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Week of 20 September 2010


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Monday, 20 September 2010
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10:54 - 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.

I'm 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.


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Tuesday, 21 September 2010
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10:17 - 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.


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Wednesday, 22 September 2010
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08:19 - 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.

So now 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.


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Thursday, 23 September 2010
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08:59 - 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.

Barbara's 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 their jobs.

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.

The 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 jobs.


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Friday, 24 September 2010
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08:14 - 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.

Okay, it's 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.


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Saturday, 25 September 2010
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Sunday, 26 September 2010
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.