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Week of -2 January 2009

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Monday, -2 January 2009
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08:51 - I'm starting the New Year a bit early because the calendar stubbornly refused to cooperate with my site structure. I proposed an easy fix for the problem eight years ago, but no one listened.

With the New Year comes various computer housekeeping duties, making a new archive set and so on. While I was doing that, I decided to see how much television Barbara and I watch. Nearly all of our viewing is of DVDs, with perhaps a few minutes a day of checking the local news channel for the weather and so on. Barbara sometimes watches a golf match or a NASCAR race on weekends. But the bulk of our viewing is DVDs.

Since I joined Netflix in July 2005, we've watched a grand total of 698 DVDs, most from Netflix but many borrowed from friends or the library. So, assuming each DVD has 2 hours of content (which is a pretty reasonable assumption for the kind of DVDs we view; many have less), that means we've watched 1,396 hours of video in about 41 months, about 34 hours a month or about 1:07 per day. Add in incidental viewing time, and we're probably in the 1:15/day to 1:30/day range. Obviously that's a small fraction of the average, but it may decline even further.

The problem is that we're running out of things to watch. We're mining older stuff now. For example, we just finished watching 26 episodes of The Pallisers, from 1974 (at an average of 108 minutes/disc). It was excellent, by the way, and probably would be a lot better known were it not for the fact that it ran concurrently with Upstairs, Downstairs and had only about a third the number of episodes. But there just aren't that many top-notch older productions remaining that we haven't seen. Fortunately, some stuff worth watching is still being made. Once they're available, for example, we'll rent series two of Californication, series four and five of Weeds, series two of The Tudors, series 137 of Poirot, and so on. But they're not making good stuff fast enough to sustain us at 1:07/day.

Paul and Mary have recommended Bones. Barbara wanted to watch that, primarily because she likes David Boreanaz, but after watching the first ten minutes of the first episode I concluded that the series was so inferior to the books, all of which I've read, that it would be painful to watch. And the books themselves are not absolutely top-drawer, come to that. But perhaps I'll reconsider. I don't mind watching some stuff that Barbara likes better than I do, although I draw the line at any more Brideshead Revisited. We watched all 18,000 episodes of the 1981 version, although it seemed like more to me. Barbara wanted me to rent the new Emma Thompson version. Now, I would watch Emma Thompson reading the phone book, but I have to draw the line here. I'll rent it if Barbara really wants it, but I'll arrange to be elsewhere when she watches it.


Tuesday, -1 January 2009
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08:32 - Barbara and I met Paul and Mary at the gym yesterday afternoon at 4:00. Mary was leading a Body Pump class, for which she's trying to become certified as an instructor. To do that, she needs a video of her teaching a class. So we shot that video, using an analog camcorder I borrowed from Kim, because mine is still in the shop. Once the session ended, we headed back to their house, hooked up the camcorder to a VCR, started the VHS tape recording, and headed off to dinner. When we returned, we checked the VHS tape to make sure it had recorded, and started another one recording so that Mary would have a backup copy. One of the requirements was that the class had to be completed within one hour. Mary's tape ran 59:59:58. So she'll ship it off to the Body Pump people today so they can process her certification.

Mary is a chemist for the Dow Chemical Company, so of course at dinner the conversation revolved around the recent Dow announcements. Dow laid off 5,000 people three weeks ago, and late yesterday afternoon the collapse of the planned $17.4 billion joint venture between Dow and the Kuwaiti government was announced. That in turn means that Dow may not be able to complete their planned takeover of Rohm & Haas, so everything is really up in the air.


Wednesday, 0 January 2009
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10:23 - I'll be doing my usual year-end stuff today. In particular, it's time to burn a new archive set of DVDs, which means I'll first have to archive mail, clean up my data directories, and so on.

We watched the first disc of series 1 of Battlestar Galactica. It was okay, good enough that we'll try another disc. Paul Jones told me that the network executives had a choice between making this series, which was as yet unproven, and continuing to produce Firefly, which was already in production but very expensive to make. I do wish they'd decided not to do this series and made more Firefly episodes instead.

I returned Kim's camcorder yesterday, and we talked briefly about Jasmine and school. We're both concerned about the NCLB teaching-to-the-test problem and the damage it's done to the curriculum. Kim said Jas seldom gets to bed before 1:00 a.m. on school nights, and that much of her homework time is spent doing, as Kim described them, "bullshit projects". Kim almost never uses such language, so I know she's quite worried.

