Friday, 4 May 2012

07:27 – I finished the group of lab sessions on revealing latent fingerprints yesterday, and got started on blood. I think we’ll include only one or two sessions on revealing bloodstains. The problem is that, with the exception of Kastle-Meyer reagent, blood reagents are (a) extremely expensive, too much so for a kit, and/or (b) very hazardous, and/or (c) require specialized equipment like a forensic alternate light source, and/or (d) just don’t work very well. Meanwhile, stuff for the forensic science kits is starting to accumulate in large piles.

Barbara is taking a day off work to run errands and get some stuff done around home. She had a pile of mulch dumped in the driveway yesterday. I estimate there’s about 3,058,207 mL of the stuff. Right after the guy left, Colin ran over to the pile, sniffed it, grabbed a mouthful, and ate it.

If you want to grab any O’Reilly ebooks, today’s the day. They’re having a 50% off sale on all titles, and all of them are DRM-free.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

07:30 – I’m still cranking away on the group of lab sessions on revealing latent fingerprints. Speaking of which, here’s an interesting factoid for Trivial Pursuit: humans and the other great apes are the only creatures that have fingerprints, with one exception. If an Australian cop finds a victim who’s been beaten to death with a eucalyptus club that’s covered in fingerprints, he’d first look for suspects among the local gang of koalas, who are the only creatures other than Hominidae who possess fingerprints. Also, of course, koalas are known for their nasty tempers.

15:10 – I just got this from O’Reilly.

You may have noticed that we’re supporting the FSF’s Day Against DRM. You can read more about it at Tomorrow, Friday, 4 May, we are celebrating with a sale in celebration of the Day Against DRM and encouraging customers to try a DRM-free ebook if they haven’t already done so. Here is our messaging:

In Celebration of *Day Against DRM*
Save 50% on ALL Ebooks & Videos

Having the ability to download files at your convenience, store them
on all your devices, or share them with a friend or colleague as you would
a print book, is liberating, and is how it should be. If you haven’t tried
a DRM-free ebook of video, we encourage you to do so now. And if you’re
already a fan, take advantage of our sale and add to your library.

For one day only, you can save 50% on all O’Reilly, No Starch, and Rocky Nook ebooks and videos. Use code: DRMFREE

Ebooks from are DRM-free. You get free lifetime access, multiple file formats, free updates. Deal expires May 4, 2012 at 11:59pm PT and cannot be combined with other offers.

We’ll be extending our sale to include the entire catalog of ebooks and videos from O’Reilly, No Starch, and Rocky Nook — yours included. The deal won’t go live until 12:01 am PT Friday, May 4.

Here’s the tweet we’ll be sending throughout the day, and we’d appreciate anything you can do to get the word out.

RT: @OReillyMedia Celebrate #DayAgainstDRM: Save 50% on all Ebooks & Videos – Use code: DRMFREE Today only!

Feel free to customize it for your ebook or video, and we’d love to have you share it.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

09:06 – Thirty days and counting to the deadline on the forensics book. As always, we’ll make the deadline, but we’ll be using every minute available before then to get the book ready to roll.

I finished work on the glass and plastic analysis group of lab sessions yesterday, and I’m well into the group on revealing latent fingerprints. I am going to drop one of the lab sessions that covers developing latent prints with silver nitrate. When I wrote the original draft, silver nitrate was selling for $0.70 to $0.80 per gram. Right now, it’s more like $3.50 to $4.00 per gram, and who knows where it’ll be a year or two from now. Given the amount needed, that’s simply too expensive to include in a kit. It’d be one thing if it was really needed, but silver nitrate development of latent prints is similar enough to other development methods that it’s an easy decision to leave it out.

13:30 – I just ordered 100 grams of ninhydrin crystals for $70. That’s enough ninhydrin to make up 15 to 20 liters of working solution, which is probably a year’s supply for a typical forensics lab, and enough for 150 or more forensics kits.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

09:18 – I did go ahead and make up one liter of the 0.1 M IKI solution from solid iodine and potassium iodine. A tenth mole of each in 20 mL of water forms a brown-black sludge that looks like tar. So, with the IKI I already had on hand, I now have enough to make up 40 or so 30 mL bottles. Once the other liter finally goes into solution, I’ll have enough for 30 more.

I almost finished the glass and plastic analysis group of lab sessions for the forensics book yesterday. I’ll finish that today and start on the fingerprinting group. That’s a pretty large group, but I should be able to finish it this week.

Speaking of forensics, Barbara and I recently started watching Crossing Jordan again. We’d already watched the first season, which was released on DVD some years ago. But there was then some issue with music copyrights that for several years made it impossible for the studio to release seasons two through six. In March, all six seasons showed up on Netflix streaming, so we started watching it again where we’d left off.

The cast is good. The writing is generally competent, if not great. Sure, they put their characters in a lot of unrealistic situations, but that’s TV. What’s interesting is how they present forensic science. Unlike Bones, with its imaginary forensics, with minor exceptions Crossing Jordan sticks pretty much to the real deal. Yeah, they sometimes do things that are imaginary in 2012 and would have been really imaginary in 2002, like putting two blood samples into a desktop gene sequencer, punching a button, and four seconds later having Southern blots show up on the computer display, which flashes “DNA MATCH!”. But overall they get the science pretty much right. They also get the personality traits right, particularly with Bug (a forensic entomologist) and Nigel (a forensic technician).

We’re also well into season three of Heartland, which a lot of people think of as the Canadian version of McLeod’s Daughters. We liked the first couple seasons of McLeod’s Daughters, but it quickly went down the tubes after they killed off Claire. As long as Heartland doesn’t make the mistake of killing off Amy, they should be good for a 10 or 15 year run. The cast is first-rate, as is the writing.

Over the years, I’ve rated several hundred series and movies on Netflix, and given fewer than a dozen of those five stars. Heartland gets five stars, at least so far.

Monday, 30 April 2012

07:35 – We’d be ready to build more chemistry kits, except for one thing. Each kit includes a 30 mL bottle of 0.1 M IKI (iodine/potassium iodide) solution. I’m now waiting for iodine to dissolve.

Iodine is very poorly soluble in water, something like 300 mg/L at room temperature. That changes if iodide ions are present in the water. Molecular iodine–a neutral molecule made up of two iodine atoms–reacts with an iodide ion to form a triodide ion, which is extremely soluble in water. IKI solutions contain iodine and iodide ions in water, with the iodide ions typically in at least small excess. The solution we supply is 0.1 molar with respect to both iodine and iodide, which means there’s no excess iodide. That solution is made up of 12.69 grams of iodine and 16.60 grams of potassium iodide per liter.

The problem is, iodine is tightly controlled by the DEA because it’s used by illegal methamphetamine labs. I do have some on hand, but I try to reserve it for situations where I really need elemental iodine. Accordingly, I’ve been buying an IKI solution from one of my vendors that contains 22 grams of iodine and 40 grams of potassium iodide per liter, then adding iodine crystals to bring it up to equimolar, and then diluting to give an IKI solution that’s 1.26% iodine and 1.66% potassium iodide. But iodine dissolves very, very slowly in that 2.2%/4% solution. By “slowly” I mean a week or two with frequent swirling. So, right now, there’s a one-liter volumetric flask sitting on my lab bench with a few grams of undissolved iodine sitting in the bottom. Fortunately, I already had some of the IKI solution made up, but not enough for 30 kits. So I’ll probably bottle that and make up how ever many kits that IKI solution will cover.

The really annoying thing is that although iodine dissolves very slowly in a dilute KI solution, it dissolves quickly in a concentrated KI solution. If I were making up this solution from scratch, I’d dissolve 16.60 grams of potassium iodide in about 20 mL of distilled water and add 12.69 grams of crystal iodine. The iodine would go into solution within a few minutes.

In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do. The stuff in the volumetric flask, when it finally dissolves, can be used for the next batch of kits. It’s not like anything is going to be growing in a 1.26% solution of iodine. And as to my supply of crystal iodine, I may just do what someone suggested a week or so ago. Order it on eBay. I see that there are several vendors offering ACS Reagent grade iodine crystals in 250 g or 500 g bottles for reasonable prices.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

07:58 – Inventory of the chemistry kits is getting critically low, so while I work on the forensics book this weekend Barbara will be working on chemistry kits. We’ll put together another couple dozen of those. I also need to create and issue purchase orders for more components for the chemistry and biology kits, not to mention some initial orders for the forensic science kits.

Friday, 27 April 2012

09:06 – I’m getting emails from a lot of people who’ve received their copies of the biology book. Kit orders are also coming in, and I’m getting a bit concerned. It’s only 9:00 a.m. and I’ve already received two kit orders so far this morning, with the book barely available. We built and boxed 30 biology kits as our initial stock, and have the components on-hand to build 30 more. Once those run out, it’ll take at least two weeks to get the components in and make up and bottle the chemicals needed to build a new batch. Meanwhile, stock on the chemistry kits is getting dangerously low. And I have a 31 May deadline on the re-write of the forensics book. Things are going to be busy around here.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

07:11 – Still working heads-down on the forensics book. Today I need to order a few square meters of each of several fabrics to supply in the kits as specimens for the hair and fiber analysis lab sessions.

09:34 – Colin just had his first up-close-and-personal encounter with a baby bird. When we went out the front door to go for a walk, there was an adult robin and what looked like a leaf in the middle of the yard. Colin pulled over to see the robin, which of course flew away. Then he noticed the baby robin. It wasn’t moving, and he wasn’t sure what it was. He circled it cautiously several times at some distance. Apparently, he finally located the rear of the baby bird because he cautiously approached it from that direction until his nose was almost in contact with the baby robin. Apparently deciding that Colin must be its mother, the baby robin opened its mouth wide, asking for a worm. Colin levitated up and backward, ending up a meter or so from the baby robin. Then Colin repeated his approach, but the baby robin opened its mouth wide again. Not wanting to be fanged by such a vicious opponent, Colin leapt back again. I finally managed to get him away from the fledgling and took him for a walk down the block. When we returned a few minutes later, the baby bird was gone, although Colin spent several minutes bloodhounding to locate it.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

07:56 – I just put a reminder in my calendar to vote on 8 May. Ordinarily, my vote wouldn’t matter much for a largely-uncontested primary, but this time we’ll be voting on Amendment One, the obnoxious attempt to make discrimination against gay people part of our Constitution. Every vote is important. Edmund Burke had the right of it: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Work on the forensics book continues.