Chernobyl Teaser Pictures

I am freshly returned from Ukraine suffering the worst case of jetlag I have ever had. Needless to say, I am a moderately functional human only by the grace of Black Blood of the Earth. Speaking of which, you’ve still got one more week of production left in this window before American Thanksgiving.  After that, we move into HOLIDAY MADNESS.

That said, my brain isn’t working enough to expound upon all I saw in the last weekend. I’m still thinking about it all and the primary things I keep thinking are “That wasn’t nearly enough time there” and “I wish I spoke Ukrainian”.

In the meantime, here’s a few teaser pictures for a future post.

The Chernobyl Sarcophagus - on Nov 12th, they began rolling they new containment over it. This is one of the last views of it we'll ever have.

The Chernobyl Sarcophagus – on Nov 12th, they began rolling they new containment over it. This is one of the last views of it we’ll ever have.

 

Comrade Lenin & Commodore Funranium - Statue in the town of Chernobyl.

Comrade Lenin & Commodore Funranium – Statue in the town of Chernobyl.

 

Pripyat Music School - perhaps it's the Palace of Musics. Soviet Union sure did have a lot of places called "palaces".

Pripyat Music School – perhaps it’s the Palace of Musics. Soviet Union sure did have a lot of places referred to as “palaces”.

 

Rodina Mat Monument- I'm not sure this photo does justice to how large this statue is.  Below her feet is the four story Great Patriotic War Museum of Ukraine. Big.

Rodina Mat Monument- I’m not sure this photo does justice to how large this statue is. Below her feet is the four story Great Patriotic War Museum of Ukraine. Big.

Phil’s Trip To Nowhere: A Mileage Run Tale

This is a story of desire for recognition in a cold world governed by arcane calculations and the eldritch math of the airlines. One man’s fight to have a more comfortable seat. I am, of course, speaking of the classic folly of doing a mileage run. TL;DR version: I’m not doing that again, or at least not like I did it this time.

At the end of September, when I figured out that I was going to be taking a surprise trip to Chernobyl, I realized “Hey, that’s a lot of miles round trip for San Francisco to Kiev. I wonder if that’s enough to get me any kind of medalliony, statusy type things…” I did the math and then gently placed my head on the desk because, dammit, I was within ~2000mi of Gold.

I have friends and colleagues that travel a lot. A LOT. I appreciate their advice and wisdom on how to build the most efficient travel kit and how to make the most of the trip itself. They’re eternally hunting the finest $/mi deals and are active on FlyerTalk. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told “On the plane and in the airport, this is some of the most productive/creative time I ever get.” Above all, they have taught me that some medallion status, any status, as a frequent flyer is the difference between misery and, in our TSA blighted world, less misery.

So, I thought I’d give it a go. I would do a mileage run, AKA a trip taken purely for the purposes of accumulating flight miles toward medallion status. The thing you want is a calculator which will find the optimized $/mi round trip route from a designated location for a certain distance. Since you don’t particularly care where you go, that’s all you need. Funny enough, the airlines don’t really like these tools and do their best to thwart them. They tend to appear and then vanish again within the span of days.

With the help of Google Flights, I was able to build an itinerary from San Francisco to Minneapolis-St.Paul to Chicago to Detroit and back home to SF again in the span of 18hrs. Does this seem very dumb, at the very least incredibly silly, to you? Well, you’re not alone. My Lovely Assistant made it quite clear that she intended to enjoy the entirety of the bed and all the kitties while I was on my Idiot Holiday. It went wrong pretty much right away.

On a positive note, to diffuse that tension right away, every single leg of the flight arrived on time or a little early and I got home safe and sound.

My first error was my departure time, 12:15am from SFO after a full work day and no naps beforehand. That bit about “most productive & creative time” really, really doesn’t work when you promptly shoot your sleep schedule in the foot. Error number two was that I was flying, for the midpoint of my trip, to Chicago and this was going to be Game 3 of the World Series. When I bought my tickets a couple weeks earlier, this wasn’t in my calculations. To be fair, I don’t think about baseball much at all other than traffic avoidance for A’s and Giants games. I couldn’t help but notice a lot of Chicago sportswear at the gate…

After a fitful doze in my seat from SFO to MSP, we arrived and I got the good news that my gate for the Chicago flight was right next to my arrival gate. As this was an actual flight to Chicago, for the day of World Series Game 3, the sports fan gear intensified. I was particularly impressed with the man wearing Bulls shoes, Bears sweatpants, several layers of Cubs shirts and jackets, and a hat that had been sectioned like a pie into Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, and White Sox zones. Because it was 5am, the shouts of CUBBEEZ were muted, but still happened.

