Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More than you needed to know about those little packages.

I bought a new lens for my camera today. It's a Tamron 70-300 zoom that should come in handy for my spy work and photos of small things from far away.

One of the things that comes with electronics and other sensitive equipment are those desiccant bags. It's the kind of thing you pick out of the box, glance at and throw away. Curiously, they always include the phrase "Do not eat," as though at some point somebody either tried to eat it whole or (more likely) placed it in hot water to make Desiccant Tea.

Since the back of the package says "Do Not Open," that makes the Do Not Eat warning rather superfluous. How can I eat it if I can't open it?

Other than its odd spelling
(one s and two c's) I don't know too much about desiccant. I don't know exactly what desiccant is, but I know enough not to eat something that comes packaged in a box that contains a camera lens. It's one of my guidelines.

The bottom of the package says that it is an "Environmental non-toxic," which opens up another can of worms. How can something that is non-toxic to the environment be harmful to eat? The desiccant package has confused me.

It turns out
that there are a lot of desiccants that can be eaten. Salt is a desiccant, as is rice, potassium and magnesium. Pretty much anything that absorbs water is a desiccant. I think the one in this bag is silica gel - which is a solid (another mystery) - and according to what I've read, silica gel is not biodegradable in either water or soil. So, how is that environmentally non-toxic, I wondered quietly to myself.

I went to the company's web site that manufactures the desiccant, but it's in Chinese and all I could glean from it is that desiccant packages seem to be their chief product. I find it odd that America can't get a better grip on the packaged silica gel market. The Chinese are kicking our butts.

Silica was used in World War I for the absorption of vapors and gases in gas mask canisters. The substance was in existence as early as the 1640s as a scientific curiosity. (Strangely, it remains a curiosity in 2011 - at least to me).

In World War II, silica gel was indispensable in the war effort for keeping penicillin dry, protecting military equipment from moisture damage, as a fluid cracking catalyst for the production of high-octane gasoline and as a catalyst support for the manufacture of butadiene from ethanol, feedstock for the synthetic rubber program.

Now, the substance is used in cat litter and in small packages for keeping stuff dry. Progress.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Two-Wheel World

At our yard sale on Saturday, my friend Jennifer and I were talking about riding roller coasters and other such things. I'm not a thrill-seeker, and I prefer to keep my feet on the ground unless required to have them leave it.

I don't jump out of working airplanes, bungee jump, eat exotic foods or generally challenge my body to survive some extraordinary experience. I prefer the comfort of the mundane.

I watch the American Chopper show regularly. I enjoy watching people build things from scratch and I'm interested in the process of making a motor vehicle. That's where my fascination with motorcycles ends. I have no desire to buy one or ride one on the highway. In the hierarchy of vehicles, the motorcycle is at the bottom of the food chain, below Smart Cars and barely above the bicycle as a mode of transportation.

One of my co-workers was involved in a motorcycle accident on Saturday in which his wife and her sister were killed instantly when a pick-up truck crossed the line and hit them. He is in critical condition, barely hanging on to life, and it's doubtful he'll be anywhere near the same person if he manages to make it.

It's a horrible fate to ponder, but I admit that it's difficult for me to completely empathize because I cannot imagine myself being in the same position. I've been involved in bicycle crashes, but those usually occur at around 18 mph and most of us wind up on the grass. I've never been hit by a car because I don't ride in the travel lane.

When someone dies of a disease, a heart ailment or some general injury a sense of my own mortality creeps over me and I contemplate what I would do if I were faced with a similar problem. But I can't find it in me to conjure up the notion of being on a motorcycle and dying in a crash. It's a situation I haven't remotely considered.

Some things in life are self-inflicted. We willingly place ourselves in harm's way for the sake of a thrill or some experience that is out of the ordinary. There are other modes of transportation than motorcycles and all of them are safer. Add to that the idea that some riders have that they can exceed the speed limit (by a wide margin) and weave in and out of traffic and you multiply the risk for the sake of getting there before the automobiles.

I hear them speeding up and down my street and never see them pulled over by the police. When I see them, I think that all it would take is a squirrel or a bird flying at them to turn them into a sliding mess on the road.

Regardless of whether one operates it safely (and there is every indication that the riders were) it is generally the "other guy" that influences the course of events.

I'm not ready to allow anyone else to tell me how I'm going to die. Certainly not for the feeling of the wind in my face and the road beneath me. I'll die the old-fashioned way, thank you.