Lord of the Rings

Why Scientists Love 'Lord of the Rings' 178

Posted by Soulskill
from the even-the-very-wise-cannot-see-all-the-ends dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Julie Beck writes in The Atlantic that though science and fantasy seem to be polar opposites, a Venn diagram of "scientists" and "Lord of the Rings fans" have a large overlap which could (lovingly!) be labeled "nerds." Several animal species have been named after characters from the books, including wasps, crocodiles, and even a dinosaur named after Sauron, "Given Tolkien's passion for nomenclature, his coinage, over decades, of enormous numbers of euphonious names—not to mention scientists' fondness for Tolkien—it is perhaps inevitable that Tolkien has been accorded formal taxonomic commemoration like no other author," writes Henry Gee. Other disciplines aren't left out of the fun—there's a geologically interesting region in Australia called the "Mordor Alkaline Igneous Complex," a pair of asteroids named "Tolkien" and "Bilbo," and a crater on Mercury also named "Tolkien."

"It has been documented that Middle-Earth caught the attention of students and practitioners of science from the early days of Tolkien fandom. For example, in the 1960s, the Tolkien Society members were said to mainly consist of 'students, teachers, scientists, or psychologists,'" writes Kristine Larsen, an astronomy professor at Central Connecticut State University, in her paper "SAURON, Mount Doom, and Elvish Moths: The Influence of Tolkien on Modern Science." "When you have scientists who are fans of pop culture, they're going to see the science in it," says Larson. "It's just such an intricate universe. It's so geeky. You can delve into it. There's the languages of it, the geography of it, and the lineages. It's very detail oriented, and scientists in general like things that have depth and detail." Larson has also written papers on using Tolkien as a teaching tool, and discusses with her astronomy students, for example, the likelihood that the heavenly body Borgil, which appears in the first book of the trilogy, can be identified as the star Aldebaran. "I use this as a hook to get students interested in science," says Larson. "I'm also interested in recovering all the science that Tolkien quietly wove into Middle Earth because there's science in there that the casual reader has not recognized."
Books

Free Comic Book Day Event Features Neil Gaiman, the Simpsons 33

Posted by timothy
from the before-it's-too-late dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Today comic book stores around the world celebrate "Free Comic Book Day", offering anyone who pays them a visit some free comic books. This year there's 50 different titles to choose from, including a reprint of Neil Gaiman's "Lady Justice" (not seen in print in nearly 25 years) and a new Fight Club story by Chuck Palahniuk. The Marvel and D.C. universes are represented, as well as Dr. Who, The Simpsons, Jim Henson's Labyrinth, and even something called Steampunk Goldilocks. Saturday many bookstores will also be recognizing "Independent Bookstores Day" with special events, though ironically, some fans may be tempted to visit Amazon.com instead to download some free Kindle editions of last year's free comic books.
Books

Obama Announces e-Book Scheme For Low-Income Communities 126

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-get-a-book-and-you-get-a-book-and-you-get-a-book dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The White House has today launched an initiative encouraging top book publishers to supply $250 million worth of free e-books to low-income students. Partnering with local governments and schools nationwide, President Obama hopes that the e-book scheme will support low-income households who significantly trail the national average for computer ownership and digital connectivity. At Anacostia Library in Southeast Washington, D.C., Obama announced that libraries and schools in poorer communities would be supported by the scheme and efforts would be made to increase internet access at these establishments. Publishers involved in the program include Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Bloomsbury, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. NGOs, such as book donation charity Firstbook, and public libraries will also be working together to develop apps to support the digital reading program.
Censorship

Joseph Goebbels' Estate Sues Publisher Over Diary Excerpt Royalties 301

Posted by timothy
from the new-meaning-for-moral-rights dept.
wabrandsma writes with this from The Guardian: The estate of Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's minister of propaganda, is taking legal action against the publisher Random House over a new biography, claiming payment for the use of extracts from his diaries. Peter Longerich's biography of Goebbels is to be published in May (Random House/ Siedler). Longerich, who is the professor at Royal Holloway's Holocaust Research Centre, maintains this case has important censorship implications. 'If you accept that a private person controls the rights to Goebbels' diaries, then – theoretically – you give this person the right to control research,' he said.
Sony

Hacked Sony Emails Reveal That Sony Had Pirated Books About Hacking 59

Posted by timothy
from the elephant-books-all-the-way-down dept.
An anonymous reader writes Sony has done a lot of aggressive anti-piracy work in their time, which makes it that much funnier that pirated ebooks were found on their servers from the 2014 hacks that just went on to WikiLeaks. Better yet, the pirated books are educational books about hacking called "Inside Cyber Warfare" and "Hacking the Next Generation" from O'Reilly publishers.
Books

Book Review: Networking For System Administrators 33

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Saint Aardvark writes Michael W. Lucas has been writing technical books for a long time, drawing on his experience as both a system and a network administrator. He has mastered the art of making it both easy and enjoyable to inhale large amounts of information; that's my way of saying he writes books well and he's a funny guy. Networking for System Administrators, available both in DRM-free ebook and dead tree formats, is his latest book, and it's no exception to this trend. Keep reading for the rest of Saint Aardvark's review.
Books

Hugo Awards Turn (Even More) Political 587

Posted by samzenpus
from the can't-we-all-just-get-along? dept.
An anonymous reader writes Last year, the Hugo Awards went to mostly minorities and women. In response, a fan group decided to fight back against what they saw as a liberal attack on their medium. It appears that they have succeeded, as the 2015 nominees are predominantly chosen by a group called "Sad Puppies. Now a counter-counter group is trying to ensure that no one wins any Hugo awards in any category except Best Novel.
Books

Sen. Feinstein Says Anarchist Cookbook Should Be "Removed From the Internet" 538

Posted by timothy
from the applied-civics dept.
schwit1 writes with this snippet from Ars Technica: In the wake of the Thursday arrest of two women accused of attempting to build a bomb, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote on her website that the 1971 book on bomb making, which may have aided the terror suspects in some small way, should be "banned from the Internet."

The senator seems to fail to realize that not only has The Anarchist Cookbook been in print for decades (it's sold on Amazon!), but also has openly circulated online for nearly the same period of time. In short, removing it from the Internet would be impossible.
Books

Book Review: Drush For Developers, 2nd Edition 29

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Michael Ross writes As with any content management system, building a website using Drupal typically requires extensive use of its administrative interface, as one navigates through its menus, fills out its forms, and reads the admin pages and notifications — or barely skims them, as they have likely been seen by the site builder countless times before. With the aim of avoiding this tedium, speeding up the process, and making it more programmatic, members of the Drupal community created a "shell" program, Drush, which allows one to perform most of these tasks on the command line. At this time, there is only one current print book that covers this tool, Drush for Developers, Second Edition, which is ostensibly an update of its predecessor, Drush User's Guide. Read below for the rest of Michael's review.
Books

Book Review: Future Crimes 27

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
benrothke writes Technology is neutral and amoral. It's the implementers and users who define its use. In Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It, author Marc Goodman spends nearly 400 pages describing the dark side of technology, and those who use it for nefarious purposes. He provides a fascinating overview of how every major technology can be used to benefit society, and how it can also be exploited by those on the other side. Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
Censorship

Feds Attempt To Censor Parts of a New Book About the Hydrogen Bomb 341

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can't-do-that-on-bookovision dept.
HughPickens.com writes: The atom bomb — leveler of Hiroshima and instant killer of some 80,000 people — is just a pale cousin compared to the hydrogen bomb, which easily packs the punch of a thousand Hiroshimas. That is why Washington has for decades done everything in its power to keep the details of its design out of the public domain. Now William J. Broad reports in the NY Times that Kenneth W. Ford has defied a federal order to cut material from his new book that the government says teems with thermonuclear secrets. Ford says he included the disputed material because it had already been disclosed elsewhere and helped him paint a fuller picture of an important chapter of American history. But after he volunteered the manuscript for a security review, federal officials told him to remove about 10 percent of the text, or roughly 5,000 words. "They wanted to eviscerate the book," says Ford. "My first thought was, 'This is so ridiculous I won't even respond.'" For instance, the federal agency wanted him to strike a reference to the size of the first hydrogen test device — its base was seven feet wide and 20 feet high. Dr. Ford responded that public photographs of the device, with men, jeeps and a forklift nearby, gave a scale of comparison that clearly revealed its overall dimensions.

Though difficult to make, hydrogen bombs are attractive to nations and militaries because their fuel is relatively cheap. Inside a thick metal casing, the weapon relies on a small atom bomb that works like a match to ignite the hydrogen fuel. Today, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are the only declared members of the thermonuclear club, each possessing hundreds or thousands of hydrogen bombs. Military experts suspect that Israel has dozens of hydrogen bombs. India, Pakistan and North Korea are seen as interested in acquiring the potent weapon. The big secret the book discusses is thermal equilibrium, the discovery that the temperature of the hydrogen fuel and the radiation could match each other during the explosion (PDF). World Scientific, a publisher in Singapore, recently made Dr. Ford's book public in electronic form, with print versions to follow. Ford remains convinced the book "contains nothing whatsoever whose dissemination could, by any stretch of the imagination, damage the United States or help a country that is trying to build a hydrogen bomb." "Were I to follow all — or even most — of your suggestions," says Ford, "it would destroy the book."
Books

Modern PHP: New Features and Good Practices 182

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Michael Ross writes In recent years, JavaScript has enjoyed a dramatic renaissance as it has been transformed from a browser scripting tool primarily used for special effects and form validation on web pages, to a substantial client-side programming language. Similarly, on the server side, after years as the target of criticism, the PHP computer programming language is seeing a revival, partly due to the addition of new capabilities, such as namespaces, traits, generators, closures, and components, among other improvements. PHP enthusiasts and detractors alike can learn more about these changes from the book Modern PHP: New Features and Good Practices, authored by Josh Lockhart. Keep reading for the rest of Michael's review.
Books

New Site Mocks Bad Artwork On Ebook Covers 59

Posted by timothy
from the modern-dorm-room-posters dept.
An anonymous reader writes A British newspaper is celebrating "the world's worst ebook artwork", as discovered by the creator of a new Tumblr feed. 'It's the hubris of it that people get a kick out of — the devil-may-care attitude of an author who, with zero arts training, says to themselves: "How hard can it be?" Two different authors simply cut-and-pasted smaller images over a background showing the planets, according to one Kindle blog, which notes that one author actually pasted eyes and lips onto the planets, creating an inadvertently creepy montage. But the site's creator tells the newspaper that it's ultimately meant to be an affectionate tribute to their rejection of the mundane and appreciating each creative and beautiful mess.
Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson Says Colonizing Mars Won't Be As Easy As He Thought 228

Posted by Soulskill
from the canceling-my-retirement-vacation dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from io9: Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy filled us all with hope that we could terraform Mars in the 21st century, with its plausible description of terraforming processes. But now, in the face of what we've learned about Mars in the past 20 years, he no longer thinks it'll be that easy. Talking to SETI's Blog Picture Science podcast, Robinson explains that his ideas about terraforming Mars, back in the 1990s, were based on three assumptions that have been called into question or disproved:

1) Mars doesn't have any life on it at all. And now, it's looking more likely that there could be bacteria living beneath the surface. 2) There would be enough of the chemical compounds we need to survive. 3) There's nothing poisonous to us on the surface. In fact, the surface is covered with perchlorates, which are highly toxic to humans, and the original Viking mission did not detect these. "It's no longer a simple matter," Robinson says. "It's possible that we could occupy, inhabit and terraform Mars. But it's probably going to take a lot longer than I described in my books."
Sci-Fi

Sir Terry Pratchett Succumbs To "the Embuggerance," Aged 66 299

Posted by timothy
from the now-the-world-is-worse-off dept.
New submitter sp1nl0ck writes Sir Terry Pratchett, the creator of Discworld, has died aged 66, following a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. Sir Terry announced that he was suffering from The Embuggerance in an open letter to fans over seven years ago, and recently had to cancel a planned appearance at the International Discworld Convention last summer, and donated over £500K of his own money to research into the condition. He also spoke in favour of a euthanasia tribunal, the members of which would consider the case of each '...applicant...to ensure they are of sound and informed mind, firm in their purpose, suffering from a life-threatening and incurable disease and not under the influence of a third party'. Sadly, he didn't survive long enough to see such a tribunal — or indeed any kind of assistance for those suffering from an incurable condition who wish to end their own life — come into being. More at the BBC.
Sci-Fi

Some of the Greatest Science Fiction Novels Are Fix-Ups 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the pendulum-swinging-back dept.
HughPickens.com writes: What do science fiction classics like Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, Van Vogt's Voyage of the Space Beagle, Simak's City, and Sturgeon's More Than Human have in common? Each of them is a "fix-up" — a novel constructed out of short stories that were previously published on their own. "This used to be one standard way to write a science fiction novel — publish a series of stories that all take place in the same world, and then knit them together into a book," says Charlie Jane Anders. "Sometimes a great deal of revision happened, to turn the separate stories into a single narrative and make sure all the threads joined up. Sometimes, the stories remain pretty separate but there are links between them."

The Golden Age science fiction publishing market was heavily geared toward magazines and short stories. And then suddenly, there was this huge demand for tons of novels. According to Andrew Liptak, this left many science fiction authors caught in a hard place: Many had come to depend on the large number of magazines on the market that would pay them for their work, and as readership declined, so too did the places in which to publish original fiction. The result was an innovative solution: repackage a number of preexisting short stories by adding to or rewriting portions of them to work together as a single story. This has its advantages; you get more narrative "payoff" with a collection of stories that also forms a single continuous meta-story than you do with a single over-arching novel — because each story has its own conclusion, and yet the story builds towards a bigger resolution. Fix-ups are a good, representative example of the transition that the publishing industry faced at the time, and how its authors adapted. Liptak says, "It's a lesson that's well-worth looking closely at, as the entire publishing industry faces new technological challenges and disruptions from the likes of self-publishing and micro-press platforms."
Books

Book Review: Data and Goliath 51

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
benrothke writes Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World, author Bruce Schneier could have justifiably written an angry diatribe full of vitriol against President Obama and the NSA for their wholesale spying on innocent Americans and violations of myriad laws. Instead, he was written a thoroughly convincing and brilliant book about big data, mass surveillance and the ensuing privacy dangers facing everyone. A comment like what's the big deal? often indicates a naiveté about a serious significant underlying issue. The idea that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear is a dangerously narrow concept on the value of privacy. For many people the notion that the NSA was performing spying on Americans was perceived as not being a big deal, since if a person is innocent, then what do they have to worry about. In the book, Schneier debunks that myth and many others, and defends the importance of privacy. Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
China

China's Arthur C. Clarke 187

Posted by timothy
from the visionaries-are-unevenly-distributed dept.
HughPickens.com writes Joshua Rothman has a very interesting article in The New Yorker about Liu Cixin, China's most popular science-fiction writer. The author of thirteen books has retained his day job as a computer engineer with a State-run power plant in a remote part of Shanxi province, because it helps him to stay grounded, enabling him to "gaze at the unblemished sky" as many of his co-workers do. In China, Cixin is about as famous as William Gibson in the United States and Cixin is often compared to Arthur C. Clarke, whom he cites as an influence. Rothman writes that American science fiction draws heavily on American culture, of course—the war for independence, the Wild West, film noir, sixties psychedelia—and so humanity's imagined future often looks a lot like America's past. For an American reader, one of the pleasures of reading Liu is that his stories draw on entirely different resources.

For example, in The Wages of Humanity, visitors from space demand the redistribution of Earth's wealth, and explain that runaway capitalism almost destroyed their civilization. In Taking Care of Gods, the hyper-advanced aliens who, billions of years ago, engineered life on Earth descend from their spaceships; they turn out to be little old men with canes and long, white beards. "We hope that you will feel a sense of filial duty towards your creators and take us in," they say. "I doubt that any Western sci-fi writer has so thoroughly explored the theme of filial piety," writes Rothman. In another story, The Devourer, a character asks, "What is civilization? Civilization is devouring, ceaselessly eating, endlessly expanding." But you can't expand forever; perhaps it would be better, another character suggests, to establish a "self-sufficient, introspective civilization." "At the core of Liu's sensibility," concludes Rothamn, "is a philosophical interest in the problem of limits. How should we react to the inherent limitations of life? Should we push against them or acquiesce?"