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Week of 26 May 2008

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Monday, 26 May 2008
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10:28 - It's Memorial Day here in the U.S., the day set aside to remember those who sacrificed themselves to protect our freedom. Although the official purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country, let's also remember all of those brave men and women, living and dead, who through the years have put their lives on the line to protect all of us. As we have our cookouts and family get-togethers today, let's all take a moment to think about our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, who can't be with their families. And let's have a thought, not just today but every day of the year, for them and the sacrifices they are making and have made.

We had pizza out on the deck last night with our friends Mary and Paul. We'd hoped to have Kim and Jasmine over as well, so that Jas could meet Mary, but that didn't work out. Kim's back problem had flared up, and she wasn't able to make it. We told them that Jas was welcome to come by herself, but of course we didn't really expect a 14-year-old girl to show up by herself to have dinner with a bunch of old folks.

For some reason, people often think I'm kidding when I'm completely serious. Yes, I really do have a new-in-the-box radiation survey meter and accessories in my office closet. Here's an image of the box.

The CD-V715 radiation survey meter is at the top. The box on the lower left is a CD-V750 dosimeter charger, and the two tubes in the lower center compartment are CD-V742 high-range dosimeters.

Civil Defense distributed these kits by the millions, and most of them eventually ended up on the surplus market. I bought mine for, I think, $10 or $15 back in 1979. Even then, with Cold War tensions high, I didn't really expect ever to need it, but this is one of those things that if you need it, you really need it.

The equipment was probably 15 years old when I bought it, so it's probably 45 years old now, but it should still work perfectly. It uses the very latest transistor technology, circa 1964, and it's been fired up only once to test it. Paul and Mary liked it. I think they wanted to take it home with them.


Tuesday, 27 May 2008
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08:33 - It's almost wild-women-and-parties time again. Barbara is leaving Thursday morning to drive her parents down to the beach, where they'll spend a few days with several of Barbara's aunts before returning next Monday. I guess I'll just work while Barbara's gone.

I've booked the remainder of May for working on articles and additional lab sessions for the HomeChemLab.com subscribers' supplement newsletter. I'm trying to get at least a few months' worth in the can so that I can concentrate on the home forensics book starting on 1 June.

So far, I have the June, July, and August issues complete and the September issue in progress. My goal was to get through the end of 2008, but that isn't going to happen. I should get the September and October issues complete by 1 June, which I suppose will have to do. That'll at least give me some breathing space to work on forensics. Come the first of each month, I'll already have the bulk of that month's newsletter complete, and will have to spend only a couple of hours updating it with anything that's come up since I finished doing the draft.

And, of course, I hope to be working on the new edition of Building the Perfect PC at the same time I'm working on forensics. As Pournelle frequently says, it's a great life if you don't weaken.


Wednesday, 28 May 2008
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08:43 - I've been working on material for the HomeChemLab.com subscriber supplement, much of which is devoted to additional lab sessions. Here are the lab sessions that will be included in the supplement through the end of this year. (The ones in blue are complete; the ones in red are yet to be written.)

Laboratory 21.3: Isolate Iodine from Potassium Iodide (June 2008)
Laboratory 19.6: Qualitative Analysis of Some Sugars (June 2008)
Laboratory 11.5: Extract pH Indicators from Plant Material (June 2008)
Laboratory 17.2: Photochemical Bromination of Hydrocarbons (July 2008)
Laboratory 21.4: Synthesize Some Inorganic Pigments (July 2008)
Laboratory 20.4: Quantitative Analysis of Ethanol by Redox Titration (August 2008)
Laboratory 9.5: Job's Method of Continuous Variation (August 2008)
Laboratory 19.7: The Iodoform Test (September 2008)
Laboratory 21.5: Synthesize Rubber (September 2008)
Laboratory 20.5: Determine Water Hardness by Complexometric Titration (October 2008)
Laboratory 23.1: Introduction to Coordination Chemistry (October 2008)
Laboratory 17.3: Photochemistry of Iron Salts (November 2008)
Laboratory 21.6: Synthesize Hard and Soft Soaps (November 2008)
Laboratory 21.7: Synthesize Chloroform from Chlorine Bleach and Acetone (December 2008)
Laboratory 9.6: Spontaneous Reaction of Chlorine and Acetylene (December 2008)


Thursday, 29 May 2008
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08:38 - Barbara is off to the beach with her parents, but as usual she forgot to take the dogs. She'll be back Monday, but it'll be wild women and parties until then. Or it will be, if I can locate any wild women. Unfortunately, I don't know any; if you know of some, please send me their contact information.

I've tried to find my own, I really have. Each time Barbara is scheduled to take a trip, I start asking all of the women we know if they're wild women. Most of them just laugh. Some of them pat me on the head. And sometimes they hit me.

I guess I'll just work on the HomeChemLab.com subscriber supplement documents until she gets back. And I'll probably watch Firefly again.


Friday, 30 May 2008
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09:33 - I had a nice visit with Kim yesterday. I told her Barbara was out of town, and asked her again if she was a wild woman. She laughed, but at least she didn't pat me on the head. Or hit me. After she finished laughing, we talked about Jasmine's summer plans.

Jas turns 15 in a few weeks, and is looking forward to learning to drive. I thought the minimum age for a learner's permit was 15.5, but it turns out it's only 15. Jas completed the classroom part of driver training back in February, and has been waiting her turn for the in-car part of the training. Until she completes both, she's not allowed to apply for the learner's permit. Apparently, the school schedules the in-car training to give the older kids first chance, so Jas has been on a waiting list since she completed the classroom portion.

Kim says the classes continue through the summer, but she's not sure about the in-car part. Presumably it also continues through the summer, but if not it shouldn't be too expensive to have Jas complete it at a private driving school. Kim wants Jas to get her permit as soon as possible so that Kim can ride with her for a full year before Jas gets her driver's license when she turns 16.

Thinking back to when I learned to drive, I remember my father shouting "JESUS CHRIST!" a lot. Actually, we did pretty well together while I was practicing in empty parking lots. My dad taught me to back up in a straight line at speed, and to know exactly where the far side of the car was relative to fixed objects. He also taught me to parallel park and several other useful driving skills. But when we got out on actual streets and roads, things went downhill fast.

I remember the one incident that caused my dad to give up and hand responsibility over to my mother. I was driving over to my grandmother's house, proceeding on Sheridan Avenue, when I came to a stop sign at Highland Avenue, which was a major street (and presumably still is...) My dad and I were thinking at cross-purposes. He thought I was going to turn right, but I planned to go straight. I sat there waiting for a gap in the traffic in both directions so that I could cross Highland and continue on Sheridan.

So I sat waiting for that gap in traffic. And waiting, and waiting. My dad thought I was waiting to turn right and was simply being too cautious. So when the oncoming traffic to my left cleared, he shouted "Go!" There was oncoming traffic to my right, so I said "But...". "Don't argue," my dad said, "Just go." So I went, straight, and narrowly avoided being hit by the oncoming car to our right. "JESUS CHRIST!", my dad shouted for the final time in my driving instruction. He took the wheel and took us home, with me trying to explain the whole way that I thought he meant I should go straight rather than turning right.

So my mom took over driver-training duties. She was a lot more patient than my dad had been, but I know I must have scared her many times. She never shouted at me, but she'd frequently stomp on the non-existent brake pedal on the passenger side. Eventually, we got through it, and between my dad and mom I'd learned all of the basic skills.

When it came time to take my driving test, I wasn't at all concerned. The instructor sat in my car with me, and directed me to do various stuff, including the things my dad had taught me--backing up in a straight line, doing a K-turn, parallel parking, and so on. Then, as we returned to the little building where the driver testing bureau was located, he had me pull around the back of the building, where a car was parked alongside. "See that car?", he asked. "Pass it as closely as you can." Ah, just what my dad had taught me: knowing exactly where the passenger side of the car was.

