Six Books (and One Blog) Bill Gates Wants You to Read This Summer

Bill Gates — Microsoft CEO turned philanthropist, lifelong learner and fan of The Great Courses — is recommending seven texts you should read this summer. They’re not exactly light beach reading. But you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll get more dialed into issues on Gates’ mind. On his website, the video above comes accompanied by reasons for reading each work.:

Hyperbole and A Half , by Allie Brosh: the Book, based on Brosh’s wildly popular website, consists of brief vignettes and comic drawings her young About Life. The adventures she recounts are mostly inside her head, where we hear and see the kind of inner thoughts most of us are too timid to let out in public. You will rip through it in three hours, tops. But you’ll wish it went on longer, because it’s funny and smart as hell. I must have interrupted Melinda a dozen times to read to her passages that made ​​me laugh out loud.

The Magic of Reality, by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford, has a gift for making science enjoyable. This Book is as accessible as the TV series Cosmos is for Younger Audiences-and as Relevant for OldEr Audiences. It’s an engaging, well-illustrated science textbook offering compelling answers to big questions, like “how did the universe form?” And “what causes earthquakes?” It’s also a plea for readers of all ages to approach mysteries with rigor and curiosity.Dawkins’s antagonistic (and, to me, overzealous) view of religion has earned him a lot of angry critics, but I consider him to be one of the great scientific writer / explainers of all time.

If what?, by Randall Munroe. The subtitle of the book is “Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions,” and that’s exactly what it is. People write Munroe with questions that range over all fields of science: physics, chemistry, biology. Questions like, “From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?” (The answer, it turns out, is “high enough that it would disintegrate before it hit the ground.”) Munroe’s explanations are funny, but the science underpinning his answers is very accurate. It’s an entertaining read, and you’ll also learn a bit about things like ballistics, DNA, the oceans, the atmosphere, and lightning along the way.

XKCD, by Randall Munroe. A collection of posts from Munroe’s Blog XKCD, which is made up of Cartoons he Draws making fun of things-Mostly Scientists and Computers, But lots of Other things too. There’s One About Scientists holding A Press Conference to Reveal Their discovery That Life is arsenic-based. They research press conferences and find out that sometimes it’s good to serve food that’s related to the subject of the conference. The last panel is all the reporters dead on the floor because they ate arsenic. It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do.

On Immunity , by Eula Biss. When I stumbled across this book on the Internet, I thought it might be a worthwhile read. I had no idea what a pleasure reading it would be. Biss, an essayist and university lecturer, examines what lies behind people’s fears of vaccinating their children. Like many of us, she concludes that vaccines are safe, effective, and almost miraculous tools for protecting children against needless suffering. But she is not out to demonize anyone who holds opposing views. This is a thoughtful and beautifully written book about a very important topic.

How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff. I Picked up this Short, Easy-to-Read Book after Seeing it on A Wall Street Journal list of good Books for Investors . I enjoyed it so much That it WAS One of A Handful of Books I recommended to everyone at TED this year. It was first published in 1954, but aside from a few anachronistic examples (it has been a long time since bread cost 5 cents a loaf in the United States), it does not feel dated. One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons-a timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days. A useful introduction to the use of statistics, and a helpful refresher for anyone who is already well versed in it.

Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil. The richer the world gets, the more meat it eats. And the more meat it eats, the bigger the threat to the planet. How do we square this circle? Vaclav Smil takes his usual clear-eyed view of the whole landscape, from meat’s role in human evolution to hard questions about animal cruelty. While it would be great if people wanted to eat less meat, I do not think we can expect large numbers of people to make drastic reductions. I’m betting on innovation, including higher agricultural productivity and the development of meat substitutes, to help the world meet its need for meat. A timely book, though probably the least beach-friendly one on this list.

You can get more ideas from Bill Gates at Gates Notes.

If you’re looking to do some more DIY education this summer, don’t miss the following rich collections:

630 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

700 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

1100 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

via Electric Literature

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

Windows and OS X are malware, claims Richard Stallman

Linux GNU firebrand Richard Stallman says Windows and Apple's OS X are malware, Amazon is Orwellian, and anyone who trusts the internet-of-things is an ass.

In a column for The Guardian Stallman preaches to the non-technical masses about the evils of proprietary software and vendor lock-in, and how closed-door coding facilitates clandestine deals with nation state spy agencies.

"What kinds of programs constitute malware? Operating systems, first of all," Stallman testifies.

"Apple systems are malware too: MacOS snoops and shackles; iOS snoops, shackles, censors apps and has a backdoor.

"Even Android contains malware in a nonfree component: a back door for remote forcible installation or deinstallation of any app."

Stallman references a a Bloomberg report in saying Microsoft "sabotages" Windows users by disclosing vulnerabilities to the NSA before patches are released.

It isn't just Windows and MacOS – we think he means Apple's OS X – that Stallman brands malware: Barbie dolls, smart TVs, and cars also earn his ire thanks to the potential for marketers to secretly pry on a child's worst fears or listen in to lounge room conversations.

Stallman makes a valid if perhaps less hyperbolic point; that many commercial software houses are notoriously focused on time-to-market and at best bolt security checks on at the end of development, if at all.

The dash for cash also means patching is patchy. Vendors rarely pay much attention to shuttering security vulnerabilities created as a result of the bolt-on security ideology, and pay less still to discovering holes in their products.

There are of course many exceptions, with large and small organisations running bug bounties and working to harden code.

Yet the problem is bad enough that governments have universally kept crosshairs fixed on hackers who exploit, rather than developers who push out dangerous code.

Open source produce is not immune from vulnerabilities, but its inherent transparency means flaws are more likely to be found and fixed. It also makes the prospect of inserting sneaky backdoors into code a decidedly riskier proposition since it may be more easily found.

We may love our malicious smart phones, social networks, and internet-connected devices, but resistance, Stallman says, is not futile.

"It is fashionable to recognise the viciousness of today’s computing only to declare resistance unthinkable. Many claim that no one could resist gratification for mere freedom and privacy. But it’s not as hard as they say. We can resist:
  • Individually, by rejecting proprietary software and web services that snoop or track.
  • Collectively, by organising to develop free/libre replacement systems and web services that don’t track who uses them.
  • Democratically, by legislation to criminalise various sorts of malware practices. This presupposes democracy, and democracy requires defeating treaties such as the TPP and TTIP that give companies the power to suppress democracy."

Future Decoded 2015 - your future starts today!‏

Join us at Future Decoded, a unique experience from Microsoft that brings together some of the world’s technical experts to explore the opportunities that will define your success in the 21st Century.

Following last year’s inaugural event, we’re back with an even greater line up of industry superstars to inspire you. Register your interest now to attend deep dive technical sessions, share learnings and network with tons of other developers and IT Professionals. There has never been a more exciting time to work in the tech industry.                            

Microsoft spells out upgrade paths to Windows 10


Last week Microsoft announced the Windows 10 editions that will power personal computing and Enterprise systems across the growing wide range of devices available. With this announcement Microsoft also reconfirmed they will offer free upgrades to Windows 10 for qualifying Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices for the first year after the launch of Windows 10.

This week, a blog post on Microsoft's Australia Partner Network offered more detailed information about the specific paths for upgrading to Windows 10. As previously mentioned, but now further spelled out, devices that take advantage of the free upgrade will receive ongoing Windows 10 updates for the life of that device and the free upgrade to Windows 10 will be delivered through Windows Update.

The blog post went on to further detail the editions of Windows 10 announced last week and how they will be made available:

  • Windows 10 Home for consumers and BYOD scenarios, available under the free upgrade
  • Windows 10 Pro for small  and lower mid-size businesses, available under the free upgrade
  • Windows 10 Enterprise for Mid-size and large enterprises, available under Volume Licensing (VL)
  • Windows 10 Education designed to meet the needs of schools – teachers, students, staff, and administrators, available under VL
  • Windows 10 Mobile for consumer, small, mid-size and large enterprises and academic institutions, available under OEM
  • Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise for mid-size and large enterprises with IoT scenarios, available under OEM (IoT), VL

How microwaves could help you surf the Internet at the speed of light


In theory, under the very best conditions, data would be able to travel across the Internet at the speed of light. In reality, as we all know, that doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons such as the fact that we don’t live in a vacuum, bandwidth constraints create bottlenecks, and communication protocols slow things down. However, new research suggests that much of what’s keeping us from surfing at the speed of light is latency caused by the physical infrastructure of the Internet and that there’s a surprisingly cheap and realistic solution to the problem.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Duke University recently looked at the main causes of Internet latency and what it would take to achieve speed-of-light performance in a paper titled Towards a Speed of Light Internet. Reducing latency on the Internet, the authors posit, could have many positive benefits, such as improved user experience, expanded use of thin clients, and better geolocation. “We want to push to the limits of that endeavor; speed-of-light is the only *fundamental* limit,” one of the paper’s authors, Ankit Singla, who will soon be joining the faculty at ETH Zürich, told me via email. “Our work is an examination of why this is worth doing, and what it might take.”

Infrastructure latency is the main culprit

To get a sense for just how much slower than the speed of light the Internet currently is, Singla and his colleagues measured the time it took to fetch the index page HTML of 28,000 top web sites from clients at 186 locations around the world in December 2014 (SSL sites were not included for this study). Using the time it would take light to make the round trip between the client and the web server as a baseline, they found that the median fetch time was about 35 times as long it would take light to travel the same distance, while the fetch time for 80th percentile was more than 100 times as long.

To find out where the slowdowns were coming from, the researchers also broke down the fetch time by various steps: The median DNS-lookup time was 7.4 times as long it would take light to travel the same distance, TCP handshakes were 3.4x, request responses 6.6x, and TCP data transfers 10.2x. However, while it seems the overhead associated with these protocols is causing the bulk of the delay, it turns out that much of it is really coming from the latency of the underlying infrastructure, which works in a multiplicative way by affecting each step in the request. When the researchers adjusted for the median ping time from clients to servers, 3.2 times longer than what it would take light to travel the same distance, the true protocol overheads dropped to 2.3x for DNS-lookup, 1.1x for the TCP handshake, 1.0x for the request response, and 3.2x for the TCP transfer.

In other words, if the underlying infrastructure latency could be removed, without making any improvements to protocol overhead, the speed of the Internet could be brought down from what is often more than two orders of magnitude slower than the speed of light to just one order of magnitude slower, or less. As the authors wrote in the paper, “inflation at the lower layers plays a big role in Internet latency inflation.”

A cheap and easy speed-of-light Internet

The second part of the paper proposes what turns out to be a relatively cheap and potentially doable solution to bring Internet speeds close to the speed of light for the vast majority of us. The authors propose creating a network that would connect major population centers using microwave networks. Why microwaves? Because microwave networks have already proven to be extremely fast and (somewhat) reliable. For example, microwaves are used to transfer data at nearly the speed of light between financial markets in Chicago and New York City for high frequency trading, where minimal latency is critical, with 95% reliability. Also, other potential solutions, such as hollow fiber and line-of-sight optics, aren’t yet mature enough (or cheap enough) for consideration.

The drawback with microwave is low bandwidth. To get around that, their solution would rely on the microwave network between cities for web and data traffic for which minimal latency is important. Other things for which latency isn't as critical, like video consumption (which is currently 78% of web traffic), could continue to use existing infrastructure, so congestion wouldn’t be an issue. Traditional fiber would be used to bring data to users up to 100km away from the microwave endpoints; even at that distance, the latency introduced by fiber would be minimal.

The authors estimate that the cost of creating a network that would bring near speed-of-light Internet performance to 85% the U.S. population using microwave repeaters on existing towers would be a mere $253 million in set-up costs and $96 million a year in operational expenses. That's a relatively small investment compared to the billions of dollars currently being spent to lay new fiber optic cables across the Arctic Ocean.

Of course, there are potential issues with such an implementation. For example, getting approval from the FCC to use existing towers for microwave is not a given. Also, some applications are both latency-sensitive and high-bandwidth, so this solution may not work for those at scale. Setting up microwave networks across oceans to expand beyond the U.S. wouldn’t be simple, either.

All in all, though, Singla and his colleagues feel that their proposed solution is not unrealistic.

“We think this setup with two parallel networks — the current fiber backbone which provides huge bandwidth, but higher latency; and a microwave-based network that provides nearly speed-of-light latency, but much lower bandwidth — is very interesting,” he said, “and a plausible way of getting a lot of the benefits of low-latency networking at very little cost.”

They also feel that, whatever the ultimate solution, a speed-of-light Internet isn’t just a pipe dream, but something that we will have someday. “I think this will eventually happen,” Singla told me, "the challenge for us is to make it happen *soon*, for example, getting really close to speed-of-light latencies within a decade, at least within certain geographies."

Office apps for Android phones are now available


There is no denying that Android is the world's most popular mobile phone operating system with Google saying last year that on any given thirty-day rolling period there are more than a billion users of the OS. So when you are working to get your productivity software into the hands of a billion users, you can't ignore the OS.

Microsoft has already released and today they are taking it one step further with Office apps for the phone as well. If you want to try these apps out, you will need to join the Microsoft Office for Android preview program which you can do here.

After you join the program, hit the download links below, but be aware that it may take up to four hours for the permissions to be applied to your account to enable the apps.

The new apps will replace the current Office Mobile app for Android and offer the same touch-optimized Office experience currently available for Android tablets but for a smaller screen.

Bringing Microsoft's latest iteration of Office to the Android platform is a strategic move for the company. While they would love if every user bought a phone running Windows, as the market has shown, that is not happening at a fast enough rate for the Redmond-based company.

So, the next best thing is to make sure Office, one of the company's largest revenue drivers, is available wherever the consumer is, which means Office on Android devices is a must.

Download: Word | Excel | PowerPoint

Microsoft study shows that tech is shortening your attention span


Think the abundance of technology in your life is making it harder to concentrate for long periods? Microsoft might just have some evidence to support your theory. It recently published a study (conducted using both surveys and EEG scans) suggesting that the average attention span has fallen precipitously since the start of the century. While people could focus on a task for 12 seconds back in 2000, that figure dropped to 8 seconds in 2013 -- about one second less than a goldfish. Reportedly, a lot of that reduction stems from a combination of smartphones and an avalanche of content. Many younger people find themselves compulsively checking their phones, and the glut of things to do on the web (such as social networking) makes it all too easy to find diversions.

Thankfully, it's not all bad. While tech is hurting attention spans overall, it also appears to improve your abilities to both multitask and concentrate in short bursts. You not only get a better sense of what deserves your attention, but do a better job of committing useful things to memory. There are limits to these improvements (heavy social networking tends to make things worse as a whole), but you can take comfort in knowing that there's an upside to your gadget addictions.

Microsoft Attention Spans Infograph.pdf (172.9KB)

Microsoft attention spans research report.pdf (2MB)

Microsoft offers IT guidance to prepare for Windows as a Service



When Windows 10 arrives this summer (and Windows Server 2016 next year), Microsoft is going to be making some noticeable changes to how and when it delivers security fixes, hotfixes and rollups.

What can IT pros do now to prepare for the new Windows world order?

Company officials provided some potentially controversial suggestions and guidance during Microsoft's Ignite conference in Chicago. In a session entitled "Getting Ready for Windows 10: Servicing Windows Client and Server in a Managed Environment Today" (Video and slides available here; a good summary from Microsoft Premier Field Engineer Robert Smith is here), Thierry Paquay, a manager on Microsoft's Customer Experience Engineering team, discussed where Microsoft is and where it's going with its patching and updating process.

The reason Paquay's guidance could be considered controversial is Microsoft's current patching track record leaves quite a bit to be desired on the quality front, as more than a few have noted. At Ignite, Microsoft execs said they believe the company's move to require more users to apply Windows patches in sequential order on a regular basis will help improve the current Patch Tuesday approach.

Microsoft's track record with security fixes is better than many might expect, Paquay told Ignite attendees. He said in 2014, 87 percent of Windows and IE security updates were successful and didn't require a re-release, a percentage he maintained was quite favorable.

Microsoft's guidance on the security update front has been to validate security fixes from Microsoft but deploy them as quickly as possible. Microsoft will continue to advise customers to follow that guidance with Windows 10.But when it comes to non-security updates and rollups, a number of business customers are either delaying "optional" and "recommended" fixes too long, he said. And the failure to apply certain non-security updates can affect negatively the application of security updates over time, Paquay said.

Currently, Microsoft's wording in its guidance around some hotfixes is to only apply them if trying to fix a very specific set of problems. But when there's data corruption, a bug check or a system hang, it's actually more detrimental than not to wait, Paquay argued. He said if more users would apply optional hotfixes and update rollups proactively, Microsoft would be able to gather more telemetry data and fix path and hotfix problems more rapidly, allowing the company to promote tested fixes as "recommended" or "important" updates/rollups for a broader group of customers.

Once an update appears in Windows Update as "recommended," it has already been installed on and deployed to millions of Windows devices already, meaning it has been vetted to a fairly substantial degree (and not just inside Microsoft or by Windows testers only), he said.

Microsoft’s New Edge Browser Is A Windows-Only Play For Now


Microsoft has no immediate plans to let its new browser out of Windows 10.

The software giant indicated today that it has no current intention of shipping Edge, formerly known as ‘Project Spartan’, on other platforms. I confirmed the strategy with Microsoft after the announcement.

It might sound odd, but that Microsoft is not working to release Edge on other platforms is notable. The company has pursued an aggressive cross-platform strategy in recent years, shipping even its crown jewels on rival platforms. Microsoft is waging a double war: Rebuild Windows to its former platform heights, while also allowing its software and services compete on other platforms for market and mindshare.

Even while that’s all simple enough, the choice to ship Edge for Windows 10 makes sense from a distribution perspective: What sort of marketshare could Edge accrete on OS X, for example, when the OS X install base remains at its current scale? That leaves mobile platforms, where incumbents have a huge advantage in that they can staple on their own browsers before a device it is turned on for the first time.

Microsoft backtracks on free Windows 10 update for pirates


The confusion has revolved around Microsoft's offer to give free Windows 10 updates to people running Windows 7 and 8.1. In a statement last March, Windows chief Terry Myerson was reported to have said that the offer would extend to pirated copies, too. Microsoft quickly began issuing vague clarifications, while still implying that there would be a way to upgrade at no cost, even if pirates would be required to pay eventually. Now, we're finally getting a full clarification: there's no free upgrade at all. Pirates just have to pay.

Microsoft says that it's planning to run some "very attractive Windows 10 upgrade offers" that will allow people with pirated copies to move to an official version. Specific details of that haven't been announced yet, but that likely won't come until we actually hear about when Windows 10 will arrive. For now, it's still targeted for this summer.