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Week of 20 August 2007

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Monday, 20 August 2007
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08:25 - As of now, the Blue Planet Run is in Augusta, Missouri. They reach St. Louis mid-afternoon, and cross the Mississippi River into Granite City, Illinois early this evening. At that point, they'll truly be back in the eastern United States. Hurray.

The run finishes back at the United Nations Building in New York City in 15 days, two weeks tomorrow. Of course, it's by no means over yet. The run is 16/19th complete. The runners have covered 12,800 miles so far, but they still have to cover about 2,400 miles to reach their destination. That's more than four full Marathons each between now and the finish, or nearly one Marathon every three days.

As far as I can tell, the team memberships are fixed for the rest of the run, as follows:

Silver: Mary Chervenak, Will Dobbie, Emmanuel Kibet, Shiri Leventhal
Yellow: David Christof, Laurel Dudley, Rudy van Prooyen, Paul Rogan, Heiko Weiner
Orange: Lansing Brewer, Brynn Harrington, Sean Harrington, Sunila Jayaraj
 Green: Laura Furtado, Dot Helling, Simon Isaacs, Jason Loutitt
  Blue: Richard Johnson, Victor Lara Ricco, Melissa Moon, Taeko Terauchi

The only change BPR has made to the teams since they reconstituted in their original form in San Francisco is to move Will Dobbie from Team Yellow to Team Silver in exchange for David Christof. It's unfortunate that BPR wasn't able to swap around members of Teams Green and Blue to put Jason and Taeko on the same team. They became engaged in June, and will be married on 28 August when the run reaches Niagara Falls. After the run, Taeko has to return to Japan for two and a half months, so they would obviously have preferred to spend the rest of the run on the same team. As it is, they see each other for only about 10 minutes a day when Teams Green and Blue exchange the baton.

I'm still cranking away on the home chem lab book. On this first pass through, I'm trying to do as much as possible with as little specialty equipment and as few specialty chemicals as possible. Chemistry lab work is fundamentally about measuring things--masses, volumes, and temperatures--so even the basic laboratories require a balance, simple volumetric glassware, and a thermometer. Some books and nearly all chemistry sets try to get around that to save money, but if you're not measuring things you're not doing real science. You're just playing around.

It's surprising how many useful chemicals are available inexpensively in relatively pure forms from convenient sources like supermarkets, drug stores, hardware stores, and so on. Things like hydrochloric acid (muriatic acid from the hardware store), sulfuric acid (battery acid), sodium hydroxide (crystal drain cleaner), copper sulfate (root killer), magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts), iodine (tincture), potassium chloride (salt substitute), and so on.

Before he left to drive out to San Francisco to meet Mary and follow her back to the end of the Blue Planet Run, Paul Jones was over at our house for dinner one evening. Paul is a professor of organic chemistry at Wake Forest University. We went down to my lab, and I was showing him some of the stuff I'd bought from local sources. I showed him a couple of plastic bottles I'd bought at Lowes or Home Depot. Two pounds each of copper sulfate and sodium hydroxide. Both had assays on the label. The copper sulfate assay showed 99.0% copper sulfate, and the sodium hydroxide 100.0% sodium hydroxide, both of which are the equivalent of laboratory grade (and perhaps reagent grade) laboratory chemicals. The conversation went something like this:

Paul: How much did you say this stuff cost?
Me: The copper sulfate was about $7.50 for two pounds and the sodium hydroxide about $5 for two pounds.
Paul: I may have to start buying some of my chemicals at the hardware store.

Same thing on several of the other chemicals. For example, I have a 500 mL bottle of reagent grade 37% (12 M) hydrochloric acid that I think I paid about $15 for. I also have a one-gallon jug of hardware-store muriatic acid that cost me something like $5. It's not graded and it's only 31.45% (10.3 M). The reagent-grade stuff is certainly purer. It's water-white versus the extremely pale straw-yellow color of the muriatic acid (which is mostly iron impurities). But still, the cheap stuff is just fine for most purposes, and it costs about $0.66 for 500 mL versus $15 for the reagent-grade acid. (If you're wondering about the odd concentration of 31.45%, it has to do with shipping regulations.)

So, I'm doing as much as possible as inexpensively as possible. Once I do a complete pass through the book using the basic equipment and chemicals, I'll come back for a second pass to add labs that require more specialized equipment and/or chemicals.

10:59 - Update from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 10:44:59
  Re: man or mouse

So, you've all likely been wondering: This, Paul Jones, does all he do is drive around, searching for food and shelter, drinking, er, beverages, watching his wife work, writing strange emails to friends and family? Is there no action, no life? Is he man or mouse? Does he not, to put it in a nutshell, Run? Well, if you've been wondering this, I can happily report that I jumped in and ran beside Mary in the Blue Planet Run yesterday. Not far, to be sure (she complains of getting slower, but still too fast for me), but some. The story of how it came to be is of some interest. If you aren't interested, you can skip to the end which is a good bit and has a dog in it.*

(* Bonus to anyone who knows who I'm paraphrasing.)

Yesterday was the first day of her new 3pm-9pm shift and she was concerned about the heat. Paul Rogan of Team Yellow handed off to on the edge of a corn field charred by drought. He warned her that it was very humid and to be careful. Mary was met by cousins from her father's side of the family who had come some distance and were wonderfully cheerful and supportive. Mary didn't get to spend long with them as she had to take off, but they saw Mary and Paul say the message and watched her depart. Mary was very happy to get that boost. The day pilot van had gone in search of food - they work a 12 hour shift and they weren't exactly near restaurants. So, Van Silver acted as pilot vehicle, stopping to offer water and/or gatorade every mile. At mile 3, she was hot but hanging in. I trotted along a couple of hundred yards talking to her and she was hopeful it rain. You know what they say about what you wish for.

I drove ahead to mile 6 or 7 (once again forgetting to set my odometer) and parked off the road on a hill. Within a few minutes a good gust front hit and the truck was shaking quite a bit. The hill was being peppered with lightning. Close. I figured Mary was in the van by now so I drove back to find them. Within a mile or so I found them, pilot van now on her tail as for a night run, lights and emergency flashers on. Mary in front, determined (i.e. pissed off) look on her face. There were bits of tree laying in the road, rain came in sheets but the lightning at this point didn't seem so bad. I passed by, circled around and went back to my hill. Again, there, the lightning was awful. Mary came around the bend, still looking resolved and, I must admit, very cool running through this terrible thunderstorm. I rolled the window down to take a picture and, just then, a flash of lightning and clap of thunder, essentially simultaneous, no more than a few hundred yards away and Mary's resolve broke. In her words, "Like a sensible person, I threw my arms up and screamed like a little girl." The husband gland in my brain advised that I not take the picture. She ran to my truck, saw that the passenger seat was full, so without a word, ran back to the van and got in. We all sat there, riding out the last of the storm that Mary's last turn had brought her into. A lot of wind, some more lightning. After about 10 minutes she hopped out and carried on in much milder wind and light rain. It was actually quite pleasant. I should add, at this point, that while I had been irritated with the van for not letting/making Mary get in the van, Mary revealed later that she had insisted on running, that it hadn't seemed that bad. Her teammate Will confirmed both, saying that they had asked her several times to get in but that there hadn't been really close lightning. It really did seem to be my hill that was the focus of the lightning and the road had had a big sweeping turn that brought her to the hill just before the infamous bolt.

