TV Review: Good Omens (2019) (No spoilers)

This six-part mini-series based on the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is superb. The 1990 book of the same name is very good but this TV adaptation is even better. It definitely benefits from being made into a miniseries that lasted a total of nearly six hours, rather that a shorter feature film. It enabled the screenwriter Gaiman and the director to provide a much richer texture to an already complex story. The series is available on HBO which I do not subscribe to but I happened to be staying at my daughter’s place and they do subscribe so I took the chance to watch it. I can strongly recommend it. In fact, I plan on seeing it again because the dialogue and acting are so good that it is the kind of thing that benefits from a second viewing, where one picks up on gags that one missed the first time around.

The story is based on the impending Armageddon that will climax in a major battle between the forces of Good and Evil that will be triggered by the Antichrist, who is boy named Adam, soon after his 11th birthday. The TV series expands the roles of Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon). Aziraphale was the angel guarding the gate of the Garden of Eden who took pity on the banished Adam and Eve and even gave them his flaming sword to protect them from the wild creatures they would encounter in the hostile world outside. Crowley initially appears in the form of the serpent who tempted Eve. The angel and demon are supposed to be on opposite sides in the war but over thousands of years of crossing paths at various major events in human history have developed a sort of friendship that is grudging at first but becomes stronger when they realize that they both do not see the point of destroying the Earth and all its inhabitants and decide to try and thwart the grand plan. This puts them in the bad books of their two organizations, who try to pull them back into line.
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Are you forgetting some things? Don’t panic

I am of the age when many of my contemporaries worry about dementia. This results in them taking steps that they think will lower the probability of that happening, such as exercise and learning new things. There are many articles such as this one that make recommendations to stave off dementia using just lifestyle changes alone. Following all the recommendations can be overwhelming. I don’t know how much they actually help but they are good things to do for their own sake because they enrich life and even if people do them out of a mistaken belief in their neurological efficacy, they are still worthwhile.
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The age and fate of the universe

Corey S. Powell provides a history of the Hubble-LeMaitre law and the efforts to pin down a precise value of the Hubble constant that plays a significant role in determining not only the age of the universe but also its ultimate fate. Like the age of the Earth, the value of the Hubble constant, and thus the age of the universe, has shifted considerably over time.
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Scoffing at those who believe in near death experiences

When I saw the title of this article that said Reasons not to scoff at ghosts, visions and near-death experiences, I assumed that it was going to make the case for the plausibility of things that I definitely scoff at. But what the author is arguing is that such beliefs can be therapeutic for some people and thus of some value and we should not too quickly move to disabuse people of those beliefs.
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Fact-checking in science

In science, collective judgments by credible experts that have passed through institutional filters are what make up reliable knowledge. These should not be confused with ‘facts’ which is the term given to the things that are directly measured. And yet, the media often conflate the two and in this article in Scientific American, Naomi Oreskes warns that doing so does a disservice when it comes to ‘fact-checking’ politicians concerning climate change warnings.
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Against the mindless use of metrics in the workplace

Anyone who has worked at a large organization, especially if they have been in charge of a department or section, will have encountered the dreaded metrics. Someone in upper management decides that they need to measure precisely how effective each part of the organization is functioning and so they develop some sort of metric that is sent out which section heads are supposed to periodically fill in and return.

The problem is that unless you are dealing with highly tangible and easily measurable entities, like the number of widgets that are produced per day, metrics can turn out to be extremely frustrating to fill out and even counter-productive, as Jerry Z. Muller explains.
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The hydration myth that will not die and the bottled water menace

Growing up in the tropics where it was always hot during the day and there were very few buildings that were air-conditioned and ceiling fans were the only cooling devices, we used to perspire a lot. But there was never tall of preemptively hydrating by having a regimen of regular water drinking. We drank when we were thirsty and that was it. So I was somewhat surprised to find people in the US obsessing over drinking water. There was a widespread belief that one should drink at least eight glasses of water a day and that coffee and tea did not count towards that total because they were dehydrating. It turns out that both those things are not true, something that researchers have been saying for some time but the message does not seem to be getting through.
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When and why did our fishy ancestors move to land?

We are the descendants of fish ancestors. Clearly at some point, a transition to land occurred and thus began the process of learning to walk. The question naturally arises of when and why our ancestors made the leap onto land. It is always a tricky to say how any particular feature that is now present evolved in the deep past and there is usually more than one possible explanation.

This caption to the video below explains a possible reason, that moving to land made it possible to see better and farther.

Some 400 million years ago, humanity’s ancient sea-dwelling ancestors made a giant leap to land, sprouting weight-bearing fins that would eventually carry us out of the water forever. So what precipitated this evolutionarily pivotal change of terrain? According to recent research led by Malcolm MacIver, a computational neuroscientist and engineer at Northwestern University in Illinois, the jump to solid ground might have more to do with vertebrates’ eyes than limbs. Testing their theory that exponentially clearer views of bountiful prey above water led our ancestors to select for eyes atop the head, with primitive limbs coming long after, MacIver and colleagues ran extensive fossil-data simulations. They concluded that above-water sight did indeed provide an ‘informational zip line’ out of the water – what they call the buena vista (or ‘good view’) hypothesis. Moreover, they believe that those above-water views would eventually lead our land-dwelling ancestors to select for prospective cognition – the ability to mentally place oneself in the future – while fish were left in the muck of the moment.

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MIT professor suspended for getting secret donations from Jeffrey Epstein

Seth Lloyd is a well-known MIT professor who has done important work on quantum computing and information theory. (I quote him in my latest book.) But an internal investigation by the university’s law firm Goodwin Proctor, commissioned by MIT after it was revealed that its highly regarded MediaLab had been getting unreported donations from Jeffrey Epstein, reveals that Lloyd has also been getting secret gifts from Epstein.
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