The Media

LWN.Net Celebrates Its 20th Birthday (lwn.net) 2

Free software/Linux news site LWN.net just celebrated its 20th birthday, with publisher Jonathan Corbet calling the last two decades "an amazing journey." LWN published the first edition of their weekly newsletter on January 22, 1998, and Corbet (who also contributes to the Linux kernel) writes today that "It has been quite a ride. We in the free-software community set out to change the world, and we succeeded beyond our wildest expectations."

Here's how he described their second edition the next week... We were arguably helped by the lead news in that edition: Netscape's decision to open-source its "Communicator" web browser. That quickly brought the world's attention to open-source software, though that term would not be invented for a few months yet, and to Linux in particular. LWN was a shadow of what it is now, but it was evidently good enough to ride on that wave and establish itself as a part of the Linux community.
Corbet reviews the highlights. ("Companies discovered our little hobbyist system and invested billions into it, massively accelerating development at all levels of the system...") But he also adds that "Through all of this, we also got to learn some lessons about successfully running a community information source on the net." For the last 16 years the site has supported itself with $7.00-a-month subscriptions, offering early access to their Weekly Edition plus subscriber-only mailing lists, "allowing our content to quickly become part of the community record."

Plus, through events around the world, "we have met -- and become friends with -- many of our readers and many people in the community as a whole. This community is an amazing group of people; it has been a honor and a joy to be a part of it..."

"The free-software community's work is not done, and neither is ours. "
The Media

Peter Thiel Is Now Bidding on Gawker.com (reuters.com) 132

An anonymous reader writes: Its official. "Venture capitalist Peter Thiel has made an offer for Gawker," reports Reuters, adding that the potential acquisition "would let him take down stories regarding his personal life that are still available on the website, and remove the scope for further litigation between him and Gawker." It was Thiel's 2016 lawsuit which bankrupted the site, prompting a Washington Post blogger to write that Thiel "killed Gawker once. Now it looks like he may kill it again."

Elsewhere the Washington Post argues the whole episode "highlighted the immense legal risk borne by news outlets already facing a precarious financial reality in the digital age." The Post's blogger describes Thiel as "a billionaire leveraging his wealth to obliterate a media outlet...as part of a personal vendetta."

Last month former Gawker staffers attempted to crowdfund the purchase and relaunch of Gawker.com as a nonprofit media organization. But their 1,496 backers only pledged $89,844, far short of the campaign's $500,000 target.
The Media

Bill Gates Is First Guest Editor In Time Magazine's 94-Year History (geekwire.com) 64

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: Time invited Bill Gates to be the first guest editor in the 94-year history of the magazine. Among the news Bill deemed fit to print in Time's first augmented-reality-enhanced issue were articles by wife Melinda and pal Bono, both of whom graced the cover of Time with Bill as the 2005 Persons of the Year... Another article reveals that "the four learning hacks Bill Gates swears by" include Khan Academy (a $10+ million Gates Foundation partner), tech-backed Code.org (to which Bill, the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, and Steve Ballmer have given somewhere north of $17M), the Big History Project (to which Bill had contributed a "modest $10 million" as of 2014), and The Teaching Company (which got Bill stoked about Big History).
The issue also includes Gates' "four favorite ways to give back" and "six innovations that could change the world." In fact, the theme of the whole issue is "optimism," with 62-year-old Gates writing that "On the whole, the world is getting better. This is not some naively optimistic view; it's backed by data. Look at the number of children who die before their fifth birthday. Since 1990, that figure has been cut in half. That means 122 million children have been saved in a quarter-century, and countless families have been spared the heartbreak of losing a child."

Another optimistic essay came from Daily Show host Trever Noah, who writes, "Mock millennials all you want. Here's why they give me hope."
Space

Wired Publishes Fake Christmas Letter By Elon Musk (wired.com) 32

Wired's transportation editor just published what he's calling "Elon Musk's Christmas letter" touting the accomplishments of Musk's "family" of companies, "thanks to an anonymous tipster." (Though the story's photo caption suspiciously calls it "an absolutely real and totally not made up holiday message," and at the very bottom of the piece it's tagged as "satire" -- a word which also appears at the end of its URL.)

SpaceX (age 15) Man these companies grow up fast. SpaceX didn't just successfully launch its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station this summer, it upped its ambitions with a pretty detailed plan for colonizing Mars. (OK, as long as it comes home for Thanksgiving and Christmas!) The scheme involves an Interplanetary Transport System the company calls the BFR, or Big Fucking Rocket (you wonder where they get their sense of humor!), which it will definitely have built in just five years.

Tesla (age 14) After promising to start deliveries of its affordable Model 3 sedan this summer, my little automaker went all the way to production hell to make it happen. And boy is the car a wonder, with its huge glass roof, innovative touchscreen interface (so long, dashboard), and all the acceleration you know to expect from Tesla. I'm sure the 400,000 people who have pre-ordered one will agree whenever they get theirs...!

OpenAI and Neuralink (ages 2, 1) I've always thought we should merge our brains with computers, and I'm so glad two of my youngest are dedicated to making it happen... Maybe it'll even find the time to help big brother Tesla with that AI chip it's making for Autopilot.

The Boring Company (age 1) Celebrated its first birthday this month...! Boring knows my views on public transit, and has reassured me these tunnels will be for fancy hyperloops and private cars on electric sleds, only...

So, my friends and fans, comrades and competitors, investors short and long, my best tidings. May your lives be as rich, electrifying, and ambitious as ours.

For its 13th resupply mission of the ISS on December 15th, (the real) SpaceX used a recycled rocket, and Friday (the real) Elon Musk jokingly tweeted a video of the weird trail left behind by SpaceX's latest rocket launch with the caption, "Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea." By late Saturday he'd posted an update. "Having a sinking feeling that most people actually do think it was aliens..."

"So strange that people often believe things inversely proportionate to the evidence."
Facebook

Former Exec Who Said Facebook Was 'Destroying Society' Still Loves Facebook (gizmodo.com) 46

Remember that former Facebook exec who felt "tremendous guilt" about creating tools "that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works"? He's now walking back his criticism -- at least somewhat. Gizmodo reports: Palihapitiya said that he believes that "Facebook is a force for good in the world," and went on to express his belief that the social network is really trying to make its platform less of a hellish garbage fire of misinformation and election interference. "Facebook has made tremendous strides in coming to terms with its unforeseen influence and, more so than any of its peers, the team there has taken real steps to course correct," he wrote in the post... Facebook is certainly trying to soothe naysayers who think the platform might be rotting the brains of our youth -- a viewpoint that Sean Parker, Facebook's first president, essentially expressed last month... For Palihapitiya's part, Thursday night's statement wasn't a total reversal of his original claims, but seemingly an apologetic gesture toward Facebook (or perhaps friends still working at the company). Yes, social media has the capacity to utterly destroy us, but can't you see that Facebook is trying to be better?
His post argues social media platforms "have been used and abused in ways that we, their architects, never imagined.

"Much blame has been thrown and guilt felt, but the important thing is what we as an industry do now to ensure that our impact on society continues to be a positive one."
AI

Artificial Intelligence Is Killing the Uncanny Valley and Our Grasp On Reality (wired.com) 238

rickih02 writes: In 2018, we will enter a new era of machine learning -- one in which AI-generated media looks and sounds completely real. The technologies underlying this shift will push us into new creative realms. But this boom will have a dark side, too. For Backchannel's 2018 predictions edition, Sandra Upson delves into the future of artificial intelligence and the double edged sword its increasing sophistication will present. "A world awash in AI-generated content is a classic case of a utopia that is also a dystopia," she writes. "It's messy, it's beautiful, and it's already here."
"The algorithms powering style transfer are gaining precision, signalling the end of the Uncanny Valley -- the sense of unease that realistic computer-generated humans typically elicit..." the article argues.

"But it's not hard to see how this creative explosion could all go very wrong."
Google

Google News Will Purge Sites Masking Their Country of Origin (bloomberg.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Google moved to strip from its news search results publications that mask their country of origin or intentionally mislead readers, a further step to curb the spread of fake news that has plagued internet companies this year. To appear in Google News results, websites must meet broad criteria set out by the company, including accurately representing their owners or primary purposes. In an update to its guidelines released Friday, the search giant added language stipulating that publications not "engage in coordinated activity to mislead users."

Additionally the new rules read: "This includes, but isn't limited to, sites that misrepresent or conceal their country of origin or are directed at users in another country under false premises." A popular tactic for misinformation campaigns is to pose as a credible U.S. news outlet. Russian Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed organization, used that technique to reach an audience of nearly 500,000 people, spread primarily through Twitter accounts, Bloomberg reported earlier.

The Media

'The Gawker Foundation' is Crowdfunding a Bid To Re-Launch Gawker.com (savegawker.com) 91

"Gawker may soon return from the dead," reports TechCrunch. While Univision acquired most of Gawker Media's sites last year (and renamed them as the Gizmodo Media Group), the deal didn't include Gawker itself. In fact, BuzzFeed reported last month that a bankruptcy administrator has not been able to find a buyer for the Gawker site, and that lawyers for Peter Thiel (the billionaire venture capitalist who helped fund the lawsuit that led to Gawker's bankruptcy) were arguing that he'd been unfairly excluded from the process. Now a group of former Gawker employees calling themselves the Gawker Foundation has launched a Kickstarter campaign to buy the old domain and relaunch with a nonprofit, membership-funded model.
"The truth is often inconvenient, and Gawker's work isn't done," explains a mirror of their campaign site at SaveGawker.com. "We want to dig deeper." $10 pledges get you a laptop sticker, $250 pledges earn you an invite to their glorious re-launch party, and to solicit $10,000 pledges they're even asking wealthy backers to "Give us half of one bitcoin."

"By setting ourselves up as an ownerless, advertiser-less, non-profit media organization, the editorial team will be able to do what they do best. More than a dozen Gawker Media alumni are involved in this project..."
The Media

After Bankrupting Gawker, Peter Thiel Demands a Chance to Buy Them (buzzfeed.com) 149

An anonymous reader quotes BuzzFeed: In a federal bankruptcy court filing on Wednesday, lawyers for venture capitalist Peter Thiel objected to the ongoing sale process of Gawker.com, arguing that the billionaire has been unfairly excluded from bidding for the assets of the defunct news website... Whoever ends up buying the site will also buy its archives, which are still up, and will have the right to do with them what they want, including delete them. In the filing, Thiel's lawyers allege that he was prevented from receiving information in regard to a potential bid for Gawker.com by plan administrator William Holden and his counsel, Gregg Galardi, following a Wall Street Journal story in October that said Holden and Galardi had started to market the website to potential buyers...

The Wall Street Journal reported that Holden has been exploring the sale of Gawker.com since July, and that he recently marketed the site's potential legal claims against Thiel as part of its appeal. The marketing of those claims is at the center of Thiel's complaint, in which his lawyers argue that Holden should not be able to conduct a sale of those claims and ask that the court drop a motion that allows for discovery to move forward. Thiel's representatives also said that they contacted those administrating the sale of Gawker.com last month "to express Mr. Thiel's interest in participating in the sale process," but that they had been rebuffed and then ignored.

Thiel's complaint calls him the "most able and logical purchaser."
Government

'Panama Papers' Group Strikes Again with 'Paradise Papers' (theguardian.com) 402

Long-time Slashdot reader Freshly Exhumed tipped us off to a new document leak that's just revealed massive tax havens used by the world's most wealthy and powerful people. An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian: The material, which has come from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens, was obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with partners including the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times. The project has been called the Paradise Papers.
It's the same group responsible for the Panama Papers, and the Guardian reports that in these 13.4 million new files, journalists have discovered:
  • "Aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations, including Nike and Apple."

