Week of 3 December 2007
Update: Saturday, 8 December 2007 10:00 -0500
This week is devoted to finishing up the home chem lab book as much as
possible. I don't have comments on all chapters yet, but I'll
incorporate those I do have and shoot the images I need.
Before I do that, I have a couple of things to finish up. The
mini-proposal for Illustrated
Guide to Home Forensics Experiments
is nearly ready to send to my editors, and I need to do some work on
Barbara's sister's computer. When we were over at Frances's house for
dinner Friday, I updated her Xandros installation. Frances left at
oh-dark-thirty on Saturday morning on a bus tour to Myrtle Beach, and
turned off the system. When she returned last night, she turned on the
system, which came up to a text-mode login prompt instead of the usual
graphics-mode login prompt. She hauled the system out to our house this
morning on her way to work, and I'll take a look at it first thing.
we can get the logistics worked out, Barbara and I are having dinner
this evening with Dale Dougherty, publisher of MAKE, who's in town on a
flying visit for a meeting.
Barbara and I had dinner last night with Dale Dougherty,
who's a fascinating conversationalist. Alas, the restaurant is
apparently under new ownership since the last time we were there, and
our meal was adequate at best. Still, the conversation made up for it.
we returned home, there was a message on the answering machine from
Brian Bilbrey. He and Greg Lincoln were working on migrating our
domains, among many others, from zidane, our current server, to a new
server located at a new hosting facility. The hard drive in zidane is
on its last legs and could drop dead at any moment. Brian and Greg hope
to have the migration complete by tonight or tomorrow.
I also finished up the mini-proposal/TOC for Illustrated Guide to Home Forensics Experiments.
Here's a (very) preliminary outline. There'll be many additions,
deletions, rearrangements, and other modifications, but it gives a
general idea of what I hope to do with the book. There are a lot of
things I just don't know right now that will determine what makes it
into the book. For example, I'd like to do microscopy of crystals with
polarized light, but I'm not sure if that's practical on a reasonable
budget. Similarly, I'd like to use PCR to replicate DNA followed by
using electrophoresis to separate the DNA, but I'm not sure if the
reagents I need are available at a reasonable price. So, lab sessions
will come and go as the book progresses (always assuming we sign a
contract to do it...), and the final lineup will depend on what's
practical to do in a home lab.
I hope to have 50+ lab sessions,
including many that aren't yet listed here. I'm not sure how much I'll
be able to do on arson and explosives, primarily for legal reasons. And
I'll do the chapter on computer forensics last, and only if there's
room for it, because most readers will perceive computer forensics as
being less "scientific" than the rest of the topics.
- Laboratory Safety
- Equipping a Home Forensics Lab
- Chemicals and Other Consumables
- Portable Forensics Kits
- Gathering and Preserving Evidence
- Maintaining a Chain of Custody
- Laboratory: Crime Scene Photography
- Laboratory: Collecting and Preserving Evidence
- Laboratory: Taking Fingerprint Samples
- Laboratory: Classifying Fingerprints
- Laboratory: Preserving Patent Fingerprints
- Laboratory: Revealing Latent Fingerprints Using Dusting
- Laboratory: Revealing Latent Fingerprints Using
- Laboratory: Revealing Latent Fingerprints Using Iodine
- Laboratory: Revealing Latent Fingerprints Using Silver
- Laboratory: Revealing Latent Fingerprints with SPR
(Small Particle Reagent; Molybdenum Disulfide)
- Laboratory: Revealing Latent Fingerprints Using
- Blood Detection and Analysis
- Laboratory: Detecting Blood with the Kastle-Meyer Test
- Laboratory: Detecting Blood with Luminol
- Laboratory: Microscopic Examination of Blood
- Laboratory: Blood Spatter Analysis
- Impression Analysis
- Laboratory: Footprint and Tire Print Analysis
- Laboratory: Firing Pin and Rifling Impression Analysis
- Laboratory: Tool Mark Analysis
- Trace Evidence Analysis
- Laboratory: Fiber Evidence Analysis
- Laboratory: Hair Evidence Analysis
- Laboratory: Soil Analysis
- Laboratory: Firearms Residue Analysis
- Laboratory: Glass Analysis
- Forensic Toxicology
- Laboratory: The Marsh Test
- Laboratory: Detecting Alkaloid Poisons
- Forensic Drug Testing
- Laboratory: Assay Vitamin C in Urine
- Laboratory: Presumptive Drug Tests
- Laboratory: Analysis of Drugs by Chromatography
- Laboratory: Observing Microcrystalline Structures
- Forensic Biology
- Laboratory: Wood Grain Analysis
- Laboratory: Forensic Entomology
- Laboratory: Pollen Analysis
- Laboratory: Diatom Analysis
- Laboratory: DNA Analysis by Electrophoresis
- Forgeries and Fakes
- Laboratory: Questioned Documents Examination
- Laboratory: Revealing Alterations
- Laboratory: Analysis of Paper
- Laboratory: Analysis of Inks by Chromatography
- Laboratory: Embedded Serial Numbers in Color Laser
- Laboratory: Analysis of Paints and Pigments
- Arson and Explosives Investigation
- Computer Forensics
- Laboratory: Bitwise Replication of Hard Drives
- Laboratory: Recovering Deleted Files
- Laboratory: Following a Browser Trail
- Laboratory: Cracking Password-Protected Files
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
Greg Lincoln and Brian Bilbrey got us relocated to the new server late
last night, and, with the exception of a couple of minor glitches,
everything appears to be working normally.
Just buying red phosphorus can put you in the sights of the feds: Teacher Accused of Using High School as Personal Meth Lab
the article, assuming it's accurate, it seems possible although by no
means certain that this guy did intend to produce methamphetamine. But,
also from the article, "During the search of the lab, cops discovered
chemicals necessary to begin producing the drug, authorities told the
Californian, but no evidence of the finished drug at the school."
in effect, this man has been put on administrative leave and probably
faces criminal charges, not because he made a controlled substance but
because he had what he needed to make it. Note that the investigation
lasted 30 days, so if he had really intended to make methamphetamine he
probably would have done so before the raid.
Thursday, 6 December
Barbara was going out to dinner with some friends last night, so I
worked a 12-hour day yesterday, finishing up about 8:00 p.m. I made
quick passes through the preface through chapter 10 inclusive
and chapter 14, incorporating all comments I'd received and doing
some minor rewrites of my own.
I try to handle editors' comments
like I used to play tennis, putting the ball back in the other guy's
court as hard and as fast as possible. Heck, I used to routinely meet
my opponent at net off his first serve. I suspect it's depressing for
my editors sometimes. They work hard to mark up a bunch of chapters and
send them to me in a batch one morning. By that afternoon, they have
them all back from me and back on their to-do lists.
I also shot
some sample images for my editor, who wanted to see a pair of similar
images, one saved as JPEG and one as RAW. The RAW images are about 10
MB each, versus 1.8 MB to 2.5 MB for JPEG saved at the best quality
setting. The advantage to RAW is that it stores unmodified all of the
data captured by the sensor. So, for example, there's no need to choose
a white balance setting ahead of time that would be incorporated
permanently in the JPEG. Instead, the white balance can be modified
after the fact from the data stored in the RAW file. Also, RAW stores
significant shadow and highlight detail that's lost during the
compression to JPEG format.
I was a bit concerned about
manipulating the RAW images, because RAW formats are proprietary and
specific to the camera manufacturer. In fact, some camera manufacturers
use different RAW formats for different models. As it turns out, I
needn't have worried. The Linux/KDE program showFoto uses the dcraw
plug-in natively, and dcraw handles the PEF RAW format used by my
Pentax K100D digital SLR.
I tried calling up a RAW image and
saving it as JPEG. By default, showFoto sets the JPEG quality level to
75%, which results in the 10 MB RAW file being compressed to a 1.5 MB
JPEG. I was curious about quality settings, so I changed the JPEG
quality level to 100% and saved the RAW image again. This time, the
JPEG was about 8.5 MB, which makes me think 100% quality results in
lossless JPEG compression, or nearly so.
resolution is a tiny bit higher for RAW files. With the camera set to
save as JPEG, images are 3008X2000, or 6.016 MP. In RAW mode, they're
3040X2024, or 6.153 MP.
The chemistry teacher I mentioned yesterday has now been arrested. FTA:
The man is believed to have started the manufacturing process, but there was no evidence of the drug at the school, Terry said.
sounds reasonable if you're not a chemist. Methamphetamine is produced
by reducing pseudoephedrine by one of several methods. Since the
original article mentioned the guy buying red phosphorus, they
apparently suspect him of using the "red, white, and blue" method that
requires red phosphorus and hydriodic acid. If so, there's no "started"
about it. He either did it or he didn't, and since there "was no
evidence of the drug" it's obvious that he didn't.
One of the things I really hate about Linux upgrades is when stuff that
used to work stops working. I stumbled over one of those yesterday.
With Kubuntu 6.10 and 7.04, my Epson scanner just worked. Now that I'm
running Kubuntu 7.10, my scanner is no longer recognized. Arrrrgggghhhh.
got an automated survey call yesterday. Ordinarily, I just hang up on
such calls, but this one announced immediately that it was a
one-question political poll, so I decided to listen. They were asking
who I'd vote for in the Republican primary if it was held today. Press
1 for McCain, press 2 for Giuliani, and so on. I listened to all the
choices, down to press 7 for unsure, no preference, prefer not to
answer, and take me off your list (quite a collection...). Ron Paul
wasn't among those listed.
I spent some time yesterday putting together an order for stuff from Elemental Scientific,
mostly chemicals but some equipment. I resent the fact that I felt it
necessary to consider each chemical carefully to make sure that it
wasn't something that would draw the feds' attention, or, if it were,
that it was something I really needed anyway. I ended up ordering some
stuff, such as acetic anhydride, that the feds probably consider
suspect compounds. (Acetic anhydride is, after all, used to process
morphine base into heroin. Not to mention a zillion other uses, but
those don't matter to the feds.)
Saturday, 8 December
Brian Jepson sent me a copy of the mock-up layout for the chemistry
book yesterday. It's gorgeous, but it's very preliminary, so he asked
me not to post it. It's four-color, but they used an olive green tint
for headings and highlights. My only comment was that everyone knows
that chemistry is blue, not green.
of chemistry, I just realized yesterday that I was accidentally
dissolving stuff in my lab. A few days before we left to visit the
Bilbreys over Thanksgiving, I decided to see what would happen if I
reacted some nickel coins with hydrochloric acid. I put about 75 mL of
concentrated hydrochloric acid in a beaker, tossed in a few nickels,
and waited to see what would happen.
I didn't expect a vigorous
reaction, and I wasn't disappointed. A US nickel is made up of 25%
nickel (1.25 g) and 75% copper (3.75 g). Copper is a very non-reactive
metal, so I was kind of expecting that over a day or two the nickel
would react to form green nickel chloride, leaving the copper
untouched. After a day, the liquid had turned very slightly green,
indicating that some but not much of the nickel had reacted. After two
or three days, the green tint had gotten slightly darker, but not much.
So I decided to leave the nickels in the acid while we were up the
When we returned, the solution was a considerably
darker green, but still quite transparent. Over the last few days,
though, things have apparently accelerated. The solution is now a very
dark green and almost opaque even when held up to a light.
I hadn't thought about was that concentrated hydrochloric acid emits,
duh, hydrochloric acid fumes. There's not any HCl odor in the air of
the lab, so I hadn't thought much about it. But yesterday I noticed
that my little slave flash unit looked like it had smallpox. It had
been sitting a few inches from the beaker, and the HCl fumes started
eating it. Then I noticed that the chrome-plated bar of a ringstand
nearby had also been eaten by the HCl fumes.
Note to self: must be more careful with HCl fumes.
I did an interview yesterday with Leonard Lopate on the New York City NPR station. If you want to listen to it, here's the MP3 file.
The show lasted an hour, but the MP3 file doesn't have the 17-minute
introduction or the breaks, so it lasts only half an hour or so.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce