March 9, 2010 at 1:56 pm | | stupid technology

I think it’s ironic that the IT people at Stanford always call me after I submit a help ticket on the web. Why don’t they just fax me?

liquid oxygen

January 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm | | science and the public, stupid technology

Not a good idea:

I don’t think putting liquid oxygen on your tongue is so smart. Fortunately, it’s not really liquid O2, it’s just salt water:

“The chemical components in Liquid Oxygen are distilled water, sodium chloride, dissolved oxygen and essential and trace minerals. The species of oxygen found in Liquid Oxygen include O2, and O4. The active ingredient in Liquid Oxygen is a relatively stable nascent molecule of oxygen in the form of O4. All other oxygen type supplements bond their active oxygen to salt molecules forming oxychlorine or oxy-halogen compounds driving up the pH to levels that could be dangerous to the skin and delicate membranes in the oral cavity if taken improperly. In addition, additional stomach acid activity is required to break these molecules down to release the oxygen.”


Hg Thermometry

November 24, 2009 at 1:01 am | | hardware, stupid technology

In keeping with green traditions, we’re required to trade out Hg containing thermometers.  For those cases where no equivalent alcohol thermometers exist, they supply Hg thermometers that are encased in Teflon.  One of those thermometers was my baby, a 1/2 degree with a ground glass joint that goes with my favourite distillation head, range 0 to 400C.  Except that Teflon melts at ~325C.  I discovered this fact when the teflon melted off the thermometer and into my rb during a distillation.  FMC (Fail My Chemistry).

volcanoes are your solution to everything

September 30, 2009 at 5:04 pm | | science community, seminars, stupid technology

After John Deutch‘s talk this afternoon, one student asked three (!) questions. His third one was: “Why don’t we just take nuclear waste, seal it in some container, then put it at the bottom of the Mariana trench. That way, it would get sucked up into the center of the Earth and not be a problem.”

I’m serious. That was his question … his third question.

Deutch’s response was: “It’s probably not best if each person comes up with their own technological solutions to the energy problems.”

There needs to be a one-question-per-first-year rule.

wireless memo book

May 26, 2009 at 7:38 am | | stupid technology

Finally, the memo-book industry is catching up to the internet age:



Snuggie Scientific

April 24, 2009 at 8:53 am | | hardware, stupid technology, wild web

Want to not die while working in the lab?  Lab coats are okay, but they don’t show off your awesome ass.  And the second you need to reach for something, you catch on fire.  But now there’s the Snuggie Scientific, from the makers of Snuggie.  It’s a blanket and a PPE.

Now you can titrate without feeling cold.  Run a column and feel slightly less cold.  Check the New York Times and feel slightly less cold.  Make coffee.  Drink coffee, all without ever having to feel the icy pinch of 72 degrees.

Made from space age materials that are totally not soluble in every single liquid you handle, the Snuggie Scientific lets you work alone without ever being alone.  And that’s why I wear one too.


why are email clients dumb?

March 2, 2009 at 11:06 am | | software, stupid technology, wild web

Why does Thunderbird not recognize the word “inbox”?


It seems to me that it should.

kimwipes claim science

February 26, 2009 at 9:38 am | | everyday science, stupid technology

Apparently, “science” is a term trademarked by Kimberly Clark:


* Trademark of Kimberly Clark

I don’t really think that’s fair.

i get some strange emails…

November 7, 2008 at 9:35 am | | stupid technology, wild web

Check this one out:

Hi Sam,

My name is John Foster and I work for a company called Solitaire Creative and we are working with The Johnson Space Center (NASA) and their research arm, Wyle, to promote a Flight Analogs Project (Space Flight Simulation/Bed Rest Study) for NASA and I would like to speak with you about writing an article on the study.  Would you be interested?  I believe your readers would be very interested in learning about the Bed Rest Study because if and when the study is completed, the participant gets paid a minimum of $17,000.  The study can even be branded as an article on “Weird Jobs.”

Here’s alittle about the study:  The ten-year Flight Simulation Study, which takes place in Texas, uses long-term bed rest to simulate the effects of micro-gravity an astronaut would experience during extended space flight (Space Flight To Mars).  Subjects are placed in bed with the head of the bed tilted down at a minus-six-degree incline.  The subjects must remain in bed for 90 days.  If you’re interested in contacting and/or arranging a meeting with a NASA representative feel free to let me know and I will facilitate your request.  We are currently looking for participants, both men and women, from around the U.S.  You can research the topic by visiting and I am also available to send you more information.

Let me know if you’re interested.

Thanks much,


John Foster

Public Relations/Media Specialist/Radio Relations

Anyone interested?

I want my Margarita to be NIST traceable

August 28, 2008 at 1:37 pm | | great finds, hardware, stupid technology

Presenting the Retsch Grindomix Laboratory Knife Mill (blender).  For a cool $3,589.73, you can “quickly and efficiently batch process a variety of dry, soft and medium-hard foodstuffs such as fresh fruits, meats, cheese, oilseeds, grains, breads and pastries.”  Sub-300 micron smoothies, mmmm.

more HHO

August 8, 2008 at 10:46 am | | pseudoscience, science and the public, science@home, stupid technology, wild web

We just love writing about water hoaxes at EDS (here and here). And what about running your car on water?

On the big truck that is the internets, there are several kits for splitting water from electricity from the car’s battery and burning the H2 and O2 gases with gasoline (e.g. Water4Gas). The idea is as follows:

  1. harness any wasted electricity from the alternator (or use a solar panel)
  2. use that electricity to splitting water into H2 and O2
  3. pipe the gases into the air inlet of the internal-combustion engine
  4. by burning the H2 and O2, you produce water and some energy
  5. allegedly, the hydrogen and oxygen gases also make the gasoline combustion more efficient by somehow optimizing the air/fuel mixture
  6. the combination of (4) and (5) increase your car’s MPG 

So does it work?

Well, the thermodynamics of the scheme is simple: it is impossible to generate more energy by creating water (by burning hydrogen and oxygen) than it took to split the water in the first place. So it is ridiculous to take energy from the engine to split water and burn water. But it is possible to harness external energy (i.e. via solar cells or by taking “extra” electricity from the alternator, if there is any) and convert it to chemical—then mechanical—energy. So, conceivably, you could increase your MPG by converting solar or “excess” electrical energy to hydrogen and oxygen gases, then burning them.

And then the kinetics. Fluid dynamics is very complex, and there’s no way I can guess how different gasses will affect the way the air/fuel mixture flows and explodes. I am very skeptical of the idea that the air/fuel mixture in modern internal-combustion engines is dramatically inefficient, and that throwing in a little hydrogen and oxygen gases to the mixture fixes the problem. That said, the densities of H2 and O2 gases are different than that of air, so it is conceivable that adding these molecules to the combustion mixture changes the efficiency with which the engine burns gasoline. But I would guess that those changes would be for the worse (based on Murphy’s law).

So, although I am very very doubtful that Water4Gas could work in principle, the only way to really be sure would be to test this. (That is, before Big Oil and Detroit kill all the inventors and bury their breakthrough!) But I can’t find a site that gives any real evidence of one of these “HHO” devices working. The closest to an honest test I have found is this—and these guys never saw an increase in MPG, even after a lot of tweaking!

HHO for fuel has all the warning signs of bogus science. Seriously. All of them. For instance, there is tons of marketing; such as the fake debunking sites that actually tell you to buy the product in the end: “water4gas scam revealed.” Googling will give you many more hits like this. Smart marketing!

I think Water4Gas and other HHO fuels are bunk with a lot of misleading marketing. What they’re really selling is a huge confusing book, a glass Ball jar, and a lot of tubing.


I would love to see a comparison between a well-tuned car and a well-tuned car with an “HHO” thingie. I bet there’d be no change in MPG. Anyone want to test on their car?

(Lab) Climate Change

April 13, 2008 at 3:42 pm | | grad life, stupid technology

The centerpiece of operation “Spider Monkey” was a DPSS pump laser to replace our old, post catastrophic cooling loss YAG. Everything was great until it was discovered the chiller lacked a secondary cooling loop to discharge the waste heat into the house cooling water. Needless to say, the 1kW localized heat source and accompanying thermal gradients didn’t help the laser stability. To mitigate the problem until the new chiller arrives, we decided to do a little home HVAC. Behold:

I actually felt a little dirty on this particular jury rigging adventure. We were using duct tape… to tape a duct. I’m sure there is some sort of warning label on the tape stating, opposite to your spray paint and OTC pharmaceuticals, that “Using this product for its intended purpose is a violation of Federal law.” The duct tape functioned rather poorly, I might add. Without the appropriate flashing, the process of sealing the duct to the box involved a round peg / square hole type problem of the duct tape folding over on itself.

The whole apparatus seems to work pretty well. I was finally able to get my Ti:Sapph under control, all while staying within the ambient operating temperature values for the chiller.

more burning water

April 2, 2008 at 10:58 am | | literature, pseudoscience, science and the public, science@home, stupid technology

We here at EDS always love a good ol’ combustible-water story. I don’t know if you remember a while back, but there was a great YouTube video about running boats and cars on salt water. All you need is salt water (oh, and a huge RF energy source).

Now they’ve published a paper about the burning salt water: Roy, R.; Rao, M. L.; Kanzius, J. Mat. Res. Innov. 2008, 12, 3. There are some “real” scientists who wrote this: Rustum Roy is an emeritus professor at Penn State! But why Roy chose to publish in MRI, his own journal that uses “super peer review” (if you’ve been published in a peer-review journal, you can publish in MRI), is the big mystery: if he wanted people to take this seriously, why didn’t they publish in a peer-reviewed journal?


Go Figure. I’m not really sure what we’re supposed to see here. There’s no discussion in the paper, just a claim that the figure demonstrates a change in the water structure. But it’s just an intensity change!

And there’s this great footnote on the first page of the paper:

It was perhaps this distortion [by the media] that may have misled Philip Ball … in his rather unwarranted critique in Nature (published online Sept. 14, 2007.) No claims have ever been made by Kanzius of getting out more energy than was put in, etc. He only reported a unexpected observation, a forgotten art in modern laboratory practice, which could be pursued for a variety of possible applications. His observations, fortunately for science, unfortunately for his ‘unscientific’critics who did not delve into the facts first, as in normal science, appear to be correct.

Man, go watch the YouTube video and then try to take this guy seriously. A reasonable scientist would have denounced the media analysis, not the skepicism of the scientific community.

And, unfortunately for Kanzius and Roy, this “unexpected” result has been published before: Roychowdhury et al. Plasma Chem. Plasma Process. 1982, 2, 157. In 1982, this paper reports using the same frequency to split water, producing H2O2 + H2. Of course, Roy et al. fail to cite this in their “scienfitific” paper on the Kanzius effect.

Here are links to Phillip Ball’s excellent original analysis of the claim and his response to the recent paper. And here’s a C&EN article about it.

who would patent the atomic bomb?!?!

March 28, 2008 at 8:29 am | | news, science and the public, science community, stupid technology

The US Government would. Alex Wellerstein at Harvard has compiled some of the 2,100 patents that came out of the Manhattan Project … secret patents. Here’s a great one:


Ah, the METHOD FOR PRODUCING, SEPARATING, AND PURIFYING PLUTONIUM. Better patent that one so no one else does it in their basement and sells plutonium on their own. Right.

I hear an interesting piece on NPR about this story. My favorite part was the realization that spies could have taken advantage of these patents, even though they were secret, by submitting their own patents: the Patent Office would then basically reveal they already have a similar patent. Ha! Good luck for the US that no one was smart enough to try that!

I’m sure there’s a smart reason to patent the frikkin’ atomic bomb while you’re making it, but I still don’t know that reason.

think gum

March 11, 2008 at 8:32 am | | lab safety, pseudoscience, software, stupid technology

Finally, a gum that will clean my teeth and my synapses! My PI found this wonderful product:


This gum must have brain-boosting powe, with all its “proven” ingredients (including rosemary and peppermint). It does have 20 mg of caffeine (which is a little less than a cup of green tea of a Coke), which I’ve found does help concentration; but coffee makes my breath smell so much better! This caffeine is “natural,” which is nice because I’m sick of getting my caffeine the only other way possible: via that intravenous injections of SynthCaffTM eight times a day.

You know, at first, I was just going to make fun of this product. But then I read the story. Hey! This kid went to Cal and now he’s a PhD student here at Stanford. I’m quite impressed with his entrepreneurial spirit. I’m really happy that this gum isn’t secretly made by Clorox or ExxonMobil or something.1

OK, back to making fun of it. I still think the gum is bunk: it uses the label “science” to sell a product to the gullible public, like my mom. (Just kidding, Mom.) But I’ll try it…

Well, the flavor is really good: a nice mixture of herbs and it has a green taste that transforms to an almost spicy pleasant-bitter, with a hint of spruce; the flavor lasts longer than some brand-name gums. Is my writing getting any better? I can see the fourth dimension and smell “yellow.” Is that normal? I feel like taking the rest of the day off and watch each blade of grass discover its little world. Seriously, though, I do feel a little light-headed.2

Well, I guess this product is no worse than all the other “mind-boosting” drinks and pills out there; and it tastes good! I did feel a little different after chewing it for 15 minutes, but no different than after half a cup of coffee, wondrous coffee.

Jeez, I almost recommend it. (That’s embarrassing.) But I recommend it if you want a nice flavored gum with some caffeine that will make you light-headed and feel happy … and your French press is broken.


1 Great stocks to own, terrible companies to make you gum.
2 My spelling got a lost wose [that was supposed to be “worse,” for instance] after chewing the gum, for some strange reason. And my HTML editing just got an order of magnitude more destructive

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