Week in Review

by by Emily Gogolak & Kate Van Brocklin

illustration by by Robert Sandler

San Fran Sans Clothes

If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear...clothes. San Francisco has long been a city that embraces nakedness as a form of self-expression. Its Gay Pride Parade apparently has more nude paraders than any other. It’s home to the annual World Naked Bike Ride (ouch). Many participants in the Folsom Street Fair, the world’s largest fetish fair, lay it bare. The website for The San Francsico Chronicle even has a “Nude Events” page.

But the City by the Bay may soon cease to be the nude-topia it once was. In the latest incident of an ongoing protest about the city’s assault on public nudity, Gypsy Taub, a pro-nudity activist, was kicked out of a San Francisco Board of Supervisors public hearing last week when she stripped down and started shouting at city officials, calling them “fascist.”

It all started last fall, when Scott Wiener, a city supervisor who represents San Francisco’s famously nude-friendly Castro Discrict, backed a law that requires nudists to cover chairs and benches in public places before sitting on them in response to complaints by some businesses and residents. Residents got hairy about it then and staged nude-ins around the city last fall. It passed anyway.

But if covering chairs and benches weren’t enough, Wiener now wants to axe the naked thing all together. Last month he proposed a bill that would effectively ban nudity in most public places, including parks.

The park situation is what really has the nudists in a tizzy. As it stands, nudity is not allowed in the city’s public parks, with one big exception. A favorite and very crowded hangout for naked San Franciscans is a clothing-optional park/plaza in the Castro, the first and only urban non-beach clothing-optional park in America. (Imagine a clothing-optional Central Park or the High Line. Hello Hudson!)

Wiener’s rationale is that nudity has simply gotten out of hand. As he put it, there are more “naked guys” walking around now than ever. “Over the past two years, the situation on our streets and particularly in the Castro has changed,” he said in a public statement. “Public nudity is no longer random and sporadic, and it’s no longer an occasional quirky part of San Francisco.” He even called the Castro’s main park “a nudist colony.”

If the law passes, it would bring a $100 fine for a first offense and a $200 fine for a second offense in a 12 month period. A third offense would result in a $500 fine or a misdemeanor charge. Taub, the nudist activist, was neither fined nor cited, and agreed to get dressed outside of the courtroom. As she was being led away after dropping trou, her parting words were, “Down with Scott Wiener!” — EG


A New Kind of Cloak

In 2006, researchers at Duke University unveiled the world’s first “invisibility cloak,” which used metamaterials to hide a small object from microwaves (wavelengths much longer than we can see). Though the device didn’t conceal things from human view, this innovation kept it hidden from microwaves, an important first step in accelerating the technology of cloaking. But while it worked, it still left small reflections, which prevented it from completely hiding an object.

A new study published in Nature Materials describes how researchers are now able to render a centimeter-scale cylinder invisible to microwaves. There are only a few caveats to the invisibility trick—it only works for centimeter-scale objects, it’s only made invisible from one angle, and it only applies to microwave radiation. “It’s like the card people in Alice in Wonderland,” said David Smith, a professor at Duke. “If they turn on their sides you can’t see them, but they’re obviously visible if you look from the other direction.”

In theory, invisibility cloaks work by bending electromagnetic waves around objects—instead of seeing the object, you see what’s behind the object. Smith and his Duke colleague Nathan Landy reworked previous efforts at achieving invisibility by tweaking how the edges of a microwave cloak line up, ensuring that the light passes around the cloak completely with no reflections. The team refashioned the metamaterial itself into a diamond, which is apparently the best shape for minimizing reflections.  “This, to our knowledge, is the first cloak that really addresses getting the transformation exactly right to get you that perfect invisibility,” said Smith.

Practical applications of the new technique could have an impact in technologies like radar and telecommunications, as well as fiber optic networks, where invisibility cloaks could be used to bend light around corners without attenuating the signal. However, the design principles involved in cloaking microwaves would be difficult to replicate at optical wavelengths. The Duke team plans to use their latest findings to work toward an omnidirectional, fully three-dimensional illusion—maybe the next cloak invented will be one that humans can wear. — KVB