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A recently minted laboratory chemist has learned a lot of basic knowledge. Jobs held, however, are specific. Specific equipment, specific analyses, specific target analytes, specific matrices, et cetera. This leaves the chemist in a bind when running up against a new problem. Coworkers and reports can help with the expected and what has already been experienced. But method development or problem solving very often requires new approaches. In the past, the chemist might turn to the published literature or applications notes from instrument vendors. But today the Internet offers a very alluring alternative, the discussion group.
Through a variety of venues, most notably LinkedIn, there are online groups specializing in specific topical areas. For example, an LC-MS group. For certain information, these can be a great resource, such as for tips on how to optimize an instrument’s performance or a source of chemicals, standards, and other needed items.
But one thing is not that great from a career standpoint, the use of these to solve problems and to short-cut method development. A new chemist, if she or he wants to become a stellar performer, must learn the ins and outs of the work. Just asking a question and following the answer leads to little learning and no building of the foundation of expertise.
That is the caveat. If you ask, also think about and tinker with the answer. Learn the whys, even if that means asking more questions on the discussion board – it is a discussion and discourse if two-way. Yes, this takes more time and effort, but becoming better always does.
If you learn by using discussion groups as guidance and not rote recipes for solutions, you become more skilled. If not, your talent level will not change and you will stay in the pack.
The best meeting about Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds April 5, 2013Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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ISPAC 24 (ISPAC 2013) will be held in Corvallis OREGON USA from 8 September, 2013 through 12 September 2013. Anyone doing research on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or their heteroatom analogues (the PACs) should attend. It is the brainfest of many of the top researchers in the various fields incolving these compounds.
My gumbo recipe March 6, 2013Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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This is an honest-to-goodness Cajun gumbo, gleaned from several recipes and combined to suit my tastes. It can be made with chickeninstead of ham (for Jewish or Moslem dietary concerns), or even vegetarian by leaving out the meats. It is that tasty.
Ingredients (this makes enough for 2 or 3 hungry people)
1 tablespoon of cooking oil (or one large pat of butter)
2 tablespoons of flour
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
25 to 30 okra, cut into ½-inch long rounds (do not rinse, frozen ones work, too)
3 medium tomatoes, diced (or one can of stewed/ diced tomatoes)
1 can of chicken broth
2 hot Italian sausages or the equivalent of Andouille or other smoked sausage, if you can get it, sliced into rounds
Approximately a 4-inch square of a ham slice, diced
½ cup of small shrimp or pieces of large shrimp
1 cup of pre-cooked rice
1.2 teaspoon of chili powder
3 pinches (1/8 teaspoon) of Cayenne pepper – optional for wimpy eaters
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of file’
Heat oil (or butter); add flour; make a dark roux (brown the flour)
Add garlic and lightly sauté
Add celery, onion, and bell pepper; cook until tender (onion is clear)
In a separate pan, brown sausage and ham; drain excess oil
Add okra and tomatoes to main pan, simmer for ten minutes
Add broth, sausage and ham
Season with chili, Cayenne, salt, and black pepper
Simmer for ½ hour
Lightly sauté shrimp (you can use the same pan as used for the meats)
Add shrimp, rice, and file’; simmer for 10-15minutes.
Marlissa Mayer is right – telecommuting is bad business March 5, 2013Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Recently, Marlissa Mayer, the CEO of ahoo, changed the company policy allowing telecommuting. Her reasons were lambasted by many as being archaeic. She said face-to-face communication fostered better ideas, more creativity and that telecommuting fostered and isolation and separation of employees that hurt teamwork. She is absolutely correct.
Creativity is a synergy that is obvious to anyone who has ever been in a high-powered brainstorming session. People feed off of each others’ ideas and energy. Being in the same room builds and even creates a competition to be more out-of-the-box. Other communication forms, especially the casual conversationalism, worked best around “the water cooler” or by just stopping by someone’s cubicle or office. The tone is relaxed,intimate, and confidential if need be. These types of interactions getmuted and are structured very differently when done over the Internet, even with Skype. The distance and isolationof the digital interaction mute the tone and connections.
These issues are especially important in a workforce under 35 years old. This generation has grown up more isolated and with less developed interpersonal skills. Telecommuting may be only more comfortable because it relies on the separateness. The people lose even more opportub=nities to grow in interpersonal skills. From a career standpoint, this limits their capabilities in the future as supervisors and managers.
Two more element names for kids to memorize June 3, 2012Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Thenumber of official elements is now 114. Numbers 114 and 116 have been accepted.This gets rid of two of those abominations of the form ununstupidium that some knuckleheads at IUPAC use as placeholders.
Olympicene? What schlock science is this? May 28, 2012Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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No, PAHs do not mean life on Mars – again and again May 26, 2012Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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A new study identifies polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in Martian meteorites.
This more detailed study of many more Martiam meteorites found that the associated carbon material and magma-type rocks point to an abiotic origin. When the first NASA study of this sort came out back in the mid-1990s there were scientists both for and against the idea. I was contacted both by those authors at NASA and some of their opposition. My message was that PAHs are not formed by biological means on Earth anyway. They occur in petroleum dues to transformation of ringed organic compounds like steroids through loss of functional groups around the periphery. Or they can be converted from organic matter by the high-energy conditions and drastic chemistry that occurs around deep-sea hydrothermal vents (work don by me with Dr. Bernie Simoneit of Oregon State University).
PAHs are thermodynamically favored over other types of molecules. The resonance energy is a gain. That is why they occur throughout interstellar space, and probably are seen in comets, the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, and on Mars. PAHs are not directly biogenic. I said it almost twenty years ago and now those doing the laboratory work concur.
Boo hoo to all the morons who bought Facebook stock May 24, 2012Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Facebook IPO, blah, blah, blah. Every news story after the fact acts as if the results were a surprise. Facebook stock being overvalued is not news! Facebook stock buyers were buying a self-driven image. “It will be the next Google!” “It will be the next Apple!” “It will be the next Amazon!”. Ummmm….no way, bozos. Those three companies actually sell a product that someone is willing to pay for. What does Facebook sell?
Google is a search engine company that not only sells a lot of ads (people are often looking for information to buy things), but sells the top spots in search results. Apple makes devices and downloads for them. Do you really think an iPod song costs Apple anywhere near $1.29? They sell millions of thse and probably get close to a dollar in profit for each one (just look at Amazon selling the corresponding mp3 downloads for 30 cents less and making money). Amazon sells ebooks, paper books, music, and everything else under the sun.
Facebook has ads, these sad stockbuyers retort. OK, all of you, how many of you have ever clicked on a Facebook ad? How many of that probable one-in-a-thousand have ever bought something from that as? Facebook ads are cheap and bring in little money. General Motors pulled their Facebook advertising last week, something like $11 million per year and they were one of Facebook’s biggest advertisers. The 900 million users of Facebook do not pay to use it. The biggest source of revenue is the games on it, the like of Zynga are Facebook’s lifeblood – but Zynga is moving off Facebook to their own websites hosting the games.
So, is Facebook a 100 billion dollar company? Get real. They are not even worth half of that. If anyone thought through this stock offering, they would have seen $10 to $15 a share AT MOST. But Facebook sold because it was not a business, it was a cool social activities place. Free meeting rooms do not get much when they pass the hat.
Career tip: Common tasks, common areas in the lab May 18, 2012Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Most labs operate, whether in industry or academia or in government, like a confederation, a loose assemblage of barely coordinated independent researchers. Each person works on some assugned project (or projects). The work may be solo or in concert with others, but the various projects within the lab are each autonomously done. Equipment is often allocated so that the mentality is that it is owned by someone. The same goes for solvents, reagents, and other chemicals.
But certain things are common-use. Sample-prep areas with balances are a common example. So, often, are hood spaces. These are used by everybody and supposedly owed by everybody. But joint use areas like these, or the maintaining of joint-use consumables like lab gloves, pipettes, spatulas, et cetera, often become very contentious things within lab operations. Why?
If there are no set responsibilities for keeping these areas clean and ready to use (or for consumables, in supply) then chaos often ensues. Nobody takes on the tasks because everybody is supposed to for all work. People differ in diligence and in how they set priorities. Some people clean up immediately after using a hood or balance. Others wait until they thing the task is done, but their view of the task is an experiment, not the small job of weighing or diluting or some other step within the hood. These people appear to leave a mess behind as viewed by the immediate types. The bigger-taFriction rises. After enough, tension and resentments are constant.
A lab supervisor must have some system to deal with this. Either a rule favoring the immediate mentality because that left for later cleanup may be in the way for anyone else who needs to take a weight or deal with a noxious sample. Or someone is empowered to monitor these areas (or the amount of consumables) and designate a cleaner or an orderer. Or some other system to make sure things stay in a usable state.
Wheelchair riders are not the only disabled people. May 18, 2012Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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In the US, there is a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
AS originally intended, the ADA was a wide-ranging law aimed to bring in people with a disability to the mainstream of life in the US. It forbade restrictions that might be based on a disability. The definition of deisability was, as with many laws, not strictly defined, nor were these rights to access to society. Over the years this has led to several convolutions that actually do not help many disabled people or that overall harm society.
Since the law allows a person to sue an institution or business that has not complied with ADA, there have been thousands and thousands of lawsuited for mobility-impaired people against stores and other places that do not have wheelchair ramps or doors and aisles wide enough to accomodate today’s large powered wheelchairs. This has, thus, become the main focus of ADA compliance.
I am visually impair, having been born with one eye that sees only light or dark vague shapes (the scale of 20/20 means nothing because I cannot see anything but the bright area of the eyechart with that eye) and nothing of substance. My other, my left eye, has always had very poor vision, at its best only 20/80, but usually worse. Does this limit me in the “major life activities” mentioned in ADA? First, I cannot drive. Being monocular means I have almost no depth perception. I cannot accurately judge distances and speeds as needed to drive. Second, I cannot read most signage without a much greater effort than the “normal” person. So something as ordering fast food from a wall sign is virtually impossible. When I was in school, even sitting in the front row of a class was of little help. The writing often was just squiggles. (This was true from first grade through grad school – fortunately I learned to listen to instructors, teachers, and professors or I read the textbooks and rememberred everything.)
Does ADA help me? No. Businesses do not have readable signs and the alternative of a menu to look at depends solely on the place. Are there good directions when I use the public transit I must (because I often have no other way)? No. Each new experience is a fumbling mess of trying to figure things out and asking anyone who might be around for help. Since I travel a lot, this can be a very daunting situation.
I write this because recently on the local metro train (BART) on the way back from the San Francisco airport, I was sitting and a very heavy woman with a cane plopped herself down next to me in the empty half of the seat. Or more correctly, she sat down partially there and partly on top of me. Without an “Excuse me” she said “You have to move over because I have a disability and deserve this space.” I was almost livid. Her disability might have been back legs because she was well over 300 pounds and her legs had given out. But her arrogance in thinking she was the privileged disabled person was what got to me. ADA has created a group of certain disability who hold that they are the only ones that count.