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Week of 10 November 2008

Latest Update: Sunday, 16 November 2008 08:55 -0500

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Monday, 10 November 2008
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07:59 - Beth Halford's article on home chemistry labs is posted at Chemical & Engineering News. Barbara gets a photo credit. Now the truth can be told. In that image, I'm titrating an aliquot of a concentrated aqueous solution of water with a standardized 55.50 M aqueous solution of water.

We did a Costco run with Paul and Mary yesterday, followed by dinner. I'd bet Paul that McCain would win in a landslide, so, to add insult to injury, I had to buy dinner. We picked up a microwave oven and 64 liters of Coke in 2-liter bottles, as well as some frozen foods. We both like Costco frozen quetzalcoatls (or something like that; they're Mexican, flat and filled with chicken and cheese, which Barbara fries in butter).

I'm going on semi-hiatus from now until the end of the year. We have the kitchen to get finished, and I have a book to get finished. I'll continue to post here, but posts are likely to be sporadic and short.


Tuesday, 11 November 2008
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14:30 - Veterans' Day and the 90th anniversary of the Armistice. Take a moment today to think about all of those men and women, living and dead, who serve or served in our armed forces, and be thankful for what they have sacrificed on our behalf.

My editor, Brian Jepson, emailed me yesterday to say he need to put together a BLAD (book layout and design) sample of the forensics book for the sales folks. That meant he needed text and images sufficient to do a spread of four pages or so. I hadn't shot the images for any of the lab chapters, so I spent some time today putting together a complete lab session from the Impression Analysis chapter. I chose Lab 11.2, on matching film negatives or slides to the camera that made them, based on microscopic variations in the mask of the film chamber.

In shooting the images, I discovered that focusing is a matter of opinion when shooting photomicrographs of a photographic emulsion. The depth of focus of the microscope image, even at low magnification, is much smaller than the actual depth of the emulsion, so when part is in focus another part is out of focus. Also, instead of the nice sharp-edged silver grains in black-and-white emulsions, color negatives and color slides have tiny, fuzzy blobs of dye. Finally, film curls and there's no good way to clamp it flat under the microscope objective. That means that you have to refocus constantly as you examine the edges of the frame. Here's one of the images, this one from one corner of a color slide, that shows some microscopic roughness in the edge of the mask.


Wednesday, 12 November 2008
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08:15 - The tile guy got the kitchen backsplash installed yesterday. He's coming this morning to grout. Then he suggests we allow it to cure for at least three weeks before we seal it.

Yahoo must die. Yesterday, in a moment of insanity, I decided to see if there were any Yahoo groups about forensics. I found two that looked likely and attempted to sign up. My old Yahoo account didn't work. I understand that Yahoo deleted millions of accounts last month with no explanation and no apology, so apparently my old account was one of them.

So I tried to sign up for a new account. I got the entire sign-up page filled out and clicked okay. Yahoo popped up a page that said I had to accept cookies. So I set Firefox to accept cookies from Yahoo, even though I'd rather not do that, and clicked the button to continue registration. It returned me to the original page, but with every field empty.

So I refilled out the form and clicked to register. It apparently succeeded, and sent me to another page asking me to sign in. When I typed in the account name and password I'd just registered, it told me there was no such account. I figured perhaps it was just taking a moment for the new account to be available, so I kept trying every few minutes for an hour or more. No joy. I just tried again this morning. No luck. Yahoo says there's no such ID. Yahoo must die.

Scientists have now confirmed what every dog has always known. Every person has a unique odor.

Barbara and I attended the local Science Cafe after dinner last night. The presentation was interesting. Dr. Robert Browne, a biology professor at Wake Forest University, gave a presentation on Long-term Changes in Biodiversity in Our Backyard. There are very few reliable species surveys from 18th-century America, and Forsyth County is fortunate to have one of the best, possibly the best, such survey.

When the Moravians settled this area in about 1750, one of the first things they did was hire an expert to survey all of the plant and animal species present. Reuter's survey predated the binomial system of Linnaeus, but it is still possible to identify the large flora and fauna that were present during Reuter's survey.

Of the 68 species of trees present in 1764, all are still present today in Forsyth County, including (surprisingly) the chestnut and elm. In fact, because of introduced species that are now found in the wild, tree species diversity is actually higher now than it was then.

The same is not true of large fauna. In 1764, Forsyth County was home to wolves, cougars, and even bison, none of which are still present. The wolves disappeared on their own, but the Moravians set out to exterminate cougars, and succeeded in doing so. Wolves were a threat to livestock, but cougars were a threat to Moravians.

