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Christmas Cheer

Merry Christmas - Be an Erector Engineer! 200

theodp writes: More than 50 years ago, lucky kids found an Automatic Conveyor Erector Set under the Xmas tree. And while President Obama lamented last year that kids — including his own — were done a disservice by an educational system that failed to introduce computer science concepts 'with the ABCs and the colors', Radio Shack advised 'Parents Who Care' to put a TRS-80 under the tree for their kids to program way back in 1978. So, to bring things up-to-date, what are the hot tech/science gifts that Santa brought children today?
Games

PhantomSquad Hackers Begin Their Xmas DDoS Attacks By Taking Down EA Servers (softpedia.com) 127

An anonymous reader writes: The hacking crew was not kidding about their Christmas DDoS attacks on Xbox & PSN. This morning the group started warmup attacks on the EA network, taking it down for 3 hours. The attacks were severe enough to take down the network completely, and EA issued apologies on its Twitter account. Phantom Squad is now carrying out DDoS attacks on PSN. Users started reporting outages in small areas around the world.
Christmas Cheer

Another Internet Griswold's Controllable Christmas Lights 46

An anonymous reader writes: For over a decade, Alek's Controllable Christmas Lights have been a festive online holiday tradition for millions of Internet users world-wide, so it was sadly the end of an era last year, when the Griswold wanna-be hung up his Santa Hat in 2014. But with the "Internet of Things" being the rage these days, it didn't take long for another Griswold to emerge from the North Pole, or at least pretty darn close to it. Ken Woods from Fairbanks, Alaska has his house online 24 hours a day with a dozen ON/OFF buttons that Internet users can use to toggle his lights with a click of a mouse. Here's a video of it in action and he uses Amazon EC2 to power it online. (While that all looks real, low-UID /.'ers will remember that Alek did a simulation from 2002-2004 using Perl code to switch between a series of images. Looks like the prankster dusted off that code for the Control Christmas Lights.com website.) I, for one, welcome our new Griswold Overlords with a big HO-HO-HO.
Perl

Perl 6 Gets Beta Compiler, Modules and an Advent Calendar (thenewstack.io) 131

An anonymous reader writes: A "useful and usable distribution of Perl 6" was released Saturday, a new beta version of the Rakudo compiler to support the coming production release this Christmas. And there's already 467 Perl 6 modules on the new archive at proto.perl6.org (though Perl 6 will also be able to load modules written in other languages). "Perl has a huge community of avid users that continues to thrive in spite of detractors," says one developer, pointing to new applications for big data, in a new article reporting that over one million people have downloaded ActivePerl's own Perl distribution just in 2015. And this week also saw the release of two new "Advent Calendars" of programming tips, one for Perl 5 and one for Perl 6.
Christmas Cheer

Finnish IT Retailer Reveals Most Returned Products 108

jones_supa writes: The largest computer gear retailer in Finland, Verkkokauppa.com, has unveiled top 20 lists of most returned and most serviced equipment in 2015 (Google translation). To offer an alternative to Black Friday, the company is going with a theme called "Sustainable Christmas". They want to guide shoppers to make good choices, as product returns always create extra burden for the distribution chain. Is there anything that catches your eye in the lists, or something else that you would like to warn about?
XBox (Games)

Ask Slashdot: Xbox One Or PlayStation 4? 375

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 146

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?
Christmas Cheer

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.)
Education

WA Pushes Back On Microsoft and Code.org'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 Code.org 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 priority...fund 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?
Christmas Cheer

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.
Christmas Cheer

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.
China

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.
Christmas Cheer

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 madewithcode.com (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.
Christmas Cheer

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.
Security

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.
Australia

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."

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