Counting Sheep

This way: The sheep at the front head in the right direction and influence the other members of the herd

From this perspective it might look like small white fish in a green pond, or a herd of wild lice roaming a green scalp, but these are actually sheep. They are being expertly herded by dogs in an effort to move them from one pasture to another. Sit back and relax and watch the video on this site along with the full article. If you are not a little sleepy by the end then you probably have had too much coffee.

-SMS

 

Google Computer Beats Professional Go Player

 

A massive accomplishment has been made in the development of artificial intelligence. For the first time a computer has beaten a professional go player. For decades humans have been creating computers to play games. This may be a combination of a deep fear, that all scientist secretly share, of having to interact with other humans and their general their love of board games, or it may be because board games require decision making skills. The more complex they are, the more intelligence and skill are required to play them well making them a perfect way to measure a computer’s thinking power. In the past scientist have created computers capable of playing and winning at backgammon, checkers and chess. The last of which involves a rather famous incident where the computer Deep Blue beat the reigning world champion Gary Kasparov. So what is go and why is this a bigger leap than beating Kasparov you might ask? Well go is an ancient Chinese game with relatively simple rules, the difference for a computer is more of scale than anything else. There are approximately 4,670,033 possible variations on a chess game which is certainly quite a large number, but not out of the realm of possibility for a computer to analyze and predict its opponents moves. Go however has a possible 2.082 × 10^170 variations, which is a number so large it is hard to comprehend. Just let the enormity of that number sink in. Here is a link to their published paper.

-SMS

Opinion : The Revenant

SPOILER ALERT

Let me start by saying, I liked it. There got that out of the way.  I think a lot of the rave reviews I have not only read online, but have been given by friends and family have been slightly overblown. Not to say it doesn’t deserve praise but I think a lot of people realized it was an artsy movie with some philosophical themes and decided that it must be a great movie because it made you think deep thoughts about life and death and stuff. It was a very good movie, but I doubt it will go down as a classic, though I admit only time will tell. It was beautifully filmed and the idea to only use natural lighting was great. The way the sun, shadows and fire light illuminated a scene really added a since of realism and authenticity to the environment. The action sequences I though were choreographed very well and lent a sense of frenzy to many of the more intense moments of the film such as the bear attack and the ambush at the beginning of the movie. I found Tom Hardy’s character, Fitzgerald, very compelling, and in many ways more so than DiCaprio’s character. The idea that he is a man with a troubled past, it is shown he was scalped at some point, who just wants to make some money and is not truly, in my opinion, a pure evil man. I wish they would have played up the moment when he stabbed the dude’s son a little bit, maybe make it seem like an accident or have Hardy show a little remorse or something. Bottom line that particular scene seemed to be over too fast which is a shame because it was a great opportunity to show a little more depth in both the main characters. Personal gripe, I had a hard time deciphering what Tom Hardy was saying sometimes, probably just me as I have not seen anyone else complaining about it and my hearing isn’t great so yeah like I said might just be me. Our protagonist Hugh Glass, played by DiCaprio, however seemed very one dimensional he wants revenge and misses his family and likes the Native Americans, that is about it to his character. Leo did a great job with the character that being said. It must be very hard to portray someone in intense pain which Glass was for the majority of the film and Leo did a great job of that. Alright time for some general gripes that bothered me through out the whole film. The biggest one that bothered me the most was how quickly the main character seemed to heal. That bear attack scene makes it extremely likely Glass would have had multiple broken bones most notable his arm and one of his legs. The leg is later shown being set showing that at minimum he has a broken leg apart from the claw and tooth wounds. Yet in what seems like just a few days Glass can be seen running, falling of cliffs, riding horses and several other things anyone who has ever broken a bone knows is impossible. The real Hugh Glass (yes this movie is loosely based on a true story) took six weeks to make it back and he had to crawl most of the way. Either this was a severe oversight on the writer and directors part or the audience is meant to believe more time transpired than was shown, but as most of the scenes are displayed sequentially it is really not apparent that any more than a few days have passed, a week at most. This is really a major flaw as it broke my suspension of disbelief and pulled me out of the story making me wonder if I had some how wandered into a super hero movie by mistake. The film takes place in winter yet characters are constantly wading and floating down rivers with reckless abandon. This may not seem out of place to most people, but anyone who has spent significant amount of time outdoors knows that cold and wet is a great recipe for hypothermia or frostbite. No one in the movie ever seems to suffer from or even be concerned about these things. In fact in my experience I would say Glass was in more danger from hypothermia after his float down the river than he ever was since surviving the bear attack. Moving on I was mildly annoyed by his constant dream sequences they were too frequent and weird. I fail to see the significance of why his wife had to be floating over him, and it actually made me giggle inside a little remembering a similar scene in Ghostbusters. If they had been done a bit more like the scenes from Gladiator, I would have appreciated it more. Less frequent and more normal would have been better. My final grip is that the whole daughter of the chief plot was unnecessary it added nothing to the film. Any Native American attacks could have been easily attributed to the fact that a lot of tribes didn’t like whitey stealing their land, and it could have been left at that without the need for random back story with no depth. All in all I thought it was a good movie and thoroughly enjoyed it though I doubt I would watch it again.

-SMS

What is Cancer?

In the wake of several celebrities dying from cancer recently, namely David Bowie, and Alan Rickman. I though I would take a moment to talk about what cancer is and why finding a cure is more complicated than it sounds. First let me start by saying that I am actually a cancer researcher, I wake up everyday go to work, put on my lab coat on and work to cure cancer, so it is safe to say that I have some knowledge on this subject (that being said I’m going to keep this simple). Half of all men and a third of all women in the United States will get cancer. Stop, now read that sentence again. Sounds high doesn’t it, but I would bet anyone of us knows at least one person, if not a family member, who has had one form of cancer or another. With these statistics being as high as they are it is amazing to me the number of people who don’t know the first thing about cancer. So today I want to give a brief explanation of what cancer is and why curing it is a bitch. Most of us are aware that the cell is the basic building block of life. An easy way to think of a cell is to imagine it as a little machine it takes in nutrients and preforms basic tasks that keep it alive and when the time comes it multiplies and/or dies off depending on what type of cell it is. There are so many cells in the human body that the number is virtually astronomical, and all these cells are super efficient at their jobs, more efficient than best computer on the market. Even so sometimes errors are made, these are called mutations. These mutations can be the cause of many diseases, but when we talk about cancer we are mainly talking about mutations in the cells growth. Specifically the things that tell a cell to stop multiplying or tell it when to die. These signals come from the cells DNA which for all intensive purposes is the brain of the cell, and that is where these mutations occur. As a result these cells grow larger than they should and multiply more rapidly than they should and no longer do the work that they should be doing. Soon they grow into a large mass that is called a tumor. These can be hazardous in multiple ways not the least of which is just getting in the way. They can block blood flow or clog your lungs or intestines, they also muscle out normal cells that are working properly leaving the body with not enough workers to preform essential tasks like breathing. Now here is the hard part, every persons DNA is different and therefore every persons cancer is different. There are also many different areas of the body that can get cancer and each one of these is unique as well. Finally there are many different types of mutations that can occur and often there are multiple mutations present in a single tumor. That is the crux of the problem with finding a cure, there isn’t just one type cancer there are many many types and each will require its own unique cure. Good news is your chances are much better now than they once were and there are people working everyday trying to improve your odds.

-SMS

How Long is too Long?

I recently read a review about The Hateful Eight when I was deciding if it was worth seeing in theaters. This is not really about the movie, but when I saw the run time was 187 minutes it got me thinking. How long is too long? At what point do you say “Ain’t nobody got time for that” and just redbox or netflix it? At what point do you say “screw this movie” and not watch it at all, like ever? Not all long movies are bad, Return of the King was 201 minutes, Braveheart was 178 minutes, and Schindler’s List was 195 minutes. In fact with the exception of 12 Angry Men all of the top ten movies on IMDb’s Top rated movies list are over two hours long. Those nine movies are all longer than the average of their time, some significantly longer. When you look at the list of top grossing movies of all time adjusted for inflation  Gone with the wind comes in at the number one spot and it is 238 minutes long! That is just barely under four hours, that is long enough that I would never go see it in theaters (assuming time travel or a special showing), but judging by the fact that I have seen it a few times at home, it is obviously not so long that I would never watch it. At three to four hours I will not go see it in theaters unless I have a special attachment to the subject matter (i.e Lord of the Rings). Over four I am just not going to see it in theaters, sorry directors but if it is that long I will watch it at home so I can drink beer and pause the the movie when I inevitably have to break the seal. That being said at four hours I might not even watch it at home unless I know it is something special. Still the numbers do not lie it seems that what we consider the best of movies tend to be longer than average. Just for fun check out this list of movies with the longest run times. If any of you have seen any of these please let me know in the comments.

Opinion : Kylo Ren

This is a new segment I will be doing from time to time. It will differ from our normal posts by presenting more of an opinion and less of a informative article. The intent of this segment is not to be a review, though I may occasional talk about books, movies and games and convey my likes and dislikes about them. Instead this is more of a one sided discussion (though if you agree or disagree feel free to comment) where I will talk about whatever I feel like regarding anything I want. I will not talk about religion or politics, but if there are readers out there (and I hope there are) who wish to know my opinion about something leave a note in the comments. I aspire to be a writer (despite my poor grammar and spelling) and though I have not published anything, my minimal experience crafting stories has led me to become critical of plots and characters so these will probably be favorite topics of conversation for me.  As it is today, no doubt you have deduced from the title that I will be writing about Kylo Ren. Another thing that needs to be said is if I am talking about any media you can assume that there will be spoilers so don’t read if you are that one person who has not seen Star Wars yet.

Alright so lets talk about Kylo Ren as far as character tropes go he can be considered the dragon of the series just  as Darth Vader was before him. This means that while he is not the main villain also known as the big bad he is the number one bad ass the plucky hero must fight through to get to the main boss. It is not made clear what made Kylo turn to the dark side but it is clear by the end when he kills his father that he has wholly embraced evil. So lets talk about things that work for this dude. His original appearance in the film, when he orders a village to be massacred and stops a laser (or whatever they are called) in mid air, totally adds to his bad ass credibility. The whole laser thing in particular is noteworthy because it is a trick that we haven’t seen before in the movies implying he might have some serious skills. Also I like the design of his costume the heavy cloak and hood combined with that sweet helmet looked rather intimidating and the deep gravely voice was great. Personality wise, Ren comes off as deeply disturbed flying off the handle and destroying innocent electronics who just happen to be near him. Comparing this to Vader calmly force choking people when they displeased him is interesting, both are undeniably violent responses but in a film that had a lot of similarities to previous movies (some might say too many) it was nice to see the differences in their reactions to bad news. There are many archetypal villain types out there for a writer to pick from and I think the ax craziness of Ren was refreshing in a universe where most force users good and evil have been fairly composed (exception being Anakin in Ep. 2,3). I thought his parentage was a giveaway from shortly after the beginning (only so many times you can pull the surprise parents trick), but I found that it worked well with the story and set up some much needed internal character conflict for Han, Leia, and Ren himself. Also the ending where he kills Han and apparently seals his fate as a evil dude, work well for the character, though I feel mixed about this scene as a whole (too close to the death of Kenobi for me). Finally the much discussed final fight scene, this has been discussed by a lot of people claiming either that Ren is a wuss for not being able to beat two non Jedi in a fight or that he is a bad ass for fighting while wounded and doing as well as he did. Here is my take, Ren fought in a frenzied, berserker type of attack that fit his flash pan temper well and I found compelling compared to the intricately choreographed light saber dances of Ep. 1,2,3. Also, they certainly talked up the bow caster enough that it makes being shot with it and surviving let alone fighting truly a feat of bad assery, but more on that later.

Alright lets talk about some things that did not work as well and what I might have done differently. His appearance without the mask was not intimidating or scary in the slightest. Now I am not dissing Adam Driver in the least way, I thought he did an amazing acting job, what I am talking about is more costuming than anything. He could have used a hair cut for one perhaps something reminiscent of a military style buzz cut and a scar or something to toughen up his face. This was in no doubt a conscious decision on the part of the creators, to accentuate the fact that this was supposed to be a troubled young man and not the callous veteran that Vader was by A New Hope. However I think the effect along with a few dialogue options was to make him sound a little like a whinny teenager. Which is something we all want to avoid after the insufferably bitchy Anakin from the prequels. When Kylo talks to the Vader mask about his weakness and his fears about not being able to do what is “necessary” I feel the whole scene would have been better if Kylo had not be so forthcoming about his perceived weakness. This would have served two purposes. One I think this is the main scene that leads people to see Kylo as whinny and if they had toned the self loathing down a bit it would have alleviated that. Second when Rey does her mind trick on him it would have made that scene more memorable because it would have revealed these feelings of inadequacy to the audience for the first time. I also would have liked to see more of that homicidal rage I like so much perhaps instead of destroy the defenseless electronics he could have killed the defenseless messenger dude. I thought the mood swings and rages really made this character interesting and would have like to see some more. And back to the final fight scene, they should have played up the wound more perhaps shown him put his hand to his side and pull it back with blood on it or something. I know it is a PG-13 film so you are limited on gore but the audience really needed something to remind us just how seriously he was hurt, it would have added a whole new dimension to the final fight. But hey that’s just like my opinion.

-SMS

When Good Bees go Bad

Bees are essential to plant and animal life on this wonderful planet of ours. However the small flying honey producers we all love (or hate depending) are in grave danger as they are surrounded by a myriad of threats that are causing their populations to rapidly decline. Why should we care though, I mean these little bastards just fly around all smug, stealing pollen from those plants in your garden. And if those black and yellow stripes aren’t gang colors I don’t know what are. Do you really want your children out there playing with these thugs. What if they get stung, what if they are allergic! Dear God wont someone think of the children!

The truth is, as I said in my first sentence before you got all hysterical on me, honey bees are essential to our environment. There are many different plants and foods that they help pollinate, such as almonds. Once Albert Einstein said “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.” Now that may not be literally true as honey bees are not true natives to North America and there are other pollinators that existed before and after their arrival on our continent. And after all the Native Americans did live quite healthy lives before the palefaces showed up and through a wrench in their health care system, but that’s a topic for a different time. But Einstein did have a point a lot of the foods we all know and love require honey bees to do their pollination, and certainly the resulting necessary shift in agriculture that would be caused by the world wide death of the honey bee, would cause food shortages and starvation. So if you want those previously discussed children to be able to eat almonds we should care.

One of the many problems effecting the every day bee on the go is sexual rebellion. No these are not teenage bees, nor are the bees taking to the streets and burning their bras and protesting. In fact almost every honey be you will ever see is female, the males are kicked out of the nest to die shortly after they mate with the queen. I can hear the angry mutterings of the men’s rights activist already, but no that is not what I am talking about either. The queen is normally the only bee that lays eggs and this is the right and proper way of things (for bees anyways I am not sure Elizabeth II would be up to populating the whole world). But recently it has been discovered that when certain chemical changes occur in the wax it can cause the everyday workers to begin competing and laying eggs of their own. This is the sexual rebellion I was talking about. Why is this a problem you ask, surely this will just mean more bees and weren’t you just telling us we needed more bees. Wrong! Unfortunately these workers only lay eggs of male bees which are for all intensive purposes useless to bee society (sorry guys). Not only that but the competition I mentioned is more of a murder orgy, than a friendly game. This behavior can quickly destroy a colony. So far the whys and the hows of this problem, not to mention what to do to fix this have not been discovered.

In the mean time you can do a few things to help bees if you so desire. You can become a beekeeper this way you can bring bees back to your local area and you get to reap the benefits of all that extra honey. If that doesn’t float your boat you can plant foliage that bees like here is a list. This way your yard can be pretty and you can help out our little stripped friends. Lastly if you ever have bees that take up residence in an unwanted location, such as the walls of your house, then use a bee removal specialist who will safely remove the hive without killing it instead of using poison to kill the critters. So go get out there and hug a bee and let them know how much you appreciate their hard work (note: do not literally hug a bee it will most likely sting you).

-SMS