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Week of 29 October 2007

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Monday, 29 October 2007
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08:35 - I smiled when I read Dilbert this morning, but not for the usual reason. Scott Adams butchered the syntax in the last panel, which read, "The root cause probably involves slow learners mating for many generations." I might have phrased that something like, "The root cause probably involves many generations of slow learners mating" or "The root cause probably involves the mating of many generations of slow learners."

At any rate, I was surprised to see Adams publicly endorse the fundamental principle of eugenics, which is about as politically incorrect as it's possible to be. Of course, the fact that stupid parents tend to produce stupid children is known to anyone who understands basic biology, but that's another of those facts that cannot be spoken.

Yesterday, I shot most of the images for Chapter 3, Equipping a Home Chem Lab. No one will mistake them for professional images, but they'll suffice. Shooting glassware properly really demands a view camera and fully adjustable continuous lighting with at least three or four lamps to make sure the shadows, highlights, and reflections appear properly. What I had was Barbara's Pentax DSLR with the on-camera flash and a slave flash. Still, the images are usable, and that's about the most I could hope for.

Paul Jones has been away at a conference, so I haven't gotten tech review comments from him. I have been getting tech review comments from Mary, who's doing a great job. I'll incorporate many of them in the text, pulled out and attributed to her.


Tuesday, 30 October 2007
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08:38 - I've finished the "final" drafts of the two chapters O'Reilly needs to do the preliminary layout/design work, so that we can get an idea of where we stand on page count. Yesterday, I started working again on the quantitative analysis chapter.

Last night, the low was 33 �F (0.5 �C). There was no frost, but last night was by far the coldest of the season so far. It seems strange for it to have gotten so cold so quickly. Just a couple of weeks ago we had highs in the mid-90's (~35 �C).

We tested the gas logs the other night. Last year, the first time we fired them up they burned for about half an hour and then shut down. As it turned out, that was caused by dust around the pilot light. The guy who came out to service them showed me where and how to use canned air to blow them out. This time, they burned for an hour or more with no glitches, so we decided they're probably okay.

We had the gas logs installed several years ago, immediately after an ice storm that knocked out our power (and our furnace) for several days. We got the highest capacity model they offered. Run unvented on high, the gas logs put out as many BTUs as our furnace. Going full-blast, even when it's as cold outside as it ever gets around here, the gas logs can keep the den at more than 120 �F (50 �C). Obviously, that's much warmer than necessary, but by keeping the den that warm we can also keep the rest of the house warm enough to keep pipes from freezing. Our water heater is also gas, so the most a days-long power failure can do now is inconvenience us a bit.


Wednesday, 31 October 2007
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08:00 - Yesterday I finished up two of the lab sessions in the quantitative analysis chapter, one on determining vitamin C by acid-base titration and one on anion analysis of seawater. Today I'll finish the one on quantitative analysis of chlorine bleach by redox titration, which will complete that chapter. That gives me a nice round sixteen laboratory chapters, each with anything from one to five or six sessions.

After that, other than incorporating comments from my editors, the only things that remain are the preface, introduction, and lab safety chapters, which won't take too long to write. That, and shooting a lot of images. I originally planned to shoot the images for the lab chapters as I was doing them, but that didn't work too well. Instead, once I have all the lab chapters complete, I'll go back and do the setups again, making sure this time that they're suitable to be photographed.

I hope to have all of this done by Thanksgiving, at which point I'll take a few days of well-deserved time off. Depending on how the page count works out, I may come back later and add one more chapter, this one on synthesizing useful compounds, and perhaps add a few lab sessions to existing chapters. One way or another, it'll all be over soon. My editor tells me the book should be in the bookstores by April, if not earlier.


Thursday, 1 November 2007
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08:27 - Brian Jepson emailed me and several other O'Reilly folks last night to start a discussion about the title for the forthcoming home chem lab book. The O'Reilly database had the working title Home Chemistry. Brian and I had been calling it Home Chem Lab Handbook. Brian pointed out that "Handbook" has a specific meaning and that this book isn't a handbook, which is a telling point.

I told them that my original working title had been "Mother of All Chemistry Sets Manual". Tom Sgouros chimed in to say he thought a funny title was just fine, and that he kind of liked Mother of All Chemistry Sets, with perhaps Home Chemistry Lab Handbook as a subtitle. He also suggested a few possible alternatives, including:

Make Your Own Chemistry Set
Who Needs A Chemistry Set?
Blowing Stuff Up and Other Chem Lab Adventures
Blowing Stuff Up and Keeping All Your Fingers
Adventures in a Chem Lab
Chemistry Adventures
Solutions to Chemistry
Secret Reagent Man
Reagent, Solution, Reaction
Is It Love or Is It Chemistry?
Better Living Through Chemistry
Don't Eat at the Lab Bench
I've Got the Formula for That
Making Stuff Up
Making Up a Solution

I replied that I think the three essentials that must appear in the subtitle are "home", "chemistry", and "lab". I said that "Mother of All Chemistry Sets Manual" was kind of growing on me, with either "Doing Real Chemistry at Home" or "Real Chemistry in a Home Lab" as a subtitle. The first subtitle doesn't include "lab", but it's strongly implied by the "Doing" part.

And, just after I sent that message, I went over to check /., where I found Anti-Terrorism and the Death of the Chemistry Set, which has some links to interesting articles and some interesting comments appended.

On another subject, O'Reilly tells me that the printer delivered Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders to the warehouses on Monday. We should be getting some copies tomorrow or the first of next week.

As usual, O'Reilly will be making available some number of free review copies to my readers. If you'd like to receive a free review copy, on the understanding that you agree to review it on Amazon.com (and anywhere else you care to post your review, but Amazon.com is the most important), email me your particulars, as follows:

Full mailing address (street address required; no P.O. boxes)
Telephone number (FedEx and UPS require it)

Send the email to me at thompson at ttgnet dot com, with the subject line:

IGtAW review copy request

I'm set up to filter these into a holding folder, and I'll later forward them in a batch to O'Reilly, so please don't include any comments that you expect me to see or reply to.

A couple of disclaimers:

First, I don't know how many review copies O'Reilly will have available or, obviously, how many people will request them, so there's no guarantee that you'll receive a copy. If the number of requests exceeds the number of copies available, subscribers to this site will be given preference. I'll collect requests for the next few days and send them on to O'Reilly. If you do want a copy, it'd be a good idea to email me as soon as you can.

Second, I'm not sure where they'll be willing to send review copies. The US and Canada, certainly, probably the UK, and possibly Australia. But regardless of where you live, if you want a copy go ahead and send me your request. The worst they can do is not send you one.


Friday, 2 November 2007
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13:09 - I can always tell when I'm nearing the end of a book, because I start dropping some of the balls I'm juggling. Yesterday, for the first time in more than a year, I forgot to do my regular daily backup. This morning, I forgot to post anything here. When I finally remembered just a few minutes ago, I almost didn't bother. When I called up the local copy of this page in my HTML editor, it locked up again because the EFF web site was down and the banner that usually appears at the top of this page couldn't load.

Right now, I'm working on chapter 21, Synthesizing Useful Compounds, which is the final lab chapter that needs to be written. There are only two lab sessions in that chapter, but both of them cover topics that the College Board recommends for AP Chemistry lab sessions. With those two sessions in place, this book will cover the lab portion of the AP Chemistry exam, which of course makes the book considerably more attractive to a lot of people.

I'm also talking to my editor about the next book(s), which will probably be series books that cover the lab aspects of biology, physics, and earth science in the same way that this book covers the lab aspects of chemistry. I'm going to write some mini-proposals with high-level TOCs for those books so that my editor can get the ball rolling on his end, but first I want to finish the chapter I'm working on. That should be finished in the next couple of days, after which I can write the mini-proposals and then get back to the work that remains on this book. As Jerry Pournelle frequently says, it's a great life if you don't weaken.


Saturday, 3 November 2007
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08:51 - Still cranking away on the book. Yesterday I made up a batch of tetraammoniumcopper(II) hydroxide, which is less complicated than it sounds. I just made up a saturated solution of copper(II) sulfate, precipitated the copper as hydroxide, and dissolved the sky-blue precipitate in excess aqueous ammonia, which produces the intense blue tetraammoniumcopper(II) hydroxide in solution. That solution has the interesting property of being a solvent for cellulose.

So I shredded a paper towel and immersed it in the solution. After a day or so, I'll pour off the solution, leaving the excess undissolved paper, and use a syringe to squirt the cellulose solution into a dilute solution of sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid immediately neutralizes the cellulose solution and a thread of reconstituted cellulose appears. It's called Rayon.

Barbara is off to some kind of library meeting, so it's just the guys and me until she returns sometime this afternoon.


Sunday, 4 November 2007
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Copyright � 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.