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) 285

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) 176

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.
Sci-Fi

Destiny 2 Misrepresented XP Gains To Its Players Until the Developers Got Caught (arstechnica.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Destiny 2, like its predecessor, depends largely on an open-ended "end game" system. Once you beat the game's primary "quest" content, you can return to previously covered ground to find remixed and upgraded battles, meant to be played ad nauseam alone or with friends. To encourage such replay, Bungie dangles a carrot of XP gain, which works more slowly than during the campaign stages. Players are awarded a "bright engram" every time they "level up" past the level cap; the engrams are essentially loot boxes that contain a random assortment of cosmetics and weapon mods. Everything you do in the game, from killing a weak bad guy to completing a major raid-related milestone, is supposed to reward you a fixed XP amount. As series fans gear up for the game's first expansion, slated to launch December 5 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, its eagle-eyed fans at r/DestinyTheGame began questioning whether those rewards were really as fixed as claimed. Some players began to suspect that they were actually getting less XP than advertised each time they repeated certain in-game missions and tasks, such as the game's "Public Events."

With stopwatch in hand, a user named EnergiserX tracked the modes he played, keeping an eye on any shifts in XP gain over time. He put enough data together to confirm those suspicions: the XP gained in certain modes would shrink with each repetition. Worse, the game gave no indication of these diminishing returns. The XP-gain numbers that popped up above the game's XP bar didn't reflect the game's hidden scaling system. Thus, there was no way for a player to accurately calculate how their XP gain had been affected or scaled without going through EnergiserX's exhaustive process. With findings in hand, the tester posted on Reddit with calls to the developers for a response, which the community received on Saturday. Bungie confirmed its use of an "XP scaler" and added that it was "not performing the way we'd like it to," which meant the developer would remove that XP-scaling system upon the game's next patch. However, Bungie didn't clarify how the developers actually would have liked for this XP-scaling system to work, nor what factored into it announcing any changes beyond the system simply being discovered.
Bungie issued a patch on Sunday that removed the XP-scaling systems, but it introduced another unannounced change to the XP system. "Bungie decided to tune the speed of XP gain by doubling the required XP needed to 'level up,' from 80,000 points to 160,000," reports Ars Technica. "Patch notes didn't mention this change; Bungie, once again, had to be questioned by its fanbase before confirming the exact amount of this XP-related change."
Books

Tom Baker Returns To Finish Shelved Doctor Who Episodes Penned By Douglas Adams (theregister.co.uk) 83

Zorro shares a report from The Register: The fourth and finest Doctor, Tom Baker, has reprised the role to finish a Who serial scuppered in 1979 by strike action at the BBC. Shada, penned by Hitchhiker's Guide author Douglas Adams, was supposed to close Doctor Who's 17th season. Location filming in Cambridge and a studio session were completed but the strike nixed further work and the project was later shelved entirely for fear it might affect the Beeb's Christmas-time productions. The remaining parts have been filled in with animation and the voice of 83-year-old Baker, although he also filmed a scene. BBC Worldwide has now released the episodes, which interweave the 1979 footage with the new material to complete the story. "I loved doing Doctor Who, it was life to me," Baker told the BBC of his tenure as the much-loved Time Lord. "I used to dread the end of rehearsal because then real life would impinge on me. Doctor Who... when I was in full flight, then I was happy."
Cellphones

Pokemon Go Led To Increase In Traffic Deaths and Accidents, Says Study (arstechnica.com) 80

A new study from Purdue University uses detailed local traffic accident reports to suggest that Pokemon Go caused a marked increase in vehicle damages, injuries, and even deaths due to people playing the game while driving. Ars Technica reports: In the provocatively titled "Death by Pokemon Go" (which has been shared online but has yet to be peer-reviewed), Purdue professors Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell studied nearly 12,000 accident reports in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, in the months before and after Pokemon Go's July 6, 2016 launch. The authors then cross-referenced those reports with the locations of Pokestops in the county (where players visit frequently to obtain necessary in-game items) to determine whether the introduction of a Pokestop correlated with an increase in accident frequency, relative to intersections that didn't have them. While the incidence of traffic accidents increased across the county after Pokemon Go's introduction, that increase was a statistically significant 26.5 percent greater at intersections within 100 meters of a Pokestop, compared to those farther away. All told, across the county, the authors estimate 134 extra accidents occurred near Pokestops in the 148-day period immediately after the game came out, compared to the baseline where those Pokestops didn't exist. That adds up to nearly $500,000 in vehicle damage, 31 additional injuries, and two additional deaths across the county, based on extrapolation from the accident reports.

The study uses a regression model to account for potential confounding variables like school breaks and inclement weather, which could cause variation separate from Pokemon Go. The model also compares Pokestops to Pokegyms (where it was nearly impossible to play while driving) to account for the possibility that generally increased traffic to Pokemon Go locations was leading to more accidents, even among drivers who stopped and parked before playing. In all cases, though, being able to compare to intersections without a Pokestop and to the same dates the year before, helped provide natural control variables for the study.

Advertising

Plex's DVR Can Now Automatically Remove Commercials For You (digitaltrends.com) 75

Plex has updated its DVR, adding a new feature to automatically remove commercials. According to Digital Trends, "The feature was added in an update the Plex team pushed out over the weekend. You'll need to manually enable the feature by heading into your Plex DVR settings and finding the option, labeled 'Remove Commercials.'" From the report: You may not want to turn the feature on immediately without looking into reports from other users. The description in the settings warns that while the feature will attempt to automatically locate and remove commercials, this could potentially take a long time and cause high CPU usage. If you're running your Plex server on a powerful computer, this may not be an issue, but if you're running it on an old laptop, you might want to hold off. This new feature also changes your DVR recordings permanently, removing commercials from the files themselves. This shouldn't be a problem as long as the feature works as intended, but if it detects wrong portions of the file as commercials, you could end up missing out on part of your favorite shows.
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.
Movies

DC Fans Angry Over Rotten Tomatoes 'Justice League' Ratings (wired.com) 266

Rotten Tomatoes launched a new movie-review series called See It/Skip It last week -- but it just made some people hate the site even more. An anonymous reader quotes Wired: Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregator-slash-Hollywood-agitator, had irked DC fans by withholding its Justice League score until Thursday night's See It/Skip It premiere -- even though a wave of reviews for the film had already been posted online. The move was ostensibly a ploy to get viewers to tune in for the show, yet others saw a greater villainy at work: Was Rotten Tomatoes, which is owned in part by Warner Bros., actually trying to shield the studio from an inevitably bad grade that could help kill its opening weekend?

The See It/Skip It pushback -- which involved a lot of Tweet-screaming -- was a reminder of just how controversial Justice League had become... With Justice League having earned a less-than-expected $96 million in its opening weekend, the lowest ever for a DCEU title, the movie will likely be seen as a Flash-point moment for DC movies as a whole. Considering how some DC obsessives have reacted to the films' bad reviews -- there have been death threats in the past -- the conspiracy theory is actually a somewhat measured response... But there's another reason for all the pre-release pressure on Justice League: With the exception of this summer's Wonder Woman, the previous DC entries have all earned disappointingly low scores on Rotten Tomatoes... For some fans, the low scores felt like a referendum not only on [director Zack] Snyder's work, but the DC Extended Universe franchise as a whole -- so much so, a few defenders even began to speculate as to whether Rotten Tomatoes was manipulating the DCEU data (or, at the very least, grading the reviews on a much steeper curve than the Marvel films). Such theories filled message boards and Quora discussions, and there was even a Change.org petition to shut the site down that collected more than 23,000 signatures... Dangling the [Justice League] verdict in front of fans, and putting off the inevitable, felt like a misuse of power.

"They just want to focus on the negative," one DC fan told the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile, the film's director has endorsed a Change.org petition calling for the release of his original edit of the film.

Justice League cost nearly a third of a billion dollars to produce. On Thanksgiving Day, it earned less money than Disney-Pixar's film Coco.
Star Wars Prequels

Legislators Take Aim At Star Wars Battlefront II, EA Over 'Gambling In Games' (polygon.com) 72

dryriver writes: A number of pay-to-win microtransaction FPS games, including Dirty Bomb and the $60 Star Wars Battlefront II, have drawn the ire of legislators in countries like Belgium and the United States. Not only are advanced characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and various weapons and abilities in these games "locked" -- you pay for them in hard cash, or play for them for dozens and dozens of tedious hours -- the games also feature so called "Loot Boxes," which are boxes that contain a random item, weapon, character or ability. So like playing slot machines in Vegas, each time you can get something good, something mediocre or something totally crap. You cannot determine with any certainty what you will get for your real-world dollars or in-game achievements. Angry Reddit users recently downvoted a blundering statement by EA on the topic with a whopping 249,000 downvotes -- an all time downvote record on Reddit, shocking EA into retreating from its pay-to-win model and announcing unspecified "changes" now being made to Star Wars Battlefront II. Legislators in a number of countries have also sharply criticized "Loot Boxes" and "microtransactions" in games, with one legislator in Belgium vowing to have the sale of such games banned completely in the EU, because children are essentially being forced to "gamble with real money" in these games. Forbes has written a great piece about how EA is now essentially stuck with a $60 Star Wars game that cost a lot to make but probably cannot be monetized any further, because there is considerable risk of all games with loot boxes, microtransactions and "pay to win" monetization models being completely banned from sale in a number of different countries now. The morale of the story? Maybe people should not pay a game developer any more than the $40-60 they paid when they thought they "bought" the game in the first place.
Piracy

Google and Apple Order Telegram To Nuke Channel Over Taylor Swift Piracy (torrentfreak.com) 37

An anonymous reader writes: Instant messaging client Telegram has for the first time blocked access to an entire channel following pressure from Google and Apple. A channel, called Any Suitable Pop, was found distributing copyright infringed copies of songs from Taylor Swift's new album 'Reputation'. It's understood that following complaints from Universal Music, Google and Apple ordered Telegram to take action.
Movies

