Graphics

Amazon Launches Free Game Engine Lumberyard 56

Dave Knott writes: Amazon has both announced and released a new, free game engine, Lumberyard, which offers deep integration with its Amazon Web Services server infrastructure to empower online play, and also with Twitch, its video game-focused streaming service. Lumberyard is powerful and full-featured enough to develop triple-A current-gen console games, with mobile support is coming down the road. Its core engine technology is based on Crytek's CryEngine. However, Lumberyard represents a branch of that tech, and the company is replacing or upgrading many of CryEngine's systems. Monetization for Lumberyard will come strictly through the use of Amazon Web Services' cloud computing. If you use the engine for your game, you're permitted to roll your own server tech, but if you're using a third-party provider, it has to be Amazon. Integration of Amazon's Twitch video streaming tools at a low level also helps to cement that platform's dominance in the game streaming space. Alongside Lumberyard, the company has also announced and released GameLift, a new managed service for deploying, operating, and scaling server-based online games using AWS. GameLift will be available only to developers who use Lumberyard, though it's an optional add-on. The game engine is in beta, but is freely usable and downloadable today.
Advertising

Adblock Plus Maker Seeks Deal With Ad Industry Players (yahoo.com) 354

An anonymous reader writes with Yahoo's report that the makers of Adblock Plus are "looking to reach out to advertisers and identify an 'acceptable' level and form of advertising on the net." That involves convincing advertisers to conform to the company's own guidelines for advertising, or an alternative path much disliked by some of the software's users — to pay the company to ignore ads that don't meet those guidelines. From the article: Big websites can pay a fee not to be blocked. And it is these proceeds that finance the Cologne-based company and its 49-strong workforce. While Google and Amazon have paid up, others refuse. Axel Springer, which publishers Germany's best-selling daily Bild, accuses [Adblock Plus maker] Eyeo of racketeering. "We believe Eyeo's business model is against the law," a spokesman for Springer told AFP. "Clearly, Eyeo's primary aim is to get its hands on a share of the advertising revenues." Ultimately, such practices posed a threat to the professional journalism on the web, he suggested, an argument Eyeo rejects.
Bug

Some Reversible USB-C Cables/Adapters Could Cause Irreversible Damage 135

TheRealHocusLocus writes: Three Decembers ago I lauded the impending death of the trapezoid. Celebration of the rectangle might be premature however, because in the rush-to-market an appalling number of chargers, cables and legacy adapters have been discovered to be non-compliant. There have been performance issues with bad USB implementation all along, but now — with improved conductors USB-C offers to negotiate up to 3A in addition the 900ma base, so use of a non-compliant adapter may result in damage. Google engineer and hero Benson Leung has been waging a one-man compliance campaign of Amazon reviews to warn of dodgy devices and praise the good. Reddit user bmcclure937 offers a spreadsheet summary of the reviews. It's a jungle out there, don't get fried.
Books

Amazon's Thin Helvetica Syndrome: Font Anorexia vs. Kindle Readability (teleread.com) 150

David Rothman writes: The Thin Helvetica Syndrome arises from the latest Kindle upgrade and has made e-books less readable for some. In the past, e-book-lovers who needed more perceived-contrast between text and background could find at least partial relief in Helvetica because the font was heavy by Kindle standards. But now some users complain that the 5.7.2 upgrade actually made Helvetica thinner. Of course, the real cure would be an all-text bold option for people who need it, or even a way to adjust font weight, a feature of Kobo devices. But Amazon stubbornly keeps ignoring user pleas even though the cost of adding either feature would be minimal. Isn't this supposed to be a customer-centric company?
Data Storage

Storing Very Large Files On Amazon's Unlimited Cloud Photo Storage 229

AmiMoJo writes: Last year Amazon started offering unlimited cloud storage for photos to customers who subscribed to its "Prime" service. Japanese user YDKK has developed a tool to store arbitrary data inside a .bmp file, which can then be uploaded to Amazon's service. A 1.44GB test image containing an executable file uploaded at over 250Mb/sec, far faster than typical cloud storage services that are rate limited and don't allow extremely large files.
Robotics

Let's Tear Down a Kiva Bot! (robohub.org) 22

Ben Einstein, writes new submitter Robofenix2, has torn down a Kiva bot -- a mobile ground-based warehouse delivery drone, aka Amazon's busiest employee. These robotic systems have revolutionised the warehouse distribution industry helping deliver packages. Ben was able to get his hands on an older generation, end-of-life Kiva bot and cracked open its bright orange shell to expose a brilliant piece of engineering; this post shares the fruits of Kiva's hard work. This 2011 video is also worth viewing, not least to see Kiva's shelf-lifting corkscrew action.
Stats

