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Google's Festive Santa Tracker Is Back to Help Kids Learn to Code

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Just in time for the holidays, Google has unveiled the newest version of the Santa Tracker. Leading up to Christmas Eve, children around the world are encouraged to log on and help Santa's elves with the various preparations needed for the big day. With some exploration, users can unlock a plethora of videos, music, and games (including reindeer races!) as it gets closer to Christmas. The assortment of fun is a cleverly veiled way to get children to learn about coding, cartology, and other valuable skillsets. By clicking on a globe, Google offers an interactive way to learn about Christmas traditions all over the world. 

Children (and young-at-heart adults) with an Android or Chrome extension can click through the North Pole and watch the holiday magic happen. The tracker is a ton of fun, and if a little learning happens, that makes it even better. Users are urged to check back every day to see what new activities the elves have been cooking up. 

The project had previously been run with NORAD (the organization has been tracking our jolly red friend since the 1950s), but the groups split. You can find NORAD's Bing-powered tracker here and decide which is better. After all, what's Christmas without a little corporate rivalry? 

This isn't Google's first effort to inspire future developers: Made With Code is an initiative that aims to teach and encourage girls to code. In today's tech world, men outnumber women 7 to 3. Google aims to tip the scale with projects and donations. Using programs like Code the Holidays, the initiative shows that computer science can be a creative and freeing field. "Code can be the most creative tool in your toolbox," the website explains. "Suspend your disbelief and let's get cracking." 

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Everything You Need to Know About Record Store Day
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The unlikely resurgence of vinyl as an alternative to digital music formats is made up of more than just a small subculture of purists. Today, more than 1400 independent record stores deal in both vintage and current releases. Those store owners and community supporters created Record Store Day in 2007 as a way of celebrating the grassroots movement that’s allowed a once-dying medium to thrive.

To commemorate this year’s Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21, a number of stores (a searchable list can be found here) will be offering promotional items, live music, signings, and more. While events vary widely by store, a number of artists will be issuing exclusive LPs that will be distributed around the country.

For Grateful Dead fans, a live recording of a February 27, 1969 show at Fillmore West in San Francisco will be released and limited to 6700 copies; Arcade Fire’s 2003 EP album will see a vinyl release for the first time, limited to 3000 copies; "Roxanne," the Police single celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will see a 7-inch single release with the original jacket art.

The day also promises to be a big one for David Bowie fans. A special white vinyl version of 1977’s Bowie Now will be on shelves, along with Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), a previously-unreleased, three-record set. Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, and dozens of other artists will also be contributing releases.

No store is likely to carry everything you might want, so before making the stop, it might be best to call ahead and then plan on getting there early. If you’re one of the unlucky vinyl supporters without a brick and mortar store nearby, you can check out Discogs.com, which will be selling the special releases online.

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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