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Everything you need to know about the iPhone 12 mini

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At today’s event, Apple released a totally new type of handset: the iPhone 12 mini.

As the name suggests, the iPhone 12 mini is a mini version of the iPhone 12. Well, you asked.

In this piece we’re going to drop all of the relevant information you need to get up to speed on the device.

Is the iPhone mini 12 different to the iPhone 12?

This is the cool thing — the only difference between the two is that the iPhone 12 mini is teenier. Exciting, right?

So, how big is it?

God it was hard not to repeat the joke. Basically, it’s smaller than the recently released iPhone SE. Check out this helpful little diagram:

iPhone 12 Mini vs iPhone SE

And what about the screen?

This is the meat. The iPhone 12 mini has a 5.4-inch OLED display. This is substantially bigger (and better) than the 4.7-inch LCD on the latest iPhone SE (pictured above).

It also has the same display technology as the regular iPhone 12 — what Apple calls the Super Retina XDR. This includes 1,200 nits of brightness, HDR, and Dolby Vision.

Tasty.

Oh, and how could I forget? The phones also come with something Apple called “ceramic shield.” Long story short, the screens should be tougher.

And what’s up with the cameras?

There are gonna be two lenses on the rear: a main 12-megapixel f/1.6 camera and a new 12MP ultra-wide.

iPhone 12 camera set-up

Also — excitingly — the phone will also have night mode, a first for the standard Apple phones.

Does it have 5G?

Damn right it does! According to Apple, it’s the smallest 5G-supported device around.

How about the chipset?

It has the A14 Bionic, the company’s flagship chipset.

This is meant to be the first chip in the world built on 5nm technology. It has 11.8 billion transistors, an increase of almost 40% over the previous model.

Effectively, this is going to be a fast phone.

A14 Bionic breakdown
Here are some stats about the A14 Bionic.

Any other iPhone 12 mini specs or details?

Well, the base model comes with 64GB of storage (which is too little in my opinion).

It’s also going to come in five colors, just like the regular iPhone 12.

And price?

$699.

When will the 12 mini be launched?

It’ll be shipped on November 13.

Conclusion

The iPhone 12 mini is an interesting phone for Apple to introduce. It definitely muddles Apple’s phone collection a bit more, but does also offer people a wide range of devices to choose from.

Maybe the company aims to target people who like one-handed phones, which isn’t a bad shout. I also think the iPhone 12 could find fans amongst people with smaller hands.

Another interesting thought is that this slightly cheaper Apple device could be a good shout for teens.

Whatever goes on though, I’m happy to see Apple expanding its iPhone range, and the 12 mini is an intriguing new direction.

For more gear, gadget, and hardware news and reviews, follow Plugged on Twitter and Flipboard.

Published October 13, 2020 — 18:31 UTC

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How to Make Grits From Fresh Hominy

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Illustration for article titled How to Make Grits From Fresh Hominy

Photo: Claire Lower

True grits are usually made with dried, ground hominy—corn that has been soaked in an alkaline solution to render it more nutritious and delicious. This is harder to find in the Pacific Northwest than one might think. Even though Portland practically has a fetish for southern food, most of the “grits” you find in area grocery stores are sold as “grits aka polenta,” which is not what I’m looking for. Not at all.

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That extra soaking step is what makes grits taste like grits. Without calcium hydroxide (or some similar caustic substance), your ground corn porridge is bland and blah. Nixtamalization—which you can learn all about here—is the key to giving it the toasty, sweet, aromatic notes that make this particular bowl of breakfast mush better than the others.

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There aren’t however, many recipes for turning freshly nixtamlized corn into grits. There are a few that show you how to dry and grind your corn and then turn that into grits, but I simply don’t want to do all of that. Luckily, if you can make risotto (and have a food processor) you can make grits from fresh hominy. I was only able to find one recipe for doing so (on the Anson Mill’s site), so I used that as a template and—because I cannot help myself—made a few adjustments.

But, before we get to that, you should familiarize yourself with the process of transforming corn into hominy, so go do that if you haven’t already. Once you’ve made at least a cup of the stuff, all you’ll need is water, salt, and a little butter for flavor. You will not need cream or milk. The creaminess in grits comes from their own, naturally occurring starch, not dairy, so please save the milk for your cereal and the cream for your coffee.

Grits made with freshly nixtamlized corn are—depending on how finely you break them down—a little more toothsome than the kind you buy pre-ground. They retain some of the hominy’s chewy texture, which I enjoy, but the more finely you prepare them with the food processor, the closer to “regular” grits they will be.

Those larger bits will come out chewy, so pulse a little past this point.