Tech Salaries Had Biggest Year-Over-Year Leap In 2015 (dice.com) 125

Nerval's Lobster writes: Average technology salaries in the U.S. saw the biggest year-over-year leap ever, up 7.7 percent to $96,370 annually, according to Dice's new survey data. Bonuses and contract rates also rose from 2014, and tech salaries in seven metro areas reached six-figures for the first time since the survey began more than a decade ago. Contract workers saw a rise (5%) in hourly compensation, with contractors earning $70.26 per hour. Other Websites have shown similarly high salaries for tech professionals; Glassdoor, for example, called data scientist the best job in America, with an average salary of $116,840 and bountiful job prospects. But while everything might seem great on a macro level, that doesn't mean tech workers don't face their share of stagnant salaries, brutal workplaces, and annoying managers.
Advertising

German Court: "Sharing" Your Amazon Purchases Is Spamming (reuters.com) 195

An anonymous reader writes: A court in Germany has ruled that the 'Share' links which Amazon provides to customers directly after making a purchase at the site are unlawful. The "Share" functionality provides buttons which allow the consumer to signal a new purchase via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or email. The court, ratifying an earlier decision made at a lower court, declared that emails initiated via the Share function constitute "unsolicited advertising and unreasonable harassment."
Security

Amazon's Customer Service Backdoor (medium.com) 131

An anonymous reader writes: Eric Springer describes his recent troubles with Amazon to highlight one of the biggest weak points in information security: customer service. You can use complex passwords and two-factor authentication all you want — all it takes is a low-level representative trying to be helpful and your account information is now compromised. In this case, a bad actor was able to use Amazon's online chat support and a fake address to get the rep to tell him Springer's real address and phone number. That was enough to commit fraud with a couple of unrelated online services. Springer complained, but months later the same thing happened again. That time, he had Amazon put a note on his account not to give out his details.

But that didn't help; the attacker contacted Amazon's phone support line instead, and gathered yet more information. Springer writes, "At this point, Amazon has completely betrayed my trust three times. I have done absolutely everything in my power to secure my account, but it's hopeless. I am in the process of closing my Amazon account, and migrating as much to Google services which seem significantly more robust at stopping these attacks." Springer's advice for fixing this: "Never do customer support unless the user can log in to their account. The only exception to this would be if the user forgot the password, and there should be a very strict policy." He also says email services should make aliases easier, and whois protection should be default.

Programming

Software Hall of Fame Member Ed Yourdon Dies (wikipedia.org) 67

New submitter andyjl writes: The software industry lost one of its pioneers on Tuesday, January 20, 2016 when Ed Yourdon died from post-operative complications. Ed was a pioneer of Structured Programming methodologies, and was a prodigious author of software-related books, including topics such as "death march" projects, and the problems of Y2K. He was also a personal friend and fellow forensic software analyst specializing in the analysis of failed software development projects and the lack of software development disciplines. He once told me that he read a item on the Internet (which I cannot find) that said, "whenever a programmer writes a GOTO statement, somewhere a Yourdon dies." I am forced to conclude that one of you programmers out there did indeed write a GOTO statement on Tuesday and I want to know who it was. Look at what you did! Did you really have to use a GOTO? Adds reader theodp: Yourdon was a successful author, whose Slashdot-reviewed books included Rise and Resurrection of the American Programmer, Death March: The Complete Software Developer's Guide to Surviving "Mission Impossible" Projects, Byte Wars: The Impact of September 11 on Information Technology, and Outsourcing: Competing in the Global Productivity Race. Yourdon's Time Bomb 2000!: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You!, written with daughter Jennifer, was a Y2K best-seller.
Education

How Have Large Donations Affected Education Policy In New York City? 37

theodp writes: According to Chalkbeat, the expansion of charter schools, the movement to break New York City's large schools into smaller ones, and the push to teach computer science have something in common: the influence of philanthropy. Though contributions from big donors amount to only a fraction of New York City's education spending, they still have a real impact on public school policy, said Jeffrey Henig, the co-author of The New Education Philanthropy: Politics, Policy and Reform, which details how powerful individuals and organizations increasingly use donations to advance policies they support. Increasingly, Henig adds, some of those donors are paying more attention to advocacy, creating at least the appearance, if not the reality, of grassroots support.
United Kingdom

Big Brother Is Coming To UK Universities (theguardian.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: An upcoming report by the Higher Education Commission, a UK group of MPs, business and academic professionals, will paint a picture of a higher education system that, thanks to the increasing use of data, may undergo radical change, sometimes with painful ethical considerations. Among their visions: an Amazon-style recommendation service on courses and work experience based on individuals' backgrounds, and similar profiles. Or a system in which students at risk of failure can be identified from their first day so that they receive instant feedback and performance measuring. It is envisioned that the system will include knowing whether they are in lectures, at the gym or in the bar, and in an effort to boost their results, students may also want to share data on their fitness, sleeping patterns, and their academic and semi-academic interactions online.
Businesses

Tech's Big 5 -- Here to Stay? (nytimes.com) 250

schwit1 tips a piece at the NY Times about the most entrenched companies in consumer technology: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. The article makes the case that these five have a such a strong grip on the modern tech industry that they're destined to stick around for the foreseeable future. From the article: Tech people like to picture their industry as a roiling sea of disruption, in which every winner is vulnerable to surprise attack from some novel, as-yet-unimagined foe. ... But for much of the last half-decade, most of these five giants have enjoyed a remarkable reprieve from the boogeymen in the garage. And you can bet on them continuing to win. So I’m coining them the Frightful Five. .... Though competition between the five remains fierce — and each year, a few of them seem up and a few down — it’s becoming harder to picture how any one of them, let alone two or three, may cede their growing clout in every aspect of American business and society. ... In various small and large ways, the Frightful Five are pushing into the news and entertainment industries; they’re making waves in health care and finance; they’re building cars, drones, robots and immersive virtual-reality worlds. Why do all this? Because their platforms — the users, the data, and all the money they generate — make these far-flung realms seem within their grasp."
Transportation

How Amazon's Drone Deliveries Will Work (yahoo.com) 177

An anonymous reader writes: In a new interview, Amazon has revealed details of the drone delivery program they're building out. VP Paul Misener said, "Prime Air is a future delivery service that will get packages to customers within 30 minutes of them ordering it online at Amazon.com. The goals we've set for ourselves are: The range has to be over 10 miles. These things will weigh about 55 pounds each, but they'll be able to deliver parcels that weigh up to five pounds. It turns out that the vast majority of the things we sell at Amazon weigh less than five pounds." They haven't set pricing yet, but deliveries will follow the same protocols that trucks do now — if you're not home, it'll be left on your doorstep or in your yard. The company is developing different kinds of drones to service different climates. They also expect the regulatory issues to dissipate once they can demonstrate how safe the drones are. Amazon anticipates the vast majority of drone flying to be done between altitudes of 200ft and 400ft.
The Media

Explaining the Lack of Quality Journalism In the Internet Age (gawker.com) 311

schnell writes: While many lament the seeming lack of quality, in-depth journalism today, a Gawker article argues that the inescapable problem is that you need a paying (in some form) audience (of a large enough size) to do it. There are plenty of free "news" sources to be found online, especially blogs simply regurgitating and putting a spin on wire news reports. But as the article notes, "The audience for quality prestige content is small. Even smaller than the actual output of quality prestige content, which itself is smaller than most media outlets like to imagine." Even highly respected news sources like the New York Times are resorting to wine clubs, and the Washington Post is giving free subscriptions to Amazon Prime members to drive more corporate synergy and revenue. Rich parent companies are giving up on boutique, high-quality, niche journalism projects like ESPN's Grantland and Al Jazeera America because there simply aren't enough TV viewers/online ad clickers to pay the bills. So how do we reconcile our collectively-stated desire for high quality journalism with our (seeming) collective unwillingness to pay for it?
Businesses

Always-Listening IoT Devices Raise Security Policy Questions For the Workplace (securityweek.com) 152

wiredmikey writes: Rafal Los raises an interesting point about new Internet of Things (IoT) devices that may be coming into the office after Christmas, and the possible security risks associated. He uses an example of the Amazon Echo which is "always listening" and raises the question of how welcome it would be in an office where confidential and highly sensitive conversations are frequent. "How many things are showing up at the office this week that are an always-on conduit to your network from some external third party you really shouldn't be trusting? Watches, streaming media widgets, phones, tablets and a whole host of other things are likely making their way into the office right now. You probably have a BYOD policy, but do you have an IoT policy? BYOD policies are meant to address your mobile handsets, tablets and personal laptops, but who's addressing all the other gadgetry?"
Music

Discogs Turns Record Collectors' Obsessions Into Big Business 31

HughPickens.com writes: Ben Sisario writes at the NYT that Discogs has built one of the most exhaustive collections of discographical information in the world, and with 24 million items for sale, (eBay's music section lists 11 million) Discogs is on track to do nearly $100 million in business by the end of the year. One of Discog's secrets is the use of Wikipedia's model of user-generated content with historical data cataloged by thousands of volunteer editors in extreme detail. The site's entry for the Beatles' White Album, for instance, contains 309 distinct versions of the record, including its original releases in countries like Uruguay, India and Yugoslavia — in mono and stereo configurations — and decades of reissues, from Greek eight-tracks to Japanese CDs. "There's a record-collector gene," says Kevin Lewandowski. "Some people want to know every little detail about a record."

