Communications

NRA Gives Ajit Pai 'Courage Award' and Gun For 'Saving the Internet' (arstechnica.com) 389

The National Rifle Association (NRA) today gave its Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award to Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "Pai was about to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland when the award presentation seemed to catch him by surprise," reports Ars Technica. "The award is a handmade long gun that could not be brought on stage, so it will be housed in the NRA museum until Pai can receive it." From the report: "Ajit Pai, as you probably already know, saved the Internet," American Conservative Union (ACU) Executive Director Dan Schneider told the audience. The ACU is the host of CPAC; Schneider made a few more remarks praising Pai before handing the award presentation over to NRA board member Carolyn Meadows. Pai "fought to preserve your free speech rights" as a member of the FCC's Republican minority during the Obama administration, Schneider said. Pai "fought and won against all odds, but the Obama administration had some curveballs and they implemented these regulations to take over the Internet." "As soon as President Trump came into office, President Trump asked Ajit Pai to liberate the Internet and give it back to you," Schneider added. "Ajit Pai is the most courageous, heroic person that I know."

The signature achievement that helped Pai win the NRA courage award came in December when the FCC voted to eliminate net neutrality rules. The rules, which are technically still on the books for a while longer, prohibited Internet service providers from blocking and throttling lawful Internet traffic and from charging online services for prioritization. Schneider did not explain how eliminating net neutrality rules preserved anyone's "free speech rights."
Right Wing Watch posted a video of the ceremony.
Sci-Fi

Amazon Is Developing a TV Series Based On Iain M. Banks' Sci-Fi Novel 'Consider Phlebas' (hollywoodreporter.com) 104

leathered writes: Jeff Bezos today announced that Amazon Studios has picked up the rights to adapt the late Iain M. Bank's acclaimed Culture novels to the small screen, beginning with the first in the series, Consider Phlebas. This comes after nearly three decades of attempts to bring Banks' utopian, post-scarcity society to film or television. A huge fan of the Culture series is Elon Musk, whose SpaceX drone ships are named after Culture space vessels. Here's how Amazon describes Consider Phlebas: "a kinetic, action-packed adventure on a huge canvas. The book draws upon the extraordinary world and mythology Banks created in the Culture, in which a highly advanced and progressive society ends up at war with the Idirans, a deeply religious, warlike race intent on dominating the entire galaxy. The story centers on Horza, a rogue agent tasked by the Idirans with the impossible mission of recovering a missing Culture 'Mind,' an artificial intelligence many thousands of times smarter than any human -- something that could hold the key to wiping out the Culture altogether. What unfolds, with Banks' trademark irreverent humor, ultimately asks the poignant question of how we can use technology to preserve our humanity, not surrender it."
Books

The Slow Demise of Barnes & Noble (techcrunch.com) 121

John Biggs via TechCrunch reports of the slow demise of Barnes & Noble, which he has been chronicling for several years now. There have been many signs of trouble for the bookseller chain over the years, but none have been more apparent than the recent layoffs made earlier this week. From the report: On Monday the company laid off 1,800 people. This offered a cost savings of $40 million. [...] In fact, what B&N did was fire all full time employees at 781 stores. Further, the company laid off many shipping receivers around the holidays, resulting in bare shelves and a customer escape to Amazon. In December 2017, usually B&N's key month, sales dropped 6 percent to $953 million. Online sales fell 4.5 percent. It is important to note that when other big box retailers, namely Circuit City, went the route of firing all highly paid employees and bringing in minimum wage cashiers, stockers, and salespeople it signaled the beginning of the end.
Sci-Fi

Firefly Canon To Expand With Series of Original Books (ew.com) 106

More Firefly stories are on the way. Entertainment Weekly: EW can exclusively report that Titan Books and Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products have teamed up to publish an original range of new fiction tying in to Joss Whedon's beloved but short-lived TV series Firefly. The books will be official titles within the Firefly canon, with Whedon serving as consulting editor. The first book is due in the fall. Starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, and Alan Tudyk, the western-tinged space opera ran from 2002 to 2003 on Fox. Exploring weighty moral and ethical questions, Firefly centered on a collection of characters living on the fringes of society, joined together in the pioneer culture of their star system in the wake of a civil war. It lasted just 14 episodes, but in the decade and a half since it went off the air has amassed a significant cult following.
IOS

Key iPhone Source Code Gets Posted On GitHub (vice.com) 188

Jason Koebler shares a report from Motherboard: An anonymous person posted what experts say is the source code for a core component of the iPhone's operating system on GitHub, which could pave the way for hackers and security researchers to find vulnerabilities in iOS and make iPhone jailbreaks easier to achieve. The code is for "iBoot," which is the part of iOS that is responsible for ensuring a trusted boot of the operating system. It's the program that loads iOS, the very first process that runs when you turn on your iPhone. The code says it's for iOS 9, an older version of the operating system, but portions of it are likely to still be used in iOS 11. Bugs in the boot process are the most valuable ones if reported to Apple through its bounty program, which values them at a max payment of $200,000. "This is the biggest leak in history," Jonathan Levin, the author of a series of books on iOS and Mac OSX internals, told Motherboard in an online chat. "It's a huge deal." Levin, along with a second security researcher familiar with iOS, says the code appears to be the real iBoot code because it aligns with the code he reverse engineered himself.
Programming

Rust Creator Graydon Hoare Says Current Software Development Practices Terrify Him (twitter.com) 353

An anonymous reader writes: On Monday Graydon Hoare, the original creator of the Rust programming language, posted some memories on Twitter. "25 years ago I got a job at a computer bookstore. We were allowed to borrow and read the books; so I read through all the language books, especially those with animals on the covers. 10 years ago I had a little language of my own printing hello world." And Monday he was posting a picture of O'Reilly Media's first edition of their new 622-page book Programming Rust: Fast, Safe Systems Development. Then he elaborated to his followers about what happened in between.

"I made a prototype, then my employer threw millions of dollars at it and hired dozens of researchers and programmers (and tireless interns, hi!) and a giant community of thousands of volunteers showed up and _then_ the book arrived. (After Jim and Jason wrote it and like a dozen people reviewed it and a dozen others edited it and an army of managers coordinated it and PLEASE DESIST IN THINKING THINGS ARE MADE BY SINGLE PEOPLE IT IS A VERY UNHEALTHY MYTH)." He writes that the nostaglic series of tweets was inspired because "I was just like a little tickled at the circle-of-life feeling of it all, reminiscing about sitting in a bookstore wondering if I'd ever get to work on cool stuff like this."

One Twitter user then asked him if Rust was about dragging C++ hackers halfway to ML, to which Hoare replied "Not dragging, more like throwing C/C++ folks (including myself) a life raft wrt. safety... Basically I've an anxious, pessimist personality; most systems I try to build are a reflection of how terrifying software-as-it-is-made feels to me. I'm seeking peace and security amid a nightmare of chaos. I want to help programmers sleep well, worry less."

Classic Games (Games)

'King of Kong' Billy Mitchell Stripped Of Donkey Kong Record For Emulator Cheating (hothardware.com) 58

MojoKid writes: More drama is unfolding in the ultra-competitive retro arcade gaming scene... Billy Mitchell, the arcade legend who appeared as a central character opposite Steve Wiebe in the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, has been accused of cheating his way into the record books for high scores in Donkey Kong. As a result, he's now been stripped of his 1.062 million score on the Donkey Kong Forums...

The legitimacy of his score was called into question by Donkey Kong high score judge Jeremy "Xelnia" Young laid out a body of evidence that seems to prove Mitchell recorded several of his high scores on the open source arcade emulator MAME, though he claimed his scores were obtained on an original arcade cabinet, and therefore were not subject to same strict authentication requirements. "It's possible they were recorded in one shot," Young says, but "Given the play style in Billy's videos, it's more likely that vanilla MAME's INP recording feature was abused."

Twin Galaxies recently threw out the 35-year-old record for the Atari 2600 game Dragster, and has now said they're "in the process of fully reviewing the compelling evidence provided by Jeremy Young."
Sci-Fi

Slashdot Asks: What Are Some Sci-Fi Books, Movies, and TV Shows You're Looking Forward To? 364

Even as Hollywood studios report fewer footfalls in theaters, the last few years have arguably been impressive if you're a sci-fi admirer. Last year, we finally got to watch the Blade Runner 2049, and the The Last Jedi and Logan also found plenty of backers. In 2016, Arrival was a home run for many. Star Trek: Discovery, and Stranger Things TV shows continue to receive positive feedback from critics, and the The X-Files is also quickly winning its loyal fans back.

"Artemis" by Andy Weir and "New York 2140" by Kim Stanley have found their ways among best selling books. "Borne" by Jeff VanderMeer, and "Walkaway" by BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow have also been widely loved by the readers.

On that note, what are some movies, TV shows, and books on sci-fi that you are waiting to explore in the next two to three years?
Education

High School Computer Science: Look Ma, No Textbooks! 110

theodp writes: Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson wonders how other high school CS teachers use textbooks. "It's not a conversation I hear much about," he writes. Indeed, many teachers apparently don't rely on CS textbooks much at all. In fact, the highly-touted new AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) course does not require a CS textbook for students (sample College Board AP CSP syllabus), albeit to the chagrin of some. Some of the bigger providers of AP CSP curriculum -- e.g., BJC and Code.org, both of whom partner with Microsoft TEALS -- don't require a traditional CS textbook. But with teachers being recruited to teach Computer Science even if they don't have a CS background, should students learning CS have a textbook? Or is the high AP exam pass rate enjoyed by AP CSP students proof that no-more-books works?
Books

Walmart Teams Up With Kobo To Sell EBooks and Audiobooks (engadget.com) 35

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Later this year, you'll be able to buy ebooks and audiobooks straight from Walmart's website. The big box retailer has teamed up with Japanese e-commerce titan Rakuten to launch a business that can take on Amazon's Kindle offerings. Walmart will give its customers in the U.S. an easy way to access to Kobo's library -- Kobo is Rakuten's digital book division -- and its six million titles from tens of thousands of publishers. The company will also start selling Kobo eReaders, which will set you back at least $120, online and in stores sometime this year. Walmart said Kobo's titles will be fully integrated into its website, so the ebook and audiobook versions of the title you're searching for will appear alongside the listing of its physical book. However, you won't be able to access the digital files through random apps. You'll have to use the co-branded apps for iOS, Android and desktop that Walmart and Kobo will release in the future, though you'll of course be able access ebooks through a Kobo e-reader.
Books

Apple's Getting Back Into the E-Books Fight Against Amazon (bloomberg.com) 46

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg: Apple is ready to take on Amazon.com in the digital book market again, years after regulators forced the iPhone maker to back down from an earlier effort to challenge the e-commerce giant's lead. Apple is working on a redesigned version of its iBooks e-book reading application for iPhones and iPads and has hired an executive from Amazon to help. The new app, due to be released in coming months, will include a simpler interface that better highlights books currently being read and a redesigned digital book store that looks more like the new App Store launched last year, according to people familiar with its development. The revamped app in testing includes a new section called Reading Now and a dedicated tab for audio books, the people said. Apple released an early version of its iOS 11.3 mobile operating system update to developers on Wednesday, providing a hint that the new e-books app is on the way. The app is now simply called "Books," rather than "iBooks," according to the update.
Books

Fantasy Fiction Novelist Ursula K. Le Guin Dies At 88 (nytimes.com) 89

sandbagger shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: may be paywalled; alternative source): Ursula K. Le Guin, the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like "The Left Hand of Darkness" and the Earthsea series, died on Monday at her home in Portland, Oregon. She was 88. Her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, confirmed her death. He did not specify a cause but said she had been in poor health for several months.

Ms. Le Guin embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes. The conflicts they face are typically rooted in a clash of cultures and resolved more by conciliation and self-sacrifice than by swordplay or space battles. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide.

Programming

Donald Knuth Turns 80, Seeks Problem-Solvers For TAOCP (stanford.edu) 71

An anonymous reader writes: When 24-year-old Donald Knuth began writing The Art of Computer Programming, he had no idea that he'd still be working on it 56 years later. This month he also celebrated his 80th birthday in Sweden with the world premier of Knuth's Fantasia Apocalyptica, a multimedia work for pipe organ and video based on the bible's Book of Revelations, which Knuth describes as "50 years in the making."

But Knuth also points to the recent publication of "one of the most important sections of The Art of Computer Programming" in preliminary paperback form: Volume 4, Fascicle 6: Satisfiability. ("Given a Boolean function, can its variables be set to at least one pattern of 0s and 1 that will make the function true?")

Here's an excerpt from its back cover: Revolutionary methods for solving such problems emerged at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and they've led to game-changing applications in industry. These so-called "SAT solvers" can now routinely find solutions to practical problems that involve millions of variables and were thought until very recently to be hopelessly difficult.
"in several noteworthy cases, nobody has yet pointed out any errors..." Knuth writes on his site, adding "I fear that the most probable hypothesis is that nobody has been sufficiently motivated to check these things out carefully as yet." He's uncomfortable printing a hardcover edition that hasn't been fully vetted, and "I would like to enter here a plea for some readers to tell me explicitly, 'Dear Don, I have read exercise N and its answer very carefully, and I believe that it is 100% correct,'" where N is one of the exercises listed on his web site.

Elsewhere he writes that two "pre-fascicles" -- 5a and 5B -- are also available for alpha-testing. "I've put them online primarily so that experts in the field can check the contents before I inflict them on a wider audience. But if you want to help debug them, please go right ahead."
Microsoft

Microsoft Tries To Write the Book On AI (axios.com) 58

When it comes to the ethics and impact of artificial intelligence, Microsoft is literally trying to write the book. From a report: The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society is being made available in digital form tonight, with a forward from longtime lawyer Brad Smith and AI/Research chief Harry Shum. Why it matters: Now is the time when a lot of key decisions are being made about how AI will work and the rules that will govern its development. But the discussion has largely been taking place within the tech sector. Axios chatted with Smith and Shum about the book, AI in general and the questions we all should be grappling with. So, why write a book? Smith: There has been a lot of discussion in the tech sector, as you know. But we think that there's an important role to play in trying to take what the tech sector is talking about and broadening the dialogue.
Books

'Science Fiction Writers of America' Accuse Internet Archive of Piracy (sfwa.org) 119

An anonymous reader writes: The "Open Library" project of the nonprofit Internet Archive has been scanning books and offering "loans" of DRM-protected versions for e-readers (which expire after the loan period expires). This week the Legal Affairs Committe of the Science Fiction Writers of America issued a new "Infringement Alert" on the practice, complaining that "an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users' devices...and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection."

The objection, argues SFWA President Cat Rambo, is that "writers' work is being scanned in and put up for access without notifying them... it is up to the individual writer whether or not their work should be made available in this way." But the infringement alert takes the criticism even further. "We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books."

The Digital Reader blog points out one great irony. "The program initially launched in 2007. It has been running for ten years, and the SFWA only just now noticed." They add that SFWA's tardiness "leaves critical legal issues unresolved."

"Remember, Google won the Google Books case, and had its scanning activities legalized as fair use ex post facto... [I]n fact the Internet Archive has a stronger case than Google did; the latter had a commercial interest in its scans, while the Internet Archive is a non-profit out to serve the public good."
Cellphones

White House Bans Use of Personal Devices From West Wing (cbsnews.com) 205

In the wake of damaging reports of a chaotic Trump administration detailed in a new book from Michael Wolff, the White House is instituting new policies on the use of personal cellphones in the West Wing. CBS News reports: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released the following statement on the policy change: "The security and integrity of the technology systems at the White House is a top priority for the Trump administration and therefore starting next week the use of all personal devices for both guests and staff will no longer be allowed in the West Wing. Staff will be able to conduct business on their government-issued devices and continue working hard on behalf of the American people."

Wolff reportedly gained access to the White House where he conducted numerous interviews with staffers on the inner-workings of the Trump campaign and West Wing operations. Sanders told reporters Wednesday that there were about "a dozen" interactions between Wolff and White House officials, which she said took place at Bannon's request. The White House swiftly slammed the book and those who cooperated with Wolff.

Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg's 2018 Personal Challenge Is To Do His Job As CEO (fastcompany.com) 112

An anonymous reader shares a report: Fun fact about Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: Every year he gives himself a "personal challenge," which is not to be confused with the "New Year's resolutions" us plebs do every year. Over the years, he says, thanks to these challenges, he's taken up running as well as learned foreign languages and read books. But this year, as more revelations come to light about the rampant misuse of Facebook's platform -- including the spread of fake news and other forms of disinformation -- Zuckerberg's challenge is to focus on his business. "The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do -- whether it's protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent," he writes. "My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues." In essence, Zuckerberg is vowing to help fix the problems that plague Facebook, which is his job, something he admits: "This may not seem like a personal challenge on its face," Zuckerberg writes, "but I think I'll learn more by focusing intensely on these issues than I would by doing something completely separate."
Medicine

America's Doctors Are Performing Expensive Procedures That Don't Work (vox.com) 233

"The proportion of medical procedures unsupported by evidence may be nearly half," writes a professor of public policy at Brown University. An anonymous reader quotes his article in Vox: The recent news that stents inserted in patients with heart disease to keep arteries open work no better than a placebo ought to be shocking. Each year, hundreds of thousands of American patients receive stents for the relief of chest pain, and the cost of the procedure ranges from $11,000 to $41,000 in US hospitals. But in fact, American doctors routinely prescribe medical treatments that are not based on sound science.

The stent controversy serves as a reminder that the United States struggles when it comes to winnowing evidence-based treatments from the ineffective chaff. As surgeon and health care researcher Atul Gawande observes, "Millions of people are receiving drugs that aren't helping them, operations that aren't going to make them better, and scans and tests that do nothing beneficial for them, and often cause harm"... Estimates vary about what fraction of the treatments provided to patients is supported by adequate evidence, but some reviews place the figure at under half.

Books

In a Declining Comics Market, DC Beats Marvel (hollywoodreporter.com) 159

An anonymous reader quotes the Hollywood Reporter: Looking at the most-ordered comic books in the North American comic market, DC Entertainment had a particularly strong year, with seven of the top 10 issues of the year being published by the home of Superman, Batman and the Justice League... just three years ago, not one DC title made it to the list, with nine titles coming from Marvel alone. (By comparison, Marvel takes just three places this year, with one of those due to its inclusion in a subscription mystery box service)... Perhaps surprisingly, the big winner of 2017 looking at the top 10 list is DC's crossover between its DC Universe and Watchmen properties. The first issue of the Doomsday Clock series charted third â" and could end up higher on the final list for the year, depending on re-order numbers in December â" but all four issues of the prologue storyline "The Button," from summer issues of Batman and The Flash, also made it into the top 10.

it's worth noting that, across the board, order numbers for comics in the North American market fell 10 percent compared with last year. The market is shrinking, unless something turns it around soon... One last thing to note about the year's top 10, and also the comic market as it currently exists in general: It's probably time to stop pretending that mass media projects significantly impact comic book orders. In a year with Justice League, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming in theaters, there isn't a Justice League, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Wolverine, Thor or Spider-Man title in the top 10. Indeed, Marvel has just canceled the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series.

Mavel had the most-ordered comic book of the year -- Marvel Legacy No. 1 -- though the article notes that all of its numbers are inevitably skewed by "ordering incentives put in place by publishers that require that a certain number of copies are ordered by stores in order to achieve a specific discount."
Books

How Many Books Will You Read in a Lifetime? Around 4600, If You Read Fast (ft.com) 99

I once sneered at lifetime reading plans. Two decades later, I'm more aware that reading time, like all time, is precious, writes journalist Nilanjana Roy. From her column on the Financial Times (might be paywalled), shared by a reader: As the new year approaches, I sort my bookshelves and reboot my lifetime reading plan. Like a good road map, the plan makes the difference between dreaming of visiting 50 places before you die, and actually getting to 10 or 11 of those in the year ahead. In my twenties, arrogant with the faith of a speed-reader who had plunged recklessly into reading the classics of Bengali and Hindi literature alongside English, I sneered at lifetime reading plans. So earnest. So stuffy. Who wanted a map when you could freewheel down the highway, veering from JM Coetzee to Ursula K Le Guin, reading Stephen King alongside Beowulf or The Mahabharata, reading Tamil pulp fiction in translation one week, Japanese crime thrillers the next? Two decades later, I'm more aware that the years pass swiftly, that reading time, like all time, is precious. In a thoughtfully planned survey for Literary Hub, writer Emily Temple plotted the number of books an average reader in the US might finish in a lifetime. She analysed trends for women and men across different age groups, and broke down the results into three categories: the average reader (about 12 books a year), the voracious reader (50 books a year) and the super reader (80 books a year). At the age of 25, even a super reader with a long life expectancy will finish a mere 4,560-4,880 books before they die.

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