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Week of 30 July 2007

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Monday, 30 July 2007
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09:11 - I've just ordered a new camera body for Barbara. She'd had problems with her Pentax *ist DL body a week or so ago when she was shooting images at a Friends of the Library event. She got only 30 or so images on a set of freshly-charged 2500 mAh Powerex NiMH cells. I assumed that one or more of the AA cells was dead, put in another freshly charged set, put the camera aside, and thought nothing of it. Until yesterday, when I picked up the camera and found that it was showing no charge.

At first, I assumed that I had more dead Powerex cells, but then I put a set of fresh AA alkalines in, and the camera was still showing as discharged. Not good. Barbara will be leaving on a trip soon, and she needs a second body anyway--she likes to keep the short zoom on one body and the long zoom on a second body--so I decided to see how much a new Pentax body would cost. I was shocked to see that the Pentax K100D body, their current entry-level model, is selling for only $339 after rebate, comparable to a decent point-and-shoot model. So I just ordered a K100D body from BuyDig.com. The rebate runs only through tomorrow, so I needed to order it right away.

And I'm not sure what to do with the *ist DL body. Send it back to Pentax? Send it to some camera repair place, and if so which? Any recommendations appreciated.

The Blue Planet Run team is in Japan now and will arrive back in the US on Wednesday.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 00:06:55
  Re: Japan


Mary is in Japan. Her team has been reset back to the 0300-0900 leg and, no, she isn't happy about it. Details are scarce as to why the normal shift rotation was disrupted, but it seems to have to do with a bout of food poisoning going around the team. Those of you who have traveled to China will not be surprised to hear that, though the food tasted great, it was less - even negatively - filling. About 2/3 of the team went down with fairly severe food poisoning, Mary among them. She says she's doing better and had one of her happiest moments of the trip when she came upon a Subway in Beijing. She's somewhere between Hiroshima and Japan at the moment and was the last runner in China, running right up to the edge of the Yellow Sea. She had interesting things to say about the solidity of the air in China but reports that the guide and Chinese folks associated with the Run in China were outstanding. I haven't heard many details from Japan yet and may not until I see her on Wednesday.

There is a new update (one whole day updated! yay!): http://blueplanetrun.org/run/day52

It has a good photo of Mary running in Mongolia.

The team arrived back in the first world just in time, from the sound of things. At one point, they were down to only seven runners available to do their daily 160 mile (256 kilometer) shift. A Marathon each, in other words. Presumably the organizers made some sort of adjustment, although with the fixed exchange points and dates/times it's difficult to think of anything they could do, unless they just skipped part of the route.

Most of the teams are now made up of walking wounded. Team Yellow is representative, with Rudy and Laurel with leg injuries, Heiko struck and nearly run over by the team van, and Paul down with food poisoning. I suspect that Paul Rogan speaks for all of the runners:

Morale in the yellow team has reached rock bottom, through fatigue, lack of support and a crazy schedule. It is the first time I have told my wife that I'm giving up and coming home, as there is no way we can go on any longer like this. As I write this I have just been informed we will once again be doing a double shift in less than 24 hours, oh how nice, what a great way to recover, but not to worry I'm now eating and drinking with out it coming straight back out, that's a bonus. Remember not a holiday camp!!!!

The BPR organizers have already added one fill-in runner, Will Dobbie, who, to their shame, doesn't even appear on the team page. At one point early in the run there was talk of a second fill-in runner, but I've heard nothing about him or her since the original mention. It seems to me that now they'll soon be back in the US and visas and so on are no longer a problem, BPR should be able to supply several more fill-in runners. Running 10 miles a day, day after day, must be tough enough under the best of circumstances. Expecting these runners to run while they're sick and/or injured, let alone expecting them to run double shifts, is simply asking too much of them.

12:57 - I just read an interesting article in the New York Times about state universities charging different tuition for different majors. At some schools, those who major in the hard sciences, engineering, or business have to pay higher tuition than those who major in, say, psychology or history.

I can see where this is heading. Eventually, those who major in the hard sciences, engineering, and other real disciplines will have to pay much, much more. Those who major in history or literature or psychology or other pretty much worthless non-disciplines will probably be able to attend for free. And majors in women's studies and similar imaginary disciplines? They'll pay them to attend.

Blue Planet run has posted a new video, Russia Part 3. Mary Chervenak appears in it several places.

There are also several new blog entries by the runners. Mary's "lost" blog entry finally appears, but on Dot Helling's page.


Tuesday, 31 July 2007
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08:52 - It's now approaching 10:00 p.m. Tuesday in Tokyo. In about 12 hours, the BPR team departs Tokyo for San Francisco. I got email from Mary Chervenak last night. She's really looking forward to arriving back in the US, and says she thinks being back on US soil will improve the morale of the entire team.

Mary's morale will no doubt take a giant leap when she meets Paul in San Francisco. Think of one of those movie scenes with the two lovers rushing into each other's arms in slow motion. After two months apart, I hope they're careful. Paul is the size of an NFL defensive end, 6' 4" and 260 pounds. I have this vision of Paul accidentally sacking Mary, who's nearly a foot shorter and less than half his weight. Oops.

The Pentax K100D digital camera body is on its way to me. I'm glad I picked the free standard shipping rather than paying extra for faster shipping. The FedEx tracking report shows the package shipped yesterday with an estimated delivery date of tomorrow.

The consensus among my readers seems to be that the best way to get Barbara's *ist DL body repaired is to send it directly back to Pentax. I visited their site and printed out their return packing list document. There are a couple of things I want to try before I ship it off, but I suspect it's going to require repair.

I'm running up and down the stairs a lot lately, from my office upstairs to the lab downstairs. Originally, I planned to pretty much write the entire home chem lab book without spending any time in the lab. Once the draft was complete, I'd do some marathon lab sessions to actually run the experiments, shoot images, and so on. Then I'd edit the manuscript to make any required changes, corrections, and additions.

As it turns out, though, it's often easier to run down to the lab and actually do something as I'm writing about it. Yesterday, for example, I was writing about purification by reprecipitation, using copper(I) iodide as an example. In the lab, it's easy to prepare copper(I) iodide by mixing solutions of potassium iodide and a copper(II) salt, such as cupric sulfate. That produces copper(II) iodide, which is unstable and immediately breaks down into copper(I) iodide and elemental iodine. The insoluble copper(I) iodide precipitates out, leaving the iodine in solution.

The raw copper(I) iodide is tan, instead of the white of pure copper(I) iodide. Here's what it looks like.

Supposedly, even repeated washings in water leave the raw copper(I) iodide with a tan color, but that's something I need to verify. The best way to purify the raw copper(I) iodide is to dissolve it in an aqueous solution that contains iodide ions (just as iodine is much more soluble in an iodide solution than in pure water, and for the same reasons) and then reprecipitate it by adding lots of pure water to reduce the iodide ion concentration. In the dilute iodide solution, copper(I) iodide again becomes insoluble and reprecipitates as the pure white compound. All of which I need to verify.


Wednesday, 1 August 2007
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08:30 - It didn't work. Well, it did work in the sense that the copper(I) iodide does dissolve in a concentrated solution of potassium iodide and can be reprecipitated afterwards, but it required much too much potassium iodide to be practical for the book. I'm constantly keeping costs in mind, and trying to make do with as few specialty chemicals as possible, and in as small amounts as possible. So I've removed the reprecipitation lab from the book. That's no great loss, as I'm constantly adding and dropping things. I have room for only so much, so losing one isn't a big deal.

News from Paul Jones, who's meeting Mary today in San Francisco about four hours from now. The reference to rain is because Paul took his 15" Obsession telescope along with him, hoping for some good observing weather, but so far he's not had much luck.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 00:28:21
  Re: Japan

Hi all,

Sorry for the news blackout. This time it was me. I was in Yosemite and except for a 5-meter diameter spot in the valley, I didn't have cell service. Fortunately, I caught up with Mary in this spot beneath El Capitan. She had finished her second to last leg in Japan and was being shuttled to Tokyo. She had gotten some good sushi, had a reasonable run and shared stories of sick and injured, including Heiko who was apparently run over by the pilot van after the driver fell asleep. Folks are recovering from food poisoning, though many are still not completely well. One group has already arrived and is preparing to run starting tomorrow at noon. As I type, she is or should be on her way to the airport, having completed her last run in Asia.

As for myself, many of you who have followed my travels over the last few years have come to know my ability to create rain. Or, let's not be too dramatic, my ability to get rained on. Once, Mary and I were rained on in White Sands National Park. A notable achievement, no doubt, as they get only about 12 inches of rain per year. You may have asked: can Paul make it rain in Death Valley? Most probably scoffed at this, but I am happy to report that for a minute and a half, with the temperature somewhere around 110 F, it rained steadily on my car as it drove through the hottest, driest place in North America. What does this have to do with the Blue Planet Run (the reason I write these essays to you)? Well, for one, I figure I can help bring clean water to the world. Have me to your village for a few days and you'll have water. Second, I'll be following the Run as it heads back to New York. After a week, how much do you suppose they'll pay to go far, far away?

Mary arrives at SFO tomorrow morning at 9:18 am on United 838. I'll let you know how that goes.

And, oops, I said it publicly, so I should apologize publicly.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 01:07:13
  Re: Not long now

240 thanks.

Sorry. My fault. I thought you said 260. I grovel in hopes of forgiveness. Okay, an NFL linebacker rather than a defensive end.

My editor, Brian Jepson, sent me seven more chapters from the astronomy book for review. I'll get to those now and post them on the subscribers' page later today.

12:30 - The eagle has landed. It's supposed to have landed, anyway. The United web site hasn't updated the status of flight 838, but the scheduled arrival and ETA were both 09:18 Pacific time. So Mary Chervenak and at least some of her Blue Planet Run teammates should be on the ground in San Francisco by now. I'm not sure if the whole team is on that flight or if some are taking different flights.

In the last email I got from Mary, she talked about arriving in San Francisco as getting "home". In reality, of course, she's now on the other side of the United States, 3,000 miles from home, but I understand what she means. Home at last, and none too soon.


Thursday, 2 August 2007
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08:35 - The Pentax K100D body arrived yesterday. By the time Barbara arrived home, I had it unboxed with a freshly-charged set of AA cells, a 2 GB memory card, and her standard zoom lens installed. I left it on the kitchen table with the Pentax *ist DL body next to it. Barbara was a bit concerned that it would be different enough that she'd have to get used to different button positions and so on. But the bodies appear pretty much identical, other than the shake-reduction switch on the new body and one or two other very minor differences.

Barbara is leaving tomorrow for a weekend bus tour with her parents, so she wanted the camera ready to go.

News from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 00:10:57
  Re: home?

Hello from Antioch, CA. I am in a Best Western where, I hope, Mary will arrive in a few hours.

A collective gasp - he hasn't seen Mary yet?

I did meet Mary at the airport. There were two teams arriving on United 838 - Silver and Yellow. The airline tickets were purchased at the beginning of the trip and so folks had to travel with original teams. For the moment, they are running again as original but will be reshuffled soon (real soon now...). Anyway, I'll let that bit of organizational inspiration pass without comment. Mary finally walked through customs about an hour after landing, though that mostly had to do with baggage, rather than customs. Ahead of them was a group of young (and I embarrass myself, they were either Japanese or Chinese but I couldn't tell) kids who made up some sort of team. Once assembled, they got in formation and recited a chant, which reminded me a bit of the oath we said (or were supposed to say) before American Legion baseball games. It was either really cool or an invasion. I haven't heard anything, so it must have been cool.  The team members came out in ones and twos. Rudy was first and, unbeknowst to me, I had been standing for some time next to his family. Mary and Laurel came out second and I felt bad for Laurel because I really pretty much ignored her. Mary looks good. Surprisingly so, given that she had just gotten off a long international flight after having run ten miles and done a TV interview in a foreign language and being in the 33rd hour of her August 1.

She gave me many gifts. You guys should have been there, then you, too, might have a shirt that says, "Praha" or a hat that says "Baikel" or a big Blue Planet Run sticker (I'm not sure she really knocked herself out with that gift).

As the teams assembled, a chiropractor showed up and moved Shiri in unnatural ways, which attracted a bit of a crowd. I hope that makes the videos (note that it may not be safe for those under 13). We talked a bit, I gave Mary my gifts (Perrier and chocolate which, I swear upon Harry Potter's mother's grave weren't bought at the airport at the last minute when I realized I hadn't brought anything, no matter what it looked like. Really.).  Then Silver Team piled in their van and took off. I made my way back to my car (a simple endeavor that I bungled quite badly). I met up with them again in Petaluma at the Quality Inn where they were crashing in preparation for...(you know this is coming - why else would I be sitting alone in a hotel room in Antioch typing email to you when my wife just got back from crossing two continents?) tonight's run. That's right, Mary's new old team is on the 1930-0000 shift. Remember, until they left Japan, she'd been running with Green. So, Green ran morning of Aug 1 in Japan. Then she gets here and is moved, temporarily, to Silver and has to run the evening of Aug. 1. Mary is elated. If you see any Ignition Inc. personnel, you have my permission, even, one might say, my encouragement, to, politely, of course, punch them in the gut. So, she should be back here about 1am. She better not wake me up. I've had a long day.

Tomorrow she has a Dow event in Pittsburg (a lovely little town full of petroleum, petroleum products and Targets just up the road). She spends tomorrow night in Salinas, CA though right now I have no clue where that is. They aren't exactly taking the direct route to New York. I'm not sure if she runs tomorrow night with Silver or is back with Green or must jog backwards to Vegas or what. But I'll let you know.

Ah, the subject line. Mary (and others) commented on being home. Of course, they have a long way to go. I think it did them all good to see some friendly faces and hear a friendly language, but they have a haul ahead of them. And Antioch, CA is hardly home.

Other notes of interest: I met Will Dobbie. Nice guy, it's a shame there is no info up on the web about him. I also met Jason, the alternate runner who broke his ankle. He's now driving a van for them. I congratulated Taeko and shared all of her fans' well-wishes. No sign of Jason (Loutitt, fiance). Heiko simply laughed when I asked him about the van incident. He is remarkably not flat and shows no sign of tread. Paul Rogan managed a smile as he emerged, last. It seems he hadn't had some box stamped on a previous border crossing. If you haven't been reading his blog, he has had an unhappy time the last week or so. He had the food poisoning that went around but insisted on not missing his run. With predictable results. He, too, is running tonight.

Well, Bonds is coming up and I need to find dinner. Have a good night all.


PS I should have led with this: Mary says, "HI!"

Shortly followed by:

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 00:58:52
  Re: Re: home?

Some other things:

Look at the air!

Also, Anne pointed this out.

I haven't heard from Paul since that last, short message. His comment about "She better not wake me up. I've had a long day." may have resulted in him being strangled by a person or persons unknown.

Reading through what I'd written, I noticed "she wanted the camera ready to go", which brings up something I'd wondered about. I grew up in New Castle, PA, which is about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. That's close enough that I'm bilingual in American English and Pittsburghese. Looking at the Wikipedia article on Pittsburghese, I noticed that it comments on the characteristic dropped "to be". I still do that routinely, and it sounds normal to my ears, but I wonder if it sounds strange to others.

One of the examples Wikipedia gives is the Pittsburghese, "That car needs washed." versus what they call standard American English: "That car needs to be washed." or "That car needs washing." I use the first two forms pretty much interchangeably, but never the third, which sounds ever so slightly odd to me.


Friday, 3 August 2007
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08:44 - Barbara just left for work. She's going directly to her parent's house from work, and leaves early tomorrow morning on a bus tour with them, her sister, and one of her sister's friends. They'll be back late Sunday evening. For the next couple of days it's just the dogs and me. As usual, I told Barbara that it'd be wild women and parties while she was gone. As usual, she patted my head and said, "That's nice, dear."

One of these days, I'll surprise her. Or I would, if only I knew a wild woman. I sometimes ask female friends and acquaintances, "Are you a wild woman?", but so far I haven't gotten any positive responses.

Mail from yesterday. 

From: Paul Hampson
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 14:03:47
  Re: Mary Chervenak

Well, bummer. I've been following your postings about Mary, even checked the Blue Planet website a couple of times but it never occurred to me that she would be passing so close until I saw your post this morning with the Antioch mention - only half an hour from here. So I quickly looked at the schedule to find the scheduled "local" event began two hours ago and they are making a loop back to Oakland - the opposite direction of here (Stockton). I can even imagine the route they will probably take, having driven it many times in now long years past - a lot more houses, etc. now than there were then. Ah, well. I probably couldn't have gone anyway, major deadline staring me in the face. Thanks for sharing all of this with all of us. Brian's post reminded me that I have been following most of the Daynoters for more than five years now, he was still out here when I started.  

Sorry you missed the BPR team.

I actually had a cunning plan this morning. I noticed that the BPR team was passing quite close to Jerry Pournelle's house. I was going to email Paul and find out which shift Mary was running and then call Jerry and see if I could sweet-talk him into meeting Mary at one of the exchange points near him. Once he identified her, I was going to ask him to shout, "Mary Chervenak! You smacked my friend Bob Thompson." Alas, my cunning plan had a fatal flaw. I forgot that Pournelle is at the beach house in San Diego.

Yeah, it's hard to believe how quickly time passes. I actually put up my first journal entry in mid-February of 1995, soon after I registered the TTGNET.COM domain. At that point, my web server was actually running on a system here at my house, with a live Internet connection via a "nailed-up" dial-up connection. Those early entries were mostly essays rather than daily diary entries, and I took them down when I started keeping a daily journal in May or June of 1998. Actually, I started keeping a daily journal before that time--sometime around mid-1997, I think--but when I moved to a third-party hosting service in June of 1998 I didn't migrate the older stuff.

I sometimes think I should dig out those early entries and put them back up again. I suspect that having entries back to February of 1995 would put me in the running for the longest continuously running blog.

And it just occurred to me that I could probably claim an even earlier date, because I was maintaining an on-line journal before I had a full-time Internet connection. From the late 1980's through about 1995, I ran a BBS system, which toward the end was multi-line and had a store-and-forward link to the Internet. I really should try to dig out some of those early posts, the earliest of which are probably pre-1990, from back in the days when I had a bang address.

I had the following exchange with Jo Rogan, the wife of runner Paul Rogan.

From: Paul Rogan
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Yesterday 17:12:55
  Re:  Blue Planet Run

Hi Robert,

I've been reading with great interest your reports on Mary and the Blue Planet Run. My husband is Paul Rogan who is also on the run and reading the bits of info on Mary and the emails you have from her husband has filled in some gaps about my husband and just what the whole team have been doing in general. Updates from the road never mention all of the runners and there are few pictures of any but the select few.  I sometimes wonder if  (new)Team Silver are the only ones on this run. Thanks for putting the link to Pauls blog, he really was very poorly. Because he hadnt seen a doctor over there he was phoning our local doctor for advice( seemed very silly phoning our doctor in the North of Scotland from somewhere in China but he had to get advice). He was fairly distressed for a few days(about both himself and the rest of team yellow who by the sound of things were all in a state) but is stubbornly determined and refused to stop running. I was very worried about him as we lost contact for a wee while. He seems to have recovered and had the most amazing time running in Japan. He told me of the hold up getting into the States, customs wanted a return flight ticket and a fixed address for his stay !!!!!!

I will email Mary at some point before they reach New York and tell her how much I enjoy her blogs, they have made me laugh lots and made me cry at times too. (as have certain others)

I sadly wont see Paul till he gets back to Scotland on Sept 5 and my children and I are counting down the days but the end is in sight for them all.

Thanks for helping keep me updated

Jo Rogan

From: Robert Bruce Thompson
  To: Paul Rogan
Date: Yesterday 18:18:35
  Re: Blue Planet Run

Hi, Jo

It's good to hear from someone in my ancestral home country, but then I'm sure you guessed that from my name. (Actually, on government forms, I describe myself as "Viking-American".)

I've been following the blogs of all of the runners except Taeko and Laura, because I can't read Japanese or Portuguese. Reading between the lines, it's pretty obvious that things started to go downhill once they entered Belarus. It's easy to criticize, but from what I can tell the Ignition, Inc. people have done a very poor job of organizing the logistics of the run.

If I'd been organizing the run, at the very least I would have interviewed all of the runners before the run to find out what they needed, were concerned about, etc. Ignition would have done well to hire some ex-military folks with logistics expertise. A well-known saying among military officers is that amateurs discuss tactics; professionals talk about logistics.

I suppose we should be thankful that Ignition at least got all of the runners back to the first world safely. They still have a long way to go, but at least their route now takes them through the USA and Canada, so the extraordinary problems they've encountered shouldn't be repeated. I suspect they'll all be happy to have to worry only about normal running problems.

Mary is indeed a superb writer. If you want to read her winning entry in a writing competition she entered some time ago, visit


and scroll down to "It Promised Us Animals". (Don't be drinking anything while you're reading it...)

I agree that the coverage seems to focus more on some runners and teams than others. I'm not sure what the reason is for the disparity, but I've commented several times that they haven't even added Will Dobbie to the team page. At least in the last few days they've started talking about the team as 21 runners instead of 20.

I'd love to visit Scotland someday, but Barbara says she won't go to Europe until they build a bridge. Frankly, I won't get near an airport, either, as long as our TSA/Gestapo is running things. I'm probably on a no-fly list anyway. So, for now, I guess we'll have to be satisfied with watching Monarch of the Glen. We're up through series six now, and waiting for series seven to be released on DVD.

Incidentally, if you don't mind me posting your message on my journal page, please let me know. I won't post it without your permission, but I think a lot of my readers would enjoy reading it.

From: Paul Rogan
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
  Date: Today 03:01:22
Re: Re: Blue Planet Run

Hi Robert, thank you from your reply.

Yes of course you can print my email.

We are not too far from Monarch of the Glen country, near Inverness but the other side towards the coast. Its beautiful here however at the moment Scotland has missed the summer and everyone is fed up of rain. Paul did well to escape the scottish summer.

I think the organisers just didnt realise the scale of the run, obviously it had all been worked out on paper etc but they never accounted for sickness, injury, tiredness. We said before Paul went that we couldnt work out why they wernt taking any spare runners. No matter how good a runner you are there are some days you just cant do it because you are sick. Paul is one of lifes stubborn people and he will not give up, Ive seen him race more than once in cross country and 10ks with broken ribs because he feels he cant let his team down. Ive given up trying to stop him. So when I knew theyd asked for someone to come in and run in their team, I realised how ill Paul was. Pity the organisers messed up that day, they just had to get on with it. Paul has got this far without a day off.

The photos on alot of the run are staged, the ones around Lake Bakail were. Team Yellow ran that day round it, yet Team Silver and Jason appear to have the baton. Team Yellow want to be photographed, however they want it to be while they are really running on their 10miles and not a staged shot. The website and updates have had cheery mentions and fun pictures for the majority of the run and yet wouldnt it make the public take notice more if they made the reader see how hard it was some days for everyone. This is a huge task for any runner and they shouldnt play that down. Dont always believe what you read either. Thankfully they have started mentioning Will more but its awful they havent got a profile or blogs for him. From what I can tell, hes in a team now and doing 10 miles every day.

When Blue Planet do another world run it would be a very good idea to get someone who can run, on the organisational team, maybe even somone from this first run  to say what the good bits and the bad bits have been. I hope they let the runners and their families give feedback.


11:38 - Thanks to Monty over in the forums for posting a heads-up on this program. I wasn't aware of it until Monty mentioned it. Barbara and I will be watching this one for sure.

Coming to PBS September 19, 2007

America's Writer Laureate of astronomy invites millions of viewers to enjoy the wonders of the night sky in a spectacular HDTV special

Stargazing is the subject of Seeing in the Dark, a 60-minute, state-of-the-art, high-definition (HDTV) documentary by Timothy Ferris that premieres on PBS September 19, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. The film, Ferris' third, is based on his book, Seeing in the Dark (2002), named by The New York Times as one of the ten best books of the year.

"Seeing in the Dark is meant to alter, inspire and illuminate the lives of millions," said Ferris. "It introduces viewers to the rewards of first-person, hands-on astronomy — from kids learning the constellations to amateur astronomers doing professional-grade research in discovering planets and exploding stars. I hope it will encourage many viewers to make stargazing part of their lives, and a few to get into serious amateur astronomy."


Saturday, 4 August 2007
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09:23 - I spent some time yesterday getting the home chem lab cleaned up and organized. A couple of months ago, Paul and Mary asked me how the lab was doing. I told them it was a mess. One of them predictably commented, "All chemistry labs are a mess." Which is true, I suppose, but mine was on the far right end of the messiness bell curve. I had literally no counter space that wasn't occupied by something, and things were even stacked on the floor. Heck, they were stacked on top of the burners on the range.

Things are a bit better now, with considerable counter space freed up and most of the chemicals, glassware, and equipment stowed away in cupboards. I'm still thinking about how best to organize storage for some of the chemicals. Toxic stuff like a 100 g bottle of barium hydroxide doesn't worry me; it's not going to jump out of the cupboard and into someone's mouth. Nor do the flammables like 500 mL of acetone and 1,2-dichloroethane worry me. Most garages and basements are full of flammables, and they're seldom a problem. Anyway, I have a good fire extinguisher. The corrosives like sodium hydroxide aren't really a problem, either. Most households have similar corrosives stored under the kitchen sink.

