Week of 9 June 2008
Update: Saturday, 14 June 2008 09:20 -0500
Today I'll spend outlining a series of homechemlab.com videos that we
plan to shoot starting in the next week or so, but the remainder of
this week is devoted to heads-down work on the forensics book, writing
the first trial run at shooting video in my lab, we ran into some
problems with color balance and audio. The footage was usable, but far
from what I consider good enough. So I'm going to try again. Barbara
dug out my Macbeth Color Checker and Kodak neutral white and 18% gray
cards, which I'll use to get the color balance as correct as is
possible under fluorescent lights.
Phil Torrone of MAKE said to
send him copies of the raw footage and he'd massage it into something
usable, correcting color balance if necessary. We plan to shoot a bunch of homechemlab.com videos, each of
which will run five minutes or less, and post them to the MAKE site,
YouTube, and wherever else it makes sense to post them. I'll do some.
Mary Chervenak will probably do some. Barbara refuses to be on-camera,
although she'll probably run the camera for a lot of them. And I'm
going to try to sweet-talk Jasmine into doing at least one or two. Jas
could turn into a YouTube star.
As to the audio problems, I ordered one of these
yesterday morning. It won't ship until Wednesday, so I probably
won't have it until early next week. From the specifications and
reviews, it looks like it'll be fine for what I need to do. I'm sure
the 250-foot (76 m) range is optimistic, but I need only a 10-foot (3
m) range anyway. The sound may not be up to professional quality, but
I'm sure it'll be better than what I get with the mike built into the
camcorder. That mike yields boomy audio, and the camcorder motor is
faintly audible. The sound with this wireless lav mike should be an
order of magnitude better, and certainly good enough for web video,
which is all that really matters.
I'm delighted with the performance of Illustrated Guide to Home
Chemistry. Some books sell well for the first week or two after they're
published, but then sales tail off rapidly. This one appears to have
legs. Yesterday, I shot a screen capture of part of the Amazon.com
page for the book.
#1,403, the Sales Rank is excellent. It's been holding in the
mid-three-figures to the mid-four-figures ever since it was published,
which means Amazon.com is selling quite a few copies. The fact that the
book is the #1 seller in the relevant categories listed is gratifying,
but what I find stunning is the last section. I've never seen a book
that was this dominant in the "What Do Customers Ultimately Buy...?"
section. The book has consistently been very near 100% every time I've
looked, which is extraordinary. Basically, I think that means that
nearly everyone who views the book buys it rather than something else.
Jepson, my editor at O'Reilly, emailed me yesterday to say he
was producing a video segment of the chemistry set talk I gave at
Maker Faire. I'd given a talk the prior day about astronomy. I'd
expected to be able to talk from my notes, but I found that the big
screen wasn't readable from the only place I could rest my notes as I
talked. So, for the chemistry talk, I decided to dispense with the
notes and just stand up and talk extemporaneously.
Dougherty, the publisher of MAKE, greeted me as I came down from the
stage and told me that I looked like a mad scientist bouncing around
the stage with my lab coat and goggles and my hair in disarray. I was
horrified, but Dale said, "No, that's a Good Thing."
segment runs about 10 minutes and covers about the middle third of the
talk. I didn't realize it, but Brian himself shot the footage. He had a
lot of balls in the air himself at that time, so I'm very pleased that
he was able to take the time to shoot as much as he did. I expect the
video will be up on the MAKE site later this month, but I don't know
For a minute there, I thought the super throttle-weasels had
taken control at Netflix Central. I got email from Netflix this
morning to say they'd received two discs back from me. I checked my
queue, expecting it to say "We expect to ship your next available movie
today." Instead, I saw this.
called Netflix and the support guy told me they were having a computer
glitch. Everyone was seeing the next-Monday message. They're working on
getting it fixed, but he said one and probably both of my next discs
would actually go out today, with the second one possibly not shipping
until tomorrow. That's a lot better than next Monday.
The high temperatures we've been experiencing are supposed to break
today. For the last several days, we've had highs in the upper 90's
Fahrenheit (~ 37C), but today the high is supposed to be around 84F (~
29C). The dogs have been having a rough time of it, and I'm sure
they'll appreciate the cooler temperatures, as will we all.
have the first dozen or so chemistry demonstration videos
outlined, and we'll start shooting them once the wireless mike arrives
and we make sure we have everything set up correctly as far as
lighting, audio, etc. Mary Chervenak will host some of the videos, and
I think I may be able to talk Paul Jones into doing some as well.
Barbara isn't interested in appearing on camera, although she'll
probably be behind the camera for most of the videos, and I haven't yet
talked to Jasmine about hosting some. That's probably a lost cause. Jas
doesn't even like to have her picture taken, so I'm sure she'll refuse
to appear in any of the videos. All I can do is ask her and hope for
Tonight I have my first radio interview for the home
chemistry book. It's on KMOX-AM in St. Louis, Missouri. Laura Stevens,
who's doing PR for the book, emailed me Monday to ask if I could do a
live interview at midnight. I told her I'd give it my best shot,
although I might not be too sharp that late in the evening. So we're
going to record the interview at 11:00 tonight for replay an hour later.
The radio station stood me up. When they didn't call at 11:00, I
figured there'd been some misunderstanding and that they'd call at
midnight. I sat up until well past midnight, but they never called. Oh,
Here's another of those duh studies: High IQ turns academics into atheists.
I would have thought that was empirically obvious to anyone. The
smarter someone is, the less likely he is to believe in fairy tales of
any sort, including religious ones.
Clearly, there are some
very intelligent people who are devoutly religious. Not many, but some.
