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Books

Amazon, Apple To End Audiobook Exclusivity: EU (marketwatch.com) 16

European Union antitrust regulators on Thursday said they welcomed a move by Amazon.com to end exclusivity obligations for the supply and distribution of audiobooks between the e-commerce giant and Apple. From a report: The European Commission, the EU's antitrust watchdog, said the exclusivity obligations required Apple to source only from Amazon's unit Audible and also required Audible not to supply other music digital platforms besides Apple's iTunes store. The agreement between the two companies, which was struck Jan. 5 2017, will improve competition in downloadable audiobook distribution in Europe, the EU said.
Microsoft

Microsoft Plans To Add an Ebook Store To Windows 10 (mspoweruser.com) 68

Microsoft may have plans to give Windows 10 users the ability to purchase ebooks directly from the Windows Store. According to a report on MSPowerUser, Windows 10 Creators Update will feature a new book store interface that will support the purchase and viewing of books in the Microsoft Edge browser. The report claims that this feature will be coming to both Windows 10 Mobile and other Windows 10 variants on PCs and tablets. It's worth mentioning that Microsoft made EPUB support a feature of Microsoft Edge as part of its Windows 10 Creators Update Insider test builds last year.
Windows

Windows 10 Privacy Changes Appease Watchdogs, But Still No Data 'Off-Switch' (zdnet.com) 211

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced several privacy changes in Windows 10, but it didn't give users an option to completely opt-out of data-collection feature. The announcement came at a time to coincide with a statement by the Swiss data protection and privacy regulator, the FDPIC, which last week said it would drop its threats of a lawsuit after the company "agreed to implement" a string of recommendations it made last year. The news closed the books on an investigation that began in 2015, shortly after Windows 10 was released. Though the Swiss appear satisfied, other critics are waiting for more. The French data protection watchdog, the CNIL, was equally unimpressed by Microsoft's actions, and it served the company with a notice in July to demand that it clean up its privacy settings. In an email, the CNIL said that the changes "seem to comply" with its complaint, but it's "now analyzing more in [sic] details Microsoft answers in order to know whether all the failures underlined in the formal notice do now comply with the law." ZDNet adds: Microsoft still hasn't said exactly what gets collected as part of the basic level of collection, except that the data is used to improve its software and services down the line; a reasonable ask -- but one that nonetheless lacks specifics. Microsoft said it wants users to "trust" it. And while the likelihood that the company is doing anything nefarious with users' information is frankly unlikely, the running risk is that the data could somehow be turned over to a government agency or even stolen by hackers is inescapable. That risk alone is enough for many to want to keep what's on their computer in their homes. While changing the privacy controls is a move in the right direction, it's still short of what many have called for. By ignoring the biggest privacy complaint from its consumer users -- the ability to switch off data collection altogether -- Microsoft has favored the "just enough" approach to appease the regulators. Without a way to truly opt-out, Microsoft's repeated pledge (eight times in the blog post, no less) to give its users "control" of their data comes off as a hollow soundbite.
Medicine

Scientists Identify New Organ In Humans (livescience.com) 112

Scientists have classified a new organ called the mesentery, which connects a person's small and large intestines to the abdominal wall and anchors them in place, according to the Mayo Clinic. Until recently, it was thought of a number of distinct membranes by most scientists. It was none other than Leonardo da Vinci who identified the membranes as a single structure, according to a recent review. Live Science reports: In the review, lead author Dr. Calvin Coffey, a professor of surgery at the University of Limerick's Graduate Entry Medical School in Ireland, and colleagues looked at past studies and literature on the mesentery. Coffey noted that throughout the 20th century, anatomy books have described the mesentery as a series of fragmented membranes; in other words, different mesenteries were associated with different parts of the intestines. More recent studies looking at the mesentery in patients undergoing colorectal surgery and in cadavers led Coffey's team to conclude that the membrane is its own, continuous organ, according to the review, which was published in November in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The reclassification of the mesentery as an organ "is relevant universally as it affects all of us," Coffey said in a statement. By recognizing the anatomy and the structure of the mesentery, scientists can now focus on learning more about how the organ functions, Coffey said. In addition, they can also learn about diseases associated with the mesentery, he added.
Books

Scribd Pulls Digital Comics From Its Subscription Reading Service (the-digital-reader.com) 32

Popular ebooks platform, Scribd has quietly removed digital comics from its subscription reading service. According to a report on The Digital Reader, the feature was added in February 2015, and may have been pulled as part of a cost-cutting measure. From the article: Scribd confirmed the news in a statement: "We launched comics in 2015, and while we were excited to bring new content to our readers, few actively took advantage of them. We will be focusing our efforts on enhancing the experience surrounding our other great content types including books, audiobooks, magazines, and documents. We alerted comic readers of the news via email in early December. We understand that this news is disappointing to comic readers. This was a difficult decision, and we hope that they'll explore the rest of what Scribd has to offer in the coming months." It's interesting that Scribd says that they informed subscribers, because that is not the impression I get from the complaints on Twitter. Many were surprised when they noticed, and based on the timestamps the comics were apparently pulled on or before 1 December.
Books

Library Creates Fake Patron Records To Avoid Book-Purging (heraldnet.com) 258

An anonymous reader writes: Chuck Finley checked out 2,361 books from a Florida library in just nine months, increasing their total circulation by 3.9%. But he doesn't exist. "The fictional character was concocted by two employees at the library, complete with a false address and driver's license number," according to the Orlando Sentinel. The department overseeing the library acknowledges their general rule is "if something isn't circulated in one to two years, it's typically weeded out of circulation." So the fake patron scheme was concocted by a library assistant working with the library's branch supervisor, who "said he wanted to avoid having to later repurchase books purged from the shelf." But according to the newspaper the branch supervisor "said the same thing is being done at other libraries, too."
Books

'Watership Down' Author Richard Adams Died On Christmas Eve At Age 96 (theguardian.com) 46

Initially rejected by several publishers, "Watership Down" (1972) went on to become one of the best-selling fantasy books of all time. Last Saturday the book's author died peacefully at the age of 96. Long-time Slashdot reader haruchai remembers some of the author's other books: In addition to his much-beloved story about anthropomorphic rabbits, Adams penned two fantasy books set in the fictional Beklan Empire, first Shardik (1974) about a hunter pursuing a giant bear he believes to be imbued with divine power, and Maia (1984), a peasant girl sold into slavery who becomes entangled in a war between neighboring countries.
Adams also wrote a collection of short stories called "Tales From Watership Down" in 1996, and the original "Watership Down" was also made into a movie and an animated TV series. In announcing his death, Richard's family also included a quote from the original "Watership Down".

"It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

"'You needn't worry about them,' said his companion. 'They'll be alright -- and thousands like them.'"

Transportation

Self-Driving Cars Will Make Organ Shortages Even Worse (slate.com) 295

One of the many ways self-driving cars will impact the world is with organ shortages. It's a morbid thought, but the most reliable sources for healthy organs and tissues are the more than 35,000 people killed each year on American roads. According to the book "Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead," 1 in 5 organ donations comes from the victim of a vehicular accident. Since an estimated 94 percent of motor-vehicle accidents involve some kind of a driver error, it's easy to see how autonomous vehicles could make the streets and highways safer, while simultaneously making organ shortages even worse. Slate reports: As the number of vehicles with human operators falls, so too will the preventable fatalities. In June, Christopher A. Hart, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said, "Driverless cars could save many if not most of the 32,000 lives that are lost every year on our streets and highways." Even if self-driving cars only realize a fraction of their projected safety benefits, a decline in the number of available organs could begin as soon as the first wave of autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles hits the road -- threatening to compound our nation's already serious shortages. We're all for saving lives -- we aren't saying that we should stop self-driving cars so we can preserve a source of organ donation. But we also need to start thinking now about how to address this coming problem. The most straightforward fix would be to amend a federal law that prohibits the sale of most organs, which could allow for development of a limited organ market. Organ sales have been banned in the United States since 1984, when Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act after a spike in demand (thanks to the introduction of the immunosuppressant cyclosporine, which improved transplant survival rates from 20-30 percent to 60-70 percent) raised concerns that people's vital appendages might be "treated like fenders in an auto junkyard." Others feared an organ market would exploit minorities and those living in poverty. But the ban hasn't completely protected those populations, either. The current system hasn't stopped organ harvesting -- the illegal removal of organs from the recently deceased without the consent of the person or family -- either in the United States or abroad. It is estimated that, worldwide, as many as 10,000 black market medical operations are performed each year that involve illegally purchased organs. So what would an ethical fix to our organ transplant shortage look like? To start, while there's certainly a place for organ donation markets in the United States, implementation will be understandably slow. There are, however, small steps that can get us closer to a just system. For one, the country could consider introducing a "presumed consent" rule. This would change state organ donation registries from affirmative opt-in systems (checking that box at the DMV that yes, you do want to be an organ donor) to an affirmative opt-out system where, unless you state otherwise, you're presumed to consent to be on the list.
Books

