Amazon Forms Team to Focus on Driverless Technology

24 April 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. has created a team focused on driverless-vehicle technology to help navigate the retail giant’s role in the shake-up of transportation, according to people briefed on the matter.

Amazon quietly formed the team, which has comprised about a dozen employees, more than a year ago as part of its broader ambition to transport more of its goods itself. For now, Amazon doesn’t intend to build a fleet of vehicles, according to these people. Instead, the team serves as an in-house think tank to figure out how to leverage autonomous vehicles.

The initiative, still in its early phases, could help the Seattle-based company overcome one of its biggest logistical complications and costs: delivering packages quickly. Amazon could use autonomous vehicles including trucks, forklifts and drones to move goods. In addition, driverless cars could play a broader role in the future of last-mile delivery, enabling easier package drop-offs, experts say.

. . . .

“Amazon has a plan in place to shake up the entire supply chain as we know it today,” said Dave Sullivan, an automotive analyst for consultancy AutoPacific Inc.

. . . .

Humans have a 10-hour limit when driving, but a self-driving truck could drive through the night, said Alex Rodrigues, co-founder of Embark, a startup that aims to develop technology to enable long-haul trucks to operate on the highway. “So instead of taking four days to drive coast to coast, it takes a day and a half.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Amazon Launches Self-Service Marketplace for Subscription Providers

24 April 2017

From the Amazon Press Room:

Amazon.com today announced a self-service subscriptions marketplace that allows digital subscription providers to reach millions of Amazon customers. Subscribe with Amazon is a new way for subscription businesses to sell on Amazon, offering them targeted customer exposure through popular discovery features such as search and recommendations while also providing customers with a simple way to purchase and manage their subscriptions. Selling on Subscribe with Amazon is easy with self-service enrollment. The program allows subscription providers the ability to offer customers flexible pricing including introductory, monthly, and annual pricing options, as well as the opportunity to explore offering Prime exclusive deals. Digital subscriptions currently available span a variety of areas including streaming content, news/magazines, learning, and lifestyle.

. . . .

Through its self-service tools, each subscription will have its own detail page, and providers can easily manage pricing and take advantage of easy-to-use APIs to receive orders and updates from Amazon. Subscribe with Amazon also offers the ability to propose Prime member exclusive discounts. For example, Prime members can get a 50% discount on the first six months of a subscription to Texture, a digital service that gives customers access to some of the world’s best magazines. Additionally, when customers purchase their subscription on Amazon.com, they can access it on any iOS, Android or Amazon Fire device supported by the subscription provider.

. . . .

Subscription providers of all sizes are selling on the marketplace, including SlingTV, Disney Story Central, Dropbox, Texture, eMeals, Fitstar by Fitbit, Creativebug, Headspace, LegalZoom, MileIQ, The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, The New Yorker, Consumer Reports and Tawkify, to name a few.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room, here’s a link to Subscribe with Amazon and thanks to Mike and others for the tip.

How we spend

24 April 2017

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

Annie Dillard

How British and American Spelling Parted Ways

24 April 2017

The Sky is Falling (Again)

24 April 2017

From The Crazy Chronicles by author  Elizabeth Barone:

I’ve been working in the indie publishing industry for five years, with a smattering of trad pub experience right before that. I mean a very tiny smattering; I had a couple short stories and poems published in journals before I got addicted to self-publishing, and I was with a small press for a year. But I’ve always been an introvert, and the thing most people don’t know about us introverts is that we’re super observant. We may not say much, but we see everything. And we pay attention.

Lately there’s been a lot of ugliness in the lit community. Some high profile authors were outed for attacking readers, there’s been a lot of mudslinging over diversity in fiction, and now I’m seeing a lot of authors griping about how “oversaturated” the industry is.

I get it. Amazon sales have tanked for everyone this month. In general, there’s been a decline in sales. The industry has been plateauing, trying to find its footing in the midst of this digital revolution. But I’ve noticed the panic really dig in to authors when Amazon changes something. And then things get ugly.

. . . .

For one, the market has always been full. Even before indie publishing took off—back when it was considered vanity publishing to go and print copies of your books and sell them out of your car—there was a vast traditional market. Book stores became more and more selective with who they gave shelf space to. It was a game of dollars—which publisher could pay the most to get their star author front and center in stores. And it still is.

. . . .

Authors, we’re not competitors. There are millions of readers around the world, with new markets opening up every single day. (Right now India and Nigeria’s ebook markets are booming, by the way.) Readers don’t play favorites. Sure, there are authors they love who they will always buy from right away. But most readers are just looking for something good to read that fits their tastes and their budget—especially while their favorites are in between releases.

Link to the rest at The Crazy Chronicles and thanks to A. for the tip.

Here’s a link to Elizabeth Barone’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Deep Space of Digital Reading

24 April 2017

From Nautilus:

In A History of Reading, the Canadian novelist and essayist Alberto Manguel describes a remarkable transformation of human consciousness, which took place around the 10th century A.D.: the advent of silent reading. Human beings have been reading for thousands of years, but in antiquity, the normal thing was to read aloud. When Augustine (the future St. Augustine) went to see his teacher, Ambrose, in Milan, in 384 A.D., he was stunned to see him looking at a book and not saying anything. With the advent of silent reading, Manguel writes,

… the reader was at last able to establish an unrestricted relationship with the book and the words. The words no longer needed to occupy the time required to pronounce them. They could exist in interior space, rushing on or barely begun, fully deciphered or only half-said, while the reader’s thoughts inspected them at leisure, drawing new notions from them, allowing comparisons from memory or from other books left open for simultaneous perusal.

To read silently is to free your mind to reflect, to remember, to question and compare. The cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf calls this freedom “the secret gift of time to think”: When the reading brain becomes able to process written symbols automatically, the thinking brain, the I, has time to go beyond those symbols, to develop itself and the culture in which it lives.

. . . .

A thousand years later, critics fear that digital technology has put this gift in peril. The Internet’s flood of information, together with the distractions of social media, threaten to overwhelm the interior space of reading, stranding us in what the journalist Nicholas Carr has called “the shallows,” a frenzied flitting from one fact to the next. In Carr’s view, the “endless, mesmerizing buzz” of the Internet imperils our very being: “One of the greatest dangers we face,” he writes, “as we automate the work of our minds, as we cede control over the flow of our thoughts and memories to a powerful electronic system, is … a slow erosion of our humanness and our humanity.”

There’s no question that digital technology presents challenges to the reading brain, but, seen from a historical perspective, these look like differences of degree, rather than of kind. To the extent that digital reading represents something new, its potential cuts both ways. Done badly (which is to say, done cynically), the Internet reduces us to mindless clickers, racing numbly to the bottom of a bottomless feed; but done well, it has the potential to expand and augment the very contemplative space that we have prized in ourselves ever since we learned to read without moving our lips.

. . . .

The fear of technology is not new. In the fifth century B.C., Socrates worried that writing would weaken human memory, and stifle judgment.

Link to the rest at Nautilus and thanks to Dave for the tip.

These Books Were Once Considered “Classics” But Are Now Largely Forgotten

23 April 2017

From Bustle:

The forgotten book that, rediscovered, takes its place among venerated classics is an age-old trend; “Don’t call it a comeback,” quoth LL Cool J. But if one end of the spectrum exists, the other must as well, right? What books were considered “classics” but are now largely ignored?

In a recent thread on the r/books subreddit, user -methane- asked, “What are some novels that were once considered classics that have been largely forgotten?” Redditors began flocking with suggestions of books fallen by the wayside. And folks, I was unfamiliar with, like, almost half of them.

“You always hear about authors who died neglected and unknown, only to be revived later in history,” wrote -methane-. “Melville’s Moby-Dick is a famous example of this. Surely the opposite of this has taken place, as well.” The redditor also asked for any theories regarding the decline in popularity for certain novels. What causes a fall from grace? Is it gradual, or is there an identifiable turning point? Among the redditors arose an additional discussion as well: Where is the line between “classic” and “bestseller”? After a substantial amount of time has passed, is there any line at all? No real conclusion was reached, but it will certainly be present in the back of my mind the next time I note that a book is a New York Times bestseller, for example.

. . . .

 ‘Of Human Bondage’ by W. Somerset Maugham

Though Of Human Bondage is considered, by some, to be the Catcher in the Rye for adults (specifically, British adults), it currently sells on Amazon for under $2.00. Published in 1915 and believed to be largely autobiographical, Of Human Bondage follows orphan Philip on a bildungsroman through Europe.

‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ by Booth Tarkington

Booth Tarkington sounds like a 4-year-old’s imaginary astronaut friend, but he is, in fact, only one of three writers to win the Pulitzer in Fiction twice (William Faulker and John Updike join him). The Magnificent Ambersons, which won the Pulitzer in 1919, follows the decline of the superrich Ambersons in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.

. . . .

 ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins

One would think, in creating what is believed to be the first modern English detective novel, you would solidify your place among the literary greats; that seemingly is not the case for Wilkie Collins, whose 1868 epistolary novel The Moonstone pioneered a new genre. Though he was well-loved in the Victorian era, Collins was overshadowed by BFF Charles Dickens following his death in 1889.

Link to the rest at Bustle

Show me somebody

23 April 2017

Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.

Mike Royko

Why is the Iranian government opening the world’s biggest bookstore?

23 April 2017

From Aeon:

There is a conundrum facing Iranian officials. The government, on the one hand, wants Iranians to read more. At the same time, with the other hand, it wants to cover their eyes.

Love of the written word is deeply rooted in Iranian society, due to its extraordinary history of arts, sciences and literature. However, Iranians aren’t reading enough. Bookstores in Iran are a rarity, with some 1,500 shops for a population of almost 80 million. There was a time when publishers gave books a print run of 3,300-5,500 copies. Now, the numbers have dropped drastically to 500, sometimes even 300 copies.

That’s why the Iranian government recently announced it would be opening the largest bookstore in the world – by square footage – during the coming months. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this title was held by the Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York City, which covered 154,250ft. Unfortunately, the 5th Avenue flagship store closed down in 2014.

. . . .

Mahamoud Salahi, the head of the Art and Cultural Organization of Tehran Municipality, announced that Bagh-e-Ketab (the Book Orchard/Garden) will be 484,376ft (45,000m), triple the size of the once world-record holder. This bookstore is expected to cater to all walks of life and ages, but will focus on youth and include an auditorium for theatre performances, and four research departments for university professors to hold workshops and study sessions. The Tehran municipality has reportedly already spent 100 billion rials (more than $3 million) on the project.

‘Currently, we are at a stage of getting the store’s equipment. We hope that all interested publishers will be able to place their work on our shelves,’ Salahi told Iranian reporters. During 2015, he pushed for a campaign to promote reading by distributing free books and booklets on buses and subways for people. This had existed previously, but was halted three years prior, for reasons unknown.

. . . .

To fight censorship, authors and readers at home and abroad are uploading banned books to the internet, where Iranians download them for free. Iraj Pezeshkzad’s classic coming-of-age novel My Uncle Napoleon (1973) and Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl (1937) are readily available online, together with countless other banned Western titles translated into Persian. This includes Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006) and The Blind Watchmaker (1986) as well as The Satanic Verses (1988) by Salman Rushdie – the very book that caused Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s revolution in 1979, to issue a death fatwa for the author, which is still in place today.

Iranians have also come up with online publishing houses to bring out writer’s works as ebooks, either from their own websites or via apps such as Google Books. The Iran-based Nogaam has published 25 books since 2013, mostly by authors who reside in the country and would otherwise have no chance of being published due to censorship. Books are crowdfunded, and once writers are compensated for their work, the titles become available for free download. Other companies such as Fidibo serve as digital libraries that feature ebooks with publishing permission from the Iranian government.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Rotten Reviews and Terrible Trolls

23 April 2017

From Lit World Interviews:

You will get bad reviews. It’s inevitable, I promise you. Take comfort in the fact that it’s a rite of passage all writers go through. Every – single – one of them, and after the first one has you on the floor, bawling your eyes out, and inexplicably trying to chew your own foot off for a while, they’re not so hard to deal with. Some are pretty funny, and some are just to be ignored. There are people out there who delight in trashing books, and sometimes the authors of books too, for reasons unknown to most decent humans. Sometimes it’s jealousy, and sometimes it’s just because they’re mean. Sometimes also these one star stabs to the soul are perfectly legitimate in their author’s hearts and minds, because they really didn’t enjoy what you wrote for reasons that do or don’t make sense to you. Whatever the reasons are for your one star clanger, you must never, ever, never, never, and I repeat, never respond to them. If you really need to share your pain then talk to a friend – preferably a writer friend, who will totally get you. I personally don’t think that it’s a good idea to respond to fabulous five star rave reviews either. “Liking” that wonderful review is good enough. The reviewer might actually not appreciate being gushed at by an unknown author, no matter how much you really want to catch a plane, find them, and kiss them on the lips. Reviews are for readers, good ones and bad ones. It’s best for you to let them be.

. . . .

When you do get a negative review, pass it on to that part of you who is the business – not the writer – figure out if there is anything to learn from it, in which case it becomes helpful, and if not, move right along and forget about it. Don’t waste your valuable online time on trolls and hurtful reviews.

Link to the rest at Lit World Interviews

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