Archive for: May, 2009

Invisibility physics: can charged particles self-oscillate?

May 31 2009 Published by under Invisibility, Physics

Time to return to my long-delayed series of posts on the history of invisibility physics!  The first two posts were:

  • Acceleration without radiation (1910), describing Ehrenfest's arguments suggesting acceleration without radiation could be possible,
  • Schott's radiationless orbits (1933), describing G.A. Schott's analytical demonstration that a charged spherical shell could move in a periodic orbit without producing radiation.

Our next stop in the study of invisibility physics is a pair of results, one by G.A. Schott in 1937 and another by D. Bohm and M. Weinstein in 1948, in both of which it is suggested that under the right circumstances, not only can an extended charged particle oscillate without radiating, but that it can also oscillate under the influence of its own electromagnetic field, without the application of an external force!

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Valancourt takes a stand against Proposition 8!

May 29 2009 Published by under [Politics]

Valancourt Books, once again justifying why they're one of my favorite small publishers, issued a press release in support of gay marriage following the California Supreme Court's  disappointing ruling upholding Prop. 8:

To that end, from now until the end 0f 2009, 50% of all our profits from our gay-themed titles will be donated to Lambda Legal, a not-for-profit legal advocacy group devoted to protecting the rights of gays and lesbians.  Despite the setback in California, Lambda Legal has had remarkable success in safeguarding the rights of gay people, including, most recently, the unanimous decision in Varnum v. Brien, giving same-sex couples the right to marry in Iowa.

Here's an opportunity to support an excellent publisher and a great civil liberties cause at the same time!  The list of eligible books are included in the full press release linked to above.

And congrats in advance to James for his upcoming wedding!

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"Sherlock Holmes" is a real film? Really?

May 27 2009 Published by under ... the Hell?, Entertainment

I've known for a while that a new version of Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, has been in the works.  Via The Little Professor, I finally got to see the trailer:

WTF?  Is this for real?  End of the world plots?  Martial arts battles?  Supernatural stuff?  Daredevil stunts and explosions?  Hookers?  Does any of this sound anything like Sherlock Holmes??!!

Mind you, I'm not really complaining.  Sherlock Holmes is a strong character, and his image and stories will survive any oddball interpretations.  Anyway, I've enjoyed other interpretations of Holmes, in particular the collection Shadows Over Baker Street in which he battles Lovecraftian horrors.

It's just that, if I were to make a really ridiculous parody of modern action films and their "dumbening", I would make a film exactly like Sherlock Holmes!  I'll still almost certainly go see it, but I'll have this latter clip in my mind the whole time:

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Henry Kuttner's Thunder Jim Wade

May 26 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction, Robert E. Howard

Any time I see a book with Henry Kuttner's name on it, I pay attention --  Kuttner was a masterful author who wrote some true classics of science fiction and fantasy, including one of my favorite stories of all time, the science fiction mystery story "Private Eye", written jointly with C.L. Moore.  Others are more familiar with his classic "Mimsy Were the Borogroves".

Kuttner was a true literary chameleon: he could and would write in any pulp market which was paying for stories.  I've written before about his excellent Elak of Atlantis stories, which were written to fill in a need for sword-and-sorcery after the untimely demise of Robert E. Howard.  By the early 1940s, the pulps were in trouble: comic books had become immensely popular.  Heroes with incredible powers and even more incredible outfits such as Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel were drawing readers and revenue from the pulps, and they wanted to introduce their own heroes to compete.

Henry Kuttner to the rescue!  Writing under the pseudonym Charles Stoddard, Kuttner described the adventures of a new hero for the pulps, Thunder Jim Wade:


Five TJW stories appeared in the pages of Thrilling Adventures in 1941.  Those stories were collected together in one nice volume last year by Altus Press.  Let's take a look...

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The National Naval Aviation Museum and a cute optical illusion

May 25 2009 Published by under Optics, Travel

Bleah!  I'm back from my trip to the Flora-bama area, but didn't make any jumps -- we were essentially weathered out Friday and Saturday, and by Sunday I'd had enough.  Most of my jump friends had already bailed, and though the weather looked like it might be better, I missed my wife and couldn't stand to sit around another day without jumping.  If they did jump Sunday, it would be quite ironic, because the complete 10-hour drive once we left the beach was nothing but low clouds and rain.

On Saturday, once it was clear we wouldn't be jumping earlier in the day, we hit the nearby National Naval Aviation Museum.  It was a pretty neat place, and it also contained one interesting (intentional) optical illusion.  Some pictures and description below...

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Another short hiatus!

May 20 2009 Published by under Personal

I hate to have to do this so soon after my honeymoon break, but I'll likely be going silent for a few days over the Memorial Day weekend:  if the weather is good, I'll be skydiving at the Florida/Alabama border and landing on the beach!  This has become a yearly tradition for me.  This year I was thinking of skipping it, but my friends nearly demanded that I attend!

Hopefully I'll post some thoughts while I'm out of town, but no guarantees -- internet access is spotty down there.  Heck, we've found out that even cell phone access is spotty there!

After this trip, I should be back at into a semi-regular routine.  I'm going to bring some papers along to blog about in case of a rain day or wind day.

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What does negative refraction LOOK like?

May 19 2009 Published by under Optics

My friend Personal Demon recently forwarded me an article that deals with a rather cute idea: Photorealistic ray tracing aids understanding of metamaterials.  "Metamaterials" may be described roughly as materials with a man-made structure on the scale of nanometers which gives them unusual optical properties not to be found in nature.  With that in mind, the rest of the article title, though rather technical-sounding, simply refers to computer simulations which can answer the following question:

Suppose you have constructed a piece of metamaterial of "everyday" size.  What does it 'look' like to the unaided human eye?

This to me is an interesting question for a number of reasons.  For one, it is not yet within our power to construct metamaterials which are larger than microscopic size (though, as I've noted previously, we're getting closer).  Being able to simulate the materials gives us a head-start in developing possible applications.  Second, we already know that metamaterials have the potential to produce interesting visual effects -- including, possibly, invisibility!  Finally, it can be very difficult, and intellectually stimulating, to try and make the connection between what light is doing in an optical system and how the system would appear to a person looking at it.

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Dollhouse survives to season 2!

May 16 2009 Published by under Entertainment

Tonight the wife and I finally got around to watching the season finale of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, which we had DVR'ed while out on the honeymoon.  It was actually a quite nice episode, and introduced a few nice twists I hadn't expected and began to take the show into an entirely new direction.  Would we get more?  I wasn't hopeful, as Dollhouse had absolutely miserable ratings, largely in part due to FOX putting it on Friday.

But, turning to IMDB, lo and behold!  Dollhouse will be back for a second season.  Apparently non-traditional viewing, such as Tivo and online viewing, was much stronger than the traditional ratings suggest.

This gives me some hope that the show which preceded it, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, might be renewed as well.

What is it with FOX and the cancellation of good shows?  Of course, there's Firefly, which was killed well before it deserved to be, and Family Guy, which had to be resuscitated several times after premature axing.  I personally will never forget, or quite forgive, FOX for putting Futurama on at 7 pm on Saturdays during its original run -- which meant that 50% of the time it got pre-empted by NFL games.   Here's hoping that Dollhouse and TSCC don't suffer similar ill-treatment...

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The Giant's Shoulders #11 is up!

May 16 2009 Published by under General science, Science news

The eleventh edition of The Giant’s Shoulders is up at Curving Normality!  Many thanks to Rense for assembling it!

The deadline for the next edition is June 15th, and it will be hosted at The Secret of Newton.

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William Beckford's Vathek

May 14 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

I've been working my way through a number of weird fiction tales that weird fiction writer and enthusiast H.P. Lovecraft was fond of.  Vathek, by William Beckford (1760-1844), is the type of story I find nearly irresistible: a proud, arrogant Caliph embarks upon a quest for power and wisdom which leads to unspeakable acts and, ultimately, damnation:


H.P. Lovecraft thought very highly of Beckford's work, and included a lengthy discussion of it in his celebrated essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927):

Meanwhile other hands had not been idle, so that above the dreary plethora of trash like Marquis von Grosse's Horrid Mysteries (1796), Mrs. Roche's Children of the Abbey (1798), Mrs. Dacre's Zofloya; or, the Moor (1806), and the poet Shelley's schoolboy effusions Zastro (1810) and St. Irvine (1811) (both imitations of Zofloya) there arose many memorable weird works both in English and German. Classic in merit, and markedly different from its fellows because of its foundation in the Oriental tale rather than the Walpolesque Gothic novel, is the celebrated History of the Caliph Vathek by the wealthy dilettante William Beckford, first written in the French language but published in an English translation before the appearance of the original. Eastern tales, introduced to European literature early in the eighteenth century through Galland's French translation of the inexhaustibly opulent Arabian Nights, had become a reigning fashion; being used both for allegory and for amusement. The sly humour which only the Eastern mind knows how to mix with weirdness had captivated a sophisticated generation, till Bagdad and Damascus names became as freely strewn through popular literature as dashing Italian and Spanish ones were soon to be. Beckford, well read in Eastern romance, caught the atmosphere with unusual receptivity; and in his fantastic volume reflected very potently the haughty luxury, sly disillusion, bland cruelty, urbane treachery, and shadowy spectral horror of the Saracen spirit. His seasoning of the ridiculous seldom mars the force of his sinister theme, and the tale marches onward with a phantasmagoric pomp in which the laughter is that of skeletons feasting under arabesque domes. Vathek is a tale of the grandson of the Caliph Haroun, who, tormented by that ambition for super-terrestrial power, pleasure and learning which animates the average Gothic villain or Byronic hero (essentially cognate types), is lured by an evil genius to seek the subterranean throne of the mighty and fabulous pre-Adamite sultans in the fiery halls of Eblis, the Mahometan Devil. The descriptions of Vathek's palaces and diversions, of his scheming soweress-mother Carathis and her witch-tower with the fifty one-eyed negresses, of his pilgrimage to the haunted ruins of Istakhar (Persepolis) and of the impish bride Nouronihar whom he treacherously acquired on the way, of Istakhar's primordial towers and terraces in the burning moonlight of the waste, and of the terrible Cyclopean halls of Eblis, where, lured by glittering promises, each victim is compelled to wander in anguish for ever, his right hand upon his blazingly ignited and eternally burning heart, are triumphs of weird colouring which raise the book to a permaneat place in English letters. No less notable are the three Episodes of Vathek, intended for insertion in the tale as narratives of Vathek's fellow-victims in Eblis' infernal halls, which remained unpublished throughout the author's lifetime and were discovered as recently as 1909 by the scholar Lewis Melville whilst collecting material for his Life and Letters of William Beckford. Beckford, however, lacks the essential mysticism which marks the acutest form of the weird; so that his tales have a certain knowing Latin hardness and clearness preclusive of sheer panic fright.

What did I think about it?

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