Week of 20 September 2010
Update: Friday, 24 September 2010 08:14 -0400
Monday, 20 September
I was playing with felt-tip pens and chromatography over the weekend.
The microchem kits need to include a marking pen for (a) labeling
glassware and (b) a chromatography of dyes experiment. For (a) I
need "permanent" ink that won't rub off or come off in water but
can be removed easily with a common solvent like isopropanol. For (b) I
need an ink that contains at least two dyes, which have to yield a
decent separation with paper chromatography using IPA as the mobile
phase. Ideally, the pen would be inexpensive and readily available in
bulk, now and in the future. After testing a bunch of different brands
and colors of marking pens, I was able to come up with a winner.
taking great pains with all of this, because once I finalize the kit
contents and the manual, I want to be able to package and sell the kit
without any significant changes for years. That means a lot more work
now, but a lot less work later. The intimidating thing is that I have
several more kits stubbed out--AP chemistry, first-year biology and two
AP biology kits, a forensics kit, an earth science kit, and a couple of
physics kits--and every one of them is going to require as much or more
work than this first one.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
I forgot to mention that, during our recent visit to the vet, I weighed
myself. We don't own a set of bathroom scales, so I seldom have any
close idea what I weigh. The electronic scale gave my weight as 215.4
pounds. I pointed out to Barbara that if I subtracted the weight for my
boots, jeans, t-shirt, belt, wallet, keys, knife, Colt Combat
Commander, six spare magazines, and body armor, I must actually weigh
well under 200 pounds. She pointed out that I hadn't been wearing the
armament or armor. Oh, well.
Still, this is the closest I've
been to a 198-pound weakling in some time. Being of ursine character, I
generally weigh much less during the summer and then start to put on
weight for my winter hibernation. In college, I'd be around 185 or 190
during the summer and 230 or 240 in the winter. I didn't intentionally
diet or bulk up. That's just what happened. Of course, there'd be a lot
of variation, because I ate like Henry VIII. One of my girlfriends
asked me one time how much I weighed. I replied, "220, 240, something
like that." She thought it was outrageous that I didn't know my own
weight more closely. I explained that it probably averaged 225, but I
could gain 10 pounds or more just by having a large meal and a gallon
of my favorite beverage.
Actually, I "feel" right now that I'm
at tennis-playing weight. Not that that's going to happen. Barbara
wouldn't let me get near a court. She's convinced I'd drop dead. Maybe
she's right. When we were up at Steve and Linda's lake house a couple
of weeks ago, I played some tennis on their Wii. I wasn't impressed.
Every time I swung normally to hit a forehand or backhand, the Wii
bluescreened and reset. I finally figured out that it couldn't deal
with my swing speed. I ended up having to swing with a stiff wrist
instead of snapping my wrist at the instant of contact. The next
morning, believe it or not, I felt it. I was stiff, and my back,
shoulder, and arm muscles were sore. So maybe Barbara's right.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Congratulations to the antivaxxers. Their body count is now up to nine
in California this year. Nine, so far. Nine children, dead of
pertussis, a disease that was formerly considered to be eradicated in
the US. Nine children dead of pertussis, which is nine more than the
total during the preceding 55 years.
The actress Amana Peet
called the antivaxxers "parasites", which in my opinion was too kind a
word. Parasites because they were counting on other parents to accept
the minor risk of vaccination for their children, thereby protecting
the antivaxxer's children via herd immunity. But the problem with
pertussis is that there is no herd immunity. Vaccination against
pertussis confers only short-term immunity, and is timed to get kids
past the most dangerous period for contracting the disease. Nearly all
adults have no immunity. (Pertussis inconveniences otherwise healthy
adults, but kills babies and children.) Adults, even if they are
asymptomatic, may carry and communicate the pertussis bacteria, and
unvaccinated children have no defense against it.
California has declared a pertussis epidemic, and all thanks to the
antivaxxers. I wish I believed in hell, because then I could hope that
Jenny McCarthy would rot there. Her and all of those parents who
believe a former Playboy bunny is a reliable source for medical advice
about matters of life-and-death for their children.
Thursday, 23 September 2010
Eventful day yesterday. Soon after Barbara left for work, she called to
say her transmission was acting up and she was headed for Merchant's
auto service to have it looked at. They don't do transmission work, so
they sent her to Amoco Transmission, where I picked her up. She dropped
me at home and headed to work. Later, Barbara called to tell me that
her dad, who is 88 years old, had fallen at home. Her mom is not one
who panics, but Barbara said she was extremely upset and that there was
blood all over the place. Barbara called 911 and headed over there. By
the time she arrived, the ambulance had come and gone. Barbara took her
mom to the hospital and spent the rest of the day there. Her sister
arrived later to relieve Barbara, who arrived home around dinner time.
dad is okay and was able to go home, although he did need some
stitches. He has two doctor appointments today, one early morning and
one early afternoon. Frances is going to take him to the first one.
Barbara is going to pick him up from that and then take him to the one
after lunch. She's going to sit with him this afternoon and then take
her parents to dinner. They had tickets to a play this evening, so
she'll take them to that and arrive home late tonight.
As regular readers know, I have an interest in forensics. That
profession has been taking some heavy hits over the last few years,
many of them justified. A forensics lab is supposed to be neutral,
favoring neither the prosecution or defense. Forensics is supposed to
be about finding the truth, and letting the chips fall where they may.
Unfortunately, the general perception, for which there is considerable
justification, is that forensics labs are sometimes functioning as
agents for the prosecution. Defense attorneys are rightly concerned
that some forensics labs have shown bias in favor of the prosecution,
ignoring or even "losing" exculpatory evidence.
That's become an
issue recently in North Carolina, where the SBI (State Bureau of
Investigation) forensics labs have been accused of actively favoring
the prosecution. That's unfortunate, not least because, in addition to
prejudicing judges and juries against defendants, it tars a lot of
professional forensics scientists unfairly, when they were just doing
I think the fundamental problem, here and elsewhere, is that forensics labs generally are
acting as agents for the prosecution. I don't doubt that most forensics
scientists and technicians are doing their best to determine the truth
and present it in an unbiased fashion. But the simple truth is that
they work for organizations that are under the control of law
enforcement agencies, so it's impossible to avoid institutional bias.
solution seems pretty obvious to me. Crime labs should be completely
separate from law enforcement and prosecutors. Crime labs should be
part of the judicial system. They should be located in the courthouse,
not the police station. Forensics people should report to and be paid
by the courts, not law enforcement agencies. Forensics should not
be part of the adversarial process. Forensics reports should be
delivered to the police during the investigation phase, certainly, but
final forensics reports should go directly to the judge on the case,
and should be introduced into evidence by the court rather than by the
prosecution or defense. The prosecutor and defense attorney should be
able to call the forensics scientists and technicians to testify and be
cross-examined. But neither should have any direct or indirect control
over the forensics organization.
I should emphasize that I'm not
blaming forensic scientists and technicians for this problem. I know a
lot of them, and all of them are focused on determining the truth,
whatever that may be. They have no more desire to convict an innocent
defendant than they have to acquit a guilty one. But the way things are
currently set up makes it harder than it should be for them to do their
Friday, 24 September 2010
I hadn't updated my image since I started this journal in 1998, so I
figured it was about time. The old image was me at age 44. This new
image is me at age 57. I think I've aged pretty well.
actually a gnu. That's a very appropriate icon for me as both a
long-time Linux user and a so-called Gnu Atheist (thanks, Jerry).
The other name
for gnu is wildebeest, which is Dutch for "wild beast", also
appropriate. The wildebeest is a fearsome animal. A large male stands
about 5 feet at the shoulder, weighs upwards of 500 pounds, and is
incredibly strong. (I'm a bit taller, a lot lighter, and not quite as
strong.) Even lions hesitate to take on a
healthy wildebeest bull. Those horns aren't just for show.
With that rack and its massive neck muscles, a wildebeest can
disembowel a lion or other large predator with just a quick flip of its
head. As a Viking-American, perhaps I could do the same with my Hagar-the-Horrible helmet.
Saturday, 25 September 2010
Sunday, 26 September 2010
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010