Ions, Stay! Electrons, Move!

Well, that’s for thermoelectrics.  For electrolysis, it’s “Electrons, Stay!  Ions, Move!”

What?  You’re still reading?

I’m often asked, “What type of research is your daughter doing at MIT?”  I think when people ask me this question, their expectation is “What leading scientific discovery is she pursuing, and can she get rich off of a business startup?”  Well, maybe the second part is me.  But they probably would like to hear something along the lines of “life changers,” like being four years away from creating a household fissionable energy source or a few months away from making a 3D printer raw material that will form a corn fed, aged beef filet, either of which I’m sure she’d love to do.

My reply usually is along the lines of “Extracting copper from copper sulfide using electrolysis.  It apparently might be useful someday as cost factors change.”  The followup question is asked with glazed over eyes, “Uh, what is her major?”  The third question settles into a comprehensible normalcy, “Does she like Boston?” 

After visiting with her recently, and having her laboratory explained in a little more detail, my mind detoured to the safety details of the lab while she prattled on, but the title of this post is essentially the gist of what I think I heard.  So, to get the story straight, I had her tell it:  “Our group is trying to use electrolysis to extract copper from copper sulfide instead of from copper oxide.”  (Note, at this point, I’m patting myself on the back for the correctness of my abbreviated response to inquiries.)  “Copper sulfide is much more commonly found in minerals, but sulfides haven't been studied as fully as oxides, so it is harder to find an appropriate electrolyte melt to facilitate electrolysis.” 

“We are currently using Barium sulfide (BaS) as our electrolyte, but we don't know what the ideal composition is, the best operating temperature, whether we have to control the partial pressure of sulfur, or even how it is conducting electricity. My part of the project is to look at the conductivity of sulfide melts. The melts conduct electricity both ionically and electronically, which can be a bit of an issue. Ideally, we would only conduct it ionically, so that all power out through the system would be moving ions towards the electrodes where they would react (to form copper on one side and sulfur gas on the other). However, it turns out that around 75-98% of the current flow is due to electrons (again dependent on composition and temperature). The sulfides we are using are strange. Most materials either exhibit ionic, covalent, or metallic natures, but sulfides exhibit all three, with different characteristics dominating in different conditions. Metal sulfides are all semi-conductive as solids, and most carry this behavior over even when they melt. It's my project to figure out why, how, and when the melts will behave with different conductive traits.”  We pause this quote for a deep breath.

“One of the other projects in the lab is to make a thermoelectric device using sulfides as the thermoelectric material. For that project, having a great electronic conductivity (rather than ionic) would be ideal. I get to help find and characterize systems that will help for both projects. To characterize the materials, so far I've been running electrochemical tests to determine total conductivity, electronic and ionic transference numbers (the fraction of current transported by electrons vs ions), and looking at impedance spectroscopy data to see how the system responds to different applied frequencies, hopefully telling us what mechanisms are actually taking place in the melt.”

Here’s an example of what happens when you heat/cool the induction furnace too quickly.  Metal spilled when the crucibles broke while melting gallium in one experiment and copper sulfide in another.  The result was gluing things together that should not be stuck together.  As a side note, copper was accidentally formed.  As an asterisk to the side note, “Probably.  We can’t think of another source of copper that would have been around the set up, but it is vaguely possible we melted a sad stray wire.”  Genius!

Here’s a photo of the “standard variety” furnace she uses.

This is a graphite furnace which is used for the highest temperatures, around 2000oC.

This is an induction furnace with an alumina crucible in it.  It heats incredibly fast, but this can cause the crucible to crack if heated too quickly.  It normally has a metal case around it.


This is the central work bench, where she doesn’t really work, but at least it looks geeky. 

So… M.I.T.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Impressive.  Here’s her desk.

