Monthly Archives: May 2006

The Neglected Comedies

Ed Brayton has his reactions to a list of the “100 funniest movies of all time”, including mentions of several that he thought should have been on the list.

One of the comments noted that the list appeared to only be of things made in the past 40 years or so, and that struck me as true. So I’m going to list some of my own picks for movies that would have made my top 100 comedy picks here, and I will encourage you to join in.

Kind Hearts and Coronets Kind hearts and coronets: A spot of serial murder, anyone? Alec Guinness wowed the world with his performance of six doomed aristocrats in this film.

One, Two, Three One, Two, Three: Jimmy Cagney in comedy? Not just in it, but great in it. This one has to been seen to be believed.

What's Up, Doc? What’s Up, Doc?: OK, maybe some of you, or a lot of you, think that Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand aren’t your cup of tea. This movie deserves an afternoon once in a while, though.

Jabberwocky Jabberwocky: I think this movie was Terry Gilliam’s second directing effort. While it isn’t as smooth and polished as perhaps would be best, I find it consistently funny on viewing again. Michael Palin of Monty Python fame turns in a great performance as the bumbling Dennis Cooper, a craftsman with the soul of an MBA and a thing for the fat Griselda Fishfinger. Find out why he was able to slay the monster, earn half the kingdom, and still end up unhappy.

The Parent Trap (1961) The Parent Trap: Perhaps this is a guilty pleasure. OK, so I had a crush on Hayley Mills when I was growing up, a condition I expect I share with most guys my age who aren’t currently chalking up how many “Gay Pride” parades they’ve been in, and maybe even some of them, too. Of the Disney kid-fare offerings, though, I think this one stands out and holds up over time.

The Bed Sitting Room: I’ll cop to this, I’ve only seen the last 45 minutes of this film. I’m not sure that seeing the first 45 minutes would lead to enlightenment, but I’m willing to be confused. Somebody let me know when this makes it out of the storage bin and onto VHS or DVD. Really. Rita Tushingham and Dudley Moore are in it, as well as the occasional parrot and the post-nuclear scenario of England.

The Court Jester The Court Jester: Danny Kay in one of his best performances.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Need I say more?

OK, that’s about it for me now. Your turn.

More FreeBSD Stuff

I’m going to talk about setting up a laptop computer to boot and run FreeBSD from an external USB 2.0 attached hard drive. So far, this is working pretty nicely.

The office laptop hard drive broke down, so I’ve been doing a bunch of re-installation of stuff. For the office crew, it’s a given that we will be running Microsoft Windows XP as the operating system. But while I was waiting for the replacement drive to show up, I looked up “FreeBSD” and the laptop model via Google, and found a handy page listing the various drivers that FreeBSD would need to make use of the laptop resources. So I gave that a try using one of the 2.5″ IDE drives that we have stored from laptop upgrades past. Except for the Broadcom-based onboard WiFi device, everything worked nicely.

Then the replacement drive showed up, so it was time to do the XP re-install on that. One of the things I had noticed, though, was that the BIOS boot menu had an option for booting from a USB device. Hmmm.

So I moved my laptop hard disk into a 2.5″ external USB 2.o drive enclosure, the sort that draws its power from the USB port itself. I put in the FreeBSD 6.1-RELEASE install CD-ROM, and booted the laptop to CD. This gave me the option of installing FreeBSD to either the onboard hard disk or the USB hard disk. I selected the USB disk and proceeded with a express install for the “User with kernel sources” distribution.

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A Secret Science From the Stars?

Last week, there was a public show put on at Biola — that’s the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, if that is unfamilar. Called “Intelligent Design under fire”, it featured several of the leading lights of the ID movement fielding questions from various critics, and also giving the ID crew the opportunity to confer the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth on Anthony Flew for, apparently, converting from hard atheism to something like deism.

Apparently, though, there was more going on at Biola than just that evening of dog-and-pony show stuff. There was, it turns out, a second “Research And Progress in Intelligent Design” (RAPID) Conference that followed the public event. But this time, there was no public announcement that it was on and no public information has been shared about it, except that Jeffrey Schwartz, the Buddhist mind/brain dualist, presented there.

Back in 2002, the first RAPID conference was held, and since I was living in San Diego at the time, I figured I needed to attend it. I sent in registration information via email, and had gotten to the part about sending a check or transferring some credit card information when I got a phone call. It was Jed Macosko, the RAPID conference organizer, calling to say that he was sorry, and that RAPID was a closed conference, only ID advocates registered, sorry about that. I did go to listen the opening night public event, where the ID advocate elite gave short speeches to the crowd. Remember pep rallies from high school? That was the vibe I got. Oh, I also got dinner, by way of the hopsitality of Jed Macosko, who invited me in to join folks at his table at the pre-event dinner.

Now, we are told that ID is science already and should be able to be taught by teachers to high schools students if they wish to do so (though it shouldn’t be mandated, according to the Discovery Institute, who apparently subscribe to a Schrodinger’s Cat theory of evading legal review of such a policy: if we aren’t certain that it’s happening in every class, then we must give it a pass). The first RAPID conference somewhat backfired on them concerning public perception, given that real scientific conferences don’t exclude people on viewpoint. Also, the listing of Richard von Sternberg as a presenter at the first conference put a bit of a crimp in the story being told that Sternberg wasn’t actually either a young-earth creationist or intelligent design advocate… if you have a conference whose attendees are vetted for ID advocate status, it’s absurd to try to hold that you are including critics, friendly or otherwise, on the speaking schedule. So this time, there was no public fanfare in hyping the second RAPID conference, no public website with registration information and speaking schedule, and most especially no data about attendees.

A lot of ideas have gone from radical idea to acceptance in the scientific community… the endosymbiotic hypothesis, plate tectonics, punctuated equilibria, transposons, but none of those had series of closed conferences for the benefit of cheerleaders and advocates. The more that we see of ID, the more clear it becomes that they are nowhere close to “walking the walk”.

FreeBSD OS Upgrading Notes

I’m working on upgrading the OS on a FreeBSD server currently. The server is running version 4.9, and I want to move to version 6.1.

The docs for FreeBSD discuss migration issues. Apparently, I could get there by upgrading in place to version 5.3 or 5.4, and then do a second in place upgrade to 6.1. Somehow, though, that doesn’t sound very appealing to me. The alternative, as they say, is the “binary upgrade”: backup the old data, install the new system, and restore user data. The move is also being used to increase disk space; we’re going from an 80GB system disk to a 250GB system disk. So the install part of the binary upgrade is a cinch: just put the new system on the new disk. The user data is not even threatened.

Actually, it turns out that I have the time to do this at home, and I’m just installing the system to a 20GB scratch disk I have handy. I will clone it to the 250GB disk later, a process that I expect to take less than an hour. To do that, one makes a minimal install of the FreeBSD system, setting up the disk partitioning as desired, then uses dump and restore to transfer the contents of the smaller disk to the larger one. Exchange cables after that, and one is in business.

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Cultural Literacy: The Movies, Part 1

Having guests over often requires some shared time with certain movies. There were a few that we were able to watch with our guests last week, and that led me to think about listing some of the movies that Diane and I would likely check to see whether you were familiar with them. These are some of the movies we might insist on sharing if you dropped in for a visit.

Shakespeare in Love (Miramax Collector's Series) Shakespeare in Love : Tom Stoppard co-wrote the screenplay for this one, and it is quite a gift. There is lively dialog that is accessible to geeks like myself, while still offering something for sophisticates, too. We saw this first in its run in the theaters with Professor Jeanette Ridgway, whose field is Shakespeare, and she liked it, too. This is an R-rated film that includes some nudity and sexual situations. If you are prudish, this may bother you some. If you have kids with you when you come to visit, we’ll likely defer screening it until the kids are put to bed. The setting is London in the 1590s, where William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is trying to overcome writer’s block by finding his muse. On the spot for a comedy, “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter”, Shakespeare finds himself drawn to Viola de Lessops (Gwyneth Paltrow), a merchant’s daughter who is set for an arranged marriage to a broke nobleman. Viola also has a thing for the theater, and wants to get more involved. The Master of the Revels, though, is serious about keeping the ban on female actors enforced. Eventually, the show does go on, and the miracle lies in the playing of it.

Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures : This claymation animated pair of characters is terrific stuff, and you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy it. Wallace is a British eccentric with a passion for do-it-yourself inventions and cheese. Gromit is his faithful and exceedingly talented dog. Gromit doesn’t talk, but he sure communicates with the audience. These three shorts have our heroes going to the moon to solve the problem of a cheese shortage at home and where to take a holiday in one fell swoop; closing down a sheep rustling ring; and foiling the nefarious plot of a penguin cat-burglar.

The Princess Bride (Special Edition) The Princess Bride : This Rob Reiner film didn’t make a big splash at the box office, probably because nobody had a clue how to market it. But if you have any appreciation for self-conscious fantasy, or even just the sort of stories that you would have appreciated having your grandfather read to you as a kid, give this a try. William Goldman’s screenplay has plenty of funny and snappy repartee, and there’s action enough here with a couple of swordfights tossed in. It’s got “pirates, monsters, swordfights, honor, revenge, and true love”, so settle in on the couch and enjoy it. I always get a kick out of hearing, “No one would ever surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley.”

Argument by Incomprehensibility

There was a panel discussion at Florida State University yesterday on “After Dover”, featuring Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, Rob Pennock of Michigan State University, and Stephen Gey, Michael Ruse, and Joseph Travis of Florida State University. Patricia Deborah Blum moderated the discussion. (Thanks to “Vyoma” for the correction.)

There was a question and answer session at the end, and one of the questioners in particular captivated my attention. I have transcribed the exchange. The apparent goal of the questioner was to present such obtuse, obfuscated language as to leave the panelists too baffled to answer. However, he slipped up by using a stock phrase with known meaning, but in an inappropriate context.

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Another View of Phillip Johnson

Phillip E. Johnson may believe six inconsistent things before breakfast, but we don’t have to follow his example — or trust his latest inconsistent pronouncement.

The Sacramento Bee recently ran an article featuring an interview with Phillip E. Johnson, the “godfather” of the “intelligent design” movement.

His main disappointment is that the issue hasn’t made more headway in the mainstream scientific community.

Johnson said his intent never was to use public school education as the forum for his ideas. In fact, he said he opposed the efforts by the “well-intentioned but foolish” school board in Dover, Pa., to require teachers to present intelligent design as a viable scientific theory.

Instead, he hoped to ignite a debate in universities and the higher echelon of scientific thinkers.

But Johnson said he takes comfort knowing he helped fuel the debate that has taken place so far. “Perhaps we’ve done as much as we can do in one generation.”

What has Johnson said and done in the past concerning this topic, though? Is it really the case that public K-12 school curricula were not an issue for Johnson at any point? What we can see from the record is that public education at the K-12 level has, in fact, been a particular hobby-horse of Johnson’s. I also went through all of Johnson’s “Wedge Updates” archived at “Access Research Network” to see what Johnson had to say about public education there.

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Disaster of the Week

A personal one: a hard disk on the server that hosts PT went south. I am working on getting things restored following that. This may take a while.

Diane’s Return

Diane arrived home a little after 6 PM Sunday evening. The first thing was getting the trailer in the driveway, which is a bit of a trick given the dimensions of the cul-de-sac we live on. We’ve got to find an RV dump station somewhere before we can park the trailer more or less for the duration, so it is now still hooked up to the van.

We have guests staying with us, the mother and nephew of a co-worker of mine. So I cooked a frozen pizza and we played a few rounds of Rummikub with the four of us. Farli and Ritka got re-acquainted with the yard, and Rusty screeched at them a good deal. Rusty hasn’t had to put up with dogs in her yard in two and a half months, so she is less than thrilled with the development.

We started up the Wallace and Gromit movie, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. That made a nice end to the day.

Script of SMU Presentation

The following is my script for the fifteen minute presentation I gave at the SMU debate on April 25th. I hope to do some more with this, but I need to check with the organizers to make sure I won’t step on any toes, if they plan to sell audio or video from the event.



Tonight I am considering a public policy question. That question is, “Should intelligent design be taught as science in the public schools?”

[Short answer]

The short answer is, of course, no. I’m going to give some background, and come back to elaborate on the short answer.

[Not could be slide]

First, you have to recognize that “intelligent design” (or ID for short) is a recognizable body of arguments. This is not about what ID could be, would be, or even should be. This is about what ID demonstrably has been. We first saw it systematically used and defined as a phrase in the Dallas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics’s supplemental high school textbook, Of Pandas and People. Remember that. We’ll come back to it.

To understand “intelligent design” or any modern religious antievolution, you have to know that it is based on a two-model view of the world, one I heard expressed in March of this year by ID advocate William Dembski, that ID and evolutionary causes were mutually exclusive and exhausted all the possibilities between them, therefore evidence against evolution counted as evidence for design. This is about as convincing an argument as, “Yo momma!” But this is what religious antievolutionists are stuck with, to simply attack evolution and trust to cultural literacy that people will then fall into their camp.

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News: In tĂșngara frogs, female choice for complex calls led to evolution of unusual male vocal cord

Over on the Eurekalert page, there is this press release: In tĂșngara frogs, female choice for complex calls led to evolution of unusual male vocal cord. The male frogs have fibrous masses on the vocal cords. Researchers surgically removed the masses in some males, who thereafter could not produce the “chuck” part of the typical mating call in this species of “whine chuck chuck”. The female frog preference for males able to make the more complex call provides a basis for selection leading to the trait of having fibrous masses on the vocal cords.

This research complements Basolo’s earlier study finding that platyfish females in species without “swords” preferred males with artificial swords (Basolo, A.L. 1990. Female preference predates the evolution of the sword in swordtail fish. Science, 250:808-810.).

Scripps, FL At Risk

When it comes to science infrastructure, the talking points are financial, not technical. And so Science magazine reports that the deal to bring Scripps, the prominent California research institute, to establish a Florida branch in Palm Beach County, is still up in the air due to money. Scripps says that they can’t jeopardize their La Jolla, CA funding to make the new Florida facility, which means that they are relying upon Palm Beach County and the state of Florida to pony up the up-front costs of about \$569M. There was a Palm Beach County deadline of today for working out a deal, so we should know shortly whether there is still a possibility for Scripps to have a Florida branch.

Update: Apparently, the state of Florida stepped in to keeps the Scripps deal alive.

Travel Day

My time in the DFW area is coming to an end. I head back to California this afternoon.

I had four presentations while visiting DFW, the SMU debate last Tuesday, a class at UTA last Thursday, a talk and dinner with the North Texas Skeptics on Saturday, and a talk at the First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Worth on Sunday.

On the server front, I was able to update some services on the older FreeBSD server and have a slice from a second disk mount as the “/var” partition, giving us more room for email for the moment.

Time to get packed now…

Update: I arrived home about three hours later than I had originally planned, but have a \$300 travel certificate from the airline for my trouble. I volunteered to take a later flight to correct for their overbooking. It went right down to the last minute as to whether I would board the plane as originally planned or take the later flight. As I stood on the jetway just outside the plane waiting for the decision, a couple came down the jetway. They apparently were visiting from Belize, and their travel was not going smoothly. The overbooking must have had some dire consequences, because the woman started crying right there when they were told that they did not have seats for both of them, just one. Fortunately, the crew did figure out that they had two seats and got both of them aboard.

I was originally told that I would be getting a first class seat on the following flight. It turned out that a fellow that I had been talking with while awaiting the first flight had been on standby, but had bought a first class seat, so I ended up in coach just as I originally expected. They did give me a couple of coupons for free drinks by way of apology.