Week of 9 February 2009
Update: Sunday, 15 February 2009 09:08 -0500
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
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.
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.
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
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
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.
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
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.
Thursday, 12 February 2009
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
- Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month...
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.
Saturday, 14 February
- 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
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
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.
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.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by