Week of 31 March 2008
Update: Saturday, 5 April 2008 09:15 -0500
- Knowing my distaste for travel, particularly air travel, it will no
doubt come as a shock to a lot of my friends that I'll be attending Maker Faire
in San Mateo, California over the weekend of May 3/4. O'Reilly has been
inviting me to high-profile events like Maker Faire and Foo Camp for
years now, and each time I've declined politely. I suppose I knew all
along that I'd have to give in at some point, and this seemed a
reasonable event to attend.
I'll be meeting people and signing copies of Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders and Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments,
and doing nicely visual chemistry demonstrations. Of course, one of my
main concerns is that I'll be mobbed by hordes of attractive young
women throwing me the keys to their hotel rooms, but my editor, Brian
Jepson, assures me that he'll protect me.
Speaking of the home
chemistry book, it's still scheduled to hit the warehouses in about two
weeks, on 15 April. That seems incredible to me, given that I'm still
reviewing galley proofs. It takes time to print and bind books,
particularly four-color books like this one. I understood that in the
past there was a choice. O'Reilly could have them printed in the US and
pay a very high premium, or have them printed on the Pacific Rim and
wait for the slow boat to deliver them. Apparently, O'Reilly has found
a US printer that's fast and competitive on price, thereby eliminating
most of the lag time between when they finish the camera-ready art and
when the books are actually available. So it looks as though the book
really will be available on or about 15 April, and certainly in time
for Maker Faire.
I'm hard at work on the forensics book, along with all the stuff remaining to be done for the home chem lab book.
of the fun of doing the forensics book is figuring out cheap
substitutes for expensive solutions. I'm thinking about one of those
right now. There are two common methods used to measure objects with a
The first method is called a stage micrometer, which
is essentially just a tiny ruler with extremely fine graduations,
typically 0.01 mm. The stage micrometer, as you might expect from its
name, is fixed to the microscope stage. By placing the specimen in
close juxtaposition with the stage micrometer, you can directly read
off the size of whatever you're measuring. Magnification and field
of view don't matter, because the stage micrometer is always magnified
exactly as much as the specimen. Unfortunately, microscopes in the
price range my readers are likely to buy do not have stage micrometers.
second method is called an ocular or eyepiece micrometer or reticle,
which superimposes a ruler or grid pattern on the field of view. A
typical eyepiece reticle may be graduated in dimensionless units from 0
to 100. Eyepiece reticle graduations are entirely arbitrary, because
the scale of the reticle versus the specimen differs at different
magnifications. The nice thing about reticle eyepieces is that they're
inexpensive options, and may even be a standard feature with some
The obvious problem is that the reticle
eyepiece needs to be calibrated for each objective lens. To do that,
you need a specimen to calibrate the eyepiece reticle against. For
me, that wasn't a problem. I have a Ronchi grating (used to test
telescope mirrors) that has 135 lines per mm, or one line every 0.00741
mm. So, for example, if at a particular magnification ten lines of my
reticle eyepiece span 13.5 of the Ronchi lines (0.1 mm), I know that
the reticle eyepiece units at that magnification are each 0.01 mm.
what can I suggest that my readers use to calibrate their own reticle
eyepieces? My first thought was a good ruler with 1 mm graduations, and
I suppose that's usable if nothing better is available. The problem
with using a standard ruler is that it's pretty crude under
magnification, and usable only at the lowest magnification. Still, I
suppose readers could estimate the mid-point of each mm line and count
the number of reticle lines required to span it. If they did that at,
say, 40X, they could then estimate the reticle lines/mm at 100X and
400X by simple multiplication. The error bars would be pretty large,
but it's better than nothing.
Then, as I sat trying to think of
something that provided extremely fine graduations of known size, I
thought about the halftone screens used to reproduce images in books and
magazines. IIRC, the finest screens used in printing high-quality
magazines on glossy paper, like National Geo, use something like 2,540
dots/inch (100 dots/mm). That would be perfect, although it raises the
obvious problem of finding out what screen size was used to print the
Then I realized that I might have a self-contained
answer. I'll email my editor and ask him what screen size is used to
print the color images in the book itself, and, if it's higher
resolution, the cover. Presumably, that's under O'Reilly's control, so
once I have a value I can simply include it in the book and tell
readers to use the cover image or one of the book images to calibrate
their reticle eyepieces. Or, better yet, we could include a specific
image intended for the purpose, one that uses only high-contrast black
dots on white paper.
Here's an image of a tiny part of the front cover of Building the Perfect PC.
It's printed in CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-blacK). Although they are
evenly spaced and of the same size (because this is a light gray area of the image), the colored dots are kind of large
and amorphous for measuring. But note the even spacing and size of the
tiny black dots.
- If anyone has any better ideas, I'd love to hear them.
And here's a good idea:
From: Christensen, Chris (Aspen Research) To: Robert Bruce Thompson Date: Mon Mar 31 11:30:48 2008Re: Stage micBuy a cheap stage micrometer on a slide ($15):Take an image of it using your camera,Spatially calibrate in imagej http://rsb.info.nih.gov/ij/Photograph
your subject and measure your wheels off. ImageJ is an
astonishingly complete and competent image analysis application built
with your tax dollars by the NIH. It compares very favorably to
commercial software that costs thousands of dollars. Automated
particle counting and measuring , etc..
I'll probably keep the stuff about using a halftone screen for people
who don't want to spend $15 to calibrate their reticle eyepiece, but
this is a cleaner solution.
- According to this article,
cell phones are deadlier than cigarettes. Of course, there's no
credible evidence that moderate cigarette smoking is particularly
hazardous, and considerable evidence that it's not. In fact, until
political correctness took over, insurance companies classified people
who smoked half a pack a day or less as non-smokers for rate-setting
purposes, and you can be sure they had a solid actuarial basis for that
The researcher points out that brain cancers take a
long time to develop, and previous studies that found no link between
cellphone use and brain cancer failed to find such a link because the
cancers had not yet had time to develop. In the last decade, though,
cell phone use has boomed, so if this guy's right we may be sitting on
a time bomb.
I expect a flurry of denials and other studies
refuting a link, if only because the cell phone companies have a vested
interest in having people continue to use cell phones heavily, and will
no doubt fund such studies and articles. Over the last ten years, I've
placed or received an average of maybe five two-minute calls a year on
a cell phone and Barbara hasn't used a cell phone much more than I
have, so I'm not too concerned either way.
Congratulations to Microsoft, which by hook and (mostly) by crook has
succeeded in forcing OOXML down the world's throat as a so-called
standard. Microsoft reached new lows in this campaign, buying votes,
packing committees, blackening the reputation of opponents, and doing
everything else possible to ensure that the former standards
organization known as ISO would grant OOXML ISO standard status.
the process of subverting the ISO standards process, Microsoft wrecked
ISO as a standards organization, leaving ISO with no credibility and
the world with no recognized standards organization. Thanks, Microsoft.
irony is that it will probably do Microsoft no good. Microsoft has been
desperate to have their proprietary OOXML formats recognized as open
standards because many governments and large organizations are
beginning to insist on open document format standards. But, at least
partially because of Microsoft's foul behavior during this ISO process,
many of those same governments and large organizations are beginning to
require not just open document format standards, but multi-vendor and
cross-platform open document standards. That leaves OOXML out in the
cold again, where it belongs.
I'll do my part to protest
Microsoft's behavior by personally banning Microsoft formats. I've been
using ODF for years, but I've been making allowances for others who use
Microsoft formats. For example, when I post manuscript chapters on the
subscribers' page, I post the original ODT document, but I also post
the document in DOC format. No more. It'll be ODT and PDF only. And
when people send me DOC files to proof, they'll go back to them as
ODT files, along with a link to the OOo download page. I will no longer
do anything, even indirectly, to support Microsoft's obnoxious
It's that time again. We're nearly ready to send Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture to the printers, and the expected pub date is 15 April.
usual, O'Reilly will be making available some number of free review
copies to my readers. If O'Reilly sends you a review copy, please
post a review of the book on Amazon.com. (While you're there, it also
doesn't hurt to rate the helpfulness of other reviews that have already
been posted...) Also, of course, we'd greatly appreciate it if you'd
post your review or a relevant link elsewhere, such as on your own
blog, digg, del.icio.us, Yahoo Buzz, and so on.
If you'd like to receive a free review copy, email me your particulars, as follows:
Full mailing address (street address required; no P.O. boxes)
Telephone number (FedEx and UPS require it)
Send the email to me at thompson at ttgnet dot com, with the subject line:
IGtHCE review copy request
set up to filter these into a holding folder, and I'll later forward
them in a batch to O'Reilly, so please don't include any comments that
you expect me to see or reply to.
I don't know how many review copies O'Reilly will have available, where they'll be willing to ship them, or,
obviously, how many people will request them, so there's no guarantee
that you'll receive a copy. If the number of requests exceeds the
number of copies available, subscribers
to this site will be given preference. I'll collect requests for the
next week or ten days and send them on to O'Reilly. If you do want a
copy, it'd be a good idea to email me as soon as you can.
- I've already received quite a few requests for review copies of Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments,
but the more the merrier. So, if you'd like a review copy and you
haven't yet requested one, please do so. And, please, remember to
include your phone number, which O'Reilly needs for UPS.
my usual state of confusion at this point in a book, with so many balls
in the air that I'm afraid I'll let some drop. In addition to reviewing
galley proofs, I have the web site to design, a talking points list to
write for the PR company that's promoting the book, drafting a list of
proposed chemistry demonstrations for Maker Faire, actually doing test
runs of the demonstrations that O'Reilly wants to include, writing up
notes for two presentations and a workshop I'll be doing there,
following up on the equipment and chemical kits for the book, working
on some pending stuff for the home forensics book, ordering some stuff
for that book, and getting my new laser printer unboxed, set up,
connected to the network, and configured to work with our systems. And
those are just the major to-do items. I have scores of minor ones. Oh,
yeah. Do the taxes.
I'm going to be very busy between now and
when I get back from Maker Faire, so if you email me and don't get a
reply immediately, please be patient. I'll try not to let any balls
drop. Until I get back from Maker Faire a month from now, at which
point I think I'll take a whole day off.
The Brother HL-5250DN printer is up and running. It actually took a lot
longer to get the printer unboxed and physically set up and to free an
Ethernet cable from the rats' nest under my desk than it did to get the
printer setup on our Linux boxes.
The HL-5250DN has parallel and
USB connectors, but I connected it as a network printer. The first step
to getting it working with our computers was to call up the
configuration page for the D-Link WAP that serves as the DHCP server
for my network and reassign the IP address of the printer from dynamic
to static. Once that was done, I simply fired up the Kubuntu printer
utility on my Kubuntu 7.10 main system, told it to scan the network,
accepted the defaults for IP address and port, gave the printer a name,
and printed a test page. Barbara runs Kubuntu 7.04, and its printer
database didn't have the HL-5250DN. It did have the HL-5270DN, so I
just lied and told her system there was an HL-5270DN on the other end
of the wire.
All of the basic functions work perfectly on both
our main systems, although I haven't tried some of the advanced
features like duplexing. Now I can print my tax returns, which was the
last to-do item on my list before I could start working on the taxes.
Brother HL-5250DN is considerably louder than the HP LaserJet 5P when
it's actually doing something, although it's very quiet in standby
mode. As soon as a print job arrives at the printer, it clanks a bit
and then spits out the page very quickly. This thing is rated at about
30 pages per minute, and if the one multi-page document I printed is
any indication, it does something very close to that.
I turned off the HP LaserJet 5P and removed its driver from our
systems. I'll let it sit for the time being, but eventually I'll
probably give it Goodwill. All it needs is a new toner cartridge. I
thought I had one (I know I bought one) but I can't find it anywhere.
It may have been discarded in one of my rare clean-up sessions.
one obvious thing that the HL-5250DN is missing relative to the HP
LaserJet 5P is a straight-through paper path. I'm not sure about
printing envelopes, either. It may be that I'll have to remove the
regular paper from the tray and reset the tray for envelopes. If so,
that'd be a pain in the begonia, but I very seldom print envelopes.
Labels are a different story. I frequently run pages of laser labels to
label chemical bottles and so on. If this printer won't do those, I'll
hold on to the HP for now, even if I don't turn it on from one month to
- Our friend Dr. Mary Chervenak just made the cover of Endurance Magazine.
There are more images of Mary in the magazine article and on Tamara Lackey's blog.
The end is nigh on the home chemistry book. I just sent in final
comments on chapters 15, 16, and 17, so only chapters 18 through 22
remain. I tried to reorganize my to-do list yesterday to move
time-sensitive stuff to a lower priority, but as I looked at the items
I realized that they're all time sensitive. There are the state and
federal taxes, of course, which are due by 15 April, but everything
else on my list has to do with either getting ready for the publication
of the book, also on 15 April, or with the trip out to Maker Faire
early next month. So everything is now #1 priority. Geez.
I finished my last review of the final chapter of the home chemistry
book last night. (All of the PDF galleys are now posted on the Subscribers' page.)
I'll get a look at the TOC and index sometime this weekend, but the
book is off to the printers as of Monday morning. And I have ten days
left to do the tax returns.
As I was finishing up last night, it
again occurred to me just how much difference computers and the
Internet have made to the book writing and production process. I've
collaborated across time zones with a dozen or more people that have
been actively involved in editing and producing the book. We exchanged
comments and edited documents instantly without regard for distance or
time of day. I annotated a document or sent email with comments, and
those comments were incorporated into a new revision, which showed up
in my mailbox hours (or even minutes) later. Geez, during her
round-the-world run, I got email comments from Mary Chervenak, who at
the time was in a yurt in Mongolia, literally on the other side of the
world. If we'd used Skype, I'd have been able to hear the
yaks mooing, or whatever it is they do.
I'm old enough to remember writing on a typewriter. We've come a long way.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert