Saturday, December 31, 2011

Everybody Wants To Rue The World

Patti Smith is a long time favorite recording artist--warts and all. She's a much better role model than say, Madonna and that ilk. I like her cover of the Tears For Fears song better than the original version--though I do like their video.

I read once that she heard it in coffee shop or a mall somewhere in suburban Detroit and that it helped to inspire her to restart her career. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Conservative Notion of Mass*

I find the designation of the Higgs Boson particle as the "God Particle" amusing. Amusing because I associate God particles with the lighter particles--the ones that defy measurement by virtue of their zero-point energy.

Zero-point energy is like Freud's terms das Ich, das Es, and das Über-Ich, which resounded better in German. As originally posited by Einstein, zero-point energy is that residual energy present in matter even at absolute zero Kelvin.  Those who don't believe in absolutes should ponder temperature scales--there are no negative degrees Kelvin. Anyway, even at zero Kelvin, atoms like hydrogen, the most abundant element, still have energy. If uncertain as to why, consult Heisenberg.
*Lavoisier gave us the notion of Conservation of Mass--before he was beheaded by his government.

'Umble Pie

[I changed the title from "Humbler Pie" to 'Umble Pie because it reminded me of the Artful Dodger]

I guess Steve Marriott is an acquired taste. I'll never forget him as the leader of Humble Pie, the very first rock concert I saw. But he was more than that. He was a defining face (albeit a small one) of the 1960's rock and roll scene in Britain. I did a brief homage to him a year ago: link. But I forgot to mention that he was an uncredited inventor of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love (well, he along with Willie Dixon).  Listen to this 1966 version of "You Need Loving" and tell me it didn't influence Robert Plant three years later:

Of course both Led Zeppelin and the Small Faces were copying Muddy Waters' 1962 version of Willy Dixon's "You Need Love."  Dixon sued Led Zeppelin in 1985 over copyright infringement and prevailed. He never sued Marriott. In the words of Plant:
well, you only get caught when you're successful. That's the game.
The whole story reminds me of Bob Dylan recording Dave Van Ronk's version of "The House Of The Rising Sun" in 1962 and then being one-upped by The Animal's version a year or so later as told in Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home."


Many years ago, I saw Roger Hodgson in his erstwhile band, Supertramp. At the time, only his distinctive voice stood out and I had no clue that he was the brains behind that outfit. I lost track of his career and work, but he shows up from time to time. I blathered about one of his songs back here. He's still touring, and I wish him all the best. Here he performs one of his old Supertramp songs:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Mittbestimmung:  noun. The determination of Mitt Romney to become president. An English-German portmanteau word derived from Mitt + Bestimmung. Also a riff on Mitbestimmung, with reference to Romney's participation in government.

Arsenic And Old Lies

Alchemist's symbol for Arsenic
Some credit Arsenic with being present at the miraculous birth of organometallic chemistry. He was not.* Let me explain.

Organometallic chemistry is the mystical, covalent union of metallic elements with non-metallic elements--mainly carbon with metals. Saying that Arsenic is a metal is a bit like saying that Barack Obama is black. Arsenic, like phosphorus and sulfur, has different allotropes which is more a mark of non-metallic character.

The element has been known since at least 1250 A.D, but it was known much earlier as its sulfide and its affinity for sulfur is the chief cause for its toxicity. It binds to vital sulfur-containing proteins in cells and shuts them down.

Only about a dozen or so elements are poisonous (not including radioactive ones); the dirty dozen are (in alphabetical order): Aluminum, Antimony, Arsenic, Barium, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium (hexavalent), Lead, Mercury, Osmium, Thallium, and Vanadium.

Each name has its own story and its own LD50--some are much worse than others.
*He because the word Arsenic derives from a Greek word corresponding to male potency. Link

Monday, December 26, 2011

He fought the Law and the Law One

Bobby Fuller (1942-1966) kept the Buddy Holly momentum going but also embraced the surf sound of Dick Dale (see previous post). He died mysteriously in 1966 after a series of waves came ashore in New York City.

Our Favorite Martian

I think of it as a sort of a year end clearance:

Behind the Metallic Curtain

An imaginary line runs down columns and across rows in the periodic table, dividing metals from non-metals:

The diagonal line can be thought of a boundary demarcating a section of elements equidistant from Fluorine, the epicenter of electronegativity:

Roughly, the "blue" elements closest to queen Fluorine (upper right) and fanning out across the territory up to and bordering the metallic curtain are non-metals; those beyond (yellow) are deemed metallic. But what makes a metal a metal and vice versa? What is the essence of "being metallic?"

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

If love is sought as a child seeks gifts,
from giving to getting its value then shifts
Your love is your gift that you give by choice,
In choosing who gets it I don't have a voice.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #21


...This terrible confusion has been going on for eleven days now. Today I can send you a few lines just once more. I hope that you received all the rest in good condition. I have been spared nothing either. But still, all in life was beautiful once, so these days have to be endured calmly.

We have been pushed entirely into the city. This damned city! If only the end would come soon! Then, as I wrote before: 'Let me go on my way contentedly..."

The key to understanding this ongoing series may be found here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #19

...I just heard at the Command Post that mail is going out. I hope you can read what I am writing. There is no better paper available here. But the main thing is what is on it. And it's getting dark too. I have been detailed as a motorcycle courier and get around a lot. Otherwise I wouldn't have known that we were allowed to send letters. I am still doing pretty well; I hope the same is true of you. Except that riding around in ice and snow is no picnic. Guess who I ran into? The son of Gründel, the merchant. He is in the depot. He will be sitting pretty for a long time yet. In this way I got a can of pork and two loaves of bread. We are not allowed to send packages, otherwise I would send you the can. But then, I won't mind eating it myself either. How is little Marie doing and how are the folks? I haven't got a letter for a long time now. The last two came two weeks ago, from Richard. Now I have to finish, because it is already dark, and I still have ten kilometers to go.

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #18

...It's enough to drive me mad, dear Helmut; here I have a chance to write and I don't know to whom. A thousand poor devils who are lying in their holes up front and have no suspicion of such a chance would envy me and give me a year's pay for it. A year ago we were sitting in Jüterbog together, cramming "military science." And now I sit right in the middle of the shit and don't know what to do with all that trash. But it is just the same with everybody else around here. It is an idiotic situation. If you should ever notice the name 'Zaritza' in the OKW-report* (just possibly they might happen to tell the truth some day), then you'll know where I am. Do we live on the moon, or do you? We sit in the mud with 200,000 men, with nothing but Russians all around us, and are not permitted to say that we are encircled, completely and without hope.

I received your letter on Monday, today is Sunday, a real holiday. Above all, I would like to comment on the words with which you congratulated me for having been given front-line duty. I have just read Gneisenau (not everybody has time to do that) and would like to quote you a sentence which he wrote to Beguelin after the defense of Kolberg:
On reading this news, I thought that they might have heard the thunder of our cannon and might send up prayers for our salvation. There were days when the earth shook, and I behaved like gambler who bravely puts up his last louis d'or in the hope that his luck will turn. For there was a time once when I had ammunition for only fourteen days, and yet I could not decrease my fire for fear the enemy would become aware of my lack of ammunition. It is a scandal how badly this fortress was provided.
Ah, dear boy, those were the days. Gneisenau should have heard the rocket salvos, and the discharge of 200 guns per kilometer. Not only he, but you too, and then you wouldn't be in such a hurry to come "up front." Don't be peeved now. I don't want to shatter your faith in your own bravery, but here it would do no good. Here the brave and the cowards die in one hole without a chance of defending themselves. If just once we had ammunition for "only" 14 days, man! would we have had fun with the fireworks! My battery has just 26 rounds left, that's all, and there will be no more. Since you are one of the disciples of St. Barbara,* you can draw your own conclusions. Here I am: still in one piece, with a fairly normal pulse, a dozen cigarettes, had soup day before yesterday, liberated a canned ham today from a supply bomb (there is no more regular distribution; everyone is on his own), am squatting in a cellar, burning up furniture, 26 years old and otherwise no fool, one of those who was mighty keen on getting his bars and yelled Heil Hitler with the rest of you; and now it's either die like a dog or off to Siberia. That wouldn't be so bad. But to know that it is done for something utterly senseless makes me see so red.
But let them come. The third still has 26 rounds and their commander has an 08 with six shiny bullets. It is time to finish; "vespers" are coming, time to crawl a little deeper into the earth. Dear old boy, you can save yourself an answer to this letter, but think of my lines in, let's say, two weeks. You don't have to be clairvoyant to foresee the end. What it will actually be like, you'll never know.
*Zaritza is a river outside of Stalingrad. "OKW" stands for Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Supreme Command of the Armed Force.

St. Barbara was the patron saint of artillery.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Need A Little Christmas

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #17

...In Stalingrad, to put the question of God's existence means to deny it. I must tell you this, Father, and I feel doubly sorry for it. You have raised me, because I had no mother, and always kept God before my eyes and soul. 
And I regret my words doubly, because they will be my last, and I won't be able to speak any other words afterwards which might reconcile you and make up for these. 
You are a pastor, Father, and in one's last letter one says only what is true or what one believes might be true. I have searched for God in every crater, in every destroyed house, on every corner, in every friend, in my fox hole, and in the sky. God did not show Himself, even though my heart cried for Him. The houses were destroyed, the men as brave or as cowardly as myself, on earth there was hunger and murder, from the sky came bombs and fire, only God was not there. No Father, there is no God. Again I write it and know that this is terrible and that I cannot make up for it ever. And if there should be a God, He is only with you in the hymnals and the prayers, in the pious sayings of the priests and pastors, in the ringing of the bells and the fragrance of incense, but not in Stalingrad.
The key to understanding this ongoing series may be found here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #13

...Unfortunately, the Christmas I have to tell about was not beautiful, but we were comfortably warm. Our position is right on the banks of the Volga. We got hold of some rum; it was thin but tasted marvelous. My buddy brought something with him from division headquarters: ham and meatjelly. I suppose he swiped it from the kitchen, but it tasted magnificent, and they have more, else he couldn't have swiped it. Bread is mighty scarce. So we made pancakes: flour, water, salt, and underneath it ham in the pan. The flour wasn't exactly homegrown either. This is the fourth Christmas since the war started, but this time was the saddest of all. We will have to make up for it all when the war is over, and I hope that next year we can celebrate Christmas at home.

We have been in Stalingrad for three months now and still have not made any headway. It is rather peaceful here, but on the other side, on the steppes, they are fighting. The fellows there don't have it as good as we do. But that's their bad luck. Perhaps it will be our turn soon, because their losses are heavy. But the best thing is not to think about it. And yet you keep thinking about it; if you haven't anything to do for 24 hours but daydream, your thoughts turn towards home. Did all of you think of me on Christmas Eve? I had such a strange feeling, and it sometimes does happen that you feel it when someone thinks of you.

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #12

A young Wehrmacht soldier writes to his sister for the last time:

...Well, now you know that I shall never return. Break it to our parents gently. I am deeply shaken and doubt everything. I used to be strong and full of faith; now I am small and without faith. I will never know many of the things that happen here; but the little that I have taken part in is already so much that it chokes me. No one can tell me any longer that the men died with the words "Deutschland" or "Heil Hitler" on their lips. There is plenty of dying, no question of that; but the last word is "mother" or the name of someone dear, or just a cry for help. I have seen hundreds fall and die already, and many belonged to the Hitler Youth as I did; but all of them, if they could still speak, called for help or shouted a name which could not help them anyway.

The Führer made a firm promise to bail us out of here; they read it to us and we believed in it firmly. Even now I still believe it, because I have to believe in something. If it is not true, what else could I believe in? I would no longer need spring, summer, or anything that gives pleasure. So leave me my faith, dear Greta; all my life, at least eight years of it, I believed in the Führer and his word. It is terrible how they doubt it, and shameful to listen to what they say without being able to reply, because they have the facts on their side.

If what we were promised is not true, then Germany will be lost, for in that case no more promises can be kept. Oh, these doubts, these terrible doubts, if they could only be cleared up soon!
A key to understanding this ongoing series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #11

[The key to understanding this ongoing series may be found here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.]

...Today O--- and I are enjoying a wonderfully quiet evening. For once everybody is sitting around across the street and not here. The Russians are quiet, and we were able to close up shop early. A good bottle of Cordon Rouge drunk peacefully in the evening made us feel especially good.
I read Binding's war diary* and some other things. How incredibly well this man echos what moves and touches us out here. He purges the experience of all that is false and irrelevant.  Only the crucial things radiate from his mind, from his words.

We expect nothing more of great decisions that would have to be the men on top. Whether time will not outrun these decisions anyhow, no one can say!  But there is nothing else for us to hope for. The only thing that has been done until now has been fearfully violent fighting over Hill X inside and outside the city. Generals and colonels have played with the possibility that this hill, of all things, might be a turning point in world history! And not only generals!

Everyday a few positions are taken; everyday, the enemy or we, depending on who happens to be holding them at the time, are thrown out again! Neither the enemy nor we have so far had sense enough to decide to take only what can be held.

One can safely say that with little things it is the same as with big things!  This perpetual activity without result demands an indolence or an endurance which is almost impossible to muster, and since it consists only in waiting, it wears you out.

Soon it will be ten o'clock. I want to sleep as much as I still can. The more you sleep, the less you feel the hunger. And the hunger is not pleasant, it's cruel.

All my love to you.
*He's referring to Rudolf Binding's A Fatalist At War, published in 1927.

I Had A Dream...

...about getting a tumor removed from the top outside of my head. It was like a flabby, flat little thing about the size of a pink eraser.  It just came off in my hands and felt soft and squishy and left a crater. I think it may have been the remnants of the groove I laid down in my head related to MamaM’s comment back here.  I thought of freezing it for a biopsy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Shenanigans was a game we never owned and so I never learned to play it.  Could someone please explain the rules?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Conversations with Henry

Henry: Mendeleev was the best chemist the Russians ever produced.

Me:  What about Shilov?

Henry: Yeah, him too.

Germanium Arrived According To Plan

Germanium is a metalloid and thus only a half-metal. Despite this, it was a "planned" element. By planned I mean that its existence was foretold by the father of the periodic table, Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

Mendeleev was not the first to bring rhyme and reason to the elements--first came columns--Döbereiner's triads, and later rows--Newlands' Law of Octaves. But Mendeleev properly put together the whole kahuna, or at least what was known at the time. More importantly, he correctly predicted elements. Here's what he knew and what he knew must exist in 1871:

Click to enlarge

It's hard to see, but Mendeleev left a blank: "--  = 72 " in Group IV.  He called the unknown element eka-Silicon meaning one below Silicon. Eka-Silcon was discovered in 1886 and had an atomic mass of 72.6 amu. Van der Krogt tells the story of naming Germanium here, along with some Roman history.

Mendeleev also predicted the existence of eka-Aluminum and estimated its mass as 68.  The element was discovered and named Gallium in 1875 and had an atomic mass of 69.7 amu. The agreement between theory and experiment was almost as astonishing as Bode's Law. But Mendeleev's table survived.

Sing Hosanna, Hallelujah!

This one is my mother's favorite.  I adore it too--what's not to like? The song features a banjo, that greatest of American instruments. It also has a complexity which many Christmas Carols lack.

The New Christy Minstrels spawned the likes of Barry McGuire* (Eve of Destruction), Gene Clark (The Byrds), Kim Carnes (Bette Davis Eyes), and the Kenny Rogers. The NCM belonged to that wonderful but brief period of American music between the death of Buddy Holly and the invasion of The Beatles.
*His growling voice appears briefly at the 1 min 44 sec mark.


Lots of potential there. The question is: will the light or the darkness spread?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

That Chicken had a lot of Gall!

Gallium, named after France (or was it a chicken?), lies just west of Germanium in the periodic table. An imaginary (Imaginot?) line separates them. Actually, both Gallium and Germanium are metallic but a clear demarcation runs diagonally east of Germanium, separating the metals from nonmetals--the "haves" and the "have nots" in terms of sharing the electronic wealth:

Once upon a time I briefly worked for an oil company in Cleveland. An older material scientist (whose name escapes me) once showed us interns a neat trick in the lab. He melted some Gallium metal (it melts in your hand) and showed us how a sheet of Aluminum will absorb Gallium (like dissolves like even liquid metals). The older gent, who was a British ex-pat, explained that during WW II, the RAF feared that the Germans would sneak over and sabotage their planes.  In those days, aircraft were often made of unpainted Aluminum.

Here is a video showing how Gallium wrecks an aluminum coke can. Imagine some nefarious kraut doing that to an airplane's wings.

Actually, Aluminum is not absorbing--rather, Gallium is invading.

The reason that Gallium liquifies is related to why Copper is so ductile and bears repeating: if you give an atom a perfectly filled sub shell along with one extra electron (the 31st one), the metallic bonding will be weak and non-directional. It all makes perfect sense to me.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Think Zinc!

Elemental zinc is used like electronic paint. The element is always found as Zn2+, but it may be coaxed into taking back two electrons. The word "zinc" entered the lexicon via German, Zink, presumably when it was discovered by alchemists. The usual sources viz., van der Krogt and the OED are silent regarding a hunch of mine--that it was so named because of its toothy appearance. My trusty Duden Vol 7 confirms that the word Zink is distantly related to the German word for tooth, Zahn--apparently from the metal's appearance when freshly prepared.

We've all seen how zinc appears when coated on sheet metal. The pattern is called spangling and comes from the underlying crystalline zinc which to me also looks "toothy."

A thin layer of zinc oxide/carbonate passivates the underlying steel from oxygen, but even if the coating is scratched, the exposed iron will not corrode because adjacent zinc offers up its electrons instead. This basic notion was first conceived by Sir Humphry Davy in the context of protecting copper sheathing on ship's hulls. link  In the days of iron rails, little zinc spikes were hard-wired to rails and served the same purpose. Rail workers only needed to come by periodically and replace the spent zinc anodes and check the wiring. Nowadays, aluminum and magnesium anodes are also used, depending on the application.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Man Who First Galvanized The World...

...was Luigi Galvani (1737-1798). In 1791, he discovered that a frog's leg would twitch when touched by static electricity. This in turn galvanized a young gal by the name of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The rest is history.

Not quite. Galvani and Alessandro Volta got into a dispute regarding the nature of electrical effects in nature. Volta went on to invent the battery in 1800 to confute Galvani's notions. That led directly to the discovery of several chemical elements, as I wrote about here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tweaking Socrates

I found an interesting critique of the Socratic Method here: link  The author gives a brief summary of the method and enough links to start an earnest discussion, which the commenters took up.

One visual image which struck me was provided by commenter Jay in that link:
Assisting them in coming to that conclusion by providing with some questions for them to answer in their own words just facilitates that, and is a much more efficient way to prevail your point than simply telling them what it is and insisting on it’s superiority.
I say "visual image" because Linus Pauling's notion of catalysis sprang immediately to my mind: the lowering of barriers to change.  I illustrated this back here:

A deployer* of the Socratic Method lowers the tipping point of going from position A to position B. This is consonant with what the commenter Jay said. But suppose that the change from A to B is uphill because that change is difficult? Or suppose that that change is flat out wrong?  Suppose that the deployer of the Socratic Method is wrong in his or her conclusions, i.e., about the desirability of new position B?  In other words, suppose that someone deploying the Socratic Method successfully lowers the barrier to changing a deployee's* mind, but that the subsequent state of the deployee is unstable or even wrong? The deployee will easily fall back to position A with little or no effort (note that the backwards B -->A barrier is much, much lower than the forward barrier).

One way to avoid such a Sisyphean struggle is for the deployers of the Socratic method to themselves be subjected to Socratic methods to test the stability of the points they are trying to encourage.  In theory, this should work. But suppose that deployers of Socratic methods themselves avoid or dodge Socratic encounters?

In nature, there are enzymes which work on enzymes and not just on lowly substrates.

Who mocks the mockers?
*I'm using deployer/deployee nomenclature to mean that the person deploying the Socratic Method is the teacher and that the person being worked on is the deployee (student).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Repeat!

I put this up last year but I'm doing it over because it never gets old and because nobody has a monopoly on Christmas!

Here's the playlist for a Christmas CD I made a few years ago and shared with family and friends. The first seven or so are historical and "classic" and the last dozen or so are mostly culled from either Firestone or Goodyear vinyl LPs from the mid-to-late 1960s. My parents had them when I was a kid and they'd stack them up on the console stereo every year and let them play.  My mom still has these LPs and she knows how much I want them. She's holding onto them for now until she's sure I've been as good as possible to her.

Bells ~Strasbourg Cathedral
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing ~ St. Paul's Cathedral Choir
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht (Silent Night) ~ Thomanerchor
White Christmas ~ Bing Crosby
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas ~ Judy Garland
Jingle Bells ~ Frank Sinatra
Blue Christmas ~ Elvis Presley

These are the Firestone and Goodyear tunes:

It's Christmas Time All Over The World ~ Sammy Davis, Jr.
Do You Hear What I Hear? ~ Andy Williams
We Need A Little Christmas ~ New Christy Minstrels
Silver Bells ~ Doris Day
I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day ~ Johnny Cash
Jolly Old St. Nicholas ~ Maurice Chevalier
Sing Hossana, Hallelujah ~ The New Christy Minstrels
Go Tell It On The Mountain ~ Brothers Four
Toyland ~ Doris Day
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! ~ Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence
Santa Claus is Comin' To Town ~ Tony Bennett
Baby, It's Cold Outside ~ Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence
Wonderful White World Of Winter ~ Bing Crosby
Frosty The Snowman ~ The Ray Conniff Singers
Sleigh Ride ~ Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence
Winter Wonderland ~ Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence
Twelve Days Of Christmas ~ Dinah Shore

Monday, December 12, 2011

"The Cause of Death is the Envy of Entropy"

Annie Gottlieb's ambivalent insight stuck with me--that's why I marked it as a favorite on Twitter.

But what is the "envy of entropy"?  Perhaps it's the moment--or a series of moments when the struggle to stay together and mount life's challenges is lost. Life is endergonic and physical death is chaotic and disorderly--entropy.  Letting chaos ensue by letting go is the "envy of entropy."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Buried At Sea

I took my son to Pearl Harbor last summer. My family was on vacation, staying on the Big Island, but I insisted on flying over to Honolulu for a day trip and he wanted to go too. It was an expensive side trip, but I just couldn't get that close without paying my respects.

We got there early in the morning after all the morning tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial were already gone (I think they give the early ones to package tours--not to walk on visitors like us). Anyways, we got tickets for later the same day which gave us plenty of time to visit the nearby USS Missouri.

The guns of the USS Missouri point out over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona
Japan surrendered onboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, less than four years after Pearl Harbor. I already wrote a bit about that ship back here. The Mighty Mo (BB 63) keeps vigil over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona (BB 39); the two ships are poised, bow-to-bow, symbolizing the beginning and the end of the Pacific War. The Missouri is worth a self-guided tour, much like the USS Midway in San Diego is.

Back at the Arizona, the US Park Service shows a great short documentary film narrated by Stockard Channing. I found a snippet of it here (wish I could find the whole thing):

The movie is well-made and teaches the whole inevitability of Pearl Harbor. It's emotionally moving too and softened me up before the boat ride over to the memorial perched over the wreckage. That's really all that's left on the surface--a memorial. A turret base still protrudes, amazingly, given that all iron needs to rust is water, salt, and oxygen. I credit the turret's longevity to the chromium and nickel mixed into the steel--Kruppstahl--but that's just me.

Underwater, the Arizona is remarkably Of course you can't dive her, but the Park Service does regular underwater inspections--but I found this cool model of the wreck back onshore:

After paying our respects, we returned to the museum exhibits and various grounds and memorials.

This plaque touched me:

What a comfort to know where one's final remains belong!  That sentiment, along with the shipwreck aspect, reminded me of the last scene in James Cameron's Titanic where the fictional Rose Dawson rejoins her erstwhile lover in death:

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Problem is...

...playing the role of idiot-savant is sustainable--sort of like bookending things. Wouldn't it be nice to be all things between?  Easier said than done. Conservation of something demands that moving to a more well-rounded person must involve sucking inwards from both sides of the bookends. That sucks.

They beat Plows into Swords--Male and Female They Created Them

By 1915 the ground war on the Western Front was so entrenched that the British Admiralty, seeking to break the stalemate, developed what were first known as "landships" but which later came to be known by their covert name--tanks. The idea was to develop a machine that could traverse craters, barbed wire, trenches, and bring firepower directly behind enemy lines.

The first landships used a British superstructure atop an American track and chassis built by a Chicago company and originally designed for plowing fields. Early testing and improvements quickly led to a more advanced prototype named "Mother." Her parallelogram-shaped tracks maximized trench crossing and her gun-bearing sponsons, a design borrowed directly from warships, added to her chimerical appearance. The hermaphrodite Mother gave birth to "male" and "female" varieties which were first battle-tested at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Male and female variety tanks differed depending on what protruded from the sponsons. Males had the big guns--naval 6 pounders, while females had water-cooled Vickers or Maxim machine guns (two on each side, four total). The reason for the females was an acute shortage of bigger guns. The differences are apparent in this graphic:
Female (top) and male (bottom) Mark I

It's About Time, It's About Space

Two habits of mind that chemists use are what I call space and time dilation. Space dilation means a habit of thinking about the very small (like molecules) at a visual level. We can't yet really "see" molecules--for good reason--yet it helps immensely to visualize them as if we could.  What we see and call chemical structure is a visual metaphor for the invisible. Time dilation is a way to understand chemical reaction mechanisms--how things change and interact--which happen on very fast and unfamiliar time scales. Slowing things down a bit--dilating microseconds into seconds--brings understanding.

Right after I thought about that title, the inane theme song from the 60's TV comedy "It's About Time" appeared in my brain after 45 plus years of dormancy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"What Is A Week-End?"

We've been watching the British-produced series Downton Abbey and thoroughly enjoying it. There are only two seasons so far, and the first one is available on Netflix. The second season has already aired in Britain and will be shown on PBS here in January.

Here is a memorable scene in which Maggie Smith brings her special talent to the fore:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

History of photo: here

Please enjoy the day whether with family or friends and be extra generous with your hearts.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wealth Redistribution and the Global Warming Agenda

There can be no doubt that the stop global warming and wealth redistribution agenda are linked. Look at this gem from the preface to Global Warming A Very Short Introduction:
So to deal with global warming, we must deal with developing countries, and thus we must for the first time in humanity's history tackle the unequal distribution of global wealth. Hence global warming is making us face the forgotten billions of people on the planet, and we must make the world a fairer place. In the 21st century we must deal with both global poverty and global warming. link
This is profoundly misguided logic. First of all, this is not the first time "we" have dealt with developing countries; nor is it the first time "we" have addressed the unequal distribution of global wealth.

I thought the way to deal with global warming was to stop emitting carbon dioxide? This means shutting down a goodly section of American and Western standards of livings.  Why mince words?  What does pumping up Africa have to do with global warming?  Surely the author of this polemic cannot seriously be thinking of improving the lot of Africa's poor.

A profound sense of humanity occurs when something is given to the poor.  A profound sense of propriety is violated when something is taken from someone and given to someone else. Mandated charity is charity destroyed.

I also object to the top-down driven "we" collectivism implicit in the author's grammar and syntax. The author implies that developing countries are unable to help themselves--they need a patriarchal benefactor--a global leveler.
Hence global warming is making us face the forgotten billions of people on the planet, and we must make the world a fairer place.
Imperatives aside, the author of sentence needs a refresher course on economics.  Need we reach back all the way to the Sumerians to show that poverty has always been with us?  Income disparity is a natural phenomenon. This was the implicit "message" of The Parable Of The Gas.

Inequality drives chemical reactivity--for example--electromotive force. Perfect equality is a depressing notion because it implies stasis: there is no potential or driving force for change.  There is no reason to invent because there is no reason to become different.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Conversations with Henry

Henry:  That's how you should think about things: as just protons, electrons, and neutrons---just plus, minus, and neutral. Those notions pervade material science and more.

Me: You mean like materialism?

Henry:  No, I mean atoms.

Forget Natalie Wood...

If this scene doesn't lump your throat, you shouldn't be allowed to celebrate Christmas!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Party Like It's 1848

Tea Partiers may seem to want to party like it's 1773, but the Off-the-Wall Streeters seem to wanna party like it's 1848. Alexander de Tocqueville said of that time period:
Society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy, and those who had anything united in common terror. link
I finally bought the book 1848, recommended to me by a commenter several months ago.  I hope to read it next week.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Amba Schooled Me (again)

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859)
While on the topic, the man who built the SS Great Eastern (and the Great Western before her) was Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  There he is, pictured above, in a photo which might have stoked the rage and scorn of Dickensian socialists. Yet today, Brunel ranks highly in polls of "Greatest Britons."

