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Today, I'm responding to some comments...

Chemical corrections


While technically mercury is able to evaporate, it does so really slowly. A drop the size of a pea would take over a year. Also, mercury is not like other liquids. If I mopped my floor with a big bucket of mercury, it wouldn't be "wet" like if I used water. It would form thousands upon thousands of tiny beads, only pooling if there were areas of uneveness. These beads are more than capable of pushing dust and dirt out of fissures and crevices in order to better remain hidden.

If I did wash my floor with a bucket of mercury, yes, I believe that it would indeed be around for decades. But the room would be pretty much immediately deadly, for it only takes a tiny amount of mercury vapour to cause severe neurological damage.

Hmmm... <remembers pinging balls of it around the desk at school>



Anon is quite right in saying that oxygen itself is neither a flammable nor explosive gas. However it is a powerful oxidiser, so it mixed with many things would indeed make a crowd pleasing bang. And it's easy to lump oxygen in with "stuff that goes bang" as earlier rocket engines used a hydrogen/oxygen mix - such as the main engines of the Shuttle. These days, you're likely to run into stuff like hydrazine (N2H4) and dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4, oxidiser) to get more bang in less space (which is important for rockets as space means both volume and weight). There's also fruity stuff like unsymetrical dimethylhydrazine (C2H8N2). These things are, of course, quite toxic. Something to remember if you're watching a rocket launch that, well, doesn't.

If you perform the electrolysis experiment into two beakers, the hydrogen one (that you can tell because it will fill up twice as fast) will make a 'pop' if you hold a glowing splint to it. The oxygen one won't pop, but the glowing splint will relight itself.
However, if you mix the two and use it to blow soap bubbles (easier than it sounds, just seal the jar of water with a rubber bung and have a single pipe that goes down to a smaller jar containing a bubble solution (water with a little squirt of washing up liquid, not too much)). Let it run for a few minutes (to push out the air in the pipe) then put the pipe into the bubble solution. When bubbles form, scoop them up with a ladle and take over to a bunsen burner. It's quite an impressive pop.
For obvious reasons, never ever try to pop the bubbles in the bubble solution, because if the flame should make it to the pipe... well... that would be liable to provoke a dose of unwanted unpleasantness.

Additionally, if you pop a little bit of sodium sulphate and enough universal indicator to colour the water green, once the electrolysis begins, the water around the anode and cathode will change colour. It's been over thirty years, so forgive me if I don't remember the colours. Google it, it's your homework. ☺



With reference to Gavin's comment yesterday... well, I wouldn't say my school had that much to do with my education. That, I'm afraid, is mostly down to mom.
There was a magazine series called "The Joy of Knowledge" that was produced in the early eighties. Mom subscribed, and each time a book came, we would read it together and talk about the many things inside.

I was really pleased to discover this in a box the other day:

The Joy of Knowledge
The Joy of Knowledge.

It looks like I have about 35 issues, the highest one numbered is 52. So a few are missing, but plenty are there.
Each double-page discussed a topic. Below is the anatomy of the earth. The next pair of pages described the earth's magnetic fields. The pair after talked about the tectonic plates. And so on.

What's inside the Earth
What's inside the Earth
(from The Joy of Knowledge)

Also, as you might have noticed, I like taking stuff apart to see what's inside. Like Polly Scattergood: Only to get ripped apart on Christmas Day by a six-year old with a marker pen, I was that kid, I liked to watch the cogs turning under the cover, rather than marvel at the pretty lights on the surface, those lights that took so long to perfect ("In This Moment").

As mom found out when I took the record player apart (to my credit, I did fix it).
As my father found out when he, being a less than useful attempt at a father, found out when he thought he'd keep me quiet by locking me in his car. Yes, I was very quiet. Because he locked me in with a toolkit. And I very carefully dismantled the entire dashboard (because he subsequently forgot about I said, "attempt").
Now, I was barely more than a toddler so I wasn't going to know how to put it back together. And he was the great alpha male guy-who-knows-about-cars and he wasn't going to get it back together. So he went and cried about it to his piece on the side, I cried because he hit me, and mom thought it was interesting that I had taken the time to carefully arrange all of the screws according to their size. There were quite a number of them.

Indeed, about the only thing that has prevented me from whipping my washing machine open to see how it works and what all that relay clicking is about, is that it has a load of insurances and warranties and, well, it's a modern gizmo so I don't entirely trust it to last much beyond the warranty period. I'd love for it to last for ages like the old one, but back in those days things were built to last.
On the other hand, I pretty much do a load a week, unless it's good weather and I do bedding or somesuch. It's pretty easy to sort laundry when your preferred colour palette is black, obsidian, soot, ebony, raven, onyx, and midnight.

Am I happy with my education? Not really. There were many times when mom pointed out stuff she thought I'd learned that just didn't happen. But, then, she was educated in America where everybody celebrates passing their SATs (it's a big deal), while I was educated in England where everybody celebrates the biggest dipshit in class. Plus, it was a special needs school and most of the kids were dyslexic. I'm sure you can imagine it wasn't exactly an ideal environment for a person that liked to read...

There were lessons that she talked about that simply didn't feature in my education. "Problems of democracy" and "Civics", for instance. Something she was really good at was "Extemporaneous speech". A teacher would pick two students and a subject. Each student would be assigned a point of view (for or against sort of thing) and then each student in turn had to deliver to the rest of the class a speech arguing their chosen point of view. I believe they were allowed a few minutes to go to the school library if they needed to fact check something, but otherwise there was no written speech or other preparation. Oh, and it wouldn't be silly little things either, it would be topical things like "racism in society" or "the right to abortions" (this was before Roe vs Wade).
I bet they don't do stuff like that any more...

As for my education, the best lesson I had was from the physics teacher who told me, simply, "Question everything". Much of the rest of his lessons, like so many others, was restricted to fit in with the syllabus of the new GCSE examinations. In the day it was said you were guaranteed at least a D grade if you managed to write your name in the correct box on the front page. As The Daily Mail tends to highlight from time to time (and discussed here), it seems that as years go by, the exams get more and more useless. I guess as the people running the country get more and more useless, they want a dumb populace so nobody will get ideas in their head about usurping the power that those so-called leaders should never have been given in the first place.

My chemistry teacher was an ardent feminist (she insisted on being called "Mizz" and would explode if you dared call her "Miss" (which we did, 'cos we were trolls, the lot of us)). I used to think she was nuts having that attitude in an all-boys school, but as I have grown up I sort of see her point of view. Helps that mom was a big of a hippy-feminist herself (claim to fame: she burned her bra at Aldermaston...).

As for history? Well, let's see. There were Romans. Then there was a World War where some German bastard got his arse kicked.
And that's about it.

Wait... Hang on... what about the nineteen hundred other years? There were a whole assortment of really poofy looking kings. The French marched in. Vikings. Actually, loads of foreigners marched in over the years, to the point where maybe the only true Brits left are the Welsh? Crusades. Excalibur.
There was the infamous Henry VIII that changed British religion forever (and kickstarted a squabble that is still on-going). There's the equally infamous Queen Victoria (which is why Brits are all secretly perverts, it's our heavily repressed sexuality leaking out).
The. Entire. Industrial. Freaking. Revolution.
Some bloke that wrote a few stories.
The fact that Britain could very well have ruled the entire world if it wasn't for the fact that it's a country of inward looking jerks that saw The Empire as something to plunder rather than something to respect. Remember, America was ours, but we totally ballsed it up and now they're the mighty power and we're... basking in nostalgia 'cos the contemporary is crap.
I think it says a lot about my education that my introduction to the horrific mess of the Partition of India was in 2018 in an episode of Doctor Who. As soon as I had watched that, and had a tea to collect my thoughts, I hit Google. If anything, the TV show was toned down.
And, of course, while I knew that slaves were a thing and they were stolen from their homes and families in Africa and shipped to the new world to be, well, slaves... I wasn't really aware of how much involvement important British institutions had in such matters. Like, say, the royal family. Sure, maybe somebody who made a mint from it might have endowed a university or somesuch, but this isn't really that much different to having The Adolf Hitler University, is it?
That being said, I think the name and statues should be retained, even if the person featured was actually an evil shit. Talk about it, make it be known. Discuss whether bad people can do good things. Don't rename the place and pull down the statue as that's just quietly sweeping the problem under the rug. It's time that such things should be a part of normal discussion. We should be aware of our past. Not just the "Glory! Empire! Magnificent!" part, but all the dark horrible parts too (shall we talk about Dresden?). Failure to do so can lead to crackpots bringing their own nonsense to fill the gaps, like the Great Replacement Theory.


I too, suck at DIY. I'm okay with electrics, as that's just a deadly form of electronics, and I know enough about an engine to poke and prod my mower. But, well, there's a rotting door on the end wall of the barn that really needs to be replaced. I'd make a new door, if I had anything that even remotely resembled talent.



Let's get one thing straight right away. I'm not an audiophile. I grew up in the 80s with cassettes and crappy headphones, and progressed into the 90s where damn near every CD was "mastered" (note the scare quotes) to sound louder than every other one and to hell with anything resembling dynamic range. In the mid '00s I had a little MP3 player that had something like 256MB onboard and ran off a Z80 core (no, really) so 128kbit MP3 was about the only way to get a useful amount of stuff to listen to.

Therefore, just so you know, name-dropping amplifiers and speakers doesn't impress me. ☺
My needs are quite simple. Since symphonic metal and gothic rock are the sort of things I listen to, I would like enough bass that it doesn't sound like a speaker buried under a metal bucket. But I also want enough dynamic range that I can hear the high pitched things at the same time, like the flute or Simone Simons (there's my name drop!).
128kbit MP3 doesn't do it, as the bass is frequently muffled and "distant". It sounds better on streaming radio (often 128kbit) because they mess with the encoding to give more prominence to these frequencies. Or, you know, it could be an AAC station that just uses a better codec.

For MP3, 192-256kbit MP3 is better. I don't go much beyond this given half my content is liberated from YouTube, and the other half I have on CD so can access the raw PCM when I want (though, to be honest, to me there's barely any difference). I'm not going to get hung up on artefacts because I don't listen to music for the technical performance or to show off to myself my sound system (uh, it's an amplifier that 'claims' 800W through torturous misreading of the specs).

Why do I listen to music? Well, as a person my default setting is sarcasm mixed with boredom. I look distant, and make a lot of snarky comments. Given that my emotional range runs from A to, well, A... it's not only my default setting, it's pretty much my only setting.

So I listen to music, partly for pleasure, but also partly to experience emotions. It's how I process how I'm feeling. So it probably says a lot that one of the songs I like right now is "Human" by Beyond the Black (...we are human, born to die in the end...); and "Four Kinds Of Horses" (bright-side mix) by Peter Gabriel (it juxtaposes how religion is supposed to be a good thing with the darkness of the violence and terrorism that it so often inspires).

And, of course, "The Raven Child" by Avantasia because EPIC ROCKING!!!

So, you see, it's not about perfection, it's about the feelings.



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Gavin Wraith, 24th July 2023, 23:59
History was a patchy part of education; some parts done twice, most not covered at all. It was all kings, dynasties, dates and battles, apart from one year that was devoted entirely to Erasmus and his times. That is the virtue of the school being not in the slightest bit interested in O-levels or A-levels and therefore feeling free to teach what it wanted, not what some exam board wanted. The idea that history should study the lives of common folk had not really surfaced by the time I left school, though we were encouraged to read a book about the social impact of the potato. I think I learned more about European history from cartoons in Punch (bound volumes in the library going back to about 1800) than from history lessons. Ancient history we got plenty of, that was part of Classics. We got taken on a trip to the Ashmolean in Oxford to see for ourselves the technological evolutions in Greek pottery, the black on red and the red on black. With great delight we learned that our history books were all wrong when John Chadwick came down to give us a pre-publication lecture on how he and Ventris had deciphered Cretan Linear B. We were taught a lot about architecture and art, and were encouraged to date a building and guess its builder's pretensions from the style.  
It was from fellow pupils and their gramaphone records that I learned something about music. My tastes in music did not really form until long after school. There was no pop music when I was young, as far as I knew, let alone the phenomenon of each generation of youth marking its own decade with a different genre. Nor was music confounded with exhibitionism in those days. Neither of my parents were musical.
Anon, 25th July 2023, 10:10
(I'm assuming the "I'm not an audiophile" response was a reply to the last comment I posted on the previous entry!) 
I wouldn't consider myself an 'audiophile' either. Not by the modern definition at least. An 'audiophile' is someone who uses music to listen to their equipment, rather than the other way around. 
I don't have bits of tinfoil strategically placed under my turntable, nor do I have "cable lifters" to "keep the cables clear of any Earthbound magnetic fields", or other such garbage. 
An interesting read: 
I don't use £200 interconnects, or £100/metre speaker cable. Or £1,000 mains conditioners. 
I do have a Tacima filtered power strip, but this is largely because of the amount of RFI that gets spewed onto the mains here from all the computer kit (switching PSUs), servers etc. It does make a difference where the mains power is "noisy" (like it is here). But spending thousands on a "mains regenerator" is madness. 
Then there's "audiophile" Ethernet cables. Yes, really. Directional as well. Ummmm... 
Nope, I'm just a music lover with over-sensitive hearing. So yes, I like to hear my music on decent kit, it just sounds more enjoyable. 
A true 'audiophile' would recoil in horror when I say I listen to 90% of my music in high-bitrate MP3 format. (Honestly, you can't tell the difference if it's properly encoded.) And the other 10% on vinyl. They would further recoil when I say I use an AV receiver as my primary amplification - and probably faint with shock when I said that I normally leave it in "Pro-Logic IIx Music" mode, ie with the surround sound decoder turned on when I'm playing a stereo music source. 
'Audiophiles' think that vinyl, with all its pops, clicks, noise, frequency limitations, harmonic distortion and poor stereo separation, is somehow 'purer' than a digital source. I (along with a friend) did a comparison between vinyl, CD and MP3 of the exact same track ("Sailing Away" by Chris De Burgh, from the album Flying Colours - I have this on CD and vinyl, with the MP3 version being ripped from the CD). My comment was "the vinyl sounds almost as good as the digital version but with a few pops and clicks, no difference between the CD and MP3". Said friend (female, early 20s, so excellent hearing) came to the exact same conclusion. 
As for CDs being mastered louder and louder: 
I generally find that most stuff recorded after the mid-late 2000s is unlistenable, regardless of genre. There are some exceptions, but usually it's a case of 30 seconds of it and "nope, that sounds horrible" and skip. I don't buy "remasters" for that reason, in fact I took the time to track down original releases of things like Brothers In Arms, or Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man", to replace the remastered discs I'd bought before I was aware of the 'loudness war'. I also managed to track down 1990 CD re-issues of both Yazoo albums - synth-pop classics such as "Don't Go" and "Only You" with their full uncompressed dynamic range. 
It does seem that the loudness war has been lost; all the streaming services now normalise all the tracks for consistent volume, so there's no point compressing the hell out of it as it'll just get turned down by Spotify / Apple Music / Youtube Music etc. Dynamic range does seem to be making a return. It's just a shame most modern music is so goddamned awful!
J.G.Harston, 29th July 2023, 00:16
For the last 30+ years I keep being gobsmacked that I seem to have been to the only school in the world that covered the slave trade in more than "bad thing happened, bad thing was bad", and how Britain was the first country in history to recoil from the horror of it and embark on a crusade to stamp it out. 
Mention the West Africa Squadron to people and they're blank. 3.5% of the UK's GDP was spent over a century on stemping out slavery, not just in British territories, but in foreign countries by engaging in what was legally piracy - intercepting slave ships, boarding them and "looting" them. Faced with the dilemma of taking the slaves "home" to Africa where they would just be recaputured by the slavers and sold again, they were settled in the British Carribean. Freedom, land, and British Citizenship. It may have been crappy land, until the 1950s the citizenship was mostly a trinket. 
Part of the ungainly Scramble for Africa was British interests wanting to get to the source of the slave trade, the African slavers inland, and stamp out the source. You can argue how ethical and effective it was, a bit like invading Panama to cut off the cocaine to eliminate the supply to the drug trade at home. 
Additionally, people apply today's values and complain that the British government abolished slavery by buying the slaves and liberating them. But for millenia, That Is How You Liberate A Slave. And within 15 years or so, that purchase price had been taxed off the former owners, the end result being that the former slave owners paid for the liberation of their slaves. 
I could go on about this for ages, I'm sure I'm coming across as a grumpy grouch.
J.G.Harston, 29th July 2023, 00:44
From your GCSE memories, you're about five years younger than me, so you won't remember Look And Learn. I had piles and piles of them as a kid, covered all sorts of stuff in an interesting and captivating way. I had a book which covered the "new and controversial" theory of plate tectonics. :)

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