Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Location: New England, United States

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fact, Fancy, and Fiction

Last week, while doing some literary research on elements of the Harry Potter stories, I noted that some of the magical objects in those stories are inspired by analogs from the real world.

For example, there really was an historical figure named Nicholas Flamel, an Alchemist who sought to create the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life.

Similarly, there really are such things as Bezoars, and they may well have some ability to neutralize arsenic poisoning in drinks.

Another curious idea, with some plausible basis in science, has found itself into storylines on X-Files and CSI. And this one also involves a potter, with a lower-case 'p'. When a potter tools a pot on the potter's wheel, the grooves made by the potter's tool are a little bit like the grooves on a phonograph record. To the extent they can be 'played back' as sound, one mostly recovers the hum of the spinning wheel, much like the unwanted 'wow and flutter' on a vinyl phonograph record.

This observation has led some screenwriters to posit that the potter's trowel could have picked up other sounds and transcribed them onto the clay, something like a faint audio print.

This is such a good story thread that it went beyond the screenwriter's fancy to become an April Fool's Hoax that circulated for a while as a demonstrated achievement in the forensic recovery of fragments of audible speech.


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