Welcome to Ask A Geek Anything, Issue 16

Welcome to Ask A Geek Anything, Issue 16


This Sweet Sixteen episode is brought to you by a glitch in the Universal Prognosticator’s predictive formula. We were trying for the most entertaining possible combination of topics… and got this instead.  Fortunately, we will answer anything that won’t crush grain elevators in Gainesville.   There are clouds of confusion on smoking and its influence on SF and Fantasy, brought to you by Cirsova-  


Lately I’ve been collecting a lot of old sci-fi pulps and paperbacks, and have found a lot of great stuff crammed with shmancy cigarette ads (particularly Kent in MoF&SF and various Ace paperbacks); while I can chalk up spacemen smoking cigarettes to the fact that everyone smoked cigarettes back in 40s and 50s, I’ve begun to wonder how much influence tobacco had on the SF/F publishing industry; casual observation suggests they might have been bankrolling the industry at least up through the 70s, but I haven’t found anything written on the subject. Where would I go to find out more about the history of the ties between big tobacco and science fiction publishing?


Our intrepid field reporter, Amanda Fuesting, brings us the latest scoop!

This took a pretty detailed search to answer, and I can see why you’re having problems finding sources. Smoking was considered harmless at worst and healthy at best in the in much of that era. It wasn’t until later when the public knew just how bad it was. In the 20s, it wasn’t unusual for doctors to prescribe cigarettes for a sore throat. In any case, I found two articles (1 and 2) that may help you begin your search, which are linked to below. You may find it interesting to know that authors were not paid for these ads, and they weren’t limited to cigarettes. The practice actually started with fairly innocuous items, such as baby products.

For the rest of your search, remember that you can quotation marks around key words (I used “science fiction,” “ads,” and “tobacco”) on Google. You can also use Boolean logic on all of them. Every search engine has its own way of narrowing down searches, but it should be easy enough to figure out once you start digging into your engine of choice. I have included a fairly useful article of tips for searching Google (3) that may be helpful, and a page that gives some good standardized advice for successful internet searches (4).

  1. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16804462
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/02/books/review/Collins-t.html?_r=0
  3. http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/1264/12-Quick-Tips-To-Search-Google-Like-An-Expert.aspx
  4. http://www.ipl.org/div/aplus/skills.htm

Next up, nerds query over nocturnal nocturnes. Brought to us by a certain

ToneDeaf– from Music, Man? Arkansas.- Dragonforce, Nightwish, Cruxshadows, Within Temptation, what’s the difference? They all sound the same to me.

This sounds suspiciously like a job for our resident Brad “the music nerd” Johnson, who schools us on the tunes for our darker passions. Cruxshadows’s music tends more towards goth/electronica than the others on the list, also their use of an electric violin and lyrics based on mythology are clear hallmarks. Lyrically they tend to be fairly positive, especially for a goth band. Similar bands include: Bella Morte, Switchblade Symphony, and Ayria.

Dragonforce is pretty much straight up power-metal, with a heavy fantasy theme in their lyrics. They’re fairly easy to spot due to their use of giant guitar solos, and songs that sometimes reach upwards of seven minutes in length. (For those not really familiar with song length, three and a half minutes is pretty much the standard, four is considered long but still playable by radio) While I like their lyrics, the songs tend to all blur together for me after two or three. Similar bands include: Dream Theater, Hammerfall, Savatage, and to a lesser exent Dio

Nightwish and Within Temptation both do sound very similar, and in fact, have preformed together on occasion. The main difference is that Nightwish’s vocals tend to be very operatic, especially in their early music when they were fronted by Tarja. This changed slightly when she was replaced by Annette, but they still focus more on the singer’s voice than Within Temptation. Lyrically both bands tend to use very similar themes. Bands similar to both include: Tarja (former lead singer for Nightwish), After Forever, Leaves Eyes, and Sirenia

Here at Ask A Geek Anything, we love ourselves some music Geeks.

For more information on Cruxshadows, here is an excellent informative article by some of our geeky cousins in blog land…

On this secondary link, you will see a fair sample of at least every band asked over by the query artist, plus a number of others.  Enjoy our nepotism!

And now for something completely different! A ConfusedPhysicsStudent sends us further afield in the land of physics.  How are magnetic fields and electric fields related? None of this makes any sense at all!

Answered by none other than our native guide in this alternate universe, Jason Fuesting-

Dear ConfusedPhysicsStudent, you’re in luck.  The basic answer is simple.  Unfortunately, the complete answer is not.

First, electric fields are based off a particle’s charge.  Second, magnetic fields are created when a charged particle moves, but that’s where the simplicity stops.

Danger: Math and heresy ahead.  Tzeench sends his regards.

First, the math (AKA vectors):

The easiest thing to understand about any of this, really.  A vector is simply a direction and a magnitude.  That’s it.  When people talk about driving at 60 MPH, their vector is 60 MPH in a specific direction.  If you used a X-Y coordinate system, you could break it down to X and Y component speeds.   Vectors and positions make keeping track of a lot of things much simpler, like relative speed/distance between two objects for example.   Life starts getting complicated when you start dealing with multiplying vectors using what’s referred to as cross or dot products.  That is usually where most people run into problems.

Second, field shape and strength:

For a charged particle by itself in a vacuum, the electric field emanates radially in all directions.  For the sake of simplicity, imagine a dot on a plane as the charged particle.  Draw two perpendicular lines with the dot where they meet, a plus sign or an ‘X’ if you will.  Without another charged particle nearby to alter their path, your electric field can be represented by those lines.  Distance from the particle dictates the strength of the field, so the farther out on the line you go, the weaker it gets.\

Now connect the ends of the lines with a circle.  That circle represents your magnetic field.  Provided it’s perfectly circular, every point on that circle has the same strength.  This is because distance dictates strength for magnetic fields as well.

Using circles instead of lines may seem odd; however, this is done for several reasons.  Try not to laugh (or cry) here, but the primary reason is to cut down on confusion.  It’s easier to think of these fields as either lines or circles because of how their vectors (ie. Their direction of travel) form.  Take the example we used above, where you have a single charged particle, and place another particle near it.  Depending on their relative charge, they will accelerate in a straight line toward or away from each other proportionally to the field strength at their location if the only force we’re looking at is from the E-field.

This is because E-field, as a vector, forms a line that starts on a positive charge and radiates outward.  Negative charges function oppositely, with the E-field vector travelling inward instead of outward.

B-fields, on the other hand, don’t.  Instead of a line, they form a circle around the particle in question, and, like the E-field vector, have a specific direction of travel.  The relationship between the vectors is given by one variant right hand rule.  Point your thumb in the direction the particle is moving, the magnetic field moves in the direction your fingers close.   To use our earlier example, if the particle travels at you out of the page, then the field vector points counter-clockwise.

Third, the heresy:

Now that we have an idea how to calculate field strength and vector, how do these fields interact with particles?   For electric fields, this is trivial.  Electric force is the particle’s charge multiplied by the field vector, done.  Said particle moves to or from the E-field based on its own charge.

B-fields though?  That’s a horse of a different, brain melting shade of octarine for most people.  It’s not so simple.   Where E-field forces can be calculated in one dimension, B-field forces need all three.  The force generated by a magnetic field relies on three factors, not two:  the charge of a particle, the particle’s vector, and the vector of the magnetic field.

As if this wasn’t puzzling enough, the relationship between the particle’s vector and the B-field vector determines the force vector with yet another right-hand rule.  Pointer finger fully extended forward, middle finger half extended (if pointing away from you, then your middle finger is pointing left), extended thumb upward.    Your pointer finger is the particle’s vector of travel, your middle finger is the magnetic field’s vector, and your thumb is the force vector.  Unless you have a negatively charged particle, then the force vector points in the opposite direction.

Clear as mud?  Ask yourself, “Self, what if the two vectors aren’t perfectly perpendicular?” That’s where cross products come to play.  The short and sweet version is that Q(V x B) by means of trigonometry becomes Q, V, and B, multiplied by the sine of the angle between the particle’s velocity vector (V) and the B-field vector (B).    Be happy I’m not explaining Gauss or Ampere’s law, which, while greatly simplifying things in symmetrical situations, involve understanding dot-products.  Cross-products use the sines, dot products use the cosines. Roll initiative!

Still have some SAN points left?   A particle of a given charge enters an area with an E-field.  When it leaves, its velocity has increased or decreased.   Same particle, same vector, hits a B-field.  When it exits, its velocity is always unchanged, only its direction of travel is different.  Why?  Magnetic fields do not change velocity.  The force generated is always at a right angle to the direction of travel, so while it is in the field, the particle wants to make a big circle.

That is how mass spectrometers work.  The first step is to ionize the sample, usually by burning it.  You then feed particles through a combination both an E and a B-field simultaneously. Since force from a magnetic field depends on velocity, particles moving too fast get bent to one side by the magnetic field, particles moving to slow get bent to the other by the electric field.   The remaining particles, moving at a uniform velocity, are then fed into a strong magnetic field where they make a half circle before hitting a sensor.  The diameter of the circle is determined by the mass of the particle.


As my physics professor was fond of saying, “Does this make sense?  I don’t know why it should.  It’s what nature does; making sense to us is irrelevant.”

After that mind altering experience, we need grounding. Too bad that isn’t happening.  

Next we stare into the murky depts… of fandom. Where secrets revealed give you the power to SMOFF. Sometime. Maybe.  Perhaps in your next life, if you are really really good.

Green Room: A dank and noisome dungeon, where special guests writers, celebrities and other vermin are collected for questioning… er, I mean grazing on delicacies,  resting, and socializing away from those bright stage lights and panting fan people. It’s also where the minders and Con staff can assert their control over the trained monk…er I mean performers, presenters, and comped guests.  The occasional hallowed gopher is allowed inside to find people who are needed, and in need of treats from without.


Shutup Hal! I mean, what was it again? Universal Prognosticator?

Thanks to a technical glitch, you get a longer than usual episode generated with more than usual caffeine. So snarf your gargleblaster, butterbeer or knuckle punch (seems mighty appropriate for the last article), along with a slice of cherry pi, and keep flyin’ until you see us next week!

2 comments on “Welcome to Ask A Geek Anything, Issue 16

  1. Reblogged this on Cirsova and commented:
    Hey! I got my question answered over at Otherwhere Gazette! They managed to dig up a couple articles on Cigarette advertising the paperbacks. Not quite the smoking gun (rimshot) that, say, a memo to SF writers to that their spacemen should switch to menthols or something, but it’s a place to start!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Margot St. Aubin and commented:

    It was me. Guilty. I made it happen. Sorta.

    Liked by 1 person

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