Week of 16 February 2009
Update: Saturday, 21 February 2009 12:44 -0500
Dinner with Paul and Mary last night. We were planning to head for
Costco before dinner, but Mary spent the afternoon dosing herself with
antihistamines and recovering from her encounter with a friendly
chocolate Lab that insisted on nuzzling Mary during her run that
morning. After work this evening, Barbara is off for a haircut and to
run errands, so I'll have the other half of the large stromboli I had
last night for dinner tonight.
Today, I'll continue working on supplemental lab sessions.
- Bas posted this over on the messageboard, and I thought it was worth reposting here:
I can't vouch for its provenance but it came from a friend in the industry:
is a first-hand account from a passenger on Flight 1549. It is an
internal memo to the members of his firm. It is very well written, is
descriptive, and gives this man's honest reactions to the events around
This is from a Partner at Heidrick & Struggles, an
executive recruiting firm, who was on Flight 1549. Gerry McNamara (New
York/Charlotte) was on US Airways Flight 1549 last week. Here is his
account of the event:
Thursday was a difficult day for all of us
at the firm and I left the Park Avenue office early afternoon to catch
a cab bound for LaGuardia Airport .
I was scheduled for a 5 pm
departure, but able to secure a seat on the earlier flight scheduled to
leave at 3PM. As many of us who fly frequently often do, I recall
wondering if I'd just placed myself on a flight I shouldn't be on! Just
prior to boarding I finished up a conference call with my associate,
Jenn Sparks ( New York ), and our placement, the CIO of United
Airlines. When I told him that I was about to board a US Airways
flight, we all had a little fun with it. I remember walking on the
plane and seeing a fellow with grey hair in the cockpit and thinking
"that's a good thing... I like to see grey hair in the cockpit!"
was seated in 8F, on the starboard side window and next to a young
business man. The New York to Charlotte flight is one I've taken what
seems like hundreds of times over the years. We take off north over the
Bronx and as we climb, turn west over the Hudson River to New Jersey
and tack south. I love to fly, always have, and this flight plan gives
a great view of several NY landmarks including Yankee Stadium and the
George Washington Bridge
I had started to point out items of
interest to the gentleman next tome when we heard a terrible crash - a
sound no one ever wants to hear while flying - and then the engines
wound down to a screeching halt.10 seconds later, there was a strong
smell of jet fuel. I knew we would be landing and thought the pilot
would take us down no doubt to Newark Airport . As we began to turn
south I noticed the pilot lining up on the river still - I thought - en
route for Newark. Next thing we heard was "Brace for impact!" - a
phrase I had heard many years before as an active duty Marine Officer
but never before on a commercial air flight. Everyone looked at each
other in shock. It all happened so fast we were astonished! We began to
descend rapidly and it started to sink in. This is the last flight. I'm
going to die today. This is it. I recited my favorite bible verse, the
Lord's Prayer, and asked God to take care of my wife, children, family
and friends. When I raised my head I noticed people texting their
friends and family....getting off a last message. My blackberry was
turned off and in my trouser pocket...no time to get at it. Our descent
continued and I prayed for courage to control my fear and help if able.
quickly realized that one of two things was going to happen, neither of
them good. We could hit by the nose, flip and break up, leaving few if
any survivors, bodies, cold water, fuel. Or we could hit one of the
wings and roll and flip with the same result. I tightened my seat belt
as tight as I could possibly get it so I would remain intact. As
we came in for the landing, I looked out the windows and remember
seeing the buildings in New Jersey , the cliffs inWeehawken , and then
the piers. The water was dark green and sure to be freezing cold. The
stewardesses were yelling in unison "Brace! Brace! Brace!"
was a violent hit - the water flew up over my window - but we bobbed up
and were all amazed that we remained intact. There was some panic -
people jumping over seats and running towards the doors, but we soon
got everyone straightened out and calmed down. There were a lot of
people that took leadership roles in little ways. Those sitting at the
doors over the wing did a fantastic job...they were opened in a New
York second! Everyone worked together - teamed up and in groups
to figure out how to help each other. I exited on the starboard side of
the plane, 3 or 4 rows behind my seat through a door over the wing and
was, I believe, the 10th or 12th person out. I took my seat cushion as
a flotation device and once outside saw I was the only one who
did....none of us remembered to take the yellow inflatable life vests
from under the seat.
We were standing in 6-8 inches of water and
it was freezing. There were two women on the wing, one of whom slipped
off into the water. Another passenger and I pulled her back on and had
her kneel down to keep from falling off again. By that point we were
totally soaked and absolutely frozen from the icy wind. The ferries
were the first to arrive, and although they're not made for rescue,
they did an incredible job. I know this river, having swum in it as a
boy. The Hudson is an estuary - part salt and part fresh water - and
moves with the tide. I could tell the tide was moving out because we
were tacking slowly south towards Ellis Island , The Statue of Liberty,
and The Battery. The first ferry boat pulled its bow up to the tip of
the wing, and the first mate lowered the Jacobs ladder down to us.
got a couple people up the ladder to safety, but the current was strong
pushing the stern of the boat into the inflatable slide and we were
afraid it would puncture it...there must have been 25 passengers in it
by now. Only two or three were able to board the first ferry before it
moved away. Another ferry came up, and we were able to get the woman
that had fallen into the water on the ladder, but she just couldn't
move her legs and fell off. Back onto the ladder she went; however, the
ferry had to back away because of the swift current. A helicopter
arrived on station (nearly blowing us all off the wing) and followed
the ferry with the woman on the ladder. We lost view of the
situation but I believe the helicopter lowered its basket to rescue
her. As more ferries arrived, we were able to get people up on the
boats a few at a time. The fellow in front of me fell off the ladder
and into the water. When we got him back on the ladder he could not
move his legs to climb. I couldn't help him from my position so I
climbed up the ladder to the ferry deck where the first mate and
I hoisted the Jacobs ladder with him on it....when he got close
enough we grabbed histrouser belt and hauled him on deck.. We were all
safely off the wing. We could not stop shaking. Uncontrollable
shaking. The only thing I had with me was my blackberry, which had
gotten wet and was not working. (It started working again a few hours
The ferry took us to the Weehawken Terminal in NJ where
I borrowed a phone and called my wife to let her know I was okay. The
second call I made was to Jenn. I knew she would be worried about me
and could communicate to the rest of the firm that I was fine. At the
terminal, first responders assessed everyone's condition and sent
people to the hospital as needed. As we pulled out of Weehawken my
history kicked in and I recall it was the site of the famous duel
between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804. Thankfully I left
town in better condition than Mr. Hamilton who died of a mortal wound
the next day! I stayed with my sister on Long Island that evening, then
flew home the next day. I am struck by what was truly a miracle. Had
this happened a few hours later, it would have been pitch dark and much
harder to land. Ferries would no longer have been running after rush
hour and it would not have been the same uplifting story. Surely there
would have been fatalities, hypothermia, an absolute disaster! I
witnessed the best of humanity that day. I and everyone on that plane
survived and have been given a second chance. It struck me that in our
work we continuously seek excellence to solve our client's leadership
problems. We talk to clients all the time about the importance of
experience and the ability to execute. Experience showed up big time on
Flight 1549 as our pilot was a dedicated, trained, experienced
professional who executed flawlessly when he had to.
received scores of emails from across the firm and I am so grateful for
the outpouring of interest and concern. We all fly a great deal or work
with someone who does and so I wanted to share this story - the story
of a miracle. I am thankful to be here to tell the tale. There is a
great deal to be learned including: Why has this happened to me? Why
have I survived and what am I supposed to do with this gift? For me,
the answers to these questions and more will come over time, but
already I find myself being more patient and forgiving, less critical
For now I have 4 lessons I would like to share:
1. Cherish your families as never before and go to great lengths to keep your promises.
2. Be thankful and grateful for everything you have and don't worry about the things you don't have.
3. Keep in shape. You never know when you'll be called upon to save your own life, or help someone else save theirs.
When you fly, wear practical clothing. You never know when you'll end
up in an emergency or on an icy wing in flip flops and pajamas
and of absolutely no use to yourself or anyone else.
And I'd like to add: Fly with grey haired Captains
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
I've now received comments on all chapters of the forensics book by all
tech reviewers, so I'll spend some time today getting all of those
comments/corrections incorporated in the manuscript chapters. At that
point, the book will be in O'Reilly's hands. It feels good to put the
ball in their court, finally.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
- Ars Technica has an interesting article posted about getting more kids interested in careers in science.
Throwing more money at the problem isn't the solution, but then we
already knew that. The trick, it seems, is to get kids hooked up with
working scientists who can mentor those kids. As my regular readers
know, that's something I've been pushing for a long time.
obvious goal is to turn on kids to science in the hope that they'll
eventually decide to become scientists. That's important, so much so
that it's difficult to overstate. But there's a less obvious goal as
well. If only 1% of the kids who read my books and other writing decide
to become working scientists, I'll be content. But the other 99%
are just as important, if not more so. It's true that we need a new
crop of scientists, but realistically we need only a small
percentage of kids to choose careers in science. But it's critically
important that the 99% of kids who choose not to become scientists
still have a basic understanding of science and an appreciation for it,
because those kids are tomorrow's voters and opinion leaders.
its root, science isn't really about lab benches and test tubes and
spectrometers. It's a structured, rational way of thinking and of
gaining knowledge by observation, by far the most powerful way
developed by humanity over its history. By teaching kids to think
scientifically, even for routine day-to-day life decisions, we do them
and society an immeasurably great favor. That, to me, is what science
mentoring is really all about.
Thursday, 19 February 2009
- I see that our new attorney general declares that we are a "nation of cowards"
when it comes to talking about race. From the perspective of whites, at
least, to the extent that's true, it's a matter of the pot calling the
kettle black. If we're cowards, it's because the government, the media,
and racist self-nominated black "leaders" like Jesse Jackson, Al
Sharpton, and Jeremiah Wright have done everything within their power
to make us so. All whites know that speaking frankly about race
issues risks being tarred with the racist brush.
Pournelle, for example, often mentions growing up in the Old South,
before, during, and just after World War II. As a young man, he was
accused of being radical, a communist, or worse, simply for stating his
belief that the government should be colorblind and treat everyone
equally. Jerry's position hasn't changed, but nowadays some people call
him a racist for expressing it. Imagine that. Somehow, the idea that
the government should treat everyone equally has become a racist belief.
have never understood why some white people hate all black people and
vice versa. I suspect that's in large part a result of my early
upbringing in New Castle, Pennsylvania. My brother was born two weeks
before my second birthday. At about the same time, my parents moved out
of my maternal grandmother's house and into their first house. Things
must have been overwhelming for my mother, with a 2-year-old, a new
baby, and a new house. My mom and dad hired a woman to help my mom
several mornings a week. Her name was Florida, and she was black. At
two years old, of course, I didn't realize that Florida was my parents'
employee. To me, she was just a second mother. She wasn't with us long,
a few months perhaps, but that early experience taught me that skin
color doesn't matter.
Our neighborhood was all white, and there
were no black kids in my elementary school, but I had plenty of
positive exposure to black people during those early years anyway. My
junior high school was fully integrated, as was my high school. I
had black friends, or at least close acquaintances, in junior and
senior high school. Those were the 60's, when race riots were taking
place elsewhere, but New Castle was quiet. In college and grad school,
I dated a couple of black girls, who were just as wonderful as the
white girls and one Asian girl I dated.
In short, I think it's a
question of exposure. White people who hate black people, and vice
versa, haven't been exposed enough to people of other races to know
them as people. That may be changing, though, and it may be a good
outcome from forced integration. Jasmine, for example, tells me
that race isn't an issue for her and the other kids in her high school.
Jas is as likely to have white friends as black, and none of their
friends would give it a second thought if Jas started dating a white
guy. So perhaps we'll see an end to true racism with Jasmine's
I'm still working on the March homechemlab subscriber supplement, which
is almost complete. This one contains two lab sessions. The first is
about purifying aspirin tablets to pure acetylsalicylic acid. The
second includes doing several interesting organic syntheses from that
purified ASA, including synthesizing salicylic acid from the ASA,
phenol from the salicylic acid, and phenolphthalein from the phenol. I
should have that complete by this afternoon, after which I start
working on a proposal for my next project for O'Reilly/MAKE.
going to take some time off work this weekend to get things finished up
in the kitchen. Barbara has shown great patience, but it's time to get
the few remaining tasks completed. I also need to spend a couple of
hours getting my lab cleaned up and back into shape, and
we'll probably make a Costco run sometime this weekend.
- Barbara pointed out an interesting article in this morning's newspaper about UNC's Destiny Bus, a science roadshow that visited a local high school.
This time, the Destiny Bus was set up to give biology students a chance
to spend 90 minutes doing hands-on DNA gel electrophoresis.
Predictably, combining a hot-button topic like forensics with the
chance to actually do it rather than just hearing about it, reading
about it, or watching it being done turned on a lot of these kids to
Eric Brown, the operations manager of Destiny Bus, commented:
always hear some kid say, ask their teacher, ‘Why can't we do this all
the time?' so they really enjoy it, working with all the equipment that
scientists actually use," Brown said. "We need to get the kids
interested in science and math because that's going to be their future."
Which raises an obvious question. Why do these kids have to wait
for a bus to pull up in the school parking lot to have a chance to do
this kind of stuff? Every kid in every 9th or 10th grade biology class
should have a chance to do hands-on DNA gel electrophoresis, along with
dozens of other fascinating experiments. It pays big dividends. Here's
what sophomore Michael Lynn had to say:
I'm not really a big science person, never been," Lynn said. "It kind
of opened my eyes, like I said. I'm not much of a science person so
it's not normally something I'm interested in, but today kind of
changed my mind."
Multiply that by the millions of
kids who should be doing hands-on science every day. The potential is
obvious, as is the fact that we're now ignoring that potential. Not
every kid who's exposed to hands-on science will choose science as a
career, obviously, but a very large percentage of them will develop an
appreciation for science and what it can do.
I could almost
forgive No Child Left Behind, almost, if instead of focusing solely on
reading and math it added science to the mix. These kids are the
future, and how that future turns out will be determined largely by how
many of our brightest kids we can interested in STEM
(Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics). The Destiny Bus is a
great start, but we need to do much, much more.
Saturday, 21 February
There was a front-page article in the paper this morning about the
widespread anger at the housing bailout. So much so that it doesn't
bode well for the Democrats in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
of us, a large majority, who behaved responsibly deeply resent being
taxed to bail out people who behaved irresponsibly. Having money
extracted from us and given to people who are in danger of losing their
homes because they've lost their jobs is bad enough. Having money
extracted from us and given to people who are about to lose homes they
couldn't afford in the first place is much worse. We have to pay not
just our own mortgages, but the mortgages of people who "bought" more
expensive homes than our own, giving them taxpayer-funded welfare
to allow them to live in better houses than our own. One
could be forgiven for wanting to burn down these houses with those
leeches still in them.
But having money extracted from us and
given to people who are in no danger of losing their houses, but merely
owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth is reason to
storm Congress with torches and pitchforks. There isn't a word to
communicate the level of outrage this deserves. Someone, for example,
who owes $600,000 on a home that is now worth only $450,000 will have
that loan written down to $450,000, at taxpayer expense.
about our house? Barbara and I have paid off our mortgage, and our
house is now worth less than it was. Why shouldn't we also be paid for
that loss? What about our many friends who have paid down their
mortgages for years, and now owe less than their homes are worth, even
at current market values? Why shouldn't they also be paid for their
The world is now upside down. People who behaved
responsibly are being penalized, taxed to make what amount to direct
transfers from their bank accounts into the bank accounts of people who
behaved irresponsibly. And all thanks to our politicians. Voting them
out of office isn't enough. Hanging is too good for them.
- This video is pretty cool. An atheist stand-up comic does his thing in church.
It's in Swedish, but with English subtitles. Of course, from what I've
read, the minority of Swedes who attend church are about as likely to
be atheists as Americans who do not attend church.
interesting thing for me was that as I was reading the subtitles I
realized that I kind of understood what he was saying. Not entirely,
but many words and phrases were intelligible to me, I guess because
many years ago I kind of spoke German. Well, read it, actually. If you
were a chemist in the early 1970's, you really had no choice but to
learn at least enough German to read Beilstein and the other primary
sources, most of which were available only in German.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by