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Week of 22 October 2007

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Monday, 22 October 2007
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08:33 - Barbara starts a new job this morning, still with the same firm but in a different group. The new job should be less demanding physically than the job she was in. That job, in records management, mainly involved research and computer work, but frequently required her to move large numbers of storage boxes full of file folders. The new job should make a lot fewer physical demands. From what Barbara has said, it sounds like she's going to like it.

Work continues on the Home Chem Lab Handbook. Here's my current working TOC. The stuff in black is complete. The stuff in red is yet to be done, and some of it may not make it into the book because of time or page-count constraints. I added chapters 19 through 21 last, both because they'll be time-consuming to write and because they require quite a few specialty chemicals, including some nasty stuff like concentrated nitric acid, chromium(VI) compounds, and so on.

0. Preface   
1. Introduction   
2. Laboratory Safety   
3. Equipping a Home Chemistry Lab   
4. Chemicals for the Home Chemistry Lab   
5. Mastering Laboratory Skills   
6. Laboratory: Separating Mixtures   
    Differential Solubility: Separate Sugar and Sand
    Distillation: Purify Ethanol
    Recrystallization: Purify Copper Sulfate
    Solvent Extraction
    Chromatography: Two-Phase Separation of Mixtures
    Determine the Formula of a Hydrate
7. Laboratory: Solubility and Solutions   
    Make Up a Molar Solution of a Solid Chemical
    Make Up a Molal Solution of a Solid Chemical
    Make Up a Molar Solution of a Liquid Chemical
    Make Up a Mass-to-Volume Percentage Solution
    Determine Concentration of a Solution by Visual Colorimetry
8. Laboratory: Colligative Properties of Solutions   
    Determine Molar Mass by Boiling Point Elevation
    Determine Molar Mass by Freezing Point Depression
    Observe the Effects of Osmotic Pressure
9. Laboratory: Introduction to Chemical Reactions & Stoichiometry   
    Observe a Composition Reaction
    Observe a Decomposition Reaction
    Observe a Single-Displacement Reaction
    Stoichiometry of a Double Displacement Reaction
10. Laboratory: Reduction-Oxidation (Redox) Reactions   
    Reduction of Copper Ore to Copper Metal
    Observe the Oxidation States of Manganese
    Redox Titration of Vitamin C
11. Laboratory: Acid-Base Chemistry   
    Determine the Effect of Concentration on pH
    Determine the pH of Aqueous Salt Solutions
    Observe the Characteristics of a Buffer Solution
    Standardize a Hydrochloric Acid Solution by Titration
12. Laboratory: Chemical Kinetics   
    Determine the Effect of Temperature on Reaction Rate
    Determine the Effect of Surface Area on Reaction Rate
    Determine the Effect of Concentration on Reaction Rate
    Determine the Effect of Catalysts on Reaction Rate
    Observe a Clock Reaction
13. Laboratory: Chemical Equilibrium and Le Chatelier's Principle   
    Observe Le Chatlier's Principle in Action
    Quantify the Common Ion Effect
    Determine a Solubility Product Constant
14. Laboratory: Gas Chemistry   
    Observe the Volume-Pressure Relationship of Gases (Boyle's Law)
    Observe the Volume-Temperature Relationship of Gases (Charles's Law)
    Observe the Pressure-Temperature Relationship of Gases (Gay-Lussac's Law)
    Use the Ideal Gas Law to Determine the Percentage of Acetic Acid in Vinegar
15. Laboratory: Thermochemistry and Calorimetry   
    Determine Heat of Solution
    Determine the Specific Heat of Ice
    Determine the Specific Heat of a Metal
    Determine the Enthalpy Change of a Reaction
16. Laboratory: Electrochemistry   
    Produce Hydrogen and Oxygen by Electrolysis of Water
    Observe the Electrochemical Oxidation of Iron
    Measure Electrode Potentials
    Observe Energy Transformation
    Build a Voltaic Cell
    Build a Battery
17. Laboratory: Photochemistry   
    Photochemical Reaction of Iodine and Oxalate
18. Laboratory: Colloids and Suspensions   
    Observe Some Properties of Colloids and Suspensions
    Produce Firefighting Foam
    Prepare a Gelled Sol
    Prepare a Solid Aerosol
19. Laboratory: Qualitative Analysis   
    Using Flame Tests to Discriminate Metal Ions
    Using Borax Bead Tests to Discriminate Metal Ions
    Qualitative Analysis of Inorganic Cations
    Qualitative Analysis of Inorganic Anions
    Qualitative Analysis of Bone
    Qualitative Analysis of Reducing and Non-Reducing Sugars
20. Laboratory: Quantitative Analysis   
    Quantitative Analysis of Vitamin C by Acid-Base Titration
    Quantitative Analysis of Chlorine Bleach by Redox Titration
    Quantitative Analysis of Seawater
21. Laboratory: Synthesis of Useful Compounds   
    Synthesize Some Artificial Pigments
    Synthesize Hard and Soft Soaps
    Synthesize Rayon Fiber
    Synthesize Methyl Salicylate from Aspirin
    Synthesize Esters from Alcohols and Organic Acids
22. Laboratory: Forensic Chemistry   
    Use the Sherlock Holmes Test to Detect Blood
    Perform a Presumptive Test for Illicit Drugs
    Reveal Latent Fingerprints
    Use the Marsh Test to Detect Arsenic or Antimony

That's a lot to get done, and it'll be heads-down work for me until it's finished.


Tuesday, 23 October 2007
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09:59 - Late start this morning. I had to drop off the digital camera that we ordered for the Reynolda Manor Library friends group, stop by Walgreens to pick up some butane lighter fuel, and take my truck to be inspected.

Work continues on the home chem lab book.


Wednesday, 24 October 2007
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08:37 - Our thoughts are with our friends in California, many of whom are under threat from the massive wildfires going on there now. More than 640 square miles (1,600 square kilometers) have already burned, and many of the fires are completely out of control, from north of Los Angeles to the Mexican border. More than half a million people have been evacuated, and many will lose their homes to the fire.

As I read the news articles this morning, one thought struck me. If a disaster on this scale struck anywhere else in the world, hundreds of millions of American dollars and tens of thousands of tons of American relief supplies would already be en route to the scene of the disaster. So where is the rest of the world when a disaster occurs here? I'm not holding my breath.

When the chips are down, you find out who your real friends are. And, time after time, when disaster strikes here, we've found out who our real friends are. We can count on the Brits, the Canadians, and the Aussies. The rest of the world sends token assistance at best.

I got email from my editor, Brian Jepson, last night about the cover for the home chem lab book. He suggested having the art folks at O'Reilly shoot the cover image. I pointed out that, although they're extremely competent, they're not chemists. I was afraid we'd end up with an image that was unintentionally funny, like the famous RJ Reynolds Camel ad that showed a telescope on a balcony. The wrong end of the telescope was pointed at the sky, and the guy in the image was looking through the wrong end of the finder.

Brian suggested that I shoot some placeholder images to give the art folks some ideas. So Barbara pulled out a white sheet for a background. I'll set up on the kitchen table and shoot some images. Stuff like an Erlenmeyer flask on a ring stand with a burner under it, balance with a beaker containing some colorful crystals, a test tube rack with test tubes full of colorful solutions, a few chemical bottles, a volumetric flask, a pipette or two lying on the table, etc. etc.

Perhaps if I'm lucky I'll be able to shoot something good enough to use as the actual cover. I'll use Barbara's Pentax DSLR and the slave flash unit I bought for shooting images in the lab. If the on-camera flash plus the little slave flash aren't good enough, I may set up a couple of the neodymium tungsten bulbs in gooseneck lamps and shoot without flash. Of course, then I'll need to figure out how to set the white balance properly.

12:21 - The problem went away. My editor said that they'd just order whatever equipment they needed and have it delivered to their offices in California. I suggested that they order the Laboratory Glassware Set ($59) and the Laboratory Hardware Set ($39) from United Nuclear, along with some chemicals so they'd have the bottles to use a props. I also suggested they order an inexpensive centigram balance for the cover shot. They'll subsequently use the stuff for setting up displays at Maker Faire and similar events.

All I needed to do was shoot some example images to show them what a reasonable setup might look like. Here's one. Yeah, using food coloring is kind of hokey, but I'm sure they'll want colorful stuff for the cover shot. And that really is crystalline copper sulfate in the small beaker on the balance.


Thursday, 25 October 2007
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08:40 - The EFF web site is down again, which means I had to use a text editor to remove the EFF Blue Ribbon banner at the top of the page so that my HTML editor would load it. This is twice in the last week or two, and it's getting annoying. I linked to the image rather than including a local copy of the image because the EFF requests it be done that way so that they can update the image when there's an urgent need for people to do something, but I think I'll replace the linked image with a static copy of the image. I'm wondering if the EFF site is coming under some sort of DDoS attack.

There was a bizarre article in the paper this morning. Apparently, a white family that lives in a predominantly black neighborhood decided to celebrate Halloween by putting an effigy in their front yard. The effigy was apparently a realistic simulacrum of a human being, made from clothing stuffed with straw or whatever, suspended from a tree limb, and surrounded by painted gravestones and cobwebs. There was no noose; they simply suspended the effigy from a rope so that it would stand upright. Presumably if they'd mounted the effigy on a stake there'd have been no problem.

But some of the neighbors took exception to the display and called the police, who showed up and asked the owners to remove the effigy. They did so, but they're puzzled about how their Halloween effigy suddenly became a symbol of racism. The paper quoted several of their black neighbors talking about the legacy of lynching in the South, but the article did at least mention that their next-door neighbors, who are also black, said that they saw nothing wrong with the display. I guess the folks with the effigy should consider themselves lucky not to have been charged with a so-called hate crime.

It seems to me that there needs to be an absolute line. If someone chooses to hang an effigy in his front yard, even if that effigy is a black man hanging from a noose, that's his business. He is not, in my opinion and that of most other people, a good person, but if his message is only "I hate black people and wish they were all dead", well, it's his Constitutional right to express that sentiment. On the other hand, if he burns a cross in the yard of his black neighbors, or if he hangs a noose from their door, that's a direct threat against a specific person, and he should be charged with trespassing, assault, and whatever other crimes the DA can think of.

The rains have finally arrived. We've had about an inch (2.5 cm) in the last 24 hours, with another inch or two expected over the next couple of days. That helps a lot, but we're still down about 14 inches (35 cm) for the year to date.

Winston-Salem has instituted voluntary water conservation measures, which is moronic. We've been asked to take shorter and less frequent showers, turn off the water while we brush our teeth, stop washing our cars, and so on. None of that is necessary.

Many cities and towns in North Carolina, including Greensboro about 30 miles to the east of us, are in desperate straits, with their reservoirs far down and only 90 days or less of water remaining. If the forecast for a dry winter is accurate, some of those places may run out of water entirely. But Winston-Salem has its own huge reservoir, with sufficient reserves to outlast even a years-long drought. Although the Yadkin River, from which we draw our water, is at near historic low flow rates, Winston-Salem is still using less than one seventh of its flow. And even if that flow became dangerously low, they could simply open the gates on the reservoir to replenish it.

Winston-Salem has absolutely no need to conserve water, even in the midst of an extreme drought, and asking people to conserve water under those circumstances is at best a useless gesture and at worst counterproductive. The story of the boy who cried wolf comes to mind.

(Winston-Salem won't let our friends in Greensboro perish from thirst. There's a large water pipe between the cities, and Winston-Salem can supply as much water to Greensboro as the pipe will carry. It won't be enough to allow Greensboro to continue using water at its normal rate, particularly for industrial use, but it will be enough to sustain residential supplies.)

Work continues on the home chem lab book. I'm working on the qualitative analysis chapter now. I've finished up the lab sessions on flame testing, borax bead testing, analysis of inorganic anions, and analysis of inorganic cations. Today I'm working on a session about qualitative analysis of bone. The final session is about qualitative analysis of some reducing and non-reducing sugars. Then it'll be on to the next chapter, quantitative analysis, followed by the chapter on synthesizing some useful compounds.


Friday, 26 October 2007
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08:33 - It's been raining for a couple of days. We've gotten something over 4" (10 cm) of rain so far, and it looks like we may get another inch or two today and tonight. That's enough to end the drought for us locally, and if that amount of rainfall was widespread it's enough to increase the level of the reservoirs significantly. The newspaper reports the levels of four local reservoirs. All but one of them was up slightly this morning, but the largest increase was only an inch or two. We need increases of five to eight feet to bring them back up to their normal pool levels.

I finished the chapter on qualitative analysis yesterday and posted it to the subscribers' page. I'd just gotten started on the next chapter, quantitative analysis, when I got email from my editor. He asked me to get a couple of chapters--one of the early narrative chapters and a representative lab chapter--in finished form so he can send it to the design folks. Until they design and layout the chapters, we have no real idea of how much page count is already occupied and how much remains available. So, over the next few days, I'll be doing final re-write on those chapters, shooting images, incorporating editor's and tech reviewers' comments, and otherwise getting the chapters ready for production.

This book is four-color, which means it's very expensive to produce and page count really matters. Running over the allotted page count increases production cost, which translates to a higher cover price. We'd like to avoid that, so we'll try very hard to stick to the allotted page count. Four-color also takes longer to produce and print, and it looks like the book will hit the bookstores sometime in late winter or early spring.


Saturday, 27 October 2007
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09:28 - I finished the re-write on Chapter 3 (Equipping a Home Chemistry Lab) yesterday and posted it to the subscriber page. I haven't shot the images yet, and there are 30 of them. I'll get those shot today and tomorrow and embed thumbnails in the text. This is the example narrative chapter we'll send to the design/layout folks to get an idea of how manuscript pages translate to book pages. Once I finish that chapter, I'll do final re-write on the gas chemistry lab chapter, which we'll send to the design/layout folks to serve as a lab chapter example.

According to the Winston-Salem airport, we've had 4" (~100 mm) of rain over the last few days. The rain was pretty widespread. In the mountains to our west, thirteen counties were under flood watches and warnings, which is ironic for an area that was in and is still in extreme drought. A lot of the water just run off. Still, it ran off into the reservoirs, which is good. The pool level of the Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir, which serves Winston-Salem, was up about 14" (~350 mm) overnight and is now only about 60" below normal pool level. But we need another four or five similar widespread rains to get things back to normal in the region, and that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.


Sunday, 28 October 2007
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10:55 - I finished making adds and edits on Chapter 14, Gas Chemistry, yesterday, and posted it to the subscriber page.

I was going to start shooting images for the equipment chapter, but I decided to defer that until today. I've set up the kitchen table for product shots. I was using an old white tablecloth, but no matter how well it's ironed it shows wrinkles in the images. Barbara was out running errands yesterday, so she stopped by If It's Paper to find out what they had in the way of something I could use for a seamless white background. She came up with a roll of white plastic picnic-table covering. It looks like it should work fine, so today and tomorrow I'll be shooting images for that chapter.


Copyright � 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.