Sunday, 31 July 2011

12:30 – Well, the budget melodrama continues, with both sides proposing imaginary budget cuts, coupled with very real increases in spending. Reid’s proposal is particularly cynical. He counts as “cuts” money that would never have been spent anyway, such as continuing funding for the wars in the Middle East, which we already know are going to be spun down. He also counts reductions in proposed increases as “cuts”, so in fact his $2.4 trillion (or whatever it is) in “cuts” actually reflect increased spending. The Democrats’ real priority, of course, is to sweep this mess under the table until the 2012 election. Once they’re reelected, or so they fondly hope, they’ll again have screwed the voters, leaving us with no recourse until the next election.

There’s an old new saying I just made up: Fool me once, I’m trusting. Fool me twice, I’m gullible. Fool me three times, I’m an idiot. Unfortunately, American voters have shown themselves to be so far sub-idiotic that there’s no word to describe it. Politicians lie and voters believe them. Even most of the Tea Party politicians, who are widely described as zealots, are lying. A few are holding out against increasing the debt limit at all. I hope they get their way, but I doubt they will.

Just to be clear, if the debt limit is not increased, the US is in no danger of defaulting on its legitimate obligations. What would happen is that we’d have massive across-the-board spending cuts, including huge reductions in the military budget, massive layoffs of federal workers, large reductions in social spending, elimination of all foreign aid and transfer payments by the IMF and similar international organizations, withdrawal from the UN, NATO, and other entanglements, massive reductions in Medicaid spending, and the elimination of entire federal departments and agencies. That’s something I’m all in favor of.


Word on the biology book continues, and we’re starting to assemble a new batch of chemistry kits.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

09:28 – The big news this morning is that I’m almost certain not to bear a premature baby, and it’s all because I use Crest Pro Health mouthwash. Granted, the study was a small trial, but still the results are stunning. Among a group of expectant mothers with gum disease who swished their mouths twice a day with water, about 20% delivered prematurely. Among a similar group who swished their mouths twice a day with Crest Pro Health mouthwash, only about 5% delivered prematurely.

The article cautions that using mouthwash is not beneficial for pregnant women who have not been diagnosed with gum disease, at least in terms of reducing premature births, but that’s merely unsupported opinion in the absence of a trial. Using the mouthwash could of course benefit women with undiagnosed gum disease. For that matter, it seems likely but is not certain from this study that the benefit is from the effect of the mouthwash on gum disease, but other factors could be in play. Perhaps fetuses like the taste of the stuff and decide to stick around longer for their twice-daily hit. Or perhaps cetylpyridinium chloride is absorbed by the mother and reduces premature births. The most obvious explanation is usually correct, but many important scientific discoveries have been made by people who looked past the obvious.


Laundry this morning, and the number of old dish towels I have to wash has been declining. We keep a stack of about 50 of them in the hall bathroom, where Colin usually pees when he has an accident. Fortunately, the floor is ceramic tile, so I just sop it up with one of the old towels and then mop the floor with Lysol solution. The towel goes in a field-expedient diaper pail, a flip-top wastebasket that used to be in my lab. Until a few weeks ago, Colin sometimes went through the entire stack of towels in less than a week. Lately he’s down to a dozen or so a week. He usually pees outside now, except when he gets excited, notably when Barbara gets home from work. But he is getting house-trained, albeit gradually. Colin is about five and half months old now. When Malcolm was that age, he had at least as many accidents as Colin is having, so I’m not too concerned.

Friday, 29 July 2011

08:45 – It’s interesting, in the same way that watching a train wreck is interesting, to watch the maneuvering of FIGS (France, Italy, Greece, and Spain) versus FANG (Finland, Austria, Netherlands, and Germany). The former, along with Portugal and Belgium, are pressing for fiscal union so that they can pillage the wealth of FANG to support their own spendthrift governments and moribund economies. FANG legislators and voters are perfectly aware of this, and very unlikely to allow it to happen. Smart money is on the Eurozone and then inevitably the EU itself fragmenting into one group of rich, productive northern nations and a second tier of poor, unproductive southern nations. Look for that to happen sooner rather than later, possibly even before the end of this year.

On a related note, I see that the ratings agencies have downgraded regional Spanish debt, a likely preliminary to them downgrading Spanish sovereign debt itself. Spanish and Italian bonds are already selling at historically high yields, and their most recent auctions have failed to sell out. They’re both at the point now where one or two more straws will break their backs. And the EU bailout fund has insufficient resources to stabilize either of them, let alone both. Nor are Germany and the other wealthier EU nations willing to throw more money down that rat hole. I suspect that the FANG nations have already decided to let nature take its course with the weaker nations. Everything the FANG nations are doing now is aimed at damage control for their own economies and their own citizens.


Work on the biology book continues.


12:21 – Apple has finally carried through on its threat to disable ebook reader apps that allow purchasing ebooks from within the app, bypassing Apple’s store. Talk about the height of arrogance. Apple demands 30% of revenue for doing nothing, and further insists that publishers and distributors price their works on the Apple store no higher than elsewhere. In effect, Apple demands 100% of the profit (or more) on all sales.

For example, let’s say I publish an ebook on Amazon.com for $3.00 list price. For each ebook they sell, Amazon pays me 70% of that $3.00 and keeps the other $0.90 to cover its own costs. If Amazon updated its reader app to meet Apple’s requirements for in-app purchasing, Amazon would still pay me the $2.10 royalty, but would have to pay the remaining $0.90 to Apple as Apple’s 30% cut, leaving Amazon with $0.00.

So, as of last night, Amazon updated its iOS app to remove the in-app purchasing option. Someone using an iOS device now has two options. First, they can purchase a book from Apple’s store (which was the whole idea all along; Apple was embarrassed because almost no one was purchasing ebooks through their crappy store). Second, the iOS user can fire up a browser, navigate to Amazon.com, and purchase the ebook manually. Way to go, Apple. Nothing like screwing your users in a money-grab that has no justification.

A lot of bloggers seem to think this change will let Apple grab a lot of ebook market share, on the theory that iOS users will take the easy way out and just buy from the Apple store. I don’t think so. It’s easy enough for an iPad user to buy the book directly from the Amazon or B&N site, and I think Apple’s going to see some pushback over this nasty little scheme. Furthermore, I have purchased hundreds of books for my Kindle over the six months since I bought it, and I have purchased none of them using the Kindle itself. In every case, I’ve ordered the book from the Amazon web site on my office or den PC and later downloaded it, via Wi-Fi or USB, to my Kindle. Every Kindle owner I know does it the same way, and I don’t know any smartphone users who buy directly from their smartphones. They all buy from a browser running on their PCs and then sync the book to their smartphones and other reading devices.

So, Apple may get a few more ebook purchases from iPad users, but probably not many more. IIRC, Apple to date has sold via the Apple store an average of about one ebook for each Apple unit capable of displaying ebooks. Their nasty little scheme may bump that to maybe two or three ebooks per device, but I doubt that it will threaten B&N’s market share for ebooks, let alone Amazon’s.


14:03 – Ruh-roh. I just shipped the last of the chemistry kits I had already made up and boxed. I have the sub-assemblies necessary to make up another batch quickly, but I’m not sure that batch will last me until the backordered component arrives.

Meanwhile, I do have all but one of the components necessary to make up another 60 or so kits. That means we can put together the main sub-assemblies (chemical block and small parts bag) and assemble and box up 60 more kits, missing only that one component. Once it arrives, it won’t take long to add that one component to each box and then tape them up and have them ready to ship.

Speaking of taping them up, it turns out to be good that I bought much more packing tape than I thought I’d need. U-line had the stuff on sale for $1.69 per roll, which was half the normal price, but only if I ordered a case of 36 220-yard rolls. So I did, thinking it’d be a lifetime supply. As it turns out, I’m using the stuff much faster than I though I would. The large priority-mail flat-rate boxes are one-foot cubes, so I figured I’d need maybe three or four feet to seal the top and bottom middle seams, plus maybe another four feet to seal the edge seams. Call it eight feet per box. At 660 feet per roll of packing tape, I figured I’d get something like 80 or 85 boxes per roll. Then reality intruded. I’m taping the crap out of these boxes, because the last thing I want is to have one come apart in transit. Incredibly, I ran out of tape on the first roll after sealing only 20 boxes, which amounts to 33 feet (10 meters) of tape per box. Still, that means my 36 rolls of tape are enough for 720 boxes, so I should be good for quite a while longer.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

08:40 – Heads-down work all day yesterday on the biology book. Or as heads-down as it gets with a 5-month-old puppy pestering me constantly.

The front matter and introductory chapters are complete, as are the Group I sessions on Mastering Microscope Skills. Group II, on The Chemistry of Life, is nearly complete. Over-complete, in fact. It currently runs about 55 manuscript pages, and will have to be trimmed back. Group III, on Life Processes, is well in progress, as is Group XIV on Ecology, and I have many other individual lab sessions also in progress that will be assigned to other groups. Things are starting to come together.


Congress and Obama continue the debt dance, with both sides pretending that there are actual budget cuts on the table, when in fact the argument is all about whether the budget and deficit will be increased by a huge amount or by an even huger amount. What they really need to be doing is zero-based budgeting, or at the very least budgeting based on a milestone year. I’d suggest 1990 or even 2000. Start with that and then discuss how much should be cut from the spending levels that year. Alternatively, they might consider setting a spending limit as a percentage of GDP. Currently, spending is about 25%, with revenues at only 15% of GDP. In the first year, they should cut taxes to put revenues at 10% of GDP, with spending at, say, 5% of GDP. In later years, they could reduce those numbers to more reasonable levels, until the federal debt is eliminated and federal revenues and spending are at, say, 0.5% of GDP. And even that would be much too much.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

08:27 – My 30-day estimate may have been optimistic. Only three business days after the crisis summit, yields on Spanish and Italian bonds had already returned to pre-summit levels, and both countries are having difficulties selling their bonds even at those disastrously high yields. Meanwhile, German banks are dumping Greek, Portuguese, Irish, and Italian bonds as fast as they can sell them. So much for stopping the contagion.


UPS showed up yesterday with six large boxes from one of my wholesalers. I now have about 98% of what I need to assemble 60 more chemistry kits. Unfortunately, one small item is backordered until late August, and I can’t find a second wholesale source for it. If necessary, I’ll see if I can find it at retail and get a quantity price break. But that’s a last resort. I’m hoping that what I have in inventory will last another couple weeks, but I’ll probably end up having to backorder kits, at least for a couple of weeks. Oh, well. At least we can build a bunch of kits lacking that one item and simply drop it in once that item arrives.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

08:16 – Reading about the Norwegian mass murderer, there’s something I don’t understand. He thinks muslims are invading and taking over Europe, forcibly spreading their hateful beliefs to a previously civilized part of the planet. Okay, I get that. He’s right. If Europe has any sense, it’ll expel muslims with extreme prejudice, as should the US and other civilized countries. Muslims are nothing more than Nazis in drag, and the proper response to a muslim is the same as the proper response to a Nazi.

What I don’t understand is why he set off his truck bomb next to government offices, in an area presumably largely populated by ethnic Norwegians, and then shot up a youth camp presumably largely populated by ethnic Norwegian young people. Why not park the truck next to a mosque during services and then shoot up the survivors? Or, since he apparently had enough ammonium nitrate to make five or six more truck bombs, why didn’t he park truck bombs outside five or six more mosques during services? What was the point to slaughtering a bunch of ethnic Norwegians, most of whom were presumably non-believers, and most of whom presumably weren’t much happier about the spread of islam than he is?


11:34 – I’m always leery when calls of racism are made against ordinary people or institutions, but if this article is correct this is a pretty blatant case. This young woman earned the highest GPA in her graduating class, and yet was denied her position as sole valedictorian. Furthermore, her mother’s appeal to the school authorities was denied on questionable grounds, and delayed until the question became moot. The young woman in question is black and a single mother, and the school district in question is in the Deep South. If the facts stated in this article are correct and complete, it’s reasonable to ask if this young woman was denied her rights simply because the authorities didn’t believe she was the right kind of person to represent her school.

Now, it’s possible that there were extenuating circumstances. For example, the article mentions that she took a heavy load of AP classes, but does not mention which ones. Let’s face it, an A in AP History or AP Literature or AP Foreign Language shouldn’t have the same weight as an A in AP Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Calculus. Many school districts award 5 points on a 4-point GPA for an A in any AP course, but if an A in one of those non-rigorous AP courses is worth 5 points, then an A in a rigorous AP subject should be worth at least 6. So, although the article doesn’t give details, it’s possible that the students in second and third place had only slightly lower GPAs and had taken a boatload of rigorous AP courses. In that case, they probably deserved the valedictorian and salutatorian positions. Or they would have, had the school district made those changes to the way GPAs were assigned. As it stands, the only justification I can see for their position is that the other students may have had a wider range of extracurricular activities, which in any event should not be given any weight for academic honors. And, of course, as a single mother, the student in question probably had more limited opportunities to engage in such activities.

Monday, 25 July 2011

08:55 – Hmmm. Moody’s has downgraded Greek debt to Ca, which is almost-but-not-quite default. Moody’s notes that the likelihood they’ll further reduce Greece to a C rating, or actual default, is “virtually 100%”. Meanwhile, Spanish bond yields–or was it Italian bond yields?–just climbed past 6%, which is catastrophic.

The purpose of the crisis summit, of course, was not to save Greece, which cannot be saved, but to prevent spread of the “contagion” to Spain and Italy. I may have been optimistic in estimating that they’d delayed the crash by 90 days. It may be more like 30 days. Historically, July and August are when these things tend to happen, and we may have an interesting time of it next month.


Heads-down work on the biology book this week, with a bit of lab work to confirm some of the stuff in the lab sessions. As I write the lab sessions, I have to constantly keep in mind the chemicals needed, and whether it’s practical to include those chemicals in the kits. It’s essential that the kits be legal to ship under the Small Quantity Exemption, but staying within the SQE regulations isn’t as simple as it might seem.

For example, the SQE regulations permit shipping up to one fluid ounce, which they define as 30 mL, of most hazardous chemicals, including nasty stuff like concentrated sulfuric acid. The problem is that the limit isn’t per-container but per shipping package. So, for example, if I include two 15 mL bottles of two biostains that are in a solution of 70% isopropanol, that’s my limit on isopropanol for that package. (It doesn’t matter what the percentage is; I could use 50% isopropanol, and the limit is still 30 mL per package.)

Ah, but in that case I haven’t used any of my ethanol allocation, so I could also include two 15 mL bottles of ethanol-based solutions in the same package, and, for that matter, two more 15 mL bottles of methanol-based solutions and two more 15 mL bottles of butanol-based solutions, because methanol, ethanol, propanol, and butanol all have different UN (hazardous chemical) numbers. For some stains and reagents, the type of alcohol used doesn’t matter much or at all. For others, it matters a lot. For example, some stains are readily soluble in methanol but not propanol, and vice versa. Depending on how things work out, I may end up going to some ridiculous extremes. For example, I might supply a 10 mL of a reagent in a 15 mL bottle, using 99% isopropanol, which would cost me only 10 mL of my 30 mL isopropanol allocation–and direct the reader to add 5 mL of distilled water to that bottle. Geez.

I did make a fortuitous discovery yesterday. The 15 mL PE dropper bottles are a slip fit in the 50 mL PP centrifuge tubes, several of which will be included in the biology kits as specimen containers and for temporary storage of various solutions. The conical caps of the dropper bottles even fit neatly into the conical bottoms of the centrifuge tubes. That makes the centrifuge tubes ideal secondary containers for 15 mL dropper bottles that contain really nasty stuff. Adding a couple of cotton balls or some paper towels will both cushion the dropper bottle and serve as an absorbent if the bottle leaks.


12:50 – I just noticed that the European Central Bank has stopped buying sovereign bonds. Since the May 2010 bailout, the ECB has been backstopping Greek debt. The ECB is currently estimated to hold something like €45 billion of essentially worthless Greek debt on its balance sheet, and it has obviously decided not to add to that total. That leaves the EFSF (European bailout fund), which has only €440 billion in its coffers, as the bailout lender of last resort. That’s marginally sufficient to cover expected upcoming bailouts for Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, but there’s no way the EFSF will be able to do a thing to help Spain and particularly Italy when they show up begging for bailouts. Speculation leading up to the crisis summit last week was that the ESFS reserves would be at least doubled if not tripled. Instead, they were left as is. The result is that traders and analysts are holding their collective breath, because if (when) Spain or Italy collapses there’ll be nothing left in the till to bail them out with.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

10:12 – Here’s a torrent worth grabbing: a 32.5 GB file that contains thousands of pre-1923 articles by The Royal Society, all of them out of copyright in the US. It’s long past time that someone did something about JSTOR and similar organizations, which put up expensive paywalls around public domain information and guard it jealously. Now if only someone would do the same for old articles published by the ACS and other scientific organizations.

This archive contains 18,592 scientific publications totaling 33GiB, all from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and which should be available to everyone at no cost, but most have previously only been made available at high prices through paywall gatekeepers like JSTOR.

Limited access to the documents here is typically sold for $19 USD per article, though some of the older ones are available as cheaply as $8. Purchasing access to this collection one article at a time would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

All of these articles should be available for free on Google and other Internet sources. In fact, US scientific articles, including current ones, should be freely available, at least to US citizens, because nearly all of them were produced with US government funding. I’ve already paid for these articles through my taxes. I shouldn’t have to pay again to read them.


I’m going to have to do a bit of research on the actual chemical resistance of the polyethylene bottles I just bought. Checking various sources for the effect on polyethylene of concentrated sulfuric acid at 20 °C and 60 °C (the containers could get quite warm during shipping) tells me that the resistance may be anything from excellent to mediocre, depending on which source I believe.

I suspect this is because polyethylene is a class or classes of compounds rather than a specific compound. There are many, many types of PE, which are broadly grouped into LDPE, HDPE, and XDPE, but the exact characteristics of any particular PE may vary slightly, even from others in the same class.

It may be easier just to use glass bottles.


11:50 – On sexual dimorphism in humans…

Here is an actual, unretouched image of pairs of Barbara’s and my socks. (Mine are at the top, in case you hadn’t guessed; they were originally black, but I accidentally bleached them and liked the two-tone brown result.) No, I didn’t shrink Barbara’s socks. This is actually how they appear normally.



Now it’s true that I have occasionally been accused of having larger than usual feet. (Get your big, clumsy feet out of my …) But I think of myself as having dainty little feet. After all, I wear only a US male size 12 shoe, which isn’t bad for a guy my size.


13:34 – As a Viking-American, I found this article interesting.

If you can believe the article, past archaeologists had just assumed that Viking burials were all male because they all included grave artifacts like swords and shields. A new study reports the results of osteological examinations of a small number of Viking burials, which found that about half of the skeletons were female. Unfortunately, DNA analyses, which would have been definitive, were not done.

