Week of 12 January 2009
Update: Sunday, 18 January 2009 09:33 -0500
Paul Jones stopped over yesterday with his dad's PC. His dad lives in
Oklahoma and had told Paul that the PC was starting to get noisy and
probably needed its software updated. So he shipped the PC to Paul, who
brought it over here. Paul told me that we'd built the PC almost five
years ago. I thought it had been only a couple of years. I knew it
couldn't be nearly five years, because we'd installed Linux on it, and
I didn't convert to Linux myself until 4 July 2004. So I searched my
site, and came up with this link. Paul was closer than I was. It hasn't been nearly five years, but it has been nearly four.
for about 45 months, Paul's dad had been happily using this machine,
running Xandrox 3.0 OCE. It was still running the original software
without updates, and still virus-free. Try that with a Windows machine.
Paul lugged it over to our house yesterday afternoon, and we set it up
on the dining room table. After we blew the dust out, we replaced the
case fan and the power supply, which required pulling the CPU cooler.
We blew that out, too. The only minor roadblock was that the
motherboard had a 20-pin main ATX power connector and the new power
supply a 24-pin connector. The 24-pin cable wouldn't fit the 20-pin
jack because the extra four pins overhung the IDE connector on the
motherboard. We found an adapter cable in my stock room and things went
quickly after that.
We connected Paul's dad's system in the den
in place of my regular den system. I pulled the Firefox bookmarks and
Thunderbird mail data off the drive and then we set Ubuntu 8.10 to
formatting the drive. An hour or so later, I had Ubuntu installed and
updated, the restricted extras installed, and all his dad's data
restored. I thought about replacing the hard drive, but after running
some tests on it decided to leave it as is. Last night, I played with
the system while Barbara and I watched the third and final disc of
Battlestar Galactica series 2.5, which we'd borrowed from Paul and Mary.
let the system burn in over night, and this morning everything appeared
normal, so it's ready to go back to Paul's dad. I suspect he'll get
another two or three years' use out of it. The processor is fast enough
for checking email and browsing the web, which is what Paul's dad
mostly uses the system for. In two or three years, we'll just build him
a replacement system.
- No post.
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Things are a bit hectic around here. I finished the rewrite on chapter
14 (forged documents) late yesterday afternoon and posted it on the
subscribers' page this morning. I'm working now on the final chapter,
forensic biology, which I should finish late this week or early next.
still debating whether or not to add a lab on PCR (polymerase chain
reaction) replication of DNA. It would be a pretty cool lab session.
I'd have readers swab their cheeks to obtain epithelial cells and then
use PCR to replicate their own DNA. The problem is that the PCR
process, done manually, is time-consuming drudgery. They'd have to set
up water baths at specified temperatures and then sit there watching
the clock and moving the specimen tube from bath to bath--60 seconds
here and 90 seconds there--over and over for two or three hours. Also,
the required enzymes, while available, are not inexpensive. But at the
end of the lab session, they'd have a fairly large specimen of their
own DNA, which is very cool.
The problem is what to do with it
once they have it. I'm building a gel electrophoresis setup for about
$10, which will illustrate the principles, but gives pretty crude
separations. You might, for example, be able to tell the difference
between apple DNA and carrot DNA, but the resolution won't be anything
near what's needed to discriminate one human DNA specimen from another.
On balance, I think I'll leave that lab session out. Perhaps I'll do it and write it up for MAKE or something.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
I just paid my state and federal estimated taxes, which always puts me
in a bad mood. To add to that, I just realized that the new version of
Kontact, the Linux PIM I use, no longer pops up reminders for scheduled
to-do items and calendar items. That's why we forgot to add money to
Barbara's cell phone account, and if I hadn't remembered on my own to
pay the estimated taxes I'd have neglected to do that as well. I've
played with it a bit, and nothing I do makes it pop up reminders as it
should. This really sucks. MS Outlook used to do this to me all the
time, which is one of the reasons I stopped using it. I may have to
look for a different PIM.
I worked yesterday on the forensic
biology chapter, specifically on the pollen analysis lab session.
Interestingly, there's a word for the study of pollen. As you might
expect, it's called pollenology, but it's spelled palynology.
It's a mite chilly around here. When I got up, it was 11 °F (-12
°C). Right now, it's 13 °F (-11 °C) actual, with the wind chill at 0°F
(-18 °C). The forecast low tonight is 9 °F (-13 °C). We haven't had
temperatures this low since 2004.
I know, to much of the rest of
the country these temperatures must sound balmy. I understand there
have been wind chills of -40 ° or lower in much of the upper
midwest. But they have home insulation and furnaces designed to cope
with low temperatures. Around here, we don't. Most people's heating
systems around here are designed to cope with freezing temperatures, or
a bit lower. Our furnace ran pretty much continuously yesterday. We
keep the thermostat set to 68 °F, but I don't think it ever got above
66 or 67 °F until last night, when I turned on the gas logs to help the
furnace. Running on low, they were able to boost the den to about 70 or
71 °F. Running on high, they put out about as much heat as the
I'm still working on the forensic biology
chapter. I finished the lab session on pollen and got started on one
about diatoms. I have a couple of DNA labs to write up and that'll be
it, other than shooting images.
Saturday, 17 January
- No post.
I came up with a usable workaround for the notification problem with
Kontact. I simply reconfigured Kontact to start on the Summary screen
instead of in email. That means one more click is needed when I start
Kontact to check my email, but now I see a summary of the week's
calendar and to-do items every time Kontact starts. It's not a perfect
solution, but it's usable.
We shot several images for the book
yesterday, and we'll shoot more today and tomorrow. Barbara is off this
afternoon to the 80th birthday celebration for Gilbert Sloan,
who's been her parents' next-door neighbor since Barbara was a little
girl. I'll work on the final two labs sessions for the forensic biology
chapter, which are on extracting vegetable DNA and then using gel
electrophoresis to analyze it.
I've decided to keep things
simple (and inexpensive) by running the electrophoresis against genomic
DNA samples rather than DNA fragments. That means we won't get the DNA
gels people are used to seeing on forensics shows, with lots and lots
of individual lines. Instead, we'll get something that looks more
like chromatograms, with relatively broad stains made by the
genomic (whole molecule) DNA moving through the gel. In order to split
the genomic DNA into the base-pair fragments that produce the sharp
multiple lines, we'd have to use restriction enzymes, which are
On another note, I''ll be trying a new
microscope slide mounting fluid over the next couple of days.
Yesterday, I noticed Barbara doing her nails. She had old and new
bottles of "Clear" (they really mean "Colorless") Sally Hansen
Hard-as-Nails nail polish, and the old bottle was still half full.
Hmmm. I asked Barbara if I could have the old bottle. She gave it to
me, commenting that the stuff starts getting too viscous once the
bottle is half-empty anyway.
I used this stuff in an earlier lab
session to make scale casts of hair. Its physical and optical
properties seem ideal for use as a general microscope slide mounting
fluid. It's transparent, doesn't yellow, shows no tendency to form
bubbles, and dries quickly.
We're well into series three of Battlestar Galactica, although I stopped paying attention some time back. I'll give series one a "B". It certainly wasn't up to stuff like Buffy/Firefly, Veronica Mars, Poirot, Upstairs, Downstairs,
and so on. but it was watchable. Series two and the first few episodes
of series three get a "C". The plotting and writing took a nosedive
from series one. Series three episodes after the first few get a "C-",
and that's being generous. They're typical TV. Not utterly horrible,
but not worth wasting time on.
They really lost me with an
extended scene in one series three episode that had a guy beating his
(female) former lover bloody in a boxing ring. Perhaps it's my early
conditioning--"Never, ever hit a girl, Bobby"--but I cannot stand
seeing a man hit a woman. I literally cringe. Back when I was
practicing Shotokan, I even avoided sparring with women. I knew that at
twice their mass, four or more times their strength, and with much
longer arm and leg reach, I could hurt them badly even without
intending to do so.
I knocked a woman unconscious once, and for
a horrible few seconds I thought I'd done more than that. She was a
karateka, an obnoxious radical feminist determined to demonstrate that
a trained woman could compete on equal terms with men in unarmed
combat, and I allowed her to taunt me into reacting. She lasted
about three seconds. I've never struck a woman since then, and, barring
extraordinary circumstances, I never will again. Seeing someone else do
it, even fictionally, is not my idea of entertainment.
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