Before she resumed, I told her I'd join her for the end, say the last mile. The 430 exchange was supposed to be at Hwy 179 and Montineau Creek Rd. So, I drove ahead and parked at a sign that read, 'Montineau Creek'. Clever, I am. The BPR trailer had pulled up just ahead and appeared to be waiting. I started walking back and met Mary probably a little less than a mile from the truck. I ran back with her, confidently telling her that the end was near. She was skeptical, knowing, as she did, how far she had run. We rounded the bend, me looking for air and the BPR van was gone. My truck sat alone, about a quarter mile ahead. No Team Silver. No pilot van. Clearly the exchange wasn't for awhile. I made excuses about not wanting to leave my truck so far from the end so pulled it ahead until I could see the flags of the exchange point - about three quarters of a mile - and pulled off. I walked back to meet her and we ran in together. For a few hundred great yards, I carried the BPR baton. It is as dirty as Mary says. She had to yell at me pretty good not to quit when we got back to the truck and to push me to the end. I should probably run more. The BPR folks were all set up under a road sign that read, 'Montineau Creek Rd.'. The earlier sign was either a spur or a circle or a diversion dating back to the late 19th century to throw off Indian raids. I don't know. Mary and Emmanuel spoke the message, he took off and she changed clothes. I walked back to my car and headed to Jefferson City for a 730 "event" which sadly didn't involve any actual people. More on that later.

We were chased for awhile at the end by a brown short hair mutt who found Mary's legs awfully exciting. She finally convinced him to stop, but he followed me back to the car when I walked back to it and tried very hard to get in. I'm not sure where he wanted to go, exactly, but he didn't seem to want to stay in Missouri. Evidently, dogs have been pretty common on their Run around the world.

They have a big event in St. Louis today and then cross the Mississippi to enter what most folks think of as the eastern US. They'll turn north a bit and head to Chicago after that. Mary ran a solid 8 minute/mile pace during the running bits of her run (and that is averaging her time with me in and I know I slowed her down) so the day off appears to have done some good. It looks like more rain today, which beats heat and humidity. She will run from 430-600 and may be the runner to cross the river. I should have some pictures of the 3pm exchange and subsequent storm yesterday. Just have to get them developed (i.e. find the correct cables in my truck).

Cheers, Paul

PS Just as I wrap this up, it begins to rain really hard outside. Yeek.

13:22 - There are a whole bunch of new blog posts up on the BPR site, including this one from Mary.

August 18

Since running through Los Angeles and Las Vegas, I am feeling divinely beautiful, entitled, gossipy, slightly famous (okay, actually, showered and mostly clean)...distinctly Hollywood.

I started the 3 AM to 9 AM shift a spoiled starlet. My first run was in Utah, through Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, where I started running a little before 6 AM. Uphill. In the dark. At altitude. Three criteria that could have easily resulted in a gloriously noisy hissy fit. I trotted along glumly for about 20 minutes, debating the merits of a hissy. A really good hissy, after all, takes a lot of energy, and lately, I really don't have much to spare.

Then the sun rose and everything changed. The sky turned rosy pink and the asphalt road to packed sand. The road crested a final hill, tipped over the edge, and unrolled in a long ribbon. One mountain range looked like a string of aristocratic noses. Another looked like a pile of leftover Parthenons (in storage, in case Zeus makes a comeback). I straightened my tiara and dove headfirst into the run, whooping like a deranged football fan as I zigged and zagged down some crazy steep switchbacks. Who needs stardom when you can run at dawn in Capitol Reef?

I finished the 3 AM to 9 AM shift a demanding diva. My team ran over Independence Pass (12,095 feet) just as the sun rose. In full diva mode, I had my minions run all the hard uphill and steep downhill, leaving me a lovely rolling ten-mile stretch to complete around mid-morning. I insisted upon being accompanied by an entourage – a cyclist, Elise, and our paramedic, Mark. Mark asked me several times if the altitude was bothering me (we were still running at around 10,000 feet). Honestly, at this point in the run, I'm so tired all the time, I hardly noticed the lack of air. Impossibly steep? Sure, I can run up that. Hot and humid? No problem, I can run in that. No air? I've run in worse. A giant shrieking eel bearing a subpoena? Bring it on.

We spent most of the run trading disgusting stories, each trying to out-gross the other. When Mark launched into his “weirdest things I've seen while on the job” stories, though, Elise and I both fell silent, defeated by modern medicine and the really wrong things that people do to themselves.

And of course, I am the Kevin Bacon of mayhem, mishap, mistake, and misery associated with the Blue Planet Run team. Only six degrees of separation lie between me and any stubbed toe, wrong turn, missing sock, or hot, evil stretch of asphalt. As an example: Rudy and I are inextricably connected. I exchanged the baton with Heiko in Berlin. Heiko is a member of Yellow Team and Rudy's teammate. Rudy suffered a groin injury while bouncing around the Gobi Desert in his team's van. Thus, I am three degrees of separation from Rudy's groin.

Wait. That didn't come out right.


Tuesday, 21 August 2007
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08:03 - I was wrong about the color (and presumed purity) of the hardware store hydrochloric acid. Yesterday, I was working on the chapter on chemical kinetics. One of the labs examines the effect of concentration on reaction rates. For that one, I use the reactions between Tums antacid tables (calcium carbonate) and hydrochloric acid at various concentrations.

As I was writing the chapter, I figured I'd better go down to the lab and verify what happens when you drop a Tums tablet into fairly concentrated HCl. (I didn't want the tablet to foam uncontrollably and spatter acid.) So I went down to the lab and mixed up some ~5 M HCl to test the reaction time. I poured about 100 mL of the 31.45% (10.3 M) hardware store HCl into a beaker, and noticed that it appeared water-white. No hint of a yellow coloration. So, this cheap HCL is a lot purer than I thought it was.

I notice the extremely pale straw-yellow color only when I look straight down into the one-gallon white plastic bottle. That's probably because I'm looking through such a thick layer of the acid, just as water appears blue in thick layers.

FedEx showed up yesterday with a couple of Seagate 750 GB Barracuda SATA hard drives and 4 GB of Crucial memory for the new reference mainstream system I'm building. Antec is sending me one of their Sonata Designer 500 cases, and I already have the Intel DG33TL motherboard and Core 2 Duo processor. I need to order a DVD writer, CPU cooler, and a couple of other minor parts, and I'll be ready to roll. I'm talking to O'Reilly now about possibly doing an article for MAKE Magazine about the build.


Wednesday, 22 August 2007
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08:20 - The Blue Planet Run site has some updated daily reports. I like reading these updates because I frequently learn something new, such as:

By the time Paul took off, half of Team Yellow had to make a quick detour to a nearby clinic: an encounter with a playful dog the day before had caused Heiko to mis-step from a curb, severely injuring his left forefoot (although he finished his 10 miles).

His left forefoot? Heiko is a horse, apparently.

The run is in Joliet, Illinois right now, and will arrive in Romeoville in about an hour. (Romeoville and Joliet? Hmmm. I wonder if those towns are named after CD formats.) Early tomorrow morning, the run crosses from Illinois into Indiana. Once they get out of the Indiana Chicago suburbs, they'll be back on Eastern Time. Less than two weeks left to go.

Work continues on the chemistry book. Yesterday and today I'm writing about solutions, solubility, solubility product constants, and so on.

11:51 - Steven J. Vaughan Nichols just posted Who needs Windows Home Server with Linux Around?

The title is self-explanatory. The article tells you everything you need to know to bring up an Ubuntu (Mint) box as a home file server, with step-by-step instructions and screen shots. Versus Windows Home Server, the advantages of Ubuntu are that it costs nothing, is easier to configure, requires no activation, does not phone home, has no DRM to tell you what you can do with your own files, is much more capable, is much more stable, is much more secure, and is much faster. WHS has, as far as I can see, absolutely no advantages.

12:20 - Update from me...

From: Robert Bruce Thompson
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 12:13:05
  Re: Update

Paul Jones is having mail problems and asked me to send this to the list for him:

Hi Bob,

Once again Thunderbird won't let me mail out.  Not sure what the problem is. Could you forward this to the list?  Also, thanks for paying the city.

Hi all,

We're in Chicago.  Mary in the super sunny Joliet Super 8 and I was generously housed by Christine for a couple of days.  Mary has one more run on her 3pm-9pm shift and the previous three have gone really well.  You know about the first one, with the storm.  In the second she crossed from Missouri into Illinois, crossing the Mississippi on the old Route 66 bridge.  She was accompanied by her running partner and friend Blain and a friend of his.  She said it was a great run and that it was really nice to run with a familiar face again. Yesterday, she ran again after a brief storm that cooled things a bit and was accompanied by a cyclist from a local rotary club (Towanda, IL) that threw a bash and gave BPR a big check.  She reports that he is a great guy and was a lot of fun to run with.  She clocked in her ten miles in 79 minutes, which is the fastest she's run a leg since well back in Russia.  It's amazing what a little rest, food and water will do.

I have attended two BPR "events".  The first was Sunday night in Jefferson City, capital of Missouri and the second Monday afternoon in Kiener Plaza in St. Louis.  I've been trying to formulate what to say about these, as they were not well attended.  Only a couple of people were at the Jefferson City event and not more than a dozen or so in St. Louis.  In contrast, the unplanned events in small towns have gone really well, with scores to hundreds of people (in towns of just a few hundred each).  To date, the biggest non-Dow events I've heard about in the US have been Escalante, UT and Stratton, CO.  In both cases, the event was thrown by locals after someone, or several someones, associated with the Run made casual contacts during the daily course of business. Invariably, word spread quickly through the small town and a party was thrown. Being from a small, western town, I'm proud of that but I think it more reflects the "strategy" developed by Kaplow to rely on word of mouth.  There is no community of St. Louis, or Chicago, etc for which word of mouth can operate.

When they are in the downtown of a busy city, lots of people walk by but gatherings in those public spaces aren't unusual and the folks generally are headed somewhere with a purpose whereas public gatherings of strangers in small towns is a little unusual.  Perhaps the smaller towns are a bit more sensitive to water issues, as well, especially in the west. Whatever it is, it is clear that the strategy that generates great results in small towns doesn't work in the cities.  On the other hand, when an organization is enlisted, such as the rotary, the cities bring out huge results.  A lesson.

Anyhow, there is also news from Dow.  Evidently, Heiko's ranting blog has generated a bit of an outcry from a segment of the Dow population that the Run is not safe and that the Run violates the "safety culture" at Dow, whatever that is.  A small, but tangible, number of Dow employees have called for bringing Mary and Heiko home NOW.  Mary and Heiko both acknowledge that running is risky and that, in some cases, things haven't gone as well as could have done, but that, as Mary says, she has had food poisoning in the U.S. and been hit by a car in New Jersey.  Heiko was hurt, frustrated and angry when he wrote the blog but that he was mostly venting.  He says that it this is a great thing that Dow is doing and both he and Mary, big picture, have enjoyed the trip even when it has been hard and frustrating.  Most of you don't know Heiko (he climbs mountains for fun) but you know Mary and she sort of relishes tough challenges. Anyway, she is perturbed by the response from the segment at Dow that the Run has been too dangerous.  She is composing a blog.  Stay tuned.

Okey dokey.  I'm off to the UP, leaving the Run to all these crazy people in the big city.  It's been an adjustment from the desert.

Cheers all, Paul


Thursday, 23 August 2007
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09:04 - The Blue Planet Run runners are now well into Indiana, near Interstate 80 along the northern border with Michigan. I'm not sure why, but soon they'll take a huge southern loop down toward Huntington and then back north past Fort Wayne that'll take most of a day to run. Perhaps there's a Dow facility there that they need to visit. They'll cross the border into Michigan tomorrow afternoon. They'll spend a couple of days running through Michigan, and then cross over into Canada. After a couple of days running through Ontario, they'll cross back into New York state, and be in the home stretch.

Barbara is leaving work early this afternoon to pick up her parents and take them to the hospital, where her dad is having laser eye surgery. She'll have dinner with them, which means I can have my usual gourmet dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Malcolm loves PB&J, but Duncan doesn't. Duncan used to like PB&J until that evil day when a bit of sandwich I gave him got stuck to the roof of his mouth. Ever since, he refuses to touch PB&J.

Poor Duncan is suffering from the frequent afternoon thunderstorms, which terrify him. Every Border Collie we've had over the years has had no fear of thunder when they were young, but as they get older they become terrified of thunder. When the thunder starts, Duncan wants desperately to come into my office and hide under my desk. Alas, I have to put up a baby gate to keep him out of my office. Otherwise, he goes under my desk and becomes entangled in cords. The last time I let him into my office during a thunderstorm, he ended up under my desk, sitting on the UPS.

Now that Duncan is older, we have to be very careful during thunderstorms. He's so terrified that he tries to get into places that aren't safe for him, such as the bathtub. (Actually, the bathtub wouldn't be a bad place for him, except that we're afraid he'll slip and break a leg.) So I go around closing the doors to various rooms that aren't safe for him. I left the door to our bedroom open, and also opened the closet door in there, thinking it would be a safe cave for him.

I came back into my office and started working again. A few minutes later, I heard thrashing on the other side of the wall (my office shares a wall with our bedroom closet). When I got back to the bedroom, I found Duncan standing in one of the clothes baskets.

I'm wondering if I could use Barbara's MP3 player to help. I could put the ear buds in Duncan's ears and crank up some classical music. I'm sure Barbara wouldn't mind.

10:04 - What does this look like to you?

According to school officials in Arizona, it's a drawing of a gun and constitutes a threat. They suspended the boy, age 13, who drew it. Ignoring for a moment that this sketch looks nothing like any firearm I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot of firearms), the real question is how any sketch on its own can constitute a threat. It might be reasonable to consider a sketch of a firearm a threat if it were, say, sent to a teacher or another student. But this one wasn't. Does this mean that playing the game hangman is a threat? After all, that's a graphic representation of a person being hanged.

I don't have children, or at least any that I know about. If I did, I would do whatever was necessary to educate them outside the public school system. Home schooling, private school, even Catholic school. Whatever it took.

Our public school systems meet any reasonable definition of insanity. I've had a low opinion of public schools for many years, but I've finally reached the point where I believe that exposing children to public schools is child abuse. I've watched what our local public schools have done to Jasmine, and I hate it. The school system has no interest in educating Jasmine, other than incidentally. Their only interest is in meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind. They teach to the tests. To the extent that preparing Jasmine and other students for those tests educates them, they get an education. Unfortunately, doing well on those tests is not the same thing as being educated properly.

I see only one solution to the public school crisis. We must demand that our legislators pass laws to create voucher systems. If a public school system is spending, say, $8,000 per student per year--fully burdened, including facilities costs--any parent of a school-age child should be able to obtain an $8,000 voucher that can be applied to educating that child privately, whether in a private school, a home school, or a religious school. And that $8,000 should be charged against the budget of the public school system in the district where that child resides. If the public school system eventually ends up with zero students, well it should also have a zero budget.

Those vouchers could be spent in any way the parents see fit, as long as they are applied to educating the child. Some parents would decide to spend their vouchers at existing private or church schools. Other parents would decide to cash the check, home school their kids, and use the voucher money to help pay for one parent staying at home. Still others would band together and form their own small schools, with several families taking on the job cooperatively.

Whenever I've suggested this in the past, people always point out that there would be abuses. Of course there would. But nothing like the abuses that are our current public school systems. It would be easy enough to mandate that students take standardized tests each year or each semester. If a student failed, which might reasonably be defined as scoring less than the 70th percentile, that student would no longer be eligible for vouchers and would be dumped back into the public school system.

If anyone argues that such a system would be elitist and would write off the bottom 70%, I say that the current system writes off all but the upper few percent, and those students are the ones who succeed on their own, despite the school system rather than because of it. In truth, only the upper 10% matters, anyway, and only the upper 1% really matters. We need to start focusing our resources on the smart kids. Without them, we're lost.


Friday, 24 August 2007
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08:49 - Only 11 days left in the Blue Planet Run. Right now, they're near Burr Oak, Indiana. Early this afternoon, they cross the border near Burr Oak, Michigan. I haven't heard from Paul or Mary, and there's not much new posted on the BPR website, so I'm not sure what's going on. I hope everyone is safe. The run has been near some severe storms lately, and Chicago got nailed yesterday by storms bad enough to close down both airports because of high winds and the rail system because there was so much fallen and blown debris on the tracks.

We could use some of the rain that Ohio and much of the rest of the midwest has been getting. On the map in the newspaper this morning, Winston-Salem is shown as being in severe drought, with areas to the south and west of us in extreme drought and extraordinary drought. About 10% of the municipal water systems in North Carolina have implemented restrictions, and more will soon follow unless we get some serious rain soon.

Winston-Salem never has water restrictions, because our water comes from the Yadkin River. Several years ago, when much of the state was in a long-lasting extraordinary drought and the Yadkin River was at its lowest level and flow rate in recorded history, Winston-Salem still had plenty of water. Other towns and cities, including ones as close as Greensboro, aren't as fortunate because they don't have the Yadkin River.

The other day, the newspaper reported that Greensboro was buying water from Winston-Salem and a couple of other smaller water systems to the tune of $20,000 per day. Actually, that's a bargain in this seller's market. Winston-Salem could probably get away with charging Greensboro $100,000 per day. I hope Greensboro remembers the next time Winston-Salem needs a favor from it.

The water problems that the Blue Planet Run is trying to draw attention to aren't limited to third-world countries. We don't think about water much in the Eastern US. Historically, access to water has never been much of a problem here. It's a different story in much of the Western US, where even now the population is too large for the existing water supplies.

Access to safe drinking water is an issue that should concern all of us.


Saturday, 25 August 2007
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09:15 - There are several updated pages available on the BPR site, including a new blog entry by Mary Chervenak.

The Blue Planet Run is about halfway across Michigan, with another day or so until they arrive in Canada. After a couple of days running across Ontario, they arrive back in the United States in western New York on 28 August, at which point they have only one more week remaining in the Run. That's also a special day for runners Taeko Terauchi and Jason Loutitt, who are getting married on August 28th at Niagara Falls.

One of the problems about technical writing is that the reader often needs a gestalt of the entire field to understand any particular topic in reasonable depth. In other words, you sometimes need A to understand B, but you also need B to understand A. That often presents a problem for organizing a book, which by its nature is linear.

For example, I'm still working on a chapter called Solubility and Solutions. That chapter appears early in the book, but some of the lab sessions in it require an understanding of the concepts of moles, dissociation of ionic compounds, balanced equations, and so on.

For example, one of the later lab sessions (the one I was writing yesterday) is about standardizing a solution of hydrochloric acid against a solution of sodium carbonate by titration. That lab raises a bunch of issues, including the fact that the reaction between hydrochloric acid and sodium carbonate has two equivalence points (one when one mole of HCl has reacted with the sodium carbonate to form sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride, and the second when the second mole of hydrochloric acid has reacted with the sodium bicarbonate to form a second mole of sodium chloride and one mole each of carbon dioxide and water).

The pH of the solution at the first equivalence point is relatively high. That makes phenolphthalein a good choice of indicator for that equivalence point, because the pH range for its color change corresponds almost exactly to that equivalence point. The pH of the solution at the second equivalence point is much lower, and methyl orange is the ideal indicator for it. This lab is a great illustration of several points, but I can't use it that early in the book. As it turns out, that one is no great problem. I'll simply relocate it to the chapter on acids and bases, which will be later in the book.

But then there's the lab on solubility constants and solubility product constants. That requires an understanding of several concepts, including stoichiometry and equilibrium, that I don't get to until later chapters. So I need to move that lab further ahead in the book, but where? I may have to retitle the original chapter "Solutions" and add a later chapter called "Solubility", which seems dumb, but there it is.


Sunday, 26 August 2007
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