Week of 4 February 2008
Update: Friday, 8 February 2008 08:31 -0500
We watched the super bowl last night. Well, Barbara watched it. I
mostly read my book and looked at web sites while the game was on. Mary
and Paul went to a super bowl party.
I wasn't surprised that
Paul would watch the game, but for some reason it surprised me that
Barbara and Mary would want to. And, no, it isn't the fact that they're
women. It finally struck me just before the half-time show.
Paul has a sport, it's baseball, which he played growing up. That's a
team sport. I grew up playing tennis, which is very much an individual
sport. There are doubles and mixed doubles, of course, but few people
take them seriously other than as a social event. When it comes to
serious competition, it's singles all the way. So I suppose it's
understandable that I never had any interest in playing, let alone
watching, team sports.
Barbara is a golfer and Mary is a
Marathon runner, both of which are consummately individual sports. So I
suppose I was surprised that they'd want to watch an event that is
really not even a team sport but a team exhibition, kind of like
synchronized swimming. And, before anyone objects, I say that because
in my mind a sport is something one engages in for the fun and the
competition, not to draw a paycheck. As soon as it becomes a business,
it's no longer a sport. Which I suppose explains my total lack of
interest in watching televised tennis.
Something else occurred
to me during the game. All of this fanatic interest in televised
so-called sports is really just a vicarious replacement for something
we lack in our modern culture, real competition and real fighting.
There's an easy way to rid ourselves of this plague of televised
so-called sports. Legalize dueling. Doing that would also dramatically
reduce the number of flaming assholes walking around and greatly
increase the general level of civility.
And, as I've suggested
in the past, if we must have professional football, at least make it
real. Arm the players with shields and short swords. Instead of sacking
the opposing quarterback, a defensive lineman could behead him. Hey,
these guys get paid a ton of money, so they should be willing to take
some real risks. Even I might watch that kind of game.
I thought some people might be interested in seeing what I'll be using
as a backdrop for the headshots in the homechemlab.com videos. This is
the end wall of my lab. It's perhaps a bit busy for a background, but
I'll put the person talking several feet in front of the background to
throw it a bit out of focus.
bottles, incidentally, are only bench solutions and a few of the
containers that were too large to fit in the main chemical cabinet,
which has 16 feet (5 meters) of shelving for storing solid chemicals
and stock liquids. (The bottles that aren't labeled in this image
are empty, in case anyone wondered.)
The middle row with the
small dropper bottles (called Barnes bottles) is mostly indicators and
reagents that are used dropwise. That 12-pound bag of baking soda is
actually a safety item rather than a stock chemical. Twelve pounds of
baking soda is a serious answer to a solvent fire or an acid spill.
There's a corresponding gallon jug of vinegar for base spills.
From: Paul Jones
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
CC: Mary Chervenak, Barbara Thompson
Date: Mon Feb 4 09:46:11 2008
Re: Your videos
we took your suggestion Tom Brady would have been sans head a couple
minutes into the action. Not that the end result would have been any
different last night. By the end the Giants may well have carved him up
and distributed relics of the dear departed MVP. Even Brady may
have preferred that. I'm sure he's feeling pretty piss poor this
do generally agree with your take on sports as substitute for what you
call "real" competition. Football got going first in college as
training for war. Leadership, taking and occupying territory, strategic
maneuvering of a group, etc. It was no fluke, I think, that for the
first 3/4 of football's history Army and Navy were national powers and
their graduates very successful in the NFL. However, to the extent
that I watch pro sports (and, you're right, I really only make a point
of watching baseball), it is because it is one of the very few places
left that who you are or what you know doesn't count for much. No one
is owed favors, no one starts ahead of another based on past
performances. That is even eroding some (see NBA) and, certainly, who
you are and who you know can get you on the field in the first place.
But, the actual game is still very much a meritocracy. As we found last
night. That is not true in many, many parts of our lives today. -Paul
I did some playing around yesterday with my new quartz-halogen shop
lights. As I expected, the light used directly is much too harsh, but I
think I have a low-tech solution for that problem. I'm going to crinkle
up some aluminum foil, glue it to sheets of cardboard, and use those
reflectors to bounce the light. Even bounced, 1000W of quartz-halogen
light should be sufficient.
I emailed my editor yesterday to ask
if he thought the mike on the camera would suffice or if I needed to
buy an add-on mike. He suggested I give it a try first and then, if the
whining of the camera motor is intrusive, buy a shotgun mike. I'll give
it a try, but if I need an add-on mike I think I'll buy a wireless
lavalier mike instead of a shotgun mike. That way, it should still work
properly if I'm talking with my back turned during a procedure or
whatever. Also, I may shoot some of the segments by myself, which would
make it hard to keep a shotgun mike aimed properly. I'm thinking about
something like this.
Wednesday, 6 February 2008
I've just spent a few minutes on GoDaddy.com, renewing Barbara's and my
domain names and adding several others. The new domains are:
I used Cali Lewis's GeekBrief GB3 promo code, which cut the annual price of the .com renewals and new registrations from $9.99 to $6.95.
Many people who have little experience with desktop Linux believe that
it's somehow crude compared to Windows or OS X. Nothing could be
further from the truth. Desktop Linux, whether you're running the KDE
or Gnome or some other desktop environment, is quite polished and
I thought about that yestermorning when I was doing my
regular daily backup. I'd compressed a copy of my home directory into
Archive.tar.gz (the name used by default) and had just started to copy
that backup archive to the /backup filesystem, which is on a different
hard drive. KDE popped up this dialog:
gives me a lot more flexibility than I had with Windows. Instead of
having only the choices Overwrite or Cancel, I also have the Rename
option. I can simply type a new filename into the box and have
the file copied to the destination under that new name. If I can't
come up with a good name, I can click the Suggest New Name button,
which will rename the file something like Archive1.tar.gz.
a simple example, certainly, but I run into stuff like this constantly.
Things that Windows either makes difficult or won't do at all are
trivially easy with desktop Linux. There aren't many examples of the
You don't need to know much about Linux to use it
efficiently and effectively on your desktop. I'm a prime example of
that. I know little more about Linux now than I did when I converted to
using it full-time back in mid-2004. I suppose I should be a bit
ashamed of that, but it's the simple truth. I almost never use a
command prompt, because the GUI tools do everything I routinely
need to do. Basically, I use desktop Linux as an appliance, the same
way Aunt Minnie uses Windows or OS X. And it just works.
also trivially easy to add functionality. For example, I needed the
tools to transfer video from my camcorder and edit that video. I fired
up Adept (the Kubuntu package manager) and did a search. After a couple
of mouse clicks and literally one minute later, I had Kino installed.
Kino not only handles the camera (when you plug the camcorder into the
FireWire port, Kino recognizes it immediately and allows you to control
the camera from the PC to do stuff like play, fast-forward, and so on)
but also provides the tools I need to edit the raw video.
you're not necessarily limited to Linux apps. Monday I got email from
the woman who does our astronomy club newsletter. She asked me if I'd
do an article for the next issue. I told her I would, but then I
realized that I didn't have a planetarium program installed on my
system, which I'd need to generate charts. I could have used Kstars,
the KDE planetarium program, but I prefer to use Megastar, which is a
As usual, I'd backed up the distribution CD to a
network hard drive, so I just changed to the Megastar directory
and double-clicked install.exe. A dialog popped up to ask me if I
wanted to open this application using the WINE installer. I told it
yes, and about one minute later I had a working copy of Megastar
installed and running on my Linux system.
I used Megastar to
produce the charts for the article. Instead of printing the charts or
writing them to disk, I just fired up the KDE screen capture program
and grabbed screen images of them. I then used ShowFoto to crop out the
toolbars and so on, and in no time I had the charts I needed. All under
Linux, and all without any need to pop a console window.
Thursday, 7 February
Several people have suggested that I not mess with the quartz-halogen
lights and instead just use the normal room lighting. My lab is a
galley layout, with counters down both sides and a 4-foot aisle between
them. There are three fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling, each
with two 4-foot 40W tubes. The lighting is flat and even, and I suppose
it'll work for recording camcorder video.
One of the tubes
burned out some time ago, so yesterday I decided to replace it. The
installed tubes are Sylvania warm-white. When I went out to
the basement to look for a new tube, I found that we had only Sylvania
F40 tubes, which are described as suitable for shops and other
environments where brightness is more important than color rendering. I
installed one of those in the empty socket, and was stunned by the
difference between the warm-white and cold-white models. The cold white
tube appears pure white and about twice as bright
as the warm-white tube, which has a distinct orange color.
of the current tubes are of about the same vintage, which means I can
expect others to fail soon. I'm thinking about just replacing all of
them with the cold-white shop tubes. Presumably the manual color
balance function of my camcorder can adjust to the light provided by
the cold-white tubes, and six of those would provide much more light.
brings up the matter of disposal of old tubes. I called the Forsyth
County Environmental Affairs Department. The guy I talked to said he
didn't think Lowe's or Home Depot collected the old tubes for
recycling, and I'd have to take them to the recycling center
downtown. I'll do that, but a lot of people wouldn't. I suspect a lot
of old fluorescent tubes end up being dumped in convenient dumpsters.
did call Lowe's and Home Depot to check, and both told me that they
don't accept old fluorescent tubes. I don't blame them. Tubes are
fragile, so it's not difficult to imagine frequent breakage and the
resulting costs and hassles of clean-ups.
It seems to me that if the government is concerned about proper
disposal of hazardous wastes, they need to make it as easy as possible
for people to dispose of such items properly. Driving across town just
doesn't cut it.
I spent all day yesterday working on one of the chapters for the home
forensics lab book. The more I get into this, the happier I am about
how it's going to turn out. There really is a lot possible with only
basic tools, even such stuff as DNA separation by electrophoresis, and
most of it is both fun and educational. Perhaps I should dedicate the
book to Inspector Cadfael.
Speaking of which, I see that a
significant percentage of Brits are confused about historical versus
fictional people. Many, for example, believe Winston Churchill to have
been fictional. But in claiming Sherlock Holmes to be fictional, I
thought the article crossed a line. Sherlock Holmes fictional? The next
thing you know, they'll be claiming the same is true of King Arthur or
Saturday, 9 February
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert