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New Book Paints Different Picture of Workplace Behavior At Google and Facebook

New Book Paints Different Picture of Workplace Behavior At Google and Facebook

Longtime Slashdot reader theodp writes: In Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom), Adam Fisher paints quite a different picture of life at now-workforce behavior preachers Google and Facebook, revealing that the tech giants’ formative days were filled with the kind of antics that run afoul of HR protocols. Google was not a normal place, begins an excerpt in Vanity Fair that includes some juicy quotes attributed to Google executive chef Charlie Ayers about Google’s founders (“Sergey’s the Google playboy. He was known for getting his fingers caught in the cookie jar with employees that worked for the company in the masseuse room. He got around.”) And in Sex, Beer, and Coding, Wired runs an excerpt about Facebook’s wild early days, which even extended to the artwork gracing its office (“The office was on the second floor, so as you walk in you immediately have to walk up some stairs, and on the big 10-foot-high wall facing you is just this huge buxom woman with enormous breasts wearing this Mad Max-style costume riding a bulldog. It’s the most intimidating, totally inappropriate thing. […] That set a tone for us. A huge-breasted warrior woman riding a bulldog is the first thing you see as you come in the office, so like, get ready for that!” So, what changed? “When Sheryl Sandberg joined the company is when I saw a vast shift in everything in the company,” said Ayers about Google. Sandberg later became Facebook’s grown-up face.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
How Minecraft Is Helping Kids Fall In Love With Books

How Minecraft Is Helping Kids Fall In Love With Books

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1881 classic Treasure Island tells of Jim Hawkins’s adventures on board the Hispaniola, as he and his crew — along with double-crossing pirate Long John Silver — set out to find Captain Flint’s missing treasure on Skeleton Island. Now, more than a century later, children can try and find it themselves, with the bays and mountains of Stevenson’s fictional island given a blocky remodeling in Minecraft, as part of a new project aimed at bringing reluctant readers to literary classics. From Spyglass Hill to Ben Gunn’s cave, children can explore every nook and cranny of Skeleton Island as part of Litcraft, a new partnership between Lancaster University and Microsoft, which bought the game for $2.5 billion in 2015 and which is now played by 74 million people each month. The Litcraft platform uses Minecraft to create accurate scale models of fictional islands: Treasure Island is the first, with Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom just completed and many others planned. […] The project, which is featured on Microsoft’s Minecraft.edu website, is currently being presented to school teachers and librarians across the UK. There has been “an enthusiastic response” to the trials under way in local schools, with plans to roll Litcraft out to libraries in Lancashire and Leeds from October 2018.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
A Mass of Copyrighted Works Will Soon Enter the Public Domain

A Mass of Copyrighted Works Will Soon Enter the Public Domain

For the first time in two decades, a huge number of books, films, and other works will escape U.S. copyright law. From a report: The Great American Novel enters the public domain on January 1, 2019 — quite literally. Not the concept, but the book by William Carlos Williams. It will be joined by hundreds of thousands of other books, musical scores, and films first published in the United States during 1923. It’s the first time since 1998 for a mass shift to the public domain of material protected under copyright. It’s also the beginning of a new annual tradition: For several decades from 2019 onward, each New Year’s Day will unleash a full year’s worth of works published 95 years earlier. This coming January, Charlie Chaplin’s film The Pilgrim and Cecil B. DeMille’s The 10 Commandments will slip the shackles of ownership, allowing any individual or company to release them freely, mash them up with other work, or sell them with no restriction. This will be true also for some compositions by Bela Bartok, Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay, Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis, Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Pigeons, E.E. Cummings’s Tulips and Chimneys, Noel Coward’s London Calling! musical, Edith Wharton’s A Son at the Front, many stories by P.G. Wodehouse, and hosts upon hosts of forgotten works, according to research by the Duke University School of Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. Throughout the 20th century, changes in copyright law led to longer periods of protection for works that had been created decades earlier, which altered a pattern of relatively brief copyright protection that dates back to the founding of the nation. This came from two separate impetuses. First, the United States had long stood alone in defining copyright as a fixed period of time instead of using an author’s life plus a certain number of years following it, which most of the world had agreed to in 1886. Second, the ever-increasing value of intellectual property could be exploited with a longer term. But extending American copyright law and bringing it into international harmony meant applying “patches” retroactively to work already created and published. And that led, in turn, to lengthy delays in copyright expiring on works that now date back almost a century.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
New Book Describes 'Bluffing' Programmers in Silicon Valley

New Book Describes 'Bluffing' Programmers in Silicon Valley

Long-time Slashdot reader Martin S. pointed us to this an excerpt from the new book Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley by Portland-based investigator reporter Corey Pein.
The author shares what he realized at a job recruitment fair seeking Java Legends, Python Badasses, Hadoop Heroes, “and other gratingly childish classifications describing various programming specialities.”
I wasn’t the only one bluffing my way through the tech scene. Everyone was doing it, even the much-sought-after engineering talent. I was struck by how many developers were, like myself, not really programmers, but rather this, that and the other. A great number of tech ninjas were not exactly black belts when it came to the actual onerous work of computer programming. So many of the complex, discrete tasks involved in the creation of a website or an app had been automated that it was no longer necessary to possess knowledge of software mechanics. The coder’s work was rarely a craft. The apps ran on an assembly line, built with “open-source”, off-the-shelf components. The most important computer commands for the ninja to master were copy and paste…
[M]any programmers who had “made it” in Silicon Valley were scrambling to promote themselves from coder to “founder”. There wasn’t necessarily more money to be had running a startup, and the increase in status was marginal unless one’s startup attracted major investment and the right kind of press coverage. It’s because the programmers knew that their own ladder to prosperity was on fire and disintegrating fast. They knew that well-paid programming jobs would also soon turn to smoke and ash, as the proliferation of learn-to-code courses around the world lowered the market value of their skills, and as advances in artificial intelligence allowed for computers to take over more of the mundane work of producing software. The programmers also knew that the fastest way to win that promotion to founder was to find some new domain that hadn’t yet been automated. Every tech industry campaign designed to spur investment in the Next Big Thing — at that time, it was the “sharing economy” — concealed a larger programme for the transformation of society, always in a direction that favoured the investor and executive classes.
“I wasn’t just changing careers and jumping on the ‘learn to code’ bandwagon,” he writes at one point. “I was being steadily indoctrinated in a specious ideology.”

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
Google's New Book Search Deals in Ideas, Not Keywords

Google's New Book Search Deals in Ideas, Not Keywords

A new Google project called called “Talk to Books” provides answers to questions by drawing on a library of more than 100,000 books. From a report: Tech pioneer Ray Kurzweil debuted the project at the TED conference in Vancouver, and explained that it differs from traditional search by relying on semantics rather than keywords. Keyword search is great when you’re hunting down a specific piece of information, but Google — and digital technology in general — still has a long way to go when it comes to connecting ideas and answering questions with complete thoughts.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
Amazon is Burying Sexy Books, Sending Erotic Novel Authors to the 'No-Rank Dungeon'

Amazon is Burying Sexy Books, Sending Erotic Novel Authors to the 'No-Rank Dungeon'

Samantha Cole, reporting for Motherboard: In the last few days, word has spread among independent erotica authors on social media that Amazon was quietly changing its policies for erotic novels. Five authors I spoke to, and several more on social media, have reported that their books were stripped of their best seller rankings — essentially hiding them from casual browsing on the site, and separating them from more mainstream, safe-for-work titles. […] Most people browsing Amazon books might not notice or care about the best seller rank — a number that’s based on how well the title is selling on Amazon.com — but it’s part of an algorithm that influences how the book appears in search, and whether it shows up in advertisements, including suggestions from one product to the next (“If you like this book, you might like this book”). For independent authors and booksellers, this ranking is hugely important for visibility.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
Ask Slashdot: I Want To Get Into Comic Books, But Where Do I Start?

Ask Slashdot: I Want To Get Into Comic Books, But Where Do I Start?

An anonymous reader writes: Hi fellow readers. I don’t recall reading many comic books as a kid (mostly because I could not afford them), but of late, I have been considering giving that a shot. I wanted to ask if you had any tips to share. Do I start with paperback editions, or do I jump directly into digital? Also, could you recommend a few good sci-fic comic book series? Thanks in advance!

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
Project Gutenberg Blocks German Users After Outrageous Court Ruling

Project Gutenberg Blocks German Users After Outrageous Court Ruling

Slashdot reader David Rothman writes: The oldest public domain publisher in the world, Project Gutenberg, has blocked German users after an outrageous legal ruling saying this American nonprofit must obey German copyright law… Imagine the technical issues for fragile, cash-strapped public domain organizations — worrying not only about updated databases covering all the world’s countries, but also applying the results to distribution.
TeleRead carries two views on the German case involving a Holtzbrinck subsidiary…

Significantly, older books provide just a tiny fraction of the revenue of megaconglomerates like Holtzbrinck but are essential to students of literature and indeed to students in general.
What’s more, as illustrated by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in the U.S., copyright law in most countries tends to reflect the wishes and power of lobbyists more than it does the commonweal.

Ideally the travails of Project Gutenberg will encourage tech companies, students, teachers, librarians and others to step up their efforts against oppressive copyright laws. While writers and publishers deserve fair compensation, let’s focus more on the needs of living creators and less on the estates of authors dead for many decades. The three authors involved in the German case are Heinrich Mann (died in 1950), Thomas Mann (1955) and Alfred Döblin (1957).

One solution in the U.S. and elsewhere for modern creators would be national library endowments… Meanwhile, it would be very fitting for Google and other deep-pocketed corporations with an interest in a global Internet and more balanced copyright to help Gutenberg finance its battle. Law schools, other academics, educators and librarians should also offer assistance.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
HBO's Fahrenheit 451 Trailer Teases Dystopian World Filled With Burning 'Chaos'

HBO's Fahrenheit 451 Trailer Teases Dystopian World Filled With Burning 'Chaos'

HBO has released the first trailer of its film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s best-selling 1953 dystopian tale, Fahrenheit 451, which depicts a time period where history is outlawed and “firemen” burn books. The Hollywood Reporter reports: In the Ramin Bahrani-directed film, Michael B. Jordan stars as Guy Montag, a fireman who comes to question his role in enforcing the state’s censorship laws, and in so doing finds himself at odds with his “mentor,” Beatty (Michael Shannon). “By the time you guys grow up, there won’t be one book left,” Jordan is shown telling a group of students. Throughout the trailer, a reel of destruction is shown as Beatty’s voiceover warns that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” “We are not born equal, so we must be made equal by the fire,” Beatty explains. Jordan will also serve as the film’s executive producer. Sofia Boutella, Martin Donovan, Laura Harrier, Keir Dullea, Jane Moffat and Grace Lynn Kung also star.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books
The Slow Demise of Barnes & Noble

The Slow Demise of Barnes & Noble

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.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, books