An anonymous reader writes "State education in South Africa has been described as 'in crisis'. A recent report (pdf) says that even the top 20% of private schools only achieve the same results as the average in other middle income countries like Chile. In maths and science, teachers often can't answer and don't understand the questions they have to set their pupils. One government school in Johannesburg, however, has taken an enormously bold step and gone 'fully digital' in a move that others may follow. Since January, all pupils have been required to buy a tablet computer instead of textbooks — which, astonishingly, saves families around R500 ($50) in the first year and R1500 ($150) in subsequent years, a huge amount of money for many families there. The teachers are confident that that learning outcomes are better as well — and if the end of year tests in a month's time are positive, other schools may follow suit."
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Tourists often marvel at the number of rich and varied bookstores along Paris streets. Right across from Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the city's most famous independent bookstores, Shakespeare and Company. Inside, every inch of space is crammed with books and readers. The city buys buildings in high-rent districts and tries to keep a core of 300 independent bookstore by offering booksellers leases at an affordable price. 'We have to keep our identity,' says Lynn Cohen-Solal, 'because if we don't, all the shops are exactly the same in Paris, in London, in New York, in New Delhi, everywhere.' Now Eleanor Beardsley reports at NPR that the French government has accused Amazon of trying to push the price of physical books too low and is limiting discounts on books to ensure the survival of its independent booksellers. France's lower house of parliament has unanimously voted to add an amendment to a law from 1981, known in France as the Lang Law which sets the value of new books at fixed prices and only allows retailers to lower books' set price by 5%, in an effort to regulate competition between booksellers and to promote reading. Guillaume Husson, spokesman for the SLF book retailers' union, says Amazon's practice of bundling a 5 percent discount with free delivery amounted to selling books at a loss, which was impossible for traditional book sellers of any size. 'Today, the competition is unfair,' says Husson. 'No other book retailer, whether a small or large book or even a chain, can allow itself to lose that much money,' referring to Amazon's alleged losses on free delivery. Amazon spent $2.8 billion on free shipping worldwide last year to gain a competitive advantage. The bill limiting Amazon's price reductions in France still has to pass the Senate to become law. In a statement, Amazon said any effort to raise the price of books diminishes the cultural choices of French consumers and penalizes both Internet users and small publishers who rely on Internet sales."
Nick Kolakowski writes "Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regarded Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as a rival, but the men had more in common than they might have believed. Like Jobs, Bezos had a vision of a tech company, started it on a small budget with a tight cluster of coworkers, and fought to grow it into an industry giant. And as detailed in The Everything Store, a new book about the rise of Amazon.com, Bezos also boasts a Jobs-like temper, riddling his subordinates with withering insults when he feels a project is imperfect or falling behind schedule." Read on for the rest of his review.
An anonymous reader writes "Security guru Bruce Schneier is, among other things, a world renowned cryptography expert, author of several popular books, and a second-order internet meme. He is also an outspoken critic of the NSA, in particular the massive NSA surveillance programs disclosed over the summer by Edward Snowden. Schneier has been involved in reviewing the leaked documents and has put in effort to determine which cryptosystems should still be considered safe. I'm a big fan of Bruce Schneier, but just to play devil's advocate, let's say, hypothetically, that Schneier is actually in cahoots with the NSA. Who better to reinstate public trust in weakened cryptosystems? As an exercise in security that Schneier himself may find interesting, what methods are available for proving (or at least affirming) that we can trust Bruce Schneier?"
Nick Kolakowski writes "Markus 'Notch' Persson is the famous indie-game developer behind Minecraft, which is also the name of the new book about his life and work by Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson. (The effect is slightly odd, like naming the Steve Jobs biography iPhone.) Minecraft traces Persson’s development from an isolated young man building simple PC games in his bedroom, to a frustrated game developer who feels the software conglomerates are stifling his creativity, to a multimillionaire who's had some trouble coming to grips with his gamer-land fame. The Persson described in the book is an introvert's introvert, far more interested in coding than partying, although he does display flashes of entrepreneurial aggression that would make Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos proud: at one point, he confesses that he wants to build a gaming behemoth on the scale of Valve." Read below for the rest of Nick's review.
Kristian vonBengtson writes "A DIY, manned space program like Copenhagen Suborbitals is kept alive by keeping total independence, cutting the red tape and simply just doing it all in a garage. We basically try to stay below the radar at all time and are reluctant in engagements leading to signing papers or do things (too much) by the books. But now there might be trouble ahead. (Saul Goodman! We need you...) During the last 5 years we have encountered many weird legal cases which does not make much sense and no one can explain their origin. If we were to fix up a batch of regular black gunpowder (which we use for igniters) we are entitled for serving time in jail. Even a few grams. But no one give a hoot about building a rocket fueled with 12 tonnes of liquid oxygen and alcohol. Thats is perfectly legal. If Copenhagen Suborbitals fly a rocket into space for the first time there are likely legal action that must be dealt with. At my time at the International Space University we had lectures and exams in space law and I remember the Outer Space Treaty which is the most ratified space treaty with over 100 countries including Denmark and U.S. And here is the matter – in which I seek some kind of advice or what you may call it: Outer Space Treaty, Article 6 states: 'the activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.' Does this mean that Denmark (or any other country for that matter – if it was your project) suddenly have to approve what we are doing and will be kept responsible for our mission, if we launch into space?"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Many of New York City's subway cars are well past their prime and due for fleet replacement, most strikingly those on the C line, known by their model number, R32, and for the tin-can siding that will continue rolling beneath Eighth Avenue for at least a few more years. Now the NYT reports that transit planners have urged the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to consider articulated subway cars for any future fleet upgrades. Articulated cars, already adopted in cities like Berlin, Paris, and Toronto, have no doors between cars, allowing unrestricted flow throughout the length of the train that could increase capacity by 8 percent to 10 percent. Adam Lisberg, the authority's chief spokesman, says that increased capacity could also improve 'dwell time' — the period during which a train is stopped in a station, often because of overcrowding — and allow more trains to run. 'We're one of the largest systems in the world that doesn't do it,' says Richard Barone, the director of transportation programs at the Regional Plan Association. 'Our trains don't function right now to allow people to circulate.' Articulation also has the benefit of making empty trains feel safer. By allowing passengers the ability to move between cars easily and to see passengers throughout the train, the isolation that can sometimes feel dangerous on a late-night subway is less of an issue, simply because the whole train is joined together like one huge car. But not everyone embraces the idea. Elizabeth Kubany who works in the Flatiron district, expressed a fondness for the current configuration, suggesting that the separated cars were more 'intimate' binding passenger to passenger in an increasingly antisocial age. Then she reconsidered. 'You don't really want to be intimate with people on the train.'"
benrothke writes "Narrating a compelling and interesting story about cryptography is not an easy endeavor. Many authors have tried and failed miserably; attempting to create better anecdotes about the adventure of Alice and Bob. David Kahn probably did the best job of it when wrote The Codebreakers: The story of secret writing in 1967 and set the gold standard on the information security narrative. Kahn's book was so provocative and groundbreaking that the US Government originally censored many parts of it. While Secret History: The Story of Cryptology is not as groundbreaking, it also has no government censorship. With that, the book is fascinating read that provides a combination of cryptographic history and the underlying mathematics behind it." Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
Neil Gaiman spoke Monday for the Reading Agency's annual lecture series. His talk centered on the importance of libraries and of reading for pleasure. His talk was transcribed and posted by The Guardian. Quoting: "Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. ... The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them. I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children's books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. ... It's tosh. It's snobbery and it's foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn't hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you."
Nerval's Lobster writes "This morning we discussed news that the National Security Agency (NSA) has siphoned up millions of online address books and contact lists. The Post drew its information from top-secret documents provided by government whistleblower Edward Snowden, who spent the summer feeding information about the NSA to a variety of news outlets. Snowden's documents (as outlined in The Guardian, Spiegel Online and other venues) have detailed a massive NSA program that's siphoning all sorts of personal information from a variety of sources — and yet the public seems to have greeted each new revelation with weakening outrage. Whereas the initial news reports about NSA splying in June kicked off a firestorm of controversy and discussion (aggravated by the drama of Snowden seeking asylum in pretty much any country that would have him), the unveiling of the NSA's Great Contact-List Caper has ranked below the news stories such as the government shutdown, negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, and invites for Apple's upcoming iPad event on aggregators such as Google News; it also didn't make much of a blip on Twitter and other online forums. There's the very real possibility that Americans, despite the assurances of government officials, are being monitored in a way that potentially violates their privacy. Surely that's an issue that concerns a great many individuals; and yet, as time goes by, it seems as if people are choosing to focus on other things. Are we suffering from 'surveillance fatigue?'"
Charliemopps writes that the Washington Post reports "The NSA is collecting hundreds of millions of contact lists from all over the world, many of them belonging to Americans. The intercept them from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. The NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world's e-mail and instant messaging accounts." According to the leaked document (original as a PDF), the NSA is intercepting some chat protocols and at least IMAP, and then analyzing the data for buddy list information and inbox contents.
First time accepted submitter Michael Harris writes "According to The Age, an Australian company plans to use autonomous quadropters to deliver text books to University students in Sydney. Apparently the drone will locate you via your smartphone's GPS, fly autonomously to your location, and drop the book into your hands."
Michael Ross writes "An online store is one of the most common use cases for a website nowadays. For those web developers and business owners who choose the current version of Drupal as a basis for such an e-commerce project, the canonical solution is Drupal Commerce. There are numerous online resources for learning Commerce, and yet for the longest time no printed book. Now we have Getting Started with Drupal Commerce, written by Richard Jones." Read below for the rest of Michael's review.
Nate the greatest writes "The Kernel started an uproar last week when they 'discovered' that the Kindle Store and other ebookstores sell adult content in the erotica category. None of the content is actually illegal, but it is icky enough that the major ebookstores decided to respond by removing anything even vaguely questionable. Unfortunately, they went too far, resulting in an act of censorship the likes of which we haven't seen since Paypal went after the indie ebook distributor Smashwords. The Daily Mail reports that WH Smith went so far as to shut down their website with the promise that it won't reopen until all self-published titles have been removed, and according to BBC News, B&N is also deleting content. Numerous authors have reported on KBoards that Amazon and B&N have removed far more than just the titles that feature questionable content like pseudo-incest; they appear to be running keyword searches and removing any title that mentions innocuous words like babysitter, sister, or teenager. And they're not the only ones; there's a new report that Kobo has jumped on the ban wagon as well."
00_NOP writes "Researchers from the New School for Social Research in New York have demonstrated that if you read quality literary fiction you become a better person, in the sense that you are more likely to empathize with others [paper abstract]. Presumably we can all think of books that have changed the way we feel about the world — so this is, in a sense, a scientific confirmation of something fairly intuitive."
Nick Kolakowski writes "Here are the lessons imparted by Dave Eggers' The Circle, his new novel about the rise of a fictional technology company clearly modeled on Google or Facebook: 1) Sharing content with people online is a poor substitute for having real-life experiences with, like, kayaking and family gatherings and drinking and stuff. 2) Unless stopped, companies that build social-networking tools will create increasingly intrusive software. 3) The only sure way to stay sane in our increasingly interconnected (Eggers would say over-connected) world is to drive at high speed off a bridge." Read below for the rest of Nick's review.
The original Warcraft and Diablo games hold a special status in the hearts of many gamers. Each game brought its genre into focus, and their success elevated the status of Blizzard Entertainment and Blizzard North to the point that further games are still hotly anticipated more than 15 years later. In an effort to discover and document that part of gaming history, author David L. Craddock conducted extensive interviews with early Blizzard developers. His intent was to investigate how both of the Blizzard studios succeeded at breaking into a saturated and competitive industry, and how their design process influenced both their acclaimed releases and the projects they discarded along the way. He's writing a series of books about the history of Blizzard, titled Stay Awhile and Listen. The first is due out on October 31st, and David has agreed to answer your questions about his investigation into those early games. David will be joined by Blizzard North co-founders David Brevik and Max Schaefer. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
guttentag writes "The author of The Hunt for Red October and many military and espionage novels which inspired a number of movies video games died last night in a Baltimore Hospital. The news was first reported by Publishers Weekly's Twitter account this morning and confirmed by New York Times Book Reporter Julie Bosman's Twitter account."
KentuckyFC writes "Stories are a powerful channel for communicating emotions. But while they have been studied in detail by generations of critics, there is little in the way of objective tools for analyzing and comparing their emotional content. That looks set to change thanks to one data mining researcher who has applied the process of sentiment analysis to novels and fairy tales that have been digitized on Project Gutenburg and the Google Books Corpus. The results show the density of emotions in different parts of a story and how the emotional 'temperature' changes throughout the tale. For example, this guy has used the technique to compare the emotional content of the entire collection of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales to reveal that the darkest story is a tale called Gambling Hansel; clearly a lesson to us all."
Nate the greatest writes "Scribd threw its hat in the ebook subscription ring today. The site is expanding on its existing ebookstore with a new $9-a-month all-you-can-read ebook subscription service which offers a selection of ebooks from a number of publishers, including HarperCollins, E-Reads, Kensington, Red Wheel/Weiser, Rosetta Books, Sourcebooks, and Workman. That's a better selection of commercial ebooks than the Kindle owner's lending library, but not quite as broad of a selection as the recently-launched Oyster. However, Scribd is charging less and they're offering better platform support. While Oyster is only available on the iPhone, Scribd has apps for both Android and iOS, and you can read the ebooks in your web browser."