Week of 10 November 2008
Update: Sunday, 16 November 2008 08:55 -0500
Beth Halford's article on home chemistry labs is posted at Chemical & Engineering News.
Barbara gets a photo credit. Now the truth can be told. In that image,
I'm titrating an aliquot of a concentrated aqueous solution of
water with a standardized 55.50 M aqueous solution of water.
did a Costco run with Paul and Mary yesterday, followed by dinner.
I'd bet Paul that McCain would win in a landslide, so, to add insult to
injury, I had to buy dinner. We picked up a microwave oven and 64
liters of Coke in 2-liter bottles, as well as some frozen
foods. We both like Costco frozen quetzalcoatls (or something like
that; they're Mexican, flat and filled with chicken and cheese, which
Barbara fries in butter).
I'm going on semi-hiatus from now
until the end of the year. We have the kitchen to get finished, and I
have a book to get finished. I'll continue to post here, but posts are
likely to be sporadic and short.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Veterans' Day and the 90th anniversary of the Armistice. Take a moment
today to think about all of those men and women, living and dead, who
serve or served in our armed forces, and be thankful for what they have
sacrificed on our behalf.
My editor, Brian Jepson, emailed me yesterday to say he need to put
together a BLAD (book layout and design) sample of the forensics
book for the sales folks. That meant he needed text and images
sufficient to do a spread of four pages or so. I hadn't shot the images
for any of the lab chapters, so I spent some time today putting
together a complete lab session from the Impression Analysis chapter. I
chose Lab 11.2, on matching film negatives or slides to the camera that
made them, based on microscopic variations in the mask of the film
In shooting the images, I discovered that focusing is a
matter of opinion when shooting photomicrographs of a photographic
emulsion. The depth of focus of the microscope image, even at low
magnification, is much smaller than the actual depth of the emulsion,
so when part is in focus another part is out of focus. Also, instead of
the nice sharp-edged silver grains in black-and-white emulsions, color
negatives and color slides have tiny, fuzzy blobs of dye. Finally, film
curls and there's no good way to clamp it flat under the microscope
objective. That means that you have to refocus constantly as you
examine the edges of the frame. Here's one of the images, this one from
one corner of a color slide, that shows some microscopic roughness in
the edge of the mask.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
The tile guy got the kitchen backsplash installed yesterday. He's
coming this morning to grout. Then he suggests we allow it to cure for
at least three weeks before we seal it.
Yahoo must die. Yesterday, in a moment of insanity, I decided to see if
there were any Yahoo groups about forensics. I found two that looked
likely and attempted to sign up. My old Yahoo account didn't work. I
understand that Yahoo deleted millions of accounts last month with no
explanation and no apology, so apparently my old account was one of
So I tried to sign up for a new account. I got the entire
sign-up page filled out and clicked okay. Yahoo popped up a page that
said I had to accept cookies. So I set Firefox to accept cookies from
Yahoo, even though I'd rather not do that, and clicked the button to
continue registration. It returned me to the original page, but with
every field empty.
I refilled out the form and clicked to
register. It apparently succeeded, and sent me to another page asking
me to sign in. When I typed in the account name and password I'd just
registered, it told me there was no such account. I figured perhaps it
was just taking a moment for the new account to be available, so I kept
trying every few minutes for an hour or more. No joy. I just tried
again this morning. No luck. Yahoo says there's no such ID. Yahoo must
Scientists have now confirmed what every dog has always known. Every person has a unique odor.
and I attended the local Science Cafe after dinner last night. The
presentation was interesting. Dr. Robert Browne, a biology professor at
Wake Forest University, gave a presentation on Long-term Changes in
Biodiversity in Our Backyard. There are very few reliable species
surveys from 18th-century America, and Forsyth County is fortunate
to have one of the best, possibly the best, such survey.
the Moravians settled this area in about 1750, one of the first things
they did was hire an expert to survey all of the plant and animal
species present. Reuter's survey predated the binomial system of
Linnaeus, but it is still possible to identify the large flora and
fauna that were present during Reuter's survey.
Of the 68
species of trees present in 1764, all are still present today in
Forsyth County, including (surprisingly) the chestnut and elm. In fact,
because of introduced species that are now found in the wild, tree
species diversity is actually higher now than it was then.
same is not true of large fauna. In 1764, Forsyth County was home to
wolves, cougars, and even bison, none of which are still present. The
wolves disappeared on their own, but the Moravians set out to
exterminate cougars, and succeeded in doing so. Wolves were a threat to
livestock, but cougars were a threat to Moravians.
is going on hiatus here until next spring, when they'll return with a
new series of events. Barbara and I plan to attend those if possible.
In fact, I may even give a presentation.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
- There are always exceptions...
From: Paul Jones
To: Mary Chervenak, Robert Bruce Thompson, suanne tobey
Date: Wed Nov 12 10:27:10 2008
Re: HCN safety
have discovered how chemists of old dealt with safety issues. Check out
note 1. I suppose a last cigarette is just cruel for those going to the gas chamber. -Paul
And here's note 1 from the document he attached:
Gattermann recommends that the operator smoke during the preparation,
for he found that a trace of hydrogen cyanide is sufficient to give the
tobacco smoke a highly characteristic flavor. This preliminary warning
is useful in case of leaky apparatus or a faulty hood.
So, at least sometimes, smoking cigarettes can be very good for your health.
My editor emailed me late yesterday afternoon to say he needs the
preface and intro for the forensics book as soon as possible.
Production is putting together the BLAD (book layout and design) and
dummying up some material for the sales and marketing folks. So I'll go
to work on those today and hope to get them knocked out by the first of
Once I've completed those, I'll finish writing the Impression Analysis
chapter for the home forensics book. That leaves me with just two lab
chapters left to write, the Forgeries and Fakes chapter and the
Forensic Biology chapter, with a total of six or seven lab sessions
between them. Some work is already done on those, but a lot remains to be done.
I'd like to finish writing those two chapters by
next Friday, because Barbara and I plan to take time off from next
Friday through the end of the month. In addition to the Thanksgiving
holiday, which is at our house this year, we want to get the kitchen
finished up. There's a lot remaining to be done, including installing
the exhaust hood and some shelves and mounting the cabinet and drawer
We replaced the old front-mount hardware with
rear-mount hardware, so there are a lot of holes to be drilled.
Fourteen holes per cabinet door--two for the handle, eight for the
hinges, and four for the magnetic catches--times 23 doors and two holes
per drawer times nine drawers. It's not a simple matter of
re-drilling 340 holes, either. All of the surfaces are now completely
smooth, with the old holes filled and sanded, so I'm going to have to
do a lot of leveling and measuring to make sure everything lines
As of Monday, 1 December, I'm back in heads-down
mode working on the forensics book. First up is a blast through all of
the lab chapters, during which I'll do some minor re-write to tie them
all together. I'll also decide on which images to shoot and make up a
consolidated list of materials and equipment needed for all of the lab
sessions. The O'Reilly production folks prefer to work in order, so the
next thing I'll do is finish writing the initial narrative chapters.
After that's done, I'll go back through the lab chapters in order,
doing the labs (usually repeating them, but in some cases doing them
for the first time) and shooting images. Invariably I run into some
required re-write and perhaps even substantive changes during that
pass, some of which will have to be incorporated into the early
narrative chapters (particularly equipment/material changes). I'll ship
the finished chapters off to my editor as I complete them, with the
goal being to have everything submitted by 31 December. At that point,
I'll come up for air.
Saturday, 15 November
- Every year or two, it seems, I manage to wipe out my home directory
while I'm backing up. I did it yesterday. Actually, the mouse did me
in. I'd selected everything to copy and the mouse clicked on Delete all
by itself. I'm not making this up.
I was going to restore from
the previous day's backup, but since I was running Kubuntu 7.10 I
decided instead to upgrade to 8.10. That means running Ubuntu rather
than Kubuntu because KDE 4 still isn't ready for prime-time, but I can
live with that. So I recopied all my current stuff from the crippled
Kubuntu 7.10 system (try that with a crippled Windows system...) to a
USB stick, downloaded Ubuntu 8.10 (try that with a crippled Windows
system...), and burned it to a CD (try that with a crippled Windows
system...). I restarted the system and installed Ubuntu 8.10.
haven't lost any data in the usual sense. However, I was annoyed to
rediscover that the changes from Firefox 2 to Firefox 3 apparently make
it impossible to bring over cookies from the older system. Importing
bookmarks and so on is no problem, but Firefox 3 uses an SQL Lite
database for cookies rather than a plain-text file, and I can't find
any way to bring over my cookies. There aren't all that many of them (I
keep "Accept Cookies" turned off and manually enter sites I want to be
able to set cookies), but my Firefox 2 cookies stored stuff like my
username and password for a lot of sites. Most of those I have recorded
in an encrypted OOo spreadsheet, but it's still a pain in the ass.
now I'm doing laundry and trying to get my new system back to where the
old system was. It's orders of magnitude easier with Linux than it
would be with Windows, but it's still a pain in the ass.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert