22 December 2008

Popular South African author S.A. Partridge interviews me

S.A.Partridge reading
S.A. Partridge is a South African author. Her novel, The Goblet Club, is "a Gothic novel with distinctly South African features set in a mysterious boarding school somewhere on the South African Platteland. When Mark and his friends discover the dark secrets of St Matthews their thoughts turn to murder." The Goblet Club achieved top honours in the English category of Human & Rousseau’s I'm a Writer competition. This competition is held in conjunction with You, Huisgenoot and Drum magazines, SABC Education and Radio Sonder Grense (RSG). The Goblet Club also won the MER Youth prize at the 2008 Via Afrika awards in Cape Town.

What on heaven or earth or beyond could possibly compel an author of this mettle to interview me? I've lain awoke at night pondering such a question, and the only logical conclusion I arrived at involved both my handsomely hirsute appendage and my rugged, boyish charm. That, or my irrepressible modesty.

If you want to stalk S.A.Partridge and the fact that her initials and that of the South African Police are one and the same does not deter you either, then you can carpool with me. You will need a Groucho Marx disguise, an oversized raincoat (if you don't know the kind, don't bother applying), a case of fine red wine (if you don't know several kinds, don't bother applying), a smorgasbord of exotic cheese and a preference for the likes of Deicide, Morbid Angel, Nevermore or perhaps Le'Rue Delashay.

The Goblet Club cover

You should also do your homework by researching S.A. Partridge at the following online locations:
  1. The blog of S.A. Partridge at book.co.za

  2. The Goblet Cub Myspace page

  3. The Goblet Club on Bookfinder. No, you can't read it during stakeout. You have to pour wine, you ludicrous gimp.

S.A.Partridge: Do you have a motto?

Necro Files: "Women should be obscene and not heard" - Groucho Marx.

S.A.Partridge: I take it Groucho Marx died a single, lonely man?

Necro Files: Not quite, he was reputedly a womaniser.

S.A.Partridge: Womanisers. What do women see in them?

Necro Files: Must be the facial hair. I have this theory that bearded women are responsible for lesbianism. In the olden days, bearded women were plentiful.

S.A.Partridge: Bearded women? They were?

Necro Files: Yes. It's only after practices like the wicker man that their numbers considerably declined. Today, you can only find bearded women in Greece and Portugal, indicating that they must have fled there from the mainland. The wicker man is thus a plausible explanation.

S.A.Partridge: :o

Necro Files: So a girl sees another girl, but thinks it's a womaniser with facial hair and lesbianism blooms. Let's face it, once you snogged a girl you don't want to go back.

S.A.Partridge: It's a stretch. :/

Necro Files: Of epic Baron von M√ľnchhausen proportions.

S.A.Partridge: Did they burn freaks in wicker men?

Necro Files: Well, wicker men were like the church's inquisition. So yes, freaks. Anybody who disagreed with the druids, anybody who were deemed unsavoury characters were burnt.

S.A.Partridge: You only really have Caesar's word for it that the wicker man ever existed.

Necro Files: And the lack of bearded women, obviously. When can we expect your next book?

S.A.Partridge: My next book is coming out in May.

Necro Files: I see. Will it also be in the teen fetish genre?

S.A.Partridge: No, I don't write teen fetish. I'm not Anne Rice.

Necro Files: Does it feature any bearded women?

S.A.Partridge: I hate you.

Charming lady. Buy the Goblet Club now!

15 December 2008

Law of Attraction

The Law of Attraction is the kind of snake oil that sells to those who somehow feel absolved when they share ineptitude with others. The most recent phenomenon of this rudder in the calm waters of clear thought resulted from what must be the first instance of a movie that turned into a best-selling book instead of the other way around.

Claudia Schiffer. She wants me, I can tell by the Law of Attraction
Claudia Schiffer. Come to daddy!

The Law of Attraction


In four easy steps, you can be right back where you started.
  1. Know what you want. Women, are you reading this? OK, let's put this theory to the test. I want Claudia Schiffer.

  2. Ask the universe for it. Suggest then that the waves of my thought patterns and the sound waves of my spoken voice are likely to be heard over the cosmic microwave background radation. Suggest also that these waves can travel through the theoretically empty vacuum that they would meet in space. Suggest also that Uranus won't block my signals. Suggest also that the Universe does understand English because I sure as hell am not going to Lisp the bitch. Suggest also that Hawking radiation, the music of the spheres and the noise transmitted from the earth's magnetic field (which swallows my brainwaves as soon as they leave my skull) do not prevent something as abstract as the Universe to hear about my inconsequential but by no means whimsical, unrequited affections for Claudia Schiffer. Suggest also that the Universe has the mother of all Beowulf clusters running, because surely there are hungry kids in Ethiopia, war victims in Iraq, cholera sufferers in Zimbabwe and Madonna who Universe knows needs help more than I do but because of the Law of Attraction all of us need to be served and soon. Especially Madge, she doesn't have that much time left. Suggest also that conflicting requests do not cancel each other out but somehow manage to materialise in tandem by means of a Mary Poppins kind of magic. Then, Dear Universe, may I please have me some Claudia Schiffer?

  3. Behave as if the object of your desire is on its way. Yes, Claudia Schiffer is going to knock on my door at any minute. Any minute now. I'm wearing a tuxedo. I look more stylish than Vincent Price and because Claudia hasn't pitched up yet, I'll have to sleep in my tux. I've chained myself to my bed with an elaborate pulley system so that I would not risk creasing my tux while lying down or getting up. Must look my best for Claudia, because she's going to knock on my door any minute now. My friends invited me out for drinks and dayglo paint filled condom fights, but I can't go in case Claudia shows up. Not even the shenanigans of viking mead or meatshank the bunny to the revolving bed by lava lamp light are going to cause me to defer from behaving as if Claudia is going to knock on my door at any minute. Even if I were invited to live on my own in the Playboy Mansion, with delicately hand picked Playmates who tickle my fancy and fancy my tickle, will I even consider behaving in any other way. Right.

  4. Be open to receiving it. I'm very open. If Claudia walked through my door right now, I'd give her my wallet and my keys and all the sweet petty mutterings I can muster in my broken German and a hushed tone. Law of Attraction or not.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not entirely convinced that the Law of Attraction is a very practical problem solving approach. Let's demonstrate why by means of a simple thought experiment.

A simple thought experiment to break the Law of Attraction


Imagine that you get to choose the captain for an exhilarating new passenger liner called the RMS Titanic. You have a choice between captain Jack Sparrow and captain Wallace D Wattles. Jack Sparrow has had excruciating and extensive navy training under the Royal Navy. He's a sea dog, through and through. Wallace D Wattles sat in his room all day asking the universe to be a captain, believing that he'd be a captain and being open to receiving the position of captain on your ship. Wallace has never set his foot on a ship and gets seasick on a skateboard. Who would you choose to command the Titanic? Well, obviously you chose Wallace because your ship sank.

Julius Malema Wikipedia entry hacked!

I don't know how long the Julius Malema Wikipedia entry would be up as is, but have a look and see if it still resembles this:
Julius Malema Wikipedia entry hacked
Vox populi, vox dei?

The intercourse with baboons and pigs part is going to require a [citation needed]. The sad part is, the truly degrading parts are all true.

11 December 2008

Top 10 Horror Films of the Nineties and Beyond

The Vault of Horror is at it again. Brian Solomon, that man of science, was visited by Cenobites from Fangoria and Bloody Disgusting and compelled to update his top horror film list. Naturally, he contacted his network of horror elite and myself (who is just a guy who likes the combination of buckets of blood and inexplicable boob shots, really) to help him out.

Disclaimer: I do not particularly enjoy the recent plague of politically correct demographically representative excuses for info-mercial teen flicks of horror. This list was compiled by looking through my DVD collection and picking the ones that came out in 1990 or later in no particular order. Very few recent horror films obey my 10 commandments of horror, much to my dismay and much to their detriment.

My Top 10 Horror Films of the Nineties and Beyond




Saw


Unfairly grouped with the vacuous Eli Roth-style gorno films, Saw actually offers much by means of existential crisis. The first film in the series had a great story in the tradition of the master, Alfred Hitchcock. The actors were all unknowns (or near unknowns) and that helped to prevent the film from becoming a vehicle for big names, like the Hannibal Lecter series inevitably became. Gives new meaning to the term 'cancer of our society'.

Sleepless


It's a giallo film. More than that, it's one of Dario Argento's giallo films. I don't need much more convincing, plus I'm having an Argento come hell or Dark Water.

The Skeleton Key


It's been a while since zombie movies involved a bit of voodoo. This tradition gets a tribute in this stellar film, which never quite becomes a zombie film, but wanders in the time frame before one becomes a zombie.

By mixing zombie-like voodoo practices into a psychological thriller and adding a little bit of horror with the delectable Kate Hudson, this film is a rare treat in an era where horror films just aren't what they used to be.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose


What a pleasant surprise! At first, I was apprehensive about this film because no exorcism film could possibly be on par with The Exorcist - ever. Fortunately, The Exorcism of Emily Rose does not try to compete with The Exorcist.

Where The Exorcist has the shape of a psychological thriller, which focuses on the faith of the exorcist, this film takes the shape of a courtroom drama and leaves the supernatural elements largely open ended and unattended. It also features the brilliant music of Christopher Young, who somehow manages to fuse modern sounds with the tradition of Bernard Herrmann.

Dagon


Lovecraft like only Brian Yuzna could produce it. If you are a horror aficionado, you owe it to yourself to check out this low budget gorefest. Lots of ominous weather patterns, buckets of blood and even an evil cult much like Scientology.

Stigmata


A film about someone who gets stigmata, only the church doesn't want that person to get stigmata. A fancy, flashy editing job that perhaps highlights how much the church has lost touch with the average man on the street it is meant to serve. Features Patricia Arquette, who is no stranger to horror having started off in Nightmare on Elm Street 3.

Dude, it's a film about religion and the church. Of course it is a horror! Not quite as horrific (or as horrible) as Faith Like Potatoes, but also more entertaining.

Bram Stoker's Dracula


Stylish, suave and nearly unbeatable as far as the story of Dracula is concerned. It features the whores of Satan. I'm sold.

The Ninth Gate


Stylish, suave and nearly unbeatable as far as the story of Faust is concerned. It features Satan as a whore. I'm sold.

The Addiction


Simply superb. Not even the rap music on the soundtrack can ruin Abel Ferrara's magnum opus (thus far).

1408


One of the handful of Stephen King films that does his literary excellence justice. It does run the danger of turning into a John Cusack vehicle, but then John Cusack is not Tom Cruize. Cusack manages to convince you that he is someone other than John Cusack, which is exactly the point of acting. Great story, executed on screen very adequately.

My First Demotivator


Despair, inc has some wickedly funny demotivators. I decided that I also want to join in the fun. This is my first demotivator. Kind of like My Little Pony, except with less body odour.

10 December 2008

Does Darwinian Evolution claim that DNA mutations are random?

"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case."
[Charles Darwin, Wikiquote]

This post forms part of a series on Mr Marshall's Random Mutator. You can find all the posts here:
  1. The Random Mutator of Perry Marshall.

  2. Is DNA Analogous to Human Language?

  3. How Random is Random Mutation in DNA?

  4. Does Darwinian Evolution Claim that DNA Mutations are Random?


Evolution vs Genetics


Darwinian Evolution came about in 1859 with the publishing of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The roots of genetics could be traced back to 1865 with the publishing of Gregor Mendel's Experiments on Plant Hybridisation. However, the importance of Mendel's work was not fully realised until the 20th century, with the modern evolutionary synthesis.

It is thus apparent that Charles Darwin made no claims about genetics. Charles Darwin tried to explain how species came about and how some traits become more widespread while others become extinct.


Mu, a Japanese word which roughly translates as 'no thing'. Kind of what Mr Marshall's Random Mutation Generator has to do with Darwinian Evolution, or evolution in general.

What is Darwinian Evolution?


As already noted, Darwinian Evolution and the modern theory of evolution are not the same thing at all. Darwinian Evolution claims the following:
  1. "If all the individuals of a species reproduced successfully, the population of that species would increase uncontrollably.

  2. Populations tend to remain about the same size from year to year.

  3. Environmental resources are limited.

  4. No two individuals in a given species are exactly alike.

  5. Much of this variation in a population can be passed on to offspring."

[Introduction to Evolution, Wikipedia]

Since resources are limited, there is a struggle among individuals of a species for survival. Darwin precisely claims that it is not chance alone which determines survival, but that survival depends on the traits of an individual which enable that individual to survive. In other words, survival of the fittest.

The modern theory of evolution thus bases its principles of natural selection and speciation on Darwinian Evolution, but Darwinian Evolution entirely lacks some of the other modern mechanisms of evolution. This is because the mechanisms of gene flow and genetic drift in particular are based on genetics, with which Darwin was unfamiliar.

What does Darwinian Evolution claim about DNA mutations?


Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

What does Mr Marshall's Random Mutation Generator have to do with Darwinian Evolution?


Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

06 December 2008

How Random is Random Mutation on DNA?

"If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must have been vastly complex in the first place.

The creationist, whether a naive Bible-thumper or an educated bishop, simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity."

Richard Dawkins


This post forms part of a series on Mr Marshall's Random Mutator. You can find all the posts here:
  1. The Random Mutator of Perry Marshall.

  2. Is DNA Analogous to Human Language?

  3. How Random is Random Mutation in DNA?

  4. Does Darwinian Evolution Claim that DNA Mutations are Random?


What is mutation?


Simply put, a mutation is a change in the nucleotide sequence of the genetic material of an organism. This genetic mutation could cause changes in the phenotype of your species. For example, you could have a mommy and a daddy with blue eyes who give birth to a child with brown eyes.

What causes mutation?


"Mutations can be caused by copying errors in the genetic material during cell division, by exposure to ultraviolet or ionizing radiation, chemical mutagens, or viruses, or can be induced by the organism, itself, by cellular processes such as hypermutation."
[Mutation, Wikipedia]

Copying errors, you say? One would think that a system intelligently designed by an omniscient, omnipotent deity would not be prone to copying errors. It surely wouldn't be sensitive to ultraviolet radiation either, given that an omniscient deity would've seen that one coming.

Similarly, if mutations were not random, but predicted and designed by a perfect designer, one would expect that these errors would not be copied over to the next generations, but that some error-correcting mechanism would be in place. This would ensure that if you exercised your free will too leniently and you ended up next to a UV light for too long that your children and your children's children are at least protected from your inability to practice sound discrimination towards malignant types of light sources.

Do mutations in DNA occur randomly and indiscriminately?


This is exactly what Mr Marshall's random mutator suggests. However, in DNA, you don't have one string, like you do in Mr Marshall's random mutator. You have two strands. Both strands consist entirely of the letters A, C, G and T. An A on the one string mostly (but not necessarily) corresponds to a T on the other strand, and vice versa. A C on one strand mostly (but not necessarily) corresponds to a G on the other strand, and vice versa. More significantly, any possible combination of A, C, G and T is a proverbial word in the language of DNA.

This is important, because not all combinations of letters in Plain English are words. Mr Marshall would do well to model his random mutator so that it bewares of the Jabberwocky. At least this would resemble the working of one strand of DNA somewhat. Since any combination of letters in the DNA alphabet form meaningful words in the genetic code, there is no possibility that a random mutation would prevent your genetic information from being transferred. It follows that the randomness of mutation in DNA is immaterial, because no mutation would cause your organism to necessarily become extinct.

Cro-magnon skull
A Cro-magnon skull. Mr Marshall's random mutator reasons that natural selection implies that we can revert our current human population back to Cro-magnons, and if we can't evolve to our current level of humanity, humanity would necessarily become extinct.

Mutation does occur randomly, but not indiscriminately thanks to natural selection. A mutation in some of your DNA is not necessarily a mutation in all of your DNA, or in all of the DNA of a particular species, as only the mutations which get passed on to your offspring are relevant. Mr Marshall's mutator does not model this scenario at all, but his model implies that any random mutation in the DNA of a particular organism automatically occurs species wide.

Mr Marshall's random mutator does not model natural selection


Mr Marshall reasons that since you can mutate randomly and then revert back to your selected text, his mutator does model natural selection. I fail to see how taking modern day humans and reverting us back to archaic homo sapiens has anything to do with natural selection. Besides, his 'Revert To Selected Text' button does not in fact revert back to selected text. It entirely clears the text. As an information scientist, Mr Marshall should surely be aware of Nielsen's heuristics. Poor user interface design does nothing to bring your point across more clearly.

Natural selection is not a carefully designed, directed process. Nor is it capable of being completely ignored in a model of mutation. Sticking with Darwin's definition:

"One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die".
[Wikiquote, Charles Darwin]

There is nothing in this mutator that models selecting the strongest letters, words or sentences, and letting the weakest letters, words or sentences die. Note that this mechanism does not imply a designer. This mechanism could be brought about by an outbreak of Aids in your population.

Surely, if your DNA were designed by a perfect, omniscient deity, she would've seen that one coming too? Why then are some people immune to Aids while others are not? Why then are some more immune to malaria, while others are not? Natural selection seems to explain that, without the need for a designer. Mr Marshall's random mutator does not.

By the way, I haven't mentioned Cthulhu in this post. I just thought I'd randomly mention that.

05 December 2008

Is DNA analogous to human language?

"It all starts with random mutation, from which natural selection can choose winners. Since DNA is a language based on a four-letter alphabet (A, C, T, G); since letters form words (Codons) and words form instructions (Genes) we can test the concept in Plain English."
Mr Perry Marshall


This post forms part of a series on Mr Marshall's Random Mutator. You can find all the posts here:
  1. The Random Mutator of Perry Marshall.

  2. Is DNA Analogous to Human Language?

  3. How Random is Random Mutation in DNA?

  4. Does Darwinian Evolution Claim that DNA Mutations are Random?


The analogy that DNA is a language like Plain English is just a metaphor. It's a very convenient metaphor to explain the mechanisms of DNA, but as a metaphor, it should not be taken too literally. Operations on a string of text in English do not represent operations on DNA. Here is why:

DNA is a language based on a four letter alphabet (A, C, T, G)


This seems pretty valid and it does clarify the workings of DNA a little. However, letters in Plain English do not work like this:

"Each nucleotide sub-unit consists of a phosphate, deoxyribose sugar and one of the 4 nitrogenous nucleotide bases. The purine bases adenine (A) and guanine (G) are larger and consist of two aromatic rings. The pyrimidine bases cytosine (C) and thymine (T) are smaller and consist of only one aromatic ring.

In the double-helix configuration, two strands of DNA are joined to each other by hydrogen bonds in an arrangement known as base pairing. These bonds almost always form between an adenine base on one strand and a thymine on the other strand and between a cytosine base on one strand and a guanine base on the other."

[Transfer of information via the genetic code, Wikipedia]

The letters A, C, T and G represent nucleotides. While these letters are the basic building blocks of DNA, just like letters are the basic building blocks of words, nucleotides are further divisible into more basic building blocks.