Amazon's Digital Day is Like Cyber Monday But For Downloads (cnet.com) 20

Amazon is hoping to replicate the success of its online-only sales. It has announced a "Digital Day" sale on December 30, where it will offer discounts of up to 50 percent on apps, ebooks, games, movies, and music. From a report on CNET: Now, the Seattle-based online retailer giant is hoping to do the same with Digital Day. Movies like "Bolt," "The Lego Movie" and "Storks" are up to 50 percent off. So are games like Titanfall 2 and Rocket League. There will also be deals on Amazon's music streaming service and kids book app Amazon Rapids.
Books

What's the Best Book You Read This Year? 338

The year is almost over. It's time we asked you about the books you read over the past few months. Which ones -- new or old -- were your favourite? Please share just one title name in the comments section (and if you would like, rest in parenthesis). Also, which books are you looking forward to reading in the coming weeks?
Google

Did Google.org Steal the Christmas Spirit? (theregister.co.uk) 103

Google.org gives nonprofits roughly $100 million each year. But now the Register argues that festive giving "has become a 'Googlicious' sales push." Among other things, The Register criticizes the $30 million in grant funding that Google.org gave this Christmas "to nonprofits to bring phones, tablets, hardware and training to communities that can benefit from them most," some of which utilized the crowdfunding site DonorsChoose (which tacks a fee of at least $30 fee onto every donation). "The most critical learning resources that teachers need are often exercise books, pen and paper, but incentives built into the process steer educators to request and receive Google hardware, rather than humble classroom staples," claims the Register. theodp writes: [O]ne can't help but wonder if Google.org's decision to award $18,130 to teachers at Timberland Charter Academy for Chromebooks to help make students "become 'Google'licious" while leaving another humbler $399 request from a teacher at the same school for basic school supplies -- pencils, paper, erasers, etc. -- unfunded is more aligned with Google's interests than the Christmas spirit. Google, The Register reminds readers, lowered its 2015 tax bill by $3.6 billion using the old Dutch Sandwich loophole trick, according to new regulatory filings in the Netherlands.
The article even criticizes the "Santa's Village" site at Google.org, which includes games like Code Boogie, plus a game about airport security at the North Pole. Their complaint is its "Season of Giving" game, which invites children to print out and color ornaments that represent charities -- including DonorsChoose.org. The article ends by quoting Slashdot reader theodp ("who documents the influence of Big Tech in education") as saying "Nothing says Christmas fun more than making ornaments to celebrate Google's pet causes..."
China

Why China Can't Lure Tech Talent (bloomberg.com) 219

China may have been hoping to attract tech talent to its nation, but it is unlikely that people in the tech industry will move there. A columnist at Bloomberg explains why: The biggest problem is government control of the internet. For a software developer, the inconvenience goes well beyond not being able to access YouTube during coffee breaks. It means that key software libraries and tools are often inaccessible. In 2013, China blocked Github, a globally important open-source depository and collaboration tool, thereby forcing developers to seek workarounds. Using a virtual private network to "tunnel" through the blockades is one popular option. But VPNs slow uploads, downloads and collaboration. And it isn't just developers who suffer. Among the restricted sites in China is Google Scholar, a tool that indexes online peer-reviewed studies, conference proceedings, books and other research material into an easily accessible format. It's become a crucial database for academics around the world, and Chinese researchers -- even those with VPNs -- struggle to use it. The situation grew so dire this summer that several state-run news outlets published complaints from Chinese scientists, with one practically begging the nationalist Global Times newspaper: "We hope the government can relax supervision for academic purposes." The cumulative impact of these restrictions is significant. Scientists unable to keep up with what researchers in other countries are publishing are destined to be left behind, which is one reason China is having difficulty luring foreign scholars to its universities. Programmers who can't take advantage of the sites and tools that make development a global effort are destined to write software customized solely for the Chinese market. The author has raised several other reasons to make his case.
Google

'The Circle' Trailer Looks An Awful Lot Like Google (cnet.com) 77

theodp writes: If you never got around to reading Dave Eggers' novel The Circle, the tale of a powerful tech company that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Google (and has an Apple spaceship-like HQ) is coming to the big screen and the first trailer is out. The film has a release date of spring 2017, and stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega. Remember, sharing is caring!
Books

Ask Slashdot: Have You Read 'The Art of Computer Programming'? (wikipedia.org) 381

In 1962, 24-year-old Donald Knuth began writing The Art of Computer Programming, publishing three volumes by 1973, with volume 4 arriving in 2005. (Volume 4A appeared in 2011, with new paperback fascicles planned for every two years, and fascicle 6, "Satisfiability," arriving last December). "You should definitely send me a resume if you can read the whole thing," Bill Gates once said, in a column where he described working through the book. "If somebody is so brash that they think they know everything, Knuth will help them understand that the world is deep and complicated."

But now long-time Slashdot reader Qbertino has a question: I've had The Art of Computer Programming on my book-buying list for just about two decades now and I'm still torn...about actually getting it. I sometimes believe I would mutate into some programming demi-god if I actually worked through this beast, but maybe I'm just fooling myself...

Have any of you worked through or with TAOCP or are you perhaps working through it? And is it worthwhile? I mean not just for bragging rights. And how long can it reasonably take? A few years?

Share your answers and experiences in the comments. Have you read The Art of Computer Programming?
Businesses

Amazon Puts New Limit On Customer Reviews: No More Than 5 a Week Except For Verified Purchases (geekwire.com) 95

Amazon says it will start capping the number of product reviews any customer can submit in a given week, limiting each person to five/week except for products that have been verified by the company as purchased by the reviewer. From a GeekWire report: Books, music and video are exempt from the limit, but the new cap applies to the rest of Amazon's vast online selection of products. It's the latest move by the e-commerce giant to police its online reviews, a critical resource used by many online shoppers to assess products before buying. The news comes during the peak holiday shopping season, the most important time of year for Amazon, as the company tries to get more people comfortable with doing more of their shopping online. An Amazon spokeswoman confirmed the changes in a message to GeekWire, and they're spelled out in Amazon's updated Community Guidelines.
Books

O'Reilly Discounts Every eBook By 50% (oreilly.com) 47

On Friday, O'Reilly Media announced "Our Cyber Monday sale starts now." An anonymous reader writes: They're offering a 50% discount on every ebook they publish -- over 14,000 titles from O'Reilly, No Starch Press, Pearson, A Book Apart, Make, Packt, and 25 other book publishers. (And they're offering a 60 percent discount on orders over $100.) Just use the code CYBER16 when checking out to claim the discount. The sale continues through Tuesday morning at 5 a.m. PST.

These are all DRM-free ebooks (in multiple formats), and there's even some "early release" editions -- advance copies distributed before their official publication. The discount also applies to new titles like "Head First Python" as well as old-school classics like "Learning Perl". Right now their best-sellers are "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts", "Modern Linux Administration", and "You Don't Know JS: Up and Going" -- but again, the discount applies to any ebook that they sell, and they also still have their selection of free programming texts.

