Friday, January 31, 2014

What, oh what, did they do to Dirk ? Dirk Gently that is.

A while ago when I was blogging about Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams I discovered that the BBC made a television show based on, no - not based on, um loosely affiliated with the book. I watched the trailer for the show on youtube ( and did some random scream therapy. 

What they came up with resembles taking this ...              
                                               ... and putting it in this.

Some of ingredients seemed familiar, but most of it was turned into a pureed mess. And the best bits were left out entirely - no Reg. I can understand not wanting to make a faithful version of the book, but for Pete's sake, then come up with a new story entirely - don't lobotomize the plot from the book.

Now I was actually curious enough that I watch all four episodes that were produced before it was cancelled. As long as I could watch it and pretend they were using different names, I was good. The show wasn't bad in and of itself, but it certainly wasn't Dirk Gently.

For example, in the book we have this description of the title character ...

"Svlad Cjelli, infamously known as Dirk. ... He was rounder than the average undergraduate and wore more hats. That is to say, there was just the one hat which he habitually wore, but he wore it with a passion that was rare in one so young. The hat was dark red and round, with a very flat brim, and it appeared to move as if balanced on gimbals, which ensured its perfect horizontality at all times, however its owner moved his head. As a hat it was a remarkable rather than entirely successful piece of personal decoration. It would make an elegant adornment, stylish, shapely and flattering, if the wearer were a small bedside lamp, but not otherwise."

And this ...

"He wore a heavy old light brown suit which looked as if it had been worn extensively for bramble hacking expeditions in some distant and better past, a red-checked shirt which failed entirely to harmonize with the suit, and a green stripped tie which refused to speak to either of them. He also wore thick metal-rimmed spectacles, which probably accounted at least in part for his dress sense."

So someone read all of that and then came up with this ...

So - okay making Dirk more visually appealing for a mass audience (or as one reviewer put it ... "Purists may grumble that this isn't the Dirk Gently they wanted to see but its more accessible and practicable") can be a somewhat reasonable approach. But they also changed much of his personality and basically created a generic detective show with sci fi elements.

I was rather disappointed, but going to leave it at that ...  and then last night I finally got a chance to see the first episode of Sherlock.  Yes - I am an Earth Sciences professor.  I really do live under a rock. See ...

Low and behold ... I found out that Dirk                   was the low budget version of this ...
excised much of the book’s budget-swallowing imagination into something achievable on a frugal budget; bringing the idea down-to-earth as an eccentric cousin to the BBC’s Sherlock update. Purists may grumble this isn’t the Dirk Gently they wanted to see, but it’s more accessible and practicable.
excised much of the book’s budget-swallowing imagination into something achievable on a frugal budget; bringing the idea down-to-earth as an eccentric cousin to the BBC’s Sherlock update. Purists may grumble this isn’t the Dirk Gently they wanted to see, but it’s more accessible and practicable.
excised much of the book’s budget-swallowing imagination into something achievable on a frugal budget; bringing the idea down-to-earth as an eccentric cousin to the BBC’s Sherlock update. Purists may grumble this isn’t the Dirk Gently they wanted to see, but it’s more accessible and practicable.
excised much of the book’s budget-swallowing imagination into something achievable on a frugal budget; bringing the idea down-to-earth as an eccentric cousin to the BBC’s Sherlock update. Purists may grumble this isn’t the Dirk Gently they wanted to see, but it’s more accessible and practicable.
excised much of the book’s budget-swallowing imagination into something achievable on a frugal budget; bringing the idea down-to-earth as an eccentric cousin to the BBC’s Sherlock update. Purists may grumble this isn’t the Dirk Gently they wanted to see, but it’s more accessible and practicable.
excised much of the book’s budget-swallowing imagination into something achievable on a frugal budget; bringing the idea down-to-earth as an eccentric cousin to the BBC’s Sherlock update. Purists may grumble this isn’t the Dirk Gently they wanted to see, but it’s more accessible and practicable.

I mean seriously - the personality quirks, visualization of clues, the dynamics with "Watson," the hair ... it is disturbing.

 I think the thing that bugs me the most is that there are a variety of ways of being highly intelligent and socially inept. Just walk around my building and meet the faculty. I am sick to death of the genius jerk being the only version that we ever see. Why did they have to take all the things that made Dirk interesting and basically make him Sherlock with an added sleaze factor ???  Argh !  And the whole, you can't avoid comparisons with Sherlock Holmes if you are doing a detective show, piffle. YES YOU CAN!  Give them a different personality! Good grief!

On the plus side ... now I get to watch Sherlock !!! Cool !  I quite liked the first episode and John.  

Slightly spoilery - but 

 ... did anyone else wave at the screen saying, I'm familiar with Princess Bride.  I know that trick.

Overman has wisely excised much of the book’s budget-swallowing imagination into something achievable on a frugal budget; bringing the idea down-to-earth as an eccentric cousin to the BBC’s Sherlock update. Purists may grumble this isn’t the Dirk Gently they wanted to see, but it’s more accessible and practicable. And while Dirk Gently is certainly another gimmicky detective series (yawn), its details are unique and engrossing enough to shrug off the genre’s clichés.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A peak into The Golem and the Jinni plus The Disappearing Spoon

I am very slowing managing to read a few pages of The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker each night before falling asleep.  This was the first week of classes and I have been coming home completely wiped out so forward progress has been a little lacking. As a bonus, I am also including The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean in this weeks snippets. 

For Book Beginnings on Friday hosted by Rose City Reader here is the first sentence of each. Bet you can't tell which is which :) 

"The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship."

"When most people think of the periodic table, they remember a chart hanging on the front wall of their high school chemistry class, an asymmetric expanse of columns and rows looming over one of the teacher's shoulders."

(For the record, I love period tables and my high school chemistry teacher was awesome cool and liked to blow things up in class.) 

And for The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here are some things from page 56 

"Far across the Atlantic, the city of Konin in the German Empire bustled on as usual, barely altered by the departure of Otto Rotfeld. The only real change came when the old furniture shop was leased by a Lithuanian and turned into a fashionable café; all agreed that it improved the neighborhood immensely."

and the 56% mark ...

"Some literary scholars think that L. Frank Baum's 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz– whose Dorthy wore silver, not ruby, slippers and traveled on a gold-colored brick road to a cash-green city –was really an allegory about the relative merits of the silver versus the gold standard." 

West Virginia Water Testing Results

The West Virginia Division of Homeland Security Emergency Management now has Operational Sampling Results listed on their webpage, as well as other documents relating to the spill response.

According to the documents:

1. All Lab results are recorded in parts per million (ppm). 
2. CDC Health Threshold is 1 part per million (1,000 parts per billion). 
3. Samples reported in this Tracking Log are tested to a level of 10 parts per billion (ppb). Lab results are reflected in parts per million (ppm).
4. Any Lab result below 10 parts per billion (ppb) is reflected as Non Detected (ND).

The thing I am not seeing is a document explaining how they are performing the tests and anything on QA/QC.

Ken Ward was on NPR's Fresh Air Talking about Chemical Leak in West Virginia - January 29th

This interview is well worth a listen. It gives you an up close look at what was and is going on concerning the chemical spill and the actions of state and federal agencies following the incident.

Interview Highlights

On how the chemical leak was discovered
Some people who live in that part of town called in both to the metro 911 — the county emergency operation center — and to the state Department of Environmental Protection complaints of an odor, that they smelled some sort of a strong licorice odor in the air.

The Department of Environmental Protection sent a couple of air quality inspectors out and ... when they first went there they were told by company officials, "No, we're not having any problems. What are you talking about?" They asked to tour the site. The inspectors went out and they noticed there was a problem at one of the tanks. They described to me a 400-square-foot, 3- to 4-inch-deep pool of this chemical that had leaked out of a hole in the tank, and a 4-foot-wide stream of this stuff that was pouring across the containment area ... and it was kind of disappearing ... into the river. ... Much of the Elk River was frozen over so you couldn't immediately see that it was in the river.

The problem that arises from that is that Freedom Industries [the company that owns the chemical storage tanks] had a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection — a storm water permit, a permit to govern runoff from its facility. One of the requirements of that permit is that they immediately report any spills. The Department of Environmental Protection says they didn't report this spill to the state and the fact that they didn't report it immediately delayed some efforts at containing the spill and certainly affected the size of it and made the situation worse than it necessarily had to be.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday - well actually I am waiting on Thursday

I just found out that Thursdays with the Crown, the third Castle Glower book, by Jessica Day George, will be out in September 2014! 

So it is good to know when it is coming but ACK! What a long wait !!!

More than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil spilled from rail cars in the US last year

There are very valid reasons to be concerned about pipeline construction (see Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion in Manitoba, Canada for example) but what other options do we have for shipping petroleum products in a nation completely dependent on them ? 

Well - if you don't have a pipeline, you can ship oil by rail, right ... there is an extensive network of rail lines that can be used for distribution of Bakken oil.

How has that been working out?  Not so well it turns out  ... there seem to be some serious infrastructure issues, as well as design issues with the rail cars themselves (see Casselton Train Collision and Derailment for example) 

For an even more dramatic example, take a look at this image from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada of the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic derailment.

Some background: On July 6, 2013, a fire breaks out in an unmanned 74-car freight train, 72 of which were loaded with Bakken formation crude oil. Somehow the rolled downhill and derailed. At 1:15am, the town of Lac-Mégantic is rocked by a powerful series of explosions. Dozens of businesses and homes are destroyed in the blast, roughly half of the downtown area, is destroyed. Forty-seven people are killed. (If you are interested in the timeline see

According to the Transportation Safety Board, Canada's railways saw 143 accidents involving dangerous goods in 2013, up from 119 a year earlier. And there have been new incidents this month. On Jan. 7 a CN freight hauling crude oil derailed near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick sparking a fire that burned for several days.

According to an analysis of the most recent data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration more oil was spilled from trains in the U.S. in 2013 than in every year between 1975 and 2012 combined


Trains with 70 - 100 crude cars are a relatively recent occurrence and the tracks were not designed with this type of hazard in mind. On January 23, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in coordination with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, issued recommendations that shipments avoid populated areas and that crude oil be added to a list of hazardous materials which require tougher routing protocols. The problem is that for Bakken oil headed to refineries in the east, alternative train routes are limited.

For example, the most direct route eastward from the Bakken region of North Dakota is through Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, then Chicago. The alternate route for Canadian Pacific (CP) trains goes north to Winnipeg, Manitoba, across Northern Ontario, southeast to Toronto and likely to Montreal before heading south to the United States. You exchange Chicago for three of Canada's largest cities.

Moving south isn't rift with routing choices either ... 

The crude oil produced in the Bakken also has some unusual characteristics that make it more hazardous. Tests indicate that Bakken oil is a lot more volatile than other grades of oil, which might explain the huge explosions seen in the past few months. The oil also appears to be highly corrosive. The Federal Railroad Administration pointed to rising numbers of oil cars that showed a “form of severe corrosion” on the inside of the tanks, covers and valves. This is in addition to the fact that the NTSB issued several safety recommendations to PHMSA regarding the inadequate design and poor performance of the DOT-111 tank cars commonly used to ship crude oil. 

We should, hopefully, be seeing some significant changes in the next few months to improve the safety of crude oil shipping practices in the United States and Canada. 

Oh the weather outside is frightful ...


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Desert Kit Fox

Desert kit fox | Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Desert kit fox | Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Chris Clarke has reported that for a second year there have been no signs of the distemper virus in the desert kit foxes tested by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is quite good news.

In 2011, at least eleven foxes died during an outbreak on the site of the Genesis solar project in Riverside County, CA. It was the first time distemper had been reported in desert kit foxes and the source of the outbreak is still unknown. The virus seemed to progress quite rapidly in the foxes leading to worries that they might die off before they had even been counted.

10,000 gallons of chemicals spilled in West Virginia on Jan 9

According to news reports this morning Freedom Industries now believes that 10,000 gallons of chemicals leaked from that compromised tank on January 9th. Their initial estimate was 2,000 - 5,000 gallons and was upped to 7,500 gallons within days of the spill. Initial reports on the size of the tank holding the chemicals also varied and the numbers still don't seem to quite add up. 

As reported in the Charleston Daily Mail ...

Freedom told the DEP [West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection] it had 110,375 gallons of the two chemicals combined on Jan. 8 in three different tanks. After the spill the company moved the rest of the chemical to a location it owns in Nitro, called Poca Blending LLC.
As of Jan. 21 Freedom "measured" 100,233 gallons in six tanks at the Poca Blending site. 

"The difference between the value from the morning of Jan. 9 and the value from Jan. 21 is 10,142 gallons. We therefore estimate that approximately 10,000 gallons of MCHM/PPH blend was released the morning of Jan. 9," Freedom said in a response to a DEP order.

This just fills your with confidence doesn't it - especially since the reported tank sizes for the three tanks on site that stored the MCHM/PPH mixture come to a smaller total than 100,000 gallons? Hummm.

Freedom Industries is under a DEP order to remove all of the chemicals from the storage facility by March 15th. There are 14 other tanks on the site that have been used to store thousands of gallons of different chemicals, though apparently it isn't clear how many gallons of what chemicals are currently on the site.

Aren't they even required to keep track of that sort of thing ?

Top Ten Tuesday
Hosted by the Broke and Bookish

Top Ten Worlds I'd Never Want To Live In OR (since some of you might not read stuff with different worlds) Top Ten Characters I'd NEVER Want To Trade Places With.

Well this one is tough, there are so many choices. When it comes to otherworldly fiction, I have to say that there are probably many fewer worlds that I would want to try to live on than there are ones that I would rather give a miss. Just going with the obvious, I wouldn't want to live on any worlds that are being decimated by plague or war.  I wouldn't want to be the red shirt in any science fiction epic nor the innocent victim in a murder mystery. I wouldn't want to switch places with pretty much any character in a novel by Charles Dickens, and along that theme ...

The Stays from
1) Not quite a "world" per se but, as much as I love Jane Austen, I would not want to live in Regency England - neither the real one nor the versions invented by most authors (even Georgette Heyer).

I like modern conveniences like toilet paper and showers. I like jeans and tee-shirts. The clothing may have been better than earlier or later periods, but short corsets with stays and busks still sound uncomfortable!

I also really don't think it would have been much fun to be a woman then. Sure a few got to do something fulfilling with their lives, but most women's lives much have really stunk.

2)  Pretty much any world written by Phillip K Dick - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, A Scanner Darkly, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.
Major themes in his work are things like what constitutes reality, mental illness, and what being human means. That and the fact that there really are no heroes in any of his stories mean that they might be interesting to read about but would be horrible to experience. I would never want to get trapped in one of his worlds. 

3)  Most books by Connie Willis would be pretty lousy to get trapped in ... you get the black plague, bombing raids, and the occasional colleague who decides to be TSTL rather than helpful.

If I had a way to travel through time, I really doubt that I would spend all of my time trying to go places that would likely get me killed.  How about answering questions like - who was Shakespeare? What really was in the Library at Alexandria ?  Why were the Moai on Easter Island really built ? Scholarly questions with less blowing up and dying of disease.

4)  I am pretty sure that actually being a character in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide series would be really unpleasant.

The books are really funny to read, but if you think about what happens to the characters ... getting your planet blown up, getting shot at by sardonic cops, generally never knowing what is going on and having your meals introduce themselves would get rather wearing. Plus there is basically no chance of getting a good cup of tea.

5) I certainly wouldn't want to live in the world of A Handmaid's Tale. That would be unbelievably horrible.  No dystopian world would be a nice place to live, but this one for me is particularly distasteful. Just thinking about it makes me want to scream. Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison earns a special mention here too. 

6) And generally speaking, I would not want to live in any of the worlds created by Stephen King. So many ways to die horribly and so many more to live horribly. No thanks! In fact you can pretty much take it as a given that I would not want to end up in any world that is being overrun by zombies, goblins, ghosts, ghouls, deranged people with axes, vampires, alien slime monsters or anything of that sort.

Any such existence would likely be short and end unpleasantly. Even the idea of being the hero in such a world doesn't thrill me to pieces, since you would have to spend all of your time chopping virtually everything you meet into pieces, preferably small ones, before you jump on them and then toss them into a fire. All of Lovecraft falls into this territory as well. 

7) Now here is a puzzle ... what would it be like to go to Wonderland ?
I am not terribly sure that I would like to ... after all, everyone there is mad.

`In that direction,' the Cat said, waving its right paw round, `lives a Hatter: and in that direction,' waving the other paw, `lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad.'
`But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
`Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: `we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
`How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
`You must be,' said the Cat, `or you wouldn't have come here.'

And who can argue with that logic ?  :) Seriously though, it is a very disturbing place. Somehow I don't think it would be pleasant to live there or even visit if you have a more developed sense of awareness than Alice did.

8) I have been reading The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker and I have to say that I would not want to trade places with the Golem. Bearing in mind that I haven't finished the book yet so I suppose something drastic might happen to change her fundamental circumstances, the concept of being constructed solely to serve and to require a master to be whole is very disturbing to me.

One of my favorite books is Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett which also wrestles with the concepts of self and agency.  A golem is a construct, lacking agency ...

"'It is Frightening To Be Free ? '
'You said it.'
'You Say To People "Throw Off Your Chains" And They Make New Chains For Themselves? '
'Seems to be a major human activity, yes.'" 

When a mob is about to smash Dorfl ...
"I Am Worth 530 Dollars."
"That's all you things think about, money!"
"Money Is All You Can Think About When All You Have is A Price."

I would not want to be a Golem.

9) My daughter and I are pretty sure that we would not want to be Where the Wild Things Are.  She loves the book (I think I read it a record 8 times in a row before I gave out one night) but she doesn't want to be too close to the Wild Things - or Outside Over There either.  Too scary.

9.5) How could I have forgotten to include Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury They burn books! 

10) And as a generalization, there are way too many worlds that have been created by a myriad of authors where women are treated as objects or simply as devices to further the plot for the book's 'hero'.  Nope. No thanks. I don't even want to read those books, much less live in those worlds. Bleargh.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion in Manitoba, Canada on January 25th

CREDIT: YouTube/Roberto Gomez via

Around midnight central time on Saturday January 25th a natural gas pipeline exploded near Otterburne, Manitoba. Flames from the explosion reportedly towered over 600 feet in the air and the resulting fire burned for more than 12 hours. Locally a state of emergency was declared, there were no injuries and the area was evacuated as a precaution, according to the National Energy Board.

In order to repair the damage, gas was shut off to over 3,000 local customers, with temperatures dropping to -20 degrees Celsius overnight. In North Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota, more than 100,000 customers of Xcel Energy, which provides natural gas through the pipe line supply, have been told to turn down their thermostats and reduce their natural gas usage. There is currently no timeline for resumption of service.

One interesting point is that this pipeline is owned by TransCanada, the same company behind the Keystone XL pipeline extension plan. 

for more see 

Video of the spill

The Loop - CTV News

Someone uploaded a clip from CTV too

Musing Mondays - a little rant

Musing Mondays

MusingMondays5Hosted by Should Be Reading 
My Musing: 
I really hate it when I am read a book for fun and happy then suddenly something happens in the book that is so outside the realms of what seems reasonable/acceptable/sane that it is like slamming into a wall. A character is suddenly subjected to something that makes you wonder why on Earth the author would do that ?  Just yuck!

This just happened to me yesterday with a book I had downloaded from Amazon. It was a light fluffy read - more or less a cozy style mystery. I was past the 84% mark, the story had started well but gone a little downhill and things were more unrealistic but not unreasonable so. We hadn't quite broached too stupid to live territory when bam - something just ugly happened out of left field. There was not point to it. It not advance the plot. It was just this bizarre punishment to one of the characters that didn't make any sense and frankly made me feel squicky for even reading it. I wanted a shower. I am not talking about a murder - which you might expect in such a book. Nor were the "bad-guys" involved in any way - which also might have at least made some sense.  It really was totally out of left field and I was left wondering why? Why, author, why?

Now I don't even want to finish reading the book, heck I don't even want to admit I was reading the book.

So I am really new to the idea of even attempting to review books.  What do you do with something like this ?  Warn potential readers ?  How without spoilers ?  Press on and finish the book?  Quietly toss the book onto the DNF and might use as kindling pile ?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? January 27

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

The It's Monday! What are You Reading? meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

So, classes start Monday. A leak in my office destroyed a bunch of articles and paperwork that I had on one side of my desk and on the credenza. My syllabi are a mess, I am stressed out of my mind and have the concentration of a gnat.

Needless to say, I haven't done much in the way of substantial reading. Instead I have read some kids books - lots of Level Three Books for early readers with my daughter plus I got copies of Ottoline and the Yellow Cat and Ottoline goes to School both by Chris Riddell. I liked them and will be reading the first one to my daughter tonight.

I am still working on The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. I am enjoying the story but it isn't the kind of brain popcorn I can cope with right now so I have been a little stuck. At least I have gotten to the point where the Golem and the Jinni have met. There are so many threads to the story I want to be able to pay attention while I am reading.

Last week I got a copy of  S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorset (you can see A peak into S.) but there is virtually no chance that I am really going to be able to start reading it this week. Sigh.

I am still hoping to get one non-fiction book knocked off of my TBR pile list before February. Since I am teaching geochemistry this semester, I am going to start with either Uncle Tungsten or The Disappearing Spoon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat 
by Chris Riddell 
Published: Harper Collins Children's Books
Format: Hardback
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 172
Genre: Children's Fiction
Source: own book
"A string of daring burgluries has taken place in Big City, and precious lapdogs are disappearing. Who is behind this crime wave ?"
Ottoline goes to School
by Chris Riddell 
Published: Harper Collins Children's Books
Format: Hardback
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 172
Genre: Children's Fiction
Source: own book
"Ottoline Brown and her best friend, Mr. Munroe, are going away to school ... and they're not scared in the least - even it is haunted." 

Cousin It
I have just discovered Ottoline. Ottoline is a young girl who lives in an apartment on the 24th floor of the Pepperpot Building with Mr. Monroe, who looks remarkably like Cousin It from the Addams Family when he puts on his disguise. Her mother and father are collectors who travel the world to get new items for their collections. Ottoline likes "solving tricky problems and working out clever plans." She has an odd shoe collection and one other collection that is very special to her (but you have to turn to page 45 if you want to see it).

The stories are rather short, but the artwork is quite fantastic as you can see. I can't really describe much about them without giving the stories away.I prefer the first book to the second.  There is a third, but we don't have that one yet.  I can't wait to read them to my daughter.  She is on her first sleepover and I am quietly going nuts missing her. I give the first book four claws and the second three and a half. 


Acute verses chronic toxicity and synergism - long term concerns for West Virginia

Toxicology is the basically the science of poisons. A more precise definition would be "the study of the adverse effects of chemicals or physical agents on living organisms.” Adverse effects include not only death or illness, but also subtle changes that may not be recognized for months, or even years, or until genetic material is passed on to progeny. Many chemicals can be used safely if exposure of people or susceptible organisms is kept below defined tolerable limits and handled with appropriate precautions. However, there are also some substances where no tolerable limit can be defined, in which case one needs to avoid any exposure. 

Toxicity is the relative ability of a substance to cause harm.  If it takes a large quantity of the substance to produce a harmful effect, that substance is said to have a low toxicity.  If only tiny amounts of the substance have a harmful effect, it is considered highly toxic.   But how precisely does one determine a substances toxicity and if there is a safe level of exposure ?

First we need to understand the difference between exposure and dose. Exposure is a function of the amount (or concentration) of the chemical involved and the duration of its interaction with people or organisms at risk. Dose is the actual amount of the substance that enters the body.  Both of these concepts are important when determining the toxicity of a material. 

There are several different ways that a person can be exposed to a toxin. One common method of exposure is skin or dermal absorption. This occurs with chemicals that can penetrate through healthy, intact skin, like organic mercury or phenol. Also common is exposure through inhalation. Gases and vapors are easily inhaled, while the likelihood of the inhalation of particles depends upon their size and shape. The smaller the particle, the further into the respiratory tract it can go.

Ingestion occurs when a substance is swallowed. Airborne particles breathed through the mouth or cleared by the cilia of the lungs will be ingested. In the workplace, accidental ingestion of toxins is generally fairly rare, though in the outdoor environment it can be a serious problem, especially with children. Young children have a tendency to swallow small amounts of soil while playing, and if they display mouthing behaviors (putting their fingers, thumbs or objects into their mouth) even larger amounts of soil can be ingested. When chemicals are spilled into the environment ingestion through drinking water is often the primary exposure route.

Less common is exposure through injection.  This typically occurs with medical workers who work with needles, scalpels and other sharp implements that can be contaminated with biomedical waste. Other possible injection exposures include venomous bites or stings, as with snakes, scorpions and spiders.

For the people in West Virginia the primary exposure routes of concern were/are ingestion via the drinking water supply and inhalation (remember that black licorice smell that people were reporting - that is an exposure).   

Once you have established the routes of exposure, one of the primary goals of toxicology is to define exposure limits. In deciding on what constitutes a tolerable exposure, the chief problem is often in deciding what exactly constitutes an injury or adverse effect.  An adverse effect can basically be defined as an abnormal, undesirable, or harmful effect to an organism, indicated by some result such as mortality, altered food consumption, altered body and organ weights, altered enzyme levels, or visible pathological change.

The amount of exposure to a substance that is required to produce an adverse effect varies over a very wide range depending on the chemical, the form in which exposure occurs and the susceptibility of an exposed organism. 

Another complicating factor is the synergistic effect. A synergistic effect is any effect of two, or more, chemicals acting together which is greater than the simple sum of their effects when acting alone: such chemicals are said to show synergism. We now know for sure that there were at least seven chemicals (not including the water component of the crude MCHC) in the tank that leaked into the Elk River, so one of the unknowns at this point is whether there will be any synergistic effects.

Bioaccumulation of toxins also confounds the establishment of acceptable exposure limits. Some substances may exist in the environment in very small quantities, but will accumulate in living organisms as they are exposed to contaminated water or soil (bioaccumulation). Then as larger predators ingest prey that has absorbed a small amount of the substance, they absorb an ever increasing amount of that toxin, eventually reaching the point where adverse effects are encountered. The dose ingested increases as you move up the food web (biomagnification), so that while prey organisms show no outward signs of exposure, top predators may end up with very significant health effects.  

Finally one also needs to evaluate the types of harm caused by both short-term and long-term exposure. This is where the possible effects of exposures in West Virginia get more worrisome. Substances that have adverse effects at the time of exposure or immediately after are said to be acutely toxic. An acute effect is abrupt and immediately detectable. For example, inhaling bleach fumes will make you start coughing immediately.  Drinking a large does of arsenic will cause intense gastric distress almost immediately and death shortly thereafter. In West Virginia, skin rashes and nausea were some of the signs of an acute exposure the chemicals in the drinking water. It is usually very easy to correlate cause and effect, and the relationship between the exposure and the resulting symptoms is usually obvious. Acute effects can be minor, such as coughing, major, such as lung damage, or fatal. Sometimes acute effects are reversible and once exposure is terminated, the symptoms cease.

Chronic toxicity, on the other hand, refers to the long-term effects of exposure that may not appear for months, years or even decades after the exposure occurred. Chronic effects often involve low levels of exposure resulting in very small doses over longer periods of time. Like drinking or breathing tiny amounts of a chemical every day for 30 years. Many of these substances have long latency periods (time intervals between first exposure and the development of the chronic effect). For example the latency period between exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma according to one study is 14 to 72 years (mean 48.7, median 51). For many chemicals, like the ones that spilled into the Elk River, the chronic effects are unknown. For one reason, it can be very hard to establish the relationship between substances and their effects due to the long periods of time involved. Chronic effects are not reversible.

So now the people of Charleston have unwillingly become a cohort in an epidemiology experiment where we may, some years down the road, finally see if there are going to be long term health impacts to their exposure. Epidemiology is the study of the occurrence of adverse health effects in humans where researchers look for patterns of exposure to chemicals, radiation, or even patterns of diet and attempt to relate these patterns to incidence of disease, damage or impairment. Unlike toxicology, which examines the response of individuals to substances, epidemiology is concerned with groups.

A peak into S.

So - still giddy about the fact that I now have a copy of S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorset but since I am preparing for the semester to start and trying to write lecture notes for geochemistry class using a new textbook, I need to focus.  **focus**

Okay - that isn't working. I can't resist the small chance to play with my new book so ...

For Book Beginnings on Friday hosted by Rose City Reader here are the first couple of sentences of Ship of Theseus the framing book by the fictitious author V.M. Straka (I am skipping past the Translator's Note and Forward by F. X. Caldeira - which starts "WHO WAS V. M. STRAKA?" and all of the marginalia and the first insert as well)




Dusk. THE Old Quarter of a city where river meets sea.

A man in a dark gray overcoat walks past the Quarter's streets, a tangle of cobblestone passages that spin from the harbor and thread themselves through neighborhoods where the smells of cooking spices vary but the sad decrepitude is shared. The buildings, black with the soot of centuries, loom over him, blocking out most of the sky and making it difficult to know at any given moment whether he is heading towards the water or away from it.


And for The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here are some things from page 56 of S.
The black text is the text from Ship of Theseus and the blue underlining and text are the marginal notes - I only added one. (There was an insert between 54 and 55 so we just missed one, which is just as well since I am not sure how I would have added that)


He clings to the foremast and raises himself up, breathing heavily, his blood pumping. He watches as Maelstrom descends to the main deck, (where the sailors are transferring unlabeled crates from the hold of the small ship and stowing them below.) What might they contain? Nothing edible, of course; the starving young sailor would have broken into them when his situation became dire. *

* how was that steak, by the way? The one Serin bought?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (Book 1: The Lunar Chronicles) 
by Marissa Meyer
Published: Feiwel & Friends 
Sold by: Macmillan
Digital edition (January 3, 2012) 
Format: ebook
Pages: 400
Genre: Science Fiction/YA Fiction ???
Source: own book

 I know that I am late to the boat on this book. I kept seeing great reviews and was interested, but honestly the cover kept putting me off. I finally decided to bite the bullet and downloaded the chapter 1-5 freebee on Amazon and started reading, mostly to avoid doing the non-fiction reading that I was supposed to be doing (oops!). After reading the teaser I was hooked.

A short introduction to the story: The protagonist is Cinder, a mechanic and a cyborg.  Because she is a cyborg, and adopted, she is a second-class citizen and for all purposes is basically owned by her adoptive mother. She works in a street market in New Beijing repairing machines to raise money for her family (which seems to be living outside of their means). There she meets Prince Kai, who needs his android repaired. We also learn that a deadly plague which has been decimating other areas and is now moving into the city. The story is a futuristic re-framing of the traditional Cinderella story and manages to have a very fresh, interesting take. 

Pros: The story is very fast paced and moves along quickly. I didn't even realize that it was 400 pages long until I looked it up after finishing the book. The pages just flew by. On there other hand, there were certain aspects that dragged a little bit. I mean we already knew from the framing device who Cinder was going to turn out to be (I don't think this counts as a spoiler - the whole story just screamed this). I wonder if the story would have been even stronger if there was a bit less dependence on the framing so developments might have been a bit more of a surprise ?  On the other hand, a lot of the fun of reading the story was seeing how the author dealt with the classic Cinderella tropes.

Cons: The cover still bugs the heck out of me. Yes it is eye-catching and quite attractive in its own way, but it doesn't connect to the story at all! The story is set in New Beijing with street markets, the naming structure, and dresses that sound more like kimonos than anything else due to the description of the sleeves.  

That shoe doesn't seem to have anything to do with what was being described in the story and it actively interfered with my ability to envision the world of the story. It is just wrong.

This also leads me to the biggest issue I was having with the book - kudos to the author for choosing to set the story in a futuristic China, but I never really felt that in the story. There were some thing that were vaguely oriental but it never really went past that.  The world building was very uneven. 

And the ending - ARGH!  Sorry, I do in fact live under a rock, so I didn't realize that the book wasn't going to end so much as simply stop.  Yeah, yeah so now I have get book two and book three comes out next month, but if that book ends the same way it is going to be a long wait to book four in 2015.  

Overall: I really enjoyed Cinder. Based on the cover and location in the book store (YA fiction) it is normally not something I would have picked up, but I am glad that I did.  I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series Scarlett and will probably jump on Cress as soon as it show up in the store.  Four nice sharp happy claws. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Swag! I have a copy of S.

So Cool! I just got up a copy of S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorset. I have been lusting after this book since I first heard of it.

Here is the blurb from Amazon:
"A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown."

Interesting though kinda vague. So that is not what will capture your attention. But the inside !!!!   It is the production! The stuff. The feel. The smell (seriously, mine has old book smell, sort of, which is cool if really odd). 

The book is full of marginalia and has clippings and postcards and stuff tucked in there.  It is so cool!   I want to start reading it immediately but ACK work!  Must work!  Plus I have like three other books that I have started that I am trying to read.

  I used to work at a library and while I loath highlighters and modern notation - I find old notations and notations in privately owned books utterly fascinating. Plus handwriting used to be so much nicer. I really do think that loss of fine motor control is at least partly due to the chemical exposures now common in industrialized nations.

I have already read the warnings to pull out the inserts and tag them with page numbers so that it is easier to read the book without things falling all over the place.

S. has five principal "characters":
  • S. – The main character in the novel "Ship of Theseus"
  • V.M. Straka – the author of the novel Ship of Theseus.
  • The Translator (FXC) – a historian of Straka’s works who translates the novels and also pens commentary in the form of footnotes throughout Ship of Theseus.
  • Eric – a literary theorist
  • Jen – a student who finds Eric’s copy of Ship of Theseus

Now I am trying to figure out how to tackle this. There is the 'original' book Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka that some people advise you to read straight without looking at all the cool, colorful stuff and the margin notes (hard).

According to a reviewer at Amazon (who signed their review C.) Jen and Eric's notes are not entirely in chronological order. You have to go by color.  The reviewer advises the following ...

" First, there's Eric's pencil notes to himself about the actual book. Then, the convo [sic] between J&E begins when Jen picks up Eric's book and sees his notes and begins commenting on them in the margins. He sees this and writes back. Those early messages are Jen: Blue Ink - Eric: Black Ink

At some point after they go through the book a first time, they go through again. This time Jen: Orange Ink - Eric: Green Ink.

Then a third time Jen: Purple Ink - Eric: Red Ink

Finally, a fourth time (which seems to be after the denouement, in which they retrospectively discuss what has transpired). These are less frequent, and both Jen and Eric are in Black Ink.

***Read each chapter of the main text of SoT, ignoring all of Jen & Eric's notes. Upon finishing each chapter, you're going to want to go back and read only the blue/black notes and any referenced inserts. Then, move on to the next chapter. After you finish the whole book, go back and read only the orange/green notes and referenced inserts. Then purple/red, then black/black.***"

This is the first time I have ever felt the need for so much forward preparation to read a book.  Wow! 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What the heck is PPH ?

So - now the spill contained "PPH" "consisting of polyglycol ether".  Not enough to go on yet to parse this one out.

Well ... glycol ethers are a group of solvents based ethylene glycol.

Ethylene glycol (C2H6O2), also called glycol and glycol alcohol, is a colorless, odorless, syrupy
liquid that has a sweet taste and is used to make to make antifreeze and de-icing solutions, as well as in a host of other products from hydraulic fluid, plasticizers and cosmetics to paint and safety explosives. If you have ever been in a haunted house or theater that used a fog machine, you were probably smelling it. This stuff is all over the place. 

If you are interested, the ToxFAQ sheet for ethylene glycol is here. Small exposures are generally thought to be safe, while large exposure can cause serious illness and death. BUT, that isn't the chemical that was spilled.

Once you get into the territory of poly, which means many, well as I mentioned before - small differences in structure can mean large differences in toxicity. 

The closest I have come to PPH is with FATTY ALCOHOL POLYGLYCOL ETHER(68213-23-0) at

This stuff seems to be a minor component in several products, but virtually everything I have seen so far says some variation of "unknown" for toxicity. Here is one MSDS sheet for a product with the Trade Name: DEUREX EMU-E that is a Fatty alcohol polyglycol ether.

It is listed as a skin irritant and it is used as an emulsifier or dispersant.  Hum - I wonder what effect that would have had on the solubility/behavior of the other chemicals ?  

Right - so one again we have some terribly vague information about what exactly got spilled but is should be okay, on the sound basis of virtually no data.  Wonderful.

You know, an IUPAC name would be really helpful for once and it should be on the MSDS - any chance reporters might start using them rather than random nicknames? It would cut down on confusion!

It is late so I will get back to this tomorrow, but it looks like this stuff is a type of compound known as a surfactant  (surface active agent) which means that it is soluble in both hydrophillic (water loving) and hydrophobic (water fearing) chemicals. Just like detergent, it is used to allow you to dissolve oils into water (like washing that frying pan) through the creation of micelles.  Surfactants are generally designed to have low toxicity (again like detergent) but if this stuff was just for washing coal, they might not have been that careful about it.  I will get more information in the morning. 

Elk River spill in West Virginia included another chemical - PPH !

According to The Charleston Gazette ( Federal and State investigators learned today, January 21st, that the spill from Freedom Industries into the Elk River included another chemical that was not previously identified. The "Crude MCHC" that leaked also contained a product called "PPH" that was also referred to as polyglycol ethers on the MSDS sheets they received.

The Eastman Chemical's material safety data sheet that was previously linked on this site shows that 4-methylcyclohexane methanol makes up 68 to 89 percent of the Crude MCHM, and includes six other ingredients: 4-(methoxymethyl)cyclohexanemethanol( 4 - 22%), water (4-10%), methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate (4%), dimethyl 1,4-cyclohexanedicarboxylate (1%), methanol (1%) and 1,4-cyclohexanedimethanol (1-2%).

The Chemical Safety Board has clarified that the spill of Crude MCHC is not synonymous with 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (I had been wondering about that) and it actually consisted of a mix of seven chemicals, as described above.

However, officials have now learned, 12 days after the spill, that PPH was also being mixed with the Crude MCHC.  The report isn't terribly clear about this but it looks like there is another MSDS sheet that has been provided which state the product in the leaking tank also contained "PPH" consisting of polyglycol ethers at about 5.6 percent. They report that there was approximately 300 gallons of PPH in the tank, though it is not clear how much of that might have reached the river or been deposited in the soil.

State officials consulted with West Virginia American Water Co. and believe that the chemical is likely to have been removed from water by the normal treatment process, but they are checking water samples taken during the first days after the spill for confirmation. Officials have also consulted the CDC but have not heard anything back yet concerning the toxicity of PPH.

Right - so what the heck is PPH ? Or do they mean PHP?  So confusing! 

Top Ten Tuesdays
At the Broke and Bookish: Top Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist (if you could make authors write about these things you would. Could be a specific type of character, an issue tackled, a time period, a certain plot, etc.)

oohh fun ...

1) I want more Dirk Gently books by Douglas Adams. He would, of course, need to be alive to accomplish this, so there is that problem.

2) Terry Pratchett needs to be cloned or something - I would like more Tiffany Aching books, more books with Granny, I want to know what happened to Brutha after the end of Small Gods. Feet of Clay is amazing and I want more Dorfl. So yeah, just more, since there isn't anyone else like Pratchett. 

3) This is a broad one for many authors - write relationships that develop over time. I am sick to death of instalove and instabestfriendship. Instalust, that I can cope with since of course that happens. The problem is that as soon as someone is declared "hot" everything happens at sonic boom rate and suddenly you have this deep, trusting relationship on the basis of ...???  Of I have no idea what. I want relationships the show you the characters learning to trust, respect and then love each other.  Same thing with friendships by the way. Too many books have these amazing friendships develop out of thin air.

4) Ursula Vernon must write more Dragonbreath books!  More! My son and I love these books and the last one didn't have a teaser for the next book. Does that mean that there will be no more ? NO!

5) For brain candy, I really enjoyed the Barbara Michael's ghost story style books like Ammie, Come Home, Stitches in Time, and Be Buried in the Rain. I have been looking for something similar for years and now that she passed away last year (Barbara Mertz wrote books about Egypt under her own name, as well as under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. The Peters books were mysteries/thrillers, like the Amelia Peabody books, that were 'real world' and the Michaels books had ghosts and supernatural events.) I liked most of them, and have seen a few other authors run with the archaeology related mysteries theme, but no one really has made a run with the chiller style books that I liked. I have tried The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley and it captured some of feeling, but was also really lacking in depth and the solution seemed to be pulled out of thin air really. It was kind of like an early Michaels, but I ended up feeling let down and slightly grumpy at the end. One of the things that made the Michaels' books so good was all the information about topic du jour like roses or historic gardens. I want more authors to write books in this general style to fill the void.

6) I am also a sucker for good mysteries in an academic setting, written by people who actually have a clue about academic settings.  I really loved a couple of the Amanda Cross books - Death in a Tenured Position was my favorite. Unfortunately, the author kinda lost the thread and stopped producing the same kind of well written books. Again, I want someone to take up the torch.

7) Whatever happened to cyberpunk ? Like Neal Stephenson before he started writing multi-volume concrete blocks. Anyone out there like Snow Crash? Is anyone writing cyberpunk anymore ? What are they calling it ?

8) Okay, I suppose this is a cheat but I would make Connie Willis re-write Blackout/All Clear employing an editor from the UK (ohh - I know a totally sweet one who worked with me and has a background in history - perfect) so that all of geographic and historical errors are fixed and so that the monster plot hole (not the minor arguments about how time travel works - which should get fixed too, but the massive one that actually totally destroys the continuity of the book and which is hidden by the ridiculous size the books) is fixed and you end up with a one volume chunkster book that would be fantastic. There is no way I can explain the plot hole in a non-spoiler way, but I write a grump about the kinds of errors that kept pulling me out of the book. This killed me because I like Connie Willis, honest!

9) I want the next book in the Tuesdays at the Castle series by Jessica Day George. So - this one is easy - Wednesday ended with a huge cliffhanger.  Now what ? ? ? 

10)  There must be more books like The Quest for Becket's Bones: The Mystery of the Relics of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury by John Butler. This is an awesome nonfiction book that walks us through the story of some bones that were discovered in January 1888 by workmen excavating the eastern crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. The ancient bones were of a tall, middle-aged man whose skull had seemingly been cleft by a sword. Were these the remains of St Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in the Cathedral in December 1170 by knights of King Henry II ? Or someone else entirely ? This was an excellent, short introduction to a period in history and I would like there to be more books like this.