Friday, December 18, 2009

Google and Amazon: both heroes...and villains of the publishing industry today.
Larry Page and Sergey Bin's mission "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" has resulted in an entire reference library at our fingertips. Google Book Search is a much-needed democratisation of knowledge.
We are now a nation of online shoppers, able to browse the offerings in our local bookshops and then buy them so much cheaper at Amazon (or Amazon tells us about books we haven't even heard of and allows us to Search Inside. And the Kindle e-reader means any book any time!

Aside from intruding into our lives, Google has made us lazy. Research once meant books and a trip to the library, but these days we just let our fingers do the walking. Google Books gives far too much power to a company which has not always adhered to its unofficial slogan, "don't be evil". Now, despsite court challenges, it is seeking to establish an effective monopoly over digital access and distribution, and to strip writers of contractual rights.
The e-tailer has established a stranglehold on publishers that allows it to dictate terms and change them without consultation. Its price cuts are detrimental to the health of independent booksellers, which have become a mere research channel. With Booksurge and the Kindle e-reader, it is attempting to establish monopolies in the two growth areas of publishing and bookselling, print-on-demand and e-books.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Extra solar watery world:
The planet, named GJ 1214b, is 2.7 times as large as Earth and orbits a star much smaller and less luminous than our sun. That's significant, Charbonneau said, because for many years, astronomers assumed that planets only would be found orbiting stars that are similar in size to the sun.
Because of that assumption, researchers didn't spend much time looking for planets circling small stars, he said. The discovery of this "watery world" helps debunk the notion that Earth-like planets could form only in conditions similar to those in our solar system.
"Nature is just far more inventive in making planets than we were imagining," he said.
In a way, the newly discovered planet was sitting right in front of astronomers' faces, just waiting for them to look. Instead of using high-powered telescopes attached to satellites, they spotted the planet using an amateur-sized, 16-inch telescope on the ground.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oral Roberts sure gets a rise out of people.

Ben Witherington:
Oral Roberts was that most unusual of all kinds of Methodists--a Pentecostal one. He had a big heart, a large evangelistic career, and a big vision, even a vision of creating a huge medical center to go with the university he was founding.But of all the things we know about Oral Roberts he will undoubtedly be best remembered for all the faith healing services, and all the persons who benefited from his ministry.

Jerry Coyne:
My whole life I watched the old sinner bilk his sheep for millions to finance his own deification and the construction of his empire.   Roberts once saw a 900-foot-tall Jesus who assured him that his City of Faith hospital would be built, if only Roberts would squeeze his acolytes for more bucks.  The hospital was built, and went bankrupt. It’s now an office complex.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New study looks at ancestral human migration into Asia:

Researchers mapping a massive array of genomes across Asia say they have found evidence that humans covered the continent in a single migratory wave, and share a common ancestry.

The findings were released by the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) Pan-Asian SNP Consortium which looks at single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), or variations at individual bases that make up the genetic code. The results challenge the view that Asia was populated by at least two waves of migration.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More bad news for authors and publishers. Kirkus Reviews is closing. Taking 5,000 book reviews per year with it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

Razib Kahn and David Sloan Wilson discuss multi-level selection theory.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Ross Douthat pretty much nails it:
But you can see how it could all go bad — how a culture so intense clerical, so politically high-handed, and so embarrassed (beyond the requirements of Christian doctrine) by human sexuality could magnify the horror of priestly pedophilia, and expand the pool of victims, by producing bishops inclined to strong-arm the problem out of public sight instead of dealing with it as Christian leaders should. (In The Faithful Departed, his account of the scandal, Philip Lawler claims that while less than five percent of priests were involved in actual abuse, over two-thirds of bishops were involved in covering it up.) I suspect it isn’t a coincidence that the worst of the priest-abuse scandals have been concentrated in Ireland and America — and indeed, in Boston, the most Irish of American cities — rather than, say, in Italy or Poland or Latin America or Asia. There will always be priests who become predators; the question is how the Church as an institution deals with it. It hasn’t been handled all that well anywhere, I’m afraid. But the particular qualities of Irish Catholicism — qualities which were once a source of immense vitality — seem to have led to a particularly horrifying outcome.
Hat tip.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Book Notes
I just finished William Trevor's latest novel (his first since the disappointing Story of Lucy Gault) and am happy to report he's back in the driver's seat at age 82 or so. From Thomas Mallon's New York Times review:

There is a good deal of kindness in Trevor’s Rathmoye, and in the Rathmoyes he has created before it. Dillahan is good to Ellie, as the nuns had been. Mrs. Carley, once a maid at Shelhanagh, is kind to Florian; and the customers of aging Mr. Buckley, one of the salesmen at Mrs. Connulty’s, look out for him, correcting the errors he now makes when writing up orders, protecting him so “that he might safely reach the retirement he secretly craved.”

But dread and terror are also always present in this repressive world. Trevor is fantastically effective at foreboding; he can make a reader squirm just by withholding the next bit of some long-past anterior action he’s been recounting. When he wishes, as in his 1994 novel, “Felicia’s Journey,” he can depict the most gruesome violence, but always in the same even tones with which the hens get fed. This new novel, except for the accidents that took Mrs. Connulty’s husband and Dillahan’s first wife, is a delicate sort of drama — there is no corpse in the basement, no bomb lies hidden in any drawer — but even so, a reader will have his heart in his mouth for the last 50 pages. And when that heart settles back down, it will be broken and satisfied.

Speaking of Siris, he does in one paragraph what many a teacher can't explain in an entire semester.
Evolution is not a means of creation; it isn't very clear that the notion of a 'means of creation' is coherent. Evolution is a theory of generation; to be more precise, it is an account of how populations change when the generation and destruction of individuals in the population is linked to variation in the individuals, through things like selection and drift. This is something entirely different from creation; living things are not created through evolution, or by evolution, or any such thing. Evolution is part of the overall account of how living things are generated, of how they change from contrary to contrary, from being that to being other than that; it therefore is part of our account for why something is this rather than that.
Siris is all over Jerry Coyne, who, I guess, just can't help himself.