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Week of 9 February 2009


Latest Update: Sunday, 15 February 2009 09:08 -0500

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Monday, 9 February 2009
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07:36 - The forensics book manuscript is now 100% complete. I uploaded the last of the images to the server last night. Of course, there still remains the usual tech review process followed by production changes and so on, but essentially the book is now complete. I'll spend today doing some cleanup.

Before I uploaded the final four images, about 10 MB each, I shouted back to Barbara that I needed to do an upload because our phones don't work while I'm doing a big upload. That reminded me of the very early days of our marriage, 25 years ago, when I'd shout to Barbara to ask if it was okay to use the phone line to dial into the Internet server. We soon solved that problem by getting a second phone line, and I'll soon solve this one by reconfiguring the network to put the VoIP TA ahead of the router.

Speaking of Barbara, she was called for jury duty, again. This is the fourth time since we were married in 1983, although she's never actually served on a jury. The last time was less than five years ago. She is not amused.


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Tuesday, 10 February 2009
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08:28 - Barbara arrived home at about 5:00 yesterday, having spent all day sitting in a jury selection room. She was called for a drunk driving case, questioned by the defense and prosecution attorneys, and dismissed.

I spent yesterday updating/revising a couple of the early chapters. Today, I'm going to start incorporating tech review comments, which I have through chapter 9. There aren't a lot of comments, so that should go fairly quickly.



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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
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08:09 - Yesterday, I finished incorporating tech review comments from all reviewers for the Preface through chapter 9, inclusive, as well as the comments from some reviewers that I have for chapters 10 through 15. Once I get the remaining comments I'll incorporate those quickly and get the finished chapters 10 through 15 off to O'Reilly.

Next up is to do a proposal for my next project, as well as next month's home chemistry newsletter.


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Thursday, 12 February 2009
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08:30 - Today is Darwin Day, when we recognize Charles Robert Darwin, that towering intellect whose theory is the fundamental basis of biology as a science. Today marks Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the book that founded modern biology, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.



10:51 - I was just reading a C|Net article about the failure of Sony's Total Music subscription scheme when I came across a link to Songerize, a site that was new to me. It presents a simple interface, with entry boxes for the artist's name and the name of the track. At that point, it pops up a Flash widget that plays the track, which is saved as an FLV-formatted file in your browser cache, with a random name and no extension.

As I usually do when I visit such a site, I decided to test it by entering an obscure artist and track. If you remember the group Shocking Blue--the best rock group ever to come out of Holland--you probably remember them as a one-hit wonder for Venus, which topped the charts 39 years ago this month. But they did a lot of good stuff, of which Venus wasn't the best by a long shot. Shocking Blue was kind of Holland's version of Jefferson Airplane.

They even had a Grace Slick analog, in the person of Mariska Veres. Well, in terms of her voice anyway. I remember reading an interview with Veres in Rolling Stone or some such magazine back around the time Venus hit the charts. She was as straight as they come. Unlike Grace, Mariska didn't drink, do drugs, or screw around with the other band members. I looked up her entry on Wikipedia and was saddened to learn that Mariska had died of cancer in 2006, aged only 59.

At any rate, the track I chose to test Songerize was Long and Lonesome Road. Sure enough, they had it.


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Friday, 13 February 2009
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09:50 - Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month...

I've shifted gears for now, and I'm writing up lab sessions for the March issue of the homechemlab subscriber supplement. In the past, I've always tried to stay at least a month or two ahead, but the calendar is relentless. At this point, the cupboard is bare, and an issue is due in two weeks. So I'll spend some time over the next week or so getting the March issue knocked out, and perhaps get a good start on the April issue as well.



Sometimes a quick experiment is no better than no experiment at all. While she was tech-reviewing the forensics book, Mary Chervenak made a comment about my reference to copper aspirinate. Mary said she didn't think aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) would react with copper ions to yield copper aspirinate (acetylsalicylate), but that that acetyl group would be split off during the reaction, yielding simple copper salicylate. Mary is a hotshot organic chemist who's probably forgotten more about chemistry than I ever knew, so I took her comment quite seriously. I'm very pushed for time at the moment, but I already had what I needed to do a quick check.

Aspirin isn't very soluble in water, but I had an ethanolic solution of aspirin, so I transferred a couple of mL of it to a test tube and added ~ 1M copper sulfate solution dropwise. I got a pretty dark blue precipitate. I had some sodium salicylate I'd made up by reacting salicylic acid with sodium hydroxide, so I dissolved a few crystals of it in a couple mL of water and added the copper sulfate solution dropwise. I got a similar precipitate, but this time it was distinctly greener than the pure blue of the first trial.

That might seem conclusive. The solution of acetylsalicylic acid yields a blue precipitate and the solution of salicylate ions yields a green precipitate. But the reaction conditions are not comparable, and it's quite possible that both precipitates are the same chemical but that one is (for example) more finely divided than the other or that the solvent made a difference. I should probably just dissolve a bit of salicylic acid in ethanol and give that a try.


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Saturday, 14 February 2009
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Sunday, 15 February 2009
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09:08 - We recorded Dollhouse, Joss Whedon's new series, when it aired Friday night, and watched it last night. Fox promoted it as having "less" commercials. If that was "less", I really hate to imagine what a program with their usual number of commercials would be like. The commercial interruptions were so frequent and so disruptive that the program was unwatchable, even though we fast-forwarded through the commercials.

Barbara and I agreed that it wasn't worth recording any future episodes. We'll wait until the series is out on DVD and rent it from Netflix. In fact, that's become a general rule around here. We no longer watch anything other than live feeds that's broadcast with commercials, and very little of that. Commercials are simply unacceptable.

It's unfortunate that there isn't a pay-per-view option. I'd happily have paid $0.25 to record that episode commercial-free. In fact, of course, that's exactly what I'll be doing when I eventually rent the series from Netflix.



I'm working on two lab sessions for the March home chemistry subscriber supplement:

Laboratory 6.7: Purify Aspirin
Laboratory 21.6: Synthesize Useful Compounds from Aspirin

The first lab session originated when I was doing a lab session on chromatography of drugs for the forensics book. I wanted to run a reference chromatogram with pure acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). Aspirin tablets are primarily ASA, but have a lot of soluble and insoluble minor components. Pure ASA isn't expensive, but I didn't happen to have any in stock. Instead of ordering some and waiting for it to arrive, I simply grabbed a Costco bottle of 1,000 325 mg aspirin tablets and extracted pure ASA from them. I decided to include this as a lab session in the supplement because it combines a lot of different techniques for separating mixtures and requires careful attention to reaction conditions to avoid hydrolyzing the ASA while processing it. Of course, the fact that you can buy 325 g of raw ASA at Costco for a few bucks also makes it a very attractive precursor for syntheses.

In the second lab session, we'll first hydrolyze the ASA to produce salicylic acid. We'll then dry-distill salicylic acid to produce phenol, which is a very useful primary organic to have around the lab. Phenol is one of those chemicals that because of hazardous materials shipping restrictions is relatively difficult and expensive for home scientists to obtain. Years ago, one could walk into a hardware store and pick up a gallon of concentrated phenol solution, but no longer.


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