Week of 1 February 2010
Update: Sunday, 7 February 2010 11:27 -0500
The severe winter storm that nailed the Southeast on Friday evening hit
just as Barbara and her parents were coming back from her uncle's
funeral in Allentown. They left Allentown about 4:45 p.m. and pushed to
get home before the worst of the storm arrived. Unfortunately, they
made it only 99% of the way home before they had a minor accident.
Barbara had been calling me periodically to let me know their progress
and get storm updates. When the phone rang around 2:05 a.m. I thought
it would be Barbara telling me they'd arrived at her parents' home.
Unfortunately, they came up a couple miles short. They slid off US 52
just short of their exit and into a sign support beam. No one was hurt,
but the car was undriveable.
I unloaded everything from my
Trooper and headed over to pick them up. I arrived just as the tow
truck got there. We hauled Barbara's parents home and unloaded their
stuff. Barbara drove her Trooper home, with me following in mine. We
averaged maybe 15 to 20 MPH, and arrived home around 4:30 a.m.
Incredibly, a moron in another 4X4 actually passed us on Silas Creek
Parkway. Unfortunately, many Southern drivers have a confidence in
4-wheel drive on ice that Northern drivers know has little basis in
Barbara called from work to let me know that she'd made
it in safely. She said even the main roads were a mix of everything
from dry to packed snow to black ice. Things are very quiet. School of
course is called off until further notice. We have more winter weather
forecast for later this week, so I'll be surprised if the kids have any
school at all this week.
Just as the road crews were making some progress on getting the snow
and ice cleared, we have another blast of winter precipitation arriving
today, with an inch or so of freezing rain and sleet forecast for this
morning and into the afternoon. Tomorrow is to warm up slightly, but
not enough to melt much of what's already on the ground, and then more
is forecast for Friday. They're not forecasting any sustained period of
above freezing weather for at least the next couple of weeks, so this
ice and snow will probably stick around. I doubt the kids will have
school at all this week, and possibly into next week.
I've made my first mini-goal for my YouTube channel,
passing 500 subscribers and 20,000 video views. Not bad, for a
couple of weeks in. (I created the channel on the 10th of January, but
it didn't go public until a couple weeks ago.) I want to get several
more videos posted before I start really pushing for numbers.
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Thursday, 4 February 2010
Poor Toyota. In addition to the stuck gas pedal problem, I'm now
reading reports of random, uncontrolled acceleration unrelated to the
gas pedal. And, of course, there's the braking problem in 2010 Prius
models, which apparently causes a lag of up to a second between the
time the brakes are applied and when they begin to take effect. A
second is a very, very long time at highway speeds. Counting the
driver's reaction time, that means that a car traveling at highway
speeds may move 50 meters or so--more than half a football
field--before the brakes even begin to take effect. It sounds like
Toyota needs a new slogan: Random Acceleration, No Brakes. No wonder
some owners are afraid to drive them. Which also suggests a great new
model name. The Toyota Kamikaze.
More bad weather is on the way
in, with rain turning to freezing rain tonight and into tomorrow,
followed by snow tomorrow and into Saturday, followed by more freezing
rain. That'll be three weekends in a row with winter storms, and all of
that following the big December storm. That's pretty bad for around
here. We have many years when only a trace of snow or less is recorded.
"Don't worry about the icy roads, dear. I'll be safe in my Toyota Kamikaze."
Still more snow and ice, as forecast. Barbara called to let me know
she'd made it in to work safely. This is to go on all day and into
tomorrow, so she said she might leave a little bit early. The kids are
probably getting cabin fever by now. The schools opened two hours late
yesterday and I think they closed early as well. Other than that, the
kids haven't been in school all week.
I just finished shooting
and editing a video about synthesizing ammonium metavanadate, which
I'll upload to YouTube shortly. I want to do a segment (or, more
likely, segments) about forensic presumptive drug testing. The two
major test reagents used for alkaloids (including opium and its
derivatives) as well as Ecstasy and similar drugs are Marquis reagent
and Mandelin reagent. Both are made up mostly of concentrated sulfuric
acid. Marquis reagent includes a small amount of formaldehyde, and
Mandelin includes instead a small amount of ammonium metavanadate. With
either reagent, the concentrated sulfuric acid basically rips the drug
molecule to shreds and the formaldehyde or AMV then reacts with those
fragments to produce chromophores (color-producing moieties) that yield
characteristic colors and sequences of color changes that can be used
to tentatively identify the particular drug or drugs present.
is easy to find and cheap. AMV can be purchased, but most science
suppliers don't carry it or charge a very high price for it. Maker
Shed, for example, charges $10 for a 5-gram bottle, and Elemental
Scientific charges $45 for a 25 g bottle. So in the video I used a
dollar or two's worth of pottery chemicals to synthesize AMV. I'll use
some formaldehyde, the AMV I just synthesized, and the Rooto
Professional Drain Opener I got at Ace Hardware to make up the Marquis
and Mandelin reagents.
This reminds me of a query I fielded at
Maker Faire. Someone said something to me on the order of, "This is all
very nice, but what do you *make*?" I replied that chemists are, among
other things, atom-wranglers, and that most of the items he saw around
him were made by chemists. In the not-too-distant past, most chemists
made most of their own chemicals from common precursors. In fact,
that's still true today for organic chemists. There are thousands
of organics available from suppliers, but that's a drop in the bucket
compared to the billions or trillions of possible organic compounds.
So, at least at the graduate level and beyond, organic chemists often
find themselves having to make one or more of the compounds they need
to do a synthesis. Kind of like building your own tools before you
start a construction project.
When I was in college in the early
to mid-70's, our supply rooms were well stocked with inorganics and
most of the common organics. When we needed something, we could usually
just pull a bottle off the shelf in the stock room. But several of my
older professors remembered the old days, when they often had to make
their own chemicals, including inorganics. In fact, as late as the 40's
and 50's, it wasn't at all unusual for promising undergrad chem
majors to get summer internships, which they spent making up
chemicals for the following year for use in the teaching laboratories.
If the chem department thought they'd need, say, two pounds of copper
acetate for the following year--chemicals were often still measured in
traditional units back then--some intern would spend part of his or her
time the preceding summer synthesizing and recrystallizing that copper
acetate. Common precursors like acids and bases were often purchased
(or made) in 55 gallon drums. What chemicals they needed, they made
themselves, with few exceptions.
Although the modern method of
just reaching for a bottle is obviously a lot more convenient and
efficient, I think we've lost something by no longer making our own
chemicals. And, of course, for a home lab, rolling your own is often
the only practical way to get the chemicals you need. So I'll be doing
a lot more of my "chemicals on the cheap" videos over the coming months.
Saturday, 6 February 2010
- It's still snowing here, but nothing compared to what they're getting up in the Washington, DC area. Brian and Marcia may be snowbound.
I'm considering doing a research project on AGS, or anthropogenic global shortening, a heretofore unrecognized critical danger.
to my preliminary figures--which I obtained by making them up and then
applying arbitrary adjustments--it appears that the average height of
Winston-Salem adult residents reached a peak in 1938 when Robert
Pershing Wadlow visited. Using him as the proxy for 1938 puts the
average height of Winston-Salem residents in 1938 at 8'11.1" or about
272 centimeters. The current average adult height, which I obtained by
glancing at three random people and guessing their heights, is 5'7.7",
or 172 centimeters. That means the average adult Winston-Salem resident
is now 100 centimeters shorter than the average 72 years ago, a loss of
about 1.39 centimeters per year.
Although two points define a
line (and that's good enough for some researchers) I wanted to go that
extra mile by getting a third point. So, after looking at the straight
line I'd produced with the 1938 and 2010 data points, I decided to
estimate an intermediate value to determine how closely it matched my
line. I randomly chose a home built 22 years ago and looked at the
height of a doorway in that home, which I estimated to be 6'8" high
(about 203 centimeters). Using that proxy, I estimated the average
height of adult Winston-Salem residents 22 years ago as 6'8", or 203
centimeters. When I plotted that point on my line, I was
shocked--shocked, I say--to find that it fit perfectly. Obviously, I'm
onto something here.
Running the numbers gives a frightening
result. If this straight-line trend continues, we can expect the
average height of adult Winston-Salem residents to decline to about 47
centimeters by the turn of the next century. By 2133, you'll need a
magnifying glass to see much detail in an adult Winston-Salem resident,
and before 2150 adult Winston-Salem residents will have shruken away
entirely. Unfortunately, children are always more vulnerable to such
trends, and it's entirely possible that many Winston-Salem children
will have shrunken to zero height before the end of the current century.
we have to do something, anything, to address this problem. But before
we can address the problem we need more data, and that costs money. So
I've sent an email to the UN IPEC (International Panel on Elevation
Change) to request a billion or two in funding for further studies. Of
course, I realize I'll have to kick back a significant percentage of
that into their personal bank accounts, but I should be able to do some
real science with whatever they leave me. I've also emailed Obama to
suggest he make it a national priority to build more racks. Stretching
people is obviously an interim solution, but spending a trillion bucks
or so on a crash program to produce more racks will at least give us
more time to come up with a permanent solution.
- Things have started coming together with my YouTube channel. NurdRage posted a promo video
last night. I knew the moment he posted it, because I was reading email
on my den system at the time. When I finished reading an email and
returned to the message list, I found about 20 subscription emails from
YouTube had arrived in the couple minutes I'd spent reading and
replying to the email message. Before he posted that video, I was
sitting at just under 600 subscribers. As of now, I'm at about twice
that, and still climbing.
Subscriber count is important because
it's the primary metric YouTube uses to determine if and when to offer
a partnership to a channel. Channel partners are featured and promoted
a lot more heavily, which in turn generates significantly more traffic.
My channel will never be on the YouTube A-list, simply because what I'm
doing appeals to a niche audience rather than a mass audience, but at
least I have some traction now. All thanks to NurdRage.
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