Books

'Banned Books Week' Recognizes 2016's Most-Censored Books (and Comic Books) (newsweek.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes Newsweek: The American Library Association's yearly Banned Books Week, held this year between Sunday September 24 and Saturday September 30, is both a celebration of freedom and a warning against censorship. Launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, the event spotlights the risk of censorship still present... "While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read," the ALA stated.
"This Banned Books Week, we're asking people of all political persuasions to come together and celebrate Our Right to Read," says a coalition supporting the event. The ALA reports that half of the most frequently challenged books were in fact actually banned last year, according to the library group's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), which calculates there were 17% more attempts to censor books in America in 2016. The five most-challenged books all contained LGBT characters, and the most common phrase used to complain about books is "sexually explicit," the OIF told Publisher's Weekly -- perhaps reflecting a change in targets. He believes one reason is that most challenges now are reported not for books in the library but against books in the advanced English curricula of some schools. This change also represents a shift upward in the age of the readers of the most challenged books. "We've moved from helicopter parenting, where people were hovering over their kids, to Velcro parenting," LaRue says. "There's no space at all between the hand of the parent and the head of the child. These are kids who are 16, 17; in one year they're going to be old enough to sign up for the military, get married, or vote, and their parents are still trying to protect them from content that is sexually explicit. I think that's a shift from overprotectiveness to almost suffocating."
Three of the 10 most-challenged books were graphic novels, so the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is sharing their own list of banned and challenged comics.

Their list includes two Neil Gaiman titles, Sandman and The Graveyard Book , as well two popular Batman titles -- Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again and Alan Moore's The Killing Joke -- plus Moore's graphic novel Watchmen, Maus by Art Spiegelman, and even Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations by J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita, Jr.
AI

A New Zealand Company Built An AI Baby That Plays the Piano (bloomberg.com) 87

pacopico writes: A New Zealand company called Soul Machines has built a disturbingly lifelike virtual baby powered by artificial intelligence software. According to a Bloomberg story, the baby has learned to read books, play the piano and draw pictures. The work is built off the research of Mark Sagar, the company's CEO, who is on a quest to mimic human consciousness in a machine. Sagar used to work at Weta creating lifelike faces for films like King Kong and Avatar and is now building these very realistic looking virtual avatars and pumping them full of code that not only handles things like speech but that also replicates the nervous system and brain function. The baby, for example, has virtual dopamine receptors that fire when it feels joy from playing the piano. What could go wrong?
DRM

Corporations Just Quietly Changed How the Web Works (theoutline.com) 246

Adrianne Jeffries, a reporter at The Outline, writes on W3C's announcement from earlier this week: The trouble with DRM is that it's sort of ineffective. It tends to make things inconvenient for people who legitimately bought a song or movie while failing to stop piracy. Some rights holders, like Ubisoft, have come around to the idea that DRM is counterproductive. Steve Jobs famously wrote about the inanity of DRM in 2007. But other rights holders, like Netflix, are doubling down. The prevailing winds at the consortium concluded that DRM is now a fact of life, and so it would be be better to at least make the experience a bit smoother for users. If the consortium didn't work with companies like Netflix, Berners-Lee wrote in a blog post, those companies would just stop delivering video over the web and force people into their own proprietary apps. The idea that the best stuff on the internet will be hidden behind walls in apps rather than accessible through any browser is the mortal fear for open web lovers; it's like replacing one library with many stores that each only carry books for one publisher. "It is important to support EME as providing a relatively safe online environment in which to watch a movie, as well as the most convenient," Berners-Lee wrote, "and one which makes it a part of the interconnected discourse of humanity." Mozilla, the nonprofit that makes the browser Firefox, similarly held its nose and cooperated on the EME standard. "It doesn't strike the correct balance between protecting individual people and protecting digital content," it said in a blog post. "The content providers require that a key part of the system be closed source, something that goes against Mozilla's fundamental approach. We very much want to see a different system. Unfortunately, Mozilla alone cannot change the industry on DRM at this point."
Google

Google's New Payment App For India Transfers Money Via Ultrasound (buzzfeed.com) 37

