Optics in the solar eclipse!

Just a very short note: I’m on the road, aiming to be in the path of totality of the solar eclipse hitting tomorrow.  One of the things I’m going to be looking at, in addition to the ghostly hidden sun, is the sky surrounding it. I recently wrote a blog post for American Scientist about some of the history of sky measurements during the eclipse: what could be measured, and how?

There’s a bit about light, a bit about sky glow, and a bit about polarization. Check it out!

I will hopefully have more to say and show about the eclipse after I’ve seen it…

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Paintings I Love, Painting Is Love: A Storify

Somewhat despairing of all the relentlessly bad news in politics and the world, today I decided to post a series of beautiful paintings on twitter as a bit of an antidote.  I invited anyone else to offer their own favorites, and it turned into a rather large and lovely thread.  I compiled all the tweets into a Storify, and thought that I would share that link here for those not on twitter.  A sample:

Read the whole Storify at the attached link!


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10 years of Skulls in the Stars

I’ve been traveling a bit again lately and been rather busy with work, so I haven’t had much time to blog.  I wanted to acknowledge, however, a rather significant milestone of this site: today officially marks the ten year anniversary of Skulls in the Stars.

Sadly, I got some potentially bad news in my personal life today, as well, so I am still not super-motivated to write, but it seemed wrong to not acknowledge such a big date.  I started Skulls in the Stars on August 14, 2007, with my first post, “Educate or Bust,” whose title was taken from one of Robert E. Howard’s very obscure stories.  The blog title itself comes from Robert E. Howard’s work: Howard is best known for being the creator of Conan, but my favorite stories of his feature a fanatical and justice-driven Puritan named Solomon Kane.  As I describe on my “about” page, “Skulls in the Stars” is a story in which Kane must go against his own black-and-white ethical code to end the threat of a creature of darkness. This idea — that sometimes reality is more complicated than our ideas can accommodate — seemed like a good guiding theme for my musings on life, fiction, and science.  Robert E. Howard himself, by all accounts, seems to have been a kind man with a strong sense of justice, and was significantly ahead of his time on many social issues.

First appearance of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane, in Weird Tales, August 1928.

I was inspired to start blogging back in the day by the writings of bloggers and eventual friends Blake Stacey and P.Z. Myers, who showed me how fun and interesting writing about science can be. At the start, I wrote the blog pseudonymously, as I was a relatively new untenured professor and was unsure whether I would continue this work or not.  By the time I was up for tenure, I was happy to add my blog work to my official tenure package, and it was well-received by the administration!  I am no longer really pseudonymous, but I keep the name “Dr. SkySkull” as a pen name anyway.

To commemorate the anniversary, I thought I would briefly share a few of my favorite posts from over the years: a cross-section of my evolution as a blogger, with a few comments about each.

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Posted in History of science, Personal | 1 Comment

John Blackburn’s A Book of the Dead

If you’ve read my blog enough, you know that I occasionally write introductions for volumes released by the excellent Valancourt Books, in particular a lot of introductions to the work of the late John Blackburn (1923-1993), master of horror and thrillers.  Well, I’m happy to say that one of Blackburn’s rarest books, A Book of the Dead, was recently released by Valancourt, with an introduction again by me!

A Book of the Dead (1984) is Blackburn’s second-to-last novel, and it is a murder mystery set in the world of used book sellers.  When a longtime book trader turns up dead after paying a ridiculous amount of money for an obscure and unimportant nonfiction adventure book called Men of Courage, his friend Tom Payne suspects foul play.  With the help of the lovely heiress Janet Vale and the obnoxious and egotistical adventurer J. Moldon-Mott, he begins an investigation not only into the circumstances of the death but into history of the seemingly uninteresting book.  The trio quickly finds themselves in a race to unmask the murderer not only before he strikes again, but before he strikes out at them!

A Book of the Dead is a great Blackburn book with some very odd quirks to it.  In my introduction, I talk about why it may be considered Blackburn’s most rare and most famous book, at the same time!  Folks who enjoy clever, fast-paced mystery novels will find it quite enjoyable.

Posted in Mystery/thriller, Personal | 1 Comment

Dr. SkySkull in Rome: Colosseo and Palatino

Part 3 of a series of photo essays on my recent trip to Rome. Part 1 can be read here, and Part 2 can be read here.

We got up early on day 3 in Rome to head to the Colosseum.  On the recommendation of my guidebook, I had purchased combined Colosseum/Palatine Hill tickets for us the night before, and this turned out to be a great idea. Instead of waiting in a line that might have been hours long, we were able to go through a separate line where we waiting, in the shade, for some 20 minutes at most before getting inside.  I highly recommend buying the “full” combined tickets at coopculture.  Even if you don’t visit the Palatine Hill, the time savings is worth it, though the Palatino is definitely worth visiting, as we will see below.

Only once we had passed the ticket readers did I realize that I had been doubting that we would actually make it inside!  The Colosseum is one of the top tourist attractions in Rome, and probably a top attraction in Europe, and we were in Rome during the tourist season; the day before, we heard that the (regular) line was over three hours long.  I took the following selfie to convince myself that I was, in fact, going to see the Colosseum.


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Posted in Animals, History of science, Personal, Travel | 1 Comment

Swift to Chase, by Laird Barron

(Taking a short break from entanglement and Rome posts to catch up on some fiction blogging!)

Laird Barron is, in my humble opinion, one of the most talented authors of horror fiction working today, and will be regarded historically as one of the greats of all time.  I quickly snap up anything new by him — though sometimes it takes me a little while to become aware of it!

I recently read Barron’s Swift to Chase, which came out in October of 2016.  It is the fourth major collection of his short stories, after The Imago Sequence (2007), Occultation (2010), The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All (2013).

(There is also a special limited edition collection, A Little Brown Book of Burials, that came out in 2015.)

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Dr. SkySkull in Rome: Working and walking

Part 2 of a series of photo essays on my recent trip to Rome. Part 1 can be read here.

Day 2 of our Rome trip was a combination of work and vacation. The choice of Rome as a destination was originally motivated by an invitation from an optics colleague to visit him at Roma Tre University, and my former postdoc advisor and I both volunteered to give short talks about our research.  We were scheduled for pre-lunchtime presentations, so we slept in a little bit and then took a taxi to the university.

Even a taxi ride in Rome can be interesting, though, as we passed several ancient landmarks of note along the way!  Three of them appeared in a single photo I snapped on the road.

The Piazza Bocca della Verità.

In the foreground of this piazza is the Fountain of the Tritons (Fontana dei Tritoni), completed in 1715 under order of Pope Clement XI as a monument in his memory.  Right behind that is a significantly older structure, the Tempio di Ercole Vincitore (Temple of Hercules Victor), which dates to the 2nd century B.C.E.!  The roof on the structure is not original, but was added later; the columns are original.  On the far right of the photo is the Tempio di Portuno (Temple of Portunus), originating in the 3rd or 4th century B.C.E. but rebuilt somewhere around 100 B.C.E. It, and the Temple of Hercules Victor, were both converted to Catholic churches at some point in their history and probably owe their survival to this.

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Posted in Personal, Travel | 2 Comments