Tag Archives: sci-fi

Contagion: 2011 medical thriller starring Matt Damon


Contagion is a jarring, eye-opening film with a notably offbeat, unique score (it’s largely electronic) – and given the fact that our world is overdue for a deadly pandemic, it’s also quite frightening. On its pandemic flu website, the Centers for Disease Control has publicly addressed Contagion and some of the issues raised by the film (CDC Responds to Contagion).

…disease outbreaks are natural plots for compelling entertainment. But life and death situations and heroic scientists battling against time and heavy odds to track the source of killer diseases and contain them before they wipe out entire communities are not just movie plots. They really happen. And the real stories of CDC′s disease detectives and their investigations are just as exciting as anything you′ll see in a theater. In just the last 10 years, CDC scientists and researchers have played a role in understanding and halting the spread of SARS, quickly creating a vaccine for the H1N1 virus, and tracing deadly foodborne outbreaks to their source. (Source: CDC Responds to Contagion)

movie still - Contagion, 2011 sci-fi movie about global pandemicIsolated parts of Contagion are rather graphic, too – and I usually don’t take note of graphic scenes on the big screen; I’m admittedly rather jaded, having seen so many horror movies. Contagion contained some surprisingly disturbing visuals. Two examples that come to mind are deceased victims of the outbreak, the first one being an extended shot of a child’s face, eyes open. Second was another uncomfortably long shot of Beth Emhoff, the first victim (portrayed by Gwenyth Paltrow), this time during an autopsy. movie still - Contagion, 2011 sci-fi filmHer dead open eyes stared vacantly toward the camera as her scalp was being peeled away from the skull during the grisly exploratory procedure. Both of these scenes appeared within the first ten minutes of the film. Others are talking about the Contagion autopsy scene:

There is a scene in Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s global mega-pandemic thriller, in which the scalp of a dead patient—played by one of the film’s biggest stars—is sliced open during an autopsy. A flap of marbled flesh flops limply over her forehead; in the screening I attended, this was definitely the moment that elicited the most grossed-out gasps. (Source:
‘Contagion’ Isn’t Just a Thriller… from The New Republic

Contagion is full of shots likely to make germaphobes cringe; during the first quarter of the film, there are numerous closeups of people touching or handling everyday objects:movie still - Contagion, 2011 sci-fi movie about global pandemic things that tend to be touched by numerous individuals, including doorknobs, the poles on a bus or subway, drinking glasses, etc. Such items can become vectors in a global pandemic:

Soderbergh repeatedly uses the cinemographic style of lingering and focusing on the items and objects which are touched by the infected and become vectors (fomites) to infect other people.

Matt Damon in Contagion, 2011 sci-fi thriller filmContagion is the kind of movie that could conceivably create new survivalists; you will probably consider stockpiling bottled water and canned food at least once while watching it. The film introduces us to previously unfamiliar medical terminology associated with the spread of infectious diseases; e.g., fomite and R0 (pronounced “R-naught”) – a variable used in viral mathematics. According to Contagion, the average person touches his or her face two to three times per waking minute, on average! The virus is so deadly that researchers cannot get the virus to grow among living cells in a petri dish in order to study it; it kills the host tissue. This obstacle is eventually overcome.

movie still - Contagion, 2011 sci-fi movie about global pandemicContagion illustrates existential threat in the form of a pandemic, as well as a number of themes that are ancillary to pandemic, including crowd psychology and collective behavior leading to mass hysteria and breakdown of social order. [Unrelated: A funny infographic of Fox News]

About Contagion (2011)

movie still - Contagion, 2011 sci-fi film with beautiful French actress Marion CotillardContagion is a 2011 American medical thriller film directed by Steven Soderbergh. The film has an ensemble cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Bryan Cranston. Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal indirect contact transmission virus (fomite transmission) that kills within days. As the fast-moving pandemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. As the virus spreads around the world, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart… The film had a production budget of $60 million, and filming took place in countries around the world. movie still - Contagion, 2011 sci-fi movie about global pandemicIt premiered on September 3, 2011 at the 68th Venice Film Festival and was publicly released on September 9, 2011 in the United States, Canada, Italy, Hong Kong, and four other territories.

Contagion plot summary

viral mathematics illustrationSoon after her return from a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff (Gwenyth Paltrow) dies from what is a flu or some other type of infection; her young son soon follows. Husband Mitch (Matt Damon), however, seems immune. Thus begins the global spread of a deadly infection. For doctors and administrators at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control [Wikipedia]), several days pass before anyone realizes the extent or gravity of the new infection. They must first identify the type of virus in question and then find a means of combating it, a process that will likely take several months. As the contagion spreads to millions of people worldwide, societal order begins to break down as people panic.

As it turns out, the truth about viruses really CAN make a person panic, if a little time is taken to learn exactly what a virus is and what a virus can do.

Viruses are the most populous entity on earth; there are more viruses than there are bacteria. As you are reading this post, a virtually infinite, innumerable, certainly uncountable number of viruses are doing their thing all over the planet. One trait viruses share with truly living organisms is that they slowly evolve, gradually adapting to their environment. As a result, every so often – about once every couple of hundred years – a virus evolves into a form that is extremely, severely potent to human tissue. There is absolutely no doubt that this will happen again; it’s only a matter of time before the next killer virus appears among us.

Is a virus really alive?
Opinions differ on whether the virus is a true form of life, or whether viruses are merely organic structures that interact with living organisms. Viruses have been referred to as “organisms at the edge of life” – there is no scientific consensus about whether viruses actually live. A virus resembles a living organism in more than one way: they possess genes, they evolve by natural selection, and they reproduce by creating multiple copies of themselves through self-assembly. But the virus also differs from all other creatures in at least two important ways. Although viruses do have genes, they do not have a true cellular structure – and cells are often considered to be the basic unit or building block of life. Viruses do not have their own metabolism, and they are powerless alone; a virus requires a host cell in order to produce anything.

Resources: Contagion, 2011 medical thriller

Pandemics, related subjects

Viral mathematics (medical)

  • Mathematical Modeling of Wildlife and Virus Zoonoses – NIMBioS Investigative WorkshopNational Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) – Excerpt: Modern biology has become more and more driven by the need for mathematical and quantitative methods to elucidate general phenomena arising from the complexity of interactions on the numerous spatial, temporal and hierarchical scales at which biological systems operate. The continuing expansion of experimental and observational methods which generate tremendous amounts of biological data require new mathematical methods and computational approaches to allow us to find patterns and evaluate hypotheses for how the biological world came to be and how it might change in the future.
  • Viral Immunology from Math, a review of Virus Dynamics, a theoretical biology book (PDF)
  • Books about viral mathematics on Amazon.com
  • Mathematical models of immune effector responses to viral
    : Virus control versus the development of pathology (by Dominik Wodarz) Article abstract: This article reviews mathematical models which have investigated the importance of lytic and non-lytic immune responses for the control of viral infections. Lytic immune responses fight the virus by killing infected cells, while non-lytic immune responses fight the virus by inhibiting viral replication while leaving the infected cell alive. The models suggest which types or combinations of immune responses are required to resolve infections which vary in their characteristics, such as the rate of viral replication and the rate of virus-induced target cell death. This framework is then applied to persistent infections and viral evolution. It is investigated how viral evolution and antigenic escape can influence the relative balance of lytic and non-lytic responses over time, and how this might correlate with the transition from an asymptomatic infection to pathology. This is discussed in the specific context of hepatitis C virus infection. (© 2005 Elsevier B.V.)

The other type of viral math (media, not medical)

Are viruses alive? Does a virus really live?

Limitless: A wildly entertaining 2011 sci-fi film

What if a pill could make you rich and powerful?

2011 sci-fi film LimitlessAlthough I’m quite loquacious here about what happens in Limitless, I am not revealing everything. You can still enjoy watching Limitless and encounter numerous surprises, even after reading this post about the exciting, smart drug-centered science fiction film; I’ve carefully omitted plenty of choice details about the movie, which I believe you will soon add to your list of movies to catch in the near future…

Plot summary of Limitless (2011): Limitless is a sci-fi thriller about Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), an out-of-work writer in New York City whose rejection by his pretty girlfriend Lindy (Australian actress Abbie Cornish) confirms his belief that he’s a loser with no future. But everything changes after he bumps into the brother of his ex-wife, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), out of the blue; they duck into a social establishment and catch up for a few minutes. After a bit of small talk about the ex, Melissa (Anna Friel), Vern says he’s now working in the pharmaceutical industry. After some obligatory small talk (during which Eddie admits he hasn’t even written a single word of the book he’s supposed to be writing), Vern produces a sample of a drug he says will soon be approved by the FDA. "You know how we’re supposed to have access to only 20% of our brains?" He gives the drug to Eddie, who pops the pill, having nothing left to lose and nothing better to do. Vernon has an appointment elsewhere, so he gives Eddie a business card and they go their separate ways.

That little, clear pill Eddie popped was NZT.

Unbeknownst to Eddie at this point, the clear pill he swallowed was an experimental nootropic pharmacological agent: a designer "smart drug" that boosts brainpower and allows laser-like mental focus and incredible recall.

Limitless: Official movie trailer (YouTube)

The first hint of the drug’s amazing (and highly entertaining!) effect upon Eddie’s mind appears as he returns to his apartment; the landlord’s wife accosts Eddie in the hallway, badgering him for the overdue rent. However, instead of reacting in the manner of the old slacker Eddie Morra, promo - Limitless, 2011 sci-fi filma more charming, helpful, intelligent persona blossoms almost instantly. Rather than descending into argument or making excuses about the late rent money, Eddie cleverly leads her into an enjoyable, keen conversation in which he actually helps her with some on-point academic suggestions, as if God himself were whispering in Eddie’s ear, telling him what to say! Not only is she impressed with the new Eddie, she’s totally turned on: the newly radiant Eddie talks his way into her heart; she gives herself to him.

To Eddie’s astonishment, his poor self-image has completely evaporated; Eddie seems to realize – and care, perhaps for the first time – that his apartment is actually a pig sty. He cleans and straightens his messy digs, then is inspired to work diligently on the book he’s been trying to write for ages. He even types more efficiently now. Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra - Limitless, 2011 sci-fi film Later that same day, Eddie personally delivers the manuscript to his publisher – who, incidentally, is obviously not expecting much in the way of quality writing. We soon learn through a series of voicemails that the publisher was actually stunned by the high quality of Eddie’s work and could hardly put it down.

Needless to say, the sample pill agreed with Eddie. If this much progress occurred in only a few hours, what would a few days on the smart drug look like? Who wouldn’t want more? Time to look up Vern.

When Eddie manages to find Vernon in an attempt to score, to get his hands on more of this wonderful, shiny drug, things start to go sideways… Suffice to say that Eddie manages to obtain a sizable stash of the incredible, clear, little pills. Eddie soon becomes supremely confident – genuinely charming, and as personable as he’s ever been, on a daily basis. Eddie seems to be at the absolute top of his game; everything goes right. What for most people is the occasional experience of being in a wonderful mood – blissfully, naturally high on life – the best mood imaginable – has become Eddie Morra’s standard M.O. Greatness is now his normalcy!

Robert De Niro as Carl Van Loon - Limitless, 2011 sci-fi filmAs Eddie evolves into a near-perfect version of himself, he attracts some unwanted attention – first by becoming a highly successful investor and day trader virtually overnight. After proving to himself that his financial and investment wizardry is real through consistently impressive gains, he decides to borrow funds from a questionable source.

Soon thereafter, Eddie lets the wrong person in on the smart drug: Gennady, a Russian loan shark and thug (Andrew Howard). Soon, various corrupt forces are pursuing him, including a man in the tan coat (Tomas Arana) who keeps appearing around Eddie, seemingly out of nowhere.

Now on an NZT-fuelled odyssey, everything Eddie has ever read, seen, or heard is organized in his perfectly tuned mind, available to him via his new and improved mental ability of recall. As the former nobody continues to rise to the top and begins to influence and impress important people who comprise high society, Eddie draws the attention of wealthy investor and business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro).

Limitless, 2011 sci-fi film - NZT pillsUnfortunately, NZT withdrawal produces some brutal side effects which threaten to stall his meteoric ascent. Whenever Eddie runs out of pills (or is otherwise unable to take a dose when he needs it), the symptoms are severe – not unlike a withdrawal from strong opiates or pain killers: he can’t cope and becomes ill. With a dwindling stash of NZT and mysterious hit men who will do damn near anything to get their hands on his pills, movie still - Limitless, 2011 sci-fi filmEddie must maintain long enough to elude the thugs, impress high society, and fulfill his destiny. Without the pills, he will revert back to being the loser version of Eddie Morra – becoming just another average lump who thought he’d found invincibility in a bottle.

My thoughts about Limitless (2011 sci-fi film)

Verdict: A highly entertaining and wild ride, I found Limitless to be even a bit motivational!

Limitless: Movie review by Jonathan Kim (YouTube)

Resources: Limitless, 2011 sci-fi film

Abbie Cornish as girlfriend Lindy - Limitless, 2011 sci-fi film

Resources: Limitless movie reviews

promo - Limitless, 2011 sci-fi film
Removed content
…takes an experimental drug that essentially rewires his brain, allowing Eddie to use 100 percent of his mind… NZT is essentially “Be all that you can be” in pill form.

Fringe TV show, fringe science, junk science

I’ve seen fewer than 20 episodes, so I’m no expert or Fringe junkie, but I really do enjoy certain aspects of Fringepromo image for Fringe TV show particularly the so-called fringe science for which the show is named. Fringe science, while certainly far-out, isn’t something that can be written off, reviled, or ridiculed, as if it were on the same level as the junk science employed by those who cannot accept actual science when it disagrees with the ancient books, fad diets and supplements, conspiracy theories, etc. which so many people seem to hold in higher esteem than reality.

Certain groups of people seem to be particularly prone to equate some junk science with the real thing. This subject receives more attention than usual during pre-election periods when ultra-rightist candidates – infamous in part for their refutation of actual science in favor of highly questionable theories – are out politicking.

Adherents to far-right fundamentalist flavors of various religions are another group that seems particularly susceptible to junk science in certain subject areas (evolution, age of the earth, scientific dating, the moon being a light source, and so on).

Divides between respected science and junk science can evolve into serious chasms and cause heated debate whenever serious money is at stake, such as when scientific claims threaten the future of corporate profits. A notable area here is green science, including energy-saving technologies, alternatives to oil, and breakthroughs leading to cleaner air and water. Such advances can add cost to some projects, especially during the early years of new technology while it is still relatively expensive – and this causes some groups to start misinformation or even disinformation campaigns against such advances in order to protect their financial interests.

Generally speaking, there are three (3) categories or classifications of scientific ideas: center, frontier, and fringe. Mainstream scientists typically consider fringe concepts as highly speculative, or in some cases, strongly refuted.

From Jules Verne to Isaac Asimov, science fiction writers have had a long tradition of inspiring future generations of scientists. As researchers and writers for the sci-fi television series Fringe, Robert Chiappetta and Glen Whitman hope to continue that tradition. No doubt, their series—now heading into its fourth season—is helping to shape today’s pop-culture image of what it means to be a scientist. Here, Chiappetta and Whitman talk about why science fiction often paints a negative picture of science and technology, why it’s tricky to work time travel into a storyline, and more. Source: PBS – NOVA, Fringe science

Resources: Science of Fringe, fringe science, junk science

Resources: Many Christians accept evolution; many more will follow in the coming decades

Just in case you, dear reader, are a religious person, please don’t worry – and please don’t be in a hurry to vacate this website! This is not a purely atheist or skeptical viewpoint; in fact, a great many Christians now accept the scientific view that the earth is billions of years old, and that creation and evolution need not contradict one another. If you are such a Christian, please spread the word: Science and religion need not be enemies! We strongly believe that fideism is on its way out, and we say “good riddance.”

Resources: The junk science of young-earth creationism

  • Religious fundamentalist arguments against scientific dating – What are the creationist arguments against radiometric dating? They have no data that determines the age of the earth to be 6-10 thousand years old, so they resort to two methods. First, they try to find examples of bad radiometric dates and offer these up as proof that radiometric dating is totally unreliable. Second, they provide supposed evidences of a young age for the earth, based on variables such as the accumulation of salt in the ocean…
  • Evolution evidence – This site contains a series of articles written by myself or linked from other sites that are designed to demonstrate the evidence for evolution and common ancestry of all life on earth. If you read the articles listed in the menu down the left hand side of the page (click here if you don’t see a menu), you will get an idea of how the evidence for evolution builds upon basic facts.
  • Young earth creationism – Wikipedia
  • Evidence against creationism
  • Fideism – Wikipedia
  • Fideism – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Family Guy tackles young-earth creationism

Other subjects that came up during research on fringe science, junk science

September 15, 2011

Saturday happenings

Broderick Builders: New website published

Finally published the new site! Also did quite a bit of experimenting on the Broderick Builders logo using the powerful open source graphics software GIMP. Not achieving much success with the tools, I cleaned up one of the logos pixel-by-pixel.

Hiking at Radnor Lake with Steve D.

Thanks again to Steve, who came over and picked me up on his way to hike at Radnor Lake in the late afternoon. It was another fine hike, and although neither of us was very enthusiastic about hiking, as always we were very pleased that we went for it.

Fringe: “Jacksonville” – a very highly rated episode

First, micro-tremors – then a larger earthquake occurs in Manhattan.

After watching the first ten minutes of this Fringe episode, I can see why fans have given “Jacksonville” such rave reviews (a 9.6); I’ve just seen one of the most bizarre sights I can possibly imagine! The creativity of the Fringe writers and story developers is simply fantastic. X-Files, while good for its time, seems quite tame in comparison.

Summary of Fringe episode “Jacksonville” on TV.com

When the sole survivor of a building demolished by an earthquake in downtown Manhattan proves to be from the other Earth, Walter leads the team to Jacksonville, the source of a related experiment that he and William conducted years ago. Now only Olivia and the secrets of her past can prevent another catastrophe.


The Overhyped, Underwhelming Iowa GOP Straw Poll – Time

A pair o’ possums in the yard

It’s about 9:15 on Saturday night and I just returned from a humid but nice full-moon stroll around the block and had an interesting sighting.

I had walked along Belmont and was returning home. I walked past our mailbox and was in the driveway (about halfway between the road and the house) when I noticed an animal walking in the front yard. I stopped and froze so as not to frighten it. At first it looked like a cat, but then I saw it was an opossum. It walked toward the house and was poking around the bushes where the hose is attached, right by the front porch.

Then I remembered I had a small night-hiking light with me (a very small, weak LED-based headlamp), so I strapped it on my head, turned it on, and watched the critter. A moment later I saw that this opossum was following another one. The first possum walked around to the back yard, but the second one kept exploring around the bushes (just outside the garage) for a minute when it suddenly became interested in ME! The possum walked directly toward me. (Now I was the frightened one.) I moved out of the way so it wouldn’t try to climb me, thinking I was a tree.

I tell you, that possum was not afraid of me in the least, which seemed unusual. It looked like it was missing some hair, so perhaps it was ill.

The possum then walked toward the next house, right beside our pair of pink mini-rose bushes. Its eyes were reflecting my lamp light brightly. They are secretive creatures, so this was an interesting encounter.

Too bad I didn’t have my camera handy!

The most popular Bible verses NOT in the Bible

Why did the Bible and religion in general come up today? Oh yeah, it was a post called That’s Not in the Bible on a CNN blog about religion.

  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • This, too, shall pass.
  • Spare the rod, spoil the child.
  • God works in mysterious ways.
  • Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
  • Pride goes before a fall.

How about that commonly held belief that Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden? Nowhere is Satan mentioned – or even implied – in the story.

How most people treat the Bible
Only a few catch on because they really don’t care to know; many folks actually prefer knowing only a few biblical passages that emphasize what they already believe.

Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book. They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in, but they ignore the vast majority of the text. – Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Stepping back to view the big picture, one realizes that up until very recently, the masses believed whatever their clergy told them they should believe. Average minions either didn’t have the skills to read or they simply didn’t think they ought to read the Bible themselves.

I once asked an elderly Catholic where her Bible was … (I love old books and thought her Bible would be a real treat to look at … ) She was horrified that I thought she’d even HAVE one … Her thought, at the age of 90, was that Catholics are not supposed to read the Bible on their own. It was their job to believe what the Father told them, and it was the Father’s job to know the Bible. (Your Take: Comments on misquoting the Bible – CNN Belief blog)

Resources: Saturday happenings

That’s not in the Bible – CNN Belief blog
Your Take: Comments on misquoting the Bible – CNN Belief blog

Markosweb.com – lots of free stats and other information about web sites
Directory of free WordPress themes

Redirects and WordPress blogging

I quickly realized how common 404 errors really are on my WordPress blogs after I installed SEO Ultimate! Fortunately, there are WordPress redirect plugins ready to come to bloggers’ rescue.

I should also take a few minutes to review the permalink-related plugins here:

Permalinks Moved Permanently WP plugin

Resources: Redirecting in WordPress
How to redirect in WordPress – eHow
Changing Your Webpage URL is a Bad Thing – Benwan
Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin – WordPress plugins
WordPress Ann Arbor: Redirects and robots for accurate analytics results – Presentation transcript
Cake Creative: Web solutions using WordPress, MailChimp, SEO
Blogging Mistake: Not Using 301 Redirects – JT Pratt Media
FeedBurner adopts Feed Redirection Plugin, now renamed FeedBurner FeedSmith – TechZilo
Redirection – Urban Giraffe

The serpent in the Garden of Eden:
Another close look at religious dogma

It is popularly assumed that the serpent in Genesis 1 is an angel that had sinned, called “Satan”. Having been thrown out of heaven for his sin, he came to earth and tempted Eve to sin.

The serpent in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3)
The Serpent in Eden – The Real Devil: A Biblical Exploration

Resources: Other Saturday surfing
Chris Pederick – a very nice, clean, minimalist design, home of the Web Developer browser extension

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Friday night at the movies

movieposters - Rise of the Planet of the Apes, sci-fi action film

I don’t see many movies on the big screen these days, so tonight’s plans to check out the well-reviewed Rise of the Planet of the Apes film are exciting! Al is picking me up in 15 minutes; we’ll probably head over to Hollywood Stadium 27, a Regal Cinemas theater complex.

I wasn’t expecting The Rise of the Planet of the Apes to be a critically acclaimed film, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it’s Rotten Tomatoes grade of 80.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: A prequel that pretty much delivers – Reason.com