Week of 19 May 2008
Update: Sunday, 25 May 2008 10:03 -0500
- I just sent Brian Jepson, my editor at O'Reilly/MAKE, a proposal for a new edition of Building the Perfect PC. Assuming the project goes forward, I'm hoping for a pub date late this year or early next year.
The problem, obviously, is that I'm committed to Illustrated Guide to Home Forensics Investigations: All Lab, No Lecture,
and I also have another DIY Science title that I want to start and
finish this year. So there's no way that Barbara and I could also
finish a new edition of Building the Perfect PC
in this time frame. While I was out at Maker Faire, Brian suggested we
consider taking on a co-author. That seemed like a good idea.
good friend Brian Bilbrey served as tech reviewer on several of
our PC hardware books, but Brian is fully occupied at the moment,
between his hectic work schedule and pursuing a college degree in his
copious free time. But Ron Morse, whose name many of you will recognize
from his thousands of posts on HardwareGuys.com, had mentioned to me
recently that he was looking for a new challenge, so I contacted him to
ask if he'd be interested in co-authoring the new edition. He jumped at
the opportunity, and between the two of us we hacked together a
proposal over the weekend.
Now we sit back and wait to see what
O'Reilly decides. If they decide to do the new edition, it'll have
three co-authors' names on the front.
I completely forgot that I had a transcript of my Maker Faire chemistry
set talk available. If you didn't make it to the Faire and would like to
read what I had to say, you can download a transcript of the talk
[~ 3 MB PDF]. Or, if you did make it to the Faire, you can download the
talk anyway and find out what I meant to say versus what I really did
- With the homechemlab.com
website, I've introduced a subscriber-only newsletter that includes
various articles about home chemistry as well as a couple of
supplemental lab sessions in each issue. The first issue will be
published in early June, with subsequent issues following monthly.
wanted to get a head start on the newsletter--the last thing I want
to face is a newsletter deadline every month--so I've been
spending some time getting issues written up ahead of time. The June
and July issues are complete, and the August issue is now in progress.
These things take a while to do, because of course before I write
up the lab sessions I have to do them. I'd like to get a six-month
pad built up. That way, I can spend two or three weeks every six months
doing and writing up the newsletter lab sessions and spend the rest of
my time doing book work.
- I'm working now on two lab sessions for the August subscriber newsletter. The first is Quantitative Analysis of Ethanol by Redox Titration, and the second is Quantitative Gravimetric Analysis of Ethanol by the Haloform Reaction.
planned to do both of these lab sessions using beer and wine as ethanol
samples, but that introduces complications for the first session,
because beer and wine both contain oxidizable substances other than
ethanol, which would skew the results. There's a way to get around the
problem by vaporizing the ethanol in the sample, but that's a bit too
fiddly for this level of lab work. Accordingly, I'm just going to use
drugstore ethanol rubbing alcohol for the first session.
second session, I'll use beer and wine as ethanol samples, because the
iodoform reaction is much more selective than the oxidation by
dichromate method used in the first session. There are many substances
other than ethanol that react to produce iodoform, but none of them are
likely to be present in significant quantities in potable alcoholic
Boy, am I having fun.
Heading into the holiday weekend. I finished writing up the first lab
session yesterday, which uses oxidation of ethanol by acidified
dichromate to quantitatively assay ethanol. Barbara has volunteered her
beer and wine supplies for the second session, which I'll be writing up
We're juggling everyone's schedules, trying to get Paul
and Mary and Kim and Jasmine over for pizza one evening this weekend,
ideally all on the same evening. I'd like Jasmine to meet Mary because
I think it'd do Jas a world of good to meet and talk with a woman who's
a working scientist. Mary is an excellent role model for any kid who's
interested in pursuing science as a career, but particularly for a
girl. For Jas to know that women scientists are out there somewhere is
one thing; for her actually to meet and talk with a woman scientist is
Speaking of Mary, I still have the Panda book she let me borrow a couple of years ago: Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
Barbara pulled it off the shelf last night and told me it was time I
read it and returned it to Mary. Poor Barbara. I was reading it in bed
last night, and she was awakened more than once by my laughter.
author is British, as of course is the style of the book. That's fine,
because I tend to use British conventions for punctuation and grammar,
probably because I read so much British fiction. I still remember the
running battles I had with Robert Denn, my first editor at O'Reilly,
about my refusal to use the serial comma. I'd write, "red, white and
blue" and it would come back "red, white, and blue." I'd stet the
change, and it would come back with that damned serial comma back in
place. I'd point out that the comma was an abbreviation for "and" or
"or", and that it was stupid to write "red and white and and blue", but
Robert was unmoved.
Speaking of which we also had running
battles about placing punctuation within quotes. I use the British
style, placing the comma or period outside the closing quote, unless
the punctuation is actually a part of the material I'm quoting. Robert
would move the period back inside the quotation. I'd stet it. He'd put
But of all the back-and-forth I've had with editors, my
favorite remains the exchange I had with an anonymous editor of a book
I did for Que more than a decade ago. She (I think it was a she) made a
change to a section I'd written about de facto and de jure standards. To this day, I don't know if she was incompetent or had a wicked sense of humor. She changed "de jure" to "du jour". Standard of the day? I liked that one so much I didn't stet it.
I occasionally get death threats, usually from Islamic whackos, to
which my standard response is "Bring it on, asshole. BTW, I shoot
back." But this is the first time I've gotten a spam death threat, or
the first time I've noticed, anyway.
From: "ANTHONIO BENITO" <email@example.com>
Date: Sat May 24 10:05:39 2008\
Re: SOMEONE YOU CALL YOUR FRIEND, WANTS YOU DEAD.
*SOMEONE YOU CALL YOUR FRIEND, WANTS YOU DEAD. *
felt very sorry and bad for you, that your life is going to end like
this if you don't comply, i was paid to eliminate you and I have to do
it within10 days. Someone you call your friend wants you dead by
all means, and the person havespent a lot of money on this, the person
also came to us and told us that he wants you dead and he provided us
your names, photograph and other necessary information we needed about
you are in doubt with this I will send you your name and where you are
residing in my next mail. Meanwhile, I have sent my boys to track
you down and they have carried out the necessary investigation needed
for the operation, but I ordered them to stop for a while and not to
strike immediately because I just felt something goodand sympathetic
about you. I decided to contact you first and know why somebody will
want you dead by all means. Right now my men are monitoring you, their
eyesare on you, and even the place you think is safer for you to hide
might not be. Now do you want to LIVE OR DIE? It is up to you. Get back
to me now if you areready to enter deal with me, I mean life trade, who
knows, and I might just spear your life, $12,000 is all you need to
will first of all pay $4,000 then I will send the tape of the person
that want you dead to you and when the tape gets to you, you will pay
the remaining $8,000. If you are not ready for my help, then I will
have no choice but to carry on the assignment after all I have already
being paid before now. *
Do not think of contacting the police or even tell anyone because Iwill
extend it to any member of your family since you are aware that
somebodywant you dead, and the person knows some members of your family
as well. For your own good I will advise you not to go out once is 7pm
until I make out time to see you and give you the tape of my discussion
with the person who want you dead then you can use it to take any legal
*Good luck as I await your reply to this e-mail contact: **
Here are the full headers for this message:
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Date: Sat, 24 May 2008 15:05:39 +0100
From: "ANTHONIO BENITO" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: SOMEONE YOU CALL YOUR FRIEND, WANTS YOU DEAD.
X-Bogosity: Spam, tests=bogofilter, spamicity=1.000000, version=1.1.5
Frankly, my first thought was simply to delete this message as I would
any other spam. But whoever sent this message needs to be stopped.
Ideally, someone should make him stop breathing. But I wonder to whom I
should report this message. Obviously, the local police coudn't do
anything about it. The FBI, perhaps? I would think that attempting to
extort money from someone via terroristic threats would be of interest
to some law enforcement agency, but which one?
must be a way to contact this guy or his threat would be pointless.
Surely the authorities should be able to track down this son of a bitch
and crucify him.
- Several people had recommended the post-apocalypse drama Jericho to us, so I rented the first disc. It's not a bad program. It's not up to Veronica Mars or any of Joss Whedon's stuff, but it's well-written and well-acted.
I expected, the science is pretty bad, although not as bad as I
expected. For example, they have a fall-out plume from Denver being
deposited in the Kansas town of Jericho by a heavy rainstorm. Everyone
takes shelter during the rain but afterward they immediately emerge
from the shelters and have a party. In reality, of course, if they did
that they'd all be walking dead people, probably after being exposed
for only a few minutes.
And the whole shelter thing was
laughable. All you need for shelter is mass between you and the
radiation source. For radiation with energies typical of fall-out, the
half-value layer is 3.3 inches for typical dirt (100 pounds per cubic
foot) or 2.2 inches for typical concrete (150 pounds per cubic foot).
Putting 10 half-value layers--33 inches of dirt (call it three feet) or
22 inches of concrete (call it two feet)--between you and the radiation
source reduces the radiation by 2^10, or a factor of about 1,000.
Putting 20 HVLs between you and the radiation source attenuates the
radiation by a factor of 2^20, or about 1,000,000. These folks should
have been digging L-shaped slit trenches, covering them with solid-core
doors, and piling as much dirt as possible on top of the doors.
annoyed Barbara by sprinkling comments throughout the show. When they
brought out a radiation survey meter, for example, I said, "That's a
CD-V715 survey meter. I have one in my office closet. Doesn't everyone?"
is actually in a lot better shape than the one shown in this image,
which is from Wikipedia. Same thing when one of the characters donned a
gas mask ("I have one of those. Doesn't everyone?) and when they
were discussing the likely effects of radiation ("They need a copy
of Glasstone's The Effects of Nuclear Weapons. I have a copy on my bookshelf. Doesn't everyone?)
thing I found most disturbing was that they not only allowed but
encouraged young people to be out wandering around unprotected. The
rule is, you keep people of child-bearing age--men and women--under
cover as long as possible. If someone needs to go out, you send older
men and women, those past childbearing. Having lived most of their
lives without absorbing anything more than background radiation, older
people have an unused radiation budget that the younger people don't
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert