Friday, August 31, 2007

Michael Jackson

I just learned that Michael Jackson passed away on Wednesday. If you know anything about fine wine and beer, I don't have to tell you that this is not the Michael Jackson you are thinking of.

Michael Jackson is widely regarded as the #1 authority on beer, wine, scotch etc... but mostly beer.

He brought beer respect and in so doing, helped to create and define the craft brewing industry as we know it today.

He will be missed, but he left a lasting legacy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

And they're off....

Well, the semester is underway. All systems are go.

Today I taught my Chemistry of Art course, Organic Chemistry, and Instrumental Analysis. Plus, I did an organic lab today as well. It turned out to be a long day (I also mowed my lawn).

A few weeks ago, I was really nervous about the Instrumental Analysis course. Now, I'm starting to get really excited about it. I'm team teaching it with a colleague. I am going to focus on instrumental chromatography (GC and LC) and structural elucidation (NMR, IR, MS and UV-Vis). My colleague is going to cover what amounts to instruments used for advanced analytical analysis. In the end, I hope our students will have a general understanding of how instruments are used and what they can (and cannot) tell us.

I'm not going to get into the electronics of instruments. We will talk about signal-to-noise, but not about A/D converters and rectifiers or Zener-stabilized voltage regulators. I'd rather talk about J-couplings, COSY and McLafferty rearrangements.

Our first experiment will probably be the analysis of isooctane in gasoline using GC-FID. I'm going to have them change columns and everything. It should be fun.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

E.J. and Roald will have to wait

One of my goals of the ACS was to get an autograph from E.J. Corey and Roald Hoffmann. I got neither. I was stricken with guilt when the time of their appearances coincided with a couple of talks I really wanted and needed to go to. I gave in to my guilt and went to the talks.

The registration fee for the ACS convention is a rather steep $385. Throw in a hotel for 4 nights for at least $800, travel at about $200 (from MN) and food etc... The final total can end up close to $2000. Granted, my employer picks up the tab, but for my small school, $2000 is a significant amount of money. I could use that $2000 in a lot of different ways (like research).

The bottom line is that, I couldn't squander the (expensive) opportunity to learn and advance myself as a teacher, just to get a few autographs. The autographs would be really cool, but in the end, they are just ink on paper. I chose knowledge in my head over that.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Boston brewpub review #3

Finally, I get to the last one. The school year starts tomorrow. I will be very busy. Hopefully, posting will not decrease too much, but don't be worried if I am not as active until oh....May :)

The final brewpud I went to was Boston Beer Works. There are three locations in Boston. I went to the Fenway location. It is (depending on the time of day and year) in the shadows of Fenway Park.

I may have chosen the wrong location. Because at the Fenway location, the service SUCKED. Really, it was terrible. I sat at the bar and haven't been this ignored since my senior prom in high school. And it's not like the bartenders were busy. Besides, I was ordering (or trying to) beer. Beer is a very easy drink to make.

In the 2+ hours I was there, I was only able to enjoy 2 beers. Both were fine. One was an oatmeal stout, the other was an IPA (cask conditioned). To be honest, the IPA was very good. Sure wish I could have had another.....

The ONLY redeeming value of Boston Beer Works is that they only sell beer and wine. Not only that, they ONLY sell their own beer. No Miller Lite here. That I think is a very good thing. In smaller cities, brewpubs can't get away with that. They often need to sell Miller Lite to survive.

So, what can I say about Boston Beer Works? Not much. The service sucked. I am usually a very good tipper. For me, the default tip is 20%. I would have given a 0% tip, but that goes against my core principles (though it has happened on occasion). I think I gave a 5% tip. But even at 5% they could have made some money if they would have allowed me to spend more money at their restaurant.

I hope this was an anomaly. All I know is I will never go back.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Boston brewpub review #2

Cambridge Brewing Company (CBC).

CBC is a fine brewing company. They brew beer that is excellent and make food that is very good. If ever in the Boston area, I suggest stopping by.

When I got to the brewpub, I was worried because there was a mass of people around the bar and nary one bar stool open. When I am out on my own I prefer to sit at the bar. It's just a personal preference. I did discover one seat open and grabbed it. I found the large group was apparently there to celebrate the graduation from MIT of an individual in some financial/economics area.

What intrigued me more about the CBC was that beer was served not just in pitchers but in towers! These 3 liter towers of happiness were hard to miss. While I was there the graduation group ordered at least 8 of these towers. I was impressed.

At first, I was really annoyed because the service was AWFULLLL. Seriously, it took almost an hour for me to order one beer and food. I will give the bartender a break since she was the only one behind the bar with a million people in the bar. As the evening unfolded, it became obvious she was not a total jerk, and in fact not a jerk in the least (just over worked).

First the food: I ordered the blackened pub steak. This was awesome. I wish I could have this everyday. It was excellent. I ordered medium rare but it came out medium, but that's the only criticism. The creme brulee I had for desert was tops. From my experience, the food at CBC is unsurpassed.

Now, the beer:
I first ordered one of their special brews. This was called something like "le amour de jour." I wrote the name of the beer in the copy of C&EN I was reading at the time[1], but I cannot find where I wrote it!!!! I must rely on my worthless memory. Anyways, it was Belgium styled beer that did not interest me at all. I didn't like it. I was not a typical brewpub style, but the brewers didn't pretend that it was. In the beer menu they indicated that it was something of an unusual beer. I agree. It was a quality product, but one I didn't really prefer.

I next tried the porter. This was excellent. This was a bit of a departure from the traditional porter. It didn't have the same bite, but I liked it.. a lot. A very good beer. The steak I ate was covered in a sauce made from a porter reduction. Very good.

I also tried the barelywine. I only had a sample of this 13% ABV drink, but it was very yummy.

The seasonal IPA they had was excellent as well. I could drink this all night.

In the end, the CBC proved to be an excellent provider of beer and food. The service was lousy at first, but improved as the demands on the bartender lessened.

If you are ever in Boston (especially the MIT or Harvard area) check this place out.

[1] Remember, I am a nerd and I read Chemical and Engineering News at bars when I am waiting for food.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Boston brewpub review #1

RockBottom Brewery

OK, it is not a home-grown brewpub unique to Boston. But, it was within walking distance of my hotel, I had just flown in, and I had about 2 hours of "airplane" sleep during the last 48 hours. I didn't want to put too much effort into it.

I plopped myself at the bar in front of a widescreen HDTV and watched the Yankees game that was on. If you want a fun time, watch a Yankees game at a bar in Boston. It was even better because Clemens was pitching. Boston fans do not like the Yankees and it shows.

Anyways, I ordered beer. With most brewpubs, the beer is almost always good. Rarely have I had a beer I would call bad. There are types of beer I prefer and some I don't.

The beer at Rock Bottom is pretty dang good.

They had a cask conditioned Irish Stout. Superb. Very delicious and served at the perfect stout temperature. They also had the Irish Stout on tap. Good, but too cold to really enjoy what a stout is all about.
I sampled the cask conditioned IPA also. Delicious. Cascade and centennial hops were evident.
The Munich Gold was a wonderful Saaz hop experience.

The food and service were both great. After 4 beers and in the state I was in, I headed back to my hotel room and was asleep by 9PM. No big night on the town for me.

What's wrong with the following?

I saw this on a poster in the Organic division. I'm not going to tell you what number or who it was by to protect the guilty.

What is wrong with this:

Any student in the first two weeks of sophomore level organic should be able to ID what is wrong. And this was on a poster displayed at the ACS convention!!!! The structure was simple too. It's not like she was trying to draw a very complex structure. Only when a complicated 3D structure is being drawn can things like this occur.

Little things like this annoy me. There's no excuse for putting this on your poster, even if you are cute. Sorry.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More ACS review

This is going to be short.

Today I went to a number of talks. I went to the Cope award lectures today and heard the fastest talk ever. Andre Charette said more English words in 40 minutes than I even know. I've never heard someone talk so fast during a lecture. I'm familiar enough with his work to know what he was talking about (mostly), but wow, did he cover a lot in a little amount of time.

I also caught the lectures by MacMillan, MacGillivray and Frechet. All were good, but the nature of these talks is that they essentially review many things they (i.e. their grad students) have done. It is hard to get any detail out of them. The really good stuff is to be found in the 20 minute sessions in the smaller rooms. I'm visiting those tomorrow.

Tonight I met up with Paul (Chembark) and one of his frequent commenters, Eugene. We had a few drinks and shared a few laughs and talked shop. It was nice to have met them.

I have yet to post my brewpub review. Time is surprisingly limited. I have been to three of them in Boston (Rockbottom [actually a macro-brewpub], Cambridge Brewing Company, and Boston Beer Works). I will try to get something out ASAP. Now it is time to sleep.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Boston ACS review

Hi, from Boston. The ACS convention is going great. I've learned a lot of things. For now I am going to stick with Chemistry. In a future post I will delve into the local microbrews (I've hit two so far).

So... Chemistry. This is what I did during the last two days.

On Sunday, I attended a number of lectures on the Chemistry of Art and Forensic Chemistry as they relate to Chemical Education. These were mostly great. Especially my talk :)

In the evening I attended the poster talks and drank as much free beer as I could handle in 2 hours. I drank a lot of Heinekin, but I also visited with a number of presenters.

This morning, I got out of bed to sit in some workshops about Spartan from Wavefunction. Then I sat in a few more lecture before heading back to the hotel for a nap that was interrupted by a weird nightmare (of afternoonmare). The 50 minute nap became 10 minutes.

Anyways, I went to a brewpub for supper (details to come) and then the ACS poster talk (SciMix). It was illuminating.

I met a few friends from Holland in the hotel bar tonight and had few drinks.

Now, I am ready for bed.

I will try to post more about the two brewpubs I have visited so far tomorrow. I hope to visit one more tomorrow.

Stay tuned. More to come.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Off to Boston soon

I'm off to Boston for the ACS soon. I present a paper on Sunday afternoon.

My only other goal of the trip is to get an autograph from E.J. Corey and Roald Hoffman on the same piece of paper (or something). I did get an E.J. autograph a few years ago when I was still in grad school, but I cannot find it in any of my things. I think a lab mate stole it.

I may try to do some updates about the conference while I'm there, but enough bloggers do things like that. What I might do is blog about beer and the ACS.

Which leads me to my question:

I will be staying in the downtown Boston area (area'r in the vernacular). Does anyone who reads this blog know of any good brewpubs in Boston. I've been to one near Harvard (don't remember the name), but I don't know of any others. The main stipulation is that it must be accessible using cheap public transportation from the Boston Commons vicinity.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

perty picture

Thanks to the Kutti at Jungfreudlich I was able to make the following picture with the glowing humulone structure. I don't have time to figure stuff like this out on my own so having a screencast to guide me was awesome.

Check out Kutti's very useful instructions. Soon you too will be making your blog look cooler.

Hint: What I did find was that it looks better when the ChemDraw structure uses a line width of about 0.065 cm. The bottom right structure have a line width of 0.065 cm and the one on the left has a width of 0.090 cm.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Time to get crazy...

Wow, it's been a week since I posted something! Where did my week go? Things are starting to pick up steam on the academic side of life.

Fall faculty meetings are starting this week, next week I am in Boston for the ACS convention and when I get back, school starts. Needless to say, I have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks.

Summer... she is a sailin'.....

On the beer side, I spent my night bottling my honey wheat. I put another round of bottles in the dishwasher to be sanitized during the night. I plan on bottling my IPA tomorrow. That will empty my beer pipeline and fill up nearly every bottle I have. The beer cellar is full.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Instrumental Analysis: part 2

A number of comments on my previous post reminded me of one my most boring days as a student.

The gist of what some said was "don't be boring." In other words, a 3 hour lecture in front of a machine noone will use is not going to be the most useful.

Now, for the story: During my Junior year at my undergraduate institution I was enrolled in an Instrumental Analysis class. There were so many times that we were bored to tears.

The old professor was a work of art. Due to some physical injuries that never healed right, he walked like Igor from Frankenstein. He was a nice guy, but not the most dynamic.

One day, we were covering IR. We already had use IR extensively and were proficient at it. So he decided to take us back to the good old days.

Any chemist knows that IR had a glorious period in the history of Chemistry. There was a time when every effort was made to obtain exquisite IR for the main reason that the IR spectra and a melting point of a derivative were essentially the only characterization data available.

Now days, IR has been supplanted by "bigger and better" technology particularly NMR. It has been relegated to a "carbonyl identifier."

The old professor wanted to show us how it was done back in the day. So, he pulled out two salt plates. Looked at them in disgust and declared that they needed to be polished. He produced a wooden box about the size of a 1965 Minneapolis phonebook. He opened the box and with a gleam in his eye, presented his salt plate polishing equipment. I don't remember everything contained in his box, but I do remember two piece of felt of varying softness.

The prof went to town polishing the salt plates. Rubbing specifically in a "figure 8" pattern, he went from one piece of felt to another. I can see him frantically and in a most exuberant manner moving the salt plate as fast as he could as he rubbed in on the felt. This lasted nearly 15 minutes. Meanwhile, we just stood there and watched (i.e. acting like bored undergraduates).

After what seemed like an eternity of him polishing his plates, he was finished and he lifted the perfectly polished up for us to behold. The gleam was brighter than ever in his eyes. He was so proud to give us this old school lesson. He was perhaps reliving his own glory days. He held the plate up at eye level when the plate slipped from his physically deformed fingers, fell to the floor and shattered into a millions pieces.

I remember him uttering a very sad whimper. He said little and sent us home for the day.

We actually felt bad for him, and while the end result was pretty lame, we learned how important IR had been at one time. We gained an appreciation for what pre-NMR chemists had to do.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Instrumental Analysis

Hey chemistry folk!

I am team teaching an instrumental analysis course this Fall. We hope to cover all of the major types of instrumentation and how they are used. I will also include a bit of structural elucidation.

Any opinions on texts available? Any suggestions?

If you were taking this course now (knowing what you know now) what would you most value?

Thanks for doing some of my work for me.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


While I grout and do other work around the house, I have 15 gallons of beer waiting to be bottled. I hate bottling. I dream of kegging my beer someday. I need to suck it up and just do it.

Friday, August 3, 2007


OK, I have to get the depressing post off the front page, so to speak.

I have spent several hours during the past few days, installing a ceramic shower in our basement. Tonight, I finished the grout. Adding grout (what is the verb for this? Grouting? maybe) is a pain in the butt.

It is also a pain in the hands since it is basic. I should know better. I'm a chemist, and I know exactly what a caustic substance will do to my skin (i.e. turn some of it into soap). However, I didn't wear gloves. After a couple days of this, my skin is dry and it feels funny.

My hands feel like when I'm using a base bath and the elbow length glove springs a small leak in one of the fingers and the glove fills up with base bath. That's always a lot of fun.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


What a horrible day.

If you didn't hear, a major bridge collapsed without warning in Minneapolis, Minnesota tonight. There were nearly 50 cars on the bridge at the time. It could have been much worse. Thankfully, only one lane was open due to construction work. But yet, the results are terrible.

At the time that I write this, 7 are confirmed dead. Sadly, 20 are missing. The logical presumption is that the 20 will probably not be found alive. I hope I am wrong.

I have driven on this bridge countless times. I have family and friends that used this bridge today. Thankfully, most of the people I know that could have been on this bridge have been accounted for.

I realize this is nothing compared to some of the horrors that have happened in this country and in the world, but for me, this hits a little too close to home. I can't help but be affected.

If you are so inclined and want to help, the local Red Cross phone number is:
and the website is:

UPDATE: 9 are now confirmed as dead, 60 wounded and 20 still missing. WTF!!!!!

Another UPDATE: Apparently there have only been 4 killed so far. This is still terrible, but it is good news. Of course, the reckless use of the word 'confirmed' by the local press last night has me a bit annoyed.