My Brother has another Birthday!

The Aerospace Genius (which I called him even before this) has yet another birthday today.

UncleNeil2004 Many happy returns, from all of us.

Need more TP

On a recent visit to the eldest daughters’ family, the story: grandson (aged 8) announces he’s ‘going to be in there for a while’, and takes a lined notepad and a pen into the restroom.

Ten minutes later this came sailing out of the restroom:


Heh.  Resourceful.

Yes , it was tasty

A new baking stone and a new recepie. Delicious.

Kids are smarter these days

I have some anecdotal evidence.

My grandson is 8, and has recently joined the Boy Scouts.  He just announced an interest in ‘going hunting’ to his mom.  Mom, not being dumb temporized with ‘you can go with GruntDoc when you’re 10, but the first thing you’ll do is a snipe hunt’.

Those of you who know what that is are already smiling (those who are puzzled can ask someone or read on).  Grandson is nothing if not a problem solver, so he asked his teacher what a snipe hunt was.  Teacher replied ‘I don’t know’, which wasn’t the answer he was looking for.  (Teachers are smart, too).

He called me to ask, and I told him it was a hunting ritual to a) catch the elusive snipe and b) show your hunting partners you had the skill and stamina to be a hunter.  I appear to not be as reassuring and educational as I thought.

The other day his mom called and related that he’d gotten up extra early, started up their computer, and looked up ‘snipe hunt’ on Wikipedia.  Cat’s out of the bag, but wait: he has been going through his stuffed toys to find one to use to fool me, to prank me for planning to prank him on a snipe hunt.

Kids are getting smarter.  Really. 


(Yes, he occasionally reads this blog.  His mom has changed her startup page away from this one in order to tell this without him seeing it.  We hope.  But, he is pretty smart.)

Happy First Anniversary, Lauren & Jeff



And best wishes for many, many more.

And I don’t even like dogs.

Yes, the power is back.  Get a kleenex.  Air Force home after a 14 month deployment.

Welcome home, Airman.

Happy 17th Birthday to my youngest

17th birthdays are in that limbo; not 16, not 18, etc.


But it’s still an occasion to celebrate, as our littlest girl grows up too fast.



She’s applying to colleges.  Seems like only last year she was sleeping in a shoe box.

A day in my Life, or, why my wife is a Saint for putting up with me

We’ve been thinking about a kitchen remodel in a year or five, and that got me to thinking about the one big addition we’d like to make to the kitchen appliances, a double oven.  So, always planning ahead I thought I’d go ahead and run another 220 service to the area of the ovens.

This makes more sense because the basement ceiling is all torn up (wrong description: I tore it up to fix a persistent draft due to bad construction) and that made tearing out more of the basement ceiling to get to the oven an easy decision.

I planned a route, and ably assisted by an un-named co-conspirator, down came more drywall.  Then we went to Home Depot to buy 220 wiring; we were dissuaded on discovering the wire we thought we needed had to be special ordered for the run distance we were going to need (circuitous routing of a circuit).

We came home to decide whether to order a huge amount of cable the size of my wrist, and had an idea we should have before we did in the drywall: we looked up the Amps needed for the double oven.

Guess what?  I currently have a 50 amp service.  The most I need for the biggest double oven that we could possibly need?  40 amp, exceeded by what’s installed currently.

See why she’s a saint?


For the last several days, my DSL connection has slowly been losing speed.  It’s been interesting to see it slowly slide from my normal 1200 or so downstream to about 650, and no amount of power cycling the modem will change it.

(I have a 2Wire DSL modem/wireless gateway that very conveniently shows speeds on its status page, so it’s not a subjective ‘things are getting slow’ thing, it’s an objective measure).

That doesn’t mean much to SBC/ATT; I was patiently running the Level 1 script earlier today, but balked at ‘restart your computer’: I refrained from being rude or angry, but did say that wasn’t going to happen, it was a line problem not a computer problem, and we agreed to stop there.

I find that techies at 0300 are either more knowledgeable or more likely to listen to people, so there’s now a repair scheduled after only 10 minutes on the phone, surely an AT&T record.

I’ll keep you posted.

Independence Day, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

And, let’s be careful out there…

Happy Birthday Lauren! (And a good-wishes request)

Happy Birthday, Lauren!

