We attended a public observation at Pilot Mountain State Park on
Saturday evening. That was probably the last public observation we'll
attend. Barbara simply can't put up with the hordes of ill-behaved
children, who often arrive by the busload, and I don't blame
Not all of the kids are misbehaved, of course, but many of them are.
Having expensive equipment set up in the dark with children literally
running around makes many of the scope owners nervous. Some of the kids
just walk up to a scope and start messing with it without so much as
asking permission. And astronomy club members quickly learn to keep any
of their stuff that's not actually in use locked up so that it won't be
In the past, Barbara and I have attended these public
observations because the site is a good one and we can generally
observe for a couple hours after the crowds have departed. It didn't
work out that way Saturday night. The crowds stuck around later than
usual, and by the time they'd mostly gone the wind had become quite
strong and there were clouds moving in. Oh, well.
We did get a
chance to look at Comet 17/P Holmes, which is an extraordinary
naked-eye comet. Most comets gradually brighten as their orbits take
them in closer to the sun, and then gradually dim on their way back
out. Comet 17/P Holmes was an exception. At perihelion (closest
approach to Sol) in May, it was still quite dim, and it became dimmer
as it made its turn to head back out away from the sun.
late last month, something extraordinary happened. Holmes was at
magnitude 17, much too dim to be visible in amateur scopes, when it
suddenly brightened more than a million-fold, going from magnitude 17
to magnitude 2.5 and naked-eye visibility almost literally overnight.
Apparently, Holmes blew up, going from being a small (in celestial
terms) dirty snowball to a gigantic cloud of ice crystals, water vapor,
At 42X in our 10" reflector, 17/P Holmes looked like a
gigantic white cotton ball, with very noticeable central brightening.
At 125X, it almost filled the 0.56� field of view. (The full moon is
about 0.5�.) We were set up next to Paul Jones, and Paul and I
talking about what might have caused Holmes to disintegrate. We'd been
talking earlier about planetary defenses and the likelihood that the
United States already has orbiting beam weapons deployed. Paul
commented that this may have been a test. I'm sure he was kidding, but
stranger things have happened.
After 24 years of marriage, I don't often surprise Barbara, but I
surprised her yesterday. One of our spare bedrooms has for years been
my computer work room. It's stuffed with tables, boxes, and various PC
components. I told Barbara yesterday that I don't need that room any
more. I'll salvage some of the stuff that's stored in there, of course,
but most of it can go.
I told Barbara she was welcome to do with
it as she pleased. I figured she'd turn it into a guest room, but she
says the guest suite downstairs is adequate for that purpose. Instead,
I think she'll turn it into a work room for herself. I'll probably keep
just one corner of it for storing small items like spare hard drives,
optical drives, memory, motherboards, and so on.
- UPS showed up yesterday with our author copies
of Illustrated Guide to
It's exactly what I'd hoped for. O'Reilly's layout and design folks
have done their usual superb job. Barbara spent a few minutes last
night looking through a copy and then announced that it was the best
book we'd ever done.
When we took the dogs on their final walk
of the evening last night, I stopped at Kim's house with a copy for
Jasmine. Jasmine answered the doorbell and came out to chat for a few
minutes. I hadn't seen her for a couple of weeks, and I was surprised
by how much she'd changed in that short time. She was noticeably more
poised and self-confident. More adult-like. She even seemed taller.
the walk home, I mentioned to Barbara that Jasmine seemed different,
and she said she'd noticed the change as well. Barbara said that, at
age 14 and a half and just starting high school, Jasmine was in a
period of fast, major changes. We're watching her become a woman,
almost like a flower blooming overnight.
First, our friend Bo
Leuf's fight with cancer continues.
As a full-time freelance writer, Bo lacks the support system enjoyed by
those who are employed by businesses. If he doesn't work, he doesn't
get paid, and right now he can't work. Bo needs money and has appealed
to his friends and readers for help. Brian and I have already kicked
in, and we're both encouraging our readers to give Bo a hand. If you
can help out, please click on the link above and send Bo some money.
Brian has also endorsed Ron
Paul's candidacy for President,
as have I. In 1980, as a member of the Libertarian National Committee,
I suggested that the way to elect Libertarians was to infiltrate and
take over the Republican party. Paul, who ran earlier for President on
the Libertarian ticket, is putting that suggestion into practice. The
establishment, including the mainstream media and the Republican party
itself, will fight tooth and nail to stop that from happening.
Ultimately, though, there's not much they can do against the kind of
grassroots campaign that Paul is waging.
Expect some dirty
tricks, though. I'm going to change my registration to Republican for
just that reason. In the past, the Republican party has allowed
unaffiliated voters in North Carolina to vote in Republican
primaries. I expect that to change shortly before the presidential
primary, because the Republican party must know that many Paul
supporters are currently registered as unaffiliated.
want to help Ron Paul get elected, now is the time to start doing
something about it. If you're currently registered Libertarian,
unaffiliated, or independent, change your registration to Republican.
(The Libertarian Party won't mind; they're encouraging it.) Send some
money to the Paul campaign. Put a Paul bumper sticker on your car or a
Paul sign in your front yard. Talk to your friends and neighbors about
Paul. Help keep the ball rolling.
I've finished the first draft of the manuscript for the home chem lab
book except for the introduction, which I'm working on now. After much
discussion, it appears that we finally have a title.
