Archive for: February, 2010

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: slime mold traffic planners, synthetic marijuana, and evolution vs. morality

Feb 15 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

Check back next week for more "miscellaneous" highlights!

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Captain America has a tradition of social commentary

Feb 13 2010 Published by under ... the Hell?, [Politics], Entertainment

If you haven't seen it yet, the most recent issue of the Marvel Comics series  Captain America has drawn the ire of teabaggers because of its negative portrayal of them.  Via Yahoo news,

Since 1941, Captain America has been one of the most popular comic book characters around. The fictional super-patriot fought Nazis during World War II, took on those who burned the American flag during the Vietnam era, and raked in hundreds of millions of dollars for Marvel Comics along the way.  Now, the appearance that he is taking on the Tea Party Movement in a storyline about investigating white supremacists has forced Marvel to apologize for the comic hero.

The Yahoo article also includes the relevant pages from issue 602 of Captain America:

I am of somewhat mixed feelings about the whole "controversy", if indeed it is one.  On one hand, I probably wouldn't be thrilled if a right-winger wrote a comic caricaturing liberals as fanatical communists (though I wouldn't be whining about it), on the other hand in my opinion the strip doesn't depict anything that isn't spot on.  I'm sorry to see that Marvel felt like they had to apologize for an artistic decision by a writer, though I can somewhat understand that they are an entertainment business that doesn't want to alienate any customers.

One thing I'd like to point out, though, is that the Captain America comic has a long history of addressing  social issues.  This isn't the first time that its writers have used the book and the character as a mirror to show its readers some of the unpleasant traits of America.

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Vrije Universiteit goes for Open Access publishing!

Feb 11 2010 Published by under Science news

This is interesting news!  Via BoraZ on Twitter, I find that the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, has pledged to have 90% of its published articles available on Open Access:

Within ten years, VU University Amsterdam wants to make 90% of its published articles available on Open Access. This ambition represents the university's clear commitment to Open Access, along with that of all the faculties which will support the initiative in the years to come. As Rector Lex Bouter explains “Research which has been partly financed with public money should also be available to the public.”

In adopting this policy, VU University Amsterdam has become part of an Open Access policy which enjoys wide support, particularly within Europe, and is backed by such key players as the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

This is a nice trend, as it means that the articles will be openly available to the public (and not behind a pay wall), and researchers will retain copyright on their own research.  On a personal note, the VU was where I did my postdoctoral research!

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Sesqua Valley and Other Haunts, by W.H. Pugmire

Feb 11 2010 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

One of H.P. Lovecraft's enduring legacies as a writer is the creation of a cosmology that could and would be imitated by his followers.  Many great authors of horror fiction got their start writing Lovecraft pastiches, such as Brian Lumley and my absolutely favorite horror author Ramsey Campbell.  It is almost a tradition for all respectable horror writers to write their own Lovecraft homage; Stephen King, for instance, wrote the short story Crouch End (1980).

So many authors use Lovecraft as a starting point to find their own voice and interests; there are other authors, however, who find themselves a comfortable niche writing in and adapting Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos to their own ends, and they stay there.  The natural question to ask: do authors like these stay with the mythos because it stimulates their creativity, or because they lack it?  I was very curious to see if any of the modern mythos writers were any good.

My Amazon "favorites" page brought the work of W.H. Pugmire to my attention, in particular his compilation, Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts:

I had heard Pugmire's name before, as super-Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi had some kind words about Pugmire in his history/commentary The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (2008).  I was in the mood for some mythos writing, so I gave Sesqua Valley a try.

I didn't really know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised!  Pugmire draws insipiration from Lovecraft's ideas and settings, but he bends and twists them to his own ends to present genuinely unsettling stories.

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Announcing: Mathematical Methods for Optical Physics and Engineering!

Feb 10 2010 Published by under Optics, Personal, Physics

I've mumbled various random things in the past about my upcoming textbook project; this week, I finally got approval from the publisher to start hyping it on the blog.  (Actually, they never prohibited it, but I just got around to asking them last week if it was okay.)

Announcing:  Mathematical Methods for Optical Physics and Engineering, by Greg Gbur, to be published by Cambridge University Press!  The raw image that I have submitted to be turned into beautiful cover art is shown below:

(I'll leave it for the readers to guess what the image represents; feel free to speculate in the comments.)

There are plenty of "mathematical methods for physics" books out there -- why did I feel the need to write another one?  Well, I've been teaching a graduate course on mathematical methods in my department for five years -- and actually taught one while still a grad student, too.  My department focuses on optical science and engineering, so most of the students I get are (a) interested specifically in optics, and (b) often coming from an engineering background with much less abstract mathematics.

Most mathematical methods for physics books are geared towards a general student of physics.  This was a bit irksome for both me and the students while I taught the class, because optics requires a slightly different set of mathematical tools, in particular more emphasis on signal processing, integral transforms, and Green's functions.

Furthermore, math methods books typically draw from a wide variety of physical topics for exercises and examples.  This is, in my opinion, sometimes futile -- for most students, examples drawn from general relativity (or even statistical mechanics) are no better than abstract mathematical ones.

Optics has become a significant field of science in its own right, with dedicated schools in Arizona, Rochester, Orlando, and Charlotte (my home base).  Plenty of other departments of physics and engineering have a strong focus on optical science.  I decided to take a stab at revising the curriculum for those optics-centric programs, and introduce my own mathematical methods book that would complement an optics undergraduate or graduate education.

One of the biggest problems in teaching mathematics is making the connection between the math itself and the application of said math.  To try and address this, (almost) every chapter begins with an introductory application for the technique to be studied, and ends with a more detailed study of how the math is used in solving an optical problem.  I've tried to pick optical problems that don't typically appear in other optics textbooks, for instance: the Talbot effect, Zernike polynomials and aberrations, optical vortices, X-ray crystallography, computed tomography, and even optical cloaking!  I've also taken the unusual step of including essay questions in the exercises: read a given scientific paper and answer questions about its relation to the given mathematical topic.

Though academic optics programs are becoming more common, I'm hoping the book will catch the attention of instructors teaching general math methods for physics courses.  I've tried really hard to approach many of the traditional topics from a slightly different angle.  I'm endeavoring to pass through a very narrow opening between "qualitative understanding" and "mathematical rigor" -- I only include the rigor when it genuinely helps in applying the given methods.

I've also tried to make this book a little more portable!  Most math methods books are well over 1000 pages, but mine is targeted at 850.

Obviously, this book won't be for everybody, and probably won't appeal to many of the readers of my blog, for instance those interested in non-technical explanations of optical phenomena!  (This project was conceived long before I started a blog; my next writing project will be a more popular science/history book.)  Hopefully everyone will benefit from my efforts, however -- over the next few months, I'll write non-technical descriptions of many of the optics examples that I've used in the book.  I'll also give more descriptions of the book and the process of finishing the book at time progresses.

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Earthquake hits Chicago area!

Feb 10 2010 Published by under Science news

Man, I miss all the cool stuff that happens in Chicago!  Via the Chicago Sun Times:

A 3.8 magnitude  earthquake rattled the western suburbs early this morning. There were no reports of damage after the 3:59 a.m. quake, centered about 6 miles west of Elgin.

The U.S. Geological Survey originally estimated the quake at a magnitude of 4.3 and centered a few miles further west, but recalculated the quake after more information came in, according to USGS earthquake analyst Don Blakeman.

I'll have to check with my family to see if they felt it, as the epicenter was less than 10 miles from them.

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I'll stick with my parachute, thanks

Feb 09 2010 Published by under ... the Hell?, General science

Via Daily Kos, I came across this interesting article in Popular Mechanics: How to Fall 35,000 Feet -- and Survive:

You have a late night and an early flight. Not long after takeoff, you drift to sleep. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. There’s cold air rushing everywhere, and sound. Intense, horrible sound. Where am I?, you think. Where’s the plane?

You’re 6 miles up. You’re alone. You’re falling.

Things are bad. But now’s the time to focus on the good news. (Yes, it goes beyond surviving the destruction of your aircraft.) Although gravity is against you, another force is working in your favor: time. Believe it or not, you’re better off up here than if you’d slipped from the balcony of your high-rise hotel room after one too many drinks last night.

It's a rather overly dramatic article, but very entertaining and thought-provoking.  As a skydiver, I've often wondered what would be my strategy if I had a total malfunction of both my main and reserve parachutes.

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: demoting gravity, dinosaur colors, flexible water, and girls v. boys

Feb 08 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

Finally, let me note a practical post by Dr. Shock at Dr. Shock MD PhD: research on 10 Websites With The Best Information on Depression.

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" highlights!

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Mythbusters were scooped -- by 130 years! (Archimedes death ray)

Feb 07 2010 Published by under History of science

Searching through old journals results in wonderfully serendipitous moments.  I originally started searching through the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh for articles by Lord Kelvin, but along the way have found all sorts of interesting and thought-provoking papers.

A few weeks ago I noted that one article, “On the bursting of firearms when the muzzle is closed by snow, earth, grease, &c.”, foreshadowed later attempts by the MythBusters to test whether the barrel of a gun will "banana peel" when fired with a plug in it.  About the same time, however, and in an earlier volume of the Proceedings, I found an article with the title, "On the burning mirrors of Archimedes, and on the Concentration of light produced by reflectors," by John Scott.  This article is also an investigation of a myth that would be tackled some 130 years later by the MythBusters!  Apparently the 1870s-1880s were a good era for 'busting!

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9 responses so far

Now on Twitter!

Feb 03 2010 Published by under Personal

I really vowed that I would never "tweet", but I seem to have found myself with a Twitter account anyway!  I can be found "tweeting" as drskyskull, if anyone is interested in following.

I've been part of a group in my department brainstorming ideas for internet outreach and communications.  Since I suggested that a department Twitter feed might be a helpful possibility, I thought I should get some experience with the medium.

I'm not sure how much I'll be "tweeting"; this is a bit of an unknown quantity to me.  I'll have to see how it goes...

P.S. Any iPhone Twitterers out there that can recommend a good iPhone Twitter app?

4 responses so far

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