Archive for: June, 2009

The Linkin' Log: June 21, 2009

Jun 21 2009 Published by under General science

Today seemed like a good day to point out a few interesting tidbits I've happened across on the 'tubes. In no particular order,

  • Tom at Swans on Tea linked to a very cool video demonstrating a genuine magnetic levitation train -- in HO scale!
  • One of the original copies of Einstein sticking out his tongue sold for $74k in a recent auction.  The article gives some nice background explaining the origin of the picture, including its ties to the McCarthy era.
  • Via The New York Times, a wolverine has made a rare foray into the state of Colorado, after being driven out some 90 years earlier.  If you've never read anything about a wolverine outside of the comic book character, you should do so -- they're bad-assed and fascinating creatures.  They're also known as "skunk bears", due to their girth and strong scent, and they are related to the skunk.
  • By the way, if you're a fan of the history of science, I've been meaning for some time to point out this wonderful and fascinating blog -- Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Centraal -- which focuses on the science and scientists of The Netherland's Golden Age.
  • Finally, David Neiwert over at Crooks and Liars presents one of the best takedowns of Glenn Beck I've ever seen -- and one of the strongest arguments in favor of progressives.  If Glenn Beck thinks progressives are toxic, what kind of America does he want?

P.S.  I went and saw "Up" last night with the wife.  It was a wonderful film.  There is a beautifully done montage at the beginning of the film, showing the major events in the life of the main character and his wife, which actually brought me (and the wife) to tears.  Every time I see a preview for a Pixar film, I think: "That looks really dumb!", and every time I've been wrong.  Also, if you want to read some real drama associated with the film, go here.

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Invisibility physics: Hiding and seeking, all at once!

Jun 19 2009 Published by under Invisibility, Optics

When the first papers on the idea of a "cloaking" device came out in 2006, lots of people were immediately worried that the CIA would soon be peering right over their shoulder from the shelter of invisibility cloaks.  Many scientists, including myself, pointed out the flaw in that reasoning: a "perfect" cloak would direct all light around the outside of the cloak.  This meant that, although the spy couldn't be seen in the cloak, he couldn't see anything from inside!


An illustration of one of the original cloaking concepts from J. B. Pendry, D. Schurig, and D. R. Smith, Science 312, 1780 (2006): rays of light are guided around the interior region, which sees no light.

A recent paper in Physical Review Letters, however, suggests that this "mutual invisibility" can be overcome.  The research described suggests that a different type of cloaking device could be used to enclose a sensing device, and that the sensor would not only be (almost) invisible, but it would be able to detect radiation just as well as when outside the cloak!  The research is intriguing (though it still won't help the CIA quite yet), and it illustrates a different, earlier, technique for making something "not be seen".

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Newton and the Counterfeiter available!

Jun 19 2009 Published by under General science

I must have been daydreaming for a few days, because I failed to notice until now that Thomas Levenson's book Newton and the Counterfeiter has been released!

This history of science book describes in detail a little-known chapter in the life of Isaac Newton: he left his academic post and moved to London to become Warden of His Majesty’s Mint.  This put him into what sounds like a very "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" conflict with a master counterfeiter of the day, William Chalconer.

I haven't read the book yet, but it's on its way from Amazon, and I can hardly wait!  I met Thomas Levenson briefly at ScienceOnline09, and he was a very nice and interesting fellow; he also runs The Inverse Square Blog, where he has been posting, among other things, about the process of getting his book produced.

I'll post a full review after I read the book...

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The Giant's Shoulders #12 is up!

Jun 16 2009 Published by under General science, Science news

The twelfth edition of The Giant’s Shoulders is up at Thoughts from gut bacteria!  Thanks to ecoli for assembling it, and on such short notice!

Ecoli is also offering a $20 gift certificate for the most popular entry, so don’t forget to vote to reward your favorite history of science blogger!

This edition also marks the first full year of The Giant’s Shoulders!  Next month I’ll be bringing the carnival right here, for the edition to be held July 16th.

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Bertram Mitford's The King's Assegai

Jun 13 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction, Fantasy fiction

Those who have been reading this blog for a while know that I've become a really big fan of Bertram Mitford (1855-1914).  His novels, written in the late 1800s, are on the surface adventure novels which draw on his experiences living and working in South Africa.  Valancourt Books has been valiantly reprinting many of Mitford's novels, and I've discussed three of them here: The Weird of Deadly Hollow, Renshaw Fanning's Quest, and The Sign of the Spider.  All are excellent novels which possess much more depth of character and meaning than one would expect.  The Sign of the Spider, with its anti-hero protagonist and descent into darkness, both literal and metaphorical, is now one of my favorite novels.

Already some time ago, I picked up the first book in Mitford's tetralogy of Zulu novels, The King's Assegai, also published by Valancourt:


Curiously, I waited a long time before actually reading it, unlike Mitford's other books.  I suspect I had a little dread about reading a Westerner's fictional interpretation of "African savages", or perhaps I simply didn't think I could get into a novel about African warriors.  (I had a discussion to this effect on an earlier Mitford thread.)  In any case, I shouldn't have been worried -- though I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Mitford's other work, The King's Assegai is an excellent adventure story which gives a very human (and not stereotypical) view of tribal Africa.

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The anniversary of McCarthy's downfall

Jun 09 2009 Published by under [Politics]

Via Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, I was reminded that today, June 9, is the anniversary of the day that red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy was given his comeuppance on national television by soft-spoken lawyer Joseph Welch.

In 1954, a series of meetings were convened by the United States Senate's Subcommittee on Investigations to investigate counter-allegations between McCarthy and the U.S. Army.  On June 9th, McCarthy had been pressured by Army lawyer Welch to provide evidence of Communists in the defense industry, and he responded by singling out a young lawyer in Welch's firm as an alleged sympathizer.  Obviously, McCarthy hoped to put Welch on the defensive, but Welch responded with a mellow but devastating criticism of McCarthy's reckless cruelty.  This confrontation is generally considered the beginning of the end for McCarthy, the moment when the nation got to see how ugly his politics really were.

The speech of Welch is amazing, and moving; I never get tired of hearing it.  It is a timeless testament to the real human cost that the politics of fear can exact.

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Here's some Lord Dunsany to perform...

Jun 09 2009 Published by under Horror

I'm currently in Oklahoma visiting a collaborator, so my time is rather short.  While I'm away, I've been reading through Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature, and came across descriptions of some of the short plays of Lord Dunsany (1878-1957).  They're really quite good; I can heartily recommend (as did Lovecraft) the plays A Night at an Inn and The Gods of the Mountain.

Both plays tell a story of unscrupulous characters whose actions bring down retribution from the gods, and not those wishy-washy "turn the other cheek" type gods -- we're talking the old-style, pissed-off and foul-tempered gods.

Now I've got an urge to go home and watch my DVD of Daimajin movies again.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a sample.

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Herbert S. Gorman's The Place Called Dagon

Jun 08 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

As I've noted previously, H.P. Lovecraft had a voluminous library of weird fiction, and basically defined himself as the foremost expert on such tales in his time with his essay Supernatural Horror in LiteratureHippocampus Press, in collaboration with Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi, have been reprinting select novels that Lovecraft owned and thought highly of.  Up until now, I've read A. Merritt's The Metal Monster, which is now one of my favorite weird tales of all time, and M.P Shiel's The House of Sounds and Others, which has its own moments of weird awesomeness.   With those pleasant experiences in mind, I turned to Herbert S. Gorman's The Place Called Dagon (1927):


The name "Dagon" will jump out at any fan of Lovecraft immediately.  In fact, The Place Called Dagon clearly influenced a number of Lovecraft's stories, as I mention below.

What did I think of it?  Though I found the first third of the novel rather slow, it picked up quickly after that and I found it immensely enjoyable!

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Barkla shows that x-rays have polarization (1905)

Jun 06 2009 Published by under History of science, Physics

It is one of the quirks of scientific progress that many great experiments are forgotten as the things they demonstrate become common knowledge in the scientific community.  A good example of this is the 1890 experiment of Otto Wiener, which I blogged about as my very first "official" science history post.  Wiener constructed a beautiful experiment to demonstrate that it is the electric field, not the magnetic field, which is the "active" ingredient in light.  Nowadays, this observation is just taken for granted, and relatively few books discuss the experiment which proved it.  This is not an injustice, though, as much as an expedience:  certain physical phenomena can be understood perfectly well without going into the historical origins of the discovery, and physics students have plenty of much more relevant topics  to worry about.  Nevertheless, there's a lot of interesting work that isn't talked about much anymore.

As research for my in-progress textbook, I've recently been looking into the original X-ray diffraction experiments of the Braggs circa 1912.  While reading through their 1915 book on X-rays and Crystal Structure, I found a passing reference to the first observations of polarization of X-rays.  Not being able to help myself, I tracked down the original source...

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7 responses so far

10 days until The Giant's Shoulders #12!

Jun 05 2009 Published by under General science, Science news

Just a friendly reminder/request, as always: there's 10 days left until the 12th edition of The Giant's Shoulders! I seem to be unable to reach the originally scheduled host of the carnival for this month, so ecoli over at Thoughts from gut bacteria has graciously agreed to fill in on short notice. Ecoli is sweetening the pot with a $15 Amazon gift card for the best submission, judging TBD! Let's get some good entries going!

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