science

chemical reaction

Via Boing Boing: via Wired Science blog: This video made me shout involuntarily. Watch as the liquid goes from clear to amber to blue to clear to amber to blue.

UPDATE: A few people, plus at least two sentient robots and a self-aware Jovian gas cloud, have written in to ask just what the hell is going on in that glass. I would have thought the robots, with their advanced brains, would have figured it out, but here goes anyway.

What you're looking at is known as an oscillating reaction. If done properly, the reaction will continue to occur for several minutes, until the solution settles at dark blue. This particular one is called the Briggs-Rauscher reaction, after the two high-school science teachers who came up with it in 1973. The reaction occurs when three different solutions are mixed together. I would go into greater depth, but I don't understand the chemistry behind it. For detailed instructions on how to create this reaction, along with an explanation for its niftiness, can be found here. Remember that chloride ions suppress the oscillating reaction, so make sure to pick up all the chloride ions you've got lying around and put them in a bag somewhere. And use distilled water.

No matter what you think of this process, it's definitely the coolest possible way to create a jar of deep blue liquid.

the astrofreaks

This morning I found a link on Boing Boing to a news story on a NASA document that details procedures for restraining and drugging astronauts who get violently uncomfortable with their surroundings during space flight. Combined with the recent story of Lisa Nowak's breakdown and subsequent cross-country astro-diaper journey, it's become pretty clear to me that astronauts, whatever other qualities they may have, are stone fucking nuts.

Not convinced? Here's your first clue: they go into space. Do you know who wants to go into space? Children, schizophrenics and astronauts. Children dream about it, schizophrenics believe they've already done it, but astronauts are the only class of people who actually put a suit on and get their faces shoved back by high-g forces.

I'm also willing to bet that if you sat a child or a lunatic down and told them the odds of survival, they'd think twice:

RECRUITER: Hey, how'd you like to go into space?
CHILD: My mother says I can do anything I want.
CRAZY HOBO: You the sonofabitch stole my Buick?
RECRUITER: You could really really die on a space shuttle mission. 1 in 75 chance. Just putting that out there.
CHILD: I'm not supposed to leave the playground area.
CRAZY HOBO: Yo-ho, smoky Joe, I gotta hot potato for you. You sell me my Buick back, I'll drive you to Jupiter.
RECRUITER: Ew.

You think I'm making that dialogue up, don't you? Anyway, according to the AP story, "Would-be astronauts are carefully screened and tested to eliminate [Eliminate? Shouldn't that be 'disqualify'?] those who are unstable":

RECRUITER: How'd you like to go into space for a living?
NUTJOB: Sure.
RECRUITER: With each flight you have an official 1 in 75 chance of dying.
NUTJOB: Bonus.
RECRUITER: But it actually shakes out to 1 in 60.
NUTJOB: Will there be sadistic hazing as well? 'Cause that would be gravy.

Space programs constitute the kind of insanity that goes very well with discipline and order. It's a bit like the military - you're joining an organization that provides sanction for taking the lives of human beings similarly charged to take yours. Everyone knows that's grade-A nuts. It's a circle of nuttiness, an endless loop of defense, aggression and recrimination that bends moral space into a Mobius strip. While we are captivated by its strange arguments, we lose a dimension, and eventually its fundamental strangeness becomes accepted. And people by the foddery millions, from time A (caveman with club) to time B (bomber in Ramallah) have signed up for it.

RECRUITER: Say, what is your most precious possession imaginable?
NUTJOB: My life.
RECRUITER: I have a persuasive argument to part you from it.
NUTJOB: Go on.

Really, I'm amazed that our highways aren't crowded with diaper-clad astronauts, their minds finally broken from walking that Mobius strip, on their way to exercise their psychosis on someone or other. I bet if we put up drive-through fast food joints catering to hungry astronauts on the go, or maybe diaper exchange huts, we could draw them out by the dozens.

the beginning of the end

Recently I surmised that the fish would rise up and wage a terrible war against humanity, leaving only a remnant of our species as slave labour. This remant will be all that is left to fight against our piscine oppressors in the far future. I'm using the term "piscine" here to refer both to fish and Pisces people, who will be the first to sell us out to the invaders from the depths. It also refers to people who own swimming pools, who will eventually show themselves as they collaborators they are. Think about it - a ready-made network of watery bases and hideouts across the continent sits and sparkles in wait for the scaly bastards. Our backyard pools will embolden and give comfort to our enemy. Oh how our leisure society has betrayed us!

The far future is here. Aaron sent me a link to the following video of the Terranaut II, an obvious forerunner of the machines that will one day be instrumental in our downfall.

The Terranaut II, seen here giving a Blood Parrot fish a taste of "freedom," is the creation of fish sympathizer and fellow swimmer Seth Weiner.

Mr. Weiner clearly regards himself as an impartial scientist, a spelunker in the caves of knowledge who believes that science is morally neutral and not contrary to God's plan for humanity (which it clearly is). If that is so, why is he a dues-paying member of the International Scientist-Fish Friendship Coalition (the ISFFC), a think tank whose mission is unapologetically amoral and fish-centric? Their "scientific" studies blatantly promote reductions in current fishing levels, penalties for corporations that pollute the sea, man-fish marriage, and a massive relocation of humanity to underwater domes where our brains would be reprogrammed to serve our new fish masters. I've misplaced the documentation for all this, but as soon as I find it and update the drivers for my scanner, I'll publish it, to devastating effect.

I'm not sure if Weiner is a misguided naif, a pawn of the ISFFC, or simply an avatar of cold-blooded evil. We cannot stop him at this stage, with the liberal media and the ACLU dogging us, but "Dr." Weiner should know that his deeds will be counted along with everyone else's when the day of reckoning comes.

Please note: Evil/mad scientist Dr. Seth Weiner conceals his true mission by pretending to be an artist from Brooklyn. His works display a peculiar fascination with Franz Kafka. So far I have been unable to find a definite connection between Mr. Kafka and fish, but it should be noted that the author's story "In the Penal Colony" is set on an island. and islands, as we all know, are beset by the fish-lousy sea.

ask palinode: scanning electron pr0nography edition

Sometimes a question is not a question. What, you say? It isn't? No: sometimes it is a story. And sometimes it's a guy with a knife and the animal stench of fear. But today let's focus on the question-as-story thing, thanks.

Heather - who signs off as Calvin for some reason - asks:

Dear Palinode,

I'm working on my PhD in biology, and my research focuses on single-celled organisms that lurk in various bodies of water. More specifically, I study their butts using scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Over the last year or so, I've had a number of comments from colleagues about my SEMS - they are, apparently, a little vulgar. I've taken the liberty of attaching two images so you can see for yourself. The first was described by a friend (he's a plant molecular systematist, if that helps) as something that looked like it was produced by the human digestive tract. I'll let you try and figure out the second one. I'm too embarrassed to say anything.

My supervisor says that they aren't obscene and that the comments come from people with dirty minds who see what they want to see. Normally I trust his infallible judgment, but I'm not so sure about this one. Is this just an inherent risk of studying the rear ends of single-celled organisms? Are they trying to tell me something?

One of my committee members suggested that aliens might be trying to send me a message, but he only saw crop circles in the image I showed him, perhaps being purer of mind than the rest of us (he is also a plant molecular systematist. Maybe that means something). Do you have an explanation for my micrographs? Any insight you could give me would be extremely helpful.

Sincerely,

(Ms.) Calvin

See how she signs off as Calvin? I don't get that. Her name's Heather. Anyway.

Firstly, Ms. Calvin: I can't believe you're listening to plant molecular systematists. They're so full of shit. Plants don't even have molecules, they have cells. I learned that in like, grade one. That friend of yours, the plant guy, he thought that the first image looked like something "that was produced by the human digestive tract" - he means feces, right? Because that's what that first image is. It's surrounded by balloons, so it's probably at a party. A kind of, I don't know, feces birthday party. Happy birthday, tiny turd! Here's hoping that you got everything you asked for.

The second image is precisely as dirty as you think it is. That's some full-on gratuitous non-reproductive butt sex between consenting prokaryotes (it could be something scat-related, even). How do I know they're not eukaryotes? Because eukaryotes are dignified. Prokaryotes are filth, they're filthy muckers, so bent on twisting the natural order around like an old paperclip and sliding their superfluous genitals in and out of each other's vacuoles, so downright nasty that... sorry, I lost my train of thought.

