Toys

Ask Slashdot: Are There Any Good Smartwatches Or Fitness Trackers? 220

"What's your opinion on the current state of smartwatches?" asks long-time Slashdot reader rodrigoandrade. He's been researching both smartwatches and fitness trackers, and shares his own opinions: - Manufacturers have learnt from Moto 360 that people want round smartwatches that actually look like traditional watches, with a couple of glaring exceptions....

- Android Wear 2.0 is a thing, not vaporware. It's still pretty raw (think of early Android phones) but it works well. The LG Sport Watch is the highest-end device that supports it.

- LTE-enabled smartwatches finally allow you to ditch your smartphone, if you wish. Just pop you nano SIM in it and party on. The availability is still limited to a few SKUs in some countries, and they're ludicrously expensive, but it's getting there.

Keep reading for his assessment of four high-end choices -- and share your own opinions in the comments.
Music

Apple Is Reportedly Buying Shazam For Nearly Half a Billion Dollars (phonedog.com) 59

Apple is close to acquiring Shazam, one of the most recognized services for music recognition. While the exact amount is unknown, the service may be purchased by Apple for around $400 million. PhoneDog reports: Apple is close to acquiring Shazam, say sources speaking to TechCrunch. The deal will reportedly be signed this week and could be announced as early as next Monday. A report from Recode echoes the news of Apple acquiring Shazam, adding that Shazam will likely be valued at around $400 million. Apple -- and other companies -- already offer a music recognition service, but Apple must see something in Shazam's services that it thinks can help improve its own music recognition if it's going to drop nearly half a billion dollars on this deal. Shazam is able to identify TV shows, films, and advertisements in addition to music, so perhaps Apple sees some benefit to these abilities, too.
Music

YouTube to Launch New Music Subscription Service in March (bloomberg.com) 57

An anonymous reader shares a report: YouTube plans to introduce a paid music service in March, according to people familiar with the matter, a third attempt by parent company Alphabet Inc. to catch up with rivals Spotify and Apple. The new service could help appease record-industry executives who have pushed for more revenue from YouTube. Warner Music Group, one of the world's three major record labels, has already signed on, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. YouTube is also in talks with the two others, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, and Merlin, a consortium of independent labels, the people said.
Businesses

Amazon Bringing Echo and Alexa To 80 Additional Countries in Major Global Expansion (geekwire.com) 36

Amazon is launching three of its Echo devices with Alexa in 80 additional countries starting today -- a major international expansion for the company's smart speakers and voice-based assistant. From a report: New markets for the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus include Mexico, China, Russia and other countries in regions and continents including Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Other Echo devices, such as the touch-screen Echo Show, are not included as part of the international expansion. Echo devices were previously only available in the US, UK, Germany, India, Japan, and Canada. Amazon earlier announced plans to bring Echo and Alexa to Australia and New Zealand next year. In addition, Amazon says its Music Unlimited subscription streaming service is available in 28 additional countries, including many of those where the Echo is now expanding, as well. Recommended reading: Don't buy anyone an Amazon Echo speaker.
Sci-Fi

Jordan Peele To Executive Produce CBS 'The Twilight Zone' Reboot (engadget.com) 64

A couple of weeks ago, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves revealed that the network was planning to reboot the classic fantasy science-fiction TV series "The Twilight Zone." Few details about the show were available at that time, but we have now learned that Jordan Peele, director of the mystery/thriller Get Out, will co-executive produce the show. Engadget reports: The show will be produced by CBS Television Studios, with Simon Kinberg, Marco Ramirez, Win Rosenfeld and Audrey Chon also executive producing. Peele, Kinberg and Ramirez will collaborate on the premiere episode. "Too many times this year it's felt we were living in a twilight zone, and I can't think of a better moment to reintroduce it to modern audiences," Peele said in a statement.
Facebook

Facebook and YouTube Are Full of Pirated Video Streams of Live NFL Games (cnbc.com) 230

Pirated video streams of televised National Football League games are widespread on Facebook and on Google's YouTube service, CNBC has found. From a report: Using technology from these internet giants, thousands of football fans were able to watch long segments of many contests free of charge during the league's Week 13 schedule of games last Thursday and Sunday. Dozens of these video streams, pirated from CBS and NBC broadcasts, featured ads from well-known national brands interspersed with game action. This online activity comes as the league struggles with declining ratings that have been blamed variously on player protests during the national anthem and revelations about former players suffering from a brain disease caused by concussions. Yet this illegal distribution of NFL content may also be crimping the league's viewer numbers.
Television

40 Percent of America Will Cut the Cord By 2030, New Report Predicts (vice.com) 114

bumblebaetuna shares a report from Motherboard: By 2030, as many as 40 percent of Americans will have cut the cord, according to predictions in a new report by market analyst TDG Research. The percent of U.S. households still shelling out for cable has dropped every year since 2012. If the trend continues on the current path, TDG predicts the percent of U.S. households subscribing to pay TV will drop to 60 percent in the next 13 years. Cost is a major driver of this shift: the cost of bundling a few favorite streaming services together still pales in comparison to the average cable bill. TDG found that two thirds of cord cutters and "cord nevers" (people who have never paid for cable) said service expense was the key reason they do not use legacy pay TV services. There's also a generational shift: 61 percent of adults aged 18-29 say online streaming services are the primary way they watch TV.
Canada

ISPs and Movie Industry Prepare Canadian Pirate Site Blocking Deal (torrentfreak.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: A coalition of movie industry companies and ISPs, including Bell, Rogers, and Cineplex are discussing a proposal to implement a plan to allow for website blockades without judicial oversight. The Canadian blocklist would be maintained by a new non-profit organization called "Internet Piracy Review Agency" (IPRA) and enforced through the CTRC, Canadaland reports. The plan doesn't come as a total surprise as Bell alluded to a nationwide blocking mechanism during a recent Government hearing. What becomes clear from the new plans, however, is that the telco is not alone. The new proposal is being discussed by various stakeholders including ISPs and local movie companies. As in other countries, major American movie companies are also in the loop, but they will not be listed as official applicants when the plan is submitted to the CRTC. Canadian law professor Micheal Geist is very critical of the plans. Although the proposal would only cover sites that "blatantly, overwhelmingly or structurally" engage in or facilitate copyright infringement, this can be a blurry line.

"Recent history suggests that the list will quickly grow to cover tougher judgment calls. For example, Bell has targeted TVAddons, a site that contains considerable non-infringing content," Geist notes. "It can be expected that many other sites disliked by rights holders or broadcasters would find their way onto the block list," he adds. While the full list of applicants is not ready yet, it is expected that the coalition will file its proposal to the CRTC before the end of the month.

Sci-Fi

Quentin Tarantino and JJ Abrams Team Up For 'Star Trek' Movie (hollywoodreporter.com) 228

Quentin Tarantino reportedly has a pitch for a Star Trek film, and he has shared his vision with J.J. Abrams. According to Hollywood Reporter, "Tarantino and Abrams have plans to bring together a writers room to develop a film at Star Trek studio Paramount. Tarantino has an eye to direct the potential project." From the report: Abrams rebooted the franchise with 2009's Star Trek and also helmed 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, before pivoting to Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He remains a producer on the Star Trek franchise even as he readies 2019's Star Wars: Episode IX. Paramount previously stated it was developing a fourth Star Trek film to star Chris Hemsworth as Captain Kirk's (Chris Pine) father, but no director has been attached and it's unclear where this Tarantino development leaves the project. The latest installment, Justin Lin's Star Trek Beyond (2016), was well-liked by critics but earned just $343.4 million worldwide, the lowest in the rebooted universe. In a 2015 Nerdist podcast interview, Tarantino revealed that he would be more likely to direct a Star Trek film over a Star Wars pic, noting he was a big fan of the original series.
Science

Fewer Toys Gives Kids a Better Quality of Playtime, Study Claims (nypost.com) 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New York Post: Toddlers with just a few toys were more creative and focused than tots with more choices, according to the study, published in an upcoming edition of the journal Infant Behavior and Development. For the study, University of Toledo researchers gave kids under age 3 either four toys or 16 toys and recorded their playing habits, according to the report. "When provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively," researchers said. Fewer toys "promotes development and healthy play," they concluded. The bah humbug-boosting findings may be one reason to skimp on the stocking stuffers -- but parents have another option. Simply keep more toys in storage also helps rein in the attention of scatterbrained toddlers, researchers said.
Piracy

Not Even Free TV Can Get People To Stop Pirating Movies and TV Shows (qz.com) 221

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Since the internet made it easier to illegally download and stream movies and TV shows, Hollywood struggled with people pirating its works online. About $5.5 billion in revenue was lost to piracy globally last year, Digital TV Research found (pdf), and it's expected to approach $10 billion by 2022. Streaming-video services like Netflix and Hulu have made it more affordable to access a wide-range of titles from different TV networks and movie studios. But the availability of cheap content online has done little to curb piracy, according to research published in Management Science (paywall) last month. Customers who were offered free subscriptions to a video-on-demand package (SVOD) were just as likely to turn to piracy to find programming as those without the offering, researchers at Catolica Lisbon School of Business & Economics and Carnegie Mellon University found.

The researchers partnered with an unnamed internet-service provider -- in a region they chose not to disclose -- to offer customers who were already prone to piracy an on-demand package for free for 45 days. About 10,000 households participated in the study, and about half were given the free service. The on-demand service was packaged like Netflix or Hulu in layout, appearance, and scope of programming, but was delivered through a TV set-top box. It had a personalized recommendation engine that surfaced popular programming based on what those customers were already watching illegally through BitTorrent logs, which were obtained from a third-party firm. The study found that while the participants watched 4.6% more TV overall when they had the free on-demand service, they did not stop using BitTorrent to pirate movies and TV shows that were not included in the offering.

It's funny.  Laugh.

Elon Musk Trolls the Media With a Clip From 'Spaceballs' (twitter.com) 133

An anonymous reader writes Elon Musk is having fun on Twitter, where he's either promoting the new line of $20 "Boring Company" hats or trolling the media. "To preserve the transcendent majesty & specialness of The Boring Company cap, we are capping cap orders at 50,000 caps," Musk tweeted Sunday, adding "Almost there ..." Responding to a user who asked, "Is this really how you're funding the boring company??" Musk answered "Yes."

An hour later he tweeted that "Every 5000th buyer of our boringly boring hat will get a free hat signed by the delivery guy. That special hat delivery will take place deep within the real, but fictional (of course), tunnel we are building under LA while you drive the giant machine blindfolded. This will actually happen."

And then hours later, Musk shared a fresh insight into his thought process. "The *real* money comes from merchandising," he tweeted, adding "I learned it from this documentary," sharing a video titled "merchandising" which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a clip from the 1987 comedy "Spaceballs" starring Mel Brooks.

Ironically, George Lucas had only blessed Mel Brooks' parody of Star Wars with one condition: that no Space Balls action figure merchandise ever be produced.
Botnet

How 'Grinch Bots' Are Ruining Online Christmas Shopping (nypost.com) 283

Yes, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer actually called them "Grinch bots." From the New York Post: The senator said as soon as a retailer puts a hard-to-get toy -- like Barbie's Dreamhouse or Nintendo game systems -- for sale on a website, a bot can snatch it up even before a kid's parents finish entering their credit card information... "Bots come in and buy up all the toys and then charge ludicrous prices amidst the holiday shopping bustle," the New York Democrat said on Sunday... For example, Schumer said, the popular Fingerlings -- a set of interactive baby monkey figurines that usually sell for around $15 -- are being snagged by the scalping software and resold on secondary websites for as much as $1,000 a pop...

In December 2016, Congress passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, which Schumer sponsored, to crack down on their use to buy concert tickets, but the measure doesn't apply to other consumer products. He wants that law expanded but knows that won't happen in time for this holiday season. In the meantime, Schumer wants the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association to block the bots and lead the effort to stop them from buying toys at fair retail prices and then reselling them at outrageous markups.

Programming

'24 Pull Requests' Suggests Contributing Code For Christmas (24pullrequests.com) 30

An anonymous reader writes: "On December 1st, 24 Pull Requests will be opening its virtual doors once again, asking you to give the gift of a pull request to an open source project in need," writes UK-based software developer Andrew Nesbitt -- noting that last year the site registered more than 16,000 pull requests. "And they're not all by programmers. Often the contribution with the most impact might be an improvement to technical documentation, some tests, or even better -- guidance for other contributors."

This year they're even touting "24 Pull Requests hack events," happening around the world from Lexington, Kentucky to Torino, Italy. (Last year 80 people showed up for an event in London.) "You don't have to hack alone this Christmas!" suggests the site, also inviting local communities and geek meetups (as well as open source-loving companies) to host their own events.

Contributing to open source projects can also beef up your CV (for when you're applying for your next job), the site points out, and "Even small contributions can be really valuable to a project."

"You've been benefiting from the use of open source projects all year. Now is the time to say thanks to the maintainers of those projects, and a little birdy tells me that they love receiving pull requests!"
Perl

Perl, Perl 6, and Two Application Frameworks Release 2017 Advent Calendars (perladvent.org) 38

An anonymous reader writes: Friday saw this year's first new posts on the Perl Advent Calendar, a geeky tradition first started back in 2000. It describes Santa including Unicode's "Father Christmas" emoji by enabling UTF-8 encoding and then using the appropriate hexadecimal code.

But in another corner of the North Pole, you can also unwrap the Perl 6 Advent Calendar, which this year celebrates the two-year anniversary of the official launch of Perl 6. Its first post follows a Grinch who used the but and does operators in Perl 6, while wrapping methods and subroutines to add extra sneaky features, "and even mutated the language itself to do our bidding."

Perl/Python guru Joel Berger has also started an advent calendar for the Mojolicious web application framework (written in Perl), and there's apparently also an advent calendar coming for the Perl Dancer web application framework.

AI

Two Technologists Create Black Metal Album Using An AI (theoutline.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Outline: Coditany of Timeness" is a convincing lo-fi black metal album, complete with atmospheric interludes, tremolo guitar, frantic blast beats and screeching vocals. But the record, which you can listen to on Bandcamp, wasn't created by musicians. Instead, it was generated by two musical technologists using a deep learning software that ingests a musical album, processes it, and spits out an imitation of its style. To create Coditany, the software broke "Diotima," a 2011 album by a New York black metal band called Krallice, into small segments of audio. Then they fed each segment through a neural network -- a type of artificial intelligence modeled loosely on a biological brain -- and asked it to guess what the waveform of the next individual sample of audio would be. If the guess was right, the network would strengthen the paths of the neural network that led to the correct answer, similar to the way electrical connections between neurons in our brain strengthen as we learn new skills.
Piracy

Netflix Is Not Going to Kill Piracy, Research Suggests (torrentfreak.com) 158

Even as more people than ever are tuning to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other streaming services to look, piracy too continues to thrive, a research suggests. An anonymous reader shares a report: Intrigued by this interplay of legal and unauthorized viewing, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Universidade Catolica Portuguesa carried out an extensive study. They partnered with a major telco, which is not named, to analyze if BitTorrent downloading habits can be changed by offering legal alternatives. The researchers used a piracy-tracking firm to get a sample of thousands of BitTorrent pirates at the associated ISP. Half of them were offered a free 45-day subscription to a premium TV and movies package, allowing them to watch popular content on demand. To measure the effects of video-on-demand access on piracy, the researchers then monitored the legal viewing activity and BitTorrent transfers of the people who received the free offer, comparing it to a control group. The results show that piracy is harder to beat than some would expect. Subscribers who received the free subscription watched more TV, but overall their torrenting habits didn't change significantly. "We find that, on average, households that received the gift increased overall TV consumption by 4.6% and reduced Internet downloads and uploads by 4.2% and 4.5%, respectively. However, and also on average, treated households did not change their likelihood of using BitTorrent during the experiment," the researchers write.
Businesses

Disney Sues Redbox, Hoping To Block Digital Movie Sales (marketwatch.com) 283

phalse phace writes: About 1 month ago, Redbox started selling through their kiosks slips of paper with codes on them that lets the buyer download a digital copy of a Disney movie.But Disney says that's a no-no and this week it sued Redbox in an attempt to stop the code sales. According to Marketwatch: "Walt Disney sued Redbox on Thursday in an attempt to stop the DVD rental company from selling digital copies of its movies. Privately held Redbox last month began offering consumers codes they can use to download a digital copy of a Disney movie. Redbox charges between $7.99 and $14.99 for slips of paper with the codes to download Disney films such as "Cars 3" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." That is less than those movies cost to buy and download from Apple's iTunes Store. Redbox is only offering digital copies of Disney movies because it doesn't have a distribution arrangement with the studio and buys retail copies of its discs to rent to customers. Those retail DVDs come with digital download codes."
Television

Amazon Launches Web Browser For Fire TV (theverge.com) 61

An anonymous reader shares a report: You'll never convince me that using an internet browser on a television set is anything but awkward and bad, but if for whatever reason you've been waiting to browse the web on Amazon's Fire TV devices, the company has answered that call. The Amazon Silk browser, which already comes on Fire tablets, is now available for Amazon Fire TV set-top boxes, sticks, and Fire TV Edition HDTVs. You can download it from the app store on supported devices. For now, as noted by AFTVnews, support is limited to first- and second-gen Fire TV boxes and the second-gen Stick -- plus the Westinghouse/Element 4K TV that runs Amazon's Fire TV software as its operating system. The most recent Fire TV released this fall can't yet run the Silk browser; Amazon says an update due in December will fix that.
Graphics

HDMI 2.1 Is Here With 10K and Dynamic HDR Support (engadget.com) 171

Swapna Krishna reports via Engadget: Back in January, the HDMI Forum unveiled its new specifications for the HDMI connector, called HDMI 2.1. Now, that HDMI specification is available to all HDMI 2.0 adopters. It's backwards compatible with all previous HDMI specifications. The focus of HDMI 2.1 is on higher video bandwidth; it supports 48 GB per second with a new backwards-compatible ultra high speed HDMI cable. It also supports faster refresh rates for high video resolution -- 60 Hz for 8K and 120 Hz for 4K. The standard also supports Dynamic HDR and resolutions up to 10K for commercial and specialty use. This new version of the HDMI specification also introduces an enhanced refresh rate that gamers will appreciate. VRR, or Variable Refresh Rate, reduces, or in some cases eliminates, lag for smoother gameplay, while Quick Frame Transport (QFT) reduces latency. Quick Media Switching, or QMS, reduces the amount of blank-screen wait time while switching media. HDMI 2.1 also includes Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), which automatically sets the ideal latency for the smoothest viewing experience.

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