I've mentioned before that my formerly first-rate memory led me to
develop habits that are no longer sustainable now that my memory is no
longer what it was. Several years ago, the first time I noticed that
I'd actually forgotten something that I'd intended to remember, I
bought an Olympus
WS-100 digital voice recorder.
It's a tiny little thing, and runs forever on one AAA alkaline cell. It
has a neck strap, and I've now started carrying it routinely to record
For example, when I was working in the lab the
other day, I recorded six short reminders: order a kilo of sodium
sulfite, order a kilo of sodium citrate, order 250 g of calcium
nitrate, order a couple of 1 liter volumetric flasks, order a box of 9
cm qualitative medium-speed filter paper, and order a bunch of small
spatulas. When I get back to my office, I listen to the voice notes and
enter the appropriate reminders in my calendar/to-do list, pending
orders spreadsheet, and so on. Without those voice notes, I might have
remembered two or three of those items, or even four. Chances
I wouldn't have remembered all six.
withdrawn my application for YouTube partnership. The only reason I
applied in the first place was that non-partners are limited to video
runtimes of 10:59, while partners have no limit on time. Now that
YouTube has extended the allowable length for non-partner videos to
15 minutes (presumably, actually 15:59), the time limit is no
longer a big issue. There are times when I'd like a bit more than 10
minutes, but 15 minutes should be more than enough. The downside to a
YouTube partnership is that they can run ads on those videos, which I
didn't want but was willing to tolerate in exchange for the longer
In addition to their much higher prices, one of the really annoying
things about Time Warner Cable VoIP service is that they nickel and
dime you to death. Phone Power, Vonage, and the other third-party VoIP
providers typically bundle most features as standard. It costs them
essentially nothing to provide such features as an unlisted number,
caller ID, voicemail, and so on, so they include it in the base price.
Not TWC. They charge two or three bucks a month for an unlisted number,
several bucks a month for voicemail, and so on. What a bunch of weasels.
the time we changed over to Phone Power back in January 2008, our
answering machine died. We never bothered to replace it, because Phone
Power provides voicemail, and emails you an audio file of any
voicemail messages. TWC charges something like $5 a month for simple
voicemail, without (as far as I know) the email notification. There was
no way I was going to pay that, so we decided to pick up a new
Simple answering machines have become
relatively hard to find. Wal*Mart had only a couple models in its
on-line catalog, and only one of those was listed as being available at
our local store. So I checked the Costco website and found that they
carried no answering machines, but they did carry several cordless
phone systems with built-in answering machines. One of those was a
Panasonic DECT 6.0 Plus system with four handsets, regularly $100 but
on sale for $80. So Barbara and I made a Costco run yesterday and
picked one up. The base station sits in my office, connected to the
UPS, so even if we have a power failure we'll still have phone service.
isn't installing VoIP service until August 18th. Phone Power requires a
30-day notice to cancel, so we still have semi-functioning Phone Power
service. Given that, I didn't bother to buy a cell phone for me.
I'm glad I checked. I signed up last week for Time Warner Cable phone
service on their web site, and scheduled installation for 18 August. I
never got a confirmation email, so this morning I called TWC to make
sure I was in fact scheduled for installation on 18 August. I spoke
with a very nice woman who could find no record of our request for
phone service installation. At least I'm now comfortable that TWC will
indeed show up to install the service, and as it turns out it'll be on
11 August rather than 18 August.
we were going through the details, our Phone Power VoIP service dropped
dead, for the third time so far today. I quickly rebooted the terminal
adapter, she called me back, and I told her she now knew why we were
changing providers. As she was summarizing everything, she mentioned
there'd be a $20 installation charge. I said that when I signed up on
the web site it had waived that charge, so she waived it for me. So now
our TWC bill goes up by $19.95/month, or $22.90 with taxes and fees. Of
course, that's their special promo price, good for only 12 months. So,
about 10 months from now I'll call them up and tell them I plan to
cancel service and move to a different provider. I'll bet they'll give
us that price indefinitely to keep us from dropping their service.
I found the following grad school humor in a comment on Derek Lowe's chemistry blog
yesterday, and I'm still smiling. The PI is the Principal Investigator,
the professor who leads a group of (typically) one to six or eight grad
students in an investigation. The grad students do most of the
work, and the PI gets his name first on the paper and thereby most of
the credit. The grad students' reward is to get their names on the
paper as well. The PI sometimes actually reads the paper to find out
what his grad students have been doing. (Just kidding, Paul.)
Q: You find yourself in a room with Hitler, Stalin and your PI. You have a gun, but only two bullets. What do you do?
A. Shoot your PI twice.
Finally, Pat Condell has a new video posted that's worth your time to
watch. In Freedom is my religion, Condell takes on the left-wing,
politically-correct atheists who attack him and defend Islam. Condell
has some pretty good left-wing credentials himself, but over the past
few years he's seen the damage that political correctness has done and
continues to do, and his politics have become increasingly libertarian.
- An article in yesterday's WSJ, Microsoft Quashed Effort to Boost Online Privacy,
shows just how little Microsoft cares about its users' privacy.
Microsoft programmers, who are decent human beings, intended to release
a new version of Internet Explorer that included reasonable features to
protect users' privacy. Microsoft executives, including their "chief
privacy strategist", stomped all over that.
