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Week of 10 August 2009


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Monday, 10 August 2009
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08:35 - One week left until the Make: Science Room launch. I plan to spend most of it scripting, shooting, and editing videos. My goal is to get half a dozen finished, but of course I don't yet know what's involved. I have a loaner Macbook with iMovie on it, and I'm assuming the process will be pretty straight-forward. Kip Kay, who does professional video production for O'Reilly/MAKE, is putting together polished lead-in and trailer segments for the video series. The material sandwiched between those will all be my quick-and-dirty stuff.

I've mined the materials in the home chemistry and home forensics books to produce about 100 articles for the initial content that'll be available in the Science Room at launch or shortly thereafter. There'll be more chemistry and forensics stuff posted going forward, as well as articles on biology, physics, earth science, and so on, along with related videos. It'll take some time for us to achieve critical mass, but our goal is to become the go-to place for home science, both for DIY science enthusiasts and for home schoolers. Once we get the basics filled out, we'll be exploring some real cutting-edge stuff. I can't wait to see Barbara's reaction when I tell her I'll be doing recombinant DNA in the basement.



10:13 - CNN reports on a new study: Your family dog may be smarter than your toddler. Well, duh.

I've lived with Border Collies for 50 years now, and I can tell you that they are frighteningly intelligent. The article lists the Border Collie as the smartest dog breed, which has long been the concensus. Poodles are smart dogs, certainly, but Border Collies are simply in a different class. They have judgement, and are capable of working independently of human supervision.

I'll never forget our first Border Collie, Abby, whom my mother named for the advice columnist Abigail Van Buren. Our yard wasn't fenced. It didn't need to be. Abby had taught herself at a very young age that she wasn't allowed to leave the yard without permission. If my mother walked across the street to visit our neighbor, Abby would follow her as far as the curb, where she'd stand poised with all four paws on the curb. She wouldn't step out into the street to follow my mother unless my mother told her it was okay. Abby simply never violated that self-imposed rule.

Until one day she spotted a toddler whose family lived three houses down the street from us, heading for the street. Abby took off at a dead run, and used her body to block the little girl from getting out into the street. I happened to be out in the front yard at the time. I was shocked when I saw Abby take off running, until I saw the reason for it. By the time I and the little girl's mother arrived on the scene, the little girl was crying in frustration because every time she tried to get around Abby, Abby would move to block her. The mother praised Abby profusely, scooped up the little girl and took her into the house, and returned shortly with a chunk of hamburger for Abby. When we got back to our front yard, Abby seemed embarrassed that she'd violated her self-imposed rule. I sat down with her and told her that she had good judgement and that in future she shouldn't hesitate to exercise it.

Over the last 50 years, that's the level of intelligence and independent judgement that I've come to expect from Border Collies.




13:45 - So, I'm trying to record the lead-in and trailer segments for the video on the lead-testing kit.

I get about 95% through the intro, word perfect. No stumbles. Everything is great. The phone rings. Crap. Credit card services telephone spam. So, I start over. Again I get most of the way through the intro, winging right along, when someone rings the doorbell and the dogs start barking. They're Jehovah's Witnesses, so I tell the dogs to kill and eat them. I start over, and get most of the way through when my computer boops to say it's time to go over and pick up the newspaper and mail for friends who are out of town. Crap.

Maybe the fourth time will be a charm, so I start over. Hah! It goes perfectly. Absolutely smooth, no stumbles. It's a take. Then I notice that the pilot light on the receiver for my wireless mike is not lit. Dead battery. No audio. Why is nothing ever easy?


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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
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08:45 - I'm going to do talking-head intro and trailer segments for each video, using the microscopy desk in my office as the background. The intro segments will vary in length, from maybe 30 to 45 seconds up to a couple of minutes, depending on the topic of the video. I can memorize 30 to 45 seconds of text at a glance, but I decided it made sense to read the longer intro segments rather than try to do them extemporaneously.

So I just built a no-tech teleprompter, using a large sheet of cardboard and some duct tape. I poked a hole through the center of the cardboard large enough for the camcorder lens to protrude, set the tripod so that two legs are toward me, and duct-taped the cardboard to the tripod legs at the bottom and leaning against the camcorder in the center. I have room for six letter-size sheets of paper, which I'll print in 24- or 36-point. We'll see how this works.


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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
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09:11 - Barbara just left with her friend Bonnie for a few days away from it all. They don't have a planned itinerary. They're simply going to drive around exploring, staying overnight wherever they end up at the end of each day. Malcolm and I tried to convince them to take him along, but we failed. So it's just me and the dogs for the next few days. That, and wild women and parties. The trouble is, I don't know any wild women. If you're a wild woman, please email me.

Hmmm. I just caught Malcolm on Barbara's computer, browsing through the images at NakedBorderCollieBitches.com.


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Thursday, 13 August 2009
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10:29 - Boy, am I glad I don't live in Tulsa. The Deep South is usually considered the Bible Belt, but in terms of fundamentalist Christian nuttery Oklahoma gives up nothing to South Carolina or Louisiana. Perhaps Ken Ham, who apparently believes the Flintstones was an historical documentary, should open his second Creation "Museum" there. (For some reason, I can't help reading its address, 2800 Bullittsburg Church Rd., as 2800 Bullshitburg Church Rd.).

Not that we don't have plenty of fundamentalist nutters right here in Winston-Salem. I pass some of their houses every time I walk the dogs. Barbara and I actually had a conversation with one the other day while we were walking the dogs. She lives on our street. Her husband is just finishing med school and hoping to get an oncology residency at Wake Forest University's Baptist Hospital. She's homeschooling her several kids. She's a nice woman, and she seems perfectly rational. Until she starts talking about evolution being wrong, and how she teaches her kids from a "Christian perspective". The worst of it is, she thinks what she's doing is a Good Thing.

I pity those children, who will spend their school years being brainwashed. No doubt, they'll attend a fundamentalist Christian college, which is the same as not attending college at all. As the United Negro College Fund put it, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Or, as Dan Quayle put it, even more pungently, "It's a terrible thing to lose your mind." And that's exactly what's happening to these kids.


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Friday, 14 August 2009
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08:42 - Wednesday and Thursday, I was afraid Duncan was going to die. He turned 14 years old the first of this year. That's old for a Border Collie, particularly one of his size.

The real problems actually started Tuesday, before Barbara left. He was extremely sluggish and not able to stand up at all. If I held up his back end, his front legs would collapse. Wednesday, he'd lost all interest in everything. I couldn't get him to eat, even treats. Worse, I couldn't get him to drink. He went without drinking all day Wednesday and most of yesterday. I was convinced the end was near, and just hoping he could hang on until Barbara gets home tomorrow afternoon.

Yesterday afternoon, things started to look up a bit. He got several good long drinks, and ate several treats. He was able to stand up out in the yard long enough to pee. Lately, we've been giving Duncan a quarter tablet of acepromazine, a tranquilizer, just before bedtime so that we could get some sleep. The prescription says to give him 1 or 2 of the 25 mg tablets every 8 to 12 hours, but a quarter tablet knocks him loopy, so we don't use more than that. Given how sluggish he's been, I didn't give him any acepromazine Wednesday night or last night. He slept through the night Wednesday. In fact, he was so hard to wake on Thursday morning that I really thought he had died during the night.

Last night was a different story. He woke me up several times, the first two or three wanting water. He drank quite a bit through the night. Then, around 0500, he started stomping and panting loudly. I offered him water, but that wasn't what he wanted. Around 0600, I finally gave up trying to sleep and took him outside. He didn't want to pee, so I just hitched him to the rope and left him with water. Around 0700, I took Malcolm for a short walk. Duncan was drinking when we left, and still drinking when we returned.

At any rate, he's doing a lot better than he was, and I'm no longer concerned that when Barbara returns and counts the dogs she'll come up one short. I confess that it's a bit wearing carrying Duncan into the house and out to the front yard. He used to weigh 75 pounds, with no fat on him (he's a good three to four inches taller at the shoulder than the average male Border Collie). He's down to probably 55 to 60 pounds now, but I'm not as young as I used to be. It'd be one thing if he'd just let me pick him up and carry him. But he doesn't like to be picked up, probably a dominance thing. Every time I pick him up, he tries to bite my head or face. I've mastered tucking my head into his shoulder so that his fangs can't reach my head or face, but it's not for lack of trying on his part. He's always been Barbara's dog. He doesn't like me. He even said once, "Bob, I just don't like you."



I posted this on the messageboard yesterday, in response to a comment about global warming.

The interesting thing about AGW is that the left, including leftie scientists, take it as a given, putting it in the same class as, say, evolution. In reality, there's no such certainty.

If you ask biologists about evolution, about 100.0% of real biologists will tell you that evolution is true. It's a done deal. It's supported by overwhelming evidence accumulated over the last 150 years. It's predictive. Darwin, for example, knew little or nothing about genetics and nothing about DNA, but everything about genetics and DNA supports evolution theory. If you ask chemists or physicists or geologists about evolution, about 99.9% of them will tell you that evolution is true. There's simply no doubt about it, and no serious debate. It's as certain as anything in science can be. It's as certain as, say, atomic theory or gravitational theory.

Are some details about evolution still uncertain? Sure, and scientists will continue to attempt to resolve them. But these are nits and have absolutely no effect on the validity of evolution theory in general. That's the real problem that the creationist nutters have. To them, if even one single thing in their bible is falsified, the whole thing is falsified. That's true, of course. But what they don't understand, or refuse to understand, is that science doesn't work that way. A theory is the best available framework to explain observed data. If one thing turns out to be wrong, that doesn't invalidate the theory. It simply means that we need to learn more about that particular aspect of the theory. But creationists don't understand that, so they keep making pathetic attempts to falsify the tiniest parts of evolutionary theory, convinced that if they can do so (they haven't had much success, because about 0.00% of scientists are creationists, and it's very difficult to criticize successfully something about which one knows nothing) they will invalidate evolutionary theory. What they don't understand is that to invalidate evolutionary theory, they'll need to propose a better theory, one that takes into account all of the observed data gained by hundreds of thousands of scientists over the last 150 years in millions of experiments. Good luck with that.

Then ask scientists about AGW. You'll find that about 5 out of 6 agree that AGW is true. To a non-scientist, that may seem to be consensus, but to a scientist it means that AGW has by no means achieved a consensus. In particular, when we have scientists like Freeman Dyson, probably the greatest living scientist, expressing doubts, not to mention many respected climate scientists and even national climate bodies refusing to accept the AGW hypothesis, that means AGW is not yet a theory, but merely a hypothesis that is being challenged and may well fail.



09:44 -
Speaking of the Creation "Museum", thanks to PZ for linking to a site that makes visiting that "Museum" unnecessary. With a trip to Wal*Mart and $30, you can have your own Creation "Museum". Here's the proof.


Admittedly, there's one logical inconsistency in this Garden of Eden image. I'll leave it to all of you to figure it out. Of course, just one logical inconsistency makes this worlds better than either the bible or the Creation "Museum".

And here's Noah's Ark, which set sail in 2348 BC for a three-hour tour. Oh, wait. That was Gilligan's Island. Same difference, I guess. They're both bad fiction.


I love this image, but it raises a lot of questions. Weren't the lions supposed to wait before they go forth and multiply? And what exactly is that monkey doing with the chainsaw. Why is Mrs. Noah bogarting the booze? And what is that apatosaurus in the bow doing with Mr. Noah?

At any rate, if you had any thought of visiting the Creation "Museum", now you don't have to. For $30 and a trip to Wal*Mart, you can get the complete experience and all of the learning.


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Saturday, 15 August 2009
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07:51 - Well, it took more than three months, but Netflix has finally started to throttle me. When I checked my queue this morning, I found that they'd received the two discs I returned yesterday, but instead of the two open slots showing "We expect to ship your next available movie today", they both say, "We expect to ship your next available movie on Monday."

I really can't complain. I've been averaging between 24 and 25 discs a month since I rejoined. Still, I'll return those two discs they send me Monday in separate envelopes, just to let them know I'm aware of what they're doing. They cost me two rental days; I cost them an extra return postage. I'll bet they stop throttling.



Duncan had another bad night. I didn't give him a tranquilizer before bed because they knock him down so far. I was hoping he'd sleep through the night, but he woke up about 0345 and started thrashing and stomping. I gave him a drink, which settled him until about 0430, when he started thrashing and stomping again. I put a pillow over my head and tried to get back to sleep, but each time as I drifted off he'd start thrashing and stomping again. We finally got up about 0615 and I put him on the rope in the front yard.

I finally did get Duncan to eat a bit at dinner time yesterday. I mixed a cup of his dry dog food with most of a can of chunky steak and potato soup to tempt him. He had trouble eating it because it was so gloppy, so I got one of Barbara's large silicone cooking spoons and hand-fed him, spoonful by spoonful. He's still very weak. He can't make the step up or down from the front porch, so I have to carry him in and out. At least he's drinking pretty well again.

Barbara is due back this afternoon, so perhaps that'll boost Duncan's spirits.



For various reasons, all of them good, we've delayed the launch of the Make: Science Room by one week, until Monday, 24 August. That'll give us one more week to get more of the stuff that's on order delivered and into inventory. It'll also give us more time to get more articles polished up and posted, and it'll give me more time to shoot and edit videos.



12:22 - Boy, talk about an egregious violation of the First Amendment: Florida Principal, Athletic Director Could Go to Jail for Prayer Before Lunch at School

The article says only that they "could be charged with crimes and spend six months in jail." If the information in this report is correct, there's no question that they should be charged, and, if they in fact did what they're accused of doing, they should spend at least six months in jail. More would be better. They should also be fired, stripped of their pensions, and forbidden to be employed by any public school anywhere for the rest of their lives.

The problem with this school system obviously goes very deep. Note the quote in the article from the teachers' handbook:

"For example, the Pace High School teachers handbook asks teachers to 'embrace every opportunity to inculcate, by precept and example, the practice of every Christian virtue.'"

The phrase "separation of church and state" obviously means nothing to these nutters. If you think I'm overreacting, just substitute some other religion for "Christian" in that quote and imagine the reaction from parents. What if the teachers' handbook instructed teachers to inculcate "every Islamic value" or "every Pagan value" or "every Confucian value" or "every Buddhist value"? Hell, what if it told teachers to inculcate "every Atheist value"? People would be out with pitchforks and torches, and rightly so. They should be out with pitchforks and torches now.



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Sunday, 16 August 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.