Archive for: August, 2010

Kitty fostering: Brewster and Breyer!

Aug 31 2010 Published by under [Etc], Animals, Personal

I'll be doing more physics blogging in the near future -- I promise!  Work is keeping me quite busy at the moment and I haven't had much spare time or energy to investigate topics in depth.  Hopefully that will change in the future, but for now I thought I'd share some other news -- we're fostering two sweet kitties!

Last week, the wife and I were at the local PetSmart, where we met Terry who runs F.U.R.R. -- Feline Urgent Rescue and Rehabilitation--  a rescue shelter that specializes in so-called feral cats and socializing them for homes.  We went and visited Terry's "kitty lodge" and learned about the daily operations of the shelter, and are still contemplating volunteering!

In the meantime, we couldn't help but agree to foster a couple of cats! Every cat that can be fostered makes more room for the shelter to rescue another animal, which made it hard for us to resist. Our new houseguests are handsome brothers named Brewster and Breyer!

Breyer is a big boy, though not all of that size is due to long fur (he's a little round right now):

His brother is Brewster is a smaller, short-haired cat, and clearly takes his cues from big bro:

Both boys were a little scared when we first got them home, but within half a day they turned into the most lovable kitties you could imagine:

(I actually had a hard time getting pics of them, because they spent most of their time rolling around on their backs right in front of me or rubbing up against me.)

For those who are already doubting that we're actually "fostering" and not "adopting", as in some previous attempts, let me state that the wife and I are allergic to short-haired cats, and therefore can't keep these two.  They are adorable, however, so if you know anybody in the vicinity of Charlotte that would be interested in adopting these two lovely boys, please point them towards Terry at F.U.R.R.!  You can also donate to F.U.R.R. here.

Incidentally, if you're wondering how the other cats are handling things, let's just say they're curious and a little nervous right now.  Here's a picture from outside the guest room we're keeping the boys in:

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: measuring gravity, measuring magnetism, antiseptic spices and Goya's bullfighting

Aug 30 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Measuring Gravity: Ain't Nothin' but a G Thing. Gravity is one of the fundamental forces of nature, but also one of the most difficult to measure precisely; a recent experimental measurement of the gravitational constant has shown significant deviation from the accepted value. Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles looks at a variety of recent gravitational measurements, and explains the implications of the recent discrepancy.
  • Snapshots of magnetic fields. While we're talking about things that are hard to measure, let's talk about magnetic fields! Magnetic fields are extremely difficult to measure with nanoscale precision and in the time domain, in marked contrast to measurements of other quantities. Joerg Haber of All That Matters discusses recent techniques for measuring such fields.
  • Spices as antiseptics... maybe. Spices can add lots of "zing" to your food, and make some people suffer while eating it, but do they serve an even more important biological function? Thomas Kluyver at Thomas' Plant-Related Blog looks at the evidence that the use of spices has served an antiseptic purpose in food preparation, and the limitations of that evidence.
  • Tauromaquia Today. And now for something completely different! Bécquer Medak-Seguín of Hispanic Studies Forum discusses a dispute in the interpretation of artist Goya's collection of etchings on bullfighting, La Tauromaquia.

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" selections!

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My favorite weird fiction of the past 3 years

Aug 29 2010 Published by under [Etc], Horror, Weird fiction

Happy (belated) blogiversary to me!  August 14th was the 3rd year anniversary of this blog, a milestone that I missed yet again in the hubbub of daily life.  Nevertheless, an anniversary is a good time for reflection, and one thing I wanted to look back upon is all of the fiction that I've read over the past 3 years.

I started "Skulls in the Stars" with a dual goal of increasing my reading and enthusiasm for both science and weird fiction.  These goals have been met and then some, but I've been particularly delighted by the amount of truly classic yet obscure weird fiction that I've come across that I wouldn't have otherwise.

With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to go back and share my favorite reads over the past 3 years, with a brief explanation of why I think they're great!  Most of these books are currently in print, thanks to the valiant efforts of a number of dedicated publishers.  These are not only some of the best books that I've read over the past 3 years, but now some of my favorite novels of all time.

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Weird science facts, May 9-May 22

Aug 25 2010 Published by under [PhysicalScience], Weirdscifacts

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from May 9 – May 22 are below the fold!

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Streets of the optical scientists!

Aug 23 2010 Published by under [PhysicalScience], Optics, Travel

This post is a repost of some proto-blogging I did on my department web page when I was a post-doc in Amsterdam.  The web page is gone, now, so I thought I'd revise the essay significantly for the blog here.

I don't think it is too much of an unfair generalization to say that science and scientists are rather unappreciated in the United States.  Folks are quite happy to reap the benefits of science and technology when it comes to their computers, iPhones, etc., but can be dismissive or indignant to scientists when their results show people truths that they are uncomfortable with, e.g. evolution and global warming.

That's not to say that other countries are necessarily much better, but I do occasionally run across pro-science efforts elsewhere that surprise me.  From 2003-2004, I did my post-doctoral work at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, an experience that I will count as one of the best times of my life.  Amsterdam is just a wonderfully livable, walkable city, and even on my limited salary I was able to enjoy it immensely.  While there, I kept up my figure skating training at the Jaap Eden Ijsbanen, which is located in the neighborhood of Watergraafsmeer outside of the city center.  I would take the bus to the rink from my apartment, and every day would travel down Maxwellstraat and past Lorentzlaan, but it didn't occur to me until near the end of my time in The Netherlands that these streets are named after the physicists James Clerk Maxwell and Hendrik Antoon Lorentz!

In fact, all streets in the neighborhood of Watergraafsmeer are named after famous scientists and mathematicians, which is really a joy for a physicist like me. So after skating at the last day of the season at the Jaap Eden Ijsbanen, I decided to wander the neighborhood and hunt down the streets of those physicists whose work in the optical sciences has been a great influence on my own life's work, combining physics & travel blogging!

I present the streets in no particular order of chronology or significance; rather I present them in the order that I wandered past them. Information about the scientists themselves I gleaned from a variety of sources, including printed biographies, internet sites, and historical articles by my thesis advisor. Pictures of the various scientists were taken from Wikipedia.  So without further ado, let us begin our tour -- feel free to follow along the trail via Google maps...

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: the first Englishman, the last Seismosaurus, the semantic web, hidden ruptures and E.T. life

Aug 23 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Unmasking Eoanthropus dawsoni, The First Englishman. This post was too late for the special "fools, failures and frauds" edition of The Giant's Shoulders history of science blog carnival, but it is a perfect researchblogging post! Krystal D'Costa of Anthropology in Practice discusses the infamous discovery of "Piltdown man", and how national pride, among other things, muddled the field of anthropology for decades.
  • Cylons and Smelloscopes: False Positives and False Negatives in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. In recent years, the search for extraterrestrial life has heated up with the ability to search for Earth-like planets outside our solar system. At his eponymous blog, The Astronomist describes the techniques for searching for life on other planets, and the pitfalls of such techniques.
  • What’s the point of the semantic web? Anyone who has been around long enough to remember web searching pre-Google knows how far the quality has improved. But can it be done even better, and how? David Bradley at Sciencebase explains the limits of current search engines, and describes how the "semantic web" could fix those limitations.
  • Friday(ish) Focal Mechanisms: Samoa’s hidden rupture. Though our understanding of earthquakes has increased tremendously in modern times, there is still much to learn and many subtleties in every recorded event. Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous discusses research that indicates that last year's Samoan earthquake was much more complicated than previously appreciated.
  • Whatever Happened to Seismosaurus? Finally, Brian Switek of Dinosaur Tracking takes a look at a dinosaur that drew a lot of attention in the 1990s -- Seismosaurus -- and explains why we don't hear anything about it any more!

Check back next week for more miscellaneous suggestions!

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Alan Hirshfeld's The Electric Life of Michael Faraday

In my blogging on the history of science, I tend to focus on the details of classic experiments -- the how, why, and what of scientific history -- and don't dwell as much on "who" actually does the work.  The personalities that drive the research, however, say as much about how science gets done as the actual techniques, and I've been trying to deepen my understanding by learning a bit more about the famous figures of science.

To this end, I've started reading a number of biographies of famous physicists.  Until I started looking, I was unaware that many of these biographies existed!  The first on my list was Alan Hirshfeld's biography of my favorite scientist of all time, Michael Faraday*, titled The Electric Life of Michael Faraday (2006):

I thought I'd share a few impressions about the book, and about Faraday in general!

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Weird science facts, April 25-May 8

Aug 18 2010 Published by under [PhysicalScience], Weirdscifacts

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from April 25 – May 8 are below the fold!

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: snails do it anti-chirally, the Tasmanian fish mystery, and an amateur impact hypothesis

Aug 16 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

Late posting of editor's selections this week -- life's events, including an emergency vet trip with a sick kitty (she's fine) -- delayed things!

  • Some snails prefer doing it anti-chiral. In our bawdiest post of the week, Kevin Zelnio of The Online Laboratory of Kevin Zelnio talk a bit about how snails procreate -- it turns out that one species of snail prefers to find mates that have shells that twist opposite to their own! *gasp!*
  • Why did the Tasmanians stop eating fish? Who doesn't love a mystery?  In an intriguing post, Greg Laden of his eponymous blog investigates what happened when early human inhabitants of islands were slowly cut off from the mainland by changing sea conditions.  The connection to fish eating is explained!
  • Amateur impact hypothesis makes it into major archaeology journal. Does an ancient Greek legend refer to a massive meteor strike in antiquity?  Martin Rundkvist of Aardvarchaeology looks at a recent paper making the case, and argues that the evidence isn't really what it's cracked up to be.

That's it for this week!  Next Monday, I'll hopefully be back on schedule!

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The Giant's Shoulders #26, "Fools, failures and frauds" edition, is out!

Aug 16 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

Hear ye, hear ye -- the 26th edition of The Giant's Shoulders, labeled the "Fools, failures and frauds" special edition, is available for perusal at Neurotic Physiology!  In this edition of the carnival we take a special look at those who committed scientific fraud, who performed experiments that failed, and folks who were just plain wrong and/or crazy!  Thanks to Scicurious for putting together a most excellent edition of the carnival!

The next edition of the carnival will be held at Entertaining Research, and the deadline for entries is September 15th.  Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

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