SciTechBlog
May 26, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Hornet's Nest' rounds out trilogy

Posted: 04:04 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Do you know Lisbeth Salandar? The tattooed, bisexual, computer hacker is one of the most popular characters in fiction since Harry Potter. She’s also the unlikely heroine of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millennium trilogy.

The third and perhaps final book of the series set in Sweden, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” hit store shelves on Tuesday but it’s been a bestseller for the past several months, ranking among the top pre-orders online. The book has generated huge anticipation among U.S. readers.

It was released in Europe last fall but hardcore fans who couldn’t wait have been paying $50 or more to buy the book from overseas, a practice the book’s publisher calls illegal.

Nevertheless, the millions who read the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and its sequel “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” are about to be rewarded in the Nordic Noir finale. The new novel picks up right where the last book ended.

Salander is in intensive care at a Swedish hospital, with several gunshot wounds, including a bullet in her brain. She’s fighting for her life and facing murder charges.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: books • Geek Out!


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February 16, 2010

Report: Steve Jobs to cooperate on biography

Posted: 12:19 PM ET

Reclusive Apple CEO Steve Jobs will lend his approval, and cooperation, to a book about his life, according to a report in The New York Times.

The authorized biography will be written by Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time magazine, says the Times, referencing two unnamed people briefed on the project. "The book, which is in the early planning stages, would cover the entire life of Mr. Jobs, from his youth in the area now known as Silicon Valley through his years at Apple, these people said."

Isaacson is the author of bestselling biographies of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. Neither he nor Apple (big surprise) would comment to the Times about the rumors.

"The news will come as no surprise to anyone who has worked with Isaacson," writes Fortune's Philip Elmer DeWitt, who spotted Isaacson in the audience at last month's iPad launch event in San Francisco.

"If there is one thread that runs through his [Isaacson's] long career in journalism and public service, it's his talent for spotting the most influential people in any room and finding a way to get close to them," wrote DeWitt in a post today on Fortune's site.

There's no doubt that Jobs' life story would make a compelling read. From his role in helping to pioneer the personal computer in the late 1970s to his contentious departure from Apple and triumphant 1997 return to his more recent appearances as iconic pitchman for such revolutionary products as the iPod and iPhone, Jobs has had a remarkable career.

Throw in last year's health scare - Jobs had a liver transplant after losing an alarming amount of weight - and his reputation as a brilliant but secretive tech visionary, and you have a larger-than-life character with enough drama for several books.

The question is whether Jobs will allow Isaacson to write candidly about Jobs' demanding managment style and king-sized ego. According to the Times, Jobs has reacted angrily to some of the unauthorized biographies of him that have appeared in recent years and has even directed Apple stores to temporarily stop selling other books from the same publishers.

"Cooperation with Mr. Isaacson could be a sign that Mr. Jobs has emerged from his recent health battles with more of an interest in shaping his legacy," the Times wrote.

What do you think? Will an authorized biography of Steve Jobs shed meaningful new light on a fascinating figure, or will it be a self-serving homage to someone who doesn't need more hype?

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Filed under: Apple • books


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February 3, 2010

eBooks get more expensive

Posted: 11:15 AM ET

Amazon has given in to publisher pressure and agreed to abandon their $9.99 price point for eBooks.

Publisher Macmillan felt that the $9.99 price devalued many of its bestsellers, which often sell for $30 in hardcover format. In response to the pricing dispute, Amazon briefly removed all Macmillan books from its store last week. However, the boycott lasted only a few days before Amazon gave in to Macmillan's demands.

In a statement Sunday, Amazon defended its position to customers:

Macmillan, one of the "big six" publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.

Amazon's decision to throw in the towel may be related to Macmillian's recent agreement to sell books in Apple's iBookstore. Amazon has captured an overwhelming share of the eBook market with its Kindle reader, but if the iPad becomes successful publishers may turn to Apple to sell their eBooks.

During a recent News Corp. earnings call, CEO Rupert Murdoch indicated that HarperCollins may follow Macmillan's example. "We don’t like the Amazon model of $9.99," Murdoch told investors, according to a recap in MediaMemo. "We think it really devalues books and hurts all the retailers of hardcover books... Apple in its agreement with us, which has not been disclosed in detail, does allow for a variety of slightly higher prices."

Publishers seem more interested in protecting the value of their hardcover books than competing in a digital format. Will higher eBook prices convince you to purchase a physical copy of your next novel, or will accept a modest price increase given that eBooks are typically cheaper?

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Filed under: Amazon • Apple • books • e-readers • iPad


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September 4, 2009

Amazon returns deleted Kindle books

Posted: 05:40 PM ET

Amazon upset many Kindle owners when, in typical Big Brother fashion, it remotely deleted improperly distributed copies of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and several other novels from private e-book readers this July. Despite receiving a refund for the books, many Kindle owners felt their personal property had been violated.

Yesterday Amazon e-mailed customers affected by the mass deletion and offered them a free, and no doubt properly licensed, copy of any book they lost, or the option of a check for $30.

Read an apology from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the full letter Kindle users received below.

Hello,

On July 23, 2009, Jeff Bezos, our Founder and CEO, made the following apology to our customers:

“This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,
Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com”

As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of [title] from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made. You will not be charged for the book. If you do not wish to have us re-deliver the book to your Kindle, you can instead choose to receive an Amazon.com electronic gift certificate or check for $30.

Please email Kindle customer support at kindle-response@amazon.com to indicate your preference. If you prefer to receive a check, please also provide your mailing address.

We look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
The Kindle Team

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Filed under: books • consumer tech • DRM


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August 14, 2009

Microsoft backs IE 6, and other Friday news

Posted: 11:28 AM ET

Here's a round up of a few tech stories you should know about before heading into the weekend.

Microsoft: A group of Web developers is out to kill Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 Web browser. But, according to the BBC, the software giant is standing behind the product - in part because it has to keep the browser going for corporate customers:

"Friends do not let friends use IE6," Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer, told the network.

"If you are in my social set and I have been to your house for dinner, you are not using IE6," she said. "But it is much more complicated when you move into a business setting."

"It's hard to be cavalier in this economy and say 'oh it's been around for so long they need to upgrade,'" Ms. Barzdukas told journalists in San Francisco.

RockMelt: Tech blogs are abuzz this morning with news of a new browser called RockMelt, which has the support of Netscape founder Marc Andreessen. That gives it a hefty bit of street cred in the tech community. Andreessen tells the New York Times that browsers are somewhat behind the times:

“There are all kinds of things that you would do differently if you are building a browser from scratch,” Mr. Andreessen said.

RockMelt is rumored to work with Facebook, which is something the blog Mashable finds particularly interesting.

eBooks: Sony has announced that its e-readers soon will accept books published in an open format called ePub. GigaOm heralds the move as good for consumers. It stands in contrast to Amazon's apparent desire to keep its e-books on its Kindle reader,although there are worries Sony's format won't be completely open. More from GigaOm:

Amazon’s e-book ambitions go beyond simply selling a lot of Kindle devices. Taking a page from Apple’s iTunes playbook, its goal is to establish Kindle as the dominant e-book publishing and distribution platform. And as Apple has amply demonstrated, when you control the platform, you control the value chain, which means you reap a disproportionate share of the value that’s exchanged.

Twitter: Time to give that left index finger a rest. If you're sick of typing "RT" in front of all those tweets you republish on your feed, then you'll like this news from Twitter's blog: The micro-blogging site is adding a "re-tweet" feature. Expect it to launch in a few weeks.

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Filed under: books • browsers • Microsoft Corp. • Twitter


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July 22, 2009

Amazon faces criticism for deleting e-books

Posted: 04:49 PM ET

Last week owners of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader felt the painful effects of DRM (Digital Rights Management) when Amazon remotely removed copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from their libraries.

Amazon explained that the books had been mistakenly released and the e-book publisher did not own the rights to sell the either novel. However, the company's explanation and a refund did not appease readers who felt their personal copy of 1984 was remotely destroyed by Big Brother.

The Internet lit up with blogs and forum posts condemning Amazon's actions. InformationWeek claims Amazon can't keep its promises, and Slate likens the deletion to book-banning's digital future:

Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely.

[Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain] writes: "Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysses had been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban."

Police routinely confiscate stolen property. But copyright infringement, similar to possessing improperly licensed books, was determined by the Supreme Court case of Dowling vs. United States not to constitute theft. Amazon's actions were an effort to please publishers who wanted the book pulled rather than a legal requirement.

Amazon has acknowledged that deleting the books from users' personal devices may have been a mistake. In an e-mail to the New York Times Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said, “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.”

Do you think Amazon's decision to remotely delete the books was justified to defend copyright, or should digital content hold the same protections as physical property? Will Amazon's promise to change its policy restore your confidence in the Kindle?

Update [July 24, 2009]

On Thursday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted this apology on a Kindle community public forum:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com

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Filed under: books • consumer tech • DRM • gadgets


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May 8, 2009

NYT: New Kindle can't say 'Barack Obama'

Posted: 10:06 AM ET

The New York Times has a tech story today that's too interesting not to share.

The paper says that the new, larger Amazon Kindle - which has been talked up as a savior for books and newspapers - has "a ways to go" when it comes to pronouncing some newsworthy words.

Chief among them: Barack  and Obama.

From what the paper says, the Kindle gives the president's name a sort of hard-vowel, Midwestern flair:

In particular, the voice of the Kindle mispronounces two important words that show up often in the pages of newspapers: “Barack” (the device rhymes it with “black”) and “Obama” (sounds like “Alabama”).

The science behind computerized voice features has come a long way, but apparently still has a ways to go.

This CNN story has more on how the voice technology works, and points out that a debate over rights for audiobooks has sprung up with the technology:

Today's synthetic voices can't match human talent (such as an actor hired to read audio books). But they do enable some interesting options.

For instance instead of having just one narrator, you can switch between voices, including male and female, as on the Kindle 2. You might not use this option, but it's there, and it will likely get better over time. Hemingway with a feminine touch, anyone?

The Kindle uses voice technology from Nuance Communications, which can create all kinds of voices. The Kindle gives users limited selection, but it's easy to imagine future reading devices offering a wide variety. Each voice lends its own effect.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • books • Internet


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July 2, 2008

Smell this book! and other summer reading

Posted: 10:04 AM ET

Summer ReadingOkay, class, here are a few more summer-reading books you might want to check out.
Please bear with me; I'm a middle manager in a TV network - this is my best opportunity to prove to a large number of people that I can actually read. Sorry I didn't include any links here - it's probably inappropriate for us to favor one bookselling site over another. But if you're interested, you can figure it out........

We all have a nose, and know how to use it. The study of how we go about that, however, is not too sophisticated. What the Nose Knows, by Avery Gilbert is a great book on an overlooked topic. Want to know how smell works? Where it played a big role in pop culture or history? How industries and marketers have co-opted and synthesized smells for their own purposes? How 'bout the chemical structure of those less pleasant smells we all encounter, or emit? Well, you should get a whiff of this book, then. Gilbert combines a scientist's sense of wonder, a scent-making professional's sensibility, and a slightly Beavis + Butt-Head -like fascination with aroma.

Charlatan, by Pope Brock: Dr. John R. Brinkley was seen as a savior of marriages and an author of modern medical marvels. For a fee, he helped countless men roar during the 1920's - by installing a booster set of goat testicles in them. Many thought it restored virility, despite a total lack of evidence. Many didn't survive the operation. Brock writes with a flair, describing the mood of heartland America back then, and recounting the work of Brinkley's nemesis, master fraudbuster Morris Fishbein. It's a great parable for how gullible we can be, told with a sense of irony that's probably essential when your subject matter is swindling people through the use of goat testicles.

The Dumbest Generation Mark Bauerlein is an Emory University English professor and former researcher at the National Endowment for the Arts. He makes the case that video games, text messaging, cellphones, and all the trappings of 21st Century communication have turned our children into shallow morons with tiny attention spans. But Bauerlein falls well short of making a complete sale on this. He deftly uses stats and studies to track the inability of young folks to identify, for example, the three branches of government. He also does a good job of tracking how analytical skills have fallen by the wayside, since we have so many electronic devices to do our thinking for us. What's missing are the benefits - both real and potential - of the wealth of information we have here in the Information Age: How it's used, and how it could be leveraged better. Bauerlein points out the popularity of games that seem to have no moral compass whatsoever, like Grand Theft Auto, without acknowledging that many other games help with everything from motor skills to organizational skills.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer, CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: books • Gaming • Internet • science • Scientists • video games


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June 18, 2008

Reading up on hurricanes

Posted: 10:24 AM ET

Here are a few of my favorite books on hurricanes for your summer reading pleasure. You might want to crack one of these open on the beach - assuming the beach isn't being evacuated for a hurricane.  None of these are new releases, but they're all keepers.

"Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms," by Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid. These two journalists from the New Orleans Times-Picayune probably did their most important reporting on Hurricane Katrina more than two years before the storm wiped out much of their city. While they do an outstanding job of chronicling the way that the disaster was managed - and mis-managed, Schleifstein and McQuaid wrote an extensive series for their paper in 2002. "Washing Away" served as a full preview of what Katrina would do two years later.

"Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming" by Chris Mooney stakes out the sides in one of the most active scientific debates in climate science. Was Katrina and the rest of the hellacious 2005 hurricane season a herald of global warming? Or part of a natural cycle? Mooney looks beyond the ideological polemics and profiles the scientists on both side.

"The Great Hurricane of 1938" by Cherie Burns is a quick, compelling read on what a killer storm can do to the Northeast. The '38 storm tore through Long Island and Connecticut, wiped out a sandspit resort community in Rhode Island, then sent a wall of water through the streets of Providence, killing 700 along the way. Some say we're overdue for another one - and this book may be the blueprint.

And the one, unlike "The Perfect Storm," that is still waiting to be made into a major motion picture: "Isaac's Storm," Erik Larson's recounting of the 1900 hurricane that leveled Galveston, Texas and claimed over 6,000 lives. Larson's tale of the utter chaos and misery in the wake of the storm is made even sadder by the backwardness of the U.S. Weather Bureau, which ignored storm warnings posted by the Cuban weather service.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: books • hurricanes • Severe weather • Weather


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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