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A century of alien landings, in two maps
First contact movies had their Golden Age in 1980s America – now they're going global.
- The first extra-terrestrial to make contact (in a movie) appeared in 1920s Germany.
- ET set off a wave of 'first contact' movies in the 1980s.
- Many recent alien-landing movies are set in China and India – the future of the genre may well be Asian.
Until humanity makes contact with some genuine extra-terrestrials, the aliens we invent will say more about us than about them. By extension, the same goes for where we first encounter these imaginary off-worlders.
These maps show the locations of alien first contacts on Earth in almost a century of popular films, from Algol (1920), a Faust-from-outer-space parable made in Weimar Germany; to Annihilation (2018), a reflection on America's loss of faith in the future of humankind.
The rules: Each dot shows the first appearance of (outer-space) aliens at specific locations in films. Excluded: Inter-dimensional aliens and global alien invasions (hence no War of the Worlds).
Alien landings in the U.S.
If the maps are anything to go by, ET will flock to the U.S., and preferably to places with well-established movie industries: Los Angeles and New York, mainly. Don't do it, guys – you'll just end up waiting tables!
A few other locales seem to attract more than their average share of UFO landings: The Bay Area, certain parts of the Southwest (Arizona and New Mexico), the Midwest (Chicagoland and Ohio), and the South (particularly Alabama and Florida). Unsurprisingly, California is the most ET-friendly state (14 landings), followed by New York (7) and Illinois (5).
Some parts of the U.S. remain curiously alien-free. The Pacific Northwest, for example. Well, who ever heard of an alien craft landing in rain? If it weren't for two sightings in Montana and Wyoming each, that no-UFO zone would extend all the way to Minnesota. New England is also virtually extra-terrestrial-less, as is that row of states just west of the Mississippi.
The mapmaker has kindly provided dates for each movie, which tells us something about the peaks and troughs of alien-landing excitement in the U.S.
It all started so well in the 1950s, with six touchdowns – and then none in the 1960s. Things picked up slightly in the 1970s, with 5 first-contact films. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) inspired a lot of what came after.
The 1980s were the Golden Age of Alien First Contacts. The first and perhaps most influential one was Spielberg's ET, the Extraterrestrial (1982). In all, the map shows no less than 19 first-contact films from this decade. After the long climax, a slow decline: 15 landings in the 1990s, 10 in the 2000s and 9 in the 2010s.
Alien landings in the rest of the world
Even if the U.S. gets preferential treatment, it doesn't have exclusive rights to alien first contacts. As this map shows, UFOs do land in other parts of the world as well.
One particular invasion is more 'globalist' than others. The aliens in Arrival (2016) touched down in Montana, Russia, Pakistan, Greenland, China, Sudan and Venezuela, among other places. That's how they do 'Shock and Awe' on Rigel 5.
In general, however, non-American aliens are more discriminating in their choice of landing locations. They have a strong preference for London, the rest of the UK and western Europe (in that order, but keep in mind this is pre-Brexit) over the rest of the world. Mind you, being a rest-of-the-worlder could be a good thing. As this map also indicates, the aliens' intentions aren't always benevolent.
Take for instance Grabbers (2012), the only film set in Ireland that made it onto the map, and providing what may be a uniquely Irish take on the genre. The movie features human-eating monsters which fortunately prove allergic to high blood-alcohol levels. In order to survive the attack, the townspeople have to get drunk in the local pub.
With the exception of two Arrival landings, two first contacts in Egypt (Stargate, 1994; and The Fifth Element, 1997), and two South African ones (Nukie, 1987 – set in Kenya; and District 9, 2009), aliens stay clear of the Mother Continent. This despite the rich seam of African sci-fi usually grouped under the header 'Afrofuturism'.
Latin America doesn't fare much better, with the exception of Mexico. A charming example is La Nave de los Monstruos (1960), which tells of an expedition from Venus to recruit males to help repopulate their all-female planet. The titular ship is filled with male 'monsters' from all corners of the galaxy. On Earth, the Venusian crew fall for Lauriano, a singing Mexican cowboy.
Mexico's sci-fi production also includes The Incredible Invasion (1971), a low-budget flick featuring Boris Karloff, set in 1890s Germany.
Science fiction was big in Soviet times, but only First Spaceship on Venus (1960) and This Merry Planet (1973) get a mention here. In the latter movie, an alien delegation lands in the middle of a New Year's costume party in a Soviet House of Culture. They fail to convince anyone of their extra-terrestrial origin. When the clock strikes midnight, they realize they've landed on the most beautiful planet in the universe (and, as is undoubtedly implied, the country with the best ideological system on that planet).
One of the most remarkable post-Soviet sci-fi movies is Abdullajon (1991), judged by many to be the greatest film ever made in post-USSR Uzbekistan, as well as (probably) the only sci-fi one. A local Uzbek farmer discovers a crash-landed alien – a white boy – when looking for a lost cow. Dubbed Abdullajon, the alien can perform miracles, but doesn't always understand his hosts. When asked to produce 'big money', he fashions a giant one-ruble coin, for example. He does succeed in making the hens lay 50 eggs per minute, though. The alien manages to escape back to space before the Russian Army captures him.
Looking at the dates for first-contact movies set outside the U.S., there is a definite trend: Back in the 1950s and 1960s, aliens most often landed in Europe, Japan and Mexico. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, the U.S. hogs the scene. But then, ET starts visiting other places, including non-western ones, such as India, China, the Philippines.
Unless and until the first real extra-terrestrial lands, the future of alien first-contact movies could very well be Asian. Meanwhile, I've got to check out what must be Greece's definitive contribution to the genre: Attack of the Giant Moussaka (1999).
Many thanks to Dylan_Mq for providing these maps. He describes himself as a "DataViz, Map and Pop Culture enthusiast (who creates) maps & designs about things I like". Find them on Reddit, Twitter and Etsy.
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Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>