Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

What Lies Out There in the Infinite “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey?”

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

There is excitement in the air, and for good reason!  An event that has been in the works for some time is finally coming to fruition.  Fans of previous iterations are flocking to this newest incarnation in droves, but it remains to be seen if this year’s edition can live up to the hype.  All the pieces are in place for it to be successful, but then again, it has barely begun, and everything could change on a dime.  But enough about WrestleMania 30 (even though the new Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery movie does look very entertaining, I must say).  What I really want to discuss today is the new incarnation of one of television’s most revered science series, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.  The original version hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980 and its companion book published the same year opened millions of eyes (mine included, years later) to the wonder of the universe and everything within it.  Can the 2014 version with Neil Degrasse Tyson do the same, or is it as devoid of life as the vast expanse between galaxies?

I tuned in to the first episode of the new Cosmos with my family the night it premiered, and I really liked what I saw.  I had seen a handful of episodes and clips from the original series and was impressed with just how many big scientific concepts and ideas Carl Sagan was able to explain in the most eloquent, memorable ways, and how he was able to effectively convey how they all fit together.  One such feature which made a big impression on me, and an icon of the series as a whole, was the Ship of the Imagination, a sleek, futuristic vessel in which Sagan and the audience could head anywhere in the universe and anytime in history.  On the ship, we could travel to a giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, back in time to witness Sir Isaac Newton getting clunked on the head by a falling apple and discovering gravity, or shrinking down to the size of an atom and flitting about the protons, neutrons, and electrons.  The new series has some big shoes to fill in this regard, and with even less time to do it in (the original show’s PBS airings had 60 minutes per episode, but this one has just 44 with commercials).

One thing the new Cosmos has going for it are some very nice visuals which take full advantage of modern technology to bring science to life.   The new Ship of the Imagination swoops, dives, and curves through space and time, flying past incredibly detailed planets, asteroids, comets, stars, and other space phenomena all the while reflecting everything in space off its shiny outer hull.

Neil Tyson gives a tour of an updated version of the Cosmic Calendar, a device from the original series which condenses the whole of the universe’s billions-of-years old history into a single calendar year.  This time, however, the months and days literally come alive with computer animations of each cosmic event mentioned.  Thus, we get some amazing versions of the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies, stars, planets, and moons, and even a very cute take on animals climbing out of the water to kickstart evolution.  Cosmos certainly offers a feast for the eyes and a constant reminder that the universe is full of amazing things for us to discover.

This journey of scientific awesomeness is guaranteed  to lead us to some surprising places.  I think the first episode has some very note-worthy destinations .  To start us out, Neil Tyson opens the upper and lower windows on the Ship of the Imagination to offer overhead glimpses of Earth from space as it appeared roughly 100 million years in the past and how it might appear approximately 250 million years in the future.  The differences between both Earths from our own present planet were simply staggering to me.  Prehistoric Earth’s continents were lumped together as a single giant landmass, Pangaea, with endless oceans surrounding it and little to no signs of civilization as we know it.   In fact, instead it had a lot of green stuff; grass, trees, and thick forests.  Future Earth appears to have the same continents we currently have, but cities have grown noticably larger and use a heck of a lot more electricity. On this Earth, North America looks like a blinding-light advertisement for Thomas Edison’s most famous creation.  Not to mention there’s a lot of muddy brown on the continents:  where did all the green go?

These views of Earth in different times raised a few questions in my mind.  How accurate will the placement of the continents in the Cosmos version of future Earth really be in 250 million years?  Continental drift has created radically different Earths in the past 100 million years; who’s to say if it’ll still look like it is now well into the future?  How much electricity is being used by those cities, and if they’re using alternative energy sources to get all their power, which ones and how effective are they in providing the energy modern society needs to survive on a day-to-day basis?  Did the cities/humanity play a role in the sudden disappearance of green from the world map?  I’m also pretty sure the oceans looked a lot less blue in the show’s future model; a very alarming sign to me that trouble is surely on the way if we don’t watch out.

Cosmos also uses portions of each episode to present intriguing philosophical questions which relate to the scientific content, a feature I greatly appreciate as a seeker of knowledge.  For example, the first episode relays the story of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican monk with a vision of an infinite universe.  A vision he was ultimately condemned to die for.  I did a little research on Bruno after hearing his story.  As well as being a monk, he was an avid astrologist, and I feel that his story brings up a good point about scientific investigation which is worth some due consideration.  Bruno had little to no way of proving the existence of an infinite expanse of space (aside from Greek writings from 1500 years prior to his time and Biblical accounts which support exactly that conclusion, but apparently no one else besides him bothered to look up those references; it pays to read, kids!), but his vision was later proved to be accurate by scores of scientific studies and other observations.  That’s the beauty of science: an idea deemed ludicrous at one time can later be proven as truth through research and observation, or vice versa, and what remains in the end is factual information.  Science supports the same notion Bruno perceived:   that the universe is endlessly vast, is wonderfully complex, it opens up anew, and offers continual surprises to humanity.   We just have to search for them.

All in all, I’d have to say I really like the new Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.  It’s a fascinating journey through the width and breadth of outer space and challenges our understanding of our place in the universe and how we choose to view it.  I think it paints an awe-inspiring picture of the world (worlds?) we call home and all the neat stuff we’ve discovered and hope to find out more about.  Definitely must-see TV to me!

What do you think of this new Cosmos?  If you’ve watched it, what did you like/dislike about it?  If you’re a fan of the original series, how do you think it compares to the new version?  Is there anything you’d change about this new show, and if so, why?  Are there any other scientific figures you’d like to see represented here?  Expand your view of the universe, and mine as well, by leaving your thoughts in the comments.

Pop Culture Questions (And An Autistic Mind’s Answers)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
Questions

So many questions, so little time…

I love pop culture.  It is a language that I understand as fluently as English.  Sometimes, however, some parts of pop culture seem nonsensical or irrational to me.  They cause me to question the material and the internal logic driving it.  In my attempts to make sense out of them and have a little fun with it all, I have come up with some very unique questions and answers.  Here are a few examples of my pop culture “how comes.”

How come the lyric goes, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore?”  I’m pretty sure that the moon (or any other celestial object of considerable size) making an impact with one’s head would more likely generate sensations of pain rather than pleasure.  I assume it wouldn’t feel like a large pizza, either, which is a shame because I’d rather be hit by something soft and gooey than something hard and imposing.

How come the kids in the Boxcar Children book series are still referred to by that name by other people even though they have clearly not lived in a boxcar in quite some time?  They did manage to make a nice home for themselves in a boxcar in the first book, but I believe it might get tiresome for them to be constantly reminded of this point over and over again.  Besides, by now they’re probably better known as a mystery-solving family anyway.  I think they should embrace their new positions as “Scooby-Doo imitators” and go the whole nine yards.  If they really did want to keep the boxcar thing going, they could probably turn that boxcar into a Mystery Machine-type vehicle and go cross country.

How come Stephen Hawking says time travel doesn’t exist?  In a recent television special, Hawking carried out an experiment to test the validity of time travel.  Basically, he set up a party for time travelers and left an open invitation lying on the ground outside of the building where the party was being held.  According to him, any time travelers curious enough to attend the party would arrive on the spot and, seeing the invitation, would join Hawking inside.  Hawking waited for over an hour to see if anyone would show up, but no one did.  He then stated that he had just proven that time travel doesn’t exist.  By his reasoning, there should have been roughly a dozen people suddenly wandering around the room, but since there was no one else there, clearly time travel had not been invented yet or even perfected at any point in the future.

I think Hawking has a bit of faulty reasoning here.  It seems a bit arrogant to me to send out party invitations to a bunch of time travelers for a television special and expect them to show up instantaneously.  I feel it is safe to assume that they might have encountered problems in the space-time continuum while attempting to get to the party.  Also, they might have seen the special, or at least a rerun of it, in the future, felt insulted by Hawking’s demeaning portrayal of their activity, and decided not to attend to avoid being further insulted.  Some may have actually shown up, but, if certain time travel theories are to be believed, they were either moving too fast for the naked eye to normally observe or they showed up for different versions of the party in alternate universes.  The possibilities of time travel have been debated for generations in both academics and mass media.  Because of this, I believe that Hawking should have waited for more concrete evidence to show itself before passing judgment on something which could possibly exist in the future.

How come the henchmen in Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus video game chase Sly around for a few moments if they see him, but if he gets away, they just go back to their regular patrol route without a second thought?  They know he’s lurking around the place stealing things willy-nilly, especially because their boss just told them so via the public address system.  However, they just retreat back to their normal walking patterns as soon as Sly is out of earshot.  One would think that if these minions used a little more common sense, they would expand their designated patrol areas and hunt Sly all over the map.  Instead, they stick to one solitary zone and leave it to their brethren to try to catch Sly.  The minions in the later Sly games at least have the sense to chase the raccoon over short distances before giving up the ghost.  Of course, all of the minions seem particularly susceptible to a few good whacks from Sly’s wooden cane, so maybe they are actually wise to keep away from their adversary.

How come you always see “endless runner” games on mobile devices but never “endless walkers?”  I have played quite a few endless runner games recently and each has been a delightful experience in and of itself.  However, it is clear to me that a twist on the genre could bring a great deal of excitement, or at least originality, if done correctly.  Instead of outrunning a giant wave of lava or a gargantuan monster, the player could be attempting to cross a busy street which just so happens to have a sidewalk always in the distance (you don’t have to be Frogger to have this sort of setting).  The player’s character could walk at a leisurely pace giving the player a chance to look at the beautiful graphics of the world around them.  The main problem with this idea is that there are very few places where such games could be played.  The Nintendo Wii has had a couple of walking games made which used the Wii Balance Board, but they have not resembled what I am picturing in my mind.  Smartphones and tablet computers, from which a number of endless runners originated, could support endless walkers, but the active portion of the genre might be a bit limited.  If an endless walker could be built into treadmills and implemented at health clubs, they may experience a surge in popularity.  Someone needs to get in on this genre now!

How come the song goes, “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning?” Are there different levels of enjoyment in different states?  Do North and South Carolina offer different levels of early morning enjoyment?    Can happiness levels be considered equal in every part of a state as small as South Carolina?  Do you think taking songs literally leads to temporary madness?

These are just a few pop culture questions that have gone through my mind over the years.  Do you have a different take on the questions I have outlined above?  Are there pop culture queries that have driven you crazy?  Leave your thoughts in the comments; they might influence future posts.  Tune in next week, I’ll have more pop culture questions and answers!!