COSMOS starts its run tonight, on 10 different networks in the United States. Outside the U.S. I would seek it out on channels affiliated with the FOX or National Geographic networks. If you manage to miss it tonight, each episode will be repeated a couple of times during the week. Presumably there will be the downloads, and the DVDs, and other alternative viewing methods. There are 13 episodes, so you can schedule your next few months accordingly.
It’s been an impressive public relations campaign, perhaps topped off by having President Obama introduce the series tonight. Ratings will be just one indicator of how well the program comes across. The right people are involved Besides the near-ubiquitous host Neil deGrasse Tyson, writers from the first COSMOS are involved, as well as television producers Seth MacFarlane (whose programs usually air during the COSMOS timeslot) and Brannon Braga (who cut his teeth on the Star Trek spinoffs).
In other science non-fiction programming, Particle Fever is in festival release as of this weekend. As of this Friday, it will be available in a few more theaters, and appears to be rolling out slowly over the spring. The film documents the work at the Large Hadron Collider to find the Higgs Boson. The reviews have been strong, but check out this trailer to see if it appeals to you.
Take a look at two games that simulate transportation systems. One is already available on your mobile operating systems of choice, but another is not quite there.
Osmos is already a popular game (it’s been out since 2010). There is a free demo, and the full game is available for $10. It’s a physics-based simulator, with 8 different worlds where the player must try and grow by absorbing other objects. But every move requires a loss of mass, so trajectories must be well planned in order to keep playing. Game founder Eddy Boxerman spoke with Nautilus about the game, and I think what comes across clearest in the discussion is how the same physics requires different thinking depending on the scale in which you play.
Another simulation game worth diving into is Mini Metro. It’s not yet available outside of a web-browser version in alpha. The idea is to figure out how to build a subway system that optimally serves its city. The game becomes more complicated as the city grows. Can you help the subway evolve to keep the trains on time?
Today in science and technology position news, we have an Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Kathryn Sullivan was finally confirmed yesterday, seven months after she was formally nominated to the position. Sullivan has served as acting administrator since Jane Lubchenco left the post in February 2013.
Still no word on the confirmation dates for those in the lengthy backlog of science and technology nominees. As the nomination of France Cordova for National Science Foundation Director is now seven months old, perhaps this will be the next position confirmed. But the Senate confirmations this year have been scarce and irregular.
(Note – I donated $100 to Uwingu back in 2012, and am therefore listed as a supporter at the Founder level. I received a small token of appreciation at the time, but do not now gain anything from the association.)
Uwingu is a private organization organized to support space research, education, and exploration. It hopes to take the nearly $80,000 raised in 2012 and generate $10 million in 2014. Aside from donations and sponsors, Uwingu has been raising funds through naming opportunities. Until recently it had only been suggestions for exoplanet names. But two announcements indicate a new emphasis on the red planet.
First, there is now a way to help name Martian craters. The price depends on the size of the crater, and Uwingu has a nice map tool to help you figure out which crater to name, and where on Mars it is. This map will be used on Mars by the Mars One project, which plans to start sending humans to Mars a decade from now. It’s first unmanned missions will take the Uwingu map along and use the named features in its explorations.
All of this is used to help support efforts like Mars One and other space exploration and education projects. Uwingu funds help support Astronomers Without Borders, teacher training programs, student aerospace bootcamps, and at least one telescope array. If you’d like to help, visit the Uwingu website and see how you’d like to contribute.
And it’s 3 days until COSMOS.
Yesterday genome sequencing innovator J. Craig Venter announced his latest venture, Human Longevity, Inc. (HLI). The company has $70 million in startup funding to promote healthy aging through genomics and cell-therapy based therapeutics and diagnostics.
The first phase of this effort is to construct a large genome-sequencing center. When at full capacity, the center would be able to sequence 40,000 sequences per year, with a possible increase to 100,000 sequences per year. With the machines HLI has purchased, the company anticipates the cost per genome to be around $1,000.
The company will focus its efforts on several diseases: cancer, diabetes, obesity, dementia, heart and liver diseases. It’s established partnerships with several universities and research institutes to sequence the genomes of consenting clinical patients (though ScienceInsider’s report suggests patients will have to speak up if they don’t want to participate).
While the company is interested in making genomic sequencing cheaper, they are operating in a big industrial fashion that seems unlikely to pass along any improvements to the individual. That is, HLI is not likely to become a genomic equivalent to 23andMe. While that probably means the company will handle its interactions with the Food and Drug Administration much better than 23andMe, the proprietary aspect of HLI’s business models don’t leave much room for those who contribute their genomic data to benefit from their contributions. So the $1,000 genome sequence really won’t be the price for the person on the street.
George Gollin, physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is in the final two weeks of the primary campaign for the 13th Congressional District (though early voting started yesterday). There are two other candidates in the Democratic primary, and the current Representative, Rodney Davis, is expected to win the three-candidate Republican primary.
Gollin announced last summer. He has some policy experience, having worked hard to break up some diploma mills (which probably explains some of the stringent objections to Gollin you might stumble across online). It led to him trying to get diploma mill legislation passed in Congress, so he has already been disillusioned. While he does not have the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), he did receive the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune (H/T ScienceInsider). I have not been able to find any polling information on the Democratic primary, but funding reports indicate that Gollin has about half as much cash on hand as the DCCC-supported candidate.
Good luck to George.
March 3 – Edited to Add - With all the material this week, I shouldn’t be surprised I missed something. Tonight (Monday) on The Late Show, Dave talks to a double arm transplant recipient (U.S. Army Sergeant Brendan Marrocco) and his doctor.
The new edition of Cosmos starts next Sunday night on the FOX network in the U.S. The same company also owns the National Geographic Channel, so you will have many opportunities to catch each episode. Broadcast schedules and channels will likely be different in other countries (for instance, it starts on March 16 in the U.K.) Viewers in the U.S. who miss the FOX broadcast Sunday nights can catch the same episode on the National Geographic Channel on Monday nights. Do check those local listings.
Before we get to this week’s listings, there’s a long list of items from last week (and earlier) to note. The Comedy Central shows brought extra content. On February 18th, having theoretical physicist Brian Greene on wasn’t enough for The Colbert Report. Transgender activist Janet Mock was on earlier in the program to discuss the notion of gender with Stephen. On February 25th, Stephen mocked the campaign to maintain paper documents, though there is a need to make sure those without access to computers or the Internet can still obtain their government benefits and services.
The 25th was big on two other late night shows. T.J. Miller was a guest on The Pete Holmes Show, and he discussed the neurological troubles he had recently and the brain surgery they required. On @midnight, Neil deGrasse Tyson continued his COSMOS promotional push by reading a Craig’s List post with interstellar implications. @midnight also brought the science early in its February 27 show by asking what app was using an interview with nuclear scientist Robert Oppenheimer in its advertisements.
As I noted, there is a COSMOS promotional push. Executive Producer Seth MacFarlane visits Jon Stewart tonight (Monday). Neil deGrasse Tyson goes really late with Carson Daly on Thursday night. In other guest appearances, virtual reality innovator Jaron Lanier will sit with Stephen on Tuesday to discuss his latest book, which covers the impact of networked technologies on society. And last, but not least, Pauley Perrette, who plays a forensic scientist on NCIS, stops by The Talk on Tuesday.