- How rich does one have to be for it to be worth
to extend one's life by 12 days?
Most people, I suspect, would prefer to give up that 12 days,
particularly since they're likely to be a miserable 12 days, and leave
the $24,000 for their families. Of course, all bets are off if someone
else is paying for it. Unfortunately, through our taxes and health
insurance premiums, we're all the "someone else".
seems obvious to me. No government health care or insurance
program--including Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance provided to
government employees and retirees--should provide or pay for anything
other than generic pharmaceuticals. Under any circumstances. Period.
Pharmaceuticals that are still under patent should be available only to
people who are willing to pay for them themselves or whose private
medical insurance or supplemental insurance covers them.
Not that we need any more, but here's yet another good
reason to homeschool your kids.
What are these people thinking? Large corporations are at least as much
of a threat as government and religion. Taken together, they are the
Every once in a great while, an article comes along that's an
incredible time-saver. Here is one
such article. Spend a few minutes reading this article and
you'll never have to waste any time reading any
"science" article in a mainstream newspaper, magazine, or news web
site. Seriously. This one article tells you everything you need to know
about everything, at least from the perspective of mainstream science
One bogus charge frequently leveled by the religious and
accommodationists against us Gnu Atheists is that we aren't qualified
to criticize religious beliefs because we haven't devoted years of
study to understanding the nuances of those beliefs. My
to that argument is that a thing not worth studying is not worth
studying well. I don't need a Ph.D. in unicornology to point out that
no one has ever provided any objective evidence
that unicorns exist. PZ Myers also responded
this charge with his Courtier's
As it turns out, we needn't have bothered. A recent Pew survey studied American's
level of knowledge about religion
and found that atheists on average know more about religion than the
people who practice it. We atheists scored an average of 21 correct
answers. Roman Catholics came in last, at only 15 correct answers.
course, that came as no surprise to me. Atheists are, on average,
considerably smarter and far better-read than the average religious
person. I have never, for example, encountered a New Earth Creationist
who has actually read Darwin's Origin. Conversely, I don't think I've
ever encountered an atheist who has not read the bible.
- If Barbara only knew what I get up to while she's gone...
now, I'm baking a pound or so of her baking soda in her oven. Why?
Well, I'm writing up an experiment on determining solubility
curves--how the solubility of a compound varies at different
temperatures. I needed a compound that was cheap, pure, and
readily-available. Sodium chloride (table salt) would be ideal, but
it's solubility curve is nearly flat. (Its solubility in boiling water
is only about 1.1 times higher than its solubility in freezing water.)
Sodium hydrogen carbonate (sodium bicarbonate, baking soda) has a
steeper curve, but not enough steeper to suit me. I want something that
shows serious solubility differences at low and high temperatures,
because most of my kit users won't have a balance. Sucrose is about
like baking soda; roughly three times as soluble at boiling as at
freezing. And it takes a lot of sucrose to saturate a solution, which
makes a highly viscous mess. Hmmm.
So I decided to use sodium
carbonate, which is six or seven times more soluble in boiling water
than in freezing water, and has solubilities that are appropriate for
volumetric measurement (teaspoons, a couple mL in the small graduated
cylinder, or whatever). So, the first part of the lab session will have
our young experimenters converting baking soda into sodium carbonate.
Fortunately, that's trivially easy. At 200 °C or higher, two molecules
of baking soda lose a molecule each of carbon dioxide and water, both
of which conveniently outgas, to form one molecule of sodium carbonate.
problem is, those readers without a balance need a way to convert
volumetric measurements into masses. How much does 5 mL of sodium
carbonate weigh? So I'm now heating Arm & Hammer baking soda to
produce anhydrous sodium carbonate so that I can weigh volumetric
samples to determine its density.
By the time Barbara arrives home, no forensic evidence will remain.
Having the right to do something doesn't mean it's right to do it.
There's no better example of that principle than Fred Phelps and the Westboro
Baptist Church, those scum who show up at the funerals of
soldiers with banners saying that god hates them. Now SCOTUS
is taking on a case
in which someone sued WBC for intentionally inflicting emotional
distress. Much is being made of the First Amendment issues, of course,
but I'm not sure this case has anything to do with the First Amendment.
The First Amendment is concerned with government censoring speech by
individuals. No government agency forbade WBC from protesting, nor
attempted to punish them for doing so. This is a civil suit filed by an
individual against WBC for emotional distress.
WBC protesters lunatic fringe is an insult to lunatics. There are few
other issues upon which Americans are in such complete agreement.
Conservative or liberal, man or woman, black or white, gay or straight,
devout or atheist, young or old, Californian or West Virginian,
executive or biker. You'd be hard pressed to find any American anywhere
who does not think these people are scum.
I'm actually surprised
that WBC members haven't already been attacked with great violence. One
of these days, a parent of a dead soldier is likely to show up at WBC
with an automatic weapon and lots of ammunition. If I were there when
that happened, I'd just turn away. I certainly wouldn't do anything to
stop the killing or to render aid to the shooting victims. If I were a
cop, I sure wouldn't devote a lot of effort to trying to catch the
assailant. And if he were caught somehow and I ended up on his jury,
I'd certainly vote to acquit. Justifiable homicide is a reasonable
defense. Or, in that traditional plea, which was accepted until very
recently in many Southern courts, "He needed killing, your honor." The
world would be a better place if the WBC members weren't in it.
beginning to think I wasn't exaggerating when I said I had a million
details to deal with in putting together these microchemistry kits. I
used to order test tubes for Maker Shed from United Scientific. The
were sold by the case of 72 test tubes, packaged in six nicely
cushioned boxes of 12 test tubes each. Glassware is subject to breakage
in shipping, so the smallest unit we sold at Maker Shed was a box of 12
test tubes. Although the kits don't really need 12 test tubes, I'd
planned to include a box of 12 to simplify packing the kits. The cost
of including a few more test tubes than were really needed was much
smaller than the cost in time of packing tubes individually.
just got my sales tax exemption number, which wholesalers require
before they can set up an account. So I emailed my contact at United
Scientific the other day and gave him that number and asked him to set
up an account for me. He soon mailed me back to say the account was set
up and said to contact him if I had any questions. I asked if the test
tubes still came in cases of 72 tubes packed in boxes of 12. Nope. They
now come in cases of 72 with simple dividers in the case. Crap. That
means I'd have to pack each tube individually. All my other wholesalers
also supply test tubes in cases of 72 with simple dividers. So I may
have to re-think what I'll include in the kit.
The difference between scientists and normal people.
Of course, biologists are known for being more emotional than other
- There's an interesting article on Derek Lowe's blog
many hours a week scientists work.
With few exceptions, the commenters seem to agree that 40 hours a week
is about the most that can reasonably be expected. One of them even
suggested that those who work more than 40 hours a week should be paid
time-and-a-half, and double-time for holidays. Perhaps he should join
It seems to me that this is really a question of
what you do versus who you are. Those who put in 40 hours a week think
of being a scientist as a job. Those who can routinely be
the lab evenings, weekends, and holidays, and who do so voluntarily
rather than from pressure from a PI or employer, think of being a
scientist as who they are. It's the difference between doing a job to
earn money and doing something one loves to do, and would do for free
if he could afford to.
None of which is a slam on those
scientists who work 40 hours a week. I'm sure most of them are
perfectly competent scientists, and are doing perfectly good science.
Most of them probably like doing science, and most of them are probably
good and productive employees. But the ones who of their own free will
can be found in the lab at all hours are the ones who love doing
science. Most of the great discoveries probably come from the latter
group, if only because you can't make a great discovery when you're
playing with your kids or taking your wife out to dinner.
Barbara forwarded an email to me late yesterday afternoon that was
supposedly from a local sheriff's department warning
bombs being left in people's yards. Her first thought was that it was a
hoax, but she checked Snopes to make sure. It's
These infernal devices are horribly dangerous. They can injure, blind,
or even kill unsuspecting victims. The people who leave them for others
to come upon are probably mostly teenage punks, but they're real
If you come upon a soda bottle that
appears to have some liquid and aluminum foil in it, do not touch it.
Keep people and pets at least 50 yards away from it--100 yards would be
better--and call 911. Seriously. The authorities won't hassle you for
doing so. These bottle bombs are potential killers. Watch the video on
Snopes. When that thing detonated, it sprayed sodium hydroxide (lye)
solution all over the place. That liquid can blind you permanently in
It's worrisome that we have at least one
bottle bomber just one county over from where we live. I'm going to
mention this to our neighbors, to make sure they're aware of the
danger. Unfortunately, this is just the kind of thing that'll make the
morning paper and the lunch table conversation at schools, where
would-be copycats are sure to hear about it.
The lady across the street is one of our school system's top teachers.
She teaches mathematics to elementary pupils. While I was walking
Malcolm yesterday, she was pulling out of her drive. She stopped to
chat, and gave me an example of a math problem from the book her 4th
graders are using.
A has three times as many apples as B. A
gives B 24 apples, after which A has twice as many apples as B. How
many apples did A and B have initially?
I'm sure most of my
readers have already mentally worked out that A started with 216 apples
and B with 72, but I'd guess that probably not more than one in a
hundred American adults could determine the correct answer other than
by a brute-force crack. Is it just me, or does that question seem a bit
much for 4th graders, even bright ones? Apparently,
teaching Algebra I to 9-year-olds now.
- Holy Cow! Here's a serious
home lab, complete with pipe organ (the guy's other hobby). It's in
Ireland. If it were in the US, it'd probably have been raided and shut
down long ago.
- As an example of the crap I'm going through trying to design and produce the microchemistry kits, see this article. Incredible as it may seem, the CPSIA
makes it legally hazardous for science kit makers to include so trivial
an item as paper clips in their science kits, if those kits are
intended or marketed for use or might reasonably be expected to be used
by "children" aged 12 or under.
And it's not just paper clips.
It's every item in the kits. Want to include, say, a pencil? Be
prepared to have that pencil tested and certified by an approved
independent laboratory, at a cost of hundreds to thousands of dollars.
And you'd better buy a lifetime supply of pencils for that test,
because if you run out of pencils from one batch, you'll have to have
the next batch tested as well.
You might think one could avoid
this problem simply by heading for Office Depot and buying cases of
paper clips or pencils that had already been tested and approved. It
doesn't work that way. If you package an item in one of your kits, you
can't take someone else's word for its safety. You're responsible,
with potentially devasting fines and penalties if you happen to include
an item that's out of compliance with the ever-changing guidelines.
You're betting your company that your upstream supplier hasn't lied or
screwed up. The burden is entirely on you.
Nor does the law
apply only to commercial products. Literally, a PTA mom who makes craft
items for her kid's elementary school class is subject to this law and
could be prosecuted and fined huge amounts for unintentionally using an
item that was not certified compliant. Flea market and eBay sellers are
also liable, not just for new products they make themselves, but for
reselling used products that are not certified compliant. Public
libraries are destroying children's books because those books are not
certain to be compliant, and the library could be subject to huge
penalties for allowing an 11-year-old to check out such a book.
outcome of this insanity is predictable. Science kits targeted at kids
under 13 will disappear (and are disappearing) from the market. If some
few remain, they'll be unaffordable.
Fortunately, none of this
has any real bearing on my kits, which are intended for high-school
students. Still, it's annoying to be effectively forbidden from
producing kits intended for elementary school pupils.