A Third of Americans Still Buy and Rent Videos (qz.com) 126

An anonymous reader writes: One-third of Americans still buy and rent videos, in addition to using streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, NPD Group found in its annual Entertainment Trends in America report. The research firm surveyed more than 7,000 members of its US online panel about their entertainment consumption during August 2017. Family films are still popular buys because kids will watch them over and over again. Spotty broadband service in rural America makes buying and renting more reliable than streaming for some. And some people just like to own and collect movies. Overall, 54% of people surveyed said they still buy or rent video.
Television

Television's Most Infamous Hack Is Still a Mystery 30 Years Later (vice.com) 116

It has been 30 years since the Max Headroom hack, arguably the creepiest hack in the television history took place. Caroline Haskins, writes about the incident for Motherboard: It was a few minutes after 9 PM on Sunday, November 22, 1987. Chicago sportscaster Dan Roan was cheerily summarizing the Bears's victory that day for Channel 9 local news. Suddenly, televisions went silent, and their screens went black. At first, it seemed like an equipment malfunction. Without warning, televisions in the area blasted loud radio static. It was overlain with the screech of a power saw cutting into metal, or a jet engine malfunctioning. At center screen, a person wore a Max Headroom mask -- a character who appeared on various television shows and movies in the 1980s. He appeared to have yellow skin, yellow clothes, and yellow slicked-back hair. As purple and black lines spun behind him, Max nodded and swayed back and forth. His plastic face was stuck in laughter, and opaque sunglasses covered his eyes, which seemed to peer through the screen. The screen went black again. After a moment, Roan reappeared. "Well if you're wondering what'll happen," Roan said with a laugh, unaware of what had happened during the interruption, "so am I." Two hours later, it happened again on another channel. This time, Dr. Who had just turned to get his companion, Leela, a hot drink, when a line of static rolled across the screen, revealing the yellow man. After 30 years and an intense FCC investigation, the people behind the Headroom hack remain unknown. The correspondent has spoken to the newscasters who were interrupted and mocked that day. You can read the interview here.
Windows

Microsoft Confirms Surface Book 2 Can't Stay Charged During Gaming Sessions (engadget.com) 138

The Verge mentioned in their review that the Surface Book 2's power supply can't charge the battery fast enough to prevent it from draining in some cases. Microsoft has since confirmed that "in some intense, prolonged gaming scenarios with Power Mode Slider set to 'best performance' the battery may discharge while connected to the power supply." Engadget reports: To let you choose between performance and battery life, the Surface Book has a range of power settings. If you're doing video editing or other GPU intensive tasks, you can crank it up to "best performance" to activate the NVIDIA GPU and get more speed. Battery drain is normally not an issue with graphics apps because the chip only kicks in when needed. You'll also need the "best performance" setting for GPU-intensive games, as they'll slow down or drop frames otherwise. The problem is that select titles like Destiny 2 use the NVIDIA chip nearly continuously, pulling up to 70 watts of power on top of the 35 watt CPU. Unfortunately, the Surface Book comes with a 102-watt charger, and only about 95 watts of that reaches the device, the Verge points out. Microsoft says that the power management system will prevent the battery from draining completely, even during intense gaming, but it would certainly mess up your Destiny 2 session. It also notes that the machine is intended for designers, developers and engineers, with the subtext that it's not exactly marketed as a gaming rig.
Businesses

Why Apple's HomePod Is Three Years Behind Amazon's Echo (bloomberg.com) 96

Apple unveiled the HomePod, its first smart speaker to take on market-leading Amazon's Echo lineup of speakers, in June this year. Despite being three years late to the party, the HomePod has largely been pitched more as a speaker that sounds great instead of a device that sounds great but more importantly can also help you with daily chores. On top of this, Apple said last week it was delaying the shipment of HomePod from December this year to "early 2018." So why does a company, the market valuation of which is quickly reaching a trillion dollar, so behind its competitors? Bloomberg reports on Tuesday: Apple audio engineers had been working on an early version of the HomePod speaker for about two years in 2014 when they were blindsided by the Echo, a smart speaker from Amazon with a voice-activated assistant named Alexa. The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo's sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker. More than two years passed. In that time Amazon's Echo became a hit with consumers impressed by Alexa's ability to answer questions, order pizzas and turn lights on and off. Meanwhile, Apple dithered over its own speaker, according to people familiar with the situation. The project was cancelled and revived several times, they said, and the device went through multiple permutations (at one point it stood 3 feet tall) as executives struggled to figure out how it would fit into the home and Apple's ecosystem of products and services. In the end, the company plowed ahead, figuring that creating a speaker would give customers another reason to stay loyal. Yet despite having all the ingredients for a serious competitor to the Echo -- including Siri and the App Store -- Apple never saw the HomePod as anything more than an accessory, like the AirPods earphones.

Slashdot Top Deals