THE EVERYTHING BOOK, Fantastically Wrong, Adorable Robot Toys

THE EVERYTHING BOOK: READING IN THE AGE OF AMAZON

Amazon won the book war. In a series of rare interviews, the company tells us what’s next.

Chris Green holds an envelope. At least, it looks like an envelope. In reality, it’s a piece of office copy paper that’s been cut and folded into the shape of a Kindle Voyage, the latest in Amazon’s bestselling line of e-readers. Green, the head industrial designer at Lab126, the secret lab where Kindles are designed, unfolds the paper to show it has been stuffed with everything that makes a Kindle: a CPU, a modem, a battery.

Green is a boyish sort, and he hands me his fragile bundle of electronics with a certain glee, but the most important thing in his hands is actually the paper itself. For Amazon, paper is more than a material for making prototypes. It’s the inspiration for the Kindle of the future: a weightless object that lasts more or less forever and is readable in any light. “Paper is the gold standard,” Green says. “We’re striving to hit that. And we’re taking legitimate steps year over year to get there.”

As Amazon popularized ebooks over the last decade, it catalyzed a necessary change in our reading habits. By 2007, when the first Kindle emerged, the publishing world had to compete with Facebook, mobile games, and a hundred other distractions; to retain their vitality, books needed to adapt. Over the years, Amazon has stuffed its e-readers with features making them easier to read, like embedded dictionaries and translators; it’s added a social network; it’s even introduced a feature that seamlessly turns text into audio and back at our convenience. Books are vessels for transmitting ideas, and today the vessels have ideas of their own own: about what we should read, and how we should read it.

Hundreds of millions of tablets and e-readers have been sold, but today we’re still inclined to think of a book as words on a page. Amazon’s success with Kindle has hinged on recognizing how much more they can be. So where does the company go from here? In a series of rare, on-the-record interviews for Kindle’s 7th anniversary, Amazon executives sketched out their evolving vision for the future of reading. It’s wild — and it’s coming into focus faster than you might have guessed.

Inside the lab

“Welcome to the inner sanctum,” Gregg Zehr says. “This is as inner as inner can get. You are one of a very few who can see this.” This is a nondescript conference room on the top floor of Lab126 in a Sunnyvale, California office park. As secret labs go, it’s a bit underwhelming: There’s a conference table, a whiteboard, and a 10th-floor view of Highway 101 — the congested freeway that links San Francisco to Silicon Valley. Against one wall is a row of Kindles, every model since the device was first introduced. On a long conference table sit dozens of prototypes for this year’s Kindle Voyage.

Zehr, a kindly, soft-spoken type who previously ran hardware engineering at Palm Computing, has been in charge of Lab126 since its opening. (Famously frugal, Amazon’s gift to Zehr on his 10th anniversary was a new employee badge with a celebratory red striped border around his picture.) After making gadgets for years at Palm, Zehr felt drawn to Amazon for the chance to work on something unique. “What we had to do on the first reader,” he says, “since no one had done it before, was to be as creative as possible.”

It’s been a decade since “Fiona” was first imagined, the codename Amazon gave to the first iteration of the Kindle. As recounted in The Everything Store, Brad Stone’s rollicking 2013 history of Amazon, Jeff Bezos commanded his deputies in 2004 to build the world’s best e-reader lest Apple or Google beat them to it. To Steve Kessel, who was put in charge of running the company’s digital business, Bezos reportedly said: “I want you to proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.”

It took three years for Kindle to come to market. The first model wasn’t particularly beautiful: a $400, off-white chunk of plastic with a full QWERTY keyboard. But before the world had ever heard of an app store, Amazon had integrated its bookstore directly into the device. For the first time, you could summon almost any book you could think of within seconds, no matter where you were.

The initial, never-quantified run of devices sold out in five and a half hours, and soon Kindle became synonymous with e-reading. Amazon has never released sales figures for the Kindle, but analysts believe the company has sold more than 80 million of them, and Morgan Stanley estimated the devices would generate revenues of $5 billion this year. (Amazon declined to comment on sales figures.)

More than that, Kindle brought ebooks into the mainstream. About 28 percent of Americans read an ebook last year, up from 17 percent in 2011. And the more popular they became, the more Amazon pushed to transform them.

Much more to see and read found at the Verge.


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Fantastically Wrong: What Darwin Really Screwed Up About Evolution

Charles Darwin
Oh cheer up, old pal. You had one of the greatest ideas ever. So what if you got a bit of it wrong? Plus, you’ve got that sweet beard. Not all of us can have such sweet beards. AP

It’s hard to overstate just how brilliant and huge an idea Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was and continues to be. It absolutely rocked Victorian England, to the extent that stuffy old Victorian England could be rocked past people just barely raising their voices in polite protest. But some folks, particularly highly religious types, weren’t too happy with the idea that nature can run perfectly fine on its own, without the guiding hand of a higher power. Not happy in the least bit.

But contrary to popular belief today, scientists were kicking around the idea of evolution before Darwin—even Charles’ grandpa, Erasmus, alluded to it in verse, like a true OG. Charles’ contribution was specifically the natural selection bit, that organisms vary, and these variations can better suit individuals to their environment, thus boosting their chances of passing down these traits to future generations. (Weirdly, Darwin’s friend, the brilliant naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, had arrived at the same idea independently at around the same time. The two presented their preliminary findings to the Linnean Society of London, before Darwin blew the lid off the whole thing with On the Origin of Species.)

There was a bit of a problem with all of this natural selection stuff, though: Darwin didn’t know how it, uh, worked. Offspring had a mix of their parents’ features, sure. But how? What was going on at the moment of conception? It was a huge hole in Darwin’s theory of evolution. So in 1868, almost a decade after he published On the Origin of Species, Darwin tried to plug that hole with the theory of “pangenesis,” a wildly wrong idea that goes a little something like this:

Every cell in our bodies sheds tiny particles called gemmules, “which are dispersed throughout the whole system,” Darwin wrote, and “these, when supplied with proper nutriment, multiply by self-division, and are ultimately developed into units like those from which they were originally derived.” Gemmules are, in essence, seeds of cells. “They are collected from all parts of the system to constitute the sexual elements, and their development in the next generation forms a new being.”

Because both parents contribute these cell seeds, offspring end up blending the features of mom and dad. But what about a child exhibiting more features of one parent than the other? This comes about when “the gemmules in the fertilized germ are superabundant in number,” where the gemmules “derived from one parent may have some advantage in number, affinity, or vigor over those derived from the other parent.” In other words, they kinda just put more effort into it.

Gemmules must develop in the proper order to build a healthy organism. When something glitches along the way, though, you get birth defects. “According to the doctrine of pangenesis,” Darwin wrote, “the gemmules of the transposed organs become developed in the wrong place, from uniting with wrong cells or aggregates of cells during their nascent state.”

But most important of all, Darwin’s theory of pangenesis could finally explain variations among organisms—the raw fuel of evolution. This has two causes. First, “fluctuating variability” comes from “the deficiency, superabundance, and transposition of gemmules, and the redevelopment of those which have long been dormant.” In other words, they’re expressed in a grandchild after skipping a generation, though the gemmules themselves haven’t “undergone any modification.”

Continue reading this article HERE.



These Adorable Robot Toys Teach Kids How to Code

The two bots using a basic visual language, and they are just one way to introduce children to computer programming.

Vikas Gupta feels like learning to how to program computers, or code, is a superpower. He taught himself BASIC, a computer language, on his high school’s two computers in Chandigarh, India, during the late 1980s. His superpower took him to the U.S. and helped him start a company that was snatched up by Google, reports Andrew Leonard for Backchannel on Medium. When Gupta’s daughter was born, he started thinking about how he could pass on his superpower to her. He came up with toy robots.

Meet Dash and Dot, two cheery blue bots with rounded bodies and orange-ringed eyes. Leonard writes that Dash bounces off walls, spins, burbles,and “bleats and coos in tones as cute and irresistible as a baby lamb crossed with a puppy.” Dot doesn’t move, but makes noises, has programmable lights and works as a remote control for Dash.

Kids can use an iPad Mini or other tablet to program the robots—teach them to respond to a name, execute spins, direct Dash to and fro. The programming language is a simple and very visual one developed by Google and called Blockly. “Your child will need to be able to read, but it’s hard to imagine a coding interface more basic than this one,” Leonard writes. Dash can also play songs on a xylophone. Both bots can accessorize with Legos and Building Brick Connectors.

The goal is all to introduce kids to basic computer programming. Young people spend their time with new technologies—gaming, browsing, chatting, texting. But that doesn’t make them fluent, Mitch Resnick explains in TEDx video. “Young people today have lots of experience and  lots familiarity with interacting with new technologies, but a lot less so with creating new technologies and expressing themselves with new technologies. It’s almost as if they can read but not write with new technologies.”

Teaching kids to code is the answer giving them true digital native status, he says. To help them, he created a program called Scratch that allows kids to create their own animated projects and stories, write trigonometry tutorials, imitate classic video games or create interactive art, among other things.

“If we can help kids make sense of the world that they live in,” Gupta told Backchannel, “then I think they will benefit. Because irrespective of what profession you go into, being able to code will provide valuable skills. How does my iPad work? How do self-driving cars work? If we can’t make sense of the world we live in, we will be nothing more than passive consumers.”

The robot toys are pricey: The Dash & Dot pack alone is listed at $259—adding all the accessories, including Dash’s xylophone, rings in at $349. If that puts it out of the budget, there are plenty of other ways to get young would-be coders cracking.

For other online resources on computer programming, check out Matt Davis’s post on Edutopia. Venturebeat has a list of games that introduce the basics of programming. Celebrate Computer Science Education Week and get kids (and adults!) started on coding. President Obama already has a head start with his first line of code.

And don’t worry about being a computer scientist. The skills picked up during coding—creative thinking, reasoning, collaboration and self expression—seem like a great foundation for anything you’d like to do.

Found HERE.


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