Know I right good!

by Terry 6/26/2008 3:46:00 PM

I looked recently on my office bookshelf for my chemistry textbooks from college. I am disappointed that I don’t seem to have them anymore. I might have sold them back to the bookstore after I finished the classes; I only did that once or twice. (I paid for much of my school out of pocket, so selling back was a desperate move for cash.) I kept most of my textbooks most of the time, except where the classes were required but otherwise worthless. I think I still have, maybe, one textbook from my required English, Writing and Literature classes. In twenty years I have never once missed those books. I still look at my physics texts now and then, by contrast. Fortunately, Karen kept her chemistry textbooks, so I have hers to read.

Incidentally, Jerry Pournelle once recommended on his journal Dwight V. Swain’s books, Creating Characters: How to Build Story People and Techniques of the Selling Writer, for those interested in writing. I have read both and recommended them to two friends, both published writers. They found value in these two books. None of my college courses in writing were nearly as useful, and by a lot. I would go as far to say my high school literature classes taught me more about writing then my college writing classes. Know I right good!

So, while I wait for my lab supplies and find the time to finish my workbench, I am spending a few minutes here and there reading chemistry textbooks for fun. I needed something lighter than, and a break from, the series of books on Mythology I have been reading by Joseph Campbell. I have a few crates of books in the garage I have not looked through in a long time. Perhaps I will find my missing textbooks there.

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chemistry | Personal

Stocking my Lab

by Terry 6/25/2008 3:43:00 PM

This morning I ordered the remaining basic supplies I need for my lab. I called Elemental Scientific and placed my order for the glassware and equipment kits; goggles; apron and gloves. Yesterday I ordered the iBalance Lab Scale through Amazon. I expect both orders to arrive next week.

Elemental Scientific is very accommodating and friendly, and I look forward to continuing to order from them. In a few months time, when I get closer to the final labs and chapters in the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture, I will order the Advanced Chemical Kit from Elemental Scientific, I will likely bundle in some additional hazardous chemicals with the package, if the combinations are allowed for shipping.

The scale shipped today from Texas via FedEx and is due to arrive next Tuesday. Not bad for $8.67 in shipping, and I did not need to leave my office chair.

Shipping costs are sometime steep, but I have to balance it against local sales-tax and fuel costs if I purchase items locally. Seattle is a 30 mile drive, so I try to economize my trips into the city. A shipping charge of $8 is less than the cost of gas to drive into Seattle. If I order a $100 package, an additional $20 in shipping is about a wash if I have to drive to purchase locally with gas and tax adding about $18.

I am also trying to keep costs in mind for anyone who plans to share my lab in the ‘Science Club’. I still plan to front most of the costs myself (I own the glassware, for example). Some items like the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, lab notebook, goggles, gloves and protective clothing will be required by each individual. I see that being less than $50 at the moment, with the book being the largest share of that expense. As I go through labs, I will track what I consume and calculate that cost as well.

Karen and I are still deciding on our weekend plans. If we stay home I will spend most of the time doing yard work, and maybe an hour or two in the garage to finish the counter and shelving around my workbench. I see a trip to the hardware store either way.

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amazon | chemistry | Personal

Meeting the Fire Chief

by Terry 6/23/2008 10:54:00 AM

Last Friday I received the Standard Chemical Kit from Elemental Scientific Karen ordered for me for Father’s Day. Naturally, I could not wait to open the box, and neither could Kaitlin. So, together, we unpacked all the chemicals and started to sort them out on the counter in the garage. I showed Kaitlin the color coding on the bottles and explained what they mean and she help me sort them properly into groups. While unpacking, I reviewed the “rules” with Kaitlin. These, like all chemicals, need to be treated with respect, she is not use them without me present, and so on. Now I have to address proper storage for the long term.

Friday afternoon I took Kaitlin to a birthday party. Karen was out for the evening, so I took the opportunity to ride my bicycle down to the fire station. (It is very much ‘down’, about two miles away and a 300 ft drop in elevation. The ride back up the hill was a good workout in the hot sun.) Karen really wanted me to make sure that if anyone were to ‘report’ me to the authorities that I had that base covered now, and I agree.

