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XBox (Games)

Ask Slashdot: Xbox One Or PlayStation 4? 368

An anonymous reader writes: I'm looking at getting the kids a new gaming console for Christmas this year. I'm stuck trying to decide between getting an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4. I'm really wary on the PlayStation because of the 5 PS2s with broken optical drives sitting in my garage; none lasted more than two years. On the other hand, I'm also wary of buying a Microsoft product; I'm a Linux user for life after getting tired of their crappy operating system. I've also considered getting a gaming PC, whether Linux or Windows, but it's more expensive and game reviews show most are not as good as a dedicated game console. The kids want Fallout 4, and I want Star Wars Battlefront and any version of Gran Turismo. We currently have a Nintendo Wii and a crappy gaming PC with some Steam games. So, which gaming console should I get that will last a long time?
Christmas Cheer

'Twas the Week Before the Week of Black Friday 145

theodp writes: It's almost time for America's answer to the Running of the Bulls (YouTube), kids. So, if you're dreaming of a cheap tech Christmas, it's time to peruse the 2015 Black Friday ads and make your game plan. Get lucky at Best Buy this year, and you could score a $299.99 Dell 15.6" touchscreen laptop (i3, 8GB memory, 1 TB HD), a $399.99 Microsoft 10.8" Surface 3 (Atom x7, 2GB memory, 64GB storage), $899.99 MacBook Pro 13.3" laptop (i5, 4GB memory, 500MB HD), $99 Acer 11.6" Chromebook (Celeron, 2GB memory, 16GB storage), or, for those on a tight budget, a $34.99 7" Amazon Fire tablet. Fight the crowds at Walmart, and you could snag a $199 HP 15.6" laptop (Celeron, 4GB memory, 500GB drive) or $199 iPad mini 2. And for stay-at-home shoppers, Dell's Windows 10 price-breakers include a $149.99 14" laptop (Celeron, 2GB memory, 32GB storage) and a $229 15.6" laptop (i3, 4GB memory, 500MB HD). So, in your experience, has Black Friday been like a claw machine — suckering you with big prizes, but never delivering — or have you actually walked away with a great deal?
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Slashdot Asks: Notes For Next Hallowe'en? 151

There are 364 more shopping days until next year's Hallowe'en. But while this year's is still fresh in the memory, I'd like to start gathering ideas for next year in the hopes of actually making my neighborhood worthwhile as a trick-or-treating destination, specifically for fun projects to actually give my yard a haunted-house feel. (For the second time in three years, there were zero candy-seekers, and I'd like to convince my neighbors to make the whole block more decorated and spooky, even if we never get all Alek Komarnitsky.) Did you create an animatronic zombie for your yard? Glowing eyes to appear from behind the bushes? Poltergist-style rising graves to frighten the children? Remote-controlled candy dispensers? If you used any kind of complex haunt technology at home, what things worked and what didn't? (I hear too many stories about fog machines leaking to make them sound like a good idea.)

WA Pushes Back On Microsoft and's Call For Girls-First CS Education 288

theodp writes On Tuesday, the State of Washington heard public testimony on House Bill 1813 (video), which takes aim at boy's historical over-representation in K-12 computer classes. To allow them to catch flights, representatives of Microsoft and Microsoft-bankrolled were permitted to give their testimony before anyone else ("way too many young people, particularly our girls...simply don't have access to the courses at all," lamented Jane Broom, who manages Microsoft's philanthropic portfolio), so it's unclear whether they were headed to the airport when a representative of the WA State Superintendent of Public Instruction voiced the sole dissent against the Bill. "The Superintendent strongly believes in the need to improve our ability to teach STEM, to advance computer science, to make technology more available to all students," explained Chris Vance. "Our problem, and our concern, is with the use of the competitive grant program...just providing these opportunities to a small number of students...that's the whole basic problem...disparity of opportunity...if this is a real it fully" (HB 1813, like the White House K-12 CS plan, counts on philanthropy to make up for tax shortfalls). Hey, parents of boys are likely to be happy to see another instance of educators striving to be more inclusive than tech when it comes to encouraging CS participation!
Christmas Cheer

Ask Slashdot: Best Wireless LED Light Setup for 2015? 68

An anonymous reader writes I want to get a jump-start on next year's Christmas by wiring up my mother's gnome garden for a Christmas light show. I need a setup that can use wireless LED lights and speakers, the lights using a custom sequence set to music, that can be controlled remotely indoors to go off on a schedule, say every hour. Do you know of an off-the-shelf setup that is cheap and works seamlessly, especially for someone with little to no coding or custom building experience?
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Neil DeGrasse Tyson Explains His Christmas Tweet 681

140Mandak262Jamuna writes Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted on christmas day what appeared to begin as a tribute to Infant Jesus, but ended up celebrating Isaac Newton. Apparently this was retweeted some 77000 times, far above his average of 3.5K retweets and caused many to be angry. He doubled down on it by tweeting about people being offended by objective truths. Then wrote a fuller explanation.
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School Defied Google and US Government, Let Boys Program White House Xmas Trees 355

theodp writes This holiday season, Google and the National Parks partnered to let girls program the White House Christmas tree lights. While the initiative earned kudos in Fast Company's 9 Giant Leaps For Women In Science and Technology In 2014, it also prompted an act of civil disobedience of sorts from St. Augustine of Canterbury School, which decided Google and the U.S. government wouldn't determine which of their kids would be allowed to participate in the coding event. "We decided to open it up to all our students, both boys and girls so that they could be a part of such an historic event, and have it be the kickoff to our Hour of Code week," explained Debra Knox, a technology teacher at St. Augustine.

Inside China's 'Christmas Factory' Town, Yiwu 32

jones_supa writes China's manufacturing industry continues booming, which has led to the the town of Yiwu (a city of about 1.2m people in central Zhejiang province) being christened "China's Christmas village." The town has become the home of 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world's Christmas decorations and accessories. The "elves" that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month – and it turns out that all of them are not even entirely sure what Christmas is. Nevertheless, there are corridors lined with nothing but tinsel, streets throbbing with competing LED light shows, stockings of every size, plastic Christmas trees in blue and yellow and fluorescent pink, plastic pine cones in gold and silver. The complex of Yiwu International Trade Market was declared by the United Nations to be the "largest small commodity wholesale market in the world" and the scale of the operation necessitates a kind of urban plan, with this festival of commerce organised into five different districts, of which District Two is solely dedicated for Christmas stuff.
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Video Goodbye, Alek's Internet-Controlled Christmas Lights for Celiac Research 21

Alek Komarnitsky, Colorado (and the Internet's) own Clark Griswold, has decided to retire as his own props master, programmer, best boy, and effects specialist. After 10 years of increasingly elaborate set-ups, Alek's decided to go out with a bang, with his largest-yet rooftop display of open-source powered, remotely controllable, internet-connected Christmas lights. (This year, he even matches the fictional Griswold's 25,000 lights, but truth tops fiction, with live webcams, animated props, and more.) We talked with Alek last year, too; but now he's got a full decade's worth of reminiscing about his jest-made-real hobby as That Guy With the Lights, and some advice for anyone who'd like to take on a project like this.

Alek has managed to stay on good terms with his neighbors, despite the car and foot traffic that his display has drawn, and kept himself from serious harm despite a complex of minor, overlapping risks including ladders, squirrels, a fair amount of electricity and (the most dangerous, he says) wind. The lights are what the world sees, but the video capture and distribution to the vast online audience is an equal part of the work. Alek has learned a lot along the way about automation, logistics, wireless networking, and the importance of load balancing. It's always possible the lights will return in some form, or that someone will take up the mantle as Blinkenlights master, but this tail end of 2014 (and the first day of 2015) is your last good chance to tune in and help toggle some of those lights. (The display operates from 1700-2200 Mountain time.) Alternate Video Link Update: 12/22 22:50 GMT by T : Note: Alek talks about the last year here.
United States

Google, National Parks Partner To Let Girls Program White House Xmas Tree Lights 333

theodp writes The Washington Post reports the White House holiday decor is going digital this year, with dog-bots and crowdsourced tree lights. "Thanks to Google's Made with Code initiative," reports a National Park Foundation press release, "girls across the country will experience the beauty of code by lighting up holiday trees in President's Park, one of America's 401 national parks and home to the White House." Beginning on December 2, explains the press release, girls can head over to Google's (launched last June by U.S. CTO Megan Smith, then a Google X VP), to code a design for one of the 56 state and territory trees. Girls can select the shape, size, and color of the lights, and animate different patterns using introductory programming language and their designs will appear live on the trees. "Made with Code is a fun and easy way for millions of girls to try introductory code and see Computer Science as a foundation for their futures. We're thrilled that this holiday season families across the country will be able to try their hands at a fun programming project," said former Rep. Susan Molinari, who now heads Google's lobbying and policy office in Washington, DC.
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Black Friday '14: E-commerce Pages Far Slower Than They Were in 2013 143

An anonymous reader writes Black Friday news kicked off this weekend quite early when Best Buy was hit with a massive outage, but it turns out that was only half the story. The top 50 e-commerce websites were slower overall this year compared to last, suggesting customers were frustrated even if they could get to their favorite shopping site. Web performance monitoring company Catchpoint Systems looked at aggregate performance this weekend and compared it to the same timeframe in 2013. The results are notable: desktop web pages were 19.85 percent slower, while mobile web pages were a whopping 57.21 percent slower.

4 Tips For Your New Laptop 310

Bennett Haselton writes with four big tips for anyone blessed by the holiday buying frenzy with a new laptop; in particular, these are tips to pass on to non-techie relatives and others who are unlikely to put (say) "Install a Free operating system" at the very top of the list: Here's Bennett's advice, in short: (1) If you don't want to pay for an anti-virus program, at least install a free one. (2) Save files to a folder that is automatically mirrored to the cloud, for effortless backups. (3) Create a non-administrator guest account, in case a friend needs to borrow the computer. (4) Be aware of your computer's System Restore option as a way of fixing mysterious problems that arose recently." Read on for the expanded version; worth keeping in mind before your next friends-and-family tech support call.

Australian Dept. Store Chain's Website Crashes and Can't Get Back Up 156

McGruber writes "Myer, Australia's largest department store chain, has closed its website 'until further notice' at the height of the post-Christmas (and Australian summer) sales season. The website crashed on Christmas Day and has been down ever since. This means Myer will see no benefit for those days from booming domestic online sales, which were tipped to hit $344 million across the retail sector on Boxing Day alone. Teams from IBM and Myer's information technology division were 'working furiously' to fix the problem."
Christmas Cheer

Surge In Online Orders Overwhelms UPS Christmas Deliveries 378

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Reuters reports that the high volume of online orders of holiday packages overwhelmed shipping and logistics company UPS delaying the arrival of Christmas presents around the globe and sending angry consumers to social media to vent. The company projected 132 million deliveries last week "and obviously we exceeded that," said UPS spokeswoman Natalie Black without disclosing how many packages had been sent. "For now, UPS is really focused on delivering the remaining packages. You might not see trucks, but people are working." Asked why the company underestimated the volume of air packages it would receive, Black noted that previous severe weather in the Dallas area had already created a backlog. Then came "excess holiday volume" during a compressed time frame, since the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas was shorter than usual this year. responded with an email to affected customers offering shipping refunds and $20 gift cards to compensate. Packages shipped via UPS for by Prime customers, who pay $79 a year for two-day shipping, may be eligible for additional refunds. Amazon's stated policy for missed deliveries is to offer a free one-month extension of Prime. Frustrated consumers took to social media, with some complaining that gifts purchased for their children would not arrive in time to make it under the tree by Christmas morning. '"A lot of these employees keep saying 'It's the weather' or 'It's some kind of a backlog,' said Barry Tesh. 'Well then why, all the way up until the 23rd, were they offering next-day delivery? That guaranteed delivery was 80% of my decision to buy the gift."' However, others on social media urged shoppers to be more appreciative of the delivery company's work during the holiday season. 'While others take vacation and time off in December, remember we aren't allowed ever to be off in December. Ever,' said a 20-year veteran UPS driver on the UPS Facebook page. 'So when you see your family and complain that your package is held up, everyone who moves your package is working and doesn't get the Xmas experience you get, Be thankful for that.'"
Christmas Cheer

Video Alek Komarnitsky's Huge Christmas Light Display Still Going Strong (Video) 29

Alek Komarnitsky isn't the only one obsessed with Christmas lights. He's quick to point out that the display he assembles and improves each year at his Colorado home (in a "never-ending cycle") isn't the most elaborate in the country by a long shot, even among householders. But most of those other displays, no matter how complex, don't have the feature that's made Alek's an internet draw for many years running: visitors to the site not only get to see a live web-cam view of the system, but can flip the lights on and off themselves, making it a globally accessible interactive system. It's all based on home-grown scripts running on Linux (Alek says it's about as elegant as "duct tape and wire"), running old-school X10 controllers, and — surprisingly to me — the lights are mostly still conventional incandescents, rather than LED. This year, I finally caught up with Alek before Christmas; watch the video below to see our conversation. And even though Alek neither solicits nor wants money from people who like his Christmas display for himself, he does it partly as a benefit for Celiac Disease Research, and anything you give to this worthy cause is appreciated. Update: 12/23 21:21 GMT by T : NOTE: tune in starting around 4 PM Mountain time, and you'll get to see the system lit up.
Christmas Cheer

Bill Gates Plays Secret Santa To Reddit User 118

An anonymous reader writes "Gates fulfilled a Reddit users wish-list by buying several items and donating to a listed charity organization, although he did pass on getting the iPad on the list. From the article: 'The true identity of Rachel's Secret Santa was finally revealed when she found a photo of Gates holding the stuffed animal and the signed donation sent to Heifer International. An inscription in the book with a "really nice message" and note from Gates wishing Rachel a Merry Christmas and a Happy Birthday was the topper.'"
Christmas Cheer

Gift Idea: Custom Photomosaics With AndreaMosaic and PhotoGrabber 61

Bennettt Haselton has a gift idea for this year that needn't necessarily cost you any money (if you have a color printer available), though as he points out there are ways to invest in a higher-quality result. The gift? A unique picture created with a few pieces of free software and a bit of your time. Bennett writes: "You can use these little-known free programs to create a photomosaic of a friend's wedding photo or other favorite photograph, for a uniquely personal gift that doesn't cost much but can still delight. Follow these steps to use the programs most effectively and get the best results." Read on for the rest.
Christmas Cheer

Free Software Foundation Announces 2013 Holiday Giving Guide 104

An anonymous reader writes "On Cyber Monday, millions of Americans will take to the Internet in search of the newest gadgets to bestow upon their loved ones. Most of these 'gifts' are trojan horses that will spy on their recipients, prevent them from doing what they want with their device, or maybe even block access to their favorite books or music. The Free Software Foundation is proud to introduce a map through this minefield: our 2013 Giving Guide. The Giving Guide features gifts that will not only make your recipients jump for joy; these gifts will also protect their freedom."

Gift Review: Strandbeest Model Kit 28

Bennett Haselton has in years previous made some canny suggestions for tech-oriented holiday gifts; you can look forward to another one. Today, though, Bennett writes about one cool toy in particular: a kit to make your own creepy robot: "For over 20 years, Dutch inventor Theo Jansen has been building truck-sized sculptures that crab-walk eerily across the beach, using only the power of the wind to turn fan blades that power the gears and crankshafts and enable the walking motion. This kit allows you to assemble your own working model that 'walks' sideways across your desktop." Read on for the rest.