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Week of 21 April 2008


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Monday, 21 April 2008
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07:55 - I wrote Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry for our friend and neighbor Jasmine Littlejohn, who turns 15 next month. I finally convinced Jasmine to let me post a picture of her. Like nearly all teenage girls, Jas is convinced that she looks hideous in pictures. In reality, she's pretty enough to be a fashion model, but try convincing her of that. That's Jas on the left, the Beast in the middle, and Jasmine's mom, Kim, on the right.


I allowed Kim in the lab without goggles, but only because everything potentially hazardous was safely stored. When Barbara shot these images, Jas and I were looking at different goggles to find one that fit her properly. We settled on the goggles shown in the image below. Jas wrote her initials on them, so she now has her first official lab goggles.


Jas starts tenth grade next autumn, and she's elected to take all honors courses. Honors biology is going to be a tough course, but Jas is more concerned about honors geometry. Jas, Kim, Barbara, and I talked for an hour or so about Jas doing independent study this summer to cover all or part of one or both courses before she starts school this autumn.

I pitched the idea to Jas as an investment. Spend some of her otherwise free time this summer to get a leg up on those two courses, and in return get that time back with interest during the school year. That and the fact that doing independent study should make an A grade in each course nearly a foregone conclusion, and Jas loves A's.

I told Jas that there's really no downside to giving it a try. I suggested that she start out the summer doing an hour or so a day independent study for both courses, and decide then how much time and effort she wants to devote to either or both of them. She may decide to do both, one, or neither, and at any level of effort she wants.

Jas is going to do a little bit of groundwork before this school year ends, talking to the teachers responsible for those two courses to find out which textbooks and lab materials she'll be using, get copies of the syllabi, and so on. If they won't let her take the books home for the summer, we'll just order copies of our own.

The one real problem is that Jas already has a lot of demands on her time this summer. In addition to gymnastics, which goes into high gear during the summer months, Jas is volunteering as a medical intern for the summer and has several other significant time commitments. But I think, or at least I hope, that she'll give it a shot. If she does, I suspect she find the subjects fascinating enough that she'll make time for them.

Like nearly all girls, Jas underestimates her own abilities. I brought up the subject, asking her if the idea of doing independent study of biology and geometry intimidated her because she would't be working in a classroom environment with a teacher available. She admitted that it did, and I told her that I'd be there as her mentor whenever she needed me, as often and for as long as she needed me.

I was upfront with Jas about my own knowledge of those subjects. The last time I had a biology or geometry course was 40 years ago, but it shouldn't take me more than a couple of days to get back up to speed in geometry, which hasn't changed at all, and not much longer than that to get back up to speed in biology, which has changed. When I find out which texts Jas will be using, I'll order copies and blast through them to prepare. She won't be in this by herself.

Barbara told Jas that she was now facing some pretty important decisions that would affect the rest of her life. Not just whether or not to do independent study, but the choice of popular friends versus smart friends, deciding how to prioritize her time and where to focus her attention, and so on.

One thing I am pretty confident about, though. As I told Jas, at not-quite-15 years old, ten years from now might seem like an impossibly distant future, but those ten years will flash by in no time. In ten years, or a bit longer, I expect to be introducing Jas to people as Dr. Littlejohn. It may be an M.D. or a Ph.D. in one of the hard sciences, but Dr. Littlejohn it will be.


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Tuesday, 22 April 2008
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11:20 - I just ordered this book for Jas. Before she came over Sunday afternoon, I printed out the Preface to the home chemistry book because I wanted her to read it. I watched her reading it, counting seconds. Jas reads competently, but she needs to boost her reading speed.

This book is generally acknowledged to be the best of its class, so I ordered a copy for her. If she reads it and does the excercises, I suspect she'll double or triple her reading speed in about two days. That is an incredible benefit for a minor time investment. It'll pay off for Jas now and going forward.

I'm pretty much signing off for a while. I have lots to do to get ready for Maker Faire, and not much time left to get it done.



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Wednesday, 23 April 2008
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08:30 - I spent most of yesterday working on the talk I'll give at Maker Faire about chemistry sets and home chemistry. I'd intended just to jot down a list of bullet points and speak extemporaneously, but I decided instead to write an actual script. That way, I can post it here and elsewhere with the images I'll be using, including the one of Jas and me shown above. I suspect someone will shoot a video that'll end up on YouTube, but it won't hurt to have the actual talk scripted and available to post.

I'll be working more on that today. Between now and when I leave, I need to finish that as well as the backyard astronomy talk and find some time to run through the chemistry demos if possible. If not, I'll do test runs at Maker Faire before it opens to the public.

This'll be a new experience for me. I'm a writer, not a speaker or a showman. I always tell people that I'm meek, mild, shy, and unassuming. (Barbara always snorts and says, "Yeah, like Attila the Hun.") But I imagine I'll do okay at Maker Faire where, after all, I'll be surrounded by people who are a lot like me.


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Thursday, 24 April 2008
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08:21 - FedEx showed up yesterday with a CARE package from Brian Jepson, my editor at O'Reilly. Brian sent me his spare cell phone because I'd told him that I didn't own one and he wanted me to have one for the trip to Maker Faire. He also sent me his G4 Mac Mini so that I could play around with iMovie and the other OS X stuff. I probably won't have time to do that before I leave for Maker Faire. The next few days are booked solid with things I need to do to get ready.



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Friday, 25 April 2008
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09:00 - I finished writing the presentation on chemistry sets and home chemistry for Maker Faire. I have a 30-minute slot, and it takes me 25 minutes to read the script I wrote.

Today I'm working on the presentation on backyard astronomy.



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Saturday, 26 April 2008
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08:57 - I installed Ubuntu 8.04 on my den system last night. Ordinarily, I'd have chosen the KDE-based Kubuntu over the Gnome-based Ubuntu, but this release cycle caught KDE in the midst of a major upgrade so there isn't a real Kubuntu 8.04 available. They've released two placeholder versions of Kubuntu 8.04, one that includes the old KDE 3.5.9 and the other the beta version of KDE 4.0. I decided to give Kubuntu a pass until they finish polishing it.

Actually, they caught Firefox in the midst of a major upgrade, too. I was surprised to see that the official Ubuntu 8.04 release includes Firefox 3 beta 5. Although the Firefox beta appears to be stable, it's still unusual for a formal release to include a beta version of such a major component. Presumably, they didn't want to ship this long-term support release of Ubuntu with the elderly 2.X Firefox, and I expect the release version of Firefox 3.0 will show up in the repositories soon after it's finished.

I downloaded Ubuntu 8.04 with Bittorrent, and was surprised to receive the ISO file at about 600 KB/s. The download finished about 5:00 p.m. yesterday, and as always I left my Bittorrent client running to help other people get the file. During the download, I was surprised to see that my ratio of upload/download was consistently at 0.01, meaning that I was uploading only one byte for every hundred I downloaded. I would have expected the ratio to be nearer 1.00, but apparently the seeder:leecher ratio was very high for this download.

I left my Bittorrent client running overnight to help other people get the file. When I checked a few minutes ago, my ratio was up to only 0.30, so apparently they don't need my help. Either that, or Roadrunner is throttling Bittorrent uploads.

I'm going into overdrive mode to get ready for Maker Faire, so my posts here, if any, will be short and sporadic until I return on Tuesday 6 May.



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Sunday, 27 April 2008
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09:19 - I wiped out my home directory while I was doing my backup yesterday. As usual, I'd archived Barbara's home directory and copied it to the /home/thompson/data/working/barbara-backup directory. I then started to archive my home directory, as usual. I displayed my home directory in Konqueror, clicked on the .adobe directory, pressed Ctrl-A to select everything in the directory, and Ctrl-clicked to unselect the directories .wine, data, and junk. At that point, I usually right click on one of the selected files and choose Archive to create Archive.tar.gz.

This time, my mouse betrayed me and instead told Konqueror to delete all of the selected files. By default, Konqueror moves deleted files to the trash bin, but I have it configured to delete them permanently. Oh, well. There went everything in my home directory except the .wine, data, and junk directories.

All of the icons disappeared from my desktop. I couldn't open Konqueror or the trash bin or use any of my other applications, all of which pointed to configuration files in my home directory, which of course were gone. So I restarted the system, opened a console, copied the prior day's Archive.tar.gz file from a backup drive to my home directory, and unzipped it. I restarted the system and was back up and running. Total time lost, about 10 minutes.

The only data I lost were email messages that arrived between Friday morning and Saturday morning, of which there weren't any that mattered. (Email is stored in the .kde subdirectory of /home/thompson, rather than in /home/thompson/data.) I slapped the mouse around a bit for deleting my home directory, and warned it never to do that again.



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