Archive for: April, 2010

Robert E. Howard's El Borak

Apr 08 2010 Published by under Adventure fiction, Robert E. Howard

Finally, I've gotten to read some new Robert E. Howard!  Well, not new -- Robert E. Howard committed suicide in 1936 -- but new to me, anyway!

For those who are unfamiliar, Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) was a Texas author who wrote fantasy, adventure, and horror fiction for pulp magazines such as Weird Tales.  He is best known for his creation Conan the Cimmerian, though he wrote a large body of memorable work and introduced many fascinating heroes.  For instance, the title of this blog, "Skulls in the Stars", is a title of a story of Howard's about his character Solomon Kane, a puritan adventurer and justice-seeker.

Most of Howard's other works have fallen into obscurity, overshadowed by the popularity of Conan, but in recent years compilations of some of them have been released.  I recently picked up a compilation of Howard's modern desert adventures, titled El Borak:

"El Borak" is the Arabic name of American adventurer Francis Xavier Gordon, and the bulk of the tales, though not all, focus on his adventures.  The tales are stories of action and intrigue set in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East, stretching all the way to Afghanistan.

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Wave interference: where does the energy go?

Apr 07 2010 Published by under Optics, Physics

Last week was a relatively lousy one for me, but it was made up in part by getting a good question from a student on waves and interference after class.  It's really nice to get a question that indicates a genuine interest in the science (as opposed to just wanting an answer to homework), and I thought I'd discuss the question and its answer as a post.

The situation in question is as follows: suppose you have a harmonic wave on a string traveling to the right such that in a snapshot of time, the string looks as follows:

This wave carries energy, and there is a net flow of energy to the right.  Now suppose we excite the string with an additional wave of the same frequency and amplitude, but completely out of phase.  The sum of the two waves then vanishes:

The two waves cancel each other out, leaving a completely unmoving string due to destructive interference.  My student asked me: what happens to the energy?  As posed, it seems that we started with two waves carrying energy, but they canceled each other out, leaving no energy!  This interpretation cannot possibly be correct, so where is the flaw in our description?

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10 days until The Giant's Shoulders #22!

Apr 05 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

This is your monthly reminder that there's 10 days left until the deadline for The Giant's Shoulders #22!  It will be hosted by The Lay Scientist.  Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

Let me follow up again by saying we still desperately need hosts to fill in over the next few months; if you’re interested in hosting, please leave a comment or send me an email.  You don’t have to be a historian of science to host — just someone with a passion for science and its roots.

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: Ocean conveyors, UV paleontology, science and "truth", and scientific misconduct

Apr 05 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

  • Ocean Conveyor running AMOC. Life on our planet owes a lot to the global ocean currents, but there is concern that global warming may shut this current down.  Is there any indication this is happening yet?  Alistair at Deep Type Flow discusses the theory and the evidence.
  • UV, You See? Black Light Reveals Secrets in Fossils. GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life talks about an underutilized technique in paleontology -- using UV light to study fossils -- and the awesome scientific dividends it has already paid.
  • Climate change and philosophy of science: Does climate science aim at truth? There was a recent tiff in The Guardian, in the context of climate science, about the question of whether science aims at "truth".  Michael at Good, Bad and Bogus does a great job of dissecting the arguments.
  • What causes scientific misconduct? We know that scientists are tempted to "cheat" at their work much too often, but why?  Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science looks at research relating to the motivations of those who have been caught as such misconduct.

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" highlights!

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Michelson and Margarite

Apr 02 2010 Published by under History of science, Women in science

My recent posts on Ada Lovelace Day (here and here) not only drove home the point that there were even more historically important women scientists and mathematicians than I had optimistically imagined, but that the smartest male scientists of their eras appreciated their contributions and actively encouraged them.

I don't want to obsess over the approbation of the male scientists -- undeniably, the women's contributions stand out on their own.  Now that I've noticed it, though, I'm spotting other remarkable and little-remembered instances, and can't resist sharing.  These stories give me a little more faith in humanity, or at least the scientific community.

The story I want to tell in this post I came across in a biography of Albert A. Michelson (1852-1931) written by his daughter Dorothy Michelson Livingston: The Master of Light (Charles Scribner's Sons, NY, 1973).

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