October 2011


I’ve been working on a couple new web pages and I once again have encountered one of my worst and best qualities. Part of me just wants to pull up some GUI webpage builder and whip up a fancy-pants page, but I the analytical part of me wants to understand how to actually code a webpage. As with chemistry, having a shallow and glossy understanding of a process might get me through the most basic problems, but it’s better to really understand the foundations of a topic. Such is the case with web authoring and coding. Long ago, I made myself learn a bit of basic HTML coding, nothing that would change the world, but enough that I could troubleshoot my own hyperlinks and formatting commands. Then I put together my webpage using SharePoint (or whatever the 2003 ancestor of SharePoint was) and became quite satisfied with with the result. I used frames and thought I had a pretty awesome page that was well designed and easy to navigate. I embraced that page for many years and because I used a shiny GUI interface I never bothered to learn any scripting languages or really advanced my cursory understanding of HTML.

Now it’s time for a change. I’m redesigning my web page and I have decided that I would take the plunge into more modern standards. At the very least, I’m getting into CSS and I see some real advantages to it. But what about some of the other newer tricks and standards? What about PHP? Glancing up at my browser’s address bar, I see that I’m working in a .php environment right now. What to do?

I WILL code my own page. It will not be flashy (oh, and flash is another thing…), and may look like something designed by a 12-year-old, but I’ll get there. It may seem stubborn to insist upon line-coding in 2011, but GUI is contributing to more and more people who know how to use computers but are in many ways technologically illiterate. I don’t want to be one of those people.

OK, now it’s time to wind down before I get a good night’s sleep to begin another fun-filled week.

From the lofty title of this post and the introspective subtitle of the blog, this post might be expected to be some deep, meaningful commentary on existence. It’s not. At least it’s not going to start out that way, we’ll have to see where it goes.
In the inky pre-dawn hours this morning I was having breakfast and once again noticed that as I approached the end of my bowl of Life cereal, some of the cereal floated while other bits sank. There didn’t appear to be a pattern; there were whole squares floating and whole squares sinking, broken squares floating and sinking, tiny crumbs of Life floating, and tiny crumbs of Life sinking.
When I’m feeling adventurous and partake in a cereal from the granola/muesli side of the breakfast spectrum, I expect some floaty bits and some sinky bits; the bits are decidedly different. Rolled oat and crunchy bits tend to sink, flakes and puffed grains are more likely to float. It makes sense. But what about Life? All the bits of Life are the same. They’re the same size, the same shape, they’re made of the same processed grains, they enter the bowl together, they soak up milk together, the bits should be as close to identical as possible in a manufactured food. They should all exhibit the same density relative to milk so they should either all float or all sink.
So that’s my dilemma. Sometimes Life floats and sometimes Life sinks. It might appear that all Life is the same, and it probably is when it’s sitting in the box, but when you add milk, Life changes. Some bits of Life probably have little bubbles of air trapped in them, making them float. Other bits of Life are thoroughly enveloped by the milk and they sink. At the beginning of breakfast, there are so many floaty and sinky bits of Life that none of them can really float or sink, but with every spoonful removed from the bowl of Life, the floaty and the sinky bits begin to distinguish themselves. Sometimes you dig the spoon deep to dredge up the milk-soaked sinky bits of Life; other times you skim the surface to get a spoonful of floaty bits of Life. When the bowl is empty, you’re left with a full belly and memories of both the floaty and sinky bits of Life that will last until lunch.
So that’s my thoughts on the buoyancy of Life. It’s a pretty good cereal.

It’s a wonderfully relaxed day, cloudy with occasional rain, nothing specific to accomplish. I’ve been getting a lot accomplished today, but I don’t feel any real pressure to accomplish anything. If I really wanted to stress out, I could probably find a long list of things to do, but I’d rather have a slow day. I’ve had a soft spot for rainy Sundays for many years. It’s a true day of rest and it stirs memories of rainy Sundays in the past, in a previous existence, in a life that I no longer have. I rarely indulge in melancholy daydreaming, but when the fall colors combine with gentle rain and a muting cloud cover, it’s a perfect chance to quietly work and reflect on the past.
Hmm, I’ve said nothing with a lot of words. I suppose I should go back to being productive.

With a myriad of fields to study, why did I choose chemistry? My high school chemistry teacher, Dale Lium. Yes, taking inspiration from a teacher is cliche, but that is only because it is so often true. I tended to prefer the more old-school teachers in high school, the ones that were sometimes called grumpy old men. I didn’t see them as grumpy, I saw them as having high standards and being disappointed in the erosion of the average student. Now that I have experience as an educator, I can understand this even more. Mr. Lium had (and still has) a parched-dry sense of humor that struck a chord with me. I found him to be highly intelligent, incredibly witty, and an extremely nice person. He was able to make chemistry come alive for me, relating all of the wonders of the natural world to foundational chemical principles. This ability to understand the world around me, rather than just wade through facts and memorization, was thoroughly intriguing and Mr. Lium’s personality was the catalyst I needed to fuel my love of science and specifically chemistry.
After high school, I was fortunate to have a series of equally inspiring professors in college. Although I was not always (or often) the best student in my classes, I always had a passion for chemistry and it has remained my one true love for the past 24+ years.

This is a place for all the bits and pieces related to my life as a chemist and an educator.  I signed up at wordpress.com as part of the SciFund Challenge, an experiment in crowdfunding of scientific research.  I’ll post updates about the challenge.  I’ve blogged for a few years for my General Chemistry classes and for the Senior Seminar course at Minnesota State University Moorhead.