Week of 3 January 2011
Update: Sunday, 9 January 2011 08:47 -0500
- Barbara's off to work for the first time since before Christmas. She said she was looking forward to getting back to work.
We watched several episodes of McLeod's Daughters
last night on Netflix streaming. There've been a couple more glitches
with streaming, but it's no big deal. The screen suddenly goes black
and the buffering screen pops up for a few seconds, and the episode
resumes where it left off. It's no more annoying nor more frequent than
similar glitches with physical discs.
What is annoying is that
stuff in our streaming queue expires. I'd put all eight seasons of
McLeod's Daughters in our streaming queue, even though I'm told the
series jumped the shark long before they stopped making it. So, we were
about 18 episodes into series 3 last night (of 30 episodes) when we
started watching. I happened to check my Netflix queue, which I'd
looked at earlier in the day, and I saw that all eight series of
McLeod's Daughters would no longer be available streaming as of 5
January. It would be very nice if Netflix posted the expiration date
when they first post a disc or series to their list of streaming
programs available. Instead, they wait until two or three days before
the material expires before they bother to tell anyone about it.
well. At least the other series are available on disc. I'm not sure how
much more of this we'll watch, anyway. Lisa Chappell and Jessica Napier
left after this season, and the producers started playing musical
chairs with series regulars. Several people have told me that we might
want to try series 4, but that it started to go downhill in series 5.
It's not like we don't have plenty of other stuff queued up to watch.
still working heads-down on lab chapters for the biology book. I met
the two-complete chapters milestone on 31 December, two months earlier
than the contract states, which may be an all-time record for authors.
Most authors have a hate-hate relationship with deadlines, which they
tend to meet either late or very late. When editors get together, they
reminisce about this one author who actually beat his deadline. I think
that was back in 1939.
I'm still working heads-down on the biology book, right now on the
first of several chapters (acids and bases) about the chemistry of
life. I'm starting small, with biologically-important molecules, and
working my way up through organelles, cells, tissues, organs, and
eventually to organisms.
Right now, I'm giving some serious
thought to the survey lab sessions, of which there'll be many. My
problem is in deciding how much to depend on purchased versus found
specimens. In terms of purchased specimens, there is some commonality
among things that can be bought at the supermarket, aquarium supply
stores, and so on, and of course a huge range of specimens can be
purchased from Carolina Biological Supply and similar vendors. Going
that route offers the advantage of commonality. I can work with
specific species and know that readers will be working with the same
species. Unfortunately, the downside is that readers could end up
spending a lot of money with CBS. The alternative, found specimens, has
the huge advantage of allowing a broad range of specimens to be
collected at little or no cost, but the disadvantage of sacrificing
For example, in one early session we'll be taking a
look at molds. Any number of different mold species can be purchased
from CBS, but the no-cost solution is to dampen a slice of bread and
allow it to grow moldy. Same thing for species like protists
and algae, which can be gathered for free from any handy pond or
birdbath. The downside to that, of course, is that readers will be
looking at different, perhaps very different, species.
particularly problematic for bacteria and other microorganisms, which
are very diverse, often geographically specific, very hard to identify
with specificity, and potentially pathogenic. Right now, I'm inclined
to supply some of these (no, not the pathogenic ones..) with the kit.
The problem with that is that I can't just send a culture. Cultures
have this nasty tendency to grow until they reach the limits of their
food supply and then often mutate before they die off. Live cultures,
like those supplied by CBS, often have to be shipped FedEx and often
require refrigeration. That's simply not practical, logistically or
economically. So what I'm thinking about doing is supplying suspensions
of these microorganisms in screw-top centrifuge tubes, using
phosphate-buffered saline at pH 7.2 as the media. There's no food
there, so the cultures won't grow (and die), but they should remain
viable for months to decades at room temperature in the dark. When
readers are ready to use them, they can simply culture them in broth or
on agar, or for some purposes just use the suspensions directly.
need to do considerable research on this topic, and by that I don't
mean just reading about it. I need to pick out some specific species
now, culture them, put them in stasis, and determine if and how long
they remain viable. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.
Wednesday, 5 January 2011
George Will's column in the paper this morning contained a horrifying
number. Only about one in six US college graduates receive degrees in
natural science or engineering, which puts us in 27th place. The
percentage in China is about three times higher, and even that
isn't nearly high enough. I think we should aim for two out of three or
even three out of four.
Before anyone objects that we don't need
that many new scientists and engineers or have enough bright kids to
fill those classes, I'm not suggesting that we quadruple or quintuple
the number of scientists and engineers we're graduating, although
increasing it by 50% to 100% might be good. I'm suggesting we reduce
the number of students in college until we reach that ratio. In
particular, I'm suggesting reducing the number of students in
publicly-supported colleges and universities. The rationale for
taxpayer-supported universities was not to give any kid who
applied a four-year vacation paid for by taxpayers; it was to
educate our best and brightest to benefit society.
have many more people with degrees in sociology and history and
literature and women's studies than we need, and there's no excuse for
forcing taxpayers to pay for more of them. The new economic realities
mean that public education expenditures are going to take a serious and
ongoing hit. We need to make sure those cuts are rational. We could cut
public university funding by 50% or more with no real impact, so long
as those cuts are made wisely. Eliminate entire departments whose only
output is graduates with degrees in useless subjects. Shift
additional funding to the science and engineering departments.
Make sure that any kid who's qualified and wants to major in science or
engineering or medicine or agriculture or library science or accounting
is guaranteed a place and whatever scholarships or aid that kid needs
to get his degree. If a kid wants to major in sociology or literature
or women's studies, fine. Let him pay for it himself.
- I finished the second lab chapter yesterday, Chemistry of Life I: Acids, Bases, and Buffers
. Right now, I'm immersed in the third lab chapter, which was originally titled Chemistry of Life II: Carbohydrates, Amino Acids, Proteins, Enzymes, and Lipids.
My problem is that I could easily write an entire 350 page lab book
just on carbohydrates. As Bob Seger said, "what to leave in, what to
Here's a time-waster. TelevisionTunes.com. (Thanks to Jeff Duntemann).
After two simple tests, I'm prepared to believe that if they don't have
every US television theme song ever made, they must come close.
First, It's About Time (It's about time. It's about space. About strange people in the strangest place ...)
Second, The Double Life of Henry Phyfe (A foreign spy arrives by the name of U-31. On his first day in he's done in by a hit-and-run...)
Any site that nailed both of those obscure titles must be good.
We've been having some problems with Netflix streaming, but I don't
think it's the fault of either Netflix or the Roku box. I think we have
We've been getting more frequent drops, where
the screen suddenly goes to black and we get the buffering message.
Ordinarily, that's about a 10 second interruption, followed by the
program we were watching resuming right where it left off. But the
other night we had a complete failure of the Roku box to connect to
Netflix. I played around in the wireless router configuration screens,
and saw that although the signal strength was 100% the data rate was
very low and the error count very high. At one point, the Roku box was
showing up with an IP address of 0.0.0.0. Not good.
Roku reconfiguration process, I spotted something new. Apparently, our
next-door neighbors recently installed a WAP, which is showing up as
"hardy-linksys". I suspect we're on the same channel. Ordinarily, I'd
go over there, explain what's going on and get things worked out, but
that's difficult since they're not speaking to us.
checked, and I'm showing 100% signal strength and a data rate of 39.
That's more than good enough for streaming, so I'll just let it lie for
now. If necessary, I can just change channels.
I hate this. I just wrote up a lab session procedure in detail and
ended up discarding it. Well, turning it into a short Note, actually.
It was about using Molisch's reagent, a general test for carbohydrates.
The Molisch's reagent itself wasn't the problem. The procedure requires
using concentrated sulfuric acid, and I decided I really didn't want
that in the kit. I may change my mind if it turns out that some other,
more essential, procedure I write up later requires concentrated
sulfuric acid, but otherwise I'll just mention the test in a Note.
I just emailed our friend Mary Chervenak, who's a Marathon runner, to
ask if she, like many athletes, takes L-glutamine supplements and, if
so, if I could bum one from her. I need a source of a relatively pure
amino acid for one of the lab sessions, and I didn't want to buy a
whole bottle until I knew it'd work. Also, I need to test its stability
in solution. To do that, I'll make up a solution of the capsule
contents in distilled water and do a quantitative analysis for the
amino acid. Then, 6 or 8 months from now, when I start building biology
kits, I'll repeat the quant analysis on the same solution to compare
results. If they match reasonably closely, I'll know I don't have a
storage problem for that solution (or the kits). If they don't match,
it's time to rethink.
