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.
Piracy

Not Even Free TV Can Get People To Stop Pirating Movies and TV Shows (qz.com) 221

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Since the internet made it easier to illegally download and stream movies and TV shows, Hollywood struggled with people pirating its works online. About $5.5 billion in revenue was lost to piracy globally last year, Digital TV Research found (pdf), and it's expected to approach $10 billion by 2022. Streaming-video services like Netflix and Hulu have made it more affordable to access a wide-range of titles from different TV networks and movie studios. But the availability of cheap content online has done little to curb piracy, according to research published in Management Science (paywall) last month. Customers who were offered free subscriptions to a video-on-demand package (SVOD) were just as likely to turn to piracy to find programming as those without the offering, researchers at Catolica Lisbon School of Business & Economics and Carnegie Mellon University found.

The researchers partnered with an unnamed internet-service provider -- in a region they chose not to disclose -- to offer customers who were already prone to piracy an on-demand package for free for 45 days. About 10,000 households participated in the study, and about half were given the free service. The on-demand service was packaged like Netflix or Hulu in layout, appearance, and scope of programming, but was delivered through a TV set-top box. It had a personalized recommendation engine that surfaced popular programming based on what those customers were already watching illegally through BitTorrent logs, which were obtained from a third-party firm. The study found that while the participants watched 4.6% more TV overall when they had the free on-demand service, they did not stop using BitTorrent to pirate movies and TV shows that were not included in the offering.

It's funny.  Laugh.

Elon Musk Trolls the Media With a Clip From 'Spaceballs' (twitter.com) 134

An anonymous reader writes Elon Musk is having fun on Twitter, where he's either promoting the new line of $20 "Boring Company" hats or trolling the media. "To preserve the transcendent majesty & specialness of The Boring Company cap, we are capping cap orders at 50,000 caps," Musk tweeted Sunday, adding "Almost there ..." Responding to a user who asked, "Is this really how you're funding the boring company??" Musk answered "Yes."

An hour later he tweeted that "Every 5000th buyer of our boringly boring hat will get a free hat signed by the delivery guy. That special hat delivery will take place deep within the real, but fictional (of course), tunnel we are building under LA while you drive the giant machine blindfolded. This will actually happen."

And then hours later, Musk shared a fresh insight into his thought process. "The *real* money comes from merchandising," he tweeted, adding "I learned it from this documentary," sharing a video titled "merchandising" which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a clip from the 1987 comedy "Spaceballs" starring Mel Brooks.

Ironically, George Lucas had only blessed Mel Brooks' parody of Star Wars with one condition: that no Space Balls action figure merchandise ever be produced.
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.

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