By msmash from Slashdot's unprecedented-reach department
Thu-Huong Ha, writing for Quartz: Amazon's power in books extends way beyond its ability to sell them super cheap and super fast. This year, a little over 40% of the print books sold in the US moved through the site, according to estimates from Bookstat, which tracks US online book retail. (NPD, which tracks 85% of US trade print sales, declined to provide data broken out by retailer.) In the US, Amazon dominates ebook sales and hosts hundreds of thousands of self-published ebooks on its platforms, many exclusively. It looms over the audiobook scene, in retail as well as production, and is one of the biggest marketplaces for used books in the US. Amazon also makes its own books -- more than 1,500 last year.
All that power comes with great data, which Amazon's publishing arm is well positioned to exploit in the interest of making books tailored exactly to what people want -- down to which page characters should meet on or how many lines of dialogue they should exchange. Though Amazon declined to comment specifically on whether it uses data to shape or determine the content of its own books, the company acknowledged that authors are recruited for their past sales (as is common in traditional publishing). "Amazon Publishing titles are thoughtfully acquired by our team -- made up of publishing-industry veterans and long-time Amazonians -- with many factors taken into consideration," says Amazon Publishing publisher Mikyla Bruder, "including the acquiring editor's enthusiasm, the strength of the story, quality of the writing, editorial fit for our list, and author backlist/comparable titles' sales track."
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By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
Mark Wilson writes: Ads in your inbox. Sounds like something you'd expect from the likes of Google or Yahoo, but Microsoft appears to be about to get in on the act as well. And we're not talking about online ads in your Outlook.com account -- we're talking about ads in the Mail app that's included with Windows 10. A new report says that Microsoft is currently testing ads with Windows Insiders, so it could be just a matter of time before they spread wider. In a support page, spotted first by news outlet Thurrott, Microsoft says, "Consistent with consumer email apps and services like Outlook.com, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail, advertising allows us to provide, support, and improve some of our products. We're always experimenting with new features and experiences. Currently, we have a pilot running in Brazil, Canada, Australia, and India to get user feedback on ads in Mail." Update: ZDNet reports that Calendar app for Windows 10 is getting the same treatment.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's bloatware-in-apps department
Earlier this week, Google announced it is bringing business messaging to Maps, the latest in a myriad of features it has introduced to its mapping platform in recent months. A business that wants to participate will need to use Google's "My Business" verification system and its associated app to send and receive messages. While that could prove useful to a number of businesses and customers, it has raised a concern as well. From a report: But that leads me to my third feeling: what the heck is going on with Google Maps? It is becoming overburdened with so many features and design changes that it's becoming harder and harder to just get directions in it. There's Group Planning, there's a social-esque "follow" button for local businesses, you can share your ETA, there's a redesigned "Explore" section, and there's almost no way to get the damn thing to show you a cross street near your destination without three full minutes of desperate pinching and zooming and re-zooming. It's becoming bloated, is what I'm saying. It's Google's equivalent of Big Blue, as Facebook nicknames its flagship app that does a thousand things across countless strange nooks and crannies. It's as though Google wants to kill off Yelp once and for all, but can't let anybody notice how hard it's trying to do that so it just slow rolls those things into Google Maps instead.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's security-woes department
A database which contained millions of text messages used to authenticate users signing into websites was left exposed to the internet without a password. From the report: The exposed server belongs to Voxox (formerly Telcentris), a San Diego, Calif.-based communications company. The server wasn't protected with a password, allowing anyone who knew where to look to peek in and snoop on a near-real-time stream of text messages. For Sebastien Kaul, a Berlin-based security researcher, it didn't take long to find. Although Kaul found the exposed server on Shodan, a search engine for publicly available devices and databases, it was also attached to to one of Voxox's own subdomains. Worse, the database -- running on Amazon's Elasticsearch -- was configured with a Kibana front-end, making the data within easily readable, browsable and searchable for names, cell numbers and the contents of the text messages themselves.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Despite vast increases in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What went wrong? An anonymous reader shares a report: Today, there are more scientists, more funding for science, and more scientific papers published than ever before. On the surface, this is encouraging. But for all this increase in effort, are we getting a proportional increase in our scientific understanding? Or are we investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress? It's surprisingly difficult to measure scientific progress in meaningful ways. Part of the trouble is that it's hard to accurately evaluate how important any given scientific discovery is.
[...] With that in mind, we ran a survey asking scientists to compare Nobel prizewinning discoveries in their fields. We then used those rankings to determine how scientists think the quality of Nobel prizewinning discoveries has changed over the decades. As a sample survey question, we might ask a physicist which was a more important contribution to scientific understanding: the discovery of the neutron (the particle that makes up roughly half the ordinary matter in the universe) or the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation (the afterglow of the Big Bang). Think of the survey as a round-robin tournament, competitively matching discoveries against one another, with expert scientists judging which is better.
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By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
schwit1 writes: PlayStation users in Chicago on Wednesday began paying a 9 percent tax on streaming content as the gaming company starts complying with a city levy. The Sony-owned company joins other streaming services including Spotify, Netflix and Hulu in complying with the charge, which took effect three years ago. The city's amusement tax, which used to apply mostly to concert and sporting event tickets, was extended to include streaming services in 2015. That includes charges paid for playing games, according to Chicago's Finance Department. Some tech companies have fought the additional 9 percent charge. Apple filed a lawsuit against the city in August alleging the tax on its music streaming services was illegal and discriminatory. That suit is pending in Cook County Circuit Court. Meanwhile, Apple is not collecting the tax. In 2015, a group of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, XBox Live and Hulu users sued Chicago in Cook County, alleging the tax violates federal law. The judge ruled in the city's favor in May, and the streaming service users appealed the decision. The case is pending in state Appellate Court.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's inside-the-mind-of-bezos department
Days before Amazon announced the cities it had picked for its HQ2, CEO Jeff Bezos had to address a separate but related concern among employees: Where is all this headed? At an all-hands meeting last Thursday in Seattle, an employee asked Bezos about Amazon's future. Specifically, the questioner wanted to know what lessons Bezos has learned from the recent bankruptcies of Sears and other big retailers. From a report: "Amazon is not too big to fail," Bezos said, in a recording of the meeting that CNBC has heard. "In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years." The key to prolonging that demise, Bezos continued, is for the company to "obsess over customers" and to avoid looking inward, worrying about itself. "If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end," he said. "We have to try and delay that day for as long as possible." Bezos' comments come at a time of unprecedented success at Amazon, with its core retail business continuing to grow while the company is winning the massive cloud-computing market and gaining rapid adoption of its Alexa voice assistant in the home.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's observations-and-views department
Justin Kosslyn, who leads product management at Jigsaw, a unit within Alphabet that builds technology to address global security challenges, writes: The Internet's lack of friction made it great, but now our devotion to minimizing friction is perhaps the internet's weakest link for security. Friction -- delays and hurdles to speed and growth -- can be a win-win-win for users, companies, and security. It is time to abandon our groupthink bias against friction as a design principle. Highways have speed limits and drugs require prescriptions -- rules that limit how fast you can drive a vehicle or access a controlled substance -- yet digital information moves limitlessly. The same design philosophy that accelerated the flow of correspondence, news, and commerce also accelerates the flow of phishing, ransomware, and disinformation.
In the old days, it took time and work to steal secrets, blackmail people, and meddle across borders. Then came the internet. From the beginning, it was designed as a frictionless communication platform across countries, companies, and computers. Reducing friction is generally considered a good thing: it saves time and effort, and in many genuine ways makes our world smaller. There are also often financial incentives: more engagement, more ads, more dollars. But the internet's lack of friction has been a boon to the dark side, too. Now, in a matter of hours a "bad actor" can steal corporate secrets or use ransomware to blackmail thousands of people. Governments can influence foreign populations remotely and at relatively low cost. Whether the threat is malware, phishing, or disinformation, they all exploit high-velocity networks of computers and people.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's two-is-better-than-one department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) paved the way for improved GPS and location accuracy today, approving an order that will allow U.S. phones to access a European satellite system. The order allows non-federal consumer devices to access the European Union's version of GPS, which is also known as Galileo. The system is available globally, and it officially went live in 2016. By opening up access, devices that can retrieve a signal from both Galileo and the U.S. GPS system will see improved timing estimates and location reliability. The iPhone 8 was the first Apple product to support it. Other phone models from Huawei and Samsung support the system, too. "Since the debut of the first consumer handheld GPS device in 1989, consumers and industry in the United States have relied on the U.S. GPS to support satellite-based positioning, navigation, and timing services that are integral to everyday applications ranging from driving directions to precision farming," the FCC said in a release. Now, the U.S. system will be able to commingle with the European one, making the way for better reliability, range, and accuracy.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's law-of-attraction department
Tulsa, Oklahoma is offering full-time remote workers in the U.S. free office space, a subsidized furnished apartment, and $10,000 cash if you move there and stay for at least one year. The city wants to attract so-called "digital nomads," who would, presumably, start paying taxes, launch businesses, and otherwise contribute to the economy of wherever they're drawn to. Nextgov reports: Tulsa Remote is one of several revitalization projects in the region funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The Tulsa-based philanthropic organization was started by George B. Kaiser, an oil and banking billionaire who has signed on to Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates' "Giving Pledge," whose wealthy signees promise to give away at least half their fortunes to charity.
The organization has budgeted for 20 new remote workers in the program's first year, says Ken Levit, GKFF's executive director. Applicants must be at least 18, eligible to work in the U.S., already working full-time for an employer based outside the boundaries of Tulsa County, and prepared to move to Tulsa within six months. Applications opened Tuesday at the website TulsaRemote.com; the city hopes to settle the first new residents within the next three months, Levit said.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's what-will-they-think-of-next department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A spinning turbine that can capture wind traveling in any direction and could transform how consumers generate electricity in cities has won its inventors a prestigious international award and ~$38,000 prize. Nicolas Orellana, 36, and Yaseen Noorani, 24, MSc students at Lancaster University, scooped the James Dyson award for their O-Wind Turbine, which -- in a technological first -- takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical winds without requiring steering.
O-Wind Turbine is a 25cm sphere with geometric vents that sits on a fixed axis and spins when wind hits it from any direction. When wind energy turns the device, gears drive a generator that converts the power of the wind into electricity. The students believe the device, which could take at least five years to be put into commercial production, could be installed on large structures such as the side of a building or balcony, where wind speeds are highest. Dyson, who chose the winners, hailed it as "an ingenious concept." He continued: "Designing something that solves a problem is an intentionally broad brief. It invites talented, young inventors to do more than just identify real problems. It empowers them to use their ingenuity to develop inventive solutions. O-Wind Turbine does exactly that. It takes the enormous challenge of producing renewable energy and using geometry it can harness energy in places where we've scarcely been looking -- cities."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's emerging-tech department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: At a recent air show in the city of Zhuhai, state-owned Chinese defense giant China Electronics Technology Group Corporation displayed what it claims to be a quantum radar that's able to detect even the stealthiest of stealth aircraft. The company claims to have been working on the technology for years, and to have tested it for the first time in 2015. In principle, a quantum radar functions like a regular radar -- only that instead of sending out a single beam of electromagnetic energy, it uses two split streams of entangled photons. Only one of these beams is sent out, but due to a quirk of quantum physics both streams will display the same changes, despite being potentially miles apart. As a result, by looking at the stream which remains back home it's possible to work out what has happened to the other beam. According to a brochure from the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, the new quantum radar could "solve the traditional bottleneck [of] detection of low observable target detection, survival under electronic warfare conditions, [and] platform load limitations."Read Replies (0)