An anonymous reader writes "On Cyber Monday, millions of Americans will take to the Internet in search of the newest gadgets to bestow upon their loved ones. Most of these 'gifts' are trojan horses that will spy on their recipients, prevent them from doing what they want with their device, or maybe even block access to their favorite books or music. The Free Software Foundation is proud to introduce a map through this minefield: our 2013 Giving Guide. The Giving Guide features gifts that will not only make your recipients jump for joy; these gifts will also protect their freedom."
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Bennett Haselton has in years previous made some canny suggestions for tech-oriented holiday gifts; you can look forward to another one. Today, though, Bennett writes about one cool toy in particular: a kit to make your own creepy robot: "For over 20 years, Dutch inventor Theo Jansen has been building truck-sized sculptures that crab-walk eerily across the beach, using only the power of the wind to turn fan blades that power the gears and crankshafts and enable the walking motion. This kit allows you to assemble your own working model that 'walks' sideways across your desktop." Read on for the rest.
Hallowe'en is my favorite holiday: I like seeing costumes (and walking around in my own), and seeing what people do to decorate their houses, yards, etc. For the second year in a row though, I've failed to come up with a really good scheme for making my own place appropriately spooky. So, in hopes of loosing some inspiration for myself and others, I ask today what you're doing to spookify your surroundings (or your person) tomorrow, especially if it means using technology in interesting ways. Sensor-activated scary sounds or lights? An Arduino or Raspberry Pi-controlled costume? Elaborate trap-door? Infrasonic hackle-raising subwoofer install? Maybe one year Alek Komarnitsky will switch to Hallowe'en instead of Christmas, and offer a webcam-equipped remote-controllable haunt.
An anonymous reader writes "It's after Christmas, so what do you do with your Christmas tree? Turn it into a missile, of course! From the creators of 'Christmas Tree Rocketry: The Art and Science of Holiday Recycling' (video) comes a new epic: the flight of the XMS MissileToe."
dotarray writes "One Colorado family received more than they'd bargained for this Christmas when they gave five-year-old Braydon Giles a pre-owned Nintendo 3DS that apparently still contained 'graphic images' from a previous owner. From the article: 'Refurbishing is an art, as well as a craft. The whole point is to make a gadget feel pristine, even when it used to be owned by a cult leader, a scout leader or an exhibitionist. Sadly, someone in a Colorado GameStop stopped refurbishing before the job was complete. So much so that 5-year-old Braydon Giles opened his Xmas gift — a Nintendo 3DS — and discovered images of naked people doing less than pristine things. As Channel 9 News tells it, Braydon showed the 3DS to his brother Bryton. He wanted his help to remove these weird pictures. '"
theodp writes "With all of the content that can be delivered electronically — e-books, music, apps, movies, e-gift cards, tickets — the percentage of Christmas gift giving that's digital is growing each year. However, the e-gift unwrapping user experience on Christmas morning leaves much to be desired. In addition to providing old-school mail delivery of gift cards, Amazon offers a variety of other options, including e-mailing a gift card on a specific day with or without a suggested gift, posting it on someone's Facebook Wall, or allowing you to print one for personal delivery. Another suggestion — using USB drives — harkens back to the days of burning CDs with custom playlists for last-minute gifts, but you'll be thwarted by DRM issues for lots of content. So, until Facebook introduces The Tree to save our e-gifts under until they're 'unwrapped' on Christmas morning with the other physical gifts, how do you plan on handling e-gift giving and getting?"
The Internet Archive curates an astounding collection (actually, a collection of collections) of online resources, from historically significant to modern but obscure. Storing, serving and organizing more than 10 petabytes isn't cheap, despite their ongoing efforts to innovate on that front. An anonymous reader writes "An anonymous donor is matching $3 for every $1 given (up to $450,000) until December 31. One petabyte has been paid for so far and the archive is looking at getting three more. 'These massive servers are the backbone of the Archive, and critical to our continued growth. To all of you who've contributed to our fundraising drive, thanks from all of us here at the Internet Archive. '"
First time accepted submitter Bearhouse writes "My Dad amazes me with (a) his longevity & energy, and (b) his continued ability to mess around with electronics stuff. Since he already has things ranging from valve amps made from war-surplus, via an original IBM PC kit to an Android tablet, I was going to buy him a Raspberry Pi for Christmas. Turns out he's already got one. I saw nothing that really got me excited here, so your ideas would be appreciated."
New submitter Sebolains writes "Unlike previous years, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has decided to use Bing maps to track Santa's journey as he goes around the world delivering presents. Starting Christmas eve, one will be able to go to the official NORAD Santa tracking site and use Bing maps to see where Santa is delivering presents at that time. In previous years, NORAD has always gone for Google maps to track Saint Nick. The reason for this switch were not disclosed, but since nearly 25 million people are expected to use this tool come this Christmas, this will definitely benefit Bing in the ongoing competition for online map applications."
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes this week with his favorite novelty science gift items for 2012. Levitation engines, puzzles, optical illusions brought to life, and all of the tips and tricks he's found for getting the products to work correctly. Decorative, whimsical, and not too expensive — except for the items that have earned it by being pretty amazing. Read on for the details, and be sure to mention other good possibilities (Just 14 shopping days left until Christmas) in the comments below.
zacharye writes "Microsoft is no stranger to criticism these days, and the company's new Windows 8 platform is once again the target of a scathing review from a high-profile user. Well-known Internet entrepreneur and MIT professor Philip Greenspun handed Windows 8 one of its most damning reviews yet earlier this week, calling the new operating system a 'Christmas gift for someone you hate.' Greenspun panned almost every aspect of Microsoft's new software, noting that Microsoft had four years to study Android and more than five to examine iOS, but still couldn't build a usable tablet experience..."
theodp writes "If you're the giver or recipient of presents gift-wrapped by Amazon, you may want to take a gander at U.S. Patent No. 8,060,463, granted to Amazon last month for Mining of User Event Data to Identify Users with Common Interests. Among other things, Amazon explains the invention can be used to identify recipients of gifts as Christian or Jewish based on wrapping paper. From the patent: 'The gift wrap used by such other users when purchasing gifts for this user, such as when the gift wrap evidences the user's religion (in the case of Christmas or Hanukkah gift wrap, for example.)'"
xmas2003 writes "Over at Linux.com, Zonker writes about Alek's Controllable Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease. This annual Internet tradition uses a hi/low-tech combo of LAMP'ed Redhat Web Servers, a 7+ year old Thinkpad running Ubuntu for the X10 control, and an old-school webpage design that could be politely described as Web 0.0 — wait until you see the animated cursor — D'OH! The site is free (and totally fun) as it also raises awareness and donations for Celiac Disease — over $70,000 to the University of Maryland. Nifty pictures of the crazy christmas display can be seen on the Christmas Blog (notice Clifford Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg in post #220) plus watch videos of it in action with comedic history. Nothing quite says Christmas like a giant, inflatable HULK wearing a Santa Hat... along with three wise men of Elmo, SpongeBob, and Homer Simpson. The Slashdot Effect of turning 21,000 Christmas lights ON & OFF this evening should provide quite a Christmas Eve show to Alek's neighbors... and also the International Space Station."
jfruhlinger writes "Tired of your code only executing in digital space? Why not hack your smiling snowman? OK, this crash course only shows you how to make pretty LED lights blink in a sequence of your choosing, but it serves to introduce you to Arduino, an open-source platform that uses C-like code. Really, any project that involves a soldering iron is good fun."
An anonymous reader writes "So, it's that wonderful time of year again. Instead of buying the latest, greatest whiz-bang, overpriced fad toy of the year, I thought I might try my hand at corrupting my nieces (ages 12 and 14) in a nerdier direction with some sort of introductory robotics kit. They have no programming experience, and part of my idea is that it would be encouraging for them to see interactions of their code that they write with the real-world by being able to control some actuators and read sensors. The first thing that comes to mind is Lego Mindstorms, but I find them a bit on the pricey side of things. My budget falls between $40 and $100, and the ideal kit would focus more on the software side than on soldering together circuits. I'd be looking for a kit that provides an easy to learn API and development tools that will work with a standard Windows PC. I don't mind spending a few afternoons helping them out with the basics, but I'd like for them to be able to be able to explore on their own after grasping the initial concepts. Has anybody gotten their younger relations into programming through robotics, and what kits might you recommend?"
New submitter yanom writes "I'm thinking about making a holiday donation to a charity, but I'm not sure where to give it. I've looked at organizations such as the Red Cross and Village Reach that promote disaster relief and health in the developing world. I want my money to have the biggest possible impact, so where should I send it?"
theodp writes "If you've procrastinated on your Xmas shopping this year, fear not: Gawker's just published its tongue-in-cheek 2011 Top Picks for Gifts That Maim or Poison Children. Until President Nixon enacted the first national safety standard for playthings with the Toy Safety Act in 1969, the toy industry was pretty much anything-goes. As a result of the legislation, children may live longer, but they'll never know the joys of many beloved-but-dangerous classics, including Zulu Guns, Jarts, and Clackers."
K7DAN writes "North Korea warned South Korea on Sunday of 'unexpected consequences' if Seoul displays Christmas lights near the tense border, and vowed to retaliate for what it called 'psychological warfare.' From the article: 'The tree-shaped, 30 metre-high steel structure on Aegibong hill - some 3km (2 miles) from the border - was illuminated by thousands of small light bulbs last year. It could be seen from the North's major city of Kaesong across the border, according to media reports. Pyongyang has previously accused Seoul of using the tree to spread the Christian message to people inside the secular state.'"
First time submitter Manko10 writes "After the Advent series last year, there is again a Linux Advent calender. The topic of this year's Advent series is '24 Outstanding ZSH Gems'. Every day from December 1st until December 24th an article will be published each covering a special feature of the Z Shell you might not have known yet."