Kim said she was going to talk to Jas again about homeschooling. Jas was the one who originally brought that idea up a couple of years ago, but eventually they both decided not to do it. The social issue and peer interaction was part of it, I think, but Kim said at this point that's not a deal-breaker. I think from Kim's point of view it's pretty intimidating to take responsibility for educating Jas across the whole range of subjects, and from Jas's point of view it's intimidating to do independent study without full-time teachers available to help.

The thing about Jas, though, is that she's a worker and self-motivated. If Jas does home school, it won't be a matter of Kim having to sit across the kitchen table from Jas eight hours a day. She could simply work with Jas to determine what needed to be done and turn Jas loose to do it. Science and math are pretty intimidating to a lot of home school parents, but of course I'm here to backstop both of those. And Jas would have access to my lab (and to me) for hands-on intro and AP-level biology, chemistry, and physics work.

Jas has five semesters left before she starts college, so time is growing short. I hope that Kim and Jas decide to home school. It's probably too late to start this coming semester, but I hope they'll make the break starting this summer. And they both know that I'll do everything I can to help, whatever they decide.


Thursday, 1 January 2009
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09:38 - Happy New Year!

Here are my New Year's Resolutions for 2009:

 1. Continue smoking
 2. Avoid exercise
 3. Avoid losing weight
 4. Eat more fatty foods
 5. Ridicule irrationality and Political Correctness at every opportunity
 6. Encourage kids to develop an interest in science
 7. Speak my mind on political and social issues
 8. Write a couple books
 9. Read a couple hundred books
10. Have fun.

A year from now, I'll tell you how I did.

Looking back at my resolutions for 2008, I think I did pretty well. I expect to have similar success in the coming year.


Friday, 2 January 2009
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08:16 - Barbara is off to work this morning for a short work week. It feels more like a Monday than a Friday.

I got my data directories cleaned up and archived yesterday. I decided not to do a new DVD archive set, instead just adding an incremental disc to the existing set from two years ago. All of my stuff is backed up and archived on five hard drives, two of them external, so I'm not concerned about losing any data.

I'm still cranking away on the forensics book. As is usual at this stage, it's The Book That Will Not Die. I'll get through it, as always, but I'm in the stage where every time I get one thing done, two more pop up. I did get a bit of lab cleanup done yesterday, although it's still a mess.

The dishwasher was almost ready to run but had some space left on the top rack, so I decided to try washing lab glassware in it. (The glassware was already clean in the sense that I'd done a preliminary swish and rinse and there was nothing on it that might contaminate the dishwasher.) There are a dozen or so beakers and Erlenmeyer flasks in there now. We'll see how it did.


Saturday, 3 January 2009
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08:45 - Every morning, Barbara gives the dogs their pills. Duncan refuses to take his, spitting them out even when Barbara wraps them in sliced ham. Malcolm gobbles his up, and waits for Duncan to spit one out so that he can grab it and eat it. Finally, Barbara shoves Duncan's pills down his throat and then gives me my 81 mg aspirin tablet. Every morning, I complain that I don't get any ham.

So, yesterday, Barbara brought me my little aspirin wrapped in ham. I ate the ham and spit the aspirin out. Barbara was not amused. Everyone else thinks I'm funny. Barbara doesn't.

Barbara is deep-cleaning the den today while I work on the forensics book. I'm trying to get image placeholders planned for the images that Barbara will appear in so that I can get those images shot this weekend while she's home. I also need to get the February HomeChemLab.com supplement written, since I sent out the January supplement on Thursday and have nothing left in the pipeline. Here's the lineup for February.
The first article is written, although I haven't actually done the synthesis yet. The second is in progress and the third not yet started.

As usual, I'm a bit hampered in what I can do because I have to limit myself to using equipment that readers will have. In the 24.2 lab, for example, I have to lyse the casein to split it into its constituent amino acids. I'd like to do that by refluxing the casein in hydrochloric acid for 30 minutes or so, but most of my readers don't have the condenser needed to do a reflux. So, rather than actually refluxing the mixture, I'm going to have them simmer the hydrochloric acid and casein mixture in an Erlenmeyer flask that's stoppered loosely with a cotton ball and partially immersed in a hot water bath. It'll work, I'm sure, but it's a lot less efficient than actually refluxing the mixture. Still, making do is a good part of the fun of home chemistry.


Sunday, 4 January 2009
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