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Week of 7 September 2009


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Monday, 7 September 2009
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09:50 - We're planning a quiet day today. The high point, especially for Malcolm, is that we'll be grilling hamburgers and hotdogs. He knows that inevitably we'll end up with too many or at least one will be dropped or charred, so he's assured of getting a good chunk of meat. Barbara has also been wanting to clean up the finished area downstairs, and I got some brownie points by suggesting it before she mentioned it. I was actually thinking about my lab rather than the rest of the finished area, but I'll take brownie points where I can get them.

I was also thinking about shooting some video today of preparing agar culturing media and filling and sterilizing Petri dishes and slant tubes, but I think I'll wait until FedEx shows up tomorrow with some supplies from Maker Shed. I already have everything I need for this in my lab, but this way I can shoot the video with the actual products that'll be available in Maker Shed.

I'm excited about doing some microbiology experiments. I haven't done any since I was a teenager. Back then, I depended mostly on borrowed, scrounged, and home-made equipment and supplies. A friend's mother worked in a lab at the hospital, and she brought me a dozen Pyrex Petri dishes. She said they were to be discarded anyway, but they were perfectly usable. My inoculating loop was a large sewing needle embedded in a wooden dowel. My incubator was a wooden box with a low-wattage incandescent light bulb, small vent holes in the top and bottom and a thermometer sticking out the top. By covering or uncovering some vent holes, I could keep the interior temperature remarkably stable over a useful range. My autoclave was my grandmother's pressure cooker.

I got my initial supply of agar from Mrs. Pickrell, my 9th grade biology teacher, who also suggested I talk to the owner of a Chinese restaurant about getting some food-grade agar agar. He asked what I wanted it for, and I told him I was doing home microbiology experiments. He gave me a good-size bag of the stuff, what amounted to a lifetime supply. When I offered payment, he refused it and said to save my money for things I needed to buy for my lab. That was the way things were back then. Adults did everything they could to encourage kids' interest in science. We need to encourage the same attitude today.


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Tuesday, 8 September 2009
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08:19 - Barbara is off to dinner with friends this evening, so Malcolm and I will share leftover hamburgers, hot dogs, and potato salad. Malcolm says I get mostly the potato salad and he gets mostly the meat. From Malcolm's point of view, Barbara is the pack leader, he's second, and I'm a distant third.

This week will be more of the same for me, mostly doing labs, shooting videos and product illustration shots, and writing up lab sessions. I also plan to spend some time editing videos on the Macbook. By next Monday, I'd like to have three or four finished videos ready to go, with more in the pipeline.



10:07 - I hadn't looked at my web server stats for a long time. I was stunned when I looked at the August stats. Here are the top ten user agents, excepting obvious bots, with the percentages adjusted to total 100% for those top ten. (Actually, the top ten user agents account for just under a quarter of all visits.) At least among the top ten user agents, Firefox has climbed to about 94% of visits, leaving Internet Explorer with only 6% of visits. Linux has made nice progress, and is now over 20% of visits. And OS X has grown from an asterisk two years ago to maybe 1% a year ago to 7% now. Interestingly, the OS X line items is from Mac users with Firefox rather than Safari.

26.15%    Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.1.2) Gecko/20090729 Firefox/3.5.2 (.NET CLR 3.5.30729)
16.42%    Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.1.2) Gecko/20090729 Firefox/3.5.2
 9.56%    Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 6.0; en-US; rv:1.9.1.2) Gecko/20090729 Firefox/3.5.2 (.NET CLR 3.5.30729)
 8.88%    Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux x86_64; en-US; rv:1.9.1.2) Gecko/20090803 Ubuntu/9.04 (jaunty) Shiretoko/3.5.2 AutoPager/0.5.2.2 (
 8.25%    Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.0.13) Gecko/2009073022 Firefox/3.0.13 (.NET CLR 3.5.30729)
 7.03%    Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; Intel Mac OS X 10.5; en-US; rv:1.9.1.2) Gecko/20090729 Firefox/3.5.2
 6.27%    Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.0.13) Gecko/2009073022 Firefox/3.0.13
 5.98%    Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.9.0.13) Gecko/2009080315 Ubuntu/9.04 (jaunty) Firefox/3.0.13
 5.94%    Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; Deepnet Explorer 1.5.3; Smart 2x2; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727;
 5.52%    Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.9.0.13) Gecko/2009080315 Ubuntu/8.10 (intrepid) Firefox/3.0.13

Certainly, this site isn't representative of the Internet as a whole. My readers are much more likely to run both Firefox and Linux. Even so, numbers like these should make Ballmer lose sleep. Browser share numbers are notoriously hard to quantify, but by some accounts Internet Explorer is now down in the 50% range overall and Firefox up to about a third. Of course, the real reason that IE has as large a share as it does is the fact that it comes with Windows. IE numbers should take another huge hit as the EU mandate takes effect over the next year or two.


