Open Thread: early Summer edition

June 11, 2015 • 2:00 pm

by Grania Spingies

Jerry’s on his way back to Chicago now, and while he’s in the air we have Professor Ceiling Cat’s permission to talk about whatever we want to.

It can be movies:

or real life stuff:

Ireland’s Marriage Referendum result is being challenged in some weird ways. They won’t get anywhere. Their arguments are tortuous and face-palmingly desperate. They’re currently appealing being rejected.

Or whatever you want.

345 thoughts on “Open Thread: early Summer edition

    1. When considered in conjunction with male competition for female mates, gay-hating makes no sense. And let’s face it, many gay-haters need all the help they can get in that competition.

      1. Guys are worried that most of the women will marry each other, making the competition among males even stiffer. As it were.

  1. Does anyone think we can convince Congress to take all of the money they allocated to subsidize corn and soybeans and use it instead to pay farmers to convert their land back into prairie lands suitable for monarch butterfly habitat?

        1. There already is a program in place that could serve this purpose and the only change to the current system would be to specify what you are to plant. That is…what seed is required to get the habitat you are looking for.

          If you are not familiar with the federal government system USDA, called CRP, Conservation Reserve Program, it goes like this. Farmers sign up and put a certain number of acres into CRP and do not plant crops but instead plant grass and or clover. The contract runs for 10 years and often the farmer renews for 10 more. I believe the idea of the current program is habitat for birds and other animals.

          1. Monarch caterpillars only eat the leaves of the milkweed seed plant. Those seeds are available free, and seedlings for a small fee, over the internet. Organizations are making them available for the explicit purpose of bringing back the Monarch populations.

            Ever seen a milkweed seed plant? I used to love opening the seed pods and letting loose the tiny parachutes to carry those seeds everywhere. They are a weed, though, and communities with manicured lawns will likely not appreciate having them around.

            I think we should grow tons of them, for the monarchs and for our childlike enjoyment.

      1. That is interesting. Looks like ISU is working on it. Without knowing everything about this my concerning is the milkweed. It is a weed far as I know and farmers would be reluctant to plant them in the CRP land. If there is a way, I would do it. We have 12.7 acres of CRP that must get re-seeded this summer.

        1. That, Mr Schenck, the milkweed … … when first I learned of this (actually quite recent) deal was my concern as well. Apparently, it is very much a specialized one and difficult to nurture, let alone, to become established on particular strips and specific flyways for monarchs and for other desired entomological species.

          There are literally federal $millions$ in to this collaborative / consortium (many institutions outside of Iowa are as well engaged and involved in the) program now and with an Iowa State University Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean who herself comes to its administration by way of decades as first an entomologist here ( www. ) and who now heads up this consortium / its research spending.

          For successful implementation, of course, it does have to its program individual and private landowners’ / farmers’ involvement, fyi.


    1. There’s a campaign going on in Canada to encourage citizens to cultivate milkweed in their gardens. Milkweed is really easy to grow from seeds readily found along waterways (wait till the seedpods burst open, showing all that gorgeous white silky stuff plus the seeds).

      1. I’ve had milkweed in my garden for five years now. I live in the mid-Atlantic. I’ve seen one Monarch in all that time. It didn’t lay any eggs either. Depressing.

        1. It’s good to have other types of flowers that butterflies generally go for, besides milkweed. The monarchs will sip nectar from other flowers to nourish themselves, and they’ll (hopefully) lay eggs on the milkweed for the caterpillars to later feed on, as you know. The monarch numbers must be really depressed, for you to have seen only one in 5 years.

            1. I honestly don’t know. I know that butterflies will sip from a cut orange or other fruit (I’ve even seen a red-spotted admiral take on minerals from d*g pee!), so maybe you could try supplementing the hummingbird feeder with fruit.

              1. Orioles will also come to try out an orange. After a while though, you mostly get ants.

              2. Maybe there’s some sort of barrier I can put up to block the ants. How about vaseline mixed with cayenne pepper, spread circumferentially around the limb, with the bird things further out on the limb… Think that might work?

              3. Ants are fun to watch. If you put a bit of deet around the base of the holder for the hummingbird feeders they go happily along following the scent left by other ants. Then suddenly the go all nuts, “where did that scent go? What’s going on?” It doesn’t deter them for very long & they eventually resume walking along the holder to taste the sweet nectar.

              4. Ha! I’ve done that, before, but indoors, when I started seeing ants, along with the Texas flood. Once I followed them back to the entrance of their trail, I sprayed plenty of DEET there, too! They really hate the stuff.

    2. I think a big part of the problem is that much of the fallow farmland is now farmed to make ethanol for gasoline. The farming includes spraying with lots of glyphosphate, so a lot less milkweed. I recall that a big dip in the population came with this expansion of farming for ethanol.

      1. I think we can refer to the midwest as a whole, a vast desert for the butterfly and bees. The soybeans and corn do not require any assistance with pollination so there is nothing for these butterflies.

        I just think that since the govt. (USDA) has a program paying farmers for not growing on many acres, this would be the perfect place to plant all the seeds, such as the species named above that butterflies need. I hope that ISU and others come up with something soon and it becomes required in the CRP program. The very small farm I live on here, currently has 12.7 acres in CRP and did have 22 acres a few years back.

        We are required to disc and re-seed this ground later this summer and I would certainly want to plant these items if we could get our hands on some of them. Maybe mix it in with grasses, but I’m sure that is what they are looking at up at ISU.

        1. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a source for wildflower seeds. Probably a private conservation group has some. Googling…

          1. I will check with the local FSA office here as well. They should know something about this since they run and manage the CRP program.

            1. Googling I spotted a number of sellers of wildflower seed, some region specific. But the highish prices might inhibit covering large acreage.
              I’ve seen large areas of wildflowers growing along interstates and at cloverleaf intersections. They look a little to well organized for natural fields. I suspect the highway departments are responsible.

              1. Thanks for checking. I will do some more here. It certainly makes since that the highway dept. or DOT should be doing this. They have lots of land doing nothing anyway. I can’t see the cost of seeding as anything that would prohibit this. The govt. pays the farmer for not growing the crop each year and when you do this re-seeding, they help with the cost of that. Farmers pay outrageous prices for corn seed and soybean seed that is way more.

              2. Or, just grab a couple of pods from along a roadside and release them in a light breeze into your local vacant lot. Prayer is optional but in non-scientific studies,…

        2. “I think we can refer to the midwest as a whole, a vast desert for the butterfly and bees.”

          Grassland bird species have suffered severe population declines recently as well.

          1. Exactly, and that is suppose to be what the CRP system is all about. A nesting habitat for birds and other things. You are not allowed to mow or do anything during the primary nesting season, May 15 through August 1st.

            I questioned why the reseeding is required half way into the 10 year program. They did not do this in previous years. Here are the instructions they give:

            1. Disk twice and then interseed
            2. Burn only
            3. Burn and interseed

            My first question was, why tear up a good field of grasses and start over? They said you need to remove the dead grass under neath that builds up. It makes is hard for the birds because of too much dead grass. That is their claim.

            I also do not understand burning but again, they say it gets rid of the dead grass. Not exactly environmental. Burning is not practical in our situation because the CRP is right next to a corn field. In Aug. or Sept. the corn would burn very well. So controlling a burn of several acres is not a good solution.

            1. Let’s hope they know what they’re doing, eh?!

              If so, perhaps they’ve determined that there were periodic grass fires in the pristine days that kept the habitat in the best stage for nesting birds. Many plant communities are fire-maintained, but I’m sure you know that. Sounds like they’re advising pretty complicated strategies for landowners, who are already doing quite a bit as it is.

              1. An injection of lidocaine? Or just a topical liquid? Or perhaps he could be encouraged to imbibe some spirits.

  2. What is your favorite recent book you’ve read?
    Favorite recent movie?


    Book: The Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson. Superb 1-volume history of the US Civil War

    (Not done with F.v.F. yet; but it’s right up there!)

