The Lupercalia Coupon

As I did last year in hopes for a return to traditional Roman values of debauchery for Lupercalia, I declare a 10% off coupon running from now through March 17th. In this way, I can capture a variety of holidays of excess all under one banner: Super Bowl XLV, Carnivale/Mardi Gras, and the modern observance of St. Patricks’ Day.

Your code to use at checkout is “WOLFSHIRT”. Go forth & consume.

warrenellis.com GUEST INFORMANT Piece

This was originally posted on warrenellis.com as a GUEST INFORMANT piece and grew out of thoughts/worries from Las Vegas (Part 2). I would like to thank Warren for this chance to shout into the darkness, in hopes that someone in Britain will take an interest in their secret history and try to preserve some of it like the Atomic Testing Museum is.

NB: I used to work at a nuclear weapons laboratory, but don’t anymore. I held a “Q” clearance but, as you’ll read below, those responsibilities never end.

The problem with asking about a “secret history” is that people immediately think you are a whackadoo hell bent on conspiracy theories and just hoping, pleading, and praying to be anal probed by aliens. But we do have secret history and are making more of it every day, courtesy of the way various governments classify information. My particular interest is in the history of the global nuclear weapons programs and you’re going to have to bear with me because there’s a lot of acronyms to cope with in the Land of the Classified. Here is quick primer on classification in the American system:

We have two different tiers of classification: Restricted Data (RD), AKA nuclear secrets, and everything else. The normal classification procedure involves the review of the information and then decision if it needs to be classified into the familiar Confidential, Secret (S), Top Secret (TS), etc. categories. For normal materials, it is presumed public information until someone reviews it and gives it a classification. This classified information will, in time, automatically declassify as expiration dates hit, unless someone renews their classification. For example, every soldiers’ WWII military records were classified and automatically became public in 25 years, although my grandfather’s war record has received a 25 year extension…twice.

Not so with nuclear secrets. They are “born secret” and must be reviewed to be declassified. There are no expiration dates on nuclear secrets. The two clearances that allow the use of Restricted Data are the Department of Energy’s “L’” and “Q” clearances. They may be considered as offset and slightly higher versions of Secret & Top Secret, except that they permit the access to RD. One of the problems with trying to piece together history related to nuclear secrets is that they suffer something of a contagion theory; things that normally would be completely pedestrian information, such as a phonebook, become Official Use Only (OUO) because it holds a list of names and phone numbers of people who hold L & Q clearances. State Department documents that might reference the nuclear ambitions of another nation suddenly become cross-classified with a L or Q clearance.

This also means that people who have L & Q clearances are “Informed Individuals”. With what they already know that is classified, they are capable of thinking entirely new, instantly classified thoughts and to speak them out loud in an uncleared area or to uncleared people is a felony. So, yes, it is possible to commit Thoughtcrime. In light of that, it should make sense that workers in the nuclear complex tend to work very long hours and stay long past retirement age. Inside the gate is the only place they are free to think and talk. Outside the gate they have to constantly guard themselves from accidentally thinking the wrong thing out loud. My very favorite cold warrior comes of as a bit of an airhead in public, because the only thing she feels safe in discussing are interior decorating and clothes. This self-censoring doesn’t end once you leave and no longer have an active clearance. You know what you know, but now you have nowhere to go to discuss it. The obligations of a Department of Energy clearance are for life.

Now, with that out of the way…

I just took a trip to the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, NV, took in all the exhibits and had the pleasure of meeting an 83 year old retiree from the Nevada Test Site. Reading/listening to the interviews sends a very clear message that the Nevada desert is where the American front of Cold War was waged, one nuclear blast at a time, in the opinion of the former Test Site workers. To people that haven’t worked in the nuclear weapons complex, this may sound strident and reactionary. I know it felt a bit wrong hearing it all and that’s me talking. I was only at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for three years and change, but I spent a lot of time talking with and listening to the older workers and retirees (decontamination of facilities is sometimes like doing an oral history project with people who worked there, starting with “I just need to know what you did so I know what danger I might be in”). The Q cleared workers of the Department of Energy carry a very heavy burden that they can never put down, even the former janitors. They have been entrusted with the nuclear secrets of the nation and you’d be surprised how informative very peripheral information, like frequency of trash collection, can be. For this reason, they aren’t free to speak…EVER.You disappear behind the Q and cease to be an individual, you are part of the complex.

They’re used to a sizable population that hates the work they do, but they aren’t allowed to defend their work to the public. On the flip side, they are used to their lives and research being guided by the budgeting whims of elected officials and appointees that, typically, have very little scientific literacy and operate on election timetables. It is funny how the Cold Warriors I used to enjoy talking to felt that while Soviet designers had been their competition, it was Capitol Hill was the actual enemy of Science. A few former Soviet researchers I’ve spoken to said they felt the same way about the American designers and the Kremlin. While Reagan called the national labs “The Arsenal of Freedom”, they never felt particularly held in esteem. The budgets and executive actions deeply at odds with the rhetoric in George W. Bush’s administration was a matter of doublethink that alienated the career workers of the complex further. With all that in mind, this helps inform the proud siege mentality I find many weapons complex workers to have.

It is also important to remember that weapons work is not the only thing they do. In fact, a majority of the Q cleared workers have nothing to do with weapons whatsoever. Just as it was in my time in Antarctica, for every researcher there are at least eight other people there who make their work possible because you certainly don’t want people like me doing carpentry. Only the most arrogant PhD or callous bureaucrat would fail to acknowledge all the other people working to make the national labs a success. Research grinds to a halt when the toilets don’t work, you know?

But then I got to thinking about about countries beyond America, in particular, the United Kingdom and how their workers weathered the shifting political tides, shrinking budgets, and anti-intellectual fervor. For example, I find it hard to believe that in ’70s that there was never an attempt to make a “nuclear union” in the pre-Thatcher era. The tradesmen that work in the weapons program and nuclear power plants in America may belong to their own individual trade unions, but not as a union of workers in nuclear industry.

Something we often gloss over in the history of the Manhattan Project is how many non-Americans contributed to it. Part of the reason this is easy to do is that many of the scientists naturalized and became American citizens, but some didn’t and went back to their home countries after the war. The United Kingdom, in particular, sent it’s researchers to contribute to 1) get them out of England, and 2) hopefully make something that would give Jerry a jolly good thrashing, with agreements of research sharing made in 1943 & ’44. In 1946, with the signature of the Atomic Energy Act and creation of the Restricted Data clearances, all those foreign nationals were sent home with out so much as a scrap of paper for all the work they’d done in Los Alamos.

This, understandably, caused a bit of diplomatic rift between the Washington and London. The subsequent, brusquely denied, request for America to honor their agreements lead to the creation of British nuclear weapons program on a thousand pieces of scrap paper as the scientists were order to reconstitute what they’d done during the Manhattan Project, almost out of spite per Prime Minister Attlee’s papers. They then went from scribbles to a functioning weapons test in about five years, which is damn impressive considering the much more limited resources & manpower of post-war Britain. Some of this story is captured in the novel Spycatcher by Peter Wright, which was banned in Britain at one point…ensuring it’s commercial success.

The British nuclear weapons program has always been small and accustomed to making do with very little, as opposed to the American program who had a hard time spending all the money thrown at them through the 60s & 70s. Where the American workers felt besieged by public and increasingly alienated from the government that employed them, it is hard to get a sense of the experience in other countries. I imagine that Thatcher’s England would have been a close analog to Reagan’s America, but the staggering shifts to the educational system must have had some reflection in the nuclear complex. Subsequent governments don’t seem like they would have been terribly supportive either. What was it like to work there? What projects have we forgotten about because they never hit prime time outside of the gates?

And it is these stories that I would like to reclaim. This is the secret history we are losing as the retirees die, keeping their oaths to the grave. The Atomic Testing Museum and DOE Nevada Site Office are trying to save a small fragment of it but there is so much more out there in the world. The lessons of the “small” British and French programs may be more instructive for the future of arms control than studying America and the Soviet Union’s.

