The Resurrected “Origins of Funranium”

People ask pretty regularly, “What the hell does Funranium mean, anyway?” Well, here’s your explanation. I don’t promise that it makes good sense however. Need to go find that “Guarantee of Insobriety” statement I wrote again…

Once upon a time, I was driving along Interstate 580 with a friend from college and was talking to her about the recent fun prospecting and camping I’d had with my family at the Lost Dutchman Mining Association claim in Duisenberg (nearest town is Randsburg, CA).  Duisenberg was a gold camp in the middle of the Mojave Desert mining the caliche deposits.  Imagine, if you will, a thin limestone crust of false bedrock at varying depths throughout the Mojave with gold lying on top of it due to erosion of the nearby monzanite quartz deposit.

Monzanite is a mineral that rang a bell with me as both a frustrated geologist and a radiation safety professional.  I recognized it for two reasons: 1) It is the pretty purple quartz that makes the beaches of Kerala, India so beautiful, and 2) It is purple because it a thorium/uranium rich earth that gives Kerala a natural background dose rate roughly two orders of magnitudes higher than average sea level USA.  You see, gold, silver, platinum, thorium, and uranium are alike in that the preferentially taken up by water and deposited as veins in rock.  In the igneous petrology game, they are known as chemical incompatibles when it comes to the magma; if there is an available solvent to take them, the metals will go there rather than form minerals.  It should come as no surprise that during the Uranium Rush of the late 1940s and early 1950s that the Mojave was home to several uranium strikes.

While laying all this out to my friend, I had a revelation:

1) Camping is fun.
2) Properly prepared, the desert is fun.
3) People like booze.
4) People like gold.
5) Small scale prospecting for thorium and uranium should be substantially similar to that used for gold (i.e. panning and dry rocker)
6) Unlike gold, a handheld meter can easily determine if you’ve found something radioactive.

In mathematical form: desert camping + prospecting for thorium/uranium + booze = AWESOME

On reflection, I realized that the combination of hooch with rough camp prospecting is about as traditional a post-1849 California activity as you can get.  All that’s missing from this equation is camp followers and guns.  However, this is how I envision my brand of fun:

The group will set out for the camp in one or two vans (depending on group size) to accommodate people and supplies.  On arrival at camp, tents will be set up and instructions on dry panning will be given with the intention to wash down concentrates accumulated in the field on a water recycling rocker at camp.   The intrepid souls will be issued map, GPS, panning equipment, radio, a bottle of their favorite booze (my personal preference being the creations of St. George Spirits), and 4L of water.  They will then set out looking to make their strike now that they know how to find that sweet spot on the caliche layer.  They could, alternatively, have a nice hike and/or stagger around the claim with a bottle of whiskey in hand.  At night delicious meats will be grilled while what concentrates have been accumulated by the prospectors are further concentrated by the rocker.  Then, before bed, I will take my meter to the concentrate, assay the materials for activity and give everyone their very own vial of the day’s thorium/uranium to cuddle with through the cold desert night.

That, people, is Funranium.

If you are interested in having me arrange a Funranium Expedition*, it is possible that I could be convinced to take the time off work.  Obviously, I’ll have to make all intrepid souls sign a waiver or some such; anything as patently foolish as wandering in the desert with booze in hand is something insurance companies and lawyers want no part of.  It’s quite obvious the rise and dominance of the insurance industry is a recent manifestation, because the Gold Rush and Westward Expansion wouldn’t have worked if liability coverage and deductible had been a part of it.

* You will have to provide your own camp followers and guns if you want a more authentic prospecting experience.

Testing Dispatches: College Station, TX

It is possible that in addition to the Pimp & Pimpstress of HAL Laboratories (AKA Champaign-Urbana, IL)  you may soon have one down by Texas A&M as well. That is, assuming certain coffee-cultural hurdles can be passed. I share with you the tale of Test Subject Jason and his attempts to share BBotE:

I made a flyer at work so I did not have to explain each time what this “mixture in the fridge” was to the 8 or so co-workers each time. The inside large text motivates everyone to read, so I know that is working or, at the very least, saving me time explaining. I work in a small well educated town, everyone I work with has a college degree…but getting  co-workers to try “pre made” coffee was a challenge in itself. Work feedback thus far:
Subject Nina: 40’s 110lbs female; 2 tables spoons of Kona in hot water, only able to drink half a cup before she said “her blood felt like it was trying to get out of her skin” I marked that as a Success 🙂
Subject Tim: 40’s 165lbs male: around 100ml Kona in hot water and stated he really could tell the subtle differences in this vs. regular coffee.
Subject X: 50’s 140lbs male: shows me his arm, wraps an imaginary rubber band around it, taps his veins, and says “I don’t want to get addicted”.
“New fangled” coffee appears not to be as exciting as I find it. Go figure.

If you are down in College Station and wish to prevail upon Jason’s kindness for a taste, he may be willing to share with you. Drop him a line at aggie[at]funraniumlabs[dot]com. I hear he is partial to bribery with beer as well.

Scientific Drinking Tour 2011, Further Updates

Travel dates are firming up. Currently, Las Vegas, NV and Fairbanks, AK are guaranteed to be graced by my presence. 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. Without further ado, the itinerary as it stands:

April 1st-3rd: Las Vegas, NV CONFIRMED (it is a certain Lovely Assistant’s birthday)

Late April-Early May…ish: Las Vegas, NV (yes, Vegas again, a TBD bachelor party of SCIENCE!)

May 12th-17th: Fairbanks, AK CONFIRMED

June 2nd-19th: Washington DC, New York City, and Upstate NY (still working on this, but by Crom I want some Smithsonian)

August  17th-21st: Reno, NV (CONFIRMED. Yes, that is Worldcon 2011)

There has been some muttering about shenanigans in Portland, OR and a wedding in Grand Junction, CO but that all remains TBD. You want a piece of my time while I’m in any of these places, drop me a line.

Approaching Stein #200

So, much as I celebrated Steins of Science #1 and #100, I must observe the amazing fact that there are nearly 200 people out there that know how much fun it is to drink out of one of these. Thus I make a declaration:

Whoever purchases Stein #200, whatever variety or size that be, shall also receive Stein #201, a 665ml FMJ, for free. That’s right…a complimentary stein.

The current construction number is sitting on #192 with a six already built with earlier numbers.

I return you to your regularly scheduled programming with the thought that “I could be the one…” gnawing at your mind.

Antarctic Lifestyle Challenge

The questions the first graders at Redwood Elementary School asked me had two major themes:

  1. Tell us about how you can die horribly and not be rescued. Add situational complications to make it harder for me to rescue the poor Antarctican
  2. Do you have/can you take *INSERT ITEM HERE* to Antarctica?

For the latter, I presented them with a challenge. It’s the same challenge every member of the United States Antarctic Program is presented with before they deploy: how can I reduce my life to 150lbs? Not 100 items, not 8cu.ft., but 150lbs. Yes, they do weigh you before you get on the the flight for Antarctica.

I suspect tonight there are 20 first graders that are going to be piling their possessions onto the bathroom scale much to their parents’ confusion. Go ahead and give it a try. Might encourage you to buy a Macbook Air if you really need a computer.

You get 150lbs of Important Things. It would be nice if it all fit in two suitcases and a carry on, but I’m not feeling too picky about that. Alright…GO!

Fare Thee Well, Greg Yuhas

Tomorrow, UC Berkeley’s Radiation Safety Officer embarks on his retirement from that fine institution. His tenure here has been marked by the a quantum leap improvement in the programs and compliance for work with radioactive materials & radiation producing machines. When he arrived, UC Berkeley was an object of derision in the academic community for the condition our program; as he leaves, we are held up as an example to others for what you can achieve when you really care, and are willing to roll up your shirtsleeves and get dirty. I have never seen Mr. Yuhas more happy than when he was picking through garbage in a dumpster, smiling with glee, and surveying away with his Geiger counter after someone tossed something they shouldn’t have.

He’s served with the US Navy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and somehow we were lucky enough at UC Berkeley to get some time with him steering us right. Working with him has been a pleasure and an education. Someday, I will share a tale from his career as a young regulator entitled “The Man from NRC and the Seagull” as it is pure comedy gold.

And so, I share his retirement gift from all of us that have worked with him because we will miss his Papa Smurf looks and evil cackle when something goes wrong. If the Retirement Diet is one of pure beer, or if it is less beer but enjoyed over a much longer, well-chilled period on the Sacramento Delta, he is now well set. Of course, I’ll be really surprised if he stays retired for any length of time. Via con cerveza, Greg Yuhas.

The Yuhas Retirement Diet Stein

#186 - The Yuhas Retirement Diet Stein

Drinking To Columbia – An Antarctic Tale

EDIT: Today is February 1st, 2013, which makes it the 10th anniversary of this event. Raise a glass, won’t you, to the High Frontier.

This tale is prompted by hearing a familiar voice on the radio speaking to some elementary school students. One I hadn’t heard in eight years since a rather grim alcohol soaked day at McMurdo Station, Ms. Cady Coleman, Astronaut. She is currently serving aboard the International Space Station.

As previously discussed, I spent a year in Antarctica at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. We winterovers were entitled to some R&R during the summer before the full “The Shining”-grade lockdown for 9 months set in at Pole. But did they send us to Tahiti to enjoy warmth, greenery, and mai tais? Noooooo…they used to send folks to New Zealand but there was a bad spate of people skipping on their contracts now that they’d already endured three months of The Ice. By the time my year hit, people at Pole got sent for a week in beautiful, comparatively tropical, McMurdo Base. I got stuck there an additional two weeks waiting for a supply ship to offload.

Too much happened in this total of three weeks and much of it was spent drunk or short of sleep for me to hope to get all in one go.  For the time being, let us discuss Room 129 in Building 155. Eleven of us went on R&R at the same time in mid-January 2003. Six of us were in Room 105, where I was put, and the rest were in 129. Sadly, the occupants of my room were focused on sleeping and reading. The other room had a strict schedule that went something like this:

1100 – Wake up.
1101 – Pour yesterday’s burnt coffee into trash can, or other room occupant’s boots as the muse demands.
1102 – Turn on coffee pot. (coffee pots in rooms are against the McMurdo rules)
1107 – Pour coffee. Add Irish Creme and whiskey to greet the McMurdo morning properly. Repeat as necessary.
1130 – Stack previous night’s beer cans and liquor bottles onto the growing pyramid.
1200 – Lunch. Offend sensitive McMurdans.
1300 – Day Bar at Southern Exposure*.
1730 – Dinner. Offend sensitive McMurdans.
1830 – Night Bar at Southern Exposure*.
0030 – Midrats (“midnight rations”, McMurdo had a specific list of people allowed to eat at this time which we ignored). Assemble bar on the dining room table. Offend sensitive McMurdans
0130 – Room party or lounge shenannigans.
0400 to 0700 – Go to sleep, maybe.

You can take you guess as to which group I spent the most time with.

*: For reference, Southern Exposure is also known as The Smoking Bar. Once upon a time it had been the Chief’s Bar during the Navy days. There were two other outlets for booze, The Coffeehouse (formerly the Officer’s Club, a very old quansit hut), and Gallagher’s, AKA The Non-Smoking Bar (formerly the Erebus Club, the enlisted men’s club, renamed after the death of CPO Gallagher (ret.) who died on Ice in 1997).

I seem to be digressing. Let’s take the story to February 1st, 2003 standing in the main entryway to McMurdo’s primary building, Bldg 155, with NASA astronauts Eileen Collins and Cady Coleman. I’d gotten to help them move their remote campsite a few weeks earlier as they were doing meteorite collection on the ice sheet by the Pecora Hills. I have no problem whatsoever being menial labor on the endless frozen expanse when I get to hangout with astronauts. Hell, I moved their bucket toilet with glee and sat there for three hours in the cold waiting for a plane to take me back to safety.

Both Cady & Eileen had been on previous space shuttle flights. Eileen, in fact, had been the first female pilot the shuttle had ever had. There was some concern of damage to the shuttle for reentry. Thus, they were watching the Armed Forces Television monitors with rapt interest and sharing small tales of the awesome of going to space. Being the science nerd and child of Cape Canaveral I am, I was hanging on every word.

Then Columbia exploded.

There was a a sharp intake of breath from the dozen or so assembled. One of the construction folks screamed “NO!” at the top of her lungs.

I turned to Cady and said, “I have a bar worth of booze in my room if you’d like a drink RIGHT NOW.” She and Eileen slowly nodded, looking rather shellshocked. They’d just watched their co-workers die. No, more than that, these are the people you have been studying with, sweating in the gym with, and trapped in various spam cans with for years. Being an astronaut is somewhere between army platoon and tightly knit doctoral program group. These were more than co-workers or friends; they were fellow explorers on the frontier.

I would like to state for the record that it is rather hard to drink me under the table. I have survived evenings with naval personnel from several countries, a misadventure with a watch worth of Coasties, hard rock miners, gutter punks and emerged staggering tall (albeit holding The Plunger of Honor one time…long story, don’t ask). However, these two women had me holding on to the pool table for support as they kept clearing it with deadeye accuracy and taking more and more shots of gin. Commander Collins is 5’1″ and almost didn’t get to be an astronaut due to a space program worth of suits designed with the six footer John Glenn in mind. I doubt she said “Fuck you very much, NASA” but she did make sure that a suit was available to fit her by becoming part of the suit design project.

At the end of it all, Cady asked if I’d like to see the video she took on the shuttle. Her personal camera. That may have been the high point of my Antarctic experience.

To Cady, Eileen, and all the astro/cosmo/taikonauts, I wish you the very best as you keep humanity’s future in the stars going forward. To the names on the memorial at Kennedy Space Center, and all the others that have lost their lives as we try to escape the gravity well, I raise a glass.

Continued Domination Of Global Media

This morning, in the dark, dark hours of the pre-commute day the crew at KNTV 11 decided to play with one of the 665ml FMJ Steins of Science as part of their Super Bowl Gadgets. I know they showed filling it with bottles of orange juice, but the level of jocularity suggests that they might have taken it for a test drive with something of a more medicinal nature beforehand. Enjoy!

KNTV 11 Plays With A 665ml FMJ

“Don’t drink out of it”…BAH! Lies and poppycock. You are drinking responsibly and forewarned knowing that you are using scientific apparatus for purposes other than originally intended, purposes which it happens to do quite well.

Funranium Labs, Iteration V (and The Bug Hunt)

I have many times pointed out that it is good for a man to know his strengths and weakness (as opposed to vices, which should be indulged). When you have a recognized weakness you could work ridiculously hard to better yourself to the point that it no longer is. Or, you could ask someone who is more competent than your concussed llama-like skills for help. This is why Funranium Labs has not one but two helpful webmonkeys that point out the stupider things I do and ask if I’d like them to try to fix things for a modicum of BBotE. Once again, thank you Brad & Jason.

The solution to cope with Warren Ellis-grade levels of interest was to split the store and blog into two separate, though connected, entities. On a positive note, the new store build has a much more savvy shipping module that can cope with international addresses with grace and aplomb. Additionally, it will do REAL shipping costs. This means for most people, shipping cost have actually gone down, particularly in California.

While I have gone through and done a fair bit of broken link cleaning and checkout testing, I am by no means willing to claim that it is bulletproof. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be on Iteration V, now would we? To this end, I am issuing a bounty. If you run into a bug that prevents you from making an order, please write it up and send it my way (preferably with screenshots). If you are the first person to report that bug, I will knock $5 off your order.

That said, please don’t actively hack the site to create new bugs. There’s plenty to go around, I’m sure. While Google enjoys caffeine as much as anyone, the pool o’ money to payout for bugs here at Funranium Labs is comparatively small.

Alright, I’ve said my piece. Enjoy the new build, I welcome feedback and do your worst.

Weatherpocalypse Delays & Ordering Problems

EDIT: Iteration V is already here! Moo Hoo Ha Ha!

Do you live somewhere in North America that isn’t north of Tuscon, AZ? How about Australia, somewhere that isn’t about to be consumed by a megacyclone with wind so hard we’ll be picking wallabies out of the Himalayas? In that case, you are probably enjoying a quiet life of reasonable weather.

What I’m getting at is there is some extenuating circumstances that might cause a titch of delaw shipping right now to some locations. Steins of Science will go out just to get them in the pipe, but I may hold BBotE orders to make sure that they don’t end up frozen in the back of an abandoned semi somewhere  in East Flatness-on-Nothing, Nebraska.

In other news, the kind words of Warren Ellis are sufficient to blast pretty much any server into hot metal vapor and Funranium Labs is no exception. We’re doing our best to put Humpty back together again (perhaps with a bigger schnoz) but the Checkout module continues to be persnickety. Right now, the easiest way to place an order without hitting the shopping cart reset bug is to go to the product scroll bar at the top and press the “+” on the pictures. Worse come to worse, you can always drop me a line with “Contact Us” and I’ll figure out a way to backdoor you your stein or BBotE.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it will do until we (by which I mean the highly competent webmonkeys that work for caffeine and not my inept self) roll out Iteration V of the website which, hopefully, will be very soon and Ellis-proof.