"The publication of this investigation, for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through data that stretches back 70 years, comes at a time of growing global income inequality," reports the Guardian. "Meanwhile, multinational companies are shifting a growing share of profits offshore -- €600 billion in the last year alone -- the leading economist Gabriel Zucman will reveal in a study to be published later this week. "Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality," he said."


The Media

New Victims in the 'Billionaire War on Journalism' (newsweek.com) 207

Newsweek offers a new reminder that internet journalism can vanish in a corporate shutdown or be "sued out of existence" -- so it certainly isn't permanent. Writers at the local New York City news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist -- as well as Gothamist's network of city-specific sister sites, such as LAist and DCist -- learned this chilling lesson on Thursday, when billionaire Joe Ricketts abruptly shut down the publications and fired their employees. The decision has been widely regarded as a form of retaliation in response to the newsroom's vote last week to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East. Worse, for a full 20 hours after the news broke, Gothamist.com and DNAinfo.com effectively didn't exist: Any link to the sites showed only Ricketts's statement about his decision, which claims the business was not profitable enough to support the journalism...

The larger tragedy is a nationwide death of local news. Alt-weeklies are flailing as ad revenue dries up. The Village Voice, a legendary New York paper, published its final print issue in September. Houston Press just laid off its staff and ended its print edition this week. Countless stories won't be covered, because the journalistic institutions to tell them no longer exist. Who benefits from DNAinfo being shuttered? Billionaires. Shady landlords. Anyone DNAinfo reported critically on over the years. Who loses? Anyone who lives in the neighborhoods DNAinfo and Gothamist helped cover.

The Media

Peter Thiel Could End Up Owning Gawker (pagesix.com) 68

An anonymous reader writes: Gawker's assets are now up for sale, and Page Six reports that they could be sold to a Hollywood movie studio which is "seriously interested" in adapting the site's stories into movies or TV shows -- and is also looking into filming the story of Gawker itself. Another interested buyer is described as a "group of hard-core Gawker fans" who are currently performing their own due diligence. But the bankruptcy manager for Gawker "has not ruled out the possibility" of selling the site to Peter Thiel. Also up for sale are "potential legal claims" Gawker may have against Peter Thiel, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Google

Google Says It Hasn't Promised To Help News Sites By Sharing Money and User Data (cnet.com) 22

UPDATE (2:53 PST): Google say it hasn't lined up any deals to share revenue and user data with online news sites, calling Sunday news reports "totally wrong."

"We have not reached any conclusions on the revenue side," Google spokeswoman Maggie Shiels told CNET. "We haven't reached any conclusions [regarding] subscriptions and need to speak to publishers."

An anonymous reader shared the text of CNET's original report: The web giant is planning to share a chunk of its revenue with publishers, the Financial Times reported Sunday. Google's plan is to mate its treasure trove of personal data with machine learning algorithms to help news publications grow their subscriber base, the newspaper reported... The deal Google is offering to news publishers will reportedly be similar to the arrangement Google has with traditional advertisers through its AdSense business. "We want to have a healthy ecosystem where we'll benefit both as a society and with our business," Richard Gringas, Google's head of news, told the FT.
Financial Times claimed that Google had promised that the revenue sharing "will be very, very generous," while TechCrunch had reported that Google would also be claiming "a 30% finder's fee" for every new subscriber.
Power

CNN Skeptical of Elon Musk's 'Big Promises' (cnn.com) 206

An anonymous reader writes: Tesla's electric semi-truck will be launched three weeks later than planned, CNN reports. It's been bumped to November 16th because Tesla says it's "diverting resources" to address problems with its Model 3 sedan production -- they've produced just 17.3% of the cars they'd planned -- and to make more batteries to send to areas hit by hurricanes. CNN notes Tesla's Model X "didn't start shipping until two years after it was supposed to roll out," and production of its Model S sedan "was also much slower than originally promised." Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Autotrader.com, complains Tesla "may well have far too much on its plate. It should focus and deliver on some key promises."

But Elon Musk "has a history of some pretty pie-in-the-sky promises," complained CNN business anchor Maggie Lake, citing Musk's claim that he had verbal approval for an underground hyperloop connecting New York City to Washington D.C. ("This is news to City Hall," said New York's press secretary at the time, and no actual approval has ever been produced.) Lake also noted Musk's promise to fix South Australia's blackout problems by building the world's largest lithium-ion battery within 100 days back in March. Last Friday Tesla signed a contract to begin the work, so the 100-day countdown has begun.

CNN's report ran under the headline "Elon Musk: Big Dreamer or Monorail Salesman?" -- referencing a satirical 1993 episode of The Simpson's. "Here's a spoiler alert," the segment concludes. "If you haven't seen that episode...the monorail plan doesn't work out too well. Let's put it that way."
The Media

Google Funds A Team Of Robot Journalists (theguardian.com) 43

Darren Sharp brings news about the arrival of robot journalists. The Guardian reports: Robots will help a national news agency to create up to 30,000 local news stories a month, with the help of human journalists and funded by a Google grant. The Press Association has won a €706,000 ($800,779 or £621,000) grant to run a news service with computers writing localised news stories. The national news agency, which supplies copy to news outlets in the U.K. and Ireland, has teamed up with data-driven news start-up Urbs Media for the project, which aims to create "a stream of compelling local stories for hundreds of media outlets"... PA's editor-in-chief, Peter Clifton, said journalists will still be involved in spotting and creating stories and will use artificial intelligence to increase the amount of content. He said: "Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but Radar [the Reporters And Data And Robots project] allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually." Journalists will create "detailed story templates" for articles about crime, health, and employment, for example, then use natural language software to create multiple versions to "scale up the mass localization."
The Media

Walt Mossberg's Last Column Calls For Privacy and Security Laws (recode.net) 96

70-year-old Walt Mossberg wrote his last weekly column Thursday, looking back on how "we've all had a hell of a ride for the last few decades" and revisiting his famous 1991 pronouncement that "Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it isn't your fault." Not only were the interfaces confusing, but most tech products demanded frequent tweaking and fixing of a type that required more technical skill than most people had, or cared to acquire. The whole field was new, and engineers weren't designing products for normal people who had other talents and interests. But, over time, the products have gotten more reliable and easier to use, and the users more sophisticated... So, now, I'd say: "Personal technology is usually pretty easy to use, and, if it's not, it's not your fault." The devices we've come to rely on, like PCs and phones, aren't new anymore. They're refined, built with regular users in mind, and they get better each year. Anything really new is still too close to the engineers to be simple or reliable.
He argues we're now in a strange lull before entering an unrecognizable world where major new breakthroughs in areas like A.I., robotics, smart homes, and augmented reality lead to "ambient computing", where technology itself fades into the background. And he uses his final weekly column to warn that "if we are really going to turn over our homes, our cars, our health and more to private tech companies, on a scale never imagined, we need much, much stronger standards for security and privacy than now exist. Especially in the U.S., it's time to stop dancing around the privacy and security issues and pass real, binding laws."
It's funny.  Laugh.

Seven Science Journals Have A Dog On Their Editorial Board (atlasobscura.com) 106

An anonymous reader writes: A professor of health policy at Australia's Curtin University got seven different science journals to put his dog on their editorial board. The dog is now associate editor for the Global Journal of Addiction & Rehabilitation Medicine, and sits on the editorial board of Psychiatry and Mental Disorders. The professor says he feels sorry for one researcher who recently submitted a paper about how to treat sheath tumors, because "the journal has sent it to a dog to review." The official profile of the dog lists its research interests as "the benefits of abdominal massage for medium-sized canines" and "avian propinquity to canines in metropolitan suburbs."
An Australian news site points out that career-minded researchers pay up to $3,000 to get their work published in predatory journals so they can list more publications on their resumes. "While this started as something lighthearted," says the dog-owning professor, "I think it is important to expose shams of this kind which prey on the gullible, especially young or naive academics and those from developing countries."
Television

Streaming Services Will Pay Writers More Under New Writers Guild Pact (deadline.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes Deadline: Netflix, Amazon and Hulu will be paying a lot more in writers' residuals under the new WGA film and TV contract. New details, outlined by WGA West, reveal that high-budget shows they run will generate anywhere between $3,448-$34,637 more residuals per episode over the life of the three-year contract than they did under the old contract, depending on the platform and the length of the show. Essentially, it's the same deal the Director's Guild of America got in their negotiations last December. The WGA contract, which has been unanimously approved by the WGA West board and the WGA East council, now goes to the guilds' members for final ratification. Voting begins Friday and concludes May 24.
For every half-hour of a high-budget show, Netflix will be paying $19,058 more in residuals than it did under the old contract.
Television

Will Streaming Media Lead To A Massive Writer's Strike? (latimes.com) 316

"A decade ago, Hollywood writers brought the entertainment industry to a standstill when they walked off the job for three months in a dispute over pay for movies and TV shows distributed online," writes the Los Angeles Times. But they're reporting that it may happen again, with the Writers Guild of America now seeking a strike authorization vote from its members. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have transformed Hollywood and contributed to an unprecedented number of quality series being produced -- a phenomenon often described as the new Golden Age of TV. But times haven't been golden for many writers for whom more is now less. Shorter seasons are the new norm, with many series consisting of 10 or fewer episodes on cable and streaming -- less than half the length of traditional seasons on network shows. That has put writers in a financial crunch since many have exclusivity clauses that prevent them from working on multiple shows per season...

"It's getting more and more difficult to make a living as a writer," said John Bowman, a TV writer-producer, and former head of the WGA negotiating committee. Studios are equally dug in as more customers cut the cable cord in favor of streaming options. They're also grappling with a dramatic fall-off in once-lucrative DVD sales and a flattening of attendance at the multiplex. They are releasing fewer titles a year, meaning fewer opportunities for screenwriters... Complicating matters is a lack of transparency. Streaming services operate on subscription models and don't release viewer data, making it difficult to devise a formula for residuals (fees for reruns).

Amazon is a member of the studio alliance, while Netflix "is expected to sign on to an eventual contract." (Though streaming also seems to be hurting the popularity of reruns, which is also reducing the residuals writers receive.) But underscoring the impact of online media, Slashdot reader JustAnotherOldGuy asks, "with all the alternative content available, does anyone care...? Would the writer's strike have any serious impact on your life?"
Privacy

Tim Berners-Lee Warns About the Web's Three Biggest Threats (webfoundation.org) 91

Sunday was the 28th anniversary of the day that 33-year-old Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web -- and the father of the web published a new letter today about "how the web has evolved, and what we must do to ensure it fulfills his vision of an equalizing platform that benefits all of humanity."

It's been an ongoing battle to maintain the web's openness, but in addition, Berners-Lee lists the following issues: 1) We've lost control of our personal data. 2) It's too easy for misinformation to spread on the web. 3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding. Tim Berners-Lee writes:
We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology like personal "data pods" if needed and exploring alternative revenue models like subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government over-reach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is "true" or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the "internet blind spot" in the regulation of political campaigning.
Berners-Lee says his team at the Web Foundation "will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five year strategy," researching policy solutions and building progress-driving coalitions, as well as maintaining their massive list of digital rights organizations. "I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today... and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want -- for everyone." Inspired by the letter, very-long-time Slashdot reader Martin S. asks, does the web need improvements? And if so, "I'm wondering what Slashdotters would consider to be a solution?"

Slashdot Top Deals