    Runner up: The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics edition — my French isn’t good enough to read it in French)

    Movie: The Intouchables

    Runner up: The Imitation Game

    1. I haven’t read FvF yet either. Soon though, just have to finish up a couple already started when I received FvF.

      I did read the forward of FvF as soon as I took it out of the box. Just going by that I am impressed more than I thought I would be.

      Also, more generally, I think Jerry is very good, as in one of the best, at relating his material in a way that is readily understandable by most people while at the same time not dumbing it down to a tedious degree. Which I find refreshing. His writing is dense and yet easy to read. That is fairly rare in my experience.

      1. The best book that I have read recently was “Accidental Ironman, how triathlon ruined my life” By Martyn Brunt. Fascinating and very, very funny.

    2. Fave recent book:

      Design as Art, by Bruno Munari. Much of what one needs to know about good design – industrial, visual, graphic – is in this book.


      Not a new movie, only new to me – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Gary Oldman and many, many other great British character actors. Smart and surprising movie.

      1. Have you seen the BBC series with Alec Guinness et al.?
        It is available on YouTube,as is the sequel: “Smiley’s People”. The cast is superb in each and I recommend them to you.

        1. Yes, I loved those, better than the recent movie, though the movie wasn’t bad. Love Le Carre’s novels.

    3. My best book so far this year is Hanya Yanagihara’a ‘A Little life’ a harrowing though beautifully written novel of four male college friends’ difficult transition to adult friendship

      and the best film since the last but one François Ozon is the latest François Ozon, The New Girlfriend (Une nouvelle amie), a very modern fairy story

      1. I would put the new book right up there. To write a non-fiction and half the title is fiction (faith) is a tough subject and Jerry does an excellent job. As I already told him, I think the difference between a good non-fiction and a very good one is the finish and he finishes very strong in chapter 5.

      1. I am hoping for a decent movie there, but as I understand the plot it might just be a turbo-charged CG tour that simply parallels the first two movies. I will cringe every time I hear the tired old lines like ‘come with me if you want to live’, etc.

        1. I really liked the TV series too. Of course FOX killed it like they kill all science fiction series.

      2. If you like the Terminator genre, have you seen the old television series The Sarah Conner Chronicles? I think you can see it all on NetFlix. It was actually pretty good, and I was sad when it got canceled after ~ its 4th season.

    4. Book: A Short Walk Down the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby
      Runner Up: Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves

      Movie: Jimmy’s Hall
      Runner Up: The Englishman who went up a Hill but came down a Mountain

      1. I’ve read all of Newby’s books and loved them all. I recommend The Last Grain Race about his voyage on the Moshulu one of the last wind-driven commercial vessels.

        I just got Goodbye to All That. I’ve read many of Graves’ other works (most especially loved I Claudius and Claudius the God); but I had never got around to GTAT.

    5. I have to say that “Battle Cry” is one of tbe very best history books that I have ever read. Current reading is Anthony Beevor’s book on the Battle of the Bulge, Matthew Cobb’s on the Genetic Code plus a visit to Bernard Cornwell’s 10th Century England in the latest tale of his wonderful hero, Uhtred – The Empty Throne ….

      1. Cool, thanks. I have Matthew’s book pre-ordered from Amazon; but for some reason, it’s being released later in the USA than in the UK. 🙁

  3. Movies: I saw Spy starring Melissa McCarthy and enjoyed it. Excellent supporting performances, particularly by Rose Byrne and Jason Statham.

    1. Spy received an impressive 95% on the Tomatometer.

      Where’s that guy who dissed me, and US comedy in general, a while back when I commented on how funny I thought The Heat was?

    2. Cool, I’ll give it a go. I’ve been wary of seeing “Jason Statham movies” because I figured they would try desperately to turn him into an action hero. Glad to hear it’s good.

  4. My wife and I just started watching Orphan Black. Wow! If you like thrillers, wrapped with conspiracy theories and tinged with sci-fi, this is for you. Sort of a Fringe meets Alias. The acting is terrific. And, oh yes, evolution.

    Does anyone else watch Orphan Black? Do you have another new show you can recommend?

    1. I really like Orphan Black. Tatiana Maslany is amazing in that part(s).
      I recently started watching Game of Thrones. It’s engrossing, but binge watching is not recommended, it’s too stressful. Every few episodes, a character you really like does something awful or is murdered in some horrible way. I need to cool out and watch some Downton Abbey or something, my nerves are shot.

      1. Thanks for the Orphan Black tip…I’ve been searching for a new Netflix series to watch. Sounds right up my alley.

        Game of Thrones is probably my favorite series, though this current season is moving slowly and is a little choppy (not as stressful as you put it)…I still like it, but the plot line hasn’t moved much. Season finale this Sunday…then wait another year. Damn.

        1. Mark, I hear you about the slower pacing of GoT this season. Orphan Black, the first season that I’ve seen anyway, keeps the action moving. A slow episode is one with fewer than 1 reveal every ten minutes. Enjoy!

          1. The only one who bugs me in Orphan Black is Dr. Leaky, but I guess he’s supposed to be really creepy.

      2. I live in perpetual fear something fatal is going to happen to Tyrion Lanaster. In the last episode, I didn’t care about anyone else, I just kept shouting, “Where’s Tyrion?!”

        1. Tyrion is the epitome of the “survivor”…he gets outta so many close calls. And definitely one of my top 3 favorite characters.

    2. Yep, Season 1 and 2 are excellent, and Tatiana Maslany, (sp?) does an incredible job of portraying multiple, fully developed or developing characters. Also, full credit to her body double who acts with her when more than one of Maslany’s characters are on screen. There is some excellent cinematography and acting working hand-in-hand on Orphan Black.

      Season 3 got stupid for me, and I’ve let it go.

    3. I haven’t watched it. But I did pick up this OB quote from an NPR piece:
      “Yeah, I’m like way better thanks to science.”

    4. Yes, we’ve been watching Orphan Black bit by bit from the library. Just started 2nd season. The main actress is very good.

      Best recent ( for us) movie: Love is Strange w Alfred Molino and John Lithgow as an aging gay couple. Quiet, beautifully executed film.

      Current books: Simon Schama: Rembrandt’s Eyes ( fantastic!) and Richard Price: The Whites ( not bad – The Wire was somewhat based on his book, Clockers).

    5. The second season of True Detective is about to start. Many friends have recommended Orange is the New Black but we haven’t begun it yet on Netflix.

      Since this is open post I would like to express my great disappointment at Magisterial Lionel Messi’s apparent massive tax evasion:-(

      1. Oh yes, I loved True Detectives but I don’t know if the second season will be good without Rustin.

    6. I would highly recommend Black Mirror! I found this terrific and terrifying sci-fi series on Netflix and they only have two season, each season containing only three episodes. However, each episode is like a short film. They have different characters, stories and so forth for each episode and they tend to run over an hour long. It’s kind of Twilight Zone, but without a host or any kind of reoccurring opening. The one thing that seems to hold each episode together (beside the quality of the story telling) is that they are inspired by the darker side of technology. The only warning I might give to skip the first episode if you have a weak stomach. That one is very extreme and nearly kept my partner from watching the rest of the series. She’s glad she kept watching, by the way. She loved it too!

      1. Yeah, Black Mirror is great…very spooky and provocative…and a couple actors from Downton Abbey to boot:)

      2. Yeah, if you can make it past the first episode, the stories in Black Mirror are terrific. It provides a rather honest peak at where our obsessions with technology and, especially, social media is taking our culture.

        One of the best episodes stars Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell in a superbly acted role as a grieving widow. She plays opposite Domhnall Gleeson, best known now for ‘Ex Machina’.

    7. My latest binge-watch discovery was “Grace and Frankie”, on Netflix. The first few episodes are a bit stiff as the actors (all well-known, in their 70s) get used to each other, but then it really takes off. I love the chemistry between Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, as well as the realities of what it’s like to rebuild your life when you’re older (I’m just approaching 50 myself but I can relate).

