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Week of 9 June 2008

Latest Update: Saturday, 14 June 2008 09:20 -0500

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Monday, 9 June 2008
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10:34 - 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 and labs.

During 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.


Tuesday, 10 June 2008
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09:50 - 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.

At #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.

Brian 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.

Dale 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."

The 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 exactly when.

11:17 -
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.

I 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.


Wednesday, 11 June 2008
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09:05 - 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.

I 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 the best.

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.


Thursday, 12 June 2008
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08:21 - 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, well.

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 population.

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, 13 June 2008
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08:13 - 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?

And 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 early release.

14:00 - Here's another example of a corporate executive who just doesn't get Open Source Software.

Jaaksi, 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."

No, 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.


Saturday, 14 June 2008
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09:20 - 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.

As 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 the stuff.)

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.

While 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.

The 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.

I ordered 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.

The 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 jack.

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.


Sunday, 15 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.