Week of 29 June 2009
Update: Friday, 3 July 2009 09:41 -0500
- We've been watching mostly forensics mystery series lately. Well, that and the 1997 version of Ivanhoe. We've made it through several Inspector Alleyn mysteries and Commander Dalgliesh mysteries, all three available seasons of Bones, and the 2004 version of the Canadian Murdoch Mysteries. Right now, we're working our way through the 2008 version of the Murdoch Mysteries series and series one of Crossing Jordan.
Of the modern series, the best are the 2004 Murdoch Mysteries, which did an excellent job in every respect, including getting the science right for the time, and Crossing Jordan,
which occasionally ventures into fantasy-land, but generally keeps
the science (and the roles of the various specialists) reasonably
accurate. Jordan does a lot more field work than a real medical
examiner, but at least there's some justification for it in the sense
that in many jurisdictions a medical examiner does have very
broad powers to investigate as he or she sees fit. Crossing Jordan
is also well-written, -produced, and -acted, with good music. The one
bad decision on the part of the producers was the regular role-playing
gimmick that takes place in every episode, where Jordan acts out the
crime with her father, a retired policeman. That's an annoying waste of air time,
and I understand they discontinued that gimmick after series two.
is entertaining, but I'd class it more as a science fiction program
than a forensics comedy/drama. The science and technology generally
treads the line between far-fetched and completely bogus, and
it gets worse as the series goes on. The roles of the various
specialists are ridiculously broad. For example, Brennan doesn't
restrict herself to her area of expertise, forensic anthropology.
Instead, she's constantly out in the field, working as the partner of
an FBI agent (yeah, right), and performing the roles of several
specialists, including those of a medical examiner
and forensic pathologist, trace evidence specialist, and so on.
She also sometimes carries a gun, and is apparently a master of several
martial arts. What saves the program are the high production values,
good writing and acting, and the general likability of the cast.
The 2008 version of the Murdoch Mysteries
is pretty bad. They obviously threw a lot of money at it, but the best
you can say is that it has high production values. The writing and
acting are indifferent at best, and the plots are so obvious you can
see the end coming from a mile away. The science is ridiculously
anachronistic. Here it is 1895, for example, and we have the lead
character discussing television with Nicola Tesla and later actually
transmitting and receiving voices over radio waves, full-duplex yet.
This at a time when spark-gap transmitters were state-of-the-art and
even CW telegraphy was years in the future.
If they have any
technical advisers, they need to fire all of them and start over. One
of my favorite clangers was the episode whose plot depended on whether
the chief suspect would have known enough to modify a pistol cartridge
into a squib load by removing some of the propellant, and how loud that
reduced load would have been. The trouble is, the firearm they were
talking about was a derringer, most likely the ubiquitous
Remington derringer in .41 rimfire. I fired one of those once,
probably 40 years ago. The recoil was surprisingly light.
least I was surprised at the light recoil until I realized that I could
actually watch the bullet flying down range. Not just glimpse it in
flight, you understand. Actually watch it from the time it left the
muzzle until it impacted the target. The muzzle velocity of this round
something like 400 feet/second in the standard loading (less than half
the muzzle velocity of a .45 ACP or a .44 Special). If you removed any
propellant from that cartridge, the bullet might not even make it out
of the barrel. The Remington derringer was designed as a hold-out gun.
You used it only in desperate situations. Ideally, you
pressed the muzzle directly against the person's head before you pulled
the trigger. Even then, I suspect that sometimes a thick-skulled
shootee ended up merely with a bad headache. The bullet from a .41
rimfire had so little penetrating
ability that at cross-the-room distances it was often
stopped by objects like a pocket watch, a deck of playing
cards, or a leather belt. It would probably be more effective to throw
an ashtray or a beer mug at your target, literally. And you'd
probably be more likely to hit the target.
Every episode we've watched so far has similar clangers. Barbara likes
the series, and points out that because she doesn't know much about the
history of science and technology in the 19th century she doesn't notice the
- I've thought for years that the medical establishment's definition of "normal" weight was much too low. This study confirms it. FTA:
study examined the relationship between body mass index and death among
11,326 adults in Canada over a 12-year period. (BMI uses height and
weight to estimate body fat.) Researchers found that underweight people
had the highest risk of dying, and the extremely obese had the second
highest risk. Overweight people had a lower risk of dying than those of
In other words, using morbidity and
mortality as the yardstick, those currently defined as "normal"
are actually underweight, and those currently defined as
"overweight" are actually normal weight.
currently evaluating wholesale laboratory equipment suppliers, which
sometimes requires having them send me samples to look at. For example,
in glassware, I'm familiar with many of the brand names. Pyrex and
Kimax are the good stuff, but are very expensive. A Pyrex- or
Kimax-branded beaker or flask, for example, sells for two or
three times the price of a Bomex (Chinese) or Borosil (Indian)
equivalent. Bomex and Borosil are widely available from many vendors,
but there are also private-label brands, such as Premiere, which
is a house brand of one of the big wholesale vendors.
familiar with Bomex and Borosil, but I'd never seen any
Premiere-branded glassware, so I asked the vendor to send me a sample.
I examined it under normal light, and was impressed by its quality. I
also examined it under polarized light, and found no obvious annealing
flaws. I showed the sample to Paul Jones and Mary Chervenak the other
day and asked for their professional opinions. They agreed that it
appeared to be perfectly acceptable. Paul summed up the likely
difference. If you subject 100 Pyrex or Kimax beakers to strong heat,
he said, one of them might crack. If you subjected 100 of these
Premiere beakers to the same strong heat, maybe two of them would crack.
at this point, I'm going to treat Bomex, Borosil, and Premiere as
interchangeable. Their much lower cost means that we'll be able to sell
a small beaker for around $2.50, versus maybe $6 or $7 for the same
beaker in Pyrex or Kimax.
Then there are rubber stoppers. One
can still buy US-made rubber stoppers, but the prices are very high. A
one-pound assortment of US-made stoppers typically sells for $50 or
more, versus maybe $10 or $15 for a one-pound assortment of Chinese
stoppers. But what's in an assortment is anyone's guess, so I asked a
couple of the wholesale vendors to send me samples of their one-pound
assortments. Here's the actual stopper count from a sample I received
7 - #0 solid
7 - #0 1-hole
6 - #2 solid
5 - #2 1-hole
6 - #2 2-hole
5 - #3 solid
6 - #3 1-hole
7 - #7 1-hole
#00, #1, #4, #5, or #6 stoppers in any style. No #3 2-hole stoppers. No
solid or 2-hole stoppers. And more #7 1-hole stoppers--making up more
than half the mass of the one-pound assortment--than anyone is likely
need. If I ordered that one-pound assortment, I'd be pretty upset when
I opened the package. Let's hope the other vendor's assortment is more,
well, assorted. Something like the assortment I'd have made, which also
totals one pound.
6 - #000, solid
2 - #00, 1-hole
2 - #00, 2-hole
6 - #00, solid
2 - #0, 1-hole
2 - #0, 2-hole
4 - #0, solid
1 - #1, 1-hole
1 - #1, 2-hole
2 - #1, solid
1 - #2, 1-hole
1 - #2, 2-hole
2 - #2, solid
1 - #3, 1-hole
1 - #3, 2-hole
2 - #3, solid
1 - #4, 1-hole
1 - #4, 2-hole
2 - #4, solid
1 - #5, 1-hole
1 - #5, 2-hole
1 - #5, solid
1 - #6, 1-hole
1 - #6, 2-hole
1 - #6, solid
- No post.
- No post.
I've been remiss in posting here, and I'm starting to get lots of email
from people who wonder if I've disappeared off the face of the earth.
I'm still here, just very busy. I just finished cleaning my inbox,
which, despite the fact that I'd been processing email as it arrived,
still had 192 "real" emails in it from the last week. Real, as in the
sense of items that I had to read and often that I had to do something
about. My inbox has only one item in it right now, about my having to
set up a conference call for next week and set up agenda items for the
As to why I've been covered up, the good news is that we now have (or
soon will have) more than 300 SKUs on order for the forthcoming Science
Room section of Maker Shed (about 160 lab equipment SKUs and about 160
chemical SKUs), with more to come. I'm breaking up and repurposing the
home chem lab book into individual web articles, basically one per lab
session, and doing the same for the forensics book. Scripting/shooting
a bunch of videos. My to-do list looks ridiculous. I have multiple
major projects consolidated as single to-do line items, e.g. "write
biology, earth science, and physics lab books". I've also got a lot of
blue-sky stuff on my to-do list, including stuff like
scripting/shooting a full first-year high school chemistry lecture
series on video.
One of the very nice things about working with
the MAKE crew is that team members are quick to take ownership of jobs
that need to be done, but there's no sense of territoriality from any
of the team. There's a picture of me next to the phrase "loose cannon"
in the dictionary, so I worried about stepping on people's toes, but
there are no worries about that. When I mentioned to Dan Woods (the
head guy) during a conference call the other day with the other team
members that I tended just to do stuff that needed to be done instead
of waiting for things to go through channels, everyone cheered. They'd
rather get things rolling and worry later about who's supposed to be in
charge of what instead of getting all the i's dotted ahead of time.
It's really refreshing.
And, as long as you have good people,
distributing decision-making authority far down the pyramid is the way
to get things done. I'll never forget when I was back in college
spending an afternoon talking with a guy about my dad's age who'd been
a junior officer in the Waffen SS during WWII. He'd fought with the 1st
SS LSSAH division against the Russians on the Eastern Front, and
commented that the only reason the Germans had stood as long as they
did against the Red Army hordes was that the Germans were much
more flexible. He said that he, as a freshly commissioned lieutenant,
was authorized to make on-the-spot decisions that would have had to
have been bumped up to a colonel or even a general in the Red Army.
Then, after D-Day, when the 1st SS Panzer Division was moved to the
Western Front, he came up against the US army, and was stunned to find
that American NCOs and even privates were making decisions that he as a
captain was not authorized to make.
yeah. For my later reference as much as anything else, here's the other
vendor's 1-pound stopper assortment. Not as varied as I'd like, but
still a lot better than the first one.
5 - #1, 1-hole
6 - #1, solid
5 - #2, solid
5 - #3, solid
5 - #4, 1-hole
4 - #5, solid
5 - #5.5, 1-hole
2 - #6, 2-hole
2 - #6, solid
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by