  5. This a bit out there, but here goes. I imagine a future where our knowledge of computers, and the brain will reach a point where our brains/minds could be uploaded/reproduced in a computer. Virtual reality will obviously have reached a point that it will be indistinguishable from reality. So we could live in this virtual reality “forever”. Interacting with other “real” people, or not as we chose, and doing whatever we want. VR making any experience possible. We could power down during trips if eternity got boring for some, and travel the universe.

    Now I’ve mention this to people before, and they’ve argued that the downloaded version of you wouldn’t be you. I don’t see why this would be the case particularly if we virtually experienced our brains being moved into the machine. and had “continuity of experience” which is the objection I usually hear. Of course the original us, if we brought it back to reality rather than terminating it, would be us as well. Any comments?

        1. Turing claimed that it is not possible to distinguish the behaviour of a sufficiently sophisticated software program running on a digital computer from the behaviour of a human being.

          In that sense a machine could be considered to think much as we do and in fact there are most likely no features of an organic brain that can not be duplicated in computer hardware given that both are just arrangements of matter responding to certain inputs in a prescribed manner and there is nothing privileged about an organic brain.

          I don’t think that Turing ever expressed any opinions on whether it would be possible to transfer a existing human personality to a computer.

          He did discuss how one would go about constructing an intelligent machine, he suggested that instead of trying to develop a machine that imitated an adult human mind, one would develop a simpler child machine with the ability to learn.

          1. The ability to learn is the critical – almost frightening – factor. In the same way that evolution produced incredibly complex organisms like us, a machine with ability to learn would have staggering potential.

            Umm, not sure I like the mention of this and Terminator in the same thread…

    1. Given my aging and aching, and considering how much time I spend on the internet, being uploaded almost appeals. But I’m not sure I’d trade off the more youthful, real-life experiences and sensations, even with VR (about which I know almost nothing).

      So … instead of dying, choose to be uploaded. Then when someone does a Google search, instead of a column of ads, get a column of condensed feedback from those who were uploaded.


    2. VR making any experience possible. We could power down during trips…

      But, if we have VR, why bother to travel anywhere?

      1. “But, if we have VR, why bother to travel anywhere?”

        To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life, and new civilizations. To boldly go…

        1. I think Reginald’s point was that with VR we could experience “strange new worlds” without actually traveling, or even sitting dormant while “pretending” to travel. It could just be instantaneous “relocation”.

          1. “I think Reginald’s point was that with VR we could experience “strange new worlds” without actually traveling, or even sitting dormant while “pretending” to travel.”

            Yes I understand his point, but we would know the VR worlds are fictional. I wouldn’t find them nearly as interesting as the real thing. VR would be great for experiencing the universe we know first hand, but not very good at satisfying the desire to discover the new.

            1. Sinc VR can only reflect what its programmer knows about reality it would be useless for exploring anything not currently known. If it’s programmed to make guesses well that’s virtual fiction.

    3. I am very familiar with these ideas and arguments. My current view, which has been steady for a while now, is that it really all comes down to just what exactly is meant by the person speaking the word “you.”

      It seems to me that if a copy of a human mind can be made that is indistinguishable from the original in all functions and memory, then by definition it is “you” in every way that that word should reasonably be interpreted.

      Complications arise in that now there are two yous (did I just coin a new word?). The new you will wake up as if from a nap and continue on. Copy-you’s life will be continuous experientally from the moment of the original-you’s birth (indeed, copy-you’s birth as well) on through copy-you’s death in a way that is no different experientially than a normal human life.

      It is also true, though, that the original you will still die. No escaping that. Though original-you may never experience death. Original-you may just lay down and fall asleep on the procedure table.

    4. This idea could be a reality but only unto itself, by this I mean, would it be a life?
      or life as we know it Jim.
      First, for VR, we would have to have oodles of memory and an energy source that would have a no fail proviso.
      But this could be fun,
      ‘I would like a VR body made to my specifications’
      ‘what shades do you want’ sir.
      ‘two green legs with a yellow head, purple hair and green thumbs’
      as long as I don’t look like a doughnut, they eat them on some strange blue planet.
      the thing is we don’t really know what life is, we have lot’s of examples (stating the obvious) but what is it that makes it, live.
      Not self awareness, masses of microbes not asking what dress they’re are going to wear today. Other forms barely have a nervous system. Science has shown the inner workings of complex cellular life, neurons etc. and I can’t imagine a VR world where you take that with you, that which makes you behave the way you do, who you are. How would you encode any experience without emotions to drive it as good, bad or otherwise.
      Until we can ‘understand it’ replicate it I for one would be very suspect to entering a VR life on a permanent basis.
      Just an aside and well you know, people are hoping for exactly this right now, but calling it heaven (a VR world inside their own heads) and the other place they don’t want to go to.
      Where were we… having some fun while the professors out (or was) out of his lounge.
      Thanks for sharing this thought.

    5. “Virtual reality will obviously have reached a point that it will be indistinguishable from reality”

      I personally think we will be able to make a machine that is indistinguishable from human intelligence before we can make a VR that is indistinguishable from reality. Maybe a still life, or limited set of scenes, sure, but not, say, North America. We know that human intelligence can be made to fit inside 1.4kg of matter, because brains do that, which gives some kind of potentially manageable constraint on the complexity of what you’re trying to capture(assuming quantum effects don’t enter in, in which case you’re out of luck). An indistinguishable simulation of North America, on the other hand, will likely be totally out of hand. To get some idea of this, consider that a good simulation of a continent, for example, would have to include things like the blue tit nest failure” reported by Matthew Cobb. Just think of the details that would have to be tracked and simulated to have all the events like that happen in your simulation, and think of how impoverished and artificial would seem (eventually) a simulation that didn’t. When you catch a fish from a boat, it’s not just a random number saying “He got a fish”, but the whole life cycle of a particular fish, the parasites it picked up along the way, the specific scars on it’s body that tell you something of it’s history in the water before you pulled it out. Asymptotically, simulations become Borges “Del rigor en la ciencia” map, taking up as much space and matter to realize as the thing they are trying to simulate. So while I expect VR to provide fun places to go, fairy lands that some people may prefer to inhabit over reality, I expect them to be distinguishable from reality for a very long time.

      1. I agree in kind, but perhaps not in degree. I think that VR could be approached along the same lines as human vision. Much of vision takes place in the mind. Only a small part of the field of view is in focus.

        To create a seamless VR environment the computer would not have to simulate the entire continent all at once, but only those aspects of it that are being experienced by a single person at each particular instant. And, just as with vision, the person’s mind will fill in much of the details itself.

        Still a monumental computational task though. Especially when you add more people and have them interacting in the same VR.

        If the goal is to make an accurate copy of the entire continent in VR that is always running and available for anyone to visit whenever they want, then yeah, that seems more like fantasy.

        1. Also note that “the person’s mind will fill in much of the details itself” would be overkill; all that’s necessary is that the person doesn’t notice the absence of details that are not attended to, as long as details appear when attention is directed in a new place. That saves a huge amount of computation, and of course that’s how Real Reality does it (if nobody’s looking at the moon, it’s not really there). 🙂

      1. I’m not sure I understand. Do you mean something like, computer technology capable of achieving mind uploading and super-VR will inevitably result in AGIs, which will then lead to dystopia of some sort?

        I hadn’t seen that article by Sam before. I am far from a starry eyed proponent of AI, but I did not find Sam very convincing here. His underlying assumptions seem very similar to the typical movie trope about AI run amok. All of those movie plots had huge gaping holes and multiple WTFs(?) in them.

        1. It seems to me in principle, that he’s right.

          I doubt we’re smart enough to intelligently limit the power of true, self-aware AI, beforehand. And I think it’s not too far away. Given the way today’s computer “viruses” spread, can we even be sure that pulling the plug on a particular piece of hardware will be good enough?

          I say this based on 3 decades of experience in engineering commercial airplanes and active implantable medical devices. What we don’t know, and don’t know to even ask about, is what bites us.

