Saturday, April 26, 2014

snow day

This winter was a little colder than normal, with more snow and longer harder freezes than typical winters.  When there is a threat of inclement weather, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has to make a decision, in advance, as to whether or not the government offices should shut down so that everyone has time to plan and prepare.  Further, there are a huge number of federal government employees in the area, many of whom commute significant distances to get to work, so OPM is sometimes a little over-careful when they call the day.

This winter OPM closed government offices more often than I remember having happened in several years (excepting the snowmageddon year), but some days that we had off weren't all that bad.  An early example, from sometime right at the beginning of the new year looked like this by the early evening:

look out for that black ice

Presumably, for the sake of safety and a fear of litigious repercussions, they are sometimes overly cautious.  However, it seems to be a good practice, because in the greater metro area, which is pretty huge, while I have no real snow to speak of, way on the other side of the district a friend of mine had most of a foot of snow from the same storm.

All I can say is that this winter I was happy to have a white collar job that has "snow days".  This year I got a bunch of free time off of work, including some that serendipitously came on days that I needed to take off anyway.

Monday, October 14, 2013

pumpkin carving

The holiday season is right around the corner, and I went to the first party of the year the other day; a pumpkin carving party. Because the party was more of a party, and the carving was just an excuse to get together, I showed up with no real plan of what to carve.  After we were there for a while a few people decided to do a Breaking Bad theme group, and I offered to make this beauty.

chemistry in action!

Humorously enough, the other people, who were biologists, had to keep asking me what the drawing was, always with the caveat "does it make me a bad scientist, that I don't know what that is?".

No, not knowing what a stick figure from another science is doesn't make you a bad scientist.  Being a biologist makes you a bad scientist.

The "real" carving took place on the other side of the pumpkin, a pretty awesome raven by the wife, with an oral detail added later by a friend.  We happened to be in Baltimore at the time, so a methamphetamine/raven combo seemed appropriate.

caw, caw ... bleaargh

Here's an action shot of the final triumvirate, and some of the other pumpkins.

The incredible pumpkin on the right that one of the other party goers made was accidentally dropped and broken earlier in the day, but you can't even tell after the emergency repair job.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I'm an ACS member, and I get weekly copies of C&EN that I read on my phone during my commute.  I greatly preferred reading them in paper form, but times change and we sometimes have to change with them, albeit under duress.

When I read the articles on my phone, using their terrible app for android, the pictures' alternate text (at least that's what I assume it is) shows up below the picture.  Way back when, in the early days of the internet, the alternate text was to be used to describe a picture if it wouldn't load, or some other issue arose.  Almost immediately it got used for other purposes, or completely ignored.  In some cases the alternate text is used to add to the image (i.e. in XKCD an additional joke or comment is displayed in the alternate text), or in some cases it is a remnant of the description of the image left by the image providing company.

Typically I could give a shit about that sort of thing but this one showed up a few weeks back

with the text:  "beaker full of cash"

I realize I'm a picky bastard, and it makes sense that the person working at the photography website that presumable housed this stock image may or may not know the difference between a beaker and a flask, but I fully expect a trade journal that would like to think of itself as one of the preeminent in the world, in the field of chemistry no less, would proofread some of their shit a little better.

Monday, November 12, 2012

some actual science, sort of

Last year I got a thin rubberized-skin type of phone cover for my then relatively new phone.  When I got it, it fit like a proverbial glove, but after a few months it started to get loose.  It was only loose by a millimeter or so, but it was enough to be irritating almost every time I touched the phone.  It would shift and gave the phone a slightly vague feeling in my hand.

it's difficult to see, but the entire 'bezel' of the case is standing slightly proud of the face of the phone

this shot shows the gap in the bezel more clearly, look at the dark gap next to the power button, where there should be no room at all

here the gap around the perimeter is exemplified by the dark gap next to the power button

scintillating view of the gap behind the bezel

So, hopefully, you are asking "WTF is he whining for?" The thing about this that struck me at the time was that it reminded me of a specific experience I had in the lab on a number of occasions.

Several of the labs I worked in used IKA stir plates.  IKA plates are awesome, except for one significant drawback, the bodies are plastic, and susceptible to a number of common lab chemicals.  The last lab I worked in had clear silicone rubber covers for the bodies of the plates to protect them from small splashes.  Of course the most common thing to get splashed on the covers is oil from oil baths.  Like a lot of chemists I despise how oil gets everywhere, and I was always waging a battle against oil contamination and cleaning oil off of every surface and piece of glassware that entered my hood.  Similarly irritating was the fact that the silicone covers would swell and distort when oil got on them, and they eventually would fit so poorly that they would interfere with access to the controls.  With my hatred of oil contamination verging on obsessive compulsive disorder, I would periodically clean my covers to ameliorate this.  A quick rinse with water, then acetone, then a nice soak in hexanes always removed the oil nicely.

The distorted phone cover reminded me of the distorted stir plate cover, and I guessed the the phone cover distortion  may have come from skin oils and hand lotion.  If I could remove it, the cover should go back to normal.  I assumed that the material(s) that absorbed were non-polar, because I assume that the material is silicone which would absorb polar things poorly.  In any case an experimental soak would do no damage if the cover was the other likely material, polyurethane.

Not being a lab chemist anymore, I don't have ready access to hexanes any more, so I used white gas.  White gas is similar in solvent properties to hexane, and I've used it in the home shop before to clean things hat I would have otherwise used hexanes for.  As an extra added bonus, when silicone is soaked in non-polar solvents it swells up like someone with a peanut allergy in a Thai restaurant.  It's a little disconcerting the first time you see it, the first thought I had, years ago, was "Oh shit, I ruined it!"

after about a day's soak it pretty much fills up a peanut jar

When I first took it out of the white gas, the phone cover was grossly oversized like a clown shoe, which is exactly what I wanted to see.

After I let the phone cover sit out and off-gas for a day or so it fit the phone much better than before.  Was it perfect again?  Not even close, but it was a significant improvement over the prior looseness.  Interestingly, it had a slight kerosene or diesel smell for a week or two after.  I think this is an issue with the white gas that wouldn't be seen with hexanes.  Hexanes are pretty pure, but the white gas is not as clean a distillate.  Presumably the white gas has some heavier alkanes in it (like kerosene and diesel) that take longer to evaporate out of the material due to the higher boiling points.  Eventually it all evaporated out, and wasn't much of an issue.

At this point, all excited with my own ingenuity, I thought I might fix a similar problem with my much beloved pen.
loosy goosey

After the same treatment I was rewarded with another grossly oversized component.

Unfortunately once it dried, the pen grip shrunk to significantly smaller than the original size, and feels like plastic.  I had to lubricate it with water just to be able to re-install it.  At this point the pen is pretty much only there for memories, and doesn't get used any more.

seems like there should be some sort of penis joke here

The moral of the story, obviously, is only try this on things that you can afford to accidentally destroy.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


This last year I stayed with a friend for a few months while I was between somewhat more permanent places in which to live.

My friend is a really good guy, but is a pack rat, and loves to collect things of all sorts.  One of his favorites seems to be coffee makers, and on a trip back to the house to pick up some things I took an opportunity to document a few of them.

Sorry for the low quality, but the file was stupidly large and I compressed the shit out of it to save downloading time.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

interesting math

I was reading up on a lot of polymers last year, and I still have a few of the references bouncing around.  This one has an odd error that I happened upon when looking for yet more references on polymers (joy!).

some disparity there

For some reason they must have done a shitload of research, and then chopped out a bunch of unused references.  Why they left them all in the list is beyond me, but somehow they all seem to be the references at the end, like a whole final section was lopped off without hurting the overall paper.

For you mathy-y science geeks out there, the mysterious missing 35 references amount to 28% of the total number of used references!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

eggplant parm for breakfast

I've always made eggplant, and a lot of other dishes, just like my mom did for me while I was growing up. While that's the norm for people with Italian heritage of any sort, I feel it's pretty common the world over. That being said every now and again I'll think of/read about/stumble onto something different to try and share it with my mom, and she does the same, and it seems that our recipes are getting better over time.

I've always been a fan of cooking shows and the Food Network (even though most of it is complete crap) and now that people are making their own food shows/video blogs available on the net I'm an avid consumer. One of my favorites that I've mentioned before, and definitely my favorite for Italian, is Gianni's North beach. He's an old school dude who cooks in his home kitchen and chit chats in a way that reminds me of my old relatives.

The other day I saw a post of his from last summer about making eggplant parm, and he did it with a small but very important difference from my family's way, and, as it happened, I had just been given several eggplants so I had to try it. My family always used breadcrumbs to bread it and he doesn't, just a simple egg wash. It has a bit less flavor and texture, but it also is less prone to soaking up the sauce on the surface and waterlogging. A pretty neat little change, I think. This dish pretty much always comes out well no matter what happens, but I think I really liked the difference in that it took a little less time and effort to prepare

Making eggplant parm is a bit of a production so of course we made a bunch, and have an entire pan of it we didn't even get to last night. I had an odd thought this morning that the stacked piles of eggplant reminded me of flat enchiladas. Where I grew up it is really common to get an egg on top of flat enchiladas as an option, so I thought "Why not try it on the eggplant?"

Not too bad for a few minutes work.