Archive for: August, 2008

The Giant's Shoulders #2 is up!

Aug 15 2008 Published by under Science news

The  second edition of The Giant's Shoulders is up at The Lay Scientist! I'm delighted (and, quite frankly, a little relieved) to see that there are an excellent number of entries, and they're... well, excellent! Thanks to Martin for putting it together.

The next edition will be held at Entertaining Research on September 15th.

By the way, after the first TGS, Coturnix noted that many of the entries are eligible and good enough to be submitted for the next Science Blogging Anthology.  I'm planning to nominate a few entries, but I'm too shy (proud?  honest?) to nominate my own.  If you liked one of my 'classics' posts, please consider dropping in a nomination.

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The cloaking craze: A look at the original papers

Aug 13 2008 Published by under Invisibility, Optics, Physics
As I noted a couple of days ago, apparently there has been another significant experimental breakthrough in the development of dielectric cloaking devices. Researchers at UC Berkeley were responsible, though it is a little unclear what exactly the breakthrough is. The results will appear this week in Science and Nature. In the meantime, it seemed like a good time to review the two articles that started the whole cloaking craze.

As I've noted in a pair of previous posts (here and here), the search for objects which can be considered in some sense invisible goes back nearly a hundred years. For the most part, however, the idea that one could make a truly invisible object was considered impossible -- and theory backed up that view.

This changed with the publication of two back-to-back theoretical papers in Science in 2006. The first, by U. Leonhardt, was titled "Optical conformal mapping," and the second, by J.B. Pendry, D. Schurig and D.R. Smith, was titled "Controlling electromagnetic fields". Both papers mapped out strategies -- in a nearly literal sense -- for creating what could be called a dielectric invisibility device. How would such a device work? Let's recall a little basic optics that will help us understand the process...

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Some long overdue cat photos...

Aug 12 2008 Published by under Animals

I haven't done any catblogging for a while, which is a shame 'cause I've got lots of cute cat photos. Moving into a new house provides lots of opportunities for unexpected cat cuteness. Also, we received a very nice gift in the mail yesterday from my fiancée's sister Janet, who is an extremely talented knitware designer and author and blogs about it here. Janet has knitted little catnip-filled mice for our kitties before, but the fiancée requested something a little larger that the cats can really wrestle with when the mood strikes them. The result? A catnip rat! It was an immediate hit with the kitties, who each took turns wrestling with it. Zoe's turn is pictured below:

More below the fold...

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3 days until The Giant's Shoulders #2!

Aug 12 2008 Published by under General science, Science news

One last reminder:  there's only 3 days left to submit to The Giant's Shoulders #2, to be held at The Lay Scientist, so if you've been meaning to write a classic science post and submit it, now would be a good time to get going!  Entries can be submitted via, or directly to the carnival host.

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Dennis Wheatley's They Found Atlantis

Aug 11 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Horror

I've discussed a few of Dennis Wheatley's books in past posts. Wheatley was a prolific author from the 1930s through the 1980s (though his most famous works were written from the '30s to the '50s), and he could rightly be considered the Stephen King of his time. Unfortunately, most of his works are out of print, with the exception of some inexpensive editions produced by Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural. I've started foraging for his used books online, and managed to find an inexpensive first edition of his adventure thriller with the provocative title They Found Atlantis (1936). Though not his best work, it was an entertaining read and gives me an excuse to delve into some of the history of the Atlantis story and some of the Atlantis craze of the twentieth century. I'll include some minor spoilers of the story, so don't read any further if you want to discover Wheatley's Atlantis for yourself! Otherwise, follow me below the fold...

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Another 'invisibility cloak' teaser!

Aug 10 2008 Published by under Invisibility, Science news

Via several sources (Times Online, via HuffPost and AP, via Pharyngula), I see that there's another pending high-profile release concerning 'invisibility cloaks'. Though the physics behind them is accurate, the media is of course pushing rather hyperbolic headlines again: "Science close to unveiling invisible man."