The site, once run from a computer in Lewandowski's closet and originally restricted to electronic music, has grown rapidly. "It took about six months working nights and weekends on Discogs, and I launched it in November 2000. It was very simplistic compared to what it is now, but it started growing right away." Discogs now has 37 employees around the world, 20 million online visitors a month and three million registered users. Lewandowski, who is the sole owner of Discogs, says he had no interest in selling the business. He has watched other players enter the field over the last 15 years, including Amazon, which in 2008 introduced SoundUnwound, a Wikipedia-like site for music that was quietly shut down four years later. Discogs may have survived because of the innovation of its marketplace, giving collectors an incentive to expand the database with every imaginable detail. "I want it to go on forever," says Lewandowski.
Books

Kindle or Not, a Resurgence In Used Bookstores 133

The growing availability of books via internet (whether instant, in the form of downloads from Amazon's Kindle store or the Google Play store, or in physical form by post) puts pressure on conventional bookstores. The Washington Post reports, though, that some bookstores are thriving, and some new ones are getting started, in a particular niche: used books. The phenomenon springs in part from the disappearance of many large chain bookstores, leaving gaps that smaller and nimbler shops can fill; as the article points out, a used bookstore in many places is the only one around. Nonetheless, It is by no means an easy business. Many used-book retailers — with either bad management or bad locations (or both) — still struggle against the digital headwinds. For one, Amazon is still just a few clicks away. But some used-bookstore owners have made a shrewd move: widening their customer base by listing their inventories on Amazon’s third-party marketplace, an idea many new-book retailers despise. (The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos.) My favorite bookstores have mixed stock (used and new), serve coffee, and specialize -- the process of discovery is still easier at a place like Ada's Technical Books in Seattle than it is browsing through Amazon recommendations.
Bitcoin

How a Young IRS Agent Identified the Man Behind Silk Road (nytimes.com) 163

circletimessquare writes: Dread Pirate Roberts, who ran Silk Road, was identified as Ross Ulbricht by one agent googling, off work hours, in just two weekends in 2013. Many agents had been working on the case for a year or more, and since agent Gary Alford was new to the case, not FBI, and not technologically sophisticated, no one took him seriously for months. He escalated the discovery and became such a pest about it, one agent told him to drop it. From the New York Times article: "In these technical investigations, people think they are too good to do the stupid old-school stuff. But I'm like, 'Well, that stuff still works.'" Mr. Alford's preferred tool was Google. He used the advanced search option to look for material posted within specific date ranges. That brought him, during the last weekend of May 2013, to a chat room posting made just before Silk Road had gone online, in early 2011, by someone with the screen name "altoid." "Has anyone seen Silk Road yet?" altoid asked. "It's kind of like an anonymous Amazon.com." The early date of the posting suggested that altoid might have inside knowledge about Silk Road. During the first weekend of June 2013, Mr. Alford went through everything altoid had written, the online equivalent of sifting through trash cans near the scene of a crime. Mr. Alford eventually turned up a message that altoid had apparently deleted — but that had been preserved in the response of another user. In that post, altoid asked for some programming help and gave his email address: rossulbricht@gmail.com.
Cloud

Amazon Makes It Almost Impossible To Calculate Their "Virtual CPU" Equivalent (informationweek.com) 114

dkatana writes: AWS started out defining its virtual CPUs as being composed of EC2 compute units, or ECUs, which it defined as an equivalent to a physical Xeon processor. However, a virtual CPU now looks suspiciously variable... A virtual CPU is whatever Amazon wants to offer in an instance series. The user has no firm measure to go by. From the article: [B]y doing a little math, you could actually compare what you were getting in virtual CPUs in EC2 versus Azure. Also by doing a little math, you knew how to compare one Amazon instance to another based on the ECU count in each virtual CPU. Microsoft didn't look too bad in the comparison. That is one of the casualties of the nomenclature change. I have searched for updated information on how a virtual CPU is measured and found nothing comparable to the definition of the 2012 ECU measure. I have questioned Amazon representatives three times between Oct. 27 and Dec. 21, and don't have much of an answer."

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