7 Quick Takes (10/26/13)

7 Quick Takes (10/26/13) October 26, 2013

— 1 —

Sorry for the one-day delay in Quick Takes.  Let me make it up to you with something very special: A layperson-ish primer on Elliptic Curves Cryptography!  I really enjoyed this guide by Ars Technica, but I’m a bit suspicious of its accessibility for a crypto novice.  So, let me temper my recommendation thus: give it a try if you think you may be interested, and if you feel baffled, be not ashamed and check Simon Singh’s The Code Book out of your local library.

— 2 —


And now, jumping departments to fine arts, JC at Golgothan Carnival has written a brilliant piece on a crucifixion painting by Joos van Cleve.  She looks beyond the figure of Christ in the foreground to the way the artist has treated those leaving the scene of Christ’s death in the background.

To give a totally spurious interpretation, I would suggest that the blue points to the overlap between the historical and the heavenly Jerusalem, one condemned to oblivion and the other created by the event shown in full color in the foreground. The real (walled cities and countrysides, more or less embellished) is rendered unreal. In either case, those who left the foreground can’t fully return, are lifted from the distance in some way.
I do find this unsatisfactory, however, and the picture still appealingly puzzling.

For some reason, I almost always enjoy reading about art (and classical music) more than experiencing it directly. I loved having JC take me through the painting, so I wonder if any of you know any good, meditative books on religious art?

— 3 —

And I can easily bridge the gap between the first two Takes by turning to Vi Hart, who blends math and art in a new video series on fractals and (stealthily) logarithms.  No prerequisites for these videos, so do check out the first one below, and then, once you’re hooked, go through to youtube to watch the rest in the series.

— 4 —

Malheureusement, I’m travelling on Halloween this year and won’t get to dress up, but I have found some fun costume resources.  First up, the step-by-step directions for converting long hair into a Gimli beard.  And the final result below:

— 5 —

Meanwhile, io9 ran a feature on inspirational or engagingly frightening women to dress up as for Halloween, which includes suggestions for everyone from Ada Lovelace to Mary Read to the Morrigan.  (And that last went into my costume file).

— 6 —

I could force a costume-related transition as I introduce this amazing feature on med students learning gross anatomy in a dissection lab, but you really don’t want me to.  But, even if you’re squeamish, you may want to check out the feature, which follows a team of students as well as a woman who has signed up to be a whole body donor, and will furnish future students with their learning opportunities.

Reading the piece, I, like the students, kept being overwhelmed by the beauty and complexity of the human body.  As a recovering gnostic, I’m prone to treat my body as a handy transport for my intellect, but purely instrumental.  This article helps me awaken a fondness and respect for the delicate systems all jammed together under my skin.

— 7 —

And for the final, endearingly macabre link, io9 had a rundown of ways to double check that someone was truly dead, before you bury them or dissect them.  These two were my favorites:

Stick the corpse’s finger in your ear: Leon Collongues believed that the physician’s own body served as the best instrument for determining whether someone was alive or dead. He believed that the involuntary muscle movements in a live person’s finger would create a buzzing noise that could be detected if the finger was shoved into the physician’s ear.

Plant a flag in the corpse’s heart: A German scientist by the name of Middeldorph supposedly developed this test, which involved plunging a needle into the heart of the dubiously deceased. The needle was attached to a flag that should, the idea went, wave if the body’s heart was beating. In 1893, Séverin Icard, a physician at the Grande-Miséricorde children’s hospital, attempted the test on a lady when her relatives feared she could be buried alive. Icard had already declared the woman dead, but plunged the needle into her chest, after which the woman’s scandalized family declared that the doctor had killed her. Icard was hounded by the press for some time after the incident.


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