Friday, April 23, 2010

Oh dear

This is the juiciest literary-backstabbing story since the whole Oxford poetry professorship doo-dah.

April 15: the LRB Blog quotes a TLS diary story on an Amazon reviewer variously nicknamed 'Historian' and 'orlando-birkbeck'. This reviewer has written a spate of glowing reviews of Orlando Figes' books about Russian history, and has rubbished similar books by other authors, plus one that beat a book of Figes' to a prize.

April 17: It was Figes' missus!

April 23: Figes 'fesses!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bursts and Brsts

Albert Laszlo Barabasi, one of the leading lights of network theory and research, has a new popular book out soon. It's called 'Bursts'. One of the blurb quotes on the webpage says that it looks at networks in time, in contrast to his earlier 'Linked', which looked at them in space. Sounds a bit like the Tipping Point, or possibly Phil Ball's Critical Mass. (I've read none of the books mentioned in this paragraph.)

To promote the book/allow readers to 'be part of a unique experiment', Barabasi has set up a game type thing at (Anyone else more inclined to read that as 'breasts' than 'bursts'? Oh.)

After registering, you can adopt a word of the text. You do this by perusing an online copy of the book where words that are taken are in orange and words that aren't are in green. You pick a green word, and then that word, along with every other word that's taken thus far, is revealed to you. I went to the chapter titled 'Deadly Quarrels and Power Laws', as the title reflects my current and past interests, and clicked on 'Technica'. Lucky old me.

You can get points by inviting your friends to sign up, or by guessing concealed words. This last is staggeringly easy, at least for words where some other known words are nearby, as the game gives you an anagram of the word in question.

If you get lots of points, you might get a free book. The current leader has 50,000 points, 40,000 more than second place, and has guessed early 8,000 words. I have 318, and am unlikely to rack up many more, so I guess I'll either be buying a copy, or trying to blag a review copy from somewhere.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Margaret Atwood writes about Twitter

This lovely blog post at the NYRB is well worth a read.

P.s. I've only read a couple of Atwood's books, most recently Oryx and Crake. I thought her dystopia reflected the skills of someone sharp on culture and politics - life reduced to junk food, shopping malls and porn - but less so on the science. An engineered turbo-Ebola that wipes out humanity? Yawn. Not only a yawn, but an evolutionarily implausible yawn, because how virulent a bug is, and how easy it is spread, change and interact in complex ways. There are reasons that Ebola is rare and colds are common.

The parasite in David Cronenberg's Shivers, that makes it's carriers super-horny is probably closer to real life - think of all the crazy effects that parasites have on behaviour, like making an ant climb a blade of grass so it'll get eaten by a sheep. See Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex.

Oryx and Crake also contains what must be the dullest computer game ever imagined, Extinctathon, which involves naming extinct species, if I remember correctly. The idea that teenage boys would get into this seemed highly implausible.

Anyway, all that was just to flesh out the link to the blog post. O&C is also well worth a read, as is Atwood's review of E. O. Wilson's Anthill, also in the NYRB.