        2. “Picture ten young men in a room—several of them with undiagnosed Asperger’s—drinking Red Bull and wondering whether to flip a switch. Should any single company or research group be able to decide the fate of humanity?”

          I can easily see this scenario happening.

          For AI to be more useful than something like a thermostat, it’s going to be connected to the internet.

    6. I suggest that you read Surface Detail, by Iain M Banks. A complex novel in the Culture series, it contains, inter alia, the interesting concept of a virtual hell, where the uploaded minds can be tortured for eternity.

    7. I just recently read Charles Stross’ Accelerando (free download from his website!) where those issues are explored in some detail. Damien Broderick also does good fiction in similar settings.

    8. I don’t think computer researchers will be sufficiently interested in constructing a neuron-for-“neuron” analogue of the human brain in silicon. Instead, they’ll be producing computers that perform work intelligently – and not necessarily by the methods that humans use to perform such work. But without a very deep isomorphism between biological brain and silicon brain, there’s no reason to suppose that the latter would have desires, pains, and pleasures as you understand them. So if you want to have the subjective life of the mind that you know and love, you’ll have to wait until technologists do get around to duplicating the brain in a more detailed way.

      But in the meantime, computers that think in very different ways will, basically, have taken over the world. It’s not clear that that world will have any place for mere human-analogue-brains like you. This is what commenter jblilie (in this thread) and Sam Harris are worried about.

  6. I have been searching on Neflix for the worst of the worst movies. I have a hypothesis that Plan Nine from Outer Space is, by comparison, high art, and movies like Zombeaver and Sharknado are helping to support this idea.

    1. Have a trawl through Red Letter Media’s Best of the Worst section.

      They review bad movies in sets of three and then ceremonially destroy the worst of the worst. It’s hilarious and the movies are terrible.

      RLM are indie film makers, but are most famous for their Mr Plinkett reviews where they look at relative box office successes. The Star Wars Prequels Trilogy reviews are works of art in themselves.

      1. Thanks, I will check that out. It is amazing what people will think of for movies. There is a whole genre of Nazi zombie movies, for example.

        1. Iron Sky, a movie about Nazis haven taken refuge on the moon, came out a couple years ago. I wanted to see it for the camp (Kampf?), but somehow never did. Maybe it didn’t show in the local theater.

          1. It’s actually a pretty good movie, well worth a watch.

            It posits a future that is not to far removed from the present day with a group of Nazi scientists thrown in that fled to the far side of the moon in the last days of WWII using prototype rocket technology and who have been waiting for the opportune moment to return to earth in their fleet of space ships once they somehow obtain a key piece of missing technology.

          2. Iron Sky is wonderfully bad and quite enjoyable. It knows it’s premise is absurd and embraces that absurdity wholeheartedly.

            1. My personal favorite moment was North Korea trying to take credit for the incoming Nazi ships – and everyone laughing at them.

      2. There was this movie that came out in the 80’s called Hercules. After about a half-hour my friend and I walked out. We were probably 13 or 14, and are tastes were appropriately horrible, but that movie was beyond bad. As a matter of fact, that’s the only movie I’ve ever walked out of.

        And speaking of people walking out of movies…one movie in particular American Beauty I remember a few couples walk out on. I love that movie and always wondered why it offended some. I don’t think they were able to handle the perversion of Spacey’s character lusting after a girl his daughter’s age…and one couple left after the (pseudo) homo erotic scene. One of the first movies that I remember venturing (successfully imo) into that realm.

          1. Didn’t walk out of any movies, but hit the STOP button on my VCR about 10 min. into “Chicago” and ditto “Moulin Rouge”, the one with Nicole Kidman.
            Luckily my local video rental place had some sort of deal and I got about 5 movies for the price of two, I think.
            Can you guess I am not fond of musicals?

              1. I liked both of them, though I am also not a big fan of musicals.

                You must embrace the absurd (more than usually) to enjoy a musical.

        1. I don’t think they were able to handle the perversion of Spacey’s character lusting after a girl his daughter’s age

          ? The way I remember it, she was lusting after him.

          I saw that movie with a woman 14 years younger than myself. It reinforced my idea that I should dump her.

          1. It was mutual…she started it though, you’re right, and then he had some interesting fantasies with rose petals.

        2. I think “Lost in Translation” with Bill Murray was one of the worst, most boring movies ever.

          As well as any movie starring Kris Kristofferson.

          1. I think “Lost in Translation” with Bill Murray was one of the worst, most boring movies ever.

            I thought it was boring too. The critics seemed to like it for some reason (7.8 at IMDb, 95% at RT).

            And I don’t get Scarlett Johansson as a sex symbol. She doesn’t have whatever it is I find attractive in women. Maybe it’s because Scarlett Johansson fancies herself an intellectual but really isn’t.

            1. Which reminds me of that awful movie, Lucy. Even Morgan Freeman’s voice couldn’t save it because he was spouting nonsense and the plot, characters and premise made no sense at all.

              1. No not Lucille Ball like that Lucy, this Lucy has some ‘splainin’ to do!

          2. …any movie starring Kris Kristofferson

            Surely, you exclude Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and John Sayles’ Lone Star?

          3. Lost In Translation is one of my favorite movies. Every time I watch it I’m thankful for a film-maker willing to try something different, that many may find boring.

            I just love the whole mood of the movie, the pace, the atmosphere, the performances. I could watch it over and over.

            On the other hand, I find it pretty much impossible to watch any “western” movies.
            It’s an idiom that may as well be a foreign language to me, leaving me utterly unmoved or interested. (I feel similarly about most war movies).

            Gotta love subjectivity, huh?

        3. That’d be the 1983 version with Lou Ferrigno as Herc, presumably. Not that I’ve ever seen it, nor likely to.

      3. +5 pizza rolls.

        (Although, the last few year or so their material has felt a bit tired to me.)

    2. You could start with Roger Ebert’s invigorating book “Your Movie Sucks’ or maybe his ‘I hated, hated, hated this movie’
      “Some of the worst films in the book are so jaw-droppingly bad they achieve a kind of grandeur”.

    3. Zombeaver and Sharknado don’t count IMO because their self-conciously bad movies. The goal was to make a bad movie.

      The great bad movies like Plan Nine, Starcrash, Dungeons & Dragons (the movie, not the game), Krull, etc. have a sincerity that make them endearing and funny bad, as opposed to plain old bad.

      1. Huh . . . Whaaaat?!

        Star Crash was AWESOME . . .

        . . . ly bad. So bad it was epic. I have very fond memories of that movie. Even though afterwords I got beat up by some members of a local gang in an alley near the theatre. But the memory of that movie overshadows the memory of getting beat up to such a degree, it just pales in comparison.

    4. Manos: The Hands of Fate, which was given the Mystery Science 3000 treatment, was hands-down the worst of the worst in that series. It also had a short, “Hired!”

      That short is the reason why, whenever someone is talking with their hands a bit too much, I say “ACK! Flying elves are back!”

      They usually stop waving their hands when I say that. Come to think of it, they usually also stop talking.

    5. A long, long time ago (1980-ish) Michael Medved brought out a couple of very funny books about bad movies. Of course there have been innumerable clunkers since then, but the books are still a good read. The second,’The Golden Turkey Awards’ is arranged by Oscar-like categories, such as ‘Most Embarrassing Movie Debut of All Time’ (winner: Paul Newman in The Silver Chalice) or ‘Worst Performance by an actor as Jesus Christ’ (Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar). Medved asked readers of the first book to vote for the worst film of all time, and Plan 9 just won (Exorcist II: The Heretic was runner-up).

      1. Michael Medved should know, since he’s the worst. movie. reviewer. ever. As well as a right-wing hack and religion apologist — Medved is to film criticism what Dinesh D’Souza is to political philosophy. Compared to him, Siskel & Ebert might as well have been Godard and Truffaut writing in Cahiers du Cinéma.

    6. Don’t miss an old book, The Golden Turkey Awards which is devoted to Academy-awards style nominees and winners in a lot of movie-related categories (worst actor, etc.). *Very* funny book, but probably dated, as it was published in 1980.

    1. Which one?
      Sorry, couldn’t resist it. I recently heard a story from his son Auberon; during WWII bananas were completely unobtainable in Britain so after the war ended Waugh’s children were excited to hear there would be a banana for each of them. The children were seated around the dining table, a dish of bananas was brought in, placed before their father who proceeded to eat the lot: Auberon Waugh said that after that he never believed his fathers (frequent) discourses on religion and morality.

      1. That’s a pretty funny story, and shows what an unpleasant person he was (the most unpleasant man in Britain), but also leaves a nice end, with the boy ending up not being a conservative catholic like his father. But it seems that this event failed to change Auberon’s views on politics, for he seems to have inherited his father’s anachronistic / misanthropic traditionalist conservativism.
        Also, I thought we could discuss how his religion influenced his writing, and visa versa, not just in obvious ways (the Flyte family’s Catholicism in Brideshead, Crouchback’s Catholicism in Sword of Honor) but perhaps in the themes of his writing, and whether he would be half as enjoyable to read if he weren’t such a misanthrope and religious traditionalist. Or we could talk about anything about him. Or other writers, whatever, so long as it’s interesting.

        1. When I first read Brideshead, at university, I was impressed and really enjoyed it. Coming back to it many years later, I felt the suffocating Catholic atmosphere detracted from much of the good I had previously seen in it, and indeed from its realism. Waugh can be very funny (Decline and Fall, and Vile Bodies, are heartlessly hilarious) but particularly in his later books he is increasingly alien to a contemporary reader.

          Waugh used to tell a good story about when he was sent to Yugoslavia in WW2 in a party including Winston Churchill’s son Randolph. When they were confined to a remote safe house, in order to shut the bumptious Randolph up Waugh told him to read the Bible. Big mistake: Churchill had never read it before, and spent the next few days chortling, laughing out loud and exclaiming ‘God, isn’t God a shit!’

          1. Well at least Waugh taught someone about religion and christianity! Might not have been the lesson he had intended to give, but the one he inadvertantly gave is more true to fact than the one he meant to anyhow.

        2. I really tried to read (and like) Sword of Honor. But I just couldn’t slog through all the navel gazing and wingeing. Good grief!

          I know that the point was the absurdity and stupidity of the situations — but I just stopped caring after a while.

        3. Apart from seeing Brideshead a couple of times on TV and two movie versions of The Razor’s Edge, I’ve only read Decline and Fall. I quite liked the first TRE movie, but the remake’s casting/direction of a deadpan Bill Murray was incredibly inappropriate. Since finding out that he casted (is that a word?) and pretty much directed himself in it, I haven’t been able to enjoy Groundhog Day or Ghostbusters like I used to.

      2. Waugh was a prick — but at least he could be a literate and witty prick. When his frenemy fellow Catholic Graham Greene told him he was finally writing a novel that didn’t discuss God, Waugh cautioned that that “would be like P.G. Wodehouse dropping Jeeves halfway through the Wooster series.”

        1. Ha, that’s a good one! I find Greene’s Catholic protagonists even less convincing than Waugh’s. Pinkie in Brighton Rock and Scobie in The Heart of The Matter are both supposed to be devout Catholics, believing in Hell and so on, but fail to convince as Catholics and thus fall short as characters.

          1. I reserve one of the lowest levels of literary hell for that dreary dirge The Power and the Glory – which we had to read at school. What a depressing clunker. I really wanted to like the atheist lieutenant but couldn’t even manage that.

      1. Haven’t but I’d love to; I really enjoyed the book. Is there a place to find it online?

  7. Books: Karl Giberson, who has been mentioned on this web site a few times, has a new book out: Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians have used the Bible’s first man to oppress, inspire, and make sense of the world. Hemant is running an excerpt over on his blog:
    How Creationism Was Created

        1. Perhaps their’s a whole family tree I don’t know about. Uncles, aunts…who knows? Is there an official site historian?

    1. I want to say something about it, but I’m so confused I don’t know anything, so this is a completely useless reply and should have not been posted.

  8. Here’s some sick real world crap to discuss: on BBC news a guy has been busted selling a miracle cure (he says it’s a “purge”) for autism. It’s called MMS or Miracle Mineral Solution, also purges HIV and Alzheimer’s. What is it actually? Sodium chlorite and hydrochloric acid. And he’s connected to something called Genesis II Church. What the f—?!

  9. I like to build dioramas, and last week I finally published my latest that features the smallest WEIT in the world. It’s on top of the gear-pile at the rear of the ‘Greyhound’…you can see it on a couple close-ups. Could be a nightjar. I also cited the book and PCC in the copy as “my favorite book on evolution” which is also true.

    1. Cool! That looks really neat and I like the poses of the soldiers going about their business. I couldn’t spot the WEIT though – it was indeed a nightjar!

        1. Yeah, that’s it…the four critters on the front are blurry, as well as the title…too small to print…the “book” is just a few mm long. As an added bit of irony, the book was actually a part of the priest kit…it was supposed to be his bible. heehee

          1. Mark, that is some really fine work. It is always a pleasure to see something done very well like that.

            Also, you must be a very patient person! Most of my modeling ideas never got finished. Though I did complete one, when I was about 12 years old. A P-61 Black Widow in a Pacific Island setting undergoing some maintenance. Long gone though.

            1. I made the P-61 Black Widow as a kid too, though just the model, not a diorama. I built models all the time as a kid, then stopped around middle school. Then I found some amazing dioramas on the internet about 15 years ago or so, and have been building them ever since. Yes, patience is key. The discipline keeps me outta trouble 😉

  10. I am reading a September 2014 issue of the Awake magazine published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The back cover asks was it designed? The title is The Locust’s Motion sensitive Neurons. They never give the name of the writer of the article. I will mail this to Dr. Coyne so he can get a chuckle. They quote a Professor Shigang Yue at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom.

        1. like Gary Larson’s god creating the snake by rubbing clay between his hands;-) “These are a cinch”, or something like that.

  11. And good Witnesses know they should not doubt a thing in the magazine and would never try to Google the Professor. In an attempt to appear as if the question is up for debate, they end the article with the question What do you think? Hint, the answer they are looking for is…spoiler alert….not evolution.

  12. One a different not altogether. We have lost one of the most important and influential American musicians of the 20th/21st centuries: Ornette Coleman died today at age 85. Radio station WKCR is doing a weeklong tribute. All Ornette, all day. If you are not familiar with his work this is a good time to catch up.

    You can listen at

    1. Well, important he may have been but I have never been able to listen to more than about 30 seconds of OC.

      Musical Sophisticated Theology™, maybe?

      1. As another Ornette fan I am appalled and outraged at the thought of comparing his music to Sophisticated Theology.

        But then I remember his theory of Harmolodics and have to concede that you might not be too far off the mark.

  13. Ben Goren had given directions on how to make a good pizza once, I think. I wrote it down on a post it and finally tried it. Thank you Ben, it was much easier than I had thought it would be.

    1. Go to Target, but their thin, pre-made pizza crust.

      Heat your gas grill to 450°F (230°C).
      Top pizza with whatever floats your boat*.

      Bake in the grill for 6-8 minutes.

      et voilà, you have a tasty pizza.

      (* I rub mine with garlic, then olive oil, perhaps some more garlic, polish sausage, pepperoni, artichoke hearts, onions, and then good cheese, like sharp cheddar, blue, Romano, or usually a mix of them (forget commercial “mozzarella”))

  14. Going to add another AI related comment inspired by Sam Harris’ recent podcast talking about what, or how much we need to fear about AI in the sense that it might take over completely, or make pets of us. The discussion was mostly about long term future consequences.

    I don’t know if it was Harris or someone else I’d read who’d brought up self driving cars. That’s something that is happening now. So how are they programmed? Is their prime directive to keep it’s owner safe from harm? Will it swerve into a crowd of school children in order to save the driver, or do the least harm by crashing into a wall, killing the driver, and saving the children? Will that be an option chosen by the buyer? Could a racist buyer choose, or reprogram the car so that all else being equal it will run over the other?

    These aren’t futuristic hypotheticals, these cars are here now. Have these decisions already been made, and by whom. and what are they?

    1. Oh, and what about legal liability? Are you going to be liable if your car is programmed to sacrifice the school children to save your life?
      Are accountants going to be the ultimate arbitur doing a cost benefit analysis. 3 dead school children equals potential for more lawsuits so better to sacrifice the driver, even if the car might not have actually killed any of the children just seriously injured them result in long term medical costs that would exceed the value of your life?
      Aren’t these discussions that as a society should already have been had?

      1. Society should have had discussions about what Jerry put into a book form when I was a kid growing up in a cult. But no one wrote about it until he did. I am happy that many may be spared because of his hard work and efforts.

    2. Think about the haphazard way these things get worked out now. Do you really think that any self-driving-car system could be worse?

      1. Probably not worse; but more legally complicated.

        Mike brings up an important point: Who gets sued (because someone will)?

        The programmer of the SW?
        The builder of the car (have fun with that HW vs. SW fight!)
        The person behind the wheel who failed to stomp on the brakes (when the system went bad)?
        The designer of the roadway?
        The builder of the roadway?
        The engineer in charge of maintaining the roadway?

        Right now, it’s pretty easy to write off things as human error (behind the wheel). But a SW designer will be held to a higher standard: You should have anticipated and tested the case, you should have anticipated this “foreseeable misuse”. (I deal with this every day.)

        Our laws acknowledge and allow that “humans are basically fuck-ups”. You can kill someone on the road, and, as long as you weren’t drunk and you don’t run from the scene, you’ll almost certainly get nothing worse than a traffic violation.

        That kind of leeway does not extend to designed quality systems or their products.

        1. Things change. Slowly sometimes, but they change. Change can certainly be a bit messy, but it often works out OK. Sometimes things even improve a bit.

          1. Most people are complete fuck-ups.

            The driving in the US is appalling. (It’s regarded as a right by most in the US, not an earned privilege.)

            It would be hard not to improve on the current state, using machines.

            I think it would be easier to move to self-drive cars if most people used cars strictly as transportation. Many do, much of the time; but if it were really true overall, you’d never seen any SUVs or “muscle” cars on the road. For most in the US, their car is a “lifestyle statement”. (I guess mine says I’m frugal (cheap) and practical — and that I have a wife and kids.)

            Every time I see someone weaving all over the road while looking down at their device that they are trying to keep concealed from any police, I think auto-drive cars would be better. And don’t get me started on red light running: It’s a ridiculous epidemic in the Minneapolis area now. So much for “Minnesota Nice™”.

            1. I know I would never willingly give up my play ride. But I’d also love to have a car capable of driving itself, well and safely of course. I would really like that.

              I agree that human’s are fuck-ups. We will never eliminate the bad consequences of that. But we can make incremental improvements that add up to real progress. Just look at the industry you spent a career in, the airline industry. Riddled with fucked-up humans fucking things up, but in the end a very safe way to travel.

              Analogous to how the methods of science have evolved / been designed to account for human failings while trying to figure out how our reality works, there are methodolgies, that I assume you are very familiar with, perhaps expert, that have evolved to account human failings when trying to figure out risk management.

              1. That’s exactly it: A systematic approach to not fooling ourselves.

                “Quality Systems” that require corrections, preventative actions, risk assessments, audits, required training, clear procedures and work instructions that are required to be followed, inspections, etc., etc.

                These do systematically drive out error.

              2. My ideal future car would have a large switch on the dash with just two settings – Auto and Manual.

                In Auto mode I could stagger out of a party as drunk as a skunk, say “Home” to the car, and doze off immune from cops and breathalysers as it drives me home, parks itself, and rings a bell to wake me up and let me know we’ve arrived. If it can’t do that it’s no use to me.

                In Manual mode it would switch everything off, and revert to being a proper driver’s car with a manual six-speed close-ratio box, good handbrake, high-ratio steering, and NO pointless electronic gadgets or stupid beepy noises to annoy me.

              3. “My ideal future car…”
                What about a voice?

                “Ok, so, I see you’ve gotten yourself plastered again. Just don’t regurgitate on my carpet will you? And keep you hands away from that manual switch or I’ll treat you to some whiplash.”

              4. When I said “no stupid beepy noises” that goes double for talking at me. From HAL 9000 to Talky Toaster I cannot think of any machine that ‘talks’ that wouldn’t be better if it would just STFU.


              5. 🙂
                You haven’t been tracking my past comments, have you? Because as I said some time or other, my boss (who is called Dave) stuck up a little sign by his desk that said “Do, or do not. There is no try”
                So of course I just had to add that quote below it “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”.

                It’s still there.


    3. Not worried about self-driving cars. I expect they can be made safer than humans (but then, I have a dim view of humans).

      Am a bit concerned about vaguely intelligent machines giving certain small groups of humans too much power. The ability to assassinate anyone anywhere with tiny killer robots, for example, could destabilize a whole lot of things, and could prove too tempting for a wide range of people in positions of power. So I fear AI getting too smart for us less than I fear AI getting smart enough to allow some human who controls them to screw us over.

      1. Personally I’m not particularly concerned with AI taking over, and eliminating/replacing us completely. In a sense I see that as the next stage of our evolution.
        I’m more concerned short term with self driving cars, or your tiny killer robots. Or any number of things that could harm, or destroy us before we can live on through our creation.

      2. Googles SDC’s is being tested in Colorado. So far they have been involved in 6 accidents, none of which were the robot’s fault. That’s pretty encouraging.

        1. A self driving tractor trailer has been approved for use in some South Western state. Can’t remember, Arizona, Utah or Nevada? It requires a human operator in the cab still, to take over in situations the system decides it can’t handle. It signals with an audible warning tone when the human needs to take the wheel.

          1. Just today I was behind a garbage truck. I watched as they stopped the truck, a guy gets out and pulls a green box over to the back of the truck where a steel arm lifts up the green box and dumps it into the back of the truck. $10 buck says they will have autonomous trucks that can manage the route alone within 15 years.

          2. One big snag. What’s going to keep the human awake? If the contingency arises suddenly, having a dozy human who takes 15 seconds to achieve functional consciousness isn’t going to be much use.

            Not like ships where the five minutes to get the captain on the bridge is acceptable, or a plane on autopilot where a pilot response time of half a minute might be OK, or even a train where the signalling can automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond.

            I just don’t see that an automatic system that relies on the human taking over can ever be acceptable for road vehicles. Other than one that comes to a full stop automatically and waits for the driver to take over.

            1. Nevertheless, it is a reality. It seems to me to be a reasonable step along the way to fully autonomous vehicles.

              Here is an article about the truck I mentioned. Turns out Nevada is the state where it has been approved for use.

    4. > Is their prime directive to keep it’s owner safe from harm?

      They don’t really work that way, as I understand it. They will sense hazards and other vehicles in advance and adjust their trajectory and velocity accordingly. They will also communicate to other vehicles and traffic management systems in the vicinty so that they can react appropriately in turn. The ‘prime directive’ then is to avoid hitting anyone or anything, not to run real life Trolley Car experiments. Nonetheless there will undoubtedly be a few bizare edge cases when everything goes wrong.

      > Have these decisions already been made, and by whom. and what are they?

      They are works in progress, and the decisions are being made collaboratively by various parties in the automotive and tech worlds, in much the same way any technical standards are written. One of the first challenges to overcome is the establishment of a common car-to-car communication protocol, something like a Bluetooth for automobiles. An example of one of the groups working on that is the European CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium (

      1. I see some advantages – what’s the Bluetooth for “You’re driving like a wally, just get the hell off the road and out of everybody’s way!” ?

    5. While I don’t worry about them taking over, I do worry about AI and robotics making more and more human labor superfluous. In an idealized world AI and robots would just free humans up perform more rewarding jobs, robot design say, or art, and for some it does just that. There are large chunks of humanity, however, who will never be up to robot design or art. People displaced from building, say, cars in factories can, at the moment, often be employed in customer service, aspects of marketing (from Real Estate agents all the way down to Walmart greeters) and other tasks that currently require human intelligence or a human touch but which do not require exceptional human intelligence. If AI and robots come to replace all of these jobs as well, what will those people do?

      Perhaps eventually there will be a time when work becomes completely optional for everyone. But I suspect that long before we get to that place there will be a long period where some segment of the population working in the Google empires of the day are employed and make a lot of money while there exists a vast unemployable underclass. This is obviously happening now, but it will only get worse. Navigating this period seems inherently tricky to me. Does the employable class subsidize the unemployable class? Is that stable? What will the unemployable class do with their enforced leisure? Will the employable class ever go along with this? Will they have a choice, or will violence and revolution become more likely? What are the implications for population, and so earth’s resources, if you don’t have to work to support children? And so on.

      In other words, I fret much more over the social challenges that AI poses, and which are bearing down on us already like a freight train, than I do over the idea that AI will overpower us.

      1. I think about this a lot because I have several blue collar relatives whose role in a post-AI world is hard for me to imagine. I have one relative who works as a bus driver, for example. He’s good at it, knows all the riders, and he seems to enjoy it. I have another relative who works in a deli. It is not hard to imagine AI/robots replacing them both. Now I’m sure that in many cases we’ll employ people just to be a human face, but not always. Now the traditional liberal “solution” to this problem is to invest in training and education and so on. And I applaud this because definitely some of the gap in skills and ability comes from education and training. I do not share the optimism that any deficiency can be made up this way, however. The Standard Social Science model, as Pinker describes it, that all differences are environmental differences just doesn’t match my experience. I was raised with some of these people, we had the same education and exposures. Some could do a lot more with training and education but some of them are already at the skill level that biology allows them to be.

        This is painful for me because these relatives are hard working and positive members of society, but it is difficult for me to picture what their role in society will be years from now when everything they are competent to do, everything they can *become* competent to do, can be done cheaper with an AI. And it’s hard for me to see how society will function with armies of people like this who are unemployable.

        So this is, to repeat myself, my real AI fear.

        1. When I see people doing things a machine can do, I have been known to mutter, “I can replace you with a script”. This morning I just replaced someone with a batch job but she was glad of it so she could do her real job and not login and do this menial one even on weekends, holidays and when sick.

          1. One of my colleagues wanted me to provide a “troubleshooting checklist”, which is fine as far as it goes, but somehow people wanted it in such detail that it could be applied mindlessly.

            I told them that if I could write *that* (modulo a few weirdnesses with undecidability) I could write the software to do itself in the first place. Techsupport and troubleshooting are for things you don’t know *how* to formalize!

    1. I’m trying to learn the 4th 2 part invention – d minor. I don’t play keyboards so I’m just reading the music and trying to hear it in my head. Fun.

      1. Fun, indeed!

        You mean you’re not practicing it at a keyboard, just looking at the music and using your mind’s ear? I often do that, too. Some of the best performances I’ve ever heard have been given by the resident orchestra in my brain. No clunkers.

    2. Love to. My favorite composer.

      I can now, finally, play two decent Bach pieces on my guitar Jesu and Prelude in Cmaj [Well-Tempered Klavier]. Both arranged by Sophocles Pappas, who was a godsend (if I may use the phrase) to middling amateur guitarists.

      If I may recommend:

      Parkening Plays Bach and
      David Russell Plays Bach and
      Bach by Fazil Say

      (You may notice my bias towards solo performance.)

      1. I’m not very well-acquainted with various guitarists’ interpretations of Bach, but I am very impressed with Julian Bream. I have his recording of the E maj & min suites, E-flat Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro, and, be still my heart, the ciaccona from the D minor partita. I like his ciaccona better than most violinists. He employs rubato and tenuto in the most musically, architecturally felicitous ways, and I really like the way he achieves different timbres for different variations by playing at different points on the strings.

        My go to pianists would probably be Andras Schiff or Murray Perahia. Clean, not schmaltzy, but expressive.

        1. I have a couple of collections of Bream’s work and I like his playing a lot. His film about the guitar Guitarra! is also excellent, I highly recommend it.

          I will check out more of his recordings of Bach, thanks!

          My current favorites are David Russell and Pepe Romero.

          I think you would enjoy Russell’s record of Bach pieces, also Parkening. Say’s record has a very distinctive style of his — maybe over the top; but I like it. And I like the Busoni arrangement of the Dm Chaconne, though a bit bombastic maybe.

          1. Busoni arranged a lot of Bach for piano. He certainly wasn’t afraid of adding material, almost to the point of composing a new piece of music. But that’s not to say it’s bad. Julia Fischer is a violinist whose performance of the chaconne I admire a great deal.

        2. And I should have said that I will check out those pianists: I know I don;t have anything by Schiff or Perahia (my classical collection is rather lacking; but it’s getting better.)

  15. Beethoven.

    I recently came across an exhilarating performance of a great piece of art, Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 61, by Ludwig von Beethoven.

    The violinist is Joshua Bell, arguably the best in the world at the moment. He is also the conductor of this small orchestra comprised of top talents from around the world at a festival. Joshua has got them riled up. Especially his first-chair in the violins, who can barely contain himself.

    I have heard many interpretations of this piece, but this one really thrills. If you can’t listen to the entire thing, I suggest moving the slider to 33:37 which is where the sublime third movement begins.

    P.S. The violin Bell is playing is probably the most valuable instrument in the world. He bought it for $4 million fifteen years ago and has now vastly pumped up its value. It would probably go for $6-8 million today at auction, but Bell is unlikely to ever sell it. It makes the sweetest sonorities of any fiddle, ever.

    1. Bell has a lovely instrument.

      There is only one Stradivarius violin in existence that has not been “re-topped”*: A Baroque instrument in a museum (I think it’s in the musical instrument museum in Berlin).

      Almost all have been re-necked as well. And of course, no original Stradivari fittings survive coupled to a particular instrument.

      There are also many “dud” Stradivari instruments out there. Whether the “dudness” is due to the original work or re-topping/repair is hard to say; but many never commended a high price. Not to even mention the huge number of fake Stradivaris out there.

      (* Re-topping involves removing the top, carving out (almost) all the wood from the inside, carefully fitting & gluing a new top (blank) into the last, thin layer of the old top, and then carving back to approximately the original dimensions.)

      1. I heard that the original wood used was sunken timbers. I wonder if the re-topping is authentic enough to use the same materials to retain the same sound.

        1. Ah, that’s the problem with wood – no two pieces are ever the same, even if adjacent cuts from the same billet.

          I build guitars (acoustic only) and the variation in wood is amazing (and frustrating sometimes).

          I don’t think there is any firm knowledge of what the original materials were — except the species, which is easy to determine (the tops were all Picea abies — also a superb material for guitar tops!)

          The key is a skilled maker: Who can select the right materials based on tapping, scratching, flexing, looking, and their experience.

          The re-topping of the famous Strads clearly has been done very well because they play and sound terrific. It’s just hard to know how much of that to assign to the antique artisan(s)* (working in Stradivari’s shop) and the modern artisan who re-topped, re-necked, repaired, and replaced the fittings.

          (* It’s doubtful that many instruments from the famous Cremonese shops were the work of a single individual.)

    2. Turns out experiments have repeatedly shown that confirmation bias is what gives the Italian antiques their cachet – in blind tests violinists actually prefer modern violins!

      1. Yes, exactly. It’s the label effect.

        Many, many terrific (“world class”) instruments are being made today*.

        There is huge variation amongst instruments; but at the very highest levels, it’s pretty hard to tell them apart.

        In a recent, well-designed experiment (these are very rare), to my mind, a controversy in the guitar making world was settled: No one can tell the difference between a guitar with a sound port and one without.**

        See this article: Here and here.

        The hew and cry the publishing of this result set up in the guitar making world was pretty amazing. Many builders just refused to accept the results.

        As I tell guitar players: There’s a lot of B.S. out there in the guitar making world.

        (* In my own area, there are many steel string guitar makers building instruments that blow the doors off most of the expensive “vintage” instruments commanding huge prices in the market.)

        (** A sound port is an additional hole (in addition to the main soundhole you’re familiar with on the front of the guitar) in the side of the guitar, usually pointing towards the player and usually much smaller than the main soundhole.)

      2. Yes. I was going to point this out, too.

        Although, there are perceptible, often very easily perceptible, differences between very well-made instruments and not-so-well-made instruments. But when you pit today’s well-made instruments against yesteryear’s well-made instruments the instrument itself begins to matter much less than the the musicianship with with its played.

        One further caveat is that period instruments are often easily discernible from modern instruments by virtue of raw timbre (nothing to do with the “goodness” or “badness” of the timbre). A period viol will have gut strings, which sound very different from modern metal strings. And a period double-reed will sound very different (sometimes more coarse, but sometimes more thick and mellow) than a modern double-reed. These differences are not necessarily better or worse than each other, but they are there.

    3. So much of Beethoven’s music is sublime. I’ve been trying to think of one representative piece to share, but there are too many. Piano concerto 5, mvt ii? Piano concerto 4, mvt i? Symphony 3 mvt i? The transition to the coda from the Gloria from the Missa Solemnis, when you’re sure it’s ended, but then the meter shifts to triple and you’re just like “holy crap, I can’t believe this is happening” and the way the choir actually gets the last (half-) word, and it’s even more powerful than if he’d written a big, fat, long orchestral chord?

      If you’ll excuse me, I need to go find my iPod.

      1. The Emperor (5th) concerto, definitely. (Said with the conviction of a complete amateur when it comes to classical music)


        1. I prefer piano concerto #4, and the violin concerto, and the 9th symphony, and the late string quartets, and the puano sonatas and and and…

            1. I would say the same of the opening of the second movement of the 5th, where the strings hold a steady note while the pianist slowly steps down the keyboard (I know I’m using all the wrong technical terms). Magic.

              I once went to a showing of a movie called Picnic at Hanging Rock, which was an arty Australian film but (judging by the Saturday night crowd) most of them probably thought it was a Western. It was actually about the mysterious disappearance of a group of schoolgirls near a volcanic outcrop, and the musical score was based on the slow movement of the 5th. I would never have thought the Aussies could make such a subtle movie or that a Saturday night crowd would sit still for it – but they did.

              1. Actually a quick Wikipedia shows they used a lot of other works too, but it’s the Beethoven that I remember.

      2. I melt at the up/down resolution at the end of the first movement of the Emperor. After all the drama, nineteen minutes of it. Beethoven takes you up the ascending scale, then drops you with utter tenderness, a sweet fall into space. He sets you down gently on on E-flat, having broken your heart, the better for it to absorb the blinding triumph of the final ascent.

        Slide to around 19:00 to experience it. The tender fall begins at 19:39

        1. Add:
          I just listened to the Fleischer/Szell Beethoven 4th. Amazing. The second movement is a total prayer. The third? Fastest tempo I’ve ever heard. Fleisher makes the piano give forth sounds only heard in high places.


        1. Of course everything by Brahms is sublime, but lately I’ve been really into the 3rd and 4th symphonies.

          The quasi-development section of the last mvt is something else. 3:40 in this recording.

          1. Thanks both of you. I having nothing by Brahms (ducking behind the desk). One of my best friends is a huge Brahms fan, too!

            I must check out the pieces you have noted.

            1. The final mvt of the 4th symphony is a monumental set of variations on a harmonic scheme Brahms took from Bach. A chaconne, if you will. (To bring things nearly full circle.)

          2. Most beauteous. I believe I have this set on vinyl. Might need to get it out and blast some Brahms through the house ( assuming my turntable’s still working.)

      1. I’m a big fan of Piano Concerto No. 1 in D.

        I came to this work performed by Artur Rubinstein and Leinsdorf in 1964. You can find it on YouTube on a page uploaded only this March, good fidelity. watch?v=snIQJpxNTp4

        I have come to love another performance, the 1958 of Leon Fleisher and George Szell (Cleveland). You can also find this on YouTube, but in all cases, to get the true dynamite, you need to purchase the vinyl or CD and listen on great earphones or system.

        A great performance of the D-minor is more than thrilling. It is actually scary. I mean it. The Rubinstein and Fleisher above do it for me. For instance at the first recapitulation of the thunder about 2:30 in of the first movement.

        1. I seem to remember my parents having a Cliburn version in ’63 or ’64 which really did it for me. I’ve bought many versions since (I most likely have the Rubinstein – love him, and have seen him live many times), not to mention hearing it live on a number of occasions. Must go check my shelves. Thanks for this link!

          1. Yes, I am a fan of the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto. It’s just that the first is so violent in its passion…that gets me.

    1. Awesome, I love queen and since I listen to a lot of music in the car, it all eventually becomes queen including Bach. Good Omens reference if anyone is wondering

      1. Errm, that’s not how it works. You’re not supposed to tell us, you’re supposed to casually drop the ref and see if anyone picks it up. 😉

      1. Queen’s Live at Wembley is one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen (not in person, of course). The charisma of Freddie is palpable. Though it is hilarious seeing Brian May with a 100′ coiled guitar cable running around. No wi-fi back then…

    2. Well, most of what could be described as “pop” in the broadest sense of that term isn’t really my thang, as the kids say. But if you enjoy it, knock yourself out! I may have narrow tastes, but I really don’t condone the hipster project of telling people what they must like and what they must dislike.

      I’d be happy to go into why I personally don’t find Queen all that compelling if you’re interested.

      1. ‘…isn’t really my thang, as the kids say’

        What “kids” are those, mb, the Dead End Kids? The Little Rascals? The Sharks & the Jets?

        No knock on you, but I think “hipster” is a much-misused term. The Hipsters were the obverse side of the counterculture coin from the Beats in the 1950s. (“Fifties counterculture” not being quite the total oxymoron it might seem at first blush.)

        As such, Hipsters, like the Beats, are extinct — both of ’em deader than disco — with the relict populations of each now well on the north side of 70.

        Somewhere between the late Fifties and mid-Sixties, the two groups transmogrified into “beatniks” and “hippies” (both terms having been coined by San Francisco columnist Herb Caen, and like most things Caen touched, he got these two exactly backward — the hippies having actually grown out of the Beats, while the beatniks had their roots among the Hipsters.)

          1. Not sure that someone who attributes “it’s not my thang” to “the kids” is a reliable guide on “current connotation” 🙂 — though I agree with you and Pinker.

            1. I think you’ve stumbled upon my cunning plan to purchase “hopelessly-out-of-touch-nerd-cred”: in an ostensible attempt to distance myself from “the kids” and their slang, I “reveal” that I have no idea what “the kids” actually say.

              Foiled again!

              1. Yeah, I’m way unhip myself these days — though I try to pass it off as an instantiation of “hip to be square”-ness. (Yet I doubt anything could be more hopelessly unhip than my allusion to a 1980s Huey Lewis & the News tune.)

          1. They were out with Ricky & David Nelson and Fred MacMurray’s three sons toking reefer, reading Kerouac, and listening to hard bop.

            Or not.

  16. That’s why I have a web cam. Those on FB sometimes get to enjoy my videos of ridiculous drivers usually pulling out in front of me. I also had a pedestrian run out in the middle of the road and you could hear my ABS brakes kicking in as I slammed my foot down.

  17. Not sure about seeing Jurassic World. On the one hand, decent dino media is shockingly hard to find, and it can’t be that bad if Chris Pratt is in it. Plus, if they capture some of what made the original so compelling, I definitely got to get my dinosaur quota.

    On the other hand, just thinking about the Indominus rex makes me despair. There are hundreds of obscure and awesome genera crying out for a movie in the spotlight, and they still feel the need to invent one. It’s “awesomebro” culture at its most annoying.

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