Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fishing in the stream of conciousness

I seem to have "broken" my blog's template resulting in it not being displayed properly in certian browsers. Sorry about that, I just had to mess with it, now it's all kerfuffled. If you don't see a bunch of links off to the right scroll down to the bottom of the page. You'll find them there. I don't know why they dropping down like that. There's a lot of good links for you to look at! Tales of previous adventures, neat shops selling useful adventure gear, information on where to go adventuring, stuff like that. Definately worth a look if you ask me.

Of course, I just had a rather large glass of fine brandy so everything seems a bit rosey and warm right now. Work sucks but life is good. Did I mention my lab tech just left the company to become a game warden? I am so jealous of her! I'll be stuck doing her job and my job while she'll be out in the woods arresting poachers and shooting meth-lab operators! Is that just the best job ever? I'm hoping she'll at least send me some alligator teeth (there's a lot of alligator poaching Texas. They fasten a chicken to a grappling hook fastened to a heavy-duty chain fastened to a really big tree. Apparently you can get a lot of gators with such a simple set-up). Anyway, and alligator-tooth necklace would be cool. Or maybe a set of alligator-teeth cufflinks for my suit next month when I present my paper at the big SPE (Society of Petroleum Engineers) conference. I'm not an engineer (I can't drive trains) I'm a chemist. If you want a bridge, talk to an engineer. If you DON'T want a bridge, talk to a chemist (wink, wink).

Actually, with a big nose like mine and being perpetually tanned by the great outdoors I find it's best to no longer mess with the, uh, *flashy* side of chemistry anymore. I also learned many years ago not to bring my work briefcase onto planes anymore. It's chem-lab smells drive the sniffer-dogs NUTS. Nothing like a strip search to start a business trip right. :-( Of course, having your co-worker see a teddy bear (hey, I can't get to sleep if I'm not snuggling with someone and the teddy bear is A LOT better than a divorce!) in your bag doesn't help one's career. Oh well. They are all just jealous because I look sexy in a lab coat and they all look like frumpy old men (including most of the women!). Then again, most of my coworkers are between the ages of 54 and the Eocene age, so they'd look like frumpy old men in just about anything short of a Lamborgini...

That was some real good brandy.

Adventure! Excitement! Template Issues!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A shout to my fellow Knights...

Wow, hard to believe it's been twenty years! Todd, Johnny, Darrin, Daryl, Sara, Greg, Shelly, Doreen, Guy, etc... I wish I could be there tonight and hear your tales. But something real big is in the works and so I couldn't make it. Drop me a line though if you can, I'd love to hear from you.

And for everyone else out there, here's some pictures of Miniwether with bugs.
bananaspider spider-2 spider-3
That banana spider is a hair under 4" tip to tip. She's been keeping our backyard free of bugs all summer. I think she also caught one of the neighbor's cats...

Every Sunday morning before church Miniwether and I go for a walk looking for interesting stuff. Her idea of "interesting stuff" is anything with either no legs or many legs. Normally she returns home from these walks with a handful of slugs and Japanese beetles. On the last walk she found this walking stick and fell in love with it. She carried it around for almost an hour before returning it unharmed to the wilds. It was a suprisingly durable insect.

Adventure! Excitement! Friends and Family!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Death in a small bottle.

Chlorine gas destroyed the respiratory organs of its victims and this led to a slow death by asphyxiation.
The War to End All Wars

I hate it when a plans falls apart.

I was supposed to spend the weekend at Boots, Wheels and Treads, a big sale of military equipment and vehicles. We are talking Roman swords, WWII tanks and class III weapons!!! Talk about a kid before Christmas! I've been looking forward to this since April.

Unfortunately my inside man (ex-marine) developed a serious medical issue about a month ago. Surgery, meds and the thrill of playing with flamethrowers just wasn't enough to get his boots back on. Thursday night he called to cancel. Internal bleeding and a five-hour car ride don't go well together.

So, no Christmas (though I do still have most of my internal organs unlike my buddy, so no complaints!).

Fortunately(?!) a neat little project popped up. As you know, I spend a lot of time in the woods. One of the main concerns out there is having enough water. In Texas heat water is crucial and so I always pack a liter or more of emergency water on top of what I think I'll need. This is heavy. Sure, I could boil water to purify it, but I don't feel like drinking hot water when it's 90F out. I do have a water purifcation filter pump but it's kind of clunky. I also have some Polar Pure but I just feel like using it.

But for about $100 I could have a military-quality MIOX water purification unit. This thing is awesome! You just add a little salt water and it electrochemically converts it into chlorine gas, sodium hypochlorite and assorted other strong oxidizers. Basically, (ha ha ha) it makes a supper-strong bleach solution that, when added to impure water, will kill all the bacteria and virii (note to readers: I'm not getting into the "are virii truely alive or not" argument again!). The MIOX device is only slightly larger than a big magic marker and can purify something like 200 liters of water with one set of batteries and a bit of table salt. It is the king of water purifiers.

But $100? Yowza! That's a lot of money for something that's really little more than two lead pencils and a 9-volt battery(scroll down to "Lab Hints"). Sure, the MIOX unit has a whole bunch of bells and whistles, in the end it's just pumping electrons into salt water.

I can do that for a lot less than $100.

So instead of checking out assorted weapons this weekend I ended up making chlorine gas in the kitchen. Instead of the MIOX's platinum electrodes (inert) I used pencil lead (graphite) electrodes (mostly inert) stuck through the cap lid and sealed with 5-minute epoxy. These electrodes were then fastened to a 9-volt battery clip. Instead of a computer-controlled sensor measuring exactly how much hypochlorite was being made I just let it run until I smelled a bit of chlorine gas. Currently, (ha ha ha) I have no idea how much of the oxidative products I'm making versus how much I need, but I should be able to analyze all this at work this week. Sometimes being a chemist has it's good points.

Once I get the bugs worked (ha ha ha) I'll post more details on this thing. Who knows, one of youu might want to build your own.

Adventure! Excitement! Chemistry Puns!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

There and Back Again.

So I'm looking out the window of the small plane I'm on as it rolls up to it's parking space at the airport on the island of Ciudad del Carmen. Waddling alongside of the plane is a big iguana, maybe thirty inches long. Apparently it was a regular visitor to this airstrip as all the guards standing around with automatic rifles were ignoring it.

Ciudad del Carmen is just off the coast of Mexico on the Gulf side just before the Yucatan peninsula. The water is emerald green and the beaches are white, dotted with small thatched huts to relax under. It looked very beautiful from the plane as I flew in. Small shrimp boats tacked about in the water below me hauling in netfulls of the famous del Carmen giant shrimps (roughly the size of a gopher!). Stretching away from the beaches to cover the island were hundreds of brightly colored bungalows and assorted larger buildings. Each was gaily painted in bright colors, red blue green yellow pink purple like handfuls of confetti tossed at a party...

To make a long description short, it looks even better as you fly away from it...

Here's a tip they don't tell you in the guidebooks. The island has no storm sewers. Uh, "So what?" you are asking. "It sounds like a tropical paradise." you may be thinking. Well, it's more of a tropical-rain paradise. Every night huge storms would crash across the island dumping 2-3 inches of rain on this flat island-city. The water then just sits there leaving the roads under anywhere from 3" to 14" inches of the nastiest water you've ever seen outside of Troy, New York. We needed a taxi to get across the street for lunch because no one wanted to walk through the knee-deep, filth-filled water. The taxi costed 20 pesos (each way).

Beaches? Didn't get to them. Shrimp? Saw some swimming in a window tank at a restaruant when we stopped at a red light. Brightly colored buildings? Yep, very pretty as we whizzed past on the way to the Pemex compound. This was a large, old industrial complex with unreliable electricity and surrounded by 12-foot concrete walls topped with razor wire. I spent three days in the complex analyzing crude oils using even cruder equipment. They demanded our values be within 3% of values found earlier. It was a bad sign when the first oil came up over 90% different in the C10-17 (hydrocarbons whith chain lengths of ten to seventeen carbons) values.

This was not good. I kept testing testing testing samples. According to my Visa, I was only there to observe, but laws and such get a little fuzzy in Mexico when large amounts of money are involved. I worked. Some oils matched earlier values while others were way off, always in the C10-17 count. Solids and asphaltenes were dead-on, it was just the damn short-chain hydrocarbons that weren't matching up! It was hot, the fumes were driving me dizzy and the power kept going out so the hot-bath I was using never got up to 180F...wait a minute, that's it! The hotbath was only 140F, so I wasn't extracting as much C10-17 into the acetone as before! I knew what the problem was and asked my interpreter to explain it to the Pemex officials. Once they understood the problem they'd have to realize there was no way I could meet their 3% specification.

Well, that didn't work. They responded that that wasn't their problem. I had to meet their values within 3% or the deal was off.

An hour later I was back at the airport leaving a day earlier that originally scheduled. (Um, technically I should state that it was actually a day earlier than the NINTH scheduled flightplan, but that's a whole different $1000 story) So, Monday morning I get to go into work and explain why I wasn't able to close the multi-million dollar deal.

And I thought last Monday was as bad as it gets...

Oh yeah, the latest antics(!) of the damn sand-bastards certianly didn't make my trip any easier. Note to the Religion of Peace, we can drill through glass...

Adventure! Excitement! Tropical Island Distopia!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Paperwork submitted, Visa still pending.

Monday mornings are bad.

Monday mornings with out access to sugar and caffeine are really, really bad.

Monday mornings spent standing outside the Mexican Consulate for hours with a thousand unwashed unfriendlies in 95+F as the occasional thunderstorm passes by brings a whole new depth of badness to the Monday mornings that until now I thought was impossible.

Of course, I STILL DON'T HAVE THE VISA!! After giving them all the forms and $159 (cash only!) I have to return tomorrow between 4pm and 5pm to see if they approved it. That doesn't mean they'll have it ready tomorrow, just that they may approve it tomorrow. Maybe I'll get the Visa then, maybe not.

Adventure! Excitement! Sweat!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ping Pong Ping Pong Ping...

Okay, so the tickets were changed THREE MORE TIMES today plus I had to run around all over downtown trying to get the proper Visa paperwork. I needed a letter of invitation from the Mexican company, I need a letter from our corporate headquarters stating they would be wholely financially responsible for me, I needed to fill out forms to submit to the Mexican consulate that included such information as my monthly salary plus any other forms of income that I have, I needed passport-sized photos, and then Monday I take all this paperwork plus $160 in cash and stand in line outside the Mexican consulate at 6am in hopes that I get to see somebody with the right rubber stamp. Then if I do see that person I can't actually get the needed Visa UNTIL TUESDAY!! Oh yeah, and I'll have to stand in line again Tuesday morning outside the Mexican consulate to get the Visa/paperwork returned to me, assuming they approve it.

All this so I can fly down to Pemex (Mexican National Oil company) headquarters, watch a guy mix chemicals, and say "Stop!" if it looks like he'll mix something together that will kill us all.

Meanwhile, the same Mexican goverment publishes comic books showing their citizen how to illegally enter the USA.

Something just ain't right...

Adventure! Excitement! Easier coming in than going out!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ping Pong

Okay, so far today I've swapped out my airline tickets three times while people fight over where exactly I am going, how I'm getting there, and if it's even legal for me to go there! The customer said I have to be there Monday morning or the deal is off, however I can't even get an appointment at the country's consulate office until Tuesday, but the only flight leaves Saturday night.

Maybe I'll get to move rocks around this weekend after all.

Adventure! Excitement! Bureaucracy!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Stress is...

...a job where at any moment you can get an e-mail telling you, "Be in country XXX in two days to fix a problem, if you can't it'll cost the company $7 million. Oh, the testing equipment got smashed in shipping so you have to make due with whatever you can scrounge. DON'T FAIL!"

Sometimes being a genius sucks.

Adventure! Excitement! Rocks on hold!