Sunday, 31 August 2014

By on August 31st, 2014 in lab day, science kits

10:41 – Barbara is ironing and cleaning house while I do kit stuff. Right now, I’m dehydrating some magnesium sulfate heptahydrate to anhydrous form. The hydrated form, AKA Epsom salts, is cheap, a couple bucks a kilo in USP/FCC form, which is as pure as reagent grade. Buying the anhydrate from a chemical supplier runs $80 to $100 per kilo, which is outrageous.

So I just spread about a kilo of Epsom salts in a large casserole dish and stuck it in the oven at 500F (260C) for an hour. That removes most of the water of hydration and forms a thin glassy layer of magnesium sulfate. I break that into chunks and toss it into a blender that I reserve for such work. I then blend it on high to break up the chunks into mostly powder, run it through a flour sifter, repeat as necessary until all the chunks are broken up, and then put the powder back in the oven for another hour at 500F to finish drying it out. I do this while I’m doing other stuff, so the whole process requires maybe ten minutes of my time. Add the cost of my time to maybe two or three bucks in materials cost and electricity, and I end up with half a kilo of magnesium sulfate anhydrate for less than $20, even billing myself at $100/hour.

The price of many chemicals has gotten ridiculously high. For example, we use copper(II) acetate to make up Barfoed’s reagent, which is essentially a 0.5 molar solution of copper(II) acetate with 10 mL of glacial acetic acid added per liter. I was about to order some copper(II) acetate, but found my regular supplier wanted $120/kilo. Geez.

So, the next time I need to make up Barfoed’s reagent I’ll do it from scratch on the fly. I generally make up four liters at a time, so I’ll start with two clean 2-liter Coke bottles. I’ll transfer two moles of copper(II) sulfate to one bottle. That copper(II) sulfate is from Home Depot, which sells a 2-pound (907 g) bottle of the stuff for about $10 under the name of Root Kill. The assay on the bottle says it’s 99% copper(II) sulfate, which I’ve verified gravimetrically. The remaining <1% by mass is mostly insoluble copper oxide. The molar mass of copper(II) sulfate is 249.68 g/mole. Dividing that by 0.99 gives 250.22 g/mole, so I'll transfer 500.44 g of the Root Kill to the two liter bottle and dissolve it in hot water. (It dissolves quickly in hot water; in room temperature water it can take literally a week to dissolve.) I'll then filter the resulting two liters of pretty blue solution into the second bottle, rinse out the first bottle, and divide the solution with one liter in each of the two bottles. So far, I'll have used up maybe five minutes of actual working time and about $5 worth of the Root Kill.

I’ll then add either sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate, both of which are cheap, to precipitate the copper ions as insoluble copper(II) carbonate. Once the precipitate settles, I’ll decant off the supernatant liquid, which contains mainly sodium sulfate with a small amount of the excess sodium carbonate or bicarbonate in solution. If I decant 90% of the supernatant liquid and refill the bottle with tap water, I’ve diluted the original level of soluble contaminants to 10% of what they were. Repeating that process a few times, ending with a distilled water wash, reduces the soluble contaminants to 1%, 0.1%, 0.01%, and finally 0.001%, which is better than good enough.

I don’t even need to filter out the copper(II) carbonate and dry it. I can simply wet it with a liter or so of distilled water and add glacial acetic acid stoichimetrically to convert the copper(II) carbonate to copper(II) acetate in situ, add an extra 20 mL of the glacial acetic acid, and then bottle the resulting Barfoed’s reagent.

And don’t get me started on ammonium metavanadate. The last time I bought it, maybe three or four years ago, I paid something like $15 for a 25 gram bottle. I thought $0.60/gram was pretty high then, but that’s now tripled to nearly $2/gram, and that doesn’t even include the required poison-pack container and hazardous shipping surcharge. Geez. I can synthesize the stuff from scratch here for something like $0.05/gram, and it’s no more difficult than the copper(II) acetate synthesis.

16 Comments and discussion on "Sunday, 31 August 2014"

  1. pcb_duffer says:

    What happens if you put the Root Kill into a bottle of cool water, and then heat the solution?

  2. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    It dissolves quickly. Copper(II) sulfate is quite soluble but quite slow to dissolve at room temperature. Some salts, notably heavy-metal salts, are exactly the opposite: sparingly soluble, but dissolve very quickly. It’s a question of kinetics versus thermodynamics.

  3. Miles_Teg says:

    Sounds like you could go into business against the ripoff merchants.

  4. Chuck W says:

    I’m pretty sure the record still stands, that Indianapolis had the longest-running pirate radio station in the US that broadcast almost exclusively on holiday weekends (because the FCC never worked on those weekends). It had a run from about 1964 until March 1972 when the FCC finally caught up with them.

    Almost all the original participants are still around, most having worked in the media (actually, most worked in the media when the pirate station was on) and It has returned to the air legitimately for the holiday weekend on an Indy station whose stream is at:

    Not sure how much longer it will run — whether through tomorrow, or ending tonight. Progressive and album rock that you will never hear on any radio station these days.

  5. Chuck W says:

    Gawd I miss Boston.

  6. Chuck W says:

    Song I heard on Radio Free Naptown (see above posts) a few hours back. If you know this song, I bet you have not heard it in, oh, about 44 years.

  7. OFD says:

    I hit that link, Mr. Chuck, and it took about five minutes to load, but that’s probably due to our ISP connection here, which has sucked for weeks now. They were playing some kinda psychedelic-sounding thang but it was cool. I see that I did indeed need to have the Quicktime plug-in running to play it, apparently, which was OK.

    We’re down to two local stations here for radio listening; VPR Classical, which runs pretty good stuff 7×24, including long performances, and where the announcers also give out relevant information about it and the composers and performers without being intrusive PITA’s. Ditto for the local FM “album” station, with studio down the road about fifty miles in Bristol, VT, and transmitters in Ausable (north-country Vampire State across the Lake from us, Burlington, and somewhere else).

    Radio reception is intermittent at our location due to whatever the ‘lake effect’ and prevailing winds is doing, apparently, and in the vehicle/s it’s chancy due to many surrounding hill, ridge and mountain ranges. Plus the antenna on the Saab got busted off; you’d think squarehead engineering coulda come up with an alternative to a thin, flexible and easily bent or broken antenna sticking outta the rear end. So now it’s down to either a shitty rock station playing unintelligible gibberish and noise or the “country” station down in Johnson, VT, near my workplace, which naturally has lotsa gab and what to my ears is more pop and rock than country, though they do include the occasional “retro” piece. I usually just load up the CD changer in the trunk, though; my current lineup is a 50-50 mix of southern rock and the late Gil Scott-Heron. He had some great lines and a true gift for poetry at times, usually on the earlier stuff, and when he was doing actual songs, and not long, drawn-out, tedious spoken-word junk, like his roughly contemporary Jim Morrison.

    As predicted, the fempod didn’t get back up here until late in the afternoon yesterday, with much dilly-dallying and lollygagging along the way and they’ll rinse and repeat tomorrow when Princess, per her usual SOP, i.e. waiting until the very last possible moment when it greatly inconveniences the greatest number of other people, has to be transported from either Montpeculiar, 65 miles southeast of here, to Montreal, or from MIL’s place, thirty miles south of here, to same. Involving much shifting and swapping of multiple vehicles, etc., etc. When her mom has to get packed up and ready to go again out to Kalifornia on Tuesday for the week. When I say ‘the last possible moment,’ I mean that Princess has her first class at 08:00 back at school on Tuesday morning. This will end up badly, I predict, with her messing around all day tomorrow and making her mom drive her up tomorrow night and the latter not getting back here until very late herself, when she’ll be exhausted again and cranky and still have to get cracking all day Tuesday.

    Then I find just now I have to go back in to work at 06:00 Tuesday to meet with the previous IT guy so we can work again on the main Linux server and the MySQL database stuff first thing, before he goes off to his regular job and I get to then work my regular job for eight-plus hours after that. I’ll have to be up again at 04:00 to leave at 05:00 in the dark and pea-soup ground fog with oncoming streams of vehicles all the way and then arrive at 06:00 and not be able to leave until 5 or 6 and get home by 6 or 7 that day.

    It’s like my interlocutor said Friday; after being outta work for almost a year and a half, starting an ice-cold engine and then accelerating to 90 MPH immediately. I gotta remember what she also said: it’s not on me, it’s on them; I gotta take care of myself.

    Get back on the BP meds, take frequent sanity breaks outside somewhere, eat regular, and drink plenty of fluids, even if it means I gotta pee every ten minutes. And tell people to back the hell off, nicely, if possible.

    Anyone here have any experience, and I sorta direct this at Mr. SteveF, with the Spiceworks bundle of stuff, which might make life easier for us (ME!) with the help desk and infrastructure inventory tasks? It’d be nice to have it all in one package instead of two or three or more and I don’t much care at this point if it’s open-sauce or Windows-only, we have both available.

    Gonna also be RUTHLESSLY cleaning out my office and the adjoining server room this week.

  8. OFD says:

    “Gawd I miss Boston.”

    The ‘burbs were hot shit, too, growing up in the Sixties. With frequent days and nights in the city. Tx much for that link; Mrs. OFD will have a laughing fit when she gets back here and I show it to her. She’s a somewhat older version of the redhead chick.

    As for Atomic Rooster, I’d forgotten they existed, and yes, it’s been 44 years probably, since I heard that song.

    By the way, this may or may not surprise some denizens here but my hair is at least as long as the dudes in that band now.

  9. SteveF says:

    OFD, I don’t have any experience with Spiceworks other than working with one of their former employees. Not hugely useful for what you need. (That guy was trained as a graphic designer and taught himself programming to make a better income, and was really good at it. One of my other team members never went to college and taught himself PHP and database stuff while managing a game shop. Also very good. The third guy had a CS degree and wasn’t so much talented as relentless due to, shall we say, a personality oddity. I’m trained as an engineer and like to think I’m good at programming. And my final team member on that job had a CS degree and was totally useless and I ended up firing him. This all feeds into my conclusion that CS degrees tell nothing about whether someone is any good as a working programmer.)

