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Week of 20 July 2009

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Monday, 20 July 2009
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08:41 - The Maker Shed Science Room launch is now only 28 days away, and I'm still hacking away at the to-do list. There's no way we'll get everything complete in time, but we'll get enough of it done to have an impressive launch. We have about 160 SKUs of chemicals on order, and another 160 or so SKUs of lab equipment on order. I've finished writing the descriptions for each chemical SKU, and am currently writing descriptions and finding or shooting images for the lab equipment SKUs, which I hope to have complete in the next couple of days. After that, it's back to doing content, lots and lots of content. Initially, that'll be repurposed material from the chemistry and forensics books, along with new materials about general lab procedures, lab safety, and so on. That, and a lot of videos. As time passes, we'll have articles and videos as well as additional Science Room SKUs to cover biology, physics, earth science, and so on. Enough to keep me very busy indefinitely, which is the way I like it.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009
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07:58 - Paul had a professional meeting last night, so Barbara and I took Mary out to dinner. As usual, the conversation was wide-ranging, from science and religion to what we'd rented recently from Netflix. It was a nice break from work, which I'd better get back to now.


Wednesday, 22 July 2009
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09:37 - I'm still cranking away on lab equipment descriptions, and I also need to take some time in the next day or two to write a rough script for the first video we're going to shoot. That's about lead testing, and will actually be two videos: one for folks who just want to test paint and other household materials for the presence of lead, and a second for people who want to get into the science involved in those tests.

So, I'm keeping busy, which is just as well, as the Maker Shed Science Room launch is now only 26 days away.

10:55 - I really don't understand why courts waste their time considering some suits. Here's a perfect example. A woman claims to have been raped by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That's a deadly serious accusation, no matter how you look at it.

So, did the woman immediately report this alleged rape to the police? No. The rape supposedly occurred a year ago, and the woman didn't bother to report it to the police. Instead, she waited a year and then filed a civil lawsuit asking for lots and lots of money. How is Roethlisberger supposed to defend himself? It's been a year. There's obviously no forensic evidence. It's simply a matter of his word against hers. In any sane judicial system, that would constitute reasonable doubt in a criminal trial, and the charges would be dismissed. It's different for rape, of course. A man is presumed guilty unless he can prove himself innocent. But of course this isn't going to be a criminal trial. She's filed a civil lawsuit, for which the standard of proof is much lower, "preponderance of the evidence" rather than "reasonable doubt".

If I were the judge, I'd instantly dismiss this lawsuit with prejudice and toss this woman in jail for contempt of court.


Thursday, 23 July 2009
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10:20 - The fundamentalist Christian nutters are at it again, this time in Tampa, where they're putting up quotes on billboards. These quotes are from Washington, Franklin, and other Founding Fathers, intended to prove that the United States was founded on Christian principles. The problem is, they couldn't find enough suitable quotes for all those billboards--a whole ten of them--so they had to make some up.

If they're wondering why they had such problems quote-mining the Founding Fathers, I'll tell them. The United States was not founded on Christian principles. Far from it. It was founded on humanist (or atheist) principles. Most of the Founding Fathers were not even slightly religious and were certainly not Christian. They were what today would be called atheists or secular humanists. At the time, they were called deists, which was essentially another word for atheists.

In fact, by a strict definition, I am a deist. So are Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, and all of the other vocal atheists who've been writing best-selling books and maintaining high-traffic web sites for the last decade or more. A deist is someone who does not deny the possibility (not probability or certainty) of a non-interventionist god who created the universe. In fact, all scientists are at least deists by this definition, because no scientist would deny that it is possible that a god of some sort started the universe running and then stepped back. We might doubt it, and we do. We might think the chances of that being the correct explanation are vanishingly small, and we do. But one can't prove a negative.

If you doubt the absence of religious fervor among the Founding Fathers, just ask yourself why these nutters had such a hard time coming up with only ten good quotes. When most of the Founding Fathers spoke of a "Creator", they were doing so in a deist sense, not a theist sense. To the extent that they said anything that could later be interpreted as supporting theism, you can write it off to the tenor of the times, which was even more anti-atheist than today, and that's saying something.

For example, I believe that in North Carolina a law is still on the books that forbids me from holding public office because I do not believe in god. As far as I know, no professed or at least vocal atheist has ever been elected to any public office anywhere in these United States. In surveys, most people rank atheists below used-car salesmen, politicians, and sometimes even child molesters, which only proves that most people are morons. I say that because most people, even now, rank scientists among the most trusted groups in society, and yet scientists are overwhelmingly non-believers. IIRC, in a survey of the National Academy of Sciences, something like 95% of the respondents characterized themselves as non-believers, and the percentage of real scientists who self-identify as fundamentalist Christians isn't large enough to rate even an asterisk.

I wish I were wealthy enough to put up billboards of my own in Tampa. I'd put up 100 or 1,000 atheist/humanist quotes from the Founding Fathers for every one quote, real or bogus, that these Christian fundamentalists are polluting the landscape with.

