News

Can You Copyright a Joke? (npr.org) 229

Reader AnalogDiehard writes: Writer Alex Kaseburg has filed a lawsuit against TBS and Time Warner alleging that jokes recited on the Conan O'Brien show were stolen from his blog shortly after they were published. The case gets heard in August and could create new protections in a legal forum in which there is little precedent or clear definition in what defines a joke as "original" and subject to legal protection, especially in an industry where theft of humor occurs on a regular basis. But the outcome of any judicial decision opens a big can of worms and raises serious questions: Will YouTube videos get shut down from DMCA notices citing copyrighted jokes? Will compliance staff have to be retained to ensure that their magazine or news article, TV show, movie, or broadway act is not infringing on copyrighted jokes? Will copyrights on jokes get near-perpetual protection like the controversial Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act? Will people be able to recite limericks without fear of infringing? Will tyrannical politicians copyright critical jokes to oppress freedom of speech? Will legal cases be filed arguing that a comedian's joke(s) bears too much similarity to a copyrighted joke recited decades ago? Will girl scouts be free to tell copyright jokes around the campfire?
Australia

How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout (nytimes.com) 149

Not very pleased with your internet speeds? Think about the people Down Under. Australia's "bungled" National Broadband Network (NBN) has been used as a "cautionary tale" for other countries to take note of. Despite the massive amount of money being pumped into the NBN, the New York Times reports, the internet speeds still lagged behind the US, most of western Europe, Japan and South Korea -- even Kenya. The article highlights that Australia was the first country where a national plan to cover every house or business was considered and this ambitious plan was hampered by changes in government and a slow rollout (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), partly because of negotiations with Telstra about the fibre installation. From the report: Australia, a wealthy nation with a widely envied quality of life, lags in one essential area of modern life: its internet speed. Eight years after the country began an unprecedented broadband modernization effort that will cost at least 49 billion Australian dollars, or $36 billion, its average internet speed lags that of the United States, most of Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In the most recent ranking of internet speeds by Akamai, a networking company, Australia came in at an embarrassing No. 51, trailing developing economies like Thailand and Kenya. For many here, slow broadband connections are a source of frustration and an inspiration for gallows humor. One parody video ponders what would happen if an American with a passion for Instagram and streaming "Scandal" were to switch places with an Australian resigned to taking bathroom breaks as her shows buffer. The article shares this anecdote: "Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have downloaded Hand of Fate, an action video game made by a studio in Brisbane, Defiant Development. But when Defiant worked with an audio designer in Melbourne, more than 1,000 miles away, Mr. Jaffit knew it would be quicker to send a hard drive by road than to upload the files, which could take several days."
United States

US Hacker Sets Off 156 Sirens At Midnight (dallasnews.com) 230

"I had the displeasure of being awoken at midnight to the sounds of civil-defense/air-raid sirens," writes very-long-time Slashdot reader SigIO, blaming "some schmuck with a twisted sense of humor." The Dallas News reports: Rocky Vaz, director of Dallas' Office of Emergency Management, said that all 156 of the city's sirens were activated more than a dozen times... Dallas officials blame computer hacking for setting off emergency sirens throughout the city early Saturday... It took until about 1:20 a.m. to silence them for good because the emergency system had to be deactivated. The system remained shut down Saturday while crews safeguarded it from another hack.

The city has figured out how the emergency system was compromised and is working to prevent it from happening again, he said... The city said the system should be restored Sunday or Monday.

City officials reported 4,400 calls to their 9-1-1 emergency phone number in the first four hours of Saturday morning, with over 800 occurring in that first 15 minutes when all 156 sirens started going off simultaneously.
Education

'Grammar Vigilante' Secretly Corrects Bristol Street Signs (irishtimes.com) 158

An anonymous reader shares a report: A self-confessed "grammar vigilante" has been secretly correcting bad punctuation on street signs and shop fronts in Bristol for more than a decade. The anonymous crusader carries out his work in the dead of night using the "Apostrophiser" -- a long-handled tool he created to reach the highest signs. The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the BBC that correcting rogue apostrophes is his speciality.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Issues April Fool's Day Newsletter (eff.org) 21

An anonymous reader writes: There were some surprises in today's edition of the EFF's "EFFector" newsletter. Noting that it's their sqrt(-1)th issue, they report that the EU will protect the privacy of its data by building a 30-foot wall around the United States. "Only U.S. tech companies that comply with EU privacy restrictions and prohibit U.S. government access to their data will be given fiber optic grappling hooks to transport Europeans' data across the Atlantic, over the wall, and back to their U.S.-based servers."

The newsletter also reports that the bipartisan leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Intelligence Committees "apologized during a press conference this morning for failing to provide rigorous supervision of the intelligence community." And the newsletter also reports that Deadpool won an Oscar after PricewaterhouseCoopers mistakenly handed the presenters an envelope with a list of the most-frequently torrent-ed movie of 2016. But perhaps its most unexpected headline is "Comcast to Assimilate with the Borg."

The Borg said the deal would increase its market share, nationwide reach, and overall reputation for evil -- while Comcast claimed that the deal would boost competition.
It's funny.  Laugh.

Steve Wozniak's Biographer Pranked By Woz's Mom? (groovypost.com) 11

An anonymous reader writes: Gina Smith is the co-author of Steve Wozniak's 2006 biography. On the day that Steve Jobs died, she posted a poignant story Woz had shared about their early days in Silicon Valley, remembering how Jobs sold his Volkswagen van while Woz sold his calculator to raise funds to build the first Apple 1 computer kit.

The post includes a picture of 22-year-old Steve Jobs standing next to young Steve Wozniak. But there's also an unexpected figure in the background wearing a black ski hat and glasses. It's "tourist guy," the figure from a 9/11 meme whose stoic face was spliced into the background of everything from the explosion of the Hindenburg to the Kennedy assassination, and even into the original Star Trek and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. The picture is attributed to Margaret Wozniak. So does that mean Steve Wozniak's biographer got pranked by Woz's mom?

Interestingly, in 2011 the tourist guy actually apologized for creating the original fake World Trade Center image. "I assumed my friends would recognise me and call me to see if I was alright, but they didn't, they posted it on to other friends and suddenly it was all over the world... I am ashamed that even now the police still get calls about it."
It's funny.  Laugh.

Ask Slashdot: Seen Any Good April Fool's Pranks Today? 106

An anonymous reader writes: It's that special time of year where sites around the net celebrate April Fool's Day with parodies of their own product offerings. Google Home announces a new companion service for smart yards called Google Gnome. Stack Overflow announces Dance Dance Authentication. The Russian foreign ministry changed their voicemail to include new menu options like "Press 2 to use the services of Russian hackers," and "press 3 to request election interference." And in what's either a really good prank or a horrific piece of bad timing, Phrack.org announces that they've been seized by the FBI.

Has anybody else noticed anything funny today?

The internet has a long history of April Fool's Day pranks, and it looks like 2017 is no exception. So use the comments to share what you're seeing around the web today. Seen any good April Fool's Day pranks today?
The Courts

Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute (nytimes.com) 331

Daniel VIctor, writing for The New York Times: A class-action lawsuit about overtime pay for truck drivers hinged entirely on a debate that has bitterly divided friends, families and foes: The dreaded -- or totally necessary -- Oxford comma, perhaps the most polarizing of punctuation marks. What ensued in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and in a 29-page court decision handed down on Monday, was an exercise in high-stakes grammar pedantry that could cost a dairy company in Portland, Me., an estimated $10 million. In 2014, three truck drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy, seeking more than four years' worth of overtime pay that they had been denied (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate link from a syndicated partner). Maine law requires workers to be paid 1.5 times their normal rate for each hour worked after 40 hours, but it carves out some exemptions. [...] The debate over commas is often a pretty inconsequential one, but it was anything but for the truck drivers. Note the lack of Oxford comma -- also known as the serial comma -- in the following state law, which says overtime rules do not apply to: "The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods. Oakhurst Dairy is arguing that "packing for shipment" and "distribution" are two different items in the list. But that's not how the truck drivers are seeing it. They argue that "packing for shipment or distribution" is one item.
HP

HP Is Advertising Its Real, Modern Printers on This Fake, Awkward '80s Computer Show (adweek.com) 86

T.L. Stanley, writing for AdWeek: It's a fine line between effective '80s homage and clumsy retro spoof, with the latter usually involving a lot of overplayed visual gags like brick-sized cell phones and VHS tapes. Cue pointing and laughing. This new HP video, dubbed "Computer Show," hits the sweet spot perfectly with its recreation of a Reagan-era public access show about technology, but with a fish-out-of-water spin. The host is stuck in time -- stilted stage manner, goofy haircut and all -- but his guests are current-day tech pioneers. Awkward hilarity ensues. The short film, made by Giant Spoon and Sandwich Video for HP, sets up a print-off between HP's PageWide super-fast model and a dot matrix supplied by an employee of the neighborhood "Kwikopy."
It's funny.  Laugh.

Web Comic 'Pokey The Penguin' Celebrates Its 19th Anniversary (twitter.com) 67

It's one of the longest-running comics on the internet. (Slashdot is approaching its 20th anniversary, and in its first year ran two stories about Pokey.) Open source developer Steve Havelka of Portland, Oregon created the truly bizarre strip back in 1998 -- one legend says it was originally a parody of another comic drawn with Microsoft Paint -- and he's since sporadically cranked out 637 strips.

Since 2010 he's also been publishing the cartoons in printed books, and this year launched an equally surreal page on Patreon identifying himself as "Steve Havelka, THE AUTHORS of Pokey the Penguin," offering supporters a "mystery item in the mail". Pokey has lots of fans -- he earned a shout-out in the videogame Hitman: Blood Money -- and very-long-time Slashdot reader 198348726583297634 informs us that on this 19th anniversary Pokey "is celebrating on Twitter!" where he's apparently accosting other web cartoonists and touting a new birthday strip. (Not to be confused with that truly horrible Pokey-goes-to-a-party movie created in Adobe Flash.)

I'd like to hear from any Slashdot readers who remember Pokey the Penguin -- but I'm also curious to hear from Slashdot readers who have never read the strip. ComixTalk called it "one of those webcomics that really only exist because of the Internet -- it would be hard to see something like this in any other medium... there's just something about Pokey the Penguin that fits online."
Businesses

Overeager Investors Seeking Snap Buy Snap Interactive Instead (cnet.com) 55

Stephen Shankland, writing for CNET: Investors eager to cash in on the initial public offering of Snap, makers of the popular Snapchat app, have instead been buying shares of Snap Interactive, maker of the Paltalk video chat app and FirstMet dating app. Snap Interactive stock, traded over the counter and not on major exchanges like Nasdaq, has slid below $6 per share in recent years, according to Google Finance. On Monday, after Snap detailed its IPO plans, though, its stock surged to $15 and remained between $8 and $10 per share Wednesday.
It's funny.  Laugh.

False News, Absurd Reality Present Challenges For Satirists (apnews.com) 333

Between reality and the bubble of fantasy news stories, these are tough times for satirists. From a report on AP, submitted by several readers: The New Yorker magazine recently took steps to distinguish Andy Borowitz's humor columns from politically motivated false stories circulating online. His editor said the New Yorker was getting email asking if there was a difference between the two. So they changed the tagline for "The Borowitz Report" from "the news, reshuffled" to "not the news" on the magazine's website. When the stories are shared online, they are more clearly identified as satire, said Nicholas Thompson, editor of NewYorker.com. Borowitz's columns take the form of news stories, like one headlined this week, "Trump fires attorney general after copy of Constitution is found on her computer." One story last week: "Trump enraged as Mexican president meets with Meryl Streep instead." Thompson admits: "It's a weird problem to have."
It's funny.  Laugh.

Japan To End Tourists' Toilet Trouble With Standardised Buttons (theguardian.com) 187

The Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association, a consortium of companies producing plumbing products has agreed to unify the iconography used on the often baffling control panels for Japanese toilets. From a report on The Guardian: Navigating the array of buttons on Japan's high-tech toilets can be a disconcerting experience for the uninitiated, who, expecting to hear a familiar flushing sound, are instead subjected to a sudden, and unwanted, cleansing of the nether regions. As Japan prepares for an influx of overseas visitors during the 2019 rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics the following year, the country's sanitation industry has agreed to standardize pictograms on toilets so users know for certain if they are about to receive a blast of warm air or a jet of water. Nine manufacturers belonging to the Japan sanitary equipment industry association will soon start using the same eight symbols to explain the buttons found on their state-of-the-art WCs. At a launch event this week, the firms said they had agreed to simplify the pictography in response to complaints from tourists that they are confused by symbols that differ depending on the make of toilet. In a survey of 600 foreign visitors, a quarter said they could not understand some of the symbols that appear on the toilet buttons.
It's funny.  Laugh.

Sonos Alarms Are Waking Users a Day Early (engadget.com) 38

Waking up to your favorite music is always nice, but it becomes rather annoying when you can'' turn off said alarm. From a report on Engadget: That's exactly what Sonos users are experiencing and one editor on our staff dealt with the headache first hand. In fact, the alarms are also going off a day early, meaning Saturday wake-up calls were playing this morning. The company posted in its forums this morning that it's looking into the issue and recommends users delete all alarms from the Sonos app for right now. As our editor and many others have experienced, deleting the alarms is the only way to make them stop. We'll have to wait for official word on the cause, but alarms set for December 31st going off on December 30th could be a New Year's or Leap Year bug. Back in 2011, Apple had a problem with iPhone alarms not working correctly on January 1st.
Television

Ron Glass, Firefly's Shepherd Book, Has Died (hollywoodreporter.com) 67

Slashdot reader tiqui tells us that Emmy-nominated actor Ron Glass has died. The actor was 71 and the family has not released more details of his death, but Firefly/Serenity fans can follow this link to the Hollywood Reporter for more information.
Firefly creator Joss Whedon posted on Twitter that Glass "got there with grace, humor and enormous heart. He was, among so many other things, my Shepherd. Raise, appropriately, a glass. Rest, Ron." And Nathan Fillion, who played Captain Reynolds on Firefly, posted an appropriate quote on Instagram. ("Shepard, don't move." "Won't go far...")

The actor's Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor came in 1982, for his role on the long-running TV series Barney Miller. Interestingly, one of Glass's co-stars on that show was Abe Vigoda, who also died earlier this year at age 94 -- a full 34 years after his death was mistakenly reported by People magazine.
China

China Tells Trump Climate Change Isn't a Hoax it Invented (bloomberg.com) 302

China couldn't have invented global warming as a hoax to harm U.S. competitiveness because it was Donald Trump's Republican predecessors who started climate negotiations in the 1980s, China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said, according to a Bloomberg report. From the article:U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush supported the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in initiating global warming talks even before China knew that negotiations to cut pollution were starting, Liu told reporters at United Nations talks on Wednesday in Marrakech, Morocco. Ministers and government officials from almost 200 countries gathered in Marrakech this week are awaiting a decision by President-elect Trump on whether he'll pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. The tycoon tweeted in 2012 that the concept of global warming "was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." China's envoy rejected that view. "If you look at the history of climate change negotiations, actually it was initiated by the IPCC with the support of the Republicans during the Reagan and senior Bush administration during the late 1980s," Liu told reporters during an hour-long briefing.
It's funny.  Laugh.

German Police Mock 'Not Very Clever' ATM Robbers (bleepingcomputer.com) 88

An anonymous reader quotes Bleeping Computer: German police mocked a group of bungling crooks that tried to rob an ATM, but instead of malware they chose explosives, which they unwittingly placed near a device that issued bank statements, and not the actual money-dispensing ATM... The crooks placed small explosive charges next to a machine they thought to be an ATM, in the hopes of breaking its outer casing and getting access to the money vault inside... After being called in to investigate the loud blast that woke up the bank's neighbors German police discovered a partially destroyed bank statement printing machine... No money was stolen in the failed robbery, police reported.
In a statement on the Berlin police department's official web site, they described the ATM thieves as "not very clever."
Government

The FBI Spent Two Years Investigating An Online Cult That Didn't Exist (muckrock.com) 134

A two-year FBI investigation apparently centered on the satirical web site "GodHatesGoths". Long-time Slashdot reader v3rgEz writes: In 2005, the FBI launched an investigation into the "Church of the Hammer," a fundamentalist Christian sect which called for the wholesale slaughter of practitioners of the goth subculture. Two years later, the investigation was closed, on grounds that the Church didn't exist. The FBI's threat assessment detailed "an extremely right-wing Christian group that adheres to a Middle Ages Catholic text called the 'Malleus Malificarum.'" But MuckRock.com reports that "The Bureau's main source on the case was a goth who had engaged with members of the Church via their Yahoo Group...trying to dispel their misconceptions about the relationship between the subculture and Satanism." After two years of scouring through crime databases and making phone calls to the Salem police department, FBI investigators actually visited the GodHatesGoths web site -- which turned out to be a parody.
It's funny.  Laugh.

English Man Spends 11 Hours Trying To Make Cup of Tea With Wi-Fi Kettle (theguardian.com) 200

All data specialist Mark Rittman wanted was a cup of tea from his all new Wi-Fi kettle. Little did he know that the thing would take 11 hours for that. The issue, in the case of Rittman was, that the base station was not able to communicate with the kettle itself. According to The Guardian: A key problem seemed to be that Rittman's kettle didn't come with software that would easily allow integration with other devices in his home, including Amazon Echo, which, like Apple's Siri, allows users to tell connected smart devices what to do. So Rittman was trying to build the integration functionality himself. Then, after 11 hours, a breakthrough: the kettle started responding to voice control.
Google

Google Hires Joke Writers From Pixar and The Onion To Make Assistant More Personable (cnet.com) 38

One of the biggest announcements made at Google I/O earlier this year and at Google's hardware launch event this past week was Google Home, an always-listening wireless speaker that features the Google Assistant. The Google Assistant is similar to Amazon Echo's voice assistant named Alexa, as it can deliver search results, sports scores, calendar information, and a whole lot more. But in an effort to make the Assistant more personable to better compete with Siri, Alexa, and Cortana, Google has decided to hire joke writers from Pixar and The Onion. An anonymous reader quotes CNET: According to a Wall Street Journal report, comedy and joke writers from Pixar movies and the Onion are already working on making Google's upcoming Assistant AI voice service feel more loose and vibrant. The development of compelling voice AI will need to start drawing from deeper, more entertaining wells, especially as these home hubs try to have conversations all day long. Current voice AI like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa on the Echo try to engage with personality, and they even tell jokes (usually, bad ones). But, as these services aim to be entirely voice-based, like the upcoming Google Home hub, they'll need to feel more alive and less canned. Google Home debuts this November, and the upcoming Google Pixel phone, arriving in stores and online on October 20, is the first Google product featuring the new Assistant voice service.

Slashdot Top Deals