Archive for: August, 2007

Optics basics: The three major branches of optical science

Aug 31 2007 Published by under Optics, Optics basics

Since this is supposed to be in large part a science-focused blog, I wanted to get started with some serious posts about scientific topics. Like most of the established science bloggers, I'll be mixing up posts which are on basic scientific concepts and posts which are on specific, technical, topics. This post will be one of the former.

My physics specialization and area of research is optical science. Though most people associate the word 'optics' with the engineering of lenses for eyeglasses, telescopes, and microscopes, in physics the term more broadly refers to the study of the behavior of light and its interactions with matter. The connection to eyeglasses and the like is not accidental, however: the development of various optical tools led scientists to study more closely the behavior of the light that those tools channeled.

Today, we may roughly group the study of optics into three broad subfields of study:

  1. Geometrical optics, the study of light as rays
  2. Physical optics, the study of light as waves
  3. Quantum optics, the study of light as particles

Let's look at each of these subfields in turn, both historically and scientifically.

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Temporary slowdown

Aug 30 2007 Published by under Personal

I hate to do this so soon after starting my blog, but I'll be having a posting slowdown over the next few weeks as I travel on business to Amsterdam, the Ukraine, and then San Jose. I'll try and throw in a few insightful posts (with pictures) of the various places I end up...

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... the Hell? Republican sex scandals

Aug 28 2007 Published by under ... the Hell?, [Politics]

Yet another Republican politician has resigned in the wake of a sex scandal. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was arrested in June for apparently soliciting lewd conduct in an airport men's bathroom. He pled guilty to the charge of disorderly conduct. The details of the case were only revealed this Monday.

There's been a rash of Republican sex scandals in recent years, indeed a staggering number of them. Most publicly we have the Mark Foley scandal, in which the Republican congressman was caught trading sexually explicit electronic messages with underage former congressional pages, which led to a resignation. More recently, we have Florida Republican Robert Allen arrested soliciting sex in a public park. There are numerous others.

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8 responses so far

Abu G outta da house... (updated)

Aug 27 2007 Published by under [Politics]

Alberto Gonzales has resigned. I can't say I'll miss him, and it's already been noted that there really isn't anyone, outside of the president, and maybe Cheney, who's sad to see him go. It's important, though, as our brains flood with serotonin, to keep in mind exactly what sort of person we've gotten rid of:

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Exciting film projects which may never get made...

Here's an interesting tidbit for Robert E. Howard fans: an animated film version of the Conan story Red Nails is in production.  I stumbled across the web site for it a few weeks ago, and it looks like it is aiming to be a truly faithful adaptation of the original story.  To get really excited about it, just look at the cast, and in particular who's been chosen for the voice of Conan.  (This actor would probably be a great choice to play Conan in a live-action movie, except that he probably couldn't muster up the full mane of black hair any more.)

The only problem?  The film has been in production for quite a long time and it's unclear if production has been halted or not.  The movie blog, which was supposed to be updated every two weeks, hasn't been updated since June.  Here's hoping it gets released -- it would be nice to see a proper depiction of the barbarian, which doesn't depict him as a steroid-addled buffoon or part of a 'Conan and friends' ensemble.

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Films too good to describe

Aug 24 2007 Published by under Entertainment

All the talk about the movie Hot Fuzz in my earlier post got me thinking about another curious category of movie.

First, let me say a few words about Hot Fuzz: it's an action film parody/homage by the same people who brought us the exquisite Shaun of the Dead. The story begins when a far-too-competent London police officer (Nicholas Angel) is reassigned to a quiet little small town because he's making his colleagues look bad. Once he arrives in the small town, a series of grisly murders take place, and Angle's investigation finally culminates in some explosive action.

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In the footsteps of Mythos... (updated)

Aug 23 2007 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) is one of the most influential horror authors people have never heard of. He was a direct inspiration to most of the leading horror voices of this generation, including Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell.

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6 responses so far

What created the Khmer Rouge? (updated)

Aug 22 2007 Published by under [Politics]

One of my major irritations in life is feeling like I know better than supposed 'experts' in a particular job or field of study -- even though I know absolutely nothing about the job or field in question. A few years ago, I took my car back to the dealer because the power steering was crapping out every time I went over railroad tracks. The dealership listened patiently to my story, rebooted the car's computer system and told me everything was fixed. The steering problem was clearly a mechanical problem, which was confirmed the very next time I went over the railroad tracks.

The reason I mention this? CNN reports that Bush is going to start invoking Vietnam when he argues against troop withdrawal:

"Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields,' " the president will say.

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4 responses so far

The best bad films that ever were

Aug 21 2007 Published by under Entertainment

I recently was wandering through the local Borders and found that they've finally released the 1980's Flash Gordon in a nice DVD box set.  I've loved this film since my college days, when I would get together with a number of friends on a semi-weekly basis to watch the film and enjoy it.  My girlfriend, however, was rather appalled by the film.

This got me thinking about other films that are ridiculously flawed yet astonishingly enjoyable nevertheless.  The only other example that comes to mind is The Fifth Element, which I saw in the theater while in grad school.  I still vividly recall trying to explain to my friend Jim how horrible the film was, only to have him respond, "But I enjoyed it!"  My response: "So did I, but it's a horrible film!"

It seems there's a class of films which are utterly and completely flawed -- poor acting, inconsistent and incomprehensible storyline, cardboard characters -- but which are still incredibly fun and enjoyable to watch.  This baffles me.

Before anyone comments, I'm not simply referring to films which have camp value -- as a regular MST3K viewer, I know there exist films which are fun to watch because they're bad.  What I'm talking about here are films that are fun to watch in spite of being bad.  I genuinely like watching Flash Gordon, and actually care what happens to the characters in the story.
I'm somehow able to get past all the ridiculousness in the film and enjoy it for what it was (apparently) intended to be.

Does this make any sense?  I'm still trying to understand this myself.  Anyone have any other examples of such 'good in spite of being bad' films?

16 responses so far

Don't read those bloggers... they're unclean!

Aug 20 2007 Published by under [Politics]

Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report notes that, over the weekend, Michael Skube, a professor of journalism at Elon University, wrote an op-ed in the LA Times blasting blogs:

There was something appealing about this argument -- one that no blogger would reject -- when Lasch advanced italmost two decades ago. But now we have the opportunity to witness it in practice, thanks to the blogosphere, and the results are less than satisfying. One gets the uneasy sense that the blogosphere is a potpourri of opinion and little more. The opinions are occasionally informed, often tiresomely cranky and never in doubt. Skepticism, restraint, a willingness to suspect judgment and to put oneself in the background -- these would not seem to be a blogger's trademarks.

But they are, more often than not, trademarks of the kind of journalism that makes a difference. And if there is anything bloggers want more than an audience, it's knowing they are making a difference in politics. They are, to give them their due, changing what is euphemistically called the national "conversation." But what is the nature of that change? Does it deepen our understanding? Does it broaden our perspective?

The answer, according to Skube, seems to be 'no'. This seems to be the prevailing opinion of the 'elite' in journalism and, sadly, in academia: bloggers aren't real journalists, they're too rude and too partisan to have any integrity, they don't provide any deeper understanding of an issue.

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