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Week of 6 July 2009


Latest Update: Friday, 10 July 2009 08:55 -0500

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Monday, 6 July 2009
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08:54 - Barbara took Thursday and Friday off for a four-day weekend. She spent most of it catching up on stuff that needed to be done around the house and yard, along with some time relaxing. FedEx showed up Friday with samples of the first three kits we've put together for the Maker Shed Science Room, including a basic laboratory equipment kit, a latent fingerprint kit, and a kit for detecting lead in paint and other household items. I shot product illustration images of those and played around with them a bit.

Barbara had announced months ago that we were going to do a full cleanup of my office over the July 4th weekend. We did that yesterday. It took less time and was less disruptive than I'd feared.

My secondary desk, which is also my microscopy workstation area, was covered up in catalogs and printouts. As we were cleaning that up, I mentioned that I needed to put a desk lamp there. Barbara offered me the desk lamp from her office desk, which she said she'd never liked. She also offered me the cubbyhole organizer that had lived on her desk for several years, and which I'd always coveted. It's the perfect place to store all of the small items needed for microscopy--slides and coverslips, forceps, scissors, and probes, stains and mounting fluids, staining jar, Petri dishes, disposable pipettes, microtome, filters, etc. The list goes on and on.


So now I'm set up pretty well. I think I'll remove that center drawer and cut the crosspiece to open up the center well. I also need to add a high-intensity desk lamp to illuminate specimens from above. Otherwise, I'm good to go.



10:48 - Here's something that may turn out to be huge. A new research study suggests that taking a daily dose of caffeine may slow or even reverse the progress of Alzheimer's. It's been known for a long time that consuming caffeine beverages improves productivity in tasks that require mental acuity. (Similarly, it's also been known that smoking improves mental acuity and productivity, but that's too politically incorrect for anyone to acknowledge nowadays.) But this study suggests that consuming caffeine regularly may actually reverse the physical changes in the brain that cause Alzheimer's disease.

So far, the data are limited to rats, but the researchers hope to start human trials as soon as possible. If this pans out, it's great news for humanity. Bad news for the drug companies, of course, not to mention caffeine-free beverages. The dosage studied was the human equivalent of about 500 mg of caffeine per day, which the article equates to three large cups of coffee. That'd have to be hellaciously strong coffee, though. My typical consumption of one 2-litre bottle of Coke per day equates to only about 191 mg of caffeine. I don't think I'm up to drinking two-and-a-half 2-litre bottles of Coke per day, so I may have to start taking a 250 mg caffeine tablet every morning.


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Tuesday, 7 July 2009
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09:26 - Someone asked about the product illustration shots I mentioned. I need a sample of each kit anyway, for shooting videos, so it made sense for me to shoot the product illustration shots. I'm not really set up for that. Here's an example shot of the Basic Laboratory Equipment Kit. I shot it with one of our Pentax DSLRs on our kitchen table, using two goose-neck desk lamps for illumination and a blanket as the background.


As usual in a production illustration shot, having both flat objects and tall object leads to composition and perspective problems. I'd prefer to have a full studio, and I really wish I had my old view camera with its full movements, not to mention some light boxes, background stands, and so on, but, all of that said, I'm satisfied with how it turned out.


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Wednesday, 8 July 2009
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10:18 - My to-do list is hideous, but I'm having great fun getting all this stuff done.

I just finished specifying orders for chemicals, indicators, and stains. There are 159 SKUs, totaling about 150 different chemicals. (There's some duplication; for example, we'll carry 25 g and 100 g bottles of sodium hydroxide under different SKUs.) All of these chemicals will be available individually, but many will also be included in one or more kits.

For example, I've just put together a bill of materials and kitting instructions for a microscope staining kit. Among other things, it includes bottles of acetone, eosin Y stain, Gram's iodine stain, Hucker's crystal violet stain, methanol, methylene blue stain, safranin O stain, Sudan III stain, and Wright's blood stain, all of which are individual SKUs.

One of things I dislike about most such kits is that the vendor often doesn't offer individual kit items separately. So, for example, if I run out of methanol, they want me to order a whole new kit instead of just the methanol. We won't play that game. Nearly all of the SKUs that make up each kit will also be available individually. Of course, it's cheaper to buy the kit rather than the individual items if you need most or all of what's in the kit. Otherwise, it's like building a car by ordering the parts individually.

Oh, and O'Reilly just sent me a loaner Macbook with iMovie on it so I can play around with video editing the Mac way. If this ends up being easier and/or faster than doing it with Linux, I'll buy myself a Mac. I'm not religious about operating systems. I suspect there may be a Mac Mini with the iLife suite in my future. The Mac Mini isn't fast, but it should be enough to do the job.


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Thursday, 9 July 2009
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08:08 - Mary Chervenak stopped by yesterday after dinner to have me do a couple of things to her personal notebook system. Mary is deathly allergic to dogs, so as usual we sat out on the front porch. As we were sitting there talking, I saw Jasmine walking Missie, so I waved Jas over. I've been trying to get Jasmine and Mary together for a couple of years, but their busy schedules always prevented it from happening.

So now they've met, and they seem to get along very well. After Jas left, Mary said she was very impressed with Jas and asked me to get Jas's email address for her. Mary seems more than willing to mentor Jas. Jas is a smart girl. She'll be starting 11th grade next month, and college not all that long after. Nowadays, it's never too early to begin building up one's list of contacts. As a working scientist, Mary is an excellent role model for Jas, and the two of them appear to genuinely like each other.



Blast from the past. While surfing the web, Barbara found this photograph of herself, taken in the Forsyth County Public Library stacks back in 1980, when she was 25 years old, a year or so before we met and three years before we married.





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Friday, 10 July 2009
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08:55 - FedEx showed up yesterday with a loaner Mac Book notebook from O'Reilly. I haven't fired it up yet, but this weekend I plan to pull in some raw .dv video files from my camcorder and play around with them. From looking at the iMovie pages on the Apple site, it looks like I'll be able to do exactly what I need to do and do it easily and quickly. I'm not interested in the special effects or any of that stuff, just simple editing and perhaps adding some titles. If this works out as well as I hope, I'll buy a Mac Mini and dedicate it to video editing.

Speaking of which, I was going to ask the Mac experts among my readership if the $599 Mac Mini was sufficient for light video editing, but after looking at the specs I can't imagine that it's not. The Core 2 Duo processor should be more than adequate. The standard memory is only 1 GB, but that can be expanded inexpensively to 4 GB by pulling the installed 1 GB memory module and installing a couple of 2 GB SODIMMs. (I will, of course, keep the original Apple memory module in case I need to return the system under warranty.) The basic hard drive is only a 120 GB 5,400 RPM model, but that should be fine, particularly if I use an external hard drive. The one thing that really concerns me is the reliability of the nVIDIA 9400M video chipset. It concerns me enough that I'm considering buying the Apple Care warranty extension to three years.

This will be my last significant post for at least a month and probably six weeks. I have a ton of work to get done, and not much time to do it. In the next 30 days, I need to rewrite at least 50 lab sessions from the home chemistry and home forensics books as web articles. I also have to write descriptions for about 325 individual items, from glassware to chemicals, that will be offered by Maker Shed. Add to that shooting and editing at least a few videos, not to mention all the other administrative stuff I need to keep on top of, and I'll be very busy from now until at least Labor Day. I'll continue putting up new weekly pages here and making occasional posts, but it's going to be sporadic and light.


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Saturday, 11 July 2009
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Sunday, 12 July 2009
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.