Archive for: February, 2008

Who ya gonna call? Ghost doctor, ghost-finder, or ghost-seer?

Feb 28 2008 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

"Psychic detectives" are very much in vogue again on television these days. Shows such as Medium and Ghost Whisperer try and entertain viewers with psychic-types attempting to solve crimes and right past wrongs using their supernatural abilities.

The idea of a professional supernatural stalker in fiction is much older, though, and can be traced back to the mid-1800s. I recently decided to go on a "psychic detective" reading binge, and below the fold I summarize a bit of the history of the concept and rate the skills of the various investigators...

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Light breaking its own speed limit: how 'superluminal' shenanigans work

Feb 26 2008 Published by under Optics

In a previous optics basics post, we discussed challenges associated with trying to define the velocity of a localized wave or 'pulse' of light. Traditional measurements of the velocity of an object involve measuring how far Δd an object travels in a certain amount of time Δt; then the velocity is simply

velocity = distance/time = Δd/Δt.

But a wave is an extended disturbance, not definitely associated with any particular point in space, and so measuring Δd becomes tricky. If there is a definite feature of the wave (such as a peak), we can define the velocity by measuring how fast the peak moves. If the wave changes shape (i.e. the peak disappears), as happens when waves propagate in matter, it is not immediately clear how one defines wave velocity.

The answer, as discussed previously, seems to be to define a 'group' velocity: we can mathematically characterize the velocity of the overall wave signal by

$latex Delta omega/Delta k$,

where Δω is the range of temporal frequencies in the wave pulse and Δk is the range of spatial wavenumbers in the pulse. This measure seemed quite good: under most circumstances, the quantity was less than the vacuum speed of light c, and therefore didn't violate Einstein's relativity, and those cases where the group velocity was greater than c seemed to always involve a significant attenuation or distortion of the wave.

However, in 2000 researchers Wang, Kuzmich and Dogariu from the NEC Research Institute shocked the physics and optics community by demonstrating* that materials exist for which the group velocity is greater than c, sometimes much greater than c, and the pulse travels at this higher speed without any obvious distortion or attenuation. What was going on?

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Half-Life, in Legos

Feb 24 2008 Published by under Entertainment

Still some light posting this weekend, as I'm in the house-buying mode. Something I came across recently, which is a little old but entertaining: an enterprising Norwegian teenager has been recreating, with stop-motion animation and Legos, the entire first Half-Life video game! He's up to seven parts so far, and they get increasingly entertaining. The video of part 1 is linked below the fold:

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Math fonts in LaTeX

Feb 22 2008 Published by under Mathematics

Over at The Daily Photon, Andrew Dawes has put up a nice post outlining how to use different fonts in LaTeX: including finding a math font that matches the text.

I find this especially helpful because, in writing Powerpoint talks, I often run into a conflict between using TeXPoint for my LaTeX equations and a pretty font for my regular text.  It gets rather annoying having to juggle several fonts in order to make certain that the (inline) equations and variables are comparable to LaTeX's standard fonts.

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Want conservatives on campus? Use socialism!

Feb 21 2008 Published by under [Politics]

This made me laugh.  Via The Agonist (through Crooks & Liars), we get the story of the Woessners, professors at Pennsylvania State University.  The Woessners (one conservative, one liberal) did a study to investigate why so few conservatives end up as professors in academia.  Among their many findings and conclusions, they recommend:

 The research led the Woessners to conclude that if higher education wants to attract more conservatives to the professoriate, it should smooth the way financially, offering subsidized health insurance and housing for graduate students, and adopting family-friendly policies for professors.

In other words, to get more conservatives to be professors, adopt very socialist hiring policies!

This is inspiring a bit of a rant in me; if you'd like to see some other reasons why very few professors might be into right-wing policies, look below the fold...

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Blogroll update!

Feb 21 2008 Published by under Personal

I finally decided to update my blogroll the other day with some of the sites that have quickly become required reading for me. It still amazes me how many great authors, in a variety of different disciplines and professions, are willing to share their thoughts and insights.

Anyway, I encourage people to take a look. My only requirements for putting someone on the 'roll is that they write their blog posts semi-often and that their work is interesting and enlightening to read!

A little note: I may be a bit quiet in posting over the next few days: I've got a midterm to grade, and a paper draft to finish before a visitor arrives next week. Those tasks will probably keep me pretty busy.

Update: Oh, and I am probably buying a house with my girlfriend over the weekend. Not surprisingly, this is occupying a lot of my thoughts...

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Relativity: Newtonian relativity

Feb 19 2008 Published by under Physics, Relativity

In the first post on Einstein's relativity, we discussed the discoveries and theories which served as the precursors to Einstein's work. The most significant of these is Newton's own version of relativity, now dubbed 'Newtonian relativity'. Before we continue a discussion of the speed of light and how it relates to Einstein's work, it will be useful to go into a little more detail about Newtonian relativity and conclusions which can be drawn from it.

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Gun fanatics self-refute their own arguments (updated X 2)

Feb 18 2008 Published by under [Politics]

In the wake of the appalling Northern Illinois University tragedy, it has been depressing to see the right-wing gun fanatics making the same tired and irrational arguments against any sort of gun regulation and, even worse, in favor of unrestricted concealed-carry laws on campuses. You can see all of these arguments brought forth by the extremists in the comments section of this post on Carpetbagger.

What astonishes me more than anything is that the extreme views of the gun fanatics make them living refutations of their own arguments. Reasonable people could convince me that there is a good middle ground on gun control, in which law-abiding citizens can own weapons with some restrictions; the fanatics push my temperament much closer to a full ban. This is a shame, because I have a lot of good friends who are gun owners and whom I have literally trusted with my life - I would hate to see crazies shift the gun discussion to the point where no reasonable solutions to gun violence can be found.

In the spirit of trying to push a reasonable discussion on gun violence - or maybe just to rant - I thought I'd refute, again, some of the common refrains of gun fanatics.

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Bentley Little's The Return

Feb 17 2008 Published by under Horror

My horror blogging has motivated me to go out and broaden my horizons and read some authors I've never considered before.  Bentley Little's 2002 book The Return, which is ostensibly about a legendary Bigfoot-like monster, the Mogollon Monster, and an archaeological excavation which inadvertently awakens the creature.  This sounded like a story that I would enjoy, so I gave it a try!  Unfortunately, it didn't really hold up to its promise.  Details after the fold...

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Friday catblogging: Eleanor!

Feb 15 2008 Published by under Animals

I've done a bit of catblogging before about my insane cat Zoe.  Another cat inspired me to adopt Zoe in the first place, and I thought I'd share that story, since it's still ongoing!  After the fold, meet Eleanor!

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