Archive for: December, 2008

The Crystal World, by J.G. Ballard

Dec 31 2008 Published by under Horror, Weird fiction

I've been slowly working my way through a huge collection of apocalyptic novels in preparation for another major blog post.  Amazon has clued in to my bleak, weird taste in books and recommended The Crystal World (1966), by J.G. Ballard:

Of all the apocalyptic novels I've read through so far, this one is unique in terms of its manner of doom as well as the focus of its plot.  In fact, as I note below, its plot struck an unusual chord with me that pretty much demanded that I read it.   Let's take a look at The Crystal World in some more detail below...

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2 responses so far

Home from the holidays!

Dec 29 2008 Published by under Personal

Whew!  The fiancée and I managed to get back home last night without any serious hassles.  We've been simply exhausted, though, because our trip involved three legs: a starting visit with my family in Chicago for a couple of days, followed by a trip to Montana to visit her family for a few days, and then a return to Chicago for a final day.

The return to Chicago got all screwed up due to unfavorably mild weather.  When we left Chicago the first time, there was several feet of snow on the ground and temperatures around -10 °F.  When we were returning, the temperature jumped to 60 °F, causing the snow to evaporate into a thick, ground-covering fog which blocked all flights into O'Hare and Midway Airports.  We spend a couple of restless hours sleep in a hotel in Minneapolis before catching a flight the next day.

With that delay, we have effectively been in airports and airplanes for three days in a row, which is not a happy occurrence.  Also, our luggage was lost and is now finally appearing at home.

Fortunately, we asked our kitties' aunt Janet to knit us a few new toy rats for the cats, as the old one had been disemboweled in November.  I had left the carcass in the pantry in order to take a picture for a blog post, but apparently Zoe wasn't done with it yet.  The pet-sitter must have left the pantry door slightly ajar, because we returned home to find several cat toys strewn across the floor, as well as this horrifying sight:


Yep, the cats had thoroughly shredded a good section of the rat.  Thanks to Janet for the replacements!  They've already been put into action...

Once I get settled, I'll hopefully get back into some more regular blogging again!

3 responses so far

A Patrick Swayze Christmas, by MST3K

Dec 25 2008 Published by under Entertainment, Silliness

I've got to continue the holiday tradition I started last Christmas; I therefore present, "A Patrick Swayze Christmas":

In the spirit of the season, I offer sincere best wishes and 'get well soon' to Patrick Swayze, who has been fighting cancer.   He's actually been filming a new series, The Beast, so I take that as a good sign.

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Mr. Faraday's (most excellent) experimental researches in electricity (1831)

Dec 25 2008 Published by under History of science, Physics

Michael Faraday (1791 - 1867) was a master of electricity.  His researches established may important results in electromagnetic theory, including some which are now so taken for granted that Faraday's name is unfortunately not even thought of in connection with them.

I started to investigate Faraday's writings while working on a post about Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel The Coming Race, which quotes Faraday to justify B-L's fictional source of energy, vril.  This led me back through Faraday's monumental collection of researches on electricity, a collection of over 25 articles published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society under the blanket title, "Experimental researches in electricity."

Faraday, though apparently not very sophisticated theoretically, was an amazing experimentalist.  Though I was originally looking for only a single quotation from his articles, I eventually downloaded a half-dozen of his works and I thought I'd discuss their details and their historical import.

We start with what is arguably his most important physical contribution, now known as Faraday's law.  Faraday's work opened the door to the discovery of Maxwell's equations and the identification of light as an electromagnetic wave.  I find it most satisfying to review the experimental work knowing the underlying physical law, so we begin with a qualitative discussion of the "need to know" information concerning electricity, magnetism, and Faraday's law.

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9 responses so far

Announcing the usual holiday slowdown...

Dec 19 2008 Published by under Personal

Tomorrow, I head off into the great abyss... visiting relatives for the holidays! (Just kidding, everyone!)  I'm going to try and post a few things of substance while I'm away, but I'm sure I'll get less done than I expect.

