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Week of 8 November 2010


Latest Update: Saturday, 13 November 2010 11:42 -0500

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Monday, 8 November 2010
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08:01 - We had our first freeze Saturday night, with a low of 30 F (-1 C). It's currently 36 F (2 C), but our highs the next few days are to be in the mid 60's to lower 70's (17 C to 22 C). The furnace is on, but not running much yet.

I'm still working on the manual for the microchemistry kits.



12:03 - Pigs fly. I just sent this email.


From: Robert Bruce Thompson
  To: Barbara Thompson, Mary Chervenak, Paul Jones, Brian Bilbrey, Jerry Pournelle
Date: Mon Nov  8 11:57:31 2010
  Re: Okay, I'd have bet this would never have happened

I have found a rapper whom I actually like. Of course, he's an outspoken atheist and is studying physics full-time. Here's an interview with him.

And here's his YouTube channel.

Fascinating. A rapper who's too smart to be racist or misogynistic and who values rationality and science highly and focuses his music on them.



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Tuesday, 9 November 2010
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10:14 - I'm still cranking away on the manual for the microchemistry kits.

Walking Malcolm a few minutes ago, I thought about the city's futile (and expensive) attempts to convince people to pile leaves in their yards, behind the curb. Of course no one does that. They all blow them out into the street, probably violating some law or other. Our neighbors cleared the leaves from their front yard yesterday. Instead of distributing them along the entire length of their frontage, they used only about a third of it, apparently to leave parking spaces in front of their house. The resulting pile extends to about the middle of the street, presenting a real navigation hazard.

The solution is simple, but illegal. Winston-Salem sent out a brochure last week--at what cost I don't want to think about--to tell everyone to pile their leaves in their yard behind the curb, and oh-by-the-way it's illegal to burn the leaves. Being law-abiding, I haven't torched the piles of leaves all along our street, but I certainly would shed no tears if someone happened to toss a lit cigarette in one of the piles.

When I was growing up, the smell of burning leaves was just a part of autumn. I don't remember it ever being a problem. They smoldered rather than burning with an open flame, and if burning leaves ever accidentally torched a house or a car, I don't remember it. Of course, back then people were generally more sensible. Nowadays, some moron would probably park his car on top of a burning leaf pile and then be surprised when it caught fire.



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Wednesday, 10 November 2010
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08:56 - I'm in preliminary discussions with O'Reilly/MAKE about doing another book. The working title is The Illustrated Guide to Home Biology: All Lab, No Lecture. It may or may not happen, depending on O'Reilly's assessment of risk/return to publishing such a book. I hope it does happen. I'm looking forward to creating new life forms in my basement lab. Barbara says she doesn't mind if I create the Andromeda Strain in the basement, as long as I keep it out of her kitchen. And it would be cool to be the first kid on the block with his own DNA sequencer.


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Thursday, 11 November 2010
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07:51 - Our newly-reelected sheriff was responsible for a car accident the other day. He ran a red light, hitting one vehicle and causing it to hit another. There was $6,000 in damage to the county car the sheriff was driving and serious damage to the other two vehicles. There were minor injuries. The sheriff has admitted publicly that the accident was completely his fault. The police announced that they had not and would not issue any citation to the sheriff and that the case was closed. Making matters worse, the county announced that under governmental immunity it would refuse to pay for the damage to the other vehicles, leaving those people hung out to dry.

As one lady commented in the newspaper article, she'd been ticketed recently for running a red light even though no accident had resulted. She ended up paying $400 in attorney's fees and court costs, and no doubt will pay much more in increased insurance premiums. So there's obviously a fundamental fairness issue in play here. I don't blame the sheriff. He seems to be a good guy, and I suspect he had nothing to do with the way this incident was (mis)handled. No one would expect one cop to ticket another cop for running a red light if no accident resulted. That's expected professional courtesy, and I suspect few would object. But an accident did result in this case, and sweeping it under the rug like this is simply reprehensible.

The cop in question should have issued a citation to the sheriff, and the county should have waived governmental immunity and made these victims whole. I suspect this isn't over.



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Friday, 12 November 2010
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07:49 - As I kind of suspected would happen, Sheriff Schatzman has requested that the Winston-Salem PD issue him a ticket. Cynics might think this is because Schatzman is afraid that this incident would come back to bite him when he's up for re-election in four years. I suspect it has more to do with the fact that Schatzman is a straight shooter who's spent a lifetime in law enforcement. It must be as obvious to him as to anyone how fundamentally unfair his special treatment by the WSPD was.



It's started already. After the bloodbath a week ago, I pointed out that the newly-elected Republicans had better keep their eyes on the ball. They were elected not because anyone actually liked them, but because everyone hated what the Democrats had done to the economy. We sent the Republican SOBs to Congress to cut taxes and spending, to create jobs, and to repeal ObamaCare. They forget that at their peril.

North Carolina has both houses of the legislature Republican for the first time since 1870. What they should concentrate on, once they're seated, is reducing taxes and spending. But I see in the paper this morning that at least some of them intend to attempt to pass a bill to declare marriage as between one man and one woman. To our credit, North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that hasn't passed such a bill. That's something the religious nutters are determined to change.



Pat Condell on free speech in Europe, or the lack thereof. As usual, it's worth spending the time to listen to what Condell has to say. I just wish he wasn't so mealy-mouthed about Islam.







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Saturday, 13 November 2010
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11:42 - Here's an interesting post on Jerry Coyne's blog about scientists and clothing. It's all true. Most scientists I know spend zero time worrying about clothing and other trivialities. The one exception is Mary Chervenak, who's both a black-belt scientist and a clothes horse. That bothered me early in our acquaintance--it just seemed out of character--and I couldn't figure out why. I finally told Mary what I was thinking, and she explained: "I'm such a girl." Which makes sense. Hindbrain trumps forebrain, even a truly excellent forebrain like Mary's.

When I mentioned this article to Barbara, she replied, "You think?" Yep. I'm as guilty as anyone. She used to buy me new clothes for birthdays, Saturnalia and other holidays, but I'd just stick them in the closet and not wear them, often literally for years. I've gotten a bit better about that, but I think I probably still have clothes unworn that she bought me in the 20th century.

Back when I was in grad school, my clothes were deplorable, even by my non-existent standards. As any chemistry student will tell you, our clothes all end up with holes in them. (I'm talking even socks and underwear here...) Usually tiny little holes from acid splashes, but sometimes great gaping holes. So, one day, a girl friend (as opposed to a girlfriend) took me in charge and announced that we were going clothes shopping. (I actually had less-than-honorable intentions concerning her, so instead of telling her to pound sand I went with her.)

I picked out one pair of jeans, but she insisted I buy at least two. Then we headed for the t-shirt section. She said I had to buy at least half a dozen t-shirts, so I picked out six t-shirts in XXL tall, all the same color (gray). She thought I was kidding. I explained that (a) I liked gray, and (b) I didn't see any point to having different colors and having to waste time choosing one. I think to this day she probably thought I was putting her on. I wasn't. I walked out of the store with two identical pairs of jeans and six identical t-shirts. (I kept one new pair of jeans and one new t-shirt to wear for formal occasions; the others soon ended up full of holes.)


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Sunday, 14 November 2010
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