truly a site unseen

Archive for the 'Theory and practice' Category

Today a paper clip, tomorrow a fashion model

Well, okay, not tomorrow, as in “the day after today,” but apparently they’ve made a heck of a start:

In the past, researchers have only been able to “cloak” microscopic objects using extremely complicated physics and so-called meta-materials made on a tiny scale.

But a new study at the University of Birmingham in the UK has taken a major step forward by making a paper clip invisible — an object thousands of times bigger than in previous experiments.

Invisible paper clips! How do they work?

The research works by using a naturally forming crystal called calcite which has extraordinary light-bending abilities.

By placing the crystals over an object it “bounces” light around it rendering it invisible to the naked eye.

And apparently calcite has been found in crystals up to 21 feet long, about the length of the current Rolls-Royce Phantom.

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Who will bell the cat?

There has been much talk of metamaterials and their application, but not so much about who’s going to do the actual research.

Perhaps this is a clue:

My guess is that we would see the lead in this project being taken by high school science whizzes who would never never never never never never never use a working invisibility cloak to camp inside the girls’ locker room with the highest megapixel resolution video camera they could get their hands on.

Five will get you 22.7 there turns out to be a girl on the team.

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You … sibling!

Bill B. recommends My Invisible Sister by Beatrice Colin and Sara Pinto (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010), the tale of a nine-year-old boy named Frank who is, as nine-year-old boys often are, tormented by an older sister. Elizabeth is thirteen, which is bad enough, but she’s also invisible, which means that, as the cover says, “trouble is so much harder to handle when you can’t see it coming.” It doesn’t help that he thinks the parental units always take her side.

Unusually for a book dealing with this subject, My Invisible Sister does not relegate the young lady to the shadows: she goes to school every day, and apart from her lack of appearance, she is regarded as a fairly normal person. It helps that the genetic anomaly that caused her condition is merely rare, not unique. It’s a charming little book with something of a twist at the end, and if you’re about Frank’s age, you’ll probably enjoy it a lot.

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Mildly super

Dr Hermes feels that the 1940 version of The Invisible Woman falls short of its potential, but he does seem amused by Kitty’s I’ll-save-the-day attitude towards the end:

The best part of the movie is Kitty as a super-heroine. Twenty years before Sue Storm went up into that cosmic ray bath, Kitty Carroll is being held at gunpoint by crooks who have kidnapped her and Professor Gibbs. Swigging down a convenient flask of pure grain alcohol, she quickly throws her clothes in all directions. To give her credit, Kitty does manages to clobber all the goons successfully without getting caught. As her new boyfriend approaches, she decides to let him “save” her. So Kitty sprays the ground in front of his car with machine-gun bullets (!?). Say, maybe the invisibility is starting to make her homicidal, at that. She then cries pitifully for help and allows him to make a daring leap into an amazingly shallow fish pond. (This is quite a stunt, by the way, looking as if it belongs in a Republic serial.)

This was, I suspect, as far as they dared go with letting a mere female take the initiative: the otherwise-clueless boyfriend could not be shown up because — well, this sort of thing is just not done.

Still, you have to wonder what this film might have been like had it been made outside the strictures of the Production Code, which became de facto law for Hollywood productions in 1934.

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One sloshing step closer

Hold still, now, this will take a while:

When J. K. Rowling described Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak as “fluid and silvery”, she probably wasn’t thinking specifically about silver-plated nanoparticles suspended in water. But a team of theorists believe that using such a set-up would make the first soft, tunable metamaterial — the “active ingredient” in an invisibility device.

The fluid proposed by Ji-Ping Huang of Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and colleagues, contains magnetite balls 10 nanometres in diameter, coated with a 5-nanometre-thick layer of silver, possibly with polymer chains attached to keep them from clumping.

The chains and columns would lie along the direction of [a] magnetic field. If they were oriented vertically in a pool of water, light striking the surface would refract negatively — bent in way that no natural material can manage.

The trick, so far, has been widening the spectrum within which the metamaterials can function: while they’ve successfully blocked infrared in similar experiments, they’re a long way from blocking the complete range of visible wavelengths.

(Source here. Via Fark.)

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Moscow takes a stand

The Russian agency in charge of advertising has ruled that invisible persons cannot appear, so to speak, in beer commercials.

This ruling plugs a loophole in existing law, which forbids the display of humans and animals, live or animated, in such advertising; even having the characters offstage is forbidden.

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It’s coming, not that you’ll see it

Science News (21 November 2009) has a roundup of much of the work being done in the field of cloaking devices and such, and one of the more interesting projects goes something like this:

This year in [Physical Review Letters], a team led by Che Ting Chan, a Berkeley-trained physicist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, describes an approach called “remote cloaking.” It not only (in theory) renders an object invisible, but also does so with a device sitting next to rather than surrounding the thing to be hidden. Invisibility, says one of the team’s papers, is merely the process of altering the light so an object “looks like air.” Even better, the group claims, it may be possible to make one thing look like another — for example “change an apple optically to [a] banana.” The researchers call this offshoot “illusion optics.”

Not even Star Trek’s Romulans got that far.

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Do it yourself

I know for a fact that several readers have been doing their own photo manipulations for several years now. I’ve done a few myself, for that matter. If you’re curious as to How It’s Done, here’s a tutorial that presumes you’re using the ubiquitous Adobe Photoshop package. It’s time-consuming, you may be sure, but the results can be quite remarkable.

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Girl, you know it’s true

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs


It’s all in your head

I have no command of Portuguese, but the picture says quite enough.

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Keeping skyscrapers visible

Now this is ingenious. The same kind of technology that makes invisibility cloaks work, sort of, can protect buildings in earthquakes:

The new theoretical cloak comprises a number of large, concentric rings made of plastic fixed to the Earth’s surface. The stiffness and elasticity of the rings must be precisely controlled to ensure that any surface waves pass smoothly into the material, rather than reflecting or scattering at the material’s surface.

When waves travel through the cloak they are compressed into tiny fluctuations in pressure and density that travel along the fastest path available. By tuning the cloak’s properties, that path can be made to be an arc that directs surface waves away from an area inside the cloak. When the waves exit the cloak, they return to their previous, larger size.

The same way our prototype cloaking devices divert light away from the object to be cloaked. I am impressed.

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Girl, unvisualized

I popped open Sarah Neufeld’s Visibility, and of course had to check out the author; about the only thing I’m sure of is that she is not the Sarah Neufeld who plays violin for Arcade Fire.

The book itself is a charmer, an illustrated novel, not quite a graphic novel but more than just text. (The illustrations are by D. Meister.) Natalie Irving is just turning seventeen, and if she seems like an angsty teenager, well, she has some reason to be: her mother Jadyn — formerly “Janice,” but that name was insufficiently cool — can snap herself into invisibility, a gift she’s used for all manner of self-aggrandizement, and of course to keep her daughter on edge more or less 24/7. Up to now, Jadyn’s power hadn’t been part of Natalie’s own skill set.

What makes Visibility more than your run-of-the-unseen-mill invisibility yarn is that when Natalie vanishes, so does most of her vision, as the laws of physics would seem to demand, and other senses are called upon to fill in the blanks. For instance:

I decide almost immediately that I like the stairs. For one thing, even the scuffing of my ballet slippers against the stone is enough to let me see the next two or three steps. And, even if I couldn’t see, there’s a handrail to follow.

Usually this issue is given a perfunctory handwave and ignored.

The novel is $15 from Bowler Hat Comics; an e-book version is available. It’s a seriously good read, and the illustrations are apt.


The Invisible Woman Runs for President

A poem by Karen A. Romanko, which appeared shortly after the 2008 election. Very wry and satirical — and appropriately so, I’d say.

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Griffins in abundance

H. G. Wells’ original Invisible Man wasn’t the first such character to be envisioned — the concept goes back at least as far as Plato’s Republic, in which shepherd Gyges of Lydia acquires the power by means of a magic ring — but in one way, Wells’ character set the standard for invisible characters to follow: by his name, which was Griffin.

Wells didn’t give Griffin a first name, but James Whale’s 1933 film The Invisible Man did, naming him Jack. In the sequel, The Invisible Man Returns (1940), the unseen character is Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe, though he obtains the Secret Formula from Griffin’s brother Frank. And one subsequent Universal film on the subject, 1942’s Invisible Agent, posited the existence of a grandson of Jack Griffin who possessed the formula but sought to keep it secret: after emigrating to the States, he took the name “Frank Raymond.”

In the graphic-novel series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill took Wells’ Griffin, contrived for him to survive the novel, and gave him the first name Hawley, possibly a reference to Dr Crippen.

Nor is the Griffin “line” confined to men. Dee Wallace Stone’s Invisible Mom character was named Laura Griffin; the heroine of T. J. MacGregor’s novel Out of Sight was Logan Griffin; and in SciFi’s Sanctuary series, Nigel Griffin, one of The Five, apparently passed his power down to daughter Anna Thayer Griffin, who in turn passed it along to daughter Clara.

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Invisible and intangible

Technogal wants to know:

Suppose that you were given the disappearing formula that works only for three hours of being totally invisible to others, while no one can see/feel your existence! and the chance of having this powerful formula are given for only once. Now that you have the only one chance to disappear physically, what would you do during your disappearance? Remember you have 3 hours only!

This goes beyond ordinary (!) invisibility, where even if you can’t be seen, you can still be felt.

Three hours? I’d probably spend entirely too much of it staring in disbelief at my lack of reflection.

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Who’s that on the catwalk?

What’s the obvious career choice for someone who’s invisible? Espionage? Maybe. But I think there’s a case to be made for fashion modeling, assuming a suitable body type: the whole idea is to show off the clothing without being conspicuous oneself. Target acknowledged this with their “Model-Less Fashion Show” last year.

The idea has now spread to America’s Next Top Model; in a recent Fashion Challenge, the wannabes were put into green-screen garb and got to be the unseen presences. “We’re not gonna be a pretty face,” noted one of them: “we just gotta make the clothes look good.” (There was a video on YouTube embedded here, but it’s been pulled.)

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