Pranav Dixit, writing for BuzzFeed News: Google's goal for the brand-new payments app it launched in India on Monday is simple yet ambitious: to get in on the action each time someone sends or receives money in its largest market outside the United States. The app is called Tez -- Hindi for "fast" -- and it lets users do three things: send money to people in their phones' address books, make payments to businesses (both online as well as in real-world mom-and-pop stores), and zap cash to anyone around them -- all without knowing bank account numbers or personal details. Tez is powered by UPI, short for Unified Payments Interface, a Indian government-backed payments standard that lets users transfer money directly into each other's bank accounts using just their mobile numbers, or a bank-issued payment ID that looks like an email address. It works a lot like Venmo does in the US, except that anyone can build their own payments app on top of UPI. Once you hit Pay or Receive, Tez detects other Tez users around you with a proprietary technology called Audio QR based on ultrasound, and pairs with their phones. Once a sender puts in the amount and authenticates with a preset PIN to confirm who they're sending money to, a transaction happens in seconds.
Power

Samsung Unveils New Electric Car Batteries For Up To 430 Miles of Range (electrek.co) 90

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: At the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA Cars 2017) this week, Samsung's battery division, Samsung SDI, showcases a new "Multifunctional battery pack" solution to enable more range in electric vehicles as the Korean company tries to carve itself a bigger share of the growing automotive battery market. Most established automakers, like Nissan with the LEAF or even GM with the more recent Chevy Bolt EV, have been using large prismatic cells to build their electric vehicle battery packs. Tesla pioneered a different approach using thousands of individual smaller cylindrical li-ion battery cells in each pack. Earlier this year, Samsung unveiled its own '2170' battery cell to compete with Tesla/Panasonic. Now they are claiming that they can reach an impressive energy density by using those cells in new modules: "'Multifunctional battery pack' of Samsung SDI attracted the most attention. Its users can change the number of modules as they want as if they place books on a shelf. For example, if 20 modules are installed in a premium car, it can go 600 to 700 kilometers. If 10 to 12 modules are mounted on a regular sedan, it can run up to 300 kilometers. This pack is expected to catch the eyes of automakers, because they can design a car whose mileage may vary depending on how many modules of a single pack are installed."
Books

Ask Slashdot: What Are You Reading This Month? 312

An anonymous reader writes: Hey folks! Could you share what are some books (or book) you're reading this month? Maybe it's the book you've already started, or you intend to begin or resume later this month? Thanks!
Science

A Few Bad Scientists Are Threatening To Topple Taxonomy (smithsonianmag.com) 79

From a report: To study life on Earth, you need a system. Ours is Linnaean taxonomy, the model started by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1735. Linnaeus's two-part species names, often Latin-based, consist of both a genus name and a species name, i.e. Homo sapiens. Like a library's Dewey Decimal system for books, this biological classification system has allowed scientists around the world to study organisms without confusion or overlap for nearly 300 years. But, like any library, taxonomy is only as good as its librarians -- and now a few rogue taxonomists are threatening to expose the flaws within the system. Taxonomic vandals, as they're referred to within the field, are those who name scores of new taxa without presenting sufficient evidence for their finds. Like plagiarists trying to pass off others' work as their own, these glory-seeking scientists use others' original research in order to justify their so-called "discoveries." "It's unethical name creation based on other people's work," says Mark Scherz, a herpetologist who recently named a new species of fish-scaled gecko. "It's that lack of ethical sensibility that creates that problem." The goal of taxonomic vandalism is often self-aggrandizement. Even in such an unglamorous field, there is prestige and reward -- and with them, the temptation to misbehave. "If you name a new species, there's some notoriety to it," Thomson says. "You get these people that decide that they just want to name everything, so they can go down in history as having named hundreds and hundreds of species." The problem may be getting worse, thanks to the advent of online publishing and loopholes in the species naming code. With vandals at large, some researchers are less inclined to publish or present their work publicly for fear of being scooped, taxonomists told me. "Now there's a hesitation to present our data publically, and that's how scientists communicate," Thomson says. "The problem that causes is that you don't know who is working on what, and then the scientists start stepping on each other's toes."
Books

Amazon Tries To Snuff Out a Bunch of Kindle Publishing Scams (cnet.com) 16

Amazon has been working for years to clean its sites of fake reviews and fake products. It's still got work to do. From a report: The online retailer on Wednesday filed five separate legal actions through the American Arbitration Association to cut down on a variety of alleged scams used to make money on Amazon's Kindle self-publishing service, according to documents obtained by CNET. "Today's news reflects yet another step in our ongoing efforts to protect readers and authors from individuals who violate our terms of service and manipulate programs readers and authors rely on," an Amazon spokesman said in a statement. He added that only a "small minority" of those using Kindle Direct Publishing engage in such scams. Amazon since 2015 has been using these kinds of legal actions to fight against scams and already sued over 1,000 entities involved in allegedly creating fake product reviews on its sites. The company last year also sued alleged counterfeiters. As part of Wednesday's filings, one alleged scammer used a novel approach to try making money through Amazon. The man named in the filing, Nilmer Rubio, of Olongapo City in the Philippines, allegedly reached out to authors who used the Kindle self-publishing platform and told them he could artificially inflate the number of pages customers read of their books in two Kindle programs. He apparently did this with the use of hundreds of Amazon accounts he created.
Google

Google Fiber Cuts Kansas City Resident's Internet Access Over 12 Cent Dispute (kansascity.com) 191

New submitter twentysixV writes: Google Fiber offered a seven-year internet service if you pay upfront for connecting to your house, including taxes and fees. Victoria Tane signed this deal: $300 to connect, plus $25.08 for taxes and fees. Google Fiber internally accounts it as ongoing recurring payments. Kansas then raises taxes. Instead of absorbing the tax increase for customers who paid upfront, Google Fiber books it to the customers. To punish the customer for now being late on paying 12 cents she was not aware she now owed for additional taxes, Google then cut her internet access. According to Kansas City News, Tane tried to pay but Google wouldn't take checks for less than $10. Google reportedly tried contacting her via emails and voice messages, but Tane never saw them. When asked about the incident, Google Fiber issued a statement: "As with any customer who has a balance due, we made repeated attempts to reach Ms. Tane to resolve the matter. Google Fiber values our customers, and we have since worked with Ms. Tane to restore her Fiber service." Google forgave the total, restored Tane's service in less than an hour and credited her account for $30, reports Kansas City News.
Books

Lost Languages Discovered in One of the World's Oldest Continuously Run Libraries (smithsonianmag.com) 164

Saint Catherine's Monastery, a sacred Christian site nestled in the shadow of Mount Sinai, is home to one of the world's oldest continuously used libraries. Thousands of manuscripts and books are kept there -- some of which contain hidden treasures. An anonymous reader shares a report: Now, a team of researchers is using new technology to uncover texts that were erased and written over by the monks who lived and worked at the monastery. Many of these original texts were written in languages well known to researchers -- Latin, Greek, Arabic -- but others were inscribed in long-lost languages that are rarely seen in the historical record. Manuscripts with multiple layers of writing are known as palimpsests, and there are about 130 of them at St. Catherine's Monastery, according to the website of the Early Manuscript Electronic Library, which has been leading the initiative to uncover the original texts. With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Christian sites in the Sinai Desert began to disappear, and Saint Catherine's found itself in relative isolation. Monks turned to reusing older parchments when supplies at the monastery ran scarce. To uncover the palimpsests' secret texts, researchers photographed thousands of pages multiple times, illuminating each page with different-colored lights. They also photographed the pages with light shining onto them from behind, or from an oblique angle, which helped "highlight tiny bumps and depressions in the surface," Gray writes. They then fed the information into a computer algorithm, which is able to distinguish the more recent texts from the originals.
Books

One of the World's Most Influential Math Texts is Getting a Beautiful, Minimalist Edition (theverge.com) 81

An anonymous reader shares a report: A couple of years ago, a small publisher called Kroncker Wallis issued a handsome, minimalist take on Isaac Newton's Principia. Now, the publisher is embarking on its next project: Euclid's Elements. The publisher is using Kickstarter to fund this new edition. Euclid's Elements is a mathematical text written by Greek mathematician Euclid around 300 BCE and has been called one of the most influential textbooks ever produced. The treatise contains 13 separate books, covering everything from plane geometry, the Pythagorean theorem, golden ratio, prime numbers, and quite a bit more. The books helped to influence scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Sir Isaac Newton. In 1847, an English mathematician named Oliver Byrne re-wrote the first six books of Euclid's Elements, taking its concepts and illustrating them.
Books

Terry Pratchett's Hard Drive Destroyed By Steamroller (nytimes.com) 161

WheezyJoe writes: In accordance with his wishes, a hard drive formerly belonging to author Terry Pratchett has been crushed by steamroller. According to friend and fellow author Neil Gaiman, Pratchett (who died at 66 in 2015) wanted "whatever he was working on at the time of his death to be taken out along with his computers, to be put in the middle of a road and for a steamroller to steamroll over them all."

According to the article, on August 25, two years after the author's passing, Mr. Pratchett's estate manager and close friend, Rob Wilkins, posted a picture of a hard drive and a steamroller on an official Twitter account they shared. The pictures posted suggest the steamroller was one powered by actual steam.

