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Christmas Cheer

Ask Slashdot: What's The Best Geeky Gift For Children? 115

Everyone's suggesting gifts to teach the next generation of geeks about science, technology, engineering, and math. Slashdot reader theodp writes: In "My Guide to Holiday Gifts," Melinda Gates presents "a STEM gift guide" [which] pales by comparison to Amazon's "STEM picks". Back in 2009, Slashdot discussed science gifts for kids. So, how about a 2016 update?
I've always wanted to ask what geeky gifts Slashdot's readers remember from when they were kids. (And what geeky gifts do you still bitterly wish some enlightened person would've given you?) But more importantly, what modern-day tech toys can best encourage the budding young geeks of today? Leave your best answers in the comments. What's the best geeky gift for children?
Music

Bose Launches 'Hearphones' That Act Like Hearing Aids (theverge.com) 56

Bose has launched a new pair of earbuds called Hearphones that augment the sounds of the world around you, letting you select what kinds of outside noises you'd like to listen to. "Hearphones users can also pick which direction those outside noises come from, with what appears to be specific emphasis on helping people hear voices better in crowded places," reports The Verge: A "Bose Hear" app was recently added to the App Store, and offers a little more detail about what Hearphones are capable of. You can turn the "world volume" up or down, and change the direction you're hearing those sounds from. There are preset modes like "television," "focused conversation," "airplane," "doctor's office," or "gym," all of which presumably block out different sounds from different directions while letting in things like speech. A user manual was also recently submitted to the FCC. No pricing or availability can be found anywhere on Bose's website or in the app. Here's some more from that app's description: "Innovative technologies amplify softer sounds, let you turn down the distractions in noisy environments and focus on what you want to hear -- like a conversation across the table. You can also use them as controllable noise cancelling [sic] wireless headphones for your music or calls or just for quiet. Take control of the noise, and hear the world better."
Wireless Networking

AirPods Delay Attributed To Apple Ensuring Both Earpieces Receive Audio At Same Time (macrumors.com) 172

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Mac Rumors: AirPods were originally slated to launch in October, but the wireless earphones were later delayed. Apple said it needed "a little more time" before they are ready for customers, and it has yet to provide an official update since. While the exact reason for the delay remains unclear, a person familiar with the development of AirPods told The Wall Street Journal that Apple's troubles appear to be related to its "efforts to chart a new path for wireless headphones," in addition to resolving what happens when users lose one of the earpieces or the battery dies. The Wall Street Journal reports: "A person familiar with the development of the AirPod said the trouble appears to stem from Apple's effort to chart a new path for wireless headphones. In most other wireless headphones, only one earpiece receives a signal from the phone via wireless Bluetooth technology; it then transmits the signal to the other earpiece. Apple has said AirPod earpieces each receive independent signals from an iPhone, Mac or other Apple device. But Apple must ensure that both earpieces receive audio at the same time to avoid distortion, the person familiar with their development said. That person said Apple also must resolve what happens when a user loses one of the earpieces or the battery dies."
Google

Google Is Testing User Ratings For Movies, TV Within Search Results (techcrunch.com) 11

Google has confirmed to Search Engine Land that it is testing a feature allowing users to rate movies or TV shows directly in the search results interface. "We're currently experimenting with the feature but have nothing to announce at this time," a Google spokesperson said. TechCrunch reports: Unlike other movie and TV rating platforms, Google's feature is not on a scale from one to five but instead offers a binary choice: like or dislike. Information about weather, ticket purchasing options and more used to be available on unique, individual websites. Today, however, Google has incorporated this information and functionality into the search results layer of its own service. Within the movie ratings feature, users will also be able to see the Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb ratings for the title, as they always have. You can view a screenshot of the rating system here.
Privacy

Watchdog Group Claims Smart Toys Are Spying On Kids (mashable.com) 70

The Center for Digital Democracy has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission warning of security and privacy holes associated with a pair of smart toys designed for children. Mashable reports: "This complaint concerns toys that spy," reads the complaint, which claims the Genesis Toys' My Friend Cayla and i-QUE Intelligent Robot can record and collect private conversations and offer no limitations on the collection and use of personal information. Both toys use voice recognition, internet connectivity and Bluetooth to engage with children in conversational manner and answer questions. The CDD claims they do all of this in wildly insecure and invasive ways. Both My Friend Cayla and i-QUE use Nuance Communications' voice-recognition platform to listen and respond to queries. On the Genesis Toy site, the manufacturer notes that while "most of Cayla's conversational features can be accessed offline," searching for information may require an internet connection. The promotional video for Cayla encourages children to "ask Cayla almost anything." The dolls work in concert with mobile apps. Some questions can be asked directly, but the toys maintain a constant Bluetooth connection to the dolls so they can also react to actions in the app and even appear to identify objects the child taps on on screen. While some of the questions children ask the dolls are apparently recorded and sent to Nuance's servers for parsing, it's unclear how much of the information is personal in nature. The Genesis Privacy Policy promises to anonymize information. The CDD also claims, however, that My Friend Cayla and i-Que employ Bluetooth in the least secure way possible. Instead of requiring a PIN code to complete pairing between the toy and a smartphone or iPad, "Cayla and i-Que do not employ... authentication mechanisms to establish a Bluetooth connection between the doll and a smartphone or tablet. The dolls do not implement any other security measure to prevent unauthorized Bluetooth pairing." Without a pairing notification on the toy or any authentication strategy, anyone with a Bluetooth device could connect to the toys' open Bluetooth networks, according to the complaint.
Government

Congress Passes BOTS Act To Ban Ticket-Buying Software (arstechnica.com) 213

Congress passed a bill yesterday that will make it illegal for people to use software bots to buy concert tickets. Ars Technica reports: The Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act makes it illegal to bypass any computer security system designed to limit ticket sales to concerts, Broadway musicals, and other public events with a capacity of more than 200 persons. Violations will be treated as "unfair or deceptive acts" and can be prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission or the states. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent last week, and the House of Representatives voted yesterday to pass it as well. It now proceeds to President Barack Obama for his signature. Computer programs that automatically buy tickets have been a frustration for the concert industry and fans for a few years now. The issue had wide exposure after a 2013 New York Times story on the issue. Earlier this year, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman completed an investigation into bots. The New York AG's ticket sales report (PDF) found that the tens of thousands of tickets snatched up by bots were marked up by an average of 49 percent.
Movies

Slashdot Asks: Would You Like Early Access To Movies And Stop Going To Theatres? 337

It appears many major stakeholders in the movie industry want to bring new titles to you within days, if not hours, as they hit cinemas. Earlier this year, we learned that Sean Parker is working on a service called "Screening Room", an idea that was reportedly backed by Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams, to bring movies on the same day as they show up in theaters. Apple seems interested as well. It is reportedly in talks with Hollywood studios to get iTunes rentals of movies that are still playing on the big screen. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that several studios are exploring the idea of renting new movies for $25 to $50 just two weeks after they have hit cinemas.

None of such deals have materialized yet, of course, and also it needs to be pointed out that several movie companies have discarded these ideas before because they know that by offering you new titles so early they are going to lose on all the overpriced cold drinks, and snacks they sell you at the theatre. There's also piracy concerns. If a movie is available early, regardless of the DRM tech these companies deploy, good-enough footage of the movies will crop up on file-sharing websites almost immediately.

But leaving all those aspects aside, would you be interested in getting new titles just hours or a week or two after they hit the cinemas? Would you want to end the decades-long practice of going to a theater?
Movies

Apple Is In Talks With Hollywood For Early Access To Movies On iTunes: Bloomberg (bloomberg.com) 51

