Movie Review: Arrival

Arrival is a unique new science fiction film about alien contact based on the 1998 Novella “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. Highly critically acclaimed, Arrival differs from most other movies of its type in that this is a movie, even more so than Contact, about language.

Spoilers below. Continue reading

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Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

It's finally here!

It’s finally here!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first spin-off film in the Harry Potter series, and the first screenplay written by J. K. Rowling directly. It is the first of five films that will apparently lead up to the epic duel between Albus Dumbledore and the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald during World War II. And it is awesome.

Okay, let’s get my one big complaint out of the way first. J. K. Rowling is a British woman living in a country where handguns are completely banned, but wands (in her world) are carried without restriction. And now, she writes about the United States, a country with more guns than people, and she says that wands are heavily regulated and require a permit to carry here.

This despite the fact that the International Confederation of Wizards established the right to carry a wand at all times in 1692. (Quidditch Through the Ages, p. 28).

Yes, I’m a geek.

But other than that, Fantastic Beasts is an excellent movie, and J. K. Rowling has proved that she’s as good a storyteller in the area of screenplay as she is with novels. In my opinion, it better than most of the Harry Potter films, topped only by Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Prisoner of Azkaban.

On top of that, I firmly believe this is David Yates’s (who previously directed the last four Harry Potter films) best work as a director. I’ve previously been very critical of Mr. Yates for seemingly not understanding how to handle the characters in the Potter films and not being able to bring the best out of the lead actors, whom I thought did a lot of their best work in Prisoner of Azkaban. But in Fantastic Beasts, Mr. Yates has finally hit his stride. It’s beautifully directed, the characters are eminently relatable, and it packs in lots of action and an emotional impact equal to the best of Harry Potter.

Granted, Ms. Rowling’s worldbuilding has always been a little sloppy (maybe I’ll do a post on that later), and as other reviewers have said, it is a lot of exposition for the rest of the series, but those are small criticisms to the overall quality of the work.

I was nervous going into Fantastic Beasts both because of the debacle that was Cursed Child (despite Ms. Rowling not having written the play) and because of the choice of David Yates as director, but it exceeded my expectations on both counts, and it gives me high hopes for the next four films.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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What If? Rejects #6.2: Chainsaws

Previous post in this series: A Well-Balanced Meal

Q: What temperature would a chainsaw (or other cutting implement) need to be at to instantly cauterize any injuries inflicted with it?

Randall’s response: A woman with a chainsaw and a campfire says, “…I need to know by Friday.”

My response: I think what you actually want is a lightsaber.

But in all seriousness, it’s not about higher temperatures. Cauterization is a very specific (and usually not very useful) medical technique. It stops wounds from bleeding by burning the surrounding tissue to produce blisters. Higher temperatures will cause deeper burns and do more damage than they fix.

There’s not much information about the actual temperatures involved in cauterization, but it appears it can be anywhere from 500 to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (260 to 1100 degrees Celsius), depending on the specific application. For a large, fast cut like a chainsaw will produce, it probably needs to be near the upper end of that range.

But there’s a bigger problem: if you can even get the chain to that temperature, much less keep it at that temperature…you’re going to destroy the chainsaw! The chain has to move at high speeds and pass through the mechanism. If it’s heated to a temperature of more than a few hundred degrees, it’s probably going to melt something in there, and a gas-powered chainsaw might just blow up in your face.

So maybe just stick with the lightsaber.

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What If? Rejects #6.1: A Well-Balanced Meal, Part 4

I want to finish up my discussion of the nutritional content of the human body, as per Randall Munroe’s What If? This post doesn’t really have any new information. I just wanted to compile what I already wrote into one handy FDA-approved* Nutrition Facts label. I be back with a new question next week-ish.


Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 3 ounces (85g)
Servings per container 560

Amount Per Serving

Calories 200   Calories from Fat 120

                                             % Daily Values

Total Fat 14g                              21%
Saturated Fat 5g                24%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 56mg                     19%
Sodium 120mg                            5%
Total Carbohydrate 2g             1%
Dietary Fiber 0g                   0%
Sugars 0g
Protein 17g

Vitamin A                                      64%
Vitamin C                                        4%
Calcium                                    4,629%
Iron                                              469%

* Neither the FDA nor Science Meets Fictions condones cannibalism.

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What If? Rejects #6.1: A Well-Balanced Meal, Part 3

Two years ago, I began a series of posts based on Randall Munroe’s book, What If? The What If? book and website are described as “serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions.” However, there were some questions that were too absurd even for Randall. He printed a couple dozen of them in his book without answering them, just for the humor value, but I decided I would answer them. Thus, the What If? Rejects series was born.

Unfortunately, my life went nuts while I was finishing my doctorate, and my blogging mostly fell by the wayside for the past year, leaving the series half finished. But now, I’m bringing it back!

When last we met, I was in the middle of answering “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox #6”, Question 1: What is the total nutritional value (calories, fat, vitamins, minerals, etc.) of the average human body?

I calculated the calorie count of the average human body in this post: 560 servings of 200 calories each. In my second post, I calculated the macronutrients: fats, carbs, and protein, including sugar and cholesterol. Now, it’s time for the micronutrients: the vitamins and minerals.

The FDA only requires vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and sodium quantities to be listed in products’ nutrition facts labels, but lets do all of them. There are 13 essential vitamins and 15 essential minerals that are needed by the human body, and calculating how much of them can be found in the body is actually quite a bit easier than figuring out carbs, proteins, and fats.

You see, each vitamin and mineral has something called a biological half-life. This is a little like a radioactive half-life, but instead of the time it takes for half of a substance to decay, it’s the time it takes for one half of a particular chemical to be eliminated from the body. So in order to find out how much of a vitamin or mineral is in a healthy human body, you just take its Reference Dietary Intake (formerly Recommended Daily Allowance), multiply by its biological half-life, multiply by 1.44 because logarithms, and you’re done.

Finding out the Daily Value per serving is even easier. The biological half life times 1.44 tells you the number of Daily Values in the body directly. Then just divide by the number of servings. For many vitamins, the number is zero: they get metabolized into other chemicals in the body in a matter of hours. Minerals, on the other hand, can stick around for a long time. You can look up the numbers for yourself, but here’s the end result:

Vitamin A: 64%          Vitamin B1: 3%          Vitamin B2: 0%

Vitamin B3: 0%          Vitamin B5: 0%          Vitamin B6: 0%

Vitamin B7: 0%          Vitamin B9: 3%          Vitamin B12: 2%

Vitamin C: 4%          Vitamin D: 4%          Vitamin E: 1%

Vitamin K: 0%

Sodium: 5%                   Magnesium: 11%          Phosphorus: 5%

Chlorine: 3%                  Calcium: 4,629%          Potassium: 4%

Chromium: 158%          Manganese: 10%          Iron: 469%

Cobalt: 1%                       Copper: 5%                   Zinc: 72%

Selenium: 26%                Molybdenum: 1%          Iodine: 21%

Note that the average of the human body (as opposed to particular tissues) is not particularly edible because you are liable to overdose on iron.

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Book Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants is one of those books I picked up blind. I knew nothing about the author, and I hadn’t heard the book recommended. All I knew was what was printed on the dust jacket.

And I loved it.

Sleeping Giants, the debut novel of Québécois author Sylvain Neuvel, is a sci-fi thriller told in the style of The Martian and World War Z, through journal entries and interview transcripts with someone who seems to be a scary, faceless government agent.

It all started when a young girl named Rose Franklin fell down a hole and landed on a giant metal hand. Years later, Rose is a scientist recruited to study the hand and find more pieces of what turns out to be a giant alien robot, which in ancient times was the inspiration for the Greek goddess Themis.

Or, if you're Neuvel's son, a cool action figure. Credit: The University of Chicago Magazine.

Or, if you’re Neuvel’s son, the backstory of a cool action figure. Credit: The University of Chicago Magazine.

Of course, after that, everything goes wrong, and disaster, destruction, political scheming, and the specter of the aliens noticing something amiss all mean that the robot causes a lot more trouble than it solves.

Sleeping Giants is a page turner for sure. It has plenty of personal drama, political machinations, and pretty good science, too. The plot also has at least three big twists coming out of left field to keep things exciting.

I admit I wasn’t completely sold on the book until the very end. I didn’t particularly like where Mr. Neuvel was going with it for a while, but I changed my mind immediately when I saw he was teasing a sequel. The final twist kept the mystery alive and completely changed my perspective on the story without feeling cheap. The sequel, Waking Gods, will be released next April, and I am eager to read it.

My rating: 5 out of 5.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


Well…here we go.

I’m a big Harry Potter fan, so when I heard that J. K. Rowling was writing a stage play to follow the adventures of Harry’s son, Albus, and Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, I was disappointed that I would have very little prospect of seeing it…and then excited when I heard that the script would be published on premier night…and then disappointed again at the quality of that script. But it was better than it could have been.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the latest installment in the Harry Potter universe. It’s a stage play, and the script is available in bookstores everywhere. But the reviews have been…mixed. Viewers who actually watched the play on stage loved it, but those who read the story in cold paper and ink were not so enamored. And I’m not just talking about the people who were mad that it’s a script and not a book. Many readers had far more substantive problems with it.

I’m going to be nice and #KeepTheSecrets for now. I’ll probably revisit the substantive plot problems later.

Continue reading

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