Monday, 21 November 2011

10:53 – Over the weekend, Barbara and I got a good start on making up a batch of 28 chemistry kits. The chemical bottles have to be divided into groups to comply with hazardous material shipping regulations. We finished up Group D, which contains the 26 unregulated chemicals. Those don’t require the caps to be taped or shrink-wrapped. All 26 of them simply go into a plastic bag–one of the kind used in supermarkets–which is then tied off.

Groups A (five strong acids), B (three strong bases), and C (four flammable liquids) each require the caps to be taped or otherwise sealed, and each group has to go into its own sealed plastic bag. Then one each of bags A, B, C, and D go into yet another plastic bag with a large scoop of vermiculite (to absorb leaks). Doing all that qualifies the kit to ship under section 173.4 (small quantity exemption), which means the kits can ship via USPS Priority Mail (air) rather than having to go ORMD Parcel Post (ground).

Barbara is getting ready to leave Wednesday on a Thanksgiving trip with her parents. She returns late Sunday. Colin and I are planning wild women and parties while she’s gone.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

09:56 – I just did a purchase order for bulk quantities of various bottles and caps, totaling about 13,000 pieces. Tomorrow I’ll call the vendor and go through the order line-item by line-item to make sure that all the bottles and caps I’m ordering are compatible with each other. The good news is that the order is large enough to get free shipping. The bad news is that it may also be large enough that instead of shipping UPS ground they’ll use LTL truck delivery. Oh, well. Our neighbors won’t be surprised to see a guy show up in a tractor-trailer and start unloading pallets.

Clearing out my spam, both email and here, I again wondered why we don’t have better tools to block this crap. Yes, I know botnets generate most spam, and many of their member machines are located in the US, but even so. I get tons of spam that originates in eastern Europe, South America, Asia, and so on. Why does my hosting service not make it easy to specify exactly which TLDs and IP ranges I want to block or to allow? Yes, I know all the arguments about Balkanizing the Internet. I don’t care. I don’t want traffic from the Balkans, or indeed most of the rest of the world.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

09:04 – Barbara and I are about halfway through the seven seasons of Despicable Housewives on Netflix streaming. In what I think is a first for me, I like most of the male characters, but with the exception of Andrea Bowen in a supporting role as Julie Mayer I can’t stand any of the women characters. They’re stupid, greedy, whining, phony, lying, weasely, cheating, stealing, murdering scum. Literally. I don’t understand why the male characters don’t just strangle all of them.

Last night, we watched a couple episodes about a tornado hitting the fictional Wisteria Lane and the aftermath. Those were pretty powerful episodes, particularly since just a couple days earlier a real tornado devastated an area in a county that adjoins ours. As Barbara said, the devastation on the TV show looked exactly like the newspaper photos of that town just down the road from us. She also said that from now on when we’re under a tornado warning, we’re going to head for the basement.

11:30 – For all I complain about public schools and NCLB, there are occasional success stories. For example, the Dallas News reports on the stunningly good math and reading test scores achieved by third-grade pupils at Field Elementary school. There was a minor downside, though. They achieved those high math and reading test scores by devoting essentially all of their effort to teaching these kids math and reading, which of course meant they had to skip science and other subjects almost entirely. Not to worry, though. The kids still got grades in those other subjects. Of course, those grades were faked, sometimes assigned by teachers who’d never even taught the subjects in question. If I had school-age children, I’d do whatever it took to either homeschool them or get them into private schools. I don’t believe public schools–any public schools–can any longer be trusted to educate kids.

Friday, 18 November 2011

11:40 – I’m still working heads-down on the biology book, so I don’t have much to say.

One interesting thing. My editor, Brian Jepson, emailed me last night to say that O’Reilly/MAKE is getting ready to do a reprint of Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments and ask if there were any changes I wanted to make before the book went to reprint. Although this book is what’s called an “evergreen” title–in other words, one that sells consistently for years–in the course of our discussion, I mentioned that at some point I’d like to do a re-write of the book to convert it to microchemistry kit-based. Brian said that was worth discussing in more detail, and mentioned that this would probably be the last reprint of the chemistry book.

Not that the book is going away. The reprint they’re about to do will provide a six-month or year’s supply, during which O’Reilly/MAKE will be transitioning to print-on-demand for this and other titles. That means they’ll no longer have to print thousands of copies and stick them in a warehouse while they wait for orders. Instead, they’ll just print as many copies as they need whenever they need them. And that’ll also make it a lot easier to manage updates, since we’ll no longer have to worry about having thousands of unsold copies that an update obsoletes.

The other nice thing about POD is that it decreases risk in publishing new titles. For example, we finished the Illustrated Guide to Home Forensics Experiments a couple of years ago, but it’s never been published because doing so is very expensive. With POD, that expense is reduced. There’s still the cost for layout and production, of course, but there’s no longer the risk of printing 10,000 or 20,000 copies of a four-color book and then finding out that it doesn’t sell as well as hoped.

12:16 – Here (h/t to Abbie Smith) is a worthwhile graphic that illustrates science-as-perceived versus science-as-reality.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

08:44 – Apparently, some people took one of my comments yesterday to mean that I was planning to abandon Linux for Windows. I’m not. What I may do is buy a low-end PC with Windows on it to do some stuff that requires Windows.

For example, right now I’m driving to the post office to mail kits. The USPS has a web site where I could print labels with postage and have the mailman pick up the kits at our home. That’d save me a lot of trips to the post office, but the problem is that I’ve never gotten that site to work properly on our Linux boxes. When I try to use it, it goes off into an endless loop. I think the problem is the version of Adobe Reader rather than Linux per se, but of course that still means it doesn’t work on Linux. And there are a few other Windows-only applications that might be useful for the business. I am and always have been practical about operating systems. They’re not a religious issue for me. If I need Windows, I’ll use Windows. If I need OS X, I’ll buy a Mac. I prefer to use Linux simply because it’s secure and doesn’t lock me in to a corporate walled garden, as the alternatives do.

And, speaking of kits, we just sold the last chemistry kit in stock. We had to increase prices on the new batch by $10 per kit. We’ll be assembling three dozen of those over the next couple of weeks. We’re still accepting orders for kits to be shipped the week of December 4th. With Christmas and the winter semester approaching, this new batch probably won’t last long, so I also need to get orders placed for the components we need to build another batch.

09:49 – Old memories. I used to do a lot of darkroom work, including processing color film, which was a big deal to do in a home darkroom back in the 60’s. There were kits available: E3 and later E4 for processing Ektachrome color slides, and other kits for processing color negatives and color prints. I ran through all of those, but was looking for a new challenge. So I decided to process Kodachrome at home.

Kodachrome is (was) utterly different from standard color films and papers. Those were called “substantive”, which meant they had the color couplers built into the emulsion layers. There was just one development step, during which an organic chemical in the developer reacted with each of the three color couplers to form the three dyes needed to make up the color image. Kodachrome, on the other hand, was actually a black and white film. No color couplers. Instead, it had three separate black and white emulsion layers, each sensitive to only part of the color spectrum. During processing (which, IIRC, involved more than 30 separate steps) the film was first developed in an ordinary black-and-white developer and then exposed individually to monochromatic light to fog the unexposed silver halides in each emulsion layer. After each layer was fogged to reverse it, it was developed with a specific developer that produced the appropriate dye for that layer. The final layer was fogged with white light and then color-developed. There were numerous intermediate steps.

I actually got recognizable results on my first attempt. Not good, but recognizable. So I wrote Kodak to ask them for some tips. By return mail, I got a very polite letter from Kodak, which basically said as inoffensively as possible that they didn’t believe I was doing what I claimed to be doing. So I mailed the guy back and told him I most certainly was. He then, again very politely, basically asked me to prove it by sending him a Kodachrome slide developed as a negative. So I did that.

It was a couple of weeks before I heard back from him, and when I did he was asking me if I’d like to come up to Rochester for a job interview. I replied, thanking him for his interest, but explaining that my parents thought it would be inappropriate for me to apply for a job with Kodak since I was still in junior high school.

Oh, yeah. The reason I was thinking about this is that we just sold the last kit in stock to a guy who’s a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology–sometimes called Kodak Institute of Technology–where I did graduate work. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, RIT isn’t actually in Rochester, NY. It’s in South Henrietta, NY. I used to have a great t-shirt for the South Henrietta Institute of Technology.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

08:58 – Well, I’m no longer running Kubuntu 11.10. It locked up on me this morning, and I finally rebooted. Instead of the GUI coming up, I got a terminal login prompt. Enough is enough. I removed that hard drive and put the original hard drive back in, so I’m back to running Ubuntu 9.04, exactly where I was a couple days ago. Overall, this has cost me more than a full day of work, and I’m not happy about it.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

10:00 – There’s still a lot remaining to be done, but I now have Kubuntu 11.10 to the point where I can work with it. Most of the stuff remaining to be done can be done on the fly as I discover missing pieces. For example, I just realized I need to install NVU or something like it to edit HTML pages.

I’m now using LibreOffice instead of OOo, but I don’t see many differences. I did run across one, which may be an artifact of old files created with much earlier versions of OOo. I have a spreadsheet that lists every disc I’ve ever received from Netflix, including the dates received by us, returned, and then received by Netflix. When I open that file in LibreOffice, what I see is a two-year-old version of the data. The file I opened is definitely the current version, so I’m not sure what’s going on. I may unzip it and look at the raw data, but I suspect what LibreOffice is showing me is the last version that was saved with a much earlier version of OOo.

We’re just about out of chemistry kits, so Barbara and I intend to spend some time this weekend building two or three dozen more. We have all the purchased components in hand, but we need to make up and package chemicals, which means we may not be able to ship kits until early December. We’ll continue accepting orders in the meantime, letting customers know that shipment will be delayed for a couple of weeks. This new batch will be priced $10 higher because it’ll be built using some components I ordered at higher cost than the preceding batches. And once we have that batch built, I need to place orders for more components.

Monday, 14 November 2011

08:15 – Another Monday, which means Barbara is at work after a weekend, which means Colin is expecting me to play with him all day long. I can’t blame him for pestering constantly. He’s a nine-month-old Border Collie pup, and his priorities all involve constant work, which requires my involvement as well. If I try to ignore his requests he whimpers. If I ignore that, he starts climbing up on the arm of my chair and pawing me. If I ignore that, he takes my arm in his mouth (gently), and starts pulling me toward the front door. My only option is to use a baby gate to pen him outside my office. The problem with that is that I never know what he’ll get up to when he’s out of my sight. Usually something I don’t want him doing.

11:52 – Well, I’ve been trying to avoid this, but enough is enough. OpenOffice writer keeps hanging, and if there’s one thing I can’t tolerate while I’m writing, it’s an unreliable word processor. That was what motivated me to abandon MS Word for OOo Writer long before I converted to Linux.

My main system is old, really old. If it’s any indication, I’m currently running Ubuntu 9.04, which hasn’t been maintained for quite a while now. The system drive is a 500 GB Seagate Barracuda and the second hard drive is a 750 GB Seagate Barracuda that I installed before they were officially released. There used to be two of those 750 GB drives, as DATA_1 and DATA_2, but DATA_1 failed a couple of months ago. I should have stopped what I was doing then and built a new system, but I didn’t have time. I should stop what I’m doing now and build a new system, but I have even less time. So I’m going to nuke the current installation, run detailed scans on both drives, and (assuming they pass) re-install Linux.

The question is, which Linux? Ubuntu has gone off the rails, with Unity and Gnome 3.0. As ESR recently wrote, it’s not even worth messing with. He switched to KDE. Others have switched to Linux Mint. I think I’ll go with Kubuntu 11.10. Of course, that’s a major undertaking itself, just getting all my stuff migrated over. Don’t expect to hear from me for a while.

14:11 – I’m up on my knees at this point. I ended up pulling the original drives and replacing them with an old but unused 1.5 TB Seagate Barracuda. Kubuntu 11.10 is installed and updated, and I’m currently copying several hundred GB of data from an external backup drive. At this point, basically nothing is configured. I’m writing this in the default Kubuntu browser, which is called rekonq. I’ll install Firefox and/or Google Chrome when I get a moment. LibreOffice is installed by default, but I have a dozen or more key apps I’ll need to install before this system is really usable. Stuff like digikam, for example, not to mention one or more video-editing apps.

There are also a lot of minor annoyances to deal with. Sound isn’t working at all, for example, which is probably just a matter of finding and fixing a configuration setting somewhere in the KDE GUI. I’ll also try to find time to get my old Epson scanner working. It used to work perfectly and then one day it just stopped working. I don’t think the problem is the scanner, but just something that got borked on my increasingly cluttered Ubuntu 9.04 setup. We’ll see if a clean Kubuntu 11.10 will recognize and use the scanner.

I made a conscious decision to leave a lot of data behind. Stuff that I’ll never use again, such as hundreds of GB of raw .DV video files. When I finish transferring data, this 1.5 TB drive probably won’t be more than about half or two-thirds full. Barbara, being the thrower-away of the family, will be pleased that I, being the keeper of the family, have decided to throw out all this old stuff. We watched an episode of House, MD not long ago that featured a hoarder. During the scenes of the guy’s house, Barbara kept muttering, “Just like you…” Now, it’s true that I sometimes save things that nearly anyone would consider eminently throw-outable (such as burned out lightbulbs or dead alkaline cells), but there really is method to my madness. (In the first case, I wanted a small specimen of tungsten; in the second, I wanted to dissassemble the alkaline cells and compare them chemically to a new cell.)

Geez, I wish this copy would complete so that I could get back to writing. Once again, I’ve reorganized something. I had algae in with the Group VII lab sessions (protista), which is where they are categorized in some classification systems. But it’s equally valid to put algae in with plantae rather than protista. In fact, I think it makes more sense to do it that way, considering that grouping algae with plantae turns a polyphyletic grouping into a monophyletic one. So I moved algae into the Group IX lab sessions (plantae), immediately following Group VIII (fungi). Now if only I could start writing about them.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

10:32 – Still working on the biology book. I decided to stop trying to organize the protist stuff and just write labs. I’ll worry later about how to organize everything.

I also spent a couple hours on the chemistry lab kits. We’re down to a handful in stock. Making up the next batch will involve some changes, primarily a shift from using polypropylene centrifuge tubes as chemical containers to using a mix of dropper bottles and wide-mouth pharma packer bottles. That also means reorganizing the work flow and packing groups. We may end up being out-of-stock on the chemistry kits for two or three weeks, but that’s not a big deal at this time of year because orders are slow. I expect they’ll start coming in faster with Christmas and the winter semester fast approaching, so we want to have at least two or three dozen kits in inventory by early next month.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

08:34 – Yesterday I started a group of lab sessions on protozoa/protista/protists, which is a very annoying topic. The problem is that p/p/p is a grab-bag grouping, basically “everything other than prokaryotes that isn’t a plant/animal/fungi”. That said, protists actually fall into three unofficial groups: plant-like (e.g. green algae), animal-like (e.g. amoebae), and fungi-like (e.g. slime molds).

It doesn’t do it justice to call this “group” polyphyletic. More like mega-super-ultra-hyper-phyletic. About the only thing they have in common is that they’re all eukaryotic, are unicellular or simple multicellular, and they mostly live in water or damp soil. Otherwise, they’re all over the map. Some are autotrophs, some heterotrophs, and some can be either depending on their environments. They use different motility methods (or none at all). They reproduce by binary fission or mitosis and/or conjugation and/or cyst formation. Try organizing that grab-bag into something.