Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Report from Santa Fe?

I've just realized that it's been an month since the SOR meeting in Santa Fe?  Did any readers go?  Anything to report?  Did you get anything out of the posts I put together for the meeting?  (If you want to email me something, go ahead.)

Thanks, Readers

The month of November was the best one yet for this blog.  I had more than 200 readers for the first time, and more than 300 page views for the first time.  Particular thanks to Crazy Aaron's Putty World (and their Facebook link) and to Bob Schiffman for participating in email interviews.

Leslie Nielsen, RIP

Best known as a comic actor in Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies, Mr. Nielsen passed away Sunday at the age of 84.  Many of the tributes I've seen have referenced the Surely/Shirley joke from Airplane!, which was the inspiration for the Surely You're Joking headings I've put out this year.  (I posted the trailer for Airplane! back in February to explain the headings.)  Thanks for the laughs, Leslie.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Quotation of the Moment

A mere elementary knowledge of any natural science is a proposition from which reason starts; it is a foundation on which thought builds, and a height from which imagination takes its flight. It is an education in all other knowledge, because it demands attention, observation and accuracy with well-defined expression.

Helen Harlin Walworth Science 1880, 1, pp 198–199.

Hat tip: Sharon Neufeldt at icanhasscience.com

Thanks, Bob

I'd like to thank Bob Schiffmann for his Q&A on blogging.  You can visit Bob's company here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Q&A with Robert Schiffmann (R.F. Schiffmann Associates, Inc.)

As mentioned in a previous post, I attended the IMPI Microwave Short Course held November 9-10.  During the course, Bob Schiffmann gave a talk entitled "Myths Vs. Reality: Blogs Vs. Science."  The talk centered on information and misinformation in the blogosphere, especially regarding microwave cooking of food.  I asked Bob if he would answer questions by email, and he agreed.  The exchange was checked via email for accuracy.

RW: What's your background and your current job?
BS: I have a Bachelors degree in Pharmacy from Columbia University, and a Masters degree in Analytical and Physical chemistry from Purdue University. I entered the food industry in 1959 as a research scientist, where I did all kinds of product and process development. It was in 1961 that I accidentally discovered a microwave oven, and about 10 or 15 minutes later I did and experiment that resulted in my first patent and many large industrial installations of microwave heating systems. I left industry along with a partner in 1971 to become an independent consultant, and in 1978 formed my second consulting company (R.F.Schiffmann Associates, Inc.). The company is focused on product and process development and, since 1982, all of our work has been microwave heating related. We also do a great deal of product testing for various companies. I also teach a lot of microwave technology courses.

RW: Your talk discussed myths related to microwave preparation of food. First, haven't these myths been around since the advent of ovens in the home, and second, how are things worse with blogs?
BS: You are correct that these myths have been around for many years, for example the concept that you can't use metal in a microwave oven, which is totally erroneous. What makes it worse today is the advent of the blogosphere. Before this, news traveled rather slowly and the influence was limited. But today, everyone thinks that he or she has brilliant things to say and therefore has a blog. Now, if it only a few people read the blog, but many blogs have the same misinformation, the cumulative effect is very large. Also, people tend to read things that agree with their own thoughts. So, people tend to read the same sorts of misinformation and myths over and over. Also, very few bloggers are really original: most simply copy and paste from others so that this misinformation travels like a virus.

RW: What do you do when you encounter postings that you know are wrong or inaccurate?
BS: I sometimes respond in the “comments” section on the blog page. I don't do that as much now as I did when I started receiving Google Alerts, because I found that there was so much misinformation, and repeated so often, that I could literally spend hours each day writing responses to the various bloggers. Further, in something like two or three years I've only got one response from a blogger who apologized for the misinformation and promised never to do it again. When I do comment, I very often include the science, or scientific facts that refute the kinds of comments that are made in the blog.

RW: Have you thought about starting your own blog?
BS: Yes I have, but right now my time is so limited because of my work with IMPI, as well as my consulting business, that I simply can't find free time to write a blog. However, I probably will, hopefully not too far in the future.

RW: Having run a science blog for a year, I've found that I have a small audience (on the order of dozens of readers). Don't these blogs operate on a similar scale, and therefore, their impact is limited?
BS: As I indicated above, these blogs may be small, however, there are so many of them, I virtually see 5 or more a day that say exactly the same thing because of the cut and pasting, so, in the aggregate, the readers must amount to several thousand or more. Just looking at the number of comments some of these blogs get I am astounded by the number of people who spout the same misinformation, and are so poorly informed. After all, we now live in an era in which ignorance is exalted.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quotations of the Moment: Better Off Ted

I just finished working my way through Better Off Ted, a short-lived sitcom that ran for two years on ABC.  Both seasons are available on Netflix.  The show centers around Ted, a the head of Research and Development at Veridian Dynamics, a do-everything company that is an amalgam of GE and Kraft Foods.  The show is a great business satire that avoids the Dilbert trap of smart engineers working for stupid bosses.  Everyone on the show is smart and good as his or her job.  My favorite episodes out of the first 13 are the ones on affirmative action "Racial Sensitivity" and the project everyone wants to work on "Jabberwocky".  The scientists on the show work on everything.  Here are the materials-related lines I was able to pull from the first season.  (Veronica is a VP, and Phil and Lem are the main scientists.)

Veronica: We want to make a metal that is hard as steel but bounces like rubber...and is edible.

Phil: The plastic [in a solar-powered oven] we're using leaches toxins into food.
Lem: However, the toxins are only released when the ovens are exposed to sunlight.
Phil: Which is the only time solar ovens work.

Phil: You were right.  That polymer could burst into flames on high impact.
Lem: You owe me a smoothie.

After the jump, one of the fake Veridian Dynamics commercials.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Link of the Moment: Slime Time

Last Saturday, the University of Nebraska at Omaha hosted an event teaching local Girl Scouts about the chemistry and physics of polymers.
Hat tip: The Omaha World-Herald

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quotation of the Moment

"Last week, in between leading a graduate seminar on Proust and delivering a long-scheduled lecture on mass spectrometry, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin ventured a few ticks beyond her acknowledged area of expertise and reflected on monetary policy at a convention in Phoenix."  Noam Schieber, The New Republic
 I look at those phrases and wish I could write like that.  Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Product of the Moment: Recycled Shirt

While at a short course last week, I won a prize for correctly answering a trivia question about per capita use of paper in the United States.  My prize was a polo shirt made of recycled PET made by 8bottles.com.  The company uses 8 soft drink bottles for each shirt (hence the company name).  Even the buttons are made of recycled PET.  The shirt is not dyed, and takes its color from the bottles.  The shirt itself can be recycled once its service is over.  New shirts cost $40.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Electronic Lab Notebooks

Our division is starting to look at electronic lab notebooks.  Anyone out there with experience to share?  Pros?  Cons?

Update: Thanks for the comment, David.  Here's the link to "Life as a Physicist" logbook entries.  Gordon uses a Lenovo tablet PC with OneNote software.

Friday, November 12, 2010

SunChips Observations

John has already covered the polylactic acid SunChips bags in several posts [1], so there’s little need for additional comments on the package, its properties, its benefits, or its shortcomings. As someone in the food industry [2], I have two observations. The first is that this is a very public launch and failure. Most packaging changes are barely noticed by the consumer and are set up to be seamless. For example, ConAgra launched a new 46 ounce ketchup bottle two years ago. The bottle won an industry award, but I don’t believe the launch was ever noted on the product.
The second observation is that SunChips will likely be a laboratory for green packaging for some time. Two years ago, SunChips packaging advertised a partnership with TerraCycle, a company that was (and is) looking for ways to recycle plastic and develop green technologies. I don’t recall seeing similar information on any of Frito-Lay’s other products, so a recycling outlook will likely be part of the brand’s identity.

[1] Posts 1, 2, 3, 4

[2] Disclosure: I work for ConAgra Foods, which competes against Frito-Lay in the ready-to-eat snack category.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Video of the Moment: Engineers & Cats

There isn’t much engineering in this video, which is titled An Engineers Guide to Cats.  They do calculate feline aspect ratios and show off calculators, but that’s as far as the nerd-like behavior goes.  (Thanks to SWS for the tip.)
After the jump, one of my favorite videos by the same crew: an advanced guide to cat yodeling.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Personal Milestone

This week marks my fifth anniversary at ConAgra Foods Inc. For most big American corporations, this offers some significant financial advantages. I am fully vested in my retirement account. To celebrate the occasion, I wore a vest.

I looked up the original job posting for my position. The focus of the job has changed in the last 5 years, but readers can compare this position to the jobs offered by Wrigley and Kraft this year. Current job hunters should take note: this is not a posting for a position that’s currently available; this was the job advertised 5 years ago.

Collaborate with R and D support groups and project team in relevant areas: rheology, texture, and material science of food. Guide engineers to understanding how the process affects viscosity and how food texture correlates with sensory aspects. Assist with transferring of new technologies and implementation of cost saving programs.

Position Responsibilities
Under minimum direction from management, lead technical projects in the general area of material science of food. Ensure that the milestones of business objectives are met in a timely manner. Communicate program-related issues and status to management to keep them up-to-date. Aid plants with developing and transfer of new technologies. Support pilot and plant trials. Operate and ensure proper functioning of physical implementation in Rheology laboratories (40%).

Prepare project proposals, including experimental design and timelines. Participate in project planning, including the selection of technical guidelines for achieving objectives. Identify manpower and resources to meet primary objectives (20%).

Provide routine and non-routine support to client groups with solving urgent processing and production problems (20%).

Keep abreast of technical developments and utilize this knowledge initiating new projects on cutting edge of technology (5%).

Manage and direct technician resources (5%).

Position Qualifications
M.S. or preferably Ph.D. in chemistry/engineering or related discipline. 3-5 (post-M.S.) or 1-2 (post-Ph.D.) experience in the general area of rheology.

Requires ability to apply Rheology, Thermal analysis, Spectroscopy, Particle Sizing, and Optical Microsopy in the development of new technology and use these skills in solving complex problems of non-Newtonian fluid mechanics, in-line viscosity measurement, process modeling, and equipment scaling.

This position requires knowledge of advanced statistics and experimental design, and proficiency in Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Good communication skills, ability to work with multi-functional teams and understanding technical information including chemistry, physics, statistics, and food is required.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thanks to Crazy Aaron

I'd like to thank Elizabeth for taking the time to answer my questions.  I'd also like to thank her for the Facebook link; more people stopped by here then ever have before!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Q&A With Putty World

I contacted Crazy Aaron's Putty World because I was curious about the business. Elizabeth Perry was kind enough to take the time to respond. The interview was checked via email for accuracy.

RW: How did Aaron get the idea for the business? Does he have a scientific or engineering background?
CAPW: Aaron has a computer science background. When he was working as a software engineer, he was looking for some cool and unusual toys for his desk. He had always been a fan of putty and he figured out how to order 100lbs of the stuff direct from the manufacturer. After the first 100lbs arrived, he divided it up among his co-workers and the entire 100lbs was gone in days. So, he ordered more and people in the office went nuts for the stuff. Eventually, the firm Aaron worked for was purchased and Aaron's former co workers dispersed to new jobs, taking their putty with them. In Dec 2002, Aaron decided to strike out on his own into the putty business and he's been working on developing packaging, pigments and putty science ever since.

RW: Does he use a silicon-based polymer in the putty?
CAPW: Yes, Thinking Putty is silicone based.

RW: Does the crazy putty pull ink off newspapers like the name brand competitor?
CAPW: Many newspapers no longer use inks which can transfer onto the putty. Newspapers now use a soy based ink which does not transfer onto any kind of putty [*], Thinking Putty or otherwise. If you can find a paper printed with transferable inks, Thinking Putty will copy the image.

RW: When I talk to people about these putties, most of them remember the newspaper transfer property. Your website refers to the tactile sensation that people enjoy when handling the putty. Do you have an opinion as to why it's so enjoyable?
CAPW: I think many people have fond memories of playing with putty as a child. Thinking Putty allows adults to relive those fun times, only in larger adult sized handfuls and in many colors they've never seen before. Our Glow in the Dark and Strange Attractor Thinking Putties are among our most popular varieties.

[*] American newspapers moved to soy-based inks in the late '80's.

Product of the Moment: Magnetic Putty

While looking up last week's post on MacGyver and putty, I came across this silicone-based putty impregnated with metal particles.  It's not exactly a magnetorheological material, but the combination of magnetic and viscoelastic properties is pretty cool.  The product is made by Crazy Aaron's Putty World, and this video comes from their YouTube channel.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Link of the Moment: Sid discovers elasticity

Those of you with small kids have probably heard of Sid the Science Kid.  It's a computer-animated show aimed at pre-schoolers that introduces scientific concepts and methods.  This fall's new shows are centered around physics topics like friction and inertia.  Here's a link to the parents review site on elasticity.  In the show, Sid discovers the concept of elasticity when his clay ball doesn't bounce the way he expects.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monthly Jobs Report (November 2010)

A keyword search "rheolog*" found 21 jobs listed on Monster.com and 18 jobs listed at Careerbuilder.com.  The same search term did not find any positions at the AIChE career web site.

Fields of study for these jobs are listed below.  Some jobs specified multiple disciplines.

  • Materials Science -- 6 positions
  • Chemical Engineering -- 6 positions
  • Chemistry -- 5 positions
  • Polymer Science -- 4 positions
  • Food Science -- 2 positions
  • Mechanical Engineering -- 2 positions
  • Technical Field -- 2 positions
  • Electronics / Instrumentation -- 1 position
  • Marketing -- 1 position
  • Business Administration -- 1 position
  • Materials Science -- 9 positions
  • Polymer Science -- 8 positions
  • Chemical Engineering -- 7 positions
  • Chemistry -- 5 positions
  • Technical Field -- 3 positions
  • Food Science -- 1 position
  • Mechanical Engineering -- 1 position
  • Physics -- 1 position
  • Pharmaceutical -- 1 position
  • Marketing -- 1 position
  • Business Administration -- 1 position
  • High School diploma -- 1 position