Thursday, July 26, 2012

Real Work Conversations #2: Cyanide

We were sitting in the lunch room, chatting and enjoying our lunch. I was cutting a nectarine, while a co-worker of mine was giving me a hard time. We'll call this one CW1.

CW1: You know, if you crack open that peach pit there's a little almond inside.

Me: Yep, I discovered that a few years ago when one was already split open. Neat, huh.

CW1: You can eat it, you know.

Me: ???

CW1: Yeah, I ate it. It was a bit bitter though.

Me: You do realize those are full of cyanide, right?


Me: Yeah. Cyanide.

CW1: No way, I'm still alive!

Me: Well, one probably won't kill you. Just don't go eating a handful of them and you'll be ok, but it's probably wise not to eat them any more.

CW1: ...

Me: Actually, that gives me an idea for a chemistry experiment.

(At this point, you should know my co-workers are aware of my chemistry hobby.)

CW1: !!!

CW2: OK, You scare me now.

I then go on to explain how there's a pigment called Prussian blue, which I've created before using Sodium Ferrocyanide, and so on, and that I'm aware of a way of extracting this pigment from peach pits, just as they did ages ago.

At that point everyone looks relieved; and I haven't even explained how non-toxic the pigment is, even though it contains the cyanide ion.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


So, I saw this (I assume) erronelously forwarded message, essentially bashing men with a whole swath of woe is me yammering, I've decided this needs a line-by-line breakdown. Items I have a problem with are highlighted in red

Men Are Just Happier People --
What do you expect from such simple creatures?
Your last name stays put. -- In this day and age you can choose to retain your last name.
The garage is all yours.
Wedding plans take care of themselves.
Chocolate is just another snack... -- It can be for you, too ...
You can be President. -- Umm, didn't Hillary make a bid for this?
You can never be pregnant.
You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park.
You can wear NO shirt to a water park. -- I've seen plenty of women go to a waterpark sans-shirt, sure, they're still wearing their swimsuit top ...
Car mechanics tell you the truth.
The world is your urinal. -- Only if you're homless and/or uncouth.
You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky. -- Wanna bet? Men have standards too, y'know.
You don't have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt. -- Pop quiz? Is this because you're female, or just ignorant? Seriously?
Same work, more pay.
Wrinkles add character.
Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental-$100. -- Stand back and look at the requirements here: Wedding gown: Needs exquisite material, is usually kept as a 'souvinier', Is custom designed and tailored. Tuxedo: Thrown on our back, worn, turned in the next day, no requirements for type of material except color, which must meet the exacting demands of the bride. Oh, and not all wedding gowns cost thousands of dollars-- that was your choice, there are less expensive alternatives, sure, they're not as fabulous as the one that was spun and hand-woven by the finest and most highly trained of japanese silkworms...
People never stare at your chest when you're talking to them.
New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet. -- Again, wanna bet? Oh, and you chose to wear the uncomfortable showpieces.
One mood all the time. -- What planet do you live on?
Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat. -- There's a way to resolve that! Don't prattle on about what so-and-so is doing with mr so-and-so if you want a 30 second phone conversation. You have this choice.
You know stuff about tanks. -- Personally, I don't no squat about tanks. Just because you're female doesn't mean you also have to be stupid. If you want to know stuff about tanks, then get up off your duff and learn something about tanks instead of moaning about how great men have it because they know stuff about tanks!
A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. -- You can choose what to bring, if you want to pack light, pack light. There's no reason to bring an entire trunk containing your 64 different pairs of shoes, and 1000 different ensembles for each subtle difference in room lighting and decor. Again, a choice you can make, so make the choice instead of frowning about your overloaded pack mule of crap you won't necessarily need.
You can open all your own jars. -- In what reality is this true? Oh, sure, I can open any jar I want. Now where's my hammer?
You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
If someone forgets to invite you,
He or she can still be your friend. -- Then don't be so damned petty and quit holding a grudge just because you were overlooked on the list of invites. Good god.
Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack.
Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.. -- Think hard. Do you really need dozens of pairs of shoes with subtle differences between each one?
You almost never have strap problems in public.
You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.. -- How about saying 'choose to ignore' the thing is, this is a choice.
Everything on your face stays its original color. -- Huh? If you're talking about makeup, and you don't want to wear make up, then choose not to and stop whining.
The same hairstyle lasts for years, even decades.
You only have to shave your face and neck.
You can play with toys all your life. -- And women can't? You can choose to "play with toys" or not. Nothing stops you from doing that.
One wallet and one pair of shoes -- one color for all seasons. -- And you can do the same! Imagine that!
You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look.
You can 'do' your nails with a pocket knife. -- Is it necessary to get the expensive manicure or pedicure? You could do the same, but you have to choose to!
You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache.
You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives -- And so can you! It's all about choice
On December 24 in 25 minutes.
Men Are Just Happier People
If Laura, Kate and Sarah go out for lunch, they will call each other Laura, Kate and Sarah. If Mike, Dave and John go out, they will affectionately refer to each other as Fat Boy, Bubba and WWWildman -- If any friends of mine did that, I'd cease to be friends with them.

When the bill arrives, Mike, Dave and John will each throw in $20, even though it's only for $32.50. None of them will have anything smaller and none will actually admit they want change back.
When the girls get their bill, out come the pocket calculators. -- So women are cheap?

A man will pay $2 for a $1 item he needs.
A woman will pay $1 for a $2 item that she doesn't need but it's on sale. -- If you're whining about this here's a hint: DON'T BUY SHIT YOU DON'T NEED!

A man has six items in his bathroom: toothbrush and toothpaste, shaving cream, razor, a bar of soap, and a towel.
The average number of items in the typical woman's bathroom is 337. A man would not be able to identify more than 20 of these items. -- And how much of this crap is actually necessary?

I don't really have anything specific about the rest of this...

A woman has the last word in any argument.
Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument.

A woman worries about the future until she gets a husband.
A man never worries about the future until he gets a wife.

A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn't.
A man marries a woman expecting that she won't change, but she does.

A woman will dress up to go shopping, water the plants, empty the trash, answer the phone, read a book, and get the mail.
A man will dress up for weddings and funerals.

Men wake up as good-looking as they went to bed.
Women somehow deteriorate during the night.

Ah, children. A woman knows all about her children. She knows about dentist appointments and romances, best friends, favorite foods, secret fears and hopes and dreams.
A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.

A married man should forget his mistakes. There's no use in two people remembering the same thing!

Ok, so what annoys me about this more than anything is the tone of this message, the constantly whining about how bad they have it, when just about everything they are whining about they can change. If you're unhappy with the way the world is, then take a step back, look at what you're doing and change what you can! Is that so hard to do? Don't give into the consumerist bullshit. Make your own choices, and live your life the way you want, and quit whining about how much better men have it. You can choose to forego that 32nd pair of shoes, you can choose not to slather your face in toxic sludge to make yourself "pretty", because the truth is, beneath all of that horrible goop, you really are beautiful. Don't be afraid to be who you are, instead of what the marketing folks want you to be. If you can just be yourself, you'll be happier, too!

Molecular Monday: The Answers

Yesterday I posted a bit of a quiz. I really shouldn't do these things unless I have a bigger readership, but you never know when a stray will come by and maybe post something. :)

If anybody has been following along at home, the answers are:

I was actually shocked by the similarity between Adderal and Methamphetamine. I mean, I know Adderal is an amphetamine, because that's what the generic comes in as, but meth?

But, that's just a digression, the interesting part (and why there is such a tight control on ADHD medication) is the portion of the structures in blue: Both match dopamine in their basic structure. If you don't know what dopamine is, it's essentially the neurotransmitter related to pleasure and addiction. Most (if not all) addictive substances do something with dopamine.

Now, this is my guess as to why Adderal affects ADHD in the way it does: People with ADHD need constant stimulation, doing something stimulating releases dopamine, and those who have ADHD either don't produce enough, or aren't sensitive enough to the neurotransmitter. Enter the stimulant: By mimicking dopamine the drug fools the brain into thinking it has enough, allowing the user to feel stimulated and granting better concentration and focus.

Amphetamines are not without side effects, though, in addition to allowing better focus, taking the medication late in the day can make it difficult to sleep, it also increases heart rate and causes dry mouth; but, the medication works well for me and has made a huge impact on my life, so I'll stick with it, similarity to street drugs notwithstanding.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Molecular Monday: Guess These Molecules

So, this is just a quick quiz; identify these molecules:

Hint: One is an essential neurotransmitter, one is an illegal street drug, and one is a treatment for ADHD. Which one is which, and what are they called?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chemistry Library: Using CIE lib and spectral data together

I've been working on a coding project in my spare time to do various computational things with Chemistry. One of the requirements being that I have a rather complete data set to work with, which includes-- among other things-- The complete spectra of every element possible in the periodic table in all of the various ionization states. This is a result of using CIE Lib to display the spectral power distribution of the line spectrum of the element Neon:

Click on the image for a larger size
Each spectrum is displayed in ascending ionization levels from top to bottom with the topmost line depicting the standard observer, so the neutral Neon atom is at the top, then singly ionized and so-forth. I've seen lots of graphical representations of spectra on the web, and I think I know why Neon seems so weird: They all show the singly-ionized atom, rather  than the neutral atom.

One item to note: In the full-size image, you may notice that the spectral lines are a bit thick, this is because the rendering method used in this application is to sweep the extremes of the visual spectrum and getting a value within a certain tolerance, the other way to render would be to just draw the spectral lines in order, which would give a much more crisp and accurate result. Maybe I'll do that on the next post!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CIE Library: Illuminants

And, here's an image of what the illuminants look like using the 1964 observer:

Just a couple quick notes about this image: The spectra are rendered using a gamma of 1.8, which seems to work best, aesthetically, however, I do think they're meant to be rendered with a linear gamma. The first is the standard observer, second is CIE Illuminant A, and the third is D65, after that are the fluorescent illuminants, F1-F12 the first 6 are standard fluorescent illumination the next 3 are high CRI illuminants, and the final 3 are described as three band illuminants.

You'll note in all of the fluorescent samples that the light has strong peaks in the green and blue ranges, and with the exception of the 3-band examples, they all have a relatively weak yellow peak.

The high-cri examples do a little better than the standard fluorescent ones, but not much. I imagine you'd get less metameric failure with that lighting. This also explains the green cast in camera images recorded under fluorescent lighting conditions. It appears F3 and F4 maybe "warm white" while the rest are cool white.

Monday, May 21, 2012

CIE library: The Observers

First, this is not official CIE anything (except the data for standard observer, white points, and illumination sources)

As a test, I wrote a quick program to draw the standard observers from 250nm to 750nm on a window and compare the two, the top observer is the 1964 10° data, the bottom observer is the 1931 2° data. This is approximately how you perceive the spectrum. The colors have been converted from the CIEXYZ color space to the sRGB color space, and have been mapped using a source gamma of 1.8, which is likely incorrect, but gives a nice display for me.

This was a quickie, and I'm sure I could get a better rendering, but that wasn't the focus of this exercise. and yes, I realize that 250-750 is way overkill for these, but this gets into all of the UV and Near IR ranges common in such sources as sunlight.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Real Work Conversations

The other day, I was showing a coworker a REST api that I recently discovered and had been playing around with. I got a bit excited and lapsed into Previous-to-previous-employerspeak, and pronounced url like "Earl". This follows:

cw: The what?

me: Earl... sorry, a pronunciation that I got from a former job, I mean U R L.

cw: Don't ever do that again.

me: (laughs)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Molecular Mondays: Sodium Carbonate

Just a new "feature" I've been thinking of. I'm kicking it off with something rather mundane, but a bit interesting to me.

You have 2 very closely related compounds: Sodium Carbonate and Sodium Bicarbonate. A modern name for Sodium Bicarbonate is Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate.

So, structurally sodium carbonate looks a bit like this (actually there should be 2 Na+ ions):

And Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate is subtly different:

Can you spot the difference?

Sodium carbonate is a stronger base than sodium hydrogen carbonate, and it's all due to the hydrogen tacked to one of the oxygens. Adding another hydrogen makes it an acid:

Which is formed when carbon dioxide is dissolved in water:

Oh, and incidentally, the bi in bicarbonate has to do with the fact that the carbonate ion is attached both to the sodium and hydrogen.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Received this happy pile-o-bullshit from CarreerBuilder, despite the fact that I have found a job, and have thus closed my resume, some still prefer to spam my e-mail with this. Lets do a blow-by-blow teardown of this spam. 

Dear Jobseeker,
We have recently reviewed your resume on and have decided to contact you with a rare job opportunity.

If you actually took one freaking look at my resume you'd realize very quickly just how utterly irrelevant the rest of your spam would be.  Either that, or your reading comprehension is so lacking you really belong in the 3rd grade, and not running a "recruitment" firm.

What we are looking for
Our company is currently hiring responsible and motivated individuals to help us improve our financial system and increase our cash flow. We are committed to improve ourselves and we value honesty and responsibility for which we reward our employees financially in a productive long-term employment.
What we offer
*     New income system: commissions without sales
*     Very attractive income based on a standard salary plus commissions and bonuses with each order [emphasis mine]

Did you mistake a resume for a technical person for that of a sales drone? It's a common mistake, I can understand...

*     No fees ever required

Oh, good to know I won't have to pay you to have such a wonderful job

*     You can start immediately
*     Net income up to $95,000 per year
*     You can work part-time or full-time

 Red Flags! This is how i know you're a spammer:

"You can start Immediately" translates to "we have no screening process and need warm bodies that will hopefully take orders for us."

"Net Income up to $95,000 per year" translates to "You'll be lucky to make $100 per year, but we're not gonna tell you that, 'cuz the more people you rope in, the more you can make, amwayiright?

"You can work part-time or full-time" translates to "Really, we couldn't give a rats ass. If you're at least half-intelligent you'll realize this is a golden opportunity you shouldn't toss your day job for. We know this, so we're desperate enough to take on part-timers to take orders.
*     Flexible vacations/holidays - you choose how much and when to work or have time off
Not necessarily a red flag, but shows desperation; what this really means is "We're desperate enough. if you decide to take a 6 month "vacation" while you're flipping burgers at Micky-D's we'll understand, after all, it's a much higher paying job that what we have to offer.

*     Job for a large and stable company which means higher financial security

Seriously, Amway, is that you?
What is required?
*     Microsoft Office (Word) - basic knowledge
*     Access to the Internet and e-mail

"We don't require much. Can you breathe without drooling? No? Well you're hired anyway!"

*     Good level of work ethics

Not really a hard requirement, after all you can set your own hours. So long as you actually get something right once in a while, we'll cling to you desperately.

*     Will to learn and perform tasks in a timely fashion
*     U.S. resident or green card holder
*     You are not required to quit your current job.

You're consuming oxygen, right? Great! you're hired! Enjoy your new career in telemarketing!

Obligations and responsibilities
*     Dedication in helping our company’s financial system and improving our business
*     Perform various basic financial tasks
*     Provide regular reports and updates on your orders and their status

By "helping our company's financial system" we mean hard selling to people who never wanted our crappy products in the first place.

"Perform various basic financial tasks" Can you do order data entry and take people's credit card numbers without stealing too many of them? Great! you're an excellent fit!

We are also offering the possibility of advancement inside our company for the more dedicated and ambitious employees. During the initial stage of this new job you will receive and depend upon precise instructions as well as help from our Support Department. Qualified candidates will be offered flexible schedules of work, competitive salary, bonuses and other benefits. Company covers all expenses needed to perform this job.

 Ready to climb the pyramid? We have some double-diamond(tm) opportunities waiting for you!

This job entails only a few hours of work per week so you will be able to plan your work schedule with ease.

In other words, we warned you: "Don't quit your day job"; now our asses are covered.

Looking forward to working with you, reply to this e-mail if you are interested.

Oh, and if you reply, thanks for helping us update our spam database. We need to confirm you e-mail is valid so our inbox on the crusty server at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Philippines  stops flooding with invalid address messages. You're helping our spamming operations become more efficient and irritating.

Human Resources

Cute... They think they're people.

What annoys me most, I think, is the total lack of regard for the job seeker's skills and desires. It would be a cold day before I even considered something like this. Also, did the author of this message even notice when they were "reviewing" my resume that I had flagged myself as unavailable for hire because I found a job? Or did they harvest my account name from the system before they did that?

In short: No. I don't even consider opportunities like this for a second. They have demonstrated utter contempt for the potential "employee" --and I use that word loosely --by offering something that doesn't even remotely match their skill set or interests.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Discovery Reality Shows

So, taking a cue from Michael Mock's blog, I'm creating a pitch-list for programming shows that the discovery networks could air:

  • Storm Chasers: Coders on the Road - A group of software developers join forces with one of the storm chasing teams and code up analysis software on the fly for their instruments.
  • Industrial Refinery Programmers - Software engineers working on control systems in a refinery. What could go wrong?
  • Timber Mill Coders - A group of programmers on a tecnical support mission to service the automated equipment used to cut various wood sizes (a spin-off of Extreme Loggers)
  • ER: Code Blue - Programmers race against the clock to fix software bugs in life support equipment.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What's wrong with this diagram?

Take a look at the following image:

Source: NCBI PubChem database
I'm relatively certain there's something wrong here. Can you guess where the problem is? Answer after the jump.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Rather Sobering Experiment

So, there was I was, minding my own business and browsing along on Wikipedia (which I tend to make a habit of, when I started reading about cognitive dissonance for no particular reason. A few clicks later, a came across this article. Go ahead, read it, then come back when you wipe the cold sweat from your brow.

The set up a fake prison with respondents on a prison study. Some were slated to be guards, some slated to be prisoners. There were very few rules, the most notable of which was that you shouldn't physically harm the prisoners if you're a guard. What followed was pure horror: Guards humiliated and psychologically tortured the prisoners. Early on, the prisoners staged a revolt. Eventually, 2 had to leave early because of severe psychological stress, and the experiment was cut short because an outsider began to question the morality of the study.

This study is a strong example of human nature, and our desire to fit within our respective groups. Things spiraled out of hand because of the lack of controls and the fact that the person conducting the experiment was also a participant. But, it shows what happens when people are left to their own devices, with only vague instructions, specifying the need to make life uncomfortable to the imprisoned. It's suggested that some of the behaviors seen at Guantanamo Bay were similar to what was seen in this experiment.

It's also chilling reminder of this statement (I forget who said it first): Power corrupts; Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Truer words have not been spoken.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reviews of things that suck: KCl


OK, SO! My ex was deeply offended when I stated that I did not like the salt free ketchup. I now know why.

Instead of salt, the ketchup uses a substitute: Potassium Chloride. Innocuous, food safe, but dangerous if you're on a potassium sparing diuretic. I'm not. My blood pressure stays just fine unaided (even on a CNS stimulant like Adderall), but, for kicks and because, I don't have very many salts of potassium, it was a cheap addition to my reagents collection (and I'm ALL about the cheap right now!) so, I decided to do a little taste test this morning. This strongly reaffirmed my belief that the addition of KCl to ANYTHING will render it unfit for human consumption.

OK, so, in my usual spice/seasoning tasting procedure, I shook out a small amount onto my hand. The crystals were just as cubic as our friendly NaCl salt that we all know and LOVE ♥. That, my dear friends, is where the similarity ends.

I wet my index finger, dipped it in the small pile to pick up a few crystals. I then placed my finger in my mouth and onto my tongue. For about the first 10ms it was kind of like salt, then it hit, an acrid, cloying, and gag inducing sensation of, "OH MY GOD, SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH this substance in my mouth" Yes, I gagged. Yes, my eyes squeezed down tight and my feeble brain tried to process this horror-inducing sensation in my mouth. I swallowed. The small amount won't actually hurt me, WILL IT? No, I'm reasonably sure it won't. The aftertaste, an impossible to describe, somewhat bitter, medicinal aftertaste permeated my mouth. If I didn't do something quick to neutralize the horror building in my mouth, I was sure to lose my breakfast. I grabbed the nearest drink. A freshly poured glass of cola, and chugged it down, to remove the ionic nightmare from my mouth.

I will never EVER ingest such a vile substance again. Into the reagent cabinet it goes, never to soil another morsel of food ever again.

  • It won't raise your blood pressure
  • I'm sure it would be just as neat as sodium chloride for growing pretty cubic crystals
  • It looks just like salt
  • Has a nifty warning to consult your physician before using any sort of salt substitute
  • Makes a fine addition to my reagents. I don't have any potassium compounds, and now I do
  • An excellent source of potassium.
  • A great way to pull cruel pranks on unknowing friends when they go to salt up their delicious fries.
  • May induce vomiting
  • Looks can be deceiving. It looks like salt, it shakes like salt, but unlike salt, it tests your gag reflex. 
  • It might kill you if you are on certain medications for the blood pressure you're watching so closely.
  • It's not iodized like sodium chloride. Your thyroid will be angry. 
  • It has a highly disagreeable medicinal aftertaste that will leave you wishing you were dead. 
In short. It looks great on paper, but the reality is it isn't the real thing, and it's not really a substitute. If you're watching your blood pressure, you're probably much better off either going really easy on the NaCl salt, or just skipping the salt all-together. Most food already has enough salt already, so leaving a bit off will leave you better off. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

An update -- What is happening, projects, and stuff...

So, I discovered Monday that I'm no longer employed; that's always fun. On the bright side, it's an opportunity to find work closer to me, and possibly better pay.

I at one point started the design for a CPU, it's still in the back of my mind, and I'll get back to it.... eventually. And, I'm currently having a bit of fun trying to figure out how to separate copper sulfate from what appears to be a binder to keep it from crystallizing out of the solution. It's this that I want to talk about.

So, I picked up a bottle of algaecide at a store because it contained copper sulfate. I immediately knew something wasn't quite right, because the solution was green, rather than the characteristic blue that copper sulfate has. So, I looked on the ingredients, and most of the contents of the bottle are "stabilizers", polyacrylate, and another chemical that's escaping my memory at the moment. I went ahead and attempted to drive off the water, and see what happens. What I wound up with was essentially a useless green goo that smelled similar to something I had played around with as a kid, friendly plastic. I've given up on this being a useful form of copper sulfate to work with, the goo binds everything, I had a little luck with acetone, but the yield made it pointless.

There's a lesson here: If you're an amateur chemist looking for copper sulfate to grow blue crystals, buy the root killer stuff. It's already crystalline, and doesn't have the binders.