Phil Broughton, 27 January 2011
(AKA Herr Direktor Funranium)

Las Vegas (Part 2): The Atomic Testing Museum, NERVA, and SL-1

Part 1 of the Las Vegas Adventures can be found here.

If you are in Las Vegas, go to the Atomic Testing Museum. As much fun as gambling and debauchery are, make the time to head out to UNLV and visit. Getting a chance to visit the Trinity Test Site or one of the rare tours of the Nevada Test Site (NTS) is once in a lifetime event for most non-weapons complex employees, but this museum is there every day. Give yourself at least three hours if you really want to take the time to read everything they’ve put on display. And if any of the NTS retirees who are now docents are there, sit down and listen. It is as simple as that. Make the time as if you were listening to a WWII vet talking about landing in Normandy or Okinawa.

My apology for this post is that photography is prohibited in the Atomic Testing Museum, so no pictures. However, the Department of Energy Nevada Site Office has released some amazing photo collections from the testing days, along with current operations, and I definitely recommend wandering through them. Hell, we used to have a movie studio/military base in LA devoted to making films and photos from testing. Suffice it to say the picture I am missing for you is a replica of the Whackenhut guard shack that greets you at NTS, where the security guard checks your badge before letting you on site, is the ticket kiosk for the museum. Honestly, entering the Test Site feels a little anticlimactic, like you just passed the mall cop. It feels like not nearly enough security, until you remember that Nellis AFB is less than a minute away on afterburner. Inside the museum, if you pay close attention and look up you will see the US Atomic Energy Commission sign from the former Nevada Site Office hiding over an exhibit.

Reading/listening to the interviews  sends a very clear message that the Nevada desert is where the American front of Cold War was waged, one nuclear blast at a time, in the opinion of the former Test Site workers. To people that haven’t worked in the nuclear weapons complex, this may sound strident and reactionary. I know it felt a bit wrong hearing it and that was me. I was only at Lawrence Livermore National Lab for three years and change, but I spent a lot of time talking with and listening to the older workers and retirees (decontamination of facilities is sometimes like doing an oral history project with people who worked there, starting with “I just need to know what you did so I know what danger I might be in”). The Q cleared workers of the Department of Energy carry a very heavy burden that they can never put down, even the former janitors, because the obligation of the Q clearance doesn’t terminate with employment. In fact, for the rest of their lives they are informed individuals capable of thinking new classified thoughts because nuclear secrets are considered “born secret”. All other classified information is presumed public until reviewed and otherwise classified; nuclear secrets are presumed classified until reviewed and made public. They have been entrusted with the nuclear secrets of the nation and you’d be surprised how informative very peripheral information, like frequency of trash collection, can be. For this reason, they aren’t free to speak…EVER.

They’re used to a sizable population that hates the work they do, but they aren’t allowed to defend their work. On the flip side, they are used to their lives and research being guided by the budgeting whims of elected officials and appointees that, typically, have very little scientific literacy and operate on election timetables. It is funny how the Cold Warriors I used to enjoy talking to felt that while Soviet designers had been their competition, Capitol Hill was the actual enemy of Science. While Reagan called the national labs “The Arsenal of Freedom”, they never felt particularly held in esteem. The budgets and executive actions deeply at odds with the rhetoric in George W. Bush’s administration was a matter of doublethink that alienated the career workers of the complex further. In the middle of budget cuts & layoffs, I remember finding walls of letter with thank yous from the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their commanders, for the development of tools they felt were saving lives and rebuilding countries. With all that in mind, this helps inform the proud siege mentality I find many weapons complex workers to have.

It is also important to remember that weapons work is not the only thing they do. In fact, a majority of the Q cleared workers have nothing to do with weapons whatsoever. Just as it was in my time in Antarctica, for every researcher there are at least eight other people there who make their work possible because you certainly don’t want people like me doing carpentry. Only the most arrogant PhD or callous bureaucrat would fail to acknowledge all the other people working to make the national labs a success. Research grinds to a halt when the toilets don’t work, you know?

Not all of the ideas explored at NTS were particularly good ones. This brings me to the NERVA Program, AKA the nuclear rocket, of which one of the thrusters of which is on display at the museum. It is tagged as activated material as it had been made radioactive by the reactor operation, but it’s had nearly 50 years to  cool down and is kept behind a thick Lexan shield. You are safe to look at it, just don’t try to go lick it. If you want to know why you don’t have moonbases and missions to Mars already, it is because the NERVA program was canceled.

Important note, when America tests rockets we aim them upside down and test the force exerted on a pressure plate below the rocket to see what it yields. We learned, or rather we inherited Nazi rocket scientists that had learned, from the German rocket tests where they aimed them up and tried to tie or bolt them down (sometimes that didn’t work and the misfires were disastrous/amusing). The NERVA test that failed when they let it run dry of hydrogen liquified the nuclear fuel of the reactor, which then turned the upward pointing thruster into a molten uranium fountain. Oops. After letting the short half-life material cool down for a couple weeks, NTS radiation safety workers (my people) got to go in and do clean up, picking up uranium BBs one by one, for months. This is how I got to talking to the docent Layton O’Neill.

Layton is an 82yo former health physicist from NTS, Hanford, and Idaho National Lab. When I said that it must have been a serious pain in the ass doing that NERVA clean up, he said yes, but that it was nothing compared to SL-1 which he’d been a first responder to. My jaw dropped. This is the first time I’d ever met anyone that had been at SL-1.

So, “What is SL-1?” you ask. SL-1, or Stationary Low Power Reactor One, was an Army power project. The idea behind it was that military HQs were increasingly power hungry and that it would be ideal to have a quick field assembly reactor that you could bring in by plane, boat, or rail. You could never depend that you’d have cooling water in any given place (because who knows where a future HQ might be) so it was meant to use river bed gravel as moderator if necessary, but water was preferred. That’s what the reactor was, SL-1 the accident is a different matter.

Honestly, SL-1 is America’s only fatal nuclear accident but it’s one few people know about. To call Three Mile Island (TMI) an accident is a misnomer; something went wrong, but the safety systems operated precisely as intended. It would be more accurate to call TMI an operational success during a systems failure. SL-1 though, we killed the three servicemen operating it and badly contaminated the facility although it was fairly well contained inside the building. Most of the bodies of the three operators were buried in lead lined concrete caskets in Arlington, though some pieces were so radioactive they were buried at the NTS instead. I am extremely happy to say that the 40min long SL-1 abbreviated after action video is available online here. There is a 3hr version that was available in the LLNL training library, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

Your teaser to go read the Wikipedia article and watch the video: Layton is the man who identified that it was a control rod from the reactor, flying out like a spear under steam pressure, that had nailed the corpse of the specialist to the ceiling of the reactor dome.

I kept my fanboy excitement talking to Layton to a minimum. I shook his hand and let him know that it was an honor to get a first hand account, rather than read the reports and do the calculations from textbooks. I learned a few things that weren’t in the reports that will be helpful should the worst ever happen and I get called to respond.

Las Vegas (Part 1): CES 2011 & Good People

You’re gonna have to bear with me, as this is gonna be a long one.

A great confluence of events brought me to Las Vegas with very short notice. First, was a trip to Disneyland over New Year’s which had me in need of retoxicification. Disney tried to leach all of my vital anger, alcohol, sarcasm, and bloodymindedness and replace it with joy, cheer, togetherness, and love for my fellow man. It left my back and shoulders a rock hard knot of stress as I defended myself against the hordes of people and pleasantness. What I needed was a return to good bedrock values of venality to relax. I needed excess and indulgence. Steeping in sin as if it were a hot tub. I needed Vegas.

Second, CES 2011. A chance to see the coming year’s toys in all their splendor. A new friend I hadn’t actually gotten a chance to meet yet, Ed Zitron, was going to be working the show, something he was notified of with short notice. I had been trying to instruct him on the finer points of my favorite game in the casino, craps, and had rapidly run into the the brick wall of “This is much easier to do in person”. I suddenly had a chance, plus convenient craps tables to teach on.  Also, there was a several year old outstanding promise to my Lovely Assistant regarding a Cirque d’Soleil show that had come due.

