My New Diary, 10/31/2018


{10/31/18}  Weight 219.0.

In fact, quite inaccurate, as I recognized when I went to bed and saw The Works of Wordsworth on my bedside table.  “The Prelude” is my going-to-sleep reading now.  I’ve been reading it for two nights now; the first night I was really getting into it, reading and rereading the first two pages, though nothing much happens—a man is out for a walk, which in England is, or was, a rather curious affair where one spends the night at a farmhouse, and goes further or goes home the next day.  In The Prelude, that’s what’s going on, and the man sits and contemplates where he might spend the night.  Or ponders the scenery.

Last night, more of the same, I think, but I was less interested.

laboratoryWell, this morning I woke around 5:30 and got to thinking about the chemistry experiments I used to do as a kid.  My parents gave my brother a microscope one year, and I got a chemistry set.  Which is incorrect, I see; I got a telescope that year.  He never did much with his present, but I “went nuts” with chemistry, and for some years I was “always” doing one experiment or another.  It would be easy to fill a couple of pages with what I did and how I got materials and so on, and I’m half inclined to do it because I would enjoy it; but only half inclined, so I’ll do half a page.

Anyway, I was “always” trying to make sulfuric acid and never succeeding, and trying to make gunpowder, but it never worked.  Acids were pretty easy to make:  combine two dry chemicals in a retort, and add heat.  This gets you nitric and hydrochloric acids, but not sulfuric.  I “burned” a fingertip with nitric acid, accidentally, but all that I remember is that it changed to orange.  Gunpowder is made up of three dry chemicals, but mine never burned like gunpowder is supposed to.

Sulfuric acid was necessary for making guncotton or nitroglycerin.  It’s undoubtedly a good thing that I never got it as a kid.  I learned a lot from that initial chemistry set, and I moved on to supplies bought from “the hobby shop,” a place where I spent many an hour poring over the possibilities and pawing through the glassware.  From there I “graduated” to Student Science Service, a place one had to drive to.  But there you could buy many an exotic chemical, and they published a catalog full of stuff I couldn’t afford.  Lots of chemicals for which I had no use; I don’t remember what I did buy from them, or what I was “working on” at the time, because they sold sulfuric acid (which I never bought).

Electrochemistry was another field for experimentation, but this was mainly limited to breaking salt water down to hydrogen and chlorine gases.  There’s not a lot you can do with gases—you burn the hydrogen, which quickly becomes uninteresting, and you burn things (steel wool) in chlorine, which is awkward and smelly, though fairly exciting and really pretty exotic.  Breaking water down to hydrogen and oxygen would have been better, but for that you need (or so I thought) sulfuric acid.

Now my substitute for sulfuric acid was sodium bisulfate, but I didn’t know it at the time.  All the reactions I used to make acids involved this chemical, which is, essentially, half sodium sulfate and half sulfuric acid!  Undoubtedly I could have used it to get hydrogen and oxygen, but not guncotton.

The only other thing I recall using electrochemistry for was to plate a can opener in copper.  That was a brilliant success, or at any rate I was pleased with the result, and I suppose I showed it to my mother, though I don’t remember it.  “That’s nice, dear.”

It is interesting and sad to me that nobody, neither my parents nor my brother, nor an uncle or cousin, nor even a friend, ever asked what I was doing.  I suppose I told my best friend about it, but he never “came over.”  I don’t know why, because I was always at his house, playing Monopoly or something.

In college chemistry I extracted silicon from sand, and made silver from silver nitrate, turning the inside of a test tube into a little mirror.  I made an ester, which smelled like bananas.  I also made guncotton one time and got dilute acid in my mouth while trying to set up a flow of water to rinse the product.  When I burned the wad of guncotton, it burned up nicely, but much more slowly than I expected, leaving a fine ash.  So, a partial success.  The silver and silicon experiments were in the lab manual; the guncotton was my idea.  I don’t recall writing any reports, however, so something was lacking in this chemistry class.  It was essentially unsupervised play; perhaps that’s what was intended.

If I’d had any smarts about college, I would have been studying chemistry and perhaps have gone on to complete a degree at the time.  Instead I “studied” aeronautical and astronautical engineering and flunked out after two and a half years.  I had no real interest in engineering, though some of the classes were good.  I really could have used some guidance at this point in my life, but it was not imposed, offered, or sought.

Barrett Book

Looking over the highlighting I put in the first 86 pages of Lisa Feldman Barrett:  How Emotions are Made:  The Secret Life of the Brain, I recognize that this is no ordinary “brain book.”  On the contrary, it’s a revolutionary brain book, offering a better model of many brain functions.  So I think today.   I have not read the rest yet, but I am excited about it so far.  Available from Hamilton Booksellers at $6.95 [link] for the hardcover.  More expensive at Amazon.

Diary entries from 6/1 to 9/30 are available in this file:  link.

Diary entries from 10/1 on are available here:  link.

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All right reserved.

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