Saturday, February 28, 2009

Eye Candy

The Elements

For those of you who are less familiar with Hansisgreat: I post a regular column about the elements in the Periodic Table. These are the different types of atoms of which the entire universe is composed. Today we enjoy a true trifecta: a solid, a liquid, and a gas.

The Periodic Table classifies the elements according to the number of protons (atomic number) and the total weight of all its parts(atomic weight). Of course, atoms are far to small to be weighed, or even counted: we can only measure their weight relative to one another. For example: equal volumes of different gases would have the same number of atoms but weigh different amounts.
When Dimitri Mendeleyev developed the first scientific Periodic Table in 1869, tellurium and iodine were especially perplexing to classify, because even though Iodine has more protons, Tellurium weighs more. Tellurium's atomic weight was 128 whereas iodine's was 127.
The explanation was discovered fifty years later: that atoms of the same element could have different numbers of neutrons. These variations in atomic weight are called isotopes. Tellurium's most common isotope, making up two thirds of its weight, contains more neutrons than iodine.

Tellurium:
Atomic Symbol: Te
Atomic Number: 52
This metal belongs to a family of non-metallic elements such as oxygen and sulfur. It is not surprising, therefore, that Tellurium does not behave like a typical metal: it is brittle, and conducts electricity very poorly.
Eating tellurium causes bad breath. In 1884, test subjects were given 0.5 micrograms of tellurium oxide. It was detectable on their breath for 30 hours. Others who were given samples of 1.5 micrograms has "tellurium breath" 8 months later.
Its dominant isotope, Te-130 mentioned above, is also very slightly radioactive, having a half-life of two billion trillion years (2 x 1021 years).

Iodine:
Atomic Symbol: I
Atomic Number: 53
One of only two elements which is a liquid at room temperature (the other is mercury), iodine was discovered during the Napoleonic Wars. The British Navy blockaded France from its supply of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), necessary to make gunpowder. Chemist Jean-Francois Coindet (1774-1834) made potassium by burning seaweed. When he added sulfuric acid to the mixture, it produced beautiful purple fumes, which he correctly surmised to be a previously unknown element.
Iodine was used in the invention of photography. In 1839, Louis Daguerre coated a sheet of silver with liquid iodine to make it light-sensitive. Briefly exposing it to light left an image on the surface of the metal sheet.
Silver iodide is also used to seed clouds for rainfall. An airplane flying through clouds releasing this chemical as a fine smoke will cause a torrential downpour. Induced rain of this kind was originally developed as a weapon to bog down enemy vehicles, hindering their advance.

Xenon:
Atomic Symbol: Xe
Atomic Number: 54
One of the "noble gases", xenon is odorless, colorless, and almost completely unreactive chemically. In the 1950s it was tested as possible anaesthetic for surgery, but was ruled out because of the expense of producing it.
Xenon is used for space flights, because it makes good fuel for ion engines. In such engines, a stream of ions are forced from the vehicle at about 100,000 km per hour, which gives a powerful thrust in the opposite direction. To be suitable as fuel for such engines, atoms must be easily ionized and have as high a mass as possible. Xenon fits the bill perfectly, and is nearly inert so it isn't dangerous if the people are accidentally exposed to it. Such xenon ion propulsion systems (XIPS) are now being used on dozens of orbiting satellites.

There's a teriffic book on all of the elements called Nature's Building Blocks, by John Emsley. It's highly recommended, and has been an invalualuable resource for me while writing these chemistry posts.

For my previous posts on the elements, click here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Eye Candy

Exit Here

Exit Here, by Jason Myers
ISBN: 9781416917489
A modern tale of excess and suburban alienation, written for teenagers but appropriate for readers of any age.
Travis is the handsome, spoiled teenage son of wealthy parents who's recently dropped out of school, and returned from a mysterious trip to Hawaii to his family home. Utterly without motivation or direction, he spends his time partying with his lowlife friends, snorting cocaine, looking at porn, and generally wasting all the advantages of his station in life.
His parents are concerned, but not too concerned: they're self-obsessed baby boomers so caught up in their own drama that they hardly seem to notice the deterioration taking place in Travis and his younger sister. Once incredibly handsome, he's beginning to look thin, pale, and worn out from months of hedonism. He's also obsessed with a girl, Laura, whom he says he loves but can't help feeling that there's something she's hiding from him. Something sinister.
Travis is still behaving like a boy, about to crash full speed into a man's problems. His constant drug use makes him incapable of achieving an erection at the tender age of nineteen, leaving him feeling numb and deeply unfulfilled. Soon his best friend, after a wild bender, crashes his car and winds up in jail after killing three people. Meanwhile his father insists: do something with your life, or find your own way in the world. Our poor, tragic anti-hero seems hopelessly caught up in a rut of apathy and self-destruction.
Exit Here has been widely panned by the critics, for reasons I can't understand. It's a dark and sensitive tale of squandered youth with a surprise ending, loaded with consequences which seem disproportianate to the folly that invited them: just like real life. Travis is obviously a lovable boy underneath all the resentment, the reader feels that he really could straighten up and fly right if he could just put the drugs down for five minutes and take his future seriously. In other words, he's a normal teenager.
The generation raised on gangster rap and Grand Theft Auto will find a voice in this tragic young man, if only he can survive to manhood. Depressing, perhaps, but well written, suspenseful, and relevant.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Eye Candy

Quotations

No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.
Booker T. Washington (1856 - 1915)

The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.
James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967)

No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you.
Zora Neale Hurston (1901 - 1960)

I had crossed the line. I was free, but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.
Harriet Tubman (1820 - 1913)

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968)

What makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God?
Olauduh Equiano (1745 - 1797)

There can be no peace among men and nations, so long as the strong continues to oppress the weak, so long as injustice is done to other peoples; just so long we will have cause for war, and make lasting peace an impossibility.
Marcus Garvey (1887 - 1940)

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.
Frederick Douglass (1817 - 1895)

There is in this world no such force as the force of a person determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained.
WEB Dubois (1868 - 1963)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Eye Candy

Germany

My last post on the Nations of the World covered France, and I swore the next time I'd pick an easier country. It hasn't worked out that way, howeever: Germany also has a long and complicated history. In fact, it's been divided into several countries as recently as 1990, all with their own histories and cultures. Today, Germany is united and is one of the economic superpowers of the world. Its chancellor is one of the most powerful and respected women on earth, and one of its citizens now leads the Roman Catholic Church as Pope Benedict XVI.

Total Area: 137,803 sq. mi. (356,910 sq. km.), slightly smaller than Montana
Population: 82,422,299
Language: German
Monetary Unit: euro
Capital: Berlin
President: Horst Koehler (since 2004)
Chancellor: Angela Merkel (since 2005)
Religion: 34% Protestant, 34% Roman Catholic, 3.7% Muslim, 28.3% other

The ancient tribes of Germany resisted Roman conquest with mixed success, establishing the Rhine River as the empire's eastern boundary from 6 BC until the fifth century. German troops served in the roman legions, and Germanic invasions contributed to the fall of Rome.

Most of Germany was united during the reign of Charlemagne in the early ninth century, called the Holy Roman Empire. When Charlemagne died in 843, his empire was divided between his three sons, and the eastern region became the heart of what is now Germany. This gave some political unity to the fragmented German territories, but that unity was fragile. Germans themselves were often more loyal to their local feudal lords than to the emperor, and large areas along the North Sea and Baltic coasts were contolled by commercial leagues rather than by political rulers.

The Hanseatic League cleared the sea of pirates, substituted order for chaos in northern European trade, organized the merchant class into powerful associations, and promoted the liberation of cities from feudal control. In time the league became oppressive, forcing cities into membership by boycotts or violence. Through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it spread German influence over Denmark, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church began to be seen by Germans as unwanted foreign influence, which siphoned wealth out of Germany to support the machinations of the Italian and French popes. With the Reformation of Martin Luther (1517), religious divisions added to Germany's existing political fragmentation. The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) resulted in the extinction of the Holy Roman Empire, and left Germany without even a shred of unity. Germany consisted of 39 independent states. Prussia rose to prominence under Frederick the Great, and in a series of wars through the mid-19th century, conquered the rest of Germany.

After the defeat of France during the Franco-Prussian War, Prussia declared the establishment of the German Empire, which reached its apogee under its chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Thus Germany became a major European power, with a booming industrial economy, a signifigant colonial empire, and growing military might.

The nation's disastrous defeat during World War I led to the brutal terms of the Treaty of Versailles, making World War II imminent. After the onset of the world economic depression in 1929, Adolf Hitler's Nazi movement gained increasing power, both at the polls and through the activity of gangs of armed thugs who intimidated political rivals into submission. Hitler's annexation of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland eventually led to the outbreak of World War II, which defeated Hitler's regime and left the cities of Germany in ruins.

Germany was divided into West and East territories, symbolized by the Berlin Wall which seperated West from East until the collapse of European communism in 1990. West Germany joined the Council of Europe in 1951, and was admitted to NATO in 1955. East Germany remained overshadowed by the USSR until Germany was reunified in 1991.

By 1996, unemployment was at an all-time postwar high, leading to the election of Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party. Schroeder won re-election in 2002, mostly because he opposed the US invasion of Iraq. Faced with an enduring recession, growing unemployment, and budget deficits, Schroeder was defeated in the 2005 elections by Angela Merkel.

Because much of it was destroyed during World War II, Gemany has been rebuilt as one of the most modern nations of Europe, although it still maintains some of its classical style. Its hospitals and universities are among the best in the world. Germany also boasts a proud literary tradition. The Grimm Fairy Tales are widely renowned, and have inspired hundreds of plays, musicals, and films in dozens of countries.

Germany enjoys one of the highest per capita Gross domestic Products, and is currently a member of the G-8, a loosely knit group of the largest economic powers.

For my previous posts on Nations of the World, click here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Eye Candy