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I recently had a dispute with a colleague about carbon monoxide.  I generally avoid trying to "pull rank" based on my chemistry degrees, but I couldn't let his misinformation pass -- it's a real safety issue.  But it got me to wondering how much people know about the gas.  So, a poll:

Poll #2060730 Carbon monoxide knowledge

How heavy/dense is carbon monoxide compared to air?

Less than air
The same as air
More than air
Don't know

Roughly how sure are you about that?


It's okay to be 100% sure you don't know.  Knowing the limits of your knowledge is a very good thing.
05 September 2016 @ 06:13 pm
I've just made my first (significant) uploads to YouTube: our concert at Conterpoint this past July. I'm medium-pleased with it; I was off-key a bit, a couple of times, but the audience reaction was good.

18 August 2016 @ 08:20 pm

One of my pictures made it into today's CakeWrecks.  It's the last one on that page, the "beach vomit" cake.

There were actually a couple of other cakes in the same "style" that looked even worse, but they disappeared before I could get back to the store with a camera.

10 August 2016 @ 11:44 pm
A somewhat weird British advert, worth watching.

24 July 2016 @ 12:17 am

It would not have occurred to me that one might create permanganate at home by dissolving steel wool in bleach.  Nevertheless: I've got that distinctive grape-juice colour that first-year chem students at Queen's used to ask me "is this a purple solution?" about.

I probably won't bother to try to save and purify it; it's likely to be much more fuss than it's worth, I don't need it, it's relatively chemically unstable and would probably decompose before I got to play with it.  My intended product is the rust, ferric oxide.  With which I will make ferric chloride, by dissolving it in hydrochloric acid.  With which I will make jelly.

I have also made some cupric (copper+2) chloride by dissolving fine copper wire in hydrochloric acid with hydrogen peroxide.  Combined with ascorbic acid extracted from vitamin C tablets, I'll be making copper nanoparticle jelly.  The two jellies combined can be used to copper-plate stainless steel so it can be soldered onto.

From there, I hope to be able to build a light-up propeller for my bike helmet.  I'm having some trouble sourcing some of the stainless steel bits, not to mention having to revise my designs as I discover that some items simply aren't available.  I've already gone through a fair bit of hassle getting some T-pins that were supposed to be stainless steel, only to discover (on prior testing, because I'm suspicious) that they were just ordinary nickel-plated regular steel and rusted rapidly when scratched.  (The seller tried to insist that their product was stainless and that I must have switched the pins.  Then that, well, yes, their stuff rusted, but it was still stainless, just really low-quality stainless.  "Of course if you scratch off the protective layer it rusts!")

31 May 2016 @ 11:49 am
"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." Because that guy is not built for walking.  Gasp, wheeze, "Please... kill me now."
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24 March 2016 @ 11:43 pm
Part of quantum murphydynamics, we have conservation of murphions:

  1. If a thing is fixed, another thing will break.

  2. If a problem is prevented, another failure will become possible.

26 February 2016 @ 08:58 pm
Trying to trace a fault in the stove which causes the right-hand warning light to be lit even when neither burner is on, traipsing up and down the basement steps to toggle the circuit breaker off and on in between rounds of disconnecting and reconnecting wires from contacts.  It is disconcerting to discover that one has missed a cycle of traipsing, and has been turning the power on, rather than off, before working on the device.

"Disconcerting" because I discovered it by eventually noticing that the breakers were matching the wrong set of neighbors -- the breakers for the former electric water heater, rather than the ones for the current clothes dryer -- at the wrong time.  Could have been worse.  I have felt 240VAC just once, and that was enough, thank you.
27 December 2015 @ 06:16 pm
A different version of print-on-demand publication sleaze: Ronald Cohn and Jesse Russel are listed as authors of more than 200,000 books in the Amazon and Indigo catalogues.  What these "books" actually consist of is print-on-demand trade paperbacks of Wikipedia articles.  You order a book, they print off the W'pedia article and bind it, and it only costs around C$25.  But many of the catalogue entries don't include things like the number of pages, which in most cases will be very small, and none of them actually say in the listing that they're derived from W'pedia.  If you look at one of the covers, carefully, you can see an emblem which reads: "High Quality Content by WIKIPEDIA articles!"  The covers are auto-generated from the article titles, and even that process is sloppy -- they don't "sanitize" the text for HTML, so you get burps like the cover of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, missing the ampersand.

This is probably all legal, per Wikipedia's terms of use.  Wikipedia even makes it easy to generate a book from an article; they've got a system set up to do the printing, binding, and shipping... at a much lower cost than what these bozos are charging.  But it's grossly unfair to the buyer to sell such "books" to people without making it clear what they're getting.

Most print-on-demand books cannot be returned after purchase.  In most cases, that's a fair limitation.  When the product is as misleading as this... well, I don't know if the no-returns policy applies to these books, but I'd be surprised if it didn't.
24 December 2015 @ 01:10 pm
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Like in my great-grandfather's days
Through blizzards howlin',
To school they crawled, twen-
Ty miles, uphill both the ways...