‘Linux IP Stacks Commentary’ Book Tries Free Online Updates

Recently the authors of Elements of Publishing shared an update. “After ten years in print, our publisher decided against further printings and has reverted the rights to us. We are publishing Elements of Programming in two forms: a free PDF and a no-markup paperback.”

And that’s not the only old book that’s getting a new life on the web…

22 years ago, long-time Slashdot reader Stephen T. Satchell (satch89450) co-authored Linux IP Stacks Commentary, a book commenting the TCP/IP code in Linux kernel 2.0.34. (“Old-timers will remember the Lion’s Unix Commentary, the book published by University xerographic copies on the sly. Same sort of thing.”) But the print edition struggled to update as frequently as the Linux kernel itself, and Satchell wrote a Slashdot post exploring ways to fund a possible update.

At the time Slashdot’s editors noted that “One of the largest complaints about Linux is that there is a lack of high-profile documentation. It would be sad if this publication were not made simply because of the lack of funds (which some people would see as a lack of interest) necessary to complete it.” But that’s how things seemed to end up — until Satchell suddenly reappeared to share this update from 2022:
When I was released from my last job, I tried retirement. Wasn’t for me. I started going crazy with nothing significant to do. So, going through old hard drives (that’s another story), I found the original manuscript files, plus the page proof files, for that two-decade-old book. Aha! Maybe it’s time for an update. But how to keep it fresh, as Torvalds continues to release new updates of the Linux kernel?

Publish it on the Web. Carefully.

After four months (and three job interviews) I have the beginnings of the second edition up and available for reading. At the moment it’s an updated, corrected, and expanded version of the “gray matter”, the exposition portions of the first edition….

The URL for the alpha-beta version of this Web book is satchell.net/ipstacks for your reading pleasure. The companion e-mail address is up and running for you to provide feedback. There is no paywall.

But there’s also an ingenious solution to the problem of updating the text as the code of the kernel keeps changing:

Thanks to the work of Professor Donald Knuth (thank you!) on his WEB and CWEB programming languages, I have made modifications, to devise a method for integrating code from the GIT repository of the Linux kernel without making any modifications (let alone submissions) to said kernel code. The proposed method is described in the About section of the Web book. I have scaffolded the process and it works. But that’s not the hard part.

The hard part is to write the commentary itself, and crib some kind of Markup language to make the commentary publishing quality. The programs I write will integrate the kernel code with the commentary verbiage into a set of Web pages. Or two slightly different sets of web pages, if I want to support a mobile-friendly version of the commentary.

Another reason for making it a web book is that I can write it and publish it as it comes out of my virtual typewriter. No hard deadlines. No waiting for the printers. And while this can save trees, that’s not my intent. The back-of-the-napkin schedule calls for me to to finish the expository text in September, start the Python coding for generating commentary pages at the same time, and start the writing the commentary on the Internet Control Message Protocol in October. By then, Linus should have version 6.0.0 of the Linux kernel released.

I really, really, really don’t want to charge readers to view the web book. Especially as it’s still in the virtual typewriter. There isn’t any commentary (yet). One thing I have done is to make it as mobile-friendly as I can, because I suspect the target audience will want to read this on a smartphone or tablet, and not be forced to resort to a large-screen laptop or desktop. Also, the graphics are lightweight to minimize the cost for people who pay by the kilopacket. (Does anywhere in the world still do this? Inquiring minds want to know.)

I host this web site on a Protectli appliance in my apartment, so I don’t have that continuing expense. The power draw is around 20 watts. My network connection is AT&T fiber — and if it becomes popular I can always upgrade the upstream speed.

The thing is, the cat needs his kibble. I still want to know if there is a source of funding available.

Also, is it worthwhile to make the pages available in a zip file? Then a reader could download a snapshot of the book, and read it off-line.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Are Plants ‘Intelligent’?

Long-time Slashdot reader Dr_Ish writes: It is not too common for the world of academic philosophy to be changed by a new discovery, or innovation. Perhaps the last time this happened in a major way can be traced back to Turing’s famous (1950) “Computational Machinery and Intelligence” paper “Mind,” where Turing proposed that computational systems could exhibit mind-like properties. However, it appears to be in the process of happening again.

In a series of recent papers and a book that was published last week, philosopher Prof. Paco Calvo from the University of Murcia, has made a compelling case that plants exhibit cognitive properties, such as memory, planning, intelligence and perhaps even numerical abilities… His book, Calvo, P. with Lawrence, N. “Planta Sapiens: The New Science of Plant Intelligence was published in the UK last week. It will appear in North America in March next year.

From the Guardian’s review of the book:
Calvo writes that intelligence is “not quite as special as we like to think”. He argues that it’s time to accept that other organisms, even drastically different ones, may be capable of it….

In the course of his book, Calvo describes many experiments that reveal plants’ remarkable range, including the way they communicate with others nearby using “chemical talk”, a language encoded in about 1,700 volatile organic compounds…. Other studies show that some plants retain a memory of where the sun will rise, in order to turn their leaves towards the first rays. They store this knowledge — an internal model of what the sun is going to do — for several days, even when kept in total darkness. The conclusion must be that they constantly collect information, processing and retaining it in order to “make predictions, learn, and even plan ahead”.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

How the Higgs Boson Particle Ruined Peter Higgs’s Life

93-year-old Peter Higgs was awarded a Nobel Prize nine years ago after the Large Hadron Collider experiments finally confirmed of the existence Higgs boson particles he’d predicted back in 1964. “This discovery was a seminal moment in human culture,” says physicist Frank Close, who’s written the new book Elusive: How Peter Higgs Solved the Mystery of Mass .

But Scientific American reports there’s more to the story:
For years, the significance of the prediction was lost on most scientists, including Higgs himself. But gradually it became clear that the Higgs boson was not just an exotic sideshow in the particle circus but rather the main event. The particle and its associated Higgs field turned out to be responsible for giving all other particles mass and, in turn, creating the structure of galaxies, stars and planets that define our universe and enable our species… Yet the finding, however scientifically thrilling, pushed a press-shy Peter Higgs into the public eye. When he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics the next year, Higgs left his home in Edinburgh and camped out at a pub across town on the day of the announcement so the prize committee wouldn’t be able to reach him.

Physicist Close shares more details in an interview with Scientific American:

Close: One of the biggest shocks I had when I was interviewing him was when he said the discovery of the boson “ruined [his] life.” I thought, “How can it ruin your life when you have done some beautiful mathematics, and then it turns out you had mysteriously touched on the pulse of nature, and everything you’ve believed in has been shown to be correct, and you’ve won a Nobel Prize? How can these things amount to ruin?” He said, “My relatively peaceful existence was ending. My style is to work in isolation and occasionally have a bright idea.” He is a very retiring person who was being thrust into the limelight.

That, to my mind, is why Peter Higgs the person is still elusive to me even though I’ve known him for 40 years…

Higgs had spent two to three years really trying to understand a particular problem. And because he had done that hard work and was still trying to deepen his understanding of this very profound concept, when a paper turned up on his desk posing a related question, Higgs happened to have the answer because of the work he’d done. He sometimes says, “I’m primarily known for three weeks of my life.” I say, “Yes, Peter, but you spent two years preparing for that moment.”

Q: The discovery of the Higgs boson came nearly 50 years after Higgs’s prediction, and he said he never expected it to be found in his lifetime. What did it mean to him that the particle was finally detected?

He said to me that his first reaction was one of relief that it was indeed confirmed. At that moment he knew [the particle existed] after all, and he felt a profound sense of being moved that that was really the way it was in nature — and then panic that his life was going to change.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Ebook Services Are Bringing Unhinged Conspiracy Books into Public Libraries

Librarians say Holocaust deniers, antivaxxers, and other conspiracy theorists are being featured in the catalogs of a popular ebook lending service. From a report: In February, a group of librarians in Massachusetts identified a number of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic books on Hoopla, including titles like “Debating The Holocaust” and “A New Nobility of Blood and Soil” — the latter referring to the infamous Nazi slogan for nationalist racial purity. After public outcry from library and information professionals, Hoopla removed a handful of titles from its digital collection.

In an email obtained by the Library Freedom Project last month, Hoopla CEO Jeff Jankowski explained that the titles came from the company’s network of more than 18,000 publishers: “[The titles] were added within the most recent twelve months and, unfortunately, they made it through our protocols that include both human and system-driven reviews and screening.” However, quick Hoopla keyword searches for ebooks about “homosexuality” and “abortion” turn up dozens of top results that contain largely self-published religious texts categorized as “nonfiction,” including several titles like “Can Homosexuality Be Healed” which promote conversion therapy and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. This prompted a group of librarians to start asking how these titles are appearing in public library catalogs and why they are ranked so high.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Ironic Effect of Efforts to Ban Books: Teenagers Form New Book Clubs to Read Them

CNN reports on “an ironic effect” of efforts to remove books from libraries in America. “The more certain books are singled out, the more people want to read them.”

And for some U.S. teenagers, “banned book clubs, recent book banning attempts have been a springboard for wider discussions around censorship.”
The Banned Book Club at Firefly Bookstore [started by 8th grader Joslyn Diffenbaugh] read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” as its first pick. While the satirical novella, which makes a pointed critique of totalitarianism, isn’t one of the books currently being challenged in the US, it was banned in the Soviet Union until its fall and was rejected for publication in the UK during its wartime alliance with the USSR. And it faced challenges in Florida in the ’80s for being “pro-communist.” That history made for some thought-provoking conversations. “It taught a lot because it had references to different forms of government that maybe some adults didn’t like their kids reading about, even though it was run by pigs,” Diffenbaugh said. “I really thought it shouldn’t have been banned for those reasons, or at all.”

Teenagers at the Common Ground Teen Center in Washington, Pennsylvania, formed a banned book club soon after a Tennessee school district voted to remove “Maus” from an eighth grade curriculum. But while the graphic novel about the Holocaust was the catalyst for the club, says director Mary Jo Podgurski, the first title they chose to read was, fittingly, “Fahrenheit 451” — the 1953 dystopian novel about government censorship that itself has been challenged over the years. “Obviously this whole idea of taking away books that they wanted to read or that they thought they should read sparked a nerve in them,” said Podgurski, an educator and counselor who oversees the Common Ground Teen Center….

Since reading “Fahrenheit 451,” the club has also discussed “Animal Farm” and “1984,” which has been challenged for its political themes and sexual content. So far, the young readers at the Common Ground Teen Center have been puzzled as to why those books were once deemed inappropriate. “I often wonder, do adults understand what kids have in their phones?” Podgurski said. “They have access to everything. Saying ‘don’t read this book’ shows that you’re not understanding teen culture. Young people have access to much information. What they need is an adult to help them process it.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

New Book Warns CS Mindset and VC Industry are Ignoring Competing Values

So apparently three Stanford professors are offering some tough-love to young people in the tech community. Mehran Sahami first worked at Google when it was still a startup (recruited to the company by Sergey Brin). Currently a Stanford CS professor, Sahami explained in 2019 that “I want students who engage in the endeavor of building technology to think more broadly about what are the implications of the things that they’re developing — how do they impact other people? I think we’ll all be better off.”

Now Sahami has teamed up with two more Stanford professors to write a book calling for “a mature reckoning with the realization that the powerful technologies dominating our lives encode within them a set of values that we had no role in choosing and that we often do not even see…”

At a virtual event at Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum, the three professors discussed their new book, System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot — and thoughtfully and succinctly distilled their basic argument. “The System Error that we’re describing is a function of an optimization mindset that is embedded in computer science, and that’s embedded in technology,” says political scientist Jeremy Weinstein (one of the book’s co-authors). “This mindset basically ignores the competing values that need to be ‘refereed’ as new products are designed. It’s also embedded in the structure of the venture capital industry that’s driving the growth of Silicon Valley and the growth of these companies, that prioritizes scale before we even understand anything about the impacts of technology in society. And of course it reflects the path that’s been paved for these tech companies to market dominance by a government that’s largely been in retreat from exercising any oversight.”

Sahami thinks our technological landscape should have a protective infrastructure like the one regulating our roads and highways. “It’s not a free-for all where the ultimate policy is ‘If you were worried about driving safely then don’t drive.'” Instead there’s lanes and traffic lights and speed bumps — an entire safe-driving infrastructure which arrived through regulation.” Or (as their political science professor/co-author Rob Reich tells the site), “Massive system problems should not be framed as choices that can be made by individual consumers.”

Sahami also thinks breaking up big tech monopolies would just leaves smaller “less equipped” companies to deal with the same problems — but that positive changes in behavior might instead come from government scrutiny. But Reich also wants to see professional ethics (like the kind that are well-established in biomedical fields). “In the book we point the way forward on a number of different fronts about how to accelerate that…”

And he argues that at colleges, just one computing-ethics class isn’t enough. “Ethics must be embedded through the entire curriculum.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.