Week of 7 January 2008
Update: Sunday, 13 January 2008 11:13 -0500
- The chem lab book is rapidly reaching completion, although I have a lot of related stuff to do, including bringing up a support website and messageboard
for the book, creating an ebook with the answers to the questions posed
at the end of each lab session, and so on. I should finish shooting
images for the book today.
Leave it to Sony to screw up anything it touches. It's been widely
rumored for the last couple of weeks that Sony would be the final
domino to fall among the major music labels in making DRM-free music
downloads available to buyers. Those rumors turned out to be correct,
kind of. Sony just announced DRM-free downloads starting next week,
but, being Sony, they had to put their own stupid twist on it.
Sony's scheme will require that buyers drive to a brick-and-mortar
store to buy a scratch-off music pass. That pass, with a suggested
price of $13, will allow the buyer (after he drives home) to create an
account with Sony's download service and download one album. Not a
selection of individual tracks, but a whole album. And Sony is
offering, get this, a massive library of 37 albums available for
download. Yes, that's right. Not 37,000 albums. Not 3,700 albums. Not
even 370 albums. But 37 albums.
These people are too stupid to live.
have only four images left to shoot for the chem lab book. One of them
is giving me fits, the brown-ring test for nitrates. It produces a very
faint purplish-brown ring in a test tube at the interface between the
nitrate-containing solution and a separate layer of concentrated
sulfuric acid. The ring is visible to the eye, just, but so far it's
proven to be impossible to photograph, at least for me. I may just
substitute some other image.
The final three images are to be of
latent fingerprints made visible by iodine fuming, ninhydrin, and
silver nitrate. I ran some tests yesterday with the latter two,
expecting to see nice crisp fingerprints revealed by the reagents. What
I got instead were smudges with almost no ridges visible, purple in the
case of ninhydrin, and black with silver nitrate. I'm gaining a new
appreciation for the skills of forensics technicians.
I made up 100 mL each of the 0.6% ninhydrin reagent and the 3% silver
nitrate solution. Each is in its own spray bottle, and it looks as
though I may go through a lot of the reagents before I end up with
decent sets of prints to photograph.
Wednesday, 9 January 2008
- Finished! Yesterday, I submitted the last of the images for Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments.
Oh, there'll still be final edits, checking galley proofs, and so on,
but the book is for all intents and purposes finished at this point.
spent this morning working on recommended pricing and competitive
analyses for the various MAKE-branded glassware, lab equipment, and
chemical kits that I hope will be offered as tie-in products with the
book. Assuming we come to an agreement, MAKE will be offering these
kits for sale on the MAKE web site, and presumably in the magazine as
well. As to the analyses, the short story is that if MAKE prices these
kits as I recommended, they'll be very competitive in terms of price
and quality with competing products from other vendors, and we'll all
make a few bucks from the tie-in sales.
I plan to spend all day cleaning up my lab, which is a disaster area of
epic proportions. Only one section of the counter is vacant, and that's
the part where I've been doing setups and shooting images. The rest of
the counter space is entirely cluttered with stuff. The first thing
I'll do is fill the sink with soapy water and start washing glassware.
I have literally dozens of test tubes, flasks, beakers, and other
glassware in need of a good wash. Just getting that done will go a long
way toward getting the lab cleaned up.
In fact, I got started on
that yesterday afternoon, by filling some of the dirtier glassware with a
dilute solution of hydrochloric acid (one part concentrated acid to
four parts water). The dilute acid removes a lot of stubborn stuff,
including insoluble carbonate deposits. After the acid treatment,
ordinary soapy water and a brush usually does the job. I'll also mix up
a few liters of PhotoFlo in a plastic tub. After each piece of
glassware is rinsed, I'll run it through the PhotoFlo solution and
invert it to dry. The PhotoFlo solution sheets off, leaving the
glassware clean and almost dry to the touch very quickly.
I also need to make space for more gear that I've ordered or will be ordering for the home forensics lab book.
Thursday, 10 January
- Today I spend cleaning up my lab.
customer service seemingly getting worse every year, it's a pleasure to
report that SanDisk is an exception. Back in September, I bought
Barbara a SanDisk m250 MP3 player. It never did work at all, refusing
to be recognized when I connected it to a USB cable. I visited their
website, posted details of the problem on their support forum, and got
some suggestions about resetting the player. That didn't work, but I
was so busy finishing up Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders and working on Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments that I just let things drop.
late last month I contacted SanDisk support again. They gave me an RMA
number and emailed me a pre-printed UPS label to use to return the
defective player. I was surprised that SanDisk paid shipping both ways.
I sent the defective player off on 2 January. Yesterday, UPS showed up
with a replacement player, new in the box.
Back from the dentist. I haven't even started cleaning up my lab, and
may not get to it even tomorrow. Instead, I started working on the home
page for the home chem lab web site. Creating the home page adds lots
of to-do items to my list, which I'm working on now.
I'm still working on stuff that I need to get completed before the book
hits the stores in April. Every time I start working on one thing, I
think of other things I need to do, so my to-do list is growing rapidly.
Some comments from Bo Leuf in Sweden about SanDisk.
From: Bo LeufI
thought about ogg vorbis, and in fact I'd already started producing ogg
files from some of Barbara's CDs, but the simple fact is that MP3 is a
de facto standard, playable by anything, and encoded with LAME at 256
Kb/s VBR the sound quality is adequate for anything we want to do with
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Fri Jan 11 06:30:48 2008
Re: sandisk comments
had no experience with SanDisk support, which in any case would likely
be different in Europe compared to the US, but the player is itself
excellent despite the unusually fat physical format (at least the model
I have). Most other mp3 players tend to be oval-outline flat packages.
It also came with above-average quality earphones.
criticism I have is the battery lid which can easily pop off and get
lost. The accompanying carry-case is just a cheap plastic wrapper with
velcro strap. It works but not well. The lack of Vorbis ogg support is
also a minus, although few players have this. Radio might have been
nice too, a common extra feature on many players.
personally chose to buy the 1 GiB SanDisk player; it just turned up in
the mail last year as an unexpected "thank you for your loyalty" gift
from my telco.
Recording turned out to be very easy when I got
around to trying it. Two menu selections and it's good to go: start -
pause - optional save - resume or restart are all simple one-button
operations. Microphone performance is significantly better than the
cassette recorder I used to use. Non-critical placement in a room
captures normal conversation well. An hour's recording generated a 14
MB wav file, so the 1 GiB memory allows a comfortable selection of mp3s
for listening while leaving many hours of potential voice recording.
I doubt I'll ever use the sound recording feature; my
Olympus WS-100 voice recorder is perfect for that purpose. As to radio,
I asked Barbara and she said she didn't care about that. Our local
radio stations have entirely degenerated to the point where they're
mostly running commercials and inane DJ's talking about stupid things.
Music seems to be an afterthought. Even our local public radio station
has stopped playing the classical music they used to play and gone to
running a bunch of talk shows.
Saturday, 12 January
Today I'm doing laundry and working on getting the lab cleaned up and
organized. We went to Space Savers yesterday, where I found some drawer
organizers, and then to Lowes, where I picked up a couple of 8-foot
1X6's and an 8-foot 2X6. I've cut the 1X6's to length to fit inside the
cabinets in my lab, where they'll double my shelf space. I'm using 4"
lengths of 2X6 to support the additional shelves at the rear of the
existing shelves, which leaves room for additional chemical bottles
underneath the new shelves.
I have 100+ amber glass 4-ounce
bottles already labeled for bench solutions of standard solid reagent
chemicals, as well as liquid chemicals such as chloroform, various
alcohols, and other organics such as acetone and butanone. The idea is
to keep those easily accessible, with reserve stocks less so. For
example, one of the 4-ounce bottles contains 100 mL of 0.1 M silver
nitrate. That bottle is to the front, with the bottle containing solid
silver nitrate behind it, where it's out of the way but accessible if
All of those bottles are arranged alphabetically.
That's generally a bad idea, because it can put totally incompatible
chemicals right next to each other, but these bottles contain either
relatively dilute solutions or, in the case of stuff like flammables,
only 100 mL, which isn't enough to be concerned about.
acids (such as a 500 mL bottle of concentrated nitric acid or
sulfuric acid), strong bases (such as a 1-kilogram bottle of sodium
hydroxide or a 500 mL bottle of 30% aqueous ammonia), strong oxidizers
(such as a 500 g bottle of barium nitrate or potassium permanganate or
a 500 mL bottle of 30% hydrogen peroxide), and bulk flammables (such as
alcohols and many organics, calcium metal, and so on) will be stored
separately, both from general chemical storage and from each other. I
have several Rubbermaid tubs that will serve to isolate them. Nitric
acid will be stored separately from everything, because it reacts
vigorously with almost everything.
When I first started
converting the guest-suite kitchen into my laboratory, I thought I had
all kinds of room, plenty of counter space and storage for anything I
might want to do. Of course, that turns out not to be the case. As I
plan additional titles for the O'Reilly/MAKE DIY Science series, it's
clear that I'll be accumulating a lot more stuff. Making the best use
of the available space is going to become increasingly important.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert