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Week of 26 October 2009


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Monday, 26 October 2009
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11:54 - Another month almost over, with so much left to do. The Maker Shed Science Room Grand Opening Sale ends Saturday, so if you do want to stock up on lab equipment or chemicals, now is the time to do it. Most of the lab equipment is back in stock, although a few items with long lead times won't be back in stock before the sale ends. Chemicals are a different matter. We're out of stock on about half of our 150+ chemicals. I hope to have some or all of those back in stock before the sale ends, but I don't know for sure.

I knew that the regular Maker Shed prices were good and the sale prices extraordinary, but I was stunned the other day when I looked at some of the orders. There are businesses ordering stuff in bulk. For example, one order was for fifty Class B 100 mL glass graduated cylinders, regularly $6.29 each, on sale for $2.79 each. That surprised me, but not as much as the sources of some of the individual orders. We've had lab equipment orders come in from individuals in the UK, South Africa, South America, and elsewhere. I didn't even know that Maker Shed shipped products overseas. As it turns out, they do, but only lab equipment. Shipping regulations limit chemical shipments to the continental US.



I'm mostly recovered from the vertigo problem, but vestiges remain. For that reason, I'm using a four-footed cane, especially when I'm outside walking Malcolm or running errands with Barbara. (I still don't drive myself, although I'm sure I could do so safely if I really needed to.) Most of the time, I simply carry the cane, swinging freely, but at times I do need it to catch myself.

I commented to Barbara the other day that I've really noticed how nearly everyone I encounter is helpful--stepping aside, holding doors for me, and so on. Barbara wears a knee brace as an alternative to having knee surgery. She said she also notices a real difference between times when she's wearing long pants, which cover the brace, and when she's wearing shorts and the brace is visible.

Of course, nearly all of us do the same thing routinely without thinking about it--holding doors for elderly people or young mothers with children, and so on. But it's interesting to encounter it from the other perspective. And it's almost universal, including young people that I would have expected to be oblivious to other people's difficulties. I suppose that's evidence that the human condition is not as bad as we sometimes fear.


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Tuesday, 27 October 2009
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08:57 - My regular readers know I strongly oppose any form of theism and that I equally strongly support gay rights, so it may come as a surprise that I vigorously defend the right of this woman, a Christian homophobe, to spew her vile opinions. In brief, Pauline Howe was offended by a Gay Pride march and wrote to the local police to complain. What the local authorities should have done was file her letter in their Nasty Nutter file and think no more about it. Instead, they sent police officers to knock on her door and confront her about her letter. Apparently, the question to be resolved was whether her letter qualified only as less-serious "hate speech", or rose to the level of a "hate crime".

There's no doubt in my mind that this woman is a nasty person. I certainly wouldn't want to spend any time in her presence or listen to anything she had to say. But in a free society, she has the right to dislike, even hate, homosexuals, and she has the right to make her opinions known, nasty though they are. The concepts of "hate speech" and "hate crime" are simply totalitarian attempts to restrict freedom of thought and freedom of speech. If only approved thoughts may be thought and only approved speech spoken, we are no longer free. As Voltaire would have said, I strongly disagree with what she says, but I will defend to the death her right to say it.

Unfortunately, the UK has neither a written Constitution nor a First Amendment, so there's little to slow their progress down this slippery slope. The US has the advantage of both, which has slowed but not stopped the progress of these totalitarian thought-control laws here in the US. Anyone who thinks about hate-crime legislation even for a moment realizes that its purpose is solely thought control. If someone beats a homosexual to death, you don't need to charge the murderer with a hate crime. Charge him with murder and execute him or imprison him for life. If someone burns down a black family's home, you don't need to charge him with a hate crime. Charge him with arson of an occupied dwelling and execute him or imprison him for life. Hate crime legislation has no purpose other than controlling what we think and say, and therefore has no place in a free society.


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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
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07:51 - Someone asked me what I thought about the conservative Anglicans merging with the Roman Catholic Church. Frankly, I don't think it's worth wasting much time thinking about. Anyway, Richard Dawkins has already said it better than I could. As usual, Dr. Dawkins nails it.



08:13 - More on hate speech.

From: D.R. Williams
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Tue Oct 27 13:19:39 2009
  Re: Hate Crimes

Bob,

A quick note about your statement today:

"Anyone who thinks about hate-crime legislation even for a moment realizes that its purpose is solely thought control"

That would be true if the result was only in suppressing speech, but the intent is much more pernicious. By putting hate crime laws on the books, it gives the authorities one more means of making criminals out of ordinary people. How many times have you seen someone charged with five, ten, or twenty counts? How many times have you seen them defend themselves successfully against the worst, and indeed, all of them, only to get convicted on the one most chickenshit? Instant criminal. The real criminals either don't get charged with such crimes, or the charges have no effect. Convicted murders don't have a few months tacked on for a hate crime, or do 200 hours of community service when they get out twnety years later. And the bad ones get court-appointed attorneys, while the people defending themselves against "hate speech" have their reputations ruined, lose their jobs, and have the pleasure of spending thousand of dollars in a futile attempt at defense.

On another note, thanks for the heads up on the Maker Shed sale. I placed one order last night, and stayed up until 2AM sifting through lab supplies to make up another order that's going in today.

And as always, thanks for your DayNotes and your continuing efforts to promote laboratory science.

Good point, and one I should have mentioned.

Incidentally, Pat Condell recently posted a video with his take on this. It's well worth taking a few minutes to watch it.


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Thursday, 29 October 2009
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08:56 - This garbage Study Suggests U.S. Could Use Fewer, Not More Science Students. Of course, the study was done by sociologists, who consider themselves "scientists" but are not.

Only about a third as many entering college freshman are majoring in chemistry now as majored in chemistry when I started college in 1971. The increase in population in the last four decades means that entering freshman are about one fifth as likely to major in chemistry now as 40 years ago. The same is generally true for the other hard sciences and engineering. Of course, enrollment is way up for "social science" and the other "soft sciences", which aren't sciences at all, and should not be considered part of the STEM initiative. Producing a thousand new sociologists doesn't make up for failing to produce one new chemist or physicist. We're woefully short of new real scientists, and producing lots of new pretend scientists won't offset that.

For now, the US has been making do with a lot of imported scientists. Visit any corporate or university lab facility, and you'll find lots of scientists with Chinese and Indian surnames. And that's great. We want them, and we need them. But they're not the answer in the long term. We need to be self-sufficient in terms of producing the scientists we need. Too many of our best and brightest are passing on careers in science in favor of better-paid pursuits.

Ultimately, the answer is to encourage more of our best and brightest to pursue science careers, to make science a high-paying career, and to encourage businesses to create lots of new jobs for scientists. We should be exploring the best ways to do that. On the demand side, tax incentives are one obvious method. At a minimum, we should make all corporate hard-science and engineering R&D costs fully deductible. Better still would be to treat them as a tax credit, deductible off the bottom instead of merely deductible as a business expense. On the supply side, we should be doing everything possible to encourage the top 0.1% of students to focus on hard science and engineering. Offer any such student who majors in a hard science or engineering a free ride, with all costs paid through university and graduate school, including a stipend for living expenses. Offer them tax breaks after graduation. Do whatever it takes to get more of our brightest young people into science careers. We need a lot more of them, not fewer.


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Friday, 30 October 2009
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11:27 - From Barbara.

A guy is driving around the back woods of Montana and he sees a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house: 'Talking Dog For Sale ' He rings the bell and the owner appears and tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a nice looking Labrador retriever sitting there.

'You talk?' he asks.

'Yep,' the Lab replies.

After the guy recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says 'So, what's your story?'

The Lab looks up and says, 'Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA. In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping.' 'I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running. But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any younger so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals.' 'I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired.'

The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.

'Ten dollars,' the guy says.

'Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?'

'Because he's a liar. He never did any of that shit.



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Saturday, 31 October 2009
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00:00 -



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Sunday, 1 November 2009
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09:30 - November is coming in like a weasel, with heavy rain and high winds. The Blasting for Boobs breast-cancer fundraiser is today, but this is not the best weather for shooting clays. The poor things will probably be relieved to be put out of their misery. I suspect Mary and Barbara may head over to shoot anyway. They don't allow men to participate, unfortunately. Or, in my case, fortunately. I'd probably embarrass myself.

I'm always scrounging. This morning as she was cleaning house, Barbara replaced a shower curtain liner and was about to throw out the old one. Fortunately, I've trained her well. Although I'm sure she couldn't imagine what I could possibly want an old shower curtain liner for, she asked. I was about to pitch it when I noticed that it would make a nice, non-wrinkling, non-dog-hair-collecting background for product illustration shots and videos. It's light gray, which is perfect. So I dumped it into the washing machine with lots of chlorine bleach to kill any mold or mildew, and I have a new table cover/background.

Speaking of backgrounds, I'd already shot talking-head video intros and trailers for the first dozen or so home science videos. The folks at MAKE and O'Reilly universally gave them a thumbs-down because I shot them wearing just a t-shirt and goggles, using the microscopy workstation in my office as a background. All of them suggested I reshoot them wearing a lab coat, goggles, and my mad-scientist hair style. They agreed that my home lab would be a better background to give things the flavor of a working lab.

Well, a working lab is no problem, because my lab *is* a working lab. Of course, "working lab" translates to "messy lab", so that's what you'll see in the videos of my lab. When you see a lab on one of those forensics TV shows, it's invariably spotless, with everything in its place. It just isn't like that in the real world. Here's a short video of a real working crime lab. Unfortunately, it also shows the casual approach to safety that's common in many real-world labs. Both techs are wearing gloves, but neither is wearing goggles.


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