Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

The original Cosmos 13-episode series hosted by Carl Sagan ran in 1980. It was one of the few examples of television that I watched as a teenager which left a lasting impression. The series featured lavish effects, wonderfully communicated fascinating scientific concepts, and had a host which I found to be charismatic and funny. Looking back on the series, I have no doubt that the original Cosmos fueled my initial desire to seek out astronomy as one of my first majors when I went to college.

The first episode of its sequel/reboot “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” ran last night. The new series is hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a prominent media-savy astrophysicist. As notable in my mind are the executive producers, people including Brannon Braga (Star Trek, 24, FlashForward), Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s widow), and Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, Ted).

The first “Cosmos” episode had some fantastic segments. The show did a great job with communicating how small the earth and its immediate vicinity really is with the ‘you are here’ discussion, and I immediately regained the sense of wonder that the original series imparted in me. I also think the entire analogy of the galactic timeline using the cosmic year as a yardstick was well thought out and made sense.

But “Cosmos” isn’t perfect. I’m not so sure about the Giordano Bruno history segment. While I’m all for watching historical content when properly presented within an appropriate context, “Cosmos” went a bit far with that segment in terms of time and in veering off what should be its science based focus. I’m also not in love with Tyson’s flat delivery as I find it less enthusiastic and passionate than the subject matter deserves.

Even with its imperfections, “Cosmos” is a sight to behold that should be watched. It’s lush, well produced, and interesting.

TV

IFTTT

IFTTT (short for “If This Then That”) is a service that allows its users to create event triggers (known as recipes) in order to join or connect separate web applications. While that semi-formalized definition is as dry as dirt, the power it represents can be shown via examples.

I use IFTTT to automate the picture photo posting process and to get around technical challenges I have encountered when trying to consistently post my Instragram photos to Facebook. Consider the following recipes:

Recipe: If new photo post on your Tumblr blog, then post a tweet with image to Twitter
Recipe: If new photo post on your Tumblr blog, then upload a photo from URL to Facebook photos

The first recipe posts new Tumblr photo posts to my Twitter account with the photo as an attachment, while the second posts new photos on that same Tumblr blog to my Facebook account. So my workflow goes like this: use Instagram to post to Tumblr blog, then those Tumblr photo posts are automatically posted to both Twitter and Facebook via IFTTT. Sure, one could simply choose both Twitter and Facebook from Instagram directly, but this solution overcomes Instagram’s tendency to occasionally blow a post to Facebook while also allowing me to maintain a Tumblr archive of my Instagram shots. It also represents an easy way to post Instagram pictures on Twitter, something that I had problems with as Twitter always wanted to shortlink my pictures instead of attaching them.

Recipe: Office365 Service Notifications to PushOver

This recipe looks at the Office365 Service Notification RSS feed and pushes new entries to Pushover. Pushover is an iOS app that generates notifications for my iPhone. So every time there is a new or updated Office365 incident, I receive a notification on my iPhone.

I’ve also created other recipes that generate medication iPhone reminders at specific times, push out new IFTTT version updates to reminder, and notifications for Netflix new releases. I really hope that this service remains active and viable for a long period of time, I’ve become dependent on it. Dependency like that is a sure sign that I find it valuable.

Setup your IFTTT account here.

Web Service

The Blacklist

In many ways, The Blacklist (NBC) is a show that is fairly consistent in it’s inconsistency. The quality of the acting talent, writing, the tone of how the fictional F.B.I. and it’s players interact with their prized asset, the overall pacing, and the desired amount of believability per episode varies weekly. Usually such a scenario results in a show that is frustrating to process and often unwatchable.

This show has a singular reason for succeeding: James Spader. Spader’s performance is riveting for a couple of important but very diverse reasons. Spader appears more like an average human being and less like a twink in this series, and his physical appearance contributes to his character’s believability. Spader is also wisely given the lion’s share of the interesting tidbits of the show, and his acting ability allows for maximum benefit. And Spader’s swagger allows him to be the perfect foil for Harry Lennix’s FBI-Director character.

The chemistry is there when it needs to be, and the show will continue to be watchable as long as Spader’s role as shining star doesn’t diminish. If it does, The Blacklist will dry up and blow away.

TV

The Ethics Of Solving The Transplant Organ Shortage

There are no easy answers when trying to solve problems associated with the supply of organs available for transplant.

Science Life

Since the first successful kidney transplant in 1954, outcomes have improved dramatically for patients who undergo the often life-saving procedure. Today, kidneys are the most commonly and reliably transplanted organs, representing the best option for people with end-stage renal failure brought on by diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension, and many other causes. However, advances in kidney transplantation have come with a price.

“We’re victims of our own success,” said Mark Siegler, MD, Director of the MacLean Center for Medical Ethics. “Organ transplantation has become so effective and so relatively safe and beneficial, that more and more people, appropriately, want to be recipients and want to have their lives saved. But we have a fairly flat line of donors.”

Close to 100,000 Americans are currently on waiting lists for transplant kidneys, a number that has almost doubled since 2000. At the same time, the number of kidneys available has stagnated, which…

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Health