She’s in-hospital right now, at 32 weeks with pre-eclampsia (she’s fine, but they’re monitoring her very closely).  If you have time, would you send her best wishes in the comments?

Update 7-6; home, for now.

Eclipse 400 – Video – Eclipse 400 over California

My brother, the Aerospace Genius, wrote last week to tell me the airplane his company was involved in, now called the Eclipse 400, is a go!

Here’s a video:

Eclipse 400 – Video – Eclipse 400 over California  and here’s some pictures:

For only about 1.3 million you can have your own personal jet.

If you get one, let me know.  I can probably get my brother to autograph it.

A New Sign in medicine: the Tim Russert sign

Mr. Russert has a negative stress test on April 19th and died suddenly of a heart attack on June 13th.

I therefore propose a new sign in medicine, the Tim Russert sign: death (or MI) shortly after a negative stress test.

How I Nearly Killed Myself

I teased this recently, and said I’d tell the tale. I have told it several times in my life, and still feel stupid while doing so, but maybe if I tell it here I’ll keep someone from doing themselves in. It can be a cautionary tale for others, and it’s a mystery to me why I wasn’t taken to meet my maker that night.

It’s 1988 or so, I’m getting a Masters’ degree (because getting a real job is too stultifying, and school I’m good at). My degree is in Life Science (biology) but my meager student income flows from being a paid lab rat for the Organic Chem department. (Those with significant O-chem experience are already cringing: keep reading, it’s worse than you think). The Professor I worked for was developing a new synthesis of a known structure, and my job was to make it happen. I was not the brains of this operation.

I was, however, the guy who was reasonably good with bench chemistry (in the day, I’d be lost now) and could be trusted to follow instructions and get to get a multi-step process right, over and over. As I’d been doing this for about a year, I was both trusted in the lab and overconfident in my abilities. (For fun, keep track of the safety lapses that follow).

Friday night, alone in the lab; I’ve gotten comfortable using ether as my solvent for this operation and it’s about 8:30 PM in a completely abandoned lab on the 4th (top) floor of a very empty building. The research lab is a room in the back: 8 feet wide, 12 feet long, with a door on one end, a hood on the other end, and a sink on the counter that runs from one end to the other on one side. The hood never turns off (and it’s good to have it on for ventilation in the little room anyway), the sink is important because it’s the source of suction for my major colleague in chemistry, above it being 2.5 gallon carboys of deionized water and acetone (both used to clean glassware). The shelves over the bench are covered with the typical assortment of obscure reagents, there’s paper stacked neatly on the bench. Oh, and there’s a Farrah poster on the back wall held up with black string from the drop-ceiling metal. It’s not mine, but it makes for something more fun to look at than brown gooey chemicals.

The sink suction was necessary to help my Rotovap work (have a look; it’s astonishingly ingenious) and is light-years better than the standard O-chem distillers. It can do in minutes what would take an hour in a regular, non-suction distilled evaporator, which is why I used it. Running water across a venturi makes a nice vacuum, the whole reagent end of the business spins, the diluent comes off like a shot, what’s not to like?

I’d discovered ether came off very quickly, unless it came off so quickly the reagent vessel started to frost over, then it finished very slowly. Being a problem solver the answer was easy: heat it (gently) with a shallow vessel of water on a hot plate.

That was what I was doing, standing rather dumbly in front of a rotovap doing its thing, wishing it would hurry up, when the ground glass joint holding my experiment to the machine popped off. Reagent and ether diluent bubbling into the hot water, I started to curse, seeing 8 hours of work being hydrolyzed.

That’s when the hot plate clicked on and the room instantly burst into flame. The entire countertop from door to hood was a fireball, to the ceiling, and over the top. I sensed more than recognized the fire was rolling over my head; the heat flash was impressive, and not really appreciated until later. Heat, light, and a flight reflex I’ve never had before or since: this is hard-wired, required no input from me, and maybe saved my life.

I ran. I ran faster than I have before or since. Carl Lewis could not have caught me for the next 200 feet, running through the hall to the stairs at the end. Some rationality returned at the doors, and I thought, then said aloud to no one, “I just set the lab on fire”, my legs carrying me back to the scene of my crime against chemistry and safety.