The concentrated mineral acids are more cause for concern, particularly nitric acid, which reacts vigorously with almost anything. The oxidizers, like 30% hydrogen peroxide and barium nitrate, also concern me. I'll store the acids and oxidizers separately, both from each other and from anything else. And then there are the idiosyncratic dangers, such as potassium permanganate and glycerol. Potassium permanganate is a strong oxidizer but is ordinarily pretty safe to store and handle. Glycerol is pretty much inert. But if potassium permanganate and glycerol come into contact, they spontaneously combust at a temperature high enough to ignite thermite. I have a couple of thick plastic Rubbermaid tubs that I'll use to segregate the stuff that needs to be segregated.

Today, I'll continue working on organizing the lab, as well as getting my office and work room cleaned up. Barbara has shown a great deal of patience, but she'll be pleasantly surprised when she returns from her bus tour to find those three rooms neat and organized. And I'll finally be able to take down the Avalanche Danger sign on the door of my work room.

Update from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Yesterday 22:28:34
  Re: Day off

Mary is sitting next to me finishing off her latest blog entry. Her team (Silver at the moment, but due to change in the next day or so, perhaps) had the day off. They finished last night at 9pm in Oakland and drove to Salinas, CA. She finished her leg and said she felt good, but complained about being slow. Other runners (Lansing, Heiko, Paul and their driver Jason (who is none other than the unfortunate soul who was named to the team as an alternate and then almost immediately broke his ankle)) scoffed and asked who cared. Then they gave me a beer. Good folks, they. She got a massage this morning and we drove down Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH) to Cambria, CA this afternoon. She rode with me, leaving her team to fend for themselves, which they did quite well, arriving an hour or so after us smiling and happy. You've no doubt heard of this drive and it is better than anything you've heard. Beautiful scenery, whales, seals, all sizes of Sur, bikers by the trainload. Just a great drive. The Run itself is coming down this road, which isn't quite as happy as it is very hilly. The BPR folks are staying tonight in an inn on the beach. Mary's first comment was that this inn was better than those in Russia. Then she remarked that the bathroom alone was better than most of her entire rooms in Russia. We've just had a dinner in the room of food clear of disease (well, it's early to be definitive on that, but we're confident) and are typing away watching the sunset.

In other words, today was a vacation. I do believe she has earned it. It's questionable whether or not I have, but that never seems to stop me. Tomorrow she is off until 9pm, when Team Silver once again attacks the roadways. We'll repack her gear, including replacements I've brought and discarding anything used up (she left a pair of shoes in Beijing, which may explain the ensuing Trade War). Then I'll head off and leave her to her job. One of us has to earn a living. I'm more or less skipping LA and will meet back up with her in the desert.

13:13 - Battery problems. Barbara called a couple of hours ago from a rest stop in South Carolina, and told me that her Trooper had failed to start this morning. She was already at the departure point, and a nice man with an emergency tool kit came to her rescue. Apparently, the battery is fine, but when he removed the cables he found a lot of corrosion. He cleaned it out, so presumably the Trooper will start normally when Barbara gets back. None of the corrosion was visible until the cables were taken off, which I suppose is the reason our mechanic missed the problem.

Then, a few minutes ago, Barbara called me again to say that her new Pentax K100D DSLR was showing no charge. Urk. Obviously, I had two problems with the original body; the body itself was not working, and the batteries I was using in it wouldn't hold a charge. These are Powerex 2500 mAh cells, and haven't had much use. I think I'll replace them with a set of Energizer 2500 or 2700 mAh cells, which get good reviews. Fortunately, I included a set of fresh AA alkaline batteries, which Barbara can use until I have some replacement NiMH cells. I'm not sure how many shots the Pentax DSLR will get on a fresh set of AA alkalines, but if they run out she can easily find more wherever she is.

News from Mary.

From: mary chervenak
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 12:15:38
  Re: RE: Welcome home

Hi Bob --

I'm home, I'm home!! Well, sort of. It's great to be back in the US, where things make a little more sense. At least I speak the language -- most of the time!!

Paul met me at SFO and has been following the run through Northern California. It's been like a vacation -- the drive down Route 1 yesterday was glorious. We saw whales off the coast. I have to get back to work this evening, so Paul is headed into the desert to do some camping. We'll meet up again on my next day off -- in Utah, I believe.

I got an e-mail from Jo Rogan, too, so at Paul's urging, I took a look at your blog. Good stuff. Paul Rogan has a terrific sense of humor, which has helped buoy the entire team, particularly when things are atrocious. I hope I get a chance to meet Jo. She sounds like a neat lady.

I really wish Pournelle would meet me out on the route holding a sign saying "Stop hitting my friend Bob".

Back to reality. I need to cram some fresh clothes into my travel bag and then I head down the coast to get ready to run. I'm looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

Take care and I'll talk to you soon. Mary

And from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 12:30:32
  Re: Astronomy documentary on PBS

Thanks for the tip. We'll definitely record it. I thought he wrote a fantastic book.

Reading your blog of Saturday, I was reminded of a story, which you may already know. It is the story of Ira Remsen's as to how he came to experiment with nitric acid. It's really funny and has a point. Anyway, you can find it at this link, along with some pictures of nitric acid at work.



Sunday, 5 August 2007
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08:13 - Hi, my name is Augie, and these are my stables...

I am a packrat by nature. (Not a pack rat; those are furry little rodents.) Fortunately, Barbara is thrower-away. I've always thought that any married couple needs one keeper and one thrower-away. With two keepers, they'd constantly need to buy larger houses; with two throwers-away, they'd soon go bankrupt.

My tendency to keep everything would be bad enough in normal circumstances, but for the last several years I've been writing about computer technology, which means that vendors keep sending me stuff, sometimes unsolicited. Glancing around my office (not my workroom, where most of this stuff is stored) I see such useful items as CPU coolers for Pentium III processors, a SCSI Castlewood Orb drive, numerous tape drives and unopened tapes, including models from long-bankrupt companies like OnStream, several cable sets for KVMs that use analog video and PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, boxed copies of Red Hat Linux 5, and an Intel Core2 Duo E6750 processor. (Just checking to see if you're paying attention; that processor is destined to go into the new reference system.)

So, I spent some time yesterday "cleaning up" my office, which mostly meant stacking stuff on shelves wherever there was some space available. I had intended to do a real clean-up, discarding useless stuff and organizing the rest, but I quickly decided that doing that would take literally days if not weeks of effort, and in the end it would be mostly wasted effort. Instead, I've decided that from now on I'm going to prune ruthlessly (... he hit a bump, and rode on Ruthlessly).

The problem is, I really do need some of this junk, or at least there's a reasonably high probability I'll need it at some point. The home chem lab has become a good excuse. The other day, Barbara was about to throw away a couple of depleted AA alkaline cells. I told her I wanted them. She thought I was kidding, but I was serious. I did want them for a possible experiment.

On the plus side, the home chem lab is helping Barbara to cut down on clutter, sometimes without her knowledge. For example, that set of Tupperware measuring spoons that used to live in her kitchen now resides in my lab. Heh, heh, heh.

Update from Paul. The image captions are his comments.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
  Date: Today 00:43:42
Re: Day off

Some links have popped up and I thought I'd throw in a photo as proof of Mary's return. She is right now repacking and we're about to depart. Her next day off is in St. George, UT on August 8. I'll be spending time along the route and may see some runners every now and then. She'll be on the 2100-0300 shift, so I'll probably leave them be.

I wrote the above this morning and promptly lost my internet connection. Mary is running as I write. I'm at John and Jen's, for those who know them (and to them, thanks). We're going to try to meet up with Mary tomorrow for lunch (our lunch, her breakfast, as her team won't arrive at their hotel until 5am or so). I did drive by the massive fire, which looked for all the world like a nuke had gone off. Surely they'd tell us if something like that had happened? Unfortunately, the fire is blowing smoke and ash over the projected path of the run. On the first leg of the shift, I think Mary will miss it but it could be a problem for runners later on her shift.

Here are the links:


Skype Journal
Blue Planet Run
Contra Costa Times


PS Attached is a photo of the smoke from the fire.

Proof that Mary is back on American soil.  And under attack from seaweed.

Mary in the Gobi Desert.

Medical Bathing Center of China.  Note the air.

Mary and Laura at the end of Asia.


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