Saturday, 31 December 2011

08:25 – From xkcd.

09:15 – Although I joined only a month or two ago, I’ve been reading the Well-Trained Minds forums for years to keep up with the homeschooling community. The woman who wrote the WTM book and runs the forums is an evangelical Christian, as are many of the forum members. But nationwide, only roughly a third of homeschoolers do so for religious reasons, with the remainder doing so for other reasons. (Some of those 2/3 are religious, but do not homeschool primarily for religious reasons.)

So I was surprised yesterday to come across this poll and thread: Do you use religious or secular science curriculum? I expected a large majority of responders to favor religious science curricula, or at best be evenly divided. Instead, the responders overwhelmingly favor secular science curricula, apparently including many who use religious curricula for other subjects. In other words, even many religious home schoolers largely recognize that “religious science” curricula aren’t science at all, and aren’t worth using. Even some of those who are using the religious curricula aren’t using them because they include religious content, but because they can’t find suitable secular curricula. And even many of those who are religious homeschoolers and are using religious curricula because they’re religious still recognize that those curricula are lying to their kids. That’s encouraging.

Fundie homeschoolers face a real conundrum in choosing science curricula. If they teach real science, they’re teaching their kids to be skeptical and to demand evidence to support claims, and many of those kids (60% according to one recent study done by a religious think-tank) will abandon their parents’ religion by the time they’re 15 years old. And learning real science is one of the leading reasons that happens. Conversely, if the parents use religious curricula from Bob Jones, Apologia, A Beka, or one of the other religious curriculum providers, they know they’ll be teaching their kids “science” that bears little resemblance to real science as defined by society at large and particularly by the secular universities that many want their kids to attend. Some religious homeschoolers simply give up and ignore science, which obviously isn’t an acceptable solution. The radical religionists teach their kids that the earth is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark, thereby destroying their kids future prospects. The smarter ones recognize that science is true and try to teach real science with perhaps some side discussion of how to fit their religious beliefs into the framework of science. And the smartest ones just teach real science and let the chips fall where they may.

Friday, 30 December 2011

08:23 – Barbara picked up some new “tennis balls” for Colin at the pet store the other day. Boy, I wish these had been around when I was playing tennis. They look just like standard tennis balls, but they aren’t. A standard tennis ball weighs 2 ounces (58 g) and, when dropped onto concrete from a height of 100 inches (2.54 meters), bounces about 60 inches (1.5 meters). These “tennis balls” weigh 3.7 ounces (105 g). I didn’t actually test the bounce, but I’d guess that if I dropped one onto concrete from 100 inches it’d bounce about 2 inches (5 cm). With no bounce to speak of, a hard flat serve would come up only a few inches from the court surface by the time it hit the fence.

Poor Colin. Now that I have a mixture of real and fake tennis balls on the foyer table, he’s never sure what to expect when we go out the front door. He always rushes two or three meters down the walk, turns, and waits for me to toss a tennis ball onto the walk so that he can pounce on it. The first time I used one of the bounceless ones, he over-pounced and it rolled under him. Once he got used to scooping bounceless ones off the walk, I switched to a regular one, which bounced over his head. Being a Border Collie, he quickly figured out that there are two different kinds of balls in play, so now he tries either to grab it in mid-air before it hits the walk or to short-hop it.

13:45 – Here’s a sensible young woman. I confess that I was only vaguely familiar with Kelly Clarkson’s name and had no idea what she does. Clarkson is taking heat for endorsing Ron Paul, whom some pretend to believe is racist, sexist, and homophobic. He’s not, of course. The only basis for these accusations are some articles that appeared in a newsletter decades ago. Paul has said repeatedly that he did not write these articles and that he never made the statements in question that were attributed to him. No one has presented any evidence whatsoever that he did write those articles or make those statements. His record as a congressman and his public statements as a presidential candidate for both the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party should be enough to convince any reasonable person that Paul has been the victim of a smear campaign. Of course, most people are not reasonable, and most of the other Republican candidates are exploiting that fact to harm Paul’s candidacy. He scares them, and rightly so. Paul has integrity, which none of the other major Republican candidates does, particularly Gingrich. Integrity? He’s heard of it.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

10:00 – As promised, UPS showed up after dinner yesterday with my replacement AmEx card. AmEx customer service called me Sunday to say there’d been suspicious activity on my card and that they’d denied several charges. The woman from AmEx had only the dates, amounts, and names on the questionable charges, none of which I’d made. She canceled my card and promised to have a new one to me by 7:00 p.m. yesterday, which is in fact when it arrived.

Meanwhile, I got a call yesterday from Cynmar, from whom I’d ordered a bunch of items last week. They shipped all of them but one, which was backordered. When they were filling the backorder yesterday, they attempted to charge my card and of course the transaction was refused. So their rep called me to ask what was going on. I explained, and she said they’d go ahead and ship the item, but to please call or email her as soon as I got my new card number. I did that first thing this morning, after I activated the new card.

The only place I use that card for recurring charges is GoDaddy, where I have two accounts, one for my domains and one for Barbara’s. So the next thing I did was update my credit card information at While I was there, I looked at our domains. Barbara has four, her main domain, which she uses for her permanent email address, and She uses for her diary page, but the others were simply redirected to the .com name. So I decided to change the .net and .org from auto-renew to manual, and just let them expire when they come up for renewal in February. I have six domain names, of which I’ve stopped using one and never used another. So I set those two domain names to manual renewal and I’ll let them expire when they come up for renewal in February.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

08:45 – I see that Italy is delighted with the “successful” results of its bond sale. The first headline I read claimed that Italian bond yields had fallen to half what they had been at the most recent previous sale. Well, yes, but only on short-term paper, much of which was probably sold to local investors. The yields on benchmark 10-year bonds, which are what really matter, were still at a disastrous 6.7%. EU authorities were hoping that much of the flood of cheap money made available to EU banks by the ECB would be invested in long-term southern periphery bonds, driving down their yields. That didn’t happen, and no one except the clueless EU leadership expected it to.

13:18 – Someone asked me if I expected significant developments in the Euro crisis imminently. I won’t say that I “expect” it to happen in the next few days. There’s simply too much I don’t know and that, in total, no one person knows. I will say that if I were Greece and knew I would have to default in the near future, this week would be the optimum time for doing so. Financial markets are lightly staffed and a holiday is coming up. The ability of the markets, other governments, banks, bank depositors, and companies to react will be minimal from Friday through Tuesday, which would give me my best chance to implement capital controls, airport and bank shutdowns, and so on with maximal effect and minimal risk of interference. If I were doing it, I’d time it for late Thursday night or early Friday morning local time, or possibly late Friday evening/early Saturday morning.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

09:07 – Last night we were looking for another series to start watching on Netflix streaming, and came across GRΣΣΚ in our queue. I’m not sure how it ended up on ABC Family, because the only thing it has to do with family is that the two major characters are brother and sister. Well, that and that the fraternity and sorority members refer to each other as brothers and sisters, respectively. The PTC must positively hate this program.

Within the limitations of network television, it’s a reasonably realistic depiction of college life, at least as I remember it. Granted, there’s not as much drinking, nudity, sex, and vomiting as I remember from 40 years ago, but they’re all there, at least in broad brush. The series was canceled, but there are 74 episodes, so we’ll probably continue watching it.

11:09 – All governments make contingency plans for possible events, including extremely unlikely ones. The US government, for example, almost certainly has plans in waiting in case we go to war with Canada, and Canada almost certainly has plans for war with the US. (France also has such plans for wars with numerous countries, but those plans are all the same: surrender immediately.)

But governments also make contingency plans for events that are considerably more likely to occur, and this falls into that category. Yep, the UK has plans for what to do if (when) the euro collapses. And not just economic plans. The UK has a duty to evacuate British citizens who are trapped in other EU countries that become embroiled in turmoil, rioting, and (potentially) full-blown revolutions. And these plans are not merely diplomatic, but include the possibility that UK military forces will have to get involved. I have no doubt that London is coordinating with Washington on this, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that both the UK and the US are pre-positioning carriers and other naval assets for emergency evacuations of US and UK citizens, particularly from the southern periphery. If/when the euro collapses, things are likely to get very nasty very fast in Greece certainly, and very possibly in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

Monday, 26 December 2011

09:36 – Boxing Day. When I was little–this would have been back in the mid- to late-50’s–I thought Boxing Day referred to the sport. I remember my dad and uncle and men from the neighborhood gathering around the TV to watch boxing while they smoked and drank beer, with the wives gathered in the kitchen. Even then, I hung out with the women instead of the men.

The first and only time I ever tried boxing was when I was about 11. My friend Randy McConnell had a spare set of boxing gloves and lured me into trying it. My first match lasted about two seconds. He punched me in the face and I went down. That marked the beginning of my interest in martial arts. I was determined that no one would ever knock me down again without having a real fight on his hands. And, other than during matches and sparring, no one ever has.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

11:15 – Just another work day for me. Barbara is over at her sister’s house for the day.

We finished watching S7 of Despicable Housewives last night. The four lead housewives are, to put it mildly, not likable characters. They lie, cheat, steal, and backstab, and that’s among their “friends”. They are selfish, greedy, self-centered, and profoundly stupid. They in fact have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. This series is supposedly a comedy, but I see nothing funny about it. I instinctively like Marcia Cross, the actress who plays Bree, although her character is about as despicable as the others. I instinctively dislike the other three actresses, to the extent that I’ll probably never watch anything else in which any of them is featured. The fact that this series is a world-wide hit puzzles me.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

08:58 – Today I’ll finish the lab session on worms and start the lab session on bugs. Tonight, of course, I’m hoping to shoot some reindeer that I can dissect, but that’ll be for the next lab session, on Chordate structures.

11:35 – Barbara didn’t give me many ideas for good gifts for her this year, so I had to come up with something myself. I decided to give her a handmade gift. It’s a sheet of 14 sticky labels. (Avery 5162 or Maco ML-1400, for any of you who still haven’t bought something for your girlfriend/wife/SO.)

This coupon entitles Barbara Thompson to insist that her husband, Robert Thompson, do something she wants him to do, whether he wants to do it or not, for a time not to exceed three hours. A maximum of three coupons may be redeemed in any one calendar month.

Serial #: 01

Expires 12/31/12 at 23:59:59. Not transferable. Photocopies not valid.

14:55 – I just asked Barbara, “By the way, does that pet store you go to across from the library carry live mice?” She replied, “I don’t think so, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not having live mice around here!”, to which I replied, “Don’t worry. After I’m finished with them I’ll feed them to the snakes.” Heh, heh, heh.

Actually, when I’m finished with them I’ll give them to Colin to play with. Either that, or I’ll just step on them or put them down the garbage disposer.

Friday, 23 December 2011

09:21 – In bizarre local front-page news a 23-year-old woman has been arrested and charged with having consensual sex with a 19-year-old man. The problem is that she’s a public school teacher and he is a student at her school, although the sex took place off-campus. North Carolina has a very strange and probably unconstitutional law that says a teacher who has sex with a student who attends his or her school is committing a crime, unless the two of them are married. Eh?

It seems to me that if two people, regardless of their sexes, decide to have sex it is not a matter for the law unless one of them is under the age of consent, which should be 14 years old at most. Now, it’s probably reasonable for schools, public or private, to have a no-fucking-the-students rule. But if a teacher violates that rule, he or she should be fired, not arrested. I don’t buy the argument that the teacher being in a position of authority automatically means the student can’t consent. Anyone who believes that has no experience with teenagers. And a 19-year-old man is obviously perfectly capable of consenting, or not. (Not that any heterosexual 19-year-old man in all of the history of our species has ever refused to have sex with a pretty 23-year-old woman, obviously.)

And, in related news, a local teacher was cleared yesterday of charges that he’d had sex with a female student. Apparently, the investigation turned up no evidence that he had done so, so it appears the girl was lying. Of course, the assumption should always be that the person who claims to have been raped is lying. That’s a fundamental principle in law, presumption of innocence. But for some reason, when it comes to “sex crimes”, there is instead always a presumption of guilt. This guy was very lucky indeed.

I spent some time on the phone yesterday with Catherine Conant of Triarch, a family-owned Wisconsin company that produces prepared microscope slides. She’s the granddaughter of the founder, who started the company in 1927. I asked her if she’d be willing to put together sets of microscope slides customized for the biology book.

Originally, I intended to put together these prepared slide sets myself, using slides purchased in bulk from an Indian manufacturer, but after looking into what would be required I decided it was simply more than I wanted to take on, not just in terms of work but in terms of storage space and carrying costs for inventory. This way, all I have to do is come up with lists of the slides to be included in the sets. Triarch will produce and package the sets and sell them direct to anyone who wants to buy one.

The only downside is cost. Chinese-made slides in sets of 25 typically sell for $25 to $40, depending on the particular slides in the set. The same slide set from India might sell for $45 to $75. The same set from Triarch might sell for $85 to $120.

The upside to US-made is quality and specificity. Chinese slides simply can’t be trusted. There’s zero quality control, to the extent that sometimes the specimen is actually not present on the slide. Even worse, the specimen may not be what it’s supposed to be. For example, yesterday I looked at a Chinese slide whose description was “Hydra, l.s.”. What was on the slide was indeed a longitudinal section, but it sure didn’t look like a Hydra to me.

So I emailed the vendor, saying that this sure didn’t look like a Hydra to me, and I suspected it was some kind of Planarian (flatworm). I got email back thanking me for reporting the problem. The customer service rep said her boss, the owner of the company, had looked at the rest of their stock of that slide and pulled it from inventory because the quality was unacceptable. He maintained that it was in fact a Hydra ls, however, but that the sectioning was poor and didn’t show any “polyps”. Okay, whatever. But Hydras are vase-shaped, with a thinner portion on the posterior, where the basal disk is located, then swelling to larger diameter for most of the body, and again narrowing toward the mouth and tentacles on the anterior end.

Of course, the real problem is that the average student is going to assume, reasonably enough, that the slide label is accurate, so that student may look at what he assumes is one type of specimen when in fact it’s quite another. That can get confusing fast.

That’s one of the major reasons–along with typically poor sectioning and staining–that led me to rule out Chinese slides when I was considering assembling my own slide sets. Indian slides are generally much better than Chinese slides, with decent specimen selection and sectioning as well as useful staining. The problem with Indian slides, unless you import them directly in large volume, is that US resellers are generally clueless about what specifically they have available. Also, if a particular slide is out of stock, it’s often literally several months before it’s back in stock.

So that’s why I decided to punt the slide sets to Triarch. They carry about 4,500 different slides, nearly all of which are always in stock. If they do run out, they make another batch quickly. And anyone who buys Triarch slides knows exactly what they’re getting and can be confident that what they’ve ordered is what they received. Triarch slide sets won’t be cheap in any sense of that word, but they also maintain their value. People who pay $90 for a set of Triarch slides for a school year should be able to turn around after that year and resell that slide set for very nearly what they paid for them.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

08:14 – I see that a Bellevue, Washington USPS employee has been ordered to stop wearing a Santa outfit while he’s delivering mail, although he’s been wearing that suit around this time every year for the last ten years. Now, I’m certainly a radical Grinch, and I’m dead-set against any religion of any sort having any influence whatsoever on government at any level, but this strikes me as faintly ridiculous.

Apparently, one of the guy’s co-workers complained, and the postmaster had no choice but to cite the guy for being in violation of USPS dress-code requirements. The guy says he’ll keep wearing the Santa suit, but admits that he’ll probably get in trouble for doing so. He shouldn’t. This is clearly an example of a personal rather than an institutional celebration of Christmas. Now, if the USPS painted mangers on the sides of its trucks or if it encouraged its employees to distribute religious literature during their delivery rounds, that’d clearly violate separation of church and state and would rightly be banned. But it seems to me that this is not much different from a government employee wearing a necklace with a cross or a star of David on it or playing Christmas carols on the radio while at work.

12:52 – Apparently there are still at least a few people stupid, gullible, and/or desperate enough to fall for the Nigerian scam, but someone would have to be brain-dead to respond to one that just ended up in my inbox. It starts out, and I quote, “This to inform you that UPS company Benin Republic have moved your consignment fund of $3.6 deposited in our office to be delivered to through our diplomatic agent who just arrived your Air Port with your consignment fund.” Wow! Almost a whole four bucks.