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    This blog entry and all other text on this blog is copyrighted, you are free to read it, discuss it with friends, co-workers and anyone else who will pay attention.

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making more waste

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that apple are considering doing away with the 3.5 mm headphone socket on a key product. I have to ask why this is being done, rather than being done to make the product more slim I suspect that it is being considered in the interests of making more money by forcing people to buy a more expensive set of headphones which come with a “special” plug.

Autism / vaccines and other matters

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that a court has “decided” that a vaccine causes autism, but when you look at the matter it is not what it might seem. The web site making the bold claim . But when you look into things it is not so simple.

It can be seen that the bold claim that the court ruled that the vaccine causes autism is not true. The US court in question (National Vaccine Injury Compensation program) operate in the following manner. They have a list of conditions, if a person is vaccinated and then within a given time span develops one of the listed conditions then they get paid compensation regardless or not it can be shown that the vaccine caused the medical problem.

Rather than the court making a ruling that the vaccine was at fault, all the court has done is to rule that a person had a disease from a special list which then makes them eligible for compensation.

In terms of “doing the best for the public” the US NVIC is doing a good and reasonable thing, it promotes the use of vaccines by providing a safety net for those rare cases where the vaccine causes harm. In a similar way some interesting things have come out of Japan in recent times.

It has been reported by some that a court has ruled that a Fukushima clean up worker got cancer as a result of his occupational exposure and thus is getting compensation. The man had a 20 mSv exposure (not that large) but the state has approved giving the man some payment. The problem is that we do not know the rules at this point of how the government in Japan decide if they should (or should not) pay compensation. How do we know if in Japan a system similar to the NVIC operates for people who have had occupational radiation exposure ?

In the UK a scheme exists named the Compensation Scheme for Radiation-Linked Diseases to make a claim you have to have had worked for a UK organisation which is part of the scheme (Sellafield, some naval dockyards and some others) and you have to have had a dose and been a member of a union which is part of the scheme. The dose you had must have been sufficiently high that you have at least a 20 % chance of having had a radiation induced cancer. If you are interested then a Q&A section on the scheme can be seen here.

Without a knowledge of how the compensation case was considered in Japan it is impossible for anyone to decide what the case means to us all. A second case exists in which a worker claims to have been exposed to more than 100 mSv, we will also have to watch that one with interest. We should also be careful of the fact that a civil court in Japan operates using a different standard of proof to the UK, the US and Sweden.

H bomb test in North Korea

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that the North Korean government have claimed that they have detonated a hydrogen bomb. While this is mainly a blog about science rather than my personal moral views I will share with you that fact that I hold the view that this bomb test was ill advised and an act which is morally wrong.

While I might not agree with a lot of the things which some of the hard-line antinuclear activists say and write, but I think many of them will agree with my view that the North Korean government should not waste the money, time or effort on a nuclear bomb program while the quality of life for the normal population is so poor. I have to ask the question of how many hospitals, clean drinking water supplies, schools and rice farms could be constructed and operated using the money required to build a nuclear bomb program.

Now so far it is not clear what did (or did not) occur at about 01:30 UTC this morning, if a nuclear bomb detonation has occurred then it will release radioactivity into the air. The pictures I saw on the news suggested that the bomb was not deep underground, as I could see a mushroom cloud.

If a nuclear bomb has detonated in the air then the radioactivity should be detected by the world wide network of measurement stations which are intended to prevent a bomb test from going unnoticed. These test stations are operated by a UN body. The stations will be likely to detect radioactive xenon, the stations have a series of air monitors which will suck in large volumes of air and then measure the radioactivity in the air.

A range of different counting and concentration methods are used to detect different radionuclides, for the xenon I suspect that they will use some form of gas chromatography to concentrate the xenon and free it from other radioactivity to allow it to be better measured. Some papers have been released in which GC systems for the isolation of xenon from air have been reported.

Another method which I think that they are using is beta/gamma coincidence counting. This is a method which can greatly reduce the effect of background radiation. One method of doing it is to use a scintillation detector which can detect the beta decay which occurs at the same time as a gamma photon is emitted. Using a high purity Ge detector in anticoincidence with a larger sodium iodide detector where the whole system is in coincidence mode with the beta detector then both the Compton scattering effects (nasty splat on the low energy side of the spectrum) and the background could be be suppressed. Add to that a muon detector outside the lead castle for the first three detectors and you could even get rid of some cosmic ray effects. But it is unlikely that a cosmic ray would cause an event in the beta detector or occur by chance at the same time as an event in the high purity Ge detector. But I am sure that it might give some additional improvement in the system.

There is a slight problem, while the popular media want to be the first to report the news the academic world and CTBTO want to get it right rather than report it fast. So the CTBTO may be a little slower than some other bodies to release the data. What they will do is to make a careful review of the data before they explain to us what has happened. Also they are not allowed to hand out data to NGOs, people like me or the general public. They can supply data to a national CRBN body such as FOI in Sweden, then these bodies can use the data. This might irk some people, but in it is a wise precaution against the misuse of data or someone who knows less than they think they do who then misunderstands the data and makes some outlandish statement.

While some of my readers might not like or trust the CRBN bodies, I think that they have fewer vested interests than industry or pressure groups like Greenpeace. One should bear in mind that all the CRBN bodies have access to the data, so unless the large range of diverse states who can get data from CTBTO can all agree to lie to the public (I can not imagine that ever happening) you will get the truth given time for the data to be reviewed and examined in detail. This is as even if one state does not release a truthful statement it is likely that another will release the truth. Already data from the Fukushima event collected by the test ban stations has been discussed by some of the CRBN bodies, so I think that given time the data from this event will be released to the public with an explanation of what the data means.

Getting back on the air

Dear Reader,

Last night I tried to get my shortwave station back on the air, when I first switched on I could not hear anyone or anything. I thought that late at night in winter it would be reasonable not to assume that 14 MHz or 7 MHz will be doing very much in Sweden.

So I choose to see if I could tune up the aerial and get a good match, for some reason no matter what the ATU was set to I got the high SWR alarm on my radio. I had horrible thoughts that the radio had malfunctioned, then I choose to try the ATU on the dummy load setting. Again I got a high SWR alarm.

I then grabbed a ohm meter, turned off the radio and I unplugged the aerial lead from the rig. I tried to measure the resistance of the dummy load, connecting the meter at the UHF (m series) plug which goes into the rig I got an infinite resistance. Cursing this I thought maybe I am not making proper contact with the surfaces of the plug.

I then unplugged the other end of the lead, and tried the same test. This time I got a nice 52 ohms. Which is much better. I then choose to measure the lead, the core of the coax was connected to the male spike like bits of the plugs at both ends, but somewhere in the 50 cm of cable and the two M series plugs the braid was there was an open circuit.

Now with a spare patch lead the equipment worked in a more normal way, now looking at the infernal lead I am thinking should I just throw it in the bin or should I repair it. The great problem is knowing where the fault is. If you guess wrong then you could unsolder the wrong plug. I intend to examine the lead using a dip meter and then post the results for you good people to look at.

Now have a happy new year.

Cornstarch and water mixtures

Dear Reader,

Recently my daughter’s boyfriend showed me a mixture of cornstarch and water which has interesting mechanical properties. The simple mixture of the two was similar to that of boron oxide crosslinked silicone oil which is known as “silly putty”. It was fun to play with in the kitchen sink.

I was also asked by my daughter about the pharaoh’s serpent which I had to respectfully decline to do at home as I do not want to handle mercury thiocyanate in my home. When this salt burns it forms a long tail from a small volume of fuel. This experiment is likely to form a lot of  mercury vapor and the “snake” is likely to contain small droplets of mercury.

I have seen an even more crazy experiment, which is described as a “portal to hell“, I am not sure what the point of doing such an experiment in front of the students is. It appears to be a combination of ammonium dichromate and mercury thiocyanate. Looking at the experiment it looks like a rather crazy overgrown indoor firework, I just fail to see the point of doing it as it will not teach the students anything other than the fact that the chemistry academic knows how to make exciting looking effects appear in the lab.

A dramatic experiment which is known as Liebig’s blue devil or the “barking dog” is one which I would be uneasy about doing, it is a combination of carbon disulfide and nitric oxide which burns at a very high speed forming blue light and marking a barking noise as the reaction front travels through the mixture. I would strongly advise my readers not to attempt this experiment, it is interesting that Liebig was hurt when the experiment went wrong, he was hit in the torso by flying debris. His life was saved by his snuff box which prevented a shard of glass from striking his femoral artery. I would like to suggest that anyone who wants to do this experiment should first consider what can they gain from doing this experiment, and secondly how they would be able to cope with an accidental explosion. If I was to do the barking dog, I would be wearing eye protection, hearing protection, heavy gloves to protect my hands and fire retardant clothing and I might consider wearing a bullet resistant vest or jacket to protect against flying debris.

Martin Shkreli arrested

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that Martin Shkreli has been arrested in the USA, he has been accused of trading in an illegal manner, a more detailed news report about the deeds which he is accused of can be seen here. Now it is possible to read a 51 page legal document about the crimes he is charged with if you do not have the time to read the original. It has some seven different crimes which Martin and another person are accused of. Now while some of the things he has been accused of sound serious to me, but we should understand that in the eyes of the law he is still innocent as he has not been convicted by a court.

If we look at the conduct of Martin then sadly even if he has behaved in a legal manner it has not been in what I would view as a moral manner. The company Turing Pharmaceuticals obtained the rights to a drug (pyrimethamine) and increased the price to a crazy level per pill, the former CEO of this company happened to be wait for it Martin Shkreli. I wrote former as he is no longer the CEO, he has been recently dismissed.

One of the things which Turing are accused of his preventing researchers obtaining their product, this is in an attempt to prevent someone else doing the comparative trials required to bring an alternative generic product to the marketplace. This is something which the RSC have accused Turing of having done, I see a simple solution. If Turing are able to control the distribution of their pills in the USA, then allow data obtained in a clinical trial of two or more versions of the drug done somewhere else (such as the UK) to be used by the US authority to make the choice regarding “should they issue a license” to a second supplier in the USA.

Drug regulators can be a bit funny (not funny ha ha) on data obtained outside their part of the world. For example in Japan it took a very long time (35 years) for low dose oral contraceptives to be licensed, in the 1980s they wanted to do safety trials for the “pill”. But I have to ask why it took until 1999 to decide if the pill was safe and effective. My reasoning is that a normal and rational drug regulator would be using data from around the world. It would pay attention to studies done in China, USA, Russia, France, Sweden, the UK and elsewhere. It could be quite easy in the early 1990s to make a good decision based on non japanese studies. One paper on the subject expressed the view that because of some vested interests the regulator in Japan was very slow to approve of “the pill”. For more detail see A. Goto, M.R. Reich and I. Aitken, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1999, volume 282, issue 22, pages 2173 to 2177.

Now this price increase brings me to an important point, I hold the view that a company, even a drug company, should try to make a profit. A reasonable profit, they should cover the cost of production, research and development together with the other costs of running the company. But it is immoral to push up the price of a life saving product to the point that people are unable to afford it.

One of the problems is that some people want to ignore intellectual property rights, some people want to be able to infringe patents and do other things which harm the interests of the intellectual property owners. For example India wants to force drug companies to give cheap licenses to produce drugs to Indian drug makers. Now like many things it is not a black and white issue.

The argument for is: “By forcing the western drug company to issue a license to an Indian company, that the general public in India will have an affordable supply of a lifesaving drug”

The argument against is “By harming the ability of a drug company to make money from a drug which is protected by a patent, it reduces to removes any incentive for the drug company to develop any new drugs”

While what India is doing is controversial, the protections granted by law to the holders of intellectual property could become even weaker. The Pirate party have stated

We will reduce the duration of copyright to 10 years, closer to the original duration of 14 years, reflecting the much greater ease with which works can now be made and distributed.

Shorter copyright will encourage artists to keep on creating new work; will allow new art forms, such as mash-ups; and will stop big businesses from relying on large back-catalogues rather than investing in new content.

Our 10 year copyright length will include within it a renewal after 5 years, allowing works in which the creator is no longer interested to fall into the public domain after 5 years.

Now as a person who has produced content looks at this, I am thinking that if the copyright I own on what I write only lasts for ten years then I have close to no incentive for making any more original content. They may not understand it, or choose to ignore it, but sometimes copyright holders such as me are known to give away their product with a very relaxed license or even for free with “copyleft”. The problem is that to operate copyleft requires copyright to exist. I mailed the UK Pirate party on the 17th of December to ask them exactly what they mean. I was mailed back very quickly on the same day by their deputy leader, well regardless of what we might end up thinking of them they give a “random blogger” what I would call the royal treatment.

Now it is important for us not to allow the fact that they so quickly made contact with me to alter our view of their ideas, David Elston confirmed that they want to reduce the length of all legal protections for intellectual property to only ten years. David expresses the view that strong laws protecting intellectual property do not provide any protection, I would have to disagree the ability of a person or company to obtain a court order to stop something which is infringing their intellectual property rights is a useful thing to be able to obtain. My own view of civil law is that going to court is something not to be taken lightly but when you are dealing with someone who ignores nice and polite letters, and refuses to try to resolve things with less formal means then you may have little choice but to start a lawsuit.

He also used the argument on me that Ofcom figures suggest that file sharers, copyright violators in the view of others, spend more money on line. His data indicates that for each £ 16 spent on line by regular internet users the file sharers spend £ 26. I think that this is a bad argument. It does not prove that file sharers spend more money in any particular place.

I might spend next to no money on wine but a bank robber who has held up SEB, NatWest, HSBC and add the name of another bank might spend £ 300 a week on fancy wine. This does not mean that the bank robber is better for society than me, he might spend more at the wine shop but if you consider the rights of the banking sector (and the people working there together with customers) then the bank robber still is harmful to the banking sector regardless of how much he spends at the wine shop. Even while bankers might not be popular after the banking scandals of the last decade we need a healthy banking sector for society to operate well.

It does not matter how much a person spends or how many charity donations they make if they trample on the rights of someone else by stealing from another person. Without seeing the exact text of the Ofcom report it is impossible to know exactly where the two populations spend their money.

Now after we have seen two extremes in the debate on intellectual property, lets return to the chemistry of the matter. Which I think will be less troublesome to my readers. V.Sethuraman and P.T.Muthiah in Acta Crystallogr.,Sect.E:Struct.Rep.Online , 2002, volume 58, page o817 reported the crystal structure of the free base. I have looked at this. In common with the salts of the drug which are also present in the Cambridge database the two aromatic rings are not coplanar. The single bond linking the two is twisted such that the amino and ethyl groups on one aromatic ring (the diazine) are far away from the hydrogens on the benzene ring. This is what I think is a clear examine of steric inhibition of an electronic effect which would lower the energy of the molecule. Here is one view of the molecule.

pyrimethamine first view

pyrimethamine first view

Here is another view in case the first one was not clear in your mind.

pyrimethamine a view along the C-C bond linking the two aromatic rings

pyrimethamine a view along the C-C bond linking the two aromatic rings

The fact that P.K.Bryant, J.Colby, R.G.Jenks, P.R.Lowe, C.H.Schwalbe in Acta Crystallogr.,Sect.A, 1984, volume 40, page C79a reported the crystal structure of the HCl salt is clear evidence that the drug has been known about for a very long time.

Urea nitrate

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that a man and his wife have recently been in court accused of the heinous crime of preparing a terrorist bombing. The explosive in this case is urea nitrate which is formed by the protonation of urea by nitric acid. As I have not heard of this substance before I looked its crystal strucutre. Yu.V.Nelyubina, K.A.Lyssenko, D.G.Golovanov and M.Yu.Antipin published a study of this compound which was published in CrystEngComm 2007, volume 9, page 991. The unit cell looks like this, you might think it does not look very interesting.

Unit cell of urea nitrate

Unit cell of urea nitrate

To get a true idea of what the solid looks like you need to grow this fragment and then trim off some atoms, then you will be able to see the hydrogen bonded layers.

Hydrogen bonded layer in urea nitrate

Hydrogen bonded layer in urea nitrate

When you look at the a different urea salt where the anion is hexafluorosilicate, you can see a different type of layer in the solid. Here the number of possible hydrogen bonds are smaller as there is a much lower charge to radius ratio of the anion. The anion is less coordinating. The layers here again like a chess board. Here is a picture of part of a layer.

Ball and stick version of urea hexafluorosilicate

Ball and stick version of urea hexafluorosilicate


Spacefilling version of urea hexafluorosilicate

The basic unit in this solid is a protonated urea which is hydrogen bonding to the hexafluorosilicate anion. Here it is in all its glory.

Hydrogen bonding between the protonated urea and the hexafluorosilicate

Hydrogen bonding between the protonated urea and the hexafluorosilicate



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