Book signing at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville on March 18th!

I am happy to announce that my next book signing for Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics will take place on March 18th at 6 pm at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville!

Please consider coming out to hear me read from the book, show some short videos of cats falling, and personally demonstrate some of the techniques that cats use to land on their feet!

If you don’t have a copy of the book yet and can’t wait, the book can also be ordered directly from Malaprop’s at this link, and also through IndieBound at this link. I believe you can contact the bookstore to order a signed copy in advance from me, as well, if you can’t make the event personally!

I will be hyping this event for the next month, so please put it in your calendar, spread the word, and attend if you can!

Posted in Personal, Physics | 2 Comments

The Influence, by Ramsey Campbell

I’ve been trying to get together enough focus to start reading fiction regularly again, and there was no better way to spark that interest and begin 2020 than by reading one of my favorite authors of all time, Ramsey Campbell.  At the end of 2019, Flame Tree Press released a new edition of one of Campbell’s classic novels from 1988, The Influence.

If you’re unfamiliar with Campbell’s work, he is a master of establishing an atmosphere of creeping dread. His stories are about the thing that moves out of the corner of your eye, that figure you think you see outside your window that may have just been a tree after all, that feeling you have when you’re sure you closed the basement door, but it is somehow open nevertheless.  Though not all of his novels follow quite the same pattern, The Influence is a perfect example of this style, and a great tale of slowly encroaching horror.

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Posted in Horror | 3 Comments

Visualizing the geometric phase of light!

Another post inspired by my book on Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics! I talk about geometric phases in the book in the context of falling cats, but here I focus on the polarization of light.

I regularly argue that most physics isn’t as scary and complicated as most people think. Once you get past the mathematics, which is analogous to a foreign language for the non-fluent, many of the concepts and ideas are intuitive, and even logical. This is, in fact, the motivation behind all the physics posts on this blog!

But some concepts are resistant to easy explanation, and can be quite difficult to understand, even when you are familiar with all the math involved!  One topic that has vexed me, from an intuitive perspective, for a number of years is the concept of geometric phase.  Broadly recognized as a general phenomenon in physics due to the groundbreaking work of Michael Berry in the 1980s, the basic idea is as follows. Some physical systems can be brought from an initial condition, or “state,” changed through a variety of intermediate states and back into its original condition, yet nevertheless have something different about it.

The easiest example of this to visualize is Foucault’s pendulum, a free-hanging pendulum on the Earth, which I have discussed in detail before. Because the pendulum is oscillating on the Earth, and the Earth is effectively turning underneath it, the pendulum changes the direction of its swing during the day.

For a pendulum at the North Pole, the Earth spins 360º underneath it during a day, making the pendulum appear to change direction by 360º. A pendulum at the equator doesn’t change direction at all over the course of a day. But this means that a pendulum at some intermediate latitude, such as Paris, changes direction by less than 360º during the course of the day. Although the Earth has rotated back to its starting position, the pendulum has not ended up swinging in the same direction — that discrepancy is what we call the geometric phase.  It is “geometric” because its unusual behavior is related to the spherical geometry of the Earth.

So this case is somewhat easy to understand, but there is also a geometric phase associated with the behavior of light!  This phase, called the Pancharatnam phase for reasons which we explain below, is a bit trickier to explain. Recently, however, I found a very nice way to visualize this change, and how it connects to “geometry.” This is what I will (hopefully) show in this post!

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Posted in Optics, Physics | Leave a comment

Old School Dungeons & Dragons: Part 12

Time again for another compilation of old School Dungeons & Dragons posts from twitter! I am still not tired of exploring the history and mechanics of classic RPGs and the adventures written for them.

Bughunters (1993), by Lester Smith. We begin with a look at a non-D&D roleplaying game produced by TSR in the early 90s, whose core conceit is pretty much given away in the title!

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Posted in Entertainment, Fantasy fiction | 7 Comments

Fake Book Titles Extravaganza #3!

Time for another round of Fake Book Titles that I’ve done, compiled from twitter!  You can see compilation 1 and compilation 2 at the links. These have proven to be a welcome distraction in stressful times. And, wow, I’ve done a lot since part 2!

As always with these, content warning for language, innuendo, and politics!

Original title: The Caves of Mars.

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Posted in ... the Hell?, Silliness | 4 Comments

About a cat flip video!

Okay, even though my book is now out in the world and I spent years working on it, I still manage to come across new things that surprise me about the problem of the falling cat!  A good example of this came across my twitter feed the other day: a video of a cat doing some pretty incredible acrobatics.  I include a gif of the relevant action, which includes a slower-motion version of the flip, below.

Gif of a cat flipping while walking, ending up facing the opposite direction.

The cat, and the people, are startled by the sound of a passing car. The cat almost instantly does a complicated maneuver that results in it turning to cat the possible threat.

What surprised me about this: assuming that this video has not been altered, and I have no reason to think that it has, we have a cat that is using the cat-righting reflex to do something quite distinct from making sure it lands on its feet! In particular, it is using the “cat flip” to change its horizontal orientation, rather than its vertical orientation.

Being that I am now evidently the world cat flip expert by default, I thought I would take a closer look at this video to see if I can analyze the motion being done.

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Posted in Animals, Physics | 2 Comments

A few more Falling Felines bits of news!

If you’re still not tired of Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics news, yesterday was a good day for new posts, which I thought I’d compile here, along with some earlier stuff I forgot to share!

The Curiosity Daily Podcast interviewed me late last year, and that interview went up yesterday! You can listen to the podcast here.

I wrote a blog post for BBC Science Focus giving an introduction to the science and history of falling felines, a bit of a “Cliff Notes” for the book, and it also appeared yesterday. You can read it here!

I somehow neglected to share this cool interview that my friend Jennifer Ouellette did with me about the book that appeared on Christmas Day, which you can read here!

It’s a small thing, but my longtime friend and colleague Scott Carney, when he announced the end of my term as an editor for the Journal of the Optical Society of America A, gave my book a shoutout!

I also did an early morning interview on Sirius XM’s Doctor Radio show about the book, but I don’t know if it is saved online — will investigate further…

Finally, I should mention that I will be doing my first “official” book event on Thursday, January 16th, at Park Road Books in Charlotte! I’m planning to read a bit from the book, sign copies, and try and demonstrate cat-turning techniques using an ice-skating spinner, so it should be an entertaining time if you’re in Charlotte or Charlotte-adjacent!  The event starts at 7:00 pm.

I had to take a screencap for myself!

Posted in Animals, History of science, Personal | Leave a comment