Archive for: April, 2008

Richard Laymon and a bit of a horror fiction pet peeve

Apr 28 2008 Published by under Horror

As I believe I've mentioned before, part of my motivation for writing this blog was to give myself a reason to reinvestigate one of my "lost loves": horror fiction. I've been reading massive amounts of horror since then, from some of the oldest Gothic works to the most recent publications. Some of it has been edifying, but some of it has also been rather disappointing.

One of the contemporary authors I've been investigating is Richard Laymon, who has been in print since 1980. I've never read his stuff before, but recently I gave two of his books a try. One, The Beast House, is from his early phase, and the other, To Wake the Dead, is only a few years old. I discuss both books, which are... okay, below the fold, but they also remind me of one of my pet peeves of contemporary horror fiction, which I feel like ranting about a bit.

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A couple of cool, albeit impractical, clocks

Apr 28 2008 Published by under General science

I'm between "blog thoughts" today, but I thought I'd point out a couple of cool clocks that I "stumbled upon" in recent weeks. Though I don't think either of them will help Tom with his research, they're both pretty cool. Below the fold...

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Tim Lebbon: "Berserk" and "The Everlasting"

Apr 26 2008 Published by under Horror

I haven't been doing much horror blogging recently, though I have been busy with horror reading. A couple of books by Tim Lebbon recently caught my eye, and I thought I'd offer a few thoughts about them.

First, a rhetorical question: what is it with the U.K. and horror? So many of the best horror authors these days are British: there's Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, and Graham Masterton, to name a few. Now we can also add to that list Tim Lebbon. Though I don't necessarily rank him as the equal, yet, to the other authors I've mentioned, he's an excellent writer with some intriguing ideas. His first novel came out in 1996, so he hasn't been around as long as the others, either.

Two novels whose premises caught my attention that I had to read were Lebbon's Berserk and The Everlasting, and I discuss them both below the fold...

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New theoretical results in the study of extraordinary optical transmission

Apr 25 2008 Published by under Optics, Physics

ResearchBlogging.org Right after "challenging" my fellow science bloggers to find and write about an old scientific paper, I take a hypocritical turn and write about some recent results in the theory of extraordinary optical transmission!

In a paper that came out recently in Nature*, authors Haitao Liu and Philippe Lalanne present a new model for the phenomenon now known as "extraordinary optical transmission". The relatively simple pen-and-paper model they've developed provides results which are quantitatively in agreement with exact numerical simulations, and promises to be a powerful tool in the study of plasmonic nano-optical systems.

But what is extraordinary optical transmission, what are plasmons, and what is the relevance of both to nano-optics? Before I describe the results of the recent publication, I give a background on these questions, and others related to nano-optics.

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A fun challenge for science bloggers

Apr 23 2008 Published by under General science

Note: For those looking for it, I've put up an official page with links to all entries here.

One of the things that I still find incredibly fun about being a scientist is the ability to "touch" history, in the form of the original publication of now famous scientific results. I'm reminded of my undergraduate days, when a classmate and I were discussing the topic of Čerenkov radiation, which had become relevant in our high-energy physics discussions. We didn't completely understand the idea, so the next day my classmate came in with a photocopy of Čerenkov's original (well, translated) 1934 paper. That was the first time it dawned on me that, as scientists, we could go right to the "source", so to speak, and in essence learn about science from the famous people who performed it.

There's a lot more to learn in going to the source than one might think. As Tom at Swans on Tea observed recently,

The “materials at hand” is one thing that continually amazes me. I read details of some century-old experiment and am reminded that their apparatus and supplies were hand-crafted, often in the same lab. You read about Rutherford doing alpha-scattering experiments in pure nitrogen. Did he order a tank of compressed nitrogen from the local welding-supplies shop, like I do? Of course not.

The nitrogen was obtained by the well-known method of adding ammonium chloride to sodium nitrite, and stored over water.

(My well-known method involves the internet and a credit card)

My "challenge", for those sciencebloggers who choose to accept it, is this: read and research an old, classic scientific paper and write a blog post about it. I recommend choosing something pre- World War II, as that was the era of hand-crafted, "in your basement"-style science. There's a lot to learn not only about the ingenuity of researchers in an era when materials were not readily available, but also about the problems and concerns of scientists of that era, often things we take for granted now!

(I've already got my paper picked out, though I miscalculated a bit: I thought it was a straightforward experiment that couldn't be more than a two-page paper, but it's about 40 pages - and in German!)

P.S. Hopefully it was clear from the original post, but my "challenge" extends to sciencebloggers of all branches, not just physics bloggers: I'd be really interested to read about some of the landmark papers in biology, chemistry, and math, too!

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The Animated Skeleton, by Anonymous

Apr 23 2008 Published by under Horror

I have a tendency, when I start to study a subject, of pushing continuously further back in the subject's history. This is certainly true of my horror readings, in which I've now regressed into studying early Gothic fiction.

I've mentioned before how today might be considered a 'golden age' of sorts for studying classic horror, because of the number of quality publishers printing extremely rare texts. Yet another publisher of this sort is Valancourt Books, which specializes in the publishing of early Gothic fiction. The first title I decided to read is The Animated Skeleton, by an anonymous author, and I discuss it, with some spoilers, below the fold...

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Ach! Zombies!

Apr 22 2008 Published by under Entertainment

For the first April in a while, I'm really sorry I'm not back in Chicago (usually the weather's still too crappy to contemplate). On the 26th, there will be a zombie pub crawl in the city!

The best part is this: even if you don't stumble effectively like a zombie at the beginning of the night, you'll have it mastered by the end!

(Via Shakesville; "There; pretty as a picture!")

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O'Reilly goon gets his rhetorical ass handed to him

Apr 22 2008 Published by under [Politics], Religion

Via yet another tangled web of links (via Crooks&Liars, via BradBlog, via RatTube), we find this rather remarkable Fox "News" video. In late March 2008, the Reverend Michael Pfleger invited Jeremiah Wright, conservative demon of the month, to deliver a blessing at Saint Sabina in Chicago. Bill O'Reilly sent one of his ill-informed conservative waifs to ambush, harass and interrogate the Reverend, but the Reverend wasn't going to be readily pushed around. Video link after the fold:

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Skydiving again, finally!

Apr 21 2008 Published by under Sports

I finally managed to make a couple of skydives this weekend, after about a six-week hiatus.  My undesired "break" from the sport was a combination of bad weather on the weekends at home and travel on the others.  In celebration of getting back in the swing of things, I post a video of a jump I did about 8 years ago in upstate New York (below the fold):

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Invisibility Physics: Acceleration without radiation, part I

Apr 19 2008 Published by under Invisibility, Optics, Physics

A couple of years ago, a number of physicists made international news (some descriptions here and here) by proposing that "cloaking devices" were theoretically possible to construct. Two papers appeared consecutively in Science Magazine in May 2006, one by U. Leonhardt of the University of St Andrews, Scotland (Science 23 June 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5781, pp. 1777 - 1780), and the other by J.B. Pendry of Imperial College, London and D. Schurig and D.R. Smith of Duke University (Science 23 June 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5781, pp. 1780 - 1782). Both papers describe how, with the proper materials, one could create devices which 'guide' light around a central core region without distortion, effectively making the cloak, and whatever sits in the core, invisible. This idea is illustrated by the figure below, from the Pendry paper, which shows how light rays could be guided around the core:

These papers have generated so much interest that it is fair to say that they have created their own subfield of optical science, what one might call 'invisibility physics', and numerous research groups are busy concocting their own invisibility schemes or attempting to construct a Leonhardt/Pendry-style device.

It is interesting to note, however, that the study of objects which are in some sense 'invisible' is not really new, and in fact there is a century-long history of scientists studying objects which may be considered, one way or another, undetectable.

I happen to know a lot about the history of such objects, so I thought I'd start yet another long-running series of posts, this one on invisibility physics. We start today with a discussion of what may be the first paper of this type, written by none other than the remarkable physicist Paul Ehrenfest.

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