Category Archives: Television

Break Bad S1

The first season of the American television drama series Breaking Bad premiered on January 20, 2008 and concluded on March 9, 2008. Season one was to consist of nine episodes, but was reduced to seven by the writer’s strike.

Cast

Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher, learns he has terminal lung cancer. Desperate to secure the financial future of his family (his wife Skyler is pregnant, his son Walter Jr. has cerebral palsy) the 50-year-old leaves his second job at the car wash and teams up with a former student named Jesse to make and sell meth.

“You know the business. I know the chemistry,” he tells his new partner, who declares Walt “a damn artist” after sampling the first batch cooked in their Winnebago/mobile-drug-lab.


The first season begins the downfall of Walter White. The drama doesn’t have the pacing of a crime series, it’s slower, like an evolving drama. But by the end we can see the tracks laid down for what must conclude with the death of Walter. We just don’t know when (and by what means).

Cosmos #13

The episode begins by noting how the destruction of the Library of Alexandria lost much of humanity’s knowledge.

 

Tyson then proceeds to describe the discovery of cosmic rays by Victor Hess through high-altitude balloon trips, where radiation increased the farther one was from the surface.

Victor Hess

 

Swiss Astronomer Fritz Zwicky, in studying supernovae, postulated that these cosmic rays originated from these events instead of electromagnetic radiation.

Fritz Zwicky

 

Zwicky’s theory was confirmed by the work of Vera Rubin, who observed that the rotation of stars at the edges of observable galaxies did not follow expected rotational behavior without considering dark matter.

Vera Rubin with John Glenn

 

Tyson describes Carl Sagan’s role in the Voyager program, including creating the Voyager Golden Record to encapsulate humanity and Earth’s position in the universe.

 

Voyager I looked back to take a picture of Earth from beyond the orbit of Neptune, creating the image of the Pale Blue Dot.

 

The series concludes with the empty-seated Ship of the Imagination leaving Earth and traveling through space as Tyson looks on from planet Earth.

 

Cosmos #12

This episode explores the nature of the greenhouse effect (discovered by Joseph Fourier and Svante Arrhenius), and the evidence demonstrating the existence of global warming from humanity’s influence.

There is not much new to be found in this episode for anyone familiar with the topic.

 

However he does mention Augustin Mouchot’s solar-driven motor in the 19th century.

 

And Frank Shuman’s solar-based steam generator in the 1910s.

 

 

Cosmos #11

 


This episode covers how life may have developed on Earth and the possibility of life on other planets. Tyson begins by explaining how the human development of writing systems enabled the transfer of information through generations, describing how Princess Enheduanna ca. 2280 BC would be one of the first to sign her name to her works.

And how Gilgamesh collected stories, including that of Utnapishtim documenting a great flood comparable to the story of Noah’s Ark.

 

Tyson explains how DNA similarly records information to propagate life, and postulates theories of how DNA originated on Earth, including evolution from a shallow tide pool, or from the ejecta of meteor collisions from other planets. In the latter case, Tyson explains how comparing the composition of the Nakhla meteorite in 1911 to results collected by the Viking program demonstrated that material from Mars could transit to Earth, and the ability of some microbes to survive the harsh conditions of space. With the motions of solar systems through the galaxy over billions of years, life could conceivably propagate from planet to planet in the same manner.

Tyson then moves on to consider if life on other planets could exist. He explains how Project Diana performed in the 1940s showed that radio waves are able to travel in space, and that all of humanity’s broadcast signals continue to radiate into space from our planet. Tyson notes that projects have since looked for similar signals potentially emanating from other solar systems. Tyson then explains that the development and lifespan of extraterrestrial civilizations must be considered for such detection to be realized. He notes that civilizations can be wiped out by cosmic events like supernovae, natural disasters such as the Toba disaster, or even self-destruct through war or other means, making probability estimates difficult. Tyson describes how elliptical galaxies, in which some of the oldest red dwarf stars exist, would offer the best chance of finding established civilizations. Tyson concludes that human intelligence properly applied should allow our species to avoid such disasters and enable us to migrate beyond the Earth before the Sun’s eventual transformation into a red giant. Princess Enheduanna’s animation is modeled on CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who also did Enheduanna’s voice.

Cosmos #10

This episode is all about Michael Faraday.

1842

Faraday, coming from poor beginnings, would end up becoming interested in studying electricity after reading books and seeing lectures by Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution.

Davy would hire Faraday after seeing extensive notes he had taken to act as his secretary and lab assistant.

Faraday was able to create his own device to create the first electric motor by applying electricity aligned along a magnet.

Faraday then created the first electrical generator by inserting a magnet in a coil of wires.

Faraday concluded that electricity and magnetism were connected by unseen fields, and postulated that light may also be tied to these forces. Using a sample of the optical glass that Davy had him make, Faraday discovered that an applied magnetic field could affect the polarization of light passing through the glass sample (a dielectric material), leading to what is called the Faraday effect and connecting these three forces.

1861 (age 70)

Faraday postulated that these fields existed across the planet, which would later be called Earth’s magnetic field generated by the rotating molten iron inner core, as well as the phenomena that caused the planets to rotate around the sun.

 

Cosmos #9

This episode explores the palaeogeography of Earth over millions of years, and its impact on the development of life on the planet.

The lignin-rich trees evolved in the Carboniferous era about 300 million years ago but were not edible by species at the time and would instead fall over and become carbon-rich coal.

50 million years later volcanic activity would burn the carbonaceous matter, releasing carbon dioxide and acidic components, creating a sudden greenhouse gas effect that warmed the oceans and released methane from the ocean beds, all leading towards the Permian–Triassic extinction event, killing 90% of the species on Earth.

Scientists like Abraham Ortelius hypothesized the idea that land masses may have been connected in the past.

Abraham Ortelius

 

Alfred Wegener hypothesized the idea of a super-continent Pangaea and continental drift despite the prevailing idea of flooded land-bridges at the time.

Alfred Wegener

 

Bruce C. Heezen and Marie Tharp discovered the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that supported the theory of plate tectonics.

Bruce C. Heezen & Marie Tharp

 

The show concludes by noting how Earth’s landmasses are expected to change in the future and postulates what may be the next great extinction event.

 

Cosmos #8

This episode describes the work of Edward Charles Pickering to capture the spectra of multiple stars simultaneously, and the work of the Harvard Computers, a team of women researchers under Pickering’s mentorship, to catalog the spectra.

This team included Annie Jump Cannon, who developed the stellar classification system, and Henriette Swan Leavitt
who discovered the means to measure the distance from a star to the earth by its spectra, later used to identify other galaxies in the universe.

Annie Jump Cannon
Henriette Swan Leavitt

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Later, this team included Cecilia Payne, who would develop a good friendship with Cannon. Payne’s thesis based on her work with Cannon was able to determine the composition and temperature of the stars, collaborating with Cannon’s classification system.

Tyson describes that stars can only be so large, using the example of Eta Carinae which is considered an unstable solar mass that could become a hypernova in the relatively near future.

Eta Carinae

 

Cosmos #7

This episode is centered the work of Clair Patterson in the middle of the 20th century, who was able to determine the age of the Earth.

Clair Patterson

Patterson determined an accurate count of lead in zircon particles from meteor craters. With the established half-life of uranium’s radioactive decay to lead, this would be used to estimate the age of the Earth.

Patterson found that his results were contaminated by lead from the ambient environment, required the construction of the first ultra-high clean-room to remove all traces of environmental lead. With these clean results, Patterson was able to estimate the age of the Earth to 4.5 billion years.

Patterson examined the levels of lead in the common environment and in deeper parts of the oceans and Antarctic ice, showing that lead had only been brought to the surface in recent times.

He would discover that the higher levels of lead were from the use of tetraethyllead in leaded gasoline, despite long-established claims by Robert A. Kehoe and others that this chemical was safe. Patterson would continue to campaign against the use of lead, ultimately resulting in government-mandated restrictions on the use of lead.

 

Cosmos #6

This episode looks to the nature of the cosmos on the micro and atomic scales, using the Ship of the Imagination to explore these realms.

Tyson describes some of the micro-organisms that live within a dew drop, demonstrating parameciums and tardigrades.

Tardigrade

He proceeds to discuss how plants use photosynthesis via their chloroplasts to convert sunlight into chemical reactions that convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and energy-rich sugars.

Tyson narrates how two Greek philosophers contributed to our understanding of science.

Thales was among the first thinkers to examine a “universe governed by the order of natural laws that we could actually figure out,”.

Democritus postulated that all matter was made up of combinations of atoms in a large number of configurations.

Tyson explains the basic atomic structure of protons, neutrons, and electrons, and the process of nuclear fusion that occurs in most stars that can overcome the electrostatic forces that normally keeps atoms from touching each other.

He explains how subterranean water pool facilities lined with special detectors like the Super-Kamiokande are used to detect neutrinos.

Super-Kamiokande Detector

Neutrinos from supernova SN 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud were detected three hours before the photons of light from the explosion were observed due to the neutrinos’ ability to pass through matter of the dying sun.

Supernova SN 1987A

 

 

 

Cosmos #5

This episode explores the wave theory of light as studied by humankind, noting that light has played an important role in scientific progress, with such early experiments from over 2000 years ago involving the camera obscura by the Chinese philosopher Mozi.

Tyson describes the work of the 11th century Arabic scientist Ibn al-Haytham, considered to be one of the first to postulate on the nature of light and optics leading to the concept of the telescope, as well as one of the first researchers to use the scientific method.

Findings of William Herschel in the 19th century showed that light also consisted of infrared rays.

Joseph von Fraunhofer would later come to discover that by magnifying the spectrum of visible light, gaps in the spectrum would be observed.

This since has led to the core of astronomical spectroscopy, allowing astronomers to make observations about the composition of stars, planets, and other stellar features through the spectral lines, as well as observing the motion and expansion of the universe, and the hypothesized existence of dark matter: