Archive for March, 2005

letter to the post

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

I just read an article on the Washington Post website which was so downright nonsensical, that I felt the need to write the following letter to the author and the editor:

Dear Mr Mathews

Thank you for your article on Intelligent Design. I felt moved to write to you because the premise of the article is flawed.

Firstly, I completely agree that it is important for students to learn to question what they are being taught. In a math class, learning proofs for equations helps with this. In history class, I agree that questioning “facts” is a very important part of an education. I also agree that biological principles should be questioned. In fact many areas of biology question and refine the principles of evolution and inheritance, and rightly so. The flaw in your article, however, occurs when you suggest that ID could be used as an adjunct or alternative to science. It is crucially important to remember that the theory of Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory – it is merely conjecture based on the philosophical idea that “biological systems are very complex, therefore something/someone must have designed them”. There is no way to prove or disprove this using scientific principles, as there is with the theory of evolution. No papers have ever been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals which support the ID theory. No science has ever been advanced by the ID theory; I’m sure you realize that a huge portion of biological research and advance could not have happened without scientific understanding of the theory of evolution. You used the examples of the perpetual motion machine in physics class, and the big bang theory in earth science. I agree that these should be taught in science classes, because they are based on scientific theory. Intelligent Design is not. If it is introduced to the science classroom it can only validly be used to show what a non-scientific theory looks like. For this to be treated as a scientific theory would undermine our children’s educations and turn American science into a laughing-stock.

By the way, the directors and supporters of the Discovery Institute do everything in their power to make their theories into political footballs, as is evidenced by proponents’ plans to have stickers on biology textbooks and take the teaching of evolution out of school curricula.

hard decisions

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

There’s a high-profile story going on at the moment where there have been court appeals and counter-appeals by the husband and family of a woman who has been in what doctors call a “persistent vegatative state” after being brain damaged seven years ago. The husband, who is the legal guardian, argues that she would not have wanted to be kept alive in the state she’s in and that she should be allowed to die by being taken off life support. Her parents and brother are arguing against this. It’s all rather a horrible story, not just in of course the life and death situation, but the fact that there’s so much political and media grandstanding, with contradictions all over the place, as noted by Paul and others.
It reached new lows for me when I noticed the following paragraph in today’s Washington Post update:

“The Schindlers’ attorneys argued that allowing their brain-damaged daughter to die before the federal courts can review her case would violate Congress’s will and lead to the ‘damnation of her soul’ because it would conflict with her religious beliefs.”

Welcome back, 17th century! They should know perfectly well that the courts, at least in the United States, don’t give a hoot about souls. Courts are here to uphold the laws of states and the Union, not religious beliefs which people may or may not have.

laughing stock

Monday, March 21st, 2005

One of my regular reads, pharyngula, frequently makes the case that the current American obsession with creationism, which the religious “right” don’t believe should exist with scientific reasoning and weighing of evidence, is undermining education and making America stupid. I agree – in my opinion creationism and evolution are two different things – the former is a belief, relying on faith (more specifically a chapter or so of one book); the latter is a strongly supported scientific theory, relying on enormous amounts of evidence and surviving considerable amounts of rational scientific criticism, which helps to underpin almost all biological science. So it is with a heavy heart that I read this piece from the BBC about how IMAX cinemas are becoming too concerned about a religious backlash to present movies which mention evolution. Apparently blinkered religious nuts are making it so that children can’t gain a good scientific education, and the American political and religious landscape will increasingly be a laughing stock.

shall we?

Friday, March 18th, 2005

Emma and I were talking last night about Toby’s very charming turn of phrase, which has been more and more in evidence lately. One of the nicest things he does is start requests with “Shall we…” so he’ll bring a book over and say “shall we read it?” or when I get home from work he’ll want me to play with his train set with him and says “shall we play with trains?”. Actually a couple of nights ago I got home and wanted to go and get changed first, but he kept saying “Daddy please stay and play with trains. Stay down here” so I postponed my plans and hung out with him, which was much more important. He also commentates on what he’s doing, often prefacing it with “I’m just…” so for example when he comes into our bedroom and wants to get in on Emma’s side of the bed he trots over saying “I’m just coming round”. Yesterday morning was cute too – he was trying to put one of his socks on, and even though he was having problems he said “I do it myself. Put socks on” but after a moment it became apparent to him that it wasn’t working. Rather than complaining or specifically asking for help he looked up at me and said “shall we do it together?”

fiona apple

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

You may remember hearing about Fiona Apple a few years ago – she released an album with a 56-word title, starting “when the pawn hits…”. I was reading yesterday about her new album which apparently Sony aren’t wanting to release even though it’s been out on the internet and played on radio stations to great appreciation. The story contains a few links to the songs – I really recommend getting hold of the songs, they’re fantastic. Can’t go wrong with Jon Brion producing too.


