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Singh didn't really need to worry about touching the inside of his chicken wire cage, nor do you need to worry about touching the metal interior of your car. The currents flow on the outer surface of the Faraday cage, so as long as you don't stick your finger through the holes you'll be OK! The insurance money was just part of the stunt. (Actually, the physics for an AC source is a bit more complicated than just the Faraday effect; the skin effect is also important.)

The Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics gang has a great version of this that they take to Bay Area high schools and other groups, for educational outreach.

Thanks for the technical clarification, Steve, and the link. The Santa Cruz demo sounds cool! I may end up amending the post to reflect some of your technical points... and also to clarify that Gibson wasn't the first to rub amber to produce a spark... people had been doing it for hundreds, if not thousands, of years by 1500. He was just the first to make the serious modern study of the effect, which other late elaborated upon.

"... people had been doing it for hundreds, if not thousands, of years by 1500 ..."

Indeed. I think this one goes back to Thales of Miletus (c. 624 BCE -- c. 547 BCE), the first "absent-minded professor" in recorded history: he managed to get so enraptured while star-gazing that he fell down a well. Folklore claims that he predicted a solar eclipse, though doubts have been raised about his ability to do this, and it's possible he merely knew that an eclipse was **possible** at that time, and the tale grew in the telling. More vigorous spoil-sports have suggested that Thales got the credit just because he was alive at the time and later people knew there had been an eclipse at the time, and thus the greatest savant of the day was reputed to have predicted the greatest shock of the age. Maybe. Certainly, the Babylonians several centuries after Thales didn't have a very good system for predicting eclipses, which might indicate Thales didn't have that ability either.

Being a romantic, I'd like to think that Thales **could** do what legend claims he did, or at least come reasonably close to it. Knowledge has two interesting properties: it can be sadly lost in vaguenesses of time or deliberate incineration, but --- at least for science and math, if not the poems of Sappho --- it can be re-invented. "What one man can invent, another can discover," Sherlock Holmes told one adversary; "What one fool can do, another can," Richard Feynman said more recently. This last aphorism also works in reverse. I'm not willing to second-guess what a mind of, say, Hypatia's caliber could have thunk, not when all these great discoveries can be approached in so many different ways (367 proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem!). I have the sneaky suspicion that if we could read the long-lost (or perhaps never-written) biographies of Thales and Democritus, they'd offer us at least a few ideas we'd never believe those old Hellenes could have cooked up, ideas lost to later thinkers because books were too hard to make and those which **were** made all burned with the Library of Alexandria.

All people who wear tinfoil hats believe in Faraday's Law.

Jenn, I have been experimenting with putting real equations and real science in my blog. Am I the first to do this?

Blogs have had "real equations" since before there were blogs, and indeed before we had the Web. Just look up the old issues of **This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics**, by John Baez:

This not-quite-regular column first appeared on Usenet, in January 1993. Remember what the Internet was like in 1993? Now, you can get it via an RSS feed. Tempus fugit!

Blake I thought you had written that *Joan* Baez had authored a weekly column in Math, and that just would have been weird.


Close! They're cousins. See, e.g., the following page, in which John is awarded "Geek of the Week" status:

Some people started making much of this connection on the Wikipedia "talk page" for John Baez's biographical article. "John Baez traces his mathematical ancestry back through Karl Weierstrass, one of whose students was Sofia Kovalevskaya, who is rumored to be the subject of the next novel by Thomas Pynchon. Elsewhere on Baez's geneaology network is Nikolai Bugaev, father of the novelist Andrei Bely, whose novel Petersburg was called one of the twentieth century's four greatest prose masterpieces, by no less an authority than Vladimir Nabokov. Got that?

"Now, John Baez's cousin is Joan Baez, the famous folk singer (and daughter of physicist Albert Baez). Joan's younger sister Mimi married the writer Richard Fariña, who studied first engineering and then English at Cornell University, where Vladimir Nabokov taught literature. And who was Fariña's friend and one of Nabokov's most talented students? Why, Thomas Pynchon.

"It goes without saying that conspiracy and paranoia are prevalent themes in Pynchon's fiction."

As usual, Blake is full of fascinating historical trivia. I've been racking my brains to come up with some clever "Diamonds and Rust" witticism, to no avail. But I'm certainly a newly minted fan of Sofia K., and that's cool that Baez has that connection as well... not to mention being a blogger before blogs existed. No mean feat!

Oh yeah, well you want to know who John Baez isn't related to?!? Me, that's who!

Or something.

That's pretty cool, I have some reading to do, I guess -- always nice to make one smartass comment and get a history assignment for it. Why if that happened every time, I'd have to go be a history major!

Hi Jen, great cocktail tips
High Voltage with six parts tequila - whooaa

I'll have to try that Thunder & Lightning, maybe you could shake me one, how did you know golden Bacardi was my drink - who you bin talkin to???

Love the name Combustible Edison, but Campari never did it for me, lazy summer afternoons I prefer long tall cool martini red with lemonade on the rocks with a slice of lemon - but that's just when I'm sitting by the pool and don't wanna get plastered.

You too can get zapped by a Tesla coil while in a Faraday cage.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.