Archive for: July, 2008

15 days until The Giant's Shoulders #2!

Jul 31 2008 Published by under General science, Science news

This seemed like as good a time as any to remind readers that we’re 15 days out before the deadline of The Giant’s Shoulders #2, to be held at The Lay Scientist.  Entries can be submitted through, or sent directly to the host.  I'll keep pestering and reminding people about the carnival until it takes on a sufficient life of its own...

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Feeling history in your bones: Brühl's Terrace

Jul 31 2008 Published by under Science news

Via OhGizmo!, we find that an exhibit exists (or did exist) on Brühl's Terrace in Dresden, Germany, which allows one to experience the simulated sounds of the devastating 1945 bombing of the city simply by resting oneself against a railing on the terrace in the appropriate manner (image from OhGizmo!):

The technology, evidently referred to as 'touched echo', is more descriptively known as bone conduction technology, and relies on the transmission of sounds directly to the inner ear through vibrations in the skull, rather than vibrations in the eardrum.  The inner ear responds to vibration of the fluid contained within it, and in principle anything which produces such a vibration will be interpreted as 'sound'.

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H. Rider Haggard's She

Jul 29 2008 Published by under Adventure fiction, Fantasy fiction

Before Indiana Jones, there was Allan Quatermain, elephant hunter and adventurer/explorer of Africa. Quatermain was the creation of H. Ridger Haggard (1856-1925), and was featured in the novels King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quatermain. Haggard's work was informed by his own experiences working for the British government in one of their South African colonies, and his works are still in print to this day, though not as widely read as they once were.

I recently finished reading Haggard's other famous adventure/romance, She (1887), in preparation for another lengthy survey of weird fiction, and I thought I'd share some thoughts on the novel.

The "She" of the title refers to a legendary white queen of an isolated African tribe, though her full title is, "She who must be obeyed" (she's also named Ayesha, but that's not nearly as impressive sounding). The novel tells the tale of a trio of adventurers who risk life and limb to travel in search of her.

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Freezing images in an atomic vapor!

Jul 25 2008 Published by under Optics, Physics
I thought I'd step out of my comfort zone and specific field of expertise for once and do a post on some interesting quantum optics. In a June issue of Physical Review Letters, an Israeli research group experimentally demonstrated the ability to store and retrieve optical images in an atomic vapor using so-called 'electromagnetically induced transparency', a purely quantum-mechanical effect. Researchers have previously demonstrated the ability to 'freeze' light pulses in an atomic medium, but this is the first time to my knowledge that a structured two-dimensional image has been given the same treatment. To fully describe the research and its significance, however, we need to say a little bit about how atoms and molecules absorb and emit light.

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No surprise: Girls just as good at math as boys

Jul 24 2008 Published by under Science news

The title says it all: via CNN, we learn that a comprehensive study published today in Science (for those with access, the article can be read here) shows that girls perform just as well as boys in mathematics. This study is the largest and most detailed of its kind, comparing 7 million children from grades 2 to 11. The only weakness I can see at first glance is that the study used "No Child Left Behind" standardized test scores as its metric, and standardized testing is rather limited in its ability to capture true aptitude.

The results aren't surprising, though; in my personal teaching experience I've typically found that girls do better than boys in physics. This is a limited sample, and skewed by the depressingly small number of women taking physics classes, but I've never had any doubts of women's ability to succeed in mathematical and technical disciplines.

A good example of this is Emmy Noether (1882 - 1935), who in 1918 published what is now known as Noether's theorem, a general and far-reaching theorem which demonstrates the link between symmetries in physical systems and conservation laws. Conservation of momentum, for instance, is connected with the fact that the laws of physics do not depend on position. Noether's obituary was written in the New York Times by no less a distinguished mathematician than Einstein himself.

Update:  Via Uncertain Principles, I learn that, as always, the Onion has the funniest take on a serious subject...

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Graham Masterton's The 5th Witch

Jul 23 2008 Published by under Horror

I finally got a chance to read one of Graham Masterton's most recent novels, The 5th Witch, and I thought I'd share some thoughts about it!  (In fact, there's an even more recent novel, House of Bones, which I'm going to get ASAP.)

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6 responses so far

It's just a flesh wound! My knight-liness is confirmed...

Jul 23 2008 Published by under Silliness

Via The Greenbelt, I learned about and took another one of those silly but oddly compelling internet quizzes: this one asks, "Which Chess Piece are You?"  In my case, I scored as The King's Knight, which makes me sound like quite the ass-kicker!  Of course, even if the quiz is accurately translating your answers into a meaningful assessment of your personality, it may simply be assessing who you want to be rather than who you are.  However, at least in my own mind, the description sounds true to me...

Your result for Which Chess Piece are You Test?...

The King's Knight

The King’s Knight is spontaneous and active. They get great satisfaction from acting on impulse. This usually means thrill and risk can be quite exciting. If they are stifled by rules, they may end up feeling ‘dead’ inside. They look for the ‘tick’ behind the clock without the need for verbal cues. Oddly enough, this Knight deeply respects and admires anyone who can best them.

The King's Knight is a 'do-er', naturally impatient with discussion. They seek to live in the moment and are great improvisers. Because of this they are quite capable at bringing ideas or concepts to fruition. They often prefer practical organizational issues. Because they seek to make things happen, they may act too quickly with the appearance of not thinking things through.

They are the best at manipulating others. This usually means that they can convince others to a like-minded position and thus the King would love to have this Knight by their side. They are concrete with their form and speech and are seen as smooth operators. They could be seen as self-promoters and great salesmen of ideas. They are gifted at earning trust. But they are also gifted at applying common sense to any issue. They will maintain acute awareness of factual information during discussions and will guide tangents back on course. The King's Knight is outgoing, charming and fun. They know the 'who's who' and where the socially sophisticated reside and play. They are action oriented and deplore unnecessary diplomacy. They want life to be simple, but realize it isn't.

Take Which Chess Piece are You Test? at HelloQuizzy

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Updates to blogroll!

Jul 22 2008 Published by under Personal

No doubt feeling chastised by reading Greg Laden's post on blogrolling, I've added a few extra links to mine: Optical Futures, Podblack Cat, and Laelaps. I'm sure more will appear in the future, and I'll have to figure out how to display them better...

P.S. I also added The Greenbelt!

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Camera-free Radiohead video! (updated)

Jul 22 2008 Published by under Entertainment, Optics

(Update: I fixed the discussion on LIDAR speed detection, thanks to edweird's observations in the comments.)

This is pretty neat. Via Crooks & Liars, we have Radiohead's new music video (embedded below the fold), for House of Cards, which uses no cameras at all. From the YouTube description,

In Radiohead's new video for "House of Cards", no cameras or lights were used. Instead, 3D plotting technologies collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects. The video was created entirely with visualizations of that data.

There's more information on the making of the video at Radiohead's Google page, where we learn,

No cameras or lights were used. Instead two technologies were used to capture 3D images: Geometric Informatics and Velodyne LIDAR. Geometric Informatics scanning systems produce structured light to capture 3D images at close proximity, while a Velodyne Lidar system that uses multiple lasers is used to capture large environments such as landscapes. In this video, 64 lasers rotating and shooting in a 360 degree radius 900 times per minute produced all the exterior scenes.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender concludes!

Jul 20 2008 Published by under Entertainment


I just finished watching the 2-hour series finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender.  After a three-year run, the animated series ended on Saturday night.

Simply amazing.  This is definitely, in my opinion, one of the best television series I've ever seen.  It's been consistently good, even getting better, throughout its run, and the series finale had a perfect ending.  The final conflict was on par, in my estimation, with the climactic battle scene in Return of the Jedi.

One of the ways that Avatar kept getting better was its rock-solid storyline.  Almost every character in the series underwent major, nontrivial development.  Even incidental characters who seemed of little import early on would often reappear in roles of major importance.  The world of Avatar is one of the most charmingly detailed I've ever experienced.

I'm still in mild awe of the finale.  I'm sorry to see the series go, but I'm delighted it ended with the power and dignity it deserved.  It will stay with me for a long time.

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