Toys

Ask Slashdot: Are There Any Good Smartwatches Or Fitness Trackers? 218

"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.
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.
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.

Technology

'You Had to Be There': As Technologies Change Ever Faster, the Knowledge of Obsolete Things Becomes Ever Sweeter (theatlantic.com) 546

Alexis C. Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic: There's a question going around on Twitter, courtesy of the writer Matt Whitlock: "Without revealing your actual age, what's something you remember that if you told a younger person they wouldn't understand?" This simple query has received, at this date, 18,000 responses. Here is just a tiny selection: A/S/L, pagers, manual car windows, "be kind, please rewind", "Waiting by the radio for my song to come on so I could record it on a cassette tape", floppy disks, the smell of purple mimeograph ink, WordPerfect, busy signals, paper maps, Winamp, smoking in the hospital, the card catalogue. Our favorite response, "The remote to change the channel on the TV was attached to a box that was attached to the TV", which elicited a response, "What about the remote that was really a clicker... In that it clicked like a frog toy",
Robotics

Famous Robot from 1956 Movie Auctioned For $5.3 Million (newatlas.com) 64

schwit1 tells us that "Robby the Robot" -- a prop from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet -- has just been auctioned for $5.3 million, making it the second most-expensive movie prop in history. New Atlas reports: The complete Robby suit, control panel, his jeep, numerous spares, alternate original "claw" hands, and the original wooden stage shipping crates, were sold Tuesday by Bonhams in New York for US $5,375,000 including buyers premium. The only purpose-built movie prop to have ever sold for more is Marilyn Monroe's "subway dress" from The Seven Year Itch (1955) which was sold by Profiles in History for $5,520,000 (including buyers premium) in 2011.
After Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot reappeared in a movie called The Invisible Boy, and later had a climactic showdown with the robot from Lost in Space. He also made appearances on other TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, Mork & Mindy, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. And he even appeared in commercials, including one warning about the dangers of depleting the ozone layer -- plus a commercial for Charmin bathroom tissue.
China

All 500 of the World's Top 500 Supercomputers Are Running Linux (zdnet.com) 288

Freshly Exhumed shares a report from ZDnet: Linux rules supercomputing. This day has been coming since 1998, when Linux first appeared on the TOP500 Supercomputer list. Today, it finally happened: All 500 of the world's fastest supercomputers are running Linux. The last two non-Linux systems, a pair of Chinese IBM POWER computers running AIX, dropped off the November 2017 TOP500 Supercomputer list. When the first TOP500 supercomputer list was compiled in June 1993, Linux was barely more than a toy. It hadn't even adopted Tux as its mascot yet. It didn't take long for Linux to start its march on supercomputing.

From when it first appeared on the TOP500 in 1998, Linux was on its way to the top. Before Linux took the lead, Unix was supercomputing's top operating system. Since 2003, the TOP500 was on its way to Linux domination. By 2004, Linux had taken the lead for good. This happened for two reasons: First, since most of the world's top supercomputers are research machines built for specialized tasks, each machine is a standalone project with unique characteristics and optimization requirements. To save costs, no one wants to develop a custom operating system for each of these systems. With Linux, however, research teams can easily modify and optimize Linux's open-source code to their one-off designs.
The semiannual TOP500 Supercomputer List was released yesterday. It also shows that China now claims 202 systems within the TOP500, while the United States claims 143 systems.
Communications

Investigation Finds Security Flaws In 'Connected' Toys (theguardian.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A consumer group is urging major retailers to withdraw a number of "connected" or "intelligent" toys likely to be popular at Christmas, after finding security failures that it warns could put children's safety at risk. Tests carried out by Which? with the German consumer group Stiftung Warentest, and other security research experts, found flaws in Bluetooth and wifi-enabled toys that could enable a stranger to talk to a child. The investigation found that four out of seven of the tested toys could be used to communicate with the children playing with them. Security failures were discovered in the Furby Connect, i-Que Intelligent Robot, Toy-Fi Teddy and CloudPets. With each of these toys, the Bluetooth connection had not been secured, meaning the researcher did not need a password, pin or any other authentication to gain access. Little technical knowhow was needed to hack into the toys to start sharing messages with a child.
Portables

Crowdfunded 'PowerWatch' Runs on Body Heat, Never Needs Charging (engadget.com) 81

Engadget reports on a new watch that suggests the possibility of a future without chargers: This thermal-powered wearable doesn't need one -- it gets energy by converting your body heat into electricity. It's been a year since I saw an early prototype of the PowerWatch -- a smart(ish) watch that tracks basic fitness metrics. Now, the self-proclaimed energy-harvesting company is finally ready to ship PowerWatches to the early adopters who backed its Indiegogo campaign...

Because its functions are pretty basic and its LCD screen is relatively low-powered, it doesn't take too much electricity to keep the watch running... The PowerWatch can not only tell the time, set alarms and timers but also track your activity and sleep... Matrix co-founder Douglas Tham said the PowerWatch will keep running for up to 12 months if you don't wear it, and a PowerSave mode kicks in to conserve energy by killing non-timekeeping functions.

Bug

Sex Toy Company Admits To Recording Users' Remote Sex Sessions, Calls It a 'Minor Bug' (theverge.com) 81

According to Reddit user jolioshmolio, Hong Kong-based sex toy company Lovense's remote control vibrator app (Lovense Remote) recorded a use session without their knowledge. "An audio file lasting six minutes was stored in the app's local folder," reports The Verge. "The user says he or she gave the app access to the mic and camera but only to use with the in-app chat function and to send voice clips on command -- not constant recording when in use." The app's behavior appears to be widespread as several others confirmed it too. From the report: A user claiming to represent Lovense responded and called this recording a "minor bug" that only affects Android users. Lovense also says no information or data was sent to the company's servers, and that this audio file exists only temporarily. An update issued today should fix the bug. This isn't Lovense's first security flub. Earlier this year, a butt plug made by the company -- the Hush -- was also found to be hackable. In the butt plug's case, the vulnerability had to do with Bluetooth, as opposed to the company spying on users.
Math

The Geometry of Islamic Art Becomes a Treasure of a Game (arstechnica.com) 213

Sam Machkovech from Ars Technica reviews the game Engare, describing it as a "clever, deceptively simple, and beautiful rumination on geometry and Islamic art-making traditions." The game consists of relatively simple puzzles and a freeform art toy that unlocks its puzzles' tools to allow you to make whatever patterns you please. From the report: The game, made almost entirely by 23-year-old Iranian developer Mahdi Bahrami, starts with a 2D scene of a circle repeatedly traveling along a line. Above this, an instructional card shows a curved-diagonal line. Drop a dot on the moving circle, the game says, and it will generate a bold line, like ink on a page. As the ball (and thus, your dot) rolls, the inked line unfurls; if you put the dot on a different part of the circle, then your inked line may have more curve or angle to it, based on the total motion of the moving, rotating circle. Your object is to recreate this exact curved-diagonal line. If your first ink-drop doesn't do the trick, try again. Each puzzle presents an increasingly complex array of moving and rotating shapes, lines, and dots. You have to watch the repeating patterns and rotations in a particular puzzle to understand where to drop an ink dot and draw the demanded line. At first, you'll have to recreate simple turns, curves, and zig-zags. By the end, you'll be making insane curlicues and rug-like super-patterns.

But even this jaded math wiz-kid couldn't help but drop his jaw, loose his tongue, and bulge his eyes at the first time Engare cracked open its math-rich heart. One early puzzle (shown above) ended with its seemingly simple pattern repeating over and over and over and over. Unlike other puzzles, this pattern kept drawing itself, even after I'd fulfilled a simple line-and-turn pattern. And with each pass of the drawing pattern, driven by a spinning, central circle, Engare drew and filled a new, bright color. This is what the game's creator is trying to shout, I thought. This is his unique, cultural perspective. This looks like the Persian rugs he saw his grandmother weave as a child.

Education

42% of Americans Under 8 Have Their Own Tablet (axios.com) 221

A reader shares an Axios report: A whopping 42% of children ages 0-8 have their own tablet device, up from less than 1% in 2011, according to Common Sense Media's newest national "Media Use by Kids" census. Families with young children are now more likely to have a subscription video service such as Netflix or Hulu (72%) than they are to have cable TV (65%). 10% of kids age 8 or under own a "smart" toy that connects to the internet and 9% have a voice-activated virtual assistant device available to them in the home, such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home.
Power

Solar Powered Smartwatch Successfully Crowdfunded on Kickstarter (theverge.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Battery life on smartwatches is, in a word, bad. And while most of today's watches can more or less make it through a day without dying, they're still a far cry from the months or even years that traditional watches can run for. What if you never had to charge your smartwatch? That's the promise of Lunar, a new Kickstarter project that claims to be the world's first solar-powered smartwatch... The company says that the watch can charge off both indoor and outdoor light, and can run off as little as one hour of exposure a day. (The company also includes a traditional inductive charger as a backup.)

As for the watch itself, it's a pretty standard hybrid smartwatch, solar power aside. It'll be able to do basic activity and sleep tracking, offer some limited notification support through a colored LED, and automatically set time zones through a connected smartphone app. Also, given the need for low power consumption for the solar charging to feasibly work, there's no screen on the Lunar. Instead, there's just a ring of LED lights located where hour markers would be.

The campaign reached its funding goal wIthin two days of launching -- and one week later had double that amount, raising a total of $101,987 from 564 backers.

It's not clear if Slashdot readers love or hate smartwatches. Does it make a difference if the watch is solar powered?
Google

Google Conducted Hollywood 'Interventions' To Change Look of Computer Scientists (usatoday.com) 644

theodp writes: Most TV computer scientists are still white men," USA Today reports. "Google wants to change that. Google is calling on Hollywood to give equal screen time to women and minorities after a new study the internet giant funded found that most computer scientists on television shows and in the movies are played by white men. The problem with the hackneyed stereotype of the socially inept, hoodie-clad white male coder? It does not inspire underrepresented groups to pursue careers in computer science, says Daraiha Greene, Google CS in Media program manager, multicultural strategy." According to a Google-funded study conducted by Prof. Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Google's Computer Science in Media team conducted "CS interventions" with "like-minded people" to create "Google influenced storytelling." The executive summary for a USC study entitled Cracking the Code: The Prevalence and Nature of Computer Science Depictions in Media notes that "Google influenced" TV programs include HBO's Silicon Valley and AMC's Halt and Catch Fire. The USC researchers also note that "non-tech focused programs may offer prime opportunities to showcase CS in unique and counter-stereotypical ways. As the Google Team moves forward in its work with series such as Empire, Girl Meets World, Gortimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street, or The Amazing Adventures of Gumball, it appears the Team is seizing these opportunities to integrate CS into storytelling without a primary tech focus." The study adds, "In the case of certain series, we provided on-going advisement. The Fosters, Miles from Tomorrowland, Halt and Catch Fire, Ready, Jet, Go, The Powerpuff Girls and Odd Squad are examples of this. In addition to our continuing interactions, we engaged in extensive PR and marketing support including social media outreach, events and press."

Google's TV interventions have even spilled over into public education -- one of Google-sponsored Code.org's signature Hour of Code tutorials last December was Gumball's Coding Adventure, inspired by the Google-advised Cartoon Network series, The Amazing Adventures of Gumball. "We need more students around the world pursuing an education in CS, particularly girls and minorities, who have historically been underrepresented in the field," explains a Google CS First presentation for educators on the search giant's Hour of Code partnership with Cartoon Network. "Based on our research, one of the reasons girls and underrepresented minorities are not pursuing computer science is because of the negative perception of computer scientists and the relevance of the field beyond coding." According to a 2015 USC report, President Obama was kept abreast of efforts to challenge media's stereotypical portrayals of women; White House Visitor Records show that USC's Smith, the Google-funded study's lead author, and Google CS Education in Media Program Manager Julie Ann Crommett (now at Disney) were among those present when the White House Council on Women and Girls met earlier that year with representatives of the nation's leading toy makers, media giants, retailers, educators, scientists, the U.S. Dept. of Education, and philanthropists.

Communications

Disney To Pull Its Movies From Netflix and Start Its Own Streaming Service (theverge.com) 270

Disney announced today that it will end its distribution deal with Netflix and launch its own streaming service in 2019. "The move is a real blow to Netflix, which secured a valuable streaming deal with Disney back in 2012 -- before streaming had really taken off," reports The Verge. "The deal only kicked into effect last year, so Netflix is barely seeing any benefit here." From the report: Netflix won't lose its Disney movies right away. Disney says it plans to cut Netflix off starting with the studio's 2019 films, and Netflix says it'll be able to keep all the Disney movies it gets through the end of that year. That means Netflix should be able to stream the next two Star Wars movies, but it'll miss out on the new trilogy's final installment. "We continue to do business with the Walt Disney Company on many fronts, including our ongoing deal with Marvel TV," said a spokesperson for Netflix. Disney's streaming service will be built off technology from BAMTech, the MLB-founded video streaming platform. Disney was already a major investor in BAMTech, and today it's making an even bigger investment -- of $1.58 billion -- giving it a 75 percent stake in the company. The acquisition still requires regulatory approval. The Disney-branded streaming service will be the "exclusive home in the U.S. for subscription-video-on-demand viewing," and will kick off with films including Toy Story 4 and the sequel to Frozen. "Original movies, TV shows, [and] short-form content" will be added to the service, and it'll be filled out with older movies from Disney and Pixar's catalog and shows from Disney's TV channels. The report also notes Disney plans to launch a streaming service exclusively for ESPN, targeted for launch early next year. "Disney is promising about '10,000 live regional, national, and international games and events a year,' with individual sports packages available as well," reports The Verge.
Google

Linus Torvalds Now Reviews Gadgets On Google+ (zdnet.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet: If you know anything about Linus Torvalds, you know he's the mastermind and overlord of Linux. If you know him at all well, you know he's also an enthusiastic scuba diver and author of SubSurface, a do-it-all dive log program. And, if you know him really well, you'd know, like many other developers, he loves gadgets. Now, he's starting his own gadget review site on Google+: Working Gadgets...

"[W]hile waiting for my current build to finish, I decided to write a note about some of the gadgets I got that turned out to work, rather than all the crazy crap that didn't. Because while 90% of the cool toys I buy aren't all that great, there's still the ones that actually do live up to expectations. So the rule is: no rants. Just good stuff. Because this is about happy gadgets."

So far Linus has reviewed an automatic cat litter box, a scuba diving pressure regulator, and a Ubiquiti UniFi Wi-Fi access point that complements his Google WiFi mesh network.

Linus will be great at this. Just last week I saw him recommending a text editor.
AI

Dadbot: How a Son Made a Chatbot of His Dying Dad (www.cbc.ca) 114

theodp writes: In A Son's Race to Give His Dying Father Artificial Immortality (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source), James Vlahos recounts his efforts to turn the story of his father's life -- as told by his 80-year-old Dad in his final months after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer -- into what Vlahos calls "a Dadbot -- a chatbot that emulates not a children's toy but the very real man who is my father." Given the limits of tech at the time (2016) and his own inexperience as a programmer, Vlahos recognized that the bot would never be more than a shadow of his real dad, but hoped to get the bot to communicate in his father's distinctive manner and convey at least some sense of his personality. Of the first time he demoed the bot for his parents, Vlahos writes: "Emboldened, I bring up something that has preoccupied me for months. 'This is a leading question, but answer it honestly,' I say, fumbling for words. 'Does it give you any comfort, or perhaps none -- the idea that whenever it is that you shed this mortal coil, that there is something that can help tell your stories and knows your history?' My dad looks off. When he answers, he sounds wearier than he did moments before. 'I know all of this shit,' he says, dismissing the compendium of facts stored in the Dadbot with a little wave. But he does take comfort in knowing that the Dadbot will share them with others. 'My family, particularly. And the grandkids, who won't know any of this stuff.' He's got seven of them, including my sons, Jonah and Zeke, all of whom call him Papou, the Greek term for grandfather. 'So this is great,' my dad says. 'I very much appreciate it.'"
Government

Russia Is Investigating Fidget Spinners After Reports Claim They 'Zombify' Youth (theverge.com) 202

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: In a recent report, Russia-24, a state-owned news channel, suggests that fidget spinners are being used by Russian opposition parties in order to recruit young people. As reported by The New York Times, the reporters in Russia-24's initial story say, "It is a mystery why it has become so popular in Russia right now. Who is promoting this to the masses so actively?" The video segment says the toys were being distributed at a rally for opposition leader Alexei Navalny and in online ads that direct viewers to YouTube channels that promote opposition politicians. The reporters said that while the toy's popularity was declining in the West, fidget spinners are more popular than ever in Russia. "As you can see here there is only writing in English, on the other side there is not a word in Russian," says one of the show's anchors during the report, presenting a new spinner in its packaging to the camera. According to Newsweek, a second report on Russia-24 also aired on July 12th, directly saying fidget spinners were an "object for zombifying" and a form of "hypnosis." The program featured a report from psychologist Svetlana Filatova, claiming that the spinners could help dexterity in children but otherwise "dulls" people's minds. The reports spurred Russia's consumer protection agency, Rospotrebnadzor, into action, saying on Tuesday they would launch an investigation into the toy.
Toys

New Fidget Spinners Are Catching On Fire (newsweek.com) 110

An anonymous reader quotes Newsweek's latest story about fidget spinners: In a development that now seems like it was inevitable, the three-pronged toys are starting to catch on fire. Gizmodo on Thursday pointed to two recent instances of Bluetooth-enabled fidget spinners going up in flames while they were charging. In Alabama, a fidget spinner owned by the son of Gardendale woman Kimberly Allums caught fire after being plugged in for less than 45 minutes. In Fenton, Michigan, Michelle Carr said her spinner started smoking after charging for less than half an hour. "He noticed that it burst into flames and he just started screaming," said Allums of her son and his spinner. "I was downstairs and all I heard was 'fire...fire,' and the fidget spinner had literally, It wasn't smoking, It was in flames"... The fidget spinners in question were Bluetooth-enabled so that they could light up and play music as they spun.
Friday CNET ran a column titled "Fidget spinners exploding? Of course they are." It concludes with a warning that "if you choose a powered off-brand tech item, you better pay close attention when you plug it in."
Businesses

Fidget Spinners Are Over (fivethirtyeight.com) 175

Walt Hickey, writing for Five Thirty Eight: The toy craze that has swept the nation -- cheaply manufactured fidget spinners of dubious metallic constitution -- is probably on the way out, with the high-water mark of fidget obsession appearing to be about a month behind us and the interest in the glorified ball bearings plateauing or declining. [...] Even if there's a long tail on this trend, it's very likely that peak fidget spinner is behind us. The kind of content now doing well on YouTube is either fidget-adjacent stunt videos or videos that have taken a particularly weird turn. This doesn't mean the ball-bearing business is doomed, just maybe don't go long on the spinner industrial complex or quit your job to live off a fidget-related Kickstarter idea at this point.
Debian

Debian 9 (Stretch) Will Be Released Today (twitter.com) 196

The Debian Project has been liveblogging today's release of Debian 9 (Stretch) using the Twitter hashtag #releasingstretch. Some of the announcements:
  • The oldstable suite (wheezy) has now been renamed to oldoldstable
  • Debian jessie now been renamed to oldstable!
  • The Debian stretch suites have now been renamed to stable!
  • The draft debian-devel-announce post is ready, archive docs are being cleaned up

This release is named after that purple octopus in Toy Story 3, and more tantalizing tidbits of information keep appearing on Debian's micronews site:

  • At least 1436 people and 18 teams contributed to Debian in 2017
  • Stretch has 25,357 source packages with 9,808,465 source files
  • There were 13 different themes proposed to be the official Debian stretch theme
  • Debian Stretch ships with the free mathematical software SageMath, you can install it with apt
  • During the stretch development, 101 contributors became Debian Developers, and 94 more become Debian Maintainers
  • Debian Stretch will ship with the first release of the Debian Astro Pure Blend [for astronomers]
  • Debian Popularity Contest gathers anonymous statistics about Debian packages usage from about 195,000 reports

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