Week of 18 April 2011
Update: Sunday, 24 April 2011 14:28 -0400
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- We just adopted Colin, who was born on 12 February. More later, but he's chewing on my hand as I try to type.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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