Page 1 of 3

1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 6:03 am UTC
by Dr What
Image
title="When I was little I had trouble telling my dad apart from the dog. I always recognized my mom because she had a bunch of extra plutoniums in her middle. I never did ask her why ..."

edit: form->from

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 6:14 am UTC
by Andries
There are significant quantities of indium in that cartoon. Tin, also.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 6:14 am UTC
by Envelope Generator
Was beret mom one of these people then?

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 6:22 am UTC
by chaoric
The "form" bothers me... I'll just not look at it again and pretend it was fixed (until it actually is fixed).

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 6:52 am UTC
by Copper Bezel
Voltron in reverse: "And I'll form the dog!"

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 7:38 am UTC
by keithl
Andries wrote:There are significant quantities of indium in that cartoon. Tin, also.
Your avatar tickles my europium.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 7:39 am UTC
by bachaddict
Copper Bezel wrote:Voltron in reverse: "And I'll form the dog!"

Wow, you have orange metal all around the edges!

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 8:38 am UTC
by Andries
OK, so if the #nowplaying tune was Friends, what is Megan looking at? Computer parts?

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 8:48 am UTC
by snowyowl
I'm never quite sure to what extent Beret Guy is screwing with us and to what extent he actually has weirdly niche superpowers.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 9:04 am UTC
by ilduri
Andries wrote:OK, so if the #nowplaying tune was Friends, what is Megan looking at? Computer parts?

Could it be quartz ore? Quartz is SiO2.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 9:04 am UTC
by Neil_Boekend
Andries wrote:OK, so if the #nowplaying tune was Friends, what is Megan looking at? Computer parts?

I would expect it to be a sample from a crime scene or some other type of evidence. That would explain why she is looking in the first place.

Beret guy says: "tons of oxygens and silicons". Most sand is SiO2 so it could be described as such. Sand is a common thing to test in a crime investigation. For example the sand on a suspect's boots.

By the way, how can beret guy see anything with all those nitrogens and oxygens floating around? If he sees all atoms those should get in the way.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 9:09 am UTC
by Andries
But she's testing it for beryllium. So she suspects it is there, but now sure. And we know it contains iron.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 9:16 am UTC
by Neil_Boekend
Andries wrote:But she's testing it for beryllium. So she suspects it is there, but now sure. And we know it contains iron.

If I naively assume CSI series are truthful in this, sand with traces of beryllium on the shoe of a suspect in a case where the crime happened on a place where the beryllium concentration in the topsoil is quite high would be useful evidence. Ergo, if you have taken a suspect in custody in such a case it would be prudent to check the sand stuck to their shoes for beryllium, while also checking for other evidence (blood and DNA, in violent crimes).

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 10:09 am UTC
by orthogon
Andries wrote:But she's testing it for beryllium. So she suspects it is there, but now sure. And we know it contains iron.

Not iron-rich microspheres, I hope? Best check for elemental aluminium or sulphur.

(I have to stop reading this stuff. I'm starting to have dreams about thermite and spandrels...)

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 10:27 am UTC
by da Doctah
If this guy looked at me, I wonder if he'd still be able to see the technetiums they put in me. Prob'ly not; it's been five years now.

("What the hell are all those phlogistons doing in there, anyway?")

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 10:39 am UTC
by elasto
Neil_Boekend wrote:Beret guy says: "tons of oxygens and silicons". Most sand is SiO2 so it could be described as such. Sand is a common thing to test in a crime investigation. For example the sand on a suspect's boots.

Given how literal-minded Beret guy is, he might just be referring to the oxygens and silicons in the glass slide/container itself.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 11:39 am UTC
by Ehsanit
Combined with http://xkcd.com/452/, this raises very serious questions about the composition of scones.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 1:39 pm UTC
by solune
xkcd wrote:title="When I was little I had trouble telling my dad apart form the dog. I always recognized my mom because she had a bunch of extra plutoniums in her middle. I never did ask her why ..."


That makes me think about how it feels to be autistic: you have access to a lot more information about the world than normal people, but you lack some basic processing of that information.

For instance I tend to read facial expressions manually, it's more accurate than using my instincts.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 1:48 pm UTC
by Andries
So we had fundamental forces on Friday, and atoms today.

What are we getting next? The alphabet?

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 2:19 pm UTC
by Alexius
Envelope Generator wrote:Was beret mom one of these people then?

I was thinking a pacemaker. There are still a few people living who have pacemakers implanted in the 1970s which are powered by an RTG using plutonium-238.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 2:58 pm UTC
by Jackpot777
Andries wrote:So we had fundamental forces on Friday, and atoms today.

What are we getting next? The alphabet?


Image

"Three! Three types of XKCD cartoons, ah ha ha ha!!!"

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 4:15 pm UTC
by treadman
chaoric wrote:The "form" bothers me... I'll just not look at it again and pretend it was fixed (until it actually is fixed).

This was a running joke in my family at Christmas. "To: Mom, Form: Dad"

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 4:23 pm UTC
by Zylon
I hate White Beret Guy. Every time I see him, I wish physical harm upon him.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 4:37 pm UTC
by SuicideJunkie
snowyowl wrote:I'm never quite sure to what extent Beret Guy is screwing with us and to what extent he actually has weirdly niche superpowers.

Laser spectrometer vision is a fairly common superpower. The famous cases have much higher beam intensities, but not everybody can be the strongest.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 8:02 pm UTC
by Wingman4l7
Alexius wrote:I was thinking a pacemaker. There are still a few people living who have pacemakers implanted in the 1970s which are powered by an RTG using plutonium-238.
Clever! I was thinking a bit less outside the box and just figured his mother was a robot powered by an RTG. If he couldn't tell his dad apart from the dog, I doubt he could tell if his mother was human or not.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 8:11 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel
Depends on what she was made of, I'd think. We don't use a lot of calcium in structural applications outside of architecture.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 8:42 pm UTC
by Coyoty
snowyowl wrote:I'm never quite sure to what extent Beret Guy is screwing with us and to what extent he actually has weirdly niche superpowers.


He actually has weirdly Nietzche superpowers.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 9:56 pm UTC
by hamjudo
Alexius wrote:I was thinking a pacemaker. There are still a few people living who have pacemakers implanted in the 1970s which are powered by an RTG using plutonium-238.


The rated life for the electronics in a pacemaker in the early 1970s was only 5 years. Research on radioactive batteries for medical use stopped years before I got my first job at a pace maker battery factory in 1977. They still had 2 extra heavy duty filing cabinets with radioactive warning stickers and real locks when I started.

They were working on 15 year batteries for children with congenital heart defects when I left in 1980. I don't recall when those got approved for general use.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 11:08 pm UTC
by rmsgrey
hamjudo wrote:
Alexius wrote:I was thinking a pacemaker. There are still a few people living who have pacemakers implanted in the 1970s which are powered by an RTG using plutonium-238.


The rated life for the electronics in a pacemaker in the early 1970s was only 5 years. Research on radioactive batteries for medical use stopped years before I got my first job at a pace maker battery factory in 1977. They still had 2 extra heavy duty filing cabinets with radioactive warning stickers and real locks when I started.


The question then becomes Does Randall know this?

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 11:42 pm UTC
by PinkShinyRose
Do we know he didn't just grow up in the 70's? He's talking about the past, that much is clear.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 12:15 am UTC
by Alexius
hamjudo wrote:
Alexius wrote:I was thinking a pacemaker. There are still a few people living who have pacemakers implanted in the 1970s which are powered by an RTG using plutonium-238.


The rated life for the electronics in a pacemaker in the early 1970s was only 5 years. Research on radioactive batteries for medical use stopped years before I got my first job at a pace maker battery factory in 1977. They still had 2 extra heavy duty filing cabinets with radioactive warning stickers and real locks when I started.

They were working on 15 year batteries for children with congenital heart defects when I left in 1980. I don't recall when those got approved for general use.

Having looked it up, most people with pacemakers now have ones with Li-ion batteries which require replacement every 5-10 years involving (very minor) surgery. This includes some who originally had RTG-powered pacemakers which have been replaced. And it's completely understandable that research stopped, if only because of the potential consequences for the surroundings if the user is cremated or shot!

On the other hand, there is at least one case of someone still using an RTG pacemaker in the 21st century. Plus, as PinkShinyRose says, it looks like White Beret Guy's mother is now dead, so she may well have been alive early enough to be one of the people who had an RTG pacemaker.

And I thought RTG-powered pacemakers were much more common than they are. I think this is due to reading The Terminal Man, by Michael Crichton, in which someone is fitted with an RTG-powered "brain pacemaker"- it was written in 1972.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 12:47 am UTC
by JetstreamGW
Alexius wrote:
Envelope Generator wrote:Was beret mom one of these people then?

I was thinking a pacemaker. There are still a few people living who have pacemakers implanted in the 1970s which are powered by an RTG using plutonium-238.


Naw. I think Envelope Generator has the right of it. The insinuation in that case would be that beret guy has a mutation that gave him superpowers.

Is that scientific? Of course not. But neither is being able to tell the elemental composition of an object by looking at it :P

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 1:40 am UTC
by neoliminal
chaoric wrote:The "form" bothers me... I'll just not look at it again and pretend it was fixed (until it actually is fixed).


Tihs.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 3:23 am UTC
by Baccar Wozat
Owen Reece didn't wear a beret; he wore lightning bolt scars on his face (and had many more than Harry Potter, and he had a wand first!)

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 1:48 pm UTC
by VoronX
Is she looking at Phenakite/Phenacite??

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 3:18 pm UTC
by Andries
No irons in there. She's looking at something with irons. Maybe phenakite with a rusty nail?

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 5:33 pm UTC
by Quercus
I think she's performing cosmogenic radionuclide dating to determine the surface exposure time of a piece of quartz which has some sort of iron oxide inclusion (these are very common in quartz).

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 6:00 pm UTC
by hamjudo
Alexius wrote:On the other hand, there is at least one case of someone still using an RTG pacemaker in the 21st century. Plus, as PinkShinyRose says, it looks like White Beret Guy's mother is now dead, so she may well have been alive early enough to be one of the people who had an RTG pacemaker.


Thanks, I learned something new today. [I mean yesterday, I didn't finish writing this until today.]

They had an electron microscope at the pacemaker battery factory in the late 1970s. The operator could select a pixel in the image, and the microscope would aim the beam there and measure the backscatter electrons, and report which relatively heavy elements were present, but not light ones like beryllium.

It wasn't at all like in the comic, but using the electron microscope, we could "see" elements, at least the ones with lots of protons. Also, as Neil_Boekend pointed out above, if you can "see" elements, nitrogen and oxygen get in the way. The solution is to use a really good vacuum. Or to use X-ray vision.

Another new thing I learned yesterday, is that it is now (just barely) possible to use backscatter electrons in an electron microscope to identify beryllium.

Just so everyone understands my key contributions to pacemaker battery engineering as a 17 year old.
Spoiler:
They were doing a statistical analysis of hundreds of weld samples from the laser welder. They wanted to look at the weld samples under the electron microscope. This was for metallurgy, they just wanted to identify the atoms. They hardly ever zoomed in, except when they were showing off the microscope. They didn't need to see the whole battery, just the top where the welds were. The vacuum pumps weren't very fast way back then on the budget, $150k, electron microscope of 1977. Small samples meant they could use a small vacuum chamber, so they could pump the vacuum down faster. I spent nearly a full week in the destructive analysis lab cutting the tops off of empty batteries with a Dremel. My hourly wage was much lower than the electron microscope operators. Since I finished early, I got to watch them in the electron microscope lab for a few hours.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 8:15 pm UTC
by mfb
It is easy to know that the sample contains beryllium. Every macroscopic sample contains all the more common elements.

Re: 1490: "Atoms"

Posted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 8:35 pm UTC
by Quercus
mfb wrote:It is easy to know that the sample contains beryllium. Every macroscopic sample contains all the more common elements.


Really? That surprises me (although perhaps it shouldn't, given the unimaginable number of atoms in anything macroscopic). I'll accept pretty readily that this is probably true for any unprocessed environmental sample, but would you expect a wafer of monocrystalline silicon to necessarily contain any atoms of beryllium? Or a drop of ultrapure water?