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.

What was it, roughly, that we were thinking there, if anything? Part two.

So, there was a high school class reunion a few months back, and it’s World Series time again, so now seems a good time for an overdue, second episode of our series of the above title. In episode one, I explored an incident involving sub-optimal decision making in high school so I think I’ll just continue on that theme here.

I saw a number of old classmates, and teammates, at the reunion. I think class reunions are great. They can cause one to reflect on really important topics, such as the passage of time, or the nature of life’s changes. Or to even deeper things. Explosives for example. Just what “loud” really entails. The nature of stupidity.

It seems that I had become aware that personal fireworks were legal in the next county, and had thus traveled the 40 miles to obtain a few dozen “M-80” fireworks, ostensibly for use during the Fourth of July. It also seems that sometime later, my friend Steve and I found ourselves parked in front of our friend Doug Brown’s house after dark, with said bag of M-80s and a lighter. Now, an M-80, we’d been told, contained the equivalent gunpowder of a quarter stick of dynamite, which I thought was pretty impressive but did no actual testing of. If one of these things goes off on, say, someone’s front porch, it would not typically go unnoticed, and that concept did seem, to us, worthy of some testing at that particular time.

It additionally seems that I was the driver and Doug’s house was off to our left. The plan, which I think we put a solid 30 seconds of thought into, was that we would launch one of these onto Doug’s porch–about maybe 75 ft away–while seated in the vehicle, so as to effect a prompt getaway. We came up with a fair and efficient division of labor in which Steve would light the fuse and hand the thing to me–I would then fire it toward the porch and immediately hit the gas, making ourselves rapidly scarce. It was a great plan as far as I was concerned: all I had to do was throw and floor it, whereas Steve had the equivalent of six to eight sticks of dynamite in a bag on his lap, with an open flame in his hand. This struck me as equitable, given that I was providing the vehicle and the right arm.

So…what’s the baseball connection here, you may wonder. Well, I played shortstop in high school, whereas Steve didn’t, and so it was logical that I should do whatever throwing was involved. Shortstop is a fun position, because you get to sprint to chase down ground balls, and then watch the first baseman sprint to chase down the throw you just sailed some distance beyond him. Now, 70-80 feet is a lot shorter than a typical throw from shortstop to first base…but an M-80 is also a lot lighter than a baseball. So I knew I should put some mustard on it to insure getting it at least somewhere near the porch. Being quite experienced at firing balls into the adjacent woods from deep short, I wasn’t too worried about it. If the M-80 banged off the front of the house first or whatever, no big deal, I mean assuming nobody opened the front door at the wrong instant.

Now may be a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of taking all potentially relevant variables into consideration–apriori even–in events like these. And do we think enough about the tangible value of trial runs? Probably some room for improvement there too.

Anyway, Steve successfully got said firework lit without blowing us up, and the ensuing exchange to me was also flawless. With right arm extended and a good five seconds or so to work with, I eyed Doug’s porch and applied my best Nolan Ryan fastball to the explosive. Now, I think it’s fair to say that (1) the average person is just not that aware of exactly where one’s car door meets one’s car roof, (2) that I qualify as quite average in that context, and (3) that that specific location took on above average significance, in that particular situation. In short, when my hand was just about to send said explosive device on it’s planned trajectory, said hand was inadvertently applied, with considerable force, to said vehicular location, and separated from said device, thereby placing the latter on a trajectory not nearly as likely to achieve the original objective. This in turn would necessitate a rapid adjustment in plan and action, not to mention vocalization.

This is more or less a science blog, and I ask you, are many topics more fascinating, really, than the physics of acoustics under confinement? Maybe heredity–I find that interesting too. Also, involuntary reflexes, impromptu vocalizations: good stuff. How about hand-eye coordination under duress? Personal safety and survival? Blood?
Bodily dismemberment? All topics worthy of consideration when you get down to it. Let’s explore some of these for just a moment.

Acoustic physics, let’s take. As we know, Newton’s First Law of Loud, states “Any acoustically active device, placed under spatial confinement, will manifest even more of its acoustic characteristics, in fact quite a lot more than you’d think just from theory alone”. Take spatial relationships: just how much room for rapid bodily movement is there, really, in the front passenger seat of a typical car? How can humans maximize movement efficiency in response to active, explosive devices experiencing random trajectories?

Now back to our story. To cut to the chase, upon hand-car impact, our active device–the one under current discussion–experienced a rather sudden change of x coordinate velocity–one markedly away from Doug’s front porch, opposite that really, which is to say in the general direction of one Steve. More specifically, toward Steve’s male-specific, hereditarily significant anatomy. And there it landed, for a brief moment. Although entirely stunned, and with my hand feeling possibly broken, I was still able to collect myself, breathe a sigh of relief and comment on just how fortunate we were, really, that said M-80 had not taken an alternate trajectory and landed instead, in or near the bag of 30 or so other M-80s, within the confines of our vehicle, in which we too were present, due to our plan, in the street in front of our friend Doug Brown’s house. Steve also reflected for a bit on this fortunate state and concurred that such an outcome would have been potentially problematic on several counts, not the least of which was just how autopsies and identifications based on scattered body parts are conducted.

The preceding is not in fact what transpired at that moment.

Rather, Steve executed what I think to this day is the most rapid series of body movements I’ve ever seen from a human being, with the possible exception of the time I scrambled up and over a rock to find my neck about three feet directly in front of the head of a large rattlesnake. Conscious thought was not part of the process. M-80s had fuse times of roughly six to seven seconds, going strictly from memory. I’d guestimate that at this point, about four of those remained. As I recall it, there were, in order (1) an involuntary yell, (2) a ceiling-constrained jump upward, and (3) a failed attempt to flick the thing, by a backhand motion, away from where it resided. This process took maybe two seconds, maximum, and led to another entirely frantic attempt–panicked would work–which succeeded in flinging the thing down towards Steve’s feet. This, very fortunately, was not where the bag of other M-80s had been placed, and additionally, it’s one thing to have your feet blown off but quite another to have your evolutionary lineage ended.

Down there our device detonated, with a flash, maybe 1 to 1.5 seconds later.

What M-80 detonations lack in duration and beauty of light display they make up for in sheer decibels; they aren’t fireworks so much as small bombs. This was the most unbelievably loud thing I’d ever heard, and that includes seeing Ted Nugent in the old concrete and steel Toledo Sports Arena (also with Steve). It was concussive. Steve told me he basically could not hear for several days. The car was immediately filled with an acrid cloud of sulfurous smoke. My hand felt very possibly broken. I could neither hear nor see, and my first thought was “We gotta get out of here right NOW, before Doug comes out and sees this”. Or even worse, his dad, with a possible call to the police. But even in the best of circumstances, it’s not easy to go straight from Nolan Ryan to Mario Andretti, quickly. I could not see without sticking my head out the window, which I did until the breeze created cleared out the cab. I’m not sure that Steve knew exactly what had happened or even where he was, but didn’t have time to investigate. I was pretty sure he was alive and that would have to be good enough for the moment.

I think the evening’s festivities were concluded with this event, although I wouldn’t necessarily place money on that either. If Doug is reading, I’d like to formally apologize for the rubber patch laid in front of his house and any subsequent effect on property values that may have resulted.

Thanks for reading and please stay tuned for the next episode, in which we’ll explore how surprisingly inconvenient cul-de-sacs can be in certain circumstances, and/or other fascinating topics.