Neil DeGrasse Tyson Will Premiere COSMOS And Deliver Keynote Speech At SXSW

degrasse tysonEvery year, thousands of people descend upon Austin, Texas for South by Southwest, the 9-day multimedia extravaganza where the only limits are imagination and the human body’s stamina. The film festival recently announced the opening night slate, and the most surprising of the seven entries is Fox’s upcoming science series COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, which will debut along with Jon Favreau’s star-studded comedic drama Chef and Rob Thomas’ long-awaited Veronica Mars feature. Rubbing shoulders with such potentially esteemed films means COSMOS will help keep Austin smart as well as weird.

The new show is of course an updated edition of the classic Carl Sagan series, and was developed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. The public face of the program is world renowned astrophysicist and socially approachable genius Neil deGrasse Tyson, who will also give a keynote speech on Saturday, March 8, as part of the Interactive portion of the festival. THe announcement doesn’t provide any specifics on the topic of the day, and only says that deGrasse Tyson will “enlighten and inspire with unique insights regarding the Universe that surrounds us.”


Daniel Suarez’s Tech Thriller Novel Influx Acquired By 20th Century Fox

influx novelUnless you’ve been extremely wealthy and/or spoiled your entire life, chances are you’ve experienced the feeling of being jealous that someone else has some form of technology that you don’t. Be it a video game system, a certain kind of phone, or even a vibrating Chinese finger trap made specifically for a different part of the anatomy. Somebody else always seems to have something better than you, and that’s the core of the story behind author Daniel Suarez’s fourth novel, Influx, which has been preemptively acquired for development by 20th Century Fox. So that means now I get to be jealous of someone else getting a movie deal. (slow claps)

The novel sounds a bit like Dark City in its sense of scope for turmoil, but who knows where it will go? It follows a particle physicist named Grady who, along with his research team, somehow devises and constructs a device that can reflect gravity. As you can imagine, Grady imagines the world’s exclusivity will be at his fingertips, only a shadowy organization shows up (of course!) and puts all that to a stop. Their name: The Bureau of Technology Control. Their game: hording all the really big ideas, medical advancements, and technology before they reach the public, ensuring their own firm grip on humanity’s stasis. Some of you out there already think this faction exists, don’t you?


A Sci-Fi Hotel, Complete With An H.R. Giger Bar, Is Coming To The U.S.

giger barThe next time you watch Ridley Scott’s classic Alien and think to yourself, “Man, I’d really like to get shithoused with the space jockey in a room that looks just like the one he was found in,” you might just be able to go and do just that (minus the actual space jockey). Marketing genius and all-around “guy who wants things to be awesome” Andy Davies is working with artist H.R. Giger to bring the U.S. a version of his famed Giger Bar, a potent potable paradise where all the furniture is designed by the artist himself, presumably during some LSD-fueled waltz through IKEA. That would be amazing enough, but Davies is also looking to fit this bar inside his high-concept Sci-Fi Hotel.

That’s right, it’ll be a hotel inspired by an entire genre of fiction. And you thought that one motel counted as sci-fi just because the clerk had three eyes and you didn’t know what that weird ooze was seeping out of the walls.


Bill Nye To Take On Creationism In High-Profile Debate

bill nyeA general rule among scientists and critical thinkers is that debates about the Big Subjects are essentially pointless. Sure, you can sway someone to take a different route to work to save time, or to eat a different way to live healthier, but it’s almost impossible to turn someone against their religious beliefs. But science hero Bill Nye is stepping into the public forum to debate Australian young-Earther Ken Ham, who founded the Creation Museum and the apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis. This is the Ali/Frazier fight of science and pseudo-science, and it will no doubt be one of the most amazing, and downright frustrating, science events of the year.

The event will take place on February 4 in Ham’s home turf, Kentucky’s Creationist Museum, but I imagine Nye’s fans will turn out in droves. Sorry for those with hopes of attending, as all tickets have already been sold. (This prompted a few theories that the ticket sales were skewed to pack the crowd with creationists, but there’s no way Ham and his team are that dumb, no matter what they believe.) There are plans to turn the debate into a DVD after the fact, but I’m really hoping they figure out a way to stream the event live on the Internet. I’ve been looking to watch a good mental ass-whipping, and this should indeed be just that.


Apollo 13 Disaster Unfolds In Real Time In These Archival Videos

There’s a very good chance you’re familiar with the nearly tragic events surrounding NASA’s famed Apollo 13 mission, and a slightly lesser chance you’ve watched Ron Howard’s solid (if dramatically overbearing) feature film of the same name, in which an AIDS-ridden Tom Hanks stoically saves the day with a volleyball named Wilson. (It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I may have fudged the details.) In any case, there’s no possible way Hollywood could have properly conveyed the severity of the events, regardless of their sound intentions. So now we have the video above, called “As It Happened,” which is the latest in a line of videos on the fabulous lunarmodule5 YouTube page, where the entire Apollo 13 mission, from launch to splashdown, is being archived for easy public consumption. Well, easy assuming you don’t easily freak out listening to would-be disasters as they’re happening.


Want Perfect Pitch? Try Popping A Pill

pitch captureSinging is not my forte. I love to do it when I’m speeding down the road, windows down, with no one else in the car, and sometimes I sing to my cat (she seems not to mind). I’m not tone deaf, but my pipes struggle with achieving perfect, or even palatable, pitch. That’s due partially to genetics (you should hear my mother try to sing), but also to lack of musical training in childhood. But those of us with pitch problems may have a second chance in the form of a drug called valprioc acid.

Children with musical training develop perfect pitch because their developing brains have an easier time learning what perfect pitch is and how to achieve it. It’s not so different from kids learning languages better at a younger age. But Takao Hensch, a Harvard professor of molecular and cellular biology, is conducting studies on a drug that may be able to recreate the window of brain development that helps children learn perfect pitch.