Tim O'Reilly was one of the first people interviewed by Slashdot -- more than 17 years ago.
Books

For the First Time, Living Cells Have Formed Carbon-Silicon Bonds (sciencealert.com) 87

From a ScienceDaily alert: Scientists have managed to coax living cells into making carbon-silicon bonds, demonstrating for the first time that nature can incorporate silicon -- one of the most abundant elements on Earth -- into the building blocks of life. While chemists have achieved carbon-silicon bonds before -- they're found in everything from paints and semiconductors to computer and TV screens -- they've so far never been found in nature, and these new cells could help us understand more about the possibility of silicon-based life elsewhere in the Universe. After oxygen, silicon is the second most abundant element in Earth's crust, and yet it has nothing to do with biological life. Why silicon has never be incorporated into any kind of biochemistry on Earth has been a long-standing puzzle for scientists, because, in theory, it would have been just as easy for silicon-based lifeforms to have evolved on our planet as the carbon-based ones we know and love. Not only are carbon and silicon both extremely abundant in Earth's crust - they're also very similar in their chemical make-up.
Open Source

Tor-Enabled Smartphone Is Antidote To Google 'Hostility' Over Android, Says Developer (arstechnica.com) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Tor Project recently announced the release of its prototype for a Tor-enabled smartphone -- an Android phone beefed up with privacy and security in mind, and intended as equal parts opsec kung fu and a gauntlet to Google. The new phone, designed by Tor developer Mike Perry, is based on Copperhead OS, the hardened Android distribution profiled first by Ars earlier this year. "The prototype is meant to show a possible direction for Tor on mobile," Perry wrote in a blog post. "We are trying to demonstrate that it is possible to build a phone that respects user choice and freedom, vastly reduces vulnerability surface, and sets a direction for the ecosystem with respect to how to meet the needs of high-security users." To protect user privacy, the prototype runs OrWall, the Android firewall that routes traffic over Tor, and blocks all other traffic. Users can punch a hole through the firewall for voice traffic, for instance, to enable Signal. The prototype only works on Google Nexus and Pixel hardware, as these are the only Android device lines, Perry wrote, that "support Verified Boot with user-controlled keys." While strong Linux geekcraft is required to install and maintain the prototype, Perry stressed that the phone is also aimed at provoking discussion about what he described as "Google's increasing hostility towards Android as a fully Open Source platform." Copperhead OS was the obvious choice for the prototype's base system, Perry told Ars. "Copperhead is also the only Android ROM that supports verified boot, which prevents exploits from modifying the boot, system, recovery, and vendor device partitions," said Perry in his blog post. "Copperhead has also extended this protection by preventing system applications from being overridden by Google Play Store apps, or from writing bytecode to writable partitions (where it could be modified and infected)." He added: "This makes Copperhead an excellent choice for our base system." The prototype, nicknamed "Mission Improbable," is now ready to download and install. Perry said he uses the prototype himself for his personal communications: "E-mail, Signal, XMPP+OTR, Mumble, offline maps and directions in OSMAnd, taking pictures, and reading news and books." He suggests leaving the prototype in airplane mode and connecting to the Internet through a second, less-trusted phone, or a cheap Wi-Fi cell router.
Classic Games (Games)

2016 Winners Announced For Interactive Fiction Competition (ifcomp.org) 24

An anonymous reader writes: This week IFComp 2016 announced the winners in their 22nd annual interactive fiction competition. After a seven-week play period, the entry with the highest average rating was "the noir standout 'Detectiveland' by Robin Johnson," according to contest organizers (while the game earning the lowest score was "Toiletworld.") A special prize is also awarded each year -- the Golden Banana of Discord -- for the game which provoked the most wildly different ratings. This year that award went to "A Time of Tungsten" by Devin Raposo. ("The walls are high, the hole is deep. She is trapped, on a distant planet. Watched. She may not survive...")
The games will soon be released on the official IF Archive site, but in the meantime you can download a 222-megabyte archive of all 58 games.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Humble Bundle Supports The EFF With A LEGO eBook Sale (humblebundle.com) 17

The EFF is describing it as "a break for your brain." An anonymous reader writes: Humble Bundle has announced a special "pay what you want" sale for four ebooks about LEGO from No Starch Press, with proceeds going to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or to the charity of your choice. The ebooks include Beautiful LEGO (a compendium of creations by dozens of artists) and Medieval LEGO, which describes and recreates English history in the Middle Ages using LEGO blocks. Contributors who pay more than $8 also receive six more books, including "Forbidden LEGO" a more free-style building guide that one reviewer called "The Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery," as well as "The Cult of LEGO", a tour of the block-building community. And for a $15 donation, contributors receive six more ebooks -- bringing the total to 16 -- including The LEGO Christmas Ornaments Book and Steampunk LEGO.

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