EppsNet Archive: Chemistry

Free Advice on Free Advice

5 Feb 2016 /
Shoulder pain

Today a colleague offered to fix the pain in my shoulder. “Sounds like a problem with the connective tissue,” he said. “I can push it back into place.”

“No,” I said. “No no no no no no no.”

“Why not? Are you homophobic?”

“Not wanting you to touch my shoulder is not homophobic.” Also this guy is not gay.

“You don’t trust me?”

“I was trying to think of a nice way to say that.”

“I have a gift for this. I’ve helped a lot of people.”

“You might be able to fix it. Probably you could. On the other hand, you might, just perhaps, push on it the wrong way and I lose the use of my left arm. Not worth the risk.”

He then recommended that I go to a health food store and buy some red something-or-other algae to use as an anti-inflammatory.

Which I’m not going to do . . . If someone recommends a movie I should see, I might check that out. Even if it turns out to be terrible, which it usually does, I’ve only lost a few bucks and a couple hours of time. Same with a restaurant. Or a book.

But on medical matters, when someone says “You should go to a health food store and buy some of this product and eat it,” I’m not going to do that because if I do that, and I die . . . because the recommender didn’t know anything about my health condition, medical history, medications I might be taking, didn’t know anything about chemistry, biology, pharmacology . . . I’m dead and the person who told me to do that is scratching his head going, “Hmmmm, that never happened before. Maybe I should have gone to medical school to actually learn something.”


“Keep it Simple,” Nobel Prize Winner Advises

22 Jan 2012 /
English: Nobel laureate Dr. James D. Watson, C...

Image via Wikipedia

I soon was taught that [Linus] Pauling’s accomplishment was a product of common sense, not the result of complicated mathematical reasoning. Equations occasionally crept into his argument, but in most cases words would have sufficed. The key to Linus’ success was his reliance on the simple laws of structural chemistry. The \alpha-helix had not been found by only staring at X-ray pictures; the essential trick, instead, was to ask which atoms like to sit next to each other. In place of pencil and paper, the main working tools were a set of molecular models superficially resembling the toys of preschool children.

We could thus see no reason why we should not solve DNA in the same way. All we had to do was to construct a set of molecular models and begin to play — with luck, the structure would be a helix. Any other type of configuration would be much more complicated. Worrying about complications before ruling out the possibility that the answer was simple would have been damned foolishness. Pauling never got anywhere by seeking out messes.


We Don’t Have the Money, So We Have to Think

27 Jun 2005 /
We don’t have the money, so we have to think.
— Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford was an illustrious scientist — the 1908 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, and the father of nuclear physics.

Money out the window

His humble upbringing as the fourth in a family of 12 children in rural New Zealand influenced his approach to science, as summarized in the above quote.

A recruiter called me today about a job managing an $80 million IT project.

How in the world can you spend $80 million on an IT project?! I could put your company logo on Mars for $80 million.

Most of the big, expensive IT projects that I’m familiar with, there really was no reason for them to take so long or cost so much. A lot of time and money could have been saved with some upfront thinking.

I get a lot of this now — recruiters asking me if I have experience managing multi-year, multi-million dollar projects, as if there’s some competitive advantage to be had from spending huge sums of money over long periods of time.

A modern variation on Rutherford’s famous saying might be: “We’ve got 80 million dollars! Why should we have to think?!”

Thus spoke The Programmer.