It makes sense to me that the Viking warriors would have taken their women along. After all, put yourself in the position of a Viking woman. Would you allow your husband to go off raping and pillaging without you?

Incidentally, don’t bother clicking the moron link at the bottom of the article, which reads “See photos of: Vikings“. I made the mistake of clicking it and it took me to page that featured–you guessed it–images of the Minnesota Vikings. Geez.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

10:45 – My poor FedEx guy must hate me. Yesterday, he delivered several large boxes that contained a couple thousand polyethylene dropper bottles in different capacities and a hundred laboratory splash goggles. I’ll use the dropper bottles to build prototypes and initial inventory for the biology kit that goes with the home biology lab book I’m working on now, as well as in a future forensics kit and possibly some others. The goggles are included in all kits.


In all of the discussion about the Euro crisis, the UK hasn’t gotten much attention other than in that country’s newspapers. From what I’ve read in UK newspapers ranging across the political spectrum, I think it’s safe to say that there’s been a sea change in the attitudes of UK subjects. Previously, a substantial majority were in favor of the UK’s membership in the EU, and the electorate was roughly equally divided pro and con on adopting the Euro. The current numbers are dramatically different. A large majority now opposes joining the Euro–no surprise there given recent events–but the really significant change is that UK voters are now about 3:2 in favor of withdrawing from the EU itself.

They rightly perceive the course of the EU shifting even more strongly toward a fiscal and political union, neither of which is acceptable to a large majority of Brits. Ideally, most Brits would prefer to return to the original common market concept, where trade barriers were minimal but each country retained its own currency and full sovereignty. Even in the absence of full fiscal and political union, Britain has found, as Thatcher warned, that the obvious benefits of EU membership are far outweighed by the hidden drawbacks. Despite the fact that the UK is not a member of the Euro, British taxpayers subsidize other Euro members. For example, a significant percentage of the €50 billion in annual agricultural subsidies paid to French farmers comes out of British pockets. Nor are all the economic costs so obvious. For example, fishing rights have for years been a bone of contention between the UK and the EU.

When all is totaled up, it’s clear that the UK is suffering economically from its membership in the EU, with the economic benefits far, far outweighed by the direct and indirect economic costs. If the EU fractures, as I expect, into one group of wealthier northern nations and a second group of poorer southern nations, I expect to see the UK join the northern group, if indeed it chooses to join any union at all.


12:14 – The morning paper had an article about people flocking to the local Borders for its going-out-of-business sale. The store is advertising “up to 40% off”, which really isn’t much of a deal, even if it applied to most things. One woman quoted in the article mentioned that she’d bought several books at 10% to 20% off list price, which is no deal at all, particularly since all sales are final. As she said, she could have gotten them cheaper at Amazon.

Given the very limited selection at Borders–many publishers stopped sending them new books months ago–they’d have to be offering at least 60% off list on paperbacks and 70% off on hardbacks to temp me in there, and even at that I might not bother. Most of what I’d be looking for is fiction, and most of that I can get for $2.99 or less for my Kindle. And since my Kindle TBR stack is currently at something like 300 titles, I really don’t need any more fiction anyway.

Friday, 22 July 2011

08:55 – Following the crisis summit, there’s lots of joy in the EU. The feeling among people who don’t understand much about economics is that Greece is saved, the Euro is saved, they’re all saved. Economists and market analysts know better. What the crisis summit accomplished was necessary, but by no means sufficient. All that it really accomplished was to put off the reckoning for a short time, perhaps 90 days or less.

In one very ominous sign, Bulgaria announced that it was putting its plans to join the Eurozone on hold indefinitely. In effect, Bulgaria said that it believes its own currency is stronger than the Euro. And it may well be right. This vote of no-confidence in the Euro will not go unnoticed by investors.

And, of course, Fitch has already declared Greek debt to be in default, with Moody’s and S&P no doubt soon to follow. We’re assured by the Euro authorities that this default is “partial” and “temporary” and “selective”, but as far as investors are concerned, default is default. Nor are investors stupid. They did notice that the crisis meeting left the EU bailout fund at its current level, when it actually needed to be at least tripled in size to have any hope of propping up Spain and Italy as their debt comes due. Investors also noticed that the crisis meeting did nothing to address the critical liquidity problem among European banks. In fact, it worsened it by demanding that the banks “voluntarily” take a hit to their balance sheets on Greek debt, albeit concealing the damage by allowing the banks to continue carrying essentially worthless Greek debt instruments at face value rather than market value.

As hundreds of billions of Spanish and Italian debt matures over the next few months, it’s going to become abundantly clear that the crisis summit accomplished nothing but delaying the problem for a few weeks. Even Keynesian economist Paul Krugman gets it.

Nor is it certain that Merkel and the other leaders of the wealthier northern European countries can deliver what they promised at the summit conference. They have their own legislatures and voters to worry about. German voters almost universally perceive past and future bailouts as simple transfers of money from their own pockets to profligate southern countries, and they’ve had about enough. In Holland, this whole fiasco has accomplished something previously thought impossible: Dutch political parties, from far left to far right and everything in between, are united in their opposition to these huge transfers of their money to southern countries.

So Merkel, Sarkozy, and other leaders are walking a very fine line. Supporting what was needed to actually solve the problem would end up with them and their parties being routed at the polls. That solution, beginning with Eurobonds and ending with full fiscal and political union, is simply unacceptable to voters in Germany, Austria, Holland, and Finland. And rightly so, because the inevitable result would be a united Europe as the world’s newest third-world country.


Anyone who works with plasticware in a lab should keep the chemical resistance of various types of plastics in mind. If it weren’t for the high cost, the various Teflon plastics would be ideal. They’re resistant to almost anything, and anything they’re not resistant to is something I probably don’t want to be using anyway. Polypropylene (PP) and the polyethylenes (LDPE and HDPE) are, with some exceptions, pretty resistant to most chemicals. Polyethylene terephthalate, PET, is most familiar as softdrink bottles. It’s transparent, while PP, LDPE, and HDPE are translucent or opaque, depending on thickness and type. PET is also resistant to most dilute chemicals as well as alcohol and some other organic solvents. What it’s not resistant to, among other things, is concentrated strong acids.

So, yesterday I was down in the lab, making up 2 liters each of various chemical solutions. I was using 2-liter PET Coke bottles as mixing vessels. Among the solutions I was making up was 0.1 M iron(II) sulfate. Like most iron(II) salts, iron(II) sulfate has a nasty habit of spontaneously oxidizing to the iron(III) salt, with the spare iron ions reacting to form insoluble iron hydroxide and iron oxides. The result is a cloudy mess. The way to avoid that is to have sulfate ions present in excess, which is most easily done by adding a small amount of concentrated sulfuric acid to the iron(II) sulfate solution. So there I was, with about 1.5 L of distilled water in a clean 2-liter Coke bottle. I started to add 8 mL of 98% sulfuric acid, and realized as I started to pour what was going to happen.

Yep, as I trickled the concentrated sulfuric acid into the bottle, it ran down the inside of the bottle and instantly started depolymerizing the PET. My pretty transparent bottle turned cloudy white as the PET went from the transparent amorphous form to the opaque semi-crystalline form. I quickly dumped the contents of the bottle down the drain before the PET depolymerized completely. I don’t often have do-overs when I’m making up solutions, but this was one of them.


09:27 – Here’s a pretty amazing video of a group of people in a small boat, at considerable risk to themselves, saving a young humpback whale that had become entangled in a gill net. Even a juvenile humpback could have capsized their boat or turned it into kindling. But the humpback seemed to realize that these humans were trying to help it, and it docilely allowed them to do so. At about 6:30 in, the whale is free. She puts on an incredible display of joy, or perhaps thanks to her saviors. (H/T to Jerry Coyne)