Technological World for May 5: Trump still banned from Facebook, Grogu stand for Echo Dot, MSI's Summit series laptops, Apple improves Arcade and Fitness+, Returnal is frustrating and compelling at the same time

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This week, Trump’s suspension from Facebook is upheld, Otterbox has a Grogu stand for your Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker, MSI’s Summit series laptops are lightweight and golden, Apple improves the Arcade and Fitness+ services, PS5 exclusive Returnal is a fast-paced roguelite that frustrates and compels.

Facebook’s Oversight Board has decided to uphold Donald Trump’s ban

Facebook’s ban of Donald Trump has been upheld by the company’s Oversight Board.

In a decision published this morning, the board said that two posts by Trump on January 6, “severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines,” and that he, “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.”

But the Oversight Board does not believe that an indefinite suspension was warranted, because Facebook has no clear policy for such things. As a result, the board has asked Facebook to itself review the indefinite ban.

So it seems Facebook will have the final say on whether Trump gets back on the platform.

The Facebook Oversight Board is reputed to be independent of the company itself, established in the fall of 2019 to “promote free expression by making principled, independent decisions regarding content on Facebook and Instagram….”

In practical terms, the board was created so that Facebook could demonstrate that it was willing to have an outside group play a role in content moderation. It is seen as a way to preempt government intervention.

In advance of the announcement about Trump’s suspension, the board tweeted out an infographic explaining its process.

But as Kara Swisher posted on Twitter today, the board is “paid for by Facebook with members handpicked by Facebook in a system essentially created by Facebook.”

Despite the fact that the Oversight Board is a corporate advisory board by another name, it did criticize Facebook for seeking to “avoid its responsibilities” by “applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve.”

Stop trying to avoid making the difficult decisions, in other words.

Worth reading is this summary from Reuters on how the various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, deal with posts from Trump as well as other world leaders.

The Oversight Board believes that these world leaders should not have more flexibility to bend and break the rules, but should in fact be held to a higher standard. “What is important is the degree of influence that a user has over other users,” the board wrote.

“If a head of state or high government official has repeatedly posted messages that pose a risk of harm under international human rights norms, Facebook should suspend the account for a period sufficient to protect against imminent harm,” the decision continued. “Suspension periods should be long enough to deter misconduct and may, in appropriate cases, include account or page deletion.”

Grogu stand for Amazon Echo Dot revealed for May the fourth

If you’ve got an Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker, you can show off your Star Wars fandom with a new stand fashioned after Yoda and Grogu, the child star of The Mandalorian.

Created by Otterbox, the Baby Grogo stand is the perfect cradle for the spherical Echo Dot, the recognizable green ears sticking out on either side.

The stand was made available for pre-order yesterday, Star Wars Day. It costs $32 CDN and will be released on June 10.

MSI’s Summit Series laptops were designed for the modern workplace

Computer manufacturer MSI has revealed its 2021 Summit Series of laptop computers.

The Summit E13 Flip Evo (13-inch, starting at $2,100 CAD) and Summit E16 Flip (16-inch, pricing not available) are lightweight machines with 11-generation Intel Core processors.

Both units have 360-degree hinges and touchscreens, so they double as tablets. The convertibles have a unibody design with a unique hinge and 16:10 screens, a bit taller than the standard HD widescreen display so you’re getting a bit more screen real estate in the chassis. MSI says its designers were inspired by the golden ratio.

In addition to the larger size, the E16 Flip has a dedicated Nvidia graphics card to optimize 3D modelling and video rendering.

The E13 and the E16 both come with an MSI Pen, a slick all-metal stylus that looks like a fountain pen and can be used either as a stylus for taking notes or drawing or as a presentation remote. It attaches to the side of the computers with magnets so you’re less likely to lose it.

MSI also has a docking station for the Summit series. Using the Gen 2, ($250 CAD), you can connect up to three displays to deliver 4K video and the dock includes five USB ports and can funnel 100 watts of power.

Apple quietly improves Arcade and Fitness+ services

With everything else Apple has been doing in the past few weeks, the company has also upgraded two of its newer services, providing even greater value to subscribers.

Subscriptions to Apple Arcade cost $6 a month, while Apple Fitness+ costs $13 a month or $100 a year. They are also bundled in the Apple One plans, which cost between $21 and $34 a month. All subscriptions can be shared with up to five other family members.

Apple Arcade expands to include more than 30 new games

Apple Arcade is immediately appealing because for a small monthly subscription you get a library of gaming experiences that you can play without having to bother with ads or micro-transactions.

And now that library includes two new categories of games: Timeless Classics, like backgammon, sudoku, solitaire, and crossword, and App Store Greats, like Fruit Ninja, Threes!, and Monument Valley. These games are only available on iPad and iPhone.

In all, more than 30 games were added to Apple Arcade.

New Arcade Original games, which are playable on all your Apple devices including Apple TV, include NBA 2K1 Arcade Edition, Star Trek: Legends, and a new imagining of The Oregon Trail.

Apple Fitness+ brings in some new workouts, including walks with celebs

Apple Fitness+ is also bulking up, particularly with programs to introduce beginners to a range of physical activities that just might catch on with them.

Among the activities with beginner workouts are yoga, high intensity interval training, and strength sessions.

Other specialized workouts have been added for women who are pregnant and for older adults, each of whom have unique needs.

Earlier this year, Apple added programming for people walking. The Time to Walk series invites notable guests to record their thoughts and stories and inspirations for audiences to listen to while on a walk.

Dolly Parton, Shawn Mendes, Draymond Green, Wanda Sykes, and Jane Fonda have all hosted episodes. In Fonda’s segment, released for Earth Day, the actor and activist shares stories bout fighting against climate change.

Roguelite Returnal is a fascinating sci-fi challenge

I’ve spent a couple of dozen hours playing Returnal, a new third-person shooter from Finnish studio Housemarque, and while it has been frustrating me greatly, it is also utterly compelling to me.

The PS5 exclusive is a roguelite, designed so that players learn how to play by repeatedly dying and having to start over from the beginning. It’s also a challenge, because the game is stingy with its gear and resources. And a lot of your success in the game will come down to the luck of the random drops.

Returnal is also careful not to let too much of the story loose too early, and this is originally what kept me enthralled. While investigating a signal dubbed “White Shadow,” a scout named Selene crash lands on the planet of Atropos, a place populated with strange creatures and strewn with the ruins and remnants of a sentient civilization.

As you progress through the game, ideally getting further each time, you learn more about the planet and its denizens, and you also learn more about Selene. The narrative is . . . weird . . . hovering in that space right before things devolve into outright horror. A house from Earth just happens to be on this alien planet, for example, so you’re never really sure what’s real. But you’ll quickly learn what the real dangers are on Atropos.

Every time you die – and you will die – you start back at the site of your crash and facing a map that is different than the time before. The levels aren’t procedurally generated, but are made up of randomly arranged rooms and arenas that have been carefully designed.

There are six different areas, called biomes in the parlance of game development, that you’ll experience, and you do get more powerful the longer you stay alive, although health and currency remain rare resources.

There’s not a lot to manage. You can only carry one gun at a time, for example. But you will constantly be weighing costs and benefits. You can modify your abilities with artifacts and parasites, but these are temporary, lasting at most the duration of your run. And parasites provide both a benefit and a disadvantage, improving your chance of collecting the currency while damaging you every time you pick up an object.

And some objects and chests in the game are covered in a “malignancy” that, should you choose to use them, have a chance of affecting you with a malfunction.

The traversal and the combat are fast and frantic, the enemies varied and at time overwhelming. I’ve had the best success when I keep moving, and alternate between using my gun and dashing forward to use melee attacks as finishing moves.

Housemarque made good use of PS5 systems including 3D audio and the haptics in the DualSense controller to give the game an added feel.

One big problem, though, is that you can’t save your progress. You can use the Playstation’s rest mode to pause, but that prevents you from playing any other games and doesn’t protect you against anything that might cause the console to restart.

And when it could take you a few hours to complete the game, not being able to take a break isn’t ideal.

I still haven’t decided whether this is a game I’m going to try and beat, even though I am intrigued by the world and I enjoy the furious combat.

Returnal is not for everyone. Some will find the difficulty and the repetition to be frustrating and tedious. But the art direction and sound design help to create a curious, otherworldly experience. If you can put up with the pain, you might find some salvation.

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