If Rolls-Royce is right, they'll be pulling into the Port of Seattle in the future:
A ship that does not have to accommodate a crew for weeks on end can dispense with many if not all the life-support systems needed by humans, from the galley to the sewage treatment system, the accommodation area and the deck house.
Removing these would not only leave more space for cargo but would also mean lighter ships, holding out the prospect of big savings on fuel bills, which account for about half of a ships total operating cost.
Lest you get too sentimental about the days of seafaring humans, the article claims that fewer and fewer humans want these jobs anyway. Because, it says, "the romance has gone out of life on the ocean."
1. The New York Times published a great story yesterday about how publishers and distributors are watching the way you read e-books. It's really creepy. You should read it.
2. According to Galleycat, digital distributor OverDrive reports that King County leads the nation in digital downloads from libraries.
The libraries to make OverDrive’s ”Million Digital Checkouts Club” this year include: King County Library System in Washington, which recorded 1.6 million downloads up 25% over 2012
We're ahead of other library systems including Toronto (2nd place), New York City (3rd place), and libraries in Cleveland and Minnesota. In sixth place, at one million downloads? Seattle Public Library. We appear to have a special knack for downloading digital media from our libraries up here in the Northwest corner.
Britain's Channel 4 asked Edward Snowden to deliver this year's "Alternative Christmas Message." (A response to the Queen's annual Christmas address.) Snowden began:
Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance watching everything we do. Great Britain's George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book—microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us—are nothing compared to what we have available today.
You can watch the rest here.
The data will be "de-identified," meaning it won't include student names and Social Security numbers, and the Seattle Times says it only wants the data to "help reporters and editors spot trends that might be newsworthy."
Still, privacy experts are concerned, KUOW reports, because even "de-identified" data can be used to identify people. Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda is also concerned, telling the station he wasn't aware of the deal. And, KUOW reports, this isn't a new thing:
As schools collect more student and staff data, it’s increasingly being given to outside entities for analysis and storage. That alarms parents and educators, who worry the data could be used to identify their children, fall into the wrong hands or be used for commercial purposes.
Who holds the data, and how securely, is the question of the moment. But with governments, private companies, and newspapers all getting hacked these days, here's a question I have for Slog readers:
One of our previous tech stoners at The Stranger used to laugh every time I brought him my laptop. "Little paranoid?" he'd say, pointing at the square of post-it I used to cover my webcam.
I told him I didn't know what people were capable of doing, but if a little square of paper could give me a slight edge in the peace-of-mind department, I'd take it. "Nobody can spy on you," he'd say and roll his eyes.
Last week, researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Computer Science showed off an exploit that allows a hacker to take over some MacBook computers and activate their Web cameras without the users’ knowledge.
The webcam hacking technique, first reported by The Washington Post, is said to be similar to a tactic used to spy on Cassidy Wolf, a 19-year-old Miss Teen USA, who fell victim to a webcam hacker earlier this year.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested the man responsible for the spying on Ms. Wolf. He pleaded guilty to charges in connection with his spying on her and a number of other women, using software that could snap a picture or record video of them without warning.
The Johns Hopkins paper, titled “iSeeYou: Disabling the MacBook Webcam Indicator LED,” explains how the researchers were able to reprogram an iSight camera’s microcontroller to activate the recording functions and LED activation lights independently to spy on someone without giving that person any idea that the computer camera is in use.
Which, of course, brings up the question of what the NSA and similar agencies can do with similar hacks, either for "national security" or for spying on exes.
And that other tab you see open? "Mammals Suck," a blog by my old friend Katie Hinde, who grew up to become a milk biologist/anthropologist. Do some mammals produce different milk for boys and for girls? Do breast-fed babies cry more? Why do humans wean faster than our ape cousins?
Check it out on Mammals Suck! And thanks to Greg for the tech tip.