I put this here to celebrate another wealth maker and also to note how Brunel exploited something which Amba schooled me on a few months ago: Surface area to volume ratio.  As a shipbuilder, Brunel understood that the carrying capacity of a ship increases by volume, while the water resistance (friction) only increases with the submerged area of its dimensions. This meant that large ships were intrinsically more fuel efficient, which was very important for long voyages across the Atlantic.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The SS Great Eastern

I forgot to mention back here about my fascination with the ship which laid most of the first transatlantic cable. Launched in 1858, the SS Great Eastern was the biggest vessel of her day until the White Star Line's RMS Oceanic came along a generation later. Christened the SS Leviathan, she was quickly renamed the Great Eastern and crossed the seas as a passenger vessel, mainly ferrying immigrants to the U.S.

What I find cool about this ship is that she resembles a transition state in the sense that she embodied the past, present, and future of ship propulsion: sails, paddle wheels, and a screw propeller. Of course she was steam drivenDiesel hadn't yet invented his eponymous engine.

The Great Eastern was sold and refitted with several spools of wire-thousands of miles of it. She set about laying wire on the ocean floor between Ireland and Newfoundland and elsewhere around the world. Here's a sketch of what the giant reels of copper wire looked like inside her:

Inside the SS Great Eastern, spooling out copper wire to lay across the ocean floor.

The Great Eastern met a rather ignominious end.  Like the RMS Olympic (older sister of the RMS Titanic), she was scrapped.

Stripped carcass of the SS Great Eastern awaiting the scrapper's torch in 1889.

Who Played Madison

I ran across this quite by accident. It brought back memories of seeing that show when I was a teen. They collected all ticket stubs at that show, so I never got my souvenir.

Too bad about the sound quality. Still, I think it's wonderful that someone can save it for all these years and then put it up.

Here is the play list from that show too, which I vaguely remember. link

Friday, November 11, 2011

Letters From Their Eleventh Hour: Wilhelm Wolter (1895-1915)

Student of Philosophy, University of Munich

Born May 28th, 1895, at Kladow, Mecklenburg.
Killed April 16th, 1915, near Vouziers, France

Just shy of his 20th birthday, the teenaged Wolter asks (his parents? a friend? a teacher? us? God?) whether it is fair that a young man should die for a higher cause before having had time to give anything back. Wolter wrote that he had a mission in life--"a message to deliver:"

Letters From Their Eleventh Hour: Ivar Campbell (1891-1916)

Captain Ivar Campbell
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders,
Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford.
Killed in action at Mesopotamia, January 8, 1916, aged 25 years.

Campbell survived earlier action in France, to which this letter refers:
France, 1915 
...It is difficult to write things out here. Journalists do it, yet miss the note of naturalness which strikes me. For these things are natural. I suppose we have been fighting a thousand years to a thousand years' peace; they miss, too, the beauty of the scene and action as a whole--that beauty defined as something strange, rarefied; our deep passions made lawful and evident; our desires made acceptable; our direction straight. Such will be the impressions to linger, to be handed on to future generations, as the Napoleonic wars are adventures to us. Here, present and glaring to our eyes in trenches and billets, etc., the more abiding and deeper meanings of the war are readable. 
Here is the scene I shall remember always: A misty summer morning--I went along a sap-head* running towards the German line at right-angles to our own. Looking out over the country, flat and uninteresting in peace, I beheld what at first would seem to be a land ploughed by the ploughs of giants. In England you read of concealed trenches--here we don't trouble with that. Trenches rise up, grey clay, three or four feet above the ground. Save for one or two men--snipers--at the sap-head, the country was deserted. No sign of humanity--a dead land. And yet thousands of men were there, like rabbits concealed. The artillery was quiet; there was no sound but a cuckoo in a shell-torn poplar. Then, as a rabbit in the early morning comes out to crop grass, a German stepped over the enemy trench--the only living thing in sight. 'I'll take him,' says the man near me. And like a rabbit the German falls. And again complete silence and desolation...
*A Sap-head was a smaller trench running forward from and perpendicular to a main trench and was used for spying and for sniping.

Letters From Their Eleventh Hour: John L. T. Jones (1895-1917)

Captain John Llewellyn Thomas Jones,
3rd London Regiment
Educated at Llangollen Country School,
A member of a printing firm.
Killed in action, Flanders, August 16, 1917, aged 22.

[To his father and family]      France, 4/4/17 
My Dearest Dad, Ethel and Gwen, 
I have written this letter so that, in the event of anything happening to me, I do not go under without letting all you dear ones at home know how much I owe to your loving care and the little kindnesses that go to make life so pleasant and inviting. 
You know what an undemonstrative nature mine is, but my love for you all is, nevertheless, strong and deep, and though I said nothing about these things before I left England, it was just because--I couldn't--my heart was too full. 
One has to face the prospect of getting knocked out, as many other and probably better fellows than I have been. All I can say is that you do not grieve for me, because, although it may sound exceedingly quixotic, how better can one make one's exit from this world than fighting for the country which has sheltered and nurtured one through all life? 
War is cruel and I detest it, but since it was not possible to keep out of this without loss of prestige and perhaps worse, it behooves us all to carry it on to a successful conclusion. Of course, it entails sacrifices, but that is all in the game. I had hoped to be able to return home and take up what little responsibility lay in my power away from your shoulders, and to care for and look after the girls, but if that is not to be, I want you all to remember that though the break may seem unbearable--there are many other homes which have suffered loses. We should rather, I think, thank God that we have we have been a happy and united little family. I know how hard it is, and, as I write, the thought that I may not see you dear ones again in this world brings a lump to my throat and tears in my eyes. I trust that I shall return, but... 
All I can say to you is that I thank God for giving me the best father in the world and two very dear sisters. I cannot write to all, but send my deepest love to....I don't think that I can write any more, so just good-bye and God bless you all and protect you is my fervent prayer.
            With all my fondest love,
                                         Yours affectionately,

Letters From Their Eleventh Hour: Eduard Bruhn (1890-1915)

Student of Theology, Kiel

Born October 18th, 1890, at Schlamersdorf.
Killed September 17th, 1915, in Russia.