My friend Jerry Pournelle, for example, is scary smart, but he is also
devout, and I know several other very bright people who are also
religious. But it's equally clear that the relationship between
intelligence and religious belief is inversely proportional. One
doesn't find many hard scientists among the regular church-going
For their next study, I suggest that these folks
look at the relationship between intelligence and political beliefs. I
can tell them what they'll find. Traditional democrats
(socialist/liberal) will average perhaps one standard deviation below
the mean in IQ. Traditional republicans (socialist/conservative) will
average slightly below the mean, classic liberals and classic
conservatives will average perhaps one standard deviation above the
mean, and libertarians will average perhaps two sigmas above the mean.
But we're not allowed to talk about any of this.
- Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month.
I sometimes happen across a news article that leaves me shaking my head. Here's one of those: Victim of false rape claim must pay £12,500 for bed and board in jail
Leaving aside the fact that this man should never have been
convicted in the first place--he had no criminal record, no forensic
evidence was found, and the woman is, and should have been known to the
authorities to be, a serial accuser--what on earth could justify
charging him for room and board while he sat in prison, falsely
accused? As he points out, those who've actually committed the
crimes they've been imprisoned for don't pay room and board, so why
should he be charged?
what about his accuser? It seems to me that a woman who falsely accuses
a man of rape should be subject to the maximum penalty to which he
would have been subject if convicted. This woman has apparently pulled
this at least seven times now. If I were the judge, I'd sentence her to
seven maximum terms, to run consecutively and with no possibility of
- Here's another example of a corporate executive who just doesn't get Open Source Software.
Nokia's vice president of software and head of the Finnish handset
manufacturer's open-source operations, said: "We want to educate
open-source developers. There are certain business rules [developers]
need to obey, such as DRM, IPR [intellectual property rights], SIM
locks and subsidised business models."
Jaaksi admitted that
concepts like these "go against the open-source philosophy", but said
they were necessary components of the current mobile industry. "Why do
we need closed vehicles? We do," he said. "Some of these things harm
the industry but they're here [as things stand]. These are touchy,
emotional issues but this dialogue is very much needed. As an industry,
we plan to use open-source technologies but we are not yet ready to
play by the rules; but this needs to work the other way round too."
it doesn't. Nokia wants to use OSS. OSS doesn't care if Nokia uses OSS
or not, but insists that if Nokia does use OSS it must comply with the
license terms. What Nokia is really saying here is that it wants to be
able to use OSS for its own purposes while disregarding the license. It
doesn't work that way. If you can't live with OSS license
terms, write your own software. You can't have it both ways, which
is what Nokia is arguing for here.
Barbara decided to cut the grass after we got home from dinner out
yesterday. She'd finished the front yard and was working on the back
when she came in and shouted up to me that her lawnmower had broken. It
was the cable that engaged the self-propulsion clutch. It had broken
before and I'd mended it per the advice of our lawnmower repair guy,
but this time it was gone for good. Barbara ended up mowing the rest of
the back yard by pushing the mower.
When she finished, we
discussed repairing versus replacing. Her mower is a Honda that she
bought in April of 1992, so it seemed to make more sense to replace it
than repair it. I checked the Lowes web site and was surprised to see
that they carried Troy-Bilt mowers for $300 and under. That made me
suspicious. Troy-Bilt is (or used to be) a very good name, but Barbara
paid $700 for her Honda in 1992, so a mower priced at $300 sixteen
years later was enough to make us wonder about quality and durability.
it turned out, we were right to be concerned. We called our lawnmower
repair guy and asked him what brands he recommended. He said that Honda
had cost-reduced their mowers over the years, and that they were now a
pale shadow of what they had been. When I asked him about Troy-Bilt, he
told us they were junk and we'd regret buying one. (As it turns out,
Troy-Bilt was bought out by a large conglomerate that now makes
products as cheaply as possible and slaps formerly-good brand names on
He recommended Snapper and, to my surprise, Sears
Craftsman. He mentioned the name of the company that actually makes the
Craftsman mowers, which I don't recall, but he said they make the best
mowers still available. He also mentioned that repair parts were no
problem with Sears products, but they are with most other brands.
we were talking, I went to the Sears web site and found that their
mowers are all on sale through tomorrow. I don't much care for Sears,
but when I don't know much about a subject I listen to the advice of
those who do. So Barbara is going to run by Sears and buy one of their
better/best models today or tomorrow.
Azden wireless microphone arrived yesterday. I played with it briefly,
and it appears to work fine. As I was installing batteries, I was
surprised to see that the components were made in Japan. The
transmitter and receiver are plastic, but both feel durable and of high
quality. I'm quite pleased because for $150 I was frankly expecting
fragile, crudely-finished Chinese stuff. The components aren't heavy by
any means, but they look and feel solid and well made.
the model that includes both a lavaliere mike and a hand-held mike.
Adding the hand-held mike bumped the price from $135 to $150, but I
figured it was worth an extra $15 just in case. The hand-held mike is
just a mike. That is, it has to be connected to the transmitter box in
place of the lavaliere mike. Still, at some point I may need a
hand-held mike, so it was worth an extra $15 for the flexibility.
units work on either of two frequencies, which are selected by the
power switch (Off - Channel A - Channel B). At some point, if I decide
I need two mikes active, I can add a second transmitter-receiver pair
and buy a Y-cable that accepts the audio signal from two mono sources
and combines it into one stereo-plug that connects to the camera mike
At any rate, I'm happy with the Azden. I'm sure the audio
won't be "professional quality", but it'll be worlds better than what I
was getting with the built-in mike, and that's all that matters. It
should be more than adequate for web videos.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert