Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 7

Time for another round-up of weird science facts from twitter!  Click below to find out this guy was dressed for, and how it didn’t turn out so well for him.

Flying_tailor

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Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Ever since I read Dmitry Glukhovsky’s sublime 2005 novel Metro 2033, I’ve been interested in reading more Russian science fiction.  The next natural choice was the classic 1972 novel Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

roadsidepicnic

It’s a bit daunting to write a blog post about a book that is widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, and deservedly so: what can I add to the discussion that hasn’t already been said?  I won’t presume to add new insight about the book, but will simply share those thoughts that occurred to me while reading.

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Introducing Full Professor SkySkull!

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter, I thought I should share the news here: I received word from my department chair today that my promotion to Full Professor of Physics and Optical Science at UNCC was approved!

If you’re unfamiliar, there are typically 3 stages of promotion for faculty at U.S. universities.  One is hired as a tenure track Assistant Professor.  After about 5 years, one goes up for tenure and, if earned, becomes an Associate Professor with tenure.  Finally, after a comparable amount of time, if the faculty member has demonstrated that they have become a prominent member of their field and an essential member of the department, college, and university, they can earn promotion to Full Professor.  It is the highest rank a faculty member can earn, and I’ve done it!

You may ask, what does a “Full Professor” do with themselves?  Well, I’m of course new to the field, but this is my impression, in gif form, of how it goes.

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Physics demonstrations: the Mirascope

I recently participated again in the annual UNCC Science and Technology Expo, showing off neat science demos to the public.  This year, I decided to add a table of “Optics and Illusions,” to show how science and our own brains can be used to trick us.  Of all the cute tricks I showed, however, none was as popular as the Mirascope that I purchased for $9!

3-D_Mirascope_large

The device produces a clever optical illusion; I recently purchased a slightly larger version of the Mirascope, and a video of it in action is below. (Apologies for the quality; I had a hard time trying to focus on the image.  I’ll post a better video as soon as I can take one.)

A small object placed within the device produces an image that appears to hover right over the central hole.  The video does not even do the effect justice; it is really something one needs to see for oneself. Both the Mirascope and its larger competition bill themselves as “holograms,” though the effect is not a true hologram in any sense of the word! Rather, it is a clever implementation of simple geometrical optics.  Explaining how it works is an excellent opportunity to talk about some basics of light propagation, and how light forms images.

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John Wyndham’s Stowaway to Mars

Even if you don’t know John Wyndham‘s name, you are familiar with his writing.  Wyndham (1903-1969) wrote a number of incredibly famous and influential science fiction novels, including two that have been adapted for screen several times: The Day of the Triffids (1951) and The Midwitch Cuckoos (1957).  One of his other novels, The Kraken Wakes (1953), is in my opinion a neglected classic that has wandered in and out of print and even his last novel, Web (1979), is surprisingly charming.

I recently decided to explore the beginning of his writing career, and I ordered a copy of his second science fiction novel, and third published novel overall, Stowaway to Mars, originally published as Planet Plane (1936) under Wyndham’s pen name John Benyon.

wyndham-stowaway

I was really curious to read early Wyndham — would the early work have the same imaginative spark?

… and then the book arrived, and I read the back cover.

stowawaybackcover

Whoa.

This blurb caused me the greatest intellectual whiplash.  It starts out reading like a vision of 2016 (with its “Ansari X Prize“-esque prize for space travel, and a private space race to Mars) and ends up reading like a nightmare from 1956.  But how sexist would the novel itself be, and could the vision of Wyndham rescue it anyway?

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Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 6

Time for another roundup of Twitter #weirdscifacts!  Read below to learn the amazing secret this single unearthed coin revealed.

Domitianus_II_obverse_ashmolean_2014

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Orrin Grey’s Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts

When I was a kid, I was terrified of horror stories.  I really couldn’t handle even the mildest of tales: one that sticks out in my head as particularly scary at the time was the 1962 movie version of Day of the Triffids, an enjoyable film but not one I would classify as particularly scary.

All this changed quite suddenly, when one day I decided, for no obvious reason, to watch an episode of Tales From the Darkside.  (It was an episode called “The Madness Room,” which came out in 1985 — so I was 14.)  I was genuinely nervous to watch it, but was pleasantly surprised when it turned out the episode had a dark sense of humor and irony about it.  That was perhaps the first time it really, truly dawned on me that horror fiction, while it doesn’t always have to be funny, could actually be fun: that it could convey a gruesome story without being excessively, well, horrific.  From then on, I was hooked.

I thought of this again while reading the excellent collection Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts by Orrin Grey.

paintedmonsters

This volume, Grey’s second collection after 2012’s Never Bet the Devil and Other Warnings, contains 13 stories of weirdness and horror that pay tribute, directly and indirectly, to the cinematic monsters of the past.  In fact, the book is dedicated to horror greats Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and others that made an impact as monsters or their opponents.  The stories are all very good — one of them, “Persistence of Vision,” was recently selected for inclusion in volume 7 of The Best Horror of the Year anthology.  But, above all, I found these stories to possess a sense of fun amidst the creepiness that really captivated me.

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