The Rhodes electric piano is back with a hefty price tag

After months of teasing, the legendary Rhodes piano is back, with Rhodes Music Group opening pre-orders for the new MK8 model on Wednesday. It costs an eye-watering $9,450. And that's only the price of the base model. Want the rad transparent hood? That's an extra $575. How about a walnut bottom shell? Add another $1,095.

With all the possible extras, you can expect to pay $12,640 for a single MK8. That's a lot when you consider you can find a vintage Rhodes for as little as $2,500, and they're still highly desirable.

If the price of the MK8 doesn't scare you away, we suggest you order one as soon as you can. With each one assembled by hand at the company's factory in Leeds, England, Rhodes only expects to manufacture about 500 MK8 units in 2022. You can claim a place in line by paying for one in full or putting down a 20 percent deposit. Shipments of the preamp-only model will begin in the first quarter of 2022, with the effects panel one to follow before the second half of the year.

It's hard to overstate how important the Rhodes piano has been to the history of contemporary popular music. It was crucial to the evolution of jazz and rock and roll in the '60s, with Kieth Jarrett and Ray Manzarek just some of the musicians who used the instrument to create incredible melodies. More recently, it has made its presence felt in tracks from Nils Frahm and Thom Yorke. And now it has the chance to inspire a new generation of musicians. 

Qualcomm is making 5nm ARM chipsets for Windows laptops

Qualcomm is expanding its lineup of ARM-based chips for Windows and Chromebook with Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 and 7c+ Gen 3 platforms. In addition, the company aims to power handheld gaming devices using Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 chipsets.

Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, which builds on last year's Gen 2, is the first 5nm PC platform, according to Qualcomm, which designed it with ultra-slim and fanless laptops in mind. It says that moving to a 5nm process node and other optimizations allowed for improved Kryo CPU performance while sustaining similar power consumption levels as Gen 2 chipsets. The company claims the chipsets will deliver up to 85 percent improved performance compared with the previous generation and up to 60 percent better per-watt performance than x86 chips.

Along with 5G and WiFi 6/6E connectivity, the platform is said to offer multi-day battery life, upgraded camera and audio functions and chip-to-cloud security. Systems with 8cx Gen 3 chipsets will be able to take advantage of "29+ TOPS of AI acceleration," which Qualcomm claims is three times the performance of "the leading competitive platform." The AI acceleration could speed up tasks like face detection and background blur on calls. In addition, Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 supports up to 4K HDR camera quality, and as many as four cameras.

Qualcomm also says 8cx Gen 3 will offer up to 60 percent improved performance over previous-generation chips during GPU-intensive tasks thanks to the Adreno GPU. You'll be able to play games in Full HD at up to 120 fps, and Qualcomm claims the platform is optimized to let folks play up to 50 percent longer "than certain competing platforms."

Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c+ Gen 3 chipset.
Qualcomm

As for Snapdragon 7c+ Gen 3, that platform's designed for entry-level PCs and Chromebooks, and it emerged only six months after the previous generation. It too supports 5G, both sub-6 and mmWave, thanks to the inclusion of the Snapdragon X53 5G Modem-RF system. You can also expect Wi-Fi 6 and 6E support. Qualcomm says the 6nm 7c Gen 3 platform will deliver up to 40 percent improved CPU performance and as much as 35 percent improved graphics performance over the previous-gen chipsets.

ARM-based Windows machines haven't exactly set the world alight, and it remains to be seen whether Qualcomm can help the Windows on Snapdragon platform turn the corner with its latest, more powerful options. Devices with Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 and 7c+ Gen 3 chipsets are expected to debut in the first half of 2022.

Qualcomm Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 chipset on top of a handheld gaming device.
Qualcomm

Elsewhere, Qualcomm is making moves in a new chipset category: gaming handhelds. It says the Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 Gaming Platform will support game streaming from consoles and PC, cloud gaming services and Android games and apps. The Adreno GPU can run games at 144 fps and at 10-bit HDR, according to the company, while the FastConnect 6900 system offers 5G mmWave and sub-6 and WiFi 6/6E connectivity.

To show off the platform, Razer collaborated with Qualcomm on a handheld gaming dev kit that's available to developers starting today via Razer's website. The device features a 120hz, 6.65-inch OLED display with 10-bit HDR support, four-way speakers and a built-in controller. The device can even be used for live streams that include audio and video feeds from players, since it has a 1080p 60 fps camera and dual mics.

Should Snapdragon-powered handhelds come to market, they'll be vying against the likes of the Nintendo Switch, Steam Deck, smartphones and tablets. It's a competitive sector, but one that's growing rapidly, so there might be room for devices with Qualcomm chipsets to carve out a niche.

A person sits on rocks by the beach, playing a game on a handheld gaming device created by Razer.
Qualcomm

Square is rebranding itself as ‘Block’

Payments firm Square plans to change its name to Block as cryptocurrencies and other blockchain technologies become a bigger part of its business. On Wednesday, the company announced it will move forward with the rebranding on December 10th.

“The name has many associated meanings for the company — building blocks, neighborhood blocks and their local businesses, communities coming together at block parties full of music, a blockchain, a section of code, and obstacles to overcome,” the company said in a blog post.

When Jack Dorsey co-founded Square in 2009 shortly after his first stint as CEO of Twitter, the company’s only product was its namesake card reader, which allowed merchants to process credit card payments with their phones. Since then, its business has expanded to include stock and crypto trading, money lending and more. This year, Square even bought a majority stake in Tidal. And it’s that expansion from that the rebranding is designed to encapsulate.

“We built the Square brand for our Seller business, which is where it belongs,” Dorsey said. “Block is a new name, but our purpose of economic empowerment remains the same. No matter how we grow or change, we will continue to build tools to help increase access to the economy.”

The move comes in the same week that Dorsey stepped down as the CEO of Twitter. Since 2015, he had led both Twitter and Square, a position that eventually led to pressure from activist investment firm Elliott Management. In a lot of ways, the rebranding is also reflective of Dorsey’s well-known enthusiasm for cryptocurrency. After all, this is the man who wanted the world to know he has a Bitcoin clock in his kitchen. He recently announced Square would build a Bitcoin hardware wallet, and “consider” a mining system.

Microsoft is testing a few ways to improve Windows 11’s Start menu

Microsoft isn't ready to backtrack on Windows 11's major design changes yet, but at least it's testing out a few new ways to customize the OS. With the latest Windows 11 Insider build (22509), you can have the revamped Start menu show more pinned apps, or more recommended apps and files, in addition to the default mode which balances the two. That's not a return to the Windows 10 Start menu that some diehard users have been clamoring for, and really, it's unlikely Microsoft will ever relent. Windows 11 prioritizes minimalism, and a busy Start menu filled with all of your apps doesn't really fit that mould.

Windows 11 Start menu options
Microsoft

Among other changes, the Insider build will also bring the date and clock back to the taskbar on additional monitor screens, something that was inexplicably removed in Windows 11. Microsoft notes that tweak isn't going to appear for every Insider user, oddly enough. It's a shame Microsoft isn't exploring more ways to customize the taskbar—losing Window labels has made my desktop cleaner, but harder to navigate compared to Windows 10. 

 The new Windows 11 Insider build will also it easier to use the Edge web browser while using Narrator, Microsoft's built-in screen reader. You can also expect to see more options moving over from the aging Control Panel, and into the cleaner Settings app. That includes Advanced Sharing settings, like Network Discovery and File/Printer Sharing. You'll also see more details about your printers and scanners within the Settings app.  

Meta allows more cryptocurrency ads

Meta is backing away from its longstanding (if not absolute) ban on cryptocurrency ads. As CNBCreports, Meta has greatly loosened its ban by expanding the number of regulatory licenses it accepts from three to 27. The crypto landscape has "matured and stabilized" enough to justify the change of heart, the company said, including an increased amount of government regulation that sets "clearer responsibilities and expectations."

Advertisers still need written permission to run ads for cryptocurrency exchanges, lending and borrowing, crypto mining tools and wallets that let you buy, sell, stake or swap tokens. This does, however, open the door to cryptocurrency businesses that previously couldn't run any ads, not to mention would-be investors who might not be familiar with the market.

It's not clear if any additional factors played a role in the reversal, but the timing is notable. The shift comes just a day after Meta's crypto overseer, David Marcus, said he was leaving the company. He spent roughly two years trying to launch Meta's cryptowallet Novi, so far succeeding only with a small test run. The company's in-house cryptocurrency, Diem, has had an even rougher time —it has yet to launch following regulatory objections and scaled-back ambitions.

Meta isn't necessarily conceding defeat on Diem. That project is independently run, after all. This may simply reflect changing times. While cryptocurrency may still be full of volatility and regulatory uncertainty, the risks are now low enough that Meta isn't worried about problematic sales pitches.

Six state treasurers want Activision Blizzard to address its toxic workplace culture

Following scrutiny from state and federal regulators, Activision Blizzard and its CEO Bobby Kotick now face pressure from an unexpected source. Per Axios, state treasurers from California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Delaware and Nevada recently contacted the company’s board of directors to discuss its “response to the challenges and investment risk exposures that face Activision.” In a letter dated to November 23rd, the group tells the board it would “weigh” a “call to vote against the re-election of incumbent directors.”

That call was made on November 17th by a collection of activist shareholders known as Strategic Organizing Center Investment Group. SOC, which holds about 0.6 percent of Activision stock, has demanded Kotick resign and that two of the board’s longest-serving directors, Brian Kelly and Robert Morgado, retire by December 31st.

“We think there needs to be sweeping changes made in the company,” Illinois state treasurer Michael Frerichs told Axios. “We're concerned that the current CEO and board directors don't have the skillset, nor the conviction to institute these sweeping changes needed to transform their culture, to restore trust with employees and shareholders and their partners.”

Between the six treasurers, they manage about a trillion dollars in assets. But as Axios points out, it’s unclear how much they have invested in Activision, and it’s not something they disclosed to the outlet. However, Frerichs did confirm Illinois has been impacted by the company’s falling stock price.

To that point, the day before The Wall Street Journal published its bombshell report on Activision and CEO Bobby Kotick, the company's stock closed at $70.43. The day California’s fair employment agency sued the company its stock was worth $91.88. As of the writing of this article, it’s trading at about $58.44.

The group has asked to meet with Activision’s board by December 20th. We’ve reached out to Activision for comment.

Congress quizzes Facebook whistleblower on potential Section 230 reforms

Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, testified in Congress for the second time in less than two months. Speaking to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, Haugen once again urged Congress to act to rein in Facebook.

Unlike Haugen’s last Congressional hearing, during which she briefed senators on Facebook’s internal research, Wednesday’s hearing was meant to be focused on potential reforms of social media platforms. Specifically, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the 1996 law that shields online platforms from liability for their users' actions.

“This committee's attention and this Congress' action are critical,” she said during her opening statement. But she also told Congress they should be careful with changing the law as it could have unintended consequences.

“As you consider reform to section 230, I encourage you to move forward with your eyes open to the consequences of reform,” Haugen said. “Congress has instituted carve outs to Section 230 in recent years. I encourage you to talk to human rights advocates who can help provide context on how the last reform of 230 had dramatic impacts on the safety of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, but has been rarely used for its original purpose.”

Pennsylvania Rep. Michael Doyle began the hearing by acknowledging the importance of Section 230, but said the courts’ interpretation of the rule should change. “To be clear, Section 230 is critically important to promoting a vibrant and free internet,” he said. “But I agree with those who suggest the courts have allowed it to stray too far.”

But throughout the hearing, there was little discussion of specific changes or potential legislation that would change 230. Many members of Congress repeated the need for bipartisan action, but there seemed to be little agreement on what actions they should take. Doyle noted in his opening statement that members of the committee have proposed four bills that would make changes to Section 230, including one that would limit protections for companies that deployed “malicious” algorithms.

But those four bills were barely discussed during the four-hour hearing, which once again, veered into other issues. Many Republican members on the committee opted to focus on “censorship,” and their belief that platforms like Facebook are biased against them. Haugen countered that Facebook could implement changes that would make the platform safer regardless of a user’s political beliefs.

“We spent a lot of time today talking about censorship ... what we need to do is make the platform safer through product choices,” Haugen said, describing how adding “friction” to resharing content could reduce the spread of misinformation. “We need solutions like friction to make the platform safe for everyone even if you don’t speak English.”

At one point, Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, appeared to grow frustrated. “I would like to say to this committee, you've talked about this for years, but you haven't done anything,” he said. “Show me a piece of legislation that you passed. 230 reform is going to be very important for protecting kids and teens on platforms like Instagram and holding them accountable and liable. But you also as a committee have to do privacy, antitrust and design reform.”

‘Battlefield 2042’ is getting a cleaner UI and a ton of bug fixes

Since it launched last month, Battlefield 2042 has gained a reputation for being a buggy mess, instead of a return to form for the long-running shooter franchise. So it's not too surprising to see EA rush out with a slew of post-launch fixes — let those problems fester too long, and they risk losing dedicated players to Call of Duty and Halo Infinite. With its third update, which arrives on December 2nd, Battlefield 2042 will get over 150 bug fixes, including some major UI improvements. 

For instance, you'll be able to more easily see the difference between friends and foes, identify people nearby who you can revive (and vice versa), and also see who needs ammo or health. It'll also take less clicks to prepare your loadout and Plus Menu, and EA has made it easier to determine which attachments you're using. Those aren't groundbreaking changes, to be clear, but they should make the BF 2042 experience smoother when you're in the heat of battle.

As for other fixes, the new update should make matchmaking more reliable (especially when it comes to crossplay between platforms); make it easier to tell when enemies are firing at you; and menus should be a lot smoother. Looking ahead, EA says next week it'll start launching Weekly Missions, which will give you XP as you complete them. You know, like very other shooter these days. You can expect to see a cosmetic reward if you plow through all of your challenges.

Facebook details its takedown of a mass-harassment network

Meta/Facebook is today updating the world on how its efforts to remove fake and adversarial networks from its platform are going. The social network has released a new report saying that it has successfully closed down a number of networks for Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB). But in addition to networks of fake profiles all working in tandem, the company has also shed some light on how it deals with additional threats. This includes Brigading — the use of negative comments and counter-posting to drown out an individual’s posts — and Mass Reporting, where Facebook’s own anti-harassment tools are used as a weapon. This is another step beyond the broader tactics the company announced back in September, where it pledged to combat broader social harms that took place on its platform.

With Brigading, the company took down what it describes as a “network of accounts that originated in Italy and France” which targeted medical professionals, journalists and public officials. Facebook says that it tracked the activity back to a European anti-vaccine conspiracy movement called “V_V,” adding that its members used a large volume of fake accounts to “mass comment on posts” from individuals and news agencies “to intimidate them and suppress their views.”In addition, those accounts posted doctored images, superimposing the swastika onto the faces of prominent doctors and accusing them of supporting nazism.

In Vietnam, Facebook took down a network that was being used to target activists and users critical of the local government. The network would submit “hundreds — in some cases thousands — of complaints against their targets through our abuse reporting flows.” Attackers also created duplicate accounts of the users they intended to silence and then reported the real account as an impersonator from the fake account. Facebook added that some of these fake accounts were automatically detected and disabled by the company’s automatic moderation tools.

As for the more old-fashioned methods of Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior, the company took down networks in Palestine, Poland, Belarus and China. The first was reportedly tied to Hamas, while the second two were crafted to exacerbate tensions during the humanitarian crisis on the border there. In a call with reporters, Facebook said that the Polish network had very good operational security and, so far, it has not been able to tie it to a real-world organization. The Belarusian network, on the other hand, had much poorer operational security, and so the company has tied the activity to the Belarusian KGB.

The final network, out of China, has prompted Facebook to publish a deep dive into the activity given the depth of what took place. In its report, the company says that a group created a fake profile of a Swiss biologist called Wilson Edwards who posted material critical of the US and WHO. 48 hours later, and his comments were picked up by Chinese state media, and engaged with by high-level officials. But there was no evidence that Wilson Edwards existed, which prompted the platform to close the account.

Researchers found that Edwards’ was “the work of a multi-pronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation,” involving “employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies across four continents.” Facebook wanted to make it clear that Edwards’ comments were not engaged with organically, and it was only when the posts were reported by state media did things suddenly rise in prominence.

One thing that Facebook did identify is the use of guides which were used to train potential network members. The V_V network, for instance, published videos through its Telegram channels that suggested that users replace letters in key words so that it wouldn’t be picked up by automatic filtering. The people behind the Chinese network, too, would sometimes inadvertently post notes from their leaders, written in Indonesian and Chinese, offering tips on how best to amplify this content.

In addition, Facebook has announced that it has launched a tool, through CrowdTangle, to enable OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) researchers to study disinformation networks. This includes storing any content taken down by the company, allowing a small list of approved third parties the chance to analyze it. Access has, so far, been limited to teams from the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, Stanford Internet Observatory, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Graphika and Cardiff University.

Facebook believes that offering greater detail and transparency around how it finds these networks will enable researchers in the OSINT community to better track them in future.

Barnes & Noble releases its first Nook GlowLight e-reader in four years

Barnes & Noble hasn't done as much lately to push e-readers forward as some of its rivals, but it's starting to catch up. TechCrunchnotes the bookseller has launched the Nook GlowLight 4, its first entry in the mid-tier e-reader line since 2017's GlowLight 3. A lot has changed in four years, if not as much as you might think — this is as much about dragging the device into the modern era as anything.

The Nook GlowLight 4 is billed as "sleeker" than the GlowLight 3, with a smaller overall profile, better page-turning buttons and a more comfortable hand feel. It's the first Nook e-reader with USB-C, and storage has quadrupled to 32GB. However, you'll still see a 6-inch, 300DPI e-paper display and a claimed one-month battery life. This is more for Nook newcomers, or those upgrading from particularly old devices.

The GlowLight 4 ships December 8th for $150. That could make it a tough sell against the 6.8-inch Kindle Paperwhite, the water-friendly Kobo Libra 2 and other mid-tier e-readers. It's a viable alternative if you don't want to attach yourself to the Amazon or Kobo ecosystems, though. Also, this is as much a declaration of intent as a new product. Barnes & Noble chief James Daunt said the company planned to "reinvigorate" the Nook line in the months and years ahead — this may just be one of the opening salvos.