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June 8, 2006

Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak — '10 Years Away'


That's the prediction of physicist David Schurig, quoted by Guy Gugliotta in a May 29 Washington Post story about the work of his group at Duke University, recently reported in the journal Science.

Long story short: the scientists have succeeded in engineering metal films to bend almost any kind of electromagnetic energy.

This year they expect to be able to control and deflect microwaves but they predict that visible light man management — creating an actual "invisibility cloak" — is perhaps a decade out.

Wrote Gugliotta, "Schurig said the first invisibility devices would probably be rigid 'shells' rather than supple cloaks, 'but, in principle, cloaks would be possible.'"

Here's the Post story.

    Revenge of the Muggles?

    Harry Potter and his pals Ron and Hermione have been scooting undetected around Hogwarts for years beneath the invisibility cloak Harry got from his murdered father, but now an international team of theoretical physicists suggests that muggles, or non-wizards, might someday make a cloak of their own.

    Reporting last week in the journal Science, physicists J.B. Pendry of Imperial College London and David R. Smith and David Schurig of Duke University described a way to make high-tech "metamaterials" that can funnel light around an object and make it invisible.

    Metamaterials, assemblages of small artificial bits of patterned metal films, can be engineered to bend almost any kind of electromagnetic energy. Schurig said that "probably this year," scientists will produce a metamaterial that can shield equipment from microwave radiation but that protecting objects from visible light -- creating an invisibility cloak -- is "further out," he said in a telephone interview -- "maybe 10 years."

    Smith compared the process to a stream flowing around a stone -- essentially creating a "hole" in the water, where anything can be hidden and remain unnoticed from the outside: "We have shown it can be done for almost any frequency," he said in a telephone interview. "Being able to build it is another story."

    Schurig said the first invisibility devices would probably be rigid "shells" rather than supple cloaks, "but, in principle, cloaks would be possible."

    Harry and his friends will still have the advantage, though, because while metamaterials would make you invisible, they would also isolate you from the outside world. You wouldn't be able to spy on anyone. Like a Romulan Bird of Prey (at least until "Star Trek: Nemesis"), you'll have to decloak before attacking.


Here's the abstract of the Science magazine report.

    Controlling Electromagnetic Fields

    J. B. Pendry, D. Schurig, D. R. Smith

    Using the freedom of design that metamaterials provide, we show how electromagnetic fields can be redirected at will and propose a design strategy. The conserved fields--electric displacement field D, magnetic induction field B, and Poynting vector S--are all displaced in a consistent manner. A simple illustration is given of the cloaking of a proscribed volume of space to exclude completely all electromagnetic fields. Our work has relevance to exotic lens design and to the cloaking of objects from electromagnetic fields.


The same issue of Science magazine contained a related article about the theoretical underpinnings of invisibility, by Ulf Leonhardt of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; the abstract follows.

    Optical Conformal Mapping

    Ulf Leonhardt

    An invisibility device should guide light around an object as if nothing were there, regardless of where the light comes from. Ideal invisibility devices are impossible due to the wave nature of light. This paper develops a general recipe for the design of media that create perfect invisibility within the accuracy of geometrical optics. The imperfections of invisibility can be made arbitrarily small to hide objects that are much larger than the wavelength. Using modern metamaterials, practical demonstrations of such devices may be possible. The method developed here can be also applied to escape detection by other electromagnetic waves or sound.


Prediction: it won't be anywhere near as long as ten years from now.

Witness Professor Susumu Tachi of Tokyo University's invisibility cloak (below),


which he demonstrated back in 2003.

June 8, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cordless LED Touch Light


From websites:

    Cordless Puck Light

    Don't be left in the dark!

    Illuminate garden shed, garage, workshop, hallway, closet, countertop, inside cabinets — wherever you can use a little light.

    Mount anywhere with included Velcro fastener or nail hole.

    Light tilts in its housing to point exactly where you need it.


    Push to turn on — second push makes it even brighter.

    Then push to turn off.

    Features five bright LED lights.

    Requires three AAA batteries.

    3-1/2" diam.; Plastic.


Suddenly, I'm homesick.


$9.98 (batteries not included).

June 8, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Why RealNetworks is a dead company walking


I don't know why it took me so long to see what any fool could plainly visualize: maybe it was the whirled peas blocking my view.

But I digress.

I was just over at Amazon trying to listen to a couple CD tracks and the penny dropped: if you choose Windows Media Player the thing comes on, starts up and plays, and when it's done you're right back where you were on Amazon.


But if you choose RealPlayer it automatically shuts down your web browser before it starts up.

That's absurd.

After you're done listening — assuming the thing even plays and doesn't give you an error message, as happened to me — you're sitting there with a blank screen, and you have to go back and reopen Safari or whatever browser you're using, then make your way back to where you were before RealPlayer took command of your computer.

Sorry, Rob — but it's game over for you.

June 8, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Glove Guard


I found this in a gardener's catalog, where it's touted as a device to keep you from misplacing your gloves.

I see that as only one of myriad possible uses for this deceptively simple-looking piece of functional engineering.





From the catalog and website:

    Glove Guard

    One end of the Glove Guard clips to belt loops, overalls, or protective clothing; the second clip keeps your work gloves, eyeglass case, even light gardening gear close at hand.

    Safety breakaway separates at 15 lbs.



In Yellow, Granite, Red, Olive Green, Blue, Black, Kelly Green or Blaze Orange.



June 8, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: After leaving this dermatologist's office, it's time to prepare your survival bunker


For yesterday's Wall Street Journal "Tricks of the Trade" feature, Joshua Lipton asked Dr. Ronald L. Moy, former president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, for tips on how to take care of your skin, with particular reference to the sun and its potential to wreak havoc.


Dr. Moy's response was the funniest thing I've read in I don't know how long; it follows.

    A Dermatologist's Skin Care

    Ronald L. Moy applies sunscreen before getting into his car. It's a mistake to assume a car gives protection from the sun, warns Dr. Moy, a former president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and a practicing physician in Los Angeles. Long-wavelength UVA rays from the sun can penetrate windshields and damage skin. He uses an SPF 15 sunscreen with Avobenzone (Parsol 1789).

    Dr. Moy also takes an over-the-counter antioxidant pill with vitamins daily to help protect his skin.

    To lighten dark freckles, he uses an over-the-counter bleaching agent that contains 2% hydroquinone. For a small cut, he prefers a liquid bandage, which he says reduces scarring by limiting separation of the wound. It also reduces pain, he says, because nerve endings are covered.

    For broken blood vessels, he gets Vbeam laser treatments. And to fight wrinkles, he occasionally gets Botox injections. For a qualified dermatologic surgeon, try www.asds-net.org.


Being careful is one thing.

And yes, paranoids have enemies too.

But if you're really prepared to take action against every insult to your body's integrity as it carries you through this life to the next, you will be spending the majority of your waking hours swatting at insects while a great silent parasite slowly hollows out your soul.


Wake up and smell the reality — it's really sweet, once you wave away the fear.

June 8, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's most Expensive Laptop Cart


Pictured above, it's intended for medical environments like emergency rooms and ICU's.

Like things produced for the Defense Department, you have to figure it's priced ten to twenty times what a comparable item would cost for everyday use.

Lots of nice features, though:

• 100mm Highly-Mobile Casters — 2 Locking/2 Non-Locking

• 20" x 20" Work Surface of Durable, Cleanable Laminate

• Sit-to-Stand Height Adjustability from 29" to 47"

• Height-Adjustment Hand Lever

• Laptop Lock Security System

• Polished Aluminum Base

• No-Seam Edges



June 8, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Ms. bookofjoetiquette — Episode 2: How not to offer help


This feature looks like a smash hit, what with all the feedback that came pouring in after Episode 1 on June 1.

Note to self: make certain the crack research team member who thought it up gets both Twinkies instead of having to share her package when tea time rolls around.

Alright, enough of the idle chit-chat — on wit da show, already.

    Here's how it goes down: you're washing the dishes, or cleaning up some soda spills on the floor.

    Someone happens by — perhaps even the person who dirtied the dishes or knocked over the Coke — and says, "Oh, I was going to do that."


    1) Why would you make the person cleaning up your mess feel like they shouldn't have when they were being kind and doing you a favor because they chose to (see Episode 1 for further insight)?

    2) The person doing what you should've done most likely wasn't doing it so you'd be pleased or feel guilty but, rather, because it needed doing. Don't you want to encourage that kind of behavior rather than the opposite?

    3) When I'm the person doing the cleanup I become angry at the presumptousness of the commenter: if you were gonna do it then why didn't you? Since you didn't — shut up.

    4) And if you're a nice person you'll go one step further (again, see Episode 1) and say, "Thanks."

    If the above doesn't make perfect sense to you then I say again — there's not gonna be a jump seat for you on the return trip.

June 8, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Instant Screened Room — Episode I've long since lost count


"I can resist everything except temptation."*

"And an instant screened room." — moi

From the website:

    Bloomhouse Screen Room

    Just pull five hubs and your Bloomhouse Screen Room is set up — no assembly or tools required.

    Room is perfect as a sunroom, spa cover, greenhouse, or storage building.

    Made from super-resilient Gro-Tec™ material — 100% waterproof, UV-resistant and virtually rip-proof.

    Unique wire frame quickly pops up and folds down.

    Screen Room sets up on level ground — open bottom allows for placement over plantings and hot tubs.

    Diamond-shaped door allows easy step-through — eight screened vent openings provide ample air circulation.

    Secures with the included high-wind tie-downs and stakes.

    It protects you and your possessions from insects, birds and other pests, as well as wind, rain, frost and snow.

    Semi-transparent material allows plenty of light while providing a measure of privacy.

    Screen Room includes special openings for power cords and hoses.

    Stores in provided case with separate pocket for stakes and tie-downs.

    Big 7' x 7' x 7' — folds down to 5' long by 1-ft. diameter.

    26 lbs.




*Oscar Wilde

June 8, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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