A good scientist takes care of his optics…

I, on the other hand, managed to dissolve two of mine today.

Ok, they were both unknown quantities that had been rescued from a junk pile years ago and left to gather dust at home. Today I remembered them and took them to work to see if they’d be any use. A quick blast from the compressed air line removed much of the dust, so leaving them in their mounts for easy handling I gave them a rinse under the tap.

Only to see one lens start to dissolve and melt away – I’m now guessing it was actually a rather expensive salt plate. Bugger!
The other lens washed off fine, so still pissed-off about the first lens – and thus not really thinking – I gave the second lens a clean with tissue paper and acetone. It promptly frosted over and became tacky – a bloody plastic lens.

Two items that had sat on my shelf for near on ten years destroyed in a few minutes. The only saving grace was that both lenses were too scratched and damaged to have been much use anyway; the plastic one especially – it would strongly absorbs the light from my laser diode. The mounts are at least still useful.

Tech support to random neighbours…

The door bell rang earlier – I answered it to one of the lesser seen neighbours carrying a laptop.

“Hello, I’m Brian from number 18, I wondered if you could do me a favour, Tony says you are good with computers.”

“Hello, Er, Ok. What’s the problem?”

Brian had been using someone else’s WiFi connection and now he couldn’t connect. He’d been told by someone else that the WiFi owner had probably changed the key and he needed to use WEPcrack to get the new key. He didn’t have a clue how to use it, could I help?

I suggested that maybe the key had been changed to keep him out?

“Nah, nah mate, he said I can use it.”

I take a look at the laptop screen and see that the SSID of the access point he is trying to crack is 8bob. This being my WiFi connection. I asked him how long it had been since he was unable to use the WiFi?

“About 3 weeks now”

“Yeah, that’s about right – that’s when I fixed it to stop others using it. Don’t think I can help you really. See you later.”

I upgraded from WEP to WPA about three weeks ago when I noticed the odd connection I couldn’t account for.

“Oh, um, right. oh. er. fookin’ hell. So you can’t help then?”

“No, not really. Can’t help you.”

I think he missed the bit where I said I’d changed it to stop it being used…

He left.

Buying condoms on petty cash

When you are practising science on a tiny budget you sometimes have to get creative with replacement equipment. The following happened nearly a year ago, I’ve just happened to find what I wrote at the time.

Taken from a chat log at the time.

[dtl-afk] I’m just about to ask stores to reimburse me from petty cash for a box of condoms, this could be interesting.
[friend] oh my. um, why?
[dtl-afk] we needed a thin flxeible tube, and the only thing we could think of was those
[dtl-afk] it sort of works
[friend] HAHAHA
[dtl-afk] cue me going to the chemist asking for “a box of thick unlubricated condoms please” “no we don’t have those” “oh, a box of extra safe then I suppose please”
[friend] i can just imagine the quartermaster going “are you sure you weren’t having a lunchtime quickie?”
[dtl-afk] quite probably knowing Alan (the storeman)

Stores were closed that day. I did get a ribbing next day when I made the claim. The things I do for science.

*BOOM* A tale of woe.

It has been said that young amateur scientists typically fall into one of four categories: those trying to make explosives, those with an interest in electronics, astronomers and those that like to take dead animals apart. I didn’t fit the classification so well, I had an active interest in all of those things.

It was back in the summer of 199mumble that I really succeeded in the first of those pass-times. I’d by then been able to make small quantities of gunpowder for rocket engines and the odd banger. I didn’t really intend to make anything more violent…

Every Saturday morning I’d go visit the local library to read the latest issues of Scientific American and New Scientist. It was in one of these session that I came across the memoirs of an industrial chemist. Explaining how science wasn’t as much fun as back in the day, he’d been able to make whatever he liked in chemistry class as long as he could document everything. His school master made the rash promise not expecting him to be able to produce half the stuff he eventually did. Most formulations being derived from data in the CRC Handbook Of Chemistry And Physics.

Inspired by this tale I set about locating a copy of the CRC Handbook and work out how some of the more interesting ‘materials’ mentioned in the article could be produced in the comfort of the garden shed for fun and profit.

Thankfully most industrial or military explosives, while quite simple in composition are quite impossible to make safely at home – forget what the anarchist cookbook tells you. I just didn’t realise stupidly easy and dangerous it was to make some others.

About a week of bookwork and a couple of visits to DIY centres and the chemist shop was all it took before I was ready.

I made a couple of grams each of three different materials. Each was carefully packed in a paper tube, fitted with an electrical rocket igniter and taped in a plastic bag to keep it dry and sunk about half way down a 20 gallon plastic water butt. It was my experience that black powder set up in this way will go BANG (for reference) and splash a bit of water around. I didn’t expect much more from the other mixtures. On this I was quite spectacularly wrong

By now a couple of the neighbour’s kids had come out to see what I was up to. I tell them and they call out their parents, probably not the best idea come to think of it.

I retreat up the garden with the trigger wire and call all clear. Nought point bugger all of a second later there is a bang to rival the big one, *!!!FUCKING BANG!!!* to be precise. The blast wave hits me and the audience in the chest with surprising force, causing at least one child to burst into tears and the local windows to rattle a bit.

There is a deafening silence, at the time I worry if this is because I’m now deaf. After a few seconds the world seem to recover from the shock. I’m standing in stunned silence, one neighbour is pissing himself laughing, the other is trying to console the kids. Where the butt stood is now just a cloud of fine water droplets.

Other people started coming out into the gardens asking variations on ‘what the fuck was that?’.

Brown trousers time.

I’m standing in the middle of what is obviously the aftermath of an explosion trying to convince people that “there is nothing to see here”, crapping myself and expecting to hear the police siren any second. The story that it was an experiment that went wrong was eventually accepted.

All we saw of the explosion was most of the water go straight upwards. The sole remains of the butt was a plastic circle that had formed the base. The rest of it was later located on top of the neighbour’s shed.

After this I swore off ill-advised chemistry experiments at home, to concentrate my time on ill-advised physics experiments instead.


Reminded of this by a post from Scaryduck today.

DTL vs the Fluff-Ball

The was and still is a misrable old bastard up the road from me. He walks a yapping bundle of fluff up the road twice per day, letting it shit where ever it wants. Complaints about this are shrugged of with

“its only a fuckin’ dog. I can’t stop it shittin'”

and several days of the dog ‘deciding’ to drop a load right outside your house.

It was after the poo stared to pile up on the pavement outside my house I decided to get revenge.

From the juices of the Sunday joint, I made up some of the tastiest gravy known to man or dog, poured it into a cup and left by the microwave ready for the evening dog walk.

Seven PM rolls by and the yapping gives away the aproach of the dog. The microwave goes on to warm up the gravy and thirty seconds later I’m at the door, cup in hand. Waiting until the Miserable Bastard can see me, I pour the gravy over the pile of shit remaining from the morning walk.

Fluff-ball scampers up seconds later and starts wolfing down the gravy covered shit in full view of Miserable Bastard. My job done, I head back inside to watch dog being dragged back home in disgust with the Miserable Bastard ranting and raving at the dog ,

“stupid fuggin dog”

and the world in general,


I’ve had no trouble with that dog shitting outside the house since.