Latest book review, boom, done

I’ve been remiss in the book review department lately, where “lately” starts at roughly day one of this blog. This post changes all that in a hurry.

Recently I noticed the nearly 1400 page CRC Handbook of Aqueous Solubility Data (2010) sitting nearby, reminding me that in nearly nine years I’d not in fact read any of it. So I looked at the first couple of pages, and well, like old Mission Impossible episodes, once you engage, you’re in for the duration. Bottom line: this is a great read, and as a paperweight or ballast, even greater. This tome takes no prisoners: aqueous solubilities for 4661 organic chemicals, sans break. All organic chemistry, all the time; in it to win it.

Organizationally, the book is quite something else again. The first section is engagingly titled “Solubility Data”, comprised of 4661 entries arranged in–you guessed it–numerical order. Entry number one gets right after it, by way of bromodichloromethane (or alternatively, dichlorobromomethane–experts pressed for time just say “CHBrCl2”). Within it, as with each such entry, is found all kinds of useful data, including molecular weights, boiling and melting points, and of course, solubilities (both molar and by weight!). All necessary references are also included, for the skeptical–these authors aren’t hiding anything here. A “Comments” field contains useful ancillary information, such as “recrystallized”. There is also a complex “TPEAA” evaluation, avowedly for experts only.

The next entry, (chlorodibromomethane), is fairly similar to the first. In fact, all 4661 entries are markedly similar. Exactly the same actually, just slightly different. There is no guesswork as to just what the point of this book is. The Solubility Data section occupies fully the first 700 pages of the book…as well as the last 700 pages. If you want wild topical variations from one entry to the next, try an encyclopedia, newspaper or Science magazine: this book is for chemically focused readers.

One note is that the sheer volume of material can be an issue. But this is not unexpected–people do vary in the specific organic chemicals that will hold their attention indefinitely, after all. But then–just boom–you hit an entry that snaps you right out of it. For me entry 151 provides a good example: nitroglycerin (C3H5N3O9). Talk about boom! Is it really that hard to imagine the history involved in determining the boiling point of that sucker?! Research dollars available! And that could give you a heart attack just thinking about. However, to keep the book from exploding well beyond its 1400 pages (thus beyond a leisurely reading), the authors wisely leave such details to the reader.

Or take something like entry 4289, which most know simply as
(Metahanesulfonamide, N[1′-[2-(2,1,3-benzoxadiazol-5-yl)ethyl]-3,4-dihydro-4-oxospiro[2H-1-benzopyran-2,4′-piperidin]-6-yl]-). Catchy name, sure, but even the casual reader will note that chemical 4289 has a mysterious “intrinsic” solubility listed. What the hell’s that supposed to mean, one briefly wonders aloud, before moving on to entry 4290, which happens to be one colchicine. Now colchicine is, genetically speaking, a very important chemical, capable of instantly doubling an organism’s chromosome number. Talk about explosive, this is massive, all-at-once mutation, like something out of a B-grade 1950s-era film with giant ants that take over Guam or whatever–but without any H-bombs, atolls or any of that whole scene. Oh so you were thinking that everything was all “better living through chemistry” were you? Well think again hombre. Not for the squeamish.

I would be remiss (per request of the authors) if I did not note that this book has vey few weaknesses. The only one I could find was for entry #22, urea (CH4N2O), for which no boiling point is given. But think it through again: is ignorance of the boiling point of urea really a weakness…or rather an open research opportunity? I mean, who doesn’t have a stove after all? Speaking of urea and stoves, oh man, there was that time a buddy and I were climbing Mt. Rainier, and as usual it was damn cold, so we had a bottle to use to avoid those unwanted “wee-hour” excursions outside the tent…but it turns out that at breakfast we mixed it up with the water bottle…well let me tell you, that will impart flavor to the old oatmeal!

We can get into those details more later but we’re out of time for today. In summary, this book has been unduly neglected, given its importance to industrial society and the career advancement of the authors. Read it for Christ’s sake–it’s been nine years already and aqueous solubility issues really are out there.

Stay tuned for the next in the series, where we take a closer look at Dynamic elasticities and breaking points of commercial hardwoods, tentatively planned for the summer of 2024. This post is hereby concluded and the decision is final. Special mention to all those who participated with minimal regret.

Bron Yr Aur

He says he had once wanted to be a biologist. Well, science’s loss was music’s gain.

C6 tuning: EADGBE–>CACGCE. What??!! Come on now man, give us half a chance here! There have been a few great acoustic guitarists in rock and roll, but none better IMO. Could listen to him endlessly, and indeed, have.

Bron Yr Aur, Jimmy Page.
Physical Graffiti

“Fearfully wild, with a blaze of quick electric light in his dark eye”

Never in several lifetimes of dreams and visions will I ever tire of reading the works of this man.

Visalia is the name of a small town embowered in oaks upon the Tulare Plain in Middle California, where we made our camp one May evening of 1864. Professor Whitney, our chief, the State Geologist, had sent us out for a summer’s campaign in the High Sierras, under the lead of Professor William H. Brewer, who was more sceptical than I as to the result of the mission.

Several times during the previous winter Mr. Hoffman and I, while on duty at the Mariposa gold-mines, had climbed to the top of Mount Bullion, and gained, in those clear January days, a distinct view of the High Sierra, ranging from the Mount Lyell group many miles south to a vast pile of white peaks, which, from our estimate, should lie near the heads of the King’s and Kaweah rivers. Of their great height I was fully persuaded; and Professor Whitney, on the strength of these few observations, commissioned us to explore and survey the new Alps.

We numbered five in camp:—Professor Brewer; Mr. Charles F. Hoffman, chief topographer; Mr. James T. Gardiner, assistant surveyor; myself, assistant geologist; and our man-of-all-work, to whom science already owes its debts.

When we got together our outfit of mules and equipments of all kinds, Brewer was going to reengage, as general aid, a certain Dane, Jan Hoesch, who, besides being a faultless mule-packer, was a rapid and successful financier, having twice, when the field-purse was low and remittances delayed, enriched us by what he called “dealing bottom stock” in his little evening games with the honest miners. Not ungrateful for that, I, however, detested the fellow with great cordiality. “If I don’t take him, will you be responsible for packing mules and for daily bread?” said Brewer to me, the morning of our departure from Oakland. “I will.” “Then we’ll take your man Cotter; only, when the pack-saddles roll under the mules’ bellies, I shall light my pipe and go botanizing. Sabe?”

So my friend, Richard Cotter, came into the service, and the accomplished but filthy Jan opened a poker and rum shop on one of the San Francisco wharves, where he still mixes drinks and puts up jobs of “bottom stock.” Secretly I longed for him as we came down the Pacheco Pass, the packs having loosened with provoking frequency.

The animals of our small exploring party were upon a footing of easy social equality with us. All were excellent except mine. The choice of Hobson (whom I take to have been the youngest member of some company) falling naturally to me, I came to be possessed of the only hopeless animal in the band. Old Slum, a dignified roan mustang of a certain age, with the decorum of years and a conspicuous economy of force retained not a few of the affectations of youth, such as snorting theatrically and shying, though with absolute safety to the rider, Professor Brewer. Hoffman’s mount was a young half-breed, full of fire and gentleness. The mare Bess, my friend Gardiner’s pet, was a light-bay creature, as full of spring and perception as her sex and species may be. A rare mule, Cate, carried Cotter. Nell and Jim, two old geological mules, branded with Mexican hieroglyphics from head to tail, were bearers of the loads.

My Buckskin was incorrigibly bad. To begin with, his anatomy was desultory and incoherent, the maximum of physical effort bringing about a slow, shambling gait quite unendurable. He was further cursed with a brain wanting the elements of logic, as evinced by such non sequiturs as shying insanely at wisps of hay, and stampeding beyond control when I tried to tie him to a load of grain. My sole amusement with Buckskin grew out of a psychological peculiarity of his, namely, the unusual slowness with which waves of sensation were propelled inward toward the brain from remote parts of his periphery. A dig of the spurs administered in the flank passed unnoticed for a period of time varying from twelve to thirteen seconds, till the protoplasm of the brain received the percussive wave; then, with a suddenness which I never wholly got over, he would dash into a trot, nearly tripping himself up with his own astonishment.

A stroke of good fortune completed our outfit and my happiness by bringing to Visalia a Spaniard who was under some manner of financial cloud. His horse was offered for sale, and quickly bought for me by Professor Brewer. We named him Kaweah, after the river and its Indian tribe. He was young, strong, fleet, elegant, a pattern of fine modelling in every part of his bay body and fine black legs; every way good, only fearfully wild, with a blaze of quick electric light in his dark eye.

Shortly after sunrise one fresh morning we made a point of putting the packs on very securely, and, getting into our saddles, rode out toward the Sierras. The group of farms surrounding Visalia is gathered within a belt through which several natural, and many more artificial, channels of the Kaweah flow. Groves of large, dark-foliaged oaks follow this irrigated zone; the roads, nearly always in shadow, are flanked by small ranch-houses, fenced in with rank jungles of weeds and rows of decrepit pickets.

Our backs were now turned to this farm-belt, the road leading us out upon the open plain in our first full sight of the Sierras. Grand and cool swelled up the forest; sharp and rugged rose the wave of white peaks, their vast fields of snow rolling over the summit in broad, shining masses. Sunshine, exuberant vegetation, brilliant plant life, occupied our attention hour after hour until the middle of the second day. At last, after climbing a long, weary ascent, we rode out of the dazzling light of the foot-hills into a region of dense woodland, the road winding through avenues of pines so tall that the late evening light only came down to us in scattered rays. Under the deep shade of these trees we found an air pure and gratefully cool.

Passing from the glare of the open country into the dusky forest, one seems to enter a door and ride into a vast covered hall. The whole sensation is of being roofed and enclosed. You are never tired of gazing down long vistas, where, in stately groups, stand tall shafts of pine. Columns they are, each with its own characteristic tinting and finish, yet all standing together with the air of relationship and harmony. Feathery branches, trimmed with living green, wave through the upper air, opening broken glimpses of the far blue, and catching on their polished surfaces reflections of the sun. Broad streams of light pour in, gilding purple trunks and falling in bright pathways along an undulating floor. Here and there are wide, open spaces, around which the trees group themselves in majestic ranks.

Our eyes often ranged upward, the long shafts leading the vision up to green, lighted spires, and on to the clouds. All that is dark and cool and grave in color, the beauty of blue umbrageous distance, all the sudden brilliance of strong local lights tinted upon green boughs or red and fluted shafts, surround us in ever-changing combination as we ride along these winding roadways of the Sierra.

We had marched a few hours over high, rolling, wooded ridges, when in the late afternoon we reached the brow of an eminence and began to descend. Looking over the tops of the trees beneath us, we saw a mountain basin fifteen hundred feet deep surrounded by a rim of pine-covered hills. An even, unbroken wood covered these sweeping slopes down to the very bottom, and in the midst, open to the sun, lay a circular green meadow, about a mile in diameter.

As we descended, side wood-tracks, marked by the deep ruts of timber wagons, joined our road on either side, and in the course of an hour we reached the basin and saw the distant roofs of Thomas’s Saw-Mill Ranch. We crossed the level disc of meadow, fording a clear, cold mountain stream, flowing, as the best brooks do, over clean, white granite sand, and near the northern margin of the valley, upon a slight eminence, in the edge of a magnificent forest, pitched our camp.

The hills to the westward already cast down a sombre shadow, which fell over the eastern hills and across the meadow, dividing the basin half in golden and half in azure green. The tall young grass was living with purple and white flowers. This exquisite carpet sweeps up over the bases of the hills in green undulations, and strays far into the forest in irregular fields. A little brooklet passed close by our camp and flowed down the smooth green glacis which led from our little eminence to the meadow. Above us towered pines two hundred and fifty feet high, their straight, fluted trunks smooth and without a branch for a hundred feet. Above that, and on to the very tops, the green branches stretched out and interwove, until they spread a broad, leafy canopy from column to column.

Professor Brewer determined to make this camp a home for the week during which we were to explore and study all about the neighborhood. We were on a great granite spur, sixty miles from east to west by twenty miles wide, which lies between the Kaweah and King’s River cañons. Rising in bold sweeps from the plain, this ridge joins the Sierra summit in the midst of a high group. Experience had taught us that the cañons are impassable by animals for any great distance; so the plan of campaign was to find a way up over the rocky crest of the spur as far as mules could go.

In the little excursions from this camp, which were made usually on horseback, we became acquainted with the forest, and got a good knowledge of the topography of a considerable region. On the heights above King’s Cañon are some singularly fine assemblies of trees. Cotter and I had ridden all one morning northeast from camp under the shadowy roof of forest, catching but occasional glimpses out over the plateau, until at last we emerged upon the bare surface of a ridge of granite, and came to the brink of a sharp precipice. Rocky crags lifted just east of us. The hour devoted to climbing them proved well spent.

A single little family of alpine firs growing in a niche in the granite surface, and partly sheltered by a rock, made the only shadow, and just shielded us from the intense light as we lay down by their roots. North and south, as far as the eye could reach, heaved the broad, green waves of plateau, swelling and merging through endless modulation of slope and form.

Conspicuous upon the horizon, about due east of us, was a tall, pyramidal mass of granite, trimmed with buttresses which radiated down from its crest, each one ornamented with fantastic spires of rock. Between the buttresses lay stripes of snow, banding the pale granite peak from crown to base. Upon the north side it fell off, grandly precipitous, into the deep upper cañon of King’s River. This gorge, after uniting a number of immense rocky amphitheatres, is carved deeply into the granite two and three thousand feet. In a slightly curved line from the summit it cuts westward through the plateau, its walls, for the most part, descending in sharp, bare slopes, or lines of ragged débris, the resting-place of processions of pines. We ourselves were upon the brink of the south wall; three thousand feet below us lay the valley, a narrow, winding ribbon of green, in which, here and there, gleamed still reaches of the river. Wherever the bottom widened to a quarter or half a mile, green meadows and extensive groves occupied the level region. Upon every niche and crevice of the walls, up and down sweeping curves of easier descent, were grouped black companies of trees.

The behavior of the forest is observed most interestingly from these elevated points above the general face of the table-land. All over the gentle undulations of the more level country sweeps an unbroken covering of trees. Reaching the edge of the cañon precipices, they stand out in bold groups upon the brink, and climb all over the more ragged and broken surfaces of granite. Only the most smooth and abrupt precipices are bare. Here and there a little shelf of a foot or two in width, cracked into the face of the bluff, gives foothold to a family of pines, who twist their roots into its crevices and thrive. With no soil from which the roots may drink up moisture and absorb the slowly dissolved mineral particles, they live by breathing alone, moist vapors from the river below and the elements of the atmosphere affording them the substance of life.

Gauley time!

Black cherry trees in ripe fruit and goldenrod in full bloom and that can only mean one thing, and no I’m not talking about football season.

They opened the Summerfield Dam gates at 7AM this morning; for godsake get down, or up, or over there in the next six weeks and try to kill yourself with all the others if you can. There will be a party, a rather large and extended one and it’s anybody’s guess at to whether river flow will exceed that of beer. Now, when on the river, try to remember, apriori if possible, that plastic (or rubber) side down is optimal, that rocks are typically fairly hard and to take a big gulp of air before you go under. Remembering these aposteriori is fairly automatic. Everything else is open to personal interpretation.

Best to put in downstream from the nozzle a bit, although I’m sure it’s been tried:
Gauley opentunnel

What made America great:
Gauley_pink dory at pillow rapid

This is probably sub-optimal form:

Definite sub-optimal form:
Gauley_poor form

This can be made to work for a while, like 12 seconds:
Gauley mattress

Really excellent form:
Gauley Boof


Meandering Numps

If you need something conducive to positive mental health, then you want to check out Meandering Numps ASAP. I’m jealous that I didn’t think of it first. Hats off to Andy–stuff like this makes life livable.


“The Wally was a black beast, and although he had a ferocious demeanor, he was in fact a daft ape, and a massive dope.”

Just one of the cast of characters over at Numps’ place.

Without saying a word

It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word, you can light up the dark
Try as I may I could never explain
What I hear when you don’t say a thing

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There’s a truth in you eye sayin’ you’ll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me whenever I fall
You say it best…when you say nothing at all

Allison Krauss

Winter time

A fair bit of the whitish water emanated from the sky yesterday. So, decided to head out with the old camera and see what I could see. Well, lots of the usual, but certainly more beautiful, and in at least one case, some somewhat unexpected goings on in the neighborhood.

The old lighthouse–and I do mean old–is still there:

The ice machine, thank goodness, is operating:

White house, white fence, white, white white:

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Three out of five!

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval hits the ground after catching a foul pop fly for the last out of the 2014 World Series, as the Giants erupt from their dugout.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval hits the ground after catching a foul pop fly for the last out of the 2014 World Series, as the Giants erupt from their dugout.

World Series champs for the third time in the last five years (every other year), those “scratch ’em ’till they bleed to death” San Francisco Giants have done it again. Not quite a dynasty yet, but you have to go back fifteen years or so to find a team better at consistently winning games when they really count, over several years, than does this group of characters. When all was said and done, it came down to having the best World Series pitcher in a long, long time on your side.

For the record, I picked the Giants in six. Matt also actually picked the Giants but then went with his “logical opposites theory” to go with the Royals. Harold and Clem, well they were just patently off the deep end 🙂

Predictions for 2015 and 2016 are now open. For 2015 I’m picking anyone except the Giants, and for 2016, I’m going Giants 🙂

“The Lake, it is said, never gives up her dead…”

So, I’ve been learning a couple of Gordon Lightfoot songs lately, and reading various things, and thinking about my home town. And also realizing that Indian Summer will soon give way to something much less enjoyable. So this post is about all that.

A couple of days ago in the library I’m reading the January 2014 entries for the “Great Lakes Calendar” in the journal Inland Seas–a month that caused all kinds of mayhem on the Lakes, mostly involving ice and the breaking thereof. There, I see it noted that on Jan. 3 the “Wilfred Sykes loaded at Escanaba and was escorted by the tug Erika Kobasic“. The next day, up on Superior, the “Downbound Arthur M. Anderson stopped…to await daylight before attempting the Rock Cut…” while way down on Lake Erie “The Griffon was expected to…break out the ice-bound Cuyahoga, stopped at the end of the Sandusky Bay ship channel by heavily packed ice”. And that the next day, the Anderson was right behind the 1000 foot Mesabi Miner, when the latter rammed the ice breaker Hollyhock after an ice ridge slowed the breaker down, about 22 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge.

Inland Seas

I’m only marginally familiar with Great Lakes maritime history but I recognized two of those ship names immediately: they are tied to two major Great Lakes shipwrecks, and the very two that bracket all of the major maritime disasters no less. These ship names are the Griffon and the Arthur M. Anderson. The third one involved was the Wilfred Sykes.

The Griffon was the very first masted sailing ship on the Great Lakes, built by Robert LaSalle’s crew somewhere along the Niagara river, Canadian side, in 1679. It sailed across Lakes Erie, St Clair, Huron and Michigan to the vicinity of what is now Green Bay Wisconsin before sinking in far northern Lake Michigan, loaded with furs, on its return voyage. LaSalle was not killed however, as he had decided to head south overland to explore a connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi drainages (and then overland from there all the way back to Montreal!). Like just about everything the French explorers and trappers did in the area at the time, it’s a thoroughly outrageous story.

At the recent end, there’s presumably no need to mention what the last major Great Lakes ship disaster was, due at least in part to Lightfoot’s famous and outstanding ballad.

The Arthur M. Anderson was very intimately involved in the entire episode. It was the Anderson that trailed 10 to 20 miles behind one Edmund Fitzgerald, kept in radio communication with it, helped it navigate after its radar went out, and first alerted the US Coast Guard of its disappearance from the radar. Most heroically, it performed the first SAR (search and rescue) operation for potential survivors, right during the height of the storm. The ship had in fact already reached the relative safety of Whitefish Bay, but upon request by the Coast Guard, it voluntarily returned out into the horrendous open water conditions to perform the search. Which speaks volumes about the ship’s captain.

The Wilfred Sykes is involved also. It loaded ore at the same dock at the same time as the Fitzgerald, and was also bound for the Soo locks. But its captain, having looked closely at the weather forecast of a major storm crossing the lake, had decided to track close to the Ontario shoreline instead of across open water. Therefore, it was just the Fitzgerald and the Anderson that crossed the lake together on the furious and fateful afternoon and evening of November 10, 1975. [That link goes to a very interesting paper that recreates the wind and wave conditions before and during the storm, using a weather model, the available surface observations, and a wind-wave model.]

Nearly 40 years later, the mystery of exactly what led to the sinking is still not fully resolved. It is known that the ship sank so fast in such ferocious conditions that there was no chance for survival. The incident was major news in the Great Lakes area at the time, even nationally, and nowhere moreso than in Toledo Ohio. About 5 or 6 (strictly from memory) of the crew of 29 lived in the area. This included the captain, Ernest McSorley, who lived about 7 or 8 miles from us, and was tragically on his very last voyage before retirement. [The most common run of the Fitzgerald was from Superior Wisconsin, to either Detroit or Toledo.] I can still vividly remember the front page story in the Toledo Blade the next day with the pictures of the missing crew. It seemed unbelievable that this could happen. The Great Lakes are littered with uncounted shipwrecks, but this was 1975.

Anyway, today I’m back in the same library, this time reading J.B. Mansfield’s History of the Great Lakes wherein I read:

“Another very interesting, and very sad, thing about this lake [Superior], says W.S. Harwood in St. Nicholas, is that it never gives up its dead. Whoever encounters terrible disaster— happily infrequent in the tourist season—and goes down in the angry, beautiful blue waters, never comes up again. From those earliest days when the daring French voyageurs in their trim birch-bark canoes skirted the picturesque shores of this noble but relentless lake, down to this present moment, those who have met their deaths in mid-Superior still lie at the stonepaved bottom. It may be said that, so very cold is the water, some of their bodies may have been preserved through the centuries. Sometimes, not far from the shore, the bodies of people who have been wrecked from fishing-smacks or from pleasure-boats overtaken by a cruel squall have been recovered, but only after the most heroic efforts with drag-net or by the diver.”

So, to get back to the title, this is the origin, or at least the earliest known explanation, of the sentence “The Lake it is said never gives up her dead, when the gales of November come early” in Gordon Lightfoot’s song. More on that whole issue is here.

“And all that remains are the faces and the names of the wives, and the sons and the daughters.”

Camping among the tombs

I found a road which led me to the Bonaventure graveyard. If that burying-ground across the Sea of Galilee, mentioned in Scripture, was half as beautiful as Bonaventure, I do not wonder that a man should dwell among the tombs. It is only three or four miles from Savannah…Part of the grounds was cultivated and planted with live-oak, about a hundred years ago, by a wealthy gentleman who had his country residence here. But much the greater part is undisturbed. Even those spots which are disordered by art, Nature is ever at work to reclaim, and to make them look as if the foot of man had never known them. Only a small plot of ground is occupied with graves and the old mansion is in ruins.

Bonaventure Cemetery

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“I ventured out…”

A wild scene, but not a safe one, is made by the moon as it appears through the edge of the Yosemite Fall when one is behind it. Once…I ventured out on the narrow ledge that extends back of the fall…and wishing to look at the moon through some of the denser portions of the fall, I ventured to creep further behind it. The effect was enchanting: fine, savage music sounding above, beneath, around me, while the moon, apparently in the very midst of the rushing waters, seemed to be struggling to keep her place, on account of the ever-varying form and density of the water masses through which she was seen…I was in fairy land between the dark wall and the wild throng of illumined waters, but suffered sudden disenchantment; for like the witch scene in Alloway Kirk, “in an instant all was dark”. Down came a dash of spent comets, thin and harmless looking in the distance, but they felt desperately solid and stony when they struck my shoulders, like a mixture of choking spray and gravel and big hailstones. Instinctively dropping on my knees, I gripped an angle of the rock, curled up like a fern frond with my face pressed against my breast, and in this way submitted as best I could to my thundering bath…How fast one’s thoughts burn in such times of stress. I was weighing chances of escape. Would the column be swayed a few inches from the wall, or would it come yet closer? The fall was in flood and not so lightly would its ponderous mass be swayed. My fate seemed to depend on the fate of the “idle wind”…

John Muir, The Yosemite, p.30

The Yosemite
Yos Falls 1900