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Flawed Algorithms Are Grading Millions of Students' Essays

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 14:30
Fooled by gibberish and highly susceptible to human bias, automated essay-scoring systems are being increasingly adopted, a Motherboard investigation has found. From a report: Every year, millions of students sit down for standardized tests that carry weighty consequences. National tests like the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) serve as gatekeepers to higher education, while state assessments can determine everything from whether a student will graduate to federal funding for schools and teacher pay. Traditional paper-and-pencil tests have given way to computerized versions. And increasingly, the grading process -- even for written essays -- has also been turned over to algorithms. Natural language processing (NLP) artificial intelligence systems -- often called automated essay scoring engines -- are now either the primary or secondary grader on standardized tests in at least 21 states, according to a survey conducted by Motherboard. Three states didn't respond to the questions. Of those 21 states, three said every essay is also graded by a human. But in the remaining 18 states, only a small percentage of students' essays -- it varies between 5 to 20 percent -- will be randomly selected for a human grader to double check the machine's work. But research from psychometricians -- professionals who study testing -- and AI experts, as well as documents obtained by Motherboard, show that these tools are susceptible to a flaw that has repeatedly sprung up in the AI world: bias against certain demographic groups. And as a Motherboard experiment demonstrated, some of the systems can be fooled by nonsense essays with sophisticated vocabulary. Essay-scoring engines don't actually analyze the quality of writing. They're trained on sets of hundreds of example essays to recognize patterns that correlate with higher or lower human-assigned grades. They then predict what score a human would assign an essay, based on those patterns.

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A Diet Based on Caloric Restriction Might Make You Live Longer. It'll Certainly Feel Like Longer.

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 13:50
A diet based on caloric restriction might make you live longer. It'll certainly feel like longer. Called Prolon, it's a five-day, $250 meal kit which arrives in a white cardboard container a little bigger than a shoebox. It involves eating about 800 calories each day. The idea is that temporarily shifts your body into a starvation state, prompting your cells to consume years of accumulated cellular garbage before unleashing a surge of restorative regeneration. The idea that starving yourself while still taking in crucial nutrients will let you live longer is not new. The practice, called caloric restriction, is the only proven way to extend life in a wide variety of creatures. There are currently trials underway to see if the diet might help protect human patients from the ravages of chemotherapy, too. However, experiments have found that doing it for extended periods is a problem, and probably not practical for most people. Research on the "fast-mimicking diet" is still limited, but the Prolon diet has been sold in 15 countries and tried by more than 150,000 people. Read how Adam Piore got on when he tried it out.

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You Can Finally See All Of The Info Facebook Collected About You From Other Websites

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 13:12
Facebook said Tuesday it's rolling out a long-awaited privacy feature that will let users see and clear information from apps and websites they browse outside of the social network. Some people in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain will gain access to this feature first, but the company plans to broaden the availability soon. From a report: Facebook collects information about its users in two ways: first, through the information you input into its website and apps, and second, by tracking which websites you visit while you're not on Facebook. That's why, after you visit a clothing retailer's website, you'll likely see an ad for it in your Facebook News Feed or Instagram feed. Basically, Facebook monitors where you go, all across the internet, and uses your digital footprints to target you with ads. But Facebook users have never been able to view this external data Facebook collected about them, until now. Facebook tracks your browsing history via the "Login with Facebook" button, the "like" button, Facebook comments, and little bits of invisible code, called the Facebook pixel, embedded on other sites. Today the company will start to roll out a feature called "Off-Facebook Activity" that allows people to manage that external browsing data -- finally delivering on a promise it made over a year ago when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at a company event that it would develop a feature then called "Clear History." The new tool will display a summary of those third-party websites that shared your visit with Facebook, and will allow you to disconnect that browsing history from your Facebook account. You can also opt out of future off-Facebook activity tracking, or selectively stop certain websites from sending your browsing activity to Facebook. Nearly a third of all websites include a Facebook tracker, according to several studies.

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Google's Clickless Era

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 12:30
For the first time last month, a majority of all browser-based Google searches resulted in zero clicks, according to a new study from software company Sparktoro. From a report: The report's author notes that Google's functionality has changed to keep users within the Google ecosystem, not to always refer them outside of it. "We've passed a milestone in Google's evolution from search engine to walled-garden," he writes. On mobile, where the majority of search traffic takes place, organic searches have fallen about 20%, and have instead been replaced by paid searches and "zero click" searches, or search queries that result in snippets of information being presented, removing the need for a user to click into a link. In January 2016, the report notes, more than half of mobile searches ended without a click. Today, it's almost two-thirds.

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Bitbucket Dropping Support For Mercurial

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 11:54
Bitbucket, once one of the largest Mercurial repository hosting sites, said Tuesday it plans to remove Mercurial features and repositories from its platform on June 1, 2020. In a blog post, Bitbucket wrote: As we surpass 10 million registered users on the platform, we're at a point in our growth where we are conducting a deeper evaluation of the market and how we can best support our users going forward. After much consideration, we've decided to remove Mercurial support from Bitbucket Cloud and its API. Bitbucket will stop letting users create new Mercurial repositories starting February 1, 2020, and start removing all the Mercurial repositories four months later. So you will want to backup your repositories and switch to a different platform in the coming months. A different user pointed out, "Another shitty aspect of bitbucket dropping mercurial support and deleting all the old repositories in 2020: all yt pull request discussions from before 2017 are going to be deleted. There's valuable context for how the code got written in those discussions." Several users have expressed their concerns over this decision. Sebastien Jodogne, CSO at Osimis, said, "This is an extremely concerning decision that endangers diversity in the computer science industry by pushing the de facto hegemony of git." For those of you affected by this, you can consider a number of platforms including SourceForge to host and manage your repositories.

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Microsoft's Chromium-Powered Edge Browser Moves Closer To Release With New Beta Build

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 11:10
Microsoft today made a beta version of its Chromium Edge browser available to download for macOS and Windows platforms, as it looks to convince users to give its revamped version of desktop browser a try. The company said the new beta version is built for "everyday use." From a report: Those on the Dev and Canary channels will continue to be able to run those builds along with the new Beta channel builds. For those on the Canary builds, Microsoft is releasing a new Collections feature today. Microsoft is announcing a couple of other big milestones today: the company says it has had more than 1 million downloads on the preview builds of Edge to date, and it's received more than 140,000 individual pieces of feedback from users so far.

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WebKit Introduces New Tracking Prevention Policy

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 10:30
AmiMoJo writes: WebKit, the open source HTML engine used by Apple's Safari browser and a number of others, has created a new policy on tracking prevention. The short version is that many forms of tracking will now be treated the same way as security flaws, being blocked or mitigated with no exceptions. While on-site tracking will still be allowed (and is practically impossible to prevent anyway), all forms of cross-site tracking and covert tracking will be actively and aggressively blocked.

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The Truth About Faster Internet: It's Not Worth It

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 09:50
Americans are spending ever more for blazing internet speeds, on the promise that faster is better. Is that really the case? For most people, the answer is no. From a report: The Wall Street Journal studied the internet use of 53 of our journalists across the country, over a period of months, in coordination with researchers at Princeton University and the University of Chicago. Our panelists used only a fraction of their available bandwidth to watch streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube, even simultaneously. Quality didn't improve much with higher speeds. Picture clarity was about the same. Videos didn't launch quicker. Broadband providers such as Comcast, Charter and AT&T are marketing speeds in the range of 250, 500 or even 1,000 megabits a second, often promising that streaming-video bingers will benefit. "Fast speeds for all of your shows," declares one online ad from Comcast. But for a typical household, the benefits of paying for more than 100 megabits a second are marginal at best, according to the researchers. That means many households are paying a premium for services they don't need. To gauge how much bandwidth, or speed capacity, households need, it helps to look at an extreme scenario. Our users spent an evening streaming up to seven services simultaneously, including on-demand services like Netflix and live-TV services like Sling TV. We monitored the results. Peter Loftus, one of our panelists, lives outside Philadelphia and is a Comcast customer with a speed package of 150 megabits a second. Peter's median usage over 35 viewing minutes was 6.9 Mbps, 5% of the capacity he pays for. For the portion when all seven of his streams were going at once, he averaged 8.1 Mbps. At one point, for one second, Peter reached 65% of his capacity. Did his video launch faster or play more smoothly? Not really. The researchers said that to the extent there were differences in video quality such as picture resolution or the time it took to launch a show, they were marginal.

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States To Launch Antitrust Investigation Into Big Tech Companies

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 09:10
An anonymous reader shares a report: The state attorneys in more than a dozen states are preparing to begin an antitrust investigation of the tech giants, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported Monday, putting the spotlight on an industry that is already facing federal scrutiny. The bipartisan group of attorneys from as many as 20 states is expected to formally launch a probe as soon as next month to assess whether tech companies are using their dominant market position to hurt competition, WSJ reported.

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Juul, Philip Morris Sued Under Racketeer Act For Targeting Kids

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 08:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: E-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. and Philip Morris USA Inc. were sued for illegally marketing nicotine-delivery devices to minors and deceiving consumers about the risks of vaping. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 19-year-old, Christian Foss, who says he became addicted to nicotine and suffered worsening asthma symptoms after he began using Juul's device at 16, and seeks to represent all Illinois minors who used it. It alleges that Juul and Philip Morris violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, adopting the tobacco industry's past use of catchy ad campaigns aimed at children. The Justice Department invoked RICO to sue the industry two decades ago. "Mimicking Big Tobacco's past marketing practices, defendants prey on youth for financial gain," according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Chicago. Philip Morris is a unit of Altria Group, which is also named as a defendant and which recently bought a 35% stake in Juul for $12.8 billion.

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35 Million-Year-Old Asteroid Left a Trail of Destruction Across the Eastern US

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 05:00
schwit1 shares a report from Space.com: About 35 million years ago, an asteroid traveling nearly 144,000 mph (231,000 km/h) smashed into the Atlantic Ocean near the modern-day town of Cape Charles, Virginia. The space rock vaporized instantly, but its impact triggered a gargantuan tsunami, cast up a monsoon of shattered rocks and molten glass that spanned hundreds of miles and carved out the single largest crater in the United States -- the so-called Chesapeake Bay impact structure. Today, that 25-mile-wide (40 kilometers) crater is buried half a mile below the rocky basement of Chesapeake Bay -- the 200-mile-long (320 km) estuary linking Virginia and Maryland on the East Coast. That hasn't stopped scientists from trying to piece together the site's mysterious history since it was first discovered during a drilling project in 1990. In a recent study of ocean sediment cores taken almost 250 miles (400 km) northeast of the impact site, researchers found traces of radioactive debris dating to the time of the strike, providing fresh evidence of the impact's age and destructive power. In their recent study (published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science), researchers from Arizona State University dated 21 microscopic shards of zircon -- a durable gemstone that can survive underground for billions of years. These zircons were lodged in a sediment core taken from roughly 2,150 feet (655 meters) below the Atlantic Ocean. Not only is zircon commonly found in tektites, but it is also a choice mineral for radiometric dating, thanks to some of its radioactive elemental components. In this case, the researchers used a dating technique called uranium-thorium-helium dating, which looks at how radioactive isotopes, or versions, of uranium and thorium decay into helium. The team found that the 21 crystals ranged widely in age, running the gamut from about 33 million to 300 million years old. The two youngest samples, which had an average age of about 35 million years old, fit in with previous studies' estimates for the time of the Chesapeake Bay impact.

