Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Rest of the Saturday Morning WSJ Links

Design & Decorating: what to do with the TV? For all the new Bakken millionaires, this is a must-read. One idea not shown: place a flat-screen on one's microwave oven door for the kitchen. And as long as you have gone that far, Velcro an iPad to one of the kitchen cabinet doors: perfect for recipes. [See photo #8 at this link.]

Section C (Review): another article on "the brains of the animal kingdom." The subject, for some reason, has never interested me. Perhaps it bothered me that animals, in general, seem to have more common sense than politicians.

Not much there today. Sorry. But the iPad Velcro hint was worth the price of the blog today.


From the Washington Times: staffers earning $60,000 to $160,000 are on the brink of starving due to the sequester -- so says Debbie Wasserman, a Floridian federal representative; Obama's pick to lead the Democratic National Committee. One comment at the site:
Wasserman is a total nut job, she makes $80-100,000 a year and complains about a $2 bowl of soup. She can't keep up with her own propaganda.
A Note To The Granddaughters

Now, back to Mendeleev on the Periodic Law, Selected Writings, 1869 - 1905, edited by William B. Jensen.

As noted at the link, I did not enjoy this book the first time I read it. I tried to like it, but it just didn't work for me. But I thought I would give it another try.

It turns out to be a great book. Very, very fascinating. But one has to do two things. Read the book very, very slowly; and have access to the internet while reading it.

A little bit of back story. Many years ago I read Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway for the first time because I was told it was a classic, a masterpiece. I don't now recall my thoughts regarding Mrs Dalloway after reading it for the first time, but I know I did not understand it and did not know what all the fuss was about. So, the second time I read it, I read it very, very slowly and discovered it was a prose poem. That led me to type the entire book in blank verse. A portion of what I discovered is over at my literature blog.

Now, back to Mendeleev. Upon reading the book a second time, I am reading it very, very slowly. The book is not so remarkable if one simply concentrates on the subject, the periodic table. What is so remarkable about the book, and why it is important to read is this: it is interesting to follow Mendeleev's thought process as he was trying to work out the problem. It is similar in that regard to reading James Watson's "biography" of the "double helix."  (Of course, the two books -- Mendeleev and Watson -- are very dissimilar. I doubt anyone reading this blog, and I doubt that either of you -- will ever read, much less enjoy Jensen's book on Mendeleev. It is pretty dry.)

But it is great "fun" to get a bit of insight into how Mendeleev cracked the code. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that ordering elements based on their atomic weights was not obvious. But that was the first piece of the puzzle that Mendeleev noted: if one wanted to put some order into chemical elements, one had to put them into some kind of order, and at its most basic level, to put them in order based on atomic weights.

I don't think that took a lot of insight. But then ... then ... then, that almost miraculous jump, when Mendeleev noted that there was a periodicity in the chemical behavior of the elements.

Having the internet available while reading the book makes the book so much more enjoyable. Early on, the editor notes that the discovery of gallium in 1875 was the impetus for chemists to re-look at Mendeleev's theory which he had published in 1869, and revised in 1870. Every chemical element is incredibly interesting in its own right, but when one gets the feeling that so much hinges on gallium (at least in this particular case, in this particular moment in chemistry), it is nice to be able to go to the net and read about gallium. And even nicer to have a wikipedia that puts so much in one spot and in words that a lay person can understand.

Hemoglobin is a metalloprotein, incorporating iron (FE) into the protein. It turns out that gallium (GA) acts a lot like iron and, therefore, gallium is used in medicine (pharmaceuticals and diagnostics). In addition, gallium is the source for blue and violet light emitting diodes (LED).

Sometimes one has to read a book very, very slowly to really enjoy it; really understand it. At least I do. And sometimes, one has to be ready to read it. And, of course, that's one of the problems for students; most often students are not ready to read assigned reading assignments. Smile.

There's no way I would have read either Mrs Dalloway or selected papers of Mendeleev if either had been assigned reading in college. But now: awesome.