There isn't enough information to determine for certain what has been done, as these were only 'teaser' releases and the technical reports won't be out until later in the week. Times Online suggests that the important result is the experimental production of a cloak at visible light frequencies, while the AP mentions little of visible light and instead refers to the three-dimensional nature of the experimentally-produced cloak. Whether one or both advances were achieved is unclear, but either would be a major step and would have been achieved surprisingly fast. It is important to note, however, that in any case we're not really that close to an invisible man! There's a lot of practical and theoretical issues still to be solved, including the fact that it isn't clear yet if or how it is possible to make a cloak which is invisible for all frequencies of visible light.

The work was done at UC Berkeley, and I'll say more about it when the papers come out. In the meantime, later this week I'll do a post on the original cloaking papers from 2006, which is the work that started the current 'cloaking craze'.

P.S. Thanks to Mom & Dad, who I now see both sent me links to the story!

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The Leavenworth Underground City Mystery (Updated)

Aug 08 2008 Published by under Silliness

(Update: For those who are interested, there's an article in pdf form describing the underground in more detail at LV Mag, the magazine of Life in Leavenworth County.)

I've been busy with departmental stuff the past few days, so posting has been light. I thought I'd share this little bit from Leavenworth, Kansas: apparently there's an old, small underground city underneath the downtown that nobody knew about until recently and nobody knows what it was for!

Details in the news article are sketchy. There isn't any information on the overall size of the area, the number of rooms, or when it was rediscovered. There's an accompanying video which doesn't add much to the tale.

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33 responses so far

The discovery, rediscovery, and re-rediscovery of computed tomography

Aug 05 2008 Published by under History of science, Physics

Note: This post is my contribution to The Giant's Shoulders #2, to be held at The Lay Scientist. I thought I'd cover something a little more recent than my previous entries to the classic paper carnival; in truth, I need a break from translating 30-page papers written in antiquated German/French!

One of the fascinating things about scientific progress is what you might call its inevitability. Looking at the history of a crucial breakthrough, one often finds that a number of researchers were pushing towards the same discovery from different angles. For example, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz developed the theory of calculus independently and nearly simultaneously. Another example is the prehistory of quantum mechanics: numerous experimental researchers independently began to discover 'anomalies' in the behavior of systems on the microscopic level.

I would say that the development of certain techniques and theories become 'inevitable' when the discovery becomes necessary for further progress and a number of crucial discoveries pave the way to understanding (in fact, one might say that this is the whole point of The Giant's Shoulders). Occasionally it turns out that others had made a similar discovery earlier, but had failed to grasp the broader significance of their result or were missing a crucial application or piece of evidence to make the result stand out.

A good example of this is the technique known as computed tomography, or by various other aliases (computed axial tomography, computer assisted tomography, or just CAT or CT). The pioneering work was developed independently by G.N. Hounsfield and A.M. Cormack in the 1960s, and they shared the well-deserved 1979 Nobel Prize in Medicine "for the development of computer assisted tomography." Before Hounsfield and Cormack, however, a number of researchers had independently developed the same essential mathematical technique, for a variety of applications. In this post I'll discuss the foundations of CT, the work of Hounsfield and Cormack, and note the various predecessors to the groundbreaking research.

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13 responses so far

The Montauk monster: a dead raccoon, after all...

Aug 05 2008 Published by under ... the Hell?, Animals

Over the past week we've been treated to a barrage of news stories about a mysterious carcass which washed up on the beach of Montauk, Long Island, on July 13th.  Dubbed "The Montauk monster", it even rated a video bit on CNN.

Alas, the 'monster' has been identified, and is none other than the decayed remains of a raccoon that had spent lots of time in the water.  Details can be found at Tetrapod Zoology.

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9 responses so far

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Aug 02 2008 Published by under Horror

As I've noticed previously, I took a multi-year hiatus from reading horror novels, in large part because I couldn't separate out the gems from the trash in the new horror releases. Since I decided to blog about horror fiction, among other things, I've been taking another look at the current crop of horror authors, and I've been pleasantly surprised.

The most recent read I've undertaken is Heart-Shaped Box (2007), by Joe Hill. Hill is a newcomer to the horror field, and has only one other book, 20th Century Ghosts (2005), a collection of short stories. I'll be picking up the latter in the near future, because Heart-Shaped Box was an excellent book that does the genre proud.

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