I think I fell asleep taxiing for takeoff for the 50min trip from MSP to ORD. It wasn’t even remotely enough sleep. I arrived into O’Hare (which autocorrect kept wanting to change to O’Hate) in a blur of blue jackets and hats. Ate some deep dish pizza for breakfast, I know that. Tried to find the Field Museum annex in the airport, but was confused enough that it didn’t work out. I managed to get back to my gate for my flight to Detroit in a timely manner and, again, passed out on the plane.

RENEW!

The Art Tunnel Between the Detroit Int” Concourses – you’ll have to take my word that it was playing some Vangelis-esque music.

DTW is an interesting airport, which I felt well enough rested to wander around and enjoy. It is, above all, new. I can understand the critique that it feels sterile because of it’s open and austere steel & glass design, which puts it in the same boat as the Virgin/Southwest terminal at Las Vegas McCarran. What was weird to me was that I had a very hard time finding the bones of the old airport terminal this one clearly replaced. One of my hobbies is wandering around buildings and rooms to find the vestiges of construction and uses gone by (this is a good demonstration of how it works in this post). I eventually figured out that mezzanine level of Concourse C is part of the footprint of the old terminal, but all the structure is gone. This gives everything a very Delta City feel. It is impossible for nerds of a certain age to go to Detroit and not make Robocop jokes.

The crime DTW is most guilty of is putting Tim Horton’s on their map and then only having a Timmies coffee dispenser station and pre-packaged pastry rack inside the MSNBC store. That is a LIE you have printed on an airport directory which I assume has been disappointing travelers for as long as it’s been up. I’m surprised Canada hasn’t declared war because of this.

On the flight home to SFO, because I’d stuck my brain in the no sleep blender, I was useless for any task more complicated that watching movies and TV shows. I wish to report that, in this state, Star Trek: Beyond was a very enjoyable. Would’ve made a great two-parter TV episode.

In conclusion, this wasn’t the worst idea but I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it right. Getting to see several different airports in quick succession in a day isn’t something I normally get to do, so it’s gave some weird perspectives. IF I ever do this again, I’m starting this party with a 10am flight, not a midnight one.

And because I can, let’s hear from the nice folks at OCP.

The Decembering 2016 Edition

Normally, I wait until late November to post this but since three people asked last weekend of all things I reckon I should put it up now. You people are making the rest of us look bad by having your shit together for the holidays in October. We, the rest of humanity, aspire to your levels of planning and organization. To the people that are very proactive and organized in their holiday shopping, I’ll just answer question now: yes, you can place an order now in earlier production windows for a holiday shipment. Just leave a note saying “Delay shipment until $DATE” with your order so I know you want it later rather than nownowNOW (which is what most people want).

It was only -38F that day. It's a dry cold.

My Ceremonial South Pole Hero Shot & Xmas Card 2002

The last pre-Xmas BBotE production window will close on December 17th. All things being equal, domestic or international, everything shipped by the 17th should end up at their destination by Christmas Eve. I can’t control weather doom that may or may not happen since no one has given me control of the Illuminati Weather Satellite Network, but a week is usually quite sufficient to get everything to its destination. I will put another pre-order window up after the 17th, but I make absolutely no guarantees about shipments in that window arriving before Xmas. Express mail gets more and more necessary in the last days. I’ll do my best, but that’s all I can do.

At some point in the next couple of weeks I intend to do my own version of my friend Benjamin sTone’s holiday tradition, “The Big Shill”, wherein I will point at things I think you should buy which I don’t make. The Drinktanks Juggernaut, which I previously endorsed here, is the first thing that comes to mind.

To reiterate shopping advice from the previous years, here’s a few things you should probably think about if you decide to place an order for a holiday gift from Funranium Labs:

  1. BBotE Is Perishable: When refrigerated, it has a shelf-life of about three months (possibly longer, but I’m only going to quote three).  If you’re going to wrap it up and put it under the tree, this a present to put out on Christmas Eve and the promptly put back in the fridge after unwrapping. Alternatively, embrace the idea of the holiday season and decide that give it to the recipient immediately, for all days are special.
  2. Let People Know BBotE Is Coming: I know part of the joy in presents is the surprise of what you get. However, joy is not the emotion most people feel when a bottle of mysterious black liquid shows up on their doorstep, especially if it’s been sitting there for a week outside because they were out of town. Give them a heads up, that something’s coming they’ll want to stick in the fridge. I will also tuck handling instructions in the box for a gift and a note stating who sent it if you ask me to.
  3. The pre-order slot dates date are “Ship No Later Than”, not “Ships After”: I get your orders out as soon as I can, but even in the furthest flung corner of the US with the slowest mail carrier, this means you should have your order in hand by December 18th for that last set of late order slots. If you want to order something NOW to ship later, in effect reserving a spot in a later order queue, you can do so but please leave a note with your order telling me when you want it to ship by.
  4. Yes, I will probably add a extra more slots as I get a handle on how much I can make at the last minute but shipping gets dicey in those last days before Christmas.
  5. International Shipments Go Out Express Mail: Because I don’t want BBotE to get stuck in postal facilities or customs, express is the only way to ship to minimize their time in bureaucratic hell. Expect it to take 3-5 business days to get to you, so time your orders accordingly to make sure things get to you in time.
  6. APO/FPO: If you wish to send something out to someone with an Armed Forces address, there’s good news and bad news. Good news – it’s no more expensive than priority mail. Bad news – I can’t guarantee any date as to when things will arrive. Outside of active war zones, things move somewhat normally; inside war zones and ships at sea, things get iffy. Also, depending on routing, some nations (I’m looking at you, Turkey) have bounced BBotE on the basis that it is, and I quote, “Morally Questionable Material” because, obviously, any liquid from the West must be alcoholic in nature. Amazingly, shipments to Korea and Okinawa seem to arrive faster than they do to other places on the west coast. Go figure. In short, I’ll do my best but you’ve been warned.
  7. Local Pick Up: Resupply shipments will go out to all the BBotE Ambassadors as fast as I can crank them out, so be sure to drop them a line if grabbing a bottle that way is more convenient for you. A message to them will help them decide what to fill their cases with. I’m sure they’d like clean and empty refrigerators as their Christmas present.
  8. Turkey, Italy & Brazil: It breaks my heart to say this, I can’t ship to these countries. Italy, I absolutely do not trust your postal system. The level of theft shipping things anywhere south of Rome is, frankly, appalling. If you ask me to ship to Naples, I make absolutely zero guarantee of it arriving. Brazil, your customs causes shipment to languish for so long that the BBotE goes off before it arrives, even if shipped express; steins seem to be fine though. Turkey, well, I discussed those problems in #6.
  9. Steins of Science Have Lead Time Too: The steins are built to order and it sometimes takes a while to get parts in.  Generally, things move much faster and ship within a week but you have now been warned of the possibility of delays.  For some insight into which stein is the best fit for you, I rambled on that a while back. Dewars that are on hand for me to build steins with RIGHT NOW can be found here.
  10. BBotE Production Is First Come, First Served: My maximum daily production output is 12L per day. Thus, people who request 12pk cases will lock up production for an entire day.
  11. There’s No Kosher Or Halal Certification: While Robert Anton Wilson did confer the papacy upon me, and all the other people in the Porter College Dining Hall at UCSC in 1996, this does not permit me to sanctify food. While I do have a helpful Dominican priest who’d probably be willing to bless BBotE, that’s still not helpful. Sorry.
  12. REALLY, I’m not kidding and never have been, the 4300mL Stein of Science is Ridiculously Large: Seriously, BIG.  It will should take an entire pre-game, Super Bowl, and wrap up to go through this much beer.  Or one cricket match. You may think you are a super drankin’ badass, but consider that you may want to drink more often than once a year, so think about a smaller size. Far be it from me to dissuade you from giving me money, but I’m just saying, dude, it’s big.

For those of you who read this far, I congratulate you. In the very near future, it is also my intention to share a brief travelogue of “The Day Phil Went Nowhere: A Mileage Run Tale” before I fly to Chernobyl next Wednesday but we’ll see how things go. In the meantime, I have a birthday to celebrate for the next several days.

Phil vs. the Russian Language

Here is your advance warning of my next, entirely too brief, trip: from November 9-14th, I will be going to visit Kiev, Pripyat and Chernobyl. This is a somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a very long time so I’m treating this as a slightly belated birthday present to myself as I collect one of the crown jewels of atomic tourism. Oh yes, there will be pictures.

However this is decidedly out of my comfort zone and let me tell you why. Most of my survival skills are related to my ability to speak to people and read postings. I am seriously more comfortable with the idea of wandering around a nuclear accident site than trying to get from the airport to my hostel in Kiev with my complete lack of Ukranian language. Like most Americans, I’m only fluent in one language, English. Because I’m me and I love linguistics and history I have fragmentary knowledge a dozen or so others, mostly at the word root levels, because this is the kind of thing that makes me a Cliff Clavin-grade trivia monster. English, being the Jello fruit medley of languages, gives you the benefit of some familiarity with Greek, Latin, German, and French even if you don’t really know where a given word came from.

Where it gets ugly for me is no longer having the Roman alphabet to work with anymore. I have a physics degree which means I learned the Greek alphabet one ugly equation at a time and how to transliterate from the Greek letters to Roman. When you realize you actually know a lot of Greek word roots and can combine it with the Greek alphabet, you suddenly realize you can kind of read some Greek words. Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a minute try to pretend I actually understand Greek but I can sorta figure things out. This brings us to Cyrillic.

St. Cyril slapped something similar to the Greek alphabet, with some important additions, on top of a Slavic language. The phonemes between Greek and Russian didn’t quite match so some extra letters were necessary to cover the missing sounds and give pronounciation aids. The important thing to remember is that despite using a kind of, ish, Greek alphabet that Russian is decidedly Not Greek.

With all that established, let’s go through “Phil’s Extremely Back Assward Way To Read Russian Words in Cyrillic!”

STEP 1: Change all the Cyrillic letters to the Greek alphabet.

STEP 2: Change all the Greek letters to the Roman alphabet.

STEP 3: Now that the word is in Roman letters, see if you recognize any word roots, usually German.

STEP 4: Translate to English if possible as best as you can.

Now that we enjoyed that little excursion into how Phil’s brain works, I want to note how this method to translate Russian is ENTIRELY NOT HELPFUL IN KIEV. Ukrainian is not Russian. It’s in the same linguistic neighborhood but I hope you now understand my hesitation.

Let’s work an example problem! Starting word: шпильхалле

Step 1: Hmm, that looks weird, don’t quite recognize Greek equivalents to all those letters. The first one kinda looks like a sigma that fell over, so let’s go with ΣΠΝΛΧΑΛΛΕ

Step 2: I hope those missing letters don’t matter too much. SPILCHALLE

Step 3: Okay, “halle” I recognize, though the “h” I have identified came from a chi, which is a ch sound. “Spil”? That kinda looks like a word I remember from my game collection, speil.

Step 4: Game place? Did I find a game store, a stadium, or what? Only one way to find out…

(The actual answer is “casino”. This word is from the 1990s German/Russian hybrid times. These are the kinds of misunderstanding that lead to ADVENTURE!)

[EDIT: I’ve been told I got lucky with my transliteration, because I screwed up in a way that still worked. See? ADVENTURE!]

With that, I’m going to go back to the current cross-country train adventure while preparing for this next adventure.

BBotE Vacation Alert, Big Trees, Bad Air, and Camping Theory

Scheduling information first: the short ordering window that closes on September 19th, before I get on a plane to Boston, is now open for most items. After the 19th, another ordering window will open so you can continue to place orders, but nothing for that one will ship until after I return on October 5th. So, if you need ultracoffee, now is your time to jump in line.

Moving on to more fun things: national parks & regulator humor

BEHOLD! General Grant (the tree, not the Union general). Note: the trees it's dwarfing are ~150-200' tall.

BEHOLD! General Grant (the tree, not the Union general). Note: the trees it’s dwarfing are ~150-200′ tall.

In honor of the National Park System 100th Anniversary, and because I really needed some time camping, my Lovely Assistant and I headed to Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks last week. I give these parks my wholehearted endorsement for hermitage purposes. With the exception of open wifi at the two lodges, there is no signal to the outside world. Much like Burney Falls State Park, you’re free. They can’t get at you unless you make an effort to reconnect. This also meant that my steady stream of terrible tweets was also nipped in the bud. Less pretty pictures in your life (bad) but less high quality poop jokes as well (also bad), so I had to save them up. Let’s start with the General Grant Tree, for which this corner of Kings Canyon was original named as it’s own separate national park.

Giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum) are big. Very large. Some folks might say gargantuan. I wouldn’t because I grew up surrounded by coast redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) and 200′ tall second growth trees just seem normal to me. What giant sequoias are is “girthy”. The old growth monarch trees top out in height around 250′ and then start getting wiiiiiiide. When you walk around them and get winded from the effort, because you just came from sea level to 7000′ of elevation, because it was just that long a walk to get all the around the tree you say “Damn. That’s a big tree.” And then you want to go back to the camp to sit down and have a beer to really appreciate all that majesty.

We stayed in the Grant Grove Village cabins because my Lovely Assistant grew up in Alaska. She had this very important Alaskan wisdom to share with me when I first tried to convince her to go camping 8 years ago which I will paraphrase here:

“Alaskans go hunting and we may build shelter while out in the bush.

Alaskans go fishing and we may build a bivouac near the smoker.

Alaskans go prospecting & logging and we may make a lean-to out on the claim.

Californians come to Alaska to go camping [emphasis for disgust] and are eaten by bears.”

The perfect camping breakfast, Kings Canyon Nat'l Park edition.

The perfect camping breakfast, Kings Canyon Nat’l Park edition.

To be fair, she’s got a point but I convinced her of the value of letting me play in the woods because that helps me not go axe happy after being exposed to intense MBA bullshit field over a protracted period. (I believe the unspoken part of the famous John Muir quote is “The mountains are calling and I must go, or I may start shanking people.”) So we came to the understanding that “camping” could happen together if a cabin was involved. Didn’t have to be fancy, but it need to at least give the bear some pause before it tore the door off. Also, I am required to make all food/cooking happen while camping. Which brings us to our next picture, the ideal camping breakfast: a nice stout or porter and Poptarts. You may not agree that this is the best breakfast, but I have learned there’s nothing quite like a nice strong, dark beer as pain reliever for the previous day’s hiking and to get you ready for what’s yet to come. Poptarts, on the other hand, are breakfast that needs no cooking which is important in situations where cookfires may be forbidden (something you used to not find out until you showed up in the park).

The other reason you might want a nice sit down at altitude is because of the air quality up there. I’m not speaking ill of these parks, as they freely admit it with resignation, but Kings Canyon & Sequoia have the worst air quality of all the parks in California. At a vista overlook, there is a side by side picture from that location into the canyon of good & bad air quality days asking  how it looks to you today. The prevailing winds off the Pacific blowing eastward run into big goddamn wall of granite called the Sierra Nevada, and Kings Canyon is a low point for things to try to funnel through. This brings us to regulators.

When I first started work in Silicon Valley, one of my many “other duties as necessary” tasks was wrangling our airborne discharge permits with the California Air Resources Board’s local representative, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, AKA BAAQMD (normally, pronounced Back Mad, not to be confused with Strong Mad). My local regulator shared that every AQMD or APCD (Air Pollution Control District) had its own special duties to take care of that reflected the particular local challenges of their district. For example, BAAQMD had the unenviable task of trying to wrangle several large research universities, three national laboratories, and the constantly changing high tech industries. Accordingly, the joke view of BAAQMD was that their purpose was to impede research and development and hold back the progress of humanity itself. Whereas the joke for the San Joaquin Unified APCD’s purpose was to put corks in cow asses and sue the Greater Los Angeles AQMDs into doing their job.

You see, that prevailing wind is blowing everything from Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Fresno, etc. into the park. All the smoke from their wildfires, not that the Sierras lack their own, ends up trapped in the Kings Canyon. That smell of campfire may not be from the your neighbors making smores, it may be the forests ablaze outside Hearst Castle.

Kings Canyon from Zumwalt Meadow (I believe the mountain cliff on the right is The Sentinel)

Kings Canyon from Zumwalt Meadow (I believe the mountain cliff on the right is The Sentinel)

Now that I’ve taken the time to tell you what’s wrong with, let me tell you what is best: everything you love about Yosemite with maybe, at most, 1% of the crowds. You want giant trees? Got ’em. Staggeringly beautiful glacier carved granite U-valleys? A+. Waterfalls, canyons trails, giant boulders, and stories about John Muir being a dick? Check, check, check, check, and ohhhh man check.

But now, I must go have all the fun with playing with radiation, making BBotE & steins, and generally getting ready for a trip to Boston with a cross-country train ride home afterward. ADVENTURE!

 

Recent Improvements, New BBotEs, and Vacations

Let’s begin with the improvement you can’t see or, rather, won’t see anymore. At some point a “helpful upgrade” was done by BigCommerce who provide the architecture and servers for the store side of Funranium Labs. In the course of this upgrade, they managed to break the 3rd party SSL chain and depending on the browser you received a warning letting you know that my store was as suspect as a Moldovan merchant bank and to be avoided at all costs. It took far too long to figure out exactly how they broke it and then longer to determine how to fix it correctly with them. Needless to say, I have received a fresh customer service lesson which I will file away for how to treat others better. If I’ve done everything right, you won’t be getting nasty red flags anymore…at least until the next “upgrade“.

In the near future, I have some travel coming up which is going to make production schedules a little screwy. This weekend, I’m headed up to Portland to celebrate a friend’s birthday, which means for those of you who want go juice for Burning Man BBotE the schedule’s a little tight. Meanwhile, while Burning Man is going on, I will be fleeing to the Sierras to collect two national parks I haven’t been to yet, Kings Canyon & Sequoia. It is very important to give me camping hermitage time or I start getting stabby. And finally, there will be a longer service interruption as I go to Boston on Sept 20th to celebrate the wedding of Test Subjects Vision Science. I will then be fulfilling a dream I’ve had since I was 20 or so when my grandma did it and coming home via cross-country Amtrak trip, with a couple stops along the way. The coffee engines will fire up again after that trip on Oct 5th.  All that said, I’m not going to turn off ordering, but I’m going to ask your patience as listings may zero out on you and production windows may go longer or shorter than normal as I try to crank as much out as possible.

Now, on to new BBotE offerings and me rambling about history, war, and agronomy.

As previously mentioned, Guatemala Nueva Vinas is being retired until next year when, hopefully, the next crop comes in and is up to snuff. In the meantime, I have identified a Guatemala Antigua that I’ve enjoyed which has an impressive citrus brightness and dark chocolate flavor that, weirdly, reminds me of Pepperidge Farms lemon Milano cookies. My normal tasting crowd ran about a 50/50 split of “Coffee and lemons do not go together” and “Holy shit, this is like that weird Panama you make that tastes like blueberries. Are you gonna make more?” There was a universal opinion that the addition of pretty much any alcohol to it was a winner. Do not take this as a challenge to make BBotE & cynar cocktails.

Lastly, Test Subject Nimby, proprietor of Blackstar Group, recently went on vacation to Puerto Rico and asked if there was anything I’d like him to bring back. I instead sent him on a mission to see if he could find a worthwhile coffee for me to play with. You see, I keep cursing the name of United Fruit because in the course of setting up the banana republics around the world, even in places where they did the least political damage, their market distorting effects destroyed the coffee plantations that had been there for generations, all in the name of bananas & pineapples. After my trip to Hawaii, where I sampled as much coffee as I could stand, I started wondering about the coffee production in the Spanish-American War acquisitions. In Guam, the coffee crops are almost gone, long ago replaced by bananas, importing most of the coffee the consume from Sumatra. In the Philippines, their coffee production never really recovered from an awful blight at the end of the 19th century that, again made bananas look appealing. Production has resumed there, but the Philippines are net importers of coffee by a fair margin and most of their domestic crops are robusta.

