Science on Tap at T.S. McHugh's Pub

by Terry 11/5/2008 4:21:00 PM

Science on Tap has regular meetings in Seattle. I am unable to attend the meeting tonight, or likely this month, but on Tuesday, December 2nd, there is an event at T.S. McHugh’s Pub. I like that pub and Karen is interested in the topic. I may need to alter my martial arts schedule a little and find a sitter for Kaitlin on a school night so we can attend. I expect it will be worth going. I also am going to try and get my friend Richard to attend, if I can.

Richard and Lorraine were over for dinner last night. Richard pointed out the only reason he came to dinner is that I have an apparently endless supply of pistachio nuts in a dish on the counter. This is the same Richard whom Lorraine referred to as the “Richard Experience”. Anyway, I mentioned to Richard I also have Guinness stout in the fridge. Richard’s reply was, “Ah, another reason to like you.”

So with that I may be able to tempt Richard to attend too. T.S. McHugh’s serves Guinness on tap.

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Science Club Ideas, Café Scientifique

by Terry 11/4/2008 9:25:00 AM

Robert Bruce Thompson mentioned Café Scientifique this morning on his web site. The idea of a monthly open gathering to hear topical discussions on science and technology has been in rattling in the back of my head for about a year. Mostly I would say to myself, “wouldn’t it be cool if there were some regular meeting of science-minded individuals that could talk about all things science?” But then I would be immediately sidetracked on to other things like work and family and so on.

However, I have plans for a science club. The club aspect is taking longer to organize than I wish. (It’s that work and family stuff...) But having ideas for activities is part of the plan. My initial goal for a science club is tutoring through experimentation and getting the point of the scientific method. I have additional goals of fostering science in the community through, for example, demonstrations at science fairs. But what better way to foster science than to encourage our young future scientists to engage in open discussions with people who do real science?

Better yet, a long term goal would be to have a science club organize and sponsor its own Café Scientifique. I am not sure I can take it on myself at this time, but that is what a club is often for; collectively doing what cannot be done individually toward a goal or activity.

For now there are two regular Café events in Seattle. See Science on Tap. Maybe there will someday be a Snoqualmie Science Café.

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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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Blue Life, Lifeless

by Terry 10/24/2008 9:42:00 AM

I send an email to the Blue Life USA, LLC, contact email at http://www.bluelifeusa.com/ requesting an MSDS. After three attempts this week, each was met with an email fatal error.

----- The following addresses had permanent fatal errors -----
(reason: 452 Message for <
info%40bluelifeusa.com> would exceed mailbox quota)

Nor does Blue Life have any listed phone number. This makes little sense to me. How does Blue Life USA expect vendors to carry their products if they are unreachable?

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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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Rx for Containers

by Terry 10/16/2008 1:22:00 PM

On my lunch break, having just posted my own comments on 35mm film canisters, I ran down the block to pick up a prescription at the local pharmacy. It dawned on me, while standing there waiting for the order, these guys must have a few chemically-suitable storage containers they toss out.

It turns out they toss quite a few bottles and containers every day. I asked if they would consider saving for me a few of various sizes, mostly the 250cc and smaller plastic and glass bottles. This is cool! I don’t even have to drive anywhere. We’ll see what I can get over the next day or two.

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Saving Film Canisters

by Terry 10/16/2008 11:59:00 AM

Robert Bruce Thompson sent out an email (a copy of it is posted on the Chaos Manor Reviews site) to HomeChemLab.com subscribers suggesting it may be a good idea to collect those useful little 35mm film canisters. They are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. The size is useful for a home chemistry hobbyist.

My wife, Karen, read the email the other day. She surprised me when she told me this morning I should go get more film canisters. I already made a stop to Costco a month ago for a bunch, but Karen said I should call around and get a big bag full of them from the local film processing places, especially while the canisters are still free and available. 35mm film is dying quickly with the availability of digital processing and low cost of digital cameras.

Karen was torn between her reasons for prompting me. She is not sure which she is doing more; supporting my chemistry lab or her need to collect little useful items. I guess I will have to help her out for her own good.

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The market sees new lows

by Terry 10/9/2008 4:54:00 PM

The market sees new lows. While I have opinions on what should be done and why we are in this mess, I can add little to the discussion. Jerry Pournelle retains his remarkable capacity to distill the issues into meaningful commentary and context. But, like many people, deciding what to do is difficult and may be the bigger issue at this point, or will soon be with the passage of time.

Karen and I have been saving away for Kaitlin’s college and future needs. We have been doing this since we knew we were going to be parents. Our investments for Kaitlin have held remarkably well and will likely recover sooner than later. We have cash funds that we had been building and were considering diversifying. It looks like, for Kaitlin at any rate, we will be able to make some strategic investments for her which will serve her well in ten or more years. Kaitlin is young enough that whatever happens she will survive with a chance for a good start as an adult. She will be old enough to remember, I hope, the lessons this periods will teach the next generation.

For Karen and me, we have two or three decades before we consider retirement. Provided our retirement investments we have do not vanish altogether in the next year or two, we will weather well enough. Being a single income family, our biggest risk is losing my job. Unless I am completely out of touch with my employer, I should have ample warning of any layoff. In the meantime, I can only prepare for the worst. We will try to increase savings even more, cut unneeded expenses and so on. I will plan for the worst and hope for the best. There are many forms of insurance one can have in hard times.

It may not appear so at first, but my garage chemistry lab is a kind of insurance. More than just having the tools and materials to make useful mixtures, it is a tiny bastion of knowledge to share with others, like my daughter or kids I recruit into a science club.

When I was about 12 years old I read Lucifer's Hammer. Among the many things that stuck with me after reading the book were references on harvesting insulin from sheep. Ever since, I have collected books on the history and science of these and other cures critical to modern survival and success. It is unlikely I will ever need them, but I will have them. If you can survive Lucifer’s Hammer, you can likely do well in any situation. In the very least it has given me an interesting library. There are many forms of insurance indeed.

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Ethanol-Water Density Reference

by Terry 9/17/2008 9:05:00 AM

While looking for reference tables, I found a useful link to an Ethanol-Water density table. I would assume that most people who are both working labs and have ready internet access could or already have found similar references on the internet, but it never hurts to share.

http://www.separationprocesses.com/CourseWare/Experiments/Property01.htm

The table is attributed to “Perry’s Chemical Engineers’ Handbook, 6th Ed.” I ordered the 8th edition from my local library to see how it compares.

I also added the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics and Perry’s Chemical Engineers’ Handbook to my Amazon wish list in the hopes a friend of family member will get the hint. Laughing But, at least my local library is pretty well stocked if not.

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Getting More Lab Time

by Terry 9/15/2008 12:16:00 PM

Despite being completely, physically, exhausted this weekend, I managed to get some time in my garage lab. Richard came by and kept me company for a bit while working the experiment. It was fun to set things up, work and have time to chat too. While Richard was with me, I took note on how his visit impacts actually working experiments. Specifically, I made note on the types of distractions his company created. This is not a bad thing, and contrarily, it gave me an opportunity to note what things to pay attention to when I have one or two teenagers working experiments.

For example, goggles and aprons are a must. I need to be habitual about insisting both are worn when the garage is in ‘lab mode’. No exceptions. Saturday was a beautiful day, 75° F (24° C), sunny and almost no breeze, so I had my garage wide open. Richard, who lives a few houses away, walked right in and joined me. I need to set a mental alarm for when that happens. Enter the garage – put on goggles, etc.

Also, keeping a good lab notebook is harder when you are in a conversation. Keeping a lab notebook is more important, so, “excuse me for a moment, I need to write this down”, should be a stock phrase.

I think I am getting better and at working experiments too. I hoped and expected this. It makes sense that efficiency comes with practice. I am making note of the little things I need to have on hand for each lab and particularly how long each lab takes to complete. This will be helpful when I start having people share my lab with me; a day which is fast approaching. As I note and address these peculiarities, I spend less time adjusting and more time working.

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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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