Week of 15 February 2010
Update: Saturday, 20 February 2010 10:32 -0500
- Costco run yesterday with Paul and Mary, followed by dinner.
of my viewers had an interesting question. He's interested in
alternative photographic processes and wanted an inexpensive source for
developing agent that was used in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
He's in Canada, and said the cheapest source he could find for
pyrogallol was $120 for 100 grams, and that hazardous shipping charges
increased that cost significantly. I believe it, because pyrogallol was
hideously expensive even when I was using it back in the 1960s. He
wanted to know if he could do his own synthesis of pyrogallol, starting
with cheap tannic acid.
Pyrogallol is actually a benzene ring with three adjacent hydroxyl
groups, i.e., 1,2,3-trihydroxybenzene. It was first synthesized by Carl
Scheele in the late 18th century by destructive distillation
of gallic acid (hence the name "pyro" gallol). Gallic acid, which
also isn't cheap, is 3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid. Decarboxylating
the ring, either by destructive distillation or chemical
means, produces fairly pure pyrogallol in good yield.
the question is, how to get cheap gallic acid. Tannic acid is actually
a glucose molecule in which each hydroxyl group has esterified with the
carboxyl group on a gallic acid molecule and in which one of the
hydroxyl groups on each of those gallic acid molecules has esterified
with a the carboxyl group from a second gallic acid molecule. The
resulting tannic acid molecule, the structure of which is shown here, is what organic chemists refer to in jest as 1,2-dimethylchickenwire.
first reaction was that we should be able to hydrolyze the ester with
sodium hydroxide, yielding only gallic acid and glucose, precipitate
the gallic acid by adding a mineral acid to the reaction vessel, and
then decarboxylate the gallic acid using heat or chemical means to
yield pyrogallol. He's checking further, so we'll see. If this is
practical, I may shoot a video of the synthesis.
which, I had some old footage I shot soon after I got my camcorder of
Paul synthesizing nitrocellulose (guncotton). I've edited nearly an
hour of original footage down into something that'll fit on YouTube,
and I'll post it shortly. The audio and video suck, but it's an
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
- Here's an interesting interview with Professor Phil Jones of CRU/East Anglia that actually raises more questions than it answers.
interview touches briefly on the Medieval Warm Period, which is
the bane of AGW alarmists. Bizarrely, Dr. Jones' position seems to be
that because we do not have and cannot ever get data about Southern
hemisphere temperatures during that period, we must assume that the MWP
was not a global phenomenon. In other words, although all of the data
that is or can ever be available about that period indicates that it
was warmer than current temperatures, we have to write that data off
because other data, which we can never get, might have established that
the MWP was a Northern-hemisphere-only phenomenon. All of those data,
albeit incomplete and forever to remain so, indicate one thing.
Professor Jones says we must assume the opposite in the absence of any
data to support that position.
He makes similarly bizarre
assumptions about proxies. Briefly, when compared to actual
measurements, tree-ring data for the last 50 years or so has been shown
to be an unreliable proxy for actual measured temperatures. And yet
Professor Jones assumes that that same tree-ring data is a reliable
proxy for temperatures over the preceding 1,000 years, for which we
don't have measured temperatures.
Professor Jones says he's sure
the climate is warming, but he's apparently less certain that
human activities are responsible for that warming since 1950. My first
question to him would be "warming over what period?" Since the Little
Ice Age? I don't think anyone would dispute that global temperatures
have been increasing since the LIA, nor that natural causes were
certainly responsible for that warming prior to the 20th century. So
the question becomes what part, if any, of global temperature increases
during the last 60 years or so have been caused by human activities.
on his data, such as they are, I see no indication, let alone proof,
that human activities have been responsible for most of the warming
since 1950, as he claims. The truth is that we have only about a
decade's worth of reliable global temperature data, all of it produced
by satellites. And those data show that we're currently cooling, not
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
- Today is the one-month anniversary of my YouTube channel.
(I actually posted the first group of videos on 12 January, but the
channel wasn't officially public until 17 January.) After one month, I
now have 17 videos posted, about 1,700 subscribers, and close to 40,000
video views. Not as good as I hoped, but better than I feared. We'll
see how things look after six months and a year.
watching some of the Olympic events. Last night, Jim Cantore, whom I'd
last seen several years ago on the Weather Channel, was doing the
Olympic weather forecast. I didn't recognize him at first, because he's
now completely bald. At any rate, I thought it was interesting that his
forecast highs and lows for the Vancouver Olympic sites over the next
few days were actually warmer than the forecasts for Winston-Salem.
just boxed up the MacBook that O'Reilly lent me for video editing and
called FedEx to come to pick it up. This is the second time I've had a
loaner Mac--the first was from my editor Brian Jepson--and I've not
been able to get interested in it either time. I'm sure that purchased
Adobe applications for video editing are extremely powerful, but the
iMovie applet is simply too clumsy and feature-poor to bother with.
using Cinelarra under Linux now, and I suspect it compares pretty well
feature-for-feature with the industrial-strength commercial apps. The
crashes that I was experiencing with Cinelarra turned out to be my
fault, and since I figured out what I was doing wrong I haven't had a
single crash. I haven't even scratched the surface of what Cinelarra
can do, but it sure does everything I need for my simple requirements.
is fast. On my quad-core system, it renders 720X480 DV video to
Quicktime faster than real-time. Rendering DV to DV while assembling
clips is extremely fast. Short clips render before I can move the mouse
from the button, and even long clips render in just a few seconds.
Thursday, 18 February 2010
- Wow. Chuck Waggoner just posted something on the forum about a problem I'd never heard about.
SO lost her SAAB keys a few days ago while on a 10 mile practice run of
some kind, so no chance of finding them. Want to know how much it
will cost to get them replaced?
had no idea. Thought it would be $10 or 15. I am not in
favor of lots of laws, but there ought to be one against this kind of
The problem is apparently not that she lost a key to her car, but that she no longer has any key to her car. bradley13 replies:
That was so strange, I spent a couple of minutes surfing. There is a thread about this, with the key explanation being:"...Saab
uses three matched components (an antenna, a theft computer, and a
transponder-type ignition key. If you had one working key, and less
than four keys had ever been programmed to work with the antenna and
theft computer, it would be possible to program another key. But
because you have no key, all three components need to be replaced, and
then the transponder key has to be programmed."Replies
later in the thread point out that you can get the essential components
from other sources - I didn't read the details, but I expect the idea
is to pull the components out of a wrecked Saab. Cost point is still
about $500.But the essential question is: does she not have another key? You always get at least two keys when you by a car...
I suspect the problem is not unique to Saab vehicles, although perhaps
the cost of a lost key for them is higher than other manufacturers.
Still, if you car has an electronic key system, it might be worth
I understand the arguments in favor of electronic
key systems, but the way Saab has implemented this still seems
inexcusable to me. At the very least, one should be able to override
the security and reset the system to defaults without having to replace
hardware, perhaps by having a dealer plug in a controller and allowing
you to enter your passcode.
Saturday, 20 February 2010
- For an upcoming video, I'm going to be making something I haven't made in 40 years. Black powder.
hesitated to make this video, because there must be hundreds of videos
already on YouTube about making black powder. The problem is, most of
them aren't really making black powder at all, but meal powder. Simply
mixing 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur doesn't
produce black powder. It gives you meal powder, which burns quickly,
but nowhere near as fast as real black powder.
I first made
black powder when I was 9 or 10 years old. The local Thrift Drugs
had everything I needed, all on one wall, in nice cylindrical cardboard
canisters in the red, white, and light blue trade dress of Thrift
Drugs. I used my carefully-hoarded pocket change to buy a one-pound
canister of potassium nitrate and four-ounce canisters of activated
charcoal and sulfur. At the time I didn't yet have a balance, so when I
got them home the first thing I did was carefully count the number of
level teaspoons contained in each canister so that I could calculate
the proper masses volumetrically.
My first effort was
semi-successful, in the sense that the product burned ferociously, much
like a road flare. But that wasn't good enough for me, so I visited the
library and found some old books that described the proper procedure. I
soon realized that I had two problems. First, I didn't have a ball
mill, which is pretty much required to get the mixture intimately
mixed, embedding particles of each of the components together. What I
had was a loose mixture. Second, I had no way to do the corning
procedure, in which the meal powder is tightly compressed and then
broken up and sieved to yield granules rather than a fine powder.
reasoned that one way to improve the homogeneity of the mixture would
be to dissolve the potassium nitrate--the only soluble component--in a
minimum of boiling water and then stir all three components together in
a paste. Alas, both the charcoal and sulfur are hydrophobic. In other
words, water doesn't wet them very well, so they tend to clump together
instead of making a smooth paste. I solved that problem by raiding the
kitchen for a drop or two of dishwashing liquid and adding it to the
The second problem was grain size. The stuff I produced on
the first run was an extremely fine powder, similar in grain size to
talcum powder. Fine powder burns much slower than larger granules
because the flame front has to work its way through what amounts to a
solid mass. Commercial black powder comes in granular rather than
powder form. The air gaps between the granules allow the flame front to
move much faster through the mass, producing nearly simultaneous
ignition of the entire mass.
So I decided to produce granules by
pressing my paste through a scrap piece of window screen. That produced
little worms of black powder, and at first I thought it had worked. The
problem was, when I dried the little black worms, they fell apart into
powder. Back to the drawing board. I'd read that in the early days of
black powder production, workers had boiled down large volumes of human
urine and used it to wet the meal powder before pressing. The important
characteristic of the boiled-down urine was that it was very sticky,
which caused the powder to stick together. I wasn't up for boiling down
urine (and I didn't want to wait long enough to produce enough urine to
boil down), so I decided to use a substitute. Looking around the
shelves in the garage, I noticed a bottle of Elmer's Glue. I added a
bit of that to my paste, and found that the little black worms no
longer fell apart into powder upon drying. I could dry them thoroughly,
crush them gently to break them up into granules, and sieve the product
with different size sieves to produce real granular black powder that
burned much better than the meal powder I'd made initially.
actually led to the first (of three) times I was responsible for a
school building being evacuated. In sixth grade, we had a group
project, with the class divided into five or six small groups of
students. My best friend, David Silvis, and I took the lead for our
group. Our project was to build a tabletop model of the volcano
Parícutin. David built the model itself on a 4X4 sheet of plywood, with
the volcano itself made from a large amount of aluminum foil. Others
decorated the project with tiny trees, burros, people, and so on. My
part was to supply the charge. I wanted lots of steam and sulfurous
vapors, so rather than using black powder I made up a similar mixture
that substituted sugar for the charcoal and used a significant excess
of sulfur. I made up a pound of it, enough to fill the inside of the
volcano. I kept it finely powdered to extend the burn time.
the teacher and other students had examined our project closely, it was
time for the grand finale. When I touched it off, the results were even
more impressive than I'd hoped for. An intense flame shot two or three
feet straight up from the mouth of the volcano, which also emitted
clouds of steam and sulfurous gas, and a nice flow of "lava" out of the
mouth and down the sides. Alas, there was a bit too much gas. Within
seconds, all of the students and the teacher were gasping and running
for the door. The teacher pulled the fire alarm, and the whole school
was evacuated. We all stood outside waiting for the fire trucks to
arrive. It was an hour or so before we were allowed back in, by which
time most of the sulfur dioxide had dissipated.
congratulated our group for doing a spectacular project. Her only
comment to me was, "Next time, I think you should use a bit less
powder." Oh, yeah. We were awarded an A for our project and won the
competition. Nowadays, an 11-year-old kid who did that would be hauled
off in handcuffs and probably sentenced to life.
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