Those larger bits will come out chewy, so pulse a little past this point.
Photo: Claire Lower

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Once you’ve pulsed your hominy into something that looks like grits, it’s almost exactly like cooking risotto, the only difference being that you do not toast them in fat before you add liquid, as doing so will coat the little corn bits and prevent them from absorbing water. Toast them in a dry pan until they are hot and fragrant and start to stick to the end of a wooden spoon, then gradually add salted water, stirring with each addition, until they soften and swell and release their starch. Then—and only then—should you add butter to taste.

Fresh Hominy Grits

Ingredients:

  • At least 1 cup of freshly prepared hominy (not dried or canned)
  • At least 2 cups of water per cup of hominy
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons of butter per cup of hominy, divided

Add the hominy to your food processor and pulse until it is broken down into fine, grit-sized pieces. The smaller your bits, the quicker the grits will cook, and the creamier they will be (though those little toothsome bits can be fun). Add the grits to a dry stainless steel pot, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until they are hot and fragrant and steaming. While the grits are heating, lightly salt the water and bring to a boil in a separate sauce pan (or kettle).

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Once the grits are hot and starting to stick to the end of your wooden spoon, start adding water, about 1/3 cup at a time, stirring with each addition until it is absorbed. The grits will be quite tight and firm looking at first; just keep adding water and stirring until they soften and swell. Eventually, they will loosen up and release their starch, which is what will make them creamy.

Taste as you go. It’s possible your grits will look the part before they are cooked enough, so keep cooking until they are soft on your teeth, adding more water as needed to keep them from dying out. Once they look and taste right, add one tablespoon of butter (per cup of hominy you started with), stir, taste, and adjust with more butter or salt if needed. Serve with hot sauce, cheese, shrimp, and/or more butter.

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The ambitious effort to piece together America’s fragmented health data

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From the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, epidemiologist Melissa Haendel knew that the United States was going to have a data problem. There didn’t seem to be a national strategy to control the virus, and cases were springing up in sporadic hotspots around the country. With such a patchwork response, nationwide information about the people who got sick would probably be hard to come by.

Other researchers around the country were pinpointing similar problems. In Seattle, Adam Wilcox, the chief analytics officer at UW Medicine, was reaching out to colleagues. The city was the first US COVID-19 hotspot. “We had 10 times the data, in terms of just raw testing, than other areas,” he says. He wanted to share that data with other hospitals, so they would have that information on hand before COVID-19 cases started to climb in their area. Everyone wanted to get as much data as possible in the hands of as many people as possible, so they could start to understand the virus.

Haendel was in a good position to help make that happen. She’s the chair of the National Center for Data to Health (CD2H), a National Institutes of Health program that works to improve collaboration and data sharing within the medical research community. So one week in March, just after she’d started working from home and pulled her 10th grader out of school, she started trying to figure out how to use existing data-sharing projects to help fight this new disease.

The solution Haendel and CD2H landed on sounds simple: a centralized, anonymous database of health records from people who tested positive for COVID-19. Researchers could use the data to figure out why some people get very sick and others don’t, how conditions like cancer and asthma interact with the disease, and which treatments end up being effective.

But in the United States, building that type of resource isn’t easy. “The US healthcare system is very fragmented,” Haendel says. “And because we have no centralized healthcare, that makes it also the case that we have no centralized healthcare data.” Hospitals, citing privacy concerns, don’t like to give out their patients’ health data. Even if hospitals agree to share, they all use different ways of storing information. At one institution, the classification “female” could go into a record as one, and “male” could go in as two — and at the next, they’d be reversed.

Emergencies, though, have a way of busting through norms. “Nothing like a pandemic to bring out the best in an institution,” Haendel says. And after only a few months of breakneck work from CD2H and collaborators around the country, the National COVID Cohort Collaborative Data Enclave, or N3C, opened to researchers at the start of September. Now that it’s in place, it could help bolster pandemic responses in the future. It’s unique from anything that’s come before it, in size and scope, Haendel says. “No other resource has ever tried to do this before.”

Institutional silos

Patient health records are fairly accessible to scientists — under health privacy laws, the records can be used for research as long as identifying information (like names and locations) are removed. The catch is that researchers are usually limited to records of patients at the places that they work. The dataset can only include as many patients as that institution treats, and it’s geographically restricted. Researchers can’t be sure that patient data in New York City would be equivalent to patient data in Alabama. Using information from multiple places would help make sure the results were as representative as possible.

But it can be risky for institutions to share and combine their data, Wilcox says. Moving data outside of the control of an organization risks a data breach, which could lead to patient mistrust, open the institution up to legal issues, or create other competitive disadvantages, he says. They need to balance all those concerns against the potential benefits. “The organization needs to approve it. Is this a good idea? Do we want to participate in it?” Wilcox says.

Institutions often answer those questions with a “no.” They want to maintain ownership and control over their own data, says Anita Walden, assistant director at CD2H. The pandemic changed that culture. People who may typically be reluctant to participate in programs like this one were suddenly all-in, she says. “Because of COVID-19, people just want to do what they can.”

Getting institutions to send in their data was only the first step. Next, experts had to transform that data into something useful. Medical institutions all collect and record health information in slightly different ways, and there haven’t been incentives for them to standardize their methods. Many institutions spent hundreds of millions of dollars to set up their electronic medical records — they don’t want to change things unless they absolutely have to.

“It’s like turning the Titanic at this point,” says Emily Pfaff, who leads the team at N3C merging different institutions’ data. The companies that make the software for electronic health records, like Epic, also don’t make their strategies for storing data available to outside researchers. “If you want to practice open science with clinical data, which I think many of us do, you’re not going to be able to do that with the data formatted in the way that the electronic health record does it,” she says. “You have to transform that data.”

Countries like the United Kingdom, which have centralized health care systems, don’t have to deal with the same problems: data from every patient in the country’s National Health Service is already in one place. In May, researchers published a study that analyzed records from over 17 million people to find risk factors for death from COVID-19.

But in the US, for N3C, it’s not as simple. Instead of a COVID-19 patient’s data heading directly into a national database, the new process is far more involved. Let’s say a pregnant woman goes to her doctor with symptoms of what she thinks could be COVID-19. She gets tested, and the test comes back positive. That result shows up in her health record. If her health care provider is participating in the N3C database, that record gets flagged. “Then her health record has a chance to get caught by our net, because what our net is looking for, among other things, is a positive COVID test,” Pfaff says.

Her data then travels into a database, where a program (which had to be created from scratch) transforms information about the patient’s treatments and preexisting conditions into a standardized format. Then, it’ll get pushed into the N3C data enclave, undergo a quality check, and then — without her name or the name of the institution the record came from — be available for researchers.

Nearly 70 institutions have started the process to contribute data to the enclave. Data from 20 sites has passed through the full process, and data is accessible to researchers. At the end of September, the database held around 65,000 COVID-19 cases, Pfaff says, and around 650,000 non-COVID-19 cases (which can be used as controls). There’s no specific numerical goal, she says. “We would take as many as possible.”

Using the data

As some experts were working to get medical institutions on board with the project and others were figuring out how to harmonize a crush of data, still others were organizing to figure out what, exactly, they wanted to do with the resulting information. They sorted into a handful of working groups, each focused on a different area: there’s one focused on the intersection of diabetes and COVID-19, for example, and another on kidney injuries.

Elaine Hill, a health economist at the University of Rochester, is heading up a group focused on pregnancy and COVID-19. The first thing they’re hoping to do, she says, is figure out just how many people had the virus when they gave birth — only a few hospitals have published that data so far. “Then, we’re interested in understanding how COVID-19 infection affects pregnancy-related outcomes for both mother and baby,” she says. Thanks to the database, they’ll be able to do that with nationwide information, not just data from patients in a handful of places.

That wide view of the problem is one key benefit of a large, national database. Different places across the US had different COVID-19 prevention policies, different regulations around lockdowns, and have different demographics. Combining them gives a more complete picture of how the virus hit the country. “It makes it possible to shed light on things we wouldn’t be able to with just my Rochester cohort,” Hill says.

Some symptoms or complications from COVID-19 are also rare, and one hospital might only see one or two total patients who have them. “When you’re gathering data across the nation, you have a bigger population, and can look at trends in those rarer conditions,” Walden says. Larger datasets can make it possible for analysts to use more complicated machine learning techniques, as well.

If all goes well with N3C, the project could offer a blueprint for better data sharing in the future. More than that, it can offer a concrete tool to future projects — the code needed to clean, transform, and merge data from multiple hospitals now exists. “I almost feel like it’s building pandemic-ready infrastructure for the future,” Pfaff says. And now that research institutions have shared data once — even though it’s under unique circumstances — they may be more willing to do it again in the future.

“Five years from now, the greatest value of this data set won’t be the data,” Wilcox says. “It’ll have been the methods that we learned trying to get it working.”

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Amnesia: Rebirth is an elegant sequel to a horror classic

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When is a society — or a life — past saving? The reassuring answer is never. But Amnesia: Rebirth, the latest game from Swedish studio Frictional, isn’t designed to be reassuring.

Rebirth is a successor to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a 2010 horror classic defined by its shameless jump scares; grotesque monsters; and chilling story about guilt, cruelty, and memory. Frictional has gone back to Amnesia a couple of times. First with a short 2011 add-on called Justine, and again by publishing Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, a separate game developed by The Chinese Room. But Rebirth, which will be released tomorrow, is the first new, full-length game in the series.

Amnesia: Rebirth has an immediately familiar cadence. Like The Dark Descent, it’s a game that torments players by delivering stretches of tense, dread-inducing exploration; frantic chases; and moments of revelation before they’re pushed back into the dark. For me, it was a nine-hour-long cycle of dread, panic, and recovery, a loop so well-honed that it’s all but explicitly referenced in the plot. But Rebirth tweaks the original game’s design and themes in compelling ways.

Rebirth is an oblique sequel to The Dark Descent. It uses the same first-person design and gives players the deliberately awkward point-and-click interface that Frictional has used for over a decade. It also has narrative links to the first game. But it’s set in 1937, several decades after the original, and it’s focused on a different protagonist: Anastasie “Tasi” Trianon, a French draftswoman joining an archaeological expedition to Algeria. After surviving a desert plane crash, Tasi wakes among the wreckage with gaps in her memory, a mysterious amulet around her wrist, and a trail of notes that her husband Sahim has left to mark a path.

Like The Dark Descent, Rebirth sends players to retrace a story that its protagonist has forgotten at least partly to save their own sanity. The game is less lonely and quiet than Frictional’s earlier work, which sent players into almost entirely abandoned worlds. But it’s still an emphatically isolating experience. The setting of Rebirth feels awe-inspiring in a way that The Dark Descent’s setting didn’t allow — not just horrifying or hostile, but grand and strangely beautiful. Its chapters shift between desert sandscapes, underground ruins, and, in one of the game’s rare nods to its period setting, a French colonial outpost.

It also spends a lot of time in a different world altogether, thanks to Tasi’s amulet. Though Amnesia is often described as Lovecraftian, Rebirth owes as much to the eerie, decaying grandeur evoked by Lovecraft’s weird fiction contemporary William Hope Hodgson, author of foundational dying Earth novel The Night Land. It’s a story not about an individual monster — although you’ll meet plenty of them — but about an entire civilization that’s made itself monstrous by accepting pain as the price of normalcy. The game’s story delves into places and concepts that the first game only hinted at, and it mostly makes them creepier than they originally sounded.

Frictional’s last project Soma downplayed puzzles and other mechanical elements, even offering a feature that removed its monsters. Rebirth swings back toward an earlier, more explicitly game-like style. Its puzzles are simpler and a bit more organic than those of the first game, designed to get players poking around the edges of a level trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do. But they still follow recognizable point-and-click adventure conventions. There’s also a version of The Dark Descent’s trademark sanity meter, which drains in darkness and messes with players’ perception when it’s low but can be boosted by lighting candles or using a lantern with limited power.

Amnesia’s horror has always been a complex sleight of hand, as the games evoke a palpable threat of failure without actually stalling or frustrating players too badly. In The Dark Descent, this meant that sanity slippage was ultimately cosmetic — it produced creepy visual effects but, except in a “hardcore mode” that was added after launch, it couldn’t permanently damage you.

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Without revealing too much detail, this is not true in Rebirth. Its oppressive darkness is tangibly dangerous, and rationing matches and oil — a system that felt a little perfunctory in The Dark Descent — is a far more satisfying part of the game. Meanwhile, instead of giving players a game-over screen, Rebirth (sort of) lets you fail forward if you die but at a subtle narrative cost. The whole system is framed around something more original and less reductive than “sanity,” and it’s become more elegant and interesting with the change. There’s even a Death Stranding-esque mechanic that I can’t describe without spoiling a major plot element, but that works surprisingly well.

Rebirth’s story doesn’t require knowing anything about The Dark Descent, and it might actually be more compelling to discover certain elements for the first time. But — to be somewhat vague — the series cleverly recontextualizes its original protagonist’s greatest enemy.

Frictional has a long-standing fascination with humanity’s moral relationship to godlike beings. Its early, deeply underrated Penumbra series is about an ancient civilization (known as the Tuurngait) that prizes extraordinary mercy and collective good, and a man who ultimately chooses to destroy them out of fear. Rebirth inverts the relationship: it’s about discovering powerful, super-intelligent beings with distinctly human motivations for terrible atrocities.

Very little of this, it’s worth noting, has much to do with the game’s historical period or its setting in Algeria. Similar to Penumbra, which used a name from Inuit mythology for a basically unrelated entity, Rebirth nods very lightly to Arabic folklore by way of H.P. Lovecraft. But it’s focused on Tasi’s own personal tragedies and their connection to a strange and ancient world, touching only glancingly on real events like the violence of French colonialism. There’s a game to be made about that kind of horror, but its omission here feels like Frictional understanding where its interests and its limitations lie — and avoiding shallowly exploiting territory that would require a far deeper and more nuanced exploration.

Amnesia: Rebirth doesn’t reinvent horror games the way The Dark Descent does. But it refines one of the genre’s greatest entries into something more awe-inspiring and deftly designed, without abandoning its highest goal: making you shiver as you take your first step down a pitch-black tunnel.

Amnesia: Rebirth launches October 20th on PC and PlayStation 4.

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