Roman Holiday (1953)


This is another of those classic films that everyone is supposed to have watched but I never have. In fact, I’ve never even watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, widely considered Audrey Hepburn’s most defining role. Roman Holiday is where she got her start though so it feels appropriate to watch this first. Watching this, I was certainly struck by how astonishingly young she looks here.

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (January 2016)

This month instead of scientific discoveries we have mostly news that is relevant to science:

  • By now, most people will have heard of the Zika virus. There are many articles about it obviously so this is one such. It’s a mosquito-borne disease that is wrecking havoc in South America, especially Brazil and while it hasn’t reached Southeast Asia yet, it could as it can be carried by Aedes mosquitos. Most of the infected have no symptoms and it does not seem to be particularly dangerous even to those who do develop symptoms. But researchers suspect that when pregnant women are infected, it can cause a neurological condition known as microcephaly in infants, which shows up in the form of visibly and horribly smaller heads.
  • Next up is yet another bit of news about CRISPR, though an unfortunate one. This article describes how credit for its discovery is being disputed by various parties, something that is particularly important in light of how lucrative the patent rights for it will be. In particular a recent piece detailing its history diminishes the role of key women who involved and has been criticized as the latest in a long line of such instances that diminish the importance of women in major discoveries in favor of male colleagues.
  • This one is a follow-up to an earlier news posting about the strange behavior of the star KIC 8462852 whose cyclical pattern of dimming has stumped astronomers and prompted one of them to suggest that it may be evidence of an alien-built megastructure. Now a team has gone through old photographs of the star in question and discovered that it has been steadily dimming over the past century or so, which would seem to preclude comets passing between the star and us as the explanation for our observation.
  • Then for bona fide scientific discoveries, this article talks about how sugar seems to be an important factor in the growth of cancerous tumors. So far this finding is based only on animal studies but the experiments show that mice who had been fed a diet dominated by sugars were more likely to develop tumors. Moreover, the more sugar they fed the mice, the faster the tumors grew. Interestingly while all sugars had this effect, fructose had a markedly stronger effect than glucose.
  • Finally an announcement about artificial intelligence that has been making the rounds is about how a computer built by DeepMind, now a subsidiary of Google, is capable of beating a human champion of the ancient Chinese game of Go. This is considered one of the most complex games ever invented by mankind due to its vast problem space. As far as I can tell however while this is an important result, DeepMind hasn’t done anything truly stunning as they’ve used familiar Monte Carlo techniques to prune the problem space and threw a staggering amount of computing power at the problem. 1202 CPUs and 176 GPUs is nothing to sneeze at, plus they beat someone who is ranked as being around the 600th best player in the world.

Swept Away (1974)


Swept Away is the second of the two films that my wife asked to add to our list by Italian director Lina Wertmüller. The first one was Seven Beauties which we watched about half a year ago. This one also stars Giancarlo Giannini, apparently he is one of this director’s favorite performers, and he is joined here by actress Mariangela Melato. These two seem to have had a very successful partnership under Wertmüller’s direction and their chemistry here is so strong that they have no problems carrying the film without the need for any other characters.

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22 Jump Street (2014)


Both my wife and myself loved 21 Jump Street so it’s no surprise that we’re down with watching this sequel. In fact I’d originally put the first movie on our watch-list only when I heard that this sequel is better than the first one. I don’t think it’s quite that good but it is appreciably better than most sequels turn out to be and one way it achieves this is by being all meta and self-aware that it is a sequel.

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Solaris (1972)


This is one of those occasions on which I’ve first watched the remake, in this case Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 version, before watching this earlier version by Andrei Tarkovsky. This was way before I started watching films seriously and I remember being perplexed by it but I thought it still did a fairly good job of depicting the alienness of the planet Solaris. Tarkovsky’s version turned out to be much more personal and individual, focusing with laser-like intensity on the inner psychology of its protagonist Kris Kelvin.

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I was a big fan of Blindsight and really enjoyed discussing it in various places so it’s no surprise that this sequel was one of my most anticipated books. Unfortunately even after I’d gotten my hands on it (I chose to buy it as an ebook from Google Books), I took my time reading it because I ended up being very annoyed by it. After finishing the book, I went around the Internet to read up on various discussions. The regulars at Broken Forum mostly liked it but on Reddit and other places, I find that mine is not an uncommon opinion.

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The unexamined life is a life not worth living