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Week of 18 April 2011


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Monday, 18 April 2011
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09:27 - Barbara and I started watching Numb3rs last night on Netflix streaming. Imagine that, a series in which a gifted mathematician is not only the protagonist, but is represented accurately. In the pilot episode, the mathematician, whose brother is an FBI agent in charge of searching for a serial killer, uses a lawn sprinkler as an example of how the unknown location of the lawn sprinkler (or serial killer) can be determined mathematically by working backwards from where the water drops strike (or where the bodies are found).

They started scrolling mathematical formulae across the screen, and I was surprised to see, as I commented to Barbara, that the formulae weren't meaningless garbage. Nor were the formulae the mathematician scrawled fluently across his blackboards. I found myself wondering if the actor actually was a mathematician. I concluded that either he was, or the program has one hell of a technical advisor. Barbara likes the series, so we'll continue watching it. It certainly meets my requirements: at least one cutie, in this case played by Navi Rawat.

I also noticed last night that my Netflix disc queue is mostly stuff that we don't really care that much about, while my instant queue is full of stuff that we really want to watch. So I decided, after years of being on the 3-discs-at-a-time plan, to downgrade to the 1-disc-at-a-time plan. Lately, I've found myself actually holding onto discs because we didn't have time to watch as many as Netflix has been sending us.

That's remarkable, when you think about it. For $20/month, Netflix is supplying us with more good stuff to watch than we have time to watch. Even if I drop to the $10/month plan, they'll still be offering more material than we have time for. And we'll still get stuff on disc that's not yet available streaming. And, of course, I have a slew of inexpensive ebooks queued up in my TBR pile.

The common thread here is the implosion of big content's (over)pricing model. Artificial scarcity is becoming a thing of the past. First music, then video, and now books. The days when the record labels, networks, publishers, and other middlemen took the lion's share of the profits are fast disappearing.


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Tuesday, 19 April 2011
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09:50 - I spent some time in the lab yesterday making up the last group of chemicals for the chemistry kits. These are the ones that are hazardous enough that shipping regulations require using shrink bands to secure the container caps. Stuff like 6 M acetic acid, ammonia, hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide.



Barbara spotted an ad in the paper this morning for Border Collie puppies. They were born on 12 February, and there are eight of them. Four red-and-whites, three male and one female, and four black-and-whites, one male and three females. I just called to set up a visit. With eight puppies, one of them is sure to choose Barbara. It will be nice to have a puppy around the house again, after more than 11 years.

I suspect I'll be sleeping on the floor tonight to keep the puppy company on his or her first night away from the litter. There were nine pups in the litter, so they're used to having lots of company. I remember Duncan's first nights with us. Kerry wouldn't have anything to do with Duncan, so I went down on the floor to keep Duncan company. At one point, I woke up to find Duncan sleeping curled up on my chest, and at another he was sleeping on my head, with his back legs hanging down on one side and his front legs on the other.

We already have a crate, puppy-size food and water bowls, and so on, but we'll need to stop on the way home to pick up some Puppy Chow, a collar, and other puppy-size accessories.



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Wednesday, 20 April 2011
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10:07 - We just adopted Colin, who was born on 12 February. More later, but he's chewing on my hand as I try to type.





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Thursday, 21 April 2011
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09:37 - Colin is settling in well. With the exception of a couple of minor accidents, he's well on his way to being housetrained, and has been since he arrived although he was living outside until we brought him home. He actually asks when he needs to go out, although it's usually pretty subtle. Last night, it wasn't as subtle. I was watching him walking around in the den, thinking maybe he needed to go out. He walked over toward the baby gate between the den and foyer and looked at me. Then he backed up, charged the baby gate and knocked it over, and headed for the front door. Sure enough, as soon as I got him out the door he ran over into the grass and peed. That's actually pretty amazing, given that he doesn't turn 10 weeks old until Sunday. Puppies aren't supposed to have control that young.

I took him down to meet Kim and Jasmine yesterday, figuring their dog, Missie, a Yorkie, wouldn't be too intimidating. Kim wasn't there, but Jas made a big fuss over Colin. Barbara and I had discussed keeping him isolated until he'd had all his shots, but I understand most vets nowadays say it's worth the risk to expose the puppy to lots of people and other friendly dogs before they've had all their shots. Apparently, the peak period for socialization is up to 12 weeks, after which the puppy has a harder time learning to get along with other people and animals.

When we had Colin out yesterday after dinner, our neighbors Steve and Mimi, were walking their two dogs, so Colin got to meet them. Their son, Shane, was riding his bike, so Colin got to meet a child and learn that bikes are nothing to fear. Then Amy from across the street came over, so Colin got to meet a 13-year-old girl, also with a bike.

Steve and Mimi offered to let us borrow their puppy pen, which is a bunch of snap-together sections that can be assembled into pens of different sizes and shapes. We put it together in the den last night, intending to use it to keep Colin safe while I try to get some work done. Like any puppy, he's constantly into everything, and regards any object as a good chewing candidate. I penned him a few minutes ago, with a selection of chew toys, towels, and other objects to keep him company. He whined and whimpered loudly for several minutes, but he's settled down now.

Oh, and he's discovered his tail. Yesterday, he was lying on the hardwood floor, spinning in circles trying to fang onto his tail, which keeps twitching tantalizingly. He managed to fang the tail several times, but apparently hasn't yet realized that it's connected to him. Maybe that's because he's not a biter. Yesterday, he yawned hugely, noticed my arm right there, and put my entire arm in his mouth. I was expecting to be chomped, but he just gently mouthed my arm without biting. Of course, he does have needle-like puppy fangs and claws, which have drawn blood from Barbara and me, but it's always been an accident. And, to be fair, I've already stepped on Colin's paw once. It's hard to avoid that, because he moves very fast and likes to be around our feet.

Out in the yard this morning, for the first time, he started herding me. There was no mistaking what he was doing. Not even 10 weeks old, and he's already working.


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Friday, 22 April 2011
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Saturday, 23 April 2011
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Sunday, 24 April 2011
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09:32 - Things have been sparse here because I've had to keep a constant eye on Colin. Frankly, I've never understood why juvenile dogs are called "puppies". They should be called "chewies". Colin chews everything, including his own legs or tail if nothing better is available. And, boy, does he have the equipment for it. Last night, he was lying on his back and yawned. His mouth looked like a moray eel, with hundreds, possibly thousands, of tiny, needle-sharp fangs in there.

We've disassembled and repositioned the puppy pen we borrowed from our friends Steve and Mimi. It's made up of three sections, each about 6 feet (2 meters) long, and hinged in the middle. Barbara has one section protecting her end table in the den. I've taken the other two sections for my office, using them to form a corral from the left side of my desk chair out into the room and around to the opposite wall. We moved some old minitower cases under my desk to protect the cables along the wall. Colin can still get under my desk, but he can't get to anything chewable under there except my legs and feet and the chair itself.

I've gotten almost no work done since Colin came home with us, but now that he's settling in and with my office now chewie-safe I should be able to work almost normally.



I've written before about the excellent work that the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) does in defending science education in general and evolution in particular. They're always at the front in defending science education from attempts by religious fundamentalists to corrupt science education by introducing creationism, intelligent design, and other religious concepts into the science classroom.

Despite that, unfortunately, NCSE is firmly in the accommodationist camp. Their strategy seems to be to cozy up to the "moderate" religionists to convince them that science in general and evolution in particular is compatible with religion, which of course is untrue. Part of that policy appears to be to criticize us Gnu Atheists whenever the opportunity arises. And a lot of us are getting very tired of this abuse.

We're not asking that NCSE endorse atheism or criticize religion in any way. Our position is that NCSE should advocate for science education and take no position whatsoever on religion. That is, after all, what NCSE is supposed to be about.

So, Dr. Jerry Coyne finally decided he'd had enough, and wrote an open letter to NCSE (along with their British colleagues at the BSCE), and asked any of his readers who agreed with the letter to co-sign it. I have done so, and my name is just one of many co-signers. Some are well-known evolutionary biologists, such as Coyne himself, Richard Dawkins, and PZ Myers. Others, such as Ophelia Benson and Russell Blackford, are not scientists but are well-known voices in the skeptic community. But most of the signers are just ordinary people who love science and want it to be taught correctly, without interference by fundamentalists who attempt to cram their religious agenda into public school science classrooms. If you number yourself among that group, please consider signing Dr. Coyne's open letter.



11:19 - Hah! Another minor problem solved. We use lots of dish towels in the kitchen, and I use lots of dish towels in the lab. Barbara's mom frequently gives her dish towels, so we have an overstock in the kitchen. Barbara periodically rotates them out and gives me the old ones for my lab. The problem is, many of those are still in pretty good shape, and when I do the laundry it can be problematic to figure out which ones go where.

We were just sorting the towel load and I noticed that one of my lab towels had a Prussian Blue stain from where I'd dripped some sodium ferrocyanide and ferric chloride on it in the same place. Prussian Blue is extremely insoluble in water, and chlorine bleach doesn't seem to affect it. So I plan to start marking my lab towels by intentionally creating Prussian Blue blotches on them.

Which reminds me of Mary Chervenak's comment about chemicals and fabrics. She says that when she was in grad school every piece of clothing she owned had tiny holes in it because she mixed laundry loads with lab clothes and regular clothes in the same load. Clothes and nitric acid just don't play nice. I don't worry too much about that. If I spill something toxic or corrosive on a lab towel, I toss it in the sink and soak it before tossing it on the basement floor in front of the washer. By the time a towel makes it into the washer there are only traces remaining of whatever had been on it.

Even without Colin to worry about, my schedule for the next three weeks would be packed solid. Posts during that time are likely to be short and sporadic.



14:28 - Colin turns 10 weeks old today. He's growing fast and learning fast. We're feeding him first thing in the morning, around 1:00 p.m., and then at dinner time. We were surprised today when he didn't finish his food immediately. He certainly likes food, but he doesn't feel compelled to eat all of it immediately. That's good, because it means we'll be able to free-feed him once he gets a bit older.


Of course, all puppies have a great deal in common behaviorally, but it's possible even at 10 weeks to tell a great deal about their personalities. Colin is going to be a gentle, calm dog. He's reserved but relaxed around other dogs, and we'll expose him early to cats as well. He's met quite a few children, and gets along well with them. He's going to be a good dog for a lot of years.


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