As if I didn’t have enough to worry about already…

Apparently, the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee thinks I don’t have enough to do.

A very small, young orphaned kitten.
Why me? Don’t misunderstand, he’s an adorable little wretch, and there’s no way I’d have suggested the Minister of Rocktology abandon an orphaned kitten, but I still think we are well beyond Maximum Safe Cat Density already.

Here’s some trivia I read somewhere: supposedly, most felines have pretty much the same general behavioral responses and temperament. This means a housecat (Felis catus) is about as amenable to being a pet as, say, a tiger (Panthera tigris).

A very small, young kitten sitting on a faux-fur blanket with a printed picture of a tiger on it
As I remember it being described, the only real difference is that when a specimen of Panthera tigris decides to dart out from behind the couch to attack your ankle for no apparent reason, the effect on your ankle is somewhat more severe, hence the relative popularity of less-bodily-harm-capable Felis catus as pets.

I rate “Kodama” (as we’ve named him) here at around one picotiger worth of ferocity, though that seems to be increasing rapidly as he gets proper feeding and play.

Still…why couldn’t it have at LEAST been a puppy, if it had to be anything at all?…

Blogspammers are persistent little boogers

Just an observation while I wait for my lunch – I’m getting several obviously-fake user registrations a day here now.  It makes no difference, since registering as a user doesn’t immediately allow mass un-moderated posting, but seeing the stream of notices from the blog IS slightly annoying.

Also, blogspot sucks.  Apparently a few years ago some dork made a “blogspot” theme that hotlinked (idiotically) a blank white graphic on my other webserver.  Why they didn’t just use a background colo I have no idea, but now there is a mass of blogspot blogs in Indonesia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, etc now clogging my webserver’s log with requests for this now-non-existent file.

I need to find a massive site-choking graphic I can redirect them to until they knock it off.  Any suggestions?

SHENANIGANS! It’s a freakin’ anti-Linux conspiracy…

My last post mentioned that I’m actually in the market for a much-needed Linux netbook. My problem is that the combination of FUD and bribery (“we’ll give you a huge discount AND continue paying you to put up the ‘[company] recommends Microsoft’ advertisements on your website!”) seems to have killed off my choices at the retail level (all Microsoft), and perhaps has made it difficult to even order online.

Dell and HP take almost two weeks (“estimated”) to get me a Linux netbook, and I’d rather not wait that long. I thought perhaps the stock Sylvania G Meso, which seems to be getting very good reviews for the price, might be something I could at least order and get within a few days. However…nobody online seems to stock them either, unless they charge an extra $100 for them.

Here’s the query I just sent to Sylvania Computers (now known as “Digital Gadgets”):

I’m having a great deal of trouble actually finding what I want: your Sylvania G Meso with Ubuntu.

Of your “Where to buy” links:

  • MicroCenter” only carries the “Magni Elite” rather than the G Meso, and only with Microsoft Windows.
  • DataVision” wants $100 extra for the one color (yellow) that is actually in stock (the others, including those at the correct $269 price, are “pre-order”).
  • RCSNet only has the “XP” version in stock for the extra $30 – the others are “pre-order” (correction – I missed that they claim to have one color – “pink” – actually in stock).
  • lists the model that I want, but says “Usually ships in 1-2 MONTHS

Does anyone actually stock the $269 Ubuntu Sylvania G Meso?

A second question, less urgent: I would have preferred to be able to upgrade to 2GB of RAM (without voiding the warranty) – will this be possible in the near future?

P.S. you might want to put a redirect on “” to “” – a lot of the laudatory articles about the Ubuntu Sylvania G Meso still link to “”.


At this point, I’m seriously considering offering to drive to Dell’s corporate headquarters (about 3-4 hours drive from here) next weekend to pick up a Mini 9 even if I have to assemble the freakin’ thing myself in their waiting room rather than wait for their factory to get around to it, if it’ll get me a functional netbook within a week.

Otherwise, perhaps being sufficiently secure in my masculinity to order a pink netbook (and a can of spray-paint? A coating of “magnetic”, “chalkboard”, or “dry-erase marker” enamel might be fun) may be my only chance of getting a Linux netbook in a decent time-frame.

The alternative is to pay the Microsoft tax and get a retail unit, then upgrade it to Linux and try to get a tax refund (while Microsoft continues bragging that in “brick and mortar” stores where there seem to be absolutely no Linux boxes, Linux only sells 1 out of 20 netbooks*…). No waiting, and I can just take it back and exchange it if the hardware’s defective. Somebody please talk me out of this last option…

* What impresses me is that we’re talking about a study Microsoft bought, that looks at a market that seems to actually stock near 0% Linux netbooks, and even there Linux still makes up one in twenty sales…

Woe is me (some more)

We’re back from our all too short stress-management vacate-shun. I’m chronically underslept (indeed, I ought to be in bed right now) and now I think I’m coming down with a generic Obnoxious Respiratory Ailment for the third time in as many months, which is extremely unusual for me, and which I definitely Do Not Want. Also, it turns out that as usual, Motorola cellphones are crippled. My Razr V3 apparently doesn’t allow applications to access the camera, so there’s no way for me to cram a functional datamatrix barcode decoder onto it. And the built-in wireless networking in Igor (my venerable 3½-year-old laptop) appears to have died…

I need a new cellphone. And a microscope. And a “netbook”. And a digital camera that handles low-light conditions and close-ups better. (And a pony?…) Still, things aren’t all bad, for all my whining.

A DataMatrix barcode painted in watercolors...I did manage to get some interesting pictures on the trip, at least, along with GPS tracks for geolocation purposes. Also, wine jelly and interesting spices from generous family members we were visiting, and even some avocado honey from a little roadside produce stand on the way back to the train station for the trip back.

I’m going to bed now. Hopefully after work tomorrow or this weekend I’ll be putting up another post (and start posting more often again). Anybody want to see pictures of oil and rocks from JelloLlamaJalama Beach, or the majestic Los Angeles River?

Vindicated! Margarine is correlated with stupidity!

'Happy Boy' brand margarine, with creepy-looking blank-eyed 'smiling' kid on the boxI’ve been saying for years that anyone who actually wants to eat margarine has something wrong with their head. Now, there’s PROOF:
“The study suggests that if children eat certain types of food their intelligence may be boosted or significantly lowered. It singles out margarine as having particularly strong links with lower IQ scores.”

It’s still not entirely clear whether margarine makes you stupid, or if instead being stupid predisposes you to eat margarine (or both). Either way, I continue to maintain that if you want to eat vegetable oil on your bread instead of good, wholesome, delightful butter – just get some herbed olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar [it’s not butter, but it’s darned good]. Don’t run it over powdered nickel while pumping it full of hydrogen gas to make it hard, color it yellow, and then use it as make-believe butter-like-food-product because if you do, you might as well make a Play-Doh® bread-like-loaf-product to put it on.

And before anyone asks – no, I’m not affiliated with the dairy industry…though if anyone in the dairy industry feels sympathetic to my current situation with my under-equipped home lab and wants to send me an old bacteriological microscope they just happen to have sitting around, I’d be willing to consider being a paid shill independent advocate in return…

Wells Fargo Bank is evil

Submissions for the next edition of The Giant’s Shoulders blog carnival are due in the next couple of days. I actually had the paper I’m doing for this one picked out last month even as I was submitting last month’s paper on Lister’s experiments with fermenting milk. I expect I’ll have this month’s written up this weekend…but first, partly as a reminder to myself, I just wanted to say Wells Fargo Bank is a greedy evil bastard.

Seriously, if Wells Fargo Bank was a cartoon character, it’d be someone resembling Snidely Whiplash. I can totally hear the corporation saying “If you don’t give me the deed to your ranch I’m gonna throw you on the railroad tracks!” and twirling its evil little moustache.

What prompts this outburst of a blog post, you ask? Well, even if you don’t ask, I’ll tell you anyway.

I got a phone call this evening. Someone from Wells Fargo Bank calling to tell me they were going to mail me something. “Why the heck”, I thought to myself, “do they need to call me to tell me they’re mailing me something? Why can’t they just mail it?” You see, apparently I may be eligible for over a million dollars of death and disability coverage! And I’ll have sixty days to look it over and it won’t cost me anything! Isn’t that great? But still….”Why do they have to call me to tell me they’re mailing me something? Why can’t they just mail it?”

Here’s why: evidently they feel they’re not getting enough “raping people’s accounts with Mystery Fees” income these days…so unless I’m mistaken, this insurance from Wells Fargo is an “opt out” thing. They’re calling because when they say “hey, we’re doing this and mailing stuff to you”, and I say “Oh, okay”….That’d mean I’d just consented to it. If I get busy or the mailing they send gets “lost” and I forget, Wells Fargo gets to automatically start extracting “insurance premium” mystery fees from my account. (No doubt if they happen to do it on a day when my account is low, they get to charge me an overdraft fee along with the insurance premium. Isn’t that great?) Maybe I’m misinterpreting this, but it sure sounded like this was what was going on from the obfuscated sales-pitch script the caller was going through.

I asked them to go ahead and cancel me before even sending out the stuff, since I already have insurance. We’ll see if they honor my request. I was, incidentally, quite cordial with the poor person who has to do this evil crap for a living in the call center. I’ve done tech support, I know what it’s like having to deal with awful crap that’s not your fault…

Anyway, just wanted to mention this in case anyone else has their bank pull this trick – and so in case I forget and they try to send me the stuff anyway, I’ll hopefully see this post again and be reminded to go through whatever obnoxious “opt-out” procedure I’ll have to deal with…

(I’m reminded of when BlockBuster slipped a tiny, folded notice, buried in a full-size envelope with some other stuff, alerting me in tiny print that they wanted to sell my information to junkmail marketers but they wouldn’t if I filled out their tiny little form and mailed it back to them. As I recall, I had to buy the stamp to mail it, too…)

Anyway, I just had to get that out there. I’ll be back to microbiology and biochemistry shortly. We shall begin with another bit of spiffy practical microbiology from the late 19th century…

FoodTV’s new “Food Detectives” show…

That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more! I had intended to try to come up with another post for this month’s “The Giant’s Shoulders” anthology, but I’ve just encountered such an appalling concentration of disappointing un-science that I cannot restrain myself any further. Guess I’ll have to settle for one post in the anthology this month.

FoodTV’s new “Food Detectives” show sounded so promising. I thought to myself “‘MythBusters’ meets ‘Good Eats’!?!? That would be pure, refined, pharmaceutical-grade WIN!” Then I saw their premier episode. The “experiments” appeared blatantly and badly staged, and in some cases shockingly badly designed. For example, their “experiment” with refrigerator deodorants involved showing a guy sticking his face into a ‘fridge allegedly full of smelly stuff and filming him making faces while they timed how long he pretended to be willing to keep his face in there.

Continue reading FoodTV’s new “Food Detectives” show…

Do Not Want: Celestron LDM

Back in Idaho for the moment. The trip was somewhat exhausting, but I thought a followup to The previous post on the Celestron LDM microscope was in order, as I finally got a reply back after almost two weeks.

(20080329:Quick update. I am surprised to see this post is getting more interest that I’d anticipated. I’ve added a brief summary to the end of the post to help clarify my opinion since it seems people may be interested.)

I had asked them if it was possible to replace the objective lenses (so as to be able to use an oil-immersion lens to get 1000X magnification – pretty much a neccessity for decent bacteriological work – such as examining yogurt cultures) and whether the camera could be swapped for a regular eyepiece. Larger yeast cells used in brewing might be okay in 400X, but even there it’d be nice to be able to zoom in adequately to get better detail – like watching conjugation or budding of yeast cells.

The answer:

“The answer is ‘no’ to both because of the sizes, etc. are specific to this unit.”
Email ID: ZZR-372549
Department: Technical Support
Status: Closed

I guess there’s no point in asking about getting a darkfield condenser for it. On the plus side, they did actually give me a reply at least.

I’ve got to say I’m seriously disappointed that Celestron has evidently intentionally engineered this microscope product (and their other offerings as well, perhaps?) to Not Play Well With Others. Why else go to the trouble and additional expense of coming up with your own special specifications for the parts when standard parts are readily available?

This seems especially absurd in a product aimed at science enthusiasts, who strike me as very likely to be strongly aligned with the “Maker” attitude…at least if they’re any good at Science Enthusiasm. I think the “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it” concept meshes very well with the investigative attitude necessary for science. So, we want “internet”, and they give us “AOL” instead. A sad, sad fate for an otherwise great concept, and on this basis I must render a verdict of “Do Not Want”.

Find me a version of this product – from any vendor – which can accept standard oculars and objective lenses and I’ll sell blood plasma and beg on the street to raise money for it. (If nothing else, it’d give me an excuse to finally start up the “science begging” blog-post series I’ve been threatening for a while now…) Of course, it’d be nice to have an ordinary “real” microscope, too…this blog still doesn’t have enough pictures.
(P.S. Dear Celestron: although I doubt anybody at Celestron will ever even see my obscure blog, and in that respect my previous post’s comment about sending me one to review was just a joke. Despite this, I was sincere, so in the unlikely event that someone out there sees this post and has the authority and inclination to do so, feel free to send me one to review anyway. And a pony.)

SUMMARY (in my opinion):

  • VERY nice, highly desirable concept overall.
  • Self-contained, platform-neutral design, should work with anything that can support SD cards or USB Storage devices.
  • Potentially a nice field microscope? (Probably not hard to hack together a battery pack that could be used in place of the AC adapter)


  • Does NOT appear suitable for bacteriological or similarly high-magnification applications
  • Non-standard components prevent upgrades.
  • Non-standard components mean vendor lock-in problems (if Celestron gets tired of making replacement parts and some kid scratches your objective lenses or cracks the viewscreen, you’re out of luck.)
  • Digital camera and viewscreen appear to be integral, so if the camera or viewscreen dies I’d guess the whole device becomes a useless lump.

My recommendations for Celestron or other microscope manufacturers (should any of them care about the opinion of some nerd on some obscure blog like this one):

  • Please, please use standard parts wherever possible – it makes your device a much safer bet for anyone thinking ahead towards possible upgrades or replacement parts.
  • Don’t ignore bacteriological applications.
  • Easily replaceable parts make for graceful failures. For example, if the camera on this model could be swapped for an ordinary ocular, the microscope would at least be usable while the camera portion was being sent in for repair or replacement.


Picture of Celestron's LCD Digital Microscope My parents, apparently comfortable with being microbiology “enablers“, ran into a digital microscope (pictured at right) that they pointed me to. It looks pretty nifty for the price, except for one issue: it only comes with three objectives, topping out at 40X. I can find marketing materials for this microscope, but no technical information beyond what’s on the company’s website (click image to reach that). Therefore, I can’t tell if the objectives are replaceable or not. If they are, the idea of picking up an inexpensive surplus 100X oil-immersion lens and ending up with a decent microscope with which to watch the Yeast Porn and such – on a nice digital screen, no less, rather than squinting into an eyepiece – has a certain appeal to it. The fact that the digital camera takes the pictures itself and only needs a computer connection to transfer files – and not even then if you use an SD card – means that I wouldn’t have to worry about ending up with something that requires Microsoft® Windows® just to look at some microbes (or post glamour shots of them to this blog).

However, I don’t think trying to view conjugating yeast cells or, say, Lactobacillus or Gluconobacter/Acetobacter bacterial cells at 400X would be very rewarding, so an oil-immersion lens is a necessity. And don’t let the “up to 1600 Power with Digital Zoom” thing fool you – it just makes the picture bigger and blockier, not actually more detailed.

So….do I WANT, or not? I sent off an email to Celestron asking about whether I could swap out objective lenses on this model or not. I got back the form “we got your email” email – we’ll see if I get a real reply from them or not. If so, I’ll update this post.

Speaking of which – still no reply from Bristol Brewing Company. Guess they’re either just not “nerd-friendly”, or the person who handles email queries is on vacation or something.

P.S. Dear Celestron – if you were to send me an evaluation model, I’d be happy to review it here on my blog for the thousands hundreds dozens pairs of people who read my elegant prose incoherent babbling…