She shares the same room with eight others, plus one currently un-desked.  Living the high life.



fondest regrets

Eyes are distracted, smiles are shared
as moments are laid to hasten
enthused sufferings of niceties
well meant and, if heard, well taken

I've gripped listless cadavers
at times caught in a callous vice
what empty vassals these hands seem
mere instants in the course of  life

Wager but never mind the odds
on the roulette of the meet and greet
to connect with someone is rare
amid the handshakes of the fleeting

Count time, distance, and idleness as
harbingers of a golden rule faded grey
chips cashed and spent so lightly
sum the friends that have slipped away


The Waterboys – Live at Variety Playhouse

After my appreciation of their 2013 show, the announcement for this show was almost immediately followed by a lightening of my wallet.  What an awesome show that was, and what great things would once again be.

Waterboys concert review

But first, a word about our selected pre-show venue, The Wrecking Bar Pub.  On my last visit, about a month earlier on a Thursday night, everything was “okay.”  Apparently, they retain their finest cook for Sunday nights. Less the raw onions… it was every bit as good as it looks.  Additional kudos to a very drinkable Victor IPA and In Quad We Trust, a fine Belgian glimpsed in the upper right. 

Wrecking Bar Pub

On to the show.  No sell out?  What the heck?  It was packed two years ago, and this isn’t a band that comes around often.  Well, that resulted in a good view while seated for a change.  Still, it was an enthusiastic crowd that greeted the band, who opened with “Destinies Entwined,” one of Mike Scott’s frequent nonjudgmental musings about faith.  The band just released Modern Blues, and this was the first of every song on that disc less one, “Beautiful Now.”

Mike Scott Waterboys Concert Review

Mike Scott essentially is The Waterboys, the only common denominator since its origins in the early 1980’s.  Recordings have been somewhat infrequent, but he has a sizeable repertoire to choose from, including two excellent solo releases.  So while every artist is expected to play new songs to support their latest creation, it displaces the same number of fan favorites.  This isn’t to say that the concert was poor.  It wasn’t.  But it didn’t rise to the potential of the vibe reached of their previous visit, despite energetic performances from his band.  New songs take some getting used to, and the latest batch, which I’ll review shortly, is a mixed bag.  One thing, though, is that whenever long time band mate Steve Wickham steps up to play the “fuzz fiddle,” the best tendencies of the band usually follow. 
Steve Wickham The Waterboys Concert Review

In 2007, they played at Boston’s First Act Guitar Studio, an electric performance that gets “passed around.”  As evidenced there, one of Scott’s strengths is his ability to tell a story, typically with humor and in a very relatable manner.  This is observed in many of his lyrics, but particularly when he engages the audience to introduce a song.  There was some of that, such as the origin of “The Nearest Thing to Hip” and pronouncing “Aengus.” For a band that is largely unknown, that type of interaction builds a fan base, or builds bigger fans.  The feel of this show, aside from Brother Paul’s hyper antics on keyboards, was a band just passing through. Maybe it was the dismal day.  Maybe it was a few empty seats (the show competed against the Sweetwater music festival).  But the set list… 8 new songs out of 14 takes its toll.

Mike Scott The Waterboys Concert Review

Highlights included, as always, “We Will Not Be Lovers,” “Don’t Bang the Drum,” and the closer, “Long Strange Golden Road” which both on record and in concert rocks pretty well (also evidenced by Scott's frequent left leg kicks).  Below was from an excellent duo version of “Don’t Bang the Drum.”

Mike Scott The Waterboys Concert Review

Every show has to end, but this one ended strangely.  First, a cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” is a surprise, and not a bad one.  It’s a little nugget that is the place setter for the expected finale, the band’s most recognized song “Fisherman’s Blues.”  Sure enough, the stage hand begins to walk out to hand Scott the acoustic guitar and… end of the show, with Scott surprising both the fans and the band.  Maybe his bladder couldn’t wait… but, meh.  Still, I’d see them again.

The Waterboys Concert Review

3 of 5 STARS_thumb

Set list: (order not certain)

Destinies Entwined
Still a Freak
A Girl Called Johnny
We Will Not Be Lovers
November Tale
Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)
Glastonbury Song
The Girl Who Slept for Scotland
The Nearest Thing to Hip
I Can See Elvis
Song of Wandering Aengus
The Whole of the Moon
Don’t Bang the Drum
Long Strange Golden Road


Purple Rain (Prince cover)
Fisherman’s Blues – apparently planned but aborted.

Lord Huron – Strange Trails

A friend had recommended Lord Huron’s first CD, Lonesome Dream, back in 2012.  On the first listen, I liked it.  On the second… yawn.  There was a lulling sense of sameness that, despite the pleasant vocals and instrumentation, lost my interest.   Or, maybe it was the enjoyment of the western part of a genre that formerly was called Country & Western.  It’s not that exactly, but by feel, the recording oozed with wandering through prairies and communing with nature.  Still, I don’t have to love a record to take an interest in what the artist does next. 
lord huron strange trails CD review
Enter Strange Trails, with an album cover soaked in retro vibes, blending elements of the 60’s album covers, cheap backgrounds in B movies, and covers from sci-fi or horror pulp magazines.  So here we have “strange trails.”  Maybe the trail begins just beyond the tree.   Better duck to avoid that limb.

“Love Like Ghosts” might have been a typical love song, but it’s not.  Love, or its consequences, are something that haunts at night, along with the creepier possessive aspect of “if I can’t have you then no one will.”  Well, we knew it’s a strange trail, not a scenic overlook.  We carry on, but immediately find that we’re decidedly off the beaten path where a visitor from another planet warns of the world’s doom: 
I had a visitor come from the great beyond.
Telling me our time in the world is done,
and to watch for a sign in the midnight sky.
“Dead Man’s Hand” is probably my favorite lyric of the bunch, driving  along at night to discover a dead body in the road, bury it and then find it speaking of “there ain’t no thrills in the afterlife” and to lift him up so he can wander the desert.  Okay.  “Hurricane” hints not just towards an affinity to moral darkness but beckoning a special someone to join you there.   Mythology has its place as well, with a siren on the mountain who calls men and leaves men broken, followed by a desire to be buried with her at his side.  Strange indeed.

Even falling madly for a woman is clouded by doom.  “A Fool for Love” challenges the other interested party, Big Jim, which ends as badly as expected:
​I lie in the drifting snow
​Bleeding out as it covers me up
​If Spring comes before I'm found
​Just throw my bones in a hole in the ground
Maybe he becomes the “World Ender,” raised from the dead to create chaos, killing everything fair, brave and good, including the girl.  While communing with nature is hinted at in this and their prior album, “Meet me in the Woods” is a reminder of which woods one should enter.  Here, it’s more like any-fantasy-writer’s Mirkwood, a dark place where he begs another to join him to bring her fears to life.   “The Yawning Grave” hardly relieves the tension:
I tried to warn you when you were a child.
I told you not to get lost in the wilds.
I sent you omens and all kinds of signs.
I taught you melodies, poems and rhymes.
Oh you fool, there are rules, I am coming for you.
You can run but you can't be saved.
Darkness brings evil things, oh the reckoning begins.
You have opened the yawning grave.
“Frozen Pines” includes yet another walk in the woods, establishing the frozen trees as a barrier between staleness and growth, or life and death, with, of course, a willingness to charge ahead to the next life.  “Cursed” is another siren call, less on myth and more of a “love” that is bent to ruin men for her own pleasure.  Are we enjoying our trail?

“Way Out There” is another cursed end for a person who has traveled “strange trails” to such a distance that they’re not redeemable.   Except, “Louisa” happens.
I turned my back on the world.
I wasn't always like this, girl
Do you know what loneliness does to a man?
Turn him into the walking dead
I may have died but your lovin' raised me.
There.  All better!

Not.  “The Night We Met” isn’t a fond remembrance as lovers might recount.  It’s a desperate cry to go back to the starting point and adjust the relationship to a happy ending, rather than being “haunted by the ghost of you.”  Ouch.  End of the trail.

Aside from the CD cover art, the booklet has several photos with one line snippets from our prophet of woe.  Lyrics?  Not included.  I had to find them online.  Why release a concept album and not include the lyrics?

And, having listened to the CD five or more times, I found them to be rather a pleasant surprise (in the context of strange trails, a title which may have had absolutely nothing to do with the contents).    I enjoyed the music.  The rootsy sound, the 50’s reverb, great harmonies, the rockabilly vocal styling, the soft percussions, the improved melodies, the addition of a female vocalist – Lord Huron did a lot of things very well here.   But why is it that the lyrics were such a surprise?

Through those listens, the only words that registered were “ghosts” and “frozen pines.”    It’s partly the production.  The vocals seem to have a small slot in the sonic mix.  Maybe it’s the multi-tracking of the lead singer and/or the other vocalists.   And, maybe it’s the pronunciation.  Some singers can be clearly understood.  Without the lyrics in   breaks in song gaps.
And, that’s unfortunate.  It’s not that I won’t appreciate the CD.  I will.  I think it’s pretty good and one that I’ll revisit if just for the mood of the music.  But it’s still not what it could have been.  Despite the briskness of the songs, it tails off toward the end, and I’m aggrieved by the couple of spots that there is an audible gap when the tracks change from one song to the next when it’s obvious that the music carries through. 

Recommended songs:  “La Belle Fleur Sauvage,” “Fool for Love,” “World Ender”

  4 of 5 STARS_thumb

The Cannoli Wars

My daughter’s first tour of Boston as a newly arrived student was, no surprise, steeped in history...  a subject that she would be avoiding altogether in any future studies.  But, the tour paid off by satisfying her sweet tooth.  Welcome to Boston’s North End, home of Paul Revere's house, the Old North Church and so on, now intermingled among several streets that are lined almost exclusively with Italian restaurants.  

On a previous trip, we ate at one.  It was good, but not great, and I don't remember it's name.  Among the abundance of options, the “best” Italian restaurant is yet to be answered.  In my most recent trip, we asked a couple who lived in the city for their favorite.  “I don’t know.  We go to two of them, but I don’t remember their names.”  The just know the way.  I guess it's either "Let's go to this one" or "Let's go to the other one."

Not so helpful.

Less elusive are the premier bakeries in the neighborhood, Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, which are separated by approximately 100 yards (which seems appropriate as a field of competition).  Whether hostilities exist between the companies, I don’t know.  But a quick “vs.” search on Google shows that the public tends to choose sides.  So, I’ll join the fray.  I will say that I don’t think either one is hurting the business of the other.  The lines of both are frequently out the door and down the sidewalk.  And if you go, bring cash.  

We’ll let the competition begin with curb appeal, namely, advertising.

modern pastry

Mike's Pastry, Boston

Not even close.  Mike’s has an understated, traditional look, but I’ll favor the neon sign any day.  Round 1 goes to Modern.

Next up, the boxes.  You see people walk around with the boxes from each, which makes sense in a town that 1) has little parking and 2) lots of people on their feet.  I haven’t figured out where they’re taking their pastries. Certainly, many probably live in the city, but… it’s not like you’re shopping for fruits and vegetables to make a meal.  It’s dessert.  You buy it, and you eat it.  In any case, again we have the traditional vs., well, not so modern (pun intended), but at least artistic.

Mike's Pastry

Modern Pastry

The discoloration on modern is a camera issue, by the way.  In any case, muddy street or not, I’ll take the art.  Modern wins again.

Well, let’s move on to customer experience.

Mike's Pastry

Modern Pastry

Mike’s has the antique tin ceiling tiles and is otherwise rather plain.  Modern looks, yeah, more modern and nicer.  But!  And this is an important But! Mike’s may be an organized chaos, but you get served a lot faster, as any of the helpers behind the counter can take your order, put it in the requisite box, and take your cash.  I’ll take the speed.  As far as seating… well, that’s another reason people take it with them, I suppose.  In order to maintain adequate room for the buying hordes, tables likely reduce the receipts per sq.ft.  Anyway, if you’re on the go in Boston, Mike’s takes this category.

Now, that said, while the masses at each are virtually indistinguishable, this gentleman had the appearance of a man long accustomed to enjoying his pastry, possibly at his table, and in his daily casual wear.  Major style points for Modern.  But, I still have to favor speed. 

Round 4!  Interior display cases.  In this instance, I only have one for Mike’s, and plenty for Modern.  First up, Mike’s:

Mike's Pastry

Look’s fairly delicious, yes?  Then Modern:

Modern Pastry

Modern Pastry

Modern Pastry

Well, the number of pictures isn’t really haphazard.  Mike’s is blocked by tons of people, while you have to walk by each display case in Modern to place your order.  Still, Modern wins for variety, presentation, and, gosh, I’m hungry again.

Round 5:  And, this one isn’t fair, and it counts double.  The Cannoli.  Mike’s offers other pastries, but they all but specialize in Cannolis.  You look up at the board, and you say, “I’ll have this one, that one, and the other one.”  And it’s yours.  You just have to make the choice(s).  Such as?
      • Plain Ricotta Cheese
      • Yellow Cream Cannolo
      • Chocolate Cream Cannolo
      • Chocolate Chip Cannolo
      • Pistachio
      • Caramel
      • Chocolate Mousse
      • Espresso
      • Amaretto
      • Hazelnut
      • Chocolate Ricotta
      • Limoncello
      • Strawberry
      • Oreo
      • Peanut Butter
      • Florentine
      • Chocolate Covered
Well, here’s a random customer enjoying a tasty Expresso cannoli:

Mikes Pastry Expresso Cannoli

Let’s get a close up of that sugary sweet smack to your taste buds:

Mike's Pastry Expresso Cannoli

Here’s my favorite (so far), the Hazelnut:

Mike's Pastry Hazelnut Cannoli

That’s powdered sugar on top, which is completely optional.  It seems a full dose is two taps from the pourer, a light dose equals one tap.  I had the Amaretto also – very cherry in its flavor.  Below is a Florentine. 
 Mike's Pastry Florentine Cannoli

Unfortunately, I don’t know that there’s a description of what’s in these.  You just look at the pictures on the wall and say, “That one looks good.  I’ll get that.  Wait. Maybe that one.” Then count your cash (only), do the math, and narrow your choices from there.  

Over at Modern, the cannoli shell is made and waiting for you, and it will not be filled until you specify your preference of yummy goodness.  I’m regrettably a bit short on photos of their cannolis, but… there’s this one:

Modern Pastry Cannoli

That’s something chocolate for my daughter and, I think, a hazelnut for me.   You’ll note that these a bit shorter than Mike’s.  The cream filling is a matter of taste, of course, but I find Modern to have a bit more egginess in it’s flavor while Mike’s cream is a medium for 100 proof sugar.  Also, Modern only has one filling, where Mike's has at least several.  At this point, due to flavor, options, and size, I favor… Mike's!

That results in a 3-3 tie, which 1) shouldn’t upset the locals that a Southerner is playing favorites in an exclusively northern conflict and 2) begs continued investigation for, in popular risk selection parlance, increased differentiation.  

Guess I'll have to go back.

Delta Rae – After It All

I’ve followed this band with close interest after hearing them several years back at a music festival in Asheville, NC.  Their vocal power really impressed, and their first CD, Carry the Fire, remains a favorite.   But that was then, and it’s taken three years to produce their sophomore effort. 

In the spectrum that includes my musical tastes, Delta Rae is notable because they are primarily a vocal group.  Ordinarily, I prefer “good” vocals, but mixed with electric guitar solos or other featured instrumentals.  While this band is competent musically, Delta-Rae-After-It-All CD Reviewits strength is found in their song composition/arrangements and the talents of their four vocalists, singly and together.  With After It All, you can add ambition to that as well, and not just because they added a string section.   How else would you qualify an album that begins with an anthem?  With 12 additional tracks, they’ve also taken an unusual tact of compacting their songs, only two of which scratch 4 minutes in length.  One of those is a single (“featured song” in this day and age?), which has been re-recorded and shortened by a minute, 26 seconds.  So it’s intentional.  Maybe it’s because any of the songs have a greater chance of being heard?  Maybe it’s because they frequently perform at outdoor festivals, and this allows them to squeeze in another song or two during their scheduled slot.  Or, maybe that given the variety found here, the album is a miniature play list for people with shorter attention spans. 

