Not a Meth Lab and Avoiding Trouble

by Terry 10/29/2008 10:20:00 AM

I posted this on the Home Chem Lab forum, http://forums.homechemlab.com:

Back in June, while attending work-related training in Atlanta, I had discussions with friends on the ‘Meth Lab’ comments. I posted my initial comments here.

"So, to be clear, I am not building a Meth lab. I am not sure what the margins on Meth production are, but I am fairly certain that my day job, or any job at all, pays more than the risk is worth. I have no desire to, and this is not an exhaustive list, go to jail, kill or injure any family, friends, guests or associates, poison the neighborhood or blowup my house.

At a break in class today, one of my coworkers (friends really, as I have worked with all of these guys for years) suggested I go to Walmart and buy some blue tarps and propane tanks to leave around my yard. Apparently all meth-labs in the northwest are littered with blue tarps and propane cylinders. I added that I need to get a trailer in the back yard with a couple of flat tires. I am thinking I can get a good deal on a used FEMA trailer."

I still like the FEMA trailer idea. It would make a neat little mobile laboratory. But, that is rather off topic. Smile

People always jokingly ask, “How’s the Meth lab?” Among my friends I am not bothered by this; I have a good idea what they actually think. Comments from new acquaintances always make me pause and think about how to reply. If they are interested in a real explanation I will tell them my plans and progress to creating a science club (think tutoring with lab work), if not I will leave my explanation short; I am doing this for myself and my daughter, so my daughter can learn more than what is taught in school.

Part of my long term solution to avoiding trouble is transparency. I am doing nothing illegal – I have nothing to hide. In the interest of staying above board, because I will be working with other people’s children and my wife encouraged it, I contacted the local fire department and have discussed my plans with a variety of people, friends and such. I have been met with encouragement at all times. I live in a compact, if not small town, but small enough that the Mayor, fire chief, PTSA president and others are no more than two degrees separated from me. My involvement in the local martial arts also keeps me rather visible.

In a way, or so I think, the best campaign I can make is to be a good role model. Over time I hope that works against the Science = Evil mentality. I will be working with kids and I will be tugging on the suppressed childhood dreams of their parents.

"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." (Catherine Aird)

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Finding Lugol’s Solution

by Terry 10/20/2008 4:13:00 PM

For the last few weeks I have been looking for local sources to obtain Lugol’s Solution for one of the labs in Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (DIY Science). I have three other iodine tinctures for the labs in the book, but I have had a devil of a time finding Lugol’s Solution, which is a mixture of potassium iodide and iodine in water. Now I have four common (or not-so common these days) iodine solutions for comparison.

I suppose the difficulty in finding iodine solutions is largely because the DEA has listed Iodine as a List I chemical because it is used the production of Meth as a reagent. The local pharmacy will only provide it if prescribed. The local Walgreens also does not carry it. I stopped by several big-box pet stores to look for the aquarium-treatment version of the solution only to find none carry it anymore. It is just not available, except at one small shop in Issaquah, which sells exotic fish, where I found the Blue Life brand; the last one on their shelf.

The Blue Life aquarium supplement cost more than I would expect at $17 for an ounce. What is truly annoying, had I planned a little ahead, is I should have ordered a suitable quantity of potassium iodide from Elemental Scientific with my last shipment and just made the Lugol’s Solution myself. I could have made much more than an ounce for a few dollars of materials without having to purchase a single item on the DEA’s list.

At any rate, I now have several iodine solutions to experiment with. This is a good way of extending the lab. Part of experimentation is learning why X is different than Y when all other things are the same. I have made a request for the Blue Life Lugol’s Solution MSDS. Hopefully it will identify anything in the solution that may be different that a generic version and point to additional experiments I could perform.

It is very tempting to go on a campaign to restore sanity to the government. I can see the argument on why the DEA bans some substances or local and state government ban certain equipment and supplies. I think most of that is a waste of time, energy and resources. It is already illegal to manufacture Meth. Why criminalize or complicate the production and use of legal substances for law-abiding citezens? If I had the time and energy I would consider lobbying, except that I don’t like the concept so much.

Compare this to a “Hate Crime”. If a murder committed, it is a crime and there is a punishment. If a murder is committed while shouting a racial epithet, it is suddenly a ‘hate crime’ and there is a punishment. Shouting racial epithets while standing on a street corner (while likely not very smart) can be considered free speech. So why is there a ‘hate crime’ distinction? Creating more legal exceptions makes enforcement and prosecution of the real crimes more difficult.  After all, it is the murder that is the real crime. You cannot cure stupid.

