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Week of 24 March 2008


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Monday, 24 March 2008
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08:23 - Crunch week. The second milestone on the home forensics lab book--the first being contract signing--is submission of two complete chapters. According to the contract, that's not due until 12 May, but I fully intend to make it by 31 March. In fact, I'm going to attempt to reach the third milestone, submission of 50% of the chapters, by 12 May, although it's not due contractually until 14 July.

The two chapters I plan to submit by next Monday are chapter 3, Equipping a Home Forensics Lab, and the first of the lab chapters, chapter 7, Soil Analysis. Both of those are well in progress, and should be complete this week. Of course, getting those complete doesn't leave me much time for anything else, so updates here are likely to be sparse and sporadic.

Speaking of chapters, the galley proofs for the next couple of chapters of the home chemistry lab book will be up on the subscribers' page later this morning. There are still some errors in the PDF documents, but I think I caught all of them and reported them to my editors.



16:00 - The microscope adapter and t-ring arrived from Edmund Scientific, and I've spent some time playing with the setup. The inside diameter of the microscope adapter is almost a slip-fit for the external diameter of the eyepiece, within probably 0.1 mm, so things fit together very tightly and securely.

Focusing is difficult with the standard, non-interchangeable focusing screen in the Pentax DSLR, but I'll get it right. The good news is that once I get it right there shouldn't be any problem keeping it right. I can remove and replace the camera without changing the focus. The vertical eyepiece tube has a diopter adjustment, so between roughly positioning the camera vertically and using that adjustment, I should be able to get the camera focus to match the focus of the visual eyepiece, if only by trial and error. Once I get that done, I should be finished.

PDF galley proofs of chapters 8 and 9 of the home chem lab book are now posted on the Subscribers' Page.


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Tuesday, 25 March 2008
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08:20 - After reading about the Illinois-shaped cornflake that sold for more than $1,300 on eBay, I was delighted when Barbara showed me an individually-wrapped Life Savers candy that was deformed. My first reaction was that it looked like a 90 pipe bend, but upon reflection I soon realized that it kind of resembles the state of California. My first thought was to put it up for bid on eBay, but then I decided to give my readers the first shot at it. I don't want to be greedy, so the first bid of $1,000 takes it. It comes with a Certificate of Authenticity, and I'll even pay shipping.

And then, as I was cleaning up the kitchen, I noticed a small piece of uncooked egg noodle that looks exactly like Colorado. Or maybe Wyoming. I'll put that one up for bid later.



Today I'm going to try to finish up the first lab chapter for the home forensics book, Soil Analysis. Well, all except the images, which I'll shoot later. That'll give me the rest of the week to finish up chapter 3, Equipping a Home Forensics Lab. Submitting those two chapters meets the second milestone, after which I'll start thinking about doing our taxes.


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Wednesday, 26 March 2008
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08:22 - I've been reading an interesting thread on the DorothyL mailing list about the appalling behavior of a few mystery authors at conventions and signings. I suppose there may be a few bad apples in any barrel, but my experiences with mystery authors have been anything but bad.

The first mystery convention that Barbara and I attended was the first annual Cape Fear Crime Festival. It was organized by a group of librarians and bookstore people, none of whom had any experience with putting on a mystery convention. None of them had even attended a mystery convention. And they did a superb job, both in terms of attracting big-name mystery authors and in terms of putting on an excellent event.

There were inevitable glitches. When Barbara and I arrived to sign in, they found her name tag immediately but couldn't find mine. As it turned out, they'd registered me as Richard Thompson. Furthermore, they thought I was a mystery author, so I ended up with a green author's name tag.

Soon after I pinned the name tag to my shirt, I was accosted by a woman fan who exclaimed, "Richard Thompson! I loved your book!" Without missing a beat, I replied, "Which one?"

A few minutes later, Peter Robinson approached me and introduced himself. Peter is a top-notch mystery author who frequently appears on the bestseller lists. He suggested we go to the private authors' lounge and grab a Coke and continue our discussion. I told him that I didn't really belong there because I wrote computer books rather than mysteries. Peter said, "Well, does your publisher pay you for writing these computer books?" and I said that they did. He then asked me what they called a person who wrote computer books. "An author," I replied. "Well, then," said Peter, "you're certainly entitled to use the authors' lounge."

We arrived in the authors' lounge to find half a dozen or so other authors already seated around the conference table. Peter announced, "This is Bob Thompson. He writes computer books." And immediately the questions started. Many non-authors think that when authors gather they talk about writing. We don't. We talk about publishers and contracts and advances and royalty rates and Amazon rankings and all that other stuff that really matters.

The mystery authors in the lounge were fascinated to learn the nitty-gritty details about computer book publishing. They were surprised to learn that we computer book authors actually did receive advances in the sense of being paid as we were actually writing the books. Fiction authors normally get advances only in the sense that a publisher pays for a completed book before publishing it, but they generally pay only after the book has been completed and accepted. Conversely, the mystery authors thought it was outrageous that computer book royalties are calculated on net rather than gross, and that royalty rates were generally lower for computer books.

So I spent most of my free time during that convention in the authors' lounge, talking at length with a lot of the authors. By the end of that convention I knew that I'd never write fiction. There's just not enough money in it, other than for the very top authors.

And, speaking of top authors, the guest of honor at that convention was Ridley Pearson, whose books regularly appear on the New York Times bestseller list. If anyone there might have been expected to be aloof, it was Ridley, who is a huge name. Instead, Ridley was just a regular guy.

So regular, in fact, that he didn't bother to point out a major oversight by the event organizers. Usually, the organizers of such conventions assign a watcher or watchers to the guest of honor to make sure that all of his or her needs are accommodated. The organizers of this convention forgot to do that, leaving Ridley on his own.

The last night of the convention there was a final ceremony. I was standing at the far back of the room, leaning on the wall. Ridley came up to me and said, "Bob, you and Barbara are staying at the Marriott, right? Can I catch a ride back with you?" I told Ridley that we'd be happy to give him a ride back to the Marriott, which was a mile or so from the convention site. He then added that he didn't want to impose, but he was just too tired to walk back to the hotel, which he'd been doing every day during the convention because he hadn't been able to get a rental car and didn't want to cause any problems for the event organizers. So, yeah, Ridley is about as regular a guy as I can imagine.

The next morning there were a couple of sessions scheduled as the event wound down. I collared Nicki Leone, who was running the event, and told her what had happened. She was horrified at their oversight, of course. I'll bet that never happened again.



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Thursday, 27 March 2008
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08:34 - Fred Reed has posted an interesting article about the wetback problem. As Fred points out, it's not Mexican physicians and scientists crossing the border illegally; it's Mexico's poor, stupid, and criminal classes who are invading us. And, if there's any one subject upon which nearly every American agrees, it's that we don't want them here. Rich or poor, black or white, man or woman, the feeling is nearly universal: send them back where they came from. Stop them from taking our jobs, crowding our emergency rooms, filling our jails, and eating our taxes.

If Mexico were sending us the cream of its population, that'd be one thing. It's not. It's sending us the dregs of its population, the people it doesn't want. We don't want them either. There are some obvious steps we should be taking:

1. The first responsibility of our armed forces is to protect our borders. Deploy our armed forces along the Mexican border with orders to shoot first and ask questions later. Define a border zone with a depth of, say, ten miles, and make that a dead zone. Scatter sensors and mines liberally throughout the dead zone. Patrol it with attack aircraft. Anything that moves in that zone draws immediate fire.

2. Immediately expel anyone who is here illegally. Announce a 30-day grace period during which all illegal residents must leave the country. Any who remain are outlaws in the original sense, and do not have the protection of the law. Offer a bounty on them, payable to anyone, no questions asked.

3. Repeal retroactively the citizenship of anyone who is a citizen merely by virtue of being born in the US. If one or both of your parents is or was an American citizen at the time you were born, you are an American citizen no matter where you were born. If neither of your parents is or was an American citizen at the time you were born, you are not an American citizen, no matter where you were born. And if one or both of your parents was an American citizen merely by virtue of being born here, their citizenship is also revoked, and so does not confer American citizenship on you.

4. In all fairness, Mexico has been sending us its dregs for a long time now, and we've been bearing the costs of that, so turnabout is fair play. Why not clear out our jails and send 20 million of our worst dregs to Mexico? It's time for Mexico to pay for a change. If we send back 20 million Mexican losers and 20 million more of our own losers, we'll be a lot better off.

5. Also in all fairness, the movement shouldn't be all one way, so I suggest that we allow free immigration of any qualified Mexicans who want to move to the US and become citizens. What qualifications? Fluent English, for a start. An education to acceptable standards in a useful field such as medicine, science, or engineering. And perhaps a net worth requirement, say $100,000.

Am I serious? You figure it out.



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Friday, 28 March 2008
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08:37 - I downloaded Geert Wilders' film Fitna yesterday and watched it. From the prerelease commentary, I was expecting it to be much more inflammatory. Instead, it just showed islam for what it is, which I suppose is inflammatory enough. It's impossible to rebut, because all it does is link quotes from the koran and news headlines to news footage of islamic outrages and excerpts of speeches by islamic leaders and ordinary man-in-the-street comments from various muslims. It's the kind of thing that should be run on our evening newscasts, but isn't.


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Saturday, 29 March 2008
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Sunday, 30 March 2008
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.