Where was I? Oh right. Sub-visible filth, rubbing their bits together and getting away with it, hiding behind their invsibility. But I don't think your second micrograph is an image of two actual organisms (or even one organism posing for late telophase). Take a look at the following image:

This is an illustration by Charles Crumb, brother of famous underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. Even a quick glance reveals the similarities between the ribs of the pirate's tunics and the endless wrinkles of your micrographic perverts.

If you've seen Terry Zwigoff's documentary Crumb, then you know all about Charles: his tyrannical reign over his brothers, his obsession with comics, his sexual attraction to child actor Bobby Driscoll, his schizophrenia and eventual suicide. But what the movie doesn't tell you is that Charles was really, really small.

He was, in fact, about three-quarters as tall as a wavelength of light. The filmmakers had to shoot Charles with a special electron scanning camera. That's why NASA appears in the credits. It also explains the gratuitous Saturn 5 footage that mars an otherwise excellent film. His image was colourized, and then they inserted Robert into the shot to make it look as if they were "interacting". Here's Charles as he appeared in the movie:

And here's the undoctored, original image:

His bedroom is also really small.

I would say there's a good chance that you've stumbled on a stash of Charles Crumb's long-sought after, but never found, inter-paramecial porn. I remember Jesse Helms fuming about the rumoured micro-raunch back in the mid 1980s - as if he wasn't totally looking to score some.

Ms. Calvin, if you have more of those vulgar scans, I suggest you put them on ebay right now. You stand to make a fortune. And the feces? That probably belongs to Charles Crumb too.

Ask Palinode #3: the sweetest taboo

Saviabella, she of the smartness and the purtyness, puts to me a tough question:

Dear Palinode, what is the sweetest taboo?

An informal survey of people at the bar returned a 100% result for anal sex.

That is nonsense. 'Sweetest' implies the introduction of sugar or some kind of sweetener - a beaker of Equal, a ramikin of Sugar Twin, a blenda' full of Splenda, a sack of saccharine, a dose of Sucralose, a concert hall full of Xylitol, all the secret names of Aspartame. What kind of freaky perverted anal sex are the kids having these days that they need a shaker of sugar or a bottle of high fructose corn syrup to get it on? I'm thinking that having anal sex is like reading Thomas Pynchon - everybody talks about it but precious few have actually done it. Do people talk about Thomas Pynchon anymore? Maybe there's a vogue now for claiming never to have picked up Gravity's Rainbow. I think it'll be a while before it becomes fashionable to claim not to have had anal sex. If that happens, maybe there'll be matching baseball caps and sweat shorts. You know, activewear.

[image of activewear with "I didn't have anal sex today!" slogan]

[not able to upload my sketches of anti-anal sex activewear from work computer]

[also unable to find appropriate anti-anal sex activewear on the internet]

[please imagine activewear here until I get home to my scanner]

Clearly the ol' butt boogaloo (Scronkin' Two: Butt Boogaloo) is not on the menu. I recommend that we go to the source to determine what this 'sweetest taboo' is.

In her song "The Sweetest Taboo," singer Sade refuses to specify what this taboo thing is. Obviously it's so taboo, this taboo, that even to mention the taboo is taboo. That's pretty taboo, people. Clearly we're dealing with interdiction on a grand scale. And yet this taboo - whatever it may be - causes Sade (is her name itself a clue?) to fall in love with its provider. Let's look closely at the lyrics to see what they reveal.

If I tell you, If I tell you now
Will you keep on, Will you keep on loving me
If I tell you, If I tell you how I feel
Will you keep bringing out the best in me

Note the hesitation in the speaker's voice, her compulsion to reformulate and restate her words. Her difficulty with language hints at the presence of the purely abject, a prohibition so implacable that language itself teeters over the abyss. In her forceful repetition, however, she realizes that cannot find better words or more suitable phrases - that if all language is useless in the face of the abject, then any language will do. I applaud the speaker's courage in pursuing discourse in the face of such nihilist odds.

I'm also curious about her anxiety over having 'the best brought out of her' - is she a drug mule? Perhaps she's rethinking the risks involved in the venture, but doesn't want to tell her partner about her misgivings. Because clearly he's got the laxatives.

You give me, you give me the sweetest taboo
You give me, you're giving me the sweetest taboo
Too good for me

The more I study these lines, the more I'm convinced that the speaker is a drug mule with a bellyful of heroin-filled condoms. The sweetness must refer to the laxatives, most likely chocolate ex-lax, or one of those more economical knock-off brands.

There's a quiet storm, and it never felt like this before
There's a quiet storm, that is you
There's a quiet storm, and it never felt this hot before
Giving me something that's taboo
(Sometimes I think you're just too good for me)

I'm starting to think that this drug mule-laxative motif may be a bit off the mark. The other person is a storm? Not to be harsh, but what the fuck? Is Sade some kind of hippie? She's singing to some clouds and wind or something? And if she is, why would the storm need to be told that it was a storm? Is the storm so desperate for validation? I expect better from a storm, especially one so unprecedentedly hot.

Nor do I buy into the implied philosophical argument in attributing The Good to a storm. I call bullshit, Sade.

I'd do anything for you, I'd stand out in the rain
Anything you want me to do, don't let it slip away

Here's a casual question for the folks at home: what do you look for in your average expression of devotion? I'll tell you what I look for - a promise to do more than hang around outside and get damp. Again, I don't want to be harsh, but I'm pretty underwhelmed here. If I give you the sweetest taboo, I expect a little more than some wet-weather outdoors action, if you catch my drift.

Of course, it's possible that the 'rain' she refers to is coming from the 'storm' above her, which suggests some kind of golden shower situation. That's assuming that the 'quiet storm' is actually a human being, which makes no sense at all, but we're talking about a hippie drug mule with a laxative addiction here, so who knows what kind of junk is bubbling around in her marijuana-destroyed brain?

You've got the biggest heart
Sometimes i think you're just too good for me

The biggest heart? We're expected to believe that a storm has a heart? Gross.

Every day is christmas, and every night is new year's eve
Will you keep on loving me
Will you keep on, will you keep on
Bringing out the best in me

Ah damn. I'm sorry folks. If I'd given the lyrics a careful once-over I could have cleared up this whole thing immediately. Sade and her lover are caught in an accelerated seven-day time loop, in which the space between December 25th and January 1st, a span of 168 hours, is experienced in only (presumably) twelve hours. I can't tell from the song how it came about, but I surmise that Sade and her lover are physicists who took a time travel experiment too far.

In theory, the lover could travel from point A (Christmas Day) to point B (an arbitrary point between Christmas and New Year's Eve), go on in regular linear time to point C (New Year's Eve) and then return to point A, where he is transformed into a kind of atomic 'storm cloud' by the terrible energies unleashed. When the lover lands at point B, he understands that the return trip will kill him, but he takes the trip anyway out of a stubborn belief that this time he can control the forces involved for a sucessful return. He never does, and is forced to repeat the experiment for all eternity.

The experiment creates a separate 'bubble' universe in which Sade and the lover are condemned to go through the holiday week repeatedly, with Sade declaring her love to a disembodied storm of atoms. For reasons that may have to do with its size or some other formative condition, this is a higher energy universe in which time moves at a rate fourteen times faster than our own. This would explain why Sade feels so hot, since the increased rate of time means faster molecular movement and therefore more waste heat thrown off. Unfortunately, there's a paradox between the closed temporal loop and the second law of thermodynamics, but let's not carried away with the science here.*

It would also explain why standing out in the rain becomes such a crucial measure of devotion. In Sade's closed universe, rain would fall fourteen times faster than ours. If the average non wind-driven raindrop falls between 7-18 miles an hour, then she would be exposing herself to beads of water traveling up to 252 miles per hour!** And that's not factoring in wind speed, which in a storm could be considerable. I'm no meteorologist, but I'm guessing that prolonged exposure to heated water at such speeds could well be fatal. It turns out that she's willing to die for her disembodied lover. I am humbled, people.

Mind you, I'm not so humbled when I consider that the time travel experiment was probably concocted as a means of smuggling those heroin-filled condoms into the future.

Also consider that we live in a cynical age in which open and uncomplicated displays of emotion are considered sentimental or laughable. In such an environment, it may be love itself which is the sweetest taboo.

Although it's probably anal sex.

*I understand that some of my readers may not be scientists. I would like to assure you that all the science in my weblog is unassailable and totally correct, and if you disagree with any of it, you are from Satan and no one will have sex with you.

**This figure is also completely correct and cannot be gainsayed by human minds. It will blow up your brain in your head to try and dispute it.