Monday, March 14th, 2005

Well that was a bit of a palaver in some ways, but not in others. I used Emma’s mac to put together the video of Toby eating in his sleep (as reported in previous post). It was a little more work than I expected:

First I had to get the movie from the camera (because we needed to film it right away we used the regular camera rather than the camcorder, so the quality’s not perfect but hey). iPhoto of course wouldn’t upload the movie files, but to my surprise neither would iMovie – you need to have a camcorder connected on firewire. So I used the image capture program, that worked just fine.

Next stage was my first use of iMovie, which was a lot of fun and very easy indeed. Nice work. Once we have more memory in the machine this’ll be quicker too. Exporting to QuickTime was a piece of cake.

Final stage was the most surprisingly difficult. I wanted to get the movie onto the server, obviously, so that you, A Reader, could see what all the fuss was about. To my surprise, Finder in OSX doesn’t allow you to copy a file onto an ftp server. Help was unhelpful – it said to use Safari (web browser) to do it. That was mysterious and I couldn’t get anything to work that way either. So I went to Apple support which had links to a couple of FTP programs. I got one downloaded, and got the file over using Interarchy. Not the easiest operation ever, but there we go.

So finally, the grand unveiling. First you’ll need to download QuickTime. Then you can watch the sleepeating video here. Enjoy.

toby’s weekend

Monday, March 14th, 2005

I think we gave Toby a pretty good weekend on the whole. On Friday night we took him to a bookstore where we’d heard that They Might Be Giants were playing in support of their new children’s CD, Here Come The ABCs. This was Toby’s first gig, and I think he really enjoyed it. Lots of parents and kids, and we all sat on the floor so pretty much everyone could see the band. Toby stood up and watched it all very intently. He didn’t give the impression of being amazingly excited, but he was very engrossed, and didn’t dance until the last song when he clapped his hands and jumped up and down (and it seems he can’t jump without also saying “jump!” at the same time).

On Saturday morning Emma had a work thing, so after a relaxed breakfast Toby and I set out to the Minnesota Science Museum. It’s worth noting about breakfast that he wouldn’t eat the top of his bran muffin – it had oats on it, which he thought were leaves, and refused it even if I picked them off first so he had to have the stump instead. Anyway they have some great dinosaur exhibits at the museum and seeing as his favorite book at the moment is Danny and the Dinosaur I thought this would be just the thing. He was a bit nervous about the skeletons, and I’m not sure if he really got the connections between his idea of dinosaurs and the skeletons but he certainly got that they were very big and pretty cool. He said, “they’re all different” many times, which I’m not sure was him realizing that they don’t look like the dinosaur in the book because they were different shapes (like triceratops to brontosaur to T Rex) or because they were just the bones. They also had a big sandpit where you could pretend to unearth dinosaur bones, where we spent a lot of time. There were also a whole bunch of regular science exhibits – wave motion, electricity things and so on – which he seemed to enjoy watching or playing with. Three hours was a good length of time to be there, and he slept really well in the car on the way home.

Sleep eluded us on Sunday somewhat – he refused to have his afternoon nap, so we kept him going through the day. We got hilarious video of him eating his evening meal at about 6:30, pretty much fast asleep but still eating. I’ll do my best to post it tonight.

mogendorff news

Thursday, March 10th, 2005

I’ve been using Google News for a while, and today noticed that they have introduced a customize feature, so it’s possible to make your own news sections, such as maybe your company or an interest of yours. I put in “Mogendorff” and was interested to see that a couple of weeks ago there was a feature about Jacques Johan Mogendorff, who I wrote about, wow, almost three years ago. The news article I found is about a family attempting to sue a games maker over the game which J. J. Mogendorff may or may not have invented. See what you think. I’ll keep checking the headlines.


Wednesday, March 2nd, 2005

I got an email from my dad yesterday, containing a couple of really cute pictures. They were found recently in the estate of the lady who looked after my Uncle Lout while he was in hiding during the war (as happened frequently to Dutch Jewish children, if they were lucky), and who died recently.

It shows my dad as baby in Lout’s arms (he would be aged 7 then) I would guess in late 1946 and with Uncle Lout and my Uncle Michael as 6-month old – my dad describes himself as being “the cute one on the left, I would have been about 3 years, 3 months at the time, still with squint!”

All together now: “Awwwww”.