Hmmm. Another bogus accusation of racism, this time in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Let's see. The cops get a call telling them there's a burglary in progress. They show up and find a man with a crowbar trying the pry open the door of the residence. They confront him and ask him what he thinks he's doing. He claims to be the owner of the residence. The cops ask him to show identification. He refuses and becomes verbally abusive. They arrest him. He finally shows an identification card from Harvard University. Presumably, it doesn't include his address, so the cops call the Harvard cops to check the guy out. It turns out he's who he claims to be, a professor at Harvard, and he's clearly entitled to break into his own house. But the cops keep him in custody and take him down to the station because they'd already arrested him for creating a public nuisance, or whatever they charged him with for his initial verbal abuse. He's released quickly and charges are dropped. The cops followed proper procedures.

As it happens, the professor is a middle-age black man. He's now loudly proclaiming that the cops who busted him are racists, and Obama has weighed in to support that claim. Now, I'm sure it's true that blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately detained and arrested by the cops, including black and Hispanic cops. That's because, for whatever reason, blacks and Hispanics disproportionately commit crimes. Everyone knows this to be true, but no one is allowed to say it. But this isn't a case of racial profiling. This is the case of the cops responding to a reported crime and finding what appeared to be a crime in progress. As far as I can see, the cops did everything right. If I were found breaking into my own house with a crowbar, I'd expect the cops to demand identification. That's simply reasonable. If I refused to show identification and began verbally abusing the cops, I'd expect to be arrested, and rightly so.

These were just cops doing their job. They did what they were supposed to do, and they did it by the book. Assuming that the facts are accurately reported, to accuse these cops of racism is simply irresponsible hate-mongering. And there's a subtler danger here. If we abuse cops for doing their jobs, how much longer will it be before they simply decide to look the other way? I'll answer my own question. It's not a matter of how much longer. It's happening now, and it's getting worse, and I don't blame the cops a bit. It's very short-sighted to hamper the ability of the Thin Blue Line to do their jobs. If this keeps up, there may really never be a cop around when you need one.


Friday, 24 July 2009
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07:44 - I'm in love again. Fortunately, Barbara is very understanding. She recognizes that I love all women--well, most of them, anyway--without feeling any compulsion to do anything about it. Here's the latest object of my adoration. She's a young Romanian woman who is fluent in both English and science. Watch her devastate a creationist.

There's hope for the world as long as we continue to produce young people like this. I actually created a YouTube account just because I wanted to subscribe to her channel.

And, speaking of YouTube, why had I never heard of this guy until yesterday? Be careful with the part that starts around 4:45. I nearly sprayed a mouth full of Coke all over my keyboard and monitor.

And, as long as I'm linking to YouTube favorites, here's another guy I don't mention often enough, Pat Condell. He's a bit soft on Islam for my taste, but I still enjoy watching him.


Saturday, 25 July 2009
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13:00 - Barbara's out on a day trip with her parents, returning sometime this afternoon. I'm doing laundry and working on the Maker Shed Science Room launch to-dos. I finished the descriptions of the pre-packaged kits yesterday: Lead Testing; Forensic Fingerprint Processing; and the Basic Laboratory Equipment Kit.

Today, I'm running on about half-charge. Duncan wakened me this morning at 0600 and I couldn't get back to sleep. Barbara got him calmed down, and she was able to sleep until about 0815, Duncan and Malcolm with her. I was awake, and couldn't get back to sleep. I'd also been up with Duncan two or three times during the night, as had Barbara. Fortunately, we appear to be switching off pretty well. When I wake up to help Duncan, she usually remains asleep and vice versa. Otherwise, we'd both be like the walking dead.

I'm writing scripts for videos today. Nothing really formal. In fact, it's sometimes just a list of bullet points. But, in my experience, shooting videos goes a lot faster and with fewer takes if there's at least a script outline available. I just print them out in landscape in about 28 point. For a talking head shot, I tape the sheet of paper to the camera so that it hangs down below it. For stuff I'm doing at a bench or at the kitchen table, I just put the script on the work surface, just out of camera range. Kind of a poor man's tele-prompter.

Over the last couple of days, I've been watching Kristina's videos when I take a break. This young woman has a superb mind. Oh, she has a few blind spots. For example, she says she won't use products that are tested on animals, but of course she's too sensible to believe that, really. What I'm sure she means, and what I'm sure she'll realize eventually on her own, is that she refuses to use trivial products such as cosmetics that are tested on animals, a position with which I agree. But I'm sure she would be the first to admit that there is nothing wrong and everything right with animal testing of important products, such as antibiotics and other critical medications.

But she'll figure that out for herself. She's extraordinarily intelligent and intellectually driven. She spent the first eight years of her life under a communist dictatorship, and she remembers what it was like. Things we take for granted are a lot harder for her. For example, if any of us wanted to read Darwin's Origin, we'd go to the library and check it out or to the bookstore and buy a copy. She decided as a teenager, on her own, that she should read Origin, but there was no copy to be had. She had to order a copy from another country and have it shipped to her.

At Kristina's age and with her mind, she should be a newly-minted physician or engineer or doing a postdoc in a hard science. Instead, she's working in an insurance brokerage. She mentioned in one of her videos that there's nothing good about Romania, but she mentioned in another video, responding to viewer invitations, that she didn't want to move to the United States, at least right now. I emailed her to say that it must seem presumptuous to her when Americans invite her to relocate to the US, but it's not really us saying "come to live here because life is better." Instead, we're saying, "come to live here because we need more people like you." If she and her new husband ever do decide they want to relocate to the US, they'll have a lot of people here willing to do what they can to help.


Sunday, 26 July 2009
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.