Today, Barbara and I are cleaning the
Augean Stables (AKA the unfinished area of our basement). Some of the
stuff gets thrown away, some goes in the recycling bin, but most of it
goes to Good Will. We've mostly cleaned out the space between the
foundation wall and the stud wall that's the back of the kitchen/lab in
the finished area. That area will eventually become my staging area for
assembling and packing kits. It's about 8X5', which is sufficient. I'll
use some 2X4's, a 2X8' sheet of plywood, and some adjustable legs from
Home Depot to build a sturdy work surface, put up some shelves, and I'm
good to go. When we finished the kitchen, now the lab, we put in lots
of electrical receptacles on that side of the wall because we
originally intended to turn that area into a darkroom. They'll serve
just as well for the work area.
Real journalism is alive and well in Australia, at least if Tracey Spicer
is any example. I was delighted to listen to Tracey demolishing an
antivax nutter. None of this "fair and balanced" crap in a situation
where no rational person believes there's anything to debate. Tracey finally cuts this lunatic off and ends the interview as the lunatic attempts to give the URL of her lunatic website.
course, we all knew that the recent news about Andrew Wakefield would
not convince Jenny McCarthy and her crowd. One cannot
convince irrational people by using rational arguments. Their
minds are made up; don't confuse them with the facts. So these nutters
will go on destroying lives. The antivax movement should be proud of
itself. It's now killed more children than every serial killer in
- On "consensus science".
is not done by consensus. There is no large, ornate chamber where
scientists are seated row on row and called to vote upon scientific
proposals. Science advances when a scientist develops a hypothesis,
which is a testable proposed explanation for a phenomenon. He (and
other scientists) tests that hypothesis by designing and running
experiments to discover information that will support or disprove that
Note my choice of words. Even if a huge number of
experimental data points supports a hypothesis, that does not "prove"
the hypothesis to be true, but even one experimental data point is
sufficient to establish that a hypothesis is faulty. Scientists do not
deal in proof; we deal in evidence. No scientist would ever refer to a
hypothesis as "proven" to be true. We don't think that way. Even if I
or another scientist strongly believes that a hypothesis is correct, we
are always open to new data that might reveal that hypothesis to be
But when a hypothesis has been widely and extensively
tested experimentally and appears to hold up, that hypothesis becomes a
theory. The evolution hypothesis, for example, has been tested by many,
many scientists over 150 years with millions of experiments. All of the
experimental data supports the accuracy of the evolution hypothesis;
none of it is in conflict with evolution being an accurate
representation of reality. When a hypothesis has been so widely tested
without finding any significant flaws in it, that hypothesis becomes a
There is no formal requirement that must be met to turn
a hypothesis into a theory, so in that sense scientific theories are in
fact determined by consensus. The time arrives when all serious
scientists accept the reality of a theory, but even at that point the
theory is not sacrosanct; it can still be disproven by one experiment
that falsifies it. If that occurs, all scientists would accept that
that theory belongs in the trashbin of science.
So, Jeff Timm posted on the forums about my comments about anti-vax nutters.
The problem with "AntiVax Nutters" is our so called scientists have degraded their level of respect to nothing.
But of course it's not science that's blackened its own reputation;
it's individual scientists or people representing themselves to be
scientists who have done so. If you look deeper, you'll find that
scientists in general accept some things as true but do not agree on
others. I use the three-nines test to sort them out.
example, if you poll 1,000 random qualified scientists about the
reality of evolution, you'll find that 999 of them (if not 1,000) agree
that evolution is true. And I'm not limiting your sample to biologists.
If you poll 1,000 chemists or physicists or astronomers or geologists,
your results will be similar or identical. You'll get the same results
if you ask them about other theories, such as the germ theory of
disease or atomic theory. And if you ask your 1,000 scientists about
the relationship between vaccines and autism, you'll also get similar
results. The vast, vast majority will tell you that there is no vaccine
theory of autism, that this hypothesis has been tested rigorously and
found to be false.
The problem occurs when, for political or
economic reasons, a hypothesis is claimed by some to be a theory. We've
seen this with AGW. I consider AGW to be a disproven hypothesis; there
is simply too much data that does not support the hypothesis or in fact
contradicts it. In fact, I don't think it even qualifies as a
hypothesis, because it's not testable. Many scientists disagree, and
consider AGW a valid hypothesis. Some claim it rates theory status. But
AGW fails the three-nines test, and fails it badly. If you poll your
1,000 scientists about the likelihood of AGW being true, you'll find
that perhaps 700 of them agree. The remaining 300 either have doubts
about the truth of this proposal, or in many cases dispute it
vehemently. Those numbers by themselves are sufficient to establish
that AGW is not a theory.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010,