NMNH Cetacean Collection
NY Subways
Run the Chesapeake Bay Bridge 10K
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Half Bathroom Renovation Finished

I have finished renovating the half bathroom! It is pretty much the last room in the house that needed renovation. [I say pretty much because I still have a few projects I want to do in the laundry area and storage room.] The plumber installed a new toilet and also the vanity. I bought a vanity that came with a white glass countertop, a white ceramic vessel sink, and a matching mirror. All it needed was the faucet. I installed a new three-bulb vanity light and also replaced the outlet and wall switches for new white ones. I also installed two glass shelves above the toilet. Finally I replaced the door hinges and door knob with hinges and a lever that match the rest of the house.

Full view of half bathroom

Full view of half bathroom

New toilet

New toilet

New vanity and matching mirror

New vanity and matching mirror

New vanity with vessel sink

New vanity with vessel sink

New glass shelves, mirror, and vanity light

New glass shelves, mirror, and vanity light

It’s Not Melting, It’s Dissolving

Time for another post where I get on my science grammar soapbox. Have you ever seen the movie The Wizard of Oz? Everyone has seen that movie, right? Recall the scene where Dorothy throws a bucket of water on the Witch, and the Witch dissolves into a puddle while screaming “I’m melting, I’m melting”? First, don’t ever watch that movie with me. Why? Because every time I see that scene, I scream “you’re not melting, you’re dissolving, get it right.” Ok, it is a movie, a movie that takes place where monkeys fly, there are witches, lions walk and talk like humans, and scarecrows come to life. No, I shouldn’t be looking for realistic science in it. However it drives me crazy that they can’t even get the simple difference between dissolution and melting correct.

In the exact same incorrect way, there is a saying that some people say when their children, dog, whatever, is hesitate to go outside in the rain. “You are not made of sugar, you won’t melt.” There are actually several things wrong with that statement. Sugar, as in table sugar, which is specifically sucrose (as opposed to all the other sugars that exist), does not actual melt at all. At 186°C (367°F), it decomposes to caramel. So even if that saying meant decomposes, if the temperature outside is high enough for sugar to decompose, you have much bigger problems then possibly getting wet. You would die of heat. However, if you were made of sugar, and you went out into the rain, you would not have to worry about melting, you would have to worry about dissolving.

Melting is a physical process where solid turns into a liquid due to heat applied to it. Stick ice into a glass at room temperature. Wait a while. You now have water in the glass. The ice melted into water. But you didn’t apply heat, you might argue. The melting point of ice, the temperature at which solid water, i.e. ice, becomes liquid water is 0°C (32°F). So by simply having ice at room temperature (around 22 °C (72 °F)), heat has been applied to it. The temperature is higher than what the ice needs to stay a solid. Similarly put solid chocolate in a pot and heat slowly to 30°C (86°F). You have liquid chocolate. It has melted. Now don’t waste that chocolate, go eat it with strawberries or cake. [Excuse me for a moment. . .]

Now take that glass of water you made by melting ice at room temperature, and pour just a little salt into it. The salt has dissolved into the water. The water, which is the solvent, has dissolved the salt, the solute, into a solution. When Dorothy throws water on the Witch, the Witch is the solute, the water is the solvent again, and now you have a witch solution in water. Based on the film, witch dissolves quite readily. [It would not matter if she threw boiling water on the Witch, it would still be dissolution because the water is mixing with the witch. The water was quite clearly not boiling anyway.] Other liquids can act as solvents to dissolve solutes, but water is the most common in everyday life. Wiping acetone on nails painted with nail polish removes the polish because acetone, a solvent, dissolves the hardened nail polish, the solute, into a solution. [It is a temporary solution in the sense that acetone readily evaporates, but it forms a solution with the polish long enough to transfer the polish to a cotton ball. The acetone then evaporates leaving behind the polish on the cotton.] An important distinction between melting and dissolving is that melting only involves one substance, water, chocolate, wax, etc. Dissolution involves two substances, water and salt, water and sugar, acetone and nail polish, etc. Dissolution can also involve applied heat, but it isn’t required. There is a much longer explanation for that, and it relates to the solute and solvent and numerous other factors.

To review, melting is one substance changing from a solid to a liquid, and one, and only substance is involved. It is a phase change that must involve a temperature (or pressure) change. Dissolution is one substance becoming part of a solution with a liquid, and two substances are involved. It is two substances becoming one, and temperature change is not necessary for it to happen.

I honestly don’t understand why some people don’t understand the difference. However ignorance of this appears to be wide spread. Evidently the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction does not know the difference. That Inspector General recently released a report concerning a half-million-dollar U.S.-built police training center in Afghanistan that was so badly constructed that it is literally “melting.” Nope, it is not. It is literally dissolving. If the center had been made of wax, then maybe it might melt. Based on the wording in this article and the accompanying photos, the building is quite clearly dissolving. That is still incredibly appalling construction. As an engineer, I would really like to see the design plans. However, if the Inspector General does not even know the difference between melting and dissolving, then perhaps the Inspector General would do well to have someone on staff who does. It would make for better and more accurate reports.

Half Bathroom Reconstruction

Reconstruction of the half bathroom is partially done. I hired a contractor to remove the second layer of subfloor and then lay concrete backer board so that I could lay tile. The contractor also placed new green board in to fill the whole from the old medicine cabinet and also use drywall mud on the walls to smooth over the texture left from the old wallpaper. After the contractor finished, I primed and painted the walls and ceiling and laid a new tile floor. I painted the walls the same blue color as the accent wall in the dining room, and the ceiling is the same pale blue as the ceiling in most of the house.

Patched and smoothed walls

Patched and smoothed walls

New concrete backer board subfloor

New concrete backer board subfloor

Newly painted walls and ceiling

Newly painted walls and ceiling

New tile floor

New tile floor

New marble transition and new tile floor

New marble transition and new tile floor

WMATA L’Enfant Plaza Fire

Today there was a fire in a WMATA subway tunnel near L’Enfant. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is now investigating, and I have confidence that they will do a thorough investigation. I have some questions about actions taken right after the smoke was reported that no one, or at least no one in the media I have seen, has asked. The station filled with smoke, and they evacuated it. WMATA stopped running green and yellow trains through L’Enfant. However they kept running blue, orange, and silver trains through, but these trains did not stop at the station, as they normally would. For those not familiar with L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station, orange, blue, and silver lines share the same track on the lower level, and yellow and green share the same track on the upper level. My question is, were they sure it was safe to keep sending the orange, blue, and silver trains through? I am not asking from the standpoint of the fire, because presumably, they traced the location of the smoke enough to know it was not in the lower tunnel. By safe, I mean because of the potential inhalation of smoke in the lower level tunnels. If the station filled with enough smoke that it needed to be evacuated, then how were they sure that smoke would not enter the trains running through it?

A couple of quick points:

  • Just because air smells bad doesn’t necessarily mean it is toxic or hazardous, but conversely, just because air smells fine doesn’t mean it is safe.
  • Particulate matter in air and/or smoke is in general not something you really want to breath, but there are different levels of toxicity associated with it. That is, some particulate matter is not more than just an irritant. However, the effect particulate matter has on a person is also affected by that person’s health. People with respiratory issues are more susceptible to any effects.
  • Exposure to hazardous or toxic materials can cause effects on different time scales. People who were trapped on the WMATA train in the tunnel, would have acute (short-term) effects from breathing the smoke, such as coughing and having trouble breathing. However, they were probably also exposed to chemicals whose effect is not immediate, such as carcinogens.

The questions I have, that I have not heard anyone ask include:

  • What is the air exchange rate between the subway trains and the surrounding air? Can the ventilation be turned off manually, so that there was no air exchange between the train and the surrounding air while the trains were near L’Enfant?
  • Were there any measurements taken of the air in L’Enfant, particularly on the lower level where the orange, blue, and silver trains were still running through? If so, what were the measurements of? Just measuring particulate matter will not indicate almost nothing about organic compounds or other chemicals in the air.
  • How far did the smoke spread?
  • Assuming air measurements were taken, did anyone calculate the amount of contaminants that people in the trains would be exposed to while running through the station based on time and air exchange rate?

My educated guess is that no air measurements were taken. There are probably some sensors in place to measure smoke, but depending on how that measurement is taken, it will tell you information about the particulate matter and that is it. I seriously doubt there was initially any sensors that measured organic compounds or any other type of compounds in the air. I have my doubts that any portable system was put in place during the response. The priority would have been evacuating people (as it should have been). It is possible that WMATA had some qualitative data that there was not much smoke on the lower level. That is, someone may have looked at a video screen and decided the air didn’t look bad. However, unless they had actual quantitative data of what was in the air, then visual assessment of air is a really bad way to make assessments on the quality of the air.

The early statements by WMATA and all other sources, like the fire departments involved, was that they did not know the source of the fire, location or cause. Thus they could not have possibly known what was burning and what would be in the air. For example, if wood is burning, you can expect certain chemicals in the air. If rubber is burning, you can expect different chemicals in the air. WMATA probably decided that the air on the lower level didn’t look that bad, and the trains would go through the station quickly enough that very little exposure would occur. They very well may be right, but with no data and no statements about any calculations, they have no way to prove that. Also, did they inform their passengers of this? If I was on a train, and I knew that the train was going to go through, but not stop, at a station that was filling with smoke, I would get off the train. I don’t feel the need to expose myself unnecessarily to hazardous substances, even if in small amounts. I do not like standing near people who are smoking. The second hand smoke may only minimally increase my risk of disease, but I still don’t see the need for that tiny increase. Thus, was WMATA considering passengers’ exposures at all? Furthermore, did they communicate the possibility of exposure to their passengers on the orange/blue/silver lines to allow their passengers to make their own educated decision about staying on the train? My guess is the answer to both those questions is no, and that is another thing to which WMATA should be made to respond.

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One of the exhibits, we visited during Cultural Programs of the Natural Academy of Sciences’s #NAS_sciart was Brandon Ballengée: Collapse. Collapse is a huge pyramid of specimen jars that contain species from the Gulf of Mexico that are in decline due to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It was interesting to be able to see numerous species up close, even if preserved, that I normally would never see. However, it was sad to think that all these species are in decline or at least affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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Crabs

Crabs

Flouder

Flouder

Giant sea roach

Giant sea roach

Octopus

Octopus

Shells

Shells

Fish

Fish

Turtle

Turtle

Void

I went to an Instameet at the National Academy of Sciences today, where we toured two art exhibits and also the building. One of the exhibits we toured was Imagining Deep Time, and one of the pieces of art in that exhibit is Chul Hyun Ahn’s Void. I have seen this exhibit before, and no matter how many times I see Void, it still freaks me out. It just does. The piece is made of cast acrylic, LED lights, hardware, and mirrors, and while it physically has a size of 90 x 71 1⁄2 x 12 1⁄4 inches, it looks like a tunnel that goes on forever. The photos I have posted below simply do not do it justice. I am very impressed by how the artist was able to create the vision effect, but when I stand in front of it, I keep waiting for Dr. Who, Spock, or some other science fiction character to come walking through the tunnel. I guess it kind of scares me. Yes, I am a wimp. A piece of art that is just lights, mirrors, and acrylic scares me.

Side note: The photo of Void with JD Talasek, the curator of Imagining Deep Time, in front of it, is the only photo posted below that I took with my iPhone. The rest of the photos I took with my Canon 6D. I note this because I find it interesting how the two cameras captured the light differently. The only manipulation I performed on my photos was cropping and some straightening.

A view of the whole of Void

A view of the whole of Void

JD Talasek, the curator of Imagining Deep Time, stands in front of Void

JD Talasek, the curator of Imagining Deep Time, stands in front of Void

The "floor" formed by Void

The “floor” formed by Void

Edge of Void, where the visual effect hits reality

Edge of Void, where the visual effect hits reality

A selfie in Void

A selfie in Void

Half Bathroom Deconstruction

Sadly, with this phase of renovation, there was no drywall demolition. I say sadly because drywall demolition is one of my favorite activities. Deconstruction is now finished. The plumber came in first and removed the toilet and disconnected the sink. I removed the wallpaper, tile floors, the vanity, and all the fixtures. I then had a contractor come in and remove the second layer of plywood subfloor which only went around the old vanity. As with previous rooms I have renovated, at some point, “renovators” came and removed the old floor, but only around the old vanity, then put in another layer of plywood subfloor for no discernible reason, and then tiled. Thus everything had to come out to get to the original subfloor.

Old tile floor

Old tile floor

Old tile under the vanity still present

Old tile under the vanity still present

Demolition (almost) complete

Demolition (almost) complete

Hole left from medicine cabinet

Hole left from medicine cabinet

Vanity removed

Vanity removed and tile removed

Phase 4 Home Renovation Begins

The (possibly) final home renovation phase has begun. This will be a rather small and hopefully short phase. The only room involved is the half bathroom off of the living room and kitchen. So first some photos of the bathroom before renovation. The vanity cabinet is the exact same style and color as the old kitchen cabinets were. I did not realize it until I took it out, but the mirror above the vanity was actually a medicine cabinet.

Looking into the bathroom from the living room

Looking into the bathroom from the living room

The old vanity and medicine cabinet

The old vanity and medicine cabinet

Old vanity

Old vanity

Looking out to the living room

Looking out to the living room

NY Subways

On my last trip to New York, I took a tour with the New York Transit Museum that included a subway ride through the Jamaica Maintenance Shop yard and the tunnels through it. Even cooler, the train conductor kept the door open to the train control room, so we could go in and take a few pictures out the front window of the train. Normally when on a subway train, you can only see stuff go flying by out a side window, so being able to see the tunnels through the front, allowed a much better view. In some places they were working in the tunnels, so there were a lot of lights lit, which allowed even better viewing.

Subway tunnel surfacing to ground level

Subway tunnel surfacing to ground level

Jamaica Maintenance Shop yard

Jamaica Maintenance Shop yard

Jamaica Maintenance Shop yard

Jamaica Maintenance Shop yard

Subway car wash

Subway car wash

Subway car wash

Subway car wash

Subway tunnel

Subway tunnel

Subway tunnel

Subway tunnel

Subway tunnel

Subway tunnel

Subway tunnel spliting

Subway tunnel spliting

Subway tunnel right before station

Subway tunnel right before station

Subway tunnel entering station

Subway tunnel entering station

Conversations I have with my Mom

Mom: Did that thing bloom again?

Me (looking confused): At my house?

Mom: No, the thing at the botanical garden. You know what I mean.

Me: The corpse flower?

Mom: Yes, but don’t call it that. I think it should be called by its botanical name.

Me: You prefer to call it giant misshapen penis?

Mom: No, call it by its Latin name.

Me: Its Latin botanical name, Amorphophallus titanum, means giant misshapen penis.

Mom: Oh, well yes, that is a better name to call it.

Me: Ok, well, no, it hasn’t bloomed that I know of. Last time it was in the news.