Apple is talking with Hollywood studios to try and get iTunes rentals of movies that are still playing on the big screen. According to a report from Bloomberg, "some studio executives have been pushing to allow home rentals as early as two weeks after theatrical debuts and are considering a deal with iTunes as one option." Bloomberg reports: The most recent talks are part of longer-running efforts by Cupertino, California-based Apple to get new movies sooner, two of the people said. Such an arrangement could help iTunes stand out in a crowded online market for movies, TV shows and music. While the iTunes store helped Apple build a dominant role in music retailing, the company hasn't carved out a similar role in music and video streaming. Hollywood studios typically give theaters exclusive rights to new movies for 90 days or more before issuing them on DVD or making them available for online purchase. One of the concerns about iTunes is whether it will be a secure platform for delivering movies that are still in theaters, the people said. While Apple encrypts iTunes video files so they can't easily be duplicated, it's possible to use a camera to record a movie playing on a TV screen. A leak of picture that's still in theaters would jeopardize returns for the studios and cinema owners.
Businesses

Google, HTC, Oculus, Samsung, Sony Join Forces To Create Global VR Association (techcrunch.com) 58

Google, HTC, Oculus, Samsung, Sony and Acer have teamed up to form the Global Virtual Reality Association (GVRA) in an effort to reduce fragmentation and failure in the industry. GVRA aims to "unlock and maximize VR's potential," but there are little details as to what this may mean for consumers. TechCrunch reports: What many in the VR community have been thirsting for is some unification of standards in terms of software and hardware. Games bought in the Oculus store don't play on the Vive or PS VR. Sensors for the Vive don't work on Oculus. Sony doesn't play nice with anyone else's standards etc. etc. Valve, which makes the Steam store and SteamVR platform for the HTC Vive and others, is notably not a member of this collective so any hopes of a unified standard (like its OpenVR platform) emerging from this collective is likely not in the cards. From the GVRA press release: "The goal of the Global Virtual Reality Association is to promote responsible development and adoption of VR globally. The association's members will develop and share best practices, conduct research, and bring the international VR community together as the technology progresses. The group will also serve a resource for consumers, policymakers, and industry interested in VR."
Youtube

YouTube's $1 Billion Royalties Are Not Enough, Says Music Industry (bbc.com) 218

YouTube said Tuesday that it has paid the music industry over one billion dollars in advertising revenue in the past 12 months. The music industry thinks that sum is not enough. From a report on BBC: "Google has issued more unexplained numbers on what it claims YouTube pays the music industry," said a spokesperson for the global music body, the IFPI. "The announcement gives little reason to celebrate, however. With 800 million music users worldwide, YouTube is generating revenues of just over $1 per user for the entire year. "This pales in comparison to the revenue generated by other services, ranging from Apple to Deezer to Spotify. For example, in 2015 Spotify alone paid record labels some $2bn, equivalent to an estimated $18 per user." In his blog post, Mr Kyncl conceded that the current model was not perfect, arguing: "There is a lot of work that must be done by YouTube and the industry as a whole. "But we are excited to see the momentum," he added.
Movies

Falsely Accused Movie Pirate Deserves $17K Compensation, Court Says (torrentfreak.com) 58

An Oregon District Court has sided with a wrongfully accused man who was sued for allegedly downloading a pirated copy of the Adam Sandler movie "The Cobbler." According to the court's recommendations, reports TorrentFreak, the man is entitled to more than $17,000 in compensation as the result of the filmmakers "overaggressive" and "unreasonable" tactics. From the article: The defendant in question, Thomas Gonzales, operates an adult foster care home where several people had access to the Internet. The filmmakers were aware of this and during a hearing their counsel admitted that any guest could have downloaded the film. [...] "The Court finds that once Plaintiff learned that the alleged infringement was taking place at an adult group care home at which Gonzales did not reside, Plaintiff's continued pursuit of Gonzales for copyright infringement was objectively unreasonable," Judge Beckerman ruled. "The Court shares Gonzales' concern that Plaintiff is motivated, at least in large part, by extracting large settlements from individual consumers prior to any meaningful litigation. "On balance, the Court has concerns about the motivation behind Plaintiff's overaggressive litigation of this case and other cases, and that factor weighs in favor of fee shifting."
NES (Games)

Doyodo RetroEngine Sigma Is a Linux-Powered Classic Video Game Emulation Console (betanews.com) 91

BrianFagioli quotes a report from BetaNews: The Nintendo NES Classic is quite an amazing console. True, it is not as powerful as modern game systems like Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but it comes pre-loaded with many classic NES titles. Unfortunately, its strength is also its weakness -- those pre-loaded titles are the only games you can play. You cannot load other games, so you are stuck with what you got. As an alternative, some folks use software emulation and ROMs on their computers to play countless video game titles. Of course, there are moral concerns here, as you are often downloading the games illegally -- unless you own the physical copy, that is. Even then, it is a gray area. Today, a company called Doyodo launched a new Linux-powered emulation console on Indiegogo. The device not only plays NES games, but Atari, Game Boy, PlayStation 1, Genesis, and more. You play using USB controllers. In addition, it can serve as a media player (with Kodi) or a full-fledged Linux desktop. Some other features include 4K video playback, Wi-Fi networking built in, and a compact and portable design. There's even a deluxe version that ships with Bluetooth, an extra controller and 32GB of storage; the basic configuration includes just one controller and 16GB of storage. You can view the Indiegogo page here.
Canada

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Makes Game For Third Annual Hour of Code (gamasutra.com) 134

Eloking writes: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Twitter account lit up today with a message all too familiar to many indie devs: Mr. Trudeau has made a video game, and he'd like everyone to play it. It was a cute bit of promotion for Hour of Code, the computer science education event masterminded every year by the Code.org nonprofit. While the Hour of Code websites hosts one-hour tutorials (in 45 languages) for coding all sorts of simple applications, game developers may appreciate that the lion's share appears to be game projects, like the one Trudeau modified into a sort of hockey-themed Breakout variant.
Google

'The Circle' Trailer Looks An Awful Lot Like Google (cnet.com) 77

theodp writes: If you never got around to reading Dave Eggers' novel The Circle, the tale of a powerful tech company that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Google (and has an Apple spaceship-like HQ) is coming to the big screen and the first trailer is out. The film has a release date of spring 2017, and stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega. Remember, sharing is caring!
Software

Apple Launches Single Sign-On Service To Make Logging Into TV Apps Less Time-Consuming (macrumors.com) 29

Apple has launched Single Sign-on, a service designed to make logging into TV apps much less annoying. It "allows cable subscribers to sign in once with their cable credentials to gain access to all cable-restricted content in iOS and tvOS apps," writes Juli Clover via MacRumors: Single Sign-on is limited to the United States, and according to a support document, is available for the following providers: CenturyLink Prism, DirecTV, Dish, GVTC, GTA, Hawaiian Telecom, Hotwire, MetroCast, and Sling. While Single Sign-on was introduced and tested in the tvOS 10.1 and iOS 10.2 betas, the feature was remotely released today to all iOS 10 and tvOS 10 devices. Using Single Sign-on does not require one of the betas, and is instead immediately available to all iPhone and Apple TV users running iOS 10 or tvOS 10. With Single Sign-on, customers with a supported provider will use the Settings options in iOS or tvOS to sign in with their cable credentials. From then on, when accessing a supported app that requires a cable subscription, the app will ask to use the saved sign-on credentials. Most cable channels and content providers offer individual apps on the Apple TV and iOS devices, but still require cable authentication before users can access content. Prior to Single Sign-on, customers were required to enter their credentials in each individual app, a frustrating and time-consuming process.
Music

Vinyl Records Outsold Digital Downloads In the UK Last Week (adweek.com) 188

Sales of vinyl outstripped those of downloaded music for the first time since the advent of digital downloads last week in the UK. From a report on AdWeek: The U.K.-based Entertainment Retailers Association, or ERA, said Monday that Britons spent 2.4 million pounds ($3.03 million) on the old-school wax last week while only doling out 2.1 million pounds ($2.65 million) for digital downloads. Vinyl Factory, a website dedicated to records, reported that those numbers represent a big change from the same week in 2015, when just 1.2 million pounds was spent on records compared with 4.4 million on digital downloads. That's a 100 percent year-over-year increase in vinyl sales and also the first time that vinyl album sales have bested digital downloads over a weeklong period in years, per Vinyl Factory. The surge in vinyl sales could be attributed to the popularity of vinyl as a Christmas gift and the growing number of retailers. You know it's a gift because, as BBC adds: But 48% of those surveyed said they did not play the vinyl they bought -- while 7% did not even own a turntable.
Youtube

YouTube Pays Music Industry $1 Billion From Ads (cnet.com) 75

YouTube, the music industry's enemy No. 1 earlier this year, said Tuesday it has paid more than $1 billion in advertising revenue to artists, labels and publishers in the last 12 months. From a report on CNET: The milestone, released in a blog post by business chief Robert Kyncl, is a stab by Google's giant video site at mending fences with music industry critics. At least, it's YouTube hoping to convince some of them that the massive amount of free, ad-supported music listening that happens there is a valuable complement to music subscriptions, the industry's main area of growth right now.
Movies

Netflix Says People Watch Same Amount of Movies Regardless of Perceived Quality or Depth (news.com.au) 161

Two of the most common issues people have with Netflix is: the movie catalog is shrinking, and the quality of the movies aren't that great anymore. Netflix says it is aware of those issues, and it thinks, in reality, those factors don't really matter much as people end up watching the same amount of movies as they always have. From a report:According to the Netflix exec, subscribers spend about the same time watching movies on the service regardless of the depth or perceived quality of the movie library. "No matter what, we end up with about one-third of our watching being movies," he told the audience. Mr Sarandos cited two contrasting examples of the United States and Canada as proof of such behavior. In Canada, Netflix has five major deals with movie studios to use their content while in the US the company basically has none, with the exception of the recently signed Disney deal. Despite US subscribers having far less access to movies from big studios, both countries spend roughly the same proportion of their time on the service watching movies. Netflix believes that by the time many blockbuster movies make it onto the platform -- many months after being released in the cinema -- a majority of fans have already seen them. "If you were passionate (about a movie), you've already seen it," he said.
Displays

Panasonic Announces 1,000,000:1 Contrast Ratio LCD Panel To Rival OLED (androidauthority.com) 103

OLED panels have always been known to have higher contrast ratios than LCD panels, but that may be about to change with Panasonic's recently announced LCD IPS display. The display boasts a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, which is up to 600 times more contrast than some of the company's conventional LCD panels that tend to offer around 1800:1 ratios, and rivals OLED specifications. Android Authority reports: Panasonic has accomplished this through the use of its new light modulating cell technology, which allows the company to switch off individual pixels in the display using a secondary control layer. Typically, LCD backlights mean that either the entire or only large parts of the display can be dimmed at any one time. OLED panels switch off lights entirely for a black pixel to offer very high contrast ratios, and this new LCD technology works on a very similar principle. This is particularly important for reproducing HDR video content, which is becoming increasingly popular. Furthermore, this new light modulating cell technology allows Panasonic to increase the peak brightness and stability of the display, which can reach 1,000 cd/m2 while also providing HDR colors. Many other HDR TV panels top out in the range of 700 to 800 cd/m2, so colors, highlights, and shadows should appear vivid and realistic. Panasonic plans to ship the new display starting in January 2017 with sizes ranging from 55 to 12 inches.
Television

Most DVR Owners Are Recording Live Sports, Survey Says (cnet.com) 137

A new survey by Thuurz Sports, a company that works with TV providers to increase the size of sports viewing audiences, finds that 84.1 percent of DVR owners record live sports, many of them as a "backup" for when they might miss the end (or the beginning) or the game, and a majority (58 percent) to skip the ads. From a report on CNET: "Over the past decade, DVR viewing has undermined certain elements of the TV business. Reacting to this threat, sports TV executives have rightly focused on the genre's relative strength, calling sports programming 'DVR-proof'," says Brian Ring, the consultant who created the survey for Thuuz, in the press release. "Sports are best viewed live, but this survey highlights the fact that most fans with DVRs regularly use. Most TV shows and movies these days are available on-demand from various sources, but live events, particularly sports, are considered among the most "DVR-proof" since there's more value in seeing the result live.

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