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Wednesday, 9 September 2009
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09:09:09.09 - I'm shooting videos today and tomorrow, and in fact for most of the rest of this week. I'll start with making up agar culturing medium, filling Petri dishes and slant tubes for culturing bacteria, and streaking the Petri dishes. I'll incubate at room temperature, because most human pathogens grow very poorly much below body temperature. That means it'll take several days to grow some good colonies, at which point I'll isolate species to slant tubes and then grow pure cultures in broth media. At that point, I'll have what I need to illustrate doing smears, using various primary and differential staining methods, including the Gram protocol, and observing the morphology of various bacterial species under the microscope. While I'm waiting for the cultures to incubate, I'll probably shoot some other chemistry and forensics videos.

Putting together this microbiology/bacteriology kit for Maker Shed kind of forced my hand. I hadn't planned to start doing biology articles quite this soon, and that raised a problem: how to number these lab sessions on microbiology. That is, I needed to decide where microbiology/bacteriology would be if I were writing an actual biology lab book, and number these lab sessions accordingly. Chapter 14? Chapter 18?

Then it struck me. There really isn't any good reason not to start with microbiology. It's a little bit out of the ordinary pedagogically, but there are a lot of advantages to starting with microorganisms and working our way up. The equipment and supplies needed are minimal, and learning sterile working procedures is a good introduction to biology lab work. For those who have a microscope, observing bacteria is an ideal way to learn the essentials of using it. So, we're going to start with microbiology/bacteriology.


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Thursday, 10 September 2009
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08:27 - As of today, Barbara has managed to put up with being married to me for 26 years. That's 9,497 days, or 227,928 hours, or 13,675,680 minutes, or 820,540,800 seconds. And in all of that time, she hasn't killed me even once. We're not doing anything special today, but I am making plans for our upcoming 10 kiloday anniversary and the even more important 1 gigasecond anniversary.


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Friday, 11 September 2009
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08:24 - Never forget. Never forgive. Islam delenda est.



I'm puzzled by the to-do over the sex of that South African runner. Surely it's easy enough to determine. If she has two X chromosomes, she's female. If he has one X and one Y chromosome, he's male. If it has some other combination, it's neither male nor female. How hard is that?



I shot video yesterday of making up agar culturing medium and pouring Petri dishes and slant tubes. I'm going to reshoot it today because I wasn't happy with the results. I'm sure the culture dishes and slant tubes I made up would work properly, but they're ugly. I used a beef bouillon cube in the nutrient mix, and I didn't realize that it contained parsley flakes or something. So instead of a nice, clear, brownish agar gel, I have plates and slant tubes full of gel with embedded little dark flecks. Yuck.



10:12 - Barbara and I didn't buy anniversary gifts for each other. Neither of us are particularly materialist, and we both tend to buy whatever we need/want when we need/want it. So I was pleased yesterday when I came up with an idea that would make Barbara happy.

Some time ago, we watched the 1981 version of Brideshead Revisited. Barbara loved it. I hated it. I hated all 387 episodes, or however many there were. It seemed like more. When the remake of  Brideshead Revisited (the one with Emma Thompson) was announced, Barbara asked me to put it in the Netflix queue once it was available. I told her that I love Emma Thompson. I would watch anything that Emma Thompson is in, with one exception. I'd sooner be waterboarded for the entire duration of Brideshead Revisited than watch it again.

But yesterday as I was thinking about things that would make Barbara happy, I thought again about Brideshead Revisited. So I put it in our Netflix queue. And I'll watch it with Barbara, all 133 hours of it. They somehow managed to fit it on one disc.


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Saturday, 12 September 2009
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09:39 - I was really beginning to wonder what's going on with Netflix. I rejoined in late April, and in those four and a half months they haven't throttled me even once. Not so much as a day's delay on even a single disc. They haven't even used their old dodge of shipping me a disc from a distant distribution center, so that it will take several days to arrive. Since April, I've gotten at most half a dozen discs from other than the Greensboro distribution center, and all of those have been from Charlotte or Raleigh, which also take just one day to arrive. I just checked, and I'm averaging 26 discs a month on the three-at-a-time plan. That's $0.65/disc or $0.70/disc with sales tax. Getting 26 discs in a month used to be a record month; now it's the norm.

So I did a bit of searching on the Internet, and found a lot of comments about Netflix discontinuing throttling as of a year or so ago. I also thought I was misrembering that in the past Netflix logged discs in on Saturdays but didn't ship until the following Monday. As it turns out, I remembered correctly, but apparently now some (not all) of their distribution centers are also shipping on Saturdays, ours included. Oddly, when I check my queue early on a Saturday morning, it reports that the disc or discs I sent them on Friday have been received and that the replacement disc(s) will ship on Monday. If I check back in on Saturday afternoon, that changes to say that they've already shipped the next disc. Presumably, their system does that because some of their distribution centers are still on the old Monday through Friday only shipping schedule.

Furthermore, they've not even been penalizing me for my extremely heavy rental rate by making me wait for in-demand discs. The one exception was S1D1 of Deadwood, which sat at the top of my queue for several weeks before they got around to shipping it to me. But I'm prepared to believe that that particular disc was really in short supply, because they've done very well with other popular discs. Barbara and I don't watch many new releases, but those I have put in the queue have arrived very quickly. Usually, they ship me the disc the day before it's officially released and I receive it on the official release date.

It's getting to the point where I'm actually slightly embarrassed about taking maximum advantage of their unlimited plan. I used to put "unlimited" in quotes, but it truly is effectively unlimited now. It may be that Netflix knows something we don't about the USPS cutting back deliveries to five days a week and has made these changes early so that their customers continue to perceive the service as giving value for money. Or it may be that Netflix is doing this to better compete with on-demand and on-line video services. But whatever the reason, Netflix is performing above and beyond the call of duty.



10:49 - Do not mess with my wife. Barbara was out in the yard pulling weeds this morning. Here's the biggest one she pulled. I am not making this up. She bent down, grabbed this weed at its base, and pulled the sucker out of the ground, apparently ripping out its roots at the same time.


What's particularly disturbing is that she'd asked me to try pulling it out some time ago. I huffed and I puffed, and the sucker wouldn't budge. I told her I could make up some explosive and blow it out, but it was so near the house that she didn't think much of that idea. So I offered Plan B, making up some thermite and burning it out. She nixed that one as well. So I suggested Plan C, which was to put a rope on one of the tow hooks on one of our 4X4s and pull the sucker out.

So then Barbara bends over and pulls the thing out by hand. I didn't even bother to use the traditional male excuse, "I must've loosened it up for you."

I may have to rethink my opinion of the relative physical strength of men and women. And it's not just Barbara. Mary Chervenak is also extraordinarily strong. The woman can do 70 push-ups and 20 pull-ups. And I don't mean the girlie versions. I mean real push-ups and real pull-ups. Not to mention that, as a Marathon runner, Mary can run most active-duty Marines into the ground. I was going to challenge Mary to arm wrestle, but I was afraid the outcome would be mortifying for me.


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Sunday, 13 September 2009
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13:52 - Barbara and I didn't watch the women's semifinal match last night, so we missed the furor that resulted in Williams being defaulted. From the Youtube video, it appears around the 0:40 mark that Williams did foot-fault, although it's impossible to be certain given the camera angle.

I haven't played tennis seriously in about 35 years, and I know the rules on foot-faulting have changed. When I was playing, the server's foot was not allowed to cross the plane of the baseline, whether on the ground or airborne. Now, it's permitted to cross the plane of the baseline as long as your foot doesn't actually touch the court surface before you strike the ball. That obviously gives a huge advantage to servers who leap into the court while serving.

When I was playing, to avoid foot faults I anchored my left foot about one centimeter outside the outer edge of the baseline and didn't move it during my service motion. As I started my service motion, I dragged my right foot up into contact with my left foot as I leaned into the court to strike the ball. At that point, I was unbalanced and would have fallen forward except that as I struck the ball and followed through my right leg was already coming forward as I started to charge the net. Serena, on the other hand, moves her left foot all over the place during her service motion. I'm surprised she doesn't foot fault regularly. Or perhaps she does and the linespeople simply don't call it.

At any rate, I was stunned this morning when I read the article about her blowup. Serena is one of the nicest women on the tour--about the only nicer one I can think of off-hand is her opponent last night--so she must have been under extreme pressure to behave so abominably. Serena owes a groveling apology to the lineswoman and the other officials, to Kim Clijsters, and most particularly to the fans.


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