“Those aren’t mountains!”


The I Fucking Love Science Facebook page shared this image from the Scientific Illustration for the Research Scientist page.

The maths behind this image is incorrect and I just need to have a little rant about it.

According to Interstellar, 1 hour on the water planet = 7 Earth years

There are 8,760 Earth hours in 1 Earth year

So 7 years on the water planet = 613,20 water planet hours (8,760 * 7)

Assuming it takes 7 Earth years to complete a PhD, that’s 429,240 Earth years.

By the time you get back to Earth your thesis will be extremely out of date. The robots that refuted the people who refuted the original refutations of your original hypothesis would have already been refuted.

My Favourite Robin Williams’ Clips

I’m sure most of us were saddened to hear of the passing of Robin Williams today. Here are just a few of my favourite scenes from a few of my favourite movies with Robin Williams. He was one of my favourite actors and will always be a legend.
He’s survived by his son, daughter, and wife, who has asked us to remember and celebrate his life rather than dwell on his death. I hope these clips let you do just that.

Our Feminist Wedding

It wasn’t until I read this article by the creator of the Everyday Sexism project about her own feminist wedding that I realised that what my partner and I have planned for our own wedding also has a uniquely feminist bent.

Our relationship, engagement, wedding, and ultimately our marriage have seen us both on equal footing the entire way. Oddly though, applying the adjective “feminist” to these events never occurred to me until I read Laura Bates’ article, but that’s quite an apt way to describe them.

The Dating
We were seeing each other for about a month before we decided to go the official boyfriend-girlfriend route and we entered into that arrangement with no small amount of discussion. We share a friend group and had work connections in common at the time, so agreeing to be together came with some risk of jeopardising certain areas of our lives were the relationship to fall apart. I think in many ways those early discussions set the tone for the type of relationship we would have in the future: even-handed, rational, fair, tolerant, and equal.

The Engagement
Whenever women ask me about our engagement they are always interested in the proposal above all else and seem to yearn for stories of him sweeping me off my feet by delivering an unnecessary number of red roses to my office or flying-in distant relatives to flash mob me at the gym. Thankfully though I didn’t have to sit through anything like that. They always seem deflated when I say we made the decision to get married together, chose the engagement ring stones and design together, discussed the price together, and chose the restaurant together. I was involved in every step of the decision-making process, which seems like the only sensical approach considering that I will wear this ring for presumably the rest of my life and getting married is also a major commitment that I should obviously have some say in.

The Wedding
This is where it gets a bit more complicated because we’re actually flying from Cape Town to Las Vegas in 5 days to get married far from friends and family.

We reached this decision quite organically and neither of us seem to be able to remember the exact moment we made the call to abandon the traditional route and flee West. We are going because a good friend of ours from Cape Town is a licensed marriage officer who performs secular ceremonies and will be speaking at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas from 10 – 13 July. That’s initially where the idea arose because it’s a conference we’ve both been extremely eager to attend ourselves.

There was the customary wedding send-off, which included a combined bachelor/bachelorette party involving cake, shots, crime-solving games, and our combined friend group (of men and women).
Despite not having a large wedding at home we both selected a best man and best woman each, just as special friends to share the preparations with.

After battling with the arduous decision of what to do with our last names we finally came to the conclusion to keep our surnames the way they are, which makes the most sense since we don’t want kids. To double-barrel them would have resulted in an absurd 20 character surname. We also considered playing with middle name combinations where we both take my surname as our middle names and I take his surname as my last name, but that also began to seem unnecessarily complicated. The symbolism of having the same last name quickly began to lack gravity when we realised that our lives have come together in so many real, tangible ways already.weddingpics2

Of course choosing not to have a big white wedding back home has some small repercussions. We had a formal pre-wedding dinner with 11 other people so that our close friends and immediate family could have the opportunity to wish us well and so we could thank them for their support. Both my partner and I said a speech. When my coworkers heard that I had said a speech at this dinner their immediate reaction was one of confusion. Since when does the bride speak? At her own wedding? The horror!

It was strange hearing myself referred to as “the bride” in reference to that dinner. In part because it wasn’t the actual wedding ceremony but also because I haven’t been thinking of myself as a bride. My wedding won’t have a white dress or a veil. I won’t be walking down an aisle to be given from one man to another. I won’t have a bouquet to throw, a garter to remove, speeches to listen to where family members offer questionable relationship advice and groomsmen jokingly express sympathy for the poor, whipped, duped groom. I haven’t had a bridezilla moment where some insignificant detail has sent me over the edge into a hormonal rage. I have not been the sole planner of every detail of our trip and ceremony nor excluded my soon-to-be-husband from having any say in it. If he wants to wear a purple shirt he should absolutely wear a purple shirt. It’s as much his day as it is mine, and the happier he is on the day the happier I will be.


We’ve worked on our vows together, agreeing on a collection of attributes that are important to us, such as respect, compassion etc, and are reworking them in our own ways so that we’re not reading the exact same script on the day of the ceremony.
Our venue is a neutral location as well. The thought of marrying in a chapel was cringe-worthy, so we’ve rented a penthouse with a gorgeous terrace for the day.

In a way, leaving the country to have our small ceremony elsewhere has alleviated the strain of having to tick all of these little check boxes. The stereotypes that abound when people hear the words “bride” and “wife” are prolific, limiting, and tend to the negative, at least in my experience. Going away and starting this new phase of our lives together in an environment where we can create our own identities as married individuals has given us the opportunity to commit to one another the way we want to. It’s a connotation-free slate and now we can carve out our own definitions without any stress of judgement.

Every planet in our solar system could fit between Earth and the Moon


Image by Tom Verez

A lot of people online seem to be taking issue with this picture based on what they call “common sense” or the fact that “it just doesn’t feel right.” If you break it down though, the maths checks out.

Let’s start with the distance of the moon from Earth. This varies greatly. The average distance is 384,403 km but if you look at apogee (when the moon is furthest from Earth) instead of mean this can be as much as 406,696 km, with perigee (the closest point) being 363,104 km. So the distance can vary by as much as 43,592 km, which can dramatically change the size of the moon in our view depending on where it is in its orbit.


A to-scale image of the distance between the moon and Earth

It seems that people struggle to realise just how vast distances in space are. That includes the empty space between Earth and the Moon, which, despite not being quite as mind-blowing as the distances between the planets themselves, is still tough to comprehend.

Check out this table below. It shows the distances of the planets from the Sun and the Earth. The distances in kilometers are rounded off obviously, but the accuracy of the two columns showing “years of travel” seems completely nonsensical. A trip to Mars currently takes about 7 months, so I’m not sure where they’re getting 18 years from. There’s no indication of type of spacecraft being used or the theoretical speed the spacecraft would be traveling to take those lengths of time to arrive at the different planets, so they’re not reliable figures. Ignore them.


Nevertheless, you can still get a great sense of the distance between the planets and just how phenomenally vast they are. Just the distance between us and our closest neighbour, Venus, is 42 million kilometers. This means that, working with the diameter of the Earth sitting at 12,742 kms and the rounded off distance of Venus from Earth in kilometers, you could fit 3,296 Earths between Earth and Venus, with room to spare.

Right, now let’s break down the diameters of the planets. I got these figures from Universe Today but there are varying figures all over the internet. They don’t vary enough to wreck the basic conclusion though.

The total of all the combined diameters without factoring in distances between them is 402,936 km.

So let’s recap: the moon is 406,696 km away from Earth at apogee. That means you could easily fit all of the planets between the Earth and the moon, although this is strongly advised against as it would wreck Earth pretty quickly.

