19th century optics FAILs

My recent post on the Pepper-Dircks ghost didn’t include even close to all of the interesting tidbits it could have!  There are so many things to learn from the story of the ghost, including some lessons about optics.

For example: in my post, I included two illustrations of the illusion at work from sources of that era.  One came from the 1868 book The World of Wonders

Pepper’s illusion in action, from The World of Wonders (1868).

… and the other came...

Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 19

Happy Holidays!  Nearing completion of a full year of facts!  Read on to learn what this strange leech-based device was designed to do.

341. (December 7). Starfish Prime, a 1962 space nuclear test, blew out power lines & lights 900 km away in Hawaii! This test was done, in essence, simply to see what would happen!  We learned some good science from it, though that was not really the military’s goal.

342. (December 8). Sigmund Freud — proponent of cocaine!...

Dircks and Pepper: A Tale of Two Ghosts

It is often told that in the 1860s, John Henry Pepper used science and technology to invent a ghost.

Or did he?

This is the surprisingly tricky question that we will try to answer in this lengthy post.

It is a somewhat sad and recurring theme in science that many discoveries are not named after the actual people that discovered them.  In fact, this phenomenon is so common that it has a name — Stigler’s law.  Appropriately, Stigler’s law was, in fact, first...

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

It is a truly daunting task to try and write a blog post about an utterly unique and undisputed classic of literature like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (1951). On the other hand, it is almost impossible to not write about such a book after reading it, considering the torrent of ideas it bombards and infuses you with.  I’ve never gotten very deep into science fiction in my life, and in recent years I’ve been trying to correct that by hunting down the classics: Foundation...

Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 18

Getting soooo close to having done a full year of Twitter weirdscifacts! Read below to learn the amazing ability that this seemingly ordinary European robin possesses.

326. (November 22).  Take a look at the crinoid, also known as the feather star.  Just take a look at the gif below, from video by Els Van Den Eijnden (and which I found via Southern Fried Science).

327. (November 23). One of the oddest-named mathematical theorems: the hairy ball theorem.  This theorem may...

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy

I’ve recently been trying to become more acquainted with science fiction as a genre, as most of my life I’ve been focused primarily on horror fiction.  A natural and obvious place to place some emphasis is on classic works from the golden age of science fiction, and a natural and obvious place to start there is with the work of Isaac Asimov.  A few weeks ago, I read Asimov’s Foundation (1951), and blogged my thoughts about it.

Asimov has written seven books...

Michael Faraday meets “The Ghost”

My most recent blog post, concerning the history of the Pepper-Dircks Ghost, was extremely long but didn’t even include all the fascinating aspects of its history.  For instance: the ghost was such an incredibly effective illusion that it even drew celebrities of all types to see it.  From Pepper’s own True History, for example, we have the following description from the May 20th, 1863 edition of The Times:

Yesterday morning, by special command. Professor...

The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories

I’ve been following Valancourt Books almost since they started publishing books back in 2005 (and of course I’ve written a number of book intros for them).  It has been really exciting to see them expand from their origins in reprinting very rare Victorian (and earlier) novels, to reprinting 20th century classics, to printing original anthologies.  This past October, they released a wonderful new anthology, The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories (VBHS...

Dinosaur feathers and other oddly-discovered science

Several days ago, a truly awe-inspiring and beautiful scientific achievement was announced to the public: the discovery of the first piece of amber ever found to actually contain the preserved tissue from the tail of a dinosaur, including bones, flesh — and feathers.

Photo by R.C. McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, via The Guardian.

We’ve known for quite some time that some dinosaurs are the ancestors of modern birds, and that those dinosaurs often had...

The Doomed City, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The first indication that something is seriously wrong in the city is the arrival of the baboons.  They appear without warning at the garbage dump by the hundreds, rapidly fanning out through the rest of the city and wreaking havoc wherever they go.

Where did they come from? Nobody knows. Why are they here? Nobody knows. What can be done about them? Very little, apparently: after attempts to kill or capture them fails, the government institutes a policy of “adopting”...

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