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Books

Amazon Offers To Scrap Ebook Clauses To Settle EU Antitrust Probe (reuters.com) 13

U.S. online retailer Amazon has offered to alter its e-book contracts with publishers in a bid to end an EU antitrust probe and stave off a possible fine, the European Commission said on Tuesday. From a report: Amazon, the biggest e-book distributor in Europe, proposed to drop some clauses in its contracts so publishers will not be forced to give it terms as good as those for rivals, the Commission said. Such clauses relate to business models, release dates, catalogs of e-books, features of e-books, promotions, agency prices, agency commissions and wholesale prices. The Commission opened an investigation into the company's e-books in English and German in June 2015, concerned that such parity clauses make it harder for other e-book retailers to compete with Amazon by developing new and innovative products and services. The EU competition enforcer gave rivals and customers a month to provide feedback before it decides whether to accept the proposal. Under EU antitrust rules, such settlements mean no finding of infringement nor fines which could reach 10 percent of a company's global turnover.
Security

Ransomware Infects All St Louis Public Library Computers (theguardian.com) 147

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Libraries in St Louis have been bought to a standstill after computers in all the city's libraries were infected with ransomware, a particularly virulent form of computer virus used to extort money from victims. Hackers are demanding $35,000 (£28,000) to restore the system after the cyberattack, which affected 700 computers across the Missouri city's 16 public libraries. The hackers demanded the money in electronic currency bitcoin, but, as CNN reports, the authority has refused to pay for a code that would unlock the machines. As a result, the library authority has said it will wipe its entire computer system and rebuild it from scratch, a solution that may take weeks. On Friday, St Louis public library announced it had managed to regain control of its servers, with tech staff continuing to work to restore borrowing services. The 16 libraries have all remained open, but computers continue to be off limits to the public. Spokeswoman Jen Hatton told CNN that the attack had hit the city's schoolchildren and its poor worst, as many do not have access to the internet at home. "For many [...] we're their only access to the internet," she said. "Some of them have a smartphone, but they don't have a data plan. They come in and use the wifi." As well as causing the loans system to seize up, preventing borrowers from checking out or returning books, the attack froze all computers, leaving no one able to access the four million items that should be available through the service. The system is believed to have been infected through a centralized computer server, and staff emails have also been frozen by the virus. The FBI has been called in to investigate.
Programming

Knuth Previews New Math Section For 'The Art of Computer Programming' (stanford.edu) 172

In 1962, 24-year-old Donald Knuth began writing The Art of Computer Programming -- and 55 years later, he's still working on it. An anonymous reader quotes Knuth's web site at Stanford: Volume 4B will begin with a special section called 'Mathematical Preliminaries Redux', which extends the 'Mathematical Preliminaries' of Section 1.2 in Volume 1 to things that I didn't know about in the 1960s. Most of this new material deals with probabilities and expectations of random events; there's also an introduction to the theory of martingales.

You can have a sneak preview by looking at the current draft of pre-fascicle 5a (52 pages), last updated 18 January 2017. As usual, rewards will be given to whoever is first to find and report errors or to make valuable suggestions. I'm particularly interested in receiving feedback about the exercises (of which there are 125) and their answers (of which there are 125).

Over the years Knuth gave out over $20,000 in rewards, though most people didn't cash his highly-coveted "hexadecimal checks", and in 2008 Knuth switched to honorary "hexadecimal certificates". In 2014 Knuth complained about the "dumbing down" of computer science history, and his standards remain high. In his most-recent update, 79-year-old Knuth reminds readers that "There's stuff in here that isn't in Wikipedia yet!"
Education

Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60 (nytimes.com) 314

Students at elite colleges are even richer than experts realized, according to a new study based on millions of anonymous tax filings and tuition records. At 38 colleges in America, including five in the Ivy League -- Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Penn and Brown -- more students came from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent. From a report on the NYTimes (alternate non-paywall link): Roughly one in four of the richest students attend an elite college -- universities that typically cluster toward the top of annual rankings (you can find more on our definition of "elite" at the bottom). In contrast, less than one-half of 1 percent of children from the bottom fifth of American families attend an elite college; less than half attend any college at all. Colleges often promote their role in helping poorer students rise in life, and their commitments to affordability. But some elite colleges have focused more on being affordable to low-income families than on expanding access. "Free tuition only helps if you can get in," said Danny Yagan, an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the authors of the study.
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) 210

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.

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