Bear with me, though; in the works are posts on:

  • Some detailed looks at Michael Faraday's uber-cool work on electricity and magnetism, from the mid-1800s,
  • A discussion of optical caustics and 'natural focusing',
  • A survey of a bunch of horror fiction relating to the apocalypse (damn, there's a lot of those),
  • A discussion/review of books by people I know,
  • and a return to my posts on relativity!

By the way, I noted that my blog stats had passed the 100k mark a couple of days ago thanks to StumbleUpon.  Now that same math post was picked up by what appears to be the Polish version of StumbleUpon, and I just passed 160k page views!  Many thanks to all who stopped by for a read!

Oh, and Merry Christmas and a Happy Monkey!

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100k page view milestone!

Dec 17 2008 Published by under Personal

I passed another blogging milestone several days ago -- 100,000 total page views!   The funny thing:  on the 13th, I was still at 84,000.  Then someone put my "Spot the math errors!" post on StumbleUpon (thanks for that, whoever did it!), and I made up the difference within 24 hours.  Think about it: 16% of my total page views for a year and a half of blogging came from one day.  As of this post, I now have 129,000 views.

The internets sure are weird.

Of course, now the plot of my daily blog stats will be totally useless, until next month:


4 responses so far

The 'true' face of Cleopatra?

Dec 16 2008 Published by under Science news

Via The Huffington Post, I found this fascinating article in The Daily Mail about recent efforts to reconstruct an image of the legendary Egyptian queen, Cleopatra.  Cleopatra (69 BC - 30 BC) was the last Pharaoh of a (nearly) independent ancient Egypt, and her seduction of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony is a story of legend.   There has been some debate as to her appearance, however, with some authors claiming she was a woman of immense beauty, while others suggesting she was short, frumpy and plain. A variety of images of Cleopatra exist in sculpture, but there is no definitive picture of the doomed queen.

For over a year, Egyptologist Sally Ann Ashton (who wrote a book on Cleopatra which came out in May) has been developing a computer-regenerated image of Cleopatra based on the collection of contemporary artwork.  The result is an image of a lovely woman of apparent mixed ethnicity:

How accurate are such images?  I often wonder at the authenticity of such reconstruction techniques; after all, we have no real way of comparing ancient Egyptian artwork to the real-life person.  It is still a fascinating bit of work, and the resulting image looks oddly similar to my friend cairochemist, who occasionally posts on this blog!

4 responses so far

The Giant's Shoulders #6 is up!

Dec 16 2008 Published by under General science, Science news

The sixth edition of The Giant's Shoulders is up at Rigorous Trivialities! If you would like to read about classic scientific research in multiple fields, follow the link.  Many thanks to Charles for putting it together!

The next edition is scheduled for release on January 15th, at The Questionable Authority.

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Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race

Dec 15 2008 Published by under Weird fiction

I've described the work of  Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) before.  He was a highly prolific author who was highly influential in a number of fields, although his overly romantic prose is often ridiculed these days.  Nevertheless, Bulwer-Lytton's work survives to this day, and he has written a number of classic horror stories as well as the Titanic of his day: The Last Days of Pompeii, which I discussed in detail in this post.

Bulwer-Lytton also left his mark on science fiction, in his very odd novel The Coming Race (1871).  The story, about the narrator's journey deep beneath the surface of the earth, where he encounters a powerful utopian society, is one of the earliest science fiction novels.  I can't say it's the most compelling book I've ever read, but it is fascinating from a historical perspective and bad science perspective.  Let's take a look...

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3 responses so far

Spot the math errors!

Dec 12 2008 Published by under Mathematics

Via StumbleUpon, I came across this short text page which lists three mathematical 'proofs' which seem to violate common sense, listed below.  The first is:


The second one is:


The third one is:


Each of these proofs is (intentionally) wrong!  They highlight classic fallacies in mathematical thinking.  See if you can figure out where, in each of them, the proof goes wrong, and then look for the answers below the fold...

(Note: the third proof involves the 'imaginary number' $latex i = sqrt{-1}$.  If you're not familiar with it, you can safely skip that problem, as it is closely related to one of the others.)

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65 responses so far

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