Minutes later they tweeted a photo of the crushed hard drive -- which will soon be displayed at the Salisbury Museum in England as part of their new exhibit on the life and work of Terry Pratchett.
Earth

The Oldest Known Human Remains In the Americas Have Been Found In a Mexican Cave (seeker.com) 138

schwit1 shares a report from Seeker: An ice-free corridor between the Americas and Asia opened up about 12,500 years ago, allowing humans to cross over the Bering land bridge to settle what is now the United States and places beyond to the south. History books have conveyed that information for years to explain how the Americas were supposedly first settled by people, such as those from the Clovis culture. At least one part of the Americas was already occupied by humans before that time, however, says new research on the skeleton of a male youth found in Chan Hol cave near Tulum, Mexico. Dubbed the Young Man of Chan Hol, the remains date to 13,000 years ago, according to a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE. How he arrived at the location remains a great mystery given the timing and the fact that Mexico is well over 4,000 miles away from the Bering land crossing. For the new study, Gonzalez, Stinnesbeck, and their colleagues dated the Young Man of Chan Hol's remains by analyzing the bones' uranium, carbon, and oxygen isotopes, which were also found in stalagmite that had grown through the pelvic bone. The scientists believe that the resulting age of 13,000 years could apply to at least two other skeletons found in caves around Tulum: a teenage female named Naia and a 25-30-year-old female named Eve of Naharon. Gonzalez said that the shape of the skulls suggests that Eve and the others "have more of an affinity with people from Southeast Asia." He and his team further speculated that the individuals could have originated in Indonesia.
Sci-Fi

Science Fiction Author Brian Aldiss Dies Aged 92 (theguardian.com) 19

Long-time Slashdot reader Freshly Exhumed writes: Acclaimed Science Fiction author Brian Aldiss, first published in the 1950s, has died at the age of 92. Aldiss wrote such science fiction classics as Non-Stop, Hothouse and Greybeard, as well as the Helliconia trilogy, winning the Hugo and Nebula prizes for science fiction and fantasy, an honorary doctorate from the University of Reading, the title of grand master from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and an OBE for services to literature. Tributes from contemporaries and younger authors have been plentiful.
In 1969 Aldiss published the short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" (1969), which after decades of work became the basis for the Stanley Kubrick-developed Steven Spielberg movie A.I. in 2001.
Privacy

Info on 1.8M Chicago Voters Was Publicly Accessible, But Now Removed From Cloud Service (chicagotribune.com) 27

A file containing the names, addresses, dates of birth and other information about Chicago's 1.8 million registered voters was published online and publicly accessible for an unknown period of time, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said this week. From a report: The acknowledgment came days after a data security researcher alerted officials to the existence of the unsecured files. The researcher found the files while conducting a search of items uploaded to Amazon Web Services, a cloud system that allows users to rent storage space and share files with certain people or the general public. The files had been uploaded by Election Systems & Software, a contractor that helps maintain Chicago's electronic poll books. Election Systems said in a statement that the files "did not include any ballot information or vote totals and were not in any way connected to Chicago's voting or tabulation systems." The company said it had "promptly secured" the files on Saturday evening and had launched "a full investigation, with the assistance of a third-party firm, to perform thorough forensic analyses of the AWS server." State and local officials were notified of the existence of the files Saturday by cybersecurity expert Chris Vickery, who works at the Mountain View, Calif. firm UpGuard.
The Internet

I Bought a Book About the Internet From 1994 and None of the Links Worked (vice.com) 180

An anonymous reader shares a report (condensed for space and clarity): For crate-diggers of all stripes, the internet is awesome for one reason: The crate never ends. There's always something new to find online, because people keep creating new things to throw into that crate. But that crate has a hole at the bottom. Stuff is falling out just as quickly, and pieces of history that would stick around in meatspace disappear in an instant online. So as a result, there aren't a lot of websites from 1995 that made it through to the present day. Gopher sites? Odds are low. Text files? Perhaps. The endless pace of linkrot has left books about the internet in a curious limbo -- they're dead trees about the dead-tree killer, after all. [...] Recently, I bought a book -- a reference book, the kind that you can still pick up at Barnes and Noble today. The book, titled Free $tuff From the Internet (Coriolis Group Books, 1994), promises to help you find free content online. And, crucially, it focuses less on the web, which was still quite young, than on many of the alternative protocols of the era. This book links to FTP sites, telnet servers, and Gopher destinations, and I've tried many of them in an effort to figure out whether something, anything in this book works in the present day. These FTP servers were often based at universities which have a vested interest in keeping information online for a long-term period -- think the University of North Carolina, or Kansas State University. But despite this, I could not get most of these servers to load -- they were long ago murdered by the World Wide Web.
Books

The 2017 Hugo Awards (thehugoawards.org) 180

Dave Knott writes: The Hugo Awards, the most prestigious awards in science fiction, had their 2017 ceremony today, at WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, Finland.
The winners are:

Best Novel: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Best Novella: "Every Heart a Doorway" by Seanan McGuire
Best Novelette: "The Tomato Thief" by Ursula Vernon
Best Short Story: "Seasons of Glass and Iron", by Amal El-Mohtar
Best Related Work: Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016 by Ursula K Le Guin
Best Graphic Story: Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening , written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Arrival , screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): The Expanse: Leviathan Wakes , written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough
Best Series: The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Ada Palmer

This year's slate of nominees, unlike the drama surrounding the 2016 and 2015 Hugos, was less impacted by the ballot-stuffing tactics of the "Rabid Puppies", thanks to a change in the way nominees were voted for this year (including the fact no work could appear in more than one category) in an attempt to avoid tactical slate picks.

Biotech

How Apple Is Putting Voices In Users' Heads -- Literally (wired.com) 91

schwit1 shared WIRED's report on "a life-changing technology." Steven Levy spoke with Mathias Bahnmueller as he tested a new Apple sound processor that beams digital audio directly into hearing aids. Bahnmueller suffers from hearing loss so severe that a year ago he underwent surgery to install a cochlear implant -- an electronic device in the inner ear that replaces the usual hearing mechanism. Around a million patients have undergone this increasingly mainstream form of treatment, and that's just a fraction of those who could benefit from it. (Of the 360 million people worldwide with hearing loss, about 10 percent would qualify for the surgery.) "For those who reach a point where hearing aids no longer help, this is the only solution," says Allison Biever, an audiologist in Englewood, CO who works with implant patients. "It's like restoring a signal in a radio station."

Cochlear implants bypass the usual hearing process by embedding a device in the inner ear and connecting it via electrodes to the nerve that sends audio signals to the brain... The system Bahnmueller was using came from a collaboration between Apple and Cochlear, a company that has been involved with implant technology since the treatment's early days. The firms announced last week that the first product based on this approach, Cochlear's Nucleus 7 sound processor, won FDA approval in June -- the first time that the agency has approved such a link between cochlear implants and phones or tablets. Those using the system can not only get phone calls directly routed inside their skulls, but also stream music, podcasts, audio books, movie soundtracks, and even Siri -- all straight to the implant... Apple will offer the technology free to qualified manufacturers.

Google's accessibility team for Android has no public timeline for any similar hearing aid support, though according to the article it's "on the roadmap."
Facebook

The Chiefs of Facebook, Google and Other Tech Giants Aren't Committing To Testify To the US Congress On Net Neutrality (recode.net) 46

Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix -- along with their telecom industry foes -- have not committed to sending their chief executives to testify before the U.S. Congress in September on the future of net neutrality. From a report: Not a single one of those companies told the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is convening the hearing, that they would send their leaders to Washington, D.C., in the coming weeks, even at a time when the Trump administration is preparing to kill the open internet rules currently on the government's books. The panel initially asked those four tech giants, as well as AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon, to indicate their plans for attendance by July 31. Now, the committee is pushing back its deadline indefinitely, as it continues its quest to engage the country's tech and telecom business leaders on net neutrality. "The committee has been engaging in productive conversations with all parties and will extend the deadline for response in order to allow for those discussions to continue," a spokesman said.
Books

United Airlines Claims TSA Banned Comic Books In Checked Luggage For Comic-Con, TSA Denies It (boardingarea.com) 107

schwit1 shares a report: San Diego Comic-Con has become so much more than just a comic book convention. But comic books remain the heart and soul of Comic-Con. In addition to attendees being there to buy comic books, vendors flock to Comic-Con to sell their comic books as well. That's why participants in Comic-Con were shocked to find a notice waiting for them at the San Diego airport after Comic-Con: "COMIC-CON ATTENDEES: REMOVE ALL BOOKS FROM CHECKED BAGS." On Twitter, United Airlines confirmed the ban: "The restriction on checking comic books applies to all airlines operating out of San Diego this weekend and is set by the TSA. ^MD" Consumerist reached out to TSA and were told by a spokeswoman that the warnings about not allowing comic books -- or any kind of book -- in checked bags were simply not true. There is "no restriction on anything related to putting comics or any type of books" in baggage, and TSA never put out any guidance to that effect, she said. "In fact, they are allowed in both checked and carry-on baggage," the spokeswoman told Consumerist, adding that there were no delays in the processing of checked bags out of San Diego yesterday.

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