Author Archives: phil

An April Fools Cautionary Tale

TL;DR moral of the story: do not prank emergency responders. We will play it straight and you won’t like it.

Once upon a time, several years ago, a grad student decided to call the spill response line and call in a spill in a non-radiological control area. Because my name is first in alphabetical order on the receptionist’s list, the call got routed to me rather than the co-worker of mine he was hoping to prank. When I showed up to the lab, heavy spill kit and normal work bag in tow, and was directed to the break room where the there was a spilled mug of coffee, student declared, laughing, “APRIL FOOLS!”

I didn’t laugh. I remained stonefaced. I asked, “Is that the radioactive spill?”

Fainter laughing from student, “It was just my coffee, man.”

With continued stoneface, but a trace of concern in my voice, “So you drank it then?”

Student, now with concern in his voice, “Look, it’s just coffee.”

I opened the spill response kit and started to take things out. “Do you know it wasn’t contaminated?”

Student, stammering, “C’mon man.”

I handed him a bioassay kit. “When you’re finished here, I’ll need you to give a urine sample to verify there’s been no uptake.”

Student, “What?”

I gestured to the kitchen and desk areas of the lab “Once you’ve made a documented survey and decon’d this entire area, because I see several other mugs of suspicious fluid and evidence that the spill has been tracked through here, THEN I will need do do a urine bioassay to verify that you have not ingested any radioactive materials.”

Student, getting angry now, “THIS IS BULLSHIT! I’m not doing this.”

I did not smile. “If you don’t, then I have to. This is a spill response. And if I have to respond to a spurious spill, you will then get to explain that charge to your PI when it makes it’s way though the accounting in about a month. We always give the lab a chance to clean first during spills before we get involved. Your choice.”

About this time, while it was now dawning on student #1 that once you trigger the safety response script it has to play out, another student walked into the office area to come get something from her desk. I firmly told her “Stop right where you are. You have just entered a contamination area.”

She just rolled her eyes and said “Yeah, right.”

I blocked her way, handed her a pair of tyvek booties, and hit her with full force of Command Voice I can summon. “Stop. Remove your shoes, place them in this bag and put these booties on. This is not a request. When he verifies they’re clean, you can have them back. Meanwhile, you!” I gestured to Student #1, “Get the rad tape up. You don’t want anyone else entering the contamination area.”

Eventually all nine grad students of this lab were participating in an item by item survey of the kitchen and office area, and a complete on-your-knees survey of the floor of the entire lab space. Luckily, I had brought extra meters in the spill kit so it was easy for everyone to take part. Four hours of verifying zeroes later, I congratulated them at the end for running an exceptionally good decon drill and that I trusted that they would be well equipped for any future response.

That lab’s students skittered away from me from then on when ever they saw me in the halls.

Atomic Robo Shameless Promotion

This is a tale of contracts ending and product evolution.

Two months or so ago, some of my favorite people decided to take a chance with their creation, Atomic Robo. They are bringing the entirety of their work for the last 9 volumes online as a free webcomic and launched a Patreon to support the comic going forward, in addition to the Atomic Robo supply depot. Brian Clevinger got his start in webcomics with 8-Bit Theater, so this is somewhat a return to ye olde tymes in a swanky format to him but for Scott Wegener this is a a bold, new, different, and thus somewhat scary frontier. To be be honest, not many careers seem to be as cruel yet rewarding as comics artist, so my read on the scary level is “Can’t be much worse than normal, but I do like food now and then.” I could be wrong, but I think Scott is fighting Bob Cratchit for the last lump of coal in the scuttle right now in the midst of New England spring which hasn’t quite gotten the memo about winter being over.

Because I have the pleasure of being their Weirdness Consultant (I got a promotion from mere science nerd recently), I knew this was coming and I wanted to do my best to help them make the most of it.  Because people are more than a little excited about the prospect of FREE ROBOT SCIENCE PUNCHING COMIC, the traffic that came bearing down on them was similar to the catastrophic Leo Laporte/TWiT Army load testing of my own website (despite my best efforts to Warren Ellis-proof it). You guys brought them crashing down but thanks to Hiveworks they’re up and better than ever. I’d been haranguing them for what seems like years, because it totally was years, to get themselves some sort of merch up and running as they kept making wonderful images and words that needed to be available as consumer products.

I cannot adequately express how not excited they were. They make art and words, and try really hard not to think about sales of things that are not comics because that is distracting. I point blank told both of them that if the poster in the background of NASA Director Bolden’s office “SPACE: IT’S OUT THERE!” did not become a purchasable item, that they clearly hated money. This is very similar to how I tell researchers I have no interest in accounting when discussing their work with radioactive materials; if something is going wrong, I want you to talk to me, not worry how much things may cost down the road. Luckily, they got themselves George Rohac who actually likes the business and logistics side of the house and fired up the store like it had never existed before. Just for the record, for those of us that like fine paper products, it’s their intention that trade paperbacks will continue to be available.

Atomic Robo has always run on the slightly weird schedule of roughly nine months of comics per year and then three of downtime for business retooling (see also: Scott’s excellent new Wacom tablet), story development, and remembering that loved ones exist. Unlike Brian & Scott’s normal incredibly busy breather, this one has been marked by the actual transition to the online comics. Issue by issue, the old volumes of Atomic Robo, including the Free Comic Book Day specials, have been appearing on the website at the rate of three per week, Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Eventually, they’ll catch up to Volume 10 and the new releases will begin in early May.

You may recognize this as my user icon from many services. Picture title: "PHIL YELLS AT THE METAL DINGUS"

You may recognize this as my user icon from many different services. Picture title: “PHIL YELLS AT THE METAL DINGUS”

I bring all this up because they just hit Volume 6, Issue 1 “The Ghost of Station X”. Issue 2, which starts next Monday, is where my alter ego, Dr. Phil Broughton, Action Scientist, first appears on the pages of Atomic Robo. This is my reward for having helped over the, umm, more than decade that all this has been rattling in Brian & Scott’s heads. I take it back; the real reward has been getting to help bullshit with them endlessly and help make Atomic Robo as wonderful as it is.

They also made these two wonderful Tesladyne and Atomic Robo labels for my BBotE bottles and let me use them when I really needed to help my mom after my father passed. In turn, I now toss back profits from those back in the pot for their Patreon in thanks.

If you’ve never read Atomic Robo before, now is a great time to start for the low, low cost of free right here at Volume 1, Issue 1. If you’ve been reading all along and were confused about the transition online, now you have the straight dope on how to proceed.

In short, REMAIN CALM. TRUST IN SCIENCE.

End of Year Update

As we wind down into the final days of 2014, I have done some assessment of the state of production to let you know the lay of the land for 2015. Resupply cases are headed to Wish in New York City and Natara in Los Angeles, though I’m pretty sure Natara’s is completely slated for a tasting party for New Year’s.

After the production window ending January 3rd closes, I will be winding the coffee engines down for a week because I jump on a plane shortly there after to head to CES 2015 (reprising the 2011 CES journey). For that reason, the next window will go until January 24th since I’ll be out of town. I will be spending most of my time in Vegas for CES at Caesar’s if for some reason you wanted me to bring a stein with me for you. I also happily accept cocktails if you can find me.

Anyway, status reports in no particular order:

1) Changes to the Flavor Line Up – For the foreseeable future, Jamaica Blue Mountain is off the table. As I mentioned a while back that last time it disappeared, the crops coming out of Jamaica for the past several years have been painfully small, while demand has only gone up. This means that my roasters of choice are hard pressed to get any when it comes up on auction. If, and this looks increasingly unlikely, they are able to get any beans, the prices are likely to jump up by at least 25%. Considering how painfully expensive the Jamaica Blue Mountain BBotE is, that probably takes it out of even “Extravagant Gift” price range for folks. If you really, really want some, ask and I’ll see what I can do.

Otherwise, the availability of the rest of the varieties appears to be stable. There’s a chance that Ipsento Panama will run out and that Congo will come back.

2) BBotE Ambassadorships – At this time, I have no intention to expand the number of BBotE Ambassadors out there. The addition of of Melbourne (Australia), Toronto (Canada), Albuquerque, NM and Prescott, AZ at the end of last year was a bit of a push and I’d like to make sure they get established and I can handle their demand before adding anyone else. Sadly, after this case Wish is hanging up her hat in New York City. I’m afraid secure buildings have made easy hand off to folks tricky.

3) Price Changes in Australia – My retail prices of BBotE have stayed stable for the past several years despite generally rising prices in coffee and supplies. I like my price points and want to keep them there as long as I can. However, in one place, they’re going to have to change: BBotE Ambassador hand off in Australia. As a kindness, I’ve been letting people just pay in AUD as it was more or less 1:1 for the exchange rate. Was is the operative term. I’m afraid those prices are now something closer to AUD90. Sorry, everyone down there. Melbourne & Perth rates are now a titch higher starting January 1st.

So far, this isn’t coming to Toronto or London yet, but I’m watching those rates.

4) THE DEADLY RADIATIONS!!! – As I have often said, the price of writing about interesting things is that it takes time away from doing interesting things. I have high hopes of actually getting a few more tales up here in the coming year. The TL;DR version of 2014 has been “Goddammit, you still aren’t dying from Fukushima, stop calling me.” Also, if you are need of something to donate to for tax reasons and like tales of radiation, may I recommend the Atomic Heritage Foundation to you?

5) Travel – Other than the trip to Las Vegas in the first week of January I mentioned above, nothing specific is on the docket. There’s been mutterings about a mission behind the Orange Curtain and possibly Boston, but nothing concrete. Nothing that shuts down production for a month like the Great Cross-Country Journey of 2014.

THE DECEMBERING™ 2014: It’s Over

With the shipments that just went out today, and the few remaining for tomorrow, the December 17th BBotE production window draws to a close. According to the nice ladies at the post office, everything should reach their respective destinations by next Monday at the latest. The next production slots, ending on January 3rd, 2015 are now up for most all items on the site. I will do everything in my power to crank out as much BBotE as possible out the door in hopes of getting out to folks before the holidays end but there’s no guarantees at this point.

So, if you wanted to get something for someone for Christmas or Hanukkah and the last minute has bitten you in the butt because I can’t possibly get something to you in time, I do have one final option for you: Gift Certificates. I deeply apologize that you can’t give someone a gift certificate in excess of $1000 on Funranium Labs, but such is life.

As for steins, supplies are, in a word, depleted. Those numbers will rebound sometime in mid-January.

It is now time for some good holiday cheer as only my favorite artist can provide:

THE DECEMBERING™ 2014: The Home Stretch

The last of the December 6th production window BBotE, along with several steins and resupply for the BBotE Ambassador of Melbourne, are now out the door. This means that the December 17th BBotE production window is now open. The last of the dewars I ordered in preparation for the 17th window are due to arrive on Tuesday, at which the “steins on hand” numbers will lock in for the rest of the year.

Thanks to the kind endorsement of io9 and The Wirecutter gift buying guides, it is fair to say that slots are disappearing at a fair clip this year. After the 17th, another set of slots will go up, however I won’t be able to guarantee anything making it before Christmas at that point. If you’re in the last minute crowd, drop me an email and we can see what we can make happen. (PROTIP: not being picky about what variety you get really helps with that)

And with that, it’s time to closely research this scene to learn the secrets of the classic LAPD holiday punch, courtesy of “L.A. Confidential”.