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Week of 27 October 2008


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Monday, 27 October 2008
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07:56 - One more week until this election crap is over. Even without the news reports, I'd know that North Carolina is supposedly in play this year. I've been getting as many as 10 spam phone calls a day from political candidates, sometimes multiple calls in one day for the same candidate. The calls for Obama and McCain seem about equally divided.

There was an interesting editorial in the paper this morning. It referred to independents as "socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and strong on defense." I told Barbara that's not a description of an independent; it's a description of a libertarian.



I worked on the homechemlab.com subscriber supplement over the weekend. I finished the December issue and most of the January issue, so I have a bit of breathing space. This week, it's back to work on the forensics book. I should finish the lab chapter on blood detection this week and get a good start on the next lab chapter. I have only two or three lab chapters remaining after that, so the end is in sight.



Thanks to everyone who identified Barbara's rodent as the common yard rat, rattus yardus, commonly known as the chipmunk. It appears to be a close relative of the fuzzy-tailed tree rat, rattus treeus, commonly known as the squirrel.



11:35 - I thought the political calls had already hit rock-bottom, but I was wrong. I just got a recorded call from Andy Griffith. I didn't listen long enough to find out, but I'm sure it was on behalf of Obama. Who's next? Dopey, or whatever the kid's name was?


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Tuesday, 28 October 2008
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08:47 - I read an article in the newspaper this morning that says that BB&T, a local bank that is healthy, wants its share of the bailout money, about $3.1 billion. As Barbara said, no surprise there. Anyone who can is going to line up at the trough. We have banks, investment houses, airlines, and now auto companies all clamoring for their share. Not to mention wooden arrow companies and a host of other small businesses. So I've decided to ask for my share. I won't be greedy. I'm going to apply for a $100 million grant. It's the patriotic thing to do.



I was talking to Kim yesterday, when she mentioned that some of the kids at school had called Jasmine the "black Sarah Palin". I told Kim that Jas should be pleased, because Sarah Palin is both intellectually honest and a very attractive woman. Kim said that Jas had indeed taken it as a compliment.

Here's Jas, age 14, from some months ago. And she's blossoming as Barbara and I watch, transitioning from a girl to a young woman.




10:03 - In all fairness, after the nice things I've said about Sarah Palin, I should probably also point out that there are many important things I very much dislike about her. I'd planned to write a short essay about that, but Christopher Hitchens beat me to with his essay, Sarah Palin's War on Science.

Yes, Sarah Palin is uneducated, ignorant, irrational, anti-science, and a fundamentalist Christian, all of which I despise. It's an indication of just how bad things have become that I'd still choose her first among the four candidates on the major-party tickets. Why? Because she is at least honest about her beliefs. One can have no doubt about where Sarah Palin stands. And she has shown no inclination to force her personal beliefs on others. Far from it. As governor, she has repeatedly opposed government actions that are in accord with her own beliefs. The woman has more respect for the Constitution than any other major-party politician I know of. In that respect, she is by far the closest of the candidates to being libertarian.



12:38 - Here's a news flash. Obama concedes the election to McCain. FTA:

"We can't win this election unless every Obama supporter gets out and votes on November 4th. To do that, we need a massive team of volunteers helping us. Can you take next Tuesday off from work, join the final push, and make sure that everyone who supports Barack turns out to vote?"

So, dissect that statement logically. If Obama admits that he "can't win this election unless every Obama supporter gets out and votes on November 4th", the election is already lost. To point out the obvious, many Obama supporters are not registered to vote, and many of those who are registered have already cast their ballots in early voting. They won't be permitted to vote again on November 4th. Or perhaps Obama is encouraging them to vote twice. (Obama is, after all, a Chicago machine politician, and even dead people vote in Chicago.) And, as we all know, many Obama supporters who are registered to vote won't bother to vote at all. Since "every" Obama supporter is required to win the election, Obama has obviously thrown in the towel.



Everything is always harder than it should be. I'm working on the chapter on detecting blood right now, and I'd planned to use the tetramethylbenzidine (TMB) test. It used to be that you could walk into any drugstore and buy either Hematest tablets or Hemastix test strips, which are packaged versions of the TMB test. I just called Walgreens and was surprised to learn that they carry neither of those products. Nor does CVS, Rite-Aid, or any of the other nearby pharmacies I called.

I finally called Andrews Pharmacy, which is on the other side of town, but is a compounding pharmacy. I figured if anyone had it, they would. They didn't, and the pharmacist told me why. A few years ago, the manufacturer boosted prices outrageously. The retail price of a bottle of 100 Hematest tablets went from something like $10 to $80, and no one would buy them at that price.

