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Books

Book Review: Future Crimes 25

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
benrothke writes Technology is neutral and amoral. It's the implementers and users who define its use. In Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It, author Marc Goodman spends nearly 400 pages describing the dark side of technology, and those who use it for nefarious purposes. He provides a fascinating overview of how every major technology can be used to benefit society, and how it can also be exploited by those on the other side. Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
Censorship

Feds Attempt To Censor Parts of a New Book About the Hydrogen Bomb 339

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can't-do-that-on-bookovision dept.
HughPickens.com writes: The atom bomb — leveler of Hiroshima and instant killer of some 80,000 people — is just a pale cousin compared to the hydrogen bomb, which easily packs the punch of a thousand Hiroshimas. That is why Washington has for decades done everything in its power to keep the details of its design out of the public domain. Now William J. Broad reports in the NY Times that Kenneth W. Ford has defied a federal order to cut material from his new book that the government says teems with thermonuclear secrets. Ford says he included the disputed material because it had already been disclosed elsewhere and helped him paint a fuller picture of an important chapter of American history. But after he volunteered the manuscript for a security review, federal officials told him to remove about 10 percent of the text, or roughly 5,000 words. "They wanted to eviscerate the book," says Ford. "My first thought was, 'This is so ridiculous I won't even respond.'" For instance, the federal agency wanted him to strike a reference to the size of the first hydrogen test device — its base was seven feet wide and 20 feet high. Dr. Ford responded that public photographs of the device, with men, jeeps and a forklift nearby, gave a scale of comparison that clearly revealed its overall dimensions.

Though difficult to make, hydrogen bombs are attractive to nations and militaries because their fuel is relatively cheap. Inside a thick metal casing, the weapon relies on a small atom bomb that works like a match to ignite the hydrogen fuel. Today, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are the only declared members of the thermonuclear club, each possessing hundreds or thousands of hydrogen bombs. Military experts suspect that Israel has dozens of hydrogen bombs. India, Pakistan and North Korea are seen as interested in acquiring the potent weapon. The big secret the book discusses is thermal equilibrium, the discovery that the temperature of the hydrogen fuel and the radiation could match each other during the explosion (PDF). World Scientific, a publisher in Singapore, recently made Dr. Ford's book public in electronic form, with print versions to follow. Ford remains convinced the book "contains nothing whatsoever whose dissemination could, by any stretch of the imagination, damage the United States or help a country that is trying to build a hydrogen bomb." "Were I to follow all — or even most — of your suggestions," says Ford, "it would destroy the book."
Books

Modern PHP: New Features and Good Practices 178

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Michael Ross writes In recent years, JavaScript has enjoyed a dramatic renaissance as it has been transformed from a browser scripting tool primarily used for special effects and form validation on web pages, to a substantial client-side programming language. Similarly, on the server side, after years as the target of criticism, the PHP computer programming language is seeing a revival, partly due to the addition of new capabilities, such as namespaces, traits, generators, closures, and components, among other improvements. PHP enthusiasts and detractors alike can learn more about these changes from the book Modern PHP: New Features and Good Practices, authored by Josh Lockhart. Keep reading for the rest of Michael's review.
Books

New Site Mocks Bad Artwork On Ebook Covers 59

Posted by timothy
from the modern-dorm-room-posters dept.
An anonymous reader writes A British newspaper is celebrating "the world's worst ebook artwork", as discovered by the creator of a new Tumblr feed. 'It's the hubris of it that people get a kick out of — the devil-may-care attitude of an author who, with zero arts training, says to themselves: "How hard can it be?" Two different authors simply cut-and-pasted smaller images over a background showing the planets, according to one Kindle blog, which notes that one author actually pasted eyes and lips onto the planets, creating an inadvertently creepy montage. But the site's creator tells the newspaper that it's ultimately meant to be an affectionate tribute to their rejection of the mundane and appreciating each creative and beautiful mess.
Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson Says Colonizing Mars Won't Be As Easy As He Thought 228

Posted by Soulskill
from the canceling-my-retirement-vacation dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from io9: Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy filled us all with hope that we could terraform Mars in the 21st century, with its plausible description of terraforming processes. But now, in the face of what we've learned about Mars in the past 20 years, he no longer thinks it'll be that easy. Talking to SETI's Blog Picture Science podcast, Robinson explains that his ideas about terraforming Mars, back in the 1990s, were based on three assumptions that have been called into question or disproved:

1) Mars doesn't have any life on it at all. And now, it's looking more likely that there could be bacteria living beneath the surface. 2) There would be enough of the chemical compounds we need to survive. 3) There's nothing poisonous to us on the surface. In fact, the surface is covered with perchlorates, which are highly toxic to humans, and the original Viking mission did not detect these. "It's no longer a simple matter," Robinson says. "It's possible that we could occupy, inhabit and terraform Mars. But it's probably going to take a lot longer than I described in my books."
Sci-Fi

Sir Terry Pratchett Succumbs To "the Embuggerance," Aged 66 299

Posted by timothy
from the now-the-world-is-worse-off dept.
New submitter sp1nl0ck writes Sir Terry Pratchett, the creator of Discworld, has died aged 66, following a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. Sir Terry announced that he was suffering from The Embuggerance in an open letter to fans over seven years ago, and recently had to cancel a planned appearance at the International Discworld Convention last summer, and donated over £500K of his own money to research into the condition. He also spoke in favour of a euthanasia tribunal, the members of which would consider the case of each '...applicant...to ensure they are of sound and informed mind, firm in their purpose, suffering from a life-threatening and incurable disease and not under the influence of a third party'. Sadly, he didn't survive long enough to see such a tribunal — or indeed any kind of assistance for those suffering from an incurable condition who wish to end their own life — come into being. More at the BBC.
Sci-Fi

Some of the Greatest Science Fiction Novels Are Fix-Ups 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the pendulum-swinging-back dept.
HughPickens.com writes: What do science fiction classics like Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, Van Vogt's Voyage of the Space Beagle, Simak's City, and Sturgeon's More Than Human have in common? Each of them is a "fix-up" — a novel constructed out of short stories that were previously published on their own. "This used to be one standard way to write a science fiction novel — publish a series of stories that all take place in the same world, and then knit them together into a book," says Charlie Jane Anders. "Sometimes a great deal of revision happened, to turn the separate stories into a single narrative and make sure all the threads joined up. Sometimes, the stories remain pretty separate but there are links between them."

The Golden Age science fiction publishing market was heavily geared toward magazines and short stories. And then suddenly, there was this huge demand for tons of novels. According to Andrew Liptak, this left many science fiction authors caught in a hard place: Many had come to depend on the large number of magazines on the market that would pay them for their work, and as readership declined, so too did the places in which to publish original fiction. The result was an innovative solution: repackage a number of preexisting short stories by adding to or rewriting portions of them to work together as a single story. This has its advantages; you get more narrative "payoff" with a collection of stories that also forms a single continuous meta-story than you do with a single over-arching novel — because each story has its own conclusion, and yet the story builds towards a bigger resolution. Fix-ups are a good, representative example of the transition that the publishing industry faced at the time, and how its authors adapted. Liptak says, "It's a lesson that's well-worth looking closely at, as the entire publishing industry faces new technological challenges and disruptions from the likes of self-publishing and micro-press platforms."
Books

Book Review: Data and Goliath 51

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
benrothke writes Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World, author Bruce Schneier could have justifiably written an angry diatribe full of vitriol against President Obama and the NSA for their wholesale spying on innocent Americans and violations of myriad laws. Instead, he was written a thoroughly convincing and brilliant book about big data, mass surveillance and the ensuing privacy dangers facing everyone. A comment like what's the big deal? often indicates a naiveté about a serious significant underlying issue. The idea that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear is a dangerously narrow concept on the value of privacy. For many people the notion that the NSA was performing spying on Americans was perceived as not being a big deal, since if a person is innocent, then what do they have to worry about. In the book, Schneier debunks that myth and many others, and defends the importance of privacy. Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
China

China's Arthur C. Clarke 187

Posted by timothy
from the visionaries-are-unevenly-distributed dept.
HughPickens.com writes Joshua Rothman has a very interesting article in The New Yorker about Liu Cixin, China's most popular science-fiction writer. The author of thirteen books has retained his day job as a computer engineer with a State-run power plant in a remote part of Shanxi province, because it helps him to stay grounded, enabling him to "gaze at the unblemished sky" as many of his co-workers do. In China, Cixin is about as famous as William Gibson in the United States and Cixin is often compared to Arthur C. Clarke, whom he cites as an influence. Rothman writes that American science fiction draws heavily on American culture, of course—the war for independence, the Wild West, film noir, sixties psychedelia—and so humanity's imagined future often looks a lot like America's past. For an American reader, one of the pleasures of reading Liu is that his stories draw on entirely different resources.

For example, in The Wages of Humanity, visitors from space demand the redistribution of Earth's wealth, and explain that runaway capitalism almost destroyed their civilization. In Taking Care of Gods, the hyper-advanced aliens who, billions of years ago, engineered life on Earth descend from their spaceships; they turn out to be little old men with canes and long, white beards. "We hope that you will feel a sense of filial duty towards your creators and take us in," they say. "I doubt that any Western sci-fi writer has so thoroughly explored the theme of filial piety," writes Rothman. In another story, The Devourer, a character asks, "What is civilization? Civilization is devouring, ceaselessly eating, endlessly expanding." But you can't expand forever; perhaps it would be better, another character suggests, to establish a "self-sufficient, introspective civilization." "At the core of Liu's sensibility," concludes Rothamn, "is a philosophical interest in the problem of limits. How should we react to the inherent limitations of life? Should we push against them or acquiesce?"
Books

Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things 44

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
MassDosage writes As the full title to Lauren Ipsum: A story about Computer Science and Other Improbable Things indicates, this is a book about Computer Science but what's surprising about it is that it manages to be about Computer Science without actually ever directly referring to the subject or even to computers at all. It is in fact a fictional story about a young girl called Lauren who gets lost after wandering into a forest near her house after an argument with her mother. She stumbles into a world populated with all kinds of strange creatures and colorful characters some of whom she befriends in order to figure out how to get back to her home. The "figuring out" part of the plot is where things get interesting as she has many attempts at solving this problem with different characters giving her often contradictory advice and Lauren then has to decide what exactly she's trying to do and which of the various possible solutions is the best. This involves a fair amount of trial and error, learning from certain mistakes and trying different approaches. If this is starting to sound familiar to those who have written software then that's the whole point. Lauren Ipsum is cunningly littered with references to Computer Science and in particular to things like algorithms, logic puzzles and many other of the theoretical underpinnings of the subject. Read below to see what MassDosage has to say about the book.
Books

The Case Against E-readers -- Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading On Paper 261

Posted by Soulskill
from the love-affairs-with-dead-trees dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Michael Rosenwald writes in the WaPo that textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer reading on paper for pleasure and learning. This bias surprises reading experts, given the same group's proclivity to consume most other content digitally. "These are people who aren't supposed to remember what it's like to even smell books," says Naomi S. Baron. "It's quite astounding." Earlier this month, Baron published Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, a book that examines university students' preferences for print and explains the science of why dead-tree versions are often superior to digital (PDF).

Her conclusion: readers tend to skim on screens, distraction is inevitable and comprehension suffers. Researchers say readers remember the location of information simply by page and text layout — that, say, the key piece of dialogue was on that page early in the book with that one long paragraph and a smudge on the corner. Researchers think this plays a key role in comprehension — something that is more difficult on screens, primarily because the time we devote to reading online is usually spent scanning and skimming, with few places (or little time) for mental markers.

Another significant problem, especially for college students, is distraction. The lives of millennials are increasingly lived on screens. In her surveys, Baron was surprised by the results to the question of whether students were more likely to multitask in hard copy (1 percent) vs. reading on-screen (90 percent). "When a digital device has an Internet connection, it's hard to resist the temptation to jump ship."
The Internet

The History of Sex.com, the Most Contested Domain On the Internet 72

Posted by samzenpus
from the what's-in-a-name dept.
sarahnaomi writes On its face, sex.com looks like a no-frills Pinterest for porn, but behind the site lies an ongoing grudge match between the man who invented online dating and a con artist who stole the crown jewel of the internet out from under him. The history of the domain is well documented, with two books and dozens of articles written on the subject. It was first registered in 1994 by Gary Kremen, the entrepreneur who founded Match.com and was savvy enough to buy up several generic domains, including jobs.com and housing.com, in the early days of the internet.
Businesses

Tim O'Reilly On Big Data, CS Education, and the Future of Print 26

Posted by Soulskill
from the timbits-of-wisdom dept.
M-Saunders writes: How do we take advantage of big data without putting our privacy at risk? Should everyone be able to code? And how much life is still in the market for printed books and publications? Linux Voice put these questions to Tim O'Reilly, the founder of O'Reilly media, and the man who helped to popularize the terms Open Source and Web 2.0. ("Should everybody be a professional coder? No way. Should everybody be able to do more than just use a GUI? Absolutely. Should people be able to automate operations of a computer? Absolutely.") Despite the amount of "free" (or advert-supported) content out there, O'Reilly still believes there's plenty of money to be made: "I think that the willingness of people to pay for things that delight them will not go away."
Books

Wheel of Time TV Pilot Producers Sue Robert Jordan's Widow For Defamation 148

Posted by samzenpus
from the plot-thickens dept.
An anonymous reader writes The tale of the late-night Wheel of Time pilot that aired in a paid infomercial slot on FXX has taken another odd turn. Producers Red Eagle Entertainment LLC and Manetheren LLC have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for central California against Harriet McDougal (widow of James Rigney, who wrote the Wheel of Time novels under the pen name Robert Jordan), her company, Bandersnatch Group Inc., and twenty unnamed other persons ('Does 1-20'). The suit alleges that McDougal's statements about her lack of involvement in the pilot's production constitute breach of contract, slander, and interference with contractual relations and prospective economic relations; the suit demands declaratory relief and a jury trial.