Science Cafe is going on hiatus here until next spring, when they'll return with a new series of events. Barbara and I plan to attend those if possible. In fact, I may even give a presentation.


Thursday, 13 November 2008
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08:34 - There are always exceptions...

From: Paul Jones
  To: Mary Chervenak, Robert Bruce Thompson, suanne tobey
Date: Wed Nov 12 10:27:10 2008
  Re: HCN safety

I have discovered how chemists of old dealt with safety issues. Check out note 1. I suppose a last cigarette is just cruel for those going to the gas chamber. -Paul

And here's note 1 from the document he attached:

1. Gattermann recommends that the operator smoke during the preparation, for he found that a trace of hydrogen cyanide is sufficient to give the tobacco smoke a highly characteristic flavor. This preliminary warning is useful in case of leaky apparatus or a faulty hood.

So, at least sometimes, smoking cigarettes can be very good for your health.


Friday, 14 November 2008
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07:55 - My editor emailed me late yesterday afternoon to say he needs the preface and intro for the forensics book as soon as possible. Production is putting together the BLAD (book layout and design) and dummying up some material for the sales and marketing folks. So I'll go to work on those today and hope to get them knocked out by the first of next week.

Once I've completed those, I'll finish writing the Impression Analysis chapter for the home forensics book. That leaves me with just two lab chapters left to write, the Forgeries and Fakes chapter and the Forensic Biology chapter, with a total of six or seven lab sessions between them. Some work is already done on those, but a lot remains to be done.

I'd like to finish writing those two chapters by next Friday, because Barbara and I plan to take time off from next Friday through the end of the month. In addition to the Thanksgiving holiday, which is at our house this year, we want to get the kitchen finished up. There's a lot remaining to be done, including installing the exhaust hood and some shelves and mounting the cabinet and drawer hardware.

We replaced the old front-mount hardware with rear-mount hardware, so there are a lot of holes to be drilled. Fourteen holes per cabinet door--two for the handle, eight for the hinges, and four for the magnetic catches--times 23 doors and two holes per drawer times nine drawers. It's not a simple matter of re-drilling 340 holes, either. All of the surfaces are now completely smooth, with the old holes filled and sanded, so I'm going to have to do a lot of leveling and measuring to make sure everything lines up properly.

As of Monday, 1 December, I'm back in heads-down mode working on the forensics book. First up is a blast through all of the lab chapters, during which I'll do some minor re-write to tie them all together. I'll also decide on which images to shoot and make up a consolidated list of materials and equipment needed for all of the lab sessions. The O'Reilly production folks prefer to work in order, so the next thing I'll do is finish writing the initial narrative chapters. After that's done, I'll go back through the lab chapters in order, doing the labs (usually repeating them, but in some cases doing them for the first time) and shooting images. Invariably I run into some required re-write and perhaps even substantive changes during that pass, some of which will have to be incorporated into the early narrative chapters (particularly equipment/material changes). I'll ship the finished chapters off to my editor as I complete them, with the goal being to have everything submitted by 31 December. At that point, I'll come up for air.


Saturday, 15 November 2008
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00:00 -


Sunday, 16 November 2008
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08:55 - Every year or two, it seems, I manage to wipe out my home directory while I'm backing up. I did it yesterday. Actually, the mouse did me in. I'd selected everything to copy and the mouse clicked on Delete all by itself. I'm not making this up.

I was going to restore from the previous day's backup, but since I was running Kubuntu 7.10 I decided instead to upgrade to 8.10. That means running Ubuntu rather than Kubuntu because KDE 4 still isn't ready for prime-time, but I can live with that. So I recopied all my current stuff from the crippled Kubuntu 7.10 system (try that with a crippled Windows system...) to a USB stick, downloaded Ubuntu 8.10 (try that with a crippled Windows system...), and burned it to a CD (try that with a crippled Windows system...). I restarted the system and installed Ubuntu 8.10.

I haven't lost any data in the usual sense. However, I was annoyed to rediscover that the changes from Firefox 2 to Firefox 3 apparently make it impossible to bring over cookies from the older system. Importing bookmarks and so on is no problem, but Firefox 3 uses an SQL Lite database for cookies rather than a plain-text file, and I can't find any way to bring over my cookies. There aren't all that many of them (I keep "Accept Cookies" turned off and manually enter sites I want to be able to set cookies), but my Firefox 2 cookies stored stuff like my username and password for a lot of sites. Most of those I have recorded in an encrypted OOo spreadsheet, but it's still a pain in the ass.

So now I'm doing laundry and trying to get my new system back to where the old system was. It's orders of magnitude easier with Linux than it would be with Windows, but it's still a pain in the ass.


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