Gardinel’s Real Estate, by M.S. Corley and Orrin Grey

I love “old dark house” stories!  Such stories, which involve a group of people gathered or trapped in a sinister house and subjected to horrors, include haunted house stories but are not limited to stories about ghosts.  I first learned the term “old dark house” via Orrin Grey’s introduction to the excellent 1927 novel Benighted, which led to the 1932 film “The Old Dark House.”

Grey has taken his own love of old dark houses much further than me!  He and M.S. Corley recently published a lovely little chapbook, Gardinel’s Real Estate.


This short 32-page book is a real estate guide for old dark houses, with illustrations of each house given by Corley and written descriptions given by Grey.  The drawings are beautiful, and the descriptions utterly charming, involving forbidden experiments, vampirism, ghosts, and more.  It is not a long read — I read it in its entirely one night before bed — but it is well-worth looking at.  A sample house from the book can be seen on M.S. Corley’s website.

The print version, which is pictured above, was released in a limited edition of only 100, which sold out about the same time that I received my copy!  You might wonder why I’m blogging about something which is already sold out, but fortunately an e-book version is now available, for those unable to get a print edition.

One reason I really love Gardinel’s Real Estate is that it shows the wonderful possibilities for horror when artists and authors collaborate!  I don’t think I’ve seen a book quite like it before, but I hope to see more like it in the future.

Fans of haunted houses and authors looking for something to inspire their imagination will find Gardinel’s a lovely investment.

Posted in Horror | 2 Comments

Jane Marcet educates Michael Faraday

This post is in honor of Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of the contributions of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Even when women weren’t officially recognized as scientists or allowed to pursue a formal education or career in science, they still managed to make incredible contributions in a variety of ways.  Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in the story of Jane Marcet (1769-1858), a pioneer in providing science education to women.  Starting in 1805, she wrote a series of science books tailored towards women, the most popular being the 1805 Conversations on Chemistry, which went through 16 editions in Britain alone.  The books became standard textbooks in a number of girls’ schools in the United States.

But women were not the only ones who benefited from Marcet’s writing.  The great Michael Faraday, who demonstrated the connections between electricity, magnetism and light, got his start in science from reading Marcet’s Chemistry!

Continue reading

Posted in History of science, Women in science | 3 Comments

The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, by Ramsey Campbell

I haven’t blogged about any of his books recently, but I have said many times before on this blog that Ramsey Campbell is my favorite horror author of all time.  As I noted in a recent post, his novella Needing Ghosts is perhaps the only work of fiction that I’ve ever read that made me doubt my own sanity.

What makes his work so powerful?  Campbell is a master of subtle, creeping horror.  His monsters do not typically jump out at the reader, but rather lurk in the shadows, skittering in one’s peripheral vision.  The cumulative effect is to leave the reader increasingly unsettled, struggling to understand the nature of the threat.  On top of this, Campbell is simply a masterful, beautiful writer.  It was once aptly said of him that in his writing, it is “the words that count.”  (Which he turned into a 1975 story of the same name.)

This past week, I read one of his more recent works the 2013 novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki.


This book is quite different from Campbell’s work of recent years, as it is explicitly Lovecraftian in nature, featuring monstrous, uncaring elder gods and books filled with forbidden knowledge.  Like many horror authors, however, Campbell got his start by writing Lovecraft pastiches; his first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, was published by Arkham House in 1964 and featured a variety of Lovecraft-like stories.  In the titular story, Campbell introduced the ancient monstrous god Gla’aki, who dwells in a lake in the bottom of a remote English lake.

The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, then, would appear to be a bit of an homage to the work that got Campbell started in his writing career in the first place!

Continue reading

Posted in Horror, Lovecraft | Leave a comment

Paris: City of lights and cosmic rays

This post of mine originally appeared on the Scientific American guest blog some time ago.  Considering it has been three years, and it’s always been one of my favorite pieces of writing, I thought it was time to “bring it home” to Skulls in the Stars.

Paris has long had the nickname “The City of Light,” due to its role as a center of education during the Age of Enlightenment and, in the 1800s, due to its early implementation of electric lighting. It very nearly had its name associated with another form of radiation in 1910, however, thanks to a truly unique experiment performed in the most iconic spot in the city: the Eiffel Tower!  The experiment, which was the first significant evidence of the existence of cosmic radiation, also highlights the challenges scientists experienced in the early 20th century and the ingenuity they used to overcome them.

Continue reading

Posted in History of science, Physics | Leave a comment

Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, by Liz Heinecke

Though I spent a lot of time thinking about how to properly explain science in a way that is comprehensible to non-scientists, my biggest Achilles heel is my lack of experience in explaining things at a level that kids can understand.  Fortunately, there are a growing number of resources out there to help people do kid-friendly science!  One that just came out last month is Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, by Liz Heinecke:


Heinecke has been a long-time advocate for kid-friendly science experiments, and runs the  very nice blog The Kitchen Pantry Scientist, where she describes experiments that can be done safely at home with ingredients that can be found, of course, in one’s kitchen pantry!  She has also produced a mobile app, KidScience, which provides convenient multimedia descriptions of a set of home experiments.

Now we have Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, which provides detailed, quantitative, full-color descriptions of 52 experiments.  The “labs” cover chemistry, physics and biology, and are divided into 12 units.  One unit, for example, is Rocket Science, which contains the following experiments:

  • Film canister rockets
  • Easy straw rockets
  • Sky-high bottle rockets
  • Edible electromagnetic wave experiment

In full disclosure, I’m friends with Liz, having first met her at ScienceOnline, the long-running online science communication conference.  I even have a small contribution in the book, having introduced her to the Kaye effect, which I’ve blogged about previously.  As is her specialty, Liz made the experiment even easier to do, though she graciously included a description of my technique, as well.

I can personally attest to how fun the experiments are!  This Spring, based on Liz’s suggestions, I put together a “Kitchen Pantry” demonstration table at the UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo.  The table was a hit, and drew consistent crowds for the duration of the event.

Students performing some kitchen science at the Expo.

Students performing some kitchen science at the Expo.

Kitchen Science Lab for Kids gives a thorough description of each experiment.  It includes a list of materials, a detailed protocol, and an explanation of the science behind the demonstration.  The collections of experiments are well-organized and often connect to each other, giving the inquisitive student a path through the book.

It is worth noting that although the experiments are designed to be safe, some of them still require some adult supervision.  It is hard to do science without occasionally heating things up or potentially making a mess!

In summary: a really great book!  I feel that I’ve gained a lot of insight into making science kid-friendly from reading it, and I imagine a lot of parents will find it a fun and educational resource for their children.

Posted in General science | Leave a comment

Nobel Prize roundup: It’s all about the optics!

This week, the Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry were announced, and it was a photonics two-fer!  The physics prize went to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.”

Blue LEDs might sound like a trivial topic for a Nobel Prize, but most reports on the award rightly point out that the physics behind these LEDs is non-trivial and their positive impact on society is inarguable.  A few of the articles that came out on this are below:

The chemistry prize went to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, and William Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”.

In short: were are typically limited in optical imaging by the wavelength of light.  Attempts to resolve objects that are smaller than or closer together than the wavelength are unsuccessful, as the images tend to blur into each other.  However, by making the target objects “glow,” or fluoresce, it is possible to beat this resolution limit and even spot individual molecules.  A few articles on this:

This dual win for optical devices and techniques shows how important the study of light remains even today!


Posted in Optics, Science news | Leave a comment

“Count Like an Egyptian” over at The Finch & Pea!

For those who just can’t get enough of my writing (anyone?), I wrote a guest post over at The Finch & Pea about the book Count Like an Egyptian by David Reimer.

countlikeanegyptianCheck it out! Not only do I discuss the book, which is an in-depth textbook teaching one how to do ancient Egyptian mathematics, but I demonstrate how subtraction was done.

The post can be read at The Finch & Pea!


Posted in Mathematics, Personal | Leave a comment