Shedding Some Light on Light

Ropes, Fences, and Polarization

Matt tackles some of the big misconceptions about light, which stem from how light and polarization are presented.

What’s good about the picture is that it conveys the idea of what it means for a polarizer to select a polarization. What’s bad about it is that the “picket fence” metaphor doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual physics of light polarization. Instead it furthers the exact misconception we talked about in my earlier post – that the crests and troughs of the wave have a physical up-and-down extent in space. They do not. The ups and downs represent the strength and direction of the electric field at that point, that’s all.

I remember a professor bringing this up in college. It’s easy for me to understand why the wrong picture is accepted — it seems plausible, and there’s not much reason to question it at the level it’s presented.

The American Way

Anti-Terrorist Fantasy Dream Team on the Case

“I believe a fictional threat is best met with decisive fictional force,” explained President Obama. “Jack Bauer and Wolverine are among the very best we have when in comes to combating fantasy foes.” Mr. Bauer said, “We’re quite certain that our prisons are secure. Osama bin Laden and his agents wouldn’t dare attempt a break-out, and would fail miserably if they tried. But I love this country. And should Lex Luthor, Magneto or the Loch Ness Monster attack, we’ll be there to stop them.”
Republican Newt Gingrich also condemned the president’s actions. “President Obama seems to think that crapping one’s pants is a bad thing somehow,” said the former Speaker of the House, “but crapping one’s pants is what this country was founded on. The Reagan Revolution wouldn’t have happened without fear of evil Soviets and welfare queens. And say what you will about President Bush, he kept this country crapping its pants for seven long years after 9/11.”


B1RD Off the Port Bow!

I went out hiking Saturday, taking advantage of the awesome weather that just showed up. Did some geocaching, but also brought my new camera out to Huntley Meadows Park, a wetland wildlife sanctuary about 40 minutes to the south of me. We had a downpour on Friday (after rain off and on all week), so I knew it would be muddy off the main (paved) trail, but mid 70s with relatively low humidity is just too good to pass up.

About an hour into my hike, I was passing through a meadow area on a soggy path, and I kept hearing a bird chirp right behind me, but there was no tree nearby. I finally spotted it — he (it could have been a she) was dive-bombing me! Either he felt I was intruding or he really didn’t like my Asilomar Beach hat, but either way he was aiming for the head and pulling up at the last second, despite me not having a “strafe me” sign on my back.

I was a little startled, but since I wasn’t hiking with Tippi Hedren I didn’t think I was in too much danger. I got the last pass on film, after this I guess I was far enough away from the nest (there were several birdhouses near the trail). The video camera was still set for 420 fps, so I got it in slo-mo.

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Smile. People Will Think You're Up to Something.

As if It Needed to, Virginia Bans Smiles at the DMV

DMV officials say the smile ban is for a good cause. The agency would like to develop a facial recognition system that could compare customers’ photographs over time to prevent fraud and identity theft. “The technology works best when the images are similar,” said DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen. “To prepare for the possibility of future security enhancements, we’re asking customers to maintain a neutral expression.”

People smile for their driver’s license photos? I have four different photo IDs handy, and I’m not smiling in any of them. The last time I got a photo taken for a passport, the guy operating the camera asked if I wanted it taken again, before he printed it out. My face was centered and my eyes were open, so my response was, “It’s a passport photo” (i.e. not a portrait). He replied that he had a lot of customers ask for a re-shoot because they felt the photo wasn’t very flattering. At which point I would say: I refer my honourable friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago (British Parliament. C-Span. Catch the fever.)

The fraud mentioned above is duplicate licenses — they match your photo with those already in the system. And your name and address, I presume, if they are attempting to eliminate identity theft.

Making it Up as You Go Along

fact unchecked is billed as A daily dose of misinformation, fact unchecked is the after dinner breath-mint to the information saturation buffet. Any similarity to actual truth is coincidental, unintentional, and gravely unfortunate.

With amazing tidbits like

The song “Louie Louie” is an adaptation of a lesser-known Robert Frost poem “And There Went Louis.”


Residents of Quito, Ecuador are five times as likely to experience vertigo than the average South American citizen.

Hold It!

A website that tells you when during a movie you can dash to the bathroom without missing anything critical.

If only conferences had this service, for that balance between proper caffeination and the full bladder.