Film review: Arrival (2016)

I just watched this critically acclaimed film and have to admit that I was highly disappointed. The central plot line is something that really appealed to me, as to how the world might react if spaceships were to suddenly arrive on Earth. What would the extra-terrestrials look like? What might their intentions be towards us? How could we communicate to find out? What science and technology do they have that enables them to overcome the massive barriers to interplanetary, let alone interstellar, travel that we face? This is a topic that is a staple of science-fiction writers, in classics like Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
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If it tastes good, it is good

A couple of recent posts on tea (see here and here) generated lively discussions about the many myths surrounding how to make a good cup of tea. I have also in the past mentioned that there are a lot of similar myths surrounding wine, compounded in that case by an order of magnitude greater level of pretentious vocabulary surrounding the topic. One thing I have noticed is that people who fancy themselves as connoisseurs of tea or wine or anything else refuse to be swayed by studies that suggest that the fine distinctions they claim to detect have no objective basis. Persuading them otherwise seems to be harder than persuading religious believers that there is no god.
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A quick primer on the basic forces in physics

There was an interesting question posed by Marcus Ranum about the nature of the WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) that are being looked for as the constituents of dark matter, and which are proving to be so elusive. He wondered why their presence could not be detected via gravity since it was to explain the gravitational effects of galaxies that they were postulated in the first place. I thought the question merited a quick primer for those interested in understanding it in a little more depth.
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Dark matter continues to be elusive

A month ago, I had a post about how the search for dark matter was proving to be frustrating with one negative result after another, prompting increased speculation that an alternative theory might be necessary. The hope had been that experiments using more sensitive detectors might prove successful. But the LUX (Large Underground Xenon) experiment in a deep underground mine in South Dakota failed to find evidence of dark matter in the form of WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles), the theoretically favored dark matter candidate. The abstract of the paper published on January 11, 2017 in Physical Review Letters says:
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“I’m not a robot”

Most of us are familiar with the CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) test that one sometimes has to complete to prove to some website that you are a human and not a bot seeking to impersonate one. Naturally this created the usual arms race between CAPTCHA and CAPTCHA-solving technology resulting in some of tests becoming quite tricky with the lettering highly distorted and with a cluttered background, presumably to fool computers. I have often failed it and had to redo the test.
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Evolution in almost real time

I thought I had shown the fascinating video below before but a search of my blog did not find it, suggesting that I meant to and forgot. It shows how in just eleven days bacteria can evolve to become resistant to high levels of antibiotics. As a visual demonstration of evolution it is dramatic. It is also frightening in that it shows how we need to be careful about the use of antibiotics since unnecessary use can help speed up the appearance of resistant strains of bacteria.
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How Intelligent Design went agley

As I said in my post yesterday that looked at the moribund state of the ID movement these days, there was always a deep-rooted tension between the Intelligent Design (ID) group and young Earth creationists. The ID people were playing a long game. Their goal was to overthrow the principle of naturalism that governed scientific practice and which they felt ruled out any role for god. As I have said before, naturalism can be divided into methodological naturalism in which you look for natural causes and explanations for any phenomena, and philosophical naturalism, the idea that the material world governed by natural laws is all there is and thus a priori rules out any possibility of any kind of supernatural phenomena.
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Meet the (great-great-great-…-grand) parents

If any of us could trace our family tree back far enough, right to the very beginning, then we might expect that we should all converge on LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, the organism from which all life on Earth evolved. But as Addy Pross writes in his book What is Life? (2012), the tree of life metaphor that Charles Darwin introduced may break down once you get as far back as the Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya kingdoms.
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Corruption experiment

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist about whom I have written many times before because he devises interesting experiments to test social values and behavior. He has done several experiments that looked at cheating and in the video below he talks about another one that seems to address the question that I posed two weeks ago about how openly unethical behavior at the top of the Trump administration might affect those lower down.
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