Tag: zombies

Psychics leave me in shambles

By Phil Plait | October 27, 2011 12:00 pm

You know what really eats me up? People who claim they can talk to the dead, when it is far, far more likely they are simply using psychological tricks (like cold reading) and random guesses, making it seem like they have some supernatural power.

A while back, the James Randi Educational Foundation publicly challenged so-called "psychic" James van Praagh to take their Million Dollar Challenge and prove he can do what he claims. It’s been weeks, and he hasn’t replied. I can’t imagine why, can you? It’s almost as if he’s afraid of being tested in a controlled environment.

The JREF decided to follow up on their challenge to van Praagh, to see if they could make sure he got the message. And this time, they brought some friends…

Man, I would’ve given an arm and a leg to be there for that. But c’mon, do you really think van Praagh will ever respond?


Related posts:

Cold guessing
D.J. Grothe: skepticism and humanism
A: Ghouls. Q: What do you call psychic mediums?
Blastr: I was a zombie for science

Blastr: I Was A Zombie For Science

By Phil Plait | October 28, 2010 9:40 am

blastr_zombie_graphicI write a roughly monthly article about the science of science fiction for Blastr, SyFy Channel’s online portal for news and views. Just in time for Halloween, my new article is up: Scientist uses his brains to explain how to make zombies plausible. I’ve been thinking about zombies a bit lately — I’ve been eating up* books about them too — and thought it would make a fun topic for Blastr.

May I add? Coolest. Artwork. EVER! My kudos to the Blastr art department for the awesome and awesomely clever graphic to go with the text!

Related posts:

Blastr post: Why you’ll never meet an alien
Master of Blastr
Blastr post: 5 big-budget sci-fi films that actually got their science right
Big budget movies that got their science right

* Haha.

MORE ABOUT: Blastr, zombies

Diary of dangerous curves

By Phil Plait | August 31, 2010 12:00 pm

calculusdiariesCool news, math dorks: my friend Jennifer Ouellette’s new book The Calculus Diaries comes out today!

I’ve known Jennifer for a couple of years now. She helms the Science and Entertainment Exchange (trying to get better science into movies), she spoke (wonderfully) at TAM 7, she was at SETIcon and Comic Con, and I also know her through her husband, cosmologist Sean Carroll — he blogs for the Hive Overmind at Cosmic Variance. Jennifer writes the Cocktail Party Physics blog and for the Discovery Channel blogs, too… and I am not ashamed to admit I have a wild crush on her avatar, Jen-Luc Piquant. So I was really excited to get my hands on an advance copy of her book, especially since I knew she could handle the topic well.

It was everything I had hoped for. Yeah, look, I know: it’s a book about calculus. But it just so happens to be a really good book about calculus! It’s not equations and homework — well, OK, there are equations — it’s really stories and fun and personal tales punctuated with how calculus gives us insight into the backstory. I know a bit of math, but didn’t know that calculus can be used to describe the Dutch tulip boom of the 17th century, or why you may not need to worry about a zombie horde (because by the time you know it’s happening, it’s too late to do anything about it except start getting used to shambling and eating brains).

Jennifer uses her great writing style to make these ideas easy to read and fun to think about. I suspect that if you like my blog, you’ll like this book. If math terrifies you then you can skip over the equations (though honestly, you’re missing out), and if you like the math you’ll love the way it gets applied here.

All in all, I recommend it. If you hurry, you can still read it on the beach during these last days of summer… or get her to sign it at Dragon*Con next week!

P.S. There’s a Facebook page for it, too.


Undead math

By Phil Plait | July 23, 2010 7:31 am

Last year I wrote about the nifty website Ficly, a community where you can write short fiction. And I mean short: each story can only be 1024 characters — roughly 200 words or so. It’s incredibly limiting, which means you really have to be careful when you write.

The story I wrote then was loosely based on the last chapter of my book Death from the Skies!. I’ve been playing around again, and have recently become interested in zombies. Since I’m a scientist, of course I had to put my own spin on it… and I was curious if it was possible to have an overarching theme to a story when it was so short. I think the answer is: barely. So here, in its entirety, is my new Ficly, "Random Walk".

I know a mathematician’s an unlikely survivor. But it’s not axiomatic.

By the time I realized I was in trouble, there was only one way to go: up. I locked the door, made sure the windows were secure, and ran up to the second floor.

I peeked out a bedroom window at the rotting, writhing mass below. I should’ve predicted this, I guess, but in my defense I didn’t know all the initial conditions.

I didn’t see how the pile got started. Extrapolating backwards, I can guess it was one of the deadwalkers in advanced decay. It bumped into the house and fell apart. There must’ve been hundreds before who stayed intact, but statistics won’t be denied.

Once seeded, it grew. Another fell, and another. They don’t climb, really, but they can walk up hill. One on the pile, then another. Given their speed, average size, direction, I can calculate how long before they’ll reach this window in front of me: 6 to 8 days. Plus or minus.

I have 7 days of food here. I suspect in week or so, I’ll have one last equation to solve.

If you like it, you can go to Ficly, register, and write a prequel or sequel, too. It’s a very cool place to play around with words.

Tip o’ the braaaaaaains to Wil Wheaton, who first twigged me to Ficly.

MORE ABOUT: Ficly, zombies

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