Millisecond pulsar X-rays

Neutron stars are so tiny and so dense that the natural temperature scale for them has them glowing in the X-rays. What's more, they serve as powerful accelerators of electrons, which then naturally produce X-rays. So it turns out that X-ray telescopes provide a very interesting view of pulsars. In light of this, when we discovered my pet source, J1023, we took an X-ray observation of it. It's taken us considerable time to analyze the results and put together a paper describing them, but I think the result will be a valuable contribution to the literature. (More importantly for me, it should make a chapter of my PhD thesis.) The result is the cumbersomely-named "X-ray Variability and Evidence for Pulsations from the Unique Radio Pulsar/X-ray Binary Transition Object FIRST J102347.6+003841".

Much of the paper is devoted to details of data analysis, which I will spare you. But I think the gist is interesting, and not too hard to summarize. 

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Recently, via Derek Lowe's In The Pipeline, I came across the book Ignition!, by John D. Clark. It's the story of the development of liquid rocket fuels, told by a man who was head of one of the programs. Even if you don't know much chemistry — I don't — the book makes a fascinating read. The image on the left is the first page you see when you open the book, and the image below is the second.

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Ergo Proxy

As is obvious to regular readers of this blog, I read a lot of science fiction. I also enjoy science fiction movies and TV shows, but they're generally much harder to find. Or at least, ones I like are. But I came across an enjoyable new series recently: Ergo Proxy. It's a cyberpunk anime with a female protagonist that I came to rather like in spite of her cold and sometimes difficult personality. The series is obviously some sort of cousin to Ghost in the Shell (albeit without some of Shirow's particular obsessions) and Serial Experiments Lain (though thankfully free of schoolgirls). On the Western side, I suppose I'd compare it to The Matrix (or maybe the similar-but-better The Thirteenth Floor) and The Prisoner

As those analogies suggest, the series is sometimes a little heavy on the symbolism, mystery, and spouting of philosophy, but that's all part of the cyberpunk tradition, and this series carries it off well. I enjoy the visual style as well, though there are a few moments where the animation is a little off. The soundtrack is the kind of music I listen to anyway, which helps. I usually prefer subtitles to dubbed audio, but for this show the dub is better written and well-acted. All together a fun experience. 

[Edit: you can watch the whole thing online.]

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Reporting FAIL

There's currently an item in the news about a British boy who managed to damage his eyesight with a "laser pointer". The news articles generally imply that any laser pointer is a lurking risk to your eyesight ready to blind you with a single incautious glance. But there are the ordinary 1-5 mW laser pointers you can buy in dollar stores, and then there are the pocket lasers you can buy online that have powers up to 500 mW and that can burn a hole in a credit card. If this kid managed to damage his eye with the former, well, that's surprising and alarming. But the articles don't describe the laser at all, beyond the fact that he ordered it on the internet. If you go to the original one in the British Medical Journal, though, you still don't get the power rating, but you find out that it was "high-powered", i.e. almost certainly one of the high-power ones you can get online. Of course you can damage your eyes with these; I strongly doubt it would be possible to get one without being made aware of the danger. What's more, the high-power ones are already arguably illegal in many places, not that that stops online companies from shipping them there.

The key point I'm getting at is that all the media coverage is missing the essential information that this is not a normal laser pointer, and that those are basically not dangerous.

[Edit: I emailed the corresponding author of the BMJ piece. Unfortunately the boy's guardian destroyed the laser before the doctor could see it, but the doctor is certain that it was one of the high-powered lasers I describe above. It's too bad none of the reporters bothered to check that detail, but I guess it doesn't make good copy.]

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Virtual idol

Years ago, I'm not sure when or where, I saw the anime Macross Plus, which is about a pop star who is entirely a computer program that sings, but who has fans as devoted as any present-day pop star. Anime being anime, there was of course a whole plot line about her AI going rogue (plus giant robots of course), but I remember thinking "how weird, a pop star who doesn't exactly exist". Well, technology progresses, and sure enough, we have one now.

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Laser rifles

Laser rifles have been a staple of science fiction for years, though now that cheap harmless (or nearly) lasers are everywhere writers are moving to other buzzwords. But I had no idea that anyone had come up with a more-or-less workable design until I stumbled across the "Stavatti SF-1" and "TIS-1".

(More below the jump.)

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