Archive for: May, 2008

China earthquake and a word about seiches

May 16 2008 Published by under General science, Physics, Science news

The tally of death and devastation in China in the aftermath of the earthquake continues to grow; now the official death toll is 22,000, with 14,000 still buried under rubble. In addition, repeated aftershocks are hitting the region.

Numerous eyewitness videos have been posted online since the event. This one in particular caught my eye, which shows a group of students outdoors experiencing the quake firsthand. It is a bit chilling to see their enthusiasm, knowing the devastation that was being wrought far away, but the students clearly felt that they were experiencing a small local quake, and had no idea that they were in fact 500 miles from the epicenter.

The part of the video that caught my eye was the sloshing of the water in the small pond. I believe this could be considered a small-scale version of a relatively little-known water wave phenomenon known as a seiche.

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Richard Marsh's The Joss: A Reversion

May 16 2008 Published by under Horror

Richard Marsh was a prolific writer of horror, suspense and mystery stories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I've previously blogged about his most famous work, The Beetle: A Mystery, an 1897 horror tale that was so popular that it outsold its contemporary Dracula for some time. The other night I finished reading another of Marsh's works, his 1901 novel The Joss: A Reversion. The facsimile of the original cover is below:

I have to say that I enjoyed The Joss even more than The Beetle! I give a brief description of the tale below the fold...

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How my mind works

May 15 2008 Published by under ... the Hell?

So I just got a new laptop from the university last week, and have started the process of moving all my files and software onto it.  My old laptop, which still works just fine, I left at my girlfriend's place for the time being.

Yesterday I went over to her place for the night.  When I got there, I noticed with some chagrin that I had forgotten to bring the power cord for the new laptop.  This really bugs me, because I have a hard time working when I'm on 'borrowed time', so to speak.

"But wait!" I thought to myself, "Maybe the power cord for my old laptop will work with the new one!"

So I went over to the cabinet, moved aside the perfectly functional old laptop to get at its power cord, and found that it wasn't compatible.  So I put the perfectly functional old laptop back in place, went to the couch and sulked that I wouldn't be able to work very long on the computer that evening.

It took me a half-hour to realize that I had missed a pretty obvious solution.

*points at self* Ph.D. in physics, ladies and gentlemen!  *bows*

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Get your ass to Mars!

May 13 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction

(Title courtesy of the movie Total Recall.)

The planet Mars has always been a source of fascination (as is its sister planet Venus, but that's another post). As we have seen (here and here), in reality Mars can be quite an interesting place, but it has also served as an exotic locale for fantasy and science fiction adventures. Recently I started stumbling across various classic adventure stories set on the red planet, and after a couple of weeks of marathon reading, I thought I would do a post about them!

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Measuring neural activity using surface plasmons

May 12 2008 Published by under Optics, Physics In the May 1st issue of Optics Letters, a Korean research group has demonstrated another interesting application of surface plasmon resonances: the optical measurement of neural activity. Though I'm not sure how useful this technique will be in the long run, it shows that surface excitations can be used in sensors in many situations when an ordinary optical wave is not sensitive enough. A description after the fold...

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A shout-out to Valancourt Books!

May 10 2008 Published by under Horror

Have I mentioned how much I like Valancourt Books?  A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed their reprint of a rare Gothic classic, The Animated Skeleton, and even got a nice comment from the publisher/editor of Valancourt.  I vowed to look into more of Valancourt's publications, but didn't even realize that I already had!  In addition to publishing a line of classic Gothic literature, they've been printing classics of the 1890s, including a number of books by suspense/weird fiction writer Richard Marsh.  This is a real treat; as I've noted before in my discussion of Marsh's book The Beetle, he was an extremely popular author of his time (even outselling Dracula for a while).  I've been looking into buying more of Marsh's work, and had purchased Marsh's The Joss: A Reversion and The Seen and the Unseen without realizing they were also Valancourt editions!

I'll eventually get to commenting more on Marsh's work on this blog, but I thought I'd mention that Valancourt is doing an excellent job reprinting these classic 'lost' works.  The book quality is excellent, and an added treat is that the covers are reproductions of the original editions.

Fans of classic horror, suspense, and mysteries would be well-advised to give these editions a look.  In addition, there's currently a sale on a number of Valancourt's titles, including some of Marsh's work; check them out!

There were whispers on the message boards at Valancourt that they may produce a new edition of The Beetle, in which case I'll be replacing my rather flimsy current copy...

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H.P. Lovecraft on Superstition

May 09 2008 Published by under Lovecraft

I'm in between blog major blog posts right now, but I thought I'd highlight another very timely essay of H.P. Lovecraft's, in which he discusses superstition in times of trouble.  This can be found in the excellent collection of Lovecraft's philosophical essays, and excerpts appear below the fold.  The essay appeared in the magazine Conservative 4, No. 1 (July 1918), pp. 4-5.

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Another unintentionally funny news title

May 08 2008 Published by under ... the Hell?

I went to work out a little while ago and turned on Headline News to catch up.  Violence has unfortunately flared in Lebanon again, and a CNN news crew is caught in the middle.

CNN likes to update the caption of their 'breaking news' frame with background information.  By the time I had tuned in, the caption read:

BREAKING NEWS:  Political instability has existed in Lebanon for months

I guess it depends on your definition of 'breaking'...

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Waiting for the ILL...

May 08 2008 Published by under Personal

I feel like a kid again.

When I was young, I scrupulously saved my 'proof-of-purchase' from all my Star Wars figures so that I could get the precious Boba Fett action figure, which could only be purchased through mail order. Oddly, as I recall, this was before The Empire Strikes Back came out, so nobody actually knew who Boba Fett was, but I didn't care: he looked cool. The challenge was waiting the 6-8 weeks for delivery, which made me think, as Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes once said, "I'll be OLD then!"

I've got that feeling again, but now it isn't action figures I'm waiting for (I swear I just heard a huge sigh of relief from the fiancée), but articles ordered through InterLibrary Loan. I've been having so much fun reading and researching old scientific papers that I've put in about a dozen requests over the past couple of weeks, all for papers which are circa 1900 and extremely out of date. (The librarians have to be wondering what on Earth is going through my head.) Now I find myself compulsively checking the library web page, just like I checked the mailbox as a kid, and impatiently shaking my fist at the screen.

On the bright side, the articles I've gotten so far are utterly fascinating, and once I've got them all together I'll have a really neat post. Stay tuned!

(Hooray! As I was writing this, an email arrived, telling me that another ILL arrived!)

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How high can you fall from?

May 07 2008 Published by under Sports

My friend Personal Demon tipped me off to a potentially historic skydiving event that will be happening in roughly 17 days; Michel Fournier of France will attempt to break the record for the highest freefall.  Ascending in a pressurized capsule attached to a high-altitude balloon, Fournier will dive from 130,000 feet (25 miles) over the plains of Saskatchewan, Canada.

The previous record goes back to Joseph Kittinger, Air Force pilot and all-around Übermensch.  In 1960, he participated in Project Excelsior, which was implemented to study the effects of high-altitude bailout on pilots.  Kittinger left a balloon at 102,800 feet, and fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds reaching a maximum speed of 614 mph!  (Kittinger is less-known for being one of the few pilots who had to bail out of his jet in a thunderstorm.  The storms kept him aloft under parachute for 20 minutes before dumping him to the ground.)

Fournier's group claims that their event is being done for similar medical and technological reasons, but it will at the very least be a very cool human accomplishment.  I'm staying tuned...

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