Tag: technology

Pique the Geek 20120610: More on Fireflies

Last time we had a rather technical discussion about the biology and chemical mechanics of fireflies.  I appreciate all of the comments, and some of them indicated that I should expound a bit.

Most of the comments were concerned with firefly ecology and how to encourage their numbers.  It is true that fireflies seem to be on the decrease insofar as populations go, and there are several reasons for that.

One reason that I am pretty much sure DOES NOT deplete the population is live capture, with or without release.  I have a call in to Sigma-Aldrich to see if they still buy fireflies.  If so, they are supplying lots of material for research whilst doing little harm to the population.

It is HARD to catch enough fireflies to damage the population!  As I get more information about the bounty, if any, on members of the Photinus genus, I shall share.

Pique the Geek 20120603: Fireflies

‘Tis the time of the season here in the Bluegrass for fireflies (or, as we used to call them at home in Arkansas, lightening bugs).  Fireflies are an amazingly large group of insects, and are found on all continents except Antarctica.

The experts still can not agree how to categorize them systematically, so we will just touch on their classification.  It is important, however, to place them within the insects at least to a zero order approximation.

I got to thinking about them the other night when my dear friend and her little girl were in their yard next door trying to catch the few that were already flying.  Next week it is supposed to be warmer, so the three of us may be able to spend some quality time together catching them, and letting them go, of course, after The Little Girl goes to bed.

As Faust said: “When concepts fail, words arise.” by Don Mikulecky

The remainder of the title would not fit: “The destruction of language in politics”.  The series this is a part of has the labels:Anti-capitalist meet-up and anti-capitalism.  No better a way to introduce my topic.  Those are “buzz words” and have been around for a very long time.  What do they mean?  I would guess that the vast majority of the people who use these words along with “communism”, “socialism”, “democracy” , “freedom”, liberty”and many others have no real idea what they are talking about.  Political exchanges are the “good guys” and the “bad guys” just like in our Western movies.  But many of us are more sophisticated or at least we think we are.  Read the diaries here and you will be able to see what I am getting at.  Language is a very interesting thing.  We have dictionaries and now the Google and Wikipedia sources for word meanings.  The technology is racing ahead faster than we can comprehend.  Umberto Eco calls it the modern magic.  We use it like magic not really knowing how it works or where it originates.  This diary is meant to blow your mind.  It comes from the strange creature I am, a hybrid between scientist (but very unconventional), political activist (but very radical and unconventional) and citizen of the world rather than of a Nation.  Oh yes I am an American citizen because that’s the way things have to be at this point in time.  It will change, but I will be dead.  When I die I cease to exist. I am 76 now.  If I haven’t turned you off yet read on below.  I hope to shock you.

Pique the Geek 20120527: Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis, also called anaphylactic shock, is a potentially life threatening condition.  I write about it tonight because yesterday afternoon my friend’s mum called me to come next door to see what was wrong with her.

When I got there she was having extreme difficulty breathing, had broken out in hives, and had swollen lips.  She was crying because of fear (EVERYONE panics when they can not breathe) and the pain from the rash.

I knew immediately that she was in trouble.  I told her mum to call the paramedics and asked if she had any diphenhydramine (trade name Benedryl).  She did not.

Pique the Geek 20120520: Tanning Pros and Cons

Tanning, either by the sun or by artificial means, is hugely popular in the United States and elsewhere.  The word itself is interesting, deriving from the Old English tannian which in turn is derived from the Latin tannum, meaning oak bark.  This makes sense, because the inner bark of certain oaks are rich in phenolic compounds that have been and still are used to tan raw skins into leather.

During the tanning process the skins darken, just like the human skin usually darkens when exposed to the ultraviolet light in sunlight or tanning salons.  I use the term usually because some very fair people never tan but just burn, and very dark skinned people show little or no tanning.  Albinos are not capable of tanning.

Before we get to the science behind tanning, it is of service to look at the cultural aspects of it.  There has been a sea change in attitudes about tanning in the past century.  I shall use my mum as an example.

Pique the Geek 20120513: Melatonin, not just a Sleep Aid

Before we get started, please allow me to wish all of the mums, grandmums, greatgrandmums, greatgreatgrandmums, and, often neglected, adoptive and foster mums out there a very HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!  I just got off of the telephone with the former Mrs. Translator after wishing her the same.  I would have wished my mum and grandmum that as well, but they are no longer in the temporal plane.  I did give a card to my special friend since she has a little girl.

Like my current series about The Moody Blues on Popular Culture, this topic was suggested by my very dear high school buddy Steve Ahlert.  (He approved of me using his name.)  Steve and I sort of lost contact for a while, but now we speak almost every day.  I LOVE my Straight Talk unlimited everything, $45 per month plan and my Samsung T528G!

Steve uses melatonin to help him sleep, and it is very effective for him.  Now, Steve is not some new age trend follower.  Actually he is a professional pharmacist, and is the best pharmacist insofar as knowing his area of expertise that I have ever known.  Equally important, the way that he deals with his patients is outstanding.  He has a knack for translating highly technical information to whatever level is necessary for people to understand what they need to do.

Melatonin is interesting because what has turned out to be sort of an incidental effect gave it its name.  It is also interesting from a molecular structure/activity standpoint because it is chemically related to a whole host of psychologically active agents.  Let us examine this interesting substance.

Pique the Geek 20120506: Promethium, another odd Element

Last time we discussed technetium, and now we shall discuss the only other element with Z < 82 with no stable isotope, promethium (Z = 61).  But there is more business than just that, and it has to do with a suggestion that commenter Wreck Smurfy‘s suggestion that I use actual hyperlinks to key terms rather than just bolding them.  There shall be more about that later.

Promethium is actually not as interesting as technetium, but still has its moments.  It has a storied tale of claimed discoveries, and one of my personal interests is the history of chemistry, in particular infighting by contributors.  I got into one of those contests myself back in the day, when I supported a particular geometry for the lowest triplet excited state for cyclohexen-2-one, but that is another story altogether.

Promethium, chemical symbol Pm, is a member of the lanthanide series, and those are often called the rare earth elements.  They are not all that rare, at least several of them, but their chemistry is such that they were extremely difficult to separate and purify until modern ion exchange chromatographic methods were developed after World War II, many of those techniques outgrowths of classified work during the Manhattan Project.

Pique the Geek 20120429: Technetium, An odd Element

Last week a commenter suggested this topic, and I am always happy to get reader feedback and try to honor requests.  Technetium is one of only two elements with an atomic number (Z) less than 82 (Z =  43) without a stable isotope, the other one being promethium, with Z = 61.  Dimitri Mendeleev predicted this element after he had perfected the Periodic Table of the elements in 1871.  He called it ekamanganese since it occupies the place in the table one row under manganese.

Technetium was claimed to have been discovered over and over, and credit to its discovery goes to Emilio Segre and Carlo Perrier in 1936.  It was discovered in a foil that Ernest Lawrence had given Segre that was composed of molybdenum.  Some of the molybdenum had been transmuted into technetium, and the Italian team confirmed this.

Pique the Geek 20120422: The Isotope Effect

The germ of this piece came from an undertaking that I am considering.  That undertaking is to write a post for every chemical element.  The recent successes of my more technical pieces have made me decide to concentrate more on the harder part of science rather than less technical material.

The problem with that is that it would take over two years to cover all of the elements, and in reality even longer because there are topics out there that will surely be more topical.  I am not sure that this is feasible.  Maybe I could look at families, but then that gets way too general.  Any thoughts on how to approach (or even if I should) this huge array of subjects would be appreciated.

In any event, I would start with hydrogen and work my way to heavier elements.  One of the first things that came to mind was the isotope effect, because hydrogen has the largest isotope effect of any element.  Please stay with us!

Pique the Geek 20120415: Beryllium, a Very Unusual Element

Beryllium, atomic number (Z) 4, is the second metallic element in the periodic table.  By looking at the periodic table, one would think that it would be very similar to magnesium and calcium, but one would be wrong on several accounts.  There shall be more about that later.

Beryllium is a comparatively rare element, both on earth and in the cosmos.  There are a couple of reasons for that as well, and again there will be more about that later.

Most people have never seen the pure metal, but most of us have seen compounds of it, at least in jewelry stores, because it is an essential component of real emeralds.  Let us take a look at this little know element and see what good it is, and any ill that it might cause.

Pique the Geek 20120408: More on Meat

Last time we discussed lean finely textured beef, commonly referred to as pink slime.  Tonight we shall finish this short series by discussing two other forms of recovered meat.

Mechanically separated meat is derived from a process that dates back to around forty or a few more years.  A newer process is called advanced meat recovery and has certain advantages over the older processes for some applications, but the older process is still used in others.

These products are in LOTS of prepared foods and interestingly are subject to a higher degree of regulation than lean finely textured beef, at least for beef products.  Please join for the discussion to follow.

Pique the Geek 20120401: The Things that we Eat. Pink Slime

Pink slime is a slang term, and not a terribly inapt one for what is technically known as lean finely textured beef or boneless lean beef trimmings.  Although I used the term pink slime in the title to get your attention, I think that it is a bit pejorative and shall use the term “the product” henceforth.

Since this is a meat product, it is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and not the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This seems to me to have a bearing on how it has been approved.

There are a LOT of politics and hype surrounding the product, and I think that it serves my readers to look at the technical issues before we examine the political and PR issues.  You might be surprised where I come down on the safety and wholesomeness of the product.

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