by Henry on March 24, 2006

Via “Patrick Nielsen Hayden”: I see that the Hugo nominees have been announced. They’re

Learning the World, Ken MacLeod (Orbit; Tor)
A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin (Voyager; Bantam Spectra)
Old Man’s War, John Scalzi (Tor)
Accelerando, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

For once, I’ve read all of them, and liked each of them quite a bit – it’s a very good field this year. That said, if I had to pick, it would either be McLeod’s _Learning the World_ or Wilson’s _Spin_. Both of these books see their authors reaching a new level of achievement. The McLeod book combines the political edge of his earlier work with a real degree of human warmth; it’s a little reminiscent of Vinge’s _Deepness in the Sky_ in its setup, but more subtle in how its plot plays out. _Spin_ strikes me as even more subtle, albeit chillier – using a gonzo science-fictional conceit and a slightly unreliable narrator to explore how we construct fantasies about an uncaring universe. As for the others, _Accelerando_ is very impressive, but I couldn’t entirely warm to it – I found that I was reading it more for the infodumps than the plot development. I prefer his “Merchant Princes” series which has less bells and whistles, but does a better job in my opinion of combining plotline with sociological speculation. More on this series later. That said, _Accelerando_ has some very nice sardonic touches. Most libertarian Singularities see the geeks inheriting the earth, but Stross’s version of the Singularity is dominated by feral intelligent financial instruments; hedge funds with stratospheric IQs run amok. _A Feast for Crows_ is a not-entirely-wonderful installment in a mostly wonderful series of books – the next should be better (it’ll have Tyrion). _Old Man’s War_ is great entertainment – I suspect Scalzi is getting a little tired of being compared to a modern Heinlein but there’s good reason for the comparison; he resurrects the feeling of golden age SF, but somehow manages to make it feel fresh. All good books in my opinion – feel free to agree/disagree in comments.

Ben Domenech

by Kieran Healy on March 24, 2006

The “Ben Domenech”: plagiarism trainwreck is summarized nicely by “hilzoy”: at Obsidian Wings. (The discovery of an “entire column ripped out of a PJ O’Rourke book”: is the icing on the cake.) The two most entertaining things written about it so far are, first, the “in-the-bunker”: “defences”: being rolled out at RedState, and second, “this comment”: at “Sadly No!”:

bq. No matter how brief Ben’s Post gig was, it’s still going to look good on his (Ctrl)C (Ctrl)V …

A “couple of years ago”: I wrote a post about kinds of plagiarism by college students:

Like hepatitis, plagiarism comes in several varieties.

# Google Plagiarism. Find a paper or discussion online. Pros: Copy. Paste. Done! Cons: Professor may also know about Google.

Sadly for Ben, the “may also know about Google” problem goes for thousands of bloggers as well. Never mind the joys of Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature, which allowed for the lift from O’Rourke to be confirmed.

Bell Labs going to France ?

by John Quiggin on March 24, 2006

This NYT story reports that Alcatel is negotiating to buy Lucent, the communications equipment maker spun off by AT&T a few years back. It’s not mentioned until the end of the article, and then only in passing, that the deal includes “the research and development unit Bell Laboratories, an intellectual powerhouse”.

That’s putting it mildly, at least in historical terms. Eleven researchers have shared six Nobel Prizes for work done while they were at Bell Labs, among many other awards. As well as the transistor, the photovoltaic cell , the LED, CCD and much more, Bell Labs created both Unix and C. It even had its own economics journal (the Bell Journal, which later became the Rand Journal). It was truly a unique institution.

Of course, all this was cut back drastically with deregulation and the breakup of the old AT&T monopoly, and even more so after the Lucent spinoff. Still, the passing of Bell Labs out of US ownership is worth recording. It remains to be seen whether Alcatel will follow the logic of the market and kill Bell Labs altogether, or make a quixotic attempt at reviving some of the glories of the past.