The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

After watching a Taiwanese coming-of-age film, it feels oddly appropriate to next watch an American one, though this one is about a 17-year old high school girl set in modern times. As usual this one got my attention by making onto various critics’ lists of their best films of the year but within about a half hour of it, I was puzzled by its inclusion as it seemed like a fairly generic movie about teenagers. Thankfully, my initial impressions were incorrect as this film is indeed smarter than it first appears to be.

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A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984)

It looks like we’re in for a busy week for I’m sticking to more easily digestible fare. This is another film by Hou Hsiao-hsien whose more recent works tend towards the obscure. My wife has watched this one before however and she reports that it’s an example of the director’s earlier works which uses simpler storytelling. Indeed this turned out to be straightforward to understand yet is laden with emotion and nuance.

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I’ve been messing with this game, on and off, for a long time now but I’ve come to accept that as much as I wish otherwise, there’s a certain at which a game stops being fun and feels too much like work. Due to how much I loved SpaceChem, I’ve always kept an eye out for subsequent releases by Zachtronics though I’m never smart enough to play them all the way through. For this one, I was good enough to finish almost all of the puzzles on the first page on my own but there’s no way I’m ever going to complete the advanced puzzles.

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Manchester by the Sea (2016)

This confusingly named film is neither set in nor is connected in any manner with the city of Manchester in England. Rather it is set in a tiny town in the US whose full name is indeed Manchester-by-the-Sea. Along with La La Land, it gained prominence from its multiple Oscar nominations earlier this year but only ended up winning two of them, for Best Original Screenplay and for Best Actor for Casey Affleck’s performance.

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Arabian Nights, Volume 1 (2015)

As a title card within the film itself states, this is not in fact an adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights. Instead it’s a film about contemporary events in Portugal, focusing on how the country is suffering under austerity but it does use the structure of Scheherazade telling stories. It’s also part one of a three volume series but I doubt I’ll ever get around to watching the remaining entries.

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (May 2017)

All of the interesting stuff this month are in biology and medicine. This has been the trend for a few months now I guess.

  • The first link goes to a series of photos that I won’t reproduce here so you’ll just have to click that. It’s about the discovery of a petrified dinosaur fossil of a type of ankylosaur. The reason this is so amazing is that instead of pieces of bones or teeth, this particular specimen includes a substantial portion of its armor so that for the first time scientists don’t have to infer what the exterior of the dinosaur looked like from its bone structure but can just see it for themselves. The photos are truly breathtaking.
  • Next we have a discovery that has the potential to rewrite all the textbooks about the origin of humans but is probably misguided. For a long time now, the consensus that our species originated in Africa but a group of scientists now claim that the discovery of two fossils of an ape-like creature in Bulgaria and Greece is evidence that our ancestors appeared in Europe instead. They date the fossils as some 7.2 million years old, older than oldest evidence of African hominids. Still, others are skeptical as consensus is fairly solid and claim instead that these fossils are those of some other ape-species who are not the ancestors of humanity. You can read some of those arguments here.
  • Then we have this article about how insect populations all over the world seem to be dropping propitiously. This is based on automatic sensors of various kinds at various sites. In Germany for example, one group reported that counts at insect trapping sites have fallen by 80% between 1989 and 2013. The reasons for the phenomenon are unknown and guesses include pesticides and changes in land use but these are huge changes that have important knock on effects throughout the entire food chain.
  • AIDS patients have been able to get the disease under control for a while now but a permanent cure still seems impossible. This article however talks about effecting just such a cure by using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool to excise HIV DNA from infected issues. Intriguingly the team did so not only with mice infected with mouse equivalent of human HIV-1 but also with mice engrafted with human immune cells that have been infected with human HIV-1. I know that when I first posted about CRISPR/Cas9 I said it would be immensely useful but I’m still surprised by how quickly new uses for it are cropping up all over the place.
  • I normally focus on basic research and ignore cool new devices but this bit about the Apple Watch caught my attention. I’m skeptical of claims about such devices for medical uses but this article claims that it does indeed work. This device comes with a heart rate sensor and a long study has now concluded that it is able to detect atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rate that can lead to stroke or heart disease, 97 percent of the time. This uses special software that isn’t yet available to ordinary users but it does prove that such devices have lots of real potential.

Maggie’s Plan (2015)

I had no idea what Maggie’s Plan was about except that it showed up in the usual lists of the best films of the year. So I was surprised and somewhat pleased when I realized that this is something like an updated version of the romantic comedy genre. I’ve never watched anything by director Rebecca Miller before but it has a cast of serious performers including Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore and even a cameo role by Wallace Shawn.

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The unexamined life is a life not worth living