Thursday, 13 October 2011

09:43 – Barbara continues to do very well. She’s using my four-footed cane now, other than when I use it while walking Colin or while she’s taking a shower, when she uses the walker frame. She came back to bed around 0600 this morning. I guess sleeping on the sofa is getting old. The only reason that concerns me is that we have a 25+ kilo puppy that loves to jump on people.

Brian Jepson, my editor at O’Reilly, emailed me to ask if I had an image suitable for dummying up a cover. I told him I didn’t have anything suitable, and suggested they might use a stock photo until I have time to shoot a real cover image. That needs to be portrait orientation, with a white background and items placed to take text placement into account. I’m not sure what I’ll include in that image to suggest “biology”. A microscope, certainly. Maybe a test tube rack with some test tubes stoppered with cotton balls, perhaps a couple 50 mL centrifuge tubes hand labeled and with some leaves and chlorophyll extract in them. Some dropper bottles of stains and other reagents. Perhaps a box of microscope slides and a couple of Petri dishes. I’ll work it out, I guess. If I’m going to go to the trouble of setting this up, I’m not going to do it to shoot a dummy image. I’ll shoot real cover image candidates, which means devoting some time to it.

12:46 – Here’s what I just sent Brian as a first sample. I shot it handheld and without paying any attention to lighting or color balance, but I wanted to give him and the cover designer some idea of the “stuff” we could include in the actual cover image. Obviously, there’s way too much stuff, and I paid zero attention to composition for leaving areas clear for text. But at least this gives us a starting point to get a real cover image put together.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

10:05 – Colin is really a Fearsome Predator now. This morning, he caught a chipmunk. Six times. The first time, the chipmunk froze. Colin pounced on it, and came up with it in his mouth. I shouted, “Drop it!” and he did, whereupon the chipmunk ran for its life. Colin gave it a headstart (seriously) and then overran it in about five steps, again coming up with it in his mouth. Again, he dropped it and it ran under a pile of leaves. He grabbed it again. This went on until he’d grabbed it six times. I’ve heard it said that Border Collies have had all the kill instinct bred out of them, and it’s obviously true. Despite the fact that he had it in his fangs repeatedly, he never bit down on it. The last time he dropped it, the chipmunk staggered away slowly and I dragged Colin away from it. I hope the chipmunk was just stunned rather than injured, but I’ll go out and look for it later.

Barbara is doing extremely well. This morning, she tried using my four-footed cane, which I need only for balance, particularly at night. I’ll borrow it back when I take Colin for a walk, but otherwise she’s welcome to use it. She’s still sleeping on the sofa, and will keep the walker frame for use at night if she needs to get up and also as a physical barrier to keep Colin from jumping up on her.

I just officially transferred my Kindle to Barbara. I connected it via USB and deleted dozens of titles I knew she wouldn’t want to read, but that still left her with 140 titles to sort through and decide whether or not she wants them. Most of those are free or $0.99 ebooks that I downloaded from Amazon because they sounded like something she might like. If she finds some authors/series that she enjoys we’ll buy the rest of the titles in that series, assuming they’re not outrageously priced.

Overall, I think the Kindle is nearly perfect. The exception is that its file management sucks dead lifeforms through a small tubular object. The fundamental problem is that Kindle uses a flat file structure unless you use its incredibly awkward organization tools. I should be able to create a directory structure on my hard drive and copy individual titles into that directory structure. If I then copy that directory structure to the Kindle, the directories should show up as top-level categories that contain the individual books. It doesn’t work that way. If, for example, I create a directory called “Downie, Ruth”, copy her four Medicus books into it, and then copy that directory to the Kindle, the four books show up as individual titles at the top level. In order to categorize them, I have to create a category named “Downie, Ruth” (or whatever) with the Kindle’s tiny little keyboard, go find each book, and manually transfer it to the new category. That takes lots of keystrokes and lots of time. It sucks. Nor is calibre any help. I can use it to organize the titles with no problem, but according to the calibre docs, Kindle makes no provision for transferring that organized structure via USB. The only consolation is that the Nook is just as suckful. Apparently, the only company that gets it is Sony, whose ebook readers support transferring organized structures. Still, I’ll never buy a Sony product, so there’s no use worrying about it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