Illustrated Guide to Home
All Lab, No Lecture
editors like it, Barbara likes it, and I like it, so I guess that's
what we'll go with. That title also works if you substitute Earth
Science, Biology, or Physics, which was another consideration.
going to be working flat out for the next two weeks to get as much done
as possible on this book so that I can take a few days off for
Thanksgiving. I have comments from editors and tech reviewers to
incorporate, minor rewrite on several of the chapters, some serious
re-write on the chapter on chemicals, and a bunch of images to shoot.
was working on the introduction yesterday, mapping the 22 laboratory
sessions recommended for the College Board AP Chemistry exam to
laboratory sessions in the book, I discovered that I hadn't covered two
of the recommended AP labs. So I made a note to myself to add two lab
sessions. Chapter 13 (Chemical Equilibrium and Le Chatelier's
Principle) gets another lab session titled Determine a Solubility
Product Constant. And Chapter 14 (Gas Chemistry) gets another lab
session titled Determine Molar Mass from Vapor Density. That's another
couple days' work, counting writing, doing, and photographing the
sessions, and it's also more page count, but it's worth it for
I'll finish up the introduction today, which
completes the first draft. This weekend and next week, I'll be doing
rewrite, incorporating comments from my editors and tech reviewers,
shooting images, and doing everything else I can to get the book into
reasonably final form. Even after the push next week there'll be lots
of work left to do, but I want to get as far as possible before we take
a few days off to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.
working seven days a week for quite a while now, and by the time
evening arrives I'm pretty burned out. Lately, Barbara and I have been
watching a Veronica Marsathon. We're halfway through series three,
which is the final season. The series is so Buffy-like that it's almost
like having Buffy back.
The first draft of the home chem lab book is now officially complete.
Of course, completion of the first draft is just the end of the
beginning. Now I have to go back and incorporate comments from my
editors and technical reviewers, do some other rewrite, shoot images,
and so on. I also have to finish writing those two additional lab
sessions, the first of which is nearly complete. Still, the end is in
It looks like I'll be starting work on the home physics lab book next.
That one should be a lot of fun to write.
I accidentally deleted Barbara's home directory while I was backing up
this morning. I backup manually, using copy/paste from the GUI.
Unfortunately, "delete" is the item immediately below "copy" in the
context-sensitive menu, and this morning I missed "copy" and hit
"delete". Unfortunately, I was also holding down "Shift" at the time,
so the deleted items were really deleted rather than being moved to
Fortunately, all Barbara lost was some email she'd
retrieved last night. I restored from yesterday morning's backup, and
she was back up and running in about two minutes flat. Still, it'll
take me a while to live this one down.
There's an interesting discussion going on between me, my editors, and
my tech reviewers about warnings in the home chem book. Currently, the
first step in every procedure in the book tells the reader to put on
his goggles, gloves, and protective clothing. The editors both think
that repeating warnings too often risks having them ignored, which is a
good point, and one that I've thought a lot about and discussed with
Paul and Mary, my technical reviewers.
We're all agreed that
safety is paramount, but we're still talking about how to handle
warnings to make them most effective. The one thing I want to make
absolutely clear to readers is that splash goggles are NEVER
optional, no matter how apparently safe a procedure is. As Paul
commented, bones mend and skin grows back, but if you lose an eye it's
gone forever. And Mary agrees. At Dow Chemical Company, where she
works, the policy is that goggles must be worn at all times in any lab,
even if you're just taking a shortcut through the lab to somewhere
else. The first violation gets you a warning and a one-day suspension.
The second violation gets you fired.
So, the last thing I want
readers doing is deciding whether it's safe to do a particular lab
without goggles. That question should never run through their minds.
Too many chemists have been blinded in lab accidents. Some of
consciously decided to do without goggles, and were tragically wrong in
their estimation of the danger. Others simply forgot to put on goggles
because they weren't in the habit of doing so automatically. Either
way, they're blind.
The EFF site is unavailable again, so I had to remove the EFF banner at
the top of this page before I was able to edit it. I wonder if that
site is coming under attack. For years, there were never any problems.
Lately, the site seems to be down about as often as it's up. I dislike
removing the link, but in practical terms I don't have any choice since
my HTML editor won't load the page unless the link resolves.
Barbara sent me this link yesterday. It's an ad for some folks who are selling a DVD of off-duty Border Collies.
The one thing this clip doesn't really provide is an idea of how fast
Border Collies are. In a straight race, a BC will probably be beaten by
a greyhound, but not by much. In any test of speed where agility is
also a factor, the BC wins hands-down.
At age 8, Malcolm is an
older BC, but he's still fast. Just yesterday, Malcolm proved that, to
the terror of a squirrel. I opened the front door to take the guys out.
As always, Malcolm started barking as soon as I opened the door, but
this time his barking was more energetic than usual. There was a
squirrel out by the tree in the front yard. Malcolm saw it, and it saw
I opened the storm door, and Malcolm accelerated from
zero to full speed in about a tenth of a second. The squirrel had about
a 50-foot head start, but that wasn't enough. To the sound of
thundering paws--it sounded like horses galloping in an old western
movie--Malcolm closed the gap as the squirrel ran desperately for the
tree. At the last instant, the squirrel realized it wasn't going to
make it, and made a sharp turn, At full speed, Malcolm turned inside the squirrel's turn, and nailed the squirrel.
squirrel went rolling across the grass, head over heels, but wasn't
injured. It picked itself up and ran for a tree in the neighbors' yard.
Malcolm let it get away. He'd done his job.