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.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

GRC notes

Apparently I started this post a long time ago, and forgot about it. I finished it up some time over a year after I started it, but better late than never, right?

I had the distinct pleasure of going to a Gordon Research Conference this summer, and the only bad thing I have to say about it is that I wish I had started to go to them earlier. It was totally awesome.

That being said I went unprepared for some of the activities and issues, and wanted to document them here just on the off chance one of you hasn't been yet, but will go in the future. I went to the natural products meeting at the Tilton school, but I expect a lot of this will be true for other meetings, as well.

We stayed in dorms without locks on the doors. Odd, and reasonable under the circumstances, but if you have valuable shit or are neurotic, you might need to spring for a hotel nearby. I recommend the dorms, and you can request to share a room with a buddy if you want. I got paired up with a stranger and had no issues at all, he was a really nice guy.

The shower was communal, and down the hall (obviously) so you may want to bring some flip-flops to walk to and from the shower. We got little hotel soaps every day, but no shampoo. If you have preferred toiletries you should bring them, just in case.

Right as I walked in from the bus, there was a sign in area, right next to a "purchase drinks for the week area". Beers for the week were $30 and sodas $15. Since it's pretty easy to drink $30 in one night, I though it was quite a deal, and people were already heavily taking part in the libations. We had dinner, the talks started the first night, and the the heavy drinking began. After the bar closed at midnight the coolers of beer were brought out, and a short while later the grill was fired up, and brats were served to all comers. It was a lot of fun, everyone was really nice, and it was a great opportunity to chat with old friends and meet new people as well.

This brings up three important points together:
Drink in moderation, there is a whole week of all nighters to look forward to, don't overdo it if you want to go the distance.
If you don't drink it might be a drag to hang out with all the drunks, so be prepared.
If you don't eat meat it might be a drag to hang out with all the hungry drunks, so be prepared.

Most nights there were people out till well after 3 AM, and often a few stragglers made it to sunrise. The morning talks always seemed to come much too early.

If you don't pace yourself it can make for great entertainment for the rest of us when we get to hear you retching in the communal bathroom the next morning and then make fun of you later in the day.

There are periods during the day for rest relaxation between talks. I didn't know, and didn't bring any clothes for hiking/swimming/softball etc. If you can find out what the activities are ahead of time, plan to do them, they are a lot of fun, and are great opportunities to meet new people and hang out in an informal situation while not loaded.

If you don't know what the activities are, or what recreation there is nearby, it's not a big deal. Bring some clothes that are good for the outdoors, and ask someone the first night what there is to do the rest of the week. Often these meetings are attended by people many, many times, and they are very familiar with what there is to do.

Have fun, meet new people, have some drinks (or not, you pussy), and learn some chemistry!