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How SpaceX Plans To Move Starship From Cocoa Site To Kennedy Space Center

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 02:00
New submitter RhettLivingston writes: Real plans for the move of Starship Mk 2 from its current construction site in Cocoa to the Kennedy Space Center have finally emerged. A News 6 Orlando report identifies permit applications and observed preparations for the move,which will take a land and sea route. Barring some remarkably hasty road compaction and paving, the prototype will start its journey off-road, crossing a recently cleared path through vacant land to reach Grissom Parkway. It will then travel east in the westbound lanes of SR 528 for a short distance before loading to a barge in the Indian river via a makeshift dock. The rest of the route is relatively conventional, including offloading at KSC at the site previously used for delivery of the Space Shuttle's external fuel tanks. Given the recent construction of new facilities at the current construction site, it is likely that this will not be the last time this route is utilized. SpaceX declined to say how the company will transport the spacecraft or when the relocation will occur. SpaceX's "Mk2" orbital Starship prototype is designed to test out the technologies and basic design of the final Starship vehicle -- a giant passenger spacecraft that SpaceX is making to take people to the Moon and Mars.

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Scientists Are 99 Percent Sure They Just Detected a Black Hole Eating a Neutron Star

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 22:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On Wednesday, a gravitational wave called S190814bv was detected by the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its Italian counterpart Virgo. Based on its known properties, scientists think there is a 99% probability that the source of the wave is a black hole that ate a neutron star. In contrast to black hole mergers, neutron star collisions do produce a lot of light. When a gravitational wave from a neutron star crash was detected in 2017, scientists were able to pinpoint bright emissions from the event -- called an optical counterpart -- in the days that followed the wave detection. This marked the dawn of a technique called "multi-messenger astronomy," in which scientists use multiple types of signals from space to examine astronomical objects. Ryan Foley, an astronomer at UC Santa Cruz, was part of the team that tracked down that first optical counterpart, a feat that has not yet been repeated. He and his colleagues are currently scanning the skies with telescopes, searching for any light that might have been radiated by the new suspected merger of a black hole and neutron star. If the team were to pick up light from the event within the coming weeks, they would be witnessing the fallout of a black hole spilling a neutron star's guts while devouring it. This would provide a rare glimpse of the exotic properties of these extreme astronomical objects and could shed light on everything from subatomic physics to the expansion rate of the universe. "We've never detected a neutron star and a black hole together," said Foley. "If it turns out to be right, then we've confirmed a new type of star system. It's that fundamental." He added: "If you learn about how neutron stars are built, that can tell you about how atoms are built. This is something that is fundamental to everything in our daily life works."

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Jaguar and Audi SUVs Fail To Dent Tesla's Electric-Car Dominance

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 21:02
Tesla has managed to expand its electric-car marketshare, despite two new battery-powered luxury SUVs that have been in U.S. showrooms for the last 10 months: Jaguar's I-Pace and Audi's e-tron. Bloomberg reports: Their starts are the latest indications that legacy automakers aren't assured instant success when they roll out new plug-in models. Tesla's Model S and X have largely held its own against the two crossovers that offer shorter range and less plentiful public charging infrastructure. Jaguar and Audi also lack the cool factor Musk has cultivated for the Tesla brand by taking an aggressive approach to autonomy and using over-the-air software updates to add games and entertainment features. Tesla's Model X and Model S each boast more than 300 miles of range, and the cheaper Model 3 travels 240 miles between charges. Jaguar's $69,500 I-Pace is rated at 234 miles, and Audi's $74,800 e-tron registers 204 miles. Jaguar's marketing team spent years laying the groundwork to introduce the I-Pace. In 2016, the brand joined Formula E, an open-wheeled, electric-powered race circuit similar to Formula One. Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are also joining Formula E for the 2019-2020 season to help generate buzz for the new all-electric models they have coming out. The circuit makes stops in cities including New York, Hong Kong and London, which the brands are banking on as major markets for plug-in cars. But while Formula E is drawing crowds of urban dwellers and a substantial audience on social media, all that buzz may not necessarily translate into showroom traffic.

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Pentagon Conducts First Test of Previously Banned Missile

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 20:25
The U.S. military has conducted a flight test of a type of missile banned for more than 30 years by a treaty that both the United States and Russia abandoned this month, the Pentagon said. The Associated Press reports: The test off the coast of California on Sunday marked the resumption of an arms competition that some analysts worry could increase U.S.-Russian tensions. The Trump administration has said it remains interested in useful arms control but questions Moscow's willingness to adhere to its treaty commitments. The Pentagon said it tested a modified ground-launched version of a Navy Tomahawk cruise missile, which was launched from San Nicolas Island and accurately struck its target after flying more than 500 kilometers (310 miles). The missile was armed with a conventional, not nuclear, warhead. Defense officials had said last March that this missile likely would have a range of about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and that it might be ready for deployment within 18 months. The missile would have violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987, which banned all types of missiles with ranges between 500 kilometers (310 miles) and 5,500 kilometers (3,410 miles). The U.S. and Russia withdrew from the treaty on Aug. 2, prompted by what the administration said was Russia's unwillingness to stop violating the treaty's terms. Russia accused the U.S. of violating the agreement. The Pentagon says it also intends to begin testing, probably before the end of this year, an INF-range ballistic missile with a range of roughly 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) to 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles).

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Twitter Blocks State-Controlled Media Outlets From Advertising On Its Social Network

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 19:45
Twitter is now blocking state-run media outlets from advertising on its platform. The new policy was announced just hours after the company was criticized for running promoted tweets by China's largest state agency that paint pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong as violent, even though the rallies, including one that drew an estimated 1.7 million people this weekend, have been described as mostly peaceful by international media. TechCrunch reports: State-funded media enterprises that do not rely on taxpayer dollars for their financing and don't operate independently of the governments that finance them will no longer be allowed to advertise on the platform, Twitter said in a statement. That leaves a big exception for outlets like the Associated Press, the British Broadcasting Corp., Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, according to reporting from BBC reporter, Dave Lee. The affected accounts will be able to use Twitter, but can't access the company's advertising products, Twitter said in a statement. The policy applies to news media outlets that are financially or editorially controlled by the state, Twitter said. The company said it will make its policy determinations on the basis of media freedom and independence, including editorial control over articles and video, the financial ownership of the publication, the influence or interference governments may exert over editors, broadcasters and journalists, and political pressure or control over the production and distribution process. Twitter said the advertising rules wouldn't apply to entities that are focused on entertainment, sports or travel, but if there's news in the mix, the company will block advertising access. Affected outlets have 30 days before they're removed from Twitter and the company is halting all existing campaigns.

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Terrorists Turn To Bitcoin For Funding, and They're Learning Fast

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 19:03
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, has been designated a terrorist organization by Western governments and some others and has been locked out of the traditional financial system. But this year its military wing has developed an increasingly sophisticated campaign to raise money using Bitcoin. In the latest version of the website set up by the wing, known as the Qassam Brigades, every visitor is given a unique Bitcoin address where he or she can send the digital currency, a method that makes the donations nearly impossible for law enforcement to track. The site, which is available in seven languages and features the brigades' logo, with a green flag and a machine gun, contains a well-produced video that explains how to acquire and send Bitcoin without tipping off the authorities. Terrorists have been slow to join other criminal elements that have been drawn to Bitcoin and have used it for everything from drug purchases to money laundering. But in recent months, government authorities and organizations that track terrorist financing have begun to raise alarms about an uptick in the number of Islamist terrorist organizations experimenting with Bitcoin and other digital coins. The yields from individual campaigns appear to be modest -- in the tens of thousands of dollars. But the authorities note that terrorist attacks often require little funding. And the groups' use of cryptocurrencies appears to be getting more sophisticated. The Middle East Media Research Institute, a nonprofit that tracks and translates communication from terrorist groups, is about to publish a 253-page report about the increased signs of cryptocurrency use by terrorist organizations. According to the NYT, the report will focus on groups in Syria that are on the run as Islamic militants have lost almost all the territory they used to hold.

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How Malformed Packets Caused CenturyLink's 37-Hour, Nationwide Outage

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 18:20
Ars Technica reports on what went wrong last December when CenturyLink had a nationwide, 37-hour outage that disrupted 911 service for millions of Americans and prevented completion of at least 886 calls to 911. From the report: Problems began the morning of December 27 when "a switching module in CenturyLink's Denver, Colorado node spontaneously generated four malformed management packets," the FCC report said. CenturyLink and Infinera, the vendor that supplied the node, told the FCC that "they do not know how or why the malformed packets were generated." Malformed packets "are usually discarded immediately due to characteristics that indicate that the packets are invalid," but that didn't happen in this case, the FCC report explained: "In this instance, the malformed packets included fragments of valid network management packets that are typically generated. Each malformed packet shared four attributes that contributed to the outage: 1) a broadcast destination address, meaning that the packet was directed to be sent to all connected devices; 2) a valid header and valid checksum; 3) no expiration time, meaning that the packet would not be dropped for being created too long ago; and 4) a size larger than 64 bytes." The switching module sent these malformed packets "as network management instructions to a line module," and the packets "were delivered to all connected nodes," the FCC said. Each node that received the packet then "retransmitted the packet to all its connected nodes." The report continued: "Each connected node continued to retransmit the malformed packets across the proprietary management channel to each node with which it connected because the packets appeared valid and did not have an expiration time. This process repeated indefinitely. The exponentially increasing transmittal of malformed packets resulted in a never-ending feedback loop that consumed processing power in the affected nodes, which in turn disrupted the ability of the nodes to maintain internal synchronization. Specifically, instructions to output line modules would lose synchronization when instructions were sent to a pair of line modules, but only one line module actually received the message. Without this internal synchronization, the nodes' capacity to route and transmit data failed. As these nodes failed, the result was multiple outages across CenturyLink's network." While CenturyLink dispatched network engineers to log in to affected nodes and removed the Denver node that had generated the malformed packets, the outage continued because "the malformed packets continued to replicate and transit the network, generating more packets as they echoed from node to node," the FCC wrote. Just after midnight, at least 20 hours after the problem began, CenturyLink engineers "began instructing nodes to no longer acknowledge the malformed packets." They also "disabled the proprietary management channel, preventing it from further transmitting the malformed packets." The FCC report said that CenturyLink could have prevented the outage or lessened its negative effects by disabling the system features that were not in use, using stronger filtering to prevent the malformed packets from propagating, and setting up "memory and processor utilization alarms" in its network monitoring.

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Sony Buys Spider-Man Developer Insomniac Games

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 17:40
Sony has purchased the California-based game studio Insomniac Games, best known for last year's Spider-Man on PS4, which sold 13.2 million copies. Sony says Insomniac will become an exclusive PlayStation developer. Kotaku reports: Founded in 1994, Insomniac remained independent for 25 years, working largely with Sony on series like Ratchet & Clank and Resistance but also with other big game companies like Microsoft, which published the colorful open-world game Sunset Overdrive (unlikely to get a sequel any time soon). Insomniac has also worked on several VR games with Oculus, including the upcoming Stormland, currently announced as an Oculus Rift exclusive. Notably, Insomniac's previous VR games have not been released on PlayStation VR.

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Paging Big Brother: In Amazon's Bookstore, Orwell Gets a Rewrite

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 17:00
As fake and illegitimate texts proliferate online, books are becoming a form of misinformation. The author of "1984" would not be surprised. From a report: In George Orwell's "1984," the classics of literature are rewritten into Newspeak, a revision and reduction of the language meant to make bad thoughts literally unthinkable. "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words," one true believer exults. Now some of the writer's own words are getting reworked in Amazon's vast virtual bookstore, a place where copyright laws hold remarkably little sway. Orwell's reputation may be secure, but his sentences are not. Over the last few weeks I got a close-up view of this process when I bought a dozen fake and illegitimate Orwell books from Amazon. Some of them were printed in India, where the writer is in the public domain, and sold to me in the United States, where he is under copyright. Others were straightforward counterfeits, like the edition of his memoir "Down and Out in Paris and London" that was edited for high school students. The author's estate said it did not give permission for the book, printed by Amazon's self-publishing subsidiary. Some counterfeiters are going as far as to claim Orwell's classics as their own property, copyrighting them with their own names.

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