I was still moving at 25 or 30 MPH, and I passed the car as closely as I could. "JESUS CHRIST!", the examiner shouted, "You couldn't have missed my car by more than half an inch!" His car? Oops. But I did miss his car, I'm guessing by more like a quarter inch, so I did pass the test. He was still shaking when he signed off on the paperwork.

So I do remember what it's like for an adult to teach a teenager to drive. I told Kim that if it got to be too much for her that I'd be happy to ride along with Jasmine. Somewhere in the basement I have my old motorcycle helmet and my Second Chance Z9 bulletproof vest. I may have to dig them out.

Tomorrow is our neighbor Shane's fifth birthday. While Barbara was talking to Shane's mom, Mimi, Barbara mentioned my new chemistry book. Mimi told Barbara that Shane is fascinated by science, and said she'd be interested in doing some chemistry experiments with Shane. Barbara said that we'd be happy to give Shane a copy of the book, but that it really wasn't suitable for a five-year-old kid.

When Barbara returned after her conversation with Mimi, she asked me if there was a science kit suitable for Shane. I looked around and came up with the Smithsonian Megascience Kit. It's nominally for kids aged 10 and up, but in reality it's suitable for a bright five-year-old with parental supervision. So we ordered one for Shane. We'll give him that as a gift he can use right now, and a signed copy of the book as a gift he can use in a few years.

There's not a lot of chemistry in that kit, so I told Mimi I'd also give her a PDF copy of the instruction manual from the discontinued Smithsonian XM 5000 chemistry kit. I'll also give Mimi the little bit of equipment she needs to complete the experiments in that manual--some disposable pipettes, a reaction plate, and so on--along with small bottles of the chemical solutions she needs. With any luck, we'll have a budding chemist in no time. Or, if not, at least a smart kid who has a solid early grounding in science.

All of which gave me an idea for an article I'll write for the December issue of the HomeChemLab.com subscriber supplement: Give a Kid the Gift of Science. And I don't mean just your own children or grandchildren, although of course they're excellent candidates. I mean any kid you know who's bright and who just needs an opportunity and some encouragement to pursue science.

All of us who understand the importance of science and the need to nurture a new generation of scientists should be doing whatever we can to encourage kids to develop and pursue an interest in science. As a chemistry professor, Paul Jones has devoted his life to teaching young people about science. Mary Chervenak gives talks and demos about science at local elementary schools. I'm writing science books for young people, which I think of as my global outreach effort.

But I also want to do something locally. Very locally, as in my own neighborhood. I keep my ears and eyes open, and when I hear about kids like Jasmine and Shane who have a budding interest in science, I do what I can to nurture that interest. In Jasmine's case, that meant writing a book for her. In Shane's case, it just meant buying him an inexpensive science kit and providing a few resources to get him started with chemistry. Each kid will need something different, but I intend to continue looking for neighborhood kids who just need a hand to get started. I hope a lot of my readers will start doing the same thing.


Saturday, 31 May 2008
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08:45 - Hmmm. Barbara's gone until Monday, so I'm having to do the meal planning. Thursday, I had part of a loaf of bread for dinner. Yesterday, I had the remainder of the loaf for dinner and a candy bar for dessert. I'm out of bread, so I think tonight I'll have a can of corn for dinner. I have to be careful to get a balanced diet for dinner, since I don't eat breakfast or lunch. I also have to remember to eat. With Barbara gone, I sometimes get so involved in what I'm working on that I forget to eat.

This is so cool. Terry Losansky bought a copy of Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, and is building a chemistry lab in his garage. But the lab won't be just for his own use. He's also starting up a science club to give interested kids some exposure to hands-on chemistry in his lab, and he plans to do chemistry demonstrations at the local school. Some days it's really good to be an author.


Sunday, 1 June 2008
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.