Nucleotides from Wikipedia
A nucleotide is composed of a ring of nitrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms, a five carbon sugar (together referred to as a nucleoside) and one phosphate group.
[Nucleotide, Wikipedia]

While you could argue that letters are formed by ascenders, descenders, markers and serifs, these do not represent the basic building blocks of letters in the same way that a ring of nitrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms, a five carbon sugar and one phosphate group represent the basic building blocks of nucleotides.


The Gypsy Curse font from sinisterfonts.com. Does it look like nucleotides? Didn't think so.

Letters are not further divisible into functional parts in Plain English, but the nucleotides which make up DNA are further divisible into functional, stand-alone, chemical parts.

Furthermore, in any language there are rules which stipulate which letters can go next to which other letters. You'd mostly have a vowel next to a consonant, for instance.These rules are not determined by the message encoded in the text, but have to do with the conventions of the language.

This is different from DNA because DNA is not a language. DNA mostly forms as two strands: an adenine base on one strand and a thymine on the other strand and between a cytosine base on one strand and a guanine base on the other. This arrangement is not determined by convention, nor by the genetic code contained in the DNA, but the chemical properties of nucleotides and the resulting Hydrogen bonds.

Random mutations on a single string of Plain English text do not take the double helix structure of DNA into account.

This means the claim that we can test DNA concepts with Plain English is fundamentally flawed. The analogy that DNA is similar to Plain English is entirely inappropriate, as random operations on an entire string of text do not equate to any kind of operations on DNA at all.

04 December 2008

The Random Mutator of Perry Marshall

"Oh no! He's a creationist proving his point with a spam generator."
http://ave-imperator.blogspot.com/


This post forms part of a series on Mr Marshall's Random Mutator. You can find all the posts here:
  1. The Random Mutator of Perry Marshall.

  2. Is DNA Analogous to Human Language?

  3. How Random is Random Mutation in DNA?

  4. Does Darwinian Evolution Claim that DNA Mutations are Random?


This random mutator is an attempt by Mr Marshall to debunk Darwinian Evolution. Note that Darwinian Evolution is merely the origin of our current Theory of Evolution. No biologist currently believes in Darwinian Evolution in its strict sense, as the Theory of Evolution itself has gone through the processes of adaptation, genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, natural selection and speciation.

mutation
A mutation. It might be pretty damn ugly, but it's not extinct.

It is thus clear from the outset that this random mutator is a straw man argument. Nevertheless, information scientist to information scientist, yet biological layman to biological layman, let's scrutinise this random mutator of Mr Marshall.

How Mr Marshall Imagines Random Mutation Works



  • the genetic code of DNA is analogous to a high-level human language. Letters map to amino acids, words map to codons and sentences (or the meaning of sentences) map to instructions in the genetic code

  • random mutations in the letters of words are similar to mutations in the genetic code of DNA

  • random mutation occurs among the entire portion of code without keeping certain portions intact

  • Darwinian Evolution claims that these mutations are completely random and are not subjected to any kind of selection process

  • a selection process implies a designer of that process. Hello, Cthulhu!

  • if you apply random mutation to a sentence and you don't get a new meaningful sentence immediately, your mutated organisms immediately go extinct


In the following posts, I shall take each of these points to task as patiently as I can while listening to Slayer. I've already dealt with Mr Marshall's spurious claims that DNA proves the existence of god. Hopefully, these posts would also lead to a healthy debate. All comments, hate mail and bottles of single malt whiskey are welcome, however I shall only take intellectually honest comments seriously.

03 December 2008

Slayer gets the traffic of The Beast!

Read this post while listening to the theme from The Twilight Zone. In an uncanny turn of events, my review for Slayer's Divine Intervention managed to get The Traffic of the Beast!

traffic of the beast

Woohoo!
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