes a simple compartment door that allows for easy future upgrades. After you save big on your new laptop, you can also shop at Amazon for other deals on Acer accessories such as a new gaming mouse, backpack, and keyboard.

If you need a laptop that adapts to any environment and you’re always online, the Acer Chromebook R 13 notebook will check off most of your requirements. With 360 degrees of rotation, the 13.3-inch touch screen can move from a laptop to full tablet mode, or whichever configuration is most comfortable for you. The Chrome OS is optimized for anyone who works online most of the time, and it comes with built-in virus protection and boots up in seconds. While 4GB of memory and 32GB of internal storage may not sound like much, you do get an extra 100GB of Google Drive space to back up your most important documents. 

Another versatile option, this 2-in-1 Dell Inspiron allows you to flip and fold to tabletop, presentation, and tablet modes. No matter how you look at it, you’ll enjoy a beautiful LED backlight screen with a 1920 x 1080 resolution that also supports EMR pens. Inside, you’ll find a compact 8th-generation Intel Core i3-8130U processor, 4GB RAM, and 128GB eMMC flash memory for fast boot-up times. As a special bonus along with the $150 discount, you can even get a free Google Home Mini smart speaker when you order from Best Buy. 

Get some extra kick in processing and memory and spend less than $330 with this $100 discount from Best Buy. Whether you use it for work or entertainment, this 15-inch HP laptop helps you go from task to task with an advanced AMD Ryzen 3 processor and 8GB of memory. That provides enough bandwidth for casual gaming and photo or video editing, plus with 1TB of storage you’ll enjoy enough room for plenty of media. For other entertainment options, its HDMI output allows you to connect to another high-definition monitor or TV to enjoy bigger and more beautiful images.

Already a perfect budget option for under $300, you can save an extra $45.70 from Amazon on this sleek workhorse. Another 2-in-1 that’s a great buy if you’re indecisive between a laptop or tablet, the Lenovo C330 helps you enjoy a variety of media on its 11.6-inch IPS touchscreen. At less than an inch in thickness and 2.6 pounds, it’s hard to find a laptop that’s easier to take everywhere. And it won’t be hard to take care of all daily tasks with 4GB of DDR3 memory, 64GB of eMMC internal storage, and an extra 100GB of cloud storage for fast boot-up times and processing. 

If you think Facebook has no competition, just ask Telegram

Telegram claims it gained three million users during Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp outage.
Telegram claims it gained three million users during Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp outage.

Image: Chesnot/Getty Images

Facebook is often seen as an untouchable behemoth in the social media realm, a site so big that no competitor can come close. But if you trust Pavel Durov, the founder of messaging app Telegram, even a simple stumble from Facebook like a few hours of outage can have pretty serious consequences for its user base. 

On Thursday, shortly after Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp came back online, Durov said on his Telegram channel (via TechCrunch) that “3 million users signed up for Telegram within the last 24 hours.”

The figure is notable even for Facebook, which boasts more than 2.3 billion monthly active users. Durov never directly ties the Facebook/Instagram outage with the influx of users to Telegram, but he does throw a jab at Facebook by saying that Telegram has “true privacy and unlimited space for everyone.”

Image: Stan Schroeder/Telegram

Telegram is a very different app from Facebook and Instagram; its closest competitor is Facebook’s messaging app WhatsApp, which also suffered from the outage on Wednesday and Thursday. 

Durov left his first project, the social media site Vkontakte (an immensely popular Russian Facebook clone), after hinting that he hadn’t been able to keep his customers’ data private from the Russian authorities. Shortly after that, he left Russia altogether and started privacy-focused Telegram, which had more than 200 million active users in March 2018. Durov often publicly calls out his competitors, including WhatsApp, for not doing enough to protect their users’ privacy. 

Telegram made headlines in January 2018 when a leaked document detailed the company’s plans to launch a massive initial coin offering (ICO), to the tune of $1.2 billion. But after reportedly having secured $1.7 billion in private funding, the company called off the public token sale. 

As for Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, all appear to be working normally now, though perhaps with a small portion of users checking out the grass on the other side of the fence. 

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Competitive Meditation 101: What you need to know about the world’s weirdest sport

March Mindfulness is our new series that examines the explosive growth in mindfulness and meditation technology. It culminates in Mashable’s groundbreaking competitive meditation bracket contest. Because March shouldn’t be all madness.

There are many things I like about Competitive Meditation — not least of which is the name. It’s sure to bring a confused frown or a bemused smile to the face of anyone who hears it for the first time. 

Which is fitting for a sport that is at once extremely serious and utterly hilarious. Think of Competitive Meditation as the mental equivalent of a summer softball league. Using a brain-sensing headband, it lets friends and colleagues play for bragging rights over who can keep the coolest head. 

At the same time it demystifies the act and pursuit of meditation, in particular bringing it to the attention of those competitive Type-A personas who often need its calming and coping effects the most. What’s not to love?

It is the only sport you win by not caring about winning. 

One year after creating the sport for a Mashable tournament, a year in which I continued to referee demonstration matches and learned much more about its potential, I can categorically state the best thing about Competitive Meditation is this: It is the only sport you win by not caring about winning

As we prepare for the second year of our March Mindfulness tournament, in which video game players will face off against meditation app employees, here’s the FAQ — everything you wanted to know about Competitive Meditation but were too serene to ask. 

What is Competitive Meditation? 

Competitive Meditation is a fledgling sport I invented in which two players go head to head, literally, for 5 minutes. The game is administered by a referee. 

In a Competitive Meditation match, players wear a brain-sensing headband called the Muse. The headband brings a thin strip of electrodes to the forehead. It is able to pick up weak electrical signals from the brain via EEG (electroencephalogram, a standard medical brainwave-detecting test). The Muse is fast becoming an industry standard device; other apps are building atop its “EEG Anywhere” platform. 

The Muse app translates your brain’s sparks of electricity, which fire any time you have a thought, into audio cues. It translates silence into another audio cue. That second cue become an objective measurement of how successful your meditation is — in other words, a score. 

In one-person meditation with the Muse, headphones are generally used. In competitive meditation, both players can hear the other’s audio. Many sports see players boasting about getting inside their opponents’ head. Only Competitive Meditation fans know for sure. 

How is the game scored?

When a player’s brain is noisy, various nature sounds are heard (the default is a rainstorm). Every time their brain is quiet for 5 seconds, the sound of a bird chirping is played. Every further 5 seconds of quiet equals one more bird. The app records the total number of birds heard. The player that hears the most birds in 5 minutes — from 1 to a maximum of 60 — is the winner. 

The world record thus far is 54.

While competitive meditation can be limited to individual games, it is best constructed as a knock-out bracket contest (such as March Mindfulness). A tournament allows a given environment — a workplace, a social group, a team of players of any other sport — to discover whom amongst them is literally the most chill. 

Isn’t meditation supposed to be the opposite of competition?

A regular meditation practice has been shown, repeatedly, by science, to be helpful in reducing anxiety and depression. Over time, it literally changes the physical size of various areas of your brain. It can help increase your willpower and change bad habits, as I recently discovered

So you shouldn’t ever berate yourself for failing to quiet your mind or focus on your breath, because this stuff is really hard — and failing is part of the process. All that really matters with meditation is that you regularly attempt it. It’s not whether you win, it’s whether you’re playing the game.

Still, we’re pretty good as a species at turning everything into a competition, even activities that don’t have to be competitive and rely entirely on subjective judgment (synchronized swimming, ice-skating, gymnastics). Competition is how we learn, grow, and gain the desire to do more. There’s no shame in that.

Most people who use a meditation app like Calm and Headspace are already being competitive with themselves — if only on the question of how long you can maintain a “streak” of meditating every day, a number these apps are at pains to point out. 

If you’ve ever compared your total meditation minutes in any app on different days and felt spurred on to do more next week, congratulations — you’re already a competitive meditator. 

Try as we might to be egalitarian, we seem primed by our evolutionary programming to rank feats of mental discipline. We want to know who has their head in the game. And with good reason: it’s what makes a winner. Almost every athlete in every sport will tell you about the importance of being in a state of “flow,” where one is entirely focused, time slows down and the ego disappears. 

Flow is, more or less, what Competitive Meditation seeks as well.

Competitive Meditation takes the practice as far away as possible from New Age clichés.

Besides, meditating with others is simply more fun. It helps you not take the whole thing too seriously, which is an enormous advantage when trying to keep one’s mind quiet. I also believe that turning meditation into a game helps people avoid being alone with the dark and traumatic thoughts that can come up for some meditators

All in all, this is why almost everything you’ve read about meditation and mindfulness is missing the mark. It’s preaching to the converted. Competitive Meditation takes the practice as far away as possible from New Age clichés, and brings its proven benefits to an entirely new crowd: sports and games fans.  

I don’t meditate. Can I still participate?

Absolutely. You could be a natural. The winner of the world’s first meditation tournament did not meditate. In his best match, his world-record score was six birds away from a perfect game. 

Most sports require years of practice before you can even get close to being on the same level as the masters. But Zen Buddhism teaches the importance of Shoshin, which means having a “beginner’s mind.” Competitive Meditation will show the truth of that more often than you think.    

Is trash-talking encouraged?

Competitive Meditation matches themselves should be held in silence, with or without a live audience. But players should not be penalized for laughter; it’s a release of tension that can actually help both sides find their calm. It is, after all, an inherently ridiculous setup. 

Before and after the game, however, trash-talking is absolutely encouraged. The Onion was on to something when it published this satirical take way back in 1996 — Monk Gloats Over Yoga Championship: ‘I am the Serenest,’ he says. 

What has helped players so far?

Another very interesting factor in Competitive Meditation is that players love to experiment. Does focusing on your breath work for you? How about thinking of a mantra, a word or set of words or sounds that you repeat in your head over and over? Some players prefer lying down, some sit. Some stay still, others find that moving around works best for them. 

In my own personal headband experiments, very little seems to bring me more birds than using the Apple Watch’s Breathe app at the same time. Congratulations, Apple. Don’t let it go to your head. 

Small movements — touching fingertips to each other, say — also seem to help calm my usually overactive mind. Then again, the two finalists of last year’s tournament — seen below — stayed stock-still. In Competitive Meditation, your mind’s mileage will always vary. 

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Some commonsense advice has emerged from a year of practice that will improve any player’s game. Make sure you’ve eaten and gone to the bathroom beforehand, because you don’t want to find your mind distracted by an empty stomach or a full bladder. Make sure your face is as relaxed as possible, as the Muse’s EEG can pick up on electrical signals from a tense forehead. 

Drinking coffee, not surprisingly, doesn’t help. Nor, more surprisingly, does falling asleep: The brain is actually quite noisy at that point (think of all those weird images that flash through your head on the edge of sleep). You want to be relaxed yet focused, completely in the zone — exactly the mental space we all long to occupy in the rest of our lives. Competitive Meditation is a sport that can literally help you live your best self. 

Like any modern sport, of course, Competitive Meditation is going to have to wrestle at some point with the question of performance-enhancing chemicals. Should Xanax be allowed? How about marijuana? Further experimentation is needed to discover if these substances make all players more calm across the board — or if your mileage will vary there too. 

At the end of the day, there is one attitude that seems to work for everyone, and that is lightheartedness about the whole exercise. The players who come into the room with clenched fists — the ones with something to prove to themselves, the preemptively defensive ones, or the ones who won a prior game and think they have to keep up a victory streak — are almost guaranteed to hear nothing but rain. 

But the ones who come in with ridiculous grins, the ones who get the joke, who understand it’s just a game, who loosen up and have fun with it? They are the champions, my friends. 

Tune in next week for our first report on March Mindfulness, 2019 edition, when the game-players of our sister website IGN take on the chilled-out employees of meditation app Calm. 

Who is the serenest? We’ll know soon enough. 

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