There's a recurring discussion over on the forums about flashlights.
Ray Thompson is a big proponent of premium flashlights that sell for
$50 to $200 or more. That's always struck me as ridiculous.
There's a lot to
be said for being good enough to get the job done, but no better. And
that's the way I look at flashlights. So, while we were at Home Depot
yesterday, I picked up some Brinkman flashlights. They have six white
LEDs and use three AAA batteries. They cost me $9.88. For a pack of
ten. Including batteries. That's right, a buck each. They're also very
bright. I gave Barbara five of them and kept five for myself.
have flashlights all over the place.
on the Kindle. Regular readers may recall that I said I'd never buy a
Kindle unless two things changed. First, the DRM. That's no longer a
factor, as many authors are choosing to publish their books without DRM
and even those books that do have DRM are easily stripped of it it.
Second, I consider an ebook to be worth, at most, the price of a used
paperback. More and more authors, including Joe Konrath, are pricing
their ebooks at $2.99. Actually, many of them would price them even
lower, except that Amazon pays the 70% royalty only for books priced
between $2.99 and $9.99. If the book is priced outside that range,
higher or lower, the royalty percentage drops to 35%.
Amazon will change that policy, and probably sooner rather than later.
We now have a lot of data on ebook sales and price elasticity of
demand, and one thing that's become glaringly obvious is that ebooks
priced higher than about $2.99 simply don't sell in very large numbers.
That will certainly be true for me. I have no plans ever to buy an
ebook that costs more than $2.99. If I see books I'd like to
that're priced higher than that, I'm going to email the authors and
tell them why I'm not buying their ebooks. I'll also point them to
Konrath's blog, and encourage them to self-publish rather than allowing
a traditional publisher to publish their ebooks at much too high a
price (and leave the authors with only a 17.5% royalty). A lot of
authors and their backlists are tied up contractually, but that'll sort
out over the next few years.
at this point, I think any
fiction author who does anything with a new book but self-publish it as
is nuts. Print is already becoming a subsidiary right, like audio or
foreign translations. If I were writing fiction, which I would do if I
had time, I'd contract out cover design, layout, and other skilled
jobs, and publish it myself, without DRM, on Amazon and all of the
other e-book services. I'd still use an agent, but only
print-only and other subsidiary rights to any traditional publishers
who were interested.
of the main reasons I use a multi-core beast with gobs of RAM for my
primary desktop is that Firefox is a pig. Of course, I probably put
more demands on Firefox than nearly anyone else. For example,
now I have 93 Firefox windows active. Not tabs. Windows. Each of those
windows has anything from one to 25 tabs open. Call it an average of
half a dozen tabs per window, or between 500 and 600 total tabs.
I really need, and what apparently doesn't exist, is a one-click "Save
All" option that would save the URLs for all of those open windows and
tabs to a bookmark file, ideally one sortable by page and by the window
in which it originally existed. Alternatively, I may just use the
ScrapBook plug-in and get in the habit of saving entire pages to the
ScrapBook file, where they can be indexed by Beagle and later searched.
Paul Jones stopped by on his way home from work yesterday and turned
down our thermostat to 59 °F (15 °C). Well, not intentionally. He rang
the doorbell, the doorbell cover fell off, and on its way to the floor
it reset the thermostat. We didn't notice all evening because we were
sitting in the den with the natural gas logs burning. Barbara said this
morning that when we went back to bed it felt a little cool but she
didn't think much about it. In the middle of the night, she got chilly,
which is unusual for Barbara, to say the least. She got up and went out
to look at the thermostat and reset it to 68 °F (20 °C).
morning paper has an article about the horrible cuts imminent for our
school system. The superintendent has presented budget estimates for
cuts of 5%, 10%, and 15%, which involve staff reductions of between 500
and 1,000 employees. As serious as that sounds, it's far less than the
cuts they should be making. The Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools
currently have about 8,000 total employees in 80 schools with 52,000
students. That's one employee for every 6.5(!) students. When
was attending public school in the 60's, I'd guess we had one employee
for every 20 students, and we had a truly first-rate school system.
Barbara says the employee head-count was probably about the same here
in Winston-Salem when she was in public school. On that basis, the WSFC
Schools should have cut employees from 8,000 down to 2,600.
easy way to do that would be to double class sizes and fire the worst
50% of the teachers. (Yes, most classrooms are large enough to hold
many more students. If they aren't, knock out some walls.) Everyone
benefits except the incompetent teachers who lose their jobs. The
teachers keep screaming about class sizes, but the simple truth is that
generations of experience have shown that class sizes of 30 students
are as effective as classes half or a third that size.
only the best 50% of the teachers means the students will be taught by
better teachers. Think about it. Are kids on average better off in one
class of 30 with a good teacher, or in two classes of 15, one with a
good teacher and one with an incompetent one? The answer should be
obvious. Here's the truth: the only reason for smaller class sizes is
to employ more incompetent teachers. Period.
