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Week of 19 October 2009


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Monday, 19 October 2009
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09:36 - Costco run and dinner with Paul and Mary yesterday. We stopped over to pick them up and see what they've done with their house. They ripped up the carpet in the great room, hall, and guest bedroom and replaced it with beautiful dark hardwood floors. They also ripped out the back door and replaced it with full-length French windows and a door, so the entire back wall of their great room is now glass. Oh, and they replaced every window in the house, and hired decorators to color-coordinate everything. The house was attractive before; now it's really beautiful. And replacing the carpets with hardwood will go a long way toward alleviating Mary's allergies.

I was proud of Barbara yesterday. She was making up a list of stuff we needed at Costco. One of things we needed was Tile-X tile cleaner.  She crossed that off her list because she'd read the contents on the bottle. She came into my office and said, "this is just diluted chlorine bleach, right?" Sure enough, the only active ingredient is 2.6% sodium hypochlorite, which means Tile-X is essentially half chlorine bleach and half water. Well, that and a drop or two of dishwashing liquid to act as a surfactant so the stuff can wet the mold. Barbara is starting to think like a chemist.

One of the neat things about science is that reality often doesn't match expectations. I'm working right now on a microbiology starter kit for Maker Shed, which includes the stuff needed to culture bacteria. I need some images, so I made up some agar culturing medium, prepped and sterilized some Petri dishes and slant tubes, and set out to culture bacteria from environmental surfaces, including the kitchen sink, toilet bowl, telephone, computer keyboard, and so on.

My computer keyboard is filthy, so I expected the Petri dish I inoculated from it to show the best growth, with perhaps the telephone not far behind. As it turns out, I got little growth from the kitchen sink or the toilet bowl, even though both had been used for several days since the last Saturday house cleaning. The telephone culture is by far the most prolific and promiscuous. The keyboard culture? Almost nothing. My keyboard looks filthy, but in fact is nearly sterile. Perhaps that's because I use ethanol hand sanitizer frequently.


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Tuesday, 20 October 2009
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08:47 - Paul Jones stopped over yesterday to pick up his 15" Obsession Dob, so the largest telescope in the house is back to 10". Paul dropped off his Dob here a couple of weeks ago to protect it from any accidental depredations by the crews of workers installing the new windows and hardwood floors at their house, after noticing that one of them had set a soft drink or something on the mirror box. Paul did check the mirror box before he left to make sure I hadn't accidentally stolen his 15" primary mirror. I think I scared him Sunday when I mentioned that I'd just joined eBay.

For the next couple of days, I'll be shooting fingerprinting videos, developing latent prints using iodine fuming, ninhydrin, super glue fuming, gentian violet, and one or two other methods. Which takes me back to the first time I ever tried to raise latent prints. I was about 12. My grandmother used to spend her winters with friends in Venezuela, and she always brought back something special for my younger brother and me. That year, she'd brought me a beautiful polished wood box that had a magnifying glass and a dozen or so little cubby holes, each with a different type of mineral sample from Venezuela.

One Saturday morning, I opened the box and found that my sphalerite sample was missing. Gone. Stolen. I immediately barged into my brother's bedroom and accosted him. He denied taking it, of course, and we got into it. My mother soon arrived to break us up. When I explained what had happened and accused my brother of stealing my sphalerite, he denied it strenuously. Mom tried to calm us down, and suggested that perhaps I'd misplaced the specimen. I knew that wasn't the case, but we searched my bedroom anyway. We eventually gave up the search, and mom left. There was my brother, smiling at me.

I'd just been reading a library book about the FBI forensics lab, and I was struck by a cunning plan. The box was of polished wood, and I always wore cotton gloves when I handled it and the specimens. That meant the only fingerprints on the box should be those of the thief. I looked at the box under a grazing light, and sure enough I could make out some fingerprints. So I decided to lift those prints with dusting powder and tape to prove my brother had stolen my sphalerite.

The wood was light colored, and the only dark fingerprint dusting powder I could come up with on the spur of the moment was a bottle of lamp black I had in my basement lab. Unfortunately, I used what in retrospect was a bit too much dusting powder. It went everywhere. All over me. All over my desk and school books. All over the bedspread. All over everything. Before I had a chance to try to clean up, my mom poked her head in the door. There I sat, looking like a chimney sweep.

So, I ended up getting in trouble, and my brother walked away Scot-free. And, to make matters worse, my sphalerite sample mysteriously reappeared sometime later that day, before my dad got home. My brother's only mistake was that he replaced my sphalerite sample behind my desk, right up against the baseboard, where my mother and I had already looked. Fortunately, she remembered looking there, so she and my dad had a talk later with my brother about keeping his hands off my stuff.

The Mystery of the Missing Sphalerite was solved, although I must admit that my first foray into forensic science was of little use in nailing the culprit.


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Wednesday, 21 October 2009
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00:00 -



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Thursday, 22 October 2009
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08:23 - Barbara, in common with a lot of people around here, is outraged that 20 violent criminals who'd been sentenced to life imprisonment are about to be released because some idiot judge back in the 1970's ruled that a life sentence was defined as 80 years. Here we are, only 30 years later, and these scum are about to be released because life = 80 years = 30 years (with time off for "good behavior"). What's wrong with that picture?

Understand, these are not nice people. They were convicted of raping and murdering. One of the three from Forsyth County was convicted of abducting and raping a little girl. Nor are these scum doddering old men. Some of them are about my age, so they'll have plenty of time and energy to go out to murder and rape some more. Everyone from the local DA to the governor is trying desperately to figure out some way to keep these scum behind bars, but it's unlikely they'll succeed. So, 20 of the worst scum in our prisons are about to be set free, with dozens more due for release soon under the same idiot ruling. It's no wonder that so many people have no respect for our so-called "justice" system.

In other depressing news, today Microsoft is releasing their latest service pack for Windows NT. They're calling this service pack "Windows 7", and, no surprise, they're charging for it. Vista was a catastrophe for Microsoft in every respect, and I'm hoping that Windows 7 makes Vista look like a roaring success. Not that it really matters to me. I've been running Linux exclusively for more than five years now. I've never installed or used Vista, so this is just another Windows release that I'll never install or use.


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Friday, 23 October 2009
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08:42 - I finished shooting and editing the video yesterday for developing latent fingerprints with iodine fuming. Today, I'm shooting the videos about developing latent prints with ninhydrin and super glue fuming.

Barbara ran into Mary at the gym yesterday, and Mary mentioned a fundraiser for breast cancer research that involves women shooting clays. Barbara and Mary plan to participate, and I'm sure Paul and I will be there to cheer them on.

I'm not sure where the event will be held. I looked at the Friendship Sporting Clays website, expecting that it would be held there. They don't have it listed on their events page, but I did make a discovery. They list the results of several events, with the winners having numbers like 160 clays broken of 200 or 87 of 100.

All these years, I've had an inferiority complex about my ability with a shotgun. The first time I shot clays, more than 30 years ago, I went out with a bunch of guys who routinely broke 25 out of 25, and made it look easy. Every time one of them missed, the others would rag him mercilessly, as though missing one made him completely incompetent. Meanwhile, there I was, happy to be hitting 15 or 18 out of 25.

Then I took Debbie, my girlfriend at the time, out on her back 40 with a shotgun, a manual spring trap, and a box of clays. She'd never fired a shotgun in her life. We spent a few minutes going over the basics, and then I set up the trap. She broke something like 21 or 22 out of 25 with her first box of shells, and was upset at herself for "missing so many". Shit. I concluded that I sucked at shooting clays, and didn't do it again until two or three years ago, the first time Barbara, Mary, Paul, and I went out to Friendship. I was no better than I'd been 30 years before, but at least the rest of them weren't making me look completely terrible.


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Saturday, 24 October 2009
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11:58 - Ah, it gets better. As it turns out, men are allowed to shoot at the Breast Cancer fundraising event, as long as a woman has invited them. So, Paul and I will probably shoot, despite the fact that Barbara and Mary will probably outshoot us. What Paul and I need are some really timid clay pigeons. The kind that fall apart from sheer terror if someone shoots at them. Only kidding. Paul's actually a pretty good shot. The first time Barbara and I took Paul and Mary to the range, I was really surprised how well he shot pistols, especially since he'd never shot one before. And I usually do better shooting at moving objects or those that look threatening. I can't punch holes in bulls-eye targets worth a damn, but I generally do pretty well on FBI silhouettes and similar targets.

Today I'm doing laundry and cleaning up my lab. I'd been shooting videos with the talking-head intro and trailer segments shot in my office, with my microscopy work area as a background. Dan Woods suggested using my lab as a background, so that's what I'll start doing. My original thinking was that my microscopy work area looked vaguely science-y but wasn't intimidating. I didn't use my lab as the background because I didn't want people who viewed the videos to think they needed what is, after all, a well-equipped home lab to do this stuff. There's a time-honored tradition of doing home science on the kitchen table, so that's what I planned to do. But Dan and the rest of the MAKE team say there's nothing wrong with using my home lab as the background. Barbara will be pleased, because that means she gets her kitchen table back.

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Sunday, 25 October 2009
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12:48 - Our phone service is VoIP through Phone Power, which has been pretty reliable. Yesterday afternoon, Barbara picked up the phone to place a call and we had no dial tone. I logged onto the Phone Power chat system, which told me I was first in line and the wait time should be less than a minute. Ten minutes later, the chat screen showed a message that it was unable to queue my request. Tried again, same result. There was a link at the bottom of the chat page that said I could leave a message that someone would read the next business day. Huh? They're supposed to have 24-hour support seven days a week. I found the support email address and sent them a description of the problem. A while later I got a response. We went back and forth until late last night.

This morning, I got an email recommending that I reconfigure my network, putting the VoIP TA Internet-facing and my border router behind it. I'd tried to set things up that way initially, but could never get it to work. I ended up with border router Internet-facing and the TA behind it. That's annoying, because when I do a big upload there's no bandwidth left and the phone is unusable. With the TA connected to the cable modem, it can reserve bandwidth for phone calls, so the phone will be usable even when I'm doing a huge upload.

At any rate, I did as they suggested, turning everything off and connecting things as cable modem -> TA -> router. I then powered everything down, powered up the cable modem, waited for it to stabilize, and powered up the TA. After 10 minutes or so of blinking, it stabilized, and I powered up the router, as directed. I was happy when I picked up the phone and had dial tone, until I realized that I still couldn't place outgoing calls (or, presumably, receive inbound ones). Dialing *** followed by 02 gets a voice synthesized report of the TA IP address, which was 0.0.0.0. Not good. I couldn't access the Internet from my computer. No surprise.

So I tried pressing the reset button on the back of the TA with a paper clip. I did its thing and blinked for a while, at which point I had Internet access again. But no dial tone. Shit. So I went back and started again, powering down everything and bringing them up in the specified sequence. I don't know what was different the second time around, but it worked. I now have working VoIP phone service and working Internet access. And all it took was several hours of my time. Geez.



I think there's something wrong with the Netflix recommendation system. Notice anything unusual about the following nine movies that Netflix thinks we'll like?


Yep, eight out of nine were recommended because we liked The Constant Gardener, which we rented in March of 2006. Apparently, there must be something really significant about this title, because it's just one out of something like 800 discs that we've rented from Netflix over the years. We didn't even like it all that much. I don't even remember who was in it or what it was about. And yet it shows up as the reason for probably at least half the titles that Netflix recommends for us.


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