Ars Technica reviewer Casey Johnston gives a mildly positive review to the Oyster book-rental app (and associated site), which intentionally tries to be for books what Netflix has become for movies: a low-price, subscription-based, data-sifting source of first resort. For $10 a month, users can read any of the books in Oyster's catalog (in the range of 100,000, and growing), and their reading habits are used to suggest new books of interest (with some bum steers, it seems, at present). It's iOS-only for now, with an Android version expected soon. I've only grudgingly moved more and more of my reading to tablets, but now am glad I have; still, I don't like the idea of having my books disappear if I don't pay a continuing subscription.
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
An anonymous reader writes "Using a Lego Mindstorms set, a Mac, and optical character recognition, Austrian professor Peter Purgathofer created a makeshift ebook copier. From the article: 'It's sort of a combination of high tech meets low. The scanning is done by way of the Mac's iSight camera. The Mindstorms set does two things: Hits the page-advance button on the Kindle (it appears to be an older model, like the one in the picture above), then mashes the space bar on the Mac, causing it to take a picture.' Purgathofer calls the creation a 'reflection on the loss of long established rights.' Check out the Vimeo video for a demonstration."
itwbennett writes "The federal judge presiding over the U.S. electronic books case against Apple has barred the company from striking deals that would ensure that it could undercut prices of other retailers in the e-book market and also prohibited Apple from letting any one publisher know what deals the company is striking up with other publishers. For its part, Apple said it plans to appeal the ruling (PDF), denying that it conspired to fix ebook pricing. Meanwhile, Amazon is alerting customers of their potential payout, which could be as much as $3.82 for every eligible Kindle book."
nk497 writes "Amazon is bundling ebooks with print copies for the first time, via its Kindle MatchBook programme, admitting that 'bundling print and digital has been one of the most requested features from customers.' The digital copies won't all be free — as with AutoRip, which offers free MP3s for selected CDs and records — but Amazon promises to charge no more than $3 per digital copy. The programme will apply to books bought as far back as Amazon's 1995 launch. So far, only 10,000 books are listed as being part of Kindle MatchBook, but Amazon hopes to add more, telling publishers it 'adds a new revenue stream.'"
damnbunni writes "Frederik Pohl, one of the last Golden Age science fiction authors, passed away on September 2nd of respiratory distress, as reported on his blog. Pohl is perhaps best known for his Heechee Saga novels, beginning with Gateway in 1977, but his work in pulp magazines in the '30s and '40s helped give rise to science fiction fandom."
The Hugo awards were presented last night, providing recognition to the best science fiction of the past year. The award for Best Novel was presented to John Scalzi for Redshirts, a comedic work playing on the trope of low-ranking officers frequently getting themselves killed in sci-fi works. Best Novella went to Brandon Sanderson for The Emperor's Soul, and Best Novelette went to The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan. Best Graphic Story was awarded to the creators of Saga. Best Dramatic Presentation (long form) was given for Joss Whedon's The Avengers movie, and (short form) was presented for the "Blackwater" episode of the Game of Thrones TV show. The Best New Writer was Mur Lafferty. Here's a full list of the nominees and winners.
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."