While mulling all this over, Steinwielder Vegas Prime placed an order for a 1000ml FMJ. That clinched it. I asked if he would be willing to accept hand delivery because, with that, I was going to Las Vegas.

WORDS OF WISDOM: Beware driving under the influence of BBotE with Megadeth blasting on straight desert highways. You will be tempted to drive very fast. Your car doesn’t go faster than the California Highway Patrol and they’ll make you stop in the middle of Bat Country.

We arrived somewhat late in the evening, courtesy of the CHP delay in Barstow, at The California Hotel near Fremont St. I would like to take this moment to marvel not only at the Boyd Gaming market strategy (i.e. the regional targeting of the Hawaiian gambler with daily flights to Kona & Honolulu), but at how happy everyone was there. I’m not just talking about the front desk and dealers, who have strict pleasantness policies imposed on them, but housekeepers and ancillary staff like the shopkeepers in their arcade. People actively seek positions here, and fight to keep them, for the work environment because it is fun and pleasant. The fact that the sister casino across the street by skyway, Main Street Station, has a brew pub and 20x odds craps certainly helps raise it in my esteem.

A few things about CES 2011, for which I must give glorious thanks to the Steinwielder Vegas Prime for providing passes to the Lovely Assistant and I. It was big, very big. I’m to understand it has been larger but I don’t see how that would have been survivable as an attendee. I could go a long time without every seeing another iPhone or iPad case again and after your 10th or so 70″+ flatscreen TV they start to blend together until you stumble upon a 92″ one. Cars at an electronics show were a bit of a surprise, including the electric conversion for the Smart ForTwo for the American market (still a far cry from the European offering). I also got to give Logitech a piece of my mind about their lack of actual ergonomic offerings, so that was a plus.

But there were two things I would have put my ill-gotten gains toward if I could. The first is Sphero, the bluetooth smartphone/computer controlled rolling robotic sphere. If I could have bought one on the spot I would have as it is the best cat toy I have seen since the laser pointer. People, it is a ball your cat can play with…which you can suddenly cause to chase your cat. Comedy gold may not get much better than that.

The second were the Polli-Bricks by Miniwiz. Re-melted and blown office cooler water bottles turned into structural material, power generation and lighting. It is playing with Legos on a monumental scale but the hexagonal groove structure reminds me of a structural pattern I saw in the occassional Roman herringbone brick-courses. In that pattern, there are no clear “lines of sight” from one side of the wall to the other in mortar gaps, adding strength and thus explaining why that wall is still standing 2200 years later despite earthquakes and time.  They have other toys too, but the bricks are what impressed me to the point that I think the boothie was concerned I was going to do something unclean to his display.

Also, I bestowed upon Mr. Zitron a couple bottles of BBotE along with a bag of sample vials, more than he could safely consume himself, and set him loose upon CES. If you were very, very nice to him he might have shared with you. He was still wide awake when I dropped him back at Harrah’s so I have no idea how much he consumed vs. shared. All I know is that it didn’t go home with him on the plane as the silly bugger didn’t bring any checked luggage.

A review of Cirque d’Soleil’s “Zumanity”: Very flexible naked people with good music. Pleasantly bawdy humor, but we’ve got a way to go still to hit the humor of antiquity. That’s traditional values I can get behind.

Next: The Atomic History Museum and the sad tale of SL-1.

Scientific Drinking Tour 2011 Update

Okay, looks like a few dates for me getting the heck out of town are starting to shape up. This is a chance to get a Stein of Science or Black Blood of the Earth in person (thus negating the shipping fees), learn the mysteries for the master, and consume beer & endless trivia with Herr Direktor Funranium & his Lovely Assistant. Keep in mind, these dates are all still tentative:

March 31st-April 3rd: Las Vegas, NV (again, yes, I know I haven’t written up the last trip yet)

Late April-Early May: Las Vegas, NV (yes, a third time…life is rough)

May 12th-17th: Fairbanks, AK

June 2nd-19th: Washington DC, New York City, and Upstate NY

August  17th-21st: Reno, NV

No plans to cross oceans yet at this point though I do long for a trip to the Big Island again. I can only ignore my day to day job duties for so long before the build up awaiting me on return is unbearable.

You want a piece of my time, drop me a line.

Blowing People’s Minds With Geology

Today was a great day in teaching.

This morning, before a suitable amount of BBotE was consumed, I had to do a radiation safety presentation for a group of students in Nuclear Engineering. While we were waiting for everyone to show up, the professor and I were discussing the experiments the class were going to do with the few students that were present. When we hit the x-ray fluorescence experiment and discussed how they were going to be identifying unknown materials for elemental composition, the professor whipped a rock out from his jacket pocket. It was a somewhat nondescript looking hunk of basalt.

Prof: “As some of you may know, I just returned from vacation in Tanzania and I got to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro. One of the samples we’ll be looking at is this” *waves rock around* “to figure out what’s in it.”
Me: “Ooo…the frustrated geologist is intrigued.”

He passed the rock to the student on his left. When it got to me, I looked at it and asked, “How many people in here have taken a geology course?” One student and the professor raised their hands. I then asked, “Do either of you remember the rock identification guide and the qualities you test to make your ID?” The professor had a look of “huh?” while the student’s face said “crap, I used to know that”.

Me: “One of the methods for identification that is no longer in the rock guide is taste.”
*I licked the rock to the shock of the class and mild disgust of the professor*
Me: “Yup, that’s East African Rise igneous. You can tell by the salty flavor due to the high sodium & potassium content of the shallow extensional zone magma source.”
*The look of mild disgust from the professor turned to awe*
Prof: “Seriously? You can do that?”
Me: “Yes, but don’t do it with the minerals of California. We have an awful lot of borates, selenates, and arsenates courtesy of all of the marine melange deposits and evaporated lakes. There is a reason that Taste was removed from the rock guide.”
Prof: “Remember that class, don’t lick things unless you know they are okay for licking.”
Phil: “Doubly so for things in a radiation lab. Just don’t.”

The professor then high-fived me.

Questions Answered, Mark IV

And without further ado, The Questions!

Question 1: WHEN THE HELL ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE THE LAS VEGAS POST? IT’S BEEN A WEEK. HAVE YOU KRUNKED YOURSELF RETARDED? – several people, including my Lovely Assistant

Answer: I love you too. I am marshaling my thoughts on the matter, not the least of which because it includes an in depth discussion of the SL-1 nuclear reactor accident because I can’t resist sharing. The Regents of the University of California demand I do my best to keep the use radiation producing machines under control and I’m afraid they have first claim on my time. Before someone says “you totally put out for the UC Regents”, I please invite you to look at this picture of UC President Yudof first. You hate yourself for even thinking that now, don’t you? Personally, I’m not much of pinstripe man and my Lovely Assistant has dibs for my body anyway.

Question 2: I’m writing on behalf a group of poor college students at *INSERT PRESTIGIOUS INSTITUTION HERE*. We feel that you would be doing a great service to sanity/science/nation/humanity/universe if you’d be will to provide a bottle of BBotE as Study Juice for the horrors that lie ahead of us. We cannot afford the expense of the BBotE & the shipping however.  Please help! – A variety of plaintive emails with .edu addresses from around the world

A: No one ever remembers to slip “Black Blood of the Earth” into one of the lines of the budget when doing grant writing to a insure a steady supply for the duration of one’s academic career. Don’t worry, you’ll learn this lesson when you write your second NSF/NEA grant proposal.

As stated back in The Joys of the Barter Economy and Alchemy, I am willing to trade or discount the price of BBotE if you’ve got something suitably awesome. I think I could be convinced to accept an acknowledgment or, I don’t know, 12th author in a publication if BBotE was truly that instrumental to successful research. I know of at least four newly minted lawyers that survived their bar exams thanks to BBotE. They haven’t figured out how to work “BBotE” into their respective practice names yet.

Question 4: Are you ever going to have any BBotE Pimps/Pimpstresses in England, because this stuff is fucking brilliant! – Aaron, London

Answer: Honestly, there have been no volunteers for the noble art of pimpery in Merrie Olde Englande. Oh, plenty of people happy to consume and pay the rapacious shipping but none willing to share with their fellow man. The closest we’ve come is the six pack of 750s that Warren Ellis got; heaven help you and your descendants to the 10th generation if you trifle with his caffeine supply. He will create new words specifically for use on you.

Question 5: Am I the first person in *INSERT GEOGRAPHICAL AREA HERE* to get a Stein of Science/BBotE? – A remarkable number of people worldwide

Beyond the US, the countries with Steins of Science in them are as follows: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland and Hong Kong), Iraq, New Zealand, the United Kingdom. I am to understand that I may be anointed as the Savior of Beer, or Salvador da Cerveja if you prefer, should I show my bearded ginger face in some tropical/equatorial lands.

As far as the US, there are a couple states that are not representin’ stein-wise. Wyoming, South Dakota, Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Connecticut, Vermont, South Carolina, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Tennessee what is up? Seriously, I want to take a moment with Delaware. People are hoisting Steins of Science all around you, Delaware. West Virginia may call an intervention if you don’t start shaping up.

With respect to Black Blood of the Earth, every state in the union has partaken except for two: Maine & Hawaii. What do I have to do to earn your love, ME/HI? I kind of understand HI considering that coffee grows wild around you, but Maine? Come on, if you don’t perk up sufficiently in the morning you might start having unclean thoughts about all those lighthouses.

Right, I think I’ve offended enough people for one evening.  Goodnight!

EDIT: Test Subject Larsen is the first to observe the cunning omission of Question 3. Well spotted. Let its secrets gnaw at you for the rest of your days. Who knows what wonders Question 3 contained.

FMJ Stein of Science Family Portrait

For the first time ever, I actually have one of each size of the Full Metal Jacket Steins of Science on hand at the same time. It figures that the only camera I have available to me at this fleeting moment is my increasingly geriatric iPhone but, as the man says, “The best camera for a shot is always the one you have.”

First, the line up:

Front Row (left to right): 350ml, 665ml. Back Row (1000ml, 1900ml, 4300ml)

Front Row (left to right): 350ml, 665ml. Back Row (1000ml, 1900ml, 4300ml)

The 1900ml looks a bit wee from this perspective, doesn’t it? How about from above? (Note: the 350ml & 1900ml are filled with ice for post-assembly vacuum testing)

Left to Right: 350ml, 665ml, 1000ml, 1900ml, 4300ml

Left to Right: 350ml, 665ml, 1000ml, 1900ml, 4300ml

Right! Drinkies time! Nurse, where’s my cocktail?

Clean Labs Make Good Research

While digging through flash drives, I found my master’s degree presentation.  In it, I included this quote from my undergrad thesis supervisor, who was a notorious bull in the glass labware shop.  Enjoy:

“Working safely is not just something you do in addition to your research to keep the administration off your back; safe research is reproducible, high quality research.  It is a mark of professionalism.  When you walk into a lab that looks like Frankenstein’s, the quality of the research is likely to be, and certainly will be perceived to be, as erratic and irreproducible as a mad scientist’s.  It’s a damn good thing journals don’t inspect labs before accepting our publications.”  – Dr. Alfred Hochstaedter, UCSC 1997

Never have truer words been spoken.  A disordered lab sure as shit is not the sign of an orderly mind.  I tend to repeat his words to the grad students of problem child professors in hopes of breaking the chain.  At least a few people have gotten the religion.

That said, I do very much like the look of Frankenstein’s lab, but reproducibility, that function is far more important than any form.

Super Bowl XLV & Steins

Some of you out there have read this story and may have stroked your chin thoughtfully, rather than regarding me as a madman with no regard for his liver.  Your thoughts may have turned to thoughts of nachos, pretzels, and 9hrs planted in front of your TV for the Super Bowl with frosty, cold beer.

Honestly, I’m not surprised.

If you are considering a “biggun”, don’t delay. We’re already rapidly approaching my normally quoted three week production timeline.  While things often move faster than that, the 4300ml and 1900ml (if you don’t want to tax your arm strength quite as much) tend to take a bit longer than the smaller.

Declaration and reminder duly made.  Time to go crank out some BBotE, cocktail in hand.