Science Blogs

My first chemistry experiment #UnRealTimeChem

Sciencebase - 2 February, 2015 - 17:06

My choral friend Jo mentioned making “poisonous” orange juice when she was a nipper and giving it to a boy she and her friends didn’t like. Apparently, they crushed up some bits of plants, including foxgloves, which of course contain digitalin, the heart drug. Add enough of that to his OJ and they could’ve been in serious trouble. Just as well there was no belladonna (deadly nighshade) or monkshood (Devil’s Helmet or wolfsbane).

boy-telescope

Anyway talking of serious trouble…as a kid I was always messing around with magnets and motors, batteries and bulbs, iron filings, little circuits, broken radios (well they were broken after I’d messed around with them), watches, telescopes, magnifying glasses and stuff. But, by aged 9 or 10 I’d taken my first foray into chemistry. I’d got hold of a little stoppered plastic vial and mixed up some washing-up liquid and water and added some of the 3-in-1 oil I usually drizzled on to the chain and into the little holes on the underside of my bike. I don’t remember what I was trying to do with this, my first chemistry experiment. Obviously, the mixture would have formed some kind of mucky emulsion. Hashtag #JuvenileAlchemy.

Anyway, I remember some snitch reported me to my teacher when they saw me shaking my vial behind the bike sheds (no, that is not a euphemism!). I got hauled in to see the headmaster, I think my parents were dragged in too. Of course, the vial with its gloopy contents was confiscated but not before the headmaster had a good sniff. I’m not sure what any of the adults thought I had been up to. I was just naively doing chemistry. Maybe they thought I was abusing solvents or sniffing glue or something, but at age 9 I didn’t even know that was a thing…

I almost certainly had an idea from a science library book, I used to read three or four each evening at that age. Anyway, the experience put me off chemistry for years and so I went back to messing with magnets (again, not a euphemism) and I seem to remember trying to make an electromagnet from a chunk of steel from my Dad’s toolbox and a bit of insulated wire that I jabbed into the wall socket…oh dear…did I mention I was a bit naive, almost electrocuted myself, needless to say. Still, at least I didn’t try to give anyone a heart attack with poisonous orange juice, eh?

*The photo isn’t me, by the way…

My first chemistry experiment #UnRealTimeChem is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Predictive text: Darwin’s computers

Sciencebase - 21 January, 2015 - 10:05

Charles Darwin’s IBM computers

There are lots of quotes around attributed to the great and the good throughout the years, but often these are anything but direct quotes and in some cases turn out to have far more intriguing origins.

For example, the quote often attributed to Thomas John Watson, Sr. (1874–1956) who was chairman and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM) in 1943 had him as saying:

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

IBM-five-computers

There are no recorded speeches nor documents that providence evidence for this as a quote from Watson. Indeed, the earliest mention of it was on the Usenet in 1986, although that may well have come from an article in the San Diego Evening Tribune by Neil Morgan, who wrote: “Forrest Shumway, chairman of The Signal Cos., doesn’t make predictions. His role model is Tom Watson, then IBM chairman, who said in 1958: ‘I think there is a world market for about five computers.’

It seems that Sir Charles Darwin (grandson of the naturalist) who was head of the UK’s computer research centre, the NPL (National Physical Laboratory) is probably the true father of the thought of this particular predictive text when he said in 1946:

“it is very possible that … one machine would suffice to solve all the problems that are demanded of it from the whole country”

But, The Yale Book of Quotations may have the truth about this particular misquote. Watson did indeed mention a market for only 5 computers, at IBM’s annual stockholders’ meeting in 1953, but he was referring specifically to the IBM 701 Electronic Data Processing Machine which had been touted to 20 potential clients but Watson reported that they only expected to get orders for five (they actually sold 18).

More on the myth on Wiki and on the Freakonomics site.

Predictive text: Darwin’s computers is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Bait and Switch – a song

Sciencebase - 17 January, 2015 - 17:59

Don’t worry, you’re not going to be Rickrolled, despite the song title ;-)

Songs of Experience by Dave Bradley

Words and music by Dave Bradley, vocals, guitar, bass, percussion dB

Bait and switch

There was a key under-the-mat,
but you changed all the locks
There was a note deep in your pocket,
but no stamp for the box

I saw a light up in your room,
but your heart was like stone
And though you strayed out of the gloom,
there was nobody home

There was a seed inside the pot,
but no water for the bloom
There was food there on the table,
but no taste in the room

You wore a smile and a little more,
but you cried on the inside
And though you veil all that you feel,
there’s no place left to hide

When you turn about face
I can’t stay in that place
Switch and bait me
I know that you’re cunning

When I find the right pace
It’s the end of the race
Bait and switch
is the game that you’re running

bait-and-switch

Bait and Switch – a song is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Message in a Bottle – The Police (Cover song)

Sciencebase - 13 January, 2015 - 16:18

One of my favourite riffs from one of my favourite guitar players, the rarely revered Andy Summers, he has a long, long history dating back to the psychedelia of the 1960s (Soft Machine and many others, much of it LSD fuelled according to his autobiography). Summers is best known for his time with The Police of course, alongside Sting (who hails from my hometown near Newcastle and was given his nickname by my sister’s friend’s Dad!) and drummer Stewart Copeland.

Anyway, this is me doubling vocals (one at the original song pitch, falsetto in the background and the melody again an octave down on the verses). Played the Telecaster parts, and bass guitar but used a downloaded MIDI drumtrack to keep better time than any drummer, even Copeland (Sting joke from Ghost in the Machine era Montserrat recordings).

Posting here as preview sample while licencing on Loudr FM goes through for posting cover to iTunes etc.

The original song was in the UK charts in 1979. It was based on that video I mentioned actually composed in Dm not C#m and I reckon they notched it down a semitone in the studio to give Sting’s high voice a little more headroom…for me I’d need to notch it down another couple of semitones to get the full high without screeching.

Bottle on the beach photo CC licence via Flickr adapted c/o Jenni C

message-in-a-bottle-cover

Message in a Bottle – The Police (Cover song) is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Reactive Sabbatical

Reactive Reports - 6 May, 2014 - 17:16

As you may have noticed, Reactive Reports has been somewhat less active than it was during its golden years, 1999 to 2009. I am still writing lots about chemistry and science in general, but updating the various blogs and websites where there is no longer a commissioning editor, as it were, has had to take a backseat in preference to the writing that pays the bills in order to allow me to indulge my other creative passions – music and photography.

I’ve always used some of my own photos where I could to illustrate blogs, news and features and websites, you can see some of my recent albums via my flickr pages. During the last year or so I have been fine-tuning (hahah) my songwriting and production skills to put together an eclectic collection of originals, some acoustic and folky, some electric and indie, a few funky, and one a bit long and proggy. Anyway, the fruits of that musical labour are now available from the usual online musical outlets including BandCamp.

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