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.

The Money Rant

I think I promised that I would write up this rant roughly five years ago. Recent announcements of the coming changes to our printed currency has finally triggered me to share one of my favorite old man grumbles with you, a grumble I’ve had since I was 12 years old. The TL;DR version:

I HATE THAT WE DEPICT HISTORICAL PERSONAGES AT ALL ON OUR MONEY

 

There, I said it. If I had my druthers we wouldn’t have Washington on anything, much less the rest of the questionably dignified dead presidents. In fact, Washington on money was the specific thing they were trying to avoid with the original Coinage Act of 1792. At that time, America was a little touchy about anything that, per the writers of the period, “smacked of Monarchy” or, more rudely, “We waged war to get one George off our coins, damned if we’re going to put another one on.” In the course of the Constitutional Convention, America was arguing about it’s very structure and it got down to seemingly minor things, such as what should our coinage look like? It seems minor until you remember that for as long as anyone in the western world could remember, coins had depicted the current or at least a relatively recent monarch (please ignore the coinage of any Muslim state or iconoclast Byzantium for this argument).

The initial proposal intended to put Washington on all the coins but this was argued back quite forcefully, with Washington’s approval, to a figurative representation of Liberty. And that’s the way our coins stayed until 1909. We had all manner of different representations of Liberty and a few unspecific representations of Native Americans, on the basis that the tribes were the embodiment of freedom and liberty… as long as you ignored the Indian Wars and reservation system entirely. We never depicted an actual person on our coins until the 20th century. Even the Confederacy held to this same minting guidance, not that they had an opportunity to make many coins down in New Orleans with their very limited supplies of bullion. Our paper currency was another matter, with our first post-Andrew Jackson federal bank note in 1862 depicting Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, but that’s a separate rant on Jackson being a worse person than most people think in addition to the horrible corruption of the banking system left in his wake.

As an aside, I hate the “In God We Trust” argument about this having always been on our coins, required by law. The only words that have been required since the beginning were “LIBERTY”, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”, and something to tell you what the denomination of the coin is. That’s it. To bring it back to ol’ Chase again, he had to get Congress to pass a new Mint Act to permit the coins to actually say anything other than these three things. He started with the brand new two cent piece to see how “In God We Trust” was received and then added it to the rest of the coins from there. Once you start a change, it’s hard to undo it which is why people were so resistant to changing anything on coins in the first place.

Which brings us to 1909*.

To help stave off counterfeiters, the US Mint had been changing the designs of the coins roughly once per 25 years, often more frequently, but the penny had been one of those coins that was hard to change. History had shown Americans to be VERY PROTECTIVE of their pennies and they didn’t like it when people wanted to change them, putting the penny on something closer to a 30-50 year cycle. In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt embarked on a beautification campaign of American currency, arguing that a world class power deserved a beautiful world class money. He got easy agreement to update everything, except the penny. The Indian Head Cent was very popular and no one wanted it to change.

The 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent Obverse. The VDB refers to the engraver's initials, which they forgotten in early mintings but added later.

The 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent Obverse. The VDB refers to the engraver’s initials, which they’d forgotten in early mintings but added later.

That is until 1909, the centennial year of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The case was made that The Great Emancipator deserved special recognition, that the most important president since Washington should be immortalized on our coinage in addition to a bunch of fresh statues and buildings in his honor. But that original restriction of the Coinage Act of 1792 remained: you could only depict a figurative representation of Liberty. For Lincoln we made an exception and Congress amended the act to specifically allow Lincoln to be put on the penny.

By 1948, every goddamn coin in the United States depicted a person, with the Walking Liberty falling to Benjamin Franklin on the half dollar. And now, 107 years later we still have Lincoln’s face on the penny. There have been many efforts to change the penny over the decades, with the back of the coin changing four times now, but the idea of replacing Lincoln’s face on the front with something else is a non-starter. Hell, even the argument that we lose money making pennies cannot stand against the tradition of pennies and the face of Lincoln. We are now trapped by the people we honor.

EDIT: As a follow up to answer someone’s question as to what the point of all that was, the purpose was to highlight something historians and archaeologists have always known: a culture’s money says a lot about it. Sometimes it tells the only story we’ll ever know about a culture when the distance in time becomes centuries and those stories also raise questions of their own. Questions like “What happened that they stopped worshiping Liberty and put these people on instead? Who were they? Or are they aspects of Liberty too, because we still see that word there?” This is one of those cases where I rather liked the original intent and the solid 70 years before the first modification of the Coinage Act of 1792. And to quote My Lovely Assistant “It suggests we worship the Founding Fathers like the gods they weren’t.”

These are the things I think about when bored.

 

 


The Columbian Expo Half-Dollar Reverse

The Columbian Expo Half Dollar Reverse

Columbian Exposition Obverse

The Columbian Exposition Half Dollar Obverse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*:  Or 1892 if you want to be super picky and include the very first commemorative coins. Special half dollars and quarters were struck as a fundraiser for the Columbian Exposition, but they were never intended for circulation and more like a collector’s item instead. Technically, Christopher Columbus is the first historical personage depicted on a coin the US Mint struck, followed shortly after by Queen Isabella for the same Expo.

FURTHER EDIT: As I had people argue with me that “obverse is where the face goes, idiot” I would like to clarify. That would be true on non-American coins and would be true all the way back to the first Lydian coins more or less. The face tells you who’s reign you’re in and thus the rough date it was minted. But America didn’t have kings, thus our obverse was defined by wherever we stamped the date and the word LIBERTY. Part of the olive branch in making the Columbian Expo coin was that Columbus’ head would not be put on the front of the coin with the date. It also doesn’t say LIBERTY, so it was never meant to be a “real” coin to the point that they had to make the qualifying statement “COLUMBIAN HALF DOLLAR”.

The obverse is wherever the date rule is went out the window with the Presidential Dollar Coin Program. The Mint Act was amended to more or less remove all the restrictions of the original 1792 act in the interest of artistic freedom. You’ll notice the dollar coin’s date is on the rim now.

Klingon Scrabble and Odd Units of Measure

The other day I was trading tales with the former BBotE Ambassador of NYC, @EditrixW, and after sharing my new favorite Beatles cover song from Mongolia we drifted by COMPLETELY REASONABLE CONNECTIONS to the reason why my Lovely Assistant and I haven’t played Scrabble in quite some time. You see, we used to play it in a way I like to call Klingon Scrabble; you aren’t playing for the actual points but rather for honor. You can claim honor with such things as, but by no means limited to:

  • Longest word
  • Most words made at the same time
  • Dirtiest word
  • Bingos are still impressive
  • Most swear words
  • Most ridiculous acronym which you can explain
  • Really, you managed to play “HITLER” on the board more than once?
  • AND “STALIN”?!?!

And because both my Lovely Assistant and I hold science degrees, a PhD in her case, some latitude has been made to allow scientific terms because they also hold honor and are generally pretty hard to play. Also many scientific terms are proper nouns, so we had to kinda give up on that rule too but took it on a case by case basis. A complete list of the words played by each player should be written down for use to create a story, which is also a source of honor. Now that you’ve got the setup, let me now tell the tale of the last game of Scrabble we played which more or less went as follows.

SCENE: a late Sunday afternoon sitting at the dinner table, playing Scrabble.

Lovely Assistant: [plays the word “EXAM”, claims a triple word score]

Me: [looks hard at the letters on my rack, has a staggering realization, starts giggling]

LA: (very suspiciously) What?

Me: I got a bingo! [lays down the rest of my tiles after the M in “EXAM”]

LA: [making a Face] “EXAMONGOLIA” is not a word.

Me: Sure it is! It’s 1018 Mongolias.

LA: There is only one Mongolia and it is a proper noun.

Me: In the infinite multiverse, there is a similarly infinite number of Mongolias.

LA: No. You can’t just add unit prefixes to things. Mongolia isn’t a unit.

Me: It is too. Mongolia is the unit of hordeosity.

LA: [makes the Face again] Hordeosity isn’t a word either.

Me: When you have a group of people, you have to look at them to assess their likelihood/capability of going on a rampage. This is how horde-y  they are. Their hordeosity.

It is too totally a word

EXAMONGOLIA – 21 Points For Straight Letter Value Isn’t Bad (it is totally a word)

LA: [looks at me quietly with the Face that says she is working really hard to remember precisely WHY she loves me]

Me: Obviously, the Mongolia is one of those ridiculous basic units that’s hard to use like the Farad, Tesla, and Becquerel.

LA: Nope. We’re done here.

 

To end this story, she would like me to remind all of you that examongolia is totally not word. I, in turn, encourage you to contact the International Bureau of Weights and Measures to get this new fundamental unit recognized.

Final Notes for 2015

I expect there’ll be radio silence from me for a while after this as I vanish into an eggnog + BBotE + slivovitz & Fallout 4 haze until 2016. It’s time to do a round up to close out the year.

  1. There are still a few slots left for the production window ending on December 23rd, mostly sampler packs. I expect to ship pretty much all the outstanding orders by the 22nd, so that gives a chance for priority mail to get you things by Xmas Eve here in the continental US. If you want to make absolutely certain, it’s expensive but go with express.
  2. For local pick up in the San Francisco Bay Area, if you aren’t picky as to BBotE variety your chances to grab last minute gifts directly from me improve dramatically. You will be taking a trip to Berkeley or Oakland to come get them though as I’m somewhat geographically limited in the last days before Xmas. Same thing applies to Steins of Science on hand, though there’s no hope for me to get more dewar supplies before Wednesday.
  3. Speaking of steins, Stein #666 has been claimed by Steinwielder Diederich in Michigan. May he hoist well with all the fine beers to be found in America’s Mitten.
  4. Another short production window for the week after Xmas will start appearing for items soon. I’m headed to the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 from January 4-10th, so clearly there’ll be no production then, though I may be able to bring somethings with me to Las Vegas if you want direct hand off. Regular service will resume after that.

On review, 2015 has been a hell of a time. Bartended for my friend’s hospitality suite at CES 2015, visited the Nevada Test Site (a personal goal), built Legos with Friends, actually served jury duty without them kicking me out immediately, reestablished myself as a Laser Safety Officer in addition to my normal THE DEADLY RADIATIONS fun, celebrated my 40th birthday in style on an aircraft carrier, and countless bullshittings regarding science, things nuclear, and what all with artists, writers, journalists, and above all time with friends. By far my game of the year has been Shadows of Brimstone and I recommend it to anyone who needs that tabletop RPG or minifig combat fix but just can’t quite bring themselves to start up a campaign. Really scratches that itch nicely.

I realize the Commonwealth Wasteland doesn't look like this - Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Field Office

I realize the Commonwealth Wasteland doesn’t look like this – Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Field Office

Of course, there’s also Fallout 4. To paraphrase John Muir, the wasteland is calling and I must go.

BBotE And Steins For The Last Minute Crowd

Really, raccoon stealing radioactive stuff. I'm not kidding.

IMPORTANT HOLIDAY RACCOON WARNING – Well, not really. This was to keep them from stealing radioactive stuff.

So, the shame of not having even started holiday shopping is setting in and it’s getting to the point where glasses of egg nog that are mostly bourbon isn’t blunting that feeling is it? Trust me, I feel your pain as I’ve been spending a lot of my time making BBotE and Steins of Science for the past several weeks. A late Thanksgiving this year compressed an already all too short production/shopping window and I’m feeling it. Judging by emails that are along the lines of “OMGWTFNWOHAARPISIS WHY CAN’T I ORDER ANYTHING ON YOUR SITE, WHY DO YOU HATE FREEDOM, IS THIS A CONSPIRACY?!?!?” other folks have picked up on this too.

Yes, all of the production slots for the window ending December 15th are gone. This is the sad truth.

I am going to open a small and short production window that will close December 23rd (some are already up, and more will open as I clear the backlog approaching the 15th). I will do my best to get everything ordered in this window out the door as fast as possible so that there’s a hope that you can give it as a Christmas gift but, well, 12L/day remains my maximum output. In light of all the calamities that can befall the US Postal Sevice, I can’t guarantee that your BBotE will make it to you in time, particularly if you’re outside of the United States. If you’re worried and really need to get your order ASAP in the US, drop me a line to plead your case for shuffling the order queue, and bite the bullet to pay for express shipping. I’ll see what I can do.

Speaking of overseas, specifically London, I do have the good news to give that your long dormant BBotE Ambassador, Justin, should see resupply by the end of the week, customs permitting. Feel free to drop him a line by email, jfedouloff [at] gmail [dot] com, if you’d like a piece of that.

Worse come to worse, I do have the option of gift certificates for you. Giving a coupon code is perhaps a little less exciting than a bottle of black ichor or shiny scientific hardware for drinking, but it’s better than nothing. Consulting with my sister, she recommends using glitter pens to jazz that code up when writing it in a tastefully irreverent card, but she is a inveterate glitterfiend and suggests that for most everything.

As for Steins of Science and the Stein #666 special offer, well, it’s quite close. The current inventory on hand can be found here if you’d like to get a piece of that action.

The Decembering 2015 Is At Hand!

As my Birthdaytide Fortnight draws to a close and Berkeley’s holiday lights go up in the trees, I must acknowledge what is coming and say the words that must be said.

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

My Ceremonial South Pole Hero Shot & Xmas Card 2002

The BBotE production window that closes December 1st is now up. This window is a little longer than normal because Thanksgiving is in there and I expect at least one day of turkey & pie coma.

The last pre-Xmas BBotE production window will close on December 15th. All things being equal, domestic or international, everything shipped by the 15th should end up at their destination by Christmas Eve. I can’t control weather doom snarling the global postal system utterly, but a week is usually quite sufficient even taking weather into account. I will put another pre-order window up after the 15th, 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.

As far as steins go, I have a another large shipment of dewars slated to show up right just a bit before Thanksgiving. The “steins on hand” should dramatically increase, so keep an eye out on that page for the fluctuating numbers. Speaking of Steins of Science, Stein #666 hasn’t been claimed yet and there is a pretty sweet deal for who ever that lucky soul is who buys it. The current count is in the 650s, so it won’t be long now.

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 Of BBotE 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 convenient for you. 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, this does not permit me to sanctify food.  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.

Yet Another Q&A

Oddly, there’s been another surge of questions lately that have come in often enough that I reckon I should tackle them for the benefit of everyone:

Scott Wegener has perfectly captured me at work

Scott Wegener has perfectly captured me at work

Question 1: “Holy crap, you’re Atomic Robo’s Phil!” – Vernon, Goleta, CA

Okay, that’s not a question but with the current story arc of Atomic Robo, Volume 10: The Ring of Fire, there’s been a hell of a lot of people that seem to have made the connection in their head finally. Yes, that is my ugly mug which Scott Wegener has adapted for the comic page. I also get the pleasure of bullshitting with them about science as the Science/Weirdness Consultant. This mainly consists of sending Brian Clevinger this picture all day long. I could probably set up a macro to do this, but I like the personal touch.

Question 2: “What the fuck is with the $5 shipping & handling charge? It’s bad enough I’m paying shipping without that shit. This coffee better be fucking gold!” – Mario M., Staten Island, NY

I specifically chose Mario’s version of this question because he was clearly the most irate & profane of them; the one that tempted me to just refund his money and add his email to the block list. PROTIP: abusing people while asking a question does not make them more inclined to answer your question.

The shipping and handling is the price you’re paying to get the packaging that will get your item to you in one piece and worth consuming, with a side order of my time playing shipping department. Now, you may ask “Why do I pay this again even on refills when I’m sending it back to you in the original shipper?” That is something that I realized was unfair a while back, which is why the refill discount got cranked up from 10% to 20%.

The next question is somewhat related.

Question 3“Can you sell this through Amazon or some local storefront so I don’t have to pay shipping?” – Amanda K., New York, NY

I understand the desire to pay as little as possible for the thing that isn’t the product itself and there’s a heck of a lot of people that have asked some variation on this question. The short answer is no, though if you’re lucky enough to live in a city in the US with a BBotE Ambassador there you can effectively get it without shipping costs.

The longer version is that Amazon’s supplier relations business model isn’t all that friendly to small producers and their shipping model is based on an economy of scale you have to be Amazon sized to compete with. I, thankfully, am not competing with them but they’ve trained a generation accustomed to a marketplace that provides them with their heart’s desire with one click, overnight, and no shipping costs. You’d think that all this shipping would be saving the USPS’ keister except that economy of scale bit has driven down the margins on postage to the point that it barely covers the wear and tear on the post office’s trucks. Amazon drives a hard bargain in several senses.

And, yes, BBotE has to ship at least at priority mail speeds for domestic orders. Any slower than that, and my faith in it getting to you in a timely manner is weak.

Question 4: “The postal service sucks in around here. Why can’t you ship FedEx?” – John P., State College, PA

You won’t find FedEx as shipping option because, hoo nelly, for all the people that don’t like the price of USPS priority mail you get to pay at least double for the pleasure of FedEx. You also won’t see UPS as a shipping option on the website ever as I have beef with them as a mere recipient of packages, much less trying to ship things with them.

One of those statistics I hear bandied about and I’m inclined to view with a certain level of skepticism is that 3% of packages and letters that go through USPS are lost, damaged or undeliverable. Based on my own five years of heavy shipping experience, their failure rate before implementing their tracking on priority mail was somewhere closer to .4% of my shipments. For the last year and change, my postal problems have mainly been related to people not filling out their address completely/correctly.

Now, that’s strictly domestic mail. Oz Post and I are getting along well as of late. But Parcelforce in Great Britain and Chronoforce in France, oh man, I assume UPS will find a way to merge with those firms to vanish into singularity of abhorrent customer service and incompetence. Really, I have no idea how any package successfully gets anywhere in England and consider it a minor miracle when it happens.

Question 5: “Can you teach me how to make BBotE at home for myself? I promise that this isn’t for sale or profit.” – Matt K., Menlo Park, CA

No, but I welcome you to read the original BBotE posts, glean what information you can and start experimenting. That’s been the most fun part about all of this for me and I wouldn’t want to deprive you of it. If you want my process without the years of effort that went into it for all the various different coffees, well, you’re effectively asking to buy me out of the business and that ain’t gonna come cheap. As the great sage Homer Simpson once said, “Money is exchanged for goods and services.”

Question 6: “Have you considered using your BBotE process on something else, like tea?” – Mike N., Cottonwood, AZ

I get asked this question a lot and had previously answered it here. The TL;DR version is: the pharmacopoeia of “tea” is complex and there sure are a lot different teas in the world.

That said, I did do an experiment a couple weeks back with cascara, AKA the dried coffee cherry or “Bolivian Army Coffee”, from the amusingly named Klatch Coffee just to see what I could see. I was, in short, quite impressed with the result.

The coffee cherry fruit actually has more caffeine in it than the coffee beans do, though the resulting cascara tea that you make typically only results in a drink with about quarter to half the caffeine of a comparably sized cup of coffee. I can’t really call what resulted from putting cascara through my normal processing a Black Blood of the Earth (for one thing it isn’t as dark as the tar entity for ST:TNG) but I like the result. It’s incredibly sweet to me, as if I’d added honey to it or somehow managed to make drinkable raisins with a hint of mint & cherry. Reminded me a lot of Moroccan high tea, minus an entire jar of sugar cubes. It’s quite peppy and I seem to have gotten the caffeine out of the fruit quite nicely.

I’m doing longevity tests on it now. If it works out, I may make it available now and then in the store. Still need to figure out what I’m going to call it though.

A Labor Day Recipe

Test Subject Ivan has kindly submitted his BBotE rib recipe for you all in the aftermath of one of America’s prime BBQing holidays. Enjoy!

Six shots, each shot is roughly one and a half ounces. That’s over a cup of BBotE. And Deathwish? Hoh, boy, that’s just over half a cup of the deadliest joe ever concentrated. Another two or three shots, and it’s a guaranteed heart attack. Of course, this is for two racks of ribs. One Herr Funranium gave an estimate of three shots per rack (around 8 pounds of meat and bone).
Thankfully, however, they infused the ribs with a slightly dark red color after about twelve hours marinating with a dash of salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. A little dijon mustard to make sure they coat and that’s that.
Here are the ingredients for the marinade of two racks of cut porky ribs:
9 fluid oz of BBotE ‘Deathwish’
3 fluid oz of dijon mustard
1 tbsp of salt, pepper, and smoked paprika (if you don’t have smoked, regular does just as well.)
Mix and coat the ribs, cover in a container to let the deliciously deadly coffee to soak in overnight. (I found that the longer the coffee infuses into the meat, the more pronounced it’s flavor)
Now, here comes the part where you cook the meat. Being an asian with folks who prefer asian flair in the cookery closet of spices, I had a limited selection to choose from. Still; it’s not a bad selection. After all, I had some special stuff to go with it all.
3-4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
5 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced (I find that the thinner the ginger is sliced, the more fragrant the result)
2 tsp dried chilli flakes (to taste)
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
9 whole star anise
8 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
300 ml Drambuie (Regular scotch, brandy, cognac, or even a cheap red will do)
400 ml pork broth (made with previous batch of test ribs and trimmings)
Equipment:
Large frying pan or cooking tray.
So first is drying the meat and then browning it in a hot pan or cooking tray with a little olive or rapeseed oil. You want to dry it beforehand because once it comes into contact with hot oil…well, that stuff can hurt. Anyway, you want to brown the meat in either a pan or a cooking tray, caramelizing the meat on all sides. You know when it’s browning when it makes contact with the pan and it sizzles loudly. Let them brown and sprinkle in the garlic, ginger, chili flakes, peppercorns, star anise, and honey.
Once all sides are browned, pour in the scotch to deglaze the pan and pick up all the delicious flavor stuck on the bottom. Bring it to a simmer and slowly drizzle the balsamic vinegar into the mix of ribs and scotch. Reduce and then add in the pork broth. The broth should just barely reach the sides of the ribs.
Note: If you’re using the frying pan, transfer the browned meat to a roasting tray and deglaze with the alcohol, then add to the tray once it is reduced to half and the alcohol is burned off. Add the pork broth into the roasting tray.
Stick the whole lot into the oven at 365 degrees Fahrenheit and let it roast for half an hour. Once half an hour is finished, turn the ribs and roast for another half hour. Pull out and let rest as the caramelized sauce thickens on it’s own once it cools.
Tip: While cooling it can create a very sweet delicious glaze, I find it best to reduce it and then let it cool to let the taste of spice and coffee to come through even more strongly.
Note: By the time I’ve sent this, roughly four in the morning, I will note I have only eaten six ribs roughly eight hours ago and am still wide awake. Devour with caution!