09:25 – Barbara is doing well, and Colin is delighted that she’s home. The only thing I’m dreading now is Barbara returning to work after Colin having several weeks to get used to having her full-time attention. He’s always demonic on Mondays, after having her home for just two days, so I suspect he’ll take a long time to adjust after she finally returns to work.

The news is full of articles about Netflix’s reversal of its split. The general attitude seems to be that Reed Hastings is incompetent and that Netflix has made huge mistakes from which it may not recover. My attitude is that it’s a mistake to assume that a smart guy like Hastings has suddenly turned stupid. Everyone seems to think that the decrease in Netflix’s subscriber base is a Very Bad Thing, which simply shows that most people can’t think. Netflix may have lost something like 3% of its subscribers, true. But those 3% were mostly subscribers that Netflix didn’t want, ones that were actually costing it money rather than contributing to its profits. Ones like me, in other words.

If Netflix had left its pricing unchanged and somehow still gotten rid of those 3% of undesirable subscribers, they’d have increased their profits. As it is, they also increased their prices, which means many of the remaining 97% of their subscribers are paying significantly more than they had been. Much of that increase will be spent on licensing additional programming–Netflix has added about 3,500 new TV episodes in just the last couple of weeks–but no doubt some of it will go to the bottom line. Netflix will be much more profitable than they otherwise would have been. Which is why it’s stupid that the stock price crashed. It should have skyrocketed. And it likely will, once the market realizes what just happened. As I said, Hastings is a very smart guy.

11:00 – I just ordered a cane for Barbara from Costco. She’s currently using a walker frame that belonged to my mom, but she’ll probably be off it and using a cane before too much longer.

We actually had a big argument about which cane model to buy. She ended up getting her way, and I ordered her a plain old cane-cane for about $18 with shipping. I tried to convince her to go with an upgraded model with a built-in 12-gauge shotgun, but she flatly refused. So I went to Plan B, and tried to convince her to go with a model with a built-in 32″ (81 cm) sword blade. She wouldn’t go for that, either, so I went to Plan C and tried to convince her to get one with a built-in tear gas dispenser. No dice. So she’s getting just a plain old cane-cane.

11:53 – Barbara has been using the regular toilet since she came home, so we moved the potty-chair frame into the shower in our master bath for her to sit on while she showers. I didn’t want to move it, so I just took a shower in the downstairs bathroom, next to my lab. There was already soap, regular shampoo, and so on in that shower, but I happened to notice a bottle of oatmeal and baking soda shampoo with a picture of a pretty Golden Retriever on the front. It promised a smooth and glossy coat, so I decided to give it a try. Sure enough, when I came upstairs, Barbara commented, “You sure have a smooth and glossy coat”. Or something like that.

Monday, 10 October 2011

09:04 – Barbara went to the hospital Thursday for knee-replacement surgery. Everything went extremely well. She was released yesterday and will now be recuperating at home for the next few weeks. Colin, of course, is delighted that she’s home. Few things worry a puppy more than having a litter mate disappear. He was obviously stressed the entire time she was gone. He had been just about perfect on house-training, but that suffered while she was gone. There was constant whining, yipping, and wandering around the house looking for her, and that was just me.

Barbara left the hospital with only two prescriptions, one for 10 syringes of an injectable anticoagulant and the other for a hundred 5 mg oxycodone tablets. She insisted on stopping at Walgreens on the way home to get the prescriptions filled, so I handed them to the pharmacist and waited while she filled them. I was quite disturbed at what happened. When she’d finished making up the prescriptions, she told me that they had only two of the anticoagulant injectors in stock and that I’d have to stop by Tuesday to pick up the other two. The other two? I was expecting eight more. I figured maybe the injectors were multi-dose, but when I got back out to the car I asked Barbara and we checked the paperwork they’d given her. Sure enough, we were supposed to get ten syringes. So I went back in and waited another five or ten minutes to talk to the pharmacist. When I mentioned the problem, she treated it very casually, saying that indeed I was supposed to get eight more syringes on Tuesday and that she’d been confused by the dosage of 0.4 mg into thinking I was to get a total of only four. Isn’t the first duty of a pharmacist not to make such mistakes in dispensing medication? In this case, we caught the mistake, but we shouldn’t have had to. I’m still thinking about whether to report this to Walgreens. She seemed like a nice young woman, but mistakes like this could have fatal consequences.

10:18 – This is cool. My old friend John Mikol just emailed me:

Leo Laporte was plugging your chemistry set and book, I hope it sends some sales your way.

It’s about 32 minutes in:

13:24 – Incidentally, I just realized I hadn’t commented yet on using the Baby Kindle 4. Side-by-side with my Kindle 3, the Baby Kindle 4 is noticeably smaller and lighter. Not that the Kindle 3 is particularly large or heavy, but the Baby Kindle 4 is enough smaller that it’s much easier for me to grip securely. With the Kindle 3, I was always afraid that I’d drop it if Colin nudged my arm or something. I can grip the Kindle 4 securely. And it’s still running on its original charge, despite the fact that its battery is half the capacity of the Kindle 3’s and I used it fairly heavily while Barbara was in the hospital. Overall, I’m very pleased with the Baby Kindle 4 and happy that I chose it rather than the touch model. Even the ads aren’t intrusive, although I understand there’s now an option to remove them by paying Amazon another $30.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

08:25 – Barbara had another scare last night, when her sister called to tell her that she was taking their mom to the emergency room. She’d hurt her leg that afternoon while volunteering at the hospital, and of course at her age there’s always concern about broken bones. All turned out happily, though. Barbara’s mom had only sprained her knee. The emergency room docs put a brace on it and allowed her to return home.

I got email last night from my editor, Brian Jepson, with great news. O’Reilly has decided to do the biology book in four-color. Every book has a budget, based on expected production costs and projected sales. The only way Brian had been able to get this book approved originally was to put tight limits on page count (extra pages cost money) and printing costs (four-color costs a lot more money). So we went into the project with a strict page-count limit and a center section of full-color plates. Before long, I asked Brian if I could trade the color section for more page count, to which he agreed. I really didn’t want to give up color images completely, but I really needed the extra page count.

But apparently the cost of four-color printing has come down somewhat, and Brian said that when he was discussing things with his colleagues they commented that it makes no sense to do a biology lab book with monochrome images. I suspect the sales history of the chemistry lab book also might have had something to do with it. That book is what publishers call an “evergreen” title. That is, it continues selling steadily for many years. That’s in stark contrast to most titles, which sell 90% or even 99% of their total lifetime sales within a few months of publication. The biology lab book should have a similar sales trajectory to the chemistry lab book

10:15 – I just checked my Netflix disc queue and found that there isn’t much disc-only material that we care about. When I upgraded a couple weeks ago from streaming + one-disc to streaming + two-disc, our disc queue was jammed with 30 or 40 discs that we wanted, most of which are series that Barbara likes and that were initially disc-only. Several of those quickly changed to add streaming, including the most recent seasons available of Army Wives, Brothers & Sisters, and Grey’s Anatomy. As soon as that happened, I pulled them from our disc queue and added them to our instant queue. So we’ve gone from 30 or 40 discs we want down to four Sons of Anarchy S3 discs and a handful of others.

Meanwhile our instant queue now totals 94 items, including a dozen or more series that between them total hundreds of episodes. We are not, to put it mildly, short of things to watch, even without discs, particularly since Netflix is adding more streaming titles every day. Our anniversary date is the 26th of the month, so in three weeks I’m going to downgrade our plan to the $8/month streaming only option. We’ll do without discs for the next few months while we catch up on streaming material, if we ever do. Once there are a reasonable number of disc-only titles we want, I’ll bump it back up to include discs for a month or three and then drop back to streaming-only.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

10:04 – It’s a standard Sunday around here, and most certainly cooler than usual this time of year. We finally turned on the central heat, because it was down to 66F (19C) in the house, and falling. The high today is to be 59F (15C) and the low tonight 41F (5C), so it’d get a bit chilly in here without the furnace running. I fired up the gas logs to test them. As expected, they burned for a couple minutes and then went out. Time to blow out the oxygen sensor with canned air.

Barbara and Colin are out in the yard blowing leaves and enjoying the cool weather outdoors. I’m working on a couple lab sessions about extracting and visualizing DNA and doing gel electrophoresis, enjoying the warmer weather indoors.

12:04 – This article summarizes the current euro situation pretty well. In short, no matter how bad you think it is, it’s actually far, far worse. If anything, I think the article is overly optimistic. I don’t think we have months left before the crash. We may not have weeks.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

08:51 – Finally, some MSM commentators are saying what should have been obvious to anyone all along. Germany could not bailout the southern tier countries even if it wanted to. Although Germany is normally presented as a “strong” economy, that’s true only relative to the other, pathetically weak, eurozone economies. Much of Germany’s putative strength results from two interrelated factors: its strong export performance and its AAA credit rating. But the only reason Germany’s exports are strong is that it has the rest of the EU as essentially a captive market, with the euro artificially keeping the prices of German exports low in other eurozone countries. Germany has been reaping the benefit of this arrangement while other, less productive eurozone economies have been paying the price. As I’ve said repeatedly, Germany has for years been shipping products to other eurozone countries on what amounted to easy credit terms. And now those other countries find themselves unable to pay their bills. So much for Germany’s vaunted export economy.

And therein lies the problem with Germany’s AAA credit rating. As some billionaire or other commented when the US credit rating was reduced from AAA to AA+, it should instead have been raised to AAAA. Most people probably thought this was just a quip, but in fact it stated a profound truth. There is no country whose credit rating should be equal to the US credit rating, let alone higher, because the US is far more credit-worthy than any other country, most particularly including Germany. As I’ve said, the US can never, ever be forced to default because we’re a real country. We can print our own money. Germany, like the rest of the eurozone, is not a real country because it does not control its own currency, at least as long as it remains a member of the eurozone, and so Germany can most definitely be forced to default. And it will be so forced, eventually, if it’s foolish enough to backstop the gigantic debt of the southern tier nations. Based on the current situation, if I were assigning a credit rating to German “sovereign” debt, I’d place it five levels below the US, maybe six. Call it BBB, give or take. France belongs another several levels below that. And the rest of the southern tier belongs several levels lower still, because all of them will inevitably default. And that is why Germany, along with the other FANG nations, should depart the EU and eurozone as soon as possible. There is some hope for their relatively stronger economies; there is no hope for Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, and the rest.

11:45 – Wow. Four new Kindle models, but what surprised me was that Amazon didn’t discontinue any of the three existing models, at least not yet. I was disappointed that the current Kindle 3 Wi-Fi remains at $139 ($99 with ads) and the Kindle 3 3G remains at $189 ($139 with ads).

There’s a new Baby Kindle 4 for $109 ($79 with ads) that lacks the keyboard of the Kindle 3, and has half as much memory and half the battery. The real new e-ink model is the Kindle Touch, available in WiFi-only ($139 or $99 with ads) and the Touch 3G ($189 or $149 with ads). The main differences between the Kindle 3 and Kindle Touch models is that the Touch models have only touch, replacing the keyboard, 5-way controller, and page-turning buttons of the Kindle 3.

With the prices identical except for the $10 premium on the Touch 3G with ads, I think anyone who buys the Touch models is making a mistake. But perhaps not. I’ll have to think about whether touch is a good substitute for buttons. For browsing around, perhaps. But for reading, I definitely prefer buttons. If the Touch had page-turning buttons as well as touch, I’d go for it, but I really don’t want to be constantly touching the screen to turn pages. As to the Kindle Fire, I suppose it’s exciting if you like that kind of thing, but it looks like it’ll suck as an e-reader, at least compared to the e-ink devices.

As to a Kindle for Barbara, I’ll have to think about this for a while longer. If I had to order today, I’d order a Baby Kindle 4, probably with ads. It’s available now. Barbara wouldn’t care about what the thing displays when it’s asleep, and some of the Kindle Special Offers actually are pretty good deals. But I think I’ll hold off a bit longer to see if Amazon discontinues the Kindle 3. I suspect they will, and if that happens a Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with no ads might sell for $79 or less.

13:41 – Okay, I thought about it a while longer, and just ordered a Baby Kindle 4 with ads for Barbara. Except, as it turns out, I just ordered it for myself. When I called Barbara to let her know what I’d ordered for her, she pointed out that she plays Scrabble and other games on the Kindle, and therefore needs a real keyboard. Oops. Doesn’t matter, of course. She gets the current Kindle 3 and I get the Baby Kindle 4.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my first impression of the Kindle Touch was correct. It’s unusable without dedicated page-turning buttons. I think Amazon really screwed the pooch by not including those buttons on the Touch. And I’m not alone. I’ve already read a slew of comments by people saying that the lack of those buttons was a deal-breaker for them, so they ordered the $79 model instead. By saving at most a buck per unit, Amazon has really made the new Kindle Touch unappealing to a very large group of potential buyers. And speaking of saving cents, the $79 model comes with a USB cable, but not with the dongle that allows you to connect the USB cable to an AC power receptacle. That’s no problem for us, because the one that came with the Kindle 3 will work with the Baby Kindle 4, and I can just charge it via USB connected to a computer anyway. But charging $10 for the dongle does seem excessive.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

08:37 – Pournelle frequently says that despair is a sin. That may be true, but it’s hard not to despair with the euro collapsing and fools like Obama and Geithner and the US congress butchering the US economy. These morons aren’t going to be satisfied until they’ve impoverished all of us.

Speaking of morons, one of our big maple trees is dropping all its leaves, despite the fact that they’re all still green and none of the other trees, including maples, around here has even started to change. Barbara vacuumed up all the fallen leaves Sunday, so I went out yesterday and had a chat with the tree, explaining that it was supposed to let all its leaves change color before it started dropping them. This morning, the yard was covered with its leaves. I take consolation in the fact that although this tree may be a moron, at least it’s smarter than Obama, Geithner, and the US congress.

Rumor has it that Amazon will announce a color tablet version of Kindle tomorrow, but what’s more interesting to me is the speculation about the e-ink Kindle 4. If the rumors are correct, Amazon will also announce a $99 Kindle 4 without 3G but possibly with a touch screen. The only thing I care about is the $99 price. I don’t have 3G support on my current Kindle 3, and see no need for it. I actually consider a touch screen a bad thing. In truth, I’d be happy with a $99 Kindle 3. And the only reason I care is that Barbara has finally decided that she wants a Kindle. In fact, if Amazon offers deep discounts on the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi once the new version(s) ship, I may just buy her one of those discontinued models. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi on sale for $69 or even $59 to clear inventory. I’m perfectly content with my Kindle 3, and I can’t imagine anything Amazon could do to improve it.

11:57 – Ah. I love images of Scots heritage stuff. Here’s an excellent (NSFW) image of a piper and his girlfriend. I wonder if any of my readers can identify his tartan.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

09:55 – Barbara had to take her mom to the emergency room yesterday. Her mom was in pretty severe distress, but refused to go to the hospital, so Barbara rushed over to take charge of things. Fortunately, the problem turned out to be relatively minor, or at least as minor as such things can be for a woman in her 80’s. The doctor put her on antibiotics and sent her home, where she’s now doing fine.

I see that the EU authorities and the IMF plan to introduce another smoke-and-mirrors campaign to fool investors into holding worthless government bonds a while longer, thereby staving off the inevitable catastrophic eurozone defaults for a few weeks or months longer. They’ve announced that they’re boosting the last-resort bailout mechanism to €1.7 trillion. Three problems with that: First, €1.7 trillion is still much, much too little to backstop the worthless eurozone government debt. Second, the additional money is imaginary; it doesn’t actually exist other than by an accounting trick. Third, investors are already fully aware of points one and two.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I hope the US government is not foolish enough to throw money down this rathole, either via direct subsidies or via the IMF. Unfortunately, the available evidence tells me that the US government is likely to jump in with both feet. It’ll be much too late to help, of course, but it will at least succeed in transferring a considerable portion of EU liabilities to US taxpayers. Which has probably been the agenda all along.

A cautionary tale about Greek politicians

12:01 – I just did a field-expedient packaging test on the new arrangement for test tubes. I put together six assemblies, each of one glass test tube inside a 50 mL polypropylene centrifuge tube with the cap screwed on. (I really must start calling these things “large test tubes” or something; few kit buyers have any idea what a self-standing centrifuge tube is.) I packaged six of those assemblies in a one-quart ziplock bag, took it down to the basement, and dropped it on the concrete floor several times from head height (~ 2 meters). There was no damage to the contents, and even the bag looks no different than it did. That should be sufficient to protect the tubes from shipping damage, especially since they’ll be in a box with additional cushioning.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

10:05 – Happy Anniversary to us. Barbara and I were married 28 years ago today. I tried to convince her that the traditional 28th anniversary gift was science equipment, but she’s not buying it.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been married for 28 years. Barbara was 28 years old when we married, so we’ve been married for literally half her life. I was 30 years old, so I have to wait a couple more years to meet that milestone. Fortunately, Barbara is a woman of great restraint, or she’d probably have killed me by now. (I still sometimes introduce her as “This is Barbara, my first wife.”) XOR has also caused some discussions over the years: Barbara: “Do you want peas or corn?” Me: “Yes.” I finally convinced her that I wasn’t being obnoxious and that really is the way my thought processes work.

Fortunately, unlike most women, Barbara has a sense of humor. She ignores me when we’re watching a video and I comment, “I like her dress” (exposed cleavage), “I really like her dress” (topless), or “I really like her dress” (full frontal nudity). In fact, she considers turnabout fair play. When we were watching Rome or something, there was a shot with male full frontal nudity. Barbara, of course, commented, “I really like his dress.”

Also unlike most women, Barbara understood from the start that women must take men as they find them. There’s no point to trying to change or train us, except in the most trivial ways. (Putting the toilet seat down comes to mind.) Our personalities are set in stone well before we’re out of diapers. We’re unchangeable and untrainable. Basically, women are civilized and men are barbarians, but it takes a very smart woman to realize that and tolerate it. In effect, we men are pets that are quite aggravating on a regular basis.

I’m sure most of my regular readers wonder how Barbara has been able to tolerate me for 28 years. I know I do.

I mixed up some copper(II) sulfate for Barbara this morning, about 30 mL of 1 M solution to 1.5 L of water. Barbara sprayed the shrubs affected by the fungi. I was kind of disappointed in the results. I was hoping to hear high-pitched tiny little cries and watch the fungi drop off the leaves. Instead, they just sat there. I was surprised to see that a 0.02 M solution of copper(II) sulfate is still noticeably blue. I expected maybe a slight blue tint, but it was visible as distinctly blue through the translucent sprayer bottle.