Back in 2009, Internet hive Reddit founded its own multinational, cross-cultural Secret Santa gift exchange. Last year, the event drew 44,805 participants from 130 countries, good enough for a Guinness World Record (online Secret Santa division). This year, it has reportedly attracted Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
In a post yesterday on redditgifts.com, a user named Rachel recalled opening a 7-pound package containing a book, a stuffed cow toy and a donation card – made out in Rachel's name – to Heifer International, a nonprofit. Also included: A picture of a smiling Bill Gates holding the cow and the donation card.
"Never in my entire life did I imagine, ever, ever, ever that Bill would get me. I am SO SO thankful for the time, thought and energy he put into my gift, and especially thankful for him over-nighting it," Rachel wrote. "I feel SO shocked and excited that not only did I receive a gift from Bill, but it was perfectly and EXACTLY tuned into my interests."
The only embarrassing fact, in Rachel's view, is that she'd put an iPad on her wish list – probably not the gift the co-founder of the company that makes the Surface tablet (an iPad competitor) is inclined to fork over.
A quick note here: We're not generally cynical or hard-hearted people. Moreover, if this is a prank, it was perpetrated by someone with amazing Photoshop skills. Still, we feel we should point out – since the world is full of social media hoaxsters – that Bill Gates has not yet stepped forward to confirm his participation in the Reddit Secret Santa program.
In related news, Microsoft, following in Apple's footsteps, recently announced it had 83 brick-and-mortar retail stores up and running in the US. "We have welcomed more than 362 million customers to our full-line, specialty and online Microsoft Store properties in more than 200 markets worldwide," the company said in a press release.
The latest way to sell a tablet: By comparing it to a mullet.
In the deliriously weird new advertisement for the Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet, a young man named David sits down for a haircut, only to find himself alternately caressed, prodded and poked at by a hairdresser with rotting fingernails and the vocal patterns of a B-movie villain. Eventually, David decides on a mullet – short on the sides, long in the back.
While he waits, he's presented with a Lumia 2520, which he dutifully clicks through.
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"So, what do you think?" the barber asks, once his work is finished.
"Nice," David says. "All set for business."
"All set to party," replies the barber.
Cue the shot of the bright red Lumia 2520 against a glaring white backdrop. The suggestion: Like the mullet, a haircut once favored by rock stars and country gentlemen, the Lumia 2520 is a multipurpose machine: classy from one angle and plenty of fun from another. It certainly is a novel approach – and at very least, this is an advertisement we won't be forgetting anytime soon.
The Lumia 2520 is set to debut this month in the US – asking price is $399 with a data contract. On the spec list: a quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon; Microsoft's pared down OS, Windows RT 8.1; and a pair of cameras – one front-facing and the other back-facing.
"[I]t’s a well-made, great performing tablet, with an excellent screen and really attractive price tag," Mr. Seifert writes. "Though the Surface 2 offers some more attractive options, such as the built-in kickstand, USB ports, and better and slimmer keyboard covers, I enjoyed using the 2520 much more due to its wireless connectivity and snappier performance."
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In a blog post on Tuesday, John W. Thompson, a member of Microsoft’s board of directors, said that the search committee, which he chairs, won't choose a candidate until next year. Still, he said he was "pleased" with the committee's progress – and said that the search included both outsiders and current Microsoft employees.
"We identified over 100 possible candidates, talked with several dozen, and then focused our energy intensely on a group of about 20 individuals, all extremely impressive in their own right," Mr. Thompson wrote. "As you would expect, as this group has narrowed, we’ve done deeper research and investigation, including with the full board. We’re moving ahead well, and I expect we’ll complete our work in the early part of 2014."
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Mr. Ballmer announced he was stepping down earlier this year. "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," Ballmer said in August. Since then, rumors have swirled about his possible replacement. Some analysts have mentioned Stephen Elop, currently the CEO of Nokia, which Microsoft is in the process of acquiring; others have speculated it could be Ford CEO Alan Mulally.
In related news, last week, the tech site The Verge reported that Nokia was working on an Android-powered smart phone code-named "Normandy." The device would allegedly replace the Asha line of Nokia phones in some developing markets. Nokia did not comment. But within the Finnish company, "there is a sense that Redmond" – i.e. Microsoft – "may be willing to pursue the project," writes Ina Fried of All Things D.
San Francisco is rolling out free Wi-Fi service on three miles of Market Street, one of the busiest drags in the city.
The network, which cost about half a million dollars, stretches from Castro Street to the Embarcadero, and will go live this week. According to PC World, Ruckus Wireless, a company headquartered in nearby Sunnyvale, donated 150 of its outdoor access points for the project; meanwhile, the Mountain Company Layer42 Networks reportedly provided a gigabit of Internet access service.
"A quarter of a million people traverse Market Street every day, from all walks of life," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee told the Chronicle this week. "Now they can access information, find out when their next bus is coming, or peruse local job listings, all for free. This is a significant first step in my vision of connectivity for our city."
Plenties of American cities are now offering free Wi-Fi in some areas – in Boston, for instance, you sign online in the Common or in busy, bustling South Station. Other metropolises, such as Los Angeles, are reportedly weighing the possibility of city-wide networks. For the most part, these developments have been greeted warmly by residents. But not everyone is onboard.
"Do we really want to create an environment where the general public, parents and caregivers are sitting with their computers connected with the Internet instead of connecting with nature and our children?" a singer-songwriter named Shannon Bryant told the San Francisco Examiner. "Do we want to teach our children that parks are for going online and consuming products instead of playing in the grass or climbing a tree? We don’t."
We binge watch and we don't feel the least bit bad about it.
That's the takeaway of a new survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Netflix. According to Harris, which surveyed 1,500 "regular" TV streamers – here defined as streaming a TV show once a week, at least – 61 percent of viewers copped to participating in a binge-watching escapade at least once a week, and a full 73 percent say that they have a "positive" feeling toward all that TV.
Some other interesting data from the survey: Roughly a third of all binge-watchers do it solo, while the majority – 51 percent – prefer to binge with a pal. And 80 percent – ourselves included! – would much rather "stream a good TV show than read a friend's social media posts." Meanwhile, the majority of respondents defined binge-watching as taking in 2 to 6 episodes in a single setting.
"Our viewing data shows that the majority of streamers would actually prefer to have a whole season of a show available to watch at their own pace," Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix, said in a press release today. He added that Netflix original series, such as Orange is the New Black, "are created for multi-episodic viewing, lining up the content with new norms of viewer control for the first time."
"Mindless couch-potato behaviour aside, it’s something that traditional broadcasters should be watching closely, and no doubt are, as [couch] potatoes like me get hooked on a series available on Netflix or elsewhere online, or make repeated trips for DVD rentals," Michael Babad of the Globe and Mail writes in a column this week on the binge-watching phenomenon. "Though, yes, occasionally there’s pay-per-view, as well."
Days after it was hit by a widespread outage, Yahoo Mail is still unavailable for many users.
In a Twitter message posted Thursday afternoon, the Yahoo Mail team said it was "working tirelessly to restore access to those still having issues," but acknowledged in other messages that service would likely not be fully online before Friday. "[W]e expect all emails to be delivered by tomorrow afternoon," read one note to a frustrated user. By all accounts, the outage began on Monday.
In a blog post Wednesday, Yahoo's Jeffrey Bonforte said the problems had "been traced to a hardware problem in one of our mail data centers. The issue has been harder to fix than we originally expected."
An ordinary outage, right? Well, not so fast, writes Kara Swisher of All Things D. In a scathing piece posted Thursday, Ms. Swisher points to a series of "multi-day outages" that have not been adequately explained or even addressed by the Yahoo staff.
"What is consistent are two things: Outages have been occurring regularly and Yahoo has been woefully negligent in informing its users about the problems," Swisher writes. "They have also declined to return emails inquiring about the issue and others related to Yahoo Mail from this site for weeks, in perhaps the most astonishing display of PR incompetence I have experienced in a very long time."
She continued: "[T]the contrast to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s insistence on engineering excellence and innovation and the inability of the company to provide a cogent explanation about what is happening to one of its most important daily interfaces with its customers could not be any more stark."
On Nov. 22, Microsoft officially launched the Xbox One, the long-awaited successor to the Xbox 360. Twenty-four hours later, a million of the devices had been snatched up. Now, a couple weeks after its debut, Microsoft says it has passed the 2 million sales mark worldwide.
Moreover, the Xbox One is reportedly leaving store shelves at a velocity of 111,111 units a day – a record for a Microsoft gaming device.
"Demand is exceeding supply in our 13 launch markets and Xbox One is sold out at most retailers," Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of strategy and marketing for Xbox, said in a Microsoft press statement. "We’re also particularly excited to see consumers engaging in a wide range of games and entertainment experiences on the platform, with more than 1 million paid transactions on Xbox Live to date."
Couple things to note here. First: There is a time-honored tradition of hyping up demand – as Mr. Mehdi does above – and touting exactly how "sold out" an item happens to be. Why? Well, because no one wants a piece of technology that no one else wants. We want the piece of technology that everyone wants, and more than that, we want to be able to brag to our buddies that we managed to find it in the midst of a shortage.
Similarly, in the run-up to the launch of the PlayStation 4, Sony brass repeatedly hinted that supplies were going to be tight, but promised that the company was "going to work very hard to make sure that every consumer that wants one gets one." Bottom line: When reading manufacturer-released numbers on the newest gadget, it's always best to remember that the company is making those figures public for a reason.
Interested in trying to get your hands on an Xbox One? Check out our review round-up first.
Among the applications: Red Bull TV, music video site Vevo, Viki – which airs Japanese anime and a range of Korean, Chinese, and Filipino dramas – and Songza, a music recommendation engine in the mould of Pandora. There's also a trio of free multimedia platforms: Plex, Avia, or RealPlayer Cloud. (For the full list, navigate over to the Chrome page on Google+.)
Chromecast, which retails for $35, is advertised by Google as is "the easiest way to enjoy online video and music on your TV." Plug the thing into the HDMI port on your TV set, and you can wirelessly stream video from your smart phone, tablet, or computer straight onto the big screen. Pure bliss, in other words, for anyone who's got a crick in their neck from trying to watch Netflix in bed, on a laptop.
"[I]f you’re the type who routinely watches things on a laptop and just wants an easier, cleaner way to get those things on a TV, the Chromecast is a no-brainer," Nilay Patel of the Verge wrote in a largely positive review of Chromecast from July. "Think of it as a wireless display cable for your laptop and you’ll get the potential immediately – there’s a reason all these companies have been trying to put a browser on TV for the past 15 years."
Speaking to CNET, Rio Caraeff, the CEO of Vevo, called Chromecast a natural fit for the Vevo player. But in the future, he predicted, the hardware required to beam content from phone or laptop or tablet to television will be incorporated into TV sets themselves.
"I believe that the vast majority of people on the planet will use their mobile device as the set-top box to get video to the television," he said. "We're going through a very rapid transition period of experimentation, of game consoles and awkward hockey pucks and lots of HDMI dongles and appendages. I think we'll look back in time, a year or two from now, maybe three years, and say, 'Remember when I had to buy that $49 thing, or that $99 thing?' Or: 'Remember when I had to change inputs, or remember when I used to have this thing hanging off the back of my TV?' This will seem like Stone Age type of stuff."
[Editor's note: The original version of this article misspelled VEVO's name.]
Tell us if this scenario sounds familiar: You're introduced to a friend of a friend at a work event. You add him on Facebook. And although this person is really only a passing acquaintance, by the end of that week, your News Feed is so flooded by his photos and videos and longwinded diatribes against corporate oligarchy and orange Crocs that you can hardly find the updates from the people you really care about, like your family.
In the past, Facebook offered a Hide All button, that allowed you to effectively banish someone from your News Feed without banishing them from your circle of (upper case) Friends. But apparently, Hide All confused some people, because now, according to TechCrunch, Facebook is planning to roll out a functionality called "Unfollow," which will do... exactly the same thing as Hide All did.
"What is changing is the specific wording," writes Anthony Ha of TechCrunch, who picked up the news from a Facebook spokesman. "Thanks to services like Twitter and Instagram, users have presumably become more familiar with the concept of unfollowing, and it seems that the language of following and unfollowing is becoming a bigger part of Facebook."
OK, yes, the whole thing is a little silly. But it does demonstrate, as Mr. Ha notes, the ways in which Facebook is aping some of the more popular aspects of Twitter. Most recently, the company announced it would alter its algorithm to help keep actual news high on the News Feed and keep assorted clutter down lower.
"Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme," a pair of Facebook engineers wrote in a blog post announcing the changes. "Starting soon, we’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories on mobile. This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently."
Among the biggest winners in the annual Black Friday fracas? The Apple iPad.
Although Apple has yet to release official numbers on its tablet line, analytics firm InfoScout has crunched data from more than 125,000 American shoppers and determined that at the two of the three biggest big box stores in the country, the iPad was the top item sold.
The figures break down like this: At Wal-Mart, the most popular single item was the 16GB iPad Mini. At Target, the three most popular single items were all iPads: the 16GB iPad Air (first place); the 16GB iPad Mini (second); and the 32GB iPad Air (third place). At BestBuy, the Microsoft Surface tablet led the pack, but the 16GB iPad 2 (on sale for $299) wasn't very far behind at all.
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According to InfoScout, a full 22 percent of Target's early sales on Black Friday were Apple products. Meanwhile, iPads – Minis, Airs, and older models – made up 18 percent of Target's sales, 10 times the sales of all Android tablets put together. In a separate post – and one that must be no less dismaying for Google – InfoScout estimated that of all the iPads sold on Black Friday, 40 percent were purchased by Android users.
The numbers helped substantially pump up estimates from Wall Street analysts, who are increasingly bullish on Apple's prospects over the next few months.
The Apple iPad Air was first revealed in October and officially launched at the beginning of November.
"Surprise: the iPad Air is the best iPad we've reviewed," Brad Molen of Engadget wrote in a recent evaluation of the Air. "In addition, though, it's also the most comfortable 10-inch tablet we've ever tested. Not every manufacturer can produce a thin and light device without also making it feel cheap or flimsy, but Apple nailed it. Factor in a sizable boost in performance and battery life, and the Air is even more compelling."
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