"We all understand "being
human" to mean something more than being a eukaryote with a certain
assortment of genes: there are "fully human" cells that I will
unconcernedly dump into the toilet and flush away every morning, and
there are fully developed individuals in my life who I will revere and
honor, and everything in between. The dehumanizing aspect of the
so-called pro-life position is the flattening of the complexity of
humanity and personhood, and its reduction to nothing more than
possession of a specific set of chromosomes. To regard a
freshly fertilized zygote as the full legal, ethical, and social
equivalent of a young woman diminishes the woman; it does not
elevate the zygote, which is still just a single cell. It is that
fundamentalist Christian view, shallow and ignorant as it is, that is
ultimately the corrosive agent in our culture, since it demands
unthinking obedience to a rigid dogma rather than an honest evaluation
of reality, and it harms the conscious agents who actually create and
maintain our culture.
position is one that demands we respect an organism for what it is, not
what it isn't. It recognizes that an epithelial cell shed from the
lining of my colon is less valuable than a gamete is less valuable than
a zygote is less valuable than a fetus is less valuable than a newborn.
It does not imply that one must still adhere to the black & and
white thinking of the IDiots and draw a line, and say that on one side
of the line, everything is garbage that can be destroyed without
concern, and on the other side, everything is sacred and must be
preserved at all costs.
A seed is not a tree. That doesn't imply that I'm on a crusade to
posting that, I decided to return and add a bit of commentary. I think
PZ should have extended the string beyond "newborn" to include, "is
less valuable than a toddler, is less valuable than a teenager, is less
valuable than an adult." All of which has, at various times and places,
been recognized in law. For example, well into the 20th century, the
Brits had a crime called "infant killing". A mother who killed a baby
before its first birthday was arrested and tried. If convicted, she was
usually sentenced to a short custodial period or sometimes merely
probation. This was true at a time when a mother who killed an older
child (or anyone else) would have been hanged. The much lighter
punishment for infant killing was based on two considerations: first,
that new mothers sometimes suffered post-partum depression and so could
not be held entirely responsible for their actions, and second
(tacitly) that a newborn infant was not yet truly a complete person.
fact, a baby is literally a parasite, in the sense that it's incapable
of remaining alive without support from its host. Of course, we don't
think of a baby in that way, but as something to be cherished and
protected at all costs. As one of my girlfriends once remarked, "it's
lucky for babies that they're so cute, because otherwise the human race
would have died out after one generation." Which is true. If we weren't
genetically wired to protect our young despite the cost and aggravation
we incur in doing so, we wouldn't have a next generation. Just ask any
new parents what they're going through. I remember one time Barbara and
I were watching a movie in which one of the actresses commented about
looking forward to menopause because it meant she wouldn't have to have
any more babies. As I commented to Barbara, nature arranged things that
way because a young woman can, barely, survive being run ragged and
sleep-deprived as a new mother. Having a baby would kill an older woman.
Wow. And if you read the article, it appears the total cost is more like $2 billion a year. Just for Los Angeles County.
my proposal for immigration reform. If at least one of your parents is
a legitimate US citizen, you're a citizen no matter where you're born.
If neither of your parents is a legitimate US citizen, you're not a US
citizen, no matter where you're born, unless you become naturalized.
That's the way just about every other country on the planet does it,
and has always done it.
Of course, to be a "legitimate US
citizen" means that at least one of your parents must have been a
legitimate US citizen, so we'd need to go back at least several
generations to sort things out. In other words, a child who was born of
two parents neither of whom was a US citizen other than by virtue of
being born in this country is not a US citizen. If you're not a
legitimate US citizen, back you go. And we really need to charge Mexico
retroactively for all of the costs we've carried for so many decades.
we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. So I propose a
compromise. We expel the losers--the poor and the stupid--back to
Mexico, where they belong. The good ones, we keep. Furthermore, as part
of my immigration reform program, I propose that we make it a lot
easier for citizens of Mexico and other countries to become US
citizens. Anyone who can speak English fluently and can pass a means
test and an educational proficiency test is welcome to stay here. In
fact, anyone that can pass those tests is welcome to immigrate here and
become a citizen. In other words, we'll take the good ones. We don't
want the losers.
I spent some time yesterday thinking about cheap solutions to the photometry problem. Ideally, I'd like to use a spectrophotometer
for the biology lab book. The problem is, even an entry-level
spectrophotometer sells for $500 and up. It's actually possible to make
a usable spectrophotometer with reasonably good resolution and accuracy
(here, for example), but that's a lot of work and fiddling and not something that many of my readers will want to do.
So I wondered if instead of a spectrophotometer I could use a simpler colorimeter.
(The difference is that a spectrophotometer measures
transmittance/absorbance at hundreds or thousands of discrete
wavelengths across the UV, visible, and/or IR spectrum, while a
colorimeter measures transmittance/absorbance at just a few specific
wavelengths, typically blue, green, and red.) I decided that a
colorimeter would suffice, so the next step was to figure out how to
make a usable colorimeter from $10 worth of parts from Radio Shack and
10 minutes' work.
I finally decided that the best answer was to
make not one colorimeter, but several, one devoted to each wavelength.
I'll use polystyrene cuvettes (basically, square plastic test tubes) as
the specimen containers. I'll superglue a blue, green, yellow, or red
LED (and perhaps also an IR and/or UV LED) to one side of a cuvette and
a cadmium sulfide photoresistor to the opposite side and then wrap the
assembly in black plastic electrician's tape. The LEDs are driven by a
pair of AA alkaline cells in a $0.99 battery holder and I read the
resistance from the CdS photoresistor with a digital multimeter. This
ought to work, and it should be reasonably accurate.
Amazon tells me my new Kindle should arrive Monday, so I need to
download some books for it. I intend to get all of the novels and short
stories of one of the best mystery writers who ever lived, and one that
few people today have even heard of. His name was R. Austin Freeman.
He dominated the British mystery scene for 30 years, and invented the
inverted mystery (where you start out knowing what happened and who did
it, but you have to figure out how
he did it). Freeman was a physician and a forensic scientist, which
goes a long way toward explaining why he was as good as he was at what
he did. He is probably unique among mystery/procedural novelists in
that, as he was writing each novel, he actually did everything in his
own lab that he had his detective doing in the book.
was also unusual in that he ignored "playing fair with the reader",
which was considered a paramount requirement for a good mystery in the
Golden Age. That is, the solutions to his mysteries often depended upon
having arcane knowledge, such as the effect of a particular poison on a
particular type of animal. One other famous mystery writer who was
often excoriated for using arcane knowledge in this way was none other
than Agatha Christie. (I think Freeman's novels are at least as good as
Christie's, if that's any indication.)
still cranking away on the home bio lab book. As usual at this stage in
the process, things are a complete mess. I currently have 27(!) lab
session chapters in progress, but most of them are only partially
stubbed out. What happens is I'll be writing along on one chapter when
I have an idea for another. The only way I know to capture that new
idea is to go start the chapter that it belongs in. So I have a bunch
of just-started chapters with brief descriptions of lab session ideas,
sometimes only a paragraph or even a sentence.
Quite often, a
new idea comes up from a piece of equipment or a chemical that I'm
using in the session I'm currently working on. I'll realize that I
could also use it for something else useful, so I have to go stub out
that idea before I lose it. The annoying part is when I have an idea
that I'm not sure will work. For example, I'm going to head over to
Radio Shack in the next couple of days to buy an assortment of LEDs,
CdS photoresistors, battery holders, switches, and so on. I'll use
those to build the $2.00 colorimeters I mentioned yesterday. There's no
reason those shouldn't work, but before I start spending a lot of time
on lab sessions that incorporate them, I actually have to build them
and verify that they work.
here's a request for ideas. I want to allow readers to do DNA gel
electrophoresis on the cheap, and the only real problem is that I need
a good source of DC power. I've used five 9V batteries in series to
yield 45 VDC. That works fine, but 9V batteries aren't cheap, and a set
of five doesn't last for many runs. What I'd like is a DC power supply
that's driven from a standard AC wall receptacle and provides DC
voltage somewhere in the range of 45V or 50V to 250V. Ideally, the
voltage would be variable or at least steppable, but a fixed-voltage
unit in the 45V to 125V range would work. I wouldn't need much
amperage. It has to be readily available, ideally locally. Oh, and it
needs to be cheap. Certainly less than $25, and ideally less than $10.
As Malcolm and I were returning from our walk, we met our neighbor
Paula, walking Max. Max is a year older than Malcolm, and suffering the
aches and pains of an older dog. He looked pretty sprightly this
morning, and I commented on it to Paula. I asked if she was giving him
any pain medication, and she said she was. The vet warned her about
hepatotoxicity and recommended she give Max only half a tablet. That
scared her, so she gives him only a quarter tablet.
mentioned that Malcolm also had liver issues and that our vet had
prescribed something she said was a lot safer for the liver. Paula
wanted to know what it was, but I couldn't for the life of me remember
the name. Well, I could, but the name I remembered wouldn't do
Paula (or probably her vet) any good. It's
That's relatively easy for me to remember, because the name describes
the structure. (Cyclohexanol with a dimethylamino group hung off a
methyl group at the 2-position of the alcohol and a 3-methoxyphenyl
group on the same carbon as the hydroxyl, at the 1-position.) The name
they sell it under, on the other hand, is impossible for me to remember
because it has no referent. Tramadol. Geez. If we had a
scientifically-literate population, we wouldn't need these crap names.
Asked and answered. One of the regulars over on the forums, bradley13, posted a link to this $20 DC power supply,
which looks like it'll do the job. 58VDC at 1A is more than sufficient,
particularly for small gels, and has the advantage of using a low
enough voltage that inexperienced users are unlikely to be electrocuted
to death. (I'm so pedantic; one can be electrocuted without fatal
In other news, scientists
have found that guys have been right all along about bathing frequency.
It's perfectly safe to go weeks or even months between baths or
showers. You won't get many dates, but it is safe.
me of one of the guys who lived in my dorm my sophomore year of
college. He shall remain nameless, except to say that his name was Fred
McCorm*ck. Our dorm rooms had built-in wardrobes with a series of six
drawers. Fred would wear underpants from the top drawer once, and then
put them in the second drawer. When he ran out of clean underpants,
he'd take a pair from the second drawer, wear them, and then put them
in the third drawer. And so on. When all his underpants were in the
bottom drawer, he'd finally do laundry.
I never could figure out
why he waited so long. I told him once that was why he couldn't get a
date, but he apparently hated to do laundry. It was really quite easy.
One of our men's dorms had a laundromat in the basement. They charged
$0.25 for the washers, but the dryers were free. The first time I did
laundry as a freshman, I washed and dried my clothes. As I was taking
the dry clothes out of the dryer and putting them back in the laundry
basket, an upperclassman pointed out to me the folly of my ways.
see, the women's dorms didn't have laundromats, so they had to bring
their clothes to the one men's dorm that did. The upperclassman pointed
out to me that women were constitutionally incapable of dumping wet
laundry from the washer onto a sorting table, so all I had to do was
start the washer running and walk away. A few hours later, I'd return
to recover my dry clothes. Apparently, women were also constitutionally
incapable of dumping even dry clothes on a sorting table, because my
clothes would always be neatly folded when I returned. Alas, that
didn't work in grad school, because the women had their own laundromats
and chased us out if they found us there.
I need to go start the laundry. I proposed to Barbara that, instead of
doing laundry every weekend, I do laundry once a year. She said that
was fine for my stuff, but she'd still do hers every week. Oh, well.
Here's what I picked up after dinner at Radio Shack last night:
Rectangular High-Brightness Blue LED Lamp Model: 276-013 | Catalog #: 276-013 $1.99
Rectangular High-Brightness Green LED Lamp (2-Pack) Model: 276-009 | Catalog #: 276-009 $1.99
also got a pack of two knobs to fit the switch. I wanted some kind of
clip or well contacts for the DMM probe tips, but didn't see anything I
liked. I'll come up with something, even if it's only alligator clips.
The 47-ohm resistors are needed to drop the 3.0V supply
voltage to 2.1V, which is within spec for the green, yellow, and
red LEDs. The blue and UV LEDs can be driven at 3.0V.
haven't soldered anything electronic in more than 30 years.
Fortunately, our next-door neighbor is a ham radio operator, and I'm
betting he'll be more than happy to give me a hand. Now I just need to
come up with some kind of well for the 12.5mm square cuvette tubes
that'll hold and position them correctly and block extraneous light.
On weekend mornings, I usually get up around 7:00 to let Malcolm out,
and then read or browse the web while Barbara sleeps in. This morning,
the phone rang at 8:00, which is never a good thing. It was Barbara's
sister, Frances, calling to tell her that she was on her way to their
parents' house. Their dad was having trouble breathing and their mom
had called 911. While Barbara was getting dressed, Frances called again
to tell her that the EMTs said Dutch was in congestive heart failure
and they were transporting him to the emergency room.
holding down the fort here, waiting to hear from Barbara once they know
more. Malcolm is obviously distraught. He's very sensitive to Barbara's
emotional state, and he knows something's wrong. He's walking around
whimpering as I'm writing this.
Dutch is 88 years old, but he's
tough. I suspect they'll put him on diuretics and if they admit him
it'll probably only be for a day or so.