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Of course I could be reading this statement the wrong way.

by Terry 10/16/2008 5:15:00 PM

Of course I could be reading this statement the wrong way.

http://www.barackobama.com/taxes/
“Obama will ask the wealthiest 2% of families to give back a portion of the tax cuts they have received over the past eight years to ensure we are restoring fairness and returning to fiscal responsibility.”

It could be interpreted as Obama will ask Congress to repeal tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest 2% of the population because he feels that would be the right thing to do. That would be an honest statement and might actually imply what is meant. How it reads now is Obama will ask the rich to pay more tax on prior-year’s incomes.

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Election 2008 Comments on Taxes

by Terry 10/16/2008 10:57:00 AM

Normally I keep my political views to myself, except in general comments amongst my friends. Not because I have no opinion, but because I prefer to not say anything unless I have something to add to the discussion. I suppose I have something to say today.

Obama’s tax plan is illogical, and in some ways is a plan for legalized theft.

http://www.barackobama.com/taxes/
“Obama will ask the wealthiest 2% of families to give back a portion of the tax cuts they have received over the past eight years to ensure we are restoring fairness and returning to fiscal responsibility.”

Taken on its word, this is retroactive punishment for doing well. We, The Government, did not believe we needed you to pay certain taxes over the last eight years. Now, please, give that money back because it is fair to the poor people who did not earn more money this year.

I find the statement, “give back” interesting. It implies that a group of wealthy people first ‘gave’ money to the government, and then colluded in some way to take it back from the government. Personally I feel the prior taxes paid are a done deal. That contract was signed and delivered. Changing that agreement retroactively is a contractual violation. It is the same as if I intentionally, fraudulently, file a tax amendment on my taxes from four years ago and claim I overpaid and it would only be fair to compensate me now because I need the money.

On tax cuts, Obama’s plan also is flawed.

http://www.barackobama.com/taxes
“Obama’s Comprehensive Tax Policy Plan for America will: Cut taxes for 95 percent of workers and their families with a tax cut of $500 for workers or $1,000 for working couples.”

In 2006, the IRS statistics, http://www.irs.gov/taxstats/indtaxstats/article/0,,id=96978,00.html, show approximately 33% of the population filing non-taxable returns. That is, about 33% of the people don’t pay taxes. No matter which way you skew the 95% of the people (Let’s assume it is excluding the 5% of the wealthiest, but even if it is not the problems are the same), there are about 31% of those people who pay no tax. A tax cut of $500-$1000 is either not possible, a lie, a false promise or a cash payment for the poor. It is a promise that can never be met honestly. It would likely die in the House anyway.

John McCain at least strikes me as having an honest, achievable tax position.

http://www.johnmccain.com/Issues/JobsforAmerica/taxes.htm
“John McCain will keep the top tax rate at 35 percent, maintain the 15 percent rates on dividends and capital gains, and phase-out the Alternative Minimum Tax. Small businesses are the heart of job growth; raising taxes on them hurts every worker.”

Phasing out the Alternative Minimum Tax would likely cause 1%-3% of the 33% of the people who pay no tax now to pay a few dollars. By few I mean amount $100-$200 per year. It is raising the tax for a very few people, but only those already on the border of paying something or nothing.

McCain’s policy to credit business for Research and Development expenses and lowering the corporate tax rate would potentially raise the investment in new technology and create jobs. Both would increase the tax base. New technology equates to new and better products and competitiveness. A general tax cut for business would allow reinvestment in business which would creates jobs.

My Stance

Personally, I don’t really care for McCain or Obama. It seems no politician will stand for the things I really want; State autonomy (closer to the original construction of the United States), fewer Federal programs, protection of our borders (economic and physical) and investment in technology, to name a few. Maybe I will write in John Adams – Damn. He’s dead.

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A Glimmer of Sanity Returns

by Terry 10/13/2008 9:40:00 AM

When I first read this I thought it was a joke.

Seattle high-schoolers can now get failing grades

Seattle Public Schools has changed its high-school grading policy to include E grades, a mark more commonly known as an F. In the past, students who did not pass a class earned an N, which did not affect their grade-point averages.

I could not believe the Seattle school district had ever fallen so far as to allow kids to effectively erase the failing grades from a student’s grade point average. That practice ultimately sets kids up for failure. Not just the poor-performing kids, but the better than average kids as well.

"When students receive an E or an N, they don't get any credit toward graduation. The E, however, counts as a zero when calculating a student's grade-point average. An N does not. So a student with three A's and three E's would have a grade-point average of 2.0. A student with three A's and three N's would have a perfect grade-point of 4.0."

In the, thankfully, now abolished system, a poor performing student could appear to be, superficially, a stellar student. This creates the obvious pitfall of setting the child up for failure in a college they are not likely to succeed or ever graduate from, or failing at a job they are not qualified for.

What may not be so obvious is the grade inflation this would give a clever, above average student. It would not take a genius kid to figure out how to work their own grades to maximize their GPA by, for example, turning a B or B+ into an A- GPA. In a school of a 1000 kids, I would bet a fair percentage would capitalize on this system. This creates the same setup for failure. Kids appear more qualified than their grades would otherwise indicate. Granted, by not as much as the ‘failing’ kid might ‘benefit’, but across the whole it would still have an effect.

How would any of this ever serve a child’s best interest? It can’t. I think every chance a kid can get to succeed is great, but ultimately a person has to stand on their own skills. The system the Seattle school district used for seven years did not stand children up on their own skills; it placed them on thin ice with no foundation to stand on. Even the B+ student, masquerading as an A- student suffers. For example, if an employer uses the GPA of a two applicants as a tie breaker for a demanding job, the lesser-skilled person may get hired. While it is possible the new hire will succeed in the job, it is also more likely that the employer hired the wrong person. Not only does the employer lose and the new hire lose, but so does the person who did not get the job.

On a once-off basis this is not a big issue, but aggregated across thousands of students over seven years, it skews the averages and hurts everyone. It is economy of scale in reverse.

Thankfully some measure of sanity returned to the school district. It still horrifies me this hideous joke was allowed at all. The joke is on the alumni of the Seattle school district, but no one should be laughing.

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Satire is Best when it Shadows Truth

by Terry 10/7/2008 2:22:00 PM

If you are interested in a better understanding on the reasons for the Mortgage Bailout see the following.
http://msunderestimated.com/SNLBailoutSkit.wmv

The Saturday Night Live Bailout Skit is, sadly, spot on.

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Fear Induced Tyranny

by Terry 8/12/2008 8:10:00 AM

This morning I read on Robert Bruce Thompson’s web site his comments [ttgnet.com, MakeZine.com] on an article in the Worcester, Massachusetts, Telegram; Chemist allowed to go home, sans his lab. Apparently, Mr. Deeb, a retired chemist had a chemistry lab in his basement, conducting experiment possibly in support of patents he owns. His lab was seized after fire-fighters responded to an unrelated call.

Pamela A. Wilderman, Marlboro’s code enforcement officer, said Mr. Deeb was doing scientific research and development in a residential area, which is a violation of zoning laws.

“It is a residential home in a residential neighborhood,” she said. “This is Mr. Deeb’s hobby. He’s still got bunches of ideas. I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere. This is not what we would consider to be a customary home occupation. … There are regulations about how much you’re supposed to have, how it’s detained, how it’s disposed of.”

Mr. Deeb’s home lab likely violated the regulations of many state and local departments, although officials have not yet announced any penalties.

Because Mr. Deeb is being cooperative, he is not being charged. Not yet.

The comment, “I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere”, is pure fear and ignorance.

You see, we ain’t sure if he’s done wrong, but we’s sure can’t let him have this stuff. It may be dangerous and we don’t think he’s qualified.

So, without apparent warrant, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has executed some hidden authority to dismantle and dispose of Mr. Deeb’s personal property and, while doing so, look for possible violations of some regulation or zoning law.

To my understanding, typically a zoning violation is met with a request to become compliant before the authorities step in. Stepping in and looking for violation is disturbing at best.

Whether this is tyranny or not, I cannot say for sure, as I do not have all the facts. Greg Laden contrasts this in his comments. At the very least, it is a slippery-slope case; once the powers-that-be step on this slope, the slide down begins.

Karen, my wife, suggested, strongly, I should at least discuss my desire to build a lab in my garage with the local fire department. I am glad I did so. I met with a couple of firemen and the fire chief for half an hour discussing my plans, providing the list of chemicals and quantities I would likely have an storage plans. They were encouraging and supportive. I accepted and implemented their recommendations. Meeting with the fire department gave me some sense of relief that my local fire department and officials are still sane.

