Last night’s “Super Blood Moon”: a photo essay

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.

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Posted in Personal, Physics | 2 Comments

The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke

I have such a big backlog of books to blog about — even though I’ve been struggling to focus on reading for fun!  But there are so many good books that I’ve read, from a variety of eras and writers, that I am determined to get through some commentary on each of them.

One of those is another classic that I picked up as part of the SF Masterworks series, Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 novel The City and the Stars.

As I’ve noted before, I have been playing “catch-up” with science fiction, as horror is my usual area of interest, so I am not extremely familiar with the great works of a lot of the classic authors.  As far as Arthur C. Clarke is concerned, I had read his novels Childhood’s End and the sublime Rendezvous with Rama, as well as many of his short stories, and of course I had seen the film versions of 2001 and 2010. But I had not read any of his other novels, so The City and the Stars seemed like a great opportunity to remedy this.

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Fake Book Titles Extravaganza!

I blame my twitter friend Bhaal_Spawn.  One Friday, a couple of months ago, she joined into a #FakeBookTitleFriday hashtag, in which one Photoshops new (and silly) titles onto covers of old books that are otherwise suggestive. Her thread can be seen here.

Of course, the concept of making fake book titles is not new, as Paperback Paradise has been posting hilarious covers for quite a while now, but I hadn’t felt the urge to try my hand at them myself.  But I was suddenly inspired (and probably looking for approval from Bhaal_Spawn, who is totally cool), and I started my own rapid-fire set of Fake Book Titles.

And I’m still doing them!  I must admit that I’m a bit addicted at this point. It is not only a way for me to exercise my funny bone, so to speak, but also to get some practice at Photoshop, so it’s a win-win for me.  But not everyone who follows the blog follows me on twitter, so I thought I’d share the massive collection of titles I’ve made so far over here, for your entertainment!  (I also wanted to collect them all in one place.)

Here they are, in order of my tweeting them!  Note that many of them use foul language, and a couple have partial nudity, so if this offends you, you might want to steer clear!

So without further ado, here are my Fake Book Titles!

Original title: Nurse In Training.

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Posted in ... the Hell?, Silliness | 2 Comments

History of the Conservation of Energy: Booms, Blood, and Beer (Part 2)

Part 2 of a trilogy of posts describing the history of the discovery of conservation of energy, inspired by my research on “Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics.” Part 1 can be read here.

In 1798, Count Rumford presented the first significant challenge to the caloric theory of heat, arguing that the seemingly endless amount of heat that could be generated by boring cannons was inconsistent with the idea that heat is a fluid that lies latent in all materials — and can therefore be exhausted.  Rumford subscribed to the alternative, and it turns out correct, theory: that heat is the observable effect of random motion of particles.

But Rumford did not significantly shift the scientific consensus. In the view of most researchers, the evidence still strongly favored the caloric theory, and Rumford’s results were viewed by some as actually bolstering that theory.

It would be a number of years before the next true milestone in the idea of conservation of energy, and it would also come from an unlikely source: a physician, serving as a doctor on a ship sailing to the Dutch East Indies.  Julius Robert Mayer would introduce the first formal statement of what we now know as the conservation of energy — by making an amazingly astute observation about blood.  His discovery, however, would cost him dearly in the long run.

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Dreadnought, by April Daniels

A young girl, who is alienated from her friends and family because she feels she must hide who she truly is, witnesses a battle between the world’s greatest superhero, Dreadnought, and a mysterious powerful new enemy.  In the end, Dreadnought falls. Before he dies, however, he passes on the power of Dreadnought to Danny, who must now decide what to do with this incredible gift.

It is, in its broad strokes, a familiar story.  But in April Daniels’ 2017 novel Dreadnought, Danny is a trans girl, born into a male body. The power of Dreadnought transforms Danny’s body into the form that she knew it always should be — but this comes with its own challenges, which pile on top of the burden of having inherited the mantle.

Though, as I said, the origin story of Dreadnought here is a broadly familiar one, April Daniels spins it into a fun, fast-paced, and enjoyable tale, with an impressive amount of world-building and interesting twists.

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Way of the Worm, by Ramsey Campbell

Over the summer, I blogged about the first two books in the “Three Births of Daoloth” trilogy by Ramsey Campbell, an ambitious work of cosmic horror that spans decades and follows the struggles of Dominic Sheldon against a family that threatens to destroy not only his family and life but the very world.

This October, the third book in the trilogy, The Way of the Worm, was released, and I wasted no time in reading it.

In my humble opinion: Ramsey Campbell has accomplished a rare and impressive feat: the creation of a compelling, intriguing, and haunting trilogy of horror.  As I noted in my previous post, it is relatively rare to see trilogies in horror that are a single, complete story arc.

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History of the Conservation of Energy: Booms, Blood, and Beer (Part 1)

Another post inspired by my research into my Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics book!

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but merely converted from one form to another.

Such is a typical statement of the law of conservation of energy, one of the most important unifying principles of physics.  We constantly experience its effects in our day to day lives, whether we recognize it or not.  When we accelerate our car, for instance, chemical energy in the fuel is converted into rotational energy in the wheels (with some lost as heat), which is in turn converted into kinetic energy — energy of motion — which carries us from place to place. When we step on the brakes to stop the car, that kinetic energy is converted into heat and some sound energy.

The conservation of energy proves the non-existence of perpetual motion machines: in order for a machine to provide unending motion, it must have an inexhaustible source of energy to power it. Or, in other words: you can’t get more energy out of a machine than you put into it.

An illustration of a perpetual failure, via volume 1 of The Harmsworth Magazine, 1899.

The conservation of energy has even led to important new discoveries. In the 1920s, physicists realized that energy (and momentum) was seemingly not conserved in the process of beta decay, in which an electron or positron is emitted from an unstable atomic nucleus.  Though some physicists (looking at you, Niels Bohr) were tempted to throw out the principle of energy conservation altogether, Wolfgang Pauli suggested in 1930 that there must in fact be another particle released in the decay — chargeless, nearly massless, and hardly interacting with ordinary matter. Experimental searches confirmed the existence of the neutrino, which is a key component in the current “theory of everything,” the Standard Model of Physics.

Though the conservation of energy is of fundamental importance in physics, it is a relative newcomer in the history of the subject.  Isaac Newton’s Principia was published in 1687, marking the start of quantitative theoretical physics, but conservation of energy was not established until the 1840s, over 150 years later.

Even more curious is the manner in which the three key discoveries were made. The earliest major breakthrough was made via cannon-boring, the next work was done by a doctor, and the conclusive research was done by a brewer! Hence, a simplified history of the discovery of the conservation of energy can be described as booms, blood, and beer!

In this post, I’ll summarize the early history of the subject, and talk at length about the “booms” part of the history. In the next two posts, we’ll cover “blood” and “beer.”

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Posted in History of science, Physics | 1 Comment