Fire extinguishers are ubiquitous in chem labs, so I got one reflexively on my way to the little room where I’d nearly bought it, but was much more worried about burning the building down at the time. There was a fire in the water under the rotovap, and one short shot of the extinguisher put it out nicely. The paper on the end of the counter was aflame, and the fire extinguisher shot made them into a thousand burning embers flying through the air independently. Phoo.

I’d started to tremble a bit, and realized I should get help, just in case. I walked out to our dedicated hotline to the security department, picked it up and declared the following: “I’m GruntDoc, I’ve just had an explosion and fire in the chemistry lab. The fire is out but I think I need some help”, and hung up. (I found out later I scared years off the dispatcher, who called the University Policeman on duty).

The University Officer I’d been a Boy Scout with, and he said when he got up the stairs my hair was still smoldering. That’s when I took stock, and found that, indeed, the hair on the top of my head had been pretty well singed, but no other injuries. We looked around a bit, decided the building wouldn’t burn down tonight, and he left me to clean up.

While rectifying my mistake I found the following: little burned pieces of filter paper are harder to clean up than you’d think, the rotovap knob was fused to the machine body, the plumbing insulation overhead was burned, and Farrah’s strings had burned through, dumping her unceremoniously onto the floor. Then I looked at the 2.5 gallons of Acetone, and wondered why it hadn’t ignited. If it had, in that confined space, I would have been horribly burned at best, most likely I’d have been killed.

I really think there was a divine intervention for me that night. I wonder why: is there a Big Moment for me someday, or was it just pity for being so stupid all at once? I’ll never know for sure. I hope.

That many safety errors are a firing offense, so I expected at least that, and maybe to expelled on Monday when the Prof got back. I went in prepared for the worst, and got the following: ‘Did you learn something?’ Yes. ‘Still want to work?’. Yes. ‘Okay.’ I finished the project, the degree, and went on to bigger and better things.

I hope I wasn’t spared just to blog. That’d be silly.


What GruntDoc forgot to include, is my involvement in this escapade, one of our BIG encounters.

I was a Lab tech at said University, and had been somewhere, dressed up and anyway, I was wearing a skirt and blouse that fateful day.  Very unusual for me to be dressed up.

Had a call from University police that there had been a fire in the lab.  I went up to the school and set out our big fans, to vent out the place.

I had a few comments from the staff, mostly the cop’s but including the stressed out dispatcher, that I looked like a girl.   I usually wore jeans and a tee shirt to work.

GruntDoc had been in my office many a time to reorder centrifuge tubes, to this day, I don’t know how he broke so many tubes or if he claimed them broken so he could come to my desk to reorder…anyway…

At any rate, that was my first real lasting impression of the GruntDoc.   Fire,.. Farrah burnt to a crisp and how mad would Dr. Rob… on Monday?    GD was right, Dr Rob..wasn’t that mad.

I didn’t get a raise for going above and beyond the call of duty, but I did finally marry the hero of the story.

It’s My Birthday

I’m 45 today.

I find that to be an incredible number, as I really don’t think I’m any different than I was at 30. Oh, some of the cosmetics have changed (Grey is the new Brown, heh), but mentally I have the same outlook I did when I was a touch younger.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t grown or matured, but I have always had a mental picture of what aging is, and it doesn’t seem to be happening to me. I find that odd. I’m one of those people that really never wanted to be young when I was; I wanted to be a grown-up, an adult. I detested being a kid: this doesn’t mean I acted grown up, but didn’t enjoy my station in life.

I do enjoy my now. I love my family, my life seems on track (note the seems: nothing ever goes quite to plan in my existence), and I see myself here for the next two dozen years. That thought makes me happy. Stability was something I took for granted growing up, all the more odd because I lived in an oilfield town where my classmates changed yearly, which you’d think would make me appreciate my good fortune.  Enjoying my current circumstances has never been one of my strengths, mores the pity.  Enter med school, the service, a residency, an EM job prior to this, and stability is something to pursue.

Life is good, I feel younger than the calendar suggests, and thanks for coming. Have some cake today, for me. Candles optional.

If I live through today (nice family celebration scheduled, the odds are on my side), I intend to tell the story of how I nearly killed myself, accidentally, and how that convinced me I was not taken for some Reason.