I talked to a couple firemen and the fire chief about what I was doing and if they had any concerns. I did not expect them to have any. If anything, they were encouraging and supportive. Their recommendations are, as I planned already to do:

  • Keep the MSDS printouts handy
  • Have at least one dry-chemical fire extinguisher on hand, within arms-reach of the garage door going into the house
  • Keep the supplies stored properly
  • Call them if I ever planned to have a large stock of any given chemicals

One fireman offered me his excess supply of Muriatic Acid. Before I could respond, one of the other firemen said he would use it for his pool, which was good by me. I am not looking for used stock of unknown origins. I left feeling I gained their trust by including them in what I am doing, which is what I set out to do. Based on their comments, like, “It’s the people who are not telling us what they have in their garage that worry us more”, that make me feel the fire fighters feel about the same as I do. We would rather have the devil we know knock on the door.

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chemistry | Personal | Snoqualmie

The legal Considerations of Starting a Science Club

by Terry 6/17/2008 2:40:00 PM

Karen is concerned, and rightly so, about liability and safety issues we would be at risk of building and maintaining a chemistry lab in our garage and starting a science club for a few local teens. Personally, I am of the mind that this is my own business, what I do in my house is my business, and not of concern to anyone else. I think if a lab in my house were strictly for me alone, there would be little issue, except with proper and legal storage and disposal of the chemicals. But I am not limiting a lab to just myself, so I do need to look at the problem more closely.

So I did a little research. I found the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) website to have some good information. In Washington, this is the state department which regulates the cleanup of Meth labs and sets the environmental health and safety standards for schools. I found nothing on home chemistry in the state laws, but then I won’t claim I know how to do an exhaustive search in that arena.

The DOH School Environmental Health and Safety Program has a Student Health and Safety Guide. I downloaded the 460 page document and started to scan through it. The section on Safety and the Law jump out at me. It states:

Safety and the Law

  1. Risk of suit is often greatly exaggerated in your minds; however, it is ever present.
  2. We will show you that there is more protection for you than you think. Fear of litigation should NOT restrict effective, safe teaching and learning. Participatory activities should remain interesting and exploratory. They should not become sterile and ineffective.
  3. We cannot insulate ourselves from danger at any time in our lives. This program is to teach you RESPONSIBILITY and forethought.
  4. We hope to make safety in the lab a HABIT in your teaching career.
  5. We believe that knowledge is the key to any potential problems.
  6. The law requires adherence to regulations and requirements (see “negligence” on next page). THIS IS WHAT GOOD SAFETY IS ALL ABOUT.

(Excerpt from the Safety Guide for Career and technical Education, page 18, Washington State Department of Health)

I cannot argue with what is written there. In the sections following ‘Safety and the Law’ are sections called ‘The Law Defined’ and ‘Safety Forms’. The Law Defined section could be summarized as get your CYA documentation and don’t be negligent. The safety forms include things like parent permission, various acknowledgements, medical treatment consent and safety training logs. I am thinking I will use these, as much as some of it grates on my inner-libertarian to do so. Some of the logs will be useful to record what lab sessions have been covered and by who, which will help to avoid confusion.

I will also make a trip down to the local fire station and talk to the station personnel. I would much rather befriend the local authorities and make them aware of who I am and what I am doing. This is more of an effort to avoid overreaction if anything were to happen. Again, it grates on my inner-libertarian, yet I would rather have the devil I know at my door than the one I don’t.

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chemistry | Personal | Snoqualmie

Father's Day Fun

by Terry 6/16/2008 5:40:00 PM

Well, Karen surprised me indeed, and more than I expected, too. Sunday afternoon Karen helped me outfit my chemistry lab by presenting me with two key gifts.

For her first surprise she printed all the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all the chemicals needed for experiments from the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture. The chemical lists for the book are available in kits listed at http://www.homechemlab.com/sources.html. Karen printed each MSDS and placed them in a binder. She booted me from the garage, where I was building a back board for part of my counter, and snuck the binder into the garage, placing it on the counter. I knew she had put something in the garage, but I am, apparently oblivious to items in the physical world. After several minutes working around the bench, with our friends Richard and Loraine watching, I finally noticed the binder. Karen saved me a time consuming step. My inner geek started to come out this morning and I had to resist the temptation to read the binder instead of going to work.

Karen’s second surprise dovetailed with the first. She ordered the basic chemical kit from Elemental Scientific, which is due to arrive this week sometime. Karen likes to take precautions. I am more use alive then not, so her first gift made sense if I am to have the second floating around the garage. I will have to think about proper storage soon.

The last surprise was more gastronomic in nature. We joined Richard and Loraine for dinner at the Melting Pot in nearby Bellevue with our kids in tow. All I can add is wow. I cannot believe how much I ate, and it was good. I thought I had stopped just shy of gluttony, but I think I was wrong. I was extremely full, no doubt, and doing well until I got home. Then I got the hiccups. I thought I was going to rupture.

At lunch with a friend some time back, we discussed how you know a meal was good. He said, “When you sit back with a satisfying smile.” I replied, “How about when you break out in a sweat?” Last night took me well past the sweat; tears.

Richard, on the other hand is a different sort of creature. Loraine described it as the “Richard Experience”, like it is some kind of interactive exhibit at a theme park. Richard is apparently blessed with the ability to eat like a lion and gorge himself without issue, sit back and smile on his accomplishment and never gain a pound. Thankfully he finished the leftovers that the other five of us could not manage. I say thankfully, as I would have felt compelled to eat them myself had he not intervened. Thanks buddy, for taking one for the team.

I think I will take time off from eating for the rest of the week and use the time to read my new MSDSs.

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I may have the perfect candidate for my science club

by Terry 6/13/2008 11:34:00 AM

I may have the perfect candidate for my science club. In my martial arts leadership class last night we were discussing qualities of a leader. When we talked about ambition, I asked for examples of ambition.

One teen girl in my class said she wants to pursue an education in forensic chemistry. She is a straight-A student, and a black belt candidate. She has demonstrated a healthy sense of ambition. I can see her getting her black belt early next year. I will ask her parents how they feel about allowing her to work chemistry labs in my garage before I approach her. I suspect the parents will be okay with the idea, assuming provisions are in place for her safety in a lab and personal sense. It helps that the parents know me from years of martial arts classes, but attending labs in my garage is another level of trust for a parent which I need to address.

On a side note, building my lab these last two weeks has gone to the wayside. Traveling to Atlanta last week and work and martial arts have consumed my time this week. I am hoping my wife and daughter are thinking about the chemistry lab requirements for Father’s Day. Really, any gift they give me would almost be a gift to them too, wouldn’t it?

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No, I am not making a Meth lab. I already have a day-job

by Terry 6/3/2008 1:10:00 PM

Naturally, when I tell people I am building a chemistry lab in my garage the first reaction people have, almost universally and without exception, is to say, "are you making Meth?" and, "dude, you’re going to get put on a government watch list."

Okay, they don’t always say "dude", but the affect is about the same.

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.

Joking aside, my reasons for building a lab in my garage are as follows.

  • I want to relearn, learn and practice lab sciences. Had my course in life been a little different, I would have been a scientist or engineer of some kind; physics being my favored branch when I was in college.
  • I like to teach and share knowledge. I think I have always been this way. I give or loan books to anyone who is interested. I teach martial arts and look for new ways to teach and I teach a class on leadership at a local martial arts school (DMW Martial Arts). I am often enlisted at work specifically because I balance teaching and learning software practices. Going back to my previous reason, I want to share my love of science; particularly with kids.
  • I have wanted a decent chemistry set since I was a kid. I am reliving my childhood dreams, now that I can afford it. Thankfully I have relatively inexpensive dreams. Robert Bruce Thompson made the dream a reality by doing much of the hard work and publishing the results in Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture.
  • My garage is the only place I can build a lab. Karen would not allow me to use the kitchen.

There are only a few things keeping me from starting the labs in Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture; time and money. I did not plan on building a lab (reading Robert Bruce Thompson’s journal, and the quality of his book is what added fuel to the spark) and it does take some money. Being a single income family I have to budget this kind of expense. So Karen and I are setting money aside with every paycheck and I will make purchases as I have the cash. While I wait to assemble the lab and supplies I will start managing my time. Now that the garage is clean I can work in the garage on nagging projects that need doing for the home. This will get the projects done and get me working in the garage regularly. I am hoping Karen and I can work together, both on the labs and on garage projects so we can spend the time together.

I also want to contribute back to other people. Kids in my neighborhood, for example; I can give to them almost directly. I cannot imagine where I would be today if someone when I was a youth in my neighborhood had mentored me in the sciences with access to a lab. I also like to experiment and write. I expect I will devise my own experiments once I get my skill back in order. I will post my efforts and results here and in the Home Chem Lab forum (http://forums.homechemlab.com) as appropriate.

If I do get on some government watch list, it will not be because of any intentionally illegal activity. I intend to be transparent on what I am doing. While I know ignorance of the law is not a defense of illegal activity, I will make efforts to avoid ignorance. I most certainly will not put myself on a list by making a Meth lab. Besides, my yard is too small for the white FEMA trailer.

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A Garage, a Lab and a Place to Park

by Terry 5/26/2008 7:44:00 PM

Monday, Memorial Day

I am thankful to the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country.

I cleaned my garage. This was not a hideous task as it may be for some people. Our friends, Richard and Loraine spent the day with us. I am not sure about the sanity of friends who happily spend the day cleaning some else’s garage, but I am grateful nonetheless. Thanks to their help I now have a clean garage, a place to park my car (which has not been parked in the garage once in seven years) and a functional work bench for a home chemistry lab. This is where I plan to practice my maniacal laughter as I work through the lab exercises from the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (DIY Science).

Karen is dead certain the only reason I spent the entire day working in the garage was to get it ready for a lab. I disagree. I want to have a place to park the car out of the weather, which is very windy and wet in the winter. Also, if I move the car back out into the driveway, I have a large clear floor space available to set up a large work table if I need the lab space. Keeping the car in the garage means I always have the space available. See, I am not completely self-serving.

I still need to level the work bench and screw down a more durable work counter. I plan to keep the counter cheap. I can go to Home Depot and get a sheet of melamine-covered particle board for a countertop. Once I cut it to fit the existing bench, I will have about 32 square feet of spill resistant counter space. I will post pictures.

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chemistry | Personal

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments

by Terry 5/20/2008 4:47:00 PM

I received my copy of Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments last week while I was in Orlando and I just cracked into it this week. I am oddly quite excited about the whole thing. I love lab science. I liked chemistry in college, but I can say the labs were already diluted when I started college in the late ‘80’s. I recall middle-school labs that were more informative and interesting. I have been chomping at the bit since I heard Mr. Thompson was writing this book.

Now I am trying to find excuses to outfit a full lab. About two weeks ago I started discussing with my wife and some friends the possibility of building a home lab in my garage and tutoring local kids in chemistry. Also, I want to have my daughter, Kaitlin, be exposed to true science and be comfortable with lab work by the time she is in high school. That is still a few years away, but I will use the time to get my own skill sharpened.

I remember getting a basic science kit when I was eight or nine. I played with it all the time, until I ran out of chemicals. The problem I had, as a child of divorced parents, was lack of supervision. I had little guidance; so much of the science I could have learned vanished with the corrosive goo of melting my toys. I was smart enough to stay wide of serious trouble growing up and I got lucky as an adult to be where I am today. I feel I have an opportunity to pay-forward to some degree. That first science kit did not get put to the fullest use, but I have the ability to compensate for that in spades today. Robert Bruce Thompson has provided a collective field manual to let me build the chemistry kit I dreamed of owning.

Physics in college was one of my favorite topics; I was often vying for first in my class with another classmate, Chris Bosland if I recall his name correctly. We enjoyed a friendly competition on every exam and lab session. I remember sketching out a plan to build a capacitor out of an oil-filled trash can. On advice from our teacher we scrapped the plan; we did the math on the destructive, explosive, energy could be released had the capacitor discharged violently.

I would have pursued a career in physics but fate and tuition costs changed my path in life. The short story is money; I could not afford to work and put myself through school at the same time. I went with my other favorite subject, eventually finishing my degree in computer science, with honors, by going to school at night. Now I have a stable and generally enjoyable career with enough disposable income to consider going back to the sciences I enjoyed as a young adult.

So, that brings me back to what to do with a decent home chemistry lab. Because of my teaching time with martial arts and the small, close community I live in, I am relatively well known to many parents and children in the area. I also know several people who teach and volunteer at the local elementary school. I hope to use their knowledge and skills to make a plan to create a science club or something along those lines.

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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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