The best price I can find on-line for Hematest tablets is $65/100. I found Hemastix test strips at $25/50. I'll probably recommend Hematest tablets for the lab session, because only a quarter tablet is needed for each test. I'll arrange for Elemental Scientific to package them in small quantities for my readers. But for actually doing the labs here, I'll probably use Hemastix test strips because $25 is better than $65, and I'd end up with about 98 leftover Hematest tablets for which I'd have no use. Of course, I'll probably end up with 40 leftover Hemastix test strips, but I'd rather have $20 worth of leftover test strips than $63 worth of leftover tablets.



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Wednesday, 29 October 2008
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09:15 - I got email yesterday afternoon from Beth Halford of the American Chemical Society, who's writing an article about home chemistry for Chemical & Engineering News. She wanted an image of me working in my home lab. I didn't have one, of course, because I'm always the one shooting the images in my lab. So when Barbara arrived home, I greeted her wearing my lab coat, gloves, and goggles, and holding one of her digital SLRs. Barbara shot several images of me doing a titration. Here's the low-res version of the one I sent to Beth.


Before she started shooting images, Barbara pointed out that my hair wasn't combed. It almost never is, and I saw no reason to change that just because she was shooting images. Anyway, that's apparently pretty common among scientists. When we were watching Evolution recently, Barbara commented that several of the scientists they interviewed had uncombed hair. "He doesn't comb his hair, either. What is it about you guys?" I can't speak for them, but I tend to play with my hair when I'm thinking, so it's usually a mess.


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Thursday, 30 October 2008
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09:16 - Barbara had outpatient knee surgery yesterday. Everything went well, but she'll be at home recovering for the next several days.

I had to give Duncan his pills this morning, which involves prying open his jaws and shoving the pills in. Duncan doesn't like to take pills. He tolerates Barbara giving them to him, but just barely. Me, no way. Think of the steely-eyed glare of a cape buffalo combined with the jaws of a piranha. I could just hear him thinking, "Go ahead, make my day." I was lucky to end up with the regulation number of fingers left after I finally forced all of the pills down his throat.

Last night we re-watched a couple of old PBS Sherlock Holmes episodes, ones that starred Jeremy Brett. Among them was the Blue Carbuncle, in which Holmes deduced the characteristics of a man by examining his hat. Holmes deduced that the man was an intellectual based on the large size of his hat. Barbara commented that I must be an intellectual, too, because my hat size is ridiculously large. I wear an XXXXXXXL or XXXXXXXXL hat. I am not making this up.

There was a real stunner in the morning paper. The Winston-Salem Journal, which is consistently extremely liberal editorially, endorsed McCain for president. I was flabbergasted. I couldn't have been more surprised if the Obama campaign had endorsed McCain.


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Friday, 31 October 2008
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09:30 - Sometimes I wonder why Barbara and I pay our bills. The front page of the morning paper has an article about a new proposal to bail out people who've run up large balances on their credit cards. They're not talking about extending the payment period or reducing interest rates, understand. They're talking about forgiving up to 40% of the balance due. In other words, they're going to allow these people to keep the stuff they purchased and have the rest of us pay for up to 40% of it. And they're sending exactly the wrong message, because the larger the debt, the larger the percentage of that debt they propose to write off.

In all of the news reports about this credit mess, I've heard nothing about the growing resentment among those of us who live within our means and pay our bills every month. Why should we be subsidizing irresponsible people who bought things they couldn't afford? Some debt will have to be written off, no doubt. But before that happens, I want to see those irresponsible borrowers suffer. I want to see them living in cardboard hovels, wearing rags, and shivering over the coming winter. As things are now, we're rewarding those who acted irresponsibly, and that has to stop.

These cases should be examined individually. People who've gotten in over their heads because of a job loss or medical expenses are one thing. Most of us would deal gently with them. But those people are a relatively small percentage of the problem borrowers. Most people who are in debt over their heads got there because they were greedy. They bought houses they couldn't afford and then borrowed more against their supposed equity to pay for their unsustainable lifestyles. They ran up their credit card balances to buy large-screen TVs and similar crap that they couldn't afford. They borrowed to put BMWs in their garages and they borrowed to take expensive vacations abroad.

I want to see those people suffer, along with the banks and other credit institutions who were foolish enough to lend money to them. But most of all, I'd like to see the government suffer. Every legislator who supported Fannie and Freddie and CRA should be shivering in a cardboard hovel as well. Of course, that's not going to happen. But wouldn't it be nice?



Any school or other non-profit agency that uses Microsoft software should read this article and think about it, long and hard. Discounted Microsoft licenses are a lot like that first free hit that dope dealers offer. Once you're hooked, the price goes up.



I drove over to Walgreen's yesterday to pick up a prescription for Barbara. While I was there, I stopped by the photo counter to see if they had any 35mm film cans for me. Alas, they'd had a bunch but thrown them out just a few days ago. They did give me the half dozen they had, and promised to save them for me.

Since I passed CVS Pharmacy on the way home, I stopped by there to see if they had any. The lady at the counter said they didn't save them, and seemed curious about why I'd want them. When I explained that I was making up science kits for neighborhood kids and that film cans made excellent containers for those kits, she immediately became enthusiastic. She wrote up a label with my name and number on it and stuck it on a plastic bag that she went back and taped to the counter in the photo area. She said she'd specifically mentioned they were for science kits for kids because that way all the staff would make sure to save them for me. It was nice to run into someone who was enthusiastic about kids learning science.



Barbara is recovering well. Thanks to everyone who's sent email to ask about her progress.



12:05 - I just made an abortive attempt to vote. I had to stand in line about 45 minutes just to get to the door of the early-voting place. When I finally got inside, I could see that they had a line snaking around, about three or four times the length of the line I'd already made it through. I would have had to wait another two hours or more before I could vote, so I just bagged it and came home. Not only did I not feel like standing in line that long, but I didn't want to leave Barbara by herself for that long.

I guess I'll just go to the regular polling place on election day. By then, I expect almost everyone will already have voted. Actually, I have a hard enough time convincing myself to vote under normal conditions, let alone when I'll have to stand in line and wait to vote. I don't believe we should have any government, so voting for representatives is a cruel joke for me.

In particular, it's a cruel joke because I despise literally everyone on the ballot who has any chance of being elected. The fact that McCain is just slightly less bad than Obama or that Dole is just slightly less bad than Hagen isn't much reason to vote for the less bad choice. As Lysander Spooner commented back in the mid-19th century, “A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.” We're ruled by criminals and thugs now, and we'll be ruled by criminals and thugs after the election, no matter what the outcome.

Tom Jefferson thought we needed to have a revolution every twenty years. We're now more than 200 years overdue. I think it may be time.


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Saturday, 1 November 2008
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00:00 -



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Sunday, 2 November 2008
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09:37 - Barbara is pretty much recovered from knee surgery, other than a bit of stiffness. She's ready to go back to work tomorrow.

Very strange. A few nights ago, we were walking the dogs and saw our next-door neighbor kneeling at the end of his driveway. There was a pickup truck parked there and another guy kneeling with him. I walked over to find out what was going on. His water meter had sprung a leak. The guy in the pickup truck was from the city emergency services department. They'd pulled the cover and were bailing out the hole to get to the water meter.

Yesterday, our water meter started leaking. Jim noticed the water in the gutter and thought his was leaking again, but tracked it back to our meter. We pulled the lid and bailed out the hole and found that we indeed had a severe leak. Barbara went inside and called the city emergency number, and they promised to get someone out to fix it that afternoon.

I'd been working on an outline/TOC for what I hope will be our next book, Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments. About 3:00, I decided to walk down to talk to Jasmine about her honors biology class, intending to spend a few minutes there. As it turned out, Jas and I sat on the floor and talked until 5:30, mostly just the two of us with Kim looking in and joining the conversation occasionally.

When I left, Kim walked me to the door and asked me to visit and talk to Jas at length more often. I usually talk with Jas only briefly, because she's far too polite to cut our conversations short. She'd sit and talk with me as long as I wanted, but I always assume that a 15-year-old girl must have higher priorities than talking to me.

Barbara has mentioned more than once that she thinks Jas likes to talk to me because I'm an older guy, and Kim has said the same. When we're walking the dogs and run into Jas, Barbara chats with Jas briefly and then leaves the two of us alone to talk. Kim was widowed when Jas was a baby, so Jas never knew her dad. I often think how proud of her he'd be. If I had a daughter, I'd want her to be just like Jas.

Oh, as far as honors biology, Jas isn't having any problems, nor is she with honors geometry. I'm a bit concerned because Jas has had only one short lab session in biology this year, and she says that the facilities are limited, with multiple students having to share one microscope and so on. I told Jas again that she's welcome to use my lab any time she wants to. She's already working independently within the class structure in biology and geometry, so I hope she'll take me up on the offer. I was surprised when Jas told me that she'd already done several dissections in a science class in middle school, but it sounds as though lab time will be very limited in this honors biology course.

Interestingly, the one class that seems to be giving Jas problems is honors Civics, which from her description seems to be mostly about memorizing names and dates. Although Jas wasn't critical of her teachers, it sounds to me as though they're at best competent rather than inspiring. Jas also seems to be unimpressed by her honors History class, wondering why all this stuff that happened so long ago is relevant to her. I quoted Santayana to her, of course, but the next time Jas and I sit down to talk I'm going to try to explain to her why history is so much more than just memorizing a list of names and dates.



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