Off courses,0,1572009.story

Off courses

College professors are trying to lure students with elective classes filled with all manner of pop culture references and unconventional materials

By Abigail Tucker

Sun reporter

January 27, 2008

With the spring term just around the corner, Professor George Plitnik is looking forward to donning his wizard outfit again.

"I wear it to pass out the syllabus - that really makes an impression," said the Frostburg State University physics instructor, who teaches a class on the science of Harry Potter. Later on in the semester he may masquerade as Severus Snape, using dry ice to create classroom smoke.

In between costume changes, though, Plitnik will also reference intimidating general science topics - magnetic fields, fiber optics, quantum entanglement - as a means of explaining various Potter phenomena. Past classes have explored, for instance, whether modern geneticists could engineer a creature like Fluffy, the three-headed dog.

Such questions are not always easily answered.

"There's always a rush to get into the class, but some drop because they see how much work is involved," Plitnik said.

At colleges across Maryland, the start of the new semester means plunging into a smorgasbord of peculiar academic offerings - classes that are hyper-specific, steeped in popular culture or focused on unconventional materials, like Tarot cards or comic strips.

Towson University, for instance, periodically offers both "Chemistry of Dangerous Drugs" and "Drugs in the Americas." The College of Notre Dame of Maryland brings students "From Homer to Star Wars: The Epic Tradition in Western Literature," and this semester the Johns Hopkins University presents "Drinking Parties, Homoeroticism and Gender Politics."

"Related films will be incorporated," a description of this last course promises.

Engineers 4 Severus

Snapecast wants to hear YOUR Snape theories

With the imminent release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Snapecast is planning a medley for showcasing Snape Theories to air on our July 1 episode. We'll be collecting audio Owl submissions until June 20 so if you have a special Snape Theory you'd like to share, send us an email with a voice recording or leave us a voicemail on Skype answering the question:

What do you think will happen to Severus Snape in Book 7?

Answers can cover topics ranging from whether Snape will live or die, his true allegiance, or his role in the overall plot. Please keep your submissions to under 1 minute in length. Acceptable audio formats include .MP3, .OGG, or Skype voicemail. If you need a recording program we recommend Audacity. For emails with attached recordings please put "Snape Theory" in the subject line.

Skype Username: Snapecast

Also don't forget to vote in our Comprehensive Snape Theory Poll.
Engineers 4 Severus

Engineery Presentation at PR

Check out this presentation at Phoenix Rising. It seems to be right up this group's alley...

Comparing the Magical and Muggle Communications Networks: Using Muggle Engineering as the Basis for “Magiceering” Wizarding Technologies in Fanfic
Carrie Harris (Droxy)

Muggle communications technology can be explained in non-technical terms and compared to Harry Potter magic. Reverse engineering/deconstruction methods are employed on the Floo, magic mirrors, and magical photos, building the foundation for writers to create and expand functional magic based on Muggle technologies such as the internet, television, radio, and telephony-computer integration. This presentation explores how to magically solve modern networking issues such as security, congestion, and integration, as well as explores differences between Muggle and magical world cultural acceptance of new magic and technology. Learn to enhance your fan creations by deconstructing technology and “magiceering” to create your own enchanted communication products and infrastructure.

The Technology of Magic

Tech·nol·o·gy pl. tech·nol·o·gies NOUN:

The application of science, especially to industrial or commercial objectives.

The scientific method and material used to achieve a commercial or industrial objective.

Electronic or digital products and systems considered as a group: a store specializing in office technology.

Anthropology: The body of knowledge available to a society that is of use in fashioning implements, practicing manual arts and skills, and extracting or collecting materials.

Greek tekhnologi, systematic treatment of an art or craft : tekhn, skill; see teks- in Indo-European roots + -logi, -logy

sci·ence NOUN:

The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.

Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena.

Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.

Methodological activity, discipline, or study: I've got packing a suitcase down to a science.

An activity that appears to require study and method: the science of purchasing.

Knowledge, especially that gained through experience.

Middle English, knowledge, learning, from Old French, from Latin scientia, from scins , scient- present participle of scre, to know; see skei- in Indo-European roots

The wizard on the street, the witch in the marketplace, rarely give much thought to the science and technology behind their abilities to tap into power that Muggles cannot or do not experience in their daily lives. The wise folk think that "science" and "technology" are Muggle concepts and a poor substitute for Magic.

However, Science and Technology are valid descriptions of the training in Magic offered by Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beaubatons Academies, and the traditional apprenticeship program is another system for passing on the Hows and Whys of the phenomena known collectively as Magic. The youngest students are taught Safety and How-To and some historical background. The older students develop skills to be employed on the job or in daily life. Graduates who continue their studies delve more deeply into the Pure Science or Applied Technology aspects: understanding the fundamentals of Magic and/or creating new Spells, Artifices, Potions, etc. for experimental or commercial purposes. Because the ability to use Magic only improves with age, researchers and developers of Magic can expect long and increasingly productive careers. Obsolescence is not a drawback for the Wise, since the fundamentals of Magic are durable and the results never go out of fashion. Change is easier to implement since the costs are mostly in human capital, not in machinery or resources.

Inanimate Transfigurations 2: Functional

When one requires a specific physical object and none is within summoning range, or one is unable to locate such an object, then a Functional Transfiguration will supply the need.

A Temporary Functional Transfiguration (Temp. Funct. Xfig) is simpler than a permanent one; it is less finicky, requires less power, and neatly restores the balance of Nature when the need is past. Examples might be: changing clothing style for fashion, warmth, or size; cosmetics or hairstyling for fashion or disguise; modifying furnishings or materials to create a ladder for escape, or rope for rescue, or similar emergency needs.

Temp. Funct. Xfig is not suitable for food, plants, animals or people, anything that is alive or is required to sustain life. Spells to purify water or air or dirt are recommended over any Transfiguration for decontamination purposes.

A Permanent Functional Transfiguration works best when starting mass and ending mass are roughly equivalent, and the more similar the materials used are to the materials desired, the better the Transfiguration will hold. Even the most Permanent Transfiguration can deteriorate with time and use if starting materials are less than optimal.

Inanimate Transfigurations

The process of Transfiguring one inanimate object to another is not simple, but it is infinitely less difficult than animate to inanimate or vice versa.

One must first decide if this to be a permanent and functional Transfiguration, temporary and functional, or merely an illusionary one.

Illusionary Transfiguration

Illusionary Transfigurations are an extension of basic Invisibility Spells. One removes the visual effect of an object, replacing it with a construct of the desired effect. A clear mental picture of the desired result, coupled with determination and power, will produce to casual observers the appearance of the target, while the item retains all other physical characteristics: mass, size and shape, atomic composition, functionality, smell, touch, taste, sound (if struck). A Clear Sight charm will defeat Illusionary Transfigurations, so while such a Transfiguration may be useful for concealing objects from Muggles, the Wise will not be deceived. A parent, guardian or teacher of children of the Wise will cast a Clear Sight charm prior to bringing the child into the Magical world. While such a charm can be cast at birth, it is advisable to wait until the child has some language, so as to avoid the infant spooking Muggles with uncanny behaviors in the presence of Magic.

Illusionary Transfigurations are usually temporary unless a Fixing Hex is added for stability of the illusion. Such temporary Transfigurations require continuous application of one's power, otherwise the duration is unpredictable.

Magical Means of Manipulating Matter

When one seeks to change physical reality, the Wise have many options from which to select, depending on the desired outcome.

Translation Charms cause movement of an object.

Phase Change Charms can liquefy, solidify, or vaporize an object.

Illusion Charms change the perception of an object.

Transmutation changes the composition of the object (lead to gold, for example). Transmutation can also be considered an extension of Phase Change: one changes the state of a material to a plasma, and then recombines the protons and neutrons into different elemental nuclei, then returns the material to a lower energy level.

Transfiguration combines any of the above-mentioned changes into a whole process.

Transfigurations: E=mcc

Transfiguration, as opposed to a mere disguise spell, has basic physical requirements. There must be enough "matter" of a sufficient density to rearrange into the target. One can Transfigure a toothpick into a bookcase, but don't expect to be able to use it to hold any weight. The result will be a shell of a bookcase--a molecular skin of wood stretched over the air, rather like a balloon. It will hold its new appearance, so long as it is not stressed to the breaking point.

Those among the Wise who are especially powerful might be able to Transfigure free energy into additional matter, but the resulting drain on the environment will leave a cold, dark hole around the transformed object. In an open, high energy location, this Transfiguration might pass unnoticed or disregarded by casual observers, or it might result in a nationwide power grid failure rather like that experienced in the United States in the early 2000's. Most Wise folk would not choose to do an energy-to-matter Transfiguration, however, as the possibility of triggering the Use of Magic Around Muggles clause in Wizarding Law is high.

When excess matter is involved, and one does not intend for the Transfiguration to be permanent, one may conceal by means of a Disillusionment Spell (q.v.) that portion which is not required for appearance's sake. The excess mass may impede the functionality of the Transfigured object, however, and adjustments may be necessary before the results are adequate. The alternative of packing the excess into the article will create a superdense object (inherently unstable and dangerous) that will weigh far more than it ought. This could be a good way of creating a "bomb", and would therefore fall under multiple Laws. Transfiguraton is a powerful and dangerous tool, and must be used wisely or not at all!
Engineers for Severus

A Real Invisibility Cloak!

It's a great day for geeky Potterphiles like us, because Duke scientists have apparently created a cloaking device!

Here's the link to the Duke team's paper, recently published in Science, and here's a brief report from yesterday's New York Times. Frankly, I'm very amused that nine out of ten news articles about this monumental discovery mention "Harry Potter" at some point!

Scientists Take Step Toward Invisibility

Published: October 20, 2006

Invisibility has long been the stuff of fantasy, from Plato’s story of the ring of Gyges to Harry Potter’s mischief-enabling cloak. But scientists led by a team at Duke University have demonstrated a technology that could be a small step in the right misdirection.

The system, a set of concentric copper circles on fiberglass board, deflects electromagnetic waves of a specific frequency that strike it, without much of the scattering and absorption that make reflections and shadows.

A result is that the microwaves slide around the structure like water flowing around a smooth rock in a stream, said David R. Smith, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke and an author of the paper published today in the journal Science.

The exact structure of the circles was described in an earlier paper by Sir John Pendry of Imperial College in London, who worked with the Duke group to see his theory etched into a working model by means of the process used to print circuit boards. In the recent paper, researchers said they had successfully cloaked a copper cylinder.

The findings were first reported in The Sun, a British newspaper. “Boffin Invents Invisibility Cloak,” the headline stated, using the British slang for a research scientist.

Enthusiasts have already suggested that the technology may someday be useful for the military to create objects that are invisible to radar or to shield equipment from cellphone signals.

But Dr. Smith warned against getting ahead of the day’s announcement and envisioning the disappearing Romulan warbirds of “Star Trek” on the horizon. The work “is really a scientific explanation,” he said, adding, “Whether it’s useful is always a question.”

Creating a cloaking device in the visible spectrum would be vastly more complex, he said, since the device would have to warp all of the wavelengths of light. The chance of creating such a device is “dim,” he said, but, “The theory doesn’t prevent it from an electromagnetic point of view.”

Businesses are already looking at possible applications, said Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer of the Microsoft Corporation whose company, Intellectual Ventures, explores the potential of new inventions.

“We hope it’s got some commercial potential,” Mr. Myhrvold said. “It could easily take years to figure out what the stuff is really good for from a practical, pragmatic standpoint. But, boy, it sure is really cool from a short-term standpoint.”