Christopher Schmitt

designer, web developer, author, strategist, dreamer

Working with the web since 1993, Christopher Schmitt directs Heatvision.com, Inc., a small new media publishing and design firm. The author of several books, including CSS Cookbook and Photoshop in 10 Simple Steps or Less, Schmitt is also a contributor to many web development magazines.

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What Would Carl Sagan Do If He Saw HD Television?

March 29, 2014

COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey, the updated version of the 1980’s classic hosted by Carl Sagan himself, needs an editor and a better director.

There are so many bad lines and poor storytelling, it drives me batty. I so want this show to be excellent. I want people to be talking about it during their lunch breaks.

The first episode of the Neil deGrasse Tyson’s COSMOS starts out by saying that the journey is available to those who follow the scientific process of testing and proving theories. Fair enough. Right after they state this is minimum needed to continue this journey, the first story is not of a scientist or someone following the scientific method. Rather it’s the story of Dominican friar Giordano Bruno, the religious figure with new ideas about the movement of the stars and planets without the means to scientifically prove those theories.

In the third episode of this rebooted COSMOS, the show portrays a vilified Robert Hooke. While noting his worthy scientific accomplishments, he is mocked for not providing proof when he claims he can explain why planets move they way they do. Very odd considering two weeks ago, it was cool in the first episode to just to deposit only theory. Sure, you get burned at the stake for doing so, but why is mathematics so important now?

Compare that story to the the first feature story of the Sagan’s COSMOS from 1980, Eratosthenes. How Eratosthenes became the first person to calculate the circumference of the earth by asking questions lays the foundation that questioning and experimentation are important for humanity and Sagan’s COSMOS.

I must also note that it’s astonishing that Sagan’s enthusiasm for telling Eratosthenes’ story still radiates on follow-up viewings as he not only explains how Eratosthenes calculated the circumference with a slow ease, he does it with a prop that looks like two sticks glued to a piece of flimsy poster board that one would find in a middle-school science fair.

Special effects, though, are important today. Children grow up in a world of television and movies with special effects. They will never know a show, film, or YouTube video without them.

I want so badly for a shot of Neil to walk from a outdoor setting of the beach onto the Ship of Imagination to help kick off the journey. To help people buy into it. But, no, he just pops in and out of the ship, into different locations, sets, etc. Shoot. Even Raiders of the Lost Ark has scenes of Indiana Jones getting on and off an airplane.

In an age where we can see Iron Man’s in-flight heads up display in the silver screen, respect the modern audience and show mathematical equations as they are mentioned. Go further and show overlay animations of these equations being demonstrated as they are being discussed.

Go even further. When you have communities develop around sci-fi and fantasy shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost, fans will watch and re-watch episodes looking for clues and hints for future episodes. Follow this lead by loading scenes with hidden messages on science history.

Or how about creating fill one frame with information that can only be read when one pauses the screen on an HD television? For example, when mentioning Voyager’s Golden Record, all in an instant list the musical selections on the record, what each song’s wave form looks like, the timeline of the musicians, the icons of animals that make up the nature sounds, etc.

And, if may be so bold, when talking about historical cultures of mankind, show their location on a map or rotating globe and the years they existed.

But do that mostly for me. I stink at geography and history.

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