Posts Tagged 'Chemistry'

Books Read in August

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics (8) – This slim book is a must for anyone regularly involved in the creation of charts and graphs. The text is clear and direct, with many pages of do’s and don’ts sitting side by side so you can see both how to do it and how not to. Highly recommended and a super quick read.
Ironskin (11) – I picked this up after reading a chapter from the third novel in this series in Women Destroy Fantasy. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read that felt like a cross between a Jane Austen novel and faerie tales. Connolly does a frighteningly good job at writing the inner dialogue of depression, self loathing and anger.
Atomic Size Matters (13) – Dr. Veronica Berns turned a chapter of her chemistry thesis into a lovely little comic. I backed the KickStarter. It’s an interesting look at some the tools of modern chemistry and a quick read.
Artificial Intelligence for Humans, Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms (15) – This first volume of author Jeff Heaton’s ongoing series of AI texts was KickStarted in 2013.  Its promise, an intro to AI concepts and algorithms that wouldn’t require advanced maths, was appealing.  That, plus an ambitious end goal of six interconnected volumes and ample example code available through GitHub, convinced me to back the project.  Heaton stayed true to his goal and explains many of the fundamental algorithms (Euclidean distance, k-means clustering, and simulated annealing) without the need for complicated math.  With that said, there were still a couple of sections where I felt I would have benefited from either a better math background or a more in-depth explanation of the math involved.  In particular the section on RBF functions and the RBF network model left me wanting more. Still, I’d recommend this book to any programmer interested in AI whose math may be rusty (like mine is), but whose still comfortable with mathematical notation (i.e. “f(x)”, “Σ“, etc.).  I’ve already backed the second and third volumes in the series and I look forward to working my way through all six volumes.  For those still intimidated by the math, it may be best to wait for the last volume (a prequel “volume zero”) which is an intro to the math of AI.
The Internet of Garbage (16) – Sarah Jeong, the co-author of Five Useful Articles, a comedic copyright newsletter, writes a clear and crisp description of the issues surrounding online harassment in this short e-book.  Likening our current situation to the early days of dealing with spam, she shows how we can learn from that history to build tools that can help foster safe online spaces.  A quick and interesting read.
Elektrograd: Rusted Blood (20) – The second of Warren Ellis’ self-published e-book shorts.  This one’s a sci-fi noir detective story set in “a strange dream of a possible city.  A science fiction mystery about theoretical architecture, AI and vintage robotics.”  It has the feel of a graphic novel and was a fun and interesting read.  I especially enjoyed the way it hinted at a larger world (one that Ellis has indicated we might see more of in future shorts).
The BreakBeat Poets (26) – This collection of poetry was put together by a trio of Chicago poets, including Kevin Coval, founder of Louder Than a Bomb.  I’m still fairly new to reading poetry so getting through this took me quite some time.  I thought I was into hip hop, but the sheer number of references that went over my head made it clear that I’ve still got a lot to learn about the genre.  With all that said, I still found this collection full of powerful poems and l dog eared many a page.  Many of the poets involved are from and write about Chicago which is always a plus in my book.
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Kitchen Chemistry is Hard (but fun!)

This week a friend and I made ferrofluid.  For those of you who may not know, ferrofluid is the coolest thing ever.  Go look it up.  Seriously.  Look it up.  As you might guess from the title, things didn’t go exactly as planned.  We’re treating this as a practice run.  Eventually we’ll be using the ferrofluid for some fun projects that are still in the planning stages, but first, the ‘fluid!

We originally planned to use the ferrofluid recipe that my friend Sacha over at ChemHacker is making, but he hasn’t worked out all the kinks.  He offered to let us use his lab and reagents, but scheduling difficulties got in the way (he did hook me up with some oleic acid, and exchanging chemistry supplies in a bar is one of the shadiest legit things I’ve ever done).  He pointed us to a recipe over at SciSpot, which we ended up using a modified version of (at Sacha’s suggestion we did the last ammonia gas releasing step in a safer way).

Having good lab technique is hard to do in your kitchen.  I’d love to be able to devote a room to being a full time lab, but that’s just not happening where I live right now.  Here’s our setup:

Ferrofluid setup

Don't worry, the chemistry didn't seem to bother my aloe plant.

Here’s Nick stirring the mixture:

Nick stirring the ferrofluid

Step 1: Stir that shit! Err, mix the reagents thoroughly. Yeah.

Is it supposed to look radioactive?

I knew I should have gotten that Geiger counter

Step 2: You remembered to wear your lead apron, right?

Skipping ahead some steps, here’s the modified setup we used for step 5 from the SciSpot recipe.  The erlenmeyer flask has a mixture of chemicals including ammonia, which we’re trying to evaporate off.  Ammonia gas is not exactly good for you (read: it will burn your lungs off), so we’re running the gas into a beaker full of ice water.  Ammonia gas dissolves readily in water, turning back into something that won’t necessarily harm you for life.

Boiling off the ammonia

I hope.

Finally, we got some ok looking ferrofluid!

Ferrofluid!

Ferrofluid!

Some of the imperfections come from the recipe (using PCB etchant instead of straight chemicals means there are extra things in there that we don’t need), and some probably come from this being our first try.  We should be trying this again soon, so we should know then.  Once again, a big thanks to Sacha at ChemHacker for helping us get this done!


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