Sunday, December 18, 2005


I am teaching myself HTML. As if you can't tell.


How not to design a website

I was reading through some science blogs this afternoon, and came across a link to
From the site: provides concise and accurate information for those who wish to critically examine the antievolution movement.
The problem is that the left and right sidebars together take up about 3/4 of the screen, and the main ariticles are squeezed into a column in the center that is only about 25 or so characters wide. This makes it very hard to read. So I'll probably avoid it in the future.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Vague remembrances of chemistry

If I remember correctly, we (Joe, Jason and I) mixed potassium sulfate [K2SO4] and lead nitrate [Pb(NO3)2] in a water solution. Then lead sulfate [PbSO4] precipitated out of the solution (lead nitrate is one of the very few lead compounds that is soluble in water). We poured off the solution into shallow dishes and let the water evaporate on the windowsill. Voila! Potassium nitrate [KNO3] crystals.

K2SO4 + Pb(NO3)2 -> PbSO4 + 2KNO3

We never got to make the gunpowder, though. Mr. Rainey gave our potassium nitrate to one of the other science teachers to use in a class demonstration of some sort. We were kind of upset about that (who wouldn't be?), but were consoled (a little) by the fact that she said it worked as well as the supply-store stuff she had run out of.


Important safety tip

If you are cooking, and take a pinch of cayenne pepper, be very careful to not rub your eye later. This is very important. Trust me, I know.


Friday, December 16, 2005


Check out Lightscribe.

It's a way to label your custom CD's and DVD's. After you burn your CD/DVD, you just flip it over and Lightscribe uses your burner to label it.

How cool is that!


How would you improve science education in the US?

Over on The Panda's Thumb there is a post (the title of this post is a direct link to that one) about improving science education in the US (duh, it's the title of both my post and theirs). A lot of the comments describe experiences similar to my own. There are a lot, so I'm telling mine here.

I loved science and math in elementary and high school (Note: In 6th grade I got a very low grade in science because I was rebelling against the teacher. It was a conscious decision. Don't ask.) I really don't remember any particularly great teachers in elementary school. They were mostly pretty good, but for the most part they were background noise. At that age, if you put a book in front of me, I would read it. If it had any educational value, I would learn something.
In high school I had some very good science teachers. For example, in 9th grade, Mr. "Old man" Rainey (He taught "Science." It wasn't until 10th grade that science was broken into classes for different areas) encouraged my friends (Joe Autrey and Jason Baker) and I to try to synthesize potassium nitrate (we already had sulfur and carbon) during the chemistry section.

Then I went to college (after six years in the Navy). Most commenters on the post (on the Panda's Thumb) write about how terrible the intro science and math classes that they took were. Mine were also pretty bad (I only went to Physics 101 because the girl who was TA for my recitation was cute). But, at least in the Electrical Engineering department, the later classes didn't get any better. My junior year Electronics Design class (EE 310) had a lab component. It sucked. All of the so-called experiments were fill-in-the-blanks, cookbook recipes. It got so bad that I finally said "Screw this, I don't want to be an engineer," and dropped out (there were also some other issues, but that was the biggest). I still love science and math, particularly electronics. Penn State didn't kill that love, but it did wound it pretty bad.

On a similar note, I applied for an electronics techncian position in Rock Springs today. I hope I get hired. I really want to get back into electronics professionally. Of course, I may have to find a new hobby.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Being related to a genius ROCKS!

Check out my sibling blogs section. The cool mouse-over effect is courtesy of my brother Philip, who worked out how to do it. Check out his blogs.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Warning: This post rated "N" for nerdity

I heard the phrase "quantum teleportation" yesterday. I don't remember where, but I decided to read up on it.

Anyone who has heard me talk about Michael Crichton's Timeline knows (in painful detail) the difference between faxing and science fiction style teleportation. It seems actual quantum teleportation has elements of both. But in the end it is misnamed. It is fancy faxing.

I am not a physicist. I did take modern physics as an elective, about eight years ago, but I am certainly no expert (not even close). But the basic idea is not that difficult as long a you don't get too (at all) technical.

If you are interested, see here and here.

Someone asked me if I was a Star Trek fan the other day. Why? Who knows. Am I? Not really. The rest of this post will make that seem a lie. It is not. I know far more than I should about many shows to which I am basically indifferent (Highlander comes to mind). If you really want to be bored, ask me about shows of which I am a fan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons, Invader Zim, Firefly, among others)

Anyway, I got to thinking about some major inconsistencies between the various series (except Enterprise, I have never seen a single episode.)

In the original series (TOS) some things are established about Vulcans. They are much stronger and tougher than humans. They are emotionally detached and logical. Spock, however, is half human. He gets snarky sometimes. McCoy especially gets on his nerves.

On Voyager (VOY), however, Tuvok (the 100% Vulcan security officer) is a total wuss. There is a lot of talk about how well trained and tough he is, but in action he is almost totally ineffective. Also, he is always irritable and grouchy. Spock had the occasional emotional outburst because he was half human. What's Tuvok's excuse? Maybe he's really a Romulan spy, and feels that he has to pretend to be a wuss to avoid blowing his cover.

On The Next Generation (TNG), Worf (Klingon security officer) was also all talk and no substance. Come on! Riker could (and did) kick the guy's ass. This was fixed when Worf moved to Deep Space Nine (DS9) and there he became the warrior he was supposed to have been all along.

Also on TNG, it is established that Betazoids are telepathic. Counselor Troi was not fully telepathic (she was an empath) because, like Spock, she was half human. However on DS9, Luxwana Troi (Counselor Troi's Betazoid mother) is also only empathic. But on TNG she was most definitely telepathic.

Now for my favorite inconsistencies on TNG: the transporter and the holodeck.

Transporter: The crew discovers immortality. Picard, Guinan, and Ro become 11 year old children in a transporter accident. (Wait a minute! They are vastly different ages. Picard is middle aged, Guinan is over 500 years old, Ro recently graduated from the Academy. So why are they all 11?) In order to fix them, Dr. Crusher has to figure out what happened. She clearly states that they are, for all intents and purposes, 11. Left alone, they would age normally from there. Then the transporter is programmed to reverse the effect. Logically, they should now be able to do this at any time, with anyone (Picard is human, Guinan is ? and Ro is Bjoran. If it has the same effect on each of them, it should affect all humaniods the same way. Note the difference between "effect" and "affect"). The Transporter of Eternal Youth!

Transporter: The crew discovers perfect cloning. A duplicate of Riker is found. LaForge figures out what happened and how. It seems to me that this is an amazing occurrence, and the Federation would put at least some resources into duplicating the conditions that allow it.

Holodeck: General inconsistency. Sometimes the holodeck can create characters who have real intelligence, sometimes it can't. Also, it malfunctions so often that it seems like more trouble than it's worth.

There are a lot more, but I am starting to bore myself.