Learning High School Maths and Science as an Adult

“I Change Myself” by kparks

It’s never easy having the realisation that you’re never going to be able to advance as far as you want to in your career or be as satisfied with your life unless you rewind the clock and pick up some pieces that you may have let fall by the way side. Maybe you’re like me and your career was put on a certain trajectory because of subject choices you made in high school, or heck, university even. I mean most of us were still teenagers when we made our university decisions. What did we know?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have migrated from Linguistics, to web analytics, to data analysis and, depending on choices I make along the way, hopefully onwards to proper data science. This has been the result of a combination of good fortune (finding the right jobs at the right time), my personality (making sure people took notice of my skills and interests so they could help develop me in a certain direction), and damn hard work.

If you ended up doing a soft skill job that you don’t enjoy and are worried that, with high school long over, it’s too late to make a change, it’s not. Generally I abhor aphorisms and can always think of one opposing example when I’m skimming past pithy motivational posters on Facebook, but I do think that it’s never too late to make a change. This does of course come with some mild caveats. It’s never too late to make a change from, say, copywriting to mechanical engineering if you will be happier and more content with your life as an undergrad mechanical engineer than a senior copywriter. The satisfaction that comes with doing something you love and feeling like you’re contributing to the world in some meaningful way can be achieved at any age (provided, of course, that you have the means and environment to support such a drastic change).

To bring it back home a bit, I did standard grade mathematics at high school and drama instead of science from Grade 10. However, I use numerical reasoning in my career and I love science. I spend most of my free time stalking the latest articles of science journalists. The field doesn’t seem to matter too much to me. Geology, astronomy, atmospheric science, physics, Sure, a lot of it goes over my head, but it’s all mind blowing to me.

So how do you go about brushing up on high school maths and science when you matriculated years ago? Here are some resources that I managed to dig up, which I highly recommend. It’s really frustrating how hard it is to find proper resources for adults online. My research led me to all sorts of places, including home school forums. I had to Google “homeschool science curriculum high school -christian -creation -genesis -apologia” to get anywhere worthwhile. The system just isn’t set up to accommodate post-high school learners who wish to learn high school subjects. I hope someone out there finds this list useful and that it saves you a few weeks of internet scouring.

Most of these resources apply as much to science as they do to maths.


IXL – R89 a month, maths only. I know you were probably hoping for a list of free sites (and most of them are) but trust me, this one is amazingly worth it. Maths from preschool to Grade 11. You learn as you complete quizzes and you can track your progress. As you reach 70%, 80%, and 90% completion on a question the difficulty level changes to accommodate you, which motivates the learner to keep going even if they think they’re a boss at that particular topic. Sure, the prizes aren’t Khan Academy good, but the content is solid and modeled on the South African high school maths curriculum. Register as a parent and just sign yourself up again as a student through the parent profile. I renamed the parent “admin” so I didn’t feel like a complete dumbass who gave birth to myself.

Khan Academy – Free. Maths and science. I mentioned this in the previous point. It’s an amazing site that has everything I’ve looked for so far. Use these videos to supplement the material in IXL when you get stuck. And believe me, you will get stuck. It happens when you don’t have a teacher to speak to so just accept it as part of the learning process and don’t beat yourself up about it, even if it’s a Grade 9 topic (yes, this happened to me). Go ahead and complete some quizzes as well, the site makes it a lot of fun. Just make sure you follow the topic structure of IXL if you want to make sure you’re not missing any fundamentals.

Everything Maths – Free. Everything Science is the science equivalent. Siyavula is a Shuttleworth Foundation project which makes high school maths and science text books available online for free. It’s an incredible service. The site allows you to read the textbooks online without having to download them (although that’s an option too). The format is great; not some crap PDF you have to scroll through. You also have the option of practicing maths on the the site. It’s really amazing and worth looking into when you reach Grade 11 and 12 I reckon, especially since IXL only goes up to Grade 11.

X-Kit – About R110 a book. Consider getting some X-Kit Maths books for Grade 11 and Grade 12. They’re wonderful study guides and will easily help you figure out what your strengths and focus areas are. Check out their chemistry and physics books for high school as well.

Master Maths helped me a lot when I was actually in high school. Their tuition rates fluctuate depending on how many hours you attend one of their centers for, but they have an example fee structure here. 3 hours per week is about R92 an hour. This helps a lot if you actually need that one-on-one interaction of someone explaining something to you. I don’t remember them having Master Science when I went there but they do now, which is great!

Brainline – Brainline is a distance learning institution based in South Africa which allows adults to write their matric exams. It’s really wonderful that such a service exists but it comes with a few heavy caveats.

First, you have to complete the school based assessment portion of the work in order to qualify for the NSC (National Senior Certificate) exams, which is a certification you’ll need if you want to use these results to apply to a university. I assume this will be the case even if you already have your NSC.

Second, if you never took the subject in high school at all, such as me with science, you’re going to have to do their full matric offering which involves doing Grade 10 for half a year, Grade 11 for the second half of the year, and then a whole year doing Grade 12. You can do this part time but, remember, you’ll have to do the school based assessment portion as well.

Third, because the school based assessment is mandatory, there’s no room to use other materials instead of theirs and just write the exams when you feel you’re ready. This is quite frustrating if you spend all of your time on IXL, Khan Academy etc and then aren’t permitted to write the NSC. Plus I have no idea what the quality of their own material is like.

Fourth, it’s not cheap. If you’re doing the full adult matric with all subjects it’s going to be about R15,000. Per subject is more tolerable at around R3,500, but that still excludes the IEB exam fee.

Fifth, if you do a quick search you’ll find their FB page and their Hello Peter page. I saw these overwhelmingly negative comments before I decided to contact them with some questions. Sadly, communicating with them confirmed what I’d already seen online. You have to phone them if you want a decent response and then constantly chase them for the additional detail and follow-up they’d promised. Maybe it’s just my experience, but proceed with caution.

Damelin also offers matric by correspondence. I haven’t looked into this all that much, but here’s the link if you think it might be worth it: https://www.dcc.edu.za/high_school/matric-senior-certficate

So by now you’re half-genius and remember more high school maths than your not-in-finance friends. Whoop! Now let’s take it to the next level. Ad Maths will help you bridge the gap between high school and university maths. I’m not sure of the cost but they seem to offer a fairly solid distance learning, self-study option which is worth looking into.

There are also a lot of fun, educational science videos on YouTube. It’s tough learning chemistry in a distance learning environment because you miss out on the experiments and hands-on activities which make you really understand the material. YouTube channels like Periodic Videos really help you get around this. It comes complete with their mad-looking science teacher. They have a different video for each element.

If you want to start doing first year university stuff, a quick search will give you all the information you need, for free. Calculus on Coursera or Linear Algebra on MIT Openware, you have an oysterous world.

Identifying Online Money-Making Scams

This post won’t help identifying all scams but it should help re-calibrate your is-this-a-scam-dar. A few months ago a close family member asked if a certain site was legitimate, which reminded me that people do fall for these scams and are unable to read the telltale signs of a scam offer.

The example I’ll be looking at throughout this post is from http://www.careerjournalonline.org/newsupdate/workfromhome/vc/0a34jkm/za/

1. Sensationalist Headlines


Here’s your first clue. Look out for clickbait headlines like this one. If it’s got a Buzzfeed-like headline, then it’s probably bullshit. Clickbait (or linkbait) headlines are headlines designed to get a lot of clicks (or links to it).

“These DIY Water Tricks Will Absolutely Melt Your Mind”
“This Video Of A Dog Walking On His Hands Will Brighten Your Monday”

Clickbait headlines try to be sensationalist and hyperbolic, and typically don’t describe the article’s content very well.



For more examples, take a look at this clickbait generator and play around with it a bit.

 2. Different fonts


This format screams “scam”, even if you don’t read the text. Multiple colours, different font sizes, highlighted text. All of this makes the page look tacky and this isn’t just bad web design: it’s a scam.

3. Expiry Date

When there’s an “Offer Expires” warning and it happens to show the date for the day you’re on, then that’s probably nonsense.

To prove my point, I just took a look at the code behind the date text and I can see a script written to show the day that the viewer is visiting the page on. This is pretty much what the getDate() function does. This is a copy of the code from the webpage.

<SCRIPT type=text/javascript>
var month = new Array();
month[0] = “January”;month[1] = “February”;month[2] = “March”;month[3] = “April”;month[4] = “May”;
month[5] = “June”;month[6] = “July”;month[7] = “August”;month[8] = “September”;month[9] = “October”;month[10] = “November”;
month[11] = “December”;
//Array starting at 0 since javascript dates start at 0 instead of 1
var mydate= new Date()
document.write(“”+mydate.getDate()+” “+month[mydate.getMonth()]+” “+mydate.getFullYear());

What it does is define an array by assigning a number to each month, then it calls that month based on the current date, displaying it in the format we see when we visit the site. The entire purpose of this is to create a sense of urgency in the reader to encourage them to think less and pay faster.

 4. The URL

Take a look at the root of the URL. http://www.careerjournalonline.org/ leads to a blank page but the name has been specifically chosen to make the /workfromhome/page look legitimate. The user sees the words Career Journal dot Org and they immediately believe the article is from a reputable authority. This is a difficult part of these scams to identify if you’re not used to the patterns scamsters employ because this is a bit of a double bluff, but click around to the rest of the site if you’re unsure. Start by visiting the root of the URL and go from there.

Also, google the URL. Follow this link to see what I mean: http://bit.ly/1hxHaFo

Look at the results you get on the first page of Google. Are any of them saying that this site may be a scam? Does this site seem to have any content not related to working from home and getting rich quick?

5. Reverse image search the pictures


This woman with her baby has been the face of a myriad online scams. To see where else this picture has been used, follow these steps:

1. Right click on the image and click Copy Image URL
2. Browse to images.google.com
3. Click the camera icon in the Google search bar (see pic below)

4. Paste the URL of the image you copied in step 1 and hit Search By Image

The results show where the picture was stolen from, who the site is ripping off, and the thousands of other scams similar to this one that have used this image for the same purpose. Browse the results and familiarise yourself with this format of scams.

 6. Picture of a Check

This has become such a ubiquitous sign of a scam that it’s hard to explain exactly why it shows that this is a scam. It just does. Maybe it’s because legitimate companies don’t advertise grainy photos of checks they’ve written online to attract more clients into their pyramid scheme. It’s a bizarre, unrealistic way of doing business. They’re trying to catch people who are only have dollar signs in their eyes and are desperately wanting to believe in the get-rich-quick solution.

Which leads me to my next point.

7. Does it sound too good to be true?

Whatever you think “it” is (this vagueness is elaborated on in a later point), if it sounds too good to be true, it unfortunately probably is. If it was this easy to make a lot of money online then more people would be doing it. In fact, everyone would.

As far as committing your time and money goes you should focus on a specific industry, skilling up through available resources (there’s plenty of free online study material such as on edx and coursera), join internships, training programs, job shadowing and apprenticeships wherever possible, and just work hard. It doesn’t always work, but it’s what has the highest chance of leading to success.

8. Search for a string on the page

Copy a sentence from the article and Google it. Take a look at this link to see what I mean: http://bit.ly/1qfExiT

Make sure you put the sentence in inverted commas when you search for it to get the most accurate results. You can see this has been used multiple times in several “special reports” and that there have also been a few questions asked about its legitimacy.

9. Search for the Heading

Now do the same for the heading. As a tip, only search for parts of the heading that can’t be variable text. We know that they tailor these scams based on your location and currency, so, in the case of this article, instead of searching for the entire heading only search for the generic section: “Month From Home And You Won’t Believe How She Does It!”

See the results you get?

EXPOSED: London Mum Makes £5,000/Month From Home And You Won’t Believe How she Does It!
Single Mom from Kitwe Makes $7,397/Month From Home And You Won’t Believe How She Does It!

10. Confirm Navigation

When you try to leave the page a pop-up will appear asking you to confirm that you actually want to leave the page, along with a warning that this offer expires tomorrow. No matter when you visit the page, this exit pop-up will always say “tomorrow”, creating a sense of urgency in the reader the same way the customised date does.

11. It’s not clear what you will be doing

After reading through the entire article, if it’s still not 100% clear exactly what work you will be doing, what the pay will be, how you will make the money, what your job description will be etc, then it’s most likely a scam. Real job offers come in the form of very clearly written descriptions outlining requirements for the job, the pay expectation (in a reasonable, non-sensationalist way), and job responsibilities. They do not leave you wondering what you will actually be doing at the end of the day.

12. Upfront Payment

This is probably one of the most important points of this entire post. No real job offer will require an upfront payment (or activation fee, as many scamsters call it) in order to secure training material, an interview, or the offer itself. This is nonsense. They are trying to rip you off. A real job at a real company will pay you to go on training. Never ever put your credit card details into a site like this if you think it might not be legitimate. If they want upfront payment, it is a scam. That’s a good rule of thumb to go by.

To be clear, not all sites that require payment for training materials are scams. There are plenty of sites where you pay for training courses and activation fees are required for many educational sites. Just do your research first. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. If the training material is related to a job you’re applying for, then you shouldn’t be required to pay for it.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the things to look for when exploring online scams, but it’s a start. Not all of these are hard-and-fast rules but use them as starting points to investigate dodgy-looking sites for yourself and you’ll be a lot better off.

Cosmos: A Very Biased Review



The popular thirteen-part miniseries narrated by Carl Sagan in the 1980s is currently getting a makeover courtesy of astrophysicist celeb Neil deGrasse Tyson. A lot has happened in the field of astronomy since the 80s, so this revamp was much needed and there is no shortage of new material to work with. As I see it, one of the main struggles the writers and producers have is to carefully choose facts and stories that can be curated to work in a show where you want the primarily non-science-literate audience to be able to easily digest the information.

As a fan of the original Cosmos series with Carl Sagan, one of the immediate concerns raised was whether Tyson was being cast as a Sagan replacement or a Sagan descendant and how this distinction would be made in the structure of the show. As it stands, it seems this was a meaningless concern since Tyson is cast in both roles, occasionally using lines from the original Cosmos to great dramatic effect and at other times (especially in the first episode) praising Sagan as a mentor and role model.


In a fun March Madness competition on Facebook, the Science is a Verb page has been pitching famous scientists up against one another in a voting competition. The one with the most votes in that bracket moves up a level to compete in the next round. In a controversial decision, the page pitted Sagan and Tyson against one another in what has resulted in one of the most voted on rounds so far. The popularity competition isn’t over yet, although I’m quite confident it’s going to be a showdown between Tesla and Newton with Newton taking the prize. This pic shows the Sagan v Tyson round.


Sagan won by a fair stretch, although I was surprised to see quite a few people throwing their votes in for Tyson. I think this was because they don’t really know Sagan’s work or the original Cosmos all that well, which some of them admitted. Granted, this was still a fair way to vote since the page admin specifies each time a new round goes up that people must vote according to their individual preference based on whatever criteria they wish, but I still can’t help but feel the only reasonable approach is to look at each person’s contributions to the field. These contributions might be more philosophical, such as Valentina Tereshkova being the first woman in space. (If I had to choose a favourite communist, it would be her).

Sagan’s contributions to the field of science far outstrip Tyson’s. Granted, Tyson is younger than Sagan was at the time of his passing and Tyson has accomplished a heck of a lot so far with multiple honorary doctorates and deserved applause for continuing the much-needed popularisation of science. In his capacity as director of the Hayden Planetarium he was one of the people who “controversially” (yes, scare quotes because people just enjoy being upset about this, but no one actually is) demoted Pluto’s planetary status. He’s acted as president of the Planetary Society, hosts StarTalk radio, has narrated several shows about astronomy, and has always spoken out against the concept of intelligent design as a reasonable scientific theory. He has a lot of merits which we can’t overlook. Sagan’s contributions, however, are staggering in their significance and direct impact on scientific undertakings.

It will be pointless for me to paraphrase what has already been succinctly described elsewhere, so here’s a link to the Wiki page. You only have to read the first paragraph to get a feel for his involvement in the scientific community:

His contributions were central to the discovery of the high surface temperatures of Venus. However, he is best known for his contributions to the scientific research of extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation. Sagan assembled the first physical messages that were sent into space: the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager Golden Record, universal messages that could potentially be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find them.
He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books.


So, Tyson is a modern day astrophysicist rock star, which is hopefully going a long way to continue the popularisation of science. Of the three episodes of Cosmos released so far, the last two have sensitively touched on the topic of religious thought and its place in scientific inquiry, primarily to remind us of the role evolution played in our history and to debunk the notion of prophecy, respectively. He, or perhaps the writers, do so in a way that will hopefully minimise the potential for offense in religious viewers, maximising the possibility for learning. There are a few instances where I’m sure theists might find it appropriate to sneer or cringe but such instances seem to me, as a rather subjective atheist, to be few and far between. Phil Plait has some more to say on this topic. Check out his review.

The staggering visuals in the show are enough to draw you in. The fact that it is produced by Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow and co-creator of the original series, makes it easier to sit back, relax, and enjoy the visuals without feeling benign panic that they’re not doing the original series justice. The ship of the imagination Tyson flies throughout the Cosmos, from massive galaxies to tiny tardigrades, basically takes The Magic School Bus concept to the next level.



The animations for the history of the astronomers and scientists Tyson discusses is well executed and not over-done. If they had gone the Pixar-level route with the history animations it would have been overbearing combined with the intense effects used elsewhere in the show. It’s clean-cut, understandable, and effective by not distracting from the story the viewers have to follow for large portions of the episode. The amount of information Tyson is able to cram into each episode is truly remarkable, and he presents each fact with incredible flair.

Although episode 3 focuses on Newton’s contributions as much as Edmond Halley’s, the sheer volume of things I learned about Halley stand out to me because I did not know them before.

He discovered that comets were bound to the Sun in long elliptical orbits. In a stunning example of true pattern recognition, he was the first to realise that the comets that appeared in 1531, 1607 and 1682 were one the same and was able to predict their next appearances. No one else but Newton had yet attempted to apply Newton’s new laws of physics to an astronomical question.
He invented the diving bell, mapped the magnetic fields of the Earth, and laid the groundwork in population statistics. He invented the weather map and the symbols he invented for describing prevailing wind are still in use today.
He gave us the actual scale of the solar system by using the transit of Venus across the Sun to measure the distance of the Sun from the Earth.
He discovered that supposedly fixed stars aren’t fixed.

Halley discovered the first clue to a magnificent reality. All the stars are in motion streaming past each other, rising and falling like merry-go-round horses in their Newtonian dance around the center of the galaxy.

Hearing Tyson present lines like the ones quoted above is enough to make your toes curl in joy.

There have been some valid criticisms of the show so far from the science community. One of the critics, who does love the show, is Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society. She mentions that in the first episode objects in the solar system are depicted as being too close to each other. Traveling in the ship of the imagination fails to demonstrate the extreme distances between objects. Further, as gorgeous as the red spot of Jupiter is in the show, it is actually 8km higher than the surrounding clouds in real life, whereas its depicted as more of a hole in episode 1.

These are valid criticisms if you’re coming at the show from a highly granular, scientific angle. However, the show has not been made for those who already have a sound understanding of science under their belt, but for the layman who is curious about how the cosmos works and wants a share in the historical and present well of knowledge people like Tyson have to offer. It’s excellent that he has the platform and backing to do so. For those who are already scientific aficionados, there’s the joy of looking for small things to pick at about the show (which sounds like a negative point, but isn’t) and revel in the wonders of the universe.



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