This blog post is based on some early experimental writing that was done for my Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics book that was cut from the final draft! As you will see, it was much too long and too much of a digression to include in the book, so I’ve posted it here sorta as a preview of not-quite-the-book!
Some of the most fascinating physics demonstrations are some of the oldest. In my office, I have several versions of a device known as a Crookes radiometer, including both quality display pieces as well as a cheap plastic version.
A Crookes radiometer looks very much like a four-armed weathervane, each arm of the vane having a white side and a black side, or a glossy side and a matte side. The entire vane is contained within a thin glass (or plastic) case. When direct light, from the sun or a flashlight, is shined upon the device, it begins to rotate: it is a device whose movement is entirely powered by light!
Though the radiometer is simple in design, its discovery resulted in an epic 50 year history of physicists attempting to adequately explain the origin of its motion. The device would attract the interest of some of the most famous scientists of its time, and provoke lively scientific arguments. It is, in fact, a good illustration of how the solution of problems in physics can often be trickier than they first appear to be!
(NOTE: Updated the post to include one additional Tomb-related adventure, which I completely forgot about while first writing!)
Part of this feeling on my part is certainly nostalgia, but there really isn’t anything quite like the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and its associated published adventure modules. Recently on twitter, I’ve been reminiscing about “Old School Dungeons & Dragons” and discussing some of the classics of D&D and AD&D.
However, there are some adventures that deserve more than a handful of tweets to discuss. One of these, and one of the greatest of all time is the Tomb of Horrors, a 1981 adventure that was the first official “deathtrap dungeon,” designed solely to torment, challenge, and exterminate the player characters. It is incredible for a number of ways, and I thought I would take a little time to talk about why it is so great, and a bit of its legacy!
Big news from about my upcoming book, Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics: we have a release date — October 22nd — and a cover!!!
Furthermore, and perhaps most important, the book is now available for pre-order! You can order it through Amazon at this link or, if you prefer, you can order it directly from Yale University Press at their website!
The official blurb is as follows:
The question of how falling cats land on their feet has intrigued humans since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. In this playful and eye-opening history, physicist and cat parent Gregory Gbur explores how attempts to understand the cat-righting reflex have provided crucial insights into puzzles in mathematics, geophysics, neuroscience, and human space exploration.
The result is an engaging tumble through physics, physiology, photography, and robotics to uncover, through scientific debate, the secret of the acrobatic performance known as cat-turning, the cat flip, and the cat twist. Readers learn the solution, but also discover that the finer details still inspire heated arguments. As with other cat behavior, the more we investigate, the more surprises we discover.
I’m really excited to share more information going forward! I would like to share the table of contents next, but I want to check with my publisher first to see if that’s okay. More to come!
And, of course, more blog posts to come! The past two weeks I was quite busy working through the major editorial comments on the book draft. I’m mostly done with those, so I should have a bit more free time!
You may recall the big post I did back in December in which I shared a bunch of fake book titles that I had made and shared on twitter? Well, I’ve kept doing those fake titles regularly ever since then, and I thought it was a good time to do a second mega-post compiling everything new I’ve done to date! So, without further ado, here is Volume 2 of my Fake Book Titles Extravaganza!
Original title: A Collection of Stories. I’m quite proud of the work I put in to remove the old title.
I haven’t written a blog post for over a month, so I thought I should stop in and do something! I’ve had quite a few ups and downs in life over that month, as well as some travel and a lot of work to do — including reviewing the editor’s comments for my upcoming cat physics book! (I have mostly finished them now, thankfully!)
Two weekends ago, I ended up in Chicago for my sister’s 50th birthday party — oh, how time has flown! While I was there, I caught up on some of my favorite Chicago things, like the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and a plate of White Castle cheeseburgers.
The decision to visit White Castle was fortuitous. On the way to the fast food restaurant, we passed by Orchids by Hausermann, a quite old and very prestigious greenhouse that specializes in orchids of unimaginable variety. Carl Hausermann started growing plants in the 1920s, and his son turned the business into a nearly orchid-exclusive one in 1935. Since then, they’ve become a huge and influential seller of orchids both for professionals and casual hobbyists. Since we were literally right around the corner, my mom, my roommate Sarah and I opted to go for a visit.
The entrance/exit to the Hausermann shop.
It turned out to be a very good weekend to do so! Hausermann’s was holding an open house, so visitors were able to explore pretty much the entirety of the operation, and see all sort of beautiful orchids of every size and color. So, in this blog post, I thought I would simply share some photos of the highlights of the visit. Along the way, I’ll have a few comments, but mostly, this is a photo post!
One thing I really enjoy about being on twitter is meeting and learning about authors that I might otherwise not have encountered in my rather limited experience. These experiences are pretty much always rewarding, and the same is true with my most recent read, Natalie Grey’s The Dragon Corps (2018).
Across all of the planets of the Alliance, no military organization is more feared than the Alliance’s Dragon Corps, elite teams of soldiers who handle the difficult missions in the remote reaches of space, where governments and people are lawless. When the Dragon Corps comes for you, it is your doom.
So last night was anopportunity for folks on the East Coast of the United States to see a relatively rare event: a lunar eclipse! Hyped as a “Super Blood Moon” (we’ll get to that in a moment), it took place beginning late Sunday night and stretched into Monday morning. At that time, the Moon was high in the sky, meaning that anyone could see the progress of the eclipse simply by looking up.
Why “Super Blood Moon”? Well, mostly hype. It’s “super” because the Moon is near its closest to the Earth, though this means that it appears roughly 10% larger than usual. It is called a “Blood Moon” because it takes on a reddish color during the totality of the eclipse, which arises because the only light hitting it is the red light deflected through the Earth’s atmosphere — it is being illuminated by all sunrises and sunsets around the world simultaneously! More information can be found on the Bad Astronomy blog.
But “super” and “blood” are small details, as seeing any lunar eclipse is a cool thing. I must admit: I hadn’t really planned on staying up and photographing the eclipse, but the posts by all my science communication twitter friends got me excited for it. I quickly grabbed my old Canon camera, a Powershot SX50 HS, and my camera tripod, and went out to take pictures.