People leave Microsoft all the time but defections of prized personnel to Google are a sore spot for the company because of the intensity of the companies’ rivalry. Microsoft sued Google after Google hired Kai-Fu Lee, a Microsoft vice president at the time, to run its research facility in China. The companies settled the case in 2005.
In court filings related to that lawsuit involving Mr. Lee, a now much-recited anecdote emerged about Microsoft’s reaction to the defection of another Microsoft employee — Mark Lucovsky, a distinguished engineer — to Google in 2004. Mr. Lucovsky, in a declaration in the case, said that Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, threw a chair across the room when Mr. Lucovsky told him he was leaving for Google. Mr. Ballmer also disparaged Eric Schmidt, then Google’s chief executive, with a string of expletives, according to Mr. Lucovsky’s declaration.
Forget smartwatches—smartrings are the new thing now. An Indiegogo campaign for a product called the "Smarty Ring" has hit its funding goal. Smarty Ring is a 13mm-wide stainless steel ring with an LED screen, Bluetooth 4.0, and an accompanying smartphone app. The ring pairs with a smartphone and acts as a remote control and notification receiver.
The ring supposedly has a 24-hour battery life. Here's video:
Now join me in a thought experiment:
Already mentioned: danger to humans.
Over at MAKE, Eric Weinhoffer adds a few more: battery limitations, weather, theft. CNN says: "The sensor technology to avoid collisions isn't there yet." Mother Jones points out: Some states have banned drone cameras (which Amazon would need to make this feasible). And Bezos's own Washington Post warns: Hackers.
Once all that's solved, there's the FAA. Good luck, Mr. Bezos.
The company's calling the service Prime Air, and CEO Jeff Bezos says it could be a reality in four or five years. Bezos also suggested to 60 Minutes that the biggest obstacle to achieving drone delivery will be the government:
The hardest challenge in making this happen is going to be demonstrating, to the standards of the FAA, that this is a safe thing to do.
At present, it's illegal to use small drones for commercial purposes in the United States. That's because, as I wrote in in The Magazine (free for 48 hours in honor of Prime Air), the government is not at all ready for a future filled with flying delivery robots.
I'm not sure current drone technology is ready for that future, either. Bezos sounds confident, but you'll notice Amazon's sample delivery drone doesn't fly through a bunch of urban canyons on the way to its happy customer—just over an empty field. You'll also notice that the happy customer stays inside while the drone lands.
This made me think of last year's International Aerial Robotics Competition, where I saw a number of wounds caused by drone blades. Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and current head of DIY Drones, described some potential delivery drones to me as "flying lawnmowers." Given all that, I think it's going to take considerably more than four or five years to convince regulators, customers, and even a lot of drone enthusiasts that this won't be a consequence of drone delivery:
There's a new app, according to the AT&T Insider magazine-advertorial-thingie that came free in the mail last week. This app, Refresh, is designed to help you "make small talk":
I will never-ever-never need some cell phone app, to help me talk to my family. In fact, I played "pass-the-phone" with them just minutes ago. My family tree definitely has some nuts in it, but I can handle them just fine.
For This I Am Thankful.
Benjamin Kunkle at n+1 has issued a manifesto:
1. Social media should be socialized because services tend to be or become monopolies. Most private enterprises, whatever their business, have at least a few competitors. Large social media companies—Facebook, Twitter—tend to lack competitors, for the simple reason that their platforms are not compatible. I can’t create a profile on a non-Facebook site that then appears on Facebook, and no microblogging service could emerge to challenge Twitter unless it were capable of inducing mass defections. Social media services or social utilities, as they would better be called, are thus more like highways or railroads than like car manufacturers or freight companies.
Also: "Social media should be socialized because its content is produced by society at large, and society is distinct from the economy." Or, as a Tweet that recently came my way put it: "We're all unpaid interns working for Twitter in exchange for exposure." Read the whole thing.
A federal judge has dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit that an author group brought against Google, concluding that books are like Web pages when it comes to indexing them and displaying small excerpts in search results.
The Google Books project has indexed millions of books, digitizing them without copyright holders' permission, and the Authors Guild sued over the fact. But U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in New York rejected that argument, granting on Thursday Google's motion for summary judgment.
In his opinion, Judge Chin cited Google Book Search's "significant public benefits," saying that the project is good for the "arts and sciences" while still being careful to avoid piracy.
I've heard passionate arguments on both sides of the issue. Authors are obviously rankled that Google did this without their permission, and they're concerned about piracy issues. But there are also obviously tremendous benefits to having books digitized and available for search. In an ideal world, the government would be doing this digitization project, making an online public library available to all. But Google got there first, and so this battle has dragged on for years.
November is National Novel Writing Month, and that's creative and wholesome and challenging and all that. If you have bookish/writerly/creative friends, your Facebook feed is surely scattered with people's NaNoWriMo progress. And great! Good for you, novel attempters. That is courageous.
But what if you nerd harder than that? Here's a new challenge I just found out about: National Novel Generating Month. It is apparently the idea of Darius Kazemi, who tweeted a new take on noveling. "Hey, who wants to join me in NaNoGenMo," he asked on the first of the month. "Spend the month writing code that generates a 50k word novel, share the novel & the code at the end."
It's been moving along nicely, with Kazemi posting a novel nearly right away. It begins like this:
School was in session and my friends Barb and Chrissy came to visit and give me a $150 check. Then Barb told me to call her that night. When they left it was raining. Our class was leaving somewhere (they were very excited) and some kids were going on these airplanes and some kids were going on buses, but the last 10 kids were going (on) gurneys even though they weren't hurt, and they were going on a bus.
I was at a sewing class and you picked out your design on the computer. The lady that was teaching us how to sew took me outside. We started running around the town. It was getting dark and I got scared that I would never see my parents again. But the lady brought me back to a room that my family was in.
Let me first begin with the disclaimer that tech companies apply for patents all the time. Some—probably most—of those patents never come to the market. So this is just a crazy idea at the moment, and is not something you'll be seeing out in public anytime soon. But, still:
...Motorola has applied for a patent of a microphone with a tranceiver and power supply that is designed to be tattooed onto your throat. The idea is to capture vibrations directly from your larynx in order to cut out background noise — while eliminating something else you could lose, we imagine.
I don't expect these to take off immediately, but I imagine at some point in the future, these sorts of tattoos will be commonplace.
We have a secretive agency that costs $10.8 billion a year and can successfully tap into computers and cell phones on the other side of the planet. But, we can't launch a working health care web site.
Jason Del Ray at All Things D reports that Amazon is getting into the charity business:
The Seattle-based retailer today announced a corporate philanthropy program called AmazonSmile, which allows Amazon shoppers to direct 0.5 percent of their purchase totals at the e-commerce giant toward a charitable organization of their choice. Amazon will then donate the money on behalf of its customers.
Speaking as maybe the first reporter in the world to ever write about Amazon's lack of charitable giving, this is great news, and I applaud Amazon for finally doing something like this. But I'd also like to point out that this doesn't let Amazon off the hook for their stinginess with regards to corporate giving to Seattle-area arts programs—while they've since started giving a few tens of thousands of dollars annually to nonprofits including The Stranger's Genius Awards, Amazon is still dwarfed by Microsoft, Boeing, and other local businesses. And as far as I know they still don't have a charitable matching program for their employees, either. I don't say this to diminish the Amazon Smile program, which will raise a lot of money for a lot of good causes. I just hope that this is a great first step in what I hope will be a long journey to corporate responsibility.
The Next Web says Google's Motorola division is working with Phonebloks on something called Ara, a project that aims to enable you to build your own phone, Lego-style, from the ground up. If you're interested in having a better camera and a keyboard on your phone, for instance, you can connect those parts to your phone. If you don't need the fastest processor, you could opt for a cheaper one. If newer, more desirable parts come out, you could just swap your older modules for the newer ones, rather than getting a whole new phone. The project was pitched as being less wasteful, and possibly better for emerging economies.
When Phonebloks was first announced, people were highly skeptical of the idea. How would you convince parts manufacturers to play nice with a single system? Google's involvement at least makes Phonebloks look more like a real possibility, although there are still plenty of hurdles to the project. Seems to me that operating systems would need to be a whole lot more elastic than they are today to handle all the various parts and combinations that consumers would choose for their phones. But I like the idea of making it easy for people to decide what kind of gadgets they use. There are plenty of devices that I like for one reason or another, but no single phone has everything that I need or want in a device. The idea of a phone that ages and matures with me, based solely on my use, is something that I didn't even know I wanted until I heard about this concept.
CNET's Daniel Terdiman just broke the story that Google appears to be building a mysterious four-story-tall barge just off the coast of Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay:
Google did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But after going through lease agreements, tracking a contact tied to the project on LinkedIn, talking to locals on Treasure Island, and consulting with experts, it's all but certain that Google is the entity that is building the massive structure that's in plain sight, but behind tight security.
Could the structure be a sea-faring data center? One expert who was shown pictures of the structure thinks so, especially because being on a barge provides easy access to a source of cooling, as well as an inexpensive source of power — the sea. And even more tellingly, Google was granted a patent in 2009 for a floating data center, and putting data centers inside shipping containers is already a well-established practice.
Until Google talks openly about the floating structure, I think it's time for some wild supposition. Is Google secretly constructing a Googly Promised Land to survive the apocalypse, which the search company's complex algorithms predict will be arriving any day now? Are they building a structure in which to imprison Bing and store it safely away from humanity forever? Does it all, finally, come down to Godzilla?
The word “e-book” will remain hyphenated at The New York Times, according to the publisher’s latest version of its style guide which was updated this week. However, according to the new rules, “e-mail” will now be spelled “email” on The Times’ news pages and online sites. The AP Style guide dropped the hyphen in the word back in 2011.
Stranger style dictates that we use hyphens for e-mail and e-book. Gillian and I had a conversation about whether we should use the hyphen back when I started writing about e-books, and we decided that e-books should follow the same rules as e-mail. I don't have a very strong opinion one way or the other about the hyphenation or non-hyphenation of the words, but I do think the New York Times is wrong to split the spelling of ebooks and e-mail the way it does now. It seems obvious to me that the two words should follow the same style. I don't think that even the mighty persuasiveness of a Slog poll can override Stranger style, but I'm curious to see what you all think of this, the most pressing issue of our time.
The electronic version of the brand-new second issue of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's comic book Sex Criminals is currently "under review" by Apple. This means you won't be able to buy the comic on Apple's digital devices. On his Tumblr, Zdarsky explains all the many ways you can still download a copy of the issue via digital booksellers.
Sex Criminals doesn't shy away from the adult subject matter, but it handles it in an adult way, too. It's such a relief to see female masturbation addressed in an adult, woman-positive manner in a comic book, and speaking selfishly, it's a real pleasure to read a comic book about a protagonist who is a total, unabashed book nerd. This is a comic that deserves a wide readership, and it's a shame that Apple could be fucking that up.
Microsoft officially shipped its new Surface 2 tablets shortly after midnight today, drawing excited crowds to those Microsoft Stores that simultaneously staged free concerts. Later, in a blatant attempt to step on the Surface mania, Apple announced a slew of new products including a thinner, lighter, iPad Air, a new iPad Mini with Retina Display, and newer, more powerful, less expensive MacBook Pros. Pathetic.
Raphaela Weissman has written a piece for Geekwire about her time working for Google up in their Bothell offices.
It wasn’t until I was a few weeks into my position as a contract worker for not-quite-Google, where our paychecks came from a staffing agency and were about $400 per week short of what an actual Google employee makes, that I began to understand another crucial element of the youthful atmosphere: a young workforce is an uninformed workforce. When the magic word “Google” is slapped across one’s resume as the first entry after college, the first “real” employment, the promise of that name and the places it can take your career is just about enough to drown out the realities of working there.
Along with the typical office complaints, she also found a corporate culture that was seemingly uninterested in enforcing sexual harassment policies and a remarkably un-diverse workplace. You should go read the whole thing.
Up 'til now, Sherman Alexie's books have not been available in an e-book format. But in a surprise announcement from Open Road Media, Alexie says that his books will be released in digital form on October 15th, and that he's "very excited about the aesthetics and artistic possibilities" of e-books. He admits that he still has problems " with the politics and economic philosophies involved" in the sale of e-books, but that he has to reach out to a younger, "tech-addicted" audience. His entire fiction backlist will be available as e-books through traditional booksellers and wherever e-books are sold.
...at least a little bit, and every little bit counts, right? Here's the list—including an app to find out what local foods are in season, an app to find out what farm your produce came from, an app to find free fruit just hanging from trees near you, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app, and more—courtesy of foodtank.org. Most are free!
The San Jose Mercury News's Tracey Kaplan reports on John McAfee's latest project:
Dubbed "Decentral," the as-yet-unbuilt device will cost less than $100, McAfee promised the enthusiastic crowd of about 300 engineers, musicians and artists at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.
"There will be no way (for the government) to tell who you are or where you are," he said in an onstage interview with moderator Dan Holden at the inaugural C2SV Technology Conference + Music Festival.
McAfee, who is still considered a "person of interest" in a Belize murder case, said that his device would definitely also be used for criminal purposes, but he pointed out that the telephone is used for criminal purposes, too.
CNet's Lance Whitney describes the patent filing:
The e-book would contain a special autograph page, or the device itself would allow the page to be generated on the fly by the author. Using a special app such as iBooks Author, the author would send an autograph to the page via Bluetooth or another wireless technology. The author and the receiving device would naturally have to be near each other for all of this to work.
A certificate would be transferred as proof that the autograph is authentic.
There's no way this is going to catch on. It's too complicated, and it's not the same thing as an autograph. Tech companies have been trying to resolve this issue of autographing e-books for a decade now, and none of the solutions have stuck. People still want autographs. I've seen plenty of people at readings asking authors to autograph the backs of e-readers. Which makes sense, because that means something. The author was there, and the author signed their name to an item of importance. Files serve many great important purposes, but it's impossible to get sentimental about a file in the same way you do about a book, because the file doesn't have a physical existence. The only way to "solve" this e-book autographing "problem" is to create a physical version of the e-book and have the author sign it. Which would be a book. And then you're right back at the beginning.
So earlier this week, Amazon.com announced their new line of Kindle Fire tablets. (They refrained from sticking with their book-burning analogies by naming this round of tablets the "Bonfires" or somesuch.) And there's a feature on these tablets called Mayday. What it is, is year-round, all-day video tech support on your tablet at the touch of a button. The tech support employee can talk to you, see what's on your screen, draw on your screen, and even take control of the device from afar, but Amazon makes a big deal out of noting that the Amazon employee cannot see you. Here's a series of ads for the feature:
My first thought on hearing about Mayday is that Amazon's promise that you'll be connected with tech support in 15 seconds with no limits on the number of times you can call for help is incredibly optimistic. My second thought is that there are a lot of lonely people out there who will abuse this feature with great aplomb. My third thought is that it's creepy. But I can't say anything negative about Amazon without being accused of having it out for Amazon, so I figured I'd leave it up to you to decide.
"We're relaunching soon with the vision to fulfill your online order incredibly fast, and on-demand" their website says.
They were way ahead of their time back in 2000. I wonder if their new business model will still offer free delivery.
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