    Regarding ticket tracking software, see and . The help-desk-specific list is much shorter and I don’t have much experience with any of them.

    Of the more general ticket trackers, I’ve worked with most of the non-proprietary and some of the proprietary. If it were me putting it in on your system as I understand it, I’d use Bugzilla – easily installed, lightweight, useful out of the box, and customizable. Jira is good and can be hosted by the vendor, cutting down on your headaches, but the monthly bill adds up. I don’t like HP’s Quality Center – for the users, it’s browser only and it works for crap except if they’re using IE, and that’s a deal breaker for me.

  10. OFD says:

    Thanks for those links, Mr. SteveF, and the advice. Not sure how I’m gonna do this; go to a combined help desk/inventory package or just stick with the current combination email/phone system they’ve been running, which is kinda annoying when one is on the receiving end.

    Figure 200 people there, most of them manufacturing employees down on the production areas, and 70-80 PCs and laptops and iPhones floating around for the office and admin people, plus the production managers and time-clocking stuff down on the floor. All that stuff, except for a handful of Ubuntu PC’s running label printers, is on Windows 7 and 8. And connected to a Windows Server 2012 Domain Controller and a Server 2003 running Exchange 2007, plus a couple of Win7 machines running as some kind of one-app servers, like Quickbooks accounting or the security cameras. The main CentOS box runs the MySQL database stuff, scheduling, employee clock-ins via something called “Dashboard,” and production data on an hourly basis plus the backups. It has a sort of cloned emergency CentOS server linked to it as another backup. I’m still figuring out the whole mess, as put together piecemeal, evidently, by previous manglers and IT drones over the past ten years.

    But fully 90% of the incoming help desk issues and problems are for Windows, naturally, or network connection stuff.

    Would it be overkill to throw yet another app into the mix for help desk/inventory or just leave it as it is and make the best of it? I’m just trying to make my job easier with less aggravation for the relatively short time I’ll be there; it ain’t no corporate career by a long shot at this late stage.

  11. Chuck W says:

    Story about the overzealousness of police, in — of all places — St. Paul, Minnesota, where I lived for a little over 4 years.

    My dad, the lawyer, told me when I was in college and he was a lawyer, never to argue with police and do exactly as they say, call them “sir” and “ma’am” — even if you think what they are saying or doing is wrong. The final arbiter is the judge, not the police, and the police will win when you are on their turf.

    He also said (while I was at Playboy’s US Playskool #1) that if I was ever at a party that was raided where there were drugs or weed possessed by anybody in the group, that Indiana law considered everyone at that location automatically guilty of possession, whether they really had contraband or not. Not sure about now, but in my day, it was pretty hard to go to ANY party where somebody was not in possession and/or doing or on something.

    Unlike Minnesota, Indiana IS one of those states where police can order you to identify yourself and if you do not do so, you in very hot water and face criminal sanctions. We are increasingly ruled under Nazi tactics. AusweiƟ, bitte.

  12. OFD says:

    But isn’t Indiana also the state that relatively recently OK’d citizens responding with lethal defense force if cops barged in unidentified adequately with SWAT tactics, etc.?

    In general, though, we’re undoubtedly entering police-state territory and ordinary Caucasian citizens are more often facing what inner-city black people have gone through for decades. If we think it’s bad now, wait until we suffer another terrorist attack, and probably at a level that will make 9/11 look like a day at the beach. We’ll be under de facto martial law at that point.

  13. Chuck W says:

    I am not aware of that. They have excused somebody who shot a home invasion intruder to death, but that seems to have been a one-off; later cases have not gone as well.

    Somebody may have posted this here before, as I seem to recall it, but this video is pretty much in line with what my lawyer dad counseled me when I was young.

    This all makes me think of the ‘love it or leave it’ types.

    Also, remember that cops today practice their lines and tactics just like that lawyer has those actors rehearse their responses. (He IS a real lawyer, but everyone else is an actor.)

  14. Klide Horsip says:

    I am told that cops prefer to be addressed as officer.

    I’m going to try to include a link to an old youtube video. “Don’t talk to Police”. Very depressing. If you’re impatien skip to 27 minutes.

  15. Dave B. says:

    Chuck thanks for posting that video, I have not seen it before. Here is a Chris Rock skit that makes fun of those who have problems interacting with the police:

    The video is very funny, but it’s also tragic that many people who have issues interacting with the police could learn from it.

  16. OFD says:

    Very long-winded vids on what is very simple common sense; don’t do nuthin’ stupid and keep yer pie-hole shut.

    I’ve seen the Chris Rock vid a few times but it’s still funny; now, of course, it applies to all of us, not just regular-citizen-type black folks.

    The other addendum I’d put here is: Don’t be an asshole. When I was on The Job back in the Neolithic, most of our arrests resulted from someone just being an asshole; we may have well let peeps slide countless times for minor offenses but they just had to be assholes and got locked up and now have records forever.

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