Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our Very Own Phosphate Economy

Some may take the chemistry of rocks for granite but I draw the line at ATP. By ATP, I mean adenosine triphosphate. Biochemists call ATP the "molecular currency unit" of cellular energy. Every currency is denominated in units. ATP may be the gold standard of molecular biology, but calories make as much sense as a currency unit because we all know what a surplus and deficit of calories are. As an aside, what we call calories are actually a thousand "little" calories.  I guess we're too stupid--or too frightened by the actual numbers of calories in a "Calorie" of food to give the unit it's proper name -- a kilocalorie.  So if you sit down and eat a 1,000 calorie meal, you're actually eating a 1000 x 1000 calories or a million calorie's worth of food. A thousand calorie meal is actual a Megacalorie meal. Does that have marketing potential?

Caloric energy is stored in phosphorus oxygen bonds by drying them. When phosphoric acid is dried, it expels water from its core and links up with another phosphate to make what are called anhydrides. That takes energy and chemotrophic cells consume the chemical energy stored in foods to do this drying. Fortunately, anhydride chains produced for energy storage like ATP are meta-stable, even in the presence of water, and need enzymes called kinases or phosphatases to come apart again. That's when the caloric energy payback occurs.

Conversations with Henry: More Nodes for Nerds

[This post is a continuation-in-part of this one: link]

Henry: So after helium comes lithium with three electrons. That third electron must go into a new and different orbital called the 2s orbital.

Me:  The 2s orbital is like the 1s orbital except it's bigger, right?

Henry:  Not exactly. It's not like those Russian matrushka dolls where the next bigger shell simply encompasses the previous one. The 2s orbital interleaves the 1s orbital so that its electrons can stay closer to the core without getting in the way of the others. Likewise the 3s orbital interleaves the 2s and the 1s. Look at these cross-sections:


Me:  Why are you even showing me this stuff?  Trooper York says he hates chemistry.

Henry:  I'm just trying to explain why the toy metals like lithium, sodium, and potassium are so boring -- not the whole of chemistry.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender of Electrons Be

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~Act I, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Polonius was speaking of money or gold, giving advice to his own son Laertes. But what sort of miserable person never borrows nor lends money?  A King? Nobility?

The noble gas helium neither borrows nor lends electrons. The price it pays is lonely chemical stability. Helium is the most noble of the noble gases, grudgingly condensing to liquid only at extremely low temperatures.

Hydrogen is the the most common element in the universe and it freely gives, takes, and shares electrons with others. It is the most promiscuous element, forming compounds with practically all other elements except the noble gases.

Those very first two elements display the full range of chemical reactivity and stability--another reason why they sit atop the Periodic Table at opposite ends, bracketing the whole thing as it were. And it's all done with the simplest spherical orbital -- the lowly 1s orbital. Every other heavier element has those same electrons at their very core too. But they aren't part of chemistry -- they're just there -- an inert core. And they're not mere abstractions either--they're part of me as well.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rock-A-Bye Bear

I have a higher quality DVD version of that classic Tex Avery cartoon from 1952 [without the annoying laugh track]. My brother and I used to laugh so hard at the "burp scene" whenever we saw it in rerun on Saturday mornings in the 1960s. I'm putting it here a propos to nothing in particular.  I just don't ever want to lose touch with that classic piece of genius.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Letters Home: "I finally made P.F.C."

Mar 25, 1953
Dear Mom Dad and all,
Its been another nice day. I finally made P.F.C. It took long enough. Ratings are just starting to come out good now. It shouldn’t take us long for Cpl. 
Nothing new is happening over here. I think I’ll take the top off of my jeep. I already got the doors off. 
I sure didn’t do much work today. Just changed oil in my jeep. 
I sure wished R. could take my job. He would have it made. How is he getting along with the draft board?
R. was his younger brother. He was drafted and also served, even though hostilities ceased in Korea that summer.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kinetic Military Actions versus Stable Military Actions

Chemists* often juxtapose the words “kinetics” and “thermodynamics.” Thermodynamics reveal the ultimate cost of getting from point A to point B while kinetics address how fast that can happen and the short term costs. In other words, the two notions distinguish pathway and goal.

Describing something as a kinetic military action reveals that the current Administration believes it will be a short-lived conflict. It tells us nothing about the longer term strategic value of the conflict. We’d like to know whether it’s a stable military action versus a kinetic military action, i.e., will whatever we’re doing endure.

I don’t begrudge the Administration for failing to reveal its long-term military strategy – i.e., its goal [as a caveat, it would help to know whether the goal is uphill versus downhill. More thoughts on that here]. I’m certain that we have goals. But why should we show our hand in the open light of the internet while the other side continues to operate in the shadows? And if you need help in discerning who the “other side” is beyond Kaddafi, ask yourself who would most benefit from our failure.
*A chemist named James Huheey made an interesting comparison between structure versus reactivity in chemistry and status quo versus change in everyday life. I quoted him here.

"He who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me"


From a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson:
Monticello, August 13, 1813
...It has been pretended by some, (and in England especially,) that inventors have a natural and exclusive right to their inventions, and not merely for their own lives, but inheritable to their heirs. But while it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from nature at all, it would be singular to admit a natural and even an hereditary right to inventors. It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance. By an universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common, is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it. Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.
The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson; Koch, A., Peden, W., Eds.; Random House, Inc.: Toronto, 1944

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1994

1994 was another great year for new releases.

Love me some Beck, Mellow Gold. Beck was the kind of artist predicted by Jim Morrison, as explained by Trooper York's good buddy Montana Urban Legend here. The song Loser was even the target of feminist ire as recorded here (more on this below).

Jon Spencer (ex-Pussy Galore front man) put together an interesting power trio called the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Check out the video for the most fabulous & groovy Bellbottoms from the album Orange. That video gives you a good idea of what they were doing then. Guitarist Judah Bauer now plays for Cat Power.

Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star by Sonic Youth was kind of a bust for me, with just one memorable song: Bull In the Heather. The cute brunette in that video is Kathleen Hanna. She "appeared" that same the following year on Mike Watt's solo effort, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?  He asked her to contribute to his album (which brought together members of the future Foo Fighters), but she declined. Instead she ranted in a voice message on his phone and he put it on his record as her contribution! Since I've been unable to find it anywhere, I digitized my vinyl and uploaded it myself here. Hope I don't get in trouble for that! You can buy the original here, and a transcript is here.

Ill Communication by the Beastie Boys. Sabotage  was my favorite choreographed video for 1994.  It's so '70s -- so Mannix!

Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains. Their song No Excuses was a big hit.

My beloved Meat Puppets had a minor hit with Backwater.

Dookie by Green Day. I still think there is something disingenuous about Green Day, but I can't put my finger on it. My wife says they sound like the old L.A. punk band the Dickies. Longview and Basket Case were pretty good stuff.

Closer by Nine Inch Nails was OK but I really didn't enjoy the whole album. I find their music a bit too synthetic. Maybe their intensity is too bright for my eyes?

Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. Nihilist much?

Rusty by Rodan. The CD is actually quite good in its entirety. I dubbed it "Punk Floyd." Bible Silver Corner.

Last but not least, Vasoline by the Stone Temple Pilots.

Letters Home: "I'm spending the day in Heidelberg"

Heidelberg: View from Philosophenweg in 1953
 My father wrote the following message on the postcard pictured above:
March 24, 1953

Dear Mom,

I am spending the day in Heidelberg. I had to drive a Lt. down here to 7th army headquarters 76 miles from Hanau. It sure is a nice day. Yesterday was our warmest day, 69°.  I suppose it's warming up around there too. The farmers are out in the fields plowing.

Love, V.

That's the Heidelberg Castle or Schloß in that early 1950's postcard. The view has scarcely changed since then thanks to stringent zoning laws.

In the early 1990s we had a young friend who was a native Heidelberger. His parents lived outside the city limits and we spent many a long, beer-soaked weekend there. He showed us around town and one day he surprised us by taking us up into the hills to an interesting but lesser known site called Thingstätte

Thingstätte is the name for an open-air amphitheater inspired by Heidelberg native Albert Speer. Numerous outdoor amphitheaters were planned and built throughout the Third Reich during the early 1930s, but were disused because radio broadcasting proved a more effective means of mass communication.

The Heidelberg Thingstätte was built on a site sacred to ancient pagan worshippers. Our friend told us that "they built it but he [Hitler] never came."  After the war the Thingstätte become an "unloved inheritance from the Third Reich."  More info can be found here.

Heidelberger Thingstaette
Thingstätte is an interesting word. First, the "Th" combination is orthographically rare in German and went the way of the Neanderthal some years ago. "Thing" is cognate with our word "thing" (in modern German, Dinge). A quick look at the OED etymology of "thing" gives a sense of the old Germanic meaning now lost in modern English.

The Thingbewegung "Thing Movement" was the closest that the Nazi party had to spiritual core beliefs. Josef Goebbels wrote of the Heidelberg Thingstätte:
In diesem monumentalen Bau haben wir unserem Stil und unserer Lebensauffassung einen lebendigen plastischen und monumentalen Ausdruck gegeben. Diese Stätten sind in Wirklichkeit die Landtage* unserer Zeit. Es wird ein Tag kommen, wo das deutsche Volk zu diesen steinernen Stätten wandelt, um sich auf ihnen in kultischen Spielen zu seinem unvergänglichen neuen Leben zu bekennen.
In this monumental construction, we have given living sculptural and monumental expression to our style and approach to life. These sites are in reality the Statehouses* of our time. There will come a day when the German people will convene to these stone sites in order to avow their new eternal life in ritual drama.
*The German word Landtag has no satisfactory English equivalent. Some dictionaries give Parliament, others Diet. The meaning here is an outdoor gathering place for elected leaders.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Conversations with Henry: Nodal Theory

Henry: The electrons in hydrogen and helium are easiest to depict -- they stay in simple spherical orbitals surrounding the kernel. There are no nodes.

Me: What are nodes?

Henry: In physics, a node is a point of minimum displacement in a periodic system, for example in a vibrating string:

The first harmonic (fundamental) has no nodes, except for the stationary ends. The second harmonic has one additional node in the middle. Nodes correlate with higher energy-- the more nodes, the higher the energy.

Me: How does this relate to electrons?

Henry: Well look at these pictures of how electrons surround a nucleus: Which shape has more nodes?

Me: An s-orbital has no node, a p-orbital has one node, a d-orbital has two nodes, and an f has three?

Henry: Exactly! And that's how electrons order themselves in atoms. It's almost self-assembly. If there's one thing we've learned about electrons it's that they don't flow uphill.

Me: There's got to be exceptions for every rule.

Phosphorus, The Miraculous Bearer Of Light

"The Alchymist" by Joseph Wright of Derby (1771)

Several elements -- gold, silver, copper, mercury, lead, iron, tin, sulfur, and carbon -- were known since ancient times. Three more were discovered during the Dark Ages: antimony, arsenic and zinc. Phosphorus was first isolated in 1669 during the pre-dawn hours of the Enlightenment and it was the first element whose discovery was recorded in modern times. After a lapse of about a hundred years, new elements were rapidly discovered up until the last one, Francium, was found in 1939. New elements were of course still synthesized afterwards.

Van der Krogt retells the amazing story of Henning Brandt's discovery of phosphorus and its subsequent naming as the "light bearer" -- it's well worth a read. The above painting, called "The Alchymist" by Joseph Wright of Derby, depicts the special property displayed by elemental phosphorus: its chemiluminescence as it slowly burns in air. I once provoked a challenge over at Trooper York's as to whether Brandt had really discovered phosphorus. You can read that here. I think the notion that medieval alchemist Paracelsus actually discovered phosphorus is a Montana Urban Legend. Incidentally, I did learn researching this blog post that glowing phosphorus may indeed be an ancient phenomenon: see the story of the "will o' the wisp" here.

The Wright painting also reminds me of the covers of the old Aldrich Chemical Company catalogs. I wish that Alfred Bader would publish a collection of all the past covers. More of what I'm talking about can be found here.

Since the time of Brandt, better sources than putrefied urine have been found for the element, namely, bone.  Did you know that we may one day face a phosphate shortage?  Perhaps the time will come when we start to recycle people's bones.

I'll end with a recipe à la Trooper York for elemental phosphorus:

How to Make Phosphorus (ref)

1. Allow urine to sit in an open container for 7 days.

2. Mix two tablespoons of finely-powdered charcoal and two tablespoons of powdered cinnamon* into the urine and stir.

3. Pour the urine/charcoal dust and cinnamon mixture into a glass retort with a glass tube leading into a second beaker filled with plain water.

4. Heat the retort containing the urine mixture using your torch. Be sure to wear protective clothing, eye protection and a breathing mask.

5. Allow the vapors from the urine mixture to bubble through the plain water. A yellow or white waxy substance will collect in the bottom of your water beaker. This is phosphorus. Do not expose it to the air or it may ignite spontaneously. After being exposed to light your phosphorus should glow very brightly in the dark for several hours.
* I'm not at all sure of the role of cinnamon here--perhaps as an anti-oxidant or an odor-masking agent for a very unsavory process.

Monday, March 21, 2011

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1993

1993 marked my return to the US, my getting married, and of course the rise to prominance of Beavis and Butthead in the American vernacular.  I had no real favorite albums that year but my favorite songs are:

Who Was In My Room Last Night? by the Butthole Surfers from the brilliant Independent Worm Saloon album. The video is a personal favorite. That's Flea from the RHCP tending bar, but whose that redhead?

Low by Cracker from Kerosene Hat. I saw these guys at a tiny venue in Fort Collins, CO that year.

In Utero, the last album by Nirvana. The song All Apologies seemed prescient.

Runaway Train Soul Asylum

Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe by Whale. I actually bought a cassette tape with just this song on it. This was still the days before iTunes.

What's Up? by 4 Non Blondes. Political posing with a big voice.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1992

Dirty by Sonic Youth.  I have a wonderful memory of seeing them in Cologne, Germany the following spring. Best part of show: the guys wandering through the audience selling beer! Unfuckinglaublich! Highlights: Sugar Kane, Chapel Hill

Copper Blue by Sugar. Bob Mould reappeared on my radar with his new band, Sugar. He retained some of his edge and proved that he was the stronger half of the working two in Husker Du. Favorite song: If I Can't Change Your Mind.

Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys.  Favorite songs: So Whatcha Want and Professor Booty. These guys only got better as they aged and matured.

1992 Singles

Friday I'm In Love by The Cure.  Love, love, love that song.

My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It) by En Vogue. You have to watch this video to see how smokin' hot they are.

Man On the Moon by R.E.M. from Automatic for the People. The ever prolific R.E.M. released yet another album on the heels of their smash "Out of Time."

Killing in the Name of by Rage Against the Machine.  Man do I hate these guy's politics but the guitar playing on this song undeniably rocks.

Creep by Radiohead. I thought this was 1993 but it was 1992.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why The German Language Is So Difficult

From Mark Twain's hilarious essay "The Awful German Language":
An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speechnot in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionarysix or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seamthat is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of itafter which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verbmerely by way of ornament, as far as I can make outthe writer shovels in "haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein," or words to that effect, and the monument is finished. I suppose that this closing hurrah is in the nature of the flourish to a man's signaturenot necessary, but pretty. German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head -- so as to reverse the constructionbut I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.
The whole essay is here: link

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Sons Don The Green In Wisconsin

The ethnic richness of immigrant Wisconsin about which Fred L. Holmes wrote was already fading quickly in 1944 and may have all but vanished by now.  Places like Erin Prairie (population 658 according to the 2000 census) is still 98% white, but I wonder just how Irish it is today.

Holmes, himself of Irish heritage, visited Erin Prairie in the 1940s, interviewed people, and wrote:
'Every monument except one in this cemetery bears an Irish name' said the youthful caretaker, pausing a moment in the mowing, 'and that one is a Norwegian who had married an Irish girl.'
Headstones lettered with birthplaces from every county in Ireland bear names such as Donahue, Kennedy, Padden, Ross, Gherty, Garrity, Maloney, Wells, Stephens, Murta, Riley, Moore, Dean, Mead, Meath, Gill, La Vele, and many more. A roll call of the same names at mass any Sunday would show people answering. It is as if the identical pioneers are still around laughing, joking, praying. I looked upon it all with a feeling of sadness. Here was a sting in my heart that told me this was Ireland in essence; the spirit of love, devotion, and hope.
'Erin Prairie has changed mightily since I was a boy,' explained the township assessor, who had paused at the church. 'Then the overwhelming majority of the people were native-born Irish or first generation descent. So many of the younger have gone to St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Irish ways are dying out.'

Holmes went on to describe "Irish politics" in Wisconsin's largest city, Milwaukee, and a tragedy still unsurpassed:
Traditionally the Irish are Democrats in politics. Politics attracted them, like moths to candlelight, from the first. Five native-born Irish took prominent part in the convention that drafted the Wisconsin Constitution of 1848. They were the largest nationalistic group, exceeding all the others in membership combined. Early attachment to the Democratic party came from a feeling that the Jacksonians were more sympathetic to the hardships of the immigrant.
One of the most tragic incidents in the history of the state arose from a display of their lively interest in politics. During the Lincoln-Douglas presidential campaign of 1860, a group of young Irish boys, members of the Union Guard of the Third Ward in Milwaukee, chartered the 'Lady Elgin,' one of the finest boats on Lake Michigan, for a round trip tour to Chicago. They wanted to hear their favorite, Senator Stephen Douglas, speak. They took their sweethearts along for the holiday outing of singing Irish songs and dancing. On the return trip at night their excursion boat was rammed in the dark by a lumber freighter. The 'Lady Elgin' soon foundered and sank quickly off the shore at Winnetka, Illinois, with a loss of nearly half of the six hundred passengers.[1] That tragedy cast a pall of such mourning over the state that the disaster was remembered for generations in both stories and in song. It is still recalled by an annual requiem mass at St. John's Cathedral, Milwaukee, on September 8.  
~Fred L. Holmes, "St. Patrick's Sons Don The Green" Old World Wisconsin (1944)

Sign commemorating the sinking of the "Lady Elgin" in 1860

The Paddle Steamer "Lady Elgin"
[1] The wreck was located in 1989. Link

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1991

1991 was a great year for new music. Three albums tied for best IMHO:

Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They dedicated their fifth album to Mike Watt, which was way cool of them. I didn't realize that somebody made a film called Funky Monks about the making of this album. Favorite song: Give It Away.

Out Of Time by R.E.M. After watching these guys rise so slowly for so long it was nice to see them score big commercially with this one. Stipe was starting to suffer from political hubris though. Favorite song: Near Wild Heaven. The B-52's Kate Pierson has a noticeable presence on this album: Me In Honey and especially on Shiny Happy People.

Trompe Le Monde by The Pixies. Their last and IMHO best album. I was fortunate enough to see them at a LoDo club in Denver around this time. Favorite song Subbaculture.

Nirvana of course got famous that year after releasing Nevermind. I liked the album but thought the band itself was overrated along with the whole "Seattle Scene." Grunge was just a moniker for what had been gestating for years. Kurt Cobain was smart enough to realize that he didn't really measure up to some of the hype either. I first heard of Nirvana in the summer of 1991 when Mike Watt passed through Zurich with his band fIREHOSE. He used to like to walk around the audience before his shows shooting video and talking to people and that's where we met. This was a few months before the release of Nevermind and I remember him saying "everybody's into Nirvana".

Gish The only Smashing Pumpkins album I like. Rhinoceros.

Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub.  I saw these guys play in Zurich around this time and liked them so I include them here. Favorite song: What You Do To Me.

1991 Singles

Enter Sandman by Metallica

Jesus Built My Hot Rod by The Ministry

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers remained significant with Learning To Fly from the album Into The Great Wide Open.

She Moves In Mysterious Ways by U2 from Achtung Baby.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mr. Faraday Was Delighted

Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
Faraday was delighted, and a little alarmed, with Maxwell's approach to his ideas and the way in which it gave his theory the same status as action at a distance theories: [1] 'I was at first almost frightened when I saw such mathematical force made to bear upon the subject and then wondered to see that the subject stood it so well.' He returned to this theme later in 1857 when he asked Maxwell why mathematical conclusions may 'not be expressed in common language as full, clearly, and definitely as in mathematical formulae...translating them out of their hieroglyphics, that we might also work upon them by experiment'.
-- Frank A.J.L. James Michael Faraday: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (2010)

[1] Newton's law of gravitation is an example of a force at a distance:
Every point mass attracts every single other point mass by a force pointing along the line intersecting both points. The force is proportional to the product of the two masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
Expressed mathematically:
F = G m1m2 /r2

Conversations with Henry: The Point Is...

Henry: The point you keep trying to make regarding elements is unclear. You need to simplify.

Me: How so?

Henry: For starters, make it purely mathematical. Take away all the character surrounding each element -- the names, the histories, their special properties -- take all that out. Take out everything but its essential core and its surroundings -- like this:

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14 15....

Me: Isn't that a bit reductionist? Matter isn't like a number line sequence.

Henry: You can always add the essential character back in. Do you think a person is defined by their DNA sequence? Describing the elements as a number line emphasizes their sameness and brings out their essential differences. Each element is like a point...a densely charged kernel suffused with opposite charge.

Me: I get it.

The Great Wave Of Healing

Link to original
The beautiful blue coloration in the wood block print by Hokusai comes from a pigment known as Prussian Blue. The pigment has been used for centuries by artists. A lesser known use for Prussian blue is as an antidote for heavy metal poisoning, including cesium-137, a radioactive isotope which now threatens post-tsunami Japan.

I tweeted yesterday about how the simple inorganic salt potassium iodide (KI) works to displace the radioactive isotope of iodine which gathers in the thyroid. I hope that the people most affected are the first in line to get these ready-made treatments.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Letters Home: It Looks Like Russia Is Wanting War Over Here Too

"Just keeping our tanks and jeeps cleaned up and ready for combat"

March 15, 1953
Hanau, Germany
Dear Mom, Dad and all,
I guess it's been a long time since I wrote or heard from you. I got those pictures of the cars. I also got those pictures and story about that man turning into a woman. [1]
It looks like Russia is wanting war over here too. I hope they stay on their side. [2]
The sun is shining bright now days. I guess spring is here for sure.
I think I'll take a 3 day pass one of these days and go see a girl I met when we was stranded up in Marktredwitz last fall. I haven't got too many girl friends over here. The ones that live in towns near army camps are bad girls and can talk English because they have been with so many GI's. Anyway this one I know is all right but only 15 years old. I have trouble understanding German and she English.
I was writing to her but quit because she had to have someone translate my letters and also write hers to me in English.  I got a card from her the other day and she said why don't you write. I was up to their place for Christmas dinner. Her folks can't speak a word of English. They sure make you welcome though. Met me at the train station and all. I guess she would like to come to the States, but I told her she was too young, and she said no. I told her I would be up to see them before I went home after it's warm enough to go swimming.
I sure am getting lazy. We don't do anything anymore. Just keep our tanks and jeeps cleaned up and ready for combat. I am going to take a picture of the guys I drive and send it to you. I've been doing more driving now then I was back home. About 30 miles a day.
I got that 400 day clock mailed. You should be getting it one of these days. I hope it don't get broke on the way. It's insured if it does. I hope you can put it together. [3]
I guess I will have to sign off this time for lack of something to write about.
Love, V.

[1] Christine Jorgensen was not the first transsexual, but was perhaps the first "celebrity" one. link

[2] Josef Stalin had died earlier in the month on March 5, 1953. This was big news and perhaps caused apprehension. Later in the year in June, the East Germans waged general strikes and the uprising was brutally suppressed by the Soviets.

[3] I mentioned the clock back here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1990

Sonic Youth's Goo was by far my 1990 favorite. I used to listen to the entire album back-to-back with "Pod" by the Breeders on a cassette tape on a boom box in Zurich.  Dirty Boots, Tunic, Mary-Christ, and Kool Thing, all need to be heard sequentially and in that order.  I love the Raymond Pettibon cover art too. Sonic Youth had had a working relationship with Pettibon's brother, Greg Ginn, who ran SST records, so I guess that was the real connection there.

Joey by Concrete Blonde from Bloodletting. Johnette Napolitano was one of those leather-lunged singers I just loved the sound of. Linda Perry was another a bit later.

Fuckin' Up by Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Ragged Glory. Neil Young reinvents himself yet again, this time just a year shy of grunge going mainstream. Interesting and talented dude that Neil Young is. He keeps popping up in my little series. Since like 1966.

Summer In Siam by The Pogues from Hell's Ditch. Swan Song for Shane MacGowen who really spurs his bleech in this one.

Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice. Was this really the best selling song of 1990?  Really?

Still Got The Blues by Gary Moore. Earnest guitarist (reminds me of Rory Gallagher) released his signature song. He died this year. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

50 Years Of MyTunes: 1989

I spent the latter part of 1989 alone in a windowless room writing a thesis. Ironically, I used a version of Windows on one of those ancient Mac II machines having a 7" diagonal screen. Funny how early computers were like 50's TVs. So I really missed half of that year in music.

No whole albums stood out.

Wicked Game by Chris Isaak. Damn, I used to have a taped recording of Curt Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets playing an "unplugged" version of this song on Swiss Public Radio; wish I could find this.

Waiting Room Fugazi from around this time. A friend sent me the cassette from the US and I saw these guys play in Zurich after a huge rainstorm at the Rote Fabrik.

So Alive by Love and Rockets.

Here Comes Your Man and Monkey Gone To Heaven by The Pixies. The Pixies seemed to disappear right after Doolittle came out. They came back though. Bassist Kim Deal split-off and formed an interesting band called The Breeders around this time.

Fight the Power by Public Enemy  I actually like this song even though the lyrics spewed some pure racist vitriol. See the comments back here. I heard that POTUS and FLOTUS bonded on a first date over Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing which prominently featured this song

Talent Show by The Replacements. My most beloved band from the Mini-Apple were fading fast. The song sort of captures who the band were and what they meant.

Free Fallin' by Tom Petty from Full Moon Fever.

Love Shack by the B-52's. "Cosmic Thing" was a comeback album of sorts. I didn't realize until putting this together that this song came so late for the B-52's.

Choke On This!

The word pnictogen refers, in Greek, to the concept of suffocation. The Germans even call nitrogen Stickstoff, meaning suffocating stuff. I choke a little myself on the word pnictogen every time I hear it -- it comes out sounding like feeble erudition. The neighboring group words chalcogen and halogen are only slightly better, and the latter at least finds widespread use. But the concepts pnictogen, chalcogen, and halogen are cool enough and neatly correspond to the idea of periodic rhyming of elements.

Nitrogen is the group leader for team pnictogen and I have arrived at element 15, phosphorus, in my little Aufmarsch from element 1 to element 112 or so. Link

Anybody got any good phosphorus stories?