Archive for: December, 2007

Roald Dahl: Master of macabre misdirection... and children's stories!

Dec 17 2007 Published by under Horror, Horror Masters

Our next horror master is Roald Dahl (1916-1990), Welsh author and screenwriter. Most people probably know Dahl as the author of such famous children's books as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda. A lot of these people would probably be surprised to learn that Dahl also wrote numerous nasty and exceedingly clever short stories, some of which are famous in their own right.

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A new Cloverfield video...

Dec 15 2007 Published by under Entertainment, Horror

A new clip for the movie Cloverfield has come out, revealing a bit more of the party scene leading up to the beginning of the end of New York City.  Cloverfield, for those who haven't heard yet, is a movie from producer J.J. Abrams about a gigantic monster descending on and apparently destroying New York City.  Sounds like a familiar plot, right?  The twist is that the movie is entirely from the point of view of digital video taken by someone who happened to be in town during all these calamitous events - sort of a 'Blair Witch Godzilla.'

Personally, I'm really intrigued by and looking forward to the film, which comes out in January.  It looks to be incredibly tense and creepy, and as the film is shot at night, we don't get a clear view at whatever is wrecking the city, which is the right way to go.

Incidentally, J.J. Abrams is also the executive producer of Lost, which may be a positive or a negative for you...

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Relativity Denialists: Like the Heads of the Hydra...

Dec 14 2007 Published by under ... the Hell?, Physics

Now I know how Hercules must have felt. Like the mythical hydra, you slap down one relativity denialist, and two more pop up in his place. In my case, one appeared as a comment on my blog (filtered as spam - I have a wise filter), and another appeared as spam email in my work mailbox. I haven't looked at the latter one yet, and will post on it later, if entertaining enough, but let's take a look at our commenter, John Ryskamp (after the fold; it's loooooong)...

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Glow in the dark cats!

Dec 14 2007 Published by under Animals, Science news

And here I thought that this image was simply a nice photoshopped picture that somebody made for I Can Has Cheezburger! But, no, it turns out that scientists in South Korea have managed to make cloned cats that glow red when exposed to ultraviolet light! By using a virus to insert a genetic marker for generating fluorescent proteins, the researchers have made what will probably become the next big novelty pet craze. Worried about your cat attacking your ankles without warning? Flick on the black light, and see where she's hiding! (Warning: You might find more than you bargained for...)

In all seriousness, this is an amazing accomplishment. Being able to insert functional genes into an animal means that better research can be done on a variety of genetic diseases, which means that better treatment options may soon become available for such diseases.

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An old, sad story of torture

Dec 13 2007 Published by under [Politics]

Through Hullabaloo, I was reminded of an amazing and incredibly tragic correspondence from Germany in the year 1628. Burgomaster Johannes Junius was tried and convicted of witchcraft, and eventually burned at the stake for these crimes. Before his execution, however, he managed to smuggle a letter to his daughter. Some 'highlights' of said letter after the fold:

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Mythbusters missed a few!

Dec 12 2007 Published by under Physics, Sports

I just finished watching the new episode of Mythbusters, in which they investigate a famous scene from the movie Point Break: Patrick Swayze leaps from a plane at 4000 feet, and Keanu Reeves hems and haws for fifteen seconds before jumping after him, sans parachute, and manages to catch up, have an argument, and finally pull the parachute some 90 seconds after the first departure, landing together.  As a skydiver myself, I found this somewhat entertaining to watch.

Mythbusters handled 3 myths:  Can you freefall 90 seconds from 4000 feet (no, unless you want to spend 60 of those seconds dead), can you have a conversation in freefall (they say no, though I've understood a few shouted phrases in freefall myself), and can you catch a skydiver after giving him a fifteen second head start (yes, you can fall REALLY fast in a 'head-down' skydiving position).

They actually missed a few dubious aspects of the Point Break scene, though, that might make good fodder for future episodes...

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Optics basics: What is a wave? Part IV: Important quantities

Dec 12 2007 Published by under Optics, Optics basics

To conclude my discussion of optics basics, I want to introduce some of the standard quantities used to describe waves and wave propagation. Unlike previous 'basics' posts, this one will necessarily deal with a little bit of algebra and perhaps a little trigonometry.

The simplest wave to deal with from a theoretical point of view is a harmonic wave, one which consists of an infinite sequence of regularly spaced 'ups and downs'. A portion of such a wave traveling to the right on an extremely long string would appear as:

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Night of the Meteorites!

Dec 12 2007 Published by under Science news

For those interested in astronomy and cool space phenomena, there's a treat coming up tomorrow night: one of the best meteor showers of the year will have its peak on December 13th (h/t Americablog).  The Geminid meteor shower will be best seen from Central Asia to Alaska, but North America should still get a pretty good show.

As long as it doesn't bring with it a cheesy 80s-style apocalypse, I'll be excited to see if I can see anything.

(And, yes, I know the difference between a meteorite and a comet.  Don't ruin my joke.)

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Optics basics: What is a wave? Part III: Diffraction

Dec 10 2007 Published by under Optics, Optics basics

In part II of my series on 'What is a wave?', I addressed one of the two most significant behaviors of waves, namely interference, the ability of a wave to 'interact' with itself. The second behavior of waves which is extremely significant is diffraction, and we will address it in this post.

Diffraction may be broadly defined as the tendency of a wave traveling in two or more dimensions to spread out as it propagates. The most significant consequence of this spreading is the ability of waves to 'bend around corners' when faced with an obstacle. We all have experienced the diffraction of sound waves: if you and a friend stand on opposite sides of a large building (say a farmhouse) in the middle of an open field, you will be able to talk to each other even though there is no direct 'line of sight' between you and your friend, and no ability for the sound waves to reflect off of intermediate surfaces. The sound waves wrap around (diffract around) the outside of the farmhouse, allowing communication.

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Clive Barker's Mister B. Gone

Dec 09 2007 Published by under Horror

Clive Barker is back with a new novel!  Mister B. Gone is now available in a lovely hardcover edition.  The dust jacket labels it a 'tour de force of the supernatural.'  That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Clive Barker has written a nice, compact, unconventional horror novel.

The hardcover edition itself is lovely, as I have said: it has an antiquated-looking dust jacket  combined with an ornate lining and artificially yellowed pages.  This is all part of the book's premise: you are not holding a mass-produced novel written in 2007, but rather a unique volume put together in the year 1438, which contains the bound soul of a demon who will speak directly to you through the course of the reading, growing more angry and sinister as you progress.

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