I certainly do not want to have what happened to Mr. Deeb happen to me. But I will not bow to fear.

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chemistry | Opinion | Policy | Snoqualmie

Political climate changes

by Terry 5/6/2008 4:16:00 PM

I updated my Climate Change page (http://www.nerva.com/page/Global-Climate-Change.aspx) a couple of times this week. There is increasing awareness that Al Gore and Political Scientist (I am using the term jokingly) Dr. James Hansen, are largely full of crap. It is amazing what you can prove by repeated assertion and making up your data.

I will never argue against the idea the Earth is not experiencing climate change. In fact I will argue for it. But I disagree that the ‘evidence’ is explicitly pointing to a global warming catastrophe in the next few decades or even centuries. To make that case, there needs to be more research and lots of verifiable data; data that can be constantly re-verified and validated. What we have now is in large part religious fervor drowning out any opposing views.

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Papers, Please!

by Terry 4/23/2008 5:10:00 PM

Border Patrol "spot checks" on ferries provoke outrage in San Juan Islands
<snip>A couple of months ago, the U.S. Border Patrol began occasional "spot checks" of every vehicle and passenger arriving in Anacortes off state ferries, the lifeline between these islands and the mainland.</snip>

<snip>The Border Patrol responds that the stops are annoying but necessary, the cost of keeping the country safe.</snip>

<snip>San Juan Islanders are used to customs inspections in Anacortes if they take the ferry that comes from Sidney, B.C. Before now, though, they were never subjected to checks on domestic ferry runs.</snip>

Outrage is mild. To me this is outright criminal behavior on the part of the Border Patrol. Maybe someone from California has some insight. I seem to recall a freeway check point off Interstate-5 looking for illegal aliens from the Mexico border. What shocks me is the customs checks are being directed at ferries that have no international stops, but happen to come from US ports where an international ferry sometimes stops.

A few weeks ago a couple friends of mine, both Canadian citizens legally in the US on a work visa, and their visiting British parents were stopped at this non-international customs inspection after a weekend trip to San Juan Island. On returning to the mainland US, having never left US territory, they were grilled for several minutes. This put a bit of worry in their vacation with the parents.

Their treatment by the agents was described as rude at best. The agents made a big stink about not having their passports on them. My friends left them at home thinking that they were not needed as they were not crossing any borders. Their parents had their British passports and were left alone. My friends were told they should carry passports at All Times, even if just walking to the neighborhood grocery store, which, while true in a technically legal stand point, is absurd in practice. Where should I keep my passport while I am swimming at the beach? Their state-issued drivers’ licenses were insufficient proof of residence.

After several minutes of demeaning treatment, they were let go. One friend commented to me the day after they returned home, “next time I will just lie.”

What is interesting is the article puts great sympathy on one family of illegal immigrants caught in this checkpoint. I am sorry to hear they are having issues. I would wish they were not here illegally. Shouldn’t we be fixing that problem on the Mexican-US border?

Papers, Please!

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Policy

Scientific American and Rethinking Nuclear Fuel Recycling

by Terry 4/22/2008 1:02:00 PM

I do not have a subscription to Scientific American. I saw this article in the checkout lane at the grocer near my home.

Rethinking Nuclear Fuel Recycling: Scientific American
<snip>But reprocessing is very expensive. Also, spent fuel emits lethal radiation, whereas separated plutonium can be handled easily. So reprocessing invites the possibility that terrorists might steal plutonium and construct an atom bomb.

The author argues against reprocessing and for storing the waste in casks until an underground repository is ready</snip>

I think this is interesting. If I were a terrorist, I would go after far easier toxics to inflict damage or incite terror. Particularly, I would pursue items that would attract minimal attention in acquisition. Nuclear waste is rather high profile. Home Depot has enough raw materials for a creative terrorist, no? I would think it relatively easy to secure a 200 acre facility to protect the few items of interest on site. This is technical issue.

I also think the processing of radioactive materials into, say, blocks of glass, is an engineering issue; far simpler and less costly than Yucca Mountain, for example. Hanford in eastern Washington has had its issues, but is the issue political, in implementation or outright bad engineering? Even if it is all of these, it must be far less expensive to dilute radioactive materials in glass blocks to the point where they are nearly as radioactive as the ore originally pulled from the Earth than to build a mile deep hole in the ground that has never been filled. A barely radioactive 100kg block of glass is not a tempting item for a terrorist to steal.

I do agree it is a bad idea to leave concentrated materials sitting around in a barrel.

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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