Which brings us to Puerto Rico. Coffee production in Puerto Rico never really stopped. It was never as large scale production like Haiti, which supplied a quarter of the world’s supply at one time. Once the filthy Yanqui showed up, the production decreased as work moved to sugar cane instead. Because cane and coffee use very different terrain, the crop transition didn’t destroy the coffee plantations like happened for bananas, so much as them being abandoned or only being used for low key, local production. Once sugar beets displaced sugar cane as the primary source for everyone’s favorite diabetes fuel, they started firing up the the old coffee plantations again.

Initial run of Puerto Rico Yaucono headed to Test Subject Nimby, with a salute for me.

Initial run of Puerto Rico Yaucono headed to Test Subject Nimby, with a salute for me.

That said, most of Puerto Rico’s production remains for local consumption. Puerto Rico has struck me with proud, just this side arrogant, pride of place for their their food. Each valley has the best coffee, everyone’s grandma has the best coquito recipe; it’s one of the things I miss about living around lots of Puerto Ricans. The Yaucono that Test Subject Nimby sent me is a dark roast which generally gives me pause. Dark roasts tend to leave very little of the original coffee’s character which is why there’s so few of them as BBotE, I want to actually taste something other than the roast. However, I got a treat every bit as good as my surprise with the Peru Salkanty here, the taste was like the smell of opening a cedar chest and a cup of hot cocoa. Considering Caribbean fun times, I decided to try a rum addition rather than vodka and a 6:2:1 hot water to Yaucono to dark rum mix is a goddamn treat.

Both of these go on the Limited Run line up and I’m happy for it.

Antarctic Medical Evacuation 2003

I’m putting this here to, potentially, stop questions.

I, honestly, remember near to nothing about the medevac we had in late 2003. Hypothyrodism due to protracted exposure to cold and dark takes a lot of forms and mine was memory loss and appalling Yoda like grammar. I remember very little about September 2003 and near to none of October other than excruciating frostbite at the very end.

I remember two people leaving. One due to a serious medical issue and one who wanted out before he got lynched.

I remember a plane basically didn’t stop moving for fear it would freeze up and never move again.

I remember a BBQ that needed a continuous propane torch to keep burning because it was too cold to go otherwise. That probably has nothing to do with the medevac flight.

I know there is another one happening now in the 2016 winter season, in the dead of austral winter. September was bad enough, but at least the continent was warming up at that point. Late June, right after Midwinter really, is as bad as it gets. Wish them well, everyone. This is dangerous as all fuck and they wouldn’t even attempt if it wasn’t dire.

Great Moments In Teaching – Fecal Samples

PLEASE NOTE: there is a very good reason there are no pictures associated with this story.

As some of you may know, I teach radiation safety course at a local community college. A while back, we were discussing bioassay techniques (read: ways determine if there’s been an uptake of radioactive material in the body, where, how, and how much) in my radiation safety class. 

My fellow instructor, after explaining how fecal dosimetry techniques work, declared that no one, not the subject providing the sample, not the dosimetrist who has to process it, certainly not the rest of the lab staff, nor even the lab building’s neighbors, likes it when you have to do fecal samples.

I begged to disagree before the class. I clearly remembered an occasion that a world renowned health physicist and internal dosimetrist loudly declared in my presence “I LOVE FECAL SAMPLES!

I stared at him very hard. He saw me staring. There was then a several beat pause…

He then corrected himself, declaring somewhat less loudly, “I love the numbers I get from fecal samples.”

Once again, I love making sure lessons hit home and stick for life with memorable vignettes like this to hang the information on. I’m proud to declare all our students aced that part of the exam. I’m just sad no one took video of my “Rubbin’ My Ass On Uranium” dance to demonstrate proper dosimeter badge usage.

The Picric Acid Tale or “Why I Can’t Have Four Day Weekends Anymore”

Once upon a time, the radiation safety officer (RSO), let’s call him Bob, had been out performing the inventory of source material* and ran across a bit of excitement.

In this particular lab, they had approximately 10 grams of uranyl acetate, a very common contrast stain for electron microscopes.  The poor unfortunate grad student who was trying to wrangle things for the RSO presented the uranyl acetate to Bob for him weigh and verify, but Bob ignored him.  Bob was looking over the grad student’s shoulder at the fume hood behind him.  Bob took a picture of it for us all to enjoy later, evacuated the lab, and told the grad student to get the department chair down here RIGHT NOW while Bob called the chemical safety folks to come up and help.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Picric Acid Sat. Sol. 3/18/69 ☺ – You see, the ☺ means it must be safe.

Flash forward to the staff meeting as Bob presents his pictures.  I may have let out a pained yelp of terror when this one came up on the screen.  I apologize for the lack of detail for this picture, but the brown bottle has a handwritten label that reads “PICRIC ACID, SAT. SOL., 3/18/69, *happy face*”

Bob: “So, does anyone see any problems with this picture?”
Me: “YES!  There’s a four fucking liter bottle of picric acid!”
Bob: “Note that the bottle says ‘Sat. Sol.’  How would we know if it weren’t safe?”
Me: “Well, I suppose if it wasn’t safe they would’ve labeled it with a frowny face instead of a happy one.”
Bob: [gives me a glare] “Right, no more four day weekends for you.  You get sarcastic if we give you too much time off.  I was referring to the crystalline sediment in the bottom of the bottle that shows this is clearly a supersaturated solution now.”
Me: [emits another yelp of terror]
Co-Worker 1: “Jeez, they haven’t cleaned their lab in 40 years if that’s been lying around since it got labeled.”
Co-Worker 2: “No…the building they’re in now has only existed for 17 years.  The had to move it here from somewhere else first…*trails off into contemplative horror*

Supersaturated picric acid is a shock & light sensitive bomb, similar to unstable crystallized ether.  There have been an awful lot of lab explosions over the decades due to forgotten picric bottles which is why it is pretty much banned in anything other than microquantities.  A 4L bottle is a job that even the bomb squad is reluctant to touch.

As a nice bonus, if you look closely you’ll notice that there’s a bottle of 70% percholoric acid next to it, which is another potential bomb. At the very least, a POWERFUL oxidizer to help promote the coming firestorm when everything goes sideways.

The happy ending is that everything worked out nicely and nothing had to be detonated with a sniper rifle from a safe distance. This time.

 


* Source material is defined as naturally occurring or depleted uranium or thorium materials which could, potentially, be refined and enriched.  In practice, this normally translates to “anything we feel like nailing you for not having on your inventory already” as this is stuff any member of the public can buy, but as license holder you have a responsibility to keep track of it.

No Pants-Bear Bad

Adding this slice of life from almost a decade ago at LLNL to the permanent record of Funranium Labs as a reference point for Test Subject Vision Scientist (subcategory: Male)

[SCENE: Early April 2008, Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab. The transition to the new managing private consortium, primarily run by Bechtel, has proven to be very uncomfortable and isn’t improving. All the people involved in this story, and even the departments, have moved on or are dead.] 

The only thing I hate almost as much as group projects are All Hands meetings.

There is nothing more fun than a one hour meeting that runs a half hour over where no useful information is conveyed despite actual insightful, searching questions from the audience.  It was very much a meeting because management felt it necessary to Say Something, except that everything anyone wanted to know they couldn’t say.

After then All Hands meeting I went to go visit a former co-worker who now works in the Department That Doesn’t Get Out Much Because They’re Too Busy Thinking Terrorist Thoughts.  She asked how things were going out in the Lab at large where people get to see sunlight.  After due consideration I described it, speaking very fast and panicky, “Ohgodohgodwe’reallgonnadietheskyisfallingit’scoldoutsideilostmypantsandthere’sabearthatwantstoeatme!!!”

She blinked a few times and then she began laughing in way that I felt justified in grabbing the spill clean up kit just in case, which only made her laugh more. They’re a little short of entertainment in there.

This morning I was shocked to hear someone else describe a situation as “No Pants-Bear” Bad. I’ve gotten a stern finger waggling whilst sniggering by my manager for creating a new term that is spreading through the Laboratory like curium-244 contamination.   I now give it to you to enjoy and share with the rest of the world.