Scourge of the Vegetable Kingdom
We're puppy-sitting for my parents this weekend. They've gone to California to spend Easter with my sister, and left their newly-acquired dog with us.
R.D. (for "Ron's Dog," as my father was the one agitating for a puppy) arrived here too late for Pet Blogging Day (and he's technically not our pet), but as a yellow Labrador Retriever puppy, he's in the running for the title of cutest dog in all of the world (see for yourself). Of course, he also tends to attempt to eat, well, everything, but that's part of being a Labrador, too...
It's a touch on the cool side today, but nice and sunny, so we spent a good couple of hours outside (a good thing, as he's not quite entirely housebroken yet...). R.D. is certainly the terror of all things vegetative-- this would be a bad weekend to be a windblown leaf or a colorful plant in our backyard. He hasn't entirely got the hang of the Mighty Hunter routine yet-- his dramatic pounces often end up with him hitting the ground face-first, and when he actually captures one of his inanimate targets, he has a tendency to shake his head so hard that he knocks himself off his feet-- but once he gets the hang of the whole balance thing, he'll be a force to be reckoned with among the lower orders of plants.
It's been a shitty couple of weeks in many ways, but nothing makes up for that like watching a small dog careen around the backyard just for the sheer joyous novelty of being able to run. He's a handful, and will be a holy terror when he grows up a little bit, but right at the moment, he's devastatingly cute. Even if he does crap on the floor occasionally.
My lasers got rained on.
I'm not sure when it happened, as I've been busy with class stuff, and my students have been working on projects which don't require the diode laser. But I was in the lab yesterday, and happened to notice prominent water stains on the (cardboard) box I use to cover the diode. It wasn't actually covering the diode at the time-- the last time we were using the laser, we had uncovered it and set the box off on the edge of the table, on top of a power supply. On the laser or off, though, water stains on the box are not a positive development.
The source of the water was probably a pipe up near the ceiling that has some similar stains on the insulation, surrounding two small holes. What the pipe is, I have no idea-- the guy from Facilities who came over when I called about this speculated that it might be a cold water line that developed some condensation (through the holes in the insulation) which then dripped down onto the laser table. (This speaks volumes about the ability of Facilities to control the air conditioning, but that's been a running battle for months now...). The important thing is really that this needs to never happen again, ever.
Anyway, the ultimate effect is that my $1000 laser controller got some water dripped on the case (it seems to be fine, though), while a handful of mirrors and a polarizing beamsplitter cube are coated with a thin film of crud, not unlike the marks that rain leaves on a car windshield. This isn't catastrophic-- a little methanol will take that right off-- but it is a hassle, especially as that optical path was part of a fiber coupling line, which is a major pain in the ass to align.
The weird thing is that this is just part of a continuing pattern of lab disasters involving water. The two most spectacular lab catastrophes I've ever been associated with have involved broken cooling water lines. Even stranger, they came within a few weeks of one another.
The first was at NIST, where we used temperature-regulated cold water supplied by Physical Plant to cool some high-power lasers. While the temperature of the water was fairly well controlled, this wasn't water you'd want to drink-- the wire-mesh filters we put in the lines would fill up with small lumps of clay in fairly short order. Being lousy plumbers, we had attached the (plastic) filter to the water line right where it came out of the wall, then attached a (brass) cut-off valve to the other side of the filter (wouldn't want that clay gumming up our valves, after all), and then the heavy rubber hoses to the laser were hung off the other end of the valve.
Predictably enough (in hindsight), the plastic filter housing eventually cracked under the strain of all that weight on the far end. This sent a jet of water arcing across the room like a fountain outside a Presidential Palace, where it slammed into the electrical raceway hung from the ceiling, and then rained down on one of our titanium-sapphire lasers. When we took the laser apart for cleaning, my supervisor tipped the external cavity assembly sideways, and a sad little trickle of water ran out-- that laser was completely flooded. (Miraculously, it survived without too much trouble-- some of the bearings got a little corroded, which made alignment of the cavity a little trickier after that, but everything still worked, and we didn't need to replace any of the major components...)
Happily, though, our other Ti:sapph laser (yes, we had two. Eat my dust, Lundblad...) was on another table, behind plastic dust shielding, as were all the laser cooling optics, and safe from the water. Or so we thought-- it turns out that not all of the water striking the raceway fell down onto the laser-- some of it ran down the raceway itself, and pooled in the lowest point of the conduit. Which happened to be directly above the air filter/ blower system we used to pump clean air in under the dust shielding. Each drip of water from the puddle in the electrical raceway dripped into a dirty HEPA filter, then onto a fan, which sprayed the water into a fine mist that coated every optic on the table. Hundreds of mirrors, lenses, and waveplates had to be removed, cleaned, and put back, then the whole thing had to be realigned. It put the experiment off-line for a couple of weeks.
(Of course, it could've been a lot worse-- the leak was discovered independently by two different people: one, a post-doc in our group came in and noticed water pouring from under the xenon lab door. The other, a post-doc in a basement lab, came in and noticed a huge sheet of water pouring down the wall (draining out of our lab through some of the service ducts). Pouring down the wall holding the electrical breaker boxes for his whole lab...)
The other great water disaster of 1998 is one that I wasn't present for. While I was on my way to Japan-- literally while my plane was in the air-- the lab I was going to work in suffered a sudden drop in water pressure. Not really a major problem, except for the fact that the water was used to cool some copper coils carrying the ~100 amps of current used to make a magnetic trap in the apparatus I was planning to use. When the water cut off, the coils heated up suddenly.
Again, this isn't a total catastrophe, under normal circumstances-- the coils get hot, but not too hot, as air can take a fair bit of heat, and sooner or later the water comes back on. A short pressure drop, and you'll never even know something went wrong.
Unfortunately, these coils weren't in air-- they were inside the vacuum system. In the absence of air cooling, a centimeter or so of copper tubing simply vaporized. And then the water came back on... The end result was the only lab flood I've heard about that took place inside a UHV system... That apparatus was off-line for the whole time I was there (fortunately, they had another one I could work with. The experiment never worked, in the end, but for reasons other than the flood...), and one poor grad student spent pretty much the whole three months trying to repair damp vacuum hardware.
So, all in all, I don't have a great deal of luck with water in the lab. Another reason why it's good that I'm not a chemist, I suppose...
Not That One, the Other One
The movie version of High Fidelity passed into the cable realm not long ago, and I've run across it a number of times while channel-surfing. It's a bit different than the book, but basically true to the spirit of the thing, and it's a very good movie in general.
One of the mixed-blessing things about the movie is the performance of Jack Black as one of the record-store geeks. Mixed blessing because, while he's very funny in the role, this performance was largely responsible for unleashing him on the world in a large number of not-funny-at-all movies. And also because there's a bit of "there but for the grace of God go I" in the whole thing-- I have moments when I'm about this || close to being that guy.
A ready demonstration can be found in the fact that listing off the tracks on a recent mix tape reminded me of a profoundly geeky recurring idea that floats around in those moments when I find myself poring over the CD racks trying to find something to listen to. I've always been half tempted to make a tape that would have the same list of titles on both sides, with none of the songs being the same.
There are two examples in that other post-- "Hallelujah," by Jeff Buckley (which is really a Leonard Cohen song), and a different "Hallelujah" by Ryan Adams; and, of course, "Always On My Mind" by Phantom Planet shares a title with a famous Willie Nelson song. I'm just record geek enough to find the contrast amusing.
There are all sorts of possibilities for this sort of thing. Sticking with Ryan Adams, for example, you've got his "New York, New York," which could be paired up with Frank Sinatra's signature tune.
The more generic you get, the more options you have, of course. "Right Now" offers songs by SR-71 and Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen (the two I thought of), but also Chris Gaines and Lil' Kim (neither of which I can recall hearing). "Crazy" offers the obvious trio of Patsy Cline, Aerosmith, and the Afghan Whigs, but also Britney Spears (who knew?). "Gloria" gets you everything from classic Van Morrison to cheesey Laura Branigan to a whole host of religious songs which would really sort of spoil the fun.
(Though realizing that there are a number of Jewel fans out there who seem to think she wrote the "in excelsis deo" version of that tune is simultaneously funny and scary...)
There are also odd phrases that seem to be incredibly popular as song titles. I've long suspected you could fill a 90-minute tape with unrelated songs titled "Ship of Fools", and "Don't Look Back" is even more popular. I'm not sure how to count the variant spellings of "Fourth of July" (you can get it with numbers or without), but either way, there are several to choose from.
And, of course, once you start playing with Google, all sorts of interesting possibilities crop up. I was particularly amused by the idea of pairing Meat Loaf and Iron Maiden, and of course, throwing Michael Jackson into the mix only makes things weirder...
But, of course, I'm not enough of a dork to actually put such a tape together. There but for the grace of God, and a hearty "laudamus te" to that...