Don’t Breathe (2016)

The only feature film director Fede Álvarez made before this was the reboot of Evil Dead. I noticed that as I’m a big fan of the original one by Sam Raimi but ultimately passed over watching it due to its atrocious ratings. This recent release however gained plenty of attention from critics and has a more than respectable Rotten Tomatoes rating. It even rated a mention in the Crash Course Film History series of videos I’ve been following on YouTube. That’s more than enough to be worth a shot I think.

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The Salesman (2016)

Asghar Farhadi remains, in my opinion, one of the best currently active directors when it comes to the pure drama of everyday life, and I was immensely pleased that The Salesman duly won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. I had not of course watched it yet but regarded the award as an American acknowledgement of his career to date so when I learned that it would be shown in cinemas here in Malaysia made sure to watch it there as a show of support.

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (July 2017)

A bit late this month but the delay was useful as I didn’t see many interesting stuff until the last several days. It’s a fairly mixed bag this time.

  • I remember posting something similar a while back so consider this further confirmation. This article talks about parabiosis in which a younger animals shares its blood with an older specimen, providing health benefits to the latter. The research so far suggests that it does work but the precise mechanisms remain unknown and it certainly isn’t a treatment approved by the authorities. Naturally this hasn’t stopped some enterprising businesses from offering such treatments. We should expect better quality data on this as more people opt for these procedures despite the cost.
  • Despite the clickbait headline, this looks like an article based on e legitimate study. It claims that statistical analysis of a survey of more than 500,000 Britons found that driving daily for more than two hours a day is associated with lower IQ. If you look closer however, it’s clear that this is similar to other forms of so-called sedentary behavior such as watching TV. Strangely the opposite is true for those who use computers as that was found to be an activity that stimulates the brain, leading to increased brain function instead.
  • This next one also has a clickbait title and it’s best thought of as yet another milestone in our improving ability to directly read brain signals and interpret it into meaningful information. In this case, it’s a device called the encephalophone which can read electrical signals in the brain, convert the information into musical notes and play them on a synthesizer. Effectively this allows you to think about music and have the computer produce it for you though the range of possible sounds seems limited for now.
  • The prevalence of fake news today makes this article especially relevant. It’s about the difficulty, or lack thereof, of generating artificial sound and video. As it notes, fake audio is now well within the realm of possibility and the technology now exists to feed samples of a particular person’s voice into an algorithm and then using it to generate what you want that person to say. Generated video is far from that point but there are certainly plenty of people working on it.
  • The last article is the most speculative and may not be anything more than a rumor. It reports that a research group at Facebook has shut down an internal project when they discovered that the AIs had developed what amounts to a new language to communicate among themselves. The project apparently began as chatbots meant to explore negotiation strategies which communicate in English. As time passed however, the bots began using the English words in new ways that are unintelligible to humans but which are meaningful for other bots. They also note that similar bots developed at other labs also employed shorthand languages in a similar fashion that became more involved over time.

Dunkirk (2017)

After the disappointment of Inception and the incredible arrogance of Interstellar, it was by no means certain that we would automatically troop off to the cinema to watch the latest Christopher Nolan film. I can’t express how heartened I was when I heard that its running time is only around an hour and forty minutes, meaning that it isn’t the overbearing epic that is typical of his more recent work. After that the excellent reviews and the recommendations of Broken Forum members was enough to get to watch it in an IMAX cinema.

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Beijing Bicycle (2001)

This is the first film I’ve watched by a Chinese director of some renown, Wang Xiaoshuai. He is apparently considered a member of China’s Sixth Generation of filmmakers, and while I am skeptical of such labels, I suppose it does have some relevance here as one of their defining characteristics is more individualistic films that highlight the tensions in the country’s rapid modernization and urbanization. I’m also amused that the two male leads in this film are nobodies but the two supporting actresses are huge stars today, though their roles here are relatively minor.

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China Mountain Zhang

Since this is an older novel, it was obviously another pick out of Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great. This was Maureen F. McHugh’s debut novel and it was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula though it didn’t win either. As its title suggests, China and Chinese culture takes center stage in this novel. It’s far from being the first Western science-fiction work to do so, notably David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo series was started in 1989. Still this book is more highly regarded and is very enjoyable while I found the Chung Kuo series to be an impressively wordy mess back when I tried it ages ago.

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Fire at Sea (2016)

This is billed as a documentary but it’s debatable whether it’s more of a film than a documentary. Its original Italian title makes more sense, Fuocoammare, in reference to a song that a woman requests on the radio in honor of the men who work as fishermen in the family. Apparently the Italian Prime Minister liked it so much that he gifted a DVD of it to each of the EU’s heads of state.

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The unexamined life is a life not worth living