Cullen, Microsoft's chief privacy strategist, says the input of
outsiders helped Microsoft strike a balance between privacy and
Some balance. As the article makes clear, the privacy advocates within
Microsoft walked away with nothing. Those who favored raping users got
it all. What few privacy options remained in the released version were
turned off by default. Incredibly, those options, as weak as they are,
are not just turned off by default, but must be turned on each time the user starts the browser. Microsoft intentionally made it almost impossible for IE users to avoid being raped by advertisers.
been waiting for someone to start up a grass-roots initiative to fight
back against the advertisers. Here's what I do when I set up a Linux
system for friends and family:
1. Install Firefox.
2. Install Adblock Plus and subscribe to Easy List.
3. Install Flashblock.
In Firefox, clear the "Accept cookies from sites" check box, and delete
any existing cookies. Teach the person how to enter exceptions for
cookies they want to allow, and teach them the difference between
permanent cookies and session cookies. Warn them not to allow Google to
5. In the user's home directory, delete any files
and directories present in the .macromedia directory and mark that
At this point, their system is by no means
perfect in terms of maintaining privacy, but it's about 99% of the way
there. Aunt Minnie can use the system without tripping over problems
caused by the privacy settings. For users who are more technically
selectively re-enable it when necessary. If I think the user would be
comfortable with it, I'll install NoScript and explain how it works and
how to configure it.
We should probably all be doing this every
time we visit a friend or family member. It takes only a few minutes to
do, and people are invariably grateful. If those of us who understand
this stuff did this routinely, we'd eventually put a big dent in this
problem. Not to mention an even bigger dent in IE market share.
- Josh Rosenau asks, "Who Is a Scientist?" His article rebuts another article that claims the following requirements for a scientist:
- Does scientific research for a living, - Publishes research in peer-reviewed journals, - Is funded by granting agencies to do it, - Does not just write about it, or study it, or do some of it as a grad student, or only teach it.
bizarre is that? Credentialism at its worst. Not one of those
"requirements" is necessary to be a scientist, let alone all of them.
(I'm sure our friend Dr. Mary Chervenak and thousands of other
scientists employed by corporations would be shocked to find that they
don't qualify as scientists because they're funded by their companies
rather than by a grant agency. And I'm sure that thousands of amateur
scientists who do real science in every sense would be surprised to
find that they don't qualify as scientists because no one is paying
them to do science.)
Rosenau rebuts that article quite
convincingly, and concludes that a scientist is "someone who seeks to
expand the collective limits of knowledge about the natural world by
developing generalized claims and testing them against empirical
evidence." I think even that definition is too tight.
To my way
of thinking, a scientist is anyone who uses the scientific method to
investigate natural phenomena, and considers only evidence-based
arguments and reasoning in coming to a conclusion. A 14-year-old kid
working in her basement lab may not be doing original research
(although amateurs are doing quite a bit of original work in DIY bio
and other fields every day), but she is pursuing science just the same,
and deserves to be called a scientist.
We had a bit of excitement last night. We'd just returned from walking
Malcolm after dinner. I'd just stepped in the front door with Malcolm
when Barbara, who was right behind us, let out a blood-curdling scream.
She managed to gasp, "Snake!" and pointed to a King Cobra coiled up on
the porch a few feet from the front door.
I got Barbara into the
house, grabbed a gripper, and headed back out to capture the snake. It
was about 3.5 feet (1 meter) long and about as thick as my index
finger. After examining it closely, I'm pretty sure it was a common black snake, but I wasn't (and amn't) entirely certain.
didn't want to hurt it, so I wasn't squeezing the gripper very hard. It
kept slipping out, falling to the ground, and trying to make a run for
it. I knew I had to capture and relocate it, or Barbara would never go
outside again. I shouted to Barbara to throw me one of the empty square
plastic jars that Costco supplies nuts in. After some struggling with
the uncooperative snake, I managed to get it into the jar and get the
lid screwed on.
I momentarily considered keeping it and shooting
a YouTube video of it, but I knew I had to get it away from the house
or Barbara would never sleep again. I didn't want to leave her. She was
still very upset. So I walked down a couple houses to our neighbors
Steve and Mimi. When Mimi answered the door, I asked her if she was
afraid of snakes. She said she wasn't crazy about actually touching
them, but otherwise had no problem with them. Mimi called their son,
Shane, to come see it, and kindly agreed to take it to a wooded area
and release it.
I finished edits on the book manuscript yesterday and it's now off to production.
Barbara had no comment on my post yesterday except to question my use
of "amn't". I have never much liked the "I aren't" form. One says,
"I am" rather than "I are", and I've always considered the "I aren't"
construct a barbarity. Ordinarily, I simply construct my sentences to
avoid the need for either contraction. "Am I not?" sounds stilted, at
least to my ear. There is a perfectly good contraction, "a'in't", but
that appears to include the personal pronoun. (Actually, it's probably
just an alternate pronunciation of "amn't".) "Amn't" is syntactically
correct, and deserves to be in common usage. There's simply no good
reason that "am not" should not be contracted.
I probably have
at least a couple of weeks before O'Reilly's production folks start
sending me PDF proofs. I'll spend that time in the lab and writing up
lab sessions for the microchemistry kits.