Saturday, September 27, 2008

miracles of modern science

I just read an article that came out in nature a few months back, that is so intriguing I had to share. I unceremoniously ripped it off and have it here for your viewing pleasure.
Nature, 2008, 453, 267

There are so many wonderful things in this teeny article it's hard to know where to start! In ongoing research to reduce the failure rate of condoms, which seems hover at the 1% mark, a team developed a testing device to more closely mimic real world conditions. The novel machination's aptly named 'thrust-hole' is adjustable to, presumably, mimic the differential in opening aperture one might encounter with differing partners and/or orifices.

To determine the type of failure that was in need of alleviation 972 condoms with breaks that had been returned to the company were examined. What a fun job, isn't science neat?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Politics - Part 2

This is the funniest thing I have seen in quite a while.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

lab safety

Right now we're in an interim space while our new lab is being located, designed, and built. This particular space is devoid of synthetic chemists save us, and so hoods were not an important part of the original design and there are too few of them. We have approximately two people working in each hood, depending on how you look at it.

Last week my hood mate, who is a decent researcher, made a simple mistake that ended up with a face full of butyllithium.

I wasn't there when she had her accident, but what I was told transpired was: she transferred a large disposable syringe full of BuLi to a reaction, tried to refill the syringe from the BuLi bottle, it got stuck, she wailed on it, it came apart, BuLi everywhere.

Most of the BuLi didn't make it out of the hood, the stuff that did landed predominantly on her gloves, coat, and safety glasses, but some hit her cheek and lip. Both got burned and today she is missing a small patch of skin on her cheek.

Hooray for safety equipment!

She did almost everything correctly, and the thing she did incorrectly is a thing I feel a lot of people would similarly do incorrectly. I think that most people's reaction to something they want to move which resists is to try to move it with more force. It's always a good idea to think before you go back and wail on it, even if the appropriate solution is, in fact, to wail on it.

By the way, she's ok. She got a burn on her cheek where it took off some skin, and got some on her lower lip, which swelled nicely. My feeling is that most of the swelling came from worrying at it, but I don't doubt that it felt none too pleasant.

Friday, September 19, 2008

lovely, lovely computers

I was riding my motorcycle in to work today and I saw one of these for the first time:

ooooo, pretty

I was too far to be able to read it, but I could easily make out the puzzle pieces. The first thing that popped into my mind was "Why would anyone want to protect the plug-ins?".

Firfox + add-ons = sweetness
Safari is for losers

I need to get out more. Or at least spend more time at my bench instead of my desk.

Friday, September 12, 2008


We have a guy working in our lab, who is a retired volunteer researcher. He's in his 80s and spent the bulk of his career working in one area as a PI, and moved to chemistry, I believe, after he retired. He likes coming in and working at the bench, and talking with the other researchers. In general he's a really nice guy, an exceedingly hard worker, and very thankful for assistance he gets, when he needs it. He even asked me to learn about reading proton NMR recently (he had a lab tech do it for him before), and was really into the undergrad NMR training web pages I found for him.

As is not uncommon for someone of his general background he's extremely conservative, politically. He's good natured about it, and likes to make jokes with the more politically liberal lab members, which is a bit unusual, but very welcome.

Yesterday we were talking about politics in a general sort of way, and the coming elections' main players. He mentioned he's a registered Democrat, which I thought was a joke, but he claimed to be true. He said that while the GOP was his party, the primaries were very boring. That and he likes to go to the competing party's primaries and vote in such a fashion as to fuck things up just a little bit.

While my political leanings are pretty opposed to his, I think he may be my new hero. Long ago I had thought that would be an interesting and nefarious way to massage the system, but hadn't the motivation to do it. Talk about balls, damn.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"so I was doin' this chick in the pooper, right?"

Why don't more conversations I'm involved in start this way? That conversation is going to be nothing but gold, whether it's heard from a guy or a girl. Of course girl would be way more interesting.

I mean there is really no downside. If it is an awesome story of sex and debauchery, of course I want to hear it. If it is an awesome story of sex and debauchery with some sort of odd twist (interruption, mistaken identity, loss of consciousness), also wanted to be heard. If it is a story purporting to be awesome and of the sex and debauchery variety, but is actually an uncomfortable and strange tale that is difficult to both tell and listen to, still awesome. It will just find its awesomeness in other ways at a later date, perhaps in its retelling.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Coolest Disease Prevention Effort Ever

This is one of the coolest things I have ever heard of. Genetically engineering mosquitoes to fight Dengue fever.

Here's how it works. Scientists genetically engineered male mosquitoes with a genetic flaw that kills their offspring in the pupa stage. So they release the male mosquitoes, they mate with wild females who lay the eggs, and all the offspring die. The cool thing about killing at the pupa stage is that the hatched eggs still go through the larvae stage and compete for food with the wild larvae thus preventing even more mosquitoes.

I know what you are wondering. How do they grow the mature mosquitoes with the genetic flaw? They added a gene that knocks out the genetic flaw if the larvae are raised in water containing tetracycline. That is just fucking cool.

The article I read states that there are many advantages to this approach:
"This system has several attractive features. First, since it is only males who carry these genes, no one will be bitten by genetically engineered mosquitoes. Second, because the gene construct is lethal, it shouldn’t spread into the wild mosquito population — instead, it should eliminate it. Third, the fact that the gene is lethal at the pupal stage means that fewer engineered mosquitoes need to be released. Finally, in a traditional control program, the hardest part is finding the last of the animals you seek to eradicate; in programs of this kind, the males will do it for you. Males, after all, have evolved to be good at detecting females."

Here is the whole thing:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I hate sodium hydride

I just set up a relatively large reaction (~1.5 mol) using, you guessed it, NaH. Of course I tried it on smaller scale. Of course I'm trying to both bring through material and improve on the existing methods. Unfortunately the preliminary work I had done was a little capricious, so in the interests of time I retunred to good 'ol sodium hydride. I had gotten everything into the flask, I had added all my reactants, I had added a catalytic amount of ethanol to initiate the reaction, I had monitored the gas evolution, and I had even kept a big bowl of ice water handy to cool if necessary.

Everything was going swimmingly, and as I had hoped and expected. After all the reagents were in the flask and gas evolution had dropped significantly, I started to heat for the second stage two hour reflux, and guess what happened.

I've already spent about 2 hours cleaning things that were in my hood like some of the glass that was nearby, and a stirplate. Tomorrow will be the cleaning of the hood itself, and salvaging the last of that reaction. If I'm lucky I'll be able to reassemble my manifold the next day and install it, then I'll be up and running to work all weekend to try to catch up.

Yay chemistry! Yay sodium hydride!

At least no one was hurt.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

more great NM food

For my trip to Austin, when I saw the Toadies show, my hot and awesome girlfriend got some fresh roasted Hatch green chile. Typically the harvest comes in around August/September, and everyone who loves to cook with it in New Mexico gets a bag (35 lbs), has it roasted, and freezes a bunch to use throughout the year until the next harvest. Around this time of year is is plentiful and cheap in NM, but not most other places. In recent years HEB grocery stores and Central Market have been carrying it in Austin, at greatly inflated rates by NM standards, making it much easier to get for NM expats living there. Out here in the mid-atlantic, however, still hard to come by, which is why I was so amped when my rad lady procured chile for my visit.

Here's what I did with the green chile, and also how I made the carne adovada for Dr. Miller's edification.

Green chile sauce/stew:
This is a very common stew style sauce in NM for putting on everything and anything. Like most important, regional sauces there are shitloads of ways to make it. This is how I did it last week.

1. Sweat an onion in vegetable oil in a pot. Olive oil would work, but flavorless is better in this case.
2. Brown cubed pork loin with onion.
3. Near end of browning add crushed garlic. I like a lot of garlic, and this was a medium-large pot that I wanted to fill about 2/3 of the way full, so I used a whole bulb.
4. Add about 2 cups of roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped Hatch green chile.
5. After the chile has had a chance for the flavor and aroma to open up a bit add liquid to cover. I used a can of beef stock and water. Chicken would have been more appropriate, but the beef was on hand. Simmer until the pork is almost cooked to desired tnederness.
6. Add cubed potato. The potato will thicken the sauce slightly, without making into a gravy like consistency. If you prefer you can add flour to the sweat instead, just go light. Simmer until the pork and potatoes are tender
7. Right at the end I added a peeled, seeded, and sliced tomato, and removed the pot from heat.

At that point it was ready to go and I ate some over rice, and put the rest of it up. The next day I separated it into zip top bags and froze them to be used later.

Carne adovada:
I've made things like this before, but this time had some modifications I like, and the product was fucking awesome. Unless someone comes up with better shit this is going to be the way I do it from now on.

I got a pork shoulder, cause I'm a cheap bastard, and broke it down myself. This is kind of a pain in the ass, and a good place to save time and effort if you feel like spending a bit more. The meat just needs to be collagen laden and good for long, slow cooking. Actually it is a huge pain in the ass, especially if you don't do it periodically, and I would recommend against it unless you just want to try it once to see.

Cut the pork into large chunks. My mom and I refer to them as fist sized, but in reality they are smaller than the fist my gangly mitts make. You want the smallest ones to be larger than a golfball, and the biggest smaller than a softball. Simmer the pork in just enough water to cover with a lot of garlic powder, and some black pepper.

I've tossed the bone in before too, but it didn't add much. You could reserve the stock and use it for the chile, but I think that the chile made that way isn't the best for this dish, even though it's pretty damn good.

Simmer until the pork is tender and comes apart easily, cool and store if not finishing the dish right then.

