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You may know that after an Amazon transaction you will eventually receive a notice requesting an evaluation of the quality of product and delivery. In the 5-star rating system the top three ratings are Fair, Good, and Excellent. What you don’t know is what constitutes “Excellent or Good” service. What if your order shows up on time and is undamaged? Does that deserve high praise? I’ll answer that. The delivery of a product on time and in spec, even a day or two early, is within the range of ordinary or expected. It does not qualify as excellent or even good.

Conversely, a selection of “Fair” seems unfair to a vendor. If a common parcel delivery to a customer did not also deliver giggling delight, but rather an “OK, here it is”, maybe the customer would be inclined to give a mid-range rating accurately reflecting the absence of glee. Fair is death by faint praise.

What they are missing is an answer indicating that the product and delivery was “as expected” or, “nominal”.  Excellent or Good imply some sort of action above and beyond a baseline value.

Amazon is smart to collect ranking data on their vendors. It keeps them edgy and sharp. I get that.

An Excellent rating should result from service leaving the customer standing there with their pants around their ankles and a goofy grin on their face. That would rank as Excellent in my book!

But I would offer that another purpose is to condition customers into believing that ordinary products and deliveries from Amazon constitute some kind of premium service. Early on, maybe. But now it is normal. It’s just an ordinary transaction worthy of, at most, a wink and a nod.

I recently developed a condition where I have ear pain and partial facial paralysis. Ear aches I can deal with, but when my face quits working, I go to the doc. So, that’s what happened. The ENT said that it resembled Bells palsy and the cause was idiopathic.

I can just imagine an attending physician and a resident in medical school taking future idiopathic specialists on their rounds. The doc walks in and greets a patient with an ear ache and a face that doesn’t work. “Yessir” he says with resignation, “another case of idiopathic syndrome. We just don’t know what the hell happened.” The resident turns to the med students and says gravely, “Look at this patient closely. Try not to confuse the distant stare and slack jaw with idiopathic disease. Even though this patient is from Iowa, we are convinced that there is an idiopathic condition overprinted on his presentation.”

The attending physician stands there thoughtfully for a moment, raises a bristled eyebrow and glances at his watch. “Let’s go people. The idiopathology wing is full of patients with mysterious conditions.” With that they shuffle off down the hall.


A round of acyclovir and prednisone cleared up the apparent Bells palsy. I am symmetric again and can pucker up to whistle a tune.

This video was produced at Pultroon Studios in Smoldering Forest, Colorado.

The subject had received 15.7 mCi of 18F-glucose 6 hours prior to filming. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Congratulations to Professor Peter J. Stang on winning the 2013 Priestley Medal. The C&EN bio at this link reveals quite an interesting career.

Oh, by the way.  Am I the only one to notice some faint resemblance between the Medal winner and Ambassador Sarek from Star Trek? Face it. Being a JACS editor is about the same status as an ambassador.

It seems that my idea of flame retardant Nehru lab coat has gotten absolutely no traction at work. It’s a pity.

Nehru lab coat with breathing apparatus.

It seems to me that the character(s) who produced the YouTube video that has caused so much religious fulmination in the sandy parts of the world ought to be parachuted into Cairo to answer for their actions. Surely they can give the best explanation of what their movie represents.

Another thing has occured to me. Perhaps we should make a minor adjustment to the Drake Equation which describes the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible. The equation can be found at this link.  The L factor defines the length of time a civilization releases detectable [radio] signals into space. Given the self destructive behaviours of beings capable of generating radio signals on at least one planet, maybe it is time to define L*.

L* = L(1 – P*/P) where P = average number of intelligent inhabitants of a planet and P* = average number of intelligent inhabitants willing to die/kill for their magical or political beliefs.

Perhaps the reader has a better modification.  Here is the Drake equation copied straight from Wikipedia:

N = R^{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;


R* = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
f = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

I found this cartoon over at High Power Rocketry.

[There was no citation for the art work.]

OK. I’m going to have to be the bad guy and take Aldrich (SAFC) to task on their labeling. I recently received a 100 mL bottle of 10.0 M BuLi in hexanes.  As I looked around for the concentration, I found it written in tiny print away from the name and part number which were written in larger print.  I have placed a ruler next to the label in the photo below to show the size of the print. It is the same size as the date on a penny.

Labels do not “just happen”. Someone has to design a label. This involves arranging content on a limited space while meeting internal and external requirments for safety statements and other content.  Labels do not fall from the sky in great sticky sheafs. Someone prints them. And that someone assigns font sizes and space for the information. So, someone has caused the font size to be tiny irrespective of the print content. I have numerous bottles with microscopic printing and vast expanses of white space. This smells of automation.

I’ll wager that there is an automated label generator that takes product label data and prints it onto the label irrespective of the actual need for microscopic font size. I can envisage a giant warehouse with automated shelf pickers whizzing about pulling bottles off the milti-tiered stacks and placing them into plastic tubs which course their way to shipping. Elsewhere in this voluminous interior is a widget that prints the labels and sticks them onto the bottle after they are filled.  Somewhere a human is pushing a broom.

C’mon Aldrich! Make your labels more legible. Good gravy. What would Bader say? I’m sure your accounting office has no trouble reading the print on the checks that arrive to pay for these products.  Consider that you’ve been put on notice.

Fine print on Aldrich reagent bottle. Molarity is printed in 1.0 mm font size.

May 7, 2012. Guapo, Arizona.  Imagine gliding down the steel tracks at 85 mph on your personal 2-wheel, self-balancing transport. Officials from Thrombax Transport and Burlington Northern San Simeon met at Pultroon University and negotiated an agreement to develop high speed personal rail for owners of the Segway two-wheeled personal transport. An upgrade to be made available will allow operators of two-wheel self-balancing tranport to mate their vehicles to standard gauge rail and operate on the rail system.

The new transportation mode will be limited to the northern tier of states initially.  It is anticipated that speeds of 120 mph along the rail will be possible eventually, making ground transit across the more tiresome flyover states tolerable.

According to a paper published by Pultroon University assistant adjunct Professor Harman van Hemp in the Japanese journal Bull. Shitsu Jpn, 2010, 19, 20134, the theoretical maximum speed of a 2-wheeled self-balancing vehicle is limited by lateral instability problems associated with the inner rim of the rail wheel. Prof van Hemp has devised an aerodynamic stabilizing control surface built into the fire retardant trousers of the operator. The stabilizer is actuated by a swing of the operators hip. Wind tunnel testing at Pultroon University has shown that the device is effective in subsonic flows up to a Mach number of 0.67.  While the technology is being refined by Thrombax, the all important line of merchandising and apparel is being subcontracted.

I had an evil thought just now as I attempt to write 2 reports simultaneously. Why do we keep using that superscripted circle in front of C (i.e., ºC) that designates “degree”?

What the hell? We don’t use it for the Kelvin temperature scale. And, who knows if the engineers use it for Rankine? The thing is useless like an appendix or a titular chairman. Get rid of it!

What do you think?


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