Quick review: Lemony Snicket

On a whim, the “Fellowship” gathered this evening in Burlington to eat Korean food and see Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The food was good (after a certain sharp-eyed person spotted shrimp in a supposedly vegetarian appetizer, thereby saving two allergic people from a horrible experience), and the film was sheer magic. From the spoof introduction to the mind-bending credits, the whole thing was delightful. Excellent performances from Liam Aiken and Emily Browning as Klaus and Violet, Billy Connolly as Uncle Monty, and Jim Carrey as Count Olaf; the best, however, was Meryl Streep’s tour de force as Aunt Josephine. I had not read the books; I had no idea what to expect; I haven’t laughed so hard in many, many films.

Not waving, but dialling….

OK, I admit it: the only reason to blog about this was because I couldn’t resist using this subject line. gumbies.jpgAs CNET reports, Samsung is launching a motion-sensitive mobile phone: “Samsung said the phone is also able to recognize and translate more complex movements, including dialing numbers drawn in the air using the handset or recognizing an ‘o’ or an ‘x’ drawn in the air as a yes or no command. “ I imagine they’ll use “gumby” clips from Monty Python in the TV ads…

(Via L’Inq.)


From Reuters via Yahoo!: “White House spokesman Scott McClellan said […] that ‘based on what we know today, the president would have taken the same action’ — war with Iraq — in order to ‘confront a threat posed by Saddam Hussein.”

Since we know today that Saddam Hussein possessed no WMDs, what exactly was the threat that he posed? Does McClellan realize how stupid he sounds?

All the news that's fit to gloss over….

The number of people who believe that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq actually possessed weapons of mass destruction must by now be in single digits. However the fact that the US has finally abandoned the search for WMD still seems newsworthy – after all, wasn’t a war launched on the strength of that falsehood, resulting in thousands of deaths and years of bloody chaos? But as Salon reports: “If you missed this bit of news, that’s because in our town’s newspaper, a little publication called the New York Times […] it was buried inside on A10 in a 240-word news brief.” (My emphasis.)

(I can’t wait to see how Daniel Okrent, the NYT “public editor”, explains this one.)

More Java cores than you know what to do with

After publishing a skeptical and rather petulant piece about Azul last October, El Reg decided to give Azul’s CMO, Shahin Khan, his own soapbox this week. He certainly waxed lyrical “If you could count CPUs the same way that you count memory, some problems would simply become uninteresting and others would transform in a qualitative way. And completely new possibilities would emerge. […] No need to plan capacity for each individual application. Let all of your users share a huge compute pool and plan capacity across many applications.”

Well, maybe. Remember that Azul is planning to ship up to 1,200 cores in a single rack, but these core will be specialized Java™ engines. Now I’d love to see Java take over the world and remove the need for any other kind of operating environment, but for the next few years, while we’re waiting for this brave new world, systems like Azul’s are going to have to coexist with mundane Solaris and Linux boxes. In other words, it’s a co-processor, an “applications accelerator”. And ever since the days of “intelligent Ethernet cards” (anyone remember the 3C505?) I’ve observed that such co-processors are doomed to be overtaken by general-purpose processors. The only obvious exception is in the area of graphics. Not only are the specialized processors not that much faster than their general-purpose brethren; the cost and complexity of the software needed to manage the co-processor usually eats up all of the savings. In the case of the 3C505, I remember that the host driver to manage the on-board TCP/IP stack was roughly as complex as a TCP/IP stack!

Don’t get me wrong – I think that multiple core are absolutely the way to go. Various companies – Sun, IBM, even Intel – are realizing that the best way forward is to simplify their pipelines to reduce the size and complexity of their cores so that they can stuff more cores on a chip. Designing around Java byte-codes rather than RISC ops doesn’t save all that much.

Will Azul prove me wrong? I’m not holding my breath….

Carrier on Flew

I’ve just come across a lengthy post on the Internet Infidels DB by Richard Carrier, which goes into considerable detail about the Antony Flew debate.
Key quotes:
“It bothers me that Flew has not […] even bothered looking for critiques of Schroeder, much less considered them. He told me so–just as he told me he has not kept up on current science, even of biogenesis, much less cosmology.”
“[Flew] thinks that life started with a DNA molecule (that is false–no biologist today believes that), and that the smallest possible replicating DNA molecule is so complex that it could not have arisen by chance (that is also false–or at most remains unproven–even assuming life did begin with a DNA molecule).”
“It is still unclear to me why or how Flew’s imagined Deity thus accomplished the origin of life if it was (essentially) physically impossible, without supernaturally interfering in the natural order of the universe (since Flew insists he does not believe his Deity does that). This is one of several contradictions in Flew’s overall position that bothers me. Flew’s conclusion makes more sense as resulting from a fine-tuning argument, not an impossibility-of-life argument, yet he tells me the fine-tuning argument isn’t what impressed him. I can’t make sense of this.”.
Carrier’s other comments are extremely interesting, and will have me re-reading some of Flew’s earlier work. (As for probabilities and protobiont sequences, see Ian Musgrave’s excellent tutorial.)
[UPDATE] Richard Carrier has now updated his piece on SecWeb about Flew’s “conversion”.
“Antony Flew has retracted one of his recent assertions. In a letter to me dated 29 December 2004, Flew concedes: ‘I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.’
Flew inaccurately blames Dawkins for this. According to Carrier, he goes further: “Flew also makes another admission: ‘I have been mistaught by Gerald Schroeder.’ He says ‘it was precisely because he appeared to be so well qualified as a physicist (which I am not) that I was never inclined to question what he said about physics.’
Sad, but c’est la vie. If Flew does indeed feel that I am just too old at the age of nearly 82 to initiate and conduct a major and super radical controversy about the conceivability of the putative concept of God as a spirit,, perhaps it would have been wiser if he had resisted the temptation to publicise his recent series of statements and retractions.
In the circumstances, Carrier’s conclusion, though harsh, seems to be justified: “Flew has thus abandoned the very standards of inquiry that led the rest of us to atheism. It would seem the only way to God is to jettison responsible scholarship. […] Theists would do well to drop the example of Flew. Because his willfully sloppy scholarship can only help to make belief look ridiculous.”

Posted in 1K

Charity cards

It’s that time of the Christmas/Hannukah/Solstice/New Year season when we go through all of the cards that we’ve received: updating addresses, reading individual or round robin letters, noting people to be added to the list or those who have not responded for a few years. If you ignore the commercial material, about half our cards are from people in the US, with most of the rest from the UK; there are also a few from Australia and Europe. And as I read through the cards, one thing struck me. More than two-thirds of the cards from the UK and Europe were “charity” cards, purchased to support organizations such as Unicef, Save the Children, Shelter, Scope, Oxfam, React, and so on; even Cats Protection got a look-in. Only a couple of the US cards were of this kind. It seemed like an odd cultural difference.

2004 – the Questions

Here are the questions to which these were the answers:

  • Why did my wife cause our Scandinavian vacation to be cancelled?
  • How did my mother’s surgeon describe the tumour on her colon?
  • How did my daughter announce that she was expecting her first child?
  • What eyesore did we finally get rid of from the basement this December?
  • What was my visit to Seattle at Easter notable for?
  • What was “The Project”?
  • What was the paradox in distributed computing that had me scratching my head all year?
  • What was the best new music of 2004?
  • What changed my life in 2004?
  • How am I spending my Christmas?
  • What’s my answer to Jim Waldo’s challenge: “Is there a notion of object which is independent of the language in which one is programming?”
  • What was the greatest fun I had with my blog all year?

It's going to be an odd election in Iraq….

As River reports, “technically, we don’t know the candidates. We know the principal heads of the lists but we don’t know who exactly will be running. It really is confusing. They aren’t making the lists public because they are afraid the candidates will be assassinated”

An election in which the voters don’t know who the candidates are? That sounds weird enough. But then there are the voter registration cards:

[O]n all the voting cards, the gender of the voter, regardless of sex, is labeled “male”. […] Why is the sex on the card anyway? […] Some are saying that many of the more religiously inclined families won’t want their womenfolk voting so it might be permissible for the head of the family to take the women’s ID and her ballot and do the voting for her. Another theory is that this ‘mistake’ will make things easier for people making fake IDs to vote in place of females.

Apparently there’s a brisk trade in voting cards: the going rate is around $400. But at least River’s family has received voting cards. In many places, election officials are refusing to carry out voter registration because of death threats.