Government

FAA Eases Drone Restrictions Around Washington, DC (roboticstrends.com) 44

An anonymous reader writes with a link to Robotics Trends, which reports that: After doubling the radius of the "no-drone zone" from 15 miles to 30 miles outside of Washington, D.C. in 2015, the FAA announced drones can now fly in the "outer ring" of the Special Flight Rules Area. This means drones can operate between a 15- to 30-mile radius outside of the nation's capitol. Drones that fly between the 15- to 30-mile radius still have to operate under specific conditions: drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, be registered and marked, fly under 400 feet, stay in the operator's line of sight, only fly in clear conditions, and avoid other aircraft.
Toys

German Inventor, Innovator and Businessman Artur Fischer Dies At Age of 96 38

Qbertino writes: As Spiegel.de reports (German link) inventor Artur Fischer has died at the age of 96. Artur Fischer is a classic example of the innovator and businessman of post-war Germany — he invented the synchronous flash for photography, the famed Fischer Fixing (aka Screwanchor/rawlplug or "Dübel" in German) and the Fischer Technik Construction Sets with which many a nerd grew up with, including the famous C64 Fischer Robotics Kit of the 80s. His heritage includes an impressive portfolio of over 1100 patents and he reportedly remained inventive and interested in solving technical problems til the very end. ... Rest in piece and thanks for the hours of fun tinkering with Fischertechnik. ... Now where did that old C64 robot go?
Math

Ask Slashdot: Math-Related Present For a Bright 10-Year-Old? 238

peetm writes: I have an above averagely bright nephew, aged 10, who's into maths and whose birthday is coming up soon. I'd like to get him a suitable present – most likely one that's mathematically centred. At Christmas we sat together while I helped him build a few very simple Python programs that 'animated' some simple but interesting maths, e.g., we built a factorial function, investigated the Collatz conjecture (3n + 1 problem) and talked about, but didn't implement Eratosthenes' Sieve – one step too far for him at the moment perhaps. I've looked about for books that might blend computing + maths, but haven't really found anything appropriate for a 10-year-old. I should be indebted to anyone who might suggest either a suitable maths book, or one that brings in some facet of computing. Or, if not a book, then some other present that might pique his interest.
Toys

To Solve a Rubik's Cube In 1 Second, It Takes a Robot 100

The Next Web features a quick look at an eyebrow-raisingly fast Rubik's Cube-solving robot, created by developers Jay Flatland and Paul Rose. How fast? The robot can solve a scrambled cube in one second (as long as you're willing to round down consistent solutions in "less than 1.2 seconds") which makes for some fun repeat views on YouTube. One speed-shaving element of the design: Rather than grip the cube with a robot hand, Flatland and Rose essentially made the cube an integral part of the system, by drilling holes in the cube's center faces, and attaching stepper motors directly. (Also at Motherboard).
Programming

Stephen Wolfram: No Need To Teach With 'Toy Programming Languages' Like Scratch (wolfram.com) 214

theodp writes: From Stephen Wolfram's blog post announcing the Wolfram Programming Lab: "It's a very important — and in fact transformative — moment for programming education. In the past one could use a 'toy programming language' like Scratch, or one could use a professional low-level programming language like C++ or Java. Scratch is easy to use, but is very limited. C++ or Java can ultimately do much more (though they don't have built-in knowledge), but you need to put in significant time—and get deep into the engineering details—to make programs that get beyond a toy level of functionality. With the Wolfram Language, though, it's a completely different story. Because now even beginners can write programs that do really interesting things. And the programs don't have to just be 'computer science exercises': they can be programs that immediately connect to the real world, and to what students study across the whole curriculum. Wolfram Programming Lab gives people a broad way to learn modern programming — and to acquire an incredibly valuable career-building practical skill. But it also helps develop the kind of computational thinking that's increasingly central to today's world." So, when it comes to programming education, are schools hitchIng their cart to the wrong horse?
Hardware Hacking

Ask Slashdot: Cheap and Fun Audio Hacks? 135

An anonymous reader writes: A few years back I discovered that even a person of limited soldering skills can create a nifty surround-sound system with the magic of a passive matrix decoder system; the results pleased me and continue to, It's certainly not a big and fancy surround system, but I recommend it highly as a project with a high ratio of satisfaction to effort. (Here's one of the many, many tutorials out there on doing it yourself; it's not the long-forgotten one I actually used, but I like this one better.) I like listening to recorded music sometimes just to hear how a particular playback system sounds, not just to hear the music "as intended." I'd like to find some more audio hacks and tricks like this that are cheap, easy, and fun. Bonus points if they can be done with the assistance of a couple of smart children, without boring them too much. I have access to Goodwill and other thrift stores that are usually overflowing with cheap-and-cheerful gear, to match my toy budget. What mods or fixes would be fun to implement? Are there brands or models of turntable I should look for as the easiest with which to tinker? Are there cool easy-entry projects akin to that surround sound system that I could use to improve my radio reception? I'm not sure what's out there, but I'd like to get some cool use out of the closet-and-a-half I've got filled with speakers and other gear that I can't quite bear to toss, since "it still works."
Open Source

Open-Source Firmware For Your Toy Drone 32

An anonymous reader writes: Since now you're going to either register your drone or have to be flying your [small drone] indoors anyway in the USA, you might as well celebrate the one freedom you still have: the freedom to re-flash the firmware with open source! The Eachine H8 is a typical-looking mini-quadcopter of the kind that sell for under $20. Inside, the whole show is powered by an ARM Cortex-M3 processor, with the programming pins easily visible. Who could resist? Garagedrone takes you through a step-by-step guide to re-flashing the device with a custom firmware to enable acrobatic mode, or simply to tweak the throttle-to-gyro mapping for the quad. The firmware author silverxxx from RCGroups.com even got the code up on GitHub if you're interested in taking a peek. Next step, Skynet!
Government

Drone Registration Is FAA's Way of Getting You To Read Their "EULA" (hackaday.com) 131

szczys writes: There is little to complain about when it comes to the new FAA rules regarding drones (unless perhaps you live in DC). The regulations are basically an End User Licensing Agreement and focus on educating responsible operators. Eight simple rules cover how to avoid doing dangerous things with Unmanned Aerial Systems. The FAA has even left alone the small toy drones, and the certification system for those above 55 lbs remains. The one aspect that is concerning is that of privacy; the drone database will be publicly searchable and contains names and addresses of drone owners. If the DMV keeps license plate data protected, the FAA should do the same.
First Person Shooters (Games)

Rail Gun Controller Lets You Pack the Heat of Your Air Soft Gun In Any FPS Game (hothardware.com) 44

MojoKid writes: The cool thing about playing Duck Hunt on the NES back in the day, was that you got to point a plastic gun at the television and shoot directly at fowl or clay discs. It offered a deeper level of immersion than what would have been possible with a standard controller. Such is the pitch for a new Kickstarter project called Rail Gun. Rail Gun is a series of attachments designed to work with your existing Air Soft gun. The pieces attach to any standard Air Soft gun to give you a "truly realistic and immersive experience for FPS games." There are five units that comprise the Rail Gun. The Main Unit houses the power and sensitivity buttons; the Jog Unit has an analog stick, special action button, and a few other components; the Weapon Unit lets you cycle through weapons, walk, drop items, and so forth; the Trigger Unit features the trigger and buttons for jumping, zooming, reloading, and crouching; and the USB Unit is what plugs into your PC or console. The Rail Gun uses fast rotation technology to track your vision based on where you're pointing your Air Soft gun. It also uses an algorithm to enhance aiming by detecting minor hand trembles, and you can adjust the sensitivity of this to your liking.
Toys

Drone Ban Extends 30 Miles Around DC, Per FAA (wusa9.com) 410

DewDude writes: If you thought done registration was bad enough; it just got worse for anyone living in the nation's capital. On Christmas Day (of all days); the FAA put into effect a rule that bans the flying of drones/quadcopters within a 30-mile radius around DC. This more than doubles the initial 15 mile radius no-fly-zone. The ban includes the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, and the independent cities in the vicinity on the Virginia side. On the Maryland side; it includes Montgomery, Prince Georges, Howard, Anne Arundel; and parts of Calvert, Baltimore, and the extreme north-western end of St. Marys Counties in Maryland.
Toys

Arca Space Corp Unveils Functional Turbine Powered Hoverboard (hothardware.com) 48

MojoKid writes: If you're a fan of the Back to the Future series, the past few months have been fun to watch. We've seen Lexus unveil its take on the "hoverboard" with a maglev-based creation and today we're learning of yet another company that is revealing its spin on the hoverboard concept. Unfortunately, like some of the other hoverboards that we've seen in the past, this one looks a little like vaporware rather than something that will end up finding a market with consumers. The Arca Space Corporation ArcaBoard makes use of 36 ducted electric fans that work in tandem to provide 430 pounds of downward thrust, which should be enough to move just about anyone. The $19,900 ArcaBoard also has a built-in stabilizer which ensures that you won't be tossed of in an embarrassing fashion as you attempt to impress your friends. If you're feeling lucky, you can forgo the stabilization system and shift your weight around to steer the ArcaBoard in any direction.
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?
Advertising

Games Involving Candy Stimulate Kids' Appetites (www.ru.nl) 43

An anonymous reader writes: Most of us are aware by now of the myriad internet games created not for their own sake, but as a marketing tool for another product. But we're not the target audience for these games — kids are. New research out of Radboud University found that two-thirds of all kids around primary school age play one of these games at least once a week, and almost none of them are aware that they're advertisements (abstract). Worse, the game-ads are really effective. "..shortly after playing a game with an embedded food advertisement, children ate 55% more of the candy offered to them than children who had played a game with an embedded toy advertisement." The researchers further add that "it does not matter whether the games are about candy or fruit: children eat more candy after playing a game involving food."
United Kingdom

21-Year-Old British Man Arrested In Connection With VTech Hack (ibtimes.co.uk) 53

Ewan Palmer writes: A man has been arrested in connection with the alleged hacking of electronic toy manufacturer VTech which affected millions worldwide. The 21-year-old was arrested in Berkshire, South East England, on suspicion of unauthorized access to computers to facilitate the commission of an offence and suspicion of causing a computer to perform function to secure/enable unauthorized access to a program/data following the data breach in November. From the BBC's coverage of the arrest: In the attack, servers used to support VTech's Learning Lodge app were compromised. ... The Learning Lodge database logged names, email addresses, encrypted passwords, IP (internet protocol) numbers and other personal data. Some of the information was about children including names, dates of birth and gender. No credit card data was stored in the compromised database. Details on customers from all over world, including the US, UK, France and China, were taken. Some of the data is believed to have been posted briefly online before being removed. When details about the extent of the data loss became known security expert Troy Hunt said he had "run out of superlatives to even describe how bad" it was.
Privacy

VTech Hack Gets Worse: Chat Logs, Kids' Photos Taken In Breach (vice.com) 69

An anonymous reader writes: The VTech hack just got a little worse. Reports say that in addition to the 4.8 million records with parents' names, home addresses, passwords and the identities of 227k kids, the hackers also have hundreds of gigabytes worth of pictures and chat logs belonging to children. ZDNet reports: "Tens of thousands of pictures — many blank or duplicates — were thought to have been taken from from Kid Connect, an app that allows parents to use a smartphone app to talk to their children through a VTech tablet. Motherboard was able to verify a portion of the images, and the chat logs, which date as far back as late-2014. Details about the intrusion are not fully known yet. The hacker, who for now remains nameless, told Motherboard that the Hong Kong-based company 'left other sensitive data exposed on its servers.'"
Security

VTech Hack Exposes Data On 4.8 Million Adults, 200,000 Kids (vice.com) 65

New submitter lorenzofb writes: A hacker broke into the site of the popular toy company VTech and was able to easily get 4.8 million credentials, and 227k kids' identities using SQL injection. The company didn't find out about the breach until Motherboard told them. According to Have I Been Pwned, this is the fourth largest consumer data breach ever. "[Security specialist Troy Hunt] said that VTech doesn't use SSL web encryption anywhere, and transmits data such as passwords completely unprotected. ... Hunt also found that the company's websites "leak extensive data" from their databases and APIs—so much that an attacker could get a lot of data about the parents or kids just by taking advantage of these flaws."
Government

In Ireland, All RC and Drones Over 1kg To Be Registered (suasnews.com) 108

New submitter charliehotel writes: The Irish Aviation Authority announced that it will have its drone registry up and running by December 21st this year. This registry will be the first of its kind in Europe, and the Irish Aviation Authority will require all RPA / drones that weigh over 1kg to be registered; this includes model aircraft. I hope that the U.S.'s gathering storm of regulation doesn't start quite that small.
Toys

Before Barbie's Brainy Makeover, Mattel Execs Met With White House, Google 125

theodp writes: Mattel came under fire last November over its portrayal of Computer Engineer Barbie as incompetent. But the toymaker is now drawing kudos for its new Imagine the Possibilities Barbie ad campaign (video), which shows little girls pretending to be professionals in real-life settings, including a college professor lecturing students about the brain. Ad Age, however, is cynical of the empowering spin on Barbie, which it says "comes across as a manipulative way to silence criticism." Interestingly, some of that criticism may have come from the White House.

WH Visitor Records show that Barbie's brainy makeover came after Mattel execs — Evelyn Mazzocco, Julia Pistor, Heather Lazarus — were summoned to the White House last April to meet with the White House Council on Women and Girls. A little Googling suggests other attendees at the sit-down included representatives of the nation's leading toy makers (Disney Consumer, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, American Girl), media giants (Disney Channels, Viacom, TIME, Scholastic, Univision, Participant Media, Cartoon Network, Netflix), retailers (Walmart, Target), educators, scientists, the U.S. Dept. of Education (including the Deputy Director of Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative), philanthropists (Rockefeller, Harnisch Foundations) — and Google. Representing Google was CS Education in Media Program Manager Julie Ann Crommett, who has worked with Disney to shape programming to inspire girls to pursue CS in conjunction with the search giant's $50 million Made With Code initiative.

The April White House meeting appears to be a reschedule of a planned March meeting that was to have included other Mattel execs, including Stephanie Cota, Venetia Davie, and Lori Pantel, to whom the task of apologizing for Computer Engineer Barbie fell last November. For the first time in over a decade, Barbie was no longer the most popular girls' toy last holiday season, having lost her crown to Disney Princesses Elsa and Anna, who coincidentally teamed up with Google-backed Code.org last December to "teach President Obama to code" at a widely-publicized White House event.

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