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Week of 19 May 2008


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Monday, 19 May 2008
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08:59 - 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.

Our 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.


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Tuesday, 20 May 2008
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08:14 - 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 say.


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Wednesday, 21 May 2008
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08:15 - 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.

I 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.


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Thursday, 22 May 2008
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08:54 - 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.

I'd 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.

In the 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 beverages.

Boy, am I having fun.


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Friday, 23 May 2008
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08:30 - 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 today.

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 quite another.

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.

The 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 it back.

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.


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Saturday, 24 May 2008
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10:44 - 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" <redbullet.1@gala.net>
  To: undisclosed-recipients:
  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. *

*I 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.*

*If 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 spend.*

*You 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. *

*Warning: 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 action. *

*Good luck as I await your reply to this e-mail contact: **
final.bulletpointservice@gmail.com* <final.bulletpointservice@gmail.com>

*Mr.Anthonio Benito.*

**

Here are the full headers for this message:

Return-Path: <redbullet.1@gala.net>
 Received: from localhost ([unix socket])
         by zidane.mazin.net (Cyrus v2.2.12-Debian-2.2.12-4ubuntu1) with LMTPA;
         Sat, 24 May 2008 09:05:47 -0500
 X-Sieve: CMU Sieve 2.2
 X-Spam-Flag: YES
 X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.1.3 (2006-06-01) on zidane.mazin.net
 X-Spam-Level: ***
 X-Spam-Status: Yes, hits=3.2 required=3.0 bayes=0.5007 tests=BAYES_50=0.001,
        HTML_10_20=1.351,HTML_MESSAGE=0.001,SPF_PASS=-0.001,
        SUBJ_ALL_CAPS=0.997,UNDISC_RECIPS=0.841 autolearn=no vers$
 X-Spam-Report:
        *  0.8 UNDISC_RECIPS Valid-looking To "undisclosed-recipients"
        *  1.0 SUBJ_ALL_CAPS Subject is all capitals
        * -0.0 SPF_PASS SPF: sender matches SPF record
        *  0.0 HTML_MESSAGE BODY: HTML included in message
        *  0.0 BAYES_50 BODY: Bayesian spam probability is 40 to 60%
        *      [score: 0.5007]
        *  1.4 HTML_10_20 BODY: Message is 10% to 20% HTML
 Received: from an-out-0708.google.com (an-out-0708.google.com [209.85.132.251])
        by zidane.mazin.net (Postfix) with ESMTP id 5A6DC1E00D9
        for <thompson@ttgnet.com>; Sat, 24 May 2008 09:05:46 -0500 (CDT)
 Received: by an-out-0708.google.com with SMTP id d33so496064and.87
        for <thompson@ttgnet.com>; Sat, 24 May 2008 07:05:45 -0700 (PDT)
 Received: by 10.100.173.9 with SMTP id v9mr3792503ane.150.1211637939526;
        Sat, 24 May 2008 07:05:39 -0700 (PDT)
 Received: by 10.100.255.15 with HTTP; Sat, 24 May 2008 07:05:39 -0700 (PDT)
 Message-ID: <fd1b06280805240705j37ad8ec9o5b3f2327b22885e2@mail.gmail.com>
 Date: Sat, 24 May 2008 15:05:39 +0100
 From: "ANTHONIO BENITO" <redbullet.1@gala.net>
 Subject: SOMEONE YOU CALL YOUR FRIEND, WANTS YOU DEAD.
 MIME-Version: 1.0
 Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
  boundary="----=_Part_2321_5269659.1211637939516"
 To: undisclosed-recipients:;
 X-Bogosity: Spam, tests=bogofilter, spamicity=1.000000, version=1.1.5
 X-UID:
 Status: RO
 X-Status: RPC
 X-KMail-EncryptionState:
 X-KMail-SignatureState:
 X-KMail-MDN-Sent:

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?

Obviously, there 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.


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Sunday, 25 May 2008
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10:03 - 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.

As 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.

I 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?"


Mine 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?)

The 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 have.



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