Tag: technology

Pique the Geek 20120101: Aluminum

Aluminum (or aluminium to our UK friends) is one of the most useful metals that are commonly available.  Unlike other metals such as iron, copper, and the like, aluminum has been used in large quantities only fairly recently.  Actually, alumimium is the better name, because it is in keeping with the naming of most metallic elements with the “ium” ending.  However, we shall use the US term.  Interestingly, the brilliant British chemist Sir Humphrey Davy called it aluminum, but he never produced the actual metal.  In addition, his first name for it was alumium, and folks from My Little Town who were older used that name!  That really should be the systematic name for it.

Aluminum compounds have been known for centuries, but the free metal only since around 1825 and even then in an impure form.  It was not until very late in the 19th century that aluminum was produced on a large scale, using a process that is essentially identical with the process being used even now.

Pique the Geek 20111225: Pagan Christmas Traditions

Christendom, like other religions before it, assimilated former religions to forge its own traditions.  This is very much the rule rather than the exception when a new religion begins to dominate an older one.  It is easier to get people to come to your point of view if do not change things too much.

There are a number of pagan traditions that were assimilated into the Christmas tradition, and not all of them were done simultaneously.  For example, the Yule log is much  more recent than celebrating Christmas on 25 December (and that date is not universal, by the way).  Let us look as some of our customs that are not Christian at all.

Pique the Geek 20111218: The Science of NCIS

The popular TeeVee show NCIS purports to use science to solve most of the difficult bits of its cases, almost always murders.  Since this is about a TeeVee show, I was torn betwixt posting this piece here or on Popular Culture, but chose here because it will get a little geeky.

Before I continue, let me tell you that I like the program very much, not so much for the science but for excellent script writing and character development.  I think that it is important to recognize a well crafted program.  Since most viewers are not technically proficient, the science is not a problem for them.

But it is for me.  I am reminded of another popular TeeVee show from years, the Jack Klugman one called Quincy, M. E., that relied heavily on fictionalized scientific methods.  I had a boss at one time who coined a phrase that I shall reveal later.

Pique the Geek 20111211: Would I Lye To You?

Sodium hydroxide, aka lye, is one of the most important basic chemicals used in industry, and until not too long ago, for several home uses.  It can still be found in a few consumer products, but because of its usefulness as a chemical reagent for clandestine preparation of methamphetamine, is hard to get now without a legitimate business reason.  However, I found some at Lowe’s a couple of years ago (under a different label) for opening drains.  I wanted some to show my relatives how to make soap.

A significant amount of this material is still used for making soap, but its uses are so widespread and pervasive that soapmaking is just a small fraction of the applications for this material.  Industrially it is used when a strong, cheap base is needed, because it is amongst the strongest and cheapest, other than perhaps calcium hydroxide (lime), but sodium hydroxide is very soluble in water where calcium hydroxide is not.

Pique the Geek 20111127: Chemical Bonds and Electronegativity

The way that atoms bond together to form molecules has been a question asked since scientists came to the consensus that atoms do indeed exist.  Work progressed rapidly after the turn of the 20th century from both theoretical and experimental breakthroughs.  To keep the discussion easy to visualize, we shall consider only diatomic molecules, but the concepts are good for any number of atoms.  One of the great advances was the development of the idea that chemical bonds can either be covalent, where each atom shares bonding electrons equally, or ionic, where one atom donates an electron to another atom entirely.

Actually, pure ionic bonds do not exist because all bonds have at least a little bit of covalent character.  Pure covalent bonds are common, common examples being the nitrogen and oxygen of the atmosphere.  There is a very cool way to predict where a particular bond falls in the covalent to ionic spectrum, and that is to use electronegativity values.

Pique the Geek 20111120: The Neurochemistry of Love

The subject of love has been investigated by philosophers, writers, dreamers, theologists, and a whole host of others throughout the ages.  With the advent of the “science” of psychology, the question was even further muddled.  Please do not get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for ethical psychologists, but some of the hypotheses that the likes of Freud proposed were just plain wrong and just confused the issue.

We are just beginning now to solve some of the puzzle, and it turns out that there is quite a lot of biochemistry (and not just neurochemistry) that is involved.  With modern chemical analytical techniques, precise measurements of various neurotransmitters can be made, and with functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) actual images of the human brain in action can be had.

Using a combination of observations about how people behave during different stages of love and some results from these methods, let us take a look about how love works, how it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences that is, and how it can be so terribly hurtful when it goes wrong.  Are you ready?

Pique the Geek 20111113: I was Right. Twice

First of all, I am back from taking vacation from writing for the past week.  I needed to get my thoughts organized and also to recharge a bit.  There are also some other things going on that are significant that I mentioned yesterday in a post.  But this is Pique the Geek, and we shall try to stay on topic.

Now, I hope that I have been right in this series more than twice, but these two instances are significant.  Those of you who read this series regularly know that I often write on health issues.  I have made recommendations here from time to time, and in these two occasions the Food and Drug administration (FDA) actually has, presumably independently, has adopted one of them outright and the other at least partially.

After doing more research, I have to say that my statement in the paragraph just above is not quite accurate.  FDA actually did something BEFORE I recommended it, but it got almost zero coverage and I just today found the information.  I shall clarify this as we go.

Pique the Geek 20111030: Heat and Temperature

This might sound like a foolish title, but actually the concepts of heat and temperature are quite different.  Obviously things that feel “hotter” must have more heat in them, right?  Actually, that is not always, and is often NOT, the case.  The two concepts are quite different, but are related.

In a bit we shall go into specific definitions of what heat and temperature actually are, but it is more interesting to look at the historical thoughts about them.  Back before quantitative physics, the higher the temperature that an object had, the more heat that it was thought to have.  That is correct for a specific object, as the temperature increases, the amount of heat in it also increases.

But it is easy to show that for dissimilar objects, the amount of heat is quite unrelated to the temperature.  I shall show you that ice might contain more heat than red hot steel!  Ready to look more deeply?  Then let us go to it!

Pique the Geek 20111023: All about Zebras

I know that this is sort of a subject about which I do not write often, since I am, for the life sciences, more botanist than zoologist.  But this topic was by special request from a friend, that friend indicating that zebras are her or his favorite animal.  So Zebras it is.

Actually, as I began doing research on them, I also became fascinated with them as well.  Not only are they extremely handsome animals, they have an extremely complex diversification into diverse subspecies, something that I vaguely knew but was very interested to learn more about as the research continued.

Zebras are uniquely African, except of course for those that have been taken away from there.  They are very much allied with horses and asses, but with some twists.  One of the most interesting thing is that the accepted scientific name for them is likely erroneous, but that comes later.

Pique the Geek 20111016: All about Soap Part II

First, please allow me to apologize for not posting Popular Culture Friday last.  I was occupied until late in the day and did not have enough time to write a quality piece for the series, and I would rather post nothing rather than a poor piece.  It shall return this coming Friday.

Actually, this is not about soap, but rather synthetic detergents, although we often call then “soap”.  In the companion piece to this one from last week, here, the terms are explained in detail.

There are a couple of reasons for using synthetic detergents over actual soap.  Part of it is economics, because both vegetable and animal fats, essential ingredients for soap, tend to be fairly high in cost.  Most detergents are based on petroleum, so when oil prices are low then can be cheaper to produce than soap.  When petroleum is high in cost, then detergents become less economically favorable.

Pique the Geek 20111009: All about Soap

Before we start, here is an important public service message brought to you by Translator.  There is a fraudulent email going around asking that gmail users verify their accounts by the end to the month to avoid suspension.  This is a fraud!  If you get an email from Gmail@carrierzone.com, do not respond and delete it.

We take something as mundane as soap way too much for granted.  It is not an exaggeration to say that soap has saved more lives over its history than modern medicine has over its history.  Of course, soap has a much longer history than modern medicine, but soap is still essential as a medical adjunct.

The actual origin of soap is lost in prehistory.  I suspect that the first soap like materials were plant saponins, and we shall get to them in just a bit.  Before we get into the nuts and bolts of soap (and by extension detergents), it is important to understand just how these materials work.  At first it does not seem to make a whole lot of sense, but as we continue I promise one of those “Aha!” moments.  Ready to get going?  I am!

Pique the Geek 20111002: The Things we Eat: trans Fats

We hear a lot about trans fats in food and the negative health effects of them.  However, most folks without a background in chemistry do not really know what that means.  Tonight the object is to clear that up, and to point out sources that are high in them so they can be avoided.

Contrary to the opening statement, not all trans fats have deleterious health effects.  There are a couple that seem to be beneficial, but unfortunately they are sort of rare.  They are also some of the few trans fats that occur naturally.  By a huge margin, most trans fats consumed are artificially produced, and we shall get into that as well.

To understand the topic well, a chemistry lesson will first have to be given.  However, this IS Pique the Geek!

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