Gather and harken unto my tale of woe!

Well, this roadtrip has been rather difficult so far. Not necessarily bad, but definitely difficult.

It was about a week before the weather would let up enough for us to even escape our home state. I came down with a cold as we were leaving. The campground we were originally going to be staying at on the second night was mysteriously closed for the season despite supposedly being open year-round. Panoramio appears to have forgotten that I exist and won’t let me login to upload more to my photos (and I’ve not yet heard back from the email contacts there about getting back in). And then on the third night, neither of the truckstops next to our campground had sour cream. And the following morning, after stopping briefly to pick up some food for breakfast, the truck sputtered and died on the way up the onramp to continue the trip. And then we had some stress and confusion getting things worked out initially with the RV’ers organization to get towed to a repair shop and a campground. And then my wife has apparently picked up the cold that I’m getting over now. And then someone took a doody in my sandbox…oh, wait. That was just a “song” on one of my CD’s. Never mind.

On the other hand, we did manage to finally escape our home state, we did find a replacement campground for the second night, we did get everything worked out okay, and our truck’s problem turned out to be a relatively minor issue with the distributor though it evidently took a fair amount of labor to extract, fix, reassemble, and reinstall it, and we should be able to get back on the road in the morning. So, enough whining from me for now.

Meanwhile, I’ve thought about my “geotagging arbitrary files” issue a bit more. At this point I’m favoring the “geostrings” approach, split into what I’m calling “Where, When, and Whither” fields, which is to say, a field containing location (latitude, longitude, elevation), a field containing time-related information (timestamp, track-id), and a field containing direction (heading and angle) information. I’ve actually started putting geostrings in this form into some of the pictures I’ve been taking, just to get a feel for how easy or hard they are to work with. An example containing all information including the optinal stuff would look like this:


The “where” field is latitude, longitude, and elevation, separated by commas. The “when” is the ISO8601 standard simplified timestamp and a track ID, and the “whither” indicates a heading of 60 and an upward angle of 20. The colon-separated fields and the comma-separated data within each field are in order from (as I perceive it) most important to least important. Aside from the latitude and longitude, and the “geostr” markers on either side, everything is optional.


Linking this more-relevant latter portion of the post to the whining at the beginning is the fact that the cold I’m now getting over has messed up my voice. I did bring microphones and both my computer and some cheap portable recording gadgets, so at some point along the way I still want to do at least one short audio recording, geotagged and including an embedded image to go with it. I just need to wait for my voice to properly return (and to spot something about which I feel an urge to inflict people with my blabbering.)

This weekend should be worth at least one decent post…

This weekend, one of the two of this semester’s classes that I have not yet used for a “what I learned in school today” post took a field trip.

Yes, Our “Environmental Chemistry” lab went to Yellowstone National Park and (legally – we had a permit and everything) did some water sampling. We got some on-site lectures about the types of water systems in the park, considerations involved in sampling things, and so on. All in all, I thought it was pretty interesting, but after spending the entire weekend either driving to or from the park or walking around in the park I’m a bit exhaustipated. Plus, bummed out that I can’t afford a good portable field microscope to go with the regular microscope which I also can’t afford. Woe unto me. I imagine the permit we had would have allowed me to also dangle some slides in the water to look at.

I did record a GPS track of both days field-trips, I got ICBM addresses for our sampling sites, and a number of photographs with my cheap and ancient digital camera along the way. Give me some time and I’ll get at least one real post out of it.

Meanwhile, a bit of trivia: “The Microsoft Network” search system is pretty Fupped Duck. I do get the occasional obviously relevant hit from one of their searches, but the great majority seems to be “hits” from random one-word searches, many of which seem to refer to words that appear nowhere on the site (and others of which are so broad I have no idea how many pages some MSN user would have to click through before hitting my site. For example, while I like to think I’m making a reasonable effort to do interesting science blogging, I’m having trouble imagining that this blog would show up in the first few pages for a search consisting solely of the word “science”…which one of the recent hits seemed to show.

Actually, this probably has less to do with users than with Microsoft itself – the hits for this don’t appear to be loading real views (it pulls one page and doesn’t reference, for example, images) though it is coming from “The Microsoft Network” addresses. Perhaps Microsoft has one of their bots masquerading as a real user (the user-agent string looks like regular “Internet Explorer 7″)…even the IP address resolves to a bogus name ” bl2sch1082217.phx.gbl.”, for example) which doesn’t resolve back the other way. Of course, it’s also possible the hit is ENTIRELY bogus and the “referer” tag that seems to indicate this is also faked. Perhaps it’s time to start blocking Microsoft…or maybe just messing with them. This apparent standards abuse and obfuscation of what exactly it is that they’re trying to do with my blog (and messing up my logs!) kind of bugs me. (Moral of the story is probably “Everybody should just use Google“…)

Sure “Cardboard Sarcophagus Instructions” is a pretty weird search, too, coming from Google, but at least I know why THAT one got here. I doubt the searcher – possibly from the Memphis, Tennessee area – was really searching for metaphors for expired JellO boxes.

A Government “War on Science” is GREAT for this country!

They say that politics and controversial statements are ways to encourage traffic on a blog, so here’s some. Comments welcome, of course.

I have cause to celebrate the future potential for science in the U.S. Here’s a bit of simple history (Update – added the “War on Poverty” to the list 20070810):

1964: Lyndon Baines Johnson declares a “War on Poverty” Today: the gap between the Rich and the Poor in the US is widening and economic mobility is stagnant.

1971: President Nixon declares a “War on Drugs”. Today: “Drugs” are widely used, even among kids, who appear to be losing their fear of drugs. Market innovations (blatantly illegal and of questionable morality, but innovations nonetheless) such as crack cocaine, MDMA (“ecstasy”), and “ice” (crystal meth) seem to be in the news a lot. People growing illegal plants in their closets and basements or brewing up complex chemical stimulants in the backs of minivans seems to be an almost daily topic of the news.

2001: President George W. Bush declares a “War on Terror”. Today: A majority of Americans feel that there is a greater threat of terrorism than before, which seems to be true, at least as far as “Jihadist” terrorists go, if the declassified portions of the government report paint an accurate picture of the situation. Heck, when the president invaded Iraq in 2003, major terrorist organizations didn’t even seem to be there. And now, it seems like EVERYONE we’re fighting in Iraq is Al Qaeda, and we’re treated to frequent vague but earnest-sounding warnings of impending terroristic doom.

Given these historical precedents, if there really is a government-run War on Science, then we’re in for a huge increase in scientific activity here.

I’m picturing a virtual underground Scientific Renaissance, where, like much of the late 1700’s and 1800’s, “citizen science” becomes a fashionable pursuit. People secretly building science labs in their basements and attics and performing legitimate, useful scientific research in them. Kids hanging out in abandoned parking lots at night, doing complex calculus problems in chalk on the ground and experimenting with broadcast power. Anonymous rebel scientists developing methods to cheaply and effectively convert lawn clippings into fuel ethanol and plastic grocery bags and soda bottles into biodiesel. Ignorant politicians assume home biology labs are marijuana-growing operations, that home chemistry labs are making methamphetamines, and that home physics labs are building radioactive “dirty bombs”. A multibillion-dollar new agency, the Science Enforcement Agency is hastily assembled and laws are badly written to restrict scientific activity to carefully-regulated government-controlled settings only.

Public science devolves into (when Republicans are in control) attempts to “debunk” global warming and evolution, “cure” homosexuality, develop ridiculously expensive military-grade weaponry, and silly projects that just plain won’t work but happen to be run by buddies of a senator or (when Democrats are in control) multimillion dollar projects to study “self-esteem”, research on “psychic powers”, development of homeopathic “medicine”, and silly projects that just plain won’t work but happen to be run by buddies of a senator. Disgusted underground scientists are only egged on by this state of affairs.

Within a few years, a cautious exchange of money in a public restroom will buy disease-curing doses of novel, effective, but non-FDA-approved antibiotics that cure drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or Tuberculosis. A backyard moonshiner-like biotech lab somewhere in the rural west secretly sets aside part of their flock of chickens, genetically engineering them to produce HIV vaccines with billions of dollars in “street” value. Someone with a closet chemistry lab develops an illicit catalyst that facilitates hydrolysis of water to produce hydrogen with no more energy input than ordinary body heat, while another develops an illegal strain of cyanobacteria that turns atmospheric carbon dioxide into a plastic substance which can either be used for building or is easily converted to biodiesel at such a rate that the developer has to rapidly build a huge, secret underground complex to hide the vast quantities of material produced overnight….

In the end, as always, government goes utterly insane and bankrupts themselves (more, I mean) trying to stamp out Illegal Science, but in the meantime, anyone who’s scientifically inclined ends up making a fortune. On the other hand, the efforts drive a lot of the science out of the country and Mexico becomes the new world superpower with their fleet of antigravity flying armored space cars, zap death ray guns, and clusters of quantum-supercomputers. (Note to self: get back to learning to speak Spanish!). This doesn’t really slow the flow of science into the US, though, and “science tourists” can sneak to Mexico to undergo age-reversing and/or intelligence-boosting medical treatments or to obtain cures for cancer or obesity that actually work. People end up in jail for recovering from leukemia or losing weight.

Meanwhile, on a more personal note, people like me who actually think doing science is fun get a few publications in underground science-journal ‘zines, spend a few years developing something useful, make a huge pile of money, and then retire before The Man catches up to us, to live a life of luxury somewhere. Maybe living in a giant mansion in Mexico between stints as lab techs for Mexican scientists once in a while, done just for fun and extra pocket-money…

It’ll be glorious. So – write your legislators today, and tell them we NEED the “War on Science”. For the Children.

(My political opinion? Lets just say that my political fantasy right now is that the 2008 presidential race will come down to a run-off between a Bloomberg/Paul ticket and a Gravel/Kucinich ticket….)

There, is THAT enough controversy to get some new traffic here?…

Short Low-content (but relevant) post

Mainly to remind myself, but in case anyone’s interested:

I’m going to have to do another “Searches that led to pages on this blog” post soon – there are some interesting ones.

If I have my way, I’ll also be in a position to do some posts on bacterial virology, yogurt, and the microbiology of Belgian Lambic ales. (For the Bacterial Virology lab, I’m going to see if I can play with temperate (“lysogenic“) phages in yogurt, and for the “food microbiology” portion of the Pathogenic Microbiology lab, I’m going to see if I can talk them into letting me try to isolate [normal] bacteria from Lambic [assuming there are any still living in there].)

Wow, I guess everything IS bigger in Texas…

…including, at least for today, my audience.

After being linked to from The Tangled Bank I’ve gotten hits from all over. Mostly using Firefox, I notice, and a large number of Mac users (plus at least one and possibly two fellow Penguinistas.)

Hits coming from all over – A few from Canadian colleges, Michigan, California, New York, the U.K., the Sydney, Australia area [update: Oh, and now India – Hello, India!]…and a surprisingly large number from Texas.

Interesting selection of institutions, too. Colleges, research institutions, government agencies…I just want to assure the readers from the disease and mental-health organizations (there was at least one from each) that I’m perfectly healthy and sane. For certain values of “perfectly”, anyway. At least, I’m not 5150 nor afflicted with any sort of terminal condition.

Since at least a few people seemed to come back and look at the rest of the site, I’ll endeavor to put up a post tomorrow on what exactly I’m trying to do in this blog and such (in case anyone’s thinking “that’s nice, but does this get better?…”).

But for now it’s bedtime – early morning Pathogenic Microbiology Lab tomorrow. Goodnight, all.