A while ago you had the chance to ask James Randi, the founder of The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), about exposing hucksters, frauds, and fakers. Below you'll find his answers to your questions. In addition to his writings below, Randi was nice enough to sit down and talk to us about his life and his foundation. Keep an eye out for those videos coming soon.
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
theodp writes "GeekWire reports on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' pending patent on remote displays that communicate with base stations and operate on wireless power. Reducing devices to mere screens with minimal storage that receive pre-rendered content (e.g., bitmap images), the patent application explains, eliminates the need for bulky batteries or processors, and employing techniques like electromagnetic or electrostatic induction allows one to cut the cord completely. Such remote displays, Amazon suggests, could find a home on college campuses (tablets), in your car (windshield displays or DVD players), and even on your face (eyeglasses)." There's already a (not wirelessly powered) device similar to the one described in the patent.
Rambo Tribble writes "This new, third edition of Sobell's book brings enhancements that add to the text's value as both a learning tool and a reference. This has always been a foundation book for those wanting a professional level of familiarity with Linux. The addition of chapters to introduce the Python language and MySQL database serves to offer the reader practical insights into additional Linux-related technologies." Read below for the rest of Rambo's review.
An anonymous reader writes "I'm a very new user to Linux looking for a distro that allows me to control and customize, but I'm not sure where to start. I had a friend install Ubuntu 12.04 on my computer, with the E17 window manager and somehow I managed to crash it during the copying of some non-important files and now my computer won't boot (the hardware's fine though). I've found descriptions of Arch Linux to be spot on to what I'm looking for and want (Slashdot user serviscope_minor mentioned Arch a couple weeks ago and it caught my attention), but my experience in the terminal is literally about an hour. That said, I really want to learn more, don't mind hard work, enjoy challenges, and am perfectly willing to spend hours and hours for months on end to learn command line. Any suggestions, projects to start with, books to read, or tutorials to do to try would be appreciated."
Bennett Haselton writes "Recently I wrote an article about what I considered to be the sorry state of cooking instructions on the web (and how-to instructions in general), using as a jumping-off point a passage from Evgeny Morozov's new book To Save Everything, Click Here. My point was that most "newbie" instructions never seemed to get judged by the basic criteria by which all instructions should be judged: If you give these instructions to a group of beginners, and have them attempt to follow the instructions without any additional help from the author, what kind of results do they get? The original title of my article was "Better Cooking Through Algorithms," but due to some confusion in the submission process the title got changed to "Book Review: To Save Everything, Click Here" even though, as multiple commenters pointed out, it didn't make much sense as a "book review" since it only mentioned a short passage from the actual book. This article, on the other hand, really is intended as a review of The 4-Hour Chef, even though the article only covers a similarly tiny fraction of the book's 671-page length. That's because even before buying the book, I was determined to review it according to a simple process: Try three recipes from the book. Follow the directions step by step. (If any direction is ambiguous, then follow what could be a plausible interpretation of the directions.) My estimation of the quality of the book, as an instructional cooking guide for beginners, is then determined by the quality of the food produced by my attempt to follow the directions. (I've done this so many times for so many "beginner cookbooks," that I've probably lost my true "beginner" cook status in the process — which means that the results obtained by a real beginner using The 4-Hour Chef, would probably be a little worse than what I achieved.)" Read on for the rest of Bennett's Thoughts
sgroyle (author Simon Royle) writes with an excerpt from an article he wrote about discovering that publisher WHSmith has been adding DRM to books without their authors' permission, and against their intent: "DRM had, without my knowledge, been added to my book. I quickly checked my other books; same thing. Then I checked the books of authors who, because of their vocal and public opposition, I know are against DRM – Konrath, Howey, and Doctorow, to name a few – same result. ALL books on WHSmith have DRM in them. Rather than assume WHSmith where at fault, I checked with my distributor, Draft2Digital. They send my books to Kobo, who in turn send my books to WHSmith. D2D assured me the DRM was not being added by them and were distressed to hear that this was the case. Kobo haven't replied to any of the messages in this thread: 'WHSmith putting DRM in books distributed via Kobo'. I'm not holding my breath." Update: 03/22 21:02 GMT by T : Problem resolved. Hanno Liem of the Kobo team wrote with good news that the DRM notices that were appended were done so in error, and since corrected: "The original site has been updated – it was just a bug on our site, and was resolved within a day I think. We're all slashdot readers here at Kobo Operations, and this is kinda painful :p" Thanks, Hanno.
An anonymous reader writes "Have the storytelling capabilities of the two already met? A New Yorker interview with Gears of War 4 writer Tom Bissell explores the question. Bissell says, 'More and more, I’m seeing that games are mining good, old-fashioned human anxieties for their drama, and that’s really promising. Games, more and more, are not just about shooting and fighting, and for that reason I’m optimistic and heartened about where the medium is heading, because I think game designers are getting more interested in making games that explore what it means to be alive. ... At the same time, though, pure storytelling is never going to be the thing that games do better than anything. Games are primarily about a connection between the player, the game world, and the central mechanic of the game. They’re about creating a space for the player to engage with that mechanic and have the world react in a way that feels interesting and absorbing but also creates a sense of agency. So writing, in games, is about creating mood and establishing a basic sense of intent. The player has some vague notion of what the intent of the so-called author is, but the power of authorship is ultimately for the player to seize for him or herself.'"
langelgjm writes "In a closely-watched case, the U.S. Supreme Court today vindicated the first-sale doctrine, declaring that it "applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad." The case involved a Thai graduate student in the U.S. who sold cheap foreign versions of textbooks on eBay without the publisher's permission. The 6-3 decision has important implications for goods sold online and in discount stores. Justice Stephen Breyer said in his opinion (PDF) that the publisher lost any ability to control what happens to its books after their first sale abroad."
XWWT writes "A few weeks ago Make offered to send us a sample of its Raspberry Pi Starter Kit to see if we would do a review of the product. Samzenpus asked around the engineering team to see if there was someone who would be willing to do an on-camera review of the device. With all of the buzz about Raspberry Pi, I was very excited to get hands-on time with the device so I could more closely examine the platform. At first we wanted to do this piece as a video but quickly realized that a) it would probably be boring to see some blinky lights and push buttons working on a sample project, and b) the amount of audio that would need to be bleeped to cover my frustration with parts of the kit would be annoying. On a personal note, I also wanted to document all of my experience here as I thought it would be beneficial for newcomers to the maker technology and sometimes having someone else’s experience documented can help you avoid pitfalls and mistakes. (Full Disclosure: I am the Director of Engineering for Slashdot Media. We were given a review copy of the Make: Raspberry Pi Starter Kit. We were not paid for this review but had fun doing it.)" Keep reading for the rest of Wes's review.
First time accepted submitter sagecreek writes "Hadoop is an open-source, Java-based framework for large-scale data processing. Typically, it runs on big clusters of computers working together to crunch large chunks of data. You also can run Hadoop in "single-cluster mode" on a Linux machine, Windows PC or Mac, to learn the technology or do testing and debugging. The Hadoop framework, however, is not quickly mastered. Apache's Hadoop wiki cautions: "If you do not know about classpaths, how to compile and debug Java code, step back from Hadoop and learn a bit more about Java before proceeding." But if you are reasonably comfortable with Java, the well-written Hadoop Beginner's Guide by Garry Turkington can help you start mastering this rising star in the Big Data constellation." Read below for the rest of Si's review.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Ukrainian Navy has a small problem on their hands. The Atlantic reports that, after rebooting the Soviet Union's marine mammal program last year with the goal of teaching dolphins to find underwater mines and kill enemy divers, three of the Ukrainian military's new recruits have gone AWOL. Apparently they swam away from their trainers ostensibly in search of a 'mate' out in open waters. It might not be such a big deal except that these dolphins have been trained to 'attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads.' Dolphins were trained at Sevastopol for the Soviet Navy as far back as 1973 to find military equipment such as sea mines on the seabed as well as attacking divers and even carrying explosives on their heads to plant on enemy ships. The U.S. has its own dolphin program in San Diego with 40 trained dolphins and sea lions and another 50 in training. U.S. Navy dolphins were deployed in Bahrain in 1987 during a period when Iran was laying down mines in the Persian Gulf to disrupt oil shipments. No word yet on whether 'sharks with frickin' laser beams attached' have been added to the U.S. arsenal." Update: 03/14 14:55 GMT by T : Note that (as the Atlantic has updated their story reached via above link) while there really are militarized dolphins in use around the world, this particular story turns out to be an elaborate prank.
A while ago you had the chance to ask paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker a wide variety of questions. Instead of answering them individually, Dr. Bob decided to write a lengthy piece that covers most of your inquiries, and includes personal stories and some of his philosophy. The first part is a narrative about his childhood conversion to fossil studies and how his paleo-CSI approach developed. We'll post the second half, covering his training in the history of theology and how it intersects with his science, tomorrow.
theodp writes "GeekWire wonders if the 'Bezos Beep' could replace the smartphone bump for mobile content sharing. A newly-published patent application listing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as sole inventor describes the use of audio signals to share content and communicate between devices, eliminating the need for NFC chips and facilitating the simultaneous sharing of content with multiple people via a remote server. From the patent application: 'For example, a first device can emit an encoded audio signal that can be received by any capable device within audio range of the device. Any device receiving the signal can decode the information included in the signal and obtain a location to access the content from that information.'"
Nate the greatest writes "Remember that really cheap 5" ereader that everyone was talking about back in October? It turns out that the price was too good to be true. Txtr, maker of the beagle ereader, has confirmed today that the beagle will be coming to the US market in the near future. But it's not going to cost $13. Instead this ereader will cost $69. It seems that txtr isn't having much luck selling the beagle to telecoms (where it was going to be marketed as a smartphone companion device), so they have instead decided to try to sell it in the retail trade, where it will have to directly compete against the Kindle. That is going to be a problem because the beagle is much less capable than the Kindle, even though it costs the same. The beagle won't work without a companion Android app which is needed to transfer files to the beagle over Bluetooth. That app requires Android 4.0 or above."
Ian Lamont writes "The Economist writes that self-publishing threatens the existence of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) regimen, which is used to track and distribute printed books. Self-publishing of e-books has experienced triple-digit growth in recent years, and the most popular self-publishing platforms such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing don't require ISBNs (Amazon assigns its own reference number to these titles). But Bowker, the sole distributor of ISBNs in the United States, sees an opportunity in self-publishing. The packages for independent authors are very expensive — Bowker charges $125 for a single ISBN, and $250 for ten. It also upsells other expensive services to new and naive authors, including $25 barcodes and a social widget that costs $120 for the first year. Laura Dawson, the product manager for identifiers at Bowker, insists that ISBNs are relevant and won't be replaced anytime soon: 'Given how hard it is to migrate database platforms and change standards, I wouldn't expect to replace the ISBN, simply because it is also an EAN, which is an ISO standard that forms the backbone of global trade of both physical and digital items. There are a lot of middlemen, even in self-publishing. They require standards in order to communicate with one another.'" It seems like a lot of programs/services just use ASINs (despite being controlled by a single private entity), probably indicating some deficiency with the current centralized registration regime. Back in 2005, Jimmy Wales suggested we needed something (culturally) similar to wikipedia for product identifiers. The O'Reilly interview indicates that the folks issuing ISBNs think DOIs are DOA too.
langelgjm writes "The New York Times reports that Apple and Amazon are attempting to patent methods of enabling the resale of digital items like e-books and MP3s. Establishing a large marketplace for people to buy and sell used digital items has the potential to benefit consumers enormously, but copyright holders aren't happy. Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, 'acknowledged it would be good for consumers — "until there were no more authors anymore."' But would the resale of digital items really be much different than the resale of physical items? Or is the problem that copyright holders just don't like resale?"
An anonymous reader writes "An Apple patent granted on 7 March details a system allowing customers to resell iTunes and iBooks content to other users at a reduced price, or to loan the content temporarily for free. Such a system could pave the way for second hand content being made available on iTunes for a discounted price." (Note: Beware the auto-playing video ad, with sound.)
The times haven't been the kindest to B&N: retail sales are down and the Kindle is outselling the Nook. Joining Best Buy and Dell, B&N might be going private. From the article: "Barnes & Noble’s largest shareholder, Leonard Riggio, made an offer Monday to buy out the struggling company and take it private ... Essentially, it would split the company in two: one half would be Riggio’s private brick-and-mortar stores and related assets, the other the publicly-traded Nook and college bookstore management division."
Freshly Exhumed writes "An endorsement from Oprah Winfrey; a film deal from Steven Spielberg; a debut at the top of The New York Times bestsellers list. These are the things every author craves most. While the first two require the favor of a benevolent deity, the third can be had by anyone with the ability to write a check — a pretty big one, to ResultSource, a San Diego-based marketing consultancy — in what Forbes says is essentially a laundering operation aimed at deceiving the book-buying public into believing a title is more in-demand than it is. Soren Kaplan, a business consultant and speaker, hired ResultSource to promote his book Leapfrogging. Responding to the WSJ article on his website, Kaplan breaks out the economics of making the list. 'It's no wonder few people in the industry want to talk about bestseller campaigns,' he writes. 'Put bluntly, they allow people with enough money, contacts, and know-how to buy their way onto bestseller lists.'"
concealment writes "Three independent bookstores are taking Amazon and the so-called Big Six publishers (Random House, Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan) to court in an attempt to level the playing field for book retailers. If successful, the lawsuit could completely change how ebooks are sold. The class-action complaint, filed in New York on Feb 15., claims that by entering into confidential agreements with the Big Six publishers, who control approximately 60 percent of print book revenue in the U.S., Amazon has created a monopoly in the marketplace that is designed to control prices and destroy independent booksellers."