Bruhn writes (or dictates) his last letter:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remember To Remember

Leaving Paris, the train to Luxembourg tracked the Marne River valley, rolling eastwards through the Champagne region and then veered north to Reims. I recall glimpsing the famous cathedral -- not at night but in harsh daylight. But what I remembered the most (and hadn't foreseen) were the haunted place names along that ride. The names confronted me through the train window one-by-one as stops along the way: place names like Verdun-sur-Meuse. This map shows how the train's route between Paris and Luxembourg crossed the Western Front of the First World War:
The French paid a costly human price at Verdun but prevailed. The British mostly fought further north in Flanders, but they also fought around the world. Around a million or so British and Commonwealth men died in the First World War, or about 2% of her population. Other nations lost more and others lost fewer--but all were lost.

Britain was unprepared for land war in 1914. Her traditional military policy had been to have the strongest navy and to field an army just large enough to police the empire and to protect the home islands from invasion. The Royal Navy had adequate manpower, but her army was a different story. Britain had not fought a war on the continent since the Napoleonic Wars. And unlike the Continental armies, her troops were volunteers. They were highly trained and disciplined, and were commanded by a well qualified and highly educated officer corps. Yale historian J. M. Winter explains:
Social class position determined military rank in the early days of the war. Men from the upper and upper middle classes were likely to enlist earlier than men of more modest means; elites passed the rudimentary medical examinations at greater rates and joined the officer corps largely because they were deemed the right sort of people to do so. Since the officer casualty rates as a whole were about twice as high as those of men in the ranks, it follows that the higher a man was in the social scale in 1914 Britain, the greater his chances of joining the 'Lost Generation.' 
~ J. M. Winter, War Letters of Fallen Englishmen 
Years later, around 1997, my wife and I visited London together. We parted ways the first day with different agenda. She went to an art museum while I went straight away to the Imperial War Museum. I walked there from Chelsea, up and along the Thames and past the Houses of Parliament (perfectly timed with noontime chimes from Big Ben). I spent the entire afternoon there alone, viewing the machinery and materiels and remembering the men and the horrors that I read about as a boy. I remembered that haunted train ride. I still think about it around this time every year.

Letters From Their Eleventh Hour

Tomorrow is Veterans Day.  I'm going to honor it the same way I always do, flying the flag, talking to my friends and neighbors--in Oceanside we're surrounded by veterans. I am blessed.  And thank you--all of you!  But also, tomorrow, I'm going to take a historical moment to remember those veterans who are no more. No, I'm not confused about Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

November 11, 1918 marked the end of the First World War. The last combat veteran of the First World War, Claude Choules, died this year. Now there are no more of so many.

The companion books War Letters of Fallen Englishmen and German Students' War Letters are both collections of letters written by British and German soldiers who died in those battles. Yale historian J.M. Winter writes in the preface to the latter:
The entries in the book resemble gravestones, in a general way. There is the name, and instead of military rank, there is his academic affiliation. Then follows the date and place of his birth and his death. So far the parallel with a grave site is similar to that used in other similar ventures, for instance, Laurence Housman's War Letters of Fallen Englishmen. Housman's identification also includes the service arm and rank, which Witkop's book avoids. Still, the similarity to a cemetery stone is clear.

What both editions add, of course, is a letter or several letters. This practice helps establish the individuality of the soldier who died; without such special individuation, he would fade into an army of the dead and therefore into oblivion. Thus these books offer two services to bereaved families. For those whose sons or husbands or brothers had no known grave, these pages provide a kind of surrogate resting place his remains never had. And second, the text of the letters does more than just list his name, date of birth, and date of death. It is a kind of portrait, like those found in East European cemeteries. The letters construct a snapshot of the mind of the fallen soldier. The prose comes to stand for the man himself, his nobility, his beliefs, his aspirations. It was as if he wrote his own epitaph.
I've prepared four memorial posts for two English and two German soldiers. In the case of the two Germans, I made voice recordings of their letters.

[continued here]

A Conservative Notion of Symmetry: Occupy Orbitals

The conservative notion of symmetry is that hand fits glove, plug fits socket, but only in specific ways. Hydrogen for example, will not simply saturate a C=C double bond all by its lonesome, e.g.:

H2 + CH2=CH2 ---> CH3-CH3.

The orbital symmetry is all wrong. The chemistry is forbidden.

The reaction requires a catalyst to break the symmetry and to polarize the electorate. How nature really works (at a chemical level) is polarization followed by attack followed by depolarization.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hermetically Soiled

The Mercury Dime. The winged cap was supposed to be a Phrygian cap, symbolizing free thought: (footnote 1).  The design also featured a fascia on the reverse which was fitting, considering the time period.

I'm getting way ahead of myself in the Periodic Table, but elemental mercury is such cool stuff.  Here is a photo of a man floating on a vat of mercury, originally published in National Geographic Magazine:

Man floats on mercury
The acute toxicity of elemental mercury is overblown. Mercury is mainly a chronic poison, meaning it takes long term exposure to do serious damage. Mercury compounds--especially methyl mercury--are a different story. I have been slowly ridding myself of silver amalgam filings, but the brain damage may be too late. :)

Mercury has a long medicinal history. Alchemists believed that it had healing powers. When I was a kid, my dad would treat us with what we called "sting medicine." Marketed as mercurochrome, merbromin doesn't actually contain any chromium --rather the name "chrome" refers to the bright reddish orange dye attached to the mercuric ion. The last time I saw or used mercurochrome was in Italy in 1979. I "smuggled" some back, thinking it was a controlled substance. It is still freely--though not widely--available here. The Straight Dope wrote a piece on mercurochrome here: link.

Of course I played around with elemental mercury quite a bit as a chemist.  The most mercury I ever saw in one place was in a Toepler pump, a device which uses a mercury piston to collect and measure non condensable gases like methane and carbon monoxide.

Here's a modern quandary: incandescent bulbs use more watts of power than the newer mercury-containing CFL bulbs. Burning coal emits tons of mercury into the atmosphere. The EPA and others claim that smokestack emissions are not scrubbed link, even though the technology exists. Link

I think it's ironic that we need to disperse mercury in order to rid ourselves of mercury.

Copper's Special Nature

GOLD is for the mistress--silver for the maid --
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.

from Cold Iron by Rudyard Kipling (1910)
Copper, silver, and gold--we call them coinage metals for obvious reasons. They antedate recorded history because all three were found essentially pure in their uncombined "native" state. Later came smelting and the secrets for winning even more of them from their ores. I once read that around 85 % of all the copper ever mined is still in use.

We had a Copper Age followed by a Bronze Age, during which the metal played a paramount role. But ever since electrification, copper's biggest use has been for wire to conduct electricity. The secrets to copper's utility are its ductility, its conductivity, and its longevity; all three are related to electronics.

Here's a recipe for a metal having high ductility, conductivity, and nobility: Give it a full set of d-orbitals--a resilient layer of 10 perfectly paired electrons surrounding an inner core of 18 perfectly paired electrons (28 in all)--to fend off rapacious oxygen and the harsh world of oxidation. The perfection of copper's 3d subshell adds a sort of resonance like that in the noble gases.

But copper needs one more electron--29 in all. The 29th electron, the outer valence electron, is spherically symmetric. This 29th electron is responsible for copper binding to copper. In theory, just two copper atoms could couple to make a dicopper molecule and it's been studied. But Cu2 is unstable because the bonding is too weak. Instead, the atoms associate into metal.  But there's no directionality to their bonding and the bonds are very weak, lacking covalent character. In a sense, copper is like frozen mercury. This means that copper should easily deform--and so it does. What's more, because each copper atom has a single valence electron, there's room for easily moving electrons; this property translates from metal atoms to bulk metal and copper has an awesome conduction band--thus the conductivity exceeded only by silver for a pure metal.

What about copper's pretty red color? That comes from bathing in visible light. But copper only gives back the reddish portion of the spectrum.

The chemistry of copper is dominated by the chemistry of copper (I), "cuprous ion," from the loss of the 29th electron. But copper can also lose a second electron to make copper (II), "cupric" ion. I once got into an argument over on Althouse over whether copper has one or two valence electrons. Clearly it has two. The word "valence" derives from an atom's combining power and indicates how many electrons an atom can give or take.

What God Hath Wrought, Men First Wrought Of Copper*

I'm always disturbed to hear about copper wire and plumbing being ripped from abandoned and not-so abandoned properties. Thieves are motivated by commodity price inflation, or dollar devaluation--take your pick. It seems like such wanton destruction--an undoing of modern communication and sanitation.  That the copper is probably being recycled and that alternative technologies to copper wire exist for telecommunications, viz., wireless and fiber optics, is small consolation. Those newer technologies bring their own vulnerabilities.

Copper telegraph cable first linked cities beginning around the 1830's. A submarine cable was laid under the English Channel in the 1850's using a continuous length of copper coated with natural rubber. In 1858, the first of several trans-Atlantic cables was laid. A US stamp commemorated the feat:

We may think that we are now safely linked by satellite, but the bulk of Internet communication is still via cable transmission. Not copper, but fiber-optic transmission:

Link to Original
*The title is a pun/homage to Samuel F.B. Morse's first telegram: "What hath God Wrought?"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Brass Balls

Actually, they're pure copper. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.

The Language of Chemistry


Beginning students of chemistry encounter chemical symbols which bear little resemblance to their English names. The roots of several common and especially more historical elements caught my fancy, just as other Latin words buried in English did earlier. link

Several names and symbols come from Latin:
  • Sb stands for antimony which comes from the Latin Stibium. The Italians still call antimony stibio. We did too until the Middle Ages. link
  • Cu for copper comes from Cuprum, which is related to the word Cyprus, an ancient source of copper for the Romans.
  • Fe for iron comes from Ferrum. The Italians call their railroads la ferrovia and Spanish calls hardware ferreteria (cf. bilingual signs at Home Depot). English has the vestigial word, farrier.
  • Au for gold comes from Aurum.  We've lost that word in English except for some pretentious words like aureate, aurelia, aureole and the like.
  • Pb for lead comes from Plumbum. There are lots of English cognates, including plumbago, plumbing, plumb lines and plumb bobs.
  • Hg for mercury comes from hydrargyrum. That's confusing because at first glance it could be water-silver. But "hydra" is more generic and means liquid. Mercury used to be called quicksilver which sort of conveys the same notion as hydrargyrum.
  • Ag for silver comes from Argentum. The French still call money l'argent.
A couple names look like Latin but are neologisms coined by Sir Humphry Davy:
  • K for potassium comes from Kalium which derives from Arabic al-kali.
  • Na for sodium comes from Natrium. The Germans still use both words Natrium and Kalium; they never adopted sodium and potassium. I guess they weren't as impressed with Davy as we were.
  • Sn for tin comes from the Latin Stannum. There is some irony here.  The word Stannum is Latin but appears to derive from Irish or Welsh. The Romans got their tin from the British Isles.  Tin is still mined in Cornwall.
  • W for Tungsten comes from an older name, Wolfram, which is still used by the Germans. Tungsten derives from Swedish tung heavy + sten stone.