The chile was made essentially following the directions on the package. You can make red chile without NM red chile powder, but I think it's really best with the right shit. Just don't ever use "chili powder", that little i can fuck up a lot of your work. I made a roux with olive oil because I found out at an inopportune moment that we were out of vegetable oil. It was pretty tight, so I softened it up a bit with more oil and some lard I skimmed off the top of the cooled pork, and took it a little past blond. Strictly speaking a white roux is what your'e after, but I have a lot of trouble not fucking with things I'm working on so I went a bit further. I added the chile powder, cooked for a minute, added water (out of chicken stock), garlic, and pepper. Cooked it for about 20 minutes and was rewarded with an incredibly thick sauce. I purposely made it thick to ease storage, but this was impressive. It was essentially red chile pudding, and even cracked deeply upon cooling. Cool and store if not finishing the dish right then.

I pulled the pork chunks apart to make smaller chunks. I could have just as easily cut them up, but I wanted to go over them one more time to remove fat and grisle. Another reason not to break down your own pork shoulder. If you suck at it, like me, it makes extra work for you on more than one occasion. I put the pork in a pot, added chile and water to make the consistency I wanted and just cover the pork, and simmered until the flavors combined.

Completely fucking awesome, melt in your mouth pork, and a nice, smoky, flavorful sauce with a touch of heat.

I poached a couple of eggs and plopped them right down on top of a bowl of that shit, and it fucking ruled.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

rock 'n roll

If you get the chance to see the Toadies on their current tour, or any tour for that matter, you should. Completely bad ass.

This song is completely awesome and is one of my personal favorites not only because it's so good, but also it had heavy radio rotation even with it's very strong negative content and imagery. I think this is one of those cases where someone thought it would be "pretty" or "poppy" and played it without really listening to it first.

If you don't know what it's about, listen to the lyrics. Should be pretty self explanatory.

edit: This was at Stubb's in Austin, to answer Dr. Miller's query. These guys are so well liked that after they sold out this show well before the show date (Stubb's can hold about 2,200 people), they added two more shows to make it three nights in a row, and then sold those out too. Like I said, completely bad ass.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I went to the ACS national meeting the week before last. It's always nice to get to go see some old friends, schmooze, and get all loaded. Sometimes you even see som new chem, although thats pretty uncommon these days. For example I saw McMillan and was really impressed until a day later I was recalling what I had seen. Then I realized that the guy has built an awesome career one a couple of iminium reactions. They are great reactions and all, but still.

I got to see Nicolaou give a retrospective as well, and it was not nearly as motion sickness inducing as I had hoped it would be. The slides for first half of the talk was taken directly from his Tetrahedron prize talk, which are horrid slides, but I'm inured to them after having seen them already. The slides for the second half were taken directly from his new book, and while pretty garish, they were really not too bad by his standards.

I haven't been to a national meeting poster session in quite a while. Typically the poster sessions are where the best stuff is, so you shouldn't miss them, but I've skipped/missed them or not gone to the national ACS in almost 10 years. This time I made extra effort to see as many of the poster sessions as I could, and saw some stuff that was new to me. Unfortunately the newness was not good newness.

The first thing I saw as not really new, but drove a point home. Most of the medicinal chemistry, which is of course is old and dead if it's being shown, was boring and looked like the kind of shit that would be looked at as a punishment project by many chemists I know. Even better or worse depending on your viewpoint was the throngs of people who were walking from one poster to the next taking pictures of them all. One aisle even had several in a row from a big pharma company that had little printed signs at the bottom that said no pictures.

I don't really know what's worse; crap chem, the desire to copy crap chem, the desire to protect crap chem, the fact that a little piece of paper is expected to protect the crap chem. Interestingly these particular posters were not manned when I was there, leaving the 8.5 x 11 sheet of protection as the last line of defense.

I think I'm going to spend a little more time investigating positions in process and academics.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

comfort food

I'm from New Mexico originally, and like most everywhere else the food there is specific in a way that people from there can easily see but people from other places think is the same as any old 'mex you can get. Belittling New Mexican food or comparing it to different mexican food (read inferior) will start an argument with a native New Mexican more easily than discussing how to properly chromatograph a compound will get a dry vs. wet pack argument going among organic chemists. I think it goes back to fond memories of childhood, and the things that go along with it. That and the desire to tell some shithead just how wrong he is.

In any case every locale has it's own comfort food, and when you are as far from a good source of your own comfort foods as I am, sometimes you have to break down and make it yourself. From scratch. Recently I went to the effort to make some carne adovada, and I used a lovely bag of ground red chile from Chimayo that my folks gave me a while back.

It was a pretty long and drawn out process, mostly due to the fact I couldn't work on it for the time needed several nights in a row. From start to finish took 3 periods in the kitchen for between 1 and 3 hours each, with breaks of course, over the course of about a week. My effort payed off with most of a gallon of carne, and a spare quart of extra thick red chile sauce for later.

I gotta say it rules, and was worth every bit of effort. Maybe next time I'll blow off breaking down a pork shoulder myself, and buy some pre-prepared pussy bullshit, but for this time it had to be right. It has made three or four of the best meals I've had in months. Awesome.

New Mexican food rules.