Ambition is seen in the variety of what they offer as well, stylistically featuring the strengths of the four singers.  Liz Hopkins tends to get the love and relationship (“Cold Day in Heaven”) songs, which might be pop or country (”Dead End Road”).  Or soulful.  Well, wait.  Maybe this categorization isn’t working.  “Chasing Twisters” is more of a rocker.  Brittany Holljes belting vocals and occasional squeal shine with the rockers and the darker, magical, or mysterious themed songs (“Run,” “Bethlehem Steel,” “I Will Never Die”).  Eric Holljes handles the male voiced relationship songs, usually with a soulful bent (“You’re the One for Me,” “My Whole Life Long”).  And his brother Ian handles anything that requires earnestness, which may be a social commentary song or… anything where his voice is the best answer for the group (“Outlaws,” “Scared” – which compacts a lot of song in 2:44). 

Musically, they’re not formulaic, but a general trend is that a song will begin in quieter tones with a lead singer, and where rock acts will build to the requisite guitar solo, Delta Rae lowers the boom when all four singers join in.  Add to that a very considerate approach of how to make the music interesting with unexpected percussive breaks or vocal fills (“Scared”), and it never gets tiring, even when it doesn’t venture far.

After It All isn’t the perfect album.  “Bethlehem Steel” might have benefitted from a less heavy handed treatment, “Scared” and “Run” deserve an extended hearing, and Ian Holljes’ vocals should be reconsidered when a song calls for notes outside of his comfortable range.  But those are quibbles.  After It All sounds like a recording that was very carefully conceived and recorded by the entire group, and offers the home of many other great albums to come.

4 of 5 STARS_thumb  (4.5, actually)

Mark Knopfler - Tracker

Tracker is Mark Knopfler’s ninth solo album, outpacing but not overshadowing the six studio albums with his prior band, Dire Straits.  In context of the music Knopfler plays today, it’s fairly easy to look back and see the evolutionMark Knopfler Tracker CD Review of his musical interest.  Only, it’s not the destination that most would have predicted. 

Dire Straits songs were popular because they had excellent narrative lyrics, a tunefulness often suited for radio airplay, and expert guitar work.  His solo CDs have almost avoided songs with commercial appeal, meaning, he rarely takes a step back to the times when his songs had a driving beat and soaring lead guitar.  But, the lyrics have gotten even better, not necessarily maturing, but more focused, often inspired by his reading, and expressed in a way that a maturing audience can appreciate.  And his guitar still sparkles.  Only, he now sounds like the best session guitarist in the world.  His trademark Stratocaster sound has its spots, but it’s the fitting the form and fashion of the guitar in a nuanced way to the songs that has clearly been his priority.  It’s notable that his most expressive, trademarked guitar solo is found one of the four bonus tracks on the “Deluxe” CD, the oddly titled “Terminal of Tribute to”… perhaps the final Straits-ish solo.

So, Tracker is, on the one hand, further confirmation that Knopfler has long since parted with popular music and is now a bona fide singer-songwriter.  Tracker is thoroughly excellent, pulling in folk, Celtic, jazz, and country influences, as well as songs which could have been released by J.J. Cale (“Broken Bones”), Bob Dylan (the name dropping “Lights of Taomina”), and perhaps the Grateful Dead when they were concise (“Skydiver”).   There’s not a bad song here.  There never is.  The question for fans of his solo work is probably, “Is this the CD I’d choose to listen to when I’m in the mood for his music?”  Maybe.  And that’s the problem, of sorts, in that they’re all pleasing, tickling an ear when giving a close listen but at risk of easing one to sleep otherwise.  This one has a chance, though, of being that one.  There’s enough songs with a pulse that keep my attention and possibly a few that would make a Top 12 solo Knopfler list. 

The aggravation, of sorts, is that I, and probably most, would really, really like to hear Knopfler put a little more punch to his songs.  Does it detract from any of his CDs?  No.  But I shouldn’t be expected to pay $90 or more for a large venue concert ticket for a  few “old” songs that he’s more or less expected to play along with a bevy of songs that would be better enjoyed in a 500 seat venue.. and heard for $30 or less.

Whatever. I’ll give this CD the same rating I’ve given all of his other solo CDs, but then one is on the higher end… or maybe several of the others deserved a notch downgrade.

Recommended: “Skydiver,” “Broken Bones,” “River Towns”

4 of 5 STARS_thumb