Giulia D'Amico, Business Development VP for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) talks about the new OLPC tablets, which are now available in the U.S. through Target, Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers, with some of the $150 sales price for each tablet going to support the OLPC project in places like Uruguay, Cambodia, Rwanda, and other countries where a tablet loaded with teaching software is a way better deal than trying to supply all the books a child needs for six or eight years of school. While there are many Android tablets for sale for less than $150, Giulia points out that the OLPC tablets contain up to $300 worth of software. Plus, of course, just as with almost any other Android device, there are many thousands of apps available for it through Google Play. And let's not forget the original OLPC laptop. It has been redesigned, and renamed the OLPC XO-4 and looks much cooler than the original. You can learn more about it through olpc.tv, which has videos from the introduction of both the OPLC tablet and the XO-4 at CES 2013. OLPC has shipped close to 3 million laptops so far, and is working to port Sugar to Android so that the laptop and the tablet can use the same software. One more thing: OLPC is now focusing on software rather than hardware. When the project started at MIT, back in 2006 or so, there was no suitable hardware available. Today, many companies make low-cost tablets and keyboards for them, so there's no real need for OLPC to make its own instead of using existing hardware.
Kelly Beatty has a unique perspective on the world of astronomy: Beatty's been on the staff of Sky & Telescope magazine for nearly 40 years as a writer and editor, including a stint heading "Night Sky" magazine. He's also written what's been called "the definitive guide for the armchair astronomer," and teaches astronomy to people of all ages. (He even has an asteroid named after him.) Besides being fascinated with the objects we can see in Earth's skies, Beatty takes the skies themselves seriously: his Twitter handle is NightSkyGuy for a reason. We talked a few weeks ago, in dark-skied rural Maine, about his involvement with the International Dark-Sky Association, and why you should care about ubiquitous light pollution, even if you don't have a deep interest in star-gazing. (And it's not just to be courteous to your neighbors.)
Esther Schindler writes "If you ever needed evidence that Isaac Asimov was a genius at extrapolating future technology from limited data, you'll enjoy this 1964 article in which he predicts what we'll see at the 2014 world's fair. For instance: "Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the "brains" of robots. In fact, the I.B.M. building at the 2014 World's Fair may have, as one of its prime exhibits, a robot housemaid*large, clumsy, slow- moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning and manipulation of various appliances. It will undoubtedly amuse the fairgoers to scatter debris over the floor in order to see the robot lumberingly remove it and classify it into 'throw away' and 'set aside.' (Robots for gardening work will also have made their appearance.)" It's really fun (and sometimes sigh-inducing) to see where he was accurate and where he wasn't. And, of course, the whole notion that we'd have a world's fair is among the inaccurate predictions."
benrothke writes "Little did anyone know that when the first Hacking Exposed book came out over 15 years ago, that it would launch a set of sequels on topics from Windows, Linux, web development, to virtualization and cloud computing, and much more. In 2013, the newest edition is Hacking Exposed Mobile Security Secrets & Solutions. In this edition, authors Neil Bergman, Mike Stanfield, Jason Rouse & Joel Scambray provide an extremely detailed overview of the security and privacy issues around mobile devices. The authors have heaps of experience in the topics and bring that to every chapter." Read below for the rest of Ben's review.
Calibre is a feature-laden, open source e-book manager; many readers mentioned in light of the recently posted news about Barnes & Noble's Nook that they use Calibre to deal with their reading material. Reader Trashcan Romeo writes with some news on its new 1.0 release, summing it up thus: "The new version of the premier e-book management application boasts a completely re-written database backend and PDF output engine as well a new book-cover grid view."
The New York Times says that what Microsoft needs now isn't just a CEO, but a catch-up artist, to regain the footing that it had a few years ago as the biggest name in software. There's a lot of catching up, too: An anonymous reader reminds us that a year ago, Vanity Fair gave a scathing review of Steve Ballmer's performance:"Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the tech industry; indeed, it was the wealthiest corporation in the world. But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc. Talking to former and current Microsoft executives, Kurt Eichenwald finds the fingers pointing at C.E.O. Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates's successor, as the man who led them astray."
jfruh writes "Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader line has largerly been regarded as a botched attempt to compete with the Kindle, whose failure has contributed to the bookseller's financial woes. Well, despite earlier statements that the company was abandoning it as a hardware platform, now the B&N CEO insists that the company is committed to the product line and the new Nooks are in development."
oneiros27 writes "Although the initial search for Evi Nemeth (and some other people who didn't write Unix books) ended, family and friends of the missing crew are funding a private search effort for the crew. They've managed to get more images from DigitalGlobe of the drift area, but now need help looking through the pictures. If you've got some free time, you might be able to help save some lives."
Dave_Minsky writes "About 600 students will enter Lynn University's freshman class this year, the largest since 2007, and they will all be using iPad Minis instead of textbooks. The iPads will cost $475, saving students up to 50% of what a semester's worth of textbooks would cost, estimates Lynn. Students will be able to access core curriculum classes on their iPads that are 'enhanced with custom multimedia content,' and will come with 'at least 30 education, productivity, social and news-related iOS apps — some free and some paid for by the university.' This seems to be the beginning of a new era for American colleges. The Boca Raton university is not the first to give iPads to students instead of textbooks. Back in 2010, New Jersey-based Seton Hill University announced it would give students the tablets rather than books."
Nerval's Lobster writes "When Ars Technica editor Nate Anderson sat down to write The Internet Police, Edward Snowden hadn't yet decided to add some excitement to the National Security Agency's summer by leaking a trove of surveillance secrets to The Guardian. As a result, Anderson's book doesn't mention Snowden's escapade, which will likely become the security-and-paranoia story of the year, if not the decade. For anyone unaware of the vast issues highlighted by Snowden's leak, however, The Internet Police is a handy guide to the slow and unstoppable rise of the online security state, as well as the libertarian and criminal elements that have done their level best to counter that surveillance." Read below for the rest of Nerval's Lobster's review.
Guido van Rossum is best known as the creator of Python, and he remains the BDFL (Benevolent Dictator For Life) in the community. The recipient of many awards for his work, and author of numerous books, he left Google in December and started working for Dropbox early this year. A lot has happened in the 12 years since we talked to Guido and he's agreed to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
theodp writes "GeekWire reports that Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold are seeking a patent on making textbooks less boring by using a cellphone or other device to scan text on a page, parse its meaning, and automatically create suitable accompanying video or pictures to keep students engaged. From the patent application for Autogenerating Video From Text: 'A student is assigned a reading assignment. To make the assignment more interesting, the student may use his or her mobile phone to take a picture of a page of the textbook. The systems and methods described herein may then generate a synthesized image sequence of the action occurring in the text. Thus, rather than simply reading names and dates, the student may see soldiers running across a battlefield.' Furthermore, the patent explains, the experience may be tailored to a user's preferences: 'For example, in a video clip about a Shakespearean play, the preference data may be used to insert family members into the video clip instead of the typical characters.'"
dreamstateseven writes "Things are getting serious for Bitcoin this month: a federal judge declared it real money, Bloomberg gave it an experimental ticker, Thailand declared it illegal, and now New York's financial regulator announced an interest in regulating it. The department is starting out by subpoenaing 22 digital-currency companies and investors to get a lay of the Bitcoin land. They sent letters to the major Bitcoin players asking them to hand over information regarding their money laundering controls, consumer protection practices, source of funding, pitch books (for Bitcoin start-ups) and investment strategies (for Bitcoin investors). Keep in mind, a subpoena doesn't mean criminal activity has taken place."
benrothke writes "Diet books are literally a dime a dozen. They generally benefit only the author, publisher and Amazon, leaving the reader frustrated and bloated. With a failure rate of over 99%, diet books are the epitome of a sucker born every minute. One of the few diet books that can offer change you can believe in is The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding. Author Joe Kutner observes that nearly every popular diet fails and the reason is that they are based on the premise of a quick fix without focusing on the long-term core issues. It is inevitable that these diets will fail and the dieters at heart know that. It is simply that they are taking the wrong approach. This book is about the right approach; namely a slow one. With all of the failed diet books, Kutner is one of the few that has gotten it right." Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Since the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous — the progenitor of 12-step programs — science has sometimes been at odds with the notion that laypeople can cure themselves because the numerous spiritual references that go with the 12-step program puts A.A. on "the fringe" in the minds of many scientists. But there is an interesting read at National Geographic where Jarret Liotta writes that new research shows that the success of the 12-step approach may ultimately be explained through medical science and psychology. According to Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer at Hazelden and sober 37 years, attending 12-step meetings does more than give an addict warm, fuzzy feelings. The unconscious neurological pull of addiction undermines healthy survival drives, causing individuals to make disastrous choices, he says. "People will regularly risk their lives—risk everything—to continue use of a substance." Addicts don't want to engage in these behaviors, but they can't control themselves. "The only way to truly treat it is with something more powerful," like the 12 steps, that can change patterns in the brain. Philip Flores, author of Addiction as an Attachment Disorder, says the human need for social interaction is a physiological one, linked to the well-being of the nervous system. When someone becomes addicted, Flores says, mechanisms for healthy attachment are "hijacked," resulting in dependence on addictive substances or behaviors. Some believe that addicts, even before their disease kicks in, struggle with knowing how to form emotional bonds that connect them to other people. Co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety, make it even harder to build those essential emotional attachments. "We, as social mammals, cannot regulate our central nervous systems by ourselves," Flores says. "We need other people to do that.""
An anonymous reader writes "At Rough Type, Nicholas Carr examines the surprisingly sharp drop in the growth rate for e-book sales. In the U.S., the biggest e-book market, annual sales growth dropped to just 5% in the first quarter of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, while the worldwide e-book market actually shrank slightly, according to Nielsen. E-books now account for about 25% of total U.S. book sales — still a long way from the dominance most people expected. Carr speculates about various reasons e-books may be losing steam. He wonders in particular about 'the possible link between the decline in dedicated e-readers (as multitasking tablets take over) and the softening of e-book sales. Are tablets less conducive to book buying and reading than e-readers were?' He suggests that the e-book may end up playing a role more like the audiobook — a complement to printed books rather than a replacement."
A while ago you had a chance to ask Jimmy Wales about the amazing growth of Wikipedia, and his role advising the UK government in making academic research available online. Below you'll find his answers to your questions.
bsk_cw writes "This article takes a long look at four major consumer tech ecosystems — Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft — and examine how well (or badly) they're serving up their media. The authors talk about how each company approaches gaming, music, video, books, etc., and how each integrates all its parts into some kind of whole. The conclusion? That none of the four can be said to be the best in all things, but they're certainly trying."
An anonymous reader writes "There's some good news if you use NVIDIA graphics on (Ubuntu) Linux or FreeBSD with their binary graphics driver: the OpenGL performance is comparable to Windows 8. Unfortunately, that's not the same for Intel graphics and AMD doesn't even offer a Catalyst driver for FreeBSD. FreeBSD offers a binary Linux compatibility layer to run games at the same (or better) performance as Linux, but unfortunately it's capped to running Linux x86 binaries and NVIDIA is the only GPU vendor with proper BSD graphics driver support."