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Week of 17 August 2009

Latest Update: Saturday, 22 August 2009 11:33 -0400

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Monday, 17 August 2009
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08:33 - One week until the Make: Science Room launch. I'll be spending this week shooting and editing videos, proof-reading articles, and configuring half a dozen new kits and writing descriptions for them.

Duncan is doing much better. Yesterday afternoon, it finally hit me that he probably had another urinary tract infection, probably a reinfection rather than a relapse of the earlier infection. So I started him on 250 mg of amoxicillin BID, the same antibiotic I used last time, figuring that if that didn't knock down the infection within 24 hours I'd switch him over to a cephalexin or some other antibiotic, pending culturing his urine to determine antibiotic sensitivity.

Within a few hours, he had perked up substantially and peed in a stream rather than leaking drops for the first time in a week. I could kick myself for not thinking earlier about him having another UTI. This morning, he's pretty much back to his old self. Barbara was shocked when he got up from his bed and tottered down the hall to go out this morning. That's the first time in a week that I haven't had to carry him outside.

I think he's getting these UTIs by contact, because he's not very mobile and it's difficult to keep his crotch area clean. Barbara uses baby wipes, but Duncan won't let me do even that. He thrashes when I try to use a baby wipe on him, so I told Barbara that from now on when I go out to bring him in I'm going to push him over on his side and pour the remaining contents of his water bowl over his crotch area. That's not perfect, certainly, but it may at least help keep him a little cleaner and avoid diaper rash. He really doesn't like it when I do that, but he'll get used to it.


Tuesday, 18 August 2009
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08:40 - Duncan seems to be doing better, so we're very relieved. The amoxicillin knocked down the presumed UTI. He's peeing normally again, and seems to have a lot more energy.

I finished spec'ing out and writing item descriptions for five new science kits yesterday: the Microscope Starter Kit (MICKA), the Microscope Basic Staining Kit (MICKB), and the Microscope Advanced Staining Kit (MICKC), the Laboratory Hardware Kit (LABK1), and the Laboratory Volumetric Glassware Kit (LABK2). With the existing Basic Laboratory Equipment Kit (LABK0), Lead Testing Kit (CHEKA), and Forensic Fingerprinting Kit (FORKD), that gives us a reasonable assortment of kits for the Make: Science Room launch next Monday. This week, I'm going to try to get a couple of more kits spec'd out, a basic chemicals kit and a supplementary chemicals kit. That and shoot/edit some videos.

09:10 - Oh, yeah. Here's something I thought about while I was working on the Forensic Biology chapter of the forensics book. DNA evidence, until now considered the gold standard in forensics, can no longer be trusted. DNA evidence can now be fabricated. What's worse, it can be fabricated without access to actual original DNA, using simply a DNA profile. What's even worse is that fabricating DNA evidence is within the abilities of even a bright high school student.

The good news, without getting into details that would be of use only to the bad guys, is that there are techniques to detect such fabrications. In essence, the fabricated DNA will match on only one level, but not on others. Unfortunately, establishing that an apparent match is an actual match will increase the cost and complexity of forensic DNA analysis. In effect, the current methods of DNA analysis become only presumptive tests, which must be followed by more in-depth analysis to confirm any presumptive matches.

15:14 - I sometimes send email to which I don't expect a reply. For example, when I emailed Bush to say, "You moron, you're attacking the wrong country." I didn't expect to hear back from him. But today I was surprised. It started when I read this ad, placed by Bill Donohoe of the lunatic fringe Catholic League, and demanding that Penn & Teller's Bullshit! series be canceled. The ad gave the name and email address of Matthew Blank, the CEO and Chairman of Showtime, so I sent him the following:

From: Robert Bruce Thompson
Sent: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 2:36 PM
To: Matthew Blank
Cc: cl@catholicleague.org
Subject: Penn & Teller on the Catholic church

Please ignore the ravings of the Catholic League and that nutter Bill Donohoe, and keep Penn & Teller just as it is. In fact, give them a raise.

P&T's ongoing debunking of superstition and irrationality is not only an invaluable service to humanity but is great television.

Best regards.

Robert Bruce Thompson

Imagine my surprise when I got a personal reply 12 minutes later. I figured the guy would be flooded with email and have no time to respond. Even if the reply was actually from a PA rather than Mr. Blank himself, it establishes that my email was at least read, and that's all that really matters.


Wednesday, 19 August 2009
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09:15 - Yesterday, the random shuffle brought up the Rolling Stones' cover of Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone. The metadata told me that track was from the 1995 album Twisted. I found myself wondering which album that track first appeared on, so I looked at the Rolling Stones discography on Wikipedia. Twisted was the only album that listed that track. That seemed strange. I could have sworn that I remember hearing the Stones doing that track in the 1970's, if not the 1960's. When Barbara got home, I played the first minute or so of the track, and then asked her when she'd first heard the Stones doing that track. She also thought it had been in the 60's, but perhaps the 70's.

I didn't spend a lot of time searching, but I didn't turn up any Stones cover of Like a Rolling Stone before twisted. So, I'm wondering if Barbara and I are both misrembering, or if that track was indeed on an earlier album or perhaps a single. Or I may have heard it live, but at this point the 60's are a blur to me.

I have some minor writing and editing to finish up today, and then it's heads-down video shooting and editing from now through next week.


Thursday, 20 August 2009
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08:56 - I'm still cranking away on scripting/shooting/editing videos, which is more time-consuming than I'd like. When I mentioned how slowly things were going during a conference call the other day with the Maker Shed staff, one of the guys who does a lot of videos said, "Welcome to my world." He said he'd set out to do a ten-minute video, and after 20 hours of work he'd finally have what he wanted. I'm beating that ratio by a bit, but then his videos are a lot better than mine will be.

Yesterday, I relocated my video stage from the kitchen table to a table in the downstairs finished area. It wasn't fair to Barbara to keep using the kitchen table, especially since I'll be shoot videos indefinitely. In the process, I made a couple changes to the physical setup to make things easier for me. I'm learning a lot of little tricks that help speed things along, and I'm trying different ways of doing things to see how they work out. Eventually, my goal is to get the whole process almost automated. Ideally, I'd like to be able to shoot and edit a ten-minute video in no more than a couple of hours. That's really an optimistic goal, but I think it's doable.


Friday, 21 August 2009
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09:08 - We've decided to delay the Make: Science Room launch again. Originally, we planned to launch on 17 August, knowing that that was very aggressive. Last week, we rescheduled to 24 August, and yesterday we decided we'd better hold off a bit longer. But the good news is that, with few exceptions, the lab equipment SKUs are either in stock or on the way, and the chemical SKUs finally started to ship to us this week.

We currently have nearly 10,000 bottles of chemicals on order, covering about 170 SKUs, not to mention tens of thousands of lab equipment items--everything from $0.40 test tubes to $200 hotplate/stirrers--covering about another 170 SKUs. It's not just a matter of wanting to start with everything in stock just so that we can say it's in stock. We have quite a few bundles/kits that incorporate many of those individual SKUs. For example, we have a microscope starter kit that includes glycerol for temporary mounts and Permount for permanent mounts. If either of those are not in stock, we can't build the microscope starter kits.

We had a conference call yesterday that ran over two hours, mostly talking about holiday plans for Maker Shed. Retail buyers always go slightly insane trying to guess what items to buy for holiday sales, and how many of each. They know that if they buy 1,000 units, they may sell only 100 units and end up with 900 left over, or they may get 10,000 orders and leave money on the table because they can't restock quickly enough to deliver those orders before Christmas. For the Science Room, it's even worse, because we have zero history to guide us. Accordingly, I'm going to be very conservative in my buying recommendations. The last thing I want to end up with on 26 December is a five-year supply of leftover widgets.

So, fair warning. If you see something you want in the Science Room Christmas promotional flyers or ads, order it immediately if you want to make sure we don't run out of stock before you get yours.

I finished shooting the lead-testing video yesterday, and got started on shooting the first of six videos on forensic fingerprinting. I also got the start/finish breakpoints determined for the lead-testing footage. That's very time-consuming, because I have to watch the raw video in real time, not just once, but over and over. Here's an example of the breakpoint list for the middle portion of that video, not including the standard leader and trailer and intro and concluding segments that I shot earlier:

Segment 01: Leader

Segment 02: Introduction

Segment 03: Mixing reagents : 00:43 to 01:50 (runtime 1:07)

Segment 04: Serial dilution : 03:40 to 05:17 (runtime 1:37)

Segment 05: Spot testing : 08:25 to 10:37 (runtime 2:12)

Segment 06: Paint test : 13:15 to 14:20 (runtime 1:05)

Segment 07: Confirmatory tests : 17:52 to 19:13 (runtime 1:21)

Segment 08: Conclusion

Segment 09: Trailer

I already know I'm in trouble, because the whole video has to run 10:00 or less to meet Youtube requirements, and just those middle segments total 7:22. I can probably get back 0:30 or so by editing the middle segments more tightly, but I may end up either having to drop segment 3 entirely or reshoot segments 2 and 8 to cut them way down. And at this point I don't yet have run times for the canned segments 1 and 9, so I'm kind of working blind.


Saturday, 22 August 2009
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11:33 - The sheer genius of some of my readers never ceases to surprise me.

Over on the homesciencelab.com messageboard, user Salsbury asked:

What kind of gizmo/device/method do people use to connect up a condenser feed tube to a faucet? Is there a specific name or piece of equipment I should be looking for?

To which user GoatRider responded:

I use a submersible water fountain pump in the sink, fill the sink, and reuse the water. I keep a thermometer in the sink to know when to change it out.

I got my pump from the water garden section of Home Depot.

To which I responded:

That is a fantastic idea. I was going to suggest an aspirator from a plumbing supply store, which also gives you suction for vacuum filtering, but your idea is better, particularly for the many people whose lab benches aren't close to a source of running water. They could simply use a 5-gallon pail from Lowes or Home Depot. And if you toss a bunch of ice cubes into the sink or bucket, that gives you water flowing through the condenser that's considerably colder than tap water, and thereby minimizes gas escaping uncondensed.

So I went over to the Home Depot site, and found a one-gallon (3.79 L) per minute submersible pump for $18. That flow rate is just about perfect for running cooling water through a condenser without blowing the tubing off the nipples. Furthermore, the 1 G/m rate is at a lift of 1 foot, and you can reduce the flow rate if necessary simply by increasing the lift.


Sunday, 23 August 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.