Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the Importance of Getting Details Right in Film

Nitpicking over historical or scientific details helps keep filmmakers honest and makes films more authentic.

In Joe Rogan’s Aug 22, 2018 interview with scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Tyson told an interesting story about how he contributed to the 2012 comedy Ted. It stemmed from his criticism of the night sky as depicted in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). Titanic, of course, was based on the true story of the 1912 RMS Titanic disaster.

Since we know exactly where and at what time the Titanic sank, astronomers can use computer modeling to re-create precisely what the night sky looked like from the perspective of the passengers and crew. Of course, this was a detail James Cameron overlooked and one that Neil DeGrasse Tyson noticed immediately.

When Tyson later brought it up to Cameron, the director was initially dismissive but then later corrected the mistake in a director’s cut of the film. Years later, filmmaker and comedian Seth MacFarlane called Neil DeGrasse Tyson to make sure he had the correct sky at a specific time at a specific place, in a comedy film about a Teddy Bear that comes to life.

Now that’s attention to detail!

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Town & Country Antiques

Town & Country Antiques
Sign for Town & Country Antiques, 1 N. Main Street in Liberty, New York. Liberty is part of the famous Catskill Mountain’s Borscht Belt, home to Grossinger’s Old Hotel, a famously opulent (and now abandoned) resort. From the 1920s to the 1970s, New York City Jews flocked to Catskill resorts in the summer months to escape the stifling heat of the city. There were once over 500 resorts and hotels in the area. With increasing religious tolerance and the advent of widespread commercial airliners, many families chose to vacation elsewhere and dozens of these establishments now lay abandoned.

A Day at the Virginia Renaissance Faire

Jousting, comedy, and merriment at this slice of Elizabethan England in the American South

Only open for a limited time in early summer, this classic Ren fair has all the charm of its counterparts without all the crowds. Hosted annually at Lake Anna Winery, 5621 Courthouse Road in Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia, the Virginia Renaissance Faire is open for five weekends, May 11th through June 9, 2019.

Journey to the fictional village of Staffordshire, where the regal queen and her court will grace the lowly peasants with her presence. Entertainment, food, dancing, and sport re-creates the spirit of Merry England.

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West Point Cemetery in West Point, New York

The United States Military Academy cemetery at West Point is filled with storied figures and heroes who fought in all America’s wars. West Point, on the Hudson River in Upstate New York, served as a fort during the Revolutionary War and is the oldest continuously operating Army post in the United States. Captain Thompson, an officer in the Revolutionary War, may have been the first internment at the cemetery here in 1809.

Baptized in Fire and Blood

Winfield Scott (1786-1866) is a giant in American military history. He was the longest serving U.S. general, and second to hold the rank of lieutenant general. He led troops in four wars, and conceived the “Anaconda Plan” that ultimately defeated the Confederacy during the American Civil War. He was Commanding General of the United States Army (equivalent to the modern position of Chief of Staff of the Army) for 20 years.

Following the Guidon

George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) – his name is synonymous with the American West, and he gained infamy for leading his troops to slaughter against the Plains Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. But before that, he cut a dashing figure as a cavalry officer during the American Civil War, where he rose to the rank of Major General of U.S. Volunteers and fought in numerous battles.

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MacIntyre Iron Furnace in Tahawus, New York

The MacIntyre Iron Furnace near Tahawus, New York, a nineteenth century relic, is as interesting as it is remote. It cost a small fortune to build, but only smelted iron for two years before flooding and inefficiency forced it to shut down. It sat for decades like some Mayan ruin deep in the Adirondack Mountains. It is both a testament to American ingenuity and its limits.

Thanks to Open Space Institute efforts, the curious can now view the 166-year-old structure from a safe distance and read colorfully-illustrated interpretive signs explaining how and why it was built and how it operated. It was actually the fourth blast furnace attempted at the site. It fired up in 1854 but after only two years its 2500°F furnace was extinguished forever. More flooding in 1857 destroyed the dams that allowed cargo boats to reach that area.

It took until the Second World War for the U.S. government to fund a railroad to the remote location, where the National Lead Company began mining titanium, originally considered an impurity that made iron mining in the area even more difficult. That mine, at Tahawus, ceased operations in the 1980s. The nineteenth-century blast furnace was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Mosquitoes were out of control when I visited in the summer, so I would recommend coming in early fall, after the first freeze but well before snowfall. You would probably see more of the old equipment with the underbrush dead as well. Signs warn you to stay away from the stone walls, steep drop offs, and rusty equipment. I didn’t see any obvious danger, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is a cool site, but not worth injuring yourself, especially when the nearest hospital is so far away.

MacIntyre Iron Furnace is located off Upper Works Road, on the west bank of the Hudson River in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. There is no address or operating hours. Its GPS coordinates are N 44° 04.735 W 074° 03.394. Explore at your own risk!

Does President Trump Want to Build Steam-Powered Aircraft Carriers?

Business Insider publishes wildly biased and misleading news story about Trump’s recent visit to Japan.

An unusual-sounding headline popped up in my news feed today. “Trump tells troops that future US supercarriers are ‘going to use steam’ in a weird rant about an obsession he can’t seem to shake.” Written by Ryan Pickrell for Business Insider, this alleged news story and its misleading headline is rife with opinionated and obviously biased descriptors and characterizations.

When I read this headline, it conjured an image of President Trump advocating a return to late 19th Century steam-powered ships. After all, that would be a “weird rant” about future US supercarriers using steam. You have to read past the headline to find out what actually happened.

In an address to sailors and Marines on the USS Wasp in Japan earlier today, President Trump mentioned he might issue an order for the Navy’s new Ford-class supercarriers to use steam-powered launchers to catapult aircraft off the flight deck, rather than the planned Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. “The US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers have used steam launchers for decades,” the article explains.

Trump is concerned the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System is much more expensive without any added benefit. It also appears the majority of Naval personnel support continued use of the simpler steam launchers. So Trump is bringing up an issue to win favor with the troops, hardly something “weird” or controversial.

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Eddie’s Paramount Diner in Rome, New York

Eddie’s Paramount Diner, at 414 W. Dominick Street in Rome, New York is a modified 1941 O’Mahony style diner. You can still see the side of the original metal dining car under the roof.

Diner Resources