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Gadget of the Year: The Toaster Oven

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Many of us won’t hesitate to spend more than $600 on a cellphone. Here’s another device to spend that money on: a toaster oven.

Yes, you read that right.

Like a smartphone, a good toaster oven can be an everyday workhorse. Apart from heating up toast, this underrated kitchen gadget can handle many other foods, like roast chicken, steak, fresh bread, crispy potatoes and even cake.

A good countertop oven often outperforms a full-size one because its smaller cavity enables it to heat up faster and maintain consistent temperatures more easily. Your electricity bill will probably drop, too, if you have an electric full-size range.

Last but not least, the countertop oven recently became an interesting tech product category. Over the last two years, tech companies like June and Tovala and household brands like Whirlpool have invested in software-powered heating methods that cook foods more efficiently, requiring less culinary know-how.

That means we now have more options than ever. For around $500 to $1,000, we can get a smart oven, equipped with advanced heat tech and programmed recipes to automate the cooking process. Or you could spend around $150 to $700 for a high-quality old-school toaster oven.

So should you go for a techie oven or a traditional one? I tested two high-end countertop ovens — the $1,095 Brava smart oven, which relies on light bulbs to generate heat, and a $680 Wolf Gourmet countertop oven, which uses traditional heat methods — side by side to understand their benefits and downsides.

My wife and I used both ovens to cook several dinners and compared the results. Then we brought baked goods to our offices to let a panel of judges (O.K., our colleagues) decide which oven baked the best cookies and bagels. Here’s how that went.

First, a primer on the two ovens.

The Brava smart oven, which was released last year, looks like a bulky laser printer with a handle and touch-screen. A system of light bulbs transfers infrared energy directly into the food; the lamps can heat up to 500 degrees within a second, meaning there is no need to preheat.

To make cooking a mindless task, the device has a catalog of preset recipes including roast chicken, baby broccoli and bacon. You just tap a few buttons and follow the on-screen instructions to get going. The oven kit includes a glass tray and a metal tray as well as a probe thermometer for gauging the doneness of meats.

The Wolf Gourmet countertop oven has “calrod” technology, which consists of tube-shaped heating elements that convert electricity into heat. In addition, it uses convection, which involves a fan circulating heated air to cook foods evenly.

To control the appliance, you select a heat mode (like bake, roast or broil), turn a knob to set the temperature and then wait for the oven to heat up. The oven has two adjustable metal racks and also includes a probe thermometer.

The pros and cons for each oven were the most pronounced in roast chicken.

For this experiment, I salted a chicken and painted it with soy sauce, and then I removed the spine. Each oven baked half the chicken.

With the Brava, I selected the preset chicken recipe. The screen instructed me to insert the probe thermometer into the chicken, place it on the metal tray and start cooking immediately. After about 28 minutes, the chicken reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. It was done.

With the Wolf, I turned the heat up to 425 degrees and waited about 12 minutes for it to heat up. Then I placed the chicken on a sheet pan, inserted the thermometer into the meat and lined the pan on the center rack. About 36 minutes later, the chicken was ready.

The result: The Wolf produced a chicken with a darker, crispier skin, in part because of its longer cook time. The Brava chicken came out slightly dryer and blander. But my wife and I agreed that both chicken halves were satisfying — much better than a rotisserie chicken sold at a grocery store.

After the chicken was done, we baked baby broccoli in each oven, which took about 6 minutes in the Brava and 11 minutes in the Wolf. Both ovens made the broccolini nicely charred and crispy.

Verdict: If I wanted the best roast chicken, I would get a Wolf. But if I wanted to get a good chicken quickly on the dinner table, I would get a Brava.

The Wolf excelled at baking breads, while the Brava was hit and miss.

In this test, I prepared 24 bagels of equal weight and baked a dozen in each oven.

The Wolf produced bagels with a nicely browned, crispy crust and a pillowy crumb. The Brava bagels came out pale and doughy. I decided to give the Brava a few extra minutes to ensure the bagels were not raw, but they still did not brown.

I brought the bagels to the office and handed out scorecards to let my colleagues rate the bagels, without telling them which oven produced which batch. The Wolf beat the Brava, 8 to 0.

Cookies were more forgiving. My wife made a batch of chocolate-chip and peanut-butter oat cookies. The Wolf oven’s cookies turned out evenly browned but softer, and the Brava cookies were crispier with uneven browning.

Similarly, she asked her colleagues to score the cookies. The Brava beat the Wolf, 7 to 5. Some rated the Wolf cookies higher for aesthetics and consistency, but others preferred the crispier chew of the Brava cookies.

Verdict: Serious bakers should get a Wolf oven. Casual bakers would be fine with a Brava.

My wife and I also reheated a leftover roast duck from a Chinese restaurant. The Brava had a button to reheat food; the Wolf did not. So I turned the Wolf up to 350 degrees and set a timer for five minutes.

After the time was up, the leftover duck came out nice and hot from the Brava. The Wolf oven’s duck was still slightly chilled and needed a bit more time.

Verdict: The Brava is faster and easier to use for reheating leftovers.

All the verdicts point to one thing: There are now countertop ovens for different types of cooks.

For perfectionist cooks with the luxury of time, like my wife and me, an oven that uses well-honed, traditional heating methods like the Wolf is a great fit. This countertop appliance could handle the vast majority of our baking needs, leaving our full-sized oven with one main job each year: Thanksgiving turkey.

But there are plenty of people who would probably enjoy a smart oven like the Brava, such as busy parents with young children who just need to get dinner on the table quickly, or those who bake quick meals like frozen pizzas.



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Google Shuts Loon Scorching-Air Balloon Challenge

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Google’s mum or dad corporate Alphabet is shutting down Loon, a high-profile subsidiary spun out from its analysis labs that used hot-air balloons to ship cell connectivity from the stratosphere.

Just about a decade after it all started the mission, Alphabet stated on Thursday that it pulled the plug on Loon as it didn’t see a approach to scale back prices to create a sustainable trade. In conjunction with the self-driving automotive unit Waymo, Loon was once one of the crucial hyped “moonshot” era tasks to emerge from Alphabet’s analysis lab, X.

“The street to industrial viability has confirmed for much longer and riskier than was hoping. So we’ve made the tricky determination to near down Loon,” Astro Teller, who heads X, wrote in a weblog submit. Alphabet stated it anticipated to wind down operations in “the approaching months” with the hope of discovering different positions for Loon staff at Alphabet.

The theory in the back of Loon was once to carry cell connectivity to far off portions of the arena the place construction a conventional cellular community can be too tricky and too pricey. Alphabet promoted the era as a probably promising approach to carry web connectivity not to simply the “subsequent billion” customers however the “final billion.”

The large hot-air balloons, produced from sheets of polyethylene, are the dimensions of tennis courts. They had been powered by way of sun panels and navigated by way of flight keep an eye on instrument that used synthetic intelligence to float successfully within the stratosphere. Whilst up within the air, they act as “floating cellular towers,” transmitting web indicators to floor stations and private units.

Google set to work on Loon in 2011 and introduced the mission with a public check in 2013. Loon changed into a stand-alone subsidiary in 2018, a couple of years after Google changed into a conserving corporate referred to as Alphabet. In April 2019, it authorised a $125 million funding from a SoftBank unit referred to as HAPSMobile to advance the usage of “high-altitude cars” to ship web connectivity.

Ultimate 12 months, it introduced the primary industrial deployment of the era with Telkom Kenya to offer a 4G LTE community connection to a just about 31,000-square-mile house throughout central and western Kenya, together with the capital, Nairobi. Prior to then, the balloons have been used best in emergency scenarios, equivalent to after Storm Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s cell community.

Alternatively, Loon was once beginning to run out of cash and had grew to become to Alphabet to stay its trade solvent whilst it sought some other investor within the mission, consistent with a November file in The Knowledge.

The verdict to close down Loon is some other sign of Alphabet’s fresh austerity towards its formidable and expensive era tasks. Beneath Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s leader monetary officer since 2015, the corporate has stored a detailed watch over the price range of its so-called Different Bets, fledgling trade ventures aimed toward diversifying from its core promoting trade.

Alphabet has aggressively driven its “Different Bets” like Waymo and Verily, a lifestyles sciences unit, to simply accept out of doors buyers and department out on their very own. Tasks that did not safe out of doors funding or display sufficient monetary promise were discarded, equivalent to Makani, a mission to provide wind power kites that Alphabet close down final 12 months.

That austerity has been a notable alternate from a time when gadgets like X, which have been a popular self-importance mission of Google’s co-founders Larry Web page and Sergey Brin, had autonomy to spend freely to pursue formidable era tasks even supposing the monetary outlook remained unclear.



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What Web Censorship Seems Like

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This newsletter is a part of the On Tech e-newsletter. You’ll join right here to obtain it weekdays.

We’ve noticed the web enlarge the most efficient and the worst of ourselves. Abdi Latif Dahir, who writes about East Africa for The New York Occasions, has coated probably the most excessive examples of each.

Governments within the area ceaselessly close down web get admission to or manipulate on-line conversations to keep an eye on dissent — Uganda did each forward of remaining week’s presidential vote. However electorate additionally use social media to show election manipulation and unfold feminist actions.

Our dialog highlighted an crucial query: Are we able to have the fantastic sides of connecting the arena on-line with out all the downsides?

Shira: Why did Uganda bring to a halt web get admission to?

Abdi: The federal government capitalized on Fb and Twitter taking down phony accounts that promoted the federal government of President Yoweri Museveni. It was once an excuse for an web blackout that many of us anticipated.

Are all of those harms offset by way of the great generated from other folks assembling on-line?

You’ll’t forget about the awful image, however we additionally shouldn’t underestimate how robust those applied sciences are.

In Tanzania, other folks used Twitter to acquire proof of vote tampering. Kenya’s Ultimate Court docket in 2017 ordered a brand new presidential election, and a few credit score is going to those that documented on-line the manipulation of election effects. The Kenyan author Nanjala Nyabola wrote a guide about Kenyans exercising energy in new tactics on-line, together with feminists flourishing on Twitter.

And I take a look at Kenyan Twitter very first thing every morning. It’s stuffed with humorous memes and energetic conversations.

Will have to Fb and Twitter do anything else in a different way to restrict the hurt?

The Uganda election was once probably the most few occasions — if now not the one time — that I’ve noticed Fb grasp an African executive in control of manipulating on-line conversations. Most commonly, as in many nations, East African activists have stated that Fb and Twitter aren’t devoting sufficient consideration to on-line incitements.

Teams in Ethiopia requested Fb to do so remaining 12 months towards posts that infected ethnic violence after the killing of a well-liked singer and activist, Hachalu Hundessa. Fb had installed position plans to display screen posts in African languages together with Oromo, however I don’t assume sufficient is being finished to mitigate the hurt.

(Fb described right here its reaction in Ethiopia.)

You’re describing injury from an excessive amount of restraint of the web in some instances, and too little restraint in others.

I do know. After I talked to buddies concerning the Ethiopian web shutdown all over the Tigray battle, a lot of them had been supportive of it given all the terrible issues that came about after Hundessa was once killed. It’s all sophisticated.


Two conflicting concepts continuously rattle round in my mind about mammoth generation firms. I’m fearful about how a lot energy they’ve. I additionally need them to make use of that energy to save lots of us.

Amazon on Inauguration Day presented to lend a hand with President Biden’s plan to vaccinate 100 million American citizens towards Covid-19 all over his first 100 days in place of work. Amazon stated it would lend its “operations, data generation and communications features and experience,” with out being extra explicit.

Vaccinating masses of hundreds of thousands of American citizens is in part a logistics problem. Amazon is in point of fact excellent at logistics. So let’s hope that Amazon and different firms can lend a hand. However let’s additionally take into account that generation and giant industry want an efficient executive — and vice versa — to resolve advanced demanding situations like this.

Glance, the cynical a part of me instantly idea that Amazon was once simply seeking to make great with the Biden management. My colleagues on the DealBook e-newsletter additionally famous that Amazon and different firms providing to lend a hand state or federal governments with vaccinations could also be angling to get their staff moved up the concern checklist.

However cynical or now not, I’m again to the place I steadily am: part hoping and part fearing {that a} generation massive can interfere in an advanced drawback.

I felt that method when Google’s sister corporate appeared as though it will swoop in to coordinate coronavirus checking out. (Not anything a lot got here of that.) We noticed how Fb’s movements or inactiveness influenced ethnic violence in Ethiopia and affected what American citizens imagine about our election.

Find it irresistible or now not, what generation firms do has an enormous affect on our lives. In the event that they’re going to have such energy, they must be answerable for the use of that affect in useful tactics. (Assuming we will agree on what is beneficial.)


A new child lamb bonds together with his mother — after 36 hours of work.


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Amid One Pandemic, Scholars Teach for the Subsequent

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The mission used to be awarded investment in early 2020, mentioned Christine Marizzi, the manager scientist at BioBus. Weeks later, the coronavirus started to pummel the country, and the crew used to be pressured to shift their plans. However Dr. Marizzi, who has lengthy specialised in community-based analysis, used to be undeterred. For the rest of the varsity 12 months, the crew will educate its virus hunters thru a mixture of digital classes, distanced and masked lab paintings, and pattern assortment within the box.

This is a welcome distraction for Ms. Bautista, who, like many different scholars, needed to transfer to far flung finding out at her highschool within the spring. “When the pandemic hit, I felt in reality helpless,” she mentioned. “I felt like I couldn’t do the rest. So this program is in reality particular to me.”

One thousand miles south, the scholars of Sarasota Army Academy Prep, a constitution college in Sarasota, Fla., have additionally needed to make some drastic adjustments because the coronavirus made landfall in america. However a make a selection few of them can have entered 2020 slightly extra ready than the remainder, as a result of that they had skilled a just about equivalent epidemic simply weeks sooner than.

Those have been the graduates of Operation Outbreak, a researcher-designed outreach program that has, for the previous a number of years, simulated an annual viral epidemic at the college’s campus. Led via Todd Brown, Sarasota Army Academy Prep’s network outreach director, this system started as a low-tech enterprise that used stickers to imitate the unfold of a viral illness. With steerage from a crew of researchers led via Pardis Sabeti, a computational biologist at Harvard College, this system briefly morphed right into a smartphone app that would ping a digital virus from pupil to pupil with a Bluetooth sign.

Sarasota’s most up-to-date iteration of Operation Outbreak used to be uncanny in its prescience. Held in December 2019, simply weeks sooner than the brand new coronavirus started its rampage around the globe, the simulation targeted on a viral pathogen that moved each hastily and silently amongst other people, inflicting spates of flulike signs.



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